Summary: (Sequel to The Winter of Discontent)
Word Count: 1940
Joe had tried to be patient but being cooped up in the house was just not what he wanted to do. So he decided Pa or no Pa, he was going to go out with Cochise.
He felt that he had been cooped up in the Ponderosa for weeks, although it had only been a few days. A particularly bad storm had prevented his family from going about their usual daily chores and Joe was getting fed up. He had already been in trouble with his Pa for appearing bored and he felt no better now.
He knew he would most likely get shouted at or get one of his Pa’s lectures, or even a whipping, but he had decided, whatever happened, he was going out to get a little bit of freedom from his family, who he felt was always trying to spoil his fun. Joe didn’t give this decision much thought and he told himself that he was a grown-up and could handle anything that came along. He felt at 17 he should be able to decide where he went and when, not realizing that his experience of going it alone was limited, as he always had another member of his family around.
It was still early and the house was quiet. On Saturdays, the Cartwrights slept in a little later than normal and Joe could see that dawn was just approaching with a hint of daylight over the horizon.
As he left the house, he could feel it was still bitterly cold and he had noticed ice on the inside of his Pa’s study window. Hop Sing had started the fire but it hadn’t got going as there wasn’t any warmth yet in the big room.
Joe stepped into knee deep snow but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. He would take Cochise and get away before breakfast. Joe knew if he waited to ask permission from his Pa, his father would tell him he wasn’t allowed and he didn’t want any restrictions on what he wanted to do. Joe had taken the precaution of putting some provisions in the stable so he didn’t have to bother Hop Sing, who would probably try to stop him as well. The cook and Joe had a special relationship, as Hop Sing had helped to bring Joe up when his mother had died when he was five.
When Joe entered the stable Cochise sniggered a welcome.
“Hi there boy,” Joe said quietly to Cochise. “Do you fancy an adventure to get away from this boring stable for a while?”
Joe saddled Cochise and started out of the door. He walked right into one of the hired hands called Jake, who was approaching the stables with some food for the horses.
“Where you off to Joe,” asked Jake in a friendly-like way.
“None of your business” Joe answered, his heart sinking at the thought that he had been seen. He hadn’t wanted anyone to know that he had gone out as he knew that they would tell his father that they had seen him leaving the ranch.
“Oh, sorry,” answered Jake, surprised at the answer as he had always found Joe to be a friendly boy who was always ready to pass the time of day with anyone.
Joe looked a little shamefaced and moved away, “I’m just going to get some fresh air, that’s all, Jake. I’m not going far; just want to be on my own for a little while”.
“Ok.” Jake frowned a little, not wanting to get Joe into trouble with his father, but he knew Ben would not be approving of his son going out in the cold snow. “Does your Pa know what you’re fixing to do” asked Jake enquiringly.
“No, he doesn’t, and I would rather you didn’t tell him, thanks, Jake.” Joe sounded defensive now, knowing he shouldn’t be going out at all.
“Well,” answered Jake, “if he asks me, I’ll have to say I saw you, Joe, won’t I.” Jake was looking a little troubled at the way the conversation was going.
“Do what you like,” Joe answered belligerently and decided he was going to get going before anyone else appeared.
Jake answered to Joe’s disappearing back, “Be careful, Joe; there’s liable to be some snow drifts in the pass. Try to avoid that part of the Ponderosa.”
“I’ll be fine,” answered Joe, disappearing round the corner of the barn. With that, he hurriedly departed, walking in the snow which was more difficult than he had anticipated.
Jake was troubled as to what he should do, but thought he would wait until one of the Cartwright family appeared and requested if he knew where the boy had gone. He hoped Joe would turn right round and head back after a short time out in the snow, as he knew it would make it hard to go any distance.
Joe walked with Cochise, finding the going difficult. There was a slight breeze; when he and Cochise reached the forest and he was underneath the trees, the snow slid off the branches onto him and his horse, making them both wet and cold. Some of the snow went down Joe’s neck and he tried to wipe it away. “Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea Cooch,” Joe said to his horse but Joe had the Cartwright stubborn streak and felt he couldn’t give in yet.
He wandered through the forest where more and more snow gathering in drifts where the wind had blown it. Both Joe and Cochise were struggling to make any head way and Joe was drenched in sweat at the exertion needed.
As he travelled through the wood, he started to hear a noise in the distance which began to worry him. He had brought his rifle but it had gotten quite wet when the snow fell onto him and Cochise; he wondered if it might not fire if he needed it.
He heard a noise like a growl, and through the trees, he caught sight of a brown bear which hadn’t noticed him and Cochise yet as they were downwind of the creature. Joe knew it was only a matter of time before he was sighted; as he was trying to turn round with Cochise, his horse suddenly knocked into him in a panic and ran off in the direction they had just come from.
Joe picked himself up from the snow where he had found himself when Cochise had bolted off and started to move back the way he had come. He wanted to shout for Cochise but thought that might bring the bear to him so he kept quiet.
Joe could hear the bear approaching, so he started to speed up and ran as fast as he could through the snow, hoping that he would come across Cochise in the clearing up ahead. Joe ran out to where he hoped Cochise would be but there was no sign of the horse. Starting to feel a little bit of panic, he decided the best thing was to climb one of the pine trees, which might keep the bear at bay. All he had with him was his hand gun, which wouldn’t be much of a defense against a bear. His rifle had gone when Cochise had decided to bolt.
Looking towards the Ponderosa, he thought he saw something in the distance coming slowly towards him. He saw as it became clearer that is was someone with a horse walking steadily through the snow, following the tracks which he and Cochise had made.
When he saw it was Adam, his older brother, Little Joe didn’t know whether to be pleased or worried. His brother was as strict with Joe as his father was and often kept Joe on the straight and narrow without his father being aware of his misdemeanors.
As Adam drew closer, Joe shouted to him to alert him to the dangers of the bear, although Joe was hoping the bear had gone in the opposite direction. When Adam reached the tree Joe was in, he looked up to where Joe was perched with an angry look on his face. His voice was deep and his eyes looked at Joe with a look that frightened Joe.
“Joseph Francis Cartwright,” Adam stormed, “One of these days you will go too far and get yourself killed and we won’t be able to do a dam thing about it. I will personally give you a good hiding myself if you ever do anything so stupid again.”
Joe looked down, feeling upset that his adventure was over; he thought he had been very unlucky to be found so soon by his brother. He replied shamefacedly, “I’m sorry, Adam; I just felt I needed to get away for a few hours.”
“Well it’s a good job Jake told me where you were and what you intended to do,” Adam said, relieved that he had found Joe so quickly. “Come on, let’s get back to the Ponderosa before Pa finds out we are gone and starts asking questions and sends out a rescue party. There will also be big trouble for you if he notices, and don’t think I’m going to stop him laying into you. It’s just what you deserve to make you take notice of your elders and betters.”
Joe blushed and knew Adam was right; he climbed down and walked beside Adam on the trail back to the Ponderosa. He asked, “Did you see Cochise pass you on your way here to find me”?
“Yes, he seemed in a big hurry to get back to that nice warm stall which you took him out of.”
The two brothers walked side by side back to the ranch. “Adam, thanks for coming to find me and helping me.” Joe looked up into Adam’s face to see if he was still mad at him.
Adam put his arm round Joe and said, “What are big brothers for but to keep little brothers from getting eaten by bears.” They both laughed and walked into the stable where they found Jake rubbing Cochise down.
“But, Joe seriously,” said Adam, “you can’t just disappear when you want to, especially when there is a lack of food for bears. They will come closer to the ranch now looking for food and you took a big risk being where you were.” Adam gave Joe a look which meant take notice of this or else.
“Ok, Pa,” laughed Joe as Adam did sound so like his father at times.
“Thanks, Jake.” Little Joe gave Jake a grateful look. “Thank you for telling Adam where I was.” Things might have turned out differently if Jake hadn’t seen Joe earlier and Joe was grateful to Jake.
Jake was glad that Adam had found his brother so quickly.
Ben, their father, looked into the stable, asking “Where have you two been this morning? Hop Sing is ready to leave for China, snow or no snow, if you don’t hurry and get to have breakfast”.
“We haven’t really been anywhere, Pa,” answered Adam, giving Joe a wink out of Pa’s sight.
Joe gave a grateful look back to Adam and sighed. He knew if Adam was going to cover for him, he was going to be alright and there would be no repercussions from his little adventure, for now anyway.
Joe wondered if Adam might have some way of punishing him, but for now, he was going to enjoy his breakfast with Hoss, Pa, and Adam, his very supportive family.