Catching up
by Lyn Robinson

Ben was standing by the cradle studying his newest grandson when the three brothers returned from the lake. He could see the difference in them before they even had their coats off and the four men sat chatting by the fire for a while. Carole had headed for bed and all the women were asleep so they were on their own, as they had been for so many years but with a huge difference personified by the red headed baby sleeping peacefully in his cradle between his proud father and grandfather. Eventually knowing that the next day would be busy all but Adam headed for bed with Joe promising to take over at 2.30. In fact Adam was quite disappointed not to have an excuse to pick up the baby. When Joe came down to take over the brothers stood staring down at the cradle and Joe grinned “You know I think he even looks a little like Hoss. For a while I thought that he’d never marry and have kids, it would have been such a waste.”

“Just needed to find someone to look past elegance and good looks to see what a nice person he is and Sue couldn’t be better for him”

“She’s blossomed too, lovelier and much more graceful now she’s grown in confidence. She’ll be as good a mother as Carole is. Guess we’ve all been very lucky in our wives.”

“Just a few days Joe and Hoss and I will split another vigil over a new born. The three grandchildren that you promised Pa when he was so ill, reason enough to live.”

“Doesn’t seem possible now that I so nearly gave up on him, he’s as fit as ever.”

“God is still with us Joe, don’t forget that. I couldn’t have survived the fire, nor could Anne have lived without his help. He’ll be with Nita too, so when you get worried, and I know you will, just remember.”

“I know, Marie said as much tonight. Does that make any sense Adam?”

“It makes a lot of sense Joe, you love her and she’s there. I can reach you from miles away and so can Pa and Hoss, so why shouldn’t Marie? Just because you love Nita that doesn’t change your feelings for Marie, anymore than our marriages have affected our relationship. It’s the nice thing about love, seems the more you give, the more you have to give.”

Joe hugged his brother for a minute “Go get some sleep, you look tired and thanks for understanding. If I need help I will ask.”

Even Joe was hardly disturbed and when Johnny did fret a little sweetened water calmed him down so that Hoss found his younger brother sitting cuddling Johnny, smiling down at the baby when he came looking for breakfast. Johnny was staring up wide eyed at his uncle, seemingly quite content. Hoss prayed that in a few days his brother would have his own child to hold but for now he looked mighty pleased with his latest nephew. Sensing that someone was there Joe looked round and seeing Hoss he grinned, “Come take your son Hoss and I’ll go get some coffee.”

Hoss sat down with his son warm at the thought and he studied him in wonderment, but his peace was rapidly disturbed as the twins and Marie ran down. They were eager to see the baby and find out what had been happening since they were sent so rudely to bed. They were all intrigued by the baby but very gentle with him, although David couldn’t understand how this new baby was bigger than his little sister when she was already quite old and this one was brand new. Hoss couldn’t think of an answer but Joe, bringing coffee, rescued him with a completely specious argument, which none the less satisfied the little boy. Joe pointed out that John was a boy and Anne a girl and boys were always bigger than girls. Hoss frowned at his brother and as the children headed out to the kitchen to ask Kam Su for breakfast he said, “Just wait until Nita has a small boy or a large girl and then try to get yourself out of that.”

“Oh David will have forgotten. “ Joe said airily but he had to admit that Hoss was probably right when he denied it, that child never forgot anything. Then as Nita appeared to say that Sue was awake, both of them forgot it. Hoss took his son up to his mother while Joe went and collected a breakfast tray for her.

Sue was still rather tired and sore but so very pleased with her beautiful son that she couldn’t have been happier. She basked in everyone’s congratulations and their admiration of the baby while Hoss sat by quietly watching. He was very proud and happy, the fears and tensions of the last months forgotten after letting go up by the Lake. Ben had never seen his big son so ecstatic, not even on his wedding day and it was enough for Joe to keep his own fears at bay for one more day.

The whole family relaxed round Sue’s bed, only making a token effort at work. Word had already spread both round the ranch and round town so a steady stream of congratulatory messages arrived. While Sue slept or fed her son, Ben and Joe kept the essential work moving while Adam finished the outline designs for the two houses he’d promised Fair and MacKay but none of them left the house, although both Ben and Adam knew they would have to head into town the next day. Joe insisted that he could cope for one day at least and, with Adam’s help, for a week or so before Hoss need bother himself with anything but his wife and child. Luckily their church was just outside of town and had been unaffected by the fire and with Sue’s blessing Hoss decided to ride into town with his father and brother to arrange for John’s christening. He would head home as soon as he’d finished and Carole, with Nita’s help, could get anything that Sue needed. Sue told him there was no need to rush back sure he had friends who would want to celebrate with him, but all Hoss wanted was to be with her. He was enjoying the quiet hours with his wife and son as she nursed the child, more than anything he’d ever known. Such peace of mind and heart that he felt close to God and to that peace of God which defies man’s understanding.

As the three rode to town they were all quiet. Adam had several legal queries he was still trying to work his way round. Ben had an important meeting on his mind and Hoss was lost in thoughts of his wife and child. Hoss hadn’t been back to town since the fire and as it came into view he pulled up suddenly. Ben worried asked what was wrong but Hoss was staring at the new buildings and didn’t even hear him. With Adam’s design being built at the rate of twenty a day and with a lot of self help in the Chinese sector, those two dominated the town, but several stores and saloons had already rebuilt and work was going on at an elaborate new hotel, at the courthouse and the Bank of California. Even the new territorial Enterprise building was almost complete as Virginia City sprang back from the ashes in an incredibly short time. It was a lot more than Hoss had expected even though he’d heard reports from town and for a minute he could only sit and stare. He was glad to see that his promise of help had been fulfilled, a brand new livery stable was already completed and still in silence Hoss led the way down there. As they dismounted Hoss turned to his brother, “Sure has grown fast. Those houses up the hill, your’s Adam?’

“The ones I designed.”

“I’d like to see, can you spare the time to come up with me?”

“Sure big brother, I was going up to check a few things anyway.” Adam arranged to meet his father at the main town meeting later and while Ben headed up to the Virginia to see Fair and McKay. The brothers headed up to the newest batch of houses.

Adam wandered through them having a word with the builders, checking that no short cuts were being taken in his absence and briefly explaining to his brother his reasons for various decisions he’d made on the design. At first they were left in peace although the men were pleased to see them and as word of Hoss’ son had spread several congratulated him, perhaps the most accessible of the Cartwrights. However it didn’t take long for a crowd to gather. Once the project was well started and running smoothly Adam had only made a couple of visits with plenty to do out at the ranch and while the men had seen him few of the women or children had moved in. The waiting crowd was mainly women and children and one tall careworn woman in her forties pushed to the front, spokeswoman for the rest. Adam met his brother’s eye and shrugged before heading over to them, it was obvious that they weren’t going o be able to leave without talking to her.

She had grown up in a hard school, fighting for everything that she or her children needed, with seven kids it had been a long, often a losing, fight. It had left her suspicious, noone had ever given her anything for nothing and he didn’t expect that to change. Hands on hips she faced Adam, “You built these houses Mr. Cartwright?”

“Just the first few, the rest your own men are building.”

“The men say we just pay a token rent to the town for the land, once a year, sort of land tax.”

“That’s right. It will go into a special fund for more building, houses if needed, if not maybe a school or whatever is needed.”

“What I don’t get is what you get out of it?”

“Me personally?”

“Yeah. Look don’t think we ain’t grateful. I ain’t never had no place for my kids, not of my own, not like this. Most of us are the same, mighty nice houses, better’n we’re used to. It’s just that I need to know what we have to pay and when.”
Adam looked at his brother, who shook his head, just as puzzled. Adam said, “I’ve told you, there’s a land tax to the town, that’s it. These houses aren’t mine; I shan’t be claiming any rent. I don’t own them, you do, you’ve built them between you.”

“I ain’t saying you’ll take money, but something, you must want something. The likes of you don’t do nothing for the likes of me without a real good reason. Maybe you don’t want money, hear you’re real rich, but sure as hell you want something. You spent time planning these, teaching our men how to build ‘em. You gave us all the wood and stuff and we’re right grateful, but what do you want back?”

There were murmurs of agreement from the crowd, who couldn’t believe that rich powerful men like the Cartwrights could waste their time over people like them without some ulterior motive. Adam shook his head and murmured very softly to Hoss, “Sweeping condemnation of our society, when noone believes in altruism.” but then he put his hands out for quiet. “Listen all of you please. I have lived here when there was no town, I’ve watched it grow from a few tents to a sprawling mass of buildings and twice now I have seen it burn. From the beginning my father has invested money and time to help the town and we’ve grown rich and prosperous along with it. Why shouldn’t we do the same again?”

“Sure mister.” Came a voice from the back, “Put money in the mines, the banks you get it back, but why here. We can’t even afford to pay for the lumber. So what do you want in return?”

For the first time Hoss intervened and asked mildly, “Has anyone asked you to pay for the lumber? You lost everything, we were lucky, lost nothing, so we can help out. Friends have come to help us when we were in trouble.”

The women still looked unconvinced and one reiterated, “You’re rich and powerful, ain’t nothing to do with the likes of us.”

Adam sighed but tried again, “Your husbands work in the mines, on the railroad,” and then picking out one woman he recognized, “Mrs. Miller isn’t it? Your husband is up at the pumping station. All the investment in mines isn’t worth a cent without miners to work them, people to work the ore, to provide food and water. We all need each other. You ask what I want from you in return for the houses, okay I’ll tell you. I want you to keep your kids in school where they can learn. I want you to be able to feed them properly because you don’t have to pay exorbitant rent. I want your husbands’ support on juries or whatever else is necessary to raise the level of law and order in this town. I want Virginia City to be a good place for all of us to live, rich, prosperous, but friendly and law abiding, where my wife and kids can walk free without fear. I want your help to make it a good place to raise a family, yours and mine.”

The very obvious sincerity in his voice and the way his brother nodded in agreement finally convinced the women and the spokeswoman was the first to admit it. “God bless you Mr. Cartwright and your whole family. There ain’t many big men who care. Guess we’re lucky to live in a town where one family does.”

Adam was embarrassed, but in order to hide it he reverted to practicalities. “Just one more thing. These houses are very simple, basic. I designed them that way to get them up fast but there are lots of ways to improve them, from putting up a staircase to extending the whole house. Any of you who want to improve them I can give you advice on how to go about it, help you get the supplies you’ll need. You are all very welcome to come and see me and I’ll try and help you, your husbands, whoever. I just ask one thing, leave it until after Christmas, then any time, but just now we’re busy. Anyway with my brother’s firstborn just arrived and our younger brother’s wife expecting next week, we want a little time to enjoy the babies.”

That caused a murmur but the woman at the front couldn’t help querying it, “Men don’t like babies.”

Adam laughed, “Well we’re the exceptions who prove the rule. I have four kids of my own and now Hoss has a son and the four of us, all men, nearly come to blows over whose turn it is to hold the baby. Least until it comes time to change the diaper when it goes back fast to Mum.’

The women all laughed at that and cheered the brothers as they finally managed to break away. They had hardly got clear when Dan joined them, “Quite a speech Adam.”

Adam sighed and shook his head, “I didn’t know you were around.”

“This is one time I won’t keep quiet, that scene needs reporting, might just sting a few consciences. You ought to go into politics Adam, most effective speech I’ve seen. They’d give you the Governorship for the asking, or the Senate, in time maybe even President.”

Adam burst out laughing, “Come on Dan, your imagination is running away with you! Anyway I don’t like politics and that speech as you call it was effective, if it was, just because I’m no politician and they know it. I meant every word of it because it’s necessary, not just to buy some votes.”

Dan pushed him again, nothing would improve until a few people who did care got into politics but Hoss intervened seeing Adam was on the verge of losing his temper and asked where they were printing the paper with the new building only half complete. On his favourite topic Dan explained how they had coped

After a few minutes Dan sensed he had lost his audience and remembered that he hadn’t yet congratulated Hoss on his new son. Adam had relaxed again and grinned, “Johnny shows every sign of being as big as his Dad, bigger than Anne now, but he’s going to be better looking, takes after Sue.”

“How is she?” Dan enquired.

“Blooming, a very beautiful mother. Right Hoss?”

“Very and I want to get back to them so if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go arrange the christening and get on home. See you Dan.”
Adam and Dan watched him stride away and Dan commented, “Lost a lot of weight but he looks real content.”

“He is now. He was scared after Marie’s death and Carole’s close call but you should see him sitting watching Sue and the baby, just about bursting with pride, with good reason.”

“How’s Joe?”

“Tense and worried, worse since Sue’s delivery somehow makes Nita’s more imminent but she’d due in less than a fortnight and he’ll cope. Doc seems sure everything will be alright.”

“I’m sure it will. Lots of us said a few prayers for Joe; he took it mighty hard before.”

“We have too, all be glad when it’s over but it’ll be fine. Now I must get on, town meeting, I’m already late.”

Dan was going too and the old friends walked over to the Bank of Nevada where it was being held. Adam filled his old friend in on some of the problems they were having in dislodging their guests from the house, although he made it very clear that it was definitely not for printing.

Up at the mines Ben had found Fair and Mackay very pleased with themselves. The California was back in normal operation, all the surface buildings repaired or replaced and the stamp mill was back in operation, so that the ore could be processed. The shoring had been replaced in the Virginia as Adam had agreed and the lift shaft had been extended down to 1600 feet. The lift cage and the gear were still being installed, but they hoped to be operational there as well in another three or four days. Ben was pleased with the progress, Jim was right it was the wealth of the mines which in the end had to pay to rebuild the town. They ran over some of the outstanding problems, mainly the question of extra lumber from the Ponderosa. Although Fair and Mackay paid lip service to the idea that it was difficult to cut timber at this time of year, that didn’t stop them assuming that somehow the Cartwrights would pull off a miracle and extricate them from all their problems. Ben would go part way but with the best will in the world he couldn’t commit himself to the quantity that they wanted for full production in both mines. Ben pointed out that it all depended on the weather and he would only go partway, promising to do more if it was feasible. Jim was still trying to get Ben to agree to a little more as they walked down to the town meeting, but Ben refused, it wasn’t practical. It was with some relief that Ben saw Adam and Dan approaching and excused himself to join his son. Dan wandered off and Ben was able to fill Adam in on the position at the mines.

The meeting was to assess progress so far and decided on the next priorities, but with a large number of participants it inevitably took some time to get any semblance of order. Adam took the opportunity provided by the delay to pass over the basic designs for their new houses to Fair and Mackay. He asked for comments and any requests for changes in the next few days and once they were agreed he could draw up the detailed work plans. As both wanted their new homes completed by Christmas they had no time to waste. Adam excused himself and rejoined his father but both Fair and Mackay were too curious to see what he had come up with to wait. They spread the plans and artist impressions on the table in front of them. A number of people knew they had persuaded Adam to design houses and the plans were soon the centre of a large curious group.

Adam swore feelingly under his breath and Ben gripped his arm, “Inevitable Son, everyone’s curious. They’ve seen your house and your brothers, the houses in town, want to see what you have come up with this time. Anyway you’ve made a very good job of those two at very short notice, with little time to work on them. I’m proud of what you’ve achieved and you should be, you know that.”

“Just wish I’d left handing them over until the end. Can’t we get this meeting started; just wasting time and I for one have better things to do.”

Ben lent back in his chair but even the chairman was poring over one sketch, “Just have to wait until they’ve satisfied their curiosity Adam.”

“Hell! I’m going to get a drink.” Adam slipped out unnoticed until Jim put down the last plan and looked for him. “Where’s Adam, Ben?”

“Be back in a minute. Do you think we can get this meeting stared, we’re all busy.”

“Sure.” Jim agreed but promptly reverted to the designs, “Adam’s done a hell of a job on these. I don’t want a thing changed, even better than the ones out on the ranch.”
Ben didn’t agree and knew that his son wouldn’t, Adam had lent slightly away from his normal simplicity to suit prevailing trends, producing rather more ornate buildings
as he knew that was what Fair and Mackay appreciated. Even so the basic elegance was there, the harmony of the whole which characterized all his designs and the sketches showed it. Everyone was very enthusiastic with both prospective owners proclaiming they were exactly what they wanted; Adam didn’t need to change anything. Plenty of others were jealous knowing that their own architects would be pushed to come up with anything to equal Adam’s designs. A few determined to try again and persuade Adam to work for them; but in his absence Ben was finally able to stem the flow of congratulations and get the meeting started on the agenda.

The first discussions were on the success so far, just how much had been built and what was working. As the second man started to report on the stores built so far, Adam slipped into the empty chair next to his father. Several people would have spoken to him but Adam was intently reading his father’s notes on reports so far and then began taking his own notes. He carefully avoided catching anyone’s eye and let the meeting continue, but both Fair and Mackay passed notes thanking him for the designs and telling him to go ahead, they didn’t want any changes. When the next set of questions to the speaker had finished, several people did speak to Adam but he shushed them, insisting they leave it until later and the next report started. A lot of the reports were vague and the discussions even worse, Adam wasn’t the only one getting very restless and bored. Ben felt the same but he was more practiced at it recently. Adam left it to his father to try and keep them to the point while he sat doodling figures on his pad as he planned out the houses in his own mind, barely listening to the pointless squabbling. He looked up once as the price of some plans was under. discussion and Jim Fair spoke up to tell them they were fussing about nickels. Jim went on “The receipts and expenditure of our company on its own total more than that of half the states in the Union. We’ll find the money.”

Adam met his father’s eye and said very quietly, “Jim may find he’s bitten off more than he expected.”

Adam regained interest and entered the discussions as the positions of new buildings were planned in, not always being replaced on their original sites. They had a chance to plan more sensibly and he was a firm supporter of those who thought it made more sense to have ‘C’ street as the main thoroughfare on the flatter land. He also argued for it to be kept wider, maybe help ease the enormous crush of traffic.

Both Ben and Adam argued and won support for the urgent rebuilding of a school and two of the churches, which had been destroyed. The Bank of Nevada was already involved in loans at minimal interest for rebuilding, stores, offices, even saloons especially the Washoe Club, breweries, foundries and all the million and one essentials for the town. However Adam’s interest wasn’t really aroused until they came to a discussion on what they could do to stop it happening again. Inevitably the town would still be basically wood, bricks and stones were too expensive to import apart from for use in a few prestigious buildings, like the new Piper’s Opera house and the International Hotel. The seven fire companies organized over the years had done their best, but even with water freely available thanks to the pipeline, their efforts had been puny compared to the fire with a zephyr blowing. Several men thought they ought to get better equipment for the firemen, new faster engines with stronger pumps but Adam was insistent that at best new equipment would only have a minor effect. It would have made no difference to the outcome with a zephyr blowing.
Everyone knew he was right but as it was impossible to rebuild in brick they didn’t want to accept their helplessness. They argued against Adam, a losing argument and furious one storekeeper turned on him. “You’re very good at telling us that what we plan is useless. Easy to cut down our plans just what do you suggest? You’re supposed to be so damned clever.”

Adam smiled, rather amused, “Okay I agree it’s easy to say what won’t work and if there were any easy answers we’d have done it back in’63 and this fire wouldn’t have happened.”

“Words, all very clever but they don’t get us nowhere.” His critic complained.
Adam held up his hand, “Let me finish. Anything we try will only be a palliative but together maybe they will help and I do have a few concrete suggestions.” He had everyone’s undivided attention and even Ben sat back to listen, hoping that Adam had some ideas; he was out of any suggestions himself. Adam was hoping he did too, seeing the sort of unrealistic expectation that he had been trying to avoid. “I repeat there are no easy answers, certainly better equipment will help a little and anything which can do that is worth supporting but on its own it won’t do much. Anther thing that I think will help is a simple change in the town ordinances. Any of you who were here hen the fire was at its worst must have seen the way the fire was spread time and again by explosions of blasting powder. Other than the wind, which we can’t do anything about and which is at least predictable, that powder was the most disastrous agent in spreading the fire. I think we need underground stores for powder, all of us up at the mines were trying to bury powder but often we were too late. The details can be considered later but we must control the storage of powder. Various other precautions can be taken at the mines but they are probably for the mine directors to discuss for each individual mine. The other thing I think we can do for the town as a whole is to give an early warning of trouble. We need to draw up some simple contingency plans for cooperation of all the fire companies and we need to know as soon as a fire starts and then maybe we can move fast enough to contain trouble. I think the best way to get fast warning would be to build a fire tower up on Mount Davidson overlooking the town and keep it manned on a twenty four hour basis. Keep watch for any smoke or flames ready to sound the alarm and signal the exact position of the fire to all the fire companies.”

As Adam fell quiet, there was a babble of noise as the men began to discuss his proposals, the last of which at least was a completely new idea to all of them. Ben took the chance to have a word with his son, they had discussed precautions several times, but this was the first time Adam had mentioned a watch tower. “When did you think of the watch tower?”

“Just now while I was having a drink, I think it might help. What do you think?”

“Sounds a good idea to me but we’ll have to take care who we hire to man it, very boring job most of the time.”

“Put a standing bonus of say $500 for each authentic fire spotted from it.”

“You are getting cynical in your old age Son, probably right, it will need some sort of incentive, but cynical.”

“I doubt we’d get the rest to agree but the Chinese are much more reliable on that sort of job.”

Ben thought about that for a minute, “I’ll support anyone who is suitable, regardless of race. I won’t say that you’re wrong but I will not push the idea that one race is better or worse than any other for any job. There is far too much racialism around as it is.”

“You’re right of course Pa but I’ll have a side bet with you that in a year it’s manned entirely by Chinese as everyone else gets bored even with an incentive bonus.”

“Alright you’re on, one year from first opening all workers Chinese, a $100 if you’re right.”

“Deal Pa.” Adam grinned broadly and then as general discussion started they both took part. In general they got their own way although Adam could have done without the job he was handed, to find a suitable site and design the tower. Still there was noway to avoid it and he used it as an excuse to get away from all those who wanted to discuss house designs and slipped off up the hill.

Ben took the opportunity to sit hard on several men who wanted him to approach his son on their behalf. Ben flatly refused, his son had more than enough to do now, they had a ranch to run and although they would help where they could on rebuilding the town Adam had prior commitments and couldn’t take on any more.

Adam was pleased that his designs had met with approval more especially as they didn’t please him particularly and he would be glad to complete his share of the work. On the other hand he was glad of the excuse to get away, finding effusive ill-informed comments hard to take. It took him far longer than he had expected to settle on a site, every possible one had a drawback and when he finally decided he had to accept an extensive leveling job and a tower rather taller than he had hoped. It meant spending time getting a detailed plan of the ground before he could head home. In the end it was nearly 2.30 before Adam went back to the livery stable to collect Blackie and he was very tired after a broken night the day before.

Roy was in the stable, checking on his rounds and not having seen his old friend for some time Adam spared ten minutes to catch up on the news. The crime rate was still way up as men with no work were getting desperate but a few of the hardened bullies had moved on at least temporarily with the saloons burnt down. Many of the prostitutes had also moved on with nowhere to work and the men broke so Roy was reasonably optimistic. He did check if Adam was carrying any money, offering an escort but Adam wasn’t and insisted that he would be careful and could take care of himself. Adam was just swinging up on Blackie when Roy put a hand on his reins, “Adam some things ain’t easy to say but they need saying. Not just you but all your family. I heard what those women had to say this morning, they were right. Joe saved my house for me and you have bothered with all the other small people, jest ‘cos they needed help. Too few will ever say thank you. I just don’t want to be one who takes you for granted. I’m real grateful and I want you all to know it.”

Adam grinned broadly, “We do know Roy but it means a lot that you bother to say it. I’ll tell the others and thank you.” Shaking hands almost formally with his old friend, Adam headed out. He was honestly pleased and at first it kept tiredness at bay but long before he got home he was half dozing in the saddle, leaving Blackie to make his own way, it had been a very long tiring day.

Joe had also found it a very long day. Noone was more delighted at young John’s safe arrival, Joe loved both of his brothers and knew just how much children mattered to them but he wanted his own child. He wanted to know the peace that had been so obvious on both their faces as they held their firstborn children. Even with all that had happened in the interim he could see Adam’s face as he walked down the stairs so very carefully holding the twins and Joe knew that he would never forget that or Hoss’ reaction. Much as he wanted his own child there was the ordeal of the childbirth to get through first. Joe knew that he would cope and support Nita as he had Marie, he loved her just as much but he was beginning to realize how much it was going to cost him over the next weeks. Looking back he realized for the first time just how much he had used other worries to prevent himself thinking about Nita’s ordeal. Adam’s severe injuries, the financial crash, the birth of the premature baby, even Adam’s insistence on going on the drive and more recently the fire and Hoss, anything which stopped him thinking about Nita. It had been remarkably efficient but now he had run out of other troubles and although busy organizing the lumber operation that left free too many of his emotions, too much of his mind to worry about Nita. The work was beginning to become routine, the problems largely routine and the men getting used to handling them.

Joe had been late getting home and claimed to have already eaten, not able to face food. He had had coffee and a biscuit at one camp so he wasn’t really lying. Ben had only just made it back from town and with his news and Hoss’ news about the arrangements for the christening, Joe’s silence passed largely unnoticed. Nita did query it but Joe managed an act for half an hour, easier with her so obviously healthy and sent her off to bed unworried, promising to join her later but with a couple of jobs to clear for the morning.

Hoss was intending to look after his own son but Joe told him not to be so daft, he had a lot of sleep to catch up on and might as well go to bed now as Joe was going to be working for quite a while anyway. Hoss was very tired and gave way with Joe’s promise to bring the baby in to the room Hoss was using when he went to bed himself. Joe did have some work to do, detailed plans for the next few days but he assured his father he could manage without help and once Ben had checked and found little more than an hour’s work he left his son to it as Joe obviously wanted.

Joe found it hard to concentrate, for long periods he stood staring down at the newborn baby sleeping so peacefully but even that brought him no peace. There were just too many memories, too many fears and he could only think of the long hours sitting by Marie slowly realizing that he was losing her. The slight chance that Doc had given her wasn’t enough, that his beloved wife was dying, that and the long cold stunned hours afterwards unable even to cry. He knew that he wasn’t thinking straight; that none of the circumstances which had led to Marie’s death applied to Nita, but that didn’t help. He was more cold and scared than he’d ever been. He gave up any attempt to work and sank down on the earth rug staring into the dying fire, not even aware that he was shivering.

Adam got home and saw to Blackie before heading inside. He was slightly surprised to see a light on in his study but assumed that someone was up with the baby. Although he was very tired he was cold and went to heat up some coffee before going into the study needing to warm up before going to bed. He had half expected whoever was up to come join him as he banged around in the kitchen but when noone came Adam took a tray with extra cups into the study, guessing that the baby needed attention. When he went into the study Adam was surprised to see Johnny sleeping peacefully in the cradle. Adam put the tray down, frowning as he took in Joe sitting on the hearthrug not even aware of his presence. He could see the tension, the frozen misery on Joe’s face and for a moment he almost stopped breathing, terrified that some catastrophe had occurred in his absence. Then commonsense came to his aid, neither his father nor Hoss would have left Joe alone if that was true. They would have concurred in his wish for privacy but both would have been in the living room, there if there was any way they could help. With his fears dispelled on that front, Adam needed no more explanation and moved to help. He was cold and Joe looked frozen so his first move was to build up the dying fire.

Only as he put on twigs to get it moving fast and then some small logs did Joe take in his brother’s return home. Trying hard for control, determined not to give way to his senseless fears, Joe said, “You’re very late must be tired.”
Adam could hear the effort that Joe was making and casually said, “Took longer than I expected. Cold out and I’m frozen, join me in some coffee?”

Joe nodded and Adam poured stiff slugs of brandy into both cups and then joined his brother on the hearthrug. For a few minutes they just sipped their coffee in silence, but Joe relaxed fractionally with Adam there and found himself trembling and he couldn’t stop. Adam put his arm round Joe who rested his aching head on his brother’s shoulder, glad he was there but his thoughts too disorganized to want to talk. Adam didn’t push him just holding him quietly and letting him calm down in his own time. Eventually Joe lifted his head and made a token effort to send Adam to bed. Adam just smiled, “Not much point is there Joe. I wouldn’t sleep. I think its time you talked it out, you certainly won’t rest until you do.”

Joe knew that his brother was right and that Adam would understand so he made no further protest, just pouring himself another brandy, then leaning back against a chair, he shut his aching eyes. “I know you’re right Adam but it’s not so easy to explain. It doesn’t make much sense and I know that but unfortunately it doesn’t help.”

“You don’t really need to explain Joe but I think it might help if you just put it into words. I do understand you know, after all I was the fool who rode around all night, unable to stay inside when you were away before the twins were born. You have been one heck of a sight better than I ever was.”

Joe sat up a little at that, he had forgotten just how bad his brother had been. Adam smiled affectionately at him, “Do you remember Joe?”

“Sure but you’re right I had forgotten.” Joe sipped his brand and even managed a tentative smile, “So I’m not the only blithering idiot.” For minute he was quiet and then said, “I hadn’t realized just how much I had used other problems to put off worrying about Nita, you, Hoss, Anne, the fire anything. Maybe I can only fuss about one thing at a time and so far there has always been something else, until now. I’ve had a few nightmares but during the day I could push it away.”

“Probably inevitable. The mind has its own defences to stop us driving ourselves mad. I had realized and I think it helped Hoss when Sue was late, to think in a strange way that he was helping you. Bringing Nita’s time closer, without it feeling imminent.”

Joe smiled “The pair of you know me very well.” Then very somberly he went on, “That’s the thing that terrifies me, if Nita is late I could still have another month to wait.” He sighed heavily, “I don’t know if I can, silly I know I will, but it still terrifies me.”

Adam chose his words carefully knowing that Hoss had been scared he wouldn’t be able to support Sue, “Are you worried about your part in the actual delivery, Hoss was worried he’d be too upset to support Sue?”

“Surprisingly I’m not. I helped Marie; I know I did just by being there. It hurt and the memories are …. But I love Nita as much; I can’t do any less for her.”

Adam knew a large part of the problem were Joe’s memories, he’d seen it etched on Joe’s face. “Nita isn’t at all like Marie you know.”

“Logically I know that. Nita has always had everything and she’s not tiny, but it doesn’t help. She’s scared Adam. She’s never really known any pain, not used to it and she doesn’t know how she’ll stand up to it.”

Adam moved closer and put his arm round Joe, “She’s strong Joe, proved that over the last year and you’ll be around to help her. After all Mother Nature does equip women to cope, every woman has to face it for the first time once in their lives. Noone pretends childbirth isn’t painful but you know as well as I do pain passes and you forget.”

“I know, I want children and so does Nita so … I’ve seen you and Hoss holding your first born, both of you an expression I’d never seen before. I’m jealous, no not jealous. I don’t mean that, I don’t begrudge either of you, noone is more pleased then I am, your both mean to be fathers but I want to join you, carry my own firstborn.”

“You will Joe. I know Nita is going to be alright and have that third grandchild you promised Pa.” Adam was very confident and his sincerity sounded in his voice and Joe looked at him, reading the confidence in Adam’s eyes. It was silly, Adam couldn’t know anymore than he did but he was so used to relying on his older brother, as he had all his life, that it undeniably helped. A few minutes later Joe yawned widely, “I think I’ll sleep now, thanks Adam.”

“You know you are very welcome. Just a suggestion Joe but why don’t you use one of the spare rooms, try and sleep in in the morning, we can cope with everything and you look exhausted, that’s not helping anything.”

Joe knew his brother was talking sense and accepted his suggestion but he queried whether Adam was coming up. Adam shrugged, “In a few minutes Joe I just want to get a few notes down on paper before I forget. I’ll take Johnny up to Hoss when I come.” Joe accepted that and suddenly very tired headed on up.

When Hoss awoke vaguely aware of a baby crying he was surprised not to see Johnny next to him and he pulled on his dressing gown to go and investigate. He heard Carole talking to Anne, the baby he had heard and worried about his little brother Hoss went down to the study. There he found not Joe but Adam, nursing the baby on his shoulder while he worked over some figures on the pad in front of him, so busy he didn’t even notice Hoss’ arrival. Hoss could see by his clothes that Adam hadn’t been to bed but when he queried it Adam just told him to go and make some coffee and then he could take his own son, before returning his attention to the figures. Hoss knew when he was wasting his time and he did as he was told and made coffee but as he took his son he asked, “Was Joe alright, he was supposed to bring Johnny up?”

“Rather tense. I was back late anyway and we had a chat. He is using one of the spare rooms, try to sleep in. He’ll manage, just getting impatient, you know the feeling as well as I do, still Nita is due in ten days.”

“Hope she ain’t late.”
“So does Joe, now if you’ll remove yourself and Johnny, maybe I can get on.”

Hoss protested, “You’ve had no sleep.”

“I’ve missed a night before. After breakfast I’ll have a bath, maybe a nap, if I can get these outline plans drawn up first.”

Hoss took the hint and left Adam to it. Adam was determined to get the design of the fire tower and the detailed work plans for it and the two houses finished and out of the way, so that he’d be free to take the workload from his little brother, rather than Hoss have to do it. His big brother had earned the time to stay with his wife and firstborn child. He did spare time to have a bath but otherwise firmly shut himself up in the study to get on. He had his meals on a tray as he worked, knowing that his father and Hoss were around if Joe needed any help and he had to get on. The others accepted his decision and apart from bringing fresh coffee they basically left him alone, they had enough to do reorganizing work which had been allowed to slide over the last days.

Joe didn’t appear until nearly eleven looking much better for a peaceful sleep, but Nita was on edge, wanting her child but dreading the labour. Carole quietly knitting was watching the younger girl and she managed to get Nita off alone upstairs to go through some baby clothes. Carole perched on the bed as Nita rather aimlessly turned over nightgowns before dropping them and wandering over to the window to stare out at the snow covered Sierras, very beautiful and peaceful, the view Adam loved. Carole went over and put her arm round Nita, “It’s much worse in prospect than in practice you know.”

Nita turned close to tears, “I’m scared Carole, scared I’ll let Joe down.”

“I do know how you feel. The only childbirth I saw before my own first was Marie’s and I was scared that Adam was going to collapse he wasn’t fit, hardly eating or sleeping, but it all worked out, a few bad hours which vanish the minute you hold your child. Did you ever see a bigger smile than Sue had when we gave her Johnny?”

“She was so very good. I’m scared I’ve never had any real pain and they are all so brave. I can’t understand sometimes how they keep going, Adam especially but all of them and you and Sue.”

“Easy Nita. Just because they’ve all known pain none of them would stand in judgement. I’ve known Joe in such bad pain that he couldn’t help screaming and his brothers only reaction, was to tell him that they didn’t need any heroics and sometimes it helped to yell. I know that Joe has said the same to Adam, when his back was bad, and I was there when he told Marie the same. He said then that noone denied childbirth was painful and he’d have done anything to help but he couldn’t and it made no difference if she cried out. She took him at his word and I’ve never bothered to try and hide how I felt. After a while I’m not usually capable of it and anyway Adam knows me too well. Just as Joe knows you, however good an act you put on he’ll know how you feel and only worry more that you are forcing yourself to act.”
Nita thought about that but it made sense and she relaxed a little. Carole saw it and smiled “Not long now Nita, it’ll be fine, now let’s find the baby something to wear.”
Ben looked up as the girls came back down; he hadn’t missed the tension growing in Nita and noticed the difference. He took the chance to quietly congratulate Carole as he got fresh coffee she seemed to have done good job. Carole smiled, “Just nerves. The one job I haven’t managed it getting Adam to bed. Will you have a word with him please Pa?”

Ben promised to try but he wasn’t optimistic. It was nearly midnight when Ben went in but Adam with papers covering the desk in front of him was buried in calculations and barely acknowledged his father’s presence. Ben said, “About time you gave up for today Adam you were up all last night and there’s not that big a rush.”

“I’m okay Pa, want to get them finished.”

“Not worth killing yourself over.” Ben said mildly.

Adam looked up and grinned, “Hardly that Pa! I promise I’ll get some sleep later but I’m a big boy now, don’t need a nursemaid.”

Ben shook his head, “You’re a fool, maybe you need a keeper!” but Adam’s attention was already back on the figures and Ben gave up. He went to report complete failure to Carole, not that she was particularly surprised, her obstinate husband could only be left to get on with it and they both headed to bed.

Hoss had firmly taken Johnny up to his own room, for a couple more nights Sue should have peace and he’d caught up with his own sleep and didn’t need his family to carry him anymore. By four the baby was very restless, Sue had fed him a couple of hours earlier but her milk wasn’t firmly established yet and the baby was still hungry and letting his father know. Hoss had tried walking him around, tried some warm sweetened water but Johnny wouldn’t be fooled by that any more and he was letting the world know his protest. Hoss took the baby down, not wanting to wake the whole house He prepared a small bottle of boiled milk and water, well used to the demands of young babies after the fight for Anne. Johnny settled to that but gulping too quickly he got wind and Hoss was walking up and down with the baby over his shoulder. At least Adam was keeping his word and presumably had gone to bed so the study was empty but nice and warm and Hoss had got coffee with a slug of brandy to sip as he walked around. Eventually Johnny seemed to relax and was almost asleep and Hoss was thinking of going back to bed when he heard someone moving around next door.
Looking out Hoss saw Joe walking down the stairs, almost like an automaton, as white as a sheet he looked as though he’d seen a ghost.

Hoss hurried over to his younger brother and taking his arm led him through to the study. Joe was frozen and shivering so Hoss pushed him into the chair by the fire and went to fetch Joe’s coat and wrapped it round his brother’s shoulders.

Johnny was asleep so Hoss put him down on another chair, well protected by cushions and then poured Joe a large brandy. Joe had buried his head in his hands, still lost in his nightmare. Hoss sat down on the arm of the chair and put his arm round his little brother and cajoled Joe into drinking the brandy. Joe’s hands were shaking too much to hold the glass but slowly the spirit and his brother’s presence helped steady him and he looked up at his big brother with a ghost of a smile. “Told you I’d let you know when I hit panic station.”

“Jest take it easy little Joe, everything is gonna be fine.”

“Sure it is Hoss, just me in a state over nothing.”

“”Nightmare Joe?” As his brother nodded Hoss went on “Want to tell me about it, might help.” As Joe hesitated Hoss passed him some coffee, “Seen to remember you taking exception when I wouldn’t talk, reckoned we were friends. You helped me Joe.”

Joe relaxed against his brother, glad of the warmth of the spirit and the coffee but even more of his brother’s warm reliable strength. “Its always the same Hoss, a replay of the funeral up at the Lake only with Nita not Marie and those long hours sitting up by the lake, sort of frozen, empty. I couldn’t break free then until Carole made me breakdown, face the future, even if it was only the next hour and I can’t now.” He shuddered and Hoss held him closer. “You told me that the dream wasn’t prophetic, just because tragedy struck once don’t make it anymore likely now. Nita’s fine.”

“I know that logically Hoss, just don’t feel very logical. The next few days look like an eternity. I just want it over.”

“We’re all as bad as each other but you’ll be like Adam and me in a few days now, hold your first born.” Hoss hesitated and then he went on, not even aware of the study door opening. “As I sat holding Johnny that first night I think I knew fer a while at least the true meaning of peace. That poet or whoever was wrong, the peace of God don’t defy man’s understanding, just for a while there I knew it and I’m sure Adam did when the twins were born. You will too Joe in just a few days.”

Adam stood in the doorway watching his brothers. Far from going to bed, he’d felt restless and had walked out to Hoss’ and Joe’s houses. Seeing them not as homes but as the architectural designs he was most proud of, along with his own home, renewing his feel for the overall concept after nearly twenty four hours of petty detail and calculations. He had come back just in time to hear Hoss’ final comment. “Fatherhood is turning you into a mystic Hoss. That’s the second time in days you’ve quoted a poet so very appropriately and you say you’re no good with words.” Adam moved over to join his brothers gripping both their shoulders, “Seems to me Hoss you have a knack for picking just the right words.”

Joe turned and looked up at his eldest brother and on Adam’s face was an expression of peace and wonder, very like the look as he brought the twins down as he relived that moment in his memory. With both his brothers so peaceful Joe relaxed and a few minutes later decided he was hungry. He’d only been picking at his food over the last few days and his brothers were glad to hear it and joined him in an early breakfast. Even Hoss was taken aback by the plate piled high that Joe cooked for himself, for once eating twice as much as his big brother. After the meal Joe decided to go for an early ride and as he looked so much better, neither of his brothers offered to go along, Joe would ask if he needed them for now he was best left alone to get help from Marie.
Hoss was disgusted as Adam headed back to work but Adam wanted to get finished and deliver the plans to town that day. With all the timber close to the house already cut, work was getting further and further away and both his brothers had very god reasons to want to stick close to home. Adam was expert at cutting out what he didn’t want to hear and Hoss soon realized he was making no impression and gave up
By evening Adam looked very tired but he had the satisfaction of completing all the detailed plans for all three projects. Too tired to really be hungry Adam had barely, touched his dinner, on a tray again, and although he took it out into the kitchen himself, Carole didn’t miss it. Adam managed to change the subject by showing the others the design for the fire tower. Ben took it first and Adam promptly disappeared upstairs to have a word with Sue, whom he’d barely seen. Hoss was with her and she had just finished feeding and changing Johnny. She was holding the baby with Hoss sitting on the bed, his arm round her and for a moment Adam felt guilty at disturbing the happy family group but Sue was obviously delighted to see him. She couldn’t help commenting on the black rings under his eyes and his obvious exhaustion. “All finished now, all I have to do is deliver them and my part is done. Then I can forget all about them, thank heavens.”

“Can I see them before you do?” Sue asked.

“Of course I’ll bring them up in a minute but nothing very exciting, not compared to my nephew.”

“Do you want to hold him?” Sue offered and that was one offer Adam wasn’t turning down. Hoss decided to go and get the designs for Sue and left them to chat. As Hoss went out Adam grinned at Sue, gently stroking the baby’s head, “I have never known Hoss so very happy, peaceful and ecstatic all at once. He can hardly take his eyes off you and the baby. Even started quoting poetry at me. Thank you Sue.”

“Thank me!” Sue said astounded, “I haven’t done anything.”

“Oh yes you have, you’ve given him the child he wanted and even more important you’ve seen past the big sometimes clumsy exterior to the nicest guy around and you’ve given him your love. With it he’s found happiness and a great deal more self-confidence and all the things he wanted in life I love him and I want his happiness, you’ve ensured that so I reckon I owe you my thanks.”

“But he’s given me so much.”

“Mutual, love has to be, you’ve given it to all of us Sue and a great deal of joy for Hoss that we all share, and for you too. We share that as well because we love you.” Adam kissed her forehead, “You know that don’t you my sister, not just as Hoss’ wife but as Sueellen, as strong, kind and dependable as my big brother. Young Johnny is very lucky he has two very special parents.”

Sue clung to Adam for a moment, much moved by his words and because he had bothered to say it, the sincerity so very obvious in his dark hazel eyes. She had learnt to love all her new family and was glad they felt the same. Hoss came in and grinned broadly, “I think I’m glad Carole already had you hog-tied brother.”
Adam sat back, “I seem to remember Joe saying much the same. Of course I brought you two up to have good taste!”

Hoss aimed a blow at him in fun and then settled to show the designs to Sue. She hadn’t even seen the two houses before with other things on her mind. She liked them but insisted that they weren’t as nice as her own house. Hoss looked up at that, feeling awkward, but Adam was grinning it was very much his own opinion, they had to be tailored to their prospective owners. Sue stopped dead at the watchtower. It was designed to give the maximum view in all directions and to have easy access but Adam had been unable to resist the challenge and it was striking in its very simplicity. More than the simple boxes on a pillar that most of the town was expecting it would become a landmark in its own right. Hoss laughed “Don’t reckon it’s quite what they’re expecting Adam, but I like it”

Adam parried. He wasn’t about to admit the dozen of plans that he’d drawn and discarded before settling on the simple obelisk design. He was prepared to argue for its utility but most of the other designs would have been equally useful without the overall effect that he wanted.

A few minutes later amid congratulations from them both Adam collected his papers and went back downstairs to find the rest of his family equally enthusiastic. That didn’t last long as they realized he intended going into town that evening. Joe just about hit the roof. Adam had had little if any sleep for the last two nights and if he went into town he’d get involved in long discussions. It was gone eight now, it would be ten before he got there and it would be a miracle if he was clear by midnight. Why not wait until the morning?

Adam mildly answered, “Because in the morning I have three fresh lumber camps to set up. The men are due to move on. You know that Joe.”

“I can do that.”

Adam shook his head, “No. Be a two hour ride from the house, four hours before we could fetch you. You aren’t gong that far afield until Nita and the baby are safely home in your own house.”

Joe had to admit to himself that he didn’t want to go that far and neither did he want Hoss to have to go but it didn't change Adam's exhaustion. He caught his father’s eye and Ben said, “Why not let me take the plans in?”

“No there might be some questions and I shan’t be available for a while, need to get them settled tonight and you’re not setting up lumber camps either Pa. Why do you think I’ve been pushing so hard on these plans the last few days? I’ve done what I wanted and noone is stopping me finishing the job so if you’ll stop delaying me I’ll get to town. It shouldn’t take long.”

Joe said, “I’ll ride in with you.” But Adam, on the verge of losing his temper, glared at both Joe and his father. “I do not need a nursemaid, neither of you have any business in town tonight.”
Joe put his hand up in a peace sign, “Alright obstinate, have it your own way. I think I’ll go and stretch my legs for a few minutes.” Joe slipped out while Adam was collecting all he needed and packing his saddlebag. He had a very definite destination in mind and ten minutes later he was accepting coffee in the number one bunkhouse.
José pushed the cards away, knowing Joe well enough to know that it was more than a social call, “Well Joe?”

Joe grinned at the accusation in the voice, “Okay José I’m after a volunteer. Adam’s about to head into town, he has some plans to deliver a watchtower and two houses. He has been working on them every hour recently. I’m not sure when he last got any sleep, must be about three days and even before that he was cutting it pretty low. He’s plain exhausted but being Adam he won’t admit it and he’s dared Pa or me to act nursemaid, but I for one would feel a lot happier if he had one”

Jess met José’s eye, both knew their friend must really be exhausted, on the verge of collapse for Joe to fuss this way and they both began pulling on boots. Jess grinned, “We’ll deliver him safely home and with two of us to yell at, maybe he’ll exhaust his fury before he gets to you.”

“Don’t tell him I sent you.”

“Of course not Joe.” José said “But you know Adam, he’ll guess and I never could lie to him successfully any more than you can.”

Joe had to laugh but he’d accept a bawling out from his brother just to make sure that Adam didn’t have an accident in his exhaustion. Adam had gone by the time Joe back but he looked so guilty and self satisfied at the same time that Ben’s only question was who he had sent to keep an eye on Adam.

Jess and José tried to act surprised to see Adam as they caught him up but Adam knew them too well. He considered them coldly, “I suppose Joe set you two onto me.” They didn’t answer but the answer was written clear on their faces and Adam shook his head, unsure whether to be angry or amused. “Come on then, I guess it would be a waste of time trying to send you home, but I warn you, you can damned well buy me a beer.”

Adam delivered the detailed plans to Fair first and was lucky as Mackay was there too, so he was able to hand over both sets. They were both very grateful but knew him too well to press him to stay, seeing his evident exhaustion and half an hour later Adam was in the saloon having his beer. Dan joined the three of them and frowned at Adam, “Anything wrong? You look whacked.”

Adam raised his fist, only half jokingly, “The next one…. No Dan just been busy. Who is in charge of the work crew for the watchtower? The council were going to settle on someone.”

“Mark Darby. Have you finished the plans already?”

“Yeah and the work plans. He’s a good man he’ll manage fine.”

“Can I see?”

“Just the rough sketches, the rest is packed up I’ll leave it with Darby. He can get the council’s approval in the morning, maybe you’d help him Dan?”

Dan whistled softly as he looked at the sketches, “I don’t think that’ll be very difficult Adam. You’ve done a superb job.”

Adam’s presence had already attracted attention and several members of the council
were in the saloon. Seeing Dan examining the sketches they came over to investigate. All were equally enthusiastic, even if it wasn’t what they had expected and there wasn’t one dissenting voice. In fact they were effusive and Adam was too tired to put up with it. He finished his beer and asked Dan where he’d find Darby. Dan offered to hand over the plans in the morning but Adam shook his head. “I shan’t be available for a few days and there are a few points that I want to go over with him.”

Dan suggested that he was probably in one of the houses Adam had designed but he wasn’t sure just which. He did know that Darby had been allocated one about a week earlier. Adam knew approximately where they had been building then and he went up to one where there was a light showing and asked. He was in luck the man knew Darby, who had a house four doors up, which was also showing a light.
José and Jess went back to the saloon to wait for him, with Blackie tied outside he’d have to come back. They knew that he would not be rushed on business and would probably get on faster alone.

Darby was surprised to see Adam but he owed him for the house and for the new job he had. “Come in Mr. Cartwright. I’m afraid it ain’t exactly what you’re used to.”
Mrs Darby offered coffee and Adam accepted gratefully, standing over by the fire, very tired he was feeling the cold. “Make it Adam, Mark, or I start looking for my Pa. You’ve done wonders considering how much you must have lost in the fire. Dan tells me you are foreman for the watchtower. I’m glad, know you can follow plans.” Adam undid his saddlebag, “Here they are. The council meeting tomorrow morning will have to give you the go ahead but that should be a formality, half the council are already agreed.”

Mark studied the sketches, “Ain’t surprised, that’s real good, but it’s a bit more than I expected.”

“Well we’ll have to look at it so I don’t see why it has to be just a box, men are going to be working in it. I think the plans are clear, lumber will be cut as soon as I’ve heard from you that we have the go ahead. I’ll get our sawmill to cut it to size. You’ll have a week’s work leveling the site and sinking foundation piles, details all here.”

Mark spent ten minutes reading through the plans but they were good and explicit, questions and problems alike foreseen and answered, much better than he was used to. “Don’t see no problem Adam, you done a real fine job of planning. I’m grateful for the job.”

“Not my doing Mark, I just laid down a few necessary qualifications, you more than meet me. If you come up against anything unexpected come out to my house any evening. If I’m not there my Pa will know where I am, but I should be home in the evening.”

Mark was very grateful and excited by the plan and after answering few more questions Adam was able to take his leave, confident he was leaving his project in good hands.

In the end it was nearly midnight by the time Adam mounted Blackie to go home. It was an effort to mount, now he had completed what he needed to do his tiredness was catching up. All he really wanted was his bed, a severe headache from tiredness not helping. He was glad to have Jess and José riding one either side of him in case of trouble. Blackie used to the other two horses took his pace from them and Adam relaxed and dozed in the saddle. Jess kept a very close watch on him but José murmured, “Relax Jess, he stays on automatically.”

That certainly seemed true and Adam didn’t wake until they rode into the yard and Jess took hold of Blackie’s reins. Adam lifted his head and yawned but he accepted Jess’ help to dismount and made no protest as José took Blackie off to the stable. He thanked both of them for their help and then headed in, not surprised to find his father still up. Ben smiled, thankful to see his son home and came to help Adam off with his coat. “I persuaded your brothers to go to bed, you aren’t as late as I feared.”

“Everything went smoothly. Mark Darby will let you know, as soon as he has council approval, he’s the foreman. Half the council saw the sketches, they seemed to like it.”

“Fine. Do you want anything to eat or drink?”

“Just my bed.” Ben nodded and went up with his son, helping him as unobtrusively as he could. Adam was glad of the help and fell into bed as soon as he’d undressed, not bothering to wash. Even so he was down reasonably early, heavy eyed after sleeping deeply and if anything feeling worse for the sleep. He wasn’t about to compromise and after a quick breakfast he rode out, ignoring the worried comments.

Ben had to go to town for the council meeting and he felt very proud at the reception his eldest son’s design received. In Adam’s absence he got all the plaudits but he wasn’t embarrassed, Adam well deserved them.

Adam himself was busy getting the three new lumber sites operational but the men were becoming used to the small operations and the ways to cope with the inevitable problems so things were going far more smoothly than Adam thought he had any right to expect.

As Adam rode home in the early evening, not wasting time on a meal, he could eat when he got home, he was surprised to see the artist Bierstadt riding over to join him. With everything that had happened Adam had almost forgotten the man’s existence. Apart from collecting supplies Bierstadt had lost himself in the far reaches of the ranch, only interested in his own work but now he had completed the twelve canvasses that he had agreed with Ben. Adam was interested in seeing what he had come up with but it would have to wait until they got home. Even though Bierstadt had been on his own most of the time, news had filtered through and he was well aware of the fire in town and the heavy contribution the Cartwrights had made, both in fighting the fire and in rebuilding the town. Adam filled in some of the details although playing down their part; everyone had rallied round in such a major disaster.
Bierstadt was surprised how quickly he’d recovered, having heard from the hands just how badly he had been hurt. But he didn’t comment. He did accept Adam’s invitation to dinner and the two men rode into the yard together. Adam helped to unload the canvasses but as he went in he forgot about the artist for a moment, seeing Sue over by the fire. Despite Hoss’ protests Sue had insisted, with Carole’s backing, that she was quite well enough to get up. Adam went straight over to her, delighted to see her downstairs with the baby on her lap but luckily Ben saw Bierstadt and came over to talk to his artist. Ben was delighted to hear that the canvasses were completed and helped Bierstadt prop the canvasses up around the room while Kam Su got food ready for the two men.

All of them were fascinated by the canvasses, three of which included views of the houses, two of the main house with the various bunkhouses and barns, with one of the three houses nestling in the valley. One other showed the main flume snaking down the mountain, cleverly caught it showed the magnificence of the flume and yet showed how it was slowly melding into the scenery. The other eight were pure landscapes with four of them showing the Lake from various angles and all of them brought to life the wild but magnificent scenery on the ranch. They were so accurate that all four of the men could have gone virtually to the exact spot from which they’d been painted.

Once the paintings were all up the whole family gathered to consider them in virtual silence, but Bierstadt didn’t need to ask if they were satisfied. Adam was the first to turn away needing an almost physical effort and he formally offered his hand. “Thank you very much, you’ve done a superb job. Caught the beauty and wildness of the ranch far better than I’d dared hope.”

Bierstadt was pleased at his reaction, having seen Adam’s own efforts, his opinion mattered more than any of the others, but Ben was quick to add his thanks to his son’s. It was exactly the sort of record that he had hoped for when he had seen the exhibition in Sacramento and decided to try and contact the painter. While the two men ate, the others began to discuss the paintings, all talking at once. Hoss and Joe squabbled over the exact place where one was painted while the others argued over which one was their favourite. Adam grinned at Bierstadt and discussed a few of the technicalities. He could see the artist was delighted with the reception his work was getting but like Adam he was beginning to feel embarrassed so Adam took him off to the study for coffee and brandy. His own sketches were still lying around from the previous night. Ben hadn’t been sure if they were in any particular order and had left them for his son to put away, just clearing a corner to work on. Bierstadt picked up one of the discarded designs for the tower and Adam was soon drawn into a discussion on his latest foray into design, his reasons for discarding some designs and the rationale for the one he had chosen. Then Joe put his head round the door, “We need you Adam. Pa says we’ll split three each, so come fight for the ones you want.”

Adam laughed at that but he went out, telling Bierstadt to help himself to more brandy if he wanted. Bierstadt was quite content looking through the designs for the tower and he came across the plans, for the two houses Adam had designed for Fair and Mackay and the simple house.

Adam found that his father had earmarked three for himself, one a view of the lake very similar to the one Adam already had, plus the one of his son’s houses and the flume that Adam had designed which was famous throughout the west. The other nine were for the three couples to decide on. They let Adam consider them for a moment and he went over to join Carole, “Which ones are you after my love?”

“They are all very lovely” she said diplomatically and Adam laughed, “That’s not like you, you usually have very firm ideas.”

Carole wasn’t going to be drawn although she did particularly like one of the views of the main house, but they were all very acceptable. Adam gave up and suggested, “Why don’t we take it in turns to choose one painting. Joe you go first, then Hoss.”

Joe hesitated but as Hoss nodded he moved forward to pick up a view of the Lake from the far side, the campsite where he had so nearly died, looking down towards the promontory where his wife and mother were buried. Adam caught Hoss’ eye, “That was predictable”

Hoss grunted “He’s welcome to it, you and I have a few too many memories of that particular spot. I prefer this one looking along the length of the Lake.” Sue grinned delightedly, it was her favourite as Hoss knew, but it would have been his first choice anyway.

Adam hadn’t been around to hear Carole’s favourite but noone was surprised when he picked up the view of the main house for his first choice. Carole took it, “It’s gorgeous.”

Joe looked over at Hoss, “Do you want the other view of the house?”

“I’m not bothered, I’ll stick to the views, take it if you want it.” Joe took his brother at his word and Hoss chose a view of the mountains similar to the view from Adam’s bedroom. Rather to their surprise Adam didn’t take the remaining view of the lake but picked a quiet view, very typical of the ranch but perhaps the least distinctive of the series. Joe couldn’t help being curious, “Why that one Adam?’

“It’s the view from that small hollow up near the north pasture.”

“I know where it was painted, but I’m still surprised it’s your second choice.”

Adam smiled gently, “I camped there once, made my dinner, before riding on home. I could even tell you the exact date. My first camp on the Ponderosa in a very long time and I did a lot of thinking there.”

Joe nodded in understanding, “When you came back from England.”

“Got it in one brother, that spot well ….”Adam broke off and considered the painting with so many memories, he had lain down flat and stared at that view for a very long time. The very ground that he had tried unsuccessfully to reject had seemed to welcome him home and he’d known the first peace of mind he had had in nearly two years. With that one out of the way the rest didn’t take long; Hoss and Joe took the other two views, leaving the other lake view for Adam. All of them were more than satisfied with their selection and anyway would see all of the paintings with frequent visits to each other’s homes.

It was getting late and both Hoss and Joe bullied their wives up to bed, even if they had to go too and take their choices to manage it. Adam sat down on the sofa with Carole curled up next to him more relaxed than he’d been in days. For one night he was sure that Joe would sleep with something else to think about. Bierstadt joined Ben and his eldest son by the fire. He had several questions about the designs he’d seen, particularly the simple house of which he’d heard. Adam soon found himself deep in a technical discussion which both men enjoyed. Bierstadt had little to say about the other two houses, they were good, but a compromise and not as outstanding as the ones in the valley, although he expected they would receive more acclaim. Even with the compromise maybe a few other architects could learn from them, distinctly better than the run of atrocious mansions. Adam felt much the same and laughed at Ben’s objections, Bierstadt was quite right, they weren’t exactly what he would have liked but he had to bow to the prospective owners. In the end it was very late again by the time the four headed for bed, but they had all enjoyed it even if some of the details were over Ben and Carole’s heads. They knew how much Adam appreciated informed comment on his work, especially when it was so favourable!

By late afternoon the next day Joe had cleared the urgent work apart from two legal queries which needed Adam’s attention and he was restless. He went out and cut some firewood but even the hard physical exercise didn’t seem to help and in the end he jammed the axe into the stump so hard that he couldn’t pull it out and knew he would have to get Hoss’ help. When he went back in Hoss was fussing over Sue and Johnny and Joe wouldn’t disturb him. Adam was still out at the lumber sites and Joe was wandering around aimlessly, picking up a book, flicking over a few pages unseeingly and then putting it down again. Nita was upstairs having a nap before dinner and Carole was busy with the children. Ben watched his youngest son for a while and then went to have a quiet word with Carole. Then he took hold of Joe’s arm as he went past, “Joseph you are making me feel dizzy, you’re going round in circles.”

“Sorry Pa, just restless.”

“I was thinking of getting some fresh air before dinner, been stuck in all day. Join me for a ride?”

“Why not.” Joe shrugged, “Cochise could do with some exercise.” He wasn’t surprised when his father headed up to the Lake. They dismounted and walked down to the shore. Ben considered the far shore, “Snow moving down, I doubt we’ll be cutting for very much longer. Still we’ve done a lot better than I expected, you and your brothers have done a fine job.

Joe hardly seemed to be listening and Ben put his arm round his son’s shoulders, “I do know how you feel Joseph.”

“I know Pa. It’s not so bad when I can keep busy but at this time of year….” He sighed, “As you say the snow will soon stop us cutting, early this year.” He shuddered “Sorry Pa. I knew I was going to be leaning heavily on my family. I’ve already had both my brothers up in the early hours.”

Ben gripped his shoulder a little tighter, “Do you think either of them mind? I remember Adam saying once that he didn’t know how people without families coped because he needed his. I said then that he did his share of supporting too and you know you have this summer in particular, helped both your brothers and me.”

“Ï know Pa and they do help for a while but it could be weeks yet and each day it gets a bit harder.”

Ben was quiet for a moment, thinking hard. “In some ways I was lucky. Inger was fit and well, just like Nita, but I was scared. Only we were on the train heading west, badly equipped, too few men and it was easy for me to work myself into exhaustion every day so that I could sleep. Then Hoss was early. There’s very little we can do to help except be around when you want to talk. It isn’t very long until the baby is due.”

Joe knew that his father understood how he felt but nothing would really help him until the baby was born and Nita was safe. The closer it came the more his memories tormented him and he was well aware he couldn’t expect any peace until it was all over. The best he could hope for was some measure of control, enough so that he didn’t upset Nita, he owed her that much. As they walked along the shore, hardly talking, Joe slowly relaxed and after a while he turned to his father. “Thanks Pa. I think I can manage dinner now.”

“Just one thing Joseph, any time day or night, if you want to talk. I’m on my own, no wives or babies to disturb and I don’t mind.”

“I know that Pa and I will ask.” Joe smiled, “I’ve learnt I can’t stand alone, but then I don’t need to, thank God.” He was pensive for a moment and then gestured at the land, “You know how much all this means to us but of everything you have given us, I for one am most grateful for the closeness of our family. That I can ask for help from you, and my brothers. I hope the next generation is as lucky, as close.”

Ben was pleased with his son’s words, remembering Adam saying something similar, the day they lost David. Just a few heart felt words were all the thanks he could ever have wanted, worth more than any present, he was so very lucky in his three sons.
That night Joe came down after Nita was settled, unable to sleep but not wanting to talk. Adam recognized his brother’s mood and co-opted him as a legal secretary. The brothers had their noses buried in law books until gone one in the morning and then, with the outline of an answer complete, Adam called a halt. He poured two brandies and yawning widely passed one to Joe, “I think we’ve earned it.

“Thanks Adam, that was what I needed, something to concentrate on, reckon I’ll sleep tonight”

“No need for thanks Joe, you’ve saved me half a day’s work. Let’s get to bed.”

Joe got to his feet, stifling a yawn, “Do you think we’ll get the decision?”

“We’d darned well better, I’m not wasting my time, but there is still some work to do, but not tonight.” They headed on up and in fact Joe was asleep long before Adam, asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. Tired mentally as well as physically Joe slipped into a deep sleep, which stood him in good stead for the events of the next day.

Carole was still awake as he slipped into bed and wanted to know if Joe was alright. For a while husband and wife snuggled close together and talked quietly, wishing that there was more they could do to help over the next few days.

Sue was down early with Johnny, leaving Hoss asleep, he was still catching up on all his lost sleep. She was feeling fine, reveling in her new status as a mother. Carole was up too with Anne and they sat chatting as they fed the babies, only to look up in astonishment as Nita came down to join them. She stretched and helped herself to coffee, “Joe’s still fast asleep.”

Carole looked at her suspiciously, “You’re down very early.”

“No reason, I was just wide awake, didn’t want to disturb Joe. It’s a gorgeous day, all white and sparkling.”

“Heavy frost.” Carole agreed “You are excited about something, what?”

Nita grinned, “How come I could always fool my own family but I can never fool you! Alright but don’t tell Joe yet, Doc said there were three possible ways to start in labour, pains, water breaking like Sue or what he called a show. I’ve had a show this morning, so maybe my son will soon be here.”

Sue whisked her back upstairs to check and she was able to confirm Nita was right the baby was on the move. They rejoined Carole who was looking after both the babies and the three women tried to decide what to do for the best. None of them expected any trouble, now that the time had finally come Nita was more excited than worried. On the other hand all three were worried about Joe, recognizing the state that he’d been getting into. Nita was insistent that she could act and Joe wasn’t going to guess until she wanted him to know. It was too early to tell him, she knew he would immediately send for Doc and Paul had other responsibilities it wasn’t fair to drag him out so early.

Sue said, “Doc is coming out this morning to see me anyway and check Johnny. About eleven Hoss said.”

Nita smiled, “Well that settles it. I’ll have a word with him when he gets here.”

Carole frowned, “What do you think Sue, you’re the nurse.”

“First babies are usually slow anyway but there is always the exception. After a show it could still be twenty-four hours or so before labour proper starts. I guess we go along with Nita, on condition that you tell us at the first sign of labour pains and we tell Doc whatever happens.”

“Not a word to Joe” Nita begged

Carole nodded, “You’ve got it, but you take things easy.”

Nita was pleased with that but now her time was imminent she was no longer worried about being undignified, she wanted her sisters’ support. She had come to love them both over the last year. The three girls from very different backgrounds had fitted in so well and had to support each other through some rough times and now she wanted them and their husbands and Ben to support Joe. She was more worried about her husband than herself and if it would have helped him, she would have banished Joe from the house, but she was sure that would just make him fret more. If he was with her he could at least try to help, she didn’t realize yet just how much help he could be. Carole backed her decision, sure it was best for Joe but she did point out that Joe would only want Nita to do what she wanted. She reassured the younger woman that Joe would be fine when things started, remembering so vividly how Joe had hidden all trace of despair after Doc’s warning before going back to Marie.

Adam was the first of the men down and he took one look at the three different coloured heads so close together as they talked and sensed that something was happening. He hurried down the last flight and keeping his voice low demanded to know why they were so conspiratorial. The glances both Carole and Sue gave Nita told him the answer clearer than any words and he took the blonde’s hands, “The baby Nita? Should I send for Doc?”

Nita kissed his anxious face and Carole swiftly filled him in on the position and their decision. Adam rather begrudgingly agreed to go along, although he warned all three that they had better improve their act or Joe would guess and he certainly wouldn’t accept any delay in getting Doc. Adam went out to the kitchen to get fresh coffee, still in two minds as to whether he was doing the right thing, remembering clearly how they had had to deliver Marie without Doc. Carole followed him out, knowing exactly what he was thinking. She reminded him that it was a first baby and while a show was a firm indication that it wouldn’t be long delayed, it could still be a couple of days before anything more definite happened. She convinced him and by dint of stressing the positive side, that Joe wouldn’t have much longer to wait, got Adam into a reasonably cheerful state of mind.

The others took Adam’s words to heart and separated to get on with various jobs before anyone else came down and got suspicious. Adam had no intention of leaving the house, at least until he’d heard Doc’s opinion. The men would just have to get on without him and he sent word out not to expect him that day. Then he took refuge in the study and got on with the legal queries, which gave him an adequate excuse for hanging around the house. He was glad that Joe wouldn’t have much longer to wait but childbirth had always terrified Adam and he knew just how hard his little brother had taken the loss of Marie. Adam knew he wasn’t being very logical, his own father had lost his second wife to an Indian raid and his third to a riding accident. It was a rough land as all of them could testify from personal experience. They were all at risk all the time and with an excellent doctor on call the risks of childbirth were less than many he took willingly, but the mere thought of Nita in labour made him feel cold. She was so young and so precious to Joe. Adam deliberately tackled the most difficult of the outstanding problems. He had to concentrate on something different or no matter what the girls did, Joe was going to know that something was up as soon as he saw his eldest brother.

In fact it was quite late by the time Joe woke up, he’d missed all too much sleep over the last weeks and undisturbed it was gone eight before he stirred. So he wasn’t too surprised to find Nita had already gone down to breakfast, not realizing how long she had been up.

When Joe got down there was a first rate argument going on between Sue and Hoss. Sue was determined to get Doc’s agreement to her going back to her own home in a day or so. Hoss was trying to enlist everyone’s support to dissuade her. He felt she should leave it at least another week, however fit she felt it was too early to start overdoing things. Hoss wasn’t getting any support from his family, who were unanimous, they had to settle it between themselves. Neither were his arguments making any impression on Sue who would have been insisting on going home that day if it wasn’t for Nita. Sue wanted to take her baby back to the beautiful home the brothers had built for her. She had been over most days but it wasn’t the same and with Johnny such a good baby, fitting easily into a normal schedule, she was sure that she could cope without undue effort.

Joe watched amused as the argument went back and forth, but he was under no illusions about the ultimate winner. Nita hid her own excitement well, making gentle fun of Hoss and busying herself with Marie, who was trying to copy her big brothers in drawing and it wasn’t working. Carole had Anne on her lap and made helpful comments. She was staying where she could keep an unobtrusive eye on Nita, which was easy all the time Nita was playing with the children.

Ben went into the study concerned that his sons had found some major problem in the legal work as Adam was making no move to go out to the lumber gangs as they had arranged. As he shut the door behind him Adam looked up, relieved to see it was his father, the last thing he needed that morning was his little brother’s help. Ben didn’t miss the tension in his son and asked what the problem was. Adam shook his head “Nothing I can’t handle, We’ll get the decision Pa, I’m confident.”

“I thought you were going out to the timber camp?”

“Maybe later, it’s all running fairly smoothly. I thought I’d hang on until Doc had been, see what the news is from town.”

Ben sat down by the fire, “Sue and Johnny are fine.”

“I know that.”

“Alright then Adam I suggest you tell me what else you know that I don’t.”

Adam looked up catching his father’s eye and couldn’t help a sheepish grin, “You know me too well Pa. I just hope my little brother isn’t so perspicacious.”

Adam quietly filled his father in on exactly what he’d been told and their decision to await Doc’s arrival, due anyway in a couple of hours. Ben just hoped that Nita was right and that Joe wouldn’t have to wait any longer and for his son as much as for Nita, he prayed for a swift easy delivery. Adam added amen to that, he’d been praying along much the same lines. Ben agreed with their plans to keep it from Joe for as long as possible. He knew that Marie had told Joe to help Adam, because he was stronger than his brother when it came to childbirth; but Ben wasn’t sure that was still true, not with another woman he loved at risk. Ben could remember so very vividly, even after more than thirty years, his own fears before Hoss’ birth and perhaps then, more than any other time in his life, he had been on the verge of going to pieces. He was scared that Joe would find the same, certainly the strain had become very evident in the days since Johnny’s birth. Ben was lost in his own thoughts and it was very obvious to Adam that they weren’t pleasant. He put his pen down and went over to his father, “Do you want a drink Pa?”

Ben came back to the present with a start “No.” He made a deliberate effort to relax and smiled faintly, “Your little brother doesn’t miss much and he really will start getting suspicious if he finds I’ve been drinking brandy at this hour of the morning.”
Adam dropped down into the chair opposite his father, “Joe will cope Pa, even he is confident of that. It was Hoss who was scared he couldn’t”

“He’s been under strain, inevitable, but much worse lately.”

I know Pa. I think we’ve all had to calm him down on occasion but it could have gone on much longer, it’s only just over a week since Johnny was born. Sue could have been early and Nita late, been six weeks or so. At least Joe has asked for help when he needed it.”

Ben sighed, “He’s bound to have some reaction when it’s all over even with Nita and the baby fit and well.”

“Sure Hoss did too but we’ll be around to help and Joe will know he’s only as bad as his older brothers.”

“What do you mean?”

“Hoss was sick up by the lake, just reaction, while I had a good cry on Joe’s shoulder in here after the twins for absolutely no reason. He seemed to understand.”

Ben wasn’t too surprised; all of his sons got too involved in the tensions of childbirth, more even than he had done. He hadn’t been home when Elizabeth went into labour and Adam was born by the time he got there, his wife dying. On the train the two old dragons, who had taken charge of Inger, wouldn’t have dreamt of letting a man near. He had stood near the wagon trying to hide his near panic from a scared little boy and all the interested strangers, praying hard. The only birth he had been at was his youngest and luckily Marie had had a reasonably easy time although the baby was premature and he’d been more worried about the tiny scrap of humanity that was his youngest son. He knew that the boys’ reaction to childbirth and indeed to their babies wasn’t in line with the majority of males. Maybe more would like to be involved but were scared of how it would look but his sons had nothing to prove. If they wanted to play with babies it was just accepted as an idiosyncrasy. Their worst enemies wouldn’t waste time impugning their manhood or their courage, it had been proved too many times in too many ways.

Adam turned the conversation back to the legal problem he was sorting out. There were two possible way to go and he wanted his father’s opinion of the most useful path to follow. Ben slowly relaxed as he concentrated on something else, but he did revert to Nita once, “Suppose Doc is held up over something and puts off a routine visit?”

“I sent a note to the lumber camps telling them not to expect me and at the same time gave Jess my binoculars and asked him to head up the hill where you can see the turn off to our road. If Doc hasn’t appeared there by ten-thirty Jess will head on down to town and tell him what’s happening. Soon as he sees Doc he’ll come and tell me. We can trust Jess.”

Ben grinned, “I might have known you wouldn’t just wait patiently! Okay let’s have another look at that last court ruling.”

Joe was restless, his father and Adam were working in the study. Hoss had gone home to clean up his house. If Sue was insisting on going back, he wanted it spotless and with Kam Ling’s help was making sure it was. Ben had asked Joe to make up the wages and he was using the dining room table but he found it hard to concentrate. He sensed something was wrong, a tension in the room, but he wasn’t admitting it even to himself. Carole guessed he was suspicious, a least subconsciously, as Joe went to get fresh coffee every half hour, with two cups of cold coffee forgotten where he’d put them down. She wasn’t going to say anything unless he asked, there was no point.
The three women all disappeared to bathe the two babies but that was a regular occurrence and Joe didn’t think anything about it. As soon as they were alone Sue turned accusingly to Nita, “I think you have something to tell us?”

Nita grinned, “I really don’t know Sue. After all I’ve never had a baby before! I’ve had a couple of slight twinges in my back about quarter of an hour apart, sort of like period pains, only very mild. What do you think?”

“Almost certainly the first signs. With luck you’ll have your baby to hold by the end of the day.”

“Well I feel fine at the moment.”

“Right, then if you’ll keep an eye on Anne for me I’ll go and get the bed ready in the spare room.” Carole said.

“Of course I will.“ Nita grinned at her, “Anything to pass the time, I’m getting impatient to see if I’m right too or whether I’ll spoil your perfect record.”

Carole shrugged, “If you think it’s a boy then I’d be willing to bet on it, I’ve always been very sure although I have no idea how I know.” She slipped out and across to the spare room which she was planning to use for the delivery. She slipped the bolt across to ensure that she wasn’t disturbed, sometimes the twins took it into their heads to come and find her. Prone to asking awkward questions to find out what she was doing and with very penetrating voices, which would soon bring Joe up. She had all that she needed in the room and it didn’t take long to get old sheets and covers on the bed, thick towels protecting the mattress. Carole checked over her supplies, plaited towels and all they would need to clean Nita and the baby and dress the child warmly. Then she lit the fire to warm the room; it was bitterly cold with the first few flakes of snow settling on the low ground, early this year. If there was any question she would just claim to be airing the room but she very much doubted that she would be believed. Still Doc was due in less than an hour and as she shut the door behind her she couldn’t see any reason for Joe to go into the room.

Carole went back to Anne, coming in just as Nita felt the next pain. That one was a little stronger enough to show as her lips tightened reflexively. Carole gently gripped her shoulder, “Alright Nita?”

“Fine but maybe Sue is right and it’s coming.”

“No faith Nita, he’s coming.” Carole looked over at Sue, who was dressing young Johnny, “Do we carry on or should we tell Joe, send for Doc?”

Nita protested, “Not yet” and Sue backed her “First baby and pains still fifteen minutes apart, even if we wait another hour before sending for Doc, there’s plenty of time.”

“It can take two even three hours to fetch him.” Carole warned, “He could be out on an emergency if he doesn’t come as arranged.”

Sue still stuck by what she had said, there was no great rush and anyway they didn’t really need Doc, she and Carole were quite competent to deliver the baby. Carole grinned, “Doesn’t even need us Sue. Hoss delivered Marie for me, did a very good job with his brothers inefficient assistance.”

Nita wasn’t worried for herself but she had seen far more than Joe realized, just how much tension he was under. For his sake she wanted his ordeal to be as short as possible and to have Doc already there before telling her husband, hopefully then Joe wouldn’t panic.

Carole went along with them but she was uneasy and took Anne into see her father when she went back downstairs. Adam very willingly put his pen down and took the baby. Anne wasn’t as advanced as her siblings at the same age but that wasn’t surprising. However she was already giving plenty of proof that, as in the first days of her life, she was a self willed little madam and more than any of the others she liked going to her father. Adam could still quieten her when all Carole’s efforts failed, although he rarely had to as she was usually a good baby. Somehow Adam had a feeling that the link forged in the first few hours of life would last throughout their lives. Although he could honestly say he had no favourites amongst his four children, so very proud of all of them and they were an attractive and bright bunch, if a little too venturesome for his peace of mind.
Carole quietly filled Adam in on the latest developments and he was able to put her mind at rest, that he had arrangement to fetch Doc if he was late. Before Carole could answer him the door opened and Marie came in looking for her sister. With the twins so close and so boisterous, the little girl could hardly wait until Anne was big enough to play with, although the twins were remarkably good and protective of their little sister. Adam encouraged Marie to scramble up onto his lap and then helped her to hold Anne, smiling gently at her prattle and for the minute forgetting Nita. For all too long this year he hadn’t been well enough to hold his children and now as the twins bounced in, he made room for them as well, although warning them to sit still or they went down. Carole sat on the arm of Ben’s chair just watching her husband, leaning back in no obvious discomfort, more relaxed and content than she’d seen him in a long time. Ben murmured, “For a while this summer I wondered if he’d eve be able to do that again.”

“He heals remarkably fast.”

“As always thank God.”

The gurgles of the baby as she twisted Mark’s curly hair in one fist and David’s in the other with the accompanied giggles from the twins, who were encouraging her, brought in the rest of the family to watch, but Adam was oblivious of them. For a few minutes it was his children’s time and with all four in his arms, there wasn’t a more content man in the world, so very proud and happy.

Even Joe relaxed and grinned at Hoss, “He won’t manage all four for much longer, growing fast.”

“It’s a miracle he can now, didn’t look too likely a few months back.” Hoss was holding his own son, “Anymore than this young fellow.”

Hoss saw Joe’s gaze go to his own wife and gripped Joe’s shoulder, “You too Joe, just a little while.”

“Sure.” Joe forced a grin but for him at least the magic was broken and he went outside for some fresh air. Just as he did so Jess rode into the yard “Adam in?”

“Yeah in his study. Anything wrong?”

“No, not as far as I know, Just some papers he wanted collected. All turn into superior errand boys at this time of the year.”

Joe grinned, “Saves me a job and where do you get the superior?”

Jess aimed a mock punch at Joe and went in to see Adam. Hoss and Sue were still blocking the door, but moved away as Jess came in. Jess couldn’t resist having a peep at the baby and as Hoss tucked it up again, Jess said, “Quite a son you got there, be as big as you and as pretty as Miss Sue.”

Both Hoss and Sue grinned at him, they were well used to Jess, a close friend of Adam’s, he was almost one of the family, along with a select few of the hands like José. Jess whistled softly as he took in the scene, “You’ve got your arms full alright. Do you think my goddaughter will come to me?”

Ben said dryly, ”She will go to any male, early starters the Cartwrights.”

Adam grinned but it was true enough, apart from her mother Anne showed a distinct preference for men. Now she went very quietly to Jess and lay in his arms considering him with big wide eyes before flapping her long eyelashes at him with a gurgle to Jess’ delight. “Both your daughters are surely gonna break some hearts when they’re grown.” He was so taken by the baby that for the moment Jess forgot why he had come, until Adam asked mildly, “I take it you have some news for me Jess?”

Jess looked up at that, “Sorry. Yeah Doc should be here in about quarter of an hour. I saw him turn off on our road.”

“You didn’t say anything to Joe?”

“I’m not an idiot.” Jess protested and then turning to Nita he said, “Good luck, I hope it goes real easy.”

Hoss looked aghast at Sue, the only one not in the picture and knowing that if Joe saw him he’d know instantly that something was wrong, Sue whisked him up stairs to explain. As she said everything was working out for the best, with Doc right there, and Hoss had to admit it saved his brother a couple of anxious hours awaiting Doc.
Knowing that he wasn’t any good at hiding his feelings, Hoss stayed upstairs with Johnny, but Sue went down to keep an eye on Nita.

Nita was glad that Joe had remained outside, the pain in her back was getting much stronger and she couldn’t hide it so easily now. Adam had given up trying to work and once the children went off to play, he went to pour himself a brandy. Sue and Carole hovered over Nita. Even if Joe suspected something now it wouldn’t matter, he would have to be told soon anyway.

Nita came over to Adam when the pain eased and touched his arm, as he seemed so far away. Adam turned and smiled at the pretty young blonde, “Are you alright Nita?”

“Fine. Excited and a bit nervous but glad that he’s coming. Will you do something for me Adam?”

“Anything Nita, you know that.”

“While Doc’s checking Sue and Johnny, would you warn Joe what’s happening, down here. Feed him a brandy and try to persuade him that I’m going to be fine, before he comes up.”

“Of course I will.”

“And Adam please stay with him, you and Pa and Hoss.”

“Are you sure Nita? You have to come first, Joe would want that. He’ll cope anyway.”

Nita gently stood on tiptoe and kissed him, “I’m not embarrassed Adam, not any more. You’re my family, I want you there, to look after Joe for me. He’s bound to be worried, I know how tense he’s got these last few days and I want Carole and Sue for me.”

Adam pulled her close and kissed her forehead, “My little brother is very lucky to have found you. By this evening he, like Hoss and I, will have a child and you will be a beautiful mother.” Nita relaxed against him for a moment and then Adam felt her tense as the next pain caught her. He rubbed her back almost automatically and then said, “Don’t you think it’s time you went upstairs to lie down? Doc will be here in five minutes anyway.”

Nita hesitated but it did make sense, especially if she was to leave Adam to tell Joe what was going on rather than let him guess, so she agreed to go up with Carole. Adam offered to carry her but she laughed at him, she was fine and as Adam met his wife’s eye she smiled, “You don’t learn do you darling! I’ll look after Nita you see to Joe.” As the pair disappeared upstairs, Adam looked out to see what his brother was up to. Joe had gone into the stable and was grooming Cochise but as Doc’s buggy came into the yard, Joe came out to greet him. Paul studied his young friend, “You look as though you could do with a goodnight’s sleep. You might try taking one of those tablets I left for Adam. I’m sure he didn’t use them all.”

“I don’t need drugs Doc, I’m fine.”

“Sure, that’s why you’ve got great dark rings under your eyes. Be practical Joe, just at the minute Nita is a lot more important than your principles, you’ll just worry her.”

Joe looked mulish and Doc gave up, he’d have a word with Ben before he left. They went in to find Ben waiting for Doc. Ben smiled, “Good to see you Paul. Sue and the baby are upstairs, if you’d like to see them before you have coffee.”

“Certainly” Doc went up with Ben and Adam put his head out of the study and asked Joe if he could have a word. Joe had just begun to wonder where everyone was, even the children had disappeared, just Anne in her cradle in the study. The rest had gone to see what they could scrounge from Kam Su, always hungry.

Joe went over to the study, assuming that Adam had a job for him. On edge Joe didn’t want even Adam to see and went over to stare out, not realizing just how much the tension showed in the very way he stood, at least to his brother who knew him so well. Adam came to the conclusion that Joe knew something was going on but whether he had admitted it to himself was another matter. Adam had already poured a large brandy and he took the glass over to his desk so it was handy in case he needed it in a hurry. Then he went over to his brother, gripping his shoulders, feeling the tension. Adam couldn’t think of any easy way to tell Joe so he decided he’d better just get on with it. “Take it easy Joe, try and relax.”

“I’m fine.”
“Liar little brother, but it’ll soon be over. Nita is gong to have your baby today.”

Joe turned at that in obvious shock, “What!”

“She’s just started labour, couldn’t be better with Doc right here.”

Joe shook his head, “No, no she can’t, it’s too early.” Panic was so real to him that he couldn’t seem to breathe, the room swinging alarmingly round him. Adam was seriously worried; he had expected it to be a shock but not this bad and well aware that his brother was on the verge of fainting. Adam picked him up bodily and carried him over to the chair by the fire. He gently put Joe down and forced Joe’s head down between his knees while he went over to the desk and collected the brandy. Then Adam knelt down in front of his brother and stroked his hair, talking reassuringly to Joe. Joe could hear the voice as though from a long way away but it wasn’t making any sense, alternately fading and then booming. He could hear someone moaning, not even realizing he was making the noise, saying his wife’s name over and over. Adam didn’t seem to be getting anywhere and he let a note of anger enter his voice, it wasn’t real, just put on but Joe wasn’t in a fit state to notice.

Three times Adam said, “Pull yourself together Joe, you aren’t going to help Nita by going to pieces.”

To a certain extent it worked, and as Adam’s words penetrated Joe managed to catch his breath and sat up, although coughing hard. As soon as he stopped coughing, Adam expertly fed Joe the brandy. Joe shuddered but at least the room had stopped swaying and Adam wiped his face. “Just take it easy Joe, Nita is going to be fine. Doc is with her now, everything is quite normal.”

“Too soon.” Joe said wildly, just as Hoss came in. Doc had gone along to Nita and Hoss had been worried about his little brother. Adam stroked Joe’s curly hair back, "Easy Joe only four days. The baby is perfectly ready to see the world.”

“ I…. I can’t, not yet, not ready.”

Hoss moved over swiftly to his brothers and Adam looked up, “Get a damp cloth Hoss. He’ll be fine, just a shock.”

Hoss hurried out to do as he was asked and Adam gave up trying to talk sense to Joe until he’d got him calmed down. Adam moved closer and held his brother firmly close to him as he felt Joe shiver uncontrollably, just murmuring reassurances. By the time Hoss got back Joe had at least stopped shivering and Adam helped his brother sit up, perching on the arm of the chair with his arm round his brother’s shoulders, while Hoss wiped his face. Adam smiled faintly seeing the concern, compassion and understanding so clear on the big man’s face.

Joe licked dry lips and Adam sent Hoss to get fresh coffee while Joe relaxed back against Adam; his head pounding so badly he found it hard to focus. “I’m sorry.”

“Easy Joe, we knew that it would be a shock. That’s why Nita asked me to tell you.”

“I was so sure that she’d be late.”

“She’s only a few days early and Doc is right here.”

“I must go to her.”

“In just a few minutes, but for now you’ll relax and have some coffee. Childbirth takes a long time, you know that and Nita isn’t alone. Pa, Carole and Sue are all with her apart from Doc. You go in like this and you’ll just worry her.”

Joe knew Adam was talking sense and he tried to relax, breathing deeply as Adam told him, while Adam wiped his face again. Hoss brought over some coffee, careful not to overfill the cup. He could see that his brother had a severe headache and offered him some brandy or a few drops of laudanum. Joe more in control refused, he had to help Nita and he couldn’t do it if he was drunk.

Hoss met Adam’s eye, very worried, but Adam smiled reassuringly at him. The shock was over and Joe back in control would cope. Even so Adam was determined that Joe would take it easy for a few more minutes, he’d been very close to collapse. Hoss refilled Joe’s cup as he drained it. “Sue says everything is going perfectly normally.”

“When did she start?”

“Only really in the last hour, but she had some sort of indication first thing. The girls had it all arranged by the time I came down. They were fairly sure it would come today but with no pains it wasn’t worth sending for Doc earlier. Jess was ready to fetch him if he was late.”

“Should have told me.”

“It would only have given you an extra couple of hours of worry Joe and Nita didn’t want that. Now it’s started she’s more excited than anything and far more worried about you than she is about herself or the baby.”

Joe frowned at that and shut his eyes for a moment to try and get his thoughts into some semblance of order. As the study door opened he looked up scared, catching his breath again as Doc came in. Doc frowned as he took in Joe’s bloodless lips and the sharply drawn lines of worry. Adam said, “Just came as a shock, Joe was sure she would be late. How is Nita?”

“Fine, all perfectly normal. In fact she is progressing quite fast. Don’t see any problems and I think she’ll have an easier time than Sue did. You’ll be a father before nightfall Joe.”

Joe looked at his brothers, not trusting his own judgement, the question clear in his eyes. Hoss just nodded and Adam said, “Doc has never lied to you Joe, everything is going to be fine. A few hours and you’ll reach that place Hoss spoke of.”

Joe nodded slowly and got to his feet with Adam’s help, “I’m going up to Nita.”
His brothers made no attempt to stop him, he had himself well in control now. Adam murmured, “Get Doc a drink Hoss, see if there’s anything else, I’ll stick with Joe.”

Hoss nodded and watched his brothers disappear up the stairs. Adam caught Joe up on the landing. Joe was breathing deeply, hiding all sign of his panic, and Adam encouraged him with a smile and the comment “Well done Joe.”

Carole had helped Nita into bed while Doc checked Sue and Johnny. Ben had filled Doc in on the way upstairs but Doc wanted to see Sue first, relying on her for an accurate assessment of what was happening. Sue was far more interested in Nita than herself, sure both she and the baby were fine. Doc was able to confirm that, smiling at the big man who hovered anxiously. “Relax Hoss, they are both disgustingly healthy Sue’s virtually fully recovered and as long s she doesn’t overdo it, and she won’t, there’s no need to restrict her. You can stop worrying.”

Ben knocked on the door where Nita was and when Carole opened it, he came in to find Nita in bed, propped up on some pillows. She was a little pale and tense, with stronger pains now, only five minutes apart, but one had just gone. She smiled at Ben, “Pa I’ll try not to keep everyone hanging around too long.”

Ben laughed, “You and Sue have both been marvelous, each of Carole’s babies have cost us at least one, if not two nights sleep.”

Carole protested, “You did get two babies for the two nights!”

Ben just grinned, “You ready to see Doc Nita?”

“Yes of course. Is Joe alright?”

“Don’t worry about your husband, his brothers will look after him.”

Ben went out as Doc came in and had a quiet word with Hoss and Sue before his big son went downstairs. By the time Ben had rejoined Nita, Doc had finished examining her. She was already making considerable progress in opening the neck of the womb, more than he’d normally expect for this stage of a first birth and he foresaw no problems as he told them.

Nita could no longer hide it when the pains hit her, each one coming closer on the one before and lasting longer, but she found she could almost cut herself off from the pain for the moment anyway. She was anxiously awaiting Joe’s arrival, wanting to see for herself that he was alright. She didn’t have too long to wait and a pain had just eased when Joe came in, closely followed by his eldest brother. Nita smiled freely, Joe looked a lot better than he had expected and he was even smiling for her. Joe pulled up a chair close to her bed and gently kissed her, “You’re a baddie, holding out on me. That’s what husbands are for, worrying at a time like this.”

“But I didn’t want you to worry, we’re both going to be fine.”

“Of course you will and of course I’ll worry until our child is here, but from what Doc said that won’t be too long.”
“Our son.”

“I don’t know how we all managed to choose such self opinionated, obstinate madams, you ought to wait and see.” Joe’s voice tailed off as the next pain hit Nita but his hands were firm as he moved to rub her back just where it was hurting. Then as he felt her relax, he wiped the sheen of sweat from her face. “That’s it my darling, you’re doing fine, Anytime you want to yell just go ahead, it helps sometimes. We all know that.”

Carole had already put the plaited towels ready for Nita to cling to and she grabbed at them instinctively a few minutes later when the pain seemed to go on and on. She could no longer cut herself off and wasn’t even aware of moaning, but she could hear Joe’s voice encouraging her and his strong hands supporting her and she began to rely on his strength.

At first unable to do anything to help, the rest of the family waited over by the window, just Carole sitting up close to the bed, quick to wipe Nita’s face when necessary, but leaving the rest to Joe. She was so unobtrusive neither husband nor wife seemed aware of her presence. The pains were building up very fast and as one bad one seemed to go on and on, Joe looked over at his family, fear and anguish clear on his face. He felt every pain she had and felt so helpless, unable to ease it for Nita. Adam moved swiftly, going over behind Joe and gripping his shoulders, “Easy Joe she’s doing very well.”

As the worst of the pain eased Joe lent his head back against Adam, so cold, he was grateful for his brother’s warm strength. As Nita opened her eyes Joe lent over, telling her just how marvelous she was and reassuring her. Adam caught his father’s eye, “Coffee and brandy I think.”

Ben nodded and slipped out while Adam stayed close to his brother. There was very little he could do, but he knew from personal experience just how much his brother’s proximity had helped him on occasion. Joe barely seemed to know he was there but occasionally he lent back against Adam, drawing strength from his brother’s calmness. Joe had lost all track of time, quite calm now as he gave his beloved wife every tiny support that he could and prayed for her. Every so often memories of the last time he’d tried to help his wife rose in his minds and he could see Marie dying in front of him. It was then that he lent back against Adam for reassurance to gain the strength to push his memories away. He wouldn’t let Nita go the same way, he wasn’t fighting against years of deprivation and too small a build this time. It was just before one o’clock when Doc decided to have another look to see how she was getting on, although the two hours seemed an eternity to Joe. As Nita became less capable of noticing anything, so the agony of mind he was enduring became ever more obvious on Joe’s face. Twice Adam had tried to persuade Joe to at least have some coffee, but his words hadn’t penetrated to his brother.

As Doc moved over to examine Nita he said, “Take Joe out for a few minutes Adam, get him a drink.”

Adam nodded and forced his brother to listen to him, but Joe’s instinctive reaction was to say no, he couldn’t leave her. Adam pulled his brother to his feet, “Just for a few minutes Joe, Doc wants to examine her, Carole will stay with her.”

Much against his will Joe let his father and brothers bully him outside, Ben had a cup of coffee, well laced with brandy and as Joe stared blankly at the door behind which Nita moaned, Ben moved to block his view and insisted that he drink it before going back. Joe knew that tone of voice and he tried, only to gag on the first mouthful.
Adam moved closer to his brother as Ben took the cup from Joe’s shaking hand, Adam led Joe into the room behind them and pushed his brother down gently on the bed. “Relax will you Joe, everything’s going very well, but you’re frozen, you need a drink.”

Joe shut his eyes, for a moment leaning his aching head against his brother’s shoulder, murmuring, “Just takes so long.” To his utter amazement Adam laughed ruefully. Joe sat up and stared at his brother as though he’d gone mad. Adam smiled at him, “Have you any idea what the time is Joe?”

Puzzled Joe shook his head and Adam said, “It’s nearly one fifteen Joe, only a little over two hours since I told you that Nita was in labour and if I’m any judge the baby will be here in another couple of hours at most.” With vivid memories of the time Carole had been in labour, first with the twins and more recently with Anne, four hours seemed unbelievably fast to Adam.

Joe could only stare at Adam in complete disbelief and Ben moved closer to his sons, “Your brother is right Joseph, Nita is being very fast. Doc was saying much the same, he’ll probably be able to be more definite once he’s had a look at her.”

“But I thought….” Joe broke off and shook his head, but he did reach for the coffee Ben was still holding, without really thinking and drank it down.

Adam said, “On occasion time has very little relation to what a clock has to say. When someone you love is in pain, time just stands still, but it will soon be over.”

Joe shook his head, “I’m sorry, I thought it was at least five or six hours. Sorry making a fuss over nothing.”

“You’re doing fine son.” Ben added, “We’re all here to help. Now if you don’t want anymore coffee we’ll go back and see what Paul has to say.”

Joe nodded and a little more relaxed went back with his father and brothers. Doc had finished his examination but for the moment Joe wasn’t even aware of him as Nita was calling for her husband. Joe sat down taking, Nita’s hand and brushing her hair back, he kissed her forehead. “It’s alright my darling, I’m here everything is going very well, not long now my love.”

Nita murmured “Joe” and he kissed her again, “There’s my brave girl, you’re doing so well.”

Nita gripped his hand almost painfully hard as the next pain hit her and couldn’t help crying out, but Joe was there again so everything would be alright. It wasn’t until the next pain eased that Joe looked questioningly over at Doc. Adam had taken up his previous position behind his brother and he waited as anxious as Joe for Paul’s prognosis.

Doc smiled at Joe, “Everything is fine Joe. Won’t be very long now, she’s being very fast for a first baby, be moving into second stage fairly soon.

Joe swallowed hard, “No problem?”

“None Joseph. I think Nita was made to bear children, carried with no trouble and having it the same way.”

Joe had himself firmly under control just occasionally leaning back against Adam or looking over towards his father and Hoss for reassurance, but most of the time he was talking quietly to Nita. As the pains became almost continuous and she was beginning to writhe around on the bed as though to get away from them, Joe very simply said “Hoss.”

Hoss moved up to the bed and very gently held Nita still, not needing any explanations. Adam was glad to see it; he had been torn, not sure whether to do it himself. Joe was doing very well, as he had for Marie, but Adam knew just how narrow a tightrope Joe was walking and the imminence of collapse and panic.
Adam was proved right a few minutes later as Nita screamed, the urge to push hitting her, a primeval urge that there was no denying regardless of pain, completely different from anything she had ever known. She was frightened as much as in pain and there was sheer terror in her scream. For a moment she was oblivious even of Joe as she half sobbed, half screamed. Joe shaking reached up instinctively to his brother’s hand on his shoulder. Adam gripped his hand, “Easy Joe, last stage. She’s frightened, explain to her, she’ll understand you.”

With something positive to do Joe got control of himself and lent over Nita, assuming
an assurance in his voice that he was far from feeling. His face more accurately mirrored the fear and compassion he felt but in Nita’s world of pain it was only his voice that was real, everything else was just shadowy shapes. Ben could see his son’s feelings and he was immensely proud of the way Joe contrived to hide them as he spoke very simply to Nita, reassuring her and explaining, telling her exactly what to do. Doc and Hoss held her legs as she pushed while Joe relayed Doc’s orders to her and encouraged her, wiping her face and moistening her lips as they waited for the baby to arrive.

Nita was relying on him, so much more than she’d imagined now that the crisis was on them, just as Carole had told her. Joe was much better being able to help, not that Nita was thinking clearly enough to recognize that. Nita was relying on his warm strong hands and the reassurance in his voice. If Joe said that everything would be alright then it would. There wasn’t fear in his voice now and somehow knowing how worried he’d been in anticipation made that absence even more reassuring now. Nita wasn’t in any condition to realize it was an act, for her like her husband it seemed to have been going on forever but she clung to her husband and to the thought of having her own baby. She remembered Adam’s insistence that pain passes and you forget and hoped he was right.

Nita no longer cared about screaming as the pain it her, the urge to push irresistible even though she felt as though she was splitting in two. Not weakened by a long first stage she was more efficient at translating that urge into action and the baby was moving down fast. As its head became visible, Hoss said, “Look at this Joe.”

Joe lent forward and he could see the black hair clearly visible and despite its dampness, it was obviously curly. For a moment he could only stare at this first view of his own child, almost in disbelief. As Nita moaned he turned his attention back to his first priority, “You’re doing marvelously darling, not long now, We can see the baby’s head, real expert at this. Not long there’s my clever girl.”

Doc passed on his orders via Joe and Nita did her best to comply but then Doc said, with a note of urgency in his voice, “Get her to pant Joe, quickly.”

Joe couldn’t move, just knowing that something was wrong, and it was Adam who lent forward and keeping his voice deliberately calm, ordered Nita to pant like a dog, in a tone which she instinctively obeyed. He encouraged her continually every time she seemed to hesitate he was there insisting that she pant while at the same time he put his arm round Joe’s shoulders scared his brother would collapse. Both of them were so scared that something was going wrong, remembering Marie’s birth.
Doc intent on his problem didn’t even notice them and turned to Sue behind him, “Can you help me Sue? We’ll have to do an episiotomy.”

Joe didn’t know what that meant, just that something was wrong and the panic, which had been so close all day, threatened to overwhelm him and he swayed close to collapse. Only Adam’s arm round him was keeping him in the chair. Ben had seen his son’s reaction and poured out a brandy, he moved over and forced Joe to drink it, seeing the terror on both his sons’ faces. Adam could only pray and keep Nita doing what Doc wanted, leaving his father to look after Joe. Ben anxiously asked Doc what was wrong, even as he fed Joe the brandy. Doc looked up and realized the near panic in all three and he smiled, “Nothing. Come here Joe and I’ll show you, just a large baby.”

Sue was wiping over the area with disinfectant and Doc gripped Joe’s arm as he stumbled to his feet. "Big words don’t mean anything Joe, The bay’s head is large pushing through it’s putting tension on the skin right here. It’s skin and it’ll rip at the next push so I’m going to cut it neatly, heals much easier than a ragged scar.” Doc matched the actions to the words, “Just a small cut in the skin, Nita won’t even feel it, it’s all numb just now, Everything is fine your baby will be here in a couple of minutes.”

Joe barely took Doc’s words in, it was enough to know it wasn’t serious and went back to Nita. Adam was still encouraging her to pant and wiping her face and she hardly seemed to notice the difference between her husband and her brother-in-law. Joe was glad of the chair but his hands were steady as he took back the job of encouraging his wife. Then Doc said, “Right push when you’re ready.”
Joe encouraged Nita and although she was beginning to tire she did her best and after three more good pushes Doc was saying, “Nearly there, gently now, don’t push, just let it come, easy, very easy.”

Joe passed it on automatically, without really taking in the sense and then there was a sudden odd slithering gurgling noise, a noise he’d heard before. Indescribable but it meant the final arrival of the new baby and before it had even ceased, before the child was really free of his mother, he was yelling his protest at this strange new world, a strong healthy yell.

For the first time in ages Nita opened her eyes, unable to believe that it was her baby and not Anne or Johnny. Joe had lost all control of his voice had he couldn’t even look, staring down at his knees, remembering the tiny deformed girl who had cost Marie her life, only to die within the hour. Adam could read his brother like a book and gripped his shoulders reassuringly as he spoke for Joe. "It’s your baby Nita, well done.”

Ben could see Joe’s fears but he was in a position to see the baby and moving closer to his sons, he said, “You were right Nita, a son, a strong healthy perfect son.” Joe looked up at his father’s words and seeing the smile on Ben’s face he knew the baby was all right but he still needed to know about Nita. He lent back against Adam and tried to find his voice to encourage her as the afterbirth came away, he wasn’t making had wanted. She was barely even aware of the minor pains as Doc cleared the afterbirth.

Joe was talking to his wife but he watched Doc’s face intently for any sign that something was wrong. Adam’s mother had had a healthy child, only to die from an unstoppable hemorrhage. Doc caught Joe’s eye, feeling the gaze on him, and guessed what was wrong, “No problem Joe, mother and child both exceedingly healthy and normal.”

Joe licked dry lips, wanting to believe Doc but hardly daring to and Doc smiled, “My word on it Joe, nothing at all to worry about.”

Carole came over to Joe with his son, “Do you want to give your son to his mother?”
Joe took the baby wrapped loosely in a shawl, just hastily cleaned for now, but like the twins and Johnny he didn’t really look newborn, not at all red or wrinkled. He lay in his father’s arms his eyes open, remarkably dark eyed for a newborn, with long black lashes, curly like his hair and a very definite nose, making him a very pretty baby. Joe stared at him in wonderment for a moment and then passed him to Nita who was trying, despite Doc’s protests, to pull herself up the bed.

Impatiently Doc said, “Will you lie still young lady and let me sow this up. You won’t feel it now, but if I leave it you will.”

Nita did as she was told but Adam pushed a couple of pillows under her to support her head and she took her son, examining him minutely, intense concentration on her face. Then the baby seized hold of her finger and slowly a smile spread over her face, until she looked up at Joe with an expression he had never seen before and knew that he would treasure for the rest of his life. “Our son.” she said softly.
Joe couldn’t answer but lent over to kiss her, still hardly able to take it in. Hoss remembering very clearly how he’d felt just over a week earlier went over to Sue and pulled her close, their son lying in his cot in the corner. Sue had had to feed him a little earlier.

Adam met his father’s eye as Ben fondly surveyed the four of them and grinned, His father was near as proud as Hoss and Joe. As Joe sat back Adam kissed her forehead, “Congratulations Nita, he’s a beautiful baby.”

Hoss and Ben quickly added their congratulations and then Ben suggested they all clear out of the way and let Doc and Carole get Nita cleaned up and settled into a clean bed. Nita asked for coffee and then said “Can I have some food, I’m starving.”
Joe looked uncertainly at Doc who grinned, “You are almost indecent young lady, First births are supposed to be difficult, instead you have it in record time, and react like a veteran. Of course you can eat if you want to, but Joe make it something light.”
“Chicken soup and an omelette?”

“That’ll be fine.” Doc agreed but Nita said, “Alright but please can I have a couple of Kam Su’s scones, he was baking this morning.” She said it so beseechingly than even Joe smiled, “Of course you can my darling, I’d give you the world and all you want is a couple of scones.”

Carole had finished washing and dressing the baby and Nita suggested that Joe took the baby downstairs and let fond uncles, aunts and grandfather have a proper look. Doc and Carole could get all that she needed. Joe hesitated but Nita was insistent, she could still see the tension in him now that she was taking in how he looked. Joe gave way and he picked up his son very carefully, “He’s bigger than the twins but not as big as Johnny. What do you reckon Doc?”

“Around seven pounds, maybe just under, and perfect.” Paul said with a smile.

“He is that and so very pretty.” Carole added. “All our babies have been, apart from Anne and she’s making up for it now.” Joe said. He took his son out but for a few minutes he needed to be alone and he went across the hall to stare out at the mountains and to thank God for his mercy. The baby was still staring at him, wide-eyed and unblinking and Joe bent to kiss his head and felt the tiny hand bury itself in his hair and grip tight. Joe had been cold all day, ever since Adam told him Nita was in labour. The warm room, the coffee, the brandy, none of it had helped but now he felt a warmth pervade his whole being as the baby held tight to him. This tiny new life, part of his own flesh, so dependent and yet so content, his son; Joe began to understand what Hoss had meant about peace. Once before a newborn had helped him find peace and still of all his nieces and nephews, Joe admitted to himself although not to anyone else, Mark was his favourite; but this was so much more. This time it was his own son and his beloved wife was fine, like his brothers, he had everything he had ever wanted. On that thought Joe suddenly wanted to share his happiness and gently easing his hair out of the baby’s grip he moved downstairs.

Adam had been surprised when he came down to find just Anne in the kitchen with Hop Sing and Kam Su. Although he wasn’t at all surprised to see Hop Sing over, always determined not to miss anything, which affected his family. Adam answered the question he could see on their faces, “Nita and Joe have a very pretty baby boy about seven pounds, mother and child doing well. I’m sure Joe will bring him to see you in a few minutes.” Both Chinese grinned broadly and Adam joined them briefly before asking where the children were, slightly concerned as it was very cold for them to be outside. Kam Su grinned and Ben, who had come in hearing the anxious note in his son’s voice, relaxed. “Mr. Jess came back say you wouldn’t mind, invite the twins and Marie to go and have a picnic in the bunkhouse with him. They were most excited. He say not best place for children when babies come.” He frowned, “Say you wouldn’t mind.” wondering whether he had done the right thing.

Adam put his mind at rest grinning broadly, “Of course I don’t, good old Jess.”

“He’s turned into a really good friend over the years.” Ben commented, “To you most but to all of us.”

“He has that, only problem is that he fusses even worse than my brothers! I’ll bet all three of them are enjoying the attention.”

“No more than Jess, José and the rest are enjoying giving it. I just hope the bunkhouse
doesn’t come to blows over them.”

Hoss had suddenly realized that he had missed lunch and appeared to demand food but Hop Sing was already dishing up and Hoss was pressed into service carrying it through. Adam wasn’t hungry but he went and poured himself a drink, on the whole his brother had stood up to it well but perhaps more than the others, as he had been in close physical contact, he knew how close Joe had been to collapse. There was bound to be some reaction. At least this time Joe had his wife and child, that was worth any amount of pain and memories. Adam had been too worried about Joe for memories to worry him at the time but now he could no longer push them away; memories of Marie and her farewell, Joe’s reaction over the months that followed, intermingled with memories of the births of all his own children. He stood staring out of the window, lost in thought, nursing his glass but not drinking it. Once the food was on the table Hoss looked over at his brother but Ben shook his head, “Let him be Hoss, he’ll eat when he’s ready.”

Hoss had just started his own, talking quietly to Sue when Joe appeared at the top of the stairs. Something in the sudden silence penetrated to Adam and he turned quickly to see his brother very carefully coming down stairs. Just from the way Joe was moving, his family could see that the tension had gone for now at least and grinning broadly they gathered at the foot of the stairs. Joe looked up from the baby and grinned at them, “Nita is hungry. Doc says chicken broth and an ommlette but she also insists on some of Kam Su’s scones. She told me to bring the baby down to see his fond relatives.”

Ben pulled the shawl back, “He’s very pretty Joe, congratulations son.”

Joe grinned, “He’s gorgeous isn’t he. Looks very like Mark did as a baby.”

Adam nodded, “I was thinking that. I always did say that Mark took after you!”
“Well David’s the spitting image of you so don’t start any wild stories, “Joe retorted and Adam laughed, “I don’t know even David behaves more like you Joe.”

Ben said dryly, “You may not remember how badly behaved you were as an infant Adam, but I do.”

Hoss had pushed his food away for the moment, more interested in his newest nephew for now and he asked to hold the baby. Joe passed him over willingly, “Not as big as Johnny big brother but still reasonable.”

Even while Hoss was holding the baby, Joe couldn’t take his eyes off his son, wonderment, near disbelief and peace all very obvious in his eyes. Both Ben and Adam were for the minute more interested in Joe than the baby. There wasn’t quite the ecstasy Hoss had shown so clearly, the strain had taken its toll, but both were convinced it would come. For now Joe had found peace and once whatever reaction there was passed they were both convinced that peace would grow. Ben took the baby from Hoss, “The third grandchild you promised me before Christmas. I think this year Christmas will be the most perfect we’ve ever had. All my sons with sons of their own and loving wives. What more could any man ask for?”

Joe linked arms with his brothers, saying with reverence in his voice. “Well I’ve done it. Caught up with you two, my son.”