Rebuilding Virginia City by Lyn Robinson

The morning after the fire, Carole whipped Anne downstairs as soon as she started whimpering and found Hoss and his father already sitting with coffee. They were surprised to hear that Adam had slept through the baby’s cries after his reaction before the drive. His absence had obviously done the trick, breaking the mutual suffocating dependence of father and daughter. Hearing that he was sleeping peacefully, lying on his back, both Ben and Hoss were delighted. That unconscious testimony convincing them far more than anything Adam said that he was well on the way to full recovery. By the time Carole had fed Anne the other three children were up and the sudden outcry from them told of Adam’s arrival. He was delighted to see them and sat down on the stairs to make room for all of them and was sitting listening to their prattle when Joe, Nita and Sue appeared. Adam just edged over to one side to let them past, but for now he was only really interested in his children.

After breakfast Carole took a tray up to the old French couple and the four men went into the study to try and sort out their plans. Obviously someone had to go to town and see what was happening and Ben decided they’d better start planning to cut on the lower slopes, there was going to be a huge demand of timber for houses as well as the mines and noone would be able to wait until the normal cutting season. They had some lumber stockpiled but nothing like enough. Hoss was obviously very stiff after his accident and Ben wanted his middle son to have a quiet day. Even Hoss had to agree that it was all he really felt fit for and he agreed to stay home, arrange the work and sort out as far as possible how many of their guests would be long term and how many could move on elsewhere until the town was rebuilt. Joe was to do a swift survey of just how much they could cut and where, with winter liable to close in anytime. Even with such a major disaster Ben wouldn’t retreat from his determination to protect his land. The town would be rebuilt in months whatever they did but if they cut everything in sight it would take decades for the land to recover. He didn’t need to spell it out to Joe; all his sons had been brought up with a belief in conservation.

Ben and his eldest son would have to head back to town, find out what had survived and what was being organised. Both men knew that they would be needed as financiers as well as the practical help the ranch was and would be able to offer and Adam’s technical expertise might well be needed as well. After a sleep and a chance to see his children Adam looked better than he had in months and Ben felt no qualms about asking for his company. Although as he warned Carole it was bound to be a very long tiring day. Adam had a quiet word with his wife while Ben got his coat, getting her promise not to overdo things and adding his warning that it might well be gone midnight before he would be able to get home, everyone was going to be wanting something and it was bound to be chaos.

More wagons full of supplies collected from Carson City and Dayton were ready to go in too, with food precooked by the Ponderosa hands and some steers were being driven in for fresh meat. Other than that Ben ordered his men to wait until he could see what was required. The people at the ranch had enough on their plates with all those who had taken refuge on the Ponderosa. Once the wagons had started for town Ben and Adam rode ahead, both deep in their own thoughts. Hoss, with the girls help, would reorganize things at home and Joe would get an answer, just how much they could help with timber and the best way to achieve it, but their own jobs were much vaguer. Everyone was going to be demanding help from one of the few powerful local sources uninjured by the fire. They couldn’t do everything and were well aware they’d probably end up satisfying noone. Just once Ben reiterated his comments of the previous evening, “We must be careful not to over commit ourselves.” Adam knew that his father was basically thinking aloud and he smiled “No major commitments without a majority decision. Anything needing us or our lumber we’ll have to thrash out with Joe and Hoss tomorrow. Need to know what Joe has found anyway.”
“Fair enough, chances are few will have thought far enough ahead to know precisely what they want anyway.”

Adam sighed “Gonna be a lot of talking in circles I have a feeling we’ll be very glad to get home!” In fact long before the talking started he would have been glad to turn round and head home, as they threaded their way through the burnt ruins, the devastation, though expected, hit both men hard. So little of the town they had helped to build was still standing, but they had to push that thought away as they arrived at the Nevada bank, one of the few buildings which had survived. As such it had been an obvious meeting place and about thirty men, mine owners and businessmen were collected in the main conference room. Every last one had been a millionaire, yesterday. Fair and Mackay were amongst them and came over as Ben and Adam walked in. MacKay tried to apologize to Adam for his mistake but Adam shushed him, it didn’t matter an error made in good faith, the only important thing was that Joe was fine. Anyway that was yesterday, their problem now was how to rebuild the town and just what they could salvage from the ruins.

Fair’s own home had gone up in flames but he seemed completely unconcerned, “So we’ve got to rebuild the town, hell we’ll build it bigger and better. That gang fussing, say we’ve lost 10, 12 million dollars worth of property, so what the mines turn out that much and more every month. Our company has receipts bigger than many of the States of this Union. It’s just a nuisance not a catastrophe.”

Ben and Adam met each other’s eye; it was typical of Jim, who was constitutionally incapable of recognizing the sentimental loss so many people had suffered, often hitting harder than the material one. In some ways his practical attitude was a help but they weren’t sure how long it would last when he didn’t instantly get all he wanted for his mines and the mills.

Ben said diplomatically, “It isn’t just the money Jim, there are plenty of practical problems, food, housing. Its the end of the logging season and noone has enough wood for instance.” Leaving Jim to think about that he went over to join Dan, the only non-business man present although Roy was expected, included for his wide knowledge of the basic facts. “How many died Dan, any idea?”

“Only two confirmed dead so far which considering everything is pretty miraculous, but how many drunks were trapped in collapsing houses I guess we’ll only know when the area is cleared. Some start has been made. A number of people badly hurt.”

“Anyone we know?” asked Adam

“No, not even among the injured as far as I know. Plenty of minor injuries but according to Doc only about twenty really serious.”

Thankful for that much at least Adam and Ben split up and had a word with as many different people as they could until fifteen minutes later Jim Fair, as director of the Bank called them to order. He suggested that they settle down and try to plan just how to undertake the rebuilding. Ben took the seat next to Jim but Adam who had been talking to Roy and Dan joined them at the bottom of the table. Roy hadn’t had any real trouble, less than he’d expected, as he said there was precious little left to loot.

Jim started by reading out pledges of support which had been arriving from all the major towns in the area, as far away as San Francisco and Salt Lake City. In the past Virginia City had done its share to help when other towns had been hit by similar tragedies and now it was time to reap the benefit. For a few minutes that lightened the atmosphere and the superintendent of the railroad took over and he helped too. The railway hadn’t been severely damaged although the station and many of the wagons had been lost. Such rails as had been buckled by the fire had already been replaced and the first train had already arrived from Reno, bringing essential food and blankets. Help from outside would be channelled through Reno and the railroad would arrange the transport. They were planning on as many as 45 trains every day to carry all that the town would need to rebuild at their own expense. There was a cheer at that and many of the men began to look more cheerful.

Jim took over and with support from Harris, speaking for his bank, he pledged support and financial backing to rebuild as soon as possible. There was plenty of spare labour around with many of the businesses outside of town slow to pick up after the collapse of the Bank of California and with the mines operational the town was still rich as Jim had insisted earlier.
As he listened Adam slid down in his chair, looking more and more depressed as he waited in vain for them to get down to practicalities. Dan was surprised at his reaction but he couldn’t question Adam there. Meanwhile Ben was trying to steer the conversation the way that Adam wanted. Help was fine and for the moment food was the essential but if they were to rebuild then they needed to let people know just what it was they needed or the help would be wasted. For a start how much was still standing and what of the rest could they salvage?

Adam looked round but noone seemed eager to talk and he spoke for the first time, “Dan I’m sure you’ve been checking. What did you find?”

“Not much. The mines have lost some buildings few have fire in the workings, mainly just the upper levels although I don’t know the extent. Doubt if anyone does yet. Few stamp mills up by the mines are intact but most have gone. The pumping station is intact, the hospital undamaged, this building and the Virginia City bank. A few others like the Bank of California have just lost their upper stories and can be repaired as can the orphanage, just one end damaged. South of town down towards Devil’s Gate quite a lot survives, just shacks mainly but a number of people have found refuge there. Otherwise just an occasional house can be saved at least partially and the cellars of others. Like the courthouse.”

Dan had finished but his final comment caused uproar as everyone began speculating just how they could manage in the absence of the records held at the courthouse. Ben finally made himself heard and informed them that hopefully the records were safe, as his son Joseph had transferred them all to the courthouse vault and sealed them in; so provided the vault lived up to their designation of fireproof the records should be alright. Adam smiled faintly sensing a distinct air of disappointment in a few quarters, but then all his attention was on his father as Ben tried to get some sort of plan for the building agreed at least in outline.

Everyone had their own ideas and their own priorities, with the miners wanting to rebuild mills, the businessmen, stores and offices or even hotels and theatres, even Dan thought it was essential to rebuild the Enterprise offices. Everyone was talking at once and despite Ben’s efforts, in very vague terms until Adam finally lost his temper and came to his feet. Ben wasn’t particularly surprised and made no attempt to stop his son, maybe Adam would make some impression. At least Adam’s first words shut them up, the noise ceasing as though cut by a knife. “You all make me sick! For God’s sake there are women and children camped out on the hill up there and it’s October.”

Sure he had their attention Adam went on, “Hotels, theatres, newspaper offices can all wait, those people up there can’t. They need houses, a roof over their heads. The nights are cold now. I’ve seen snow on the ground here at the end of October, it won’t lie for long but I wouldn’t want my wife or children camping out in it. The first essentials must be homes for those people and shops for food and other essential. Most of the rest is frills, we can use mills down on the Carson River temporarily, the rest can wait. The other thing that none of you seem to realise is the shortage of building materials. Whatever outsiders do, we can only bring in by trains a small proportion of the bricks and timber we are going to need, especially when you start talking about five story luxury hotels!”

Furious at his intervention the prospective hotelier took the chance to hit back, “Then you cut the wood we need, you got plenty on the Ponderosa.” There were lots of nods round the table and he glared triumphantly at Adam sure he had a lot of support.

Adam sighed “Again would you like to remember that it’s October. There is already snow high on the hills and it will come down lower at anytime. Logging for many very practical reasons is a spring and summer activity, most of our forests will be inaccessible in another couple of weeks. There is noway that we or anybody else can launch a major logging operation at this time of the year. We have a certain amount stockpiled and my brother is checking right now just where and how much we can cut. But one thing I can guarantee, it won’t be anywhere near enough for all the competing demands of the town and the mines.”

For a minute that blunt statement took everyone by surprise and several looked to Ben for confirmation. He could only nod, “Adam’s right and noone else will be in the position to do more.”

Adam pressed them while they were thinking, “That’s why we have to decide on priorities, homes before saloons, stores and offices before theatres and fairly simple for now, need to conserve our supplies. More elaborate buildings can wait until spring. We need to save what we can, knock down and reuse bricks from ruined buildings.”

It wasn’t at all what most of the men present wanted but none of them had succeeded without knowing how to accept unpalatable facts and when brought face to face with reality they could accept it. One man put the question all of them were thinking, “Alright Adam you’re so all fired certain of what needs doing, let’s hear your plan. What do you think we ought to do first?”

Adam had been thinking as he waited for them to start making sense and he had a pad in front of him. From the jottings on it he outlined a plan for the next week, clearing an area on ‘A’ and ‘B’ streets first and then moving onto the rest of the town, salvaging what they could and then using that plus all the supplies they could obtain to start building, houses first, simple two story houses, using the minimum of supplies and time but capable of extension when things got back to normal. From outside their immediate needs were tools, nails and bolts, glass, things they couldn’t quickly provide for themselves. Adam suggested that they set up several smaller committees, one to arrange finance, one to start organising men to begin clearing things on the ground, another to check the current position on the hill and to liaise with the railroad to find out what was arriving, while the last was to plan the small houses. The area he was proposing clearing first was basically old derelict mine buildings, the main mining effort had moved on and the land wasn’t really used. Adam proposed the town take over and build the houses, they could sell them to occupants later and if necessary compensate the original land owners if anyone could prove ownership. Once that was started similar designs of houses could be built with the town’s help on anyone’s land, if they could clear the site.

At first Adam’s detailed plan staggered everyone, simply because it was so detailed and only Ben sat back unsurprised, but then Adam was subjected to a barrage of questions about their legal position, the time it would take and what they ought to build. Adam parried the questions as best he could, enlisting help from his father and some of the others, while he quickly sketched out what he thought was necessary. It was hard to concentrate but he didn’t really need to. He had been thinking about it ever since they’d left town the previous day and the basic design had crystallised in his sub-conscious whilst he slept, so all he really needed to do was to get it down on paper. He sketched two views and then swiftly drew out sufficient plans to show what he intended. It wasn’t the most elegant design that Adam had ever drawn because the main essentials as far as he was concerned were simplicity of construction, so that it wasn’t dependent on skilled workman and as far as possible interchangeable components. He knew it would be quicker if the mills only had to cut a few standard lengths of wood. However somehow its very simplicity gave it a certain elegance which had always been the hallmark of Adam’s designs.

Within half an hour Adam had, under Dan’s fascinated gaze, sketched out enough to show what he was suggesting that they build, along with plans to show how it could be achieved. He indicated how the houses could be extended in various ways at a later date and then passed the plans round the table. Everyone was eager to see and gathered around but Ben slipped down to join his son, “They’ll buy it Son, well done.”

“I lost my temper.”

“Not always a bad thing, it needed saying but you’re going to have to head up the committee to draw up detailed plans, get things started. None else had the necessary expertise.”

“I’ll get things started but someone else will have to run things. We are going to be busy supplying timber. It’s got to be several small operations on the lower slopes, not one big one. Joe can’t do it alone.”


“The baby is just about due Pa and Joe’s already filled me in on just how up tight Hoss has been. Sure he’ll help out, I know that, but he can’t leave her alone for too long.”

Ben knew that his son was right and anyway the town wasn’t really their responsibility, they would help but others had to do their share. Thus, rather to everyone’s surprise, Adam agreed to work temporarily on the committee to rebuild homes but he wouldn’t take on the chairmanship, insisting that once work started he needed to get back to his ranch. Adam suggested that Roy Naylor took on the job. The suggestion of the young stockbroker, closer to Joe’s age than Adam’s, surprised everyone, even Ben and particularly Roy, who had only joined the meeting an hour earlier at Adam’s request. Roy felt out of his depth anyway and stared at Adam in amazement. Adam grinned at him, “I’ll help you get started Roy but it’s basically just a case of organising things and you’re good at that.”

Adam had been impressed by Joe’s comments about the few people whom he had found actually achieving anything the previous day and although the older men insisted on two older and possibly wiser heads joining Roy on the committee, Adam had his own way and Roy was appointed the chair. At Roy’s suggestion the four men left the rest to continue their discussion on such practical matters as finance, the supply of food and other essentials while they made a start on the detailed planning. Ben wasn’t about to let anyone slip back into generalities now Adam had forced then to get down to the practical details.
Adam was soon reassured that he had made the right decision as Roy left the older men to collect paper and pencils and find someone to take notes and suggested that he and Adam go and recruit some labour to start clearing the site and salvaging what they could. Roy was slightly dubious about who would pay, but Adam reassured him that there would be a disaster fund eventually and if they couldn’t get money from that then he would find it out of his own pocket. One way or another payment would be found at the standard Virginia City rate; if they didn’t pay then noone would be able to afford the houses and food that they were providing until business picked up and noone would be fit enough to rebuild the businesses.
Roy was still very uncertain about the job Adam had landed him with but as Adam outlined exactly what he would have to do and how to achieve it, promising to remain available to discuss any problems, Roy grew in confidence. Adam had seen it all before, although on a smaller scale, and with his father had played a prominent part in rebuilding after the fire in 1863. It wasn’t difficult to recruit men to work even without the promise of pay and after choosing some sensible men to act as foremen and filling them in on exactly what needed doing Adam and Roy returned to the Bank to get down to detailed planning. As they walked back another train full of relief supplies pulled in and the telegraph had been repaired. Men women and children were moving around town, salvaging what little they could from the ruins. Some were still showing signs of shock but many were apathetic. At least the weather was reasonably cooperative dry and not too cold for the time of year but Adam knew that could change any time and it was with a sense of urgency that he got down to work.

Jim Fair, staggered by an attitude which put his mines and mills far down the list of priorities, was sulking and Ben had effectively taken over the chair. He forced the men to start other practical considerations, food, temporary shelter, warmth and sanitation for the thousands made homeless. At the suggestion from one mill owner that the women and children get out until things had been rebuilt. Ben smiled bleakly, “Few of those women can afford to leave their husbands. Just what are they going to live on? They haven’t the resources in the bank to cover them. Here at least they are fed. However your point does have merit. There are a large number of people who are unable or unwilling to help, who frankly are just in the way. Many of them could afford a couple of months vacation in San Francisco or Sacramento. People like your own wife, who was complaining bitterly to me only this morning that she had been forced to sleep in the bunkhouse. Not what she was accustomed to and not what she expected on taking refuge on the Ponderosa. However I noticed that she, and many others like her, were prepared to sit and wait for breakfast to be served. Not even clearing their own plates, leaving it to my overworked hands, who had been up all night cooking food to be sent to town.”

The man frowned, “You saying you want her to leave?”

Ben didn’t like having to say it but he went on “I’m saying that she can afford to, many can’t and with so many to help I prefer to concentrate on those least able to help themselves. Certainly she can stay but I shall be making it clear that after today everyone who stays on the ranch helps out if they are able to. My hands slept in the barns to make way for the women, every room on my house and Joe’s are filled either with sick people or whole families, Hoss’ house has been handed over to the orphanage until that can be repaired and we are all at Adam’s. Even there the guest rooms are all full. Every bunkhouse and line shack is full. With sick and injured, children to look after, everyone needing feeding, my daughters are rushed off their feet. Carole is recovering from a premature birth which nearly cost her life and both the others have babies due in the next month and I won’t burden them unnecessarily. If that seems inhospitable, I can only say that I’m sorry but it’s necessary.”

Many of the men present had sent their wives to the Ponderosa but on the whole they were fair minded men and they could understand Ben’s point of view. John MacKay was the first to react, “You’re right Ben there’s no reason my wife shouldn’t go visit San Francisco. She can start shopping for our new house. I’ll be out to make arrangements today.”

Ben smiled “Thanks John. I don’t like doing it but we’re drowning out there, even with two or three families using every line shack there are some in the barns and not just men, women and kids too and frankly I’m terrified of another accident, maybe another fire.”

Several other men backed John, they would remove their wives and in some cases children to more comfortable climes until they could rebuild. Ben was encouraged, however the women took it, he sensed understanding amongst the men.

Slowly the various committees separated to lay detailed plans as far as possible. With Harris Fair and Mackay, Ben tried to sort out plans to finance the recovery, partially through loans and partially through a disaster fund which the four men started then and there to provide money for essentials quickly and without fuss. Contributions in the form of money as well as supplies were already beginning to pour into the gutted city. Fair was gradually beginning to regain his ebullience and he was determined that he, and the Bank of Nevada, were going to make a sizable profit out of the disaster. He planned to take over real estate in town, useless now, it was bound to show a profit in the long term. Ben wasn’t really interested in profit at the moment but he was used to Jim and as long as he wasn’t blocking any useful moves, there was no point in worrying about Jim being his normal self. They seemed to waste a lot of time compared to the way Ben was used to handling things with his own sons but as the day wore on outline plans were agreed and they began to settle details. Food was brought in and the men worked through as did all the other smaller committees. Various messages were exchanged with leaders in to her cities and promises of many of the things that they needed were forthcoming.

Ben had a stinking headache by the time they decided they had done all they could for now. He had a list of the timber required, both the most essential for housing and all that would be needed long term for mines and the more exotic projects. Adam had completed the detailed plans and asked for what he needed from Reno and then he had gone up the mountain to try and assist in the organization there, try to reassure the people that something was being done to help them and done with the necessary sense of urgency. He found the Vicar doing what he could to cheer up some of the more despairing, women with young children, scared what the winter was going to bring. Adam tried to explain what they were doing and reassured them that families were the first priority. There seemed so little he could do and Adam, overtired, felt very despondent, too many of the people he could see would suffer for weeks maybe months. He had dragooned the powers of the town into supporting his priorities but Adam was under no illusions. At the moment he had their support because the shock of the fire was still very real but it would erode as their own problems increased in importance.
Adam was just wandering around the hill from campsite to campsite, some still being organised by Ponderosa hands. He stopped to talk to all his men, offering to relieve them but none of them wanted it, all feeling a sense of responsibility for the people at their particular campsite and insisting that they’d had enough sleep. Adam was proud of his men, all of them had been on the drive with him, long time hands and good friends and they seemed to be quite enjoying their responsibility. The drovers weren’t needed urgently at the ranch and so he made no attempt to dissuade them. Their attitude calmed him considerably and he was reasonably relaxed when Ben finally tracked him down. Adam was more than ready to go home and the two tired men went down to collect their horses.

Joe had had a very busy day checking over all the more accessible areas of the ranch. He knew every tree, every step of the way, just where they could log even when the weather got worse and he marked roughly as he went, making copious notes, checking exactly how they could transport the logs to the mill. They hadn’t touched the lower slopes in the last years, using the flume for heavier cutting in the far reaches of their ranch and there was a certain amount of timber which could usefully be cut but in any one area it was limited and was going to be a difficult job to organize. It was very late by the time Joe got home but Hoss and Carole were still sitting in the study trying to keep track of what was happening with various reports from around the houses. Hoss had insisted on Sue going to bed as she looked exhausted and Nita was sitting feeding Anne for Carole. Joe was a little concerned that his father and Adam weren’t back yet, even though Carole explained Adam hadn’t expected to be back until midnight or even later. Joe was uneasy and went over to pour himself a brandy. Hoss lent back, “Pour me one too little brother and then explain what’s got you so worried.”
Joe brought the glass over for his brother and sat down, “Just tired I guess. Pa and Adam must be whacked, I’ll be glad when they get home.”

“Is that all Joe?” Carole asked anxiously.

“My word on it Carole. There’s not any trouble as far as I can tell, just all very tired.”

Hoss picked up the stack of notes Joe had made, “You’ve covered a lot of ground little brother, ain’t surprising you’re tired. Why don’t you take Nita and go on up to bed?”

“Couldn’t settle until they’re home.” Joe protested but he did go out to join Nita. She snuggled up next to him and slowly Joe relaxed. At least his wife was fit and well, having had a nap before dinner along with Sue at Hoss’ insistence, she wasn’t even particularly tired.

It was nearly one a.m. before Adam and Ben rode wearily in. Adam offered to look after the horses but one of the hands came out and took charge of Sport and Buck so Adam followed his father in. Neither of them were particularly surprised to find everyone apart from Sue up waiting for them but Ben told them they were all mad. It was going to be another long day tomorrow.

Carole ignored that, “Have you eaten?"

Adam met his father’s eye and smiled “To be honest I don’t really remember, but I’m not hungry. I could do with some coffee and maybe a brandy, I am cold.” He sighed thinking of the people who had to sleep out and Ben reading his mind said, “We’ve done all we could, Adam pushed through housing as the main priority.”

Joe, content now that everyone was home, promptly began bullying them all towards bed, insisting that news could wait until breakfast, they all needed to get some rest. Rather amused by his reaction his family for once did as they were told and too tired to worry about the future, all fell asleep quickly.

They were all down fairly promptly for breakfast and as they ate, news from the previous day was exchanged. Half a dozen women had already left to stay with friends elsewhere and others had announced their intention to leave in the next day or so, as their husbands arranged transport on trains through to Sacramento. The initial indignation at the rudimentary hospitality they were offered had largely faded as they saw for themselves the major problems facing the Cartwrights with so many people worse off than themselves. Only two had actually apologised to Carole but one of them was Louisa Mackay. Although very different from Louisa who was very much a social butterfly, the two women had become close friends. Carole was very grateful but she laughed it off, after the shock of losing so much she’d have felt like lashing out at everyone and anyone. Carole had a list of those leaving and it would at least ease some of the pressure. With Hoss’ help she had things running more smoothly and with fresh supplies arriving, everything was under control.
Adam and Ben filled the others in on what had been arranged in town, both had meetings later that day again and it was likely that at least one of them would have to go in every day for the foreseeable future. Then the men moved through into the study and Joe got out the map of the ranch and ran over his notes. None of them were surprised that Joe had covered the whole area although it had been a massive job and as Joe talked Adam kept a running total of the lumber they could provide. While it was nowhere near enough for all the competing demands, there was going to be considerably more available than either Adam or Ben had expected. Neither of them dreamt of querying his figures, Joe would take no more chances with the Ponderosa than they would. The biggest problem was obviously going to be organisation, especially transporting the logs to the sawmills. Ben asked Joe to make detailed plans for that and arrange for some extra horses to be trained. He asked Hoss to arrange for a five day blitz up at the main lumber camp. Basically dismantled, there was enough left for a quick job with all available trees close in cut. Hoss was quite happy to do that, once it was marked with just the job of cutting the timber Johnny could cope, eager to do his share. Hoss should be able to get back that night.

Ben had to get back to town but Adam decided to go in later and help Joe with the detailed plan first, two heads might be better than one in solving the complex problems they had to clear if they were to provide the essential lumber. Adam wanted to spend some time drawing up detailed instructions for Jack Catfish at the sawmill and run through the lists he had prepared yesterday, in private, to ensure he hadn’t forgotten anything. Apart from the need to clear work Adam wanted a few minutes with his children, he’d been away a long time with the herd and he’d been looking forward to seeing his kids. The fire had disrupted all plans but discussions in town could go on in the evening when the children were asleep. Once he’d drawn up the plans for Jack Catfish and checked his lists, Adam spent half an hour in a rough and tumble with the twins and Marie, which he’d been unable t do for so long with the injuries from the fire.

The Faurés came downstairs to go out in the sunshine and watched bemused as the twins attacked their father, squealing with delight while Marie tried to get a ride. Adam looked up, sensing that someone was there and fended off the children. He had forgotten the French couple but Carole had told him about them and he greeted them, hoping that they had all that they needed. His French was considerably more fluent than Carole’s and they found themselves responding to him, only slowly realising that he was in fact their host, but Adam made it clear that they were very welcome. As he was going into town he took note of their daughter’s address and promised to try and contact her for them, now the telegraph was working again.

Adam was more refreshed by his children than a night’s sleep and when they headed for the kitchen to wheedle some cookies from Kam Su, Adam went in to join Joe. Between them they managed to clear a number of the problems Joe hadn’t seen his way round. Some things were still going to cause major problems but they could only do their best. In the end it was mid-afternoon before Adam headed back to town but he was well pleased when he got there. Roy Naylor had proved that Joe’s faith in his organizing ability was well justified. Roy had everything moving, sites for the first houses were already being levelled. Adam promised the work plans and the timber for the first pair of houses would be there the following morning. He intended to oversee the first ones himself but there after even unskilled labour ought to be able to cope with minimal supervision from those who had worked on the first two. There wouldn’t be any elaborate staircases although space was left for them to be added later, a simple ladder would suffice to give access to the upper storey, saving time, expertise and lumber. He had applied the same criteria to all aspects of the buildings and Adam was confident that the first pair could be built within a day.

Help was still arriving in town, money and supplies but also people. Some were coming genuinely to help, but others with varying degrees of expertise were trying to cash in on the trouble. Inevitably some just came to exploit the situation for their own gain, with no saving graces but as the established businessmen had set up lines of command and areas of responsibility they were on the whole retaining control. Adam got the impression that people in general felt more hopeful, the sense that the situation was under control and would be rectified pervaded the town. There was less apathy, more people moving purposefully and even the women queuing for food were talking and laughing, some of the kids playing, where yesterday there had been stunned silence. Adam hadn’t found time to see his father, Ben had his own problems, still trying to keep control over the large areas, keep to the priorities that he felt were important, assisting on the financing of the various projects as Fair and Mackay assessed the damage at the mines. The fire at the Virginia had burnt out, luckily only affecting the two top levels as far as Ben knew. Even more than the previous day Ben felt as though he was spending all his time arguing in circles or rather the same circle, as time and again he had to go through the same argument with various people. He won eventually but it was taking a severe toll on his patience and he was close to losing his temper, only the sure knowledge that it would lose him everything, enabled him to keep control. Eventually about 8 p.m. tired, exasperated and unconvinced that he had achieved anything, Ben headed home not even bothering with food or thinking to look for his son.

Adam collected his horse shortly after Ben and hearing his father had only just left he pushed Blackie on to catch up. Unlike his father Adam was well satisfied with his day; everything he had asked for from Reno had arrived safely. At least enough tools to get started and Jack had been cutting wood to his specification from their stock pile of cut lumber, so the new houses would begin to take shape the following day. A phoenix rising from the ashes.
Ben was lost in his own thoughts and didn’t even hear the horse coming up fast. He wasn’t carrying much cash and although Roy had warned him about a probable increase in crime, Ben hadn’t taken it very seriously. Still as Blackie pulled in alongside, Ben’s hand went instinctively to his gun, Adam grinned, “Bit late Pa. good job it’s only me or you’d be in trouble by now.”

“You look remarkably cheerful.”

“Successful day I think, we start building tomorrow morning and Joe and I turned an impossible plan into one that only needs half a dozen miracles to make it work.”

Ben relaxed responding to his son’s mood, “Well I’m glad that one of us has made some progress.”

Adam persuaded his father to talk and by the time they got home Ben had relaxed enough to joke about the day’s events and he felt a lot better for it. Hoss had arrived home shortly before them having pushed very hard on the way back. Once he’d reassured himself that Sue was fine he had settled down and was eating a belated dinner as Adam and Ben came in, both grinning broadly.

Joe tense and tired after a difficult day had already taken Nita up to bed and Carole had sent Kam Sue to bed too. Pleased to see her husband so relaxed, she quickly checked and finding they hadn’t eaten, Carole disappeared into the kitchen to get them a quick meal. While they were waiting Adam poured two drinks and they exchanged news with Hoss. Then as Hoss finished eating they combined to send him off to bed with Sue’s willing help. Hoss wasn’t sorry it had been a very tiring day and Sue looked tired. With the baby due in five days or so Hoss was very much on edge. He knew in theory that first babies are often late but the only babies he had been involved with were Marie’s and Carole’s and they had invariably been early. Scared and impatient he found the waiting a lot longer and harder than Sue, who was sure she had at least a fortnight to wait and accepting that she refused to let herself get excited yet. She knew all about childbirth, albeit at second-hand and she knew how many things could go wrong but somehow she was confident that everything would be fine. It wasn’t a forced confidence and while she was awake it was infectious enough to help Hoss, but once she was asleep he was thrown back on his own resources. For once very tired he was asleep first and relaxing Sue wasn’t long behind him.

Adam was buoyed up by a successful day and for a while after his father had gone up he stayed chatting with Carole on his knee. He’d missed his wife very much and she was so very thankful; to have him back, so much better, able to hold her in a way that he hadn’t since the forest fire. Eventually Adam made a move to bed, although he still wasn’t sleepy, but Carole looked very tired and he knew just how much she had been carrying over the last few days and would have to continue to do. They were about to go into their room when Adam became aware of something out of the ordinary, not even really a noise, but something. Leaving Carole Adam went to investigate unable to help himself. Outside the room that Hoss and Sue were using he could hear his big brother muttering brokenly. Even though he couldn’t make out the words, it was obvious that Hoss was upset over something, suffering from a nightmare. It was sufficiently unusual for Adam to be sure that he wouldn’t settle if he tried to ignore it. He hurried back to Carole and kissed her, “Go to bed my sweet and don’t lay awake waiting for me. Hoss sounds pretty upset I must ....” He couldn’t put it into words but knew that he didn’t need to and Carole returned his kiss before heading into bed.

Adam went back to his brother and gently opened the door. Sue was on her side, fast asleep but Hoss was rolling his head around in a hopeless search for peace. He was sweating heavily and for a moment Adam was scared that it was more than a nightmare, that Hoss had caught something and was delirious. Adam moved round to his brother and gently felt his forehead, but it was quite cool. Despite the gentle touch Hoss, on the borderline of sleep was awake instantly, shivering uncontrollably, his nightmare still all too real. He sat up, not even surprised by his brother’s presence and for a moment he considered Sue, still sleeping peacefully, Hoss felt cold but knew that he wouldn’t get back to sleep, not for a while and so he got out of bed. Adam wordlessly handed Hoss his dressing gown and without any need for discussion the brothers went down to the study. Adam poured out two large brandies and leaving Hoss to sip his, Adam went through to heat up some coffee. When he came back Hoss had made up the fire and sat down on the hearthrug, still shivering, pulling his dressing gown closer round him. It didn’t help, it was an inner cold born of fear, left over from his nightmare and he felt as though he’d never be warm again. Adam poured two coffees and then sat down next to his brother, putting his arm round Hoss’ broad shoulders, feeling the tension in him, “I think it’s time we had a talk old son. You’ll feel better when you’ve got it off your chest.”

Hoss was glad of Adam’s presence, no longer worried about disturbing his brother, who was so obviously much fitter and with Anne stronger by the day, there wasn’t even the fear of upsetting his brother. Even so Hoss hesitated, it was hard to put into words and maybe he had spent too many hours worrying over Adam that year. Adam waited but when Hoss made no attempt to speak, he went on, “Just a few more days and you’ll rival me as the proudest father in the west. Sue’s going to be fine.”

Hoss frowned and rubbed a hand across his aching eyes. Adam had known from the little his father and Joe had said that Hoss had been suffering from nightmares and consequent lack of sleep. Indeed he only needed to look at his brother who must have lost fifty pounds in the last couple of months. In itself that maybe wasn’t a bad thing but Adam had rarely seen his brother look so drawn and he didn’t seem able to reach him. “Come on Hoss you’re not gonna sleep until you’ve talked it over and you’re tired out, with another long day tomorrow.”

“Same goes for you Adam you ain’t fully fit, ought to be in bed.”

“I’m fine. Come on old son, I relied on you so much before the births of all my children. We owe you Marie’s life without you she’d have died and you’ll never know how much I relied on all four of you when Carole and Anne... There’s noway I can repay any of it and I know I don’t need to. That it was help so willingly given, but at least let me try to do my share now.”

“I’m alright, jest a nightmare, an open coffin, up by the lake, like Marie, a mother and baby.”

“It’s not surprising, I’ve dreamt the same, it doesn’t mean anything. Sue isn’t like Marie; she’s not tiny or physically weak.”

“She’s not young, not for a first child.”

“No, but she’s not exactly old either and she’s kept so well. Despite all the upheavals and scares.”

Hoss stared deep into the fire, “It’s not just Sue, that coffin keeps changing, sometimes Sue, sometimes it was Carole, but not recently, but ...”


“I don’t know where he found the strength before and now....”

“Nita will be fine, like Carole and like Sue. Sure I know Little Joe is scared at times, he’s been a heck of a lot better than I expected, still leaning on Marie like he said. I expect he will feel worse, get more tense over the next few weeks but we can help him...”

Hoss interrupted, “I’ve just made it worse for him. I know it’s tougher for him and yet I go make it even worse.”

Adam gripped his arm “Easy brother. I don’t really see why it’s any worse for Joe. You love Sue just as much as he loves Nita.”

“He lost Marie.”

“And we watched it, lived with his grief and maybe that’s why we both get so scared, but that wouldn’t make it any easier or harder for Joe to lose Nita or make it anymore likely that he will.”

“He has memories.”

“I know and I don’t mean it’s not hard for him. I just doubt very much that you make it any worse.”
“He’s pretty remarkable.”

“I know that. Guess I always did but in those weeks after Marie died, before the twins were born and during their birth... So you really think I need telling? I thought I was making things worse for him but in a strange way I think it really helped. Maybe the counter irritation of worrying about you is helping him now.”

“It ain’t just that. I’ve been so derned irritable, biting his head off all the time over nothing. I’ve tried to stop but...”

Adam grinned broadly, “Make a change for you to be giving it out rather than receiving it. Relax you idiot. I’m sure Joe isn’t the slightest bit worried by it, he has broad shoulders.”

“He said that.” Hoss fell quiet remembering what else Joe had said, “He..." eh... he...”


“Don’t often put it into words, none of us do.”

Adam realised what his brother meant and smiled, “That we love each other, funny, it’s so much easier to admit to loving a woman, your wife, sisters, your children. Not always so easy to tell a brother and yet not really necessary.”

”Yeah.” Hoss stared into the fire, “He said that he loved me and if it helped me a little to yell at him then he was glad of it.”

“And he meant every word. You’ve never minded when he, or I, took our frustrations out on you. Said much the same to me when my back was so painful, to call him if I needed to break down that he didn’t scare easily. I needed to once. Why shouldn’t we rely on his strength Hoss? We’ve always relied on each other. When we were trapped down the mine I relied so heavily on you, on both of you when Carole was kidnapped and sometimes I know Joe had relied on us, like the months after Marie’s death and I’d guess in the next few weeks.”

“It’s just that I shouldn’t need, no reason, ain’t nothing wrong.”

“Since when have you ever blamed me for being illogical, or Joe for that matter? It’s not important Hoss, logical or not if it worries you, then it’s real. Just as my claustrophobia is real. So you rely on your family, that’s what families are for. You have always carried more than your share. We’ve relied on you strength and your patience so very often.”

Hoss relaxed a little against Adam, not surprised to find his big brother in agreement with Joe, after all he had done a lot to help in bringing up both his younger brothers, but by the same token he found himself agreeing with both of them. Feeling less guilty and knowing that Adam would understand he slowly tried to explain his fears for Sue and his selfish fears of losing her, his one chance of happiness, just how much he wanted a child of his own. He couldn’t find the words to explain properly but words had never really been needed between them and although there was little that Adam could say to help, he had felt the same things himself. Hoss knew that and knew that Adam understood, just sharing his fears helped to relax him and get things back into perspective. After more than an hour they were sitting in silence and Hoss found his eyelids getting heavy, “I think I’ll sleep now, let’s go back up.”

“Sure brother, just remember if you want to talk I’m around or Joe or Pa and all we want to do is to help. We all understand. It won’t be long anyway and I can promise you brother there is no feeling quite like holding your own new born child. You’re going to make one hell of a father.”

Hoss smiled at that and resting his arm round his brother’s shoulders, he headed back to bed, to thank God for all his family and to pray for Sue’s safe delivery.

Despite their interrupted night, Hoss and Adam were both down very early. Adam was going to the sawmill to collect the wagons full of cut timber and then go into town to build the first pair of houses. Hoss and Joe were starting the fresh timber operations. Joe had laid plans so that Hoss would never be more than an hour’s ride from the house and they would always know exactly where he was. With Sue’s promise to send for him at the first sign of the baby, even if it should turn out to be a false alarm, Hoss was able to leave with a reasonably easy mind. Ben was going back to town again and promised to meet Adam after lunch to see how the houses were going and with Carole so much better they trusted her to cope at the house with her sisters’ help.

Hoss was glad of the hard work, setting up three small operations, close enough together for him to keep an eye on them all. He was faced with so many problems everywhere he turned that, apart from fleeting seconds he had no time to worry about Sue. He tensed up scared every time a rider came up to him but that was quickly forgotten as he dealt with whatever problem they brought. Joe was finding much the same, the plan he had finally settled on was just possible, but that was about the best he could say for it. Some of the stands they were logging would in fact benefit from the controlled cut but it was all very small scale compared to their normal operations and under other circumstances prohibitively expensive. Now with the weather beginning to close in it was the only possibility, but it was bound to be exhausting on the men trying to organise it. For the next week that meant Hoss and Joe as their Pa and Adam were going to have their hands full in town.

Indeed Ben has spent an equally exhausting morning at the bank and he didn’t seem to have much tangible result to show for it. The relief operation for the refugees was in better control as supplies poured in from all the surrounding towns. Trains arriving almost faster than willing hands could unload them. Those same trains had carried away a number of people, women and children where the man could afford to have them wait in comfort or had relatives and friends willing to house them. Many of the Mormons had taken refuge in Salt Lake City while other families with nothing to tie them to Virginia City had given up entirely, leaving to try their luck elsewhere. Thus only a hard core remained camped up on the hill. Within the gutted town a certain amount of clearance had taken place, principally round the few remaining buildings and in the main scheme Adam was planning, while the rest of the effort was concentrated up at the mines. Many agreed with Jim Fair that they were the top priority, the source of the wealth which would rebuild the town.

Just before lunch Jim descended on the Bank. He was really looking for Adam but in his absence insisted that Ben came up to the Virginia with him. As they walked up to the mine Jim explained that the California was undamaged apart from the loss of various surface buildings, shower rooms and offices and some damage to the lift cage, although the lifting gear was intact. He already had men rebuilding but thanks to Adam’s swift actions the mine itself, underground, was untouched. Unfortunately the same wasn’t true at the Virginia. There the lift cage and the gear had been destroyed and although everyone’s heroic efforts had stopped the fire going down the main shaft, the timbering in the top three levels underground had been virtually destroyed by fire entering through one of the ventilation shafts. Jim said, rather accusingly “It's a pity they weren’t covered over.”
Ben tensed up, sensing criticism of his eldest son, “It’s a great pity you and John wasted time arguing at the bank. Just how much do you expect one man to do?”

“I’m not getting at Adam!” Jim protested, “He did a fantastic job. He sacked the foremen at the California for doing nothing, quite rightly, but although here they cleared the men out and buried the blasting powder, noone covered the shafts. I suppose you can’t sack them all for being slow.”

Ben glared at him, “They weren’t the only ones.”

Jim, reading that correctly as personal criticism, dropped the subject. They arrived at the mine in silence but John hurrying over to join them didn’t even notice. “Adam not in town?”
“He’s busy building the first new houses, to that plan of his.”

John snorted, “That can wait, this is important Ben.”

“Show me and if I agree I shall be meeting Adam later and I’ll have a word with him.”

John led the way over to the gaping shaft, where the main lift cage and gear had been cut away. Temporary ladders had been fixed to the side of the shaft, disappearing into the darkness and John prepared to descend. Knowing that the shaft went down 1500 feet Ben hesitated. He had a good head for heights but even so it was distinctly eerie. John looked up at him from the ladder, “We’re not going very far, just down to the first level.”

Gingerly Ben edged down onto the ladder, which at least felt firmly anchored and taking his time climbed down the hundred feet to the first main level. By the time he arrived John had lit two lanterns and Ben took one, only to stand stunned by the forest of burnt and blackened timbers in front of him. A few had had fallen or burnt right through but the majority were still in place although blackened by the fire. John went to go in to the tunnel but Ben put his arm out to stop him, “Is it safe?”

“We’re not going very far Ben.” John led on and although Ben didn’t really feel that answered his question he followed, despite strong misgivings. Further in their way was blocked with fallen and part burnt timbers. The shoring here on the top two levels was the simple older type, with cross beams on side poles, but many of the cross beams were down. John held his lantern for Ben to see and then turned to go back to the ladder, sensing his old friend would prefer to discuss things up in the daylight.

Ben had never been more relieved to get back to the surface and knowing his son’s hatred of the mines, he was eager to save his eldest son from the ordeal of going below ground if he could. Jim had coffee waiting and as they drank it he explained that the top three levels were affected but as far as they could see nothing further down. Ben was puzzled, “I don’t really see why you want Adam. Obviously you have to slowly work in, taking out the burnt timber and re-shoring, just like you do after a cave-in. You’ve done it often enough.” May take a while before we can get you enough lumber to you but you have enough here to at least make a start.”

Jim shrugged “Sure we could do that but it’s gonna take a hell of a long time and a lot of timber. Just wasted, the top levels are played out, noone works them.”

“What are you suggesting?” Ben asked

“Not quite sure. “ Jim said, “That’s why we want Adam. Philip is up to his ears at the Ophir but after all Adam did help design the square set shoring.”

Ben frowned more puzzled than ever, “You don’t need that until five hundred feet or so,”

“Be a lot faster and save timber if we could forget the top two levels, let them cave in if they want apart from maybe just by the lift shaft. Shore up the third level, maybe some sort of combination of square set and ordinary timbering, use that as a buffer zone for the lower levels. We can manage that with the timber on site, cut down to the sixteen hundred foot level in the shaft while it’s open. Get the new lift in and be operational in a couple of weeks instead of months.” Jim finished his coffee. “I say it’ll work and be safe, John thinks he agrees but he ain’t too sure and the men are running scared. Adam’s reputation will convince them, so I need him.”

Ben sipped his coffee in silence, considering Jim’s suggestion. He could see the advantages and knowing Jim’s considerable expertise it was probably a practical proposition, but the other man did have a tendency to cut corners. Ben easily understood the advantages of getting Adam’s opinion but he had a strong suspicion that the answer wasn’t going to be that simple and he might be committing his son to a major job and even worse to going down that hell hole. Financially it wouldn’t matter to him if the mine took months rather than weeks to restart; the silver would still be there. At that thought Ben’s attention was caught by a small group of miners, desultorily clearing some rubbish from the site and knew that for them a delay with no work, maybe until after Christmas, would mean hardship and a reliance on charity. He had to try and avoid that and he made his decision, putting his cup down, “I’ll speak to Adam.”

Mind made up Ben wasted no time and edged his way through the devastated town and then the watching crowds to the building site, where Adam had the walls of the first two houses already built and the first floor was just being installed in one. All very simply designed, with due allowance for slight mistakes in size and possibly later bending. Adam had all the help he needed, in some ways too much, but the more people who saw the basic techniques, the better over the next weeks when they had to build twenty a day without him. Completely immersed in what he was doing, dealing with the inevitable problems in such a hastily planned job, Adam wasn’t even aware of his father’s presence. For a few minutes Ben just stood and watched as Adam directed every aspect of the work, moving from one house to the other, always there when something new was started. The houses were taking shape even faster than Ben had expected although he knew Adam’s basic plan. Very proud of his son Ben revelled in the admiring comments of the crowd, who were both surprised by the speed of construction and impressed by the rugged strength obvious in the simplicity of the building. They were also surprised by the priorities demonstrated by rich men like the Cartwrights putting new homes for stranded families at the top, giving not just money but their time and effort. Ben got the distinct impression that Adam could have anything he wanted from the crowd, from perjury in court to a seat in the Senate.

Eventually as Adam stood back to watch the last ceiling beams being pulled into place, mopping his face, wet with sweat from his efforts, Ben went over to join him. Adam wasn’t expecting his father until much later and he frowned, “Trouble?”

“No but a problem has come up, may need your attention.”

“I can’t leave this.”

“Getting on faster than you expected. Have you had a break for food yet?”
“No.” Adam looked round and nodded “I suppose I could give them an hour break, it’s a reasonable sensible place to stop.” He studied his father’s face, “You think it’s important?”

Ben smiled “I wouldn’t have disturbed you if I didn’t.”

Adam accepted his father’s word and raising his voice he told the waiting men to take a break for an hour and then they would finish the houses in time for the first families to move in that night. Ben was intrigued and asked who would be first but Adam just shrugged, “I don’t know. José is collecting names of families with four or more kids, including at least two under five and then we’ll draw for order. They get housed first and then we’ll see. I’m hoping to hit twenty houses a day by the end of the week. That’s about as much as Jack can cope with, even with the mill working full out.”

Ben led the way back towards the Virginia and as they went he explained what Jim wanted and why he’d felt constrained to go along. He also warned his son just how bad conditions were below ground but suggested that this time there was no real need for Adam to go down, Jim just wanted his ideas backed mathematically, the facts and figures were available. Adam listened without comment, understanding why his father had interrupted him, but it wasn’t a problem susceptible to a quick yes or no answer. On edge Adam still hadn’t commented as Jim and John hurried over to join them, John thanking Adam for coming. Over coffee Jim explained his ideas in rather more detail, hesitating once or twice as Adam sat staring over at the shaft, not even apparently listening, but Adam murmured “Go on.”

When Jim finished Adam got to his feet and went over to the shaft. Ben followed him, “It won’t help to go down.”

Adam smiled ruefully, “Unfortunately Pa it will. There are certain questions I need to know the answers to and I haven’t really time to formulate them clearly enough to send anyone else, so I gotta go myself. Are there any lanterns down there?”

“Yes, on each level, I’m coming with you.”

“No Pa, stiff climb and you’re getting a bit old for it; anyway Hoss and Joe need you too much just now to take any chances. I’ll be okay I’ve always managed; just get me a small axe. And a sharp knife.”

Ben did as he was asked and Adam disappeared down the ladder, with John following. Adam had warned his father he might be sometime and told him not to worry, even though he knew he was wasting his breath. Adam was very tense as he edged down the ladder and felt thoroughly sick but he forced himself to think about all the things he needed to check, he certainly didn’t want to have to make more than one trip down. It seemed to take forever as Adam headed down to the 400 foot level, the first undamaged level his initial objective. With just the small light from his helmet, Adam was aware of the entrance to the level by feel first and he swung in. He had lit two lanterns before John joined him, trying hard to control his breathing, with noone else down the mine, buried deep in the earth, the very silence was oppressive. By concentrating hard on what he had to do Adam kept panic away, he had no intention of letting John see his near panic, an old friend although not as close since the deliberate destruction of Ralston but not like family. John knew the mine very well and was able to take Adam straight to the fault ridden area that Adam knew existed. Adam checked the ceiling and the shoring very carefully, but there was no sign of any trouble. If this, the weakest area was holding up the rest should be safe. Eventually Adam headed back to the ladder and went up to the third level. Some of the timbers had escaped burning as the air was bad enough to put the fire out once the main shaft and the ventilation tunnels and been blocked. Again Adam ventured in quite a long way despite the obvious risks, checking the timber and the rock. By dint of concentrating on mental notes about their condition he was able to shut out the dangers until even John was getting worried. John suggested they get out, burnt timbers were still giving way, small falls occurring and their margin for safety was non-existent. Adam agreed but he insisted on checking the top two levels if anything even more carefully and John was very relieved when Adam finally said “Okay let’s get out of here.”

Climbing the sheer ladder had pulled on Adam’s sore back muscles and he was very glad of his father’s helping hand to get back onto the surface. Ben had been waiting anxiously by the shaft, alert for every noise as the rocks settled, the sound amplified by the shaft so worried about his son, both physically and Adam’s mental state. It had seemed forever before they appeared. Adam was very pale but so dirty that only his father could see as the dirt hid his pallor, but his lips were bloodless. Adam went to pour some water over his head and John stopped Jim going over to bother him. Ben went over to his son but Adam just asked for paper and pencil and then asked Ben to send word to the houses that he’d been delayed but would be back in half an hour and that they were to wait for him.

Ben did as he was asked and Adam began to get all the mental notes he’d made down on paper. Once he’d done that he folded the papers and put them in his pocket before going over to Jim and John, “I can’t give you an answer here and now. You know that, it wouldn’t be worth anything if I did. I want a complete check for structural damage, shoring or ceiling, on the fourth level. I have two houses to finish and once that’s done I’ll come back, Provided the check shows no problem I’ll check out the figures for you, give you an answer before I go home tonight.”

“Do you think it’s possible?” Jim pressed.

“I wouldn’t be wasting my time if it wasn’t possible; question is how safe it is.”

Content with that much Jim let Adam go and Ben accompanied his son back down the hill, very aware that Adam had overdone it again. The way he moved, holding his back so stiff testimony to his son’s aches and pains, but his anxious enquiry has been abruptly cut off and Ben consoled himself that Adam was fit enough to cope. As they came to a burnt out building Adam took refuge behind the one standing wall and was very sick. Ben could only stand by, protecting him from sight and wordlessly handing Adam his handkerchief to wipe his mouth. It was hardly unexpected, Ben had known the risks his son was taking and the inevitable tension. Adam straightened up after a couple of minutes and although very pale, managed a smile. “I’m okay Pa, just very glad that it’s John going back down and not me.”

“If you give them the go ahead John and Jim are quite competent to install the shoring.”

“It’s all their’s Pa, darned sight more experienced than me and I have other priorities.”

“Talking of which I must get back to the Bank, three meetings arranged for this afternoon.”

“Don’t wait for me Pa, just warn Carole not to wait up. I may be very late. In fact it might be more sensible just to stay over in town.”

“Have a think about it. I want to see your finished houses so I’ll come back over later, say about six.”

“Fair enough Pa and good luck.”
“I’ll need it; at least you have something to show for your efforts, I think I’m just going round in circles!” Ben sighed but much as he disliked the interminable meetings, plans had to be made, resources allocated or obtained if the town was to get back on its feet and he was one of the few people with a clear plan of action in his mind. Ben left his son with a reasonably easy mind, Adam would soon calm down with a job he enjoyed. That was how it turned out, at first still feeling sick Adam just issued orders, not doing much himself as his sore back made its presence felt. He looked drawn and pale so the men worked quietly, doing all they could to help and gradually as he became more involved he relaxed, feeling and looking better. In many ways he had the best of both worlds as everyone did their best to help and the two houses progressed even faster than he had hoped. The chimneys were finished and the windows in, with only the roofs to finish as the afternoon moved on. Using his muscles had eased the stiffness and Adam had gradually been getting more involved so when Ben returned he found his son at the top of a ladder supervising the final timbers, specially cut to fit closely, they would in time be covered with clay to bake in the sun and make a waterproof roof. Adam didn’t even notice Ben’s return and with the last few nails being placed he turned his attention to the second house only a little behind. The chimneys for another five houses had already been built on newly levelled land and the sites were almost ready for the next five houses to be built the following day All the necessary supplies piled up on each site, in order ready to use and Ben smiled to himself as he looked around, so much mute testimony to his son’s organising ability, with the two new houses evidence of his ability as an engineer and architect. Ben was very proud, both of Adam’s ability and his compassion which had pushed housing to the top of the priorities.

José saw his boss and came over to join Ben. “Mighty impressive for houses built so fast and so simply. The two families, who won on the ballot are over the moon, ain’t ever lived anywhere near as grand.”

“He’s done a good job, proved his point and if he can really get twenty a day built we’ll soon make an impression on all the folks up there.”

“Need to with the weather about to close in.”

“That’s why Adam made this a first priority.”

“Derned good job for them that the Cartwrights were around, nobody else gave a damn. They couldn’t care less”

“Not quite fair José, lots of other people are trying to help.” Ben said mildly.

“Yeah to rebuild for themselves.”

“Don’t forget we didn’t lose anything.”

José shrugged “Maybe no but it’ll cost you plenty and not just money. I know you can afford that, but look at Adam working himself into exhaustion and the rest of you are doing the same.”

Ben put his arm round his foreman’s shoulders, in a rare gesture of affection “And I suppose you haven’t José? Along with a lot of the hands working up on the hill. I am very proud of all of you.”

José was speechless at that but his embarrassment was eased as Adam came down form the second house to an enormous cheer from the assembled crowd which went on and on. Adam raised a hand for quiet but the crowd was too exuberant and just redoubled their efforts to his obvious embarrassment. Ben just watched amused, his son had earnt this reception and however he felt now Ben was sure he would remember it with great pleasure in the future. Eventually Adam managed to quieten them down and thanked them for their support and their hard work but he emphasized that it was only a start. The following day they had more than twice as much to do with five houses to build and then even more if all the families needing homes were to be provided for before the bad weather really arrived. There was another large cheer as a number of the men insisted that they would be supporting him and together they could do it, easy.

Adam had spotted his father but for the moment he couldn’t break away with everyone wanting to shake his hand. He finally managed to distract them by getting the two lucky families to start moving in. As they were overwhelmed with help to move in Adam made his escape to join his father and José. Ben said very simply, “Congratulations Son, impressive both in themselves and in getting them built so fast.”

“Very basic, but there are plenty of ways to improve them later if they want. Once things are back to normal I’ll pass the word. I can help if they want to know how.”

“Don’t take on too much Adam.” Ben warned, “Have you thought any more about coming home tonight?”

“I’ve been thinking what I need to check. I won’t take any risks just to get the mine working faster. It’s going to be a long job and I must see to the next five houses tomorrow. Once they are built and I’ve seen how they cope without my direct orders I won’t be so tied. I want an early start and I don’t see much chance of being clear until near midnight. Only makes sense to stop over.”

“Fair enough but try and get some sleep and make sure you get a meal. I’m sure you haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

Adam sighed “I’m not a child or a fool Pa.”

“Only sometimes! I’ll send word if there are any developments at home.”

“Hoss is uptight.”

“I know but he’ll have been so busy if he and Joe have stuck to that plan that he won’t have had time to worry and he’ll be too tired for nightmares.”

Adam relaxed at that, Ben knew all his sons very well and if his brothers needed help then their father would cope. Taking leave of his father Adam headed back to the mine and accepted John’s offer to fetch him a meal while he settled to work. The check had shown no problems and Adam intended to keep it that way. Some of his figures had to be guesses but he took care to keep them pessimistic so that the final margin of safety would be even larger than his calculations would indicate. He ate as he worked and checked and rechecked his figures from two separate angles, wishing that he had someone like Philip to double check them. Eventually he convinced himself that the margins of safety were more than adequate, even with simple shoring there was a margin and with the square set it was reasonably large. Adam wasn’t prepared to recommend a mixture, unless done with great care it could end up weaker than either and he didn’t have the time to plan it properly. Finally Adam got to his feet and stretched, amazed to find that it was nearly 2 a.m. but Jim was still waiting, dozing by a fire. He knew Adam too well to disturb him while he was working but as soon as Adam stood up Jim was on his feet, “Well?”

“Relax Jim; you should have gone to bed.”

“As comfortable on the ground here as up on the hill. What do you think?”

“It’ll be safe enough, but you’ll need square set shoring on the third level and I suggest for the first twenty feet of all passageways from the lift on the top two levels.”

“Can’t get away with a mixed version, save some lumber?”

“Don’t push your luck Jim. Anyway try shoring with yet another scheme and it’ll slow you right down. Stick to the scheme they know and make sure it’s done right, no short cuts. I’ll want to check it myself.”

Jim nodded, “It’ll be right Adam, exactly to your plans. And thanks for checking it out.”

Adam yawned, “I want the mine working as soon as possible just as much as you do. For now I’m going to get some sleep and as you say here is as good as anywhere.” Adam was as good as his word lying down and pulling his coat round him he was fast asleep almost instantly.

Ben found he was first home and Carole was pleased that Adam was being sensible so he relaxed and when his others sons arrived, tired and starving, he reassured them things were slowly coming under control.

Next day when Ben arrived for yet more meetings Adam had the five houses well started, with gangs clearing sites for ten more the following day. He had had no problem recruiting help, although only paying minimal wages. Ben didn’t disturb him but went on down to the bank to check the news. The major item was a very substantial contribution to the disaster fund from the Chinese community in San Francisco, alongside it was a message making it clear that the money was to be used to benefit all races. Ben used it to authorise more money for Adam’s project and for another similar project which the Chinese community were organizing, rebuilding their own houses, the only other area apart from the mines where rebuilding had started.

Adam was up to his ears organizing the workmen, few of whom were showing signs of being able to cope without supervision. At first as the smartly dressed woman picked her way through the ruins he didn’t pay any attention. Apart from a feeling that she was out of place he was too busy even to speculate on her presence. Then as he came down the ladder to go to one of the other houses, she said, in a very musical voice “Mr Cartwright?”

Adam turned to her, wiping his hands and face with his bandana, “Yes, how can I help you?”
He wasn’t exactly what she was used to and she recoiled slightly from this tall man, hot and sweaty from manual labour, wondering just what her parents had got involved in, “You sent me a telegram, about my parents. I’m Michelle Grandison.”

Adam had placed her from the French accent although her English seemed fine. “They’ll be very pleased to see you. Difficult not speaking the language. I’m afraid I’m tied up at the minute.”

She frowned not familiar with the colloquialism and Adam, unsure how good her English was, switched into French to her utter amazement. For a moment she could only stand and stare at him, it just didn’t fit with the manual labourer she had seen first. Adam called to the men to say he’d be back in a few minutes and then led her up the hill where he was in luck, as Jess had just finished emptying a wagon full of supplies. Adam asked his friend to escort Mrs Grandison out to the ranch to join her parents., making it very clear that she was welcome to stay for as long as was needed. He told her that his wife spoke French and apologized for his inability to take her personally and then left her with Jess, forgetting her almost at once as he hurried back to work. Jess was very relieved to find that she did speak English and told her of Joe’s rescue of her parents and then as she questioned him about the unusual labourer who spoke fluent French. Jess filled her in on the rich rancher, who cared enough to design and organise the building of houses for homeless families and as the three houses came into view, Jess took the opportunity to boast of his friend’s prowess in designing them as well. Very confused Michelle was also impressed by a luxury she hadn’t expected and was very thankful her parents had fallen into such kind hands. They were so very pleased to see her and so voluble in their thanks that Michelle felt even more intrigued. Faced with the poised beautiful wife of the man she’d taken as a labourer and tended to despise, Michelle took the opportunity offered to find out more about Adam and accepted the invitation to stay overnight before taking her parents back to Sacramento.

Slowly as the day progressed Adam found his labour force growing in confidence and better able to cope alone and he left with his father while finishing touches were still being completed. Another five families would be happily housed before the end of the day. “One more day of being available and another ten houses completed and they will be able to cope without me.”

“You’ve done a fine job son, making it simple and training them fast.”

“They’ve got the incentive, makes it easy. How about you?”

“I’ve actually managed to avoid any meetings tomorrow. Reckon your brothers and the girls might need some help and that I need to get up to date with things on the ranch.”

“From day after tomorrow I’ll help Hoss and Joe, be glad to get free of town. For now let’s get home. I feel filthy, want a bath.”

“And an early night, I’ll bet you didn’t sleep much last night.”

“Four hours or so, could have been worse. At least I could give Jim the go ahead.”

“So I heard.”

“It’s safe.” Adam said defensively and Ben laughed, “I never doubted it son, proves my point you’re exhausted.”

Adam grinned, knowing his father was right, but eager to get home pressed Blackie on.
By the time his brothers got back he had washed, shaved and changed, looking so very smart and different from the labourer that she’d seen in town that Michelle almost didn’t recognise him, now he really fitted in with his surroundings. For a while that evening all the family managed to relax and forget the fire and all the jobs it had imposed on them. Adam got out his guitar and they sang and relaxed.

Over the next week it proved impossible for them to forget things for more than the odd hour, as the town geared itself up to rebuild the demands for their lumber and their time and participation in solving inevitable problems grew continually. Despite Adam’s best efforts and the independent progress on his buildings, he was still needed in town most days. In many ways Hoss wasn’t sorry. He had to move slightly further away from the main house but he could still be fetched and return within an hour and a half.

On several occasions Hoss had been glad to talk to one of his brothers, even though little was put into words it helped to know that his brothers understood and calmed him for a while. Until the obstinate baby finally came Hoss was glad to bury his worries in work. With so many small operations the work never became routine and even when Adam was available to help Hoss asked his brother to leave it and just let him carry on. Once Adam was sure that it was what Hoss really wanted him willingly fitted in. there was plenty of work to do around the house and he had been pressed, rather against his own inclinations to design houses for both Jim Fair and John Mackay. He was unsure that they really wanted the sort of thing that he liked but having given his word he put his best efforts into them.

Hoss found time passing so very slowly with Sue overdue and in some ways Joe felt the same, equally glad to be busy as he tensed up again, but somehow Nita’s baby seemed a long way off with Sue’s still not here and he could cope.

Conversely Ben and Adam found the time flew past, the days not long enough to fit in with all they had to do, in what should have been the easy time of the year. Adam and Carole just about managed to make time to plan for Christmas when Will and Laura, Meg and John were all due.

About a fortnight after the fire Joe joined his father and eldest brother in a trip to town. There was a long list of jobs to do in town and Joe could leave his men to haul in the cut timber to the mill without him and that had to be cleared before they cut more. It was the first time that Joe had been in since the fire and although he knew what had happened in theory, it was still very striking when he saw how many buildings had already risen from the ashes. Adam’s group were hitting his target of twenty a day and several rows of houses were finished and showing all the signs of being lived in. With only haphazard building elsewhere they dominated the town and made a very impressive sight, particularly for Joe seeing them for the first time. Joe was very proud of his brother and didn’t fail to let him know. Adam was amused but touched and in a good mood as they separated and headed for their various meetings. Joe was busy but in a break at lunchtime he remembered how Sue had had to send for him when Anne came and he hoped that she wouldn’t go into labour with all of them in town. Only the previous evening Hoss had confided in his little brother his fear that he would go to pieces just when Sue needed him most. Joe had laughed it off, reminding his brother just how he had saved Marie’s life, but the mere fact that Hoss was scared enough to express it showed how tense he was and Joe knew his brother would need them. On edge throughout the rest of the day Joe was very glad when it was time to go home and eager to get there wasn’t in the mood to discuss business pushing hard.

Adam and Ben recognized the tension and went along with him, taking Cochise into the stable as Joe hurried inside. Once he had checked that both Sue and Nita were fine Joe became positively light-hearted, playing with his nephews and all work was postponed until the kids were in bed. His family glad to see it joined in and even Hoss finding them all so cheerful was able to relax and slept better than he had for weeks.

Three days later even Sue was getting impatient and for once it was Hoss who had to calm her down. He did it reasonably efficiently and as she was on edge he accepted Adam’s offer to arrange the work that day while he stayed at the house. There was plenty of paperwork to do and Hoss made a half hearted effort to help his father but he couldn’t concentrate, Sue was cross with herself, she knew very well just how tense and worried her big husband had been and she had been trying to support him with reasonable success. Now suddenly in a few minutes she had undone all that just because she’d let her impatience get the better of her and feeling sorry for herself had lent on Hoss.

Carole left her alone for an hour but then deciding that she was getting very gloomy, Carole fetched coffee and then bore her of upstairs leaving Nita to watch the kids. Sue made no protest, indeed she wanted to talk, but when they got upstairs she couldn’t put her thoughts into words. She went over to the window staring out, her hand on the bulge, feeling her baby kick, Carole waited for a minute but Sue just bit her lip and Carole went over and put her arm round the taller woman, “Take it easy Sue.”

“I had promised myself I wouldn’t do anything to make it worse for Hoss.”

Carole smiled rather to Sue’s surprise but it was her comment that astounded the redhead, “I very much doubt that you have made it worse for Hoss.”

“But....” Sue turned to stare at her.

“I mean it Sue for the first time in weeks he has been able to do something to help you.”

“There’s nothing for him to be scared of.”

“You won’t convince Hoss of that, he loves you so much that’s he’s scared. Partly his brothers’ example and partly because Marie died and I came close.”

“I won’t.”

“No need to convince me Sue. I’m sure you’ll be fine but don’t sorry about Hoss. He’ll cope and he seems better now just because he’s been able to help. It can’t be very long now.”

“That’s the hard part, the waiting. I want to hold the baby, see if I’m right and it’s the son Hoss wants.”

“I don’t think he’ll care what sex it is. It’s going to be another thoroughly spoilt baby.”

“How much longer?”

“You probably know more than I do Sue. That’s the one problem I haven’t had. All of mine have been early.”

Sue sighed but slowly she sat down to drink her coffee and, as Carole encouraged her to talk, she slowly relaxed. Hoss saw that she was better when she came down and he worked hard to hide his own unease and keep her cheerful with some success. His act wasn’t quite good enough to convince his brothers when they got home but Hoss kept the conversation on the orphan children who had left for their own orphanage that afternoon. It had been rebuilt and enough of the town’s facilities were rebuilt do them to return, much against the kids’ will. The children had revelled in their stay at the Ponderosa, roaming freely through the woods near the houses. They had done very little damage either in the house or in the woods. Just a few cups or plates broken as all the kids did their best to help. The women who ran the orphanage had tried very hard to clean the house and leave it tidy, despite Hoss’ protests that it wasn’t necessary Kam Lu and the other Chinese would do the job later. The women, very grateful for all the help and hospitality the Cartwrights had given them, were determined to leave Hoss’ home as neat and clean as they could. However with young children dependant on them their time was limited and they couldn’t do as much as they would have liked. Even so they managed to do quite a lot and Hoss had been completely honest when he thanked them all, children as well, for the care with which they had looked after his home. He promised them that they could all come out for a visit the following summer, which had the effect of sending them of more cheerful than the women had expected.

Hoss had roamed around his home, glad to have it back, he had very quickly got used to the beautiful house that his brother had designed for them. It was fairly clean and tidy but not as spotless as Sue usually kept it and he had no intention of letting her come back until she had recovered from the birth of their child, when it finally came. He didn’t want her overdoing things and anyway it was a source of comfort to know that his family were close at hand, especially if he wasn’t there. He would rely on them as always when things were difficult but he enjoyed the peace of a few minutes alone in his own home.

Sue was tired and went up to bed early but after a day when he had done very little, Hoss knew that he wouldn’t sleep. Once she was asleep he decided to go and do some tidying up at home. Both his brothers separately offered to go with him and give a hand but Hoss preferred to go alone. Joe wasn’t sorry and took Nita off to bed. He was feeling increasingly worried as the weeks before his own child was due slowly passed. Most of the time, very busy, he could push his fears to the back of his mind but sometimes they flooded back with renewed force, making him feel physically sick. Only Nita really helped then, just her obvious health and contentment. He didn’t realise just how clearly she understood as she never said anything, but she loved him very much and had always known what Marie had meant to him and the strength of his memories. Joe knew his family would understand how he felt, especially his father who had lived through the same problems, but he didn’t really want to talk. Most of the time Joe was well under control Marie helping him more than anyone. For her he had hidden his fears and made every day as perfect as he could. He loved Nita as much and couldn’t do any less for her. Alone in their room Nita’s serenity worked its magic and Joe lay holding her close to him feeling the child move in her womb as they talked of the future, what they could give this child, the ever increasing younger generation, which Joe hoped would be as close as he and his brothers. With memories and dreams Joe relaxed and long after Nita fell asleep in his arms, Joe lay deep in thought, very grateful for all God’s mercies to him.

Carole and Ben had both headed for bed reasonably early leaving Adam at work on a complicated legal document, one of many thrown up by the fire, as contracts were rendered invalid. Adam finished about eleven and restless he went out to stretch his legs and get some fresh air. Work was progressing remarkably fast but although his own home and Hoss’ were now free of guests he was doubtful if the rest of those staying on the Ponderosa would be gone before Christmas. Mainly comfortable now that the worst pressure had eased off, there didn’t seem much sense of urgency amongst them. There was more luxury in the Cartwright’s home than they had ever known. Adam could understand it but sometimes it seemed wherever he turned there were people. Once he had gone up to the lake, needing to think, only to find a crowd picnicking there and returning later he’d had to pick up some rubbish they’d left. He knew the people had lost a lot but just a few seemed to be taking advantage of them and it was irksome not to have their home to themselves.

Adam wasn’t the only one to feel that and as he wandered around the woods keeping moving since it was cold, he spotted his big brother heading out purposefully for the main house. There was sufficient tension in his whole form for Adam to wander after him, just to be around in case he was needed. After all he wasn’t ready for bed and not doing anything in particular.

Hoss had been intending to go and collect some oddments from the main house, especially two reports on timber preservation, but he had been putting it off. His last two visits had made him feel very uncomfortable, the home he had known nearly all his life filled with many people, mostly virtual strangers. Hop Sing was still there, arranging the feeding and despite the numbers packed in the house they were all very good, taking meticulous care of the house, but it wasn’t his home. He had had to force himself to make conversation and felt thoroughly uncomfortable. It was partly that which caused the tension Adam had seen and partly the ever present worry about Sue. Unable to relax he wanted the complex reports to reread, maybe if he could tire his brain he would be able to sleep.

It was late when Hoss reached the main house and the lights were off but the main door wasn’t locked, with so many people around it had seemed best to leave it open. Hoss went in and relit the lamp, the big fire still burning warmly, not as well damped down as his father would have left it but it seemed safe enough. The room looked almost unnaturally tidy, his father’s desk bare, the drawers locked and even the decanters missing from their normal position with so many children around. Hoss had a key for the cupboard and getting out the brandy he poured himself a drink, cold after the walk. There were no books out on the table as there inevitably were with his brothers around, not even a fruit bowl and for a few minutes Hoss wandered around, checking the mail, straightening the map on the wall, one of his father’s antique guns, just immersing himself in the room that had for so long been home.
Although Hoss didn’t make much noise, as he poked the fire, a voice came from the stair demanding to know who was there. Hoss turned to see a man halfway down and as he was recognized the man looked thoroughly embarrassed. “I’m real sorry Mr Cartwright, thought it might be one of the kids. We try to keep an eye on things.”

“That’s okay, doing a real good job, all neat and clean. Just had to collect a couple of things.”

“Least we can do, we’re all mighty grateful to you folks.”

“You’re welcome.” Hoss turned away to the bookshelves as the man whose name he couldn’t even remember seemed disposed to stay and talk, hoping he’d get the message, Whether he would have done Hoss wasn’t sure, but just then Adam let himself in and seeing the brothers together the man left them to talk. For a moment Hoss looked at Adam with anxiety flaring, scared for Sue but Adam grinned, “Easy brother I just wanted a book, decided to stretch my legs and come fetch it.”

Hoss let his breath go in a long sigh and refilled his glass, Adam gestured at the bottle “Pour me one please, a mite cold out there.” Adam went over to the shelf to get a book he had vaguely intended to collect when passing for several days.

Hoss had sunk down on the table by the fire, staring into the flames and trying to relax. Adam wandered over and leaned against the mantelpiece as he did so often, “Want to talk brother?”

“Not here.”

“Funny isn’t it, can’t even talk in our own home.” Adam sighed, “Doesn’t even feel like home.”

“No choice.”

“Oh I don’t begrudge them a place to stay, just be glad when things get back to normal.”
Hoss could only concur and tossing off his brandy he locked the decanter up again and getting the reports he’d come for he began putting out the lamps and wordlessly the brothers began to walk home. They reached Joe’s house before either of them spoke and then Hoss said “Reckon Joe is getting a mite impatient, some of them seem to have settled in for life.”
“No rush, he said he’d rather stay until Nita is over the birth. I was wondering if he wanted his child born in his own home but I don’t think he cares, just wants it over. As long as it’s born on the ranch. How about you?”

“Prefer everyone being on call.”

“Well once the babies are here, if they haven’t moved of their own initiative, we’ll do some gentle prodding. Several line shacks are empty now and we could move them. Not so luxurious it might encourage them to move on.”

Hoss nodded but he’d already forgotten about their guests, “How much longer do you think Adam?”

“I’m no expert Hoss. First babies are often late. Doc was only out yesterday, he said they were both fine.”

“Can’t seem to settle, think, oh God.....” Hoss sighed and Adam put his arm round his brother’s shoulders, “It can’t be very long now old son. You’re usually the patient one in this family.”

“Sometimes think that Nita will have her baby before Sue, or even that we’re just imagining things and there ain’t no baby. Like that Queen you talked about once.”

Adam laughed at that. “Oh I know it can happen but not in this day and age. You can see the baby kicking around, nearly sent Sue’s cup flying yesterday. In some ways I think the delay is actually helping Joe, even if you are paying for it.”

Hoss frowned at that and stopped dead, “What do you mean?”

Adam hesitated trying to put his thoughts into words. “In some ways Joe can push the idea of Nita giving birth into the distance because she isn’t due until well after Sue, so until Sue is delivered he can forget about Nita, it’s not her turn. As Sue is late so the wait for Nita gets shorter. I think he will be much worse once your child arrives but hopefully it won’t be for long.”

“He is better than I expected.” Hoss said slowly.

“Partly its pride I think, he was marvellous with Marie and he’s determined not to do any less for Nita.”


“Not a good word, but you know what I mean. Anyway our little brother will cope.”

“I know that.” Hoss sighed, “I ain’t sure I will, the mere thought terrifies me, I’m scared I’ll go to pieces just when she needs me most.”
“Come on Hoss you’ve always been marvellous, delivered several babies, heck Marie would have died without you.”

“Yeah but Carole ain’t Sue. You know how much Carole means to me Adam, she’s not just your wife. Even before we lent so heavily on her. I love Carole but Sue is....” Hoss shook his head, unable to put it into words.

Adam finished it for him. “Sue is part of you and you are responsible for the risks she has to face alone.”

“Yeah something like that.”

“I do understand you know Hoss. You aren’t anywhere near as bad as I was before the twins were born. You’ve forgotten the nights I rode around, unable to breathe inside and yet once the babies started to come I did help her, I know I nearly fainted but that was physical weakness, I was a damned sight more in control than I’d been earlier.”

Hoss frowned and very slowly walked on, thinking about what his brother had said. Adam was right time had dimmed the memories of just how tense Adam had been and, although he’d had an excuse as he wasn’t fit, in the event he’d coped. For the first time Hoss felt confident that like his brothers he would be able to help when he was needed. That confidence eased the tension in him and Adam could see the effect as they slowly went back to Adam’s study. For half an hour they sat by the fire, not talking much, sipping brandy until Hoss found himself yawning uncontrollably. He grinned at his brother, “I think I’ll sleep now, thanks Adam.”

“Any time big brother, you know where I am.” Adam watched his brother go upstairs but poured himself another brandy; he was too wide-awake to settle. He knew that Doc had given both mothers-to-be good reports but he wouldn’t be able to really settle until they were both safely delivered. With Carole recovered and his four children he had everything he wanted and he prayed that his brothers would find the same happiness. They were both so marvellous with his children, they were meant to have kids of their own. He had known the helplessness when Marie died and there was no way to alleviate his brother’s grief. For months there had been no way to help Joe and although his brother had been very good, trying to make it easy for them, the light hearted younger brother had vanished. For a long time they had feared he would never return. In love again Joe was happy and vivacious again, more mature but with the same irrepressible high spirits that had always been so much part of him. Adam knew that logically just because they had lost Marie it didn’t make it any more likely that they’d lose Nita or Sue, but both for their own sakes and for what it would do to his brothers he couldn’t help being worried.

Eventually as his thoughts became more and more morbid, Adam forced himself to concentrate on another legal problem, knowing that he’d only have nightmares if he went to bed and he worked through the night.

All of them felt as though they were marking time and Sue jokingly reminded them that a watched pot never boiled. If they would just stop looking at her, maybe the baby would move. It was at breakfast and Adam laughed “Not yet Sue, it might arrive before bedtime and babies always cost at least one night’s sleep.”

“Don’t judge all babies by your obstinate brats.” commented Hoss but Adam wasn’t even listening, he saw Joe flush slightly and leaving his half-finished breakfast, pushing his plate away and went outside. Adam followed him out as Nita puzzled looked questioningly at Carole. Carole smiled “Don’t worry just an unfortunate choice of words. I don’t think Adam has really woken up yet. Too many memories.”

Adam could have kicked himself, they’d only lost sleep because Marie and the baby had died and he knew just what his brother was remembering. Joe had walked over to lean on the corral fence making a fuss of a young colt who came for attention. He was lost in thought but as Adam came over he looked up and seeing the self-blame on Adam’s face he smiled. “Forget it brother I know exactly what you meant.”

“Not thinking Joe I’m so sorry.”

Joe smiled fondly “Idiot, I’m just a bit on edge, doesn’t take much to remind me but it doesn’t last long either. Nita is not like Marie, nor is Sue. Just not been sleeping too well.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“If there is I will ask. But it’s just a case of waiting. I just hope she isn’t late like Sue. Poor old Hoss is gonna be positively skinny by the time the baby gets here if she takes much longer.”

“Ten days so far, at least Carole was always early.”

“That can be worse!” Joe said feelingly, thinking of the long days as Adam fought for the premature baby.

Adam pointed out that both Sue and Nita were past that problem and Joe turned away to consider the mountains, “Yeah even Nita is due in a fortnight. Its odd, doesn’t feel that soon, do you understand what I mean?”

“Inevitable Joe, Carole and Sue announced at the same time, Now Anne is more than two months old and Sue is still waiting. Makes it even longer for Hoss but because Nita wasn’t due until after Sue, her delivery is not obviously imminent.”

“That’s the way I feel but logically it seems stupid.”

“I don’t know I told Hoss it was having that effect a few days back. Seemed to cheer him up. He knows you have all his fears and all too many memories and anything he can do to help, helps him.”
“Sometimes you two still act as though I’m not fully grown.”

“Still complaining Little Joe?” Adam asked with a broad grin.

“Not really. I know it’s mutual these days. If you both try and protect me, that’s just a reflex action, you rely on me too.”

“We do that and I remember plenty of times when you and Hoss have combined to protect me.”

“Sometimes brother you need it. I think you’re accident prone.”

Adam pretended to be outraged at that suggestion, particularly coming from his little brother and they headed back in, squabbling amicably over who got into the most trouble. Seeing Joe so much more cheerful Nita relaxed.
In fact, despite Adam’s fears for his beauty sleep, it was two days later at breakfast that the baby decided to make a move. Sue was waiting for her food, sipping coffee when she felt sudden wetness on her legs and knew that her waters had broken. At first she just felt relief but then she was very embarrassed at the mess she was making. She went very white and then scarlet as she realised that she was the centre of attention. Hoss was gripping the edge of the table, his knuckles white with the strength of his grip but he couldn’t find his voice. Carole was the first to realise what had happened as she got to her feet and went round to Sue. “Water’s have broken. Are you alright Sue?”

“I’m so sorry Carole, Adam, such a mess.”

Adam grinned broadly as he realised that Sue wasn’t scared just embarrassed. “That’s no problem Sue. Joe will soon clear it up. Come on big brother, let’s get Sue up to bed.”

“But I....” Sue flushed again and Joe sitting next to her lent over and kissed her forehead. “Stop worrying, it’s not the sort of thing you have any control over. As Adam says I’ll soon tidy up and maybe we can satisfy our curiosity before the end of the day.”

Carole was practical and told Hoss to carry his wife upstairs, ordering her own husband to come and help strip the bed in the spare room, next to the one Hoss and Sue had been using, get old sheets on ready for Sue. Hoss felt as though he was in a mist, unable to think. He’d waited for this for so long and feared it, but now it had started he wasn’t even scared just stunned unable to move. Ben gripped his big son’s shoulder and reiterated Carole’s suggestion and Hoss came slowly to his feet. Sue smiled up at him, “I don’t need carrying, or even bed yet. Just need to change but our child won’t be long now. I’m sure.”

“Just you take it easy sweetheart.” Hoss’ voice was thickened with fear and emotion and Sue squeezed his hand “I’ll be fine don’t worry.”

Adam and Carole had already stripped the bed by the time Hoss carried Sue up, ignoring her protests. She felt the first brief labour pain as they came along the landing, no worse than a period pain and she welcomed it, not wanting any more delay almost more for Hoss’ sake than her own. Sue insisted that Hoss put her down, that Carole could help her change. Hoss hovered uncertainly and Sue looked beseechingly at Adam. She didn’t need to put what she wanted into words, Adam came forward and took Hoss’ arm, “Come on big brother, let Carole help Sue change and get to bed. You need some coffee,”

“I can’t leave Sue.” Hoss protested but Sue kissed him, “Go with Adam darling.”


Adam firmly led his brother to the door, “You can come back in five minutes, let Sue get to bed.”

Carole promised to give Sue any help she needed and Hoss let himself be bullied out onto the landing, slowly as his brain began to work, he said, almost panic stricken, “Doc, we must get Doc.”

“Don’t worry Pa will already have seen to that. The only thing you have to do is calm down, get a grip on yourself to help Sue. You are going to have some coffee and a stiff brandy.”

“I can’t, not at this hour of the morning.”
“You will have one because you need it and you’ll relax because you love her. It’s alright Hoss.” Adam led his brother into the study and Ben appeared with coffee which Adam liberally laced with brandy.

Ben said, “Joe is probably halfway to town by now, insisted on fetching Doc himself.”
Hoss took that in and more in control as he accepted the facts, he smiled faintly, “Should have guessed, any excuse to get out of clearing up.” Adam laughed, very glad to see his brother back in control but Hoss frowned “Sure am sorry about the mess,”

“Don’t be daft, no warning on that and anyway its nothing compared to the mess the kids make regularly. Kam Su has already dealt with it. In just a few hours you’re gonna be a proud father.”

“Don’t seem possible.”

“You’ve had seven months to get used to the idea. In a few days it’ll seem impossible to remember a time when the baby wasn’t around.”

“I gotta get back to Sue.”

“You finish that coffee first.” Ben insisted, “Babies take a long time, you should be used to that by now. Sue is going to be fine.”

Hoss tried to relax but he was on edge, listening for every sound, so scared for Sue, but all he could hear were the children running around with Nita in the main room. He looked from his brother to his father, “I need help.”

“Anything Hoss you know that.” Ben smiled, “It won’t be as bad as you fear, but anytime you need us we’ll be here, so will Joseph and Carole. No need to panic.”

“No of course not. “ Hoss straightened his shoulders; he was determined to do as much for Sue as his brothers had for their wives. He had never forgotten Adam’s protest that his defeatist attitude was reducing his brother’s slim chances, even though Joe was deeply unconscious out on the west shore. Now with Sue fully awake it was even more important to support her. She had a painful ordeal ahead and there was little he could do to help her, except to stay cheerful and remove one worry from her. Hoss got to his feet and glanced over at Adam, wanting his moral support. Adam smiled “I’ll have a word with Carole.”

The brothers went upstairs together, Ben settled to try and make the few essential arrangements, knowing none of them would have the time or inclination for work until Sue was safely delivered. Only a small part of his mind was on the work, the rest was praying for his daughter-in-law, for a swift easy labour. Something Carole had never known. Her problems and Marie’s death made it inevitable that his younger sons were scared and on edge. Ben wasn’t surprised by the tension in Hoss, he was more like his brothers than outsiders usually realised, although his placid attitude covered his feelings unlike his volatile younger brother.

Sue was in bed but so far she only had minor pains at about seven minute intervals and she was well aware that it could take quite a long time. She relaxed as Hoss came back in, looking very much better. He pulled up a chair by the bed and took her hand “How are you doing?”

“Very slow. It’ll be ages yet I’m afraid.”
“Just relax I’ll be here just as long as you want me.”

“Please stay.” Sue looked over at Adam and Carole talking quietly by the window, remembering just how much Adam had relied on his brothers and knowing just how worried Hoss was despite his act. She wanted someone to help him “Will Adam and Carole stay too?”

Hoss smiled “Just as long as you want them to darling, won’t you Adam, Carole?”

“Of course.” Carole smiled down at her sister, “Considering how much we’ve all relied on you this last year Sue, makes a change to be able to do something for you. Whatever or whoever you want; all you have to do is say.”

Sue had learnt enough about all her family over this year, so often under difficult circumstances, to know that Carole was just telling the truth. She wasn’t embarrassed at having them there, after seeing them when Carole was in labour and now for Hoss’ sake she asked them both to stay and asked to see Ben, Joe and Nita when they could spare the time.
Nita, less familiar with childbirth and with her own child due in another couple of weeks, was very on edge, anxious for Sue and wanting her husband back. She tried to bury her fears by tending to the children Ben came out with a series of instructions for his men he found her sunk in reverie. Passing on orders could wait for a few minutes and he sat down next to Nita, putting his arm round her shoulders. “Relax young lady; everything is going to be fine.
She tried to smile but it didn’t really work and Ben held her close “Hush child it’s alright.”

“I’m so scared Pa. Carole nearly died and I don’t really know what to expect. I can’t worry Joe, I won’t.”

Ben kissed her forehead, “You’re a good wife Nita but Joe isn’t the only one you can talk to. Try talking it over with Carole and if you’re really upset and need a shoulder to cry on without worrying Joe then I’m always here, or Adam. Get it out of your system; we all need it at times, the boys and me as well as you girls.”

Nita swallowed hard but Ben was right she needed to let it out and she was sufficiently adjusted to her new life to give way. She had a good cry in her father’s arms and then feeling very much better washed her face and hid all signs of her tearfulness, well before Joe got home. Ben was pleased to see her relax, but even more delighted that she accepted him and his help. She seemed so different from the supercilious young woman who had come to the ranch nearly a year ago. He had trusted his youngest son and waited sure there was more to her than was evident but for several weeks, although never saying anything, he was very worried that Joe was making a bad mistake. He had known for a long time that Joe’s second marriage was as successful as his first and Nita had come to mean as much to Ben as his other three daughters-in-law, so he was very happy to see she felt the same.

Upstairs Hoss had himself well under control and the three of them were sitting round Sue’s bed chatting. Sue had tried insisting that she didn’t need to be in bed yet, she felt a fraud But Hoss just told her to relax. She was to take it easy, conserve her strength, she would need it later, Sue held his hand to her stomach as the baby kicked hard, “He’s very eager to be here, how he’s finally started.”

“Suppose it’s a she?”

“It isn’t darling. I told you. Carole has always known, she’s always been right, why not believe me?”
“I don’t care Sue, just so, long as you and the baby are alright.” Hoss bit his lip, more intense than he had wanted to sound trying hard not to upset Sue. Sue knew him too well to be taken in by his act but she ignored the slight slip, asking Adam if he was convinced yet that Carole could know the sex before birth, Adam laughingly teased the pair and slowly Hoss relaxed again.

Over the next hour Sue’s pains came more frequently and they were much stronger beginning to hurt. Slowly she came to rely on Hoss more and Hoss instinctively moved to rub her back, knowing where the pain was. With strong firm hands he was able to help as he had helped Carole before. Just the knowledge that he was helping and his beloved wife was relying on him helped Hoss although he was impatient for Doc’s arrival. In between the pains Sue tried to reassure him, there was no rush, the baby would be a long time yet. Even when the pains came she could still catch her breath and hold on quietly until the pain passed, determined not to worry Hoss by crying out.

Adam did his best to keep things light, ease his brother’s tension but as Sue began to show more signs of the pain, he found memories flooding back of Carole’s ordeal a few months earlier. It was a real physical effort to push the thought away and try to help Hoss. He was very glad when Ben and Nita came up so that Carole could slip away and feed Anne. For a few minutes Adam retreated to the window to find his own control. He had relied heavily on Hoss and Sue, now it was time to repay and if Joe had been able to help him after a disastrous outcome, he could surely help his brother after a successful one. Adam had just about won back to control when he saw Joe and Doc come into the yard and turned to tell the others.

Carole sent them straight up and Joe went to his wife, seeing how tense she was while Doc chatted to Sue as he washed up. She had seen enough childbirths, as expert as he was on what was happening. Between pains Sue tried to apologize for calling him out so soon, it was going to be a long time yet and anyway she didn’t really need a doctor. Doc just laughed at that, certainly he couldn’t sit through every woman’s labour but the Cartwright’s were his closest friends and he had known Hoss nearly all his life. Just at the minute with extra medical help still in town after the fire, it was easier to get away than usual and he was sticking around until he’d satisfied his curiosity. Doc hadn’t mentioned his slight anxiety as Sue was older than usual, not even to Ben let alone Hoss, she was a large woman but the baby seemed to be big and she just might need some help. After Marie and Carole’s problems Doc wasn’t taking any chances.

Sue knew him well and trusted him so Doc cleared everyone out, even Hoss while he checked Sue. He could only confirm her own opinion, it was all normal but it would be a while before she moved into the second stage, first babies wouldn’t be hurried. Even so when Hoss came back in with a tray of coffee Doc was confident the baby would be there that day. Hoss searched Paul’s face for reassurance but as Doc made no attempt to avert his gaze, Hoss slowly relaxed. Sue was strong, everything normal and with the odds with them there was no need to panic. For a while at least his confidence wasn’t all an act and he even forced down some lunch at his brothers’ insistence, although he sat by Sue as he ate, refusing to leave her even for a minute.

Nita was deathly white as Sue began to moan in pain, unable to hide it any longer and with Hoss’ reassurance that it didn’t matter if she cried out. They had all had pain and knew it sometimes helped to yell. While Carole had been in labour, Nita had had the children off in her own house and this was the first time she had been close to a childbirth. With her own baby due soon she felt sick and scared at the ordeal facing her, trying to hide it from Joe. Carole remembered how she’d felt when Marie was in labour and was the first to notice. She went over to Nita and put her arm round the blonde, “Don’t worry Sue’s fine and in a couple of hours when she holds her baby she will forget all this. It’s worth anything to have your baby in your arms.”

“I knew in theory but ....”

“Not so easy to see. I know I was scared too, before the twins, never so bad once you’ve been through it once and know what to expect, but in many ways I think it looks a lot worse than it is.”

“How long?” Nita licked dry lips and Carole sighed, “Quite a while yet, from what Doc said, several hours anyway.” Joe had noticed the whispered conversation and he came over to take his wife in his arms. Carole smiled “Could you two go and check the children for me?"
Joe nodded, “Sure, be back in a few minutes big brother.” Hoss nodded not even taking his eyes from Sue, knowing his father and elder brother were there if he wanted anything. Joe led Nita out and across the corridor to their own room. She protested faintly “The children.”

“Kam Su and Hop Sing are both there. Carole isn’t worried about them; it was just an excuse to get us out without worrying Hoss or Sue.”

“But....” Nita swallowed hard, determined not to upset her husband but Joe smiled and sitting down, pulled her down on his lap. “I know you pretty well darling. There’s no need for an act. I know you’re upset and scared, it would be a miracle if you weren’t. Our baby will be here sometime in the next month, even if you’re late like Sue. First time you’ve actually seen a woman in labour right?”

Nita couldn’t answer, just burying her face against his shoulder but Joe didn’t need an answer. “Seems pretty terrifying. Noone ever said that childbirth wasn’t painful, hard work and with a certain risk. Of course you’re scared sweetheart but you’ll feel better if you talk about it, no need for an act. Sure I’m worried and I’ll be glad when it’s over but it’s no worse now than it has been for months and I’m sure that both you and Sue are gonna be fine. We both want children so it has to be faced.”

Carole said it was worth anything, just to hold your baby and that Sue will soon forget.”

“She knows darling. When the twins were born, it seemed to take forever, nearly two days. Adam was in a hell of a state, he’d about got himself convinced that she was dying, when he wasn’t fit himself. Yet just a few minutes after they were born and we went up to see them, I’ve never seen a bigger smile and she said even then that she’d willingly do it again. The babies were worth every minute of discomfort.”

Nita snuggled closer “Maybe Carole is stronger than I am. I’ve never really been in pain, never even been ill and I’m scared I’ll let you down.”

“Don’t be silly you could never do that, I love you. Noone expects you to bear it without a whimper, that’s stupid. You heard Hoss, he told Sue to yell if she felt like it. Sometimes it helps and noone will be sitting in judgement on you, just praying for an easy labour and a safe delivery.”

“But when Adam was in such pain he ...”

“Sure big brother is good at hiding his feelings. He’s had all too much practice at hiding pain, but even he broke down more than once, when it got more than he could take.”
“I didn’t know.”

”Noone was meant to, but my shoulders are broad and I don’t panic easily so when he couldn’t take it, I was around. Everyone has a different breaking point and noone blames you if you reach it. Pain is a very personal thing, only you know how much it is hurting. I’ve screamed in pain before now but once it eases there is a sort of mental block and you can’t really remember.”

Nita relaxed a little and Joe said, “Only those you want will be there. Me if you want me or Carole. If you just want Doc then say so, noone will mind it has to be your choice. Try not to worry too much. I remember once when I had to have an operation, Adam told me it would be far worse in prospect than in reality and he was right. I can remember my fear far more clearly than the operation. Actually its worse in some ways for the bystander, you feel so helpless, wanting to do something and yet knowing there isn’t anything.”

Nita held tight to him but she felt better just for knowing her husband understood and that he wasn’t expecting her to keep up any impossibly high standards, “We’d better see the children and go back.”

“There’s no need to, we could take the kids out for a walk. You don’t have to stay and watch, frighten yourself. There’s nothing you can do.”

“I know I don’t have to but I think I’d rather see, know what to expect and anyway you said the choice would be mine. Here and now it’s Sue’s and she wants you there in case Hoss needs you.”

Joe concurred, if Nita wanted to carry on, maybe what she learnt would help a little when her time came, and anyway he was proud of her strength and not about to undermine it. They spared five minutes for the children and then went back up taking fresh coffee with them.
Hoss looked very drawn but he was only really aware of Sue, holding her still to conserve her strength as the pains became still stronger and more frequent. He was grateful for his father’s help and Ben’s calm presence. Carole was feeding Anne again and Adam was wiping Sue’s face but as Joe came in, he handed over to Doc and went over to the window.
Joe was seriously worried by the expression on Adam’s face and joined him. To Nita’s horror Joe asked “Is something wrong? What has Doc said?” There was near terror in Joe’s voice, although he kept it very low, so Hoss couldn’t hear. Hoss was only aware of his wife but Ben sensed the tension and looked over at his sons, but he couldn’t leave Hoss and trusted Joe to look after his eldest brother.

Adam was swift to deny anything was wrong with Sue, “No Doc says it’s all very normal, beginning to get somewhere now. Hoss is keeping reasonably calm.”

“Then what’s wrong, you look terrible.”

“Too many memories I guess. I’ve got to get out of here for a few minutes Joe, I’m sorry.”
Adam was trembling, his back to the rest of them trying to hide the state he’d got into from Hoss and Carole. Nita had seldom seen him so obviously upset and realised that Joe was right, Adam wasn’t always strong and that he let himself go with his younger brother, when he wouldn’t with other people. Joe put his arm round his brother’s shoulders, “Take it easy will you. Look at Carole and Anne, mother and child fit and well, a greedy little madam.”

“I know.” Adam swallowed hard, “I’m sorry, it’s stupid.”
“Natural.” Joe said, “Come on, when Carole was having the twins Hoss insisted that there was no reason I shouldn’t have a large drink when I got uptight, same applies. You come down with me and have one.”

“I don’t think I want.”

“I think you need and for once you’ll do as you’re told.” Adam still hesitated but Nita moved forward and kissed his forehead, “Go with Joe. Pa will look after Hoss and Carole and I are here if Sue needs anything.”

Adam didn’t argue any longer and let his brother lead him out while Nita went over to join Carole. She started to say something abut the children but seeing the disbelief on Carole’s face, she grinned, “Adam was getting upset, too many memories, so Joe’s taken him off for a drink.”

“I had seen, he looks worse than Hoss. I was hoping Joe would cope. Men are funny. They’ve all taken serious risks, suffered terrible injuries and yet childbirth terrifies them. Everything is normal, just rather slow with a first child. How about you Nita?”

“Scared and the baby is kicking hard but Joe’s already done his job on me and I’ve calmed down again.”

Downstairs Joe slowly calmed his brother down and persuaded him to talk. It was disjointed and vague but Joe knew him too well to need anymore. Gradually Joe’s help and a large brandy calmed Adam down and on his brother’s insistence he sat down with his three older children and after a few minutes rough and tumble, read them bedtime stories and got them off to bed.

For Hoss it had been about the longest day he’d every known, but as Joe had discovered with Marie, he found he was able to help; that his presence, his firm hands and the sound of his voice helped Sue to cope. All the time he could do something, however little, he was much calmer than in the weeks of waiting. He was only vaguely aware of his family around but he was glad they were there and knew that anything he wanted or needed would instantly be forthcoming. Occasionally when Sue was in the worst pain Hoss holding her still would watch Doc intently, seeking assurance that this was normal and so far he hadn’t seen anything to scare him. He could only pray it would soon be over. Sue was bearing up well, pulse and temperature barely raised but she was in pain and Hoss couldn’t help her. His prayers were wordless but he had a sense of God’s presence, sure that his God could help them.

Then just as it grew dark Sue screamed as the urge to push caught her and she moved into the second stage of labour. All of them were back with her and Adam moved to help Hoss support her legs almost automatically, while Carole went to put her arm round Nita, “Not long now.”

Sue heard that comment, although little was reaching her through the mists of pain and she prayed that Carole was right. It was what she had expected and she wasn’t scared but her back seemed to be breaking in two and she longed for it to be over, to hold her child and make sure the baby was alright, much more scared for him than for herself. She’d lost all track of time but as long as Hoss was there she was alright and she could cope. Doc tried to tell her what to do but Sue didn’t even seem to hear him and he had to ask Hoss to pass on his orders. At least Sue understood her husband and did her best to do as he asked.
There was so little that anyone could do to help her and everyone was on edge, waiting until finally Hoss could see the damp hair as the baby’s head appeared, He told Sue encouraging her and within a couple of minutes Doc had the baby, a boy as Sue had insisted and already bigger than Anne but it wasn’t crying and Ben gripped his son’s shoulders as for the first time Hoss wasn’t looking at his wife. His every sense focussed on the tiny mite, scared it was still born, this child part of his own flesh. Hoss had stopped breathing, so tense and scared, and there was noway that Ben could help his big son. Sue was relaxing as the pain eased and for a moment she only wanted to know what sex it was, not even missing the baby’s cry. Adam and Joe both moved to her as Hoss was unable to and they blocked her view of Doc working almost feverishly over the baby as Carole held him. Adam somehow kept the tension out of his voice as he teased her, her prediction was right but then she had a fifty-fifty chance and she would have to predict any others as Carole had before he would believe it. In a minute her whole world might fall apart if the baby was dead but until it was sure he saw no point in worrying her. Only a slight part of his concentration was on Sue, like all the others he was praying hard for the baby, every sense strained to hear the baby cry,
Sue was just beginning to sense the tension in the room when there was suddenly a strong cry of protest and Carole looked up, her eyes full of unshed tears, “He’s a beautiful boy Sue and he’s going to be a redhead, just like you.”

Hoss had leant back against his father, feeling so weak with relief as he looked from his wife to his child, almost in disbelief. Doc turned his attention to Sue as the afterbirth came away, leaving Carole to clean the baby. Nita crying quietly was glad of her husband’s strong arms and Adam almost as delighted as by the birth of his own children, congratulated Sue and washed her face for her. By the time Doc had finished removing the afterbirth Carole had the baby cleaned and wrapped loosely in a warm shawl and she brought him over to Sue. Sue held her son, smiling down at the baby which had its face all crinkled as he yelled his protest at the world. She was hardly able to believe that this perfect young life was her son, so often over the years she had held newborns and never been able to hide the pang of jealousy, never expecting to have one of her own. There was sheer ecstasy in her eyes as she looked up at her big husband and the worship in her eyes said it all. Hoss just couldn’t find his voice, much as he wanted to tell her how marvellous she was and how much his son meant to him, not realising that she and everyone else could read it on his very expressive face, Sue held the baby out to him, “Do you want to hold your son darling?”

Hoss moved closer and put one arm round her, holding her close as he very gently settled the baby in his arm. As though knowing his father the baby stopped crying and he looked up wide-eyed at Hoss, big blue eyes so like his father’s. He gripped Hoss’ finger and Hoss stared in wonderment at his son, his heart too full for words. Adam knew exactly how his brother felt and he went and poured out brandies and proposed a toast, “To our newest Cartwright and to his mother, many congratulations Sue, Hoss.”

Everyone joined in the toast whole heartedly and then Carole shooed them all out so she and Doc could get Sue cleaned up and settled in a clean bed. Hoss hesitated but Sue told him to go on down and to take the baby for a few minutes. Hoss carried his son down very carefully, almost bursting with pride at the son Sue had given him. Ben pulled up a chair by the fire and asked to hold his new grandson. Hoss very carefully placed the baby in his father’s arms. The baby was nine pounds and bigger than Anne was even now but for the moment Adam wasn’t even thinking of that, so delighted for his brother. “Any thoughts on names Hoss?”

“Yeah, maybe but I gotta talk to Sue first. He’s perfect ain’t he?”

“Gorgeous.” Joe said, “Congratulations Hoss. How does it feel to be a father?”
“Unbelievable. My son.” Hoss shook his head in disbelief and very softly repeated, “My son.”

Ben smiled up at his big son “It’s what I always wanted. I just hope you get as much pleasure and happiness from your son Hoss as I’ve had from all three of mine.”

His three sons all coloured slightly but Hoss knelt down to take the baby’s hand and then meeting his father’s gaze he said, “I’m sure I will Pa, if I can be half as good a father to him as you have been to all of us.”

“Here, here” added Adam and Joe and it was Ben’s turn to look away in momentary embarrassment, but it didn’t last as Adam insisted on his right to hold his first nephew. Nita was amused as Joe pushed in to demand his turn; so many men she’d grown up with would have felt embarrassed at holding their own babies, let alone relatives, barely acknowledging children until they were at least talking and walking, if not waiting until they were ready to hero-worship their elders. Always so worried about being unmanly and yet these men who’d proved bravery in everyway and never stopped to consider it, were squabbling amicably over who was going to hold a newborn baby. She went over and kissed the baby’s head as Hoss reclaimed his son “He’s beautiful Hoss.”

“Sure is. I’m gonna take him back to his mother, see if she wants some food or anything.” Hoss headed back upstairs, grinning broadly.

Joe watched him affectionately “The big moose is just about bursting with pride.”

“With reason.” Ben pointed out, “Lovely baby. Thank God, had me scared for a minute or two there.”

Adam poured himself another drink, “All of us Pa. Sometimes it seems time just stops, it seemed forever before he cried. Can’t have been as long as it seems or the baby would have died.”

Doc and Carole came down at that and while Carole went out to get a tray for Sue, Doc came to join them by the fire. He’d heard the comment and very sombre for a moment said “I thought it was going to Adam.”

Ben frowned, “Why Doc?”

“Just one of those things, a blockage in the air tube which we couldn’t clear. Thank God Carole keeps her head I needed her help.”

Adam restless moved over to the window, “Only one important thing Doc. Is the baby alright now? Any after effects?” The gaiety in the room was replaced by tension at the mere question although it had been in everyone’s mind and even Carole stopped at the bottom of the stairs as she waited for the answer.

Doc smiled “Relax all of you. We cleared it fast enough, no trouble, my word on it. One perfectly healthy and very large baby.”

Ben sighed, “Thank God for that. Join us for dinner Paul.”

“Thanks and then I must get back to town. Sue’s fine too, your biggest problem will be to keep her quiet for the next few days.”
“Carole will manage.” Ben said with faith in his daughter much to Joe’s amusement. When it came to the point neither Adam nor Joe could manage more than a token effort, even Nita doing much better, Joe was scared of the future, Adam too aware of the past and although each of them were honestly delighted for their brother, now they were sure that he was alright and his wife and child were fit and well, they were lost in their own thoughts. Nita was very tired and Joe roused himself and took her to bed, but felt unable to join her. He did sit by the bed until she was asleep, unsure if she was still upset.

Hoss had settled Sue down, trying very hard to tell her in words just how delighted he was and how much his son meant to him but Sue didn’t need words. It was evident in his eyes, his voice, every move he made, the way his gaze kept going back towards the baby in the cradle. She was so very happy, pain totally forgotten but she was tired and eventually let Hoss tuck her up. She made no protest at his plan to take the baby out for a couple of nights, while she got over her hard labour. She did make him promise to go down and have a meal and use his family to help so that he could get some rest too, then she settled. Hoss waited until she was asleep and then picked up the cradle and took his son out.

The proud parents had decided on names and he went down to tell his family, hoping they would approve. He was restless but for once not at all hungry but he let Carole bring him some stew. After a few mouthfuls he gave up and pushed it away, “We’ve decided what to call the baby.”

Adam took his plate and poured Hoss some coffee, “Don’t keep us in suspense Hoss.”

“John Patrick Cartwright.”

Ben smiled “My brother was John, sounds real good to have another John Cartwright.”
“I’m glad you like it Pa. Sue’s father is Patrick.” Hoss looked anxiously at his brother who were trying out the name, Adam grinned “I like it brother, we toyed with John too, nice names. I have a lot of friends called John.”

Joe asked “Sort of grown up for a little one. Have we got to be good or is he gonna be a Johnny?”

“Sue’s already calling him Johnny, so I guess you’ll be in good company.”

“Fine, suits him Hoss. I still can’t get used to it, you a father!”

Hoss grinned more freely than he had all day, “If you reckon it feels odd now Little Joe, jest wait until Nita’s baby is here and you’re a father!” Hoss went and poured a drink and then went over to join Adam by the window, “You said there was no feeling like holding your own child, guess you were right brother. Still seems almost a dream, or I guess most of the day a nightmare.”

“It only gets better now Hoss. You were born to be a father, I’ve seen you with my brats, young John has one hell of a Pa.”

Hoss was pleased by his brother’s comment but slowly the tensions of the day were getting to him and sure that Sue would sleep he wanted to get out, get some fresh air hemmed in by the house. For very different reasons his brothers were equally restless and Ben, knowing his sons so very well, came over to the cradle. “Carole and I can look after young John and get anything that Sue or Nita might want. Why don’t you three go for a ride, relax a bit and then maybe you can get some sleep.”
The brothers looked at each other and Joe answered for all three of them, “Makes sense Pa. I’ll go saddle up, you two coming?"

They nodded and Hoss slipped up to ensure that Sue was asleep first, while Adam filled a brandy flask, just in case. Ben didn’t comment, just saying, “No rush, we have everything under control.”

“I know Pa.” Adam kissed his wife, “Thanks darling.”

“Just you calm down, Anne and I are fine, even if she isn’t as big as her cousin. Then maybe you can help Hoss and Joe.”

Adam wasn’t surprised to find her reading him like a book as always and relaxed a little. “She doesn’t need to be, she’s very feminine and if Nita is right and has a son too young Anne will bully them both unmercifully.” With that he went out to give Joe a hand and they were ready with all three horses when Hoss came out to join them. The brothers rode up to the lake in silence, without any need of discussion of their destination. Reaction was beginning to hit Hoss, not just from the events of the day and his fear for the baby but the long weeks of insufficient sleep scared of losing his new found happiness. He began to feel thoroughly sick, having eaten little that day didn’t really help.

The brothers dismounted near the point tying the horses on long reins to feed and both Adam and Joe went over to the graves. Joe to kneel by his wife’s grave, so grateful that his brother’s dream hadn’t proved prophetic as his own had; while Adam stood by the grave of his lost child, remembering the hours he had been so scared that Anne would join her and the moments of fear for young John. Hoss stood watching them, both lost in their own thoughts but his feeling of nausea grew worse and he turned abruptly to go into the bushes. Everything caught up with him and he was desperately sick, retching painfully with nothing to be sick on, feeling weak and ill.

Adam was the first to jerk back to the present and for a moment he couldn’t place the sounds he could hear, but then as he realised and couldn’t see his big brother he went over to Joe, “Where did Hoss go?”

Joe looked up startled “I don’t ...” He stopped looking questioningly at his brother. Adam gripped his shoulder, “Just all caught up on him, not surprising. Come on Joe.”

Following the sound they joined Hoss who standing head bent, his shoulders heaving as he retched. Adam moved over to put his arm round Hoss sending Joe to get a canteen. “Alright easy now Hoss, breathe in deep and slow. You’ll be fine just try and relax old son.”

Hoss tried to do as his brother told him as Adam repeated his instructions over and over. By the time Joe got back he had at least stopped retching although he was trembling. Adam passed a clean handkerchief to Joe who wet it and Adam gently wiped Hoss’ face before ordering him to take a drink

Then leaning heavily on his brothers Hoss went with them up to the point, where he gratefully accepted Adam’s brandy flask. He sat down staring out over the lake, feeling thoroughly ashamed of himself, which was very evident to his brothers despite the poor light. Joe met his eldest brother’s eye in obvious amusement and Adam smiled before slipping down next to Hoss, “Just relax old son. It’s all over or maybe better to say the good times are just beginning.”
Hoss wiped his mouth again and took another sip of brandy, “Making a hell of a fuss over nothing.”

Adam put his arm round Hoss’ broad shoulders, “Reaction. It’s inevitable. When the twins were born and Carole was fine, I bawled my eyes out on Joe’s shoulder. Not that I had anything to cry about, I had everything I wanted and he’d lost everything, but I couldn’t help it. Joe seemed to understand.”

Joe sat down on the other side of Hoss, “Sure I did. Too many sleepless nights, too many nightmares and too long waiting and praying, so scared and so helpless. There’s bound to be a reaction, Get that over and a good night’s sleep and you’ll be back to the heights. You were way up there when Sue handed you your son, Hoss.”

“My son.” Hoss murmured reverently, “So very lucky, I never expected.”

“You’ve earnt every bit of that luck.” Joe intervened, “Sue is fine and Johnny strong and healthy so you can relax. Get your sleep caught up, because I’m giving you fair warning I’m gonna be relying on you two over the next couple of weeks.”

Hoss pulled away from Adam and searched his younger brother’s face, “Nita, is she okay?”

“A bit scared, she’s never seen childbirth before and noone can deny it’s sorta painful and messy. At least now she knows what to expect and like Sue she’s fit and strong. Doc says she’ll be fine just as Sue is.” Joe forced a grin but it didn’t fool either of his brothers, already with Sue safely delivered and only Nita to go his fears and worries had returned tenfold. Both Hoss and Adam knew that his fears would only get worse over the next days and weeks. Joe went on “I’m not at panic stations quite yet. I’ll let you know when. Think I want to stretch my legs.” Rather abruptly he got up and walked off along the shore. Hoss would have followed but Adam stopped him, “Let Joe be, he knows we’re here if we can help.
Chances are here and now Marie will help him most.”

“How about you Adam, you looked pretty drawn once or twice.”

“Memories. How close I came to losing Carole and Anne, but I’m fine now, just more than ever determined to stop while I’m ahead. Two boys and two girls makes a nice family for any man.”

“Sue wants more.”

“And you’ll have to let her have her own way. I’d never have allowed more after the twins, especially after Carole’s miscarriage but she wanted a daughter and I had to give way. Anyway it tends to get easier and Sue had no real trouble, less than Carole.”

“I know, just seemed forever.”

“Always does brother. Still its over and you’re a father.”

Hoss frowned and for a moment he was quiet, just staring across the lake and then to Adam’s surprise he said, “Now I know just what you meant and that guy you quoted, something about a wife and child being hostages to fortune.”

Adam smiled, “His name was Bacon, a long time ago in England. ‘He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune.’ Not like you to quote things Hoss, not even my own words back at me.”

“Just seemed so right. We’re both very lucky.”

“Joe will be too in just a few days.”

Hoss nodded “Sure but that wasn’t what I meant, I have a son now and I want everything for him. Luckily I can give it to him and I know if I couldn’t you or Joe would, without stopping to think if it was my child or yours. Just hope the next generation get along as well as we three.”

“Good chance, they’ll grow up close together.”

“Like Joe and me the eldest of them will have a derned good example.”

Adam slightly embarrassed tried to change the subject, suggesting that they go and collect Joe but Hoss stopped him. “I’ve not forgotten what you said about sharing when it came to financing the California. Now as a father I can see clearer Pa’s point. You could have put your sons first but you didn’t, all of us equal. I hope it stays that way.”

“Pa said then that it works for us. I don’t see any reason for change, just because we enlarged the family. We all share in the extra joy. You and Joe have shared my kids, been very special Uncles, don’t you think I’ve been looking forward to the day when I’d have nephews and nieces to spoil too?”

Hoss grinned, feeling very much better, “You’re welcome.”

“Then for a start let me have my nephew tonight, while you catch up on some sleep. You’ve been under a heck of a strain all day. After all you did it for me with the twins.”

Hoss hesitated but Joe coming back quietly heard Adam’s request and broke in, “Only on condition you split with me Adam.”

“It’s a deal little brother. Right Hoss you’re outvoted, two to one.”

Hoss looked from one to the other and then linking arms with both he headed down the hill to the horses. All of them relaxed by the serenity of the Lake and each others presence. Even Joe could postpone fears about his beloved wife until the morrow; today he would celebrate Hoss’ new fatherhood.