Winter Ills
by Lyn Robinson

The two weeks after Jess’ wedding were very quiet, the heavy snow preventing any trips to town. Adam spent some time working with his father on the outline plan for the summer’s work and finalising the work plans for the new flumes they had decided to build on the west shore. Each family spent time alone but most days they gathered in one of the houses for at least part of the time. All enjoyed each other’s company and getting to know the babies. Already they were taking notice and developing very individual personalities. Anne was by far the most demanding, a child of moods, of iron will, but her tantrums didn’t last long and she could always be quietened by her father. Johnny was the placid baby, nearly always happy, seeming to mirror Sue’s utter contentment with life. Adam was a very serious baby, not given to the giggles and grins of the other two, but when he did smile it lit up his whole face. Joe had a strange feeling that his son was going to take after his brother in more ways than one.

Adam had been landed with a legal problem involving the Consolidated Virginia; Sharon appeared to be up to his old tricks again, back to the old problem of encroaching veins. Adam wasn’t too surprised, Sharon had been quiet for all too long but it had necessitated a trip down the mine to see for himself. Knowing that any of his family would have gone along with him if he mentioned it, Adam had been careful to only tell Carole. Ben had had a nasty cold and despite being well on the way to recovery the heat in the mine wouldn’t help and Adam had no intention of dragging either of his brothers away from their sons. It had been a very hard year and summer work would start all too soon. He knew just how content both were and wanted them left in peace to enjoy it while they had the chance.

The trip down the mine was uneventful but with both John Mackay and Jim Fair along, both of them fussing, it took a long time for him to check all the facts that he required. By the time he’d finished Adam had a stinking headache, he had picked up his father’s cold and was feeling a little under the weather anyway. He was short tempered as Jim kept pushing him, not best pleased at being lumbered with this problem, which seemed to be routine but time consuming. It could have been handled by the lawyer on contract with the mine. For once Adam couldn’t hide his temper and he cut Jim off abruptly when he wanted to stop and talk. “It can wait ten minutes while I shower, then we’ll talk over coffee.”

Jim would have pushed it but John shushed his partner, he could see that Adam was close to losing his temper even if Jim couldn’t. Adam was very relieved to get back to the surface; he’d rapidly been getting to the stage where he found it hard to breathe. It was bitterly cold with snow on the ground, striking even colder after the heat of the mine and Adam was glad to get into the shower. Even there Jim was talking at him and Adam, with his head pounding, wished him to perdition, but they were business partners so he bit back his anger. He had to waste two hours telling them exactly how he would handle it. The job was going to be time consuming rather than difficult but with Sharon involved the only way to placate his partners was for Adam to handle it personally. Adam consoled himself that on this sort of job, his youngest brother could do his fair share, cut down the time it would take considerably. They had a deadline and inevitably Jim had put off telling anyone until the last minute hoping it would go away. Eventually Adam got away but he still had several other chores to do before he could go home. He dropped by the stockbrokers Marye and dealt with some of the formalities, taking papers home to work on. Then he had to collect some stores, having left a list earlier and finally go to the Bank. His chores finished Adam went over to the Palace for a drink.

Dan was sitting talking to Roy in the corner and they beckoned Adam over. Dan’s eyebrow raised quizzically as he saw that Adam was drinking brandy rather then his more usual beer, “Tough day?”
“Lot of paperwork, just that its cold, need something to warm me up before I ride home.”

Adam lent back in his chair, sipping his drink, he rubbed the bridge of his nose, shutting his eyes momentarily. Neither Dan nor Roy missed that and Roy asked “You okay Adam?”

“Yeah, just a mite tired. I’d better get home.” Adam drained his brandy and got to his feet, “I’ll be seeing you.” He collected Blackie and headed out, remaining alert with an effort as he was carrying a fair amount of cash. He was on the final stretch, their own private road on the Ponderosa when he saw Doc’s buggy. Scared what it might mean Adam pushed Blackie, galloping up to join Doc. Paul saw him coming and knowing what Adam would want, he pulled up the buggy and waited. Adam pulled up by the buggy, the question obvious on his face but to his relief Doc was smiling at him, “Easy Adam, nothing disastrous.”

Adam felt as though he had stopped breathing on seeing the buggy and only now started again, “What’s wrong?”

“Sue isn’t well. She’s picked up that cold from your father, looks like you have too.”

“Well yes, but why call you out for a cold?”

“It’s moved down onto her chest, she’s going to be fine but she’ll have to stay in bed for a week or so.”

“You sure she’ll be alright?”

“Yes positive, mind you I’m not sure I’ve got Hoss convinced.”

“I’ll drop by on my way home.”

“An early night and a day in bed wouldn’t do you any harm either Adam.” Doc knew as he spoke that he would be ignored but his old friend looked tired and drawn. Adam forced a grin, “I’m fine Doc. I won’t hold you up any longer, thanks for waiting.” Adam rode on home heading for Hoss’ house first. He tied Blackie up and went in calling for his brother. Hoss came to the top of the stairs looking harassed and worried. He was holding Johnny and Adam could see the fear in his big brother’s eyes. He went upstairs swiftly and put his arm round Hoss’ shoulders. “I met Doc on the way home, how is Sue?”

“She’s sleeping now, something Doc gave her.” Hoss sighed, “Oh God Adam she couldn’t hardly breathe.” Adam could feel the tension in his brother and he gently took Johnny. “Come on old son you need a drink. Have you had anything to eat?”

“Yeah Nita and Carole ganged up on me. Nita’s been looking after Johnny all day too but I needed him.” Adam could understand that but he insisted on Hoss having a large brandy. While Hoss was sipping it Adam pulled up a footstool and sat down in front of his brother, forcing Hoss to meet his eyes. “Doc says she’ll be fine in a week or two, a few days rest in bed. No doubts, no maybes. A few days of discomfort but then she’ll be fine. I promise Hoss, Doc was positive. He’s never wrong when he’s that sure.”

Hoss stared at his brother the drink forgotten, wanting to believe him but scared. Adam smiled, “Easy Hoss I’ve never lied to you, neither has Doc. Sue’s going to be fine.”

Hoss studied his eldest brother’s face as though the future was written there and slowly he relaxed, he’d trust Adam as he always had. “Okay Adam I believe you.”
“Do you want me to stay Hoss, split the nursing?”

Hoss shook his head, “Ain’t no need, Doc reckoned she’ll sleep until morning. I’m gonna put Johnny down and then I’ll go join her. You look as though you need your bed.”

“You sure you don’t want me to bed down in the spare room, just in case?”

“No, go home to Carole.”

“She won’t mind.”

“I know but there’s no need. Thanks for coming by, I feel better about her now and I can cope.”

“Okay but send Kam Ling over if you need anything.” Adam passed Johnny back to his father and then went on home; about all he felt fit for was his bed. Carole took one look at him and poured him a large brandy as she realised that he had a streaming cold. Adam accepted it gratefully but he didn’t want any food, just his bed. Carole got in next to him and cuddled up close. Feeling the tension in him, “Sue will be fine in a week or so, is anything else wrong?”

“I don’t know, just a cold. I guess it’s making me irritable, imagining things.”

“Might feel better if you talked it out darling.”

Adam sighed heavily, “I don’t know if I can put it into words.” He hesitated and then pulled her close “I love you.”

Carole kissed him “There’s nothing wrong in that!”

Adam just held her tight, he loved her so much, relied on her, and maybe he did take her for granted, leave her to her own devices but that was twice within a month, within his own family, that he’d read disapproval of his actions. Maybe he was just imagining things but he didn’t like the feeling. Finally deciding he was just overtired, Adam relaxed a little. He admitted to himself, albeit to noone else, that he hadn’t fully recovered yet from the injuries and strain of the previous year. He still found himself having nightmares and memories, even while he was awake, were too strong on occasion. With a quiet period it was almost as though reaction had finally set in and he was well run down. Knowing that lying awake worrying about it wouldn’t help, Adam tried to settle to sleep with only partial success.
Over the weekend Carole and Nita took care of Johnny, except for Sue feeding him, but Hoss wouldn’t let anyone else relieve him, he was going to nurse Sue himself. He did agree to his father coming to stay. Just to be on hand in case Hoss needed any help but otherwise insisted that he could cope. Sue was weak and sleeping most of the time so it wasn’t a particularly onerous job and his family let Hoss do as he wanted.

Adam had to get on but seeing that his little brother had the cold too and was irritable with it, he decided to complete the preliminaries on his own, get Joe to help with the detailed submission later in the week. Adam locked himself in his study and worked quietly, at least it gave his own cold a chance to recover. Carole kept him supplied with hot drinks and kept the children away. At his insistence she didn’t tell his father or brothers just how big a problem he’d been landed with or how ill he was feeling, covering up for him as she had so often, even if she thought he was mad.
By Sunday evening Hoss had relaxed, Sue’s breathing had eased off and although she was coughing a lot and very tired and weak, he could now allow himself to believe in Adam’s certainty that she would be fine. She was so restless, coughing when she lay down, that Hoss moved into the guest room across the corridor to leave her in peace. He left the doors open, confident that he’d hear if she wanted him.

Ben was pleased to find his big son so much calmer and he was intending to return home on Monday, but by then he found he was still needed, this time by his youngest son. Nita had caught her husband’s cold and was feeling thoroughly miserable with it so when she was woken by her son crying at 4 a.m. she wasn’t best pleased. She got up and went to Adam to find the baby burning up with fever, his diaper soaked with continual diarrhoea. Scared, knowing that it could be a killer in such a young child she woke Joe up. For a moment he was dopy and she wasn’t very coherent, so Joe couldn’t make head nor tail of what she was saying, he just knew that something was seriously wrong. Nita began to cry more naturally and Joe held her close for a moment. Then he held her face gently in his strong hands, forcing her to look at him, “Tell me.” He ordered.

“Its Adam he’s sick, diarrhoea and he’s burning up. I can’t stop him crying, what do we do?”

“Get Doc for a start. Sue’s ill but maybe Carole will have some idea. You wipe him down with cold water, try to bring the fever down and try to get him to drink, anything, water, milk. I’ll go and get Carole, send Adam for Doc.” Joe was pulling on his pants as he spoke, and kissed Nita’s forehead, “Easy my sweet, he’s a Cartwright and we’re fighters. He’ll be fine.”

Joe ran across to his brother’s house, thankful that they were so close at hand. He ran upstairs to Adam’s bedroom and hammered on the door, but then not thinking straight, he went in, just conscious of his need of them. Carole sat bolt upright but Adam barely stirred, he’d only been in bed half an hour and was in a very deep sleep. However his wife’s voice penetrated where Joe’s banging hadn’t as she asked “Joe whatever is wrong?” Adam was awake and out of bed on the instant, his brother’s face all too clear evidence that something was terribly wrong. Joe swiftly explained and Adam was already getting dressed, “I’ll get Doc. Carole you’d better warn Kam Su before you go over.”

Joe said, “I’ll do that.”

Carole kissed him, “Easy Joe, young babies always seem very bad when they are ill, but they recover first.”

Joe murmured, “Or not at all.” and turned on his heel to go and wake Kam Su. He was only too aware of the number of children under a year who died. Carole looked horrified but Adam kissed her, “He’ll be okay and so will young Adam. Bet he’s been carrying Nita and it must have been a shock. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Adam went out to find Joe already half finished saddling Blackie for him and within five minutes of Joe’s arrival at the house, Adam was on his way to town. Carole was outside ready to go as Adam rode out. Kam Su was primed to look after the older children as they woke and she had wrapped up Anne and brought her. Joe looked worriedly at the baby, scared she would catch it too but Carole took his arm, “Easy Joe we can keep the babies apart. Let’s get back to Nita.”

Joe would have liked to fetch his father too but he wouldn’t until morning. Hoss had been worried enough over the last few days and there was noway he could get his father without disturbing his brother. Nita was trying to spoon water into an uncooperative baby and Joe seemed to have been gone forever. Carole spared time to settle her daughter in one of the spare rooms and then went through to join them. She found Nita crying in Joe’s arms, the baby wailing, already looking thinner. Carole felt his forehead gently and cleaned him up again. She had collected the pipette Adam had used for Anne and it was boiling downstairs. For now the most important thing was to calm Nita down. She gripped her sister’s arm, “We’ll pull him through Nita. I know you’ve not been well and that you are very worried but you must calm down. Adam needs his mother; he’ll react to your mood.” Nita shuddered in Joe’s arms, she was so scared but Joe kissed her and asked Carole to get the brandy, he thought they could all do with a drink.

When Carole came back up Nita had, with a great effort, got control of herself. She kept telling herself, she was a Cartwright now and she couldn’t let them down, especially her husband, she wasn’t going to go to pieces. She had seen them coping, all of them under even worse strains and somehow she would do the same. Joe was very proud of her but he would tell her later, for now he knew the emotional tightrope she was walking, indeed so was he. He knew all too well what it was to fear for the life of a loved one, for a baby, but this time it was his own infinitely precious firstborn. He’d thought that he understood what Adam was going through on the boat with David but now he realised he’d had no idea and he mentally congratulated Adam on the way he’d coped against even longer odds. That just underlined how much he needed his brother now, but he knew that Adam couldn’t even have reached town yet.

Slowly they managed to force a little water down Adam, all too aware of the threat of dehydration and as the baby wouldn’t nurse, Carole helped Nita express some breast milk and they persuaded the baby to take that too. Joe kept wiping him down with cold compresses but his son’s fever remained alarmingly high. Carole had to leave them as Anne yelled for attention and with her calm presence removed Joe felt near to despair, nothing they did seemed to do any good. Then remembering Adam’s long fights first for David and then for the even tinier premature baby, Joe felt ashamed of himself. If Adam had given up neither his oldest nor his youngest would have lived, he had to do as much as his brother. Hearing horses he got up and went to the window and to his relief saw Doc and Adam in the yard. He went to the top of the stairs to greet them and led the way back to his son.

Doc had been worried when Adam woke him. He, perhaps more than any other outsider, knew what their children meant to all the Cartwrights. For many people the death of a baby was unfortunate, but just one of those things, the child easily replaced; indeed all too often, especially with girls, almost a relief one less mouth to feed. All too many young babies died of some form of gastroenteritis and Adam was only just three months, the most vulnerable age, not old enough to have developed much stamina but outgrowing the protection he’d gained from his mother. Doc knew that there was very little he could do to help but he had to try. He was very quiet on the ride out to the ranch and Adam knew him well enough to read the fears that he tried to hide. Adam knew that Doc hadn’t expected Anne to live, but she had and Joe’s son was older and stronger, he was convinced that his brother would pull the baby through with their help.

Nita was glad to see Doc, but like Joe she gained even more strength from Adam’s arrival. From hating him she had grown to rely very heavily on the tall cowboy and his quiet smile seemed to promise everything would turn out right. Joe had his arm protectively round Nita as Doc examined the baby but he was more grateful than he could ever say for Adam’s firm grip on his shoulder as Adam stood behind the pair, knowing and sharing their fears for his godson and namesake.
Doc straightened up, having wrapped a blanket round the baby. He couldn’t lie to them, they trusted him and anyway they knew him too well. “He’s one sick baby Joe and there’s not a lot that I can do. You’re doing most of it anyway.”

Joe licked dry lips, seeing Doc’s doubts about Adam’s survival all too clearly. Paul forced a smile, “Easy Joe, he’s got a hell of a lot more chance than his cousin had and I saw her downstairs, guzzling away, a greedy little madam.”

Joe felt Nita relax a little, but he couldn’t help remembering that Doc had given Anne no chance and a hell of lot more than none could still be very small. He felt cold, his worst fears fulfilled and it was left to Adam to ask what Paul advised. Doc had brought some medicine out with him, with luck it might slow down the diarrhoea, apart from that he could only offer advice. For the next twenty four hours he only wanted the baby given sweetened water, with a little salt in it, no milk at all. As much of the water as they could persuade the baby to take to combat dehydration and they should continue to sponge the baby down to try and bring his fever down, but in between to wrap him warmly. With such a high fever there was always a risk of convulsions but apart from making sure that his breathing wasn’t blocked, they shouldn’t worry too much about them even if they should occur, it was unlikely to do any real damage. Doc had to get back to Virginia City, half the town seemed ill at the moment, but he promised to be back the following day and he would ensure he left word where he was so that they could contact him if necessary, Adam went down with Doc and got him coffee. Doc sat staring into the fire, “I’m sorry Adam, there’s so little I can do to help.”

“We know you can’t perform miracles. Joe will pull him through, young Adam’s a Cartwright, he’ll fight it.” Adam took the living proof of that from her mother and held Anne close to him, needing the reassurance that God was still with them. He waited until Doc had gone and then asked Pak Tsien to start some breakfast. He sent Carole home to check on their own brood and then went back upstairs. Joe was on the slow job of forcing water into Adam, holding his son close to him. Adam went over to Nita and put his arm round her. Nita relaxed against his shoulder, “Doc was so pessimistic.” She looked up at him, beyond tears now, just so scared.

Adam kissed her forehead, “Doc has to try and be realistic, he’s never lied to us, that’s why we trust him but Adam is a Cartwright. Have more faith in your husband Nita. I told you once before you underestimate Joe. He’ll pull his son through and my Godson is a fighter he’ll give Joe the chance.” Adam’s confidence was partly forced but neither Joe nor Nita realised and as so often they put their faith in him and relaxed a little, Adam was even able to bully them into eating breakfast, both had been ill and they wouldn’t be able to help their son if on the verge of collapse. While they ate he held his namesake, silently praying that he’d be proved right once more. When Joe was reduced to pushing his food around on his plate, Adam passed his son back. “I’ll go and tell Pa and Hoss they ought to know.”

“Don’t worry the big moose, there’s nothing he can do with Sue sick.”

“I’ll tell him the truth Joe, that the baby is very sick at the moment but will be fine in a few days, that you and Nita are very worried, but coping well.” Adam kissed Nita again and gripped his brother’s shoulder, “Take it easy I’ll be back soon.” Then he headed over to Hoss’ house to find his big brother, sitting holding Johnny and attempting rather unsuccessfully to eat some breakfast. Sue was still sleeping and although Hoss knew it was the best thing for her, he couldn’t help being worried. Ben was with him, he’d tried to persuade Hoss to relax without much success and now here was his eldest son and it was all too clear from his face that he had bad news. Adam poured himself some coffee, “Take it easy both of you. Young Adam has taken ill but he’ll be okay.”

Ben pushed his plate away, “Alright Adam let’s have it.”

Adam sipped his coffee, knowing that is father and brother could read him all too easily. He described how Joe had woken them in the early hours, making no attempt to hide that both Joe and Nita were desperately worried, neither of them fully fit after bad colds. He did gloss over what Doc had said, giving them the gist of the words but not the fear so obvious on his face. Hoss stood up, pacing around, looking down at his son, knowing how he’d feel if it was Johnny at risk, wanting to go to his brother but knowing that his wife needed him. Adam went over to his big brother and put an arm round his shoulders, reading Hoss easily. “You have responsibilities here Hoss, Sue has to come first. Joe knows that and he doesn’t want you fretting about him. Trust us Hoss, Pa and I will do anything that needs doing and Joe can cope.”

“The baby? He’s so young.”

“I know Hoss but a hell of a lot stronger than Anne was. He’ll be okay, God’s still with us.”

Ben joined his sons, “Adam’s right and I promise we’ll let you know exactly what’s going on, only a few yards away. If you want us we’ll be here, everything’s going to be fine.”
Hoss relaxed a little, “You’ll let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“Sure but Joe will cope, have faith in our little brother.” Ben went straight over to Joe’s but Adam stayed to keep Hoss company until Sue was awake, seeing all too many signs of sleepless nights. Hoss was glad of his brother’s company, although not really wanting to talk and once Sue had fed Johnny, he even allowed Adam to take the baby off for Carole to look after. Adam was right his main responsibility was his beloved wife.

Carole stayed at home with the children. Joe knew as well as anyone what to do and Nita would lean on Joe’s strength. Carole knew her brother-in-law very well and was confident in that strength, at east until the outcome was certain, one way or the other. Adam checked that his father would stay with them for moral support, just in case the worst happened.

Ben left his youngest son for a minute and followed Adam down, “You didn’t tell me just how sick he is.”

“I know Pa but you were coming over anyway and Joe didn’t want Hoss worried. Doc was worried but I still think he’s underestimating Adam’s strength, to say nothing of Joe’s determination.”

Ben accepted that, “You don’t look too brilliant yourself.”

“I hadn’t been in bed very long when Joe came over, just a mite tired.”

“With the ubiquitous cold.”

Adam couldn’t deny that but took advantage. “If you can cope for a while I’ll go and have a nap so that I can take over later.”

Ben accepted that as sensible. He knew that there was very little either he or Adam would be able to do but if the worst happened Joe and Nita would need them. Adam went on home but not to sleep, he still had a deadline to meet and he was obviously not going to get any help, so he locked himself away in the study and worked all day. Twice Carole had been out while the babies were sleeping and she was able to report that Sue was a little brighter, but Hoss hadn’t told her about the baby. Adam was still burning up, lying prostrate, seemingly very weak, but Joe was quite calm. Nita was keeping control with a struggle, leaning heavily on her husband’s strength and on her father-in-law. She had been very glad to see Carole, feeling so very useless. Joe was more adept than she was at persuading Adam to take water, he had spent long hours watching his older brother and copying him had developed the knack. Carole calmed her down; persuading her that all the time she kept calm she would be helping both the baby and her husband. Adam would always react more to his mother’s mood than anything else. Nita sat looking at the bay in near despair “He’s so weak.”

“Bound to seem so Nita he hasn’t had food all day and until the poison is out of his system he won’t look any better, but you must remember how resilient babies are. In a few days he’ll pick right up again.”

Nita stared at her not daring to put her doubts into words and Carole put her arms round the young blonde. “Have faith Nita in Joe and in God. Adam will be fine.”

Joe knew that his father was there and that Carole had been in and out, but all his attention was on the tiny baby, his firstborn. He was surprised himself just how confident he was that Adam would survive. His brother had succeeded in saving his children from much worse odds and what his brother had done so could he. Joe was very loathe to let Adam out of his arms, even to go to his mother; he had seen now much David weakened when removed from his father. Nita was unused to dealing with sickness and still feeling ill herself she was willing to allow her husband to cope just staying near him for support.

Joe forced himself to eat, worrying about Nita and wanting her to eat, he couldn’t force her to do so without doing so himself. By mid-evening the baby was looking very drawn, his eyes seemingly enormous in his pale face and Nita was close to collapse, almost sure that she was going to lose her son. Joe was very worried but outwardly still confident and he was determined that Nita should get some rest. He asked his father to get a dose of laudanum to ensure that she rested and Ben had just persuaded her to take it and rest on her bed when his eldest son came back. Ben didn’t think his son looked as though he’d had a rest but he didn’t waste time arguing. He was very tired himself, still getting over his cold and if he tried to stay he would only worry Joe. He told Adam to call him about three to take over again and then went to settle down in the spare room.

Adam had been over to Hoss’ before he came and he was able to reassure Joe that Sue was on the mend. Then he insisted on taking his nephew for five minutes while Joe went and had a wash saying he’d feel better for it. Joe had to admit he did feel more human afterwards and took his son back while Adam poured them both a brandy. When Adam brought the drinks Joe was studying the baby intently, “He looks so wasted already.”

“Not nearly as bad as David did and the diarrhoea seems to be easing off.”

“With just water there’s nothing to come through. He is going to be alright Adam.” Joe said it almost defiantly but his brother just smiled, “You don’t have to convince me Joe, I’m sure of it too.” Adam lent forward and gently touched the baby’s forehead, “A Cartwright is a fighter. His fever isn’t as high as it was this morning.”

“No convulsions thank God. Nita’s scared enough anyway.”

“From what Pa said she’s kept up very well, especially as she’s not well herself. You must be very proud of her.”

“I am.” Joe lent his aching head back and closed his eyes momentarily. “I know how she feels; this blasted cold has caught most of us. Doc thought it was probably the same with Adam, just affected him differently.” Adam would have liked to bully his young brother into bed, knowing that Joe needed rest as much as any of them but he remembered how he’d felt when his own children were sick. He had been very grateful then for Joe’s lack of fuss and his quiet support, now he tried to repay the favour. He collected fresh water and more nappies with some coffee and brandy for Joe and let his brother cope, there if Joe wanted anything.

By 3 a.m. Adam had to admit to himself that he was near exhaustion and anyway his father had the same in-built alarm that he had himself. Adam got to his feet, “Do you need anything Joe? I’m going to call Pa and then get some sleep.”

“Just have a look at him for me before you go.”

Adam bent over the baby, who was awake, looking up wide-eyed at him. He felt the baby gently, “His fever is down again.” The baby gurgled at him and Adam grinned at his brother, “He’s a lot better Joe.”

“I thought so but I wasn’t sure if I was kidding myself.” Joe relaxed a little, “Go on, you look dead on your feet.”

Adam went through to find his father just sitting up. Adam grinned “The baby is better, fever well down.”

“Thank God for that. I’ll look after things you get some sleep, you look exhausted.”

“Mite tired, so is Joe but he won’t leave Adam.”

Ben smiled, “I know you all pretty well Adam, I won’t try pushing Joe anymore than you did. He can catch up on sleep later.” Adam grinned, maybe his father did know them and anyway he was tired out. He slept like a log for three hours and then went back to join his father and brother. Neither of them was particularly surprised to see him back and despite the relatively short time he did look reasonably rested.

Adam frowned as he took in just how drawn Joe looked and he moved over to Joe. His brother bit his lip, “Fever’s going up again.”

Adam checked for himself and the small baby was obviously more feverish, looking thinner and very drawn. Joe went on, “There’s some blood on his diaper.”

Adam put his arm round Joe’s shoulders, feeling the near despair, accentuated by his earlier conviction that the baby was on the mend. “Easy Joe, the fever is not very high.”

Joe’s gaze went to the dirty diapers and Adam gripped his shoulder, “Doesn’t necessarily mean anything Joe. You’ve had diarrhoea yourself, know how sore it gets, probably just rubbed raw somewhere.”

Joe relaxed slightly, he hadn’t thought of that but Adam’s idea made sense. He had automatically thought of the most disastrous reason for the blood, “I’m glad you’re back. Pa will you hold your grandson for a few minutes, I want to wash and change,” Ben took the baby and Adam went with his brother, Joe checked Nita but she was still sleeping and he didn’t disturb her. Then he went and doused his head with cold water. He felt tired and drained but knew he could keep going all the time his son needed him.

Adam took the chance to wash his face too and as he straightened up he said, “Easy Joe, his fever is still a lot lower than it was yesterday and he’s taking water without fuss, stop him getting dehydrated. He’s strong enough to do without food for a day or so.”

“He’s so tiny so much part of me, if only .....” Joe turned away to the window, not wanting even his brother to see his near panic. Adam moved over and gripped his shoulders, “If only you could give him some of your own strength. I’ve been there Joe, I do know how you feel. It’ll be alright little brother.”

Joe lent back against his brother for a moment, thankful for his warm strength, then straightened up, “I’m okay, let’s get back.” Adam went along with him sure that his brother was well in control.

Nita was up by the time Doc arrived. She was relatively optimistic, the baby might be worse than he’d been at 3 a.m. but he was still a lot better than when she had gone to bed. And Joe hadn’t mentioned the blood. Doc checked the baby over carefully and examined the diapers he’d asked Joe to keep for him. As he straightened up all four Cartwrights were studying his face. Doc smiled, “Easy. He’s better, holding up very well.”

Joe licked his lips, “What should we do?”

“Carry on for another twenty four hours, sweetened water only, but remember to add a little salt too. Let’s try and ensure the germs are out of his system. His fever will probably rise a little higher during the day. I expect it so don’t worry. I’ll be back in the morning, check again before we put him back on milk.”

Nita asked, “Suppose he gets hungry?”

“I don’t really expect him to for now, he’s still a sick baby, maybe tomorrow he will but not just yet.”

Nita moved closer to Joe for reassurance but he was content to see the difference in attitude Doc was showing. Yesterday Doc had doubted his son’s survival but now he was confident the baby would be alright, just a matter of time. Adam had read the same on Doc’s face and he smiled, “There’s still some work needing doing on this ranch. I’m going home to Carole and get on with it. Be back later.”

Nita had come to rely on her tall brother-in-law and she studied his face but Adam was smiling, “Joe will cope and my Godson is going to be fine, relax little sister.”

Adam disappeared he had a lot of work to do and Ben could do all that was needed to support Joe and Nita. Before he went home he headed over to reassure his big brother. Hoss felt a lot happier about Sue but as though abhorring a vacuum he found himself worried about his little brother, the baby and Nita too, but most of all Joe. To outsiders Hoss often seemed lacking in imagination, but in many ways he was more imaginative than either of his brothers. Knowing how he would feel if it was Johnny who was ill, he knew exactly how his little brother felt and with responsibility for Sue and Johnny there was no way he could help Joe. Hoss had stayed with his own family, knowing that even if he went to Joe’s there would be nothing he could really do to help, which didn’t ease the need to see for himself. He was sipping coffee watching his own healthy son kicking in his cot when Adam came in. Hoss didn’t need to ask, he could see it in Adam’s whole bearing, “The baby is better?”

Adam grinned, “It’s as obvious as that?”

“Know you pretty well, now fill me in just how is my nephew?”

“You just told me Hoss.” Adam sat down and poured himself some coffee before filling his brother in in detail. Twenty minutes later he went home and reassured Carole before he settled to work.

Joe was glad of his father’s presence but as the day went on, his son seemed to settle more comfortably, Nita slowly relaxed, believing Joe’s confidence that the baby would recover. Joe was sure enough in the late afternoon to pass his son over to Nita, trusting his father to look after them both and he went to bed. He slept soundly for six hours, feeling much better for it. That more than anything reassured Nita and the baby’s fever was right down, Adam was sucking the sugar water from a bottle eagerly now.

Carole was sufficiently worried about her husband to try and persuade him to get some sleep late in the afternoon but Adam wouldn’t be budged. He still had a lot to do and he wouldn’t change his mind about going back to relieve his father that night. He knew his namesake was better but he also knew just how low you could feel in the early hours of the morning after a couple of sleepless nights. As always Carole gave in, consoling herself with her knowledge of his inbuilt strength.

Adam went over at ten p.m., during the day he’d relied on Carole to check on both houses and bring him back reports while he worked, knowing that his father would take care of Joe and his family. Now it was his turn again and his tiredness was just a nuisance, he would sleep again towards dawn and luckily he had always been able to get by on minimal sleep. Ben was thoroughly overtired, not fully fit himself and he didn’t see through Adam’s act, assuming that his son had slept earlier. The baby was fractious, which Joe insisted was a good sign, but it went straight through Ben’s head and he accepted Adam’s offer of a bed at his own house away from the cries.

Joe had a bad headache too but he was so relieved that his son had the energy to complain that he welcomed the baby’s cries. If Adam was hungry that could only be a good sign. He insisted on sending Nita over to Carole as well, she needed her sleep and he overrode her protests. Eventually Nita gave way knowing that the brothers would look after her son and she was just worrying Joe more by arguing.

Joe paced slowly up and down with his son in his arms, at least temporarily pacifying the child and as he did so he talked. He explained just how scared he had been and how he had come to realise, for the first time, what Adam had been through on the boat and them more recently with Anne. He tried to thank his brother indeed all his family for the support, without which he couldn’t have continued. Then as the baby dozed Joe sank down in a chair and accepted the coffee Adam passed him. To his surprise Adam was smiling and he looked up quizzically. Adam said “You claim to only now understand how I felt but I think you always did know. I know how heavily I lent on you Joe. With David and Carole there was only you, with Anne I had Hoss as well and the girls, but you all understood. So often it seems there’s trouble and it’s only my family who keep me sane, make it worthwhile to carry on. It's what we all thanked God for, remember at Christmas?”
Joe knew exactly what his brother meant and knew that no thanks were needed but with his son recovering in his arms, living proof of God’s mercy, he felt the need to pray and almost without thought, found himself saying the 23rd psalm so beloved of Marie. Adam put his arm round his brother and joined him in the psalm and he wasn’t surprised to find Joe’s face wet with tears. He held Joe close to him and let his brother cry it out on his shoulder, the inevitable reaction now that he was sure his son would survive. The small baby rested quietly in Joe’s arms, close between the two brothers. Half an hour later Joe was quiet, he had been for some time, just resting his aching head on his brother’s shoulder, when young Adam stirred. The baby reached out and took handfuls of hair in both hands, his father in one and his Uncle in the other. Content with what he had the young baby gurgled up at the brothers and both Adam and Joe felt a strange warmth inside. This tiny mite on the way to recovery now, would over the years be yet another tie between them, firstborn of one and both Godson and namesake of the other. Adam knew he would always have a very special relationship with this child just as Joe did with his second son. The brothers met each other’s eye as the baby stared up wide eyed at them and each recognized the peace this child had brought, a peace which banished all thoughts of tiredness.

Ben had got out of Carole just how little sleep his eldest son had had and a little after 3 a.m. he went back over to send Adam to sleep. Neither of his sons had even heard him come in and for a minute weren’t aware as he stood in the door. It was a sight that Ben was never to forget, his tiny grandson holding firmly onto two of his son, wide eyed and gurgling contentedly with both his sons totally at peace. For all the material possessions he’d gained, the thing that Ben thanked God for above all was the relationships, the deep love amongst his family and this was a visible proof that the ties between them were strengthening all the time, even with the increase in the size of the family.

Even when Adam and Joe finally noticed him they hardly moved. Joe just smiled a little more broadly, “Everything’s fine Pa.”

Slowly Adam disentangled his hair from the baby’s grasp and kissed his godson’s head, cool now, all fever gone. “I’m for bed, see you in the morning. I told you God is still with us.”

Over the next few hours the baby became increasingly fretful, the sugared water was no substitute for his mother’s milk and Adam made that very clear to everyone. Doc was out early again, Adam wasn’t the only young baby with similar symptoms and the previous day three babies had died. Doc had known Joe nearly all his life and the Cartwrights were his closest friends so he needed to check, scared disaster had struck Joe again. Ben came down to meet him, having heard the buggy, and Doc knew from his old friend’s expression that the baby was improving.

Nita and Joe were both up with the baby and Doc examined him, questioning them carefully about Adam’s behaviour. He could only confirm their opinion, the baby was on the mend but he warned them, Nita in particular, that his advice would not be popular with her son. They could put Adam back onto milk now but needed to make progress very slowly. For the next twenty four hours he wanted Nita to express milk and feed him only a very limited amount and he showed her what he meant on the bottle, and that only every four hours. Any sign of the diarrhoea returning and it was back to sugar water. He questioned her about Adam’s normal feeding habits, how long did he take and Nita bit her lip, “Maybe six or seven minutes each side.”

“Right, provided he has no reaction to the bottles today you can give him two minutes a side tomorrow and again not more than every four hours. I’m afraid he is not going to like it but he goes a little hungry now, if the diarrhoea returns we’ll have to starve him for longer. Provided he stays fine you can gradually increase the time to normal over say four days.”

Nita nodded, she trusted Doc implicitly. She had seen his work all too often since her marriage and she knew just how much the men trusted him. Doc wanted some coffee before heading back out into the cold and Joe left Nita to tend her son, going down with Doc. Doc had no intention of upsetting Nita, she had been very good but he wasn’t as sure of her strength as he was of Joe’s. Over coffee he told Joe about the deaths in town, babies older than Adam who had succumbed to the same disease. Ben moved closer to his youngest son, wondering what Doc was saying, Joe swallowed hard, “Adam is going to be okay?”

Doc smiled reassuringly “Yes Joe I am confident of that but I thought you ought to know. Over the next few days, as he gets stronger and wants more food than he’s getting, he will be very fretful. It’s all too easy to give into a crying baby but in this case you have to be cruel to be kind or you can find yourself back where we started, with the same fight to win over.” Doc didn’t add that they might not be so lucky next time but it was obvious to both father and son. Joe straightened his shoulders, Adam was better now that was all that mattered. He would keep him that way.

Doc wasn’t intending to come back to check anymore, he would leave it up to Joe and Nita to contact him if they were at all worried. He would make sure that his wife knew his whereabouts at all times. That more than anything encouraged Joe, knowing Doc would be there if he was worried. While he was out at the ranch Doc decided to go and check on Sue and then hopefully for a while he could revert to only coming out to the ranch on social occasions.

Doc was able to give Hoss encouraging reports on both his wife and his nephew but although Sue felt a lot better Doc was insistent that she remain in bed for another four days at least or the infection would just flare up again and even when she was up she was to take it very easy for the next couple of weeks. Hoss promised that he would make sure she did as she was told and then having settled her with a book, he left Kam Ling to look after Johnny while he went over to Joe’s. He wanted to see his little brother and check for himself that Joe and Nita were alright.

Hoss went into Joe’s house and as noone was around he called out. Joe yelled “Come on up Hoss.” He was pleased to see his big brother and for a moment he studied Hoss’ face, seeing signs of lack of sleep and worry, “How is Sue?”

“Better but Doc wants her to stay in bed for a few more days, not give it a chance to flare up again. She’ll be fine. How about you and Nita?”

“Adam’s going to be fine, Just need to take a few days to get him back to normal feeding.”

“I know about Adam, Doc filled me in. How about you Joe? You look exhausted.”

“It’s been a very hard couple of days. I was so scared he seemed so tiny, so frail.”

“I can imagine. I know how I’d have felt if’n it was Johnny, Only wish I could have helped.”

“You had problems of your own, anyway nothing you could have done. Pa and Adam have been around, I admit I was glad of the company but there was very little they could actually do. You know as well as I do that these things, in the end, have to be faced alone. It helps a little to have moral support especially in the early hours but...” Joe broke off, memory of those long hours close to despair clear on his face. Hoss put his arm round his little brother “Easy Joe.”

Joe rested his aching head against Hoss, glad of his strength, Hoss held him close, “I know little brother, you’ve been in hell these last few days but its all gonna be fine. Easy now.”

Joe slowly relaxed and told Hoss exactly what had been happening, finding a certain catharsis in talking. Finally Hoss persuade him to go and get some sleep and Nita backed him up. She could cope with their son and Joe looked fit to drop.

Adam had headed back to work. Now that he was sure his namesake was going to be alright the legal problem had to have his full attention. He knew that his father was going to stay at least one more day in case Joe and Nita needed him but he didn’t really expect that they would.

During the day the baby continued to be fretful but he showed no sign of recurrence of diarrhoea, Nita stuck firmly to Doc’s instructions, even though she was tempted to feed him a little more. Joe had caught up a little sleep and insisted that he would look after his son over night. Once Nita had expressed enough milk for two bottles, he wanted her to go back over to Carole’s to get a decent rest and eventually she gave way and did as her husband wanted. Joe even managed to persuade his father to go to bed, on the promise that he would call if there was anything Ben could do.

Joe had to walk the floor with his son who was becoming increasingly hungry and stronger was determined to let the world know of his dissatisfaction. As Joe walked around he talked to his son and it did seem to quieten Adam a little. Joe didn’t mind, sure now that his son would be alright, he found the night passed quite fast as he speculated about the future, telling the uncomprehending baby all about the ranch which would one day be his and of their plans for the future. Joe knew that he was very lucky, he could give his son so much and with his family around he knew that whatever happened to him, his son would be taken
care of.

Slowly over the next couple of days Adam began to recover and life got back to normal. Sue was much better and Ben was finally able to return to his own home.

Adam had been working all hours to meet the deadline on the submission for the Consolidated Virginia, but late on the Thursday he had the satisfaction of completing the work with a reasonable certainty that they would get the verdict. He packed up all his papers, ready to take them into town the following morning to deliver to the court. But for now he went out to give his wife some attention and for an hour they sat chatting before heading for bed.

Adam had promised to check over Jess’ first set of accounts and give him a hand with his taxes and he had the normal routine chores in town, so he was planning to complete his chores in town and then scrounge an evening meal with Jess. Carole knew what he was planning but at least he’d had a reasonable night’s sleep and they had had a relaxed breakfast before he headed for town. Adam kissed her goodbye and stopped by both his brothers’ houses to see if they needed anything from town. A normal routine trip which didn’t quite turn out that way.