Buried Alive!!! (by Linda V.)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:    26.767


 

It had rained most of the day. The ground was very wet and most of the work done on the Ponderosa had taken more energy than usual just to keep ahead of the problems the water caused.However, the night had a nice cool breeze and because of this, the windows had been left open to allow the fresh air to enter.

As the house slept, no one heard the slight sounds of someone slipping through a window. No one heard this person give hand signals to others to do likewise in different places. No one heard as these unwelcome guests went silently up the stairs to where the bedrooms were of the sleeping Cartwrights.But these men were not new to the Ponderosa; they even knew which steps made creaking noises and avoided them so that no one would be awakened prematurely.

Again hand signals were given as the men inside the house moved along the corridor and stood outside Joe’s bedroom door.They had decided that this was the weakest link in the Cartwright chain and so he became the prime target.They ever so quietly opened his door.Joe was asleep, peacefully dreaming, resting after a long day. The men surrounded his bed.The leader grabbed a strong handful of Joe’s hair and sat him up abruptly.Joe was dazed yet he was ready to fight.Having been raised with brothers, he was always prepared for pranks. But this was no prank; Joe soon knew it as his right arm was brought roughly back and held high up on his back.The pain shot through him and he arose from the bed without any fight. He was really shocked; he couldn’t see who these men were but he knew that there were several in the room. The one who had a tight grip on his arm growled a warning to Joe, “If you make so much as a loud groan, I will knock you stupid.”

Joe figured he would have to wait for his opportunity. Weakly, he asked, “Who are you?”

“You don’t need names; just know we mean business,” the brute answered. His mouth so close to Joe’s face he could smell the foul breath that only rotten teeth gave.“ You listen and you might just survive this…you will accompany us into the hallway and summon your family. When they come out, you best tell them that if they resist, you will be the one to suffer.If you do this correctly, then we shall move on. Now, move!”

Joe was pushed forward, but the grip on his arm was never lessened; in fact, it was even more raised than before and the pain was grueling. He could hardly get his breath! Who were these men, and what did the want? The door to his room was opened and he was suddenly in the hallway, shivering and trying to stay upright and withstand this torture. “Pa! Hoss! Come out here in the hallway! I have something to show you!”

Ben was mad that Joe was calling him into the hallway at this time of night.He was so tired and he figured that he had either had a bad dream or was cutting up with Hoss.He quickly opened the door. “What in the world are you up to Joe?”Ben was shocked to see his hallway full of people and his son Joe in such an arm lock that he could hardly breathe.What is going on here?At this time, Hoss had joined his father and was feeling hurt that he could not help his brother.Someone was hurting his brother and he was helpless.

Joe shut his eyes, willing the tears that were in them to stop. But the pain was searing and he couldn’t seem to get a good grip on his feelings. Ben stood outside his door dressed in a nightshirt and stared at the men; he was trying to remember where he had seen them before but the hall was dark and they were in the shadows. The only one he clearly saw was Joe withering in pain.“Let him go!” Ben yelled.I’ll talk to you without you hurting someone. What do you want? Money?It’s downstairs; I will not stop you from taking it!”

“Mr. Benjamin Cartwright, we want more than money.e want to see you humbled, worried and downright scared for your life and that of your boys.You sit here in this nice house, never wanting for anything and you don’t care that others have nothing. So we are here to wake you up to the reality that your nice clothes, big house, large land are easily lost. We will just see how you feel after you are broke, homeless, and without perhaps one or two of your boys. Therefore, Mr. Ben Cartwright, we are going downstairs to negotiate just what that prize package would be. Don’t try anything funny, do not attempt to attack one of us, and for heavens sake, do not cause us to do more than originally planned to do. Now, nice and easy.”

While all this was being said, Joe was trying desperately to stay conscious as the pain was working on his brain. It was making the darkness of unconsciousness fade in and out. As the man holding him stepped ahead, he pushed Joe and Joe lost his footing and stumbled.The man roughly grabbed him up and in doing so, there was a loud snap!Joe cried out and the darkness moved in. The pain had won.

However, with this new circumstance, the man holding Joe was now left with a lifeless person in his grip and this really made him angrier. He cursed, and, with a swift movement, he picked Joe up and threw him over the banister to the hard wood floor below.

Ben cried out, “Joe!” Ben could see that Joe was hurt bad; blood was pooling around his head and his arm was at a funny angle.

The man who had been holding Joe spat at Ben and said, “Would you like someone else to go over the banister…it can be arranged…in fact that way we can get this over with swift and easy. You tell me. Or show me you have learned from this, and decide to play smart and realize that we mean business and go downstairs, NOW!

Ben and Hoss quietly went down the steps, both looking at the deathly still body of Joe as they went, willing the boy to fight and not die. How bad was he hurt? What were these men after? Would this please end soon so that they could get medical help for Joe and summon the sheriff to start tracking them down?

The man motioned for Ben and Hoss to sit on the davenport. He was pacing the floor and seemed to be thinking. He gave new hand signals to two of the men. They approached Joe and roughly picked him up and carried him out the front door.Ben began to ask where they were taking him but realized that they wouldn’t tell him.It would just get them riled up again and he wanted this over with as quickly as possible.These men were acting like wounded animals and this made them even more frightening and twice as dangerous.Ben had not seen where they had taken Joe and he was concerned that perhaps he was no longer breathing.

Hoss began to yell at the men. “Hey, I want to know where you have taken my brother. You’re not scaring me into submission.I will get you for this.”

The leader turned around suddenly and locked eyes with Hoss. He heavily walked over to where Hoss was sitting on the couch and growled, “Don’t worry, Horse; you may not be scared now but I assure you that before the sun rises, you will be praying to God that he just ends your life mercifully because you will be in terrible pain. But for now, I want you to crawl on your hands and knees over to the table and bring me one of the chairs; don’t try any tricks because four guns are trained on you at this moment and they will all fire if you zig the wrong way.Bring the chair to me!”

Hoss went on his knees and crawled to the table. The chairs that they had enjoyed many meals on were heavy and of such good quality that Hoss had real difficulty bringing it across the floor to the man. But finally he had accomplished his deed and the man signaled for him to get back to the table and get one more chair.Hoss was breathing hard when he had both chairs in front of this man and was permitted to sit back up on the settee.

Take this rope, Daddy, and tie those chairs together, TIGHTLY! Then both of you take a seat on these chairs. We will make sure that you are both quite comfortable. But first, Ben, I want the vault combination! Frank, get over to the vault and do as he tells you. Slowly, Ben; we would not want to hurt you for giving us bad directions.”

The large safe was hidden behind a beautiful picture above his desk. It had been put there three years ago; it was a gift from Adam. Ben was very proud of the modern devise and enjoyed the added safety it allowed. Few knew it existed but apparently these men knew. Frank moved the picture easily and was waiting for Ben’s directions. Ben was really not as concerned about being robbed as he was in finding his son and making sure he was alive.He freely gave them the combination.

The safe opened with ease and the man called Frank whistled as he saw what all was in the safe.  “Hey Boss, we sure hit a jackpot with this. I bet there is 7 or 8 thousand dollars here. Bonds, and they’re worth a lot, plus the deed to this property! Jewelry! A beautiful watch! Several rings, including two big diamond rings.” He whistled again.Mr. Cartwright I hope you put no sentimental value on these things because you have seen them for the last time….no one man should have this much while others are poor. But it’s over now…you will have lost a lot tonight and no one will care. No one except you!”

Ben, in the meantime, was not even tuned into this nut; he was deep in thought, trying to figure out who these men were. He was wracking his brain and trying to review people who he had dealt with…he felt it had to have been recent.If he could just remember who they were he might be able to figure out the why.

*****

Joe felt wet. He was nauseous and he could not see anything. Blackness surrounded him. It was so quiet but chilly.He tried to remember where he was but he was so lost. He was so confused and his head hurt so bad he was dry heaving and tried not to move any more than he had to. Perhaps then the night would end, he thought, and I will be able to get a grip on where I am.

Just then, he heard voices, and again, he couldn’t make out what they were saying.As he moved his head to listen, he felt a great stab of pain; it ran down his collarbone to and through his arm.This pain brought back how he had been hurt.He was certain that his right arm was broken; it throbbed, and was very swollen. It hurt like hell!His head felt like lead.The cold was getting into his bone and he tried to rub his hand over his sore arm.But his movement was vastly restricted and his hand hit something hard.Joe placed his hand on the surface of where he was and realized it was wood.Then he continued to feel the sides and suddenly realized that he was in a coffin, buried ALIVE!

Panic was the first emotion that Joe had to deal with.He was buried in a box and he had no idea where, or how far down the grave had been dug. The damp earth was moving in on him and he was confused as to how he had gotten here. Fear is the worst enemy that a person can have and Joe had fear in his heart.The tears welt up in his eyes and ran down the sides of his face. Who would do such a horrible thing to someone?ho could take someone out of their home, and bury them alive?Joe had no real enemies…sure there were boys that were jealous of him; he liked the women and often stole girls away from budding love but they wouldn’t go to such lengths to get even. As he thought, he began to shake, every nerve seemed to be exposed and the fear in his heart grew to monumental proportions. He was really on the edge of shear panic…his heart was pounding so hard and fast that he was sure it would come out of his chest.

Joe screamed. He screamed and screamed. Then he began to claw at the wood.Perhaps they hadn’t sealed the coffin! Perhaps they were just kidding and if they heard him screaming, they would open it up so he could escape. Joe lay there screaming, yelling, “help” and clawing at the wood. Splinters broke off under his nails and he was so frightened that he didn’t realize that he had his broken arm up clawing at the wood as well. “Oh, God”, he prayed, “please have mercy! Lord, I promise that I will be a better person…just let me please survive this and …….”

All of a sudden, Joe remembered that the men were probably still at his home and maybe they were hurting or perhaps had killed his family.This filled him with renewed rage.He was so angry, and in such pain.He screamed again hoping that someone would hear him.But soon he lost the fight and again the darkness over took him and he was quiet. Death was approaching but Joe was defenseless; he just couldn’t beat the pain.

*****

Hop Sing stayed in the shadows. He could hear the terrible things that were going on.The commotion that surrounded his boss and son was very frightening. He had seen Little Joe thrown from the balcony and he was afraid he was possibly dead. But rather than make himself seen, he decided to stay hidden. He would wait and see if he could either go for help or try to help them himself. Whatever his boss wanted him to. The men had been in his kitchen several times and had taken some of the knives and utensils thatThis really irritated the little man and it was all he could do not to shout some obscene Chinese slang to them. But he controlled his anger. His family was in trouble and he knew he was about the only one who could help.

Joe wasn’t sure what had awakened him, either the pain in his arm, which was overwhelming, or something

outside.But he lay real still, and the fears that he had began to rise in his throat again. He said to himself, “Okay, so you’re six feet under, you are getting colder with each passing minute, and your arm is so swollen you can no longer move it in this cramped space.What should I do?”With this said, Joe againturned to prayer. ”Please, Father, let me survive this! Give me the strength I need to endure thisunishment and please let my pa and brother be okay.”If we only knew why?If we only knew who?Perhaps we could make some sense of this…..but Joe was lost. His mind raced and he found himself emembering things….good and bad. It seemed that God was with him, and Joe calmed down and reviewed some of the wonderful times in his life.The faces of the many sweet women he had known, hisriends who he had grown up with. Then it hit him! He knew the voice he had heard in his room thatnight. knew who was the leader of this gang. He remembered this individual with hatred.Billy Clay!

Billy was two years older than Joe.He had quit school earlier than Joe simply because they had no more to teach him…..he said he knew it all. Joe at the time was so frustrated with school that it all made sense to him. He asked his father also if he could pull out of school early.Ben, at first, would not even consider discussing it with his young son, but after Joe had been relentless in asking and giving good reasons why it would be better for all that he quit, finally agreed. However, Ben had a long serious talk with his son. He told Joe that if he really wanted to quit school and not heed his or his brother Adam’s advice to stay in school and graduate, then there would be very strict rules developed. Joe would be expected to do a man’s job and there would be little time for playing around. His trips to town would be limited and only be for work. Joe had been very relieved that he no longer would have to sit in school and it had been very easy for him to agree to his father’s terms. But Joe soon learned that whether you are sitting in classroom or catching strays, you are constantly learning and being tested.

As he laid in this “grave”, Billy Clay’s face was vivid in Joe’s eye. He tried hard to remember exactly what he didn’t like about Billy. Joe remembered that Billy seemed always bigger than life and Joe just knew that he meant trouble. It seemed that Joe had been avoiding “Billy’s kind” all his life and yet they always seemed to find him.

Again, Joe could feel the panic rising in his throat; would anyone find him or would this really be the end?

*****

Ben and Hoss were both lost in thought.Both imagining the worst. But in all honesty, they needed to worry about themselves a little. They were tied very securely together and the chairs were tilted in such a way that, with the slightest amount of movement, the chairs would fall over and the string holding the chairs would trigger a rigged fire — oil soaked rags and explosives that would truly involve the ranch house in only moments…. most likely taking Hoss and Ben with it.But try as he might, Ben couldn’t think straight; he was so overwhelmed with sadness because he felt like he had no control and could not help his sons.

Hoss was getting more frustrated than he could control, and he started to threaten these animals that just seemed hell bent on destroying his world. ”If I catch you, I will show you why you shouldn’t tie people up and hurt others. This will not be over until I see you either locked up for life or hanging from a rope.If my brother is hurt or dead…….” He never got a chance to finish this sentence as the world around him went black. He was hit on the back of the head by the butt of Billy’s gun.

“Shut up” Billy growled.

This greatly affected Ben as Hoss went limp and now he had to hold both their chairs upright. Hecursed under his breath and watched the men as they prepared to call it quits and leave. After the frontdoor closed, he heard the horses whinnying and the pounding of hooves as he knew that the horses were letgo from the barn; he also heard the whoosh of fire, as the barn was set alight.Ben felt like crying. God, please help me! Don’t let these men get away with this and if there please helpme! is any way that you can help Little Joe please do. HE needs you, Lord.

*****

Joe, trying to figure out how to help himself, must have fallen asleep.He awoke to something cold.It was so dark inside this box he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face but again he felt something wet hit him on the face. He wiped his face with his fingers and tasted them. Water!It was water!Where could it be coming from? Perhaps he wasn’t 6 feet under. Perhaps he was just in this box!With this thought, Joe began to kick the lid of the box with his shoe.Each kick hit with a thud…..dashing his hopes that something wasn’t holding the lid down. As Joe kicked, he began to realize that more was wrong with him than just his arm.His chest hurt and the exertion of kicking was quickly taking its toll.However, he continued to try to figure out where the water was coming from.Joe ran his hand around the lid, inching his way from one end to the other and realized that the wood used for this “coffin” was extremely thin and that the water was simply sifting through the pores of the wood. But if the wood was thin, then it couldn’t be holding up too much dirt.It would cave in.This is all the stimulus Joe needed….he immediately began to claw, scream, and yell for help once again while trying to breakthrough the wood.Kicking, clawing and butting. Tears were streaming down his face; the pain was so terrible but the survival will was greater. He lifted his two legs up as far as he could as he tried to use them as leverage in lifting the lid. Once or twice he heard loud cracks but there had not been any real movement.

Joe was thirsty and tired, and yet he was not ready to give up.He kept hearing his father saying to him, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again!”I’m trying, Pa!Please be okay!I’m trying to get out of this; it’sjust taking more time than I figured. He began to sob. Pain taking over his feelings! He didn’t want to diethis way! He wanted to grow old with the love of his life, with at least 4 or 5 children.But instead, he wasin an “early grave” and not even strong enough to dig his way out.

*****

Silence had been predominant for the last 15 minutes or so. Ben was pretty sure that their “guests” were gone.He was still supporting both of their chairs and was watching the door expecting either one of the men to come back or a gun to go off.

Instead, he saw Hop Sing.He was crawling on the floor and quietly trying to approach Ben without being seen. Ben whispered, “Hop Sing, are you alright?”

“Yes, Missa Cartlite, I am fine! Bad men gone!Where they take Joe?”

“I don’t know but wherever it is he is in bad shape and we must find him.Go and get a good knife and try to untie us. Hoss is really out.” Ben was beside himself with anger.

Hop Sing got a good knife and returned to the living room. He cut away the oil soaked rags and tied the end of the string on the banister of the staircase. He went to Ben and carefully cut the ropes holding his wrists and ankles. The ropes had cut deep into his skin and Ben could feel the blood rush in to his hands. Any longer and he may have lost some fingers or perhaps his whole hand.  Hoss was laid down on his side and his bonds also released. Ben got a cold compress and held it onto Hoss’ head and got the smelling salts to bring him around. It took three or four passes of the salts to finally bring this large boy back into the world. He was extremely groggy and could hardly keep his eyes open. Ben was really afraid that he had suffered a bad concussion. He decided that Hoss would not be on a horse today. He would have to rely on himself and Hop Sing to get the doctor out there and notify the sheriff.

Ben called Hop Sing and sat down with his friend, asking him if he felt that he could leave the Ponderosa quietly, as those men may be watching the house and may come back.They had to get on the way to finding Joe and couldn’t miss anymore time.

Hop Sing readily agreed and went out back and started to go the back way to the town. He usually went by horseback but now that most of the horses had been shooed away. He could only hope that he would find one on his way. As he went around one of the corners, he was surprised to see Cochise. He quickly threw his body over the horse and they flew the entire way into town.

Hop Sing was holding on for dear life and the horse seemed to know it.He tried not to take too many jumps and no sharp turns, and soon was at the railing outside Sheriff Coffee’s office, none worse for wear. Hop sing jumped down and ran into the office.

Clem was sweeping the office and looked up to see Hop Sing. He knew almost immediately that there was a problem.Hop sing was breathing hard and rattling in Chinese so loudly that Clem couldn’t even get a word in edgewise. “Hop Sing, Hop Sing! What is the problem? Sit down, and take a deep breath.” He handed the cook a cup of water.

Hop Sing grabbed his arm. Please, please you must find the Sheriff and let me talk to him.”

Sheriff Coffee is not here. He is inPlacerville. He had to testify at a trial and he won’t be back until tomorrow evening.”

“No good! Nogood!” said Hop Sing. “Missa Cartlite need help now! Men, bad men, broke in to house, stole much money and hurt Little Joe and Missa Hoss. Ben needs to find Little Joe!”

“Whoa, Hop Sing. You are telling me that man broke into the Ponderosa and hurt Joe and Hoss and stole money? But they took Little Joe with them?”

Yes! Yes!” screamed Hop Sing. “Missa Cartlite ask Hop Sing to get Sheriff and posse and come quietly….men may not be gone!! But we must find Little Joe!”

Clem by this time had his gun belt on, and helped Hop Sing up.He told Hop Sing to sit on the porch; he would go round up some men. He walked across the road to the saloon and went inside. Soon he emerged with five men, all walking quickly toward Hop Sing. Clem, deputized them all, and then they were given instructions to leave town at five minute intervals,o approach the Ponderosa from the back and knock at the door three times and stop, and then knock two more times again. If they had any sightings of things out of the ordinary, they were to still go to the house, making a mental note where it was and report it to the men at the ranch. They would investigate it together.

Doc Martin, also, had been talked to. He said he would also go to the Ponderosa but it would be only after all the men had gone.

Cochise was pawing the ground again as Hop Sing remounted in his unconventional way and they we’re off again like the wind. Hop Sing could feel why Joe had such a feeling for this horse he was swift, gentle, and responsive. Hop Sing had no concerns he felt safe and rode the steed well. Cochise was on a mission.

As they approached the Ponderosa, the smoke of the barn was strong and the area around the Ponderosa seemed totally destroyed.Hop Sing quickly jumped off Cochise and ran into the house. Ben was very glad to see him. He asked him if he had been successful in getting the sheriff and Hop Sing told him about Sheriff Coffee being gone….but that Clem was on his way with a five-man posse.

Ben seemed to be satisfied with this and returned to Hoss. Hoss was lying on the couch and was asleep. Ben was worried about him, as Hoss didn’t seem to be able to stay awake. Ben had been fighting with him for the last hour to stay awake. But to no avail.

Clem knocked on the back door and Ben quickly opened it and helped him in. Clem could see the extreme exhaustion on Bens’ face and he was concerned with his well being. “Ben, you okay?”

“Yeah!I’m fine! Just frustrated that they hurt Joe very badly, and threw him over the banister. Then to top this all off, they took him out and we haven’t seen him since. Hoss was hit on the head, as he became so angry with their attitude. But Clem, I’m afraid that Joe is in real danger and they will not stop until he is dead.”

Clem, hearing the knocking at the door, went quickly and let in the first of the posse. They said that they’re coming had been uneventful but that they had seen Cochise pawing the ground.They wanted to know if they should go and tether him down. Ben said yes.He returned to Clem and proceeded to describe who the hoodlums had been.

“Ben! Ben! You need to come here! I don’t know what I’m hearing!” cried the man from the posse. Both Ben and Clem ran to the back door and saw the posse member shaking his head. I have tried to bring that horse back here twice and each time he breaks free and runs right back to the same place.He then stands and paws the ground. I wonder if he’s sick!”

Ben and Clem followed the man to the clearing where the horse stood.he ground was muddy and was quite messy. It was always the last to dry when the spring brought many hard rains and this month was the worst for the rains. It had been raining on and off for the last two weeks. The horse was pawing the mud. And when he saw Ben, Cochise whinnied and jumped around and pawed the ground.

Ben went over to Cochise. Talking soothingly to the horse, he rubbed his nose and tried to calm the horse .However, as he was doing this, he heard a noise. It was muffled.It sounded like a voice in great distress. He couldn’t seem to figure out where it was coming from…he walked around the perimeter of the clearing and listened. Cochise continued to paw the ground.Ben returned to the horse and leaned down to the ground. Yes, the sound was coming from the ground.

“Clem, grab a shovel and come over here.” Clem brought the shovel and Ben quickly began to shovel the mud and dug almost relentlessly, breathing hard and sweating. joined him and Hoss, having awakened and finding the situation. began to dig on his hands and knees. Joe!Joe!Are you in there?” called Hoss. “Joe! If that is you, don’t worry! We’re coming.Keep pounding and making noise!We will get you out.”

*****

Joe was screaming. Fear had once again taken over his mind and he was really in a panic. It was so hard to breathe. He was suffocating and he just was so scared. It was so ridiculous. Him being buried and no one knew where. “Help! Help! Lord God Almighty, please help me.”

Joe heard a noise!He stopped and listened. Yes, he could hear something.All of a sudden he heard a scrapping sound.Again! They have found me!Hurry!I need to breathe!

*****

Ben heard his son. His heart was soaring! He was only minutes away from finding his son and he was so happy.

The box was uncovered quickly and then the lid was lifted.  As the lid was removed, the men gasped at what they saw. Joe was laying there, blood covering his body; he was filthy and his eyes were so large and the fear was so real.

Joe cried out and took a deep breath. He couldn’t move! But he screamed and screamed! He was free! Exhaustion won out and he let the blackness engulf him. The reality was just too much.

*****

Doc Martin arrived shortly after Joe had been carefully removed from the pine box in which he had been buried. Hoss had carried him upstairs and laid him on his bed.It didn’t matter that he was a mess…they just wanted to get him comfortable. Ben undressed him. Joe had been barefooted and wearing only his nightshirt, which was all that needed to be removed. Ben quickly wiped him down with a warm washrag and soap. He wanted to see just where the blood was coming from. Head wounds always bled a lot and could make it difficult.

But Ben just wanted to get by this terrible night and get his life back.Doc Martin entered the room and put his hand on Ben. “Please go and lay down for a while.I will check the boy out, fix what I can and let you know what has to happen….but Ben, you need to rest.Take this.” He gave Ben a small pill. “That will help you rest.I will be here, don’t worry.”

Ben really didn’t want to leave Joe but he took the medicine and went to his room.Joe was in good hands.

As Doc Martin looked at Joe, he simply shook his head. “This poor kid has been through hell. Give me the wisdom to help him, Lord.”

*****

When Ben opened his eyes, it was dark outside. The window to his room was closed and the curtains wererawn. He sat up and rubbed his face.He was trying to figure out whether what he remembered was a dream or had actually taken place.He walked over to his dresser and saw the reflection of a man who was drawn and ashen.Ben was bone tired and he knew that he had to get control over his nerves or this event could end with him not in command and Adam would have to come back and take over. He really didn’t want that; would destroy his son. He ran his hands through his hair and pulled on his shirt then reached to open his door.

opened the door just as he heard a blood-curdling scream, and he joined Doc Martin and Hoss as they headed for Joe’s room.When they opened the door, Ben was horrified to see his youngest son. He was covered with sweat, he had several bandages on his head & shoulders and his arm was heavily bound close to his body. His eyes were so wide. The fear that he could see on Joe’s face reached into Ben and gripped his heart.

“Pa! Pa!” Joe continued to scream.He looked right through Ben.

didn’t even seem to be in the room. He just stood there, frozen in time.Ben knew they were going to have a long and time-consuming job getting the old Joe back….but thank God they would be able to try.

Hoss and Ben quickly approached the bed and gently sat down on opposite sides of the bed.Ben spoke soothingly to Joe telling him that it was all over, that he was safe and that the hell he had been subjected to was finished.

Joe slowly began to relax, and collapsed back on the bed, closing his eyes. He grabbed his father’s hand and then Hoss’. He was so glad to be here but he just couldn’t forget the horror that he had been in .He closed his eyes and let darkness over take his brain.He figured that if he couldn’t see he wouldn’t think.

Ben and Hoss sat there until they realized that Joe was asleep.Ben asked Hoss to stay with Joe as he talked to the Doctor. Together they went down the stairs and the Doctor told Ben that, surprisingly, Joe had not faired too badly having been thrown from the balcony. He attributed this to the fact that Joe had been unconscious and had not tried to stop his fall. He had a slight concussion, several lacerations on his head and face.His arm was broken in two places and he had had to remove three of Joes’ fingernails as they were encrusted with splinters of wood that would become infection prone and could spell trouble.He felt that the nails would regenerate. He gave Ben some pain medicine, looked at him, and gave him a bottle of elixir that he felt would give Ben a good boost to his system. Hoss was fine. He had not suffered with a concussionut was not to ride for two days just the same.

“Sheriff Coffee will want to talk to you all,” added the doctor. Clem and the posse have been out ever since I arrived on the scene. He has been checking in often and had so far had no luck tracing the gang.The bank has wired ahead to all other banks and they were told not to cash any of the bank notes that they had you sign.They are just hoping this would be the way they would slip up and make themselves available for being caught.”

Doc Martin added that he was most impressed with how Joe’s horse had been able to feel Joe’s presence and helped in saving his life.Wow! That is one for the record books. We could have been hunting for that kid for months and he would have never been found but good old Cochise saved his master’s life. That horse deserves a double ration of oats for that!!!”

Ben accompanied the doctor to the door and, as he opened it, he was reminded of the terrible events of the day. He saw the smoldering remains of their barn. It had burned very hard and the smoke was thick in the air. He walked across the front of the house and kicked at the ashes. He looked at the doctor.

The doctor just looked at Ben and said “I’m sorry, Ben. But at least you all are safe.We will all help you rebuild your barn and you will get past this. Just be grateful for small things.Your boys are safe, your home was spared, your cook is brilliant and Joe’s horse is special.You definitely have a lot to be thankful for.”

Ben smiled.He knew the doctor was right…but he just failed to understand “why” he had to experience this to make it known to him. Perhaps he would never know.Ben returned to the house and slowly climbed the stairs.He returned to Joe’s room and sat down in the chair by the window. He would remain here until Joe awoke again.

The cool air came in and the night was cool. Silence was bliss and sleep was escape.They would face tomorrow…tomorrow!

*****

“Pa!  Pa!  PA!  HELP ME…. I CAN’T BREATHE! “

Ben, who was still sitting in the chair near Joe’s window, was awakened abruptly as Joe was trying to come back from the terrible darkness that surrounded him.  Moving quickly around the bed, he took Joe’s hand and whispered to Joe.  “It’s okay, son! You are in your room, in your own bed! Safe! Can you open your eyes, Joe? Come on, it is okay. The sun is rising and the breeze is sweet and if you listen carefully the birds are singing. Joe, open your eyes.”

Joe was so afraid to open his eyes. He had done it several times only to be faced with total darkness and despair. What if what he was hearing was just “wishful thinking”; he wasn’t sure he would stay sane. Slowly he opened his eyes and he saw his father. “Pa! Thank God. I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been you! My head hurts and my arm throbs.”  Joe tried to keep his eyes open but the darkness and peace of sleep was stronger and he passed out again.

Ben was afraid that Joe was permanently scarred with this happening. He sat and held Joe’s hand for a long time. As Joe slept, every once in a while, tears would roll down his cheek. Ben couldn’t understand why his son was crying but he was sure Joe had been traumatized and would probably need medical help for a long time.  Ben thought that his own heart would break. He felt he had failed to keep his son safe and this thought alone frightened him beyond words.  Sitting and starring at Joe, Ben didn’t hear Hoss walk into the room.

“PA!” Hoss called, “are you okay? You need to go and rest! I will stay here for a while. How is he? I’m sorry I slept so long.  I do believe that Doctor Martin knocked me out. PA! Are you listening to me? PA!  Hoss became alarmed. He walked to the front of his father and looked into his eyes. His Pa was crying! He was doubled over and crying!

Ben pitched forward and fell on the floor. Hoss tried to catch him but he was too slow.  Hoss laid his father out on the floor and called to him repeatedly. “Oh, Pa, please be okay!!” Hoss went over to the door and screamed for Hop Sing.

Hop Sing ran upstairs as Hoss was yelling about helping his father. “Hop Sing!  What is wrong with him? He is not breathing right and I don’t know what to do!!”

Hop Sing, reached around Hoss and literally pushed Hoss away, then listened to Ben’s heart. “He is having a heart attack, Missa Hoss; go for doctor!!!!! Hurry!”’

Blindly, Hoss ran down the stairs, out the door, and picked up the reins from Chub and quickly climbed into the saddle. He took off just hoping to find the doctor and fast. As he went around the corner of the former barn, he nearly collided with Dr. Martin’s wagon.

“Whoa!  Whoa!  Hoss, are you trying to kill us?”

“Doc, Doc Pa is sick….he is having a heart problem….Hop Sing is with him but he is down on the floor. Hurry, Doc!”

Doc Martin looked at Hoss in disbelief and quickly got down off the wagon, leaving his young nurse alone.  He was so sorry that all this was happening; he loved Ben Cartwright like a brother and respected this man more than he did almost anyone else in Virginia City.  He was decent, hard working, and a great father.  He had taken his share of hard knocks and always seemed to rise above like rich cream.   But perhaps the events of yesterday had been just too much for him. As he took the stairs two at a time, he prayed that he could help his friend.

Hop Sing was sitting on the floor and holding Ben. He was wiping Ben’s face with a cool cloth and talking to his boss.  Doc Martin quickly checked Ben’s pulse and was quick in giving the two men in the room orders.  “We need to get him in to a bed and I need to get his legs elevated. “

Hoss walked between the doctor and Hop Sing and put his two mighty arms under his dad and lifted him and carried him into his room.  “Pa,” Hoss spoke to his father.  “Please Pa, I can’t do this alone….I need you… we need you! Fight for us!  We will help, but we need you. The story is not over yet! The Ponderosa must be strong again.” Tears were streaming down Hoss’ face and he was not ashamed that the doctor saw them. He loved his father! This man who had always been there for him, this man who had always helped him when he was in trouble, this man who never doubted his sons. Ben was just too heartsick. Hoss turned to the doc and said, “I will stay with Joe, while you help Pa. When and if we get them stabilized, I will be leaving to find the animals that have done this to my family.”

Hoss walked out of the room and leaned against the wall. He was really upset and knew that he would have to keep Joe calm or he would have two in jeopardy.  He slowly opened Joe’s door and, as his eyes rested on Joe, he went over to the bed.   Prayer was not new to Hoss.  However, getting on his knee’s he hadn’t done too often….but at this time he felt that this was the only way he could ask God to spare these two people that he loved the most. Hoss was praying and sobbing at the same time. All of a sudden he felt something pat his head.

“Hoss? Is that you? Look big brother, I am going to be fine!  You mustn’t cry. I am fine! Please, Hoss, get off your knees and sit on the chair. I hope Pa is sleeping peacefully! He was so tired. Hoss, please!!!”

“Joe,” Hoss said, “I’m fine. Joe, Pa is with the doctor. We think that he had a heart attack!”

Joe just looked at his brother and  tried to breathe; his mind was so filled with confusion and pain, he wasn’t sure what did or didn’t happen. “Hoss?” he asked with tears in his eyes, “is he alive? Is he dying? I guess I am to blame for this as I couldn’t get away from those animals.”  The tears were freely flowing now and it was making it hard to breathe. “Hoss”, he gasped, “take me to him! Please, Hoss!!”

Hoss stood up and sat on the bed, and he and his brother embraced. Hoss needed Joe and Joe needed his brother. Life was so precious, and no one knew when the candle would be snuffed out. Hoss told his brother that he certainly was not to blame for Pa’s sickness…he was just so upset with everything and the fear of losing those he loved. Hoss picked Joe up, and carried him into his father’s bedroom.

Doc Martin was talking to Ben when Hoss entered carrying Joe.  Looking up with surprise on his face, the Doctor stood up, shaking his head out of disbelief. “I swear,” said Doc Martin, “you guys are determined to break every law to being well. Hoss, Joe should not be out of bed. I am watching him for internal bleeding!  Ben has been threatening to get up to look in on you, Joe. I don’t know why I try to talk sense to you all.”

Hoss carried Joe to the opposite side of Ben’s bed and laid Joe carefully beside his father. Ben smiled, and the two just held each other’s hand. Before too long, both were asleep. Hop Sing offered to stay with the two for a while so Hoss and Doc Martin walked down the stairs.

As they came down the stairs, Hoss noticed motion in the dining room. A young woman quickly stood up from the settee and worriedly asked,  “Doctor Martin?  Were you able to help Mr. Cartwright?”

Both men stared at the beautiful young lady as Doctor Martin introduced Melanie Cross to Hoss. “She wrote to me and I liked the way she made sense of helping out here. I’m getting too old to be everywhere and an extra pair of hands will come in handy.”

As Melly was serving them hot cups of coffee, both men enjoyed the vision of grace and concern she wore like a cloak. “Oh, Melanie, I am so sorry for having left you before. But I was so concerned with Mr. Cartwright that I was not thinking.”

“Is he going to be all right?”

“Yes, yes, I believe Ben had a mild heart seizure, but he does not seem to be mentally affected and his motor skills are unharmed. He just needs good rest. Because of that I am going to ask you, Melly, if you will stay here tonight to give Hoss here a chance to get some much needed rest also. We have put both men in one bed, as they both insisted on seeing each other. I don’t think this will be a problem, but if it is, Hoss can help you put young Joe in his own bed again. With the medicine I have given them, both they should sleep the night. I will be back in the morning.  Would you be willing to do this?”

Melly looked at Doc Martin, and smiled.  “Sure, I would be honored to help; I only hope to be as thorough as you.”

Doc Martin picked up his hat off the couch and started toward the door. ”Hoss, I’ll be back around eleven tomorrow.  If your father wants to get up, please tell him he must wait for me. Joe is not to even consider getting up….no time in the near future. I’m still concerned about internal bleeding. But please, son, get some rest!!  Okay?”

Hoss agreed, and shut the big heavy door behind the doctor. Slowly he mounted the stairs and turned toward his fathers’ room. Upon entering, he found a chair and pulled it up beside his father. He was so angry…it seemed to be bubbling inside of him.  He only hoped that he could control these emotions and be of sincere help.

Melly went into Mr. Cartwrights’ room and gently told Hoss to go to bed. He rose and thanked her, but before he got to the door he turned around and said, “Miss Melanie, please call me if you or they need me!”

Wow!  thought Melly; this family is so close knit. She was in awe as to how each cared for the other. She herself had only one brother and, she had no clue where he was and didn’t care. He had never had time for her and had been into trouble as soon as he got out of school. Last time she had heard from him, he was in jail for armed robbery. She, however, had gone to school in the East and worked very hard to become a nurse. She had always wanted more out of life and hoped she would find it in the West. She would not stop looking for her “paradise” until she reached a point that she was sure it was not to be found. Her parents had been good to them when they were children but soon became bored with the life style that they lived in Boston and their marriage fell apart. She could hardly remember what her father looked like. She carried a picture of her mom and wrote often; her mother was her best friend and Melly could tell her anything and they had shared a common bond. That is until she had gone to school. The hours away from home and the constant work schedule didn’t allow much time for family. So, they lost track of each other and only hoped to see each other some other time.  Until then, Melly just wanted to be a good nurse and to help her fellow man, and if she could do this, she would be happy in her heart.

She had been standing and looking out of the window for a long time.  The moon was full and the sky was clear.  She had opened the window and the breeze was gently flowing into the room. As she turned around, she saw Little Joe sitting up in the bed.  He was staring at her and suddenly began to scream, “Go Away!!! Leave Us Alone! Why? Why? Oh, Please Go Awayyyyy!”

Hoss came running into the room and grabbed Joe’s shoulders. He was so stiff and Hoss could feel the shudder of fear that was consuming his brother. “Shhhhhh! Joe! You’re fine, now! Lie back and you will be fine. You mustn’t be moving so much!!!!  Shhhhh!  It’s okay, short shanks! See, Pa’s right beside you! You don’t want to wake him, Right?” Hoss let Joe rest his head on his shoulder and rubbed his back. Soon he felt the tension lessen and was able to lay Joe back in bed without much effort.  Joe, had his eyes closed, but as before the tears were on his cheeks.  Joe grabbed his brother’s arm and asked him if he would ever be able to sleep again.  “Sure Joe,” Hoss replied. “This was really a nightmare but you must put it behind you and be strong because our father needs us to be strong for him. He was lucky this time…but if he should have a relapse, he will not be as good.”

“Is he going to be okay?” Joe asked.

“Yeah, the doctor seems to think this was just a mild heart seizure but Pa will have to be careful now and not overdo and we will have to help even more than before. But we’re up for that anyway, right, little brother? As soon as we get you well, we will start on that barn! Can you believe it’s gone? I’m so glad we could save the house. They sure were stupid, Joe, and I’m sure that Roy, Clem and the guys will catch up to those animals quickly. You must be strong and get well so that we can give them a good run at the courts. They should hang for this.”

“Who is the lady?” Joe whispered. His eyes rested on Melly.

“Oh, Melly, this is Little Joe. He was trying to say hello before but he got too excited.  Joe, Melly works for Doc Martin. And she is staying with us tonight so we can rest. So lets rest. You will be fine. Go to sleep now.” As Hoss stood up, Melly sat down in the chair, and wiped Joe’s face with a wet cloth.  Joe was soon asleep.   Ben had never moved.

*****

Morning came and Hoss was awakened by noise outside his window. He stretched and walked over to the window and saw about 50 men in their yard. They had already cleared out the burned wood and were preparing the structures that would serve as the sides of the barn.  Hoss was shocked and quickly ran out of his room and down the stairs. He emerged into the yard and yelled at Gus, their foreman of many years.  “Hey Gus!”  Hoss stammered, “what, who did all of this?  Why, it’s like the whole dang town is here.”

“That’s the idea Hoss,” answered Gus. “They all are here. Your family has helped many families so often in the past and it’s our turn to help you. We hope to have this barn up and functional in a few days. Your father deserves this and we intend to show our gratitude for what he has done.”

“Clem and Sheriff Coffee are still tracing that bunch of hoodlums that did this, but it won’t be long before they have them behind bars,” added one of the workers.  “How is your pa doing? And Joe? I can’t even imagine the idea of being buried alive.  That had to have just about finished him!”

“Joe’s going to have to have some time,” said Hoss. “He’s pretty spooked; however, I’m sure Joe will be better soon.  It’s Pa that really worries me.

“Why?” asked Gus.

 “Oh, yeah,” Hoss recalled, “you don’t know about the events of last night, do you?”  Walking with Gus toward the other men.  Hoss, explained.  “Pa had a minor heart attack last night and he is heavily sedated at this time. I’m hoping that he will improve quickly but at this time we just have to wait and see. Doc Martin has him bedridden and will be back today to check of both of them.  Pa is weak but he is resting well. Just pray for him, okay?”’

“Gentlemen,” Hoss addressed the men that were working on the barn. “please gather here so that I can talk to you.”

“Boy, you ‘all just don’t know how wonderful it is to see you all here and doing all this here barn raising for my Pa. I‘m sure this will lift his spirits. He will never forget! Pa and Joe are heavily sedated and resting but… We just don’t know why all this has happened. At this time, I am angry, worried and frightened for my father.  Doc Martin must have passed the word that Pa was sick? Gentlemen, please try not to be too loud. I don’t know how this will affect Pa and I want to keep him quiet. But please don’t take this wrong; I appreciate your work, I just don’t know what to do.”

Gus asked Hoss, “Are you going to wire your brother? He might need to hear what’s happened here… and may appreciate seeing your pa.  If you write the note, I will send it for you.”

Hoss was nodding his head yes when everyone was frozen in their tracks as a bloodcurdling scream came from the window above the yard. Everyone looked up.  Joe and the young nurse were fighting and Joe was screaming like a madman. Hoss quickly ran into the house and up the stair with several others following. He ran into the bedroom and grabbed his brother.  Joe had such a scary look in his eye that the others in the room wondered if he were mad.

“Joe! Joe! Joe! Stop, screaming! Joe, stop fighting me! It’s okay little buddy! Joe!”   Hoss turned Joe around and just hit him on the jaw. Joe went limp in his arms and Hoss sunk to the floor with his limp brother. He sat with Joe and rocked him.   “Oh, God, Joe! I hated to do that!  But you would have hurt yourself, buddy, and Melly!  God, Joe, I guess I will have to keep you in the bed. Joe!”

The others in the room turned and left the two brothers alone. Melly quickly ran to her room in tears and shut her door. She was so upset yet felt so helpless trying to help this family get over this tragedy that she just didn’t know what to do!  She would talk to Doc Martin. Perhaps he could give her some good advice. She really didn’t want to run away from this as she felt it was an opportunity to learn about the West…good and bad.

The men who had followed Hoss into the house were embarrassed and felt that they had intruded on the privacy of the family.  But at the same time. they shared the concern for Hoss and the situation he was in. Doc Martin passed the men on the stairs. Gus, who was in the lead, told Doc Martin that Hoss was with Joe and that he probably was sorely needed. Doc went quicker.

Doctor Martin took in the scene in the bedroom and decided that Joe and his father needed to be separated. He and Hoss carried Joe into his room and they decided that for the time being, they would tie Joe’s feet to the bed so that he would stay in bed and not hurt himself or others. Also, Doc didn’t like the looks of Joe’s stomach as it was terribly bruised. He still feared that there was internal bleeding. He needed to be watched closely. Melly was asked to stay with him as he went into Ben’s room to check on his other patient.

Ben was still sleeping. Doc called to him but he didn’t respond. Doc wet a cloth and placed it on his friend’s brow. “Ben,” he called, “come on, Ben. Talk to me!”  Slowly, Ben opened his eyes and weakly smiled at his friend.  But, just as he smiled, his face changed  to reflect the concern and worry that he knew had brought his friend out to the Ponderosa.  “Paul? Paul? Why are you hovering over me?  Joe is the one who needs you! How is he? Oh, God!  He is okay, right? Nothing has happened, has it? I must have fallen asleep.”  Ben tried to get up but fell back on the bed.  “Oh, Oh, Paul, my chest…it is so sore!  What happened?  I’m so confused!”

“Well, if you will give me a chance,” said Doc Martin, “I will tell you what has  happened. But you haven’t given me a chance to get a word in edgewise.”

“Joe is in his own room and is resting.  He is slowly improving.  However, he is having a rough time with dreams and this doesn’t surprise us now, does it? His arm is broken in three places, he has a lot of bruising on his stomach, and his nails had got wood under them and I had to remove some of his nails before infections complicate his recuperation. Time will help him and seeing you get stronger will definitely help.  You, Ben, you are not perfect yourself. You have suffered a heart attack.” (actually it was a mild seizure, but he needed to hit Ben hard and this would hopefully keep him down).

 Ben could hardly believe what the doctor was telling him.  He couldn’t remember having this heart problem; he couldn’t remember the pain.  But his chest sure was sore.  He looked at Paul, and realized that this was really terrible.  He reached up and grabbed Paul’s shirt and pulled him down till he was in his face. “Has Roy caught those men?  Has the scum of the earth that has done this to us been caught and stopped from doing this to someone else?  I can tell from your face that they haven’t. How long do I have to stay down? I would like to see Joe!”

“No!”  said Doctor Martin. “Right now you are going to go back to sleep and when you awake, you will attempt to eat and if you manage to do that….maybe, we will permit a visit tomorrow.”

Ben closed his eyes and tried to be a good patient as not every Cartwright had the reputation of being.  Paul talked to Ben about the scare he had given to all of them and how helpless he had felt in the beginning.  He gave Ben some nitroglycerin tablets and showed him how to put it under his tongue should the pain return…the sooner the better. Ben had a hard time believing that he was hearing all this and yet at the same time he knew Paul wouldn’t just be telling this to him to scare his friend. Ben asked again about Joe. Paul said that he was really spooked and that they were tying down his feet as he was threatening to either hurt himself or others.

Paul said, “Ben, I promise you will see Joe tomorrow and will probably be allowed to go downstairs for a while and you will have a nice surprise when you do.  Oh, and should you see a young woman sitting by your bed…you are not in heaven. Her name is Melanie and she is my new nurse!!  Yeah, I broke down and figured out that I needed some help. She sure is good to look at and my patients seem pleased not to always be stuck looking at this mug of a face! Ha!”

Ben weakly smiled, and closed his eyes. He was so tired. Paul quietly let himself out of the room. As he shut the door, he bowed his head and said a prayer that the Lord would continue to help his friend…his boys needed him!  Everyone needed him!

Hoss met Paul on the staircase and as they went down, Hoss asked about his Pa.  The doctor shook his head and said, “I have denied him going to Joe tonight.  I want the two of them to rest. I gave him some nitroglycerin tablets and showed him how to use them…but I don’t think it will be necessary.  He just had a good scare.  He’s sore, tired, and feels defeated.  As he gets stronger and his attitude improves, so will his spirit.  You just take care of them with Melly. She may need to rest some tonight as the incident early unnerved her a bit but you can help her.  Okay?”

“Sure, Doc, you don’t worry,” said Hoss. “But Gus made a good suggestion and we were interrupted and I couldn’t do it. He was going to send Adam a message as to what was happening here and see if he wants to come home to see Pa. If I give you a note now, would you be willing to send it for us?  I’m sorry we keep asking favors, but I’m bummed out on all this and can’t seem to do everything that should oughta be done! But Adam will want to know…don’t you think? Thanks Doc!”

After the doctor left, Hoss sat down in his fathers’ chair and just stared off into space. Time passed and before he knew it, Hop Sing was calling him to the table for supper. Hoss, groggy, sat at the table and found it hard to eat.  He just couldn’t enjoy being at the table alone and the anger was still there….he had to conquer that. Melly came to the top of the stairs and  announced that Little Joe was calling for him.  Hoss quickly took the stairs two at a time and entered Joe’s room surprised to see Joe sitting up.  He was fevered, but not enough to make him delusional; he just was disoriented.

“Hoss, why are my feet tied down?  I would like to move my feet, please.”

Hoss quickly freed his feet and rubbed the lines it had left on his ankles. He felt bad to have had to do that but what else could he do? Joe was not really aware of what he was doing.

“Joe!  How are you doing, buddy? You’ve been sleeping all day and I’m glad to hear you complaining because it means that you might be getting stronger. Are you hungry? I bet Hop Sing has a tray for you. I was trying to eat but my appetite is not good either.  Maybe, I’ll eat with you; would that be good?  I hope so!”

 Joe smiled at his brother and said “Hey, why don’t we all go into Pa’s room and eat with him, too?”

“Joe, the Doc said that Pa needed complete rest and that we or you were not going to see him until tomorrow. So, we’ll eat here, okay?”

“Hoss, he’s dying, isn’t he?”

“No, he is not dying, Joe!” argued Hoss. “He is just weak and needs rest.  I am sure he will be his old self soon…dadburnit Joe, you worry too much!” Hoss got up quickly and went to the door. He opened it and went out to the top of the stairs and called Hop Sing.  “Hey, Hop Sing! Hop Sing!”

Hop Sing came quickly from the kitchen muttering unrecognizable Chinese, then added, “You always botha Hop Sing; what you want?!”

“Dadburnit Hop Sing, I don’t mean to bother ya but just would like you to bring Joe some food and maybe me some too, okay?  You know I don’t want to bother you but we would appreciate this…Pa and Melly will need supper too. They’re asleep now but will need to eat when they gets up. Thanks, Hop Sing.”

Joe and Hoss ate in relative silence. The food, although being good, tasted bland and they just went through the motions…each deep in thought as to how this would all end. Also, why it had even begun. After eating, Joe laid down and Hoss sat with him for a while until Joe was sound asleep.  He went in to check on his father and, seeing him sleeping comfortably, turned and went into his own room. The bed looked so good…he quickly removed his shoes and laid down.  Sleep came almost instantly.

*****

It was dark in the room when Joe opened his eyes.  At first, fear gripped him and he broke out in a cold sweat.  But as he looked around the room and saw the window, he could see the light of the moon sifting in and he worked hard at calming himself down. He sat up. Oh, God, he hurt!  His stomach ached and bending was almost too much. His arm was immobilized so he could not use it. However, Joe edged his feet off the bed and let them hit the floor. The floor was cold but to Joe, it felt good and solid, and with care he tried to stand up. He found his legs like rubber and so he grabbed the furniture as he edged toward the door. Opening it carefully, he stood listening to the silence of the house.  His house!  His father’s house.  Oh, how he liked this house!  He was comfortable here and safe. Joe leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. Then he edged toward his father’s door and, when he opened it, he was pleased to have made the trip without falling down.  He quietly held onto the furniture leading to the chair beside his father and sat down. Joe looked at his father with concern and love.  He was so glad that he could see his father sleeping peacefully.  He sat there for awhile and then fatigue just enveloped him and he found himself slipping into sleep, so he crawled up on the foot of his father’s bed and let sleep take him.

****

Ben felt the weight move onto his bed and he opened his eyes. He couldn’t see what was there but he laid still.  Sleep came back swiftly and the next thing he saw was a light…a bright light. Shining light and then a figure standing by the bed!  He tried to clear his eyes and then he realized that it was Elizabeth.  “Elizabeth, sweetheart, I can’t believe you’re here!”

“Ben, oh Ben, I have been watching you lately and wanted to send you a message. “You have done such a good job with our son!  I’m so proud of him!”

As quickly as the shadow appeared it was gone. Ben, cried, “No, stay, Elizabeth!”  But movement in the corner of the room took Ben’s attention and Inger was smiling at him.  Beautiful Inger! “Inger, My love, I have missed you…come to me darling and let me kiss you!”  Ben held out his hand.

 “No darling, not yet; you are not coming with me yet! You are still strong and your boys still need you. You have a beautiful son in Hoss”

“Yes, Inger, you gave me such a wonderful son. Strong, gentle, kind.  Please stay with me awhile!”

“Not now Ben; it is not your time…but when it is, I will come and we will be together.”  With this Inger blended into the wall and she was gone.  Ben began to cry. “Don’t leave me again!!” He was so distraught that he put his head back on the pillow and when he did open his eyes again, he saw that Marie was sitting beside him. “Oh, Marie, precious love!  I hope you can stay!”

“No Ben, but I am here to tell you that you have time. Please take care of our son.  He sleeps at your feet. Rest Ben, tomorrow will be better.”  Marie disappeared and the empty chair stared back.

Ben sat up gently and saw Joe curled at the foot of his bed and he then knew that all would be well.  He didn’t understand how he knew that but the warmth of the feeling settled his heart and he laid down and slept.

*****

Hoss woke up the next morning to banging on his door.  He quickly went and threw it open.  Melly was standing there with fear in her eyes.  “Mr. Cartwright, I am so sorry!  I must have overslept but when I went into your father’s room….”

Hoss had already moved away from her and opened his fathers’ door. The sight that met his eyes brought tears. Ben was asleep, and Joe was at his feet, asleep also.  He couldn’t figure out how Joe had managed it but he was there.

Melly quickly entered the room and stood beside him. Hoss looked at her and said “No problem, Melly. These two are always doing the impossible! They’ll be okay.  Please just go down to Hop Sing and ask him to send up two trays. Okay? And you get yourself some breakfast. You mustn’t blame yourself…we are grateful for your help.”

“Pa!  Pa! Good Morning! Hey, open your eyes and we can enjoy breakfast together!” Hoss approached Ben as he saw his eyelashes flutter. He figured he would talk to Ben first and let him in on what Joe had done.

Joe groaned. “Hoss, I can’t move!  Please help me up!”  Hoss quickly moved to the bottom of the bed and helped Joe get turned around and sat him up.  “Joe, how in the name of heaven did you get here?”

“I walked,” Joe answered. “Not real good but holding onto the walls and stuff. I just had to see my father and was driven to do it.  When I did get here, I had to lay down and crawled up here and must have passed out, waking now. I feel like a pretzel. A beat up pretzel.”

“Well, you need to get back to bed,  but before you go, I want you to see something!” Hoss helped Joe up and walked him to the window.  They both looked down into the yard and there were about twelve men working on the barn.  Four walls had been raised and they were working on the roof.  Joe looked at Hoss and said, “Wow, who is responsible for that?”

Hoss, laughed loudly. “Why, the other day, I think every man from town was here and they told me ‘that they owed this to Pa.’ He had done so much for them that they wanted to show him what they felt.”

 “You say the men from town have done this? That is really great!”  Both boys turned around to see their father standing behind them. “Good morning boys; it sure is good to see you both.”

“Good morning Pa!  How are you feeling?” Hoss and Joe asked in unison.

Ben gently hugged both of his boys and with his arms around both said, “Lets put you back to bed, Joe, and then we can visit!”

The three of them shuffled back to Joe’s room and Joe gently laid down on his bed. He ached everywhere, but he didn’t want them to leave so he tried hard not to look bad. Hop Sing entered the room with Melly close behind carrying two trays.  One for Ben and one for Joe. Ben was especially glad to see some coffee and quickly checked the hotness of the beverage with a quick sip.  Joe, on the other hand, stopped Hop Sing and said, “Not now, Hop Sing, I couldn’t even stand to look at food. Maybe later. I’ll try later, I promise! But I would like a glass of water.”

As Ben ate, he and Hoss talked and tried to include Joe in the conversation. But soon it was obvious that Joe was not able to keep his eyes open so the two men quietly stood up and prepared to leave him.  Ben leaned over to his son and kissed him on the forehead, whispered that he loved him and prayed to have his beloved son back soon. Joe was pale and never responded to his father. He was already deeply asleep.

Ben slowly descended the stairs, determined to go down and talk to the men in his yard that were sacrificing their time to build his barn. Hoss stayed real close, almost in the way.  But he was worried that his Pa would do too much and have a relapse.

Opening the door, Ben was surprised to see Roy Coffee on the other side. “Ben!” Roy jubilantly cried. “Thank God you are okay! I heard about you and I have been really worried, buddy! How’s Joe?”

“He’s fine,” answered Ben.

“Do you believe how much these guys have done already?” added Coffee. “It’s amazing how much can get done in 24 hours. Ben, can we visit?”

“Depends,” said Ben. “If you are bring good news, most definitely.  If not, why are you here? You should be still hunting!”

“Pa,” Hoss interrupted, “Roy just wants to check on you. Don’t give him a bad time. Come on in, Roy.”

When Hoss looked at his father again, he saw the pain in his father’s eyes. “Pa, are you okay?  Come on over in your chair and put your feet up and rest.”

Tears fell from Ben’s eyes and he simply hugged his son. Hoss was so strong and now he let Hoss lead him to the chair; all the fight was out of him.

“Pa,” Hoss said, “it’s okay. We love you and care and would do nothing to hurt you more.”

Roy was so saddened by what he was witnessing he quietly just watched and sat down on the settee, not wanting Ben to feel self-conscience.

Hop Sing came in with coffee and Roy thanked him.  Hoss and Ben helplessly looked at Roy. Both were prepared to hear what Roy had to say.  “Go ahead, Roy,” Ben sighed.

Roy cleared his voice and smiled. “Well, we have them Hoss, Ben. We caught them as they slept last night. We didn’t have to shoot any of them. They were subdued and personally I think they were exhausted.  Running as they have must have taken a real bite out of them. All four of those animals are in the Virginia City Jail.   I have wired the Circuit Judge and explained the circumstances here, and he said that he could be here in about three weeks.  I figured this would give Joe more time and you too, Ben. I would like to tell Joe as soon as possible and I will need to question him as soon as possible. Do you think that we could talk to him some today or tomorrow?”   Roy looked over his coffee cup and saw Ben’s face. His eyes reflected anger….fear…..anguish…and terrible sadness.

Ben stood up and went over to the fireplace. He stirred the ashes as he had done almost every evening of his life on the Ponderosa.  “You’ll have to talk to Paul about talking to Joe. But for me personally, I’m grateful for the news. For all the hell they caused, to capture them quietly seems almost surreal. But anyway, we now can perhaps see justice. Paul should be here soon. He usually comes about eleven and its’ 10:30 now.  Just wait here, and you can clear it with him.  Joe would like to know.”

Hoss and Roy walked outside, leaving Ben to rest in his chair.  He had closed his eyes and they figured that that was their cue to leave him to his thoughts.  As they walked toward the men working on the barn, they shook hands with as many of the men they could.  They had done an excellent job on what had been done so far and Hoss asked if they needed supplies.  Gus came forward and answered, “If we do, we’ll handle it. We are doing this barn and that’s for us to worry about.”

Doctor Martin came around the corner in his rig at that moment and everyone waved to him.  He nodded to Roy and quickly the two got head to head as they talked over the events of last night.  Paul shook Roy’s hand when he heard the good news.  He insisted that he would have to see Joe before he could agree for Roy to see him.  But, he didn’t say no.

Paul approached Ben, sleeping in his chair, quietly took his arm and checked his pulse.  He smiled and turned to Hoss, and they all went up stairs.  Melly stood up as they entered Joe’s room. Doctor Martin took her to one side and questioned her on what was new. He laughed, as she told him about the night before. When he was satisfied with what he was hearing, he asked her to go down and sit with Ben, who was asleep, and have a cup of coffee.  She agreed and swiftly left the room.

He approached Joe and felt his forehead. He was feverish, and his pulse was somewhat erratic, but he was sleeping peacefully and, when the doctor called his name, he awoke easily.  “Good Afternoon, young man!   How are you doing?  Joe, I am going to let you talk to Roy Coffee before I examine you, okay? Roy the floor is yours.”

Roy approached Joe and took the weak boy’s hand. “How’s it going, kid?  I have some good news! We got them Joe…we caught them while they slept.  Can you believe it!  We caught all four of them sleeping and they gave us no problems as we rounded them up and brought them in.  Don’t you think that is great? We sure did get them.”

Joe looked at Roy…his eyes connected with his and he sat up.  “FOUR!  YOU SAY YOU CAUGHT FOUR. Roy, there were SIX!  Did you get Billy? Did you get Billy?   He’s the leader and he’s the one that is the real killer!  He’s psychotic and would kill his own mother! Roy, if you only got four and you’re not sure you have Billy…” Joe, fell back on the bed and his eyes rolled back into his head.  Paul quickly approached him and  screamed for Hoss to hand him his bag. “Joe is having a seizure.  He is not breathing. Perhaps you should all get out.  I’ll stay with him!”   Hoss started to argue but Roy took him by the arm and led him from the room.  He had to talk to Hoss; with this news he was terrified that everyone was in renewed danger.

“Billy? Billy Who?” he asked Hoss.

“I don’t know!”  Hoss was trying to wrack his brain.  “Joe must have remembered something that none of us did. We really had a hard time getting a good view of any of them, only voices. But Doctor Martin won’t let us talk to him now….I hope he is okay! God, this is heart wrenching!”

Doc Martin opened the door and came into the hallway. “Roy, he is awake and wants to talk to you. He has promised it would be quick. He is highly agitated and I think this is the only way he will settle down.” Paul, Roy and Hoss quickly went in.

Roy sat down on the bed and took Joes’ hand and Joe looked at him with tears in his eyes. “I remember being in that box…that terrible darkness, that damp, terrible stench, and I also remember the face that danced behind my eyes,” Joe said.  “It was Billy Clay!!!!   Do you remember Billy Clay?  He is the boy that set his dog on fire because he said it bit him!  I watched him do this and it scared me to death.  He was laughing and jumping around and I ran and threw up my supper.  I couldn’t believe that someone could be so cruel.  He killed an innocent animal and enjoyed it. Man means nothing to him! He would kill his mother if she gets in his way! The others did his bidding and he probably led you right to them….he’s diabolical and this is far from over!” With this Joe closed his eyes and let his body succumb to the darkness of sleep.

Where was Billy Clay!

*****

Adam was in his office, his feet propped up on the desk and leaning back in deep thought.  He was thinking of all that had happened in the past year. He and his Grandfather had worked hard together to get their shipping company expanded.  They had built three new ships in the last eighteen months and Adam was planning to take the next voyage on one of these ships to visit all the ports that they currently visit to trade and purchase supplies and import into the country. Adam had seen things that were so advanced that he felt he couldn’t even explain to his family…but this did not stop him from thinking of them at every opportunity.

A rapid and loud pounding on the door rudely interrupted his thoughts. “Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Cartwright, I have a message for you. Your answer is needed. Mr. Cartwright, are you there?”

“Yes, Charlie, is that you? Come in!”  I wonder what is so important that they need an answer now, thought Adam. It’s Friday and I certainly don’t have time to be doing more. ”Come in!”

Charlie opened the door. He had seen the telegram and knew that this was going to upset his friend. Because of this, he wasted no time in getting it to him.  He handed Adam the telegram. Adam was surprised to see that it was from Doctor Martin in Virginia City, Nevada.  He quickly took his feet down off his desk and opened the note.

Adam (stop)  Tough times here (stop)  Father has suffered mild heart attack (stop) Would do well to see you(stop)  No pressure (stop)  Let me know by return mail(stop)  Will meet you and fill you in(stop)

Doc Martin

Having read it at least three times, Adam told Charlie thanks and told him he would see him later.  He told Charlie that he would take his answer to the telegram office himself; he would need to talk to his grandfather first. With this, Charlie left. He didn’t want to give Adam the idea that he had read the note so he left quickly.  But he felt sorry that things seemed to be bad.

Captain Stoddard was smoking his pipe, standing and looking out of his favorite window, watching the ships bob at the pier not 200 ft. away.  He had been a sailor longer that he could remember and he never was truly happy until he was sailing somewhere. He heard Adam call his name and, when he turned around, he knew that Adam was concerned about something. “Well, young man, how are you?  I haven’t seen you much today.  I hope you are not ill.”

“No, Captain, I am fine.  However, I do have a heavy heart.  I have received word from home and all is not well there.  Apparently something has happened and Pa has suffered a heart attack.  Neither Joe nor Hoss sent word to me…it was the doctor.  I feel for this to have happened, more is wrong than he has told me.  I am so torn.  I want to go on board the ship…but with this news, I am almost expected to go home and help.  My Pa put his life on hold any time any of us had a problem and I feel obligated to do the same.  I hope you will understand.  It will take me about three weeks to get there and I will have to be there at least a month and another three weeks to return.  That will be way past the shipping schedule and I will have let you down.”

“Adam, for heaven sakes, I would not expect for you to even be concerned with going now on the ship. I also would like to go see your father myself.  What do you say that both of us go?  We’ll leave tomorrow and catch one of the new steam engine trains.  I heard they are very fast and can make better time.  With us traveling first class, we can sleep in the sleep car.  That way when we do get there we will not be quite so tired.  Let your family know you are coming and then go to the train station and reserve two sleep cabins on a train leaving as soon as you wish.  I will be ready when you are.  First, however, I must gather my men and let them know what I want done. They are capable of running this company!  I am sometimes just in the road.  But, you, my boy, will be sorely missed.  Let me assure you that you are needed here and we all will await your return.  I am not sure I will stay the entire month…but I will stay for awhile.  Ben was such a good son-in-law and he loved your mother.  He would have died in her place had he had the chance.  This I know is true.”

When Adam emerged from Captain Stoddard’s office, he felt like a great weight had been lifted off his shoulders.  Returning to his room he quickly dressed to go downtown.  Charlie came in the room, not knowing Adam had returned, and saw that he was preparing to leave.  The suitcase that he had arrived with was down from the closet and open and on his bed.  “Hey, you going somewhere?”  Charlie asked.

“Yes”, answered Adam. “That telegram was news from home and my father has suffered a heart attack. The captain and I are going to go to Nevada.  I will be gone for about two months,  but the captain will return sooner and will possible take my place on the ship that leaves next month.  Please help him as much as you can.  He has a lot of faith in his men and this includes you…so prove him correct.”

*****

The tickets that Captain Stoddard and Adam were reserved for first class and expensive.  Adam had never traveled this well before.  They had a sleeper car which consisted of two bunk beds…the room was very small.  When Adam said that he would have to step outside to change his mind, the captain laughed.  He really enjoyed Adam.  He was just what he had prayed for in a grandson.  He only hoped that when they arrived that Ben would not be worse off.  He hated the thought that he might lose his good friend and hopefully future partner.

Although the train was somewhat faster, it still was rather rickety, and sleeping was a trick. Both men secretly hoped they would be able to stay in the bunks and not fall out and roll into the aisle.  Adam said he felt like he needed to rope himself in.  The Captain didn’t answer; he was asleep and seemed to be over the initial ride.  Adam chastised himself as being too picky.  Adam sat and read until the wee hours of the morning, and yet he probably would have failed a test on what he had read…because he could only think about his father. Why didn’t Hoss or Joe notify him?  Why did Pa have this heart attack?  Were there real problems that went deeper and they were just trying to spare him?  Distance is never easy.  It can weaken the best of men.  His heart ached to see his family…but he knew he would just have to be patient.  Soon his eyes were closing and he slept sitting up.  The train continued to clickety-clack down the track with great blooms of smoke trailing it.

The first week that they were on this train was nearly enough to kill Adam. He would have much preferred to be on the outside and perhaps riding his horse. He knew that at least he would get home quicker, but to be patient was not always Adam’s strong suit. Every big city that the train stopped at he would check the Telegraph Office to see if there was any further news from Doc Martin.  But there was none.  He became angry and moody, and the Captain tried to give him space as he didn’t want Adam taking out his anger out on him.  Adam stayed in the sleeping car most of the day.  Captain Stoddard stayed in the front car enjoying the other passengers. Some of the women were really good looking and some were definitely call girls. As the train came close to Colorado, and 20 hours before they were to depart, two men looking dirty and straggly boarded the train. They were in high spirits and tried to force themselves on the women. Several men told them to back off and just sit down. The men growled at them, but sat down.

At about this time, Adam came out and sat opposite the Captain and apologized for being so withdrawn.  “I just am frustrated and worried not knowing how I will find things at home.”

Captain Stoddard just patted his arm and said, “Have faith, son!”

“Hey, Adam, not to change the subject but see those men over there?  I don’t mean to sound crude but is that the way most “cowboys” look?  They are filthy, dirty, and their minds are certainly in the gutter.  It never ceases to amaze me how the West is so different from the East.”

Adam turned his head and took a quick look at the men.  As he reviewed these tramps, he seemed to think that he might know one of them, but he just couldn’t put a finger on his name or where he had seen him before. He laughed and the waiter who approached them with tray in hand said, “Hello, Mr. Cartwright; what would you like for your lunch?”  Adam waved his hand and said that for now, he only wanted a good strong cup of coffee.

The straggly men who Adam had stared at heard the waiter call Adam Mr. Cartwright, and, looking at each other, they decided that they couldn’t stay on this train.  If he found out which way they were headed, he would have them arrested along the way. They didn’t realize that Adam knew nothing about what had happened at the house. However, these men felt their only hope was to jump from the train and head in another direction.  This decided, they made a quick and effortless move for the coach door,  but not without Captain Stoddard noting their behavior.

“Adam, those men.  They are at the door of the coach; I believe they are going to jump the train!!  Why on earth would they do that?”

Adam turned around and called to the men, “Are you all going somewhere?”  With this, they opened the door and jumped. The train had to be going about 35 miles an hour and the men, although jumping far enough from the tracks, definitely landed harder than they had wanted to.  As they jumped, they lost their saddlebags and guns.  They were trying to right themselves when they realized that the train was slowing down….coming to a stop.  Mr. Cartwright was standing between the cars and he likewise jumped, but his landing was softer and he was able to grab the men’s saddlebags and guns before they were could get their feet under themselves securely.

“Okay, guys, why the trick jumping?  What are you up to?  You act like you are guilty and I want to know why!”

The biggest of the men said to Adam, “That’s none of your business!  We don’t have to tell you anything!”

“You’re right,” said Adam, “but I think that you should be held until the law gets here and they can take over for me.  We will all wait.”  Captain Stoddard quickly went to the front of the train and spoke to the conductor. The conductor, although putout about having to stop his train for these hooligans, did what the Captain asked and sent a message by Morse Code that the law was needed. He gave the details on where they were.  He told Captain Stoddard that he was unable to stay here, that he would have to move on, but that the law should be able to catch up with them shortly…the next small town was about two hours away.

While Adam watched the men at gunpoint, the captain went aboard the train and gathered their belongings and came off the train with all that he could carry.  He knew that this would be a rough trip from now on but ….Adam was adamant about getting this settled.  He knew there would be no talking him out of it now.

Adam had the men sit down, and tied their hands and feet together.  He was still trying to figure out who they were.  He approached the big guy, and asked him his name, but all he got was spit on.

Great! thought Adam, real quality.  It would be a long hard wait and the sun was up and at its hottest,  making the wait all that much more unpleasant. About three hours later, Adam saw a man on horseback approaching them. As he got closer, Adam could see the badge that the sheriff was wearing.  The law was here and this situation could be handled — or so he hoped.

“Sir, are you the one who apprehended these men?”  asked the sheriff.

 “I am,” answered Adam. “It just was not right that they should jump a train going top speed!  They are hiding something and yet I have no right to ask.  But you do.”

 “What is your name?” asked the Sheriff.

“My name is Adam Cartwright, and this is my grandfather, Captain Stoddard.  We are on our way to Virginia City, Nevada.  But when I saw these men jumping from a fast moving train, I couldn’t just let them get away without at least trying to see what they were running from.”

“Funny,” said the Sheriff, “that name sounds familiar. Cartwright, Cartwright, well why don’t you all come with us to Blackwell Springs and we’ll get to the bottom of this.  You can possibly catch a stage from town in the morning going to Placerville.”   With this, he let off a whistle that made them all cringe and over the ridge came a small boy with four horses in tow.  The sheriff put the two men on their horses and tied the strings holding their hands to the saddle. Adam and Captain Stoddard both mounted their horses.  And the little party of seven moved out and toward the city.

Captain Stoddard was really not a good horseman; this next two hours would be a test for him. He never had enjoyed horses and he only hoped that he could keep this distaste from the horse.  It has always been said that the horse can always sense fear and will react terribly to it.  This made the rider even more frightened.  He was very relieved to see the town appear on the horizon and felt that at least he hadn’t fallen off….this was all he could be grateful for as his posterior would not be the same for about a week.

The small party made their way to the Sheriff’s office, and the deputy and the sheriff struggled with the captured men to get them down off the horses and into waiting cells.  But once this was accomplished, everyone breathed a sigh of relief.  No one ever knew just how unpredictable prisoners would be and the men couldn’t let their guard down for the entire trip.  Adam and Captain Stoddard collapsed into chairs in the outer office of the sheriff and enjoyed a nice cool drink of water.  As they sat there and talked to the sheriff, the lawman got out some wanted posters.  He was shuffling through them to see if these men were wanted anywhere.  He knew he couldn’t hold them for more that 24 hours without a major reason.  Just when he thought that he had wasted his time and energy, the deputy stepped in from outside and handed the Sheriff the mail. The first thing that caught the sheriffs eye was a wanted poster with no pictures, just descriptions (vague) and a steep reward….offered by Benjamin Cartwright of the Ponderosa.  “Well, I’ll be!”  said the sheriff, “looky here. I have something right here that may interest you. But, son, there is not enough identifying marks on these descriptions to hold anyone.  Apparently they are looking for someone…someone real bad and mean.  The sheriff in Virginia City is Roy Coffee….right?”

Adam shook his head yes and took the proffered posters from the sheriff.  Adam was shocked at the wording of the poster.

Wanted

Two men

Armed and dangerous

They will be carrying papers

From the Ponderosa Ranch

At least $2000 and other valuables.

 ~~~~

Reward will be given

To anyone who will gives information

Leading to the arrest of these two men…one large with dirty blonde hair, other small, has slight limp.

Reward given for information that leads to the capture of these men!

Benjamin Cartwright

Adam felt a cold chill go up his spine…something was terribly wrong at home and he really needed to get there.  His blood ran cold, just thinking about what these desperate men had done to his family.  “Sheriff, I need for you to find out these men’s names and wire Sheriff Coffee with this information.  I’ll stay here for one more day…perhaps we can take them in and save time.  I really feel that they know what has happened in Virginia City, Nevada and I want to see that they are punished.”

With this Captain Stoddard, who was sitting down and trying to find a comfortable way to sit, said “Hey, Adam, didn’t you get their saddlebags?”

Adam looked at him and said, “Yes, I almost forgot!”

He turned and immediately went outside and got the saddlebags that he had retrieved from the men.  He had not opened them…in fear of  compromising the capture and arrest of the men.  He handed them directly to the sheriff who opened them.  He found several folded pieces of paper and he realized they were deeds of purchase and maps of landmarks.  The second bag contained the money.  Two thousand thirty three dollars.  Adam just stood there with his mouth open, seeing his fathers’ belongings poured out on the desk.

“Well, I think this solves the problem…wouldn’t you say?” Adam said to the sheriff.  But the sheriff didn’t agree. He simply said, “I will wire Sheriff Coffee and they will be tried in a court of law.  Justice must be upheld.”

The captain and Adam quickly left the office. Adam was so mad he didn’t trust himself!  He was so close to decking the sheriff that he walked so fast that the Captain could hardly keep up.  “Hey, boy, I can’t walk that fast.  Let’s go get a bit to eat, a warm bath, and a nice non-moving bed for the night!  You game?  My treat!”

Adam was miles ahead in his thoughts and he hardly heard the captain.  However, when the Captain caught up to him, he grabbed his arm and spun Adam around saying, “Son, I feel your worry but we need to rest, feed our bodies and then when we do embark on the final leg of this trip, we can have a clear head. There is much to do.  Come on. First we will get the tickets for the stage.”

*****

While all this was going on in Adam’s life, the life on the Ponderosa was slowly coming around to at least semi-normal.  Ben was not allowed to ride his horse and was medically restricted to the ranch for the time being.  Doc Martin was still hearing some uneven heart beats and just didn’t want to risk his having another heart attack, or worse, a stroke.  Joe, poor Joe, he was still bedridden.  He was mean as a snake, scared, worried about his father, and disgusted with not being able to even get out of bed.  His arm was healing slowly, but the pain was still severe, and often he had to be given laudanum to help him sleep.  The Doctor had surgically removed seven of his fingernails, and Joe was amazed how painful that could be.  He could hardly hold a spoon. Writing was out of the question.

Hoss was the workhorse; he tried to help his father as much as he could. He did everyone’s chores and still spent some quality time with Joe.  However, it was getting harder and harder to listen to him complain.  Anger still boiled in Hoss. He only prayed that the bastards that had caused this to happen to his family would be caught and punished.   Billy Clay, Joe had said, was the man that threw him over the railing and threw him in the coffin.  But try as he might, Hoss couldn’t place the boy.  Every time the subject was brought up, Joe would retreat into a shell and refuse to relive the event.  Hoss said to himself, “I sure wish that Adam would come home, I believe he would really help both these men to regroup and heal their hearts.”

Ben was very mellow.  Almost sedate, not at all like himself.  Hop Sing would try to talk to him…but Ben would shoo him away. Doc Martin and Roy Coffee made regular visits to the ranch and tried to bring news or just gossip from town.  Doc Martin had not told Ben that he had received word from Adam that he and Captain Stoddard were coming. He was a little afraid to build up his hopes; after all, he hadn’t heard anything from them for over three weeks.  Perhaps they had changed their minds.

The Sheriff from Blackwell Springs had wired Coffee about two men having the same description as the men the sheriff was looking for. Coffee asked him to hold them for him; he would send his deputy, Clem Foster, to check it out.  One of the names apparently was Billy Clay. He was the big man. Time would tell.

When Adam entered the sheriff’s office the next morning after a good night’s sleep, some good food and even a bath, he was much more able to think clearly.  When the sheriff told him that Clem was coming to check on these men, Adam was pleased.  “Good,” he said. “Has he given a time of arrival?”

“Well,” said the sheriff, “he left last night and I figure it will take about two days to get here.”

Adam was so torn.  Should they wait for Clem, or strike out on their own and get home now?  He just didn’t know what to do.  But the Captain, being the sensible one, looked at Adam and asked, “What is more important to you, Adam?”

Adam, hating to admit it, said “Family!”

“Good! Then we go and we let the law do their thing!”

Adam agreed and noted that, if they were going to catch that stage, they had to hurry.  It would be there in a half-hour and they still had to check out and catch a bite to eat. Adam just needed coffee.

The dusty, rut-filled road which the stage took was a great difference to the clickety-clackety of the train.  After two days of swaying and bumping up and down, the two men felt like they had been beaten with bamboo and drug through the desert, then left to die.  Upon, arriving in Virginia City, the stage master came out and greeted the travelers as usual.  But when he saw Adam, he was ecstatic.  “Oh, Adam, your father will be so glad to see you. You are so needed.”

Adam again felt that chill up his spine and he abruptly turned and headed for the doctor’s office.  As he flung open the door, he heard a sharp squeal!

“Oh, my, you scared me,” said a little voice to his left.  As he turned to meet the voice, he was pleased to see a sweet woman in a nurse’s uniform, all white, and wearing a funny looking hat.  “Excuse me,” Adam said. “I had no idea that anyone but the doctor would be here.  Where is Doc Martin, anyway?”

“Oh, he is out at the Ponderosa right now; he should be back about three.  Let me introduce myself, I am Melody, Doctor Martins’ new nurse.  And you are……”

“Adam, Adam Cartwright!”

She took in a deep breath.  “Oh, my, Mr. Cartwright, I am surprised and pleased to meet you.  I have met all your family in one way or the other and they are all so nice.  Your father will be glad to see you.”

Adam shook her hand and said, “Well, this has been a mystery trip and I was hoping to hear from the Doctor just what I should expect when I get home. And please forgive my rudeness; this gentleman patiently standing here beside me is my grandfather, Captain Stoddard. Captain, Melody”.

“Oh,” she smiled. “Just call me Melly.”

“Well, Melly, can you give me some information about what I will be dealing with at the ranch?  I found it quite strange for Doc Martin to be wiring me and not the others…Hoss or Little Joe.”

“Please, sit down, both of you. Can I offer you a drink? Coffee, perhaps?”

“Yes,” both men said in unison. Coffee would really help. Adam felt like a fish out of water.

As she brought the coffee to the two men, Melly smiled and said, “Well, I only know some of what happened….I stayed there three nights and off and on.  I go out to see if I can assist in anything. Hop Sing and Hoss are carrying the load and I think they are all about to collapse.”

“For heavens sake, woman, please tell me what you know!” Adam pleaded.

“Well, Mr. Cartwright, Adam, about five weeks ago men entered the Ponderosa in the dead of night. They went through Joe’s window and forced him out into the hallway to wake the others.  One of these intruders held Joe so tight that he broke Joe’s arm at the shoulder, and when Joe went limp, he simply lifted him up and threw him over the banister.  Joe landed with a thud and no one was permitted to help him.  Your father and Hoss were taken down stairs and forced to open the safe. Upon leaving, two other men came in and picked up Joe and carried him out.  Hoss and Ben were tied in the middle of the room and were rigged to a trap that if they moved would cause a fire and burn down the house.  The men left, but not before they started a huge fire in the barn. The men had not realized that Hop Sing was also in the house, and, after he was sure they had left, he came out and took down the rigging and helped Ben and Hoss to get untied. Hoss had been hit over the head for some reason and he was so groggy that Ben asked Hop Sing to come to town to get the sheriff.  Hop Sing saw that Cochise was in the corral.  Luckily, Joe had left him there as he was fevered the night before and Joe figured it was better to leave him in fresh air. Normally, no one else can ride Cochise but that night he let Hop Sing have his way. However, he was very jumpy.  Hop Sing went to town, and Roy and the Deputies told him to just go back the way he had come.  Being careful not to get caught, Hop Sing walked the horse to the house, and attempted to tie him up.  However, Cochise wouldn’t let this happen.  He broke loose and ran away.  Hop Sing went to get him twice, but both times, he got away again!  He returned to the same spot each time.  Hop Sing was getting mad and went and complained to Ben that he tried to bring the horse home but the horse “no listen”, he said.  Ben, who was helping Hoss, got up and followed Hop Sing out the door.  Soon they found the horse, and he was in a very mushy part of the land and pawing at the ground.  This really was confusing, and, as Ben turned to take him back, he heard a slight noise.  Panic rose in his throat as he realized that it was a groan.  Roy had arrived by now and the two men listened again for the noise and upon hearing it, proceeded to dig in the mud. The noise got louder. Well, to shorten this, they found Joe buried in a coffin. He was wild with fear, and has not had a good nights sleep since. Your father was so distressed that all this had happened and that he had not been able to help his family at all, that he suffered a mild heart attack. He is depressed, and needs some good TLC. He will be so happy to see you!  I can go with you if you like.”

”No,” Adam, said.  “I think that we should go alone.  I do not want to overwhelm him.  Is Joe okay?”

“Well, Mr. Cartwright, I will let the doctor talk to you further, if you don’t mind?”

Adam said thanks and bid her good day.  Captain Stoddard and Adam said nothing as they both walked swiftly to the livery stable to secure a ride to the ranch.  The chill was still running up and down Adam’s spine. He only hoped that the animals that he had stopped after they jumped from the train were the two individuals that had caused all this mess.  Justice could be short and sweet.  Time would tell!

*****

It seemed that the trip home was unbearably long.  Adam was still very worried, but at least had a better idea of what he would be facing once he got home.   Captain Stoddard, being so tired, rode beside Adam quietly and was also worried that Ben would be changed and not able to enjoy the visit of his father-in-law.  But he was still glad he had come, as it seemed to make Adam able to concentrate on what truly was priority.

As they went over the last ridge and could see the Ponderosa, both men spurred their horses and quickly approached the house.  Home at last! Adam jumped from his horse and didn’t even bother to tie it up; he ran into the house.

“Pa!  Pa!”  Adam cried. “Pa!  Where are you?” He was about to walk up the stairs when his father, hearing his name being called, came out from the kitchen.

“Adam!  Adam! Oh, my God, how wonderful!”  Adam and Ben embraced and for once in their lives both of these grown men cried.  Adam was crying from joy and Ben was crying from longing.  He had prayed that his son would come home.  But he had not voiced this, as he feared that he would make Adam feel responsible or guilty if he couldn’t.  However, here he was and Ben just held him tight. When Adam wanted to talk, he reluctantly let go.

“How are you, Pa?” Adam asked. “Doctor Martin said you had a heart attack!   You will never know what trepidation that brought to my life.  When I mentioned to Captain Stoddard… Oh, for heavens sakes; excuse me a minute.”  Adam turned and started to run out the door and stopped short as he saw the captain sitting on the settee…waiting. “Captain, please forgive me for being so rude!  I just must have short-circuited or something.  I didn’t mean to leave you.”

Ben went over to Captain Stoddard and both men shook hands and ended up hugging each other.  Both men were truly glad to be together.  “How long has it been?” asked Ben.

“Oh, at least 15 years Ben. But you still are as strong as I remember. Even with the circumstances, you are a picture of a healthy man.”

“Hop Sing!” called Ben.

Hop Sing appeared around the corner from the kitchen, and bowed to his employer.  “Can I do someting for you, missa Cartwright?”

“Coffee, please, Hop Sing, and something to snack on if that is possible. Dinner is several hours away…and I am getting hungry. Adam!  Adam, my boy! You look so good.”

Just then the door opened and Hoss quickly entered the room “Pa, who’s horses are those ……Adam! Wow!  What a surprise!   Isn’t it great, Pa? We have all missed you!  Joe will be happy too!”

“Speaking of Joe,” asked Adam, “where is he?”

Ben sadly looked up the stairs and said, “In his room!  I think Doctor Martin is still with him.  When he comes down you can go up. Believe me, Adam he, will be glad to see you.”

Adam sat down with his father and they talked. Hoss sat and just looked at his brother…he was so glad to see him. He was anxious to have a talk with him privately.  He wanted to fill him in on all that was happening. and warn him about Joe.  As he was deep in these thoughts, he looked up and saw Doc Martin coming down the stairs.  He looked tired but was forced to smile upon seeing Adam.

“Adam!  Well, you made it!  I was wondering what had happened to you!  I hadn’t heard for so long! You look good, son!”

“Ahh,” said Ben, “so you have been withholding information on me, huh, Doc?  Well, I guess I can forgive you. Since it has brought my son, and his Grandfather here.  Thanks!”  They shook hands and sat down together on the settee.

“Ben, I need to talk to you about Joe!”

Ben was immediately in another mood. “What now?” he asked.

“Ben, Joe is going through a tough time and he is very upset.  I am going to allow him to get up a little each day.  I would appreciate it if you would see that he gets some fresh air…perhaps this will improve his attitude.  His arm is better; at least, the pain has subsided a little. His nails are healing nicely but his nerves and his mind are still reeling and he can hardly sleep.  His fear and his dreams are so vivid that he jumps at the slightest thing.  Adam, I am sure your being here is going to help greatly.”

Adam asked, “Can I go up and see him?”

 “Sure, you can, but I will warn you! He has lost about 30 pounds, he is pale and mad at the world.  In a way, I don’t blame him but he is going to have to get over this and go on, or it will kill him.”

 Adam felt that chill go up his spine again and he knew that his work was cut out for him.  “How’s, Pa?  Doc?”

“Your father is good!  He is on limited duty for now and that will be lifted soon….but I am watching him closely.  I can’t afford to loose him.  He’s such a great friend. I never knew how much I enjoy your father until that day I came here and he was struggling to live.  Well, I gotta go!  I’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Hey, Doc!” Adam said. “I met your new nurse!  She is good looking and sweet.  Is she attached to anyone yet?”

“Adam, you just got home….take a little time. She’ll wait!!”   Ben and Hoss laughed, and Adam smiled at the directives he had been given.  He then rose and went up the stairs…to see his brother.

*****

Adam could not have ever prepared himself for what he saw as he entered Joe’s room.  Joe was asleep and his arm was swathed with bandages, his ribs were bound, his leg was in a cast and he did look so thin.  Adam pulled a chair up to him, and simply said a prayer.  When he finished praying, and as he sat up, he saw the sad, amber eyes of his baby brother looking at him.

Joe kept shutting his eyes because he figured he was dreaming….but when Adam touched him, Joe knew it was real.  Joe began to cry.  “I feel so blessed!  I have prayed for you to come home since all this happened.  Thank you, Father!” he said, looking at the ceiling.

Adam smiled at him and said, “Now I hear you have a bad attitude, and are not eating.  Well, this is not going to stand.  You will be getting up out of this room and you will eat all of your meals!  Got that?”  With this Adam laid himself gently on Joe’s bed and the two embraced and cried together.  Adam held his brother and they reassured each other that they would get over this.

They talked for about two hours and truly enjoyed their time together.  However, Adam could see that Joe was getting tired. Because of this, Adam suggested that he try to go back to sleep for a while before dinner. “Joe,” Adam said as he stood up, “I will still be here.”  Adam went downstairs to talk to his family and really get a look at the house and the barn…Hoss was most eager to show him this.

Hoss didn’t waste too much time telling Adam what was going on around there.  He tried to fill in all the holes in the stories that Adam had heard.  When Hoss told him about Billy Clay and the other man, Adam told him about what had occurred on the train.   Anxiously, they were waiting for Clem to either return with the two men or at least wire Sheriff Coffee that the search was over.

Captain Stoddard and Ben were really enjoying their time together. They went out in the surrey many times and looked over the beautiful land that was his home.  The captain truly was mystified. He had no idea something this beautiful ever existed.  He could see how “rich” Ben was!  He and Ben enjoyed sharing stories and many a chess game was played. The captain was just a touch better at this game than Ben.  It didn’t matter….Ben was so happy!

Joe, still hurting a lot, was brought downstairs in the afternoon and helped to sit on the porch and enjoy some fresh air.  It helped some, but usually after 45 minutes, he had to lie down.  He just hurt too bad to sit for too long. They put him on the settee and, with this, he could enjoy all the company.  His dreams were improving and his attitude was improving. However, the ugly head of fear was even at this moment rising up again.

*****

Sheriff Coffee rode into the yard at the Ponderosa and quickly dismounted from his horse.  He walked slowly and as he went on the porch he knocked on the door.

Ben answered the door and Roy said, “Ben we need to talk! As you know, Clem went to Blackwater Springs to check on those two men that Adam had delivered to the sheriff there. Well, Ben, when Clem got there he decided to bring those two into our town and the sheriff there was going to help him.  But, as the sheriff unlocked their cell door and was getting them bound to put up on the horses, the two men over powered the sheriff and Clem, killing them both with makeshift weapons.  They rode out of the town on the horses prepared. No one is sure which way they were headed.”

They forgot that Joe was lying on the settee.  His eyes opened wide. Fear rising in his heart…tears stinging his eyes….would they come back to finish what they had begun to do? Joe lay still; he could hardly believe that these men were loose again. Something must be done…but what?

*****

Captain Stoddard rode quietly beside Adam as they left the Ponderosa and headed for Virginia City.  The past two weeks had passed quickly and in a way, he didn’t want to leave yet.  But he knew his company would need his leadership and that the ships would soon depart; he needed to be there.  Although Ben had enjoyed the Captain’s company, Adam would be better able to help his family regroup.  Ben hadn’t been able to travel with them as the doctor still didn’t want Ben to be riding horses or buggies for the time being. He had had two bouts of dizziness just four days ago, and Doc Martin didn’t want to push his luck.

Burying Clem was especially hard on Ben. He felt somewhat guilty; Clem would not be dead if he hadn’t been sent to gather those two.  He now knew that these two men had no conscience and were determined to be as destructive as possible.

“Adam?” Captain Stoddard spoke. “Do you think your father is okay? He still gives me the impression that he feels like he has lost control…this is just not Ben!  He has always been in control.”

Adam sat up straight in the saddle, and took a deep breath.  “I have no idea. Pa just is simply horrified that people can be so cruel and have no conscience or caring about who or why the hurt others. I mean, to bury someone alive is unreal!  Poor Joe; he has really had to fight with his emotions and at the same time, try to get well.  Right now, he couldn’t decide what color socks he should wear.  He gets upset if his napkin isn’t folded right. Yet, he tries hard to be strong for Pa and does all he can do to make everyone’s life not miserable. This is tricky!”

Adam thoughtfully continued, “With Billy still at large and the worry that he will return, I don’t dare leave those guys for more than a day at a time. No one has heard anything about them but I know it’s just a matter of time before they strike again.  Their type always does!  But this time, they will be dealing with me. And believe me, I’m ready.”

Soon they were in town and there was hardly anyone on the streets.  The stage was waiting at the stage station and Adam removed Captain Stoddard’s luggage from the buggy and approached the stage.  “Well, Adam, this is good-bye for now! I hope, son, that you will be able to return to Boston someday….I will miss you so!  Take care of yourself, and your family.”  With this, he quickly hugged Adam and turned into the stage as to not show Adam the tears in his eyes.  It had been wonderful having had Adam in Boston.  He knew that Adam had been happy there but, at this time, he didn’t dare worry him about making a decision as to where he would be.

“Sir,” Adam replied, “I will write to you soon….please take care of yourself and enjoy your voyage.  Remember the great times we shared and I promise to try to return if the chance arises.”

Watching the stage leave, Adam saw Sheriff Coffee leaving his office. Upon seeing Adam, he began to head straight for him.  He was walking fast and had a sour look on his face.

“Hi, Roy!”  Adam said. “You look like you have found a hornet’s nest. Is everything all right?”

“Actually Adam, no.  I just received word from Placerville  that one of their most respected citizens had been robbed and killed last night.  Their house was burned to the ground and the wife was scalped.  However, the way she was scalped was not the Indian way.  Hardly!  She bled to death!  Indians are kinder…they kill first and then scalp.”

“You think it was Billy?” asked Adam.

 Sheriff Coffee just shook his head. “I don’t know what to think! These people are cruel, and hateful and extremely radical.  I need to stop them before they come back for Ben and Joe.”

 “Oh,” said Adam, “don’t worry about that. Hoss and I are ready for them.  I personally will kill them first and ask questions later.”

“Be careful, Adam; you know that you must stay within the law,” warned the sheriff. “I don’t blame you for your hate of them but we can not just kill without provocation. But do you have a plan? Anyway?”

Adam removed his hat and ran his hand around the rim.  “Are you going to see where this guy and his family were killed, Roy?  If so, I’d like to go with you. You wouldn’t be gone long…right?”

 Roy said, “Ah, I was entertaining the idea of going down there, but I hate to leave the town unprotected. Could you or Hoss go? Maybe, take a hand from the ranch?  That way I can be here where I am needed.  If one of you go, we could also get an idea if these were the same guys.”

“I’m on my way home now; I’ll see what Hoss says.  If he will do it, I would prefer you to deputize him so he can not be hindered from really looking at the evidence.   People will not be talking too much, should those two still be around, simply out of fear.”

*****

Paul Martin pulled up outside the Ponderosa.  He wondered what type of mood everyone would be in today as they were all suffering from cabin fever.  He felt sorry for both Ben and Joe…Ben because he just wasn’t responding to treatment quick enough, and Joe because he had still such fear in his eyes.  He jumped at the slightest noise and sleep never came easy.

As the doctor got off the buggy, Hoss came out of the barn. “Hi, Doc!” Hoss slapped him on the back. He was the only one who seemed to be unaffected; but Paul credited this to Adam’s arrival at home.  He had given Hoss a chance to rest and help Ben and Joe more.  He was such a gentle soul; God must have thrown away the mold when he created Hoss because he was unique.

Ben had heard the two men walking across the porch and opened the door just as the two were about to enter. “Hi, Pa, Doc’s here!” Hoss yelled.

Ben smiled and offered Paul his hand. “Gee, Hoss I would never have known that had you not yelled.”

Joe came out of the kitchen, carrying a glass of milk and a handful of cookies.  He was accosted by Hoss, who said, “Hey, Where’s mine?”  Batting his eyes, Joe said, “Oh, brother, here take these!  I must keep my figure anyway.” Joe laughed at his brother.

 “Joe, I would like to start with you today if that’s okay?” called the doc.

“Sure”, Joe agreed, and Paul and Joe ascended the stairs together. Paul was asking him questions every step of the way and Joe was answering in low mumbles. Ben and Hoss listened for Joe’s door to close, and Ben told Hoss that he was sure that the doctor was going to remove his arm cast and put on a smaller one today. Hoss was glad that his brother would have more mobility.  It had been a long six weeks.

In the room, Joe lay down on the bed and Paul explained what he wanted to do. He had a little saw and cut the cast at Joe’s elbow.  It took about 25 minutes to saw the cast loose and the jostling hurt like a dull headache.  Joe kept telling him not to cut off his arm….by accident.  Doc just frowned at him, and continued to work.  Two hours later most of the cast was gone and Joe was very restless.  He ached, and was worried that the cast would just have to be replaced….simply because it hurt so bad!  After the last piece fell off, Joe, let out a cry. He was unprepared for how loose his arm felt and, with no control. it hurt just to breath.  Paul moved it at the elbow and Joe grit his teeth.  But to his surprise he could stand the movement; it hurt but nothing like he expected. His arm looked like a shriveled fish and the skin was milk white. There was no swelling and his finger tips remained pink and flexible. This was a good sign. Doc was pleased. He told Joe that the wrist and elbow looked good; he then set about removing the cast from Joe’s shoulder.

The two casts were not connected as the break had been extensive and the doctor was afraid that the weight of the combined cast would not let the bones of his shoulder heal strongly. Out came the saw again. Joe tried to remain calm. To keep his mind off the pain, the doctor handed Joe a small ball and told him to squeeze it repeatedly to gain strength in his hand and wrist.  However, with the first stroke of the saw, Joe saw stars. His eyes rolled to the top of his lids and he saw the blackness of relief fast approach. Doc stopped. He checked Joe’s pulse and decided that this task would have to wait. Joe was really in pain and he didn’t want to make it worse.  He wished he had x-ray vision to see what Joe’s shoulder looked like inside. Time, he hoped, would help. He made Joe comfortable and covered him up with a blanket and placed his arm in a tight fitting sling.  He would send up Hoss or Hop Sing to watch him, and he left to check on Ben.

As he started down the stairs, he noticed that Adam had returned and he was talking to his father.  Both looked up at the doctor in anticipation as to how the cast removal had gone.

“Well,” asked Ben, “how is he?  Did you remove both casts?  Where’s Joe?”

Doc shook his head. “No, Ben. I only removed the cast from his arm and wrist. The shoulder may have to remain at least two more weeks. He tolerated the removal of the arm cast but when I began to do the shoulder, it was too much. He passed out!  I covered him and was about to ask for either Hoss or Hop Sing to watch him as I checked you over.  He’s fine.  But that was a horrific break and it will just need time.  You understand, right?  “

“Sure, Paul! Hoss, please go sit with your brother for awhile, please,” Ben asked this of Hoss as he emerged from the kitchen with another handful of cookies.

Adam looked at Hoss, and said, “Come on little brother; I’ll go and keep you company.”  Both boys ascended the stairs, fighting over the cookies.

Paul sat down beside Ben, got out his stethoscope and began to check Ben. “How have you been?” he asked. “Any more dizzy spells?”

 Ben shook his head and said, “No. Its’ time to release me, so I can get back to my life, Paul!  My ranch, my sons, and my ranch hands need me. At least, I like to think they do. So, I would appreciate you giving me a clean bill of health to get them off my back.”  Paul laughed.

*****

Adam and Hoss closed Joe’s door quietly.  After checking Joe, the two sat down and began to discuss the events of the morning. Adam filled Hoss in on the news of Sheriff Coffee and the idea of Hoss going to check out the scene as a deputy.  Hoss readily agreed; he planned to leave immediately. He and Adam decided to use the excuse that Coffee needed some wanted posters from Carson City and that he didn’t want to leave town because the cattlemen who were in town were especially wild  this year.  The idea of him going any where near where Billy was would have set Ben in a tailspin and this was to be avoided at all costs.

“Adam, do they still think he is coming back this way?” asked Hoss.

“I don’t know,” Adam whispered. “I sure hope not.  I don’t care who rids this scum off the earth….as long as his kind are gone.”

Neither man realized that Joe had come to and was listening to this conversation.  He was really trying hard not to shake and at the same time, look asleep. As this became harder, he pretended to be coming around. He groaned a couple of times to make it sound good and then opened his eyes to find his two brothers watching him with worry.

Adam helped him sit up.  Joe’s head spun. The weight of his arm just hanging unsupported by the cast was really going to take some getting used to. It hurt like hell, and really made it hard to concentrate.  Adam saw this and let him lie down again, quickly getting a cold rag and putting it on Joe’s forehead. Joe shut his eyes, and he laid still, hoping they would leave so that he could develop his own plan once his head cleared. Sleep saw him first.

Hoss left Adam and went to his room.  He put some clothes in a duffel bag and dropped it out the window.  He really didn’t want his father to see that he planned on being gone a few days.  It would just worry him.  He then left his room and quickly took to the stairs, then stopped in front of his father and Paul.  “Well, how is the patient?” he asked. “I hope his is doing good now.”

“Actually, Hoss he is. I am discharging him and he has full privileges to go about life normal. Great, huh?”

“Pa, I am going to go to Carson City for Roy. He has asked me to run an errand for him.  He doesn’t want to leave town now as the cattlemen there are especially rowdy this year. So, provided you don’t mind, I will do this for him should be back soon.”

Ben looked at Hoss; he wasn’t completely convinced that what Hoss was saying was true…but he really had no reason to doubt Hoss. He often ran errands for Roy or Paul. So of course he agreed. “Hoss, son, please be careful and remember that trouble is near and protect yourself.”

With this, Hoss, left and went to saddle his horse.  Adam came around the side of the house carrying his bag. “See if you can find out the name of the other man who is with Billy,” Adam suggested. “I had never seen him before but he looked like Billy’s type.  He was filthy, and unshaven. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, Hoss. We need to stop these animals! They have caused just too much pain.  Be careful!”  With this, Adam smacked Chubb on the rump and Hoss was off.

Joe was standing behind his curtains and watching his brother ride away.  He knew where he was going and he knew that it was to find out more about Billy. He himself wanted a piece of Billy. Now how to do it….that was all that was on his mind. As he turned around, he saw his Pa standing by his door.

“Son, you okay?”

“Sure, Pa. Why?”

“Well, Paul had told us that you had not had all the casts removed and that the pain had been severe.  Is it better now?”

Actually, Joe realized that he had not even paid attention to the pain.  “I must be getting used to it,” Joe admitted. “I think time will be all it needs. I only want more mobility.  Is Paul still here?”

“No!  He left as soon as he could…..but he gave me a clean bill of health and that was like lifting a weight off my chest.  Now I can back to my life.  Don’t worry, son; so will you soon!”

Joe turned back to the curtain and looked back down to the yard. “Where did Hoss go?” he asked, hoping to sound convincing of having no knowledge as to where he was going.

“Oh, he went to Carson City to run an errand for Roy. He won’t be gone long.”

Joe smiled, thinking to himself, Carson City, huh? Right!!!!

*****

After dinner, the house fell silent quickly as everyone retired early.  Joe laid on his unmessed bed fully dressed, and was waiting until he knew that everyone would be asleep.  He planned on going down to the barn and saddling Cochise.  He wasn’t sure how well he could ride his horse but he was planning on doing it anyway.  He tore one of his old shirts into strips and tied the ends in knots. With this, he wrapped them around his arm and tightly held it against his chest. He figured if it couldn’t move it much, it would not hurt as bad. At least, he prayed this was true. He didn’t want Billy to step foot back on the Ponderosa. He was convinced that his Pa could not stand this replay of terror and he would do whatever possible to prohibit this.  Also, Hoss, didn’t know how terrible Billy could be. He had forgotten that Billy had tied him up as well as his father planning on burning them alive. Perhaps he had blocked this out of his memory.  But Joe thought only he and Pa were in this fight together.

As he reached for the front door and turned the knob, it all of a sudden burst open, knocking Joe to the middle of the room. When the fog cleared his eyes, he looked up into the dead eyes of Billy Evans. His heart did a flip and he never even felt the pain from hitting the floor with his sore arm.  He was terrified.  So much so he could not even yell.

“Joe Cartwright,” Billy smirked. “I thought you died in that grave I dug for you. Well, you’re just full of surprises!  I heard you were getting better and that you were saved from your premature grave by your horse. Okay!  This is really something!   I had to return to see this with my own eyes.”

“Also, I know that your brother, Adam, is here now, and that that hog Hoss is gone. I’ve been watching this house and it’s really something how you all seem to live charmed lives. Well, Sir Galahad, it is about to end!  You have had your last miracle.  Now, call your family down….NOW!”

Ben and Adam were standing at the top of the stairs. Ben’s voice boomed, ”We’re already here!  No need for calling us.  Joe, move over this way!”

“Joe, you move one muscle and you’re dead! Got that, Little Joe, little son of Ben Cartwright! Spoiled, coddled, pampered, babied, shiftless son of Baron Cartwright and a New Orleans slut!”

Joe, the bile rising in his throat, was trying to get his bearings.  He was trying to find his feet but ended on his knees.

Billy’s friend spoke up. “Hey, Billy, what you gon’na do with this family?  Beat them to death with your tongue?  It would be better if we play some target practice or other type murderous game with them, don’t ya’ think?”

Billy, his concentration broken, looked at his friend, and said “Shut, up!  This is my game. You just be ready to help. I don’t want any other interruptions.”  The gun swung round and pointed to his friend.

“Sure, sure, Billy, no problem!”

“Go get the rope off our horses, and bring it here,” he ordered to his shaken friend.   “Ben, Adam, come down those stairs slowly and lay down on the floor beside your worthless son.  He and you can all have this over with soon.”

As Ben was coming down the stairs, he saw a shadow on the side of the house and wasn’t sure if it was Billy’s friend or not.  It had been very swift and quiet. He and Adam laid down, and Joe whispered “I’m sorry” to the two of them.

“Not now, Joe, just be quiet. We’ll get out of this.” Ben spoke more as a prayer than as conviction.

Billy and the other boy started to tie up the three on the floor.  He tied their wrists and feet together and had long ropes extending from each.  Joe was shaking so badly that the man had to grab his hands three times to tie them up.  Every time he pulled them, Joe screamed with pain as it hurt his already damaged arm and shoulder. But his pain fell on deaf ears and the man just continued to do his work, screaming, “Shut Up!”

“Now, throw the rope up over that beam in the ceiling,” Billy ordered his companion, “and then pull them up. I want them way up! So if they should fall, the fall could kill them. This will be quite fun.”

The man was able to put Adam up easily.  He seemed to be able to lift him in a rush of adrenaline but when it came to Ben, both men had to pull. Adam and Ben were at least eight foot off the floor and could not help anyone.  Joe was trussed up like a pig and could only writher in pain.  As his hands were tied to the rope and they began to lift him, the pain was unbearable.  The room spun and blackness over took his senses. The three men were now hung high above near the ceiling and dangling like toys in a store window.

The men laughed; they thought they were so clever. The Ponderosa was theirs and they planned on destroying not only the owners but the entire place.  They went into the kitchen to get a drink. Ben could hear them in Hop Sing’s kitchen making all kinds of racket. He prayed that Hop Sing would not show himself, as they would surely kill him. But so far so good….there was no sign of their Chinese cook. The men came out from the kitchen having found some brandy and whisky, and the two were having a party.  Celebrating the stringing up of the Cartwrights.

Adam was so mad at himself.  He had failed to protect his family!  Just as his father had. He felt he was so ready to face Billy and destroy his evasive actions. But no, once again, Billy had the upper hand.

Ben looked at Adam and mouthed “Don’t do anything to cause your death; I need you. Joe is unconscious and hopefully he just stays that way. They’re too irrational to make sound decisions and our lives are in the balance.”

Billy began to laugh loudly. His face was flushed and you could tell that the whisky had set in.  He was getting ready to have some fun.  He raised his gun and fired.  The bullet barely missed Adams foot. Adam quickly pulled his feet up and tried to make less of a target for Billy. Just as Billy raised his gun again, the front door flew open.

In the entrance way of the Ponderosa stood Melly, Doctor Martin’s new nurse.  “Garth!” she screamed. “What in God’s name are you doing?  I had heard that you had been seen in Virginia City but I didn’t believe it to be true. But, no, here you are together with this trash!  You are despicable and worse that I even thought you would be.”

Garth, turned and hissed, “Melly! What are you doing here?  Get out!  Or I will kill you!”

Billy grabbed Garth’s arm.  “Does this woman know you? This woman knows you?  You bring us to where she is so that she can identify us? Are you crazy?” Without even a blinking of the eye, Billy raised his gun and shot Garth right between the eyes.  Garth fell dead at her feet as Melly screamed.

Melly rushed toward Billy and, as the gun went off, she drove her hand into Billy’s abdomen.  Billy cried out in pain; blood gushed from his stomach.  He tried to stand erect but his feet slip on the blood on the floor. He was still alive and with an animal growl, he raised his gun to the ceiling and aimed at Little Joe. “You can not win…I will not allow it…you will not win.”  The gun went off.

Around the corner came Hop Sing carrying a rifle. He raised the rifle, cocked the handle and fired.  Billy Evans was dead.

Hop Sing fell to his knees. He wept as he drops the gun. He knows that he has taken a life but he had to.  His family was going to be sacrificed and he would not let evil win.

Ben and Adam had witnessed this whole event from the rafters of their home.  Ben who could hardly believe what he had just seen.  However, he knew that the bullet Billy had fired before dying had hit Joe.  Joe’s body swung now from the impact.

“Hop Sing! Hop Sing!” Ben cried, trying to get the little man to look up and answer him.  Finally Hop Sing looked up. With tears pouring down his face, Ben called down to Hop Sing to try to pull the settee under them.  Hop Sing did as directed and then he slowly untied each man and attempted to lower them to the floor.  As they went down, Hop Sing went up,  but soon all were down with their feet on the floor.  Hop Sing was still crying. Three people lay dead in the room.  Blood flowed freely and no one could make sense of the carnage.

Joe was still unconscious, and they had laid him on the settee.  After examining him, they realized that the bullet had just winged his side.  Ben and Adam debated on who should go for the doctor; Adam won. Ben graciously sat down beside Joe and  shut his eyes.  Hop Sing sat down in front of the fireplace and covered his face as he prayed to Buddha to forgive him.

“Hop Sing, God will forgive you,” Ben encouraged. “God helps those who help themselves. He wants good to win over evil and he will bless you, not condemn you.  I know this to be true.  You saved our lives and for this we are grateful.  I can not even think of the proper way to thank you…than to say…what is mine is yours. You have proven yourself over and over and my family and I are grateful.”   Ben had tears in his eyes as he looked at Hop Sing.

When Adam arrived about an hour later, Joe was still unconscious.  Doc Martin could not believe the carnage that he saw.  He pronounced the three dead and quickly moved to the living. Joe had a good pulse but Paul imagined that there was damage done to his arms from the lifting.  Ben seemed fine, just a little shaky.  Hop Sing was given a sedative and put to bed.  He needed to rest and forget.  Roy showed not long after Paul, and Ben and Adam gave their statements to him about the incident.  Roy had the bodies removed.

As they were putting the bagged bodies on the horses to transport back home, Hoss came around the corner of the barn.  His eyes grew wide with fear.  He jumped off Chubb in mid-stride and ran into the house. He slid on the blood on the floor and landed on his back, screaming, “Pa! Adam! Joe!”   Roy was at his side quickly and told him that they were all upstairs and fine. Hoss took the stairs three at a time.  He ran smack into Ben and the two hugged.  “Pa!  What happened here?  Is everyone alright?  Adam?  Joe?  My God, go away for a day and look what happens.”

Adam looks around the corner of his doorway and said, “Never underestimate the power of a Cartwright.  Trouble is our middle name.”

Two hours later, Joe opened his eyes.  The first thing he saw was Doc Martin.  He was up to his elbows in plaster of Paris.  “Hi son!  How you doing?  I know you will be thrilled to hear this but, Joe, your arms is being put back into a cast as the old breaks were cracked. Your shoulder was re-broken and I operated on it. I put a metal pin in it to stabilize the joint.  Hopefully, it will be stronger and better than before.”

Joe looked at the Doc. “What happened to Billy?”

Paul just shook his head and said, “Just concentrate on getting better.  I’m sure there will be enough time to discuss them later.”But Joe was not satisfied with this answer and grabbed the doc’s shirt.  “Is Pa okay?  Adam?  Did that animal hurt them?  Tell me!  Now!”  His voice rising as he talked.  He was perspiring and panting and trying to rise out of the bed. “Pa!  Pa!”

Ben could hear the trouble from his bed; he quickly got up and shuffled to Joe’s door and quickly entered his sons room.  “Joe, it is fine; you are fine!”  Adam is fine. And you can see that I am fine.  Calm down!  You must lie still and let the Doctor finish.  Okay?”

“Pa!  Billy, did he get away?  Is he still here?  What now?”  Joe had fear, and death in his eyes.  He was so afraid that he would have to worry about Billy, more that he just couldn’t imagine it.  It was all such a nightmare.

Ben smiled at Doc Martin, and went around the other side of the bed and climbed beside Joe.  He put his arms around his son and hugged him to him. “Joe, Billy is dead. As is his friend. They are gone.  Never to return.  You must now try to calm down and I personally promise to fill you in on all the details when I know you are stronger.  But just for now, please realize that we all are fine and together….even Hoss.  They will be in to see you and I will be here also.  I love you son.”

It was like some one let air out of a bag. This child who moments earlier had been wound up tighter than a clock was slowly turning into a ragdoll.  He closed his eyes and sleep was his friend.

*****

Ben slept on that bed with his son that night and half way through the next day.  Adam who had suffered a dislocated shoulder was also down.  Hoss attempted to put Hop Sings kitchen to rights, figuring that it would encourage the little cook to remember why he was there.  They all tried hard to put the events behind them.  It had really shaken them a lot.  Hop Sing was actually sick the next morning and the doctor was called for him again.

When Joe opened his eyes again, he saw the sunlight and smelled a fresh breeze coming in his window.  He turned his head and saw his father. Tears fell from his eyes as he thought about how much he loved this man. “Thank you God for giving me and my brothers this wonderful person who has helped all of us be strong, wise, true, and yes, maybe I am a bit spoiled but I would die for this man…and you, as God is my witness.  Thanks!  Amen!”

No one talked about “it” for three days.  Hop Sing got back to cooking.  Ben was working on his books and Adam was finishing a new book he had bought and had not been able to even start.  Hoss worked in the barn and with the animals; this was his release of tension.  Joe was bed bound, but improving daily.

Sunday finally arrived and just as the family was to eat, there was a knock on the door.  Hoss quickly answered it and was pleased to see Roy Coffee.  “Hi, Roy, join us for lunch?” Hoss suggested.

Roy thanked him and sat down with this family that he truly loved. Even Joe was at the table and as they ate, the talk was light. After supper, they went into the living room and Roy walked over to the fireplace.  He turned and asked, “Men, can I please talk to you about Billy?  Now?  I realize that this has been rough and I have really tried to give you some time but I must ask some questions and you must know some details.  Okay?”

They all nodded their heads; no one looked overjoyed.  Paul began, “Garth was born in Boston and he and his sister, Melly, were not poor children.  Their father was a doctor. Melly, being rather intelligent, was encouraged to continue her education.  Garth, being shy and slow, was an embarrassment for the family and they just tolerated him.  He soon was in trouble and sent to prison where he sat for 7 years.  His father died during this time and he went to see his mother after his release.  She had remarried and they moved to Virginia City about five years ago.”

“Billy, as you know, went to school with Joe and then dropped out because he was really not able to keep up. This angered him; he wanted more from life and he felt cheated.  He hated his step-father and once after his step-father whipped him, Billy killed him.  He got the taste of blood and it seemed to boost his moral and so he figured that anything that crossed his path and didn’t do as he said he would destroy.  People, homes, and animals.”

 Joe spoke up. “Yea, I saw him set a dog on fire. I tried to help the animal but he pulled his gun on me and told me that if I did anything he would kill me.  I hid behind the bushes and after he left, I buried the dog.”

“Well, this was the pattern for this young man and he just was a very sick person.  Meanwhile, Garth’s sister had tried to keep tabs on him. However, because she was so busy, and making a life for herself she couldn’t really help him.  She hated him for being the way he was.  But when she was told by friends that he was here in Virginia City, she decided to come here and check it out.  She got a job with Doc Martin, and then all this trouble took place.  She had no idea he was involved but decided that it was in her interest to check it out.  She had fallen in love with Billy.  He was very good to Melly but he had a mean streak and one night after a dance he beat her and she told him she never wanted to see him again.  He and Garth joined up and that is how it came to be that they were together.  Two weeks ago, Billy had returned to Melly and asked for her forgiveness and for her hand in marriage.  She accepted; they were still in love. But Billy figured he would get “Cartwright money” and then they could make a new life for themselves. Melly was wise, however; she had watched someone meet Billy one night and overheard that they were coming here. Because she didn’t want Billy to go to jail, she wanted to stop him from destroying himself.  She stole a scalpel from Doc’s bag and came out here. That was the shadow you saw, Ben. She interrupted the scene….however, she paid the ultimate price as did her lover and her brother.  But there is another chapter to this: This morning we went to where Garth’s mom lived and we found her dead, murdered, on her bed.  She had been cut from her throat to her hip.  She bled to death!  Now, did Melly do this?  Or was it Billy?   I’m telling you it has me baffled.  I guess they both were quite disturbed and we just didn’t read it right.  However, I am closing the book on this….it is just too troubling and we can not stand to dwell on this any more.  Personally, I hope they all rot in Hell and that the world is a better place without any of them.”

Hop Sing, coming from the kitchen, had a big smile on his face. “Ok, everybody, I have surprise! Cake for all! “Everyone’s eyes lit up.  Hop Sing was carrying the greatest looking chocolate cake with chocolate icing they had ever seen.   It was the highlight of the evening and everyone was pleased.

Ben, raised his cup of coffee, and made a toast. “May Virginia City, the Ponderosa, and all who have been affected by this event be blessed and may the sins of man be forever forgotten.”  Glasses tinkled. Little Joe, looked up and said “And may I someday have my arm back!”   Everyone laughed.

***The End***

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