Word Count: 4400
Ben was angry. He had trusted his youngest son Little Joe for the first time to go and collect the mail from Virginia City.
Joe was 14 years of age, impetuous, fun-loving, often reckless, and Ben had kept him on a tight rein up until the past few months when he had decided that he had to let Little Joe grow up and take his place alongside his brothers Adam and Hoss helping to run the Ponderosa ranch. Ben also wanted Little Joe to continue with his schooling, much to Joe’s disappointment.
When Little Joe had volunteered to collect the mail and deliver a grocery list for Hop Sing, Ben hadn’t had the heart to turn him down. Little Joe had looked at Ben with all the enthusiasm of youth, so wishing to be thought of as a responsible partner in the ranch. Although Ben had in his brain the thought it might not be a good idea to let Little Joe go into Virginia City alone, his heart had given into his son’s pleading looks.
Adam and Hoss had looked surprised, but kept quiet as they respected their father’s decisions, and sometimes weaknesses, when it came to his youngest son.
Ben had told Little Joe in no uncertain terms that he was to go straight to collect the mail, put Hop Sing’s grocery list into the hands of the owner of the store, and warned him about going anywhere near any saloons; he warned Joe not to get into any trouble while in Virginia City.
“Pa,” laughed Little Joe, “what do you think I am, a riverboat gambler or something? I’ll do exactly as you have told me, I promise. See you later.” Joe hurried out to Cochise before his father changed his mind. Ben was always admonishing Little Joe for not getting his haircut when told and was always saying that no son of his was going to look like a riverboat gambler.
Later Adam stopped in at the ranch house for lunch, and seeing Ben looking a little troubled, questioned him about Joe.
“No, he hasn’t returned,” answered Ben angrily. “When I get hold of him he won’t be going off on any detours again.”
“Oh, Pa,” said Adam “you don’t know that he has got into any trouble. He might just be taking his time in Virginia City and might have met a friend and has forgotten the time”.
Ben looked seriously at Adam saying, “I’m not ready for him to go wandering around Virginia City on his own. Who knows where he might end up?”
Joe had, in fact, ended up in Sheriff Coffee’s jail.
He was incensed that his first trip into Virginia City alone should end so badly. He mused to himself, “Pa’s never going to let me into Virginia City alone in a month of Sunday’s.” He was also worried that his father would bust his britches when he found out what he had got up to, although Joe felt he was too grown up for physical punishment. His father was somewhat old-fashioned and still felt obliged to use physical punishment for serious misdemeanors.
Joe sat quietly awaiting his fate.
He knew Sheriff Coffee had sent someone for his father, so it was only a matter of time. “Oh boy”, thought Joe, “he is never going to believe my story.”
Having been brought up in an all male household, Joe had not really been in close contact with the female body, so he had begun to wonder what on earth the female sex wore under their dresses. When he had tried to talk about it to Hoss, Hoss had told him in no uncertain terms that he was too young to talk about such things. He wasn’t sure about talking to Adam, his older brother, as Adam was very serious and quiet and didn’t really talk to Joe about his girlfriends.
Whilst at school, Joe had noticed some of the older girls had developed curves which their clothes prevented any notion of actually finding out about.
So Joe had decided when he had a chance, he was going to go upstairs at the local house of ill repute which all the cowboys frequented which was in D Street. It sounded so innocent.
He had been warned by Adam to keep away from D Street until he was older but Joe couldn’t wait any longer. His male hormones were beginning to rage in his body, and the lack of information about the opposite sex he felt was holding him back with them.
So Joe had collected the mail and delivered the grocery list, and then checking he couldn’t see anyone who knew him or his father, he sauntered down D Street. He walked round the back of the house run by Mrs. Bessie Langtry.
She was a large, big-hearted lady who took no nonsense from the cowboys who frequented her house. At the back of the house, as Joe walked around his eyes, nearly popped out of his head at the ladies garments on the washing line — frilly knickers, camisoles and corsets, all blowing in the breeze.
He sneaked into the open door, walked up the stairs and quietly made his way along the corridor. It was very quiet as most of the women were still asleep. They worked late hours so didn’t rise early.
Joe saw the many doors along the landing, and now that he was actually in the house, he wasn’t sure where to go. He was just interested in finding out what actually went on in the house, and although he thought he knew, he wanted more information.
There was a heady smell of perfume which he thought was vaguely familiar. He thought he would try one of the doors, so he tried one and he slipped inside. It was a small room with some small amounts of furniture but the largest item in the room was the bed. To his surprise, in the bed was a man alongside one of the women who Joe thought he recognized as one of women he saw sometimes waiting outside the house for business.
He also recognized the man as being the Mayor of Virginia City and he started to panic at the thought that the mayor would see him. Joe was not stupid; he knew the Mayor would not want Joe to see him in the bed with one of the women who worked in Mrs. Langtry’s house, as he was a married man. In Joe’s rush to depart the room, he knocked over a chair which fell on the bed, waking the man who then shouted “Hey what are you doing in this room?”
Joe looked at the man in the bed and knew he recognized Joe. Joe high-tailed it out of the room, with the man calling after him.
As Joe rushed down the stairs, he was not looking where he was going. He could hear voices and people coming out of the bedrooms to see what all the commotion was about. Just as Joe got to the bottom of the stairs, he ran straight into someone. As it was dark in the corridor and he hadn’t been looking where he was going, he fell backwards onto the floor and heard a familiar voice say, “Well, what have we got here”? It was Sheriff Coffee, who had been passing round D Street on his rounds when he had heard the shouting and commotion.
“What in tarnation are you doing here?” asked the sheriff. He got hold of Joe by the scruff of the neck, pulling him up and pushed him out of the front door, shouting to the people behind, “it’s ok; I’ll deal with this young man.”
Joe was by now feeling a bit shamefaced at being found in the local house of ill repute and didn’t look Sheriff Coffee in the face. He looked down at his feet and wasn’t sure what he was going to say.
“You had better start thinking up a good story for your Pa, Little Joe, because I think he will want to know what you thought you were up to in that house.” Roy Coffee had a slight twinkle in his eye looking at Little Joe, who was looking very embarrassed at the questions he was being asked.
Sheriff Coffee took Little Joe over the jail while he sent his deputy to the Ponderosa.
At the Ponderosa, Ben got up from his desk when he heard a horse, thinking it was Little Joe. He waited with his arms folded, waiting for Little Joe to walk into the ranch house and give his excuses for how late he was. There was, however, a knock at the door and Ben went to open it. He somehow knew there was trouble when he saw Sheriff Coffee’s deputy at the door.
“Hi, Mr. Cartwright.” The deputy shuffled his feet, worried at the expression of anger on Ben’s face.
“What brings you out this way, Henry?” said Ben.
“Well, Sheriff Coffee sent me to get you to come and see about Little Joe. He has him in the jail.” Henry spoke quickly as he thought Ben might explode if he took a long time with an explanation.
“What’s Joe done, Henry?” asked Ben.
“Well, I’m not rightly sure,” said Henry. “Sheriff Coffee just asked me to come get you.”
“Ok,” Ben answered, “I’ll be along as soon as I can. Thank you for coming out so promptly, Henry. I’m sure Roy doesn’t want to keep Little Joe in his jail for longer than he needs.”
Adam came in from the kitchen to see who it was talking to his father. “Trouble” he enquired of his father.
“Yes, you could say that,” answered Ben. “It’s Little Joe. He is in Roy’s jail for what I don’t know but I will find out, you can be sure of that.”
Adam tried to keep a straight face but he thought to himself, “What’s that boy gone and done now? He’s a magnet for trouble, right enough.” He knew his father wouldn’t be happy if he started to laugh at the predicament that Little Joe had got in, so he said nothing.
“Surely the boy could do one simple thing for me without finding trouble, wouldn’t you think, Adam?” Ben looked at Adam inquiringly.
Adam didn’t make any comment as he knew his father was going to be on a short fuse until he found out about Joe.
“Could you saddle my horse for me, Adam? I’d better get into Virginia City and sort him out”.
“Sure,” answered Adam. “You don’t want me to go, do you?” He thought to himself that Joe might come out of this more safely if he went rather than Ben.
“No, I’m his father,” answered Ben, “so I need to sort out whatever trouble he has gotten in.”
Adam hoped his little brother wasn’t in too much trouble as he hated it when his father got really angry with Joe or used physical punishment, as Adam felt it wasn’t helpful. However, he didn’t often go against his father’s decisions, as Ben was, after all, Joe’s father.
When Ben arrived in Virginia City, he went straight to Sheriff Coffee’s jailhouse.
Roy was sitting at his desk. “How do, Ben. Thanks for coming so quickly. Now you don’t need to get all riled up; I don’t think the boy meant any real trouble. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
“Well, why have you got him locked up then, Roy?” asked Ben.
“Well, I didn’t want him high tailing it off on his own before you spoke to him about where he was. I found him in Mrs. Langtry’s house. I also thought I had better calm down the people who he saw at Mrs. Langtry’s house and advise you to tell Little Joe not to talk about it to all and sundry; otherwise, there could be trouble for him about trespassing”.
“What!” shouted Ben, even frightening Sheriff Coffee with his loud booming voice. “Jumping Jehovah, what on earth was he doing in Mrs. Langtry’s house?”
“Now, Ben, calm down. Little Joe is a young man who is starting to get an interest in the opposite sex. You have nobody of the opposite sex in your house, so I suppose Joe had to find a way to satisfy his curiosity. He was just interested in finding out what happens in Mrs. Langtry’s house. You need to talk to him about the birds and the bees and what goes on between a man and a woman before he tries it for himself.” Roy chuckled to himself at the look on Ben’s face.
“You don’t need to tell me how to bring up my son, Roy,” exclaimed Ben, his voice loud but controlled. “I have brought up two other sons, you know”.
“Yes, I know, Ben; I have known you for some time. But Little Joe is somewhat different, and probably because of the other two, more grown up than you want to think. He also is not inclined to take no for an answer.” Roy tried to get Ben to listen to his advice, even though he knew Ben had lots more experience at bringing up children than he himself. However, he also knew that Ben had a bit of a blind spot when it came to Little Joe and Joe had always got away with a lot more than Adam and Hoss.
“Ok, thank you, Roy. Where is he? Can I take him home or are you intending to press some sort of charges against him?”
“No, Ben, I’ve sorted out the ruffled feathers of the clientele at Mrs. Langtry’s. They sort of saw the funny side when I told them who it was that was wandering around peeping into the bedrooms. I think Joe will have learned a lesson ending up in my jail, so hopefully he won’t be so keen to go looking for trouble again.”
“Well, don’t worry. He won’t be coming into Virginia City alone until he is at least 10 yrs older.”
“Now, Ben,” said Roy “I hope you don’t over react to this escapade. I don’t think he meant any harm; he was just being nosy. You need to see the funny side of this as well, don’t you think?”
“I’ll decide if I think it’s funny when I get to talk to my son,” Ben looked at Roy coldly.
Ben walked into the back of the jailhouse where Joe was sitting in a jail looking very apprehensive. He had heard his father’s voice talking with Sheriff Coffee and he had wondered when the consequences of his actions would reach him. He hoped his father wouldn’t want to do any consequences there and then, as he thought he couldn’t be more embarrassed already ending up in the jail.
“Hi, Pa,” said Joe in a tentative voice, not looking into his father’s face but shuffling his feet with his face down.
“You look at me when you talk to me.” Ben was very controlled and tried not to shout. “I’d like to know what you thought you were doing on D Street when you promised me you would come straight home after collecting the mail and dropping off the grocery list.”
Little Joe didn’t know what to say. He knew his father was right and he didn’t have an answer that he thought would keep Ben from laying into him. He knew he deserved anything his father chose to do to him. Joe also knew he didn’t really want to talk about things with his father; he thought he would talk things over with Adam.
But his father kept on at him, so Joe said quickly, “I’m sorry, Pa; I don’t have any excuse other than that I was interested in finding out what happened in there. I didn’t realize my going in there would cause such trouble.”
Ben listened to his chastised son and realized he had better go back to the Ponderosa to get a better idea of what his son was thinking about. He also thought that maybe Roy was better at dealing with this son than Ben was himself, as the sheriff seemed to have some sort of insight into why Joe might have gone to D Street.
“Ok, let’s go then, son.” Ben softened his words and looked at Little Joe. “We’ll talk about all this when we get back to the Ponderosa.”
“Thanks, Roy” said Ben as they left the jailhouse.
Ben had arranged for Joe’s horse to be brought to the jailhouse, and they both rode home.
Little Joe didn’t speak to Ben as they travelled home, as he didn’t know what to say. Ben just followed on behind, thinking about his son and the fact that he was probably growing up and Ben had better have a serious talk with him before he decided to try out any more learning about the opposite sex.
When they reached the Ponderosa ranch, Ben told Little Joe to see to his horse as Cochise had been left standing outside in the heat of the day and needed water and feed. “Then I want you to come in and explain some of what happened today, ” Ben spoke quietly and tried to put a softish tone to his voice in the hope that Joe would talk to him and not hold all his thoughts to himself.
Joe looked at his Pa and nodded. “Ok, Pa, I’ll just see to Cochise.” Little Joe was starting to panic as he didn’t think he had the words to explain how he felt around females, and his explanation to his Pa might sound incredibly risky.
Adam had heard the two horses and wandered into the stable, passing his father as he started to go into the ranch house. “Everything ok, Pa?” he said as he walked passed and into the stable. Adam had thought he might talk to Joe before his father had a chance, as he kind of felt that Little Joe had things on his mind recently about the opposite sex which he might talk to him about rather than his father. Ben raised his hand and smiled at Adam, so Adam was hopeful that Little Joe wasn’t in too much trouble.
Joe looked up at Adam as he entered the stable and smiled at him. “Hi brother, have you come to wish the condemned man good luck or are you going to gloat?”
“Joe, I’ve come to see if you’re ok and ask you what happened in Virginia City. You obviously didn’t take any advice from me about trips into Virginia City as you ended up in jail.” Adam didn’t want to give Joe a chance to get angry at him so Adam kept his voice quiet and low, without any sign of condemning Joe for ending up in jail.
Adam knew that Joe wasn’t a bad kid; he just sometimes got up to mischief which his father often left unchecked. Adam often helped Joe see that he was in the wrong and managed to stop him getting into deeper trouble.
“Now, are you going to tell me what you were up to? Otherwise, I can’t offer advice about what to say to Pa.” Adam looked at Joe inquiringly.
“Well, I went down to D Street and went into Mrs. Langtry’s house to have a look around.” Joe looked down at his feet to wait what his big brother would say in response to his admission.
“Joe, what on earth were you thinking of? Don’t answer that; I know just what you were thinking. Of all the stupid things to do, and to get caught.” Adam’s voice was incredulous.
“You weren’t up with one of the women, were you?” Adam looked at Little Joe and then said, “You’d better tell me if you were. Don’t lie to me, Joe.”
“Of course not, Adam. What do you take me for?” answered Joe, his voice getting a little shrill at the thought. “No, I just wanted to look around and see some of the fancy garments they wear.”
“Joe, you’re too young for that sort of thing. You need to grow up some and then I’ll take you myself. But what are you intending to tell Pa about your little escapade?” Adam tried to keep his face straight and not smile as he could see how serious Little Joe was looking.
“Well, what do you think I can say? I was just interested in what goes on in there, that’s all.” Joe sounded very young thinking about facing his father with some of the details.
Adam put his arm round Joe and said, “Just wait a few more minutes and I’ll talk to Pa. I think you’re right. Just tell him you were being nosy; he’ll understand that. But you did promise him you were only going to give the grocery list in and pick up the mail. He’s not going to be happy about you lying, is he”?
“No, I suppose not. Do you think I’ll get a licking?” asked Joe.
“Let’s hope not.” Adam was always against physical punishment as he hated his little brother getting hurt, “I think Pa will just restrict you for a few weeks, which is what you deserve, little buddy.” Adam smiled at Joe and left him in the stable.
“Hi, Pa.” Adam went over to his Pa, who was sitting behind his desk thinking.
“I suppose you’ve come to plead his case against a licking.” Ben smiled at Adam. “I’m not going to give him a licking; I’ll just restrict him to the ranch until he can do what he’s told when he goes into Virginia City alone”. Ben realized that Adam had probably got the story of why he had gone into the house on D Street out of Little Joe but would keep it to himself. “You know, Joe is lucky to have you to advise him and guide him as he grows up.” Ben was grateful to Adam to help him with Little Joe, who had always been more difficult to raise than Hoss or Adam.
“Well, what are big brothers for, if not to talk over difficult things, with especially things to do with the opposite sex.” Adam felt better as he knew his father had calmed down and things would be easier for Joe when he did finally talk to him. “I think Little Joe has learned a lesson today ending up in Sheriff Coffee’s jail. He must have been worried about what on earth you would make of it all and thought you were going to give him a licking.” Adam looked at his father, trying to gauge his mood. Ben seemed less tense than when he and Joe had arrived, which gave Adam hope that his father would only talk to Little Joe.
Joe came into the ranch house and proceeded to walk over to the desk with his head down as he was not sure what his reception was going to be.
Adam left them alone.
Ben looked at Little Joe tentatively and then said, “Let’s go and sit down, Joe, and talk this thing out.” He put his arm round Joe’s shoulders and steered to him the table in front of the couch and he sat on the couch looking at Joe. “Now, Joe, I’d like to know what you were doing inside Mrs. Langtry’s house.”
Joe hadn’t looked up, so Ben said, “Look at me, Joseph, and I’d like the truth.” He looked at Joe encouragingly.
“Well,” said Little Joe, “I wanted to find out what went on in there and why all the cowboys are keen to get in there when they get paid. The mayor was in there as well, so it must be ok to be in there. Do you go in there, Pa?” Joe asked innocently, although he thought he knew his father wouldn’t visit such a place.
“Joseph,” Ben raised his voice, “there are some things that you are too young to know about yet and that is one of them. You are not to talk about the mayor being in Mrs. Langtry’s house or mention it again; otherwise, I will take you to the barn and give you a good hiding. Do I make myself clear?”
“Very clear,” answered Little Joe. He hated it when his father seemed to disapprove of him and certainly didn’t want a trip to the barn any time soon.
“Now, Joseph, you will not go into Virginia City alone again until I can trust you to do as I ask. You will clear out the tack room and I will be finding you some extra chores to do so I can keep you in my sight for the next few days.”
“I’m sorry, Pa.” Joe spoke quietly, hoping that he had got away without answering his father’s enquiry as to why he was in Mrs. Langtry’s house.
“Ok, Joseph you had better get started on the tack room and you will not leave the ranch today.” Ben gave Joe a swat as he walked towards the door. “And I hope I will not need to inflict a trip to the barn in the next few weeks; I hope you will obey me this time.”
As Joe was approaching the door to go out to the tack room, Ben added, “We will have a talk about the birds and the bees tonight, Joe, and fill in some of the details you want to know. I know you talk to Adam and I expect he will talk to you as well. Will that be ok do, you think?”
“Thanks, Pa, I’ll see you later.” Joe left the ranch house feeling a bit more grown up; he thought his Pa was treating him a bit more like a grown up. He would think up some questions to ask him for tonight. Nothing too much, though; he’d save some of them for his brother Adam as he was sure that Adam had been in to Mrs. Langtry’s house. He could ask Adam tonight. Joe happily went to tackle the tack room.