Virginia City on Fire by Lyn Robinson

The Cartwrights were about to head home and Ben was just handing over the money for their meal when they all became aware of an alarm bell clanging its warning throughout the town. As other bells joined in with their warning the four men were all listening hard, trying to identify which bells were involved, where the trouble might be. It could mean so many things, trouble at the mines, a cave-in, a fire, maybe a train crash or even a large scale robbery.

Adam finished his brandy and pushed his chair back intending to go and see, but before he could get to his feet a deeper tone bell joined in and the whistle at the Ophir. That one all four Cartwright men knew and combined with the others it could only mean something massive had gone wrong. Without any discussion the four Cartwrights joined the men leaving the room, wanting to see for themselves. Hoss and Joe moved in close behind Adam to protect him, he might claim that he was better but they knew the extent of his injuries. When they reached the street it was utter chaos, people pushing in every direction rumours running riot, but the cause of the confusion was all too clear, a pall of smoke hung in the sir high up on Mount Davidson, and even as they watched it seemed to spread.

They had helped to build this town and whatever reasons they had to hurry home were instantly forgotten and all four took it for granted that they would stay and do what they could to help. With everything bone dry after the long hot summer, fire was a hazard always to be feared. Like many of the other towns in the West, Virginia City was built mainly of wood and had been burnt out twice in the early years. There had been fires in the mines or small ones in town over the last years but not since August 1863 had the whole town been threatened. The seven fire companies formed since then had dealt with the blazes, confining them, but this time there was a Washoe Zephyr blowing and the fire at the edge of town was in the worst possible place, with the wind to blow it through town. All of them had lived in this land too long to miss the significance of the wind and without discussion they all tensed themselves for a long battle. Many others were arguing in voices high with fear, pushing this way and that, scared and confused, and Ben moved back to the protection of the wall. Very sombre he turned to Adam first, “Right we have to split up. You say you’re better. Can you cope alone? No heroics, one of your brothers can stay with you. No risks, you have a wife and four children they need you.”

Adam didn’t attempt to avoid his father’s gaze, “I can cope Pa. Even if I got thumped on the back it would hurt a bit but I wouldn’t collapse. We’d best split up; too few people are going to keep their heads in this.”

Ben nodded, accepting his son’s word, “Where do you reckon it started?”

Joe shaded his eyes as he considered the smoke, “Up on ‘A’ street somewhere, couldn’t be worse with a Zephyr blowing.”

Hoss sighed, “Those lodging houses up there, old ramshackled. They’ll be death traps, only need a spark.”

“The whole town is bone dry.” Adam sighed “I guess we have to accept that most of it will go, barring a miracle. Our job is to save what we can. We have a few brick buildings and maybe a few hours to make use of them.”

Ben nodded “I’ll go over to the Bank of Nevada make sure that it’s safe, the vaults are fireproof. Joseph tell John Marye, Roy Naylor, and as many others as you can, to get their records into the bank, either ours or the Virginia City bank. Then try and get the courthouse records moved to the vaults. I’ll be over to help you once I’m sure the roof is damped down, all precautions taken.”

Adam nodded his agreement, “I’ll get up to the pumping station, make sure its safe and get the flow up as high as I can. Then I’ll try to get up to the mines. If you see Jim Fair or John Mackay send them up to the mines. We need to close down, get all the men out, get the shafts covered with earth. We gotta stop the fire going down the mines.”

Ben nodded “If they are at the Bank I’ll send them over. Hoss for a start get our horses out of the livery. Is Blackie there too?”

Adam nodded and Ben went on “Get one of the kids to take them right out of town on our road, we’ll feel better if they are safe. Then you’d better see what you can do at the hospital and the orphanage, Doc’s place. Salvage what you can, get the worst cases out to the ranch.”

Hoss nodded but before his sons could separate Ben said “Just one more thing.” When he had all three of them listening intently he said, “Please remember you all have wives and children, either here or imminent. To say nothing of important work to do over the next months to rebuild this town, work few others will attempt. So please don’t take any risks, do what you can to help but look after yourselves. Your lives are more important than anything else.” He met each one’s gaze in turn and then he smiled, “God be with you. I’ll see you later.”

Ben had a lump in his throat as the four separated to do what they could. He was scared by the power of the fire, which was already spreading. Fire had already badly injured one of his sons that year and although he had their unspoken promise to be careful, he knew that with lives at stake, none of them would consider the risks.

Hoss headed for the stable, determined to send word home anyway or Sue would be worried, knowing that he hadn’t intended to be very long. He could only pray that she wouldn’t start into labour with Doc and all the nursing staff inevitably tied up with the casualties of the fire. Thinking of that he felt suddenly cold and prayed that his own family and close friends wouldn’t be amongst those casualties. Fire had already cost Adam too heavily that year.
Joe was thinking much the same, hoping that his big brother would send word of warning before the inevitable flow of refugees from the fire began to arrive at the house and praying that his father and brothers would be alright.

Adam moving up closer to the fire could see all too clearly just how it was spreading, the bone dry houses almost exploding into flames and the showers of sparks fanned by the wind carrying the devastation on further, faster than the fire engines could even get into position. Adam bit his lip, the agony of the burns on his back seeming so real that he broke into a cold sweat at the memory and his fear of fire was so great that he’d have given anything to turn and run. However he had a job to do and somehow he kept moving forward, although it was a real physical effort. He told himself that he was being a fool to get so scared, he wasn’t getting cut off this time, and by the time he reached the pumping station he had succeeded in forcing his fears to the back of his mind. The scene there was enough to make him forget everything else. Small groups of men were standing around, huddled close together as though for reassurance and staring at the fire as though mesmerized.

Adam looked round for the foreman, who was normally in charge but he was nowhere to be seen and Adam’s questions elicited nothing more than blank stares. Ignoring the men for the moment Adam went through to the control room. He had designed the complex and knew just how much it would stand without risk so he opened all the valves to the widest extent, commensurate with safety. It wouldn’t help anyone to knock out the pipeline but it more than doubled the supply of water available. Then he moved outside and issued orders, physically pushing the men round and into action, getting the roof damped down and placing supplies of water at strategic places in cases of minor outbreaks. He then got them to cut down the vegetation round the building and dig an earth firebreak. Slowly the men began to react to his orders and they looked better for having someone giving orders, having something to do.

Adam waited until the major precautions were well under way and then he sent the married men off to see to their families, ensure they were safely evacuated if necessary. He allocated watch duties to the rest and chose one man Hammond that he knew reasonably well, telling him to take charge. Hammond swallowed hard, wanting to protest. He knew that it was senseless but they all felt safer for Adam’s presence, as though one man could stop the fire. Adam could see the doubt but he was very brisk, issuing detailed orders and telling the men that if they did as he said they would be perfectly safe. He promised to return as soon as he’d checked on things up at the mines. The men, stiffened by his attitude all promised to look after things until his return. Adam smiled “Well done. This is probably the key point if we’re to save anything, but I know I can rely on all of you.” His praise gave all the men confidence and they were determined not to let him down.

Joe had found absolute chaos, a few of the stockbrokers were frantically collecting files, but most of their staff had fled home to collect what personal possessions they could save. Joe went from office to office, advising the shaken men just what to be bothered with and where to take it. A few stared at him, either apathetic or paralysed by fear but most seemed glad of a firm lead, even if the orders came from a source they would normally disdain to obey. Joe had just about come to the conclusion that he was the only one around with any clear idea of what he was doing and he was very relieved to find his friend Roy Naylor efficiently tying up the last of his files ready to carry them to the vaults. Roy promised that once he had his own stuff stored he’d try to organize some of the others. Joe went on to John Marye’s and there again found order prevailing. John was using the Virginia City Bank and had already sent one load over. He was able to reassure Joe that Harris wasn’t panicking either and had his vaults open to all comers, while some of his staff were dealing with fire precautions and Roy’s men on guard duty.

Content that they had chosen well in the men they dealt with, Joe left the business men to cope as best as they could and went onto the court house. It was wide open and virtually deserted, just a couple of lowly clerks, too scared to go home living near the fire, were still there but everyone else had gone, the ledgers left lying open where men had been working when the alarm went. The courthouse had concrete vaults in the cellars but too many records were kept in the main building and that was timber. The ones kept upstairs on public view were the most important, proving rights to land, water and minerals. Joe had had trouble before when documents had been lost, some had been stored in Genoa once and although most of their records were duplicated in Carson City he had no intention of taking any risks. The only ones to gain if all the records were lost would be the lawyers. He bullied the clerks who were there to start carrying records down but it would take all night with just the three of them so Joe headed out to recruit some help. He headed out onto the street and he wasn’t in the mood for arguments. He found a number of men just standing around watching and had no compunction in ordering them to help. One asked just who the hell he thought he was but Joe’s hand dropped to his gun, “A guy who will enforce martial law if necessary.”
“You ain’t even a deputy.”

Joe whipped the man’s gun from his holster “This is all I need to deputize myself. I’m in charge because there’s noone else. You’re not doing anything so make yourself useful.” Being the only one who had any idea what he was doing or what needed doing, Joe didn’t find it too hard to impose his will and with nearly twenty of them the shelves were cleared rapidly, first the property records and then the share records and the various court documents. Joe was everywhere not giving his enforced labour a minute to relax and the men found it easier to do as he said than to argue.

Ben had forced his way through the crowds to the Bank of Nevada building. It was one of the few totally brick buildings in the town, even the old Bank of California was timbered on the upper stories. There was chaos inside but Ben pushed through to the main office to find both Jim and John with half a dozen of the most influential business men in town. The eight men were arguing, trying to find a way to separate the main business section from the fire; some of them advocating the use of dynamite to form a firebreak but Jim was insistent that it wouldn’t work with the Zephyr blowing. Ben pushed in and ignoring the arguments he said bluntly, “You ought to be up at the mines both of you. Have you even got the roof here damped down yet?”

Jim and John caught each others eyes, so far they hadn’t got past arguing about what ought to be done. Ben could read that on their faces and looking very stern he addressed all of them impartially, “With a Zephyr blowing dynamite won’t help the main town, it might save some of the mills and stamp works if you move fast, even the mines. For the rest I suggest you get any essential documents and valuables into our vaults or those at the Virginia City Bank and take a few essentials out of town. And I suggest you move fast because I doubt you have more than a couple of hours.” Under his stern gaze they suddenly lost the urge to argue and filed out leaving John, Jim and Ben. Ben said “I’ll take over here, get up to the mines, cover the entrances with earth, before the timbering catches, if you can.”

Jim protested, “We know what to do Ben.”

“Then why are you here wasting time on futile arguments?” Ben wasn’t in the mood to waste time and pushing past Jim he went out into the main Bank area and began to organise bucket brigades to damp down the roof, others to carry things down to the vaults and to stack them neatly in order to get as much in as possible. Still others he armed with sawn off shotguns and put on guard at the main entrance and the entrance to the vault. He moved through the mass of people in the Bank and firmly ejected all those without a real reason for being there, until there was some semblance of order. All the time Ben was dimly aware of bangs in the background as houses exploded into flame and on the outskirts men used dynamite to try and save their own property, but he couldn’t do anything about any of that and concentrated on his own job. He was sure that there would be other men, like his own sons, working hard to try and get some order, save what they could.

Hoss had sent a hastily scribbled letter to Sue, telling her what was happening and that they would be very late so not too worry, but to get hold of some of the hands and have them collect every available wagon. The wagons were to be loaded with all their spare blankets and food for those who would end up homeless. He begged her not to overdo things. Once that had gone Hoss had two kids take their own four horses and Jess’ mount out to safety and then had a talk with the livery owner, an old Ponderosa hand, Jake. He suggested that Jake got the rest of the horses to safety. Jake was badly shaken by the fire but there was noway to save a stable and Hoss couldn’t help him. In near despair Jake said “I’m too old to start over Hoss.”

“Long as the horses are safe, it’s just a building. We’ll help you rebuild when this is all over.”

“You mean it Hoss?”

“Sure, you just get the horses and yourself out safe and don’t worry.” Hoss was pleased to see the old man brighten up, almost miraculously, and Hoss clapped him on the shoulder before heading over to the hospital. Hoss couldn’t help worrying, they could help rebuild in a few cases but the Ponderosa couldn’t carry the whole town and by nightfall some 35 000 people were going to be homeless. Shaking off his despair Hoss began to collect help, anyone he recognized who didn’t seem to have a particular job to do and by the time he reached the hospital he had more than twenty men. Most of them were glad to help, just needed someone to tell them what to do. The hospital was on the outskirts of town and Hoss decided that they should be able to save it. Just in case he set some men to collect wagons to be ready to move the most vulnerable patients and the equipment if necessary. He had others wetting down the roof and digging earth to throw over the meagre vegetation. The nearest buildings were a few ramshackled shacks and Hoss went to check them out. Their occupants had already fled, taking their possessions with them and Hoss decided that they would doubtless burn anyway, but left where they were they could endanger the hospital. He headed up to the nearest mine, the Chollar – Potosi. The Cartwrights owned stock in it, not that Hoss cared either way, and noone denied his right to take a supply of dynamite. They were only worried about preventing the fire getting into their mine and destroying their livelihood.

Hoss took great care with the dynamite, using only just enough and ensuring it wouldn’t spark back to the hospital. Even though it took much longer he worked alone, not trusting anyone else. Eventually he had made a firebreak which he could only hope would be enough to protect the hospital. For now it seemed safe enough and he had done all he could to provide for evacuation if that proved necessary. Leaving the men that he’d collected to keep watch and help out as necessary, Hoss headed out to collect some more help for the orphanage. He was filthy from his efforts at the hospital but unscathed, so far at least. As he made his way back into town, there was an almighty explosion as the fire reached a store full of blasting powder. Instinctively Hoss threw himself into cover by the side of a building and covered his head as burning debris was showered in all directions. As the noise faded Hoss lifted his head carefully. He had just taken in where he was, in the alley by the Territorial enterprise building, when he realised that he wasn’t alone. Dan de Quille got to his feet first and brushed himself down. Like Hoss he had taken cover and recognising the big man he frowned, “You okay?”

“So far. Jest a mite thirsty. That was a big one.” Hoss considered the situation and remarked “Your building is on fire.”

Dan smiled wryly “Press is on the wagon here, the old files in the vault. All I’ve got to do is get the wagon out of town and I can start writing the biggest news story this year.”

“Well organized.”

“May be a few years Hoss but I’ve seen this town burn before, something you never forget. You should know you were here too.”

“Yeah but this time it’s even worse, town so much bigger.” Hoss straightened up “Take care Dan.” He clapped his old friend on the shoulders and moved off again to find even greater panic on the streets. The Enterprise building wasn’t the only one to be set alight by this last explosion, buildings on both side of the main street were on fire and going up alarmingly fast. As the light faded the fire threw a red glow over everything. Hoss hadn’t even realised it was so late, more than five hours since he left his family and he hadn’t stopped to draw breathe, it wasn’t surprised he felt tired. He could only pray that the others were coping and unhurt. Hoss pushed the thought away, he had his own job to do as did they and he could be reasonably sure nothing disastrous had happened or he would know.

There were fewer people in town now; many had taken refuge with friends out of town or high on Mount Davidson above the fury of the fire, carrying armfuls of sentimental possessions. The unfettered men were still hanging around, some looking for a chance to loot abandoned buildings, while others were eager to help if they only knew how. Hoss didn’t have any difficulty in recruiting enough of the latter to help out at the orphanage. Even filthy dirty with his clothes torn, the big man was unmistakable and although he didn’t know them, he was known. Hoss led them to the orphanage where a few frightened women were trying to calm excited and scared children. Whether terrified or thrilled the kids all knew Hoss and swarmed over him as soon as he appeared. Picking up a couple of the little ones who were in tears Hoss decided to get the kids right away. He wasn’t taking any chances with these young lives and, rashly committing his family, he told them they were all coming out to visit with him on his ranch. That created uproar but Hoss made himself heard over it, warning them that they could only come if they behaved. There was almost instant peace and Hoss organized the children into columns, each of the older ones responsible for a smaller child He explained that they would have to wait up on the mountain until he could organize some wagons to take them out to the ranch. He made them promise to stay close together or the wagons wouldn’t be able to find them. Then he got them all started on the rather roundabout route which would ensure their safety. Hoss went a little way with them and sent half a dozen men to help the women, carry the essential belongings and, if necessary, a couple of the smallest children. Then Hoss returned with the rest to try and save the buildings but the fire was already showering sparks onto the orphanage. Hoss ignored the various outbuildings and concentrated his efforts on the main building, seemingly being in half a dozen places at once. Many of the men would have given up but Hoss was always there, cajoling them to keep trying, hauling water, pulling away burning timbers with a seemingly unfailing strength, phenomenal even in such a big man. With Hoss trying so hard and doing so much, it seemed the least they could do was to keep trying too.

Hoss had sent one man to find the wagons which should have arrived from the ranch and to tell José or Jess, or any hand he could find, to arrange to collect the orphans and take them out to the ranch. It was all very haphazard but the best he could do and he didn’t have time to worry about arrangements now, as he fought for the orphanage, the fire seemed almost a personal enemy.

Adam had reached the California mine to find utter chaos, men standing around in groups, some still below ground unaware of the fire and no one at all in charge. Seeing two so-called foremen just standing watching Adam lost his temper, by their inaction they were risking men’s lives and he sacked them on the spot. His fury was so obvious the men didn’t even stop to argue his right to do any such thing, just wanting to remove themselves from his vicinity. In some ways his temper helped, there was no argument as everyone jumped instantly to do as he ordered. Within ten minutes of his arrival Adam had the mine evacuated, had men burying the blasting powder and others nailing heavy timbers over all entrances and air vents into the mine, before they piled earth on top of them, all designed to stop the fire going underground. The buildings weren’t so easy but leaving men with strict orders to carry on protecting the mine, Adam cleared the essential documents and sent a man up the mountain to carry them to safety. There was still no sign of Fair or Mackay and Adam set a few men to damp down the main lift cage and equipment, while he took a supply of dynamite and cleared a few of the lower buildings to make a firebreak.

Adam had lost all track of time, he was getting very tired but there was too much to do just to give in and when he had done all he could to protect the California; he issued strict orders for the men to watch for sparks and to continue piling the earth while he moved onto the Consolidated Virginia. He hadn’t been gone very long when Jim Fair finally appeared, having seen to the evacuation of his own house, but his main delay had been at their stamp mill where he had arranged to get the equipment moved out. The building would go but with the essential equipment safely out of town, the delay wouldn’t be long.

John Mackay didn’t even have that excuse, he’d gone home to get his wife to safety but she was near hysterical and determined to take half her possessions with her and he was still at the house packing when the fire reached them. Then he had to take her and run for it, along with so many others that it took a long time to reach safety.

Adam found things slightly better at the Virginia, the foremen had at least evacuated the mine and had men burying the blasting powder, others trying to damp down the buildings but so far nothing had been done to protect the mine. Adam asked if anyone had shut the fireproof doors which separated the Virginia from the Gould and Curry but noone was sure. The door was normally kept padlocked and the presumption had to be that it was shut although Adam knew he ought to go and check. The mere thought of going down the mine under present circumstances made him shiver and he wouldn’t ask anyone else to do what he couldn’t. He had promised his father to take no unnecessary risks but even so.... Before he had time to worry about it the decision was taken out of his hands as the whole area was covered with burning debris from a massive explosion as the main supply of powder at the Gould and Curry caught fire. Adam was thrown off his feet by the blast as were most of the men, dazed all he could do was cover his head and wait for the world to settle. Burning debris landed near him but he was untouched, others weren’t as lucky. For a few minutes everyone was putting out burning clothing and trying to help the injured. Two men were past all help and several more badly hurt. The rest, like Adam, were bruised and shaken, a few with minor injuries but capable of carrying on. The mine buildings were also damaged with several on fire and even worse the main lift gear was on fire with nothing to prevent the fire going down the main shaft. Adam sent two men to save as many papers as they could from the office and concentrated all the rest on the fire at the lift, having allocated men to get the injured to safety.

The fire seemed to gain on them whatever they did and Adam had already seen smoke coming out of one of the air vents nearer to the Gould and Curry. Adam knew it had to mean that somewhere underground there was already fire amongst the forest of timbering holding up the mine but even so, if it was humanly possible, he had to prevent the main shaft catching. If that went there was a chance of every level catching fire. That was possible anyway but the odds for it would be much greater if the main shaft caught. If all the levels were on fire it might well prove uneconomic to reopen the mine, even knowing the enormous riches waiting on the fifteen hundred foot level. Adam hadn’t even considered the effect on his finances, he was rich anyway, but these men working with him would lose their very livelihood.

Everyone was fighting desperately hard, some with water or blankets fighting the flames, while others tried to cut away the burning timber. They had to take great care to ensure the flaming timber didn’t fall down the shaft and precipitate just the disaster they were trying to avoid.

Adam had others making a thick cover to slide over the shaft and digging earth ready to pile on it. He had given up actually wielding a shovel or throwing water, unused muscles proving a liability so he couldn’t carry a full load, but he was everywhere encouraging, giving orders, putting his weight on a pole to push burning timbers away. He ignored his own growing exhaustion as he encouraged and persuaded the exhausted men to carry on fighting. At first they were determined, then as someone else noticed there was fire already in the mine they would have given up the unequal struggle only Adam wouldn’t let them. For a while it was only his determination that kept them going but gradually a renewed will to fight manifested itself. After all their hard work they weren’t about to give in and lose the mine to the fire.

Not fully fit Adam was near complete exhaustion but he kept going and noone else could give up as long as he wouldn’t. How long they fought the fire Adam had no real idea, he’d lost all track of time, but his reactions had slowed and when part of the lift gear collapsed he didn’t even see it. The first he knew of trouble was the blow across his back, which knocked him to the ground. His back felt as though it was on fire again and having lived through the agony once his only conscious thought was “Oh God not again.” before he passed out cold.
Almost before he hit the ground eager hands were waiting to lift the heavy timber off him and water put out the flames, which had only just caught his shirt at the shoulder. Moving swiftly the men cleared him and lifted him away from the danger area. The heavy timber hadn’t really damaged his back but the very tender scar tissue was painful and that combined with the shock of being knocked down and his utter exhaustion was the last straw for his weakened body. Once sure that he wasn’t badly injured just some slight blistering at the shoulder and bruises, the miners returned to dealing with the fire. He had risked so much for it and they were unable to help him directly. The best they could do was win the fight he had started, not wanting him to come round and find that they had failed him.

Adam was on his own when he regained consciousness and for a moment he was only aware of the pain in his back and prayed that it wasn’t as bad as before. Slowly he got his bearings and remembered the fire but just then he heard Joe’s name. He listened again, not even consciously taking in who was speaking, but then he heard again “Little Joe’s dead...” and he lurched to his feet.

John Mackay had just reached the mine and he’d been shocked to find Adam lying out cold, especially as he was convinced Joe was dead. Pulling one of the foremen into the remnants of a shack he’d demanded to know just how badly hurt Adam was, He was sure that it would hit Ben very hard to lose one of his sons and if it was two ..... The foremen tried to reassure John, Adam was alright, just exhausted and badly shaken by being hit but no serious injuries. John had sunk down on the table “Thank God for that it’s going to be bad enough telling Ben that Little Joe is dead without having Adam hurt too.” The man knew Joe well and he asked, “You sure Little Joe’s dead?”

Before John could answer there was a disturbance, John looked up to find Adam filling the doorway, holding onto the doorjamb for support, completely incapable of framing the question for which he so badly needed an answer. Luckily John knew him very well and moving to support him he said “I’m so sorry Adam. I guess you heard.”

Adam perched on the table but he gripped John’s arms with more strength than he knew he had, “How John, how? Are you sure?” Adam tried to feel Joe but overtired he couldn’t feel anything and he could see the conviction on John’s face. John Mackay swallowed hard “I’m so sorry Adam but I saw it myself, on the way up here. Joe went into the International Hotel and the whole lot collapsed. A couple of people got out, quite badly burnt, but Joe wasn’t one of them and noone could have survived.”

Adam stared at John but he wasn’t seeing the Irishman, only really thinking of his youngest brother and of Nita with Joe’s baby due so soon, unable to argue against John’s certainty, unable to reach Joe to know that he was alive. He was still gripping John’s arms painfully tight, seeing Joe shaken and hurt after losing Marie, happy with Nita, the affection on Joe’s face as he brought books to ease his big brother’s suffering, so many scenes from the past and always Joe trapped in the burning hell of a collapsing building. Adam felt thoroughly sick but whatever else happened he had to find his brother and take him home to rest with his mother and his beloved first wife. Slowly he let John go and pulled himself to his feet, “Thank you for telling me, you can cope here now.”

As though from a long way away Adam heard John ask anxiously if he’d be alright but for now more than anything Adam wanted to be alone, or as alone as it was possible in the panic stricken burning town. He wasn’t even aware of what he answered but slowly he got out of the room and began to make his way down through the smouldering remains of buildings towards the International, not taking in anything he saw or any of those who spoke to him, anxious as he looked so ill. Adam knew his way even in the utter desolation, in this town he had done so much to build. He only had one idea for now, to find his brother’s body at whatever personal cost, so that he could know for sure and take Joe home. Adam was quite calm, seemingly floating above the chaos, once he had achieved what he had to, there would be time to mourn.

Joe wasn’t particularly surprised when his father didn’t join him at the courthouse, guessing that Ben had found plenty to keep him busy and trusting his youngest son to cope. Joe had too much to do to worry about the rest of his family; he’d lost all sense of time. Eventually all the relevant documents were stored down in the vault and Joe let his conscripted labour force go. He sealed up the vault himself and having done all he could, headed out to find out what else was happening. Rather to his consternation he found the other end of the courthouse was already on fire when he finally emerged into the street.

For a moment Joe stood and considered the scene coughing as the smoke got to him and made his eyes water. The fire had encroached on the main street already, progressing a long way in the hours he’d been working in the Courthouse. Although logically Joe had accepted that most of the town was going to burn he wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact of the devastation he could see and he was more shaken than he had expected. Gradually Joe pulled himself together, there would be time later to feel, for now he had to help where he could, The Chinese quarter was already on fire but Joe didn’t head down there. He knew the Chinese a lot better than most and he was very sure that they wouldn’t be panicking, it didn’t seem part of their character and they would be helping each other, so many were related.
Joe decided to concentrate on the stores across the street from the courthouse. They hadn’t caught fire yet but inevitably would soon. Some were empty but in others there was sign of panic. Joe moved along the street, no longer giving advice, now he gave detailed orders to the various men he saw. They were close to panic and almost seemed to welcome Joe’s orders, anyone who knew what he was doing, and none of them queried his right to tell them what to do. At one of the main stores Joe met Roy who was doing a similar job coming from the opposite direction. The sheriff was pleased to see him and wanted to know where the rest of his family were. Joe smiled tautly “Pa’s at our Bank, Adam up at the mines, Hoss at the hospital or the orphanage. I’ve got the courthouse records in the vault and sealed it, been trying to organise the evacuation further up the street.”

“Good for you. I’m glad that some people are keeping their heads.”

“Anything you want me to do?”

“Yeah Joe. I’ll cope here, can you check for me that everyone is out of the International Hotel. Noticed the roof has just caught.”

“Sure. Be careful Roy.”

“And you, Good luck.”

Joe hurried down the street to the International House and pushed his way in. People were still milling around in the lobby and he pushed straight through to the stairs and yelled for their attention. There were women and children, some of them in tears, and furious men haranguing the management wanting all their belonging saved, but Joe’s bald announcement that this very building was on fire brought instant quiet, broken only by a few sobs and sharp indrawn breaths. Joe went on “I’m afraid all of you will lose clothes and luggage but the important thing for now is that we lose no lives. Don’t take more than you can carry, get out of here now and make your way up to the west of town, up Mount Davidson where you’ll be safe. People are already organising food up there. Keep your families together and don’t panic. There is plenty of time provided you start now.” As the lobby began to clear Joe turned to the distraught manager “Is everyone out of the rooms?”

“I don’t know. The staff they just ran.”

“Get this lot out. I’ll check.” Joe took the stairs three at a time and threw open every door, breaking down the locked ones, getting adept at kicking just the right spot. He found noone on the first floor but on the second there was a man in a drunken stupor. Joe slapped his face but could make no impression and left him. Once the other rooms were checked he could come back and carry the man out. Two doors away Joe found a locked room and was about to break the door down when a voice from inside, so high pitched with panic to be almost incomprehensible, swore that he’d shoot if there was any attempt to come in. Joe yelled at him “You’ve got to get out the roof is on fire,” but the only reaction was “Go away or I’ll shoot.” Again Joe left it to deal with on the way down and checked the rest of that floor before moving onto the third and last floor. It was already thick with smoke and once or twice Joe caught sight of fire through the ceiling but even here he found an elderly couple, holding close together in fear. Joe tried to tell them how to get out but they just looked blankly at him and the man said “Je ne comprends pas”

Joe stared at them in horror, “French?” As they nodded he bit his lip, wishing his brother was there and then forcing his brain to work, he tried to marshal the little French that he knew, “L’hotle est enflammé, nous allons, immediatement, c’est dangereux.”
Joe stumbled over the unfamiliar words but he seemed to get through to them and they got to their feet. The old man picked up a small case and Joe led them down. He went in and picked up the drunk, getting him over one shoulder, grateful he was no bigger, and then hurried on down and outside. Seeing a Ponderosa hand on the street Joe called him over to take the drunk and asked him to escort the old couple to safety. Then he turned back to them, “You’re alright now,” Then forgetting them entirely, and not even noticing John Mackay, he turned and hurried back in.

Joe had noticed that the front of the hotel was on fire but he had heard a child crying in the locked room where he’d been denied admittance and he could no more stay out and let them burn, than he would have been able to do so if Carole and one of his nieces or nephews was in the room. He ran straight back to the room, barely taking ay notice of the flames, just catching the staircase and he didn’t waste time arguing or trying the door, trusting that someone that close to panic would be unable to aim and fire a gun accurately. Practised at dealing with the flimsy doors, Joe kicked it in and was inside before the young man could react. Close to panic he still tried for his gun but Joe got there first and picked it up, not wanting trouble. “Look this building is on fire we have to get your wife and child out now.”
The young girl screamed and her husband just stood trembling, “We can’t, all we’ve got.” He gestured ineffectively at their meagre possessions. Joe swiftly pulled a blanket from the bed and piled baby clothes and some of theirs onto it and then tied it tight. “Right take this and let’s go before you lose the only important things your wife and child.” Then he picked up the baby and pushed the young girl out into the corridor. The man was following but as Joe came into the hall he saw part of the stairway collapse and flames blocked their way to the front. The girl bit her knuckles, trying not to scream but surprisingly the reality seemed to strength the man and he gave up worrying about what he was losing, concentrating on saving what he could. He moved to put his arm round his wife and quite calmly asked “What now?”

“Back stairs.” Joe knew the hotel, the whole town better than anyone and he led the way as the whole building at the front began to collapse. Joe knew that the stairs led into a dead end passageway with the only exit a side door near the front but they had to get lower. The other two stayed close and |Joe led the way to \a small room at the back of the hotel on the first floor. They were past arguing and any way it was near impossible to make yourself heard as the front of the hotel cave din with increasing bangs and crashes. Joe broke the window with his elbow when he couldn’t open it and then used the blanket bundle to clear the glass. He threw the bundle out and then turning to the man he said, “I’ll lower you out s far as I can,
Let your knees go as you land. Then I’ll lower your wife and you can catch her.”

“The baby?” she whispered.

“I’ll lower the baby on a sheet, go on there’s no time.” Joe bullied the young man into climbing out and then leaning out as far as he dared, he held on as long as he could, until the man was close to the ground. Once he was down the girl came forward trembling. Joe smiled “Trust me I won’t drop you and your husband is there.” He helped her onto the windowsill and then gripped her wrists lowering her until her husband took her weight. It was with relief that Joe heard him say “Got her.” She was only light but between the pair he felt as though his arms were being pulled out of their sockets. Then he turned to the baby and tying him carefully in the end of a blanket Joe lent out and carefully lowered him into his father’s eager arms. Then yelling to them to get back Joe went out of the window, lowering himself to the full extent of his arms and then letting go to land fairly softly. As soon as he got back on his feet Joe hurried them away from the hotel, which was about to collapse completely. The girl was crying quietly but the man held her and the child close, back in control, “How do we thank you? We’d all have died in there.”

“No matter we’re safe that’s all that matters.”

“No thanks to me and I don’t even know your name.”

“Joe Cartwright. Look I’ve got to get on. Take your wife and child up Mt Davidson, we’re trying to get food organised up there.”

The man looked bemused “Sorry we only got to town yesterday.”

“Some introduction. Hold on.” Joe spotted a couple of Chinese that he knew and called “Pak Lee.” As one of them came over Joe said, “His brother is my houseman.” Then turning to Pak Lee he asked him to escort the couple up to safety. Pak Lee was going that way anyway and very willing to escort them. Joe said “Go with him, he knows this town. Anything you need ask one of the Ponderosa hands. Anyone will point them out. Tell them I said to help, Joe Cartwright okay?”

“Thank you." said the man again and they watched Joe hurrying off, forgetting about them almost immediately. Joe had no idea that John had seen him go in and seen the place collapse, nor the construction he had put on it. Joe wasn’t at all sure where to go next but then he noticed Beth’s old house, now Roy’s and he remembered what Adam had said after reading the will. Beth’s house was in a small open area where there was some chance of saving it and so Joe yelled at a few men he knew and asked for help. There was water available and, as several men came to help, Joe began to damp down the roof and cut away any vegetation close to the house. Everyone knew that the house belonged to the sheriff and Roy was surprisingly popular, so as word spread about Joe’s attempt to save the house additional help materialised. The line of fire gradually began to sweep past them and the small fires started on the property were soon dealt with. Dan appeared a little later, with the press safe he had left two men with it to protect it, while he went to investigate what was happening around town. Joe was very tired and with adequate help wasn’t sorry to stop for five minutes and see what news Dan had.

Most of it was all too visible, the town was burning, virtually everything was going to go, but Dan was able to confirm that Adam’s precautions were working so far and the pump station was intact, as were most of the mines. The fire engines were concentrating on the mines and the hospital, which was safe enough so far. Dan reassured Joe that he had seen Hoss a while back, although he’d not seen Ben or Adam. The other major fight was at the railroad, which was going to be essential to get relief supplies into the town. Word had already spread about the disaster, the telegraph wires had been humming until brought down by fire, but it was too early to know what help was being organised. Joe asked who was organizing things up on the hill.

Dan shrugged, “Pretty chaotic up there. Several of your hands doing about the best. José, Kirk, Stevens, all the men from the drive. Carole had them bring in several steers which they have butchered and are roasting. Kirk is cooking beans and making coffee and he says Hop Sing and your other housemen are busy baking biscuits as fast as they can and having them brought in, along with baby food. Carole has all that organized. Some of the injured and the orphans are on the way out to the ranch, along with others making their own way out. Our politicians and local businessman are doing their usual excellent job of talking up a storm but your hands are doing something practical. Lots of mighty scared folks up there”

“José’s good at organizing. I’ll wait until I’m sure this is out and then maybe I’ll head up there and see what I can do to help. Guess we have saved about all we can for now.” Joe rubbed his aching eyes, sore from all the smoke, as he considered the town lit now just by the fire. The fire was across the main street and into the red-light district and the saloons down on ‘D’ street, none of it any great loss, neither were the shantys and cabins on the outskirts of town. A few stamp mills and a foundry might be saved, Joe had see the flares of dynamite as the owners tried to construct firebreaks and guessed that the defence was organized as well as possible. Elsewhere there was only desolation, a few brick buildings were still standing but even they were damaged and the rest a smouldering wreckage. Beth’s house was one of the few wooden buildings still intact, apart from some up the hill, by the mines, above the main line of fire.

Dan left Joe to get on and made his way on down into the town. At first he could only stand and look round at the burning remains of all the stores and buildings that he knew so well. Then Adam caught his attention. Adam had made his way to the International House which was still burning fiercely, having fallen in with just one wall still standing and that was on fire. It was very obvious that anyone trapped inside couldn’t have survived. Adam knew the hotel well and knew that there were no cellars not even a back way out, no chance of escape if it had collapsed on Joe. He was oblivious of everyone and everything, standing as close as he could to the hotel, not even aware of the heat of the fire consciously, although his hand was up to protect his face. He could see the flames but superimposed on them were so many pictures, memories of his little brother. Despair was etched deep on his face, in the very way he was standing, his shoulders slumped, and he looked utterly exhausted, dirty, his shirt torn and burnt. Dan hurried over to him and tried to at least persuade Adam further away from the fire, wondering why this one in particular appeared to hypnotise him. Adam was dangerously close but seemingly unaware of it and nothing Dan said seemed to penetrate. Dan put his hand on Adam’s arm and tried to lead Adam away but Adam firmly removed his hand, acknowledging Dan for the first time and murmured “Leave me alone Dan.”

There was a stubborn implacability about him that Dan recognized and, realising that he was making no impression on his old friend, Dan turned and hurried back to Joe. Maybe he could help his brother. Adam lost in his memories of Little Joe didn’t even notice Dan leave.

Dan was in luck he caught Joe just as he was about to head up the hill, but hearing Dan call to him Joe waited, frowning at the reporter’s sudden reappearance, “What’s wrong?”

“Adam’s down in town. Looks on the verge of collapse, just standing there too close to the fire. Almost as though he’s mesmerized. I can’t get through to him but someone ought to.”

“Is he hurt?”

“Few bruises, small burns, dirty, like most of us, but he looks all in.”

“Lead on Dan.” Joe had already issued orders to his men, the main danger was past but they had to watch for any small fires started by debris swirled up by the Zephyr. Joe put all thought of the house from him, he had done his best and he trusted those he’d left in charge. Anxious about his eldest brother Joe followed Dan back to the remains of the hotel. Even seeing where Adam was standing Joe didn’t realise what was wrong. His efforts in the hotel seemed a lifetime away not just an hour or so, but even from a distance he could see the pain and despair in his eldest brother’s stance and he increased his pace to reach Adam.

The streets were very much clearer now, many of the people had taken refuge up on the Mountain, the smoke was too heavy for sightseers to hang around and although there were a number of looters, most of the stores and houses in the immediate area were in flames and only the saloons further east were still being looted. The looters were getting increasingly drunk as they stole whisky but Joe ignored them, pushing past the few people in the way, only interested in Adam, scared his eldest brother had been hurt again.

Dan stayed close behind Joe in case he needed some help, but Adam wasn’t even aware of their approach, edged even closer to the burning building since Dan had left him, unaware of the searing heat, or anyone else on the street. Joe spoke to him, asking what was wrong but it didn’t penetrate. Joe gripped his brother’s arm and forced Adam to turn away from the fire and look at him, “Whatever’s the matter Adam? Are you hurt?”

As Joe’s physical presence penetrated, for a minute Adam didn’t dare to believe it, his memories had been so real, maybe this was just another of them. The feeling Joe’s grip on his arm he knew Joe was real and not some apparition and murmuring “Joe.” He fell against his brother in a dead faint, as the relief proved too much for his weakened body. Joe was able to break his fall and with Dan’s help pulled him further from the fire. Then he knelt in the dust of the street cradling his brother’s head. There was nowhere to take Adam to recover but Joe checked his pulse and it was good and strong, “I think he’s okay just fainted.”

“I’ll go join the looters get some brandy.”

“Thanks Dan, can you just wet this for me first.” Joe passed over his own bandana and Dan utilised the nearby horse trough. Joe concentrated on cleaning his brothers face, a quick check showed no real injuries, like most of the men who had been fighting the fire, Adam had the odd small burn from falling cinders as did Joe. The worst was a large blister on his shoulder where his shirt had been burnt but even that was relatively minor and Joe was puzzled. He could only assume that Adam, low on stamina still, had overdone things in general.

Joe was relieved to see Dan hurrying back with a bottle of brandy and even a glass, Joe managed a grin, “Glad to see you looted some quality stuff, I could do with a shot too.”
Dan poured out a glass while Joe lifted Adam a little more so that he wouldn’t choke and then deftly forced his brother to drink the spirit. The brandy caught Adam at the back of the throat and he coughed but at least it brought him round. For a few seconds he was fighting for his breath but he could feel Joe’s strong hands steadying him and he knew that his brother’s arrival hadn’t been a dream. Then Adam sat up, pulling away from Joe and turning round to examine his brother’s face, the face he’d thought he would never see again. It was enough for a moment just to search Joe’s face, seeing the affection and worry there but then he pulled his younger brother close to him, hugging him tightly. Only then did Joe understand as Adam said brokenly, “I thought you were dead.”

Dan couldn’t hear but he knew Adam very well and could make a reasonable guess at what was wrong. Joe held Adam close for a moment but he was aware that they were becoming the centre of a group of interested bystanders and he murmured “Easy Adam, easy now, have a drink.”

Slowly Joe pulled away and held a full glass of brandy for Adam to drink, not trusting his brother’s still trembling hands. Adam was glad of the brandy and slowly realising the attention they were causing he let Dan and Joe help him to his feet and leaning heavily on his brother they headed back towards Beth’s house. The crowd dispersed as nothing was happening and Adam stopped to look back at the hotel, “I thought you were under that Joe. John MacKay was so sure, he saw you go in and it collapsed, he told me....”

Adam couldn’t fill in the details, the last half an hour as he had lived with the belief that his youngest brother was dead, but he didn’t need to. Joe could understand and now out of sight of everyone except Dan, Joe moved closer to Adam again. “I went out a window at the back, didn’t even know that anyone was worried. I’m fine, untouched. Relax big brother, you’re exhausted.”

Slowly Adam’s trembling eased and he joined Dan and Joe in another brandy, hardly able to drag his gaze from the brother he thought he’d lost, but he was back in control. Although he couldn’t deny that he was exhausted, so by the look of them were Dan and Joe. There was little more they could usefully do now. Most of the town that could burn was already alight, the few survivals being guarded against sparks, but the worst danger was over and the panic easing down in town. The major problem now was the vast number of homeless up on the hill. Adam knew they’d have to go and try to help but after one scare he needed to know that his father and Hoss were safe first. Adam was scared that something was wrong, he felt there was but he couldn’t trust his own feelings. The cold grip of fear around his heart while he believed that Joe was dead was still all too real. Hesitantly he asked Joe if he thought they were alright. Joe smiled confidently “Pa’s fine.” But then as he thought about Hoss the smile disappeared. Joe hesitated, “I’m not sure, probably nothing but ....” Even Joe wasn’t sure; he couldn’t always tell which of his brothers he was sensing. His father was always distinct but they weren’t. He had been very worried about Adam and knew that his brother was still upset and very tired, it could be that he was sensing.

Dan said, “Last I saw of Hoss he was collecting help for the orphanage. May still be there.”

“Worth a try.” Joe nodded, “Come on Adam let’s go and find the big moose and don’t worry, he’s good at looking after himself.”

Dan decided to tag along, he hadn’t checked that part of town yet and maybe he could help. Adam refused Joe’s help, well aware that he wasn’t the only one close to exhaustion. They edged through the smoking ruins towards the orphanage. They had to pass the hospital and there at least Hoss’ efforts had proved worthwhile and, apart from some outbuildings, it was untouched with plenty of men watching to ensure that it stayed that way.

Joe couldn’t help worrying about Adam, seeing from the way his brother moved that he was in pain but he knew better than to fuss and just let Adam lead the way and make his own pace. Joe knew that Adam wouldn’t rest or hear of going home until the family was complete again.

There hadn’t been time for Hoss to clear a firebreak around the orphanage as he had round the hospital and the fire seemed to be gaining on them. As soon as they put out one fire another started and the outbuildings were already smouldering ruins. Hoss was beginning to doubt his ability to save the main building. In the dark it was hard to see what was happening elsewhere, the fire threw a flickering light with deep shadows, not helped by the heavy smoke. Hoss still drove his men on, using his own strength prodigally but he knew how close he was to exhaustion, even if it wasn’t obvious to the other men. Eventually having put out the last fire they could see, Hoss stopped to consider their position. Very tired, he was slow to react as the wall and the floor where he was standing started to collapse. At first he didn’t even notice the ominous rumbling and the warning that one of the men yelled failed to penetrate. The first he knew of trouble was his legs being taken from under him and, with a prayer for his wife, Hoss fell into oblivion.

Before the men could get over to see what had happened, another fire broke out between them and Hoss, threatening to engulf the ruined end of the building and with it the trapped man. Hoss was popular round town and he’d earnt the men’s respect for the efforts he had put in to save the orphanage, working harder than any of them. Knowing that his life was in imminent danger if he had in fact survived the fall, they worked like men possessed to put out the fire, all thought of tiredness forgotten They had largely succeeded by the time the brothers and Dan arrived at the orphanage and had prevented the fire reaching the collapsed corner of the building.

Adam and Joe were right up to the building before they were recognized and word quickly spread of their arrival. The fire was virtually out but several men made work for themselves not wanting to have to break the news about Hoss to the brothers. Half a dozen men, all of them known to the brothers, were in the yard and as they recognized Adam and Joe they seemed to move closer together and take a step backwards. None of the new arrivals missed the significance of that, Joe’s fears were all too obviously justified but far from collapsing under this fresh strain Adam seemed to draw strength from somewhere, at least until he could be sure that there was nothing he could do. Adam pulled away from Joe, whose support he had welcomed and moved forward, asking quietly “Where is my brother? What’s wrong?”

None of them wanted to answer and Joe joined Adam “Please tell us what has happened to Hoss.” He singled out one man he knew well “Bryan please?”

“We ain’t sure Joe. Hoss was.... well he was over there.” Bryan pointed to the corner. “Then it sorta collapsed, only a few minutes ago. We had to put out this fire, in case it went along there, ain’t had a chance to look yet.”

Joe and Adam hadn’t even waited for him to finish, they were scrambling up over the fallen timbers, oblivious of bruises and scorching alike, needing to know. Joe heard his brother murmur “Oh God please, Sue.” and knew, that like him, Adam was almost as scared for the tall redhead with their brother’s child due so soon as for Hoss. Joe prayed that Hoss would be spared to see his first born, the child he wanted so much.

Adam was ahead of his brother and held up a hand to stop Joe. Now that the fire was out it was very difficult to see anything. There was no moon and anyway smoke hung like a pall over the town. The whole area felt unsafe and until he knew just where Hoss was, Adam was scared that they would bring down more on top of their brother. Joe edged slowly and carefully up next to him “What is it?”

“We could make matters worse, we need light Joe. There must be some lanterns in the orphanage.”

“Alright I’ll fetch some in a minute, Try and call for him Adam.”

“I....” Adam’s voice gave completely for a minute, he could only remember the fear and panic he’d felt trapped down the mine, calling for Hoss and getting no answer, that and the very real fear for his brother. Joe gripped his arm, feeling the tension “Easy Adam he’s not dead, I’m sure of that.” Recognising that his brother couldn’t call Joe did so, “Hoss, Hoss can you hear me Hoss.”

Joe’s voice seemed to echo round and round the ruined building, far enough from town for the noise there to be muted. All the men were waiting anxiously and only spoke in whispers but there was no answer and Joe almost as tense as his brother called again.

Hoss had been knocked out in the fall and he was just about fighting his way back to consciousness when Joe called to him. He recognized his brother’s voice but at first all that meant was that Joe was around so everything would be alright and relaxing he almost slipped back into oblivion. Then as Joe called again he heard the note of urgency, near panic, in Joe’s voice and realised his brother wanted him to answer. At first he couldn’t find his voice and only managed a croak, but Adam acutely sensitive heard even that and murmured “Listen.”

At the second attempt Hoss managed to call back, “Here Joe.”

Joe rested his head on his arm, momentarily weak with relief, despite his avowed certainty that Hoss was alive. Adam took over; managing to sound confident now that he was sure Hoss was alive. “Take it easy Hoss; we’ll get you out soon. Are you hurt? How badly are you trapped?”

Hoss recognised Adam’s voice with a sense of relief, with both his brothers there, everything would be fine and his voice was stronger as he answered. “Adam sure glad you’re both here. I can’t really tell, pretty sore and bruised but no real harm far as I can tell. Lot of stuff round, can’t move.”
“Soon have you out brother.” Adam turned to Joe, “Get those lanterns, crowbars, ropes, anything else that might help.”

Joe nodded but as he began to make his way back he found Dan edging slowly up, very slow because he was carrying three lanterns and had a coil of rope over his shoulder. He passed two lanterns to Joe gratefully, “More lanterns, shovels, crowbars, even a pick on their way up. Is he okay?”

“Conscious and rational, but until we get him out...” Joe sighed and turned to go back to Adam, and only then did he think to thank his old friend. Adam, lost in his own thoughts, praying that Hoss would be alright, scared for him and for his sister-in-law, didn’t even realise that Joe was back remarkably fast. He just took a lantern from Joe and considered the fallen rubble to try and pick a safe way across it. He ordered Hoss to call out so that he could judge just where his brother was and steering as far away from Hoss as possible and keeping close to the walls, or where they had been, Adam edged his way over towards Hoss. Joe followed carefully, tracing his brother’s path, carrying crowbars in his belt. Joe ordered everyone else to stay back until they’d had a chance to see the problems, wanting to minimise the risks.

Hoss was lying trapped on his back, his head hanging over a pit unsupported. With the blood running to his head he found it hard to keep hold of his senses. One arm was trapped under his back and he seemed to have no strength in the one that was free. He had little feeling in his legs but he wasn’t really worried. There was no real pain and he was confident in his brothers’ ability to get him out.

Hoss was vaguely aware of lights above him as Adam edged his way closer but the lantern just threw darker shadows elsewhere and although Hoss could make out his brother’s shape outlined against the sky, Adam couldn’t yet see Hoss. Hoss would have liked to give way and slide back into oblivion but as Adam continually spoke to him, he forced himself to answer.

Adam finally reached a point above Hoss and leaning down he lowered the lantern and made out his brother. Hoss shut his eyes against the light but he was grinning, “Adam.”
Adam considered the rubble and timbers which had trapped his brother, trying to work out what best to do. He talked to Hoss as he did so, reassuring him that they would soon have him out and managing to instil confidence into his voice, even though he could see how difficult it would be. Joe joined him and the brothers’ eyes met, both recognized the problems and each others fears, fears that they wouldn’t express in Hoss’ hearing. Adam was scared that the first floor would collapse too if they made a wrong move and Hoss would slide down the pit that they could see. If he did he would land on his head and inevitably be badly hurt, if not killed.

Joe touched the rope on his shoulder that he had taken from Dan. “Need to get it round him first. For safety.”

Adam nodded, “Not so easy Joe, it’s damned precarious.”

“Get someone else over and lower me. I reckon I could reach him from the wall, get a rope round him if someone held my legs.”

Adam hesitated but suddenly several blocks of stone shifted, two falling with a crash and Hoss slipped a few inches further down. Adam bit his lip “There may not be that much time.”
“It’s our only chance Adam can you hold me? Are you fit enough?”

“As you say Joe, no choice. Can you trust me?”

“You know I do brother, sooner the better.”

Adam insisted on cutting a length of rope and tying it round Joe’s waist and onto the main corner timber which was still firmly in place. In the event of his strength giving out it might save Joe’s life, given his brother’s quick reactions. Then Adam set himself as firmly as he could on his precarious perch and gripping his brother’s ankles waited as Joe with the rope for Hoss in his mouth walked on his hands down the wall, steadying himself and trying to take as much of his weight as he could to save Adam for as long as possible.

Hoss watched puzzled but neither of his brothers had the breath to spare for explanations. Adam felt his brother’s full weight come on him and it tore unmercifully at his back muscles still weak from lack of use, but he held Joe steady, ignoring the fire in his back. Joe knew that Adam couldn’t hold him for long and did his very best to work fast. He got one rope looped round Hoss’ ankles and then managed to work another loop over his brother’s shoulders and Hoss was able to work it down under his free arm with Joe’s help. Then Joe had to get back on the wall, he edged his way back up using the rope tied to the corner post as soon as he had a hand free, to ease the weight off Adam. Hoss had been able to ease himself up a little and help Joe once he realised what his brother was trying to do. Then all he could do was to wait and pray, all too aware of Adam’s laboured breathing, knowing his eldest brother was nowhere near fit. Joe knew that Adam had fainted less than an hour before and was even more aware of Adam but as he fought gravity to get back on the wall, he could only edge up slowly trying to limit the amount of weight he put on Adam. It seemed to take a very long time before Joe was able to get a leg up over the wall and Adam was able to help him to sit up.

Joe considered his eldest brother who looked ghastly, fighting for breath, but even so Adam sounded far more peaceful as he pulled in the slack to enable them to ensure Hoss’ safety. “Well... done... Joe. Need... two...more men.... hold ropes... we can ... clear.” Adam was fighting hard for control of his breathing but he couldn’t hide his pain and Joe shook his head and said firmly “You’re not doing anymore. Just try and relax. As Pa said you have a wife and four kids who need you.”

Adam didn’t have the breath to argue and let Joe call to Dan, asking him to come over with two more men. Joe warned him that it was very unstable but Dan had watched the route Adam took very carefully. It took time but the three men joined the brothers without disturbing Hoss despite a few timbers settling. Adam had his breathing under control and had stopped trembling, but to Joe’s surprise he didn’t argue when his brother told him that he wasn’t fit enough to go down to Hoss. Dan looked over at Joe in obvious surprise at Adam’s meek acceptance of the prohibition, his old friend looked very drawn but Dan was well used to Adam’s normal pigheadedness. Adam wanted to go to his big brother but he was too well aware that he would be more of a hindrance than a help. He could just about hold his hands still but seemed to have no strength in them, with little control, and knew that he couldn’t lift even the lightest of the timbers. He let Dan go down with Joe to Hoss and ensured that the other two men had firm hold of the ropes holding Hoss safe. Then he tried to do what he could to help, talking to Hoss, explaining what they were doing, trying very hard not to let the tension he felt sound in his voice. Joe and Dan edged their way over to Hoss, but despite their care they dislodged some bricks and timbers. Once Dan slipped as several timbers gave way and he went through the erstwhile ceiling of the ground floor but Joe reacted quickly supporting Dan until he could get back onto a firm footing again. Dan escaped with just a few bruises but it was eloquent testimony of the risks the two men were taking.

Joe reached his brother first, lying down to spread his weight and he squeezed Hoss’ hand, “Soon have you out.”

“Be real careful Joe.”

“Sure, but I was born lucky.” Joe smiled at his brother and then began clearing some of the smaller rubble covering his brother’s body. Not taking any chances he passed most of it back to Dan to pile behind him. Slowly as he cleared the loose material the real problems became clearer. Two large roofing timbers had wedged against each other, across Hoss’ pelvis and upper thighs, with one trapping his big brother’s arm, resting on his ribs. As far as Joe could see they were supported mainly by the wall and although resting on Hoss he wasn’t taking their main weight and indeed they had partially protected him from falling debris, so that Joe was hopeful, for the first time, that his brother might have escaped serious injury. While that thought cheered him up, he wasn’t at all sure what to do. He looked round at Dan who just shrugged. The reporter could see the problem but he was a writer not very practical and had no idea what they should do.

Joe sighed but then seeing the concern on Hoss’ eyes he forced a grin, “Not long now but I need some advice.” He placed the lantern to show the beams as clearly as he could and looked up at Adam, “What do you think I ought to do? Maybe we need a saw?”

Adam lent over, holding onto the corner timber for support, “How firmly are they jammed on the wall Joe?”

“Pretty firm far as I can see, what are you suggesting?”

“We have ropes here. Can you get one under each beam for safety and once we have the tension on the ropes from here, you start building some rocks under the far ends, pivot the beams up against the wall until Hoss is clear and then pull him out.”

Joe considered Adam’s suggestion and he couldn’t see anything that would make it impractical, “Worth a try anyway.”

Adam threw down the ropes and Joe tied them on the beams, balancing precariously as he did so. Hoss shut his eyes, unable to watch, even though he knew his brother’s agility and sense of balance were excellent. Adam took control of the ropes himself, ignoring the shaking of the muscles in his back and arms and the incipient cramp. There wasn’t time to bring any more men over and he wasn’t taking either of the men off Hoss’ safety ropes. He did dally the ropes round the corner timber to aid him if the full weight of the timbers suddenly came on the ropes and then concentrated on keeping them taut. Joe slowly raised the far ends of the timber with bricks that Dan passed him, doing his best to keep the two beams as even as possible. Joe kept checking and slowly the beams lifted until Hoss was free but he was too stiff and sore to be able to move. Joe left Dan to hold the timbers steady, Joe edged closer to Hoss and slowly began to ease Hoss backwards. Hoss was able to lift his head and help a little but too much of his weight fell on Joe and after a couple of minutes Joe had to admit to himself that it was more than he could cope with alone. He called Dan to help him, leaving the timbers to look after themselves. Adam redoubled his hold on the ropes to keep the timbers clear and with Dan one side and Joe the other they slowly edged Hoss clear. Adam was barely aware of his brothers’ movements, concentrating on every slight move of the timbers until a shout of relief from one of the men on the safety ropes caught his attention and he saw Hoss sitting up free between Joe and Dan.

As so often when Hoss was injured his sheer size posed a problem. He was far too heavy for Joe and Dan to carry, particularly on the unstable surface. Joe got the safety rope tied more securely round Hoss’ waist and in loops over his shoulders as Jess had once shown him. Then he concentrated on massaging his brother’s legs, hoping that enough feeling would come back so that Hoss could walk with support. A swift check had shown no real injuries and Hoss was insistent that he was fine just a bit numb and bruised.

Adam had let go of the timbers and was leaning against the corner timber, feeling weak and sick, everything happening a long way off. He wasn’t even aware of one of the men asking him if he was alright. Scared the man tied a rope round Adam securing him to the strong timber post, but Adam didn’t even seem to notice, all his attention on his brothers below.

Slowly Hoss felt a little feeling return to his legs along with the inevitable ‘needles and pins’ and with Joe’s help he made it to his feet. Even so it wasn’t going to be easy for him to get back up on the wall. Joe considered the area wondering if it was even necessary. There was a more direct route but Joe hadn’t tried it out to see if it was safe, deciding a few more minutes delay would help Hoss anyway, Joe left Dan with his brother and picked his way carefully across to the intact part of the building, where other men had erected a ladder. They had gathered at the bottom, waiting for news and Joe yelled down to them “He’s clear, on his feet.”

There was a cheer from the waiting men and Joe smiled for the first time in hours, before going back to Hoss. It would be far easier for his brother than the roundabout route they had been forced to use while he was trapped. Joe made it back easily and yelled to the men on the wall to throw down the safety ropes. Then with Dan’s help he slowly and carefully helped Hoss over the rough broken bricks and timbers to the ladder. Even there Joe went first guiding his brother’s feet onto the rungs until he reached the ground. Then Joe stood back supporting Hoss until he was down, before helping him to sit down leaning against the wall. Then Joe gave him a long drink of water, before offering a brandy. Hoss shook his head, “Not just now thanks Joe. Just let me rest for a few minutes. Where’s Adam, is he okay?”

Joe hesitated, not wanting to leave Hoss who was obviously badly shaken, if not seriously hurt. On the other hand he was anxious about his eldest brother, knowing he must have been exhausted as he hadn’t insisted on going down to Hoss and so far there was no sign of him. Hoss recognized Joe’s dilemma and put his hand on his brother’s arm, “I’m alright Joe, just shaken and bruised. Go get Adam, he ain’t fit yet and you know it.”

Joe nodded and knowing that Dan would get anything that Hoss needed, he climbed back up the ladder again, rather surprised to see no sign of the other three men making their way down. He hurried over towards the wall where he had left Adam, although he was careful not to take unnecessary risks. Seeing Adam still on the wall Joe was frowning as he pulled himself up. The two men were standing there uncertainly, not knowing what to do and they were very relieved to see Joe. One of them said “Glad you’re back Joe. He ain’t unconscious or anything, but just don’t seem to hear us.”

“He’s exhausted. Fainted even before we came over here and found Hoss in trouble.” Joe sighed but eased his way over next to Adam, taking in the rope which was keeping his brother safe. He looked over at the men “Thanks.” Then he concentrated on Adam gripping his arm. At first Adam didn’t even seem aware that his brother had returned, fighting hard to keep any sort of control of his senses. Joe was glad he still had the hip flask with brandy and forced a little into his brother’s mouth as he talked quietly to him. Adam spluttered and coughed but at least he was more aware and willingly accepted a drink. Then lifting his head he forced a smile. “I’m alright Joe, just so very tired. Hoss?”

“Bruised, stiff and sore but he seems to have got off light. He’s more worried about you. We have to get you down brother.”

“I’m alright.” Adam insisted, “Just tired.” It seemed to take a long time for his orders to reach his limbs and for them to react and his back and arms felt as though they were on fire, after the blow they had received at the mine and the strain he’d imposed on unused muscles. Joe was worried but with his help Adam slowly made his way back across the wrecked building and down the ladder to rejoin Hoss. Joe was used to his brother’s recuperative powers and his acting ability, but even so he was surprised to see Adam straighten up and walk over to Hoss, showing little sign of just how close to collapse he had been. Hoss was very relieved to see his eldest brother and he grinned as Adam joined him. Adam dropped down on one knee by his brother and taking Hoss’ hand searched his big brother’s face, trusting what he saw there far more than anything Hoss might say. Hoss was doing his own check, worried about Adam, but slowly both relaxed. Each was near total exhaustion, both stiff, sore and bruised, but nothing that a couple of night’s sleep wouldn’t put right. Adam pulled his brother close and hugged him for a minute and then both accepted the brandy that Joe offered them. Joe was grinning broadly, sure that both his brothers would be fine in a day or two, but for the moment he let them rest.

The orphanage was badly damaged but at least the damage was concentrated at one end and it wasn’t irreparable. The fires close by seemed to have died down so the main danger was past. Joe was staring over the town when his brothers joined him. Most of the major fire had burnt out just a few shacks on the far side of town still burning fiercely. Most of the town that they knew so well, which over the years they had done so much to help build, was a smouldering ruin. A pall of smoke hanging over the whole scene but even so the damage was very clear. Only a few buildings were still intact and most of them showed some sign of damage. The three brothers stood close together, considering the ruins, not needing words, each knowing how the others felt. Adam shivered involuntarily, “I shall be glad to get home.”

That comment brought Joe back to the present. He knew that there was a lot of organizing to be done, aid for the homeless, checking the extent of the damage particularly at the mines and then the rebuilding to do. For now neither of his brothers was fit enough to do anything until they had some rest. Hoss had already been away from Sue many hours longer than he had intended and with the pressure off momentarily he was bound to start worrying. Adam was still on the verge of collapse and he hadn’t seen his wife and children for over a month. Apart from anything else Joe was sure that a lot of people would have headed to the Ponderosa to look for help and with supplies being sent in from the ranch as well, an enormous amount of work must be falling on the three women. Two of them were heavily pregnant and Carole was still not as strong as usual. Joe decided that the first job had to be contacting his father and then checking just what their men had committed them to and how José and the other men were coping up Mount Davidson. He tentatively suggested that the other men could keep watch on the orphanage and, if his brothers felt up to it, they ought to try and contact Ben. Both Hoss and Adam insisted that they were fine and indeed seemed to have gained strength just from being reunited with their brothers. Dan decided to tag along just in case Joe needed some help and they slowly cut their way through the smouldering ruins and made their way up the hill. Each of them stopped to look at the ruins of a friend’s house or a building that had meant something to them and eventually Adam had to accept Joe’s help as his legs felt like rubber, but Hoss insisted that he was fine. Joe kept the pace very steady and as they reached the outskirts of the large crowd he stopped. With the sheer mass of people it wasn’t going to be easy to find anyone and Joe suggested that his brothers relax and rest while he went to find out what was happening. Adam protested, Joe had been working just as hard as they had, but Joe just grinned, “I haven’t been trapped, or fainted! If we split up and go looking we’ll just lose each other. You two stay put and Dan and I will know where to find you. If I can’t find Pa or José after say half an hour I’ll come back. Dan if you see either of them could you explain where Adam and Hoss are waiting?”

“Sure Joe.” Dan smiled, “Joe’s right you know Adam just take it easy.”

Adam gave way knowing Joe was talking sense and he and Hoss sank down on the grass and both settled back and tried to relax. Joe slipped through the crowd, heading for the small cooking fires he could see, hoping that some of the Ponderosa hands would be near them. With luck they would have word of his father’s whereabouts.

Ben had been held up at the Bank for a lot longer than he had hoped. The chaos seemed to recur as soon as he turned his back. Men he had known for years and would have expected to keep their heads seemed to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the catastrophe and seemed to be running around in circles. The town council had talked about the risk of fire, even voting money when pressed by Ben, albeit under protest, for fire companies. However few had really believed Ben’s warnings that the whole town could go and no real contingency plans had been made. A few other old-timers, who had seen the last fire in ’63 or seen fires in other towns, had backed Ben, but they had been in a minority. Now many of the businessmen were panicking seeing their buildings and stock disappearing in minutes. Ben worked hard until the vault was jammed full and then for safety sake he locked it up taking the keys with him, knowing from the rumours that looting had already started. Ben wasn’t surprised but he had other things to do and leaving men with firm orders to protect the bank and allow anyone who wanted access to storage in the main building, he headed on. When he emerged onto the main street he could understand more easily why panic was so widespread. Although he remembered previous fires the town had never been so big and the sheer size of the problems being caused was terrifying. He had warned of exactly this but his memory of previous fires had dimmed, so the reality was far worse than he’d imagined. As he considered the burning town it wasn’t the buildings which worried him, despite having a substantial share in many of them, it was fear for his three sons which gripped at his heart, making it hard to breathe momentarily. He had asked them not to take risks, but he knew that when lives were at stake none of them were capable of standing aside and somewhere each would be fighting hard to save what they could from the wreckage. The courthouse was already well alight and Ben could only pray that Joe had carried out his work there and was well clear. There was noway that Ben could get close to the building and he could only trust in his sons’ abilities to look after themselves and his feeling that thus far his sons were safe.

Ben headed down to the station, knowing that the railroad was going to be essential in picking up the pieces but there at least panic was absent and the superintendent seemed to have it well under control. He had men lining the track to deal with any fire, the bare earth on each side their best defence. The station itself might well go but with the track intact there wouldn’t be any major cut in the line. Ben was pleased to see that someone else was organising things and decided the most useful thing he could do personally was to head up the hill and help with the organisation for the refugees up there. Just as he decided on that course of action he spotted Jess carrying two young children and followed by a seemingly endless stream of women and kids. He went over to join Jess and helped out carrying a couple of youngsters who were tiring. Jess was on his third trip up the hill. He had been helping to evacuate some of the small shacks which were bound to go, where there were frightened women and children, unsure what to do. As they walked, slowly in order to keep the children with them, Jess filled his boss in on what he knew of the situation on the hill. José and the rest of the men from the drive, augmented by some of the other hands, had arrived with wagons and supplies, with food and all the spare blankets that they had. José had sent men to Carson City to get as many more blankets as possible. All the orphans had arrived with orders from Hoss to take them out to the ranch. Hoping that the men with them had it straight, José had been loading them onto the wagons and getting them off to the ranch when Jess left last time. Some of the hospital patients had already been sent out and other people were making their own way to the Ponderosa. Ben could only hope that Carole, with help from her sisters-in-law, could cope with the influx. Then as they were in the midst of the crowd of refugees, Ben left Jess to cope and pushed forward to join his foreman, who was trying to organise food and drink for everyone. José was more than a little harassed ad very glad to see his boss. For half an hour they were so busy trying to get a little order that there was no time to discuss events. The single biggest problem was the number of drunks. Men who had looted the saloons and were drunk enough to cause trouble. Slowly the Ponderosa hands managed to shepherd most of them off to one side and several were beginning to sleep off the liquor so things quietened down.

The vast majority of refugees had already left the town and the trickle still arriving were mainly men, who were capable of looking after themselves. José rather hesitantly told his Boss that on the second hand and rather muddled instructions that he hoped had come from Hoss, he had committed Ben to the care and upkeep of the orphans. Ben laughed “Relax José. Jess told me and however vague the instructions were I am certain Hoss would have sent them to the ranch.”

José wasn’t surprised at his Boss’ reaction but there weren’t many men who would so calmly accept major commitments, likely to last for a long time, even on their son’s word. Relieved by that José filled his Boss in on what else he’d done and then a young man came forward with his wife and baby. He was very nervous obviously, but determined, and Ben smiled encouragingly, “Can I help you?”

“Someone said that you are Ben Cartwright?”

“That’s right.”

“You got a son Joe?”

“Yes my youngest son why?” To Ben’s surprise the man grasped his hand and shook it almost dementedly and in a long and involved speech tried to thank the father of the man who had saved their lives. Something he didn’t consider he had done earlier when Joe was there. Slowly Ben unravelled what had happened but once he had confirmed that Joe was uninjured, Ben concentrated on calming the pair down. Only the baby was sleeping peacefully. When he learnt that they had only just arrived in the west and didn’t know anyone, Ben took pity on them and murmuring “Can’t leave a job half done,” he told José to arrange transport out to the ranch for them.

José grinned, “Joe seems to have made a habit of pulling people out of the hotel. Elderly French couple came up with one of the men. Don’t speak a word of English but seems he got them out. I sent them to the ranch too. Carole was the only one I could think of who spoke French.”

“Joe doesn’t speak much, I wonder how he managed. Strikes me before we’re finished we’ll have half of Virginia City camped on our doorstep.”

“Do well to keep it to half!” José commented.

Ben shrugged, “So little we can do, they’ve lost so much and we’ve lost nothing.”

A few minutes later the foreman of the Virginia, John Reed, arrived. He had split his men into two groups, half continuing to keep watch and fight the fire in the mine, while the others got some food and rest. He had a bad burn on his own arm and Mackay had insisted that he come up the mountain to have it treated. Mackay had come with him wanting food himself and needing to check the news elsewhere. Mackay had been held up by another mine owner, very willingly as he had spotted Ben. Still believing that Joe was dead, Mackay didn’t want to have to break the news to Ben too, it had been hard enough to tell Adam. Reed was more concerned about Adam and wanted to know if Ben had any news. He had been surprised to find that Adam had disappeared from the area where they had placed his unconscious body, but with so much going on he hadn’t really had a chance to worry about it until it was brought forcibly back by Ben’s presence. Reed asked Ben if he’d seen Adam and when Ben shook his head he would have turned away, but Ben had seen the anxiety and he gripped the man’s arm “What’s happened?”

“Probably nothing Mr Cartwright. I guess Adam had some job to do.”

Ben frowned and insisted on knowing what had happened. For the first time he heard of the problems at the Virginia; the explosion which had badly hurt some, shaken and bruised everyone and then the fire at the lift gear, with fire in the mine itself. Reed explained how Adam, in the absence of those who should have been there, had kept everyone fighting even when he was too exhausted to lift a bucket himself. Then he told Ben how the lift gear had collapsed knocking Adam out. Reed tried to reassure Ben that he was sure Adam had been more exhausted than hurt and that they had left Adam to come round in his own time, only he’d vanished. Ben was very worried about his eldest son but John Mackay came over to join him and something in the expression on John’s face caught Ben’s full attention.

Gratefully Reed managed to slip away as Ben thanked him for what he had done. Ben knew that John had bad news for him, but after Reed’s news it was Adam he was worried about.
John said gently “Sit down Ben.”

“Have you seen Adam?”

“Yes. I had to tell him too. It’s Little Joe.”


John couldn’t meet Ben’s gaze and stared at the ground but he was concise. “Joe went in the
International Hotel, then it just collapsed. Joe didn’t come out.”

Ben frowned, not sure what it meant, “He went out a window at the back with a young couple and their baby. Did he go in again?”

John sat down heavily, “I don’t know Ben. I saw him come out with some old couple and then he went back in and the hotel collapsed. All the entrances are at the front and I didn’t see him, so I thought....”

Ben shook his head, “No that must have been the French couple. These others went out a first floor window with Joe after that. He was fine then, they have just been talking to me. The staircase was on fire, collapsing. He couldn’t have gone in again.”

“Oh God I told Adam that his brother was dead.”

Ben knew just how hard that would have hit Adam, not helped by his state of near collapse a little earlier and he didn’t know what to say. He could see than John was badly shaken by his mistake which had been made in good faith.

Before either man could think what to say, Joe appeared, proving his father was right n his reading of events. Joe saw how shaken his father looked and knowing that John had told Adam he was dead, he guessed the same mistaken information had been passed onto Ben. He hurried over to his father, “I’m fine Pa, cheer up.”


“He’s with Hoss on the edge of this lot. I told them to take it easy while I tried to find you. Why?”

Mackay said harshly, “I told him you were dead.”

Joe smiled at him “Yeah I heard. I went out the back. Poor old Adam. Dan saw him over by the hotel looking rough and collected me. Guess Adam thought I was a ghost or something, passed out cold, but soon came round. He’s okay, just needs to get home and get some rest.”
“Not really surprising Joseph.” Ben quickly sketched in what he had learnt from John Reed. Joe whistled softly, “Small wonder he was exhausted.” He hesitated for a moment but his father needed to know about events at the Orphanage before they rejoined his brothers and he passed Ben the brandy flask he was still carrying. He reassured Ben that Hoss was fine, just stiff and bruised, but he was trapped for a while. Ben wasn’t surprised he had seen trouble etched on Joe’s face. Joe filled in the details while Ben listened in silence. As he finished Ben called over one of his hands and sent him to go and fetch the horses, leaving Joe to explain where to bring them. Then straightening up he put his arm round Joe’s shoulders, “Let’s join your brothers Joseph, seems God has been good to us again.”

The first news of trouble to reach the ranch was from Hoss’ letter. Sue read it rapidly and then, very pale, handed it over to Carole. Nita read it over Carole’s shoulder and she too lost colour. Carole sighed but then, considering her sisters-in-law, she smiled. “First and foremost you two must relax. I know your baby is nearly due Sue but really for the next couple of days, we are going to be too busy to cope with childbirth too. Please tell it to keep quiet.” That raised a small smile from both pregnant women and Carole went on “Try not to worry too much, they are all very capable.”

Both Sue and Nita tried to relax and Carole sent Nita to fetch coffee and brandy for all of them while she went to find Pak Tsien, Kam Ling and Kam Su. She filled them in rapidly and told them to get started cooking all the biscuits that they could and anything else which could be prepared quickly and sent to town. Then she quickly harnessed her buggy and went over to the main bunkhouse. On the way she had a little time to try and sort out her thoughts and decide what her priorities were. She was determined to handle the basic organisation from her own home, wanting to be around to keep an eye on her sisters both heavily pregnant. In some ways it would be more awkward but at least it gave her plenty to think about. With Adam so badly hurt already by fire she was close to panic herself, only keeping it at bay by considering practicalities.

The hands were used to taking her orders in the men’s absence and hearing of the trouble in town noone caused any problems. Carole was relieved to see that José was back and with his help she sent men to fetch every available wagon, some to Carson City for stores and blankets with a note giving them authority to pledge the Cartwright name as necessary and others to town to help as best they could. She sent men to open up all the line shacks within reasonable distance and the spare bunkhouse. Hop Sing packed away a few precious items in the house and started cooking while José arranged for signs directing everyone who arrived from town to Adam’s house first so that Carole could allocate space and keep track of who was where. She had no real idea how many would descend on her but was sure it was going to be chaotic if things were as bad as Hoss’ letter indicated.

Carole warned everyone to keep it simple, biscuits, beans and meat, although she asked Hop Sing to keep all supplies of milk and prepare broth for any young or injured people. Limit it to one blanket per person and just do the best that they could. Once the initial plans were decided and food was heading for town, Carole went back to join Sue and Nita. They had been piling up all the spare blankets from the three houses and planning how many they could fit in the houses; but it wasn’t until Carole started talking about moving the horses into the corral and putting fresh straw down for the men that they began to see how bad it could get. Carole had brought some hands back with her to act as messengers and she set three of them to clearing the three stables.

It was obvious to all of them that they might have refugees at the ranch for some considerable time and while eager to do what they could to help they wanted to retain some privacy, especially with Sue’s baby due imminently. Sue and Nita both suggested independently that they should move into Adam’s house for now and perhaps they could keep that one house to themselves. It would be easier with the four young children staying at home. Ben would have to decide for himself whether he wanted a room at his son’s house or to remain in his own room in the main house. After all as Sue said she could imagine just who was going to be landed with the major jobs of organisation in collecting material and rebuilding the town. They would deserve a little peace at home. Carole was very happy to have them over to stay, she was determined to prevent either of them overdoing things and risking their babies.

Carole got two men to move Hoss’ big bed over to the largest guest room at least he would have some comfort. They had just finished that job when the first buggies appeared from town. These were wives of important business men, acquaintances rather than friends, who had left servants to bring their possessions. All had left town early and had never been in any danger but that wasn’t at all obvious from their conversation. Carole couldn’t be rude but most of them were well off and they could afford to go for a vacation in Sacramento or San Francisco while their husbands rebuilt. The most she was prepared to offer was a bed for a couple of nights and even then, unless they had families, it would be a bed in the bunkhouse. Carole tried to be tactful but it was clear that she wasn’t popular. All too soon that was the least of her worries. Determined that neither Sue nor Nita would overdo it, Carole tried to be everywhere at once. She had given Nita charge of the overall plan, noting who was where; while Sue dealt with the allocation of the supplies they had available.

Carole had ordered the spare bunkhouse to be set up as a makeshift hospital when the first injured and evacuees from the hospital started to arrive. One of the nursing sisters had accompanied those well enough to be moved as Sister Cecily realised that the Ponderosa would inevitably become one of the main centres for dealing with the refugees. Carole was very grateful for her help and for the very practical help from some of the hands. Eventually she had to leave them to cope and get back to help Sue and Nita. It was obvious that the initial trickle of refugees was becoming a flood.

The other two were very glad to see Carole return, some of the new arrivals were disgusted at the prospect of taking shelter in a line shack or being separated from their men. Nita was determined that rooms at the houses would be kept for families with young children or the injured; those least able to look after themselves. Carole backed up her sister to the ladies fury but as the first wagon load of orphans arrived they broke off the discussion. None of them were surprised to hear that Hoss had sent them out but how long they would be staying would depend on whether the orphanage was destroyed. The three women got together hastily and it didn’t take long to decide that the best plan was to turn over Hoss’ and Sue’s house to the orphans. They would be very squashed but no more than many others and it was the best they could devise. At least the orphans had their usual carers with them which helped. It was Sue’s suggestion, as Hoss had sent them out Sue assumed that it was what he would want. Carole went off to arrange it and tell Kam Ling, so that he would be ready to offer whatever help they could. Sue went with her to rescue a few special breakables, but as she began to pack them into boxes she suddenly felt very guilty. So many people had lost everything and here she was fussing over a vase and a painting. Carole knew her well and came over to help, “Not fair on the children to leave them here.”

“It’s not the value or anything, but they were presents. Important to me, just because Adam knew me well enough to find this and.....”

“Stop feeling guilty Sue. We’re doing all we can and we will over the next weeks, however much it costs. Share whatever we have available. But there’s no point in feeling guilty because we’ve been lucky and they haven’t, often enough it’s the other way.”

Sue relaxed and with Carole’s help soon had the essentials moved over to Adam’s house. As they went in Nota looked up, harassed, “Carole do you speak any French?”

“A bit.” Carole said doubtfully and went over. Nita sighed “I don’t but I sort of recognize it, at least I think that’s what they are speaking. They don’t understand me.”

Carole nodded and reasonably fluently asked them to come and sit down by the fire and asked for coffee. At first very hesitantly and then as they realised that they had found someone who understood them, the old man began to talk. He introduced himself as Marcel Fauré and his wife Garielle. They had come west to join their daughter Michelle, who had sent them the money. They were supposed to meet her at the International House in two days as she and her husband were moving to Virginia City but now they didn’t know what to do. Carole calmed them down, as soon as things were under a control they could send her a telegram, letting her know where they were. Until she could reach them they would stay at the Ponderosa. Carole went over to Nita, “You’d better allocate them a room here, at least Adam and I can talk to them. Only be for a couple of day, they have a daughter in Sacramento.”

Carole turned back to Mr Fauré as he described the kind young man who had rescued them. He had at least managed to get Joe’s name from the hand Joe had passed them over to. Carole wasn’t very surprised but Nita catching the mention of his name came over. On the whole they were too busy to have time to worry about the men, but in the back of all their minds was the knowledge that all the Cartwright men would take risks to help, without weighing the possible consequences, especially if lives were at risk. Carole rapidly questioned the old man but although he said that Joe had gone back in, she had no intention of sharing that with Nita. Instead she grinned at her sister, “Good job Joe came to Europe with us, picked up enough French to persuade them to leave the hotel. Must have thrown him to suddenly need it. He’s not exactly fluent. Came out with them and got someone to take them up the hill. He was fine then.”

Nita relaxed a little and as Carole explained that the lovely, very pregnant, blonde was the wife of their rescuer, the old man started to try and thank her. He kissed her hand, trying to give the thanks he hadn’t managed to give to Joe, much to Nita’s embarrassment. Carole came to her rescue and as they were obviously exhausted, too tired to want food, she took them up to the guestroom.

The children had been very good helping to pack things in the kitchen but Anne was very fretful with all the upheaval. Carole didn’t have time to sit down and feed her, not at all sure that she had the milk with all the rushing around and seeing that Sue looked tired, Carole decided to combine two necessities. She took Anne over to Sue and asked her to feed the baby; at least it ensured Sue sat quietly for a while. Carole fetched the bottle for Sue and then whisked the other three off to bed. Very much against their will despite being well past their bedtimes, but they all knew Mummy well enough not to argue and were soon tucked up in bed.

Carole hadn’t long returned downstairs when she heard a baby crying. She automatically headed for the stairs only to stop as she realised that it was too young a baby to be anyone but Anne, who was contentedly guzzling away on Sue’s lap. She decided the noise was coming from the yard and she went out to find a young couple trying in vain to quieten a baby. The man, rather embarrassed, explained that his wife couldn’t feed the baby with so many people milling around. Carole suggested that they use her husband’s study. Then she had to deal with some more problems and almost forgot the couple although she did tell Nita to have coffee sent in for them.

Nita took the coffee in herself during a slight lull in the new arrivals. She found the girl in tears, the baby screaming and the man trying ineffectually to rock it. Nita put the tray down and took the baby, “Why don’t you try and calm your wife.”

“He’s hungry.” The man said despairingly and the girl moaned “All my fault, I can’t even feed him.” Nita guessed what the trouble was and opening the door she caught Carole’s eye and asked for a bottle of milk for the baby. Carole came over “How old is it?” and on hearing he was three months she smiled “No problem, one bottle coming up.”

Nita went over to the girl, “Take it easy, all this upset is enough to disrupt anyone’s milk. It’ll be fine in the morning once you’ve had some sleep and he can have a bottle. My niece is guzzling one now because her mother is too busy and too tired to feed her properly.”

Slightly encouraged if disbelieving, the girl looked up and Nita smile, “What’s his name?"

“Peter, after my husband. I’m Jane Colbrooke.”

“Nice name Peter. I’m Nita Cartwright, my husband and I have considered Peter as one possibility for this.” As Carole appeared with Anne on her shoulder, Nita made the introductions.

“Pleased to meet you.” Carole said, passing over the bottle to Nita who began to feed the baby. “Not too fast Nita or we’ll be up all night burping him! Even greedier than Anne.”

Peter Colbrooke said, “Mr Cartwright sent us out here, is this his house?”

Carole smiled “No the main house is about a quarter of a mile away. This is my house, my husband Adam is Mr Cartwright’s son.”

“I thought his son was Joe?”

Nita said, “He has three sons, Adam, Hoss and Joe. Joe is my husband.”

“We owe him our lives.” Peter said very quietly and went on to explain graphically what had happened but the only important item was Joe’s lack of injury. Carole left Nita with them and Nita allocated them a room in her own house. There were only a few rooms left now but slowly, despite complaints, they had fed and dispatched the people as best they could, around the houses, line shacks, bunkhouses, barns and stables, The hands had been marvellous, of their own volition they had moved into a large barn leaving the bunkhouses for the women and if a bed in the bunkhouse was not what they had expected on taking refuge at the Ponderosa, it was at least a roof over their heads and a bed to sleep on. Uninjured men had to sleep in the barns or stables, rooms going to families with young children, the injured and the very old.

Slowly the rush of new arrivals had eased off but many of the hands were still busy collecting and transporting supplies, assisting in preparing food in one of the four kitchens, even some of the line shack facilities had been pressed into action. Carole decided that Sue looked exhausted, she had been helping with the injured unable to forget her nurse’s training. With the baby due so soon Sue gave in to Carole’s pressure and went to lie down for a while. Carole took the opportunity to sit down while it was quiet and poured herself and Nita a brandy, both were too tired to want food, but on edge worried about the men. Anne stared fretting again but this time Carole could feed her and felt more peaceful with the baby at her breast. She was fairly confident that all four men had survived, she would know if anything was really wrong as Adam would inevitably be upset and he wasn’t. Nita drew some comfort from Carole’s certainty but she couldn’t really settle until those they loved got back. Even Sue only dozed restlessly despite her near exhaustion.

In town Adam and Hoss had settled down n the grass, not talking at first as Joe disappeared to find their father. Both brothers were near exhaustion, stiff and sore, but grateful for each other’s company. Adam was on his side, not touching Hoss but very aware of his brother and so very thankful for God’s mercy. Hoss had been more badly shaken by being trapped than he wanted his brothers to know and at first he was just glad to lie still and have a chance to relax. Slowly he began to think and remembered why he had come to town that day, to check on a brother he knew wasn’t fully fit and he turned his head to consider Adam. Adam had shut his eyes, they felt red hot, so sore from all the smoke, but despite his tiredness he was too tense to sleep and feeling his brother’s gaze on him he sat up abruptly. It was too dark to see clearly, the smoke from the still smouldering town obscuring the light from the moon, but Adam didn’t have to see his brother’s face to know what he was thinking. He reached over and gripped Hoss’ arm. “I’m alright Hoss, stiff and sore, very tired, but nothing a night’s sleep won’t cure. Same as you. We’ve been very lucky.”

“Guess you’re right.” Hoss yawned, “I’ll be glad to get home, see how the girls have coped.” Slowly he became aware Adam wasn’t even listening and sitting up he gently put his arm round his brother. Adam winced as Hoss touched his sore back but didn’t pull away, resting his aching head on his brother’s shoulder. He found himself telling Hoss, almost against his will, of the half an hour when he hadn’t thought they were lucky, when on John’s word he had believed their little brother was dead. Hoss was horrified, knowing just how hard that would have been for his brother despite the little Adam actually said. Adam pulled himself together; cursing himself for bothering Hoss all that mattered was Joe’s continued good health. Then to their surprise a voice said, “I’m very glad to hear it. Where is your brother?”
Both were glad to see Roy, tired and dirty as they all were but seemingly unhurt. Roy sat down, happy to get the weight off his feet. “You two okay?”

Hoss answered for them both, “Sure, tired, stiff and filthy, a few cuts, bruises, nothing serious. Joe’s much the same, went to try and find Pa. Should be back in ten minutes. Why do you want him Roy?”

“To try and say thanks. One of the few buildings still standing in town is Beth’s house, my house. I’ve never been more surprised. Once there was nothing else to do I went to see if I could salvage anything and it’s intact. Charred a bit in places but nothing much and about twenty guys on guard round it. Thanks to your brother. He wasn’t there but they all said he’d organised it, cut back the grass and just ....”

Adam knew how much the house meant to Roy and lent forward gripping his old friend’s hand, “I’m very glad Roy, at least something left to remind us of the past years.”

“How do I thank your brother?”

“Don’t reckon you need to. “ Hoss commented, “We all set out to save what we could. Your place had space round it, like the hospital, so we were successful.”

Joe just ahead of his father heard Hoss’ comment and he guess that Roy must be there. He settled down next to Hoss, “Wasn’t difficult Roy. You’re more popular than you give yourself credit. Soon as word spread that we were trying to save your house, I had more volunteers to help than I could use. All of them said you’d helped them at sometime and they wanted to repay the favour.”

Roy was glad of the covering darkness as he bushed brick red at Joe’s words, but even so he reached out to shake Joe’s hand, “Don’t alter the fact that you organized it, made the start and I’m mighty grateful Joe.”

“You’re very welcome.”

Roy turned to Ben, “You four heading home?”

“Soon as our horses get here. We all need a wash, chance to patch up minor injuries and catch up some sleep before we can do much more. The girls have had to cope at the ranch, lot of people headed out there and we need to check with them.”

“Sure. You’ve all done more than your share but this town is still gonna need the Ponderosa.”

“I realise that Roy and at least one of us will be in tomorrow morning. See the extent of the damage, what we can arrange.”

“Fair enough Ben. Think I’ll go find José, scrounge some grub. I’ll be seeing you.”

“Get some rest Roy.”

“Sure I’m used to sleeping rough.” Roy headed off into the crowd and Ben was able to concentrate on his elder sons. In the dim light he was unable to see the extent of any injuries, but he could sense the tenseness in both of them. Both assured him that they were fine but Ben found it unconvincing, still as the horses appeared both made it to their feet and mounted without needing ay help. Ben had told José to send half the men home for some sleep but his foreman had already made his own arrangements. As things quietened down Stevens had taken a dozen men off to get a few hours rest and would relieve him later, so Ben was able to head home with a clear conscience.

The four men rode home basically in silence, leaving the horses to make their own way, too tired with too many memories to want to talk. Hoss was scared about Sue and Joe almost equally about Nita, while Adam wanted desperately to see his wife and newborn daughter. They came into the yard and two hands came to take the horses and Ben was surprised as his sons almost seemed to hang back and he was the first to the door. However their arrival had been noted and Sue was half way down the stairs, Nita and Carole coming out of the study. Seeing their wives, all three threw off whatever fears and indecisions were holding them back and they pushed past Ben and went to their wives. Hoss lifted Sue down the last three stairs and crushed her to him, so thankful that nothing had happened in the long hours he’d been away, so much longer than he’d expected.

Joe wasn’t much better and Nita ran into his arms, not caring that he was filthy, just so long as he was home obviously unhurt.

Adam went more slowly to Carole and for a moment held her at arms length searching her face and studying the baby. Anne was still tiny but had grown considerably in the month he’d been away and considered her father very solemnly. Carole reached up to touch his face, her hand trembling slightly. He had gone with her blessing but she had known how weak and ill he had still been, despite all his efforts to hide it, and she had been scared for him. Despite the long tiring day he looked batter than when he left and at her touch Adam pulled her close and their lips met in a long kiss, words not really necessary.

Ben had gone into the kitchen and finding Kam Su had asked for some food and coffee, suggesting he kept it light as they were all so tired. When he came back he found everyone talking at once as his sons tried to find out how the girls had been coping and what the situation was at the ranch while they wanted to know what had been going on in town. In the hubbub, not helped by Anne’s vociferous disapproval of her parents concentration on each other to her exclusion, noone was actually finding out anything. Ben smiled at them more relaxed than he’d been all day but knowing they were unaware of him, he bellowed “Quiet”.

They all looked up, several looking rather sheepish and Ben went on mildly, “I think we might get on faster if everyone didn’t talk at once. I suggest Carole start and very briefly tell us what the situation is here and what you’ve done with everyone and then the boys can take it in turns to tell us what they have been up to in town, because even I don’t really know. For your information most of the town had burnt, just a few buildings still standing, but they include our Bank and the Virginia City bank. Luckily most of the mines were above the fire line and have escaped albeit with a certain amount of damage.”

As Kam Sue laid the table they all took their normal seats and Adam took his daughter from Carole. Anne seemed to know him and gurgled at him to Adam’s delight. For a moment he was unaware of anyone else, she was so much prettier now, the daughter he had managed to save with God’s help. Then he pushed back his chair and saying “I won’t be long” he headed upstairs, still holding Anne in his arms. Carole met her father-in-law’s gaze, neither of them needing an explanation, but Nita was puzzled “What’s wrong?”

Joe said “Nothing darling but he’s been away for a month, He just wants to see the twins and Marie and then he’ll be back down.”

Carole grinned broadly, his family all knew Adam very well. “It may be more than a minute or two Joe, so I’ll start I can always fill Adam in later.”

“No Carole, while he’s out of the way.” Joe took Nita’s hand, “I went in the hotel at one stage. It had caught fire and the main staircase was on fire so I went out a back window,”

Nita smiled “Along with Peter and Jane Colebrook and their baby. They think you’re a hero and I have to agree.”

“Is that their name? I didn’t get that far.”

“Yes, they are over at our house.”

“Fine so you know what happened. Wasn’t that risky and we were all fine but the thing is John Mackay saw me go in and didn’t see me come out. He told Adam that I was dead. Dan fetched me because he found Adam by the burning ruins of the Palace looking pretty rough and couldn’t get through to him. When I appeared, I guess it was a shock and he was pretty well exhausted, so he keeled over in a dead faint. He’s not hurt Carole but he is worn out, a blow on the back, knocked over by an explosion. Considering everything it’s a miracle he’s on his feet and he must have had a rough half hour thinking I was dead.” Carole bit her lip but seeing Adam coming back down, she relaxed as he looked so much better just for seeing his children sleeping so peacefully. She was glad of Joe’s warning, there would probably be nightmares, but pre-warned she would be able to help. Adam didn’t even realise that they had been talking about him, feeling so much better for seeing his children, “Sorry to keep you waiting. Go on Carole how much of the ranch have we still got to ourselves?”

“This house, apart from one elderly couple who only speak French. I think you’ve met them Joe.”

Joe laughed “Nasty shock There they were sitting in a hotel room saying ‘Non comprendez’. My mind went blank for a moment but with smoke all around, it wasn’t too hard to make myself understood.”

“They were very grateful too. Everyone seems to think you’re a hero”

Joe blushed and staring down at his plate muttered that he hadn’t done any more than lots of others. Taking pity on him Carole began to outline briefly just how many people had turned up at the ranch and what they had done with them. She made the men laugh as she described the outrage some of the suggestions she had made had caused. Ben thanked all of his daughters, with no help or guidelines and virtually no warning they had used their commonsense and done a superb job and he was very grateful. His sons were all delighted at their father’s words although as Adam said they hadn’t expected anything else, all confident in their wives’ ability. The three girls all found themselves blushing and Sue snuggled closer to her big husband. Ben was suddenly very serious as he considered his family, “I am very proud of all of you and I know that you have all worked very hard either here or in town. You all look as tired as I feel, but we must be practical and today is only the start.”

Each of them knew that Ben was right but they were too tired to face the thought of all the problems to be faced. Ben read their faces and he smiled “Take it easy I am not proposing that we start laying plans until tomorrow, we’re all far too tired. That is really the point I want to make. Too much of the organisation for rebuilding, both practical and financial, is going to fall on us. At least the basic work for the year is nearly complete all contracts met, but we have two babies due soon and I don’t want either of you overdoing it, Sue, Nita. Same for you Carole and Adam, you’re still not as strong as I’d like. Both Hoss and Joe are likely to be needed here and although we will help where we can, this family must come first, I just want you all to remember that and don’t let your hearts rule your heads. We can’t carry 35 thousand people.”

Each of them knew Ben was right but although the theory was right it wasn’t so easy in practice and Hoss, looking rather guilty, admitted that he had already committed them to help rebuild the stable for Jake. Hoss was relieved to find all his family backing him; there were certain old friends whom they had to help. Ben smiled and pointed out that he had offered help to Doc to rebuild and both Adam and Joe had made promises to friends. All Ben wanted was for them to take care not to over commit themselves. Then, as the girls were nearly bursting with curiosity each had to outline what they had done. Minor points like Hoss getting trapped could wait until later and one glance at his family ensured silence as he skated over it, just saying that his brothers had joined him and they had gone to hunt for Ben. Sue didn’t miss the glance but decided to wait until she had Hoss alone.

They had all been reasonably successful considering the extent of the disaster but Adam didn’t know the extent of damage at The Virginia. Certainly some of the underground shoring had gone. Eventually Ben called a halt, they would have to see what the morning brought, for now they were all tired and if they’d had all they wanted to eat he suggested they get washed and go to bed as he intended to do. For now he would stay with his family and Ben headed up first. Hoss had been the only one to manage more than a taken meal and he was the first in bed, so exhausted that for once he was immune to nightmares. In fact he was asleep before Sue could even query just where all the bruises had come from and content that he was with her, she slipped in next to him and was soon fast asleep too.

Nita and Joe talked quietly for a while and Nita extracted more details, including how Hoss had been trapped. While they talked Nita treated the various cuts and bruises Joe had collected and then settled down next to him, as his breathing gave testimony that he had succumbed to sleep. She was very proud of her husband, he might shrug off the title of hero but in her eyes that was exactly what he was. Proud and so very thankful that he was safe beside her Nita found herself praying. God had never been very real to her but since coming to the Ponderosa she’d found the faith of the Cartwrights contagious. They weren’t the most regular of church goers, ranch affairs often got in the way, but to them God was a very real support in times of trouble, a very real part of their lives and for the first time she was beginning to believe.

Carole saw to Adam’s injuries for him. There was nothing very serious but he had several sore burns, the worst on his shoulder, and his back was sore, although it looked a lot better than when he left. Carole knew he was very tense and tried to get him to talk with only limited success but he was so very glad to be home with her and the children; thankful that both Carole and Anne had gained strength in his absence. He had had plenty of telegrams telling him that all was well but although he had known that his family wouldn’t lie they might have glossed over things and there was no substitute for seeing for himself. For now he was very content just to hold Carole in his arms and see Anne sleeping peacefully in her cradle knowing his other three children were safe in their beds. Carole was very tired and quickly went to sleep but Adam had never felt further from sleep, despite his near exhaustion. One way and another it had been all too long since he had shared a bed with his wife and for a while that was enough to relax him but inevitably his thoughts returned to events in town and he tensed up, reliving his fears for his brothers. Eventually knowing he couldn’t sleep yet, Adam slipped out and went to check his children but even that wasn’t enough and feeling cold and sore he went down to his study to get a brandy.

Adam was surprised to see a light on in the study and he went in to see who was up and around. The study was empty and for a minute he thought they had just forgotten to put the light out but then he heard something bang against the door. He went and opened it to find his father with some coffee which he had just been heating up. Ben wasn’t too surprised, like his son he had been unable to relax sufficiently to go to sleep. Once he’d been assured that Carole was asleep Ben relaxed, glad to see his eldest son, it was mainly worries about Adam that had kept him awake. After a month apart and the events of the previous day there was all too much to talk about, but in fact father and son sat by the fire sipping coffee and brandy in a companionable silence. Slowly Adam did reveal a little of his fears for his brothers and knowing they were both asleep upstairs with only minor injuries he was finally able to relax. In his turn Ben filled in just how tense Hoss had been getting, his first child due soon, with Joe taking the brunt of it. Adam knew his brothers very well and he wasn’t surprised and he tried to reassure his father that as Joe had said, it didn’t mean anything and wouldn’t worry his youngest brother. Ben was glad to hear his opinion and equally that now Adam was back he would be able to help both his brothers. After an hour both were had relaxed sufficiently to think of getting some sleep and they headed back up.

Carole stirred as Adam slipped in next to her, not really waking, but she cuddled up to him and murmured ‘I love you Adam’ before slipping back into sleep. Adam relaxed warmed by her sleepy testimony and soon went to sleep. When Adam woke the following morning he didn’t even stir, sleeping peacefully with a half smile on his face. Carole noted that and also the fact that he was lying on his back, which he couldn’t have done before the drive. She relaxed, despite the trouble yesterday his back was obviously very much better, so maybe she could stop worrying about him.