Synopsis: Unable to stand by and watch an injustice, Joe befriends a man and his wife, and plans to show them that not everyone is against them.
Word Count: 45, 025
Not even the most generous person would have called Watson’s Crossing a town. The three rundown buildings standing near the crossroads of the two mountain trails offered little in the way of comfort. One building had a small sign proclaiming it as a general store; the other two were a stable and what passed as a saloon. The only reason Watson’s Crossing existed was that travelers in the mountains found it to be a handy spot to pick up some supplies or take a break during their journey. No one stayed in Watson’s Crossing any longer than absolutely necessary.
Joe Cartwright stopped his horse in front of the store. He didn’t often visit Watson’s Crossing but that was by choice. He was less than fond of the man who ran the small collection of businesses. Joe thought Newly Watson was a mean-spirited, crude man. He avoided the ex-mountain man as much as possible. But Joe was tired of eating trail food, and he had almost another day’s ride before he reached home. He forced himself to make a brief stop to pick up some food. Anything was better than another meal of beans on the trail. As Joe walked into the store, he looked around. An old man sat on a bench by the far wall, whittling a stick. Joe ignored him as he walked to the back of the store where the wall was lined with shelves. Small sacks of flour, sugar and other goods sat on the shelves, along with several baskets of potatoes. Standing behind a poorly built counter near the shelves was Newly Watson, a man with long, unkempt hair and a scraggly beard. He wore a striped shirt, stained with dirt and grease. Watson gave Joe what he thought was a smile. Joe thought he looked like a wolf bearing its teeth.
“Joe Cartwright!” exclaimed Watson. “What brings you up to this part of the country?”
“Hello, Watson,” Joe replied briefly. “Just wanted to pick up some fresh meat and a potato or two. Something to tide me over until I get home.”
“Sure, Joe,” Watson said in a pleasant tone. “Got some nice ham and bacon. We butchered some pigs awhile back, and the meat is smoked just right.”
“Fine,” Joe replied. “I’ll take a couple of slices of ham and two potatoes.”
“You been up to where they’re building the new fort?” asked Watson as he put two potatoes on the counter.
“Yes,” Joe said shortly.
Watson pulled a big hunk of ham wrapped in a cheese cloth from under the counter and began slicing the meat. “Cartwrights going to supply the lumber for the fort?” he asked as he sliced.
“Maybe,” Joe said. “We’re talking to the Army.”
“That new fort will bring a lot of business in,” Watson said as he began wrapping Joe’s purchases. “I’m thinking of catching and breaking some horses myself. The Army will need remounts. Could make a pretty penny off of them.”
Nodding, Joe reached into his jacket. “How much do I owe you?” he asked. Before Watson could answer, the door at the front of the store opened and Joe turned to look at the man who entered. The man was obviously an Indian; his red-tinged skin and coal black hair left no doubt about his race. The man was tall, just over six feet, and well proportioned. His black hair hung down to his broad shoulders. His print shirt narrowed to a small waist. The man wore dark blue pants over his powerfully built legs, and he had a pair of tall black boots on his feet. A beaded belt cinched the man’s waist, and a dark bandanna circled his head. Joe didn’t often think of men as good looking, but he thought the man who walked in was handsome. His dark eyes had a soulful look, and his face was smooth and even featured. Joe figured the man was in his early thirties, although his age was hard to judge.
“What do you want?” Watson growled at the man.
“I would like to buy some supplies,” the man answered in perfect English.
“Don’t trade with Indians,” Watson said gruffly. “I got all the beads and blankets I can use.”
“I don’t want to trade,” the man replied evenly. “I can pay.” He reached into his pant’s pocket and pulled out a small gold nugget. “This should be more than cover the cost of some flour, sugar, coffee and salt.”
Watson looked at the nugget briefly, then shook his head. “Probably took that off some white man you scalped,” Watson muttered. “Don’t do business with Indians,” he repeated a bit louder.
“Well, perhaps you’d do business with my white side,” the man said with a smile. “I’m only half Indian.”
“A breed!” Watson spat out the words. “Even worse! Get out of here, you trash. I don’t do business with people like you.”
The man looked Watson in the eye. His face showed no emotion. He simply stared at Watson. Then a look of pity and regret crossed the man’s face. “I’m sorry to have bothered you,” he said politely. He returned the nugget to his pocket, turned and walked out.
“You showed him,” the man on the bench shouted with a laugh.
“You bet,” Watson said with a grin. “Murdering savages think they can just waltz in here and do business. Well, I sure showed him that he was dead wrong.”
Joe had stood silent during the whole incident, but his body was tense. He could feel the anger building inside him.
“There was no need to treat him like that,” Joe said, his anger showing in his voice.
“Boy, this is my place,” Watson replied in a huff. “I can do whatever I want.”
“Fine,” replied Joe. “Then you can sell me some flour, sugar, salt, coffee, and potatoes. And throw in a slab of bacon.”
“What you figure to do with all those supplies?” Watson asked suspiciously. “I thought you wanted just enough to get you home.”
“What I do with what I buy is MY business,” Joe replied in a cold voice.
“You don’t figure to give them to that half-breed, do you?” Watson asked.
“Just give me what I asked for,” Joe demanded. Watson stood behind the counter looking at Joe thoughtfully. “You wouldn’t want me to spread the word that you refused to do business with a Cartwright, would you?” Joe continued.
Watson understood the implied threat well enough. With a shrug, he pulled a sack from behind the counter and filled it quickly with the items Joe had requested. Joe pulled some money out of the pocket of his jacket. He counted out a few bills and some coins, then slapped them on the counter. “That should cover it,” Joe said. He picked up the sack and the small package he had purchased when he first arrived. Without another word, Joe turned on his heels and walked out of the store. Walking into the bright sun, Joe stopped looked around. He saw the Indian standing near the stable, watering three horses. A woman with long black hair, wearing a patterned shirt and a long black skirt, was standing next to him. Joe could see some soft leather boots on her legs. Covering the ground quickly, Joe walked over to the couple. He wanted to be sure they didn’t leave before he reached them.
“Here’s your supplies,” Joe said as he neared the two Indians. He held the sack toward the man.
The man turned and looked at Joe, his face showing his surprise. “I thought they didn’t sell to Indians here,” he said.
“They changed their minds,” Joe said with a grin.
Looking at the sack in Joe’s hand, the man hesitated for a moment. Then, with a nod, he took the sack and handed it to the woman next to him. The woman smiled at Joe and began loading the supplies into some large sacks slung over one of the horses, a brown mare which was obviously being used as a pack animal.
“Thank you,” the man said to Joe, his face breaking into a grin. “I really appreciate it. We were getting low on just about everything.” The man reached into his pocket and pulled out the nugget. He handed it to Joe. “Thank you,” he said again.
Joe thought quickly. He knew most Indians were proud and hated charity. But the nugget was worth far more than the few dollars Joe spent on the supplies. And he had little money left to try and give the man some kind of change.
“No charge,” Joe said, putting up his hand. “Just consider this an apology for what Watson said in there.”
The Indian studied Joe for a minute. Finally, he nodded. “Thank you again,” he said, putting the nugget back in his pocket. The man stuck out his hand. “Jacob Red Feather,” he said introducing himself.
“Joe Cartwright,” said Joe, returning the introduction as he shook the man’s hand.
“This is my wife, Sarah,” Jacob continued, introducing the woman who stood next to the horses.
“Ma’am” Joe said, tipping his hat slightly. The woman smiled back at him. “Where are you headed?” Joe asked, turning back to Jacob.
“We’re looking to buy some land,” Jacob replied. “I want to start a little ranch. Raise horses, and maybe a few head of cattle.”
Now it was Joe’s turn to look surprised. “A ranch?” he said. “Don’t know many Indians interested in ranching.”
“My husband is an unusual man,” Sarah said with a grin.
“I’ll say,” Joe answered, smiling at her. “You should have seen him in there. Watson called him…well, he wasn’t very nice to him. And he just walked out. I would have thrown a fit.”
“They were just words,” Jacob said with a shrug. “I learned a long time ago that words can only hurt you if you let them. Words have no sting unless you choose to let them have it. I choose to ignore such words.”
Shaking his head, Joe admitted, “If I had been insulted like that, I would have punched Watson right in the mouth.”
“And what would that have accomplished?” asked Jacob. “No, men like that deserve only pity. I know who I am and I don’t need others to tell me what I’m worth. I don’t bother with what others think of me.” Jacob stopped and smiled at Sarah. “With one important exception,” he added.
“You ARE an unusual man,” said Joe, shaking his head. He glanced up at the sky. He could tell by the sun that it was early afternoon. “Well, I’d better get on my way. I’ve got a long ride home.”
Jacob stuck out his hand again. “Thank you, my friend,” he said with a smile. “I’ll pay you back someday.”
“Sure,” Joe mumbled with an embarrassed air as he shook Jacob’s hand. Joe tipped his hat slightly again toward Sarah. “Good luck to you,” he said. Then Joe turned and walked back to his horse. He stuck the small package of ham and potatoes for his dinner in the saddle bag, then mounted his horse. He waved at Jacob and Sarah, then gently kicked his horse into a trot. Riding out of the mountains and into a wide plain, Joe looked at the sun, trying to judge the time. He figured he could stop to eat late in the day, and still make it home before midnight. He’d miss Hop Sing’s dinner, but he could surely be home in time to get a couple of hours sleep in his own bed. After being away from home almost a week, Joe was looking forward to a soft bed and one of Hop Sing’s breakfasts. His thoughts on home and his own bed, Joe wasn’t really paying attention as he rode. That’s why he was so surprised to hear the whoop of an Indian war cry. Joe stopped his horse and quickly looked around. He saw four Indians riding toward him, yelling and pointing in his direction. Joe didn’t wait to see if the Indians were wearing paint. He kicked his horse into a gallop and started across the plain at a dead run. He was confident his pinto could outrun any horse those Indians had. He thought they would chase him for awhile and then give up. Joe’s thinking would have been right except for one thing: he hadn’t figured on gopher holes in the ground ahead. He was pulling ahead of the screaming Indians when his pinto tripped. Neighing wildly as it lost it’s footing, Joe’s horse lurched to the side. Tossed out of the saddle, Joe hit the ground with a thud. He rolled a few feet down a small gully, stopping only when his body hit a large boulder.
Stunned by the fall, Joe simply laid on the ground for several minutes. He gasped for air, trying to recover the breath that the fall had knocked out of him. Joe could hear the pounding of approaching horses and he tried to will his body to move. But his arms and legs didn’t seem to want to work. Joe struggled again to move and finally got his legs to obey. He got as far as pulling himself to his knees when four horses skidded to a stop near him. Joe felt a hand grab his arm and then he was roughly slammed into the boulder. Stunned again and still breathing hard, Joe tried to catch his breath once more. He sitting on the ground, his legs bent underneath him and his right shoulder resting against the rock. He slowly turned his head to look over his left shoulder.
Four Indians stood over him, all of them even younger than Joe’s 22 years. He guessed they were about 17 or 18. Three held spears while the fourth had an old navy colt, a gun that looked older than it’s owner. One of the young Indians ran forward and pulled the pistol from Joe’s gunbelt. Then he rushed back to join the others, aiming his new prize directly at Joe.
“What should we do with him?” one of the Indians asked.
The others looked at each other uncertainly. Then the Indian with Joe’s gun lifted it a few inches. “Let’s kill him!” the young man shouted.
“No, wait,” said one of the young braves, grabbing his companion’s arm. “Remember the stories around the campfire? We should whip him or cut him first.”
Staring at his captors, Joe realized the young braves had no idea what they were going to do with him. But this did not make them any less deadly. Joe froze, unwilling to make any movement that might cause them to fire the pistols they held.
“Maybe we should just let him go,” one of the Indians said, his voice quivering.
“Coward!” replied another young brave, spitting out the word. “You’ll never be a man.”
Pulling his knife from his belt, the Indian with the old colt boasted, “I’ll show you how to deal with a captive.” As he took a step forward, two shots filled the air. The bullets hit the ground just in front of the young Indian, startling the young brave as well as his companions. Looking quickly over his shoulder toward the direction from which the shots had come, Joe saw Jacob standing on the top of the gully. He was holding a rifle at his side, a rifle that was pointed directly at the young men below him.
“What are you doing?” Jacob asked in a pleasant voice. He seemed unconcerned about the scene below him.
Looking at each other, the young Indians seemed unsure how to answer. Then the one with the knife took a step up the hill. “We’ve captured this white man,” he said boldly. “Now we are going to torture and kill him.”
“I see,” Jacob replied evenly. “I assume you have permission from your chief to be on the warpath.”
Shifting their feet nervously, the young braves looked down.
“I don’t think your chief would be too happy with you for starting a war,” Jacob continued. “If you harm this man, that’s what will happen. The soldiers will come after you. There will be much fighting and many could die.”
Looking even more nervous and uncertain than ever, the young braves glanced at each other anxiously.
“But we captured this man,” one of them protested. “We must spill his blood to show we are worthy of being called men.”
“You captured him,” Jacob agreed. “But you don’t have to spill his blood. You can count coup.”
“What’s that?” asked one of the young men with a frown.
“It’s something my people do,” answered Jacob. “A man shows his bravery by simply touching his enemy and then riding away. Later, around the campfire, he can tell the story of how he came close enough to touch his enemy,” Jacob smiled wryly. “Many young women are impressed by this act of bravery, while they are sickened by the thought of blood being spilled.”
The four Indians looked at each other. Jacob’s comment about the women seemed to convince them. One mumbled something and the others nodded. They turned and walked to Joe. Joe shrank back against the rock, uncertain about what the young men intended to do. Jacob kept his rifle carefully aimed at the young men, but made no move to stop them. Each of the Indians walked over to Joe. One by one, they touched him, two of them roughly pushing him against the rock. Joe saw the young Indian with his pistol stick the gun into his belt. Then the braves turned and walked back to their horses. Both Joe and Jacob watched them carefully as they mounted and rode away. Letting out a sigh of relief, Joe relaxed his body against the rock. He looked up when he saw a shadow falling across his face. Jacob stood over him smiling. “Are you all right, my friend?” Jacob asked.
“I am now,” Joe answered, with a shaky smile. “Thank you.”
Jacob waved away Joe’s thanks. “It was nothing,” he said. “They are just boys trying to prove they are men.”
“For awhile, it looked like they were going to prove it by killing me,” Joe said. “I guess I’m going to be the topic of conversation around their campfire tonight.”
“I don’t think this is going to turn out exactly like they think,” said Jacob with a chuckle. “Once their fathers hear what they’ve done, I’ll bet they’ll be chopping wood, and cleaning horses, and doing every miserable job in the camp for a month.”
“Sounds like something my Pa would do to me,” Joe said with a grin.
Jacob nodded. “Most fathers are the same everywhere,” he agreed. “Those boys will be punished for acting so foolishly.”
Moving slowly, Joe started to get to his feet. “Thanks again,” he said. Joe took a step, but, suddenly, the ground seemed to sway under his feet. Joe reeled as a wave of dizziness swept over him. He started to put out his arm to steady himself, and yelped in pain as he tried to move his shoulder. Joe sank back to the ground, wincing as he took a deep breath. He suddenly realized his side hurt as he tried to breathe.
“Are you all right?” Jacob asked anxiously. “You took quite a fall.”
For a minute, Joe said nothing. He was trying to get the rocks and ground to stop spinning around him. “Just give me a minute,” Joe mumbled. He winced again as he tried to move his arm.
“Here, let me see,” Jacob said, kneeling next to Joe. He turned Joe’s head toward him, and noted the bruise on the side of Joe’s face. Gently, he felt Joe’s right shoulder, then ran his hands down Joe’s ribs. Despite Jacob’s gentle touch, Joe grunted in pain.
“I don’t think anything’s broken,” Jacob said. “But your shoulder is dislocated. And you probably have some pretty nasty bruises.” Lost in a sea of misery, Joe didn’t answer. He felt cold and sweaty at the same time. He closed his eyes, trying to stave off the blackness he felt slowly descending upon him.
“You just sit tight,” Joe heard Jacob say. “Don’t move. I’m going to get Sarah. I’ll be back in a minute.”
Joe thought he nodded but he wasn’t sure. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Jacob didn’t have to worry about Joe moving. Moving was the last thing on Joe’s mind. As he sat on the hard ground, Joe kept his eyes closed. Closing his eyes seemed to ease the dizziness but also seemed to thicken the fogginess Joe felt in his head. Joe wasn’t sure how much time passed before Jacob returned. He was concentrating on trying to stay awake and trying to fend off the pain that seemed to be radiating from his shoulder. He heard some sounds but didn’t try to open his eyes. Then Joe felt the soft touch of a hand on his face and shoulder.
“We should set his shoulder right away,” Joe heard a woman’s voice say. It seemed to be coming from far away. “The longer it stays like this, the worse it will hurt.”
Two strong hands took a firm hold on Joe’s right arm, and a foot rested itself on his shoulder. Joe felt two other, gentler hands wrapping themselves around his body. Suddenly his right arm was jerked, and Joe felt a sharp, agonizing pain. He heard a scream but didn’t realize it was coming from him. Then the blackness that had been hovering around him seemed to descend and Joe felt nothing.
The smell of coffee brewing woke Joe. He opened his eyes slowly, trying to get his bearings. He knew it was night; he could see the dark sky dotted with the pinpricks of stars over his head. Joe felt his head resting on a blanket and another blanket covered him. His right arm was strapped tightly to his side. Joe tried to sit up, then let out a moan when every muscle in his body seemed to protest the action. Hearing the sound of footsteps, Joe turned his head and saw Jacob coming toward him. The Indian smiled as he stopped and knelt on the ground next to Joe. “Welcome back, my friend,” Jacob said. “How are you feeling?”
“Sore,” Joe admitted. “I hurt in places I didn’t know you could hurt.”
Jacob laughed. “Well, you took a pretty bad fall. But other than a dislocated shoulder, some bruised ribs, and a few other cuts and bruises, you came through it all right.”
“I don’t understand what happened,” Joe said in a confused voice. “I didn’t feel anything, then all of a sudden, everything seemed to hurt.”
“The mind is a strange thing sometimes,” answered Jacob. “When too many things are happening, it seems to concentrate on only what seems most important. You were worried about those boys and what they were going to do. Once they were gone, your brain suddenly realized you were hurt. You had some kind of delayed reaction and went to some kind of shock.”
“I guess you’re right,” Joe said, not truly understanding what happened. He gave Jacob a weak smile. “Thanks,” Joe said. “For both scaring off those Indians and helping me.”
Jacob waved away Joe’s words. “It was nothing,” he said. “Sarah and I just happened along. We’re glad we could help.”
A plate and cup in her hands, Sarah walked over to Joe and sat down on the ground next to him. “Are you hungry?” she asked.
Suddenly, Joe realized he was famished. “I sure am,” he answered, struggling to sit up. Joe found sitting up to be a challenge. His right arm was strapped to his side, and his muscles were stiff. Joe would have fallen back to the ground if Jacob hadn’t grabbed him and gently pulled him to a sitting position. Joe grunted at the pain that even this small movement caused. Jacob slid Joe back a few inches, so Joe’s back was resting against a large rock. It took Joe a minute to realize he was still by the large boulder where he had fallen earlier in the day.
When Joe was finally settled into a sitting position, Sarah laid a plate on his lap. Joe could see it was filled with meat, potatoes and beans, all of which had been neatly cut into bite-sized pieces. Sarah placed a cup of coffee on the ground next to Joe, then handed him a fork. “Do you think you can manage to feed yourself?” she asked.
“It may be a little messy,” Joe said with a smile as he picked up the fork, “but I think I can do it.” He carefully brought a piece of meat to his mouth. Joe chewed slowly, savoring the taste. The venison he was eating was well cooked and seasoned. Joe thought it was the best thing he ever tasted. Settling themselves on the ground next to Joe, Jacob and Sarah seemed eager to chat. “You said you were heading home,” Jacob said. “Where do you live?”
“My Pa has a ranch outside of Virginia City,” Joe answered as he ate. “I live there with him and my two brothers.”
“Virginia City?” Sarah said with a frown. “How far is that?”
“About five, six hours ride from here,” Joe answered.
“We’ll make sure you get home tomorrow,” Jacob promised.
“You don’t have to do that,” Joe said. “I don’t want to cause you any more trouble. I can make it.”
“I’m sure you can,” Jacob said with a smile. “But it’s no bother. We don’t have any specific place to go. We’re just wandering around, looking for a place to buy.”
“Thanks,” Joe said gratefully. He didn’t want to admit it, but he wasn’t sure he could have made the trip home by himself.
Suddenly, Joe looked around. “My horse!” he exclaimed. “I forgot all about him.”
“Don’t worry,” Jacob assured Joe. “Your horse is fine. I found him and hobbled him with our horses. I checked him over. He wasn’t hurt in the fall.”
“Thank you again,” Joe said. “All I ever seem to say to you is thanks.”
“Well, I told you back at the store I would repay you,” Jacob said. Then he laughed. “I hadn’t figured on doing it quite so soon, or in quite this way, but I guess God moves in mysterious ways sometimes.”
“Mind if I ask you a question?” Joe asked.
“No, go ahead,” answered Jacob.
“Who are you?” asked Joe. “I mean, where do you come from? I heard you tell Watson that you were half white. But you’re not like any white man or Indian I ever met.”
Jacob laughed again. “I guess you’re right,” he replied. “I have a hard time fitting in anywhere.”
“I didn’t mean it like that,” Joe said hastily. “I just meant…well” Joe’s voice trailed off. He wasn’t really sure what he had meant.
“Don’t worry,” Jacob said reassuringly. “I know what you meant. Sarah and I are Lakota, what you call Sioux. Or at least my mother was. My father was a white man. He lived with the Lakota for a couple of years. He was killed while hunting buffalo when I was about four. I lived with my mother’s people until I was about ten. Then my mother got sick. She knew she wasn’t going to get well, and she knew how her people felt about a half-white child. Indians aren’t much different than white men when it comes to a child of mixed blood. The Lakota didn’t have much use for me either.”
“I’m sorry,” Joe said. “It must have been hard for you.”
Jacob shrugged. “At the time, I thought my life was pretty rotten. But like I said, God moves in mysterious ways sometimes. When my mother became ill, she took me to a missionary who lived near our village. Father Paul. He was a wonderful man. He agreed to take my mother and me in. When my mother died, he sort of adopted me.”
“That’s why you speak English so well,” Joe said.
“Yes,” replied Jacob. “Between my father and Father Paul, I’ve spoken more English than Lakota in my life. But Father Paul taught me a lot of other things as well as proper English. I used to ride with him when he visited the villages. The man was a true saint. He never said a bad thing about anyone, and he helped everyone he met. He never got many converts, but that didn’t seem to bother him. His real joy was helping people, whenever and wherever he could. I learned a lot from him, more than any school could have ever taught me. ”
“I’m glad he taught you about helping people,” Joe said with wry grin. “Otherwise, I would have been in real trouble.”
“He taught me more than that,” Jacob said, a distant look coming over his eyes. “When we rode into the villages, people sometimes made some pretty mean comments about me. Father Paul taught me that words are just words. He showed me how to live with hate, and how to forgive those who would try to make me hate them.”
“Sounds like a remarkable man,” Joe said, admiration showing in his voice.
“He was,” Jacob said. “I think he would have liked me to become a missionary, like him. But then I met Sarah.”
Sarah smiled at her husband, her love shining in her eyes.
“Sarah was in one of the villages we visited,” Jacob continued. “Actually, she was there a long time before I noticed her. But once I did see her, I knew I would never live the life of a priest. Father Paul taught her English, as he taught me, as well as how to care for the sick and injured. Sarah began accompanying us to the villages, so she could help him. I have to admit, I encouraged her to come along. Four years ago, he married us.”
“What made you come out here?” Joe asked.
“Father Paul died shortly after we were married,” Jacob answered. “He was an old man when I first came to him, but I never realized it. He always seemed like he would go on forever. But one day, his heart just gave out. Sarah and I knew we would not be welcome back in the villages, and that the white man’s towns would shun us also. So we decided to try to find some place where could live in peace.”
“You’ve been looking for a ranch for four years?” Joe said in an astonished voice.
“No,” Sarah said with a laugh. “Not even I would put up with that.”
“We spent about two years looking for gold,” Jacob said. “We knew we needed some money to buy a ranch and we figured that prospecting would be the best way to get it. So, we traveled to Colorado and started looking. We ran into some prospectors from time to time, and occasionally visited one of the boom-towns that sprang up in the gold fields. But mostly, we just kept to ourselves. Eventually, we found enough nuggets to cover what we think the cost of a ranch will be.”
“Why haven’t you bought a ranch?” Joe asked.
“Well, it’s proven to be harder than we thought,” Jacob admitted. “Every time we found a place we thought we would like, the owner would refuse to sell it to us. Seems selling a ranch to a half-breed is not considered the right thing to do.”
“I’m sorry,” Joe said, his voice filled with regret for the way these kind people had been treated by supposedly civilized white men.
“Don’t be,” Jacob said. “It’s not your fault. It’s just the way things are. We’ll find someplace eventually, won’t we, Sarah.”
“Yes,” Sarah replied confidently. “We’ll find our home one day.”
Putting his now empty plate aside, Joe said, “There’s some good land around the Ponderosa, where we live. I’ll bet I can help you find a place.”
“Well, we’ll see,” Jacob said vaguely. He noticed Joe’s eyes were starting to grow heavy. “The important thing now is for you to get some rest. It’ll be a long ride home for you tomorrow.”
Nodding, Joe had to agree. His belly was full, and he was beginning to feel sleepy. The pains that seemed so sharp earlier had faded to dull aches. Joe was ready to call it a night. Helping Joe to lie back down, Jacob carefully covered him with a blanket.
“Thanks,” Joe mumbled in a sleepy voice. As he drifted off to sleep, Joe heard Jacob say, “God watch over you, my friend.” Joe’s last thought before he went to sleep was God had already done a pretty good job of watching over him.
When Joe woke, he looked up at the bright sun and figured it was already mid-morning. Alarmed at having slept so long, Joe sat up quickly, and found that was a big mistake. Every muscle in his body was sore and his shoulder ached. Joe let out an involuntary groan.
Rushing over to Joe, Jacob asked with concern, “Are you all right, my friend?”
Joe wanted to say yes, but somehow he couldn’t lie to Jacob. “No,” Joe admitted. “I’m about as sore as a man can be.”
“I know you’re very sore now,” Jacob reassured Joe with a smile. “But it will pass quickly. A few days rest and you will forget the aches.”
“I hope you’re right,” Joe said, wincing as he shifted his weight.
“We’ll help you to get home,” Jacob said “You’ll feel better once you’re home.”
The thought of five or six hours in the saddle filled Joe with dismay. “I don’t know if I can ride that far,” he admitted.
“We’ll get you there,” Jacob said.
It was almost noon by the time Jacob helped Joe climb onto his horse. Sarah had insisted on making breakfast for Joe, even though it was mid-morning. She scolded him like a mother when he didn’t eat everything on his plate. Joe and Jacob both laughed when she grumbled about the wasted food. The truth was, Joe had left very little on the plate. He had eaten more than enough to fill his stomach.
Sarah had also insisted on checking Joe’s bruises before she let him ride. She gently unwrapped the cloth that bound Joe’s arm to his body, then insisted that he take off his shirt. Joe reddened with embarrassment as he eased off his shirt, but Sarah pretended not to notice. She frowned at the large bruise that seemed to cover most of his right side, and gently probed his side to be sure his ribs were intact. She put her hand on Joe’s bruised shoulder while she slowly lifted his right arm, then quickly dropped the arm when Joe groaned at the pain the movement caused. With a shake of her head, she told Joe he could probably sit a horse, but that they would have to ride very slowly. Joe didn’t argue. By the time Sarah had helped Joe put his shirt back on, and re-wrapped his arm so it was bound tightly to his side, the sun was high in the sky. Joe groaned again but this time not in pain when Sarah muttered something about fixing lunch before they left. Joe didn’t think he could eat another bite. Sarah finally relented when Jacob insisted they had to get Joe home, that his family would be worried. Joe grinned when Jacob winked at Joe behind Sarah’s back. At long last, the horses were saddled and the all the trappings of the camp were neatly stowed on the pack horse. Joe began to wonder how he was ever going to manage to get into the saddle. He didn’t need to worry. Jacob picked up Joe as if he weighed nothing and gently placed him on his horse. Joe shook his head at Jacob’s strength. The only other person he knew who was that strong was his brother Hoss.
The three rode slowly across the plain, with Jacob leading the pack horse. At first, the ride didn’t bother Joe much. He was sore but the pain was more of a dull ache than anything. But with each passing mile, his ribs and shoulder began to hurt more and more. His sore muscles began to stiffen, and the aches turned into a sharper pain. Joe gritted his teeth and tried not to show how much he was hurting. Noting the look of pain and discomfort on his young friend’s face, Jacob thought briefly about stopping, but was sure they were close to Joe’s home. He decided it was better to keep going.
“Why don’t you tell me more about your ranch?” Jacob asked Joe.
Joe knew Jacob was trying to get him to talk, to distract him from the pain. He nodded gratefully, and began talking about his father, his brothers, and the Ponderosa.
“What do you do on the ranch?” Jacob asked, trying to keep Joe talking. Smiling weakly, Joe answered, “Well, you wouldn’t have guessed it from yesterday, but I’m mostly in charge of breaking horses.” He shook his head briefly. “I’ve been tossed off of horses a lot. You’d think I’d know how to fall.”
“It’s different when you’re expecting it,” answered Jacob. “Besides, I doubt if you roll down a gully and into a boulder when a wild horse tosses you.”
Smiling, Joe nodded — then winced.
“What about your mother?” Sarah asked quickly.
“She died when I was little,” answered Joe quietly, his voice tinged with sadness. “I don’t remember her much. Most of what I know about her is what my Pa and brothers have told me.”
Looking at each other, Sarah’s and Jacob’s eyes shared the sympathy they felt for Joe. “What were you doing up in the mountains?” asked Jacob.
In clipped sentences, Joe told his new friends about the fort the Army was building, and how he had been sent to finalize the contract for lumber. Joe’s voice got softer as he talked and soon it trailed off. Turning his head to take a closer look a Joe, Jacob frowned. The reins of his bridle looped loosely through his fingers, Joe had his left hand wrapped around his sore ribs. He was bent forward in the saddle, and his face showed the pain he was feeling. “Maybe we should stop,” Sarah suggested tentatively.
“No,” answered Jacob with a shake of his head. “If Joe gets off his horse now, he won’t be able to get back on. I’m not sure another night sleeping on the hard ground is going to help him much. I think we’re better off getting him home.”
Trying to distract his young friend from his misery, Jacob began telling Joe stories of his life with Father Paul. He tried to keep the stories amusing, and was rewarded with an occasional small smile from Joe. Joe lifted his head a few times to look around and give directions. But mostly, he just gritted his teeth and hung on to the saddle. The sun was beginning to set when Jacob finally halted the horses. He looked at Joe with concern. Joe was bent almost double in the saddle, his face beaded with sweat. “Maybe we ought to stop here,” said Jacob.
Lifting his head, Joe looked around. “No,” he said with a shake of his head. “We’re on Ponderosa land. It’s not far to the house. I can make it.”
“Whatever you say,” Jacob agreed with a nod. “Which way?”
Pointing weakly, Joe indicated south and Jacob urged the horses forward. He didn’t comment on the small grunt of pain from Joe as the horses began to move. His admiration for Joe’s tenacity and courage had grown with each passing mile. He wouldn’t insult his young friend now by arguing with him. It was dusk when the three riders came into the yard in front of the house. Joe saw the house looming in front of him, and felt a surge of relief. His side and shoulder ached so bad he wasn’t sure how much longer he could have stayed in the saddle. But he also felt a sense of satisfaction in having made the ride all the way home. Halting the horses in front of the house, Jacob quickly slid off his mount and walked to the side of Joe’s horse. His strong arms pulled Joe off the saddle as gently as possible. Joe’s leg’s buckled as they hit the ground, but Jacob held him firmly. After a few tries, Joe finally got his legs to move forward. Jacob had his arms wrapped around Joe and helped his young friend toward the house. Sarah followed the pair toward the door.
“Hello, the house,” shouted Jacob as the neared the front door. “We need some help out here.” Just as Jacob was about to put his hand on the latch of the door, it was pulled open. A tall, gray-haired man stood in the doorway, a look of curiosity on his face. The man’s look instantly turned to concern as he recognized the young man around whom Jacob had wrapped his arms.
“Hi, Pa,” Joe greeted the man in a barely audible voice.
“Joe!” exclaimed Ben Cartwright in alarm. “What happened?”
“He’s had a bad fall,” answered Jacob for his friend. “I don’t think anything’s broken, but he has some pretty bad bruises. Separated his shoulder, too.”
“In here,” said Ben, pulling the door open as wide as possible. As Jacob moved past, Ben went to Joe’s side and helped his son into the house. As he walked Joe into the living room, Jacob noted the two men descending the stairs. One was a big man with thinning brown hair, wearing a white shirt and tan vest; the other was dressed in black, with thick locks of dark hair falling forward over his forehead. Both men rushed forward, their faces showing concern.
“Joe!” cried Hoss Cartwright as he rushed to help his younger brother. “What did you do to yourself?”
“Just took a fall,” Joe managed to say as Ben and Jacob guided him to the red leather chair near the fireplace. Joe sighed with relief as the two men eased him into the chair. Ben saw the swelling and bruise on the side of Joe’s head, and he gently turned Joe’s head to take a better look. Satisfied that the head injury wasn’t serious, Ben immediately began untying the cloth that bound Joe’s arm to his side, then began unbuttoning Joe’s shirt. He pulled the shirt and jacket off his son, and blanched when he saw the ugly bruises visible on Joe’ shoulder and side. Ben could see the bruises ran most of the length of Joe’s body.
Adam Cartwright whistled softly as he watched over Ben’s shoulder. “You must have taken quite a fall,” Adam said to his youngest brother.
“His horse was running at a gallop when it tripped,” explained Jacob. “He rolled down a gully, and bounced off a boulder.”
“You’re lucky you didn’t break your neck, little brother,” Hoss commented, shaking his head.
“It could have been a lot worse,” agreed Joe. He nodded in Jacob’s direction. “Jacob ran off some Indians who were chasing me. He and Sarah took care of me and brought me home.” Joe winced and gritted his teeth as his father probed his side and shoulder.
Finishing his examination of his son, Ben stood. “Nothing broken as far as I can see,” he declared. Ben turned toward Jacob. “Thank you,” he said softly. “Thank you very much.”
Jacob shrugged. “It was nothing,” he replied. “The Indians I ran off were just some boys trying to prove they were men. All Sarah and I did was patch Joe up some and bring him home. Anyone would have done the same.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Hoss. “We appreciate what you did.”
“Adam, Hoss, you’d better get Joe upstairs,” said Ben. “He looks like he could use a soft bed.”
“Pa, Sarah and Jacob have had a long ride,” said Joe softly. “I think the least we owe them is dinner and a room for the night.”
“Of course we do,” Ben agreed. He turned to Jacob and Sarah and gave the couple a smile. “Would you be our guests? It’s the least we can offer you.”
Looking startled, Jacob asked slowly, “Are you sure, Mr. Cartwright? I mean, we’re Lakota – Sioux. Are you sure…”
“I’m sure,” interrupted Ben in a firm voice. “Please, stay and have dinner with us. We have plenty. And we can offer you a nice soft bed for the night.”
Still uncertain whether to accept, Jacob looked at Sarah. When she nodded, Jacob turned back to Ben. “Thank you,” he said with a warm smile. “It’s been a long time since we’ve slept with a roof over our heads.”
As Ben watched, Adam and Hoss helped Joe to his feet, and walked him slowly to the stairs. Turning to Jacob, Ben said, “Please make yourselves at home. I want to help Joe get settled.” Then he followed his sons up the stairs. Looking around, Jacob and Sarah were unsure what to do next. Jacob shrugged, then walked over to the sofa and sat down. Sarah followed her husband. “Nice people,” she commented as she settled on the sofa next to Jacob. “I can’t remember the last time we had dinner in something other than a tent or the open sky. This will be a real treat.”
Jacob nodded. “The Lord surely does work in mysterious ways,” he said with a smile.
When Ben came down the stairs about an hour later, he wasn’t surprised to see Adam chatting with Jacob and Sarah as if they were old friends. He had heard the voices from below as he sat in Joe’s bedroom, voices which were soft at first but grew increasingly loud and punctuated with an occasional laugh. Jacob, who had been sitting stiffly on the sofa at first, was now relaxed on the seat, his arm around Sarah’s shoulders. Adam was sprawled in Ben’s red leather chair. As Ben descended the stairs, three faces turned to him.
“How’s Joe doing?” Adam asked immediately.
“He’s asleep,” replied Ben, giving his oldest son a reassuring nod. “Where’s Hoss?”
“Putting up the horses,” replied Adam.
“I offered to do it,” said Jacob almost apologetically. “But Hoss insisted.”
Smiling Ben said, “I’m not surprised. Knowing that big son of mine, he would have wanted to make sure your animals got as good a dinner as their owner.”
Just then, the front door opened and the Ben’s “big son” walked in.
“Joe all right?” asked Hoss as he crossed the room to join the group.
“He’s sore, tired and achy,” answered Ben with a smile. “But he’ll be all right.” Ben chuckled. “He kept insisting he wasn’t that tired. At least, that’s what he said until his head hit the pillow and he fell asleep about 30 seconds later.” Ben turned toward the couple on the sofa. “Joe told me more about what you did for him…Jacob, is that right?” Seeing Jacob’s confirming nod, Ben continued, “We’re very grateful for the way you and your wife looked after Joe.”
“I’m sure Joe exaggerated what we did,” answered Jacob in a dismissive tone. “Besides, he did a good turn for me. I was only returning the favor.”
Padding in from the kitchen, Hop Sing came to the edge of the living room. “Dinner is ready,” he said with a smile. “You come eat.” The cook turned and quickly walked back to the kitchen.
“Hot diggity,” said Hoss, rubbing his hands together. “I’m plum ready to fade away with hunger.”
“We’d better go eat,” said Ben with a laugh, as he gestured toward the dining room. “When Hoss gets hungry, an angry bear looks cuddly by comparison.”
“Aw, Pa,” complained Hoss. “I’m just a growing boy.”
“Yeah, growing into a small mountain,” commented Adam wryly.
As they got to their feet, Jacob and Sarah exchanged smiles. The closeness and affection the Cartwrights felt toward each other was apparent, and that warm feeling was being extended to include their guests. Neither Jacob nor Sarah could remember the last time they had seen or been included in such a friendly atmosphere.
As they reached the table, Jacob held the chair out for Sarah, then sat down. His eyes widened a bit as he saw the food on the table – a platter piled high with baked chicken, a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, and another bowl filled with green beans. There was barely room in the center of the table for the gravy boat, platter of biscuits and bowl of rice that were crowded on the table.
“Are you expecting an army for dinner?” asked Jacob with a smile.
“I’m afraid this is partially my fault,” replied Adam as he whisked a napkin from the table and onto his lap. “When I told Hop Sing you were staying for dinner, I also told him what you did for Joe. He immediately started cooking up a storm. Sort of his way of saying thank you also.”
“I’ll try not to insult him by leaving too many leftovers,” said Jacob, grinning as his eyes scanned the table.
“At this table, we NEVER have leftovers,” said Ben, his head turning pointedly toward Hoss.
As the following laughter died down, Jacob turned to Ben. “Mr. Cartwright, would you mind if I said grace?” asked Jacob.
“No, of course not,” Ben answered, a bit surprised.
As the people around the table bowed their head, Jacob intoned, “Dear Lord, thank you for watching over all of us, and for taking care of us. Thank you for giving Sarah and me the chance to help our young friend Joe, and giving us the bountiful blessing of not only this wonderful meal but also the gift of new friends. Amen.”
“Amen,” came the heartfelt reply from around the table.
“Oh, Lord, one more thing,” said Jacob quickly, with a mischievous look on his face. “Help me to get to the chicken before Hoss.”
“Jacob!” exclaimed Sarah in disapproval as the Cartwrights laughed.
“Well, the Lord helps those who help themselves,” answered Jacob. He reached for the platter “And right now, I’m going to help myself to that chicken.”
As the dinner progressed, Jacob didn’t realize the conversation was slowly but surely turning into a monologue as he talked about his and Sarah’s experiences over the past few years. The Cartwrights encouraged him, asking questions and making comments that kept Jacob talking. When Jacob finally realized he was dominating the conversation, he apologized. “I didn’t mean to talk so much,” he said. Jacob glanced over at Sarah. “Sarah always tells me I have the soul of a preacher.”
“We didn’t mind in the least,” Ben assured Jacob. “You and Sarah have led a very interesting life, and that’s putting it mildly.”
“That’s for dang sure,” added Hoss with a smile. “And we haven’t had two nicer people at our dinner table in a long time.”
Both Jacob and Sarah looked down, their faces showing that they were pleased but a bit embarrassed by Hoss’ enthusiastic comment.
As Hop Sing walked into the dining room with two small plates in his hand, Sarah turned to the cook. “That was a wonderful meal,” she said. She glanced at the table where the platter piled with chicken bones and empty bowls gave evidence to the hearty appetites that had been satisfied. “I think I might have even given Jacob and Hoss some competition.”
“Thank you, missy,” replied Hop Sing, obviously delighted with Sarah’s praise.
“What’s for dessert?” asked Hoss, eyeing the plates in Hop Sing’s hand.
“Hop Sing make peach pie,” replied the cook. “Very special, very good.”
“That ain’t no lie,” Hoss agreed. “Hop Sing’s pies are the best in the territory.” He started to reach for one of the plates.
But Hop Sing pulled the plate away from Hoss’ hand. “Mr. Hoss wait turn,” sniffed the cook. He smiled at Sarah and Jacob as he put the plates down in front of them. “Best pieces of pie go to man who save Little Joe, and to pretty lady.”
“You know, that’s Hop Sing’s highest compliment,” said Adam. “He always gives the biggest pieces of pie to the people he thinks deserves them.”
“Thank you,” said Jacob to the cook, “for both the meal and the honor.”
With a pleased smile on this face, Hop Sing bowed slightly toward Jacob and Sarah, acknowledging their praise. Then he hurried back into the kitchen, returning a minute later with three small plates. The cook put a piece of pie in front of Adam, and then Hoss.
“I’ll have my pie a bit later,” said Ben as Hop Sing set the last plate in front of him. “I want to go up and check on Joe.”
“You eat pie,” said Hop Sing a in a firm voice. “You stay here. Visit with honored guests. Hop Sing have dinner tray all ready for Little Joe. Also have good Chinese medicine to rub on sore spots. You stay. Hop Sing take care of Little Joe.” With a quick nod, the cook left the dining room without waiting for an answer from Ben. He returned a minute later carrying a covered tray. “You eat,” ordered Hop Sing to the people around the table as he hurried past them toward the stairs.
Picking up his fork, Ben said with a smile, “Well, now you know who REALLY runs things around the Ponderosa.” Jacob and Sarah grinned at Ben as they began to eat their pie.
“How big a place are you looking to buy?” Adam asked Jacob between bites of his dessert.
“We’re hoping to find a place big enough to run a small herd of cattle as well allow me to raise some horses,” replied Jacob.
“That’s pretty ambitious,” commented Hoss with a smile.
“One thing you’ll find out about my husband is that he never does things in a small way,” said Sarah. She smiled at Jacob. “And when he puts his mind to something, he usually finds a way to accomplish it.”
“I was just thinking, Pa,” said Adam thoughtfully. “The old Pearson place might be just what Jacob and Sarah are looking for.”
“You know, you’re right, Adam,” answered Ben enthusiastically. “The Pearson place would be perfect.”
“If the owner is willing to sell to us,” said Jacob cautiously. “We’ve found that there are a lot of people who aren’t willing to do business with, well, with someone who isn’t white.”
“That’s no problem, “ replied Ben. “Considering that we own the land.”
“I don’t want to take part of the Ponderosa,” said Jacob with a frown. “Joe told me about your ranch and how you’ve built it up. I wouldn’t feel right taking part of that away from you.”
“Actually, the Pearson spread is a few miles east of the Ponderosa,” explained Ben. “I bought it as more of a favor to Mrs. Pearson than anything else. After her husband died, she wanted to go back home to Kansas with her children, and I bought it to help her out.”
“And probably paid a lot more for it than it was worth,” said Sarah with a smile. She had begun to understand the generous nature of the man who sat at the head of the table.
“Well, let’s just say I helped her out,” acknowledged Ben. “Anyway, we haven’t done anything with the place since we bought it. I haven’t quite been able to figure out how to make use of the land. It’s too far from the Ponderosa for us to run cattle, and I haven’t found anyone interested in buying it. You’d be doing us a favor by taking it off our hands.”
“I’m not looking for charity, Mr. Cartwright,” said Jacob a bit stiffly. “I’m looking to buy a place and pay full price for it.”
“Of course,” said Ben quickly. He recognized Jacob’s pride demanded the man not feel as if the Cartwrights giving him the land. “If you’re interested, we can negotiate the price later. I’ll be honest with you, though. We haven’t done much with the place in quite a while. It needs some work.”
“Pa’s right,” added Hoss. “That spread does need some fixing up. But we’ve got plenty of lumber and we’d be glad to help you.”
“We don’t have any horses available right now,” said Adam. “But we do have some cattle, and they’re good breeding stock. We were going to put them up for auction, but we could sell them to you just as easily.”
“There’s some wild horses in those hills above the ranch,” said Hoss in a speculative voice. “I bet you could catch them and use them to start a herd.”
“Goodness!” said Sarah with a laugh. “We haven’t even seen the place yet and you already have it stocked for us.”
“You’re right, of course,” said Ben with a smile. “I’m afraid we are getting a bit carried away. But I do think the Pearson place could be what you’re looking for. We could ride over there tomorrow or the next day and take a look, if you’re interested.”
“It does sound like the answer to our prayers,” agreed Jacob. He turned to Sarah. “I would like to take a look at the place.”
“I would, too,” said Sarah with a nod. She stifled a yawn. “But tomorrow is plenty of time to talk about it.”
“I’m afraid we’ve also forgotten our manners,” said Ben, noting Sarah’s yawn. “You must be tired.” Ben turned to his middle son. “Hoss, why don’t you show Jacob and Sarah to their room.”
“Yes sir,” agreed Hoss, wiping his mouth with a napkin. He smiled across the table as Sarah and Jacob. “I took your bags and things up while you were visiting with Adam. But you can let me know if you need anything else once you take a look at it.”
A look of dismay crossed Sarah’s face. “But we can’t just leave the table,” she said. She looked at the empty plates and dishes spread in front of her. “We should help clean up.”
“Sarah, one of the first things you have to learn about the Ponderosa is that there’s an iron-clad rule,” said Adam with a smile. “Nobody – but nobody – messes around in Hop Sing’s kitchen, not even to help clean up. Besides, he’d be insulted if he found our guests clearing the table and doing dishes.”
“Well, if you’re sure…” said Sarah doubtfully.
“I’m sure,” answered Ben firmly. Then he smiled. “Besides, I’m going to go up and look in on Joe. I think about now he’s going to need some rescuing from Hop Sing’s tender care. Hop Sing does an excellent job of taking care of all of us, but he can be a bit smothering. Joe will be more than happy if I can find something else for our Chinese mother hen to do.”
“I think you’re probably right,” agreed Jacob with a grin. “We found out Joe doesn’t care much for a lot of fussing.” He turned to his wife. “Isn’t that right, Sarah?”
Blushing a bit, Sarah said in a low voice, “You men never know what’s good for you.”
After the laughter around the table died down, Ben’s face grew serious. “I can’t thank you enough for what you did for Joe,” he said.
“No, Mr. Cartwright,” said Jacob shaking his head. “It’s us that should be thanking you. You have no idea how long Sarah and I have been looking for a place where we could be accepted, a place to call home. It’s taken a long time, but I think we may have finally found it.”
The tall clock by the door was bonging nine when Joe slowly descended the stairs the next morning. His right arm was strapped firmly across his chest under his shirt, and Joe kept a firm grip on the banister with his left hand as he carefully climbed down the stairs. Ben followed his son by a step, ready to grab him if Joe should falter. When Joe finally reached the bottom of the stairs, he began to walk across the room toward the dining room table at a faster pace. Not only was Joe able to maneuver better on the flat surface, but he was eager to join the two people sitting at the table watching him.
“Good morning,” said Joe cheerfully to Jacob and Sarah as he gingerly eased himself down in the chair across the table from them.
“Good morning,” Jacob returned the greeting. “How are you feeling?” Sarah said nothing but her eyes examined Joe quickly, looking for signs of fever or any other adverse affects. Apparently satisfied, her face broke into a warm smile.
“Pretty stiff and sore,” admitted Joe with a wry smile. “I feel like I’ve been run over by a herd of buffalo.”
“And you look like it, too,” commented Ben as he walked around the table to his chair at the head. Sliding into his chair, Ben looked around the table. The platter in the center held the remnants of some scrambled eggs and two strips of bacon. The plate in front of Jacob was empty, dotted with crumbs. Sarah’s plate still held some eggs, and she delicately pierced a piece with her fork as Ben watched. “Did you get enough to eat for breakfast?” asked Ben in a solicitous tone.
“My goodness, yes,” replied Sarah with a small laugh. “After that wonderful dinner last night, I didn’t think I would be hungry this morning. But I think I ate almost as much as Hoss for breakfast.”
“No one can eat that much,” answered Ben with a grin. He leaned back in his chair and called toward the kitchen. “Hop Sing! Joe and I would like some breakfast, please.”
Apparently, the cook had been waiting for Ben’s call, because Hop Sing almost instantly padded into the dining room, carrying two plates filled with eggs, bacon and biscuits. He set one plate down in front of Ben, and moved quickly to put the other on the table in front of Joe. “You eat,” Hop Sing said to Joe in a firm voice. “Clean plate, get better.”
“Don’t worry, Hop Sing,” said Joe, picking up his fork. “I’m hungry as a bear.” Despite Joe’s words, the cook stood by the table, looking down his nose until he was satisfied Joe was eating . Then Hop Sing gave a quick nod and padded away from the table toward the kitchen.
“I feel rather decadent, still sitting at the table this late,” said Jacob with a smile as he lifted a cup of coffee to his lips. He took a sip, then continued. “But Adam and Hoss insisted that Sarah and I have a leisurely breakfast while they took care of the horses.”
“I’m glad they did,” said Ben, as he poured some coffee in a cup. He carefully slid the cup and saucer over toward Joe, making sure his son could reach them, then poured a second cup of the hot liquid for himself. “We have a firm policy that our guests don’t work on the Ponderosa.”
“Pa tells me you’re thinking about buying the old Pearson place,” said Joe as he ate.
“Yes,” agreed Jacob. “Sarah and I talked about it last night, and we think it could be just what we’ve been looking for. Enough land for both cattle and horses, and I gather there’s a house already built on it.”
“The neighbors seem awfully nice, also,” added Sarah with a twinkle in her eye.
“They’re not bad,” agreed Joe with a grin. “I’m glad you’re interested. As soon as I’m finished eating, I’ll ride over there with you and show you around.”
“Joseph, you are not riding anywhere, at least not for a week or so,” said Ben in a stern voice.
“Aw, Pa, I’m all right,” said Joe. “Just stiff and sore.”
“Your father is right, Joe,” said Sarah, her voice as firm as Ben’s. “It will be awhile before you’re well enough to get on a horse.”
Joe look at the two determined faces staring at him from across the table, then looked down at his place. “Two against one. That’s not fair,” he grumbled.
“You might as well give in, Joe,” said Jacob with a chuckle. “You’re not going to win. You might be able to convince your father to let you get on a horse…”
“He won’t,” interjected Ben quickly.
“But I can tell you right now that Sarah is not going to let you ride until she thinks you’re fit,” finished Jacob. “She’ll drag you back to house by your ear if you try to mount a horse.
“Between those two and Hop Sing, I’ll be lucky if I get out the house by Christmas,” complained Joe. “I’m just a little bruised, that’s all.
“Joe, if you take it easy for a week or so, you’ll be fine,” said Ben in a placating voice. “But if you try to ride before you’re fit, you’ll end up taking much longer to heal.” Ben gave Joe a stern look. “You know I’m right.”
“Yeah, I know,” Joe agreed reluctantly. He stared at his plate for a minute, his mind obviously on something other than his breakfast. “What if,” said Joe slowly, “we took the buckboard over? I can’t hurt myself just sitting on a wagon.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” said Ben with a frown.
“There’s not much difference between sitting around here and sitting on a buckboard,” insisted Joe.
“There’s a lot of difference, and you know it,” said Ben. “That road to the Pearson place isn’t the smoothest, and you’ll get bounced on that wagon.”
“So I bounce a little,” said Joe with a shrug. “I’m not made of glass. I won’t break.”
“I’m still not sure it’s a good idea,” said Ben, his voice reflecting his doubt. He looked at Sarah. “What do you think, Sarah?”
“Well, it would be better if Joe just rested, “ she said. She looked across the table, where Joe was giving her his most appealing a look. “But I suppose if the buckboard was driven slowly, it wouldn’t do any harm.”
“Great!” said Joe with enthusiasm. He quickly wiped his mouth with a napkin and pushed his chair back from the table. “I’ll go out to the barn and tell Hoss to hitch up the buckboard.” Joe left the table in a hurry, eager to get the wagon ready before Sarah or his father changed their mind.
“Sarah, my dear,” commented Jacob with a smile as he sipped his coffee. “I think you’ve just been conned into something.”
“I know,” agreed Sarah with a sigh. “But Joe looked so eager to go with us, and I just couldn’t tell him no.”
“Don’t worry, Sarah,” said Ben, chuckling. “There’s not many people who can resist Joe when he gets that ‘puppy dog’ look on his face.” His eyes twinkled as he added, “Don’t tell, Joe but I was going to suggest the buckboard if he hadn’t. I know that youngest son of mine well enough to know he probably would try to follow us to the Pearson place anyway, despite our telling him no. This way, at least, I can keep an eye on him and make him ride in the back if things get too rough for him.”
“You’re as big a con man as your son, Mr. Cartwright!” exclaimed Jacob with a laugh.
“Well, let’s just say Joe gets it naturally,” agreed Ben with a grin.
“This place is in worse shape than I thought,” said Ben in dismay as he looked at the broken fences of the corral and the barn door hanging loosely on its hinges. He had been eager to show Jacob and Sarah the Pearson spread, but now, as he looked around the neglected ranch, Ben wished he had ridden over by himself first.
“It’s all a matter of perspective, Mr. Cartwright,” said Jacob from his perch on the horse next to the buckboard. “You see a ranch in disrepair. I see the seed of a homestead that’s already begun to sprout. It will take a lot less work to fix this place up than building from nothing.”
“It’s not that bad, Pa,” added Joe from his seat in the buckboard next to Ben. “The house looks tight and dry, and the rest, well, some lumber and a little paint will do wonders for it.”
“You two feel a lot better about this place than I do,” said Ben doubtfully. He turned to Sarah, who was sitting on a horse next to Jacob. “Why don’t you take a look at the inside of the house while Jacob and I check the barn? Then you can decide for sure what you want to do.”
“All right,” agreed Sarah, sliding off her horse. She studied the one-story house for a minute, then turned to Jacob. “There’s a shingled roof on it, and glass in the windows,” she said, her eyes shinning with pleasure. “I can even see some curtain in the windows. Jacob, it’s a lot more than we had hoped for.”
“Now don’t say that too loud or Mr. Cartwright will raise the price,” said Jacob with a laugh.
“Actually, seeing this place, I’m thinking of lowering the price,” said Ben, shaking his head. Turning to Sarah, he added, “There’s some furniture and dishes and things inside. Mrs. Pearson left a lot behind. She said she didn’t need or have room for all of it at her sister’s house. I meant to have the place cleaned out but never got around to it.”
“I’m glad you didn’t,” said Sarah with a smile. She looped the reins of her horse around the wheel of the buckboard. “I can’t wait to see the inside.”
“I’ll be happy to escort you, ma’am,” said Joe gallantly. He eased himself gingerly off the seat of the buckboard.
“Joseph,” said Ben in a warning voice, “You can go with Sarah but I don’t want you lifting anything. You understand me.”
“Yes sir,” replied Joe in exasperation, his eyes rolling upwards.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Cartwright,” said Sarah with a smile. “I’ll keep an eye on him.”
“It’s a wonder you two don’t just wrap me in cotton wool and stick me in a closet someplace,” grumbled Joe as he walked around the buckboard toward Sarah. As he approached Sarah, however, Joe’s face broke into a smile. He gave Sarah a small bow and stuck out his uninjured arm. “Mrs. Red Feather,” said Joe in a formal voice. “May I have the honor?”
“Why, thank you, sir,” replied Sarah with a smile, her tone equally as formal as Joe. She put her right arm around Joe’s, and grasped his hand with her left hand.
As Joe and Sarah walked slowly toward the house, Sarah kept her arm and hand firmly on Joe’s arm. She wanted to be ready to help steady the young man at her side if he should stumble as they crossed the uneven ground. But even though Joe’s pace was slow, his walk was steady.
Joe’s enthusiasm for the house, however, began to dim as they approached the wooden structure. He could see the broken step leading to the small porch by the front door, and the splintered boards on the porch. The glass in one of the windows was chipped and cracked, and the gray paint that covered the boards of the house was peeling. On the positive side, however, the roof that covered the small porch showed no holes or breaks, and the closed front door stood solid and tight against the frame.
“It looked better from the wagon,” commented Joe as he walked carefully over the broken step. Sarah moved her hand to Joe’s elbow, and held it firmly as he stepped up on the porch.
“Houses are like people, Joe,” said Sarah philosophically as she followed him onto the porch. “They need a lot of love and attention. And when they’re neglected, they show it,” Sarah grasped the handle of the front door and tried to turn it. “It’s locked,” she said in a voice full of both surprise and disappointment.
“The key is on the ledge over the door,” said Joe. “We keep it locked so people won’t think they can help themselves to the stuff that’s inside.”
“A door with a lock,” Sarah said in almost an awed voice as she reached for the key. “I’ve never lived in a place where you could lock the door.”
It took Sarah a minute to get the key to open the stiff lock, but when she did, she pushed open the door and looked in. The smile on her face widened as she peered into the house. The main room was long and wide, designed to be a living room and dining room. To the right sat a bare wooden table, with four wooden chairs. A fireplace, it’s grate neatly cleaned, was on the wall opposite the door, flanked by an overstuffed chair on one side and a rocking chair on the other. To the right of the fireplace was a closed door, obviously sealing off another room, and a second closed door was on the wall to the left of the room. Through the doorway to the right of the fireplace, the kitchen was visible, it’s small black stove and cabinets openly declaring it’s use.
Taking a step into the house, Sarah exclaimed, “Oh, Joe, it’s wonderful! It’s a real home, just like Jacob and I have always wanted.”
Taking a step inside the house, Joe’s boot kicked up some of the dust covering the bare wooden floor. He gave a small sneeze as the dust tickled his nose. “Maybe you ought to see the whole place,” said Joe, cautiously. “It’s pretty bare and dusty.”
“Nothing that a little cleaning and a few pieces of furniture won’t fix,” said Sarah dismissively. She walked across to the kitchen and looked in. “A stove, and cabinets, and a sink,” she said almost to herself in a pleased voice. Sarah walked into the kitchen and started to pull open the doors of the cabinets. “And pans and dishes and cups,” she added gleefully. Sarah looked the kitchen, her face shining with happiness. Walking toward the door at the back of the kitchen, Joe open it and said to Sarah, “There’s a well just a few feet outside the back door. Pearson never hooked up a pump to the kitchen, but I’ll bet brother Adam could work out something for you, if you wanted.”
“Carrying water a few feet is not great chore,” replied Sarah, shaking her head. “When I was a young girl, I had to carry water hundreds of yards from the stream to the village.” Sarah looked around the kitchen once more, as if assuring herself that what she saw was real. Then she said, “Let’s go look at the bedrooms.” Joe smiled as Sarah practically flew out of the kitchen.
By the time Joe had made his slow progress back to the middle of the large room, Sarah was already standing in the doorway of the room to the left of the fireplace. She turned to Joe and said, “This must have been the parents’ bedroom. There’s a large double bed, a wardrobe and a chest of drawers.” As Joe joined Sarah at the doorway, she gave him a grin. Joe laughed as Sarah walked across the room and started bouncing on the bare mattress that covered the bed as if she were a child.
“Does it meet your approval?” Joe asked with a smile.
“Most assuredly,” answered Sarah as she bounced once more. Then she stood and walked back across the room, passing Joe as she headed toward the second door.
“A children’s bedroom,” commented Sarah as she opened the door and looked in. Joe joined Sarah in the doorway and looked in. Three small, single beds were crowded into the room.
“There’s room for three,” said Joe. Suddenly, he felt awkward, realizing that after several years of marriage, Jacob and Sarah had no children.
“We’ve not been blessed with children so far,” said Sarah, as if reading Joe’s mind. “But maybe God was just waiting until we had a home for them.”
“Um, maybe we ought to go out and join Jacob and Pa,” said Joe, still feeling uncomfortable. He didn’t quite know what to say, and had a feeling that anything he said would come out wrong.
“Of course, “ said Sarah, with a nod. She firmly closed the door to the bedroom, then turned and walked toward the middle of the room. Looking around, she said thoughtfully, “We’ll need some new curtains, and some bedding. A white tablecloth will brighten the room. Oh, and we’ll need some towels. Those thin cloths we’ve been using are more thread than anything. And books. Jacob loves to read and now he has room for lots and lots of books.”
Once more, Joe laughed at Sarah’s enthusiasm. “You’d better make a list,” said Joe with a grin. He couldn’t help sharing in Sarah’s apparent happiness. “I wouldn’t want you to forget something.”
“You’re right,” said Sarah in a serious voice. Then she realized Joe was gently teasing her. “I guess I was getting carried away,” she admitted with a small smile. “We don’t actually own the house yet.”
“I think that can be handled,” replied Joe, still smiling. “Let’s go find Pa and Jacob.”
Once the house was locked up again, Sarah wrapped her arm around Joe’s uninjured arm once more, helping him down from the porch. She continued to hold his arm firmly as they crossed the ground toward the barn. Jacob and Ben were just emerging from the nearby structure.
“Jacob, the house is wonderful,” exclaimed Sarah, as she and Joe approached the two men.
“Do you really like it?” asked Jacob, his eyes twinkling with laughter at Sarah’s enthusiasm.
“Oh yes!” said Sarah. She looked down for a minute then raised her eyes to her husband. “If we can afford it…”
“Ben and I have already negotiated a price that we can afford,” said Jacob.
He turned to Ben. “In fact, I think you’re giving us a bargain.”
“It’s a fair price,” insisted Ben, “considering all the work that needs to be done to get the ranch in order. The barn and corral need a lot of fixing.”
“The price is still low, considering that you’re throwing in thirty head of cattle and all the lumber we need,” said Jacob, shaking his head. He glanced over his shoulder toward Sarah, who was watching her husband with an anxious expression. “But I have a feeling that if I said no, I’ll never get another hot meal from Sarah,” added Jacob with a smile. He held out his hand toward Ben. “It’s a deal.”
“Good,” said Ben, grasping Jacob’s hand firmly. “Tomorrow, we’ll go into Virginia City and take care of all the paperwork.”
“I’ll need to convert my nuggets into hard cash first, “ Jacob said. “That way, I’ll have enough to pay you.” Jacob look toward Sarah. “And I suppose my wife has a few things she’ll want to buy.”
“Her list is as long as your arm,” said Joe with a grin.
“They’re all necessary,” insisted Sarah. She walked over and kissed Jacob on the cheek. “Thank you, my sweet.”
“You’re welcome, love,” replied Jacob tenderly.
“You and Sarah must stay at the Ponderosa until you’re ready to move in,” said Ben. “I insist.”
“Well,” said Jacob hesitantly, “I hate to impose on your hospitality…”
“You’re not imposing,” interrupted Joe. “Besides, Hop Sing would be really disappointed if you weren’t there. Nothing makes him happier than to see people eating his cooking, and between you and Hoss, he’ll be ecstatic.”
“All right,” agreed Jacob. “Since it’s only for a few days, I suppose we won’t cause too much trouble.”
Pulling on Jacob’s arm, Sarah said, “Now that it’s all settled, come see the house.”
“Yes, Sarah,” replied Jacob in a long-suffering voice. Ben and Joe laughed as Sarah almost dragged her husband toward the house.
Joe’s face suddenly sobered. He pushed at the elbow inside his shirt, adjusting his arm, while his expression turned grim.
“You feeling all right?” Ben asked his son with concern as he noted Joe’s face.
“I’m fine,” said Joe, in a distracted voice. “I was just thinking. Maybe I should go into town tomorrow with you. Kind of introduce Sarah and Jacob around. You know, let people know they are friends of ours.” Joe’s mind was picturing the ugly scene at Watson’s Crossing. Realizing what Joe was implying, Ben nodded. “That’s a good idea.” His face turned stern. “But only if you agree to rest for the remainder of the day. I don’t want you overdoing things.”
“I’m all right,” insisted Joe. He looked toward the house, then turned back to his father. “Jacob and Sarah are real nice people,” he blurted out. “What difference does it make that their skin isn’t white?”
“It shouldn’t make a difference, Joe,” answered Ben. “But it’s a sad fact of life that, to some people at least, it does.”
“It’s not right,” said Joe vehemently.
“No, it’s not right,” agreed Ben. “And I’m proud of you for thinking that way.” Ben smiled a bit indulgently at his son’s passion. “But it’s a hard thing, Joe, to change the way the world thinks. Looking back toward the house, Joe said in a determined voice, “I don’t aim to change the way the whole world thinks, Pa. Just Virginia City.”
Holding the reins firmly, Sarah guided the buckboard carefully into Virginia City. Riding behind her on horseback were Jacob and Ben. Both men were too wrapped up in their discussion of ranching to notice Sarah’s body tensing as she drove the wagon into the town. But sitting next to Sarah, his body slouched comfortably in the seat, Joe noticed the tension in her shoulders, and the way her hands tightened around the reins.
“Would you like me to take over driving?” Joe asked solicitously.
“I don’t think so,” answered Sarah with a snort. “Even though I’m not very experienced at driving a buckboard, I know that whatever I’m doing with two hands is much better than you would manage with one.”
“Well, I could take my arm out of this sling…” started Joe, his left hand grasping the elbow of his right arm, which was resting in a sling of dark blue cloth. A smile twitched on Joe’s lips as he spoke.
“Joseph Cartwright!“ exclaimed Sarah in a sharp voice – a tone that sounded surprisingly like his father’s to Joe. “Don’t you even think of taking your arm out of that sling.” The sling had been Sarah’s idea. She thought it might be more comfortable for Joe, as well as a very visible sign to people in town to avoid jostling the young man. She had frowned when Joe had asked Sarah to help him strap his holster around his hips after she had helped him into his green jacket, but said nothing. After all, she didn’t know what kind of town Virginia City might be. But she had given the gun a disapproving glance as she had helped Joe settle his arm into the sling. While Sarah hadn’t felt she could comment on Joe wearing a gun, she felt no compulsion to stay silent about Joe keeping his arm in the sling. “If you try to move that arm, I’m going to stop the wagon right here and box your ears, “ she threatened.
“Yes ma’am!” answered Joe with mock fright. “I promise I won’t try. I wouldn’t want my ears boxed.”
“Good,” Sarah said in a determined voice. She frowned slightly as she concentrated on driving the buckboard down the main street of Virginia City. The street wasn’t crowded – only a few riders and one other wagon could be seen moving on the dirt road – but Sarah was still nervous about steering the wagon with others on the street.
“You’re doing fine,” Joe assured Sarah. “Just relax. When you tense up on the reins, the horses can tell and they get nervous. This team has made the trip to town a hundred times. Just let them know where you want to go and let them do the rest.”
“Right,” agreed Sarah. She relaxed her tight grip on the reins a bit. “Where should I go?”
Peering down the street, Joe answered, “The general store is just over there to the right. Looks like there’s a spot near the front of the store where you can park the wagon.”
Without turning her head to look at Joe, Sarah nodded and guided the wagon to the right. She saw the wooden building with the large sign proclaiming it was the general store, and the empty space Joe had indicated. The frown on Sarah’s face deepened as she steered the buckboard toward the store.
“Good job,” said Joe as Sarah pulled the horses to a stop in front of the store.
“Thank you,” replied Sarah with a smile as she looped the reins around arm of the seat to hold the horses at a halt. “It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a wagon.”
“You did fine,” Joe assured Sarah. He looked with admiration at the woman sitting next to him. The printed blouse and long black skirt she was wearing displayed her trim figure. A beaded headband held her flowing black hair in place, and a pair of soft moccasins covered her feet and ankles. Joe knew Sarah had dressed carefully this morning, wanting to make a good impression on the people of Virginia City. In Joe’s mind, at least, she had succeeded. Turning slightly in the wagon, Joe looked behind for his father and Jacob. He could see they had dismounted, tying their horses to a hitching post a few feet away, and were walking toward the buckboard.
“Did Mr. Cartwright tell you everything you need to know about ranching?” Sarah teased her husband as the two men came up to the wagon.
“He gave me a few good ideas,” admitted Jacob. Jacob also had dressed carefully, equally as concerned as his wife on making the right impression during their initial trip to town. His tan buckskin shirt was tucked into a pair of dark brown paints that showed the crease from an iron. A beaded belt cinched his waist. Jacob’s tall black boots were polished, and the black hair that fell to his shoulders was carefully combed. The clothes were neat and clean, but didn’t conceal Jacob’s powerful build – or his Indian heritage.
“Sarah,” said Ben, a bit exasperated, “I told you last night a dinner that my friends call me Ben. I hope you’ll consider me a friend.”
“I do…Ben,” replied Sarah awkwardly. Taught since birth to address men she respected with formality, Sarah was finding it difficult to use such a familiar name.
“Did you remember your list?” Jacob asked Sarah. His serious tone was belied by the twinkle in his eye.
“Yes, I have it,” replied Sarah, patting the pocket of her skirt. She bit her lip a bit. “I hope I didn’t forget anything.”
The men around Sarah laughed at her comment. They knew she had spent a long time compiling her list of supplies. As she had sat at the table last night, muttering to herself, Sarah had added and crossed out items until she had been satisfied that the list contained everything that was needed but no more. Both Jacob and Joe had teased Sarah gently as she worked, Jacob reminding her that their supply of gold nuggets wasn’t unlimited while Joe assured Sarah that a second trip to town was always possible.
“It will take me a little time to convert the nuggets to cash at the Assay Office, “ said Jacob, “as well as to take care of things at the bank with Ben. Why don’t you look around town for awhile. We’ll meet you back here and I’ll give you the money to get the supplies. You can start getting the things we need while Ben and I record the deed at the Land Office.”
“We can go ahead and start getting the supplies now,” suggested Joe.
“It might better,” said Jacob cautiously, “to wait until Sarah can show the store owner the money before she starts shopping.”
“I don’t see why,” said Joe with a frown. “If I tell Mr. Harris that Sarah will be paying him, that should be good enough.”
Sarah and Jacob exchanged looks, not quite knowing how to explain to Joe why having the money in hand was a good idea.
“Jacob is right,” said Ben quickly. “Sarah and Jacob are strangers. We can’t expect Mr. Harris to take our word alone that they can pay. Once Mr. Harris knows them better, I’m sure he’ll set up an account for them.”
Joe’s eyes narrowed and his face took on what Ben always called Joe’s stubborn look.
“I think….” started Joe.
“I think it’s up to Sarah and Jacob to decide what they want to do,” interrupted Ben in a firm voice and giving his son a pointed look. “It’s not our place to decide things for them.”
A startled look replaced the stubborn one on Joe’s face. He looked at Sarah and Jacob, and then back to his father.
“I really would like to see a bit of town,” Sarah said to Joe with a slightly pleading look in her eyes.
For a few seconds, Joe sat silently. Then he gave Sarah a wry grin. “It won’t take long to see Virginia City, but I’ll be happy to show you around,” said Joe almost grudgingly.
“Thank you,” Jacob said to Joe. He looked at Ben, and his eyes conveyed a deeper meaning. “Thank you,” he repeated softly. Ben simply nodded.
Moving quickly, Sarah climbed out of the wagon and took a few steps away from the buckboard. As Joe slid across the seat to follow Sarah, both Jacob and Ben reached up to help him.
“I can get out by myself,” said Joe in an irritated voice.
“Sure you can,” agreed Ben, but he grabbed Joe’s arm nevertheless and held it firmly as his son climbed down from the buckboard. As his feet reached the ground, Joe swayed back a bit, leaning into both the wagon and his father. He quickly righted himself.
“We’ll meet you back here,” said Sarah, trying to hide a smile as Joe took a step forward and stubbornly shrugged off Ben’s hand. “Will an hour be about right?”
“An hour,” agreed Jacob. “Behave yourself,” he added with a smile. But his eyes had a serious look.
“That goes for you too, Joseph,” said Ben in a stern voice. “I don’t want you overdoing things.”
“Don’t worry, Pa,” answered Joe in a resigned voice. His eyes rolled upwards. “I’m sure Sarah will keep a close eye on me.”
A smile crossed Jacob’s face and this time the look was genuine. “Joe, I already told you. You can’t win with her. You might as well accept that now.” Jacob turned to Ben. “Let’s go. I want to buy a ranch.”
As Ben and Jacob walked off, Joe took a step closer to Sarah. “Where would you like to start?” he asked. He raised his right arm, as if to offer it to Sarah as he had the day before at the ranch.
Quickly, Sarah took a step away from Joe, deftly avoiding Joe’s gesture. “The dress shop, I think,” she said, deliberately looking away from Joe. “It’s better if I visit that before Jacob gives me the money to spend.”
For a moment, Joe stood next to Sarah, a slightly puzzled look on his face. He took a deep breath as he realized Sarah felt taking his arm probably would cause some disapproving stares. An Indian woman holding the arm of a white man wasn’t something people in Virginia City saw everyday. While Joe was prepared to take on Virginia City, he also recognized his father was right. It was up to Sarah and Jacob to decide what battles they wanted to fight.
“The dress shop it is,” said Joe lightly. “I don’t visit it very often personally, but I do know where it is.”
“Thank you,” said Sarah, turning to look at Joe. Her words conveyed gratitude for more than just Joe’s agreement to show her the shop.
“This way, ma’am,” said Joe, gesturing forward with his hand. “ It’s across the street and down a block.”
Crossing the street with Sarah, Joe kept a small distance between himself and the Indian woman. He saw two women wearing bonnets on the far sidewalk staring at them, their heads bent slightly together as they whispered something to each other. Joe glanced quickly at Sarah and was relieved she didn’t seem to notice.
“The dress shop is just down the street,” said Joe as he and Sarah reached the other side of the wide dirt street. Sarah didn’t answer; she merely nodded. But her pace quickened a bit, as if she were eager to get to the shop. The Virginia City Dress Shop was easy to recognize, even if someone couldn’t read the sign hanging over the door. The large windows on either side of the door held dressmaker’s dummies wearing finely stitched clothes. Sarah stopped in front of the first window and stared into it. The dummy in the window was wearing a dark green dress, one the fashion magazines in the East would have called a visiting dress. A matching hat sat on the floor of the window, and several strands of colored beads were spread between the hat and a pair of calfskin gloves. Joe looked into the window with an indifferent glance, but he could see Sarah’s expression reflected in the glass. She was wearing an expression of interest and pleasure. Joe and Sarah hadn’t been standing in front of the window for very long when the door of the shop opened and a woman came out carrying a broom. She seemed a bit surprised to see Joe, but smiled warmly in his direction anyway.
“Hello, Joe. I haven’t seen you in ages,” said the woman in a pleased voice. She was a heavy-set middle-aged lady, wearing a print dress with a white collar.
“Hello, Martha,” Joe returned the greeting with equal warmth. “You’re looking as lovely as ever.”
“Save your flattery for the young girls,” answered Martha, but her smiled widened. The expression on Martha’s face turned into a frown as she noted the sling in which Joe’s arm rested. “What happened to you?”
“It’s nothing,” Joe replied quickly. “Just took a nasty fall.” He turned and touched Sarah lightly on the arm. Reluctantly, Sarah tore her eyes from the window and turned toward Martha.
“Martha, I’d like you to meet Sarah Red Feather,” said Joe in introduction. “She and her husband are buying the Pearson ranch.” Joe turned to Sarah. “Martha makes the prettiest dresses in Virginia City.”
Surprise flickered in Martha’s eyes but only for a moment. She turned her warm smile in Sarah’s direction. “Welcome to our little community,” said Martha. “I hope you’ll like it here.”
“Thank you,” replied Sarah. Her eyes strayed back to the window. “You have some lovely things.”
“Would you like to come in and look around,” invited Martha. “You don’t have to buy anything.”
Giving the window a last, long look, Sarah turned back to Martha. “Not today,” she said reluctantly. “We have a lot of things to do to get settled, and I’m afraid that if I started looking, I’d be in the shop all day.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” replied Martha, her smile widening. “But I do understand. Please feel free to come by anytime, even if you just want to look.”
“Thank you again,” replied Sarah, her smile matching Martha’s. She glanced back at the window again, then turned to Joe. “I suppose you should show me the less interesting shops, like where we can buy feed and grain or shoes for the horses.”
Smiling, Joe said, “Those are less interesting to you, Sarah. But Jacob would be happy to see them.”
“I’m sure he would,” muttered Sarah, shaking her head.
Giving a short laugh, Joe nodded good-bye to Martha and started down the street with Sarah. Martha watched the pair for a minute, a curious expression on her face. Then she shrugged slightly and began to sweep the walk in front of her store.
As Sarah and Joe walked slowly down the street, he pointed out the various shops, the purpose of each was fairly obvious by both the signs hung on them as well as the merchandise they displayed. The pair was nearing the café when the door opened and two men walked out. One was a heavy-set man wearing a black hat and dressed in a black suit, while the other was a slightly older man wearing gray pants and a gray vest over his blue shirt. The older man was wearing a light-colored hat and had a badge pinned on his chest.
“Joe Cartwright, what did you do to yourself now?” said the man in the black suit in surprise as he spotted Joe coming.
“Hi, doc,” replied Joe. He nodded toward the sheriff. “Hello, Roy.” He turned to Sarah. “This is Doc Martin, best doctor in the territory. And Roy Coffee, who manages to keep me out of jail most of the time.” Turning back to the two men, he said, “This is Sarah Red Feather. She and her husband Jacob are buying the Pearson ranch.”
“Ma’am,” said Roy Coffee, touching the brim of his hat. “Welcome to Virginia City.”
“We’re happy to have you here,” said the doctor in greeting to Sarah. He turned back to Joe. “Now, answer my question. What happened to you.”
“Just a fall,” replied Joe, with a shrug. “Nothing serious. Sarah patched me up fine.”
“Oh?” said Doctor Martin, with arched eyebrows. He turned to look at the Indian woman.
“Joe separated his shoulder,” said Sarah quickly. “I popped it back in. He also has some bruised ribs, but there wasn’t any sign of breaks or cracks. He lost consciousness for awhile, but he didn’t have any problems waking up and wasn’t disoriented. His pupils were equal and reactive. Some fever but it disappeared after he got some rest. The other bruises were minor.”
“You’ve obviously had some medical training,” said the doctor, almost in admiration.
“I worked for a few years with a priest who did,” answered Sarah, modestly lowering her eyes. She raised them again as she said in an urgent voice, “None of the injuries were serious. We would have called you if they were.”
“I’m sure you would have,” replied the doctor, in a reassuring tone. “But it sounds like I wasn’t needed.
“I told you, doc,” said Joe with a grin. “Sarah took good care of me. She’s a good doctor – and much prettier than you are.”
“Well, I’d have to agree with that,” admitted Doctor Martin with a smile. His face turned serious. “Joe, you keep that arm in a sling for at least a week. And no heavy lifting. You don’t want to dislocate that shoulder again by using your arm too soon.”
“Don’t worry,” said Joe with a sigh. “Pa and Sarah are watching me like hawks. I haven’t lifted anything heavier than a fork since it happened.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” Doctor Martin said skeptically. “You take it easy for awhile, Joe.”
“It’s only some bruises,” protested Joe.
“It seems to me you always have some bruises,” commented Roy in a dry voice. “If you’d think once in awhile before you do something, you’d be better off. It’s a wonder you’re still all in one piece.” Despite his words, though, the sheriff gave Joe an indulgent smile.
“You two make me sound like I don’t have a brain in my head,” grumbled Joe good-naturedly.
“Well, there’s been some doubt,” said Roy with a smile. He nodded at Sarah. “Nice to meet you, ma’am. I’ve got to get back to protecting Virginia City from people like Joe.”
“And I have to get back to my office,” added Doctor Martin. “You take care of yourself, Joe.”
As the sheriff and doctor walked away, Sarah commented to Joe, “They seem nice.”
“Two of my Pa’s oldest friends,” said Joe in reply. “They’re good men.”
Looking around, Sarah said, “The people in Virginia City seem very nice.”
“Uh oh,” said Joe in a low voice as he looked down the street. “Here comes somebody who might make you change your mind.”
“Joe Cartwright, I want to talk with you,” said a woman in a loud voice as she strode purposefully up the street. She was a tall, thin woman, with graying hair. Her tailored dress was dark blue, giving an impression of a person who brooked no nonsense. A small blue hat trimmed in dark lace was perched on her head at an angle.
“Hello, Mrs. Polk,” said Joe respectfully as the woman came up to him and Sarah.
Giving Sarah only the briefest glance, Mrs. Polk faced Joe. “Joseph, I need to talk with your father. Is he in town with you?”
“He taking care of some business over at the bank,” answered Joe cautiously.
“Your father missed the school board meeting last Thursday,” said Mrs. Polk in an accusing tone.
“I know, ma’am,” said Joe. He added quickly, “We had a mare who was having trouble foaling. He thought it was better that he stay at the ranch.”
“We can’t publish the school calendar that I made up for next year without the full board’s approval,” Mrs. Polk said briskly. “I need to have him look at it.”
“I’m sure he’ll be glad to take a look,” said Joe. He smiled at the woman in front of him. “But if you made it up, I’m sure he’ll think it’s just fine.”
“Well, I need to have him review it anyhow,” Mrs. Polk said, her tone indicating that she was somewhat mollified by Joe’s words. She suddenly seemed to notice Sarah standing next to Joe. Frowning, she asked, “And who is this?”
“Sarah Red Feather,” said Joe in introduction. “She and her husband are buying the Pearson ranch.”
“Oh really,” said Mrs. Polk in surprise. She turned to Joe. “Is this another one of your father’s projects with the Indians?”
Feeling Joe stiffen in indignation beside her, Sarah said quickly, “The Cartwrights have been very helpful. We’re just getting settled, so we need a lot of help.” Sarah lowered her eyes. “We’re hoping that some other people might be willing to help us, also,” she added almost meekly.
“Oh,” said Mrs. Polk. “Why, of course. We are always happy to help new settlers.”
“It’s nice that someone like you would take an interest,” said Sarah.
“Mrs. Polk is one of the leading ladies of our town,” said Joe, trying to hide a smile. His indignation has quickly melted as he realized how Sarah was playing up to the woman’s vanity. “She’s president of the Ladies League, and on the School Board. She’s very important to our town.”
“I don’t know about that,” replied Mrs. Polk, but her face showed her satisfaction and pleasure with Joe’s words. “But people do tend to listen to me. If you need anything, you just come to me.”
“Thank you, you’re very kind,” Sarah said, her voice still meek.
“Not at all,” said Mrs. Polk. “We want you to feel very welcome. You just let me know if anyone gives you any trouble.” She turned to Joe. “You said your father is at the bank.”
“Well, he was,” replied Joe. “I’m not sure if he’s still there.” He was sure his father wouldn’t thank Joe for sending Mrs. Polk after him. “I’ll tell him you’re looking for him when I see him.”
“You do that,” Mrs. Polk said briskly. With a brief nod, she walked off. Both Sarah and Joe could hardly contain their laughter until the woman was gone. “You handled her nicely,” said Joe, with a smile.
“People like her are easy to deal with,” replied Sarah. “They’re happy to help, as long as they can feel superior to the poor people they’re helping. It’s easier to just go along with them, rather than trying to prove them wrong.”
“Maybe you could help Pa deal with her,” said Joe with a grin. “He always seems to have a headache after a session with Mrs. Polk.”
“No, thank you,” answered Sarah with a giggle. “Your father is on his own.”
As Sarah and Joe started down the street, they began to pass more people. Most merely walked by, not even glancing at the pair, their minds full of their own business. A few people, however, stared at Sarah with curiosity or surprise. But this latter group of people all turned away quickly when they saw the look on Joe’s face, a look that dared them to make a comment. As they reached the end of the street, Joe stopped. “This is getting into the rougher part of town,” said Joe. He pointed to his right. “That’s the saloon over there, the Bucket of Blood.” Joe shifted his hand to indicate the building across the street. “And that’s the sheriff’s office and jail.”
“Right near the saloon,” commented Sarah. “Convenient.”
“Yeah, it is,” answered Joe with a grin. He turned a bit and looked down the street to his left. “There’s nothing much to see down there,” said Joe with a shrug. “Just some offices and some, um, er, houses.”
“The kind of houses that families live in?” asked Sarah with arched eyebrows.
“Yeah, them too,” replied Joe, flushing slightly.
Sarah and Joe were so intent in looking down the street that neither noticed the cowboy who lurched out of the saloon and stumbled drunkenly across the street toward them. “Cartwright,” said the cowboy in a slurred voice. “I want to talk with you.”
Turning, Joe sighed. “This seems to be my day to attract all the wrong people,” he said in a low voice. Then he said a bit louder, “What are you doing in town, Parks? I thought you were working at the Lazy J.”
“I was till they fired me,” replied Parks. He frowned as if surprised at his own words. “They fired me just like you Cartwrights did.”
“Pa warned you about drinking on the job,” said Joe in a firm voice. “We fired you because you got drunk instead of going after strays.”
“A man’s got to have a little nip now and then,” complained Parks. “Just to ward off the chill.”
“In the middle of summer?” said Joe in a skeptical voice.
“I need a job. No one will hire me,” whined Parks. “Couldn’t you ask your Pa to hire me back?”
“No,” said Joe, shaking his head. “Pa gave you fair warning. He even gave you a second chance after he found you drunk the first time. He’s not about to give a third chance, and I’m not going to ask him.”
“You Cartwrights!” said Parks angrily. “You think you’re so high and mighty. Just ‘cause a man takes a drink now and then, you turn your backs on him.”
“You’re drunk,” said Joe in disgust. “And it’s not even noon.”
Suddenly, Parks seemed to notice Sarah standing next to Joe. “Who’s this pretty little thing?” he asked, peering at the Indian woman through bleary eyes.
“You mind your manners, Parks,” warned Joe.
“Why? She belong to you?” asked Parks. He leered at Sarah. “You’re a pretty thing. Did old man Cartwright trade some blankets to the Piautes to get you to warm his kid’s bed for him?”
Wheeling around, Joe threw his balled left hand at Parks, landing a punch solidly on the cowboy’s chin. Parks was both too surprised and too drunk to react. He staggered backwards and tripped, falling to the ground on his back. As he lay sprawled in the street, Parks reached for the gun on his hip. But Joe saw his hand move, and pulled his own pistol out with lightning speed. He fired a shot into the ground a few feet from where Parks laid on the dirt street. Parks hand froze, poised over his pistol.
“You shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you,” said Joe angrily.
“Joe, don’t!” cried Sarah in a frightened voice.
Ignoring Sarah’s plea, Joe said in a hard voice to Parks, “I think you owe the lady an apology.”
Lying in the dirt, Parks seemed unsure what to do. “I ain’t apologizing to no Injun,” he said brazenly. But he kept his eyes fixed on the gun in Joe’s hand. The sound of a gunshot attracted people toward the end of the street, Roy Coffee among them. The sheriff pushed his way through the growing crowd, then stood between Joe and Parks. “What’s going on here?” demanded Coffee.
“He insulted the lady, and when I gave him what he deserved, he tried to draw on me,” answered Joe, his gaze still on Parks.
“I didn’t do nothing,” whined Parks. He started to get up, then lost his balance, falling back to the ground in a heap.
“You’re drunk, Parks,” said Roy Coffee, the disgust in his voice matching Joe’s tone of a few minutes previously. He walked over and grabbed the back of the shirt of the cowboy sprawled on the ground. Pulling Parks to his feet, Coffee added, “I think you’d better sleep it off in the jail.”
“I didn’t do nothing,” said Parks again, this time angrily.
“You’re going to have to sleep off that drunk someplace,” replied the sheriff, “and the jail is just as good a place as any to do it. It will keep you out of trouble. Let’s go.”
As Roy Coffee nudged Parks not too gently toward the jail, Parks turned to look over his shoulder. “I’ll get even with you, Cartwright,” he growled threateningly.
Shrugging, Joe merely holstered his gun and watched as Roy Coffee led Parks toward the sheriff’s office. The small crowd that had gathered started to drift away, evidently deciding that the flurry of excitement was over.
“I wish you hadn’t done that, Joe,” said Sarah from behind Joe.
Turning, Joe saw that Sarah’s eyes were wide with fright. “Don’t worry about Parks,” he said with a reassuring smile. “He’s just a drunk, full of hot air. Besides, I couldn’t let him get away with what he said.”
“I’ve been called a lot worse,” said Sarah, looking down. “It wouldn’t have bothered me if we had just walked away.”
“Just walked away!” said Joe in astonishment. “After what he said? I’m surprised you didn’t slap him yourself.”
Looking around her anxiously, Sarah said, “I meant, well, I didn’t want to attract so much attention on my first visit to town.”
Realizing the cause of Sarah’s discomfort, Joe looked down. “I’m sorry,” he said with sincere regret. “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.” He looked at Sarah and gave her a small smile. “Guess Roy was right about me not having any brains.”
“It’s all right,” said Sarah. She took a step forward. “Are you all right? You didn’t hurt your shoulder, did you?” she asked with concern. Rolling his eyes, Joe said with exaggerated patience, “No, I didn’t hurt my shoulder. I’m fine.” He looked down the street. “We’d better get back to the wagon. Pa and Jacob will probably be waiting for us.”
As Joe had predicted, Jacob and Ben were standing near the buckboard in front of the General Store as Sarah and Joe approached.
“What was all the commotion?” asked Jacob anxiously.
“I’ll tell you about it later,” said Sarah vaguely. “Did you get everything taken care of?”
Jacob looked at Sarah for a moment before answering. Evidently deciding not to pursue his question, he smiled. “Yes, we now own a ranch. Or at least we will as soon as we get the deed recorded.” Jacob reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out a small wad of bills. “This should cover everything on your list. I hope.”
“It will,” said Sarah briskly, reaching for the money. She stuck the bills in the pocket of her skirt. “Go finalize the deed. I have shopping to do.”
“Yes ma’am,” said Jacob, giving his wife a small salute. He turned to Ben. “Let’s get out of here before she starts having me pick out curtain material.”
Giving out a small laugh, Ben clapped Jacob lightly on the back and the two men started down the street.
As Sarah started into the store, she noticed Joe was still standing next to the buckboard. “Are you going to come in with me?” she asked Joe, somewhat surprised that he wasn’t by her side.
“I wasn’t sure if you wanted me to,” answered Joe, looking down. “I haven’t exactly been a lot of help so far.”
“Nonsense,” replied Sarah. “It’s not every day that I have my honor defended so gallantly.” Then she gave Joe an ironic smile. “Besides, since Jacob isn’t here, I need you to help me pick out the curtain material.”
Giving a sigh of relief, Joe took a few steps to join Sarah. “Well, I don’t think I’m gong to be much help there either,” said Joe wryly.
“We’ll see,” answer Sarah. She took another step and pushed open the door of the General Store. A middle-aged man, wearing a white shirt covered by an apron, looked up from behind the counter as Sarah and Joe entered the store. A look of surprise crossed the man’s face, then quickly disappeared, replaced by a look that was carefully blank.
“Good morning, Joe,” said the man almost cautiously. “How can I help you?”
“Morning, Mr. Harris,” replied Joe, trying not to get angry at the store owner for ignoring Sarah. He had learned his lesson about stepping in when his interference may not be wanted. “This is Sarah Red Feather. She and her husband, Jacob, have bought the Pearson place. Sarah has a whole list of things she needs.”
Harris looked at Sarah, then turned to Joe. “Are you Cartwrights going to stand good for the costs?” he asked.
“That won’t be necessary,” said Sarah smoothly. She reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out the wad of bills. “I’ll pay cash.”
Seeing the money in Sarah’s hand, Harris suddenly smiled at her. “Yes, ma’am,” he agreed. “How can I help you?”
“I have a list,” replied Sarah, reaching into her pocket again to put the money away. She pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to Harris. “If you wouldn’t mind pulling together some of these items, I want to look at some material.”
Taking the list, Harris looked at it briefly then nodded. “Sure,” he said. “I’ll get started. You’ll find the material on the shelf against the wall.”
As Harris walked to a small storeroom behind the counter, Sarah turned to Joe. “Want to help?”
Looking at Sarah with admiration, Joe ignored her question. “You handled Harris just like you handled Mrs. Polk,” he admitted. “Guess maybe I should just stay out of things and let you deal with people.”
“I’ve had a lot of practice at it, Joe,” Sarah said. “Jacob has taught me not to take things too much to heart. People only upset you if you let them.” She turned toward the back of the store. “Now, let’s go look at material.”
Down the street, Ben and Jacob also faced a man behind a counter. This one also was middle-aged but wore vest and string tie instead of an apron. But the man’s reaction was similar to Harris’ as Ben and Jacob walked into the County Recorder’s office.
“Good morning, Mr. Cartwright,” said the man heartily. “How can I help you today.” He glanced briefly at Jacob, then turned his attention to Ben.
“Good morning, Mr. Carter,” said Ben. “I’ve just sold the Pearson place to Jacob here. We want to record the transfer of the deed.”
Surprise crossed Carter’s face as he looked at Jacob. “To him?’ said Carter.
“Yes, to him,” said Ben firmly. He pulled a piece of paper out of his vest pocket. “The deed is signed and witnessed. I would like you to record it.”
“Of course,” said Carter quickly. He reached down under the counter and pulled out a ledger. Opening the book, he flipped a few pages, then ran his finger down the a page. “Taxes on the Pearson place is fifty dollars a year,” said Carter. “They’ve been paid for this year.”
Looking up, Carter turned to Jacob. “You understand you’ll owe taxes in the spring,” he said to Jacob. Speaking slowly, as if to a child, Carter continued. “When the snow melts, you must bring me fifty dollars in white man’s money. No blankets, no beads. You must pay the Great White Father in paper money or you can not stay on the land.”
“I understand the taxes and the implications if I don’t pay,” answered Jacob in amusement. “I also understand the assessment can’t increase until I’ve owned the ranch for at least a year.”
Carter’s mouth dropped open in astonishment at both Jacob’s perfect English and his comprehension of the tax law.
Standing next to Jacob, Ben began to laugh, covering his amusement quickly with a cough. “Mr. Carter,” said Ben, trying not to chuckle, “if you wouldn’t mind recording the deed, we would like to get things finalized.”
Tearing his eyes away from Jacob, Carter said quickly, “Yes, yes, of course.” He put his head down, suddenly finding the information in his ledge to be of great interest.
“I’ll pay the transfer fee,” said Ben, reaching into the pocket of his vest.
“You don’t have to do that, Ben, “ protested Jacob mildly.
“I want to,” Ben replied in a firm voice. “Just a small way of welcoming you to our community. Besides it’s only a few dollars.”
“Thank you, Ben,” said Jacob. “We are looking forward to living here.”
As Ben put three silver dollars on the counter, he saw Carter looking at Jacob with surprise. Ben wasn’t sure if it was because Jacob was seemed to be eager to live in the area or because of the Indian’s easy familiarity with the patriarch of the Cartwrights. “Everything all right, Mr. Carter?” Ben asked, a smile twitching on his lips.
“What? Oh yes, everything is in order,” replied Carter quickly. He made some marks in the ledger, then offered the deed to Ben.
Looking at Ben with raised eyebrows, Jacob took the deed from Carter’s hand. “I believe this is mine now.”
“Of course,” said Carter. “Welcome to the Washoe, Mr…er, um,…welcome.”
“Thank you,” said Jacob, tucking the deed into his pants pocket. He turned to Ben. “Shall we go see if my wife has cleaned out the General Store?”
As Ben and Jacob left the Land Office and headed down the street, Ben said to Jacob, “I’m sorry about how Carter acted in there.”
Shrugging, Jacob answered, “It wasn’t your fault.” Then he grinned. “Besides, I kind of enjoyed the look on his face when I answered him.”
“I’ll bet you did,” said Ben with a laugh.
Nearing the store, Ben was pleased to see Joe sitting on a bench on the porch as Harris carried a box loaded with pans from the shop. “I’m glad to see you had enough sense not to try to load the wagon,” Ben said to his son as he stepped on the porch.
“Well, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to,” admitted Joe. He shifted his arm slightly in the sling. “I started to reach for this little package and Sarah gave me such a fierce look, I put it down right away. I thought she was going to slap my hand.”
“I know that look,” said Jacob. “It’s enough to scare the meanest grizzly. I’d better go in and see if I can help. Maybe I can stop Sarah from buying out the entire place while I’m at it.”
As Jacob went into the shop, Ben turned to his son. He saw Joe staring at the wagon with a frown. “What’s wrong, Joe?” Ben asked. Looking startled, Joe shook his head. “Sorry, I was just thinking,” he replied. Then he added, “I just wanted everything to go smoothly for Jacob and Sarah today. Instead, all I did was make everyone uncomfortable.” Joe shook his head again. “I guess I messed it up.”
“You probably were trying too hard,” answered Ben. “Jacob and Sarah don’t want to be treated different or special. They just want to be treated like everyone else. When you went out of your way to try to make things better for them, well, it probably did make them uncomfortable.”
“I was just trying to help,” protested Joe. “It’s hard to act like Sarah and Jacob are just anyone, when half the people in town were giving them strange looks or ignoring them.”
“I know you wanted to help, Joe,” Ben said gently. “But let me ask you this. Did Sarah or Jacob ask for your help?”
Giving his father a surprised look, Joe admitted, “Well, no, not exactly.”
“You just assumed that they needed your help, and that you knew how to handle things better than they did without even asking,” said Ben. “In a way, you were treating them with the same lack of courtesy and respect as some of the other people in Virginia City. You figured you knew what was best for them. You treated them like they didn’t know enough to handle their own problems. Instead, you jumped right in and did what YOU thought was best for them. You did what you wanted, not what Sarah and Jacob might have wanted.”
“I guess you’re right,” said Joe slowly. “But it feels kind of funny asking them if they want me to help.”
“Of course it does,” agreed Ben. “But there are other ways of letting Sarah and Jacob know you are ready to help if they want or need it. You don’t need to come right out an ask.”
“It’s not easy,” said Joe with a sigh.
“No, it isn’t, “Ben said. “And it’s hard not to do anything when people act as if Sarah and Jacob are, well, not as capable or deserving of respect as white folks. But Sarah and Jacob have faced these problems for most of their lives. They have their own way of handling them. You have to show them enough respect to let them handle things as they prefer. “
“I just want them to be seen as people, “ said Joe. “And not judged by the color of the skin.”
“It’s not a perfect world, Joe,” Ben said. “People can be intolerant or just plain stupid. But you can’t fight all of Sarah and Jacob’s battles for them. That’s treating them like they were children.”
“But you can’t expect me to just stand by and do nothing when people treat them like dirt,” protested Joe.
“No, I wouldn’t expect that,” said Ben. “But there’s other ways of letting people know that their behavior is unacceptable without using your fists or your gun. And I think the people of Virginia City are basically good people. They’ll come around. Just give them a little time.”
“I hope so,” said Joe fervently.
Looking around, Ben said with a small frown on his face, “Was there anything else we needed to do in town? I want to make sure we get everything taken care of while we’re here.”
“Oh, Mrs. Polk was looking for you,” said Joe, with a grin. “Something about a school calendar.”
Groaning, Ben said, “You didn’t tell her where I was, did you?”
“No, but I promised I would tell you that she wanted to see you,” said Joe.
“Well, you’ve told me,” said Ben. “It’s just too bad that I’m too busy to go see her.”
“Too busy?” asked Joe in surprise. “Doing what?”
“Helping Jacob load the wagon and whatever else I can think of,” said Ben taking a step toward the store. “And Joe, if you should see her coming, you’ll warn me, won’t you?”
“I thought you said something about treating people with courtesy and respect,” teased Joe.
“I do treat Mrs. Polk with courtesy and respect, Joseph,” Ben chided his son. Then he grinned. “When I see her, that is. I just don’t necessarily want to have to go out of my way to see her.”
“This ol’ ranch don’t look like the same place,” commented Hoss as he rode into the yard of what the Cartwrights now called Jacob’s ranch. Almost a month had passed since Jacob had taken possession of the deed to the ranch, and in that month, he had transformed the place. The corral fence now stood solid and complete, and the barn looked almost new, with the missing slats and broken door replaced and a coat of red paint. The house also had received a coat of paint, and yard grass neatly trimmed. A budding garden was outlined in stones near the house, and small shoots of green were poking their way through the dirt. It the distant meadow beyond the bard, dots of brown cattle could be seen grazing contentedly. If anyone had praised Jacob for the transformation, however, he would have been the first to say the Cartwrights had played a big role in making the ranch sparkle. Not only had they supplied the wood and the cattle, but also the manpower for the work. Ben, Adam, and Hoss had taken turns at delivering materials and cows to the ranch, and each had stayed to help with whatever work needed to be done. The most frequent visitor to Jacob’s ranch had been Joe. At first, he had been allowed only to ride over in the wagon with one of his brothers, and once at the ranch, Sarah had insisted Joe lift nothing heavier than a paintbrush. Once Sarah and his father had finally declared Joe fit, he rode his pinto to the ranch two or three afternoons each week, helping his new friend with the repairs. Often, Joe had ended up eating dinner with Sarah and Jacob, enjoying Jacob’s stories about both his travels with Father Paul and his wanderings in search for gold, as much as Sarah’s cooking. Now that the ranch was in shape, Jacob had decided it was time to add horses to his operation. And once more, the Cartwrights were ready to help, this time to help round up some of the wild horses in the hills.
“Hey, Jacob,” shouted Joe as he and his brothers rode up to the house. “You ready to go?” Joe stopped his pinto near a saddled horse that was tied to a new hitching post outside the house. Adam and Hoss pulled their horses to a halt next to Joe.
The door to the house opened, and Jacob walked out wearing the print shirt and blue pants in which Joe had first seen him. “Good morning, Joe,” he greeted his friend. “Morning, Adam, Hoss, “ he added as he walked toward the horse. “Thank you for coming along.”
“We’re happy to help,” said Adam. “Beside, little brother here needs all the help he can get when it comes to rounding up horses.”
“That’s right,” Hoss said with a grin. “Joe talks a good game, but you’re better off having the experts in the Cartwright family with you.”
“Yeah,” commented Joe wryly. “Experts at getting out of work. You two volunteered to help awful fast once Pa mentioned something about riding fence.”
Climbing onto his horse, Jacob smiled. He had gotten used to hearing the good-natured teasing among the Cartwrights. He found it amusing, even as he realized it was a sign of the warm feelings the close-knit family had for one another.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” called Sarah as she came out of the house to stand on the now solid porch. She turned to her husband. “How long will you be, Jacob?”
“Probably most of the day,” answered Jacob. “And that’s if we get lucky and find a herd of wild horses, “ he added ruefully.
“We’ll find them,” stated Adam positively. “One of the hand saw a herd up near Elk Ridge less than a week ago. They’ll stick pretty close to the grass and water up there for awhile.”
“You’re welcome to join us for dinner when you get back,” Sarah invited.
“We’d like to, ma’am,” answered Hoss. “But Hop Sing is counting on us for dinner, and you know how he gets when he cooks up a storm and nobody’s there to eat it.”
“I’ll be happy to join you,” said Joe. “I already told Hop Sing – and Pa – that I was going to stay and help you get the horses settled.”
“I’m going to have to start paying you wages soon, Joe,” smiled Jacob.
“We should be paying you, Jacob,” said Adam. “You’re keeping Joe so busy that he hasn’t had any time to get into trouble. It’s the quietest month we’ve ever had on the Ponderosa in years.”
“Very funny,” said Joe dryly.
Laughing, Jacob turned his horse away from the house. “Let’s go find some horses,” he said, kicking the animal into a canter.
True to his words, Adam led the other men to the herd of wild horses in just a few hours. The animals were grazing in a wide meadow, the mares contentedly chewing the new grass while the stallion stood a watchful guard. The herd was large – 15 horses in all – but all the animals looked to be in prime condition.
“The stallion’s the important one,” commented Hoss as he and the other men watched the herd from the shadows of some trees on the edge of the meadow. “If we can get a rope on him, those mares will follow him.”
“Easier said than done,” said Adam. “He’s not going to let us just ride up and put a rope around him.”
“What if two of us worked our way around to the other side of the meadow?” suggested Joe. “The other two could run the herd right at us, and we could rope the stallion as he goes by. We could get a couple of the mares, too, maybe. That would insure the rest of the herd would follow us.”
“Might work, little brother,” Hoss agreed. He turned to Jacob. “How good are you at roping?”
“I can probably lasso a steer if he’s walking slow,” admitted Jacob. “But I don’t think I could catch a running horse without divine intervention.”
“Well, since we can’t count on that, I think Hoss and Joe should do the roping, “ Adam said. “You and I can do the pushing.” He turned to Joe and Hoss. “Work your way up by those rocks at the far end, and give us a wave of that big hat of Hoss’ when you’re ready.
We’ll run them toward you.” He gave his brothers a small smile. “We’ll probably only have one chance, unless you want to chase these horses all over Nevada, so do it right the first time.”
“Not to worry, older brother,” said Joe, unlooping a rope from his saddle. “You just get those horses to us, and Hoss and I will take care of the rest.” He guided his horse back into the trees, with Hoss following slowly behind.
As Adam and Jacob waited patiently in the shadows, they could see the stallion looking around nervously. The horse obviously sensed something, but couldn’t quite figure out what was making him edgy. “He’s a smart horse,” commented Jacob as he watched the stallion pawing at the ground and sniffing the air. “He knows something is up. He’s just not sure what.”
“He’s got a nice conformation, and looks fairly young,” said Adam. “You keep him and a couple of the mares, and you’ll have the breeding stock you need to start a nice little herd on your own.”
“I couldn’t manage this without you and your brothers,” Jacob admitted. “I’m really grateful for the help.”
“Glad to do it,” said Adam with a small shrug. He grinned suddenly. “Besides, like I said, you’re keeping Joe busy and out of trouble, so we’re the ones who are grateful to you.”
“Joe’s a good young man,” answered Jacob. “He’s just full of high spirits. And I’m happy to have him around the ranch. He knows more about ranching than most of the men twice his age.”
“Agreed on both points,” said Adam. “Just don’t let him know I said that.” A flash of white in the distance caught Adam’s eye. He leaned forward in his saddle, then said, “That’s the signal from Hoss.”
“What now?” asked Jacob.
“Now we ride at those horses, yelling and waving so they’ll start running to Hoss and Joe,” answered Adam. “And we hope Joe ropes that stallion.” Adam untied the rope from his saddle. “We also might try and rope one or two of those mares while we’re at it.”
Untying his own rope from his saddle, Jacob said, “I don’t know if I can actually catch something, but I’ll give it a try.” Then he added with a grin. “But I do have a pretty good war hoop. If nothing else, I can get those horses running.”
“Then, let’s go, Geronimo,” said Adam. He tugged on his hat, pulling it snugly on his head, and uncoiled the rope in his hand. Adam looked at Jacob, gave him a quick nod, then kicked his horse forward. As his horse started to run, Adam began yelling and twirling his rope. Imitating Adam, Jacob also kicked his horse forward and began twirling his rope. He began shrieking, giving out the war hoop of which he had bragged. Startled, the stallion and mares looked toward the riders for a few seconds, then turned and began to run. The stallion, big and faster than the others, quickly moved to the front of the herd. He was confidently leading the herd toward the other end of the meadow, away from the screaming figures that had emerged from the trees, when two other riders suddenly galloped from behind the rocks ahead of him. These riders also were yelling and twirling ropes. Skidding to a halt, the stallion turned a bit, confused and unsure where to go. The mares behind him also slowed and began milling around. The stallion had just about decided to start running again when the noose of a lasso fell over his head and around his neck.
“Got him!” shouted Joe excitedly, as he pulled the rope taut. From the corner of his eye, Joe could see Hoss roping one of the mares.
But Joe’s full attention turned back to the stallion quickly. The horse on the end of his rope was bucking and pulling against the rope, screaming a protest against being captured. Joe quickly wound the end of the rope around his saddle horn, and held the line tightly with his left hand. The stallion began to thrash even harder, trying to free himself.
“I don’t know if I can hold him,” shouted Joe frantically. The rope was beginning to unravel from around his saddle horn.
Suddenly, from the side of the herd, Jacob came toward the stallion. He rode slowly, making an odd, chirping noise as he approached the stallion. Despite his screams, the horse at end of Joe’s rope must have heard Jacob. The stallion stopped screaming and bucking. The horse pulled against the rope a few more times, then suddenly stood still. Amazed, Joe watched as Jacob continued toward the stallion, still making the chirping sound. The horse looked at Jacob cautiously but continued to stand still. Jacob slowed his horse to a walk then stopped next to the stallion. The chirping turned into a low chant as Jacob reached out a hand toward the stallion’s nose. The horse sniffed Jacob’s hand, and seemed to find the scent acceptable.
“I’ll take him, Joe,” said Jacob in a quiet voice as he reached up to grab the line between the stallion and his young friend.
Releasing the rope, Joe shook his head. “Where did you learn that trick?” he asked, still not quite believing what he had seen.
“A old Sioux taught it to me,” answered Jacob. “He claimed it was a way to talk to a horse, to assure him that no harm would come to him. I don’t know if I believe that, but it works.”
“You’re quite a fellow,” said Hoss, as he led the mare he had roped toward the other men. “You speak English, Sioux, and horse!”
Laughing, Jacob looked over his shoulder to where Adam was riding up, also leading a mare he had roped. “I missed my animal, “ Jacob admitted to him.
“I know,” said Adam. He looked toward the stallion. “I saw what you did with him, though. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it.”
Shrugging, Jacob answered, “I had to contribute something more to this roundup besides my war hoop.” He turned back to Joe and Hoss. “Let’s get these horses back. I’m ready for one of Sarah’s dinners.”
A short time later, Jacob was leading the herd slowly down the hill from the meadow. The stallion was trotting beside him, not necessarily contentedly but at least not resisting the rope around his neck that Jacob was using to lead him. Hoss rode next to Jacob, leading a mare. The rest of the herd was following the two riders and their captive animals placidly, as Adam and Joe rode flank to keep the horses tightly bunched. The riders and herd had reached the bottom of the hill and were starting across a wide pasture when three riders came toward them. The trio appeared to have been hunting. A small pack-horse followed them, a slain deer and several bundles tied across it’s back. One of the riders stopped his horse, and said something over his shoulder to the other two. The he kicked his horse forward, urging him at a gallop in the direction of Jacob and the Cartwrights.
“Hey, whatcha doing with those horses!” shouted the rider as he approached the herd.
Pulling the horses to a halt, Hoss’ nose wrinkled in distaste. He recognized the man who had shouted at him as Newly Watson. Hoss’ opinion of Watson was just as unfavorable as his brothers.
“We rounded them up,” answered Hoss briefly.
“Them’s my horses,” protested Watson. He turned to Joe, who was riding up to the front of the herd. “Didn’t I tell you I was going to round them up and sell them to the Army? Didn’t I tell you that, boy?”
Joe’s eyes narrowed at Watson’s words. “You told me you were THINKING about rounding up some horses,” answer Joe coldly. “But that was about a month ago.”
“But I told you I was gonna do it,” argued Watson. “I told you. You ain’t got no right to take them horses. Not after I told you that I was planning to round ‘em up.”
“And just when were you planning to round up these horses?” asked Adam who had also ridden to the front of the herd.
“I was going to get around to it,” said Watson. “I just ain’t had time. I didn’t figure you Cartwrights were going to steal them out from under me.”
“Appears to me you had plenty of time to go after these horses if you wanted them, “ said Hoss. “You waited too long, Newly. These horses belong to Jacob now.”
Looking toward the Indian who was sitting stoically next to Hoss, Watson’s face grew red. “You mean him?” he shouted angrily. “You gonna give them horses to this half-breed!”
“No,” replied Adam quietly. “We’re not giving Jacob anything. These horses are his. We’re just helping him.”
“He’s just a breed!” exclaimed Watson in an enraged tone. “He don’t deserve nothin’. He ain’t fit to do nothing but crawl in the dirt.”
“I’d watch my mouth if I were you, Newly,” said Hoss, his hand moving to rest on the pistol tied to his hip. “Jacob ain’t done nothing to you. Now if you’re smart, you and your friends will ride out of here before somebody gets hurt.”
Frowning, Watson looked at Hoss, then turned to glance at both Adam and Joe. The other two Cartwrights were watching him with cold eyes, the hands also resting on their pistols. He knew if he made a move toward the rifle resting in the scabbard on his saddle, he’d have a bullet in him – probably three – before his hand close around the weapon.
“All right,” muttered Watson. “You take them horses. I’ll find me some others.” He turned to the two men who had been riding with him. They had ridden up slowly to watch the confrontation. Neither had made a move to help Watson, but their faces reflected hostility. “Come on,” Watson said to the men. “Let’s get out of here. I don’t like the smell around here, and I ain’t talking about horses.” Watson started to ride away, then suddenly stopped. He turned back toward Jacob. “You stay out of my way, Injun,” warned Watson. “You cross me again, and I’ll show you how I deal with breeds.” Kicking his horse almost savagely, Watson turned and rode off. The two other men and the pack-horse followed him.
“That Watson is nothing but a lazy fool,” said Hoss in disgust. “Somebody should have found an excuse to put him in jail a long time ago.”
“He can be trouble, though,” added Adam. “I’d stay clear of him if I were you, Jacob.”
“I intend to, “ Jacob said. A wry smile crossed his face. “I’m not sure what he does with ‘breeds’ but I have a feeling it isn’t pleasant.
“If he gives you any trouble, you just let me know, “ said Joe in an almost angry voice. “I’ll be happy to show Watson what trouble really is.”
“You stay out Watson’s way, too, little brother,” said Hoss. “He’d just as soon take a crack at you as Jacob. He ain’t got much liking for the Cartwrights either.”
“I can handle Watson,” replied Joe confidently.
“Hoss is right, Joe,” said Jacob. “You keep out of it. If it comes to it, I can deal with Mr. Watson.” He smiled briefly. “I don’t plan to have any dealings with him, though. The easiest way to avoid trouble is to keep away from it.”
Looking down, Joe reddened a bit. He remembered what his father said about trying to fight Jacob’s battles for him. “Well, let me know if you need any help,” he mumbled.
Seeing the look on Joe’s face, Jacob said, “I appreciate the offer, Joe. I really do. Not many people are willing to help what Mr. Watson calls a ‘breed’. You and your family are good friends. I just wouldn’t want anything to happen to one of my friends because of me.”
Looking up, Joe nodded at Jacob. “Whatever you want to do, it’s your call. I just want you to know I’ll back you if you need it.”
“I know that,” said Jacob quietly. He took a deep breath. “Now, let’s get these horses moving before they start to stray all over Nevada.”
“They’re a pretty good looking herd of horses,” said Joe as he leaned against the corral fence. “Once they’re ready to ride, the Army will probably give you a pretty good price for them.”
Leaning next to fence next to Joe, Jacob merely nodded. He had been pleased when he and the Cartwrights had led the horses into the corral, and proud when his wife had enthusiastically praised the success of his venture. The Cartwrights gave him more credit than he deserved for rounding up the horses, but the look of pride on Sarah’s face had prevented Jacob from explaining what he felt was a rather minor role. But now, an hour after Adam and Hoss had ridden off, Jacob was beginning to feel a sense of uneasiness.
“How long should I wait to start breaking them?” Jacob asked in what he hoped was a casual voice.
“I’d give them a couple of days to get used to the idea of being penned up,” suggested Joe. “There’s plenty of room in the corral for them to move around. A few days of good feed and they’ll start thinking of this place as home.”
Once again, Jacob merely nodded his agreement.
“I think you should build the breaking corral over in the pasture,” Joe continued. “There’s plenty of room, and it’s not too far from the barn. Once you get a horse tamed, I’d take him into the barn so it can start getting used to the stall. About two weeks, they should be ready for the Army.”
“That sounds right,” said Jacob, but there was an odd catch in his voice.
Frowning Joe looked at his friend. “Something bothering you?” he asked.
“No, not really,” said Jacob. “It’s just that I’m going to need some help building the corral. And it’s probably a good idea if I had somebody else around when I’m breaking the horses.”
“You’re right,” agreed Joe. “I’ll talk to Pa about getting a couple of hands to come over.”
“No, I can’t ask your father for more help,” protested Jacob. “You and your family have done more than enough already.”
“Look, breaking horses isn’t a walk in the park,” said Joe. “A man can get hurt, even the best rider, and especially if he tries it alone.”
“You’re right,” agreed Jacob. He turned to stare at the horses milling around in the corral. After a minute, he said, “I’ll make this a business deal. You tell your father that I’ll give him twenty percent of whatever I get for the horses if he’ll lend me a couple of hands for two weeks.”
“That’s way too much,” said Joe. “Even if we give the hands a bonus for helping, we’ll still end up with more money that we’re paying them.”
“Maybe, but that’s the deal,” answered Jacob firmly. “You tell your father.”
“All right,” Joe said with a sigh. “I’m sure he’ll agree.”
The two men stood watching the horses in silence for several minutes. Finally, Jacob said in a tentative voice, “Which one do you think I should start with? That brown mare? She looks pretty calm.”
Turning to Jacob, Joe looked at his friend with a developing suspicion. “Jacob,” Joe asked slowly, “have you ever broken a horse before?”
“Sarah and I were in a town in Colorado when they were breaking a large herd of horses,” answered Jacob, a bit evasively. “It must have taken six men close to a month to break those horses.
“But have you ever sat on a bronc?” pressed Joe. “Have you ever actually ridden a wild horse before?”
“Well, I’ve seen it done,” answered Jacob slowly. “I know the theory behind how you’re supposed to do it.”
“Oh great,” said Joe, rolling his eyes. “You’ve seen it done. Jacob, seeing a horse broken and actually doing it is two entirely different things.”
“I sort of suspected that,” admitted Jacob. “But I’m sure I’ll catch on to how to do it.”
“You’ll catch on, all right,” said Joe shaking his head. “But only after you’ve got enough bruises to last you a year. That is, if you don’t break your neck first.” Joe took a deep breath. “I’ll show you how to break a horse.”
“You don’t have to do that,” said Jacob. “I’m sure one of the hands you send can show me.”
“Maybe,” Joe answered, “but if you want to learn how to do it right, you’d better let me show you.”
Jacob let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you, Joe,” he said gratefully. “I didn’t really want to ask for your help.”
Clapping Jacob lightly on the back, Joe smiled. “I told you I was ready to help you. All you have to do is ask. Besides, I still owe you for saving me from those Paiutes.”
“That debt, if there was one, has been more than paid,” said Jacob in a determined voice. “You don’t owe me a thing.”
“Well, then look at it this way,” grinned Joe. “This is my excuse to get to eat some of Sarah’s cooking. And your wife is a great cook.”
“She is that,” agreed Jacob, returning Joe’s grin. “In fact, I think it’s time for you and me to sample her cooking now.”
For the next few weeks, Joe essentially had two jobs to work. While Ben readily agreed to Jacob’s terms – although he also felt they were too generous – he felt he simply couldn’t spare Joe and a couple of hands to be at Jacob’s ranch for the next few weeks. Adam and Hoss were at the timber camp, supervising the logging and delivery of the timber needed to fill their contract with the Army for the new fort. Ben had been counting on Joe to assume some of his brothers’ duties around the ranch. As a result, a compromise had been devised. In the mornings, Joe did his work on the Ponderosa – routine chores as well as getting the hands started each day on the other various tasks that needed to be done. In the afternoon, Joe and three hands would ride over to Jacob’s ranch.
For the first week, Joe rotated the men he took with him, trying to find a combination of good horsemen and those who were comfortable working with Jacob. Not all the men were willing to work close with what some considered “a savage” while others who didn’t seem to mind being around Jacob lacked the skills Joe wanted. Finally, he found three men who met his needs, and the work on the horses that had been captured began in earnest. Building the corral and breaking the horses was the easy part, Joe decided. Teaching Jacob how to break a horse was much more difficult. It wasn’t that Jacob lacked enthusiasm for the job. If anything, the man was too eager to learn. While Joe patiently explained and showed Jacob how to stay on a bucking horse, he groaned softly as he watched his friend trying to put Joe’s lessons into practice. For the first week, Jacob stayed on the horses he tried to ride for only a few seconds – and collected all the bruises that Joe had predicted. When Joe had tried to convince Jacob to let him and the others break the horses for him, Jacob had stubbornly refused the offer. He was determined to learn, and was willing to put up with the aches and pains that seemed required as part of the process.
Just about the time Joe was convinced Jacob would break one of his bones before he actually broke a horse, Joe learned again of the Indian’s adaptability. Standing by the fence as Jacob mounted a horse, Joe took a half step forward, getting ready to replace Jacob on the bucking mare after his usual three or four seconds in the saddle. But Joe stopped as he saw the horse buck hard – and Jacob staying with him. Joe’s jaw dropped in amazement as the horse spun and bucked and spun again, and all the while Jacob stayed in the saddle as if he were glued to the leather. When Jacob rode the horse to standstill, Joe was too astonished to do anything but gape. The two hands sitting on the fence broke into a spontaneously fit of clapping and whistling as Jacob dismounted and handed the reins to the third hand who had ridden up to him. Jacob bowed slightly toward the audience on the fence, a wide grin on his face, then started toward Joe. Shaking himself out of his daze, Joe walked to meet Jacob, the grin on his face matching the Indian’s. “That was a great ride!” exclaimed Joe. “You rode him like you’ve been breaking horses for years instead of just a few days!”
Shrugging slightly, Jacob answered, “It just took me awhile to learn how to feel what the horse was going to do. Once I got that part down, it really just became a matter of staying relaxed and moving with the horse. Just like you said I should do.”
“I know that’s what I said,” replied Joe, still shaking his head in disbelief. “But that’s something that usually takes a long time to learn.”
“I’m a quick learner,” said Jacob, his grin widening.
“I’ll say you are!” answered Joe. His eyes narrowed a bit and he cocked his head at Jacob. “Do you think you can do it again?”
“Give me a chance to catch my breath, and then let’s find out,” Jacob said. But his voice implied that he was confident of a repeat performance. And repeat the ride is exactly what Jacob did. He waited until Joe and one of the other hands had each had a try at a horse. While Joe had ridden his mount until the horse finally allowed him to guide him, the hand had been thrown quickly by a bay mare. Jacob replaced the hand on the mare, and once more stayed with the horse until the animal came to a stop.
“Beautiful!” enthused Joe as Jacob dismounted for a second time. “I guess maybe my services will no longer be needed.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” replied Jacob with a twinkle in his eye. “Somebody still has to school those horses. I think you could do that.” He laughed as Joe groaned at the thought of the tedious task. “Seriously, Joe, there’s only four horses and the stallion left. I’d appreciate another few days of help.”
“You got it,” agreed Joe, “as long as all I have to do is break them, not teach them how to behave.”
“It’s a deal,” said Jacob, smiling.
“Listen, why don’t you and Sarah come over to the Ponderosa for dinner on Saturday,” said Joe suddenly. “Adam and Hoss are due back on Friday. We can have sort of a celebration.”
“We wouldn’t want to intrude on a family affair,” said Jacob in a hesitant voice.
“You wouldn’t be intruding,” insisted Joe. “Besides, Pa really would like to see you.” Joe grinned. “In fact, Pa would really like to see me. For the last two weeks, the only meal we’ve shared is a quick breakfast.”
“Well, if you’re sure…” said Jacob.
“I’m sure,” interrupted Joe in a firm voice. “Hop Sing will be happy as a clam when he finds out he’ll get to feed both you and Hoss. Look at it as payback for all the meals you and Sarah have been feeding me.” Joe had gotten into the habit of eating his noon meal and dinner with Sarah and Jacob. The hands had been invited also, but the men felt uncomfortable eating at a table in “the main house” as they called it. They had preferred to eat on their own or head back to the Ponderosa bunkhouse. Joe, on the other hand, had become a regular – and welcome – guest at the table. “As much as I’ve eaten at your dinner table for the past two weeks, it’s a wonder I’m not as big as Hoss,” added Joe.
“We like to keep our hired hands happy and well-fed,” said Jacob with a grin. Then he nodded. “All right, Saturday dinner at the Ponderosa it is. Thank you for the invitation.”
“You’re welcome anytime,” said Joe, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture. “Now, let’s get back to work.”
Saturday dinner at the Ponderosa was a meal filled with talk and punctuated with laugher. As Joe had predicted, his father and brothers were delighted to share the meal with Sarah and Jacob. Quiet discussion quickly turned into constant conversation as each man around the table tried to amuse the others with tales of the activities in which they had been involved for the past weeks. Grins and laughter from the others at the table encouraged each to them to offer a light-hearted account of some event as soon as there was a lull in the conversation.
In the kitchen, Hop Sing fumed as he listened to the talk and laughter. As much as he wanted the Cartwrights and guests to enjoy themselves, he had wanted them to enjoy their meal as well. He had worked hard preparing the lavish dinner, which from the sounds at the table, was being ignored. Finally, Hop Sing couldn’t stand the thought of his cooking being wasted any longer. He walked to the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, ready to chastise the diners for their lack of appreciation for the meal. But he stopped abruptly as he looked into the room, then turned back to the kitchen with a satisfied smile on his face. He had seen the empty platters and bowls, as well as the plates eaten clean, on the table. The cook was pleased that his meal seemed to have disappeared as rapidly as the talk was flying around the table. Sipping his coffee, Joe finished his story of Jacob’s ride on one of the mares, the last of a series of stories about his friend’s newly developed ability to tame horses. “It got so that me and the boys were riding the horses just to take the edge off of them, and then Jacob would get on and finish the job,” said Joe with a grin.
“Joe is making too much of it,” said Jacob modestly. “All I did was put into the practice the things he taught me.”
“I’ll bet that stallion was harder to break than them mares,” commented Hoss.
“I’ll say he was,” agreed Joe, shaking his head. “He tossed me twice, and Jacob once. It was the first time in three days I saw him hit the dirt.”
“When do you think you’ll have them horses ready to sell?” Hoss asked Jacob.
“A few more days should do it,” replied Jacob. “I thought I’d ride over on Wednesday or Thursday to where they’re building the fort, and talk to whomever is in charge to see if the army might have an interest buying them.”
“I may be able to save you a long ride,” said Adam. “I hope you don’t mind, but when Hoss and I delivered the last load of lumber to the fort, I talked with the Major in charge. He’s not only interested but eager to buy the horses, and at a pretty good price.”
“I appreciate your asking about the horses for me,” Jacob said gratefully. “It does save me having to ride over there twice.” He turned to Ben. “Looks like I have one last favor to ask, Ben. Do you think you could lend me Joe for a day or so to help me get the horses over to the fort?”
“Of course,” agreed Ben readily. “That is, if Joe doesn’t mind.”
“I don’t mind at all,” Joe chimed in. “I’d kind of like to see this project through to the end.”
He cocked his head as he looked at Jacob. “Think you’ll have those horses ready by Wednesday?”
“They’ll be ready,” answered Jacob confidently.
“That stallion is probably going to be a challenge to school,” Adam said. “A horse like that doesn’t take to following orders too well.” He looked at Joe and added. “He’s probably a lot like a younger brother of mine.”
“I follow orders,” Joe protested. Then he added with a smile, “When it suits me.”
When the laughter following Joe’s comment died down, Jacob said, “The stallion has a mind of his own, there’s no doubt. But he and I finally came to an understanding. In fact, I rode him over here.”
“You’re kidding!” exclaimed Joe.
“No,” said Jacob, shaking his head. “He’s tied to your hitching post outside right now.”
“This I have to see,” said Joe, pushing himself away from the table. “I didn’t think you’d ever get that stallion to calm down.”
As Joe headed for the door, Jacob stood and turned to Ben. “Please excuse me,” he said politely, then grinned. “I think I’d better go outside before your son steals my horse.”
“I’m afraid Joe has more enthusiasm than manners sometimes,” said Ben, shaking his head. “Of course, please join him.” He looked at his other sons, and noted the keen interest on their faces. “You two go ahead, ” added Ben. “I know you want to see that horse too.”
“Thanks, Pa,” said Hoss quickly as he and Adam stood and followed Jacob from the table.
In the sudden quiet that descended on the dining room, Ben turned to Sarah, who still sat at the table, sipping her coffee. “I hope you didn’t feel ignored, Sarah,” he said solicitously. “You didn’t get a chance to say much.”
“I enjoyed just listening,” Sarah assured Ben. She looked down at her plate for a minute, as if trying to make up her mind about something. Almost shyly, she lifted her head and looked at Ben. “I hope you don’t mind Joe coming over to our ranch so much.”
“What?” Ben said in a startled voice. “Of course, I don’t mind. In fact, I’m pleased about it. Joe’s at that age when he can be easily influenced. I’m glad he has someone like Jacob as a friend, someone who is a positive influence.”
“Jacob is so glad to have Joe around the ranch,” said Sarah. “He thinks of Joe as sort of the younger brother he never had. I’ve never seen him happier. I’m very grateful to you for sharing your son with us.”
“I’m the one who should be grateful,” Ben said. “Especially to you for becoming part of Joe’s life.” He looked off for a moment and then turned back to Sarah. “Joe has never really known what it’s like to have a mother. Adam and Hoss both had a mother in their lives, even though it was for a short time. But Joe’s mother died when he was very young, and he really doesn’t remember her. He’s been raised in a household of men. Joe’s had women friends, of course, but I’ve always regretted that he’s grown up without out those, well, I guess I’d call it womanly influences.”
“Joe has grown into a fine young man,” said Sarah. “You’ve done a wonderful job of raising him.”
“Thank you,” acknowledged Ben. “But it’s a comfort to me to know he has someone like you in his life. Someone who might soften those rough edges in a way than Adam, Hoss and I never could.”
Suddenly, the front door banged open, and Joe burst back into the house. “Pa,” said Joe as he rushed back to the dining room. “You have to come outside and see the stallion. Jacob has him practically eating out of the palm of his hand.” Without waiting for a reply, Joe turned and hurried toward the door again.
“See what I mean about the rough edges,” said Ben with a sigh.
“I’m not sure I would want to soften them too much,” said Sarah. “I’d hate to see Joe lose his enthusiasm for life.” The sound of the front door slamming shut interrupted her reply. “But,” continued Sarah with a smile, “maybe there are a few things I might be able to persuade Joe to think about.”
Raising his eyebrows, Ben said, “Like how to enter and leave a house without waking the dead?”
“Well, I can try,” agreed Sarah. “But it could be a bit of a challenge to get him to listen.”
A voice called from outside the house. “Pa, come out and see this!” Joe’s strident voice could be heard through the thick walls of the ranch house. Once more, Ben sighed. “Sarah, getting Joe to listen sometimes isn’t a challenge. Sometimes it takes a downright miracle.” He shook his head. “We’d better get outside and take a look before he comes back in and drags us out there.”
“Doesn’t look like much of a fort yet, does it?” said Joe as he stopped his horse on the crest of a hill. He held a lead rope to which the halters of four horses were tied, four of the horses Jacob planned to sell to the Army.
“Not yet,” agreed Jacob as he stopped his horse and the four mares he was leading next to Joe. Jacob was sitting on the newly tamed stallion, and, to an unknowing eye, both rider and horse seemed very comfortable with each other. It was fact that still amazed Joe.
“I guess the fact that they’re still getting organized is a good sign,” Joe said. “Means they’re looking for lots things to get them started, including horses.” He continued to gaze at the half-built structure below him. The back and two sides of the fort were up, and inside the fort, a number of men were working on constructing the buildings in which the troop would be housed and fed. What would be the yard of the fort seemed filled with lumber, boxes and piles of material covered with tarp. A number of large tents were set up outside the walls, and men in uniforms were moving both between the tents and toward the construction area. A roughly built corral holding six or seven horses stood several feet to the left of the tents. “What’s the name of that major Adam told us to see?” asked Joe as he watched the activity below.
Reaching into the pocket of his pants, Jacob pulled out a slip of paper. “Browning,” he read from the slip.
“Well, let’s go see if Major Browning wants to buy some horses,” said Joe with a wry grin. He kicked his pinto lightly, starting the horse forward as he pulled a bit on the lead rope. The mares he was leading started after Joe. Jacob followed, allowing a few feet of space between the horses Joe was leading and his own string of animals.
No one seemed to notice as Jacob and Joe rode slowly up to the tents with their horses in tow. All of the soldiers seemed intent on their own business, either walking toward some destination or studying papers in their hands. Joe stopped a few feet from a tall, well-built man wearing a uniform with sergeant’s stripes. “Hey, Sarge,” Joe called. “Where can we find Major Browning?”
The sergeant looked up from a large sheet of paper he had been reading, and stared at Joe and Jacob for several minutes without answering. Finally, the soldier cocked his head to the left and said, “Over by the corral. Tall, thin fellow with a mustache.”
“Thanks,” acknowledged Joe. He turned his horse and walked the pinto and the mares he was leading toward the corral. The sergeant watched as Jacob and Joe headed toward the corral, then shrugged slightly, as if deciding the two strangers were none of his concern. He turned back to the paper in his hand.
Even without the sergeant’s accurate description, Joe would have been able to spot Major Browning. Not only did the officer’s uniform give him away, but Joe would have figured the man by corral holding a sheaf a papers and shouting orders was likely to be the one in charge of things. Once more, Joe pulled his pinto to a halt, this time a few feet from the major. “Major Browning?” called Joe.
“Yes, yes, what is it?” replied the officer near the corral turning slightly. He appeared to have a slightly harried air about him.
“My name’s Joe Cartwright, “ said Joe. “My brother Adam said you were interested in buying some horses.”
“Cartwright?” Browning said with a slight frown. “Oh yes, I remember. He mentioned something about it last week when that lumber shipment arrived.” The major looked past Joe to the horses he led. “Are they saddle broke?”
“Saddle broke, schooled and ready to ride,” answered Joe enthusiastically. “My friend Jacob and I have a real nice string of horses to sell you.”
“Fine,” said the major, still look distracted. “Lead them over to the corral. I’ll join you shortly and take a look at them.”
Nodding toward Jacob, Joe again started the horses at a walk, this time covering the few feet to the corral. As Jacob stopped his horses near Joe, he looked around. “Doesn’t seem to be many soldiers around,” he commented. Turning to look into the corral, Jacob added, “Or many horses.”
“Probably out on patrol or something,” replied Joe. “Just because the fort isn’t built doesn’t mean the Army isn’t doing it’s work.”
Joe and Jacob waited patiently by the corral for about ten minutes before Major Browning hurried over to them. As he approached, Browning glanced toward the hills from which Joe and Jacob had ridden, as he were looking for someone.
“Let me take a look at the horses,” said Browning almost curtly. He walked up to one of the mares and began to run his hand over the animal’s chest and legs.
“They’re in fine condition,” said Joe as the major examined the mare. “Good stock and nicely schooled. You won’t find a better string.”
“I’ll decide that,” replied Browning shortly as he moved to look at a second horse. He examined that animal, then stopped to look up toward the hills again. After a minute, Browning turned back to examine yet another horse, but he stopped when he heard a noise behind him. Turning quickly, Browning looked expectantly, then seemed disappointed when he saw only a wagon loaded with boards rattling by. A bit exasperated by the major’s lack of attention on his animals, Joe said, “Look, major, I know we kind of showed up unexpectedly. If this isn’t a good time, we can camp over by the foot of those hills and come back later when you’ve got time to look at the horses.”
Looking a bit startled, Browning turned to Joe. He looked as if he were going to reply in anger but his face suddenly softened. “I’m sorry,” he said almost with a sigh. “I am a bit distracted. I’m hoping a patrol we sent out will be back. But you’re right. I should be doing my job. And we need some good horses.”
“Indian trouble?” asked Joe with a frown.
“No, at least, I don’t think so,” replied Browning, shaking his head. He hesitated a moment, then continued. “A wagon full of supplies was due here about a week ago. When it was four days late, I sent a patrol out looking for it. They found the two soldiers, shot in the back. The patrol followed the wagon tracks until they lost the trail in the mountains. Then they reported back. I sent out another patrol yesterday to try to pick up the trail of whoever stole that wagon. I’m hoping they’ll be back soon with those murdering thieves.”
“And you don’t think it was Indians?” asked Joe.
“No, the tracks of the horses the patrol saw all were shod horses,” answered Browning. “Besides, the two soldiers were shot and dumped in some bushes. That doesn’t seem like the work of Indians.” Browning shook his head. “It’s bad enough to lose the supplies and maybe have to put the rest of the men on short rations for awhile. But to lose two soldiers like that — murdered, well…” Browning’s face took on a hard look.
“I’m sorry,” said Joe with genuine sympathy. “Maybe it would be better if we came back later.”
“No,” said Browning, again shaking his head. “Standing around waiting isn’t going to bring that patrol back any faster. Besides, I like the idea of having some fresh horses ready when they get back.” The Major turned back to the horses and began to examine each animal carefully.
It took Major Browning almost twenty minutes to examine the eight horses. He ran his hand over legs and chests, opened mouths to look at teeth, and peered closely at eyes. Occasionally, Joe would point out a good feature on the horse Browning was examining, but the Major only grunted in response or ignored the comment. Jacob sat quietly on his horse during the examination, watching with a look of confidence. When he had finished with all the horses, Browning took a step back. “They’re good animals,” he said almost reluctantly. “You say they’re saddle broke?”
“My friend, Jacob, schooled every one of them,” Joe said, nodding in the Indian’s direction. “In fact, they’re his horses.”
“They are?” Browning said in surprise. He looked at Jacob. “If they’re your horses, how come your friend here is doing all the talking?”
With a slight smile on his face, Jacob answered, “We decided it might be a little disconcerting for an Indian to ride into an Army camp to sell horses. Besides, Joe is a better horse trader than I am.”
Browning studied Jacob for a minute. “I have a feeling you’d do all right at horse trading,” he commented. Turning, Browning looked around the camp. “Jenkins,” he shouted. “Get over here.”
The sergeant that Joe and Jacob had met when they first approached the tents strolled over. He gave Jacob and Joe a look of curiosity, then turned to Browning. “Yes sir,” he said in an easy manner. “What can I do for you.”
“I want you to try out one of these horses,” explained Browning. “See if it’s fit for duty.”
“Yes sir,” repeated Jenkins. “Which one?”
Turning back to the horses, Browning paused, then pointed to a bay mare in the middle of the string Jacob was holding. “That one.”
With a small salute, Jenkins walked over to the horse and unclipped the halter from the lead rope. Holding the halter firmly, he backed up the horse and led it over to the fence of the corral. Three saddles and some bridles were perched on the fence, and Jenkins grabbed one of the bridles. He took off the halter and quickly slipped the bridle around the mare’s head. The horse stood quietly during the operation. Jenkins turned and grabbed a saddle and blanket, and threw both on the horse’s back. After tightening the girth, Jenkins climbed into the saddle and gave the mare a light kick, turning the animal as he did. The horse obeyed, walking from the corral to an open area a few feet away. Jenkins then urged the mare into a trot, turning and weaving the animal as it moved. For several minutes, Jenkins trotted, walked and then galloped the animal in the open area. Watching the sergeant putting the horse through its paces, Joe chewed his lip nervously. He wanted the mare to do well, for Jacob’s sake. Jacob, on the other hand, merely sat on his stallion, the same look of quiet confidence on his face. Finally, Jenkins walked the horse back toward Browning. “He’s a little raw,” said the sergeant, “but it won’t take much to make him into a good trooper’s horse.”
“If I told you to ride him on patrol right now, would you do it?’ asked Browning.
“Yes sir, I would,” said Jenkins. “This horse would do his best for me, and you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
“Thank you, sergeant,” said Browning with a nod. “You can unsaddle the horse and put it in the corral.” Turning back to Joe, Browning continued, “Why don’t you put all the horses in the corral. Then we can see if we can settle on a price. I’ll be over in that second tent.”
Grinning, Joe nodded. As he led his string of horses toward the corral, Joe looked over at Jacob and winked. Jacob smiled at his friend in return. Walking toward the tent after putting the horses in the corral and tying their own mounts to the corral fence, Joe said to Jacob, “Let me do all the talking, all right? There’s an art to these things.”
“All right, “ agreed Jacob. “But see if you can get at least $40 a head for them.”
Nodding, Joe pushed open the flap of the tent and walked in, with Jacob right behind him. Sitting behind a table, Browning looked up as the two men walked in. He had a small tin box and some papers on his desk. “They’re good horses,” he said without preamble. “I’m prepared to offer you $35 a piece.”
“Well, Major, that’s a good price for horses that aren’t saddle broke. But these horses, we were kind of figuring they’re worth $80 each,” said Joe as he lowered himself onto a stool in front of the table. Standing behind his friend, Jacob’s eyes widened a bit at Joe’s statement, but the rest of his face was impassive. “$80 is far too much,” stated Browning firmly. “But I could go to $40.”
“We could take those horses and sell them in Virginia City for at least $75 dollars,” countered Joe. “But seeing how the Army really needs them, we’ll do you a favor and take $70.”
Shaking his head, Browning said, “I shouldn’t go this high, but I’m willing to pay $50.”
“$60” said Joe.
“$55 a head and that’s my final offer,” said Browning firmly.
Glancing up and over his shoulder, Joe looked at Jacob. The Indian’s face was impassive as ever, but Joe could see the gleam of amusement in his friend’s eye.
“All right,” said Joe in a reluctant voice. “We’ll take $55.”
“It’s a deal,” agreed Browning. He picked up a pencil from the desk and pulled a piece of paper in front of him. “Who do I make the bill of sale out to?”
“Jacob Red Feather,” said Joe. “Jacob Red Feather, Virginia City, Nevada.”
Nodding slightly, Browning wrote quickly on the paper, then turned to the box sitting next to him. Opening the small tin, he pulled out a wad of bills and carefully counted out four one hundred dollar bills and two twenties. “Here’s the money, and your bill of sale,” said Browning, pushing both the small pile of bills and the paper across the table. Looking over his shoulder again, Joe jerked his head slightly, indicating that Jacob should collect the items on the table. Jacob walked forward and picked up the money and the paper, folding both carefully before sticking them into the pocket of his pants.
“Mr. Red Feather…” started the Major.
“Please, call me Jacob,” interrupted Jacob.
“All right, Jacob,” said Browning. “If you ever have any more horses to sell, I hope you’ll give me first crack at them. Those are excellent animals, and extremely well schooled. Much better horses than we normally get a chance to buy.”
“Thank you,” said Jacob. “I’ll let you know if I get another string.”
Grinning, the Major looked at Joe. “Next time, though, don’t bring your friend with you. That young face hides a pretty good horse trader.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” said Joe with a grin.
“I meant it as one,” answered Browning, still smiling. He reached up and offered his hand to Jacob. “It’s nice doing business with you.”
A bit surprise at the offer of a hand, Jacob reached forward and shook the Major’s hand. “Thank you,” he said again.
From outside the tent came the sound of a wagon being pulled to a halt and voices. Browning looked past Jacob with an expectant air as the tent flap opened and Jenkins walked in. Giving a salute, Jenkins said, “Sorry to interrupt, Major, but I think you’d better come outside. A fellow with a wagonload of supplies says he’s looking to sell them.”
“Really?” said the major, frowning slightly. He stood and walked around the table. “Did he say where he got these supplies?”
“Says he has a trading post up in the mountains,” replied Jenkins. “He claims that he brought the supplies from there.”
Rising from the stool, Joe exchanged a look with Jacob. Both had a pretty good idea of the identity of the man outside. Newly Watson was the only one who had a trading post in the mountains.
“I’d better talk with him,” said Browning. He nodded toward Jacob and Joe. “It was a pleasure doing business with you, gentlemen.” Walking past the sergeant, Browning pushed open the flap of the tent. He walked out with Jenkins behind him. Joe gave Jacob a questioning look, and the Indian shrugged in return. The pair followed Browning outside the tent. Standing a few feet from the tent was Newly Watson, as Joe and Jacob had suspected. Newly’s eyes widened a bit when he saw Jacob and Joe emerge from the tent behind the Major, and a look of something almost like hate flickered across his face. But Watson’s face quickly cleared, and he turned to face Browning.
“Major, I hear you need supplies,” said Watson, aiming what he called a smile toward Browning. “I loaded up my wagon, and brought a bunch of things down to sell you.”
“Where did you hear we needed supplies, Mr….” asked Browning suspiciously.
“Watson, Newly Watson,” supplied Watson. “Like I was telling this other soldier boy, I got me a trading post up in the mountains. People talk when they come by, and I hear things.”
“I see,” said Browning in a voice that conveyed he wasn’t entirely satisfied with Watson’s explanation. The Major glanced a bit to his right as Jacob strolled past him in the direction of the wagon, then turned his attention back to Watson. “And just what do you have to sell?”
“Flour, salt pork, sugar, salt, and such,” answered Watson. “Even got some fresh deer meat in there.”
“And how much are you asking?” inquired Browning cautiously.
“Now, Major, I hear you need supplies real bad,” said Watson, again forming his face into a semblance of a smile. “So I’m going to sell you the whole lot, for just $500.”
“$500!” said Browning in astonishment. “Are you crazy? I could buy all those supplies in Virginia City for under $100.”
“Yeah, but we ain’t in Virginia City now, are we?” said Watson smugly. “It’d take you four or five days to send someone there and back. I’m offering you these supplies now, and I know you need them.”
“That’s robbery,” said Browning angrily.
“Maybe,” Watson said with a shrug. “But I don’t see as how you got much choice.”
“Major,” called Jacob, “I think you’d better take a look at these supplies.” He was standing near the back of the wagon.
“Hey, get away from there, you thieving Injun,” shouted Watson. He turned to Browning. “Them redskins will take anything that ain’t nailed down if you don’t watch ‘em.”
Ignoring Watson, Browning walked over toward the wagon. Joe looked at Watson and was a bit surprised to see the man rubbing his chin nervously. Joe’s eyes narrowed a bit and he hurried over to join the Major and Jacob. As Joe walked up to the wagon, Jacob was pulling out a small sack of flour. “These supplies – at least some of them – are Army issue,” Jacob said to Browning. He turned the sack of flour over and pointed to the “USA” stenciled in very small letters on the bottom of the sack. “There’s two or three other sacks in there marked the same way.”
Hurrying over to the wagon, Watson said, “Get your filthy hands off them sacks. Ain’t no white man gonna want to use them supplies if they know you handled them.”
Taking the sack of flour from Jacob, Browning studied the letters on the bottom carefully. He put the sack back in the wagon, and pulled out a small bag of sugar. Turning the bag, Browning saw the same letters stenciled on the bottom. He replaced the bag, then wheeled around to face Watson.
“These supplies are Army issue,” Browning said angrily. “Much like the supplies in the wagon that we lost. Where did you get them?”
“I…I just had them in a storeroom,” replied Watson, his eyes darting nervously.
“You’re lying,” shouted Browning. “You stole these supplies. You murdered two of my men and stole the wagon. And now you have the nerve to try to sell it back to me.”
“No!” said Watson, his eyes widening with fear. “I didn’t, I didn’t do anything like that. I just bought them supplies off some fellows who came by the other day. Honest!”
“You’re lying,” repeated Browning. He looked past Watson toward Jenkins. “Sergeant, arrest this man. He’s to be charged with robbery and murder.”
“I didn’t do anything!” cried Watson as Jenkins came up and grabbed his arm. The sergeant quickly pulled Watson’s gun from the holster on his hip and pointed the weapon at its owner.
“Wait, wait,” said Watson in a panic. “I bought them supplies, and I can prove it.” Watson reached into the pocket of his pants and pulled out a slip of paper. He held the paper toward Browning, his hand shaking as he did so. “Look, see here’s the paper I got saying I bought them.”
Snatching the paper from Watson, Browning read it. “Paid by N Watson, $80. One wagon and supplies.” He looked at Watson. “Is this supposed to prove something?” he said in disgust. “It could be for anything, and there’s no signature.” The Major looked at Jenkins. “Tie him up in one of the tents, Jenkins, “ Browning ordered. “He’s going to stand trial for murder before we hang him.”
“Major,” said Jacob in a quiet voice. “You don’t have any real proof that Mr. Watson murdered your men.”
Turning toward Jacob, Browning frowned. “He’s got the supplies, doesn’t he?”
“Yes,” agreed Jacob, “but he’s also got a receipt. It’s not much of a receipt, but it’s enough to make a jury wonder if he’s telling the truth. And a few sacks of flour with an Army stencil doesn’t seem like enough evidence to hang a man.” Seeing the hesitation on Browning’s face, Jacob continued. “I know you want to get the men who murdered your men, but hanging a man who may be innocent isn’t really justice.”
“Watson’s been accused of some pretty shady things,” said Joe. “He’s got a reputation of taking what he wants and not caring who gets hurt along the way.’
“That may be,” said Jacob, turning toward Joe. “But you can’t hang a man for having a bad reputation.” Jacob turned back to Browning. “If I were you, I would do a bit more investigating before I charged a man with murder.”
His anger cooled, Browning nodded. “You’re right, Jacob,” he said. “I did let my emotions get the better of me.” He spun around and faced Watson. “Mr. Watson, you’re going to stay in this camp, under guard, until I can organize a patrol to escort you to your trading post. If the patrol finds any evidence that you were involved in the murder of my soldiers, you’ll be returned here to stand trial. In the meantime, I’m confiscating this wagon and supplies as stolen property.”
“You can’t do that,” protested Watson. “I paid for them supplies. I showed you the paper that said so.”
“I’m the legal authority in this area,” said Browning in a cold voice. “I can confiscate the wagon and take back Army supplies if I deem it proper. And we’ll confiscate any other items at your trading post that appear to be stolen property. Just be thankful that I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you bought those supplies.” Browning looked over his shoulder toward Jacob. “And you should be grateful to Jacob that you’re not being charged with murder – yet.”
“Grateful!” Watson spat out the word. “To that Injun? If he had kept his nose out of my business, none of this would have happened.”
“Jenkins, take Mr. Watson and put him under guard in one of the tents,” said Browning. “Then get a patrol organized.”
“Yes sir,” said Jenkins. He pulled hard on Watson’s arm. “Come on,” he said in a hard voice.
“I’ll get you for this, Injun,” shouted Watson as Jenkins led him away. “I’m going to make you pay for what you done. You ain’t getting away with this.”
“You’ve made yourself an enemy,” said Browning to Jacob as he watched Watson being pulled toward a tent.
“No,” replied Jacob, “I made him mad. He was already my enemy. He’s hated me from the first day he saw me.”
“Why?” asked Browning in surprise.
“Because I’m an Indian,” replied Jacob, almost sadly. “He didn’t know me, didn’t know my name. All he knew was my skin wasn’t white. And that was enough to make him hate me.”
Nodding with understanding, Browning asked, “How did you know to check those supplies?”
“I just thought it was strange that a wagon full of supplies would turn up so soon after a supply wagon was stolen,” answered Jacob with a shrug. “And I’ve been around enough Indian reservations to know what Army rations look like. I just thought it was worth taking a look.”
“I’m glad you did,” said Browning. He shook is head a bit, then added, “Imagine Watson being stupid enough to try to sell the supplies back to the Army less than a week after he stole them.”
“I don’t think Watson is that stupid,” said Jacob. “That’s one of the reasons why I think he didn’t have anything to do with the robbery, at least directly. Watson may be a lot of things, but he isn’t dumb.”
“Well, you may be right,” said Browning, in a doubtful voice. “We’ll see what the patrol finds.” He gave a quick nod to Jacob and Joe. “Thank you again for the horses.” Browning turned and walked away.
“Why’d you stand up for Watson?” asked Joe in a puzzled voice as he moved to stand next to Jacob.
“Because it was the right thing to do,” answered Jacob with a shrug.
“But Watson hates you,” said Joe, still puzzled. “He treated you bad up at his trading post, and he made some pretty ugly threats when he saw us with those horses. Seems to me the easiest thing was to let the Army deal with him. You wouldn’t have had to worry about him any more.”
“Joe, just because a man hates you is no reason to stand by and let an injustice be done to him,” said Jacob. “It’s all about right and wrong, not who is involved. You can’t decide what’s right based on whether you like the person or not. Charging Watson with murder wasn’t right.”
“I guess you’re right,” said Joe reluctantly. “But Watson sure didn’t thank you for what you did.”
“I didn’t do it for his thanks. I stood up for Watson because my conscience would have bothered me if I hadn’t. Besides, Major Browning would have come to the same conclusion after he calmed down a bit,” continued Jacob. “I just stopped him from doing anything he might have regretted before he calmed down.”
“Jacob, you’re a remarkable man,” said Joe, shaking his head.
“No I’m not, Joe,” said Jacob. “I’m just a man trying to do best he can, same as you and your father and brothers.” Suddenly Jacob grinned. “But right now, I am a rich man. Let’s head for home. I’m sure Sarah will be happy to make up a whole new list of things to buy with the money I’ve got in my pocket.”
“She can’t have much left to buy,” said Joe in surprise. “She practically cleaned out the store the last time.”
“You don’t know Sarah,” said Jacob smiling. “I may not be a remarkable man, but Sarah is a remarkable woman. Especially when it comes to shopping.”
Over the next several weeks, Joe’s life slid back into a familiar pattern. He spent most of the time on the Ponderosa, completing the various chores and projects that he and the rest of the family deemed necessary. A trip to Virginia City on a few Saturday nights helped break up the routine of ranch work. But Joe also developed a new habit during that time. Almost every Wednesday afternoon, he would ride over to Jacob and Sarah’s ranch, both to visit with and to check on his friends. It wasn’t exactly a coincidence that Joe’s visits ran toward dinner-time. He enjoyed Sarah’s cooking, and it didn’t take much for her to persuade him to stay for a meal. His visits became so regular that an extra plate was set on the table for him by Sarah even before he showed up on a Wednesday afternoon.
If the truth were to be known, Joe would have checked up on his new friends more frequently than once a week, especially the week after the visit to the new fort. Joe worried about Jacob and Sarah visiting Virginia City without him, and it took his father and brothers’ most persuasive arguments to convince him not to accompany Jacob and Sarah to town, or to visit their ranch more frequently. Adam’s argument had been the most effective. Joe finally had realized how overprotective he was acting when Adam asked him, “Are you going to follow Jacob and Sarah every day? Pretty soon, people won’t think of them as anything other than Joe Cartwright’s shadow.”
Despite his reluctant agreement that Jacob and Sarah could manage without him, Joe still fretted about his friends’ reception in Virginia City. Jacob had casually mentioned he and Sarah planned to make a trip to town on the Monday after the horses were sold, and Joe spent that day fixing fences on the hill above the Virginia City road. He took about three times as long as necessary to fix the fence, worrying like a mother hen missing her chicks until he finally saw Jacob and Sarah driving their wagon up the road. He watched them for awhile, making sure that the wagon seemed full and his friends seemed unharmed, then quickly hurried away from the hill. He was sure that Jacob hadn’t known Joe had been checking on him – or at least he thought that until Jacob had asked him in an amused voice a few days later why the fence on the hill had needed so much work.
Jacob and Sarah also became frequent guests for Sunday dinner at the Ponderosa. Joe had become concerned about his friends becoming too isolated on the ranch. Except for his visits and an occasional trip to town for supplies, his two friends never saw anyone else. The people of Virginia City had accepted Jacob and Sarah but hadn’t embraced them. There were no invitations to join the church or become part of what passed as society in the town, such as the Ladies League or the Cattleman’s Association. Sarah and Jacob were treated politely but not considered part of the community. While neither Sarah nor Jacob seemed to mind, Joe was bothered by the town’s cool reception toward his friends.
At a loss over how to improve the situation, Joe finally decided that he would form a ring of friends for Sarah and Jacob one at a time. The first Sunday dinner that included Jacob and Sarah also included Doctor Martin. Joe had been pleased when Sarah and the doctor had spent a good hour discussing various treatments after dinner while Jacob and Adam fought each other to a standstill on the chessboard. Buoyed by his success, Joe invited Sheriff Coffee and Martha from the dress shop to dinner with his friends and family. That too had been successful. Sarah and Martha talked dress styles and materials while Roy Coffee and Jacob compared notes on books they had enjoyed, a discussion that Ben and Adam had quickly joined. As Joe and Hoss played checkers while the others chatted, Joe already was mentally sorting through the people in town, trying to choose the next person to invite for Sunday dinner with Jacob and Sarah. But as Joe walked Jacob and Sarah to their wagon after the second Sunday dinner, Jacob pulled his young friend aside. “Joe,” he said quietly, “Sarah and I appreciate what you are trying to do but it’s not necessary.”
“What do you mean?” asked Joe, playing dumb.
Smiling, Jacob said, “I’m not the smartest man in the world, Joe, but even I can figure out you’re trying to get people to accept us by inviting them to dinner with us one or two at a time. It’s really not necessary. Sarah and I are used to being on our own. In fact, we like it that way.” Jacob’s smile widened to a grin. “Besides, at the rate you’re going, it’s going to take about 20 years of Sunday dinners to get the whole town to eat a meal with us.”
Flushing with embarrassment, Joe looked down. “I was just trying to help,” he mumbled.
“I know that,” said Jacob in a kind voice. “And like I said, Sarah and I appreciate the effort. But we’ll be fine on our own, Joe. We’ll make friends when and with whom we want.”
“I’m sorry, Jacob,” said Joe, shaking his head. He took a deep breath and let it out. “My Pa and brothers keep telling me the same thing. I guess I just wasn’t listening.”
Putting a hand on Joe’s shoulder, Jacob said gently, “You have a good heart, Joe. Don’t let anything change that.” As Joe nodded and looked down, Jacob clapped his friend lightly on the shoulder. “We’ll see you on Wednesday, won’t we? Sarah is planning on roast beef for dinner, and it’s way too much for just the two of us. We need a third for dinner or I’ll be eating beef stew and beef hash for a week.”
Looking up, Joe nodded happily. “I’ll see you on Wednesday.”
As Joe rode into the yard of the Ponderosa ranch house, he was surprised to see Roy Coffee sitting on the porch. The sheriff looked relaxed, sitting on a chair comfortably, but stood when Joe rode up to the house.
“Hi, Roy!” said Joe, greeting him warmly as he dismounted and walked over toward Coffee. “What are you doing out here?”
“I was just about to give up and ride out of here,” replied the sheriff. “I wanted to talk with you.”
Holding up his hands in mock alarm, Joe said, “Whatever it is, I didn’t do it. I haven’t been off the ranch in almost a week.”
Grinning, Coffee shook his head. “I’m not here to arrest you, Joe. You haven’t done anything I can charge you with except maybe breaking a few hearts. The girls in town are getting downright testy since you haven’t been around much.”
“Been busy at the ranch,” answered Joe. “And I’ve been helping Jacob and Sarah get settled. That’s taken up a lot of my time.”
At the mentioned of Joe’s friends, Coffee’s face sobered. “That’s why I came out to see you, Joe. I want you to tell Jacob to watch out for Newly Watson.”
“Watson?” said Joe in surprise. “Why?”
“He’s been in Virginia City for about a week, drinking with that fellow Parks you had the run in with,” explained Roy. “There’s a couple of other fellows hanging out with them that I don’t know.” Roy hesitated, then added. “Watson’s built up a real good hate against your friend, Jacob.”
“Against Jacob?” said Joe, frowning. “I know he doesn’t like Jacob, but what reason has he got to hate him?”
“Well, it seems the Army charged him with receiving stolen property,” Roy said. “They confiscated all the supplies at his trading post, then made him do 30 days of hard labor working on the fort their building. According to Watson, Jacob is the one who got the Army to arrest him.”
“That’s not exactly true,” said Joe. “All Jacob did was point out some of his supplies had Army markings on them. If anything, Watson should be grateful to Jacob. The Army was going to charge him with robbery and murder before Jacob stopped them.”
“That’s not the way Watson sees it,” said the sheriff. “He keeps telling those friends of his that Jacob is the one who turned him in. He claims he was ruined because the Army took all his supplies and he had to close the trading post. And he had to do 30 days of hard labor on top of it.”
“Do you think he might come after Jacob?” asked Joe in a worried voice.
“I don’t know,” admitted Roy. “Right now, it’s just talk. But Watson’s pretty bitter about what happened, and the whiskey don’t help.”
“Can’t you do something about it, Roy?” asked Joe.
“I can’t arrest a man for just talking,” said Coffee, shaking his head. “I’ve warned Watson that I’ll throw him in jail if he does anything, but I don’t think it bothered him much.” The sheriff bit his lip a bit. “You’d better watch out, too, Joe. That Parks fellow is hanging around with Watson and his friends, and he doesn’t feel too kindly toward the Cartwrights, either. He’s got a special dislike for you because of that run in you had.”
“I’m not worried about Parks,” said Joe, dismissing the man. “But Watson and his friends are another matter. Those could be the ones that murdered those soldiers and stole the supplies. Men like that don’t have much conscience. There’s no telling what they could do.”
“I thought of that, but I haven’t got any evidence they did anything wrong,” said Coffee. “But you’re right. It’s a pretty rough crowd.”
“What do you think we should do, Roy?” asked Joe, his worry for his friends deepening.
“You tell Jacob to stay away from Virginia City for awhile,” said Roy. “And you do the same. Give me a little time. I’ll find a reason to arrest that bunch or run them out of town. Men like that, well, they don’t stay on the right side of the law for very wrong. Pretty soon, they’ll do something wrong and I’ll be able to step in.”
“All right,” said Joe but his voice was full of doubt.
Walking over toward his horse that was tied to the hitching post, Roy added, “You tell your Pa and brothers what I said, too. No sense them getting caught up in trouble. You all just stay put for a week or two. I’ll let you know when I’ve gotten rid of that bunch.” With a nod, Roy climbed onto his horse and rode away. Watching the sheriff ride off, Joe frowned in thought. It had been about six weeks since he and Jacob had sold those horses to the Army. Six weeks of pleasant dinners and peaceful visits to town for Jacob and Sarah. Joe had begun to think that his friends had no more worries. But the sheriff’s news showed Joe how naïve he had been. He had dismissed Watson without a thought. He should have known to take Watson’s threats seriously. Joe knew Watson was a dangerous man, and he viewed Watson’s presence in Virginia City as a danger to his friend Jacob.
Disturbed, Joe walked back toward his horse. He stopped and glanced at the house. His father was checking the herd on the south range, and Adam and Hoss were up at the timber camp. None of them were expected home for hours. Joe had finished riding fence early because it was Wednesday, and he had planned to visit Jacob and Sarah. Now he had a more urgent reason to get to their ranch. Joe wondered if he should leave a note for his father but decided against it. The situation was too complicated to explain in a simple note, and Joe didn’t want to take the time to write a long letter. Since it was Wednesday, his family would know where he was and wouldn’t worry. Joe would talk with them when he got home that night. Leaping onto the back of his pinto, Joe turned the horse and rode out of the yard, urging the animal to more than usual speed. Joe felt a sense of urgency to get to Jacob’s ranch and warn his friend about Newly Watson.
As Joe rode into the yard of Jacob’s ranch, he carefully looked around. Everything seemed in order and the area appeared quiet. Joe could see a few cattle grazing in the distant pasture. The corral was empty, as Joe had known it would be. Jacob had been keeping the stallion and mares in the barn, both to better protect them from the elements as well as to better watch them. Two of the mares were beginning to swell with evidence of coming foals, foals obviously sired by the stallion in the mountains before the herd had been captured. On Joe’s advice, Jacob put his horses in the corral in the morning to allow the animals a bit of exercise, but herded them back into the barn around noon. Riding up to the barn, Joe looked into the structure. He could see the rumps of the horses in the dim light. The stallion and mares seemed to be standing quietly in their stalls. Several bales of hay were piled near the front of the barn, and two sacks of feed lay next to the hay. Other than the horses, the barn seemed empty, which Joe again expected it would be. This time of day, Jacob was usually in the house, cleaning up after a hard day’s work.
Looking toward the house, Joe saw nothing amiss there either. It was still to early and too light for lamps to be lit, but everything looked in order. He could see nothing that would indicate anything was wrong. Dismounting, Joe looped his reins around a wagon wheel leaning against the side of the barn. He left enough slack so his horse could reach the small trough of water in front of the building. Then he headed toward the house.
As Joe crossed the yard to the house, he looked toward a grove of trees standing about thirty yards away. He could see no movement among the trees. Joe knew he was being overly cautious, but Roy Coffee’s warning had made him edgy. Joe was worried about Newly Watson and his friends showing up before he had a chance to warn his friend. Knocking on the door to announce his arrival, Joe looked around the ranch one more time. Everything seemed quiet and as it should be. Still, Joe couldn’t shake the feeling that he needed to warn Jacob about Watson as soon as possible.
“Joe! You’re early,” boomed Jacob with a smile as he opened the front door. “Come on in and make yourself at home.”
“Thanks,” replied Joe, walking into the house. He grinned at Jacob. “I guess I pretty much always make myself at home here.”
As Joe walked into the house, he was struck as he always was at how the house with the deserted air had become a warm home. Not only had the place been cleaned until it practically shone, but the house now had an almost cozy look. Dark blue curtains on the windows, an ivory cloth on the table and some knickknacks on new shelves had helped the transformation. Joe saw a tall bookcase standing empty in the corner. “Hey, you finished the bookcase,” he said as he looked to the corner.
“Yes, I finished it yesterday,” said Jacob proudly. “Now all I need to do is get into Virginia City to get some books to put in it.”
As the mention of Virginia City, Joe’s face grew serious. “Jacob, I need to talk to you and Sarah about going into Virginia City.”
With a puzzled look, Jacob started to ask his young friend why but abruptly stopped himself when he saw the serious expression on Joe’s face. Instead he turned and called to the kitchen. “Sarah, could you come out here for a minute?” He glanced at Joe again and added, “It’s important.”
Drying her hands on an apron that covered her skirt, Sarah walked out of the kitchen. “Hello, Joe,” she said warmly. “You’re early today. I’ve just started making dinner.”
“I need to talk to you and Jacob,” Joe said in an almost ominous tone. “Let’s sit at the table for a minute.”
Sarah’s eyes widened with both surprise and concern. She glanced at Jacob, who nodded at her, then walked over to the table and sat down. Jacob and Joe quickly joined her.
Deciding not to try to soften the warning, Joe plunged right in. “Newly Watson is in Virginia City. Sheriff Coffee is afraid that Watson is going to come after Jacob.” Joe quickly repeated what the sheriff had told him.
When Joe finished, both Jacob and Sarah sat in silence. Then Jacob nodded slowly. “The sheriff is right, of course,” he said. “We shouldn’t go looking for trouble. We’ll stay out of Virginia City until he tells us otherwise.”
“But, Jacob, we need supplies,” protested Sarah. “I need some fresh vegetables and you said you needed some feed for the horses.”
“You can get whatever you need from the Ponderosa for awhile,” said Joe. “We’ve got plenty, and whatever we don’t have, Hop Sing will get for you. I doubt if the crowd will bother Hop Sing if he goes into town.” Joe looked at Jacob. “It’s not only Virginia City that you need to worry about. You need to keep your eyes open around here. It’s very possible that Watson and his friends might show up here.”
Nodding again, Jacob said simply, “Yes, I know.”
Sighing, Joe said, “I’m sorry about this.”
“It’s not your fault, Joe,” replied Jacob. “And it’s not like we haven’t been threatened before.” He smiled briefly. “At least this time, we’ve got good friends to warn us.”
“And stand with you,” Joe said firmly. “Maybe I should stay here for awhile. Sort of watch your back for you.”
“No,” said Jacob shaking his head. “That’s no good, Joe. You’ve got your own place to take care of. Besides, even if the sheriff runs Watson out of town, there’s no telling if he might come back. You can’t stay here forever.”
“Maybe we should leave,” suggested Sarah fearfully.
“No,” Jacob said again. “This is our home. We’ve done enough running. This time we’ll stay put.”
“You could come over to the Ponderosa for awhile,” suggested Joe. “Maybe if Watson and his friends showed up and no one was here, they’d get discouraged and leave.”
“No,” Jacob answered once again. “I’ve got a ranch to run, too. Besides, there’s no telling what those men would do if they came here and no one was around. I’ve put too much work into this place to see it destroyed.” Jacob took a deep breath. “We’ll be prudent and watchful, of course, but we aren’t going to run. No this time.”
Sarah looked at her husband. “Jacob, if anything should happen to you….
“I’ll be fine,” Jacob said. He reached over and covered his wife’s hand with his. “There’s no need to worry until we have something specific to worry about. This could all just be talk.”
“I think it may be more than just talk,” Joe cautioned his friend.
Shrugging, Jacob said, “I won’t live my life in fear, Joe. We’ll be careful, of course. But the only thing we can really do is live our lives the best we can and put our trust in God.”
“I’d rather put my trust in a .45,” said Joe, patting his holster.
“Well, that does help sometimes,” admitted Jacob. “But I’ve seen enough killing and violence to know that it usually doesn’t solve anything. All it does is breed more killing and violence.” He gave his friend a smile. “I’m not above doing a little shooting and scaring off, though.”
“I wish there was something more we could do than just wait for Watson to show up,” said Joe. “Maybe we ought to go after him.”
“Take the offensive?” said Jacob. He thought about it a minute, then shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Joe. He hasn’t done anything but make threats. If we go after Watson, we’ll be the ones in the wrong. And I know enough about ‘white man’s justice’ to know an Indian who attacks a white man is almost sure to go to jail – or worse. The best thing to do is just wait and see what happens. Maybe it is just talk. Maybe Watson won’t show up here at all.”
As if on cue, the trio at the table heard the sound of running horses from outside the house. Jacob jumped up from the table and peered out the window, then turned to face the other two. “It’s Watson,” he said briefly.
Getting up slowly, Joe pulled the gun from his holster and checked to make sure it was fully loaded. He looked up to see Jacob crossing the room toward the spare bedroom. Jacob ducked into the room and came out with a rifle in his hands.
“Got another one of those?” asked Joe.
“No,” said Jacob. “I only use it for hunting. It’s only got about ten bullets in it and I don’t have any more around. I had planned to get more bullets the next time I went to town.”
“I’ve got six bullets in my pistol and another six in my pocket,” said Joe. He bit his lip. “Twenty two bullets between us. That doesn’t give us much firepower.”
Suddenly, a gun fired and a bullet shattered the glass of a front window. Jacob dropped to the floor. Joe pushed Sarah to the floor and under the table, then fell on his knees. A voice called from outside. “Hey, Injun! You in there?” The call was followed by two more gunshots and the sound of bullets thudding into the front door. Looking across the room at Jacob, Joe said in a meaningful voice, “I think we should send Sarah for help.”
“No!” cried Sarah from under the table. “I want to stay here.”
“Joe’s right,” said Jacob. “You should go for help. We’ll hold them off while you sneak out the back door.”
“Cut through the woods and go into the barn from the back,” Joe added. “My horse is tied right in front of the barn. Take him and ride to the Ponderosa for help.”
“But it will take two hours, maybe more, for me to get there and back,” said Sarah. “That’s too long.”
“We can hold them off if we know help is coming,” said Joe firmly. “They might even leave if they know someone has gone for help.” He had no false hope that what he was saying was true. But Joe also had no illusion about what Watson and his friends might do to Sarah if they got their hands on her.
“Hey, Injun! You hear me!” shouted the voice from outside again. Another gun was fired, this time the bullet whizzing through the broken window and thudding into the wall near the fireplace.
“Go, Sarah!” Jacob urged his wife. “We can’t wait much longer.”
Looking fearfully at Jacob and then at Joe, Sarah nodded. She started to crawl across the floor to the kitchen, then suddenly stopped. She turned to Jacob and said, “I love you, Jacob Red Feather.”
“And I love you, Sarah,” replied Jacob tenderly. He took a deep breath. “But I’ll love you even more if you get out of here and go for help.”
Sarah turned and crawled quickly into the kitchen.
Once more, a gun fired and a bullet thudded into the door. “Injun, you’d better get out here,” shouted the voice. “If you don’t, we’re going to burn you out.”
Jacob looked at Joe. “Joe,” he started, “maybe you’d better….”
“Jacob,” interrupted Joe. “You even think about finishing that sentence and I’m going to come over and bust you in the mouth.”
Grinning, Jacob nodded. “Well, then, let’s go out and meet our friends,” he said. “If we keep their attention on us, maybe they won’t notice Sarah riding off.” Without waiting for a reply from Joe, Jacob shouted, “Hold your fire. We’re coming out.”
Slowly, Jacob stood and walked to the door. Joe got to his feet also, and followed his friend. As Jacob reached the door, he levered a bullet into his rifle. The he pulled the door open and walked on to the porch. Joe cocked his pistol, and walked out to stand next to his friend. Five men were standing in the yard. Newly Watson stood in the front of the group, a pistol in one hand and a coiled whip in the other. Two of the men standing behind Watson had rifles in their hands. A third held a pistol in his left hand and a rope in his right. Parks, the fired ranch hand, stood a little to the side. His gun was in his holster, and he was holding a whiskey bottle. As Parks saw Joe come on to the porch, Parks laughed. “Well, looky here,” said the ranch hand. “Joe Cartwright. Guess I was right about you wanting that Injun gal after all.” Parks took a swig from the whiskey bottle.
“Is that how this Injun paid for this ranch? Letting you have his woman?”
“Shut up, Parks,” snarled Joe. He turned to Watson. “What do you want, Watson?”
Watson ignored Joe and kept his gaze fixed on Jacob. “Injun, you ain’t caused me nothing but grief,” Watson said. “We heard in town the sheriff was fixing to warn you away from here. We thought we’d better get out here so we didn’t miss the chance to deliver the little pay back I’ve been planning.” Watson uncoiled the whip and snapped with a crack.
“I think it would be a wise idea if you all left before someone got hurt,” Jacob said in an even voice.
“You think you can take us?” Watson said with a laugh. “Injun, you can’t count very good.”
“We might not take you all,” said Joe, “but we can get some of you.” He pointed his gun at Watson. “You want to be first, Newly?”
“Cartwright, you’ve been poking your nose in where in ain’t wanted ever since this Injun showed up,” said Watson angrily. “You’d better back off before you get hurt.”
“You think you can take me, Newly?” said Joe, a half smile forming on his face. “You send your friends away and I’ll be happy to give you that chance.”
From the corner of his eye, Joe saw some movement down by the barn. He turned his head a bit and saw Sarah climbing on to his pinto. Relief flooded through Joe. He knew she was too far away for bullets to reach her, even if the men standing in front of him saw her. But Joe’s distraction would cost him dearly. His attention diverted, Joe never saw Watson snapping the whip in his hand. All Joe knew was that one minute he was holding his pistol, and the next, a painful stinging shot across had hand. As the whip ripped the skin on his hand, Joe’s gun fell to the ground. Joe let out a yelp of both pain and surprise. Jacob turned toward his friend, and at that moment, a rope circled Jacob. The lasso was pulled tight, pinning Jacob’s arms to his side and causing him to drop the rifle from his hands. “Got ‘im,” shouted one of the men almost gleefully. Seeing Jacob roped like a steer, Joe charged off the porch and started throwing punches. He landed a solid blow on Watson’s chin, and threw a jab into another man’s stomach. Someone grabbed Joe’s arm from behind him, but Joe pushed his elbow hard into that one’s stomach. He turned and blindly threw another punch, and felt his hand land on the side of a face. His arms bound to his side, Jacob couldn’t throw any punches, but that didn’t stop him from joining the fight. Jumping from the porch, Jacob started placing some well-aimed kicks into shins, ankles, and knees.
If there had been fewer men or if the man holding the rope had loosened his grip, Joe and Jacob might have been able to win the battle. But the rope stayed firmly around Jacob as the man held on tenaciously and pulled hard. Off balance, Jacob fell to the ground. Watson moved to kick the fallen man and Joe rushed to push Watson away. Two men grabbed Joe’s arms, one on either side. Joe twisted, trying to free himself, and had almost succeeded when Parks finally joined the melee. Parks crashed the whiskey bottle against the side of Joe’s head. Stunned, Joe slumped forward, and his two captors tightened their grip. For a minute, there was little movement in the yard. Watson stood still, rubbing his jaw and catching his breath. Jacob still lay on the ground, and the man on the other end of the rope held it taut. The two men holding Joe were breathing hard, waiting for Watson to tell them what to do. Still dazed, Joe was shaking his head, trying to clear it. Only Parks seemed interested in moving. With an almost gleeful shout, he ran to the house and bounded inside.
Still rubbing his sore jaw, Watson walked over to Jacob and, grabbing the rope, pulled Jacob roughly to his feet. “Injun,” said Watson in a threatening voice, “it’s payback time.”
Suddenly, Parks burst out of the house. “The place is empty,” he shouted. “The woman is gone.”
“Who cares?” said Watson with a shrug.
Running over to Watson, Parks complained, “You said I could have the woman. That’s the only reason I came along. You promised me the woman.”
Watson looked at Parks for a minute, then turned back to Jacob. “Where’s the woman?” he asked. Jacob just stared at Parks.
“She’s headed for the Ponderosa,” Joe answered in a thick voice. He shook his head again, once more trying to clear his thoughts. “You’d better leave now, unless you want to face my father and a small army of ranch hands.”
“The Ponderosa, eh?” said Watson, stroking his chin thoughtfully.
“Newly,” said one of the men holding Joe nervously. “Maybe we’d better take off. I don’t want to take on Ben Cartwright and his men.”
“Naw,” said Watson, shaking his head. “She couldn’t have left very long ago. It’ll take her a couple of hours to get her and back. That’s more than enough time for us to finish our business.”
Bending, Watson picked up the whip from the ground where he dropped it. He held the handle of the whip in front of Jacob’s face. “You ever seen a man whipped to death, Injun?” he asked. Jacob didn’t answer; he simply stared stoically into Watson’s face.
“I’ll be you have,” said Watson. “Probably seen that and a lot worse. Well, I’ve seen a man whipped to death, and it takes a long time. The Apaches did it to my brother down in Arizona. They caught us picking up some pieces of gold from their burial ground. They made me watch while they tied my brother to some poles and started whipping him. Took two big Injuns all day but they whipped the skin off him right down to the bone. And you know what was the worst part? Hearing my brother crying and begging them to stop. My brother was the toughest, meanest man I ever knew, and he died sniveling and begging those red devils for his life.”
“Some ways of dying are worse than others,” agreed Jacob quietly.
“Well, I seen one of the worst,” said Watson. “And I would have been next if the Army hadn’t come along and rescued me. When I buried my brother, there wasn’t hardly any skin left on him except on his face, and that was so twisted up that you couldn’t hardly recognize him. I swore that day that I’d make those red devils pay for what they’ve done.”
“So you’ve vented your hate on every Indian you’ve met since then,” said Jacob with an understanding nod. “Whether they had anything to do with your brother’s death or not.”
“You Injuns are all the same,” said Watson angrily. “You’re all savages, killers. I’m doing the world a favor anytime I can get rid of any of you devils.”
“Did you think killing those soldiers would cause the Army to blame the Indians and punish them?” asked Jacob almost curiously.
“I done told you, I didn’t have anything to do with that!” shouted Watson. “I wasn’t there.”
“But you knew about it, didn’t you,” said Jacob. “You knew who did it.”
“Well, let’s just say I heard things in the trading post I had,” replied Watson slyly. “I figured I could make a pretty penny off the deal. That is, until you came along and messed up things with the Army.” Watson’s anger seemed to return. He pushed the handle of the whip closer to Jacob’s face. “I’m going to make you pay for them 30 days of hard labor I had to put in. This whip may not be as big as that bullwhip those Apaches used, but I figure I can do a lot of damage with it.”
“Watson, you’re a sniveling coward,” shouted Joe. “Just like your brother was. You haven’t enough guts to take on someone face to face.”
“Shut up, Cartwright,” said Watson furiously. “Shut up about my brother.”
“Why?” said Joe. “Because you’re as much of a coward as he was?”
Taking a step, Watson turned and slapped Joe hard across the face. “Shut up, Cartwright,” he said again. “You’ll get your turn. After I’m done with the Injun, I’m going to make you eat them words.”
“Leave him out of it,” cried Jacob. “Joe doesn’t have anything to do with this. I don’t care what you do to me, but leave him alone.”
Eyes narrowing, Watson turned to Jacob. “Oh, so that’s how it is,” he said. “You don’t want to see the Cartwright kid hurt.” Watson rubbed his jaw slowly, his hand moving over the bruise that was forming on his chin. “You know, watching them Apaches whip my brother was almost as bad as being whipped myself. I could see what they were doing to him, see how much he was hurting. Them Apaches, they wanted me to see what was coming. I ain’t ashamed to admit that it scared me, scared me good.” Rubbing his jaw again, Watson continued. “Maybe we’ll just do Cartwright first and make you watch, Injun.”
“Yeah,” said Parks almost enthusiastically, “do Cartwright first. I want to see him squirm.”
“No!” shouted Jacob desperately. He started to struggle against the rope that held him. “Leave Joe alone!”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” said Watson. He turned to face Joe. “Yeah, Cartwright,” he said, nodding slowly, “I think we’ll give you a taste of rawhide first.”
Swallowing hard, Joe looked at Watson. He could see the anticipation in the man’s eyes, the almost elated look at the thought of the cruelty he could impose. Joe felt a knot of fear forming in his stomach and his knees felt weak. But Joe wasn’t about to go down without a fight.
“You’re sick, Watson,” Joe said. “You haven’t got enough guts to face a man on your own. You have to tie him down, and use your friends here to help you. You’re the biggest coward I’ve ever seen.”
“Why you..” said Watson furiously as he started toward Joe. Just as Joe had hoped.
Waiting until Watson was only a foot or two away, Joe leveraged his weight against the men who held him. He lifted both his legs off the ground and kicked Newly Watson hard in the chest. Surprised and hurt, Watson staggered back several steps, knocking into the man who held the rope tightly around Jacob. The rope loosened a bit, not much, but enough so Jacob would slip out of it. He rushed forward, swinging his fists. Meanwhile, Joe had twisted an arm free and turned to throw a punch into the face of the other man who held him.
Once again there was a flurry of fists and kicks as Joe and Jacob fought desperately against the men who had invaded the ranch. But the battle was brief. Parks came forward and crashed his whiskey bottle into Jacob’s head, this time with enough force to shatter the bottle. Jacob dropped like a stone, falling face forward to the ground. Freed from worrying about Jacob, Watson and the man with the rope joined into the fight with Joe. With four sets of fists crashing into his face and body, Joe had little chance. He resisted the fists pummeling him as long as he could, then fell to the ground also. Taking a step back, Watson looked at the two unconscious men sprawled on the ground. “Strip Cartwright to the waist and tie him against that corral fence,” he ordered the men standing next to him. “Then tie that Injun to the post where he can watch. And tie him tight.” As the men around him started toward the forms lying in the dirt, Watson reached down and picked up his whip. Rubbing the rawhide handle, Watson muttered quietly, “I’ll make them pay, brother. I’m going to make them pay for what they done to you.”
Even if Sarah hadn’t been yelling at the top of her voice when she rode into the yard of the Ponderosa, Ben Cartwright would have known something was terribly wrong. He only had to glance at the pinto Sarah was riding to know. He would have recognized his son’s horse from a mile away, and the fact that Sarah had ridden the animal to a sweaty lather was enough to tell him that Joe was in danger.
“Sarah, what’s wrong?” asked Ben as he ran from the corral to the middle of the yard where Sarah had pulled the exhausted pinto to a stop.
Almost as tired as the horse, Sarah gasped, “Ben…men attacking our ranch. Jacob…Joe trying to stop them. They need help.”
Nodding his understanding, Ben turned to where Adam and Hoss were standing by the barn, watching in surprise. “Saddle the horses!” Ben ordered his oldest sons. “And roust out any of the hands in the bunkhouse. Tell them to be ready to ride in five minutes. Tell them to bring their guns.” Adam disappeared into the barn, as Hoss hurried to the bunkhouse.
Turning back to Sarah, Ben said gently, “Let me help you into the house. You must be exhausted.”
Even though she felt like she could sleep for a week, Sarah shook her head. “No, I’m going with you. I have to get back to Jacob.”
Not wanting to waste time arguing, Ben helped the woman off the pinto. “At least sit and rest for a few minutes,” he urged Sarah. “I’ll have one of the hands take care of Joe’s horse and saddle a fresh one for you.”
“Thank you,” said Sarah gratefully. She let Ben lead her to the rocking chair in front of the house. As she sat in the chair, Sarah looked up at Ben. “Tell them to bring a gun for me, also.” Sarah said grimly. “And tell them to make sure it’s loaded.’
Joe jerked his head back as the water splashed into his face. He felt dazed and confused, wondering where he was. Another handful of water hit him in the face, and Joe looked up. Parks was leaning against the fence, a bucket of water in his hand and an evil grin on his face.
“You awake, Cartwright?” Parks asked. “Watson, he wants to be sure you’re awake for this. I do too. I’m going to enjoy every minute of seeing one of you high and mighty Cartwrights brought down.” With a laugh, Parks turned and walked away.
At that moment, Joe knew exactly where he was and what was going to happen. He could feel the wind blowing against his bare back, and the rough wood of the corral fence rubbing against his bare chest. His arms were stretched out and tied tightly to the fence. Joe shivered, and not because he was cold. Turning his head, Joe could see the corral post a few feet away. He could see Jacob, blood streaming down the side of his head and his hands tied around the post behind him. Joe also could see the anguish in his friend’s face, and that scared Joe almost as much as what he knew was coming.
Hearing the crack of the whip behind him, Joe closed his eyes and clenched his jaw. He tried to prepare himself, pushing his chest against the fence and gripping the top of the fence with his hands. But no amount of preparation could make him ready for the fiery sting of the rawhide as it sliced across his bare back. Gasping in pain as the whip hit his back, Joe gripped the fence even tighter. He tried to suck in a mouth full of air, but the whip laid another agonizing trail of fire across his back before he could do so. Joe jerked, vainly trying to avoid the lash. When he felt the whip slicing his back again, Joe gave a strangled cry of pain.
Struggling against the ropes that held him, Jacob watched in horror as Watson lashed the whip against Joe’s back in an almost rhythmic pattern. He saw his young friend jerk each time the whip slashed him, and he heard Joe’s soft cries of agony. “Stop it,” Jacob yelled in a frantic voice. “Stop it.”
Pausing for a minute, Watson turned to Jacob. “You’ll get your turn, Injun,” he said almost casually. “Just be patient.” Watson turned back and raised the whip again. When he brought the rawhide strip down on Joe’s back this time, he seemed to have put an added intensity into the stroke. Watson laughed as he heard Joe moan.
Standing a few feet away, Parks called out in an almost gleeful voice, “Hey, Cartwright, you don’t look like such a big man now. Guess a little rawhide brings any man down to size.” The three men standing next to him gave Parks a look, each showing their disgust at the man’s pleasure at what he was watching. But none of them made a move to help Joe. Twice more the whip hit Joe’s bare back, and twice more Joe jerked and moaned. Joe sagged against the fence, too weak to hold himself up.
“Stop it!” shouted Jacob again as he twisted against the ropes around his wrists. “You’ll cripple him, or kill him. That’s enough.”
“It’s enough when he starts begging me to stop,” said Watson. “I ain’t heard him beg yet, so he must not have had enough.” Once more he raised the whip and brought it down hard on Joe’s back.
“Joe, ask him to stop,” Jacob said urgently to his friend. “Do you hear me? Don’t worry about your pride. Ask him to stop.”
In a haze of agony, Joe heard the voices around him but couldn’t make out the words. His mind was filled with nothing but the fiery pain from his back. If he could have understood Jacob’s words, Joe would have obeyed them. He would have said anything, done anything to stop the rawhide from adding a new trail of fiery pain to his back. Realizing Joe was almost unconscious from the pain, Jacob pulled at his ropes again. “He can’t hear you,” Jacob shouted to Watson. “Do you understand me? He can’t ask you to stop.”
“Well, ain’t that a shame,” said Watson as he again lashed the whip across Joe’s back. Closing his eyes, Jacob pulled against the ropes that held him with every ounce of strength he had. His powerful muscles strained and his wrists began to bleed as the ropes cut into the skin. Ignoring the pain in his wrists, Jacob pulled on the ropes again. Maybe whoever had tied the knot had been careless, or maybe a superhuman strength filled Jacob. He didn’t know or care what was the cause. All Jacob knew is suddenly he felt the ropes go slack around his wrists. He pulled against them once more, and the ropes fell from his wrist.
With an almost inhuman roar escaping from his throat, Jacob ran toward Watson like a charging bull. Surprised at the noise, Watson turned. His hand reached for his holster as he saw Jacob coming at him, but his movement was too slow. Jacob reached Watson before the man’s hand could close around his gun. Barely stopping, Jacob picked up Watson with both hands and held the man above him for an instant. Then Jacob slammed Watson to the ground with all the force his powerful arms could muster. Watson hit the ground, the thud of his body landing accented by the cracking of bone. Stepping over Watson, Jacob charged toward the shocked men standing a few feet away. Parks reached for the gun on his hip with a shaky hand, and the others dove for the rifles they had carelessly dropped to the ground. Jacob’s hand smashed across Park’s face with a force that sent the man sprawling on to his back. Without bothering to look at Parks, Jacob charged into the three men scrambling away from him. Leaning against the fence, Joe heard the shouts. His dulled mind made no sense of the noise. All he knew was that the stinging lashes had stopped slashing across his back. His back burned and throbbed with agonizing pain, but no new rivets of fiery pain were being added to his misery. Joe paid no attention to the sounds he heard; he listened only for the hiss of the whip. Then Joe heard a sound he recognized, and dully wondered what it meant. The sound he heard was a gunshot.
Riding at breakneck speed, Ben led Adam and Hoss and six of the Ponderosa hands down the trail toward Jacob’s ranch. Sarah trailed the pack, gamely trying to keep up with the galloping horses ahead of her. As Ben reached the crest of the hill on the trail to Jacob’s ranch, he pulled his horse to a halt. Even though he hadn’t heard any gunshots, Ben wanted to be sure of the situation at the ranch before riding in. But as Ben looked down at the ranch, he sight he saw appalled him. Bodies seemed to be strewn everywhere. Ben could see one tied to the corral, and even from the distance he recognized that form. Another body lay a short distance away, seemingly writhing in pain. Ben could see one man laying on his back unmoving, and a fourth – one with long black hair – laying face down on the ground.
“Jacob!” a voice screamed in anguish next to Ben, and he realized that Sarah had caught up to him on the hill. Sarah kicked her horse into a gallop down the trail, and the others followed suit. Ben rode straight to the corral and jumped off his horse. He was sickened by the sight of Joe’s bare back, crisscrossed with angry red welts and crusted with dried blood from the welts that had broken the skin. Ben ran to his son, pulling a pocket knife from his pants as he did. He quickly cut through the ropes that held Joe’s left wrist to the fence, and then moved to his son’s right to do the same with the other set of ropes. Ben caught his son as Joe slumped to the ground with a groan.
“Joe!” said Ben in an urgent voice as he stroked his son’s bruised face. “Joe, can you hear me?” He gently tapped Joe’s face, trying to bring his son into consciousness. “Joe, Son, answer me!” But the figure in Ben’s arms lay still.
Looking up, Ben started to call for water, and saw for the first time the chaotic scene that was swirling around him. Two of the ranch hands were riding off, while two others were coming out of the house, their arms filled with blankets and towels. Ben turned his head and saw both Sarah and Hoss bending over the fallen figure of Jacob. Ben could see one of the hands apparently standing guard over a body sprawled on the ground, and another hand appeared to be performing the same duty for the figure still writhing in the dirt. Adam stood in the midst of the activity, apparently giving orders and directing the men around him. Adding his voice to scene, Ben shouted, “Water! I need some water!” and was rewarded by the sight of Adam walking quickly toward the horses.
Turning back to Joe, Ben continued to stroke his son’s face and say Joe’s name, hoping for some reaction. But his youngest son lay still in Ben’s arms.
“Here,” said Adam, thrusting a canteen already opened into Ben’s hands. Ben took the canteen and slowly trickled some water over Joe’s lips.
“How is he?” asked Adam with concern.
Looking up, Ben answered his oldest son in a grim voice. “He’s hurt, Adam. They beat him and whipped him. They whipped him bad.”
Nodding, Adam said nothing. He and Hoss had seen the marks on Joe’s back as they had ridden up to the ranch, and they had felt as sickened by what they saw as their father had been. Both had wanted to rush to their brother’s aid, but they also knew there was little they could do beyond what Ben was doing to help Joe. So both had pushed aside their feelings of concern for Joe temporarily, and moved to see what else needed to be done.
“I’ve sent one of the men for the doctor,” Adam said, “and told another to get the sheriff.”
He hesitated as he watched Ben continuing to tickle water on Joe’s lips and face. Adam wasn’t sure his father was even listening. Nevertheless, he continued. “Jacob is alive, but just barely. He was shot in the back. Sarah and Hoss are doing what they can for him until the doctor arrives. One of the men is guarding Newly Watson. Looks like Watson has a broken hip and shoulder, and maybe some broken ribs. Parks is unconscious – looks like maybe he hit his head on a rock – but I’ve got one of the hands watching him too, just in case.”
“What about the other three?” asked Ben, surprising Adam with the question. Adam has sure his report was merely words to his father. “Sarah said there were five men,” continued Ben.
“Looks like they just lit out,” said Adam. “They left a trail, probably more worried about getting out of here than covering their tracks. When Roy Coffee gets here, we’ll go after them. Roy doesn’t know it yet, but he’s already got an instant posse here, ready to ride.”
Nodding, Ben put the canteen aside. He stroked Joe’s bruised face again, and once more repeated his son’s name. Ben had little hope that Joe would answer, but this time, his words seemed to get through to Joe. Giving out a small groan, Joe moved his head slightly. His eyes fluttered a bit but never opened.
“Joe, can you hear me?” asked Ben in an urgent voice.
Joe’s head moved slightly again, and his lips parted. He grunted in pain and he crinkled his eyes. “Pa,” said Joe in a soft voice.
“I’m here, Son,” answered Ben in a soothing tone. “Everything is going to be all right. Just lie still.”
“Pa,” repeated Joe in a whisper. “Help him. Help Jacob.” Then Joe’s head fell to the side and his body went limp.
Joe didn’t want to wake up. He knew if he did, he would feel pain. Not only a physical pain but also a pain of loss. And Joe didn’t want to feel that pain. So he let himself stay in the safe, fuzzy cloud that seemed to have enveloped him, a place where there was no pain, no loss. He dreamt of Jacob, standing on the ridge above him as he shooed the young Indians away. He saw his friend breaking horses in his dream, and pictured Jacob laughing across the dinner table. Joe didn’t want to leave those dreams because he feared they were pictures that never would be repeated. In his dream world, Joe could hear voices.
“Still unconscious? He should be awake by now.”
“He must be in some kind of shock.”
“I’ve tried everything but he won’t come around.”
“Keeping trying, Ben.”
“Maybe Sarah can help.”
At the sound of Sarah’s name, Joe felt himself withdrawing further. He didn’t want to wake to see Sarah’s face. That was another pain he wanted to avoid. So Joe kept himself in the safe dream world, ignoring the voices around him. But it was Sarah’s voice that eventually convinced Joe to emerge from the cocoon he had formed around himself. At first, when he heard her voice, Joe pulled away from it. He had heard only the sound, not the words, and Joe didn’t want to look into the face that was surely going to reflect his own pain. But eventually Sarah’s words penetrated, and her urgent pleas confused Joe. He fought to the surface of awareness, not because he wanted to wake but because he needed to understand the meaning of Sarah’s words.
“Please, Joe, please wake up,” Sarah repeated. “Jacob isn’t dead. Do you understand me? He needs to know you’re all right. Jacob needs you, Joe. He isn’t dead.”
Fluttering his eyes open, Joe stared up into Sarah’s face. “Sarah?” croaked Joe in a dry voice. “Jacob’s alive?”
Giving a sigh of relief, Sarah smiled. “Yes, Joe, Jacob is alive. He’s been asking about you, and he’s concerned about you. He needs to know you’re going to be all right.”
Moving on the bed, Joe winced in pain. His back still felt as if it were on fire, although the burning pain was less than he remembered. Joe was lying on his stomach, and he moved slowly to his side. He could see his father standing behind Sarah, looking tired and relieved. “Jacob is alive?” Joe asked Ben, seeking confirmation. Ben nodded.
“I’ll tell Jacob you’re awake,” said Sarah, getting up from a chair by the bed. “Then I’ll bring you some soup.” She quickly left the room.
Looking around, Joe tried to figure out where he was. He didn’t recognize the room.
“How are you feeling, son?” asked Ben as he moved to sit in the chair by the bed.
“Sore,” replied Joe. He looked around. “Can I have some water?”
As Ben reached for a small pitcher and glass, Joe asked, “Where am I?”
“Still at Jacob’s ranch,” replied Ben as he lifted Joe’s head and put the glass to his son’s lips. “We didn’t want to move you back to the Ponderosa until…until you were stronger.”
“How long?” Joe asked as he finished drinking.
Ben didn’t need clarification of Joe’s question. “You’ve been unconscious since yesterday. You really had us worried.”
“Sorry,” said Joe. He looked away. “I thought Jacob was dead for sure.”
“He was shot and badly injured,” Ben said, “but the doctor says he’s going to make it.” Ben shook his head. “Doctor Martin said Jacob is the strongest man he’s ever seen, and not just physically. The Doctor said he should have died but somehow Jacob just refused to let that happen.”
“Watson, he was the ringleader,” said Joe.
“I know,” replied Ben. “He and Parks are in custody. Parks told us everything that happened, once he came to. He thought blaming Watson might lessen the charges against him.”
“Will it?” asked Joe.
“Probably not,” replied Ben. “But we let him think so. Adam and Hoss are riding with the posse after the other three. They didn’t bother to hide their tracks, so it’s only a question of time until the posse catches them.”
Letting out a sigh, Joe said, “I’m glad Jacob is going to be all right. I heard that shot, and I was sure they killed him.”
“They shot him in the back, Joe,” said Ben. “It was a serious wound.”
“But he’s going to be all right,” Joe said with a frown. “Sarah said so. So did you.”
Ben looked away for a minute then turned back to face his son. “Jacob is going to survive the gunshot, Joe. He’ll probably live to a ripe old age.” Ben looked down and then faced Joe again. “But, Joe, Jacob will never walk again.”
“Joe, Hop Sing is going into town for supplies,” said Ben as he walked from the kitchen to the living room. “Do you want to ride in with him?”
Seated in the blue chair by the fireplace, Joe looked up from the book at which he had been staring. The bruises on his face had faded to light marks, but he sat forward in the chair, avoiding resting his back against the soft material. “No thanks,” Joe said briefly, and looked down again at the page in front of him.
Frowning, Ben said, “Joe, it’s been almost a week since we brought you home. I know you’re still sore, but you need to do more than just sit around the house.”
Looking up again, Joe nodded. “I know, Pa,” he said. “And I will. I just don’t feel up to it yet.” Joe looked down into the book again.
Shaking his head, Ben walked over to his desk and sat down behind it. There were some contracts on the desk, but Ben ignored them. He looked across the room at his son, and wondered what he could do or say to help him. Ben remembered how quiet Joe had been in the back of the wagon the day they had brought him back to the Ponderosa. At the time, he had simply thought Joe was in pain. But he knew now that something was troubling his son. Joe had been listless since he had come home, uninterested in doing anything or saying much beyond what was required of him. Ben knew that something was building up in Joe, but he was at a loss at what to do ease Joe’s troubles. With a sigh, Ben picked up the contract in front of him. All he could do is wait for the dam inside Joe to break, and be there when his son’s troubles came gushing out. A knock on the door startled Ben, and he looked up to see if Joe reacted. Joe sat still, his eyes still locked on the page of the book in front of him, ignoring the sound of a visitor. There was a second knock, and with a sigh, Ben rose to answer the door.
“Sarah!” said Ben in surprise and with pleasure as he saw the Indian woman standing on the porch. “Come in!”
“Thank you, Ben,” said Sarah. She walked in and looked across the room. “Hello, Joe,” she said in a quiet voice.
Staring at the woman across the room, Joe swallowed hard. “Hello, Sarah,” he said softly.
Frowning, Ben watched as Sarah and Joe simply looked at each other. Sarah seemed calm and assured, while Joe seemed uncomfortable.
Finally, Ben gestured to Sarah.
“Sit down,” he said in a overly hearty voice. “Make yourself at home.”
“Thank you, Ben, “ said Sarah with a smile. She moved around to sit on the sofa. Joe simply watched her, an almost wary look on his face.
“How’s Jacob?” asked Ben as he eased himself in to the red chair by the fireplace.
“Doing well,” replied Sarah with a smile. “The doctor is amazed that he’s sitting up in bed already. He’s got his appetite back, too, which means he’s starting to eat everything I have in the house.”
Laughing, Ben said, “That’s a good sign.”
“Yes, it is,” answered Sarah. “Ben, I want to thank you for sending over those ranch hands to take of things for us. They’ve done a wonderful job keeping the ranch going.”
“I’m glad,” said Ben, with a nod. “You let me know if they don’t do what’s needed. I’ll send some other men over if necessary.”
“Thank you, but I’m sure this is going to work out fine,” said Sarah. She glanced over to Joe who was still sitting silently in the chair. Joe looked down to the floor.
To break the uncomfortable silence that had descended, Ben said, “You heard the posse caught those other three men, didn’t you?”
Turning back to Ben, Sarah nodded. “Yes, Roy Coffee rode out yesterday to tell us. Jacob gave the sheriff a statement. I don’t think Jacob will be able to testify at the trial.” Sarah turned to Joe. “You’re going to testify, aren’t you, Joe?”
“Yes,” said Joe briefly, as he looked up. Then he looked away again.
Once again, an uncomfortable silence descended in the room. Ben looked at Joe, and then back to Sarah. Sarah was watching Joe, but Joe couldn’t seem to meet her eyes.
“Sarah,” said Ben softly. “Is there anything else we can to do help you and Jacob?”
“Yes,” said Sarah, her eyes still on Joe. “Jacob really wants to see Joe. It would help him tremendously if Joe would come visit him.”
This time, Joe turned to face Sarah. “I’m…I can’t do that,” he said nervously.
“Why not?” asked Sarah gently. “The doctor told me this morning that you’re fit to ride. It wouldn’t have to be a long visit, Joe. But Jacob really wants to see you.”
“I’m busy right now,” said Joe, looking away. “Maybe in awhile.”
“Joe, Jacob needs to see you,” said Sarah. “He’s concerned that you’re not all right. I told him you were, but he wants to see for himself. He’s wondering why you didn’t see him before your father took you home. I think he’s worried that we’re hiding something from him about you. Please, Joe, please come see him.”
Turning back to look at Sarah, Joe started to say something. Then, suddenly, he put his face in his hands. “I can’t, Sarah, I just can’t,” said Joe in a muffled voice.
“But why, Joe?” pressed Sarah. She took a breath, and then said quietly, “Is it because you blame Jacob for what happened to you?”
Raising his face from his hands, Joe looked appalled at the suggestion. “Blame Jacob? Of course not! Why would I blame him?”
“Then why can’t you see him, Joe?” asked Sarah.
Looking away, Joe didn’t answer. He stared into the fireplace for a minute, then turned back to Sarah. And the dam inside Joe broke.
“It’s all my fault,” said Joe in an anguished voice. “Everything that happened, it’s because of me and my meddling. If I had left well enough alone, Jacob would be walking today.”
“Joe, how can you say that?” exclaimed Sarah.
“Because it’s true,” said Joe in a rush of words. “I’m the one who encouraged you and Jacob to settle here, and I’m the one who helped him break and sell those horses to the Army. If we hadn’t been at the Army post, Jacob wouldn’t have had that run-in with Watson. And if Jacob hadn’t been trying to save me, he wouldn’t have been shot.”
“Joe, you know that’s not true,” said Ben. “None of what happened is your fault.”
“It is, Pa,” insisted Joe. “If I hadn’t been at the ranch that day, Jacob wouldn’t have been shot trying to save my skin.”
“Joe, do you really believe that you’re being at the ranch caused Jacob to be shot?” said Ben. “If you hadn’t been there, those men would have still come after Jacob. They probably would have killed him right away. You fought to save Jacob. You’re being there helped Jacob, not caused him harm.”
“Pa, you don’t understand,” said Joe, putting his head in his hands again.
“I think I do,” said Sarah. “Joe, you have nothing to feel guilty about, and Jacob certainly doesn’t blame you for what happened. Jacob loved running that ranch, and he was so grateful to you for helping him. He was grateful to you for wanting to be his friend, Joe. And to a man like Jacob, saving a friend is the most important thing in the world. He doesn’t blame you for being shot, Joe. He would have died if he had to, if it meant saving you.”
“But he’ll never walk again,” said Joe, the anguish he felt audible in his voice. “Because of me, he’s crippled.”
Standing, Sarah walked over to Joe and gently pulled his hands from his face. “Look at me, Joe Cartwright,” she said in a firm voice. “If you think not walking is going to devastate Jacob Red Feather, then you don’t know him as well as you thought you did. He’s not happy about it, of course, but he’s not going to let it stop him. He’s going to get on with his life. And, Joe, you need to stop moping around this house and get on with yours.”
Riding slowly, Joe guided his pinto to Jacob’s house. He still was reluctant to face his friend, but Sarah’s visit yesterday had showed him that it was important that he did. Joe wasn’t entirely convinced that Jacob didn’t blame him for what happened, and he still felt guilty about his friend’s inability to walk. But Joe knew he had to face Jacob. He had to know for himself how his friend felt. After tying his horse to the porch beam, Joe walked slowly to the front door and knocked. For a moment, all the times he had done this in the past flashed through Joe’s head. Those were visits of anticipation, a time when he looked forward to seeing Jacob. Now Joe only felt a sense of apprehension as he knocked on the door.
“Joe, come in,” said Sarah with a smile as she opened the door. “Jacob is so anxious to see you.”
Walking slowly into the house, Joe looked around. The blue curtains and the pale tablecloth were still in place, as were the knickknacks on the shelves. The house looked the same, but to Joe, it no longer felt warm and inviting.
“Go on into the bedroom,” Sarah urged Joe. “Jacob’s waiting for you.”
Nodding, Joe walked slowly across the room, his legs feeling as if they were made of lead. Joe stopped in front of the bedroom door and pulled his hat off his head. He played with the hat nervously as he stared at the door. Joe felt Sarah watching him, and he knew he couldn’t just stand there in front of the door. Taking a deep breath, Joe pushed the door open. Jacob was sitting up in bed, his back propped up by two thick pillows. His dark skin made a stark contract to the white night shirt he was wearing. Joe could see the powerful legs of his friend outlined under the thick quilt that covered the bed.
“Joe!” said Jacob in a relieved voice. “I’m so glad to see you. Sarah told me you were all right, but I had to see you for myself, just to make sure.”
“Hello, Jacob,” said Joe awkwardly. “How…how are you feeling?”
“Not bad, all things considered,” replied Jacob. He pointed to the chair. “Sit down, Joe.”
“All right,” agreed Joe, moving to the chair. “I…er…I can’t stay very long.”
“That’s too bad,” said Jacob. “I was looking forward to visiting with you. I’ve missed having you around.”
“Well, we’re pretty busy at the ranch,” Joe said, looking down.
Jacob looked at his friend for a minute, then said gently, “Joe, Sarah told me what you said yesterday. I don’t blame you for what happened. You have nothing to feel guilty about. It wasn’t your fault. Maybe it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Maybe it was divine intervention.”
“What?” said Joe, looking up in surprise.
“Well, you have to admit I wasn’t a very good rancher,” said Jacob. “If it’s hadn’t been for you and your family helping me, I don’t think I could have made this place work.”
“That’s not true,” protested Joe. “You were doing a good job.”
“Maybe,” said Jacob doubtfully. “You know, before he died, Father Paul tried to convince me that I should do something to help others, like being a teacher or something. But I got it into my head that I wanted to own a ranch. So I spent all that time looking for gold and then trying to buy a ranch. Maybe I should have taken it as sign then when I couldn’t find a place to buy. But I guess I was too thick-headed and stubborn to give up, and I kept working at it until I finally found this place. Maybe God got disgusted with me, and finally forced me to give up ranching.” Jacob laughed, and continued, “I wish his methods had been a little less drastic, but maybe that’s the only way he could get the message into my thick head.”
Smiling, Joe said, “Well, I hardly think a bullet in the back is God’s way of making you give up ranching.”
“You never know, Joe,” answered Jacob with a grin. “He works in some pretty strange and mysterious ways.”
“So what are you going to do now?” asked Joe, relaxing in the chair for the first time.
“Do what I think I was always meant to do,” replied Jacob. “Father Paul told me about an orphanage outside of Denver run by some brothers from his order. They take in Indian children, as well as Black children, Chinese children – any children that no one else wants. It’s the kind of place where Sarah and I will fit right in. Our skin color won’t matter because everyone there has a different color skin. Sarah is planning to act as nurse and be a mother hen to a brood of kids, just like she’s always wanted. I’ll do some teaching, not only the book stuff, but also a little about life and how to deal with it.” Jacob grinned. “I might even throw in a few lessons about ranching.”
“I think there’s a lot you can teach those kids,” said Joe in a heartfelt voice. “When are you planning on leaving?”
“Not for awhile,” said Jacob. “There’s a lot to take care of first. I need to get fit, and then try to convince your Pa to buy back this ranch.”
“He will,” Joe assured Jacob. “At a handsome price.”
“I’m counting on it,” said Jacob. “There’s a lot of good I want to do with that money, a lot of things more important than buying a ranch to indulge myself. Sarah has already written to the good brothers to let them know we want to come.”
“Do you think they’ll say yes?” asked Joe.
“They will,” said Jacob. “Father Paul told me they never turn anyone away. Even a thick-headed Indian.”
“I’ll miss you, Jacob,” Joe said sincerely.
“And I’ll miss you, Joe,” replied Jacob. “But you get to Denver from time to time, don’t you? I want you to promise you’ll visit Sarah and me.”
“Don’t worry, I will,” said Joe with a smile. Then his face sobered a bit. “Sarah said you’re not going to testify at the trial.”
“No,” said Jacob. “I’ve given a statement, and the sheriff thinks that will be enough. It’s probably better that an Indian isn’t taking the stand, accusing white men. On paper, my statement will have no color.”
Joe looked down, not knowing what to say.
“Besides,” said Jacob with a smile. “From what I hear, it’s not going to be much of a trial. The sheriff told me everyone is telling stories and pointing fingers at each other. It’s not going to be a matter of what happened, but who did what.”
“Newly Watson isn’t saying much,” said Joe in a dry voice. “He’s still too sore to talk. They tell me you broke his hip, shoulder and three ribs. And cracked Park’s skull in the process.”
“Yeah, well, I guess I lost my temper,” said Jacob, looking a bit embarrassed.
“I’m glad you did,” said Joe, gratefully. “I have a feeling I wouldn’t be sitting here if it weren’t for you taking them all on like you did.”
Shrugging, Jacob said, “It probably wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did. But I couldn’t stand seeing what Watson was doing to you.” He looked intently at Joe. “How are you, really?”
“Still a bit sore,” admitted Joe. “But the doc says my back is healing fine and there won’t be any scars.” Then Joe grinned. “I figure I can milk this at least another two weeks and get Adam and Hoss to do my work for me.”
As Jacob laughed, Joe stood. “I really do have to get going,” he said. “I don’t want to tire you out.”
“You’ll come back?” asked Jacob.
“Yes, I’ll be back,” said Joe, nodding.
“Good,” said Jacob. “How about Wednesday? You could stay for dinner.”
“I’ll be here Wednesday,” said Joe in a positive tone. “And every Wednesday until you leave for Denver.”
As Jacob had predicted, the trial of Newly Watson and his friends was short. Joe testified, and painted a graphic picture of the cruelty imposed on him and on Jacob. Jacob’s statement was read, and confirmed everything Joe described and more. The rest of the trial was spent having the defendants accuse the others of what had happened and proclaiming their innocence. It took the jury only twenty minutes to find all five guilty. As the five men stood before the judge for sentencing, they still proclaimed their innocence. The judge silenced them with a bang of his gavel.
“I’m still not clear on who did exactly what that day,” said the judge, “but it really doesn’t matter. In the eyes of the law, you are all equally guilty for the assault on Joseph Cartwright and the attempted murder of Jacob Red Feather. There’s question about your involvement in the robbery and murder of an Army supply wagon, but that will be investigated separately. The Army will have plenty of time to talk to each of you. For the assault with intent to do bodily harm to Joseph Cartwright, each of you is sentenced to five years in the Nevada State Prison. For the attempted murder of Jacob Red Feather, each of you is sentenced to twenty-five years in the Nevada State Prison. The sentences are to run consecutively, which means it will be thirty years before any of you are released. My only regret is that I couldn’t put you all away for longer.”
“But Judge, that ain’t fair,” complained Parks. “I didn’t do anything. All I did was watch.”
“Do you want to add contempt of court to your charges, Mr. Parks?” asked the judge. When Parks didn’t answer, the judge banged his gavel again. “This trial is concluded. Sheriff, take the prisoners away.”
As Joe and Ben left the courthouse in the crowd of people, Ben put his arm around his son. “Satisfied?”
“I guess,” said Joe. “Personally, I would have like to see them away for life, but I guess thirty years is pretty close to that.”
As Ben and Joe were walking out the door of the courthouse, a cowboy was standing nearby. “Can you believe that?” the cowboy said to someone standing nearby. “Twenty-five years in prison. Just for shooting an Indian.”
Spinning around, Joe punched the man in the mouth. More surprised than hurt, the cowboy asked Joe, “Why did you do that?”
“Jacob isn’t ‘just an Indian’ “ said Joe in a furious voice. “He’s a man, a good man, one of the best I’ve ever met.” Joe looked around at the crowd of people who were staring at him. “All of you, you never saw anything but Jacob’s skin, did you? You never looked beyond the color of his skin to see his generous heart. You never saw his humor, his intelligence, his soul. All you saw was that he had red skin. And you know what. I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry for you all.”
As Joe stalked off from the front of the courthouse, Ben hurried after his son. He caught up with Joe at the buckboard, where Joe was still fuming. When he felt Ben’s arm around his shoulders, though, Joe looked up and apologized. “I’m sorry I lost my temper like that, Pa.”
“I’m not,” replied Ben. “If you hadn’t hit him, I probably would have.”
“I wanted so much for Jacob and Sarah to be happy here,” said Joe, shaking his head. “I wanted them to be a part of Virginia City.”
“Jacob and Sarah may never be a part of Virginia City, not the way you wanted, Joe,” replied Ben. “But I have a feeling it’s going to be a long time before Virginia City forgets a man named Jacob.”