A Different Wind (by Cheaux)

 

Synopsis:   What Happened next for the episode “Different Pines, Same Wind.”  Struggling with heartache and loss, Joe receives comfort from an unexpected source.

Rated:  G
Word Count:  7541

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

 

A Different Wind

 

Hoss Cartwright stood with one foot on the lower rail of the fence separating the meadow from the front yard, watching the new-born colt cavort around its mama.  The mare continued to graze lazily even as she kept a watchful eye on her offspring who was trying out his new legs in ever-widening circles.

Although still a little nippy at this hour, the dawn held the promise of another warm day—a sure sign that spring was finally here to stay after a fitful start following the long and tedious winter.

Hoss clicked softly and the mare came to him bobbing her head as if to say “See, what I made?”

“You shore did a good job, little mama,” Hoss said and gave her a rub on the nose before producing an apple which she took gingerly from his hand.

Hoss reached up and pushed his hat back, inhaling the cool spring air.

“You’re up early this morning, son,” said Ben Cartwright as he approached the fence, two steaming coffee mugs in hand.  “I figured you might be out here since breakfast isn’t ready yet.”

“Thanks, Pa,” said Hoss taking one of the mugs.  “Just checkin’ on Miss Lulubelle.  She had a rough time of it.”

“Yeah, she sure did, Hoss,” Ben acknowledged nodding.  “She wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for you.  She’s way too old to be foaling for the first time.”

“Shucks, Pa,” Hoss said.  “Twern’t nothin’.  Lulubelle did all the work.  I just talked her through it, is all.”

Ben took a draught from the mug remembering Hoss’ mother, Inger, talking another mare through a rough delivery on their way west.  She had held up an entire wagon train to do it, but Samuel Simon’s prize mare came through just fine because of her ‘talking.’”

Giving Hoss’s shoulder a squeeze, Ben said simply, “You have her touch, son.”

Hoss smiled, knowing who his father meant without his saying so.  He loved listening to the stories about his Swedish mother and how she cared for all living creatures.  Even though she died when he was just a baby, he felt her presence nearby every time he tended a sick or injured animal.  His Pa always said she was like a clean, fresh sunrise.  Hoss inhaled the spring air deeply and sighed.

As they sipped their coffee companionably and watched the colt nurse, Ben said softly, “I swear I’ve never seen a mare look more contented.”

“That she is, Pa.  That she is,” Hoss agreed.

“Makes me wish . . . ,” Ben’s voice trailed off leaving words unspoken.

Neither Cartwright said anything for a long while, each content to watch the joy of a new life discovering the world.

“What’s that you always used to tell Adam and me, Pa, when we got to fussin’ about how long it was takin’ to find our little piece of heaven?” Hoss asked. “If wishes were horses . . . .”

“Beggars would ride,” finished Ben, smiling.

“Yeah, that’s it,” chuckled Hoss, leaning down and picking an early wildflower that had pushed its head up beside the fence post.  Turning around he leaned his back against the rail and studied the lines and deep shadows under his father’s eyes.  Hoss knew his Pa’s tiredness was not just because it was early.  It was the worry and weariness of arguing with his younger brother for the last few weeks that had left its mark.

Joe and Adam, now they were flint and steel and when they went at it, sparks surely did fly, but rarely was there any combustion, Hoss mused.  But when Joe and Pa locked horns, they smoldered hot and long like a banked fire.  Most times Joe’s fire would die out of its own accord.  But every once in awhile Pa poked and poked until the embers ignited into a raging fire.   And Pa . . . well Joe could be like a zephyr wind fanning the flames of a forest fire until nothing in the vicinity was left unscathed.

This winter had been hard on them all.  Snowbound for much of it and suffering from cabin fever, they had each retreated to their own corners—Pa to his study and Joe to his room, while he kept busy in the tack room or barn.

“Joe still set on going then?” Hoss asked, warily.

Ben merely nodded and took another sip of coffee.

“When?”

“Well,” sighed Ben, “I got him to agree to see Paul Martin first.”

Hoss wrinkled his brow, “Heard tell Doc Martin was over to Pyramid Lake helping out with that measles epidemic on the reservation.”

“Mmmm,” Ben smiled, raising an eyebrow.

“Sneaky, Pa,” Hoss said in appreciation.  “Reckon he’ll give Joe a clean bill of health when he gets back?”

Ben rested his mug on the fence post and rubbed his face with his hands.  “I don’t know, son, I just don’t know.  Part of me wants nothing more than to know Joe is mended and well, but—God help me, Hoss—another part of me wants Paul to say he’s not fit to travel.”

“When’ll Doc be back?” Hoss asked, not sure he or Hop Sing could take much more of the constant bickering Pa and Joe had engaged in for weeks now.

“Monday,” Ben yawned audibly.  “Not soon enough in my book.  I am plum tuckered out arguing with that mule-headed brother of yours.”

“He’s mighty stubborn, that’s for sure,” Hoss snorted, then under his breath said “. . . just like you.”

“What’s that, Hoss?” Ben asked.

“Nothing, Pa,” Hoss said and then grew quiet.  “He was mighty fond of her, Pa.  Ain’t gonna be easy talkin’ him outta doin’ what he reckons is proper.”

“Yes, I do know, son.  I don’t agree that he has any responsibility in the matter, but I do know he . . . cares.  And cares deeply.  And that’s why I don’t want him shouldering this burden alone.  Not so soon after Emily.”

Emily Anderson McPhail.  Ben’s blood boiled just thinking about her.  The woman was a pathological liar who had hurt Joe badly the previous fall, not just by suddenly turning up in Virginia City after disappearing five years previously in response to Joe’s marriage proposal, but by telling lies that nearly got him arrested for robbery and murder.

Fortunately, Marshal Calhoun was an honest, careful lawman not prone to jumping to conclusions no matter how bad the circumstantial evidence might be.  After a thorough investigation, he proved that Joe was not involved and that the driver had killed the guard and then shot Joe before dying.

Unfortunately for Joe, the process of healing—both his shoulder and his heart—was set back by the brutally cold weather and record snowfalls which kept him inside, housebound and brooding for much of the fall and winter.  Robbed of the opportunity to exercise and recondition the arm through ranch work, his mood further darkened when he learned that Carrie Pickett had passed on.  Joe usually visited the old woman in the fall but had been prevented from making the trip by the injury.  Now that spring had come and the ground thawed, Joe felt compelled to see to it that she was properly buried, even though—in Ben’s opinion—any number of people could have handled that detail without Joe’s supervision.

“So, what was ya wishin’ for?” asked Hoss.

“What’s that?” Ben asked, coming back to the present.

“You said you were wishin’.  For what, Pa?” Hoss asked again.

Focusing again on the mare and her colt, Ben replied,  “Oh . . . wishing you could do for Joe what you did for that mare.”

“That was birthin’ a new life, Pa.  I had nothin’ to do with it, except to gentle Lulubelle when she needed it.”

“Mmmm.  And Joe needs some “gentling” himself if he’s to bury the dead and get on with life.”

Hoss thought it was his father that needed gentling more than his brother.  Joe was single-minded in his intent, but not irrational—not really.  Despite his outgoing, gregarious personality and social nature, Hoss knew his younger brother needed solitude from time to time to figure things out.  Sometimes it was the lake where Joe went, other times it was a secret place he and Joe shared that no one else knew about.  Joe didn’t need gentling . . . he just needed time and space to sort out his feelings—neither of which Pa was giving him.

Being cooped up all winter hadn’t helped.  Talk about a banked fire!   Joe and Pa had smoldered for months, igniting anything that came near them.  He gladly removed himself to the frigid outdoors tending to stock, making repairs after each storm passed, anything to avoid the inferno inside.

Things got worse after the holidays.  When there was no word from Adam by Christmas, they’d all been worried.  Even if he couldn’t be home, Adam never missed sending a letter for each of them and gifts if possible.  When a package finally arrived in late February, their enthusiasm was short-lived as there was only one letter inside addressed to them all.  It wasn’t what Adam had said as much as it was the tone.  While Pa read the letter out loud, he and Joe had locked eyes as the realization slowly cut through them like a hot knife.  Adam was never coming back.

“Well, then,” was all Pa had said, carefully returning the letter to the envelope before standing and placing it on the mantel Adam had built.  Then Pa rubbed his hands lovingly across the wood and walked silently upstairs to his room.

The brothers never broke eye contact despite the tears that flowed freely down both their faces.  After a long while, Joe took a deep breath, set his jaw, and walked out the front door.  They never talked about the letter again, but from then on the winds of change began to blow.

*****

Doctor Paul Martin was surprised to find Joe Cartwright waiting outside his office in Virginia City on Friday morning when he returned from Pyramid Lake.  His father Ben had been a close friend since the early days of Virginia City and Paul had watched his sons all turn into fine young men.  While Adam had left to seek his own fortune in the world, it seemed Hoss and Joe had their roots planted firmly in Ponderosa soil.

Joe may have been his best patient, but he was certainly not a willing one.   Paul had doctored the whole family through the years, but had spent infinitely more time tending the youngest than the others put together.  As a result, Joe had a tendency to avoid Paul except in strictly social situations.  Paul didn’t mind, but did find it mildly amusing . . . and today, just plain curious.  If Joe was voluntarily making an unsolicited visit, there must be a darned good reason.  Knowing Joe, however, he had doubts he would hear the truth of it.

“Morning, Joe.  What brings you here this fine spring morning?” Doc said as he unlocked the door.  “Come on in.  I’ll make coffee.”

“No need, Doc,” Joe said holding his hat in his hands.  “I was in town and just thought I’d stop by on the chance you were back.”

“Got back last night.  Most Army doctors don’t know much about childhood diseases which is why I volunteered to go up there.  Turns out though, Major Lewis is the oldest of 14 children, so he had plenty of experience!” the doctor chuckled.

“No kidding?”  Joe laughed along.  “Listen, Pa’s been itching to try out that new chess board Adam sent him from India.  I came by to invite you to dinner tonight.”

“That would be just fine, Joe.  I could use one of Hop Sing’s fine meals after those Army rations, and a game or two of chess is just what this doctor ordered!”

“That’s great, Doc.  I’ll be seeing you then,” Joe said, flashing his best smile as he headed for the door.

“Nice try,” the Doc said, catching his arm, “Now, take off your jacket and let me look at that shoulder.”

The gunshot wound had been serious, but not as bad as other injuries Joe had suffered over the years.  He’d been shot from low and behind, the bullet entering just below his right scapula passing through muscle and tendons and exiting through the upper right chest wall, miraculously missing arteries, organs, and bone.  What had impeded Joe’s recovery, however, was being snowbound during one of the harshest winters anyone could remember.

Because of the severe weather and the impassable roads to the ranch, Paul had not been able to supervise Joe’s rehabilitation as closely as he would have liked.  Although he left explicit instructions—and certainly Ben and Hoss had had plenty of experience in tending the injuries of the youngest Cartwright—Joe was very, very good at hiding his true physical state.  Sometimes, Paul knew, the father saw only what he desperately wanted to see and the son was skilled at fostering the illusion that all was well.

Joe had been shot during the commission of a robbery and for a time, the suspicion had fallen on him, mostly due to a fabricated story told by an ex-girlfriend.  Paul could see how profoundly affected Joe was by his fiancé’s lies and he suspected that it was this sense of betrayal more than anything else that overwhelmed the young man.

Things went from bad to worse when news reached the Ponderosa that old Carrie Pickett had passed.  From that moment on, the light just seemed to go out of the young man’s eyes.  He followed instructions, but did his exercises half-heartedly; he ate only enough to keep his father off his back; and, although he slept almost all the time, it was not a healing sleep.

Then in early March with the first signs of spring finally showing, Joe started talking about attending to the old woman’s burial which had been postponed until the ground thawed.  Ben vehemently objected and he and Joe had argued incessantly.  A casual observer might have believed Ben would win out in the long run by sheer force of will, but the doctor knew from personal experience that the youngest Cartwright matched his father tit for tat in the stubborn department!

Joe was here, Paul decided, because he was seeking an ally to bolster the claim he was fit for the trip.  The wound was healed, but the surrounding scar tissue was painful and limited Joe’s range of motion.  He needed to get moving and using the arm more than he had been.  More than that, the doctor knew that this trip was something Joe had to make in order to come to terms with his fiancé’s betrayal and the subsequent, unrelated loss of a dear friend.

So, despite what Ben wanted, Paul supported Joe’s desire to go to Crescent City and with a handshake and a deep sigh, Paul sent Joe off with his blessing.

He did not look forward to seeing Ben that evening.

*****

He what?!!” exploded Ben.

“Now, Ben,”  Paul responded.  “Calm down.”

“I am calm!!”

Hoss rolled his eyes and excused himself from the room quickly.  It was a little early to bed the stock down, but it was as good an excuse as any to get out of the way of an erupting volcano.  Hoss whispered, “Good luck” to Paul as he brushed past him on the way out the door.

Ben had been perplexed but delighted when his friend had unexpectedly showed up for dinner and a game of chess.   He hadn’t expected the doctor to return from Pyramid Lake until Monday.  When Paul explained that Joe had invited him to dinner that morning, Ben exploded, pounding his fist on the table.

Hop Sing came running in from the kitchen, waiving a wooden spoon, “Why you yell?  Make kitchen go shake shake, cake fall flat.  No dessert for you,” and exited the dining room shouting a torrent of Chinese.

“And I suppose he isn’t staying in Virginia City tonight, either,” fumed Ben.

After months of being cooped up, Joe had taken advantage of the warming trend and had gone riding for awhile each day this past week to build his stamina.  Ben had approved as long as he didn’t over do it.  The rides were short—almost always up to the lake to visit his mother’s grave as was his custom.  This morning Joe had—again with Ben’s approval—said he was going to try riding ‘a bit’ farther.

When Joe hadn’t returned by late afternoon, Ben began to worry, but then a  ranch hand delivered the news that Joe decided to stay ‘in town’ tonight and would not be back for dinner.  At that moment, Ben did not consider riding all the way into Virginia City as ‘a bit’ farther, but allowed as how Joe may have actually showed good sense by deciding to stay over if he was tired.  At this moment, however, he was fit to be tied.

“Well, Ben,” Paul said carefully, “he didn’t specify ‘Virginia City’ when he said ‘town’ now, did he?”

“Semantics!” Ben yelled, opening the front door and shouted, “Hank!!”  And again, louder, “HANK!”

One of the hands coming around the corner of the house, said “Can I help you, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Find Hank Caruthers and get him in here . . . NOW!”

The hand blanched, but responded smartly, “Yes sir!” and hurried off to the bunk house.

Ben turned around, leaving the door open, and began pacing.  “Of all the stupid, pigheaded, irresponsible, . . . .”

“You needed me, Mr. Cartwright?” Hank asked, looking pale.  He couldn’t imagine what he’d done to upset the elder Cartwright.  He’d only been working on the Ponderosa a short time, was enjoying the work, and thought he had settled in fairly well.

“When did you see my son?”

“Sir?”  Hank said, perplexed as he had seen Hoss come out of the house not five minutes ago.

“My son Joseph!  When he gave you the message about staying in town . . . when was that?”

“Oh.  This morning, sir, on my way into town to pick up the new valves for that  . . . ,”

Ben cut him off abruptly.  “And what time was that exactly?”

“Just after dawn, sir.”

“Just after dawn, sir,” Ben repeated, seething, his dark brown eyes narrowing.

“Yes, sir,” Hank replied, looking nervously at the other white-haired man in the room, not knowing who he was.

“And you waited until just before dusk to tell me this?”

“Well, ah . . . Joe said that pump was important and the valves couldn’t wait . . .  that . . . that it would be okay to tell you whenever I got back to the bunkhouse.”  Hank looked back and forth between Ben and the other man, not sure if he should continue.  “Joe, he, ah, he said one other thing I forgot to men. . . ,”

“And just what was that?”  Ben could barely contain himself.

“It was, ah . . . ‘Good luck with the game’?” said Hank, uncertainly.

At that point Paul quickly ushered the young man out of the house and shut the door firmly behind him.

“Now, Ben . . . .”

“DON’T TELL ME TO CALM DOWN!”

*****

Joe figured that between his leaving at dawn and Hank’s delivering the message right about the time Doc was arriving for dinner, he had bought at least three days before anyone caught up to him.

Three days of peace and quiet without the family fussing over him.

Three days to sort out the morass of emotions and feelings that he’d been wrapped in since last fall with no one poking at the scabs.

Three days to finish one last chore for the most stubborn, cantankerous old woman he had ever known.

He laughed out loud remembering the day she had gotten the drop on him with a shotgun claiming she was trying to catch a man to do for her.

“I was fixing to catch myself a man.  You’ll do real fine with the muscles you got,” she said, feeling Joe all over. “Tie up yore animal.  There’s chores to be done.”

He had originally gone to the wooded area of Crescent Mountain to prevent Jason Milburn from claiming on the land that would turn the 3,000 acres of watershed below the mountain into a dust bowl.

Along with Pa, Hoss, and a land agent named Jenks, Joe had witnessed with alarm Milburn’s clear-cut timber operations.  Unfortunately, as Jenks had pointed out, under the Preemption Act, if you didn’t already own any land in the Territory you could make improvement on a 1/4 section and claim it for $200.

Milburn had his men file claims and sell him the timber for $1.  It was legal but despicable.  In studying the map Jenks had with him, Joe figured out that a quarter section of unclaimed land lay between Milburn’s operations and the watershed and that without access to that land, Milburn wouldn’t have water or a way to get the timber out.

With the flip of a coin, Joe divested himself of his interest in a piece of land he and Hoss owned, leaving him free to claim the pivotal section.  He took off for Crescent Mountain with the intent of making improvements on the land and filing a claim by the end of the week.  He hadn’t counted on meeting up with likes of Carrie Pickett.

She thought he was trying to steal her land.

He was only trying to save it for her.

By the time they parted, he knew he had met someone he would never forget.

”Joe, I ain’t seen the like of you since my Amos and before neither.  If I had me twenty years less . . . ,” sighed Carrie.

“And if I had me twenty years more, ‘cause I ain’t never seen the likes of you neither.  You’re stubborn and you’re cantankerous and they just ain’t making girls into women like that no more.  I know.  I looked around.”

“Goodbye, Carrie Pickett.”

“Goodbye, Joe Cartwright.”

Only it wasn’t goodbye.  Not then.

*****

As Joe picked his way along the trail leading to the deep piney woods where Carrie’s cabin was, he thought back on all they’d been through together.

She hadn’t been kidding about wanting a man to do for her.  Her hand was hurt and she tricked him into cooking for her and cleaning up her messy cabin and then they’d argued about who owned her land.

“This is government land,” Joe told her.

“Taint possible!  It’s mine and It’s gonna stay mine as long as I draw a breath.”

“Ma’am, it ain’t yours. and it’s not going to stay yours unless you file a claim and pay the government $200.”

“My Amos built this cabin and he left it for me and I don’t have to claim on what’s already mine.”

“Ma’am, it’s the law.  It’s the law.  If you don’t file you’re gonna find your piney woods stripped clean.  Jason Milburn is going to log out the whole side of Crescent Mountain.”

Doc Belden worked for Milburn filling out claim forms and hadn’t practiced medicine in some time.  Despite his loss of self-respect, the Hippocratic Oath still resonated with the Doc so he followed Joe up the mountain and tended Carrie’s wound.  The prognosis was bleak; she had blood poisoning from the animal bite and the doctor told Joe the hand had to come off.

“Oh, Joe.  I told you I told you I told you I told you.”

“Now, Carrie, Carrie, take it easy.”

“I told you, Joe.”

“Take it easy.  Doc are you sure?”

“Oh, Joe, don’t let him do it. Don’t let him.”

“Carrie, it means your life.”

“I don’t care if I live.  I don’t care.  I got ready to die before you came.  See?  I put on my Chiney silk scarf that Amos give me for a wedding present that I been treasurin’ for my buryin’.  I just want to die here near my Amos.  You promised, Joe.  You promised.”

“Carrie, everything’s going to be alright.”

“Just so he doesn’t take off my hand.  Promise!”

Everything did turn out all right.  Doc Belden put a drain in and produced a claim form already filled out for Carrie to sign.

Although Milburn’s henchmen got a few punches in, Doc Belden came to his rescue and Pa, Hoss, and the land agent Jenks arrived in the nick of time.  Carrie kept her hand and her land.

“Are you alright, Joe?” she had asked.

“Oh, yeah.  I’m fine.  Don’t you worry about me.  What about you?  Sure you’ll be alright up here alone?”

“Oh, I’ll be fine.  You know, I can hardly believe it.  I was so scared for so long and now all of a sudden everything is alright.  You done it for me, Joe.”

He never wanted her to be scared again so he started making regular visits on one pretense or another.  She feigned surprise at his coming; he protested at all the chores she had stored up for him.  Neither was fooling the other.

Joe knew no one quite understood what kind of relationship there could be between a man in this late twenties and woman in her late sixties.  He had tried to explain it to his family, mostly without success.  After a time they stopped openly teasing him, but he saw the looks that passed between Pa and Hoss when they thought he wasn’t watching.  He eventually stopped trying, but did not back down from his position.

In the fall he went to hunt, butcher, and preserve meat, chop enough wood for winter, and help with the canning so the root cellar was full.

In the spring he went to repair winter storm damage, turn the garden soil for planting, and bring fresh supplies, including a new dress and some ribbon or lace.

Though she protested that it was an unwarranted extravagance, he saw the light in her eyes as she fingered the cloth.  It brought him an exorbitant amount of pleasure to pick out colors that would complement her once copper hair.   Though graying, when the light was just right he could imagine how glorious it must have been in her youth.

Whatever his family thought about their relationship, the spring and fall trips fell  within a realm of reasonableness he could justify to his Pa.  But the summer trips were the ones that always cost him capital with his family because they took him away from the Ponderosa during the height of the busy season on the ranch.

To compensate, he had learned to delegate more which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing from a management point of view—and something Adam would certainly have approved of—but it also rendered him vulnerable when Pa asked if he had directly supervised the cutting of timber or the moving of cattle or the breaking of horses.

He was adept at turning around less-than-specific instructions to fit his needs, but he wouldn’t lie to his Pa and he assiduously strove to avoid the inevitable arguments that were sure to ensue if Pa found him out on a technicality.

So, where possible, he tacked his visits onto the beginning or end of trips that took him away from the ranch on legitimate business.  He didn’t fool himself into believing that the family was ignorant of these extensions.  Pa or Hoss or both undoubtedly knew what he was doing, but at least they had stopped riding him—perhaps because they had seen a change in him.

He could feel the change as well.

The time spent on the mountain was balm to his soul.  On those summer visits, chores didn’t follow a schedule.  He slept late, enjoyed fishing for trout in the streams and going for long walks with Carrie in the piney woods looking for mushrooms or berries or herbs.  But evenings were best when they sat on the front porch Joe had added to the small cabin, gazing at a magenta sunset reflected on the still lake waters or listening to the shushing of the pine needles.

“What do you hear, boy?” 

“The wind talking to the pines.”

“Why that’s just as my Amos used to say it.  Pure mountain man, my Amos.  Couldn’t live nowhere else than the deep piney woods.  Couldn’t breathe nowhere else.  You be feeling that same way, Joe.”

She showed him the twin pines in the lake grove below which Amos was buried.  They talked about how Amos and Carrie met and had wound up in the piney woods, eking out a living trapping; how his Pa had married three times and had a son by each wife before finding his dream and how he was still looking for his; how Carrie wasn’t sorry she never had children and how Joe wanted them; how horses were his passion and how much he missed Adam.

Summer was the last time he’d seen her.  In the fall he was shot and then winter came early and hard.  When he was too sick to travel, he had Hoss send a wire to Doc Belden asking that someone dependable go up the mountain to take her supplies and get the cabin ready for winter.

It was too late.

A blizzard hit early and they’d found her frozen in a snow drift in the lake grove, clutching the remnants of a pink china silk scarf.

*****

Joe reached the cabin early Saturday morning and turned it upside down looking for the dresses he had given her but aside from one or two bodices and some rags, he found no trace of them.  Well, life was hard up here and he supposed the thinner cotton material just didn’t hold up like the heavier woolen skirts she was used to wearing.  He wanted to lay her out in something better than homespun, but all that really mattered to Carrie was that she was buried with that silk scarf Amos had given her.

The wind blew the door open with a bang.  Joe moved to close it and then saw the wagon approaching with a lone driver.

“Good to see you, Joe,” the man said as he halted the wagon in front of the little cabin and climbed down to shake Joe’s hand.

“How are you Doctor Belden?” Joe asked.

“My practice is going well, thanks to you.  I don’t know what my life would have become if you hadn’t knocked some sense into me when you did.”

“No thanks needed, Doc.  I appreciate what you did for Miss Carrie, both her hand and . . . and for last fall,” Joe’s voice caught.

“I wish it could have been more.  That snow storm came out of nowhere and caught everyone off guard.”  The doctor started walking towards the lake grove and Joe followed.  “By the time the roads were passable, the drifts were six foot or more.”

They walked in silence for a bit, finally stopping where twin pine trees stood in the middle of the grove, their branches intertwining.

“We found her here,” Doc said.  “I have no idea why that crazy old woman would venture out in a blizzard wearing nothing but a thin cotton dress and the remnants of an old silk scarf.”

Joe dropped to his knees with the back of his hand pressed against his mouth to suppress a sob.

“She wasn’t crazy,” Joe choked.  “She went to meet Amos.”

*****

The doctor backed off quietly leaving Joe alone with his grief.  He returned to the wagon and threw the canvas cover off.  Underneath was a pine box, two shovels and some rope.

After a time, the doctor returned to the where the two pines stood and handed one of the shovels to Joe.  Amos was buried beneath the one on the right, so they started digging on the left.  They worked silently, sweating in the breeze of a spring day made cooler by the canopy of pine boughs overhead.

His Pa was right; he wasn’t fit and he needed the help as his shoulder began to scream in protest before they were even half way through digging.  Although Carrie’s small stature had not necessitated a large coffin, the earth was still slightly frozen and the digging was slow going.  At last they finished and were able to lower the box into the grave using the ropes.

They had started shoveling the dirt back into the hole when Joe cried out, “Stop!”

“What is it?” Doc asked, alarmed.

“The scarf.  Is she wearing the scarf?  She’s got to have the scarf,” Joe insisted.

“The scarf?”

“Yes.  The pink silk scarf.”

“Oh.  Yes,” the doctor said, remembering.  “There wasn’t much left of it, but she was clutching it so tightly I figured it must be important to her.  Couldn’t have been because it gave much warmth.”

“And the dress?”

“The dress?  Oh . . . the one she had on when we found her . . . there wasn’t no other.”

“Blue with little pink flowers?” Joe looked at the doctor pleading, his eyes red and swollen.

“Yes . . . yes, I believe it was.”

“Good.  Good.”

She was wearing it, that’s why I couldn’t find it in the cabin.

“Okay.  Okay.  Let’s finish.”  Joe wiped his eyes with his sleeve and continued to fill the hole.

The doctor studied Joe for a long, long time and then quietly followed suit.

*****

When they finished, Joe trudged wearily down to the lake, removed his shirt and dunked it into the water.  The lake, fed by mountain streams, was still frigid.  He squeezed out the excess water over his head and then slapped the cold cloth around his neck and returned to the cabin, collapsing on the porch.  The wooden planks had absorbed the heat of the day and felt soothing to his shoulder as he lay there.

“How long has it been?” asked the Doc, already sitting on the porch.  “Your shoulder.  The scars look new.  How long has it been?” he asked again.

“Four-five months.”

“It’s the reason you couldn’t come last fall,” the doctor surmised.

Joe nodded.

“It’s not your fault.  You couldn’t have done anything more than what was done.”

Joe covered his eyes with his arm but otherwise didn’t move or say anything.

From under the driver’s seat of the wagon, the doctor retrieved his medical bag along with a parcel wrapped tightly in brown paper and tied with a blue ribbon.  He walked back to the porch and laid the parcel down.

“She left this with the Sheriff in town.  It’s addressed to you.  He heard I was coming up here today and sent it along.”

The doctor opened his medical bag, pulling out a jar of salve.  “Use this tonight.  If your shoulder is still hurting in the morning, stop by my office on your way home and I’ll give you something to ease the pain.”

Joe still didn’t respond and the doctor thought maybe he had fallen asleep, but then he heard a soft, “Thanks, Doc.  For everything.”

“Least I could do,” he replied.

Do maybe, but he wished there was something more he could say to bring comfort to this young man who had helped him turn his life around.  He retrieved the shovels and rope and threw them in the back of the wagon along with the canvas tarp, then slowly climbed into the driver’s seat.

“You were right, Joe; she wasn’t crazy.  She went to meet Amos, knowing it was her time.  You being here or not . . . wouldn’t have changed anything.”

Joe lowered his arm and laced his fingers across his abdomen.  He took a deep breath, but didn’t reply.

“Believe it son.  She wouldn’t rest easy if she knew you were hurting.”  And with that said, the doctor slapped the reins and drove away.

*****

Joe was gentled by the warm sun and the rustling of the wind through the pines.

“What do you hear, boy?” 

“The wind talking to the pines.”

He slept for hours on the porch dreaming of Emily and the happy times in Monterey where they met and fell in love.  He relived the long rides and picnics and dinner parties and the oh-so-exquisite, lingering kisses that stirred his body still.

Emily was right about one thing.  Marriage was not made by the droning of words and the signing a county register.

“Joe, marriage is in the heart. True marriage,” she’d said.  “And you’re in my heart, and I don’t think you can look at me and say that I’m not in yours.”

“No, Emily.  You’re there.”

But that wasn’t enough he saw now.  It took two hearts, beating as one—like the twin pines in the grove standing so close as if both shared the same tap root, the same heart.  Pa had it with all three of his wives.  Carrie and Amos had had it.

He truly believed he had loved Emily with all his heart, but in hindsight he realized that she hadn’t loved him, not really.  In love with the idea of love, perhaps, or just hoping he would take her away from her father.

When did the lies start, he wondered.  If her father hadn’t interfered, would they have married?  Would life with Emily have become a living hell filled with doubt and deceit?  He shivered at the thought and became anxious even in his dreams, but a warm wind caressed his body soothing him back to sleep.

In the end, Wade McPhail had apologized for his wife.  Joe had replied that they were all sorry about a lot of things.  And then Doc Martin had insisted his patient return home and Joe never saw her again.

With each push of wind that ruffled his hair and kissed his skin, the image of Emily grew dimmer until—in a final gust—her face separated into tiny fluffs and floated away on the breeze like a spent dandelion.

*****

Joe awoke lazily, not realizing at first where he was, then remembering.

His shirt was dry now and he put it on against the late afternoon chill as the heat of the day dissipated.  He went down to the corral to feed and water Cochise and then realized he hadn’t eaten all day and was really hungry.

Despite the cooler air, it was too nice an evening to be cooped up inside after being housebound all winter so he made a campfire outside the cabin.  Hauling more water from the lake, he put coffee on to boil and some beans and bacon in a pot to cook.  He really should have dug a new well, he thought, so Carrie wouldn’t have had to lug water to the house at her age.  He guessed that chore would belong to someone else now.

While supper cooked, he straightened up the cabin putting away the items he had torn apart in search of a burial dress.  He separated what should be burned and what could be left for the next occupants.  There was surprisingly little left of Carrie’s life to be disposed of and that saddened him.  He meant to ask the Doctor whether Carrie had had anything else on her.  Knowing Carrie, however, she would have taken with her what she wanted.  Still, he wished he had something to remember her by.

By the time he finished with the cabin, it was full dark.  Joe sat cross-legged on the porch and ate his supper in the comforting glow of a kerosene lantern accompanied by the serenade of piney woods’ critters.

God, it was good not to be arguing with his Pa.  He hated when they got like that . . . snipping and sniping at each other.  He tried to hold his temper and shut his mouth, but sometimes it was like a stranger took control of his brain and he couldn’t stop himself.  Hoss said it was because he and Pa were too much alike and they each knew where the other’s soft underbelly lay.

He hated the thought that he could intentionally hurt his Pa.  Sometimes he thought about leaving so he wouldn’t cause anymore harm, even unintentionally.  He envied Adam in a way—seeing the world, having adventures in exotic places like his Pa used to do in his youth.  He wondered if he could be happy somewhere else.  He thought he’d like to try.

Emily had talked about going to South America.  It had sounded so funny when she said it, but part of him desperately wanted to go.  What if they had?  Would it have made a difference?  Would Emily have loved him then?

And what of Adam?  Was he happy wherever he was?  When Adam left to see the world, he convinced himself it would only be for four years just like when Adam went away to college.  In retrospect, he guessed Pa had thought the same thing because when that fourth anniversary passed and there was still no Adam, there was a subtle but palpable shift in the way they all related to each other, and it unnerved him.

The wind had picked up again.

He told Carrie that the same wind blew on the Ponderosa.  Now he wasn’t so sure.  He thought it was a different wind that blew tonight.  And he wondered what that meant.

*****

Returning to the porch after putting another log on the fire, he spied the package the Doctor brought.  There was an envelope under the ribbon and he opened that first.  It was a letter from Jenks, the Carson City land agent who had filed Miss Carrie’s claim.  He read it and then turned up the lantern to read it again, stunned by the words he saw.

Carrie Pickett had transferred her ownership interest in this quarter section of Crescent Mountain to him.  What he couldn’t figure out was why.

“Pure mountain man, my Amos.  Couldn’t live nowhere else than the deep piney woods.  Couldn’t breathe nowhere else.  You be feeling that same way, Joe.”

“Miss Carrie, I’m a rancher, but I care about the forest, too.”

Joe closed his eyes and breathed in the deep scent of pine.  She was right; he couldn’t imagine living anywhere there weren’t pines.  And now this piney woods was his.

Trembling, his fingers unwrapped the brown paper and unfolded the cloth he found inside.  At first he didn’t comprehend what he was seeing.  Then, as his eyes travelled across the field of concentric circles he recognized bits and pieces of the dresses he had given her and it slowly came to him that the reason he hadn’t found the clothes in the cabin was because she had cut them up to make this quilt.

His hands continued to move across the cloth following the tiny stitches and touching each piece of fabric until his eyes fell on something that took his breath away.  At the convergence of each concentric circle was a piece of pink china silk.

”Joe, I ain’t seen the like of you since my Amos and before neither.  If I had me twenty years less . . . ,” sighed Carrie.

“And if I had me twenty years more, ‘cause I ain’t never seen the likes of you neither.  You’re stubborn and you’re cantankerous and they just ain’t making girls into women like that no more.  I know.  I looked around.”

“Goodbye, Carrie Pickett.”

“Goodbye, Joe Cartwright.”

In each corner of the quilt was a pine tree and there was a note pinned to one of them.

Wiping his eyes, he read,

“It be said the first person to sleep under a quilt will have their dreams come true.  Keep looking, Joe. She be out there waiting for you.” 

“Carrie Pickett, you stubborn, cantankerous old woman,” Joe whispered, his voice breaking.  “I love you.”

*****

A different wind talked to the pines that night as he slept cocooned in the quilt.

He dreamed of Adam, smiling and finally content in a place warmed by the sun.

He dreamed of his Pa bemused by the bubbles coming out of his pipe, surrounded by giggling children.

He dreamed of Hoss at their secret happy place walking hand in hand with Inger.

He dreamed of green forests and riding Cochise through fields of amber.

He dreamed of a tall woman with auburn hair standing on a bluff, the sun behind her revealing a shapely silhouette.  When she turned toward him, he saw her eyes were the same shade of deep turquoise as the lake behind her.

She reached out to him, beckoning, and—as the wind gently kissed his brow—he smiled, peaceful at last.

It was a wind of hope.

—The End—

April 2010

Author’s notes:

Many thanks to Suzanne Clauser for her splendid story and to Irene Tedrow for her rich characterization of Carrie Pickett in Different Pines, Same Wind.  Thanks also to writers Preston Wood and Elliott Gilbert for Emily.

The name of the doctor in Emily was actually Dr. Lewis, but the actor who played him was the same Harry Holcombe who played Dr. Paul Martin in numerous Bonanza episodes, so I chose to use the name Paul Martin in this story.

 

 

2 thoughts on “A Different Wind (by Cheaux)

  1. As always, I love your descriptions of the pines, wind, lake and all the surroundings. And your descriptions of the emotions and inner thoughts of all the characters in his story, especially Joe, Blending this story in with “Emily” definitely fit these stories “together, I couldn’t have even told you beforehand if they were in the same season. I know I haven’t read this story before. All those family interactions also “rang true” . Joe and Pa, Joe and Hoss, even Joe and Dr Martin. This was a great read for a cold weekend night

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.