Summary: Part two of A Battle of Wills
Word Count: 13,100
A Battle of Wills
Five Cartwrights rode slowly into a grove of willow trees close to the stream and tethered their horses in the shade of the trees. Three generations were spending their Sunday afternoon fishing at Cherry Creek. The deepest part of the stream that was a favorite spot for fishing and it was a short walk down the path from where they left their horses.
Joe stretched out on an outcrop of rock and lazily threw small stones into the water.
“You keep throwing those stones little brother, you’ll scare all the fish away,” Hoss told him “Sam and I won’t catch nothin’ if you scare ‘em away. You’ll be to blame if we have beans for dinner.”
Adam and Sam walked up the path carrying their fishing gear and sat down near Hoss. “Do you need me to bait your hook, Doc?”
”Uh uh. I can do it. I’ll do yours too, Pa.” Sam offered smiling. He wanted to show off to Adam what a good fisherman he was becoming. “Uncle Hoss taught me how while you were gone working in San Francisco.” Adam still had to do a lot of business traveling for Stoddard and Bruce that took him away from Kate and Sam for weeks on end. It was the only way he could work out a compromise between his work and Kate remaining in Virginia City, as she wanted. His father and brothers always pitched in while he was gone and made sure Sam was occupied and Kate had help with anything she needed in the little house in Virginia City.
”Sure, go right ahead. I feel lazy today.” Adam grinned at his son and leaned back against the trunk of the closest tree. “Maybe I’ll just climb up there with Uncle Joe and take a nap.” He started to get up.
”Oh no!” Sam protested. He grabbed his fathers black pants leg. ”Stay here by me. I missed you when you were gone.”
Adam sat back down and slid closer to his son. “I missed you too, very much. Give me my line, Doc.”
Hs son handed him the bamboo pole. “Could you take me with you when you go again?”
”Maybe sometime, I’ll take you and Momma on a trip to see Boston. I’d like to show you all the museums and the shows and where I went to college. And show you and your mother off to Dennis and Amanda.”
“Hurry up and catch some fish. I’m hungry.” Joe called from the top of his rock. He took off his tan hat and placed it behind him and lay down using his hat as a pillow. He closed his eyes. The spring sun felt comfortably warm on his face.
“We’d catch more if you would drop a line in too, Joe.” Hoss said.
“Uh huh,” Joe agreed. “Looks like you are doing just fine,” Joe said without opening his eyes. He didn’t open his eyes or move an inch.
“Pa, could I go swimming?”
”It’s too cold, son. It’s only April. The air might be warm but that water is like ice. Its all the melted snow from up on the mountains. And watch that you don’t fall in.”
”Don’t want to keep your boots on if you do.” Hoss commented pulling out his line. He examined the hook and checked that it was still baited.
”Pa taught us that. Your boots will fill up with water and you will get sucked down like your pockets are filled with horseshoes.”
”I thought a horseshoe was good luck.” Sam watched as his uncle tossed the line back into the creek.
“Not if your pockets are full of them and you fall into the water,” Adam laughed.
Never to be one to let silence fill the air Sam asked “
“Who do you think is stronger men or women?” Sam asked. “This girl at school said that girls are stronger than boys and then she pushed me down in the mud.”
”What did you do? I hope you didn’t hit a little girl.”
Sam looked down at the creek.” No sir. You said that Cartwrights never hit women. But Pa, she knocked me down.”
“What did you do Sam?” Adam asked him firmly.
“I didn’t need to do much of anything. The teacher saw and kept her after for being so bad.”
Ben nodded. “Maybe she just wants to be your friend and doesn’t know how to do behave herself.”
“No sir. She is just a big mean girl. She’s bigger than I am and she knocked me down.”
”What’s her name?” Adam asked.
“Millie Schnitzer. She is big and mean. And she is only seven years old.”
”Seven and bigger than you are?” Ben asked.
From his perch on the rock, Joe started to laugh. “ Bet she’s in love with you Sammy. They always wanted a Cartwright in that family.”
”What do you mean Uncle Joe?”
”Adam, guess who big Millie’s mom is? Bessie Sue. It is just revenge on Hoss breaking old Bessie Sue’s heart.”
” Remember that gal she was almost as big as Hoss.” Ben laughed.
”Really?” Sam couldn’t believe the idea of a lady that big.
“Sure, she could lift the side of a wagon with one hand. One time she poked her finger into your Pa’s shoulder, just to make a point and he had a bruised collar bone for a month.” Joe described.
They all laughed remembering Bessie Sue trying to snag Hoss as a sweet heart.”
Hoss blushed and hoped no one noticed. He pulled in his line and tossed it out again closer to the middle of the stream hoping to attract a fish.
Sam shook his head. “No sir, she is just mean. Why would you want to hurt someone you want to be friends with?”
“So who is stronger? “ Sam asked again.
“When you find a gal that can lift as much and eat as much as Uncle Hoss, you tell me.” Joe laughed from his rocky perch. “She’d be one big woman. Like good old Bessie Sue.”
Ben walked over to the creek and stood next to Hoss. He baited his line and threw it in to the creek “Sometimes women will make men do crazy things. Good stuff and bad stuff, Sammy “
“When Marie and I got married she managed to take a whole pack of wolves and make them wash their hands and put on clean shirts before they came to dinner.”
You had trained wolves eating with you?” Sam’s eyes widened. “Wolves? You won’t let me get a dog, Pa and you had wolves?”
All the men laughed at the idea. “No Doc. Grandpa means us. Marie taught us all to be civilized gentlemen compared to the wild men we had been.”
From on top of the rock, Joe added his commentary “Hey, I know a lady who weighs about a hundred pounds and could move a guy who weighs more than double that a few thousand miles just by blowing a kiss in his direction. Now that is a pretty strong woman. “Kissing?” Sam asked.
”Your mama, did that to Adam.” Joe made some smoochie sounds. “She reeled him in like a big fat fish. Bet if Uncle Hoss blew kisses at anyone they would run away.”
“I sure hope not, Little Brother.” Hoss was thinking about Andrea but was not ready to mention her to his family.
“Look how many brawls are in the Silver Dollar over a pretty girl” Adam pointed out.
Hoss looked up at Joe basking on the rock. “Heard there was one just last week, Short Shanks. Know anything about how strong that woman was? Or how big? Or Pretty?”
“Men go to war over some women.” Adam added.” Like the Trojan War. The Greeks fought a whole war over a beautiful woman.”
“Woman can be stronger than men without lifting the side of a wagon.”
“Like Laura Dayton and Will. She sure settled him down quick.” Ben remarked thinking of his long missing nephew.”
Since Sam had no idea who his grandfather was referring to, he paid no attention to the comment. His father’s remark about the Trojan Wars reminded Sam of the other mythological tales he had learned from Adam. “Like those sirens who made the men sail their ships right onto the rocks.”
“They only had to sing to be stronger then those tough sailors.”
“Yes sir, but they was bad women. If they wanted to be friends with those men they should have been nicer. Like that girl who pushed me in the mud. She’s nasty and selfish.”
Like Laura Dayton, Little Joe thought but he kept his ideas to himself. Why bring up old girl friends of Adam’s?
“And what about all those men that got killed by the General out at Fort Mead over his wife’s indiscretions?” Ben added. “I always wondered what all that was about. What kind of woman was that? ”
“One right scary woman, Pa” Hoss told him. “One of the scariest. But not as scary as that General”
Adam felt extremely proud when Sam started calling him “Pa” Almost as soon as Adam and Kate got married, her son immediately decided he would be Sam Cartwright and Adam would be his Pa. He imitated what Adam and his brothers called Ben and rejected any other suggestions.
Adam was delighted and knew very well from his own boyhood how difficult it could be for a child to accept the affections of a stepparent.
Adam bragged about the accomplishment to his father and Joe one evening, when the Cartwright men were having one of their weekly Tuesday night dinners at The International Hotel. Hoss was on one of his frequent trips up to Elm Grove that week.
“I never thought that it would mean so much to me to hear that little boy call me “Pa”. He even writes to me when I go to San Francisco and sticks the letter in my bag so I have a note from him when I get there.” He pulled one out of his pocket to proudly share with the others.
Joe read it first. “Dear Pa, Have a good trip. I will miss you and be a good boy for my mother. Love, your son, Sam Cartwright. PS There is no need to bring me a gift but if you should change your mind, I would like a monkey. If you can not bring me a monkey I would like some candy.”
He laughed and passed the note on to his father.
“Sam is not exactly like you were son and the circumstances are not quite the same. You took quite a long while to get along with Marie, Adam.” Ben didn’t want his son to be too full of himself. Sam was a wonderful boy and very hungry to have a father. Adam, as a boy was another story.
Adam frowned and looked down at his plate. He knew what his father was telling him. “Don’t be so big headed Adam.”
“Adam didn’t get along with my mother? What do you mean, Pa.?” Joe only had vague memories of his mother and could not imagine his brother having difficulty loving her. Much of what he knew about his mother had been from the stories Adam had told him as he grew up.
“Don’t forget I married your mother in New Orleans. When I brought Marie home, I expected Adam to fall in love with her as fast as I did. Looking back, I realize now that was foolish of me and it made quite a few problems for the both of them. Marie had more than she bargained for when she faced your brothers for the first year or so. Sam knew all of us for most of his life before Adam and Kate got married.” He explained to Joe.
”Sammy knew you for a long time as a friend before you got smart enough to realize you were in love with Katie.” Joe teased his brother.
It had taken a while but Adam had finally discovered that his wife had been in love with him since she was a small girl. He was always amazed at how oblivious he was to his own feelings until Joe and Hoss had pushed the two of them together. Being married to Kate was the best thing that had every happened to Adam Cartwright and he would be forever indebted to his brother Joe for cleverly bringing them together.
“Joe, only your mother would have been able to deal with the nasty devil that Adam was in those days. I almost killed him myself one time for how he had behaved to her.”
”Adam?” Joe was shocked. He couldn’t imagine his brother misbehaving and certainly never imagined his father having much trouble with his perfect oldest son. Joe had grown up thinking his was the son who had caused his father the most struggles.
Adam nodded. “I was pretty despicable to her Joe. Hoss took to her immediately. It shows how much she loved Pa, that she put up with my behavior until she wore me down with her affection. She was a very special lady.” Adam smiled thinking of how much he loved his step mother.
”Yes she was. And it wasn’t until well after you were born, Joe that I even heard half of what Marie had put up with from Adam. By then, they were getting on so well it really didn’t matter.”
”Joe, if Pa had known half of it, he really would have killed me.” Adam said shaking his head grimly. “You are right. Sam isn’t me and I am really lucky that he isn’t.”
It had been a long hot day rounding up strays and Ben Cartwright was tired, dirty and looking forward to getting home for dinner with his new bride, Marie. He hoped his sons had done their chores and behaved for once. Maybe the boys would go to sleep early and he could be alone with his wife.
As he rode his horse into the yard of the Ponderosa ranch house and he saw his eleven year old son gallop off in the other direction on the back of his horse. Loose gravel spit off the horse’s hooves as Adam tore off across the meadow behind the house.
Marie Cartwright was sitting on the porch step weeping. Hoss was sitting and crying next to her. The two of them had their arms wrapped around each other and five-year-old Hoss was patting her back.
“Don’t cry Mama,” Hoss said comfortingly. “ I love you Mama even if Adam is a bad, bad boy.”
A ranch hand ran across the yard and grabbed Ben’s reigns. “Ben you better go get that boy of yours. He’s gone and slapped Mrs. Cartwright and rode off. I was standing right here and couldn’t grab that willful little devil fast enough to stop him.”
Ben leapt off his horse and ran over to his wife. “What happened? Are you all right?”
”Pa, Adam was very bad and cussed at Mama and he hit Mama and made her cry.” Hoss’s blue eyes glistened with tears.
Ben bent down on his knees next to his wife. “Marie is you all right?
She nodded. Ben drew her into his arms. “What happened?” He held her tightly, smoothing her hair until she calmed down and was able to speak.
”I told Adam to do his chores. Benjamin, that’s how it started.’ She pulled an embroidered handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped her green eyes. “Before I knew it we were yelling at each other and he told me that I … I was not his mother and he did not have to listen to me and neither did his brother. Neither of them. And he called me some vile names. “
”Pa, I told him to quit. I really did Pa, “ Blonde haired Hoss patted Marie’s arm. “He was very bad Pa and he hit Mama.”
Ben’s eyes widened. He forbid his son’s to ever raise their hands to a woman under any circumstances.” Did he touch you, Marie? Did Adam hit you.”
”Are you all right?”
She nodded. He kissed her and held her for a minute. He was furious and Adam was going to find out what his anger felt like. Ben walked back to his horse and swung back onto the saddle. He leaned back to the hand and said “ Go run over to the foreman’s house and ask Mrs. Newkirk to come over and keep my wife company until I get back with Adam. I’ll be back as soon as I catch up with him.” Ben yanked his horse in the direction that Adam had taken and galloped after the boy. The anger he was feeling continued to rise like hot steam in a boiling kettle.
For a half hour, Ben tried to find Adam. He followed his horse’s tracks until he hit the rocky hillside leading to Eagle Point and lost the trail. Ben rode back toward Cherry Creek and tried to retrace his son’s path. The sun was getting low in the sky. In addition to being angry with Adam, Ben was starting to worry. Adam had threatened to run away and go to Boston; back to Captain Stoddard who he hadn’t seen since he was a baby. Could the boy have run off and tried to leave the ranch? The sun was almost down and the sky was quickly turning blue violet.
Despite the fading light, Ben saw more tracks. It was Liberty, Adam’s horse. Ben followed the trail and in the shadows saw a rider not more than a hundred yards ahead of him. There was Adam, trotting his lathered horse. Young Adam had galloped as fast as he could up the trail. At the crest of the hill, the boy pulled up his horse. Adam heard something behind him. He looked around, alert and straining to hear the noise again. A first, all he heard was the silence of the night. But then he heard a branch snap, and the thud of a hoof. Adam’s horse nickered, smelling another horse nearby. There was no question that another rider was coming up behind him galloping hard and fast. Ben kicked his tired horse to a gallop and in a clattering roar pulled behind his son so fast the boy never looked up at his father before it was too late. Ben pulled Sailor along side Adam and grabbed the boy and yanked him out of his saddle.
As he furiously pulled Adam from his horse, Ben also slid off Sailor. Adam’s feet had barely brushed the ground before Ben picked him up by his shoulders. The boy hung kicking in mid air suspended in his father’s firm grasp. Ben’s fingers dug into him.
Ben was relieved to have found his son but furious that his son had behaved in such a defiant manner to Marie. He lifted his son to his eye level and roared, “If you ever do this again, boy you will be tanned within an inch of your life. Maybe worse. You better NEVER act that way to my wife again as long as you live. If you want to live.
His son cowered at Ben ’s rage. Adam had never seen his father so furious at him but the boy knew he had never behaved in such a vile way before. He had used bad language to his stepmother. He cursed and raised his hand to a woman. His father was going to kill him. What ever happened to him, Adam knew he more than deserved it.
“Pa, I’m sorry Pa.” Adam had never been so scared in his life. His father had rarely raised his hand to him in his life but he had seen Ben beat a man to pulp more than once when he had to defend his family while they were traveling to Nevada. Once, a bad man tried to break into the wagon when the boys were sleeping and Adam awoke to see his father on top of the man thrashing him. Blood came out of the man’s head and Pa hadn’t stopped until someone pulled them apart.
Ben grabbed Adam so hard he lifted him back off the ground. He drew back his hand and slapped his son across his face. “Sorry isn’t enough, boy. I’m having it out with you Adam.” He roared. Had he not been holding on to the front of Adam’s shirt the boy would have fallen backwards into the brush.
Adam’s head spun around and his father tossed him against the ground like a rag doll. The boy lie in the mud and saw his enraged father towering over him. Ben had one booted foot on either side of him as he stood above him. His hands were balled into fists and his jaw was clenched into a grim line. As furious as Ben was he knew if he touched Adam one more time he would kill him. Such was rage that he knew full well that he would kill his son if he even stayed near the boy. He stood frozen, silhouetted against the sky.
The only sound was the horses stamping and nickering as the father and son froze in the darkness. The trembling boy lay with his eyes closed waiting for his father to beat him to death for what he did to Marie. He squeezed his eye shut and waited for his father’s fists to rain down on him in the blackness.
Ben stood trembling with rage. He knew if he moved he would murder his child. He drew in his breath and tried to control his anger.
Adam opened his eyes and looked up.
His father reached into his pocket and drew out his pocketknife.
“He is going to cut my throat or maybe worse.” The boy thought fearfully eyeing his father.
Ben grabbed his son’s forearm and pulled Adam up to a standing position. He slowly opened the biggest blade on the knife and handed it to his son.” Go cut a switch.” He growled ominously.
Adam’s hands shook as he took his father’s knife. “Yes, sir,” he whispered. He scrambled to his feet, trembling.
The boy walked quickly into the dark brush and looked for a switch. He ran between the trees before his father could grab him again. Adam grabbed a slim branch from a low hanging willow and cut it off. He walked back towards his father.
Ben had grabbed the reigns of the two skittish horses and tied them to a sapling. He was patting the nose of Liberty and calming the nervous horse when Adam walked up to him and handed his father the switch.
“You call this a switch boy?” he took the slim green branch from Adam’s hands and tossed it aside. “I want a thicker switch. Not this little twig.” His eyes were black under his thick eye brows.
”Yes, sir.” Adam shivered and headed back into the dark thicket. He walked a bit further down the path and cut a thicker willow branch. This one was as thick as a pencil. He surely knew he had done wrong and would never ever speak like that to Marie. He would never ever raise his hand to her or any other woman. Never, no matter what.
He walked back to his father and handed him the second branch.
Ben swung the branch over his head with a swooshing sound. ”This is still too short, too thin. Cut a decent size switch Adam.”
Adam shivered. “Pa I know I’m wrong. I won’t never ever do what I did again. I’m so sorry,” he wept. Hot tears traced white lines through the filth on the boy’s face.
“Don’t come back until you get me a man sized limb Adam. Sorry or not. Go get me a decent switch.” Ben roared. He was still furious.
Adam went back and forth to the woods three more times that inky black night. Each time his father rejected the stick he brought and each time Adam brought him a thicker and longer limb. Finally, Adam picked up a fallen tree branch. It was almost as long as young Adam was tall and as thick as his father’s muscular forearm. The boy needed both hands to drag it back to the clearing where Ben waited. Adam knew if his father hit him with this branch, he would be badly injured or even killed. His father was going to slaughter him, bludgeon him to death for how he acted to Marie.
By the time Adam was finished the thin silver moon rose low in the sky.
He walked out again to his father with the tree limb in his filthy hands. The black haired boy was sobbing hysterically. “Here Pa. Is this big enough.” Adam’s voice caught in his chest. His dark hair mussed, and his face tearstained and red. Adam’s filthy shirt was torn and wet with perspiration from exertion and fear.
Ben nodded. He swooped the limb over his head in a test swung it hard against the trunk of the nearest tree. It hit with a loud resounding crack that echoed in the moonlight.
“Adam, do you understand what you did? Why you are wrong?” He held the rough branch threateningly next to his son’s frightened face.
”Yes sir,” the boy answered. He looked down at his boots. Adam waited for his father to hit him with the tree limb. He knew this was the last night of his young life.
“Look at me boy, look me right in the eye.” His father smacked the tree limb into the palm of his own hand.
The boy looked up at his father’s angry face. “Tell me what you did boy.” Ben’s eyes were burning with rage.
”I.I argued with Marie. I disobeyed her and then spoke back.”
“I made her cry’ Adam looked at his boots. He wished the ground would open up and swallow him directly to hell where he belonged.
”Look at me.” Ben Cartwright’s large hand grabbed his son’s shoulder. “ Adam, look at my face when I talk to you. What else did you do?”
”Pa, I cussed at her,” he whimpered. His fathers fingers dug into him.
”And? “ Ben leaned on the thick tree limb. His dark brown eyes bore down on his son.
“I hit her Pa.” The boy’s matching dark eyes were filled with tears.
”Cartwrights never hit women,” he whispered. Tears streamed down his filthy face. Snot ran out of his nose. He was afraid to even raise his arm to wipe his nose on his cuff.
“Speak up Adam. Say it again so I can hear you.”
“Cartwrights never hit women.” He repeated. Adam knew he had betrayed every value his father had taught him his entire life.
”Pa, I know that. Pa, I’m so sorry. I know Marie loves me and I acted so evil to her.” The boy started sobbing so hard he could barely catch his breath. Tears of embarrassment and fear streamed down his thin face. Adam knew whatever his father did to him was not enough punishment for his cruel behavior.
“If you ever, ever disrespect my wife, Adam. Ever. Or if you ever raise your hand to a woman, ever. I will take this branch and beat you with it, son. Is that clear? Absolutely no more of this mean willful behavior, Boy. Ever.” Ben Cartwright gripped his son’s arm with his right hand and waved the branch over his head with the other.
Adam nodded. His father wasn’t going to hit him. He started to sob in relief. His father pulled him to his chest and held him for a few minutes until Adam relaxed and caught his breath.
“Is that clear boy?” He whispered in his boy’s ear threateningly. He pushed Adam in front of him and held him with a strong hand on each of the boy’s thin shoulders. Ben glared at his son, his lips in a straight line.
“Y-yes sir.” Adam answered softly.
“Now get on your horse and go home and tell my wife you are sorry. And you do it in front of your brother. And the hands too.”
Ben lifted his son onto his horse and then swung onto Sailor holding the tree limb across the saddle as they rode back home.
For a very long time that hefty tree limb stood on the massive stone hearth leaning against the mantle as a warning for the boys, especially Adam. After a while, the boys forgot the branch was even there and there was no need for any reminders of how to behave to Marie Cartwright. They loved her so and there was never any problem in getting the boys to listen to her. No one could be more protective of her than Adam was and the affection they shared was sincere and life long.
Shortly after, Little Joe was born; Adam noticed that the warning branch was no longer near the hearth. He asked Hoss about it and they both realized that neither of the Cartwright brothers could remember the last time they had seen that branch leaning against the fireplace.
“Maybe we just used it as firewood last winter.” Ben said when the two older Cartwright boys asked him. “T’was a very cold winter,” he smiled. “Maybe your mother used it for kindling one night or something. He smiled because he knew the branch had been gone for longer than he was willing to say.
Ben was holding Little Joe astride his lap and the smallest Cartwright brother was giggling merrily as his father tossed him backwards and tickled him under his chin. “Be my horsie Papa. Be my horsie!” Joe squealed with delight.
“Who is my good boy? Who wants to ride a wild horse” Ben picked the baby up and kissed him on his round cheeks and dumped him back on his lap. He arranged Little Joe’s legs to be astride his thigh hugged his youngest to his chest. Ben stomped his foot and jiggle and jostled the boy wildly. The boy’s green eyes, so much like his mother’s, flashed merrily as he tossed back his curly head and giggled.
“More Papa!” he crowed. “Faster!”
Ben and Kate walked slowly up to the corral that was being used to break horses. They could see Joe in the middle of the corral, getting ready to mount a black horse that was stomping the ground nervously. Ben came closer and leaned against the fence to watch. Kate stood beside him watching. “Ben do you think he should be doing that so soon?” ”Doc Martin told him a month. Joe marked exactly one month off on the calendar on his wall and waited not one day longer to start up again. Not even one more day.”
“To tell you the truth Ben, I’m surprised the way he was chafing at the bit, Joe even waited the month.”
” C’mon Son, I think you’ve had enough for one day and Hop Sing won’t be pleased if we are late for supper – again” Ben hollered from across the corral. “Don’t keep Sammy and Adam waiting.”
“You and Katie go on Pa. I’ll be along as soon as I’ve got the better of this one. One more ride and I’ll be done.”
“Joe!” Ben called to his son hoping to prevent the step he had seen Joe make back towards the horse but knew his son was out of his control. For the first time in months, Joe was back in the saddle and back at breaking horses.
This was Joe’s passion, taming wild horses; anything to do with horses was what his youngest son thrived on since he could walk. His rode across the front of his father’s saddle while he was still wearing diapers and had been running all of the Ponderosa horse breeding before he was even twenty years old.
Pausing as he reached for the bridle of the restless black mustang stallion, held steady at the moment by the two ranch hands, Joe smiled across the corral to his father and Katie. Kate waved back at him. Joe had been gentling the stallion for a couple of days and he was determined to finish breaking the horse before the day was out. Dinner could wait. Ever impatient, Joe was trying to make up for the months he had lost recovering over the winter and was having a fine time working hard that warm spring day.
Ben Cartwright felt Joe was pushing himself and the horse too far. While he had been given a lot of the responsibility for horse breaking on the ranch, his judgment was sometimes clouded by his eagerness and impetuosity, and trying to make up for all the last months of forced inactivity. The Ponderosa foreman, Hays Newkirk had warned his hands to keep an eye on the ranch owner’s youngest son and, if possible forestall any serious danger. Joe’s reckless nature might lead him into hurting himself but no one could ever stop Joe when he got an idea into his head. He was a force to reckon with when he got his mind set on doing something.
As he leaned against the split rail fence of the corral, Ben watched in cautious awe at his third son’s ability to tame such wild animals. He saw the set on Joe’s face and knew that the young man had an iron will and would never admit to defeat. A smile creased Ben’s face as he witnessed the control that Joe was rapidly gaining on the horse. For an instant Ben’s pride in Joe’s skill out weighed his own fear for his youngest son’s safety. But only for an instant.
“Ben, no one could ever stop him when he decides he is going to do something.” Kate slipped her hand into her father in law’s hand. She was reading his mind. Kate knew Little Joe Cartwright for most of their lives and this was not the first time she stood and watched him do something wild and reckless.
Young Casey Newkirk sat astride his horse at the side of the corral watching Joe carefully. He admired and imitated everything Joseph did and was especially delighted that he was up and around again. Joe had promised to teach Casey how to break horses as soon as he was a bit bigger and Casey tried to memorize every detail of what his boss was doing.
With a swift movement, Joe swung his body back into the saddle and grabbed the reins with his left hand. With a wicked grin at everyone watching him around the breaking corral and a green flash of his eyes, he yelled to the three hands to let go. The bronc took off before Joe’s feet were securely in the stirrups. This was a terrible mistake. He struggled to regain his balance as the horse reared to try and knock its rider off. The mustang and a determined rider battled it out trying to get the best of each other. Joe tried to hang on to the reins but his damaged hand wouldn’t work properly and the leather reign slipped through his fingers. He had lost control of the horse and instantly, the animal sensed it.
For about ten seconds, Ben had watched proudly as his son rode like he was glued to the back of the black stallion. Then the angry horse snorted and reared and Joe tried to hang tight with his legs. For an instant, Ben sensed there was something amiss with Joe’s posture or how he held the reigns or the look on his face. It was only a flash but for a father who knew every motion of his son’s body it was enough to alert Ben. It was just a flicker of something on his son’s face or the awkward set of his broad shoulders under the tan shirt that caught Ben’s attention.
Kate clutched Ben’s hand. “Joe!” She screamed.
The mustang was going to win the contest. Then Joe was like a willow leaf being caught in a whirlpool. There was nowhere to go but be sucked into the vortex. In that moment Ben knew and could do nothing to protect his child from the inevitable outcome of his own reckless behavior.
The wild stallion stumbled and his head went down sharply, yanking the reins out of Joe’s damaged hands and catapulting him forward and into the hard packed dirt of the breaking corral. There was a loud yelp from Casey and then a dark instant of silence before two hands jumped forward to capture the prancing stallion. Ben stood beside Katie and watched, holding his breath, frozen.
Kate dropped Ben’s hand. “He’s not moving.” She grabbed up her skirts so she wouldn’t trip and rushed across the corral towards Joe. Just like when they were in the schoolyard, Joe was the epicenter of some turmoil and Katie was dashing to his side.
Even from the other side of the corral, Ben could see that his son was badly hurt. The wranglers were running up and down shouting and making sure the horses were herded to other side of the corral until Joe was moved to safety. He raced across the corral to his youngest son and was quickly joined by young Casey Newkirk who had just ridden up after helping to return the lathered mustang to the north corral.
Joe had fallen hard. But he had not gone down any harder than he had fallen countless times before doing the same job. This time, Joe was down and clearly hurt. Ben rushed over to the still form of his son. Kate’s shorter legs were a few paces behind.
“Is he ok Mr. Cartwright? Casey leaped down from his horse.
As soon as he hit the dirt in the corral Joseph Cartwright knew something was very wrong. He heard a snap and felt a lightning bolt hit his right shoulder. His right arm was on fire. He slowly attempted to get up from where he lay in the dust and managed to sit halfway up before the searing pain in his arm forced him to gasp and sagged down in a heap.
He sucked in his breath. Joe threw his head back and squeezed his eyes closed. Grinding his teeth together he was sure he had done something really bad this time to himself. Really bad. Something told Joe that this was going to be the last ride he would be taking for a long time and he slumped back into the yellow dust with a moan.
As he got closer, Ben shuddered at the sight of his youngest son sprawled in the center of the corral, his right arm twisted at an unnatural angle. The wranglers who had been clustered around Joe’s prone form had scattered at the big boss’ approach, turning their heads away at the naked fear displayed on the older man’s face.
“Send someone fetch the doctor.” Ben had snapped out, while his hands had reached to his son. “Joe, say something to me” Kate needed to be sure Joe hadn’t knocked himself silly.
”I’m ok.” Joe lied to his sister-in-law. “ Just give me a minute and I’ll get up.” His face was paper white.
”Just lay still.”
Joe tried to sit up as Ben bent down on his knees beside him. He gently pushed him back down on the dirt. He gently smoothed his hands on his son’s head. He had seen the rogue mustang toss his son like a rag baby doll. He also saw that Joe could not have held on the reigns as well as he should have with his damaged right hand. It was too late. There was no going back or stopping him.
Ben knew that Joseph wasn’t about to stop breaking horses, and Ben could never ask him to quit. Even if he had, Joe would never listen to his father or anyone else. Ben would just have wasted his breath.
Short of tying him up, as Hays Newkirk hinted or sending him to live off the Ponderosa in town as Adam had suggested or praying as Reverend Felcher had advised, stubborn Joseph Francis Cartwright would never give up what he loved. No one had ever been able to keep him from what Joe was bound and determined to do.
Looking at her brother-in-law Kate heaved a sigh. Joe hadn’t been lucky this time. Even the luckiest cat only has nine lives. Katie heard Ben’s deep voice directing the hands to find something to use as a stretcher.
Joe growled that he could walk if someone helped him and two hands moved forward. He grimaced with pain as the men helped him into the back of the wagon. He held his right arm at an angle across his chest, cradled in his left hand. Everyone held their breath during that ride back to the house. Ben held the team at sedate pace, with young Casey holding onto Joe cushioning him from the jolts. Kate sat on the seat next to her father in law looking over her shoulder talking to Joe.
“Joe talk to me.” Kate urged. “Do you know where you are? What day is it?”
”Kate quit it. I’m fine, I don’t think I’m in Paris and I’m Napoleon or a can can girl.” He groaned as the wagon hit a rut. “Guess you and Adam will be going up to Elm Grove without me this trip, Pa.”
Kate was relieved that Joe was conscious and alert. She remembered what Ben had told her about Doctor Martin’s last warning to Joe.
“If you take another blow to your head your brains will be scrambled like a cracked egg.” Paul Martin had lectured Joe. “Is that clear? I delivered you and I don’t want to bury you.”
Katie shook her head as she watched Joe and Bonnie at her dinner table that Saturday night. She wondered if they realized what the true impact of what had happened in the last year would mean to their relationship. Did they really love each other or were they just hanging on to each other in their grief for Dean. And Hoss.
She had seen the look on Bonnie’s face every time someone mentioned Dean, a look of horror and despair. She had seen the sadness in Joe’s eyes when she didn’t realize he was watching her. Joe and Adam had been part of the posse when Deputy Dean Newkirk was shot by the Carson City Gang. They had carried his body home across his saddle. Kate had seen them when they arrived at the Ponderosa Ranch and was secretly embarrassed that she was thankful that it had not been her husband Adam or her brother-in-law Joe who came home dead.
Dean had been born in the foreman’s house on the Ponderosa Ranch a few years after Joe was born in the main house. He and Joe grew up side by side with Dean trailing Joe’s every step, mimicking his manner just as Little Joe had followed his own older brothers.
Katie knew both Joseph and Bonnie were trying hard to recapture the feelings they had before she had married Dean. And Kate knew that, deep down; both knew things would never be the same between them. Kate suspected that years earlier, Joe had only been interested in flirting with the pretty blonde and had never really been truly in love with her. He was just competing with Dean Newkirk for her attention. In those days, Little Joe was still playing at being a rogue. Joe loved having any pretty girl on his arm at that point in his life. Dean, on the other hand was really in love with Bonnie and she with Dean. Joe had been the best man at their wedding.
Hoss’s death had changed Joe and he suddenly was no longer interested in being the heart-breaking flirt of Virginia City. He wanted to settle down and stop dating every pretty girl that crossed his path. Bonnie and her two fatherless babies would provide him with an easy, ready-made family, just like Adam had found with Kate and Sam. But Katie knew the match between Bonnie and her brother in law was not a good fit. They were never in love the first time and they were certainly not in love now.
Kate had watched them carefully that night at dinner. Later that night, in bed Katie tried to talk to Adam about it. As soon as she knew that Adam was beside her, Kate snuggled into her husband’s back and laid her arm across Adam’s broad shoulder. “I don’t think they should get married.”
”Katie, mind your own business. If Joe is happy and Bonnie is happy what more can they ask for? Not everyone has what we have.” He turned over to her and kissed her.
”Adam that’s not what I mean.” She was at a loss for the words to describe what she was trying to sort out.
“What do you mean, Mrs. Cartwright? Or is it one of those things that only expectant mothers understand.” Adam rubbed her round belly through her nightgown.
She was disheartened that he did not understand what she was trying to explain.
”Adam, I don’t think this is a love match or a romance.”
”So what Kate. Not everyone marries for the kind of love we have. Maybe Joe just is ready to settle down and Bonnie needs a father for the kids and it work out fine for both of them.”
“This isn’t a ledger sheet, Adam Cartwright. This balances out that and you get married. Stop being practical and analytical and just be romantic for once.”
”For once?” Adam slid over to her side of the bed. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him. She smiled and hugged him back.
“Only once” He laughed and kissed her slowly.
The yellow moon punched a hole in the inky sky as Joe Cartwright and Bonnie sat in front of the Newkirk house on Sunday night, their fingers were intertwined. Joe’s other arm was in a sling. He had painfully reinjured his right arm from falling from the horse he was breaking. Bonnie sat in a chair to Joe’s left, and she stared up at him with soulful aqua eyes. She deliberately kept her eyes on his face, and tried not to see Joe’s newest injury. Her newborn daughter was sleeping inside the house in her cradle and her blonde two-year-old son, was playing on the porch floor with the wooden horse that Joe had given him. It was well past his bedtime but Bonnie didn’t really want to be alone with Joe Cartwright.
“We are leaving on Tuesday, Joe. Hays will take us to the Virginia City to meet the stage in the morning. Billy Felcher is going part way with us and will give me a hand with the children. I hope you understand Joe. I just can’t live here anymore. Everything reminds me of Dean and I miss him too much. I can’t live where it is so dangerous. I can’t raise my children here.”
“It’s not dangerous…” Joe started knowing he was making a totally ridiculous argument. In the last year both her husband and his brother had been shot dead by bank robbers. The same gang also seriously injured Joe and now a wild horse hurt him again. It was dangerous living on a ranch. It always would be. That is part of what he loved, the risk, the adventure.
Joe brought Bonnie’s hand to his lips and kissed it softly. “I’m going to miss you, Bonnie,” he said.
“I’ll miss you,” replied Bonnie almost tearfully. “You’ll come and visit won’t you, Joe?”
“Sure Ohio isn’t too far,” Joe lied. He pulled her closer and kissed her cheek. He knew he would never see her or the children again. She would probably marry the man she was corresponding with, the minister in Ohio. That is what she wanted.
He looked down for a minute, then back to Bonnie. “I never did say how sorry I am for what happened to Dean.”
Bonnie nodded. “He was a good man.”
Joe nodded. His eyes welled up with tears. He was glad it was dark and she couldn’t see his face. “None better. “ Joe whispered, his voice catching in his throat. He meant it for both Dean and Hoss.
“None better.” Bonnie repeated.
“You know we are always there for you if you need us.”
She nodded. “I know. I’ll miss all of you.”
The night before, Ben had hoped to find out what was really troubling Joseph. He’d tried to get his son to talk after supper on Sunday evening, but Joe had merely asked for help with the elaborate splint and bandages on his hand and his shoulder. Then Joseph had slid into bed, falling asleep almost immediately. Ben’s instincts were telling him now, though, that his son had something important to say to him.
Ben was alone in front of the fire with his youngest son. Hop Sing was in the kitchen clearing up from dinner.
“How are you doing, son?” Ben looked up from the payroll book that he had on his lap.
“Fine. I’m fine. Just tired out from all the good times I have been having lately. “ Joe said sarcastically.
Ben started to rise out of his chair in worried anger, but suddenly realized the tone of his son’s voice didn’t ring true. He’d heard these same words from Joe before, but this time instead of sounding half-defiant, he seemed lost, and sorrowful. Ben settled back in his chair and gazed across the room to where Joe was seated on the hearth, right arm held in a loose sling, staring at the floor.
“Didn’t you see Doc Martin yesterday when he came out. What did he say?”
Joseph tugged at the sling where it was resting on his left shoulder.
“Pa, I’m a rancher. I can’t do much with only one good hand.” He spit out.
”Sure you can… you can have the men do what you can’t do.”Ben started.
” Can I? You tell me. I’m not Adam. Could you just sit behind a desk and tell other men what to do?” He challenged his father. Joe’s hazel eyes flashed green in anger.
Ben looked at his son. Joe’s rage was almost palpable. “No, I guess I couldn’t.” Ben thought of the times he was immobilized with different injuries and the frustration of just giving orders and not being able to ride or do the things he wanted to do. For Joe it must be worse as he was always a physical being.
“Is that all?”
Ben knew it wasn’t but he needed to here it directly from Joe himself. , Ben walked across the room to sit on the low table in front of him. “What’s this all about, son?” he asked softly.
Joe dropped his head in his good hand and rubbed his forehead. “Aside of a splitting headache from trying to figure this out?”
“What else is bothering you, son? “
“Bonnie Newkirk is going back to her family in Ohio. She said she couldn’t bear being here any more. She didn’t want to tell me when I was laid up last winter but she couldn’t hide it from me any more.”
Ben had suspected as much. Hays had told him that Bonnie was going back to her parents to visit but they all suspected she would not return.
Joe stood up and faced the fireplace. With his left hand he picked up the heavy black iron poker and jabbed it at the largest log in the pile. The smoldering wood fell forward sending a spray of orange sparks up the chimney.
“She said that seeing me reminds her too much of loosing Dean. She never wants to live on a ranch again. Bonnie wants to go live in a town where the kids will be safe and not have to deal with what we deal with. Me getting hurt again. The way we live here. She said it is too dangerous for her to worry about loosing anyone again.” He poked at the fire again. Joe couldn’t sit still.
Ben knew that Joe had gotten attached to Bonnie’s babies and the loss of all of them would be difficult for his son. “I’m sorry.”
”Pa, she said that she couldn’t bear seeing me get hurt one more time. She said that she has been writing to a fellow back where her parents are.’ Joe frowned and put the poker back on the rack near the andirons. His back was to his father and Ben could see by his son’s posture that he was still aching from his latest mishap. Another loss that Joe had to face.
He turned to face his father, and grinned. Only Joe could find humor in heartbreak. ”Pa, the guy is a minister. He went to the same seminary as Reverend Felcher. Guess that is safer than a deputy like Dean or a rancher like me.” Joe chuckled as he rubbed at the plaster cast on his hand. He looked down at his fingers checking that they were pink and not white. “Guess the worst he has to face is falling off the pulpit or someone complaining about a boring sermon.”
“Joe, you have to let her go.”
”I know Pa; I guess it wasn’t meant to be. The first time I was seeing her, I wasn’t ready to settle down and Dean Newkirk was.” Hays always bragged how his boy always had two feet on the ground. That is why he was such a good deputy for Virginia City. That responsibility had sent him out leading a posse against the Carson City gang and got him shot by the outlaws.
”Joe, maybe you weren’t suited for each other this time either. You both missed Dean. And you miss Hoss. We all miss Hoss.”
Joe looked at his father and shook his head but realized that his father was probably right. Kate had said the same thing to him. Maybe he was just lonely and missing his brother and his oldest childhood friend. Kate said he was looking for an easy solution but he would regret it.
Years earlier, Joe had looked at winning Bonnie’s heart as a competion with Dean Newkirk and when the stakes had been raised to walking down the aisle, Joe had retreated and let his blond friend win the prize. Maybe it was all a game for him that time. A race to see which cowboy could win the sweet young lady’s heart. It was just a boy’s competition that ended with Dean getting married. Now that both he and Bonnie were grieving Dean’s murder by the Carson City Gang, it just seemed natural for him to encourage her to remain on the Ponderosa and that they should be a couple. They could get married. It could have been very simple for both of them but not the right marriage partner for either of them.
“Probably the same reason we didn’t want to get married her years ago are the same reasons we shouldn’t now. It just seemed so easy.”
”Joe you were just in love with the idea of a wife and a ready made family.”
His son nodded. He grimaced and rubbed his aching right shoulder. “That is the least of it Pa.”
“What else, son?”
“Doc Martin says my shoulder isn’t ever going to get any better. There are still splinters of bone in there from the beating I took from Striker’s boys, and every time I move my arm the splinters slice into the muscles and ligaments. The tendons too he said. This little fall off the horse was too much for me, he said. That is why my right hand is numb all the time and there’s still so much bruising, from the bleeding, and why it hurts so much. The bones never properly set the first time. But if I don’t move my arm, my shoulder will freeze up and I won’t be able to use it at all.”
Ben’s stomach twisted in knots over what that would mean for his son, but he waited patiently for Joe to go on, to finish all of the details. He rested his chin on his fist.
“There’s a doctor, a surgeon…” Joe started. He rubbed his wrist and readjusted the sling. Ben could see that the forced immobility was making his son crazy with frustration. And Joe was fidgeting from the lack of freedom. Ben knew the next thing his son would do would be tapping his boot or walking around the room.
“Paul thinks he can help?” his father prompted.
Joe nodded. “It means an operation in Boston.”
“Boston, that’s where the surgeon is. “ Joe said.
Joe, that’s ridiculous. You’re in no shape to go anywhere. No less all the way to Boston.”
“Yeah. Paul said that he is just a country doctor and he can’t stitch me up and glue me together any more. He said he spent half his time out here on the Ponderosa taking care of the Cartwrights. And probably a good bit of time tending people the Cartwrights damaged.”
”That sounds like something Paul would say.” Ben nodded trying to picture his old friend sitting and laying out the options to Joseph.
“He said I need to do something or accept walking around not being able to use one arm half the time. And I can’t do that Pa. I can’t accept not being able to use one arm and my hand not working and being in pain most of the time. I would rather be dead.”
Ben sighed. Just as Joseph said, had his brother been injured, Adam would probably accommodated his life to the limitation, but Joe wouldn’t. Joseph couldn’t. Even Hoss would have an easier time.
“Then you’ll have to go,” Ben sighed.” When?”
“Paul says that the longer I wait, the less likely it’ll be successful.”
“So you should go as soon as we can arrange it. But you can’t go by yourself,” Ben mused. “You’re not well enough yet.”
“Doc sent my case to this Dr. Meyer in Boston. He wrote back saying I’ll have to stay there a minimum of six months, depending on my recovery. Doc Martin said he thinks Doctor Meyer won’t let me leave until he’s sure the surgery worked and my shoulder is back to normal. Or as good as it is going to be. That’s what he thinks “
He rose suddenly and turned to face the fire. “I think Doctor Martin feels if I come back here, I’ll wind up …”
”Falling off another horse? Or getting into a brawl at the Silver Dollar.”
Joe nodded.”Pa I don’t want to go. I want to stay here.” Joe said in a soft, forlorn voice. He sounded like a small child not a man who was close to thirty years old. He sounded like he did when Joe did not want to go to school or get a hair cut as a boy.
“What choice do you have son?”
Joe loved his life as a rancher, unlike his brother. Adam went east to college working for Stoddard and Bruce as an engineer. It was only because he fell in love with Kate Wallace, Joe’s childhood friend and the editor of the Enterprise that Adam came back home.
“I guess I can go if I have to, Pa, but not like this, not so fast, not just leaving everything half-done. I was laid up since last fall and now we have lots of back work to do and the ranch is coming into the busiest time of the year.” Joe raged. He started pacing in front of the hearth. On other occasions, Ben would have ordered his son to sit down and be still, that the pacing was driving him to distraction but he knew that his son was ready to explode.
“Joseph that is ridiculous. If you need to take care of this soon. If that is what Doc Martin said. The sooner the better. if that is what the doctor says. “
Joe shook his head slowly and misery shone from his green eyes. “I have to go anyway. I can’t live with one bum arm if there is a chance for it to get fixed. I take those odds.”
“I suppose Hays and Adam could keep an eye on things here for a while so I can go with you.”
“But it is getting to be the busy season, Pa. Who is going to supervise spring round up?”
“Maybe I can get you set up and the rest of the family could take turns spending time with you. Adam could come when I leave and by then school will be out and Sam could keep you company. I am sure Kate would be glad to have him see Boston and have him out of her hair when the new baby is born.”
Joe frowned; He would be gone when Adam and Kate’s baby was born. He started counting on his fingers. It was late March. Six months would bring him home in September. “ September is six months Pa. That is the whole summer I’ll be missing. That baby is due in the summer.”
“Don’t forget you can count on Dennis too. “ Ben tried to ignore Joe’s last remark. Adam’s business partner was in Boston and he was like a member of the family. He certainly would be glad to help out.
“I suppose. I just hate this whole thing. I’m sick of being laid up, Pa. And I hate cities. I feel too closed in.”
“Joe, by September, if this works out and you let it heal up properly, you will take care of the fall round up if you want.” Ben tried to cajole his son.
“I missed last fall, I’ll miss the spring and the summer. Do you think I’ll be well for this fall? A whole year gone. If I can’t do the work by fall, I don’t know what I will do then.”
Ben didn’t even want to think about that. What would all of them do if Joe didn’t recover? The idea was too upsetting to think about.
“I’ll bet you didn’t sleep much last night, did you?” He remembered Joe turning in early but also recalled waking up during the night to hear someone, Joe, walking around the dark house.
“No,” Joe answered mournfully “ I kept waking up, trying to decide what to do. I wound up coming down here for a while.”
“Then it’s no wonder you can’t think straight. Go on upstairs, get some rest. We have time – nothing has to be settled tonight.”
“Pa, maybe we already did. What choice do I have? The sooner I get going the sooner I will be back.”
”Sounds like you made up your mind.”
Joe nodded.” You think you can go out with me to start?” He walked over to where his father was sitting.
Ben smiled “I haven’t been in Boston for many years, son. But if that is what we need to do and where we need to go that is what we will do.” He pulled Joe close to him and gave him as warm a hug as he could with out hurting him.
Ben had not ever wanted to return to Boston, but if Joseph needed to go, he would have to deal with all the memories being in the city would unearth.
“Sam go downstairs, we need to discuss this privately.” Sam got up and walked over to the door of his uncle’s bed room.
”Feel better Uncle Joe. I’ll come back soon and finish the checker game. And you can tell me more stories. And we can check the baby name list again.”
Before Joe could answer, Adam closed the door behind his son, and whirled around to face his brother. Joe was lying in bed, once again. He was recovering from falling of the black mustang he was breaking.
“Joe, you damned fool! You were just getting better.” Adam snapped looking at his brother’s new set of injuries. He felt sick to his stomach thinking how close he had come to loosing Joe once again. His fear turned to anger at the thought of what would now face his brother.
Joe regarded his brother through half closed eyes. “Hey what are you calling me names for?” The loud shouting was making his head pound more than it already was.
Kate moved over to the bed and adjusted the pillow behind him. “Calm down Adam. You are shouting so loud they can hear you in Virginia City.” As she had as a girl, she would spring to Little Joe’s defense.
“I would have thought the word ‘fool’ fitted you very well at the moment. How about crazy fool? Like that better, Joe!” Adam did not lower the volume of his voice one decibel.” How did you think that you were going to get away with what you had done? Breaking a horse? Hardly the actions of someone sane, are they?”
“Aw, Adam, leave him be,” said Kate, putting her arm round Joe’s shoulders as she sat heavily on the edge of his bed.
“And you, “ Adam looked at his father. ”How could you let him do this to himself? You stood right there and watched him. “
Ben glared at Adam “That’s not what we are talking about now. Right now we need to work out the arrangements for Joe’s surgery and who is going to take care of him in Boston and who is going to deal with things on the Ponderosa. Adam, if you want to talk about anything else, you and I can do that alone. Later. Downstairs not here.”
Kate caught Adam’s eye and shook her head. She knew how awful Ben felt about Joe’s situation and Adam was just making things worse for his father. Even Ben couldn’t stop Joe when he put his mind to something.
What had started out with such blazing hot passion and heat ended in the cold dark night.
She was blonde and beautiful. He was dark and handsome. He was caught by her vibrant
light like a moth circling a flaming candle. He almost died from this fire as it singed his wings.
Initially things had started between them hot and fast. A flirtatious looks and a few stolen kisses had grown into more.
But just as fast as they had begun their life together as husband and wife things fell apart. He thought they had started out so well. He had high hopes for their future. They would make a happy family and live on a spread they bought together in California with the money she had from selling her dead husband’s run down place near Virginia City and the money he had put aside from working for his uncle. He could finally have a life like all the other “regular” people in the world, a family, a home, and a wife. He would have a decent job that he wouldn’t have keep secret or lie about. He proudly could tell folks what he did for a living .It was honest and legitimate for once. He wouldn’t be concerned if the sheriff rode past or the minister came for supper. Will would be living totally with in the law, just like his uncle wanted him to do.
Her daughter grew to be the light in his life and Will dreamed that he and his bride would have more children. They never seemed able to have children of their own and many nights his beautiful wife turned a cold shoulder to his affections. She began claiming ill health or that her aunt sleeping in the next room could hear their love making or that her daughter was ill and she needed to sleep with the child between them.
He tried very hard to be responsible and honorable. It was the first time in his life that he had not run away from his problems and it still didn’t work out. Will worked day and night to make their ranch a success but the region experienced the worst drought in years for three years running. They lost all their crops, their cattle and most of his hopes for the future.
Before this point he had spent most of his life on his own, never tied to one place or person since his father died. When he was a boy, Will had assumed that the rest of his family had abandoned him and spent the first part of his life going from one not quite legal enterprise to another. Before he met his wife he had made his way west. He was hired as so-called bodyguard for a man with a lot of money. What he later discovered was that the man was a counterfeiter. At that point will found himself on the run from both the criminals and the law.
Will was shot up so badly by the gang that he would have died had his uncle not shown up and saved him. Ben brought him to his ranch and took care of him, like he was his own son. The criminals even tried to harm his family and they came to his defense, just as they would have for each other. Will was amazed. No one had ever cared if he lived or died before. His Uncle and his cousins risked their own lives to defend him. For the first time since he was a boy, he was living with his family. Initially, only his uncle trusted him but eventually the rest of the family welcomed him. He started getting close to his cousins. They were good men and included him in with their lives as if they knew him his whole life. Will enjoyed getting to know all three of them as they worked side by side on the ranch.
And what did Will wind up doing as thanks for their hospitality and support?
He stole his cousin’s fiancée, widow Laura Dayton. Leave it to him to destroy any security he found. What Will didn’t know, and what he didn’t learn until years later, was that his beautiful blond wife and her aunt had set him up in this marriage. The two women manipulated and deceived him thinking that his rich uncle would be giving Will money.
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Even if his uncle had offered him money, he probably would turn it down, embarrassed by what he had done to Adam. Will was terribly ashamed of himself for betraying the family’s trust. Besides, Will had always been independent and his own man. He always thought he should make it on his own from the sweat of his own labors.
After their little spread failed, Will went down to southern California seeking work while his wife remained behind with her aunt and the little girl. She said he should send for her and maybe she would join him. Maybe.
At that point Will thought to go back to his family for help but his pride got in his way and he got a job working for a rancher whose son had disappeared. The old man was from one of the original Spanish land grant families and told him how much he looked like the missing son. At first he was flattered but it spooked Will after a while when the boss insisted on calling him by the son’s name, Diego. The local law kept poking around and that made him even more uncomfortable. The fact that he looked like this Diego and the old man kept calling him Diego just made the lawmen more suspicious. One day, Will got fed up wit the strangeness of the whole thing. He asked for his wages and rode out.
Will desperately missed his blonde wife and the heat they once shared. He hoped they could still make a go of it and went back home. The little girl welcomed him but the wife and the aunt just gave him a hard time. They whined and nagged and complained constantly. They wouldn’t work and always complained that he hadn’t earned enough money.
Will was finally forced to sell the land to the agent representing someone from back east, Bob Harrison, at a loss. Will sold the tools and the wagon to neighbors and then he sold the livestock, the horses and equipment for whatever small amount he could and moved his family to Massachusetts. His wife had told him that she wanted to leave the west and maybe they would have a better chance together if they were in a more established place. It would be good for her daughter and she would be happier. If Laura were happy, maybe he would be too.
There was a lot of building going on and Will Cartwright was a pretty fair carpenter. He got some construction work and tried to make a go of it with his wife. He tried the best he could but Laura was never satisfied or cheerful.
One night, he took his wife to a party and Will got into a violent fight with a fancy man who he caught dancing a bit too close with his wife. Laura said that nothing had gone on between them but Will was sure that Laura had been flirting with the other fellow. Her Aunt told him his was just a jealous fool and the little girl cried and pulled on his sleeve and begged him not to leave her. She said her mother was cruel to her and only Will truly cared for her. It broke his heart. Peggy cried that first her Daddy died, and then her mother took her away from Adam Cartwright and now he was too leaving her.
Of course Laura denied everything and contrived to make him think he was mistaken. “You made a mistake, Will.” She told him. He wanted so desperately for things to work out that he believed her. Love is blind and in his case, love was deaf and dumb too.
A few weeks later, when he was working on the roof of a house he was sure he saw his wife, Laura, riding in a carriage with the same man from the dance but she claimed he was seeing things. She told him she had been with her aunt and there was no way that she was any where near the construction sight. Will and Laura fought endlessly and she told him that he should leave. Reluctantly he did.
Will finally understood the reason that Frank Dayton, Laura’s late husband drank. And how his cousin Adam fell off the roof that time. Except it was Will that Laura was cheating with. Now Will was the victim of Laura’s selfish deception.
This time, Will went back out west. He got a job for the federal government as a Scout in Fort Mead. He was there only a week when General Chadwick sent Will looking for lost family, the Robinsons. The cavalry detachment under the command of young Major Don West was sent out to their rescue but the Paiutes attacked the detachment
before they got the settlers back to Fort Mead. By the end of the battle, most of the men in the group had been wounded or died in the battle leaving only an odd effete man, Doctor Smith and the small red haired Robinson boy alive and unhurt. Will Cartwright sustained a serious gunshot wound. He would have died had it not been for the efforts of Doctor Smith. The little red haired boy clung on to Will in a way that made him long for his little stepdaughter, Peggy.
By the time Will recovered from his wound he had spend a lot of time thinking about his life. The Robinson boy and Dr. Smith told him they were heading towards Virginia City, Nevada and Will was seriously tempted to join them. Instead he wrote to his Uncle and asked Doctor Smith to make sure his uncle, Mr. Benjamin Cartwright of the Ponderosa, got the letter.
Will decided he would try one more last time to reconcile with his wife. Maybe Laura would be willing to take him back again and things would be better. Maybe this time it could work out.
Eventually he made his way back to Boston. Will arrived at her rented house, thin and drawn and barely recovered from his wounds only to be told by the aunt that Peggy had taken sick a month earlier and the child had died. She died in a few days and was buried in a nearby cemetery. She was barely sixteen.
Will was heart broken. His little girl was dead. Peggy had been only person in the world who loved him with no strings attached She was the only one in the world who Will Cartwright had ever allowed himself to love in return.
When Laura returned home late that night she found Will weeping in her parlor. He was devastated that Peggy was dead and guilt ridden that she had died while he was gone. All he could think of was his Peggy begging him to stay. He had ignored her pleas and now she was dead.
For the first time in years, Laura acted affectionately to her husband. She said that she would allow Will to stay with her for a few days until they decided what the two of them should do about their marriage. At some point she welcomed him back into her bed and a month later he was still there.
She had already decided what to do about him but Will Cartwright could never, in his worst nightmares have imagined how evil Laura Dayton really was.
Fool that he was, he was caught in the black widow’s web.