Mirror Image (Jules)

Summary:  Joe’s cousin Philippe, from Louisana, turns up unexpectedly and together they cause some mischief.  But someone from the past soon turns up to take out some revenge on Philippe.  Can he be sure that he has the right cousin?
Rated: PG-13 (43,895 words)

 

 

                                                       MIrror Image

 

 

The lantern on the desk began to burn low as the hour drew late. The patriarch of the Cartwright family was seated at his desk with ledger books in from of him. Upon the page was a long column of figures he was trying to add up, but he kept losing his place and would have to start all over again.

On the third attempt he had slapped the desk hard with his fist sounding a large thud. He immediately regretted the action and hoped the noise had not disturbed anybody upstairs. He had begun at the bottom of the column again when shadows fell across the page indicating that someone was near…

“Um …. Pa …” came a quiet voice. Ben Cartwright looked up and was suddenly confronted by the appearance of his youngest son Joseph walking towards him and the desk. He looked at the boy in silence a moment and grinned a little….. the boy was in his night shirt….. dark unruly curls hung over his forehead in a messy clump signalling that the boy had been asleep and had just awoken.

Ben’s thought quickly returned to his loud thud on the desk and wondered is this had woken Joe up, but his knowledge of Joe’s sleeping patterns suddenly reappeared and he remembered that the
boy slept like the dead once asleep.

“Joe, what are you doing up at this hour. I didn’t wake you did I?” The question seemed to go unanswered for a moment as Joe tried to focus on the person sitting at the desk.

“No Pa”, …. he stopped….. he didn’t know how this conversation would pan out and he was nervous ….. his palms were slightly sweaty and his mouth suddenly dry.

“Can I talk to you for a second Pa? …. I wanted to talk to you alone without Hoss and Adam hearing what we were talking about.”  Joe was nervously rubbing his hands together, fidgeting involuntarily as he approached his father.

Ben noticed that now his youngest son was awake, the boy seemed a little nervous, scared almost. “What is it you want to talk about without your brothers around, not getting into any trouble are you?” he asked with a questioning look on his face.

Ben then noticed that Joe was holding a small folded piece of paper in his left hand. His curiosity increased slightly and he seemed to sense that the conversation with his youngest boy was of a more serious note than anticipated.

The boy couldn’t seem to find the words he was looking for to continue, and he still continued to fidget with his hands and the folded slip of paper. “Would you come and sit by the fire, Pa, it is a little chilly over this side of the room.

Joe seemed to shiver slightly against an invisible breeze that couldn’t be seen. Joe suddenly turned around and busied himself with stoking the dying embers of the fireplace as Ben rose out of his chair and walked toward the large lounge room of his home.

Ben could see Joe was nervous, suddenly more engrossed with make sure the fireplace was a roaring blaze then wanting to carry on the conversation he had started.

Ben knew that is was in the middle of winter in Nevada at the moment and the house could get very cold at night without the fireplace. But the note of unease in Joe’s voice caused him to wonder what would cause his youngest son, who normally couldn’t be dragged out of bed by a team of wild horses, to come down to talk to his father in the middle of the night, making sure that his brothers were asleep.

“I haven’t been in trouble Pa …..” he stopped, looked at this father and then sat on his father’s favourite red leather chair urging his father to sit on the settee next to him.

He didn’t know how the confront the problem other than by just saying it.. Here goes he said silently to himself, shifting on the chair.

“Pa, I got a telegram from the post office this morning when I was in Virginia City. I would like you to read what’s on it and let me know what you think,” Joe said in a small voice.

Ben’s curiosity had just leaped tenfold as he reached to take the slip of paper from Joe’s outstretched hand. He looked at Joe before opening it and saw a hint of fear behind those emerald green eyes. Joe had never been one for hiding his emotions, usually his father could tell from one look at his youngest, whether he was happy, sad, frightened or excited.

But the look in Joe’s eyes at the moment didn’t portray any of these, they seemed to be pleading ……looking for an answer. Ben was even a little worried all of a sudden, when he thought he saw the beginning of tears in those eyes.

Ben tried to ignore the look on Joe’s face and concentrate on what message was on the piece of paper he held. The first thing he noted was that the words were type written. This probably meant the message was a telegram of some description. This eyes briefly glanced at the page, not really reading the words, then Ben admonished himself and told his mind to read the words on the page so he could understand his son’s pleading expression.

The piece of paper read:

TO MR JOSEPH CARTWRIGHT

PONDEROSA – VIRGINIA CITY – NEVADA

PACKAGE ARRIVING ON MONDAY 24TH FEBRUARY AT 8 AM

PLEASE PICK UP

Ben reread the words just to assure himself he had read correctly. Today was the 22nd February.  Ben suddenly though that his son was getting all worked up over nothing. He started to ask the question . “What’s the package Little Joe?”

The message was unsigned and appeared to have no place indicating where it had come from. He turned the piece of paper over and tried to read the very faint post mark on the top right hand corner. It appeared to say …
From the state of Louisiana.

Louisiana … Ben knew the state and his mind seemed to register that he knew this place, but couldn’t quite figure out what Joe was getting at.

“What’s this all about son? What has got you so anxious? What are you expecting from Louisiana? ….” he stopped wanting Joe to complete the sentence.

“Pa, I hope you don’t think that I have lied to you or deceived you, I have been trying to talk to you for the last couple of weeks about the package coming on the stage, but somehow I couldn’t face you without guilt or fear about what you might say.” The boy’s voice was almost a whisper and Ben had to lean closely to Joe trying to hear what his son was saying.

“Pa, the package coming on the stage is …….. ” he paused a minute ….. then is just came out … “Phillippe”. Joe suddenly looked away from his father awaiting the explosion of words that would come his way. They were delayed for a moment.

Phillippe …. Ben just kept looking at Joe, for a minute wondering if he even knew a person called PHILLIPPE. Then it struck him, Phillippe, Francois’s son, the cousin of Joseph. Joe had met this member of his mother’s family whilst away in Louisiana approximately six months ago. The family had all seen photographs of the two boys together, and couldn’t get over how much Phillippe and Joseph looked alike. Looked like each other and Ben’s late wife Marie.

Ben broke the silence ….” Phillippe is coming on the stage the day after tomorrow? “Why didn’t you tell me?” Ben’s words stopped when he looked at Joe’s whose face was now awash with fresh tears rolling down his face. He suddenly put his arms around his son and held him while he cried. He didn’t know why his son was crying after telling his father that someone he considered a dear family member was coming to visit. He just wanted to hold the boy who sat is his arms crying.

“I haven’t told you Pa,… about Phillippe coming because I thought you would get mad at me.” Joe said amidst a fresh onslaught of tears and sobs.

“Mad at you? Why? You told me when you came back from Louisiana that you and Phillippe had become good friends and I know you two have been writing to each other ever since.   I happy to hear you say that Phillippe is visiting us. I just wished you would have told me sooner than tonight, you haven’t given us much time to get ready for him,” Ben replied.

Joe had stopped crying and wiped away the remaining tears from his face with the sleeve of his night shirt. ” I thought you might be mad because we have gotten so close, and the reason I haven’t told Hoss and Adam, is because they might think I don’t like them anymore and want to spend time with Phillippe rather than them.”

“Son, I am sure your brothers will be more understanding than you think about Phillippe. They know that the two of you have become good friends, but that doesn’t alter the fact that Adam and Hoss are your family too.” Ben’s words seemed to get through to Little Joe somehow, and the boy visibly relaxed slightly.

“Pa, it will have to be you that goes to meet Phillippe from the stage, and you will need to act like it’s me getting off in Virginia City,” Joe added cautiously. “Everyone will get suspicious if I go.”

Ben thought about this proposal for a minute and knew his son was right. The citizens of Virginia City would be most puzzled by Joe Cartwright picking up someone who looks like Joe Cartwright from the stage coach once it arrived. Reluctantly he showed his agreement to picking up Joe’s cousin from Louisiana, “You are going to owe me young man, for this little deceit from your brothers and the people of Virginia City.” Ben knew in the back of his mind that he would never claim upon that debt, but a little scare tactic might help keep his young wayward son in line once Phillippe arrived.

“Can we keep Philippe’s visit between you and me until after he arrives”, Joe asked his father now. “It’s going to be funny stirring up those two brothers of mine and Hop Sing for a little while with two of us.” A devious smile crossed over Joe’s face. ” I wonder if they will be able to tell us apart”, Joe pondered.

Ben now saw the first signs of a smirk on his son’s face and knew that the boy was now a little at ease and now heading in the direction of mischief. Although he was not in favour of the tricks Joe often played upon his older siblings, Ben decided to let the matter slide with a brief warning, “As long as you don’t plan to take things too far, Joseph.”

A feigned shock expression fell upon Joe’s features as he tried to proclaim a look of innocence and angelic intentions about what he had in mind for his brothers. But he knew that his father’s use of his first name JOSEPH meant that he would need to keep his antics in check or he would know the wrath of Ben Cartwright.

With his secret out and most of the arrangements to pick up Phillippe from the stage in place, Joe now yawned widely, and picked himself up from the red leather settee and headed towards the staircase, “See you in the morning, Pa.” and promptly yawned again.

Ben heard the closing of his son’s bedroom door and decided that it was time he also retired for the night.

Those figures could wait until tomorrow and he now had all sorts of questions and images about the events of the next few days rolling around in his mind. The Cartwright homestead was peacefully quiet for the remainder of the night, the only sound to be heard was the loud uninterrupted snore coming from Hoss’s bedroom.


The following day, Joe made sure that he was down to the table for breakfast promptly and had all of his chores done on time. He then made offers to his older brothers to help them out with their projects for the day.

The sudden offer of assistance to Adam from his younger brother brought a slight frown on the older Cartwright’s face, but he decided if Joe was willing to help, then who was he to stop him.

The three brothers spent the rest of the day working on repairing fences in the North Pasture and returned to the Ponderosa homestead only when poor light stopped them proceeding any further.

When they walked into the house, trudging their dusting boots over the dining room floor, they removed their hats and placed them on the pegs behind the door and went about unbuckling their gun belts and placing them on the credenza.

Ben was already seated at the table, when Hop Sing came bustling into the dining room laden with plates of hot potatoes, pork chops and vegetables for the evening meal. Upon seeing the boys with their dusty boots, he immediately went into a tirade of Cantonese mixed with some words of English that could be understood.

“Hop Sing, clean all day, messy boys come home and put dirt all over clean floor, no dinner for you messy boys, you go outside and eat with horses, Hop Sing not appreciates, move back to China.”.

The tirade only finished with Hop Sing returning to the kitchen still raving on, Adam and Little Joe knew that Hop Sing had been only joking and Joe could even keep up with some of the words the little man had uttered in his native
language.

However, Hoss who couldn’t understand a single word except for the threats to not feed him, was soon trying to follow Hop Sing and apologize, even offering to clean up the floor as long as he was still allowed to sample those pork chops. Ben, Adam and Joe laughed together as they watched Hoss, whose mind and emotions were often guided by his stomach.

Once they were all seated at the table and enjoying their meal, the conversation had gone from the events of the day to what tasks needed to be completed and what each brother was to do the following day.

Joe suddenly looked at this father with pleading eyes, hoping that Ben had not forgotten the talk they had last night. His expression trying to remind Ben that he wanted to remain close to the house tomorrow so that he would be there when Phillippe arrived from the stage.

Ben had not forgotten last night, and did not miss the expression on his young son’s face and promptly started to relay the plan for the following day.

“Adam, you can keep on mending those fences in the North Pasture tomorrow with Hoss,” he said.

This brought a over emphasized groan from the older brothers, as they abhorred the idea of mending fences for the most of tomorrow.

“Joe, you can clean the tack room and finish a few chores around the corral tomorrow.” This decision brought a very large grin upon the face of Joe, but a sneer from both Adam and Hoss who thought for some reason that Joe was once again dodging doing his fair share of the work.

“How come he gets out of doing any work tomorrow” Adam said angrily. “Somehow, Hoss and I are the ones always covering for your laziness younger brother:”.

“I wouldn’t call cleaning out the tack room exactly getting out of work tomorrow Adam, Joe said hotly, his volatile temper now threatening to show it’s ugly head.

“Your just jealous that Pa wants to give me some easier work to do than you”. “I do my fair share of work around here and I have done a lot of repairing fences over the last few months in case you haven’t noticed.”

Ben suddenly stood up from his chair, demanding the attention of everyone seated at the table, “Stop this bickering you two, Adam, Joe.” his booming voice making both brothers wince a little.

“Sorry Pa” whispered Adam. “Yeah, sorry Pa” was the same reply from Joseph.

“Adam, Joe is by no means getting out of doing his fair share, tomorrow, I just have some chores that I want to do here tomorrow and in Virginia City and other tasks that I won’t get to and want someone to do. That someone will be Joe unless you want to volunteer to do the account books tomorrow for me.” Ben inquired. He already knew the answer to the question, but waited for Adam.

He knew that all of his boys hated doing the book work of the ranch and the threat of having to do it soon brought any rebuttal Adam had in mind to an abrupt halt. Adam had gained a college education from Boston, but now he was back on the ranch, he felt that he needed to prove himself to his father and the ranch hands by putting in the physical efforts needed as well.

Joe, knew that the argument had stemmed from the information he was keeping from his brothers, so he tried to clear the air and suddenly turned to Hoss and asked “how bout a game of checkers after dinner, big brother”. Hoss, who always seemed to be in the middle of the shouting matches between his older and younger brothers, readily agreed, as he too was looking for an escape from the uneasy atmosphere that hung over the dinner table.

Ben, looked disapprovingly at the amount of food that was left on Joe’s plate, but avoided his usual speech of eating properly to Joseph. He often fretted over how much his youngest son did or did not eat, but since the air was now a little easier to breath between Adam and Joe, he decided to remain silent tonight. Joe was probably worried about Philippe’s arrival tomorrow and it was best to let sleeping dogs lie.

Around 10 p.m. that night, Joe and Hoss had just completed a fifth game of checkers with Joe winning yet again, when Ben announced it was time for all to think about heading upstairs for the night. Normally on any other night, Joe would be protesting loudly about deciding when he was tired and ready for bed, but due to the enormous favour his father was about to undertake tomorrow on his behalf, he satisfied himself that he was ready for bed.

Adam, who had been reading a book in his father’s blue arm chair also announced that he was retiring to his room to continue reading his book on Shakespeare.

Half an hour later, Ben decided that he would also retire, but as was customary every night, he looked in on the two younger brothers, Hoss and Joe. He decided that Adam would not approve of his father checking on his like some teenager.

When he opened Hoss’s door, he saw that his large son was on his back, appearing to be sound asleep and snoring loudly. He quietly closed the door again and made he way down the hall way to the second bedroom.

When he entered Joe’s room, the situation was different to Hoss, but similar to the way Ben found his youngest son most nights, with the bedclothes on the floor and his boy sound asleep on the bed.

Ben looked at Joe a moment and wondered what surprises were in store for his son over the new few days, especially emotionally. He wasn’t sure what Philippe’s arrival would bring about, but something told him to make sure that he found time to talk to Joe and keep a close eye on him.

Ben brushed a stray curl from Joe’s forehead and gently kissed him on the temple. Joe stirred slightly but didn’t waken. Ben knew that his son would have been most embarrassed at his gesture, due to his son’s continual battle to prove he was grown up.

However, Ben was not embarrassed to show affection for his son’s, any of them, and most definitely not this strong-headed independent child. Joe was quick to judge and quicker to act without thinking. He was as equally quick at getting into situations he couldn’t get out of, often finding himself getting hurt physically or emotionally. Ben took it upon himself to protect Joe, more so than Adam or Hoss , and was determined that Joe had been hurt enough over the years for any more to happen. He quietly left the room and retired to his own bed for the night.

*****

The next morning, Adam and Hoss were up early to complete their chores and have some breakfast before heading out to the North Pasture again. They both looked grimly at the closed door upstairs as they strapped on their gun belts and took their hats from their usual positions behind the door. “Someday Joseph Cartwright, someday, muttered Adam under his breath as he exited through the front door ready to start the day. Hoss’s temper had cooled overnight and he no longer had bitter words about the brother he thought so fondly of. To keep the peace this morning, he didn’t make comment about Adam’s remark and silently went about saddling his horse and following his brother for the day ahead.

Both Adam and Hoss had thought Little Joe was still asleep, as this was the normal morning routine for their younger brother. However, Joe had in fact slept very little the previous night and had been wide awake and fully dressed when he heard his brother’s leave. He wanted to avoid an ugly scene such as the one last night and waited patiently for the house to be silent and then headed downstairs towards the kitchen and an expectant cup of coffee.

Truthfully, Joe emotions had been on a county fair ride all night. One minute he couldn’t wait to see Phillippe and spent some time with him. The next minute he was wondering why Phillippe was coming out of the blue. Sure, Phillippe had talked in his letters about coming to see Joe after he had left Louisiana, but Joe found it difficult to believe that his cousin would find ranch life appealing in any way.

In Virginia City, Ben Cartwright stood quietly in front of the General Store and waited for the stage coach to arrive. There was very little activity in town this time of morning, partly due to the cold winter morning, but also because businesses had yet to open for trade.

Ben’s thoughts took him back over six months ago to a time when Joe had been away in Louisiana for months and word had come that he had left, but nobody seemed to know where he was. The anguish Ben had felt back then, coupled with the feeling of uselessness that he couldn’t do anything to help bring his son home had taken it’s toll secretly. Ben contemplated what life on the Ponderosa would have been like had Joe decided to stay with his new found family. He had buried three wives over the years, but the idea that he would never see his precious Joseph again had nearly drove him to distraction. The only reason Ben had been able to go on after the death of each wife, was knowing that he was needed to help his son’s overcome their losses.

In each son there breathed a living tribute to each wife. Adam, who looked liked his mother Elizabeth but also had her personality and talents, Hoss, a gentle giant just like his mother Inger, and of course Joseph who not only looked like his mother Marie, but also had her temper, her eyes, her smile, her hair and her sense of compassion and spirit to match.

Suddenly, the sound of horses hooves and wagon wheels could be heard on the streets of Virginia City, and the morning stage arrived about ten minutes after the scheduled time. At first, the coach looked empty. Nobody seemed to disembark from the coach.

The stagecoach driver spoke to Ben, “He’s inside Mr Cartwright. Didn’t know Little Joe was going to be on it until it departed San Francisco three days ago.” “Something seems different about him though, this trip. Little Joe nearly always is on the move and talkative on any other drive I have been on, but these last few days, he didn’t want to talk, just looked at me strange when I called him Little Joe and seemed to draw within himself. Thought there might have been some trouble at home, so I let him be, just kept a close eye on him though.

“I am sure he is the same old Joe, once he gets back to the ranch Bill, probably just tired after the long trip. The words were supposed to be reassuring the driver that everything was alright. Ben just hoped that his friend Bill had not heard the bitter taste of lies in his mouth. The stagecoach driver nodded to show that although he wasn’t sure, he trusted Ben knew his son better than anybody. Just wish I could tell you that the young man inside isn’t Joseph, Ben though silently to himself.

He then made his way around the opposite side of the stagecoach and opened the door. The young man that was seated inside the coach made no attempt to get up as he looked at the silver haired man standing before him. Ben waited outside the coach and hoped that no one was watching the uneasy situation that was unfolding. ‘Welcome home Joseph, Ben said loudly, intending for all in the street to think that he was indeed collecting his young son. In a quiet whisper he then said, Welcome Phillippe, Joseph will be glad to see you. Phillippe now seemed to relax a little and knew that Ben wanted everyone to think he was Joseph Cartwright. To keep up the play acting, he returned just as loudly, Thanks Pa, it’s good to be home finally. A small smirk was on the end of the sentence and for a moment if Ben didn’t know this young man existed, he would have told a court upon oath that this was his son.

The smile matched that of Joseph and the dancing green eyes also portrayed that look too. Phillippe stepped down from the coach and tried to take in everything
that confronted him without drawing attention to the fact that he had never set foot into Virginia City before.

The young man had dressed as he though Joe might have so as not to cause doubt that he was Joe Cartwright, should he meet anybody that knew what his cousin looked like. He had on light tan trousers and a shirt that would have been white when freshly put on, but now held the colour of mustard yellow thanks mainly to the dust that had collected on the fabric from his journey. He wore no gun belt, but thought it best not to. He couldn’t have used one very accurately and didn’t want to insult his cousin’s reputation by trying to be him in those respects.

His large trunk was unloaded from the top of the stagecoach before the driver commented, “What did you buy when you were away Joe, a closet full of clothes to impress those endless number of female friends”, Bill said sarcastically. Phillippe just tried to show his best sheepish Joe smile and leave it at that. He didn’t trust his Louisiana accent and felt it safer to remain tight lipped for the time being.

The wagon trip back to the Ponderosa was awkward and difficult for both passengers. Ben didn’t know quite what to say to the young man that looked so much like his youngest son, and similarly Phillippe didn’t know what to say to this person seated next to him. Phillippe tried to take in the scenery on the way, marvelling at the countryside in the grips of winter. Back in Louisiana, the weather had been hot and sticky, and Phillippe had seen snow but once in his life before. The white powder seemed to be everywhere, from the tree tops to the frozen ground beneath the wagon. There lacked the presence of animals or birds and perhaps life itself, but Phillippe knew better and just continued to admire the sights. “Joseph, will be glad to see you Phillippe”, Ben said trying to ease the tension. “But he want’s to play a trick upon his brothers, that involves the two of you, so he wants your arrival to remain secret until this afternoon when Adam and Hoss arrive.”

Phillippe just smiled that Joseph grin again, contemplating what his cousin had in mind. “If the reaction to the two of us together is anything like it was in Louisiana it should be quite comical, Mr Cartwright”, Phillippe said. “Please call me Ben, Mr Cartwright is too formal for family Phillippe.” “Okay,” was the response.

The wagon proceeded to the homestead and quickly pulled up to the front of the porch. Joseph who had been inside helping Hop Sing, suddenly burst through the door and gave his cousin biggest smile and embrace he could manage. The same was returned to Joe from Phillippe. Ben suddenly looked from one young man to the other and laughed to himself, “Those two older sons of mine will never be able to tell you two apart.”

“That’s the whole idea Pa, Joseph said grinning like a Cheshire cat. The resemblance between the two men was astonishing and Ben just continued to look with wonder at the two young men before him.

Hop Sing had been busily preparing for the evening meal in the kitchen, when he came out. The look on his face was more that Joe could stand, and he suddenly started to giggle uncontrollably, his chest heaving until he was literally weak from the laughter. Phillippe had joined in with Ben at the confusion he saw on the Cantonese man’s face.

“How come there are two of you Little Joe” said Hop Sing. “Hard to control one Joseph Cartwright, two Little Joe drive Hop Sing crazy, he added.

“This is my cousin Phillippe from Louisiana, Hop Sing. He will be staying with us for a while, Joe said as he completed the formal introduction. “You can’t tell Adam or Hoss, about this Hop Sing, Joe said pleadingly to the man he had grown up with and had great affection for. “If they react half as good as you did, it will be worth the look on their faces tonight when they see the two of us together.

Hop Sing said, “How me tell Adam and Hoss there are two Little Joe’s? Your brothers will think Hop Sing go mad and send him back to Chinatown.” Hop Sing then abruptly returned to his kitchen, mumbling in Cantonese as he went about what he had seen. He wasn’t upset at Joe, and Little Joe knew this as he understood most of what he had said in his native tongue.

Phillippe wasn’t so sure, “Are you sure about me being able to stay Joe?, he seemed pretty upset about me being here.

Ben interrupted for Joe and said “Don’t take any notice of Hop Sing, Phillippe, if there is one thing constant about this ranch, it would be the love that Hop Sing has for your cousin Joseph no matter what, the very fact that you look just like him will be to your favour. He’s not really upset, just letting us know about his confusion of the situation.” “Come on inside and let’s get you settled.”, Ben said gathering Philippe’s luggage as he headed toward the front door.

*****

Ben, Phillippe and Little Joe spent the rest of the morning talking about the past.

They talked about how Philippe’s parents were doing down in Louisiana. The discussed the weather and just about every other topic available.

Joe had no trouble talking to his twin cousin. It was almost as though he had never left Louisiana. They chatted about the horse operation that they had going there together. It had been a very profitable business for a time. It had even led to Joe managing to snag a few more army contacts through Major Jack Williams when he returned to the Ponderosa.

Ben however, was slow to involve himself into the conversation. He felt a bit standoffish, and it was hard to get to used the idea of talking to two Joseph’s. The two of them sat opposite him, his real son Joe on the blue leather armchair, the other Phillippe on the other brown armchair in the room.

Occasionally Hop Sing would come back into the living room and refill their coffee cups, but then would take one look at the two of them and shake his head and mutter to himself in Cantonese on the way back to his sanctuary of the kitchen.

“How is it back at home, Phillippe?” Ben asked trying to make an effort.

Phillippe appeared to look into his coffee cup for the answer at first, but then sighed slightly and decided there was no point in hiding it from the others, especially Joe.

“To tell you the truth Mr Cartwright, it’s getting very bad,” Phillippe said and then looked to see if Joe had taken a hint from his sentence.

“I assume Joe told you about how things work back in Louisiana” he said. He was trying to talk about the slave trade without actually saying the word SLAVE.
“Sometimes it seems that some people are getting interested in the cause to stop the trade, but then there seems to be a foul dark cloud that hangs over the state.
It smells of stale old opinions and reeks of political upheaval and I felt that if I stayed to long, then I would become stale too.”

“Is that why you came here?” Ben asked trying to probe a bit further into Philippe’s reasons of coming to Virginia City. For a moment Ben thought he could see something else in the young man’s eyes, but quickly admonished himself and reminded him not to judge a book by its cover.

The grandfather clock struck 5.30pm. Hoss and Adam would be home shortly to enjoy a nice hot dinner.

“You two had better get ready, Joe” Ben said trying to help with the plan against his two eldest sons. “Hoss and Adam will be back any minute now.”

“You’re right Pa” Joe said and jumped up from his chair. “Come on Phillippe, let’s go and put our costumes on”

“Costumes” Ben said confused. “What costumes?”

“You’ll see” Joe said with a cheeky grin. “We will give you a preview in a minute Pa. Stay right where you are.”

Ben had to chuckle slightly at his son’s antics. He knew whatever Joe had in mind for Adam and Hoss was going to be most enjoyable. He would just sit back and watch the entertainment take place.

About five minutes to 6.00 p.m., the two cousins appeared at the top of the stairs. Ben just stood looking with his mouth agape. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He knew the two of them looked alike but this was too much.

Whilst upstairs, Phillippe had changed into the same clothes as his cousin Joe. The two of them had on the same trousers, the same shirts, the same boots. Joe had rummaged through his wardrobe and pulled out two of everything.

The position of their curls mimicked each other. They even had the same stance. Both of them adorned that cheeky smile that made any heart melt. This was going to be a great gag.

Joe had gone through the script upstairs with Phillippe. Thankfully, Joe had set up the plot so that his cousin had very few speaking parts. If Adam and Hoss heard Philippe’s distinct Louisiana accent, the joke would be on them.

All of a sudden, Ben could hear the horses of Adam and Hoss approaching the yard outside. He gestured for Joe and Phillippe to take their positions. Joe ran and hid in his room, closing the door behind him.

Phillippe remained on the staircase awaiting the arrival of the older two Cartwright brothers. His performance would commence when they walked through the front door. The play was about to unfold.

Hoss was the first one to walk through the door with Adam following not too far behind.

“Hop Sing, I hope you cooked up a storm, because it’s cold outside and I am hungry as grizzly bear in hibernation” Hoss shouted as he rubbed his stomach area in eagerness for dinner.

“Oh sorry Pa,” Hoss said greeting his father. He had failed to notice Ben sitting on the settee when coming in. It was only that he looked in the direction of the staircase that he also noticed his younger sibling apparently ascending the stairs.

“Howdy, Little Joe” Hoss said with an enthusiastic grin.

Phillippe gave the required gesture of hello with his hands, but did not speak the words. He gave the big man the flashiest smile and turned to walk into Joseph’s room. He hadn’t met any of the other Cartwright’s yet. But Little Joe had given a quick description of each of them when they were changing. Phillippe guessed that this giant of a man standing downstairs was Hoss or Horse he couldn’t remember for sure the name mentioned.

“Hi, Little Joe” Adam chimed in and also got the smile of a lifetime from Phillippe. The young man now disappeared into Joe’s room. He barely got inside before he was trying to control the fits of laughter that dwelled inside him. This was the best gag ever devised.

Joe had been inside his room and upon hearing Phillippe entering the room, dived quickly out his bedroom window and scampered silently down the roof and over the eaves to the ground outside the house. He had made this trip a hundred times before and it was almost old hat now. He picked himself up and dusted himself off, straightened his shirt and walked calmly and full of confidence towards the front door.

Adam and Hoss had heard footsteps on the verandah and now Hoss moved slightly to his right ready to open the door to the unexpected visitor.

Joe didn’t both to knock but simply opened the door and walked through as he would have any other day of the week.

It took all of his concentration to not break up at the look on Adam and Hoss’s stunned faces. Over on the settee, Ben was also battling to keep the joke a secret. The look on his middle son’s face was priceless.

Hoss’s mind was in a whirl. He had just seen his younger brother go into his room upstairs, didn’t he?” “How…….. how did you do that Joe?” he asked. He eyes were wide with shock and his mouth hung open in surprise. Joe wished he could tell Hoss to pick up his bottom lip before he tripped over it.

Adam, who had been standing right beside his larger brother was also astounded. He also thought he had just seen Joe disappear upstairs after gesturing hello to them.

“Do what, big brother?” Joe asked calmly with a false look of confusion on his face.

“You just walked up the stairs and went into your room, Joe” Hoss told him.

Joe kept up the appearances and looked around, twisting and turning as though he was checking out that he was indeed all there.

“I’d better go and check then” Joe replied. “I’ll be right back” and started ascending the staircase.

While Joe was ascending the stairs, Phillippe had climbed out the window and was now gingerly making his way out over the roof. He made it safely and then casually grabbed an apple from a barrel before walking through the back door of the kitchen towards the living room.

Hoss and Adam had barely moved from their spots beside the door. Both of them were still trying to fathom out what they had just seen, or not seen, depending on your point of view.

Just as they saw the real Joe walk into his bedroom for a second time, Phillippe walked out from the kitchen munching on the apple. He glanced up at the two brothers and flashed the same grin at them he had given on the stairs. Again he didn’t say anything, but walked out the front door as though he didn’t have a care in the world. He gave them a brief wave on the way out and closed the door behind him.

Hoss’s mind was now doing back flips. He couldn’t find the words to describe what he was seeing. He was totally baffled about how many Joe’s he was seeing.

Adam put his hand to his head and scratched at his scalp trying to make head or tails out of the situation.

And just as Phillippe exited through the front door, Little Joe came back out of his bedroom and said:

“Sorry Hoss, it looks as though there is only one of me” he said as calmly as can be and descended the stairs and went out the same door at Phillippe.

Hoss’s face had now gone completely white. He was sure that he would need to see Doc Martin about getting glasses. He gave a over exaggerated groan and put his
hand to his forehead in confusion. He felt if he didn’t sit down in a minute, he would find himself in a heap on the floor. His head was reeling and he felt very light-headed all of a sudden.

Adam and Hoss’s reaction had been as good as Little Joe predicted. They were looking at their father for the answers. Ben could hardly hold back the smirk he had hidden. Little Joe really knew how to get those two going. Poor old Hoss just looked sick. Adam looked puzzled and a little miffed.

Adam was just about to ask what the hell was going on when he heard that distinct little giggle that he and the family knew so well. It was coming from outside. The thing that puzzled him was that he could hear two distinct different voices making the sound.

He opened up the door and Hoss followed him outside. Ben couldn’t resist seeing his eldest two son’s reaction and followed as well.

Outside on the patio, Adam and Hoss stood with there mouths agape at the sight before them. There was not one but two Little Joe’s standing on the verandah and laughing heartily. Two Little Joe’s he repeated to himself.

The real Little Joe took one look at the look on his brother’s faces and literally rolled around on the wooden floor holding his sides with laughter. He was laughing so hard it was almost hurting and he had to hold his side to stop the stitch that was forming in his stomach muscles. He continued to laugh.

Phillippe had been laughing too at the little performance his cousin had arranged. It had gone off like a charm and fooled Joe’s two brothers more than they both expected it to.

It suddenly came to Adam why he was seeing two Little Joe’s.

Ben stepped out of the door way before his eldest son could say anything:

“I think some introductions are due” he said as he tried to muffle his own laughter as the gag that had been played out.

“You mean you knew about this” Adam said incredulously to his father.

“Not until a couple of days ago” Ben admitted “Joe told me late the other night that his cousin Phillippe was arriving on the morning stage. I went and picked him up this morning. The idea to fool the both of you was entirely Joe’s idea. But I must say that he did get you two good and proper” he said now chuckling slightly.

“Adam, Hoss, I would like you to meet Phillippe, Joseph’s cousin from Louisiana” Ben announced.

The two eldest Cartwright boys stepped forward and shook the hand of the southern gentleman standing before them. They couldn’t get over how much
Phillippe and Joe looked alike. The fact that they were also wearing the same clothes only made the resemblance stand out even more.

Hoss just stood looking at Phillippe. He had seen photos of Joe and Phillippe standing together in Louisiana, but the real life picture was even more startling.

Phillippe was a little hesitant in addressing these two brothers. Hoss was big if not bigger than Joe had described him. He was afraid that the man would pick him up and break him in two for the joke they had just played on him.

“I apologize for the mockery” Phillippe now said. It was the first time Adam and Hoss had heard the young man speak. It was now obvious when he spoke that
although he looked like Little Joe, he couldn’t hide his deep southern accent.

His words were a little more formal than the youngest Cartwright would have used to talk to his brothers as well. Joe was well mannered, but usually kept the fancy words for when he was in the company of a young lady.

Phillippe was completely shocked when Hoss just grabbed the young man around his narrow waist and engulfed him in a bear hug embrace.

“Welcome to the Ponderosa Phillippe” Hoss said “Joe’s told us so much about you.”

Hop Sing now came outside from the kitchen “Mr Cartwright, Joe, Hoss and Adam supper all ready, come and get before go cold, you too Mr Phillippe” the little man said before disappearing again.

“Why do I get the feeling that Hoss and I are the only two people around here that didn’t know about Philippe’s visit” Adam commented dryly. It seemed that even Hop Sing was privy to the young man’s visit.

Joe thought that Adam sounded a little upset about the joke when he started to walk back into the house, apparently a little annoyed. Joe was taken completely by surprise himself when Adam suddenly turned and playfully grabbed a hold of his youngest sibling in a mock head lock and started walking towards the front door again.

“Make a fool out of me will you” Adam said as he ruffled Joe’s curly hair with his right hand. “I’ll teach you to play jokes on me” and proceeded to start tickling
Joe until he said Uncle.

Dinner for the family was very pleasurable indeed. The conversation ranged from cattle raising to what had been happening in the cities down south.

The whole time dinner was being consumed, the family would take periodic glances at the two cousins that sat opposite each other. The resemblance was really uncanny, almost haunting.

“So, Phillippe, tell me what’s been happening back in Louisiana” Ben said to keep the young man feeling welcome in his new surroundings. Phillippe had already tried to explain his reasons for being here, but Ben decided that Hoss and Adam were entitled to an explanation as well.

“I can’t lie to you Mr Cartwright, nothing much has changed since Joe’s visit. The slave trade is still present and your son can attest to the inhuman conditions that some of them are forced to endure on some of the plantations.” Phillippe said in reply.

Ben nodded his head in understanding. He had heard some of the horrors that Joe had witnessed on his stay in Louisiana, but was sure that one could never really comprehend what the slaves went through unless they could see it first hand. Joe had even been on the receiving end of some of the harsh punishment that was dished out by some of the overseers.

“It that why you left, cousin” Joe now asked Phillippe.

“Partly, Joe” Phillippe answered “But part of me desired to travel to new places and meet new people. The horse operation Joe and I started was doing okay
for a while after he left, but then I just could seem to get the same results from some of the unbroken horses that Joe could.”

“Yeah, nobody can break a wild bronc in like our little brother, huh Joe” Hoss said with pride as he stuffed some more potato into his mouth.

Ben thought a little bit more about Philippe’s reason for leaving Louisiana. The similarities between him and Joe just seemed to keep coming. Philippe’s description of wanting to travel and see new things sounded exactly like his son Joseph.

“Do you think Phillippe could help me out some with the horses for a few days, Pa? Joe now asked with excitement. He and Phillippe had been a good combination in Louisiana. They had made some reputable contacts and earned the respect of a lot of potential buyers for the future.

That had been proven when Major Jack Williams had turned up some months later and insisted that Joe was in charge of any of the upcoming Army contracts for horses.

Joe seemed to have this intuition about how a particular horse was going to behave. He could tell from a quick glance what specific schooling the animal would need to make him a good stock horse.

“I think that’s an excellent idea Joe” Ben said with a smile. His young son seemed so happy with his cousin’s visit. He didn’t want to put a shadow over the whole idea about Philippe’s true reasons for being here.

“We’ll make a great team again Joe” Phillippe said. But something about the worried look in his eyes made Adam and Ben think that he wasn’t as pleased about the idea as one would expect.

“Phillippe, I will have Hop Sing make up the spare room downstairs for you if that’s suitable?” Ben asked to change to topic of conversation.

“Thank’s Mr Cartwright” Phillippe answered.

“How about just Uncle Ben” was the suggestion “Mr Cartwright is only reserved for people who don’t know me.” Ben explained.

“Okay Uncle Ben” Phillippe said with his southern accent very pronounced. Joe couldn’t have been more pleased with this suggestion. He didn’t know how his family would react to Philippe’s sudden visit, but looking at things now, it seems that his family was willing to accept his cousin with open arms.

“You two planning to travel into town tomorrow Joe” Adam asked. “I sure your dying to confuse the good citizens of Virginia City just like you did Hoss and myself.”

“Oh no brother, Joe said with a look of cheekiness and mischief.” he answered “Phillippe and I are planning to leave that little idea until Saturday night”

“Saturday Night?” Ben asked.

“Yes, Pa, there’s a dance on Saturday Night at the town hall” Joe explained. “Phillippe and I plan to let our little secret out then to the ladies of Virginia City.”

“Oh lord helpthem” Ben said with a laugh. He could just imagine the look on the faces of the pretty girls and half the population of Virginia City when the two Joe Cartwright’s entered the room.

“I’ll say” Adam remarked “As if one Romeo Joe Cartwright wasn’t enough for us all.” and joined in the laughter of the rest of the family.

“Those ladies don’t stand a chance” Hoss added. And just to emphasis that point, both Phillippe and Joe flashed that devilishly handsome smile that oozed charm and charisma .

“I plan to take Phillippe on a tour of the Ponderosa tomorrow Pa” Joe said to his father. “We can start on those new horses the day after tomorrow. I want to show Phillippe around first.”

Upon hearing this statement Ben now knew just how much of an effect Philippe’s visit was having on his youngest son. Joe usually didn’t stop for anything when they were about to start a new Army contract for horses. He would make himself complete the task no matter what.

The fact that Joe was putting the schedule off for a day was more proof as to Joe’s happiness about his cousin’s surprise visit.

After dinner, Joe and Hoss took out the checker board as usual. Joe won the first game to Hoss’s dismay. He never seemed to be able to beat Joe’s quick and agile mind when it came to things such as strategy.

“Dadburnit Little Joe” Hoss said in mock disgust “I never seem to be able to beat you at this game”.

“Mind if I try” came Phillippe from behind Ben. He had been watching with admiration at his cousin’s skill at the game. His own skills were not shabby either.

“Oh a I sense a challenge there brother” Adam said with a grin. He relished the idea of seeing the two of them battle it out against each other.

“Have you played much” Joe said, trying to gauge his cousin’s experience and skill.

“Oh Francois and me used to play all the time at night, when the weather was so hot that you couldn’t sleep. We would sit out on the patio in the coolness of the night and play until almost dawn some nights.” Phillippe said with pride. He had a little grin in his face that told his cousin that he was as equally adept at the game as Joe.

“Finally someone who might be able to beat you at your own game Little Joe” Hoss said. He was happy to get up and trade chairs with Phillippe.

They all gathered around Joe and Phillippe to watch the match of the night. Both young men seemed confidence in their own abilities. Could they really out smart
each other?

The battle of the two Joe’s battled on for the next hour. It seemed that Phillippe was indeed good at the game of checkers. Only problem was Joe was good too. Neither of them seemed to be able to make enough ground to clearly be declared the winner.

It seemed that the similarities between the two even extended to the game of checkers.

Where would the similarities between the two end they all wondered. It was almost a little too eerie to see the two of them have so much in common. They had definitely been cast from the same mould.

After a draw was announced between the two warring factions and Ben announced that it was time to retire to bed for the night.

Ben saw the same scowl on both Joe’ and Philippe’s faces at this decision. But only Joe had the gumption to speak up and be heard this night.

“Aw Pa, do we have to?” he said in sadness. He was enjoying Philippe’s company too much to go to bed now.

“Yes, young man you do” Ben said sternly. “There will be plenty of time to spend with Phillippe tomorrow. He’s here for two weeks Joe, now up to bed.”

Reluctantly the pair said goodnight to the family and went to bed.

Sometime later that night about 2 a.m., Ben got up to the sound of whispered voices. He got up and put his ear to Joe’s door. Sure enough he could hear the two of them talking away in the wee hours of the morning.

He frowned a little, but decided that they were not doing any harm. He left them to talk about Louisiana and the times they had together a few months ago. He heard them talking about things that Joe had never mentioned to his family. This made Ben a little sad that Joe could share some of his trip with his no so well known cousin instead of his loving family.

Ben went back to bed for the night.


The next morning, it seemed that Phillippe was like his cousin about getting out of bed in the morning as well. The two young men had not shown yet for breakfast.

Hop Sing was mumbling things about re-heating meals for more people. Ben told all of them about the whisperings he had heard earlier that morning.

Joe emerged first from his room. He was dressed in his normal brown coloured shirt with the sleeves rolled up and tan trousers. He had pulled on his boots and was ready to go for a ride with Phillippe after he had his morning cup of coffee.

“Mornin Pa, Mornin Brothers” he said in a happy voice. Much to Hoss’s and Adam’s surprise, Hop Sing appeared from the kitchen with a fresh cup of brewed coffee for the youngest member of the family. Somehow that little brother of their’s always managed to stay in Hop Sing’s good books no matter what he did.

Everybody’s attention was drawn to the spare room as they heard the creak from the hinges on the door. Phillippe emerged from within but he was dressed very differently than his country cousin.

Adam and Hoss had to stifle back laughs about the garments that Phillippe thought would be suitable for ranch work.

Phillippe couldn’t see the funny side of things. He had on a pair of trousers that were made of a tightly woven material that clung to his thin frame in all the right places. It was the shirt he was wearing that brought about the most smirks from the Cartwright family.

The shirt was made of white satin and had pearl coloured buttons all the way down the front and on the long sleeved cuffs as well. The front of the elegant shirt was adorned with strips of ruffles and frills down the middle on either side of the buttons.

Phillippe looked as though he was ready to go to a ball rather than do some sight seeing on the back of a horse.

Hoss was the most amused one of the family. He had seen the various crates of shirts and trousers like this that Joe had sent back from Louisiana a few months ago. He had laughed himself silly back then thinking any man would be seen in such finery and frills.

Joe had a little smile of his own at Philippe’s style of dress, but he was quick to defend his cousin. “Phillippe, I think you would be better off wearing the clothes from yesterday” he said trying to sound helpful rather than condescending.

“Okay Joe, if you think those clothes will be suitable” Phillippe said. Were he came from it was normal for men to wear fancy suits and satin shirts, even in the heat of the day. It was considered impolite and improper to lower ones standards to the rough house attire that the Cartwrights were obviously more at home with.

Phillippe went back into the room and clad himself in the clothes from the day before. He returned to the dining room and seated himself at the table with the rest of the family.

He eyed the smorgasbord that was laid before him and couldn’t believe the amount of food that was cooked in order to feed the Cartwright family for breakfast.

“You mean all of this is for only the five of us” he asked incredulously. He had only seen this amount of food back home when there was a celebration or festival held.

Joe and the others laughed again at Philippe’s new education about life on a working ranch. “No Phillippe, I am afraid the four of us only get one egg and rasher of bacon each. The rest is for my brother Hoss here. He needs this amount of food at each sitting or he will be back for another serving before 10 o’clock this morning.”

Hoss took the words kindly enough. He was used to the family teasing him about his huge appetite.

Phillippe also joined in the laughter at Hoss’s expense. He was very surprised by Hoss’s gentle carefree nature. He had seen a few men Hoss’s size in his entire life time and each time those men had a temper to match their size. It was a refreshing change to see someone in such control of their strength. Hoss obviously shed more love towards his family than waiting his efforts on trying to control everyone around him by force.

Adam and Ben had been quietly watching the two youngest men at the table, looking back and forth between the two of them. The resemblance was still hard to get out of their minds.

“Where are you planning to go today Joe?” Ben asked, trying to change start a conversation to make breakfast more enjoyable.

“I was going to take him to Ma’s grave first and then show him some of the pastureland beside the lake” Joe said as he sipped at his coffee again. “You sure you don’t mind me spending time away from the work for a while?”

“No I don’t mind, I think Phillippe would be pleased to visit your mother Marie. I sure the ride through the pastures should be pleasant this time of year. Just be careful and don’t stay out too long” Ben reminded his son.

“Which mount do you suggest I take today Joe?” Phillippe said trying to wade in on the conservation.

Joe thought hard for a minute. His cousin was a skilled enough rider to handle any of the Ponderosa’s horses. “I have got a brown gelding that needs some exercise” Joe said with a twinkle in his eyes. He knew the horse was still a little green, but Phillippe would be able to handle him.

Adam and the rest of the family knew exactly which horse Joe meant and were surprised that Phillippe didn’t baulk at the challenge placed before him. The family didn’t know how skilful he was on a horse, but they knew Joe wouldn’t deliberately give his cousin a horse that he didn’t think was suitable.

“Well, we best heoff” Joe said as he swallowed the last of his coffee. Ben looked with dismay at Joseph’s plate and noticed that hardly a morsel had been touched. He looked over at Philippe’s plate and noted that same equal amount of food remaining. No wonder those two boys remained so thin and trim. Both of them didn’t eat enough to feed a Wood Sparrow.

Ben and his other two boys contented themselves with the work that needed to be done for the rest of the day.


Phillippe had no trouble guiding the skittish horse along the dirt tracks that Little Joe led him and his mount down. The horse was a little green as Joe had told him. But once rider and horse got used to each other’s company, a bond between the two started to take shape.

Joe rode Cochise of course and although Phillippe was a skilled rider, there was envy there between the hidden relationship between the painted pinto and his cousin. Such companionship and acceptance of man and beast was rarely seen and it was a pleasure to watch the two of them enjoy the morning’s excursion.

At times it looked as though Joe was barely holding onto the reins at all. Cochise seemed to anticipate Joe’s slight commands almost before they were given. The horse knew where she was going and just allowed her master to enjoy the scenery.

Little Joe was enjoying the scenery at that. It was very rare that Joe was able to ride about the Ponderosa and just admire the beauty and ruggedness that surrounded him. Today, he didn’t need to worry about fences or cattle. He just breathed in the plentiful fresh air and looked about him with wonder and delight at nature’s true glory.

The weather was slightly cool enough and half way through the journey, Phillippe stopped his horse and put on a warm jacket from his saddle bag.

Joe didn’t bother about his jacket just yet. He quite liked the cooler weather much to the dismay of his family. Ben found himself chastising his youngest son on a number of occasions in the past about dressing warming enough for the cooler conditions. Joe never seldom seemed to bide by those requests though.

The two riders pulled up on top of a ridge to gaze over the expanse before them. The site was almost breath taking. The grass was green and the hills literally rolled away to the lake below. There was a touch of dampness to the grass signalling the moisture in the air. Winter would soon be on the way.

“How big is the Ponderosa Joe” Phillippe asked as he looked about at the vastness of the surrounding countryside. He couldn’t believe that all of this land belonged to one family.

“About 1000 square miles” Joe answered proudly. “As far as you can see from the tops of those ragged cliffs over there to Lake Tahoe over there to your right.”

“It truly is something to be proud of cousin” Phillippe said genuinely. “You and your family have a treasure worth keeping.”

Joe motioned for them to start walking on again to prevent the animals getting too cold. He directed the horses down towards Lake Tahoe and the site of his mother Marie’s grave.

When he got to his mother’s final resting place, he dismounted and tied Cochise to a small tree nearby. Phillippe also got off and tied his mount next to Cochise. The two young men walked towards the grey coloured headstone. Joe removed his hat in respect.

Phillippe looked over at Joe’s solemn and quite disposition. He knew that Joe felt very deeply about his mother, even though he didn’t get to know her all that well. Maybe Joe would always look for that connection between him and she. Maybe that’s why he agreed to stay in Louisiana so long in the first place.

The two men just sat for awhile. No words needed to be said. Phillippe knew very little about his cousin Marie as well. Joe had talked about her often enough when he was in Louisiana so he assumed that she must have been a wonderful woman.

“Come on cousin, let’s get back to the yard and start roping some of them green horses” Joe announced with renewed exuberance.

“Last one back to the house gets to watch from the corral first” Joe said as he spurred Cochise into a gallop.

Phillippe felt very much up to the challenge and lightly kicked his own mount into a fast gallop, trying in vain to keep up with his cousin Joe some distance ahead of him.

Ben, Hoss and Adam had been working in the yard themselves when they heard the sound of running hooves behind them. They all looked up and looked on with a smirk at the sight of the two cousins racing into the yard at neck breaking speed.

Ben had a disapproving look on his face directed towards his youngest son and when Joe noticed it he slowed down to a walk almost immediately. He gave an apologetically looking smile towards his father for running in like that.

Phillippe didn’t quite understand the stern look his cousin Joe was getting from his father. He saw no harm in riding into the yard at such a fast pace. He had not been informed of the full details of Marie’s tragic death. He didn’t know that Ben’s heart was in his throat each time he saw his youngest ride into the yard the same way his mother had done that fateful day all those years ago.

The two cousins were unaware of a dark figure that had followed their ride in the distance for most of the morning. They didn’t see him when he was perched high upon a hill looking down at the two of them sitting beside Marie’s grave.

The man had also followed them back to the yard, but kept his distance enough still so as not to be seen from his vantage point. He had seen Phillippe arrive on the stage and now gazed down at the two young man that looked like each other.

Fortunately for him, he knew exactly who they were. He was even privy to the fact that there were two young men who looked alike. He had had a meeting with them in the past that he would rather soon have forgotten about. That chance encounter had not gone in his favour and he knew that they would recognize him should they see him.

For now, he would still need to bide his time and just watch from a far. His time for retribution would come soon and then he would tell them how things were going to be. His name was Hank Jones.


Back at the yard, Little Joe and Phillippe eagerly began sorting through the corral full of horses with their eyes. Both of them were scrutinizing each one and checking out the quality of the animals that they had before them.

There were some very good looking animals. There were a few poorer ones too that might take some extra time in schooling. But over all they had a fine group to work with.

The stood together and made a mental note of which ones should be broken in first and how much training each one might need. Joe was very accurate in his estimation of temperament and capabilities. Phillippe was a little over awed at his cousin’s knowledge of horse flesh.

“That bay one over there will be a good horse and so too that big chestnut in the corner there” Joe said with his mind fully concentrated on the job at hand. Breaking horses was something that Little Joe had always wanted to do. It came naturally and he was beginning to get a good reputation locally. He had already won a few contracts that were out of the reach of most of the local ranches, like the one for the army that he had arranged with Major Jack Williams.

“The one with the white mark on his rump might take a little extra time, so I start on him tomorrow” Joe stated. “That big roan one over there seems a little more wild than the rest of them, I might try him tomorrow afternoon. Give him a bit of time getting used to being in the corral.”

Phillippe had also nominated a few gentler animals that he would take on tomorrow. But those few looked to already have the wildness in them tamed somewhat. Phillippe knew he was a good enough rider, but just like in Louisiana, he left most of the breaking of the newer animals to Joe.

The rest of the day saw Phillippe and Joe standing together organizing the horses for the next two or three days. They both had a role to play, Joe took on the more physical aspects of the operation, while Phillippe did the final schooling stages and completing any paperwork.

It was just like old times again. The two cousins just seemed to click very well together. Both having separate roles to play, but meshing well enough like a finely tuned team.

Ben and the other Cartwright boys had looked at the two on a number of occasions during the day and seen the two of them scrunched together talking about what they were doing. Joe turned the job of breaking horses into a very complex and thorough set of calculations.

Each one had to be just right. Joe would never declare an animal ready for the contract unless he himself had examined the animal and was satisfied that it could do the job correctly. If the horse needed some extra schooling then that’s exactly what it got. Nothing was ever half done and nothing was ever over looked.

For want remained of that day, Joe and Phillippe just concentrated on planning out the next three days. The hard work and real breaking in work wouldn’t begin until tomorrow.

The evening was spent talking idly over another feast created by Hop Sing. Ben had tried in vain to bring up topics of conversation that revolved around Joe’s stay in Louisiana.   But Joe thwarted his father at every turn and changed the subject. Phillippe and the rest of the family had noted the changes but couldn’t fathom why Joe was so reluctant to share his experiences with them.

Joe picked at his dinner again. He was upset about his family trying to drag up old memories that he didn’t particularly want to remember tonight. He told everyone he was tired and wanted to get an early night in so he could start bright and early tomorrow.

The next morning was a Wednesday and saw Little Joe sitting at the table before his father, brothers or Phillippe. He seemed in a happy enough mood.

Once Phillippe had eaten his fill of breakfast, he went outside to see that Joe had already started roping one of the first horses for the morning.

Ben, Adam and Hoss all gathered beside Phillippe on the corral fence and watched Joe perform his magic on the wild beast.

Joe got himself up on the brown coloured stallion and set himself in the stall before nodding his head for Phillippe to let him loose into the training yard.

The horse came out full of fire, bucking and kicking harder and harder, trying to dislodge the slight weight on it’s back. If it moved to the left, Joe shifted his weight to the left on the animals back. He mimicked every move the wild horse tried to make to counteract the anger and frustration the horse was dishing out. Dust flew in all directions as the horse moved about from corner to corner in the corral

Finally after twenty minutes of twisting and fighting, the horse stood still in the corral, panting to get it’s breath back. Joe still sat alert enough in the saddle in case the horse moved again quickly and without warning.

The horse knew that it had been beat so Joe climbed off the animal’s back and gave it a hearty pat to say well done and led it into the corral beside this one to signal that it was ready for another ride in a day or two’s time.

Ben and Hoss were giving the youngest member of the family, appreciative and congratulating comments about the ride. They both knew that Joe was very skilled at his talent. Adam didn’t say any words to his younger brother. But the smile on his face and the twinkle in his dark eyes signalled his approval of Joe’s efforts. Phillippe was giving loud amounts of praise to his cousin as Joe walked back into the corral of waiting horses and selected another animal to start training.

Ben and Hoss were a little worried that Joe had been so eager to take the next ride. He had to be tired after that effort, but Joe didn’t even bat an eyelid. He just dusted down his chaps and went to select the next animal.

Joe looked about the animals at first. He remembered the order that he and Phillippe had drawn up and noted that the small chestnut mare was supposed to be next in line.

However, something kept drawing his attention to the big roan that was a little farther down the list. He had wanted to give the horse a little more time to adjust to being caged in the corral. The more he looked at the powerful muscles in the horses legs and saw the almost defiant nodding of the horse’s head, trying to show his displeasure at being confined, the more he licked his lips at the impending battle that was about to take place between man and beast.

The challenge in Joe to best this opponent was strong. It was what drove him to break horses in the first place. That need to over come the more powerful adversary and show the horse who was boss. The adrenaline surged in Joe’s veins at the mere thought of taking on this brute.

Against his sub-conscious that told him to wait another day, he placed his lasso over the horse’s head and led the slightly protesting stallion into the training yard.

“You’re gonna ride him already, Joe?” Phillippe asked with a little fear in his voice. He knew that Joe wanted to break this horse more than any of the others, but he knew that the horse needed some more time to cool down and get used to his surroundings before having a rider attempt to tame his wild streak.

“I think he’s ready enough cousin” Joe asked with a cheeky smile.

The horse was placed in the stall, but protested strongly now at every action that was made against it. Whatever the humans wanted him to do, he intended to do the exact opposite. He kicked and struggled the whole time. Even in the stall where his movements were strictly confined, he tried in vain to show his displeasure and annoyance at being handled by human hands.

Joe gingerly sat on the horse’s back and adjusted the rope in his hands. He rechecked it again and gripped it even tighter. The was this immediate rush of fear about riding this wild animal, but at the same time anticipation of the challenge and the battle about to unfold. He gave the nod of his head, signalling for the gate of the stall to be opened.

The horse didn’t charge out of the stall at first like the other horses Joe had broken in the past. The first thing the horse did when the gate swung open was to try and buck the rider right off in the stall itself.

Joe was taken a little by the horse’s obstinate nature, but still kept his wits about him. It only took a moment longer for the animal to emerge from the stall and into the training yard.

He moved his head angrily from side to side. His mane tossing about in the cool wind. While his head moved in one direction, his rump and flailing legs moved in the opposite direction trying to dislodge the rider.

The horse snorted and whinnied loudly at having been controlled by a rope around his neck. He buck and continued to buck for the next fifteen minutes non-stop. At the end of that fifteen minutes, both animal and rider were exhausted.

Ben and the other men had just watched on with both fear and admiration etched on their faces at Joe’s attempts to break the horse. They were watching the feud of the century.

The horse stood still as the other horses had done in the past. He looked at though he was willing to give up in defeat and concede that the rider had won this round. Joe kept his eyes on the animal ready for the unseen movement before it actually happened. His tense muscles relaxed slightly, maybe a little to much. The horse had taken it’s rider all the way around the corral and was now only a few feet away from the back railings.

Joe looked at the smiles on the faces of his family and Phillippe and was about to jump down off the mount and put it together with the other horses that had been ridden earlier that morning.

Without warning, the horse did move. But the movement was not seen by either Little Joe or his family until it was too late.

Ben and the others watched on in horror as the horse bucked one last time and sent the unsuspecting Joe flying through the air. Joe struck one of the posts of the corral with his head and fell to the ground in an untidy heap. He didn’t move and appeared to be unconscious.

Ben had cried out in alarm as he saw Joe’s head strike the post. Phillippe had paled and was very worried for his cousin. Adam had entered the corral first and was trying to calm down the still rearing horse. The horse was flailing out with sharpened hooves and stood over the inert figure of Little Joe.

Adam was afraid that the horse would come down on his already injured brother and cause Joe more pain. He talked soothingly to the frightened animal and desperately made a grab for the rope that was flying around loosely while still looped over his neck. Adam managed to clasp the rope in his outstretched hand and managed to get some distance between the horse and his brother.

While Adam led the horse away, Hoss, Ben and Phillippe raced over to where Joe lay and knelt down beside the injured young man. They could see a small patch of blood on the back of his curly head.

Ben called his son’s name in vain to try and rouse him. But Little Joe didn’t hear his father’s pleas.

“Hoss, you race into Virginia City and get Doc Martin quick” Ben shouted while still trying to assess all of Joe’s injuries.

“Phillippe, you go into the house and tell Hop Sing that we need some water, towels, bandages and whatever else he thinks we might need.” Ben said to Joe’s twin.

Ben had gently turned is son over. Joe’s eyes remained closed and didn’t flicker in the slightest. A small groan of pain escaped his lips as his father put his bandana on the bloody wound, but he didn’t fully awaken.

Hoss and Phillippe had both run from the corral and went to do their respective tasks. Hoss raced to the barn to saddle Chubb and fetch Doc Martin. Phillippe ran to the house and began shouting the little oriental man’s name and started to shout what was needed.

Ben had picked up his son and walked with him over to the other side of the corral. He had to lay him back down again on the hard ground in order to remove one of the railings. Once that was done he was able to manoeuvre his son’s limp body through the narrow gap in the fence and lay him on the soft grass on the other side.

When Ben had climbed through the fence himself, he picked up his unconscious son again and walked towards the house carrying his precious burden.

Phillippe opened the front door as he heard Ben’s footsteps on the patio. Ben walked past him with Little Joe in his arms and proceeded to walk up the stairs towards the boy’s bedroom. Phillippe and Hop Sing quickly followed behind.

Once he entered Joe’s bedroom, Hop Sing straightened the crumpled bed clothes first and then let Ben lay Joe down on the soft mattress. Phillippe passed Hop Sing a pillow to place under his head.

Ben surveyed the scene and determined that the wound would have to be cleaned as quickly as possible. He was sure that there was at least a mild concussion. He motioned for Hop Sing and Phillippe to help him turn Joe over onto his stomach.

Another small groan of pain escaped Joe’s lips as the trio gently turned his whole body over. They looked a little worried at the widening patch of red that had been left on the pillow by the wound on Joe’s head. The amount of blood was not excessive, but certainly added to the drama of Joe’s injury.

Ben moistened a towel in the tepid water from the bowl that had been placed on the bedside table. Ben now dabbed the cotton cloth onto the wound on Joe’s curly head. The bleeding had caused his curls to matt together in sticky clumps around the open cut that was visible. There was already a small amount of swelling around the wound.

The touch of the cloth to the wound brought Joe back to reality a little. He moaned a little louder this time and tried to move his head away from the source of pain. Ben put his free hand on the other side of Joe’s head to stop his movements.

Joe tried to lift his head up from the pillow. “Try and lay still Joseph” Ben said soothingly as he continued to try and clean the wound. He saw that the bleeding had eased somewhat. But Paul would be able to give a better diagnosis when he got here.

“Is there anything I can do?” Phillippe asked in a worried voice of Ben.

Ben looked up briefly at the young man standing by the bed and saw that look of needing to help that he sometimes saw in his own son Joseph when somebody else from the family was sick.

“I’m afraid there’s not really much any of us can do until the doctor gets here” Ben replied. “Let’s try and let him get a little more comfortable shall we?”. Ben stopped his dabbing and went about removing Little Joe’s outer clothing, making him ready for the doctor.

Phillippe followed Ben’s actions by removing Joe’s other boot and socks. Ben managed to unbutton his trousers and remove them without embarrassing his youngest son’s pride. He saw with relief that due to the cooler weather, Joseph had actually chosen to wear a pair of long-johns today.

When they had finally unbuttoned Joe’s shirt and removed it carefully from his arms, they laid the semi-conscious young man back on the bed and covered him with a quilt. The room was still quite cool and the weather outside was getting colder by the day now. They didn’t want Joe catching a chill on top of any other injuries he might already have sustained.

Joe managed to turn himself on his side. He was trying to wake up. He tried to roll over all the way over onto his back, but felt the pull of his shoulder muscles as he
tried. He bit his lip to try and stop the cries of pain. He ached all over.

Hop Sing placed one of the clean towels over the top of a fresh pillow just before Joe managed to lay the back of his head on it once more. At least this way, any
bleeding would only be on the towel and not on the pillow again.

Ben now started to wipe Joe’s face with the coolish water in an attempt to rouse him even more. He was rewarded with Little Joe’s eyelids flickering rapidly. After a few more seconds, he opened his eyes enough to be able to look at the worried faces that stood before him.

“Sorry, guess I goofed Huh” he said trying to smile. The grin was interrupted by another muscle spasm that went down his back and caused another wave of pain.

Ben was trying to look sternly at his youngest son and admonish him silently for his foolish and dangerous behaviour on the horse. But looking down at his son’s face,
he couldn’t do anything else but smile back at him.

“How are you feeling son?” Ben asked softly.

“Tired” came the drowsy reply. “Tired and sore” he said again as he tried to go to sleep again.

“NO JOE” Ben said a little loudly “I’m sorry son, but I need you to try and stay awake a bit longer yet. Just until the doctor gets here. You have had a nasty bump on the head and I want him to check you out first before you go back to sleep. You may have a concussion.”

Joe nodded his head slightly in agreement to his father’s request but he found the going tough. He really felt dizzy and had to fight hard to keep his eyes awake. He almost thought he might need match sticks to keep them propped open.

“Phillippe, you sit here and talk to him while I go and check on where the doctor is” Ben said. “He must try and stay awake. If he’s got a concussion, falling back asleep could be very dangerous for him.”

Phillippe felt he might not be able to carry out the task assigned to him and sighed a little secretly in relief as he saw Adam walk into Joe’s room.

Ben told him about Joe waking up and needing to be kept awake until Doc Martin arrived. Ben was also a little more confident in leaving Joe alone with Adam now in the room. He didn’t doubt Philippe’s good intentions or honest nature, but there was still an air of mystery about this young man that he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

Before Ben could dwell on that subject any longer, Doc Martin was seen to be climbing the staircase to the second floor.

‘How are you Ben?” Doc Martin asked, trying to make idle conversation. But truth be known he knew that there was only one thing on Ben Cartwright’s mind at the moment. His son Joseph.

“Okay Paul, but I am worried about Joe” Ben said trying to sound a little relaxed about his son’s injuries. “I tried to bath the wound as best I could. He woke up a few minutes ago. Wanted to go right back to sleep, but I told him that he needed to wait until you checked him over.”

“I’m sure everything will turn out alright old friend” Doc Martin said as he gave Ben a friendly slap on the back as he made his way to Joe’s bedroom door.

When he walked in he could see that the injured boy was having trouble staying awake. His eyes looked particularly heavy and bloodshot. Adam was sitting on the edge of the bed, talking to his youngest brother and trying to keep him from drifting off. He left the room when his father and the doctor entered so as the room wasn’t quite so crowded.

“How are you feeling young man?” Doc Martin asked Little Joe.

“Hi Doc” Joe said in a sleepy voice. “Just bumped my head is all.” he added trying to give the doctor his own diagnosis of what the problem was.

“Well, if it is alright with you, I just take a look at that bump to make sure it’s not too serious” the doctor informed his reluctant patient.

Joe sighed a little loud just to sound a little perturbed at his fate, but he knew that he didn’t have the strength to fight off the doctor and his family at the moment.

With a few grunts and moans of pain he managed with the doctor’s gentle assistance to roll himself back over onto his stomach so that his wound could be looked at.

Paul tried to be as quick and gentle as he could. He noticed the slight swelling around the cut, but thankfully it wasn’t too bad. The skin itself had a normal colour to it

Joe found with his head resting on the soft pillow like it was, he found it even harder to keep his eyes open and stay awake like his father had asked him.

Doc Martin saw his sleepy young patient falling asleep and decided that the worst was over. He would allow Little Joe to completely fall asleep. He still wanted to
dab at the wound with a little alcohol. This would probably sting some, so it was best that Joe was a little bit groggy and relaxing on his way to sleep.

Paul soaked a cloth with alcohol and then sat himself on the bed where he could do his doctoring better. Little Joe seemed to be asleep enough to start.

The first touch of the cotton wool onto Joe’s wound brought the young man back to a semi-conscious state. Joe moaned a little and tried to pull away as he had done
when Ben was tending to him earlier.

Ben had been in the room watching the doctor’s administrations. He had seen his son falling asleep but then awoken slightly from the pain the alcohol caused. He walked over to the bed and sat on the opposite side to the doctor. He started to softly caress his son’s temple and forehead in an attempt to get him to fall back asleep.

Joe felt that familiar touch and did relax at his father’s soft caresses. Paul continued to dab at the wound trying to get his job over and done with. He caused occasional mumblings and whimpers from his patient, but for the most part, Ben’s touch was doing it’s magic and Joe returned to sleep.

When the doctor had finished, Ben kept up his routine for a few more minutes, just to ensure that Joe was completely asleep again. Or maybe just to assure himself that Joe was going to be alright.

Paul gathered his possessions into his little black bag and motioned Ben to join him as they went downstairs to discuss Joe’s injury. Upon seeing his father descend the stair with the doctor, Hoss volunteered to stay with Joe.

“I think he will be alright in a day or so Ben” Doc Martin explained. “He got a pretty nasty bump on the head, he might have some headaches for the next two or three days. I leave some headache powders with you. Just keep him quiet and around the house as much as possible tomorrow. No riding or breaking horses of any description. After two or three days he should be able to commence regular duties again. Just see that he rests as much as possible tonight and tomorrow. If you need me, you know where to find me.” Ben shook the doctor’s outstretched hand and saw him off outside.

“That brother of mine scrapes through with only bruises again I see” Adam said wryly as Ben walked back into the living room. Ben smiled at the comment, he knew it was just Adams way of showing his concern and worry for his younger sibling.

“I’m gonna check on him and then talk to Phillippe about what the doctor said about resting over the next few days. I’m afraid the schedule they put together will just have to be adjusted a little to accommodate this little accident. Ben knew in his heart that he couldn’t ask Joe not to get back on the horses. That was Joe’s passion in life. If he was to try and curb the wild ways Joe often displayed, he knew he would be dousing some of the spark that was part of Joe’s flaming personality.

When Ben walked back into Joe’s bedroom, he could see that Joe was still asleep. Hoss was seated in a chair beside his brother’s bed. He was trying to talk to Phillippe and make idle conversation. But somehow Philippe’s upbringing and sophisticated style put Hoss on the defensive. The young man looked every inch his younger brother who lay injured in the bed. But there was still something that kept the distance between him and Phillippe. It was the same something that Ben felt but never voiced out loud.

Ben looked over at Phillippe who was standing nervously along the far wall. He kept some distance between himself and his injured cousin. He was trying to think of all the right things to say, but they weren’t coming easy. It was different to him to try and talk to Joe’s family rather than Joe himself. He felt the uneasiness that he saw in their eyes. He saw the looks of suspicion at him and it made him inwardly cringe. The family thought that he was here to steal Joe away from his family, but the truth was Phillippe was trying to run away from his own family.

“You look like you could use something to eat Phillippe” Ben said in a caring voice. “Joe’s probably going to be asleep for the remainder of the day. He’s not going to be jumping out of bed tomorrow either. The doctor says he will recover fine in a day or so but wants him to rest as much as possible today and tomorrow.”

Phillippe was glad to escape the room of his injured cousin, even if it was only to get something to eat. For the rest of the day, he amused himself inside with some of Adam’s books about Shakespeare. This was something Adam had never been able to get his own brother interested in. Now, to see somebody looking like his brother, reading on the couch, almost defied rational thought.

The three older Cartwright’s rotated the task of watching over Joe while he slept. Phillippe had offered to do it for a short time and was given the responsibility.

Later that evening, Joe had awoken briefly, but complained of a terrible headache. Ben had given him one of the doctor’s headache powders dissolved in a glass of water. Joe had managed to swallow a few mouthfuls of broth that Hop Sing had put before him. But the throbbing pain in his was great and he forced himself to sleep to try and ease the pain.

The family decided that it wasn’t necessary to keep up the all night vigil over Joe and so they all retired to their rooms later that night. At some stage during the night though, all three of them were careful not to let the others see them slip out of their rooms and check on the youngest Cartwright at various intervals.

The next morning, everybody went about their business as quietly as possible so as to let Joe get the rest he needed. He didn’t need to get out of bed for any reason today so he could sleep as long as he liked.

Ben decided that he would keep himself available around the house today in case Joe needed him for anything.

Adam and Hoss offered to take Phillippe out with them this morning while they checked some of the fence lines in the south pasture.

Phillippe was a little apprehensive at first, but accepted and found himself actually enjoying the long ride around the Ponderosa. He could feel and hear the love each of them felt for the land that they poured their sweat into. The Cartwright did really feel deeply about the endless lines of pine trees as well as the barren pieces of land that edged the farthest boundaries. He just wished he could have felt the same about his own homeland. Back there, he only felt confined and nervous, just like the horses in the corral that he and Joe were trying to break in.

Back at the homestead, it was about 11.00 am and Little Joe was beginning to stir from his deep slumber. At first he wondered what time it was. It had to be late morning due to the amount of light that danced off the bed clothes. The sunshine was warm and welcome on his face this morning.

He rolled over and winced slightly at the headache that started as soon as he showed any signs of movement. He put his hands to the wound on the back of the head. His hair still felt very matted and sticky in parts. The swelling had decreased somewhat and was now barely noticeable.

His muscles protested as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed in an attempt to get up for the day. He felt the coolness of the day strike his bare chest and he grabbed for a shirt that hung over a chair beside the bed.

Once the shirt was buttoned up and he had pulled his trousers on, he stood on the floor with his hand holding onto the bedpost. He waited for the slight giddiness to subside before taking his first step towards the door.

Downstairs, Ben had been pouring over the ranch’s account books when he looked up and to his surprise saw Little Joe starting to descend the stairs. He quickly got up from his seat and went over to help his son. Joe looked less than fully awake. His hair was dishevelled and he still looked slightly in pain. Joe smiled at his father’s fussing, but he didn’t stop him. He felt very poorly to be honest and could use some of Pa’s old fashioned caring this morning.

Ben guided Joe by the elbow over to the settee and placed a few pillows underneath his head. Joe winced again at the headache as the wound came into contact with the fabric of the cushions. Ben could see the lines of pain on his son’s face to signal that his head was hurting.

While Joe was getting his top half settled on the cushions, Ben bent down and lifted the boy’s legs up on to the settee to make him more comfortable. He didn’t know why Joe had made the attempt to come downstairs at all. The boy was almost asleep again except for the odd groans of pain.

Ben went into the kitchen and got a glass of water and one of Doc Martin’s headache powders. Joe was about to protest about being alright when he felt the glass placed against his dry lips. He lost the words he was about to say and drank the cool water gratefully and laid back down on the pillows again, waiting for the medicine to ease the throbbing in his head. It only took a few more minutes and Joe was lost to sleep again.

Ben left his son sleep for the remainder of the afternoon. When Adam and the others returned from their work for the day, they found Joe sitting up on the settee talking to his father. Both of them greeted the wanders with a smile. Joe’s headache had eased a little from the powders and he decided he was well enough to sit at the supper table with his family and eat something.

The eating was slow, but the conversation was lively enough. Joe screwed up his face every now and then with pain when he thought nobody else was looking. Ben saw his son’s attempts to hide his headaches but said nothing out loud.

Phillippe tried to change the topic of conversation. The words fell out of his mouth almost before he realised what he had said.

“Well Joe, looks like you came off a little worse for wear this time” Phillippe said “You didn’t fair so bad last time in Louisiana”. He then saw the scowl on Joe’s face at the comments.

Joe’s head had snapped up suddenly when he heard his cousin’s incriminating words and Phillippe let out a squeal of pain when he felt the tip of Joe’s foot kick his shin bone underneath the table.

The three eldest Cartwright’s all raised their eyebrows at the remark. Somehow they knew that something had happened in Louisiana that Joe would have rather they not find out about.

“Something you care to tell us about……..” Ben started to say while looking at Joe. He was trying to come up with a good excuse to try and worm out of the explanation he knew that his father was looking for, but to his and Philippe’s surprise the name at the end of the sentence came out PHILLIPPE and Joe’s cousin felt the cold hard stare from Ben Cartwright that wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Joe swallowed a little hard now, for he knew that not many people could avoid what he called the “Evil Eye” from Ben. He had been victim to it a number of times and he knew that his secret would eventually come out. He saw his cousin Phillippe shrink away slightly in his chair at Ben’s stare.

“Well you see um MrCartwright” Phillippe said as he started to stumble over his words. He looked towards Joe for moral support, but Joe knew that it was no use trying to hide it any longer. He just smiled and shrugged his shoulders at Phillippe, signalling it was alright to let his secret out.

Phillippe sighed and started the story “There was this horse back in Louisiana, a bay thoroughbred. It was stubborn animal. The owner had already given up on ever getting a saddle on it. He gave the job to Joseph and I when we were running the horse operation. Joe didn’t show any fear. He just jumped onto the brute’s back and started riding him.”

Adam and Hoss just looked at each other as their eyes spoke to each other. Everything Phillippe was telling them sounded exactly like there little daredevil brother Joe.

“Anyway, the horse threw Joe into a fence post just like the one yesterday” Phillippe continued. “I thought the horse must have rolled on him at first, but Joe says it only knocked the wind out of him. He gets back up and straight away jumps back onto the horse ready to ride it again.”

Ben just nodded his head in agreement at the story. This really did sound like his impatient son Joseph. Everybody looked over at the person they were talking about. But they got was a very sheepish grin in return.

Ben looked as though he wanted to explore this story a little bit more in detail and find out from Joe what else happened that he should know about. But he stopped as he saw Joe put his hands to his temples again, trying to massage the headache away that had just appeared.

Adam and Hoss were genuinely worried about how many headaches Joe seemed to be having after his accident, but Ben told them that Paul expected them for a few days afterwards.

Joe excused himself from the table and went back upstairs to his bedroom. Ben followed a few minutes more with a glass of water and another headache powder.

Joe was already lying on the bed when he got there. Ben handed the milky water to Joe and watch him drink it down without a word. His head really was bothering him.

“Joe, your brothers and I have got to go out in the morning to take care of some business in Virginia City” Ben started to say. He sat down on the edge of the bed to make sure that Joe was taking careful note of what he was trying to say.

“I don’t want you doing any riding tomorrow either Joe.” Ben said softly but firmly. “You need another day or so to rest before you attempt to break any more of them horses. Your brothers and I should be back about lunch time. Phillippe should be here to take care of anything you might need.”

Ben cupped Joe’s chin and made him look at him for the next question “Promise me Joseph, that you won’t ride any horses tomorrow”. He didn’t know if Joe would be awake before he and the other boys left for the bank in the morning. He needed to know that Joe didn’t intend to take his life into his own hands while there was only Phillippe to look out for him.

Joe was already steadily on his way to sleep, but managed to nod his head in agreement to not riding any more horses tomorrow “I prom….” was all he got out before his head lolled to one side and he was asleep against Ben’s chest.

“I’ll take that as a yes” Ben chuckled to himself as he gently laid the sleeping young man back down on the soft pillows on the bed. He looked down at the sleeping face and thought about how many times he had asked his son to be careful and not to take risks. But taking risks was something that was just a given when it came to Joe. Ben kissed his son on the temple when nobody else could see his show of affection and he left the room quietly for the night.

The next morning, much to Ben’s relief, Joe was still sleeping soundly when he and his two eldest sons were ready to depart for Virginia City.

“You sure you will be alright here on your own with Joseph, Phillippe” Ben asked for the fifth time since breakfast.

Adam stepped in and spoke for Phillippe “Pa, I am sure that they will both will be fine. We will only be gone a few hours at the most. Phillippe will be able to manage for that short time without us.”

Phillippe nodded his agreement to being able to watch over his cousin for the next couple of hours.

Ben seemed satisfied with the arrangements, but felt that he needed to remind the young man of the doctor’s warning once more “:Remember, Phillippe,. Joseph is not to even attempt to ride a horse today, understood?” be said with a firm voice.

“I understand Uncle Ben” Phillippe said.

The three Cartwrights then left to attend to their business at the Virginia City Bank.

It was again a late rising for Little Joe. Almost 11.00 am again like the previous day. He felt a whole lot better today though. His headache had eased and he was able to move about with only a limited bit of stiffness in his muscles.

Phillippe had been sitting downstairs when he saw his cousin descend the stairs. Joe walked into the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot that had been sitting on the stove since breakfast. It was a little bitter in taste now, but Joe decided it was probably the best he could hope to get this morning.

Joe went back into the living room and seated himself at the dining room table and sipped at his coffee. He had not worried about anything to eat and with his family absence and not able to notice his lack of interest in food, he was able to take his time casually lounging at the breakfast table not wondering if somebody was looking over his shoulder to make sure he was eating.

When Joe had finished his coffee, he got up from the table and started to head towards the front door.

Phillippe was a bit alarmed at this and tried to stop his cousin from leaving the house. “Joe, your father left strict instructions that you weren’t to ride any horses today” he said as he voiced his fears.

“Don’t worry Phillippe,” Joe said “I am not going to do any riding. But I am not going to sit around here either. I just going to go out to the barn and make some much needed repairs to some of the holsters and bridles, ready to start again tomorrow afternoon. You can come with me and make sure I behave myself if you’re that worried” Joe said with a smirk.

Phillippe seemed happy enough with the explanation, but he did indeed plan to go outside and keep an eye on his cousin as instructed by Ben.

The next half an hour or so saw Joe working by himself with the leather bridles. He rubbed oils and other substances into the leather to make them soft and pliable and take some of the stiffness out of them.

“Phillippe I am just going into the barn for a minute to get some more bridles” Joe announced as his cousin was leaning casually up against the corral fence.

“OkayJoe” Phillippe said. He was content enough just to stay where he was and continue to watch the nervous horses walk around the corral, trying to work out their new surroundings. The stallion that Joe had tried to break yesterday, kept it’s distance and stayed towards the back of the corral.

Up on top of a rise, a shadowy figure had been watching the two young men together going about their business. He saw one of them walk into the barn and leave the other alone outside beside the corral. From this far away it was difficult to tell them apart, but he decided to take pot luck and chance it anyway. He nudged his mount forward and he started to walk towards the yard of the homestead.

Joe had been gone longer than he thought and hadn’t heard the horse approaching his cousin Phillippe in the yard outside.

Phillippe had also been distracted by the horses in the corral to notice anybody approaching him from behind until it was too late. When he spun around, he saw the face of the very man that he had been running from Louisiana from. He tried to call out to Joe for help, but the sound got caught in his throat from his fear.

Hank Jones dismounted from his horse and started to walk towards the young man standing beside the corral. He could see fear written all over the boy’s face and knew that it couldn’t be the wilful one of the pair he had met in Louisiana.

“You must be the one they call Phillippe” the man deducted as he got closer and closer to the young man.

Phillippe still couldn’t find his words but nodded his head to indicate that the man was right about his identity.

Jones quickly glanced at the horses in the corral and saw for himself the good breeding stock amongst the skittish animals.

“Got yourselves some fine looking animals there” Jones said. He was now only a few centimetres from Phillippe, making the young man’s fear increase ten fold. “I would be willing to give you a fair price for them, just like I offered you back in Louisiana.”

Phillippe tried to gather all the confidence and gumption he could muster “Like my cousin Joe told you in Louisiana Mr Jones, we are not interested in your money. We are not willing to sell to someone who will mistreat the animals and undo all of our hard work.”

Hank Jones was now angry. He grabbed Phillippe by the front of his shirt roughly “You and your cousin don’t know the first thing about how I treat animals you little snot nosed brat. I think it’s about time for your first lesson, don’t you?”.

Both Hank Jones and Phillippe failed to notice the three riders approaching the ranch house. Joe was still in the barn, but to Ben and his boys, all they could see from that istance was somebody roughly grabbing hold of Little Joe.

Without warning, Jones suddenly curled back his fist and drove a punch into Philippe’s unprotected stomach. Phillippe immediately doubled up from the blow and let out a gasp of pain.

Jones struck him a second and third time in the ribs before he heard Ben Cartwright roar from behind him. “You let go of my son NOW” Ben bellowed as he was dismounting from his own horse. Adam and Hoss were also dismounting their horses ready to come to the aid of their younger brother.

By now, Joe had heard the commotion in the barn and walked out to see what the trouble was. He saw Phillippe laying on the ground curled up and trying to defend himself against any further blows.

Joe took one look at Philippe’s attacker and his temper immediately began to bristle. “YOU” he exclaimed aloud. By now Ben and his boys had glanced towards the person walking out of the barn and noted that the man had actually been attacking Phillippe and not Joe as it had looked.

Joe tried to grab a hold of the man before he could mount his horse. He managed to grab hold of Jones boot, but the man kicked out angrily and Joe fell backwards to the hard ground. He was uninjured as Hoss tried to help his younger brother up. Adam and Ben were trying to check Phillippe over and assess his injuries.

“DON’T YOU EVER LET ME SEE YOUR MISERABLE HIDE AROUND THIS RANCH AGAIN JONES. I TOLD YOU IN LOUISIANA THAT NONE OF MY HORSES WILL EVER BE SOLD TO NO GOOD SCUM LIKE YOU. RIDE OUT OF HERE BEFORE I CALL THE SHERIFF FOR WHAT YOU JUST DID.” Joe was very angry.

Ben looked at his youngest son and saw that whatever this man had done in the past must have been very bad. He had rarely seen Joe’s anger with such intensity and ferocity at any one particular person. It almost scared Ben for a minute to think his son was capable of such white hot anger.

“You’d better be watching your back Cartwright. Somebody might put a bullet in it while your not looking if your not careful. Or something much worse” Jones said with a snarl.

Hoss was just about to grab a hold of this man for the threats he had made towards Joe, but the man kicked his horse into a gallop and was away from the yard before anybody could lay a hand on him.

As the man rode away, he thought about the two young men that were at the ranch. His problem really laid with the hot-headed one Joe Cartwright. But when he had punched the other one called Phillippe, he seemed to be too scared even to defend himself. Maybe he was the weakest link of the two of them. Maybe he could kill two birds with one stone. He could take his frustrations out on the weaker Phillippe, but still be hitting Joe Cartwright where it hurt because his cousin was hurt. He kept riding along the road to Virginia City as he put together his plan to get back at both of them.

Joe know walked over to were Ben and Adam were helping Phillippe to his feet. The punches had been painful enough, but they weren’t life threatening. Phillippe would only need to rest easy for a while and he would recover okay.

Ben and Adam thought that Joe’s anger would have disappeared when the stranger rode away from the yard. They were wrong. One look on Joe’s face as he faced his cousin told them that there was another battle about to take place on the Ponderosa.

Phillippe saw the anger in Joe’s face and knew that he had been found out. He was rather glad to get the secret of his chest, but he dreaded the dressing down he was about to get from his cousin. He walked gingerly across the yard towards the house.

Joe was ahead of them and pushed the door open with a thud and stood beside the fireplace as Phillippe and the rest of the family entered the room. Joe’s questioning began even before Phillippe made it across the room to the settee.

“You knew he was here didn’t you?” Joe asked in a calm voice void of emotion.

“Yes, Joe I knew that he was near. But I didn’t think he would follow me to the Ponderosa” Phillippe replied.

“Is he the reason you came here?” Joe accused his cousin.

Phillippe hung his head in shame at Joe’s correct assumption. “Yes, Joe. But let me explain, please” he said. Ben and the others just watched the conversation in silence. They were finally finding out the real reason for Philippe’s visit. They knew that somehow Joe had guessed it was for reason other than just wanting to rekindle old friendships.

Joe stood with his hands on hips ready for the explanation that he was going to hear.

“He came back about two months ago Joe. Long after you left. He wanted to buy the horses I had again. He said he would offer double what he offered before. But I told him that I still wasn’t interested. He came back the day after and actually threatened to do me harm if I didn’t sell him the horses. He told me that he would hurt you too if he got the chance. That’s why I came here. I know it was stupid to let him follow me right to where you were. But as you can see from today’s exercise, I am not very good at defending myself physically. After the gun fight you had with Paul that day, I thought that you and your family would be able to protect me from him if he bothered either of us again. I am sorry Joe, for everything. I might have had other motives behind coming here, but I also wanted to see you too. You’ve got you believe me Joe.” Phillippe just looked at Joe for any signs of forgiveness.

“Why didn’t you say something earlier, when you first got here” Joe asked. His anger had subsided somewhat when he heard about the threats Phillippe had received. He didn’t totally understand him running away and coming all the way here. But the reason given went some way towards explaining his cousin’s sudden need to visit the Ponderosa.

“I knew you would think me a coward Joe” Phillippe answered honestly. “I hoped that once I left Louisiana he would give up trying to follow me and I would be able to go back after a few weeks break. But I was wrong and the only thing I have done is brought him right to your doorstep.”

“If you want me to leave Joe, I will understand” Phillippe said.

“I don’t want you to leave Phillippe. I can’t say I am happy about what’s happened. But I am sure we can work this thing out” Joe replied. “We just have to be careful with Jones around that’s all. I wouldn’t put anything past him, especially after today. He’s likely to shoot first and look for a reason why later.”

“You just leave him to me Joe” Hoss now said as he weighed into the conversation. He wasn’t about to let anybody bully his little brother around.

“Who is this HE that you keep talking about” Ben now asked, trying not to intervene too much in the conversation between the two cousins.

“His name is Hank Jones Pa” Joe explained. “Back when Phillippe and I were running the horse operation in Louisiana, Jones turned up and wanted to buy some of the horses. However his reputation for cruelness towards not only people but animals preceded him. There were lots of rumours going around about him using whips and other such harsher method on animals that wouldn’t conform to his way of thinking. There was no way I was going to let any of our horses fall into his hands. He offered to pay top dollar, but even after that I couldn’t bring myself to sell him the horses.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t go to this dance tomorrow night Joe” Adam said with concern for his brother’s safety. “He might turn up there and cause trouble.”

“I don’t think so Adam” Joe said trying to ease his family’s concern. “Jones is the kind of person that does things sneaky and behind your back, not out in public. I think there will be too many people at the dance tomorrow night for him to try anything there.”

Ben was less than happy about the fact that somebody was threatening Joe or Phillippe, but Joe seemed to think that the threat wasn’t dangerous at this stage. He would keep a closer eye on both of them over the next few days though. He would tell Hoss and Adam later on to do the same.

Phillippe winced a little too loudly at the slight pain that his ribs were causing him.

“We’d better take a look at those ribs for you Phillippe” Joe said as he walked over to his cousin. In his anger he had forgotten all about the punches he had received.
Phillippe obligingly lifted his shirt to display a number of darkening bruises on his ribs and chest. They looked quite painful, but with gentle probing Joe was satisfied that Phillippe didn’t have anything more serious than bruising.

“You’d better rest up some before tomorrow cousin, if you are going to dance the night away” Joe said with a smile.

Phillippe thought the smile was the best thing he had seen all day. He was feeling a little sorry for himself when Joe had found out the real reason for his visit. He had fully expected to be thrown out on his ear and headed back to Louisiana. The smile that Joe now displayed, dispelled any fears he might have had about Joe’s feelings towards him.

The rest of the afternoon went quietly enough. Joe found himself with another headache after all of the yelling he had done, so he opted to lay down in his room again to try and ease it before supper time.

Supper time at the table was enjoyable, but afterwards, Joe and Phillippe could be talking secretly together about their plans for the dance on the following night. The two of them couldn’t wait to pull their infamous gag on the citizens of Virginia City.


The next day couldn’t pass quickly enough for Little Joe. He and Phillippe had gone over the horse contract with the army and readjusted the schedule to allow enough time for it to be completed. Joe’s unforseen injury had shaved some time off, but with a little extra effort, they could make up the time easily.

About 4.00 p.m. in the afternoon, Joe and Phillippe were gathering the last of their things together ready to make the trip to Virginia City.

Adam and Hoss had been working on the fences in the North pasture for most of the day and when they returned only half an hour ago they looked tired and beat.  Neither of them had any intentions of escorting the two cousins into town for the dance tonight.

Joe was pleased that he wouldn’t have his brothers along with him tonight. This night belonged to him and Phillippe. He had been shown the ways of the south when in Louisiana and he had been to some of the flashiest places ever. Now he intended to make the most of Philippe’s stay and show him a good time Ponderosa style.

The two of them were about to leave but to Ben’s confusion they weren’t dressed in their finery yet and he thought it was a little too early to be leaving for a dance that didn’t start until 7.00 p.m. He voiced his concerns to the two young men before they could leave.

“That’s a part of the whole scheme Pa” Joe said with a cheeky grin. “I have organized for us to change into our clothes at the hotel. That way we can really spin our surprise on them. As for the leaving early, we need some time for us to sneak into town without being spotted.”

“You’re not going to do anything foolish are you Joseph” Ben said with a stern look. “I don’t want to have Sheriff Coffee come out here telling me you have been locked up in his jail because of something you did at that dance tonight. I want you to have a good time but don’t embarrass yourself or Phillippe. I want you both home at a reasonable hour too.”

“Don’t worry Pa” Joe said as he stopped himself from launching into a long speech about being old enough to look after himself. About being old enough to stay out as long as he liked. About being able to take care of himself. “I’ll be careful.” he said simply.

Ben knew all the arguments in his head that Joe did not speak out loud. He knew that Joe was becoming old enough to look after himself and not have Adam or Hoss there behind him to constantly look after him. Little Joe was turning in a mature young adult and deserved to be treated as such. But something more primal deep inside. Call it intuition, call it a father’s right to worry, call it what you like but Ben Cartwright would always feel a little more protective towards his youngest son Joseph, no matter how old he became.

“Have a good time Phillippe” Ben said as he watched the two young men ride away from the house. Joe was on his mount Cochise as usual and Phillippe had decided to take the horse that he had ridden when he first arrived.

Joe and Phillippe just gave small waves of their hands towards Ben as they headed towards the dance. On the way there, Joe tried to fill Phillippe in on what might be part of the night’s entertainment. He told Phillippe the names of a few of the young ladies that might enjoy their company tonight. Phillippe had not been to a dance as such. The only dances he attended involved formal ballroom dancing by wealthy young men trying to vie for a young lady’s attention.

The building where the dance was to be held was on the way into Virginia City, so to avoid being spotted on his well known horse, Joe and Phillippe unsaddled their mounts and gave them a rub down before settling them in the stalls outside the hall. The distance between the hall and the hotel would be short enough to walk. They watched the streets carefully to make sure that they weren’t spotted by somebody that knew Little Joe.

They used the back alleys to make their way to the hotel. When they reached the hotel, Joe was the first to got inside and arrange the receiving of the room key. Phillippe waited outside in the alleyway so he couldn’t be seen by anybody in the street.

“There you are MrCartwright” the desk clerk said as he handed Joe the key “I hope the room is to your liking. Please let me know if you need anything at all.”

“Thank you MrBarton” Joe said as he put on his best smile. Joe made sure that he took his time walking up the stairs so as the desk clerk could get a good look at him as he walked up the stairs to his room. Joe and Phillippe had decided on the way into town to pull the same gag on the desk clerk that they had played on Joe’s brothers Adam and Hoss.

About ten minutes after Joe started walking up the stairs, Phillippe made his entrance into the hotel lobby. He didn’t need to stop and talk to the desk clerk about his room reservation. Instead he just passed close enough for the desk clerk to look up at his presence.

He continued his slow walk past the desk and flashed that infamous smile again as he made his way to the staircase. He could barely hold back the laughter at the look on the poor desk clerk’s face.

The man had gone completely white and was trying to tell himself that he hadn’t just seen Joe Cartwright walk up the stairs twice in a matter of minutes.

The man tried to forget what he had seen and carry on his duties as normal. He fumbled with the register and had to try to stop his hands shaking though as he gripped the pen to note the correct entries. He was telling himself that he needed a vacation.

Phillippe made it into the hallway and wondered which room Joe had secured. He was happy to see that Joe had left the door ajar on room 11 and was standing just inside for him.

Phillippe told Joe what the clerk’s reaction had been to seeing him walk past and they both giggled as they closed the door and started to get ready for their dance.

Half an hour before the dance was to begin, both of the young men stood in front of the full length mirror attached to the inside of the wardrobe and gazed at each other’s attire.

The whole idea of hiding their clothes from Joe’s family and the people of Virginia City was that they weren’t just going to be making an entrance looking like each other. Joe intended that he dress and carry on the mannerisms of his cousin Phillippe for the entire night, while Phillippe would change into Joe’s attire and call himself Joseph Cartwright for the rest of the night. Phillippe had been practicing with his voice over the last few days when nobody else was around and he had managed to suppress some of the southern drawl that often crept into his speech. He was confident that with all of the added noise of the music and the exciting atmosphere, people wouldn’t notice any accent that might accidentally mar his words as he talked tonight.

Phillippe wore a dark navy suit that Joe had lent him. He had on a longer jacket that reached just past his waist ling, but still narrowed enough in the middle. He had on black boots and combed his hair into place, trying to make a few curls fall into the right place as they would normally have on Joe Cartwright.

Joe looked at himself in the mirror and was taken aback at how good Philippe’s clothes actually suited him. He had on black trousers with a satin strip down both outside legs. The short jacket was cut tightly in the waist and accentuated his lean torso and emphasized his body in all the right places. The thing that really set Joe’s emerald green eyes off and made the costume complete, was the cape he wore.

He had borrowed it especially from Phillippe for the night. It was full length and was drawn around his neck and buttoned just above the collar of his jacket. The outside was black like his suit, but the underside of the cape was emerald green satin that matched his eyes. It shimmered and shone in the light and made his eyes dance with the swaying movements the material made as he moved about.

The two men were ready to start walking. They both giggled as they tried to envisage the look on the clerk’s face again as they made their way downstairs.

They didn’t have to wait long. They paused slightly at the top of the stairs and made their way down together. There were a few hotel patrons in the hotel lobby in addition to the desk clerk himself. There were whispers and gasps of shock as everybody watched the two handsome young men descend the stairs.

Everyone marvelled at the finery they were wearing and how strikingly similar their appearance was. The desk clerk had just looked on with confusion as he tried to fathom how one Joe Cartwright had turned into two. He was seeing double.

Joe and Phillippe continued to smile as they walked out of the hotel and down the street. By now, most of the streets were bare except for a few other people walking to the dance. Their secret would remain as such for a few more minutes yet until they made their grand entrance.

Joe and Phillippe made their way to the side of the hall when they got closer, so that nobody saw them too early. The day had turned into night and it was dark enough to mask their presence for the time being. Both of them failed to notice that somebody else was watching them from further away in the darkness.

A small curly puff of smoke blew from a light cigar as the man continued to watch the two young men.

About twenty minutes later, Joe and Phillippe decided that everybody who would be attending had turned up inside. There were a number of horses in the stable a little further away including Cochise and Philippe’s mount, but most people had chosen to walk the short distance to the hall.

Joe and Phillippe could hear the musicians start to play as they came out of the darkness. They walked towards the door and paused when they got there.
Everybody seemed to be too busy to see who was at the door for a moment, but then the band stopped playing and everybody turned around to see who was standing at the door. They soon saw exactly why the band had stopped playing.

Unlike back at the hotel, there were numerous people in this building who knew Joe Cartwright personally. There were gasps of shock and squeals from many of
the girls when they spied two Joe’s standing at the door. They both looked spectacularly handsome.

Phillippe was feeling a little nervous at seeing this many people in one room at any one time, but his had to boost his confidence in a hurray if he was going to pass himself off as Little Joe.

The band started to play a slow tune again. Two of the young ladies at the dance suddenly left their own escorts to come and see the two new attendees. One of them was Bessie Harrison, the other was Lucy Sullivan. They walked over to Joe and Phillippe and tried to start a conversation.

“Hello Little Joe” Bessie said to both of them, not really sure which was the real Little Joe. The little petite brunette looked back from one to the other trying to spot the difference that would tell her the correct answer.

Phillippe tried not to stumble over his words as he started to address the pretty girl. “Hello” he said. He didn’t know the girl’s name but hoped that introductions would soon come. “This is my cousin Phillippe from Louisiana” he said as he pointed to Little Joe.

“Nice to meet you young ladies” Joe said formerly as he tried to play Phillippe. “You forgot to mention how pretty these two lovely ladies were cousin” he said as he continued the deception. “Bessie and Lucy, would you care to join us.” Joe asked as he realised that Phillippe wouldn’t know the girls by name.

“Hello Phillippe, I am Bessie Harrison” the brunette said as she held out her hand to Little Joe. “This here is my friend Lucy Sullivan” the girl said pointing to her blond friend.

Phillippe tried to relax slightly now that he knew the girls names. He had butterflies in the pit of is stomach as he looked at the two pretty girls. He wasn’t very good at talking to girls back in Louisiana. And unfortunately for him tonight, it seemed that his cousin Joe had a natural flair for romancing young ladies.

For the moment, the girls were fooled by the deception and were just content to spend time with the two handsome young men.

Joe and Phillippe looked over towards the rear of the room and smiled a cheeky grin at the two young men leaning against the wall. These two young men, Barry
Smith and Thomas Murphy had come to the dance escorting the two young ladies that had become totally smitten over the newcomers.

For the next half an hour, things panned out quite nicely for Joe and Phillippe. Nobody suspected for a moment that they weren’t who they said they were. The topic of conversation was of course about how much they looked alike. People would have believed that Phillippe really was Joe’s long lost brother if they were told so.

Joe and Phillippe were the perfect gentlemen, and waited on the two girls with punch and small savoury food items from the plentiful table.

Joe was trying to have a good time and up until a few minutes ago had been doing so. Now, Phillippe noticed that he was starting to rub his hand over his temple again and he spotted the small facial tics that indicated some pain.

Phillippe discreetly tried to talk to his cousin without anybody else noticing that Little Joe wasn’t feeling the best. “You alright Joe” he asked concerned.

“Yeah” Joe mumbled as he continued to massage the throbbing in his head. He had been disappointed to feel the headaches returning. Yesterday had proven very good, no headaches at all for the entire day. But now, they were certainly making up for it all in one go.

“If you don’t mind I think I will go outside and get some fresh air for a minute” Joe said.

Phillippe nodded and assured Joe that he would tactfully explain his sudden absence to Bessie. The two girls had been talking to each other a few feet away from the two cousins. They saw who they thought was Phillippe walk away towards the back door to outside. Phillippe still pretending to be Little Joe told them that his cousin was just checking on their horses outside and would be back in a few minutes. The girls seemed happy with this explanation and continued to chat idly between each other about which cousin was the cutest.

Joe had grumbled and mumbled his way outside as he tried to ease the pain in his head. The fresh air and the gentle breeze on his face felt good. He walked
over to where the horses were and leaned over the railing while nudging Cochise’s nose. His cape billowed out behind him in the breeze and the moonlight danced off the satin inset.

Joe was too busy wrapped up in his own little world to notice a dark shadow moving behind him.

He half turned around at a slight sound behind him, but then found himself engulfed in a wave of material as somebody threw the long cape over the top of his head.
Suddenly he was flailing his arms in all directions, trying to free himself from the cascade of green fabric. But before he could pull the cape back over his head and while his assailant’s identity remained unknown, Joe felt a stabbing pain from his head being struck with a blunt object.

The pain drove him to his knees and he gasped out loud trying to get his breath back. His grunts were muffled slightly by the heavy fabric of the cape. Before he could stand again or put up any sort of struggle against his attacker, the butt of Hank Jones’s pistol descended on his curly head again and he crumpled to the dirt in a heap.

He had lost consciousness from the blows and the wound on the back of his head began to bleed a little.

Hank Jones laughed out loud at Little Joe’s plight, but before he could get too carried away he needed to get the boy tied up securely and placed on his horse, ready to ride out before anybody could come along and disturb him. He unhitched a coil of rope from his saddle and bent down and untied the cape from around Little Joe’s neck.

The wound on Joe’s head had bled and before the blood had a chance to congeal and tangle the curls together, he wiped a large red stain onto the emerald green
satin insert of the cape. He then proceeded to tie Joe’s ankles together and his hands behind his back.

Once his helpless victim was tied with the rope, he threw the unconscious youth over his horn of his saddled horse and mounted his horse ready to ride away. He
kept the blood stained cape draped over Joe’s still form. He would be wanting to use it shortly.

Inside, Phillippe had begun to worry a little about the length of Joe’s absence from the dance. He excused himself from Lucy and Bessie and started to walk outside
trying to look for his missing cousin.

He gasped out loud in shock as he saw the slumped and unconscious form of his cousin Little Joe over the horse with the silhouetted figure behind him. The man
grinned devilishly at him as he spotted the other young man looking at his captive.

“See Ya round Cartwright” he said as he kicked the horse into a gallop and rode away at a pace so as to foil any attempts for others to follow him and his victim.
The snow flicked up behind the horses hooves as they rode away.

Without waiting much longer Phillippe dashed towards the waiting horses, he looked back and forth between his still slightly nervous mount and Joe’s beloved
Cochise. He decided to take a risk and started to saddle Cochise. The horse was perceptive enough to his touch. The horse seemed to sense that somehow
this wasn’t his true master, but he allowed Phillippe to handle him.

Lucy and Bessie just watched with worried looks on their faces along with the rest of the people from the dance as Phillippe rode Cochise back towards the Ponderosa.

Quite a way ahead, Hank Jones had just reached the fork in the road on the way to the homestead. One trail led right to the house, the other took off towards the
barren plains between here and Yuma Creek.

He looked down at his young victim and saw that the boy’s skin was slightly cold to the touch and he had begun shivering from the cold weather that prevailed.
He dismounted and started walking towards the house, leaving the unconscious Joe still over the horse’s saddle.

As he got closer to the house, he made sure that he kept out of sight of the lights from the bunk house to hide his approach.

Inside, it was about 8.00 and Ben, Hoss and Adam were seated at the dining room table finishing off a last cup of coffee after the evening meal. The discussion around the table had been about what Joe and Phillippe would be up to at the dance by now.

Hank Jones managed to walk silently to the big wooden front door with the green and blood stained cape in hand. He pulled his pistol out of the holster and used the
butt end to secure the cape to the front door with a rusty nail. He knew that the sound would be heard inside, but that was the whole idea of his plan.

Without wondering too much whether the nail would hold, he quickly crept away into the shadows again towards the horse at the fork in the road. When he had made it back, he found Little Joe in the same position as before, unconscious and shivering from the cold night. He headed down the second fork in the road into the darkness and coldness of the night with his captive.

When Jones hammered in the nail, the Cartwrights had indeed heard it. They thought somebody must be at the door. They all had visions of it being Sheriff Roy Coffee coming to tell them that they had Little Joe locked up back in his jail cell after causing some sort of ruckus at the dance.

Almost before Ben Cartwright got up from his chair and started walking towards the door, the knocking stopped all together. There was no other sound to be heard.
Adam and Hoss had gotten up from their chairs as well to see who the uninvited guess was.

Ben opened the door and looked out onto the front patio, almost missing the cascade of green fabric that flapped gently in the cold night air. He looked at the material with confusion. He pulled on the garment and it fell away from the door easily due to not being fixed very securely to the door.

He closed the front door to stop the cold breeze from outside and then went to giving the cape a closer inspection.

Adam and Hoss also looked at the fancy looking cape with puzzlement. Not many people around Virginia City owned such an expensive item of clothing. It was much to fancy for these simple folks.

All three of them had the same idea that the garment must belong to Joe’s cousin Phillippe.

As Ben turned the material over to reveal the green satin underlay and gasped out loud when he saw the blood stains. They were hard to miss. The blood had dried into dark brown patches and was in such contrast to the shimmering emerald green satin fabric.

All of them looked at each other with worry that something terrible had happened to Phillippe.

“Let’s get the horses saddled ready to go into town boys” Ben said as he grabbed for his gun belt from its peg on the wall behind the door. Hoss and Adam grabbed their own gun belts and began to buckle them on as well.

“What do you think might have happened Pa?” Hoss asked with concern in his voice. If Phillippe was hurt, where was Joe. Was he hurt too? Before the question could be spoken they all hurried outside at the sound of a horse approaching the house at such speed.

From the distance from the house to the barn where the horse was fast approaching, they could make out the shape and colour of Cochise with a rider on his back. It must be Joe coming back to tell them what had happened.

As the rider and horse came into the moonlight, something told them that the rider was not Little Joe. It looked like Little Joe, but something about the person’s posture in the saddle and the manner in which he rode the animal suggested that it might be somebody else entirely.

“Uncle Ben” the rider shouted as he pulled the horse up to a complete stop a few feet from them. Phillippe was breathless by the time he dismounted and half run half stumbled to the trio standing on the patio.

Ben’s heart was now in his own throat as he recognized the voice of the rider as Phillippe and not his youngest son Little Joe. Now his own mind started to ask Hoss’s question from earlier. Where was Little Joe.

“Uncle Ben” Phillippe said as Ben grabbed him firmly by the forearms and tried to get him to calm down to enable him to tell them what had happened to Little Joe.

“He took Little Joe” he managed to blurt out all at once.

Adam and Hoss now had fear of their own mounting in great numbers at seeing the owner of the blood stained cape actually standing in front of them, apparently unhurt. If the blood hadn’t come from Phillippe, they dreaded asking the question and reaching the alternative conclusion.

“Who’s he?” Ben said but something in the pit of his stomach told him that the stranger from yesterday had returned and carried out the threats that he had shouted.

“Hank Jones” Phillippe said. His voice was a little calmer now and he had caught his breath sufficiently to be able to tell the whole story.

“Why are you wearing Little Joe’s suit?” Adam now asked Phillippe.

“It’s was part of Joe’s trick for the dance. He wanted to dress up like me and I would dress up like him. We would go to the dance, he would pretend to be me and I would pretend to be him. I’m sorry Uncle Ben I never thought it would turn out bad like this.” Phillippe said on the verge of tears.

“Tell us the rest of what happened” Ben said trying not to let his fear show. He couldn’t afford to be weak at this time. His son might be needing him desperately. He might be waiting for his father and brother to come and rescue him from the hands of a madman who was out to do him great harm. He needed to be strong and remain that way until after Joe was safely back home and with his family.

“Joe said he had another headache and went outside to get some fresh air” Phillippe explained. “I thought he had been gone a bit too long and went to see if he was alright. I got to the door outside near the horse stalls and saw him slumped unconscious over the saddle of Jones’s horse. Jones just laughed and continued to ride away. The worst part of it is that he must have thought that he had caught me instead. He didn’t realize that Joe and I had switched for the night. He turned around to me and said “See Ya around Cartwright.”

“Pa, if he thinks he really has Phillippe, then Joe could be in bigger trouble than he already is when he comes to and that Jones fellow realizes he has got the wrong man.” Hoss said with his worry for Little Joe clearly showing.

“I think your right Hoss” Ben said, but then he started to think of the best way to help rescue his missing son. “But we can’t leave tonight in this cold. The tracks
should be fresh enough to cover at first light. We will get the horses ready and a few supplies. If this fellow was brash enough to come right up to the house, we should be able to follow his tracks from the barn onwards. The snow is quite deep in places and the imprints left by the horse, particularly with two riders, should be good enough to follow.”

Hoss and Adam nodded their agreement at the plan. They both looked at their father’s face and knew that Ben’s own emotions were wrestling within him. The most protective part of him towards Little Joe wanted to ride out now in the middle of the darkness and kill the man who had taken his youngest son. But the rational part of him and the sensible side told him that he would not be helping his son if they got lost due to the weather.

“Phillippe, when we leave at first light, I want you to ride back into Virginia City and get Doc Martin and tell him what’s happened. Tell him to meet us here at the Ponderosa because we will probably need him once we have found Little Joe and brought him back. It’s getting very cold outside and Joe has no warm coat with him.” Ben said.

All of them tried to rest for a few hours, waiting for the early dawn to arrive. But no matter how hard they tried, the same fear for Little Joe and what pain and suffering he might be going through at the hands of his kidnapper.

Phillippe felt particularly guilty because it was supposed to be him and not his cousin Little Joe. If they hadn’t switched clothes and tried to be like each other, then none of this might have happened. He had agreed whole heartedly with Joe’s scheme at first because part of him wanted to know what it felt like to be Joseph Cartwright. He had seen the results at the dance when the local girls had flocked around him. Of course they were drawn to his naturally handsome looks, but there was something else. They were drawn to his natural charisma and the charm that just seemed to ooze out of every pore. There was that self confidence that couldn’t be learnt overnight.

Ben Cartwright just sat in his chair thinking for most of the hours that they had to wait. He wanted to rescue his son and tear apart the man who saw it fit to take him from his home and family.

About 5.00 a.m. the clouds in the sky had a aura around them signalling the rising of the sun was imminent. Everybody involved wore thick heavy coats to obstruct the cold weather. They had packed extra blankets in case they needed them when they found Little Joe. They could see each other’s breath form clouds of mist and condensation in the cold morning air.

The part consisted of just the family at this time. Phillippe had been instructed to tell Sheriff Roy Coffee what had happened and where they were headed. They expected that a second search party would follow later that morning once it was organized from the people in town.

Hoss led the search party out. He was known as the best tracker around these parts. They came to the fork in the road and could clearly see that the stranger and Little Joe were headed in the direction of Yuma Creek.

They spurred their horses into a quicker pace trying to reach Little Joe in time.

*****

While the Cartwrights had been anxiously awaiting the morning light to start their search, Hank Jones had been in the saddle for about five hours. He had been
watching the landscape carefully over the last half an hour trying to find a spot to set up camp for the night.

He finally spotted a place that would suit his purpose very well. There was a very large beech tree that was growing just off the side of the road. It was a monstrous
tree, but because of winter it was also devoid of any leaves or fruit this time of year. The large spindly branches reached out like thin grey arms trying to get whatever
warmth from the sun they could.

Jones pulled up his tired mount and threw the reins of his horse around one of the lower limbs of the tree. He pulled the still form of Little Joe off the horse roughly
and dumped him into the cold snow on the ground. A small grunt of pain escaped Joe’s lips as he hit the frozen ground, but for the most part he remained oblivious to
his precarious situation.

Hank Jones went about making a campfire for himself. He had definite plans for his young captive, but due to the darkness of the night and the cold, his plans would
have to wait until morning. He warmed himself in front of the blazing flames and waited for his coffee pot to brew. He had unsaddled his horse for the night
but left the horse’s blanket in place for the cold. He looked down at his young victim as he unrolled his own bedroll and threw a moth eaten and mildewyblanket
over Little Joe’s unconscious body. It wouldn’t be warm enough, but it would stop the weather from killing him during the night.

Hank Jones settled down into his bed and blankets about the same time as Ben Cartwright sat in his leather chair, worrying about what might be happening to his
youngest son Little Joe.

*****
About the same time as the Cartwright’s started out after Hank Jones, Little Joe Cartwright was beginning to groan and regain consciousness for the first time
since being hit on the head.

His assailant was still cocooned in his bedroll in front of the dying embers of the campfire.

The first thing that woke Joe was the intense cold he felt all over his body. His body had become so cold during the night that his muscles were now very stiff
and rigid.

Joe tried to roll over and find out why he was so cold. It was then that the first wave of pain hit him from the wound on his head. He groaned out loudlyat
the throbbing pain that just seemed to grow in intensity the more he moved. He found that he couldn’t roll over due to his hands and feet being bound by
rope.

He had a hard time trying to recollect any of the previous nights happenings. He had to think long and hard about how he might have ended up being trussed up
with rope and having a mountain sized headache. His cotton thin shirt flapped in the slight but icy cold wind and his skin came out in goose flesh.

He finally managed to roll onto his side and could see from his awkward position, a campfire and somebody’s curled up form beside it.

He groaned again at the menacing pain in his head and this time the noise awoke the other figure by the fire. Joe looked shocked and then had a face of anger as
he recognized his kidnapper as Hank Jones.

“To cowardly to take me on are you Jones” Joe spat viciously at the man who was still waking himself up. “Had to truss me up and knock me out just to get the
upper hand did you?”

It was Hank Jones who now had the surprised look on his face. He could hear Joe’s snide comments, but the thing that held his attention was the accent in Joe’s
voice, or more to the point, the lack of it. He had heard Phillippe talk back at the ranch and when he was in Louisiana. The southern drawl was hard to miss.
Now listening to his captive, the accent was gone. He smiled to himself and then evilly at Joe as it dawned on him who he actually had bound up.

“Well, Mr Cartwright” Jones started “I must say this is a surprise. You know I never meant to take you on at all. I always meant to take that yellow
skinned cousin of yours Phillippe.”

Joe looked at the man in puzzlement. He remembered what he was wearing last night to the dance and realised why he had been struck over the head and
not his cousin.

“You know I meant to take that cousin of yours and teach him some respect.” Jones explained. “I hoped it would serve as a warning to you as well, not to mess with me. But looks like I might be able to give that lesson first hand now.” he said with a grin. He walked over to the defenceless Joe and without warning, kicked him painfully in his unprotected rib cage.

While Joe was trying to get his breath back from the man’s blow, Jones walked over to the saddle bags at the base of the tree and started to pull out some thicker
coils of rope. This rope was made of a coarser material and was about an inch in diameter.

Joe swallowed a little, dreading what schemes this man might have in stall for him. Up until now he had not feared the man. He had kept his distance where possible,
and knew not to entice the man unnecessarily, but now not being able to protect or defend himself, he felt the knots of fear start to twist in his stomach.

Without explaining what he was doing, Jones walked over to the still bound Joe and started to untie the rope around his wrists. Joe had tried to fight the man
off with a few feeble struggles, but his muscles were still stiff and cold and he only felt the heavy blows to his upper body that were dished out to subdue him.
While he was trying to fight off the waves of pain in his head and rib cage, the man retied his hands with the thicker rope. The rope was tied a little further
down this time and the rough fibres of the rope dug into the soft flesh of his wrists.

“What are you planning to do with me?” Joe asked with a little apprehension but his question went unanswered and Jones turned his attention to the tree behind him.

He pulled out another heavy coil of rope and now swung a loop up over a bough of the tree that was about six feet off the ground. For a moment Joe thought the
man planned to simply hang him from the tree like a common criminal. He was a little surprised when instead of fashioning a noose out of the rope, the man made
a much larger loop and now tied this around his chest area, leaving his arms free.

When the man had tied a few more ropes together and got the desired effect, he pulled the sore and aching Joe to his feet. The loop over the tree was now
secured to the other rope tied around his wrists. Joe felt himself being dragged back for a few moments and then hoisted into the air by the primitive pulley system that had been constructed.

Jones laughed all the way as he kept pulling on the rope and lifting his captive higher and higher until his feet were off the ground. When the boy’s body was
lifted high enough and his feet dangled only a few inches off the ground, the rope was secured tightly around the trunk of the huge tree. Joe was left to swing and sway in the cold bitter wind.

Joe tried to hide his face from the cold wind, but he felt the sting on his face and tried to shut his eyes. He was suspended from the tree with his full weight
holding him just above the ground. His arms would get weak within a short period of time. He had no idea how long the man intended to leave him like that.

For the next few minutes, all of the aches and pains in his body and head were briefly forgotten as he spotted the man pulling something else out of the saddle
bags from underneath the tree. If had told himself not to be afraid before, now he could help the panic that almost overwhelmed him. He could not hide his gasp of fear as the man held out the instrument of torture he intended to use on his victim.

It was a cat-o-nine tails whip. The tool had a short plaited handle and then flowed down into the tassel like lashes. Each lash looked harsh enough to inflict pain on the recipient and had a cruel looking tip on the end to make the torture last that bit longer.

Joe watched with eyes wide from fear as he watched Jones pull a small knife
from his boot.

Jones walked up behind Little Joe and sliced the boy’s shirt down the middle, displaying his bare back to the cold and bitter wind. The ripped rags that remained of Joe’s shirt fell to the ground beneath him. Joe felt violent shudders flow through his body. Part of it was from the cold, part of it was something else entirely as he dreaded what he knew was about to occur.

“You see Mr Cartwright”, Jones began “Back in Louisiana you need to show people who’s boss by physical force. With the slaves that work on many of the plantations down there, you have to show them from day one what will happen if they disobey you. If you don’t, then things just go from bad to worse and nobody respects you anymore.” He gave a the lashes of the whip a sharp snap to test their strength and put a little more fear into Joe.

“So that’s how you think you get respect” Joe spat back “By beating people and animals into submission just to prove your a big man. Have to make sure that your victims are trussed up and defenceless first. Yeah your a BIG man alright.” he hissed. The pain in his arms from the exertion of being suspended from the tree was getting the better of him and making the sarcastic side of him come out.

Just as Joe had finished his sentence, he had to quickly draw his breath in and hold it to prevent the scream that was caught in his throat. Jones had been incensed at Joe’s comments and without warning had let his victim have the first taste of real pain from the cat-o-nine tails whip.

“This oughta keep your smart comments to yourself” Jones said as he let loose with the leather whip again. “This is the same whip I use on my slaves back in Louisiana. Don’t kill them, but soon shows them that I mean business. Pretty effective don’t you think?” he said with a laugh as Joe’s face contorted with the pain again.

“GO TO HELL” Joe said through clenched teeth as he felt the sting of the whip again on his bare back.

“You first Cartwright” Jones said and it was this sentence that signalled him to increase his punishment.

For the next five minutes, he continuously lashed at Joe’s tanned and smooth skin on his back with the vicious leather thongs. Joe had been trying to hide his screams of pain from his tormentor. It was getting harder and harder. With every blow, Jones would bring his hand back just that bit more each time to gather momentum before releasing it again through the tip of the whip on to Little Joe. The five minutes had begun to feel more like eternity.

“Haven’t got any smart comments now have you Cartwright” Jones said as he kept up the lashing.

Joe couldn’t answer the questions, the only sound that escaped his lips was a low moan from the pain he was feeling. It felt like his whole body was on fire, not just his back.

As the whip was lashed across his back, the tassel like leather thongs flayed over his back like a fan, making sure that the pain was felt over the entire surface of his back.

The leather thongs had left red welts criss-crossing his back. In some places, there were tear marks where the leather had bitten into the skin and then sharply released it’s grip again to leave shallow lacerations. Some of the lacerations had begun to bleed, but due to the cold air, the small amounts of bleeding that occurred were frozen into red icicles before they could run down his back to his waist.

Joe’s exposed bare skin now took on a sickly white colour from the results of the punishment he was experiencing combined with the cold air outside. Joe body was shivering even more now from the coldness.

Joe had bitten down on his lip trying to hide the screams of pain so much that his lip now bled as well. He looked the picture of misery. His head hung low and his curls were damp and hung limply in his eyes. He was almost at the end of his physical strength.

“Don’t forget Cartwright” and Jones now yanked his head up by his hair just for emphasis, “I know where you are, I can come back and get you anytime I feel like it.”

Jones had finished with his fun for the time being. His victim wasn’t struggling anymore and was now barely conscious. It just wasn’t as fun when they weren’t fighting back. He now saddled his horse and prepared to depart. He had no intentions of untying his victim. The boy was sagging very limply from the tree. He assumed that somebody would be no doubt following him by now. He needed to make sure he wasn’t anywhere around when they found the boy. Whether he was alive or not by that time remained to be seen. There would be other chances to get back at Joe Cartwright.

Joe didn’t have the strength to lift his head up, but he could hear the sound of Jones saddling his horse and then riding away. There was no way he could free himself
from the ropes and the tree.

By now, the coarse rope fibres had begun to dig painfully into his wrists even more causing chafing and some bleeding. The pain in his arms was getting unbearable
and his arms were now trembling from the pain. His mouth was very dry at the moment, but there was no hope of any cool water to quench his thirst.

Joe was getting extremely tired. His eyelids began to droop and the headache he had from the blows to his head had returned now and played in a weird sort of symphony between the ache in his head, the ache in his wrists and arms and the burning sensation on his bare back. He tried to struggle and loosen the ropes and try and set himself free, but his efforts only made him more fatigued.

He soon found himself drifting away from his conscious self. The pain combined with the feeling of being all alone and abandoned quickly overwhelmed him and Little Joe fell into a restless sleep. After about half an hour longer, the cold wind had taken its toll on his body and the restless sleep deteriorated into a deeper one and finally into unconsciousness. Now with his eyes closed, a few stray ice crystals began to form on his closed eyelashes and on the tips on his limp sagging curls that fell over his forehead.

If only he had been able to hold on for a short time longer, he might had been able to gain some strength from the sight of three horsemen who were now only about
a few hundred metres away.

Ben and his two eldest boys had been tracking in the snow for hours by now. The trail had started out fairly easy enough to follow. But over the last couple of precious lost hours, they had found themselves having to back track a number of times to get back on the right track.

As they came to a curve in the road, they paused a minute to readjust their bearings again. Hoss had been looking down at the snow and the tracks on the ground, however, Adam had been looking at something straight ahead that seemed out of place.

“Pa, can you see that big tree ahead” he asked as he tried to clear his view.

“I see it son” Ben replied. His view was also obstructed slightly.

“Doesn’t it look kinda strange looking to you Pa” Adam asked. He could see something hanging from the tree in the distance but they were still too far away to work out what it might be.

Hoss had also now looked up to where his father and older brother were looking. He couldn’t make head or tails of the object from the tree either.

Ben walked a few steps ahead of his two sons on Buck to get a better look. Suddenly, every inch of him was filled with fear as his brain recognized the shape of the object hanging from the tree.

“OH DEAR GOD” he exclaimed and kicked Buck into a gallop. He had to get to that tree as fast as he could.

Adam and Hoss exchanged worried glances “You don’t think it’s ……..” Hoss started to say but then both of them spurred their own horses into a run. They didn’t need to complete the sentence to know what Hoss meant.

By the time Ben got close enough to make a positive identification, he almost had tears in his eyes to think that the pathetic creature hanging from the huge tree was actually his youngest son Joseph.

“Oh Joseph” Ben cried out as he reached his son still suspended in the tree. He could see that Joe was unconscious. His face had taken on an ashen colour from the cold wind that buffeted his young battered body. It wasn’t until he walked around the other side of his son’s body, trying to work out the best way to get him down that he truly saw the inflictions that had been placed on his son. He had to shield his eyes momentarily, and then, rather than cry tears of sorrow, his face turned into a mask. A mask of anger. How dare somebody torture his child like that. How dare they. He swore then and there that he would seek out justice for his youngest son.

Adam and Hoss exclaimed loudly as they saw the angry criss-crossing welts and lacerations that adorned their brother’s young skin. Both of them suddenly had the
same rush of anger that their father had felt. Their eyes burned with fire and they too swore to avenge their brother if they could.

But for now, they had to worry about the most important person in all of this, Little Joe. Ben remained mounted on his horse, while Adam and Hoss dismounted
and went over to the base of the tree, trying to work out how best to untie the rope from around the trunk of the tree.

The coldness had made the rope even stiffer, and when looking up at their brother’s limp and frozen body, they knew that they had little time to take things slow.

“Pa, you hold his legs and waist, while I cut the rope” Adam said. “Make sure your holding onto him tight when the rope goes.”

Ben nodded his agreement to the idea and moved Buck directly underneath Little Joe. Ben reached up and grabbed a hold of Joe’s narrow waist and tried to hold onto him with causing him any further suffering.

Within a few seconds, Ben felt the rope around the tree give way and Joe’s limp body started to fall towards him. For a few short seconds, as he was able to gather his unconscious son into his arms, Ben just held him for a minute and secretly let out his cries of relief. He felt the shallow but steady beat of Joe’s heart against his
chest and knew that his son still lived.

Hoss went about re-stoking the cold campfire coals and getting a roaring fire going again so they could warm the injured Little Joe. He also went about making some
freshly brewed coffee. They would need to warm Joe from the outside as well as the inside.

Adam walked over to his father’s horse and prepared to take his younger brother’s body and carry him over to the warmth of the fire.

Joe remained mostly unconscious, but when his lacerated back touched against the fabric of Adam’s shirt, he moaned at the pain that laced through his body again.
It seemed that even though his family were trying to help him and give him comfort, their efforts only seemed to cause him more distress and pain.

Adam tried to shut out Joe’s soft moans as he carried his limp brother’s body over towards the fire. Hoss had stoked the flames well and they all gratefully hovered
amongst the warmth that was given off.

Ben went about getting a bedroll set up against his saddle closest to the fire. When he was satisfied that it was the best he could do for the time being, he motioned for
Adam to lay Little Joe on the rough blankets.

To start with they laid Joe on his side. They needed to attend to his injuries the best way they could. It would be sometime tomorrow before they would be able to get Doc Martin to look at him, but they needed to clean out the wounds and stop the onset of infection or hypothermia well before that time.

Adam and Hoss had unrolled their own bedrolls and had no hesitation in wrapping the warm fabric around their brother’s shivering body. They needed to get his body temperature up and fast.

Hoss went about melting some snow in a pot near the fire. He didn’t want to boil it, just make it luke warm to enable his father to clean Little Joe’s back. He didn’t
want the water to be freezing cold when they did this.

Adam had gone about cutting the remaining rope from around his younger brother’s wrists. He could see that the skin underneath was chafed and bleeding in some places. He felt his anger start to rise again at the torment his brother must have suffered at the hands of this man.

Hoss brought the water over to Ben and gave him his bandana from around his neck to use as a wash cloth. Ben carefully took the blankets off his son and seated himself in a more comfortable position behind Little Joe. Hoss and Adam sat in front of their unconscious brother, ready to hold him steady or assist in any other way that they might be needed.

“He sure has been through a lot ain’t he Pa” Hoss said glumly as he looked over his brother’s injuries. The wound on his scalp has stopped bleeding some time ago, but there was a nasty looking gash just underneath the hairline that would take a few weeks to heal completely. If he was careful and changed the direction he combed his curls in the morning, nobody would be able to notice the puckered gash while it healed.

“Yes Hoss, he has, but we have to concentrate on getting him home again and making him feel better.” Ben said trying to reassure his middle son that Joe would be alright. In the back of his own mind, he had to keep telling himself the same words to stop his own thoughts from wandering.

Ben wrung out the excess water from the bandana and now dabbed at Joe’s back for the first time. As soon as the moistened cloth touch his swollen and lacerated back, Joe arched his muscles and tried to turn away from his father’s administrations. Adam and Hoss put a steading hand each on his shoulder and his thigh, gently but firmly.

Ben continued with his cleaning of the wounds. Thankfully they weren’t terribly deep, but Joe would be experiencing some pain for quite a few weeks to come. It would be painful just for him to be able to put a shirt on at the moment.

By the time Ben was satisfied with his efforts at cleaning the wounds and the blood that had oozed down his back, the water in the pot took on a crimson look. This only incensed the three eldest Cartwrights even more about Joe’s suffering.

They didn’t have much in the way of spare clothes to put on Joe’s naked torso, so they fashioned a poncho looking garment out of one of the blankets. They cut
two holes for his arms into the fabric and one for his head and then draped it over his front and back loosely. Hopefully the fabric was warm enough to keep out most of the cold until they could head back to the Ponderosa the following morning.

They turned the still unconscious Joe over onto his back. He moaned again at the contact his wounds made with the fabric of his makeshift poncho and the blankets
spread over the rough ground.

Ben now dampened the cloth again and dabbed at the small amount of blood on Joe’s swollen bottom lip where he had bitten down on it. The only other visible
injury was that of a darkening bruise forming on his rib cage where he had been kicked by Jones’s boot. Ben felt the area and was confident enough that the ribs
themselves weren’t broken. He would make sure that Paul took a good look at them tomorrow though just to confirm his own diagnosis.

Joe started to move his head from side to side, signalling that he was regaining consciousness. His eyelids began to flutter and then managed to open them
just a crack to look at his family.

At first, his vision seemed clouded somewhat and he had trouble focusing on the faces of his father and brothers. It also seemed from the troubled expression that he gave them that he was having trouble fixating on exactly where he was and what had happened.

Ben started to stroke his hair and utter soothing words of comfort to him. “It’s alright Little Joe. Your Pa and brother’s are here now. It’s alright Little Joe.”

The events with Jones seemed to hit him all at once and he started trying to sit up and look around for his assailant. Adam and Hoss tried to place gentle restraining hands on him to prevent him from moving around too much.

He was only hurting him self more and his breathing was beginning to become laboured from the exertion of sitting up too quickly and from the pain in his ribs.

“Where is he Pa?” Joe said in a harsh voice. It had all the tones of venom in it, but it was barely audible and lost all of its intensity as it came out of his mouth. His family had to listen carefully just to be able to hear the angry words.

“I don’t know Joe” he father said as he also tried to get his son to calm down and stop hurting himself further. “He wasn’t here when we got here. He’s probably long gone by know. I’m sorry son. I wish we were able to catch him for you too.”

“He’s gonna come back after me Pa” Joe said as a shudder went through his chest. “He said so. He said he can get me anytime he likes.”

Ben could see that Joe was a bundle of emotions and pain at the moment. He was exhausting himself and getting himself all worked up. That sort of built up anger and turmoil would only hamper his chance of recovering.

“Come on Joe, lay back down and rest now” Pa said in a gentle but firm voice. “We need to get you to a doctor, so you have to rest as much as possible for the ride home. Your brothers and I will be here to protect you. Nobody is going to come near you tonight.” Ben said.

“Just let them try” Hoss said with anger in his voice. He wanted Jones to come back and give him the chance to give him a working over like he had his brother.   Adam nodded his head in agreement, he too would protect his injured brother during the night.

Joe wasn’t completely satisfied with the reply he got, but his energy and strength were quickly waning. He didn’t have the strength to fight anybody at the moment, even if it was his own family. He wanted nothing more than to feel safe and sound in his own soft bed back at the Ponderosa. When he felt rested, he could then go after Jones and make sure he got what was coming to him.

Ben could see the exhaustion in his son’s eyes mingled with the pain from his back. The lacerations felt as if they let the pain into his body through them. The
pain seemed to come from outside and go right through to his soul. The bite of cold wind outside just seemed to add to the pain’s intensity and his
misery.

“You rest now son” Ben repeated “Your brothers and I keep watch.”

Joe finally gave in to his weakness and tiredness. It washed over him like a tidal wave and he didn’t have the strength to go against it. His eyes fluttered closed
and his breathing became a little deeper. There was still a rattle in there to be worried about. Ben made sure that the blankets were wrapped around his body
tightly again and made himself more comfortable next to his son. Joe’s head was cradled against his father’s chest instead of the upturned saddle and the boy seemed to sleep easier like this.

Hoss and Adam prepared to keep watch in turn all night long. Each of them took turns at stoking the dying flames making sure that they never completely
died out altogether. The night had turned very cold and they were already worried about their brother’s injuries.

A few times in the night, Ben had accidentally moved the wrong way and Joe had moaned with the pain he felt. Ben admonished himself harshly atcausing
his son more pain, and tried to restrict his movements for the remainder of the night. At some stage, when it seemed that Joe was stilling experiencing some
discomfort, Adam rolled up one of the spare blankets and placed the rolled up fabric behind his brother’s back, trying to cushion the wounds from coming
into contact with the hard ground or his father’s own body.

By morning’s early light, Hoss and Adam awoke and started to gather their few meagre belongings ready for the arduous trip back home. Ben had also
awakened and was now trying to untangle himself from his youngest son’s still slumbering form without waking him.

Adam came over to assist his father and between the two of them, they managed to allow Ben to get up and lay Joe back down without disturbing him. His face looked very tired and every now and then it would contort with a grimace at the pain and he would feel.

Ben and his two eldest son’s allowed them the luxury of a hot cup of coffee before starting out. While they were seated around the flames of the campfire, Joe started to move about.

His movements didn’t go unnoticed by his family, but they needed to get things organized and assumed that Joe would have enough sense to remain where he was for the time being.

Joe however, had other ideas. He had awoken from his sleep, stiff and cold from the night before. Every movement he made reminded him of the punishment that had been inflicted on his body. He put his hands to his mouth and tried to warm them with his moist warm breath.

The pain seemed to deprive him of the ability to think rationally for a time and he started to pull himself up into a sitting position. He grunted and groaned all the way but finally managed it.

Adam walked over to him and handed him a cup of hot coffee to warm his insides. He didn’t like the idea of his brother trying to move around too soon, especially with his injuries, but they needed to get something warm inside him before riding out this morning.

“Thanks” Joe muttered as he gripped the hot cup in his hands. He was almost grateful for the hot steam that tickled his nostrils. The smell of the hot coffee
was invigorating. Joe put the cup to his lips and brought it back in a hurry as the first sip burned the cut on his lips. He had cursed out loud and then given
a small wan smile of apology to his family as they looked up at his gasp of pain.

The three eldest Cartwrights went about rolling up their bedrolls and dousing the campfire. They would leave Joe’s blankets and saddle to last. The boy
seemed to be comfortable enough for the time being just sipping at his hot coffee.

The cup was almost empty before Joe knew it and he did feel that much warmer from it. He had this false sense of being all right again.

The pain in his back had faded to a dull ache and his muscles felt slightly more pliable from the heat of the coffee.

Joe had this sense of irrationality that he could take on anybody at the moment. He pulled his protesting body into a standing position and without thinking about his family started to head out in an unknown direction. His face was set in concentration as the only he thought he had was going after Jones. The one who had caused him so much pain. He wanted to go after him and make him pay badly.

He had managed to take a few unsteady steps away from his family when Ben cried out with alarm as he saw his son not only standing, but trying to walk away from their camp.

They called out to him, but Little Joe didn’t seem to hear them at the moment. They saw the concentration etched on his face. They could also see the weakness, the tiredness and the pain all mixed together. What on earth was he thinking, trying to walk in his condition.

Ben had wanted to race right after him and take him by the scruff of the neck and scold him for being so stupid. But something held him back and told him to take a different approach.

“Where are you going son?” Ben said as he forced himself to follow Joe at a walking pace. He motioned for Adam and Hoss to do the same. Joe was about 10 metres in front of them, but they all forced themselves to walk, not run. They might startle Little Joe and that would only make him more jumpy.

“Gotta go and get him Pa” came the response. “Gotta get him before he comes back and gets me.”

Adam and Ben found themselves laughing at the reply they got. All of them knew that Little Joe was barely able to put one foot in front of the other, let alone go anywhere. He definitely wasn’t in any condition to start gallivanting all over the countryside in search of anybody, no matter who it was or how good Little Joe thought he felt.

They didn’t have to wait long for Joe to falter in his step though. The boy had been running on pure adrenaline as he walked through the snow. Now it was all spent in a matter of seconds and without warning he slipped on the slippery surface and landed on his back with a grunt of pain as his injured back hit the hard surface.

Ben and his boys now cried out as they saw Joe fall and they took off at a run to get to the fallen boy. When they got there they saw that Joe had once again lost
consciousness.

“You fool boy” Ben admonished his son as he cradled his curly head in his lap. He knew that his son couldn’t hear him, but he said it anyway. He almost had tears of his own at his boy’s rebellious but foolhardy streak.

“Come on boys, lets get him home” Ben said as he got to his knees and lifted the limp form of Little Joe into his arms. They walked back to the horses preparing to leave and get back to the Ponderosa.

Adam finished rolling the bedrolls and his own horse with the saddle Joe had been using as a pillow. It was determined among them that Little Joe would ride the journey home with his father.

Adam took Little Joe from his father while he mounted Buck. Once Ben was seated in the saddle, they placed Little Joe in the saddle in front of Ben so that
he was facing his father. It would make the trip much more comfortable for Joe if his back wasn’t being subjected to the rough surface of his father’s jacket.

Once they were all mounted, they started back towards the Ponderosa.

Ben had one hand on the reins and the other securely wrapped around his son’s waist. His son’s head rested about mid way down his chest and his breathing
was calm. Ben kept adjusting the back of the poncho with his free hand, making sure that Joe didn’t get too cold.

It was a long trip home. They had stopped twice to try and give the horses a rest and some water to Joe. The boy had awoken about half way from his
fall and had only been semi-conscious for the rest of the ride home. His skin felt warm to the touch and that was great assurance to Ben.

After about four and a half weary hours in the saddle, the came to the turn off between the ranch and Virginia City. It was the same fork in the road that
had seen Jones take Joe from his family in the first place.

Hoss went down the opposite fork to fetch Doc Martin, while Ben and Adam rode towards the Ponderosa. Adam and Ben pulled up right in front of the
house. It was about mid afternoon and Hop Sing came out to see who would be riding into the yard this time of day.

Hop Sing gasped out loud and started ranting and raving when he saw the limp form of Little Joe in his father’s embrace. Phillippe appeared at the front door
and had a look of shock of his own at his cousin’s still form on Ben’s horse.

“Adam, help him down and take him upstairs” Ben said. “I’ll put the horses in the barn. “Hop Sing you get some water on the stove for when Paul gets
here. Phillippe, you get whatever bandages and other medical supplies you think we might need.”

Adam did as his father asked and took his young brother’s body in his strong arms and carried him inside the warm house. Hop Sing was already in Joe’s
bedroom stoking the fire and warming the room for it’s occupant.

Ben returned from the barn after a short time and found Adam and Hop Sing removing Joe’s boots and trousers. The clothes were tossed aside in the corner
of the room.

It was only now that Phillippe, who had been standing along side the bed got the first glimpse of the full extent of Joe’s injured back. It almost made him want to retch that somebody could do this to his cousin. It should have been him he reminded himself.

“Don’t worry Phillippe, we’ll fix him up good as new again” Ben said as he helped Adam take the Poncho off Joe. They laid him on his stomach and placed a warm
blanket over his almost naked body. There wasn’t much they could do now but wait for Doc Martin to arrive.

Phillippe was standing by the door as Ben sat in the chair and watched his injured son sleep. Ben started to relay to Phillippe how they had found Joe and what had happened at the hands of Jones.

Phillippe couldn’t help but wrestle with his emotions and feel guilty over what had happened. His cousin had been abducted and beaten savagely and all because of his own weakness and ability to stand up for himself in a fight.

“Don’t feel that way, Phillippe” Ben tried to tell him. “Maybe this would have happened whether you were here or not. It’s hard to say. Joe doesn’t blame you
and you shouldn’t blame yourself either. Right now we just have to stick together and make sure he gets well again.”

“I promise I’ll help take care of him Uncle Ben” Phillippe said on the verge of tears. Before the conversation could progress any further, the sound of footsteps could be heard approaching the room.

Doc Martin entered the room followed by a worried Hoss. “Came as soon as I could Ben” the doctor said as he eyes wandered to his patient on the bed.

“Thanks Paul, I assume Hoss has filled you in on the worst of it. I just hope that we were able to keep him warm enough out there. He was very cold when we
found him, I don’t know how long he had been in the tree like that. We tried to keep him warm by the fire for the entire night.”

“I’m sure you did you best in the circumstances Ben” Paul said as he moved closer to Little Joe. “Let’s just take a look at him and see what we come up with.
It would be better if everyone waited outside Ben.”

“Boys” Ben now said as he motioned for everybody to leave the doctor attend Little Joe. He however had no such ideas about leaving his injured son. No-one
including Doc Martin could deter him from his fatherly duties when Joe needed him the most.

Paul smiled to himself when he saw Ben usher everybody else out except himself. He already knew that trying to make Ben Cartwright leave one of his sick or injured sons, especially his youngest Little Joe was just asking for trouble. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“I’ll probably need you to hold him for a time Ben, while I clean these lacerations on his back out with some alcohol” Paul now said seriously.

Ben walked over to Joe’s bed and sat down on the bed beside his sleeping son and put a gentle hand on his shoulder and the doctor pulled back the blanket.

Paul couldn’t hold back the gasp of his own at the abuse that Joe had been forced to endure.

The doctor pulled the bottle of alcohol from his bag and a soft cloth. He soaked the cloth in the liquid and now positioned himself on the other side of the bed
and started to clean out the wounds on Joe’s exposed back.

The alcohol burned and stung and Joe was roused from his slumber from the pain down his back. He tried to pull away like he had when his father had tended his back, but this time the pain was worse and the moans were a great deal louder.

“Pa……..Pa……” he said in a sleepy voice “It hurts Pa…….. it stings something awful.” he said trying to pull away again from the doctor’s administrations.

“I know son” Ben said with a lump in his throat “But it needs to be done. Paul is only trying to help you. You have to try and keep still.”

Joe nodded his head in understanding, but Oh God it still hurt so bad.

Joe put his hands above his head and dug his fingernails into the soft pillows as the alcohol burned into the skin on his back. He was sure that he would
have no skin left by the time it was all over.

Once he was happy with the wounds being as clean as he was able to get them, Paul began to wrap Joe’s upper body with thick white bandages. They would
help keep out any infection from the wounds while they healed.

Once his back was taken care of, Joe was carefully rolled onto his back to allow Paul to take a look at the gash on his head.

“Doesn’t look like it needs stitches Ben” Paul said as he gauged the length and depth of the nasty looking wound.

Paul felt Joe’s bruised rib cage and confirmed Ben’s earlier thoughts that they were only bruised and not cracked or broken. Joe tried to keep up with the conversation about him, but he found his thoughts wandering and he found it hard to keep his heavy eyes open.

“I think somebody is very sleepy” Paul said to Ben as he smiled and watched Joe steadily fall asleep. Ben smiled himself at Joe and gave a silent prayer of thanks that he was safe and sound back home.

Ben and Paul got up silently and waited until they were both outside to talk more about Joe’s care over the next couple of weeks.

“Just make sure you keep a good eye on him Ben” Paul said. “There’s no sign of infection in those wounds on his back yet, but you can’t be too careful. I took
a listen to his lungs and although they sound a little hoarse, hopefully he come out of this with only a bad cold. Keep him warm at all times, lots of rest, lots of Hop Sing’s good nourishing cooking and more rest.”

“Although his back is so badly hurt, I think it would be best if he could remain sleeping on his side or back. It will help his breathing.

If he was to sleep on his stomach, I think that would only cause more discomfort later on from the coughing fits that may come as a result from his lungs being restricted.” Paul said. “I’ll leave you some medicine in case the pain becomes too much for him to bear alone.”

“Call me if you need me Ben, I’ll come out and check on him day after tomorrow otherwise.” Paul added on his way to the door.

The doctor handed Ben a small bag of white powder “It will help the pain Ben, but only use it when you have to. In a few days, he should start to feel a lot better and the pain in his back should become a little easier to bear.” he said.

“Thank you Paul” Ben said as the doctor walked out the front door to his buggy. Ben walked back and came face to face with three very worried people, all waiting for a diagnosis and an explanation as to Joe’s condition. They all gathered around the living room and Ben told them everything that Paul had said upstairs.

“I’ll take first watch Pa” Adam said as he started to head upstairs to Joe’s room.

The rest of them retired to their own rooms, resting before they would take their own turns at looking after Joe during the night and the next day.

By the first light of the next morning, Ben was beginning to worry a little about his youngest son.

Joe had spent the night tossing and turning in a very restless sleep. He had started to run a fever and Ben was now trying to cool him down with some water from the bunk house.

Adam and Hoss appeared at Joe’s bedroom door waiting for an update on their younger brother’s condition. The look they received from their father told them that things were not as good as they were expecting.

“Hoss, I think you had better go and fetch Doc Martin again please” Ben said in a grim voice.

Hoss just nodded his head and hurried outside without worrying about breakfast for the time being. Food was the farthest thing from his mind this morning and that was particularly unusual.

Adam now took his father’s place at Joe’s side so that Ben could go and get some cooler water to refill the basin.

“How else can we help him Pa?” Adam said concerned. Here he was, the eldest of the brothers and the only thing he could do at the moment was watch his youngest brother fight a fever after being brutally whipped and beaten. All of the college education in the world could not have prepared him for scenes such at this one. All of the theatrical training and reciting of Shakespeare and other such noteworthy poets of the world could not help him find the words to act out the emotions that were twisting within him.

Ben had returned shortly to the room with the cooler basin of water and now handed the cloth to his eldest son to help abate the heat coming from Little Joe.

Ben felt the heat that burned within his son’s weakened body but it was a more primal and primitive form of heat that burned within his heart. Normally a fair man, willing to at least hear the arguments from both sides in most matters. This time he felt the heat of anger dwelling within him and it was beginning to grow with a ferocity and intensity rarely seen in him.

Every moan that escaped his son’s cracked lips seemed to add fuel to the fire. Every time his son groaned in pain or opened his dull eyes to look at his family and display that need of dependence due to his injuries, the anger grew. He couldn’t erase the image of Joe’s battered body suspended from the tree in the cold winter air.  He wanted to tear this Hank Jones limb from limb for what he had done to his youngest son and his family. He wanted justice and maybe a little bit of revenge.

Ben knew that if the opportunity arose and they did see Jones again, then common sense would prevail in the long term and the man would be tried fairly in a court of law for his crimes. But in his heart, Ben knew that somehow he would seek vengeance for all of his son’s pain and suffering. When Hank Jones had beaten Little Joe, he had no idea that he had really in essence assault the entire Cartwright family.

Ben’s train of thought was interrupted by Doc Martin’s footsteps on the stair case once again. “Thanks for coming again so soon Paul” Ben said as he shook the doctor’s hand. “He developed a fever overnight and although it has not spiked dangerously high yet, I am concerned at the actual source of the fever. You don’t think it could be a sign of infection setting in do you” he couldn’t hide the fear in his voice.

“Don’t worry Ben, I’ll take another look and see if we can deduce the cause of this fever” Paul said as he walked into Joe’s room with his little black bag in hand. Hoss followed him into the room but stood towards the back of the room and allowed the doctor to do his work without commenting.

Adam now moved out of his chair and moved the chair away from the bed to allow the doctor plenty of room when examining his patient.

Joe was still asleep. He had fallen into an exhausted repose about an hour before sunrise due to the constant battle his body seemed to be waging against an unseen foe or enemy.

Thankfully Joe was lying on his back, so there wasn’t much need to jostle him about too much while the diagnosis was made.

Adam and Ben helped lean a slumbering Little Joe forward for a few minutes initially so that the doctor could inspect the whip marks on his back. Ben sat on the bed while Adam help lift his limp brother forward, Joe’s head rested on his father’s shoulder while the doctor’s administrations took place.

Doc Martin took a good look underneath the white bandages that encircled Joe’s chest and back hiding the awful looking lacerations on his back. His nodded his head when satisfied that everything was okay and signalled that they could lie Joe back down on the mattress once more.

Paul retrieved his stethoscope from his black bag and started to check Joe’s vital signs. He checked the pulse rate and the heart beat. He listened to Joe’s lungs for any abnormal rattles that might be present. He took his time however and by the time he was finished with all of his testing, he looked up to see three very worried faces staring back at him with impatient expressions on each of them.

“I think the fever is just his body’s way of getting over the cold and abuse it had undergone the last few days Ben” Paul started to explain. “The lacerations look okay, although still very fresh looking, there is no sign of fresh bleeding or infection setting in. His lungs sound reasonable at the moment. But we can’t be too careful about that. From what you were able to tell me, he spent a considerable time out in the cold weather without a coat.

While I think hypothermia is more likely the cause of this fever, I can’t leave out the possibility of it developing into pneumonia later on. Keep using the cold compresses on him. Try and get some liquids into his body. Just thin broth and lots of water until he is stronger to handle something more substantial. I don’t think I will give him any quinine for the fever just yet. Let’s just see how he goes over today and tonight. If the fever gets any worse, then we might be able to tackle that at a later time. Like I said, I think his body is still adjusting to the abuse it was subject to. Give him lots of care and attention and I think everything will work out alright in the end.” He got up from the bed and started to gather his things together in readiness for leaving.

“Thank you again for coming at such short notice Paul” Ben said. His mind was a little more at ease with the doctor’s prognosis but his heart ached every time he looked down towards the bed and saw his youngest son having to endure pain and sickness because of the reckless and deliberate actions of others.

During the doctor’s visit, Phillippe had remained downstairs in the living room, trying to hear what was going on but mostly being consumed too much by his own guilt and self damnation. He couldn’t help but think that his actions since leaving Louisiana had all led in succession to his cousin’s bad twist of fate.

He gestured his hand towards the Doctor as he came down the stairs and made his way towards the front door. Once the doctor had retreated through the front door, he once again cast his eyes downwards as he tried to wrestle with his emotions over what had happened.

About an hour after the doctor had left, Joe showed some signs of waking for the morning. Ben and the other boys had continued to bath his forehead and chest area in an attempt to lower the fever and it looked as though their efforts were beginning to show some positive results.

Joe licked his lips in an attempt to get some moisture into his mouth as he moved his head from side to side in an attempt to disperse the fog that had descended on him during sleep. He moaned softly as every movement no matter how small sent pain shooting through his body. Due to the criss-cross pattern that the lacerations had made on his back, the pain felt as though it connected together in a web pattern, joining up at certain points allowing the pain to intensify in some areas and then move onto others.

Joe opened his eyes with great effort. He felt somebody holding his hand and turned his head to see the face of his father sitting beside him. Another movement of his head showed him that his brothers were also in the room. He smiled at them wanly and tried to give them some sort of sign that he was alright but the sounds of pain that escaped his lips periodically was impossible to hide to any great extent.

Ben moved his son forward to allow Hoss to arrange some pillows behind Joe’s back so that he might sit up a little more. “Is that a little easier son?” Ben asked trying to distinguish between the shades of emotion and pain that crossed Joe’s handsome young face. There was a small gauze pad on one side of his head where he had been struck with the butt of the gun. His face was lucky compared to the rest of his body. His face had very few scars to show the torture that he had endured while strung up in the tree and whipped senseless.

“A little” Joe whispered but everybody in the room could tell that he was lying. There were dark circles of fatigue under his eyes and not all the good colouring had returned to his skin yet. There would be many days of recovery and healing ahead for the youngest member of the family.

“Do you think you could eat something Joseph?” Ben now asked. He didn’t want to rush his son after just waking for the first time since they had gotten home, but the boy needed to eat something if he was going to get any better at all.

Joe thought for a minute. He was about to give a negative reply to the question. His stomach felt like anything but food at the moment. There was a slight queasiness there that he had failed to mention to his family since they had found him in the snow. Probably as a result of the kicks and punches to his stomach that he received from Hank Jones he thought to himself.

“Maybe just some soft egg” Joe suggested to the delight of his family. He was pleased that they were pleased that he wanted to eat but nothing could be farther from the truth at the moment. He just hoped that he could manage a few mouthfuls to further encourage his family that he was on the mend and not be in the embarrassing situation of being sick in front of them from the nauseousness.

Adam and Hoss went downstairs to inform Hop Sing of their brother’s breakfast order. Hop Sing was well ahead of the both of them though and told them to leave Little Joe’s meals to him. Long years of working for the Cartwrights and the endless illnesses and injuries that he had seen the family go through gave him an unparallel advantage when it came to knowing what any one of them wanted when they were sick or injured. The two eldest brother’s just shook their heads and walked away from the kitchen wondering how the little oriental man could possibly now what Joe wanted for breakfast before he had even made up his own mind. Then again he was the favourite Cartwright in Hop Sing’s eyes.

With everybody else out of the room, it gave Ben his first opportunity to talk to Joseph alone about his ordeal and what he was feeling emotionally about the whole thing.

Joe watched his father with his eyes and followed Ben as he walked all the way round the bed and then finally sat down on the edge of the mattress. He was having a little trouble knowing how to start the conversation.

“You just making me more nervous Pa” Joe said as his father took his hand in his and tried to get his son to open up to him.

“Tell me what your feeling Joe” Ben started “I really need to know. I need to know how your coping with all of this inside.”

Joe suddenly looked away from his father with tears threatening to run down his cheeks. “To tell you the truth Pa” he started “I don’t know how I feel. My back feels like its on fire but that’s only part of it. I hurt almost everywhere else too but that’s not it either.”

Ben could see his son wrestling with himself and wanted to help more than ever. His son had gone through a horrific ordeal, more pain than most people would probably experience at such a young age and the anguish of it all tore at Ben just as much as his son.

“I think its fear of the unknown that scares me the most Pa” Joe said after a few seconds of silence.

“Fear?” Ben said. He was a little confused by the admission but waited for Joe to explain more.

“Fear of the unknown. We still don’t know where Jones is. He could come back and finish the job at any time he feels like it Pa” Joe said. There was that tone of fear in his voice that couldn’t be mistaken. He had known that Jones had been cruel in the past with animals, even with his own employees. But he would never have assumed in a million years that he was capable of what Jones had down while he was helplessly tied up and hanging from that tree. It sent shivers down his spine to think that Jones could come back at any time and continue the punishment.

“Joseph, look at me” Ben said as he put his hand on Joe’s chin and forced the boy to look at him. “I promise you that although this Jones fellow might still be at large, your brothers and I will always be here to protect you, no matter what. None of us would let him come back and try and hurt you again. I wish I could have done something to prevent him from hurting you the way he did in the first place. I promise he won’t come back.”

Joe looked at his father and saw truth in what the man was saying. He had no reason to doubt what his father. “I believe you Pa, but something deep down inside tells me that he is still out there waiting for me. Waiting for his chance to get back at me again.” His gaze drifted from his father’s face towards the window and the curtain blowing from the gentle breeze.

“While your having breakfast, I think there’s somebody here that needs to talk also” Ben said trying to chance the mood in the room.

Phillippe had been still sitting in the living room when he heard Adam and Hoss come back downstairs from Little Joe’s room and tell Hop Sing that he was awake. It took all of his own self determination to make himself walk up the stairs and stand outside Joe’s bedroom door.

Ben saw Joe’s cousin standing there with awkwardness written all over his face, but tried to use encouraging words to get the young man to enter. He knew that Philippe’s visit would cheer his son up at least.

“Come in Philippe” Ben now gestured. Hop Sing now came in behind Phillippe with the plate of soft eggs for Joe’s breakfast.

“You eat up Lil’ Joe and get all better” the little man said and flashed the young man a warm smile before he departed the room.

“Mr Adam and Mr Hoss say they go outside and tend to chores MrCartwright” Hop Sing said to Ben as he exited the room.

“Thank you Hop Sing” Ben said. He was watching Phillippe walk across to Joe’s bed. He had sympathy written all over his face as well as guilt.

“Um Joe and Phillippe, I had better go out and help Adam and Hoss for a while. You two boys be alright here?” he asked. But before he allowed Phillippe to escape he was out the door. He wanted the two cousins left alone for a few minutes to talk things over. “Look out for Joe now Phillippe, but call us if you need some help” he added.

Phillippe was literally left holding the bag or shouldering the looking after of his injured cousin. He knew what his cousin’s family were trying to do and part of him was grateful for the trust and responsibility of looking after Joe while he relied so heavily on others at the moment. The thing that bothered him most was what to say to Little Joe.

Joe himself had also known what his father was trying to do. He had seen the apprehensiveness and the nervousness in Phillippe. He could see that his cousin was stuck for words about what had happened.

“Phillippe, don’t feel bad about what happened” Joe said as he watched his cousin pace uneasy around the room. He didn’t stand in any one spot for too long. Just kept up appearances that he was interested in the souvenirs and various artefacts that Joe kept on his bedroom door. This sentence made Phillippe turn his head around and face his cousin.

“I don’t know what to say Joe” he said and walked over to the chair that was positioned beside the bed.

“Then don’t say anything at all Phillippe” Joe replied. “The last thing I need now is to be taking care of you while I’m still trying to heal myself.”

“But I can’t seem to shake this guilty feeling Joe. I feel as though there should have been something more I could have done to prevent Jones taking you away from the dance that night. I should have been able to get to your family a little quicker so we could find you before he starting hurting you the way he did.”

“There was probably nothing that you could’ve done that you hadn’t already thought of Phillippe. From what Pa told me they had to wait until the morning to come after me anyway because of the weather. Stop blaming yourself that you are not responsible for.” Joe said soothingly.

“But it was supposed to be me Joe. If we hadn’t swapped clothes, then Jones would have taken me and not you. I can’t help but think that I should be the one laying in that bed injured and sore not you.”

“I told you before, it’s just bad luck that we switched clothes and he thought that I was you. It different circumstances it might have turned out another way but we will probably never know that. You can’t go around worrying about what might have been.” Joe said. He had tried to sit up to emphasis his words but this only resulted in his back protesting at the abrasiveness of the cloth against his still very raw wounds.

“Are you alright?” Phillippe asked worriedly.

“Yeah, just smarts a little that’s all” Joe replied but saw the raise eyebrows on Philippe’s face and added “Okay, maybe it hurts quite a lot, but I’ll manage.”

“You’d better manage to eat some of that breakfast before it gets any colder” Phillippe now said as he saw that Joe’s plate of eggs was barely touched.

While Joe played around with the food on his plate, not really interested in eating it but trying to keep up appearances for Philippe’s sake. He didn’t want his cousin worrying that he wasn’t eating probably too on top of everything else he was already feeling guilty for.

Phillippe turned his back on Joe for a few minutes and genuinely started to take particular interest in some of the photographs and souvenirs on Joe’s bedroom walls.

He smiled to himself as he recognized that most of the photographs in the room were not of his family or friends as one might have thought. All of the photographs bare one was of pinto horses. There were black ones and brown ones. All very good looking animals and a couple that even resembled Joe’s own mount Cochise. He could see that his cousin had an affinity for this particular breed of horse.

The only other photograph in the room was positioned on Joe’s bedside table. It was a fading photograph on Joe’s mother Marie. Phillippe knew however that although this one might be one of the oldest in the room, he had no doubts that it would be the most treasured of all Joe’s possessions. He had come to know about Joe’s love about a woman who he had barely time to know. Joe didn’t care about the short space of time they had together however. She was his mother first and foremost and would always be in his heart. This was beside the fact that Phillippe could see the resemblance between the woman and Joe was very striking. Almost as startling to him was the fact that he too had just as much resemblance to the woman he had only heard about.

Phillippe found himself beside the doorway of the bedroom. He had found another fascinating piece of weaponry upon the wall that was just teasing with him with questions about its origins.

“Where did this come from Joe?” Phillippe said as he marvelled at an epee on the wall. It was made of sterling silver and had a very elaborate hilt on top of the handle. Phillippe had seen many epees in his years because it was often the weapon of choice when it came to disagreements where he came from. He couldn’t remember seeing one that looked quite so handsome before though.

Joe had now pushed his almost still full plate aside and was proud of the fact that his cousin found the epee so appealing.

“That’s one of the few material things I have left of my mother’s past” Joe said with pride. “Magnificent isn’t it?”

“Very” Phillippe replied as he continued to examine the shiny steel weapon on its hook on the wall. “How did you come by such a beautiful object?”

“The story goes that when my Pa was in New Orleans, before he and my mother were married, a man by the name of Eduard D’Arcy accused my Pa of cheating as cards. There was a dual and one of Marie’s best friends Marius Angeville was killed during that fight. Before he died, Angeville gave Pa the epee and made him promise to always take care of my mother.” Joe explained.

“That’s all my Pa would tell me about it anyway” Joe continued. “I think there is a lot more to the tale that I haven’t been told about. But I think it causes Pa too much pain to remember whose times back in New Orleans with my mother.”

“At least with a weapon like that in the house I feel as though I could defend myself.” Phillippe said with pride “When I was growing up in Louisiana I was sent to a private school and learnt how to handle a sword with great precision. Now cousin if you were to challenge me to a dual with swords instead of your pistols, then the outcome might be in my favour this time around.” “I wouldn’t be so sure about that Phillippe” Joe said with a glint in his eye. “I too have had a few lessons with that sword. I wanted to get more in touch with my mother’s past and the sword seemed like the link that might actually help me be a part of her family. I was wrong of course, because its memories of love and being together with my mother that cause the strongest emotions in me not the material things that we hold onto as souvenirs.”

“If you wait until I am up out of this bed I might just take you up on that challenge.” Joe said jokingly. “Me and Adam have had a mock dual before and I bested him.” The laughter died on his lips as his back again reminded him that he was a long way from healed at the moment.

“Did somebody mention my name in vain?” came the reply from Adam and he and Ben entered the room. “Who bested who that day little brother?” He had noticed his brother’s intake of breath with the pain from his back but chose not to say too much for fear of embarrassing Joe in front of Phillippe. Joe was trying to hide his pain and discomfort from his cousin without much success.

“And what’s this about a dual?” Ben said in mock sternness as he and Adam had caught the tail end of the boy’s conversation about duelling with epees. He too could see the brave front that Little Joe was trying to portray to Phillippe and the rest of the family. The other thing he could notice was the fatigue that Joe was showing even after such a short space of time spent being awake. There were dark circles of fatigue showing under the boy’s green eyes and every now and then since they had come into the room, those eyelids would threaten to close in sleep only to be snapped open again.

“I think it’s time you got some rest son” Ben said with his fatherly concern showing. He walked over to the bedside table and filled a glass with water and took a small white pill from the box that Doc Martin had left with him.

“What’s that for” Joe said wearily as he eyed the little white pill. Joe was not a fan of any type of medicine and pills of any description gave him the greatest sense of apprehension. With liquid medicine you could usually smell it long before it reached your mouth which meant although it would make you gag at the taste, you knew that it would help make you better. Pills held that little bit of mystery about them because there was nothing about them to tell you what they were made of. They were a plain bland colour and didn’t normally give off any odour or leave that residual taste on your tongue after you had swallowed them.

“It will help ease the pain Joseph” Pa said firmly ready for the battle with isson to take his medicine. “And don’t tell me you are not in pain, I know you are trying to hide it son but you really need to get some rest and allow your body to heal. Phillippe will be here later when you wake up. Now are you going to take this son or am I going to be forced to use more drastic measures” Ben said and then looked towards his eldest son Adam for assistance.

Adam stood beside the bed with his arms folded over his chest in a no nonsense stance that said volumes to Joe about what would happen if he didn’t take the pill offered.

Joe sighed loudly and begrudgingly took the little white pill from his father and swallowed it with the help of the water from the glass.

Adam and Phillippe left the room leaving his father in the room to settle Joe down in his bed.

Ben readjusted the pillows from behind Joe’s back so that he could lay down. Joe gritted his teeth at the movements that would once again remind him of his injuries. He shuffled his aching body down further on the bed until he was laying down.

The medicine hadn’t kicked in yet but his eyelids were tired of fighting the battle to keep open. They started to droop again and this time, as Joe’s curly head touched the pillow, they remained closed.

Ben smiled at his son as he saw sleep claim him. His son looked peaceful at the moment. He put his hand on the boy’s forehead just to make sure that the fever hadn’t returned. Joe mumbled something to himself and rolled on his side facing away from the window to make himself more comfortable, sinking down further into the warmth and security that his bed offered. Bed bent down and spread firstly the light sheet over Joe’s sleeping form followed by a warmer quilt. He ran his fingertips down Joe’s sleeping face and gave thanks that his boy was once again safe and sound back with his family. He leant over and gently kissed his youngest son on the cheek and whispered words of love and caring.

He walked to the door and gave a last minute glance towards the sleeping boy in the bed and then closed the door behind him.

“You want somebody to stay with him?” Phillippe offered with a smile on his face. “There seems to be a lot of work to do outside and I don’t think I’m quite up to doing ranch work. I’ll stay with him if you like?”

“I’d appreciate that Phillippe” Ben said “The work really has gotten behind due to Joe being so badly hurt. I won’t be far away though if you need me. I’ll keep my tasks restricted to the yard and the barn if you or Joe should need me. I think he should sleep quite a few hours though.” Ben said. He then proceeded to make his way downstairs and paused at the credenza just inside the front door to buckle on his gun belt and put on his vest and hat. Adam also followed his father outside and had also paused at the sideboard to grab his own gun belt and hat from the pegs behind the door.

Phillippe settled himself down in a chair a few feet away from Joe’s bed with one of Adam’s book. It looked as though it might be a quite afternoon to catch up on some quiet reading.

Ben and his two eldest boys were busily working away in the barn and the yard. They failed to notice a dark figure on horse back that was watching the scene from only a short distance away. The shadowy figure threw his cigar butt onto the rocky ground at his horse’s feet and then edged his mount closer to the ranch house. He was careful to make sure that the three Cartwrights in the yard were oblivious to his movements towards the western side of the house.

The silhouetted figure was actually Hank Jones. He figured that if he bided his time, there would be an opportunity to get back at Joe Cartwright again. He had been a little bit disappointed to hear that Joe had survived his torture from the whip and the cold weather. Then again, maybe there was a bit more of a challenge in Joe Cartwright that he hadn’t seen before. He would have to make another visit to the boy to validate his theory. Upon seeing the other family members working in the barn and the yard he saw his opportunity present itself and decided to take it.

Jones made it to the back of the house and left his mount hidden out of view. He decided it was best to make the rest of the way on foot. He managed to clamber up onto the roof by hauling himself using the down pipe. The guttering was ease to grab onto here because there seemed to be a slight bending in the metal. Little did Jones know that this particular route had been used many a time before by Little Joe himself when sneaking out of the house.

Hoss had just been coming out of the barn towards the hitching rail when he spotted the shadowy figure of Jones on the roof. He wasn’t actually able to tell from this distance who it was. He knew that due to his brother’s current injuries, that it would be his brother climbing up onto the roof like that this time of the day. Fear for his younger brother’s safety seized hold of him, but he knew that if he wasn’t careful, the man would see that he had been spotted and that could make things even worse for Joe.

He made sure that he moved quickly but as quietly as he could for such a big man back to the barn where his father and brother were working. Hoss had told them about the man he had seen sneaking around on the roof. Ben wanted to race out of the barn with all guns blazing at the unknown intruder, but upon Adam’s reasoning, he knew like Hoss that such an action may only make it worse for Joe inside. Joe at the moment was deeply asleep and would not even be aware of the intruder. They formulated a plan of attack and started to edge their way towards the front door. All three of them had their guns drawn just in case.

Jones had to take pot luck at which window belonged to the boy’s bedroom. There was a curtain blowing gently in the breeze so he crept up to the edge of it and carefully looked inside. He grinned to himself as he had made the right choice first off. He could see that Cartwright himself was asleep in the bed, the cover’s drawn up almost over his head. The other one Phillippe, was also in the room, trying to stop himself from falling sleep in the chair where he sat. He would prove little effort for Jones to take care of before focusing on Little Joe.

Hank Jones deliberately made a noise at the window that would alert Phillippe to someone’s presence at the window. His idea worked as Phillippe made himself wake up to the sound of something at the window. He looked over at Joe and saw that he was still sound asleep so he couldn’t have made the noise he thought he heard. Phillippe got out of the chair and walked calmly to the window not suspecting for a moment what was on the other side.

From his vantage point, Jones could see Phillippe approaching the window sill though the transparent material of the curtain. Just as Phillippe put his hand on the sill to peer outside, Jones grabbed a hold of his arm and forcefully pushed him back into the room. Jones then climbed through the window with gun poised in his hand.

Phillippe had almost been scared to death by somebody actually grabbing him at the window, and he let out a squeal as he found himself being propelled back into Joe’s bedroom. It wasn’t until the figure stepped into the room and he was able to recognize the intruder that his fears truly began to multiply.

“What are you doing here?” Phillippe shouted trying to sound tough while his knees felt like jelly. He was also hoping that his voice would also attract the attention of the Cartwright’s outside. He gave himself away when he stole a look towards the closed bedroom door.

“Won’t do you any good to yell girly boy” Jones snickered as he stepped closer to the frightened Phillippe.

As he walked towards Phillippe he turned his head and noticed that Joe was still unaware of his presence in his room.

“Looks like I need to give your cousin there a little wake up call, don’t you think?” Jones said.

“Don’t you dare hurt him again or I’ll……. I’ll” he couldn’t manage to complete the rest of the sentence. The fear within him was too great to overcome at the moment.

“Or you’ll what?” Jones snarled and pushed Phillippe hard so that the boy stumbled back into the wall nearest the door. Phillippe was about to get up and try to defend himself when Jones delivered a blow to his face that left him reeling on the floor from the force of the blow. He was literally stunned and had to shake the fogginess out of his mind. The blow had caused his lip to bleed. He sat there virtually helpless on the floor as Jones now started to walk towards Little Joe.

Little Joe had heard a noise that caused him to stir. He had tried to open his eyes but they felt incredibly heavy and he only managed to move his head about on the pillow. He was just about to fall back asleep when he felt himself being jerked painfully up into a sitting position. The next thing he felt apart from the pain that laced through his aching body was the cold hard steel barrel of a pistol.

Adam and the others had heard Philippe’s frightened voice at he struck the wall. They now decided that Joe and Phillippe desperately needed their help. All three of them burst into the room with guns drawn. The first thing they saw was Phillippe seated on the floor only a few feet from the door. They could see the blood trailing down his lip from the blow of Jones.

The thing that made their hearts freeze with fear and anger at the same time however was the sight of Little Joe being held hostage in front of the man they had come to know as Hank Jones with a pistol held to his head.

Joe made a few moans of pain as Jones shook him roughly to emphasis that he meant business. Joe’s eyes focused on his father and brothers and they pleaded with them to help him. He didn’t think he could have fought Jones off him even if he wanted to.

“You let him go or else………” Ben now roared at Jones.

“If you take one step closer Mr Cartwright, any of you” Jones growled back “I promise you I will shoot this boy. I will shoot him once and than a second time just to make sure. So don’t you come any closer ……….” Jones repeated and pressed the barrel of the gun harder against Joe’s temple so that the boy cried out again from the pressure.

“Now you will all drop you guns nice and slow” Jones demanded. He shook Joe roughly again and made Joe cry out in pain and fear again just to make sure they knew he meant every word he said.

Ben nodded reluctantly any slowly to his two eldest sons signalling for them to do as the man requested. All the time he was trying to gaze his son’s emotional physical state. The fear he saw in Joe’s eyes and the pain that escaped his lips told him that they needed to help his son get free of this madman.

Three loud clunks signalled to Jones that all three had complied with his demands. Phillippe wasn’t wearing a gun belt and he didn’t pose much of a threat. They had dropped their guns to the floor as instructed but still had their gun belts strapped around their waists.

“Now my young friend”, Jones said to Joe just loud enough for everyone else in the room to hear “What do you say we dispatch this family of yours and go and find ourselves some strong rope and a nice big tree outside?”

Joe immediately started to shake as his mind told him that this man intended to complete the job he had started out on that deserted road. “NOOO……. Please you can’t do this again. Pa, Adam please help me. Hoss don’t let him take me away again, please” he said with terror in his voice. He was trying to get the man’s hand loose from around his night shirt. A quick thump to the side of his head from the gun in Jones’s hand soon stopped his actions.

Phillippe continued to sit on the floor trying to figure out how to stop the gun man from hurting Joe again. All those fears of guilt and self pity were surfacing again as he thought what little use he was to his cousin when he needed him the most. He looked up towards the ceiling as if looking for a sign from God on what to do. He eyes came to rest on an object and it was almost as if God was actually telling him what he needed to do.

Adam and the others were also trying to figure out how to get Joe free. If just one of them could manage to get him away from Jones then the one of the other two could take a clean shot at him. But as it stood at the moment, none of them could take any risk with Joe being held firmly in front of the man’s chest preventing any of them getting a round off even if they had possession of their guns.

Phillippe mustered all of the courage he could manage and knew that he had to distract Jones’s attention for a few seconds while he worked his way into a standing position and put his plan into action.

“You know Jones’s” Phillippe said as he borrowed a touch of his cousin Joe’s famous arrogance and self confidence “You need to be taught a lesson in manners.” he began as he continued his speech he started to inch his way up the wall.

Jones was so taken back by the boy’s bold words that he didn’t even notice the boy’s slight movements to try and stand. Ben saw that Phillippe was trying to stand up and knew that the foolish boy had something in mind. He only prayed that he didn’t end up with him and Joe getting hurt at the end of it.

“And whose going to teach me runt, you?” Jones said with an evil laugh. “Hear that Cartwright? Your pathetic cousin here thinks he’s gonna take me on. He should know better than that.”

“Leave him alone” came the barely audible whisper from Joe as he tried to buy some time for his cousin Phillippe. He was trying to block out he surges of pain that pulsed through his body at regular intervals. His eyes were so heavy from sleep that he could barely keep them open, but he knew that he had to do something, anything to help save his cousin’s life.

“What did I hear you say?” Jones roared as he rammed the butt of the gun into Joe’s unprotected stomach. Joe immediately doubled over from the blow but was then jerked up again as Jones once again grabbed the front of his night shirt roughly and shook him back to reality.

Jones and the Cartwright’s attention was focused on Joe at the moment so they did not see Philippe’s face turn to anger as he saw his cousin once again bearing the scars for his words.

With one swift and unseen movement Phillippe had reached up behind him with his right hand and carefully gripped the hilt of the epee on the wall behind him. It might not be a pistol but he hoped that it would be effective enough for what he was about to do.

“He said leave me alone” Phillippe now shouted back at Jones and before the man could reply with words or more physical injury to Joe, Phillippe had sliced through the tense air with the blade of the epee.

The weapon’s stainless steel blade had been swung with such precision and accuracy that it easily found its intended target. Jones immediately let go of his hostage and his gun as he nursed the ugly looking slash across the back of his hand that the epee had inflicted.

“You little Bastard” Jones retorted and was about to take hold of his hostage again. He needed to keep Joe as his hostage to keep control of the situation.

Joe had fallen back onto the bed and was trying to gather his breath and inch away from his attacker at the same time. Before Jones could get a strong enough grip on him, the man found himself being propelled back forcefully from Little Joe as Adam now tackled him to the ground. The two of them wrestled each other on the far side of Joe’s bed for a few minutes before Adam emerged victorious with Jones subdued enough in his grasp not to cause any further trouble.

Jones had a nice looking bruise forming on his cheek and a split lip for his trouble. Hoss and Ben now holstered their guns. Hoss walked over to Jones and let him have one for his younger brother before him and Adam took either side of him and prepared to take him out of the room.

Ben had only eyes for his youngest son who was now crying on his bed. The emotions of the incident had caught up with him as well as the physical pain and it all became too much. Ben held his son in his embrace for a few minutes while Adam and Hoss attempted to take a still struggling Jones out of Joe’s bedroom.

Ben let go of his son momentarily and went to the night stand to get a glass of water for the boy to try and stop his hiccups that had resulted from his crying. He hadn’t meant to feel so weak in front of his family but he couldn’t help it with all that had happened.

Adam and Hoss had taken their eyes off Jones for a short minute as they watched on with concern for their youngest brother. Phillippe had still been trying to come to grips with what he had done. He had sat back on the floor and looked and the epee he held in his hands with a thoughtful expression on his face. He had been too distracted as well to see what Jones was looking at.

It was only a brief moment, but it was enough time for Jones to see Hoss’s holstered pistol by his side. Before anybody could react quickly enough he had grabbed a hold of Hoss’s gun and now spun out of Adam and Hoss’s grip. He held the pistol towards the unsuspecting Little Joe who was still seated on the bed all alone. He was about to pull the trigger.

Joe had heard the cocking of the gun and looked up to see the weapon pointed directly at him. His face lost all of its colour and his eyes widened in terror as he thought that this might be his last few seconds alive. He couldn’t have gotten out of the way quick enough even if he tried. The bullet would have hit him somewhere for sure. The next ten to fifteen seconds of his life seemed to pass before him in slow motion.

His gaze was fixated on the barrel of the gun that was about to end his life. He heard a noise from his left and then saw a spatter of blood come from Jones’s mouth as a bullet from his father’s own pistol entered the man’s chest and buried itself deeply into his chest. The gun fell to the floor as the man’s hand became limp and he fell to the floor like a rag doll. The man was clearly dead. His eyes were open but they no longer saw the world he had just left in such a violent manner.

“Get that piece of trash out of here boys” Ben said with no emotion in his voice at all. When it came to defending his family, especially his youngest son Joe who at the moment was recovering after being horribly injured by the same man, there was no price too great to pay. The man had entered his home and threatened his son as he slept and others inside the residence. That was something that Ben wasn’t about to tolerate at all.

Adam and Hoss were utterly shocked at what had just happened. They had almost been the cause of their younger brother’s getting shot. They looked towards Phillippe who remained seated on the floor still trying to work out where he fitted into the whole thing.

Their focus was back on Joe again. The boy had started to tremble again but this time insteadfrom fear, the trembling became as the result of pure relief that it was all finally over. Hoss picked up the man’s dead body and took it down the stairs. Later they would take the man to Sheriff Roy Coffee and explain what had just taken place.

Joe had known deep down inside that he would need to face his assailant again after being assaulted back at the tree. He didn’t know how it would come about and the method that Jones used were just as much a surprise to him and it had been to his family.

He looked over to his cousin Phillippe who was wrestling with his own emotions at the moment. He knew that in the end it had been Philippe’s actions as well as those of this father that had saved his life. Now they were even. He had saved Phillippe from being taken by Jones and left for dead. The debt had just been repaid with Philippe’s efforts with the epee. Now the two of them could make a fresh start again. Something told Joe deep down inside though that Phillippe had changed when he had struck Jones with the sword. Joe had seen another side of Phillippe that was rarely seen. Phillippe probably surprised himself more than anyone that day. It would be difficult to see Phillippe in the same light as before after today.

Ben now came back to Joe with the glass of water. Joe took a small sip but had forgotten all about his hiccups when he saw the gun barrel pointed at him. Fright was another cure for the hiccups he had heard and on this occasion it had certainly worked.

Ben sat on Joe’s bed with his youngest son and placed some pillows around him to help him get more comfortable. Ben put his arms around his son and just let him feel safe through the gestures of love and understanding.

Truth be known Joe’s back was actually hurting him a great deal with the position he found himself in wrapped in Ben’s arms. He wouldn’t have said anything for the world though because for the first time since all of this had started, Joe felt the safest he had ever felt in his entire life just knowing that his family and especially his father were there to protect him.

“Do you need anything else Pa?” Hoss asked trying not to intrude on the tender moment between father and son. Adam had helped Phillippe to his feet and was now ushering the three of them out the door to leave Joe and Ben alone for a while.

“I have everything I need son, right here” Ben said in a whisper as he looked down and noted that Joe was starting to drift off again. “I have everything I need” and let out a contented sigh of his own and settled himself on the bed without disturbing his most precious possession that lay in his embrace.


After about twelve hours of sleep through the rest of that afternoon and that night, Joe woke up feeling a little better all over. His movements were deliberate and slow but the pain was at least bearable this morning. He even thought he might be able to work on his family enough to go downstairs a bit this morning.

As he had thoughts about talking to his father going through his mind, Joe heard a knock on the door and in stepped his father, brothers Hoss and Adam and cousin Phillippe.

Joe immediately thought he must be in trouble for something to have such an audience this early in the day but he saw saddened looks on the faces of his family and this worried him even more.

“Joe” Phillippe said not knowing really where to start this conversation that he knew would cause his cousin some profound sadness. “The stage leaves at noon today, I thought that it would be best if I were on it headed for San Francisco.”

“WHAT” Joe said jumping out of the bed but immediately regretting it as his back flared again with pain made of fire. “Why are you going, you don’t have to go. Pa tell him he doesn’t have to go” he said whilst holding onto the bedpost and his father for support. The dizziness was bad but he needed to convince his cousin to stay somehow.

“I already tried Joe” Ben said as he helped his son from falling to the floor from the giddiness that he felt after getting up so quickly. “Your brothers and I already tried to get him to stay after he talked about leaving last night while you were sleeping. He’s old enough to make his own decisions Joseph. I know you don’t like them and we will all miss him, but he has to be allowed to go on his own way and see what else is in store for him alone.”

Joe looked at his father with tears threatening to run down his face at his father’s words. He knew that they would have tried their best to get Phillippe to stay, but he knew too that Phillippe had to lead his own life.

“I don’t want to hurt you any more Joe” Phillippe started as he now looked directly at his cousin and made Joe listen intently to every word he was about to say. For the last few days I have been living in your shadow. The shadow of Joe Cartwright. Trying to be like him, trying to act like him. Heck I even tried to dress like him for one foolish moment in my life just to see what it was like to be you for one night. You know what I found when I did that Joe?”

Joe shook his head but didn’t dare to speak for fear of breaking down totally in front of his cousin.

“I found that no matter how hard I tried, no matter what I did, I could never be the real Joe Cartwright. Joe you have all of the self confidence, all the self esteem that I envy. You only have to walk down the street and hear and see how people respect you for who you are. You have more courage, self determination, gentleness, kindness, generosity and love in you than I could ever expect to gain by trying to live like you. Sure we look alike and might have the same ancestry. But deep down inside it takes more than all of that to be Joe Cartwright. It takes something that I could never possess no matter how hard I tried. It takes heart, soul and most of all spirit. Spirit that only comes from being a Cartwright and having a loving family to be there for you. Something I am sad to say that I have yet to experience for myself.” Phillippe looked at Joe’s face and knew that his cousin saw what he was saying to be truthful.

“Somewhere out there in another town or city, there is something waiting out there for me. I don’t know what it is yet. I don’t know when it is. But I have to try and find it for myself. I need to prove that I am who I say I am and not Joe Cartwright.” Phillippe said as his own tears threatened to spill.

He took Joe gently by the arms and pulled him into a tight embrace. He heard the small gasps of pain and was about to pull out of the embracewhen he felt Joe holding onto him just as tightly as he had been to Joe.

“You will always be welcome back here on the Ponderosa should be decide to come back Phillippe” Joe said as he released his grip on his cousin.

“Joe’s right Phillippe” Ben now interrupted this most touching moment between the two cousins. “You will always be welcome to come and stay with us whether it be for a short time or a long time.”

Phillippe now grinned that mischievous grin that Joe’s family knew so well. He leant over and whispered something into Joe’s ears that was kept secret from the rest of the family.

Ben and Adam proceeded to raise their eyebrows at each other and wonder what the two of them were up to.

“See you in San Francisco in about two weeks then huh Joe” Phillippe said with a tone of over confidence that Joe often displayed.

Ben looked as though he was ready to jump on Phillippe at such a outspoken remark. Adam and Hoss could only admire the way that Phillippe had quickly learned to manipulate the eldest Cartwright.

Joe gave his father and brothers a look of pure innocence that they had all seen before. All of them inwardly groaned at what the reply would be. Joe looked between his brothers, to Phillippe to his father and back to his brothers again.

“Better make that three weeks Phillippe” came the quick reply before Joe got back on his bed and covered his head with the covers waiting for the explosion from his father. Ben and the others could hear his distinct giggles underneath the thin covers and thought the sound was the best one they had heard in a long time.

 

The End

 

 

End Notes:

I NEED TO GIVE BIG THANKS AND PRAISE TO LIBBY MOORE AND JERRI
WHO WROTE THE ORIGINAL STORY “NEW ORLEANS” THAT LED TO MY INSPIRATION FOR THIS STORY. I HAVE USED THE CHARACTER PHILLIPPE FROM THIS STORY AND HAVE MADE A QUICK MENTION OF ANOTHER CHARACTER MAJOR JACK WILLIAMS DURING THE STORY AS WELL. THIS STORY WAS ALL THE BRAIN STORM FROM ONE LINE AT THE END OF LIBBY’S AND JERRI’S STORY THAT SAID SOMETHING LIKE WHAT WOULD IT BE LIKE FOR TWO JOE CARTWRIGHTS TO BE IN VIRGINIA CITY. I THOUGHT IT TO BE AN INTERESTING LINE AND TOOK IT FROM THERE.

ALSO COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT MY FRIEND HELEN CHECKING MY MISTAKES AND ERRORS AND GENERALLY BEING A GREAT FRIEND IN WRITING THIS.

JULES

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