Word Count: 3670
The Cartwrights had spent a long two weeks in Carson City visiting an old and dear friend of Ben’s who had taken quite ill. The family was relieved that Stephen Bender’s condition had improved and was looking forward to returning to the Ponderosa.
While the rest of the family was inside Stephen’s home, visiting with him on their last day there, 6-year-old little Joe was outside tossing a ball with a 12-year-old neighbor. The home was on the edge of town near the bank, which was perfectly safe any other day; but today was different.
When Little Joe overthrew the ball, his new friend went to recover it. Just then, however, a bank robber rushed out of the bank. Startled,the bank robber fired his gun, killing the little boy instantly. Unfortunately, Little Joe, who stood frozen, witnessed the entire incident. Realizing that there was a witness, the thief turned the gun on Joe, but the sheriff grabbed the bank robber before the man had a chance to fire.
The pandemonium was heard by the elder Cartwrights, who came running outside in time to see the child killer being forcibly taken in the direction of the jail, while yelling, “THE BOY WILL NEVER TESTIFY!!!”
Hoss could see his brother was terrified and pulled him into a tight hug while Ben and 17-year-old Adam took a strong stance on either side of the frightened boy.
When they were sure that Little Joe was safe, Hoss released the hold he had on his baby brother, who still stood paralyzed with fear. Joe could see nothing before him but the barrel of the gun that only moments before threatened to take his life.
“Joseph?” Ben uttered, fearing for his youngest.
Adam knelt down before his little brother and said, “Little buddy? You okay?”
Little Joe stood silent, still frozen when Ben scooped him up into his arms. “Boys, I’m going to take him to the doctor. Adam, get the buckboard and join me there please.”
“Yes, Pa,” Adam hurried.
When they arrived at the doctor’s office, Ben laid his son on the examining table. The doctor looked Little Joe over to be sure there were no visible injuries.
“Well,” admitted the doctor, “I see no sign of injury. Tell me what happened to the boy.”
“He was playing with a boy outside of Stephen Bender’s place while the bank was being robbed.” Ben answered, “As near as I can tell, the other boy was unfortunate enough to get in the way of the robber and was killed. My older boys and I came out when we heard the ruckus. We saw the killer being taken to the jail as he was yelling that my boy would never testify.” Then looking back at Little Joe, still frozen, he added, “I’m just glad that the sheriff got to him before he could get off another shot.”
“Ya’ can say that again, Pa,” Hoss remarked, worriedly looking over at his brother.
Ben turned and suggested, “Adam, why don’t you take Hoss and wait for me over at Millie’s Kitchen.”
“Yes, sir,” came the response. “Come on, Hoss.”
Taking one last look at their brother, the boys did as their Pa asked, assured that he would let them know what was going on.
Turning back to the doctor, Ben inquired, “Doctor, what’s wrong with him?”
“Mr. Cartwright, I think your boy is in shock,” the doctor began. “He seems unable to speak or move since the incident you described, correct?”
“Yes, that’s right,” Ben confirmed.
Suddenly, there was slight movement and small moaning sounds coming from the examining table.
“Joseph,” Ben was relieved, as his youngest son seemed to be coming back to him.
“Huh,” Little Joe said in a daze. “Pa?”
“It’s okay, son. Pa’s right here.”
“W-what happened?” Joe stammered.
“Joe, you mean to say you don’t remember?” Ben asked, looking at the doctor.
“Remember what, Pa?” Joe asked, sounding confused.
The doctor explained that it is not uncommon for someone to not remember so soon after a traumatic episode, especially someone so young.
“Don’t worry about it, Joseph,” Ben said. Turning to the doctor, he added, “Thank you, Doctor.”
“Okay, Pa,” Joe murmured, sitting up as he spoke.
“Little Joe, are you ready to go?”
“Yes, sir,” he answered, quietly, still confused.
The doctor stopped Ben as he was ready to leave. “Mr. Cartwright, if you should need anything, please don’t hesitate to call on me.”
“Of course, Doctor; and thank you again.”
Ben and Little Joe made their way to Millie’s to join Adam and Hoss.
Pleased to see his little brother safe and sound, Adam joyfully said, “Glad to see you back with us, little buddy.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Hoss, “How ya’ doin’, short shanks?”
Little Joe smiled, saying, “Hungry!”
At this, laughter resounded from the Cartwright clan, relieved, at least for the moment, everything was fine.
The sheriff had asked Ben if he would stay in town for a couple of extra days in hopes that Little Joe would be able to speak to the marshal about the shooting of the boy outside the bank. Ben explained that his son had no recollection of the incident, but that he would stay just in case his son’s memory returned, wanting to be sure the criminal was indeed taken into the marshal’s custody.
At the end of the afternoon, everyone was exhausted from the day’s events, so the family returned to the hotel. Little Joe, still having no memory of the shooting, was the first to bed, quickly followed by everyone else.
As the night began to take shape, Little Joe tossed and turned. Around midnight, he began screaming uncontrollably in his sleep, waking the others. He had in the past experienced nightmares, but the way he was screaming told everyone that these were bona fide night terrors.
“Joseph!” Ben called, attempting to wake him.
“PLEASE, NO,” Little Joe shrieked, still sleeping.
“Pa,” asked Adam, “What’s wrong with him?”
“Yeah, Pa,” Hoss added, “He’s gonna wake up the whole city.”
“Joseph, please wake up!” Ben tried again.
“PA! HELP ME!!! THE BLOOD!!! THE GUN!!! HELP ME, PA!!!”
“JOSEPH FRANCIS CARTWRIGHT!” Ben shouted in the hopes that his “in trouble name” would wake him.
His hopes were realized as the boy began to calm down somewhat. Joe’s eyes fluttered open and weeping, he whimpered, “Pa?”
“It’s okay, son. Pa’s right here.” Ben comforted, embracing his boy.
“Pa,” Adam asked,” Do you think he’s remembering what happened?”
“Pa, where’s my friend?” Little Joe questioned. “Did something happen to him?”
“Yes, baby,” not wanting to force anything.
“I’m afraid so, son,” Ben just wanted to take all the painful memories that he was struggling to remember so that his baby wouldn’t suffer.
“Pa, why don’t I remember?” Little Joe questioned.
“The doctor called it shock. Sometimes when bad things happen, God makes our mind forget until we need to remember and can deal with those memories.” Ben hoped that this answer would satisfy the questioning child.
With this, not entirely sure why, Little Joe buried his face in the safety and strength of his father’s chest. Ben simply continued embracing his crying, frightened boy.
“Adam. Hoss. I’m going to let him sleep with me for the rest of the night. Let’s go on back to bed. Goodnight, boys.”
“Goodnight, Pa,” Adam and Hoss replied.
The remainder of the night passed fairly quietly; Joe was restless but Pa held him close to him until morning.
Once everyone was up and dressed, Ben had Adam and Hoss take their brother out so he could speak to the sheriff.
“Sheriff, I’m afraid I need to get my boy out of Carson City.” Ben was adamant.
“Well,” the sheriff said, clearly disappointed. “I really wanted the boy to speak to the marshal.”
“I do understand, but I need to take him home. He suffered terrors in the night and I believe it was due to what he witnessed. He has no memory of the incident and I believe the security of the Ponderosa will help him.”
“Alright, Mr. Cartwright. You take your boy home,” the sheriff conceded. “May I wire you when we need him to testify?”
“That would be fine, Sheriff; but if he still has no memory, there would be no point,” Ben stated as he turned to leave.
Ben found the boys and told them to gather their things because they were going home.
“Really, Pa,” Little Joe said with great relief.
“That’s right,” Ben answered. “I’m taking you home.”
As evening fell, the Ponderosa was a welcome sight for the Cartwright clan after their long and eventful visit to Carson City. Hop Sing, happy to see the family safely returned, anxiously greeted them upon their homecoming. He missed all of them, especially Little Joe. He was distressed to hear of the trauma suffered by Little Joe. “Little Joe not sleep good last night?” he asked.
“No, Hop Sing,” Ben answered, “None of us did.”
“Boy have nightmares?”
Hoss interjected, “Boy, did he!”
“I give boy special herbal tea. Sooth mind.”
“Thank you, Hop Sing,” Ben said gratefully. “I’m sure that will be a great help to Joseph.”
“Pa,” a small voice whispered from behind Ben. “Can I sleep with you tonight?”
Thinking about correcting his grammar, he answered, “Yes, you may, baby boy.” Reaching out to his son, his arms were quickly filled.
When dinner was done, the Cartwrights all decided to go to bed early, Adam and Hoss in their own rooms, and Little Joe snuggled tightly next to his Pa.
Although the herbal tea seemed to help Little Joe sleep, he still passed a restless night, tossing and turning.
In the morning, after breakfast was done, everyone set about to do their morning chores. Hoss and Little Joe were in the barn mucking out stalls when they heard a gun discharge.
Upon hearing the gunshot, Little Joe, who instantly returned to the bank in his mind, began screaming, “NO!!! HELP!!! PA, HELP!!!”
Hoss ran to him, calling out, “Joe, Joe, what is it?”
Little Joe didn’t respond but continued screaming, “DON’T WANNA DIE!!! DON’T WANNA DIE!!! NO!!! HELP!!!”
By this time, Ben, Adam, and Hop Sing had all arrived at the barn.
“Pa,” Hoss declared, “I don’t know what happened. After the gun went off, he just started in to screaming.”
“JOSEPH!!!” Ben bellowed, almost trying to penetrate his own son’s screams. Taking Little Joe by his small shoulders, he attempted to give him a quick shake, then pulled him into a tight hug.
Little Joe began to become calm again as Ben calmly spoke to him, “It’s okay, son. Pa’s right here. Pa’s not going anywhere.”
Little Joe held tightly as he could to Ben, still having no conscious memory of the incident in Carson City, crying into his father’s leather vest. Ben rubbed his son’s back and tousled his hair, reassuring him that everything was all right.
“We should go into house now,” Hop Sing insisted.
“Yes,” Ben agreed. “Hop Sing is right. Let’s all go into the house.”
With Ben leading the way, everyone followed into the sitting room.
“Pa?” Adam began. “What can we do to help Little Joe?”
“I don’t know, Adam,” he admitted.
“I’m worried about the little feller, Pa,” Hoss expressed.
“I know, Hoss. I am too.”
Little Joe was now laying quietly on his Pa’s lap, having exhausted himself in his fear. Ben took the opportunity afforded him to pray over his baby son, “Let my boy lie down in peace; for thou, O Lord only make us dwell in safety. Take these dreams of torment from him and give his sweet dreams.” (Psalms 4:8)
Later, after supper was over, everyone went to the sitting room. Ben read Little Joe a story while the boy sat on his lap. Adam and Hoss played checker, also listening to Pa read.
“Pa,” Little Joe declared, “I like this story.”
“I’m glad, son,” Ben started. “But we can only read for a few minutes more.”
“Aw, why, Pa?” Little Joe whined.
“Because, Joseph, it’s your bedtime.”
“Yes, sir,” he answered, hesitating. “Pa, can I sleep in your bed tonight?”
“Of course you can, son,” Ben smiled at his youngest.
“Thanks, Pa,” Little Joe answered excitedly, hugging Pa and then dashing to his room.
Adam and Hoss both looked up from their game, grinning.
“So, um, Pa,” Adam teased. “We could bring in a boarder to stay in Little Joe’s room.”
As a chuckle escaped from Hoss, Ben, who was clearly not amused, responded, “Adam, it’s only until his nightmares subside and I won’t have you teasing.”
“I know,” Adam answered contritely. “Sorry, Pa. I was just trying to lighten the mood.”
“I know that, Adam. Look, boys, it’s been very difficult since the incident in Carson City…” Ben stopped abruptly as he was interrupted by a knock at the door.
Sheriff Coffee had come from Virginia City, carrying with him a look of great trepidation.
“Roy, what brings you out here this evening?” Ben inquired, noting his countenance.”
“Hi, Ben. Boys,” Roy answered. “I wish I could say that I was here on a social call.”
“What’s wrong, Sheriff?” Adam asked this time.
“Ben. Boys. I received a wire from the sheriff in Carson City,” Roy began to explain that the prisoner had escaped while in transit, killing one of the marshal’s men.
Little Joe, upon hearing the knock at the door had quietly gotten out of bed and hidden out of sight at the top of the stairs. At hearing the prisoner had escaped, something inside of him broke out in panic and he started screaming as he ran down the stairs, “NO!!! PA, DON’T LET HIM HURT ME!!! PLEASE, PA!!!”
Suddenly, Ben had another armful of uncontrollably crying Little Joe, once again burying his face in his Pa’s chest.
“Joseph,” Ben started to reassure him once again. “It’s okay. No one is going to hurt you, son.”
“Ben, they are hunting this man, but…”Roy hesitated.
“But what, Roy?” Ben demanded.
“They think he’s headed toward Virginia City.”
At these words, Adam and Hoss both stood and Little Joe tried to bury himself deeper into Ben’s chest, crying all the harder.
“Joseph, Pa’s not going to let anything happen to his baby boy.”
“Ben,” Roy added, “may I suggest locking your door until he’s caught.”
“Thank you, Roy. Please keep me informed,” Ben requested.
“Goodnight, Ben. Boys. I’m sorry I couldn’t have had good news.”
“Goodnight, Roy,” Ben said as Roy turned on his horse to ride.
Still holding Little Joe, Ben turned to Adam and Hoss, “Alright, boys. Let’s go ahead to bed. Hoss, would you latch the door please.”
“Yes, Pa,” Hoss answered, turning to lock the door.
“Oh, and Adam?” Ben suggested, “Keep your gun nearby; just in case.”
“Yes, sir,” he answered, taking his rifle from the case.
As Ben took Little Joe, he picked his own gun belt up from the credenza, his only though at this point to protect his baby boy.
As the night waned, Little Joe again suffered terrors, his mind eye returning to the gun pointing in his direction and seeing himself laying in the street, bleeding.
The screaming began. “BLOOD!!! PA!!! STOP THE BLOOD!!! PLEASE, PA!!! HELP!!!”
Ben pulled him close. “Pa’s right here, Joseph. Pa’s not going anywhere.”
He continued to hold his youngest son tightly when Adam and Hoss appeared at his door.
“Adam,” Ben said, “First thing after breakfast, I want you to ride in for Doctor Martin.”
“Yes, sir,” Adam answered.
Hoss probed, “Pa, is he gonna be alright?”
“I sure hope so. We’ll talk to Paul. It’s possible that he might be able to help. Now, back to bed. Both of you,” Ben insisted. “Sunup will come soon enough.”
After breakfast, Adam saddled up Sport and rode to town for the doctor while Hoss did his brother’s chores. Hoss had some difficulty concentrating on the task at hand due to worry for his baby brother.
Little Joe scarcely moved away from Ben for a moment. A look of terror still plagued his face and he had once again fallen silent.
As Dr. Martin arrived, Ben greeted him and together they took Little Joe to his room so that Paul could look at him.
“Ben, why don’t you tell me what happened?”
“Well, Paul, I’m sure Adam told you about what happened in Carson City.”
“Yes. He was telling me on the way out here.”
“Roy came out last night. He told us that he had received a wire from the Carson City sheriff saying that the prisoner escaped and they think he’s headed toward Virginia City.”
“And I take it Little Joe heard this?” Paul asked.
“Yes. He hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep since the bank robbery and seeing his young friend killed. He wakes up from night terrors screaming.”
“Ben, has the boy talked about it?” Paul inquired.
Thinking for a moment, Ben answered, “No. Now that you mention it, he has had no memory of the incident. Only bits and pieces.”
“I think once he remembers, Ben, it may help the night terrors to dissipate. He may need to talk about it so he can get it out. In the mean time, it’s his sleeping mind that remembers.”
“You may well be right, Paul. The screaming in the night…” Ben started thoughtfully. “It’s been about the blood…he saw that poor boy gunned down right in front of him after the robbery.”
“That sure sounds like enough to set off night terrors, Ben. I think we need to see if we can help him to remember.”
“How do you suggest we do that, Paul?” he probed.
“Well, Adam told me that he reacted to a gun going off the other day,” Paul considered.
“Pa?” Little Joe spoke weakly.
“Yes, son,” Ben answered as he and Paul went over to the boy.
“Pa, I remember,” he declared.
“What do you remember, son?” Ben inquired.
“W-what happened…and m-my dream,” he stammered, tears filling his bright green eyes. “It was awful.”
“You can tell me, Joseph.”
“I was outside the bank, just like before. The man came out and killed my friend. Then he pointed the gun at me.” Tears were freely flowing.
“Go on, baby.”
“W-well that’s w-what happened,” he continued.
Ben’s eyes filled with both tears and anger at the realization just what his son had experienced as Little Joe continued, “He w-was gonna shoot me.”
“Yes, boy,” Ben said as his son once again buried his face in his Pa’s chest.
“Then, in-in my dream, when I look at my friend on the ground, in the blood, it’s…it’s…” Little Joe hesitated.
“It’s what, son?” Ben encouraged, “What do you see?”
“It’s me!” Joe broke down completely at this point, his little body shivering in terror.
Ben looked at Paul; a look of shock had now joined the anger on his face and in his eyes. Not knowing what to say, he just held onto his boy tightly, thankful that he was still there to hold and realizing how close he had come to losing him.
“Ben,” Paul started. “I’ll leave some sleeping powders with Hop Sing. Maybe between remembering and getting that nightmare out, he’ll sleep peacefully tonight.”
“I hope you’re right, Paul,” he said stroking his little boys hair.
Suddenly, they heard a commotion outside. Picking up Little Joe, Ben and Paul went to see what was happening.
The sheriff had arrived with a small posse to bring the Cartwrights news that the escaped prisoner had been spotted on the outskirts of Ponderosa land.
Adam abruptly turned to his father, saying, “Pa, I’d like to ride with them if I can. I remember what the bank robber looks like. I can spot him.”
“All right, son,” Ben responded. “Just be careful.”
“Yes, sir,” Adam said as he went into the house to get his gun belt and his rifle.
“Paul, thank you,” Ben said. “And be careful.”
Little Joe, who was still curled up in his Pa’s arms, had again cried himself to sleep. Glad for this blessing, Ben took the child up to his bed, saying, “It’s okay. Your big brother has gone to help protect you. Everything’s going to be fine.”
Three hours had passed before the news came. The escapee had made his way into the north pasture of the Ponderosa territory and was simply wandering. Adam spotted him among the trees and was able to get a clear shot.
As Adam returned with Roy, he quickly dismounted, running to his Pa, excitedly saying, “Pa! Pa! I got him!”
“That’s right, Ben,” Roy added. “This boy of yours is a dead eye.”
“Pa?” came a small voice from upstairs. “What’s goin’ on?”
“Joseph,” Ben called. “Come on down, son. There’s good news.”
“Yes, sir?” he said creeping up next to his Pa.
Ben scooped up his youngest and shared, “The bad man won’t ever bother you, baby.”
Little Joe almost stood in his arms, “What do you mean, Pa?”
Adam touched his baby brother’s shoulder and said, “Little buddy, I got him for you. You never have to worry about that bad man again.”
“REALLY?!?” Little Joe exclaimed.
“Really, boy,” Ben answered, pulling him close once again. “You’re safe.”
Little Joe hugged Pa’s neck tightly, then jumped from his arms into the waiting arms of his big brother. “THANK YOU!!!”
“No trouble, little buddy. No trouble at all,” Adam affirmed embracing his brother.
That night, after supper was done and everyone was in bed, Little Joe, although still somewhat restless in his sleep, was at peace knowing that he was safe with his Pa and his big brothers.