Summary: Adam and Joe discuss their pasts, and their father’s.
Word Count: 9,350
Adam and Joe sat in front of the campfire as the sun went down, disappearing below the horizon. It had been a warm day, but as the night chill began to set in they wrapped blankets closer around their shoulders and rested weary heads against the saddles that lay on the hard ground.
Leaning forward for a moment, Adam reached over to pick up the coffeepot and replenish their empty cups. Handing a strong black coffee to Joe, he yawned sleepily and rubbed his hand over his tired eyes. It had been a long dusty ride up to now and there was still another two days on the trail before they arrived home.
It had been a good trip in more ways than one. Not only had they made a handsome profit on the cattle they had sold, but the brothers had healed a few of the rifts that had built up between them over the winter months.
It had been a particularly bad winter and the long days of being cooped up together at the ranch house had taken its toll. Five men under one roof did not bode well for harmony and even the ever-placid Hoss was glad to see the back of his brothers when they had left for San Francisco.
As they sipped the steaming coffee, warming their cold hands on the tin mugs, they laughed good-naturedly together, the open space, fresh air and sheer hard work had renewed their spirits and given them back a zest for life.
Joe’s thoughts drifted back a few weeks and he giggled.
“What are you laughing at?” Adam asked, eager to share the joke.
“I was just thinking of old Jedediah Milbank,” Joe retorted before dissolving once again into laughter.
Jedediah was an old friend of their father who had turned up at the ranch just when spring had finally arrived. He was a cantankerous old goat and due to high-spirited tomfoolery by the brothers, Jedediah had been accidentally hurt. As a result the brothers had been asked to perform various tasks for the old man and he had tried to manipulate the boys to do his bidding. His scheme backfired on him and had only succeeded in uniting the brothers against him. At first Ben had been angry at his son’s antics, but even he had been relieved when the visitor had finally decided to leave.
“You should have seen Jedediah’s face when Hoss pulled out that puppy?” giggled Joe. “I thought I would choke trying not to laugh.”
Adam laughed along with him and shook his head at the memory. As the minutes passed by Adam’s thoughts drifted elsewhere. He was thinking of another visitor who had arrived at the Ponderosa.
Shortly after Jedediah’s departure an old flame of Ben’s, Lady Linda Chadwick from England, had decided to pay them a visit. The boys had been enamored with her at first and thought their father was quite smitten as well. Lady Chadwick had only been on the Ponderosa for a very short time when things started to go wrong and both Adam and Joe had been convinced that she was behind it. As it turned out. the woman was really quite mad and all had been shocked to discover the lengths to which she would go to in order to secure the love of their father.
Noticing his brother’s reflective face, Joe asked intuitively, “You thinking of Lady Chadwick, Adam?”
“Yeah,” Adam replied, “She was something, wasn’t she.”
“Do you think we are cursed, Adam?”
“What do you mean cursed? How can you say that?”
“Well none of us has had much luck with women, have we?” retorted Joe.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that Joe looked so serious, Adam would have been amused. Joe was talking as if he was fifty years old and not the twenty year old he really was.
“Sure we’ve had our share of misfortune, Joe, but we’ve still got a lot to be thankful for.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. You know in some ways she reminded me of Julia.”
Adam knew instinctively Joe was referring to Julia Bulette, although for the life of him he couldn’t think of any resemblance between the two women. They couldn’t be more different. Julia Bulette had put on a hard exterior to the outside world, but inside she had a heart of gold and had proved her worth to the townsfolk during a fever epidemic. On the other hand Lady Chadwick had tried to cultivate an image of female vulnerability, but inside she was as hard as nails.
In the three years since Julia had died, Adam could not recollect Joe talking about her even once and he was anxious not to say anything that would make his brother draw down the shutters once more. There was no doubt in Adam’s mind that Joe had loved Julia and she him, but whether that love would have stood the test of time no one would ever know. Julia’s untimely death had crystallized her image in Joe’s memory and immortalized their love forever.
Joe was silent for a long while before adding, “I never really thought about it until now but I guess Julia would have been about the same age as Lady Chadwick.”
“I guess so,” Adam replied, thinking that was probably the only possible connection between them.
Joe wrinkled up his nose. “Adam you don’t think Pa and Lady Chadwick, you know, well, you don’t suppose they did, do you? Not at Pa’s age anyway.”
“Did what, Joe?”
“You know what I mean, Adam. But, well, it’s just that Pa’s so old…”
Adam had to laugh. Joe was a typical twenty year old, believing that anyone over the age of fifty must be well and truly over the hill. He still had the cockiness of youth and thought all women could be won over by his boyish good looks and charm; he was yet to discover that the maturity that came with the odd wrinkle and thinning hair was often what women desired.
“Julia was really beautiful don’t you think, Adam? The first time I saw her she just took my breath away.”
Sometimes Adam had a job keeping up with Joe’s thinking, his conversation seemed to change direction every time he opened his mouth. “Yes, she was very beautiful, but in actual fact, that wasn’t the first time you met her.”
“What do you mean? I’d never been in Julia’s Palace before that day.”
Adam smiled. “You probably don’t remember, and I’m quite sure it was something Pa would never bring up, but you actually visited Julia’s Palace for the first time when you were three years old.”
Joe sat up and tried to visualize his brother’s face in the flickering light of the campfire.
His curiosity aroused, Joe’s voice became excited. “Come on Adam! You can’t leave it there; I want to hear the full story.”
Ben, Adam and Hoss were sat at the breakfast table when Marie walked down the stairs carrying a still sleepy Little Joe in her arms. Joe was not always at his best in the mornings and his parents usually left the toddler to wake up on his own, which often meant he arrived downstairs long after the others had risen.
Joe was still in his nightshirt and Marie placed him in his chair at the table. Scrambling to stand up, Little Joe lifted up his nightshirt and presented it to his Papa saying, “Look Papa, it all dry,” he said proudly.
“What a clever boy,” declared Ben indulgently, inwardly pleased at the toddler’s progress.
Little Joe slept so soundly he would occasionally have a mishap during the night and so was always very proud of himself if he woke up on a morning to find his bed still dry.
Hop Sing arrived with scrambled eggs and placed them in front of the little boy. Joe screwed up his face and was about to say he didn’t want eggs when his mother popped a spoonful into his open mouth and he was forced to start chewing. She then placed the spoon in Joe’s hand and told him to continue eating.
Casting a glance in Little Joe’s direction to make sure he was occupied, Ben looked at Adam. “I have a meeting in ‘t-o-w-n’ today,” spelling out the words so as not to alert Joe to his intentions. “I’d like you to come along and give me a hand with the supplies.”
Joe continued to batter his eggs with his spoon, unaware of the exchange. Hoss sat for a second, his eyes squinting in concentration, before saying, “Can I go to town with you, Pa? Why did you spell it out?”
Ben shot his middle son an exasperated look, but it was too late. Joe’s ears had picked up on the hidden message. “Me go, me go,” he squealed with delight, standing up on his chair and almost toppling it to the ground. Marie pulled his legs forward and sat him down once more.
“No Little Joe you are not going. You are staying here with your mother,” Ben said sharply. The thought of trying to conduct his business in town with Joseph in tow just didn’t bear thinking about.
The tone of his father’s voice startled the toddler and he began to cry. Marie looked crossly at her husband. “There was no need to be so harsh, Ben. He doesn’t understand why you don’t want him with you.” Marie scooped her son into her arms and patted his back soothingly. “It’s not as if you spend anytime with him. You are always so busy; half the time he is in bed before you even arrive home.”
Ben groaned; once Marie had her hackles up there would be no placating her.
Hoss concentrated on his breakfast, oblivious of the tension in the air, but Adam watched with more than a hint of amusement. From past experience, he knew who would be the winner of this little altercation. Ben was a strong man and it took someone with real guts to go up against him, but his stepmother was a force to be reckoned with when it came to her baby son.
“But Marie,” Ben tried once more, this time keeping his voice as soft as possible so as not to alarm Joe, “how can I conduct business at the bank with three children to look after.”
Adam bristled at his father’s words; he was 15 and in his eyes could no longer be considered a child.
“Well that’s funny, Ben; you’ve always boasted to me at how well you managed to bring up two small boys on your own before I came along.”
Ben was about to reiterate that Adam and Hoss could hardly be compared to the little whirlwind that was Little Joe, but he thought better of it. Marie’s face was flushed and she still cradled the little one over her shoulder.
“God, she’s beautiful when she’s angry,” thought Ben.
Seeing the softening of her husband’s face, Marie wheedled, “You know I have been wanting to visit Peggy Jones. She had her new baby two days ago and could really do with a hand. I couldn’t take Little Joe with me, not when there is so much to do.”
Ben sighed. Perhaps she was right; he hadn’t spent much time with his youngest child lately and it would do the boy good to be away from his mother for a change and in the company of the male members of the family.
“Okay, I give in, but I need to be on my way, so he will have to be dressed and ready to go in fifteen minutes.”
Joe’s tears dried immediately and Marie smiled to see the excitement in his eyes. “Oh you little monkey” she thought “I’m sure you are learning to play the game already.”
Ben turned to see a smirk on his eldest son’s face. “And what do you find so funny young man?”
Adam’s smile was quickly wiped away. “Nothing, Pa; I’ll go and hitch the team.” Standing up, Adam made a quick exit.
Ten minutes later Ben was pacing the floor impatiently when a loud yelling could be heard from upstairs. Taking the stairs two at a time, Ben made his way into his youngest son’s bedroom where Marie was having a tussle with him on the bed.
“What on earth is going on?” Ben demanded, seeing the angry faces of both his wife and child.
Marie held up the beautiful blue dress in her hands. “Little Joe refuses to put on his dress. He is a very naughty boy,” she added, looking pointedly at her small son.
Ben shook his head. This child already had a stubbornness about him that far exceeded both him and his wife.
“Don’t want dress,” Joe announced. “Want big boy britches like Hoss.”
Picking up his small son and sitting him on his knee, Ben said sternly, “Joseph, you are three years old. Little boys do not wear britches until they are five. You have a long way to go before you are five. Now are you going to put on this dress?”
The small chin jutted out in defiance. “No, don’t want dress.”
Ben’s inclination was to turn the small boy over and land a few swats on his little behind, but the look on his wife’s face left him in no doubt that was not a good idea. “Well Joseph, you have a choice. You can put on the dress and come with Papa, Adam and Hoss or you can stay here. What’s it to be?”
Joe sniffed loudly and the tears spilled from his eyes, but he lifted his arms and allowed his mother to put the dress over his head.
Ben scowled at his wife’s choice of clothing. All little boys up to five wore dresses — he didn’t have a problem with that — but Marie was from the South and she had organized many of Joseph’s clothes to be shipped from New Orleans. The expensive cotton dresses were just too fancy for Ben’s liking. Marie was proud of the delicate lacing and elaborate needlework that had gone into their making, but Ben thought they singled Joseph out from the other babies and a number of the mothers were openly jealous and hostile. Little Joe was an exceptionally good looking child and by dressing him in such finery, Ben thought they were just asking for trouble.
Marie’s southern ways, French accent and beauty made her very different from the other women of Virginia City, and some of the townsfolk were openly hostile and unaccepting of her ways and Ben was afraid that this hostility would pass to their son.
Ben did not voice his opinion. He was not a foolish man and only a foolish man would criticize a baby to its mother, and so he helped fasten the small buttons at the back of the dress before pulling Joe’s boots onto his feet and starting to do up the laces.
Joe grimaced and yelled as his mother tried to brush his hair. His thick chestnut curls almost reached his shoulders and each morning battle commenced as Marie tried to tame his long tresses. If Ben had his way the curls would be shorn, but Marie was adamant that her baby would not be having his hair cut until he was breeched and that was a long way off.
Finally he was ready and Ben couldn’t help but smile down at the cherubic little face smiling back at him. The boy had the face of an angel, and his curls only enhanced the image. Chuckling loudly, Ben admonished himself not to be taken in; those looks of Joe’s were very, very deceiving.
The family made its way outside and prepared to leave. Marie kissed Hoss and then gave Little Joe a final hug before passing him to his father. The toddler’s face immediately crumpled and he was on the verge of tears as he whimpered, “Mama come as well; I want Mama.”
Ben raised his eyes in frustration. Maybe it was a good idea to get the boy away from his mother for a while; he was becoming far too clingy. As Marie sniffed loudly, Ben climbed onto the wagon and sat Little Joe between himself and Adam. “Stop fussing, Marie; the child will be fine. Just try and enjoy the day without him.”
The wagon moved forward and Adam was quick to distract the toddler and, therefore, stop the impending tears. Like most small children, Joe soon forgot his troubles and was enthralled with the journey into town. He constantly asked questions and hardly waited for an answer to one before he embarked on another.
The first hour in town was spent in various shops stocking up on supplies. Both Marie and Hop Sing had given Ben a long list and he was struggling with some of the items thereon. By the time he arrived at the dress shop his patience was coming to an end. Marie’s list contained ribbons and lace, sewing threads and knitting yarns and Ben was out of his depth. The women in the shop were amused as they presented him with yarns and threads in various colors and textures and he struggled to decide which ones would please his young wife.
Adam and Hoss became bored in the ladies shop and decided to wander further down the street to look for something more interesting. Little Joe was left in the care of his father and the women in the shop made a fuss over the child, pinching his cheeks and stroking his hair. Joe was becoming fractious and when Mrs. Simpson made to pick him up, he pushed her away and stamped his tiny foot, saying “No” very loudly. Ben could hardly blame the child; his little cheeks were beginning to turn quite pink and it was already past his naptime. As Mrs. Simpson ‘tut tuttered’ at the display of temper, Ben rescued the toddler and lifted him high into his arms, placing him out of the reach of the assembled ladies.
Ben hastily finished the remaining purchases and left the store in search of his elder sons. He didn’t have to look far; Adam and Hoss were just walking back up the street to meet him.
“Pa, I’m really hungry,” whined Hoss. “Can we get something to eat?”
“Sure, son,” smiled Ben. “I’ll take you three to Molly’s for a bite of lunch while I am at my meeting. Are you hungry, Little Joe?”
“He’s out for the count Pa,” Adam said, gesturing to the limp little body hanging over Ben’s shoulder. “At least we’ll have our lunch in peace,” he added with a mischievous grin.
Molly was delighted to see the family. Her small restaurant was the boys’ favorite and she always made a fuss of them whenever they visited. “Hello Ben,” she cried “how lovely to see you and the boys. Oh look at the little angel fast asleep. Why don’t you lay him on the settee in the back room? He’ll be safe there until he wakes up.”
Ben gratefully carried Little Joe through and laid the toddler on the large settee. Molly covered him with a blanket and then joined Adam and Hoss in the restaurant.
“Right; boys, I won’t be long. Look out for your little brother; you know what a little mischief-maker he is. When I get back, we’ll go to the mercantile and you can choose some candy before we go home.”
Adam thought he was too old for candy, but he was sure his Pa could be persuaded to buy him a new book instead. “Okay Pa, don’t worry I’ll keep an eye on them.”
Molly was quick to prepare the boys lunch and they were just sitting down to eat when the door opened and Bill Rogers entered the restaurant.
“I’ve got a delivery for you out back Miss Molly,” he said. “Do you want me to bring it in for you?”
“That would be great, Bill. Just go out through the back door. The Cartwright baby is asleep out there so be sure to be as quiet as you can and close the door when you’re finished.”
Bill peeked at the toddler as he passed and made sure he was still fast asleep. He only left the door open for a few minutes while he brought in the supplies and he was careful to close it when he left.
It was the sound of laughter that woke Little Joe. When he opened his eyes, he had no idea where he was, but the open door and excited voices were calling to him. Without a thought as to where he was going, he toddled out of the back door and made his way over to the children. Bill was totally unaware that Little Joe had awoken and he never checked on him before leaving.
Four boys were playing in the back street. They were older than Joe and except for a quick ‘hello’ ignored the toddler who insisted on trailing behind them. After a few minutes, the eldest of the four announced that they had better get home before their mama came looking for them and he ran off closely followed by the other three.
Little Joe took off after the children, but his little legs were not able to keep up with them and he was soon left far behind. There were always children playing in the street at that time of day and a small child running behind a group of others did not attract any attention from the townsfolk.
Joe was several streets from Molly’s restaurant before he stopped running. The older children were nowhere in sight and he looked around in dismay. What was he to do now? Just as that moment he noticed an open doorway and heard voices coming from within. Unnoticed, he walked into the dimly lit room, but on seeing a group of strange people, he got down on all fours and crawled under the nearest table.
Julia’s Palace was not a place for a small boy, but Little Joe was oblivious as to the function of the establishment and was fascinated as he silently watched the scantily clad women going about their business.
One of the clientele was a little bit worse for wear and as he crossed the room, he stumbled and fell to the ground. As he tried to pick himself up from the floor, his mouth dropped open with surprise at the sight before him. “Well lookee what we got here,” he said, and gestured to the women to join him on the floor.
Two of the women bent down to look and see what he was pointing at. The huge, frightened eyes of the toddler looked back at them, and Little Joe tried to scramble further under the table.
Reaching out her arms, Julia Bulette spoke very softly, “Come on out, my little beauty; no one’s going to hurt you.”
With a little more persuasion, Joe crawled forward and into the lady’s arms.
“Now where did you come from?”
Little Joe was not talking. Sticking his thumb in his mouth, he leaned into Julia’s embrace as he gazed with fright at the women now surrounding him.
Julia sat down on the nearest chair and soothed the frightened child against her.
She fingered the beautiful dress with the intricate lace collar and knew that this was not some street urchin; someone would definitely be looking for this little one.
“Well what are we going to do with you?” she mused.
“What do you think it is?” asked one of the girls.
“It’s a baby, of course,” laughed Julia “I know we don’t get a lot of them in here, but I would have thought you would have recognized one by now.”
“That’s not what I mean and you know it.”
Joe wriggled on Julia’s knee and his face took on a look of urgency.
“From the look on this little one’s face, I think we’ll soon find out. Betty, why don’t you take this beauty to do the necessary before we have a little accident.”
Betty picked up Joe from Julia’s knee and went out back. Five minutes later she returned and declared to everyone. “Well, we definitely have ourselves a little boy.”
The women chuckled and Joe looked round at the sea of faces and laughed too. Setting him down on the floor, Betty smoothed down his dress and asked, “Can you tell us your name, little fellow?”
“Little Joe” replied Joe still with his thumb in his mouth.
“Little Joe; that’s a name that suits you. Where is your mama?” asked another of the women.
“She’s gone to see the new baby,” Joe declared. He was beginning to feel quite brave and loved all the attention he was receiving.
“What about your Papa? Where is your Papa?”
Little Joe shrugged his shoulders; the last time he remembered seeing his Papa was in the dress shop.
Julia turned to Betty. “I don’t think he is going to tell us very much. Betty, you had better fetch the sheriff; someone, somewhere must be worrying themselves sick over this little one.”
Betty went off in search of the sheriff and Joe set about charming everyone in the room.
Ben finished his meeting quicker than he thought. He would have loved to stop for a beer, but knew it would be prudent that he pick up the boys and head for home.
Hoss and Adam were tucking into apple pie when he arrived at Molly’s. Giving him a gap toothed smile, Hoss shoved another spoonful in his mouth before getting up to welcome his Pa back. Ben hugged his affectionate middle son before asking, “Where’s Little Joe?”
“The little mite is still sleeping,” replied Molly as she bustled into the room with a cup of coffee for Ben.
“I’ll just check on him,” said Ben making his way into the back room.
Ben stared in confusion at the empty settee. He looked around the room expecting Little Joe to be hiding somewhere, but he wasn’t there. When Ben just stood there saying nothing, Molly followed him into the room. She too looked around expectantly before putting her hand over her mouth and crying, “Oh Ben where can he be?” Then the knowledge hit her. “Oh dear Lord, the child must have woken and gone out of the back door when Bill was making the deliveries.
“How long ago was that?” Ben asked in a worried voice.
“It must have been nearly an hour ago. Oh Ben, I’m so sorry, I had no idea.”
Adam joined his father, panic registered on his face. “Where can he have gone, Pa?”
Hoss began to cry. He was never allowed anywhere in the town on his own and he just couldn’t imagine what it must be like for his baby brother.
Taking Hoss by the hand, Ben led his sons from the restaurant. “Don’t worry, Molly; we’ll find him. He can’t have gone far.” Ben hoped that this was true, but Little Joe could be anywhere by now. After all, an hour is an awful long time for a small child to be wandering round the rough streets of Virginia City.
Ben quickly made his way to the Sheriff’s office with the boys running to keep up with him. Unfortunately Sheriff Coffee had been called away to a shooting that had taken place on one of the nearby ranches and his office stood empty, with only a short message nailed to the door to inform anyone of his whereabouts. Ben silently swore in frustration.
“Maybe we should split up, Pa. If I take one side of the town and you take the other, we’ll soon find him.”
Ben was not happy with this suggestion and did not want Adam wandering around the seedier parts of the town on his own, but he had no choice. The longer Little Joe was missing the further away he could be.
“I’ll go with, Adam” Hoss declared turning to follow his brother.
“Oh no you don’t” growled Ben, grabbing hold of the boy’s hand. To lose one son was careless; to lose two would be unforgivable. “You’re staying with me.”
Oblivious to all the fuss due to his absence, Little Joe was beginning to enjoy his time in Julia’s Palace. Betty had returned to announce that the Sheriff was out of town and there was nothing else to do but wait for someone to arrive and claim the child.
Julia looked on in exasperation. She was as delighted with the baby as the others, but the distraction was definitely bad for business. Several men had already left and those that hadn’t were certainly not spending what they normally would.
“All right, ladies,” she announced, “I’m taking this young man upstairs so you can get on and do what you are paid for.” With that, she scooped up a protesting Little Joe and carried him up the stairs.
Taking him into her bedroom, she placed him on the bed while she tried to think of what to do to amuse him. She didn’t have to think long. The toddler stood up and, lifting up his dress, he began jumping up and down with glee. Julia laughed along with the giggling little boy as he fell and righted himself over and over again.
After several minutes, she was afraid he would make himself sick and so she picked him up once more and asked, “Are you hungry, Little Joe?”
Joe thought for a minute and then nodded his head. Like a lot of small children, he was a picky eater at the best of times, but he hadn’t eaten since that morning and his stomach was beginning to rumble.
Just as Julia was about to take the child back downstairs the bedroom door opened and Jean Millain entered.
Looking at the baby in Julia’s arms he smiled and said, “Well well, what do we have here? Have you been keeping secrets from me, Julia?”
Ignoring the inference, Julia replied, “What do you want, Jean?”
“What do I want? What do you think I want? You are my woman, Julia, and I have been away for a long time; a man has his needs.”
Julia was annoyed. Little Joe had no understanding of the words, but Julia did not want him exposed to the lowlife that was Jean Millain. She made to push past him and out of the door, but he grabbed hold of her arm.
“Get rid of the child, Julia; we need to be alone.”
It was at times like this that Julia had to ask herself why she continued to be involved with a man like Millain. They had been together for a number of years but theirs was definitely a love hate relationship. “You don’t own me Jean. I make my own decisions about who I want to be with and right now, it is not you. Now let me pass.”
With an angry yell, Jean grabbed Little Joe from Julia’s arms and walked over to the window placing the startled toddler on the window seat. “Well if he has to stay, then so be it, but be assured he will receive a very early education.”
Jean ruffled Little Joe’s curls then turning back to Julia, he pulled her into a fierce embrace, kissing her hungrily on the lips. Julia tried to push him from her, but he held her fast. Lifting her bodily into his arms, he carried her towards the bed and laid her down on the pillows. Julia struggled and shouted but Jean was able to restrain both her arms in one of his. When she continued to fight against him, he slapped her hard across the face.
Little Joe was incensed; his friend was being hurt. Scrambling from the chair, he ran towards the bed and sank his teeth into Millain’s leg. Shouting with obvious pain, the man released his hold on Julia’s arms and turned his attention to the little demon that was getting ready to pounce for a second time. Grabbing hold of Little Joe by his dress, he hauled the little boy into the air. Placing the child’s face inches from his own, he almost spat, “You little runt, you are going to be really sorry for that.”
Sitting on the side of the bed, Millain placed the baby over his knee and raising his arm in the air he brought his hand down hard on Little Joe’s small bottom. The child screamed in terror as Millain raised his arm once more.
Julia knew she had to do something quickly. Making her way to the other side of the bed, she reached down and plucked a small handgun from beneath the mattress; in her profession, she just never knew when the need for protection would arise.
Millain was just raising his hand for the third time when Julia pushed the gun against his back. “That’s enough, Jean; put the child down.”
In his distress, Little Joe was no longer able to control his bladder and Millain’s face turned to one of pure horror when he felt the warm liquid spreading across his pants. Jumping to his feet, he allowed the little boy to fall to the floor with a thud.
Just at that moment the door to the bedroom burst open and Jack, the bartender, and several of the women came rushing forward.
“What’s wrong, Miss Julia? I heard the baby screaming and thought something must have happened.”
Keeping the gun in her hand, Julia replied, “Monsieur Millain is leaving and he will not be returning.”
Jean Millain knew when he was beaten and prepared to leave. Keeping the anger from his voice, he said, “Au revoir, Julia; we will meet again very soon.” Then looking down at the weeping Little Joe, he added, “As for you young man… If we meet again in the years to come, we will have a score to settle.” With that, he left the room with as much dignity as he could muster, the wet stain on his trousers plain for all to see.
Ushering everyone back onto the landing, Julia sat on the floor and lifted the babe into her arms. Ignoring the child’s wet dress she held him to her chest and rocked him backwards and forwards in an effort to stall his tears.
Little Joe was not easily soothed. The soft manicured hand of Millain was unlike the calloused, rough hand of his Papa, but the punishment that the soft hand had administered to the child’s bottom had not been given with the restraint of a loving parent and so was far harsher than anything Joe had experienced in his short life.
When Little Joe’s sobs finally subsided and he no longer clung to her neck in distress, Julia stood up and placed the child on the bed once more. Kissing him on his small nose Julia said, “You will be fine now, mon petite; I will not let anyone else hurt you.”
Smiling down at the tear-stained face, Julia was rewarded with a very teary but trusting smile in return.
“Now what are we to do? Your beautiful dress is soaked and I’m afraid I have nothing here that will fit you. What are you to wear?”
“Big boy britches,” Joe asked hopefully.
“Oh you have plenty time to grow into britches, little man, but for the moment, stay just the way you are.”
Looking down at her own clothes, Julia noted that they were also wet. “Looks as if we are both going to need a change of clothing little one.”
It only took a few minutes for Julia to strip the little boy out of his wet clothes and then she set about removing her own dress. Little Joe looked on with a concentration that made Julia laugh. “Little one, you show far too much interest in one so young.”
Joe looked at her and smiled once more as the meaning of her word past him by. Julia changed into a startling red dress that made Joe clap his hands with approval and then she searched through her drawers before returning to the bed with a chemise in her hands.
“I’m sorry, baby, but this is the only thing I have that will be come anywhere near to fitting you. Now I think we must set about getting you something to fill that little tummy.”
After pulling the garment over the child’s head, she picked him up once more and made her way down the stairs. It didn’t take much food to fill the little boy’s stomach and no sooner had the last morsel passed his lips than he climbed into Julia’s open arms, popped him thumb in his mouth, and fell asleep.
Minutes later Julia laid the sleeping tot in her bed and covered him with a blanket.
“Sleep well, little one,” she said before bending and kissing the top of his head. Julia stood looking at the babe for a few minutes more, marveling at his perfection. Running her hand through his soft baby curls, she felt a tug at her heartstrings. Babies were not on her agenda and with her lifestyle were never likely to be. Oh there was so much in life she was destined to miss out on. With a heavy sigh, she left the room closing the door quietly behind her.
Adam was becoming frantic as he went from store to store looking for his brother. He felt personally responsible since his Pa had left Hoss and Little Joe in his charge. Why hadn’t he kept watch on the baby when Bill Rogers was going in and out of the back door? If something had happened to the child, he would never forgive himself.
When he came upon the Bucket and Blood saloon, he felt reluctant to go in. His father would never approve of him entering such a place, but in circumstances like this he had no choice. It was highly unlikely that Little Joe would be in there but he had to be sure.
Adam hesitantly entered and made his way over to the bar, trying to avert his eyes from the scantily dressed saloon girls. Even though it was still early afternoon, the saloon was quite busy; it was the end of the month and a Saturday and many of the miners and cowhands were letting off steam while they still had money in their pockets.
Sam the bartender looked at the boy in front of him and scowled, he recognized Adam as Ben Cartwright’s boy and Sam did not want to be at the end of Ben’s tongue lashing if he found Sam serving the boy with liquor. “What you doing in here, boy? Get out before I give you a clip round the ear.”
Adam stood his ground, under normal circumstances he would have been glad of an excuse to turn and run, but he needed to know if anyone had seen Joe. “Sorry sir, but I’m looking for my little brother. He’s lost and we can’t find him.”
Sam raised his eyes to the ceiling; he should have known the kid wasn’t here to have fun, not if he valued his hide anyway.
Picking up a mallet from under the bar, Sam hit a metal sheet behind him. The sound echoed through the din in the room and everyone turned to see what was going on. “Simmer down, folks. The kid here is looking for his brother.” Turning back to Adam he asked, “Which one, son?”
“Which what, sir?” asked Adam, confused by the question.
“Which brother?” Sam said with a shake of his head. “The big fat one or the runt?”
Adam was incensed at the insults aimed at his brothers, but now was not the time to get his hackles up. “It’s the little one; he’s only three.”
Those present shook their heads and most went back to their drinking. One of the saloon girls, who was quite taken by the handsome youth in front of her, stepped forward and put an arm around Adam’s shoulders. “Oh that’s terrible,” she slurred. “I think you best report this to the sheriff. He could maybe get a posse or something organized to find the little mite.”
“We’ve already tried the sheriff, Ma’am,” replied Adam, “but he’s out of town. There’s just me and my Pa to look for him.”
The girls intoxicated breath on Adam’s face was beginning to make him feel sick and he was having difficulty extricating himself from the clawing hands that she was now running through his hair.
Sam the barman came to his rescue. “Let the boy be, Maisie; he needs to be on his way and you need to get back to work.”
Adam shot him a relieved look before heading back out onto the street as quickly as he could.
Twenty minutes later and Adam was no further forward in finding Little Joe. He was about to head back the way he had come in the hope of meeting up with his Pa when he passed the entrance to Julia’s Palace. Biting on his bottom lip, Adam stood outside pensively trying to decide what to do. This was not the same as going into the saloon. He had heard stories about what went on within these four walls. His friend David’s older brother James had told the boys stories about Julia’s Palace. He had described in detail the plush surroundings with the deep red velvet curtains and thick carpeting. James had boasted of gambling long into the night before going upstairs with one of the many beautiful women that worked there. Surely Little Joe couldn’t have gone in there.
Adam’s nerve was beginning to wane and he turned and began to retrace his steps. He had gone all of about twenty feet when he stopped dead. What if Little Joe was in there? What if someone had seen him? He couldn’t leave it to chance – he had to go in.
With eyes like saucers, unsure of what to expect, Adam pushed open the door and stepped inside. As he walked forward, he was immediately struck by the differences in the two establishments. This place was a gambler’s paradise and the girls were young and pretty, not like most of the aging saloon girls. Adam tried to keep his eyes forward not looking to the left or right. A couple of the girls that were not engaged in conversation with a customer walked over and looked him over with an appraising eye.
It was at that moment that a beautiful woman dressed all in red came walking down the stairs towards him and Adam was mesmerized. The low cut dress she was wearing did nothing to hide her ample charms and Adam quickly removed his hat and held it in front of him, afraid that his body might betray his feelings.
“Don’t gawk, young man; it is not becoming,” said Julia in amusement.
Adam shut his mouth quickly, but still stared. Betty came forward and sidling up to the boy she winked at Julia and said, “We’re really attracting the young ones today, Julia.”
Adam blushed scarlet but could not take his eyes off the vision of loveliness before him.
“What’s your name, boy?” asked Julia as Adam continued to stare.
“Well Adam, to what do we owe the pleasure, or is it pleasure you are after/” asked Betty before kissing the startled boy full on the lips. Adam had never been kissed like that before and he almost forgot his reason for being there as other emotions began to course through his body.
The assembled women began to giggle and Adam felt himself blush from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.
“All right, girls, you have had your fun; now leave the boy alone,” admonished Julia. She waited for Adam to regain some of his composure before asking, “Why are you here, Adam?”
“I’m looking for my brother, ma’am.”
Julia felt relieved; maybe, finally, someone was coming to claim the child.
“His name’s Joe Cartwright and he’s only three years old.”
Julia was taken aback. “Ben Cartwright’s son?”
This was so unexpected. So the babe upstairs and the handsome youth before her were Ben Cartwright’s boys; it wasn’t hard to believe as they had obviously inherited their father’s good looks. She and Ben had been friends a long time ago, before he had met his ‘southern belle’ and before the child upstairs had even been born. Sadly friendships like theirs were born out of loneliness and were not meant to last. Taking Adam by the hand, she led him towards the stairs. “You had better come with me, young man.”
Panic reflected in Adam’s eyes and he pulled his hand away.
“It’s all right, don’t worry. Come I have something to show you.”
Adam followed Julia up the stairs, keeping a safe distance behind her. How on earth would he explain this to his father?
When she arrived outside of the bedroom door, Julia placed a finger to her lips instructing Adam to be quiet before they entered. Keeping a few steps behind, Adam followed her into the room and over to the bed. Relief flooded through him as he looked down on the sleeping form of his baby brother. Little Joe slept peacefully, his thumb firmly ensconced in his mouth and completely unaware of the trouble he had caused.
Julia pulled back the bedclothes, taking great care not to disturb the child. Wrapping Joe in a single blanket she lifted him from the bed and handed him to his brother. Adam placed the child over his shoulder and made his way back to the front door.
Adam thanked Julia for taking such good care of his brother, but couldn’t help asking, “How did he get here?”
“I’ve no idea” Julie replied smothering her laughter. “We found him underneath one of the tables.”
“That doesn’t surprise me; he’s always getting into mischief,” said Adam with a shake of his head.
“Now that I can believe,” Julie replied. “Oh by the way, I’m afraid he had a little accident,” she added, handing Adam a bundle contained Joe’s soiled clothes.
“Yeah, he’s good at that as well,” Adam said, now openly grinning and feeling relaxed with the beautiful woman before him. “Better get him back to Pa; he’ll be worried sick.”
Julie stepped forward and stroked Joe’s soft curls for the last time and bending forward she kissed his baby soft cheek. “Until we meet again, my little one.” Then with a wink at Adam, she added, “Might not be quite so long for you, young man.”
“Yes ma’am, I mean, no ma’am, I mean I have to be going.” With that, Adam hitched Joe further up his shoulder, grabbed hold of the bundle of clothes and escaped into the street.
Heading back towards where they left the buckboard, Adam was relieved to see his Pa and Hoss heading towards him.
Ben rushed forward anxious to make sure that the child in Adam’s arms was safe and sound. Taking the precious bundle, he unwrapped the blanket and carefully examined the babe therein. The little boy’s attire did not go unnoticed, but Ben decided to wait for explanations until they were on their way home.
Reassured that Joe was unhurt, Ben climbed on the buckboard with the child cradled in his arms and they were soon on their way, Adam taking charge of the reins and sending the horses in the direction of home. As Adam retold his story, Ben groaned in despair. If Marie ever found out what had happened to her baby, he would never be trusted with the child again until he was at least eighteen.
Ben’s first duty when he arrived home was to wash and change the sleeping tot. Much to Ben’s surprise, Little Joe never stirred; his adventure had obviously worn him out. Ben had a dilemma. He would have liked to remonstrate with the child about the dangers of wandering off on his own. At the same time, he hoped against hope that once Joe was awake and back in his own surroundings, he would forget where exactly he had been over the last couple of hours.
It was almost suppertime before Little Joe stirred and when Ben carried him downstairs to the table, he made no reference whatsoever to the events of the day.
Marie arrived home shortly after supper began and she entered the house in a fluster at being late. “Oh Ben, I’m so sorry, you know how it is; new babies are just so time-consuming.”
Marie hung up her cape and then walking to the table, she lifted Little Joe from his seat and hugged him to her. “And how is my precious boy? Have you been a good for your Papa?”
Joe allowed his mother to cuddle and kiss him unresistingly, reveling in the attention. Marie placed the little boy back on his chair before sitting down to supper. “Well, what did you do today, little one.”
The fork full of food on its way into Ben’s mouth stopped in mid- air as he waited with trepidation as to what Little Joe’s answer would be.
“We bought lots of things, didn’t we Papa?”
“Yes, we did,” responded Ben, ruffling the little boy’s hair with relief.
General conversation with regard to the items bought then took over the discussion and Ben began to relax.
“I saw a pretty lady,” Joe declared vying for his mother’s attention once more.
“Oh, yes,” Adam interjected, trying to steer the conversation “we went to Molly’s for lunch.”
“Not Molly,” Joe corrected, “I not see Molly.”
This was true; Joe had been asleep when they had entered Molly’s restaurant and he was unaware that they had even been there.
“Then which pretty lady did you see, Joseph?” Marie asked, curious as to the child’s answer.
“The pretty lady with the nasty man,” Joe replied.
Ben was unaware of this part of the story and even he found himself listening carefully to Joe’s answer.
“The man that smacked my bottom,” Joe whimpered, sticking out his bottom lip as the memory of Jean Millain once more came to him.
All thought of trying to dispel the child from talking about his adventure left Ben’s mind as he became incensed at the idea of someone hitting Little Joe.
“Why did the man hit you, Little Joe?”
“For biting him,” Joe replied with obvious pride. Then seeing his mother’s shocked face, he added, “’cause he hit the lady, Mama.”
At first Marie had though the child was romanticizing — small children loved to tell stories — but now she was not so sure; this was something she needed to investigate.
“Then the lady took her dress off,” Joe announced, unaware of the look of absolute despair on his father’s face. Then he added in almost a whisper, “She had big lady things.” Joe had more than once been taken to task for his observations on the female population, which were usually spoken in a loud voice in the confines of the church.
Hoss kept on eating oblivious of his brother’s meaning, but Adam was blushing once again; the same thoughts about Julia had passed through his mind but he wasn’t likely to voice them. Ben had no doubt as to what the ‘lady things’ were that Joe was referring to, he was already aware of his three year olds growing interest in a lady’s anatomy. He was going to have to watch this boy in the years to come.
Marie chose to ignore the little boy’s remark; Joe was well aware that outbursts of this nature got the people around him into quite a fluster and Marie was quite sure that the child was more interested in the reaction his words invoked than the actual meaning of them.
As soon as Little Joe finished eating, Marie lifted him from his chair and carried him towards the stairs. “I think you’ve had a very eventful day, little one; now let’s go upstairs and you can tell Mama all about it.”
As Marie disappeared from view, closely followed by Hoss, Adam turned to his father and said, “There’s still chores to be done, Pa; guess I’ll just go out to the barn.”
Ben’s arm reached over and he pulled his eldest son back into his place. “We’re in this together, son; you’re not going anywhere.”
A red-faced Marie appeared back in the great room just over thirty minutes later.
“Well gentlemen” she began, looking from Ben to Adam, “maybe you would like to explain, how my baby became lost in Virginia City?” Not waiting for a reply she added, “And also how he came to be in a house of ill repute with one of the areas most notorious women.”
Ben opened his mouth and tried to form words that may placate the young mother, but Marie was not in the mood for explanations. “No Ben, let me continue. Ah yes, then there was the monster that hits women and smacked my child’s bottom. To think my son, my baby son, has been in that woman’s bedroom and watched her undress!”
Adam sunk lower down into the settee. It was not often he was in the firing line of his stepmother’s wrath when it was at this level; she usually kept that for his father. Ben was not fairing any better as he had his hands over his eyes and looked like one of his sons as he bit on his bottom lip, afraid of what new disclosure his wife might have.
The tirade continued and just when Adam and Ben thought there was nothing more to be said, Marie held up a lacy chemise in her hands and asked, “Perhaps one of you could explain where this came from?”
Joe was incredulous. To think he had met Julia all those years ago. He could hardly believe it. “Bet Mama was really mad huh?”
“Mad! Joe, you have never seen anything like it. Pa has a temper on him, but compared to your mother when she had a bee in her bonnet, he’s a pussycat.”
Joe’s voice became quiet and thoughtful. “I wonder if Julia ever realized that I was the little boy she looked after?”
“Who knows?” Adam replied. He was sure Julia would of remembered, but in her infinite wisdom, she probably thought bringing it up would only emphasize the age difference between her and Joe. “So you see little brother that wasn’t the first time you had come to the lady’s rescue. Regular little hero you are.”
“Yeah, well I wish I had just bit him the second time instead of using my fists. Come to think about it, from what you said, I came off worst that time as well.”
Joe settled back against his saddle once more and prepared to sleep. He loved hearing Adam tell stories from when they were very young. It was the only way his mother’s memory was kept alive for him, as his own images of her had dimmed over the years.
Quiet and stillness crept over the campsite. As Adam slowly drifted off to sleep, Joe suddenly piped up. “Hey Adam, do you think they ever did?”
Sitting up with a jerk, Adam was confused. What on earth was Joe talking about?
“Who’s they, and what are they supposed to have done?”
“You know, Adam — Pa and Lady Chadwick.”
Adam groaned and pulled his hat further down over his face. “Goodnight, Joseph!”