A Tale of Two Feathers – An Old Acquaintance (by DebbieB)

Summary: Part three of Two Feathers.  Joe is reunited with his old friend, the Paiute chief, Two Feathers, in a most unusual way.  This time, it is up to the Indian to teach Joe how to forgive and how to stop hating.

Rated: PG13  (13,600 words)

 

 

                     An Old Acquaintance

 

Joe squeezed his eyes tightly, hoping to ward off the pain that surged through his shoulder.  He could feel the blood beginning to congeal on his shirt and it felt sticky to the touch.  He couldn’t stop the soft moan that passed from his lips that were pursed tightly together; the pain, it burned, like a hot iron had been set to his skin.  Groaning, Joe twisted his body into a sitting position and looked around for the others.  Under the wagon next to him, he could see Smitty, an arrow buried deeply into his chest.  Bart lay under the second wagon and from what Joe could make out, had not fared any better than Smitty for there appeared to be an arrow in the center of his back.  Both men were dead, Joe could tell and he gulped for air, partly from the burning pain that consumed him and partly out of fear.

The renegade Bannock Indians had taken them totally by surprise when they had attacked.  Joe and his crew of five other men had not been expecting the attack; there had not been any talk around about that there was any trouble going on with the Indians, lest ways, not around the Virginia City area.

Joe and his men had been taking a large lumber order over to Carson City by way of freight wagons when they had heard the blood curdling screams of the large group of Indians as they converged down out of the hills on the slow moving wagons, catching them off guard and unprepared.  Now, from the looks of his two men, it seemed that Joe might be the only one left alive.  He tried to locate the other three who had been assigned to the job of transporting the timber, but he couldn’t see them anywhere.  Pain from his wound darted down his arm and Joe glanced once again at the spot where the arrow had struck him.  From the amount of blood that he could see oozing from the hole in his shoulder, Joe feared that he might soon join his companions in the hereafter, long before the day was to end.

Joe drifted in and out of consciousness, the loss of blood leaving him weak and trembling.  The pain giving him cause to cry aloud as he balanced between reality and the dark world that sought to claim him.  He tried to rip his shirt and stuff the wound but the blood soon soaked through the flimsy material until it had become saturated with the bright red liquid of life. It was impossible to pull the arrowhead from the open wound; it was embedded too deeply into his flesh.  His arm and shoulder ached, the pain shooting all the way down to the ends of his fingers and so intense that it caused his stomach to hurt as well.  Joe struggled to stay awake for he knew if he passed out, they would find him. His main concern now was to just stay out of sight and hope that the war party would go away, for there was no way he could fight off the crazed mad men who were hell-bent on destroying him.

Joe could hear the jumbled voices of men and scooted as far back into the shadow of the wagon as he could.  The ground was cold but solid as he inched his body slowly along until he was sure that he could not be seen beneath the freight wagon that had been turned over during the raid.  The voices became louder as the red men moved from wagon to wagon, searching for survivors and Joe mentally prayed that the renegades would not take time to turn the wagon upright, thus revealing his hiding place.

Suddenly a screeching, horrible wailing pierced his ears and set his already pounding heart to thumping rapidly within his chest.  Joe glanced at his wound, feeling sickened by the sight.  It appeared that the faster his heart rate became the faster the blood dripped from the jagged rip in his flesh.  Again the piteous chaotic wail shattered the uncommon stillness of the late afternoon.  Joe reached for his pistol and checked the chamber, it was empty, he had used the last of his bullets.  Slowly Joe peeked from his hiding place, seeking the one who had made the sounds.  Joe’s eyes found what they had been looking for and the sight that he witnessed turned his blood cold.

Three of the renegade Indians had found his friend, Bart’s twin brother, Bert.  Bert had two arrows embedded in his body, one in his right shoulder and the other in his left leg.  A muscular Indian straddled Bert’s back, his hand full of Bert’s sandy blond hair and when he moved the sharply honed knife across Bert’s scalp, Joe felt the contents of his stomach gurgle as he fought to keep from spilling the hot tasting bile onto the ground.  The Indian jumped to his feet, the scalp held up high in his hand as he danced around the dying man.  Joe tried to turn his eyes from the sight, but could not.  He watched Bert’s body twist and jerk one final time and then felt the sting of tears as Bert took his last breath.

The Indians whooped and hollered loudly as they moved to the next body and repeated the horrific act once again.  Joe could do nothing to stop his tears as he watched in horror, nor could he control the fear that coursed through his shivering body.  When the rampaging red men moved in his direction, Joe held his breath, afraid to even breathe.  From his hiding place, he could see the moccasin clad feet of the enemy as they stood just inches from where he lay unseen beneath the over turned wagon.

It seemed like a lifetime to the wounded young man before the Indians moved further away and by the time the red men had mounted their horses, their victory scalps proudly displayed from their waistbands, Joe had closed his eyes to the intense pain that scorched his body.  His world had become the blackened universe of dark unconsciousness where he no longer lay in fear neither of the red men nor of the terror and pain that had been rendered upon him.

“I’m sorry Ben, so sorry,” voiced Roy Coffey, his head hung low, unable to meet the eyes of his friend.

Adam had his hand resting on his father’s shoulder and could feel the tremors that surged through Ben’s body.  The oldest Cartwright son knew the father was struggling with his emotions and that Ben fought to keep from giving in to his grief.

“All of them, Roy?  All of them?” mumbled Ben, finally swallowing the lump that had risen in his throat and at last looking into the sheriff’s face.

“Ben, they was all dead, Smitty, Bart and Bert, Gabe and Sam.  There was no sign of Little Joe, no where’s.  We looked high and low, he just wasn’t there,” Roy explained again.

Ben sighed and brushed off Adam’s hand from his shoulder and walked to the back of the wagon.  Slowly he raised the tarp and peered at the five bodies of the men who had worked for him.  Ben felt his stomach churn, the sight of the men, their scalps missing, made him sick.  He had seen the sight before, early on, when he and a young Adam had encountered the Indians along the way on their journey to this land.  The first time he had happened upon the small group of people, who had been traveling together and had seen the devastation that the Indians had caused, his stomach had reacted then as well.  It was a sight that he would see again and again, but one that he would never get used to.  And seeing it now, here, in his own yard, men who had worked for him, had been his friends, the sight still had the same affect on his stomach.  And then there was the deep-rooted fear for his youngest son, where was Joseph and what had happened to him?  Why was he not among the group? His worst fear, was the mass of dark, unruly curls that had always felt so soft to his touch, hang as a victory prize from some insane Bannock’s waistband?

Ben dropped the tarp and turned his head from the sight and from the men who had gathered around him.  He felt the sting of tears as his dark eyes clouded and quickly wiped them away with the sleeve of his shirt, lest they fall and be seen by the onlookers.

“Thanks Roy, for bringing them home,” said Adam as he moved to place his large frame between the sight in the back of the wagon and his father, blocking the view.

Adam could read the troubled thoughts that were passing in and out of his father’s mind; the images those thoughts were conjuring up as Ben’s imagination ran rampart in regard to young Joe.  Adam felt the same fear deep within himself and when he glanced toward his middle brother, he could see the same fear and dread embedded on Hoss’ face as well.

Ben seemed to suddenly snap out of his stupor and turned his attention back to the others.

“Yes, thank you Roy.  We’ll notify their next of kin and see that they get a proper burial,” he told the sheriff.

Hoss who had been silent the entire time, sniffed his nose, running his arm across the front of his face.  “Come on Adam, let’s get started.”

“Ben, I’m gonna go back into town and see if I cain’t get some men together for a search party.  I’ll send a wire over to Carson City, hopefully they might be able to tell us about any trouble that could be goin’ on over their way.”  Roy gathered his horse’s reins in his hand and paused in front of Ben.

“I know it ain’t much to go on Ben, but since we didn’t find Little Joe…well…there might be hope that the boy’s still alive.  We just gotta find him, that’s all.”

Ben closed his eyes and slowly shook his head.  “I want to believe that, Roy.  But why would they kill five and leave the one?  And if they took him, why, to satisfy themselves with their sick torture games?  I’ve seen it before Roy, it isn’t a pretty sight, what the Bannocks do to their captives,” surmised Ben sadly as the worse possible scenario flashed before his mind’s eye.

Ben turned from the sheriff and ambled slowly towards the house.  “God help my son if the Bannocks have him,” breathed the grief stricken father softly to himself as he entered the house and shut the door behind him.

Joe tossed from side to side, as if the effort would free his flaming body from the fierceness of the agony that had enveloped him.  His shoulder was on fire, the pain shooting clear down his arm to the tips of his fingers.  Never in all of his twenty-one years had he ever experienced pain such as he was suffering now.  His tortured mind could not focus on any one thing, this thoughts were muddled, his eyes felt as if they were glazed over by a thick white film that prevented him from seeing the face before him.  Joe could hear the soft murmurs that whispered above his head but could not make out what was being said about him.

“Pa?”   Joe’s head tossed about on the soft pillow as he struggled to see the face that loomed before him.

“Shh…” came the soft reply and Joe could feel the cool dampness of the cloth as it brushed across his forehead in an attempt to cool the raging fever.

Joe felt as if his eyelids were weighted down as he struggled to open his eyes.  The effort was too much and soon he stopped trying, allowing the darkness to claim him once again.  In his realm of in-between, Joe could see again, the faces of his friends, and he heard himself scream as the warrior swiped his sharp knife across Bert’s head, holding his friend’s scalp high over his own head.  Joe could hear the Indian warrior’s victory cry that drowned out his own shrill screams before absolute blackness swallowed him up, giving him peace from his tormented visions.

Two Feathers’ heart lurched as his young friend’s piteous cries pierced his ears.  The Paiute warrior had seen the results of his enemies, the Bannocks attack on the white man’s wagons.  He and his braves had happened upon the scene, just minutes afterwards and watched as the party of renegades rode away, their cries of victory ringing loudly in the eerie silence that had befallen the entire area around the attack site.

When the Bannocks were far enough away that Two Feathers had felt it safe for his own braves to venture onto the scene, he had been sickened by the carnage that he had found.  Though it had not been so very long ago that he himself had hated all white men, his stomach still found it hard to accept this type of butchery befallen any man.

Once, he had been party to such raids.  His heart once full of grief and hate, Two Feathers had taken his revenge out on any white man whom he had come face to face with.  That is until an encounter with a young white boy had changed his heart; where hate had turned to love and Two Feathers’ life had taken on new meaning.

Two Feathers eased his big buckskin stallion to a stop and slid easily from his mount’s back.  Three other braves followed their chief as he moved swiftly from one dead man to the other, inspecting each for any signs of life.  The Paiute chief felt his stomach rumble and he winced as his eyes searched each face of the dead men.  They were young, such a waste, thought Two Feathers, his heart sickened by the sight.

“There is nothing to be done here.  They are all dead.  We must not tarry, for our enemy, the Bannocks, might return.  Let us go,” ordered Two Feathers as he turned to mount his horse.

A soft moaning sound halted his movements as Two Feathers’ jerked his head around and listened intently.  He held his hand up, ordering his braves into silence.  Again he heard the strange whining and cautiously he moved in the direction in which the distressing sounds were coming.  Two Feathers stopped beside of the over turned wagon and motioned for his companions to raise the heavy wooden structure.  The three red men placed their hands on the sideboards of the wagon and lifted slowly until Two Feathers was able to peer beneath.  His friends heard his sudden intake of breath and cast anxious glances at one another.

The chief quickly tossed aside fallen slabs of lumber that had been spilled onto the ground and crawled beneath the wagon as instantly each man heard him begin to mutter softly.  The groans from under the wagon began to grow in volume as they watched Two Feathers backing out, bringing with him the bloodied body of a young white man.  As soon as Two Feathers had cleared the over turned wagon, his braves allowed the wooden structure to be lowered to the ground.

Two Feathers’ face had turned a pasty white, his shock registering in the depths of his dark eyes.  The three braves squatted around Two Feathers who held the young white man tenderly in his arms, but they said nothing, the expression on their leader’s face telling them that they must wait for their chief to speak first.

Two Feathers cradled Joe in his arms.  With his free hand, the Paiute warrior gently brushed the dirt from the battered face of his young friend and then carefully lowered Joe’s body onto the soft earth.  Two Feathers ripped the material of Joe’s shirt and when he found the wound that caused his friend’s agony; Two Feathers cringed slightly and cast a worried glance at each of his braves.

“My friend is hurt badly.  We must take him back to our village and tend this wound, but first, I must remove this arrow from his shoulder.  Gray Fox, you must hold him down, Nishka, you hold his legs.  I will pull the arrow,” ordered Two Feathers.

“I am sorry, Lil til Joe, for hurting you, but I must, but for only a moment,” whispered Two Feathers softly into the ear of the boy whom he had come to love as his own, two years earlier.  Two Feathers brushed back a stray lock of hair and with the utmost care, pulled upward on the shaft, removing the arrowhead from Joe’s shoulder.

Joe’s shrill scream sent the birds into flight as the pain penetrated the dark world where he had sought refuge from his agony.  His body stiffened, and then rocked from side to side as the arrow was eased upward, and only when the embedded weapon had been freed of its holdings, did Joe cease his tormented cries.

Quickly, Two Feathers worked to squelch the seeping blood and once finished, ordered his braves to place the young man on the horse with himself.  Joe’s head leaned heavily against the breast of his rescuer, unaware of the world around him and of the red man who sought to save his life.

It took Two Feathers the better part of the day to reach his village.  Having had to make several stops in order to redo the make shift bandage that had been placed over Joe’s open wound, they at last arrived at their destination.  Two Feathers was immediately encircled by his people as they gathered around in an attempt to see the white man that their chief had brought back to camp with him.  Two Feathers quickly shooed them away as he carried Joe into his teepee and carefully placed him on the bear skin bedding.  Joe moaned; his eyes fluttered slightly and opened.

Before him, Joe could make out the image of the Indian as he hovered above him.  Instinct warned him of the impending danger and his warped senses caused him to fight against the gentle hands that struggled to hold him down.  Fear seeped from every pore of Joe’s fevered body as he fought to remove himself from his enemy’s arms.

“NO!” screamed Joe as he felt the strong fingers of the Indian brush against the flesh of his brow.  Joe screamed a second time, in his confusion, the sharp edge of the knife that the warrior held in his hand scraped across his head, separating his hair from his skull.  Joe could feel the coolness of the blood that dripped from what remained of his hairline. The third time Joe scream, the peaceful darkness claimed him once more, his fear suddenly vanished, and Two Feathers, knowing what must have been going through his young friend’s mind, sighed deeply as he gently brushed the cool compress once more across Joe’s forehead.

Ben sat alone amongst the remains of his wagons.  His buckskin horse began to toss his head as the animal tried to make his rider aware of his restlessness.  Ben paid no mind, his thoughts were elsewhere as he surveyed the damage around him. Had this spot been his son’s place of death?  What had been the cause, an arrow through his heart?  Had his beloved Joseph been scalped, as were his friends?  If so, where had they taken his body, and why?  The murdering Indians had left the five others, why take Joe?  Perhaps Joseph had stood up to the warriors and they had made him their prisoner, forcing him to go along with them.  But if that were so, what lay ahead for his son now, a slow and painful death?  Ben dropped his head, unable to stop the fear that brought forth his tears.

“Dear God, please…let him be all right,” Ben silently prayed.

Ben raised his head and sniffed at the air, the smell of death lay all around him and he felt himself shiver at the thought.  He slipped silently from his saddle and slowly made his way around the debris kicking at small stones here and there.  All five wagons had been over turned during the course of the Indian raid.  Ben wondered briefly if the idea had been Joe’s, an attempt to shield themselves from flying arrows, thought Ben.  Ben sighed, it hadn’t done much good; there had been too many Indians and too few white men to fight against them.  Moving from wagon to wagon, Ben cringed as he spied the many arrows that had dug deeply into the wooden panels of his freight wagons.  Ben paused and stared at a dark circle on the ground near where one wagon had been up-righted.  When Ben knelt down he touched at the spot with his fingers.  His sudden intake of breath drew the attention of his middle son as Hoss moved to kneel next to his father.

“Did ya find somethin’ Pa?” asked the big man as he too fingered the darkened earth.

“Blood, dried blood.”  Ben cast anxious eyes at his son.  “Look at all these dark spots, every bit of it’s blood.  There, over there, there, and here.”  Ben pointed out each of the places where the earth had been discolored by the blood that had dried and seeped into the dirt.

Hoss glanced at each and then cast his eyes up at Adam who stood over them.  Ben rose slowly, small particles of the blood soaked dirt clutched in his hand.  Hoss also stood and watched the expression on his father’s face change to one of deep remorse.

“I wonder how much of this is Joseph’s own blood?” he mumbled more to himself than to his sons.

“Pa, the men will be here shortly to clean up this mess.  There’s nothing we can do here, why don’t we go home?” asked Adam, concerned for his father’s well being.

Ben shook his head.  “Not just yet son.  I want to look around some more.”  Ben moved off from where Adam and Hoss stood and began poking around the piles of lumber that had fallen from the wagons when they had been over turned.

Suddenly his eyes caught a glimpse of something shiny and he hurried to pick the object up.  “Adam, Hoss look,” he called.  Ben turned to face his sons; the object gripped so tightly in his hand that his knuckles had turned white.

“It’s Joseph’s pistol,” he told them, though there was no need, for both Adam and Hoss had instantly recognized their brother’s gun.

Ben spun the chamber.  “It’s empty,” he said solemnly and then spun the chamber again.  “He was out of bullets…dear God…they didn’t stand a chance.”

Joe’s fever continued to burn, causing Joe to toss aimlessly about on his bearskin bedding.  Two Feathers remained ever faithful by staying at Joe’s side throughout the long hours.  Many times, cool water compresses were applied to the young man’s sweat coated brow, and each time that Joe managed to open his eyes, Joe’s scream of terror would tear at the wall of Two Feathers’ heart.  The Paiute chief realized what his young friend had witnessed, knew the fear that must be plaguing the boy’s heart, for he himself had been witness to such atrocities and the memories still turned his stomach upside down and inside out.

Two Feathers could read the fear in his young friend’s eyes and knew that in Joe’s fevered condition, the boy was unable to separate his Paiute friend from the Bannock warriors who had reined terror unto the small group of men who had been attacked and murdered so callously.  Two Feathers knew, for each and every time that Joe awoke and his hand brushed at dampened locks of dark curls or the cool cloth brushed Joe’s brow, Joe would cry out in fright.  Even the soft whispered words of comfort that Two Feathers provided did nothing to put Joe’s fears at bay, so Joe continued to whine and moan, his fear adding more discomfort to his already agonized body and mind.

Several times, Joe had cried out for his father, or one of his brothers.  His piteous pleas for help tugging on the strings of Two Feathers’ heart as he sat and held Joe in his arms.

Gray Fox entered silently into Two Feathers’ teepee and stood, watching the way in which his chief tended to the young white man.  Gray Fox knew that this white man had been the one that had touched the heart of Two Feathers and changed the mighty warrior from a man filled with hate to a man who had learned to love again. Gray Fox knew had it not been for this boy, Two Feathers would have never returned to their village, never taken his rightful place as their chief, once Two Feathers’ father had died.  Two Feathers’ return and the change that his people saw in him had been what the village needed, for Two Feathers had saved them all from starvation, for they had been near destitute following the death of Ouray, chief of the Paiutes and Two Feathers’ father.  Gray Fox and the others owed Little Joe much in the way of thanks, for the young man had done something that no other man or woman had been able to do, and that was to speak to the heart of their new chief, Two Feathers.

Two Feathers glanced up at Gray Fox, a look of despair etched into the finely chiseled features of his bronzed face.  Gray Fox noted how the warrior’s eyes seem to cloud as Two Feathers spoke.

“My young friend is dying.  Our medicine man, Wovoka, has said that there is nothing else that can be done for the boy.”  Two Feathers glanced back at Joe’s tormented features and brush the back of his large, strong hand down the side of Little Joe’s flushed face.

“Go Gray Fox, bring Nishka to me and return.  There is something that I need you to do for me.  Hurry, for the end is drawing near,” ordered Two Feathers, his voice thick with emotion.

Gray Fox slipped quickly from the teepee and after only minutes returned with Nishka to stand silently while Two Feathers stated his requests.

“Take five brave men with you.  I want you to ride west, to the home of Lil til Joe.  You will know the place, it is called the Ponderosa, by the lake they call Tahoe.  You must speak only with Ben Cartwright or another of his sons.  Tell them that Two Feathers says to come quickly, and bring with them the white man’s medicine man.  Tell Ben Cartwright that his son lay dying and that he must hurry.  Go, do not tarry.”

Two Feathers brushed his hand at the two men and as silently and quickly as they had entered, the two departed and did as their chief had requested.  It took only minutes before Gray Fox and Nishka had chosen the five other braves and were on their way west, in search of the man whom Two Feathers had sent them to see.

Hoss stopped in his tracks as the seven Indians rode into the yard of the Ponderosa.  Quickly, he glanced over his shoulder toward the front door and yelled.

“PA! ADAM!  GET OUT HERE, QUICK!”

The front door burst open and Ben hurried to join Hoss at his side.  Adam followed moments later, his pistol held firmly in his hand as he stopped just inches from his father’s back.

“We come in peace,” said Gray Fox, spying the gun as he and Nishka slid from the bare backs of their ponies and stood together facing Ben and his two sons.

“Welcome,” stated Ben, glancing at Hoss and then Adam.  “What brings you to the Ponderosa?”

“I have come to speak with Ben Cartwright,” Gray Fox explained.

“I’m Ben Cartwright, what can I do for you?” Ben asked, his curiosity growing as the sight of the Indians gave his heart cause to beat rapidly.

“Our chief, Two Feathers, has sent us to get you and to…”

“Two Feathers?” questioned Ben, “Two Feathers is now chief of the Paiutes?”

“Yes, he says you must come with us, to our village.  He says to tell you to bring the white man’s medicine man for your son lay dying and has need of his medicine,” Gray Fox explained.

“My son?  Joseph is with Two Feathers?” Ben nearly shouted, giving each of his sons a quick look.

“Yes, we found the boy four days ago.  He and his companions had been attack by Bannock renegades and left for dead.  Your son is much loved by our chief, and Two Feathers fears for the boy’s life.  Come, we will take you to our village.”  Gray Fox motioned for Nishka to mount his horse and turned toward his own pony.

“Wait,” said Ben, “We have to send for the doctor.”  Ben turned to Adam, “Son, go fetch Doc Martin and hurry, we will meet you at the crest of the ridge, just inside our property line to the east.”

Adam quickly mounted his horse and turned, shouting over his shoulder to his father.  “I should be there in less than two hours.”  Adam kicked at his mount’s sides, and Sport took off at a run.  Meanwhile, Hoss and Ben quickly gathered what supplies they needed and joined Gray Fox and Nishka who waited patiently with the other five braves that had accompanied them.

Adam was true to his word, in less than the two hours he had predicted; he met his father and brother on the crest of the ridge.  Solemnly and in single file, Ben and his sons followed behind Gray Fox and Nishka, with the remaining five braves trailing behind them, always cautious, always looking back over their shoulders.

It was a weary group of travelers that pulled their mounts to a halt within Two Feathers’ village.  Quickly young boys gathered to take charge of the horses as the men dismounted.  Ben glanced anxiously about for Two Feathers but could not find his face among the group of natives that had encircled about them.

“You wait, I will tell our chief that you have arrived,” stated Gray Fox and hurried through the throng of people.

Gray Fox entered the teepee of Two Feathers.  The warm blaze from the fire made the teepee comfortable from the slight chill of the night air.  Gray Fox could make out the still form lying motionless on the bear skin blanket as he eased over to his chief.  Two Feathers chin was resting on his chest; his dark eyes were closed.  Briefly, Gray Fox thought that his leader was sleeping, but after kneeling to the warrior’s side, the softly spoken words of prayer could be heard coming from the mouth of the chief.

Gray Fox waited until Two Feathers had finished and then placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder.  Two Feathers quickly turned toward Gray Fox, the silent tears that had filled his eyes slipped slowly down his cheeks and Two Feathers brushed them away with the back of his hand.

“He is dead?” questioned Gray Fox, fearing that he and the others had taken too long in bringing the boy’s father and brothers to his bedside.

“No, he lives yet, but soon the end will come.  Has his father arrived as well?” Two Feathers asked as he rose to his feet and glanced down at Joe when the boy moaned softly.

“He is here, and he has brought the white medicine man,” Gray Fox told the Paiute chief.

“Come, I will see him now.”  Two Feathers led the way out and then waited until Gray Fox took him to where Ben and the doctor waited for them.

“Two Feathers,” Ben all but shouted when he spied the tall warrior approaching.

“Ben Cartwright, my friend, welcome to my village,” greeted Two Feathers.

“My son?  How is he?” Ben asked anxiously, a look of fear appearing on his face.  Ben watched the emotions that Two Feathers tried so hard to hide and knew that his son was not doing well.

Before Two Feathers had a chance to respond, Ben spoke again, this time the tone of his voice was practically pleading with the chief.  “Please, take me to him.”

“Come,” said Two Feathers.  He had seen the look on Ben’s face as well and knew the caring father was anxious to see his son.  Two Feathers wasted no time, for there was no time to waste, Joe was barely clinging to life as it was.

Two Feathers held open the flap that covered the round entranceway to his teepee and allowed Ben, Doc Martin and Ben’s sons to enter first.  Ben immediately spied Joe lying on the blankets close to the fire that warmed the teepee.  Quickly Ben, knelt beside of Joe, his hand tenderly caressed the boy’s cheek and when Joe moaned softly, Ben gently gathered his wounded son into an embrace and held him tightly for several moments, unable to voice his concerns to those who watched in respectful silence.

“Joseph,” whispered Ben, looking into the face of his youngest son.  “Please son, open your eyes,” pleaded Ben softly, watching and hoping for a reaction that would tell him that his son knew that his father was present.

“Joseph, your Pa’s here now son, please…can you hear me?” begged Ben as he brushed back the stray locks of soft curls that seemed always to be misplaced.

Paul Martin had taken one look at the youngest Cartwright and knew instantly that time was of the essence.  The physician knelt beside of the distraught father and placed his hand on Ben’s shoulder.

“Let me have a look at him Ben,” ordered Paul in a whispered voice.

Ben glanced up into the face of the doctor and when he did, Paul noted the frightened look in the depths of Ben’s dark worried eyes.  “He’s bad Paul, he’s bad,” whispered Ben, his voice thick with raw emotion.  “Please, you have to help him.”  Ben’s words came out in a near sob as he gently returned Joe’s head to the soft pile of furs that served as his pillow.

“I will try Ben, I promise,” Paul said and then moved nearer Joe the instant that Ben relinquished his spot beside of the wounded young man.

Adam and Hoss stood on either side of their father.  They too had seen the frightened expression that Ben wore and it added to their own fears that perhaps the doctor had been too long in coming to their brother’s aide and that having found the boy at last, they might possibly lose him again, this time permanently.

“He’ll be all right, Pa.  Ya just wait and see,” muttered Hoss, wanting more than anything else right now, to believe his own words.  “Doc here will take care of him.”

“Come, I will have my wife prepare something for you to eat,” said Two Feathers as he led them from the tent, leaving Paul to tend to Joe’s injuries by himself, as the doctor had requested.

“Wife?” said Ben, surprised at the news, for he knew that Two Feathers’ first wife and son had died several years earlier after having been murdered by white trappers bound to rid the mountains of the red men.

Two Feathers smiled at Ben.  “Yes, after I returned to my village, I took a wife, Rising Sun.  She is a most beautiful young woman who is about to give me a son, or daughter, soon,” beamed the Paiute proudly.  “After learning the lessons of love and forgiveness from your son, I decided to marry again and start over.  I have Lil til Joe to thank for my happiness now, for he gave me back my life.”  Two Feathers paused suddenly and glanced back toward the teepee where Joe lay, fighting for his own life.

“I just hope that I have not waited too long in giving him his life back as well,” said Two Feathers sadly and then glanced at Ben who watched his reactions.

Ben nodded his head.  “Paul will do all that he can to save Joe’s life.  I’m just glad to know that it was you who found my son and not those renegades who murdered my men.”

“I am also glad that it were I for Joseph was badly hurt, the wound in his shoulder was dirty and I am sure the arrow that pierced his flesh would have been as well.  He was imagining evil things by the time that I got him back to my village.  You will find that he is terrified by what he saw and I am sure he thinks of me as an enemy, for he screams each time that his eyes see my face.  I have tried to comfort him, to tell him that I am Two Feathers, his trusted friend, but his mind has convinced his heart otherwise.  It saddens me that he no longer trusts me or thinks of me as his friend,” said Two Feathers sadly.

Ben felt the unhappiness that this mighty warrior tried to mask and reached a reassuring hand out and placed it on the Indian’s shoulder.  “He is delirious, out of his mind because of the fever.  When my son is well again, Two Feathers, Little Joe will remember then.  You are his friend; he has spoken often of you,” Ben told the chief.

“Perhaps,” sighed the Paiute brave, “perhaps.”

Paul Martin spent what seemed like hours with Joe, thought Ben.  The boy’s wound had festered some and Paul was forced to reopen the partly healed lesion and then cut away the tissue that had refused to heal properly.  Though the morphine that Paul administered helped with the pain, Joe’s screams could still be heard throughout the camp.  When the first of several such agonizing screeches pierced the stillness of the evening, Ben leapt to his feet and ran to the teepee where Joe was being treated.  Adam ran after his father and was able to stop the older Cartwright just before Ben raised the flap that covered the opening.

“No Pa.  Don’t go in there.  Please, Paul knows what he is doing and if he needs any help, he’ll let us know.  Come back to the fire,” encouraged Adam, giving Hoss, who had followed him, a look that begged for support.

“Adam’s right Pa.  Ya won’t do Little Joe no good by getting’ in Doc’s way.  He’ll let us know as soon as we can see the kid,” Hoss said in a soft voice and gently took his father’s arm and led him back to the campfire where they had been sitting with Two Feathers and several of his braves.

It was long into the night before Doc Martin emerged from the tent, leaving his patient in the care of Two Feathers’ wife, Rising Sun.  Paul felt weary, his bones ached from having to stay bent over for so long but his spirits were high for Joe seemed to have at last settled into a much needed, deep sleep.

Ben raised his head at the sound of soft footsteps behind him and seeing that it was the doctor, quickly rose to his feet to greet the family physician.

“Paul?” he stated in a quivering voice.  Adam, Hoss and Two Feathers had also stood to their feet and were waiting with baited breath for the doctor’s synopsis.

Paul smiled at the small group of men, and saw each of them relax the worried expressions on their faces.  “He’s resting Ben, soundly,” Paul continued to smile.  “He’s had a rough time of it, but I can honestly say, had it not been for your friend here…” Paul pointed to Two Feathers, “I dare say Joseph would not have made it thus far.”

Ben glanced over his shoulder at his son’s rescuer and nodded his head at Two Feathers.  “Yes, I am very much aware of just how much in his debt that I am,” commented Ben.

“Joe’s far from being well, but I honestly believe that he’s going to be fine in time, Ben.  His injury was bad, but whatever that concoction was that Two Feathers kept on that wound, it seemed to have been working for the most part.  Stinks,” Paul grinned and then winked at the Cartwrights, “but it sure kept down a lot of the infection.  Had it not been for that, the infection would have been much, much worse and as sure as I’m standing here Ben, you would have lost that boy.”

Ben nodded his head in agreement and turned to Two Feathers.  “How can I ever thank you, Two Feathers?”

“You owe me no thanks, Ben Cartwright.  Two winters ago, I happen upon a young white boy.  I hated all whites then, and I took that boy as my prisoner.  I wanted to kill him, make him suffer, as my own son had been made to suffer.  I knew the boy had a family, a father who loved him as I loved my son, and I wanted that father to feel the pain of losing his son in a cruel way, as I.  Little did I know that that young boy would forever change my life. Your son, Ben Cartwright, taught me how to forgive and how to love again.  No, it is I who owes you.  I have grown to love your son, in much the same way, as I had loved my own flesh and blood son.  I would do all in my power to keep your boy safe and well,” Two Feathers smiled at Ben and his two sons.

“Thank you Two Feathers, for everything.”  Ben took the chief’s hand into his and shook it, then slipped his free arm about the Paiute’s shoulder and pulled the surprised Indian into an embrace.  “Let’s go see how our son is doing, shall we?” smiled Ben.

Paul returned to the teepee with Ben and his followers and together the small group entered into the teepee.  Rising Sun smiled at her husband as he moved to her side and tenderly slipped his arm about her thickening waistline.

Paul watched the young woman, scratching his head.  “It won’t be long now before that baby is born,” he commented to Two Feathers and Rising Sun.

Two Feathers eyes shone with the pride he felt and he smiled at the doctor, “it will be a son, of that I am sure.”

“I hope so, for your sake,” replied Paul.  “If I can be of any assistance while I’m here, just let me know, it could be any day now from the looks of things.”

Ben bent over the sleeping form of his son and with his lips pressed tightly together, formed a small smile as he caressed Joe’s cheek.  “Fever seems to be down some,” he said over his shoulder to Doc Martin.

Paul moved to stand over Ben and watched the expressions on Joe’s face.  “Yes, for now, but we still need to watch him.  I don’t contemplate any real problems Ben, but I want to stay around for a few days to be sure.”  Paul squatted down so only Ben could hear his next words.  “That young woman is just about to give birth and from the size of her belly, I don’t think she’s gonna have an easy time, either.”

Ben glanced over his shoulder at Rising Sun.  “I see what you mean, she really isn’t a very strong looking young woman, is she?”

“No she’s…” started Paul.

“Pa?”  The word was jumbled, but it drew everyone’s attention to Joe’s face.

“Joseph?” cooed Ben in a soft voice as he took his son’s hand into his own.  “Can you open your eyes, son?” he encouraged.

Joe tossed his head from side to side as he tried to force his eyes opened in response to his father’s voice.  His mind remained confused; his thoughts seemed locked into the last thing he remembered seeing, his friends and what had happened to them and when his eyes at last opened, they were filled with tears.

“Pa,” wept Joe, his arm fraying about in the air, searching frantically for his father.

Ben’s hands locked firmly around Joe’s and Ben brought it to his lips where he kissed the back of Joe’s.

“I’m right here, try to calm down,” urged Ben.

Joe’s chin quivered as the tears ran silently down his face.  “Bert…Gabe…Pa, they’re all dead…I…” cried Joe.

“Shh…”

“Indians…scalped them…OH GOD!  PA!  HELP ME!” screamed Joe, trying to force his body into a sitting position.

Adam quickly moved to help his father restrain Joe and gently forced him back down onto his bedding.  “Joe, you have to be still son.  It’s all right now, you’re safe,” Ben said in a deep voice.

Joe’s eyes darted from face to face; the soft glow of the fire making each more distorted to his vision than they really appeared.  Suddenly his eyes spied the face of Two Feathers as the warrior leaned over Ben’s shoulder so that he might observe his young charge.

Suddenly Joe screamed; his cry was high-pitched, and ear piercing.  He jerked his hand free of his father’s and pointed in Two Feathers’ direction as he fought to escape.

“INDIANS!  PA! LOOK OUT!” he shouted.

It took his father, Adam and Hoss to hold the frightened youth down.  Quickly, Paul pulled a syringe from his black bag and administered a shot that quickly did as it was intended to do.  In minutes, Joe began to relax and his eyes flickered open and shut, all the while fighting to remain focused on his father’s face.

“Savages,” he muttered, his words nearly whispered.  Everyone within the walls of the teepee fell silent as Joe continued his barrage of insults toward the red men.  “They’re all savages…all…of them…I hate them…for what…” Joe’s eyes began to close, “they did.”

Joe’s eyes fluttered opened one last time, and they met the dark gaze of Two Feathers.  “I…hate…you,” he sobbed.  His clouded hazel eyes closed, his lips continued to move though no words passed from his mouth.

All eyes turned to Two Feathers.  The warrior’s shoulders slumped, his eyes had misted and without uttering a word, the man vacated his teepee.

Ben glanced at his sons.  “He didn’t mean it, Pa.  Ya know that, the boy ain’t got no ideay what he just said to that man.  Why Joe could never hate Two Feathers, could he, Pa?” questioned Hoss, always first to stand up for his younger brother.

Ben shook his head sadly.  “No son, Joe couldn’t hate that man.  He’s just confused and doesn’t realize what he’s saying.”

“Then you might want to explain that to Two Feathers, cause I think the man believes what Joe just said,” said Adam, as he straighten the blankets and pulled them snug around his brother’s body.

“I think you’re right son.  Paul please let me know if there’s any change.  I think I will have a few words with Two Feathers.”  Ben brushed back a lock of Joe’s hair that had fallen to his brow and stood to his feet.  “I won’t be long,” he said and then slipped from the teepee.

Two Feathers leaned against the trunk of a large oak tree.  The words slung at him from the young man he adored had ripped his heart in two.  He tried to tell himself that Joe had not really meant what he had said, but the look of unrefined hatred that had sparked the hazel eyes, argued with his heart that the boy had indeed meant everything he had said.

Two Feathers thought back to the days when he and Joe had spent months together, just the two of them.  They had been happy days for the soon-to-be chief.  He had in those long winter nights, when he and Joe had shared a warm fire, developed an odd type of friendship with the young boy.  Joe had opened a door to a world of love, where hatred of the white man had soon became a thing of the past, where forgiveness and trust united as common companions to a heart that had been broken by the viciousness of others.  Two Feathers in those days, had found peace in his life, his spirit had been renewed and for the first time in many moons, had opened his heart to the young man who had first been his prisoner, then his friend and finally, his surrogate son.

The Paiute chief swiped at the unshed tears with the backs of his hands.  The boy had given him a second chance at happiness.  When Two Feathers had returned to his village, his father, the chief, lay on his deathbed.  Two Feathers had made peace with his father, had spent several hours telling him of his renewal and how it had come about.  Ouray, Two Feathers’ father, had smiled and given his son his blessings, telling him to always remember that the Great Spirit would remain close and that He would smile upon the new life that Two Feathers’ was seeking to establish.  The next day Ouray died.  Two Feathers, with new hope in his heart, made a promise to the Great Spirit as he became chief of the Paiutes, to always remember the lessons of the heart, taught to him by one so young; the one surely sent to him by divine intervention of the Great Spirit.

Ben spied the chief leaning against the tree.  His shadow that reflected by the glow of the fire, Ben approached cautiously, not wanting to intrude on the man’s thoughts.  When a twig snapped, Two Feathers’ head pivoted around and saw that it was Joe’s father who had come up behind him.  Quickly, Two Feathers sniffed his nose and masked the hurt that had shown on his sharply defined features.

“I hope I’m not bothering you?” Ben said softly.

Two Feathers smiled, but Ben could tell that the man was troubled, probably bothered by the words that Joseph had flung at his friend.

“No, I was just remembering,” confessed the Indian chief.

Ben watched the expression on the Indian’s face change and noted the far away look that came into his dark, brown eyes.

“He didn’t mean what he said.  He didn’t know what he was saying, or to whom he said it,” spoke Ben at last.

Two Feathers turned to face Ben once again.  “From the heart, the mouth speaks,” the brave remarked and looked away.

“But the heart was frightened, the mind scared and confused, the body burning with fever.  You cannot hold him responsible for his words…”

“And he cannot hold me responsible for what happened to him…or his friends.  Even he taught me that…two years ago when I hated all white men for what they had done to me and my family.  Now, for the same reasons, your son has learned to hate the Indian, all Indians, regardless of the fact that I, Two Feathers, had nothing to do with killing those boys,” shouted Two Feathers, unaware that his voice had risen and become full of resentment.

“Does he not know how I care for him?  Does he not remember that I asked him to stay with me?  To be my son?  Does he not know that I would gladly die for him if he needed me to do so?  No, because now he has learned to hate.  His heart has hardened and yes, though his mind is fevered, his heart speaks the truth.  I am now nothing to him.”

Two Feathers, his heart broken, turned from Ben and returned to his people where he mingled with members of his tribe.  Ben stood for several minutes, lost in his thoughts before returning to his injured son’s side.

Joe slept peacefully, Hoss and Paul had turned in for the night, leaving Adam at Joe’s side.  Ben slipped quietly inside and sat on the opposite side from where Adam sat.

“He’s resting now.  He opened his eyes again, after you went to talk to Two Feathers,” Adam told his father.

“Did he say anything?” asked Ben.

Adam pursed his lips tightly and cut his eyes over at his father.  “He begged me to take him home.  He said he was scared…of the Indians.  Pa, what Joe witnessed must have been horrific…I mean, to see your friends…”

“I know son, I know.  And I realize how terrifying that must have been for your brother,” Ben started.

“But Pa, Little Joe has to realize that it wasn’t Two Feathers that did those things.  We can’t just take him home without the two of them talking it out.  It wouldn’t be fair to either of them,” Adam explained to his father.

“Yes, I know that son.  I’ve talked to Two Feathers, but he seems sure that Joe knew what he was saying and that he meant what he said.  I don’t believe that for one minute, Joe thinks too much of that man to suddenly allow what someone else did to him or his friends to end up hating the chief.  I will have a talk with Joseph when he wakes up.”  Ben said and then glanced at Joe who slept soundly.

“Thank God that it was Two Feathers that found your brother,” muttered Ben in a voice so low that Adam was unable to hear the comment.

It was far into the second night before Joe began to stir about and finally woke; his eyes unclouded and his mind clear at last.  It was dark inside the teepee and it took several moments for Joe’s eyes to adjust to the dim lighting that was still present from the glowing embers of the fire.  Joe forced himself up, resting the weight of his body on one elbow as his eyes darted about the circular room in search of his father.

“Pa?  Pa?” called Joe weakly.  His breathing had become labored from the effort that seemed to drain him of any strength.  “Please…Pa,” cried Joe.

Ben was instantly on his feet and hurried to his son’s side.  “I’m here son.  It’s all right, your fine,” soothed Ben, taking Joe’s hand in his.  With his free hand, he pressed his palm against Joe’s brow and when he felt the coolness of his son’s skin against his, Ben sighed deeply.  “Your fever’s gone,” smiled Ben in relief.

“Pa…where am I?  This isn’t my room?” Joe forcing his words out loud enough that his father would be able to hear him.

“No son, we’re not home.  This is Two Feathers’ teepee, he…”

“Two Feathers?” questioned Joe, suddenly surprised at his father’s statement.  “How?  I mean…the last thing I remember…was…” The sob caught in Joe’s throat and he was unable to finish his sentence.

Ben noted the tears that had gathered in his son’s troubled eyes and hurried to reassure his son.  “It’s okay Joseph.  We’re all here now and you’re safe.”

“But how did I get here?  I thought it was the Bannocks who…who…attack us.”

“It was son.  Two Feathers and some of his men heard the shooting and went to see what was happening, but it was too late.  By the time that he and his men got to where you were, the Bannocks were riding off.  Two Feathers and his braves searched for survivors, and they found you under one of the wagons.  You were unconscious, and hurt very badly, the others…well…it was too late for them.  Two Feathers pulled the arrow from your shoulder and he and his men brought you back here, to his village,” explained Ben.

Joe’s eyes closed momentarily as he tried to remember all that had happened.  When they opened again, the tiny beads of water rolled slowly down the sides of Joe’s face.

“He saved my life…again…didn’t he?” Joe asked in a soft whispered voice.

Ben gently wiped the tears with his hands and smiled down at his son.  “Yes Joseph, he saved your life…again.”

Joe couldn’t stop the tiny smile that spread across his face.  “That man never ceases to amaze me.  Where is he Pa?  I have to thank him.”

Ben’s smile suddenly faded, remembering how Joe’s cruel words had hurt his son’s friend.  “Joe, it’s the middle of the night son.  Two Feathers is sleeping, you can see him in the morning.  Right now, I want you to go back to sleep, you need to be still and rest.”

Ben pulled the covers back up around Joe’s chin and fringed a small smile.  “Do as I say young man, close your eyes.”

Joe could see his father’s smile in the fading light; he could also see the troubled look that Ben tried so hard to conceal from him but his mind was just too weary to wonder what had changed his father’s expression from one of relief to one of worry.

“Yes sir,” whispered Joe, his eyelids becoming heavy as they closed once again to sleep.

Ben was waiting for Two Feathers by the time the Indian chief emerged from his second teepee where he had moved himself and his wife after Ben and his sons, along with the white man’s medicine man arrived to care for Joe.  The surprise at finding Ben at his teepee doorway was evident to Ben as Two Feathers stepped into the bright morning son.

“Ben Cartwright, you rise early.  Is Lil til Joe worse?” asked the Indian, worry sounding in his tone that was still husky from just waking.

“No, in fact Two Feathers, Joe is fine.  He’s awake and is asking for you, I thought…”

“Do not think for me Ben Cartwright.  I have things that must be done this day.  I cannot see your son…I will not see your son,” snapped Two Feathers as he stepped aside to allow his wife, Rising Sun, to leave his tent.

Rising Sun nodded her head at Ben and smiled.  “My husband is cross, as an old mama bear this morning.  He growls as if wounded, but it is only his foolish pride that stops him from seeing the boy he has talked so much about.”  Rising Sun glanced up at her husband and gently shook her head at him.  “Foolish man,” she muttered and walked away.

Two Feathers gave his wife a scowl but Ben could see the tiny smile that tugged at the red man’s lips, and he couldn’t help but speak up.

“Give him a chance to explain, Two Feathers.  I give you my word; the boy had no idea what he said.  When I talked to him about why you had not been to see him, I told him what he said to you.  He cried, he knows how that must have hurt you.  Won’t you give him a chance to tell you he is sorry?” Ben asked placing his hand gently on the big Indian’s arm.  “Would you be so unforgiving, if the boy were your own son?”

The near harsh question took the chief by surprise and for a moment he could find no words for his reply.  Suddenly he smiled, easing the deep furrows that had crossed his brow.

“No wonder your son has touched my heart so, for he is as sharp as his father.  You are wise Ben Cartwright, for you speak with a father’s heart and touch the longing in my own.  I will speak with your son, and I will forgive Lit til Joe for his harsh words.  How can I refuse one who was sent to teach my heart how to love, for look what I have gained by his lessons.”  Two Feathers turned at the approach of his wife and smiled, holding back the flap that covered the opening to their teepee.

Rising Sun turned, just as she entered and started to speak.  “Be silent woman!” ordered Two Feathers in a firm voice, but she smiled, for she knew her husband had lost his heart once again to the boy whom she knew Two Feathers loved deeply.

Joe was propped up in a sitting position when Two Feathers raised the flap to the teepee and slipped silently inside.  The light of day had begun to fade and it took several moments for the red man’s eyes to adjust to the dimly lit enclosure.

Joe watched the big Paiute as he entered the tent but said nothing, waiting for the warrior to speak first.  Joe knew that Two Feathers was waiting for his eyes to accustom themselves to the dim light.  It gave him the few moments he needed to sort his thoughts and form his words.  He had found it hard to believe when his father told him of the unkind words he had shouted at his friend, and now that Two Feathers stood before him, Joe had suddenly become shy and found it hard to meet the dark probing eyes that he knew were watching him.

Two Feathers squatted on his haunches in front of Joe and gently placed his strong powerful, yet tender hand on Joe’s quivering chin and raised the boy’s head upward, until the water filled hazel eyes, met his own.  Two Feathers smiled and when the droplets escaped from the rim that held them, he used his free hand to brush them away.

“Hate can erode your heart, suffocate your spirit and destroy your soul.  You taught me that, Lil til Joe.  Why do you now do these very things that you taught me not to do, now to your own heart, spirit and soul?  Do you hate so much that you wish to harden your heart to all of the good that surrounds you?  You will destroy your love and the love that others wish to give so freely to you.  Is this your wish?  To hate all red men, because a few took from you something that you held dear?” stated Two Feathers in a warm, loving voice that reminded Little Joe very much of his father.

Joe could only shake his head no and when Two Feathers removed his hand from Joe’s chin, Joe dropped his head and sniffed his nose.  “I didn’t mean what I said,” Joe’s eyes again found the dark probing eyes, “I didn’t even know it was you that I was talking too.”

“I know that now,” the chief told the boy.  Two Feathers sat down on the bear hide and crossed his legs.  “I am sorry for what happened to you Lil til Joe.  I have seen such brutal acts myself, and each time, my heart breaks for the ones that are made to suffer.  But soon their suffering is ended and those that remain, those who have stood witness to such cruel and unkind acts are the ones who have been left behind to endure the memories.  I know you shall never forget the sight, but you are strong my son and we must strive for better ways in which to teach our brothers that that kind of brutality is senseless to both the white man and the red man.  Lil til Joe, I know you were frightened.  It is nothing to be ashamed off…” Two Feathers paused.

“I too have been so frightened, many moons ago when I was a young warrior.  I thought nothing could scare me, I was afraid of no man.  I, Two Feathers, son of Ouray, chief of the Paiutes.  But one day, some more young warriors and myself were taken captive by many blue coats.  For days on end, they dragged us through the desert; they denied us food and water until one by one we died.  During those days, I longed for my father to come to save me.  My best friend, who happened to be my younger brother, died and I cried, for I, who thought was so brave, could do nothing to help my brother.  I watched what the blue coats did to the boy and I was scared.  Do you know what they did to him?” asked Two Feathers whose eyes had seemed to suddenly look away, as if he were seeing the scene for the very first time.

Joe did not have to acknowledge his friend’s statement, for Two Feathers took a deep breath and continued.

“The blue coats tied him to a cactus tree, and stripped him of his clothes.  They used rawhide ropes, soaked in water.  Do you know what happens when that rawhide begins to dry?  It shrinks and cuts into a man’s flesh.  My young brother died a terrible death, for they tied the rawhide onto various parts of the boy’s body.  I still hear his screams, at night when I least expect them.  I was terrified that they would do the same to me, and they almost did.  But right after my brother died, my father and his warriors, too many to count came to our rescue.  It was a sad time, having to live my life without my brother and my friends that I had loved.  But life comes full circle, my son.  Life goes on, there is no way to stop it.  And so shall yours.  Do you wish to spend it in sadness and grief?  Always hating those about you?”

“How can I not hate them Two Feathers?  I don’t think I can ever forgive those men for what they have done?  Tell me how you learned not to hate?” begged Little Joe leaning his head on Two Feathers’ shoulder when the man moved next to Joe and placed his arm lovingly about the trembling shoulders of the younger man.

“I think that in some small way, I still hate the blue coats, and the men who murdered Morning Star and Running Deer but I have learned that it must not control my life.  Life is too short to spend everyday hating someone for something that cannot be undone.  I now take every day and live it as if it might be my last day.  I have a beautiful wife now and soon we shall have a son…or daughter…they are my happiness now Lil til Joe, they are my love, my heart beats as one with theirs.  There is more in life to love than to hate.  Those renegades’ lives will come full circle, when the Great Spirit deems it their time.  They will be made to pay for their vicious acts.  Of that I have the promise of the Mighty One, the one who knows all,” finished Two Feathers as he pressed Joe’s head gently against his beating heart.

“You have a wife?” questioned Joe.

Two Feathers laughed, “Yes, a very bossy young squaw who thinks she knows me well.”  The rolling laughter filled the room, “But I love her dearly.”

“Now my son.  Is your anger at me gone?  Or do you still hate me?” taunted the Indian, hiding his smile from Joe’s eyes.

“I could never hate you Two Feathers,” said Joe seriously.  “But I may never stop hating the Bannocks.  And I hope you’re right about them getting their just due.  They deserve none the less for what they did to my friends.”

Joe glanced up at his friend. “I’m sorry Two Feathers, for hurting you.  I…I…” Joe’s chin began to quiver again and he fought to stop his tears.  “I…you mean a lot to me, you’re someone very special to me…I just want you to know that.”

“And you Joseph, are someone very special to me.  We are friends, again?” asked the kind Indian.

“We never stopped being friends.  As my Pa might say, ‘we just got sidetracked for a little while’,” smiled Joe.  “Two Feathers?”

“Yes?”

“Tell me about this wife of yours and the baby that she is….” Started Little Joe and stopped when suddenly a young Paiute maid poked her head inside of the teepee.

“You must come Two Feathers.  It is time,” she smiled brightly.

Two Feathers jumped to his feet, nearly knocking Joe over in his haste.  “Time?  Are you sure?” he questioned the woman.  The woman nodded her head and dropped the flap.

“Time?  Time for what?” asked Little Joe, seeing the excitement on his friend’s face.

“It is time for my son to be born.  I will return to you later, and bring you my son to see,” beamed the proud chief.

“Are you so sure its going to be a boy?” laughed Little Joe.

“I am sure,” nodded the warrior as if he truly did know.

“And if it is a girl?” giggled Joe, in a teasing manner.

Two Feathers looked for several moments into Joe’s eyes and saw that the younger man was teasing him.  “Then I should give her to you, as a wife, when she is old enough.”

Joe’s face suddenly lost it’s smile as he considered the man’s words, not sure if he jest or not.  Looking up at his friend, Joe knew that Two Feathers was dead serious.

“Then I shall be proud to have her,” he said truthfully, secretly praying for a boy.  How would he ever explain this matter to his father, he questioned himself.

“TWO FEATHERS, COME!” someone shouted from outside the opening.  “THE BABE COMES NOW!”

Two Feathers quickly nodded his head at Joe, “It is written, the girl child shall be your wife.”  With that Two Feathers hurried from the tent, almost colliding with Ben on his way in.

Ben laughed and moved aside, giving Two Feathers the chance to exit and then he looked at the stunned face of his youngest son.  “What’s this about a wife?” questioned Ben, puzzled that Joe was not smiling at his friend’s good fortune.

“Oh…nothing Pa…nothing at all,” whimpered Joe quietly.

“It must mean something,” laughed Ben.  “Your friend there isn’t trying to marry you up with one of his pretty maidens is he?” taunted Ben.

“No, just with his daughter, that is if the baby is a girl…he gave her to me for a wife,” stammered Joe, a crooked little grin pulling at the corners of his lips.

“WHAT???” shouted Ben, nearly blowing the tent over as his loud deep voice rumbled around the tight enclosure.

“Maybe it’ll be a boy…hopefully,” squeaked Joe in a tiny voice.  “I think I’ll get a nap.  Night Pa.”

“Joseph!”  Ben saw his son’s eyelids close,  “We’ll have a little discussion about this in just a little while, but you better pray that Two Feathers wife has a boy, cause if it’s a girl….”  Ben stopped, Joe had begun to snore softly.

As Ben slipped from the tent, Joe opened one eye and watched the retreating back of his father.  “Please, oh please, be a boy,” muttered Joe silently.

It was morning of the next day before Two Feathers slipped into Joe’s tent.  The sound of soft whimpering woke the Cartwrights from their sleep and each had to rub their eyes to clearly make out the tall shadow of the man who loomed over them.

When he was sure that he had the attention of the four men who now looked up at him, Two Feathers smiled broadly.  “It is a boy,” he announced.

Ben laughed and gently shook the warrior’s hand, standing aside to make room for Hoss and Adam to do the same.

“Congratulations, Two Feathers,” Ben stated.

“That goes for Hoss and I as well,” smiled Adam, taking a peek at the tiny bundle buried beneath the soft rabbit fur blankets that the Paiute held in his arms.  “Hey, Joe, look at this, he’s a real charmer,” laughed Adam who had always held a love of tiny babies.

“May I see?” he asked Two Feathers.

Ben moved, giving Two Feathers room to squat on the ground next to his son.  Joe could not miss the proud expression that his friend wore on his happy face and silently Joe thanked God that his friend had received the desire of his heart.

Carefully Two Feathers reached out and placed the baby in Joe’s arms, surprising the younger man.  Joe unwrapped the bunting and smiled when his eyes looked into the bright little eyes of the newborn.

“He sure is something.  Why…look how long his fingers are…hey, look, he smiled at me,” giggled Joe, looking up at the faces that watched him.

Two Feathers picked up the tiny little hand and held it in his own.  “He will be a fine son,” he said, his voice thick with happiness that threatened to spill over.

“I’m sure he will be,” added Ben.

“I will teach him how to love, that will be first for it is most important,” Two Feathers proclaimed.  “And I will tell him of his namesake,” smiled the brave, looking into Joe’s face and watching the expression that caused him to laugh.

“Name sake? What is his name?” asked Little Joe, suddenly realizing that he had not been told.

“I have named him after someone very special, someone who is far wiser than I and one who will always have a spot of his own in my heart,” Two Feathers glanced up at Ben and then smiled.

“His name is Joseph Two Feathers,” declared the Paiute chief proudly.

It had suddenly grown quiet within the teepee as all eyes turned to Little Joe.  Ben noted the tears that had suddenly pooled in the eyes of his son and saw the boy struggling to keep them from spilling over and embarrassing his self in front of them all.  Adam turned to face Hoss, after feeling his middle brother’s elbow dig into his ribs, and he smiled.  Hoss had traces of tears in his own blue eyes and at the moment, it seemed that no one could find the words to say a thing.

Joe, as usual, found his voice first.  With chin quivering, he smiled the proudest smile that his father had ever seen and when his eyes met Ben’s, Ben returned the gesture with a winning smile of his own.

“I…I don’t know what to say,” he stammered.  “Thank you is about the best I can do right now.”  Joe’s eyes found Two Feathers and the Indian reached out and brushed away the lone tear that had slipped from the misty eyes.

“It is I that thanks you, Little Joe,” said Two Feathers.  “For without your wisdom, I would still be hating the white man.  But because you have taught me how to forgive and given me the courage to love again, I now have a new son.  It is only right that the tiny one should share your name.  My prayer now is that he would be the son to me, as you are to your father.  Thank you Joseph Cartwright, for giving me back my life.”

Two Feathers then surprised everyone as he leaned over and planted a kiss on the top of Joe’s curly head.  “I have never seen so many unruly locks of hair in my life,” laughed Two Feathers as he rumpled Joe’s thick mane.  “Thank goodness, my Joseph’s hair will be long and straight.”

Joe giggled, forcing everyone’s attention to him.  With eyes shining, he looked down at the tiny baby still held securely in the folds of his arms, and moved the bunting from around the baby’s head.

“I hate to tell you this ole friend, but your Joseph doesn’t have any hair!” giggled Little Joe.

Instantly the teepee rocked with the roar of laughter as each man took turns slapping the others on their backs.  The baby began to cry and Two Feathers quickly claimed the child.

“I best get his boy back to his mama.  Your medicine man should be finished by now.  Rising Sun had a very hard time.  I am thankful that your white doctor was here to help her.  Seems like I am always saying thank you to the Cartwrights.  Thank you Ben, for all that you have done.  Thank you Adam and Hoss for your kindness as well,” Two Feathers turned to Little Joe who had grown quiet.  “Thank you Little Joe for…for…for being Little Joe.”

Three days later the Cartwrights, along with Paul Martin said their good-byes and rode out of the village toward home.  Two Feathers rode part of the way with them but soon stopped atop the rise that overlooked a portion of Lake Tahoe.

“I bid each of you goodbye,” said the warrior, first shaking Ben’s hand, followed by his two older sons, and then Paul Martin.  “Someday perhaps our paths will cross again.”

“Good bye Two Feathers, take care,” called Hoss and joined his father and Adam who waited nearby with the doctor.

Two Feathers slipped easily from his horse’s back and crossed the few feet that separated him from Joe.  Joe, too had dismounted, his arm carefully wrapped in a sling to protect his shoulder, he looked into the familiar face of his Indian friend.

“You will come to visit?  Before the winter forces us to move our village across the mountain?” Two Feathers asked.

“I will try, but with this shoulder, I won’t promise.  But in the spring, it should be better and then I will come.”  Joe’s lips curved upward, “I’ll have to come check on my namesake, now won’t I?” Joe said solemnly, trying to make his voice sound light-hearted.

Two Feathers placed one hand on Joe’s shoulder, with the other he raised Joe’s chin so that he could clearly see into the boy’s face.

“I will expect you in the spring,” smiled Two Feathers.  “Now go with your family.  I must return to mine.”

Joe nodded his head, “I promise, I’ll see you in the spring.”  There was a catch in Joe’s voice and he swallowed the lump that threatened to choke him.  “Take care of yourself, please.”

“I will, you do the same Little Joe.  And think of me often, for you will always be in my heart.”  Two Feathers pulled Joe into an embrace and held him briefly.  It was the needed time it took Joe to be sure that the lump had gone away.

“So long my trusted friend,” called Two Feathers after he had swung onto his horse and turned back to catch one more glimpse of the boy who seemed much like his own.

Joe waved then watched until Two Feathers had ridden out of sight before turning and mounting his own horse.

Ben had waited until Joe had finished with his good-byes and could join him.  “He’s a fine man,” said Ben, looking off into the distance at the fading figure.

“Pa?” said Joe, following his father’s gaze.

“Heh?”

“Ya reckon the Indians will ever be respected by the white man?  I mean, Two Feathers is really a good person; why do the whites not want to take time to get to know the Indians, like we have?  I don’t understand that,” Joe said, turning to face his father.

“Most men Joseph, are frightened of something they don’t understand, or of people who are different than ourselves.  Some men choose to remain ignorant of other types of cultures, or customs and never want to find out what lies behind the walls that divide them.  They never seem to want to look beyond what is present to the eye, like into a man’s heart, whether they are either red, white or yellow.  It’s the same with Hop Sing.  But what strikes me, as really strange, is that it appears to be a thing that deals mainly with the white man.  Hop Sing’s people have no problem with the red men, or the red men with black folks.  The prejudice seems to mostly stem from white men who never make an effort at understanding others.” Ben tried to explain to his son.

“But…”

“Son, there are good men in all races.  Take Two Feathers, I’ve never met a man I admire as much as I admire that Indian.  He’s honest, and noble, proud, and respectable.  Hop Sing is hardworking, dependable, and all those things that make us love him and accept him as part of our family.  And you Joseph, you’re all those things, not to just me or to your brothers, but to Hop Sing and Two Feathers.  Our country needs men such as you are, men who are willing to stand up for what is right, men willing to give equal opportunity to all men, regardless of race or color.”

Ben reached over and placed his hand on Joe’s arm.  “I’m proud of you son, I want you to know that.”

“Thanks Pa,” smiled Little Joe and placed his hand over his father’s.

“HEY! HURRY UP, I’M HUNGRY!” shouted Hoss.  “WE GOT A LONG WAY TO GO TOO, COME ON!” he yelled over his shoulder at the two who lagged behind.

Ben and Joe laughed, “Come on son, Hoss looks as if he’s fading fast.  The next thing he’ll say is that he can smell Hop Sing’s cooking.”

“He can too…you know one time we were…”

“HEY, WE’RE HAVING FRIED CHICKEN, I SWEAR I CAN SMELL IT COOKING.”  Hoss glanced over his shoulder, “WILL YA TWO STOP JAWING AND COME ON?”

Joe looked at his father and shrugged his shoulder.  Ben laughed, “I told you so,” he declared and kicked at Buck’s sides.  “Come on Joseph, let’s go home.

The End
November 2002

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