Summary: This story includes neither of the characters Adam or Candy so had this story been an actual episode, it would have taken place probably some time during the 8th season. Also, there is not an actual character death in this story. I don’t read stories where a Cartwright dies much less write one with that happening myself.
Word Count: 8037
Joe quickened his horse to a faster pace. He needed to ride faster if he ever hoped to be home before dark.
It was a beautiful evening and the sky was arrayed in many different shades of pink. The sun was beginning to set and the heat of the day beginning to be replaced by a cool breeze, which blew gently across the quiet dessert. It wouldn’t be long before the sun had completely set with a beautiful moon to take its place and light the desert floor with its rays of splendor.
Joe knew that he wasn’t going to make it home before dark as he had hoped and he slowed his horse back to a moderate trot. He knew his pa would be worried by now. Even if he did make it home tonight, he was already a day late. He remembered the turn of events the day before that had kept him from returning home on time…..
Joe sat forward in his saddle as his eyes caught sight of the smoke filling the sky just up ahead to the left. He had promised his pa, he would be home on time and he was already an hour behind schedule when the sale of his pa’s horses had taken longer then expected. Joe knew though that the smoke meant there was a fire and someone might need help.
He kicked his horse to a full gallop and a few moments later reached the cause of the smoke. A house had caught fire; a woman stood outside screaming frantically for someone to help her two children who were still trapped inside. Joe jumped down from his horse and without a moment’s thought to his own safety, rushed into the burning building.
Joe’s eyes stung from the thick smoke that now filled the whole house and he made an attempt to cover his mouth and nose with his jacket. “Children,” he yelled, knowing that his screams were futile. He wouldn’t likely be heard above the fiery blaze and opening his mouth only sent him into a long bout of coughing. He knew that the house had an upstairs and in bed were where the children most likely would have been when the fire started.
Joe somehow found his way through the billowing smoke to the set of stairs at the end of the room. He made his way up the steps as the fire, which now covered the railing threatened to engulf the entire staircase. Joe knew it wouldn’t be long before it would spread over the entire staircase and it would collapse.
Joe moved quicker now, as he saw that the fire had not yet spread very far upstairs. He burst through the door of the nearest room and let out the breath he hadn’t even known he’d been holding at the sight of a little girl and boy huddled under a desk at the opposite end of the room.
The boy, not more then nine years of age, was holding his crying little sister, his eyes wild with fear not only at the flames beginning to creep up the doorway of the room, but at the sight of the stranger who now stood before him.
Joe kneeled down next to the boy. “Don’t worry young fellow,” Joe reassured him, “I’m here to take you and your sister to your ma, who’s waiting outside.” Joe wasn’t sure if his words had gotten through to the boy but he was relieved when the boy allowed him to take the little girl into his arms.
Joe helped the boy up and knowing that it would be too difficult to try and carry both children. He took the child’s hand firmly in his own and moved quickly out of the room and down the staircase. They had moved just in time for just as Joe had moved the children from the staircase, it gave way and collapsed into a pile of burning wood.
They reached the front doorway now engulfed in flames and he angled his way through it so as not to catch his or the children’s clothes on fire. Never had he been so glad to feel and breathe the fresh air outside as he gave the sobbing little girl to her mother, who was crying just as hard.
Stopping only a moment with another bout of coughing, he hurried to a wagon with a still hitched team near the barn and pulled it up beside the woman now clinging tightly to her children. The girl was coughing hard and Joe knew that he needed to get her into town to a doctor. Thankfully, it was only a half-hour ride to the nearest town.
The woman would not be parted from her coughing, crying, little girl so Joe helped them both into the back of the wagon and he helped the boy up onto the buckboard. Joe, lastly, made sure to quickly tie Cochise to the back of the wagon and he climbed up next to the boy. He rode the wagon at a moderate pace, hoping it was a soft enough ride for the sick little girl but he also wanted to make sure he got her to the doctor quickly.
Only a few moments into the ride, the little boy’s head began to droop from the absolute exhaustion he felt from the night’s ordeal. So tired was he, that he almost fell from his seat on the buckboard and he would have, had Joe not reached out and kept him from falling just in time. He propped the boy up against himself, resting the boy’s head against his arm to allow him to rest. Joe was rewarded when the little boy flashed him a small smile in gratitude.
Joe was glad to finally reach town and get the family to a doctor. The sheriff of the town sent several men out to the woman’s ranch to make sure that the fire was out and hadn’t spread to any of the neighbor’s ranches.
Joe found out that the woman’s name was Amy Johnson and he was soon informed by the doctor that the little girl and boy, Susan and Luke, would be both be fine. Joe decided to spend the night in the hotel but the doctor wouldn’t allow him to leave until he had given him something for his cough.
He was about to head out the door when he suddenly felt someone grab his arm and he turned around to see Amy Johnson. Tears were streaming from her face at the news that her children were going to be all right. “Thank you,” was all she managed to say before she threw her arms around him and hugged him. Never before had she been so grateful to a man. If it hadn’t been for him, she would now be childless and her children were all she had, all she lived for, ever since her husband had been killed in an unfortunate accident only one year ago.
“Thank you,” she stammered once more before leaving the room to check on her children.
All of these thoughts ran through Joe’s mind about the previous night as he made his way home. The sun had long ago set a smile crossed his face as the sight of the familiar ranch he called home. Seeing the lights that were still on, he knew that his father was still up, worrying about him no doubt.
He stabled his horse in the barn and slowly walked towards the house; he had a long story to tell his pa when he got in.
“I’m very proud of you for helping that woman and her children out, and I’m certainly not mad at you for being late,” Ben said after Joe had relayed the whole story about the night before to him. “You did the right thing and no father could possibly be angry at his son for that, though I must admit I was worried when you didn’t get home last night.”
“By the way,” Ben continued. “You don’t have to worry about that second trip you were going to be making to sell the dozen other horses I was going to have you sell as well. When I saw that you were going to be late, I sent Hoss instead. I knew that something must have come up to make you late and I couldn’t risk losing that buyer for the horses.”
“You don’t have to worry about explaining to me, Pa. I’m so tired, I couldn’t even think about making another trip anyway. Was Hoss upset about having to make the trip?” Joe asked. “It really wasn’t much of a bother to him,” Ben replied. “He really needed the time way from the ranch anyhow, he’s been cooped up here for awhile, I’ve just had so much for him to do all close to home.”
“Well if you don’t mind, I think I’m going to call it a night.” Joe said as he stood up from the couch were he had been sitting, when suddenly, another coughing fit came on. Ben rushed to his son’s side as he coughed long and hard for a few moments. “Are you all right son?” Ben asked after Joe’s coughing had subsided. “I’ll be just fine, Pa. I’ve just had a bad cough since last night’s fire but the doctor gave me something for it and I should be fine in a couple of days.”
Joe got up the next morning with much reluctance. Despite the several hours of sleep he had gotten, he still felt very tired, but he knew that they still had a ranch to run and with Hoss away, Joe would have to do not only his own jobs, but Hoss’s as well.
Joe was soon on his way down the stairs to breakfast. “Just thought I’d let you know, Ben.” Joe was just in time to hear as he began his descent down the stairs to see Roy Coffee heading for the door to leave. “Mornin’ Joe, bye Ben,” Roy Coffee said as he closed the door behind him.
“Why did Roy stop by?” Joe asked his father with concern.
“Nothing to worry about,” Ben answered. “Just to tell me that it looks like that Gabe and Sam Harrison have left town for good.”
“But aren’t Gabe and Sam the two new hands we just hired two weeks ago?” Joe asked. “Did you have some sort of run in with those two while I was gone?”
“As a matter of fact we did,” Ben said somberly. “They drank too much at the Silver Dollar a few days ago, came home, and got into a few fights with the men in the bunkhouse. They ended up tearing up the bunkhouse pretty bad. They weren’t pulling their weight around here anyway, so I fired them. I have to admit, I was a little worried about them coming back here and causing trouble but it looks like they’ve left town peacefully.”
“I’d still be very careful,” Joe said remembering the countless times it had looked as though someone was no longer holding a grudge toward one of them only to turn around and cause them trouble.
“Well, anyway, we’d better eat breakfast and discuss what needs to be done for the day.” Ben said to change the subject.
He understood why Joe would worry but with the several contracts he had to fulfill, he already had enough to worry about without Gabe and Sam Harrison. He could only hope that Joe’s concern and worry was for nothing, but no matter how hard he tried, even he couldn’t push aside the worry that rose within him.
Gabe pulled his horse to a halt as his younger brother, Sam, did the same. “We ain’t gonna just leaver are we?” Sam whined.
“Of course we aren’t gonna just leave. Least ways, not until I think of some way to get even with that Ben Cartwright.” Gabe answered.
“I say we just head on back to the Ponderosa and just settle it quick and easy like, ” Sam said while patting the pistol he always carried on his right side.
“I ain’t so aiming for revenge that I’m willin’ to put a rope around my neck,” Gabe said, “or get sent to prison for the rest of my life…….say, I think I just got me an idea.” Gabe said suddenly.
“Well, out with it,” Sam demanded impatiently.
“Alright, alright, I only just thought of it a few seconds ago.” Gabe said indignantly. “I just heard that one of them Cartwright boys, Hoss I think it is, is in Pineville…”
“So?” Sam once again cut in.
“Give me a chance to finish will ya? Anyway, I think I have me a plan that won’t get us a rope or several years in prison. But what I have planned is gonna give ol’ Ben Cartwright the scare of his life. Now, here it is….”
It wasn’t long before another day’s jobs were finished on the Ponderosa and no sooner had Joe fallen into his bed when he found himself getting up to start another day. Joe knew that he would be able to get a longer and better night’s sleep when Hoss finally returned and Joe no longer had to put in work for the two of them, but it was all he could do to keep going until then.
“I thought we’d head into town and pick up the mail and a few supplies, take it a little easy today,” Ben said at the breakfast table. He noticed the exhaustion written all over Joe’s face as he sat at the table, spending more time pushing his food around into different piles on his plate rather then eating. Ben hoped that Hoss wouldn’t be in Pineville too long. He hadn’t told Joe yet, but when Hoss got back he planned on giving Joe a couple of well deserved days off.
It wasn’t long before they were on their way to town. It was noon when they reached town and Virginia City was relatively crowded. Ben and Joe decided that they would get things done faster if Ben picked up the supplies and Joe checked to see if any telegraphs had come in for them. A man from Carson City had been thinking of buying a few of their cattle and they were expecting his answer by telegraph within the week.
“Hi Joe!” Jim Marshall, head of the telegraph office greeted Joe.
“Hi Jim, I came to see if any telegraphs came in for my Pa,” Joe said.
“I’m glad you stopped by, I was going to talk to your pa about that. Late last night I had to step out for a bit so I had my boy watch over the office for awhile. You remember my boy Jed?” Jim asked. At Joe’s nod, he continued. “You also know how wrapped up in those books he gets that he’s constantly reading. The boy seems to think that if he reads those books long enough, he’ll suddenly become like the gunfighters he reads about in em,” Jim chuckled to himself, then continued. “We’ll anyway he was in here reading on them books when a telegraph came in. He was so caught up in his readin’ that he didn’t catch who the telegraph was from, just that it was for Ben Cartwright and he was able to jot down the message.”
“Well, I’m sure my Pa will know who it’s from by reading it,” Joe said.
“Well, that’s just it,” Jim went on. “Before I got back, Jed told me, a man showed up at the office asking if there were any telegraphs for Ben Cartwright, that he was one of his hired hands, and that Ben had sent him to the office to see if there were any messages for him.”
“Pa didn’t send anyone into town last night and none of the hired hands showed up at the house this morning with a telegraph for him.” Joe said with a puzzled look on his face. “Does Jed remember the man or what was in the message?”
“My boy doesn’t remember anything,” Jim replied, a look of defeat on his face. “It was too dark to make out the man’s face and no matter how hard I tried to make him remember, Jed just can’t remember what was in the message. It’s those books he’s always got his mind on. He just wasn’t paying attention to the words he was writing down. I never should have left the boy in charge of the office while I was gone. I’m real sorry Joe. Maybe one of your hands will show up yet with that message when you get back to the Ponderosa.” Jim said hopefully.
“Yeah, maybe, “Joe replied, but somehow he didn’t think so. None of it made sense.
“So were there any messages?” Gabe asked his younger brother, Sam. Gabe had made camp just outside of Pineville the night before and had waited for his brother to arrive. It was now around noon and after a long night of riding, his brother had finally arrived.
“Yep, you were right again Gabe. There was a telegraph waitin’ for Ben from his son. Luckily, a young kid was watchin’ the office and the fool kid believed me when I told him I was one of the Cartwright’s hired hands sent by Ben to see if he had any telegraphs. Gave it right over without any trouble.”
“It seems too easy,” Gabe said with suspicion, “Did the kid get a good look at ya?”
“No way the kid could see me. I made sure I stood in the shadows,” Sam replied a little indignantly. Gabe always seemed to think that he couldn’t handle anything for himself.
“Well, what did the telegraph say anyhow?” Gabe enquired.
Sam read the telegraph aloud: “Been delayed. stop. Leaving Pineville for Carson City. stop. Will be back soon. stop. Don’t worry. stop.” Sam finished. “It says it’s for Ben Cartwright but it don’t say who it’s from. Thought it was pretty clear though that it had to be from his son.”
“It looks like this is all going to work out better then I thought,” Gabe said. Any worries he had previously had about the plan were gone now. “Hoss is delayed and Cartwright won’t receive his son’s telegraph, now all we have to do is pull off the rest of this plan just as good. Cartwright doesn’t care about or understand people like us because he’s always had everything he’s ever wanted. Well, even if only for a couple of days, he’s going to feel what it’s like to lose something he cares about and I’m going to enjoy every moment of his torment.”
Joe was glad to finally be on his way home. After his Pa had picked up the supplies, Joe had returned from the telegraph office and relayed everything Jim Marshall had said to his Pa. Ben was quite worried over the incident and the both of them hoped that one of the hands would show up at the house later with the message.
Ben had decided to stop in and see Roy Coffee so Joe had headed on home on his own. Joe was anxious to get home and so he moved his horse to a faster trot. Suddenly he saw, not far away, Bill Morris, an old friend of the family’s, galloping towards him. “Joe,” Bill said as he pulled his horse to a halt in front of Joe. “Am I glad to see you, where’s Ben and Hoss?”
“Hoss is away in Pineville and Pa is in town,” Joe answered. “Is something wrong Bill?”
“It’s the mine outside of Virginia City; one of the levels collapsed and six men are trapped inside. We need all the help we can get if we ever hope to get them out alive.” Bill said urgently.
“You know you’ve got my help,” Joe said.
“Thanks Joe, we really need it. We’d better ride fast,” Bill replied as both men kicked their horses into a gallop towards the mine.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” Sam asked his brother yet again.
“How many times do I have to tell you?” Gabe growled at his brother, “If we have everything planned out just right it should. Now, read me the telegraph we’re going to send to Virginia City again. We have to make sure we put everything just right.”
Sam read their message aloud: “Sorry to inform Ben Cartwright of the Ponderosa Ranch Nevada Territory. stop. Accident in Pineville. stop. Shootout. stop. Hoss Cartwright killed in crossfire. Stop. Buried in Pineville. stop. Will be out of town. stop. May see me about details in three days. stop. Sheriff Dan Taylor.”
Gabe and Sam had made sure to ask a passing stranger in town, what the sheriff’s name was. Now they would go the town’s telegraph office posing as men sent by the sheriff to send a message to Virginia City. Sam was finally beginning to believe that his brother’s plan just might work.
“Be seeing you around Roy,” called Ben as he left the sheriff’s office and out into the dusty street of Virginia City. Roy needed help with his campaign for reelection as sheriff and Ben had volunteered to help him as he had always done in the past.
“Ben! Sheriff!” Ben suddenly heard someone yell. It was Jim Marshall from the telegraph office. Roy Coffee came out of his office as Jim rushed up to them. “There’s been a cave-in at the mine just outside of town and six men are trapped.” At these words, Roy Coffee immediately mounted his horse tied outside and rode towards the mine as Ben was about to do the same.
“Wait Ben.” Jim stopped him before he had a chance to mount his horse. “I just received a message in the office. It’s for you, just came in from Pineville. I think you should read it right away,” Jim said with a very grim expression on his face as he handed the telegraph to Ben who slowly began to read it.
Ben couldn’t believe the words he read. It was a father’s worst nightmare. He suddenly felt week and grabbed onto Buck to steady himself. How could anything like this happen to one of his sons? They were everything to him. How could he go on after something like this? Then, suddenly, he remembered Joe. How could he tell him such a message? Joe and Hoss had been the closest of brothers. No, they were more then brothers, they were best friends.
“Where’s Joe?” was all Ben could manage to say in barely more then a whisper.
“He’s helping out at the mine, Ben.”
“Thanks, Jim,” Ben said still in a daze.
“Would you like me to come with you, Ben?” Jim asked. He was very worried about his friend. He knew how much Ben’s sons meant to him.
“No thanks, Jim,” Ben said as he mounted his horse, “I have to figure out how to tell Joe myself.” And he kicked his horse to a gallop. How was he going to tell him and how was he going to get through this himself?
Ben rode at a moderate pace. He needed some time to think, time to sort everything out in his mind. His first reaction was that it couldn’t be true; it had to be a joke, some sort of mistake. He knew though that Jim Marshall was not at all the sort to joke over something so serious and by the look on Jim’s face, Ben knew that it had been very difficult for him to have to break such a tragedy to him.
Ben knew that the telegraph most likely couldn’t be mistaken. Sheriff Dan Taylor had sent it from Pineville and Dan and Ben had become good friends ever since they had met a couple of years ago when Ben and Hoss had visited Pineville. Dan knew Hoss too well to make mistake another for him.
All of these thoughts ran through his mind, as Ben rode towards the mine. By the time he reached the mine, he found that the six men trapped had been rescued and they were all going to be fine after Joe and several others had removed enough rubble to get to them.
Ben was at first dismayed to find out that Joe had already headed back to the Ponderosa a little while before Ben had arrived. As he rode home though, Ben realized that it was probably better this way. It gave Ben more time to think of what to say on the ride home and it was also probably better that Joe find out at home.
It wasn’t long before Ben arrived home and he had one of the hands stable his horse as he slowly walked towards the house. He walked inside and removed his gun belt and coat trying to buy as much time as possible. He knew he was stalling having to say what was inevitable.
Well, it’s about time you got back pa.” Ben turned from where he was hanging his hat to face his youngest son whose smile at his father’s lateness was now replaced by a look of worry at the grave look on his father’s face. “Is something wrong pa?” He asked and any words that Ben had planned out to say were suddenly forgotten as tears sprang to his eyes.
Right then and there, the reality that he had lost his son hit him. He suddenly could find no words and he did the only thing he could think of, handing the telegraph to Joe. “This just came in from Pineville,” he managed to whisper. Slowly Joe took the paper from his father and read it.
His head began to reel at the words and he stumbled back a little as his father reached out to steady him. Joe looked into his father’s face as though begging him to tell him it wasn’t true. But when Joe looked into his face instead of seeing the strength and courage that had always been there, he now saw a broken man, torn apart by sorrow and anguish and he knew that he needed to be strong for his father.
The telegraph had said to come to Pineville in three days; he knew his father would make that trip. The next few days before the trip were going to be very difficult ones and Joe silently prayed for strength as he struggled to control his emotions.
Ben watched his son struggle and he suddenly found himself unable to control his own emotions any longer. Joe reached out to his father. Ben, who had always been the comforting strength for his sons through their life’s trials and difficulties, now found himself seeking comfort as he cried on his son’s shoulder.
The missing telegram was long forgotten.
The next day dawned clear and beautiful, but for Ben and Joe the beauty of the day went unnoticed. Neither of them had gotten much sleep the night before. Joe had hoped that his father would eat this morning but Ben had dismissed Joe’s concerns and insisted that he really wasn’t hungry and he would eat later.
Joe grew increasingly worried as he watched his father spend the morning in Hoss’s bedroom, but he knew that his pa needed this time to himself. Joe also knew that someone needed to keep the ranch going so, pushing his own feelings aside, he picked up his father’s responsibilities as well as kept at his own and Hoss’s.
Never had he worked so hard. Covering for the jobs that used to be divided among three kept Joe very busy and he had no time to think about the events that had unfolded the night before. Joe was glad to move from one responsibility to the next and keep his mind from thinking about the tremendous loss he felt.
He knew that he couldn’t allow himself to think about it, to allow his emotions to get the best of him, for his father. He needed to keep the ranch going and allow his Pa this time to himself to think….to grieve.
Joe also didn’t want to admit to himself that he was feeling guilt over Hoss’s death. He couldn’t help but think that if only he hadn’t been late, if only Hoss hadn’t had to go on the trip for him, then maybe none of this would have happened or at least it would have been him instead of Hoss.
Joe didn’t sleep much once again that night. He had so much to worry about. He had somehow finally managed to get his father to eat a little that night but Ben hadn’t spent much time out of Hoss’s room. There was much paperwork to do that Joe hadn’t gotten to yet and they were nearing the deadline on one of their lumber contracts with much work still needing to be done on it.
Joe stayed up into the early hours of the morning, working on plans for fulfilling the contract. He moved on from that to the paperwork but he soon fell fast asleep at his father’s desk.
Joe awoke just a couple of hours later to begin yet another day of work. He was glad to find out from Hop Sing that Ben had eaten a little earlier that morning before once again returning upstairs. Joe found that he wasn’t that hungry himself this morning and after having only a cup of coffee, he set to work on the day’s jobs.
The first thing he wanted to do was to see what was holding the men up at the lumber camp. When he reached the camp he was dismayed to find out off of Charlie Hall, the foreman, that there were several men causing trouble in the camp and weren’t pulling their weight.
“I was aiming to talk to you and your Pa about it Joe, just yesterday, but after what happened….” Charlie trailed off. “If we could get everyone to just pull their weight around here, we just might fulfill that contract on time,” he finished.
“Get the men together,” Joe said, “Maybe if I talk to them, we’ll get everything back on track.”
Joe talked to the men and he was glad to see that he seemed to get through to most of them, but not all of them were so willing to listen. “Cartwright,” Rick Kelly growled as he stepped out from the group of men. “Seems to me, your Pa was in charge of this here project and the only orders I’m taking are the ones coming from him, not his boy.” A few men shouted their agreement from the group.
“Now come on, Rick; you know very well that Pa, Hoss, and I have all been in charge of this project right from the beginning,” Joe said. Joe had known Kelly was going to be trouble right from the start, when his father had hired him but they had needed every man they could get and Kelly hadn’t given them any trouble until now.
“Well even so, I ain’t taking orders from no kid,” Kelly spat. This time a few men from the group stood by him in agreement.
Joe felt anger rise within him at these words. At twenty-five years old, Joe did not like to be treated like a child, but still he didn’t want a fight with Kelly, nor did he want to give the man a sense of triumph by showing his anger. “If you can’t take orders, then you can just pick up what your owed back at the ranch later and ride on out of here and that goes for anyone else who wants to cause trouble.”
Kelly’s angry, glaring eyes locked with Joe’s eyes for a long moment but he backed off and turned to walk away. Joe dropped his gaze for a moment just as Kelly whipped back around and lunged at him, sending both of them to the ground.
Joe was caught completely off guard but he quickly recovered and he pulled himself up pulling Kelly with him. A couple of punches from Joe sent Kelly back to the ground. “Like I told you before, ride on out of here,” Joe said as Kelly slowly picked himself up, mounted his horse, and rode away.
Joe turned his gaze on the men that had backed Kelly. “The rest of you have the same choice, you can collect your wages and leave now or you can continue to work whether my father’s giving the orders or whether I am.” To Joe’s relief, all of the men went back to their work without any more trouble.
Joe had silently prayed that none of the men would want to fight like Kelly. Between Joe’s lack of sleep and his having to deal with so many responsibilities, after fighting Kelly he knew he wouldn’t have had the strength to fight any of the other men.
“I think I can keep everything going from here, Joe,” Charlie Hall said. He had watched the whole confrontation between Joe and Kelly and he could see that Joe was spent. “Why don’t you go home Joe, take the rest of the day off?”
“I’ll be going home soon, but I still have a few things to take care of.” Joe replied. “You’re sure everything will be fine here?”
“I’m sure; thanks for the help and don’t worry, I’ll make sure we fulfill that contract on time.”
“Thanks Charlie, I’m sure you will,” Joe said as he mounted his horse and rode towards town.
It was awhile before Joe finally reached town. He had ridden his horse at a slower pace then usual. If he had ridden any faster, he might have fallen off due to the absolute exhaustion he felt. He had already decided that going home early might be a good idea, but he needed to order a few supplies in town first.
Joe judged that it must be two o’clock. He had spent a lot more time up at the lumber camp then he had anticipated. After ordering the supplies, Joe prepared to mount Cochise and head for home when he saw a man running down the street shouting, “Fire! Fire!” Joe glanced down the street to see that a building had caught fire and he knew that if it wasn’t put out soon, it would spread to the buildings surrounding it.
Joe quickly re-tied Cochise and headed towards the fire.
Ben stepped outside into the fresh air. It seemed like it had been ages since he had been outside to breathe in the fresh smell of the Ponderosa pines. It was nearing five o’clock and Ben was beginning to worry about Joe.
It hadn’t gone unnoticed by Ben that Joe was working to hard in order to give him time to himself. Ben smiled lovingly as he thought of how Joe was unselfishly pushing aside his own grief to give him this time. Ben knew though, that Joe was exhausting himself and he couldn’t just stand by as his son worked himself into the ground.
Ben made a quick decision and went to the barn to saddle his horse.
It had taken over two hours for the fire to finally be put completely out and Joe felt as if he could barely take each step as he slowly made his way to his horse. He wanted to get home and see how his father was doing.
“Are you all right Joe?” Joe turned around to see Roy Coffee, a look of concern on his face. The exhaustion written all over Joe’s face was answer enough and Roy continued. “Why don’t you step into my office for a cup of coffee? It’ll give you a few minutes to rest before you ride on home.”
Normally Joe would have dismissed Roy’s concerns, but a few minutes of rest and a cup of coffee sounded good and he decided to take Roy up on his offer.
Roy and Joe talked for a few minutes over a cup of coffee back at Roy’s office. “I should probably be getting home Roy,” Joe stood up and said as every bone in his body protested. He felt somewhat dizzy as he headed towards the door.
“Joe,” Roy said, laying his hand on Joe’s shoulder. “I’m real sorry about Hoss. Tell Ben I’ll be stopping by this week to see how he’s doing.”
Joe nodded his gratitude to Roy; he had always been such a good friend to his father. “Thanks.” Joe managed to whisper as he headed out the door. His emotions once again threatening to take over.
The few moments of rest seemed to have had no help at all as Joe found himself unable to take another step and he collapsed. The last voice Joe heard was that of Roy Coffee’s. “Joe can you hear me? Somebody get Doc. Martin.” Then the voice seemed to fade away and everything went black.
Ben took a shortcut to town. He didn’t know if Joe would be in town but it was worth a try. He knew that they were in need of supplies and so he thought to check the general store first.
“Ben,” He heard someone call out as he dismounted. It was Paul Martin, the town doctor and an old friend of the Cartwright’s. “Could you step into my office for a moment to talk? It’s about Joe.”
“Is he all right? Where is he?” Ben asked after Paul had relayed what happened to Joe not more then an hour before.
“He’s just fine Ben,” Paul reassured him. “He’s just exhausted, nothing a few good night’s of rest won’t fix. I wanted him to rest awhile in my office but he insisted on getting home to see how you were doing. You know how Joe is; once he’s made up his mind there’s no changing it,” Paul said, a slight smile crossed his face.
“Well I’d better get home then,” Ben said as he quickly made his way to the door.
“Ben,” Paul called out as he opened the door to leave. Ben looked back. “There’s something else he needs besides a good night’ rest.” Ben stood silently, a look of question on his face though he knew what Paul was most likely going to say. “He needs his father.”
“I know,” Ben managed to reply as he headed out the door.
Joe was glad to finally be home. He had been both surprised and pleased to find out off of Hop Sing that Ben had went into town. He was glad to see his father finally get out for awhile.
Though he was very tired, he decided to wait up for his father. And so he thought, he might as well be getting some of the paperwork done and he got to work at his father’s desk.
Joe was dismayed to see that the desk had been cleaned up earlier and all the papers he had been working on, put away. He opened the first drawer but a quick glance told him that the papers weren’t in this drawer.
Suddenly, his eyes came to rest on a folded up piece of paper. It specifically caught his attention because it had his name on it as though it was addressed to him. He unfolded it and at the top of the paper a date was written. He remembered that day well. He and Hoss had been getting along too well for reasons even Joe couldn’t remember.
They were to break a couple of horses that day and when they had another argument, Joe had rode away to cool off. But he had forgotten that it was his turn to break the next horse and so because he had ridden off, Hoss had to take his place and break the horse himself.
Joe had returned only awhile later to find out that the horse had thrown Hoss and he had been hurt fairly bad. His leg had been busted. Joe knew that if he hadn’t have left, he would have been the one on the horse and he couldn’t help but feel guilty for riding off.
Hoss was soon up and about again. He had sensed Joe’s feelings of guilt and there was an unspoken apology and forgiveness between brothers, though Hoss and Joe never spoke about it.
Now, Joe glanced over the letter and he wasn’t surprised to see that it was from Hoss. Joe’s eyes misted as he read…….
I know how you tend to carry something on your shoulders if you feel in any way that it’s your fault, but I want you to know that you shouldn’t feel guilt about today’s accident in any way.
Today’s accident actually started me to thinking though. What if something were to happen to me? I have so many things I would have wanted to tell you. So that’s why I’m writing this letter and giving it to pa to give to you in the event that anything should happen to me.
If anything should happen, I want you to hold no guilt over anything. You have been the best little brother anyone could have and even though there were times we didn’t get along, we have so many more good times to outweigh the bad. So if there comes a time I’m no longer there, my hope would be for you to remember always the wonderful times we shared.
We were more then just brothers, we were best friends.
Joe knew that he would. An unbelievable sense of loss consumed him and he found himself unable to control his emotions any longer as he rested his head on his arm and cried for the first time since they had received the news from Pineville a couple of evenings before.
“Joseph?” A voice softly whispered from beside him but Joe didn’t seem to acknowledge his father’s presence. Ben knelt down beside the desk and next to his son. He gently and comfortingly placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. Joe slowly lifted and turned his head to look at his father and the anguish shown on his face ripped at Ben’s heart. “I’m here now,” was all that Ben could think to say.
“Pa,” Joe whispered as he threw himself into his father’s arms.
Ben and Joe had decided that they would both make the trip to Pineville and leave one of the hands in charge. They would start out the next morning after both of them had got a good night’s rest.
The next day dawned clear and beautiful and it wasn’t long before Ben and Joe and finished breakfast. “I’ll saddle the horses, Pa,” Joe called out as he headed out the door and walked to the barn.
Hoss was glad to be almost home. He tried to urge his horse on faster but he was already riding at a fast gallop.
After selling all of the horses to a man in Pineville, Hoss had ran into an old friend who was about to lose his ranch just outside of Carson City due to many missed payments on it. Hoss had decided to travel with the friend back to his ranch to loan him the money to pay the back taxes and to also help him get the ranch back in working order again.
Hoss had returned to Virginia City early that morning and ran into a very surprised Roy Coffee. Roy had relayed to him everything that had gone on the last few days including the telegraph Ben and Joe had received just a couple of days before, informing them of Hoss’s “death.” Neither of them understood why the telegraph Hoss had sent was never received.
All Hoss wanted to do now was get home as quick as he could to his Pa and brother and tell them that it was all a mistake….or some sick, cruel trick.
Joe saddled Buck, pausing only for a moment at the sound of a rider coming in fast. He thought for a moment to check on it but figuring it was just one of the hired hands, he continued to prepare the horses for their trip to Pineville.
Hoss dismounted Chubb, though it was more of a jump off of him than a step down and he practically ran to the front door, bursting in just as his father was about to head out the door himself.
For a moment Ben stood puzzled, afraid to believe that it was really Hoss that stood before him. “Son?” he finally whispered.
“It’s really me, Pa,” Hoss answered the unspoken question.
“Hoss, thank God,” was all Ben managed to say as he threw his arms around his son, his eyes filled once again with tears.
Ben held his son back at arms length as though to make sure his eyes really weren’t deceiving him. “I though…..the telegraph……” Ben began.
“The telegraph was all some sort of mistake; I’ve been in Carson City the last few days,” Hoss began to explain then stopped at the sound of footsteps on the porch.
“Hey Pa, the horses are ready,” Joe said as he came through the doorway. Then he stopped, as if frozen in place at the sight of his older brother standing there. “Hoss,” Joe only mouthed the word.
Hoss stepped towards Joe. “It’s me little brother.”
Hoss didn’t know what more to say to Joe. Early that morning, Roy had relayed to him how Joe had taken on all of the responsibilities around the ranch to allow their pa time to grieve. He learned of the amazing strength Joe had been for their Pa during this difficult time.
“The telegram?” Joe asked.
“It must have been some mistake or some cruel trick, I don’t know,” Hoss replied softly though it angered him to think that someone could find it fun to see a family torn apart by grief. “But I’m back now and here to stay, though I must say, it was great not having to do chores for several days when I have a little brother right here to do them while I’m away.” Hoss chuckled to lighten the mood.
Joe couldn’t help but laugh and he threw his arms around his brother. The room grew silent for the next several moments and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Ben placed his hands on both of his son’s shoulders. “Well, I don’t know what you boys think, but how about we take the day off and spend the day in town?”
“That’s sounds great and all, Pa,” Hoss began, “but do you think Hop Sing could make some breakfast first? I’ve been gone for nearly a week and I feel like I’ve lost at least twenty pounds since I’ve been doing my own cooking.”
“Anything you say, son,” Ben laughed with his sons. It was then that he knew everything was going to be just fine.
They headed for the kitchen as laughter once again filled the house to replace the quiet stillness that had settled over it only a couple of days before.
Outside, a piece of paper that had fallen unknowingly from Joe’s jacket blew across the ground and came to rest for a moment against a tree. It fluttered open. Three words seemed to stand out above the rest: “To Remember Always.” The wind seemed to pause for a moment as though to allow all to realize and appreciate the kindness and love conveyed on the paper.
Then the paper gently blew away.