The Great Truckee Flood (by Rona)

Summary:

Rated:  PG
Word Count:  5699


 

 

It was a year that wouldn’t soon be forgotten, Ben Cartwright mused as he stood on the porch of his house, looking out across the land he owned. The weather had been consistently unseasonal, with cold winds blowing for much of the year. But it was the rain that would ensure that year remained in everyone’s memories, for the rain had spoiled all the crops and almost caused a tragedy of mammoth proportions.

A shudder ran through Ben. There had been tragedies, and every life that had been lost was a heavy burden on Ben’s conscience. “Pa?” asked a soft voice from behind him and Ben slowly turned to see his oldest son standing there. Adam had dark circles under his eyes, but so did all the family these days. They were all exhausted and grief stalked the house.

“I’m coming,” Ben replied. Had it only been two short days ago that all this grief had started?

*****

“How’s the pasture holding out on the high country?” Ben asked, as his sons clattered into the yard, cold, wet and muddy.

“It’s bare in patches,” Adam replied, dismounting stiffly from Sport, who for a change was not dancing about all over the place. “But apart from that, it’s holding out better than we had dared to hope.”

“Is there much straying?” Ben asked, for it was a constant battle to keep the cattle where they wanted them to be, not where the beasts themselves fancied going. Ben had enough miles of fence to keep up without adding internal fencing.

“Not that we could see,” Joe replied. Like Adam, he sounded tired and the slump of his shoulders spoke volumes to Ben about how hard this day in the saddle had been on him. “We found a few, but not many.”

“That’s right, Pa,” Hoss, the middle brother, agreed. “They’re keepin’ together better’n we hoped.”

“They know there’s more weather on the way,” Adam muttered darkly.

“There’s always weather on the way,” Joe joked tiredly. “You mean there’s more bad weather on the way.”

“D’you think so?” Ben asked, anxiously. His hay crop was ruined, lying rotting in the fields, and Ben had already arranged to buy the hay they would need for the winter from the south. It was going to take a huge chunk out of the profits from the sale of the herd, assuming that they were able to keep the herd healthy and fat enough.

“Look at the clouds on the mountains,” Adam replied, gesturing to the partially obscured mountains behind them. “Those clouds are getting lower and lower. When it gets here, it’s going to be the worst one yet.”

“We’d better batten down the hatches then,” Ben commented. “You boys put your horses away. Supper’s nearly ready.” He watched with concern as his sons led their mounts into the barn. Each horse was plastered in mud to the hock and their heads hung low, a sure sign of exhaustion. A large, cold drop of rain hit Ben on the nose and he glanced at those lowering clouds once more. The storm would arrive that night.

*****

In fact, the storm broke before the boys had finished in the barn. With the horses being so muddy, there was more grooming to do, as the mud had to be cleaned properly off the horses’ legs so that they didn’t develop mud fever. Each tired horse was slowly eating a warming bran mash when the first drops of rain fell on the barn roof and within two minutes, the noise of the drumming rain was almost deafening.

“We’re gonna get wet again,” Joe grumbled as he slung a blanket over Cochise’s sleek flanks. The weather had been so cold that the horses needed the extra blanket and Joe had just noticed that the first of Cochise’s winter coat was starting to grow in and it was barely the middle of August.

“Well, I hardly think you’re going to shrink,” Adam retorted sharply.

For a moment, it looked as though there might be a quarrel brewing, but Joe realized that Adam was just as tired as he was and he forced a smile. “I hope not,” he replied. “I’m already the shortest, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

“Don’t reckon you’re gonna be grownin’ none, neither,” Hoss joked, heavily. “’Ceptin out the ways if’n you carry on eatin’ like you was this mornin’!”

Thankful for Hoss’ peacekeeping ways, Joe retorted, “And who’s the family chow-hound anyhow?”

“I dunno what you mean,” Hoss replied, looking cherubically innocent and not fooling either brother for an instant.

“No, of course not,” Adam smiled sardonically. “You are renowned for missing meals, aren’t you, Hoss?”

“Sure am,” Hoss grinned, enjoying the ribbing. He was delighted that his ploy to break up an imminent fight had worked. “Let’s git inside afore Hop Sing decides to go back ta ol’ China, even if there is a storm outside!”

After one last look around to make sure that everything was in order, they extinguished the lamp and, clutching their hats, raced through the downpour to the safety of the big house. They were still soaked through.

*****

All night the wind howled outside the snug log building. Once or twice, Ben gingerly opened the door to peer out, but there was no sign of the storm passing by. The puddles in the yard were getting bigger by the minute and Ben hoped that the roof didn’t decide to start leaking.

They sat by the fire until late, reluctant to leave its warmth for the chill upstairs. However, it had been a long, hard day and at last Joe was the first to make a move upstairs. He undressed, shivering at the sound of the wind howling outside and slid quickly under the covers. Hop Sing had put a hot water bottle in the bed, and Joe stretched his feet down to the warm stone appreciatively. As he drifted towards sleep, he heard the rest of the family come upstairs.

“Good night, Joe,” Ben said, softly, peering round the edge of Joe’s door, his face lit from below by the lamp he carried in his hand.

“G’night, Pa,” Joe replied, smiling. It was a ritual that Joe cherished and he snuggled in to sleep.

*****

Despite sleeping soundly all night, Joe woke the next morning feeling as though he hadn’t slept at all. He peered out of his window, grimacing as he saw the wind-lashed, soaking landscape. The rain was still coming down in stair rods and Joe knew that they were in for another long, wet, tiring day. He was longing to see the sun again.

“We’d better see what damage this storm has done,” Ben decided over breakfast. “It sure has lasted long enough.”

“I know,” Adam agreed, wearily. “I heard it all night.”

“Me, too,” Hoss sighed, glumly.

“Oh?” Adam commented. “I thought I heard you sawing logs for most of last night.”

“Huh!” Hoss grunted. “I bet you didn’t hear it, Shortshanks. You sleep through anythin’.”

“No, I don’t remember hearing it,” Joe agreed. “But I feel like I haven’t been asleep.”

“Are you feeling all right?” Ben asked. Although Joe was often quiet in the morning, he had been very quiet that day and he did look tired.

“I’m fine thanks, Pa,” Joe replied and found a smile to reassure his father.

“I suppose we’d better get going then,” Adam suggested, even though it was the last thing any of them wanted to do. They shrugged their way into oiled rain slickers, even though the wind would flap them around and allow rain to insinuate itself where it shouldn’t. Still, they were better than nothing and so, protected against the weather the best they could, the boys headed out to work.

*****

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Adam murmured at last. Hoss and Joe were both too shocked to speak. “Never,” he repeated, since neither of his brothers said a word.

At last, Joe shook off his lassitude. “We’ve got to tell Pa,” he whispered, stating the obvious through shock.

“Good thing the herd’s on high ground,” Hoss added, finding his voice at last. But the awe of the spectacle they were looking at was still in his voice.

“I’ll go down and have a closer look,” Adam proposed. “Hoss, you go back and tell Pa and Joe, you go to town and get Roy to alert the people who live downriver.”

“Hold on, big brother,” Joe declared, putting his hand out to snag Adam’s sleeve. “You ain’t goin’ down there alone!”

“Joe,” Adam began, but Hoss interrupted him.

“Joe’s right,” Hoss said, in no uncertain terms. “It would be plain foolish ta go down there by yourself. Look at the water, Adam!” He pointed, as though his oldest brother had somehow not seen the large lake growing where once there had been prime pastureland.

“I’ll go with Adam,” Joe suggested. “Hoss, you go back and tell Pa.”

“All right,” Hoss grumbled, not happy that either of his brothers was going to go closer. “Jist be careful, the both o’ you!” He turned Chubb and headed off for home.

“Let’s go then,” Joe urged and prodded Cochise into a careful walk. The horse picked its way delicately across the treacherous ground and Sport followed behind, kept calm by its stable mate’s steadying presence.

The new lake was about half a mile across, dammed at the downstream end by two massive pines, which had succumbed to the storm the night before. Joe and Adam rode as close as they could, then tethered the horses securely before venturing on on foot. Finally, they stood near the roots of the fallen trees and looked at what had once been a large river. Some water was still getting through, but compared to the normal volume, the Truckee River was barely more than a trickle.

“Do you think there’s any chance of these trees moving?” Joe asked.

“I don’t think it’s likely,” Adam replied. “If the force of the water was going to move them, I think it would have done so already. After all, the river is in flood because of all the rain and the trees have obviously been here for hours and hours.” Adam cast a glance at the roiling, muddy, water. “Let’s go back.”

“All right,” Joe agreed, for he was feeling uneasy, too.

As they picked their way back, Joe realized that the lake had risen slightly since they went along there. If only the rain would stop. He cast a glance at the mountains and was relieved to see that although there was still cloud above them, the mountains were no longer obscured. Hopefully, the rain would stop within the next hour or so. Joe said a short, but fervent, prayer that it would be so. They had enough problems to deal with, without more rain adding to them.

*****

Ben’s reaction was the same as his sons’ had been. He simply sat on his horse with his mouth open, unable to say a single word. When he did finally regain the powers of speech, he repeated Adam word for word. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he whispered, awestruck. “Never.”

“Impressive, huh?” Joe asked, his natural ebullience having resurfaced in the meantime.

“Very,” Ben agreed. “But it’s a sight I hoped I would never see.” Ben dragged his eyes away from the scene and looked at his sons, who were all watching him, waiting for him to decide what was best to do. Ben didn’t doubt that they all had their own opinions, and that they would air those opinions in due course. But at that moment, they waited for Ben to speak.

Marshalling his thoughts, Ben began to issue orders. “We need to send wires to the settlements downriver, to let them know what’s happened. We need to get everyone who is affected by this together so we can discuss how we’re going to proceed.”

“What do you intend to do?” Adam asked.

“We need to get rid of those trees and let the water resume its natural course,” Ben replied. “Not only do we need the grazing back, but the people downstream from us need that water. But we’re going to have to do it as carefully and gradually as we can. Otherwise, there’ll be another flood.” Ben glanced at the mountains, reassured when he saw that there were glimpses of blue sky beyond. The rain had finally stopped. “Let’s pray for some good weather, because we’re going to need it. We need to get as many men to help us as we possibly can. Adam.” Ben glanced at his oldest son. “You’re the one with engineering experience. Can you come up with a plan to let us move those trees?”

“Sure thing,” Adam replied, for he had already begun to plan that while he and Joe waited for Ben to arrive.

“All right,” Ben nodded. “You get on back to the house and start drawing those plans up. Your brothers and I will ride into town and start sending those wires.”

“See you for supper,” Adam agreed, heading back towards the house. He didn’t envy his family the ride into town, even if the rain had stopped. The roads were quagmires of viscous mud. It would be a long, tiring journey.

*****

Gazing at the throng of people in the hotel dining room, Joe admitted to himself that he hadn’t expected so many to turn up. But then, the Truckee was a major river and perhaps he shouldn’t be so surprised that a large number of people were affected.

“Good turn out,” Adam commented and Joe nodded. He was glad that it was Adam who had to present his ideas for removing the trees and not him. He was sure that Adam’s plan would work perfectly, such was his faith in his brother and his brother’s abilities, but he knew he wasn’t the right person to present them to the people who had turned up, since he was sure the plans couldn’t be improved upon and someone out there was bound to argue.

At that moment, Ben rose to speak and Joe cleared his thoughts. No use looking for trouble before it arrived.

“Gentlemen, we all know why we are here. The storm the other night brought down trees on my property that have partially dammed the Truckee River. I’ve got prime grazing land under several feet of water and your water supplies have been disrupted. I’ve called this meeting to tell you what we propose to do about the situation and to ask for your help. I’ll ask my son, Adam, to explain how we’re going to do this.”

Rising, Adam explained succinctly how the trees were lying and what he intended to do. The plan, though basically simple, had to be carried out in stages to try and avoid another flood. “However, this won’t be entirely possible,” Adam reminded his listeners. “There’s a lot of water backing up there and some flooding is going to be inevitable.”

Someone in the audience put his hand up and asked a question. Joe didn’t really listen. He knew that his part in this venture would be as labor, doing what he was told, when he was told to do it. Engineering was not something Joe was overly interested in.

Finally, the meeting was coming to a conclusion and Ben was asking who could spare men to help them. “If you can spare anyone at all, that would be wonderful,” Ben declared. “If you can’t, your prayers and good wishes are more than welcome.” He pointed to Joe. “Please give your names to my son Joseph as you leave and indicate how many men you think you can spare. Thank you for coming.”

Joe was soon busy writing down names, and by the time everyone had gone, he had a list promising about 60 people. “Is that going to be enough?” he asked Adam.

“If we’d had to use just our own men, it would have been enough,” Adam replied, seriously. “But this is better.” He nodded as he mentally began deploying people. “We start at dawn, day after tomorrow.”

*****

The work was slow and tedious, but at least the weather was now on their side and the clouds that had poured so much moisture onto Nevada finally disappeared and the sun came out. The new lake began to stink as soon as the sun hit it, and it became clear that as well as debris, there were dead creatures in it. The risk of water-borne diseases was high and everyone was taking care not to fall in. All the men they had been promised had turned up, plus a few odd surprises, one of whom was Clem Foster, Virginia City’s deputy sheriff.

“Roy can manage without me for a couple of days,” Clem assured Adam, smiling. “Crime’s been right down in this bad weather. Thieves can’t go anywhere without leaving a trail for us to follow.”

“We’re glad to have you,” Adam assured him. “You go with Joe’s team.”

Grinning at him, Joe added, “But just remember – this time I’m the boss.”

Remembering some of the run-ins he’d had with Joe’s temper, Clem simply grinned. He liked the youngest Cartwright boy and they got along very well. “Yes, sir,” he grinned in reply.

*****

By the end of the first day, Joe was tired, sore and filthy and had no idea what they had accomplished. Adam seemed to be pleased, and since Adam was in charge of the whole operation, that was good enough for Joe. The men who had come to help were being farmed out to all the neighboring ranches, and the Ponderosa had taken in about 15 or 20 extra men. This created a lot more work, but the Cartwrights didn’t grudge it. These men were helping save their livelihood.

At dawn the next day, they were out again and by noon, everyone could see they were making progress. Adam had managed to cut a sort of sluice gate in the fallen trees, and would use that to regulate the flow of water downstream, until the lake had been reduced to a manageable size.

However, the gate was not free moving, and was going to have to be pulled by two teams of men. Adam organized the group he was working with and Joe’s group into the formation he wanted and explained what he was going to do. “My team will pull on the rope, which will lift the gate,” he told them. “Joe’s team will be the counterbalance, stopping us lifting the gate too far. There will be a great deal of pressure on the gate, and we’ll need everyone to prevent the water pouring out too fast.” He looked around the men and pushed on with his explanation. It didn’t matter if they didn’t all understand how it worked as long as they did their bit. “Take up the slack on the rope. When you feel the pull from our rope, let it out a bit. Joe will guide you and I’ll guide Joe.”

As the men moved off to take their positions on the rope, Adam put a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “I’ll signal what I want, all right? Joe, if there are any problems, let me know at once, okay?”

“Okay, Adam,” Joe replied and went over to pick up the rope. His blistered palms protested, even though Joe wore his black leather gloves to protect them, but he ignored the discomfort. He fixed his eyes on Adam and they took up the slack.

It was soon clear what Adam had meant. As the gate lifted, the ropes tightened and it was simply a case of the men not allowing the rope to go slack, or to become tighter. As the first water began to pour through the gate a ragged cheer went up from the workers. The plan was working!

*****

Disaster, when it struck, came without any warning. The rope suddenly snapped at Adam’s end and his men staggered back, with the unfortunates at the back of the rope landing on their butts on the ground with some of their fellows on top of them.

But on the other end of the rope, Joe’s crew staggered forward, caught unawares by the sudden slackening of the rope. The men cannoned off one another, in exactly the opposite way to Adam’s men and Joe lost his balance and fell into the roiling water. Several of the men from behind him fell in on top of him.

There was instant pandemonium. The men on the bottom of the pile in Adam’s crew were unaware of the tragedy unfolding in front of them. The men in Joe’s crew were only too aware of what was going on, but still they hesitated. Everyone knew the risk of contaminated water. Only one person was willing to dive in – Clem Foster.

*****

Recovering quickly, Adam gazed in horror at the place where Joe had gone into the water. Heads were bobbing to the surface, but not the one that Adam so desperately wanted to see. Throwing down his rope, Adam raced over to lend a hand, and was just in time to stop his father from diving in after Joe. “No, Pa! There are enough people in the water as it is!” Turning away, Adam knelt by the edge and extended a hand to the nearest man, hauling him to safety. Others copied his actions and somebody arrived with a couple of ropes.

“There!” cried a voice and Adam recognized it as Hoss’. He followed the pointing finger and saw two dark heads break the water. Clem and Joe.

Clem swam towards the shore, towing Joe behind him. The Cartwrights crowded forward and Hoss reached down to take Joe from Clem while Adam and Ben hauled the exhausted Clem out of the water. “Somebody get a wagon over here!” Adam shouted as Ben knelt by Joe’s side.

The youngest Cartwright was unconscious, but breathing, which was a relief. He had been under the water for what seemed like hours but had been less than a minute in actuality. However, there was no disguising that Joe had been hit by someone else falling into the water on top of him, for a large bruise was already forming on his head. “Joe!” Ben whispered.

With a jolt, Adam remembered that he was still in charge and it was his responsibility to see that these men were taken care of. He beckoned to the nearest man. “Get all these men back to where they are staying,” he ordered. “Give them plenty to drink, just plain water with some sugar and salt in it. We’ll get the doctor to check on them as soon as possible. Hoss,” Adam put his hand on Hoss’ shoulder where he leant over Ben and Joe. “You take the boys back to the house in the wagon. I’ve got to stay here.”

“I’ll drive the wagon,” Ben stated. “Hoss, you get the doctor and bring him to the house. Be quick.”

“Sure thing,” Hoss agreed and hurried over to mount his horse. Willing hands moved Joe and Clem into the wagon and Ben took the reins. He and Adam exchanged one long look. “They’ll be fine,” Ben assured his son and Adam simply nodded.

He stared after the retreating wagon for a few moments before shaking himself. “All right, let’s get back to work!” he called.

*****

Periodically on the way back to the ranch, Clem would vomit up a mouthful of water. His face was ashen and there was an audible rattle in his chest. Joe lay silent and still, never moving, never making a sound. Ben was more than just anxious when they arrived home. He was frantic.

The only person in the house to help him was Hop Sing and the Chinese retainer was more than up to the challenge. However, knowing that, Ben had got a couple of men to come back with him. Ben helped Clem into the house and laid him on the settee, while Hop Sing hurried upstairs to pull back the covers on Joe’s bed. Then he gathered up the things Ben would need as the men carried Joe into the house and then showed the men out. Together, he and Ben stripped off Joe’s dirty, wet clothes and Ben roughly toweled his son dry before tucking him safely into bed. Still Joe didn’t move.

It was as Ben was washing the dirt from Joe’s face and hands that Joe finally stirred. Ben had just gingerly run the cloth over the bruise on Joe’s temple when Joe flinched and groaned.

“Joe?” Ben leant closer. “Joe, can you hear me?”

“Hurts,” Joe breathed, his eyes still shut.

“Open your eyes, son,” Ben coaxed, taking Joe’s hand and stroking his fingers. “I know it hurts, but open your eyes.”

Slowly, Joe slit his eyes open and winced. “Where am I?” he asked and began to cough. A few moments later, he vomited up some water. Luckily, Ben had been expecting it and had a basin ready.

“You’re home,” Ben told him, even though he knew Joe had worked out his location by then. “What do you remember?”

“I remember falling,” Joe whispered, his voice barely more than a croak. “Something hit me…” he winced. “Then, waking up here, a minute ago.”

“The rope snapped,” Ben told him, keeping his voice even. “Somebody fell on top of you. Clem rescued you.”

“Is everyone all right?” Joe asked. He was growing sleepy again. The throbbing in his head made concentrating difficult. His eyes dipped shut.

“Stay awake, Joe!” Ben cried. “You must stay awake.” He waited until Joe dragged his eyelids open again. “Everyone is fine,” he told his son, mentally crossing his fingers. “Adam is still down at the lake, supervising. Hoss went to get the doctor and Clem is resting downstairs.”

“Good,” Joe replied. He meant it, but he also knew he had to say something to reassure Ben that he was still awake. He blinked, fighting off the waves of sleep that threatened to overwhelm him.

So it was with great relief that Ben saw Doctor Paul Martin being ushered into the room at last. “Paul!” He hadn’t meant his greeting to come out sounding so relieved, but Paul said nothing, merely smiled before bending over his patient.

“Hello, Joe,” he said, cheerfully. “What’s this I hear you’ve been doing? Trying to drink that lake dry, huh? Tough job, even for a Cartwright, you know.”

“Huh,” Joe responded, somewhere between a laugh and a grunt. He submitted quietly to being examined, mostly because he didn’t have the energy to protest.

“Well, a mild concussion,” Paul declared, straightening up. “Has he been sick?”

“Some water,” Ben replied, still eyeing Joe.

“I would expect that,” Paul nodded. “His lungs are clear enough, so he didn’t inhale that much water. Keep an eye on him. Expect some more vomiting, but I don’t think it should be too bad. He’s got a hard head, as I’m sure you already know. But if you’re at all worried, send for me. I’ll be back out tomorrow.” Paul didn’t mention his biggest concern, since Ben had enough to worry about. There had been outbreaks of various diseases caused by the amount of flooding there had been recently, but Paul didn’t want Ben worrying any further. “I’ll go and check on the others. I think you could safely let Joe sleep for a while, but waken him in a couple of hours, just to be sure.”

“Thank you,” Ben said, fervently as Joe’s eyes dipped shut once more.

Smiling, Paul let himself out, hoping that he would not find anything amiss on the morrow.

*****

Unfortunately, Paul’s hopes were unfounded. Two of the men who had fallen in on top of Joe had died when he got to them and he assumed the causes were drowning. He knew that sometimes people who were thought to be all right could still die within 24 hours, and although he had no scientific proof, Paul believed these deaths were also related to drowning.

When he returned the next day to hear that Adam’s idea had worked and the lake had been drained by almost half, he found that both Joe and Clem were dangerously ill and it looked horribly like cholera to him.

At once, Paul ordered water to be boiled and gave Hop Sing medicinal salts to be added to the water along with sugar. He was sure that this remedy – the only one available – would soon set them back on their feet, but he cursed himself for not leaving the instructions the night before. A few hours could make all the difference to the course of the disease.

“Joe’s been vomiting off and on,” Ben reported, tiredly. “But I thought it was due to the concussion until the diarrhea started. I’ve just given him fluids all this time, Paul so surely that will help?”

“I’m sure it will,” Paul replied, bracingly. He looked closely at Ben. “Have you slept?” he asked accusingly.

“No,” Ben admitted. “But Adam and Hoss were so tired and Joe needed someone with him…”

“You go and get some sleep right now!” Paul ordered. “I’ll sit with Joe.” He all but pushed Ben from the room, but when he went to check on him a few minutes later, Ben was sound asleep.

But that didn’t help Paul much. Joe was very sick and there wasn’t anything much Paul could do for him. He forced as much sugar water into Joe as he could and prayed. It was at times like this that Paul thought that medicine was still in the Stone Age. Sometimes, there were great leaps forward, but at other times, he felt completely helpless.

*****

It was a year that wouldn’t soon be forgotten, Ben Cartwright mused as he stood on the porch of his house, looking out across the land he owned. The weather had been consistently unseasonal, with cold winds blowing for much of the year. But it was the rain that would ensure that year remained in everyone’s memories, for the rain had spoiled all the crops and almost caused a tragedy of mammoth proportions.

A shudder ran through Ben. There had been tragedies, and every life that had been lost was a heavy burden on Ben’s conscience. “Pa?” asked a soft voice from behind him and Ben slowly turned to see his oldest son standing there. Adam had dark circles under his eyes, but so did all the family these days. They were all exhausted and grief stalked the house.

“I’m coming,” Ben replied. Had it only been two short days ago that all this grief had started? He had just needed a breather, a few minutes away from the stench of the sickroom. He felt guilty about this need, but he hadn’t been able to stay a moment longer.

Silently, he walked into the house with Adam. His son had done wonders over the last few days and the lake had now gone, the trees were being cut up and the crisis was over. That crisis was over, Ben corrected himself. Their personal crisis was still on-going. He wearily mounted the stairs, dreading what he would find there.

Opening the door, Ben thought that Joe’s room didn’t seem as noisome as it had. The window was slightly open, letting in the sweet evening air and the soiled bedding was gone. But that was all that had changed, Ben thought, bitterly. Hoss still sat by the window, gazing blindly outwards. Paul Martin was where he had been for the last 24 hours, crouched by Joe’s bed and Adam took up his post, leaning against the wall where he could see Joe, but wasn’t in the way. Sighing, Ben went over to the bed, dreading what he would see.

And what he did see came as a complete shock. When he had gone downstairs, Joe had been delirious, a thin, frail, shadow of his former self; a man about to die. That was why Ben had had to leave the room. He couldn’t bear the thought of seeing his son die.

“Hi.” The word was so soft as to be almost inaudible, but to Ben, there could be no sweeter sound.

“Joe,” he breathed, unable to believe his eyes. Joe’s eyes were open and although there was still a bit of hectic color in his cheeks, it was now fading back, leaving Joe’s skin paler than usual, but with the underlying golden glow slowly returning.

“He reached the crisis just after you left,” Paul explained. “And now look at him. Ben, I think I can safely say that your son is going to be just fine.”

“Thank you,” Ben replied, his eyes shining. He sat down by the bed, in the chair he had vacated such a short time before and took Joe’s hand.

“Nothing to do with me,” Paul replied, deprecatingly. “Joe’s constitution and all the prayers did the job.” He glanced at Adam and Hoss. “Someone point me towards a bed?”

“Of course,” Adam replied. He smiled down at Joe, who smiled back. “Good to see you back, brother.”

“The lake…?” Joe questioned. He was getting tired now, but he had to know. “Clem?”

“The lake is gone,” Adam replied, grinning broadly.

“And Clem is going to be just fine!” Paul added. “Come on, Adam, show me a bed?”

Laughing, Adam led Paul out and Joe looked back at his father. “Sorry to give you such a fright,” he whispered. His throat was raw from all the vomiting.

“As long as you’re all right now, that’s all that matters to me,” Ben told him.

*****

Joe was soon back on his feet and life went on as usual. But those who had lived through it wouldn’t soon forget the Great Truckee Flood. It impacted on life for many years afterwards, in many different ways. Many of the ranches struggled because of the damage done by the floodwaters, including the Ponderosa, but for Ben only one thing mattered.

All his sons had come through safely.

***End***

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