At Loggerheads (by Lynda)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  20,000


“Pa, you’ve remembered that it’s the dance tonight, haven’t you?”

It was Saturday morning and the Cartwright family were eating breakfast and discussing the day’s activities. Ben paused and smiled indulgently at his seventeen-year-old son.

“Joseph, how could I possibly have forgotten. You’ve managed to introduce the dance into every topic of conversation this week.”

Joe looked slightly abashed, then grinned at his father. “Well if it’s all right with you, me and Billy are going to spend the afternoon over at Andy’s place and then go to the dance from there.”

Joe knew of no reason why his father would object to this plan. Ben knew both of Joe’s friends and their families, and they often spent time at each other’s homes. Joe beamed at his father. He was excited about the coming dance. In the privacy of the hayloft the previous week, the friends had discussed at length which of the town’s girls they would favour with their company and they were all looking forward to the evening.

Before Ben could reply, Adam jumped in. He had listened to his brother’s request with annoyance.

“Did you get that water hole cleared out yesterday Joe?”

Joe shot Adam a vexed look. “Well no, I didn’t get round to it. I’ll do it Monday.”

“You’ll do it today.”

“Brother, you’ve got to be joking.” Little Joe glared at Adam. He knew that tone of voice all too well.

“Seems to me if you can’t get your work done, then you can’t expect to take the whole day off. If you get started right away you should still make it to the dance…that is if you put your back into it.”

Joe was trying very hard to keep his temper, but he just couldn’t do it. His eyes flashed, his jaw tightened.

“Look Adam, I do my work, and I’ll clear out that water hole on Monday.”

“BOYS!” Ben’s voice had the desired effect of silencing his argumentative sons. He continued in a quieter vein.

“Maybe we could just have a compromise here? Joe, is there any reason why you couldn’t get started on the job, and then meet your friends mid-afternoon?” he asked reasonably.

“But Pa,” pleaded Joe in a whining voice, “that water hole stinks, I think there’s something dead in it. I can’t clear that out today. I promise I’ll do it Monday.”

Once again Adam interrupted. “He’s exaggerating as usual. There’s nothing dead in it, it just needs cleaning out that’s all. I want to move cattle into that pasture as soon as possible, and they need to have sweet water, you know that.”

“Adam, is there any reason why it can’t wait until Monday?”

Adam held his father’s gaze for a while then gave a resigned sigh. “No I suppose not.” He sighed again. “No reason at all why Joe should have to put his work responsibilities above his social life.”

Hoss had been concentrating on his breakfast up to this point, but Adam’s remark caused him to join in on his little brother’s behalf.

“Aw come on Adam. You know Joe’s been looking forward to the dance all week. You can’t expect him to be messing with that smelly old water hole just before he goes out. Them little gals won’t want to come anywhere near him.” Hoss chuckled at the thought. “I’ll give him a hand on Monday, the water hole will be cleaned out just fine.”

“Thanks Hoss, I’m glad one of my brothers has some kindly feelings.”

Ben considered the situation. “All right Joseph, you may go meet your friends this afternoon, but you get to that water hole first thing Monday, you hear.”

“I hear. Thanks Pa.” Joe sent Adam a triumphant look. Adam glowered back. Neither look was lost on Ben who sighed inwardly. His oldest and youngest seemed to be constantly prodding each other into arguments these days.

After lunch Little Joe was in his room getting ready for his trip into town. His door was open and Adam moved stealthily inside, watching his brother. Joe caught sight of him in the mirror. His happy demeanour rapidly changed.

“What do you want?”

“Oh nothing. Just thinking how easy it is for you to get round Pa. You know you carry on like this and you’ll be just like Jimmy Simms. Little rich kid playing at ranching – doing all the easy jobs, but don’t let anything too difficult or dirty get in the way of enjoying yourself.”

Joe strode across the room to where his brother was leaning against the doorframe, arms folded across his chest, a supercilious expression on his face.

“You just take that back Adam. I work as hard as you do. And don’t you ever compare me to that uppity Jimmy Simms.”

Adam raised his eyebrows as he considered his sibling.

“Well just be careful Joe, because you’re headed that way,” he replied sharply, turned and left the room.

Joe followed him out shouting after him. “You know your trouble Adam, you don’t know how to enjoy life. All you think about is work…and…and reading and making life miserable for everyone else. I’m sure glad I’m not like you.”

He was answered by Adam’s door being slammed shut.

Downstairs Ben heard Joe’s raised voice and the slammed door. He frowned with annoyance. “Why do they have to be so cantankerous?” he muttered with a sigh. “I’m going to have to have a serious talk with those two.”

*****

A couple of weeks later yet another confrontation between the brothers was being witnessed by the few ranch hands who had not yet left the yard for the day’s work. The men tried to ignore them and carried on with their duties. To get involved in or even be a spectator to the Cartwrights’ altercations was not a good idea. The scene being played out in the yard of the Ponderosa ranch was nothing new, it had been acted out a number of times over the past few weeks, and had led to a bad atmosphere all round. For the past couple of months Adam and Little Joe had been falling out, then calling an uneasy truce, only for hostilities to break out again, often all in the same day.

“Look Joe, if you are going to do a job, can’t you at least do it properly?”

“What!” Joe gave Adam an angry glare. His face was taut, his green eyes flashing like emeralds catching the light. “And what exactly is wrong with the job I’m doing?” he snapped.

“Why don’t you concentrate and do it properly?” Adam’s patience was wearing thin.

“Oh, and what exactly does that mean?”

“It means get your mind off whichever pretty girl you’re running off to meet every night, and load this wagon properly, the way you have been taught.” Adam was speaking slowly and deliberately, keeping his emotions very much under control “The way you’re shaping up you’ll have everything rolling around as soon as we move off. There’s no place for carelessness and you know it.”

Unlike his brother, young Joe Cartwright was not finding it so easy to keep a tight rein on his feelings. His eyes burned with anger and his whole body seemed to bristle with rage. He grabbed Adam’s arm, pulling him round.

“JOSEPH!”

At the sound of his father’s stern voice he released Adam and dropped his eyes to the ground, letting out a frustrated sigh.

Ben had just come out of the house and Joe’s body language had warned him just in time as to what was about to happen. He strode over to where his oldest and youngest sons were loading a wagon with tools and supplies necessary to do some much-needed fence repair work. He stood, hands on hips, and stared at the two young men.

“Joseph, what’s the meaning of this? Can’t you just go about your day’s work without fighting?”

By now Joe’s temper was so high that he challenged his father. “That’s right, don’t bother to find out what’s happening, just take HIS side as usual,” he spat out.

“Joseph, don’t you take that tone of voice with me.” Ben’s voice was ominously quiet.

Joe had already regretted his outburst. “I’m sorry Pa.”

“Joseph, whatever your problem is with your brother, I don’t want you resorting to your fists.” Joe’s eyes were firmly fixed on the ground. “Look at me Joseph. Do I make myself clear?”

Joe briefly met his father’s gaze. “Yes sir.” After a moment’s silence he turned abruptly and stalked off into the barn, tears of anger and frustration stinging his eyes. Always someone was bossing him around, criticising him or treating him like a kid.

As Joe walked away, Ben turned to Adam. “Well, what was that all about?” he demanded.

Adam gave his father a long look and then shrugged his shoulders. “It’s nothing Pa, he just got out of bed the wrong side that’s all; he’ll be okay when he’s had time to calm down. You know how he is.”

Ben was not convinced but made no more of it. The petty quarrelling of these two supposedly grown sons was beginning to get him down. “Just you make sure he behaves himself, and NO FIGHTING, there’s too much work to do without you two acting like schoolboys.” Ben walked over to where Buck was tethered, tightened the cinch and mounted. With a last look at Adam’s rigid back, he sighed and rode out of the yard, the black mood having rubbed off on himself.

Adam frowned. When would his father realise that Joe was responsible for his own actions? For once he would like his father not to expect him to take care of his young brother, he felt like he had been doing it all his life. He slowly shook his head. He was growing tired of his ‘big brother’ role. Joe was becoming more and more difficult, picking fights when there was nothing to fight over, and he was rude and disrespectful. His father didn’t know the half of what was going on.

It was a long tense day for the two Cartwright brothers. Neither spoke during the journey to the pasture. Adam drove, keeping his eyes firmly fixed ahead, no emotion showing on his face. After a sidelong glance at his brother, Joe squeezed to the very edge of the seat, putting as much distance between himself and Adam as he could, wishing that he had saddled Cochise and ridden on his own. Once at the pasture the two men, well practised at the task at hand, worked well together, and so there was little need for words. Whilst the fencing was physically hard work, it was by no means difficult. They knew exactly what needed to be done and were able to work together, each knowing his own part, without the necessity of actually speaking to the other. Adam attempted to start a conversation, trying to break the silence, but Joe remained tight-lipped, refusing to respond to his brother’s light-hearted comments. After a couple of failed attempts Adam gave up on that track and decided to try a more direct approach. He paused in his work for a few moments, taking off his hat and wiping his brow.

“Joe, can’t we just settle this thing? This antagonism is getting us nowhere.”

Joe also stopped working and gave Adam a hostile look. “And how exactly do you plan to ‘settle this thing’.” Joe’s belligerent tone of voice offered little hope of compromise. “Maybe you want to fight? Because anytime you do brother just let me know – I’m ready.” Joe’s temper was rising again. “In fact I think that would be just the way to do it…out here…just you and me without Pa or Hoss here to interfere.” Joe took a firm stance, his fists clenched. Adam was older and stronger but Joe had no fear of a physical confrontation with his brother.

“Joe, if you can’t talk about this, then get on with your work. I have no intention of getting into a fist fight with you.” Adam turned and walked away, leaving Joe seething.

By the time they stopped for the noon break both had cooled down, but were still not speaking to each other. Adam made coffee and they ate the sandwiches they had brought with them in an uncomfortable silence. When they had finished their meal, Adam wandered away for a time. Joe admitted to himself that he was thoroughly miserable and had never known a day so long. He decided that he didn’t want to work alone with Adam any more. He’d talk to Pa about it. He would be calm and respectful and then maybe Pa would listen to him. Living with this older brother was becoming unbearable.

*****

Dinner that evening was a quiet affair. Joe and Adam both ate in silence. Joe’s was a stony angry silence, and he played with his food. Adam’s silence was of a different kind altogether. He ate his meal and drank some wine – almost as though he held his fellow diners in contempt. Hoss made a gallant effort at conversation, but got no reaction from either of his brothers, and not much more from his father who seemed to be in an equally bad mood. And so instead the big man turned his attention to his food, but he found that the cold atmosphere took away the pleasure he usually derived from one of Hop Sing’s fine meals. Not surprisingly the black mood also infected the Cartwright’s Chinese cook. “No one eat food! Hop Sing waste time. Go back China!” he muttered as he cleared the table, and for once this statement did not draw a rejoinder from Hoss. Taking their coffee the men moved to sit by the fire blazing in the huge hearth.

“If you’ll excuse me Pa, I’m going to my room to read.” Adam took his coffee and went upstairs. Ben sighed as he sat down. The atmosphere was most unpleasant. He was at a loss as to what to say or do that wouldn’t make matters worse. He tried to distract himself by reading the newspaper. Hoss did his best to coax Joe out of his miserable mood, and inquired about his day. “Don’t ask,” was Joe’s sullen reply, and when Hoss challenged him to a game of checkers all he got was, “Not tonight”. Joe sat staring into the flames for a while then announced he was going to bed and bid his father and brother an abrupt “Goodnight”.

Ben grimaced when Joe’s bedroom door was closed with a resounding bang. He looked at Hoss who sat with a frown on his face. “Well I can’t say that I’m sorry to see the back of either of them tonight,” said Ben quietly.

“What’s goin’ on Pa, I ain’t never seen them like this. They usually get over their spats pretty quick, but they’re acting like they hate each other.”

Ben had been thinking the very same thing, but it was a thought he was reluctant to put into words, as though to say it out loud would confirm that it was so. “I don’t really know what’s at the root of it son, its been going on for weeks now and I’m heartily sick of it.”

Hoss got up from the couch and stood with his back to the fire. “They’re both so mule-headed stubborn I can’t get nowhere with either of them. Have you tried talking to them Pa?”

Ben laid his newspaper down on the floor beside his chair.

“Yes I have. When I asked Joe what was the problem, he said there was nothing wrong, but then added that Adam was always picking on him and that I always took Adam’s side of things. When I asked Adam the same thing, he also said there was nothing wrong. When I commented that obviously that wasn’t the case, and told him that Joe felt he was being picked on unfairly, Adam said that Joe was a spoiled kid and I let him get away with too much. I am afraid that I lost my temper with both of them and got precisely nowhere.”

“Maybe I’ll try talking to them both again tomorrow. Dadburnit, it just ain’t right Pa, the way they’re acting.”

“Well you can try Hoss, you certainly can’t do any worse than I did.”

“Might be a good idea if they don’t work together for a while though. You know, kinda keep them apart, that way there won’t be much opportunity for them to argue and fight.”

“I was thinking exactly the same thing Hoss. In fact now might be a good time for one of them to take a little trip.”

“What you got in mind?”

“I don’t know son, but I’ll think of something.” Ben gave Hoss a rueful smile. “After all we can’t go on like this much longer or Hop Sing really will end up back in China!”

Hoss grinned at his father. “I might just go and cheer up old Hop Sing, see if I can’t wheedle some apple pie from him. Just didn’t do it justice earlier.”

Ben smiled as Hoss headed for the kitchen. At least Hoss was himself and that was surely a blessing.

Hoss placated Hop Sing and got his apple pie. The two men sat by the fire for a while each lost in his own thoughts, then both decided on an early night with the hope that tomorrow would be a better day.

*****

Ben had been in his room only a few minutes when there was a light knock on his door. “Come in” he called. The door opened slowly and Adam stepped inside. “Adam!”

“Pa can we talk?”

“Of course Adam, why don’t you sit down.

“No, I’d rather stand.”

“Fine.” Ben waited. Adam seemed to be struggling for words but he had a determined look on his face. Ben had seen that look many times before and it didn’t bode well.

“Pa, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to leave, I think it will be best all round.”

It wasn’t quite what Ben was expecting. “Oh, take a trip you mean?”

Adam moved over to the window, held back the curtain and looked out into the night.

“W e l l…I suppose you could call it that.” He let the curtain fall back in place and ventured a look at his father. “Pa …this thing with me and Joe…well I just don’t see the situation improving, so…I think that now is a good time to do the things I have thought of doing for so long.” By now Adam was closely watching his father’s reaction to his words and saw consternation on the older man’s face.

“What kind of things Adam?” Ben was dreading what was coming.

Adam replied with false cheerfulness. “Oh…do some travelling, maybe go back east, maybe even visit Europe. You know I’ve wanted to for a long while.” Having at first found it difficult to express himself, now it seemed that he couldn’t get his words out quickly enough. “And well…well if I don’t go I’m sure that Joe will. I’m well able to take care of myself, but Little Joe’s still just a kid. He still needs you to guide him, keep him on the straight and narrow. He’s a good kid, but with all this anger inside him he’s going to end up getting himself in trouble, and I don’t want that to happen. I care too much about him to let his anger at me drive him in the wrong direction.” Adam had known this would be difficult.

“I see.” Ben sat down on his bed. “And you think that if you go away that will solve the problem?”

“Don’t you? We both know that Joe’s problem is me.”

Ben frowned, his dark eyebrows almost meeting on his wrinkled brow. “Adam, I don’t think that is entirely true. He’s just finding things difficult right now…he’s growing up and I think he’s just frustrated at being the youngest. He’s hardly going to turn to a life of crime because of it. You’re overreacting. Don’t you think this remedy of yours is rather drastic? How are the two of you going to sort this out if you’re not here?”

Adam was silent for a while, his father’s frown mirrored on his own face. “Pa, I’ve tried to sort things out with him. I have tried so hard to think of a solution, but I can’t find one other than for one of us to leave. We seem to disagree on virtually everything, he takes what I say the wrong way, he can’t even abide to be in my company. I’m sorry Pa. I don’t know what’s gone wrong. It’s probably my fault but I just can’t see any way out. I’ve tried to reason with him, I’ve gone out of my way to be pleasant and accommodating, but to no avail, and then I find myself getting irritated and losing my temper with him. Do you know that since that little quarrel this morning we have hardly said two civil words to each other all day.” There was a thoughtful pause, and then Adam continued. “No…I really think that we need to put some distance between us.”

Ben was quiet for some time. Adam sat down in the armchair and watched his father as he mulled things over.

“Adam, I agree that taking a short trip will probably help, in fact I was going to suggest it myself, but this sounds as though you plan on being away for a long time.”

Adam took a deep breath. “Pa, please don’t make me feel guilty about this. It’s what I want to do, and under the present circumstances I think it’s the best thing.”

Ben gave Adam a searching look. “Son, I didn’t mean to make you feel guilty. It’s just that if you were to leave permanently I’d like to think that it was because you really wanted to, not because you were driven away.”

Adam sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. Then he spoke quietly. “Pa, you’re not listening to me. I do want to go. Even if Joe and I were best of friends I would still want to go. You know I’ve always wanted to travel, ever since I was at college. You know that Pa.”

“I need you here Adam, why can’t you just take a short trip? Go to San Francisco for a while until Joe cools down. After a few days, why he’ll miss you so much he’ll be pleading to come looking for you.”

“PA.” Adam was starting to get annoyed, his voice getting louder. “You’re doing it again. Making me feel guilty. You don’t need me, you just like us all to be here, but we’re not little boys and the sooner you accept that the better.” He paused for a moment leaning forward in the chair, his eyes seeming to grow darker and deeper with the vehemence of his plea. He held his fathers gaze. “You’ve got Hoss and Joe. No reason why Joe can’t take on a bit more responsibility. It would do him good, give him something to think about.” He got up and made for the door.

“Adam!”

Adam stopped. He felt rather than heard his father approach. Ben walked round to face him, placing his hands on his son’s broad shoulders and looking into his eyes. Elizabeth’s eyes, thought Ben. So difficult to know what’s really going on in Adam’s mind. He was so deep, so determined. But Ben knew how sensitive Adam was even though he kept his feelings so well hidden. He knew this situation would be affecting Adam more than he would admit, may be even to himself. He knew too that they hadn’t discussed Adam’s plans at all. Adam had simply told him what he was going to do and he had objected, handled the whole thing badly.

“Pa!” Adam’s soft voice brought Ben back from his reverie.

“Son, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel guilty, really I didn’t. I’ll miss you more than you probably realise, and not for the work that you do. I will miss you. Please don’t let you and I part with bad feelings.”

Adam relaxed and smiled. “We’re not parting on bad terms Pa, and I will be back, I promise. I care for you all too much to stay away for good. He gave his father a lingering look then reached to open the door. “I thought I would go tomorrow. Now that I have decided to go, there’s little point in prolonging it.”

When Ben was alone he sat in the chair Adam had vacated and pondered on his family. He knew that Adam was correct in his opinion about Joe. Joe’s emotions were running high and he needed the stability of his family and home. But didn’t that family include Adam. And yet he himself had decided that one of the boys needed to go away for a while. Adam had simply taken that decision away from him. Oh how he would miss his oldest boy.

His mind drifted back to the time when Adam was at college. How he had longed for his son’s return, waited anxiously for each letter. But he also knew that Adam had been happy when he was away. He had missed his family and had been homesick at times, but Adam’s time at college had been a revelation. As well as applying himself diligently to his studies, Adam had enthusiastically embraced college life and all that it encompassed. Even as a child Adam had an enquiring mind, always wanting to learn something new, and at the university he had met like-minded people, and had enjoyed discussions and debates on subjects that were way over his father’s head. He had sampled academic life and loved it, had the chance to enjoy libraries, music and theatres, and a totally different way of life to that on the Ponderosa. Ben was afraid that once Adam took up that lifestyle again that he would lose him for good.

But Ben had to admit to himself that Adam’s life was his own to lead the way that he wanted, just as he himself had done all those years ago when he had decided to come west, and before that when he had gone to sea and travelled the world. He couldn’t deny his son that same chance. But none of this changed the fact that he would miss Adam desperately. It was with a heavy heart that Ben Cartwright finally went to sleep that night.

*****

Adam had finally made his decision to leave while he was working on the fence with Joe the previous day. He had been considering this course of action for a while, and now he felt that the situation had become intolerable and so he had spent the evening not reading but packing. Come morning he was ready to go. He appeared at the breakfast table not in his customary work clothes, but in a crisp white shirt and best pants. Joe ignored him. Ben murmured “Good morning”, seeing by Adam’s mode of dress that he was indeed going today.

Hoss raised his eyebrows as Adam took his seat. “Hey Adam, how come you’re all dandied up. Ya look like you’re going somewhere fancy instead of diggin’ post holes?”

At this remark Joe shot a look at Adam. Adam said nothing, but looked meaningfully at his father seated opposite to him.

“Your brother Adam has decided to leave the Ponderosa” Ben said simply.

Joe’s eyes widened, he searched first his brother’s face and then his father’s. “Excuse me” he said laying his napkin on the table. He stood and turned to walk out. Ben was about to call him back when he caught Adam’s eye. Adam shook his head. “Let him go Pa.”

Hoss was as much taken aback by his father’s announcement as Joe had been. “Where you going Adam? How long you reckon on being away?” Hoss got the feeling that this wasn’t the little trip his father had been planning.

“Well Hoss, I thought I would go to San Francisco to begin with,” replied Adam trying to sound enthusiastic, “then maybe east, and who knows, maybe even Europe. I’ve been planning it for sometime, and I think now is an appropriate time to go.” His words seem to hang in the air.

“Sounds like a long trip Adam.”

“Yes, I expect it will be.” Hoss looked into his brother’s eyes. No use trying to persuade him otherwise. His mind was obviously made up.

“Adam,” said Ben his voice slightly tremulous, “you will write, often, won’t you? Let us know where you are and how you are.”

Adam smiled affectionately at his father. “Of course I will, you know that. Now will you stop worrying. I will be fine, and so will you and Hoss and so, especially, will Little Joe.”

There was an uncomfortable silence for a while. “Pa would you drive me into town. I will probably miss today’s stage, but I’ll stay at the International House and catch tomorrow’s.” Ben nodded his agreement.

“Hoss, I know I don’t really need to ask, but will you take care of Sport for me?”

“You’re right Adam, you don’t need to ask. He’ll be fine, ready and waiting for you when you get back. Better not leave it too long though, he might just forget who you are!”

Adam smiled at his brother’s reproach. “Well I’ll go fetch my bags down – might as well get going.” Ben noticed that Adam had eaten nothing. Leaving obviously wasn’t as easy as he was trying to make out.

“Hoss, would you go hitch up the buggy please?”

“Sure thing Pa.”

Hoss found Little Joe sitting in the rocker on the porch. “Joe you want to come help me hitch up the buggy?” Joe followed Hoss into the barn.

“Where’s he going?”

Hoss tightened his lips for a moment then answered. “San Francisco first, then east, then Europe.”

Joe looked up quickly. “He’s really leaving home then, for good?” he said quietly.

“Looks that way Joe.”

“Because of me?”

Hoss paused for a moment, hating to make Joe feel guilty. “Said he’d been planning it for a long while.”

“What did Pa say?”

“Asked him to write.”

Joe lapsed into silence, genuinely shocked that Adam was leaving home. He had thought of leaving himself, but only to Virginia City.

By the time Adam and Ben came out on to the porch carrying Adam’s baggage, not only was the buggy ready, but Chub and Cochise were saddled and tied to the rail. Adam looked at the horses then at Hoss.

“Me and Joe thought we’d come in to town and see you off,” Hoss said.

“I’d rather you didn’t Hoss if you don’t mind. I’d prefer to say goodbye here.”

Hoss acquiesced with a nod.

Ben reluctantly climbed up into the buggy while Adam said his farewells. He shook hands with Hoss who grabbed his brother into a bear hug so tight that Adam could hardly breathe. “You won’t forget us when you’re in all them fancy places will ya Adam?”

“Never Hoss.” For once Adam was having difficulty controlling his emotions and felt close to tears.

He took a deep breath, and then turned to Little Joe offering his hand, hoping desperately that Joe wouldn’t reject him. Joe took his hand raising his eyes to meet his brother’s, and whispered, “Are you coming back?”

“Do you want me to Joe?”

“Yes,” came the soft reply.

“Then I’ll be back.” The moment seemed awkward. It was an opportunity to make amends but after so much bitterness it was difficult for either to express their feelings. Adam momentarily cupped his hand round the back of Joe’s neck. “Take care of Pa and keep out of trouble.”

Almost before Joe knew it, the buggy was leaving the yard and for the second time in his life he watched his brother leave home.

*****

Ben tried to get things back to normal; there was plenty to do and the three Cartwrights kept themselves busy. But life wasn’t quite normal. Adam wasn’t on a short business trip. Even Joe found himself missing Adam, wondering when he would see him again. After all the hard feelings and his desire to be out of Adam’s company, he found his feeling of rejection, together with the misery that accompanied it, difficult to understand. Before long self preservation turned his worry over Adam’s sudden departure into anger.

“When things get difficult he just walks away,” he thought, “takes the easy way out. Well we don’t need him; I certainly don’t need him, always bossing me around, lording it over me.”

But in spite of a determined effort not think about his older brother, Adam was never far from Joe’s thoughts, and he found that he was unable to sleep at night for worrying over his problems with Adam. Joe knew that his father was upset at Adam’s leaving and he worried that his Pa blamed him for it. Pa hadn’t said as much of course, but that didn’t mean anything. Well he would show Pa, and Adam. He was a man now and he would do his share around the ranch. After all he wasn’t just a ranch hand, he was Ben Cartwright’s son, and he would make Ben Cartwright proud of him. Make Pa see that he wasn’t just a little kid like Adam thought.

After a couple of weeks Ben received a short letter from Adam. He was staying in San Francisco for a while, visiting with friends and enjoying all the cultural entertainment that was on offer. He would write again before he moved on. Ben was tempted to go to San Francisco himself to talk with Adam, but decided against it. Adam wouldn’t welcome a visit right now he knew. Instead he got on with running the Ponderosa and left Adam alone to sort himself out. It was a busy time, and despite Adam’s comment that Ben didn’t need him, he missed his oldest son’s input, realising just how much of the work of running the whole Ponderosa operation Adam had taken on. He took Adam’s advice and gave Joe more responsibility, particularly with the horses, knowing this was something that was of real interest to him.

*****

For a while things were peaceful on the Ponderosa. There was plenty of work to do and everyone was productively occupied. One Friday evening Joe asked Ben’s permission to go into Virginia City to meet his friends. Ben readily agreed. Joe had been working hard and deserved some time off. Whether it was the added responsibility or because he was missing Adam, Ben didn’t know, but Joe was quieter and more subdued than he could ever remember. He felt that a night out with his friends was probably just what Little Joe needed.

Ben walked out on to the porch to see his son off. “Now Joe, you be careful. Keep away from any trouble,” he said lightly.

Joe smiled. “Don’t worry Pa, I will. Shouldn’t be too late back, but don’t wait up for me.” Joe vaulted on to Cochise and gave his father a quick wave as he rode out of the yard.

Joe was glad to be leaving the ranch for a while. Pa seemed to have piled the work on him since Adam left. Not that he minded. He was a man now; he could handle it. But his problems with Adam had plagued his thoughts ever since his brother’s departure. He was looking forward to having a few beers with his friends and forgetting all about his family and the ranch, at least for a few hours. On his way into town Joe called at Andy’s house, and the two boys made their way to the Silver Dollar. The place was crowded and with a couple of cold beers set before them, the two young men sat at one of the tables at the back of the saloon, watching the other patrons and chatting amiably. Andy told Joe about a new family who had moved into town.

“You should see these two daughters Joe. Prettiest girls in town, the both of them. I figured may be after church on Sunday you and I could make the acquaintance of Mr. and Mrs. Phillips and then who knows, maybe a double date. What d’ya think Joe?”

“Sounds great to me. Do we have to wait until Sunday? We could go over there now.”

“Come on Joe, they don’t know us. No way the parents will let us anywhere near their daughters. But once they know what an upstanding citizen your Pa is, and my Ma and Pa too, why they’ll just be begging us to look after their girls – keep the riff-raff from coming round!”

The two boys grinned at each other. Joe settled back sipping his beer and enjoying the hubbub surrounding him. A couple of the saloon girls came over; the pretty redhead sat on Joe’s knee and ran her hands through his curly locks.

“Why don’t you buy me a drink handsome, we could have us a good time?” Joe felt totally relaxed for the first time in weeks and was enjoying the closeness of the girl. She wasn’t exactly the sort of girl his Pa would approve of, but she was pretty and friendly and he enjoyed her attention. Then, out of the background noise, a voice caught Joe’s attention.

“I say he’s worse than the other three Cartwrights put together. I’ll give you that the old man’s mean and stubborn, ain’t one to be crossed, but that Adam Cartwright…”

Joe sat up straight, straining to see who was speaking.

“Hey! What are you doing!” exclaimed the redhead. Joe had pushed her from his lap and quickly squeezed his way through the crowd to get to the bar. A group of ranch hands from the Bar D were gathered around Pete Handley, who was enjoying the attention. In front of him was a bottle of cheap whisky and in between shots he was having his say.

“So what you got against this Adam Cartwright then?” questioned a young man Joe had never seen before.

Handley took glee in answering. “Aww…he’s got such a high opinion of himself…thinks that he’s better’n me just ’cos’ he’s rich and been to some fancy school back east.”

“Most folks round here seem to respect him,” another cowboy cut in, “and you got to admit he’s fast with a gun, and he can throw a mean punch. I wouldn’t want to tangle with him.”

“Respect him! Well not me. That interfering know-it-all cost me a good job and one of these days he’s gonna pay for it. He’s a lyin’, thievin’ coyote, that’s what he is, and one of these days the high and mighty Mister Adam Cartwright is going to pay, mark my words, one of these days.” Handley thumped the bar making the whisky glass jump.

“You’re pretty good at lying about a man who’s not here to defend himself aren’t you Handley?”

The big man spun round to face Little Joe. He sneered at Joe. “Go back home to your Daddy where you belong kid.”

Joe looked up at the cowhand. Though not quite as big as Hoss, he was tall, well built, his eyes cold and mean.

“Not until you take back your lies about my brother. The only thief around here is you. Can’t believe Mr. Donahue hasn’t seen through you yet.” Joe knew he was no match for the big man but he wasn’t going to stand by and let him blacken Adam’s good name.

A big smile spread across Handley’s face but his eyes remained cold. “All right Cartwright, just what are you going to do about it.” He looked round at his cronies. “I say Adam Cartwright is a dirty liar, he’s a dirty yella’ liar.” Handley was enjoying himself and revelling in the laughter and cheers of his friends. Joe could stand no more, and threw a punch catching the man on his chin. Handley staggered backwards, taken by surprise. But from there on in it was Joe who got the worst of it. Handley was strong, and had spent his life brawling and playing dirty. From the first punch that landed on the side of his head, Joe felt dazed and disorientated. Each time he staggered, recoiling from a blow, he was pushed back into the fray by the throng of men who had gathered round. Andy tried to claw his way through the crowd to come to his friend’s aid, and behind the bar Sam, reached for his shotgun. Before either achieved his aim, Sheriff Coffee’s voice rang out above the din of the fight.

“All right, all right. Just hold it.” At the sight of the Sheriff, Pete Handley straightened up and released his hold on Joe who fell the floor. The crowd melted backwards and Andy was able to help Joe struggle back to his feet.

“Now just what’s going on here,” demanded Roy Coffee.

“Cartwright started it Sheriff. I was just having a quiet drink with my friends when the kid hit me. Had to defend myself didn’t I Sheriff. Can’t arrest a man for defending himself can ya, even if it is against a Cartwright.”

Roy turned his attention to Joe who had obviously come off the worst. “Well Joe what have you got to say for yourself?”

Joe looked grimly at the Sheriff. He felt awful and thought he was about to throw up. “Yeah, I threw the first punch,” replied Joe and would have lunged at Handley again if Roy hadn’t laid a restraining hand on his arm. Handley preened himself, seeking approval from the crowd.

“Sam, you know what’s going on here?”

“Joe threw the first punch right enough, but Handley here was goading him into it.” Sam was backed up by a number of the saloon’s patrons speaking up on Joe’s behalf. They might have been enjoying the fight, but Handley wasn’t generally liked.

“All right. Handley, you get your carcass out of here – now.” When it looked as though the man was going to argue the point Roy drew his gun. “I said NOW.”

Handley scowled, and snatching up his bottle he left, followed by his entourage.

Roy turned back to Joe. “Little Joe, I know how your Pa feels about you brawling, and especially in saloons. Just be glad I don’t lock you up. Now you get on home.”

“Yes Sir,” muttered Joe and quickly left the saloon. He turned into the dark alley that ran down the side of the building, and there he parted company with the contents of his stomach. The retching over, he straightened up to find Andy standing at his side.

“Here,” Andy said thrusting Joe’s hat into his hands. “You gonna be okay?”

Joe nodded.

“Look my folks have gone over to the Dawsons for the evening. Come on back with me and get cleaned up. You can even stay the night if you want.” Joe nodded again and leant against the saloon wall while Andy went to get their horses.

Back in his mother’s kitchen Andy found some witch hazel in the cupboard and Joe bathed his sore and aching face. He was horrified when he looked into the mirror. His lip was swollen; his face grazed over both cheekbones and his left eye was starting to close. By morning it would be black and blue. As well as looking terrible, he felt terrible. His stomach ached and his ribs were sore to touch.

“You look awful bad Joe, you want to stay over? Face up to your Pa in the morning when you feel a bit better.”

“No, I’d best go. Pa will be listening out for me, and if I don’t get back it will just make matters even worse. Thanks anyway.”

“Oh I don’t know Joe, you don’t look fit to ride all that way to me. Perhaps I’d better come along with you.”

“No, really I’ll be fine. No need for you to get into trouble with your folks too. I’ll be okay, Cochise knows the way home if I pass out.” Joe tried to smile, but his face was much too painful, and he wondered if anything was broken. Painfully he heaved himself out of the chair, put on his hat and left the house. With Andy’s help, he put his foot in the stirrup and eased himself up into the saddle.

“Your Pa won’t be too mad will he Joe, after all you were just defending Adam?”

“Yeah, more fool me. I’ll see ya Andy, thanks for the help.”

*****

Having heard Joe arrive home late the previous night, Ben wasn’t surprised when his young son failed present himself for breakfast the following morning. Annoyed that Joe seemed to think a late night entitled him to stay late in bed, Ben was about to send Hoss up to get him when Joe appeared at the top of the stairs. Ben watched as his youngest son made his way down.

Hoss was out of his chair in an instant. “Joe, what happened to you boy? Who did this to you?”

Ben was just as concerned when he saw the battered face. Joe tried to smile but couldn’t.

“Mornin’ Pa,” he managed painfully. “I’m all right really, just a bit sore.” He made his way to the table and eased himself into his chair. Ben and Hoss returned to their places. There was a long silent pause.

“So what happened?”

Joe considered the tone of his father’s voice. He sounded reasonable. “I got into a fight. I’m sorry.”

“Who were you fighting with, and about what?”

Joe was silent, looking intently at his plate with his one good eye.

“Joseph. I’m waiting for an answer.”

“Come on Joe, you gotta tell us who did this to you,” added Hoss.

Joe’s stomach was still churning, he couldn’t move without pain, his head throbbed, his face ached and he could do without an interrogation. He looked up. “I got into a fight. It’s over, that’s all I’ve got to say.”

“Well young man, if you won’t tell me what happened then I must assume that you were not an innocent bystander.” Ben paused and looked into his son’s beaten face, hoping to get a response. “Joseph if you can’t go out without getting yourself into trouble, then you must stay at home. I don’t want you setting foot off the Ponderosa for the next month, do you understand?”

“Yes Sir. May I please be excused?”

Ben nodded and Joe went back upstairs to his room and sank gratefully on to his bed. His mind went back to the breakfast table. Why hadn’t he told Pa what the fight was about. Pa would have understood, maybe even have been proud of the way he had stood up for Adam. But for some reason he just couldn’t tell him and now Pa thought he had been in trouble and acting irresponsibly yet again. Joe sighed. Why did he feel so confused; at the time he hadn’t thought twice about defending Adam.

When Ben came up a short while later he found Joe fast asleep. He was concerned about the obvious battering that Joe had been subjected to, but apart from the bruising Joe seemed to be all right and he decided to just let him sleep.”

By Monday Joe was feeling much better and assured his father that he was fit for work. On the following Thursday Hop Sing accompanied Ben into town to pick up some grocery supplies, while Ben had business at the bank, and needed to pick up the mail. As Hop Sing was taking the opportunity to visit relatives while he was in town, Ben wandered into the Silver Dollar for a beer while he was waiting for his cook. The place was quiet and Sam was feeling talkative and so Ben stood at the bar to down his beer.

“Is Little Joe all right Mr.Cartwright, he looked pretty rough when he left here on Friday night?”

“He’s okay. Did he have that fight in here then Sam?”

“Yeah. That Pete Handley sure is a troublemaker. I’ll say one thing about your boys though; they sure enough stand up for each other. You know, I doubt my brother would have defended me like that,” mused Sam.

“Joe was defending Hoss?” Ben asked with surprise.

Sam shook his head. “No, Adam. Handley obviously didn’t know Joe was in, he and Andy were sitting way back over there,” continued Sam pointing to the far wall. “Anyway, Handley starts bad mouthing Adam and next thing there’s Little Joe telling him to take it back. Handley just carried on calling Adam a liar and a thief. In the end Joe just let fly. Now your Joe can take care of himself, but he’s no match for Handley, why he’s almost as big as Hoss, and mean with it.”

Ben puzzled over what this Handley fellow had against Adam, and why Joe had refused to tell what had happened. Sam spoke again. “Sheriff ran Handley out of town and I hear tell Mr. Donahue sent him packing too. No-one’s seen hide nor hair of him since Sunday. The other Bar D ranch hands don’t know what happened to him, he just took his gear and disappeared.

On the drive home Ben was deep in thought about what Sam had told him. He had run into Roy Coffee who had confirmed the story, and Ben was thankful that the Bar D cowboy was no longer in the area. He was also glad that his decision to confine Little Joe to the ranch would keep him safe and out of trouble.

*****

At the breakfast table the following morning Hoss was giving voice to his thoughts on the whereabouts of Adam.

“Do you reckon he’s still in San Francisco Pa?”

“I imagine so Hoss. I am sure he will write again when he moves on. In fact, I am a little surprised that we haven’t had another letter already.” Ben’s remark caused Hoss some alarm. Adam was a good correspondent and whenever he was away for any length of time he always kept in touch with his family.

“You don’t think anything has happened to him do you?”

“No of course not Hoss. I expect he’s keeping busy. He’ll write soon.”

“Mmm, I sure miss him. Things just ain’t quite right when he’s not at home.”

Ben nodded in agreement.

Little Joe was beginning to feel guilty all over again. He knew his father and brother blamed him for Adam not being at home. Once more he handled the feeling by turning it into anger.

“Well I don’t miss him. Life sure is peaceful around here without him.”

Ben was taken aback at this remark. “I’m surprised to hear you speak that way Joe, considering the fact that last week you were willing to take a beating in his defence.”

Joe was silent for a moment. So his father had found out about that. Joe had known that there was no way to keep it from him.

“That’s not the same thing. If you’ll excuse me I’ve got work to do.”

Joe pushed back his chair, put his napkin on the table, and walked over to the door where he put on his gun belt and jacket, grabbed his hat and was gone.

Ben stared after his son, a frown on his face. “I just don’t know what is going on with him these days.”

“What’s this about his taking that beating for Adam?”

Ben related the circumstances of Joe’s fight the previous week as Sam and Roy had told them to him. He reassured Hoss that the culprit had fled and Joe was best left to get on with his work.

*****

As the days passed Joe worked harder and longer than necessary as if trying to prove himself. On top of their normal ranch work, they had a contract to provide ten saddle-broke horses each month for four months. Joe accepted the responsibility for this work, and was determined to meet the contract on time each month. He was so weary in the evenings that he went to bed early and yet hadn’t once been late for breakfast. He had caught a cold, which had left him with a cough but had insisted that he was fine and took no time off. But he had become quiet and withdrawn and Ben was worried about his youngest son.

A little more than a month after Adam had left his second letter arrived. Again it was very short, not at all the type of letter Ben expected from his oldest son. After dinner that evening, when they were relaxing and enjoying their coffee, Ben told his sons of Adam’s letter. “I’ll read it to you,” he said taking the letter from his pocket.

Dear Pa,

I hope this finds you, Hoss and Joe all well. As you will see from the address at the top of this letter I am still in San Francisco having decided to postpone my trip east for a while, and have rented some rooms rather than stay at the hotel. I have also taken a job! I am working as an assistant in a large firm of architects, Thompson and Garrett. It is a temporary position, with no commitment on either side, and I am enjoying it immensely.

Please write and let me know how everything is at home. In particular, please let me know how Joe is. Is he feeling better? I wondered about writing to him. Do you think that it would be a good idea? Or does he still hate me? I don’t want to make matters any worse between us. I have had time to think things over, and regret much of what I have said to him recently. He must think me a sorry example of an older brother. Just as well he has Hoss to show him what a brother should be like. Is he back to his usual buoyant self, I hope so.

Write soon Pa; let me know all your news.

Give Hop Sing my kindest regards.

Love to you all.

Your Son, Adam.

Ben handed the letter to Hoss who mulled over what his brother had to say, trying to convince himself that all was well with Adam. “Sounds like he’s having a good time, don’t it?” . Hoss had worried a lot over the circumstances of Adam’s departure, and was relieved to hear from his brother again. He witnessed every day the effect that the split was having on Joe and knew that Adam would be feeling it too. The second half of the letter conveyed just how badly his older brother was really feeling. Reading between the lines, it seemed that Adam was hurting just as much as Joe. There was actually very little news in the letter apart from his new address and the brief mention of the job. The split with Joe was obviously uppermost in Adam’s mind.

Joe made no comment on the letter. He sat staring into the fire lost in thought, his coffee forgotten.

“Joe, why don’t you write to Adam, just let him know you’re all right,” suggested Ben. Joe shrugged his shoulders and said nothing. After a while he went to bed.

“I thought knowing Adam was concerned about him would help” Ben said. “What do I write to Adam? Do I lie and say Joe is fine so that he won’t worry, or tell him the truth?”

“You tell him the truth Pa, like you always taught us to do. Maybe Adam will come back home.”

“He left because Joe was unhappy, I doubt he will come home for the same reason. Besides he’s doing what he wants to do. I am sure he was being truthful when he said he had been planning this for a long while.”

“May be so, but you should still tell him what’s going on with Joe. He’s already worried, and he won’t thank you for keeping anything from him.”

After much heart searching, Ben wrote a letter that lay somewhere between the two options. He told Adam that they were well, the ranch work was going fine and that Joe was working hard and had willingly taken on added responsibility. He thought a letter to Joe would be a good idea, and that, whilst he wasn’t very vocal on the subject, Joe was obviously missing his oldest brother. After all, in spite of their quarrels, they were brothers still and it wasn’t a good idea to let this rift between them get any wider. What he didn’t tell Adam was how withdrawn Joe had become and how worried he was about him.

Over the next couple of weeks Joe tried a number of times to write to Adam. He found himself spending time in Adam’s room. When he was there he felt close to his absent brother, it was as though any minute Adam would walk through the door demanding to know what he was doing in there. He remembered how fascinated he was with Adam’s room when he was little and how he used to sneak in when Adam was out. He loved all the interesting things Adam had. He smiled to himself as he remembered all the times had he been in trouble with his big brother for touching things that he wasn’t supposed to? So many books; how did Adam ever find the time to read them all. Joe gently strummed his fingers over the strings of Adam’s guitar, left standing in the corner of the room. He loved it when Adam played and sang, but it seemed an age since Adam had felt inclined to do either. Joe pondered on why the two of them had had such problems, but he couldn’t work it out. He knew that he loved Adam, he couldn’t bear to think of anything ever happening to him, or that he would never come home, and yet when they were together everything was so strained, so angry. And so he sat at Adam’s desk and tried to write as his father had suggested, but he never managed to finish a letter. He found it difficult to put his feelings into words and when no letter was forthcoming from Adam, Joe decided that if Adam had changed his mind about writing, then he wouldn’t bother either. He convinced himself that he really didn’t care one way or the other. He was getting along just fine without Adam bossing him around and interfering all the time.

*****

The weeks passed into months and Joe’s decline was so gradual that his run down condition was hardly noticed by Ben and Hoss. They were all working long hours and everyone was tired, but it did occur to Ben that it had been a long while since he had seen Joe’s wonderful smile. He had become a serious young man, never venturing into town; all he seemed to think about these days was work. When there was a lull in the hectic schedule and the family were able to spend a whole day together both Ben and Hoss were shocked to notice how worn out Joe looked. Joe himself found that he had little interest in anything these days. Life consisted of long hard days and sleepless nights. He ignored his father’s requests to slow down and get some rest, claiming that he was fine and there was work to be done.

After another long day Joe and Hoss were finishing up in the barn, Hoss pitching hay, Joe fussing over Cochise the way he always did. Out of the corner of his eye Hoss saw Joe lean heavily against his horse. Before Hoss could reach him Joe had collapsed to the floor. He stirred almost immediately and tried to get up. Hoss gently held him down. “Take it easy little buddy, just stay still for a minute.” Joe’s face was deathly white and glistened with a fine sheen of sweat, his forehead felt clammy under Hoss’s hand.

“I’m all right Hoss, let me up. I just felt a bit dizzy is all.”

Hoss helped Joe to his feet. “Come on, let’s get you inside.” Joe protested weakly but allowed Hoss to half carry him into the house. His head was pounding and his knees were weak and wobbly.

“PA…WHERE ARE YOU?”

“Here Hoss,” called Ben from the kitchen. “What’s wrong?” He emerged from the kitchen door to see Hoss lowering Joe on to the couch.

“Pa, Joe just fainted in the barn. Said he was feeling dizzy. I think I had best get Doc Martin out here.”

Ben was shocked at his young son’s appearance as he lay on the couch. His eyes were closed and he was breathing rapidly, his face pale and drawn. “Send one of the men Hoss, and then help me to get him upstairs.”

At the sound of his father’s voice Joe opened his eyes. “I don’t need the doctor Pa, I’m just a bit tired.”

“All right Joe, but I just want Dr. Martin to check you over.” When Joe began pulling himself up to a sitting position, Ben gently but firmly pushed him back down. “Just lie still for a few minutes.”

When Hoss returned he easily picked up Little Joe. “Come on shortshanks, let’s get you up to bed where you’ll be comfortable.” Joe allowed himself to be carried upstairs without further protest. Ben preceded Hoss up the stairs, opened the bedroom door wide and pulled down the covers from the bed. Hoss carefully laid Joe down. Joe felt gentle hands undress him and a warm quilt being tucked round his aching body. He could hear his father talking to him but he was too weary, too ill, to concentrate on what was being said and he slipped into oblivion.

A few hours later Doctor Paul Martin arrived at the Ponderosa ranch house. A worried Hop Sing let him in and he made his way up to Little Joe’s room. He knew the way; he had been there many times before.

“Paul, thank you for coming.”

Paul Martin shook Ben’s hand, nodded in greeting to Hoss, and went to Joe’s side. He lifted Joe’s wrist feeling for his pulse as he took out his pocket watch, then felt Joe’s face with the back of his hand. “All right, let’s see if we can find out what’s wrong with this young man shall we,” he said reaching for his black bag.

“Little Joe, can you hear me? Will you wake up for me Joe?” The doctor sat on the edge of Joe’s bed. “Come on Joseph, open your eyes for me.” Eventually Joe’s eyes fluttered open.

“Pa!” His eyes began to search the room.

“I’m here Joe, you’re all right son.” Ben came into Joe’s line of vision and Joe relaxed at the sound of the familiar voice.

“Joe!” Paul caught Joe’s attention.

“Hi Doc.” Paul smiled at Joe’s typical response.

“Now young man, before you tell me that you don’t need my services, just let me put this thermometer under your tongue.” Joe didn’t have the energy to protest and complied meekly. Paul gave his young patient a thorough examination, questioning Joe on how he felt, asking if he had any pain, listening to heart and lungs, looking in his eyes, ears and throat, feeling and prodding his body until Joe pleaded for him to stop.

“Almost done Joe,” said the doctor kindly, “then I’ll give you some medicine and let you sleep.” Paul mixed some powder with water and held the glass to Joe’s lips. “All right son, you drink this down and then get some rest.” Joe drank the medicine and then sank back down on the pillows. As he felt himself drifting away he heard his father’s voice. “Joe, Pa will be right here if you need anything. You just rest now.”

“He’ll sleep for a while now Ben, why don’t we all go downstairs.” Paul was closing up his bag and nodding towards the door. “Come on. He’ll be fine.” The three men left the room quietly and went downstairs to the living room.

“Paul, do you know what’s wrong with him?”

“No not really Ben, I can’t find anything specific. He has a slight fever but not too high, he is obviously feeling very ill, his pulse is a little rapid. He’s tired. Let me ask you, how long has he been feeling unwell?”

Ben thought for a moment. “Well, today is the first time he’s fainted, seemed really ill, but he’s been tired for weeks and he did have a cold some time ago but he seemed to have shrugged it off, apart from the cough which lingered. Ben paused for a moment, before going on. “I don’t know whether or not you are aware of it, but he and Adam hadn’t been getting along, that’s the real reason Adam left. Since then Joe has just worked himself into the ground. He’s been really tired every night, going to bed early. He’s been quiet and withdrawn, but I just put it down to tiredness and feeling bad about Adam leaving home.”

“Has this problem with Adam been resolved at all?”

“No not really. Adam left and Joe threw himself into his work.”

“What about his appetite, has he been eating well?”

“No, he hardly has any breakfast, usually he doesn’t stop for lunch, and he picks at his dinner. Mind you he never has been the world’s biggest eater, there always seems to be something more important or more interesting to be done as far as Joe is concerned.”

“Doc, is Joe sick ’cause he ain’t been eating the way he should?” Now that it had been pointed out, Hoss realised just how little his young brother had eaten recently.

Paul Martin seemed to be considering his words before answering. “Well I think Joe’s illness is probably caused by a combination of a number of things. Exhaustion, lack of food, depression, can all lead to physical illness. I don’t think Joe’s affliction is caused by any particular disease, but I do think he has been mistreating his body to a point were he can no longer cope.”

“So how do we get him better Doc?”

“Well I’m going to keep a close watch on him, in case I’ve missed anything, just in case this is the beginnings of something. But mostly I want him to sleep. Sleep is a great healer and I think that Joe needs that more than anything. It is probable that, despite being so tired, Joe hasn’t been sleeping well. If he’s been worrying about his problems with Adam, or anything else for that matter, then it’s possible that he hasn’t slept properly for weeks. And I want him to eat, get some nourishing food inside of him. I’ll make up a tonic, he’ll need to take it regularly. He needs time to recuperate and build himself up.”

Ben was looking worried and admonished himself. “I should have realised sooner that there was something really wrong. Paul just how serious is this? Do I need to worry Adam? Or do you think he will soon pick up?”

“Why not wait a few days Ben and see how he gets along. Now be strict with him. I want him to have complete bed-rest. He doesn’t get up for anything until I say so.”

For the next few days Joe slept almost continually thanks to the help of Dr. Martin’s sleeping draughts. His brief periods of wakefulness were spent being spoon-fed with Hop Sing’s nourishing broth and taking care of his personal needs. Father, brother and cook were in constant attendance.

Five days after he had first been called to minister to his young patient, Dr. Martin was giving the sleeping draught in a smaller dose and only to enable Joe to get to sleep at night. During the day Joe languished in his bed. He made no attempt to even sit up, let alone get out of bed. His fever had gone but he was pale and his eyes seemed sunken in his head, the sparkle had gone. He now refused the broth, along with any other food with which they tried to tempt him, and despite the various methods of Ben, Hoss, Hop Sing and Paul Martin, he ate little. Ben and Hoss in turn would read to him, tell him what was happening on the ranch and in town, but he had no interest in what they were saying. When Andy and Billy visited he hardly acknowledged their presence. Even talking about Cochise failed to spark any interest.

Ben was extremely worried. Joe should be getting better, but instead he was worse, and seemed to have no inclination to get well. Ben had written to Adam at last giving him full details of Joe’s illness, urging him to come home, but there had been no response. Another week passed with Joe getting weaker each day. Paul said that Joe seemed to have lost the will to live, and without it there was little more he could do. He still could find no specific illness to treat, despite book searching and contacting numerous colleagues for advice. And each day Ben expected a wire from Adam saying he was on his way home, but there was no word. Now more than ever he needed Adam to come home, they all needed to be together.

*****

Ben and Hoss were sitting with Joe, Ben at his bedside, Hoss near the window. Joe was dozing fitfully. Ben’s thoughts were wandering over times past, when he suddenly became aware that Joe was speaking, his voice weak.

“Pa?”

“I’m here Joe,” Ben answered gently taking hold of his son’s hand.

“Where’s Adam? I want Adam.”

“He’s not home yet Joe, he’ll be here soon.”

Joe’s eyes closed. Moments later he spoke again.

“Pa, where’s Adam? I want to see him. Please Pa. Where’s Adam?”

As Joe whispered his entreaty his eyes sparkled with unshed tears, his lip quivering as he tried to control his emotions.

“Joe, he’ll be here soon.” Joe seemed to be going to sleep, then roused again.

“Pa, when Adam comes back, will you tell him something for me?”

“Well of course I will, but wouldn’t it be better if you told him yourself?”

“It might be a long time before he comes home. Pa, I mightn’t be here.”

At Joe’s quietly spoken words, Ben’s chest felt constricted and tears stung his eyes. “Now Joseph, I won’t hear that kind of talk. You’re going to get better, it’s just taking a while that’s all.”

“But just in case Pa.” Joe’s eyes were pleading. “Tell him I’m sorry, it wasn’t his fault, it was mine.” Joe paused, his voice faltering. “Tell him, tell him I love him, tell him I’m glad he’s my big brother. Please Pa, just in case I don’t get the chance.”

“All right Joe, just in case,” said Ben sadly.

Joe felt exhausted from the effort of talking. He couldn’t understand why he felt so ill, so sad. Everything just felt so hopeless. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to sink into the welcome darkness that was sleep.

Hoss’s big heart had just about broken when he heard his baby brother’s pleas. For the life of him he couldn’t understand why Adam would be so callous as to ignore their father’s entreaties to come home. A fury, the like of which he had never before felt against his older brother, sprang up inside of him. When Joe was asleep again, Hoss quietly crossed the room and gently touched his father on the shoulder. Ben turned towards him looking old and tired, tears streaking his face.

“Just come outside for a minute Pa, I want to talk to you,” he said softly so as not to disturb Joe.

Once outside the room he spoke quietly to his father. “Pa, I’m not putting up with this any longer. I’m leaving for San Francisco first thing tomorrow, and, whether he likes it or not, I’m bringing Adam back. I ain’t gonna’ let him do this to Little Joe no more.”

Ben looked at Hoss with red-rimmed eyes. “All right son, it would probably be for the best. I’m sure there must be some good reason why Adam hasn’t come home, but Joe really needs him.”

Hoss nodded grimly. Little Joe wasn’t the only one he was worried about now, his father, normally so strong, wore a defeated look. But Hoss wasn’t defeated. He felt sure now that the key to Joe’s recovery was Adam, and even if he had to hogtie him, he was determined the oldest Cartwright brother was coming home. Once Joe was well, Adam could go wherever he wanted, the further the better as far as Hoss was concerned. He never would have believed that Adam would treat Joe this way.

*****

On arriving in San Francisco Hoss made inquiries at various establishments and eventually located Adam’s address. It was a large building, divided up into apartments, and in a pleasant neighbourhood. Hoss went inside and found Adam’s door, giving it a loud bang. There was no answer, so he pounded again. Suppose he must be up at that fancy architect’s office, thought Hoss, and he began to search in his pocket for the piece of paper bearing the business address.

“Hey stranger, you come for a visit?” called out a familiar voice.

Hoss turned to see Adam walking towards him, dressed in a smart suit and carrying a bag. Hoss couldn’t believe what he was hearing. As Adam grinned and held out his hand to him, Hoss brought back his fist and punched Adam as hard as he could. Adam lay on the floor, stunned. He shook his head trying to clear the stars that were dancing before his eyes. Hoss stood over him, glaring.

“What the hell was that for?”

“I’d never have thought it of you Adam,” said Hoss shaking, trying to control his anger. “You ain’t my brother no more,” he said turning to go, not daring to stay for fear of what he might do.

“DON’T YOU MOVE.” That tone of voice from Adam never failed to get the attention he sought. Hoss turned slowly to face his older brother.

“Now will you just tell me what this is about?” Adam had struggled to his feet and was dabbing at the trickle of blood coming from his cut lip.

“All right Adam. If you want to play it that way, I’ll tell you, as if you didn’t know. It’s about the letters and telegrams Pa’s been sending you, or may be you can’t be bothered reading mail from your family any more.”

Adam stared. Hoss’s anger was alarming. It was obvious something terrible had happened. “I’ve been away for weeks, I’ve been in St. Louis. I just got back. I mean just now, this minute. I haven’t read any mail.”

Now it was Hoss’s turn to stare right back at Adam as the truth dawned on him and he realised that Adam really didn’t know.

“Hoss?” Adam was fearful. “What’s happened Hoss, tell me.” After a moment’s thought he added, “Is it Little Joe?”

Hoss walked up to Adam. “I’m sorry Adam, I just assumed you knew. It’s Joe all right. He’s real sick Adam. We need you to come home.” By this time Hoss was close to tears. Adam felt his heart begin to pound. He turned without saying a word and taking his key he opened the front door. Hoss picked up Adam’s bag and followed him inside. Adam took the bag and opened it. “Look, here’s my mail.” He spoke quietly. “I just picked it up, haven’t even looked at it yet.” He looked forlornly at his brother. “What’s wrong with him Hoss?”

Hoss slumped into a chair and shook his head. “We don’t know Adam, just seems like he’s lost the will to live.” Hoss told Adam how Joe had been since he had left. The way he had thrown himself into his work, taken on more responsibilities, how tired he had been, how ill he had become. “He must have realised that Pa would have written to you. I guess he thought the same as me, thought that you didn’t care,” finished Hoss. He felt ashamed now that he had thought so badly of Adam. He should have known there was a reason, just like Pa had said; he should have trusted Adam.

Adam was devastated. How could they think he didn’t care, didn’t they all know how much he loved his family, how much he loved his baby brother. It was Adam’s turn to be angry and his reply to Hoss was harsh. “You really thought I didn’t care? How could you? Didn’t it occur to you that there must be some other reason why I wasn’t responding?” By now Adam was shouting. “Didn’t you think to contact the office, I told you who I was working for, it would have been easy enough to find out where they were. They would have told you where I was.” He paused in his tirade, and looked at his brother, his face full of pain. Then he spoke softly. “I’m sorry Hoss. I should have let you know that I had gone to St. Louis. I just didn’t think I would be away for so long, it was only supposed to be for a few weeks at the most.” Adam looked shaken and totally dejected.

“Adam, let’s go home.”

For a moment Adam just stood looking at Hoss. Then he spoke with a new purpose. “Right. Just let me change.” Adam was once more in control of himself. “We’ll call at the office, let them know I’m leaving, we can wire Pa, and then hire some horses. Be quicker to ride.”

Hoss sighed and nodded as he watched Adam take charge. By now Hoss was feeling terrible about the way he had attacked Adam, and the mean way he had broken the news of Joe’s illness. Adam was right. He should have known that Adam wouldn’t have ignored the letters and telegrams. Adam would have returned at the first hint that something was wrong.

Adam was back in a few minutes, dressed for riding, wearing his gun belt and carrying his familiar black hat. “Okay, let’s go.”

“What about your things Adam?” Hoss asked looking around the room.

“Won’t need anything that’s here. I’ll collect them when Joe’s better. Come on.”

He opened the door allowing his brother to step through first, followed Hoss out and closed and then locked the door. While they made their way to the centre of the city and to the offices of Thompson & Garrett, Hoss attempted to apologise to Adam.

“You don’t have anything to apologise for Hoss, really. Lets you and I just get home as quickly as we can, get that little brother of ours back on his feet.”

Hoss nodded thankfully; glad to have his older brother back, glad that they would be riding home together.

*****

It was early evening a few days later when Adam and Hoss rode into the Ponderosa yard. Ben was sitting in Joe’s room as usual, and he jumped at the sound of horses, as he had each time a ranch hand had ridden in during the day. He crossed the room to look out of the window. At the sight of his sons he quickly slipped out of the room and made his way downstairs and across towards the front door. Adam and Hoss entered, brushing trail-dust from their clothes.

“Hoss! Adam!”

“Hi Pa, we got back just as quick as we could.” Hoss shook his father’s hand and patted him on the shoulder.

“Hello Pa.” Adam greeted his father, uncertain as to how he was feeling toward him. He was concerned to see how worn out his father looked, he seemed older and somehow smaller than when he had left. “I’m sorry I didn’t get here sooner,” Adam said offering his hand to Ben who took the hand and pulled his oldest boy to him. Ben no longer cared why Adam had taken so long to get home, he was just relieved that he was here now.

“It weren’t his fault Pa,” explained Hoss. “Adam didn’t get any mail, didn’t know about Little Joe till I told him.”

“How is he? Hoss made his illness sound pretty serious.”

“It is serious Adam. But Paul Martin thinks that it’s more a case of Joe having to want to live and get well more than needing to overcome a physical illness. I’m sure that you’re being here will help him.”

“Is it all right if I go up?” Adam had been worrying all the way home, and now more than anything he needed to see his brother for himself.

Ben nodded, putting his hand on Adam’s back. “You go on up, I’ll come and let you know when Hop Sing has some food ready. Oh, and one other thing Adam.” Adam paused and turned back to his father. “Joe’s a little emotional at the moment. Paul says it’s common with someone suffering a long or serious illness. He gets upset easily.”

Adam nodded. “I’ll be careful Pa.”

Filled with dread Adam walked slowly up the stairs and quietly entered his brother’s room. He crossed to the bed and was shocked by the sight of his little brother. Joe was asleep; his face was thin and drawn, no longer tanned as Adam remembered. Dark circles showed under his eyes and his lips were unnaturally pale. His shock of curly hair lay lank against the pillow. Adam sat in the chair at the side of the bed. His heart ached. “Have I done this to you Joe,” he whispered, gently stroking the back of Joe’s hand. Joe slept on unaware of Adam’s presence. Adam kept hold of his hand and tried to comprehend what had happened to his lively young brother.

“Adam.” Ben was at Adam’s side. “While Joe is asleep come and have something to eat.”

Without a word Adam rose and followed his father out. As they walked down the stairs Adam questioned his father. “How can this have happened to him Pa? He was so fit and strong when I left.”

Ben shook his head sadly. “I don’t know Adam. I didn’t pick up on his being ill; I thought he was just tired. By the time we realised there was something wrong he was already in a bad way, and he just seemed to decline. Hopefully now that you are here he’ll perk up.” Ben hoped he sounded more optimistic than he felt.

Hop Sing had been expecting the two older Cartwright brothers and he had a meal laid out in no time at all. He was glad Adam was home. “Now Lil Joe get better,” he said. He told Adam that he had a hot bath and clean clothes waiting for him. They ate first, both men were starving after their gruelling ride. Adam bathed and then immediately went back up to Joe. Joe was awake and Ben was in the process of putting some extra pillows behind him so he was slightly elevated, talking softly to him all the while. As he entered Adam heard Ben mention a surprise. Adam moved closer and Joe caught sight of him.

“Adam!” It was hardly more than a whisper, but his sickly face lit up. Ben moved away allowing Adam to get closer, and quietly left the room.

Adam perched himself on the edge of the bed. “Hi little brother.” He took Joe’s hand and squeezed it gently in his own strong hand, at the same time with the fingers of his other hand he traced along Joe’s cheekbone. “So what’s all this Joe? Can’t I go away for a while without you going all to pieces?” His voice was gentle and his eyes expressing his love for his little brother.

Joe tried to smile but his lips trembled and his eyes filled with tears. “I didn’t think you would ever come home,” whispered Joe, tears beginning to spill. Joe squeezed his eyes shut, his face contorted in an effort to control his tears and his emotions.

“Hey, come on Joe.” Adam twisted himself round so that his own back was against the pillows and put his arm around Joe, hugging him close just as he had done when Joe was little and needed comforting. Joe buried his face in Adam’s shoulder, his body trembling. “Come on now Joe. Everything’s going to be all right. We’re going to have you better in no time. Everything’s going to be all right. I promise.” After a while Adam settled Joe back on the pillows and moved on to the bedside chair.

“I was so afraid. Afraid you would never come back.”

“Didn’t I tell you I would come back?”

Joe nodded.

“And when have I ever broken a promise to you?”

Joe was quiet for a moment. “Never,” he whispered.

“Well then, why were you so worried?”

Joe closed his eyes for a moment, afraid of losing control again. “I’m sorry Adam. I didn’t mean to be so much trouble. I didn’t want you to go away.” Joe’s voice was small and full of remorse.

Adam took a deep breath and then slowly exhaled. “Joe, I went away because I didn’t like what we were doing to each other.” Adam brushed Joe’s hair in a familiar gesture. “But I think I was more to blame than you, and I’m the one who should be sorry, and I am. After all I am older than you, I’m supposed to be wiser! I didn’t realise that I was making life so miserable for you. Will you forgive me?”

Joe nodded. “So long as you forgive me too.”

“I do”

Joe felt as though a weight had been lifted from him. “Good.” Joe smiled, closing his eyes. Suddenly his eyes shot open again. “You won’t be going away again will you?” he asked, looking troubled.

“No, I won’t be going away.” Seeing that Joe still looked worried Adam added, “I promise.” At last Joe relaxed. “Although by the time I’ve finished with you, you’ll probably be begging me to leave,” Adam said with a wink.

Joe looked puzzled. “Why?”

“Because, little brother, like it or not you are going to get better, and I am going to see that you do.”

“But I’m so tired Adam. You don’t know how tired I am, I can’t…”

“I know you are Joe, but you must still try, and I’m going to be here to help you. Now I just bet that Hop Sing has some of his delicious soup simmering on the stove. Why don’t I just go and get you some?”

Wearily Joe shook his head. “I’m not hungry.”

“Hmmm – we’ll see. Don’t you go anywhere now. I’ll be right back.”

Joe closed his eyes. He felt exhausted. He was glad that Adam was back, but why didn’t Adam understand how tired he was.

Ben and Hoss were talking quietly when Adam came down the stairs. On seeing him, Ben stood.

“I’m just going to see Hop Sing Pa, then I’ll be back,” Adam said walking to the kitchen. He returned a few minutes later and sat in the blue chair, leaning forward slightly. He looked ill at ease and worried. Ben sat in the leather chair opposite to him.

“I can hardly believe this could happen in just a few months. He looks so frail and vulnerable. It’s as though he has just given up. Did I do this to him Pa? Did I really do this?”

“No Adam, of course you didn’t. If anyone did it, it was Joe himself. But it’s not a case of who did it. It’s been an accumulation of things. I think he was missing you, and afraid that you wouldn’t come back, but that isn’t what has made him ill. He took his new responsibilities very seriously. With hindsight I suppose I’d have to say too seriously. He worked longer hours than was really necessary and became very tired. You know that when he’s really tired he doesn’t eat properly. Then he caught a cold that left him with a cough. I should have made him take time off, but he kept insisting that he was fine.” Ben paused as he looked at Adam. “Not until he fainted did we realise just how bad he was. Then after that, after he had given in to his tiredness and illness, it was as though he just didn’t have the energy to fight it, he just gave up. Paul has had him sleeping most of the time, and that has done a lot of good, but he doesn’t seem to have the will to do anything any more. He has no interest in anything, he just lies there.”

All the while his father was speaking, Adam had been frowning, absent-mindedly chewing his finger. He still felt that the root cause of Joe’s illness was the bad feelings they had had for each other and his own sudden departure. Had he really expected his leaving to have made things better? He should have talked to Joe before he went; apologised to him, told him how much he cared about him. When Joe was little he hadn’t had any trouble talking to him. If only he had taken a little more time to explain to Joe. If only…

“Here you are Mr. Adam.” Hop Sing’s voice broke into Adam’s thoughts. “Vely good broth, make Lil Joe strong.”

“Thanks Hop Sing.” Adam took the tray and headed for the stairs. “Ya never know Pa,” he heard Hoss say, “Adam might be just the one to get Joe to eat.”

Joe had drifted off to sleep, but Adam’s gentle stroking of his forearm caused him to open his eyes again.

“Come on Joe, wake up.” Adam piled more pillows behind Joe so that he was sitting in an upright position. He took a napkin from the tray and placed it under Joe’s chin.

“Adam!”

“Uh, Uh. No talking young man, just open up.” With that Adam spooned some broth into Joe’s mouth. No sooner had he swallowed than another spoonful followed.

“Adam,” Joe managed, “I don’t want it.” With that he turned his head away in a determined effort not to take the soup.

“I know.” Gently but firmly Adam turned Joe’s head back to face him and poured another spoonful into his mouth. “Joe, it’s time someone took a firm hand with you.” Another spoonful. “And I’m just the one to do it.” Another spoonful. “No point in arguing with me; just be a waste of time and energy.” Another spoonful. “I’m still your big brother, and I’m still just as bossy!” By the time Adam had delivered his lecture the bowl was empty. He took the napkin and wiped Joe’s face. “Now that wasn’t so bad was it?”

“I’ll be sick now Adam.”

“No you won’t, you’ll be fine. You need nourishment Joe. I’m not going to sit here and watch you waste away. Now, would you like some water?”

Joe looked very tired and Adam hoped that he hadn’t pushed too hard, but at least he had managed to get him to take the broth. Adam fervently hoped that Joe wouldn’t be sick, as he had predicted.

“Why don’t I take some of these pillows away so that you can go back to sleep.” Once Joe was settled Adam took his hand. “Joe, you’re going to get better, and I’m going to help you. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Good boy. Now go to sleep.” Adam sat with Joe until the small hours when Ben finally persuaded him to go to bed. But despite being tired sleep didn’t come easily. Adam’s thoughts were troubled, and in his mind he went over and over the events of the past few months. He had thought a lot about Joe while he was away, but now he realised that the situation had been even more serious than he had imagined. He tossed and turned in his bed for hours before sleep finally came.

Over the next few days Adam’s time was spent mostly in Joe’s room, but when either Ben or Hoss insisted he take a break, he would saddle Sport and ride and think, pondering on his relationship with his youngest brother. He was determined that when Joe recovered they would get back to being friends again. He knew that he would never have the same easy relationship with Joe that Hoss had, but he and Joe used to be close nonetheless, in a different sort of way. He was adamant that they would regain that closeness. His poor handling of the situation weighed heavily on his mind. He was the older brother and he should have been able to figure out a solution. He shouldn’t have left; it was like running away when things got difficult. How could he have been so stupid as to believe that in doing so, he was going to solve the problem. It had just made things worse, for Joe at least. The idea that Joe might not make it, might die, was too terrible to contemplate and Adam pushed it from his mind.

When Adam wasn’t thinking of Joe, then his thoughts were dwelling on the effect all this had on his father. When he looked at his father he had an overwhelming feeling of sorrow. His Pa had aged over the past few months and looked ill with worry. All through his life, Adam had watched his father deal with worries, problems and tragedy, but this time he felt that he had been the cause of it all. True, Pa had been worried over Joe, but wasn’t he the cause of Joe’s troubles and illness. He had been a fool to think that such a difficult situation would just sort itself out. His father had been right. Leaving home had been the easy way out, an escape route; it had been too bothersome for him to deal with the source of his problems with Joe. The irony of the situation didn’t escape him. How many times had he chided Joe about responsibility only to walk away from his own responsibility where his brother was concerned. Often he treated Joe like a child, patronised him, while at the same time he expected him to act with maturity beyond his years; no wonder Joe felt the need to rebel. And then there was Hoss. Good, kind, dependable Hoss. Always there to pick up the pieces and put things back together again. I take Hoss for granted, thought Adam, and so does Joe. Adam smiled ruefully, his hand going to his chin. Sure hits hard when he’s riled!

On one such aimless ride Adam had been trying to make sense of his feelings. He was an expert at hiding his emotions, but he felt them deeply nonetheless, and he was greatly troubled by the whole series of events that had stemmed from a few silly quarrels he and Joe had over such unimportant things. How on earth had he let things get so out of control so as to result in his brother lying close to death?

Inevitably he found himself at the spot overlooking the lake, near to Marie’s grave. He tethered his horse, and stood for a while looking across at the water, lost in thought, before walking across to the grave, his heart full of remorse and guilt. Crouching down, he put a hand on the headstone, pressing his forehead against the smooth stone. “I let you down Marie,” he whispered. “I let you and Joe both down. I promised to take care of him, and look what I have done. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please Ma, please forgive me.” He sat on the grass at the graveside, buried his head in his hands and prayed to God for help. Eventually as he released his feelings in prayer he was filled with a sense of peace that he hadn’t known for a long time, and communing with Marie gave his spirit strength. He stood and once more gazed out over the lake. “I won’t let him die, I won’t,” he said with a new resolve. “You’ll see, he’ll get better, he has to, he has his whole life ahead of him. He’ll be fine, just fine.”

*****

Joe found Adam to be a hard taskmaster. Ben and Hoss had been so anxious not to upset Joe that they had given in to him far too easily, not so Adam. Whilst he was kind and gentle, he was also strict and wouldn’t give an inch. He had Joe eating regularly, though still under protest, and Joe found that although he was still extremely weak, he no longer felt quite so exhausted, and as Adam forced him to eat, so his appetite had improved. Food no longer made him feel nauseous. Adam spent long hours with his young brother, sometimes sitting in the chair beside the bed, sometimes stretched out on the bed next to Joe, Joe’s head resting on his shoulder.

At first Joe didn’t seem to be able to concentrate on anything for more than a few moments, but as he began to feel less tired, he took more interest in what was being said. Adam explained to Joe why he hadn’t come home as soon as he had become ill. Told him about his time in San Francisco and in St. Louis, and about the buildings and projects he’d been involved with, assuring Joe that as much as he had enjoyed it, he was glad to be back home. With his knack for story telling Adam entertained with stories that had Joe enthralled; one moment horrified, the next giggling at a comic situation. It was when Ben heard Joe laughing at one of Adam’s tall tales that he knew that his young son was going to be fine. Paul Martin was amazed at the change in his patient, and had congratulated Adam on his exceptional nursing skills. Whilst the comment was light hearted and had led to Adam suffering some good natured ribbing, nonetheless Paul was convinced that Adam’s return and his positive handling of his sick brother, had in fact saved Joe’s life.

It wasn’t too long before Joe, with his brothers supporting him on either side, was able to take his first wobbly steps. He slowly inched his way across the bedroom to sit in a comfortable chair near the window. The next day found him luxuriating in a hot bath, easing muscles and bones sore from inactivity. Just a few days later, leaning heavily on his father’s arm, he made it down the stairs to spend the day sitting on the couch in front of a roaring fire, being waited on by a solicitous Hop Sing. He was beginning to put on weight, and although his face was still very pale, he had lost the dark rings under his eyes, his cheeks no longer had a sunken look, and best of all there was a twinkle back in his eyes. Adam no longer needed to play nursemaid and was back at work on the ranch.

A few weeks later Joe was feeling so much better that he was beginning to pester to be allowed out, the confinement driving him crazy. He wanted to ride Cochise and get back to work. Ben, however, had other ideas, determined that Joe would not be back at work until he was one hundred per cent fit and well.

However, once an over cautious Ben was convinced that his son was indeed strong enough, he did suggest a buggy ride out to the corral where some of the men were working with the horses that Joe had been so diligently giving his attention to before his illness. The suggested outing had the expected effect on Little Joe. He was excited and animated and his father placed a restraining hand on his arm to calm his feverish activity of getting ready. “Joseph, why are you rushing around? Just calm yourself or we will stay home.”

“Aw come on Pa, I am calm, I just feel like I’m being let out of prison. Why don’t I go hitch up the buggy?” Joe started to towards the door.

“JOSEPH, I mean it now. You are going to wear yourself out. The buggy is ready, now just let us walk out slowly and quietly.” Ben fixed his son with a long stare. Joe stopped and looked at his father for a moment. Ben’s eyes were twinkling. Joe flashed him a smile and walked with exaggerated slowness to the door. Ben shook his head and smiled. How good it was to have his Little Joe back.

As Ben drove, Joe breathed in the wonderful air, fresh from the mountains scented with pine. The sun was shining, birds were singing and it was good to be alive.

“Now Joe,” Ben spoke seriously, “we are just going to watch. Remember that even though you are feeling good, you are still convalescing. You are not working and you are most definitely not riding any broncs. Agreed?”

“Agreed Pa. I’ll be good. It is just so wonderful to be outside again.”

Ben patted Joe’s knee. “I know son, and you just be patient. It won’t be too long now and you’ll be back to doing whatever you want. Well, within reason of course.” Joe grinned and settled back in his seat taking pleasure in the ride.

Joe enjoyed his trip. Hoss and Adam had been at the corral, and the ranch hands were genuinely pleased to see him. He was filled in on the progress of the various horses, enjoyed watching the riding and for the first time in a long time, life seemed normal again. On the way home he told Ben what a good time he’d had and how well he felt, hoping to convince his father that he would be well enough to go back to work sooner rather than later.

At breakfast a few days later Joe pleaded with his father to be allowed to ride Cochise. Ben had to admit that Joe looked fine, and after Hoss had commented that Joe looked well enough to him to go riding, Ben had agreed with the stipulation that he was not to go alone.

“Would you have time to come with me Adam?”

Adam was surprised at Joe’s request. He had felt sure that Joe would want to go with Hoss. “I’ve plenty of time Joe, I’d be pleased to go riding with you.” He smiled warmly, pleased that Joe wanted to spend time with him.

Joe grinned back. “Great. I’m a little out of practice so you should be able to keep up with me!”

“Joseph!” Ben was exacerbated.

“Don’t worry Pa, he’ll do as he’s told!” Adam’s voice was stern, but he winked at Joe.

Ben shook his head. Things were definitely getting back to normal.

The two brothers had an enjoyable ride. Joe was sensible, he knew full well that Adam would be reporting back to Pa and he wasn’t taking any chances. He fully intended to be back at work in the next week or so, and wasn’t going to risk Pa saying “No”. The brothers alternated between riding quietly enjoying the beauties of nature, and chatting about all and sundry in a light hearted manner. Eventually they found themselves at the lakeshore. They tethered Cochise and Sport to a bush and wandered along amongst the rocks to the water’s edge. The lake was a smooth as glass, reflecting the mountains that surrounded it. They both began to skim stones like the little boys who had come here so long ago. Before they knew it they had a fierce competition going, searching for the perfect stone, each sure that they could make their stone bounce off the water more times and travel further than the other’s.

“Adam can I ask you something?”

Adam gave Joe a sidelong look but said nothing.

“When you were away, how come you didn’t write to me like you said you would?”

Adam stopped throwing stones, and looked at Joe. “I meant to, but I then went to St. Louis and got involved with what I was doing and the time just flew by. I’m sorry.”

“I thought you didn’t care. I tried to write to you, but I didn’t know what to say.” Joe went back to skimming stones, leaving Adam once more feeling that he had let his brother down.

“Hey Adam, do you remember when you taught me how to do this?” asked Joe lightening the mood.

“Sure I do, but can you remember? You weren’t very old.”

“Of course I remember. It was one day when we all came here for a picnic.”

Adam smiled as he remembered the day. “You sure got frustrated when your stone would just PLOP in the water whilst mine went flying over the surface,” Adam said imitating his flying stone with his hand.

“Yeah, well may be,” Joe said seriously, “but I soon got the hang of it and I’ve been better than you ever since.” Adam reached over to grab him, but he ducked away. Both were silent for a while, each lost in happy memories of the past.

“Joe, let’s go over by those trees and sit in the shade for a while.” Joe complied and the two wandered up the shore where a canopy of trees offered respite from the sun, and Joe sat leaning against a huge boulder.

“Sure is a beautiful day isn’t it Adam? Just look at how blue the sky is, and how green the trees are,” commented Joe marvelling at the beauty around them. Joe leaned his head back against the rock and closed his eyes.

“Joe. You feeling okay?

“I’m fine Adam, never felt better.”

Adam was anxious to speak to Joe but was unsure how to start. “Joe, I think you and I should have a talk – about the way things were before you were ill.” Adam walked a few paces away and screwed up his eyes as he looked up into the strong sunlight.

Joe opened his eyes and looked up at Adam, his dark form silhouetted against the bright light. It was always so hard to tell what Adam was thinking. He picked up a twig and began peeling off the bark. “I thought we had settled that Adam. I thought it was over,” he said quietly. “You said you forgave me.”

Adam took a deep breath. “It is over Joe, but I just think that we need to talk, that’s all.” He walked over to Joe and sat down next to him. “I don’t want things between us to ever get that bad again.”

“They won’t Adam, I promise, really I do. I won’t let it happen again.”

“Joe, I don’t want you to promise me anything. Besides, I already told you that it was my fault more than yours.”

“I don’t know what you’re getting at Adam.” Joe was beginning to feel worried; he didn’t know where this was leading – and just when everything seemed so right again.

“Joe, don’t you think we need to know what caused these problems? That way we can avoid it happening again.”

Joe thought for a moment, taking off his hat and running his fingers through his hair, and then nodded in agreement.

Well, I gave this a lot of thought while I was away and while you were ill, the reason why we always seem to be at loggerheads with each other. I think part of the problem is our age difference. I know you think I treat you like a child, and if I’m honest then I suppose I do. But I’ve looked after you for so long Joe, it’s hard to change I guess, but I will try. I don’t mean to antagonise you.” He paused to look at Joe; Joe just looked down at the ground. Adam took a breath and carried on.

“The second thing, the way I see it, is we are just so different you and I, we see things differently, have different priorities. Just because I don’t agree with you doesn’t mean that you are wrong, and vice versa, just because you disagree with me doesn’t make me wrong either. What I’m trying to say is that we are allowed to have different ideas without arguing over it all the time. I know sometimes I get so wrapped up in the way I feel about a thing, that I forget that someone else may feel differently about it.” Adam paused, trying to find the right words. “You know Pa taught us lots of things, but I think the most important thing of all that he taught us was to love each other, to stand together and protect each other. Joe, can you see what I’m getting at?” Again he looked up at Joe, trying to gauge his brother’s reaction to his words, but Joe continued to stare down at the ground. “Maybe while we were having our petty squabbles and letting them grow out of all proportion, we forgot what it was to be a family, to be brothers!”

There was a long silence. Adam hadn’t been at all sure that he would be able to speak to Joe about the way he felt. He always found it difficult to express his feelings to those that he loved the most, to his family. Now he was worried about Joe’s reaction.

Joe had listened intently to all that Adam had said. He couldn’t remember Adam speaking to him like this before. Adam had often given him advice of course, whether he had wanted it or not, but this was different, and Joe sensed that it had been difficult for Adam to open up.

Adam began to throw small pebbles, aiming for a rock a little way off, waiting for some response from Joe.

It took a while, but eventually Joe began to talk. “There’s something I’d like to say Adam.”

Adam let the pebbles fall from his hand, and waited expectantly.

“When I was sick you promised me that you wouldn’t leave again. Well, I would like to release you from that promise. I know you meant it, but it just isn’t fair. I know you want to travel and I don’t expect you to stay just for me. I don’t like it when you’re not here, but I’ll get used to it. That’s just me being selfish.”

Adam looked at Joe for a long while then smiled. “You know it’s not that I don’t want to be here Joe, or that I’m not happy here. There are just so many other places to see.”

“Well that’s got to be Pa’s fault. Must be in your blood. Pa travelling so much, and your grandfather too; and then when you were just a baby Pa travelling again. I suppose all that’s bound to affect you.”

“But I was glad when we stopped. Our first home was just a small cabin, but it was home. It was so good to have a place of our own and not to have to move on each day. It’s hard to call a wagon ‘home’. The Ponderosa will always be my home Joe.”

Joe glanced at Adam. “You know, I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else but here. I would like to visit New York sometime maybe, but I don’t ever want to live anywhere else. You’d think it would be the other way round wouldn’t you. I mean I’m the one who was born here, you’d think I’d be the one to want to see other places.”

“You’re content Joe, you and Hoss both. That’s great. There’s no right or wrong, it’s just the way we are inside. I just get this hankering to go exploring, to see far away places. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my home, or my family. If I do go away sometime, well I hope I will always be welcome to come back home.”

“You know that Adam, we’ll always be here for you to come back to. I hope you’re not planning to go too soon though,” added Joe wistfully.

“No, I’m not going anywhere, but I appreciate you not holding me to that promise. Hey, maybe we can go see New York together sometime.”

“Yeah? I’d like that Adam.” Joe really did look pleased.

It wasn’t a promise as such but Adam made a mental note to make the trip with Joe. He would enjoy showing his little brother around the big city. He’d even take him to Boston too, to see where Pa came from, and his own mother and grandfather. Adam leaned back and closed his eyes. He felt much better now. Talking to Joe hadn’t been as difficult as he had imagined.

Joe broke the companionable silence. “You know Adam, just after you left, me and Pa had a long talk – well actually Pa did all the talking, I just kinda listened.”

Adam grinned. “Yeah, I’ve had a few of those talks with Pa too.”

“You have?” Joe seemed surprised at his older brother’s admission. “Anyway, he told me that I should try to see your side of things, and not get so hot under the collar all the time. He also talked to me about when you were a small boy. Pa told me about how difficult it was for you when you were little, and about how much responsibility he heaped on to you when you were very young. He said that the only time you were really allowed to be a child was when Inger was alive. And he made me see how hard it must be to lose three mothers. Compared to you I’ve had it real easy.”

“It was hard for him too, he lost three wives, and besides you lost your mother.”

For a moment both brothers sat in silence. Then Joe began to speak again.

“Pa tried to make me understand how seriously you took your responsibilities and why it would make you mad when you thought I was being irresponsible. I’m sorry Adam, really. I don’t think I will ever be able to be like you Adam. I just can’t seem to help myself. I just end up doing something stupid. Pa says I don’t think enough.”

Adam smiled. “You know he tells me that I think too much! too much education!” Adam chuckled and shook his head, then added, “and heaven forbid that you should try to be like me. You’re the best thing that happened to this family Joe, I don’t want you to change.”

There were a few moments of silence, broken only by the soft wind rustling in the trees.

Adam sighed. “And Joe, I’m glad you had a happy, carefree childhood, that’s the way it should be, and please don’t think that I’m bitter about my own because I’m not. It’s just the way things were, life isn’t perfect for anyone, but on the whole I think that Pa has done pretty well by all of us don’t you.” Joe nodded his agreement. “Now I’m not fool enough to think we won’t have our differences in the future – we will Joe, but if we both agree to be more tolerant and understanding of each other, well maybe things won’t get so bad again. What do you think?”

Joe considered his brother’s words for a time.

“I think you’re absolutely right older brother,” said Joe thrusting forward his hand to settle the deal. “And Adam, I know that it’s in your nature to be bossy, I guess you must have been born that way, but if it gets out of hand – well I might just have to do something about it!” With his other hand Joe pulled his hat down low over his eyes and treated Adam to a cheeky grin.

As they shook hands Adam considered Joe. “You know, even when things were at their worst, I still felt the same about you Joe, you know that don’t you?”

Joe gave Adam one of his brilliant smiles that lit up his face. “I know Adam. I love you too,” he said quietly and without embarrassment.

Adam smiled. “Come on kid, let’s go home. Time for you to take a nap.”

Joe rolled his eyes. “Kid!” he muttered, “I bet he’s still calling me ‘kid’ when I’m fifty years old!”

“What’s that you’re saying,” questioned Adam as he untied Sport and swung easily into the saddle.

“Nothing,” said Joe, “nothing at all, Grandpa.”

Adam grinned as he rode up towards the tall pines, his baby brother following closely behind.

***The End***

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