Word Count: 2400
Adam slowed Sport down as he approached the Ponderosa ranch. He wasn’t looking forward to the discussion he was about to have with his father Ben Cartwright. Adam knew that his father, although a fair man, was always overly concerned when it came to the youngest of the Cartwright family, Little Joe. Adam wasn’t sure how he was going to explain his return to the ranch without Little Joe.
Adam and Little Joe had left the ranch earlier that morning. Ben had quietly spoken to Adam to make sure he kept a good eye on Joe as, at the age of 15, he had started to try to slip away from any supervision that might accompany him to Virginia City. Ben did not approve of Little Joe drinking or going into The Bucket of Blood, but Joe found he was drawn to places his father did not like and often found himself in trouble because of it.
Adam and Hoss, his other brother, often had to protect Joe from his own foolishness and try to keep their brother’s rash behavior from Ben.
Well, thought Adam, I haven’t got a whisker’s chance of protecting little brother Joe this time. Joe had managed to slip away from Adam when he was distracted talking to the store owner about some books he had ordered and had managed to get into a lot of trouble. Adam couldn’t believe that Joe had ended up in Roy Coffee’s jail at the age of 15.
Adam knew that Joe needed a lesson that would pull him up to take responsibility for his misdeeds, but, wondered Adam, how would Ben take it?
Time to face the music, mused Adam.
Ben was sitting at his desk and looked up when Adam approached him.
“Hi Adam, how are things in Virginia City?” enquired Ben.
“Well, Pa,” answered Adam, “I’m afraid I’ve got some news you are not going to like about Joe”. Adam waited for the response. Ben raised his eyebrows in an enquiring way. Adam continued. “He is in Roy Coffee’s jail and Roy says he is not releasing him until you go in to discuss his behavior”.
“Jumping Jehovah!” answered Ben with a raised voice. “Do I look like I’ve got the time to ride all over the country to get Joseph out of trouble? What did Joseph do?”
“Well,” said Adam in answer, “he went into the Bucket of Blood and mouthed off to a couple of ornery cowboys who took offense and then it erupted into a brawl. This is the third time this week, according to Roy, that Joe has been involved in trouble.” Adam waited for the response
Ben nearly exploded with anger. “What do you mean? I wasn’t aware that Joe had been anywhere near Virginia City recently.”
“Well,” said Adam, “I don’t think you realize about Joe; he sneaks out and goes into Virginia City.”
“Did you know?” queried Ben.
“Yes,” admitted Adam.
“Well, how come I’m the last to know this then?” exploded Ben, his voice beginning to sound deep and threatening.
“You do have a blind spot when it comes to Joe, Pa,” Adam answered carefully, looking to see how his father was taking the conversation. “You have spoiled him, and Hoss lets him gets away with things and protects him.”
Ben’s angry posture showed how he felt and he answered, “I don’t agree with you protecting Joseph from the consequences of his behavior. As his father, I should be the one to do the discipline but if I don’t know what my own son is up to, I can’t stop him. I know also that I do sometimes ignore his behavior but, Adam, he is just much more difficult to bring up than either you or Hoss were at his age.” Ben shrugged his shoulders. He knew that Adam had always helped him bring up his younger brothers so he probably did appreciate that Joe was likely to get into trouble if not supervised. “Maybe I’m just out of practice and we are so often busy with the running of the ranch. He has had it easy, hasn’t he?” Ben looked up to see if Adam agreed with him.
“What does Roy want me to do?” inquired Ben. “When I get hold of that boy, he won’t be sitting down comfortably for a week,” added Ben with feeling.
“Roy wants you to go in to discuss his behavior,” answered Adam.
“Perhaps we should leave him in jail and see how he gets on without his family running to help him. I suppose Joe wouldn’t like that very much.” Ben looked at Adam. “No, I suppose I shall have to go into Virginia City and talk to Roy as requested,” said Ben, thinking of all the paperwork he had been hoping to get through that day. “I’ll see you later, Adam.”
In Virginia City, Joe was sitting in jail looking very despondent and worrying what trouble he was going to be in when his father arrived to see Roy Coffee, the sheriff. His father was a strict disciplinarian and Joe knew he might end up with a trip to the barn with his Pa and belt if his father thought it necessary. I’ve really messed up this time, thought Joe. Most of the time I get away with things but Roy was awfully mad when he saw the Bucket of Blood. Joe sat with his head in his hands, waiting his fate.
As Ben rode into Virginia City, he felt there were several disapproving looks from some of the residents. He thought to himself, they are not impressed with my parenting skills at the present time if I can’t stop my youngest son from getting into trouble. He tied his horse outside the jail and walked in.
Roy Coffee was sitting at his desk; he had been expecting Ben to appear. He knew that once Ben had been told about Joe by Adam, he would come in to chastise his son.
“Hi Ben,” said Roy,” I hope you have come to sort Joe out once and for all, because I have to tell you, Ben, I’m getting mighty tired of your son breaking up my town.”
“Well, I’ve about had it with him,” answered Ben. “I have only just found out what he has been up to the last few weeks.”
“I can’t shield Joe any more from the repercussions of his behavior, Ben,” said Roy.
Ben looked seriously at Roy, saying “I understand, Roy. I will be having a serious talk with Joseph about his behavior and he won’t be allowed into Virginia City for a month or until I can trust him to behave like a sensible human being. How much are the damages going to cost for the Bucket of Blood to be repaired?” enquired Ben.
“$200 and $100 fine for unruly behavior, Ben,” answered Roy.
Ben frowned but kept quiet for a moment.
“I’ll go along to the bank and get the money, Roy,” Ben said quietly.
After a trip to the bank and to collect Cochise, Joe’s horse, Ben arrived back at the jail. Roy went through to the jail to let Joe out. Joe followed Roy out to face his father; he couldn’t look Ben straight in the eyes and kept his face directed to his boots. “Hi Pa,” he said quietly.
“Don’t you ‘Hi Pa’ me,” said Ben crossly, trying not to show his anger in the jailhouse in front of Roy. “Just get on Cochise and wait for me. I’m far too angry to speak to you here.”
Joe moved quickly to pass Roy and his father, worried that his father might physically punish him now as he could see how angry Ben was.
“Thanks, Roy,” said Ben. “I’ll keep Joe busy on the ranch so you won’t have another episode like this one to contend with.”
“Thanks, Ben,” answered Roy, raising his hand to say goodbye. He whispered as Ben was passing, “Don’t be too hard on the boy, Ben. He’s a good boy but he lost his temper with some no-good cowpokes who were looking for trouble.” Ben smiled.
Joe was already mounted on Cochise, waiting patiently for Ben to be ready. They rode home silently. Joe looked at his father out of the corner of his eye, trying to gauge how angry his Pa was and how much trouble he was going to be in. Ben didn’t notice his son’s wary looks.
Once they arrived at the Ponderosa, Hoss came out to say he would take care of the horses and gave Joe a sympathetic look.
Joe waited to see what his father was going to say.
“Joseph, you go straight up to your room and I will be up to speak to you when I’ve calmed down somewhat,” said Ben.
“Ok Pa,” answered Joe.
Ben looked at Hoss, who was giving Joe re-assuring pats on the shoulder, “Don’t try to defend him, Hoss. He gets into more trouble than you and Adam ever did. Were you ever put in jail at the age of 15 for breaking up a saloon?” Ben enquired. “We are going to have to keep a tight rein on Joe over the next few weeks, and no keeping any trouble from me that you find out about, Hoss.”
“No sir,” answered Hoss. “I’ll keep an eye on him right enough”
“Have you seen Adam?” enquired Ben.
“He’s in the house, Pa, doing some paper work,” replied Hoss.
“Ok, I’m going to go and talk to your younger brother. Let’s hope it doesn’t end in tears for either of us. Don’t worry; I’m not going to lay into Joe, even though he deserves it. It doesn’t seem to make any difference to his behavior and it’s not something I like doing. I think being restricted to the ranch and being escorted everywhere will be sufficient punishment. Maybe ending up in Roy Coffee’s jail has had some influence on him,” hoped Ben.” I may shout a bit, though; that usually works”.
“Yes,” laughed Hoss, “that raised voice of yours can be very effective. See you later, Pa.”
Ben walked into the ranch. Adam was sat at the desk still working on the papers that Ben had left earlier.
Your younger son went running upstairs looking a little worried. Is he in for some pain? If so, I’ll make myself scarce,” said Adam.
“No,” answered Ben. “I’m going to talk to him. Punishing him by physical means hasn’t worked with him.”
Joe was sitting on his bed when his father knocked at his door. “Come in,” Joe called and stood up at his father walked into his room.
“Sit down, Joe,” said Ben and sat down next to his son. “Now what’s this all about fighting and brawling in the Bucket of Blood?”
“I didn’t do that,” Joe answered defensively, his voice getting louder as he answered his father.
“Don’t you raise your voice to me, boy,” said Ben angrily, looking at Joe.
“I’m sorry Pa, but that just isn’t true.”
“What is the reason for your behavior then, Joseph? I don’t understand why you have recently begun to get into trouble by disobeying me and your brothers. You can’t deny that you weren’t supposed to be in The Bucket of Blood.”
“None of you care what I’m doing anyway,” said Joe. “I just get in the way.”
“When have we ever said or suggested that?” Ben looked enquiringly at his son. “Perhaps we have been busy with the ranch but that is no excuse for you to behave like a tearaway. Have you ever seen me or Adam or Hoss behaving that way?”
“Well, no,” said Joe “but you’re not young, are you.”
Ben laughed, answering, “I’m not in my grave yet, young man, and that’s no excuse. We have all been young and got het up about things. What did the cowboys say that made you lose your temper?”
“He said I was a rich man’s son and had never done a real day of work in my life,” Joe said quietly. “I just got mad, Pa, and I’m sorry that it ended in such trouble. It won’t happen again.”
“No, it won’t because you are restricted to the ranch for the next month and I will be finding some extra chores to keep you from having time on your hands.”
“Oh, Pa, I’m going to miss all the events being put on at rodeo time,” whined Joe.
“You should have thought about that before you ended up in the jail, shouldn’t you, Joseph. Now do I make myself clear? You are not to go anywhere near The Bucket of Blood until I say you can, and if you disobey me, Joseph, there will be consequences which you will not like.”
Joe knew when Ben spoke with such conviction that there was no way to change his mind so he nodded in agreement. “I understand, Pa, and I won’t disobey you this time”. He thought that under the circumstances, his father was being fair; he had expected to have a trip to the barn.
“I’m sorry I’m so much trouble, Pa,” said Joe, “and I know I’m lucky to have you and Adam and Hoss looking out for me. I will try to be a better son so you don’t have to come and bail me out.”
“Thank you for the compliment, Joe. Make sure you behave and do as you’re told by your brothers Adam and Hoss as well. You disappeared while in Adam’s company today. If you had stayed by his side, this trouble wouldn’t have happened, would it?”
“It’s hard being young, Joe,” Ben added, “but you’re growing up fast and will be expected to take your place with your brothers. If I think I can’t trust you to behave sensibly while in Virginia City, how can I give you jobs of responsibility on the Ponderosa? You think about that before you come down for supper.”
“Yes I will,” said Joe. “And thanks for not laying into me. I know I deserved it.”
Ben left Joe and went quietly downstairs thinking what a lot had happened in one day and it wasn’t over yet.