Marian (by Mary Chris Cartwright Landon)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  38,000


The night was warm but not for the young people who were dancing animatedly on Saturday night in Virginia City.

Among them was Joe, dressed in black pants and a white shirt, who danced with Marian, a girl from New England who had arrived in Virginia City a little while ago. Marian wore a rose silk dress with a belt on her waist and a neckline that left her shoulders bare except for what was covered by her long blonde hair. The dress was much different than usually found in the small town and showed she had been educated in one of the better schools of the east.

“We will have to let everyone know…from today, you will be my official girlfriend,” said Joe, leaning toward her and trying to kiss her on the lips.

But Marian avoided the kiss. “Joe Cartwright!! Do not lie to me….”

Joe did not understand Marian’s attitude. “You think I would lie to you?”

“We have been in town only a short time, but several girls already warned me about you…said that you have many girlfriends,” replied Marian.

“I do not have a girlfriend, not a special one,” said Joe innocently and tried kissing her again

But Marian continued avoiding the kiss. “And what about Violet?”

Joe avoided the answer with another question. “What about Violet?”

Marian continued to persist. “Seems that you forgotten her and Laura, or Meg, or Cindy or…?”

Joe interrupted with a laugh. “It seems that you have done a very good job of investigating me but I assure you that I do not have feelings for them. On the other hand, with you… you pleased me since the first day that I saw you.”

Marian began to laugh. “I do not believe it was from the first moment since my mother made you fall.”  The two laughed

“I was absent minded and did not know what made me fall,” said Joe. “In that moment, I was dazed and all I saw….I thought that when you gave me your hand to help me rise, you were an angel,” added Joe sweetly.

Marian smiled and Joe tried kissing her, but Marian turned her head. “Do not go so fast…give me time…and I will see if I believe you or not.”

Joe was sincere and put his hands on his chest, giving the sign of an oath. “You will see for yourself that I do not lie…that I want to make you happy…and that I am not what you said I am.”

“That I will decide. I prefer to meet your family. I have heard you speak a great deal of your father but I don’t know what they are like.”

Joe turned, putting his left arm on the wall. “You don’t know my father and brothers yet. Adam is the oldest, and Hoss is six years older than me. Just the four of us. My brothers have cousins and aunts and uncles, but I have only them.” The last phrase was said with sadness, with an inner pain.

Marian interrupted. “I do not understand. How could they have cousins and aunts and uncles and you do not?”

“I did not tell you that we have different mothers. My father became a widower three times. They occasionally go to visit their relatives…the two go together because Adam’s relatives want to see a great deal of Hoss. They are always asking that he accompany Adam,” clarified Joe, trying to sound as natural as possible.

“And you are not welcome?” said Marian.

“It is a very long story, but I can condense it by telling you that they did not like my mother and therefore do not accept me. When I was 8 or 9 years old, my father took me and they treated us very badly…so much happened that we finished the visit a great deal earlier than expected…and we never went there again.”

“But your brothers continue going. I do not believe that they are right to do so.”

“They did not want to return but I explained to them that not everyone is liked…that it did not hurt me that those people disapproved of me. If they did not want me around, that was fine. I finally convinced them when an aunt of Adam was very sick and asked to see them.”

“You have a very good heart. I do not believe I would have acted the same.”

“I do not know if I have a heart as big as you say, but I love my father and brothers. I know what is not to have anyone, and they helped me a great deal.”

“And you studied away from here?”

“No. My father intended to send me like Adam, but I was a little more rebellious. They wanted me to go but I was very badly injured and for almost a year I had to rehabilitate and heal. Everything was healed fine.

“What happened to you?”

“Adam and I were bringing money from the sale of some horses. Some men ambushed us. We tried to run but they caught us in a cross-fire and they wounded me in the leg. I had the bad luck that an immense bear appeared and attacked. Adam tried to shoot the animal but couldn’t free me until one of the bandits came over to our side. He shot it with a powerful shotgun.”

Marian was horrified. “Oh, how you must have suffered…”

“At the time, no, because I had bumped my head. When Adam carried me to the Ponderosa, I did react, though, and felt bad.”

Joe was thrown to memory, recalling what Adam had done. “Adam was upset by all the blood…they told me when we arrived at the house, he was distressed by the sight. If you knew him….he is refined, very serious, not violent and here I was covered in blood…I don’t remember much because things were so disjointed. But they told me as soon as we arrived at the ranch, Adam said I was injured, full of blood…and he was very upset.”

“I imagine, having studied in the east, he had not seen that type of accident, and I would guess he would see things in a very different way,” said Marian.

Joe was amazed things would appear that way to Marian, because the explanation was very different. “Before Adam left, we were closer, we were better friends…Was that fried chicken on the table? You did not eat. I’m sorry if you did not like it and found it a problem…

“I did like but it is difficult…food is something that is to be treated with a great deal of delicacy. In school, they teach you which dish is served, which cup to use…in short, teach you good manners.”

Joe asked how things were different. “And you also changed when you finished your studies?”

“Although you do not want to change, Joe, you do change. I become accustomed to dealing with people at the highest levels. All my friends are very important.”

“Then it seems I do not have any possibilities with you….I am a simple cattleman,” said Joe, downcast.

“You are different; your father is the owner of The Ponderosa,” answered Marian, trying to raise his spirits.

“But I do not have an eastern education, Marian.”

‘I imagine that with your father, you will have known a great deal of important people.”

“Yes, he would tell you that the previous president used to come to our ranch,” Joe commented quietly. He was never happy to boast of the wealth or important friendships of his family, and he was not going to begin to do it now.

Marian was surprised at what he said, and something inside her changed. “I can not believe…!!!  What is he like?”

“Someone normal and friendly…I do not particularly like to talk about those visits. I have already spoken enough of my father and said things which might cause you to treat me different. In school, that used to happen. I behaved very badly to try to be important and that used to cause trouble.”

“It is not what you said…The Ponderosa is well known throughout the country. Before I came here, I read articles in the main newspapers.”

“Yes, it is well known. But let’s talk about other things…you should think of you and me…”

*****

Later, Joe was with Marian near her house. They were behind the white fence near some small woods

 “I expect that we should get back to the house, Joe said while caressing her hair.

“I believe that I got to know the true Joe Cartwright today…I had another image of you and it is nothing like what I saw.  I also expect that we both should go,” she answered in a very flirty voice.

Joe was happy and showed it in his smile.  “Yes…we should go on a picnic tomorrow. I will tell Hop Sing to prepare something and come by to get you.”

“I accept with a condition.”

“Which is?” asked Joe

“I will prepare the food…I love to cook,” Marian answered, smiling at him.

The idea charmed Joe but he did not want the girl to go to a lot of trouble. “But it is very late…and you are going to be tired,” said Joe very sweetly.

“But I want to be the one that prepares the food for you. It will please me to prepare something for you even if I’m tired.”

Joe stammered a bit as shyness overcame him. “All right, if that’s what you want.” He added quickly, “I’ll come by at 11 o’clock,” then turned and quickly left.

Marian watched while Joe left, then entered the house where her mother was seated in a chair, waiting for her. The room was very feminine, with candlesticks and pictures on the wall. One of them was a portrait of Marian, dressed in a luxurious gown. Her mother was a very distinguished woman, about 50 years old, with very blond hair and a very pleasant manner.

Her mother noted the happiness in Marian’s face. She rose and walked toward her daughter. “Good. It seems the younger Cartwright has truly conquered you. I saw the look in your eyes as he left.

“My eyes? What have my eyes to do with it, mom?” asked Marian, puzzled.

“They have the shine of love, daughter,” answered her mother, very touched to see her daughter so happy. The two joined together to laugh, and Marian turned with happiness, showing her mother how she danced with Joe.

“Oh mom, he is so sweet, so tender…I am sure that all the ones who made bad comments about him did it out of envy. He has such a sincere look and treated me with so much courtesy. I have to cook something for tomorrow. We are going on a picnic. Will you help me? I do not want to do it badly…Oh, mom! You can not imagine how happy I am.”

“I am going to help you. I have never seen you so nervous about a boy. With your other suitors, you were never like this.

“Joe Cartwright is different.”

“All my life I imagined you married to someone important. Since you began to see boys, you said if the boy was not a university student, you would not speak to him.

“I repeat, Joe is different.”

“Why? Because he is very handsome and sweet, or is the reason that he is the son of the owner of the Ponderosa? He is a cattleman, daughter…a cattleman with money, a great deal of money, but still a cattleman,” said her mother directly. But Marian did not let her mother’s comments bother her.

“Maybe he does not have the education that the other boys had, but he has a unique… personality. I never imagined that someone like him would excite me. I always wanted to live in the city, with a husband who was lawyer, engineer or architect, and yet you see I am enthusiastic about a cattleman.”

Her mother continued looking, doubting everything her daughter said.

*****

Joe entered his house whistling, and did not realize his father was seated in the red chair, reading a book. “You seem to be in a very good humor,” his father said.

“Pa, what are you doing up so late?”

“Problems with the San Francisco contract….” Ben began telling Joe as he got up, leaving the book on the chair. “A telegram arrived that are going to make some changes…it’s not sure yet, but the terms are not good from an economic point of view,” said Ben, very worried.

Joe saw the worry on his father’s face and listened attentively to what his father said. “But you said that that contract would open doors to others,” said Joe, sitting down on the large sofa.

“And I did not lie….it is very important for the future of our ranch.”

“And making a profit is the point of the contract, right?” asked Joe in a very sweet voice, very calming for his father.

“Yes…” said Ben, already more calm.

“You always told us that money is not important, and in this case, it isn’t, Pa. You have made a very important contact, one that will open doors to another continent. I know what it means to you, after you have worked so hard for it.

“It wasn’t just my work alone…” interrupted Ben.

“Another reason to for us to stand behind you and help anyway we can,” said Joe, looking into his father’s eyes.

“You always have an answer to please me…I can’t deny that you are your mother’s son. She had that facility to encourage me,” said Ben, giving Joe a pat on the back.

“Why don’t we get some coffee and talk about Adam’s birthday.”

“Let’s go to the kitchen where it is fresh, Joe.”

They went to the kitchen and while they went speaking, Joe went prepared the coffee. Ben, in the meantime, sat down, waiting.

“I’m glad you have forgotten Karen and feel happy,” said Ben.

“That woman only caused pain…I don’t understand how someone can be so bad with the feelings of others,” said Joe while seeking something to remove the coffee pot from the fire and not be burned. Joe took a cloth off the wall and removed the container with a bit of clumsiness, then began to serve the coffee.

“People like that exist, Joe…you cannot believe it because you have a very good heart.”

As he sat down, Joe interrupted his father. “Hey! That’s the second time tonight someone told me that. I am going to start believing it soon.”

“Who else said that to you?” Ben asked him.

“Were you ever nervous in front of a woman, Pa?”

“Yes…with your mother,” answered Ben in a very quick voice.

The two laughed together, and at that moment, Adam entered the kitchen.

“I heard voices and I woke…in reality, I can not sleep,” said Adam. “I want that birthday party to be talked about for a long time in Virginia City.”

“Don’t worry about that. Your younger brother will take charge of helping you,” said Joe. “First, I will invite the prettiest women from around here, and you will be able to select anyone you want, unless…”

“Unless she is the one that causes you to stammer, maybe?” asked Ben.

“Maybe…maybe,” said Joe and the three laughed happily.

At that moment, Hoss entered. “What’s so funny?”

“It seems that our brother found the woman of his dreams, Hoss,” said Adam

“Who is she? Do we know her, Joe?” asked Hoss very anxiously.

“You do not…she lives in town.”

“What’s her name?” asked Adam.

“Patience, brothers. When things are more definite, I will tell you. In the meantime, I will act like the gentleman my older brother taught me to be,” answered Joe as he went to the fruit dish to get an apple and throw it in the air to Hoss. Joe realized Adam looked a little irked at Joe’s attitude. “I think I’m going to university, brother, but for now, I will behave like a gentleman and I will let you teach me good manners,” added Joe, giving Adam an exaggerated bow.  “You have me in your hands, older brother,” finished Joe, laughing with a mouth full of apple.

“For a start, you can laugh with your mouth closed when you are eating,” said Adam ironically, and Joe quickly close his mouth.

“Seems that the girl in question is a university student, or am I mistaken?” said Hoss.

“I will not give any hints, Hoss,” said Joe as he continued eating his apple, watching the curiosity grow on the face of his brother.

*****

Two months passed, and Joe was in Marion’s house talking with her mother. They were having coffee with apple pie. Joe looked with attention at the picture Margaret was showing.

“My husband was a traveling salesman, and he used to bring me the best, without worrying about its cost. We never had a problem with money,” said Margaret

Marian interrupted. “Mom, why don’t you stop showing those things to Joe and let him drink his hot coffee.”

The three laughed.

“Margaret, this pie is delicious. My brother Hoss would have eaten it all,” commented Joe.

“Then I will invite him to visit and eat one,” Margaret replied.

“I am going to change my dress before we go to town, Joe,” said Marian.

Joe got out of his chair and ran to Marian’s side. “You are very beautiful,” said Joe very softly. Marian smiled, very pleased. She walked to the stairs that went up to her room, while Joe watched her attentively. Margaret smiled at how enchanted Joe was by her daughter.

“This pleases me,” said Margaret.

“I love your daughter, and I swear I will do whatever it takes to make her the happiest woman in the world.”

“What would please me is that you tell your family who your girlfriend is. It does not please me that you hide it.”

“I want it to be THE surprise when they know. I recognize that has been three months, but I have fallen in love. I want to present Marian as the future Mrs. Cartwright.”

“You are very close with your family, right?” asked Margaret.

“How could I not be, with all the good things they have always done for me.”

“You mother passed away when you were very small, right?”

“Yes, when I was 5 years old. And from that moment, they were father and mother to me, especially my brother Adam. He is the hard one to please, and I feel he wants more from me.”

“And you always speak highly of Adam.”

“He is my idol…when I was a boy, I always told him that I wanted to be like him, and my father pretended to get mad, to be jealous.”

“It makes me happy to know what Marian is going to enter a good family.”

“And I assure they will approve…it was always my father’s dream to have a daughter.

At that moment, Marian descended from her room, wearing a heavenly dress with white daggers in the neckline, in the sleeves, and in the skirt. Her hair was loose, but she carried a hat that matched the dress.

“How do I look?” asked Marian, making a circle.

Joe was amazed and Margaret felt proud of her daughter.

“You are precious…I believe that instead of being engaged, we should get married immediately,” said Joe as he approached Marian. He turned to Margaret. “Close your eyes for a minute.”

Margaret closed her eyes as Joe asked. Joe gave Marian a very deep kiss on the lips, and she did the same.

“You can open them now,” said Marian with a laugh. Joe took her hand and they left the house.

Joe helped Marian into the carriage and got in on the other side. The carriage started forward when Marian suddenly said to stop. Joe stopped the horses and gave Marian a strange look.

“Joe…are you sure we will be doing the right thing?” asked Marian as a tear fell down her cheek.

“I don’t understand, my love…what?” said Joe as his hand dried the tear.

“I don’t want to spoil Adam’s birthday…you tell me this is always a serious thing, a formal thing, and this might not…please them.”

“Listen…you…you do not want to break our engagement, Marian, do you?” asked Joe.

“Don’t be silly, Joe. How can you believe that?” said Marian.

“The other night I thought you told me that it would please you to live at the Ponderosa, even when I told you that I do not run the ranch, that it is Adam who does so. You wanted to be by my side, to work with me, not because of my name but of who I am. I work for the family, whether my name is Cartwright or Smith,” clarified Joe, a little restrained as he waited for Marian to answer.

“You misunderstood me. I did not say that that I expected financial help from your father, but it would please me if you would understand that you are a Cartwright and you should participate in all the decision about the ranch. Understand how your brothers do things and not be an outsider.”

“Marian, when we first met, you told me that you always dreamed of marrying someone important. I am…not,” said Joe.

Marian interrupted. “You ARE a Cartwright…”

“Yes, but the important one is my brother Adam…not me,” said Joe, downcast.

 “But I love you, dear.”

Joe embraced her tightly against him and gave a sigh of relief. “Marian, I love you. With you at my side, I have everything. If it is necessary, I will work 24 hours a day, but you will have the best. I love you, Marian. If you left me, I would go crazy.”

And they kissed passionately.

“Are you sure those rings that I showed you in the catalogue don’t cost too much, because I don’t want to you to have such an expense,” said Marian in a very loving way.

“You should not worry about that.”

“It is that I began to think…those with diamonds are very costly, and there are more simple ones. One ring is no more important than another ring…you are important to me,” Marian stated.

“You are important to me and therefore I want to give you the best. I have the money and I am going to spend it.”

Once again, they kissed with a great deal of passion.

*****

Later, Joe arrived at the house and he was met by Ben, Adam, and Hoss in the big room.

“Delay the birthday party?” said Joe while removing his jacket and gunbelt.

“Because of the problems in San Francisco,” reported Ben. “One of us should go. And the one who does go will have to remain in San Francisco a minimum of 4 months, supervising all the contract details.”

Joe thought that not to see Marian for four months would be a torture.

“But we are going to have to notify everyone that there will be no party,” said Joe.

“That is my same old luck, little brother,” replied Adam uncomfortably, and he went to his room.

Ben and his two sons remained, troubled by Adam’s feelings.

Hoss offered to go. “Pa, I can go. There’s no reason why I can not make the trip.”

“I know it, but you don’t understand the contract. The details are very complicated. I cannot go because I have to run things here,” Ben replied.

Hoss looked directly at Joe, who was quiet and hoping they did not think of him.

“Joe, why don’t you go?” said Hoss. “Adam was very excited about that party…it’s the first time in two years that I have seen him enthusiastic about something other than work. He’s been preparing all the details for two months, and I think it is unfair that he can not have his party.”

Joe, feeling incredibly guilty, did not know what to say. He knew it was being egotistical to think only of himself but it was impossible for him to act otherwise. Taking a breath, Joe started to answer Hoss but could not look him in the eye. “Hoss, it isn’t that I don’t understand what you are saying, but four months! I have an important relationship and four months is a very long time. Please understand me,” he finished with a bit of a sob. He didn’t want to act this way but he wanted to be understood.

“Son, I understand,” said Ben. “But I also understand that a great deal of our future depends on this contract. Your relationship is very important, but I believe it has been a bit hasty. You told me that you wanted to be engaged at Adam’s birthday party. It seems very romantic but also very hasty.”

“Is there a specific time to know whether a woman should become a wife? Don’t give that excuse, Pa. You always told me that you fell in love with my mother at first sight,” Joe said.

 Hoss looked at Joe with a frown, and decided to go to the kitchen before he said or did anything he would regret.

Ben approached Joe and put his arm around his son’s shoulder. “Why don’t you talk with her? If she truly loves you…Go see her right now and bring me an answer. If you decide you will not be able to be separated, I will not be so foolish as to force you. A wife is very important, and it would not please me if you lost her,” suggested Ben.

“All right…I will go right now.” Joe took his gunbelt and his jacket and left.

Hoss came from the kitchen and approached his father, whose face showed a mixture of worry and guilt for the duty he had asked of his youngest son.

“Pa, what if I try to find out who the girl is?” suggested Hoss.

“Your brother wants to keep it secret until Adam’s birthday…it is not our decision.”

“It’s that I am so curious to know,” said Hoss. “Since he met her, he has changed. He’s more responsible…finishes all his work before going to see her.”

To that Ben added, “I feel bad about asking him to go. Yes, they are going to miss each other. I wish they would not have to be separated for so much time.”

*****

Joe was at Marian’s house, talking with her and her mother.

“Joe, I believe that your father entrusts you with this because he has all the confidence in the world in you. My dear, the idea of not seeing you for so long does not please me, but I feel proud that you are the chosen one, that you have the confidence of your father,” said Marian.

Her mother realized it was useless to disagree, and she went to Joe and caressed his cheek. “Good son, I am going to miss you a great deal. And I promise you that I will guard your dear one for you. I do not want anyone as a husband for my daughter except you.”

Joe felt protected by the comment, and laughed a bit. He took Margaret’s hands and gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I would be happy if you brought her to San Francisco.”

“They said that the fabrics from China are very pretty,” said Margaret. “You bring me silk to make the dress for her wedding with you.”

“Then I will choose the best,” answered Joe. “I don’t have a mother so you will have to act in her place.”

“And I accept gladly,” Margaret said. “You already are like a son to me.”

Marian began to sob. “Listen to you two. I am trying to be strong and not cry, but hearing you, I will not resist….

“I will leave so that you can say good-bye,” said Margaret. “Good luck, Joe.” She rose from the chair and walked out of the room.

Joe took Marian’s hand and they went outside to sit down on a chair hammock on Marian’s front porch. Joe held Marian tightly, and at once they began to kiss with a great deal of passion. “You will wait for me?” asked Joe while still kissing her.

“Forever, forever my love,” replied Marian while she kissed Joe also.

“I am going to write you every day,” said Joe fervently.

“I also…I love you, Joe,” Marian said and continue kissing him while moving her hands to caress Joe’s chest under his shirt. Joe stopped her before her passion went too far.

“I had better be going,” said Joe, his decision difficult.

“Stay a little longer. You are going to be my husband, aren’t you?” said Marian.

“Yes, but not now, my dear, you understand?” said Joe very softly.

But Marian did not put any importance on Joe’s reason. She wanted him, wanted to be his, and wanted to be sure Joe did not leave until she loved him with all her soul. She wanted her ardor to change him into an important man of business. “Joe, do not cause me shame. I want to show you how much I love you…how important you are to me,” she said, whispering softly.

“I know you love me. It does not have to happen now,” said Joe, trying to sound convincing, but she continued urging him.

“I need to know you love me. I want you to assure me that when you return, you will not call off our wedding.” Marian continued kissing and caressing him, knowing it would convince him.

Joe could not resist any longer and began kissing her with more passion. Marian said to Joe, “Behind the house is a guest room.” She stood and took Joe’s hand, and they went together to the small room. The empty room was furnished with a comfortable bed. Joe continued kissing Marian on her neck, burying his face in her hair. Marian continued to tell him in a passionate voice, “I want to be yours, Joe. Take me.” She freed herself and reclined on the bed, then called Joe with a look that he could not resist. He went to her.

*****

Later, after they left the guest room, Joe stopped and kissed Marian with a great deal of tenderness. “I love you, Marian…I love you so much.”

“I am going to miss you. I had many pictures in my head of that party, of meeting your family,” said Marian, supporting her head on Joe’s shoulder.

Joe had an idea at that moment, and he spoke while he gave her small kisses on her head. “Listen, I want you to go to the party anyway,” Joe said to Marian.

“And introduce myself without you? I do not want to, Joe.”

“No, I don’t ask you to introduce yourself. Just see them and know them, but don’t say that you are my girlfriend. It will be amusing.”

The two laughed. “You have eccentric ideas, but it pleases me,” said Marian. She added, “But I will not dance with anybody. I will look around the house, see the living room and dining room. I will be able to see your father and listen to him talking of you. I will get to know Hoss and Adam.”

They embraced and they kissed with a great deal of passion, then continued walking to Joe’s horse.

“You are mine?” asked it Joe with teary eyes.

“I love you with all my soul, Joe,” she said softly.

“You swear that you will wait for me, that you are going to answer all my letters, that you are going to think of me all the time like I will be thinking of you,” said Joe while holding her tightly against his body.

“Do not break that promise, Joe, because you are my life,” said Marian with eyes full of tears.

“When I return, we will decide where we are going to build our house,” said Joe anxiously.

“That area you showed me so near the lake pleased me, with the fresh fragrance of pines…our children will grow happy there, my love.”

Seeing how much time had passed, Joe gave her a short kiss on the lips, and mounted his horse. As he rode away, he shouted to Marian, “For always mine?”

“Forever,” answered Marian among sobs.

And Joe went.

Marian entered the house and went upstairs to her mother’s bedroom. Margaret sat down on the bed while Marian fell into her arms crying, “I am going to miss him a lot. I want to marry him, mom. What if he forgets our love?” said Marian, crying.

“The love that boy has is not going to die…I see how much he loves you.” Her mother stood and led Marian down toward the kitchen, where she began to make coffee.

“I can’t believe I see you so in love,” commented Margaret. “I always imagined that you desired to marry a lawyer, an architect…and I imagined that he was going to be a great deal older than you. Then Joe appeared in your life. His is such a good boy, amusing…and so handsome. I already imagine the beautiful grandchildren I will have.”

“I will make Joe important. He is a Cartwright, although he does not value that name. With time, I will make him a man of business. You will see that he will forget about taming horses or going to the camps with the workers.”

“And you believe he will change? I think it is rare that that one from a ranch will change. I can not imagine Joe becoming a man of business,” emphasize her mother.

Marian said very causally, “I will change him. He already has the money. He only needs to learn.”

Margaret could not understand her daughter. She knew Marian loved Joe, but the mother saw in her daughter a great deal of ambition, an ambition almost desperate to be achieved…things she did not see in Joe. She asked herself how long the couple would be able to be happy with so different feelings about material things.

*****

Joe arrived at the ranch and led his horse, Cochise, to the stable, then walked to the porch of the house, where Adam was waiting. “Hey, why are you up so late?” asked Joe nicely.

“I wanted to speak with you, little brother. Let’s go to the kitchen and get some coffee,” said Adam. The both went to the kitchen by the side door. When they entered, Joe sat down near the table.

“I’ve already prepared coffee. I think this is the fifth one I’ve had waiting for you,” said Adam while serving the two.

“I can’t believe you drank so much…I thought I was the coffee one of the family,” Joe said casually.

“I am taking up your bad habits,” answered Adam pleasantly as he sat down and gave a cup to Joe.

“Joe, I was thinking…I acted like an impulsive kid with you today,” said Adam guiltily.

“I don’t understand,” answered Joe, taking a drink of coffee.

“About the party…I am separating you from the woman you love for a simple birthday party.”

“It is not a simple party for you…you started planning it three months ago.”

“But, Joe, I am too old for those ideas,” Adam continued saying.

“You are not too old. Don’t feel guilty, Adam. My girlfriend and I have agreed…she is going to be waiting for me and when I return, we are going to be married.”

“You are sure you want to marry so promptly? You are very young and are going to be separated a long time. She might seem different when you return.” Adam realized what he said was very pessimistic, so he added, “I’m sorry, brother. Things went badly for me, so I think badly of the entire world.”

“I know you mean well…”

“Good…I am going to bed,” said Adam. He noted Joe was very pensive, very deep in thought. “Something bothering you, Joe?”

Joe had felt very good before Adam asked the question. “No, everything is all right, but I don’t feel well,” said Joe.

“I am here if you want to tell me,” said Adam, sitting down again.

“It isn’t something to be talked about…it’s something between her and me.”

“But you seem upset and I believe you need to talk about it now. If you don’t want me, I will call Pa.”

“No! Not to him,” said Joe hastily. He sighed. “I was thinking about what you said. I’m sure she will not change, but I don’t know what to do. I think I have acted badly. She is as young as I, and to have loved her so…” Joe fell silent, feeling ashamed, and then continued. “With any other girl, I don’t feel guilty, but with her, it is different.” He did not tell Adam exactly what happened but Adam did not need to have it explained to him.

“This is an act of two, Joe. She did it because she loves you. You should not feel guilty…you should feel quite beloved.” Then Adam laughed and added, “And be prepared to run from her family if you do not marry her.”

Then Joe smiled. “I won’t have to run.”

*****

The day of the party, Marian arrived with two friends at the Ponderosa. “Remember, don’t tell anyone that I am Joe’s girlfriend,” said Marian.

“The ranch is an incredible sight…you are engaged to the most coveted boy in town and a rich one,” said one of her friends.

Ben approached the young ladies and greeted one of the girls who arrived with Marian. “Susan…welcome…it is good to see you.”

“Thanks. Joe invited us…where is he?” the girl asked deliberately, and Marian’s face showed that she wanted to murder the girl.

“Unfortunately, he is not with us…he had to travel,” said Ben.

“Too bad. He always cheers up the party, and we all like to dance with him.”

“I believe that Joe’s time has already passed…seems he is in the position of boyfriend…” and at that moment, someone called to Ben and interrupted the conversation. “I will see you later,” said Ben and left.

The two friends laughed but Marian was furious. “I wanted to cut out your tongue, Susan…you are the worse thing….”

“Well, I already knew your father-in-law….”

Later on in the party, one of the invited ranchers wanted to make a speech about Adam. He approached Adam and put his arm around Adam’s shoulders, then said to all, “I want you all to know of the excellent professional that we are honored to have with us in Virginia City. This man designed the new house for my ranch and I dare say that it will be a home for a thousand years. I have had the pleasure of knowing him since he was a boy, have known him all his life. Today, in front of all of you, I am going to announce the project of my new mines. It is a very important project, and for that I need an architect like you, Adam.”

All the guests applauded while Ben felt very proud of his son.

Marian remained looking very attentive, recognizing Adam as an excellent professional, and while she continued to love Joe, ambition was beginning to enter her thoughts.

Adam, at that moment, looked at her and smiled gallantly. Marian answered the smile and lowered her head shyly.

Susan saw those looks and said to Marian, “Don’t forget that is your brother-in-law.”

“Don’t be a fool,” said Marian angrily, and then did not want her friends to think she was angry. “I will ask where I can freshen up so I can see Joe’s room,” she said. She moved to where Hop Sing was serving more punch and asked, and was directed to the stairs. But before she could move, she looked at Adam and he noticed her look.

Susan and her friend also saw. “She is flirting with Adam,” said Susan. “What kind of woman is she, Sandy?”

“Joe does not seem to know…perhaps he sees only an act…”

Marian went up the stairs and down the hallway, opening the doors of the rooms. When she arrived at Joe’s room, she remained outside, looking at it very attentively.

A voice startled her. “Are you lost?” asked Adam.

“I….am seeking…the bathroom…but there are so many rooms here…”

“It is the last one.”

“Thanks,” Marian answered, still nervous.

“You are new in town,” said Adam, and she noted a certain interest in her.

“Yes…I came with two friends…they said that Joe invited them.”

“He is my younger brother. I am Adam Cartwright.”

“Marian Matthews…and happy birthday,” said Marian pleasantly.

“I expect to see you downstairs and insist you dance with me,” suggested Adam.

“With every pleasure…Adam.” Her voice sounded very coquettish.

*****

Later, Marian was with her friends at the side of the dining room while Adam was in a different area, next to Hoss. One of the friends said, sighing, “Marian, the most handsome Cartwright is the one in love with you. Neither Adam nor Hoss are ugly, but they don’t have the charisma of Joe.”

“Adam is interesting also,” said Marian.

“You would trade him for Joe?”

“If I wasn’t in love, I might consider it. Joe says that his brother is an excellent businessman and an architect. The little he told me was not a lie. See how well they all spoke of him,” said Marian.

“I believe to Joe that it would not matter if he were president,” said one of her friends, sighing and seeming to be very interested in Joe.

That bothered Marian, and she replied sourly, “Sandy, if you continue talking like that about Joe, I will lose my good manners and make you eat mud.”

As the three friends finished laughing, Adam noticed Marian and approached her. “What is so funny?”

“We were deciding who is the more handsome one…you or your brother Joe, since he is not here tonight,” said of Marian’s friends.

Adam smile at the revelation of the girl and then turned to Marian. “You promised to dance with me,” said Adam.

The friends looked at her with surprise, and Marian did not know how to answer. “I am not a very good dancer,” she said.

Adam sought support from her friends. “That would be a problem for Joe, right?” and the other two girls smiled nervously. “But I am not a great dancer either…and I am the guest of honor.” He took Marian’s hand and led her to the dancing area.

Hoss approached the friends with curiosity to ask if they knew who Joe’s girlfriend was. “Who is the girl with you?”

“What! She pleases you too?” asked Susan nervously.

Hoss laughed. “She doesn’t. It’s that Joe is the boyfriend of a new girl in town but does not plan to tell who she is until he returns, and I am very curious.”

“And you believed Marian was the girl? Hoss, she is…not.”

“That’s good, because Adam seems very taken with her. Since he found her in the hallway, he hasn’t stopped telling me what a beautiful thing she was, and he was hesitant to approach her.”

*****

Several hours had passed since the start of the party, and Adam was with Marian on the porch of the ranch, drinking punch. You know that I have never danced so much,” said Adam to Marian.

“You are not as bad a dancer as I am…you did not step on me,” Marian answered. And they laughed.

“So you came by chance,” said Adam.

“Yes…Susan told me that Joe had asked she invite some girls…and here I am.”

“You do not know my brother?”

“I have heard of him…the girls say that he is very handsome and very good.”

“They surely notice the handsome thing first…all of them asked me about him…except you.”

Marian was jealous about what Adam had said, about what all the women asked about, but did not want to show it. “I do not know him so…” she said nervously while drinking from her cup.

“He is a very good boy, but I am pleased you do not know him,” said Adam.

“Why?” asked Marian.

“Because it would not please me that he courted you before I knew you.”

“They told me that your brother was a flatterer, but it seems that all the Cartwright brothers are,” Marian said, smiling at him.

“I am not…I don’t know why I am telling you all these things…you must excuse me…I have been very bold,” said Adam very timidly.

“No, you did not seem bold. On the contrary, you are very gallant,” said Marian, and she took another drink from her cup, looking up at Adam very suggestively.

*****

Two weeks after the party, Ben, Adam, and Hoss left the church and found themselves walking behind Marian and her mother. Hoss smiled to see the happy look on Adam’s face as Adam approached the women and called his father.

“Pa, let me present you to Marian Matthews…she was at my birthday party.”

“I remember having seen you together. You favor each other a great deal,” said Ben.

“She is my mother, Margaret,” replied Marian. And greetings were exchanged among all.

“Are you aware of the picnic that is going on…we would love for you to come,” said Adam so gallantly that Hoss could not help but smile to himself.

Marian’s mother sensed her daughter’s interest in Adam and was about to say no, but Marian said, “Nothing would please us more, isn’t that right, mom?

Marion’s mother dissented. “We are not prepared…we do not have anything ready…”

Ben saw Adam’s interested and said, “Don’t worry yourself. Our cook always prepares more than enough.”

“Then we accept with pleasure, Mr. Cartwright,” said Marian quickly.

“Adam, take the carriage. I will use your horse. I want to ride in for the mail. I couldn’t do it yesterday and I’m sure there is news from Joe,” said Ben.

“You won’t forget to send my letter,” said Adam.

“I am going to send a telegram also,” added Ben, and Hoss added, “Tell him that we miss him a great deal.”

Ben smiled and went.

Margaret felt very disturbed by the situation, and even more so when they began to speak of Joe. Marian herself seemed unconcerned when they spoke of Joe, and her mother did not like the look of that.

“My brother went on a trip five weeks ago, and we do not know when he will return. The ranch is pretty boring since he…” Hoss started, but Adam cut in on the conversation.

“We should be going,” said Adam.

*****

Ben arrived at the field and dismounted from his horse. He walked to where Hoss and Margaret were at a table, under the shadow of a great tree, preparing to serve the food. Ben looked very happy as he approached them.

“You have news of the missing boy, right?” said Hoss, laughing.

“What other thing could bring me happiness in these last 35 days?” answered Ben in very good spirits. “And there also was a letter for you.” He gave it to his son, who was even happier than his father.

“It seems to please you to receive news from your younger brother,” said Ben ironically, and they all laughed a great deal, including Marian’s mother.

“Where is Adam?”asked Ben.

“He went with Marian to introduce her to some people. Is there a letter for him too?” Hoss said.

“Yes,” Ben told Hoss.

Marian’s mother was very nervous about the conversation about Joe and wanted to change the subject. “My daughter and I lived a great deal of time in the east, and your ranch was very well known. We knew of the Ponderosa when we decided to move here.”

“We are going to have to show you around then,” said Ben very courteously.

*****

Three weeks had passed when Marian arrived at her house, holding Adam’s hand. They entered the house and there was Margaret seated in the main room.  She was amazed to see them hand in hand and frowned at Marian.

“Mom, Adam wishes to speak with you,” said Marian, and give Adam a look that said all was going to be well.

“I will spend a moment alone with him,” agreed Margaret.

Marian left and Adam stood very uncomfortably before Margaret.

“What is it you want to say, Adam,” said Margaret in a very motherly tone as he sat down.

“Mrs. Matthews, I believe you know what I want to tell you,” said a very nervous Adam. “Your daughter and I were attracted to each other since the first moment…we have the same inclinations…the same ideals…we think almost exactly alike. In short, we enjoy a great deal of one another’s company. And we wanted to tell you about how we feel…”

“Did my daughter say that she loved you, Adam?” asked Margaret.

Adam blushed before answering her. “Yes…the same thing I told her. I know we have been seeing each other a very short time, but I feel like I have known her all my life.” Adam told himself to get on with it; he was beginning to sound like Joe. “Why do you ask?”

“I believe she told you that she was seeing another boy, correct?”

 “Yes, she did not hide it. I did not have to ask; she told me about him,” answered Adam.

“And what did she tell you of that boy?” Margaret asked. Adam realized something was bothering Margaret. “What did she tell you she felt about this boy?” added Margaret. “I am interested to know whether she is interested in you or the other boy.”

 “She told me that he was an excellent person but somewhat immature…very young, and that she always dreamed of being with a man, not a boy of his age, a man with the same inclinations, the same ideals to move forward,” said Adam, very politely.

“And you believe that you comply with those requirements?” suggested Margaret.

Adam was very proud of himself and answered without wavering. “Margaret…I am a Cartwright.”

“It seems that to be a Cartwright is more vanity than pride for you, Adam.”

“You should not be confused. I am not a vain person, but my father fought for his position in life, and it is the duty of his children to continue on with that bequest. The Ponderosa is not easy to run. The Ponderosa is an empire that one must defend,” refuted Adam.

“And with all that responsibility that you have, what place would my daughter occupy?”

“That of being Mrs. Cartwright…of being a member of the family…to help me with my decisions…of being part of a happy family….and being very happy and respected,” Adam promised.

“Yes, I believe that she would be happy in such a role. I believe that you are the type of man of whom she always dreamed. The other boy would also make her happy, but she would be a queen only of his love. With you, she would be a queen in the world. With my husband, we educated her for this. Yes, you are the person that she chose. The other boy…he will have to see that. I do not want to deny you.”

“I also asked her about that, and she agreed. But she does not want to inform me who he is. She told me that he lives here. And she is right, I would not be happy to know who it is.”

Marian descended the stairs, wearing a festive dress.

“You are going to leave?” Margaret asked.

“We would like to invite you to dinner at the ranch. Today is a month since we met and it is a good day for us to get together,” said Adam.

“I am not prepared. Why don’t we leave it for another day?” said Margaret. In reality, she did want to accept because she did not agree with Marian’s decision.

“Mom, Adam already had his Chinese cook prepare a special menu. We can not disappoint him,” begged Marian, and her mother then accepted.

*****

After dinner, all were in the large room, drinking from cups.

“Do you really have that book, Ben?” asked Margaret of patriarch. “You do not know what I suffered when I lost it in the move.”

“I am going to give it to you myself right now, so I don’t forget. Come with me to the library.”

They went to the library, and while Ben looked for the book, Margaret looked at some photographs on Ben’s desk. When she saw Joe’s photo, she raised it and looked at for a long time.

“That is my youngest son,” Ben told her.

“You miss him,” said Margaret, smiling at him.

Ben smiled also. “Exactly”

“Tell me, when Adam and Hoss go on a trip, is it like this?” asked Margaret curiously.

“To be honest, no,” admitted Ben. “Joe and I have a special…connection. How to explain him? He is the one that is uniquely mine. I was widowed three times, but with Adam and Hoss, I always had outside help – Hoss’ mother, the family of Adam and Hoss, Joe’s mother — to help me raise them. But with Joe, it was different because I did not have that type of help. I did not marry again, so the only help I had was that of Adam and Hoss. Then, Adam went away to study, and Hoss spent a very long time with his family. I couldn’t leave because Joe was very sick and taking care of him demanded that I be with him a great deal of time.”

“What caused it?” asked Margaret.

“He was born as a weak child – my wife had some difficulties with his birth – and that caused some difficulties with his heart. Luckily, I could offer him good medical attention, and today he is a strong, healthy boy,” explained Ben.

“No more heart problems, then?”

“None. He had a very serious accident some six years ago and the doctor was afraid it would cause complications. But my boy withstood them and proved to be as strong as an oak tree.” Ben smiled and added, “And now he brings ME heart problems, whenever I see him taming a horse or fighting with outlaws.”

Hoss was listening and interrupted to tell them, “Or when Adam found him on the cliff ready to dive into the lake.” Ben and his sons laughed.

“Sometimes, one is naive,” said Marian, dismissing Joe. For her to dismiss him like that convinced her mother that she did not feel anything for him.

“My brother is tough. We have to give him the bravest horse to tame or the most dangerous work, such as putting TNT in the mines or transporting nitroglycerine,” bragged Hoss.

“Ben, then what is Joe doing in San Francisco?” asked Margaret.

“Probably being bored,” laughed Ben.

“But spending time with some girls at night…I was told he is very amorous,” said Marian.

“That I do not believe,” said Hoss. “The boy is very much in love.”

Margaret look at Marian to see if she was feeling guilty, but her daughter looked away.

“Speaking of that, when I went to get the mail, the postman said there were letters addressed to his girlfriend that were not collected. He wanted to give them to me but I wouldn’t take them,” said Ben.

“If you had taken them, we would know who she is,” said Hoss with a frankness that worried the two women.

“Hoss, it was your brother’s decision not to tell us her name, and I don’t want you to show up there to find out for yourself,” ordered Ben.

“But what if the girlfriend does not answer? We can’t just leave it alone because he is going to suffer a great deal and I…I am going to feel guilty,” said Adam.

“Why are you going to feel guilty?” asked Marian immediately.

“Because he did not want to leave his girl, and did it so I could have the party,” said Adam.

“But if he left the girl so that you could have your party, he must not want her very much,” said Marian deliberately.

“Marian, there are very few occasions on which I saw Joe cry. I don’t believe he has done it since the accident when a bear attacked him and tore him up. That time, he cried because of the pain of the lacerations,” said Adam. “When it came time to say good-bye to his girlfriend, he pretended everything was all right but that night I heard him sob for her. I do not want to imagine what would happen if that girl left him…”

“And how he feels about not receiving her letters,” added Hoss.

“Yes but if she does not answer after such a long time, that must mean she does not want to know him any longer,” said Marian.

“I hope you are wrong,” said Ben. “It would not make me happy to see my son suffer. In his 21 years, he has done it enough already. When you know the type of good boy he is, you are going to think the same as I.”

“Some friends of Marian have told me they are very interested in him. I don’t believe it would take him very long to get another girl. You told me all the admirers he has, Marian,” said Margaret, trying to remove her sense of guilt.

*****

Four months finally passed, and the day Joe was to return home arrived. Ben was waiting anxiously at the stage depot.

He saw the stage coming in and Ben’s smile of happiness was evident. Although he worshipped his three children equally, he had a connection with Joe that was closer than with his older sons.

When the stage arrived, Ben approached the door. After two people got off, Joe stepped down. Immediately, father and son were fused in a hug.

“Welcome home, Joe. I missed you a great deal,” said Ben, very emotionally.

“And I missed you,” said Joe, and they hugged again.

Ben looked at his son while the driver handed down the suitcases. “You are thin. Be prepared for Hop Sing to stuff you with food.”

.”And I am going to accept it. The hotel was very luxurious but the food was not very tasty,” Joe told his father.

“Then it has changed, because I was there once with Adam and the food was exquisite, first class,” replied Ben.

“That may be, but it was very sophisticated when what I really wanted was a piece of fried chicken,” said Joe, and both men laughed.

“We should head for home…you must be tired.”

“Yes I am but first I want to see my girlfriend. I brought her some presents, and besides I really want to see her.”

“I understand. You should invite her to have dinner tonight, so she can also meet Adam’s girlfriend.”

“Adam’s girlfriend?”

“Since his birthday…they are very serious.”

“Do I know her?” asked Joe.

“Adam told me to give you a taste of your own medicine…that I should keep it secret until tonight,” laughed Ben.

“He is very bad,” said Joe laughing, then added, “I will ask my girl to marry me and I will be engaged today…it’s a very special occasion.”

“Son, it pleases me that you are happy.”

“This night is going to be very important for all of us. Only Hoss does not have a girlfriend,” said Joe happily.

“Or I, this time,” answered Ben with an aura of mystery in his voice.

Joe heard it and immediately said, “Why is that, Mr. Cartwright?” in a very quick voice.

“In time there may be some person who is interested…I’ll said nothing more than that.”

“When I arrive home, I want an explanation. I have been gone for four months and things seem to have changed.”

*****

In Marion’s house, two women sat nervously in the room, waiting for Joe to arrive.

“How are you going to tell Joe that you do not want him any more? He will be arriving any moment. You should have sent him a letter, Marian, telling him you did not want to continue the engagement,” her mother reproached her.

“After what his father said that night about how he had suffered so much in his life, I did not have the courage, mom,” said Marian, ashamed.

“I can’t imagine what will happen when you tell him. I still think he is the ideal boy for you. Not that Adam is bad, but he is so calm. On the other hand, Joe was a whirlwind as soon as he entered the house.”

“But I chose Adam, mom.”

“You chose him but you do not love him,” her mother said pointedly.

“What terrible thing are you saying?”

“It is not a terrible thing. The eyes full of love which you had when you were with Joe I have not seen when you are with Adam. Even on the day he offered you marriage. You will be a lady with capital letters…bored but a lady.”

Before Marian could answer her, Joe knocked on the door.

“Please answer the door…I don’t want to see him first,” said Marian and went to her room.

Margaret went to open the door and there was Joe, with packages for them.

“I’m here!!” said Joe, very happy

Margaret’s welcome was restrained but Joe was so excited that he did not notice her coldness. “How are you?” asked Margaret.

“Tired and full of dust,” answered Joe, laughing, then added, “Can I come in?”

“Yes, yes, come in, Joe.”

Joe entered and placed the packages on the table, and immediately began to tell Margaret about them. “I brought several kinds of fabric, not knowing what color you wanted. I opted for buying so many because I do not understand anything about fabrics and I was afraid that they would not please her. She will have to decide which she is going to use for the wedding. I also have some perfume that the saleswoman told me recently arrived from France,” said Joe excitedly.

At that moment, Marian descended the stairs and approached Joe. “Hello, Joe,” she said in a very cold voice.

Joe embraced her and tried to kiss her, but Marian avoided him.

“Joe, my mother is here….

“But I’m sure she will understand that is has been over four months since I have seen you.”

“But still it is not right.”

Joe did not realize something was wrong with Marian and continued speaking. “I want to marry you. I told my father that you and I would become engaged tonight. You like the idea?”

Marion summoned her courage and answered him quickly. “No!!”

Joe looked at her without understanding. “Does it seem very hasty to do it today? Sometimes, I am too enthusiastic. You want a special party?”

“No, Joe,” said Marian.

Joe look at Margaret, not understanding what was going on.

“What is the matter with you? You are so different…do you want to do it another way?” Joe said, trying to embrace Marian, but she avoided him.

“We are not getting engaged, Joe, not today, not ever. Can you understand that?” said Marian, speaking in a very formal voice.

Joe was convinced she was kidding. “This is a joke, right?” He began to laugh because he was sure it was a joke. “She almost had me believing it,” he added, looking at Margaret.

“Unfortunately, it is not a joke, Joe,” said Margaret, beginning to cry.

Joe was in a daze, and did not believe it. “Before I left, we talked seriously. What happened since then? Did I do something wrong?”

“What I have to tell you is not a joke,” said Marian, very tired of the situation and wishing Joe already understood what she was going to say.

“I don’t understand you. In the last two letters, you told me what dressmaker was making the dress for your engagement.”

“I did not say it was for our engagement. I met another man, Joe, and I am engaged to him.”

Joe was stunned by her confession and did not know what to say.

“And I ask that you please not tell my boyfriend that you dated me,” said Marian very firmly.

“I didn’t just date you…I was your boyfriend,” said Joe very angrily.

“Promise me that you will tell him nothing,” repeated Marian.

Joe was furious and hurt. “I am going to break his bones, no, more than that…”

“It isn’t his fault alone…we both fell in love.”

“Margaret, please leave us alone?”

“Yes, of course.” Margaret went to the kitchen.

“What happened, Marian?” asked Joe. “Did you forget you were already mine?”

“I did not want to remember that. It was a great error. I did not want to have to give him explanations about my boyfriend when I will be his wife.”

“Who is he?”

At that moment, Adam knocked on the door.

“Now you are going to know. But please do not tell him that you and I were courting,” begged Marian.

“I am not going to congratulate him,” said Joe.

“Please, think about this. I loved you. What if you came to me with the same news? What if I was not the one you wanted…”

Margaret came out of the kitchen.

“Margaret, make her change her mind,” said Joe, seeking a certain alliance with the woman.

Margaret went to open the door.

“Open it, mom. Joe wants to tell my boyfriend that he dated me, and he will bear the consequences,” said Marian grimly.

Margaret opened the door and Adam entered, carrying a large bunch of flowers. Joe saw him and he was as stunned as Adam.

“Little brother!! What are you doing here?” asked Adam, very happy to see him and giving him a welcoming hug. “We all missed you a lot. It was very quiet on the Ponderosa.”

Joe was amazed at what was occurring. His rival was his older brother. He did not know what to do. He was confused.

“Pa broke his promise and told you who my girlfriend was, right?” said a very happy Adam.

“N…no! It’s just that…I looked for you and they said…they told me you were here…I came here…”

Adam noted how pale Joe was. “Are you all right, brother?” asked Adam.

“Yes…I have to go…I will see you at the house, Adam,” said Joe.

“Aren’t you going to tell me about your girlfriend?” asked Adam as he put his arm over Joe’s shoulder. “I have you to thank for organizing the party. Isn’t Marian beautiful?”

Joe’s eyes were full of tears, but he did not want to cry in front of Adam. “She is very beautiful. You take care of her…I wish I had paid attention and was a university student now,” said Joe.

Adam laughed and looked to Marian and Joe. “Are you saying that I have to thank that bear that attacked you that you did not go away to study?”

Joe made an effort to smile at his brother but could not do it. He left the house, followed by Margaret.

Outside, Joe collapsed against his horse, very upset, trying not to cry but he could not keep his sobs in his throat.

Margaret was very troubled and did not know what to do for him. She put her hand on Joe’s hair and stroked it. “Joe, do not do this to yourself…you are strong…no one deserves what you happened to you…my daughter did not have the right to do this to you.”

Joe turned with a face full of tears, very upset and hurt, and not understanding what had happened. “It is Adam, don’t you understand? It is my brother!” He threw himself into Margaret’s arms and began to cry. “What am I going to do? What am I going to do when I see how happy he is?”

“It will pass, Joe. Think of everything you have to live for, son,” said Margaret in a consoling voice while she cried also. “I know what she did was wrong. She should not have left you…she should not…”

Inside the house with Marian, Adam asked why Joe’s gifts were on the table.

“He did not take them…they would be for his girlfriend…he forgot. You can take them to the ranch,” said Marian.

“He seemed sad, empty,” said Adam. Then Adam noticed Joe’s engagement ring was on the table. Marian saw it and was about to take it when Adam notice. “And that?” he asked.

Marian hesitated and then finally invented an answer. “Adam…I am going to tell you the truth. Joe was here because I know his girlfriend. You saw him upset because they are finished.”

“They are finished? She decided not to…?”

“Yes.”

“Who is she? I have to know and speak to her. I have to tell how upset Joe was.”

“Do not ask me to tell you her name, because I promised her I would not.”

“Didn’t she know how he felt about her?”

“I believe that you do not know how things are…I will try to explain it to you.”

At that moment, Margaret entered, still very upset by how Joe was feeling. Adam noted Margaret’s tears and was worried. “What is going on? What happened to my brother?”

“You have to listen, Adam. Joe was very excited about the girl he dated,” said Marian.

“He said she was his best girlfriend,” interrupted Adam.

“No, no…for him, SHE was his girlfriend, but she never gave him any illusions. She had another man who was courting her.”

“Joe didn’t tell us that…you could be wrong,” said Adam.

But Marian continued with her lie. “I am her friend. Joe kept telling her he loved her. She went out with him because he insisted, and he bothered her at lot, Adam.”

“I do not believe he bothered her. I do not believer there are many people with a heart as good as that of my brother, Joe,” said Adam, very hurt by the situation for Joe’s sake. “What I do believe is that the girl was not good enough for him, and does not deserve a single one of his tears. That ring she did not accept was bought by days of my brother standing night guard over the stock when it was as cold, by him working extra hard. ”

“I cannot believe that with all the money your father has, your brother should have to work extra to be able to buy something,” said Marian.

“That’s what Joe wanted. Behind that façade of a happy young man, he is prouder and more responsible than all of us.”

“According to the girl, he told her that he did not do important work on the Ponderosa, and he was never going to be in charge of the ranch, like you,” Margaret replied.

“Joe is not important to the Ponderosa?” said Adam surprised. “I sure would like to know whether the girl was interested in him or his money. You can’t imagine what the contract was like that Joe had to take over. The contract he went to San Francisco to negotiate is the most important one we have had for the Ponderosa. We were going to lose it, and Joe negotiated it in such a way that my father could accept it. Joe is not vain, and he doesn’t brag about his name or use it to gain something.”

Margaret glanced at Marian, trying to tell her that she had made a mistake.

Marian began to talk to Adam. “You think my friend wanted to marry him only for his name or his money? Part of what she did was very wrong. I am sure that she went out with him because he was the most coveted man in town. All the girls are said to be in love with him, and my friend wanted to be envied. But she really despised him.”

Adam was bothered by that statement.

“What good is it to list the reasons for her what she did,” Marian added. “My friend leaving Joe is a blessing for Joe. She is over him already.”

“She has a new boyfriend and your brother does not interest her,” continued Marian. Adam looked very uncomfortable at Marian’s attempt to defend her “friend”.

“I do not know you, Marian. How could you think what she did…”

Her mother saw things were going badly and intervened. “I think we are all upset by the boy’s situation. Let’s get some coffee and try to calm down. And Adam, do not worry. I will make sure I tell the girl how hurt he was. I saw him only twice when he came here, but he seemed to be a good boy and does not deserve to be hurt. I am amazed at what happened, Adam.” She turned to her daughter. “Marian, you help me with the cups of coffee.” Margaret took the gifts that were for her and put them in front of Adam. “I had asked for some fabrics and he brought them to me.”

She went into the kitchen with her daughter, and they began to whisper.

“You must be crazy to speak with so much anger against Joe. Adam was getting annoyed and I had to save the situation,” said her mother firmly.

“I got carried away.”

“You had better see to it that you do not get angry, if you want to become a great lady.”

Marian knew her mother was right, but it was late in the day and it had been a long day. She wanted Joe’s love but she also wanted to hurt him.

“Why did you take the gifts? I do not want anything from a boy…” said Marian.

“I was not going to lose the chance to have such fabrics and the special perfumes he brought me.”

“What they cost would enable a family to eat with luxury for a month,” said Marian with a great deal of interest.

“Perhaps you would like me to conquer your father-in-law,” Margaret said to Marian.

“That would not be such a bad idea,” replied Margaret. The two laughed and looked like vultures circling an injured man.

*****

Joe arrived at the Ponderosa in very low spirits. He left his horse without tying it, and went directly into the house, removing his jacket and his gunbelt.

Ben came out of the kitchen very happy and did not recognize Joe’s low spirits. “You can not imagine the marvelous supper that Hop Sing is preparing. It is a very special day. You arrived, Adam’s girlfriend is coming and we will get to meet yours. I can’t tell you how anxious I have been. The time has come to speak with you about her. I have not encouraged either of your brothers to do this, but with us, it was always different.” He put his arm around Joe’s shoulder and led him into the center of the room.

Joe answered his father by trying not to cry. “Yes.”

“I like Marian’s mother…she is a very nice, elegant woman. I enjoy her company,” said Ben anxiously.

“Good. I am going to my bedroom.”

Ben was surprised as Joe left. He was disconcerted but could not think why Joe was so upset.

Joe climbed the stairs and went to his room.

Joe entered the room and went directly to the lamp table where there was a picture of Adam with him. He took it and stood looking at it for some minutes, recalling the day the picture had been taken. It had been last Christmas, and on that day, as if they had a premonition, the three brothers had sworn never to be separated by a woman.

It had been the idea of Hoss and Adam when they realized how women had swarmed around Joe, and although it had been said in jest, they promised they would never be split apart by a girl.

“I am going to keep the promise, older brother,” Joe said, and could not resist more tears.

*****

Hoss entered the house and said anxiously to Ben, who was reading on the red sofa, “Where is Joe? I want to say hello to him.”

“He went to sleep…he was tired.”

“He forgot and left his horse untied,” Hoss said. “Mmmm, is that cake I smell?”

“Hop Sing is cooking it for supper,” answered Ben.

“I’m going to the kitchen and look to see for myself,” said Hoss and went toward the kitchen. Ben smiled at his son’s actions.

Ben decided to see if Joe was sleeping. He walked up to Joe’s room and saw the door was half-closed. Joe was on his bed but not sleeping. “Can I come in?

Joe was startled and did not want to answer.

Ben sat down on the edge of the bed. “Hoss just came in, anxious to see you. He reminded me of the day when I was with Adam’s girlfriend and I gave him your letter. He was very happy and we all were laughing.”

“Adam’s girlfriend…seems she has fitted right in with all of you,” sad Joe, feeling a pain inside.

“As yours surely will do tonight, Joe,” Ben encouraged him.

Joe stared at his father with his eyes full of tears, and said in a very pitiful voice, “Hold me tight like you did when I was a boy, Pa.”

Ben was upset by what Joe said, but he rocked his son in his arms as he had asked him. Joe sank into his arms and cried inconsolably.

“What’s wrong, Joe…what’s wrong with you?” asked Ben, very sensitive to his son’s mood.

Joe did not answer, only continued to hold his father and continued to cry.

“Joe, don’t worry me,” said Ben. “Why are you crying? Is it something physical, does something hurt you? What is wrong?”

Joe freed himself and Ben could see the expression on Joe’s face. He was again a boy of six or seven who was sick and found refuge in his father’s arms, where Ben rocked him and told him that hugs were going to cure him.

“It hurt me a lot what they did…it’s just not…not right!” said Joe but Ben failed to understand.

“Who hurt you, Joe?”

“She finished it, Pa…it’s all over.”

Ben realized what Joe was saying and hugged him to his body, feeling guilty about having him go on that trip. “I’m sorry, Joe, I’m so sorry. If you want, I will speak to her and convince her to return to you, son.

“She’s not…she is no longer mine…I want to die, Pa. I am not going to be able to live without her. I don’t want to live if she is not with me.”

Ben took Joe by the arms and shook him, then looked at him. “Joe Cartwright, I never want to hear you say that!! Nobody is worth enough to think about dying for. I do not want you to ever say that again.”

“You don’t understand…you cannot understand. I have a very strong pain that starts here.” Joe pointed at his heart but Ben interrupted him.

“And it moves through your whole body as if it were a great spot that grows and grows…”

Joe stared at his father and Ben continued. “I felt the same thing when your mother passed away, only worse because there is no return from death. But I continued living for you and for your brothers…and I ask that you think about me, Joe. If you were not here, I would have no reason to live,” said Ben, crying.

“You have my brothers,” said Joe in a weak voice.

“You should not even consider it…please, I ask that you do not speak of death. It has struck me many times, but yours I would never recover from, son. Sleep awhile. It will do you good.” Ben stroked Joe’s cheek gently.

“Will you stay with me until I fall asleep?” asked Joe in a very pitiful tone.

“I am going to tell Adam that we will postpone the supper. This is not a happy day for any of us.”

“Please go ahead with it, but do not ask me to come down.” Joe closed his eyes to rest, and Ben say how the tears still fell from his eyes.

Ben took Joe’s hand and held it until Joe fell asleep. He looked at Joe with a great deal of sadness. He could not bear to see any of his sons hurt, but even more with Joe, who was always the most sentimental one, the one dearest to him.

After a while, Adam entered Joe’s room. Ben made a sign to be quiet, and Adam left. He went into the hallway, where Ben joined him. Ben told his oldest son to go to his bedroom in case Joe woke and called for him. Then they went into Adam’s room.

“It seems he has already informed you that he broke with his girlfriend,” said Adam.

“Yes…and I swear that I feel very guilty for causing that separation.”

“I did at first also…until Marian told me things about the girl. It really is better that he is suffering now and not after being married,” said Adam.

“I don’t understand…what has Marian to do with this?”

“She as nothing to do with it, but she knows Joe’s girlfriend,” Adam replied. “In reality, Joe was not her boyfriend. He was the handsome boy, coveted by all, and she led him on. You can not imagine the many terrible things Marian told me.”

“But your brother is suffering so much, Adam. Just the other day, we talked about difficult it was when he cried. You didn’t see him just now. I am afraid he is descending toward insanity and we will have to try very hard now not to lose him.”

“He left the ring at Marian’s house because he went there to find his girlfriend.”

“Then Marian knows her well.”

“Yes, but the girl made her promise not to say who she was. It is better she does not tell us because of the hatred we would feel toward her. You can not imagine how she boasted of Joe’s love for her.”

“I told Joe that we would cancel the supper, but he asked me to go on with it…just not ask him to come downstairs. I don’t know what to do. I’m not really in the mood.”

“Pa, Marian and her mother are already here. They insisted that they would be able to help if Joe felt bad,” said Adam.

“All right, but we will respect his request that he does not have to go downstairs to greet them.”

Ben and Adam went downstairs and found Hoss laughing a great deal with Marian.

“Excuse me, Ben but Hoss is incredibly funny,” Marian said to Ben.

“I’m glad you are happy,” said Ben.

“Is Joe awake?” asked Hoss.

“He is still asleep,” said Ben.

“What sent him to bed and asleep so soon?” asked Hoss.

“You are not aware of this, Hoss, but Joe talked with his girlfriend and it went badly…very badly,” answered Ben.

“God!…he was so happy with this relationship…it can’t be…I thought this would be…damn!!” said Hoss with great feeling.

Marian was amazed at how Hoss felt. “Maybe I should go to Joe…”

“Dear, Joe will not want to see you since it was your friend that humiliated him like that,” said Adam.

Margaret came out of the kitchen and walked into the room. She was dressed nicely and Ben looked at her with a great deal of admiration.

“Hello, Ben,” said Margaret, “I just had to see Hop Sing’s kitchen and I am amazed.”

Ben and Margaret greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek, and everyone sat down.

In the meantime, Joe had gotten up and was not feeling well. His mind was filled with the image of Adam walking through the open door, of seeing her with him, of the pain he had felt, and it seemed like a nightmare going on and on in his head.

He felt suffocated and wanted to leave his room. He called his father, and then went to the top of the stairs, not knowing Marian was already in the house.

When he arrived at the top of the stairs, Ben was already getting up. That’s when Joe saw the two women. He was petrified to see Marian and began to feel worse.

“What’s going on, son?” Ben asked.

Joe did not want to seem ill in front of Marian. “It’s nothing. I’m all right. I was just going outside for awhile,” said Joe, trying to sound normal but it was evident he was suffering. Marian realized how much she was enjoying the sound of his pain.

“I will go with you,” said Ben.

“I’m all right, Pa,” replied Joe. “I’m all right.

When Joe reached the bottom of the stairs, Marian greeted him deliberately. “Hello, Joe.”

Joe looked at her but did not greet Marian. She looked at Adam, pretending sadness, and hugged him.

Joe walked toward the outside as normally as possible, but stumbled as he left the house.  It was Hoss who went running to his side to see if he was all right.

“Joe, are you all right,” Hoss said, holding his brother’s shoulders.

“I feel hazy. I am going to go refresh myself at the water trough,” said Joe, wanting to loosen himself from his brother’s arms. But Hoss held him – very lovingly but firmly.

“I’ll bring the water to you here.”

“No, it’s better if I put my head under the water pump,” insisted Joe.

“It is very cold, little brother. It’s not good for you.”

“It can’t be worse than this headache,” said Joe. He walked to the water trough and Hoss followed.

Inside the house, Marian pretended to worry that Joe had not greeted her.  “Really, I feel uncomfortable. Maybe we should leave the supper for another today. We don’t want to cause any trouble.”

“Marian, you already are practically one of the family. You aren’t causing trouble. I recognize this is not going to be the happy supper we thought it was going to be, but you do not have to go,” replied Ben. “I’m going outside to see how he is. He did not want to show his grief in front of you.”

Ben walked outside and saw Hoss and Joe by the water trough. He went to them and saw Joe soaking his head under the pump.

“You are going to drown yourself or give yourself a seizure,” Ben warned Joe.

“That’s the same thing I told him, but he says his headache is very strong,” added Hoss.

Joe continued to feel bad and complained, “Please…I need more water…it’s the only thing that helps me.”

“Let’s go into the house and I will make you something,” said Ben, wanting to persuade his son.

“Those two are there…I don’t want to go,” begged Joe.

“Joe, Marian is your brother’s girlfriend…don’t ignore her,” replied Ben.

Joe felt worse when he heard Ben say she was his brother’s girlfriend. “Let me stay here. I’ll come in later.” Ben nodded and returned to the house.

Hoss helped Joe walk to the porch and helped him sit down in the chair next to the table. “You have to dry your head. It feels like the cold wind is coming toward us.”

“I’m all right,” insisted Joe in a stubborn and uncomfortable tone.

But Hoss did not give up. “You are stubborn. But I’m more stubborn and I am not going to let you do something that will make you ill.”

“Where are you going?” asked Joe.

“To get something with which to dry you,” Hoss replied.

Hoss’ gesture pleased Joe, and as his brother was leaving, he called, “Hoss!”

Hoss stopped. “What?”

“Thanks for worrying about me,” said Joe smiling at him.

Hoss smiled back and said grinning, “What a foolish brother I have…”

“But you are like me,” affirmed Joe. Hoss looked at him with a great deal of love and went into the house.

When Hoss entered the house, everyone looked at him, especially the two women who were unsure if Joe had told him the truth.

“What happened,” asked Ben uneasily.

“Nothing,” said Hoss. “I came to get something to dry his hair. It is very cold.”

As Hoss walked up the stairs, Margaret noted the worry in Ben’s face and insisted again, “Ben, I continue believing that it would be better for Joe if we leave. I am sure he will want some time to talk with you, and with us here….”

“It is not you that is causing the difficulty,” answered Ben. “Joe is always like this when he is ill. He always wants to be alone. He is a very difficult person to draw out.”

Hoss descended the stairs and went again to the porch.

The hour of the supper already had arrived. They were all seated at the table, except for Joe, who had returned to his room. Marian was furious and frightened by Joe’s actions. Yet she acted a little more tranquil than she felt.

“Excuse me,” said Marian, I want to freshen up before eating.” She left the dining room, went up the stairs, and went directly to the open door of Joe’s room.

Joe was lying in bed, still dressed and wearing his boots. He was surprised to see her.

Marian rebuked him immediately, without giving him an opportunity to greet her. “Is it your intention that you make us look bad by your deception? If so, you are achieving it. But let me tell you that you will not be able to separate Adam from me, and that I will never return to you. I have only pity for the hatred you feel, Joe.”

“Why did you do this to me, with my own brother. He did not know anything but you knew what you were doing. Adam is not that kind of person. How can I look at you after…” Joe stopped and then added, “You are bad.”

“I may be bad, but you cannot deny that you love me. Everything in your eyes tell me that you are dying for my love,” Marian said very soberly, and very sure of her words.

She left the room, leaving behind a very bitter Joe. He knew what she had said was true. He loved her with all his soul, and could not forget when the two of them had made love. But now he knew that she was the girlfriend of his brother, and he felt that he was less worthy than his brother.

When Marian arrived in the dining room again, Adam stood and led her to her to her chair at the table. “Many thanks,” said Marian, very lovingly.

“All right, Hop Sing is getting ready to serve supper,” said Ben, trying to speak with optimism. But in truth, he looked worried.

“Ben, when I walked down the hall, I heard Joe crying. I did not dare to enter but…” said Marian, pretending to be upset about the state of Joe’s spirits.

“Pa, why don’t you try to convince him to come down,” suggested Adam. “Maybe we can distract him and get him to forget for awhile.”

“He asked me to please not have him come down. He is not in the mood to share a supper,” said Ben.

“If you don’t mind, I would like to try to convince him,” replied Adam.

“If you would like, Adam,” agreed Ben. “But see that you do not force him.”

Adam rose and went to Joe.

Joe was standing by the window, looking at nothing. He did not notice when Adam entered his room and was started when Adam called his name.

“Joe…are you all right?”

Joe turned and looked at Adam.

“It hurts a great deal, doesn’t it,” asked Adam very lovingly.

“Yes,” said Joe with tears on his cheek.

“I don’t like to see you like this, little brother. When you were smaller, you could bring your problems to me to solve.”

“You can not do anything. Nobody can do anything. It hurts a great deal, Adam. I feel like I am dying,” said Joe, in a low voice.

“I do understand, you know. I have been in this situation, and everyone helped me, especially you who stayed with me late at night, giving me company and lifting my spirits. But I swear, after what Marian told me about the girl, it is better you and she have broken up.”

Joe interrupted Adam, thinking of all that bad things Marian must have invented. “Shouldn’t you be having dinner?”

“I can’t be eating, knowing you are ill up here.”

“But this supper is important for you,” insisted Joe.

“But you are also important to me, Joe,” Adam argued to Joe.

Joe began to laugh a bit amid his tears and Adam did not understand. “And you are going to be insistent until I come down. All right. I will come down to dinner with you. Give me a minute to wash my face a little and comb my hair,” said Joe.

“That pleases me,” said Adam, giving Joe a pat on the shoulder and left.

Joe stood looking after him and said very slowly, “Don’t imagine that you are the one responsible for my state, brother. You are not the guilty one.”

Adam came down the stairs very happy and returned to sit at the table. “Have Hop Sing prepare a plate for Joe. I convinced him to come down.”

Marian and her mother looked at each other with a certain degree of fear. Ben saw the exchange of looks but took it that they were uncomfortable with Joe coming down.

“You already know Joe,” said Ben. “Things will be fine.”

“I do not know him well, Ben. I only saw him twice at my home, and I only know what my friend told me,” said Marian.

“Please don’t believe everything that your friend told you,” reproached Adam.

Joe came down, trying to the show the best possible face in front of everyone. He felt everyone was looking at him and therefore, was not going to fold before them. “Good evening,” he said to all generally, and sat down next to Hoss.

At that moment, Hop Sing came in with supper.

“I just arrived,” said Joe to Hoss and his brother smiled.

“The only thing I ask is that you don’t begin with the battle of the elbows,” said Hoss in a joking voice. He explained to Marian and her mother. “My brother is left-handed, and nobody wants to eat next to him because he pokes you with his elbow.”

“I think it is the opposite. You collide with me,” said Joe, laughing. “You assume that everyone is the world is right handed.”

At that moment, Hop Sing intervened. “Better to eat than to talk. This food lose its flavor if cold, and then are going to say that Hop Sing not cook well.”

“Never, Hop Sing,” said Joe. “You don’t know how much I missed your food.” Hop Sing nodded and went into the kitchen.

“I believe that you would never be able to say that Hop Sing cooks badly,” sad Marian, as a frequent visitor to the house.

They all began to eat and while they did, they spoke among themselves. Ben observed his youngest son and realized Joe ate little, and the effort it was taking for him to be there.

Deep in his misery, Joe seldom raised his head from his plate, and the few times he did, he looked to his father and his brothers, but not at the women.

Margaret realized Joe’s situation, but her mind was filled only with the thought of Marian’s happiness and her possible opportunity with Ben. She decided to talk with Joe.

“What was in like in San Francisco, Joe?” asked Margaret.

“Quite good. It was the rainy season, but it seems the rains are coming into this area now,” answered Joe.

“Those fabrics that you brought me are fantastic, and I wore the perfume for the first time today,” commented Margaret.

“I’m glad they pleased you. I brought a variety because I was afraid you would not like them,” explained Joe.

“On the contrary, you selected well,” Margaret complimented Joe.

Marian could not bear so much amiability of her mother toward Joe, so she interrupted with the desire to wound him. “Adam, you will have to advise me on which fabric to use for my wedding dress.”

Joe’s expression began to change to sadness again, but nobody except Marian realized it.

“I do not believe that I would be a good counselor on fabrics, Marian,” said Adam, laughing.

“One has to have lived a great deal of time in the east to understand which dress material would be the finest one,” said Marian, praising Adam.

Hoss interceded in jest. “Then you want my little brother. When we went to Philadelphia, he spent a lot of time with them high class girls.” He began to laugh. “Joe can tell you about the best of them.”

All began to laugh, except Marian, who attacked Joe again. “Why should I listen to him? I’m better off advising myself.”

This made Joe nervous, and Margaret realized then she wanted to defend him. “I do not see Joe as a fashion advisor, daughter.”

Joe realized Margaret’s gesture and decided to continue the joke. “Me neither,” he said, and laughed to try to show everything was well.

“Why don’t we go to the other room to take coffee,” suggested Ben, and all accepted.

They all went to the large room, and every looked for seats. Adam, Marian, and Joe sat on the sofa. Margaret served the coffee and sat down next to Ben.

We have to come to an agreement for our engagement party,” said Adam anxiously.

“The 15th would please me because that is the day my parents were married, and they were very happy,” said Marian with a touch of sentiment.

“It would be a small honor for me,” said Margaret.

“That’s good. I don’t have any problem with that date. We need to get the ring. We need three days for that,” replied Adam.

“You can do anything, Adam. It is important to me, though, that our engagement party be a happy event,” entreated Marian.

“I promise you I will do everything necessary,” Adam vowed.

At that moment, a great thunder resounded, and Marian unconsciously embraced Joe tightly, seeking refuge from her fright. Joe unconsciously also hugged Marian tightly to himself. Everyone was puzzled to see their actions.

Marian realized what she had done and reacted badly. “Excuse me!” she said, pushing Joe away.

“You threw yourself the wrong way for a hug,” said Hoss, laughing.

“Whenever it thunders, I always hug the first thing I can,” admitted Marian. “My brother-in-law should not be paying attention to me. He is going to make Adam jealous.”

Joe decided that he could not stand any more. He stood up and quickly left the room, heading outside. The others remained, not knowing what to do.

“What you said was logical, but I think Joe has had enough joking,” said Ben, very distressed.

“I think I caused him to recall something about his girl…I felt it,” lied Marian. She wasn’t sure whether she had sought Joe’s hug unconsciously or not. The one thing she did know was that she had felt protected, and that it had pleased her.

Margaret saw that Ben was very distressed, and felt this offered an opportunity for her to speak with Joe. She thought she could this would make her look better to Ben. “Ben, excuse my boldness, but perhaps Joe might want to speak with me. The boy is ill and I dare say, would need the hug of a mother. I will never be able to take his mother’s place, but…”

“Go, Margaret,” said Ben, very moved.

Margaret took a shawl for her shoulders, and left the room. When she was on the porch, she saw Joe standing in the middle of the yard, watching the rain come down.

Margaret said to herself. “You are a problem. I will protect my daughter’s wedding, and the possible wedding of Ben and me, with tooth and nail. You will have to disappear…there has to be a way. We cannot risk you telling the truth and ruining everything.”

Margaret frowned at having to get wet to go to Joe, but when she arrived to stand next to him, her face showed an incredible affection. “Joe, go to the porch. You are going to harm yourself out here. It is very cold.” She put her arm around Joe’s waist and led him toward the table on the porch.

The two sat down at the table. Joe rested his arms on the table and sank his head into them. Margaret’s expression was one of disgust, but she pretended to care, talking in a sweet voice and stroking Joe’s hair. “We don’t have to pretend. We both know how difficult things are. This isn’t right, but I don’t know how to explain it. You went away for a time, and Marian thought her feelings changed. She does not understand that she loves you.”

“That no longer matters. She belongs to my brother now. I would not be able to do such a terrible thing to him.”

“What happens if she realizes before she being married to Adam that she loves you?”

“She loves Adam…our love is gone,” said Joe crying.

“Then you must let them be happy. Marian realizes you are upset and cannot be at ease with Adam because she knows that each word or gesture of love toward him is a stab toward you. Please, let’s go in now and try to be strong. You once told me that you wanted much for Adam. It depends on you whether that couple has a future.”

“I believe that, yes,” said Joe. He took a breath. “Let’s go.

“Before you go in, dry those tears.” Margaret took a handkerchief from her pocket and she gave it to Joe to wipe his eyes. “You are a very good boy. It would have delighted me if you had married Marian, because you have been as a son to me.”

“Adam is very good also. You will be able to have him as a son.”

“I believe that all three of the younger Cartwrights are very easy to want.”

“It is because we all lost our mothers, and always lacked motherly affection,” said Joe.

“If you and Hoss would permit me, I would adopt you two,” said Margaret laughing.

At that moment, it began to rain torrentially.

“This is unusual, isn’t it?” said Margaret, surprised by the change of weather.

Joe said it would pass. “Or maybe my mother in heaven is offended.”

“I don’t understand,” said Margaret.

“It’s a story my father told when I was small. Whenever I had done some prank, and then it rained and there was a lot of thunder, he told me that my mother in heaven was angry. When the rainbow appeared, she said she had forgiven me, that she was no longer offended.

Margaret smiled nervously. “Shall we go in,” she said.

“Yes.” Joe got up and began to walk toward the door.

Margaret looked up at the stormy sky and said, “Do not worry.” She heard another immense clap of thunder, and Margaret remained confused.

Inside the house, Ben and his sons were pleased to see Joe. Ben looked at Margaret and thanked her with a gesture.

Margaret smiled flirtatiously.

“It seems like all the rain in the world is coming down,” said Hoss.

“How much does it need to let up, Adam, before you can take us home?” asked Marian.

“With the way it is continuing, I doubt if you will be able to go,” said Hoss.

“Why Hoss?” asked Margaret, thinking hard.

“The road you use is flooding, and during the night, it will get worse,” replied Hoss.

“But to stay here for the night makes me uneasy. It would be a great deal of inconvenience for you,” said Margaret with a great deal subtlety.

“On the contrary,” said Ben. “While we will not be able to offer you the guest rooms because we are working on them, some of us will offer you our room.”

“They can sleep in mine. I didn’t use the bed when I arrived. I’ll get a blanket and sleep down here,” said Joe, trying to sound normal. But everyone realized there was a catch in his voice.

“Joe, you have just come from a long trip, and you should sleep in your own bed,” said Margaret maternally. Ben looked at her with great affection.

Joe insisted. “It doesn’t bother me. You should go and use my room.”

Later, Marian and her mother were preparing for bed in Joe’s room. The Cartwrights had produced a small bed for the room, so that each could have their own bed. “Which bed do you want?” asked Margaret.

“I will sleep in Joe’s bed,” Marian said quickly. Her mother looked at her and Marian felt her look.

“It is the bed of the man you say you don’t love any more, and you nearly jump on it,” commented Margaret.

“You read too many love novels, mother,” Marian answered while climbing on to bed.

“There is one thing I want to say. When I was speaking to Joe, I told him it would not be a great mistake for you to leave Adam. He gave me to understand that he would not take you back.”

“What! He said that he no longer loves me?”

“Yes, he loves you, but understands that you are now his brother’s woman.”

“You were very nice to him all night. Remember that my future husband will be Adam,” Marian stated.

“I am being good to Joe for Ben. I want him to know that to love me would be a GOOD thing,” Margaret replied. They both began to laugh as accomplices.

Suddenly, there was a knock on the door, and Margaret signaled to her daughter to stop laughing. “Enter,” said Margaret.

It was Ben, who walked very hurriedly to Joe’s lamp table.

“What happened?” asked Margaret while Ben continued to look for something in the drawer.

“Joe collapsed, and there is something I left here…here it is.”

“Ben, we are going to come down to see if we can help,” said Margaret.

“No, stay. I think it’s time that Joe told me what happened. He can’t be hurt so bad simply because he had a fight with his girl. I believe there is something more to what has hurt him, something else must have happened,” Ben said, and hurried away.

Margaret closed the door. The two women were disturbed about what Ben might be able to learn.

“Mom! We must do something. What if Joe tells him the truth?” cried Marian.

“I’m going downstairs. You remain here,” said Margaret, leaving very hurriedly.

In the room below were Ben and his two sons kneeling next to Joe, who lay unconscious on the sofa. Adam had raised him by the shoulders, and Ben was forcing Joe to breathe from a small bottle. But Joe continued to lay unconscious on the sofa.

Margaret descended the stairs hastily, and went to the Cartwright’s side, offering to help. “Is what you came to get not working?”

“No, it is not,” answered Ben. “I was upset when I came upstairs. I didn’t mean to wake you.” Ben forced Joe to smell from the bottle again, but it had no effect.

“Why not try something stronger?” asked Margaret. “Some whiskey might help.”

“I’ll get it,” answered Hoss. He went to the dining room and looked for the whiskey. Finding it, he poured some into a glass and brought the glass to his father. Ben gave a sip to Joe, and he began to cough. Ben looked at Margaret with relief. “It’s working,” he said.

“I helped a doctor a great deal of the time,” explained Margaret.

Joe awoke and looked at his father. He was dismayed when he saw how upset his father was and tried to calm him. “Pa, I’m all right…don’t worry…please.”

Ben did not want to cry in front of his son, but his tone of voice betrayed his feelings. “What is really wrong, Joe? Don’t you want to talk to me like you used to and tell me?”

Joe looked at Margaret and restrained himself from answering when he saw her look asking him for silence.

“I believe what would be best is that we all get some sleep,” said Margaret in her maternal tone of voice.

“I will not until Joe tells me what really is happening,” insisted Ben.

Joe noted his father was still very agitated. “Don’t go inventing a martyr, Pa. There’s nothing behind this. I’m going to be all right.”

His three sons realized that Ben was still very agitated. “Margaret, why don’t you go with my father to the kitchen to get some coffee,” suggested Adam. “We’ll stay here with Joe.”

“Yes, son. Let’s go, Ben,” said Margaret, and she guided Ben to the kitchen.

Ben sat down in one of the chairs in the kitchen while Margaret lit a fire under the coffee pot and looked for two cups. Ben was exhausted and could not hide it. The worry that he felt for his son was evident.

“Ben, looking after Joe like this is not good for you,” said Margaret, as she served the coffee and sat down next to Ben.

“You don’t understand, Margaret,” Ben answered. “Joe is a boy who has always had to live with suffering. He saw his mother die from a fall from a horse…he still has nightmares that wake him, that will not leave. Then it was illness and the many medical exams he had to bear. When all seemed to improve and he was preparing to go away to study, he was attacked by a bear. That caused terrible suffering. He was torn up…I wanted to caress him, to hold his hand, but it was impossible. There was not a place on his body where he was not injured. His rehabilitation took nearly a year, and the three of us took care of him. The doctor told us what exercises he had to do and we made him to them. He was so happy with that girl, and didn’t know she was deceiving him.”

“But Ben, I believe he was very passionate toward her without her giving him much hope. To that girl, he was not her boyfriend. I was there when he tried to give her the ring. She did not accept it because she did not want to be engaged to him, but Joe didn’t understand. I think it is somehow my fault for not saying anything when Joe said he wanted to be engaged. She didn’t answer him and I didn’t insist she tell him why she didn’t answer. I did an injury to your son letting him think the opposite was true,” said Margaret, continuing in her actions to act as a mother.

“You are very good, Margaret, but it is not your fault,” Ben said. “It must have been exasperating for him not to receive an answer.

“Yes, but now he is upset, and that is worse,” said Margaret, pretending to sob. “No matter what you say, I cannot help but think I was wrong, Ben. My daughter is to be married to your son, Adam. I want to be part of the Cartwrights. I am going to help Joe. I am not going to leave you alone with this. I believe that with love from both us, we are going to make him well,” added Margaret convincingly as she touched Ben’s arm.

“We two together are going to help him,” answered Ben, taking her hands. The two looked at each other with a feeling more than just wanting to help Joe.

Joe was alone in the large room, having asked his brothers to please leave him. They had no choice but to do that. Joe looked at the fireplace, and thought to himself how we would like to be able to put his thoughts, his feelings in the fire and burn them like the firewood.

Then he began to think deeper, and asked himself again what it would cost him to look at Marian with Adam, knowing what she had done to him, wondering what sort of woman would do that. Should he tell the truth to his brother, tell him in confidence all that had happened so his brother would be aware of the relationship he had had with Marian? He didn’t know what to do. His desperation was incredible. Then he decided to tell his father the truth. His father would know what to do, how to advise him. He walked to the kitchen, and when he entered, he saw his father holding Margaret’s hands. It was evident they were more than friends.

Ben realized Joe was present and confused by what he had seen. Margaret acted as if she felt embarrassed.

“Joe,” said Margaret, and left the room immediately, looking embarrassed as she passed in front of Joe.

Ben rose and went to Joe, wanting to explain to him. “Joe, I know this is not the best time to tell you how I feel about her, right?

Joe did not feel bad because his father felt strongly about a woman. He did think that both mother and daughter were schemers, but he did not feel he could say anything to his father. At that moment, he felt things were beyond him. He could not be so arrogant to tell his father the truth and ruin his happiness.  His father thought Marian was seriously in love with Adam, and to tell him that he was wrong would make Joe look jealous. He decided to act strong and smiled at his father.

“It is just the right moment, because if you are happy, it makes me happy also,” said Joe kindly.

Ben felt relief and surprise at the same time. He put his hand on the back of Joe’s neck and smiled. “You make me happy, in this case,” he said smiling.

“Will you give me a coffee and tell me about this surprise?”

“Of course, of course.” Ben poured two coffees and sat down next to his son. “I guess I would say the first time I noticed her was when we were all together for the church picnic. Adam had invited Marian. At his birthday party, he became captivated with her. During the two weeks until we met her at church, he didn’t do another thing but think about her and talk about her.”

To Joe, each word from his father caused the pain in him to go even deeper, but he tried to ignore it. The one thing he could see was the way his father was smiling. He gave his attention to the story.

“But she must have given him some hint at the dance that she was interested, if he was that excited about her,” Joe asked. He hoped his father would answer no, but the answer was the opposite. His father told him that her interest in Adam had been the same. There was a spark between them.

While his father continued speaking, Joe looked at him, but his mind was elsewhere. It seem as soon as Marian had met Adam, she had forgotten about him. But those letters! Especially the last one where she said she wanted to marry him. She said she was planning to get married, that she loved him, was desperate to see him. Lies! Lies! All lies!

Ben finished talking and saw what he was getting back from Joe was an empty, fixed look. Ben realized his son was not listening and was consumed by pain.

Joe, at that moment, turned and looked at his father. He could not bear it any more. His feeling of pain, of desperation ended in a terrible cry. “Pa, it’s horrible…I feel I can’t live without her…I can’t be myself any more…I need her, Pa…I need her so much.”

Marian had come downstairs and was standing behind them, where she could not be seen. She left with a great smile on her face.

*****

The next morning, Joe was asleep on the sofa in the big room when Marian and her mother came downstairs.

None of the others had come down yet when the women approached Joe and woke him. Joe looked at them half-asleep, sat up, and then leaned back on the arm of the sofa.

Marian spoke first, rebuking him. “Joe, we have to find a solution to all this.”

“Because you did not tell the truth to Adam before accepting him?” said Joe, accusingly. But his pain was reflected on his face, and that caused a feeling of satisfaction in the two women.

Margaret approached Joe and spoke to him sharply. “My daughter will be happy with Adam, and you are not going to get in the way of it.” Joe looked at her with surprise, considering how she had impeded him from being with Marian.

“Margaret,” Joe started to say. But at that moment, Ben came down the stairs. Margaret immediately embraced Joe by the shoulders “maternally”.

“Oh, Ben,” exclaimed Margaret. “We have gotten this handsome kid to agree to eat breakfast.”

Ben descended to the bottom of the stairs and approached Margaret, happy by the “I’ll try” that Joe gave out.

“My mother is insistent, but with Joe, that doesn’t always work. He is very stubborn,” said Marian with a smile on her lips.

“Joe, two beautiful ladies are asking you the favor of having breakfast with them, son,” Ben said. “What’s more, I will prepare it and bring it to you here.”

Joe did not have a way out before the insistence of his father. He looked with a fixed expression over the shoulder of Margaret, and saw his father was smiling at the embrace.

“I can bring it to you, Joe,” suggested Marian.

“All right,” Joe murmured.

Marian walked to the kitchen.

Margaret took advantage of the situation, and sat down at the foot of the sofa. She used a tone of voice that convinced Ben that she was being kind to Joe, but Joe knew the true nature of this woman. Inside, he hated her. He wanted to shout to his father and to everyone that these women were not good, that they were evil, that they tricked them, but he couldn’t. The same thought kept returning – that they were in love with his father and his brother. They did not hate him but were afraid of being exposed, and of not being happy. He had to ascertain the truth before acting.

“Joe, please understand that we are not doing this to be meddlesome or so that Adam and Ben will think we are good,” said Margaret. “We want you to be well because, in reality, we think a great deal of you. I know it will sound hasty because we have known you for only a short time. But remember, we already cared for you when you were courting Marian’s friend. She…no longer loves you, son. It is hard for me to tell you that, but it is the truth.”

Joe sobbed from both pain and frustration, and Margaret was pleased. She saw herself as the future Mrs. Cartwright, taking care of the sons of Ben’s previous wives. “Dear, you continue to love her, don’t you?”

Joe looked at his father, seeking support. Ben smiled at him and said kindly, “You can tell her, can talk to her, Joe. In these occasions, a boy needs the words of tenderness from a woman.”

“You know that I continue to love her,” murmured Joe.

“But she does not love you,” said Margaret. “You should forget her. Don’t be like this. You are hurting us a great deal with this. It is horrible to see you so hurt.”

Joe began to cry harder, but his rage replaced his sadness. “I am hurting you! What about the hurt she caused me? Doesn’t what she did to me matter? You saw all the times she said she wanted to be married to me, that she loved me. Now she is saying that I was the only one in love. She told her friends that I humiliated her, begging her for her love. You were there that day and can’t lie about how terrible she was.”

“No, I can not lie, but I can’t assure you, after everything she said, that she really did love you,” replied Margaret.

“I know she loved me. I can guarantee you that she loved me, that she didn’t lie,” Joe stated.

“Joe, maybe she pretended to love you. There are some women like that, son,” said Ben.

“I know she was not pretending. I know it for sure,” said Joe firmly, thinking about how Marian made love to him. He wasn’t going to talk about it, but Margaret suddenly realized what Joe meant.

Marian came in with the breakfast tray and left it on the small table. “Look, complete service for my future brother-in-law.” Marian’s idea was to serve the breakfast, and to give him spoonfuls of coffee to his mouth.

Marian did not like staying with the Cartwrights, because she continued to love Joe. But she also knew that loving him would be impossible. The only thing she could do then was to continue hurting him.

Marian sat down on the edge of the table and began to arrange the tray. Joe lean back against the arm of the sofa. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“I am going to help you eat,” answered Marian.

When Marian took the spoon and lifted toward Joe’s mouth, he suddenly sat up. Abruptly, he pushed away the spoon and flung aside the rest of the tray. “You’re crazy!” exclaimed Joe.  He stalked out of the house as the three remaining people watched amazement. Ben did not know what to say. Marian began crying hard, but Margaret did not go to her side.

“I feel so…I’m so sorry,” cried Marian.

Ben embraced Marian by the shoulders, calming her. “You are already like a daughter. It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anything.”

“Now he is going to be angry with me,” said Marian with regret.

“He won’t be,” Ben told her. “You’ll see, he will come and apologize. Joe is a good boy. Don’t worry that he will be angry with you.”

“I was going to change my clothes, but now I should pick up all this,” Marian said.

“I will do it. Go change so Adam doesn’t see you like this,” replied Ben.

Marian went up to her room.

“Ben, I am going to speak with her. This hatred of her by Joe really hurt her. She came to him with a great deal of affection. That boy is ill, Ben.” Margaret went up the stairs before Ben could say anything.

Margaret entered the room where Marian was changing clothes. She grabbed her daughter’s arm and rebuked her, “You gave yourself to Joe, didn’t you?”

Marian was stunned by what her mother said, and knew Margaret was very angry. “Joe said that?” she asked fearfully before answering her mother.

“No, he is too much of a man to tell it to the four winds, but I deduced it. He said he was very sure you loved him. He knew how you loved him,” said Margaret. “Marian! How could you do that with Joe, the brother of the man whom you are going to marry? How are you going to tell Adam on your wedding night that you are already a woman? Unless you have been with Adam…”

“No, I have done nothing with Adam. I will tell him something, not the truth,” said Marian, very confused.

“You loved Joe enough to do something like this, and now… Marian, what are you going to tell Adam?”

“I will tell him that his dear younger brother…violated me.”

“We are going to have to find a solution to this situation. We have to get them to throw Joe off the ranch,” said Margaret.

“Or have him kill himself,” said Marian.

The rain was coming down hard, and they saw Joe through the window. He was standing in front of the porch…quiet, not moving, and getting soaked.

“That option might not be too difficult, Marian. That boy is driving himself crazy over you,” Margaret stated. The two women laughed with an incredible wickedness.

*****

Protected by an umbrella, Ben left the house and went to Joe. Joe continued to stand in the rain without noticing anything. He cried, alone with his sadness, alone with his desperation and alone with his pain.

“Son, this isn’t good for you. You have no protection. Let’s go inside.” Ben felt a terrible pain to see his son in so much misery.

“Leave me alone, please….”

“No, I’m not going to leave you alone because you are not alone,” replied Ben. “We are all here for you. We are not going to leave you alone so that you can harm yourself.”

Joe embraced his father and cried hard. “Forgive me for doing this to you, Pa. I can’t help myself, I can’t help it.”

“We are going inside. You are going to make yourself ill out here. Come with me.” Ben put his arm around Joe’s shoulder and they entered the house.

Ben guided Joe to the sofa and felt his head. “I’m going to get you some hot milk. You are like ice.”

At that moment, Hoss came down and saw Joe was soaked. He realized that Joe was ill, and wanted to lighten the mood. “Looks like I’m going to have to dedicate myself to drying my younger brother,” said Hoss with good humor. He went to get a towel, and then approached Joe. With gentle strokes, he began to dry Joe. Joe laid motionless before his brother, and Hoss felt a pain tear at him. He couldn’t bear to see Joe like this. He wished Joe was 10 years old again so he could defend him from anyone who bothered him. Joe had always been his little brother who he would defend even with his life, if necessary. He couldn’t bear the pain his brother was feeling.

Hoss continued to dry Joe, but Joe suddenly stopped the movement with his left hand. The brothers looked at each other, and Joe embraced his very strong brother.

“Little brother, I want us to talk,” said Hoss. “I want you to tell your big brother everything that happened.”

“I do want to tell you, Hoss. I need to tell you,” said Joe. He was about to tell the truth to Hoss but at that moment, Marian and her mother came down the stairs.

The two women heard what Joe had said to Hoss, and Margaret knew she had to stop things. She walked to Joe and said very lovingly, “Joe, you are better. I felt so bad for you because of what has happened.”

Hoss was uncomfortable and realized he had lost the opportunity to talk with Joe. “Margaret, if you don’t mind, Joe and I were going to talk about something very serious. If you will leave me with Joe…”

Marian looked at Joe with desperation in her eyes, and Joe decided not to talk to Hoss. “It’s all right, Hoss. I feel better already.”

“Joe, please,” insisted Hoss.

“Joe, I want you to excuse me for my silly idea earlier,” said Marian as she saw Adam descending the stairs and Ben arriving also with the milk for Joe.

Joe didn’t have any other choice but to answer Marian. “It’s all right. I was just upset.”

Ben walked to Joe and gave him the glass of milk. Hop Sing came out of the kitchen and announced that he was going to serve breakfast.

“You go. I want to stay here,” said Joe, taking the glass of milk.

Adam put his arm around Marian’s waist, and everyone sat down. While Hop Sing brought in breakfast, Marian changed the subject of conversation. “Adam, tomorrow is the 15th already. What will we do for a ring?”

“It has been impossible to leave here because of this storm. We can get engaged without it,” said Adam.

But Marian had other ideas. She wanted to hurt Joe by asking to use the ring he had planned to use. But she couldn’t ask him directly, since this would seem like she was trying to scheme to have them. “Without the ring, there is no engagement.”

“But Marian, I can give you the ring later. The act is the main thing,” protested Adam.

“No,” Marian said firmly. “I am superstitious about such things. And I want it to be tomorrow, so we will have good luck.

“But how am I going to get to town?” asked Adam, looking to around the table.

“Brother, you will have to swim to town,” said Hoss.

Joe heard what was being said, and realized Marian wanted the ring he had planned to give her. He didn’t understand why she wanted to hurt him so much, but knew that she did.

“Don’t worry…I’ll give you mine,” said Joe from the sofa.

Everyone at the table was stunned and didn’t know what to say.

“Joe, that ring is yours. I’ll find a want to get to Virginia City today to buy the ring,” said Adam.

“Let me give you it as an engagement gift,” insisted Joe. “That is, unless Marian is superstitious about it.”

“Of course not,” Marian said.

“But you told me how much that ring cost you, Joe. I will buy it from you but I can’t accept such an expensive gift,” Adam continued to insist.

“Adam, I wouldn’t give you something without value for your marriage,” answered Joe. “You must accept it. Please.”

Adam got up and walked over to Joe, followed by Marian.

“Joe, it’s not that we don’t want to accept it,” explained Adam. “But what happened to you…it’s only been a few days since that discussion.”

“There was no discussion, Adam,” replied Joe. “She left me.”

“And what if she changes her mind?” said Marian. Joe looked at her in surprise, and Marian continued, “It seems to me that she is confused, Joe.”

Adam was happy to think that the girl might come back to Joe. “Perhaps you will give her the ring later. Marian knows her, and I don’t believe she would be speaking in vain.”

“Maybe she is confused,” said Joe. “But now she is with another man, Adam. She loves another man.”

“What does that matter to you?” answered Adam. “The main thing is that you be happy, little brother. You should pursue her.”

“I wouldn’t want what happened to me to happen to that man,” said Joe.

“Forget that, Joe. I’m sure that the man isn’t worried about how he is hurting you,” Adam replied.

“I am sure that the man is neither aware of who I am nor that he is hurting me while he’s being happy,” said Joe. He decided to end the conversation. “Can I use your bed, older brother?”

“Of course, of course,” Adam said.

“And thanks for being so kind, Joe,” added Marian. She spontaneously gave him a kiss on the cheek. Joe got up quickly and went to Adam’s room.

“That pretty girl who is your friend…she is confused now?” asked Adam.

“So she says,” answered Marian. “She says she never stopped loving Joe, that breaking the engagement was a mistake.”

“And you think that if he asks her, she will change her mind?” Adam asked.

“What I want is that we forget this matter, that we prepare for our engagement,” replied Marian. She embraced Adam, and silently berated herself for what she had said, for making such a great error.

Margaret excused herself from the table for a moment, and walked up the stairs, directly to her room. She took a bottle of sleeping pills from her room and went directly to Adam’s room to see Joe. She knocked on the door, and Joe told her to come in.

“I want to talk with you,” Margaret said. “I was very abrupt today. It is the situation that has upset me. I got mad at you but you are the main one who is hurt, Joe. I just didn’t know how hurt I would be by my daughter’s choice.” She began to cry so hard that Joe believed her. He didn’t know it was all an act.

Joe put his hand on Margaret’s shoulder and began to cry with her. “We both lost her. But Adam is a good man, you will see.”

“I do not say that he is evil or wrong, but you were ideal for her, Joe.”

“It’s over,” said Joe. “Now we must thing about making them happy. I am going to give them the ring, and tomorrow there will be a party here.”

“You came up here to sleep, correct?” said Margaret. “It occurred to me that I should bring you one of my sleeping tablets.”

“I have heard of them, but I’ve never taken one,” said Joe innocently.

“I use them when I can’t sleep. I’ll put them on the lamp table, so when you want them, they will be here.”

“But how do you know how many to take and still know you will wake up again?” asked Joe.

“One is the most that you should take,” Margaret answered. “If you take too many, you will not wake up. My friend died taking a bottle of these pills. But the doctor consoled me by saying it was a sweet death. She just went to sleep and did not wake up.”

“You would have to be pretty desperate to do something like that,” said Joe.

“That was a very bad example I gave you. I should not have said it. What I said to you was very clumsy.”

“I don’t understand,” said Joe with a frown.

“She killed herself for love,” answered Margaret. “But promise me you will never do such a thing, Joe. Oh, that was so imprudent of me…” She got up and quickly left the room, leaving Joe looking dismayed.

In the hallway, Margaret began to laugh at his reaction. “Little by little, Joe. Little by little.”

*****

That night, Joe was in the stable, feeding Cochise and brushing him. “You’re bored to be here, but this storm bores us all, I can assure you,” Joe told the horse. “But in a day or two, the weather will calm. Then I can take you for a ride to the lake. We both can’t wait to be away from here.”

At that moment, Marian entered, wanting to speak to Joe.

“If you are looking for Adam, he went up to the house a little while ago,” said Joe as he continued to brush Cochise.

“I am not looking for him,” answered Marian. “I want to talk to you.”

“Don’t worry about not being happy,” said Joe. “I won’t say anything. You both be happy. But don’t deceive my brother, because if you do, then I will tell him.”

“You are threatening me.”

“Take it any way you want.”

“You please me more when you say sweet things to me,” said Marian, walking provocatively toward Joe. “I would pay anything to have you say them again, to have you ask me to kiss you, to caress you…”

Joe began to feel uncomfortable and moved away. “Don’t be ridiculous, Marian. You are with my brother.”

“But I am yours…always yours…”

“Marian, do not cause me to be rude to you,” said Joe.

But Marian continued talking, with the goal of getting Joe to make love to her again. “You were a little bit rude that night. Some of your words were powerful…”

Joe put a serious look on his face, trying not to fall for her act. “What are you doing?”

“What you imagine. What happens when two people come together,” said Marian, coming to Joe and put putting her arms around him. Joe was stiff, keeping his arms to his side, trying not to kiss her.

“You still love me, Joe,” cooed Marian. “We both know it. Please, love me. I am yours, Joe. I don’t love your brother, and I could go tell him that right now. Please tell me that you forgive me.”

“You know where the house is, Marian.”

“No, I will not go. I want to remain with you. I love you, Joe. Do you understand me? I love you.” She kissed him. At first, Joe did not respond, but then instinctively began kissing her back.

Margaret was behind the barn door, listening so she could continue the plan that she and her daughter had thought up. She ran toward the house, looking terrified and shouting, “Adam! Ben! Quick! Help!”

Adam and Ben both hurried out of the house. “What’s wrong?” asked Adam.

“Your brother is attacking my daughter,” shouted Margaret. “He’s crazy!”

Ben and Adam ran to the stable. Inside, Joe wanted to be freed of Marian, but she continued caressing him, whispering, “I love you, Joe.”

“No, I don’t believe it! My God!” shouted Adam.

Joe had his back to the door of the barn. When Marian saw Adam approaching with Ben, she began to shout, “Let me go! Let me go! Help! Adam! Help!”

Joe didn’t understand what was happening, and was surprised when Adam grabbed him by the neck of the shirt, pulled away, and then punched him in the face. Joe fell, but Adam pulled him up from the floor and threw a punch into his brother’s stomach, causing Joe to double up. Adam punched him again in the face, and Joe fell to the floor.

Ben pulled Adam away while Marian, seeming to be greatly distressed, cried in the arms of her mother.

“Let me go, Pa. I have a good reason,” shouted Adam, trying to free himself from Ben. Joe continued to lay on the floor, his mouth bleeding.

“What the devil is going on here!” shouted Ben.

“I think it’s obvious, Ben,” said Margaret.

“I came in looking for Adam, and Joe started talking to me. Then he grabbed me, and kissed me and tried to force me…” Marian stopped talking and began to sob again.

“Joe, I am expecting an explanation!” demanded Ben

“There is no explanation,” said Adam. He stuck out his leg and kicked Joe in the ribs.

“No, Adam!!” shouted Ben.

But Adam managed to free himself from his father and threw himself at Joe, who was trying to get up.

Adam was so angry that Ben could not separate his sons. Adam landed a very strong blow in Joe’s stomach, causing Joe to double up again. But this time, Joe didn’t simply stand by. He punched Adam in the face, causing his brother to fall. Ben took advantage of this and pulled Joe away, then stood in front of him so Adam could not continue attacking him.

“You still defend him, Pa,” yelled Adam.

“No, but I want to hear what he has to say. And if you continue hitting him, he can’t do that,” replied Ben.

Joe was breathing hard. He was bleeding and felt confused, both from the punches and because of the situation.

“Joseph!! I am waiting for an explanation,” Ben said firmly.

“You aren’t going to believe anything I tell you!!” shouted Joe.

“You want to accuse my daughter, Joe!!” cried Margaret.

“Adam, please, what I said was true,” said Marian. She ran to Adam, and Adam held her very tightly against him. He began caressing her and consoling her.

Joe looked at them while Ben continued to insist he tell them what happened. Joe felt very dizzy, and various feelings ran through his head. But they all resulted in the thought that he was sure nobody was going to believe him.

Joe looked at Adam, who was still holding Marian, and wanted to shout the truth to him. But he know that would only hurt Adam, and besides, he knew he would not be believed. He had no desire to make his brother unhappy.

Joe was getting dizzier and felt like he was going to pass out.

At that moment, Hoss, who had been sleeping and wasn’t aware of what happened, walked into the barn.

“Joseph! Tell me what happened!” Ben demanded again. But the only answer he received was Joe falling to the ground.

Hoss immediately picked up Joe. He looked around at the people in the barn, and then left, carrying his brother.

Ben didn’t know what to do or to say to Margaret, Marian, and Adam.

“Pa, we know this isn’t your fault,” said Adam. “But you are going to have to talk with Joe.”

“I know it,” agreed Ben. “Marian, don’t take wrong what I am gong to say to you, but I cannot imagine Joe doing something like this.”

“You think I am lying?” said Marian, and she began to cry again.

“No, but maybe you misunderstood…” answered Ben.

“Your son kissed me deeply and he touched my breasts, Ben!!” said Marian. She ran from the barn.

Margaret ran after her. Ben remained alone with Adam, who gave him an accusing look.

 “Pa, I want to forgive him for this, but I don’t think I am going to be able to,” said Adam. He walked out of the barn. Ben remained in the stable, feeling upset and distressed.

*****

Hoss had carried his brother to Joe’s room and laid him on his bed. He waved some smelling salts under Joe’s nose. “Come on, Joe, wake up.”

Joe came around and woke up to see Hoss’ face.

Hoss smiled at him happily.  “I’m not the most beautiful person to wake up to, but at least it woke you up.

Joe smiled at him a bit, and then said sadly, “But you are the only one who always trusts me.” He began to cry.

“What happened, Joe? You can tell me,” said Hoss.

“Please me alone…please, Hoss.”

Joe’s request was so heartfelt that Hoss decided to leave the room.

A few hours later, Joe came downstairs, determined to face everyone. He found his family with the two women.

“Joe, we were expecting you. I believe you should tell us what happened,” said Ben.

“I don’t want to talk about it, Pa,” answered Joe. “I…I’m sorry about…what happened. I…I hope you will…forgive me.”

Adam stood up and shouted, “It’s not that easy, Joe. Didn’t you think about me?”

 “Joe,” said Ben sadly, “I can’t believe that my son….I never thought you were capable of something like this. I never thought you would attack a woman, Joe!!”

“Pa, don’t say that,” said Hoss.

“What do you want me to say,” replied Ben. “He is the one that is saying he is guilty.”

Joe stared at Ben, then simply got up and left the room.

During the next few hours, Joe laid on his bed, staring at the ceiling. Inside his mind, the same images were repeated over and over…Marian telling him that she loved him, Marian coming to him, Marian telling him that his brother was his rival, Marian saying he had taken advantage of her…Marian, always Marian. And then how his father and older brother said they believed Marian.

Suddenly, he jumped from his bed and went to the lamp table. He remembered the sleeping pills that Margaret had left him. He took the bottle with his left hand. He was about to take one to help him sleep when he heard the voices of Ben and Margaret in the hallway. Ben was telling Margaret to forgive him for what Joe had done, that he would talk to Joe and decide how to handle this matter.

In that moment, a mixture of confusion, fear, and bitterness ran through his mind. His father already distrusted him. His father did not doubt the truth of what Marian had said.

He looked again at the bottle, and this time he did not take a single tablet but emptied the contents into his hand. He looked at them for a minute and saw that there were more than ten pills. That would be sufficient, he decided, to allow him never to wake up. With a quick movement, he put them in his mouth and swallowed them with a glass of water. “Now all I have to do is wait.”

Joe thought about returning to his bed, but decided to go and speak with his father. He needed to give his father a good reason for his actions, a reason that would not ruin his father’s life or Adam’s life. He wanted his father to believe in his repentance, and to believe his suicide was the result of his great grief for his lost love.

He went to his father’s room, knocked on the door and asked permission to enter.

Ben was lying on his bed but had not been able to get to sleep. When he saw Joe, the expression on Ben’s face was one of disgust. “If you have come to apologize, Joseph, I don’t think this is the right moment.”

“I need you to listen to me….please.”

“It would be better for you to go to your brother Adam’s room than come here,” said Ben.

“Pa, I want to apologize to you, and that tomorrow you tell Adam how sorry I am. Please don’t hate me.”

“No,” said Ben coldly. “You were man enough to try to take advantage of a woman, Joe, and the worse thing was that she was promised to your brother. You are going to have to be man enough to apologize to Adam, and not only to him, but also to Marian and her mother. And if they decide they can not forgive you, I think you will have to leave the ranch. That’s what Adam suggested.”

“Adam wants me to go?” said Joe, surprised. Tears appeared in his eyes.

“He said it might be better if you left,” Ben admitted.

Ben could not pear the pain he saw in his son’s face. He realized he had treated Joe badly, and his expression changed. “Sit down, Joe.” He patted the foot of his bed, indicating that Joe should sit down.

Joe looked down, then looked at his father. He sat down on the bed.

What happened, son? You are not like this. What came over you?” asked Ben.

“I can’t excuse myself. Please, don’t ask me anymore, please. I just need your forgiveness,” said Joe.

“Of course you have that, but we have to talk about this, Joe,” replied Ben sincerely.

“Yes, but not now.” Joe felt the end was coming. His legs began to tremble and it was hard to talk, but Ben had not noticed this. “I want you to know that nothing in the world means more to me than you and my brothers. I am willing to sacrifice anything so you do not suffer.”

“We feel the same about you, Joe,” replied Ben. “They won’t resent you. They will forget about the Joe that returned from San Francisco. They will forget about these past few days. We will erase these days. I want you to be like you were before. It does not please be to see you like this.”

“I don’t like it either. I would like to return to how it was before, when the most important thing to me was to attend a dance, to ride Cochise, to go swimming or to go fishing with Hoss. It’s funny how much you value simple things. That’s what I always was…a simple cattleman. I wish she had thought that I was good enough for her.”

Ben was hurt by this revelation from Joe, that the woman he had wanted felt his son was insignificant. Before he knew her, Joe had been proud to be a cattleman. “You are a cattleman, Joe. We are all.”

“An aunt of Adam told me once that I was of bad seed. But please, don’t let them think of me that way. I am not evil, Pa. Never doubt that. I would never do something that would hurt or shame you.”

Suddenly, Ben understood. It was as if a light of revelation had arrived. “Joe, I want you to tell me the truth. Was it Marian who acted suggestively? Was it her, Joe?”

Joe sat looking at his father, not knowing what to tell him. He was surprised that his father had realized what had happened, and felt a spark of happiness because he realized his father believed in him.

“It doesn’t matter now, Pa,” answered Joe. “Adam doesn’t have to suffer. He blames me for what happened, and it’s better that way. We both shouldn’t  have to feel hurt. I don’t want him to know. I’m doing this deliberately so he will never know…”

Ben was confused by his son’s words. He thought Joe looked odd, but he did not dream that Joe was dying before his eyes.

Joe felt it was time for him to go. He tried to rise from the bed, but his legs would not work. He fell back on the bed.

Ben rose quickly and tried to help him. “What’s the matter, Joe?” he said while trying to help his son get to his feet.

“Don’t worry…Margaret is right…it doesn’t hurt.” Joe smiled at his father, and the empty bottle fell from his right hand.

Ben suddenly realized the mad act done by his son. “NO! JOE NO! WHAT DID YOU DO? HOSS!! GET UP! HOSS! HURRY!!!

Ben did not want Joe to sleep. He was terrified that his son would never wake up. “Joe, don’t sleep! Please…do not leave me!”

Hoss entered the room and found Ben with his arms around Joe, pushing him toward the door. “Get the wagon,” Ben shouted. “He poisoned himself with some pills.”

Hoss ran down the stairs, followed by Ben who was forcing Joe to walk. “Don’t sleep…please….don’t sleep, Joe.”

Adam came to the stairs and helped Ben to descend with Joe.

Joe was in a state of semi-consciousness. He looked at Adam and murmured, “I thought about you…forgive me.”

“You have to fight, Joe,” Ben told his youngest son. “Do not sleep! DO NOT SLEEP!!”

“It doesn’t hurt,” mumbled Joe. He looked to Adam and said very slowly, “Forgive me?”

“Yes, but don’t sleep, Joe,” answered Adam.

“You forgive me. That’s all that matters,” said Joe. And he fell asleep in the arms of his father and his brother.

Quickly, Ben picked up Joe and carried him as he rushed out of the house. Marian and Margaret were standing to the side, looking stunned and frightened.

Hoss brought the wagon to the door, and Ben laid Joe in the back of it. As he got into the wagon with Joe, Ben shouted, “Hoss, don’t worry about any cover. We don’t have any time to waste.”

Margaret came out of the house with a blanket and pillow. “Ben, we have to cover him from the rain. I will go with you.” She climbed into the wagon, and Hoss drove off quickly. Adam and Marian were left behind. Adam ran to get another wagon.

Ben covered his son as best he could with the blanket. But Joe’s hair and face were already soaked by the falling rain. As the wagon travel down the road, Ben sat next to Joe, who remained unconscious. Ben pushed the damp locks of hair from his son’s forehead. “You have to fight, son, you have to fight. Where did you get those pills? Why did you do it?”

“The pills were mine,” Margaret told Ben. “Joe saw me taking them one day and asked what they were. I didn’t think when I told him…”

When the wagon arrived at the doctor’s office, Ben climbed out and took Joe into his arms. Hoss pushed open the door and Ben rushed forward to Paul Martin.

“Paul…my son, you have to save him for me!” cried Ben as he hurried toward the consulting room.

As Ben placed Joe on the examining table, he quickly told the doctor what had happened. Paul asked him to leave, but Ben did not want to be separated from his son. Hoss forced Ben to leave.

“Doctor, I worked as a nurse for awhile. I might be able to help,” offered Margaret.

“Fine,” answered Paul. “This is going to be very painful for him.”

Ben sat in the waiting room with his head in his hands, saying the name of his youngest son over and over in a tearful voice. Hoss put his hand on his father’s shoulder and began to cry also. They heard a very loud moan by Joe. Ben wanted to go back into the room but Hoss stopped him.

“He cried out. They are hurting him,” said Ben with much pain.

“At least he is awake, Pa,” answered Hoss. “He’s alive.”

At that moment, Adam and Marian came into the room. “How is he?” asked Adam.

“They’re cleaning out his stomach,” answered Hoss.

“They are hurting him. I heard him shouting loudly just now. He is suffering a great deal, and it’s my fault…it’s my fault,” said Ben, starting to cry.

“Pa, calm down. Joe is going to be all right,” said Hoss.

“If he doesn’t live…I don’t want to live,” Ben said.

“He is not going to die,” said Adam in an encouraging voice. “Joe is strong. Remember when he was little and was so sick, remember how he fought?”

“He is still young in many ways. I should have seen that he is still a boy. But instead of defending him, I hurt him a great deal with everything I said. I hurt him with those words,” Ben said with remorse.

“He is the one that did not behave right, Pa,” Adam insisted.

“I feel this is my fault for telling what he did. I should have stayed quiet. I did not imagine he was going to react like this. Forgive me!!” cried Marian. She began to cry, but this time the tears were not a lie. She could not bear the idea that Joe would die, because she still loved him.

More than an hour passed before the doctor came into the room and approached Ben. Ben jumped from his seat to meet him. “How is he?” Ben asked.

“I had to do a do a painful cleaning out of his stomach and that affected his internal organs,” replied Paul. “I’m worried that this is going to cause other problems.”

“What other problems? Please, tell me the truth,” Ben begged.

“I had to use a great deal of force, which was hard on his lungs and stomach,” explained Paul. “There could cause a tear in his lungs or stomach, which would lead to internal hemorrhaging. If that happens, I will have to operate or he will die.

“Don’t worry…he’ll be all right,” said Hoss, putting his hand on his father’s shoulder.

“What are you going to do?” asked Adam, who was seated with his arms around Marian.

“For the time being, just wait,” answered Paul. “I will wait until he wakes to see how clear his mind is. The state of his spirit is going to be another thing that will have to be considered. Joe tried to take his life, and to make such a decision, he must have had a very bad moment…something very bad must have happened to him.”

“Would you like me to tell you what led him to do it?” asked Ben.

“Later,” replied Paul. “I want to make sure he is improving right now.”

“Can I come in?” asked Ben.

“He needs to rest in perfect silence,” answered Paul.

“Please, let me see him for just a minute,” begged Ben. “I need to see that he is breathing…to see for myself that he is alive, Paul.

The doctor agreed, and Ben followed him into the room. Margaret was there, finishing cleaning some trace of blood that Joe had expelled with his vomiting.

“He is going to be all right, Ben. He is a very strong boy,” Margaret whispered to him.

“I want so much that you are right about my son, Margaret,” said Ben, sitting down in a chair next to Joe.

“I can not understand what came over him today…what caused those two insane acts that he did,” said Margaret. She saw the look of hatred come into Ben’s face.

“It is the fault of that damn woman,” Ben spat out. “Margaret, tell me who she is. I have to speak to her. I cannot forgive her the harm that she is doing my boy. She made my son miserable. Before he knew her, Joe had more energy than all of us. We never saw him falter, and he gave all of us the spirit to continue. That woman destroyed him.”

“Ben, you have to calm yourself,” said Margaret.

“Calm myself?” replied Ben. “Would you calm yourself if your daughter’s life was ruined like this?”

“I am going to speak with that girl. If you tried, you would only make it worse,” said Margaret, hoping she could convince him.

“I hate that woman,” Ben answered.

At that moment, the doctor entered and told the two that they should leave. Margaret took Ben’s hand and led him out of the room.

“Ben, you should go to the café and get something to eat,” advised Margaret.

“No, I want to stay with Joe,” Ben replied.

“Pa, Margaret is right. Joe is going to sleep, and I agree that you should get some rest,” said Adam.

“No! You take Margaret and Marian back to the ranch, and tell Hop Sing. He’ll be worried,” said Ben, collapsing onto the sofa.

“Ben, I want to stay with you,” said Margaret. “I do not want to leave you alone.”

“I prefer that you rest and return tomorrow,” answered Ben.

“All right, whatever you say,” replied Margaret, taking his hand.

*****

 When morning arrived, Ben was seated next to Joe’s bed.

The lines of pain and exhaustion could be seen on Ben’s face. He had lost track of the number of hours he had spent looking at his son, begging him to wake, encouraging him to continue living.

Asleep, Joe seemed once more like a small boy and Ben began to recall images of Joe as a boy. He remembered Joe as a boy of nine, in the big room with Ben at the Ponderosa. Joe wanted to go fishing with his father.

“Pa, is true the doctor is going to let me play like the other children? I’m going to be able to run and to ride all the time?” young Joe had asked.

Ben had gone over to him and hugged him, then sat him on his knee and said very gently, “You are completely healthy, son. In the past, you had many pains but you have grown to be very strong.

Joe had interrupted him. “Just like all the Cartwrights, Pa.”

“Yes, my son, just like all the Cartwrights. Now you deserve to live life fully, to continue to be so strong. We all love you a great deal, and we are happy that the doctors have given you the final clearance,” Ben had answered.

Joe had said anxiously to his father, “Let’s go fishing!”

“Of course,” Ben had replied while getting up. He tried to hide his tears of emotion.

“I am going to catch a big fish to give to Hoss,” Joe had declared.

“I’m sure that will make Hoss very happy.”

“Pa, did you tell Adam that I am well now?” Joe had asked.

“I sent him a telegram as soon as the doctor told me.”

“He has been gone a long time,” Joe had said, sounding sad.

“I promise you he will be coming home soon.”

“Do you think when he returns, he will like me as much as before?” Joe had asked.

“You think he wouldn’t?” Ben had replied.

“A boy I know told me once that the people in the east are different from us,” Joe had explained. “I wouldn’t be happy if Adam changed.”

“You will see that he hasn’t changed,” Ben had promised. “Now let’s get out of here and go fishing.” Ben had put his arm around Joe’s shoulder and the two of them left to go fishing.

Ben returned to the present when he heard a light moan from Joe.  “Son, can you hear me?” Ben asked anxiously.

“Marian…Marian…why Marian” murmured Joe in his delirium.

Ben put his hand on Joe’s head and realized his son’s fever had risen. He went to the doctor’s room and told Paul about his son’s condition. The two returned hastily to the patient.

The doctor went over to Joe and began to examine him, first checking the fever and then listening to the beating of his heart. During all this, Joe was restless and Ben was worried.

The doctor moved away from Joe and motioned for Ben to join him in the hall. “His high fever worries me, Ben. Go tell the saloon to hold two blocks of ice for me…just in case.

At that moment, Hoss came in and Ben immediately sent him to do what the doctor had asked. Hoss left at once, and the doctor and Ben again went into the room in which Joe was laying.

“Is that the only way to bring down his fever, Paul?” Ben asked anxiously.

“For now, yes.”

“That brings me bad memories of his illness when he was a baby…when he shivered in ice because his fever was so high,” said Ben. “He got ice burns on his back. We had to put ointment on them to stop the pain.” Ben could not stand anymore and walked over to Joe, crying out, “What did you do this to me, Joe? Didn’t you think about my pain? I don’t want to live without you, my son!”

Paul took Ben by the shoulders and led him from the room. “What you are doing is bad for both Joseph and for you. I advise you to get some sleep.”

“I can’t, Paul, you know I can’t.”

“Your son is going to need you,” answered Paul. “You have to be strong if you want to help him.”

“All right,” agreed Ben. “But tell Hoss when he returns not to leave Joe alone.”

“You think it will be necessary to tell him that?” the doctor answered with a smile.

For nearly two hours, Hoss sat by his brother’s side, placing compresses of cold water on Joe’s forehead and washing his brother’s body with a sponge. “As long as big Hoss is here to protect you, nobody will hurt you, little brother. Just like when you were small, I am going to watch over you.”

At that moment, Hoss remember a time in his life when Joe had been about 13. He had come home with the news that Simon Douglas had invited him to a birthday party. Hoss knew that Simon didn’t like Joe, and couldn’t understand why he had invited his little brother.

That night, after his brother was already sleeping, Hoss had gone to his brother’s room and woke him. Joe was startled when he woke, but Hoss calmed him down. “Hey! Little brother, I’m not that ugly.”

“I was having quite an ugly dream,” Joe had replied. “Lucky you woke me.”

“Joe, tell me something…are you going to Simon’s birthday party?” Hoss had asked.

“Yes,” Joe had answered directly. He saw the expression on Hoss’ face and asked, “What’s wrong, Hoss?”

“Nothing, Joe, nothing.”

“You wouldn’t wake me up in the middle of the night for nothing,” Joe had insisted.

“All right…it’s just that I can’t believe that boy invited you, considering how jealous he is of you.”

“I wasn’t sure either, but he said he wanted things to be different,” Joe had explained. “And he isn’t jealous of me. His father has a great deal of money also.”

“I wasn’t talking about being jealous of money, but of how the girls like you and not him,” Hoss had replied.

“Girls like me?” Joe had said innocently, but he couldn’t hide his grin.

“Little brother, don’t try to trick me. You’re only 13 and already the girls are interested in you. I don’t want to think about what it’s going to be like in a few years. Adam won’t let any of his girlfriends near you. They keep telling me in town what a handsome young man you are becoming.”

“I am not going alone,” Joe had admitted. “Cindy has been invited to the party. She wants me to take her to the party. I told her I would because I like her.”

“You’re going to take Cindy? Does Pa know this?” Hoss had asked amazed.

“Not really.”

“Have you ever been to that place where Cindy lives?” Hoss had asked.

“I know her uncle and cousins are bad,” Joe had said, “but Cindy isn’t. She only lives there because her parents are dead.”

“Her father was hanged, and her mother was killed during a robbery.”

“Cindy isn’t bad,” Joe had insisted.

“She didn’t have good parents. Her mother, aside from dying in that robbery, was a saloon girl…” Hoss had realized he had said too much. Joe’s mother had worked in a tavern.

“Some people have cut me down with similar comments, Hoss.”

“Your mother was different…very different.”

“I don’t know about her because every time I ask something about her you give me an evasive answer.”

“All right, but that is not the point of this discussion.”

“You’re right. I’m taking Cindy to Simon’s birthday party.”

Hoss recalled that the next day, he had told Adam about his concern for Joe, and the two agreed that Hoss’ doubts were reasonable. When Joe had left on his pinto horse, Adam and Hoss had followed him.

After about four miles, Joe had arrived at Cindy’s house. Adam and Hoss saw him get off his horse and enter the farmhouse.

“Why is he going into that house? Is he crazy?” Hoss had said to Adam.

“There are times when that boy puts me out of joint,” Adam had agreed. “We can expect he will leave soon.”

At that moment, they had seen Simon arrive and enter the farmhouse.  Adam and Hoss had felt something was wrong. “I don’t like this,” Hoss had said.

Less than 10 minutes later, they had heard Cindy shouting, “Don’t hit him anymore! Don’t hit him anymore!”

Adam and Hoss had pulled out their guns and rushed to the house. They burst in and threatened Cindy’s three relatives and Simon. Joe was unconscious on a bed, his face bathed in blood.

“Hoss, do you see that?” Adam had shouted.

Hoss had gone to the bed and tried to wake Joe, but he wasn’t able to do it. “They hit him hard in the head,” he had told Adam.

“Let’s tie these men up,” Adam had ordered. “You take Joe to the doctor and send out the sheriff.”

“Can you handle them, Adam?”

“I’m so angry that I’d be able to handle them and a thousand more,” Adam had answered.

Hoss returned to the present and continued looking at Joe. “Little brother, it was always the three of us. We were always together.”

In that moment, Ben came in. “He’s the same?”

“Yes,” Hoss answered. “His fever hasn’t gone up, but it hasn’t gone down neither.”

Joe began to open his eyes a bit. His head felt heavy and his body burned. He was very confused, not realizing where he way. He didn’t notice the presence of his family.

Ben went to Joe while Hoss went to look for the doctor.

“Joe, don’t go to sleep again,” Ben told his son.

“Why…did you save…me…why?”

“Joe, don’t say that. We love you, son.”

“You don’t understand,” Joe replied. “I am going to be even more of a problem now. You are going to curse the one that save me.”

The doctor entered with Hoss, and, at that moment, Adam arrived also. The doctor began to examine Joe, asking Joe how he felt. But Joe did not answer him.

“Joe, don’t make things more difficult,” the doctor said. “Tell me where you are hurting.”

“My stomach…it’s on fire.”

“That was to be expected,” the doctor said. “I am going to prescribe a medicine that your father can get. That will remove those pains from you.” The doctor made a sign for Ben to leave the room. Hoss and Adam stayed with Joe.

In the next room, the doctor began to explain his diagnosis of Joe to Ben. “I was worried that Joe would have strong stomach pains. You will have to go to the pharmacy to get this medicine.”

At that moment, Margaret came in and saw how upset Ben was. “Oh Ben, your son asked us to remain at the ranch because the roads are still difficult. But we couldn’t. We thought that we might be able to help,” said Margaret. Marian stood silently next to her mother.

“Thank you,” Ben replied gratefully.

Suddenly, Adam rushed into the room alarmed. “Doctor, the pains are getting worse. I don’t know what to do.”

The doctor and Ben immediately went into the room, followed by Margaret and Marian. They saw Joe holding his stomach. He was groaning and calling for his father.

“Pa…pa…”

“I’m here, Joe. I’m here,” said Ben. But Joe did not understand his father was there and kept calling for him.”

“What’s wrong?” cried Marian.

“The medicine has entered his organs,” explained the doctor. “They are causing strong pains and hallucinations. It will only get worse.”

No one could bear to see Joe like this, but for Ben, it was worse. “Please, you must do something,” Ben begged the doctor.

“I can’t give him a sedative, Ben,” replied the doctor. “I can’t introduce more of that drug into his body. The only thing that will save him is that medicine.”

“How will that help?” asked Ben puzzled.

“Joe is in pain, and those pains will continue. They will make it hard for him to breathe, and his heart could fail.”

“And the medicine will help him?”

“With that remedy, he should be all right,” the doctor affirmed.

“I’ll go get it,” said Ben.

“I will accompany you, Ben,” said Margaret.

“Don’t take this wrong, but I want to go alone,” said Ben. He left the room.

Margaret suddenly began to think that she might lose Ben, that Joe was a much of a problem dead as he was alive.

Ben hurried down the street and went directly to the pharmacy. The pharmacist was behind the counter, standing next to his daughter mixing medicines when he saw Ben. He walked up to Ben. “Ben, what brings you around here?”

“Mister Cartwright, it’s been a long time,” added Wendy, the pharmacist’s daughter.

“I need this medicine,” answered Ben and handed the prescription to the pharmacist. The pharmacist went to get the medicine while Wendy stayed with Ben.

“How is Joe, Mr. Cartwright?” Wendy asked.

“Not well. This medicine is for him.”

“What happened?” asked Wendy with concern.

“He is very sick.”

The pharmacists came out and told Wendy that her mother needed her. Wendy nodded, then said, “Mr. Cartwright, when would it be all right for me to see Joe?”

“I don’t know when,” Ben answered honestly.

Wendy left, and the pharmacists turned to Ben, telling him that he could not find the medicine.

“What!” exclaimed Ben. “Steve, Joe is very sick. The doctor says that is the only medicine that can save him!”

“I can get it for you.”

“How long would it take to get here?” asked Ben.

“Four days.”

“That’s too long. There has to be another way. My God! It’s Joe’s life that is at stake here, Steve.”

The pharmacist sympathized with Ben and did not know what to tell him, when suddenly he remembered. “Joe’s girlfriend! How could I have not remembered? She took care of old Stewart for awhile. She bought all of this medicine. She has to have more bottles than she needed.”

“This going to sound strange, but I don’t know who Joe’s girlfriend is,” said Ben, trying not to cheer because the medicine could be gotten so quickly.

“It’s Marian, the daughter of the Widow Matthews.”

“You’re wrong. You’re referring to the girl promised to Adam,” said Ben, thinking there was some confusion.

“Joe came here with Marian Matthews to see Wendy before he left for San Francisco,” the pharmacist explained. “They came to tell Wendy that Marian was going to Adam’s birthday party without telling anyone she was Joe’s girlfriend.

Ben couldn’t believe what he was hearing, and continued to insist the man was wrong. “Let me explain this to you, and you will see that you are mistaken.”

Wendy came back into the room, and confirmed her father’s statement to Ben. “Mr. Cartwright, my father isn’t wrong. Marian is now Adam’s girlfriend, but she was the girl with whom Joe was so in love.”

Ben stood frozen. After such a revelation, he didn’t know what to say. In that instant, everything became clear to him.”

“All of her friends talked about what a bad mistake Marian had made,” Wendy added.

“Bad mistake?” said Ben. Ben was so confused that it was the only thing he could think to say.

“Of course,” replied Wendy casually. “Joe is the most handsome boy in town, and she traded him for Adam.”

“Don’t forget that Adam is my son also,” replied Ben kindly.

Smiling, Wendy said, “Yes, Yes, of course. But you can not deny that Joe is more special than Adam.”

“Don’t joke with me in a moment of sadness, Wendy. Please. I need to know if Marian hasn’t been telling me or Adam the truth.”

“Marian and that mother of hers talk out of both sides of their mouth,” Wendy stated. “They don’t worry too much about the truth.”

“Her mother?” said Ben, increasingly dismayed.

“At first, her mother made life impossible for Marian when Marian told her what she had done,” Wendy answered. “But then she became her best ally.

Ben left the store with a heavy heart. He now understood Joe’s position, why he had felt such hurt and why he felt there was more to come in the future.

When he arrived at the doctor’s office, Marian and her mother were in the waiting room.

“He just went to sleep. Did you get the medicine?” asked Margaret.

Ben stood looking at the women for some minutes, without knowing what to do. He had thought he would know what to do when he found out who the woman was who had ruined his son’s life. Now they were standing in front of him…they had always been right there in front of him.

“I didn’t get the medicine,” Ben said slowly, “but Steve told me that you bought it for your neighbor.”

“Me?”

“The man you were taking care of, Marian.”

“Oh, that man. He is out of town,” said Marian. Ben realized she was being evasive.

“I’ll break down his door if it is necessary. Joe needs that medicine!” Ben’s voice was rising with anger, and Margaret jumped in quickly, defending her daughter.

“Don’t get mad at her, Ben. It’s true that the man is out of town. He probably took all the medicine with him.”

Ben heard Joe groan loudly in the other room, and he changed from demanding to pleading. “Please…for the love you felt for my son…give us the medicine.”

“What are you saying, Mr. Cartwright?” asked Marian, sounding frightened.

“You don’t have to pretend,” Ben answered. “Are you afraid I will tell Adam? I promise you, I won’t tell him anything.”

“Thank you, Ben,” said Margaret.

“I’m not doing it for your daughter. I’m doing it so Adam will not have to suffer what Joe is suffering now.”

At that moment, Adam and Hoss came in.

“Pa, the medicine…” said Hoss, his eyes full of tears.

“There is none, but Steve told me that Marian know a man who has some of it.”

“That’s the answer. We’ll go get it, Marian,” said Adam.

“I told your father that my neighbor left on a trip, and that he took all the medicine with him,” Marian replied.

“But Joe needs that medicine. We could go and look,” Adam continued to insist.

“Don’t you understand?!!” shouted Marian.

Adam and Hoss looked stunned, but Ben continued his pleading…he would do anything to save his son. “Marian, I beg you in my name and for Joe. Joe is a very young, very good boy. It’s worth a try to go there.”

“Please understand me,” replied Marian. “I don’t want you to beg. Mom, explain it to them.”

Suddenly, the door blew open, and in the entrance stood Wendy. She shouted happily, “I found a bottle! I found a bottle!”

Hoss hugged Wendy. “I love you, Wendy, I love you!”

“But I want you as a brother-in-law,” Wendy replied, and the both laughed.

“Give it to me. I will take it to the doctor,” said Ben. He grabbed the bottle from Wendy and went into the room.

Marian was afraid that Wendy would say something to Adam. “Thank you for coming, Wendy. But it is better that you go now. The doctor does not want many people here.”

“I see that you are here a great deal of the time,” retorted Wendy.

“We are part of Joe’s family,” said Margaret.

“And I dream of being his wife,” Wendy continued to retort.

“Joe would never notice a girl like you…you are too thing for him,” Marian answered with a frown. Seeing the look of surprise on the faces of Hoss and Adam, Margaret came forward before things got out of hand.

“Adam, take us to get something to eat,” suggested Margaret. “Joe is going to be better now.”

“If they leave, I’ll leave,” said Wendy. “I want Joe to be WELL so he can love me.” She turned and left the office.

“Forgive me, Adam,” Marian said. “Excuse both of us. It’s just that Joe has been acting crazy, and I feel so guilty, and then no one believed me about the medicine…” She threw herself onto Adam’s shoulder and began to cry.

“I did not say you were lying, my love,” said Adam, holding her tightly.

*****

Inside the room, Joe was already calm and asleep.

“Ben, I am going to leave you awhile. I have to go out to see some patients,” said the doctor. “Joe is going to be just fine, thanks to this medicine. I promise you, my friend.

Ben felt a surge of gratitude at the words of his friend, the doctor. “I believe you. You told me that when Joe had the accident with the bear, and my son was saved.”

The doctor left the room, and Ben pulled a chair up next to his son’s bed. He took Joe’s hand in his. “Joe, now I understand your pain. I admire your strength and maturity in keeping this to yourself, in absorbing your pain by yourself. But I wish you would have trusted me. It is a great deal of pain for you to deal with alone. A great injustice was done to you by these two women, an injustice I am sure you did not deserve.”

Hoss entered the room and approached Ben. “Pa, it occurred to me that we should get a room at the hotel so we can take turns resting there.”

“All right, but until he wakes, I am not going to leave his side.

“Good thing Wendy found that medicine,” said Hoss. “I can see he’s sleeping now.

“Yes”

“I’m sure Marian would have taken us to her neighbor’s to get the medicine,” added Hoss. Ben couldn’t keep quiet any longer, and told Hoss to sit down in the chair near the foot of the bed.

“I have to tell you something, but you must promise not to tell anyone,” said Ben in a confidential tone.

“All right. Tell me.”

“I found out who was Joe’s girlfriend.”

“You think you saw her?”

“I didn’t see her,” answered Ben. “They told me today in the pharmacy. It’s Marian, Hoss.”

Hoss didn’t know what to say after hearing those words. Ben said, “You must remain quiet about this.”

“When Adam is told about this…”

“Adam does not have to be informed,” said Ben. “Her leaving him would cause a great deal of pain, worse than this.”

“I understand you, Pa, but what of Joe’s pain,” Hoss argued. “Joe tried to kill himself because of her. How is he going to be able to bear seeing her become Adam’s wife.”

“They also said today that many girls think Joe is the most handsome boy of all. We know his ways, how quickly he falls in love with another girl. On the other hand, for Adam, this would be the end.”

“It’s different this time,” insisted Hoss.

“In time, we can make things work,” said Ben, trying to keep up his hopes.

“Pa, maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but Adam told me that Joe confided to him that on the day before he left for San Francisco, his girlfriend gave herself to him.”

To Ben, each time there were more revelations, the more blame he put on himself. He should have never trusted those women so much, especially Margaret.

“I want you to promise me that you won’t say anything to Adam,” Ben said to Hoss.

“You’re saying that because you think Joe doesn’t want it revealed. We’ll leave it to him to decide when he wakes up.”

Ben nodded. “Yes, when he wakes up.”

Hoss embraced his father and the two stared at Joe.

*****

Ben spent all night at Joe’s side. When around ten in the morning Joe began to wake, Ben smiled and put his hand on Joe’s arm. “How are you, son?”

“All right, all right,” said Joe slowly.

“I couldn’t wait until you awoke so I could tell you that I love you a great deal, son.”

Joe smiled, despite his weakness. “That’s not news.”

“You have to eat something. I am going to tell the doctor that you are awake.”

“Wait…because all he will do is give me orders. Where are my brothers?”

“Hoss is at the hotel,” answered Ben. “He rented a room so he could rest while you were here. Adam is at the Ponderosa. He will be here shortly.”

“You took care of me with Margaret?”

“No, I didn’t. I was alone.”

“I remember when the doctor was cleaning out my stomach, she was here. You are going to have a nurse for a wife.”

“Margaret is never going to be my wife…never,” vowed Ben.

“I thought that…”

“We’ll talk about that later. The important thing is to make you strong and for you to promise me that you will never, ever do something like this again.”

“I’m sorry, Pa,” Joe answered. “It was the pain. It drove me crazy. It still drives me crazy.”

“But nobody is worth so much that you should end your life. Life gives you pain, but the only one who decides when one should die is God.”

At that moment, Adam and Marian come in with the doctor. Ben noted how nervous Joe got when he saw them. He felt a great deal of grief for his youngest son, and also felt a desire to shout out the truth.

“Hello, little brother,” said Adam.

“Big brother…”

“I am happy you are feeling better, Joe,” said Marian.

“If you will permit me to examine the boy,” interrupted the doctor.

“We should go,” said Marian. “We only stopped by to see how Joe was. We are very busy looking for all the materials needed for our future rooms while Adam designs the second Ponderosa.”

“But I will come and see you later, Joe,” added Adam.

“Don’t worry about me, Adam. I’m all right,” replied Joe.

“Pa, we will see you later,” Adam said.

Ben was irritated, but tried to hide it. “If you can spare a minute, would you stop by the hotel and tell Hoss that Joe is awake?”

Adam didn’t notice the irony in Ben’s voice, and promised to go to the hotel. Ben and Marian scowled at each other.

After the pair left the room, the doctor began to examine Joe. “What a pretty couple Marian and Adam make. Although she is small, she carries herself well.” The doctor wanted to make Joe smile, so he added, “I don’t know how this girl escaped you, Joe.”

Instead of making Joe smile, though, all the doctor did was manage to depress him.

“Well, I asked Caroline to make some soup,” said the doctor with a shrug. “We have to feed you.”

The doctor withdrew and Ben approached to Joe. “I am going to the hotel, Joe. I need to clean up and sleep for awhile.”

“Why don’t you sleep here?”

“I want to take a bath, Joe. I won’t be gone for long. I’ll be back by four,” Ben promised.

“There’s a bath here where you can clean up, and you can sleep here,” Joe said. “I promise to be quiet and not to wake you.”

Ben realized that Joe did not want him to go. “What’s wrong, Joe?”

“It’s just that…I’m afraid I might do something again if I stay here alone,” said Joe, beginning to cry a bit.

“I’ll stay…I’ll stay. Son, your pa is never going to let you be hurt again.”

“It worries me a great deal to behave like this after you have forgiven me,” said Joe.

“You do not have to worry about telling me your feelings,” Ben replied. “I wish you would have told be the truth about this. I wish you would have trusted me, Joe.”

“Haven’t you suffered enough, Pa? Haven’t I made you bitter?”

“You should have told me the truth.”

“You don’t understand,” said Joe, thinking his father didn’t want to hear the truth.

“I ask myself what I should have done. I feel so bad, Joe. There should be something I could do…”

“Don’t ever tell the truth to Adam,” replied Joe.

“I thought about that, but I believe Marian is not good. We are not helping him by letting him continue in this relationship.”

“I believe it would better if he realized that by himself, Pa. I…that night…I didn’t do anything…I swear to you that I didn’t…” said Joe, still very upset.

“I know…I feel bad that I distrusted you at first. I should have never done that.”

Suddenly Hoss entered like a whirlwind, very happy to know that Joe had awakened. “When I heard you woke up, my legs couldn’t get me here fast enough. Welcome back to the world, little brother.”

” Hello… “

“I had to see for myself that you were all right,” said Hoss with emotion.

Joe laughed when he answered. “You look pretty bad when you’re crying, big brother.”

The three laughed. At that moment, the doctor entered with a bowl of soup on a tray. “Who’s going to help him?”

“Me!!” said Ben and Hoss at the same time.

“Pa, get some rest. I’ll stay with Joe,” offered Hoss.

Ben looked at Joe, seeking his permission.

“Could you stay until I finish eating, Pa? asked Joe.

Ben realized the plea in Joe’s look and agreed to stay.

“Then I will teach you some massages to do on his stomach,” said the doctor. “You’ll feel some pain, Joe, but with the help of the medicine and the massages, you should be able to tolerate them.

*****

 A week passed, and Joe was being prepared to return to the Ponderosa. Neither Marian nor Adam had come to see him during that time. Inside, Joe was afraid to return to his own home. He felt a mixture of worry, pain, and bitterness, but mostly he felt uncomfortable about being at the ranch.

When the wagon arrived at the Ponderosa, Hoss helped Joe climb out. Adam and the two women came forward to greet him as Ben stood to the side.

“How are you, Joe?” asked Adam.

“Tired, but well…”

“Please come in. You are not going to recognize the room,” said Marian, proud of the changes she had made.

But Ben seemed bothered by this. “I hope the changes are not very drastic and that they please us. Otherwise, we will have to return it to its original form.”

“We made it all new, and for Joe, that can only be good, as Adam said,” said Margaret, trying to flatter the only one who was not aware of the truth.

When they entered, they found the furniture had been moved around. Ben’s red chair was the only thing that had remained in place. A great pot of flowers had been placed on the small table in the living room, and the dining room table was covered with a tablecloth with small flowers that matched the curtains in the window.

“What is this?” demanded Ben. “In a male house like ours, the flowered curtains don’t look right. I don’t think Joe or Hoss would like them. And I would ask that you put my sofa back in its place.”

Marian and her mother realized any response would start a battle, and both women stood silent.

 “Joe, I’ll help you to your room and then we can begin with the messages,” said Ben. He went up the stairs with Joe.

“What massages?” Adam asked Hoss.

“Something that we started earlier this week. But since you didn’t have time to come by, we couldn’t tell you that Joe needed them,” said Hoss sarcastically.

“Hoss, you don’t have to be sarcastic. I know that I did not go to see him. We were very busy with these changes. I already forgave Joe, but I can not forget the reason why Joe wanted to kill himself. The two of us still need to talk, and I want to see how he acts now,” replied Adam.

Hoss stood looking at his brother, and he appeared very calm to the two women. But behind that calm, Adam could see a warning in Hoss’ eyes.

“I saw only one only one thing, Adam,” said Hoss. “For almost two weeks, my brother was deciding between life and death. We were lucky that he came back to us. The luck was how much Pa wanted him back.  I saw him crying with our father, Adam, and I am not going to let that happen again.”

“But nobody wants anything bad to happen to Joe, Hoss. He threatened us this way. And as for Pa, he always worries too much about Joe. It’s that simple.”

“Really, brother, you’re suppose to be the intelligent one of the family,” said Hoss. “But what you said is stupid.” He walked out of the room and went up the stairs to his own room.

Marian approached Adam to console him and to sow more poison in his thoughts. “I believe that it will be best if we hurry the construction of our ranch. Everything in this place revolves around a single person…Joe.”

“No, that’s not true,” replied Adam. “Joe is a very good boy, and after I have talked with him, everything will be all right. I was carrying on so much that I couldn’t listen to what he had to say.”

*****

The following morning, Ben was in Joe’s room, doing the massages on his son’s stomach. “Are the pains going away?”

“A little, but it still burns. But the medicine helps me a lot,” answered Joe, shaking a bit from the discomfort.

At that moment, Adam and Marian entered the room. Ben ignored them and continued the massages on Joe. None of them noticed the suggestive way Marian looked at Joe as she saw his naked chest.

“Father, I need to talk with you a moment,” Adam said to Ben with a great deal of solemnity.

“Not now,” replied Ben. “I have to continue doing some massages on Joe.”

“Go with Adam. You aren’t doing anything that I can’t do,” said Marian very primly. Ben and Joe looked at each, but neither said anything.

Adam agreed with Marian. “I really do need to talk with you.”

Ben looked at Joe, then left with Adam.

Marian approached Joe, willing to give him the massages. “Tell me what I should do.”

“I will wait for my father,” answered Joe. “I am not going to fall for your act where you approach me and then say I wanted to make you make love to me.”

“Sooner or later, we are going to make love again. We love each other.”

“You are the worse thing. What kind of act are you putting on with Adam?” Joe asked coldly.

“None, but unless you agree to make love to me, you can’t imagine the bad things I can come up with to do to your brother,” said Marian. She left the room, leaving Joe looking at her with great dismay.

In the meantime, Adam was sitting with Ben at the desk. “Pa, it will take us nearly a year to build our cabin,” said Adam. “Therefore, I believe that this is the best solution.”

“No! I am not going to agree to that. Joe’s room was designed by his mother and that makes it very special to me.”

“But the room will be just the right size, once we take down that wall.”

“Adam, I do not want to discuss it anymore,” said Ben. “Besides, you are deciding for your brother. You already decided that he should move and sleep in the room down here. That room was designed to keep old stuff, and not for a person to sleep in.”

“I’m not saying that I’m going to leave like it is for him to sleep there. I’m going to change it.”

“Adam, let me make this clear to you,” replied Ben. “I want you to understand that I am against you in this, and I doubt that Joe will give you permission.”

”Yes, but if you agree, Joe would not have any choice.”

“I will not overrule him on this, Adam,” Ben said firmly.

“I’ll talk to him today. But you have to let me convince him. You can’t interfere.”

“I won’t interfere,” Ben agreed, “but you have to promise me that you will not appeal to his weak spots as you know you can do.”

“I will promise, if you will.”

“Joe isn’t feeling very well today,” said Ben. “Leave it for a couple of days.”

“As you wish,” agreed Adam.

*****

A few days later, Joe was sitting on the porch. Adam came up behind him, wanting to talk with him about his room. Ben and Hoss were seated at the desk in the house, and they heard Adam approaching Joe. They began to listen in case the conversation went badly.

Adam sat down next to Joe and tried to start a conversation. Joe was ignoring his presence, submerged in his own world.

“You seem a great deal better,” Adam began.

“But the pains still come,” said Joe very slowly.

“You didn’t tell Pa that.

“I don’t tell him everything,” answered Joe. “He worries, and what is worse, he makes stay in bed longer.”

Ben heard what Joe said, and felt sad.

“Joe, I have to ask you a big favor,” said Adam.

“Tell me.”

“I don’t know how to begin,” Adam admitted.

“It must be something difficult, because you never had a problem talking to me.”

“Things have changed between us since what happened,” Adam replied. “You changed after you left here. “ He took a breath. “Everyone seemed to think Pa and my future mother-in-law are going to get married. But Margaret hasn’t been around, and the last time I saw her, she said Pa had stopped talking to her because he believed you…that you did not attack Marian.”

Joe interrupted him because he realized the act the two women were putting on with Adam so they would not be discovered. “You know how Pa is. I’ll talk to him. Don’t worry.”

“You admit then that you did attack her,” said Adam, his voice rising a bit.

Joe didn’t know how to answer his brother. He knew didn’t know what answer he could give without telling Adam the truth.

“By not answering, you are saying it’s true, Joe.”

“I’m not affirming or denying what you said, Adam,” replied Joe. “Marian and I both know what happened, and it’s something we should resolve between the two of us.”

“You don’t have anything to settle or resolve with her,” snapped Adam. “What’s more, I am going to ask that you do not approach her.”

Hoss came out to the porch to defend Joe. “I believe I should enter this conversation and give you an answer, Adam.” Hoss was willing to tell Adam the whole truth, but Joe stopped him.

“Listen…I don’t feel well,” Joe said. “Will you help me to my room, Hoss?”

Hoss realized that Joe was lying. “But Joe…”

“Please, I need you to help me, Hoss,” insisted Joe.

Hoss gave up on what he was going to say and went with Joe. At that moment, Ben came out of the house, looking relieved that Hoss and Joe did not tell Adam the truth. Joe returned his father’s look, telling him that he had stopped Hoss in time.Ben went to Adam, who was very upset.

“Did you come to defend your prized younger son?” snapped Adam.

“No, I didn’t. I came to try to calm down my prized oldest son,” answered Ben. “This thing with Margaret….

“What thing?”

“You said that I believed Joe. I never talked with her about what happened. The relationship wasn’t right. Don’t intercede, because nothing happened. Do you understand, Adam?”

Adam preferred not to give his father an answer. “It doesn’t seem to bother her. I have invited Marian and her mother to dinner, and they have accepted, despite Joe,” said Adam ironically.

“Joe is not saying anything, Adam,” Ben told his son. “I think that the less ones says about this…”

“Is that perhaps because he has something to tell me?”

“That’s his decision,” Ben stated firmly.

Ben went inside the house and went up to Joe’s room, where Hoss was sitting with Joe.

“Did you convince Adam that I have nothing to say to him, Pa?” asked Joe when he saw Ben.

“I said at the moment that you have nothing to say. I would do anything not to have this barrier between you,” Ben told Joe, sounding discouraged.

“He should be thankful it’s you, little brother, because I’d give him a hiding that he wouldn’t forget,” said Hoss angrily.

“I only want to make sure he isn’t unhappy,” answered Joe.

Ben had a mental picture of Joe — the vision of his son when he broke down. It was something that he would never be able to forget. “Joe, I’m going to stay here, whether you want me to or not. Hoss, close the window and go downstairs.”

Hoss did what his father told him and left the room.

“Pa, maybe it would be better that I moved out until they finish building their home,” suggested Joe.

“Stop saying such foolishness,” replied Ben.

“It’s not foolishness. Marian has been looking for me again. She said that she could make things very bad for Adam if I do not pay attention to her.”

“I think the best thing is that you tell Adam the whole truth,” Ben said.

“That will only make things worse,” answered Joe.

*****

That night, they were all having dinner. Hoss and Joe were seated on the left side, and Adam, Marian, and Margaret were on the right, with Ben at the head of the table. Joe was seated across from Marian, and she tried to get his attention by touching his legs under the table. Joe felt uneasy, uncomfortable about the situation. Once, when Joe was putting a spoonful of soup into his mouth, Marian’s leg touched and rubbed his gently. Joe coughed and spat out the liquid.

“What happened, Joe?” asked Hoss.

“Nothing,” Joe answered. “I swallowed wrong.”

“You should be more careful next time. Look how you spotted the tablecloth,” said Adam sourly.

When Marian tried to do the same thing again, Ben noticed and put his leg out so Marian could not reach Joe. The three exchanged looks while they continued eating. In that moment, they looked like caged animals scowling at each other.

“Joe, did Adam tell you what we decided to do with your room?” Marian asked with a sweet smile on her face.

“What are you talking about?” answered Joe.

“I didn’t have an opportunity to tell you…” began Adam, but Ben interrupted him.

“And I don’t think this is the time, either,” Ben said.

“No, Pa, let him tell me,” said Joe.

“We thought you would be able to move to the room down here, so that we could take down the wall that divides your room from mine,” explained Adam. “We thought it might be better….”

“You are talking about me moving to the room with all the junk in it?” said Joe.

“But I’m going to make it livable for you,” Adam tried to convince him.

“There’s nothing that would make that room livable,” countered Joe. “Don’t try to convince me that you can do it. You didn’t want to put your things in there because you said it smelled so bad.”

“But I’m going to air it out and besides I am going to expand it so it will be two times larger than the room you have now,” said Adam.

“Adam, you don’t seem to understand.” Joe tried to speak calmly because he knew Marian had put Adam up to this, and he did not want to give her a chance to make him fight with his brother. “That room…my room…you know what it means to me. Your mother left you many things – letters, pictures, a grandfather who could tell you about her. You wouldn’t do something that would take away so many things that comforted you about her loss, am I wrong?

“No, but I thought about that. I know you don’t have anything except for the decoration of your room and a pair of pictures of her, but I hoped you would understand,” replied Adam.

Marian entered the conversation, seek to cause more problems. “Then the only thing for us to do is to wait until our home is built and fixed up before we marry. We are not going to beg him, Adam.”

“You know our home will not be finished for two years,” answered Adam.

“Then we will marry in two years, Adam,” said Marian. “Maybe by then, we will be lucky and Joe will be courting, and he will stop envying our happiness.”

“This passes all the limits of my patience!” said Hoss, very confused by the conversation.

Joe made a sign for him to stop. “Hoss…,” he said quietly, and his brother reluctantly silenced himself.

Joe took a deep breath and gave in. “All right. Once you take out the things in the room and you are able to air it out, I’ll move.”

Ben and Hoss were stunned by Joe’s decision. Margaret and her daughter exchanged looks of victory.

Adam was as surprised as his father and brother, but he smiled happily. “Tomorrow, I will start airing out the room. You will see how good it looks when I’m done. Thanks, Joe!!”

“You don’t have to thank me, and you don’t have to fix it up. It’s all right the way it is,” said Joe.

“Joe, that room is not livable…” protested Adam.

“Cleaning it up is good enough for me,” said Joe. “You know what? I am going to start packing now so tomorrow you can start work.”

“Please stay. Adam thought to offer a toast for a new beginning,” said Marian.

“I heard the doctor when he said no alcohol,” answered Joe. “So that doesn’t tempt me.”

“Does nothing tempt you, brother-in-law?” asked Marian slyly.

“Luckily, no, sister-in-law,” answered Joe in the same cynical tone she had been using. He left and went up to his room.

Joe entered his bedroom and sat down on his bed. He extended his arm toward the shelf and took down the portrait of his mother. “Ma, do you forgive me? I know you prepared all this for me, but Adam is so blind to her. You know I do not have any other family but them. I believe you would have done the same as I did, that you would not have wanted to hurt him. I am going to take all the most important things. I won’t throw them away. And the most important thing is that you will be with me in the other room also.”

Joe began to walk around the room, looking at things, and his eyes filled with tears. “I have so many memories of you here. I can still smell the lilac perfume that you like. I remember when we played hide-and-seek, and I stayed curled up under the desk, and you pretended not to see me, and I believed you couldn’t. You said you found me because I laughed so hard. God! Ma…that woman ruined my life and now I am letting her do the same to Adam. Am I wrong to keep my silence?”

Suddenly, Joe felt a wave of dizziness arrive unexpectedly. Everything began to spin, and his stomach began to burn. He fell to the floor. Joe shouted for his father, and it took only a few seconds before Ben was at his side, along with Adam and Hoss.

“What’s wrong, Joe?” cried Ben.

“Help me…my stomach is on fire,” said Joe.

At that moment, Marian entered and stood to look at Joe.

“Hoss!! Go get the doctor!” Ben shouted. “Adam, bring me the medicine!”

“Where is it?” asked Adam as Hoss rushed away.

“In the kitchen,” said Joe from the floor.

“You stay…I’ll go…you help your father,” said Marian. She left the room hastily, but when she arrived at the stairs, she began to walk slowly, thinking about what she should do. This was a chance to hurt Joe, to remove him from her life forever. She went to the kitchen and got the medicine. Opening the bottle, she threw away most of its contents and replaced it with water. Then she hurried back to Joe’s room and gave the bottle to Ben.

Joe was on his bed with Adam and Ben standing next to him. Ben lifted Joe’s head and gave him the medicine to drink. “This will make you feel better, Joe.”

“Yes…this medicine is magic,” Joe answered hopefully through gasps of pain.

Ben and Adam smiled encouragingly.

“Pa, have you…I’m getting cold,” gasped Joe.

“I’ll go get some blankets,” said Adam and left the room with Marian.

“Is it helping you yet?” asked Ben, hopeful that the medicine would work.

“It isn’t…it hurts worse…it burns a lot,” Joe managed to say.

Adam entered the room with two blankets and put them over Joe. “We must make him something hot to drink. He’s shivering,” said Adam. He left the room, followed once more by Marian.

“That’s the worse I’ve seen Joe…he’s very pale,” Adam said to Marian.

“I was frightened. He looked so much like a boy at that moment, as your father held him.” Marian began to cry, but it was not an act. Once more her tears were genuine. She loved Joe, but she could not let him interfere in her plans.

Ben continued rocking Joe in his arms. His son did not stop moaning and his pains continued. “They are going to pass soon, Joe. Calm down…please, son…calm down.”

“Pa…I feel strange,” Joe said uneasily. “What’s happening to me? Pa! What’s happening?” Suddenly, Joe stopped breathing and fell unconscious.

“JOE!! JOE!! ANSWER ME!!” Ben began to shake Joe, trying to get a reaction, but Joe didn’t wake. His skin was becoming white and he did not seem to be breathing.

Ben’s eyes widened and he freed his son from his arms, letting him fall onto the bed. He took several steps backwards, looking with horror at the inert body of his son. “You’re dead! You’re dead, Joe!” He ran out of the room.

Adam arrived at the top of the stairs and saw his father. He saw the desperation on Ben’s face and ran to him, while Marian stood paralyzed on the stairs. “Pa, what is it? What happened?”

“He’s dead…he’s dead,” cried Ben, and fell to the floor in a heap. Marian began to wail.

For a few seconds, Adam didn’t know what to do. His father was on the floor, Marian was crying inconsolably, and worse, Joe was dead.

“It cannot be…my brother can’t be dead,” Adam said. He ran quickly into Joe’s room.

Joe continued to lay still on the bed. Adam approached him and put his fingers on Joe’s throat, looking for a pulse. Suddenly, he found it. “Thank God, Joe, thank God!” He moved the pillows under Joe’s head to make it easier for him to breathe and heard his father approaching with a great deal of fear. “He’s alive, Pa.”

But Ben didn’t hear Adam, didn’t understand him. “My baby…I lost the boy I adored…”

Adam walked over to his father and shook him until Ben reacted. “He’s alive, do you understand? He’s alive. You have to help me make him comfortable.”

Ben shook his head and walked to Joe. “You are not lying to me, are you, Adam?”

“Of course not.”

At that moment, Marian entered the room, crying hard. “I feel…this is terrible!”

Adam walked to Marian and began consoling her. “He’s not dead. Pa was frightened when he fell unconscious.”

Ben was kneeling at the side of his son’s bed. He turned to Marian and said bitterly, “It is your misfortune that he is not dead.”

Adam was stunned by what his father said. Marian felt terrified that Ben was going to tell the truth at that moment and ran from the room.

“What are you saying, Pa?” asked Adam.

“She was dedicated to tormenting Joe, and what is worse, I let her do it. Joe begged to be to keep quiet and I agreed.”

At that moment, Hoss and the doctor entered, and Ben did not continue speaking. The doctor went directly to Joe.

“You gave him the medicine?” asked the doctor.

“Yes, but he said it did not have any effect, and it paralyzed him.”

“It seems so strange…the pain should have eased.” The doctor felt Joe’s pulse, listened to his heart and looked at Joe’s eyes. He had a worried expression on his face, and could not look at Ben.

  • ”You have to tell me, Paul,” said Ben.

“Joe is in a coma, Ben,” answered the doctor. “I don’t believe that….

Ben interrupted him. “You don’t believe you can save my son, right?”

“No, I don’t,” admitted the doctor. “I don’t understand why that medicine didn’t work.” The doctor saw the look of pain on Ben’s face and told Hoss to get a glass of water.

Hoss descended the stairs quickly and went into the kitchen to get the water. He saw the remains of the medicine that Marian had thrown away in the sink. He was annoyed by her carelessness.

When he came back upstairs with the water and entered the room, Hoss reproached Marian. “You know that medicine is scarce and yet you threw more than half of it away.”

“What are you saying?” asked Adam, confused.

“In the sink in the kitchen, there were some traces of the medicine,” explained Hoss.

Ben got up quickly and went to get the bottle that was on the shelf. “Paul! See if you can tell what’s in this container!”

Nobody understood what Ben was doing, including Paul. But he examined the contents of the bottle and realized it was full of water. “Water! It’s just water! What happened?”

“Damned murderer!!” shouted Ben as he ran to where Marian stood in the room. He grabbed her by the arms and shook her furiously. “Why did you do it? Because you hated Joe so much?”

Marian said nothing and kept crying.

Adam and Hoss were behind Ben, and when Adam saw how his father treated Marian, he stepped forward to defend her. But Hoss grabbed him and stopped him.

“Let me go, Hoss,” Adam cried.

“Not until I tell you the whole truth,” answered Hoss.

“No, Hoss!” begged Marian as she freed herself from Ben.

“Your act is over…it’s over,” said Hoss, exasperated.

Adam struggled to be free of Hoss, but Hoss held him tightly and forced him from the room and down the stairs. He pushed Adam down onto the sofa. “You are going to listen to me, Adam,” Hoss said.

“You’re all against Marian and me,” protested Adam. “How could you accuse her of something so atrocious?”

“Be quiet, and you’ll understand.”

Adam agreed to listen to Hoss, and tried to calm himself.

“Nobody would have been against this relationship if it had been a normal relationship,” said Hoss. “But at your birthday party, a play began that went on to become a nightmare for Joe and for you.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You looked at the wrong woman, Adam,” explained Hoss bluntly. “She was already promised in body and soul to another man. She was Joe’s girlfriend.”

Adam was bewildered, and didn’t know what to say. “Marian??”

“It wasn’t your fault, Adam. The guilty one is all this is Marian. She knew what she was doing. She knew you were the brother of the man to whom she given herself only a few nights before.”

“And Joe wanted more…now I understand him,” said Adam.

“No, Adam, you don’t understand,” answered Hoss. “Joe told her that he couldn’t have a relationship with her. He told her that it was impossible for him to even think about doing that to you.”

“She continued loving Joe, then.”

“I guess so,” said Hoss. He felt he wasn’t doing a very good job of explaining things to Adam.

 “Joe suffered so much by my blaming him. Why didn’t he tell me?” said Adam, getting up from the sofa and walking toward the fireplace.

“Because he loves you a great deal, Adam. He said he would get angry with us if we told you. He didn’t want you to be hurt.”

“How did you find out?” asked Adam.

“Pa found out by accident from Wendy.”

“God, how could I have been so blind!!” exclaimed Adam.

“We were all blind. We wouldn’t have know the truth if Wendy hadn’t told us.”

Ben came down the stairs, pulling Marian by the arm. At that moment, Margaret came out of the kitchen with a bottle in her hand. “If you promise not to bring charges against my daughter, I will give you a full bottle of the medicine.”

“It won’t help,” said Ben coldly. “My son is in a coma.”

Marian freed herself from Ben and ran to Adam.

“What you did…” said Adam, stopping her. “I never thought you hated Joe so much.”

“I don’t hate him,” Marian answered. “I love him…I love him with all my soul. I wanted to hurt him because he wanted to have nothing to do with me any longer. I didn’t mean to do this. I wanted him to suffer for awhile, but not this. Please believe me.”

“Joe worshipped you, Marian,” said Adam. “Why did you come after me when you knew Joe loved you?”

“Because I wanted to be the wife of someone important, and he wasn’t important then. I thought I could forget Joe, but I found it was impossible. I love Joe and I will blame myself for the rest of my life for losing him.”

“You were with Adam and loved Joe?” asked Hoss with a frown.

“I like you, Adam, but I could never fall in love with you.”

Adam was going to say something, but instead, he just turned and walked outside.

Margaret went to her daughter and hugged her. “If only you had listened when I told you that Joe was the love of your life, neither of them would be hurting now.”

Ben was exasperated by what Margaret said. “The bad actions of your daughter caused my family to suffer, and you, Margaret, knowing all this, helped her with her deception.”

“I did not want my daughter to suffer,” Margaret defended herself.

“Without caring about who she injured,” said Ben angrily. “All you thought about was that your daughter should not be hurt. And because of that, two of my sons are suffering. One is disillusioned by a love your daughter pretended to have for him, and the other is hanging between life and death. But of course, your daughter did not have to suffer. Only the Cartwrights should suffer.”

“I never thought that Joe was going to react that way,” Margaret protested. “Nobody is worth dying for, and I told that to Joe the same day he was informed that Marian was going to marry Adam.”

Hoss was exasperated and could not stand any more lies. “Be quiet!! I may not have the education of my brother, or the brains of my father, but I can’t stand to hear this any more. I want you both gone – now!!”

“But Marian has brought her things here, and she has to get them to take with her,” said Margaret.

“My son asked that you go and I support him,” Ben said. “Leave here immediately and never return to this house.  Never bother my sons again or I will be forced to have you arrested, Marian.”

“I want to know how Joe is,” cried Marian. “I don’t want to leave him.”

“GO!” shouted Ben. “I will get a ranch hand to take you to town.”

*****

For over a week, Joe’s condition remained the same. He didn’t give any indication that he heard or felt anything. Doctor Martin sent a nurse every day to care for Joe, and Ben and his sons spoke to him a great deal, telling him how much they cared about him.

On this particular afternoon, Ben was seated by the side of Joe’s bed, putting perfumed lotion on him. “This is your favorite lotion, Joe. You are going to wake up and it’s going to please you to smell so good. Hoss has fed Cochise, but he misses you, Joe. We all do. You have to open those beautiful eyes for me. You have slept a great deal already.”

Joe moved his hand slightly, but Ben saw it and became excited. “Joe! Joe, do you hear me? It’s me, your Pa!”

Joe began to move the muscles in his face very slowly. He tried to open his eyes, but they felt like they weighed a ton, and his mouth was dry.

“Thirst…” Joe said very faintly, but Ben heard him clearly. He wet a cloth and put it against Joe’s lips.

“This will help, Joe, but you have to try to wake up completely, Joe.”

” Pa …?”

“Yes, Little Joe…I’m here…”

Joe opened his eyes, and then closed them again, but Ben did not stop talking to him. “I’m going to call Hoss.”

Ben went to the window and looked out. He saw Adam in the yard below. “Adam,” Ben shouted, “send someone to get Paul. Joe is waking up!” Ben’s voice was filled with happiness. When he returned to the bed, he saw Joe had opened his eyes completely.

“Adam is here?” asked Joe.

“Yes, he was going to take Cochise for a ride, but that won’t be necessary.”

“And she…?”

“Adam will explain it to you. The important thing now is you. When Paul left, he said that we should keep you warm, give you hot soup and keep blankets on you.  Are you cold?”

“A little,” Joe admitted.

At that moment, Adam came into the room and went directly to Joe. “Hello, little brother. You had a long nap.”

Joe smiled at him, but inside he had a fear that Marian was going to appear behind him.

“Adam, would you go tell Hop Sing that he should prepare some hot soup?” Ben asked.

“Yes, but I wanted to talk with…” answered Adam.

“There will be time for that later,”  Ben said firmly. Go see Hop Sing.”

Adam understood that his father wanted to delay things for a while. Joe had just awakened, and he did not know how Joe would handle the fact that Adam knew everything.

But Joe saw that Adam looked as if he had something to tell him about Marian, and he felt nervous about it. “Is…there something…you want to tell me, Adam?”

“Later, Joe, later,” said Ben.

“What lie has she invented this time?” asked Joe bitterly.

“Nothing…on the contrary, everything is fine, so don’t worry,” answered Ben.

“She is going to separate me from my brother…she is evil,” Joe said.

Adam interrupted him. “Nobody is going to separate me from you. Never, little brother.”

Ben left the room knowing it was useless to try to stop his sons. His sons had to talk, just liked they used to.

*****

EPILOGUE

Two months had passed since Marian had left, and the three Cartwrights brothers were getting ready to go to a dance.

Adam and Hoss were already ready, and waiting in the big room while Joe was still upstairs.

“Let’s go, Joe,” Hoss shouted. “We want to arrive today. The women are going to fall at your feet when they see you in your new suit.”

“I’m almost ready. Just wait,” Joe called down from the top of the stairs.

“If you’re not down in five minutes, Adam and I are going to leave, and you won’t have anyone to drive you,” yelled Hoss.

“I’ll saddle Cochise and ride him,” Joe continued shouting from upstairs.

Ben intervened. “You will not. You cannot ride yet.”

Joe finally came down the stairs, dressed in a blue suit that fit him perfectly. Hoss shook his head. “Why is God so unfair to give so many good looks to him and to few to me?”

Everyone laughed, including Hoss.

“When Wendy sees you, she’s going to be struck dumb,” said Ben.

“It’s very rare that Wendy is quiet, but I owe her my life, so it doesn’t matter how much she talks,” replied Joe.

“I’m going to get the wagon ready,” said Adam. “I’ll make sure your seat is clean.”

“I’ll go with you,” said Joe. “I don’t want them to see me arrive dirty, and think I’m still sick.”

The two left, and Ben walked over to Hoss. He re-did the knot of Hoss’ tie. “I hope they enjoy themselves,” said Ben.

“I think they will,” answered Hoss. “Even more, now that Marian and her mother have left town.”

“When Marian came by last week to say they were leaving, I thought she might try to get your brothers to fight over her. I believe she came with that intention,” Ben said.

“But Adam and Joe had a long talk,” Hoss told his father. “They told each other everything that had happened. Everything had a happy ending.”

From outside, two voices shouted in unison. “HOSS!! LET’S GO!!”

Hoss hurried from the house and climbed into the back of the wagon. Smiling to himself, Ben stood watching them until the wagon disappeared. Then he went back into the house, sat down in his red chair, lit his pipe, and settled in to read a good book. Peace had come to the Ponderosa once more.

***The End***

Author’s note: Your opinion interests me a great deal. This is the first fanfic that I have done, and I am really very nervous. Thanks to all the friends that helped me to translate. The pais of Carlos Gardel, Maradona and Rodrigo –thousand kisses for all.

I am of the Republic of Argentina and I am fan of Michael since nine years of age. Currently I am 38, raised with the teachings of the Cartwrights and loving Michael therefore, my pseudonym is Mary Chris Cartwright Landon, because I am a sister of Joe but would marry Michael… Michael, we’ll never forget you.

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