Word Count: 4000
“See ya later, little brother,” Hoss said as he and Adam turned their horses out of the yard and onto the road. Little Joe stood next to his father, who had his hand tightly holding onto his youngest boys shirt collar. Joe didn’t like the tugging and angrily broke free from his father’s hold.
“Joseph, you get over here right now,” Ben said, glaring at the boy.
“I don’t like being grabbed by my shirt,” Joe shot back.
“Oh you don’t, do ya?” Ben said, purposely grabbing the back of his collar again and bringing him face to face with him. “Too bad. I want you to listen.”
The six-year-old stood defiantly with his hands thrust into the pockets of his trousers, with unseen fists clenched. He’d been looking forward to spending the day fishing with his older brothers, but his disobedience of his father’s order had cost him dearly. He had to stay behind. He didn’t know what was so wrong with what he did. He was going to get around to doing the chore his father assigned to him; he just hadn’t done it when his father had asked him to do it. And his lesson to be learned was that not following your father’s orders meant you didn’t get to reap the rewards.
“Someday you’ll need to learn, son, when I tell you to do something, you do it. I’m a lot older than you and I know a lot more than you do,” Ben was saying, but the little green-eyed boy was barely listening. He was only thinking of all the fish that were swimming down the river that he’d be unable to catch. “Son, we must learn that first, we do our work, then we enjoy the good times.”
“Do you understand what I’m telling you son and why?” Ben asked.
Little Joe still stared down the road his brothers had taken and didn’t respond to his father’s question. At six, lessons about working and playing just seemed a little too hard to understand, especially on such a fine day.
Ben spun him around and glared at him. He had been glad that the three of them were going to spend time together. He had a full day of chores lined up for himself to do and it would be nice without the boys running around underfoot. And now this, his defiant little boy had thrown a wrench into his plans. He couldn’t just let it pass, though; the boy needed to learn.
“Joseph Francis Cartwright, are you even listening to me?” Ben narrowed his eyes and cast them upon his son.
The little boy hadn’t been and couldn’t bring himself to lie to his father, so he simply hung his head low and waited for additional punishment. “No, sir,” he said quietly.
Ben shook his head in disbelief. His boy was disobedient, but he always told the truth. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly before he saw Joe peeking up to see him.
“Young man, get up on that porch and start writing, ‘I will not disobey my father,’ until I tell you to stop. There’s paper and a pencil under the basket,” Ben explained.
“Yes sir,” answered Joe and he slowly made his way to the porch. Ben watched the boy dawdle his way up to the porch.
“Hurry along, young man,” Ben called out after him. Joe kicked at the dirt and picked up his pace, turning his head back slightly to see his father watching his every move. Then he made his way onto the porch and began his punishment.
Ben headed into the barn and began to work on some of the projects he’d been planning to get to, all the while thinking about his youngest boy. He was so different from his older brothers. Maybe Ben and Marie had spoiled him too much too early on. Maybe circumstances had changed for Ben from when Adam and Hoss had been as little as Joe and he now did things differently. Adam commented on it the most. He obviously could see it too. Ben shook his head; values were values, that’s what would stick in all his boys and his values were still the same. There was just uneasiness in that youngest son of his, a need for him to find out things on his own and to fully understand them in his own way and in his own time. Ben had to have patience.
Ben checked on him several times and Joe sat with his head resting on his right arm, printing the sentence over and over again. Ben wondered how long the punishment should go on for. He went back over to the workbench and started in on the repair he was working on.
A few minutes later he heard the sound of footsteps entering the barn. Without looking back, he said, “Joseph, did I give you permission to leave the porch?” No answer came. Ben turned and saw a man about his own age standing in the doorway of the barn. Then he saw the man holding the gun on him.
“Let’s go, mister, into the house,” the other man was saying to Ben as he waved his gun in Ben’s direction.
“What’s this all about?” Ben said as he started to head out of the barn. The man with the gun moved out of the way to let him pass, keeping the barrel of the gun pointed right at him. As Ben got to the door, he thought about Joe sitting on the porch. He’d shout to him to run. But when he got to the door, Joe wasn’t there. The paper was scattered on the floor of the porch and another man was coming out of the house. Ben could tell from the way he was walking that he was wounded.
“Come on, Delph; I got the kid in here and there’s no one else around.”
“Yeah, we’re coming,” Delph shouted back across the yard.
“What have you done with my boy?” Ben looked back and shouted.
“Just get inside. You and your kid are gonna have a lot more to worry about soon enough.”
Ben went to the house as quickly as he could. Right now, his concern was for the safety of his son. He opened the front door and saw Little Joe around the edge of table. He was doing his darnedest to stay away from the injured man, who was trying to grab him.
“Come here, kid. I’m not playing around with you,” the wounded man shouted at the boy.
“Crenshaw, can’t you do anything?” Delph called out. “He’s just a five year old; grab him and bring him over here,” Delph said, slamming the front door and pushing Ben toward the settee.
Crenshaw moved to his right and Joe darted around the other way, avoiding his reach. He started to scamper off toward the dining room, but this time Delph reached out and tripped him, sending the youngster sliding across the floor. Crenshaw quickly moved in toward him.
Joe split his lip wide open and was busy wiping the oozing blood. He rolled toward Delph and said angrily, “I ain’t five. I’m six.”
Crenshaw picked him up effortlessly off the floor and started to walk with him over to the settee, but Joe had other ideas. He knew Crenshaw had a bullet wound; he could see the blood on his arm. Joe started punching Crenshaw right on the wound. Crenshaw howled and dropped Joe back onto the floor. Joe smacked his head again and lay there dazed for a moment. Ben made a move for his boy, but Delph cracked him on the back of his head with the butt of the pistol and sent him falling on to the settee.
“Get over here, Crenshaw,” Delph said, giving him the gun. “Keep on eye on the father. I’ll take care of the kid.”
Ben started to come around and saw that Delph was starting to manhandle Joe.
“Come here, kid.” Delph angrily snatched him off the ground once again. “You’re just a scrawny thing for being six. Does your Pa ever feed you?” It seemed as if Delph knew just the buttons to push on the young boy.
Joe glanced over at Ben and defiantly kicked Delph right where it counted. He braced himself for the fall to the floor this time as Delph gasped for air.
“You okay, Delph?” Crenshaw asked.
“Yeah, and I ain’t fooling around no more. No little kid is gonna make a fool of me.” Delph stood up straight and went right for Little Joe. Joe tried to crawl away and get to his feet, but Delph grabbed him again and this time stood him on his feet and proceeded to ram his fist into the little boy’s stomach.
“Please no!” Ben shouted. “He’s just a boy! Don’t hurt him. Just tell me what do you want?”
Delph laughed and watched as the little boy struggled to catch his breath. He all but ignored Ben’s plea. “Alright little boy, you still want to play games with a man?” He studied Joe and saw a fury in the boy’s eyes. “Your Pa over there apparently ain’t taught you how to respect your elders.”
Ben saw that fury in his boy too. He often saw it and didn’t know how to control it. It was that streak of disobedience all over again. But these men were brutalizing him and taunting him and they might even kill them before it was all over. He couldn’t expect his boy to just sit by and let it happen. He knew he wouldn’t either. But would Joe wait for just the right moment? How could such a small boy even know when that moment would be? Ben wasn’t sure he’d know when it was. Before he could say anything to Joe, the boy attacked Delph again. He was no match for the man, and Delph merely held him at bay while Joe flung his arms and tried to kick at him, but he was unsuccessful. Delph laughed at him again and roughly pushed him away, sending Joe sprawling across the floor. The back of Joe’s head smacked hard into the table and he lost consciousness.
Ben swallowed hard. “Look, please don’t hurt him anymore. Take whatever you want; just leave us be.”
“Maybe we don’t want nothing,” Delph said. “Maybe we just like hurting people.” Delph turned his back to Ben and fixed his eyes on the unmoving Joe. Crenshaw laughed.
“Yeah Mister, people been hurting us all our lives; now we just decided on taking some revenge,” Crenshaw explained.
“That’s all this is about? Some sort of insane revenge?” Ben shouted at the two of them.
“Yeah, that’s all it is. We been riding through Nevada just delivering some payback, that’s all,” Crenshaw said.
Ben watched and listened in horror. These two were just going to brutalize him and Joe? He couldn’t understand that. Both of them had wild, hate-filled eyes. He couldn’t comprehend what they might be actually capable of and he didn’t want to find out. How could he get Joe out of there? That’s all that he could think about.
Delph stood right over Joe now. The man was rubbing his hands together, thinking of what he’d do next to the boy. He grabbed the front of Joe’s shirt and hauled the groggy boy to his unsteady feet. “See here Mister, I’ll break him of this insolence for ya. This little fella’s got no respect for his elders.” Joe’s head bobbed from side to side as he tried to come to. “I’m gonna teach him some things his papa should have been teaching him.” Delph took the back of his hand and smacked the side of Joe’s head, all the while holding him up, not letting him fall. Joe again was out on his feet.
Ben winced as he saw the torture his child was enduring and he made another move to stop it. But Crenshaw put the gun right at Ben’s head and said, “You rather see your kid get what he’s getting now, or you want him to see his Pa die right before his eyes?”
Joe was coming around again and heard Crenshaw say what he did. Delph still had a tight hold of his shirt. Joe tried to make him release the grip, but to no avail. It only made him madder. A new surge of anger overtook him. Disobey or not, there was no way they were going to shoot his Pa or hurt him anymore.
Ben saw Joe coming around and saw the look in his eye. He called out to him, “Joe, no! Boy, listen to me. Joe, don’t fight; Joe, it’ll be alright son.” But his son’s streak of disobedience was not to be quelched.
Delph laughed again; he knew the boy wasn’t going to listen. He still had his hand firmly grasped on the boy’s shirt. “Come on boy, try me again; you know you want to,” he taunted him.
Ben saw Joe clench his fists and he knew he had to act as well. This was the moment. He suddenly rose up and threw an elbow right at Crenshaw’s face, sending him sprawling onto the floor. Then, as Joe was about to mount an attack on Delph, Ben flew at Delph, knocking Joe free from his grasp. Delph went after Ben as Joe sat back on his haunches and watched his Pa struggle with the younger man. At that moment, he knew he had to get help for both him and his father. He got to his feet and took one last look at his father as he fought with Delph. Crenshaw still lay in a heap behind the settee. “I’m sorry, Pa,” he whispered as he turned and ran out of the dining room, back through the kitchen and out the back door.
Ben looked to see him run into the kitchen. “Joe, run,” he shouted as both Delph and Crenshaw now turned their wrath on him.
Joe never heard his father.
Joe ran and didn’t stop running. He thought of going to Virginia City to get the Sheriff, but that was so far on foot. He needed to get to Adam and Hoss; they’d know what to do and they had horses. Joe stopped for a minute to catch his breath and to think. They said they were going to go to Blue Lake. He hoped the fish were biting there and that’s where they’d be. He started running again.
Joe heard the laughter of his brothers as he approached. Thank goodness they were still there. As he came up to them, Joe shouted to them and fell down from sheer exhaustion. “Adammmmm, Hossssss,” he screamed.
The brothers’ dropped their fishing poles when they heard Joe’s cry.
“What the heck?” Adam said turning to see his brother fall down.
Hoss was already running over to Joe. “Adam, bring the canteen,” he called back. He reached his little brother and cradled his head as gently as he could. “Oh Lordy, Little Joe, what is it? What’s happened to ya, boy?”
Adam came running right behind with the canteen. “What happened?”
“Lordy Adam, someone beat him up bad,” Hoss said, staring at the face of his little brother. “You don’t think Pa did this?” He remembered his father said he’d punish Joe for his disobedience. Adam nodded no.
Joe started coming around, “NO Hoss, not Pa…Pa’s in trouble,” he gasped. “He didn’t do this to me. Two men.”
“What are you saying? Joe?” Hoss said.
“Hoss, give him some water; let him catch his breath,” Adam was saying. Adam held the canteen for his little brother to drink. Joe sloppily drank down some water. His breath was still labored.
“Joe, can you tell us what happened?” Hoss asked.
“Pa needs help,” Joe gasped. “Two men, they want to hurt him. I had to get away, to get help. I didn’t want to leave, but it’s the only way I could think of to help Pa.”
“Adam, what are we gonna do?” Hoss asked.
“You take Joe over to the Walker’s. Get Jake and Mr. Walker and meet me back over at Snowden Pass,” Adam said.
“No, Adam,” Joe said, “I wanna go too. Please don’t send me to the Walkers. I’m alright, just out of breath; please, Adam?”
Adam looked at both of them. He knew he wasn’t going to win this argument. “Ok, come with me. Hoss, you get the Walkers and tell them we’ll need some guns.”
“I’m on my way, Adam.”
Along with the Walkers, the Cartwright boys rode up to the edge of the property, close to the main house.
“Hoss you and Joe stay here, you hear me?” Adam said, grabbing a rifle and joining Jake and Harry Walker as they got to their feet to walk the rest of the way to the house. “I mean it, Hoss; don’t come into the house.” Hoss nodded his understanding.
“But Adam…” Joe said, sliding off the back of the horse, ready to follow.
“No, Joe, no buts right now; you have to listen. I’ll come and get you both, I promise. Now stay here with Hoss.” Adam motioned for Hoss to come and be with his brother.
“Come here, Joe; Adam and the Walkers will take care of everything,” Hoss tried to reassure him. Joe grudgingly stayed with Hoss as Adam and the Walkers headed toward the Hoss.
As they got nearer, they could hear things shattering and breaking inside the house. The three of them decided to spilt up and enter the house from different directions. According to Joe, there were only two men inside with their father, and one of them had a shoulder injury. And they had the element of surprise on their side.
And surprise they did. Pouncing on the house, they busted inside as Delph and Crenshaw were mercilessly pounding Ben. Adam cocked his rifle and shot Delph straight in the chest. Harry Walker took care of stopping Crenshaw.
Joe and Hoss heard the shots; Joe quickly broke away and raced toward the house. Hoss was right behind him.
Joe ran through the open front door. He saw Delph and Crenshaw lying on the floor, and Ben was lying on the floor as well. He rushed over to Ben right away.
“Pa, oh Pa,” Joe started to cry and he put his head on his father’s chest. Adam too went over to his little brother and his father. Hoss stayed in the doorway, stunned beyond words. He could only imagine what his Pa and Joe had been through. Adam turned and said, “Hoss, get to town and get the doc,” and he added, “and hurry.” Hoss nodded and turned and left.
Little Joe still cried over his father. Adam reached down and picked up his little brother. “Joe, come here; let the Walker’s take Pa up to his room,” Adam said.
“Adam, Pa’s dead,” Joe cried as he buried his head against his brother’s shoulder.
“Shhhhh, hey, no, he’s not dead; he’s just unconscious. That’s why Hoss went to get the doctor. He’s not dead,” Adam explained.
“He’s not dead?” Joe asked, still not willing himself to believe.
“No he’s not,” Adam smiled, “and why didn’t you wait for me to come and get you?”
Joe still cried and didn’t answer; he just shook his head and buried his face back against his father.
“You gotta start obeying,” Adam whispered into his little brother’s ear.
Several hours later, Doc Martin was attempting to patch up the cuts and bruises on Joe, who wasn’t sitting still.
“Joe, would you quit squirming. The doc just wants to fix you up,” Hoss said, holding onto his brother’s legs so the doc could do some work.
They sat in the living room, now quiet and picked up, albeit lightly, from the mess that had taken place earlier in the day. Adam came down the stairs. Joe pushed away and ran up to meet him.
“Adam, is Pa ok?” Joe asked, peering up at his oldest brother.
Adam picked him up. “Yeah, he’s ok; he wants to see you,” he said.
Joe scrambled down from his brother’s grasp and dashed up the stairs to his father’s bedroom. When he got to the door, he slowed down and entered shyly.
“Joseph, is that you?” Ben asked, still hurting and not fully able to sit up without causing a great deal of pain.
“Yes sir,” the boy replied.
“Come on in, and come over here,” Ben said, patting the edge of the bed.
Joe shuffled over to the side of the bed and as he did, he reached into his pant pocket and pulled out a slip of paper.
“What have you got there?” Ben asked, seeing him fumble with the paper.
“It’s my punishment,” Joe started to explain.
“Oh, Joseph, you don’t have to show me; I know you were working on it. It doesn’t matter anymore; that’s all past now,” Ben said. “I’m very proud of you, son.”
Joe bit his lip and shook his head in disagreement. “I saw those men ride up. I knew they were bad, but you told me to stay put on the porch. I heard ‘em say they was going to kill whoever they found, and they spotted me and started laughing. I wanted to get you, but I knew I couldn’t disobey you.”
I know you tried, son,” Ben said.
“But I wrote this down and then I started to run to the barn to warn you, but they grabbed me and took me into the house.” Tears flowed from Joe’s eyes as he started to read what he wrote on the paper. “I’m sorry, Pa, I disobeyed you. I thought they were going to kill you. I have to stop it. I hope you forgive me someday,” he read right from the paper. He dropped the paper and kept sobbing on his father’s chest.
“It’s all right, boy; you did the right thing,” Ben consoled him with a hug.
“I did?” Joe asked, puzzled.
“Yes son, you did. In this instance, you did all the right things. You made good choices and you’re a very brave little boy. You probably saved my life. I’m real proud of you, boy. Joe, you’ll learn the older you get, the more you’ll learn right from wrong and when to listen and when not to listen. You did the wrong this morning, but the right thing this afternoon.”
Joe smiled at his Pa. “Maybe I just don’t like mornings, Pa.”
“Maybe so.” Ben smile at his boy and said, “And right now I want you to go downstairs and let the doctor check you over.”
“He already did, Pa.”
“He did? Then why’s your lip still bleeding?”
“He started to,” Joe explained, “but it hurt when he started putting something awful on it. And he grabbed me by the collar and I don’t like being grabbed by the collar. It makes me mad.”
“I know that, son, but you need to let him finish,” Ben said.
“No, but Pa’s. This is one of those times you need to listen, Joe,” Ben said.
Joe gave him another hug and then he stood up. “Someday I’ll learn, I promise,” he said.
“I know you will.”
“But no one grabs me by the collar,” Joe said defiantly.
Joe exited out of the room.
“I think we all learned that today,” Ben added under his breath.