Spring, 1845 - Sunday Night
It was late spring on the Ponderosa. Little Joe Cartwright had just turned three years old.
Ben Cartwright and his older sons and had finally finished a new larger bed room for Little Joe. New lace curtains were hung on the windows and a bright coverlet placed on the bed. Marie carefully placed her child’s clothing in the dresser and arranged the toys neatly on the shelf.
Little Joe would take his nap in his own new bed but rebelled against sleeping there at night. The child insisted on sleeping in his crib in his tiny old room or climbing into his parent’s bed or bunking with one of his older brothers. Finally, that very morning, following their father's orders, Adam and Hoss had dismantled the iron crib and stored it in the attic.
That evening, at the supper table, Ben insisted that no matter what, the boy was to be sleeping in his own room.
“But, Pa,” Hoss had argued. “I don’t mind Little Joe sleeping with me, long as he don’t wet the bed.”
Little Joe, sitting beside his mother nodded. He loved sleeping with Hoss or Adam. It was cozy and fun and they made sure no monsters or wild animals gobbled him up.
Ben shook his head. “We start tomorrow. If we want Joseph to let us sleep in peace, the boy has to stay in his own bed all night for a full week. After that, we can bend a bit. But until Little Joe does this, he will never let us rest. I don't want to be kept awake by Little Joe twenty years from now.”
Adam snickered imagining his baby brother as a man and Pa still being kept awake by him. That was unlikely.
Little Joe's hazel eyes were wide. He stopped slurping his soup. The boy really didn't follow what was going on but he knew the discussion was about him and Adam was laughing. It must be about how he was playing with his soup.
"A full week?" Hoss asked. He noticed that Little Joe had stopped eating his soup and wondered if his little brother had finished. Hoss paused wondering if he should ask Mama to give him his brother's half-finished bowl.
"A full week," Ben said firmly. "Seven days in a row.” He held up both large calloused hands. One hand was spread wide, showing five fingers, the other with only two fingers raised.
"Seven days in a row," Adam echoed his father's decision and also held up his two man sized hands showing seven fingers.
"Yes sir. Seven days," Hoss nodded also holding up seven fingers. Hoss and Adam knew there was no arguing with Pa when he used that tone.
Little Joe tried to imitate his Papa and brothers. He held up his two tiny hands but only showed two fingers on each. He couldn't really count. Little Joe also really didn't know he was not supposed to argue with Papa.
“Boys eat your soup,” Marie Cartwright ordered. She had serious doubts about her husband’s plan. Little Joe was just a baby.
Adam, at fifteen, felt absolutely sure that Little Joe was getting terribly spoiled. He had told his step mother his wise opinion just that very day. He told Marie that neither he nor Hoss were pampered like this child and it was only going to bring horrific trouble on all of them for decades to come if she continued raising his baby brother is such a foolish, frivolous way. He was positive Marie should follow his advice as he was a man and his father's eldest son.
Marie Cartwright was not so sure her husband was right but she did not voice her ambivalence in front of the children. Benjamin was a good man, and had already raised two boys on his own. She had never raised a child. That afternoon as she was preparing dinner, her eldest step son had come to her and expressed his concern for the Little Joe. In his well rehearsed speech, Adam jealously claimed she was going to unhinge poor Little Joe and doom the child forever to become vapid vagrant or a cutthroat scallywag or even worse, a sissy. His parents had given the tall boy a dictionary for his birthday and he had made excellent use of it.
"You and Pa even gave my brother a foolish middle name. Francis. What kind of a name is that for a man? Joseph Francis Cartwright? I don't have but two names, just Adam Cartwright. And Hoss. He only has three because he got a nickname. Hoss."
"I know, my darling. Eric Cartwright is his given name,” Marie said as she calmly stirred the soup.
"What kind of a man's name is Francis?” Adam persisted. He handed Marie the salt shaker. She put it down on the table, unused, with a loud clunk.
"There is enough salt in the soup, Adam. Francis was the name of my late father. Joseph was your father's father, your grandfather. Joseph Francis Cartwright,” Marie responded calmly as she added some pepper to the soup. “There is enough salt in the soup. Your father likes lots of pepper in this dish.”
Adam turned bright red and squirmed awkwardly. "But you know Little Joe is a Cartwright and my father wants all of his sons to... to...” He stumbled over his tongue. He hadn't rehearsed this part of the debate.
Marie fought to retain her serious demeanor at Adam's preposterous speech. "Your father wants all three of his sons to love each other. I know you all do and will always take care of each other and honor your father's wishes." Marie couldn't resist kissing the boy's pink cheek. "You are a fine son and a wonderful older brother to both Hoss and Little Joe, Adam. To both little ones, though Hoss is not so little anymore."
Marie had cordially told the lad that she would sincerely consider his concerns but when Adam left the kitchen to do his evening chores, Marie Cartwright burst into gales of laughter until tears streamed from her eyes and she had to wipe her cheeks with the hem of her apron.
She would never embarrass the dear boy and tell him how foolishly he was behaving. Nor would she ever tell Benjamin how jealously rude the boy had acted. Ben would be hurt to the bottom of his heart to think that Adam had been disrespectful to his stepmother and envious of their darling, sweet baby.
"Little Joe has to learn to follow my rules," Ben demanded sternly. He pounded his fist on the table for good measure.
Little Joe nodded and tried to hit the ironware soup tureen with his spoon. His mother shook her head and pulled the utensil from his little fist.
"We will start tomorrow night," Ben Cartwright decreed from the head of the table.
Adam and Hoss nodded in agreement. Marie sighed. The entire family reluctantly agreed with his edict.
That is, everyone but Joseph Francis Cartwright.
Little Joe Cartwright stood bare-footed with his new pale green striped night shirt hanging loosely around him. His mother knew that color was flattering to the child and picked the soft cotton material when she sewed him the garment.
The three year old was nervously watching his older brothers, not quite sure if he liked what was going on. It was dark and windy outside and those big boys were going to make him go to bed. Little Joe was quite sure he was going to miss out on something by going to sleep. Adam had once told him that after he went to sleep, the cows and chickens would come into the house. All the animals wore hats and vests and danced and sang and ate cherry pie. Even the horses joined the party.
Papa laughed and said it was just a foolish tale, but Little Joe wasn't so very sure. Why else did everyone stay awake after they insisted on him going to sleep if there wasn't something fun happening?
Adam knelt down and arranged the kindling in the hearth and Little Joe watched as his big brother lit the fire. Adam was a giant, almost a gigantic as Papa. Soon, the wood was ablaze.
Hoss turned down the covers on Little Joe's new bed and fluffed up the goose down pillows. “It’s going to be nice and cozy in here real soon, little brother. Much warmer than that old, drafty little room at the top of the stairs.”
Adam smiled reassuringly. "This new chimney will draw much better than the one on the old part of the house."
"Sure will," Hoss said enthusiastically. He looked around admiringly at his baby brother's room. He had helped his stepmother hang the lace curtains. There was a fine new bed for Little Joe instead of the white iron crib he had in the nursery. Almost a year ago, Marie had ordered the fancy new furniture from the cabinetmaker back east and Pa was delighted that it had finally arrived by freight wagon. Having such a fine home for his family and pleasing Mama made Pa very proud.
“It is warmer in your room, Hoss. Yours too, Adam. And much nicer too.” Little Joe frowned. "Not so far away and so alone."
“No it ain’t.” Hoss shook his head. “This room is real nice and it will be nice and warm in just a minute. You’ll see.” He picked his baby brother up and swung him up onto the full-sized bed. “Get under them covers, Little Joe. Snuggle down real good."
Adam walked out of the room and headed down the hall, leaving Hoss to deal with Little Joe. "I'm going to go check on the stock. That wind is picking up and I want to make sure that the barn door is latched tight and that wolf won't be nosing around the place."
Little Joe's hazel eyes widened. "Woof?" Neither brother paid him any mind.
Hoss prodded the fire with a black iron poker. "See, its getting nice and warm in here already."
Little Joe held out his arms. The droopy long sleeves of his night shirt covered his little hands. Hoss neatly doubled over the cuffs. “Better?"
Little Joe nodded and settled down under the covers. “Tell Mama to tuck me in too. Mama and Papa both,” Joe demanded forgetting his parents were out for the evening. The tiny boy looked quite lost in the big bed.
“They ain't home. They went to a big fancy dinner party at Mr. And Mrs. Victor's house in town. Remember? Mama and Pa was all dressed up fancy."
Joe nodded remembering how pretty Mama looked in her soft ruffled dress. She smelled like purple flowers when she kissed him.
"You go to sleep now,” Hoss ordered his brother. He turned down the lamp. The fire in the hearth lit the dark room with flickering golden light.
Suddenly frightened by the shivering shadows, Little Joe's lip started to tremble and he cried," I want my mama and papa!"
"Don't cry, Little Joe! Don't be a sissy," Hoss pleaded.
Sitting on the edge of his brother's bed, Hoss could see their reflection in the looking glass over the carved mahogany bureau -- tiny, weeping Little Joe with his newly shorn curls and nine year old Hoss. Hoss observed his baby brother looked completely different than he had a week earlier. Pa was right. Pa had insisted on giving his brother a "boy" hair cut, despite Mama wanting to let the keep his long baby curls a while longer. Suddenly Pa had decided that Little Joe was not a baby anymore. Pa declared that he was a little boy and should start acting like one.
“I want my Maaaamaa!" the tiny boy shrieked as Hoss tried to leave his brother's new room.
Hoss gathered his baby brother into his arms and Little Joe clung to him wailing loudly. Hoss hugged him and patted his back in an attempt to soothe him. "Don't cry, Little Joe! Please don't cry," Hoss pleaded. He loved his baby brother and hated to see him cry. “Ooh, please don’t cry!”
"There is a scary yodies. Woofs and yodies!" Joe sobbed. He trembled and pointed to the shifting shadows in the corner of the unfamiliar room.
"Yodies? Woofs?" Hoss asked trying to pry his brother’s little fingers from his neck. Little Joe held tighter than a burr on a saddle blanket. Adam had warned Hoss not to give in, that Pa had ordered them to keep the boy in his own bed but Little Joe was really scared. "What's a woof and a yodie?"
"Yodies that go wooowooooooo and woofs that eat up the cows!" Little Joe howled. "Don't let them eat me, Hoss! They be here!"
Hoss realized the baby was talking about the coyotes Pa had seen up on the ridge and the wolves that had been going after the stock. “Don’t worry about no varmints coming in here. Them windows and doors are shut nice and stout. Pa and Adam and me built this room just fine, little brother. Don’t you worry, little brother."
Hoss was very proud of the help he had given his father and older brother in building the new upstairs rooms on the house. Each boy now had his own room. Adam really liked that. He spent every available free minute locked inside, fixing and rearranging things and savoring his new found privacy and peace. Adam had told his brothers that they were not to cross the threshold of his room nor touch his property without his permission. Mama said that was the rule and they must respect Adam as he was the oldest.
The large bedroom Hoss and Adam had shared became the new master bedroom for Pa and Mama. And the baby moved out of the tiny room adjoining his parent’s room and into his own new room down the hall. Now they even had two extra guest rooms for visitors.
Pa was mighty proud of the fine large house they lived in now. When Pa and the boys first built the house, all they had were two rooms. They eventually became the dining room and the downstairs bedroom. Year by year, bit by bit, the Cartwrights had expanded the house adding the separate kitchen and a huge main room and a second floor.
Pa couldn't get over their good fortune and prosperity. All their hard work was finally paying off. Ben Cartwright was delighted in the fine home the Cartwrights now had on the Ponderosa. Mama enjoyed fixing it up just as fine and as gracious as any house back east.
"Don't leave me alone! The woofs and yodies will eat me up!" Little Joe pleaded desperately. He clutched a handful of his brother's shirt and refused to let go.
"No, they won't. You are too skinny for more than a mouthful," Hoss said. The chubby boy tried to extricate himself. He gently tried to pry the little boy’s fingers from his collar but Little Joe was determined to hang on.
Joe wailed louder. “A mouf-full? No!"
Hoss realized he had said the wrong thing. "No wolves and coyotes are comin' in here,” Hoss corrected himself. “Me and Adam won't let nothin' harm you, Little Joe. Not ever."
Joe hung tightly and pleaded. “Stay! Don’t ever leave me!"
"Don't be a sissy, Little Joe," Hoss argued. Pa had told them to take good care of Little Joe and now he was fretting and carrying on. Pa would be mad if his boys didn't take care of each other properly.
"Don't be a bad brother!” Joe pleaded and clung to Hoss.
That night when Marie and Ben returned and checked on their boys, they found Little Joe sleeping cozily with Hoss. The two brothers had their arms wrapped around each other and were sound asleep in Hoss' bed.
"That boy has to sleep in his own bed, Marie," Ben shook his head, "in his own room."
"Why? Look how comfortable the two angels look. They are so happy. Why Benjamin?" Marie countered. She smiled at her two sons. Their heads were side by side on one pillow, one with straight blonde hair, the baby's hair curly and soft brown.
"Because I said that he should and he has to learn to obey his father," Ben said firmly.
"Hoss doesn't mind having Little Joe near and the baby is so happy. Why should you be so concerned, Benjamin?"
"Little Joe is not a baby. When Adam was that age..."
Marie cut him off. “Little Joe is not Adam and you are not traveling in a covered wagon without a penny to your name."
"And Hoss too," Ben argued. "Both those boys were taking care of themselves and not clinging and crying."
Marie shook her head. Her husband did not understand in the least. Unfortunately, both mothers of his first two sons had died, leaving behind motherless infants. Raising the boys alone, Ben Cartwright was forced to make his first two sons grow up well ahead of time. He had no choice in that matter. He was just doing the best he could to survive those difficult years.
It was not what Marie wanted for Joseph. There was no need for it.
"Little Joe has a mother and so do the other boys now. There is time enough for a baby to be a boy and for boys to be grown men. All our sons are just little boys, no matter what you say. Even Adam. He is not a grown man, though you both think he is." Marie was not going to tell her husband how she had contacted Abel Stoddard, Adam's grandfather, and encouraged the old man to write to Adam. Both thought that Stoddard had contacted his estranged grandson on his own. Perhaps someday she would tell Ben, but not tonight. Adam’s grandfather should know what a bright boy Adam was. Captain Stoddard should appreciate how the boy longed for connections to his mother’s family.
"Little Joe has to learn to do exactly as he is told!” Ben growled and stormed out the door towards the master bedroom. He walked past the tiny room that had been Little Joe's nursery only a week earlier. Ben secretly hoped to use that little room for another baby, perhaps a daughter. If that was not to be, Marie could use the tiny space for her sewing room.
How could he explain to his beloved wife some of the horrific tragedies he had witnessed over the years when children disobeyed or didn't respond immediately to orders? How could he tell her about the tot who was trampled by a stage coach in St. Louis as his sister watched? Or the three wandering boys who drowned falling through a half frozen pond the winter Hoss was three years old? Or the entire family who was slaughtered when bandits got annoyed with the whimpering of one of the children? Children had to obey.
Marie tucked the covers around their two boys. She kissed each of them tenderly and headed down the hall after her husband.
Marie sighed. "You are a very stubborn man, Benjamin Cartwright, and our Little Joe is very much like you. Beautiful and stubborn."
"I? I am stubborn?" Ben said, pointing to his chest. The qualities that made him fall in love with Marie so quickly and made his blood boil for her were also the same traits that made her so hard to live with. He angrily removed his brocade vest and started to undress for bed. “And only women are beautiful. Men are handsome."
"You are beautiful and so are your sons," Marie teased. Her husband didn't find her remark at all amusing.
Sitting at her dressing table, Marie started to pull the hair pins from her honey-colored hair. She watched Ben’s reflection in the mirror as she brushed her hair. "You are a very stubborn man. What kind of sensible man argues with a three-year-old child? A stubborn man and a stubborn child. Êtes-vous un homme idiot? Ou un homme têtu? Are you a stubborn man? Or are you a fool? A fool would argue with a child," she laughed. Her green eyes twinkled in the candle light as she watched her husband's angry reflection in her dressing table mirror.
Her husband was not at all amused. "The boy must learn to obey me. I am his father. You are making Little Joe into a...a..." He was at a loss for polite words.
Ben adored his beautiful wife but knew she was totally and completely wrong in this matter. He had raised his two other sons on his own with a firm hand. Joseph would be raised the very same way. "If Joseph is going to survive here in this wild rough place, he must be obedient and a tough, strong man not a ... a....
"Sissy? A mama's baby?" Marie laughed again repeating the phrases her oldest son had used. Adam advised her that Little Joe looked like a sissy with his beautiful long curls and darling emerald velvet suit. Marie agreed to the haircut and saved one of the curls, wrapped it in tissue in her jewel box. She gave in to the simple, sturdy clothes Benjamin wanted for Little Joe. She dressed the boy so that he was attired just like the other small boys on the nearby ranches and saved the velvet suit for church. Soon enough, Little Joe would out grow that dear outfit. Marie would pack it away in the attic along with his Christening gown and his tiny crocheted booties.
"Joseph is a rancher's son, not the son of a merchant or a plantation owner back east,” Ben growled, shaking his head. His dark eyes burned with anger. He was at a loss to explain to Marie how harsh and cruel life on the frontier could be, that for his own protection, Joseph had to become strong and tough. He had to follow orders immediately and without question. A disobedient child could be lost in a blizzard, or trampled under the hooves of a cattle stampede or be burned on the hearth in just an instant.
Earlier that very week, Little Joe had climbed over the corral fence to get closer to a black stallion that Adam was working. Had Hoss not grabbed the curious child in the nick of time by the seat of his britches, their precious child could have been killed.
Ben could not express what he wanted to say to his wife without being harsh and frightening her with horrible violent stories of dead and mutilated children. He couldn't bear to disturb her so.
Marie smiled at how furious her husband was getting over all this foolishness. “Little Joe is still a darling, sweet baby."
"Marie! This is not New Orleans where people are genteel and polite. This is the frontier, Nevada Territory. The boy can not be clinging on to you like a little girl. He must learn to be strong and manly and brave and obey what I tell him to do, immediately without question." Ben's jaw was set in a hard line. He climbed into their bed before his wife and angrily turned to face the wall.
"Pa is out at the corral finishing up on those horses. I am going with Mr. Newkirk tomorrow to bring them up to the Winslow ranch," Adam explained as he slipped the nightshirt over Little Joe's head. Adam was extremely proud that his father felt he was responsible enough to take on such a trip. "Pa said I did a fine job with those horses," Adam boasted to his brothers.
"Horses?" Joe smiled as he face emerged through the neck of the night gown. "The black one?"
Adam nodded. “The black one that I helped break. Two others."
Hoss wagged his finger at the little boy. "You remember that horse, Little Joe?"
The boy nodded solemnly. Hoss had hollered at him when he attempted to feed that horse some grass. Joe figured that the horse had already had breakfast and Hoss didn't want him fed again. "Can I break a horse too, Adam? I can do it." Little Joe tugged on his giant brother's sleeve.
"Not yet, but I'll take you for a ride tomorrow if you go to sleep now,” Adam offered. He was sure he hit the right bait for Joe to cooperate. Pa would be mighty proud of him for handling the boy so well. Hoss never gave either of them a quarter of the trouble that wiggly Little Joe did. And, Adam figured arithmetically, that there had only been him and Pa tending to Hoss. There were four people tending to Joe so that made him eight times more difficult to handle than Hoss. Or was it sixteen times?
”Then I can go in your bed until Papa comes up,” Little Joe bargained.
The boy started to climb out of the bed but Adam quickly stood at the side of his brother’s bed. He gently pushed him back under the covers with two fingers. “Slide down just a bit and stay right where you belong, Little Joe.”
“Tell him a story, Adam,” Hoss suggested. “Tell him a good story and put him to sleep."
“A good long story in your bed, Adam? About a horse and the cows and the chickens singing and eating pie? A very, long story.” Little Joe tried again to get out of his bed but Adam grabbed a fistful of the loose night shirt and easily pinned him back down with one hand. Adam was almost as big as Pa and the tiniest brother didn't weigh much more than a fat goose.
“Sit on the other side of him, Hoss,” Adam suggested with a sly grin. “Sort of squeeze him in between us and don't let him out. Pin him in like a calf you are cutting out of the herd.” Adam sat on one side of the bed and Hoss on the other. Little Joe was sandwiched between them like a baby cow waiting to be branded. “Now, isn’t that cozy?”
Joe shook his curly head and pouted. “No. “
"No?" Hoss asked.
"No! no! no! no!" Joe crossed his little arms across his chest imitating Adam's familiar stance. "I don't want to stay here. No! no! no!"
"Don't be such a baby." Adam shook his head. He was beginning to lose his patience. "Pa gave us orders, Little Joe.” Adam knew his baby brother was angling to sleep with one of them but Pa had told all of them that Little Joe had to stay in his own bed in his own room.
"Pa is fed up," Hoss added. And when Pa was fed up, his boys did what they were told to do. Orders from Pa were not to be ignored. "We got to follow Pa's orders."
"Orders?" The little boy didn't understand.
"Sure, like the crew on a ship," Adam explained. He pointed to a framed print of a sailing ship hanging near the bed.
Hoss nodded in agreement. "Just like on a ship."
"It's just like when Pa worked on the sailing ship," Adam rationalized. "Pa is the Captain, like Abel Stoddard had been. He gives orders to his men."
Little Joe nodded. He liked the company of his brothers and he loved when Adam told a story.
"You see, I am his first officer and supervise the sailors. Hoss is the mate," added Adam.
"What is Little Joe?" the baby asked. "Can we have a horse on the boat too? A fast horse? What is Little Joe?"
"Not much of anything," Adam said getting annoyed.
"I don't want to play this game!" Joe shook his head. He caught his own reflection in the mirror and shook his head more vigorously until everything in the room blurred and he felt dizzy.
"Let Joe be the cabin boy," Hoss suggested.
"No I want to be a horse, not a cabin." Little Joe decided he was done and started to get out of bed. “A horse boy!”
"A cabin boy," Hoss corrected.
"Do you want Pa to give you a tanning?" Adam threatened. He extended his long arm, effectively restraining slender Little Joe as the child tried to escape.
"No! no! no!" Joe stuck out his lower lip. "No tanning! Tell me a story in your room!” Adam kept chasing his baby brother away from his room. Joe was sure he must have some thing wonderful hidden in his cupboard or in his desk or under his bed. Maybe he had a horse in there. Adam got very mad when he didn't ask to come in his new room, and now Little Joe asked and his brother still wasn't letting him in. “Can I go in your room?”
"No, Little Joe, you have to stay right here, in your very own room," Hoss said gently. He sure didn't want to disobey Pa and hated to think of the baby getting spanked or Mama and Pa arguing again about Little Joe.
That night, when Ben came up to check on his boys and turn in he found all three of them in Little Joe's bed. His youngest was sandwiched comfortably in between his beloved big brothers. Hoss was on his back snoring. Little Joe had his face snuggled into Adam's chest. The oldest boy had his arm wrapped protectively around Little Joe.
Being dutiful sons, Adam and Hoss were going to follow Pa's orders exactly as he requested. Little Joe was not going to be a sissy or a mama's boy. He would be a fine, strong, honorable man just like Pa, just as all his sons would be. They would be four brave Cartwright men standing together shoulder to shoulder.
Ben Cartwright and his boys were more than a match for anyone, especially Marie. She had learned early in her life to choose her battles, especially with men. She reluctantly followed her stubborn husband's decision.
As the week progressed, Adam suddenly found everything going on in regard to his baby brother quite amusing.
Adam was also able to get his middle brother to take on a substantial portion of tending to Little Joe by using that "Pa-is-the-captain-giving-orders” logic. And most enjoyable to young Adam was that he was managing to keep both of his little brothers out of his new bedroom. He had even read seven chapters of a new novel his grandfather had sent him with out disruption.
His Pa had finally dug in his heels deeper than Marie had. It was probably the first time that Adam recalled Pa not giving in to her. Pa was no sissy.
Marie helped Little Joe put on his second new night shirt. She had sewn the last button on the neck that very afternoon. This one was soft yellow with a rounded collar. It was a bit big and loose but Ben had assured her that he would soon grow into the oversized garment and it made more sense to make things a bit big for a boy to grow into.
Marie had smiled softly and reminded her husband that Hoss was probably as big as this small boy when he was born. "It will be a long time before Little Joe is not so little."
Ben laughed and kissed her and held her close. Marie rested her cheek on her tall husband’s chest. He was glad that his wife had finally seen that he was totally right.
Marie tucked Little Joe into bed and he had said his prayers. She sat beside him on the edge of his bed, singing softly to him until he fell asleep. Then she tiptoed out of the room and went downstairs to sit with her husband by the fire.
"See, I told you, he will be just fine," Ben smiled smugly from his chair. His boys were all in their rooms and he would have a peaceful, quiet evening in front of the fire with his beautiful wife. Maybe they could turn in early and have a bit of peaceful privacy of their own.
Marie sighed and didn't say a word as she sat mending an open seam on Adam's good white shirt. She liked when her handsome family looked neat and well turned out for church.
The sound of the wind or a wolf howling on the hill woke up the small boy. He shuddered and sat bolt upright in his bed.
Looking straight ahead in the darkness, Little Joe saw a little boy looking right at him. Joe raised his hand and so did the other boy in the dark. Little Joe pulled the striped comforter up around his narrow shoulders and rubbed at his eyes, hoping to clear his vision. A ghostly strange little boy was in his room. When he again looked straight ahead, he could still see the other child. Joe sat upright; the boy seemed to come forward. Joe reached his hand forward, to touch the visitor; the other child reached out to grab him.
Confused by sleep, Little Joe didn't realize he was seeing his own reflection in the dresser mirror facing his bed.
Little Joe shrieked and tried to escape. He somersaulted across the bed and dove off head first. He crashed to the floor with a loud thud. Still screaming with fear at the imagined beastly intruder, Little Joe got tangled in the bed covers and struggled to escape. “Mama mama Papa Paaaaaaaaaa!” he screamed, thrashing about and trying to get free from the tangle of quilts and sheets and pillows. The collar of his new yellow night shirt was caught on the bed post and in struggling to free himself, the little boy shimmied completely out of the garment.
By the time his parents and his brothers dashed down the hall from their own rooms, the boy had freed himself. Little Joe had agilely slipped out of his snagged night shirt and rolled naked under the bed. He squeezed his slender, little body into the narrow space between the white washed wall and the heavy head board.
"Mama! Papa!" the panicky child screamed from his hiding place.
When Ben and Marie and the older boys entered Little Joe's dark room, they heard the child calling but could not see him anywhere. Marie and Ben furiously dug through the tangled bedding. Adam looked behind the door.
“Joseph! Where are you!” Ben demanded, trying to make order out of chaos.
Hoss stood frozen in the middle of the room, trying to hear where the cries were coming from. It took a moment or two for him to figure it out. Finally Hoss squeezed under the bed and gently eased his baby brother out of his hiding place. Little Joe’s bare baby bottom shined in the moonlight, as weeping the child ran into his mother's comforting arms.
That night, and the next, Little Joe slept snuggle between his parents in their bed.
Two nights later, during a violent thunderstorm, Marie Cartwright was tucking her tiny son into his own bed. Her determined husband had declared that he wanted Joseph back in his own room, that night.
“Enough is enough!”
Marie was about to turn down the light when Little Joe asked with a tremor in his sweet voice, “Mama, can I sleep in the bed with Hoss?”
“No, mon petite Choux. Brother doesn’t like you sleeping in his bed. You wet the bed. You stay right here. This is your bed now. No more crib. You are a big boy now. You have your own bed in your own fine big room, not the little room at the top of the stairs. Your own big room, just like your big brothers.”
“Can Adam sleep here in my new bed?”
“No, Little Joe. Adam is helping Mr. Newkirk to bring those horses to the Winslow ranch for Papa. They left this early morning and will come home tomorrow for supper.”
"Mama, will you sleep with me here tonight? Stay in my new room, Mama,” Joe pleaded.
Marie smiled and gave him a reassuring hug. "I can't, dear," she said resisting his invitation. "I have to sleep with Papa in our room."
A loud clap of thunder shook the house. The little boy threw his arms around his mother and she hugged him tightly. He buried his face in her neck and Marie held him close. She would not admit it but the thunder frightened her too.
A long silence was broken at last by his shaky, sweet, little voice: "The big sissy."
"Papa is a big sissy. He needs to have Mama with him." Little Joe said seriously.
Marie put her hand over her mouth to stifle her laugh. She didn’t want Little Joe to be frightened but Benjamin insisted on the boy staying in his own bed once and for all. The older boys kept telling her little son not to be a baby, not to be a sissy. She had begun to feel that perhaps they all were right. Yet, to Marie, this sweet energetic child was still her darling baby. Perhaps Joseph Francis Cartwright would be the only child of her own she would ever have. She treasured every moment she had with her precious Little Joe. She was in no rush for him to have a deep voice and the beginnings of whiskers like Adam or be far too big for her lap like Hoss.
Her husband insisted that she had to be firm with a boy, not pamper him. They lived in a harsh rugged world on the Ponderosa and he would not allow his son to be over protected and spoiled.
Benjamin had explained finally that his decision was not from cruelty but to protect his treasured children from dangers they might face. Marie trusted Ben with all her heart and knew too well that he was right. Life was harsh and in a moment, could change forever.
“Papa is very brave. He is not afraid of the lightning,” Marie told the child. She smoothed his newly shorn curls. Joe had looked so terribly sweet with his long curls but Ben had insisted on her baby getting a proper boy’s hair cut. He still looked sweet.
“Or the thunder?” Little Joe shivered and his mother tucked the quilts around him. She had dressed him in his green and white striped night shirt that fit him adequately well. She had folded the oversized yellow one into his bureau for next year or even the year after.
“No, my darling. Papa is afraid of nothing. He is the bravest, finest man in the world and you and your brothers will grow up to be just like him. Fine, brave men.”
“Nothing? Papa is afraid of nothing?” Little Joe asked in a shaky little voice.
“No. He laughs at the lighting and thunder.” Marie tickled Little Joe under his little arms and he squealed with laughter despite the storm. She hugged and kissed him and the little boy snuggled to her.
“Ha, ha, ha. Papa laughs at the thunder. He says ‘Ha! Ha! I am not scared of rumbly noise or pretty flashing sparkles in the sky’.” Marie spoke in a deep voice trying unsuccessfully to sound like her husband. She smiled warmly at her little boy and he smiled back. The rain rushed against the window and she held the little boy closer. The storm seemed to subsiding and moving out towards the east.
“Ha ha ha?” Little Joe repeated in a soft voice. “I am not ‘fraid!” His giant strong Papa says ha ha ha when he is afraid? Then so would he.
"Papa is not afraid and neither is Little Joe?" Marie smiled.
”Ha ha ha." The tiny boy also attempted to speak in a voice like his father. "Sparkles? I don‘t see sparkles, Mama.” The little boy squirmed trying to see the window and see more lightning in the dark sky.
“It is just little sparkles in the sky and the angels moving their cloud wagons. The wagons bump in the ruts between the clouds and make noise. Ba-boom.”
“Boom,” Joe repeated. The loud noises that shook the house were only cloud wagons and his brave Papa and sweet Mama wouldn’t let any thing happen to him. Neither would his giant brother Adam or his easygoing big brother Hoss.
Everyone would always make sure he was always safe from yodies and woofs and thunder and oversized nightshirts.
Marie kissed her son three times as was their practice: once on each cheek, once on the tip of his little nose; then the boy closed his eyes and his mama kissed his eyes. “Dream happy sweet dreams. Je t'aime mon fils doux, petit Joe. I love you, my sweet son. Marie tucked the coverlet around him. Soon Little Joe fell sound asleep.
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