Summary: The Thompson gang is looking for revenge.
Word Count: 8090
Ben Cartwright smiled as he caught a glimpse of the familiar house to which he was riding towards. He had been away to Carson City for three weeks in order to bid on a lumber contract. He could hardly wait to sleep in his own bed again and he could already smell the scent of one of Hop Sing’s home cooked meals carrying in the air. But above all he couldn’t wait to greet the three men he knew were waiting for him inside. With that in mind he rode his horse, Buck, over to the barn and told one of the hired hands to stable him for the night.
Adam Cartwright looked up from the figures he was working on at the desk as he heard a horse trot into the yard. He knew it could be none other than his Pa, who was expected back today from Carson City. He wished that Joe and Hoss would have been here in time for Ben’s return but he knew that they had left this morning to check the line shacks and because of the number they had to check it was likely that they wouldn’t be back until late.
Adam hastily cleaned up the papers that had, a moment ago, been precariously strewn all over the desk. The last thing he wanted his father to do was to even think about work right when he had gotten back from such a long trip. Adam neatly placed the Papers into a drawer and rearranged everything on the desk to the way it was before he had started. He was admiring his organizational skills when he heard the door open to which he rushed over to greet his father.
“Hey Pa, you’re just in time for Hop Sing’s chicken and dumplings and hot apple pie,” he said.
“I could use a good home cooked meal,” replied Ben. “Where’s Joe and Hoss?”
“They’re out checking the line shacks so they probably won’t be back till late,” Adam responded. “How was the trip?”
A strange look came across Ben’s face as if he was trying to decide on a response.
His face brightened suddenly, “fine,” he said. “I got the contract easily.”
“Did anything go wrong while you were there?” Adam asked, he had noticed the strange look that had flashed across his father’s face at the question he had asked.
Hop Sing suddenly appeared from the kitchen and announced that supper was ready.
“How about we discuss the trip later,” Ben offered.
“Whatever you say, Pa,” Adam responded but he couldn’t stop the uneasy feeling he felt. There was obviously something bothering Ben but he knew that he would have to wait until his father was willing to talk about it in his own time.
It was close to midnight when Joe and Hoss rode into the yard. They decided to stable their horses themselves instead of having to bother a ranch hand at this time of night. Hoss smiled to himself as he recognized the buckskin horse in one of the stalls Their father had come home safely.
“Looks like Pa’s back,” Joe observed. When they had finished bedding down their horses for the night they walked to the house. They opened the door to find Ben and Adam still up talking. “Welcome home Pa!” Hoss and Joe said in unison.
“We were beginning to wonder when you two would ever get home,” Adam said.
“The line shacks don’t fix themselves Adam,” Joe replied.
“Settle down boys, I’ve only just returned and I don’t want to already have to settle disputes,” Ben rebuked.
“Sorry Pa,” they both replied. ” Hoss and I didn’t finish so I thought that I would go out first thing and finish the last couple of line shacks. I should be back after breakfast,” Joe announced.
“Since when did you offer to do extra work?” Adam remarked.
Ben gave Adam a displeased look and said, “Thank you Joseph. It’s nice of you to offer.” They sat up a while longer and then decided to call it a night.
The next morning when Ben, Hoss, and Adam had just finished one of Hop Sing’s best breakfasts’ there was a sudden knock on the door. Hoss got up and answered it to find Roy Coffee, the sheriff of Virginia City, standing at the door.
“Roy , what a pleasant surprise! No trouble I hope,” Ben said as he got up from his seat at the table.
“I’m afraid so Ben,” Roy replied. “The Thompson Gang broke jail two days ago. I just thought that I should warn you. They could try something.”
“Pa what’s this talk of the Thompson gang?” Hoss asked.
“Boys, I think that you’d better sit down,” Ben said. “Something happened while I was in Carson City.” Adam felt the uneasiness that he had felt the day before return.
“Adam, Hoss, the Thompson gang is one that has been robbing banks throughout California. When they showed up in Carson City it was completely unexpected.”
“You mean they showed up in Carson City while you were there Pa?” Hoss asked.
“Yes Hoss I’m afraid so. When I closed the lumber contract with Henry Morrison he told me he had some cattle he thought I might be interested in so I agreed to take a look. His cattle were of excellent quality and I decided to buy a few heads off of him. I had to stop at the bank first because I hadn’t planned on buying any cattle.”
“And the bank is where the Thompson Gang comes into the story?” Adam asked.
“I walked right in on the robbery,” Ben said. “One of the men went for his gun; I drew a little faster and got the first shot off. It wasn’t until later that I found out that I had killed him.”
“But how were the rest of them captured?” Adam asked.
“After I got the shot off a couple of the customers saw their chance and jumped the other three. By then the sheriff was there and he made sure that they were locked up tight.“
“Obviously not tight enough,” interjected Roy. “I think you boys should stay close to the Ponderosa for awhile just to be sure.”
“Roy I don’t think there’s anything to worry about. If the Thompson’s are smart they’ll get as far away from here as possible.”
“Ben, you killed one of Jeb Thompson’s boys. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t try to seek revenge through you or one of your sons.” For a moment silence hung over the room.
“Pa I think he’s right,” Adam broke the silence. “What’s this gang like Roy?”
“They’re already wanted for several murders during bank robberies.” Roy replied. “The leader is Jeb Thompson. He and his four boys have been terrorizing California for awhile now. Four months ago one of his boys’ was caught and charged with bank robbery and three murders. He was hung shortly after. That left Jeb with three sons, that is until last week. The one your Pa shot was the youngest member of the gang, Cal Thompson.”
“I should have aimed better,” Ben said lowering his head.
“It wasn’t your fault Ben, we all know that,” Roy said comfortingly. “But Jeb Thompson doesn’t so I advise you boys to take my advice and I would watch my back to if I were you Ben.”
“Thanks Roy. We’ll be careful. What was done with Cal Thompson’s body anyway?” Ben asked.
“He wasn’t given much of a grave and no one showed up at his burial,” Roy replied. “It’s sad to think that a young man was lead astray like that and look where it got him. Sad, he was only twenty- four years old.”
Suddenly a look of alarm flashed across Adam’s face. “Did you say twenty-four?” He asked. All of a sudden Ben understood, “That’s the exact age of little Joe. If Jeb
Thompson wanted to get revenge the best way for him to do it is through little Joe.”
“Now Ben I think you are jumping to conclusions. I’m sure little Joe is fine.”
“That may be so Roy, but I’d feel a lot better if Joe was at home. Adam, Hoss, let’s go for a ride up out to those line shacks Joe was supposed to work on.”
Joe Cartwright finished placing the new piece of glass in the window of the line shack. He stood back to take a look at his work. Pleased, he decided to step back inside to have a cup of coffee before heading off towards home. He had taken a little longer than expected and he knew how much his father hated it when he was late. Suddenly he heard horses trotting up to the front of the line shack.
“There’s Pa, sending Adam and Hoss after me again,” Joe muttered to himself. He knew how his father constantly worried about him and wondered when his father would finally realize he was a man not a boy who needed constant watching over.
He walked to the door and opened it roughly ready to make his thoughts known to Adam and Hoss but nothing came from his suddenly dry throat at he realized the men before him were not his brothers but three strangers with their guns drawn on him. He reached for his gun but realized that he had laid his gun belt on the table inside. Just as his mind registered this he heard a loud noise. He didn’t have to feel it ripping into his shoulder to know what it was. He had heard the sound often, -a gun being fired.
Suddenly he was aware of the burning in his shoulder. He felt dizzy and light headed as he began to slump forward. Darkness was quickly overcoming him. With the thoughts of his father and brothers flashing through his mind, able to stand the Pain any longer, he allowed it to consume him.
Ben hurried his horse to a faster trot forcing Adam and Hoss to do the same in order to keep up with him. Ben was very worried now, it had been two hours and there was still no sign of Joe. Hoss had said that there had been several line shacks that needed fixing and they weren’t sure of which one Joe would be at. Ben told one of the hired hands to wait around the house and to come and get him if Joe had returned. It worried Ben that Joe was now three hours late, not that Joe’s lateness was all that unusual but Ben had a terrible feeling about it this time.
As they pulled their horses up to another line shack they all suddenly froze. Something was definitely wrong with this shack. The wide open door was swinging lightly in the breeze but what quickened Ben’s heart were the large red spots at the opening of the shack.
Ben dismounted quickly and ran towards the door. He took a closer look at the spots on the floor as his fear was confirmed-blood. ” It might not be Joe, Pa, ” Adam comforted but he didn’t really believe his own words. Hoss, who was searching the shack, returned carrying two objects he had found.
Adam couldn’t quite see what they were in the dark of the cabin. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know. As long as there was nothing around to indicate that Joe was here then Adam could believe his little brother was still all right.
Slowly Hoss walked out into the light of the afternoon sun, his face reflecting his sadness in what he had found-Joe’s familiar tan hat and gun belt. The blood in the doorway was most likely Joe’s as well. Now all that was left to wonder about was where was Joe. Cochise was no longer tied outside.
“Maybe we should go back to the house, ” Adam offered. ” Cochise isn’t here, maybe Joe was able to make it back home. ” A very small flicker of hope returned to Ben as he thought about this possibility.
“All right boys let’s go home. If Joe isn’t there we’re going to need men to make a search Party anyway. We’ll gather together as many men as we can find and search all over this half of the country if we have too,” Ben replied.
Adam realized his father’s doubt of Joe’s safety through his words. As they mounted their horses and turned towards home Adam offered up a prayer of safety for his little brother.
Joe was barely conscious but he was awake enough to feel the fire in his right arm. The light hurt his eyes when he tried to open them but he was able to see enough to realize he was on the back of Cochise with his hands tied in front of him to the saddle. Suddenly he remembered the three strangers, the shot, the pain.
He vaguely remembered one of the men saying, “You think it’s him?”
“It’s him,” another replied. He was then dragged to his horse and shoved up on him. He had not been able to withstand the torture of being dragged and shoved on his horse so carelessly and he had surrendered to the darkness once more.
Now he wondered how late it must be. It looked like late evening though he still wasn’t able to open his eyes all that much. He could hear his three captors talking.
“I told you we should have blindfolded him Pa, he’s beginning to awaken,” one said.
“He’s in no condition to go anywhere, besides we’re far enough along that he’d never find his way back.”
“I hope you’re right, Pa,” the other one spoke up. “I don’t want him escaping and us having to hightail it out of here with a posse at our backs. I still don’t think this was a very good idea.”
“You want revenge for Cal don’t you?” Joe guessed it was their father speaking again.
“Ben Cartwright is going to feel what I’ve had to feel and he’s going to have to live with the death of his son being his fault. I better not hear you speak that way again Dan. I’d have expected better out of you, being the oldest. Don’t tell me you would rather let the murder of your younger brother go unpunished? That’s not the Thompson’s way of doing things and it’s certainly not the way I raised my son.”
“Sorry Pa,” Dan said,” I didn’t know what I was saying. Cartwright has to pay for what he did to Cal.” The renewed hate and anger was evident in Dan’s voice. His father’s words had clearly gotten through to him.
Joe shivered but not because of the cool night air that was now settling to replace the hot, dusty weather during the day. The conversation he had just heard sent chills through him. He realized that these men where the Thompson gang. He had heard of the notorious bank robbers from his last trip to San Francisco. Obviously his Pa had met up with them somehow.
Joe couldn’t believe what they had said about murder, Pa would never murder. He knew for himself that it would have had to have been self-defense. Joe shuddered at the thought of himself being their revenge. He wondered what his family was thinking right now, how worried they must be. What were the Thompson’s going to do with him? One thing he knew for certain they weren’t planning on letting him go home. Ever.
Ben sat in his chair staring into the fire. His thoughts were concentrated on his youngest son. He wondered where he was and shuttered at the thought of what he may be going through. He knew he couldn’t think about that, right now he needed to concentrate on bringing his son home.
He didn’t remove his gaze from the fire even as Adam and Hoss walked through the front door. They had put up the horses for the night. Sensing the thoughts of their father they walked into the living room and sat down noticing the far off look on their father’s face. They all knew who he was thinking off.
“What cha’ thinking about Pa?”, Hoss asked anyway wishing to comfort his father, wishing some comfort for himself.
For a moment it looked as if Ben hadn’t heard or didn’t want to answer. “I was remembering when I used to take you boys fishing and how much fun it was. Joe always especially enjoyed those trips.” Ben replied. “He was always so happy, so full of life. He brought a real joy to this family.”
“Don’t forget the trouble he got into.” Adam said trying to lighten the mood. Hoss knew what Adam was trying to do.
“Yeah,” Hoss said. “Like that time he entered me into that Flapjack contest. The boy practically starved me to death putting me on that diet.”
“Or that time he convinced Hoss to rob a bank.” Adam interjected.
Ben chuckled at this and Adam was glad to see his father smile. “We’d better get to bed boys. We’ll need our strength in the morning.” No one needed to ask what Ben meant. They would search for Joe in the morning.
Ben had laid awake long into the night. He knew there would be no sleep for him until Joe was safely home. Suddenly he heard someone banging on the door downstairs. He quickly threw on his robe and stumbled down the steps. He knew he shouldn’t get his hopes up but he couldn’t stop his beating heart. He opened the door and frowned as the hope left him. It was Roy Coffee.
“Roy come in, what brings you here in the middle of the night?”
“Ben, I wish I had better news,” Roy said as he handed Ben a tattered blood stained green jacket. It was unmistakably Joe’s.
Ben didn’t notice Adam and Hoss coming downstairs and standing beside him. His eyes were transfixed on the jacket.
“His horse was tied outside the jail with his jacket and this note,” Roy said holding a folded piece of Paper out to Ben. When Ben didn’t move, Adam took the note from Roy and unfolded it. On it were the words- To: Ben Cartwright, From: Jeb Thompson.
When Adam said it out loud Ben’s heart sank. It was what he had feared but been afraid to say. Little Joe was most likely dead. Ben wished now that he had never drawn on Cal Thompson. He would rather be dead himself then have to face the death of his own son.
Roy knew the Cartwrights needed to be alone. This was the Part of his job that he hated most, delivering bad news. All he could manage to say as he left was “I’m sorry Ben, I’m so sorry.”
Ben sat down before he Passed out. He held the green jacket to himself as tears flowed freely. How could he be dead? His son was so young, so full of life. He wasn’t supposed to out live his sons.
Hoss could barely contain his own sorrow. He was trying to be strong, he had to be strong for his Pa’s sake. But failing he went upstairs to Little Joe’s room and just cried. Hoss always dealt better with things if he had some time to himself.
Adam was still frozen in place. The news had come as a complete shock to him. He needed some time to think. The rain had stopped so he saddled up Sport in the barn and rode out. He hadn’t planned to go to any Particular place but somehow he ended up at Marie’s grave. Joe had always come here if he was upset or troubled about something.
“I failed, I couldn’t keep the promise,” he said out loud. He was remembering the promise he had made to Joe’s mother so many years ago, that he would protect and take care of Joe and he had failed miserably.
Somehow he felt that he should continue to look for Joe, that something was missing with the whole story. Joe’s body hadn’t been found maybe the whole thing was set to look as if Joe was dead. He didn’t know if his theory made sense but he was going to find out. For the sakes of his brother and father he had to find closer. For the sake of himself. In his heart he felt that Joe was out there somewhere. He remounted Sport and set off in the opposite direction of home.
Joe awoke in a dark room. He knew that the room had one window that was boarded up to keep out all light from the outside except for a small stream of light that allowed Joe to distinguish between night and day.
It was the fourth day of his captivity. He remembered when they had reached the cabin they were now in. They had taken his jacket, the one thing that kept him warm, and had thrown him into this dark room. He hadn’t had any food since the morning he had went to fix the line shack. He had only been given water every now and then. He was cold and hungry and his shoulder ached terribly. He had torn off one of his sleeves and tied it around the wound to stop the bleeding. Never the less infection had begun to set in and he could feel that he was running a fairly high fever.
He could think of nothing but his family. He wished he could feel his father’s arms around him once more. He missed Hoss terribly and he wished he could see Adam again. He remembered how he and Adam hadn’t gotten along the night before his capture. He never wished so badly that he could say sorry to Adam. He would try a lot harder to get along with him….. if he ever got that chance.
Dan Thompson paced the floor of the cabin. His gaze came to rest on the bolted door at the corner of the room. He was getting uneasy. It had been four days and he knew that a posse was still out looking for him. Suddenly the front door opened.
“I was beginning to wonder if something had happened pa,” Dan was the first to talk. “When are we going to get rid of the kid and head on out of here?” He asked. “When I say so,” Jeb said with a little hostility.
He was in no mood to argue. He had been out towards the Ponderosa and he didn’t like how many men he saw. He knew that they would have to be on their way soon if they didn’t want to be found.
“I don’t understand why we didn’t just kill him right off and leave him for the old man to find.” Jimmy, the younger of the two Thompson boys said. “And that was the original intent,” Jeb replied. “But then I got to thinking, that would be to easy and why would I make it any easier on Cartwright for what he did to me?”
Dan looked at his father in a look of obvious question. Jimmy on the other hand a smile on his face that was widening by the minute. “So,” Jeb continued. “I figured if I had to watch my son die..” “…Then he should have to watch his son die,” Jimmy finished.” You know pa you always were one for great plans.””…So what I thought we’d do,” Jeb once again continued .”Is get Ben Cartwright alone and somehow lore him here.”
Dan wouldn’t say it out loud but he was getting nervous. Sure in the beginning he too had wanted revenge for the killing of his brother but now he wasn’t so sure. He had been there when his brother was shot and he knew it had been self-defense but he knew he couldn’t think about that now he had to prove himself to his father and his brother. He had never killed anyone before and if he backed out of this one he would be betraying his family especially Cal.
Joe couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had been listening to every word the Thompson’s were saying from the dark room. He knew that he had to do something. He couldn’t let them lore his Pa here. He had to somehow escape. But how?
He was getting worse by the hour and he had been in and out of conscientious so often that he wasn’t even sure how many days had passed since he had been captured. But as he was thinking this, one thought kept returning to his mind. He couldn’t let anything happen to his pa. He had to escape.
Adam rode on aimlessly. He wasn’t even sure of what he was doing or were to look. One thought was driving him and that was that Joe had to be out there somewhere and Adam had to find him. He had passed one of the ranch hands, John Carter, on his way and had asked him to inform his pa and his brother that he was going to work at one of the mines for a while and not to worry about him, he would return in a couple of weeks.
He felt bad about leaving his family right now when they needed each other most but he had to know. As long as he thought that Joe might be out there he couldn’t just sit at home. He would continue to search for Joe no matter how long it took, he just had to be sure.
Ben Cartwright sat at his desk consumed by worry. John Carter had just stopped by and re-laid the message from Adam to him. His first reaction was anger. How could Adam just leave like this when Ben needed him around the ranch? He just lost a son and he needed Adam and Hoss to be around. But his anger soon turned to worry. It wasn’t like Adam to just go off, but then again they all had never had to face the loss of a brother or son. He knew Adam and Hoss both just needed some time alone.
Hoss hadn’t come out of Joe’s room since the night before when Ben had to practically drag him to the dinner table for supper but even then Hoss wouldn’t eat much. Ben hadn’t eaten or slept for that matter himself for a couple of days now. He only hoped that God would help them through their sorrow right now and that this tragedy wouldn’t tear their family apart.
Hoss hadn’t moved since the night before. He couldn’t tear himself away from Joe’s room. He had just sat in the chair in the corner of the room all night staring at the empty bed of his youngest brother.
It was now 9:00 in the morning. Hoss chuckled to himself as he thought about how every morning at this time they were usually having to drag Joe out of bed. Like their father, Adam and Hoss had always been early risers in the morning. Adam was always one to make sure that he got an early start on his chores in the morning and Hoss was the same. But their little brother did not share in their enthusiasm for work that early in the morning. Hoss knew that Joe always pulled his weight when it came to work on the ranch though, maybe even more. Joe had gone on a number of the last cattle drives, had repaired several of the line shacks over the last few days before their father’s return from his trip, and had even managed to find enough time to break a few of the stallions from the string of horses they had recently acquired.
Adam and Joe had been getting along quite well while their pa had been gone. Of course Joe had been working mostly with Hoss though. After Ben had been gone for a week Adam had received a telegram saying that there was a problem at one of the mines. A level of the mine had caved in and some help was needed to free the men that were trapped inside. Adam had gathered many of the ranch hands and had headed towards the mine leaving Hoss and Joe in charge of the ranch for the five days that he had been gone.
Hoss and Joe had enjoyed working together during that week. It seemed as though he and Joe never argued. What Hoss didn’t enjoy was having to haul Joe out of bed every day. It had become an every day chore ever since Joe was little and had to be drug out of bed every day for school. He couldn’t remember how many times he had complained about it to Joe, now he wished everything was the way it was a week ago and he was having to haul Joe out of bed today.
Tears sprang to Hoss’s eyes as thoughts of his baby brother, his short shanks, flooded his mind. He had no regrets. He and Joe had been so close and had gotten along so well. They were never afraid to share with each other their hopes and their plans for the future.
Hoss only wished that he had had more time. It just wasn’t right. Joe was just 24 years old with his whole life in front of him. He would never have the chance to get married and have children of his own like Hoss knew Joe had wanted. Only last week, Joe had showed Hoss an old house on the West corner of the Ponderosa that they had once built for their old foreman and his wife. When the foreman’s wife had died of the fever last spring, their foreman had told them that he needed to move on so he had packed up and headed to San Francisco to find a new job away from the memories of his wife. Joe had said that he hoped to fix up the old house and maybe add an extra room or two so that when he got married he could live right on the Ponderosa. The three brothers had always shared in the dream of continuing with the building of the Ponderosa so that their children and generations of Cartwright’s after would always find a home there. Now it looked as if Joe would never be able to take part in that dream.
Tears streamed down Hoss’s face now as grief overwhelmed him. He buried his head in his hands as sobs shook him.
Joe awoke as the sound of a key unlocking the door to his ‘prison’ jolted him awake from unconsciousness. He was unaware of how long he had been out but he guessed that it must have been a few hours. The door opened and one of his captors walked in with what seemed to be a tray. The light from the lantern the man was also carrying stung Joe’s eyes and it was a moment before his eyes could adjust.
When Joe’s eyes became clear he looked at the man setting the tray of food on the floor a few feet away from him. It was the youngest of the gang. “Pa told me to give you this grub but that don’t mean I’m about to untie your hands so if you want it your gonna have to crawl for it.” Jimmy sneered.
What Jimmy didn’t know was that Joe had been working at the ropes tied around his ankles and had managed to slip one foot out of the ropes. A plan began to form in his mind and suddenly he lunged at a surprised Jimmy knocking him to the ground . The lantern crashed to the ground and the flames caught fire to Jimmy’s sleeve. Jeb and Dan came rushing into the room at the sound of Jimmy’s screams. Jeb yanked Joe off of Jimmy as Dan grabbed a blanket and began to pound out the flames first on his brother than on the floor.
Dan helped Jimmy to his feet. “I’ll kill you Cartwright,” Jimmy yelled. He seized Joe by his injured arm and punched him twice in the stomach before Jeb and Dan grabbed a hold of him and held him back. Joe fell to the floor unconscious. “Tie him up again and this time make sure he’s bound tight,” Jeb ordered Dan as he led Jimmy out of the room.
Adam awoke with a start. Glancing up at the sky and the position of the sun he guessed that it must be 10:00 in the morning. He cursed at himself for sleeping so late. Adam had wanted to keep looking last night but he knew that he wasn’t going to find Joe if he didn’t get any sleep. Even now he felt as if he hadn’t slept in days and really he hadn’t. Last night was the first time he had stopped for rest ever since he had left the ranch four days ago.
Adam knew that he wasn’t getting anywhere in his search. Up until this point he had searched all of the passes that horses could ride through and even most of the old passes that hadn’t been used by neither man nor beast in years but still he found nothing.
After Adam had packed up his supplies, he remounted Sport and set off towards the line shack that Joe had been working on just five mornings ago. They had never found any horse tracks other then some of Cochise outside of the shack or on any of the roads leading from the shack. Adam felt that they had to be missing something.
When Adam reached the line shack he dismounted and began to look around. It seemed so cold and dark all of the sudden, he hated this place. He went inside and glanced around the inside of the shack. He knew he wasn’t going to find anything in here. Roy Coffee and the posse had already scoured the place for any clue to Joe’s whereabouts.
Adam stepped back out into the doorway his gaze turned down to the floor. Some of the sheriff’s men had been kind enough to clean the blood off of the floor so that the Cartwright’s or their hired hands, many of them good friends of Joe’s, wouldn’t have to do it. No amount of scrubbing however could hide what had once been there and Adam’s stomach lurched as he looked at the wood now stained red.
Adam quickly stepped outside slamming the door behind him as he walked over to Sport. He didn’t think he could ever go in there again. The sight of the blood had haunted him ever since that terrible morning. He suddenly felt sick again and he grabbed onto Sport’s saddle to keep himself from falling.
He breathed in the fresh air and after a few moments he was again able to stand on his own again. He felt so hopeless and discouraged as tears stung his deep brown eyes. He didn’t know where to even look anymore. He wanted desperately to find his little brother but it seemed as though he and the men that had took him had completely disappeared. He had tried to remain optimistic about the situation but despair was finally setting in.
He gave a last glance around the shack. There were three paths leading from the shack. One on either side of it and one leading right up to the front. Behind the shack there was nothing but a wooded area that Adam knew reached a ways and then beyond that, miles and miles of desert.
Suddenly an idea struck Adam. No one would ever try to get a horse through the thick over growth of trees and underbrush in the backwoods behind the shack. That is no one, except someone trying to cover their tracks. Another thought suddenly came to Adam. Beyond the woods, he knew of a shack a couple of miles into the desert. An old hermit once lived there but he had died some time ago leaving the building an old abandoned shack.
This new idea renewed the hope in Adam and he quickly remounted and headed toward the woods.
Joe was in and out of consciousness the rest of the morning. Visions of his father and brothers flashed through his head as tears streamed down his face. He had to get home. He couldn’t let anything happen to his pa.
Joe forced himself up to a sitting position. Fever ravaged his body and his arm once again felt like it was on fire from the mistreatment he had suffered earlier. Through gritted teeth, Joe managed to drag himself a few feet across the room. His body screamed in pain and he struggled to keep from vomiting.
Joe finally reached where the shards of glass from the broken lantern lay. In all of the commotion they hadn’t thought to clean it up. His plan had worked. Joe picked up one of the larger pieces of glass and began to work at his ropes.
It seemed as if hours had passed when Joe finally cut through the ropes. He could now add sliced up hands to his list of injuries. His strength was declining and it took him some time to untie the rope around his ankles. Now there was nothing to do but sit and wait. He would have to figure out some way to surprise his captors. The next time they tried to enter the room, he would be waiting.
Ben was worried now. It had been four days since Adam had left. He was beginning to think about going up to the mine that John Carter had told him that Adam would be at. Just then, Ben heard a horse trot into the yard. Ben knew that it had to be his oldest son but when he opened the door he realized that it wasn’t Adam but it was Matt Smith, one of the workers up at the mine north of Virginia City- the same mine that Adam was supposed to be working at.
“Matt Smith! What a pleasant surprise,” Ben said trying to sound convincing, he had really hoped it would be Adam.” What brings you down here?” Ben enquired.
“Well Mr. Cartwright, we’re pretty short handed up at the mine right now and I was hoping Adam or Hoss and any ranch hands you could spare could come and help us out. I can understand if your busy with everything that’s happened lately and all but sometimes a man needs a little work to get his mind off his troubles.”
Ben’s face turned to question. ” You mean Adam’s not up at the mine already?” Ben asked.
“No,” Matt replied, “I can’t say that I’ve seen Adam for some time. Was he supposed to be up at the mine Mr. Cartwright?”
“John Carter stopped by a few days ago and said that Adam had told him that he was going to work up at the mine North of Virginia City.” Ben replied with concern growing in his voice.” It worries me that he never showed up.”
“Maybe John heard him wrong or maybe he just decided to go up to one of the other mines. I could check the other mines if you want Mr. Cartwright,” Matt offered.
“Thanks Matt, I’d appreciate it if you would. After you check the other mines please make sure to send me word whether you find him or not.”
“Of course Mr. Cartwright. I’ll ride in and personally tell you myself.”
“Thanks again Matt. I’m very grateful for the help.” Ben said as Matt left the house. Remounting his horse, he rode out of the yard.
Ben wasn’t about to wait to hear word from Matt. Somehow he didn’t think that Adam was up at one of the other mines and Ben wasn’t one to sit around, he would go look for Adam. He prayed silently that nothing had happened to him. He didn’t think he or Hoss could bear the loss of another son. Ben grabbed his gun belt and coat and headed for the door. His first thought was to check that line shack that Joe had been taken from.
“I’m coming with you , Pa.” The sudden voice surprised Ben but he didn’t need to turn around to know who it was.
“Hoss, I think you should stay here and…”
“Pa, he’s my brother,” Hoss cut him off, “And from what I’ve heard he may need our help so there’s nothing you can say to keep me here.”
A smile formed on Ben’s face, “Actually son, I was hoping you would say that. Let’s go”
Adam was happy to finally reach the edge of the woods. It had been very difficult to get his horse through the mass of trees and brush. He knew that he was probably on the right track though for in the woods he had noticed many horse tracks and it wasn’t like many people traveled through those woods.
Now that Adam had reached the edge of the woods, he would be able to quicken his pace. He was trying not to get his hopes up but he couldn’t stop the rapid beating of his heart. He had to keep telling himself that even if the tracks would lead him to the Thompson gang that wouldn’t mean that Joe was still alive and with them. Still somehow he felt a sense of urgency and he urged his horse to a gallop.
It had been a couple of hours before Joe heard horses ride up to the shack. He knew that the Thompson’s were returning, it was time to set his plan to action. The couple hours that it had taken the Thompson’s to return had given Joe time to rest and regain some of the strength he would need if he hoped to escape.
He had no idea of what he was going to do. All he knew was that he was going to escape, he couldn’t let anything happen to his pa. Joe positioned himself behind the door.
“Check on the kid and make sure his ropes are still plenty tight. Another accident like yesterday and this whole plan will have been for nothing.” Joe listened to Jeb’s words through the door. He heard footsteps as one of the Thompson boys walked to the door and unlocked it. Joe tensed ready to spring at whoever came into the room.
The door opened and Jimmy stepped in a look of surprise on his face at the empty room. The moment of surprise was all that Joe needed and he lunged at Jimmy knocking both of them onto the floor. Joe quickly pulled himself back on his feet. Jimmy looked to be out at least for the moment. Hearing yells from the other room Joe knew that he needed to act fast. He ran for the door just as Dan appeared with a gun in front of him. Joe dove at him and they both struggled for the gun. Just when Joe didn’t think he could fight anymore the gun went off and Dan dropped to the floor. Jeb who had been out in the barn for a few moments came rushing in at the sound of the gun going off.
Trying to think quick, Joe could hear Jimmy coming too in the other room just as Jeb burst through the front door blocking Joe’s only exit. Suddenly he ran toward the window and charged through it falling to the ground outside amidst broken glass. Dazed with the need for escape driving him. He pulled himself once again to his feet and began to run with no idea of where he was going.
Adam’s head jerked up. He was almost sure he’d heard it. A sound that he had heard many times before, a gunshot. He urged his horse a little faster but he didn’t want to go at a gallop for fear that he would be heard riding up.
Joe kept running. He didn’t really know what direction to run in. His escape seemed to have used what little strength he had left. But thoughts of home, his pa, and his brothers willed him to push on. He could hear Jimmy not far behind.
Suddenly Jimmy caught up to him and tackled him to the ground. He quickly stood up and aimed his rifle at Joe. “Looks like the end of the line Cartwright,” Jimmy seethed. “I’m going to enjoy killing you.” Jimmy cocked his rifle. Joe didn’t move and even if he had wanted to his strength was completely gone. He closed his eyes and waited for the end.
The sound of a shot rang through his ears but surprisingly he didn’t feel anything. “Joe?” He heard someone say. He recognized the voice and he opened his eyes. When they adjusted he found himself staring up into the concerned eyes of his brother Adam.
“Joe are you all right?” Adam asked.
“Adam! I’ve never been so happy to see anyone.” Joe answered. “How did you ever find me?”
“It’s a long story little brother. How about we concentrate on getting you home?”
“Home never sounded so good Adam.” Joe answered. “There was a third one Adam. Jeb Thompson.”
“I know,” Adam replied. “Well it looks as if he made a run for it. After I heard a shot I rode towards the area I thought I had heard the sound. Just as I reached the cabin I saw a man on a horse tear out of there faster than any thing I’d ever seen. I thought of riding after him but then I heard the commotion over here. Looks like I got here just in time.”
“Well Adam I must say, your timing couldn’t have been any better.” Joe said .
Adam cocked his gun at the sound of approaching horses. A look of relief flooded his face at the sight of the brown and buckskin horses. ” Pa! Hoss!” Adam called. Hoss and Ben quickly dismounted and ran over to where Adam sat holding Joe.
“Joe!” Was all Ben managed to say as tears began to stream down his face. He pulled Joe into his arms and held him. Adam and Hoss saddled the horses leaving father and son to their moment of reunion alone.
Joe held onto his Pa afraid that if he let go his Pa would be gone, he would be back in that dark room, and he would find that it was all a dream. “Joseph, thank God you’re all right.” Ben said. He could barely speak he was so emotional. Ben was also shocked at Joe’s appearance. His right shoulder was in bad shape from the bullet wound and he looked to have a fairly high fever. He also looked very exhausted and Ben knew that he needed to get Joe home.
Ben carefully helped Joe to his feet and helped him over to Buck. Hoss gently assisted Joe in climbing up on the horse and Ben climbed up behind him. He held his son against him as he grabbed onto the reigns.
Joe rested his head against his father’s chest. He felt safe in his father’s warm embrace. His family meant so very much to him and these last few days seemed only to strengthen and increase that already intense love that he felt for his pa and his brothers. Just yesterday he had begun to think that he might never see his family again but here he was now, on his way home. Home. Just the thought of the word brought tears, once again, to Joe’s eyes. Never again would he take it for granted..
Joe looked up at the face of his father and then around to that of each of his brothers. With his green eyes still glistening with tears and a smile spreading across his face Joe told his family the words they all wanted to hear, “Let’s go home.”
They all rode off with joy once again in their hearts. They knew that everything would be all right, now that they were all back together again. With these thoughts they headed towards home- Ben, Adam, Hoss… and Little Joe Cartwright. A family once again.