Summary: After the death of a ranch hand, Joe fears for the safety of his father.
Word Count: 4409
Joe Cartwright kicked his horse to a fast trot as he reluctantly rose away from the house. He’d felt an uneasiness about leaving his father alone at the house ever since the unfortunate death of Clem Darvey only about two weeks prior.
Clem, a hired hand of the Cartwright’s, had been killed while on a cattle drive with Ben, when his horse has stumbled, throwing him to the ground to be stampeded by the moving cattle. It had been very difficult for Ben to have to bring such terrible news to Clem’s father, Richard Darvey. For a couple of days it had seemed as though Richard Darvey held nothing against the Cartwright’s but it wasn’t long before they began hearing of threats Darvey was making in town against Ben’s life for “killing” his son.
Ever since then, Joe had felt nervous and he seemed to particularly feel so this morning though he didn’t know why. He’d tried to voice this feeling of uneasiness to his father early that morning but Ben would have none of it. There were many jobs to get caught up on the Ponderosa, his father had said, and so he’d sent Joe to repair some fencing in the North pasture and Adam into town to check the mail and pick up some supplies.
Hoss was still away on a trip to Placerville but he was due back today and Joe knew that things would get a little less busy once Hoss was home to take over some of the chores.
To save on time, Joe decided to veer off of the path and cut though a strand of trees. It would save him about twenty minutes of riding to take the lesser-used route. He started to ride away from the path but he suddenly halted his horse at the site of a rider going at a full gallop heading in the opposite direction.
Joe had to strain to make out the man who was quite a distance from him. Fear gripped him at the realization that the rider was none other then Richard Darvey. His fast gallop towards the house made Joe realize his likely intention and it was all Joe could do to hold back and wait until Darvey had passed without seeing him before he too galloped towards the house.
Taking a short cut, he could only pray that he would get there in time.
Ben Cartwright stepped outside into the fresh air. It was a beautiful spring morning and it seemed as though nothing could go wrong on such a gorgeous day. Ben though has a lot on his mind and it wasn’t just the work that needed to be done on the Ponderosa…..it was Richard Darvey.
Though he hadn’t let on about it to his sons, Ben couldn’t help but also feel uneasy ever since Darvey began to make threats in town.
Ben forced himself to push these thoughts of his mind as he made his way to the barn. There was far too much work to be done to be worrying over what was probably nothing.
Probably nothing? Ben couldn’t help but question himself.
Joe rode at an amazing speed and it wasn’t long before he finally reached the house. He practically jumped down off of his horse before it even had a chance to come to a complete halt.
His father had said he was going to clean out the barn today and so his first instinct was t head for there. Thankfully, that instinct turned out to be a right one.
“Pa!” Joe shouted as he reached where his father stood in the barn. But Joe had no time to say anything else for he had managed to arrive only seconds before Darvey and he froze at the sound of a gun cocking behind him. Joe swung around to see Darvey at the door of the barn, his rifle aimed at Ben, and he suddenly knew that he had to protect his pa. Joe stepped in front of his father blocking him from Darvey’s aim.
“Get out of the way, boy,” Darvey ordered. “I ain’t aimin’ to kill you; it’s yer pa I’m after.”
But Joe didn’t move. “You want to kill my pa, you’ll have to kill me first.” he said to Darvey, angering the man further.
“Move out of the way, boy.” Darvey commanded once again. “Don’t make me hafta kill ya. This isn’t yer fight.”
“Anything that has to do with my family is my fight,” Joe replied
Ben stood in shock for a moment at what was happening before him, but he quickly pulled himself together. Ben knew that Joe would give his only life for any one of his family and he knew he couldn’t stand there and let his son get killed standing up for him. The look on Darvey’s face sent chills through Ben and he knew that Darvey would pull the trigger any second.
Ben thought fast and he suddenly shoved Joe out of the way as Darvey’s finger tightened on the trigger.
“Looks like the end of the line, Cartwright,” Darvey taunted as Joe managed to catch himself and keep from falling to the ground. Darvey’s words were a blur in his mind and knowing that he had only seconds to work with, he whirled back around and threw himself in front of his father just as the sound of Darvey’s gun going off emanated though the barn.
Ben felt something hit the left side of his chest as the bullet that had went through the top right side of Joe’s back and exited out his chest, then hit Ben. Ben, though, noticed no pain. His eyes, filled with horror, were fixed upon his youngest son, who slumped into his arms.
Darvey knew that the sound of a gunshot would catch the attention of any of the hired hands riding anywhere near the house and they would be riding in within a matter of minutes. Mounting his horse quickly, he stole once last glance over his shoulder. Ben was now kneeling on the ground, cradling his son in his arms.
It was obvious to Darvey that Ben’s injury wasn’t very serious but even if he hadn’t killed Ben like he’d intended, he had at least gotten his son and in Darvey’s sick mind, he was pleased that he’d managed to get his revenge on Ben in a more hurtful manner. With these thoughts running through his mind, Darvey took off at a fast gallop.
It was only then that Ben realized that Darvey had fled. Darvey actually had nothing to worry about though. Ben knew that most of the hired hands were out working at many of the lumber camps and those who weren’t riding fences. None of them were within hearing distance of the shot. Joe groaned and Ben turned his attention back on his son.
“Joe, can you hear me?” Ben asked hopefully, but he received no answer in return. Ben pulled back part of Joe’s jacket to reveal the wound where the bullet had exited out his chest. There was no way of checking the wound in his back without causing Joe a lot of pain but it was obvious to Ben that his son was losing a lot of blood.
Ben thought briefly to lift Joe into the wagon and take him into town to see the doctor but from the looks of his youngest, he probably couldn’t make it that far.
The sound of a horse approaching the house caused Ben to jump. He suddenly realized that he hadn’t brought a gun with him into the barn. He grabbed Joe’s gun out of his holster and aimed it at the door of the barn.
“Pa?” Ben heard someone call from outside and he breathed a sigh of relief at the sound of his oldest son’s voice.
“In here, Adam!” Ben called back.
Adam jumped down from his horse and headed towards the barn. He had felt strangely uneasy this morning and so he had decided to come home early from town. He hadn’t been far from the house when he had heard a gunshot. Panic caused him to gallop towards home. Nothing could have prepared him for what he would find in the barn.
Running into the barn, Adam’s breath caught in his throat at the sight of his father knelt on the ground holding his youngest brother. Adam knelt down next to his father.
“Pa, what happened?” Adam asked quietly.
“Darvey,” was all that Ben managed to say as Adam looked over first his father’s wound, then Joe’s. His father, he knew, would be all right, but it was very apparent to him that Joe’s wounds were very serious.
“We have to get him in the house and upstairs,” Adam gently ordered his father as he slid his arms under Joe’s back and lifted him up as Ben lifted Joe’s legs. Adam silently thanked God that Joe was completely unconscious and couldn’t feel the pain of being moved in such a way. Especially with the wound being in his back. Adam and Ben gently carried Joe in the house and up the stairs, gently laying him on his bed.
Though he was very reluctant to leave his father and brother alone in such a state, Adam knew that he was going to have to ride and get the doctor. Ben, refusing to leave Joe’s side, sat exhausted from the loss of blood in a chair next to Joe’s bed. Adam got some towels and made sure to pack Ben’s, then Joe’s wounds.
From the looks of Joe, Adam knew that he couldn’t afford to lose much more blood. Joe was just barely hanging on and, for a moment, Adam allowed his mind to wander to a very dark possibility…
“Hang on there, Joe. Don’t even think about letting go,” Adam whispered as he held onto Joe’s hand for a moment, afraid that it was to be their last. Adam prayed silently that he would get the doctor back in time.
“I’m not going anywhere, brother,” Adam was surprised to hear Joe suddenly whisper and he let out a sigh of relief at the fact that his younger brother was at least conscious. That had to be a good sign, or at least Adam needed to believe it was. Adam tightened his hold on his brother’s hand. “I’ll be right back with the doctor, Joe. You just try to stay awake until I get back.” Joe only slightly nodded in reply. His breaths were short and raspy by now and Adam knew that if Joe were to fall back into unconsciousness, next time he might never come out of it.
Adam checked again on Ben and he was glad to see that his wound was clotting and he appeared to not be losing any more blood, though Adam knew that the bullet needed to come out soon.
“I’ll be back as soon as I can, Pa,” he promised.
Ben managed to place a hand on Adam’s shoulder, “I know you will, son….Be careful.” Ben worried that Darvey might still be out there and might try to shoot another of his sons.
Adam was concerned as well for the safety of his father and brother while he was gone. Adam checked to see that Ben still had Joe’s gun. “I will,” he reassured his father but then added, “you too,” as he hurried out of the room to get the doctor.
As Adam mounted his horse and rode off, he was unaware of the man watching his every move from the shadows. It was now time to finish the job that Darvey failed to complete, Jim Carleson thought to himself.
With his own eyes he had watched Darvey leaving the barn, Adam riding up, and Ben and Adam carrying Joe into the house. Joe Cartwright, he knew, appeared to be badly off though he could see by the looks of things that he too wasn’t dead. Darvey hadn’t even managed to kill one of them.
Carlson was here now to change all that. His distaste for his former boss and his son was growing by the minute. He couldn’t rest until both Ben and Joe Cartwright were dead. After all, it had been Ben who had fired him but it was Joe who had taken a particular disliking to him in the first place. It wasn’t until they had finally had a falling out one night that Ben had told him to take what money he had coming to him and leave. All Carleson could seem to think about now was the burning hate he felt towards both Cartwrights.
With this in mind, he double-checked his gun to see that it was loaded and headed quietly towards the front door of the house.
Ben sat up, though he did so rather weakly. He didn’t know what it was, but somehow he felt nervous. Ben checked to see that Joe’s gun held a couple of bullets. He then turned his attention back on his youngest son as he leaned towards him. He placed the gun on the edge of the bed, within easy reach but out of sight by anyone who might come through the door. Ben silently prayed that he was just being overly cautious and wouldn’t have to use it.
Ben knew that the most important thing right now was that he keep Joe conscious. “Son?” he asked softly. “Son,” he gently repeated after no answer.
“I’m here, Pa,” Joe weakly replied and he managed to open his eyes to look straight into his father’s.
As Ben looked into his son’s eyes, he found himself unable to come up with the words he wanted to say. To thank his son for such a tremendous gift of being willing to give his own life to save his.
Ben’s eyes misted. “Thank You,” was all he managed to say but the love and feeling conveyed in those two words was more than a thousand could have conveyed. Joe did his best to offer to his father a slight smile in return, though the agony he felt still shown very plainly on his face. Joe was shivering despite the fact that his hair and forehead were damp with sweat and it was very apparent to Ben that Joe’s temperature was rising.
“Can I get you anything son?” Ben asked softly.
“Water,” was all Joe managed to reply. The raspiness of his voice was due in part to the fact that his throat was very dry.
“I’ll be right back,” Ben said as he stood up. Walking the few steps it took to get out of the room made him realize just how week he really was. Closing the door behind him, he leaned against the doorway for a moment, trying to regain some strength. Slowly but steadily, he made his way towards the steps.
He turned the corner to go down them when suddenly, just as his mind registered the man Carleson stood before him, he felt a crashing blow to his head. The floor seemed to come up to meet him as everything went black.
Joe’s head swam as he suddenly sat up. Something was wrong. He’d heard a smack, then a thud and from the sounds of it, it came from just down the hall.
For a moment he thought to call out in hopes that his father would answer but if someone else was in the house, he knew it was best to be as quiet as possible.
Trying to forget the pain that ravaged his body, he somehow found the strength to stand up. As he did so, sliding off the bed, his hand felt a familiar object lying there. His gun. He cursed silently at the fact that two bullets remained in it.
Thinking quickly, he blew out the lamp in his room and as quickly as his injuries would allow him, he made his way to the door, quietly and carefully opening it a crack. That was when he saw Carleson at the end of the hall, standing over an unconscious Ben. He had rope and he was tying Ben’s hands behind his back.
“I’ll be settling my score with you, Cartwright, but not until I take care of your boy first,” Joe heard Carleson mumble. Joe knew that if he didn’t come up with a plan fast, his brother Adam might find that they wouldn’t need the doctor after all. Carleson could kill them both before Adam was anywhere close to getting back.
All Joe could think about now was his father’s safety. His own was the last on his mind. He needed to somehow get Carleson out of the house and away from Ben. An idea started to form in his mind.
Joe quietly re-shut his door, locking it in hopes that it would buy him more time.
Now all he needed to do was draw Carleson’s attention.
Carleson looked up suddenly at the sound of a crash in one of the bedrooms. Forgetting too finish tying Ben’s hands, he cocked his gun and headed towards the room from which it came.
Joe forced himself to move fast as he climbed out of the room through the window. He stopped only for a moment at the sound of Carleson trying to get into the room. Smashing the lamp against the wall had succeeded in diverting his attention away from Ben.
A sudden wave of nausea came over Joe as he carefully climbed down the roof. A loud crash from the room as Carleson kicked in the door caused his attention to be drawn away from what he was doing momentarily and he slipped.
Sliding down the roof, Joe just barely caught the edge of it before he would have fallen to the ground. His head reeled from the pain and he was having a hard time focusing. Joe looked down from where he was dangling and judged whether or not he had a chance of landing without further injury.
Carleson had now reached the window and a bullet suddenly ricocheted off of the roof just a few inches away from Joe. Closing his eyes as fragments of wood sprayed his face, he lost grasp.
Landing hard on the ground, he forced himself back up despite protests from his body. He knew that Carleson would be rushing outside any minute. His plan was working, but he hadn’t quite figured out what to do from here.
Joe made his way to the barn, the only place he could think to go. He still had the two bullets in his gun, two chances to save his father.
He practically dove into the barn as Carleson, now outside, sent another bullet in his direction. Joe crawled into one of the horse stalls and cocked his gun.
Now, all he had to do was wait for the right moment.
Sweat now ran down Joe’s face as his fever escalated. He was finding it increasingly difficult to remain aware and focused. Carleson had fired another shot, and though it was an aimless one, it had come within only a few feet of Joe.
“I know you’re in here, Cartwright,” Carleson sneered. “It’s only a matter of time.” Carleson now had his eye on the loft and he started to climb up the ladder. “I know you ain’t got a gun.”
Joe realized now that he had the element of surprise on his side. Carlson was now on top of the loft and although his steps were almost soundless, Joe was able to follow Carleson’s every move by the straw that fell through the crevices of the loft and onto the barn floor with his every step. Joe aimed his gun to where he thought Carleson might be.
A sudden sound from the doorway broke Joe’s concentration for a moment and he turned his gaze towards the door. He didn’t need to see who it was to suddenly remember that Hoss was due back from Placerville today.
“Hoss!” Joe shouted as he spun out of the stall, took aim, and shot twice just as Carleson fired toward the door. Carleson slumped over as both bullets hit him; they had been enough to throw his shot off balance and the bullet had been way off target.
Shocked by the whole ordeal, Hoss rushed to Joe’s side and his little brother slumped exhausted into his arms.
“Joe?” Hoss’ voice was a blur in Joe’s mind.
“Pa……make sure Pa’s alright.” was all Joe managed to say before darkness overtook him.
Hoss stood silently next to the stairs as Adam paced the floor next to the fireplace. Thankfully, the doctor had been right in his office in town and they were able to head back to the Ponderosa very quickly.
Adam had been shocked to get home and find that there had been another attack, this time involving Jim Carleson. Carleson, Adam remembered, had worked on the Ponderosa not more than six months before. Joe hadn’t liked him from the start, though the rest of them couldn’t see any reasons themselves not to like him.
It soon became quite clear to them all what there was to dislike when Carleson drank and broke up the bunkhouse more than once. The man didn’t like to take orders very much, particularly from Joe who was quite a bit younger than him.
But they had continued to try and work with him for awhile and even Joe had somehow managed to stay friendly with him until one night when Carleson had had enough orders and he’d pulled a gun on Joe. A fight ensued and Joe finally somehow wrestled the gun away from him. That’s when Ben had fired him and that’s the last they’d hoped they would see of Jim Carleson.
Adam had heard recently that Richard Darvey had hired him but it hadn’t crossed his mind that Carleson might try for revenge. It was clear to Adam now why the change in Darvey’s demeanor. Carleson, no doubt, had filled his mind with lies and poisoned him to believe that the Cartwright’s were responsible for his son’s death.
It seemed like an eternity to Adam before Doctor Paul Martin finally descended the steps.
“How are they?” Hoss was quick to ask.
“I removed the bullet from your father’s shoulder and he’s going to be just fine. That was quite a blow he received from Carleson but he’s already wide-awake and asking questions,” Doc Martin said with a smile.
Adam was relieved at the news, though he really hadn’t seemed to worry that Ben’s injuries might be life threatening. Joe, on the other hand, had him very worried. “And Joe?” he asked
“He had me worried for awhile,” Doc Martin replied,” but he’s stable now. It may take awhile and the recovery might be slow but he’s going to pull through.” The doctor reassured them both. “He saved your father’s life, you know.” Both brothers had looks of obvious question on their faces.
“We never did get a clear story on that,” Adam said. Roy Coffee had stopped by not more than an hour before. Word had spread very quickly and what had happened and Roy had come to tell them that Darvey had been arrested in Carson City. He would be charged with the attempted murders of Ben and Joe Cartwright and most likely would never get out of prison.
That was all of the details Adam knew. He knew virtually nothing about what had happened in the barn before he had arrived, though he did find it odd that he only remembered hearing one shot.
“When your father awoke, he told me what had happened,” Doc Martin began. “I’ll let him fill you in all of the details but I will tell you that Little Joe tried to take the bullet for your father. Although it passed through him and still hit your father, the impact of the bullet was dramatically reduced. So by stepping in front of your father, Joe took most of the impact, saving Ben’s life. I don’t think a man his age would have survived the force of the bullet. If Joe wasn’t so strong, even he might not have survived it.”
Silence filled the room at Paul Martin’s words as the realization of their brother’s sacrifice hit both Adam and Hoss.
“Can we see them?” Adam suddenly broke the silence.
“Of course you can, but I’d advise that you let Little Joe rest for awhile before you talk to him. He needs all of the rest he can get,” Paul answered kindly. “I don’t see why you can’t talk to your father though, but in awhile he too will need some rest. I’d best be on my way now,” Paul announced as he headed for the door. Hoss walked over as well to show him out.
“I’d stay for awhile but Emma Smith is about to have her baby, I’ll be back tomorrow morning though to check in on your father and brother” Paul assured them as he headed out the door. He paused for a moment though and turned back around to face Adam and Hoss. “Never before, in all my practice have I seen such sacrifice. A man in Joe’s condition shouldn’t have been able to stand up much less make it all the way out to the barn to get Carleson out of the house.” Paul paused for a moment then continued. “You both have a truly remarkable brother.”
Adam and Hoss only managed to nod as Paul climbed onto his buckboard and road off.
Months passed before both Ben and especially Joe were completely recovered. It was through hearing bits and pieces of what happened through Ben and Joe that Adam and Hoss were able to put the complete story of what had happened together.
brothers and father seemed to want to express their gratitude at every turn, Joe seemed content in that things only return to normal. Everything would be forever far from normal his family, though, knew. Father and son became closer than ever and their whole ordeal seemed only to reinforce one thing in all of their minds…….
…….There wasn’t anything the youngest Cartwright wouldn’t give for family.