Synopsis: Missing Scenes / WHN for the Episode A Ride in the Sun.
Word Count: 8,390
In the tenth season episode, “A Ride in the Sun” the Cartwrights are scammed by brother/sister con artists, Tobias and April Horn. As their scam came to a conclusion, not only did they murder the Bank President, but they severely wounded Ben.
The brothers set out with the posse and are determined to bring these siblings to justice. Hoss and Joe lead the posse to a certain point, only to separate to follow their own leads which go against the facts and logic as seen by Roy Coffee; ultimately, Joe ends up trailing the fugitives alone through the desert. This story is told from Joe’s POV.
Episode Written by: John Hawkins, Peter Germano Directed by: Leon Benson Guest Stars: John Spain(Anthony Zerbe), Tobias Horn(Robert Hogan), April Horn(Marj Dusay), Harry Bishop(Jack Collins), Dr. Lewis(Harry Holcombe)
A Ride in the Sun; Survived
A pretty face, yep, that’s what I first thought when I saw her sitting there in the buggy after Hoss and I thwarted whoever was shooting at her and her brother as they raced their horse away from their pursuer. Her dark hair, fair skin, bright eyes, and that smile… Yep, a pretty face…April Horn… Hoss knew without even knowing, I was smitten. Guess he’d say that about me whenever I first met a pretty gal. But… I should have listened to Hoss, I should have listened to Hoss. If I had…
Throughout my life how many times have I thought those sentiments… ‘I should have listened,’ ’If I had…’ How many times had Adam offered sound advice that I brushed aside? How many times had Pa warned along those same lines? And Hoss… Big, gentle, compassionate Hoss… I wish he’d knocked me over the head with his revolver that day when I ignored his comments about how their horse wasn’t winded nor sweated and surely hadn’t run the three miles that Tobias had claimed… He doubted the horse had even run a half a mile. Hoss also tried to point out what a poor shot the gunman was… Even though the siblings tried to convince us there was more than one man after them, said the other man’s horse appeared to have pulled up lame. But still, Hoss noted regardless how many were after them, there wasn’t a scratch or a bullet hole in the buggy and all I could say was, “That April Horn sure was a good-looking girl.”
Since we all were traveling towards Virginia City, we agreed to sort of be their escorts. Later, while April, Hoss, and I sat outside the hotel, I was enamored by her tales of their home and Tobias’ business. When her brother came out from seeing their luggage to their room, he asked Hoss and me which bank we could recommend. And… I didn’t hesitate to tell him the Virginia City Bank and agreed to introduce them to Harry Bishop. After the introduction, Harry jumped at the chance to do business with the President of Horn Enterprises, especially when Tobias pulled out and deposited $30,000… cash. Now we knew the reason for the potential robbery out on the road.
Little did I know that when the Horn’s had accepted an invitation to visit the ranch that they’d be setting Pa up for trouble… Trouble… that word pales when I realized he could have been killed. No… I didn’t see the trouble coming, I just saw that pretty face. It was several days later when the Horns finally visited the Ponderosa. I was aware of Tobias talking with Pa about 1,500 head of cattle he was willing to purchase and have his drovers help round-up and deliver the herd to the Sacramento Valley in California… Yeah, I heard, but didn’t pay too much attention, I was focused on April. Pa and Tobias dickered around on the price, at one point I’d heard them comparing ‘run of the range cattle’ vs. Cartwright cattle before finally coming to an agreement.
Guess I wasn’t the only one who was taken in by a pretty face… After verbally agreeing to the sale over a glass of brandy, Tobias left and eventually returned to the ranch to hand Pa a bank check for the agreed price and Pa signed the bill of sale for the cattle, everything was completed, legal and proper. I felt good about my part in helping the Ponderosa secure such a large sale, Hoss only shook his head.
And then that telegraph came, immediately delivered from town to Tobias, followed by an announcement that they had to return home, quickly… One of their ships was lost at sea during a storm, with all hands presumed dead. I could see both were visibly upset and Tobias refused to discuss the details any further, but not April. Here I thought she was just a pretty face, but she proved that she was a very astute business woman. She said that included in the wire was the news that the payment for a particular cargo that the ship was carrying was due in full within four days. Tobias tried to play down this dire news by stating that the ship had been insured. Only to have April announce that it wasn’t enough to cover the cost of the shipment and the insurance money wouldn’t arrive before payment was due. Upon hearing that Tobias was now in desperate need to sell the cattle he just purchased, Pa, being the generous man he is, immediately gave the bank check back to Tobias. Once Tobias pointed out there wasn’t much he could do with it, since it was made payable to Pa, well Pa agreed to go with them to town to explain the situation to Harry Bishop, thus allowing Tobias and April to return home with the money required to settle their debt.
But here I am… Alone, no horse, with only what little water that remains in my canteen as I track the people… Humpf! People… Con-artists, swindlers, …murderers… Don’t go there, Joe… Doc Lewis said Pa was going to be okay, but he was so weak when I last saw him, lying face down there on Doc’s operating table. Hoss stood over Pa and asked him what happened, while I knelt at his side in order to hear him tell us who had shot him…
One of them is a murderer, Bank President Bishop was killed outright and I guess God was looking out for Pa… I hope God is still looking out for him.
Right now I’d give anything to be sitting uncomfortably in a wing-backed chair or worse yet, one of those straight back chairs Doc always has in his waiting room, wiping sweat from Pa’s brow and encouraging him to wake up; while trying to keep myself from falling asleep. Arguing with Hoss over who would spend the night with Pa versus who would go get a room at the International House for a few hours of sleep in a bed. I could have been there… If I had… But no, not me… I was furious… not just me, Roy Coffee was furious as was Hoss and a number of others who we consider friends; they all joined the posse without any qualms.
I guess we can be thankful that Roy’s deputy spotted the back door to the bank open, otherwise, it might have been… too late for Pa.
We were able to follow their buggy tracks and found it and signs of where they had stashed other horses in a rope corral. We were surprised when we found three sets of hoof prints continuing to race away from Virginia City, not surprised that they were racing further from town, but that there were three of them. At the pace they were setting, they didn’t give any thought to covering their tracks, maybe they didn’t think anyone would have found Bishop and Pa so soon, considering it had been a Friday and Pa had mentioned to us that he was planning to spend the night in town to see the Horns off in the morning.
The posse stopped when we came upon their abandoned buggy, I just had to look around… It didn’t make sense them leaving the horse and buggy… I signaled my horse to move out, he was rearing to go, almost as much as Cochise would have been, but Hoss and I both chose other mounts from the corral at home when we received word of Pa being shot. Both Chubs and Cochise had put in a long, hard day while rounding up strays, long before we heard that fateful pounding on the door to our home. It wasn’t fair to either of them to ask them to carry us on our race into Virginia City. So, I found myself sitting in the saddle on this black gelding, even taller than Chubs was. It felt strange to be sitting higher than any of the other riders after all the years of riding my pinto. This horse had strong legs and a wide breadth of chest… I knew he had the capacity to carry me as far as I needed to go. He surged under my legs as I asked him forward after I returned to the others and told them about the rope corral and the tracks leading away.
As one, the posse followed the trail over the terrain; each member silently riding, saving their energy, and following me.
And then… we came to our first disagreement. Hoss and I headed towards the desert while Sheriff Coffee and the others continued on their own, both groups trailing after our quarry. Sheriff Coffee was of the opinion they wouldn’t stand a chance in the desert and didn’t give it a second thought. The Horns were heading south when they left town and south when we lost their trail. But Hoss… Hoss agreed with me that Toby, April, and whoever, had planned this well… Well in advance… And it wouldn’t surprise either of us if they hadn’t set up water stops out in the desert. Any casual bank robber wouldn’t risk racing through the desert, but if you had planned it… So we set out. I knew where the first water hole would be, just as well as Hoss did. Neither of us could wait to replenish the water in our canteens, we’d drank sparingly, but still… It was hot out.
We were well separated from the posse when we found definitive proof, three sets of hoof prints heading out into the desert, three… I didn’t voice it to Hoss but I wondered if Tobias’ superintendent… oh… what was his name… could have been riding that third horse or maybe it was a horse carrying a load of water bags and canteens.
Then we came to the watering hole, and Hoss warned me away from the water, said it didn’t smell right. He spotted the dead rabbit and further away a tin can… He walked over and picked it up… death… that’s what it was… Arsenic! Well, this hole was ruined. Not much we could do to warn off any desert dwellers, unless they were of the human variety; I placed the tin can upside-down on a stick hoping it would be enough of a warning. Anybody who worked the land would know by the smell that something was wrong, but there was always the chance an unfortunate tin-horn would need to be warned away.
Here I’m worrying about tin-horns, funny how your mind works, when I should be worried about Pa. Anyway, we both returned to our horses and I recognized the same look on Hoss’ face that he probably recognized on mine. Two riders, two horses, and two half empty canteens. Hoss… big, gentle Hoss. He’d been profusely sweating ever since we left Virginia City, but then so was I, and whether he would admit it or not, we both knew it would be more dangerous for Hoss to continue… There have been many times in my brother’s life where I knew he wished he wasn’t as big as he was, and I know this was another time to add to his list. I saw it in his eyes as he handed over his canteen and agreed to go back for Roy and the others. He didn’t want to leave me on my own, but he had no choice… He knew there was no way that both of us would survive if we went together. And… someone had to alert Sheriff Coffee and the posse they were on the wrong trail.
Heading out alone, keeping my horse to a steady pace, I prayed I’d be able to catch up with those… What do I call them? I couldn’t call them murderers because that would remind me too much that I really didn’t know if Pa continued to live… So I continued after the Horns… hoping against hope that I’d catch up with them. And… I did… As I was walking along side my horse, I hadn’t given any more thought to who was riding on that third horse, I should have… But, I was focused on the two who pulled the triggers. So, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, following their obvious trail. That is until the rifle shot spit up the sand at my feet. Too close… Dropping the canteen I had stopped to drink from, I ran a short distance and hurled my body behind a small sand dune, grabbing my pistol at the same time. Carefully, I looked up as the rifle fire continued, and I cursed when I realized the shooter was aiming at my horse that I had abandoned to save my own sorry hide.
Heart, I had to admit the horse had heart to continue in the heat, but he hadn’t stood there for that many shots striking the ground at his hooves before he finally turned to run away. Watching him flee, I wondered how many more shots Cochise would have stood or would he too have finally high-tailed it away. High tail away, yep, that’s where that expression comes from. Bolting, four hooves thundering the ground, tail set like a flag on a pole streaming out horizontal as a stiff wind blew. Self-preservation, it’s in all of us, man and animal, I just wished I’d have been as self-preserving as that horse. But no… I had to go and think about recovering the money and… Damn, my canteen! Putting my gun back in my holster, I bolted, no tail to flag, and ran for my open canteen… precious water spilling out the opening, all the while trying to avoid being shot.
Why was I set to risk it all? Was it revenge? Was I after revenge? Revenge for what they did to Pa? No… I know what revenge is and how it feels… Adam, Hoss, and I, all had revenge in our hearts years ago when Buck came home without Pa; his blood on the saddle told us all we needed to know, he’d been ambushed. I remembered joking with Pa before he sent me on home that day. That day I had been the last to see Pa, and revenge burned in my heart, all our hearts as the Cartwright brothers rode out to find those responsible for our father’s death. We reached a way-station and realized the perpetrators had split up, and so did we; each vowing to avenge our father’s death. It wasn’t until several days after I returned home that I actually felt good about what I’d done. But… until I saw Pa standing there in the front yard, arm in a sling, but alive… Oh how I had kicked myself while traveling home for not being anywhere near the man that Adam and Hoss were. I knew they’d trail their quarry and deal with the man, maybe making him plead and beg for his life before they shot him down for murdering our Pa. Before I rounded the corner of the barn and rode into the yard, I had long convinced myself that I was a pathetic example of a Cartwright son. The smallest and most worthless… runt… I fought many a friend and foes over the years when I would hear them say that word as they compared me to my brothers, ‘But face it Joe… It’s the truth,’ I’d told myself over and over. Maybe that’s all that Pa ever expected me to be, a runt who paled in comparison to any real Cartwright. A runt who failed to carry through with what needed to be done. But, when I saw Pa standing there, I realized I hadn’t been seeking justice and maybe that was why I… I swallowed guiltily. But why had I felt guilty? Pa was alive. Oh God, I could have murdered a man in cold blood. I had been wrong. Turns out we all had been wrong. Yes, I know revenge… There was also Red Twilight.
But now… I’m not seeking revenge, I’m seeking justice. And now I’m seeking justice without a horse and with only what little water I have remaining in my one canteen. As I stumbled over the sand, I dropped to the ground when I heard the first shot. I fired several shots and moved my position from where I had just been. Scampering along the sand dune, I looked over the rise and saw two of their canteens lying away from where they took cover from my returning fire. Seeing the canteens, I did what I could to delay them. If I delayed them long enough, maybe the posse could catch up with us. So, I shot holes in their canteens; and then ran away. I knew there was scant cover if they decided to come after me, but I continued to run any way — Better to run away and live to fight another day. When I finally stopped running, I was thankful no one had followed me, but now I had to backtrack to where I had already been.
Standing slowly to my feet, I returned to where they had rested. Again, their tracks were easy to follow in this sand… It’s not like trailing on hard-pan. So again, one foot in front of the other…someone should write a song about that. I’m sure Adam could…if he were here. Damn, we didn’t even send word to Adam about Pa before we left… I know he couldn’t get here in time to do anything, but maybe…maybe his added prayer would see Pa through to a full recovery.
So engrossed in my thoughts I didn’t see the body lying still on the ground until I almost tripped over him. My hand quickly went to my weapon as I leaned down to turn the body over, wary of this being a trap. Before I touched the man on the shoulder, I looked up and scanned the horizon… nothing as far as I could see. My hand and body relaxed as I rolled him over and saw the growing bloodstain soaking into the dry desert sand and a mirroring stain on his shirt. Tobias Horn. Quickly I thought of that pretty face, his sister… April. Had they been unwitting accomplices forced into this? Had whoever the third person been killed Tobias and kept his sister as a hostage? Even now, her pretty face was addling my brain… Remember, Pa told us that Tobias and April were the two shooters. No innocent person would shoot two men in the back.
Still one could only hope that our assumptions were wrong. Scanning the ground, I looked to see if April had put up a struggle, but her boot prints indicated she had casually walked from where they had lain down for the night to where their horses had been tethered. So much for brotherly and sisterly love. Taking another sip of water, I contemplated whether to bury Tobias or to leave him for the posse. Guess Pa raised me right… using my hands and hat, I dug a shallow grave into the desert sand in order to roll Toby’s body into it and cover him over. Before I picked up my hat, canteen, and gun belt, I offered a silent apology to the vultures in the area regarding their missed-opportunity for a meal. I wasn’t sorry he was dead, just one less shooter I’d have to worry about, later.
I continued to walk, one foot in front of the other.
In the darkest part of the night, I couldn’t continue any further and plopped down on the ground, oblivious to find I was asleep in moments. A couple of hours later, I woke feeling rested and eager to go. Funny, if I’d been at home on the Ponderosa I’d probably be lying in my bed, trying to sleep longer… But that was the Joe of old… The Joe who was the youngest son of Ben Cartwright, the youngest brother who’d been doted upon all his life… a life that changed after Adam left. Oh, Pa and Hoss still doted on me; they knew I grieved over Adam’s leaving… But… after the first month he’d gone, I realized I looked forward to… What was it that I had looked forward to? I don’t remember now, but whatever it was, it surprised me when it happened. Even now, I find that Pa relies on me almost as much as he ever did on Adam, if not more. Not to say that I’m better at managing the ranch than Adam was, but there’s just so much more of it. The Ponderosa, an island unto itself(1)… No… Not an island, we’re not surrounded by water, I laughed. Without realizing it, I’d become Pa’s right-hand man, but I’d always sat to the right of Pa at meal times… Adam sat at the opposite end of the table from Pa… unless we had company. No, with fewer Cartwrights at the ranch, I instinctively filled in the holes created when Adam left.
I woke in the morning, my mind-set only on one thing, April Horn and the man. Every hour or so, I stopped for a few minutes to sit down and take a break. Take a small sip of water and swish it around in my mouth before swallowing. It was easier to go longer periods of time without sipping as the hot day turned into a cool night. Sleep pulled at me. Sleep… An uncomfortable sleep is what I would be experiencing if I’d stay back in Virginia City with Pa… Not that this was comfortable… But then…. If I had… Hoss might be the one out here alone… The silent implications of that thought shocked me. One foot in front of the other… One foot in front of the other… Walking across the desert, and so I continued.
I’d spent a second night in the desert, cat napping for an hour or so before moving on. As day broke, I recognized the scenery on the horizon and thought about something I’d heard from an old prospector…said there was a hidden spring somewhere ahead, outside a cave. Looking at the landscape, I knew I could cut across country and make it to the arroyo opening and wait for April and whoever. The fact they were still leading and riding their horses restricted their options in what route they could travel. For the first time since we received word of Pa’s shooting, I allowed a smile to play across my face… Hoss would have said it was a ‘con-chievious’ smile that meant someone was bound to get in trouble; and this time it wasn’t gonna be me.
With exhausted relief, I sank to the ground, thankful for the shade that these boulders dotting the foothills provided. The small rise gave me a vantage point to see anyone approaching, but as I sat there, my back warmed by the boulder I rested against, sleep pulled at me. I fought the urge, but maybe I am weak, just like… No… I wasn’t weak then… It just took me time to realize the truth. I’m stronger than my brothers ever gave me credit for while growing up… Or… Maybe they knew somewhere I had the strength, but that I doubted myself and that’s why they always pushed me… especially Adam. Old Yankee Granite-Head Adam… God I miss him.
Guess I fell asleep thinking of Adam again, because that’s the last thing I remembered before the sun slipped behind these hills, and now it’s apparent the sun had been up for several hours. Sitting up, I scanned the ground leading into the arroyo to see if I slept through the arrival of April and her ‘friend’. I relaxed back with no new footprints evident.
Later, shuffling, and pleading woke me from a light doze. Looking up, there weren’t any horses, just two people – April and the man – John Spain, I was right. He was a narrow, squinty-eyed man, and she was begging him for water. Hanging on to him like one of those saloon girls who’ve had too much to drink and still wants more.
Now was my time, they were as desperate if not more so than I was for water. I snickered and smiled, and hoped my best Saturday night poker bluffing would hold true and I’d win the jackpot… Only I knew if I won, the jackpot wasn’t mine… It belonged to the people of Virginia City. God, let me know when to hold them and know when to fold them(2), I asked before I made my presence known.
What happened next occurred with morbid fascination as Spain obeyed my command and dropped his rifle before he pulled his handgun from his holster and tossed it aside. Next, he pulled out a hidden weapon that I should have known about and as I stepped forward, he fired at me; his movements appeared slow, like everything was bogged down in molasses. And I watched it all unfold and then I felt myself being flung to backwards to the ground. For a moment, my brain struggled to determine where the bullet had struck my body… Slowly, I lifted myself up so that I rested back on my elbows and looked my body over. There wasn’t any blood on my shirt nor my pants, and laughed when I told myself, “I don’t hurt…” I guess like a bolt of lightning striking me, my body reacted on its own volition to the threat my brain couldn’t comprehend when the bullet took flight. I wasn’t shot!
Once I fully knew I was okay, I scrambled to my feet and fought John Spain. I had to keep him away from his discarded weapons. As bad a shape as I was in, I prayed he was worse. Chalk one up for Team Cartwright!
I had banked on their having planned their hold up and escape route so well that I knew there had to be a cache of water around somewhere, and when April brazenly told me her companion wouldn’t tell me anything, I hauntingly informed her, that he would, or he’d die of thirst. God if only I was this lucky every Saturday night. I’d bluffed them with a half-empty canteen and an empty gun. Gullible… Guess they never planned on meeting up with the likes of me.
So, there I stood while April sat looking so pathetic sitting on the ground, her shoulders hitching up and down as if she were crying, but no tears fell from her eyes. She told me of how she and Toby had met John Spain and how bitter she was about all the money Tobias had wasted over the years, especially all the money their father had left THEM. They’d hatched this plan together, all three of them.
When I asked about what happened to her brother, she sat there and told me they were planning to meet him in San Francisco. They had split up in order to distract the posse.
“I’m the only posse April… And I found his body and buried him.” Using my gun to point to John Spain, “He killed him. He murdered your brother so he could keep your brother’s share of the money.”
April looked up and stared incredulously at me as if she couldn’t comprehend my words; I guess she convinced herself of her story because she kept saying that Toby was only pretending to be shot. He’d meet her in a week in San Francisco. That was part of the game…
Game… She thought this a game. Her brother was dead, a good man in town was dead, my Pa wounded maybe dead, and me… I was out in the desert with a woman on her way to going crazy, whether it was from the heat searing into her brain or the realization that she’d had a hand in the death of her own brother… I knew when we returned to Virginia City that she’d never stand trial; she’d probably end up spending the rest of her life in an insane asylum… That is if we ever made it back.
Three days I’d trailed them across the desert with just a little over one full canteen between the two I’d carried, and now… Now there were three of us to get back to town and maybe as little as a cup of water remained in my canteen.
Damn… He had to have water around here somewhere… They only had the one canteen left… I reached down to pick it up from beside John Spain and shook it only to hear nothing sloshing around within. Damn… Why was he heading this way if not for water?
With my empty gun in my hand, and the precious canteen slung over my shoulder, I walked towards John Spain… The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain(3)… God, why couldn’t it rain right here right now?
Even with my refusing to give him water unless he told me where his cache was, John Spain just laid there, smugly begrudging me for having bluffed them. Stubborn old cuss… So I used the rope from the money bags to bind Spain’s hands, didn’t figure I should let him wander free while I looked for his water.
My own brain was addled from a lack of water, food, and sleep that I never gave any thought to April helping John Spain get away. But then… I guess they were even more addled as neither of them thought about it either. So I looked, and as I walked for some reason I remembered Old Jonas, that old prospector who had lived in and around the desert for decades and I could hear his words as clear as if he was standing next to me, “Joe, you’re as hard-headed as the Devil’s anvil, face away, you’ll find it. Just look up, Joe.”
Above me, I swear I would have cried if I hadn’t been laughing, there it was… Weather worn as if deliberately chiseled into the rock face was a rock formation that look like an anvil, and not just any anvil. With the sun shining on it as it was, its reddish hue pulsated and I knew this had to be the Devil’s anvil. Old Jonas had said, “Face away,” so, I turned around and proceeded to walk and within fifteen minutes you’d have sworn I struck Gold. Blessed, liquid ‘gold’.
Practically falling on my face I scrambled to the pool of water, and barely remembered to remove my hat before I thrust my head under the surface and shook back and forth. Sitting up, I unbuttoned my shirt, cupped my hands, and began splashing the water upon my body. Cool, blessed water. Kneeling, I began filling both canteens and prepared to return to April and Spain.
Carrying the two canteens hanging from their straps in my right hand, I approached her and wondered if she and Spain were talking to plan an escape… But then I heard her say Tobias’ name. Brain fried, I thought as I pushed one of the canteens into her hands. I almost laughed when she thanked me as if it were the most natural thing, the three of us together in the middle of the desert at the base of the hills.
April set the canteen down and in a very unladylike manner, using the whole length of her lower arm, from her elbow to her wrist wiped her mouth. I leaned over and took custody of the canteen, and with my left hand, I pulled her to her feet and led her back to the water pool.
“Thank you,” she courteously said again. “I’ll call for you when I’m ready.”
“Excuse me?” I asked and turned away as she began to unbutton her shirt to reveal a lacy camisole underneath. “We don’t have time,” I hissed.
“We have all the time, Tobias won’t be expecting us for a few more days and I need a refreshing bath. I won’t be but a few minutes,” she said as if she were in one of those fancy spas that Adam’s written about during his travels.
So, I chose to climb upon one of the nearby boulders and turned my back, most would say I respected the lady’s privacy… And there was her accomplice still to deal with. But… I am a man after all, and I just couldn’t help myself as I heard the splashing and looked to the pool. A pretty face and a gorgeous body I thought to myself as I watched her slip below the waters, before she rose up again, and then I heard, “JOSEPH! Answer me JOSEPH!” Hoss, ever gentle Hoss.
Standing up, I raised my hand to shade my eyes to see where my brother was, but couldn’t see anyone. Sitting back down, I heard Hoss hissing at me, “What in tarnation do you think you’re a doin’? Ain’t you learned nothin’ from what Pa taught ya?”
Laughing, I remembered, years before… before Pa finally allowed me to quit school, “Hoss, it ain’t my fault. I was here first, how was I supposed to know Miss Caroline would choose here and NOW to go skinny dipping?”
“Miss Caroline?” I remembered Hoss asking as he peered forward. Before Bessie Sue, Hoss was sweet on Miss Caroline only she never knew it. And then he glared at me and cuffed me against the back of my head, as he realized who really was skinny-dipping. I giggled and threw my hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. But, with all sincerity I answered, “Honest Hoss, I couldn’t leave once I knew what Miss Jones was planning to do. She’d a seen me. I been hidin’ here with my eyes closed prayin’ she’d just leave… she’d get out of the water so I could go home.”
Home… Yeah, three days across the desert with a woman who was losing her grip on reality and an old codger who’d just as soon see me dead.
“I’m ready,” was voiced from behind me and I turned to see April fully clothed and trying to do something with her hair.
So, with that, I jumped down and walked to where she waited, and with the canteens slung over my shoulder and a gun in one hand and my other hand guiding her with a grasp around her bicep, we headed back to where Spain laid.
Not so gentlemanly, I pushed her to sit down as I helped Spain to his feet. I refused his request to untie him by saying, “If you want water, you’d best walk that way.” When we eventually reached the pool, he never inquired again about releasing his hands, he just fell to his knees and then to his side and rolled into the pooling water. Rolling and rolling and gulping. In time, we headed back to where April waited and the three of us set out.
I sparingly allowed April and Spain to drink as we walked across the desert, stopping more frequently than I had as I trailed them. Reaching down to pull her to her feet I heard Pa’s voice calling for me, “Coming,” I quietly answered, “I’m coming.”
Years before, after Adam had returned from college and we had skirted the desert once… I had asked him why everything seemed to shimmer and twist out there in the desert, he told me in some locations it was caused partially by what little moisture was in the land being evaporated into the air, but most of the time it was the sun’s rays bouncing back after reflecting off the hard-baked ground. He also went on to tell me of those mirages in the Sahara Desert where many travelers went off course thinking they were real, only for the unwary to perish.
And Big Gentle Hoss, I knew he was out there, he was coming… A whole cavalry of Hoss. I giggled as I remembered back to when I was four and teased Hoss about really being a horse. It wasn’t very nice of me, but when you’re four…
Four… No… Four’s not right, three days out, two days back… so far… Five… I think. One to go? Who knows… The posse is out there somewhere… So, we kept walking… canteens and money bags slung over my shoulder, one empty gun in my holster, another in my belt and the rifle… Who cares about a rifle anyhow? I had a hand in supporting that pretty face… April… April showers… come on… how I could use an April shower right now. The rain in Spain… Yeah… Wish those white clouds floating high in the sky would hang low and be grey, ready to let loose a fury of rain. But no… one foot in front of the other… Someone should write a song… Maybe Adam. Nah… He didn’t before…
It’s just a mirage I told myself as I allowed… Allowed, geesh as if I really had any control over what was happening at this point. But anyway, we stopped and drank some from what remained in the second canteen. April collapsed in a heap on the ground, calling for Tobias to just let her sleep. Spain just grunted as he hit the ground. The sun was setting anyhow…
With my face sunburned and my lips cracked, I told myself to ignore the mirage… Give April a few hours to rest and then we’d move on in the cool of the night, and so I allowed… like I had any control over gravity… gravity just took over my body as I too fell to the ground and laid on my side.
With my eyes wavering somewhere between open and closed… Damn that mirage is getting insistent, it continued thundering towards us. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have sworn that was Hoss leading a cavalry charge. Don’t know what they’re so all fired worried about, they got plenty of horses and looks like they got canteens a plenty hanging from the pommels of their saddles. Me… I got to worry… Maybe one more day… Maybe a third of a canteen left and April… What about April? Something about Spain and showers…
In the darkness that surrounded my thoughts, there was water trickling and felt it cool against my hot flesh. Voices… now Adam didn’t say anything about voices when he talked about those mirages, but maybe he didn’t know — he’d never been to the Sahara, just wait until I tell him.
“Pa?” Somebody mention ‘Ben’.
“He’s not here Little Joe,” the voice softly answered.
“Pa? There’s showers in Spain…” Lord was I talking or was I breathing?
“Shortshanks, you just hush up and sip what I give you, ya hear?”
“Shortshanks… That’s me. You’re not Pa,” my declaration stated, matter-of-factly.
“Nah, it’s just me, Hoss.”
“My kingdom for a Hoss!(4)” I declared and giggled after swallowing more water.
“Now Joe, I don’t know that Pa’d appreciate you givin’ away the Ponderosa in exchange for me.”
“Shakespeare’s tragedy of Richard the III, wouldn’t Adam be surprised,” I giggled again after Hoss pulled away the canteen.
“Yeah, he would be at that little brother, he would at that.” Hoss’ voice was soothing, as if talking to a person who wasn’t totally right up stairs, if you know what I mean.
My own guardian angel was there to take care of me and as for Miss Showers and Mr. Rain… I giggled and curled onto my side. Well, if they went anywhere they’d just get lost again. And then I’d let that mirage chase after them. Me, I’m just gonna lie here and dream of Hoss and the posse that were going to show up. Right now, there wasn’t Much Ado about Nothing(5) that I could do.
“Time to rise and shine, Shortshanks,” Hoss gently shook my shoulder.
“Not now, too early.” My voice sounded rough, my throat felt like I swallowed gravel.
“Now!” Hoss declared louder and the gentle shake of my shoulder became firmer.
“Hoss?” I forced open my eyes to see my big brother kneeling in front of me. “What are you doing here?”
“Don’t you remember?” Hoss looked perplexed.
Looking around, there was Sheriff Coffee walking over with a cup and the coffee pot.
“Mornin’ Little Joe. Hope you’re feeling better than you was last night?”
“Last night?” ‘When did they arrive?’ And wondered just what had happened. My two prisoners were nowhere in sight and at this I bolted up like a startled jackrabbit. “Where are they?! You didn’t let them escape, did you? Did I?!”
“You mean Miss Horn and Mr. Spain?” Sheriff Coffee over enunciating their last names before he turned from me.
“No need to worry little brother, the deputy and the rest of the posse left earlier this morning to take them and the money back to Virginia City.”
“And you didn’t wake me? Why?”
“Well, you’s a might touched,” Roy tried to hide the mirth from his voice.
“Touched,” Hoss tapped his temple with his forefinger. “But you seem better now. Think you can sit a saddle?”
“Why wouldn’t I be able to sit a saddle?” Defensively I pushed away his hand from my shoulder.
“Nothing, just worried about you little brother.”
Once camp was broke, Hoss made sure I was square in the saddle before he mounted his own horse. As we rode on, I saw him frequently sneak a sideways glance towards me and try to stifle a laugh, I bet he was laughing thinking about what surely must have been a Comedy of Errors(5).
You know, Adam once told me that when I was younger, I could practically fall asleep standing up, guess now isn’t too different, be danged if the monotonous rhythm of the horse’s gait didn’t put me to sleep. If only I’d known to keep awake. But then… I guess I’m glad I couldn’t hear Hoss and Roy talking about me and Shakespeare and all those other little jokes I had attempted to make the night before with me laughing when neither of them understood what I was trying to say.
Hoss waved goodbye to Roy when we came to the turnoff to the Ponderosa from the road that led to Virginia City. Me… I think I mumbled a, “Goodnight Sweet Prince (5)” and giggled. Don’t ask me why.
Arriving home and walking through the front door, Hop Sing took one look at me and ushered me straight to the bathhouse, he’d planned to have me relaxing in a tub of water at just the right temperature.
Pa starting to rise from his leather chair only to quickly sit down as he feared Hop Sing’s verbal assault in Cantonese. But me, I knew he was telling me that I’d have plenty of time to visit with Pa, AFTER I smelled better.
I couldn’t believe it, after my bath when I returned to the main room, and there sat Pa, in Adam’s favorite blue suede chair, wearing his burgundy dressing gown and his arm in a sling… but he looked good. He looked happy, like he and Hoss had been sharing a good joke. I headed straight for the fireplace and rubbed my hands together, I even commented to Pa about after all that time in the desert, I couldn’t believe I was drawn to the fireplace. As I was rubbing my hands, Hoss gave Pa a ‘knowing grin’ as he walked over to sit on the arm of the settee having left the fireplace himself.
It was then that I admitted to Hoss how good it had been to see him coming, at least I thought it was him and not one of those mirages, or a dream. I remembered the image, every rider I saw was Hoss.
It humbled me to hear Pa admit how good it was to have the two of us back home, as well as the money back where it belonged. And then… his voice became serious, saying how good it was knowing that those two were locked up in the Virginia City jail. He didn’t need to clarify who he was talking about. We all knew.
With that, Hoss stood up and stated that I deserved a drink; he offered me a brandy. Now, my hair’s been turning grey for more years than I’d like to count so it really wasn’t a surprise that he’d offer me that kind of drink, but… I just had to decline the brandy.
“Uh… No, no brandy for me, Hoss. No. Thank you. I’d really like a great big cool glass of water.” My hands emphasized the size of the glass of water I was wanting. “You have no idea how good water tastes. You ought to try it some time.”
With a smile on my face, Hoss headed out the front door and I turned to Pa and gave him a smile that I hope conveyed how pleased I was to see that he was doing so well.
“Joe, you do know that I’m here…”
“I know you’re here Pa,” I answered trying to avoid acknowledging the real meaning of his statement.
“Not that way, but if you want to talk about what happened…”
“Maybe later, but right now… I’m just happy to be home.”
“What about him? Did you get a letter while we were gone?” I evasively asked.
Pa was staring at me, not just looking at me, but like he was trying to evaluate me, was he comparing me against Adam?
“Just what?” Again, I’d become defensive.
“Just that Hoss mentioned you quoting Shakespeare quite a bit when they first found you.”
“I think Hoss might be the one missing Adam… Me? Quoting Shakespeare? Nah. But I do wish Adam would write…” Sitting down on the stones of the hearth, I looked to Pa and asked, “Do you think… maybe we should wire him and tell him what happened?”
“I’ll write it all in a letter, no need to worry him with what briefly could be written in a wire.”
“Pa, when I was out there…” Why couldn’t I let this be?
The question was on the tip of my tongue, but I struggled to ask it. Why? Maybe because I thought my father would think the question foolish? Or did I fear his answer? Taking a deep breath I asked, “Pa, have I grown up to be the man you expected me to be? Or did I fail….”
Somehow, I get the feeling that Pa knew this question was the one I was going to ask because he didn’t take much time before he answered, and that in and of itself gave me the jitters until I heard his words.
“Joseph, all three of my sons have grown to be more than I expected them to be. And you have not failed, but maybe I have, if you felt the need to ask that question.”
“No, it’s just that out there… in the desert… I had a lot of time alone to think… I know you miss Adam…”
“We all do,” Pa answered.
“But, for some reason… I got to thinking that had he stayed…” I stood up and walked over to Pa, and knelt down in front of him, my hands resting on his knee, “I’d of never gotten the chance to show you what I’m made of.”
“Joseph, you never had to show me what you were made of. I knew… So did Adam… and Hoss. The only person who ever doubted you, was you.”
Pa lovingly poked me in my chest and told me that before I went to bed, Hop Sing had some aloe vera to help take away some of the sting from the sunburn on my face and neck.
“Thanks, Pa. I kind of figured that out on my own.”
“Your doubt or the aloe vera?” teased Pa.
“My doubts… I guess I realized it over time, but with all that time alone, it sort of put a voice to what I subconsciously already knew.”
I stood up and bid Pa good night, I’d been too long in the sun and my body was ready to sleep in the cool comfort of my own bed… Maybe I’d have a Midsummer Night’s Dream (5)…
Thank you for taking the time to read; this was my first fan fiction story written for Bonanza.
Acknowledgements: (Writer claims artistic license to include the following within the story)
(1) Inspired by a line from “Meditation XVII,” by the English poet John Donne
(2) “Know when to hold them, know when to fold them”, was borrowed from Kenny Rogers’ song, The Gambler.
(3) The reference, “The Rain in Spain” was inspired by My Fair Lady, a musical based upon George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, with book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe.
(4) Inspired by a line from “Richard III,” by William Shakespeare.
(5) Works or phrases by William Shakespeare.
The phrase, “One foot in front of the other,” as thought by Joe throughout this story was borrowed from the Rankin/Bass holiday special, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, lyrics by Jules Bass.