To Listen: An Art Worth Learning (by Deb)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count 11,300


 

Adam Cartwright was tired, more than tired, exhaustion had settled in his body like it had found a place to live. As he bedded down his horse in the barn, he reflected on the long and arduous cattle drive. The steers were all to their appointed delivery point, and in Adam’s mind, no thanks to his little brother. He had lost all patience with Joe and it showed in all of his actions, especially on the last leg of the journey. Now they were finally home, and Adam wanted nothing more than a peaceful evening, reading one of his favorite books, long away from the view of his cantankerous younger brother.

Stepping out of the barn, Adam turned just in time to feel the savage left hook administered by Joe. Falling to the ground with a stinging impact, Adam stared up at the intensity on his brother’s angered face.

“If you ever embarrass me like that again, Adam, I will beat you to a pulp!” Joe yelled and turned back toward the ranch house. Adam was quickly to his feet and grabbed the retreating arm of his youngest brother, spinning him around.

“That’s it! No more!” Adam shouted back, as he reared his right fist and knocked his brother down with a solid blow to his left cheek. Joe shook his head to ward off his dizziness and a vindictive smile painted his mouth. It was finally time to fight man to man with his oldest brother. He relished the thought. Jumping to his feet, he threw himself at his oldest brother, his fists the catapult of his fiery temper. Each took their time, measuring their blows, watching with satisfaction the damage they caused to each other’s face. Adam rolled as Joe made a flying leap on top of him and laughed as Joe groaned loudly, the wind being knocked out of him. It was then that the front door flew open and both Ben and Hoss Cartwright ran over to the brawling brothers.

“Stop this!” Ben screamed, making his way over to his two sons. They paid him no mind and continued fighting, even harder than before. “What’s wrong with you? Adam! Leave Joe alone!” Ben continued.

“He started it!” Adam shouted and then swung again, knocking Joe back down. “And I’m gonna finish this once and for all!”

“Joseph!” Ben tried for the other son, but Hoss pulled him back.

“Pa…. Let them get it all out. This has been brewing for a long while. I told you what it was like on the trail with them two! They need to settle this themselves.”

Hoss felt his father start to loosen the grip on his arm but noticed the sad look the older man now wore. Joe stood and swung his fist upwards, finding its target underneath Adam’s jaw. Adam fell backwards and narrowly missed hitting his head on the horse trough. Joe spit out the blood from his mouth as he looked over at his oldest brother. He felt good. Joe felt like he was finally proving himself to be a man, after being called a kid so many times, by his annoying brother.

Adam was slower getting up this time. His facial expression turned sour. There was no way he was going to let his youngest brother get the better of him, even if he had to cheat just a little. Waiting for his chance, he signaled Joe to come closer.

“Had enough yet?” Joe asked conceitedly, as he neared Adam. “No!” Adam yelled and grabbed Joe’s wrist, catching the boy off guard. He twisted Joe’s left arm behind his back and then knocked him into the horse trough.

“Cool off!” Adam laughed, as Joe went under. Coming up from the cold water, Joe spit out a mouthful of it and coughed. Now he felt even more humiliated. He jumped out of the trough and lunged at his brother. Adam side stepped just at the precise time to avoid the assault and Joe fell into the dirt.

“That’s it!” Ben shouted and rushed over to his youngest son. “Stop this nonsense immediately, the both of you!” Ben reached to pull Joe up but his son pulled his arm away hotly. He looked piercingly at Adam and sneered.

“It ain’t over.” Joe muttered and then stormed into the ranch house.

Dinner that evening was a quiet one. Adam only spoke to his father and his brother Hoss, ignoring the sneers that Joe shot him from across the table. Joe sat there, his jaw aching but reveling in the site of the bruises that Adam now wore on his face. He hoped that Adam was as sore as he was at the present time. When Hop Sing came in to clear away the dishes, Hoss eagerly volunteered to help him in the kitchen, not wanting to be around when his father would have his little talk with his brothers.

“I want to see you both in my study, right now!” Ben announced and stood from the table. Reluctantly, both Adam and Joe made their way into the other room and stood waiting at opposite sides of their father’s desk.

“Well?” Ben started and raised his eyebrows in characteristic gesture.

“It’s his fault!” Joe was quick to address the situation, casting an accusing look at Adam.

“You know how Joe is, Pa. Need I say more?” Adam responded in his usual condescending tone.

“You want to go outside?” Joe yelled and approached his brother. Ben stood and got between his two sons to prevent another war from breaking out.

“That is enough, Joseph.” Ben warned and Joe shot him a sharp look.

“Oh, sure… I might have guessed you’d take his side. You always do!” Joe said angrily.

“Watch your tone of voice, young man!” Ben cautioned his youngest, who looked down at the floor and away from his father’s penetrating eyes.

“Adam’s been on my case the whole last two weeks, Pa. He made me look like a little kid the other day! How do you think that makes me feel…around all of the hands and all?” Joe fought for sympathy.

“Maybe if you wouldn’t act like a little kid…” Adam started, and his father turned toward him.

“Adam… Stop egging him on!” Ben admonished his eldest son.

“He doesn’t need to be egged on, Pa. He’s a spoiled brat…and you helped to make him that way!” Adam raised his voice, something he rarely did around his father.

“You watch your tone, too!” Ben answered, as he fought to regain what little control he still had with his sons.

“If he wants to take a swing at me, from now on he’s getting it back. I’ve had to put up with his nonsense for eighteen years now. It’s time to take the kid gloves off. He wants to be a man, fine! I’ll treat him like I would anyone else who swings a punch at me.”

“He’s your brother,” Ben reminded his son.

“He’s a brat,” Adam countered and Joe’s face went red as he started towards him.

“No!” Ben shouted again and pushed Joe behind him. “You both had better stop this nonsense right now. I don’t know what all went on out there on that cattle drive, but it ends right here and now. You both understand me?”

Ben’s tone was stern and unrelenting. He expected more from the two young men he had raised.

“I swear, Pa, if he calls me ‘kid’ one more time, I’ll….”

“You’ll what?” Adam laughed sarcastically.

“I’ll whip the tar out of you, that’s what I’ll do!” Joe yelled again.

“Oh…? Like outside…? Need I remind you who won that one?” Adam grinned.

“Adam, that’s enough! That goes for you too, Joseph. We are a family, I guess somewhere along the line you both have forgotten that.”

“Family don’t go around making fun of other family.” Joe muttered.

“And family does not act a fool and expect to be taken seriously.” Adam replied.

Ben looked over at Adam and then back at Joe. This was a real feud the two of them had going now. A simple lecture was not going to quell the hard feelings, and Ben knew it.

“You both are tired.” Ben sighed and tried to soften his facial appearance to breathe calm into the room. “Why don’t you find something constructive to do with yourselves–like turn in for the night? You know I’ve got company coming and I don’t want you two around here behaving like this.”

“You’re right, Pa. I need some peace right now, and I am obviously not going to find it in here. I’m going into town.” Adam announced.

“Yeah? Well it’s not ‘YOUR’ town… I’m going there, too!” Joe returned.

“No, Joseph, not tonight. You can go tomorrow. The last thing I need to do is hear that my sons have busted up the entire town fighting.”

Adam walked over to the door and found Hoss standing there, waiting for him. Hoss felt Adam needed some company, company that was not in any way threatening.

The two men left the house, leaving Pa at the desk and Joe over at the fireplace, ignoring them all.

So much for my quiet evening playing cards with company, Ben thought. Earlier in the day he had met a good friend of Dr. Martins. His name was Dr. Keith Matthews and they had been classmates in medical school. Dr. Matthews had gone on to become one of the top surgeons in Boston. He was here visiting, and also to teach Paul some of his latest procedures for emergency surgery of critical wounds. Ben had invited both of them, along with Roy, to come out for a few hands of poker. Too bad they weren’t showing up right now, Ben thought, it might help to diffuse that temper of Joe’s. His youngest son was notorious for his short fuse.

One look at the young man’s rigid stance, as he stood poking the sizzling embers, told Ben all he needed to know. He spoke first, in the hopes he could take care of the problem quickly.

“Joseph, I know you’re angry, but this fighting has got to stop, and I don’t want it solved with your fists, either. That brawl was just about the last straw. I will not watch my son’s fight in the yard like a couple of derelict wranglers. Do I make myself clear?”

Joe spun around, the hot flames reflecting in his smoldering eyes, matching the heat of his voice.

“Why do you always assume Adam is in the right, Pa? Can’t any of you, just once, listen to me first and judge later. I guess being the youngest doesn’t warrant that, does it? You always treat me like a child, even in front of my brothers. Take tonight, off they go to town and here I am, kept home like a kid that can’t be trusted.”

“Joseph! That is enough! If you can’t talk in a decent tone to me, then go to your room. When you calm down, maybe we can talk.”

Joe just stared at his Pa, trying to control the anger that made him tremble. “I’m not ten Pa, sending me to my room doesn’t ‘fix’ things anymore.”

“Well right now, young man, your actions are speaking for you, and they aren’t telling me you are all grown up yet!”

The embers of anger in Joe’s eyes went out as quickly as if they had been doused with water. Hurt replaced their role, making Joseph all at once seem much younger than his years. He looked intently at his father for a moment, and then, like a wounded pup, turned and ran up the stairs.

“Joseph…” Ben called to his son’s retreating back, instantly knowing this talk hadn’t gone well.

A deep breath escaped the weary father as he sat down and lit his pipe, his thoughts on the problem at hand. Why are those two always at each other? Neither one can hear what the other is trying to say because each of them has to win…or be right...Ben wasn’t sure which. Adam hated it when Joe didn’t do what he told him to and Joe hated it when Adam bossed him around, treating him like he couldn’t figure things out on his own. And poor Hoss…always in the middle, trying to be the peacemaker. Maybe there are just too many years between Adam and Joe, he contemplated. But Ben knew that wasn’t all there was to it. Adam was reserved, calculating in his thinking, precise in his movements and logic. Joe was volatile; he acted first and thought afterwards, never considering the consequences until it was too late. Ben chuckled as he thought of his son’s mothers. Even though they had not lived long enough to help raise their sons, they had certainly passed on their emotional characteristics.

********

“Dangit Adam, will you slow down!” Hoss yelled over at Adam, when he finally caught up with his brother. “I don’t feel like a race to Virginia City.”

“I’m sorry Hoss,” Adam said, as he reigned in his horse and then continued in a more relaxing gait. “That kid can get my blood to boiling in an instant. Packs a good wallop too,” he said, fingering his jaw.

“That ‘Kid’ is our brother Adam, and he ain’t all bad. He gits his work done…just not at the speed you’d like him to.”

“There you go Hoss, making excuses for him again. Maybe if you didn’t do that all the time, he would grow up and learn to be more responsible.”

“Hold on right there, Adam, I make plenty of excuses for you too. Does that mean ‘YOU have some growing up to do also?”

Adam darted a perplexed look at Hoss.

“That’s right, Brother. You aren’t a real people person ya know, and sometimes you ain’t very subtle. If Joe and I hadn’t of smoothed some ruffled feathers after your outbursts, we wouldn’t have had half the crew we did on that drive.”

“Okay, okay, I get your point. I was a little hard on this trip, but darn it Hoss we needed those supplies and when he showed up late, everybody was cranky.”

“Right Adam, especially you. He couldn’t tell you why he was late because you were so busy hollering, he didn’t have a chance to get a word in. You didn’t even try to listen, just sent him out riding herd even though he looked like he hadn’t slept in days. You didn’t have to be so hard on him, what with everybody listening. You wouldn’t have done that if he had been just one of the men.”

“Well, you are probably right there,” Adam said. He knew he had to be honest with himself and admit that he had been harder on Joe than he probably should have been.

“You bet I am, and you would never have stood there and took it, Big Brother. I’m surprised Joe did, most men would have quit.”

Adam was quiet for a moment, letting what Hoss had said sink in. “That still doesn’t excuse the fact that he had to have his butt kicked out of bed the last three mornings of the drive!”

“True again, Adam, but did you really have to call him a no good spoilt brat? Did you have to say he couldn’t hold his own and would have been fired if he were on any other cattle drive besides a Cartwrights’? That was harsh, even from you,” Hoss admonished.

“I don’t know how you do it Hoss, you always manage to get Joe out of trouble. I guess the kid did deserve to get his punches in, didn’t he.” Adam stated. “I’ll talk to him when we get back, try and get him to listen to my apology.”

“That’s half the problem, if you would both start listening to each other, instead of fighting all the time, you might just find out you have more in common than you think. I just hope he got it out of his system. I ‘m not gonna want to be around him the next few days if he didn’t. Joe’s temper ain’t a pretty thing when he’s riled.”

The brothers finally reached Virginia City and decided to get the mail before going to the saloon for some beer. They happened upon Dr. Martin and met his friend Keith, whom they both decided seemed like a nice guy. Adam hoped to be able to visit with him before he left, as he had been to Boston and loved the city.

**********

Ben was reading the Virginia City News while waiting for his friends to arrive. He looked up when he heard his youngest son speak to him as he came down the stairs.

“ Hi, Pa. Sorry for my outburst earlier,” Joe said with an apologetic look displayed on his face.

“Hello, Joseph. Looks like a short nap put you in a better mood. Come, sit down son and let’s have that talk now. You want some coffee?”

“No, but how about a brandy?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.

“Joseph!!!!!”

“You can’t blame a guy for trying,” Joe grinned, as did his father. “I guess you probably didn’t expect all that fuss on our return, huh Pa?”

“No, Son,” Ben chuckled quietly “I sure didn’t, but I’ve lived around you three boys long enough to expect about anything.”

Joe joined in the laughter, enjoying the relaxed atmosphere that surrounded him for the first time in a long while.

“So, I take it you and Adam didn’t get along so well this trip?”

“That’s pretty obvious. It’s just that I can never do anything right around him. Sometimes it seems like I have two fathers, instead of two brothers. Why can’t he just leave me alone? I do my work, and do it good, you and Hoss always say so,” Joe said, starting to get upset again.

Ben had walked over close to Joe, and placed his hand on his sons shoulder, knowing it would calm him back down. “Listen Joe, let me explain something that just might help. Okay?”

Joe nodded, as they both sat down and settled in for a fireside chat.

“You were still in Sacramento when Adam and Hoss first left and I didn’t have a chance to fill you in on things before you went to join them. I don’t think you were here long enough to even eat when you stopped by for the supplies. Hop Sing stormed around here, grumbling for the entire day, because you didn’t wait here for me or have a good meal,” Ben said, remembering how the oriental man had gone on a tirade, blaming him.

“Well, it didn’t help any, cause I was still late meeting them. But Pa, I can explain…” Ben held up his hand, silencing Joe.

“You’ll get to tell YOUR side in a minute, I promise. Just hear me out first. The Timber contract with the Holton Brothers fell through.”

“What?” Joe blurted out, after a quick intake of breath. “What does that mean for us, Pa? I know you were relying on that to get us through the winter.”

“That’s just it Joe, with the contract gone, things were gonna be a might rough. Adam knew we needed to get all those cattle to market on time, and with as few losses as possible. We needed better prices than we had ever gotten before. Your brother had a lot more pressure this trip, son, but he pulled it off. Or I should say you all pulled it off; we do work as a family you know. The cattle ended up getting there a day early, and got top prices. The reason I didn’t join you on the drive was because I started working on another, although smaller, contract with the Hooper Company. I signed it yesterday, so that… along with what the steers brought, is enough to see us through the winter.”

“I just didn’t know pa, I guess I can understand why Adam was so distant and hard. I’ll apologize in the morning.”

“Thanks Joe, now …you want to tell me about what went on?”

“Nah, it sounds like you’ve had enough worries, Pa. We’re all grown, maybe not to Adam, but I think we can work out our differences.”

“That’s good to hear, Son, I think maybe you are growing up,” Pa laughed at the expression on Joes face. The young boy’s emotions were like a chameleon, ever changing, and always readable.

“We’ll get that money to the bank in the morning Joe, and son? Maybe a hair cut too?” Joe groaned…wondering if he would ever be able to get that by his father.

Both Cartwrights were startled by the knock on the door. “That must be Roy, Paul and Paul’s friend, Keith,” Ben stated as he remembered he was expecting them. “Do you want to join us in some cards, Joe?”

“Nah, I just wouldn’t feel right taking all your hard earned money.” Joe said mischievously.

**********

“Hey Adam! Adam Cartwright! Hold up a second, will ya?”

Adam stopped and looked back to see who was calling him and saw John Saunders running his way. John was a neighbor of sorts. Him, his wife Ella, and daughter Cassie had moved into an old ranch a couple miles north of the Ponderosa recently and were still getting settled. Pa had hosted a welcome party for them and the neighbors had hit it off. “Hi, John,” he said, “What can I do for you?”

“I saw you two and wondered if Joe was back from the drive too. Is he here with you?”

“No, he’s back at the ranch. Is there anything we can help you with?”

“I just wanted to thank him for all he did for Ella and Cassie last week, and show him Francis. We named him after Joe you know. We’re going to call him Frank for short. You guys sure have one hell of a brother there,” John explained.

Adam and Hoss exchanged a baffled look; neither man had a clue what their neighbor was talking about. Something nagged at Adams brain, though. “A couple of weeks ago you say?” Adam questioned.

“Yes Sir, he said he was on his way to bring you two supplies. It sure was lucky for us he was taking that shortcut to get there faster.”

“Just what did he do, John?” Hoss asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

“He didn’t tell you? Well, I guess I’m not surprised. I was in Carson City on business and our baby decided to come early. Ella did the only thing she could think of, she got the wagon hitched and tried to drive it to town on her own. One of the axels broke and they were stranded. That’s when Joe found them. Neither one of them was hurt, thank goodness, but Cassie was scared and crying up a storm. Ella was in pain and was having a hard time trying to calm her down. That Joe… he just scooped Ella up and threw her in the air till she was giggling away. All she does is talk about your brother now, he is her hero.”

“Anyway, Ella was getting close to birthing and told Joe he needed to get her to the doctor fast, or he would be delivering a baby.” He chuckled as he relayed what else his wife had told him. “Ella said she had never in her life seen anyone so nervous. Poor boy, when she told him what he might have to do, he turned as red as a ripe tomato. Then as the realization actually hit him, he went dead white. She never saw anybody unload a wagon of supplies so fast in her life. She sure was glad they made it in time. Said she knew Joe would have passed plumb out cold if he would have had to deliver it.”

Hoss guffawed at the thought of Joe in that predicament, knowing just how nervous the kid could get.

“Well, make sure and tell him we’ll stop by real soon, so he can see his namesake, and tell him to expect some cookies from Cassie, she is a mite in love with him,” he laughed.

“Sure thing, John. We’ll be sure and tell him and congratulations,” He said shaking hands with the man.

“Don’t that beat all,” Hoss stated, scratching his head. “He really did have a purty good excuse, don’t ya reckon, Adam?”

“Yeah,” Adam sighed, “I should have asked him why he was late instead of jumping all over him.”

“Yep,” said Hoss throwing his arm around his brother’s shoulder as they walked toward the saloon. “You sure enough should of.”

The bar was overflowing with cowboys from the drive, but they managed to get a corner table in the smoky saloon. Adam noticed three men at a table across the room as he sat down. He jerked his head in that direction, indicating for Hoss to take a look.

“There are those three brothers that tried to hire on with us. I thought they would be long gone by now, since they didn’t get any work around here. I wonder what they are sticking around this area for?” Adam pondered. “All the cattle drives are over, and I can’t think of anyone who would hire them as ranch hands.”

The men they were discussing chose that moment to leave. As they passed by the Cartwright’s table, they boldly expressed their feelings with an intense glare. The coldness in the sinister eyes caused the Cartwright brothers to shiver, each thankful the hateful looking men had left.

Hoss watched them depart, “I’m glad Joe turned them down, they ain’t nothin but trouble from what I heard on the trail. That little brother of ours might not be able to stay out of trouble himself, but he’s good at spotting the varmints we shouldn’t hire.”

“I guess that’s true enough,” Adam responded “but you know Joe, he confuses trouble with the word fun when it comes to his own escapades. Maybe I’m just a little envious of his carefree ways.”

Both brothers laughed as Hoss motioned to the bartender. “Two beers, Sam,” he called out. “Adam and me have a real thirst.”

“No you don’t, boys,” a voice spoke out, as Adam started to pay for the beers. “Them drinks is on me.” The Cartwrights looked up to see Leo Baker paying Sam for the drinks.

Leo was a short, stocky man who had been on the drive with them. He was a hard worker, with a jovial manner, and was well liked by all of them. Hoss wondered what he had done to his arm, which had a cast on and was in a sling. The last time he had seen the man was on the drive and he had been fine.

“How’s the arm?” Hoss asked the man.

“Doin good,” Leo answered. “Two more weeks afore I can get the cast off and that won’t be too soon fer me. This thing itches as bad as it smells and it’s only been on four days.”

Hoss wrinkled his nose, having to agree with the man on the smell, although he didn’t think it was just from the cast. He proceeded to ask the man why he was buying them drinks.

“For what Joe done for me, acourse, you Cartwrights are all right.”

Hoss and Adam exchanged glances, both almost afraid to ask. “Joe?” they said in unison.

Leo gave them a puzzled look. “Didn’t Joe tell ya what he did fer me?” he asked. “Guess he must not of thought nothin of it. That kid is sure a chip off the old block. He’s always a helping someone out and not giving it a second thought. Just like your pa, that man’s done a fine job of raising you three, that’s fer sure.”

“And just what did Joe do for you?” Adam asked, as he leaned forward to listen to the man’s reply.

“Four nights afore the end of the drive is when I hurt myself, young Joe saw it happen. My horse stumbled and I went flying. When I came to, he was there putting a splint on me. He sent me to town with Harry and said he’d finish my shifts for me so as I wouldn’t lose any pay. He did that for three nights. Don’t know how in the world he got by with just a couple of hours of sleep. Anyway, my boys and me are mighty grateful. Things has been a little rough since Mary died, and as tight as things are I don’t know what I would have done ifn he hadn’t of helped me out. You thank that brother of yours when you see him will ya? And his next beer is on me, well… that’s if it’s ok with your pa and all.”

“I’m sure he’ll take you up on that, Leo” Hoss told the man.

“Sure hope so, an I won’t offer him no whisky Adam. The other guys told me you thought he was too wet behind the ears for a man’s drink.” He gave a short chortle before continuing “Course the men said when they all laughed, your little brother looked like he was gonna deck ya.” He eyed Adam a second and then added, “Looks like he might a done it later, anyhow.”

Hoss tried valiantly to suppress a laugh, biting his lip to keep it under control, as Leo took his leave.

The silence at the table was so thick Hoss could almost see it. He looked down at the mug in his hand, as if his beer fascinated him all of a sudden. He knew Adam was probably feeling a bit bad at the moment and didn’t know quite what to say to his big brother.

Adam silently cursed himself; appalled at the way he had treated his youngest brother. He curtly told Hoss it was time to go home and abruptly left the saloon.

**********

Ben opened the door ready to greet his company; instead, two burley men faced him, both holding guns aimed at his chest.

“What’s the meaning of this?” demanded Ben.

“Just shut up and do as you’re told, old man,” said Clint. He was the oldest Carter brother and appeared to be the leader. He was a mean looking lawbreaker, mainly because of a scar that curved over his right cheek. “Are there any hands around? Anybody else in the house?” he said as he grabbed Ben’s arm.

“No, just us and Hop Sing, our cook,” Ben answered.

“You better be telling the truth, if you don’t want anyone hurt; now, get over there by your son. We’re here for money. We know you have some from the cattle drive, so don’t even think about lying or I’ll drop the kid at your feet.”

“Just who do you think you are, barging in like this? Get your hands off my father,” Joe yelled. His temper overtook his reasoning as he attempted to separate Clint’s hand from his fathers arm. Before Ben could stop Joe, one of the other outlaws, Barry, who was the shortest of the trio but very quick, turned to Joe and introduced his gun to the side of the angry young man’s face. It was a most unwelcome introduction. Joe collapsed to his knees, grabbing his face.

Ben jerked his arm out of Clint’s grasp and went to Joe. “You didn’t have to do that to him,” he said, glaring at Barry as he pulled out his kerchief and placed it on Joe’s face to staunch the flow of blood.

“I want to make sure you know I mean business, now get over there and open that safe.”

The third man of the trio, Dirk, who was taller than the other two and somewhat thinner, emerged from the kitchen. “I got the houseboy tied up, he won’t be no problem now. Looks like you got things under control in here.”

Clint turned toward Dirk. “We do, now you get outside and keep an eye out. We don’t know when those other two might decide to come back. Barry, you keep an eye on that kid, make sure he stays put.”

Ben cast a pleading look at Joe, his eyes begging him to behave, as he addressed the leader. “If I give you the money will you leave and do no further harm to my son?”

“Yeah, yeah, just get the money out.”

Ben retrieved what the robbers wanted from the safe and handed it over to Clint.

“Here, Barry, bring this outside and get it in the saddlebags while I take care of these two.

Clint had motioned for Ben to sit in the chair, so he could tie him up, when a volley of shots was heard.

“No one around, huh? You’ll be sorry you ever lied to me!” He barked as he pointed the gun right at Ben’s chest.

“NO!” screamed Joe, as he lunged forward.

Next came the chaos of fragmented moments, and the deciphering of events was as different to each of them, as was the terror they felt. Joe’s only thought was to protect his father, at all costs. Later, he would remember the sight of Clint’s knuckles whiten as he tightened his grip on the trigger, and knowing that if he didn’t move fast, his father would be shot.

Ben remembered staring down the barrel of a gun one moment and in the next, being hurled to the floor as Joe’s body slammed into his, and they both fell. Ben had a feeling of disorientation trying to figure out why his son had him pinned down and where all the noise was coming from.

Luke fired and knew instantly that he had gotten a Cartwright, but before the smile could reach his lips he felt a tremendous blow to his back and dropped to his knees. He tried, with all the power left in him, to squeeze the trigger again but the gun had already clattered to the floor. He felt the life drain from his body as he went down. His last vision was the playback of his life and he heard the tortured screams of Hell as it beckoned him.

Almost as soon as Adam and Hoss rode into the yard they were shot at. Leaping from their horses, they hit the ground, rolling as they drew their guns. Each took careful aim, quickly disposing of the bushwhackers. The brothers ran toward the ranch house, fearing their father and brother were in trouble. A shot rang out at the same moment they crashed through the door. Simultaneously, they fired at the man who held a smoking gun.

The room, enshrouded in a sulfur-scented fog, was as eerily quiet as an early morning meadow. Through the haze Hoss and Adam stood, smoldering guns in hand, momentarily stunned at the death and destruction before them. Each of them tried to grasp the horror of seeing their father and brother lying in a pool of blood before them. Both darted forward as they heard the strangled cry of “Joseph” come from their father.

“Pa! Are you ok?” asked Hoss as he moved Joe’s limp body from on top of his father and searched for the source of blood. Adam grasped Ben’s hand, helping him to sit up, as he also checked his father for wounds.

“I’m okay,” Ben said. “It’s Joe. He took the bullet for me. How bad is it, Hoss?” he asked as he knelt beside his youngest son.

“Bad, Pa,” Hoss answered. “He’s bleeding real heavy. Adam, get me some rags, quick!”

Not hearing a response, he looked over at his older brother.

Adam couldn’t move as he noticed his younger brother on the floor bleeding, pale, and lifeless.

Lifeless… the word echoed through his mind, trapping him. Visions of his little brother’s eyes as they had looked up at him in the last two weeks, haunting him. Eyes that were full of anger, hurt, puzzlement and disappointment… missing their usual twinkle of joy and laughter.

No, Joe… no…. His mind screamed, to no one but himself.

“ADAM! I NEED RAGS!” yelled Hoss, as he desperately tried to stop the flow of blood.

The frantic demand for help jostled Adam from his reverie and he quickly went for supplies. He found Hop Sing in the kitchen, tied up but unharmed. He quickly freed the man, as he explained the situation and instructed him as to what was needed, before rushing back into the main room. Just as he entered, the sounds of hurried footsteps were heard on the porch. Adam drew his gun but quickly lowered it as he recognized Roy, Paul and Dr. Matthews, whom he had met earlier in town.

“We heard the shots, Ben,” Roy said. “Who in tarnation are those dead men outside and what’s going on in here?”

“Later Roy,” Ben answered. “Paul get over here quick, Joe’s been shot.”

“Move aside,” Dr. Martin ordered as he knelt beside Joe and immediately started his examination, rapidly giving out commands. “The bullet’s hit an artery, that’s why there is so much blood. We need to get him over to the table quickly. Roy, get my bag from the buggy. Hop Sing, get some water on to boil, and I need more rags, lots of them. Hoss, bring the whiskey; we’ll use that to sterilize my knives. Keith, get scrubbed will you?”

Paul then turned towards Ben and saw that his old friend was pale and seemed to be in shock.

“Adam, take care of your Pa till I can see to him. Let him know that Keith is the best there is, Joe is in expert hands.” He then told Roy to throw some quilts on the dining room table. Not an ideal place to perform a surgery but there was no other choice, it was the right height and the room was well lit.

Dr. Martin continued to push down hard on Joe’s wound, trying to prevent further blood loss, as Hoss helped him move his patient. Joe’s limp body seemed weightless to Hoss as he carried him over to the table. The amount of blood he saw on his brother’s shirt and Dr. Martin’s hands scared him, he knew it wasn’t good. As soon as they got him where they wanted him, Dr. Matthews took over. The bullet was lodged deeply into the shoulder, right below the collarbone. The two doctors shared a worried glance, knowing it would take all they knew, plus more, to pull the youngest Cartwright through.

The silence in the room was oppressive, each man sweating from the intensity of it. The only thing they could do was sit and watch, feeling helpless and despondent. The doctors worked in perfect harmony, each knowing what their job was, yet also aware of what was expected of the other. Hop Sing hovered beside them, handing them what they needed before they even asked. He would silently wipe the perspiration from each man’s face as they diligently tried to save his Little Joe’s life.

The next couple of hours put a strain on everyone. Roy quietly took the dead man outside and loaded him into a wagon, along with the other two bodies. He would bring them in to the undertaker and return later. Hoss couldn’t take the sight of Joe being operated on any longer and went outside to the bam. After doing the chores that needed tending to, he started to brush down Cochise. The horse didn’t need it but it made him feel closer to Joe.

Ben just sat in his chair, staring at the table and the two men working there. Adam stood behind him, his hand on his father’s shoulder, trying to give what comfort he could. He tried to get his father to take a brandy, or some coffee but Ben just shook his head saying he didn’t want anything.

Finally they watched Paul move away from the table to the basin and start washing his hands. Ben didn’t wait, “Paul?” He asked, knowing he didn’t need to finish the question.

Paul took a deep breath and crossed the room, sitting on the coffee table in front of Ben. He placed his hands on his friend’s knees and looked into his eyes, making him pay full attention.

“Ben, I’ll be honest, I’m worried about the amount of blood that he lost. The bullet was deep and did a lot of damage because of the close range it was fired at. God works in mysterious ways, Ben. What happened to Joe is bad; I’m not going to lie to you. I don’t know if he’ll make it this time; all we can do now is wait. But I can tell you that having Keith here was a Godsend. He is one of the best surgeons in the country and if he wouldn’t have been here… well, Joe would already be gone.”

Paul didn’t think it was possible for Ben to get any paler, but he was wrong. If not for the fact that he was sitting, he thought his friend would have passed out.

“We’ll get Joe upstairs and into his bed. I think being in his own room will make him more comfortable when he comes around. It’s going to take all of us Ben, and each person needs to get rest. I’m going to give you a brandy; that should put some color back in your face. When we get Joe settled you can see him for a few moments, but no more than that. We’ll have Adam stay with him while you get something to eat and calm down a bit. After that we can talk and I’ll answer all your questions; then I am taking the first shift and there is no argument about that. I know what do to if something goes wrong. I’m not going to argue with you about resting either. You have been through a terrible ordeal and you’ll need your strength in the next few days to help get your boy through this. Do you understand me Ben?”

Ben didn’t respond verbally, just nodded his acquiescence, worrying Adam even more.

Paul motioned for Adam to join him at Ben’s massive desk in the study, as he poured the distraught father a drink.

“I’m worried about Pa, is he okay?” Adam asked the doctor.

“He’s in shock Adam, he can’t quite comprehend what happened yet. All he can think about is Joe taking the bullet that was meant for him and that the results might be the death of your brother. After he drinks this and sees Joe I’m going to talk with him, make sure he is okay and give him a sleeping powder. I know that’s the only way I’ll get him to sleep. Now, lets get that patient of mine upstairs.”

As soon as Joe was upstairs, and Paul was satisfied that he was doing as well as could be expected, he told Ben it was time to go downstairs. Ben looked as if he was going to refuse to go but Adam stepped over to him and laid his hand on his fathers arm.

“Let me stay with him for a bit, Pa. You see, I came back early tonight because I found out I was wrong about some things these last two weeks. Go downstairs with Paul and Hoss can fill you in, I’ll let know if there is any change, okay? I need to be here and talk to Joe, even if he can’t hear me.”

Ben could see that something was tearing at Adam, he also knew now wasn’t the time to discuss it. Reluctantly, he agreed with his oldest son, making him promise to let them know if there was any change in Joseph’s condition.

Adam pulled the chair up next to Joe’s bed. He sat there a moment, not knowing what to say. Joe seemed so much younger than eighteen, lying there unaware of his surroundings. He reached down and stroked Joe’s hand, eventually picking it up and holding it in his own. Was this the same hand that had earlier lashed out at him in anger? He thought. This was the hand of a man, and from the looks of the rough skin and scars, one that was used to hard work. It didn’t seem that long ago that this hand was so much smaller, and was one that would find it’s way into his when Joe was scared or nervous. He remembered how important he felt as a big brother, to give the comfort and security of his love to the little guy. When the kid looked up at him with those long lashed eyes Adam had hoped his brother would always trust him and look up to him that way. Could he get that trust back, he wondered, realizing how important that was to him.

He’d never forget the first time he saw his little brother’s hand. It was shortly after he’d been born and Pa had brought them in the room where Ma was resting. The baby looked so tiny lying there in Marie’s arms. “Come Adam,” she had said, “meet Joseph Francis Cartwright, your new little brother.”

He had walked over and reached for his brother’s hand. Joe’s fingers had wrapped themselves around his own, and the baby’s big eyes had captured his heart.

“Adam?”

“Hi, Hoss. I didn’t hear you come in,” Adam said as he looked toward the door.

“Yeah, it looked like you were pretty deep in thought,” Hoss replied as he knelt down on the floor beside Adam. “Were you thinking about Mama?”

“How did you know?” Adam asked, always surprised at Hoss’ ability to know what he was feeling.

“Just the way you were holding Joe’s hand … and the look in your eye.”

Both boys were silent for a spell, thinking back on that moment so many years ago. Hoss reached out and enveloped both brothers’ hands in his own.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he whispered. “You were so surprised how strong his grip was, him being such a little fellow and all. Mama had me come over beside you and she placed my hands over yours and Joe’s, just about like this. Ya remember that?”

“Yes…” Adam said hoarsely, swallowing the lump in his throat. “She said each of us were strong in our own way, and that as long as we stayed together, we would always be stronger. That one hand would help the other and the bond we had could never be broken.”

“She was right, you know,” Hoss replied softly. “We’re all here for Joe and he’ll get better.”

“I just wish I could tell him how sorry I am … what if I don’t get the chance? How could I have been so cruel to him… not even listening,” Adam haltingly spoke out.

“Adam, don’t be so hard on yourself. You and Joe are forever locking horns. You always have and you always will. I think you both enjoy the challenge just to find out who will win. Little Joe wouldn’t hold no grudges; you know that. And besides, you’ll get your chance to make things right. He’s gonna pull through, he’s too dang stubborn not to.”

“I hope you’re right Hoss. I just hope you’re right.”

“I am, now you go down and eat, while I sit here a spell till Pa and Dr. Martin come back up.”

**********

Sunlight streamed in the window, flittering around the room, until it forced the sleeping man to pay attention and awaken. His long limbs stretched, as a yawn, stifled by his hand, tried to escape. Awareness came abruptly, as memories of the night before came flooding to the surface, making him jump out of bed and hastily dress.

The door to his little brother’s room was open and the two doctors were there, discussing Joe’s condition with Ben.

“Come in, Adam,” Paul said, as he noticed the oldest Cartwright son at the door. “We are setting up a schedule for every one to follow. Hop Sing will keep bringing sugar water as needed; we have to get as much fluid into Joe as we can. He hasn’t awakened yet so try and get a spoonful or two into him at least every thirty minutes. We can’t afford to have him choke, so we need to be real careful.”

Joe’s fever started to get higher that morning; his sleep was more restless now, with incoherent mumblings. He tossed and turned, worrying the doctors that he would re-open the wound, making his condition more serious. Keith inserted a drainage tube into the wound, showing the others how it worked along with instructions of what to do, should it become dislodged. Hopefully it would allow the pus to seep away so the fever would abate.

Ben sat with Little Joe most of the afternoon, using cool water from the well to continuously wipe the sweat from his son’s face. A moan, low and filled with pain, escaped the injured boy as he twisted in the bed. Ben stroked his son’s arm, trying to calm him with his presence, while talking to him softly. It tore at his heart to see his son laying there, not responding to his touch or his voice, as he lovingly told Joe how much he meant to him. It caused him great pain knowing that it should be him laying there, not Joe. How he wished he could have stopped Joe from lunging in front of him, from taking the shot that was aimed at him.

Later that evening Joe’s temperature started to decline, although still higher than what they would like. The drainage tube seemed to be helping. They had gotten a fair amount of fluids into him and his color was better, not much, but it was improvement. Dr Martin and Dr. Matthews both felt Joe could be waking up soon. He had started to stir once in awhile, his eyes fluttering, as if trying to open.

“When he comes to, we need to keep him as quiet as possible till he gets some strength back. As long as we can keep the infection from spreading, he should be okay,” Paul explained.

Dr Martin knew his friend would never leave his injured son’s side if there were a chance he would regain consciousness. He had long ago given up arguing with Ben when he knew he was going to lose anyway. Nothing was more important to the man than his family, especially if they needed him. And Joe did. Paul could never understand it, but Joseph always seemed to feel the presence of his father, was always calmer…easier to manage when Ben was near.

“I’m going to get some sleep, Ben. Keith is going back to town to take care of my patients there and will return in the morning. If Joe comes to in the next couple of hours you wake me up, otherwise I want your promise you will let one of the other boys take over for you.”

Silence was all that answered him.

“Ben…. are you listening to anything I say?” the doctor inquired.

“Yes, I am, Paul,” the worried father replied as he looked up from his place beside the bed. “You go get some rest. I’ll let one of the boys relieve me later.”

“I promise,” he added at the skeptical look he received.

Ben gazed at his unconscious son and reached over to brush the damp curls from his forehead. So young, he thought to himself, so much living to do, mistakes to be made and learned from. Dances to enjoy, girls to meet and fall in love with.

“Please God,” Ben prayed as he grasped Joe’s limp hand and enclosed it with his own. Bowing his head he continued, “Please, spare this youngest son of mine. I’ve lived through the death of so many loved ones. Not this time, I beg you… not this time. I don’t know if I could survive it. I have always held my faith, always came to realize you had a purpose for the pain I endured. If my life had been the way I had hoped for so many years ago, I wouldn’t be here now, wouldn’t have the three sons you have blessed me with. I give you thanks for that. This son is so special to me God… I live in his laughter, his exuberance for life, even in his youthful, angry, outbursts. It so reminds me of myself Lord and how I’ve grown to be the man I am, the man my son will one day be. God… please, please, don’t let my son die in exchange for my life. I am not worthy, not for so great a sacrifice as this.”

Ben felt a slight pressure in his hands. He looked up to see Joe looking at him, emerald eyes shimmering with unshed tears. Curls fell across his forehead, matted by sweat, clinging to the skin beneath. His cheeks were ruddy from fever, making the rest of his face appear even paler than it was. He leaned closer to his son, as he realized Joseph was trying to speak.

“Pa, you… worth it… to… me, love you Pa,” was all he could get out before he drifted back into the darkness.

Small, silent, sobs shook Ben, as he brought the youthful hand to his forehead and squeezed it tightly. “Thank you, God… thank-you,” he cried, knowing Joe would be okay.

Several hours passed and Little Joe had not regained consciousness again. His breathing was easier and his temperature had lowered a great deal. Paul and Ben were discussing how lucky they were that Keith happened to be here visiting, when they heard a soft moan. Their full attention was on the young man, as they realized he was struggling to open his eyes.

“Joe! Joe, it’s Paul. Come on… wake up, Son. Come on, try harder Joe, you can do it.”

Joe could hear the doctor urging him to wake up, but it seemed like his eyes couldn’t understand the command to open. As he became aware of the pain, his senses started to return. He slowly opened his heavy lids to see Paul and his father hovering over him.

“That’s it, Joe, how do you feel?” the doctor inquired.

“Terrible,” he whispered not being able to force much sound out. “Thirsty…”

“Here, let me spoon this water into your mouth for now. I don’t want you to try and lift your head just yet.”

Good thing, Joe thought, because I don’t think I could even if I tried.

Joe felt better after he got several spoonfuls of water in him. He tried to talk, to ask what happened, but Paul silenced him.

“No, you just rest young man, you can talk later. Your pa and Hop Sing are fine. Adam and Hoss arrived just as you were shot and got everything under control before anybody else got hurt. They are downstairs, and pretty worried about you, young man. I want you to get some sleep now, but we’re going to have to wake you every couple of hours, okay?”

No… so tired. Just let me sleep…. Joe thought, but didn’t have the strength to verbalize his argument. His eyes slowly closed and he drifted back off.

The next morning Dr. Matthews checked on his new patient and gave the family his report.

“Joe’s going to be really weak at first, he won’t be able stay awake more than a couple of minutes at a time, but he will gradually improve as he gets his strength back. I think it is safe for Paul to go back to town with me and see how things are there. We’ll be back out this evening for a final examination before I leave tomorrow. You just keep giving him fluids and talking to him when he wakes up.”

The family, and Hop Sing, took turns throughout the day tending to Joe. When the doctors came that evening they were very encouraged with how well their patient was doing. Paul explained to Keith that Little Joe had always recovered fast from his injuries. He might be small but he was tough. The family could all sleep easier that night, knowing Joe would be okay. They thanked Keith and said they’d be sure to write to him and keep him informed of Joe’s progress.

**********

He heard the soft snores of his father before he even opened his eyes. Ben had dozed off in the chair beside the bed and Joe smiled at the sight of his father, so thankful that he had not been hurt. He didn’t think he would survive if anything happened to his pa.

“Pa?”

Ben instantly awakened, scooting over close to his son’s side. “Good morning Joseph, how are you feeling?”

“Thirsty, could you get me something to drink? Not out of a spoon though Pa. Please? I hate that. It makes me feel like a baby. I think I can manage to sit up just a little, if you‘ll help me.”

“Okay, here let me prop you up a bit,” his father said, thinking that if Joe was whining already then he really was improving. “Then you can drink as much as you want.”

“Sounds good, thanks,” Little Joe said, though he couldn’t hold back a grimace, or a quick hitch of breath, from the pain he felt as his pa helped him up.

“Sorry, Joe.”

“That’s okay, Pa, it’s better now.”

“Let me holler at Hop Sing, you need a little nourishment.”

“I am sort of hungry, now that you mention it. Not much though, okay Pa?”

As Joe finished off the soft eggs that Hop Sing had prepared, he looked at his father with a puzzled expression.

“Why so quiet, Pa?” he asked, as his father had barely talked to him while he had eaten.

“I’m just having a hard time trying to figure out how to thank you, Joseph.”

“Pa you don’t have to…”

Ben held up his hand, commanding silence. “Yes, son, I do. I could tell you how much I love you, but I think you know that already. I could tell you how proud I am of you, but I hope you already know that too. I need to let you know how much I admire the man you have become.”

As Ben absentmindedly stroked Joe’s arm, he paused. He lowered his head for a moment, swallowing the lump in his throat while also trying to blink way tears. Looking back up into soft hazel eyes, he continued. “You see Joseph, as I was sitting here watching you sleep, I realized what you did was the most unselfish act of pure love that I have ever seen. I also realize you would have done the same thing for just about anybody that was in danger. It makes me proud that you are so kind and courageous. It humbles me that you would sacrifice your life to save another.”

Father and son held a gaze, filled with love and admiration, that needed no words to express the love that both felt for each other. Ben leaned over and gave his son a gentle hug, mindful not to cause pain in his effort to show his emotions. Sitting back up, he cleared his throat before continuing.

“But Joseph…if you ever do something like that again, I swear, no matter how old you are…I’ll take you to the shed for a ‘necessary little talk’ do you understand?”

Both men chuckled as Joe nodded his head.

“What all laughing about?” the beloved oriental asked, as he shuffled in to collect the breakfast tray. “Little Joe need rest and washed up, you go eat breakfast Mr. Cartlight. I watch Little Joe, make him behave like doctor say.”

“Okay, Hop Sing, but you don’t fool me. You just want to make sure your number one patient is okay,” Ben said with a twinkle in his eye.

“You go now, food get cold…or Hoss eat it all before you get there, and I no make more.” The Chinaman chattered as he shooed his boss out the door.

“Velly honorable thing you do for father, Little Joe, you good son. How you feel?”

“Thanks, number two father,” Joe chuckled “I am sore and tired, I feel like I’ve been tossed from some bad broncos. Do your best for me okay?”

“Humph…always do my Little Joseph… always do,” he muttered as he went about tending the boy he loved as his own.

**********

By the beginning of the next week, Joe was up and starting to get in everyone’s way. He had to have his arm in a sling for the next two weeks and it was driving him crazy. Hop Sing started yelling every time he walked in the kitchen now. Guess he didn’t like Joe throwing a few extra spices into the stew. And Pa wouldn’t let him near the books; Adam had ranted for an hour the night before because he couldn’t read the entries.

Even Hoss was tired of him, said he couldn’t handle any more games of checkers or any more of Joe’s whining cause he wasn’t allowed to do anything. So that left good old Cochise, who sure didn’t mind spending time with Joe, or care that it was the third time that day she was getting brushed. And besides that, the pinto was awfully good at listening, she even agreed with whatever Joe had to say.

That’s where Adam found Joe. He watched his brother for a few minutes, marveling at the close relationship he had with the animal.

“Hello Joe. I’ve been looking for you,” he hesitantly started, knowing this was going to be tough.

“Oh?” said Joe, “seems to me you’ve been avoiding me.”

“I guess I have, sort of, can we talk?”

Joe eyed Adam suspiciously “Why? I’ve been confined to the house, surely I can’t have done too much wrong, except the books, I guess.”

“No, this is about the cattle drive.”

Joe turned back to Cochise and started brushing again.

“I’d just as soon forget about it, I’m in no shape for round two, in case you haven‘t noticed.”

“I heard what you did for Ella and Leo,” Adam said softly “I’ve been waiting for you to get better so we could talk things out. I wanted to tell you I was sorry.”

Joe spun around, his angry eyes sending a message, as his temper instantly flared.

“Oh, I see. Now that you know, you’re thinking maybe I had a good excuse after all? Go to Hell Adam, it doesn’t excuse what you said to me or how you treated me in front of everybody. If you had given me a chance, I would have told you myself why I was late or tired. If I recall right, you were too busy making sure I looked like a fool, or a spoiled brat to be more precise.”

“I was wrong Joe, and I ‘AM’ sorry. Please, just listen to me a moment will you? Please?”

Adam looked down at the floor, feeling guilty that he had hurt Joe so badly, afraid that his brother wouldn’t give him a chance to apologize… afraid that he didn’t deserve that chance.

Joe felt a pang of sympathy for his brother. Adam was as hard headed and stubborn as they came, and he knew this was hard for him. So he stayed silent, waiting for his brother to continue.

“Joe,” Adam said as he looked into the smoldering eyes before him. “I realize I want you to act like a man but I treat you like a child. I didn’t give you the same respect that I would have anybody else. I feel bad about that. I couldn’t get past thinking you were never going to grow up. I found out I was the one that needed to do some growing up.”

Is this my brother Adam? Joe thought to himself, but continued to remain quiet as his brother continued.

“There are a lot of things I’ve learned from reading, Joe.” Adam sighed, “I guess I realize now, more than ever, that not all learning comes from books. I could be the smartest man in the world, but if I didn’t know how to treat people, especially the ones I love, with respect and understanding, then it wouldn’t do me much good. It looks like I need to have more patience and learn to listen to you, instead of just thinking I know it all.”

“I’ll agree with that one,” Joe stated as he chortled. He couldn’t help himself. He never thought he’d see the day when Adam Cartwright actually apologized and admitted he was wrong to him. It just struck him as funny and his laughter lightened the tense atmosphere. He listened again, as his brother went on.

“I hope I’ll always remember that you ‘ARE’ a man now, Joe, not just my little brother but an equal part of this ranch.”

“Think you can do that, Adam? That would be an awful lot of changing for a Yankee granite head,” Joe said with a twinkle in his eye. “You just might find it useful to share some of the problems with me, too. Pa explained to me why you were so uptight this trip. If I had known sooner, it would have helped. I might have understood why you acted like you did, guess I have some learning I can do too, like… there’s always another side.”

“Forgive me, Joe?”

“Yeah, maybe, I guess so… especially if you let me be in charge of the next trail drive?”

“Fat chance on that one, Kid.” Adam said as they walked across the yard.

“Adam…!”

“Sorry, Joe, it just slipped out.”

He clasped his hand on his brother’s good shoulder. “I tell you what, after you’re all healed up, how about a hunting trip?”

“Really? Just you and me?”

“Yep…I think it would be good for us to spend some time together. We’ll go to Montpellier, there’s a wolf up there that bothered the cattle when they were in that pasture. I’d like to make sure it’s gone before we put the new calves in that field.”

“Sure thing, Brother, it sounds like fun.” Joe answered as the two of them, their differences settled…at least for now, headed into the warmth of the ranch house.

***The End***

…. or at least as far as the written words of this story goes.

Author’s note: A special thanks to Terri for starting me off with this story and to Leesa for helping to proof it.

Note: It’s easy to listen, not so easy to always hear. Developing the skill to really listen is something a lot of people never develop. Think of all the things we never learn, or misunderstand because we didn’t pay attention and hear what was being said. LOL, but I know just with my family alone I have said yeah, and then wondered what I said yeah to after they left! And sometimes with friends… It’s easy to misinterpret what they say if you aren’t hearing them while they talk. – Deb

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