Summary: This is a follow-up story to the Julia Bulette Episode. I hope I have done the original episode some justice and continued the story on in an appropriate manner. The scene takes place as the four Cartwright’s are riding away from the hotel after Julia’s death. For the purposes of this story, the sheriff of Virginia City is Roy Coffee. Word Count: 33.300 PG-13
AND NOW THE STORY CONTINUES …………….
Little Joe Cartwright didn’t know how he felt at this point in time. If he had to describe it in one word it would be numb.
He had just said his final goodbye to the woman he had asked to be Mrs. Joseph Cartwright. His heart was aching so much that it felt as though there was an endless cavern in his chest.
Sure he knew the score. He had heard the rumours and whispers around Virginia City about what kind of woman Ms Bulette was. He had heard the grim details about how many men she had slept with over the years and then left them
dangling in the breeze.
He didn’t care. He had even had an argument with his own father about people’s careless attitudes. They were not ready to accept someone with a suspect past. Someone that had a background and came from somewhere else.
There was more than 20 years between him and Julia but he didn’t care. He knew that Julia was older and had seen more of the outside world than he. Of course she had. He had spent his entire life on the Ponderosa with his father
and brothers there to attend to his every need and watch over him. He had yet to spread his wings and travel to foreign and exotic places.
The other thing that drew him to Julia in the first place apart from her obvious beauty, was the fact that she claimed to have lived in the city of New Orleans. His mother Marie had come from New Orleans. He didn’t know much about the city or his mother for that matter, but something inside him hoped that there
was some sort of connection.
He rode beside his father and brothers with all of these thoughts running through his head, but not knowing what to say to his family. He rode the rest of the way back to the ranch in total silence.
Ben Cartwright’s own mind was in turmoil as he rode with his son’s. How could he help his youngest son Joseph overcome his broken heart.
A Broken Heart was the hardest of all things to try and heal. Sometimes they seemed to be repaired only to be re-torn open by the stabbing knife of lies and deception further down the track. Other times the damage was irreparable. The heart muscle just wasn’t strong enough to fend off the blows that were inflicted. Slowly, but surely the heart started to turn black and die, never to beat with the satisfying rhythm of love again.
Joe was still too young not to love another person. He had his future in front of him. His whole life and it was right there for the taking if he wanted it.
After seeing the look on his son’s face as he exited the hotel tonight, he didn’t know what Little Joe wanted anymore.
Adam Cartwright rode behind his little brother Joe. From this position all he could see was slumped shoulders and a curly head bowed forward. His whole posture gave away his feelings. It was as though Julia’s death had robbed him of the confident almost cocky personality that they were all so used to. Adam just hoped that the real Joe Cartwright returned soon. He missed the sure fired, quick tempered, even quicker to act brother he had seen emerge from boyhood into young adulthood and finally manhood.
Some people thought that Joe’s carefree nature with girls was almost arrogant. But those closest to him. The ones that really knew the real Little Joe, knew that the young man was still searching for a companion. He had sampled a few of the goodies that the good Lord offered, but nothing had really fired up his taste buds yet. Although she was a good deal older, maybe Joe had thought that in Julia Bulette he had found his life long soul mate.
Hoss Cartwright’s mind was also on his younger brother. He wasn’t the best at judging relationships or even how to communicate with members of the opposite sex. He had seen his brother Joe walk into a room at a dance and seen all of the young ladies literally swoon all over him. Yes, his little brother was certainly as handsome. When it came to older women like Julia Bulette, maybe she was looking to rejuvenate her own younger days by spending time with Little Joe. You only had to look at his magnificent smile and you were taken back to days gone by.
All three older Cartwrights just looked at Joe again and sighed at his sorrow and pain.
When the four of them finally reached the homestead, Hoss offered to put all of their horses away for the night.
Normally on any other night, Joe would have protested and told his brother that Cochise had to be cared for in just the right way. He would fuss over her food and the way her coat was combed. He would change her water bucket three times before he was satisfied that the water was clean and cool enough for her to drink. But tonight, Joe gave no such argument. He handed his brother the reins and started to walk towards the front door without saying a word.
Hoss just looked sadder for his brother. Ben gave his shoulder a quick squeeze in comfort. He knew that if his youngest boy was suffering, then Hoss was suffering too. The bond between his youngest two sons was stronger than the fibres that bound together the giant pines that gave the ranch her name Ponderosa.
The house itself was dark. Hop Sing had told the family that he would be out of town for a day or two attending to another of his endless relatives. This was one night that Ben really hoped that the Cantonese man could have been here to aid another member of his family. It was no secret that Hop Sing thought of Joe like an adopted son. He had been there through all of the ups and downs in Joe’s life..
Joe took off his hat and attempted to hang it on the peg behind the door. It missed, but he kept on walking towards the stairs anyway. He didn’t care. It didn’t make a great difference to the world. He didn’t make a great difference.
“Are you alright, son?” Ben asked Joe before he could escape to the solitude of his bedroom.
“Yeah, Pa,” came the unemotional reply. “Just a little bit tired,” he added and closed his door behind him to avoid his family.
“He’s a whole lot tired,” Ben thought to himself out loud. Doc Martin had said that he only had a few hours sleep at the hotel when he was forced to. He and Julia stayed on their feet helping those sick people for the best part of 48 hours without a break.”
“Just hope he gets some rest,” Adam replied. Just because Joe might be going to sleep, didn’t mean that he would get the rest his body would demand.
“Do you think we should check on him Pa?” Hoss asked.
“Not just yet, son,” Ben said. “Let’s just let him sort it out for himself for a while. I’m sure that he will come to us when he is ready to talk things over.”
“I think it’s time we all called it a night,” Ben said as he planned to retire for the night. It took all of his effort not to go and check on his youngest son like Hoss wanted to, but he told himself again that Joe needed time to adjust to what had happened.
Adam and Hoss bid their father goodnight and went to their own rooms. They were sure that their own sleep would be interrupted by thoughts of Little Joe tonight.
It was nearly dawn in the house when Little Joe awoke. At first he didn’t know what had awoken him. He tried to roll over and go back to sleep. It was then that the first wave of pain hit him.
He managed to get into a lateral position on the bed, but the effort caused every muscle in his legs to ache. Not just his leg muscles, his arm muscles, thigh muscles and the tiny muscles behind his eyes.
The symptoms wouldn’t hit him all at once. It would be a gradual increase in muscle spasms and fatigue each day. Gathering like a moving snowball. The more it rolled along, the more the various symptoms would increase. It would keep increasing until it was at bursting point.
Joe decided that he had better go down to the kitchen and find some of Hop Sing’s remedies for the increasing muscle ache. If he got to it early, maybe he could just go back to sleep for the rest of the morning.
He tried to move into a sitting position on the bed. Big mistake. The muscle spasms just got worse. At first he thought that he must have been in a fight that he didn’t remember. Every part of him had some sort of complaint. He couldn’t see any noticeable bruises anywhere on his skin. He gazed up and down his limbs, then turned
his attention to his torso and chest area. Again there was nothing to suggest why he should be feeling so lousy.
Finally he just put it down to being over tired. He had worked non-stop with Julia for the last two days with little rest or food.
He managed to stand up erect to his full height. He was almost ready to believe that he was alright again. The muscle aches had briefly subsided. He stretched his sore limbs and rubbed at the cramps that had been present in his calf muscles a few minutes ago.
“You’re just tired, old boy,” Joe said to himself. But maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go and get something just in case. He knew that Hop Sing wasn’t there this morning . If he snuck downstairs and helped himself to his friend’s stash of herbal remedies, he could take the natural pain reliever and be back sound asleep again for Hoss to come and wake him as if everything was normal.
He padded across the wooden floor clad only in his night shirt. His bare feet covered any sound of his early morning escapade from those still sleeping upstairs.
Little Joe reached the sanctuary of the kitchen. Whilst he was in here, anybody coming down the stairs wouldn’t be able to see what he was up to.
Hop Sing kept his herbal jars high upon a shelf on the side wall in the kitchen. Little Joe dragged a stool over to the cupboard, ready to ascend it and get the item he sought. He put his feet on the sitting part of the stool very carefully so to not upset his balance. Once standing up on the stool he lifted his hand over his head looking for the right jar.
When the dizziness first hit him, he thought that it must have been because he was standing on the small stool looking up at the ceiling. Maybe his sense of balance was out slightly due to the angle his neck was at. When he lowered his gaze towards the stone floor of the kitchen, his head began to spin. Spin fast and make him grab hold of the cupboard near him for support. He was no more than 3 feet off the ground, but he had an incredible feeling of vertigo. The spinning became worse and he put his hands to his head trying to stop the carousel ride inside his mind. He didn’t have time to gasp out in surprise before he felt himself spiraling towards the floor. He tried to steady himself again but his vision was causing him to see everything as if it was double exposed. He made a grab for what he thought was the counter of the cupboard, but he missed.
The dizziness was very bad. He went to take a step off the stool, but it tipped over, spilling him to the stoneware floor with a loud clash. He tried to get up again but his muscles had now joined in with the dizziness. They failed to obey his requests. He managed to crawl on his hands and knees towards the kitchen door, but only managed a few centimeters.
He was about to call out to his family for help, but his blood pressure suddenly nose dived and his head hit the floor as he lost consciousness. For the next two hours, he would lay prone on the cold stone floor unnoticed.
Adam was late getting up this morning. It was almost 7:00 am when his body clock dragged him from his fitful doze.
He stretched and yawned slightly. For a moment he thought that it might be a good idea if he slept in this morning. Just for a change. But Adam found that once he was awake his body rarely let him fall back asleep. He would just lay there feigning sleep so he might as well get up and do his chores. He knew how lousy his younger brother would be feeling over Julia this morning, so he decided that he would help out Joe by doing his chores as well.
Adam got up from the bed and dressed for the day after taking care of his personal needs. He participated in his morning shaving ritual and once feeling okay, he stepped outside of his bedroom and into the hallway.
He had a thought at first that he should check on his brother Joe. But on further considering the idea, he thought he had better leave Joe alone for a while. Joe would be fine after a few days of rest. He would be back to his old self in no time and things could slowly get back to normal.
Adam walked down the stairs and casually strolled into the kitchen to brew himself a cup of coffee on the wood stove. He spotted the chair first, being out of place. But Joe’s body lying on the cold floor was obstructed somewhat by the little niche created by the walls of the room. The stool was laying on its side. He walked over and was about to set it right when he spotted something that made his blood run cold.
Laying on the floor, a few feet away from the displaced stool was the unconscious body of his little brother Joe. He wasn’t moving. Adam quickly recovered from the shock and knelt beside his younger sibling trying to figure out what had happened. Adam thought that Joe must have fallen from the stool and hit his head. But when Adam pressed his hands gently on the back of Joe’s curly head, there were no bumps or lacerations to note.
“Joe, wake up little buddy,” Adam beseeched the young man. “Joe, are you alright?”
Joe didn’t hear his brother’s pleas. Adam placed his first two fingers on Joe’s pale neck feeling for a pulse. It was there, maybe slightly sluggish, by it seemed strong enough.
Adam placed his hands on either side of Joe’s shoulders and attempted to turn the unconscious youth over. When he managed to do so, he saw that Joe’s eyes were closed and his facial expression lax. His face look almost cereal. The were no marks that would indicate what was wrong with the youngest Cartwright.
“Joe, please wake up,” Adam repeated. “Come on little buddy, show me that you are alright.”
Adam began thinking along the lines of Joe’s sudden illness as being brought on by his emotional state. Maybe the stress of Julia’s death had been too much for the kid. Maybe he was more burnt out then they all suspected.
Adam placed a large hand on Joe’s brow. When he felt the heat that was present at his touch, he knew that his first diagnosis had been totally wrong. There was something more desperately wrong with his brother.
Adam didn’t want to leave Joe laying on the cold hard floor. The boy was only in his night shirt and due to the slight fever, began to shiver. Adam pursed his lips together and told himself that there would be time to worry later. Right now he had more important matters to attend to.
He gently picked up Little Joe’s limp body in his arms and started to return to the living room. As he walked through the dining room, he began to shout for his father and Hoss to help him.
“PA……….. come quick……… PA!” Adam yelled, all the while watching Little Joe’s face for signs that he was coming to. There were none.
Hoss appeared at the top of the stairs, rubbing at his eyes and wondered what was so
damned important to be yelling about at this time in the morning. His unkind thoughts towards Adam were quickly forgotten as he spied his older brother carrying a very still Joe over to the settee. Now it was his turn to start yelling for their father…
“Pa……… it’s Little Joe…….. Pa come quick!” Hoss said as he raced down the stairs and over to stand beside Adam.
“What in tarnation are you two yelling about?” Pa began to say as he was so rudely awakened from his peaceful sleep. As he spotted who was being lowered to the settee, he hitched in his breath and ran down the stairs two at a time.
“Little Joe?” Pa said gently as he stroked his youngest son’s face trying to rouse him.
“What’s wrong with him Adam” Ben said softly as he looked up at his oldest son. Hoss also looked to Adam for an explanation for Joe’s condition.
“I don’t know, Pa,” Adam said honestly. “I came downstairs to get a cup of coffee before starting work. I was even telling myself that I would do his chores today, just so he could clear his mind a little. I went into the kitchen and spotted an upturned stool. I walked over to pick it up and then saw Little Joe laying there unconscious. I don’t know how long he has been laying there. Hoss would you get a blanket please, he was beginning to shiver a few moments ago” Hoss did his brother’s biding and took the red Indian style blanket that overhung the staircase and laid it gently over Little Joe.
“Hoss, you go and tell one of the hands to go and fetch Doc Martin, please,” Ben said. It was time to find out what was ailing Joseph. He never took his eyes of Little Joe’s sleeping face as he spoke the orders. He told Adam to get some water and cloths from the washroom. Hoss had scurried outside to get the messenger underway.
“I checked him over as best I could, Pa,” Adam now told his father “I couldn’t find any bumps on his head or any other reason that might have made him sick in there. But he has got a slight fever from something.” He put his hand on Joe’s forehead again just to confirm what he had said.
Ben also checked his son’s temperature with the palm of his hand. It was warm, but no overly so. Maybe Joe was just overtired and was getting a cold due to his body’s lack of sleep and food.
Adam handed Ben a cloth from the basin that had been wrung out so that it was only damp. Ben placed the cloth on Little Joe’s forehead. The coolness had some immediate results. Joe licked his lips and slowly turned his head from side to side on the settee’s cushion.
Ben stopped his administrations and looked intently at Joe’s face, hoping that the boy was finally coming awake. He was rewarded by the sight of emerald green eyes looking back at him.
“Hi Pa,” Joe said in an almost normal sounding voice. His eyes didn’t show any signs of glassiness or dullness. They were the same clear green like that of his wife Marie.
“Hi Little Joe” Ben said softly. “How are you feeling, son?”
“What happened?” Joe said without answering his father’s question.
“Adam found you lying unconscious on the kitchen floor only a few minutes ago” Ben explained “What’s the last thing you remember son?”
Joe thought for a moment because his mind wasn’t coming up with the answers quickly enough. “Last thing I remember is standing on that stool in the kitchen. Then I got dizzy Pa, real dizzy. I tried to grab hold of the counter as I fell, but I must have missed it. I don’t remember anything after that.”
“How do you feel inside?” Ben asked repeating his earlier question.
“I don’t feel too bad, Pa,” Joe said in all honesty. He felt a little disorientated, but he thought that was mainly due to his head hitting the stone floor. “My legs were aching a little earlier, that’s why I was in the kitchen. But the ache seems to have disappeared now.”
“Is that what you were doing in the kitchen?” Ben now asked with dismay. He knew that Hop Sing kept a supply of herbal medicines in his kitchen somewhere. Nobody else but Little Joe was normally allowed the privilege of entering the kitchen. This is how his youngest son must have found Hop Sing’s hiding place. Ben was still eyeing him suspiciously when he said he felt fine.
“I’ve sent one of the hands into town to get Doc Martin,” Ben now told his son. “And before you say anything, it’s just to check that you are alright. People just go around fainting for no reason Little Joe.”
Joe just pouted. “Why do I have to see the doctor, Pa?’ he said. “I said I feel fine. I have been working long hours the last couple of days. My body is probably just adjusting that’s all.” Joe made an attempt to rise from the settee.
“Oh no you don’t young man,” Ben warned. “You are not going anywhere till Paul gets here.”
“OH Pa,” Joe whined. He was feeling slightly more alert now he was sitting up a little. He was really convinced that whatever had caused him to feel dizzy was long gone by now.
Ben had his hands full trying to keep an unimpressed Little Joe on the settee until the doctor arrived. He made all sorts of promises at first, then in exasperation, he started to make some threats just to keep his youngest in line.
“Little Joe, if you try and get off this couch I will get Hoss to sit on you,” Ben said.
Joe looked at his much larger brother for some back up support but he saw that his one true ally was on his father’s side this time. He gave Joe the same threatening look. Hoss was worried about his younger brother as much as the others. Joe often didn’t take care of himself like he should and it was at times like this that it began to show in physical symptoms.
Ben was relieved when he finally heard a knock at the front door. Adam opened it and was grateful that Doctor Paul Martin stood on the other side.
“Hello Ben,” he greeted his old friend “Tell me what’s that boy Joseph done this time?”
“Nothing doc, I’m just fine,” came the response from Little Joe to the question directed at his father.
“He is not fine Paul,” Ben said giving another warning look to Joe. “Adam found him over two hours ago unconscious on the kitchen floor. He doesn’t know how long he was lying there and we haven’t been able to see any form of injury on him. He feels a little warm, but no overly so.”
“Well, lets just take a look, shall we?” Paul said trying to ease Ben’s concerns.
“Joe I think you would be more comfortable if I did this examination in your own room,” Doc Martin said now looking at the young man.
Joe decided he couldn’t fight them all at the moment. But he gave his best scowl as he stomped all the way up the stairs to his room.
Joe lay on the bed in his night shirt. He covered from his knees down with the blue comforter on the bed.
“Okay Joe let’s try and work out what’s wrong with you,” Paul said gently.
“Nothing, like I said downstairs I am fine,” Joe said a little impatiently. He didn’t like being poked and prodded like a prize turkey at Christmas time.
“You just lay back and let me decide that, young man,” Paul said in mock sternness. “I’m sure that your father and brothers wouldn’t have sent for me unless they were still worried about you.”
Joe just gave up in defeat. He didn’t like it but he let the doctor continue without further comment.
Paul lifted up his nightshirt and listened to Joe’s lungs and chest. He took count of Joe’s pulse and mentally noted the details. He ran his fingers over Joe’s uncovered abdomen and looked for any signs of internal problems. He ran his fingers down Joe’s arms and legs, testing the muscles and checking for obvious strains of the muscles or
tendons. There was nothing.
The doctor put his hand to Joe’s forehead and noted a little temperature. Nothing to get over excited about though. It was barely warm and could be explained by any number of common illnesses. Paul continued his examination of Joe’s eyes and ear’s checking for any signs of his ailment.
Paul finally sat back with a look of curiousness. Apart from the slight temperature, there was nothing to say why Joe would have collapsed in the kitchen.
“Have you had any muscle aches or pains Joe?” he asked still trying to find a cause.
“Yeah, that’s why I was in the kitchen,” Joe said “Like I told Pa and my brothers, I was in the kitchen looking for some of Hop Sing’s herbal jars. They were up high on a shelf so I had to use the stool to reach them. That’s when I started feeling very dizzy. But when I woke up on the couch a few minutes ago, the ache was totally gone. My legs feel fine now.”
“Okay Joe, I want to have a quick word with your Pa. But other than that slight fever, you should be alright. Just take it easy today and let me know if you start feeling any other symptoms. And I want you to rest some.”
Joe just rolled his eyes in frustration at the doctor. There was no way that he was going to spend a day lying around in bed if they couldn’t find anything wrong with him. “Yeah, okay doc,” he finally said to keep the doctor happy.
After the doctor had left the room, Joe made attempts to get dressed for the day and take care of his personal needs. His body still felt a little tired, but overall he was fine. The ache had gone. Maybe if he got all of his chores done early enough, he could take a leisurely ride down to the lake. He still needed to work out a few things for himself about Julia. He didn’t think he would be able to do that with his family constantly hovering over him every moment.
Paul walked downstairs and sat at the breakfast table to talk to the Cartwright family. He himself was bone tired. He had been working just as hard as Joe and Julia over the last few days taking care of the people in Virginia City with the fever. With the crisis now over, he could afford to relax and take some extra time.
“Well Ben,” he began the conversation. “I can’t find a thing wrong with him. He’s got a slight temperature, but maybe he’s just getting a cold. I checked him out thoroughly and I couldn’t find any cause for his fainting. He may be a little tired from working for me the last few days. I told him to take it easy today and let me know if any symptoms start reappearing again.”
Ben wasn’t totally happy with the diagnosis but he trusted the doctor enough that if he said things were alright, then there mustn’t be too much to worry about. “I’ll keep a good eye on him, Paul”.
“I’m sure you will,” Paul said with a grin. He knew how Ben felt towards his youngest. “How’s he coping with the other thing?” he asked not wanting to say things too loud for Joe to hear.
“To tell you the truth Paul, I don’t know,” Ben said with a little sadness. “He didn’t say anything to us on the way back from town last night. I just hope that he’s not bottling things up inside. I’m willing to give him a few days to try and work things out himself. I’ve already told him that we are here if he needs to talk.”
“Well, that’s the best anyone can do right now,” the doctor said. “Just remember to keep an eye on him and let me know if you need me. Now I’m going home to get some much needed shuteye. I suggested that Joe should rest a little more today too.” Paul got up from his chair and walked towards the front door. Adam saw him to the door and thanked him for coming so quickly.
“I want you two to keep an eye on your brother today, just like Paul said,” Ben told his two eldest son’s before Joe appeared at the breakfast table. “Do it discreetly, but do it. If he shows any sign of getting sick again, I want to know. And if he wants to sleep today, just let him. Like Paul said, he has to be tired today after what he’s been through.”
Adam and Hoss nodded their heads in agreement and made their way outside ready to start the morning chores.
The rest of the day went reasonably smoothly. Joe had done a few menial chores outside briefly, but then retired inside just before lunch. He had wanted to go for that ride up to the lake, but thought he should wait until after lunch to do it.
While his father and brother’s were busy outside, he laid himself down on the settee and relaxed slightly. He let the events of the last few days run through his mind. It was only a few days ago that he had met Julia Bulette. He had never seen a more beautiful woman in his life. He had fought John Millian for her honor in the hotel that first day. He had dined with the lovely lady the following night. And then he had another fight with Millian.
This was a fight that unfortunately he lost. He didn’t remember a whole lot about it except what his brother’s had told him. They had been just standing at the bar watching the fight ensue. It was only after he had knocked himself out against a door after his head slammed into it in the room that he found himself slung over Adam’s shoulder and carted out like a sack of grain.
The next morning had been no picnic either. He had a large bruise forming on his cheek from the fight. That was the same morning that he and Pa had the fight over Julia’s background. He had accused his father of not looking at the whole picture when he saw Joe with Julia. Ben had only seen the age difference between them and the fact that his youngest son was very inexperienced when it came to women like her.
With his body still extremely tired from lack of sleep, it didn’t take long for Joe to drift off to sleep. The house was quiet and his eyes grew too heavy to keep open. He started to dream about what life would have been like if Julia Bulette had accepted his invitation to become his wife.
Adam, Hoss and Ben had come through the front door together ready to sit down to lunch. They had been chatting idly but were surprised at the quietness and stillness of the house as they entered the room.
Hoss spied a site on the couch and urged his older brother and father to lower their voices. Over on the settee Little Joe was sound asleep.
All three Cartwrights walked up behind the couch to survey the scene. Their hearts melted and they each felt a hard lump rise in their throats when they saw the youngest member of the family. Little Joe was turned on his side on the settee. His left hand was bent at the elbow so that his hand rested underneath his head like a pillow. His
right arm was folded on top of the left and his right hand was also tucked up underneath his mass of curls. The boy’s face was free of any wrinkles. The eye lashes closed over the eyes and laid across them ever so gently. The boy looked completely at peace.
Ben put his hand lightly to Little Joe’s forehead to check his temperature. Sure enough it was still there but to his relief it hadn’t gotten any warmer though.
Joe made a few small whimpers and mumbled something as he felt his father’s touch and Ben removed his hand quickly for fear of waking him. This was probably the first chance Joe had had to get any decent sleep. Ben knew that his son hadn’t slept very well after returning last night despite his weariness. He had heard his youngest move about a few times that night, all due to thoughts over Julia he assumed.
Ben and his boys had eaten their lunch in silence and now went about completing their chores. They decided to let Joe sleep as long as he wanted just as was suggested. Joe hadn’t stirred at all since they sat down to eat. Hoss had wondered whether or not they should wake Joe to eat, but Ben assured him that Joe would be able to get something to eat once he woke up.
Each of them took another look at the slumbering form on the couch before walking out the front door. They all hoped that what ever demons haunted Little Joe, had now decided to leave him be.
It was almost time for Ben, Adam and Hoss to return for the afternoon when Joe started to wake up on the settee. He had slept for about five hours undisturbed. The house was empty so the rest of the Cartwright family were blissfully unaware that Joe was rousing from his slumber.
Joe opened his eyes and immediately shut them again. He put a hand to his head and tried to massage away the terrible headache he had gained whilst sleeping. He thought it must have been as a result of sleeping too long. He reopened his eyes, but the next thing he noticed was that the aches in his legs that had disappeared were back. Not only were they back, but they were more prominent then this morning and they were joined by the ones in his biceps and lower arms.
It seemed that just about every muscle in his body was aching at the moment and Joe was glad that his family and Hop Sing weren’t around to hear his small gasps of pain. He knew that if they even suspected he was sick again, then he would again find himself being examined by Doc Martin. His father and brothers would have him whisked up and put to bed before he had time to blink.
For the time being and until his body started to tell him what was wrong, he would keep his little discomfort to himself. Maybe once he had some more sleep tonight he would be alright again.
His family had returned a short time later to find Joe awake and sitting on the couch. Truth was that he wasn’t about to move about too much and let them notice his aches and pains.
Once dinner was laid on the table and the rest of the family were seated ready to eat, Joe managed to disguise his discomfort as he made his way across the living room floor to the table. He steps were deliberately smaller, but he hoped that his family didn’t notice.
He sat down and partook in the saying of grace. He tried to look interested but his head was pounding harder than before and it was becoming difficult to focus on the words his father was saying.
It wasn’t until the aroma of the food hit his senses that his stomach decided to protest as well. Joe felt his innards starting to tie themselves in knots just to stop himself from retching right in front of his family. It took all of his efforts to combat the nauseous feeling in the pit of his stomach. He felt his face turn a sickly green color. He was too busy trying to fight off his attacker to notice his family’s stares.
Ben hadn’t noticed his son’s small and deliberate steps towards the table. But he certainly saw his son’s face drain of color when he looked up from saying grace. His son’s face was very pale and he looked a chalky in his complexion. Ben was about to grab at Joe’s arm and ask if he was alright when Joe sprang up from the table suddenly and made a dash for the kitchen.
Joe had fled the dining table fearing that he would be sick. He exited the back door and stood with his hands on his knees as he stomach went through the motions of throwing up. He hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast and had had only a few sips of water throughout the day, so the dry retching made the actions that much more painful. His stomach was trying to turn out it’s contents, but there was nothing there to bring up.
Ben had followed the fleeing Joe outside and now stood back a little, worried that Joe was throwing up all of a sudden. Hoss and Adam stayed in the dining room so they didn’t embarrass their younger brother any more than necessary. Once it appeared like he was able to stand up and take a breather, Ben was asking him if he was alright.
“Little Joe, are you okay?” Ben asked worriedly. He had thought that his son might be a little better with the sleep he had this afternoon. But now it appeared that whatever had ailed him this morning was back again.
Joe put his hand up, not using any words but rather drawing in large gulps of air to feed his starving lungs. He was trying to gesture to his father that he was alright. He didn’t feel much better but started walking back inside the house to lie down. Horizontal seemed much more appealing at the moment that standing up vertically.
It had felt a little cooler outside, but now Joe noticed the stark contrast when re-entering the living room. He felt as though he was suffocating. The temperature that he had this morning had increased. It hadn’t felt as bad outside due to the mild breeze that was blowing through the trees. Now he was back inside, there was nothing to quell the fire that was steadily gaining momentum in his body.
He made it through the kitchen, appearing to be walking naturally. His step didn’t falter right away. It wasn’t until he walked into the living room again that the world began to tilt on it’s axis. Joe felt his vision blur a little and he found it difficult to stay on his feet.
Ben had been walking behind Joe upon re-entering the living room and it was now that he saw the youngest Cartwright sway slightly. Joe thought he heard someone call his name, but he couldn’t he sure. He put his hands to his head again to try and massage the headache away, but the movement only seemed to alter his sense of judgment and balance. Joe tried to say something, but the words never left his lips. He felt his knees go from underneath him and he briefly held out his hand seeking something to help support him. He barely felt his father and brothers catch a hold of him as he descended to the floor. He lost consciousness before he could utter any words.
Ben had tried to let his fears about his youngest son relax a little earlier in the day. But now with Joe laying very limp and very still in his grasp, they were back with a vengeance.
Ben took control of the situation and took full responsibility in carrying his unconscious son from the doorway to the settee. He could feel the temperature difference in his son from this morning. It had only been mild before, but now there was a noticeable change.
“Go and tell Doc Martin we need him again urgently, Hoss,” Ben instructed. “Adam let’s get him upstairs and settled before Paul gets here.”
Ben once again picked up his youngest son and carried him up the stairs as Adam led the way and cleared the path. Adam opened the door and stood back as his father carried Joe in. Ben laid his son on the top of the covers and rearranged his head on the pillows to make him more comfortable. He did these administrations feeling that he was helping in some way. It was mainly for his peace of mind that he fussed this way. Joe showed no signs of regaining consciousness. His clothes smelt of bile and so Adam grabbed out a fresh night shirt and changed his brother’s clothes. Once they had made him as comfortable as possible, they just stood back and watched him. It was all they could do for the moment. Occasionally Ben would straighten a crumpled sheet or brush a stray curl from his son’s sleeping face. But Joe showed no signs of regaining consciousness to reward their efforts.
Paul Martin arrived with Hoss to find two very worried people standing around Little Joe’s bed.
Ben had a cloth over Joe’s forehead trying to lower the fever in the boy. He tried to smile to his old friend when he walked into the room but it was a false attempt and hardly worth the effort it demanded.
“Ben it would be better if you all wait downstairs while I examine Joe,” Doc Martin said gently. Adam and Hoss were about to protest but the doctor ushered them out and said that he would inform them of his diagnosis. They would just have to be patient.
“Ben you might want to stay to give me a hand,” Paul suggested. He knew that Ben Cartwright had no intention of leaving his sick child.
Paul started at the same place as this morning. But this time he noticed some marked differences in Joe’s condition. He didn’t voice them aloud but made a mental note of them to put them together and give an informed opinion later.
He looked under Joe’s closed eyelids for signs of consciousness and saw that the eyes were a little glossy now. They were slow to dilate under the light placed in front of them. Paul now counted his pulse. It was still strong enough but was a little faster than he would have liked.
Joe’s muscle reflexes were sluggish and there was some evidence that the muscles were cramping up at various intervals. This was confirmed by the small grunts and moans Joe emitted.
Paul checked out Joe’s abdomen but thankfully found no problems there. Everything seemed to be in order as it had been this morning.
The doctor put the stethoscope against Joe’s bare chest and was a little concerned with what he heard. Where there had been nothing this morning, there were now definite rattling sounds. Small and almost inaudible, but they could get worse if they were not monitored carefully.
Finally, Paul checked Joe’s temperature. It was now 99 degrees and the heat from his forehead was more noticeable now.
When he added up all of his findings he wasn’t happy with his diagnosis. He thought of other illnesses that might have caused similar symptoms and aches to the body. But when he added it all back up and recalculated it, he was worried about the end result. He knew that Ben and his boys would be just as dismayed as he at the diagnosis. There was no way of hiding it from them. If he was correct then they were in for a particularly difficult battle and Little Joe would need to be cared for constantly to see that he didn’t become increasingly worse.
Ben suddenly felt Joe’s hand move and held his breath in to see if it moved again. It did.
“Little Joe,” Ben said softly. He saw his son open his eyes but he noted the same glassy look to them as the doctor. Joe turned his head and looked about the room as if he was searching for Ben. He gave a tired smile when his eyes came across his father’s face.
“Hi Pa,” he said. He eyes started to droop again. He felt the ache in his muscles and winced at the severity that was present now he was conscious. He hadn’t felt the cramping whilst he was unconscious, but he certainly felt the aches now.
Ben looked at this son with sympathy and then turned his attention to the doctor.
“How are you feeling, son?” Paul said noting the unspoken question on Ben’s face.
“I hurt a little all over Doc.” came the answer. “My headache had gone a little, but the muscles in my arms and legs are aching something fierce. My stomach feels a little better, but there is still the sick feeling there.”
Paul noted his patient’s description of his symptoms and went over to his bag. He took out a spoonful of medicine from a brown bottle and put the spoon in front of Joe’s mouth.
He smiled at the frown and scowl he got from his uncooperative patient but he didn’t take the spoon away. He just bided his time.
Sure enough Joe was about to say something in protest about taking awful tasting medicines, but before he could say a word, the spoon was quickly forced through his opened mouth. It was quickly taken away again, but half of the contents had been left behind. Half a victory was better then none.
“You get some sleep now, Joe,” Paul said. “You have a fever and muscle ache, but that medicine should help you sleep a little. I want to talk to your father and brothers for a moment, but we will be right outside if you need anything.”
Joe settled himself back down on the bed and soon his eyes were closed again, but this time they were closed in healing sleep. Ben gave his son’s cheek another gentle caress and sighed from worry about what might be making his son sick.
“Ben, could I talk to you and your boys downstairs please,” he said gently. There was just no way of hiding the fear in his voice at his theory of Joe’s ailment.
“Are you sure we can leave him alone?” Ben asked not taking his eyes from Joe.
“It will only be for a few minutes and he will sleep for a few hours anyway, Ben,” Paul replied. “I have come up with a theory about what might be making Joe sick like this, but I’m not sure your going to like my findings.”
Doc Martin looked at the three worried faces that were waiting in anticipation of his diagnosis for Joe’s sudden illness.
“Let me start by saying Ben, that I feel completely responsible for Little Joe,” Doc Martin said. His voice was full of self retribution. “I don’t know how to say how sorry I am.”
Ben was a little confused. It sounded like the doctor was blaming himself for Joe’s illness.
“Why do you feel responsible, doc?” Hoss asked for the rest of the family.
Paul didn’t know how else to hide the words he was about to say, so he just came out with them. “I think Little Joe may be falling victim to the fever that those people had at the hotel”.
“You can’t be serious!” Ben now said in alarm. The fever in Virginia City had been in the town’s water supply. It had attacked a few neighboring ranches and townships before hitting Virginia City. Ben and his other two sons had been safe because they had only drunk water from the Ponderosa’s own well. They had supplied all the town needed from this supply once it was determined that the water was the culprit.
“You mean Little Joe is going to get as sick as those people in town, doc?” Hoss said with nervousness. He couldn’t bear the thought of watching his little brother whittle away from a sickness and eventually fade away to nothing. Little Joe was only slight in build to begin with. Could he really fight something off like a fever?.
“I’m truly sorry, Ben,” Doc Martin continued. “If I could turn the clocks back I would. I would make sure he got more rest and ate more while tending to those people. But the truth is we all had our hands full with so many sick people. I just didn’t take the time to see the subtle changes in Joe’s disposition that would have indicated that he was becoming susceptible to it. I should have seen that he wasn’t taking care of himself. Not eating enough and no rest. What sort of doctor am I to do that to him?”
“It’s okay, Paul”, Ben tried to assure his friend. “If I know my son Joseph, it wouldn’t have mattered if he had a whole army looking out for him. The truth is he felt he needed to help those people just because that’s the type of person he is. He does things out of the kindness of his heart before weighing up the consequences to himself. Even if he knew he might get sick, I doubt it would have made a difference to him helping out.”
“Yeah, you know Little Joe doc, ornery as ever,” Hoss tried to say with a laugh. Truth was he was just to worried about his younger brother to make joke of it.”
“What’s the plan for getting him better, Paul?” Adam now asked the doctor.
“Well, it’s just like those people in Virginia City, there is no cure. We just have to do all of the usual things like cold compresses to keep the fever down. We might have to massage his limbs if he is still experiencing muscle aches and pains. I want him to eat too. Nothing too solid just yet. And in small amounts. If his stomach is still bothering him he will be difficult to deal with, but we will have to persevere. He has always been a skinny person, and normally that isn’t a bad thing, but right now that is going to work against him to combat this illness. He needs to keep up his strength or it’s going to make him sicker.”
“Now Ben, I know I can count on you to help, but I will probably need all you to work in tandem with each other to look after him,” Paul explained. A curt nod from both Hoss and Adam signaled that they didn’t even need to be asked. Both of them would help care for Joe if that was the only way to help him get better.
“I want him confined to bed and to rest as much as possible. These are the only remedies I know of to fight this fever. We will just have to do things slowly and take things as they come. I expect his fever might climb slowly and gradually. The main concern is the sound of his lungs at the moment. They were clear this morning when I first checked him, but now there are some definite rattles in there that worry me.”
“I’m going back into town to organize my other patients Ben, just in case I am needed here on a more permanent basis over the next few days,” Paul Martin said as he prepared to depart. “Please send for me immediately should his condition worsen any sooner than we think.”
“I have left some more medicine with Adam. Please use it if necessary. That small dose I gave him probably won’t last very long. He will probably need another dose in another four hours or so. I feel that I am completely responsible Ben, so don’t let him suffer any more than he should. I will try and make his recovery as quick and painless as possible.”
Ben nodded his head in agreement. He hoped that they wouldn’t need the doctor again. He was trying to convince himself that whatever was ailing Joe would be gone before they needed to take any more drastic measures.
Ben walked back into the living room and looked at his eldest two sons.
“Pa……….Adam and I decided that you should take the first watch tonight, then I will relieve you and then Adam after that,” Hoss said. He really wanted his father to get some rest himself before he worried himself sick over Joseph’s illness. He knew that Ben wouldn’t rest much at all until Joe started to feel better so Adam and he would indeed to make sure that their father took care of himself as well as Little Joe.
Ben agreed to the current arrangements but felt he was under no obligations to stick to the duty roster if Joe’s condition should worsen. If he decided that Joe needed more of his attention, then he would give it, no matter what the cost to his own health.
Adam and Hoss retired for the night knowing that they would both need to be up within a few hours to relieve Ben.
Ben made sure that he had everything he needed before sitting down in the chair beside Little Joe’s bed. The boy hadn’t moved since the doctor left. He was sleeping on his back with his hands laying gently beside him. He looked to be sleeping okay. But this was probably more to the medication he received rather than a sign of getting better. Only time would tell.
Ben had made himself a fresh pot of black coffee. He had a blanket folded and placed at the end of Joe’s bed in case it was needed. For the moment it was left off him to see if they could get the fever down early. Ben refilled the basin with cooler water from the wash room and got a fresh supply of towels. There was nothing more Ben could do now but wait.
For the next three hours, Ben tended his son just like he had when he was younger. He lovingly placed the dampened wash cloth over Joe’s fevered brow. He caressed his curly brown hair with his hand letting his touch do most of the healing.
A few times, Little Joe’s face had wrinkled in displeasure or pain, but then the wrinkles would smooth out and he would be lost to sleep again.
The time went quickly enough and when Hoss came to relieve him, he was almost reluctant to go. He was about to deal out his hand of authority as the head of the household, but then decided that it best rest like Adam and Hoss said. He left instructions for Hoss and Adam to wake him immediately if Joe asked for him or his sickness got any worse during the night.
He got up from his chair and gave his slumbering son a kiss and uttered a few quiet words of kindness before leaving the room. “I’ll be right here if you need me son. I love you. You get well now you hear.” He had a few stray tears in his eyes that he wiped away hurriedly as he bid his larger son goodnight.
Hoss’s watched without much cause for alarm. Joe continued to sleep peacefully enough even though Hoss did his share of fussing over him. He didn’t have the same magical touch that his Pa had over the youngest Cartwright when he was sick or hurt. He hoped that just being there would be enough for Joe tonight. He had always promised Joe, right from when he was very young that he would be there for him and that wasn’t about to change now.
It was about 1:00 am when Hoss relieved his father and about 4:30 am when Adam was gently shaking his shoulder and telling him to go and get some sleep.
Adam felt Joe’s forehead and noted that the fever had maybe decreased slightly from earlier in the night. Or maybe it’s just his imagination that wanted him to believe Joe was a little better.
Adam had no intentions of going to sleep on his watch and took to reading a book by the light of the lantern in the room. About half an hour after he started reading, he saw Joe start to squirm about in the bed. At first the movements were very slight and Adam thought that they were just the natural actions of a person asleep at night. But soon a few small moans of pain escaped Joe’s lips to indicate that his legs and arms were aching again. The medicine had worn off some time ago and the aches and pains were now starting to squeeze through the fuzziness again.
Adam tried talking softly to Joe and telling him that everything was alright but it was soon obvious that Joe needed more that just words. Adam thought briefly about giving him another dose of medicine, but since it was getting close to dawn Adam erred on the side of caution and started massaging Joe’s legs and arms to ease the stiffness. He was hoping that Joe would awaken somewhere near breakfast in order to get some nourishment into him.
He had seen the signs of nauseous that Joe displayed at the dinner table, but he also heeded Doc Martin’s advice and knew that Joe needed to eat in order to keep up his strength if he was going to fight the fever.
The massaging was gentle but seemed to be working and soon Adam could again here the slow and rhythmic breathing coming from Joe’s chest. There was a sight wheeze emanating from the chest area and Adam just prayed that it was only a wheeze and nothing more threatening.
Joe slept soundly enough for the next few hours although his fever never disappeared altogether. At about 6:00 am Ben came into the room to check on his son’s progress overnight.
Adam informed him that Joe’s condition seemed to be stable enough, although there was no radical improvement.
Ben signaled to Adam that he wanted to speak to him and Hoss downstairs at the breakfast table, away from Joe’s ears. Adam nodded and went to wake Hoss and tell him to appear downstairs as soon as possible.
While Adam was getting Hoss, Ben took the time to greet his youngest son Good Morning. He felt Joe’s forehead for himself and noted the very slight decreased in temperature. He frowned a little still at the warmth present though. He straightened the bed clothes and stroked Little Joe’s cheek trying to get a response. There was none and Joe remained deeply asleep oblivious to his father’s administrations and fussing.
“I’ll be back in a little while, Joe,” Ben whispered and gave his son another kiss to signal his love and worry. He knew in reality it would be some hours before he could return to his youngest son. He had a task to attend to this morning that he was glad that Joe would not be a party to.
Ben walked downstairs with a slight slump to his shoulders about what he had to tell Adam and Hoss.
Hoss was a little worried about what Ben might have to say. Adam was a little worried too but failed to show it openly.
“I have to go into town this morning boys…. to attend to Julia,” Ben said softly. He knew that Joe was asleep and would not overhear the conversation, but the topic of that conversation seemed to dictate the tone of voice required.
Hoss looked at his father with confusion. He didn’t understand at first why his father would be saying that he had to go out this morning with Little Joe still sick. Adam could see his brother about to say something in protest but he quickly put a hand on his shoulder and explained to Hoss the purpose of his father’s journey into Virginia City.
Hoss heard the explanation and looked up towards Little Joe’s room. He too was glad that Joe couldn’t hear the conversation. “You think he should know about it, Pa?” he said with sorrow in his voice.
“No son, I think it best that Joe just concentrate on getting better for the moment. His emotions are already at breaking point. It would be better to tell him once it is all over. That way he can work through his pain at his own pace. The most important thing right now is for him to get over this illness,” Ben said trying to reassure Hoss.
“Adam, you stay with your brother this morning,” Ben said. “Make sure that you keep that medicine up to him and try and get that fever down some more. After I leave, try and offer him some breakfast. Anything will be better than nothing. I shouldn’t be gone any more than three hours.”
“I’ll look after him, Pa,” Adam promised.
Ben was confident that Adam would be up to caring for his sick brother, but he yearned to be home as quickly as possible himself to help out. It pained him to have to leave Joe while he was still sick. However, there was no getting around what he had to do today.
Adam knew that Hoss was getting more worried about Joe and suspected that his large brother was brooding over his younger brother. He suggested that Hoss go outside for a while and tend to the livestock. He would take care for Joe for the first part of the morning and Hoss could take over after lunch before their father returned.
Hoss was agreeable to this arrangement. The clear morning air would help clear his thoughts anyway. “You sure your going to be okay with him?” he asked.
“I’ll call you if I need you,” Adam answered.
Hoss followed his father towards the barn ready to do some work for a few hours to take his mind off Little Joe.
Adam went back upstairs to check on Joe and was happy to see Joe laying awake.
“Hi buddy,” Adam greeted him cheerily. Joe looked at him but failed to reply to his happy tone of voice. He looked a little confused about where he was.
“You think you could eat some breakfast, Joe?” Adam asked. He was rewarded by a small nod. Joe didn’t really want anything to eat but he didn’t want a fight with Adam first thing this morning either. The queasiness in his stomach seemed to have eased somewhat from yesterday, but he wasn’t about to take chances.
Adam seemed to read Joe mind about eating anything that might cause him to be sick again so he settled on a very thin omelets for starters. If Joe succeeded to keep that down enough, he could try something a little more substantial later on.
When Adam brought the omelets to Joe, it actually smelt very good to him. However, he took things very cautiously. He managed to chew and swallow about three mouthfuls of the yellowish mixture before holding up his hand and gesturing to Adam that it was enough for now. He could already feel his stomach starting to twist and he didn’t want to risk anymore to eat.
Adam was a little dismayed at what little Joe ate but he decided not to force the issue for the time being. He asked if there was anything he could get Joe from the kitchen.
“A glass of water maybe, Adam,” Joe said weakly. His mouth was sort of dry.
“Anything you want, buddy,” Adam said and headed off to the kitchen with Joe’s half eaten breakfast.
Joe thought he had been traveling pretty good until after Adam left the room. As soon as his brother left, the breakfast he had eaten seemed to rebel against him. He tried to make it to the basin on the chest of drawers, but he was a little too late. He felt the omelets come back up and spew out onto his sheets and blankets. He was still trying to quell the nauseous feeling when Adam re-entered the room.
“Oh buddy, don’t worry, we’ll fix you up. It’s okay,” Adam said gently. He could see that Joe was on the verge of tears at what he had done with his breakfast.
“Don’t fret, we’ll change your bed and get you washed down and then you can rest a little more, hey,” Adam said.
Adam moved Little Joe from the bed to the sitting chair beside the bed and then went about stripping the bed. As he was putting the soiled linen downstairs in the wash room, he called for Hoss to come and give him a hand.
When Hoss entered the house, Adam told him about Joe bringing up his breakfast which only made him worry more.
“You go and stay with him for a minute, while I organize a bowl of clean water to wash him down. Take of his night shirt and I’ll be up in a minute to help you,” Adam said.
Hoss did as he was instructed and entered Joe’s bedroom ready to help his brother. Little Joe looked at his big brother as he walked into the room with fresh tears forming in his eyes.
“I’m sorry Hoss,” Joe said.
“Oh Joe,” Hoss said as he put a comforting arm around Joe’s quivering shoulder. “You don’t need to be sorry punkin. We’ll have you cleaned up and getting better in no time.” Hoss had to hide tears of his own to avoid upsetting Joe any further.
Hoss had removed Joe’s night shirt just as Adam walked back into the room with the clean water. It was tepid but not ice cold due to Joe’s temperature. Joe didn’t really do anything to help out. He was feeling too sick and sorry for himself to help much at all.
Adam started by washing down his chest with the warm water and a cloth. The thing that worried Hoss and Adam most was the lack of argument that Joe gave about being babied. Joe had been sick before and normally protested loudly about any such fussing. But today, instead of ranting and raving that nothing was wrong with him. Little Joe just sat on the wooden backed chair and let Adam bath him like a five year old.
Adam and Hoss managed just fine without Joe, but by the time they were finished, Joe’s eyelids were beginning to droop again to fatigue. Hoss went about getting a fresh nightshirt over Joe’s curly head while Adam remade the bed. He changed all of the sheets and the thin cotton blanket. He even replaced the pillows just in case. He had gotten two new ones from the linen closet and placed freshly ironed pillow cases on them. Joe would be able to rest more comfortably if the bed was nice and soft.
Adam knelt in front of Little Joe who was practicably asleep “You want anything else before you go to sleep Little Buddy?”. Joe gave a slight shake of his head to indicate NO.
Hoss and Adam both maneuvered Little Joe from the chair back to bed. He was almost asleep as they laid his head on the pillow, but before Adam could let him rest completely, he decided that he had better give him some more of Doc Martin’s medicine. This time with the boy almost asleep on his feet, the fight to get the medicine into him was not so great. Adam managed to get a decent sized dose into Joe’s mouth. Joe’s jaw moved involuntarily and he swallowed the brown concoction. Once the mixture was inside him, Adam let his body relax entirely. Soon Joe was asleep again.
“He’s really tired ain’t he?” Hoss said as he watched his slumbering brother.
“Yes, but I suppose it’s only to be expected with this sickness battering him like this. His body is still trying to catch up on what he lost over the last few days. Don’t worry I’m sure the extra rest won’t do him any harm.”
“You mind if I stay with him for a while this time Adam?” Hoss asked with worry in his voice.
“You stay with him all you like Hoss,” Adam said gently. He knew how close the relationship between Hoss and Little Joe was. “Let me know if he wakes up again or starts running a higher fever again. I am going to rest for a while before Pa comes back.”
Ben was a little longer than expected and it was after 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon before he returned home from Virginia City.
When he entered the house, everything was very quiet. He saw Adam sitting at the dining room table and asked how Little Joe was doing. Adam told him about the breakfast incident and the fact that Joe was very tired still.
It wasn’t the news Ben was hoping to hear, but he knew that Joe was in good hands with Hoss looking after him.
Ben heard a noise on the stairs and looked up to see Hoss coming down to the living room.
“He’s still asleep Pa,” Hoss commented. “That medicine that Doc Martin left here has really knocked him out. I came downstairs to get another cup of coffee and something to eat.”
“How did it go in town today Pa?” Adam asked for both of them.
“Let Hoss get his cup of coffee and I’ll sit down and tell you,” Ben said. “Make sure you get one for us as well Hoss.” Ben felt as though he could use a nip of brandy in that coffee too but didn’t mutter his thoughts out loud enough to be heard.
Back upstairs, Joe was beginning to stir again from his deep sleep. He opened his eyes and noted that the room was strangely empty. He had expected to wake up with one of them sitting beside him. He was actually relieved to find nobody.
Again it was like when he woke up on the settee downstairs. The muscles in his legs and arms ached mercilessly. His mouth was terribly dry.
Joe clenched his teeth together as he worked his aching body into a sitting position. He knew that he would be on the end of a stern lecture from his family if they had seen him trying to get out of bed. So he kept his moans and groans of pain to himself.
His headache had returned and seemed to be in some sort of strange symphony with the dull ache in his legs and arms. His head pounded and his leg and arm muscles responded with the support act.
He moved to the edge of the bed now and planted his bare feet on the wooden floor. Once satisfied that he could in fact stand on his own two feet, he did so cautiously. He eyes kept diverting towards the doorway, for he knew that if one of his family were to walk in now he would be for it. He used the bed’s foot rest to help steady
The standing up was tough enough, but at the same time it seemed to be the least difficult of the tasks that lay ahead. He really needed to take the first step forward and test out his ability to walk to the door. Pride and foolishness prevented him from calling out to his family for the much needed assistance. It was only a drink
of water. Surely he could at least manage that on his own. He had only been sick for one day.
He took that first step using a mammoth sized effort. When it seemed safe enough to attempt a second and third step forward, he did so. His feet moved very slowly and in very small increments as he made his way across the floor.
Once close enough to the door frame, he made a hasty grab for it to prevent himself ending up in an untidy heap on the floor. Falling would only risk himself being found in a very embarrassing position on the floor by his family and he certainly didn’t want that.
He took another step forward but was almost at the end of his strength. He heard his father’s voice and he didn’t know if it was the words he heard or his weakness that drove him to a kneeling position just outside his doorway. His unsteady gait could not be seen by his family at this stage.
“What are you going to tell him Pa?” Hoss asked. “He was pretty upset about that gal.”
“I know Hoss, and that’s exactly why I want to wait until he is well again,” Ben spoke.
Joe found himself sitting on the floor, with his back against the wall of the room and the railing of the balcony on the first floor. He couldn’t stem the steady stream of tears that ran down his face.
“There was nobody else at the funeral but me,” Ben now added. “Not one other soul even had to decency to turn up and see her laid to rest. And after all she did while those people were sick. I feel so ashamed of some of the citizens of Virginia City right now.”
“Where did you bury her, Pa?” Joe heard Hoss ask his father.
“The town folk wouldn’t allow her to be buried in the front of the cemetery. So the grave is towards the back. It’s down on a small embankment, so you can’t see it from the roadway. They said they didn’t want a person like that buried with the good and honest people of Virginia City.”
Joe sat with his fists clenched in rage whilst listening to these words. It sounded like his family was talking about some low life that had committed some hideous crime. He had to suppress a cough that was threatening to escape from his tight chest to avoid giving his presence away to his family.
He felt so much anger at the moment that it was hard to stop himself from jumping up from his hiding place in a fit of rage. This wasn’t just some person who had just waltzed into town. This was the woman he had asked to become Mrs Joseph Cartwright. He didn’t know if he would be able to look at the good and honest people
of Virginia City in future and not hear those words echo in his mind.
The anger and the sickness had taken their toll though. Not to mention the little shaky walk that Joe had undertaken on unsteady legs from his bed to his current hiding place. His mind was too full of memories and images of Julia to feel his body protest. He didn’t feel himself falling asleep where he sat. The eyelids slipped closed again and he fell asleep sitting on the floor with his back still wedged into the corner.
“We’d better go up and check on your younger brother,” Ben announced unaware of Joe hearing the conversation.
All three of them walked up towards Joe’s room together and let out a gasp of shock when they saw Little Joe sitting against the corner of the balcony.
Ben walked a little closer to Little Joe and could see that he was sound asleep. The thing that failed to avoid his sight though was the silvery tear tracks that ran down Joe’s cheeks in the dim light. It was now obvious that Joe had heard the conversation downstairs. He had heard the comments the towns people of Virginia City made about Julia Bulette.
“What have I done?” Ben said in self reproach. He knelt beside his son and tried to rouse the sleeping boy. He needed to get Joe back to bed and resting if he was to get any better. Joe didn’t respond to his father’s touch. The exhaustion that had set in from the walk across the room and the pain that still existed within his muscles made his body demand total rest and nothing more.
Joe tried to wake from his slumber, but only managed a few small grunts in response. Ben and Adam lifted him up into a standing position, supporting him on both sides. They steered him towards his bed and laid him down again.
Ben looked down at his son’s face and traced the tracks of the tears with a soft finger down his cheek. He wondered what he could say when Joe awoke to make the words and anger disappear. He only hoped that he could help his son understand the view’s the people of Virginia City expressed. It had been for his son and Joe alone that Ben
had even attended the funeral of Julia at all. He knew deep down that nobody else would and with his son ill at home, he felt obligated towards the woman that had possessed his son’s heart.
“Help me to make him understand Lord,” Ben prayed. “The people of Virginia City didn’t get to know her like he did. He got to know her on the inside and saw her for the wonderful loving person she was on the inside. Those people have no right to take those memories and ideas from him. He still has so much to offer. Don’t let the death of this one woman steal away his spirit. We need him to heal again and give joy and happiness to this family again.”
Joe slept for the next few hours without stirring much. His family were by his side, tending to him. They all wanted him to wake up so that Ben could explain about what he had overheard while they were talking downstairs.
When Joe did wake later that afternoon, he just stared at the ceiling. He was angry at the people of Virginia City and he was angry at his own family. Ben had tried to explain while Joe appeared to be listening about Julia’s funeral. But it was hard for Joe to accept that his family didn’t feel the same way as the towns folk.
It had been his own father who first expressed his doubts about such a relationship working between Julia and his young son.
Joe’s body was beginning to feel much worse with every minute. Although he wanted to rant and shout to his family about what the towns people thought about Julia, he just didn’t have the outer strength to argue.
As twilight time turned into evening, Joe’s illness seemed to be progressing a little more aggressively. He had laid there not talking to his family or heeding there requests to help himself get well again. He had accepted a few sips of water but refused to eat any food or even sip at some thin broth offered.
The misery from the pain and sickness combined with the misery he felt about Julia and it just led on a one way path to depression. The family had tried everything in the last few hours to perk up Little Joe. Adam had asked if he wanted to hear him reading to him. Hoss had offered to tell Joe about what was happening around the ranch. All
requests were rejected with curt nods and lips that were pursed together firmly. He was trying to give them the silent treatment at the moment. It was all he could muster to show his displeasure. His body was hurting in too many places to protest in any other way.
Joe’s rattles in his chest soon deteriorated into small coughs. Then by 9:00 that evening, they had turned into coughing fits that left Little Joe breathless and needing to be propped up just to draw enough air into his lungs.
He gave up on his silent treatment because his body was demanding more out of him than he could give. His family were patient enough. They had seen the displeasure displayed by him about Julia. They knew that he was hurting more than physically. They would carefully prop him up into a sitting position when required and Ben would rub his back infinitely until the coughing subsided. Adam and Hoss would lovingly hold him up, giving him all the support he needed.
His fever didn’t increase much more during the night, but it also didn’t decrease any.
Ben decided just before dawn that it was time to go and fetch Doc Martin again. His son was not improving at all. He knew his son was upset with him and the family, but his health was more important at the moment than his pride and hurt feelings.
The dull aches and pains in Joe’s muscles seemed to increase two fold and although Joe protested strongly, his brother Adam would sit and try and massage the knots away to ease the pain.
Joe was conscious during most of these massages, but his disheveled mind from the fever told him that it was his own family making him hurt like he was. His chest burned and when he tried to ease the tightness in his lungs, he only succeeded in coughing until he was almost blue in the face.
Adam sat down to resume the massaging. He could feel the tightness and cramping himself in the limbs. He knew that Joe was experiencing great pain and it hurt him to know that his efforts were not working. They had tried all of the known remedies to ease Joe’s suffering. None of them had even looked like helping.
Joe was half awake with deliriousness again and hurling pleas at his brother to stop. Adam was inflicting more pain, not trying to make it go away.
“Please …….. Adam……….please,” Joe begged through his tears as he tried in vain to move Adams hands away. “It hurts Adam, it hurts. If you care for me please stop.” He was again trying to claw at Adam’s gentle hands on his thighs.
Adam tried to ignore the pleas from his young brother. It was hard enough for both of them. A couple of times, Adam felt himself turn his head away to hide his own tears of frustration. But he continued with his massages. The Doc had said that although, painful, they were necessary and would help eventually. They had to keep believing for Joe’s sake.
Doc Martin arrived again and was dismayed at the rapid decline in Joe’s condition. Ben had explained on his way in about Joe overhearing the conversation about Julia’s funeral and although he felt for the boy, they needed to help him get well again.
Ben had instructed Paul about Joe refusing to eat, so before the doctor ascended the stairs, Ben was told to bring a small bowl of thin broth up to Joe’s bedroom.
Ben was only a few steps behind Paul Martin when he entered the room. They could hear Joe admonishing his brother about the massages and could see the strain the words were causing to Adam. Paul knew that Adam was doing his best to keep up the massage routine, even though it hurt Little Joe to do so.
Paul decided to take things into his own hands and he gestured for Adam to move away from the bed for a moment. The doctor sat on the bed, but instead of giving Joe the usual warm smile, he greeted the sick young man with a stern face. He knew that Joe was sick, but he couldn’t bear to see the worried look and tiredness that was starting to affect the whole family. All three eldest Cartwrights looked as though they could use some rest themselves.
“Joseph,” Paul said using Ben’s normal no nonsense approach. “Joseph, look at me.” Joe had his head turned away from the doctor and his family, but Paul gripped his chin gently but firmly and forced him to turn and face him.
“Joe,” the doctor said softening his tone of voice “I know you hurt boy. But your family are trying to help you. If you don’t massage those aching muscles, they are going to get slacker and the pain will increase. Your family are trying to help you as best they can.”
“And I want no more of this ridiculous notion of not eating, Joseph” Paul continued. “You need to keep up your strength to get better.”
“What if I don’t want to get better?” Joe said in an tone void of emotion.
Paul was a little worried about the tone of Joe’s voice. He had meant to be a little stern about Joe making himself better again. But that statement had left his father holding onto the wall for support. Ben was scared more than ever that Joe didn’t want to get better.
“Joe, your family is very worried about you,” Paul said softly. “Your father and brothers are very tired and need to get some rest themselves. They are not going to get much until you start acting a little more sensibly and take care of yourself. This illness isn’t your fault. I can’t say how sorry I am about exposing you to this fever, Joe.”
Joe gave in a little. The last comment had worked as predicted. He looked at the doctor with sympathy. “It’s not your fault, Doc. You worked just as hard, if not more than me. You can’t go blaming yourself for my illness. If I was going to get sick, I might had gotten sick no matter where I was. Even if I had have been back safe and sound on the Ponderosa.” At the end of his little speech, he flashed one of his best smiles at his family and the doctor.
Ben couldn’t have been happier. He didn’t know if Joe had made the decision to make himself
well again, but it certainly sounded like they were on the right track finally.
“Promise me you’ll try and eat a little of this broth, Joe,” Ben said as he took his place on Joe’s bed.
“I’ll try Pa, but my stomach still bothers me some. The legs and the arm aches just add to the problem. My chest is very tight and whenever I try and take a deep breath I only end up coughing and making it feel worse.”
Adam and Hoss left the room with the Doc as they waited for Joe to get some food into him. That task would by accomplished better without an audience.
Ben had given Joe another small sip of water before spooning the broth into him. It was all in vain however. Joe had only managed four small spoonfuls of the watery thin liquid before it came back up again on the sheets Adam had only changed that day. Joe’s stomach was rebelling hard and it wasn’t about to let him have a moment’s rest or help with his healing at all.
Joe had been in the same emotional state as this morning about bringing up the broth. But Ben was there just as Adam had been, trying to assure his son that everything was alright.
Paul and Adam re-entered the room just as Ben settled Joe into the arm chair again, ready to change the bed clothes for the second time today.
Over the next six hours or so, this would be the routine. Joe tried to sleep, but it wouldn’t come easily. It was in short bursts of restless doses that left Joe more exhausted than rested. Joe couldn’t manage to keep one spoonful of broth in his stomach. Even the few sips of water he drank seemed to have his stomach in knots.
By lunch time the next day, things were getting a little more worrisome. Joe had fallen into an exhausted sleep about two hours earlier. His body just gave out and couldn’t cope any more with the bouts of throwing up or the muscle spasms that plagued them. The attempts to rouse him from his deep sleep were useless. His body was just too tired
to fight anymore.
Paul Martin tried to go over his diagnosis again. Inch by Inch. Symptom by Symptom trying to find something that would help ease Joe’s suffering. The boy was getting weaker not stronger. The bouts of throwing up were making him weaker and weaker. The coughing fits just left him exhausted. He didn’t know how much more Little Joe could take. He didn’t know how much more Joe’s family could take.
The conversation in the house died out completely. Everyone was just too worried about Joe to express any sort of chit chat.
Adam and Hoss sat in the living room, trying to think of someway to help their younger brother. They were thinking about all the times they had been cross with him or wanted to beat the tar out of him. That all seemed so foolish now. How could they ever have thought about raising a hand or saying a harsh word to that boy that brought so much joy to their lives.
Ben flatly refused to leave his son’s side. The lines of tiredness were beginning to show on the patriarch, but Ben insisted that his son needed him to be there.
He looked at Joe’s sleeping face and noticed the paleness in his cheeks and the dark circles under his eyes showing his fatigue and exhaustion.
“Paul, what more can we do?” Ben said in defeat. “Everything we try seems to have the opposite effect on him. He can’t even keep water down.”
“I feel just as helpless as you, old friend,” Paul said and put a comforting hand on Ben’s shoulder. “I’ll go over my notes again and see if there’s anything I can think of. Whatever is ailing Joe has altered slightly from what the people of Virginia City had. The same remedies that I used on them just don’t seem to be working enough.”
Paul knew that it was the same thing he had been doing since yesterday, but he needed to keep trying. He needed to try and long as it was possible to come up with a solution. He didn’t want to think about Little Joe getting any weaker or sicker. That boy brought joy to everyone not just his own family. His personality and charm had also worn off on a few other people of the years, including himself and it was hard not to care for Little Joe.
Hoss and Adam were still lost in their own thoughts downstairs when they heard the front door open.
They were both surprised to see their faithful servant friend Hop Sing enter the room. He was loaded down with luggage and both them moved forward to help him unload his burden.
The little Cantonese man thanked them graciously, but then noted the tired look on both of their faces. He immediately started asking where the rest of the family were, but he wanted to know in particular about his favorite Cartwright, Little Joe.
Hoss and Adam steered him towards the living room where they told him in a whisper about Joe falling ill. They also mentioned the part about Joe overhearing their father’s conversation about Julia’s funeral.
When Hop Sing heard about Joe’s illness, he wanted to know more details about the symptoms. Hoss and Adam thought this was a little strange that he wanted the symptoms in so much detail. They didn’t disbelieve the man’s love towards their brother so they told him about what was going on. They gave him detailed descriptions about Little Joe’s fever and the aches and pains in his limbs. They told Hop Sing about Joe’s inability to even consume a few sips of cool water before retching it back up again. They added the fact that Joe’s lungs were getting more and more congested and Joe now complained that his chest continually burned with the tightness.
As soon as they were finished their explanation, Adam and Hoss could see the man’s little mind ticking over, taking in all he was told. He started to rummage around in one of his suitcases and came up with a jar of what looked like purple flowers.
Hop Sing took the jar and started to ascend the staircase. Adam and Hoss followed him, curious about what Hop Sing thought he might be able to do.
Ben and Paul were surprised to see the little servant walk into the room. Ben walked forward and greeted the man with a handshake. He was glad to see his friend home again.
Hop Sing tried to keep his attention on Ben’s words, but he found his gaze wandering to the sleeping figure on the bed. He walked closer to take a look. He noted with sadness that Hoss and Adam had left nothing out in their description of Joe’s appearance. The dark circles were still present and the skin of Joe’s face was sickly white. His forehead beaded with perspiration and his breathing sounded labored and raspy as it escaped through his nose
“Ask permission to speak,” Hop Sing now addressed the doctor and Ben Cartwright.
“Sure Hop Sing, what do you have to say?” Ben said. It wasn’t usual for Hop Sing to ask for permission like a servant, but Ben assumed that Hop Sing felt a little nervous around Doc Martin. He now noticed for the first time, the large jar in his hands with the purple flowers inside. The flowers looked dried and the lilac petals seemed to point downwards leaving the large exposed yellow centre.
Paul Martin was not normally a believer in medicine of a natural basis. He had seen many people claim to have plants that healed or make people’s symptoms go away. Some of them worked slightly, most of them didn’t. He had even seen the effects of some that had gone horrible wrong and caused more harm than good.
But with his own list of remedies completely exhausted, he was willing to listen to anything. He doubted that Hop Sing would be silly enough and claim to have a remedy that didn’t work. Particularly where Little Joe was concerned. Paul knew Hop Sing saw Little Joe as the son he had never had.
Hop Sing started to explain his idea about the flowers and their ability to help heal.
“This flower called ECHINACEA,” he began. “Come from not Chinese medicine, but from local Indian tribe. They crush up the seeds and husky part of the yellow centre to form a natural medicine. You put crushed powder into hot water and let mix with steam. The steam help clear Little Joe’s lungs and take away aches and pains.”
Adam and the rest of the family were all for any sort of remedy that might make a difference. At the moment, when everything else was failing, they could not afford to become complacent. They needed to count any suggestion as a plausible cure.
Paul Martin was willing to use the strange sounding herb as well but he had a couple of questions first “Are there any side effects we should know about, Hop Sing?” he asked.
“Not for Little Joe,” Hop Sing answered “Put powder and petals in hot water and put towel over head and bowl. Towel help to keep the fumes in. Not put near animals food or water though. ECHINACEA not good for livestock or wild animals. Only good for humans.”
Hop Sing went about showing how Ben and Paul were to crush the lavender colored flowers and extract the precious yellow powder from inside. Adam and Hoss busied themselves by getting the bowls of hot water and towels ready for the steam treatment.
When everything was ready to begin everyone assembled in Little Joe’s bedroom. Hop Sing saw that there was a small problem they needed to overcome. Little Joe was so weak from his illness that he lacked the strength to sit himself upright enough for the treatment to be effective.
Hop Sing instructed Hoss and Adam to sit on either side of Little Joe and hold him in a sitting position. They did what they were told but it was obvious that their patient wasn’t in any condition to help their efforts. Little Joe remained asleep except for the few small moans of pain that escaped from him from the muscle spasms.
Once Little Joe was sitting up enough, Ben and Paul Martin placed enough pillows behind the young man to support his back.
The sheets where arranged around him and a large cutting board from the kitchen was placed over Joe’s thighs. On top of the board, Hop Sing placed the steaming bowl of hot water with the infused flower petals in it. The smell was kind of spicy and earthy but not unpleasant.
“Hold Lil Joe over the bowl and I place towel over head,” Hop Sing continued to instruct. Paul Martin watched from a distance to see if this new remedy would be successful. He made mental notes. If it worked on Little Joe it might be worth having a closer look at for his other patients that displayed similar symptoms.
Ben was a bit worried about the path this cure was taking. He didn’t like the idea of placing Joe’s face towards the bowl of hot water. He watched for a few more minutes but would intervene if he thought the cure was worse than the affliction.
Hoss also had doubts about this new cure, but he would do anything to help his little brother Joe get better.
Out of all of the people in the room, the person who doubted this remedy most was the patient himself. Joe was still half asleep but started to stir from the feeling of his brothers holding him. He slowly opened his eyes wondering why he was being restrained. The restraint was gentle enough but his mind only recognized the
sensation of being held by either arm. He saw that he was sitting up slightly and he could see a bowl of water sitting on his thighs. His brain told him that the water was hot due to the rising steam. His sinuses had yet to pick up on the aroma of the Echinacea flowers.
Joe felt Adam place a gentle hand on the back of his head. The hand was directing his unprotected face towards the hot steam. He started to panic a little. As he got closer he could feel the heat emanating from the hot water. It struck his face and Joe thought that he could feel every part of his face screaming from the heat.
Just as he was about say something and started to pull away, Hop Sing placed the cotton towel over his head. This increased his fright and made him feel like he was sealed off somehow. The steam accumulated underneath the towel and turned into condensation that formed on his face. He started to fight weakly against his brothers. He didn’t like this feeling of being in a humidifier at all. His mind was still fuzzy and it was telling him that he was getting too hot. He tried to move his hand to pull the towel away, but his brothers held his hands firmly away far enough to prevent it.
He started to cry and tried to convey his message of misery from underneath the towel “Please, let me up. Pa ……. help me……. it’s too hot …….. Pa…….. help me,” he kept up the pleas through a steady stream of tears.
He had only been under the towel for a few minutes, but the pleas were too much for Ben. He came over and told his two eldest boys to let him go. He could not stand the desperation in his youngest son’s voice anymore. Hoss got up from his place and Ben sat down in his place. The bowl of steaming water was removed and Joe just cried as Ben held
him. He was feeling miserable and the only remedies that the doctor or his family could come up with to try and help only seemed to make his misery worse.
The fatigue soon set in again and Joe fell back into a restless sleep. Ben laid him down on the bed and smoothed the damp curls away from his face. His face was a little red due to the steam and his hair was damp from the perspiration.
Paul came over to listen to Joe’s lungs and run a series of routine checks on his patient. “You know Ben, that stuff seems to be loosening up some of the congestion on his chest,” the doctor said. “He wasn’t under long enough to make much of a difference, but I believe that given enough time, this powder might actually start to help his breathing.”
“But it’s making him even more miserable, Paul,” Ben said as he watched his son sleeping. “Did you hear him? You know how he hates being confined and that towel over his head just seems to exasperate the situation. How is he going to get the rest he needs if he is continually agitated?”
“Maybe I could give him a mild muscle relaxant next time the steam is used. Not much, just enough to keep him asleep while the steam is administered. I agree with you that he doesn’t need to be upset any more than necessary. But if this herb has the potential that Hop Sing claims, then we owe it to Joe to try again,” Paul said. He could see the torment on his friend’s face. He wanted to do the right thing by Joe to make him well again, but the sounds of Joe’s voice seemed to grate hard on his nerves.
“How many times do you think we will have to do this Hop Sing?” Ben said as he gave in to the idea of another turn using the steam.
“Maybe only two more time,” Hop Sing said “If under for only few minutes, twice will make lungs good and Joe won’t be upset so much. We can try again in about two hour. Let Little Joe sleep bit and rest.”
In two hours, they did the same procedure again. Paul had given a small dose of muscle relaxation to Joe by injection. And this time when Joe’s face was placed over the steaming bowl of water, he was unaware of the treatment being performed. The relaxant even allowed Joe’s muscles and limbs to be massaged again without
the patient protesting.
Joe slept through the entire episode. At the end of it all, Paul gave Joe a mild sleeping aid so that the young man would be able to rest sufficiently through the night. It was supposed to be aiding Joe mostly, but with Joe sleeping, Ben and his boys would be able to get a little sleep themselves. Hop Sing offered to stay with Joe for the night while the rest of the family slept.
Paul stayed the night in the spare room just to a keep check on his patient. When he awoke somewhere near dawn he made his way to Joe’s bedroom. Hop Sing was still sitting there, patiently watching Joe sleep.
Little Joe looked peaceful enough and Paul walked over to check his symptoms. He put a hand to Joe’s forehead. He was surprised to see the marked difference. The skin was almost cool to the touch. There was some rosiness to Joe’s cheeks from the steam treatments through the previous night, but it seemed that the Echinacea had indeed started healing the boy.
Paul took out his stethoscope and placed it on Joe’s chest to listen to his lungs. The rattles were only faint now and almost non-existent. That herb had really worked miracles overnight.
Ben and his boys walked into the room to check on the youngest member of the family. They had slept reasonably overnight, but still were eager to ascertain Joe’s condition during the night.
Paul gave them a grand smile and relayed his findings to them. He told them about the decrease in the boy’s temperature and the good sounds coming from Joe’s lungs.
Just as Paul was explaining what was going on, Joe rewarded his audience by opening his eyes. He looked around and gave a wane smile to all in the room.
Ben came forward and sat beside his son and took Joe’s hand in his own “How are you feeling this morning Son?” he asked softly. He did notice the difference in the skin. It was cool to the touch and had some natural color about it.
“My head is still aching slightly, but my arms and legs have stopped aching, Pa,” Joe said tiredly. “My stomach feels a little better too. Do you think I could get something to eat?” Ben brought his son’s hand to his lips and gave it a brief and gentle kiss before engulfing the boy in a warm embrace. He couldn’t have been happier to hear those words. He gave a silent prayer to the Lord above that his son was much improved. The dark circles had lightened, but Joe’s body still showed the signs of fatigue. It would take more than one or two days for his body to get all the rest it demanded.
“I think it’s safe to say that he is going to be alright, Ben,” Paul said. “He will probably still show some weakness for the best part of a week and he should be encouraged to rest as much as possible. Even during the middle of the day, but other than that, just keep Hop Sing’s cooking up to him and he should begin to recover nicely.”
Hop Sing had scampered off to the kitchen, ready to feed his Little Joe. If the boy was asking for food that was a good sign and he wasn’t about to disappoint his best patient.
Little Joe was a bit worried when he was presented with an omelets similar to the one that Adam offered. He was still a little apprehensive about how his stomach would react. The food smelt as good as before though and he was surprised at how hungry his body was telling him he was. Much to the delight of the doctor and his family, Joe managed to finish off about half of the meal. At the end of it he washed it down with a glass of water.
He waited a minute, but the nauseous feeling did not come.
Paul was happy to leave his patient in capable hands for a while and bid the family good day. He told Ben to contact him if necessary. He still wanted Joe to rest as much as possible. He would check on him tomorrow or the next day to see how things were going.
Adam and Hoss were able to give a great sigh of relief that Joe was on the mend. They both spent a little time with him and fussing over him like he was a little kid again. Soon it was apparent that the energy Joe was using was almost gone and the boy appeared to be tired again. Ben ushered them outside and told them that they could visit their brother again after he had rested a while.
Ben gave his son a few words of encouragement and another hug to show his love to his youngest son. He promised that the family would be right downstairs if he needed anything. Joe was already asleep when Ben closed the door softly and walked downstairs.
For the next few hours, Ben and his boys tried to get back to normal. They enjoyed a hearty breakfast and talked idly about the tasks that could be completed for the day. Adam and Hoss were a little reluctant to leave their sick brother, but Ben assured them that Joe would be fine until they returned. Ben had intended on spending his time at
the ranch house until Joe was completely recovered. He didn’t know how that would take. Maybe a whole week or more, but he would be there for his son no matter what.
Later on that day, the house was kind of quiet as Ben sat at his desk working. Joe had still be asleep upstairs. Hop Sing had wandered up there a few minutes ago with a tray of food for Little Joe. Ben’s mind kept wandering to the room upstairs so without much further ado, he started to climb the stairs and visit his son.
As he go closer to the door without being noticed he could hear that Joe was actually awake. He could hear a conversation between Hop Sing and Little Joe. The problem was that he couldn’t understand a word of the conversation. One minute it was in English, the next in Cantonese.
Ben stole a peek inside the room, trying to listen to the conversation without being seen. He needed to know why Joe thought he could confide in his little friend rather than his father or brothers.
“Mia Sox Buyung.” Hop Sing said. Ben didn’t understand it. He could see a very forlorn look on Little Joe’s face and he could also see a few tears dripping down his face. Thankfully, the conversation turned to mostly English and Ben was able to understand what was being said.
“Why you sad, Little Joe?” Hop Sing asked as he put a hand on Joe’s thigh.
Ben heard the hurt in the words as Joe told the little Cantonese man about what people had said about Julia Bulette. “How can I look at anybody in town again, Hop Sing?”
“Tell Hop Sing why you like pretty girl,” Hop Sing asked. He was trying to get Joe to air his mixed up feelings. It wasn’t good to bottle them up. It might be painful, but it was necessary in order to heal completely.
Joe looked up with his tear stained face at the man’s question. He was a little surprised at the question at first, but then concentrated on coming up with an answer. “Because she reminds me of myself sometimes” came the candid answer.
“What Joe mean” was the next question. Hop Sing didn’t really understand what the young man meant and Ben listening outside was just as curious.
“She’s a lot like me Hop Sing. Sure she is older and has seen much of the world, but deep down inside she is a very lonely person. She doesn’t fit in with most of people around here and that’s exactly how I feel sometimes. Sure I have a few friends, maybe a lot of friends, but sometimes I look at the expressions on their faces after they start
to walk away. I look and I see the same doubt and lack of trust in their eyes at me that I saw them give Julia,” Joe explained.
“Most people in town don’t know how I feel about things. They just assume that I follow my father and brothers. They think that what they like I like. They say I’m too young to have ideas and dreams of my own. But sometimes that just isn’t true. I want to be able to make up my own mind about some things. I want people to be happy about the choices I make and accept me for who I am, Joseph Cartwright. Not Little Joe Cartwright, son of Ben Cartwright or youngest brother of Hoss and Adam Cartwright. I want to be accepted as me for who I am and not where I come from.”
“Do you understand what I mean Hop Sing?” Joe asked. He really needed for someone to understand how he felt. Hop Sing gave him a hug to show that he did understand how he felt. Being Cantonese, he knew only too well what it felt like to be an outcast and out of place in this world.
“No need listen to other’s, Little Joe,” Hop Sing said after the boy’s sorrowful speech. “If Joe love girl then not matter what other people think. Don’t listen to them. Remember what’s inside here!” and just to add emphasis to his words, Hop Sing placed his hand on Joe’s chest over his heart. “Look inside own heart and you find what you look for.”
Hop Sing and Ben both realized that Joe was having a hard time letting his feelings for Julia go. It was as though he saw her still on this earth. Joe wasn’t ready to accept that she was gone forever. It was as if Joe thought Julia was still alive.
Ben Cartwright came away from the door and stood in the same nook that Joe had sat in a day or so earlier. He had tears of his own falling down his face at his son’s words. He felt his son’s need to be accepted and was ashamed that his son felt he was not accepted as he wanted to be.
The next couple of days of Joe’s recovery was extremely slow going for all involved. Joe was making progress. But it was so very slow and in such small amounts at a time that his family often wondered if he really was recovering at all.
He slept for the vast majority of the day. He woke only to take small amounts of broth or water and more doses of medicine. His legs and arms were massaged at regular intervals and he under went more stream treatments to loosen the congestion adhered to his delicate lungs.
The third day however, proved to have more promise in it. The morning was similar in routine to the days before, but by mid afternoon, Joe had been awake for long enough to begin protesting about still being kept in bed. He knew that he was in no condition to start work back on the ranch, but he pleaded with his family every five minutes about
going downstairs and resting on the settee. The constant barrage of requests started to wear down the already weary family. They were glad to see that Joe was on the way to feeling well again, but all of them threatened to throttle him the next time he asked the same question.
Ben was finally forced to give in to his youngest son before his lost his temper at the weakened boy. “You can go downstairs for two hours Joseph and then it is back to bed” he said with a grimace. Joe was ecstatic about going downstairs, but Ben’s mood took an abrupt about face and he sat down on the bed to talk to his son.
“Joe,” he started in a quiet and gently voice “I know you feel cooped up in here, but your only just starting to recover from this illness. Any silliness on your part could cause you to get sick all over again. I need you to promise that you will do as I ask.”
Joe lost the smile he had about going downstairs. It seemed every time he turned around at the moment he caused his family more grief and his father in particular.
“I’m sorry for being such a pain” Joe said fighting back tears. “It’s just that looking at these four walls any longer than I have to and I begin to think about things”. He looked at Ben to see if he knew what he mean by THINGS.
Fortunately, Ben did understand what things Joe was talking about. He of course meant that his mind was wandering back to Julia. He knew that his son’s emotions were very raw at the moment.
“You’re not a pain, well not much of one anyway,” Ben said trying to perk up Joe’s spirits again. “But, you need to take care of yourself, Joseph. Do I make myself clear?” Joe nodded to signal that he did understand. He tried to return the smile, but gave up at the attempt and went about letting his father help him into his robe
and slippers for the venture downstairs.
Joe needed all his father’s assistance to get downstairs and Ben was on the verge of telling his son to forget the whole idea when they reached the first landing. It was clear that this short outing was still too much for Joe to take just yet. But Joe assured his father that he would be okay if he could make it to the settee. He would lay down and rest then.
Once again, Ben felt as though he had been wrapped around his son’s finger again and helped his son over to the striped couch. Joe laid down and closed his eyes, trying to get this breath back while his father fussed and placed pillows and cushions underneath his head.
Ben was about to get up and leave Joe alone on the couch, but Joe grabbed at his father’s hand and asked him to stay. “You don’t have to go straight away, you know,” Joe said with a pleading voice.
Ben took this as a signal that his son might want to talk about his feelings towards Julia. “I’ll stay if that’s what you want Little Joe. You’re not too tired are you?”
Joe didn’t answer that one because he didn’t want to tell his father an outright lie. Truth was he was tired, very tired. It had only been a short distance from his bedroom to the settee and most of that distance had been with his father’s strong support. He did feel tired, but he didn’t want to be left alone right now either.
“Stay and talk to me for a while, Pa,” Joe asked.
Ben pulled up a chair along side the settee so he could still gently stroke his son’s hand “What do you want to talk about?” He was hoping that Joe would start the conversation. He was hoping that Joe would open up to him and let out all of his hurt.
“Oh anything really,” Joe said trying to sound uninterested in any one particular topic. “Tell me what’s been going on while I have been sick”. Ben knew Joe was trying to avoid the one topic he wanted to talk about, but maybe
he could gradually pry it from Joe during a casual conversation. He started to talk about the work that would need to be done over the next few months and the role Joe would play in that once he was well again. His gaze had wandered somewhat during the chat as well as his attention from Joe’s face. It wasn’t until he looked back down after noticing that Joe wasn’t injecting much into the conversation that he could see why.
Little Joe had fallen back asleep again. The weariness was just too great at the moment and he had succumbed to the call for his body to rest more. His face looked peaceful enough, so Ben got up silently and let his son sleep. He sighed a little at the failure to help his son with his problem, but there would be time later on to talk if Joe wanted to.
Joe had slept most of the afternoon away on the settee. Ben had kept a close eye on him but didn’t want to disturb his son for any reason. As he had told Joe himself, his body was still recovering and it would take time for the perpetual weakness and lethargy to vanish all together.
Adam and Hoss had been working outside for the afternoon after lunch and only returned to the house when the sun was setting. They both looked at the sight of their younger brother sleeping downstairs on the settee.
“He did it again Hoss,” Adam said with mock disgust.
“Yup, big brother, that younger brother of ours has managed to wrap Pa around his little finger again,” Hoss answered with a grin.
“He did no such thing,” Ben said trying to defend himself from the look his was receiving from his other two sons.
“Oh and that’s why he is sleeping in his bed, then huh Pa?” Adam said with a little sarcasm.
Ben just gave up and smiled sheepishly at the other two. He knew that his eldest two sons felt the same way as he, but they didn’t let an opportunity pass to rib their father about his lack of sternness when it presented itself. Both of them knew that no matter how determined Ben was about things with Joe, it only took that brilliant smile or a soft tear from his eyes to soften Ben’s heart and give in. It was ten times worse when the boy was sick or injured.
Joe had awoken at the sound of his brother’s voices and gave them a small grin to welcome them home for the day.
“Joseph, it’s time you went back to your room,” Ben said and looked sideways at Hoss and Adam to see if they were paying attention to his instructions.
“Aw Pa, do I have to?” Joe said with an over exaggerated tone in his voice.
“Yes you do, young man,” Ben said with hands on hips. “I’ll see to it that Hop Sing brings you a tray for supper shortly. But I want you back in that bed, young man.”
Joe sighed in defeat. He didn’t feel like fighting with his father. So he mumbled his good nights to Adam and Hoss before climbing the stairs with Ben’s help again. Adam and Hoss promised that they would visit him before lights out that night.
Ben had returned after settling Joseph and washed up ready to sit down to dinner.
“You know, Pa,” Adam started his suggestion “Maybe we could ALL go into town tomorrow for a break in scenery.” Adam emphasized the word ALL to include the youngest member of the family.
Ben smiled at Adam’s suggestion and said “Now who is Joseph wrapping around his little finger” and laughed. He had no objections to the trip so long as it was short and Little Joe was kept warm enough and didn’t overdo things. It was probably what the boy needed. Some fresh air back into his lungs and the comfort of his family to help him relax a little more.
The next morning when Joe awoke, Ben and his brothers gave what they thought was good news to him about a surprise trip into Virginia City.
Joe tried his best to sound excited about going into town. But deep inside him he dreaded the trip. Virginia City with its good honest folks was the last place he really wanted to be right now.
He could see that his brothers were looking for him to be happy about the excursion. He didn’t want to disappoint them so he told them he would go.
Ben could see the apprehension in his eyes about going into Virginia City. Adam and Hoss could see the through the disguise as well, but didn’t quite understand it.
Ben and his boys left Joe alone to get dressed and left the room. When they were downstairs, Ben told the boys about the conversation he had overheard with Joe and Hop Sing. He told them what Joe’s thoughts about himself had been and how he didn’t feel accepted.
Hoss and Adam just looked upstairs and shook their heads gently. There was still much healing for Joe ahead yet.
Hoss had hitched up the wagon for town. Adam had finished helping Joe to put his boots on and get ready. Joe was happy for the help but really wished he wasn’t going.
Ben had come out to survey the wagon and instructed it to be lined with pillows, a blanket and other comforts he thought Joe might find himself tiring quickly and need to lie down on the trip home.
Adam helped his weakened brother down the stairs and out to the wagon. Once settled, they started on their way.
Adam and Ben tried to make the trip a happy occasion and make jokes with Joe as Hoss drove the buckboard. As they passed the cemetery into town, they all saw Joe turn his head away in bitterness and hide the tears that threatened to fall.
Hoss pulled the wagon up outside the general store. Ben said he was going to the bank. Adam was instructed to collect the mail and Hoss the supply list. They all looked at Joe who remained seated in the wagon. He made no attempt to get out. His head was bowed and he refused to look up at any of them or the town itself.
Ben sighed a little and knew that asking Joe if he wanted to come out for a short walk would be a waste of time. The trio headed off on their separate paths.
In the alley behind the general store, another figure stood. He had watched the Cartwright’s pull up and noted that the person he was most interested in had been left in the wagon unattended. He didn’t want his presence known to everyone in Virginia City at the moment. He had heard the rumours going around of Joe’s illness. He couldn’t have picked a better time for what he intended to arrange.
Joe’s curiosity got the better of him as he sat alone in the buckboard. He lifted his head slightly and peered out at the street from underneath his black hat. His arms were folded across his chest trying to convey displeasure and his
face didn’t have even the briefest signs of a smile. His eyes were as cold as steel and he refused to look at any one thing for too long.
It wasn’t until he had been looking around for a few minutes that something caught his eye. Someone was a better description. He couldn’t help but take a sharp intake of breath at the sight of this man. He was only glad that
his family were not here to hear his gasps. The man he could see behind the alley way of the general store was John Millian.
John Millian his mind told him. The name kept going around and around in his mind over and over again. He looked around to check that nobody could see him staring at the shadow. The shadow was beckoning him to come into the alley way.
Something in his mind told him that he should stay in the wagon and ignore the gesture to come. Something else in him, the part that fought for Julia’s honor, made him want to go.
He looked around again, but this time to check that his family were not due to come back any minute now. He couldn’t see his father or Adam and Hoss looked to be busy in the General Store. He didn’t know that Hoss had been deliberately held up in the store by a mischievous child, just to buy some time.
Joe got up gingerly from his position in the wagon and climbed down to the dirt street. His was held onto the wagon for a moment until he was sure that his feet were steady enough to hold him upright. He checked his family’s whereabouts again and then walked casually, but very slowly towards the alley way and the shadow of John Millian.
Joe got closer to Millian and now only stood about 10 meters from the man. Millian urged him to come closer so that Joe couldn’t be seen by others in the street.
“What do you want?” Joe demanded in a firm, but quiet voice. Before Joe could react quickly enough, Millian grabbed him roughly and dragged him further into the alley way. He held Joe’s body up against the wall of the building and held a pistol on him to silence him.
“What I want, Mr. Cartwright,” Millian said with a laugh “What I want is the chance to finish our little duel without the interference of your family. You want the chance to get back at me, don’t you boy?”
Joe remembered the fight he had with Millian. His hand went absentmindedly to the cheek where Mililani’s hand had left a terrible bruise. The bruise had faded, but the memory of what had happened had not. He had fought as hard as he could against the man, but eventually had been knocked out and carried out by his brother Adam.
“You want the chance to defend Miss Julia don’t you, Mister Cartwright” Millian asked.
“You should be in jail, you filthy murdering dog,” Joe hissed back.
“Ahh, but there wasn’t enough evidence Joe. No evidence, No eye witnesses, No confession,” Millian replied “They couldn’t put together a case enough to hold me.”
“What do you say to a rematch, Joe?” Millian asked “For Julia’s sake.” He knew how the boy felt about the woman. It had been no secret that the young man had fallen for the much older beauty. He had feelings for the women himself, but his anger had gotten the better of him about Julia’s and Joe’s relationship. He had wanted to get even with Julia for stringing him along all of these years, just as she had done to dozens of others. Joe seemed like the perfect target to seek his payback from and the fact that he was just getting over an illness and was somewhat weaker than their last encounter just put the odds to win a little more in his favor.
For a moment Joe didn’t answer. Joe’s mind was going over what Millian had said. No eye witnesses, no evidence, no confession. Something in his mind told him that if he could get John Millian to confess to killing Julia, then they would have an open and shut case for murder. Somehow he needed to get Millian to confess. He needed to get somebody else apart from him to hear the confession. The invitation to another fight might be just the chance he was looking for.
“Sure, Millian,” Joe answered casually. “You name the time and I’ll name the place .” He was trying to convince himself that he was strong enough at the moment to take on an opponent like John Millian. His body was starting to feel weary again just to remind him that he wasn’t completely healed yet.
“How about tomorrow at about 12 noon?” Millian suggested. He thought it was a little odd that Joe was offering to name the venue, but wherever was suggested would be fine. He didn’t mind where he fought the kid, getting beaten up was beaten up no matter where it was. “Where do you want to hold it? Somewhere a little secluded from prying eyes I would suggest. This time I want it to be a fight just between you and me. I don’t want your brothers interrupting us again”.
Joe thought for a moment where to hold it in order for somebody else to hear Millian’s confession. He needed it to be an unbiased witness. Somebody apart from himself and his family. He kept thinking and then the perfect place came to him.
“The jailhouse,” Joe answered finally. He had thought about where to have the fight. The jailhouse, although a little unconventional would be a good choice because he could organize for Sheriff Roy Coffee to hear the man’s
confession to his part in Julia’s murder.
“The jailhouse?” Millian asked with surprise “Won’t the sheriff be there?” he asked. He was putting up a false front in order to divert Joe’s attention. He had his own plans about uninvited bystanders and Joe’s own family. The fight would indeed be only between themselves and Millian would make sure of this closer to the time.
“I’m sure we could come up with a diversion for a little while to take him away from there,” Joe lied.
“Then that’s settled then,” Millian said as he lowered his pistol. “Tomorrow at 12 noon at the jailhouse” he repeated the agreement.
Joe now started to walk back out of the alley way and towards the wagon. He hadn’t kept a eye on the time lapse while he was being held by Millian, but he needed to be back in the wagon before his family returned. He wanted to do this without his family knowing. If they knew about Millian being back in town, they would just try and stop
him and get in the way of any chance to get Millian behind bars.
Joe peered out from the alley way and noticed with relief that his family were still to return to the wagon. He made his way back and climbed back into the wagon with a grunt of pain at the aches in his muscles. He laid back against the side of the vehicle and closed his eyes. He needed to try and work out how to get Roy Coffee to agree to help him and he needed to find a way back into town tomorrow to take part in the fight. He closed his eyes and let the autumn morning sunshine warm his face while he thought some more.
Little Joe failed to notice a small pair of hands reaching into the rear of the wagon and taking his blue-grey corduroy jacket. The little boy was named Billy Owens and he had been the same boy who was given half a dollar to cause a large jar full of lollies to spill out onto the floor in the general store. Hoss Cartwright had been in the store at the time and offered to help clean up the mess, thus keeping him from returning to the wagon any sooner.
The boy walked back down the alley way and handed the blue-grey jacket to the man. “Just like you asked me to do,” he said.
“You did good, boy, and there’s more where that came from if you do what I asked you tomorrow right.” Millian said to the youngster. The boy nodded his head and ran away from the area before he was spotted. Millian too disappeared from the alley way with Joe’s jacket.
Ben, Adam and Hoss all returned to the wagon at the same time to see that Joe had fallen asleep in the back of the wagon. It didn’t look as though he had moved around too much. They put their goods in the back and started to make their way home.
It wasn’t until they were almost home, when Ben put an arm around Joe that he noticed the boy was a little cool to the touch. He looked at the boy’s attire and noticed that Joe wore only a cotton shirt.
Ben looked about the wagon. He was sure that he had grabbed Joe’s jacket from it’s place behind the door before beginning their trip this morning.
“You want us to go back and take a look in town, Pa?” Hoss asked.
“No, son, we can go back and look tomorrow,” Ben said. They were almost home. A few more minutes and Joe would be safely and warmly tucked in his own bed for the afternoon.
Joe had awoken when they pulled up but he let his brother Adam help him down from the wagon and help him inside. He had heard Ben tell him about his jacket being misplaced. Joe nodded his head when Ben suggested that they might go back and look for it tomorrow.
Joe’s facial expression remained unchanged. He was tired and needed to rest some. Inwardly, he was smiling because the trip into town tomorrow to look for the jacket was just the opportunity he was looking for.
He gave no protest when it was suggested that he should rest upstairs in his bed. He knew that if he did indeed fight John Millian, that he needed all the strength he could muster. He didn’t know how he was going to go, but he had to try at least, for Julia and for himself.
The next morning, Joe tried to show the same uninterested tone in going to town that he had shown the day before. He tried to disguise his true intentions about going to town by admitting to the slight ache that existed in his muscles.
However his ploy did the exact opposite that it was supposed to do. Joe thought that if his family thought he was still weak from his illness, then he would be allowed to stay home on his own without them. That way he could make his own way to Virginia City and be back before anyone noticed he was missing.
No such luck, with the mention of still feeling slightly sick, Ben now advised his young son that while they were in town they could make a quick visit to Doctor Paul Martin’s office to check on his progress.
This suggestion only brought a scowl to Joe’s face but he remained silent about the arrangements he had made with Millian.
The wagon was prepared just like yesterday and the trip seemed to be mostly uneventful to the eldest three Cartwrights. They planned to look around the general store area for where Joe’s jacket might haven fallen out.
Joe never spoke at all during the trip into town. His mind was on what he could say to get Millian to confess. Ben could see the concentration on his youngest son’s face but thought he was still trying to block out the pain and hurt from Julia’s death.
They pulled up at the General Store Ben said that he would go and check the mail first and then start asking the people inside whether they had come across the familiar blue-grey jacket. It was not an uncommon item, but one that was known by others in town to belong to Little Joe. If somebody had seen it lying in the dirt, he was pretty certain that they would have picked it up and put it somewhere safe until it was asked about.
“How bout I go and look around too, Pa?” Joe suggested, trying to get away from his family to go and talk to Sheriff Roy Coffee.
Ben eyed his son a little suspiciously at first. Yesterday the boy hadn’t wanted to move from the wagon. Now he was actively offering to wander around the streets of Virginia City. Something was amiss but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
“I just want to stretch my legs a bit, Pa,” Joe said trying to sound as innocent as possible. “Maybe go over to the saloon and grab a beer or two.”
Ben still had raised eyebrows at his son. Adam and Hoss had also heard the suggestion about going to the saloon and were about to utter words against such an idea. They offered to go with him just to make sure he was okay.
“I just want to go a relax for and while, ON MY OWN,” Joe said trying to keep his temper in check. I just want to forget for a while ON MY OWN.”
Ben, Adam and Hoss noticed the tears that welled in his eyes. They were conscious of the fact that Joe needed to get over Julia Bulette. They weren’t sure that having a drink at the saloon was the solution but at the moment they didn’t have any other credible offers to help the healing process.
“Okay Joe,” Ben said “You go and look around and have your drink. But you mind where you go and I want you to meet us back at this wagon in an hour. Understood?”
Joe nodded his head in agreement. It was ten minutes past eleven in the morning, so hopefully the little fight he and Millian had planned would be well underway by that time. He went to get out of the wagon and gave Hoss a slight snarl of displeasure when his brother stepped forward to help him out. The last thing he needed to do today was show his obvious weakness. He needed to boost his confidence ready for 12 o’clock.
Ben and his eldest boys just watched him walk towards the Bucket O’ Blood saloon shaking their heads at his moody swings. They were impossible to predict at the moment. He was cranky, then he looked to be upset again, then he would have a slight grin on his face and then back to snapping people’s heads off. They all thought they could do with a beer once they did their allotted tasks.
Joe made it to the Bucket O’ Blood saloon and sat down at the bar and ordered his first drink. He knew he was supposed to be asking about his missing jacket but he was too busy looking to see if Sheriff Coffee was walking about anywhere.
“Hey Joe,” the bartender greeted him “Haven’t seen you around here in a while.”
“Yeah,” Joe mumbled and kept his head down, suddenly finding his drink very interesting. He couldn’t help but wonder if the bartender had the same opinion about Julia Bulette and him as the rest of Virginia City.
The bartender shrugged his shoulders at the bare response he got from the normally cheery Little Joe Cartwright He moved back down along the bar to the other patrons and let Joe sit on his own at the far end.
Over near the general store, Ben was inside asking the owner if he had seen Little Joe’s missing jacket. He was told politely that nobody had handed it in but would keep their eyes open if it turned up and tell Ben if it turned up.. Ben offered his thanks for their assistance and walked back outside. He started to walk towards the post office when he spotted Hoss and Adam talking to Sheriff Roy Coffee beside the telegraph office. He continued to walk on over to the trio and joined in the conversation for the best part of ten minutes.
During this time, the various goings on of the Cartwright family didn’t go completely unnoticed. In the same hiding place as yesterday, John Millian made a mental note of all of their positions in town and tracked their movements from one place to the other. He had seen Little Joe enter the saloon and he could see the rest of the family talking
to the town’s sheriff. It was time to put his plan into action.
He walked the back alleys of Virginia City and made his way to the jailhouse. He had Joe’s jacket hidden underneath his own shirt. As he walked behind the livery stable he spotted a chicken pecking around. The small hen gave him an added idea to his scheme to lure the Cartwright’s to his place of choice.
He made sure no body was watching and he grabbed the hen and slit the bird’s throat. He made a few tears in the sleeves of Joe’s jacket and a few jagged slash marks with his knife down the back of the garment. He then proceeded to drip some of the spilt blood from the bird to the tears in the jacket. When he was satisfied that the jacket looked the part, he made his way to the rear door of the Sheriff’s office and worked the lock until it popped open.
Inside he arranged Joe’s jacket together with some of the straw from the stable to look as though Joe was laying on the cell’s bunk bed. He plumped up the sleeves with enough straw to look like arms and the blood and holes in the jacket added the finishing touches he needed. He finished the scene off by laying a blanket on the bed, covering the rest of the bunk where Joe’s legs should have been.
When he was done with his task, John Millian hid behind the front door of the office and awaited for the trap to catch the rats. The bait had been laid and all he needed to do now was wait.
Ben, Hoss and Adam were just about to bid their friend Roy Coffee good day when a small boy came running up shouting incoherently at them. Ben took the boy gently by the arm and tried to get him to calmly tell them what the matter was.
“Mr. Cartwright, Little Joe has been hurt,” the boy blurted out. “I was just over near the saloon when somebody was punching him. The man left and ran off after he did it but the bartender said he was taking Little Joe over to the Sheriff to report it. He asked me to go and find Joe’s family and Doc Martin.”
The boy was very convincing. Ben and the others had no reason to doubt what the boy was saying was true. What they didn’t know was that the boy’s name was Billy Owens. He was the same boy from the day before that Millian had paid off to do his dirty work.
“Let’s go, boys,” Ben announced. Sheriff Roy Coffee also went with them towards his own office. He knew that the boy was just getting over an illness. The fact that somebody was punching him at the saloon made the Sheriff want to get to the bottom of the problem.
Hoss and Ben just wondered what condition they would find Little Joe in when they reached the Jailhouse. Adam’s thought were along a different line. He wanted to know what Joe had said or done to provoke his assailant.
All four of them burst through the door, just like Millian had predicted. They all surveyed the room and thought they saw what they were looking for. They could see the figure laying on the cell bunk wearing a blue-grey jacket. They could see a number of tear marks on the jacket and what appeared to be blood as well.
Ben moved forward first, rushing to see if his son was alright. The others were not far behind. None of them had noticed Millian’s presence in the room as they went to see if Little Joe was alright.
Just as the four of them made it through the cell door, Millian made his move. They hadn’t heard him sneak up behind them until they heard the slamming of the steel barred door. All of them spun around in surprise to see Millian locking the cell door and preventing their escape.
Before Sheriff Roy Coffee could move away from the bars, John Millian grabbed the middle aged lawman around his neck and held him against the bars whilst holding a loaded pistol towards the three jailed Cartwrights.
“You will drop you guns, gentlemen, and pass them through the bars to me,” Millian hissed. “If you do not do it immediately, then I will shoot the sheriff here.” He poked the barrel of the gun into the Sheriff’s rib cage just for effect. He was rewarded with a sharp grunt escaping from the man’s lips.
The Cartwrights looked from one to the other at first but slowly did what they were told. Ben collected all three belts and passed them through the bars and placed them on the floor near Millian’s feet. Millian quickly kicked them out of reach with his boot.
“Now, Mr. Cartwright, you will remove the Sheriff’s gun belt,” Millian instructed.
Ben looked at Roy, but the Sheriff gave him a nod to signal that it was okay. Ben walked forward and carefully unbuckled the gun belt from Roy and passed it through the bars like the others. Millian kicked it aside as well and then roughly pushed the Sheriff towards the rear of the jail cell. Roy rubbed at his neck for a minute trying to regain some of the lost circulation.
“What is the meaning of this?” Sheriff Roy Coffee asked when he finally got his breath back. “You won’t get away with this, whatever you’re planning to do.”
“I’ve arranged a little reunion, Sheriff,” Millian said with an evil grin. “I’m sure you’ll all recognize the person when he arrives shortly. “
Ben had already examined the figure laying on the bed wearing his youngest son’s torn and bloodied jacket. He could see the straw poking out from underneath the material and knew that somehow it had all been a cruel hoax. Unfortunately for him and the other’s there was a feeling settling in the pit of his stomach that told him who the mystery guest was to be.
Joe was still in the saloon but gauged it must be getting closer to 12 noon. He wanted to talk to Sheriff Coffee first anyway since he hadn’t seen him anywhere yet. He got up and paid for his drinks and headed off in the direction of the jailhouse.
Ben and the others, including John Millian looked towards the front door as they heard the sound of footsteps on the wooden floor outside. Millian pulled a pistol on them all and threatened to shoot any of them that uttered a word of warning before Little Joe walked inside.
Ben and Roy started to whisper to each other, trying to hide their conversation from Millian.
“I thought he was arrested for Julia’s murder, Roy?” Ben asked.
“He was Ben, but all of the evidence was circumstantial. He had a few pieces of Julia’s on him when they found him, but nothing to tie him to the scene of the murder. He could have got given those pieces of jewelry from Julia herself. Last I heard, he was let go and never charged. His whereabouts up to now have remained a mystery.
I had no idea he planned to come back to Virginia City and come after Joe,” the Sheriff said to his old friend.
Their conversation was halted from going any further.
The door handle turned and Joe walked inside. He looked at the room in surprise and noted firstly that his opponent was in the room. But to his shock and dismay he could also see his family and the sheriff in the locked cell behind Millian.
“I told you that it would just be between me and you” Millian said as he explained the necessity to lock his friend and family in the cell.
Ben and the others expected Joe to draw his gun and demand their release from the cell. To his amazement and horror. Joe simply finished entering the room and closed the door behind him.
“Let’s get this over with,” Joe announced as he threw his hat aside and removed his gun belt.
Millian also removed his gun belt and removed his fancy looking hat. He also removed his satin lined jacket. They were ready to fight.
“What are you doing, Joseph?” Ben asked with fear for his son etched in his voice.
Adam and Hoss knew all too well what the pair planned to undertake. They were both fearful for their younger brother. Joe had gotten a whipping last time the two met. Now the odds were stacked against him with his weakened state from the illness. They couldn’t possibly expect Joe to take Millian on and win.
“This is something I have to do, Pa,” Joe said as he concentrated on Millian in front of him. “I didn’t know the part about locking you all up, but it doesn’t matter anyway. We both have a score to settle and I don’t aim to back down and run with my tail between my legs this time.”
“They say they didn’t have enough evidence to make this murdering dog stand trial. So I say it’s time to extract a little justice of my own. He took Julia’s life and I aim to see him pay for his crimes.”
“You mean you knew about Millian being in town?” Ben asked with surprise. “You arranged this fight with him today?” he continued. He couldn’t believe that his son had been so stupid as to take on somebody like Millian. The boy could be seriously hurt or killed. He knew that he and his boys wouldn’t be able to help him locked in this cell.
“You mean you didn’t tell your family about our little meeting yesterday?” Millian asked incredulously. He was now the one to sound shocked and surprised. He had assumed that the boy would call on his brothers and father to help him out again, just like the last time.
“Like you said, this is just between you and me,” Joe said. He still hid the real reason for arranging this part. He knew that he would have to get Millian to confess very early on. Before Millian could land any real good punches on him. He was feeling okay at the moment, but he didn’t know how long that would last.
Sheriff Roy Coffee started to think for a moment and whispered to Ben and his boys his theory about Joe’s true motives for getting Millian to fight. He suspected that Joe was really trying to get Millian to confess about Julia’s murder.
Ben and his boys thought that it was a plausible enough theory, but they didn’t like it any better than before. They had to remain unwilling spectators to the battle that was about to commence.
Millian decided that he could get the kid riled a little with the right words in the wrong place. He had an ace up his sleeve that would always cause his opponent a great deal of hurt.
“You know that she never really loved you,” Millian said casually. He was hoping that Joe’s feelings for Julia would be his eventual downfall.
Ben and the others expected that tell tale temper to show its ugly head immediately. The were waiting for Joe to take a diving leap at the man and start throwing wild punches at him. They were wrong.
Joe had seen through Millian’s little ploy and threw back a remark of his own “That’s not what she told me,” he answered in a simple and casual tone..
Millian was the one who was riled now and he walked over and grabbed Joe by the scruff of his shirt “YOU’RE A LIAR,” he spat in Joe’s face.
Joe took a hold of his hands and yanked them away roughly from his shirt “No I’m not,” he lied.
“What did she tell you?” Millian demanded as he rough housed Joe again trying to get him to tell him what Julia had said.
“She told me that she loved you. Always had done. The night I said goodbye to her at the hotel she said that she never got the opportunity to tell you.” Joe continued with the lie. He was trying to use a little reverse psychology on Millian.
“I said that you’re a liar,” Millian repeated “When I asked her that night, she just laughed in my face and told me I was crazy. She told me that she needed someone youthful and innocent. I told her she needed a man and not a boy.”
“I got angry at her and slapped her around a little. That’s when she pulled a knife on me telling me to get out. Told me she never wanted to see a low life like me again. I managed to get the knife away from her, but it was too late.”
Joe had just heard the line he was waiting for. He had just heard the confession he needed and so did the four witnesses in the cell on the other side of the room.
Millian just heard his own words and realized the implications for himself. He lost it completely and before Joe could react he drove a hard punch into his stomach.
“I will kill you for that little deception, Mr. Cartwright,” Millian spat viciously.
Joe stumbled back and tried to regain his balance before Millian rushed at him again.
Millian let another punch loose, but it failed to connect and Joe managed to land one himself on Millian’s unprotected face.
The two of them moved around the confined room and traded blow for blow over the course of a few minutes. It seemed like hours to Ben as he watched Millian land punch after punch on his youngest son. Joe managed to land quite a few of his own and was defending himself quite admirably.
“Get him, Joe,” Hoss called out from the other side of the cell. He received a piercing glare from his father in return and remained silent for the rest of the time.
Joe had just landed another good blow on Millian when everyone in the cell was shocked to hear “Good shot, son,” from Ben. He had a look of pride on his face but quickly lost it when he saw the raised eyebrows of the others in the cell.
Millian had managed to back Joe into a corner of the room. There was a gun rack screwed to the wall. Joe felt himself driven back against it and felt the bottom right hand corner of the cabinet bite painfully into his lower back. He let out a small cry of pain but continued on without much of a halt to the proceedings.
Joe managed to fight and kick his way out of the corner and now was out in the open room again. His breathing was becoming very labored and the tiredness that was beginning to set in was becoming noticeable to both himself and the other in the room.
Millian landed another punch on his face and Joe felt the sting of the blow cause a tear to the skin above his eye. The wound began to ooze blood and it ran down the side of his face. A second and third blow to the same area made it very swollen and bleeding profusely.
Joe was getting very tired now and he needed an advantage. Hoss and Adam had always said that Joe didn’t fight dirty enough and now it looked as though their words were proving true again.
Little Joe backed up a little from his current position and put his head down and took a run towards Millian ready to head butt him in the stomach area. Millian saw the move coming and dived out of the way at the last minute.
Millian had been standing in front of Roy Coffee’s small office desk and now Joe had too much momentum behind him to stop in time. As he saw Millian move sideways he was going too fast to stop himself barreling over the top
of the table, landing heavily on his shoulder on the other side.
Ben winced loudly when he saw Joe land awkwardly.
Joe remained sitting on the floor for a minute catching his breath. Millian had walked over to another part of the room and took a sweeping broom from it’s place on a hook on the wall.
He broke off the end of the broom leaving just the wooden handle. He started to walk over to where Joe sat on the floor. Joe started to back up whilst still on the floor. He could see the menacing way Millian was swinging the wooden pole and knew he aimed to do him great harm with it.
Joe managed to scramble to his feet but no sooner had he stood up, then he felt the pole come down on his back with great force. It came down a second and third time and then moved to deliver one or two blows to his already injured shoulder.
The continual bombardment of vicious blows from the wooden handle caused Joe to lose his balance and fall back to the floor of the jailhouse. He tried to defend himself by shielding his face with his extended arms and hands. The blows kept coming and when they stopped briefly, Millian started to use his steel capped boots on Joe’s unprotected ribs.
The kicks from the boot left Joe gasping for air. His lungs were weakened from his recent illness and in no condition to take the punishment they currently were. Joe stopped defending himself and tried to concentrate on drawing some air into his battered and bruised lungs.
Joe couldn’t be sure but he thought he heard a couple of distinct cracks from his damaged ribs. He put his hand protectively over them trying to cease the raining kicks on them.
He could see the fear and worry on the faces of his family from the abuse he was receiving. There was nothing they could do to stop the violence. They were all shouting threats and curses at John Millian to make him stop beating Joe, but all of their efforts fell on deaf ears.
Joe looked back at Millian just in time to see him raise the wooden handle over his head like a club. He knew what was about to come. He didn’t have the strength to protect himself any further. He closed his eyes and waited for the
inevitable blow from the pole. The first one struck his head and almost made him lose consciousness. It was a little off target and he raised the club again ready to deliver the fatal blow.
Joe’s vision began to waver and he found it hard to concentrate on his father’s words. He was fighting to feed his starving lungs and stop the piercing pain that stabbed at his chest from his broken ribs.
Somewhere in all the haze he could hear his father pleading with Millian not to kill him. He looked up and blinked back the blood from the cut on his eye. The left eye was already beginning to swell shut. The right one was only open by the smallest of margins.
Just before Millian put his strength behind the club, he stole a look at the Cartwright family and the Sheriff in the cell. He wanted to make sure that they were watching when he ended the boy’s life.
Joe also looked back at his own family before the next blow could be delivered. Hoss wasn’t sure but he swore he had seen Joe wink at him. Adam had seen the gesture as well from his younger brother and wondered what he was up to. It was a look both of them had seen many times before. Usually just before they were on the receiving end of one his practical jokes.
To everybody’s dismay, Joe appeared to be licked. He laid back on the floor with his unshielded back and head towards the club wielding Millian. The people in the cell could see Joe close his eyes in apparent defeat.
“PLEASE, DON’T DO IT,” Ben begged Millian. “PLEASE, I BEG OF YOU; DON’T KILL HIM.”
“And now, Monsieur Cartwright, you die,” Millian said with emphasis as he was about to swing the wooden pole.
The events that would take place next almost appeared to occur in slow motion to Ben and the others. It looked as though Millian was going to bring the handle down on Joe’s head and knock the boy senseless.
Millian had been too busy boasting to Joe’s family to see his opponent move his position on the floor by a fraction. As the pole descended towards Joe’s curly head, Millian was the one who was surprised when Joe suddenly sat up slightly and grabbed a hold of the wooden stick. With all of his might, he held onto the handle and fought Millian for possession of it.
Without warning, and in one smooth simultaneous movement, Millian found himself bring propelled over the top of Little Joe.
Little Joe had used all of the strength he had left to take charge of the situation. At the same time as flinging Millian’s body over his head with the wooden handle, he kicked Millian’s feet out from underneath him.
Millian had accidentally released his grip on the pole while he was part way in the air. He landed with a loud grunt in a heavy heap on the floor behind Joe. Joe swiftly jumped to his feet and brought the pole down on Millian’s head, rendering the man unconscious.
And unconscious he remained. The man didn’t move a muscle. A large lump started to show on Millian’s head where the pole had struck. Joe looked at the pole and the mark that now marred the broom handle. He looked towards the jail cell and tossed the pole away towards the opposite end of the room.
Joe looked at his family with a lopsided grin on his face. His family just stood agape at the sneakiness Joe had employed to subdue his opponent into submission.
“Way to go, Little Brother,” Hoss yelled triumphantly. He dug Adam in the ribs saying “I told you he could learn to be a dirty fighter, Adam.” Hoss had a grin almost as big as Joe’s at what had taken place. “Did you see him take him down? Fell like a bag of spuds.”
Adam and Ben just stood looking at the youngest Cartwright trying to work out where he had learned a move like that before.
The jovial mood of the people in the jailhouse quickly evaporated as they surveyed Joe and the damage Millian had caused.
Joe’s smile had also vanished and turned into a grimace of pain. He put his arm protectively around his ribs and tried to stem the radiating pain that they caused. He had temporarily forgotten about the pain when he had dealt with Millian. His body soon reminded him that he needed urgent medical attention.
Ben could see the pain etched on his young son’s face and knew that Joe was now feeling a lot of pain indeed. “Get the keys son and I’ll help you” he said softly. He tried to take his eyes off the visible bruises that had already started to appear, but he found it difficult.
“The keys are in my desk, Joe; top drawer,” Roy Coffee told him.
Joe tried to take the first step towards the small table and almost fell unconscious there and then. His body had had enough. It refused to take anymore punishment. His face felt very swollen and his lungs were screaming from the tightness within them. Joe was so tired now that he could barely stand up. The euphoria feeling he had when he won the fight was now completely replaced with pain. The weakness he had been experiencing over the last few days, now came back with reinforcements.
He made the four or five steps to the desk, but everyone was painful and made him moan with the torment coming from his ribs. A shaky hand grasped the handle on the top drawer. He didn’t know if he had the strength to pull it open. He was happy when his body did allow him this one indulgence.
He wiped at the blood still seeping in his eyes from the cut on his brow so that he could make out the contents of the drawer. He found the keys that Roy was taking about and lifted them out with two hands.
The distance back to the jail cell door was about 10 feet. It looked as though it was 10 miles to Joe. Each step threatened to spill him to the floor.
Ben and the others were right up against the cell door bars and outstretching their hands through the bars, trying to reach the keys from Little Joe.
“Here, son,” Ben said softly. “Let me help you.” Joe was still about two feet too far away.
The next step Joe took did take him to his knees on the wooden floor. Joe rested a minute as he tried to catch his breath. He knew he wouldn’t be able to make it to a standing position again.
He started to inch his way closer to the cell on all fours. Any other day, Ben and his boys would have been appalled to see Joe crawling like a baby. Joe himself would have been embarrassed to no end if he only knew what he was doing.
Ben and the others continued with their encouraging words to Joe, trying to keep him going just that bit longer to enable them to reach the large bunch of keys that would help set them free.
But the adrenaline rush that Joe had been surviving on was now at an end. He didn’t even have the energy to raise his head and look at his family. He felt himself getting weaker and then without so much as another word Joe fell face first towards the floor unconscious. He didn’t have anything left to give. He was about 1 foot short of his target.
Adam and Ben tried in vain to reach the keys. They both tried to rouse Little Joe again from his dark void, but their words never reached him.
Ben was wondering how to help his son that so desperately needed help when he heard the front door of the jail house open. Ben had never been so happy in his life to see the face that appeared through the doorway. It was Paul Martin.
Doctor Paul Martin walked into the room and looked at the four people secured behind the jail cell bars. His eyes then fell on the crumpled form on the floor and his heart skipped a beat.
Laying on the floor was the youngest Cartwright. He looked to be badly beaten and wasn’t moving at all.
Paul woke himself out of his dazed state and rushed forward and knelt beside the fallen Little Joe. He quickly grabbed at the keys in Joe’s hand and instinctively threw them through the bars into the jail cell. He never took his eyes of the young man laying prone on the wooden floor.
Ben had scrambled to put the key in the lock and missed a couple of times out of frustration and haste. He finally managed to unlock the door and flung it open, taking his place beside his son. He called Joe’s name softly, trying to get him to come around. Joe gave no response to his pleas.
“Let’s get him over to my office, Ben,” Paul suggested. “I can examine him better over there and he will be made more comfortable on a bed while I tend to his injuries.”
Ben and Paul lifted the unconscious youth between them and carried him ever so gently outside the jailhouse towards the doctor’s surgery.
Adam and Hoss were about to follow, when they briefly stopped to survey Joe’s handy work firsthand. Millian, like Joe still showed no signs of coming too. The man was black and blue just like Joe. The two brothers smiled at each other and at how much they had underestimated their LITTLE brother. Maybe he wasn’t so little now after all. He certainly showed he could take care of himself if the situation arose.
“I’ll clean up the mess, huh boys,” Roy Coffee said with a smile as he too gazed down upon John Millian and though with pride that it was Little Joe that had brought the big man to his knees. The young man had even gotten the man to confess to a crime he thought they would never hold him on. Roy was sure that there was enough solid evidence
now to put him to trial for the murder of Julia Bulette.
Over at the doctor’s office, Ben and Paul Martin were just lowering their burden onto the examining table in the surgery.
“Just lay him here for the time being, Ben, until I can take a closer look at him,” Paul said.
Joe still hadn’t shown any signs of regaining consciousness from the jailhouse to here. The bruises that had been just starting were now a ugly blackened color. They marred all parts of Little Joe’s face and upper body.
The cut above his brow had stopped bleeding but was rather nasty looking and would probably need stitching the Doctor assumed. The other bruises on his face, although only superficial, would cause the young man some discomfort over the next few weeks when he went to eat anything. Ben guessed it would be a good few days before he
saw that unmistakable smile from his youngest son.
As they began taking his shirt off they could not only see the results of Millian’s assault, but they could hear it as well. Little Joe’s chest was covered with bruises just like his face. However, these bruises were a little deeper than the upper layer of skin.
Ben stopped his task as he heard the pitiful moans of pain coming from Joe’s lips. He took the boy’s hand in his own and softly stroked the curls while the doctor went about testing to see if any of the ribs where broken.
“It’s alright, Little Joe,” Ben soothed, “Your Pa’s right here”.
Adam and Hoss had begun waiting nervously in the room outside, but once they heard the cries coming from their injured little brother, they needed to help him if they could.
Paul Martin did frown a little at the number of people in the room whilst he was tending to his patient. But he remained silent while still looking for all of Joe’s injuries.
By the end of the examination he was actually glad to have their assistance. Joe had started to regain consciousness, but something within him told him that he was still fighting John Millian. He was trying to move about too much on the examination table and when they attempted to restrain him gently so that he didn’t hurt himself any further, the feeling of being restrained only made him buck and kick out against them more.
“Pa, let me up,” Joe shouted incoherently “He killed Julia. He’s got to pay, he’s gotta suffer the consequences.”
“Shhhhh Little Joe,” Ben said attempting to calm him. “It’s alright, Joe; he’s not going to hurt you anymore. You beat him Joseph. I don’t know how, but you beat him son.”
“You’ve gotta lie still short shanks or you are going to hurt yourself some more,” Hoss said trying to assist his father.
“Don’t care Hoss; gotta get him, can’t let him hurt Julia.” Joe said. His remarks only made his family worry more about his state of mind from the fight.
Doc Martin finally gave into his better judgment and administered a mild sedative to Joe while he continued to fight his family. The sedative didn’t take long to work on his weakened body and his fighting started to wane a little before giving in completely.
The family now gazed down on a much calmer and relaxed, sleeping Little Joe. Paul recommenced his examination of his patient. Trying to be ever so careful, even though he knew his patient was free of feeling pain at the moment.
One hour later, Paul Martin washed up his hands and talked to the worried family about their cherished member.
“He’s going to be alright Ben, eventually,” he said and then added. “I have stitched the cut above his eye and tapped his ribs very tightly to avoid as much movement as possible. He is going to be sore for quite a number of weeks. Some of those bruises and scrapes will just have to heal on their own. He had three cracked ribs but thankfully none completely broken through to cause even more damage. I though his shoulder might have been dislocated, but the tendons and ligaments have just been jarred a little. It will start to heal along with the ribs. It would be better if you stayed at the hotel tonight, to allow him to rest better before taking him back home tomorrow.”
Ben took note of all of the doctor’s words and told Adam to go and arrange their stay at the hotel for the night.
“That wound on his head is only minor and there shouldn’t be any permanent results or serious concussion as a result,” Doc Martin continued. “I’ll check on him tomorrow afternoon. He should be comfortable enough to return home by then. I’ll give you some medication for the pain and possible headaches tomorrow after I have checked on him. That sedative should keep him asleep enough for tonight at least.”
“How did you know where to come, Paul?” Ben asked.
Hoss went about redressing his young brother in his shirt. He was having a tough battle with a patient who was of no help at all and a wad of bandages that were an inch thick. His actions were slow and deliberate so as to avoid hurting his brother any more than he had too. He sighed with relief when he managed to get Joe’s arms into the sleeves without much protest. He gave up on buttoning the front up as a bad joke. The bandages were just too thick.
“Little Billy Owens came up to me and confessed about how he had been helping that John Millian fellow over the last two days. It wasn’t the boy’s fault. His mother is poor and he had a younger brother and sister to care for as well. The offer of money to buy goods was just too great a temptation. He felt guilty about being a part of something that would cause Little Joe to get hurt,” Paul explained.
“Thanks for all of your help, Paul,” Ben said honestly as he shook the doctor’s outstretched hand. “I don’t know what we would do without you sometimes.”
“I just hope he has the strength left in him to heal all over this time Paul. He is still hurting so much over Julia’s death that I am afraid it will hamper his recovery even more,” Ben said in sorrow. He was playing aimlessly with a stray curl on Joe’s forehead.
“I’m sure all he needs is to know is that you are all there for him, Ben,” Paul replied “Just give him some space. In time he will probably make up his own mind on the problem and you will have your fun loving Joseph back again.”
“I hope so,” Ben said “I really do hope so.”
Adam came back into the room advising that the room at the hotel was already for habitation. He had made sure that there was extra bedding and pillows for his injured brother and a hot meal waiting for everyone else when they got there.
Hoss and Adam did the honors of carrying Joe this time. They were trying to avoid jarring him too much and causing any more pain. Joe’s face remained poised in sleep until they laid him down on the soft double bed in the hotel.
There were four beds in the room, three single ones and one double one. The question didn’t even need to be asked who would take the double one. There was somebody in the room tonight who had definitely earned the privilege of the biggest and softest mattress.
Joe was settled in the bed for the night and Ben set up his own bed right beside his son just in case he was needed during the night.
“He was really something today, Pa,” Hoss said with pride as he looked down at his sleeping little brother.
“He was really something alright,” Ben said. He wasn’t really annoyed with his youngest son, but he could do with less heartache and worry at the moment. Ben settled down on a chair beside his sleeping son and sipped at his coffee while thinking back over what had taken place this afternoon.
It was late that night when they were all assured that Joe would sleep through the night successfully.
Joe awoke from his sleep a little bit before dawn. He hurt all over. There was no disguising it. His face felt particularly swollen and his ribs hurt something fierce.
The grunts and groans that escaped him awoke his father who was sleeping beside him. Ben had been sleeping soundly enough but was never out of touch with his youngest son’s feelings. Some people called it intuition when he knew Joe was hurting or sick. Ben just called it a special bond that existed between the two of them.
“Hi Little Joe,” he whispered softly so as not to wake Adam and Hoss in the room.
Joe tried to work his mouth, but only screwed his face up at the painful effort that smiling or talking required.
In the end he let the expression on his face do all the talking he needed to do. The look said it all. He was utterly miserable. He hurt from head to toe but he had won the fight of his life. All of it didn’t make a damn difference at the end of the day though. Julia was still dead.
Ben could see the tears starting to flood his eyes and pulled his son into a comforting embrace. “She could have never loved you the way you wanted her to, son,” Ben started to say. “You have to let go. son. You have to remember the best way you can by getting on with your life now. Julia wouldn’t want you to mourn over her forever. She would have wanted you to live your life to the fullest. Enjoy life not rebel against it.”
“You can always keep a warm spot in your heart for her, boy,” Ben continued as he held the trembling and sobbing boy closer. “Remember her fondly and always and her memory will remain strong within you.”
Joe knew what his father was saying was true. He could hear the words, though he never interrupted them or commented on his father’s soothing words. Maybe he just needed to hear it from her to believe them.
Joe knew he needed to visit Julia and say goodbye. He also knew that his family would be watching him like a hawk and probably wouldn’t let him go today. But something deep inside told him that this was the right time to say his farewells.
“Pa,” he said through painful and swollen lips. “I’m still kind of tired and sore. I think I will go back to sleep for a while if you don’t mind.” He laid back on the pillow and tried to convince his father that he was falling back asleep. He had done this on a number of occasions and feigning being asleep was one of his best performances usually.
Ben sighed aloud a little and just hoped inwardly that he had helped his son a little. Adam and Hoss had begun to stir in the room with the breakthrough of dawn.
“How about we grab some breakfast downstairs this morning, boys?” Ben asked the other two. Adam and Hoss were agreeable but were a little surprised that Ben wanted to leave Joe alone while he so still feeling so bad emotionally and physically.
Ben told them about the words he had spoken to Little Joe and Joe’s request to rest a little bit more.
“He must really be hurting still,” Adam said candidly. He knew that it wasn’t very often that his brother willingly rested unless he was very sick or hurting dreadfully.
The three of them looked in on Little Joe again before making their way downstairs to the hotel’s restaurant for breakfast. The breakfast room was a little away from the main part of the hotel. Nobody could be seen from on the staircase or at the reception desk while eating in the breakfast room.
Upstairs, Joe kept his little masquerade up as long as was necessary. When he was satisfied that his family had left the room, he started to sit up a little. His movements were very painful and he almost changed his mind about getting up.
He got himself into a sitting position and paused while, waiting to catch his breath and giving a chance for the pain to ease some. He could see his shirt hanging loosely over the back of a chair a few feet away.
Every step was pure torture and he wrapped his left arm tightly around his bandaged ribs for extra protection. After what seemed like eternity he managed to work his shirt on over the bandages. He found the same problem as Hoss though and couldn’t get the buttons done up properly. He decided to leave it.
He walked very slowly down the staircase after leaving the room. He had cautiously kept a vigil out for any sign of his family. He didn’t see any and fortunately for him the reception area was vacant as well when he approached the front door. Nobody had seen him leave or seen the amount of pain written on his face.
When he got outside he headed towards the livery stable. He looked inside and was happy to see a few horses in their temporary stalls.
Joe approached a large big black horse. At the moment he needed all the strength underneath him that he could find. He could barely walk on his own two feet without stumbling so he was hoping and praying that the huge black would be his crutch to lean on today.
He had to grit his teeth and choke back the pain and tears he felt when he tried to mount the horse. The black was definitely stronger looking than the other two horses, but he was also a good bit bigger and therefore taller. Joe was sure that his ribs were literally rubbing together as he dragged himself onto the horses bare back. There was no way he could have saddled the horse. The animal had sniffed at him but seemed happy to carry his unfamiliar rider to the chosen destination.
Joe got the horse moving and rode out of the livery stable towards the town cemetery. It was early morning so thankfully not many people were out and about this time of day. Joe was glad nobody could see him at the moment. He was almost laying horizontal across animal’s back. He had his fingers tangled in the horse’s course mane just to hang on.
Ben, Adam and Hoss had an enjoyable and filling breakfast. Hoss had eaten enough for three people but was ready to return to Joe and start preparing for the trip home.
They were all talking quietly when they walked in just in case Joe was still asleep. Ben couldn’t help but take a peek upon his return just to check that Joe was still okay. He let out a large gasp of shock and surprise when he found the bed’s sheets thrown back onto the floor and the bed itself totally empty.
The three of them started to look around the room just in case Joe was still inside. Perhaps he had just gotten up to get a glass of water. Ben told himself that he knew his son better than that. If the bed was empty, Joe had gone further than the water jug in the room for that glass of water.
All of them raced downstairs and enquired from the desk clerk whether anybody had seen the injured young man leaving the hotel. They explained that Joe would be very sore and would be slow in moving. They hoped that Joe’s condition would have made some sort of impression in somebody’s mind had they seen him.
There was no sign of him. Joe must have left the room right after they went downstairs to breakfast. Ben thought for a minute why somebody as injured and in as much pain as his son would be willing to risk his injuries further by leaving his room.
The reason soon came to him and he started berating himself for not seeing the consequences early enough. He should have realized what would happen after he had his little talk with Joseph this morning
“Come on boys, I know where he’s gone,” Ben said with a grimace. He just hoped that Joe hadn’t hurt himself any further. His body was only just recovering from that illness before he had the fight with Millian. How much more could the boy endure?
The three eldest Cartwright’s made their way down the Virginia City streets on foot as fast as they could. When they reached the cemetery they could see the silhouetted figure in the distance that they sought.
Ben told the boys to keep their distance for a moment. Joe looked to be okay for a minute or so. He must have been tired from his short journey because he was sitting down.
Joe had his hat in his hands by his side and he was just quietly looking at Julia’s grave with his head bowed and the tears falling freely to soak into the dry earth.
Did he ever love her. Maybe he didn’t know the answer to that question. Maybe he would never know. Love came wrapped in many different packages and was often seen through eyes that didn’t really see anything at all but what they wanted to see. What the heart made them see.
She had been a source of enchantment and laughter for a few memorable nights. She had lit the spark in his heart and watched it burn, only to snuff it out again in the blink of an eye.
He remembered the words his father had spoken earlier. Maybe he could remember her fondly.
And sometimes just when the wind blew softly into his face from the east, or when the leaves of autumn fell to the ground and carpeted the landscape in a tapestry of color he could remember the times they shared together.
Joe turned around when he heard somebody approaching him behind. He tried a fake smile when he recognized that it was his father. His tears stopped him from coming up with any useful to say so Ben did all of the talking for his son.
Ben gathered his son into his strong embrace and tried to offer words of comfort to ease his son’s pain.
“You’re needed here with your family more that you’ll ever know, Joseph,” Ben continued. “The Ponderosa is in your blood. You were born here. Your mother chose to make this place home. Your brothers and I will always be here for you, no matter what happens.”
“This is where you belong, Joe,” Ben started. “I know that you had dreams of going to New Orleans with her. But perhaps those dreams of that city come from your memories of your mother. Your love for Julia might have seemed
strong enough to endure most things put in your path. But your ties to your mother and her heritage are much stronger and everlasting. Maybe it’s her calling you back to her home that you hear.”
Joe looked into his father’s face and saw the love that was burning in Ben’s eyes. He felt the strong support from his father’s arms and when he looked over towards the fence, he saw two more reasons to stay. He truly was loved. He was truly home.
John Millian was successfully tried for the murder of Julia Bulette and was hung on 27th April 1868. His grave is only a few feet away from Julia’s at the back of the Virginia City Cemetery.
Julia Bulette was actually born in England in 1832, she emigrated to Louisiana with her family. She married early and when the marriage failed she became a prostitute in New Orleans. She moved to Virginia City in 1863 and in was killed in 1867. Because she was a prostitute she couldn’t be buried in consecrated ground so she was buried about a mile out of town.
Maybe in the after life they could really find true love together.
I really hope you all like what I did with the story. I have to thank Helen heaps for the real life facts about Julia Bulette and John Millian. Thanks, Helen, I really could not have completed this story without you.
Thanks to David Dortort and all the wonderful people responsible for this story that was the inspiration for this story.