Synopsis: The Dutchman mine had long been boarded over, but finding some of their cattle within is only the beginning of their troubles.
Word Count: 5,200
The Dead Hole
The bawling of the cattle echoed with an eerie sound. As Joe Cartwright stopped his horse, he frowned; he couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from. “Adam,” he shouted, wiping the sweat from his face with his shirtsleeve. It was only mid-morning, but already the day was warm. “Adam!” he shouted again.
“What is it?” asked Adam Cartwright as he rode up to his brother.
“Listen,” said Joe.
Hearing to the strange bellow of the cattle, Adam frowned also. Suddenly, his face cleared and Adam smiled. “I bet I know where they are. They’re in the old Dutchman’s mine.”
Joe looked puzzled. “The old Dutchman’s mine? What’s that?”
“About 15 years ago, a Dutchman named Van Meter had a mine here,” Adam explained, “He was a real secretive sort. He worked the mine alone and never let anyone get to close to it. He even hid the entrance over behind those bushes at the base of the mountain. The cattle must have wandered in there to get out of the sun and couldn’t find their way out.”
“How come I never knew about this mine?” Joe asked. “I thought Hoss and I explored every inch of the Ponderosa when we were kids.”
Adam chuckled. “That’s exactly why you don’t know about it. You were only seven or eight when Pa bought this land from Van Meter. We had enough trouble keeping track of you and Hoss back then, without giving you an abandoned mine to explore. Pa boarded up the entrance and made me promise not to tell you two about it. Eventually, I guess we both forgot about the mine. We haven’t run cattle up here in quite awhile.”
Joe shrugged. “Well, I know about it now. We’d better go get those steers.”
After the two men dismounted and tied their horses to a nearby tree, Adam walked toward the base of the mountain with Joe close at his heels. Adam pushed aside some bushes and scrub brush, showing his brother the entrance to the mine. Splintered boards littered the ground near the opening.
“I guess the boards rotted over the years. The cattle must have knocked them down trying to get into the mine,” said Adam as the two stood at the entrance.
“Did the Dutchman ever find anything?” asked Joe curiously as he peered into the darkness of the mine.
“Just enough for bacon and beans,” answered Adam. “He must have worked this mine for two or three years. It goes way back into the mountain. He always thought he would find a big vein, but never did. It’s a dead hole. Finally, he gave up. Pa bought the land from him, even though we didn’t need it at the time. You know Pa — always thinking ahead.”
The bawling of the cattle echoed again from the inside of the cave, reminding the men of their task. Adam saw several used candles of various lengths on the ground, next to a rusty candleholder with a tin half-shell backing. He put one candle in the holder and stuck two more in his shirt pocket. “Here,” he said, handing three candles to Joe. “This should give us enough light.”
Stuffing two candles in his shirt pocket, Joe held the largest candle in his left hand. Adam reached back into his shirt pocket and pulled out a match. After striking the match on a rock, he lit his brother’s candle, and then the candle in the holder. “Let’s go,” he said, picking up the lantern.
The two men held their lights high as they ventured into the mine. They traveled only about thirty feet before they saw three steers huddled together. The cattle continued to bawl their unhappiness.
“Why don’t you herd these three out?” suggested Adam. “I want to check further into the mine to see if there are any more steers.” Joe nodded as his older brother squeezed past the cattle.
Adam didn’t really expect to find more steers; the truth was, he was curious about the mine. Although he didn’t like to admit it, Adam enjoyed exploring the Ponderosa as much as his brothers.
After walking for several minutes, Adam decided there was nothing of interest in the mine. He was just about to turn back when he heard a rumble behind him. With a sinking feeling coming over him, he ran toward the entrance of the mine.
As he approached the entrance, a cloud of dust engulfed Adam. Coughing, he waved his hands to try to clear the air. The rush of air and dust blew out the candle, plunging Adam into darkness. Still choking a bit on the dust, he reached into his pocket, found a match and re-lit the candle. He rubbed the dirt from his eyes and held the lantern high.
The entrance to the mine was blocked by a solid wall of rocks and debris. Joe was sprawled on his back on the ground, a few feet from the wall, covered with in dust and half-buried under rubble from the cave-in.
“Joe!” Adam shouted as he rushed to his brother. He put the candleholder on the ground and frantically began to pull the rocks away; he saw Joe’s right hand pinned under a large piece of a supporting beam. As Adam pushed the chunk of wood aside, he noted Joe’s hand was bleeding profusely. Deciding a bleeding hand was the least of Joe’s problems, Adam ignored the injury as he continued to brush the fragments of rock from his brother’s body. When he had removed almost all of the debris, Adam knelt near Joe’s head.
“Joe,” said Adam quietly as he lightly slapped his brother’s face. There was no response. Adam placed his fingers on Joe’s neck and was relieved to feel a strong pulse. “Joe!” he repeated in a louder voice as he again tapped his brother’s cheek. There was still no response.
Reaching back for the light, Adam brought it closer to Joe’s head. Dirt and grime covered Joe’s face. A red mark on Joe’s forehead, slightly above his left eye, was turning into an ugly bruise. Blood oozed from a small cut on his brother’s right cheek and from another cut on the left side of his chin. Adam moved the light downward, and saw Joe’s shirt was torn in several places. He also could see several cuts and rapidly forming bruises on Joe’s shoulders and chest.
Slowly, Adam ran his hands over Joe’s arms and legs, feeling for broken bones. He was relieved the limbs felt intact. He ran his hands over Joe’s collarbone and ribs, then stopped and frowned as his hands felt the right ribcage. Joe had some broken ribs; Adam wasn’t sure how many, but he could feel at least two or three breaks.
Sitting back on his heels, Adam tried to think. He had to help Joe, even if there wasn’t much he could do. He tore the left sleeve from his shirt and lifted Joe’s injured hand toward him. A diagonal cut ran across the hand, from the wrist to the fingers. The cut was still bleeding, and Adam could feel some bones moving in the hand, indicating it was probably broken. Adam wrapped the cloth tightly around Joe’s hand and wrist, hoping the bandage would stop the bleeding. He tore the other sleeve from his shirt and used the cloth to wipe the dirt and blood from his brother’s face and from the other cuts. Then Adam took off his hat and put it under Joe’s head as a pillow. He unbuckled his brother’s holster and gently slid it off. Once more, Adam sat back on his heels and tried to think of something else he could do to make Joe comfortable. Realizing that he had done all he could for his brother, Adam threw the cloth to the ground in frustration.
With a grim expression on his face, Adam picked up the lantern and walked to the blocked entrance. He studied the wall of rocks for several minutes, hoping to spot a way out. After unbuckling his own holster and placing it on the ground, Adam climbed the rocks until he was near the top. Placing the light carefully next to him, he started tugging at the stones in the barrier.
For the next several minutes, Adam worked steadily, removing a few rocks and tossing them aside. He kept glancing at Joe, hoping his brother would show some sign of waking up. He wasn’t sure how long he had been working when he heard a soft groan. Adam grabbed the lantern and jumped to the ground.
Moaning softly, Joe slowly moved his head from side to side.
“Joe, can you hear me?” asked Adam anxiously as he knelt by his brother.
Joe didn’t answer. He merely turned his head and slowly moved his arms and legs. Adam kept repeating his question until Joe finally opened his eyes.
“Take it easy, Joe,” said Adam. “You got knocked around some, but you’re going to be all right.”
Joe looked up at Adam, blinking his eyes as if to focus better. “What happened?” he finally asked in a shaky voice.
“I don’t know, exactly,” admitted Adam. “I was back in the mine. I heard a noise and came back here to find the roof had caved in.”
Closing his eyes, Joe frowned a bit then nodded his head. “I remember now,” he said. “That stupid steer hooked one of the side beams with his horn. He started to pull and the beam came loose. I tried to run back into the mine. I guess I didn’t quite make it.” Joe turned his head and looked at the entrance. “Are we trapped?” he asked.
“Yeah, we’re trapped, at least for now,” admitted Adam. “I’m trying to dig us out, but it’s pretty slow going.”
“I’ll help,” offered Joe. He started to sit up, then cried out in pain. Quickly, he fell back on the ground, gasping for breath.
“You lay still,” Adam ordered. “You got a couple of busted ribs. I don’t want you hurting yourself even worse.”
Nodding, Joe closed his eyes. Adam watched his brother with concern for a few minutes, wondering what he should do. Abruptly, he grabbed the light and turned back to the wall of debris. He climbed back to his perch and starting pulling rocks again.
As he continued to dig into the debris, Adam tried to keep an eye on Joe. Joe seemed to be drifting in and out of sleep, or at least Adam hoped he was. He could tell his brother was feeling a lot of pain when awake. The ragged breathing and soft grunts told Adam when Joe was awake.
Adam had dug about two feet into the debris when the candle started to burn out. He pulled another from his shirt pocket and replaced the candle in the holder. He felt like he was making some progress when he suddenly reached a huge slab that blocked his way. Adam knew he couldn’t move the slab. He pounded his fist in frustration against the rock.
Climbing down from his perch, Adam walked over to check his brother. Joe was sleeping, his breathing shallow and raspy. Spotting the candles from Joe’s pocket scattered on the ground, Adam scooped them up and put them in his pocket. He knew he would need them.
Once more, Adam climbed the wall of rocks. He moved to the left, choosing a new section on which to work, and began pulling stone and debris from the wall again.
Adam worked mechanically, trying not to give in to the despair and frustration he felt. His arms and shoulders ached; his hands were getting sore. Periodically, he checked on Joe. He also kept putting new candles in the holder as the old ones burned down. He had no idea how much time had passed since the cave-in. He only knew he was making little progress in digging them out.
As he placed the last candle in the holder, Adam rested. He was rubbing his sore hands when he heard a cry from behind him.
“Adam? Adam, where are you?” Joe yelled.
Adam rushed to his brother’s side. “I’m right here, Joe, ” he said as he put his hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“I couldn’t see you in the dark,” explained Joe. “I thought….I thought you were gone.” Joe grimaced with pain.
“There’s no place for me to go,” Adam told his brother. “Besides, you don’t think I’d go away and leave you here, do you?”
“I guess not,” answered Joe. “My head’s kind of fuzzy. I guess I wasn’t thinking too clear.”
Seeing rivulets of sweat on Joe’s face, Adam put his hand on his brother’s forehead and was alarmed at how hot Joe felt. He picked up the cloth he had dropped earlier and gently began wiping the sweat from Joe’s face.
“Are you making any headway?” Joe asked.
“No, not really,” Adam admitted. “But Pa and Hoss must have missed us by now. They’ll come looking for us, see the horses and the blocked mine, and figure out what happened. They’ll have every hand on the Ponderosa digging us out.”
“Do you really think so?” Joe asked in a shaky voice. He grimaced again as he felt some pain.
“Sure,” Adam replied with a confidence he didn’t feel. “We have plenty of air. All we have to do is wait. Pa and Hoss will get us out soon.” He tried to hide his concern that Joe’s condition was growing worse. “Your ribs hurting?” he asked.
Joe nodded. “Some. My hand really hurts, too.”
Gently, Adam picked up Joe’s bandaged hand. The bleeding had stopped; he could see the dried blood on the cloth and on Joe’s fingers. He also could see the hand was badly swollen.
“I wish I had some water to wash out these cuts,” Adam said.
A wry grin appeared on Joe’s face. “If we had some water, I wouldn’t waste it on those cuts,” Joe replied.
Adam tried not to think of his own dry and dusty mouth. “Thirsty?” he asked.
Joe nodded. “I would give anything for a cold beer about now.”
“It won’t be too much longer,” Adam declared, wishing he knew it was true. “All we have to do is wait.”
Joe closed his eyes. “I wish that Dutchman had left a backdoor to this place,” he muttered.
Adam stared at his brother for several minutes. “That’s it!” he shouted. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before.”
“What’s it?” asked Joe curiously.
“A backdoor,” replied Adam. “Van Meter worked this mine alone. He must have known if something happened, no one would ever look for him. He must have built some type of escape hole into the mine.”
“Do you really think so?” Joe asked hopefully.
“Well, I don’t know for sure,” admitted Adam. “But Van Meter was no fool. It’s a pretty good bet he left himself another way out.” Adam looked at the candleholder on the ground next to him. “If I’m going to look, I’ll have to go now. This is the last candle.”
A flicker of anxiety crossed Joe’s face, and Adam chewed on his lip thoughtfully. If he went looking for an escape hole by himself, Adam would have to leave Joe in the dark, hurt and alone. He watched Joe for a few moments, then made a decision.
“If I help you, do you think you can walk?” Adam asked gently.
Relief and determination mingled on Joe’s face. “I can walk,” he answered grimly.
Slowly, Adam helped his brother to his feet, trying not to be upset by the soft groans his efforts caused. As Joe put his left arm over his shoulders, Adam picked up the lantern and looked Joe. “Let’s go,” he said.
The two men walked slowly and awkwardly into the mine. Adam held the light high, searching the walls and the ceiling as they walked. He could hear Joe’s labored breathing and could feel his brother leaning heavily on him. He tried to concentrate on his search as the two men traveled deeper and deeper into the mine.
Despite their slow progress, Adam almost missed it. He almost missed the four small, dim spots of lights on the ground. A smile briefly crossed his face as he lowered Joe into a sitting position against the wall on his right, then turned to examine the other wall.
Adam saw a hole in the wall, slightly above his head. Gripping the edges, he pulled himself up so he could look in. Adam could see a narrow tunnel sloping upwards, just wide enough for a man. He could also see some slits of light at the top. He walked back to Joe, who was watching him through half-opened eyes.
“We found it!” said Adam excitedly. “It’s an escape tunnel. It’s pretty narrow and steep, but I can see some hand-holds carved into the sides. I can also see some light at the top.” Adam hesitated and looked at his brother. Joe’s eyes were heavy with fatigue and fever. His face was covered with sweat, and even in the dim light, his skin looked ashen. His brother’s breathing was labored, coming in short, uneven pants. “Joe…” Adam started.
“Adam,” interrupted Joe. “We both know I can’t make that climb. And you can’t carry me. You’ll have to go without me.”
Kneeling, Adam placed his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “Joe, I hate to leave you here,” he stated almost sadly. “I told you I’d stay with you.”
“You have to go. You have no choice,” Joe replied in a weak voice. He coughed and winced in pain. “Get going. You’re wasting time.”
Adam stared at Joe, thinking hard. His choices were pretty limited. He could stay with Joe and wait for a rescue party, or he could go for help. There were no other alternatives. Sighing, Adam gently squeezed his brother’s shoulder. “I’ll be back with help as quick as I can,” he promised. Joe nodded and closed his eyes.
Hoping it would give his brother some comfort while it lasted. Adam placed the lantern near Joe. He walked to the other wall, then glanced back at Joe with concern. With a grim look on his face, Adam placed his hands on the edge of the hole and pulled himself into the escape tunnel.
Feeling for hand-holds in the dark tunnel, Adam climbed slowly. His body ached and his hands were sore from digging, but he continued to climb. He didn’t want to stop and rest. He kept thinking about Joe below and how his brother needed him to bring help quickly.
Adam felt as if he were climbing to the moon, even though he knew it was only a 20 or 30 foot tunnel; he didn’t think he would ever get to the top. Finally, his reaching hand bumped against a wooden cover. The wood was old and splintered, with slats that gapped. Adam pushed it up and to the side. Grasping the rim of the opening, he pulled himself out of the tunnel.
The bright sun blinded Adam as he laid on the ground near the hole; he breathing hard, sucking air into his lungs. He couldn’t remember when he had been so tired. Gradually, his eyes adjusted to the light and his breathing returned to normal. After pushing himself up into a sitting position, Adam pulled some of the weeds away from the opening. He hoped this would let more light through the tunnel and into the mine below.
“Joe, I made it!” Adam yelled into the tunnel. He listened for a few seconds but could not hear a response. “I’ll be back soon with help,” he continued.
Wearily, Adam stood and tried to get his bearings. He could tell by the sun that it was late afternoon, meaning he and Joe had been trapped in the mine about eight hours. He also knew they left the horses somewhere to the west. Adam started walking toward the sun.
Using the sun as his guide, Adam began to weave through the brush and around trees. He was tired and thirsty, but a sense of urgency kept him going. A picture of Joe, alone in the dark mine, kept flashing through his head. He knew he wasn’t walking in a straight line, but he also knew he was still heading west, getting closer to the horses and to help.
Adam was almost to the top of a hill when he staggered and fell to his knees. He forced himself on to his feet, telling himself that he couldn’t stop now. He reached the crest of the hill and looked down. He could see his horse and Joe’s horse below, still tied to a tree. But, more importantly, a wagon was parked near them, and several men were scurrying about. Adam could see his father, Ben Cartwright, standing next to the wagon, gesturing and giving orders.
Cupping his hands around his mouth, Adam tried to yell, but only a croaking noise came from his tired and dried throat. He started running down the hill, waving his arms, stumbling and righting himself several times. Finally, Ben looked up and saw Adam rushing toward him.
“Hoss, it’s Adam!” Ben shouted as he ran toward his oldest son. Ben’s middle son, Hoss, was working near the entrance to the mine. He dropped the tools in his hand and ran after his father.
Adam was half-way down the hill when his legs finally gave out and he fell to the ground. Ben hurried to his son, clutching him tightly as he helped Adam sit up. He looked at Adam’s torn shirt and the dirt that covered his son’s face and arms. “Adam, are you all right?” Ben asked anxiously as he put his hand on his son’s back.
Adam nodded wearily, too tired to talk.
“Get me some water!” yelled Ben over his shoulder. Two men who had been watching from a few feet away turned and ran toward the wagon.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” asked Ben once more. Adam nodded again. “What happened? Where’s Joe?” continued Ben.
Before Adam could answer, someone thrust a canteen into his hands. Adam uncorked the top and drank greedily. He splashed some water into his face, then looked at his father. “We were herding some steers out of the mine when the roof caved in,” explained Adam in a raspy voice. “I tried to dig us out but couldn’t do it. Finally, we found an escape tunnel back in the mine.”
“What about Joe?” pressed Ben.
“He was hurt pretty bad in the cave-in. He couldn’t get up the escape tunnel and I couldn’t carry him. I had to leave him behind and go for help,” admitted Adam, shaking his head.
“You mean you left Joe hurt and alone in there?” demanded Hoss.
“I didn’t want to,” answered Adam angrily. “I had no choice. It was the only way to get some help.”
“Don’t worry about that now,” said Ben soothingly. “The important thing is to get Joe out of there. Do you think you can show us where that tunnel is?”
“I can show you,” agreed Adam, trying to keep the fatigue out of his voice. “We’ll need men and ropes, and that wagon.”
As Adam rested and sipped water from the canteen, Ben organized the rescue party. Ropes and equipment were thrown into the wagon; horses were rounded up and men mounted. Ben walked a horse over to Adam and helped his son up into the saddle while Hoss climbed into the driver’s seat of the wagon.
“Let’s go,” shouted Adam as he turned his horse to ride back up the hill. The rest of the men followed while Hoss rode a parallel trail on the more even ground below. The distance that Adam had felt took forever to walk was covered in less than twenty minutes.
When the rescue party reached the entrance to the escape tunnel, Adam dismounted quickly and ran to the opening. He knelt by the rim of the hole, and Ben joined him. Both men called Joe’s name down into the tunnel, but silence was their only answer.
“Can you see Joe?” asked Hoss as he approached the other two men. A strong rope was looped over his shoulder.
Ben shook his head. “I can’t see him or hear him. I’ll have to go down and get him.”
“Let me go, Pa,” pleaded Adam. He saw the frown forming on his father’s face. “It’s important I go. I had to leave Joe in there. I want him to know I came back for him.”
Ben hesitated. He could see the fatigue and strain on Adam’s face.
“Please let me go, Pa,” Adam repeated. His face had almost a desperate look on it.
“All right,” agreed Ben reluctantly. He tied the rope around Adam’s waist. “We’ll let you down slow, and have a lantern and canteen ready to send down behind you.”
Moving carefully, Adam backed into the hole as Ben, Hoss and two other men let out the rope. It only took a few minutes for Adam to reach the end of the tunnel. He tugged on the rope, felt it slacken, and jumped into the mine.
The mine was dimly lit from the sunlight coming down the tunnel. Adam could see Joe slumped to the ground, in the same spot where he left his younger brother. Quickly untying the rope around him, Adam yelled back to men above him. “Send down the lantern and canteen.” A few seconds later, a sack came sliding down the narrow passageway to the mine below.
Quickly, Adam opened the sack and pulled out a battered lantern and a canteen. He lit the lantern, picked up the canteen and rushed to his brother.
Adam lifted Joe the ground, resting his brother’s back his knee and head against his arm. Joe’s breathing was rapid and his eyes were closed; beads of sweat had streaked thin lines through the dirt and dust on his face. Adam trickled some water on Joe’s face and across his mouth. Groaning softly, Joe turned his head a bit. Adam gently turned his brother’s face toward him and slowly trickled water into Joe’s mouth. He could see Joe’s jaw moving as his brother swallowed the tepid liquid, and increased the flow a bit. After a few minutes, Adam lowered the canteen and waited.
After squeezing his eyelids together a few times in response to pain, Joe’s eyes finally flickered open. “Adam,” he said softly. “You’re back.”
“Yeah, I came back, just like I promised,” answered Adam. “Everything’s going to be all right. Pa and Hoss and a bunch of the ranch hands are at the top of the tunnel, just waiting to haul you out of here.”
“I knew you wouldn’t leave me here,” Joe continued, almost as if he hadn’t heard Adam. “I knew you wouldn’t leave me.”’
It was night by the time the wagon reached the Ponderosa ranch house. Ben was in the back of the wagon, cradling Joe in his arms. Adam was slumped in the driver’s seat next to Hoss, who guided the team. Ben had sent one of the hands ahead to get Dr. Martin, and the doctor was waiting in the yard as the wagon pulled in.
Dr. Martin examined Joe in the wagon, then ordered the men to carry Joe carefully to bed. He took a quick look at the exhaustion on Adam’s face and ordered him to bed, too. Adam protested mildly, but the truth was, he was too tired to argue. He dragged himself into the house, up the stairs, and into his room. Tearing off what remained of his shirt, Adam fell into bed. He was asleep in less than a minute.
Adam wasn’t sure how long he slept. He could tell by the quiet of the house that it was well after midnight when he woke up. Someone had washed his face and upper body, then covered him with a blanket. Adam didn’t remember it happening.
Slowly getting out of bed, his sore muscles aching as he moved, Adam walked to the wash basin and splashed some water in his face. He pulled a clean shirt out of a drawer and put it on as he left the room.
Walking down the hall slowly, Adam stopped in front of Joe’s room and quietly opened the door. He could see his brother lying in the bed, apparently asleep. Ben sat in a chair next to the bed, watching over his youngest son.
“How is he?” asked Adam softly as he entered the room.
Ben looked up. “What are you doing out of bed? You should be resting.”
Adam dismissed his father’s statement with a wave of his hand. “I’m fine. How’s Joe?” he asked.
“He’s pretty battered and bruised,” replied Ben. “But the doc says he’s going to be all right.”
Nearing the bed, Adam stared at the figure lying on the mattress. Joe was covered by blankets; his right hand was heavily bandaged and rested on his chest. His skin still had a pale, waxy look, with the dark marks of cuts and bruises visible on his face and shoulders. Adam looked at his father. “How bad is he hurt?”
“He’s got four broken ribs, a broken hand, and some pretty nasty cuts and bruises,” answered Ben. “Nothing that won’t heal with some time. He’s still got a fever but the doctor said that should disappear in a day or so.” Ben could see the concern that still lingered on Adam’s face. “The doc gave him a something to make him sleep. He’s going to be fine. Now, why don’t you go get some rest?”
Sighing, Adam turned to leave, then stopped and looked back at his father. “You know I didn’t want to leave him in that mine. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. You know that, don’t you?” said Adam.
Ben nodded. “I know it. Joe and Hoss know it, too. You didn’t have any choice. There’s no telling how long it would have taken us to dig you boys out. Some of Joe’s cuts were infected. It took the doctor quite awhile to clean them out. If you hadn’t gone for help when you did, Joe would be in a lot worse shape than he is right now.”
Adam looked doubtful. “I guess you’re right. I just feel bad about leaving him down there.”
“You did the right thing, Adam,” Ben assured his son. “Sometimes you just have to use your best judgment. It’s not always easy to make the right decision. But, in this case, you did.”
A small smile appeared on Adam’s face. “Thanks,” he said. “I think I can sleep now.”
Ben watched Adam as he left the room. Then he turned and looked at Joe, who was sleeping peacefully. Sitting back in the chair, Ben said a silent prayer of thanks. He knew he could have lost both of his sons in that mine if Adam hadn’t found the escape tunnel and had the courage to leave his brother to go for help. Ben knew he was a lucky man – lucky to have three fine sons, and lucky to have two of them home safely.