A Battle of Wills – # 1 (by Robin)

Summary:  Sequel to The Cherry Tree Saga

Word Count:  13,600

A Battle of Wills

Part 1

Prologue

The time had come on that cold, windy January day. After the housekeeper helped the auburn haired woman upstairs into her into the bedroom and helped her get comfortable in her velvet draped bed She sent Red Robinson, the young ranch hand riding to fetch Dr. Smith in Elm Grove. The foreman’s wife came into the house to help out.

“I don’t trust that doctor,” she confided to the housekeeper as they stood near stood in elaborately decorated front hall. “He is a strange little man and who knows what all he knows and don’t know about delivering a baby. You and I can manage this just fine between us.” The housekeeper smiled. Both women had helped more than their share of babies safely into the world.

“Wouldn’t be surprised if that Doctor Smith is a horse doctor.”

They both laughed.

“Well the missus is fond of him and wanted him to be here with her.”

The housekeeper nodded. “Too bad her husband didn’t live to see this baby.”

The foreman’s wife nodded “He was such a nice man and they were so happy together.”

”At least she found out what became of him. At first she thought he just took off and left her.”

”I knew he never would. My husband said that he wasn’t that kind. My John said that he would never have willingly left her. John said nothing would have kept that sweet man from the missus. Look how he brought that Justice of the Peace up here for the wedding the last time he was here. He only went back to tell his family the good news. He would have come back here after he told his family had he not been shot.”

“Sad business. New baby and a dead husband.”

“New baby, and a dead husband. And her only brother a dead criminal. He rode with that gang that killed her husband. The missus didn’t deserve such sorrow.”

”Let’s go upstairs and keep her company. Looks like it’s going to be a very big baby and a long labor.”

Chapter 1

January 5

Dear Adam,

Happy New Year! I am glad to hear you and Katie are finally in your own house after so many set backs this year. I pray this New Year should be the beginning some better times for all of you Cartwrights.

I will be sending you the documents for the shipping contracts for the timber and some information on some bridge building for the Union Pacific in a separate mailing by way of the San Francisco Office. I wanted the legal staff there to check it out first to save you the trouble. If they were trying to put one over on us there would be no need for you to spend your time looking at the details if the contracts were not in line. Hope you don’t mind that I did this, Cowboy, but I know you have your hands full with Joe. Hope he and your father are on the mend.

The children are fine and Amanda is still trying to get me to join them this summer in Europe. I can’t keep putting them off so do me a favor and come up with a good excuse. Junior did really well his first year at Harvard but my second boy is never going to get out of Deerfield Academy at the rate he is going. He is no scholar and the only reason they let him in was that Amanda’s father and brother had attended and Junior was doing so well. I suspect his forte would be the barkeep at the Golden Shamrock with Uncle Sean. I also suspect Charles Bruce Junior had the same lack of academic talent and that was why he was a mate on the Sea Breeze. Deerfield won’t graduate him unless I pledge an endowment (which I won’t) or he passes Latin after three tries. Hope he didn’t spoil going to Deerfield for the rest of my sons. My sister Emily offered to tutor him this summer when she is done with her teaching for the year. Maybe this will get me from going on the Grand Tour with Amanda and my boys and a summer of seeing cathedrals and the Tower of London and chasing those eight children around the continent.

Best to Kate and Sam.

Dennis

 

January

Joe Cartwright was stretched out on the settee when Adam came into the house. A cold blast of air came into the house before he could shut the door behind himself.

“Katie sent you some cookies. Her Aunt Mim’s recipe. I had to hide them from Sammy to make sure they made it out here. It was the first thing she made on the new stove in her new kitchen, Joe.” Adam handed his brother the tin. Joe opened the lid and took out a handful and offered his brother some. Adam took only one out of politeness. He hoped to leave his brother some tempting treats to perk up his waning appetite. Slim before the injuries, the last few months, recovering from his wounds, Joe had lost quite a bit of weight

“Tell your bride that I said thanks. What brings you all the way out here?” Joe said munching on a cookie.

Adam sat down in the blue chair by the hearth. From where he sat, Adam could see the fresh paint covering the damaged walls and the new cushions on the dining room chairs. A shiny railing on the stairs replaced the one that got broken by the man Joe had shot. The planked floor in the dining room was still bare, as the rug that Ben had ordered would not arrive for months. The old one was too blood stained to be used ever again.

“I came out for more of my things from the store room. That table and the crates of china. The wine glasses Dennis sent from Boston arrived yesterday at the freight depot. He sent a set for Pa too. They won’t replace the ones from Marie that got broken, but they are pretty close.”

Kate and Adam were finally in their own house in Virginia City and it was close to being finished. On the other hand the Ponderosa ranch house still bore many scars from the shoot out with the Carson City Gang.

“Bet Kate wants that huge ugly picture too. The one of the fruit you got in France.”

”Joe, it’s a wonderful painting and it came from Italy. You just don’t have an eye for fine things. We are going to hang it in the dining room.”

“Just don’t make me look at it while I eat.”

“Don’t worry, it’s a big room. High ceilings too. You can sit on the other side and look at the stained glass window that will be on the other wall.”

”Anything happening in Virginia City?” Joe said. He shifted himself on the settee trying to find a comfortable place. Adam could see him wince as he moved to put the tin of cookies down on the low table next to him. His right hand was still bandaged and the shotgun wound in his side was barely healed.

“Nothing much, it’s certainly a lot quieter since you haven’t been allowed to visit in town,” replied Adam, teasing Joe.

Joe’s face fell. In an instant Adam realized he had said the wrong thing. “I’m sorry, Joe. You must really be getting cabin fever out here. Why don’t you ride back with me and stay with us a few nights? Kate and Sammy would love to see you. And you can see how the house is going. I think I can get you back and forth in one piece and Doc Martin won’t complain too much.”

Joe’s face lit up. “Do you think you could? I’m going crazy here Adam. And Hop Sing keeps telling me to go to bed and rest. I’m going crazy. It’s too cold to even sit on the porch and get some air. Pa doesn’t even let me go up and down the stairs with out him shivering.”

Adam shook his head. As bad as this had been on Joe, he realized how difficult the past year had been on his father. First he lost Hoss and then he had to see Joe struggle for the last few months while Ben himself was limping around. His father could use a few days off from tending Joe too.

“Joe, tell Hop Sing to pack you a bag. I’ll deal with Pa for you. Then I’ll get the hands to do something with a wagon so you can lay yourself down on the ride.”

”Adam, I’ll be fine…You want me to ride in back looking at that awful painting all the way into Virginia City?”

”I’ll wrap up the painting so you don’t have to see it. Joe, just take it easy. It’s a bumpy ride into town and you have trouble just going up and down the stairs. And its pretty cold too so make sure you bundle up.”

“Hey I’m not made of glass. You don’t need to wrap me up in cotton wool.” Joe griped.

“Look, you want to go into Virginia City better get moving.” Adam leaned over and grabbed hold of Joe’s good arm and helped him get up.

No matter how old his brother got, Adam always felt he needed to protect Joe. Even when he knew he should mind his own business, he found himself watching out for his brother.

He had watched out for Joe his whole life and probably would never stop.

Kate had told him just the other night at dinner “Joe will be ninety years old and you will be a hundred and two and you will still think he is your baby brother.”

“And I still will call you my sweet child bride.”

Kate pictured them as an elderly couple, her beloved Adam holding her hand as they sat beside a fire. And she smiled at him across the new dining room table.

Chapter 2

The winter had started with a late Indian summer. It had been so hot that on the day of Ben’s birthday, the Cartwrights ate dinner out side on the porch even though it was late October. It was the second year since his father let him quit school. Little Joe had worked full time on Ponderosa payroll and he wanted to show off his maturity by buying his father more gifts than Hoss or Adam. In addition to a new pipe and a silver inkwell, Little Joe had given his father heavy fur lined winter gloves. The weather was so unseasonably warm that his older brothers joked that Pa would never use them with all the hot weather and he would be smart to exchange it for something else.

It had been unseasonably warm all the way through Christmas. But on New Year’s Eve temperatures across the region had plunged. Icy winds swept across the prairie bringing deep snows. Drifts as high as six feet blanketed Nevada Territory stranding New Year’s revelers in Virginia City and ranch families up in the hills and herds in the valley spreads.

The spring thaw didn’t come until late and some cattlemen found their cattle losses were as great as forty percent of their herds.

“At least it can’t get any worse, Boss.” Hays said as he and Ben sat with the tally books that spring at the end of round up.

“Let’s hope you are right.”

Chapter 3

The rains stayed away during the spring and summer of that year. By July, grasses so sweet the previous years were shriveled, dry and brown. Whatever cattle had survived the previous winter grew scrawny on the range and Ben worried that the weak ones would not make it through another bad winter. He was thankful that all the Cartwright holdings didn’t depend entirely on his cattle profits. He and Adam had vastly expanded the lumber contracts with the railroads and the mines. The mill was doing very well as were Cartwright mine investments but many other cattle outfits were folding.

Most nights, when Hoss and Joe came in from checking the herd, the news was grim. After years of mild weather and expanding herds on the open range, this summer was a drastic change. Seventeen-year-old Little Joe Cartwright was annoyed that much of his time was spent moving cattle from one pasture to another as the water dried out rather than paying attention to working the horses. His father had finally realized that of all his boys, Joe had the best eye for horseflesh and had promised he could run that part of the ranch business. But with all the water holes drying up in the drought, moving cattle took precedence over breeding and breaking horses. Joe rarely got any time off and worked hard day in and day out with little rest.

Joe was sullen and angry for much of that summer and picked fights with both his brothers at dinner and was short tempered with Ben.

“Pa, when do I get a break from the herd? Why do I get stuck with the damn cows?”
”Joe watch your language at the table. The reason you are riding herd is that it has to be done.” Adam answered for his father.

“Don’t tell me what to do Adam. I’m talking to Pa not you,” Joe turned to his big brother seated to his right. ”Not you, Adam. When do I get to start breaking those horses for the cavalry?”

“The horses will have to wait. We can’t loose any more of the cattle to this weather.” Ben reminded him from the head at the table.

”I was up on the ridge this afternoon and most of the fence line there is down and the grass is pretty worn. Hoss, you and Joe ride up there tomorrow and get them moved to the lower pasture.” Adam directed.

“Joe also has to finish up that fence line with Hays that they started last week.” Hoss reminded them. “ I’ll finish up the moving the strays we found today with Dean and Shorty.”

”Pa, I just said when do I get to take care of those horses? We promised them for next month and we are nowhere near started.” Joe jumped up from his chair in his frustration.

“Sit down, little boy and don’t try and take on the grown ups,” replied Adam, returning his attention to his food. He had no tolerance for Little Joe’s temper. The hot weather had gotten to all of them.

“Don’t ignore me, Adam, I’ll show who is a little boy. You old coot!” Joe hollered at his brother.

“Hey Short Shanks make up your mind, one minute you don’t want to be told what to do and one minute you tell him pay you mind” Hoss laughed.

Before anyone could stop him, Joe reached over to Adam, grabbed the front of his black shirt and swung his fist at his brother. Adam started to pull away. Joe’s angry punch landed hard on his shoulder, causing Adam to spill his coffee across the table.

“Joseph!” Ben bellowed as Joe raised his fist to hit his brother a second time.

Adam did not say a word. He stood up. Catching his brother off balance, he sidestepped Joe’s fist. He lifted Joe off the floor, throwing him over his shoulder like a burlap sack of potatoes. Joe tried to kick free, but Adam was bigger and stronger. He held firmly to the seat of Joe’s pants. Adam carried the boy up the stairs and into his room. He heaved his little brother on top of his bed and slammed the door as he walked out.

“Now stay here and cool off Baby Brother!”

It was clear that Joe would never be as tall or broad as his older brothers but that never stopped him from wading in with his fists flying. Joe’s door swung open, crashing into the wall and Joe roared down the hall after Adam.

“You are not the boss of me Adam Cartwright! “ Little Joe raged. “You old coot!”

Before Adam reached the top of the stairs Joe charged down the hallway and caught his oldest brother in the back of his knees. The two of them tumbled down the stairs hitting the railing at the landing with a resounding crash.

Hoss and Ben tore up the stairs and pulled them apart. Miraculously neither combatant suffered more than a few bruises and the railing had held firm.

Ben glared at Little Joe as he pulled him to his feet.

”Outside Joseph.” Holding tightly to his son’s arm, Ben escorted him out to the barn.

“Pa, give him another chance. You know Little Joe’s temper.” Hoss pleaded fearing his father was going to give his little brother a tanning.

“Not to worry, Hoss. We are just going to check on the stock and have a conversation. A very long conversation.”

Hoss made Adam calm down at the dining room table and had Hop Sing bring him a fresh cup of coffee and a cold rag for the welt on the back of his head. “For the next few days you better let me tell Little Joe what work to do.”

Adam nodded and rubbed his shoulder where Joe had punched him. “That boy sure packs a wallop, but don’t tell him I said so.”

Chapter 4

Finally Ben got sick of his youngest son’s belligerent attitude and sent him off with Hays Newkirk for a few days to deliver a string of horses to the Cavalry at Fort Mead. Joe had to promise that he would work the herds without a complaint when he returned and not complain on the fall drive.

” Joseph, if you come back and give me a hard time I guarantee you will be riding drag on the fall round up for all nine hundred miles. Is that clear?”

”Yes sir. Nine hundred miles of dust and the tail ends of cattle if I don’t shape up.”
His father stared at him.” Don’t let me down, Joseph.”

”No, sir. And I’ll get us some fine breeders too.”

The boy would have over a thousand dollars of Ponderosa money in his saddlebag in addition to the payment from the Federal government for him to use at a horse auction in Denver on their way back. Ben told him to find some breeding stock and Joe was hoping to find a promising quarter horse for himself with his share of the string.

Ben never confided the idea to anyone, but he sometimes imagined the Little Joe would be the son who would take over running Ponderosa some day. Mim Wallace who owned the Enterprise had once told him, “Little Joe has your stubbornness and Marie’s hot temper and that could be a real dangerous combination. If he didn’t have those big brothers reining him in I would be worried about him living to be twenty-one. But, Ben, if he survives, you got the best of the litter in that one. Joe will wind up running the Ponderosa one day. Mark my words. You may think that Adam is your right hand man but his heart isn’t really in ranching the same way it is in Joe.”

Mim knew Little Joe very well his entire life. Her brother-in law had tutored Adam for his college entrance exams and many times Adam had brought his little brother along. Mim and her husband had no children of their own and she was delighted to have Little Joe spend time with her while the older boy studied at her dining room table.

For most of their childhood, Joe and Mim’s niece Kate had been close friends and the two had spent many hours together at the Enterprise office or on the Ponderosa. Both youngsters had been in the newspaper office when Foster Wallace had been murdered by some saddle tramps over his editorials about Cherry Creek. Mim had even convinced Little Joe to secretly teach Katie how to shoot a gun so she would be safe under any circumstance.

After Kate moved to San Francisco with her parents, Joe would still come around to visit Mim in Virginia City. He would help her with chores and raid her cookie jar. Mim knew Joe very well and their mutual affection was a comfort to Ben. There weren’t too many women taking maternal interest in his boy without some ulterior motives towards roping Ben as a husband.

All three of Ben’s sons would share in the Ponderosa, but someone had to make the day-to-day operational decisions when he was gone. Joe was also the only Cartwright born on the Ponderosa. He was the only one of his boys who never expressed any interest in doing anything else with his life but ranching. If that boy could develop more patience and learn to control his temper, he would have a fine future.

Most of his life, Joe had followed in the big footsteps of grown older brothers and the men on the ranch. Little Joe looked at his older brothers as the yardstick for himself. Joe mistakenly compared himself to brothers who were twice his size and many years older and frequently felt he came up short.

Adam was a dozen years older than Joe and a full-grown man when Joe was still a schoolboy. Hoss out weighed him by over a hundred pounds. Even though Joe was not more than a boy, when he put his mind and back into the job he usually kept up with his big brothers. What Joe never realized was that compared to boys his own age, he was far more capable than most. But he never looked at other boys as the measure. He looked at Adam and Hoss.

His father observed that Joseph was as bright as Adam, maybe smarter. But Joe never had a desire to attend school and was constantly in trouble when he did. After the beating from schoolmaster Ramsey Lowell, he attended school less regularly. At some point Ben realized he would be better off just letting his youngest boy quit school all together than spending the time and energy arguing with him and hunting him up when Little Joe played hooky. At least when he was put on the payroll full time, Ben knew where his son was and got a full day’s work from him rather than the boy hiding out from him in the woods or trying to sneak into saloons.

Joe was recently demonstrating that he had a fine business sense. Adam was beginning to show him how to negotiate some of the contracts and work with the ledgers.

The boy just had to learn to think before he acted then he would be fine.

Level headed, analytical Adam had studied to be an engineer at college. Adam always had one foot in the door and one foot out of the door as if he could not figure out where he wanted to light. Ben was never sure if his oldest son would remain on the Ponderosa Ranch or go back to New York or San Francisco or sail off to South America or China. Ben suspected Adam still know for sure himself. Only time would tell.

No one was more dependable or worked harder than Hoss. He was the biggest man in Nevada Territory and the gentlest. Hoss was good with the animals and the land but was too soft hearted to make some of the hard decisions necessary to running a big spread. He was slow to anger and patient with the most irritating person or ill-tempered beast. The big man would never be able to fire a drunken hand in the middle of a drive without trying to sober the fellow up and pay him double wages to boot. He wouldn’t be able to negotiate timber contracts with a hard head like Fisher or any of the bankers or cut a deal with the cattle brokers either. Hoss was too trusting and as Adam once said he would sell the milk cow for the magic beans. Hoss would be his brother’s right hand man but never the bull of the woods.

Mim’s observation was true. If they could keep Joseph from breaking his neck on some wild horse or having his head bashed in by the Bonner Brothers in a poker game or from facing some angry Daddy’s shotgun, he was the best of the litter to run the Ponderosa.

Chapter 5

“Pa, you give in to Little Joe much too easily. Every time he complains about not getting his way, you give in to him.” Adam pointed out to his father after his brothers left the dinner table a few weeks later. “ Sending him to buy horses after he has been crashing around here complaining and fighting with everyone…”

“How old is your brother, Adam?” His father interrupted Adam’s tirade. Ben commented calmly putting down his fork.

“He’s not a kid, He just turned seventeen.”

“And what were you doing the summer you were seventeen?”

”I guess I was heading to Boston for college.”

” And by then you had helped me build the Ponderosa and raise your brothers. And Hoss, what was he doing when he was this age?”

Adam thought for a minute and scratched his chin “That was the year Hoss had to take over the roundup when the trail boss got hurt in that stampede. We didn’t get the wire and catch up with them for two weeks. He did a pretty good job keeping the men in line and moving the herd until I got there.”

“Adam, I was a mate on Abel Stoddard’s shape and met your mother the summer I was seventeen.”

Adam nodded. Ben looked him right in the eye and continued hotly, ”And Joe was supposed to be taking over breeding horses this year, like I promised him. Instead he has spend the best part of the last three months riding dusty fence lines and digging out dried up water holes for skinny dying beeves and pulling orphan calves out of the brush. Joe hasn’t had a day off or been into town in weeks. And he has down a damn good job of it too. I don’t think a couple of weeks riding up to Denver with Hays and his boy Dean is that much of a trade off. “

“No, Sir, I suppose it isn’t.”

“And I think I would have put his head through a wall if I had to listen to him gripe at this table one more night.”

“Maybe you are right Pa.” Adam carefully folded his napkin back into his silver napkin ring.

”Maybe?” Ben smiled at his oldest son. “Maybe I’m right? You claim that Joe needs to grow up and become responsible. I am sure buying the ranch some new breeding stock and taking care of a couple of thousand dollars will either make or break that boy. And I am counting on you and Hoss to let him make some of the hard decisions on his own.”

“You can count on me. I guess we all spent our lives watching out for our baby brother and forget he is almost grown.”

“So maybe you two have to let him make his own mistakes and stop watching out for that boy so much. It’s not me that’s spoiling him Adam. You and your brother are the ones who hold on to him too tight and wrapping him up in cotton wool.”

Adam knew his father was right. There would be no way to always watch over Little Joe every minute. They had to let him make his own way in the world.

Chapter 6

One morning, shortly before Adam married Kate, a red haired boy rode up to the door of the Ponderosa on a dapple-grey mare. He knocked on the door. When Hop Sing asked him his business the youngster asked for Mr. Benjamin Cartwright. Ben was just coming down the stairs for breakfast and invited the youngster to come inside. Joe and Hoss had gone into Virginia City for supplies and Ben was alone in the house with Hop Sing.

“I got this letter here for Mr. Benjamin Cartwright.”

”I’m Ben Cartwright, boy. What do you have there.”

The gawky freckled boy who looked to be about twelve years old pulled an smudged and creased envelope out of his coat and handed it to the rancher.” Doctor Smith sent me here with it. Doctor Smith had it for a long while.”

“Did you have breakfast yet? Smith? Is that your name?”

”No sir, I’m Bill Robinson. People call me Red. Dr. Smith is the man who raised me up. The Indians killed my folks. I sure would like some breakfast though, Mr. Cartwright. I left Elm Grove before sun up.”

Ben called to Hop Sing to set another place and show the boy where to wash up.

Ben used his packet knife slit open the battered envelope.

Dear Uncle Benjamin,

I am sure you are surprised to here from me after this great length of time but I have recently spent long weeks recovering from an injury and have had time to reflect on my misspent life. I want to express to you my regret in how we parted company and the problems I created for you and my cousins. Please send my regards to Little Joe, Hoss and Adam. At this time I am not sure where I am headed and will contact you again when I am settled.

Respectfully,

Will Cartwright

 

Will? His nephew Will Cartwright. Goodness gracious they hadn’t heard from him in many years. Not since he married Laura Dayton, Adam’s former fiancée. What a strange turn of events. He had always wondered what became of Will. It was a shame that he lost touch with them.

Ben reread the letter. There was no mention of his wife or the little girl. But that didn’t mean anything. The note was very brief and not even dated.

The cook led the red head back to the table. He looked a bit less grubby but was clearly hungry.

“So Red, tell me how you came to be delivering my mail.” Ben spooned a large portion of ham and eggs into a plate and passed it to him.

“Dr. Smith and me were living here and there for a few years until we got here to Virginia City. The gent who wrote the letter asked us to pass it on to you but we didn’t get out this way until just a few weeks ago. We are headed up to Elm Grove.” Billy dug into his breakfast.

“I thank you for bringing the letter out for me.”

“Mr. Cartwright. I’m sorry it took us so long. Doctor Smith gets kind of forgetful and put things away. “ The boy dug into the plate of fried potatoes Hop Sing placed in front of him.

“There is plenty more where that came from Red. Eat up.”

“Thank you Mr. Cartwright, sir. We had that letter a long time, like I said.” He reached out for another biscuit.

”How long?”

The boy took a bite of the biscuit and chewed thoughtfully. “Long. Maybe five years, or six years. The man who wrote it was scouting with the army when my family got killed. He took us back to the fort. I was little. Maybe it was five years ago.”

Ben shook his head and looked at the note again. Five years. Who knows where Will Cartwright was now?

Chapter 7

For most of the winter, Joe Cartwright had been recovering from the serious injuries he sustained from the battle with the Carson City Gang. He had been unconscious from his injuries for over a week when it first happened. For months on end, Joe was forced to let the wound in his side mend as well as deal with his mangled right hand. For a man who had lived his life being physically active, the months of forced inactivity were worse than the injuries themselves.

For the first six or eight weeks, Joe was in tremendous pain and fighting fever from the infection in his shotgun wound. Keeping him in bed was not a difficult task. But as he started to mend, it became an ongoing battle between the injured young man and his family to keep him quiet and rested. Finally, Doctor Martin gave up and decided that short of tying Joseph to the bed posts, there was no way he was going to keep him in his bed. By the beginning of February, Paul gave up the battle of wills and came to give his star patient a final check up.

Fortunately by then it was the middle of winter and the amount of work and activity on the Ponderosa was much less than the rest of the year. At least, Ben Cartwright had a fighting chance to keep his son a bit quiet. Doctor Paul Martin rode out on a snowy February afternoon to check out Joe’s progress. He was resigned to telling Joe that he could get up and out even though Joe really could use more recovery time.

Standing in Joe’s upstairs bedroom, Paul gave the young rancher a thorough once over. Ben Cartwright quietly perched on the edge of the armchair was anxiously watching Paul’s evaluation. Wearing just the bottom half of his woolen long johns, Joe sat on edge of his bed as Doc Martin examined him.

“You need to put some meat on your bones, Joe” the doctor commented. “I can almost count your ribs, son.”

Joe nodded. He decided he was going to be sprung from this prison and the less he said the faster he would get out. There was nothing to be gained by arguing or discussing or venting his rage. The less he said, the quicker Doc would be done and he could get free.

“How is that hand?” The doctor grabbed his patient’s injured right hand in both of his. Paul poked at Joe’s hand. There was a long pink scar across the palm where it had been slashed by broken glass and stitched up. The three middle fingers still looked stiff and swollen around the joints from being stomped by one of the Carson City Gang when they invaded the Ponderosa and tried to murder the Cartwrights.

Joe shrugged. “Stiff, especially on a cold day.”

”Wiggle your fingers for me.”

Joe pulled his hand back from Doc Martin. “It’s ok Paul. It’s just stiff. It will get better.”

“I said, wiggle your fingers.”

“It’s only when it is cold and it will be warm soon.” Joe commented.

“Wiggle your fingers.” Doc Martin repeated.

Joe awkwardly moved his hand. ”Don’t forget I’m left handed.” Joe reminded the doctor.

Standing behind his son, Ben caught Paul’s eye and saw Paul shake his head. They both knew that Joe was having difficulty moving his right hand and it was often causing him quite a bit of pain. Joe was still not able to close that hand tightly and grasp things properly. That included the reins of a horse. Maybe if Joseph would just sit still and let himself heal properly, Ben thought.

But sitting still and waiting was not Joe’s nature and never would be.

“You can walk around or ride in the wagon but I don’t want you sitting a horse for at least another month. You are going to bust open that wound in your side if you don’t listen. “ Paul poked at the red shotgun scar that splattered across Joe’s side. “And no brawling either. If you take another blow to your head your brains will be scrambled like a cracked egg.” Paul Martin lectured him. “Is that clear? I delivered you and I don’t want to be taking any more trips out here to patch you up. Or you either “ he looked sternly at Ben Cartwright, Joe’s father.

“Ben, are you staying off your feet or do you think you are Joseph? And you don’t need any more meat on your bones. You are beginning to look a bit too prosperous, Ben.”
Joe grinned at his father. “Hey Pa, is the Doctor lecturing you or me?” He was trying very hard to avoid hearing any more limitations put on him.

”Look I don’t want to see any of you Cartwrights as patients unless it means delivering another Cartwright baby.”

Ben smiled despite everything that he had just seen regarding Joe. Maybe Joe would be feeling up to a trip to Elm Grove soon.

“Joe? Pa? Where is everyone?” They heard Adam call from downstairs.

“Hey Doc! Don’t worry; the only thing that is going to happen to me in the next few months is my brother Adam boring me to death with one of his long-winded lectures about behaving myself. A few weeks ago he kidnapped me to his house and he and Kate spent most of three days telling me to take it easy. Sam too.”

“Joe, you know you enjoyed every minute of it.” Paul responded.

Ben laughed. “Joe enjoy hearing a sermon from Adam?”

Joe was about say some more comments about his visit to Adam but decided to clam up and let the doctor finish and be done.

“Let that be all the trouble you get into Joe, I’m not kidding. You may think you are a cat with nine lives but I think this last adventure used up three of them. If you want to make it to thirty you better change your ways.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Put your clothes back on.” Paul tossed him his shirt that had been draped over the back of the desk chair.

They heard Adam’s step in the hall. “Hello Paul! Good to see you!”

Adam and Paul shook hands. “ How’s that wife of yours doing?“

”She’s still a bit tired.”

”But for good reason,” Paul smiled. “Tell her she should stop by and see me this week.”

“Kate and Sam are downstairs with Hop Sing. You can tell her yourself.”

Joe looked over his shoulder at the calendar on his wall as he struggled to button up his tan yoked shirt. Doc said one more month. Joe had already decided that maybe he could make that two weeks.

Chapter 8

The Legend

This story had become a legend in the west and to this very day many still tell some version of this tale. But many years after it supposedly happened, when Sam Cartwright would hear the story told, he knew it was no legend as it had really happened to his uncle Joseph Francis Cartwright. When his uncle was bed bound, Sam kept him company many snowy afternoons. Sam heard many stories from him so he knew.

This is the story that many people told. Some say it happened in Deadwood and others thought Virginia City or San Francisco. Sam knew for sure that it happened in Denver.

A handsome curly haired young cowboy entered a bank one morning in Denver. The slim young man was wearing a green corduroy jacket and a tan hat. He had a left-handed gun belt slung on his slim hips and a nervous look on his weary face. The young fellow, not more than twenty or twenty-two most say had spent the better part of the previous afternoon and all of the last night in the notorious gambling hall, the Slaughter House playing poker. Following a few steps behind him was a second young man with a serious look, his white blonde hair curled over his ears.

The dark haired young man walked up to the head teller’s window and rubbed the stubble on his chin. He smiled in a friendly, and charming fashion and asked the clerk for a loan of $5000. Then the cowboy reached into his pocket and produced a crisp white envelope holding four kings and an ace as collateral. When the cashier denied the application, the customer, urged by his companion, the blond young man, asked to see the bank president. He again presented his case. “I would like a loan of $5000.” He grinned in a winning fashion and politely removed his tan hat.

The bank president, Mr. Morgan Chase, asked, “What do you have for collateral, sir?” The cowboy looked the bank president in the eye and handed him the envelope.

The banker, a stocky man, pulled out the cards and fanned them out on his polished desk. He saw four kings and the ace of hearts. The bank president nodded and stood up from his polished desk. Without saying a word, Mr. Morgan Chase rose from his desk and walked into the vault. He grabbed a stiff canvas bag of twenty-dollar bills and walked out of the vault. Without saying another word, the young cowboy stood up and put his hat back on his head. He winked at his companion who grinned back. The young cowboy in the green jacket stepped away from the desk and the banker walked beside him out of the bank followed by the blond haired man.

The bank staff suddenly realized that neither cowboy was wearing boots.

Ten minutes later, the bank president returned to the building with the five thousand dollars and an additional five hundred dollars interest. The banker turned to his employees and reprimanded them. He held the stiff canvas bag of twenties in one hand and waved the ten fifties in his other hand and chastised his staff for a lack of “business snap.”

“Four kings and an ace are always good in this institution for the entire contents of our vault, gentlemen. The entire contents.”

Sam Cartwright knew more than most about this story. He had kept his uncle company for many hours after he got hurt and there were just so many checker games that they could play or books to read. The two made lists and ate cookies. Sam encouraged his uncle to tell him exciting stories about his adventures.

”Maybe someday, I’ll write them down for the Enterprise, Uncle Joe.”

“You just do that, Doc.” Joe laughed.

Sam’s uncle had told him that a week after borrowing the money, Little Joe Cartwright and Dean Newkirk rode into the yard of the Ponderosa leading a string of prime horses that they had purchased in Denver. Ben never thought to ask his youngest son why both he and Dean were wearing new boots and his son never brought it up.

Sam also knew that, two years after lending Joe the money, Mr. Chase moved to Virginia City. He was known as an honest and aggressively successful banker able to make a profitable deal for his investors up until the day he was killed in a hold up along with two other men.

Sam was only person left alive who had witnessed that murder. And one of the men that died that day was his uncle Hoss. And Sam knew his real father, Al Striker, had done the shooting.

Chapter 9

When Sam asked his uncle, many years after the Denver incident how he had made his decision, Joe told him maybe it was intuition, maybe it was timing. He reminded Sam that times were different then and Sammy should never get himself in a similar fix. In his heart, Joe Cartwright knew Sam never would be in that kind of trouble. His young nephew was never as hot headed or willful as Joe was as a young man. Sam was more like his stepfather, Adam Cartwright. Adam would never have gotten himself in the trouble that Joe and Dean Newkirk did.

Maybe, on that trip, Joe just needed to understand that the reason poker cards are customarily dealt to the left is to make it easier for a player to grab his gun if he suspected an irregularity. Other than Joe Cartwright, most men were right handed and wore their gun holstered on the right.

Maybe it was just time for the young man’s luck to turn good for a change from bad luck he had been having since he came to town three days earlier. Little Joe and Dean Newkirk and certainly hoped so or it would be very difficult to ride home to Virginia City and face both their fathers.

Both young men had spent weeks telling everyone how responsible and mature they were, how ready they were to be trusted with doing business totally on their own. They had made at least a half dozen horse buying trips with Ben or Hays or Adam and Hoss over the years. They were grown men, Joe insisted. They could manage the trip fine on their own. After all that, it would be very humiliating to ride home with no money and no new horses.

Chapter 10

Maybe Denver was a lucky town for Dean Newkirk in a different way than it was for his pal Joe Cartwright.

She had sparkling blue eyes, and long shiny blonde curls tumbling down her back. When she smiled, an intriguing dimple appeared in her cheek She had meandered down the main street of the bustling town looking into shop windows, being new to Denver she had not realized that she had walked close to the section of town frequented by the rowdy hands off of the trail drives and the miners looking for beer and gambling and wild women. Bonnie was not familiar with the boundaries of the proper side of Denver and with her mind focused on finding a suitable gift for her cousin she was not paying full attention to the hubbub around her.

Usually Bonnie was mindful of her surroundings, as any well-bred young lady should be. But she was tired from the recent weeks of travel and distracted by finding something wonderful to show her appreciation for Uncle Dwight’s generous hospitality. She had come to stay with her Uncle Dwight and was hoping to make a new start far away from Ohio. The offer of a visit to Denver and helping him pack for a move to Virginia City was more than she could want for an excuse to get away from home in Ohio for an adventure. Dwight had broken his leg and his wife; Aunt Rosemarie needed lots of help with the move. Ohio was boring and too calm for her. Bonnie was longings for some change and a little excitement. A little risk and danger would be a change from her boring life on an Ohio dairy farm.

Bonnie walked into a large mercantile and started to examine the pile of books they had on display and leaned her blue parasol against the edge of the counter. On the other side of the table, a cowboy with curly brown hair and green hazel eyes was sorting through a stack of books. He had a tan leather saddlebag over his shoulder. Bonnie wasn’t sure if it was intuition or just the timing, but there was something about his broad shoulders and handsome looks that caught her attention. Standing by his side was another cowboy. He too was quite attractive in his own quieter fashion. His eyes were lake blue and his hair was very blonde. She couldn’t decide which young man appealed to her more. It was like being in the candy counter back home and trying to decide between the chocolates and the lemon drops. Both were appealing in their own delicious way.

The brown haired cowboy looked up at her and smiled. His friend leaned over and whispered something in his ear and tugged at his sleeve.

“It’s still early, look at the clock over there. It’s not even two o’clock. We have plenty of time to get to the bank before it closes. Quit worrying Dean.”

”Joe, you got thousands of dollars in that bag and your Pa said to be sure to put it in the bank as soon as we got to town.”

“Relax, Dean, you sound just like Pa. We got plenty of time. They don’t close until three and the bank is just across the street. Let me finish here”

Joe Cartwright was trying to find a gift for his oldest brother. He had already found an illustrated copy of Bullfinch’s Mythology for Adam but was not quite sure if that was something his brother already owned. He felt badly, that Adam was still recovering from the back injury he had received falling off a roof. Poor Adam almost gets killed and then his feather headed girl friend up and dumps Adam for their cousin Will. Joe had doubts about Laura really being good enough for Adam but, before Joe could express his concern, Adam and Laura were planning a wedding.

In addition to the saddlebag of horse money, Joe had two hundred dollars of his own in his pocket. He wanted to do something nice for Adam. The poor guy had been in bed and unable to walk for weeks. After all, had Adam been up and around Little Joe and Dean Newkirk would not be making this trip on their own and showing their fathers that they were capable of doing things as grown men. With Adam laid up; Pa needed Hoss to do all the extra chores and couldn’t spare him or Hays Newkirk, the Ponderosa foreman to ride along.

And, Joe told Dean devilishly, they had plenty of time to have a little fun on their own with some saloon girls and a little card playing and getting drunk if it was just the two of them. On their on in Denver, they would pick out some fine horses and meet some fine women and have a very very fine time. No fathers or older brothers to tell them they were being too wild or that they were fooling around too much. He had some money of his own and would be glad to split it with Dean.

The young rancher set the mythology book on top of the other books he had selected for his father. He still had a few more stops to make after the bank and was thinking about having the Mercantile just deliver everything to the Cattleman’s hotel where he and Dean Newkirk were staying. It would certainly be easier if they did.

Bonnie looked across the display and spotted the darker haired cowboy examining the atlases. He held the book gingerly in his hands, and he carefully turned the tinted pages.
”Bet Adam would like this one even more, Dean.”

”Just hurry up Joe.” Dean was nervous about all the money they were carrying in Joe’s saddlebag.

Watching, Bonnie thought to herself,”That would be the perfect gift for Dwight.

“Excuse me sir. “ she spoke up.

The cowboy looked up at her and smiled warmly “Miss? “

“Is there another copy of that fine book, Sir?”

Joe looked at the young lady on the other side of the table. He had been so caught up in gathering gifts for his family that he hadn’t even paid real attention to any of the other customers in the store. Standing in front of him was one of the prettiest girls he had ever seen. She looked to be no more than sixteen years old with vibrant aqua eyes and long wavy blonde hair that was fastened off her face by two tortoise shell combs. She was wearing a pale green flowered dress trimmed with matching ribbons that flattered her rounded figure.

Joe smiled again and pushed his tan hat to the back of his head “Miss I didn’t quite catch your question. I hope you’ll excuse me.”

”I asked if there was another copy of the book you were examining. The atlas. I was interested in purchasing it.”

Joe looked around the stack. “No, there isn’t but why don’t you take this one.” He walked around the table and handed her the book. He would get Adam the other book. She sure deserved his attentions more than Adam did.

“Are you sure, Sir?” She smiled a dimpled smile. Her blue eyes flashed beneath long black lashes.

She certainly has a pretty smile, Joe thought to himself. He grinned back and took off his hat. “Yes Miss. I’m quite sure.” Never one to let an opportunity slip past him, “My name is Joe Cartwright.”

“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright” She smiled flirtatiously back at him as he handed her the book. His booted foot caught the parasol that she had leaned against the edge of the table and knocked it over.

Dean jumped forward and caught it before it hit the floor. “I’m Dean Newkirk” he said shyly and took off his hat. His white blonde hair shone in the dim light of the store.

Bonnie smiled again. She certainly was a very pretty little girl Dean thought as he tapped the edge of the counter nervously. She was really pretty, he thought. A very pretty little girl in a dress with flowers and she smiled at him too. She smiled at him just as much, if not more than she smiled at Little Joe. The two young cowboys stood frozen watching the lovely blonde walk away from them.

Joe elbowed his friend.”Mmm mm she looks as good from the back as from the front.”

Dean nodded. “Maybe better. Look how she kind of sways when she walks.”
Joe nodded. “She smells good too.”

Dean drew in a deep breath hoping to catch her fragrance.

Bonnie paid for her book and left the store. Dean kept his eyes on her until the crowd of customers who filled the store blocked his view. Then he couldn’t see her any more.

As Bonnie walked in front of the noisy Slaughter House Saloon, a large dusty cowboy was walking out, the swinging doors flapping behind him. He had started to walk by her but had done a double take that almost made him fall off the sidewalk. He had spent the last two days spending most of his three months wages on rotgut and poker and was drunk and angry. He was lonely for a woman and here was a very pretty one who wiggled just the right way. The man had immediately swept off his dusty brown hat and introduced himself, and then invited her to lunch at the hotel. The girl continued walking and totally ignored him. He planted himself in her path and smiled drunkenly.” Hey, pretty lady let’s have lunch together and then I can take you dancing.”

“Sir, you are blocking my way.” She drew herself up to her full height and glared at him.

His equally drunken friend walked up behind him and leered foolishly at Bonnie. “Hey if you don’t like Chet how about me. I kiss a whole lot better.” He grabbed at Bonnie’s arm and she pulled away.

“Let me pass.” Now she was getting nervous.

The first man snatched her package. ”Want this back you have to give me a kiss, little girl.”

Bonnie was furious. First, she was angry with the man for being so boorish, secondly at herself for winding up in such a situation in a strange place. She hadn’t managed the trip from Ohio on her own by not paying close attention to her safety. All the way to Denver, she needed to fend for herself. “Give me that back sir.” She hollered furiously. She raised her folded parasol over her head and swung it at the man with her package.

He grabbed the parasol and snatched it from her hands. “You’re a mighty feisty little girl” and he grabbed her wrist laughing menacingly.

Bonnie heard heavy boot step on the wooden walkway behind her. ”Let her go,” a male voice said threateningly behind her. “Let the lady alone.”

The drunk looked frightened and immediately let go of Bonnie’s wrist.

“Now hand her property back to her and apologize.” The drunk looked dumb founded.
Joe repeated more firmly this time, “Give the lady the package and say how sorry you are. Now”

”I’m sorry Miss. Excuse me.” He handed her the package.” Don’t shoot me Mister.”
Bonnie turned around and saw the curly haired cowboy from the store standing behind her. His hand was resting on his holstered gun and a stern look was crossing his handsome face. Would he have shot the drunk? What kind of town was this?
”Now, turn around and walk away from here as fast as you two drunken bums can go.” Dean added.

The two carousers ran down the alley. “You two boys better watch your backs.” They shouted at Joe and Dean.

“Are you all right, Miss?” Joe Cartwright asked. “You really shouldn’t be in this area of town on your own. I would think your parents would have told you that.”

”Thank you. You wouldn’t have shot those men would you?”

Joe laughed “No Miss. But they sure thought I would. May I walk you to the other side of town? I wouldn’t want to leave you having any more problems. Like I said, I would think your parents wouldn’t let a young lady like you walk around this place on her own.”

“I think WE should both walk you over to where ever you need to go… together.” The blonde haired cowboy added.

Bonnie smiled again. “Thank you both for your help. But how old do you think I am?”
Joe took her package from her hand and offered her his arm. “ Oh sixteen, seventeen. Too young to be walking around the rough side of town on your own.”

Bonnie laughed, “Sir, I am flattered but you are much too generous in thinking that I am but a child. I’m almost eighteen years old.”

Dean nodded in amazement. “M’am, may I escort you to where ever you need to be?” He was nineteen years old and thought she was the most wonderful girl he had ever met.

“We.” Joe added He squeezed in between Dean and the young lady and offered her his left arm and swung the saddlebag over his right shoulder.

She had produced that dimpled smile and agreed to the young men’s offer. She gently put her hand on Joe’s arm and he smiled as Dean Newkirk glared at his friend. Joe and Bonnie walked towards her Cousin’s house and Dean followed a few steps behind. He was annoyed that the young lady was holding Little Joe’s arm but he enjoyed staring at the attractive way her hips swayed and her blonde curls bounced as she sashayed down the street.

Chapter 11

By the time the two young men walked Bonnie to her uncle’s home and jostled each other aside at each street crossing so that they alternated positions they were locked into a testosterone filled competition for her attention. As they reached Dwight’s little house each cowboy was swinging between smiling warmly at Bonnie when she was on his arm and glaring venomously at his pal when he was cast aside. Bonnie introduced the two men to Uncle Dwight and Aunt Rosemarie who were thrilled to meet young men who lived on a ranch near Virginia City. When they heard how Joe Cartwright and Dean Newkirk had been so gallant in rescuing sweet Bonnie, they thanked the two handsome young cowboys profusely. “A decent young lady can’t be safe in Denver on her own these days.” Rosemarie reprimanded Bonnie. “Good thing these brave boys came along.”

More time passed as Aunt Rosemarie asked Little Joe and Dean to move a few barrels and crates for her. The two boys gladly complied with her request and spent a sweaty hour showing off how strong they were as they lifted heavy boxes up and down stairs and rolled china barrels onto the back of the wagon. Bonnie was doubly impressed by their demonstration of muscles and might. Just as they each hoped she would.

Aunt Rosemarie offered the young men a cool drink and Uncle Dwight thanked them again profusely for moving the crates. Bonnie showed them where they could wash up and insisted they stay for dinner. Of course they accepted. They each jockeyed to sit next to Bonnie and Rosemarie avoided the problem by putting Bonnie at the foot of the table opposite her uncle and seating Dean on one side of her and Little Joe on the other.

By the time they finished dinner and Joe demonstrated his charm as a great storyteller and Dean showed how mechanical he was by repairing the pump, it was close to nine o’clock. As Joe and Dean said their good nights, Bonnie slipped each of them a white perfumed envelope. “I wrote down our new address for each of you. I hope you both will come see me in Virginia City.” She smiled sweetly.

“We both will certainly be mighty pleased to visit,” Joe smiled and gave her a polite kiss on her cheek.

“Both of us.” Dean repeated and he too kissed Bonnie on the other cheek.

Both cowboys nodded at each other and mentally made plans of how quickly they could out maneuver his friend in the hot competition for sweet Bonnie with the golden curls.

As Joe and Dean headed back to the hotel they both suddenly realized that the bank had been closed for six hours and the two boys still had a money filled saddlebag on their hands.

Chapter 12

“Not to worry Dean, we can put the money in the safe at the Hotel.” Joe Cartwright told his companion as the walked back to the hotel. The saddlebag was slung over his broad shoulder.

“Joe, we should have gone to the bank first thing like I told you. Your Pa said bring the money to the bank when we got into town.”

”Dean, don’t worry, the hotel always has a safe. Pa uses it all the time” Joe exaggerated.” So does Adam”

Dean looked right at Joe.” You sure about that?” He raised an eye brow.

”Would I lie to you Dean?”

“Didn’t you once tell me that horse liniment was hair tonic? And what about the time you told me that prunes were good to eat in large quantities before a dance? And…”
Joe laughed loudly as they entered the lobby of their hotel. He walked over to the desk clerk and dumped the saddlebag on the tall desk.

“Good evening Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Newkirk.”

” Sir, I’d like to put this in your safe. Can I do that?”

The night clerk looked down his nose at the two young cowboys. “You certainly can but I don’t think you want to do that. The hotel can not guarantee it will be secure.”

”Why not?”

”Last week someone tried to break into our safe and rob us. It was locked tight and it is made from the strongest steel.”

”So why can’t I put my saddle bag in there?”

”Well, Mr. Cartwright, they tried to get in with Nitroglycerine. They stole it from one of the mines. They didn’t get anything.”

”So,” Dean asked “why can’t Mr. Cartwright put something in the safe?”

” Because the robbers blew the door off it and there is nothing to lock up.” He took two steps to the right and with a flourish of his hand showed Dean and Joe doorless steel safe behind him. “They got nothing because they also, in their ineptitude blew up the contents of the safe. The lobby was filled with confetti made from shredded dollar bills and legal papers and securities for days.”

Chapter 13

“Joe? Is that you?”

”Huh?”

”Joe, is that you?” Dean whispered from the other bed in the pitch-dark hotel room.

Joe Cartwright rolled over on the lumpy mattress. “Dean shut up, I’m sleeping”

”There is someone in the room, Joe” Dean whispered hoarsely. He discovered the impossibility of trying to whisper loudly.

By the time Joe woke up and tried to reach for his gun, it was too late. Whoever had entered their room, left by hanging his leg over the windowsill and sliding out onto the adjacent roof. The last view Joe had of the intruder was the dirty bottom of his boot and a shadow moving past the rumpled lace curtain.

Joe jumped out of the bed to grab his gun belt and crashed into Dean who was trying to do the same thing. The two friends tripped over each other and knocked over the washstand with a loud crash.

In the few moments it took for the men to sort out their arms and legs and the furniture and gun belts, the robber got clean away over the rooftop.

“Joe, he got the saddlebag. He got our horse money.”

Chapter 14

“ Want another beer?” Dean asked his friend,

Joe was engrossed in the card game and merely nodded in agreement. He had been playing for nearly sixteen hours and the cards were going his way tonight, he’d already made a tidy sum of money. Maybe Joe could win back the money that was stolen. Maybe Joe was right that he would replace the saddle bag full of cash and they would buy the horses and Ben Cartwright and Hays Newkirk would never know the trouble their sons had been experiencing. Neither father would ever know the difference.

Dean made his way across the crowded, smoky room to the bar. He’d been out of the game for some time now, though being a cautious gambler. He’d not incurred heavy losses. He had just enough money in his pocket to cover their drinks. He knew he had better hold back that much from Little Joe or they would wind up having more trouble when they left the saloon. He knew Joe would go for broke in his quest to replace the stolen money. Joe wanted those horses for the Ponderosa and more importantly they both wanted to ride home in triumph, not humiliation.

“Looks like he’s making a killing tonight,” the heavy set man remarked as Dean reached his side. Fred Thackery, the horse dealer had just arrived in the saloon and was leaning against the bar savoring his drink.

“Yup,” Dean ordered, then turned to the man, “Only three left in the game now,” he said, “My pal Joe’s having all the luck tonight.”

Think he is still interested in those horses he was looking at this afternoon?

”Yes sir. I am sure he is, Mr. Thackery. “ Dean answered. He tried not to look overly interested in the horses just, as Joe had directed him. His older friend had told him, as Adam had taught Little Joe, not to seem especially interested or the man would raise his prices. Joe told him that the Cartwrights had bought many a horse from Fred Thackery and he was well known as an honest man. But he was also a shrewd dealmaker and a clever horse trader.

“I can make you boys a good price if you are going for a the whole string. If you raise your bid a few dollars, I can throw in that mare and the gray. Them and the ones you boys were looking at before. But I got to know by lunchtime tomorrow. I would like to set off to home as early as I can. My wife is ailing and if I can avoid staying for the auction I can get home a full day sooner. It would be worth it to me to sell those horses to you boys out right instead of staying for the auction. Just get rid of ‘em all and go home.”

Dean took a swallow of his beer. He hoped he wasn’t looking too anxious. He tried to stay calm. The didn’t even have enough money for the hotel room and if Joe didn’t come out ahead in the poker game they would be in worse trouble then when they tried to leave in the morning.

Mr. Cartwright and his father were going to kill them for sure if Little Joe’s plan didn’t work.

Dean drew in his breath and tried to imitate Joe’s devil make care demeanor. He smiled at the horse dealer “Well, I think I will just have to sleep on this. But my friend and I will be seeing you tomorrow for sure.’ He tried to smile again but his face was kind of frozen in a weird grimace. Only Little Joe could be Little Joe.

“Mr. Newkirk. Are you all right?” The poor cowboy looked in pain.

Dean swallowed. “Sure, I’m ok. Umm we have to check on some other…er…live stock um and we will be back to you by lunch. “ He wiped his sweaty hands on his dusty pants.

Joe concentrated hard on the cards he held in his left hand. He tired and was aware that he had drunk too many beers. Joe and was finding it difficult to focus totally on the game. He also was thinking of the black haired bar maid with the spangles on her low cut dress who had brought him his last beer. He was feeling that kind of hazy glow that comes with too much alcohol, an almost detached feeling. Not quite drunk, but slightly befuddled and tired from gambling for so many hours. Pushing away the full glass that Dean had placed beside him, he watched as one of his opponents threw in his cards in disgust.

“That’s it for me,” the man said, rising from his seat, “Looks like it’s down to you two.”

Studying his cards, Joe smiled and threw another fifteen dollars onto the pile of notes in the middle of the table. Maybe his plan would work.

Dean watched his friend and realized Joe was winning. Dean’s heart started thumping in his chest. Perhaps Joe was right. They would win the money back and still buy the horses and neither father would ever know what happened. It was now down to Little Joe Cartwright and the other man.

Dean walked over to his friend and looked over his shoulder. Joe had four kings and an ace of hearts. No hand was going to beat that. They could win their money back. Dean turned his back on the card game praying the other player wouldn’t see the happy expression on his face.

Joe’s opponent considered his move for a long time, he was a big man, roughly dressed, a rancher with a spread a few miles outside of Denver.

Watching the two players Dean was feeling slightly uneasy, he had noticed how, when the big man put down his cards, his right hand would stray to his gun, the man was tense, angry looking and, young Newkirk suspected, was almost out of money. The rancher had a big moustache and it was hard to read his face. Dean was far from correct.

”I raise you this.” The man drew a fat roll of bills out of his pocket and started counting it out on the table. “Five hundred, a thousand Five thousand dollars. “ More than they had lost. It was enough to buy the horses and then some. “

Joe looked at Dean. He smiled. “Sir would you take an IOU for a minute.

“An IOU? Are you kidding boy?” His hands strayed to his gun.

Dean got nervous. “Joe, watch yourself.”

The bartender’s hands reached for the shot gun that he had on a shelf under the bar. He was not going to let his bar get shot up by two cowboys playing poker. He had worked to hard to build the place up and did not want any stray bullets smashing the huge mirror behind the bar. He kept his hand resting on the shotgun, just in case.

Just then Fred Thackery, the horse trader stepped over from the bar. “Seems like you boys are having a problem here. I know Mr. Cartwright here and I know Mr. Shea here. “ Thackery pointed at each man like he was introducing a political debate between two men running for territorial governor.

‘You both are honest men. Let’s see if you two can work this out with no gunplay. Any way Mr. Cartwright here might just buy some fine horses from me if you don’t shoot him. And Shea, you were checking out that quarter horse I had. Dead poker players won’t buy none of my horses so I sure have a stake in you fellas staying alive. You’ll be happy and so will I.”

Shea calmed down. “What ‘s on your mind Cartwright?”

I need about … say a half hour to get the money. I’ll be right back and we’ll settle up. I’ll leave my IOU.”

Shea hollered at the husky bar tender. “ Tom Young, come over here. “ He spread his cards face down on the table. “You do the same Cartwright. Tom, you make your mark on these here cards.”

Tom Young was almost as big as Hoss Cartwright and had an honest reputation despite working in the Slaughter House. No one was going doubt his mark certifying the cards.
”I want to take my cards with me.” Joe said softly after the bartender signed the back of each card in his hand.

“What the hell are you doing Joe?” Dean whispered to his friend.

”I’m gonna go to the bank…” Joe whispered back. “Excuse me gentlemen, I er need to discuss this transaction with my friend, Mr. Newkirk here.” Joe grabbed Dean’s arm and they back stepped a few feet away from the card table. Both of the kept their eyes glued to the two hands of cards laying face down on the green baize covered table.

“Go the bank? Little Joe, Ain’t it a bit late for that we ain’t got the money any more? We should have put it in the bank before those fellas held us up and took it.”

“Shut up Dean.” Joe ordered. Joe leaned over and whispered his plan in his friend’s ear. It was insane, Dean thought but then again, Joe had done crazier things before and Dean followed along.

Joe paused. Maybe he was just being crazy. A frown crossed his tired face.

Dean glanced at Joe. He knew young Cartwright his entire life and he could see Joe was hesitating for an instant. If Little Joe lost courage for a minute they both would be sunk. It was go for broke. He could see Joe’s spark was fading.

Shut up Joe … just do it.” Dean urged. He pulled the white envelope out of his shirt pocket… the one that Bonnie gave him with her letter in it. Dean yanked out the perfumed letter and scooped up Joe’s cards and put them in the envelope. “This will make it look more official and legal.”

Not that Dean had a clue what anything official or legal would look like when dealing with a bank, but having something in an envelope seemed like a better idea. Maybe something that Bonnie’s delicate hand had touched would bring them good luck. He stuck the envelope into the pocket of Joe’s green corduroy jacket.

“Hey, you two. How do I know you will come back here?” Shea growled.

”Look pal, you got my pile of cash sitting on the table and I trust the bartender and Mr. Thackery to watch over it.”

“OK, but whose to say you won’t turn tail and ride out of here when you walk out of the door, Cartwright.” Shea looked ready to draw his gun again.

“Take off your boots boys. A cowboy cain’t go to far with no boots on, boy.” The husky barkeep suggested.

”What?” Little Joe frowned. The beers and weariness were really taking their toll on his quick mind.

“Joe, take off your darn boots. “ Dean hissed. He started to yank his own boots off.“ Look we can’t go far with out any boots. Mr. Shea. We’ll be back directly.”

In their sweaty, dirty socks, Joe and Dean walked out of the saloon and toward the First Bank of Denver across the street.

Chapter

Joe Cartwright was stabling his horse Cochise. It was very late on Friday night and he was tired, he hadn’t meant to stay so long in town, knowing he had a long day’s work ahead of him tomorrow. He smiled to himself, thinking of the reason he was late, remembering the silky feel of Bonnie’s long blonde hair between his fingers, the softness of her lips beneath his and the warmth of her hugs.

“Hey Joe.” Dean Newkirk walked towards him out of the shadows in the back of the barn.
Dean asked him “ Hey Joe, aren’t you home a little late“

”What’s it to you Dean? “ Joe grinned.

“Where you been, Joe?” Dean moved toward him aggressively. His blue eyes were filled with icy fury.

Joe turned his back to remove the saddle from Cochise. He was thinking what a nice time he had with Bonnie. Last night he had taken Ellie McCoy to the social and tonight he took Bonnie to Josie Anders birthday celebration. Sunday, after church Beth Ann Holmes had invited him for dinner with her parents. Joe was tired but pleased with all the fun he had been having with the pretty young ladies of Virginia City. He knew he was quite irresistible and was enjoying every minute of it.

“Just spreading my charm around, Dean. Just keeping all the ladies happy.” He lifted the saddle over the side of the stall and winked devilishly at Dean. He loosened up his black string tie and stuck it in his pocket.

“Where you been Joe?” He repeated.

“Like I said, Dean, what’s it to you? And what are you doing up here so late? I was with Bonnie. She sure is one very friendly gal.”

The next thing Joe knew, he is sprawled on his back on the floor of the barn, blood pouring from his nose and Dean is grabbed the front of his new white shirt pulling him to his feet.

”Don’t you talk about her like that Joe Cartwright! Don’t you talk about Bonnie or touch her neither.” He raised his fist to give Little Joe another belt when Hoss walked into the barn. He had heard the commotion all the way back to the house.

“Whoa, Dean. What’s goin’ on here, boys?” Hoss grabbed Dean around the chest and pulled him off his little brother.

“You keep your paws off of Bonnie! She’s my girl.” Dean shouted angrily as Hoss restrained him.

Joe stumbled to his feet. Blood poured from his nose and stained the front of his brand new white dress shirt. He is basically not hurt but from the bloody nose but is truly shocked by the rage that Dean demonstrated in his attack. Dean was usually so calm and level headed.

Joe hadn’t realized there was anything serious between his friend and Bonnie and just thought he and Dean were competing for her attention in the same way they grew up competing for anything else. They had always had contests of who could jump higher or swim faster or eat more pie or hang onto a wild mustang longer.

One spring, Adam and Hoss had capitalized on this competitiveness. They tricked the two boys into a contest of rounding up the most strays and got the herd moved faster than it had ever been done. The two Cartwright brothers had each placed a bet on one of the boys, Adam on Dean and Hoss backing Little Joe. Ben laughed for weeks at how the two boys had been tricked into working so hard.

Hoss grabbed Dean by the back of his collar and yanked him off Joe. Holding Dean in a tight grasp with his right hand, Hoss pulled out his blue bandana with the other.

” You all right, Little Brother?” he tossed Joe the bandana.

”Sure, Hoss. “Joe swiped at his nose and glanced down at his ruined shirt. “What the heck is wrong with you Dean?”

Hoss released Dean but kept a watchful eye on young Newkirk. It wasn’t the first time Hoss had pulled Dean and his brother apart. Usually it was Joe getting the better of Dean. But for as many times as the two pals had locked horns, Hoss knew they had squared off together on the same side against a school yard bully or in the middle of a saloon brawl. All the Cartwrights knew Joe and Dean had a tight friendship from the time they were small. The only friend who had been closer to Joe was Daniel Lowell and the Lowells had been gone for years.

Dean pulled out his own crumpled bandana and handed it to Joe. “Sorry Joe. Just don’t go out with Bonnie, no more. That’s all. Sorry I hit you so hard.”

”Dean, I didn’t know you felt that way about her. I just thought it was…You know. A pretty girl and one of our little games.”

Dean glared at Joe. For a minute Hoss was ready to step in between the two young men again. “Joe this ain’t no game. I want to marry Bonnie. “

Hoss grinned. “Well Joe. Guess that’s one little gal that’s spoken for. You better let this one alone unless you want Dean punching you in the nose again.”

”No problem, Dean.”

”I’m sorry, Little Joe.” Dean repeated. He put out his right hand to shake with Joe.

“Apology accepted on one condition.” Joe shook his hand “You let me be your best man.”

Dean smiled “ Wouldn’t never think to ask anyone else, Joe.”

Continue on to Battle of Wills Part 2

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