Dreams of the Past (by Lobo C)

 

Summary:   It’s been a long time since Joe was home.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  11,402


 

 

The man opened his eyes and he knew he wouldn’t make it home. Tears appeared in his pain-filled eyes as he thought about the man that had raised him and his beloved brothers. ‘Pa I’m so sorry. I tried to make it home, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. I wish I could tell you and my brothers how much I’ve missed your company and your love. I wish I could see you all one last time before I go. I so wish I could tell you all that you’ve meant in my life. My dear brothers, you have meant so much to me even in the years I’ve been away.’ Just then, he felt a blast of pain rip through him. “PLEASE, JUST LET THEM KNOW I LOVE THEM!!!!” he prayed aloud just as another wave of pain washed over him. As he fought for consciousness, he drifted back to the day this started more than five years ago.

*****

Five Year Earlier

“Why Joe Cartwright, I do believe you just get more handsome every time I see you,” Mary Jacks said.

“Well Mary, I’m not so sure of that.” Joe knew that if Mary’s father caught her talking to what he called a, ‘common piece of trash’, she would be in trouble; for that matter, so would he. “But I would be happy if you would allow me to escort you to the dance on Saturday.”

“Why Joe, I’d be flattered — that is, if my father approves.” She didn’t really want to ask her father if she could go with Joe, but it would be proper. She saw the disappointed look that washed over his face; even though the smile never left his face, it dimmed just a bit. “It will be just fine, Joe. Father is starting to realize that we need to socialize with you Cartwrights.” The Jacks had moved into town just six months previous and were still trying to get friends.

A few minutes later, Joe and Mary stood in front of Mr. Jacks. “Mary, are you sure you want to be seen in public with this…this barroom brawler.” The first time that Joe and Mr. Jacks had met, Joe had been thrown from the Bucket of Blood; he just happened to bump into Mr. Jacks by accident.

“Yes, father, I’m sure it will be good for our reputation,” Mary replied, hoping that Joe would not be offended.

“And you, boy, do you promise to take care of my little girl?” In his opinion, this young man didn’t deserve the status that he had.

“Yes sir, Mr. Jacks,” Joe said, still just a little nervous.

“Alright, then we will see you on Saturday, Mr. Cartwright.” With that, Mr. Jacks turned and strode away.

*****

On Saturday night, Joe got ready early and went into town to pick up Mary. Mr. Jacks greeted Joe at the door. “Come in, Mr. Cartwright,” Mr. Jacks said.

“Sir, please call me Joe; Mr. Cartwright is my father,” Joe said.

“Alright, Joe, then I insist you call me Tate,” Mr. Jacks said.

“Fine then Mr… I mean, Tate. I was wondering about what time do you want Mary home?”

“Well, I was thinking by ten, ten thirty, and Joe, please take care of her. She is my only daughter,” Tate said.

“I’ll have her home by ten, sir. And don’t worry; she’s safe with me.”

Just then Mary walked in. She wore a beautiful dark blue dress. In her hair was a tiara made of diamonds and blue sapphires; around her neck was a necklace made of diamonds and tiny pieces of obsidian. “Well Joe, what do you think?” Mary asked.

“I think that you will be the envy of the dance, and not just because you’re with me,” Joe said, still feeling as though the wind had been knocked out of him.

Joe’s prediction came true, for when they walked into the room, everyone became quiet and just stared at them, the girls with obvious jealousy and hatred, and the men with lust. But the couple just ignored them for the rest of the night. It was nigh on to ten when Joe escorted Mary home. After he had dropped Mary off, he drove out to his mother’s grave and sat for two hours, telling his mother about the dance. Joe got home around one in the morning.

*****

The next morning Joe had just woken up and was starting to dish up his breakfast when he heard hoof beats. Joe looked around at his family to see if anybody else had heard the hoof beats; his father had started to get up while Hoss and Adam looked up from where they were talking on the couch.

“Wonder who that could be?” Hoss asked.

“I don’t know, Hoss,” Adam said.

Ben opened the door and was surprised to see Roy Coffee standing on the porch. “What can I do for you, Roy?” Ben asked.

“Ben, I don’t like what I’m here for. I’ve come to arrest Joe.” Roy hung his head to keep from seeing the shock and disbelief on Ben’s face; he had known that this would be his reaction.

“For what?”

Adam’s question brought everybody out of their stupor and Roy knew that they wouldn’t like the answer. “The murder of Mary Jacks.”

The name hit Joe like a brick wall, “D…did you say M…Mary J…Jacks?” Joe asked.

“Yes, Joe, I did and you’re our number one suspect,” Roy answered, knowing that by his reaction this was obviously the first time Joe had heard it. Roy now knew that Joe had not murdered the girl, for whoever had had known that she was dead. But, Roy sighed, he’d still have to take Joe in and a sheriff’s personal opinion would not stand up in court.

“But how…why me?”

“Because, Joe, you were the last one seen with her besides her mother and father, and well Joe, Mr. Jacks says that he figures that you wanted more out of Mary than a few dances, and when she refused to do them, you killed her. To tell you the truth, Joe, I think you’re innocent, but I have to stick to the letter of the law and take you in.” Roy saw the devastated looks on all of the Cartwright’s faces and thought, ‘This has to be the second hardest part of my job.’ 

“Alright, Roy I’ll go with you,” Joe said, surprising his family, “If I don’t go willingly, it will just look like I’m guilty, so Roy could you leave the handcuffs off?”

“Yeah, Joe, I can,” Roy said.

A few minutes later Joe rode out in front of Roy.

*****

The Present

Joe awoke with a gasp, the grass beneath him wet with dew and sweat. It had been as if he was there again; he could still feel Mary dancing with him, could still see her outfit so vividly, could still smell her perfume — Lavender had been the scent — and he could still hear her laugh. Then there was the vividness of the other time of Roy telling him of her death, of the accusation that he had murdered her, the shame of riding into town in front of Roy and facing that angry mob of people, and seeing her mother sobbing. That picture would live with him for the rest of his life. Then he remembered the day of the trial — his whole family had been there. There had been so little evidence against him, yet they had still pronounced him guilty. There had been days when Joe had cursed those men, but he knew he was being unfair. When Joe tried to move to get some water in a stream no more then one foot from him, a wave of pain shot through him, rendering him once again unconscious.

*****

Five Years Earlier

“I’m sorry, son, there’s just nothing I can do; it looks as if you’re going to jail for a while. Just count your blessings that there’s not enough evidence against you to hang you,” the lawyer said in a voice that told Joe he had already signed his death warrant.

“Sir, my son did nothing. Are you just going to let him go to prison for a crime he didn’t commit?” Ben was appalled that this man, a man he had know for years, would just turn his back on the Cartwrights in their time of need.

“Ben, I’m sorry there is absolutely nothing I can do to help Joe. The only reason he isn’t going to hang is from lack of evidence that he was the one that did it.” Hiram didn’t like anything that had happened at the trial just two hours before, but he could do nothing about it. The judge had pronounced Joe guilty and had sentenced him to ten years hard labor at the Nevada territory prison.

*****

 Two days later Joe had tears in his eyes as he said good-bye to his family, “‘Bye Pa, I’ll miss you; Hoss, Adam you take care of Pa, you hear? And Hoss would you take Cooch and set him free up by the lake?” Hoss nodded mutely, trying, but failing to keep his tears in check. “Adam, can you please take care of Ma’s grave and put flowers on it often?” Tear’s flowed down Adam’s face unchecked as he nodded his consent. “Pa. you take care of these two, will ya. I don’t want to see them where I’m going.”

Ben nodded his head and then he stepped forward and took Joe in his arms; the tears in his eyes multiplied when he did this. “You take care of yourself now, Joe.”

*****

The Present

Ben awoke with a start; it wasn’t the first time he’d had this nightmare since Joe had gone to prison, but this one was the most vivid one yet. It always started the same way — Joe arrived at the prison where he was immediately put to work, and then beaten to within an inch of his life. This would go on for days — Joe getting beaten, then being made to work non-stop. Then it changed; Joe was laying on a bed — most definitely not his — the doctor walks in and turns to a man who was in shadows and tell him that Joe isn’t going to make it. After that, the doctor and the other man walk out, and suddenly Joe opens his eyes and says, “I’m sorry, Pa, I couldn’t keep my promise.” Ben usually woke up just before Joe died. Now the dreams were changing; Joe had been let out and he was traveling home when he was shot in the back by the same faceless man in Ben’s other dream. The times that Ben had gone to visit his son he was told that Joe was busy. Little did he know that Joe had made friends with the warden and had asked him to turn away Ben’s attempts to see his son. Now Joe was going to be let out because, after five years, Mary Jacks’ real murderer had stepped forward and confessed.

*****

Joe woke once again; the last two times he’d awoke, he had thought he would be breathing his last, yet he was still alive. Joe thought back to just a few days before when he’d been shot. He’d been surprised to see Wes Calen way out here on the outskirts of the Ponderosa, so he had drawn rein on the horse he had borrowed from the warden. He’d just started to call out to Wes when Wes raised a rifle and shot Joe down. As Joe thought about this, it made perfect sense to him; after all, Wes’ girlfriend was going to be hung because of her confession to the murder of Mary. However, Joe’s mind was starting to wander away from that subject and back to the past five years of his life.

*****

Within The Last Five Years

When Joe first arrived at the prison, not only the other prisoners but also the guards taunted him. After one month of hard labor in the prison yard and on the roads of the territory, Joe was gaunt from not eating, yet he was getting extremely muscular. Soon the other prisoners noticed Joe’s strange mentality. Soon after the prisoners noticed and the guards started to notice as well.

Joe had been in prison for six months before his first fight happened. The biggest, meanest, and roughest man in “The Yard”, as the prisoners called it, was Face Mason. He had earned his position as “Top Dog” by fighting every man in “The Yard” – everyone, that is, but Joe. It wasn’t that Joe avoided him; it was the fact that somewhere in Face’s hard-bitten body was a tiny piece of heart for the new men that came in. He gave them six months maximum to get used to prison — now don’t get me wrong, he didn’t do this for everyone; just for those he knew for certain hadn’t been to prison before. Anyway, Joe had just reached his maximum time when Face moved in on him.

“Hey, rich kid, you want a chance at the top in here?” Face taunted Joe.

“No, Face, I don’t,” Joe said not rising to the bait.

“Well, tough, kid, ’cause you’re going to, if you want to or not.” Face figured that Joe would be an easy target compared to others that he’d fought, but he hadn’t figured on Joe’s deceptively thin body. For more than ten minutes, they fought each other with no rules or regulations, no referee to break them up, just two men fighting with everything in them. By the time, it was over Joe had a couple of broken ribs, some broken fingers, a bloody nose, and his head was split wide open. But he was still standing when Face collapsed unconscious, blood pouring out of so many cuts the doctors later said they hadn’t known where to start. Everyone at the prison that day said they would never forget that fight if they lived to be a hundred. Everyone had gathered to watch it — the prisoners, the guards, the warden, and even the visitors, had gathered around the two men. And when the dust cleared, they all knew who the new “Top Dog” in “The Yard” was.

After the fight, no one ever made fun of Joe again, at least, not those who were present that day. Joe was soon respected by all the other prisoners, and was a favorite among the guards; soon everyone in the prison was calling Joe, “El Toro” or “The Bull”. Joe soon showed that he was as strong as or stronger than his brother Hoss. After Joe had been there a year, the warden started trusting Joe to do different jobs than the other prisoners; the ranchers in the territory needed help, so they hired the warden to bring prisoners in to do the tasks that their regular men didn’t like to do. So, the warden, being a fair man both ways, decided to send just two guards and Joe to do these jobs. And each one of the four men got to split up the money evenly, so that by the time Joe had been in prison two years he had a lot more dollars to his name than he went in with.

Not to say that Joe was forced to work alone, because when the warden asked Joe if he wanted a partner, Joe responded, “I have done more fencing in my life time then most of the men out there. No sir, I wouldn’t trust any of them, not one bit.” At the end of the first year of this new job, Joe had worked at a couple of ranches in California and every ranch in Nevada, but four — the Devlins, the Jacks, the Calens, and the Ponderosa, all of which were around Virginia City.

After two and a half years, another man came and decided he was “Top Dog”. Now the other prisoners tried to warn him, especially Face Mason. After his fight with Joe, Face became Joe’s best friend. But since Joe was working on one of the many ranches that had, once again, requested his presence, the man — whose name was Killer Mark Hiller — hadn’t met Joe yet.

When Joe came back from the ranch he’d been working on, he was warned by the warden of what Hiller wanted. After he got twelve hours of much needed sleep, Joe, not wanting to relinquish his title, had called Hiller out. This fight was one of the shortest in all of that prison’s history; it lasted all of 45 seconds. All Joe had to do was go out there, put on a big front by circling his opponent warily, and throw one very powerful left hook and it was over. The warden had Hiller transferred to Yuma Territory Prison and that was the last they ever heard of Killer Mark Hiller.

Joe’s routine for the next three years was defend his title of “Top Dog”, entertain the other prisoners, and work at ranches whenever possible. It’s hard to believe me but after Joe and his guards had been to the ranches, some of the owners started trusting them, and sometimes in their lunch packs, Joe and his guards found money that they didn’t share with the warden.

When it had been five years, Joe got an unexpected visitor. Magane Bleane [pronounced M-agony Blan] had been Joe’s “girl” before Mary Jacks had come into his life. That day, Magane was troubled to learn that Joe was out working one of the ranches and wasn’t supposed to be back until that night. Magane thought that they were making Joe work, but in reality, Joe loved working on the outside of the walls of the prison. After learning that Joe was gone, Magane went back to her hotel and thought about the night that her jealousy and rage had driven her to do something that Joe was paying for.

*****Five Years Earlier

When Joe had walked into the dance with a woman who looked just like a princess, Magane had stared at them, her jealousy and rage mounting as she watched them. When they left, Magane had slipped out the back and followed them back to Mary’s house. She had waited for almost an hour before she snuck into Mary’s bedroom, strangled her, and for good measure, she took Mary’s jewelry.

The next morning Magane had started feeling guilty, so she told the only person she trusted what she had done. That person was her father and her father told her not to say anything about it. Magane had been shocked when the sheriff had brought Joe in, but her father told her to remain quiet. Magane had attended Joe’s trial and had been devastated when he was found guilty, but her father told her yet again to keep quiet.

For five years, Magane was able to keep quiet, then she went down to Reno to visit an old friend of the family and she had decided to go visit Joe while she was there.

*****

When Joe had walked back into the prison, he handed the reins of his horse to Rever — short for Reverend — one of his personal guards, without looking up. Joe then walked into the warden’s office to report that they were back and that everything was done. He was somewhat surprised to hear the warden arguing with a woman, since women rarely ever came this late at night. When Joe walked into the warden’s office, the argument stopped.

“Joe I’m glad you’re back. How’d things go?” the warden asked, relief evident on his face.

“They went well, sir. Sir, may I ask w…” Joe stopped mid sentence when he saw who it was. “Magane?”

“Oh Joe, I’m so sorry,” Magane cried when she saw Joe. When she had seen Joe last, he had been slim, but now, in her opinion, he was skin and bones.

“Wh…What do you mean, Magane?” Joe was puzzled what Magane was doing there in the first place.

“Oh Joe, I was so jealous of you and Mary; I never thought about what I was doing until I’d killed her,” Magane confessed.

Joe was stunned speechless; he glanced over to the warden and saw that he too was in shock. “Magane, are you saying what I think you’re saying, that you killed Mary?”

“Yes Joe, I didn’t know what I was doing at the time an…”

Joe cut Magane off mid-sentence. “You mean you were at my trial, you saw my good name being dragged though the mud, and yet you did nothing to help me.” Joe was livid as he paced around the room. “The problem is that I can believe it, all of it. You let me go to prison just so you could keep your name good and pure! Unlike that of your father and brother’s, and even your Mother and sister’s. Well, thank you very much, Mag!  Do you see me? DO YOU!? I’ve wasted the last five years of my life in prison, all because of you and YOU EXPECT ME TO FORGIVE YOU!” By this time, the warden had gotten over his shock and called in some men to restrain Joe.

Within a few minutes, the guards had Joe handcuffed to a chair and had cleared out of the room; only one man remained and that was Rever, even though Joe’s other guard, Stealth, was outside the door just in case.

“Joe,” the warden said, “I don’t want you attacking the girl, that’s why I had you chained. Do you understand me?”

Joe just nodded, trying to control his temper by taking deep breaths. “I’m sorry, Jack… I mean, warden; I just couldn’t contain myself.”

The warden smiled at Joe’s mix-up; they had agreed that Joe would only call the warden by his given name when no one was around. “I know, Joe. Had I been in this situation, I probably would have torn her apart by now.” The warden smiled at Joe, then turned to face Magane as Rever came up and placed a restraining hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Now, miss, would you please start at the beginning of your story.”

So, Magane told her story from the time she was Joe’s girl to the present, finishing with, “I really didn’t mean for this to happen, Joe. Can you ever forgive me?”

As she spoke, Joe’s temper had fallen to a simmer but he still wasn’t willing to do what she asked, “Look Mag, I’ll forgive you when you live up to what you’ve done.”

*****

The Present

Joe woke up with a gasp; he’d been dreaming about Magane and that fateful day she’d come to the prison and told her story. After she’d left, she went and told Roy Coffee. A few weeks later, the governor had pardoned Joe and the judge had sentenced Magane to be hung for the crimes she’d committed. Now as Joe lay staring at the sky unable to move because it hurt to bad, he thought that it was a terrible waste of human life.

Joe had seen many things in prison; one of the worst had been waking up to see his cellmate’s body hanging from the ceiling. He knew it had been the man’s choice, but it had made Joe sick just thinking about what the man had done. It had been only the night before that the man had confessed to Joe how he’d lived his life. His name had been Jonathan Whitate; he’d been the son of a preacher somewhere in Kentucky, his mother had died when he was ten, and from there, John had gone downhill. He’d stole for the first time at the age of eleven. When his father had disowned him, John had gone from bad to worse. He’d stole more than just food; he’d took money, food, clothes, anything he could get his hand’s on. The first time he’d killed a man, he’d been fifteen and had done it in self-defense. At the age of twenty, John had finally been caught and sentenced to ten years in the Territorial Prison, and at the age of twenty-two, he’d taken his own life. Joe had nightmares for weeks afterward and had woken the whole prison with his screams. No one could blame him; after all, he’d only been in prison for four months when John had hung himself. Now as Joe thought back to what John had done, he realized that he’d almost done the same thing only a couple of nights before that, but his father and brother’s faces had danced in front of his eyes and he didn’t have the courage to go though with it.

Joe gasped as another wave of pain crashed though his body. His thoughts drifted back through the years back to a time when he’d been so sad and lonely for one man that he’d drawn into himself and pushed everybody else out.

*****

Eighteen Years Earlier

“Joe, aren’t you going to say good-bye to Adam?” Ben asked his youngest son.

Joe rushed forward and clung to his brother crying. “Do you really have to go, Adam?” wailed the six year-old.

Adam looked up at his father and mouthed, ‘What do I do?‘ Ben just shrugged his shoulders and turned to comfort Hoss.

“Hey, little buddy, look at me.” Adam had to think fast, “You remember what I told you when Mama died?” Joe just nodded. “Well, little brother, you remember that I’ll always be there; you just can’t see me. And if you need me bad enough, I’ll come home.”

Joe hiccupped, “But Adam, I want you to stay here with me.”

“Joe, you remember that book we read last night for bed?” Adam had to think fast as he tried to comfort his youngest brother. Joe nodded again. “Well, you remember what those men said at the end?” Joe nodded once more. “Can you tell me what they said?”

“Sure, Adam,” Joe said, wondering where his oldest brother was going with this. “They said ‘All for one and one for all’.”

“That’s right, Joe; you keep that and remember that, no matter what, I’ll be there for you. ‘All for one and one for all,’ can be our motto.” With that said, Adam leaned over and hugged Joe. “Don’t worry, little brother, I’ll be back,” he whispered in his brother’s ear. He then stood up and said his final good-byes to his Pa and brother Hoss. As he climbed on the stage, Adam winked at his youngest brother.

That had started it all, Joe had refused to eat. All he did was say, “All for one and one for all,” over and over again as he clutched his brother’s book to his chest. Joe had withdrawn from the rest of the family; he’d refused to eat, to sleep, or to participate in anything that happened around him. Ben had gotten so worried about Joe that he called in Doc Martin to tell him what to do.

“Well Ben,” the kindly doctor said, “I can’t find anything wrong with him except that he’s lost too much weight and needs to start doing normal activities.”

After the doctor left, Ben had tried to get Joe to participate in everyday life on the ranch, but had failed miserably. So, he had no choice but to write a letter to Adam, asking him to come home and help.

When Adam received the letter from his father, he was immediately worried but he didn’t want to go home, so he prayed and asked God to help his little brother. A few days after Adam asked for God’s help, the answer came in the form of a very unusual man. The man had asked him if he had any brothers, and Adam didn’t know what made him do it, but he poured the whole story out to this man. The man had listened patiently as Adam told his story, then told Adam to go back to his room and write a letter to his brother, one that told all the love that Adam held in his heart for him. Adam did just that, and a few weeks later got a letter from his father saying everything had changed with Joe and it was for the better.

*****

The Present

Ben walked outside in the cold, drizzling rain, as he’d done almost a hundred times that day, and looked down the road for any sign of Joe. Joe had been due home the day before and he had yet to show up. Ben was getting worried wondering to himself, ‘What if my dreams are coming true, what if he’s lying out there hurt and alone?‘ Ben had no idea that his thoughts had hit the nail right on the head.

*****

Joe awoke with a start; he’d been dreaming about when Adam left. He’d never felt so alone in his life during the time Adam had been away — that is, until he went to prison.

*****

One Week Earlier

Joe had actually been reluctant to leave his new friends. It had almost broken his heart to say good-bye to Face and the rest, but he’d done it with these departing words: “If you ever need a job when you get out, look me up.” After he said those words, he’d relinquished his title as “Top Dog” back to Face. It had been just as hard to say good-bye to his two personal guards, the guards who had accompanied him outside the prison walls. Rever had told him that if he ever came back for a crime that he’d thrash Joe within an inch of his life, then Rever had grabbed Joe into a big bear hug, telling him to come visit anytime. Stealth was a bit more reserved but not so much that he didn’t issue the same order to Joe that Rever had. After Stealth issued the order, he told Joe that under no circumstances was he to stay away for too long, but to come visit once and awhile. The warden had pulled Joe into his office and hugged him; if anything, Joe and Jack had become close friends and both were very reluctant to say good-bye.

“Here Joe, here’s a little something to remember us by,” Jack had said as he handed Joe a box.

When Joe opened the box, he burst out laughing and said, “What are these for, when I get out of control?” For indeed the objects in the box were his old chains.

All the men just stood there grinning until the warden broke the silence, “Well Joe, looks like you got everything that you need; its time for you to leave.”

No matter how reluctant Joe was to leave his friends, it felt good to walk outside those prison walls without feeling the presence of men behind or hearing the clank of the chains as he walked. Joe Cartwright was indeed a free man.

*****

The Present

Ben Cartwright was worried; Joe hadn’t come home yet and they’d just found Wes Calen’s body hidden under a rockslide in the Northern section of the Ponderosa. One question that everyone — including Wes’ parents — had asked was what was Wes doing there in the first place? Ben looked out to the horizon once more, expecting Joe to be there, yet he was to be disappointed yet again. Ben abruptly stopped pacing and went to the house.

“Boys, go saddle our horses; we’re going out to look for your brother,” Ben told his sons who were sitting waiting for their brother.

“But why, Pa?” Hoss asked. Hoss had had a bad feeling all morning, well, at least since they’d found Wes’ body.

“Because I said so that’s why,” Ben thundered as he stormed into the kitchen to ask Hop Sing to get some food ready.

“Come on, Hoss, we’d best do what Pa told us to,” Adam said quietly as he walked to the door.

*****

Joe opened his eyes and looked up to the sky that was dotted with clouds. How easy it was to just layback and think of the past, whether it be one week ago or eighteen years. Now Joe let his mind drift back to a vague memory of when his Mama had still been alive.

*****

Twenty-One Years Earlier

“Mon Petite, you need to hold still, please.” Marie had to hold back a laugh as Joe kept squirming in his Papa’s arms.

“Marie, I still think we should’ve gone to the barber to get his hair cut,” Ben said with a touch of worry in his voice. Whenever Marie went to clip Joe’s hair, he moved, making it difficult for Ben to hold him and not get cut.

“Now Mon Cherie, you needn’t worry I’m not going to cut you,” Marie said with a laugh.

“Mama, why?” Joe asked in an innocent voice, for in his four year-old mind every time he got his hair cut, he thought he’d been bad.

“Why what, Mon Petite?” Marie asked winking at Ben.

“Why you ‘ave to cut my hair?” Joe was very serious as he spoke. “An’ why’s Papa ‘cared you gowing to cut him?”

Marie looked at Ben as they both tried to hold back their laughter. “Because, Mon Petite, your Papa doesn’t like your hair so long, and your Papa’s scared that I’m going to cut him because you won’t hold still.”

“Ohhh,” Joe said as if it made sense, but to him it didn’t. He just wanted his parents to think he did.

A few minutes later, he was up to his old tricks and it wasn’t Ben or Marie that got cut; it was Joe.

*****

The Present

“I don’ get it why are we going out to look. What if he was just detained?” Hoss asked Adam.

Adam looked at Hoss and saw that he didn’t even believe himself, “Hoss, we all know that that’s not true, Joe would have been here yesterday, no matter what.”

Hoss looked at Adam, “Adam do you think he’s hurt?”

“I don’t know, Hoss; I just don’t know,” Adam said as he shook his head.

“Alright boys, let’s get going,” Ben said as he walked into the barn. Minutes later, they all rode out in search of their fallen family member.

*****

Joe woke up with a start; he’d been remembering the time that his mother cut him accidentally. He thought back to how he felt at the time and knew that there would be a time that the lesson learned would be applied, but the time hadn’t come yet. Joe’s mind then drifted to a time when he was thirteen; he’d nearly left his family for good then.

*****

Twelve Year’s Earlier

“WHY DON’T YOU JUST MIND YOUR OWN BUSSINESS, ADAM!” Joe had shouted at his older brother, when Adam had tried to give him some advice.

“What’s got into you, Joe?” Adam asked, totally in the dark as to why his youngest brother was mad at him.

“YOU, THAT’S WHAT! EVER SINCE YOU CAME HOME, YOU HAVE TO CORRECT EVERYTHING I DO! Joe didn’t lower his voice any as he spoke to Adam.

“JOSEPH! Please lower your voice,” Ben said as he walked up. “Adam, what did you do to Joe to make him mad?”

“Pa, I have no idea what I did,” Adam replied to his Pa’s question. Both men turned to Joe and raised their eyebrows in question.

Joe’s heart was in turmoil; he wanted to tell them he really did, but he wasn’t ready yet. The other boys at school had been teasing him on how small he was and on how dumb he was. They told him that he’d never be as smart as his brother. It wasn’t that their teasing bothered him; it was the fact that he knew that he’d never live up to his Pa or brother’s standards.

Joe turned and ran; he didn’t want to face anyone at that particular moment. He mounted Cochise and took out of the yard at full-tilt. A few minutes later, he found himself at his Mama’s grave.

“Hi, Mama. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll never live up to Pa or Adam’s standards — even the kids at school know that. Did I tell you that they tease me about my height, and my hair? I just don’t know what to do anymore. I go to school and I get teased, I come home and I get teased, I’m so tired of getting teased.” Joe poured his heart out to his ma and as he did, he was getting an idea, “Hey, why don’t I just run away?”

Joe sat at his Mama’s grave for hours planning his escape from the Ponderosa and his Pa and brothers. Sometime during this plotting and planning, he fell asleep and when he woke up his Pa was there.

 “Joseph, what is the meaning of this?” Ben said a little too harshly because of how much he’d been worrying about his youngest son.

“I’m sorry, Pa. I didn’t mean to fall asleep and I’m sorry that I ran off earlier.” Joe was slightly worried that his Pa would give him a talking to for running off.

Ben pulled Joe to his feet. “Joe, we’re going home and when we get there I want you to go to your room and wait for me.”

Joe knew he was in trouble, but he didn’t care; he was going to leave in a few hours anyway. But he still responded with “Yes sir.”

When they got home, Joe nearly ran to his room as Ben went to the barn to take care of the horses and calm down. He’d been worried when his thirteen year-old son had run off and that worry had turned to anger when Joe failed to appear for supper. When he’d found Joe asleep on his mama’s grave, he’d nearly beat him then and there.

Joe’s eyes were filled with tears as he stuffed his saddlebags in preparation to leave; when he heard his Pa coming up the stairs, he quickly stashed the bags under his bed. When a knock sounded on his door, he was sure it was his Pa.

“Come in.”

Ben walked in and looked at his son, and the look he gave Joe spoke of all the disappointment that Ben had in his youngest, or Joe thought it did. The look his Pa gave him would stay with him for the months he’d be gone.

“Joseph, I want you to know that I’m very disappointed in you and the way you treated Adam this afternoon. When we’re done here, I want you to go apologize to your brother. Do you understand me, Joseph?” Ben was once again getting mad with his youngest.

Joe hung his head. “Yes sir.”

“Good. Now come here,” Ben said as he sat down on the bed. Joe went over to his Pa, and Ben pulled him over his lap. Five minutes later, Ben sat Joe up and looked in his eyes; he’d been surprised when Joe hadn’t cried or yelled for his Pa to stop. “Joe, you know I love you right?”

“Yes sir.” It had taken all of Joe’s resolve and concentration to keep from crying out, so he hadn’t even heard his Pa’s words. “I’ll go apologize to Adam now.”

Ben didn’t know that his son hadn’t heard his declaration of love and he didn’t realize that Joe was going to leave before the day was out. “You do that, son; then I want you get ready for bed.”

Joe walked to his brother’s room and knocked on the door. “Come in,” came Adam’s voice.

Joe opened the door and walked in, “I’m sorry, Adam; I don’t know what got into me earlier.”

Adam took one look at Joe’s downcast face and knew that his brother had had a ‘necessary talking to’. “Come here, little buddy,” Adam said, patting the bed beside him. Joe walked to his brother’s bed and sat down. “You know I was just giving you a little advice earlier, and I meant no harm, right?”

“Yeah, Adam, I did. It’s just I was…well I…I don’t know what happened, Adam,” Joe spoke in a faltering manner, as he gazed at his brother’s eyes.

Adam put his arms around his brother. “Joe, you know that I’m only trying to help, don’t you?” Adam gazed in Joe’s eyes as he spoke.

“Yeah Adam, I know.” Joe was starting to feel guilty over the way he’d spoke to his brother earlier. “Adam, I got to go to bed now; Pa said I was to tell you I was sorry then get right to bed.”

Adam could see that his brother was trying to get out of his room as quick as possible, but didn’t say anything about it. “Alright little buddy, you better get going then,” was all that Adam said as he thought, ‘I’ll talk to him in the morning.’ Little did he know it would be over five months before he had that talk.

Joe walked to the door and hesitated before he turned and said, “‘Bye, Adam.”

Adam gave Joe a strange look but overlooked his brother’s use of the word ‘bye’ as a slip up. “Night buddy, sleep well.”

Joe started to walk down the hall but then stopped outside Hoss’ room and knocked.

“Come in,” Hoss’ voice came from inside.

Joe opened the door and went in. “Hi Hoss.”

Hoss looked up at the sound of his little brother’s voice, “Shortshanks, shouldn’t you be in bed?”

“Yeah, but I wanted to say ‘bye…I mean, good night.” Joe’d almost blown it.

Hoss laughed. “You need to work on that, Shortshanks; you almost had me believing that you were going somewhere. Well, you need to get to bed so ‘night,” Hoss said as he hugged Joe.

“‘Bye Hoss,” Joe said as he walked to the door.

Ben had been out in the hall, headed to Joe’s room to say goodnight, when he heard his two youngest talking, Ben smiled, but then he hurriedly went back to his room when his youngest headed toward the door. No matter how far in trouble his sons were, he would still allow them to say goodnight to one another.

Joe hurried to his room, and since he was ready for bed, already he jumped right in bed. Minutes later he heard his Pa walking down the hall.

“All ready in bed, I see,” Ben said when he walked in.

“Yes sir,” Joe said his tone subdued.

Ben decided to overlook his son’s tone and say goodnight without incident. “Goodnight Joe, God bless,” Ben said as he leaned forward and kissed his son on the head.

“‘Bye Pa,” Joe whispered as he looked up at his Pa.

Ben didn’t hear Joe’s use of the word ‘bye’; instead what he heard was, ‘night pa.’ Ben turned and left the room after he’d tucked Joe in properly.

*****

Two hours after Ben had tucked him in, Joe went down the stairs and got some food. He then went back up the stairs and packed; a half-hour later, with his bedroll and saddle-bags in one hand and Adam’s gun in the other, Joe crept out the window and went to the barn and saddled his horse Paint. As Joe walked out of the yard, he looked back and for a second he almost went back, but then the feeling left him. As he rode away, Joe thought about how his family would react; in his mind, they would be happy he was gone. After all, Adam was there. Little did he know their reaction would be the exact opposite of what he thought.

*****

When Adam woke up the next morning, he walked to Joe’s room. Adam opened the door and was about ready to tell his little brother to get up when he noticed that Joe’s bed was empty. Adam was surprised; normally it would take a long time to get Joe up in the morning. Adam was just turning to leave when he saw a note on the bed stand; he picked it up and started to read the note said:

Dear Pa,

I’m sorry I can’t be the type of kid that you want me to. I know that I’ll never be the type of son you want so I’ve decided to leave, so that you don’t have to worry about me being around. Now that Adam’s home you don’t need me anymore and I’m sure you’ll be happy that I’m no longer around for you to worry about. I’ve got to go now. I might send you a letter in a couple of months but if you don’t want to read it, I’ll understand.

I love you all,

Joe

Adam whipped a tear from his eye when he finished reading the note, and then he turned, yelling for Pa and Hoss. “Pa, Hoss, come quick. Joe’s run away!”

Ben rushed out of his room at Adam’s words. “What!? Joe ran away, but why?”

“Maybe you should read his note, Pa,” Adam said as he was still trying to comprehend the words for himself.

By the time that Ben was finished reading the note, Hoss had arrived, “But why would he think we didn’t need him anymore?” Hoss asked as he looked at the letter.

“I don’t know, Hoss, but I’m going to get your brother back if it takes the rest of my life,” Ben vowed.

*****

After three months of wandering from job to job, Joe decided to send his family a letter, but the catch was he was in Texas and the nearest town was two days ride from the ranch he worked at. So he wouldn’t be able to send the letter unless someone was going to town first. Joe decided that before he would write the letter to his family, he’d ask the boss if he could have a few days off to go into town.

Joe walked up to the ‘big house’ and knocked on the door. The youngest boy in the boss’ family opened it; Joe was jolted back in time to the times he’d answered the door at the Ponderosa.

“Can I help ya, Joe?” Jos, age nine, asked the boy that he’d looked up to since he’d arrived a month earlier.

“Hi Jos,” Joe said to the young boy, “I was wondering if I could talk to your Pa.”

“Sure Joe, come on in,” Jos said as he swung the door open farther to admit Joe.

“Thanks Jos,” Joe started before Jos’ older brother interrupted.

“Jos, Ma wants you to clean up for bed,” big, tall, Adin told Jos before turning to Joe. “I’m sure Pa and Ma will be happy to see you, Joe.”

Joe was hesitant, Adin reminded him so much of Adam — even the name sounded like Adam’s. “Thanks Adin. Is your Pa in the study?”

Adin smiled. “You always seem to know where everyone is, don’t you?”

“Sometimes,” Joe started to answer, but just at that moment, the middle son of his boss came into the room.

“Adin, Pa wants to know who’s h…  Oh Joe, it’s just you,” big, friendly, Ethan said as he burst in the room.

Joe smiled, but even as he did, he was getting a sick feeling in his stomach. He never knew that it was homesickness since this family reminded him so much about his own family. “Hi yourself, Ethan.”

Ethan laughed. “Sorry Joe, I guess that wasn’t a very nice greeting.”

Adin and Joe both laughed. Just then, the boss walked into the room, “Boys, that’s enough; I think your mother wants you to help wash the dishes, and Joe, I heard from Jos that you wanted to talk to me.”

“Yes sir, I did,” Joe said to his boss.

Strong and jolly, Benson Smith always had time for his family and his hands, but ever since Joe had arrived a month earlier, he paid special attention to the boy. Now the other hands weren’t jealous; as a matter of fact, it had the opposite effect on them and they all wanted to protect young Joe.

Benson led Joe down the hall to the study before he asked what Joe wanted, “So little guy, what did you want speak to me about?”

Just as Joe was about to answer, Marcy Smith, Benson’s wife, entered the room. “Oh Joe, no one told me you’d come in; let me get you something to drink.” She immediately left.

Joe looked at his boss and said, “Well sir I was wondering if I could have a few days off to go to town; you see, sir, I’d like to send a letter to some people I know. You see, I promised I’d write.”

Benson smiled at Joe. “Joe, don’t be so worried. You can go to town with Adin to get supplies tomorrow. As a matter of fact, I think I can spare a couple of dollars to give you a bonus before you go.”

Joe was stunned but then he smiled and said, “Thank you, sir; I really appreciate this.”

“Well, here we are, boys,” Marcy said as she came in the room with two glasses of milk.

“Thank you, Marcy,” said Benson at the same time Joe said, “Thank you, Mrs. Smith.”

“It’s no problem, dears,” Marcy said.

Benson drank part of his milk just before he walked back to the safe and opened it. “Here you go, Joe,” Benson said as he counted out ten dollars and handed it to Joe. “You go get a goodnight’s rest, ’cause it’ll be a few long day’s on the trail. I’ll tell Adin that you’re going with him.”

“Goodnight, Joe,” Marcy said.

“‘Night Mrs. Smith, ‘night Mr. Smith,” Joe said as he went out the door.

As Joe walked out, he passed by Adin and Ethan playing chess, and it gave him a sick feeling inside just thinking of all the times he and Hoss had played.

Adin looked up to see Joe watching him and Ethan, “You going to bed, Joe, or would you like to play a game with me?”

“I’d love to play Adin, but I can’t; I got to get to bed,” Joe said. At home, Pa would have been yelling at him that he should have been in bed hours ago, but here Joe didn’t have a set bedtime. “‘Night guys, see you in the morning.”

“‘Night, Joe,” Adin and Ethan said in unison.

*****

The Cartwright’s had been searching for Joe for four month’s by the time they got the first piece of information concerning Joe. The telegraph they received read as follows:

Dear Ben (stop)

 I have spotted missing son (stop)

He was headed toward Texas (stop)

He seemed well when last seen (stop)

I didn’t know he was missing son at time (stop)

I am sorry didn’t get information sooner (stop)

Signed Kent Markson (stop)

Ben Cartwright looked at the telegraph he’d received from his old friend Kent Markson. “Boys, get the horses saddled; we’re going to Texas,” Ben announced.

*****

Joe had been thinking about the letter all night and had yet to come up with what he needed to write. Adin had noticed that Joe was more quiet than he normally was, but put it down to nerves; after all, this was the first time Joe was going to be in town.

“Something the matter, Joe?” Adin finally asked.

“Huh?”

“I asked if anything was wrong,” Adin asked, starting to get concerned.

“Oh, I’m just thinkin’ ’bout what I should write to my fam…friends,” Joe stuttered.

 Adin looked at Joe and suddenly realized that Joe wasn’t fifteen like he’d told Adin’s Pa. “Joe, how old are you?”

“I’m fif…” Joe started.

“No, I mean really how old are you and don’t you dare tell me fifteen,” Adin warned.

“You really want to know?” Joe asked apprehensively.

“Yes.”

“Well,” Joe said, “You’re not going to like what I tell you.”

Adin stopped the team and waited patently for Joe’s answer.

“I’m only thirteen,” Joe said quietly.

“WHAT! You’re only thirteen!?”

Joe winced. “Yes sir.”

“Joe, why did you lie to my Pa?” Adin asked in total disbelief.

“I didn’t think he’d hire me if he knew I was only thirteen.”

“You bet he wouldn’t’ve, at least not for busting broncs like you been doin’. Joe, who are you trying to write? And I want the truth,” Adin said, looking closely at Joe.

“I’m trying to write my Pa and brothers,” Joe answered hanging his head.

Adin’s eyes widened. “But you told pa you were an orphan.”

“I lied, okay.”

 “But why?” Adin asked curiously.

So Joe told Adin his story, from where his Pa met his Ma to present. “So you see I can’t go back ’cause they hate me,” Joe finished.

“It sounds more like they’re just trying to protect you, to me,” Adin said. “Not only that, but that they love you enough to sacrifice anything just to keep you. I bet that right now they’re frantic wondering where you are and where you’ve been for the last four months.”

Joe hung his head and wanted to cry. Had he really misinterpreted his family’s gestures of love so wrongly? “I guess now that you put it that way, I’m the one in the wrong.”

Adin looked at Joe and smiled, “How ’bout tonight I help you write that letter then we can go get supplies and send it. Then we can wait for a reply at the ranch.”

“Really, Adin?”

“Yes, really.”

*****

That night after they set up camp and ate their dinner, Joe and Adin sat down to write the letter.

“What do you want to write Joe,” Adin asked.

“I don’t really know. I feel so foolish for what I’ve done,” Joe said miserably.

“I think that you should tell me what you put in the note you left first,” Adin suggested.

So Joe told him and Adin didn’t say anything until he was done.

“Well,” Adin said, “maybe you should start by telling them you’re sorry.”

So after they’d used several pieces of paper and many different phrasings this is what they came up with;

Dear Pa, Adam, and Hoss,

I’m sorry for running away and for all the trouble I’ve caused you over the past five months, and I was wondering if you wanted me back or if you don’t. If you want me back, I’ll be staying at the Smith ranch in Laben, Texas. Pa I love you and I’ve missed you very much, I hope you can forgive me my transgressions. Adam I’m sorry I had that fight with you before I left, and I hope you know that I love you. Hoss, my big brother, I’m sorry that I left you behind and I hope you can forgive me. I still love you big brother.

With love,

Joe

 

When Joe’d finished writing the letter, Adin read it and he had tears in his eyes before he finished.

“Well Joe, I think that they’ll get the message,” Adin said.

*****

“Pa, we’ve looked everywhere in Texas; as much as I hate to say it I don’t think he’s in Texas anymore,” Adam said. “We have to face the facts, Pa. it’s been more than five months, and we might not see him again.”

“Adam, I won’t ever believe that I won’t see him again. I will go to the ends of the earth if I have to. I won’t ever give up,” Ben said.

“Pa, Adam’s right; he might not be in Texas, and we need to get back to the ranch,” Hoss said as he reluctantly agreed with Adam.

Ben looked at his oldest sons and sighed. He knew they were right; he just didn’t want to think about Joe out there all alone. “Alright boys, we’ll go home, but I won’t stop looking ’til I find him and bring him home.”

Adam smiled. “We wouldn’t’ve expected any less then that.”

As they rode out of town headed north, a wagon came in from the south baring the child they were looking for.

*****

When they got to town, Joe was really nervous about the letter he held in his hand’s. Questions kept running through his head like, what if they don’t want me back? What will I do then?

“Okay Joe, let’s go send that letter,” Adin said.

So they walked over to the stage station together, and Joe sent the letter. In his nervousness, he forgot to put the address on the envelope, so all the envelope said was:

To Ben Cartwright

 

*****

A week after they left the little Texas town of Laben, Joe’s letter caught up with them. They were sitting in a little hotel dining room that also served as a post office, and they were all feeling a bit down because today marked the six-month anniversary of Joe running away.

From across the room, they heard the postmaster say, “Kids these days, they need to learn how to address their mail properly.”

“What are you complaining about now, Jed?” one of the men on the bench in front on the wall said.

“What I’m talking about is this. All’s it says is To Ben Cartwright. I don’t even know how it got this fa…”

Before he could finish his sentence, Jed found that the letter was no longer in his hand. Instead it was in the hands of the tall silver haired man that had just come in.

“Now see here, Mister…” Jed started before he saw the two young men standing next to the man. One was the size of a bear and looked just as strong, and the other looked like he could take on just about anything if he wanted too.

Suddenly the silver-haired man raised his head as if shocked, and the man in black asked, “What is it, Pa? Is it from Joe? Is he alive?”

The sound of Adam’s voice shook Ben from the shock. “Yes it’s from Joe,” he said quietly. “He’s in Laben, Texas.”

Hoss’ mouth dropped open in surprise, “You mean we was in the same town that Joe was?”

“That’s what this letter says,” Ben says. “It also says that he’s sorry he ran away.”

“But Pa, why wouldn’t he address the letter to Virginia City?” Adam said with concern.

“Maybe it was God intervening so that we got the letter before we left Texas,” Hoss suggested.

Both Ben and Adam looked at Hoss in surprise, but they both realized the truth in his words.

Ben turned toward the postmaster and gave him five dollars. Then he said, “Let’s go, boys,” and walked out the door.

*****

After a week of riding, the Cartwrights were once again in the little town of Laben. When they got to town, Ben went into the General Store and asked for directions to the Smith ranch.

“Well,” the owner said as he looked at the man in front of him, “it’s about two day’s ride to the south of town.”

“Thank you so much,” Ben said as he walked to the door to leave.

“What do you want with the Smiths, if you don’t mind me askin’ mister?”

Ben turned around, “I don’t mind. I want to get my thirteen- year-old boy back home. He’s been staying with them.”

“Oh, I see. Well, good luck to you, mister,” the storeowner said.

*****

When his Pa arrived at the ranch two days later, Joe was ecstatic and he introduced his Pa and brother’s to Benson, Marcy, Adin, Ethan, and Jos.

“I don’t know how to thank you,” Ben said to Adin after he heard how the letter had been written in the first place.

“You don’t have to, Mr. Cartwright; I’d have done it for anyone,” Adin said.

“But still…” Ben started.

“Pa,” Joe said with a grin, “Don’t mess with Texas pride; it can get you in trouble.”

Ben turned and looked at his sons, who all stood together. Adam and Joe had had the chat that Adam had wanted to have five months earlier. Hoss was just glad to see his youngest brother, and he didn’t want to leave Joe’s side.

“Boys, let’s go home.”

*****

The Present

“Pa, where do you want to start looking?” Hoss asked his father.

“Well, Reno is northwest of us, so I guess we start in that direction,” Ben said.

After they’d been riding for an hour, Adam spotted something. “Isn’t that a horse?” Adam asked as he pointed toward where the beast stood grazing.

Suddenly Ben felt a chill run down his spine. They were no more than a mile from where they’d found Wes’ body and his horse with a broken leg. Whose horse was this?

Hoss rode up to the animal, talking to it softly, “Hey Pa,” Hoss called when he got a hold of the reins. “This is Joe’s stuff. I guess you were right that he’s hurt, ‘cause look there’s blood on the saddle.” After he’d finished speaking, Hoss began to track the horse, while Ben and Adam followed silently.

*****

Joe felt pain; he’d tried to get another drink of water, but again his attempt was thwarted because of the amount of pain he was in. Joe was thinking of giving up on life, but then he heard voices. They were the voices of his family. He heard Hoss telling someone that he saw something up ahead. He heard Adam say something about the stream. Then he heard his Pa yell, “JOSEPH!!” Then he felt his Pa’s arms around him.

“Pa?” Joe asked weakly.

“I’m here, Joe, Papa’s here.” Ben said, trying to reassure both himself and his son. “Adam, ride to town and get the doctor out to the Ponderosa. Hoss, help me get him on my horse, he’s burning up.”

It was a silent ride home as Ben tried his best to keep Joe in the saddle. Hoss was thinking that he would’ve killed Wes if he wasn’t already dead. Joe had confessed that it was Wes that had shot him and that he’d heard Wes’ screams as the mountain had come down on him not 200 yards from where Joe lay. After saying all that, Joe went back into the land where he’d relived his life.

When they finally reached home, Doc Martin and Adam were there waiting for them. “Get him to his bed right now,” Doc called when he saw Joe. Doc then kicked everyone but Hop Sing out of the room so he could remove the bullet from Joe.

Two hours later, Doc came down the stairs and sat down. “Well Ben, I don’t know how that young man does it but he’s going to make it as long as he stays in bed for two weeks.”

“He will get plenty of bed rest, you can count on that,” Hoss said as he almost ran up the stairs, followed by Adam.

“Paul, were there any scars to say that they beat him while he was in prison?” Ben asked with trepidation.

“No, Ben, there weren’t any scars that were bad, though it looks as he participated in some fight’s while he was in there.”

Ben looked relieved. “Thank you, Paul.”

“Ben, I’ve known Joe since before he was born and I feel like a substitute uncle to him. There is no need to thank me,” Paul said with a smile.

But Ben hadn’t heard him as he was dashing up the stairs to see his youngest son for the first time in five years. Paul chuckled as he saw himself out.

*****

Two day’s later

“Pa…” Joe tries to say something but his throat is dry so he tries again. “Pa?”

Ben woke up and looks into his youngest sons eyes. “Joe, do you want a drink of water?”

Joe nodded and when he’d finished, he looked at his Pa, “Pa, I’m sorry that Jack kept you from seeing me the last five years.”

Ben was confused, “Who’s Jack?”

Joe chuckled. “The warden, Pa, the warden.”

Ben looked at his son suspiciously. “How did you know he did that, and how do you know the warden on first name basis?”

Joe smiled and started to reply when Adam and Hoss enter the room.

“Hi ya, Shortshanks, it’s good to see those green eyes of yours again,” Hoss, declared as he walked to the other side of the bed and sat down.

“I share Hoss’ sentiments, little buddy,” Adam said with a grin.

“It’s good to see you guys too,” Joe said as he smiled up at them.

“Boys, please; your brother was about to answer some questions,” Ben said with a fake stern look at his three sons. “You were saying, Joe?”

“Wwweeeelllll…I asked him to turn you away, and I know him quite well since I was in his office every three days or so.” Joe answered.

“Why were you in his office so much, Joe?” Ben asked.

So Joe told his family what his job had been in and out of the prison yard. He conveniently forgot to mention the fights he’d had or that he’d became the “Top Dog” in the prison after only being there for six months. He also forgot to mention that when he was outside the prison walls, he’d worked alone, or that he was paid better then half the people in Nevada.

As the weeks went by, Joe once again got used to working on the Ponderosa alongside of other people, but it was slow in coming and he had many day that he forgot he wasn’t a prisoner any more.

After Joe had been home for two months, he took a trip to town with his brothers. They went in the saloon and it fell silent. Suddenly there was a bunch of noise as Mitch walked up to Joe. “Hey Joe, glad you’re back.”

“It’s good to see you too, Mitch,” Joe said as he started to relax back into his old self.

“Well look who it is,” a voice said suddenly.

Joe turned toward the voice and smiled when he sees his old guards, Rever and Stealth. “What are you two doing here?” Joe asked as they clasp each other on the back.

“We just came to see how you were doing, Toro,” Rever said.

“Toro?” Hoss wondered aloud.

“You’re Hoss, right? Well, I’m surprised that Joe hasn’t shown you how much of a Toro he can be, or told you that was his nickname,” Rever said.

“Why would you call a puny thing like Joe ‘Bull’?” Hoss asked.

So Rever told the story of Joe’s fight with Face and how after that Joe had been the one that ruled the roost in the yard.

As the night wore on, Hoss and Adam learned a lot more about their brother’s activates in prison. It was nearing midnight when Stealth pulled Rever out of the saloon and toward their hotel room. Joe had to do the same to his brothers and marveled at the fact that it was normally the other way around.

When they finally did get home, Ben was waiting up for them, “Where have you boys been?” Ben demanded.

“Pa, we ran into these two guards from the prison Joe was in and they were telling us these great stories about Joe,” Hoss said.

“Oh…” Ben let the word drag out as he turned to look at Joe, “And what kind of stories might these be?”

“You see, Pa…” Joe then told his story from beginning to end and this time he didn’t leave any thing out.

“Joe, why didn’t you tell me all this earlier?”

“Because I thought you’d be ashamed of me,” Joe said as he hung his head.

“Joe, I’m not ashamed of you, just the opposite, in fact. I’m so proud of you. Now let’s all get some sleep. For tomorrow is going to be a long day.”

So, the Cartwright family had no more secrets once again and they went to bed satisfied.

 ***The End***

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