Not My Fault (by Debbie Ann)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  G
Word Count:  4100


 

School was over for the day for all but one student.  Little Joe Cartwright was once again held after school for misbehavior during class time.

“Joseph,” Miss Jones expressed.  “I’m very disappointed in you.  This is the third day this week I have had to keep you after school.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he meekly responded, searching the floor for a reason.

“You have left me no choice, Joseph,” she continued.  “I will be setting up a meeting with your father to discuss your recent behavior.  I want this note signed and returned tomorrow.  Do you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Joe’s voice was quivering because he knew that getting in trouble at school and having a note sent home normally resulted in one of Pa’s “necessary little talks”.

“You may go home now, Joseph,” Miss Jones told her pitiful student, who slowly turned and dragged his feet out the door.

As he rode home, Joe was thinking about the week. ‘Miss Jones is right. Monday she kept me for putting a frog in Elizabeth’s desk; Tuesday, for talking during class and refusing to stop when asked, then not paying attention when I did finally stop talking; today for putting a mouse in her desk.’ He shook his head as he reflected.

“Oh, Cooch,” he grimaced.  “Pa’s gonna be real mad.  Why do I do stuff to get myself in trouble?”

“Hey, is Cooch helpin’ ya’ with your problem?” came the voice of Mitch Devlin as he rode up next to Joe.

“Hi, Mitch,” Joe started.  “Not really; just listening.”

“Big problems?” Mitch inquired.  “This was the third time Miss Jones kept you.”

“Uh huh. BIG problems,” Joe answered.  “She wants to have a meeting with Pa.”

“Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes.  She gave me a note to have Pa sign,” he admitted.  “I have to give it to her tomorrow.”

“So there’s no getting around it, huh?” Mitch asked.

“Nope,” Jo replied.  “Well, I suppose I better get home and get it over with.”

“Okay.  I’ll see you when you get out of prison,” Mitch teased, trying to get his best friend to chuckle, and then turned to go home.

Reaching home, Little Joe took Cochise into the barn, placing the saddle on the stand and giving him a bucket of oats while he brushed him down.

Deciding he couldn’t put off the inevitable, Joe started toward the house.  As he got to the door, he hesitated, took a deep breath, and entered.

“Hello, Joseph,” Ben said, looking up from the desk where he was working on the ledgers.  “You seem to be running late again.”

“Yes, sir,” Joe responded, hanging his head as he took the note from his pocket.

As Ben read the note, Joe read his father’s face.  ‘Oh, this is going to be worse than I thought.’

“Joseph Francis Cartwright!” Ben growled.  “What is the meaning of this?  Do you realize that your teacher wants to meet with me regarding your ‘behavior’, young man?”

“Yes, sir,” Little Joe admitted.  “Miss Jones told me.”

“Joseph, you get up to your room.  I’ll be up to talk to you later,” Ben stated, forcing his voice to be calm.

“Yes, sir,” Joe responded as he turned to dash for his room, nearly running Adam over as he reached the stairs.

“So,” Adam started, watching his youngest brother disappear up the stairs.  “The boy in trouble at school again?”

“Much,” Ben said with his head in his hands.

“Pa, why don’t you go outside and get some air,” Adam suggested.  “Clear your thoughts; calm down.  I’ll finish working on the ledgers for you.”

Taking a deep breath, Ben gratefully responded as he stood and stepped away from the desk, “That’s an excellent idea, son.  Thank you.”

While Ben calmed down, Little Joe waited and thought, ‘I don’t know why I keep doin’ stupid stuff…I need to try harder not to get in trouble.’

Joe thought about the look on Pa’s face: anger mixed with disappointment.  Tears began welling up at the realization that he brought all of this on himself, and he deserved it.

Meanwhile, Ben was also thinking.  ‘Oh, my son.  What am I going to do with you?  Three times this week alone and now your teacher wants to meet with me.  1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10.’

After walking for about 20 minutes, Ben felt as though he had calmed down enough to go have a discussion with his youngest.  He hated having to punish his boys, but he new it was necessary.  He remembered the minister’s sermon of last weekend and one key scripture: ‘Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it from him.’  The words rang out in his head as he silently prayed, ‘Lord, help me.’

As he reached the door, Ben stopped and took a deep breath.  He then entered and began to ascend the stairs, hearing his sweet Marie’s voice as he did, ‘Oh, Benjamin, he’s just baby.’

Reaching Joe’s door, Ben thought, ‘Marie, my love.  I’m sorry, I have no choice.’

Opening the door, Ben saw the shadow of Marie in his 12-year-old son’s face as he watched Little Joe stand, focusing his eyes on the floor and protectively covering has backside.

“Joseph,” Ben began, “I’m very disappointed in the choices that you have been making.”

Little Joe looked sheepishly at the floor as his father continued“You are old enough to understand the difference between right and wrong.  I want you to make the right choices in your life and God has placed me in the position of guiding you in those choices.  I cannot be with you at all times, Joseph, so there are times when I count on you to be able to make the right decisions.”

Ben lifted his son’s chin, revealing a quivering lip and tears pooling in his green eyes.  “Son, I cannot condone your behavior in school.  Pranks are one thing, Joseph, but you have carried it too far.  You have gone from simple pranks to directly disobeying the teacher.  Do you understand that this behavior MUST stop?”

“Yes, sir,” Joe meekly responded.

“Do you have anything to say, Joseph?”

“I’m really sorry, Pa,” he cried.  “I’m gonna try harder…I promise.”

“Thank you, son; but that does not change what has to happen now,” Ben stated, walking to the bed.  “You understand that, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir; I know,” Little Joe responded, as his father directed him across his lap.

When Ben finished chastising his baby boy, he allowed Joe to cry as he rubbed his back.  When the crying gave way to a soft whimper and sobbing, Ben sat his boy upright on his lap and embraced him saying, “It’s all over now, son.  The slate is clean”

“I’m s-sorry, Pa,” Joseph sobbed.  “I’ll d-do b-better.  I promise.”

“I know, son,” Ben acknowledged.  “I’m taking your word on that.”

“I’ll make good on my promise, Pa.  Honest.”

“Okay, son.  Now, tomorrow I will take you to school; that will give me an opportunity to speak with your teacher,” Ben began.  “I will have Adam or Hoss pick you up.  You’re restricted to your room for the remainder of the week, coming down for supper, school, and church.  Perhaps this will give you time to concentrate on proper behavior in school.”

“Yes, sir,” Joe agreed, thinking.  ‘I’ll sure put that time to good use.’

“I’ll call you for supper.”

“Thank you,” Joe said, still sobbing.  “Pa?”

“Yes, Joseph.”

“I love you.”

“I love you, too, son.”

Going downstairs, Ben saw Hoss and Adam waiting in the sitting room.

“I’m glad you’re both here.  I need one of you to pick up your brother from school tomorrow,” Ben requested.

“I can get him, Pa,” Hoss volunteered.  “I was going in to get some supplies, so I can just get him when I do.”

“Thank you, Hoss.”

The next morning, Ben took Little Joe to school, as he promised, and met with Miss Jones.  He assured Joe’s teacher that he would be a changed boy.

“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright.”

“It’s really no trouble, Miss Jones,” Ben said.  “If you have any more mischief from my son, please let me know.”

“Yes, of course; and thank you again.”

Ben bade Miss Jones goodbye and went out the front door of the schoolhouse.  Spying his son, he went to Little Joe to remind him of the promise he made.  He then mounted up and rode back to the ranch.

Little Joe, while waiting for school to start, attempted to devise ways to stay out of trouble.  He was startled when he heard the bell ringing.  ‘Well, I’ll start by being on time,’ he thought, getting up and running to the schoolhouse.

True to his word, Little Joe was better than he had ever been in school.  The day was at an end and he was excited because he would be able to leave with his friends and would be able to visit before returning to the ranch.

“Joseph,” Miss Jones began.  “May I have a word with you please?”

Little Joe obediently came, not sure what Miss Jones wanted to speak to him about.

“Joseph,” Miss Jones smiled.  “I want you to give this to your father.”

A look of terror washed over his face as Miss Jones handed Joe a note.  The look on his face prompted Miss Jones to continue.  “I want you to know I appreciate the effort you put into doing the right things today and this note is to let your father know as well.”

In an instant, the terror was replaced by relief and a great smile.  “Really?” he asked.

“Yes, Joseph; really,” she answered.  “Now, you have a great weekend and I’ll see you Monday.”

“Thank you, Miss Jones,” he said, turning to run out the door and running into Hoss, who had moved just inside the schoolhouse doorway.

“Afternoon, ma’am.  Has my brother been up to mischief today?”  Hoss asked.

“Oh, Erik, quite the contrary; he had a wonderful day today.  His behavior was exemplary,” she commented.

“Our Pa’ll be glad to hear that,” Hoss responded.  “Thank you, ma’am.”

Upon arriving home, Little Joe ran to show Ben his note.

“Pa!  Pa!  I have a note for you,” Little Joe beamed.

“Joseph?  What is this about?” Ben sternly questioned as he took the note from his excited son’s hand.

“Pa,” Hoss interjected.  “You may want to look at this one.”

Reluctantly, Ben opened the note.  Slowly, a smile replaced the scowl that previously rested on his lips.  “Well, son, I must say this is a great improvement.  I knew you could do it.  You are, however, still restricted to your room through tomorrow.”

“Yes, Pa.” But even the punishment could not take the smile from Joe’s face.  ‘This is so much better than the normal notes,’ he excitedly thought.

“We’ll call you for supper,” Ben began.  “Oh, and Joseph?”

“Yes, sir?”

“I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Pa.” Joe beamed as he retreated to his room.

Adam, who had entered in time to see the grin on his baby brother’s face, remarked, “Wow.  I’ve never seen that before.”

“Well,” Ben explained.  “He had a great day at school; take a look.”

Taking the note from Ben, Adam read, saying, “Well, I’ll be…”

“All right, boys.  Those afternoon chores won’t do themselves; let’s get to them.”

“Sure, Pa,” both men answered.

***

The weekend passed uneventfully.  Little Joe was allowed to ride Cochise to school and he was as determined as ever to be obedient.

When Joe arrived at school, he met up with Seth and Mitch.

“Hey, you still in trouble?” Mitch asked.

“Nope,” Joe smiled.  “Yesterday was the last day, and I aim to stay out of trouble.”

“Hey,” Seth interrupted, pointing in the direction of the schoolhouse.  “Who’s that?”

They all looked to see a new girl coming out of the building with Miss Jones.  Miss Jones let her ring the bell, signifying the start of school.

Once the students were all seated, Miss Jones and the new girl made their way to the front of the room.

“Good morning, class,” Miss Jones smiled.

“Good morning, Miss Jones.”

“I would like to introduce you to a new student; Julianna Kobb.”

“Good morning, Julianna,” the class said.

“Hi,” Julianna responded, meekly.

“Julianna, would you care to share a little bit about yourself?” Miss Jones suggested.

“Well,” she began, “my Mama and Papa moved from the east, Boston.  Papa’s a doctor; he’s come hoping to help Doctor Martin, that’s my great uncle.  He’s my Mama’s uncle.  I’m excited about being here.  That’s about it.”

“Very good, Julianna.  Why don’t you have a seat right behind Joseph Cartwright,” Miss Jones pointed.

“Thank you, Miss Jones,” she responded, moving toward the seat.

For the rest of the day, Joe worked to concentrate on being obedient and making the right choices.  ‘Pa’s gonna be happy,’ he thought.

The next day, Joe was just as determined.  ‘Maybe I can make it through the whole week,’ he thought.  ‘Just stick with it, Cartwright.  You can do it.’

It was about 20 minutes before school was to start so Joe, not wanting to be disturbed, sat out of sight on the side of the building and studied his spelling list.

When Joe heard the bell, he gathered his things and went inside.  His attention was drawn immediately to the blackboard; a less than flattering likeness of Miss Jones with hurtful personal comments written above it and initials written next to it that made his stomach twist in knots:  J.C.

When the last student entered the building, Miss Jones followed him in and stopped dead in her tracks, observing the artwork that was on display.

“Joseph Cartwright!” Miss Jones growled, clearly jumping to the wrong conclusion.

“I…I…I…”Joe stammered, not knowing what to say or who had done this.

“Go stand in the corner,” she commanded.

“But, Miss Jones; I…” he protested.

“Now, Joseph!” Miss Jones insisted.

Joe looked at her with pleading eyes and realized there was no reprieve.  Hanging his head, he retreated to the all-to-familiar corner.

‘I don’t get it.  I didn’t do anything,’ Joe thought.  ‘Who drew that and why would they put my name?  Oh, what am I gonna tell Pa?’

Joe spent the day in the corner trying to figure out the answers to his questions but ultimately was unable to concentrate, dwelling on the fact that he was in so much trouble that was not of his own making.

When the rest of the class was dismissed, Joe saw Miss Jones out of the corner of his eye writing a note.

“Joseph,” Miss Jones demanded.  “Come here please.”

Meekly, Joe walked to the desk, saying, “Yes, ma’am.”

“Why, Joseph?  Such hurtful comments…” her voice trailed off.

“Miss Jones,” he defended himself.  “I had nothing to do with that picture.  You just have to believe me”

“Joseph, I want to believe you,” she said, shaking her head.  “What were you doing before school?”

“I was studyin’ my spelling words,” Joe stated.

“Really,” Miss Jones remarked, doubtfully.

“Yes, ma’am,” he pleaded.  “I promise I had nothing to do with that chalk picture.  Honest.”

Miss Jones looked deeply into her student’s tearful green eyes, asking, “Why would someone write your initials next to that dreadful picture?”

“I don’t know, Miss Jones,” Joe answered, beginning to feel hope springing up.  “All I know is…”

Joe stopped short as something occurred to him that had not before.  There were four other people in his class who had the same initials as himself; John Canton, Jeb and Jemimah Campbell, and Jane Crandall.

“Miss Jones,” Joe inquired.  “The only thing that was on the board was initials, right?”

“Yes, Joseph.”

“Well,” he suggested.  “Maybe it was one of the other students with the same initials.  It had to have been.”

Miss Jones thought for a minute, looking once more into Little Joe’s eyes, and realized that he may be correct.  ‘The boy usually doesn’t protest like this when he knows he’s guilty.  I don’t recall him ever telling a flat out lie before either.’

“Joseph, I was going to send this note home with you,” Miss Jones admitted.  “However, you’ve given me reason to doubt that you did this.  I apologize for jumping to conclusions.  Will you forgive me?”

“Yes, Miss Jones,” he said, gratefully.

“I don’t believe you have ever knowingly lied to me before, Joseph, and I have no reason to believe you would now.  Why don’t you have a seat and you can take your spelling test.”

“Miss Jones,” Joe began.  “My Pa is gonna be lookin’ for me.”

“Joseph, I’ll send a note letting your father know that there was a misunderstanding.  We’ll make the test quick; you can take an oral exam.”

“Thank you, Miss Jones.”

Later, after supper, Little Joe was still puzzling as to who it might have been that drew that picture.

“Pa, I had to stand in the corner all day for what somebody else did,” he complained.  “I’m just glad Miss Jones finally believed me.”

“Well, Joseph,” Ben stated.  “I would have been surprised to receive a note like that.  You’ve never been deliberately hurtful.”

Adam chimed in, “Can you think who might want to get you in trouble?”

“Nope; there is a new girl in school, though.”

“Short shanks,” Hoss posed.  “Why would a new girl wanna get ya’ in trouble?”

“I don’t know that she would.  Besides, she don’t have the same initials as me.  She’s got J.K.:  Julianna Kobb.”

“Son,” Ben warned.  “Now you can’t accuse people if you have no proof.”

“I know, Pa,” Little Joe acknowledged.

“Well, she wouldn’t know about our little brother’s propensity for trouble,” Adam added, with a smirk on his lips.

Glaring at Adam, Joe continued, “I’m gonna ask Mitch and Seth to stay with me.  That way I have someone to speak for me if something else happens.”

“Yes,” Adam teased.  “The next time you study, do it out in the open.”

“Hey!” Little Joe snapped.  “I only missed one word on my spelling test.  I get those ‘ie’ and ‘ei’ words mixed up sometimes.”

“Yes, son, we know,” Ben smiled reassuringly.

“Ya’ did real good, little brother,” Hoss declared.

“Thanks, big brother.”

“Joseph,” Ben announced.  “It’s time for you to go to bed.”

“Yes, Pa,” he agreed.  He was a bit tired from the ordeal of the day.  “’Night, Pa. ‘Night, big brothers.”

“Good night,” all answered.

Upon arrival at school the next morning, Joe took care to stay in plain sight.  As the bell sounded, he took a deep breath and went to class.

The morning was calm; no pranks or other misbehavior.  As lunchtime arrived, the class was excused and Joe, once again, was careful to stay in plain sight.

“Guys, I just want to know who would want me in trouble,” Joe told Mitch and Seth.

“I can’t believe you got away with it, Joe,” Seth grinned.

“Seth!  I did NOT do it!”

“I believe ya’, Joe,” Mitch declared.

“Thanks, Mitch,” Joe responded, looking back at Seth.  “There are four other students with my initials.”

“I think we can count out Jeb and John; neither one of them is very good with drawin’ stuff,” stated Seth.  “And they have no reason to want ya’ to get in trouble.”

“Well, I guess that leaves Jemimah and Jane.” Joe reasoned.

While the boys were talking, one of those other students was sneaking around the back of the schoolhouse.  Unbeknownst to that student, however, she was observed by the keen eye of Miss Abigail Jones.

Quietly, Miss Jones went to the back door, which was left cracked by the sneaking student, to observe the young lady pouring ink from the inkwell into Miss Jones’ own chair.  Abigail walked around to the front of the building, thinking of her best approach.

“Joseph?” she called.

“Yes, ma’am,” Joe answered.

“Would you please go to Dr. Martin’s office and ask Dr. Kobb to come to the school in about 15 minutes.”

“Sure, I’ll be real fast,” Joe smiled as he dashed away.

Abigail rang the bell, calling the children in from lunch and stood in the doorway until Little Joe’s return.

“He said he’d be along presently, Miss Jones.”

“Thank you, Joseph. You may take your seat please.”

Little Joe quickly complied.

“Class,” Miss Jones addressed the group.  “We had an appalling display on the blackboard yesterday.  Today, I have discovered that someone came into the classroom during lunchtime.  Joseph Cartwright.  Would you come here please?”

Joe, once again quickly obeying, joined Miss Jones at the front of the room.

“Joseph, would you look in my chair please?” she commanded.

Quickly, going to the chair, Joe’s mouth dropped.  His initial reaction was to protest, “I didn’t do this.  It’s not my fault.”

“What do you see, Joseph?” Miss Jones questioned.

“Ink in the chair with my initials written on the back of it.  But I didn’t…”

Miss Jones cut him short, “Joseph.  I know.”

At that moment, Dr. Kobb quietly appeared in the door at the back of the room.

Turning back to face the class, Miss Jones continued, “Yesterday, I punished a student for drawing a very hurtful picture on the blackboard having no facts with which to base my suspicions.  I have apologized to Joseph for jumping to conclusion and I now wish to apologize to you all.  I strive to be the kind of person who listens first before drawing conclusions but we all make mistakes.”

Miss Jones students were all dumbfounded as she continued, “Today, while I was outside, I saw someone enter the building through the back door.  The door was left open and I was able to observe this act of vandalism.  I am not certain why this student is trying to get Joseph in trouble.  As I said, he was punished for something that he didn’t do yesterday.  I am very disappointed in this student.  You should feel ashamed of yourself getting another student in trouble.”

Suddenly, there was a quiet whimper coming from behind Little Joe’s seat.  Slowly, Julianna raised her hand and began to cry.  “I’m sorry, Miss Jones.  I didn’t mean for Joseph to get in that much trouble.  Uncle Paul always talks about the Cartwrights, like they are better than his own family.  And I’ve heard him say how Little Joe likes to play tricks and I figured I could prank him.”

“Julianna,” Miss Jones inquired.  “Are you saying that you drew the picture on the blackboard yesterday?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she said, weeping.

“And the initials?” Miss Jones inquired

“My first and middle name,” Julianna admitted.  “Please don’t tell my Papa.”

“JULIANNA CLARICE KOBB!” her father bellowed.

A look of terror flooded her face as she realized that her father was standing there as she confessed.

“I thought we were clear on pranks and practical jokes, young lady!  Obviously, our last discussion didn’t make an impression,” Dr. Kobb spoke in a low and dangerously calm tone that Little Joe knew well as he stepped behind his daughter.  “Miss Jones, my daughter will apologize to Joseph.  Then she and I are going to have a discussion, after which I feel confident she will be only too pleased to stand in the corner for the remainder of the day.”

Taking her by the arm, Dr. Kobb stood Julianna in front Little Joe and waited.

“I’m sorry for getting you in so much trouble, Joseph.  Will you forgive me?” apologized Julianna.

“Yes,” Joe said, relieved to have the truth known.  “I forgive you.”

Dr. Kobb, still having his daughter by the hand, then escorted her from the room through the very same door she snuck into at lunchtime as she cried, “Please, Papa.  Not here, please.”

Ignoring the child being removed from the class, Miss Jones turned to Joseph, saying, “Thank you, Joseph.  You may return to your seat.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he happily responded and complied.

Sitting down, Little Joe smiled to himself.  He realized that there was a new prankster in town.  ‘Hmmm.  Maybe I don’t have to try so hard.  I can relax a little,’ he thought as his mind drifted to many adventures that were merely a daydream away.

“JOSEPH!!!”

***The End***

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