Summary: This story is a “prequel” to the episode entitled “A far, far better thing”; it deals with Little Joe’s friendship with the Indian ‘Sharp Tongue’. It is a story about difficult friendships and prejudice. As usual, I have added a few things just for fun. Please feel free to ignore them or explore them as you prefer.
Word Count: 48,255
Dedicated to my friends who also love Bonanza.
Despite it being time for the school bell to be rung at any second, the schoolyard was abuzz with activity, with several different groups of students engaged in various activities. The younger children were playing a game of Red Rover, Red Rover; while the older students were primarily clustered in two groups, boys on one side of the schoolyard, girls on the other side. Both of these two groups seemed to be scanning the horizon, as if looking for something or someone. Just at that moment, the school door opened and the teacher walked out onto the porch and signaled the pre-selected student to ring the bell. With one last look toward the road leading up to the school, the older students began to shuffle disinterestedly into the building. At the door, Miss Lambert was greeting the children as they entered the building. She too, seemed to be looking for someone; someone who was not there. Sighing, she started to turn to head into the building when she saw what she was looking for coming rapidly down the road. Breathing a sigh of relief, she stopped ringing the bell and waited.
Little Joe Cartwright galloped into the schoolyard, dismayed to see no students gathered outside. He bit his lip and shrugged his shoulders; he was late again. Miss Lambert had cautioned him just yesterday that if he were late one more time this week, she was going to talk to his father. He quickly jumped off his pinto, tying her in the shade of a stand of trees near other horses. Despite being late, he took time to make sure Cochise had water and room for good grazing. Patting her on the side of the neck, he said “Well Coch, I might as well go on in and get it over with. I will see you at noon.” Patting her one last time, he headed for the steps of the school building. He didn’t notice Miss Lambert standing there until he was right in front of her. He took a deep breath and braced himself, steeling himself for the lecture he knew he was about to get.
Miss Lambert surprised him by saying, “Good morning, Joseph. I am glad to see that you are right on time.” Joe looked at her in astonishment, his eyes widened. Miss Lambert stared back into those green eyes and said, “I called the others in a little bit early this morning, I am afraid”, and winked at him. Quick to catch on, he smiled mischievously at her and replied, “Good morning, Miss Lambert. I am glad I wasn’t late again.” Miss Lambert looked at him, her smile slightly diminished and said, “Don’t press your luck, Joseph. Now get inside and take your seat”. As she said this, she steered him through the door. He stopped to hang his jacket up and put the lunch that Hop Tseng had packed for him in the cubbyhole, then he sauntered in and took his seat, as if he had all day to get there.
As he went in, Miss Lambert heard a chorus of greetings from the other students as he passed by them. Miss Lambert stood for just a moment in the anteroom of the schoolhouse, wondering if what she had just done was the right thing to do. Sighing, she told herself that it was all right to give Joseph Cartwright a little leniency now and then. Smiling ruefully, she realized that there would soon enough be another infraction that would need to be dealt with. “I can’t spend all my time trying to change the nature of one student—especially one who really is bright, capable, and pleasant.” Then she firmly closed the front door of the schoolhouse, entered the classroom and headed toward her seat to begin another day of lessons.
The morning passed slowly for Joe Cartwright. He completed the assignment Miss Lambert had given his age group and while he waited restlessly for the teacher to return to his group or for lunch, his mind wandered to the most special place on earth—the Ponderosa. He and his father and two brothers lived on the large ranch in Nevada territory. He had been born in the spacious ranch house where they still lived. The ranch covered 500,000 acres in all, with mountains, meadows, lakes, forests, and open range for the cattle they raised. The whole ranch was beautiful, especially now that it was spring.
His most favorite place on the entire ranch was the spot on the shore of Lake Tahoe where his mother was buried. His mother had died nine years ago when he was five years old. He and his father often went together to the lakeside to sit and think. Joe was full of questions about his mother, but something kept him from asking too many questions about her of his father. He often went alone and sat there at the lakeside and tried to imagine how his life would have been different if his mother had not died. He knew that it would have been different, better. He had heard his father discussing her death with Adam or others and heard him say how much he needed “a mother’s touch”, but he wasn’t exactly sure what that meant. Sighing, he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes, trying to picture his mother in his mind.
Suddenly, he felt someone poke him in the back and he woke with a start. He jumped up immediately, wide-eyed, looking for the source of the threat he felt. Too late he realized that he had been sleeping in class again and the poke had come from his friend ‘Bec, trying to wake him up. He quickly sat down, and gave ‘Bec a thankful grin.
“Well Joseph since you seem to be so rearing to get moving, why don’t you come and demonstrate how to solve this problem.” Miss Lambert said.
Joe looked around, trying to think of an escape, but Miss Lambert walked over to him and handed him the chalk and gave him a gentle push on the shoulders, propelling him to the chalkboard. Joe was distressed to see the particular arithmetic problem Miss Lambert referred to. It was one of those new kinds of problems she had started teaching them when she got in a new shipment of books from her parents. It was something she called “Algebra” and he hated it already. It had no practical purpose that he could see and besides, he correctly solved a problem and discovered what “X” was, but then he discovered that in the next problem, “X” would be some other number. Now she was coming up with problems with Xs, Ys, and Zs to solve. Joe sighed, and slumped his shoulders and walked slowly to the board at the speed at which someone facing a firing squad would demonstrate. He looked at the problem and felt a knot in his stomach initially.
-2X + 2Y = 5
Solve for Y
When he first reached the board, he felt overwhelmed by the problem. He muttered to himself, “I bet Adam could solve the problem.” He glanced over his shoulder, looking for help from some of his friends, but he realized that they didn’t know how to solve the stupid problem either.
“Joseph, do you remember what you have to do to clear a term?” Miss Lambert prompted.
At first this was not helpful either, but just as he was getting desperate, he remembered something about doing the “opposite operation to clear a term”. He spoke hesitantly, “Do the opposite operation?”
“Correct, Joseph. Very good. Now how do you think you could clear the term to solve for Y?” she again prompted.
Buoyed by her praise, he looked at the problem again. Again hesitantly he said, “So I have to get rid of the 2?” he asked.
“Excellent, Joseph. How can you do that?”
Again he looked at the problem, feeling more like a detective than a math student. After a few seconds, he thought he knew the answer. Out loud he said, “Add 2X?”
“Excellent, Joseph! But if you add 2X, what else do you have to do?” She again prompted.
Then he knew the answer, he replied triumphantly, “Add 2X, then divide by 2!”
“Again, excellent, Joseph!” Miss Lambert said. “Now then, all…”
Just at that moment, the door of the schoolhouse opened. Miss Lambert looked up to see who was interrupting her class. She was surprised to see Renfro Carter, the Story County Superintendent of Schools and Granville Meadows, a member of the school board. Mr. Carter nodded and indicated that he needed to speak with her. Miss Lambert nodded and turned toward Joseph and said, “Excellent job, Joseph. That will be all for now.” She glanced at the small clock on her desk and decided that it was close enough to lunch to give them their lunch break now. “Class dismissed for lunch.” She announced. The children, excited to have a few minutes extra for lunch, jumped up and began to make their way to the door. Joe stopped at the desk behind his, where Rebecca Larson was putting away her books.
“Joe Cartwright, how did you know how to solve that problem?” she asked skeptically.
“Beats me, Bec” he grinned at her. “Beats me.”
“Hey, Joe, My Mama sent you a piece of chocolate cake, since you didn’t get to come by after church for some yesterday.” She told him mischievously. “But she said to tell you, that she ought not to do it, after that stunt you and Billy pulled.” She was laughing by the time she got this out. Joe laughed and said, “Oh, Bec, you know your Mama thought it was funny too.” “Well perhaps she did, Joe, but from the looks on your Pa’s face, he didn’t think it was that funny.” Joe sobered quickly, “No, Pa didn’t seem to think it was too funny at first, but I heard him and Hoss talking about it later. By then he thought it was funny, too. ‘Course he will never let on to me that he did.” Joe said.
Rebecca laughed and said, “Little Joe Cartwright, you are incorrigible!” “Hey watch those big words, Bec, you never know, I am liable to look one of ‘em up in the dictionary one day and find out what you have been calling me all this time.” He said, giving her a gentle punch on her arm. Laughing, they grabbed their lunches and headed out to the shade of the trees to join the others for lunch. The incident Rebecca referred to had happened yesterday at church. There had been a brief meeting of the adults to discuss the selection for the new minister and they had dismissed the children so the adults could discuss the issue without worrying about keeping cranky children still and quiet. Little Joe had seen that as an opportunity to escape and he had gone outside with the rest. His father had started to make him stay, but knowing how fidgety he was, decided to let him go.
When the adults finished their meeting, they came out and headed toward where they had left their wagons. But soon there was a confused crowd of adults and giggling children. No wagon was where the family had left it, instead some other wagon and team was waiting. In a short period of time, Joe had the idea and directed the other children to move the wagons around. There was general confusion as the adults looked all around the church to find the wagon and team belonging to them. When Ben Cartwright came out and saw the confusion, he immediately called out “Joseph!” Joe had gone and tried to look completely innocent, and he might have gotten away with it, but Billy looked too guilty and he confessed the whole thing. Ben Cartwright had made Joe and Billy go around and help each family locate their wagon and apologize. The whole episode didn’t take more than 30 minutes, but his father had rescinded his earlier permission to lunch with the Larson’s and then join the other children at the lake for swimming. Instead he had made Joe go home and stay inside all afternoon.
When the older students had finished eating, they sat around under the trees talking. Joe and his friends were discussing their plans for the summer. Joe was telling them that this was going to be his last year at school if he could just figure out how to get his father to go along with it. He knew, as the rest of them did, that it was not going to be easy to convince Ben Cartwright to let his youngest son quit school, but he had let Hoss quit even before he was 14 so there was no reason he couldn’t quit too. After several minutes of big talk about what he was going to tell his Pa, their conversation drifted to another favorite topic—girls. Little Joe had recently realized that he didn’t hate girls any more. In fact, he had decided he liked girls—he liked them a lot. He had always had friends whom were girls, like Bec and Nancy Coffee, but now he was finding himself attracted to girls for more than just friendship. The other boys had started teasing him good-naturedly about how all the girls liked him. He smiled and pretended that he disagreed. But truthfully, he knew that he did have unusually good luck with girls; in fact, he had always gotten along well with females.
Too soon, the bell rang again; signaling the end of the lunch break, and the students began to shuffle back into the school building. As they were headed back into the classroom, a scuffle broke out between some students in the rear of the group. One of the older boys was teasing one of the younger children. Joe and his friends stopped their discussion and watched. As the disagreement escalated, Joe went back and looked down at the younger child and said, “Jeffrey why don’t you go on inside? I need to talk to Walter.” As he said this, he firmly pushed the younger boy toward the school building and stared into the eyes of Walter, the school bully.
“You stay out of this Cartwright.” Walter said glaring back at Little Joe.
“Walter why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” Little Joe said, still staring at Walter.
“Maybe I will just pick on someone your size, Cartwright.” Walter replied.
“Boys! Come inside right now.” Miss Lambert called out to them, noticing the near confrontation in the making. “Right now!” she repeated more loudly and more sternly. Finally, Little Joe said, “We are coming Miss Lambert. We are all done here. Aren’t we Wally?” Walter grimaced at the use of Wally, a nickname he hated and everyone knew he hated. “Yes we are finished here for right now, LITTLE Joe he said, emphasizing the “Little”. Joe’s eyes locked with Walter’s for a moment and for a tense moment, it appeared that nothing could prevent a fight. But Miss Lambert had walked up to the two boys and inserted herself between them. Firmly grasping Little Joe by the arm, she said, “Let’s get inside gentlemen. Right now.” Little Joe glanced at Miss Lambert and said, “Yes, Ma’am.” Then he turned to Walter and said, “After school, Walter.” Miss Lambert at that moment, decided that Little Joe Cartwright would be staying in after school that day.
Lessons progressed very slowly the rest of the afternoon. Miss Lambert caught Little Joe daydreaming again and before he could think of a way out of it, she told him he would stay after school and write an entire essay on what he was thinking when he should have been paying attention. He couldn’t understand why she became so cross and didn’t give him a chance to answer the question. He was daydreaming, but he still had heard enough to keep up with what was going on. Rebecca Larson had been watching the teacher watching Little Joe all afternoon and had been puzzled. When she caught him daydreaming and announced that he would have to stay after school, Rebecca immediately knew what Miss Lambert was up to, and she gave the teacher a big smile and a slight nod of her head. Miss Lambert smiled and winked at Rebecca and turned back to the rest of the class. Rebecca turned to see a sullen Joe Cartwright and chuckled softly to herself. Miss Lambert just saved him from a beating and he had no idea. “Men!” she thought to herself. “What idiots.”
At the end of the day, Miss Lambert said she had an announcement to make and demanded their full attention. This was unusual, so everyone stopped collecting their papers and turned to listen to their teacher.
“Tomorrow we will have a new student joining our class and I will expect you to be on your best behavior.” She said. One of the older girls spoke up, “Is it a boy or girl, Miss Lambert?” There was a general concern among the girls that there were far more girls than boys in the Virginia City School. Miss Lambert smiled and said, “Well it is a boy, Jennifer.” Jennifer and several other girls smiled.
Miss Lambert continued, “However, this student is an unusual student and will not be familiar with all our customs and may initially have some difficulties with our language. I will expect you all to help him.”
“Is it one of them “eye-talians” Walter spoke up, setting off disruptive chortles among his peers.
“No, Walter, he is not Italian.” She said, pronouncing the word carefully and correctly.
“It ain’t one of them Chinks is it?” he asked again with an angry voice.
Little Joe spoke up before Miss Lambert could respond, saying angrily, “They are Chinese, Walter, not Chinks.” He had turned around and was staring at Walter, his outrage obvious in the tensed muscles in his face and the hard stare on his face. Rebecca, watching this exchange thought that Joe Cartwright was very handsome when he was angry. She knew that his anger was fueled by his relationship with Hop Tseng.
“Walter, if you say one more word, you will be sitting in the third grade seats in the morning.” Miss Lambert said, watching the over-sized third grade boy. He knew that she meant it, since she had made him sit with the little kids on other occasions. He didn’t say anything, but continued to stare at her.
“Now then, if I may please have your attention. The student who will be joining us tomorrow is from this area, but you do not know him. He is 14 years old and he is the son of the Chief of one of the smaller tribes of Piute Indians.” Several students gasped and one student dropped a pencil. Miss Lambert raised her hand to silence the students and continued. “His name is Sharp Tongue. He attended school at the Mission school briefly before the school was forced to close when their teacher went back east.” She glanced around to see the student’s reactions. Their silence was unexpected, and she felt it was a worse sign than if they had been noisy. She knew that she had not gotten through to them, but she didn’t really know what else to say. She was still shocked over the decision herself. “This is not going to be easy.” She thought to herself. Outloud she said, “Class dismissed.”
As the students began to rush out of the room, they recovered their voices and she could hear the shock and the disbelief in their conversations. She knew what would be the major topic of discussion at the student’s homes that night. She turned and went back to her desk and sat down. The intensity of the reaction to the announcement had made her temporarily forget that she had required Joe Cartwright to remain. He was sitting at his desk, watching her. He spoke up softly, “Miss Lambert, was this what Mr. Carter and Mr. Meadows were here about? “
She looked at him and half-smiled and said, “Yes, Joseph. They had already made the decision. It is up to me to make it work, however.”
“Miss Lambert, people around here won’t like it. Don’t they know that?” He asked incredulously.
“Well Joseph, they will just have to accept it. It is out of our hands.” She said.
“Now then, Joseph, what were you day-dreaming about in my class earlier today?” He blushed slightly and replied, “I was just thinking about how pretty it is up by the shore of Lake Tahoe on spring days like today.” He answered truthfully. “But Miss Lambert I was still listening, at least some.”
“I see, Joseph. So do you think when I am teaching that I only want you to listen to me “some”?” she asked. As she was talking, she had moved in a circle around the room, looking out the windows on both sides and then she went to the front door of the school building to see if Walter or any of his friends were still hanging around. Seeing none, she walked back to stand by Joe’s desk. “All right, Joseph, I am going to let you off easy this time, but I expect you to listen to me 100% when I am teaching you. Is that understood?”
He looked at her, almost afraid to believe that she was letting him off the hook for the second time in one day, but he was taking no chances. “Yes Miss Lambert, I understand.” He replied.
“All right then Joseph, if you hurry straight home, you may be able to get there on time and not have to explain to your father why you are late again! You may go now, if you promise to go straight home.”
Joe jumped up, grinned and said, “I promise.” And headed for the door, grabbing his hat and green jacket as he went by. She went to the door and watched him gather his horse and jump on the horse without putting his foot in the stirrups. “Such energy and enthusiasm…and such heart.” She thought. She watched him until it was clear that he was indeed heading straight for the Ponderosa. Then she turned back into the school building and began to get ready for tomorrow’s lesson.
All the way home, Little Joe was thinking about the news Miss Lambert had given them. He was excited about meeting a real Indian, especially one his own age. “Sharp Tongue” he thought, “wonder what that comes from?” He wondered what he would look like and if he would be wearing Indian clothes. In his imagination he could see the Indian boy in full warpaint, with a long ceremonial headdress, buckskin loincloth, and carrying a knife, tomahawk, and bow and arrow. “That ought to make school more interesting.” He thought. In his mind he could see the Indian boy at the chalkboard solving algebra problems in full Indian gear. His reverie made the trip home go much more quickly than usual and he reached home on time, despite the short delay after school. He still had no idea why Miss Lambert had reacted as she did, but not one to dwell on potential problems; he didn’t try to figure it out much either.
Hoss was in the barn when he went in to care for Cochise.
“Hey half-pint, how was school today?” Hoss asked, slapping him on the back, with considerable more force than he intended. Little Joe however, was used to Hoss’ mannerisms and had braced himself to prevent being flung halfway across the barn. He grinned and said, “Fine, Hoss, fine.” Hoss looked puzzled and said, “I was sure you were gonna be late again today.” Then he frowned slightly and said, “Little Joe, you didn’t run that pony all the way to Virginia City, did you?” Joe assumed his best insulted and offended look and said “Why heck no, Hoss. You know I wouldn’t do that to Cochise.” As he said this, he was unsaddling the pony and beginning to give her a rubdown. He carefully rubbed her down, then checked her feet for any rocks or stones, or any other problem. Finding none, he emptied out her water bucket and went and refilled it with clean water from the pump. He was very particular with Cochise, the pinto pony his Pa had given him for his twelfth birthday. He had loved pinto ponies from the very first time he had seen one on a cover of a book about horses. He still had the book and it was one of his treasured possessions. Hop Tseng had put the book away, along with some other mementos of his childhood, in the cedar chest that had belonged to his mother.
“Hey Hoss, guess who is coming to school tomorrow?” he asked enthusiastically. Hoss had no idea who might be coming to school but he wanted to play along with his little brother, so he thought for a minute and said, “Some new purty gal?” Joe grinned and said, “Not even close big brother.” “Well let me see then, if it ain’t a gal and you are this excited, it must be someone important. Let me see who could it be?” After another few seconds he said, “I got it! Must be one of those wild west shows with the fancy shooting and ridin’!” Little Joe considered this for a second and said, “No that would be fun, though.” He said finally, “You will never guess in a million years, Hoss! Do you give?” “Well yeah I guess so half-pint, ‘cause you look like you are gonna bust a gut if you don’t tell me soon.” “Sharp Tongue” Joe said excitedly.
Hoss looked at him closely, trying to see if his little brother was pulling his leg again, but he could tell from his expression that he was serious. “The Piute Chief’s son?” he asked incredulously. “Yep.” Joe affirmed, “the Piute Indian Chief’s son. Not Winnemucca’s son though, one of the other tribes. “Joe, are you sure you ain’t just makin’ this up?” Hoss asked, still not ready to accept this information. It was against the law for Indians to associate much with white folks, even if they wanted to, which most of ‘em didn’t. “No, Hoss Mr. Carter and Mr. Meadows came and talked to Miss Lambert. Guess what his name is Hoss? You’d never guess—his name is Sharp Tongue and he starts tomorrow. Do you reckon he will wear a headdress, Hoss?” Joe continued talking excitedly to Hoss, asking and then answering his own questions faster than Hoss could respond. As he talked he and Hoss finished the chores, Hoss did most of the work, but he didn’t mind because he enjoyed listening to his little brother. Joe was lively and entertaining, and kept things from ever becoming boring.
When they were almost finished with the chores, Adam came in and Little Joe started all over with his news about Sharp Tongue. Hoss was amused because he noticed that the more Joe talked about it, the more animated and excited he became. “Reckon by the time Joe gets to tell Pa, he’ll really be worked up into a right state.” Hoss whispered to Adam when Joe had paused for a second to get his breath. Joe heard what Hoss said, but didn’t pay it any attention as he resumed where he had left off telling Adam about the visitors coming into the room while he was doing algebra on the board. That proved to be the wrong way for Joe to start his tale because as soon as Joe mentioned algebra, Adam immediately became more interested in his algebra problem than he was with the news about the Indian.
Adam put both hands on Joe’s shoulders and stared directly into Joe’s eyes to get his attention. Joe tried to continue talking, looking around at Hoss to see if he was listening, but Hoss was laughing out loud by this time. Finally when Adam made no response and continued to stare at him and hold on to his shoulders, Joe stopped speaking and said, “What?” with a surprised expression on his face. At this both Adam and Hoss burst out laughing and their laughter was joined by that of their father. All three Cartwright sons looked around to see Ben Cartwright entering the barn. Joe regained his voice first and started out by saying, “Pa guess who is coming to school tomorrow. You’ll never guess…” Ben Cartwright interrupted his son’s tale by teasingly grabbing his youngest son from behind and putting his hand over his mouth. Adam and Hoss were howling by this time, and Little Joe was still squirming trying to lose his father’s grasp and continue talking.
“Joseph!” Ben said loudly, finally managing to get his son’s full attention. He slowly removed his hand from his son’s mouth, but continued to hold onto him. He said, “Joseph, I am anxious to hear what has got you so excited, but you have to slow down and get your breath before you pass out, Son. The news won’t be any less exciting if we wait a few minutes ‘til we get in to the dinner table before Hop Tseng gets mad and throws it all away, will it?” At this question, Hoss got a concerned look on his face and said, “Now dadburn it little brother, there ain’t nothin’ that can’t wait ‘til dinner time is there?” Little Joe looked at Hoss and said very seriously, “Shoot yeah, Hoss there is one thing that won’t wait ‘til dinner time.” Puzzled, Hoss asked, “What is so all-fired important that it can’t wait ‘til dinner time, Half-pint?” “You!” Little Joe replied, laughing. His laughter was joined by that of Adam’s and Pa’s initially, and then after a moment, by Hoss’. “Well come on in then, boys before we have a seriously mad Hop Tseng to deal with” Ben said, pulling Little Joe along with him and heading for the house.
The conversation for the evening meal was primarily centered on the addition of the new student tomorrow. Little Joe was too excited to contain himself and his father and brothers were too indulgent to try to stop him anyway. Despite his proclivity for getting into trouble, the youngest Cartwright added joy and merriment to the house that his father and brothers cherished.
Adam was able, with much effort to return the conversation to the subject of algebra and got the basic information out of Little Joe about the kinds of problems they were doing. Adam was pleasantly surprised that Miss Lambert had included algebra in the curriculum and was glad to hear that Little Joe seemed to have an inkling about it. “Joe if you need any help, I’ll be glad to help you” he offered. Joe shrugged and tried to turn the talk back to the new student, but his father adeptly redirected his attention. “Joseph, do you have any algebra homework tonight?” he asked his son intently. “Yes sir” Joe mumbled. “Excuse me, Joseph, I didn’t understand you.” Ben said, which was his polite way of saying, “Stop mumbling, Joseph.” “Yes sir.” Joe repeated. By this time, they had finished their dinner and Hop Tseng had begun to clear the table.
“Well, Joseph, you go get your books and you can do your homework and Adam can supervise it,” Ben said. “But Pa, can’t Hoss and I play some checkers first?” Joe asked, trying to weasel out of doing that homework, “supervised by Adam”. His father would not be deterred, however, and the look that he gave him made that quite clear. “Yes, sir” Joe replied as if he were facing the firing squad. He trudged ever so slowly up the stairs to fetch his books, causing the three older Cartwrights to laugh, though they did manage to stifle it until he was out of earshot. Joe returned after taking an inordinately long time to retrieve his books, after doing everything he could think of to post-pone the inevitable. “I shoulda kept my mouth shut!” he said to himself as he walked slowly back down the stairs.
Adam took Joe’s book and looked at the assignments, “Oh, linear algebra! That will come in very useful if you decide to become an engineer, Joe.” “I ain’t gonna become an engineer, Adam. I’m a rancher and all I am gonna become is an older rancher! Linear algebra or any other kind of algebra ain’t gonna help me.” Joe said irritably, more for his father’s benefit than for Adam’s. No matter whose ears the barb was intended for, it fell on deaf ears, as everyone chose to ignore the comment entirely. For the next hour and a half, Joe worked on algebra, grumbling the entire time about Xs and Ys and quadrants. Finally, Adam was satisfied that Little Joe could do the problems and was satisfied with the accuracy of the ones he had completed for the assignment. “All right, Joe, is that all the homework you had?” he asked. “Yeppers” Joe said, snatching his books and closing them before Adam could decide to do more than he had to.
After the homework, Hoss and Little Joe played several games of checkers, of which Little Joe won all but one. He was just fixing to set up for another game when his father interrupted and said, “Joe, you’d better get on up to bed now, Son.” “Ah, Pa” “Joseph, would you just go to bed one night without an argument?” Ben said with mild exasperation. Joe started to argue further, but then he paused for a second and said, “Just one night, Pa? Does tonight count if I go now?” Ben looked at him in surprise until he caught his eye and saw the twinkle and then he laughed and said, “No, Son, tonight wouldn’t count. Perhaps you could try again tomorrow night. Now up to bed. I’ll be up soon.” “Okay, Pa. Good night, Adam. Good night, Hoss. Night Pa.” Joe said and turned and ran up the stairs. Ben opened his mouth to admonish him for running in the house, but thought better of it. Instead he looked at Hoss and Adam and shook his head, all three of them chuckling at the energy of the youngest.
Shortly Ben and Adam and Hoss headed up to bed too. Ranching was a hard job that began early and they were an early to bed and early to rise family. With Ben and Adam and Hoss this was their natural inclination; Joe, however was the direct opposite in sleep and wake cycles, so it seemed that he and his father were always at odds over going to bed and getting up. Joe had taken after his mother, who also liked to stay up late and sleep later in the morning. Ben smiled as he thought of Marie; Joseph was so much like her. He knocked softly on his son’s door and was not surprised to get no response. Joe was in perpetual motion when he was awake, but if he got still, he could be asleep in nothing flat. Marie used to call it the sleep of the innocent, but Little Joe was frequently far from innocent. Yet there was an innocence about him that all the practical jokes and devilment he got into couldn’t destroy. Ben cherished that innocence.
He opened the door and entered the room. Joe was asleep, lying on top of the covers, with his pajama bottoms on, without the shirt. Apparently sleep had overcome him sooner than he had anticipated. Ben thought about waking him to tell him to finish getting dressed, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Instead he maneuvered him onto his side and then managed to get him under the covers. He pushed the hair off his forehead out of habit, smiled and whispered “Good night, Joseph. Sweet dreams.” And started to snuff out the lantern that was burning on his chest of drawers. Just as he was about to do that, he heard a voice coming somewhere about 2/3 asleep say, “Leave the light on Pa.” Ben looked back at Joe, who for all appearances was sound asleep and said, “All right Son, I’ll leave the lamp low.” He adjusted the wick to turn the lamp down to the lowest flame possible and left it on. Later if he woke up for some other reason, he would come in and douse the light. If not, it would burn all night.
“Joe—seph, Joe—seph. Time to get up, Joseph”. Little Joe heard the sound coming from somewhere far away, but he fought to block out the sound that was pulling him out of his dream. He snuggled down into his bed and pulled the covers over his head to block out the sound, without even knowing exactly what it was disturbing him. He was just settling back into a deeper sleep when suddenly, he was confronted with bright lights and louder, more insistent voices—this time there were two of them. He opened his eyes to face the assault and when he saw what it was—he yelled “Leave me alone”, but alas, that was not to be. Adam and Hoss Cartwright were standing, one at the foot of his bed and one at the top of his bed. The bright light had been caused by their pulling the covers off his bed. Quickly they each grabbed him, Hoss by the shoulders and Adam by the feet and began swinging him back and forth, telling him they were gonna throw him out the window if he didn’t say “Uncle”. Aggravated by being so rudely awakened, he was not finding this very amusing and was not inclined to cooperate with the teasing by his brothers, although he usually wouldn’t have minded. “Say uncle, Little Joe and we will put you down,” Hoss said as he and Adam continued their swinging. Little Joe was getting dizzy and was just about to capitulate when he saw a shadow come to his door and instead he yelled “Pa!”. Adam chuckled and said, “Nice try, Joe. Pa is in the barn though and he can’t hear you. Now do you give in or do we swing you some more?”
“PUT YOUR BROTHER DOWN, SONS” Ben Cartwright bellowed to be heard above the sounds of Joe’s fussing and Adam and Hoss’ laughter. Immediately, they unceremoniously dumped Joe on the bed. He sat up and for effect, grabbed hold of his head ostensibly to stop the reeling. In reality he was fine and was watching his brother’s reactions to being caught out of the corner of his eye, enjoying it immensely. “Huh, ‘bout time they got caught instead of me” he thought to himself. “Well, Adam, Hoss if you are finished torturing your younger brother, here, Hop Tseng has breakfast ready.” Ben said, looking at them sternly. “Ah we was just funnin’ him, Pa. We didn’t hurt him. Did we Half-pint?” Hoss asked, his blue eyes looking very remorseful. They all looked to Joe for confirmation. Joe had started putting on his shirt and when he looked up and they were all staring at him, he said, “WHAT?” Then realizing what Hoss had said, he rubbed his head one more time, to show that they had really done him a grievous injury, then grinned and said, “No Pa they were only funnin’ me.” And then he giggled and said, “Adam I sure wish you could have seen the expression on your face when Pa told you to put me down.” Adam shrugged and said, “I wish I could have too, Joe.” They all laughed and then the older Cartwrights left the youngest brother to dress. “Now hurry up Little Joe, you have to eat breakfast and you have to hurry so you won’t be late for school.” He hesitated and then added, “Again.”.
Breakfast was typical for the Cartwrights. Ben used breakfast as a time to keep up with everyone’s activities for the day and to discuss any ranch activities that needed to be done. Although it was not intentional, Joe generally felt left out of the conversation, since he had to be in school and wouldn’t be taking part in the daily activities. His father made an attempt to include him by asking about his school activities and reminding him of chores he had to do after school, but this only served to accentuate the fact that he had to go to school and was not considered to be able to help with the “real” running of the ranch. This frequently resulted in making Joe touchy; his family never figured out the cause. This morning was no exception.
Little Joe had attempted to participate in the conversation about the ranch, but his father had brushed aside his remarks and asked Adam for his opinion regarding the issue under discussion. After several minutes when that topic had been decided, Little Joe broached the subject of the new horses they would soon be getting ready for sale to the army.
“Pa, I think we ought to keep that roan horse. He is built solid and is fast and strong. I think he would be good to keep. I’d like to break him and train him as a backup for Cochise.” Joe said. Ben looked at Joe momentarily, nodded, then turned to Adam and said, “What do you think, Adam? Which one of the new horses do you think we should keep and which should we sell to the army?” Adam responded and then Hoss contributed his opinions. Joe sat there, fuming, and began playing with his food. The longer the discussion went on between his father and his brothers, the madder he got. After a few minutes, he said, “I have to go.” And started to leave the table. Ben looked at him and said, “Joe, you didn’t eat your breakfast, you need to eat son.” “I ain’t hungry, Pa. I have to go or I’ll be late.” He said irritably, rising from the table. Ben sighed and said, “Very well, Joseph, but get your lunch from Hop Tseng before you go.” Joe said, “yes, sir” and headed into the kitchen where Hop Tseng had his lunch waiting for him. His father called him back and said, “Joseph, I didn’t hear you tell me or your brothers good bye, son. You will not forget your manners, no matter how late you will be.” Joe rolled his eyes, but managed to say “Good bye” with no emotion, so that everyone could tell it was not his idea to do so. As he left, Ben said, “That boy gets grouchier and grouchier every morning doesn’t he?”
Joe was fuming when he left the ranch. His father didn’t even give him an answer. “He thinks I don’t know anything ‘bout horses. He always has to ask Adam or Hoss.” He said out loud to Cochise. “Cochise you’re the best horse on the whole Ponderosa and I trained you all by myself, but they still didn’t even listen to me.” He reached over and patted her on the side, as if to prove that she was the best. “We’ll show ‘em Coch. One of these days, we’ll show ‘em all.” The long ride into Virginia City served a good purpose this morning, as he rode through the green meadows and past Lake Tahoe and the rushing streams, filled to overflowing with melted snow from high in the mountains, be couldn’t hold on to his anger. It was impossible to ride through the peaceful, breath-takingly beautiful scenery and not be affected by it. He loved every square inch of the Ponderosa and by the time he reached the school he was no longer angry. His moods typically changed rapidly; his anger came in a flash and it departed just as suddenly.
When he entered the schoolyard, he was relieved to see that the students were still relaxing outside, meaning he wasn’t late again. He took his customary time tending to Cochise. Some of the other students teased him about how he treated that horse, and he had gotten into several fights over it at first, but by now it was commonly accepted. He knew that his horse was much more valuable than the other’s horses and he knew that fueled part of the teasing. He had been so glad to get Cochise and loved her so much, that he would risk any amount of teasing to make sure that she was well cared-for.
After settling Cochise for the day, Joe walked over to where the boys were talking to see what they were up to. He heard bits and snatches of a conversation about the “injun” and how he would scalp the little ones if they weren’t careful. Joe realized that Walter and his cronies were scaring the little kids for their amusement. He walked up to the crowd and said, “Howard, Walter is just teasin’ you. The Indian boy won’t be here to scalp you. Besides, Howie, you don’t have enough hair for a self-respecting Indian to fool with.” He said, trying to reassure the young kids. As he talked, he glared at the bigger boy, remembering that they had unsettled business to attend to. Walter hadn’t forgotten either and he said, “But you got lots of it Cartwright. Bet that injun would be able to trade for a lot of furs and skins for your scalp.” At this several of the younger kids and several of the older girls gasped. Again the ringing of the school bell interrupted their skirmish. Joe let himself be pulled into the classroom by Billy and one of the other kids, but he kept his eyes on Walter. He vowed that he and Walter would settle this before long.
Joe was disappointed to see that there was no new student in the classroom. “He probably changed his mind,” he thought, figuring that was probably better in the long run. Still he would have liked to be able to meet an Indian his own age. He was caught by surprise when he heard his name being called out loud. He looked around, startled until he realized that it was just Miss Lambert calling the roll and he answered “here” in as deep a voice as he could. Just as roll call was completed, the sound of horses approached the building and shortly thereafter the door of the schoolhouse opened. Everyone turned around, expecting to see the Indian boy; but it was the school superintendent again. Then they noticed there was someone else standing just to the left of the door to the classroom.
Mr. Carter motioned for Miss Lambert to join him, so she quickly asked Rebecca to lead the others in reciting the Preamble to the Constitution. Miss Lambert knew she could count on Rebecca to stay calm and in control of the situation. Rebecca stood and led the others in recitation of:
We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.
Most of the older students were turned trying to get a good look at the Indian boy, just out of sight to them. Miss Lambert and Mr. Carter conferred briefly, then Mr. Carter exited the building. Miss Lambert, waited until the students were through with the Preamble, then she walked to the center of the classroom and spoke quietly but firmly.
“Class our new student is here. As I told you yesterday, his name is Sharp Tongue and he is a Piute Indian. I know that you will make him welcome. Come Sharp Tongue. Joseph, you have no one sitting by you, would you please make room for Sharp Tongue?”
Joe couldn’t believe his good fortune and replied honestly, “Yes Ma’am” and promptly slid over on the two-person bench to make room. All eyes were turned waiting to see the Indian. The little children and most of the other students were frightened. They were all shocked at the boy when he finally came out of the foyer and into the classroom. They had certainly never expected him to look the way he did. Joe was very disappointed. Sharp Tongue was wearing blue denim waist overalls, a short sleeve white shirt, work boots, and the worst disappointment to Little Joe—his hair was shorter than his own and he had on no headdress. Except for his features that looked like the Indians, he was dressed the same or better than most of the children in the room. No warpaint, no moccasins, no feathers; he didn’t even have a knife. “Heck” Joe thought, “he don’t look like much of an Indian to me”.
Sharp Tongue walked slowly into the room, truthfully he looked as frightened as the children did. He swallowed hard and walked to where the teacher had indicated for him to sit. When he approached the bench, he glanced at the boy sitting there, wondering what his reaction would be. Little Joe looked at him and smiled and said, “Hello, Sharp Tongue. I’m Joe Cartwright. Nice to meet ya.” Then sensing the Indian boy’s discomfort, Joe turned his eyes back to the front of the room where the teacher had gone. Joe knew that most of the other students were still staring at him, but he hoped he wouldn’t notice. He figured if he didn’t notice and didn’t react, the other kids would get bored and forget about him.
Miss Lambert apparently had the same thought because she relentlessly started into the day’s lessons, without another glance at the new student. Joe had a hard time paying attention to the lesson, even harder than usual. He was glad that they weren’t doing that dumb algebra again this morning. If Miss Lambert had called upon him to solve a problem, he would have been unable to think it through. It was hard enough when he was trying to pay attention, which was not that often anyway.
Joe would never be described as a scholar; yet he made average or better grades. He expended the least amount of effort toward his schoolwork that he could get away with. He never did any additional study, he waited until the last minute to do any outside assignments and did them in as little time that he could, never asked for help, and never did any homework assignment more than once. Frequently Miss Lambert would ask for the first draft of any paper and make suggestions for improvement. Joe’s final paper was almost always exactly like the first one. Yet he made B’s and Cs on his report card. Adam, of course always made As and he spent a lot of time on his schoolwork; but Hoss had struggled to make D’s and C’s. Little Joe couldn’t understand why his teachers and Pa and Adam were always on his case about working harder.
At the first break in the long morning’s lessons, Joe smiled at Sharp Tongue and said, “It is probably boring to you, being in a class room all morning.”
“I have been going to school at the Mission; white man’s education is very different from my people’s, but some of it is interesting.” Sharp Tongue said in very good English.
“Well it may not be boring to you, Sharp Tongue, but wait’ll we get to that doggone algebra. Then you will see what boredom really is.”
Sharp Tongue looked at him and said, “What is this algebra?”
Joe grinned and said, “You don’t want to know, trust me.”
Joe was a little surprised at the reaction of the class. This was just a quick break time that Miss Lambert called a “stretch break”, but was really planned so the younger kids could visit the outhouse. Generally during this time, several people would come over to Joe’s desk to talk and kid around. Today, no one had come over, not even ‘Bec or Billy or Steve. He had heard loud boastful talk from the back of the room from Walter and his buddies, but Joe chose to ignore it until he was at a place and time he could do something to shut Walter up.
Before their conversation went any further, Miss Lambert was calling class back to order. This time her attention was on the student’s who were Joe’s age. They started off with history with a quiz on The War of the Roses. Joe groaned when Miss Lambert started passing out the test papers. Taking tests was such a waste of time. Who cared about the silly old Roses anyway he thought. Joe groaned louder when he read the quiz questions and saw how many there were. The quiz:
- Which King was not involved in the Wars of the Roses?
a. King Richard II
b. King Edward IV
c. King Henry IV
d. King Henry VI
- Who was the famed “Captain of Calais” during this tumultuous period?
c. George, Duke of Clarence
d. Robin of Redesdale
- The battle in which King Richard was killed was….
b. Bosworth field
d. St Albans
- The families fighting for Royal succession in the Wars of the Roses were…
a. the Stuarts
b. the Plantagenet’s
c. the Hanovers
d. the Windsors
- Many historians believe the Wars began from a private quarrel between…
a. the Percys and the Tudors
b. the Cliffords and the Pastons
c. the Stoners and the Mortimors
d. the Percys and the Nevilles
- The Kingmaker and his King fell out due to…
a. different foreign policy desires
b. an unliked marriage of the King’s
c. the King not allowing the Kingmaker’s daughters to marry Clarence or Gloucester
d. All of the above
- Shakespeare called whom a “proud setter up and puller down of kings“?
a. George, Duke of Clarence
b. Lord Hastings
c. Richard, Earl of Warwick
d. Richard, Earl of Salisbury
- The battle of Teweksbury effectively…
a.ended the Lancastrian chances for power.
b.ended the Tudor chances for power.
c. gave the throne to Henry VIII.
d. ended the power of the Kingmaker.
- The battle of Towton was…
a Lancastrian victory
b. a victory for Queen Margaret
c. relatively unimportant as a minor skirmish
d. the bloodiest battle on English soil
- The Wars of the Roses were…
a. Devastating to the lower classes, whose lives were upended
b.of little historical importance to the growth of Britain
c. of no contemporary importance outside of England
d. a thirty year war of which actual campaigning lasted less than two years
Luckily for Joe, he remembered enough of what Miss Lambert had made him read out loud to the class to remember seven of the questions. That left three he didn’t know—those were from material that was a homework reading assignment and Joe of course, hadn’t read it. So for the three remaining questions, he figured out one of them from the information that he had read, although it wasn’t stated implicitly, he was able to infer the correct answer. That left two questions that he had absolutely NO idea and he was tired of concentrating, so he guessed the answers to those. As luck would have it, he got one of those correct and one wrong—giving him a score of 90%—much better than usual.
As the students took the quiz, Miss Lambert spoke with Sharp Tongue trying to assess his level of prior education and was well pleased. Although he was not as far along as she would have liked, given his age, he was much further along than she had hoped. She thought to herself that perhaps this wasn’t going to be as hard as she expected. As the students finished their quizzes and turned them in, Miss Lambert realized it was lunchtime. It dawned on her that she had not reminded Mr. Carter that Sharp Tongue would need a lunch and she wasn’t sure if he had one or not. She announced lunch and during the noise as the other children started out to retrieve their lunches and started talking and laughing loudly, she went over to Sharp Tongue and asked if he had brought a lunch. “No, Miss Lambert, at the mission school, we ate with the fathers. But it is no cause to worry. Sharp Tongue will eat after school.” Miss Lambert was about to offer to share her sandwich when Little Joe spoke up. “Miss Lambert, Hop Tseng always packs as much lunch for me as he did for Hoss. Sharp Tongue can share my lunch.” Miss Lambert grinned at the reference to Hoss, he had left the school much earlier, but he had been a big eater and she remembered the size of his lunches. “Why thank you Joseph, that would be wonderful.” With the problem settled, she said, “All right you two get on out of here and eat. I need some time away from you!”
Joe stood up, stretched lazily and said, “Come on Sharp Tongue, I will introduce you to some of my friends and we can go eat.” Joe led Sharp Tongue out of the building, after grabbing the more than ample lunch Hop Tseng had sent. Sharp Tongue’s eyes widened when he saw the bag.
“What is this “Hoss” you talk of?”
Joe laughed and said “That is my big brother, who has a horse’s appetite, as well as a horse’s name.”
“I have to go check on my horse before I eat, you can go ahead and start if you want” Joe said, attempting to hand the bagged lunch to Sharp Tongue.
“I must also check on my horse” Sharp Tongue said.
The two boys went over to the shade and found that they had tied their horses next to each other. They both laughed as they realized the coincidence—Joe’s horse was a black and white pinto; Sharp Tongue’s was a brown and white pinto. They were both fine looking animals and they both tended to them and patted them fondly. They spent a few more minutes going over the other’s horse in detail, checking to make sure that their horse was indeed the best. After checking, they were both reassured that, indeed, their horse was the best.
After satisfying themselves that their horses were fine, they decided to sit down where they were and eat. They sat and ate. Initially their talk was confined to horses and lunch, but as the hour passed, they talked of other things about their life. The beginning bonds of friendship was forming already and both of them could tell it, and though Sharp Tongue was wary, they were both also excited about it.
When they finished eating there was still food left over from the lunch and Joe threw it onto the ground in the edge of the woods. Sharp Tongue eyed him, surprised to see such a waste of food.
Joe noted his look and said, “What are you looking at me like that for?”
“In my village, food is sometimes scarce, to throw away so much food seems wrong.” Sharp Tongue replied.
“Does your village need food now, Sharp Tongue?” Joe asked, alarmed.
“No, in the springtime there is much food, it is just in the winters when food is scarce—at least until the white man kill all the buffalo and the deer and the elk. Then there will be much hunger all the time.”
Joe considered this for a minute and then said; “Sharp Tongue I know that the white man is destroying the Indian hunting grounds. It is wrong. My Pa says so, too.”
“White man does not care what happens to Indians, Joseph Cartwright.”
“My Pa does too care, Sharp Tongue. My Pa is a good man, why he…” Joe’s speech was interrupted by Sharp Tongue saying, “ Your Pa is “great Ben Cartwright”. I know our village knows of him and some call him friend. But if he really cared, Joseph Cartwright, he would fight to stop the white men who break their own treaties, steal our land, and kill the buffalo for sport or for hides.”
Both boys were becoming very intense with the conversation and it may have escalated but just then the bell rang and Little Joe saw that all the other children were already entering the building. He thought it odd that none of his friends had come over to see him. He muttered, “We better go, Sharp Tongue so we won’t be in trouble for being late.” The two boys started back toward the schoolhouse.
When they were about halfway down the hill, Sharp Tongue looked at Joe and risked saying, “Still, why do you not take food home? Save for later.”
“Sharp Tongue if I took home the food I didn’t eat, then Hop Tseng’s feelings would be hurt and my Pa would think I wasn’t eating enough—and anyway you look at it—I’d be in trouble. It is for my own sake that I throw it out. Besides, see right over there beside that big rock? See there where that green bush is? Well behind that bush is a cave—nobody at school knows about it but me. My brother Hoss and I went in there one day—to get away from school. And in that cave lives a fox and that fox comes out after we leave and eats that food. So it ain’t really wasted.”
“Do you and your brother, Hoss go there now?” Sharp Tongue asked, thinking that he would like to see the cave himself. One that was so well hidden that all these children did not find it. He was especially interested in caves and even he hadn’t noticed it.
Joe laughed, “No, I don’t think Hoss could get into that cave anymore. I can though.”
“Would you take me there one day?” Sharp Tongue asked.
“Sure. We would have to do it when school was out though. I don’t want no one else to know about it. You never know when I may need a good hideout place.” Joe grinned.
“That is good, Joseph Cartwright.”
“You know, about the only time I hear that name is when I am in school, at church, or in trouble. You are making me nervous calling me Joseph Cartwright all the time. How about if you just call me Joe?” Joe asked him.
That is a bargain. But I do not have this shortened name that white people have. I do not know what you can call me, Jos—uh, Joe.” Sharp Tongue said.
Joe looked at him seriously, then grinned and said, “it is kinda hard to think up a nickname for Sharp Tongue” he agreed. “Why do they call you Sharp Tongue anyway?”
“Because I speak the truth and sometimes people do not want to hear the truth.” He said simply.
“Hmm. I guess that would never be used for me.” Joe grinned.
“Let me see. I know. How about if I call you ST, like the first letters in your name?”
Sharp Tongue looked at him and as they walked into the building, he nodded his head and said, “ST, it will be, Joe, but only to you. To all others it will be Sharp Tongue.” He held out his hand and Joe shook it, just as walked to their seats and sat down. Many of the other students were watching the two with widened eyes, shocked at the sight of Little Joe Cartwright shaking hands with a heathen.
The rest of the afternoon classes passed fairly quietly. Miss Lambert had graded the history tests during lunch and she complimented Joe on his grade. He accepted the compliment gracefully, without telling her how he had achieved such an outstanding score. He had learned a long time ago that sometimes the truth was better left unsaid. Not that he would outright lie, but he had learned that sometimes you could avoid telling some things just by strictly answering the question asked. Finally when the agonizingly slow lessons were over, Miss Lambert dismissed the class.
Joe immediately threw all his books in his desk and said “Come on S.T. I’ll introduce you to my friends.”
S.T. closed his desk and followed Joe out of the schoolhouse. Joe was again surprised that none of his regular friends came over to him. He turned and saw Rebecca watching him. He pulled S.T. along and said, “Bec, this is Sharp Tongue. Sharp Tongue this is Bec. She is great—she can run almost as fast as me.”
Bec smiled at Joe and Sharp Tongue and said, “It is nice to meet you Sharp Tongue. I hope you will enjoy coming to school here. And just for your information—I can beat Joe Cartwright running any day of the week and twice on Sunday!” The three laughed at this.
“Hey, Bec’, do you want to go riding with us?” Joe asked.
Bec smiled sadly and said, “Oh, Joe I can’t. My Pa said I had to come home and help my Ma today.”
“Well maybe tomorrow then” Joe said. “See ya, Bec.” He and Sharp Tongue headed out the door. Joe was confused when they came outside; none of his friends were there. But Walter and his friends were there, waiting.
“Uh oh” Joe said out loud. “This may be the time for that fight that Walter’s got coming.”
However just at that time, Mr. Carter the county school superintendent rode up, along with Mr. Meadows.
“Hello, Sharp Tongue. We have to go near your village and thought you might ride with us to show us the way?” Sharp Tongue was hesitant at first, he had been looking forward to riding with Joe Cartwright and racing his horse against the black and white pinto. But his father trusted this man so he felt it would be dishonorable for him not to assist him. He turned to Joe and said, “Tomorrow we race our pintos and you will see how fast a real Indian pony can run.”
“Yeah, that pony of yours can run all right, if she doesn’t mind the dust from Cochise and me. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
After Sharp Tongue and the two men had ridden off, Joe Cartwright turned to face Walter and his two sidekicks. Walter was much older and bigger than Joe was. Walter only attended from 2 to 3 months of school per year because he was needed to help out at home. His father didn’t believe in education but his mother did, so she made him come when he wasn’t needed on the ranch. Unfortunately Walter was not a particularly bright student and couldn’t make up the work he missed, so he invariably failed time after time. He was now close to 17 years old but was technically only a third-grader. His Ma had promised him that he didn’t have to come any more after this year, but she wanted him to finish this year so he would have at least finished the third grade work. She had little understanding of the school system and did not realize just how embarrassing it was for Walter to be doing third grade work.
His two friends were in about the same situation, though they were not as far behind as Walter, nor were they as strong and big. He used them for support and they hung out with him because it made them feel important. They got their fun by harassing the other kids, stealing lunches, lunch money, stealing and breaking toys or other possessions, and teasing the other children. Joe and Walter had been involved in several fights, but usually Joe’s friends were around to at least keep it from being so unfair. The last fight they had gotten into had been because of some mean rumors that Walter was spreading about one of the older girls in the school. Joe had walked up on Walter and his bunch when they were attempting to blackmail her, telling her that it didn’t matter what the truth was—by the time they finished telling everybody their story, no one would believe her. Joe immediately challenged Walter and the two fought furiously, but Joe, despite being much smaller, was quicker and smarter. Joe won that fight, but in that fight his friends had been there to prevent Walter’s pals from interfering. Joe had not gotten into too much hot water over that, because his friends were there to back him up and tell what Walter was doing. Still his father had been angry that his temper got the best of him and that he didn’t try to resolve the issue peacefully.
Joe looked around and saw that Walter and his friends were waiting for him. He considered his options; or rather he tried to, but quickly decided that he had no options. With Sharp Tongue gone, Miss Lambert either gone home or busy in the school and none of his friends in sight—he didn’t see many options.
He thought to himself, “Well Pa, the only peaceful solutions I can see is running and I ain’t about to run from Walter!”
Thus, he started walking unhurriedly, but directly over to Walter and his friends, knowing he was in for a rough fight and then on top of that, probably a lecture or worse from his father for fighting. “Oh well some things a man can’t control” he told himself. When he reached Walter, he stopped just a couple of feet away and looked him directly in the eyes.
“You waiting for me, Wally?” he asked.
Before he got the words out of his mouth good, Walter ran at him. Joe, anticipating this, dodged Walter’s punch and slammed into him with his full force, knocking Wally off balance and making him fall to the ground with a thud. Before he could get up, Joe landed on top of him, punching and pounding him with his fists. Joe had clearly surprised Walter and his size was serving as more of a disadvantage against Joe’s quickness and strength. The two wrestled, exchanged punches, and struggled against each other for a few minutes, with no reaction from Walter’s buddies. Finally when it looked like Little Joe was going to get the best of the bully, Walter caught the eyes of one of the other boys and gave motioned for some help. Immediately both boys grabbed Joe’s arms and pulled him off Walter and despite his struggling, the two of them were stronger than he was. And of course since they hadn’t been fighting they had plenty of breath left, Joe didn’t.
They held the struggling Joe upright, his arms behind them while Walter slowly got up, brushed himself off and then walked up to Little Joe. With no warning, Walter punched him as hard as he could in the midsection, taking Joe’s breath away. Walter landed a few more strategic punches while Joe was unable to recover his breath. When he was satisfied that Joe was unable to defend himself further, he signaled the others to release him. As they turned Joe loose, he fell to the ground, lying on his side, looking up at Walter. The three boys then circled around him and said “Cartwright this is just a warning. We ain’t having no injuns or no injun-lovers in this school. This is what your new best-friend is going to get tomorrow and every day until he gets outta here and goes back to that reservation he come from. If you are smart you will stay away from ‘im. If you ain’t smart yore beating is gonna get worse everyday. This was nothin’. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
Walter kneeled down close to Joe’s head and grabbed hold of his hair and pulled it tightly to the back, so that Joe was looking him eye-to-eye. “Do you understand what I am saying, rich kid?” Joe at first said nothing, just glared at Walter. Walter pulled his head tighter and said, “I said do you understand, boy?” Joe looked at Walter and with every bit of strength he had in him he said, “Get outta my face, Wally.” Walter, enraged, pulled his right arm as far back as he could and landed a blow directly on Joe’s face, causing his head to snap back. He then released his hold on Joe’s hair and let him fall, unconscious to the dirt. Summoning his pals, they ambled off toward the seedy part of Virginia City to see who else they could find to bully, laughing and talking like they had just come from the church social.
Joe slowly regained consciousness and found himself lying in the same place, on the dusty schoolyard. He sat up slowly, becoming dizzy and feeling nauseated as he sat up. He sat there, leaning back against a rock that he apparently had hit his head on when he fell. He sat for a few minutes, dazed trying to remember what had happened to him. The last thing he remembered was talking to Sharp Tongue and seeing Mr. Carter and Mr. Meadows ride up and talk to Sharp Tongue. He couldn’t remember exactly what had happened between then and the next thing he remembered was fighting with Walter. He couldn’t remember what had precipitated the fight. Although he didn’t know this, the blow to the head had caused a temporary loss of memory of the events immediately prior to the blow. As he contemplated what had happened, he remembered that he and Walter had proposed a fight a couple of days ago and he figured either he or Walter must have decided to do it today. He was a little surprised because Walter and he were always talking about fighting.
As his head cleared and the dizziness decreased, he looked at the sun and realized he was late getting home. Late already, with a long ride ahead of him. He forced himself to stand up, though the motion caused his head to reel and he felt extremely dizzy. He made it over to Cochise and checked her cinch and loosened her reins. Before he mounted the horse he took down the canteen and took a small drink, then splashed the remainder over his head and face to try to clear his brain. Feeling a little better he put his left foot in the stirrup and climbed aboard his horse. Cochise turned her head to look at him out of the corner of her eye to make sure it was her boy on him because of the ordinary way in which he mounted up. She had come to expect a fast, gentle, even plop into the saddle with no pull on the left stirrups, rather than a longer strained pull on the stirrups and reins, followed by a slower distribution of weight into the saddle. (Ok this was just for fun!)
Joe rode as fast as he dared to on the way home, but he was still feeling dizzy enough that he couldn’t run Cochise to make up any lost time. He was more concerned about what his father was going to say than the way he felt. He wished his father were away on a business trip or something. But he knew that even if he were, Adam would just assume his place and he would still get the interrogation. However, usually Adam could be counted on to not tell his father about things. But all that was futile thought, because as he rode into the yard he saw his father’s horse being led into the barn by one of the hands. Joe shrugged his shoulders and rode Cochise directly into the barn, hoping to at least have a few minutes to try to get his wits about him before facing his father.
When Joe walked into the barn he immediately got off Cochise, jumping off the way he normally did. He wished he hadn’t as the movement sent new pains through his side and his head. He moved as quickly as he could so that Cochise was between him and the other worker. He began to unsaddle Cochise and carefully curried her, fed her, and got her fresh water and left her in her stall. He then went to see if his evening chores had been done and found that they had. That could be good or it could be bad, depending upon who had done the chores. If Hoss had done them, it would be a good thing. Hoss often did his chores for him and never got testy about it or tried to make him feel guilty. Adam was unpredictable. He might do the chores and not tell Pa, he might do them but tell Pa Joe didn’t do them, or he might not do them and tell Pa that Joe didn’t do them.
He wanted to get up to his room without being detected to get cleaned up before he had to see anyone. He was hoping he would be able to get to his room without being seen. After finding that his chores had all been done, he decided to sneak up the outside stairway to go to his room rather than go through the main door. When he decided what he was going to do, he started to move quickly to the barn door. Unfortunately his attempts at rapid movement were too much for his head and the dizziness escalated. Feeling woozy, he grabbed for Cochise’s stall to keep from falling. He hadn’t seen his father coming toward the barn, with the intention of finding out the reason for his late arrival home. Reaching the doorway at the same time Joe attempted to move and became dizzy, Ben immediately ran for Joe. Ben took hold of him at the same time as Joe reached for the stall. Had his father not been there, Joe would have collapsed on the barn floor; instead he collapsed into his father’s arms. He saw the look of concern on his father’s face, even as he lost consciousness again and became limp. His father easily grabbed hold of him and with one arm under the knees and one under the back, headed into the house, calling for Hop Tseng as he moved.
“Hop Tseng. Hoss! Adam!” he cried as he pushed open the huge oak and pine door to the massive family room of the Ponderosa. As he did so he was met at the door by Hoss and Adam with Hop Tseng close behind.
“Joe! what happened, Pa?”
“Here Pa, lay him on the couch” Adam said gently pushing Hoss aside.
Ben laid him carefully on the table and Hop Tseng immediately took off for hot water and clean bandages.
“Hoss, get me a little brandy. Let’s see if that will revive him some.” The look of consternation on Ben’s face showed his deep concern for his youngest son.
“Pa, do you want me to go get Paul?” Adam asked, looking at his brother’s badly bruised face.
“Yes, Adam, we probably better. Paul always says if he—or anyone, loses consciousness that we should.”
“All right Pa, I will be right back.” He hurried out the front door heading to the barn to ready his horse for the ride to Virginia City. He saw Hank one of the hands leading a horse out of the barn. “Hank, is that horse fresh?”
“Yeah, Adam, he hadn’t been ridden in a few days and I was just gonna give ‘er a workout.”
“I’ll do it then. I need to go get the Doc from Virginia City. Looks like Little Joe has been in another fight.” He said rolling his eyes.
Hank stood watching the oldest Cartwright ride out, thinking that he would make a point to ask his niece who attended school with Little Joe what had happened. He knew that it was a bone of contention to Mr. Cartwright that the hands seemed to know a lot of details about their family business, but he had no idea where it came from. Hank chuckled because the source was his niece who had had a crush on Little Joe Cartwright since the first day she laid eyes on him. She made it a point to know everything about him and his family and when there was something going on with Joe—-he could usually get an insight to the cause by talking with Sally. Then he would make offhand comments to Mr. Cartwright to try to steer his thinking into the right direction to help him out. But he would never want to face Mr. Cartwright if he found out the source of the rumors about his family. “No sirree” he chuckled to himself.
Hoss came and offered his father a brandy glass half full of the amber-colored liquor. Ben took the glass and raising Joe’s head slightly, forced a small amount in his mouth, which Joe swallowed reflexively. He began to struggle back towards consciousness as Hop Tseng came into the room carrying a basin of hot water and a stack of clean white bandages and washcloths and towels, which he set down beside Ben on the large square table. Ben took a washcloth and wet it in the basin and them squeezed the excess water out and then began gently cleaning Joe’s bruised and battered face. Hoss, seeing that there was nothing else to be done for his baby brother then, but not wanting to leave, sat down in a chair and pretended to read, though he was taking an inordinate amount of time to read the first page.
As Ben worked he was both gentle and thorough, cleaning every scrape or cut and noting the extent of all bruising. He could tell that Joe was coming to as he continued to clean and tend to his injuries. Merely cleaning the facial injuries took a long time and the combination of the movement, time, and water on his face finally brought Joe out of the fog enough that he knew where he was. His first words when seeing his Pa were, “Hi, Pa.”
Ben grunted when he heard those words, thinking of the many, many times he had heard those words in similar situations through the years. His biggest fear where this son was concerned was that, one day, he would be too injured and wouldn’t be able to say that, and in fact wouldn’t recover from his injuries. He forced himself to put those thoughts out of his mind to tend to the present situation.
“Hi, yourself, young man.” He said mildly.
Joe tried to sit up, but his father placed his large hand on his chest and said, “You just lie still Joe. You aren’t going anywhere right now.” He noted the grimace when he pushed on his chest.
“Let’s see how bad the damage is.” He said and began to unbutton Joe’s shirt. He was appalled and more frightened when he saw the bruises and abrasions on his chest. He looked them over carefully, then began to feel along his ribcage. He stopped when he saw Joe gritting his teeth to keep from saying anything. He shook his head. Joe had a very high tolerance for pain and he guessed that was a good thing, because he refused to admit when something hurt and he seemed hell-bent on getting into dangerous situations.
He continued to gently clean and assess Joe’s injuries but he knew that until Paul Martin got there, he should keep Joe quiet and still. He forced a little more brandy into him, hoping it would not only revive him, but might dull the pain that he must be feeling. Joe seemed to be drifting in and out, and he decided that it was best to just let him doze until Paul got there, since if he were awake, he would be harder to keep still.
When he had finished doing all the cleaning and probing he felt comfortable doing, he sat back on the table and watched his son dozing. His face was going to be very painful—it was bruised all over; there was an abrasion down the entire cheek on the right side, and his right eye was already swollen. His lips were not swollen, but there was a split on the upper lip. His chest and abdomen were also bruised and he had either a cracked or broken rib on the right side. He hadn’t examined his head or back because he didn’t want to move him any more than necessary. Hop Tseng came in and out of the family room, alternatively checking on dinner in the kitchen and on Little Joe in the family room.
Ben’s thoughts turned to previous fights that his youngest son had gotten into and injuries that he had gotten over the years. Paul Martin had told him once that Joseph had the biggest medical record of all his patients and that was over five years ago. They had been through many anxious nights since that time. He knew if things didn’t change there would be many more to come. He was very frustrated with his son’s propensity for trouble. Joe was stubborn and very determined to do what he felt was right. He was not one to let something slide, to overlook injustices, or to compromise. All of these were qualities that Ben admired, yet, Joe had not learned that sometimes things were beyond his control and that he would have to learn how to resolve the internal dilemmas and cope with situations that may not be the most ideal, but were realistically beyond his control. Every serious fight that Joe had been involved in had been because of something that was in his opinion, unjust.
From the severity of the injuries, he knew that this fight was more than a school-yard disagreement. But he would have to wait for Joe to tell him what happened. As he watched his son and saw how young and vulnerable he looked and how much like his mother he looked, his frustration increased. He asked the question he frequently asked, but never voiced out loud, “Why God was your plan to take Marie from us. How could you have needed her more than us?” Then he followed up with the same thing he always did, “Forgive me Father, I know that your plan is perfect; it is just that we are imperfect.”
Slowly as Ben sat watching his son and questioning the Deity, Joe began to wake up. As he started coming to, he began to move around, opening and closing his eyes as if fighting to either stay asleep or wake up. It was never easy to tell the difference with Joe. Finally however the desire to wake was stronger than the desire to sleep so his eyes opened. Ben watched him, without saying anything, not sure if he would again doze off. As Joe slowly regained his senses, he saw his father sitting on the table watching him. He didn’t quite feel up to speaking just then so he didn’t say anything, hoping his mind would clear a little more and stop pounding quite so loud before he had to answer any questions. The silence did allow him to gather his thoughts and he went over in his mind what had happened. He didn’t remember actually getting into the fight, but he did remember Walter’s warning about what would happen to Sharp Tongue tomorrow. He knew he would have to think of something to help out, but he would think about it later, when his head wasn’t hurting and his father wasn’t sitting on the table staring at him. Suddenly the fact that his father was sitting on the table registered with him and before he thought better of it, he said, “Pa YOU are sitting on the table.”
Ben was startled by his son’s statement, he hadn’t known if he was fully awake or not. Then what he had said registered with him and he said, “Yes Son and YOU have your feet on the sofa.” Ben laughed and Joe started to smile, then winced as his face hurt when he moved. His father saw the grimace and reached over and put his hand on Joe’s face gently, tracing the outline of a bruise as he did so.
Joe again started to get up, “I’m all right Pa. I just want to go to bed. I’ll be fine in the morning.” Ben again held his son down with one hand on his chest and one on his leg, preventing him from moving his leg toward the side of the sofa.
“You just lie still, Joseph. Doctor Martin will be here shortly and we will let him tell us if you are all right. Joe frowned and grunted his displeasure, but his father ignored it. Hoss, seeing that Little Joe had awakened, came over and said, “Hey Little Joe, what did you do? Tangle with old Ned?” Joe again tried to laugh, but again grimaced at the pain caused by the effort.
“Yeah, Hoss you might say that, it was Ol’ Ned.” Joe replied.
“Well, imaginary grizzly bears aside, young man, just who did you tangle with?” Ben asked. As Joe was trying to think of what to say, he was saved by the arrival of Doctor Martin and Adam.
Paul Martin was as comfortable in the Cartwright house as he was his own. He had been the physician for this family since Ben Cartwright had first come to Nevada with Adam and Hoss as youngsters. He had delivered Joseph Cartwright in this very house. And he had been tending their medical and surgical ailments ever since. He had spent more time patching the youngest Cartwright up from one thing or another than he had on all the others put together. “And Joe was only 14” he always thought to himself.
He strode directly to the sofa, putting his medical bag down on the table and sitting in the spot that Ben had just vacated for him. He looked at Joe and said, “Hello, Joseph. Now what have you done to yourself, Son?”
Joe opened his mouth to answer and Dr. Martin promptly stuck a thermometer in his mouth instead. Then he began a rapid assessment, looking for major injuries. After several minutes of probing and palpating and inspecting, he removed the thermometer from Joe’s mouth and looked at it and nodded his head slightly. Ben, Adam, and Hoss all wanted to ask if he had a fever, but they had learned not to ask too many questions during the examination. Paul preferred to complete his examination and get all the data possible before answering any questions.
Paul looked up and the three and said, “I think it is safe to move him upstairs and I will examine him there.” Joe mumbled, “What was that you just did?” but the four men all ignored his question—they were used to Joe being a difficult patient. Hoss stepped forward and said, “I’ll carry him.” And moved forward to do so. Joe said, irritably, “I can walk. I told ya I’m all right.”
Paul caught Ben’s eyes and they both rolled their eyes and shook their heads, thinking the same thing: this was without a doubt the most independent youngster they had ever seen and worse, the older he got, the more stubborn he became.
Ben said, “Hoss if you would please carry your brother upstairs.” Joe started to say something and Ben looked at him and raised his hand and said, “Save your breath, Joseph.” Joe attempted to let out a huge sigh to show just how unnecessary this was, but as he did so, he had a sharp pain in his chest and he gasped instead. Paul said, “Careful Hoss and watch that right side, he has a broken rib.” Hoss quickly but gently picked his brother up and headed toward the stairs, Adam going with them to open the door.
Paul looked at Ben and asked, “Do you know how this happened or who did this?”
“Not yet, Paul, I didn’t want to upset him until you had checked him out.” Ben replied.
“All right, I am going to send Hoss and Adam back down here—I don’t want the three of you hovering over me. He is uncooperative enough as it is. Send Hop Tseng up with some more hot water.”
“All right Paul if that is what you want.” Ben said, not at all happy to be excluded from the room, but knowing that Paul was the consummate professional and that Joseph probably was easier to manage without them there. Shortly Adam and Hoss came downstairs, meeting Hop Tseng on the way upstairs with the hot water. Hoss volunteered to take the water for Hop Tseng, thinking that would be a way for him to get back in the room. Hop Tseng, however had no intention of trading places with Hoss. He knew that he could help Dr. Martin more than Hoss could. He held firmly to the water basin and unleashed a tirade in Chinese to Hoss, including Adam and Ben in the conversation. They of course had no idea what he had said, which was really just as well because truthfully all he had done was repeat the words to a song, but he did it with such passion and intensity—they didn’t want to rile him any further, so Hoss turned lose of the basin and Adam and Hoss retreated to wait with their father. Hop Tseng continued his monologue until he reached Little Joe’s room, to make sure that they knew they had offended him in some major way. If they could have seen his face they would have compared him to the cat that ate the canary. He was quite proud of his acting abilities.
The three men waited for an hour and just when Ben had reached his endurance limits for waiting, Paul Martin came downstairs. The three of them immediately arose to meet him at the stairs. He looked at them and said, “Do you mind if I sit down before you bombard me with questions? And how about a cup of coffee? Hop Tseng told me he put on a fresh pot.” Hoss immediately said “I’ll get it Pa” and headed toward the kitchen.
They waited for Hoss to return so that Paul wouldn’t have to repeat anything. When he had returned and Paul had a coffee cup in his hand and had taken a couple of swallows, he said, “Well Joe has one broken rib, a pretty good lump on his head and I believe a concussion, severe bruising of the face, chest and arms, and some pretty nasty abrasions on his face and arms.”
He paused and took a breath and just when Ben was fixing to ask a question, he added, “And there is more, Ben. Some of the bruises tell quite a bit about how this happened, Ben. It looks like two people held Joe’s arms behind his back and someone else did the beating. I can tell that it was two people holding him because there are two hand prints on both arms and from the looks of the bruises, they were having to hold him pretty tight. He must have been putting up a valiant effort.”
“Paul did he say anything to you about how this happened or who did this?” Adam asked.
Hoss spoke up, “I bet ya it was that Walter boy. He ain’t nothin’ but trouble; he was always pickin’ on Joe unless I was around and any body smaller than him.”
“Hoss Joe did say it was Walter, but he wouldn’t say what it was about. Said he doesn’t remember how the fight started.”
“Doesn’t remember? Do you mean he has amnesia?” Ben asked incredulously.
“No, Ben, not at all. It isn’t uncommon for someone who has a concussion to be unable to remember the events immediately preceding the injury, so it is possible that he doesn’t remember.” Paul said.
“Or it could also mean that he doesn’t want to tell what started it so he is using that as a convenient excuse.” Adam said loudly.
Ben looked at Adam contemplatively but didn’t say anything.
Hoss gave Adam a slight frown and said, “Now Adam there ain’t no call to call Joe a liar. You know he doesn’t lie.”
“Yeah but he is not above not telling the whole truth either, Hoss” Adam responded.
“That is not getting us anywhere, Sons. Paul what do you want us to do for him?” Ben asked, trying to redirect the conversation to the welfare of his youngest son.
“Well I taped up his ribs, he is gonna be sore for several days. He needs to stay in bed for several days until the effects of the concussion have resolved and his rib has started healing. The danger of the broken rib is if it were to be displaced and puncture a lung. He needs to be still for several days to make sure that doesn’t happen. His bruises should heal nicely, though he is gonna be black and blue for a while.”
“Can we see him now, Paul?”
“Yes, Ben, but I gave him a sedative so he is going to sleep soon and should sleep through the night. Hop Tseng is giving him some broth now. Just let this be for now, Ben, don’t try to get out all the details now. He is tired and he needs some rest. As soon as he has healed a little bit I will help you get the details out of him myself.” Paul said with a smile. He knew Ben Cartwright well enough to know that although he may be frustrated with Joe; he was incensed that someone had hurt his son and he wanted to get the details out so that he could see that the other parties were punished. Ben’s philosophy was “if you gotta fight with one of my sons, you gotta fight with me.”
“All right Paul, thanks again for coming so quickly”. “Oh don’t you worry, Ben, when you pay off your bill at the end of the month I am thinking of buying a new surrey.” He laughed. He often kidded Ben about having the most medically expensive family that he had ever known. He had told him that he needed to just pay him monthly a flat amount and he would just provide any and all care for the same amount. Ben told him that was the most preposterous notion he had ever heard and that no one was gonna pay doctor’s bills before they were sick. They both had a good laugh over that, but Paul still felt that it was not a bad idea to do this.
After Paul left, Ben, Adam, and Hoss went into Joe’s room. Hop Tseng had just finished giving Joe some broth, despite his protests and was smoothing the bed linens. Ben, Adam and Hoss went nearer the bed and said, “Joe how you feeling?” practically at the same time.
Joe looked up, somewhat groggy already from the medication and from the residual effects of the concussion and said, “Hi Pa.” The three older Cartwrights nodded their heads and smiled at him, as he closed his eyes and faded off to sleep.
After having a late dinner, Ben, Hoss, and Adam sat in the great room, conjecturing what had started Joe’s latest fight and who else was involved.
“Well Pa, like I said I knew it was that Walter and those boys that hang around with him. They are just plain out mean.” Hoss said emphatically.
“Well whoever it was didn’t fight fair,” Adam added. “Paul said two people held his arms behind his back and another one beat him, so there were at least three people involved.”
“Yeah you are right, Adam. I wonder if there are other boys in as bad or worse shape than Little Joe.” Ben said.
“Well I can tell you this, when I get my hands on ‘em, they will wish they had someone to hold me back!” Hoss spat out. Hoss and Joe had developed a close relationship while Adam was in college and Hoss had always felt very protective of his little brother. He had a hard time when something was wrong with Little Joe or if he had been injured.
“Now calm down Hoss, when Little Joe wakes up, I will have a nice long talk with him and get to the bottom of this. Then if necessary, we will go pay a visit to Roy Coffee. I will not have Little Joe beat up in broad daylight in Virginia City when I send him to school. Don’t you worry Hoss, I will get to the bottom of this.”
Long after Adam and Hoss had gone to bed, Ben sat in the great room in his favorite chair, thinking about what had happened to Little Joe. Or rather thinking about the things that had happened to him in the past and worrying about things that might happen in the future. Little Joe had inherited traits from him and from Marie. Traits such as strong will, independence, persistence—-or downright stubbornness, a strong sense of justice and honor, and courage were all valuable traits that were essential to survive in the world. However, these traits were accentuated in Little Joe because he had inherited them from both him and Marie. From his mother he had also inherited a quick temper, strong and labile emotions, a craving for excitement, and a small frame and physique. The combination of these traits often led him to act impulsively and to tackle situations and opponents that were more than he could handle. This is what caused Ben to lose sleep over, trying to figure out how to teach Little Joe to be true to his self—to be honorable, courageous, and high-spirited——but also not killed in the process. He finally decided that he wouldn’t be able to find a satisfactory solution to that whole issue, he would just have to take each day and each crisis, one at a time and do the best he could. He longed for Marie to be there with him, sharing the joy and the responsibility that their son brought with him. Right then he decided that he would get up a little earlier in the morning so that he could go by the lake and talk to Marie on his way to the timber camp.
On his way to bed he quietly opened the door and went in to check on Little Joe before turning in himself. He was only slightly surprised to find Hoss sitting in the chair next to Little Joe, his big hand holding onto his brother’s much smaller hand, both of them sleeping. He quietly woke Hoss and sent him on to bed, then he took Hoss’ chair and gently picked up Little Joe’s hand himself, noting how small and delicate his hand was, compared to his own. “He has your hands too, Marie.” He whispered quietly, his eyes brimming with unshed tears. He took a deep breath, stood up, placed Joe’s arms under the covers and tucked the covers around him, then turned the lamp to the lowest flame possible, and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.
As he was headed toward his own room, he noticed the light coming from under Adam’s door, so he knocked quietly on the door. Adam was sitting on the bed, reading and Ben was amused to see that Adam was reading a book on linear algebra, no doubt planning to assist Little Joe if necessary. “Hi, Son, I saw your light on and wanted to ask you something.” He said.
“Sure Pa, what is it?” Adam asked, with a questioning look at his father.
“Well you know I am supposed to go over to the timber mill tomorrow to see Nate to finalize the timber contract.” Ben started.
“Would you like me to do that for you, Pa so you can stay here with Little Joe?” Adam asked.
“No, Son, I actually was looking forward to seeing Nate, haven’t seen him in a long time.”
Adam looked at him with his eyebrows raised, waiting for Ben to ask his question.
“I wondered if you would stay close to the ranch and keep and eye on him instead? You don’t have to stay right here, because Hop Tseng will be here. Just check on him now and then?”
Adam smiled, “Sure Pa, no problem. I will have to go to the corrals now and then to keep those new hands working, but I can check on him in between times. Are you still planning on taking Hoss with you?”
“Yes, I am.”
“You know Pa that he is gonna want to stay here with Joe, instead of going with you, don’t you?”
“Yes he probably will, but it is about time he starts to learn the timber operation, he has the cattle operation down pretty good now. You never know when he might need to step in for one of us. Little Joe needs to rest anyway and you know darned good and well that Joe can persuade Hoss to let him do anything he wants. He’d be out there bustin’ broncs tomorrow if it were left up to Hoss to watch him”. Ben and Adam both laughed.
“Well I have to agree on that, Pa.” Adam said.
“I’ll keep an eye on him Pa. Don’t worry.”
“Thanks, son. Okay I am going to leave early in the morning so I can be back by mid-afternoon.” Good night Adam.”
Ben Cartwright arose long before the roosters, the Ponderosa’s alarm clocks, were up. Ben bathed, shaved, and dressed quickly, anxious to check on Little Joe and to get started to the lake to talk to Marie. He had dreamed of her last night, how she smelled, how she laughed, how much she loved Adam and Hoss when they first were married and how much she had cherished their baby son. He left his room and quietly opened the door to Little Joe’s room, expecting to find him asleep still. Instead he found him trying to pull a shirt on, though having a hard time of it because of the bruises and bandages.
“Joseph” Ben said, rushing over to the bed and leading his son back to bed.
“What do you think you are doing?” He asked him as soon as he had gently but firmly forced Joe back onto the bed. “Don’t you remember Doctor Martin telling you to stay in bed?” Ben asked.
Joe looked at him and said, “Yes Pa, but that was last night and I did stay in bed all night.” To him that was the most logical interpretation of Doctor Martin’s orders and he didn’t understand what his father was concerned about.
“Joseph, he meant stay in bed for several days, not just one night” Ben said exasperatedly.
Joe gave him a look that was supposed to show surprise, but because of his swollen and bruised face, the effect turned out to be more pitiful than surprised. This was just the impetus that Ben needed to question his son about the fight.
“Joseph, I would like to hear about this fight yesterday and I don’t aim to wait any longer for an explanation, young man. Tell me right now.” Ben gave him his sternest look, though he had trouble displaying it, since his son looked so vulnerable and miserable right now.
“Pa I don’t remember how it started. But we had an argument a few days ago about him picking on the little kids.” Joe said, uncomfortable with this conversation. He was telling the truth, he didn’t remember how it began, but he definitely remembered how it ended and he knew that if he told Pa what had happened, his Pa would try to fix it. He could just hear the teasing he would get and how many more fights he would have to be in, if his father tried to solve his problem for him. He looked up at his Pa to gauge his reaction and he could tell his father was not satisfied.
“Joseph, Dr. Martin told me you said Walter was one of the boys, were there others in the fight?”
This was a difficult question for Little Joe to answer. On the one hand, he didn’t want his Pa to think he couldn’t handle a fight with one person, but he also didn’t want him thinking it was an unfair fight and go complaining to Walter’s father or even worse, to Sheriff Coffee. He answered the question very literally.
“No, Pa just Walter and me were fightin’,”, he said and as he was speaking he tried again to sit up and as he moved he felt a sharp pain in his right side. Ben, noting the look of pain and the loss of color in his face, immediately changed his focus from asking questions to assisting his son be comfortable.
“What are you doing, Joe?” Ben asked.
“I want some water to drink, Pa.”
“You just lie still and I’ll get it for you.” Ben walked over to the pitcher and filled a glass, noting that Hop Tseng had already refilled his water pitcher and brought in fresh towels. “Hop Tseng goes to bed with the chickens and gets up before the chickens” he thought to himself, realizing how their lives were made so much easier by the faithful cook and housekeeper.
Ben gave his son the water, helping him sit up to drink. When he had drunk his fill, Ben helped him lie back down and he repositioned his pillows and straightened his covers.
“Pa ain’t it time to get up to go to school?” Joe asked.
“Son, you are not going to school today. You are going to stay right there in that bed until the Doc says you can get up. He will be out to see you this morning.”
“Pa, I am all right. I have to go school so I won’t get behind in algebra” Joe said, using an excuse that he thought his father might believe and it was the truth, he knew if he was not there to see Miss Lambert work out the problems, he would never be able to do them.
“Joseph, you are not going to school and that is final. If you have problems with algebra, I am sure that Adam will be happy to help you with it.”
Joe frowned and rolled his eyes when his father said that.
“Little Joe, your brother enjoys helping you; you should be glad you have someone willing and capable of helping you.” Ben said sternly.
Joe half shrugged and said, “Pa, Adam likes it too much. He never wants to quit.” Joe complained.
“Never the less young man, you are not going back to school until Doctor Martin says you can. We can talk about this later. You need to get some more rest now. You just stay in bed and Hop Tseng will bring you some breakfast in a little bit. Are you hungry?”
“Uh I guess so Pa. I hadn’t really thought about it much.”
“Well you eat what he brings you so you can get well faster. I have to go to the timber mill this morning. Adam is going to be around the ranch and Hop Tseng will be here if you need anything.”
“Pa what about Hoss. Can he stay here with me?” Joe asked.
“No, Joe Hoss has to go with me to the timber mill. We won’t be gone all day, then we will both come up to see you.”
“Pa, what time is Doctor Martin coming?” Joe asked, formulating a plan.
“He said he would be here between 10:00 and 11:30, Joe. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, just wonderin’ Pa” Joe said and yawned.
“All right you go on back to sleep for a while. I will tell Hop Tseng to wait on your breakfast for a little while.” As he said this he smoothed the covers and tucked them in again and brushed a lock of Joe’s curly hair off his forehead. He loved the touch of that soft curly hair, so like Marie’s.
After his father went out, Joe opened his eyes immediately and began to think about his plan. He knew that he had to get back to school today. But there would be no reason to get there before time for school to be out. He had hoped Hoss would be staying there with him, because he knew he could count on him to help him, but he knew Adam would not be swayed from what his father or Doctor Martin said. But if Pa was going to be gone and Adam was going to be in and out, he would just have to make sure he left as soon as Adam left. He planned to stay at home until at least after the doctor had come, as much as he would have loved to skip that, he knew that if he left before Doc Martin came, everyone would go looking for him and he may be caught before school was out. He had to be there to protect Sharp Tongue when school was out. He worked out his plan and then having that resolved and being sleepy, he decided to rest his eyes for a few minutes. Soon all that could be heard was the soft rhythmic sounds of his breathing.
Reluctantly, Hoss accompanied Ben on the trip to the timber mill, not at all surprised by the detour by the lake. Hoss had loved Marie from the very first moment he saw her, she was so pretty, but sweet-looking, and soft. He had loved the way she had taken over the running of the ranch house and in fact, had been responsible for bringing Hop Tseng to live with them. He missed her laughter, spirit, and even her temper—there was only one other person he knew who had a worse temper than Marie Cartwright, and that was his little brother. But like his mother, Joe’s temper was quick to come and just as quick to leave. Hoss wanted to stay with his brother to see if he could get any more details out of him, but once his father had his mind made up—it took an act of God to change it. But he enjoyed the visit to the lake, after paying his respects, he walked around the lake giving his father some privacy. After about 20 minutes, his father called him and they began their trip to the timber mill. They didn’t talk a lot but they enjoyed the peaceful ride into the deep forests of Ponderosa pine for which their ranch was named. The deep green of the pine forest, contrasted against the deep azure blue of the sky and the snow-capped mountains in the distance gave them both a lift in their spirits.
In the meantime back at the ranch (sorry folks, couldn’t resist!), Hop Tseng was serving Little Joe breakfast and talking to him while he ate. He knew that if he sat there and talked to Joe that he would eat more than if he left him with the tray. Adam stopped by and sat and talked for a few minutes as well. When he entered the room, he immediately went over and felt Joe’s forehead, feeling for fever. Joe tried to move his head away, but Adam had expected that so he had put his other hand behind his head so that he couldn’t squirm away. Feeling no fever, he smiled and said, “That’s good, Joe. I am sure Doc Martin will be pleased.” Joe gave what he hoped was a look of exaperation and rolled his eyes. Adam laughed and said, “Joe I am going to be working downstairs til the doc gets here if you need anything, just holler.” With that he reached over and gently tousled his brother’s hair and chuckled when Joe moved his head out of his reach and then turned and went downstairs.
Joe was getting increasingly concerned about being able to get to school on time as he waited for Doc Martin to come. Just as he thought he was going to have to slip out before the Doc got there, he heard a buggy pull up. He got up as quickly as he could and went to the window just in time to see Adam greeting Doc Martin at the buggy. He then turned and headed back to his bed, just barely getting back into the bed before he heard the two of them walk up to his door. Doc Martin didn’t knock, he just entered the room, Adam right behind him.
“Well hello Joseph. How are you feeling this morning?” Doctor Martin asked.
“I’m fine Doc, can I get up now?” Joe wasted no time getting his request out.
“Well I doubt that Joe, but let me have a look at you and then I can answer your question.”
Joe knew that it wouldn’t matter if he didn’t have a bruise or bump or anything, Doc Martin was going to insist that he stay in bed. He didn’t know why everyone thought staying in bed was a cure for any ailment. As he was talking, he gently but firmly pushed Joe back onto the bed and began to pull out his stethoscope. He could tell that Joe was not going to be cooperative and he decided he would get further with him without an audience, so he turned to Adam and said, ““Adam why don’t you go on to your work? Joe and I can manage and if I need anything, I will get it from Hop Tseng.” Adam realized that he was being dismissed and grinned and said, “All right, Paul. I will go on out to check on the hands at the corral. Joe I will be back in about an hour and a half. If you need anything before I get back, just call Hop Tseng. Paul, would you come by the north road as you leave and stop at the corral and let me know what you find?”
“I sure will, Adam. You go on now. I can handle this young man.” As he said this he had already begun examining Little Joe, noticing that despite his bravado, he was still in some discomfort and was breathing faster and shallower than normal and that his bruises were even worse-looking today than yesterday. Adam left the room, pausing at the door for an extra minute, watching the Doctor deftly handle his brother. He shook his head and headed downstairs, stopping to tell Hop Tseng that the doctor was with Joe and that he would be back in 1-2 hours.
Doctor Martin gave Joe a thorough examination, careful to watch Joe’s face when he asked if something hurt; he had learned a long time ago that Joe was a very stoic little boy who wouldn’t admit that he was feeling bad until three days after he was dead. However, when he palpated his rib cage, the sharp intake of breath and look of pain in his eyes was evidence enough that his rib was still sore and was indeed broken rather than just cracked. He assisted Joe to sit up and re-wrapped the bandages. Finally when he was satisfied that there were no injuries that he had missed, he helped Joe get back into his night shirt, ignoring Joe’s request to put on a shirt and pants instead.
“Now then, Little Joe, I want you to stay right here in this bed until I come back to see you the day after tomorrow. Do you understand, Joseph?” Doctor Martin stared at him sternly and held his eyes until Joe looked away first. This was another trick that he had learned sometimes worked with Joe.
“I understand, Doc.” Joe replied and he did understand, he just couldn’t follow that advice—not today anyway.
“All right then, you lie down and get some sleep now. I am going to stop by and tell Adam the same thing I am telling you, so don’t you get any ideas, young man. I will also tell Hop Tseng I am leaving now and tell him to bring your food later.”
“I already ate Doc Martin” Joe said quickly. And he had eaten, it was breakfast, but it was food
“All right, Joe, I will see you in a couple of days. And you better tell your Pa how this fight happened Joe and who the two boys were who were holding your arms behind your back.” He said sternly.
Joe looked at him surprised. “How did you know that?” he asked before he realized that was a confession.
“I could tell because of your injuries, son.”
“Did you tell my Pa?” Joe asked nervously.
“Yes, Joseph, I most certainly did. Now make life easier for you and everyone else and tell him who it was and what it was about. Please. Now you get some sleep. Bye, son.”
“Good bye Doctor Martin” Joe said and settled himself into the soft bed as if for a long winter’s nap. As soon as Doc Martin left the bedroom, however, Joe was up and moving. Not as quickly as he wished, but as quickly as he could move without causing the sharp pain in his side. He laboriously struggled to get out of the night shirt and pulled on a pair of pants, shirt, and boots. It took him some time to manage everything and he was becoming nervous, looking at the clock. He knew he had to get moving. He ordinarily would have sneaked out of his bedroom window, but he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to make the climb with his arms and chest so sore, so he slowly opened the door to his bedroom and looked both ways. He heard movement and the sound of singing in Chinese from the downstairs great room, so he turned in the opposite direction and went to the back stairs that led outside. He carefully went down them, closed the door quietly behind him, and then went to the barn from around the side and then into the back.
He spoke to Cochise when he entered the barn and after a couple of pats, began the slow process of saddling her. He found that putting his clothes on had been a piece of cake compared to saddling Cochise. He was tempted to just ride bareback, but he didn’t want to damage the horse’s spine (tee hee), so he managed to get a saddle on the horse and get her ready. He led her to the back of the barn, then opened the door quietly and looked around. He neither heard nor saw anyone, so he led Cochise a few more yards from the barn, then gingerly got on her, again using a slower mount than usual.
The ride to Virginia City was unusually long today because of the urgency he felt and the pain he was experiencing. He found that the pain in his side was less if he breathed shallow breaths and avoided taking deep breaths. He wondered if he was going to be able to defend Sharp Tongue when he got there. He sure hoped some of his other friends would still be there to help him out today.
Adam had been detained at the corral longer than he had anticipated because the new men were a lot greener than he had thought. He had to spend a lot of time teaching them things that almost everyone he knew had learned as soon as they learned to ride. It would have been much better for Hoss to be there showing them how to do the job, Hoss enjoyed the work and had more patience than he did. He found himself becoming short-tempered and curt and he tried to do it the way Hoss would have handled it. “Hoss is the epitome of patience, that is why he gets on so well with Little Joe” he thought. Thinking of Little Joe made him even more anxious to get home. He had promised his father he would check on him often and he had been gone for three hours. Finally he felt the men had caught on enough to be able to perform the job reasonably well, so he left them to finish up and he headed back for the ranch.
When he got almost to the ranch courtyard, he was met by Hop Tseng on the wagon. Puzzled he rode up to him and slowed the horses. Hop Tseng looked relieved to see him.
“Mr. Adam. Little Joe gone. Hop Tseng look all over house. Little Joe vanish. Pony gone too.” Hop Tseng said and then continued to talk rapidly in Chinese.
“Gone? How long, Hop Tseng? When did you see him last?” Adam asked worriedly.
“He left sometime between after Doctor Martin leave and now. I don’t know when. I busy in garden, pull up weeds. Come back in, wash up, go to take lemonade and cookies to Little Joe. He not there. I look all over house, barn. No find Little Joe. Then have idea and look to see if pony gone. Pony gone too. All gone. Hurry, Mr. Adam we go find Little Joe?’ Hop Tseng was getting ready to start the wagon again, when Adam put a hand on his arm and said, “Hop Tseng, you go on home and tell Pa and Hoss. I will find him. You don’t worry, he will be all right.” Adam said reassuringly, although he wasn’t really sure himself.
“That crazy kid” he said out loud, and turned his horse toward Virginia City and the school house. Pa had told him what Little Joe had said about wanting to go to school. Adam knew that whatever it was that compelled Little Joe to go to school must be important to him, must be what got him in the condition he was in, and definitely had NOTHING to do with algebra.
He had only been gone a few minutes when he heard horses coming up fast behind him. He turned and saw his father and Hoss coming up fast behind him. He stopped and waited for them to catch up with him. He looked at his father’s face and saw a combination of concern, frustration, and anger expressed in the set of his jaw, the color of his face, and the glint in his eyes. Hoss’ expression was one of pure worry, no doubt worried about Little Joe and what Pa would do to him for disobeying him.
“Hi, Pa, Hoss” he said when they drew up close to him. “I guess Hop Tseng filled you in?” “Yes, Adam, Let’s go find him before he gets himself hurt worse than he is.” They started their horses at a fast pace toward Virginia City.
“Pa, this is my fault. I got hung up at the corral and didn’t check on him for three hours.” Adam said, trying to decrease the intensity of his father’s anger.
“Adam, you were tied up, that wasn’t your fault. I told him to stay in bed ‘til I got home. He said he understood.”
“Pa, um, well saying he understood ain’t exactly the same thing as saying he would stay home.” Hoss pointed out.
Ben turned around and glared at Hoss at first. Then as he reflected on it, he said, “Hoss you are right. Once again I failed to ask the right question, didn’t I and your brother found himself a loop hole to crawl through. But he knew what I meant as well as he knows his name.” Ben said.
“Well, Pa, he sure doesn’t admit to his middle name. Maybe that is the problem, he doesn’t know his middle name.” Adam said trying to lighten the mood.
Ben said nothing, but spurred his horse faster. Adam and Hoss followed suit.
Joe arrived at the school with about 30 minutes to spare. He decided to tie Cochise on at the side of the building so she would be easier to get to, if that became an issue. Rather than go inside and face all the students and Miss Lambert who would make a big deal out of his injuries and the children who would ask too many questions, Joe decided to wait on the front steps for the class to be dismissed. He was in no hurry to face Walter and his pals anyway. But he had to be there to keep Sharp Tongue from being beaten up. He eased himself onto the doorsteps and sat down, making himself as comfortable as possible. He leaned back against the step behind him and started watching the clouds. He had a memory of doing this with someone and trying to make shapes out of the clouds. He thought that perhaps it was his mother, but he was not sure. He knew it was a pleasant memory, regardless if it was his mother or not. The beautiful blue sky was filled with white puffy clouds that looked like balls of cotton. Joe leaned back in the warm sun of afternoon and identified a horse with spots, a dog, and a mushroom. Joe recalled from his science lesson last year that the type of clouds he was looking at were stratocumulus clouds. The warmth of the sun, the exertion from the ride, and the medication he had received last night were overwhelming and Little Joe’s eyes opened and closed sleepily. Finally he gave in to the pull and he dozed off, thinking that the noise of the other students coming out would wake him soon enough anyway.
“JOSEPH FRANCIS CARTWRIGHT!”
Joe bolted awake and found himself staring into the very angry eyes of his father. He looked around sleepily, trying to figure out how where he was. As realization dawned on him, he looked around frantically to see if school was out. He could hear the voices inside the school room, but he could tell that any minute they would be coming out of the building. He was trying to think what to do—what to tell his father and what to do to help Sharp Tongue.
As he was trying to collect his thoughts, his father said, “Joseph, I am too angry at you right now to even discuss this willful disobedience with you. So don’t even try to explain.” He was directly in front of Little Joe leaning over, with one arm on each side of the steps beside his son, with his face at eye level to Joe’s. His father’s brown eyes were shining and his lips were tight and his jaw was clenched shut. Joe had seen his father look angrier, but this was at least a 7 on a scale of 1-10.
Ben Cartwright straightened up and took hold of his son and pulled him up and despite his anger, he was very careful not to exert any undue pressure on his injuries. He had a firm hold on Joe’s hand and said “Where is Cochise, Joe?” in a controlled, almost routine voice. Before Joe could say anything, Hoss came around from the side of the school building leading the familiar white and black pinto that Ben had given his son just two years ago.
Ben then looked down at Joe and said, “Adam, you and Hoss take Joe and go wait for me at Doctor Martin’s office. We had better go see if he did himself any further injury by this fool trip to town.”
Joe tried to speak but his father looked at him sternly and said, “Not a word, Joseph. Not now. You go with Adam and Hoss right now. I will be along shortly.”
“Pa, what are you going to do?” Hoss asked. He knew that his father intended to try to find out what happened and why Joe got beat up. He wanted to be there when he did.
“I am going in to talk to Miss Lambert and see if she knows what this is about.”
“Papa, NO.” Joe said, looking panicked.
Ben looked at Joe and his stern countenance gave way when he saw the look of terror on Joe’s face.
“Hoss you go with Adam and see if you can’t calm your little brother down some. Look at him” Ben whispered to Hoss. Hoss looked at Joe and then immediately said, “Yes sir, Pa. We’ll be at the Doc’s when you get finished here.”
Joe attempted one more time to say something, but at that time the children came running out of the school. Hoss and Adam each took hold of an arm and practically dragged Little Joe toward his horse and forced him onto the saddle. Ben stood on the steps of the school watching until Adam and Hoss and Little Joe had mounted and moved off down the street. He saw the curiosity of the other children and knew they were watching the scene. He didn’t like to embarrass Little Joe, but he didn’t know any other thing to do. Feeling overly frustrated at the situaition, he turned toward the group of students, hanging back watching and said, “Don’t you children have somewhere to go?” in a loud and officious manner. Immediately all the children dispersed. He saw a few bigger students walking off together, being the last to leave and one lone boy with jet black hair getting onto a brown and white pinto. “That must be Sharp Tongue” he thought to himself.
He entered the building and found Miss Lambert erasing the blackboard.
“Miss Lambert, I wondered if I could talk to you for a few minutes?” he asked quietly after clearing his throat to get her attention.
“Oh Mr. Cartwright, good to see you. I suppose you have come about Joseph?”
“Why yes ma’am, I have.” He said.
She motioned for him to sit down and she sat opposite him. Neither of them spoke, waiting for the other one to speak. Finally to break the silence they both started to speak, “What …” Laughing, Miss Lambert said, “You first Mr. Cartwright.”
“Well Miss Lambert I came to see what you could tell me about the fight my son was in yesterday.” He said.
Her eyes opened wide with surprise. “Joseph was in a fight, Mr. Cartwright?”
“Didn’t you know?” Ben asked in surprise.
“No, I thought he must have been sick or playing hooky again, Mr. Cartwright. That is what I thought you came to tell me.”
“Well he was beaten pretty severely yesterday. He says he can’t remember how it started but it was with Walter. Doctor Martin thinks two people held him so another one could beat him up.”
“Oh Mr. Cartwright I am so sorry. I knew nothing about this. It had to have happened after school. I left out the back door immediately after school because I had —well I had an engagement last evening.”
It was no secret in Virginia City that Laura Lambert and Brent Brody were courting.
“Did you see any trouble or hear anything, Miss Lambert?”
“No Mr. Cartwright, nothing but the usual war of words between Walter and Joe. Walter is a bully Mr. Cartwright and he shouldn’t be here. He doesn’t want to learn and he is too old, he probably feels very jealous of Little Joe.”
“Jealous? Why is that, Miss Lambert?”
“Well Joe is popular, bright, has a family that cares for him, and a future, Mr. Cartwright. Walter has few of those things, I am afraid.”
“Well if you hear anything I would appreciate your letting me know. For some reason Joe insisted he be allowed to come to school today and although he was supposed to be home in bed, he disobeyed and came anyway. My sons and I found him sitting on the stoop waiting for school to be out when we got here. If you find out anything please let us know.”
“I will Mr. Cartwright, certainly. How long will Joseph be out of school?”
“Well I am not sure, Miss Lambert, but I expect he will not be back before Friday or Monday even. I am going to have Doctor Martin look at him again to make sure he didn’t do any more damage to himself, before I take him home.”
Ben Cartwright thanked the young school teacher and when she smiled back at him with the genuine concern for Joe showing, Ben could see why Joe was trying harder for this teacher than the last teacher they had had. He took a deep breath, gave one more look around the empty school yard and mounted his horse and headed for Doctor Martin’s office.
Ben Cartwright hurried to Doctor Martin’s office and went inside. He found Adam and Hoss waiting in an empty waiting room.
“Where’s Joe?” Ben asked looking quizzically at Hoss and Adam.
“Doc took him in and he wouldn’t let us go in, Pa.” Hoss said as if he were highly insulted at being relegated to the waiting room.
“Well I am going to see what he has to say.” Ben said and started to go into the examining room.
“Pa, I don’t think I would if I were you.” Adam said, standing up and putting a hand on his shoulder to stop his father. “Paul was pretty specific that we were to wait out here. I think he thought he would get more out of Joe about why he did what he did or at least put the fear of God into him or something like that if we weren’t there.”
Ben started to protest, but then thought better of it. Little Joe was generally very confident, sometimes too confident, in fact. However he hated anything to do with doctors or medicine and although he liked Paul, Little Joe was more nervous around him than he was anyone else. Maybe Paul could get something out of him if he were alone with him. He slowly turned around and sat down beside his two older sons. He thought about the number of times he had been sitting here or in his own living room—-waiting for Paul Martin to give him news. At times it had been minor injuries and at other times it had been serious injuries. For some reason, Little Joe had been the cause of a disproportionate number of those waits.
They didn’t have long to wait. Dr. Paul Martin, a tall, lean man with silvery white hair, the color of Ben’s came out of the examining room and headed towards the Cartwrights. He stepped to the middle of the door to prevent their entry and held up his hand, “Ben I need to talk to you for a few minutes. Hoss, would you and Adam like to go in and stay with Joe?”
Hoss’ quick smile made an answer unneccessary. “Sure thing, Doc.” He said and he entered the room. Dr. Martin took Adam by the arm and said, “I gave him a light sedative, so he is going to be sleepy.” “That’s the way I like him best” Adam said, smiling. He then entered the room.
“Come on in my office, Ben. I think we need a cup of coffee.” He motioned Ben to sit and Ben started to protest that he didn’t want coffee, when he noticed that Paul had already gotten out two mugs into which he was pouring bourbon and water.
“Yes, a cup of coffee always hits the spot at times like these” Ben agreed.
“Is Joe okay?” Ben asked as soon as Paul sat down, his face anxious, showing the strain of the worry he had felt on the ride into town.
“Yes, Ben he is going to be just fine. Though it is a miracle that that rib didn’t puncture a lung—I don’t know what gets into that boy—bouncing up and down on a horse with a broken rib!”
“Are you sure it is going to be all right, Paul?” Ben asked again, wanting another reassurance from his long time friend and trusted physician.
“Yes Ben, I re-taped it—tighter this time to make sure he feels it. That should help restrict his activities some.” Paul said. “I did get a little information out of him right after I gave him the sedative and pain-killer, though Ben.” Ben didn’t say anything, instead he raised his eyebrows and strained forward to hear what Paul had to say. “Well I was right about there being more than one person involved, but Joe said only he and Walter were fighting. He didn’t count the two that held his arms behind his back while he and Walter were fighting”. It was that no-account Moore boy and that Harvey boy that held him.”
“Paul did he say what it was about?” Ben couldn’t conceal his concern any longer.
“Yeah, apparently it was about the Indian boy from the reservation. Seems Joe and the Indian boy took to each other and you know how bullies are—they pick on anyone they think is different to make themselves seem more acceptable.”
“Well why didn’t someone help Joe? And why did they just pick on Joe? The Indian boy was at school today and he looked just fine.”
“Well apparently Mr. Carter met the boy after school and rode out with him, and all Joe’s friends had strict orders to go straight home, and that left Joe alone to face Walter and his pals.”
“Wait a minute Paul, what do you mean the other children had strict orders to go straight home?” Ben said perplexed. Joe was frequently late getting home because of his tendency to hang around after school with friends. Many of them lived in town so they could stay and play.
“Well Ben it seems that when the children went home and told their parents that the Indian boy would be coming, all the parents told them to stay away from him, not go near him, and to come straight home.”
“All the parents except me, that is” Ben said with self-recrimination.
“Now Ben, don’t be foolish. What good would it have possibly done for you to tell Little Joe to come home straight after school? Isn’t that what he is supposed to do anyway?” Paul laughed.
Ben looked at his friend and finally he broke out in a chuckle too. “Yes Paul, I guess that wouldn’t have made much difference. But still, you would have thought that someone would have been around to help him. It never occurred to me that this would be a problem. What’s wrong with the people of Virginia City? Imagine being afraid of a 14 year old boy! That is preposterous.” Ben said vehemently.
Paul attempted to calm down his friend. “Now Ben you know that some of the folks in Virginia City have lost loved ones to hostile Indians. That is kind of hard for a man to forget, Ben.”
Ben looked away from Paul and for a moment; he was reliving that incident not that long ago where he lost his beloved Inger. “Paul, I certainly do know that is hard to forget. But you can’t hold onto that hate forever.” Paul realized what he had said and he put his hand on Ben’s shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, Ben. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”
Ben looked at Paul with the hint of tears glistening in his eyes and said, “Paul, the bad memories are rapidly replaced by all the good memories.” But he did hasten to change the subject by saying, “Well Paul, can I take my brave, but foolhardy and stubborn little boy home now?”
Ben was totally taken aback by Paul’s response. “No, Ben I think I would prefer to keep him here over night. He has had too much moving around today and I think we shouldn’t risk any more. Like I said the broken rib is a real risk for puncturing a lung.”
“Paul, what if I get a wagon and fix it up to take him home in?” Ben had really not considered the thought of not taking his son home.
“Ben if you insist, well I guess you can do that. But I really prefer to keep him right where he is tonight to be on the safe side. You could take him home tomorrow—very slowly and then make sure he stays in bed until I tell you he can get up.”
Ben frowned and then said, “All right Paul on one condition.”
“And that is?” Paul asked, though he knew full well what the condition would be.
“You let me stay with him.” Ben said.
“Well I really don’t see the need. I will be here and Mrs. Lewis always stays over when we have a patient in here, but I doubt I could stop you if I tried.” Paul said smiling. Then he got a very serious, stern look on his face and said, “But not Hoss and Adam, Ben.”
Ben looked at him strangely, wondering what brought that on, he had not thought to have Adam and Hoss stay anyway.
“That Hoss snores too loud, Ben and Adam talks in his sleep! No one would get any sleep if they were here.” Paul said, laughing. Ben joined in the laughter, agreeing with him about both.
“Well let’s go see that son of yours now, Ben. He is not going to be awake much longer if he is still awake, that is.”
When Ben and Paul went into Little Joe’s room, Hoss was sitting on one side of Joe’s bed, holding his hand. Adam was sitting in a chair pulled up close to the bed. At first Ben thought Joe was asleep but when he spoke to Hoss, Little Joe groggily opened his eyes, saw his Pa and smiled and said very softly, “Hi, Pa.” Ben walked over and squeezed in between Adam’s chair and the bed so that he was directly beside his son. “How are you feeling, son?”
“Fine, Pa. Let’s go home.” He said, trying to stifle a yawn. Ben decided that at this point, telling Joe that he was spending the night here was unnecessary, since he would be asleep any minute anyway. “You just rest right now, Joe and we will go home soon.” Joe opened his mouth to protest that he wasn’t sleepy, but before he could get the words to the contrary out, he sank even further into sleep. His father and brothers and Paul Martin stood and watched as he struggled against and lost the battle to sleep. He opened and closed his eyelids several more times, until they finally closed and didn’t reopen. The spectators grinned and smiled at each other as if they had just seen a mighty foe vanquished.
Paul went over to check Joe to make sure he was comfortable and that his bandages were all intact and although he didn’t mention it to Ben, he made sure the window was locked tightly. You could never be too careful with Joe Cartwright! Ben motioned for Adam and Hoss and told him of the Doctor’s decision and of his decision. Hoss immediately offered to stay either with his father or for his father, and was gently rebuffed. Adam suggested that Hoss come into town in the morning on the wagon so that when the doctor said it was okay, he could take Little Joe home. That seemed to placate Hoss. Ben looked at Adam and nodded slightly and smiled. They both knew how Hoss felt about Joe, or in fact how they felt about each other. Joe was the same way when Hoss had been injured or ill. Ben spent a few minutes talking with Hoss and Adam, giving them some instructions, but mostly just reassuring them that Joe was fine and this was just a precaution. They awkwardly hugged each other good night and Hoss and Adam rode off, taking Joe’s pinto with them back to the Ponderosa.
Ben went back into the doctor’s office to settle in for the night. Paul had moved an extra bed into the room for Ben and had brought in pillows and blankets.
“Ben, Mrs. Lewis is getting ready to come in and sit with Joe for awhile. I thought perhaps you would join me for a bite to eat at the hotel. I tell you I am so tired of the awful meals I have had this week, that…..” Paul started laughing at the shocked expression on his friend’s face. “Mildred is visiting her sister, Ben, and I have been doing my own cooking.” Both men laughed heartily at Paul’s joke. “Certainly, Paul and an after dinner brandy would top it off just right, don’t think?” The two men both went in and checked on Little Joe before departing. Ben leaned down close to his son and brushed the hair off his forehead and ever so gently kissed his forehead. When he looked up at Paul, his eyes were full of tears and he said, “Paul, I love him so much I could just squeeze him to death.” Paul nodded, fully understanding the force of Ben Cartwright’s love for his youngest son.
Ben and Paul had a quiet enjoyable dinner, catching each other up on the activities of the ranch and of Virginia City. Paul told Ben how he had overheard two of Joe’s school classmates arguing over which one of them Little Joe would ask to the upcoming end of school year party. Ben said “Where did the time go, Paul? It seems like just yesterday Joseph was born and I can remember how it almost took my breath away to see Marie holding him, both of them so beautiful.” Ben sighed and shook himself, as if to physically shake off the sadness of Marie’s loss.
Paul noticed that toward the end of the meal, Ben became restless and kept looking at his watch, probably regretting the earlier invitation for brandy. He suggested they go back over to the office and play a game of chess. When they returned to the office, Little Joe was still sleeping. Mrs. Lewis smiled when she saw them and said, “I wonder if perhaps he is in pain, Doctor Martin.” Ben immediately grew concerned, but Paul’s observation of Joe reassured him that Joe was not in pain. He asked “What makes you think that, Martha?” “Well he hasn’t been still for a minute since you left hardly. Turning this way and then that way. Why I bet I have readjusted his covers at least a dozen times since you have been gone.” She replied. Paul laughed and Ben relaxed. “Not to worry, Martha, that is just normal for Little Joe. He is never still—awake or asleep.” “Well I don’t know how he ever gets any rest then” she said. “Made me nervous almost.” “Martha, you should see him when he is awake” Ben told her, smiling. “He is what they call a whirling dervish, I think.”
After one long and hard-fought game of chess that Paul won, they decided they were ready to turn in.
“Not as young as I used to be, Ben.” Paul said with a chuckle.
“You have it made, Paul with your gentle wife and grown daughter. What would you do if you had a son to contend with at my age?” Ben asked, teasing his friend.
Paul, however, took the question very literally and replied, “Ben I would thank the heavens every night.” And patted his friend on the back.
“I will be sleeping in the downstairs bedroom so if you should need me, you know where to find me.” Paul said, after looking in on Little Joe one last time. Joe was sleeping and in the rare stillness, he looked like an angel.
Ben was awakened several times during the night by moans and slight grunts from Joe as he moved around in bed and experienced some pain on movement. Ben got up with him several times and adjusted his pillow or the covers and gave him water to drink, but for the most part, they slept through the night. Ben arose when the first few streaks of dawn appeared in the window, spreading a pinkish light through the window and across the room. He shaved and washed with the toiletries Paul had provided him and did his best to straighten his clothes so he didn’t look so disheveled.
Shortly after Paul came in bringing two steaming mugs of black coffee.
“This may not be as good as Hop Tseng’s Ben, but it is coffee.” He handed Ben a mug, which he took gratefully.
“Well so how is our patient this morning?” Paul asked.
“He seems to be okay. He was groaning a bit when he moved in his sleep.” Ben said and moved over to the bed as Paul began to examine Joe. Paul listened to his chest with his stethoscope and after palpating the bumps and observing the bruises and abrasions, he nodded his head and smiled.
“All right Ben, I think it is safe to take him home this morning. What time is Hoss bringing that wagon?”
“Well you know Hoss, Paul, I am surprised he isn’t already here….”
The sentence was barely out of his mouth when Hoss opened the door and stuck his head into the room.
“Hey Pa. How is Little Joe?” he asked, looking anxiously at his little brother, still sleeping in the big hospital bed. Hoss thought he looked lost in that tall bed.
“Joe will be ready to go home as soon as he wakes up and has some breakfast, Hoss.” Doc Martin said. “Ben why don’t you get him up and get him to eat and then you can go on your way, just take it slow on the way home. I do want to see him before you leave. I am going to start my office visits. Just tell Mary when you are ready to leave and she will tell me and I will come right away.” Paul said as he went in to get his white coat and put it on and begin seeing the patients who had already started to fill his waiting room.
“I will go across the street and bring him some breakfast right now, Hoss. Why don’t you wake him up? I will be right back.” As he was leaving, he turned and said, “Hoss did you eat before you left home?”
“Uh, no sir, not this morning. I wanted to get here early.”
“That’s what I figured, I will bring you breakfast too, son.” Ben said.
Hoss went into the room and walked quietly over to the bed. He stood there watching his brother sleep for just a few seconds, then he had an idea. When he had come into the room he had noticed a feather duster up on the top shelf of the cabinet. He reached up and grabbed the duster and pulled out a feather. While getting it out, he turned over a small waste basket which made a loud clatter, and he sneezed when he got the feather duster down, and then when he pulled it out, there was a loud snap as the shaft of the feather broke. This entire operation was observed by a pair of shining green eyes looking out from under a mop of curly brown hair in a bruised face.
When Hoss turned around, he looked to make sure Joe was still asleep and was pleased to see that he was. He quietly walked over to the bed and took the tip of the feather and moved it gently under Joe’s nose, then lightly over his forehead. He could barely conceal his glee as he saw his brother reach up to flick away the offending object in his sleep. He did this several more times, touching his cheeks, his ear, his chin and watching his brother try to brush away the irritant. He increased the duration and the intensity of the feather’s movements until his little brother finally woke up and opened his eyes and saw his brother with the feather. Hoss laughed heartily as Little Joe sputtered and objected to the practical joke. Unobserved by both of the boys, Ben Cartwright watched the entire scenario played out in front of him and was touched by the interaction of the two brothers, knowing that Joe was pretending to be awakened and annoyed—just so that Hoss would think he pulled off a good joke on Joe.
“Well good morning, Joseph” Ben said walking into the room. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“I’m fine Pa. What am I doing here? Am I late for school?” Joe asked quickly.
“Little Joe, I never knew you to be in such a dad-burned hurry to go to school” Hoss said.
“I bet there is some new girl at school that Joe is sweet on, Pa.”
“Well, whatever the reason for your brother’s increased interest in academic pursuits, he isn’t going to go anywhere until he eats this breakfast. Here, Joe, I will help you sit up.” Ben went over and began to help reposition Joe so that he could eat. Hoss moved a bedside table over and placed the breakfast trays on it.
“Here, Joe I’ll eat here with you. Man that smells good, don’t it Joe?” Hoss said looking enthusiastically at the breakfast before him.
Joe looked at the breakfast with much less enthusiasm than Hoss. He was much too anxious to figure out how he was going to get out of there and get to school in order to help ST. He was also a little worried that he wouldn’t be much help to ST in a fight because his sides and chest hurt every time he took a breath this morning. But he realized that Hoss and his father were both expecting an answer, so he said, “Yeah, Hoss.” But neither of them was fooled. Hoss kept up a steady stream of conversation while they ate, trying to get Joe to relax and forget about whatever was gnawing at him. Hoss could tell the muscles in his face were tightly set, and Joe’s eyes had that determined look that they always had when he was about to do something that Hoss would regret.
Ben sat back and listened to the conversation between his two youngest sons. He knew that Adam envied the easy, no-effort, tension-free relationship that Hoss and Joe had. Little Joe had once thought that Adam had hung the moon and stars just for him—but then Adam went away to college for 5 years and when he came back, the Little Joe he had known before was grown up into a rambunctious, stubborn, and fiercely independent 12 year old. He and Joe had had a rocky relationship ever since. Ben knew that they loved each other, but they seemed to be on the verge of an argument—all the time. Since Adam’s return from college, Hoss had assumed the role of peace-maker between the two. Hoss had a close relationship with Adam, but it was not the same as it was with Little Joe. Hoss and Little Joe seemed to be—well, part of each other. Ben was grateful for this strong bond between the two brothers. They each benefited from the relationship.
As Hoss polished off his breakfast and Little Joe moved his around on his plate, Doctor Martin came in to see Joseph.
“Well Joseph, how are you feeling this morning?”
“I’m fine, Doc.” He said with a smile that was a little too much to be real.
Doctor Martin came over and gave Joe a quick once over and then pulled out his stethoscope and listened, instructing Joe to take deep breaths. Although Joe complied, the trained eye of Dr. Martin noticed the almost hidden grimace of pain when he took a deep breath. He had wanted to have the bandages a little tighter so that Joe would feel a little discomfort if he exerted himself too much. Now he decided he had overdone it a bit so he summoned Mary to bring new bandages and assist him in re-bandaging Joe’s rib cage.
Hoss moved over to stand by his father while Doctor Martin worked with Joe. As Mary removed the bandages on Joe’s chest in preparation for the new bandage, Ben and Hoss saw for the first time the full extent of the bruising on Joe’s chest. Many areas that had merely been red yesterday had turned purple, black, or blue this morning. Ben became more determined to see that Walter was punished for this and more importantly to make sure that this did not happen to Little Joe again.
“How is that, Joe?” Doctor Martin asked when he and Mary had finally finished.
“That is better Doc. I’m just fine. Really. Doesn’t hurt at all now.” Joe reassured the doctor.
Doctor Martin looked at Ben and shook his head with a twinkle in his clear blue eyes.
“Well Ben, how about getting this young man out of my hair? I need my beds for sick people and this one says he is just fine.”
A look of relief came across Joe’s face as the doctor said this. He didn’t realize the sarcasm in the doctor’s statement.
“Pa, I can just go on to school from here.” He said as he started to get out of bed.
Ben stepped over and assisted Joe out of bed carefully and then helped him slip into the shirt and pants Hop Tseng had sent him. Joe sat down in the chair and pulled on the fresh socks and then boots, grimacing slightly as he pulled on the boots. Hoss, noticing the look, said,
“Here, Joe I will help with that boot.”
“I can do it, Hoss” Joe said, as he put on the other boot, ignoring the sharp pain in his side as he moved.
“All right, Pa, I am ready. Did Hop Tseng send me a lunch for school?” Joe asked, fully expecting to head right off to school upon leaving the doctor’s office.
Before Ben could speak, Doctor Martin spoke up, thinking the news was better from him than from Ben, “Joseph, you aren’t ready to go back to school yet. In fact that little escapade yesterday, probably prolonged your recovery by several days. You are going home and to bed and that is final. And if I even think you are disobeying my instructions again, I will have your Pa bring you right back here and have Mary sit right here to make sure you don’t go anywhere. Is that understood?”
Joe had listened with increasing alarm as Doctor Martin spoke. He had never heard him sound so serious or so determined. “But Doc, you said I wasn’t sick…..” Joe began.
At this point, Ben stepped into the conversation with the intent to end it quickly,
“Hoss, is the wagon ready?” He directed the question to Hoss, though staring at Joe with an unwavering gaze.
“Yes, sir.” Hoss replied, looking uncomfortable at the exchange between his father and little brother. He couldn’t understand why Little Joe always pushed so hard.
“Fine, Son. I wonder if you would please hitch Buck to the wagon and then drive the wagon home? Your brother and I will ride in the back.”
Little Joe’s expression had run the gamut from confusion, alarm, hopelessness, frustration, to resignation and anger as he realized that there was nothing he could do at this time to change his father’s mind. He had seen that look too many times before. Of course he didn’t realize that often when he looked at himself in the mirror, that same expression and set of the chin and jaw looked back at him.
Joe allowed himself to be led to the wagon, but when Hoss started to lift him up into the wagon, he quickly pushed Hoss’ hands off and looked Hoss directly in the eyes and said, “I’ll get in by myself, Hoss”. He climbed into the wagon, despite the pain in his ribs. Ben and Hoss looked at each other and Ben rolled his eyes, making Hoss chuckle silently. After Joe had climbed slowly into the wagon, Ben climbed in beside him and Hoss hopped into the driver’s seat and they began the journey to the Ponderosa. Joe and Ben sat with their backs leaning against the wagon seat for support. Joe was concentrating on being mad so he wouldn’t speak, avoiding making eye contact with his father. Ben, accustomed to his son’s moods, paid no heed and continued to talk to both Joe and Hoss. Within 10 minutes, Joe was no longer able to maintain his anger and he began to talk with his father and joke with Hoss. Twenty minutes into the trip, the warm sun, soft western breeze, pleasant landscape, and enforced stillness caused him to doze off, leaning against his father. Ben held him slightly forward briefly, while he slipped his arm behind him, then settled him comfortably against him.
“Worked like a charm Hoss. He’s down for the count.” And the trio continued their ride to the Ponderosa. Hoss and Ben chatted quietly and enjoyed the view, Little Joe was in a familiar place in his dreams.
When they rode into the Ponderosa and the wagon slowed to a stop, Little Joe was awakened by his father.
“Joe, we are home, son.”
Joe looked around sleepily and then said, “That was the quickest trip from Virginia City I ever made.”
Ben and Hoss laughed and Hoss said, “Yeah Little Joe didn’t take no more than 15-20 minutes, did it?”
Ben quickly jumped down from the wagon and tried to help Joseph down; however the most he was allowed to do was to put a steadying hand out as Joe climbed out of the wagon. “Pa, I’m all right” Joe said irritably, trying to convince his father that he was all right.
“Hoss, if you would either care for the horses or get one of the hands to do so, I’ll get Joe settled into bed.”
“Pa, can I just sit up in the living room for a while? I am not tired at all. Please, Pa? I’ll go crazy in my room alone.” Joe pleaded with his father, using his most pitiful look and as was typical, his father softened.
“All right, Joe, you can lie down on the sofa just for a while before you go up to rest.” Joe headed for the sofa and Ben brought over a pillow and comforter, which Joe quickly refused, saying “I’m not cold Pa. I just got into a fight, Pa. I don’t have pneumonia or somethin’” he said irritably.
“Joe, I suggest you watch your tone of voice, Son. I have about had all of it I am going to take. Understand?” He looked at his son sternly as he covered him up with the comforter.
“Yes, sir.” Joe said, seeing that look in his eye. He did not want to make the situation worse by deliberately making his father angry. His father went into the kitchen and got himself a cup of coffee and headed to his desk to work on the account ledgers, a chore he usually put off as long as he could. Hop Tseng came and brought Joe a plate of cookies and a glass of milk, and watched while Joe drank the milk and ate a cookie. Thus reassured that Joe was all right, he went back to the kitchen to prepare dinner.
Joe settled back on the sofa and tried to relax, but his mind kept wandering to the school house and Sharp Tongue and Walter. “I sure hope some of the other kids help him” he thought. He also thought about the conversations he and ST had had and about ST’s bitterness towards the white man. He had heard many stories about the Indian way of life and he knew that although Indians had killed Hoss’ mother, his father did not hate the Indians. He always treated them fairly and welcomed peaceful Indians onto the Ponderosa. He had also given them cattle to butcher sometimes when there was no good hunting.
According to ST that wasn’t good enough—that just because he treated them fairly didn’t mean that he was a friend of the Indian. ST had said that unless you fought against the bad things that other white men did, then you were no better than they were. That was what had confused Little Joe. He had heard his father talk about how some white men cheated Indians when they traded and how he would never do that. Yet, he didn’t do anything to stop it. Just like he often complained about how the white men were killing the bison for sport and hides and leaving their rotting carcasses where they killed them and that this was depleting the Indian food supply. But again, although he had given cattle to the Indians when they were hungry, he hadn’t really done anything to stop the other white men from over-killing the bison.
Joe had never thought that one person had a responsibility for the wrong doings that other people did. But as he thought about it, it occurred to him that one of the things that his father always said to him when he got into trouble was that it made the whole family look bad. Perhaps this was the same kind of thing, when some white men treated the Indians unfairly or killed off their food supply, maybe it reflected on all white men. So then it would be the white men’s responsibility to make sure that all white men treated Indians fairly. “Pa certainly makes it his responsibility to make sure that I behave in a manner that reflects well on all Cartwright’s”, Joe thought to himself.
As the time passed, Joe became more and more restless; and since he had slept so long last night and on the wagon ride home this morning, he wasn’t sleepy. Since Doctor Martin had removed the tight bandages, his chest wasn’t hurting nearly so bad and sitting still had never been one of his better characteristics anyway. His father was busy with paperwork, but he could hear Hop Tseng in the kitchen. After taking a surreptitious look at his father to make sure he was still occupied, Little Joe slowly and quietly stood up, picked up the empty glass and cookie plate and headed into the kitchen. He picked up the dirty dishes as more of an excuse to get up than for anything else. He made it halfway between the sofa and the kitchen when suddenly he was yelled at from three different directions, causing him to drop the glass and cookie plate and jump over to the wall as if taking cover. His father had seen him from his study, Hoss had just come in from the front door, and Hop Tseng had come around the kitchen to retrieve the empty dishes.
Hop Tseng began to pick up the broken bits of glass and Hoss came over to help him. Ben took control of Joe, coming over and taking Joe by the arm and leading him back to the sofa. He didn’t say a word until they reached the sofa and Joe was again sitting down. When he had seated Joe on the sofa, he sat down on the table in front of him and said,
“Joseph, what did you think you were doing? I thought I told you to stay put on that sofa!”
“Pa I was tired of sitting down and I was just going to take these dishes to Hop Tseng so he wouldn’t have to come after ‘em.” Joe tried to explain.
“Joseph there was no hurry to get the dishes back into the kitchen. We have plenty more dishes.” His father said, thinking to himself that sounded ridiculous.
“Pa” Joe said this more loudly than he meant to, but he had to get his father’s attention.
“Pa” he repeated, not quite as loudly the second time, noting that he had his father’s full attention.
“Pa. I’m all right. I’ve been in worse fights than this. I can’t stand to sit here any more. I….I……I…..”
“Yes, Joseph?” his father repeated, with a somewhat softer tone.
“Pa, if you don’t let me up from here, I’ll die of clotted boredom (the VERY worst kind—I know cause I invented it myself.)!” he finished with a desperate tone.
Despite himself, Ben began to chuckle. Hoss and Hop Tseng had come over to the sofa by this time and Hoss joined his father in laughing and even Hop Tseng had to smile. Finally the look of desperation and frustration left Little Joe’s face and he too grinned and then laughed.
“Well Pa, it’s true. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with my legs—and they can’t be still anymore!”
“Well, Joe, we are just going to have to find some way to get those legs to cooperate with the rest of you, because Doctor Martin was quite clear that you couldn’t be up today and I am not about to tangle with Paul Martin, Son.”
Joe had become hopeful but his face clouded up again when he heard that.
“But PA!” he said, his voice rising again.
“Now, now, wait a minute, Joe, let’s see if we can’t come up with a plan to keep us all out of trouble with Doctor Martin. How about if you agree to stay in bed and rest today and I let Hoss out of doing all his chores so he can spend the afternoon with you?” Ben asked with a twinkle in his eyes, seeing as how he had already told Hoss he could spend the afternoon with Joe to keep him occupied.
Joe considered this a minute, then said, “What about tomorrow? When can I go back to school?”
“Now don’t push your luck, Joseph. Doctor Martin said he will be out in the morning and then we will see what he says. But Joseph, I want your word that you will not pull a stunt like you did yesterday, sneaking off to school again. Do you understand, Joe?
“Yes sir” Joe replied.
“Joseph, do I have your word that you will not try to sneak off again?” his father asked, realizing at the last minute that his earlier statement did not guarantee compliance.
“Yes sir” Joe answered, miserably.
Hoss and Joe spent the rest of the afternoon in Joe’s bedroom. They played checkers, attempted a game of chess, talked about things that happened when Hoss was still in school, their plans for the summer, and read some of the detective and crime magazines that Joe had collected. Their father stopped by several times to see how they were doing. He finally was convinced that Joe really did feel fine and thought that as long as he was careful, he probably could get out of bed—-provided Paul agreed, of course.
When Adam came in for the evening, Hop Tseng told him that everyone was in Joe’s bedroom. Hop Tseng followed it up with a monologue in Chinese that though unable to speak Chinese, Adam knew that the general purpose was to convey his disapproval of the activities in Joe’s room. When Adam reached the room, his father was sitting on one side of Joe’s bed and Hoss was sitting at the foot, and Joe was perched in the middle. Ben was in the middle of telling a story from his sailing days. Adam smiled and joined the group, pulling a rocking chair up close. When Ben finished, he turned to Adam and said
“Hi, Adam. You must have been busy today. Did it take that long to get the branding finished?”
“No, Pa, as a matter of fact, I went into Virginia City this afternoon. We needed some supplies to finish the branding and to repair a fence over in Ridge Meadow.”
“Oh I see” Ben replied.
“Hey, Joe, guess what I found out while I was in town?”
“What Adam? Are you engaged to be married or something?” Joe said, teasing his brother.
“Nope even better than that—for you.”
“Am I engaged to be married, Adam?” Joe asked and they all chuckled.
“Nope, do you want to hear this or not?”
“Well tell me Adam, What?”
“Well it seems that a family of skunks was living under the school house and became upset this morning. They have cancelled school until Monday to let the school air out.” He replied smiling.
At that news, Joe’s eyes brightened. This was just the thing he needed. Because if there were no school, ST wouldn’t be there and there would be no fights until Monday and he would make sure he was back by Monday.
“Hey now that is what I call good news!”
“But this morning you were in an all-fired dadblamed hurry to go back to school. Now you are glad it is stopped ‘til Monday?” Hoss asked.
“Yep Hoss, that was this morning.” Joe replied.
The three elder Cartwrights just shook their head and Ben winked at Hoss, they knew that trying to understand the youngest Cartwright was impossible sometimes.
However, Joe was the model patient from there on out. Even Doctor Martin was convinced that he was doing so well that there was no need for him to be confined to bed past Friday and told him if he were careful, he could go back to school on Monday. Joe made sure he was careful and by Saturday, the twinges of pain he felt were not even worth worrying about. He spent Saturday thinking of strategies of how he and his friends were going to take on Walter and his pals and rally around ST.
On Sunday morning, probably for the first time in his life, Little Joe was up and dressed and ready well before time to leave to go to church. He was anxious to get to church and see his friends so he could tell them his plans. His family seemed to be in no hurry, but finally, they made it to town. His father had insisted on taking the buggy instead of riding Cochise, otherwise he would have been there much sooner. When they finally made it to the church, he was up and down from the buggy before his father’s cautions escaped his lips. His father called after him, “Joe don’t overdo it.” But Little Joe was out of ear range before the words were uttered.
Joe went looking for his friends, and finally seeing them he headed over there. He was unprepared for what came next. His friends, Billy, Pete, Steve, and even Les gave him a very cold welcome. Joe knew there was something wrong right away.
“Hey fellas, what’s up? What’d I do? I didn’t stir up those skunks, though whoever did was a genius.” Joe noted a momentary grin on Pete’s face, but it was replaced by the mask of coldness that he had seen earlier. Before anyone answered his question, Pete’s and Les’ fathers came up and told them to come along with them. That left Billy and Steve, looking at the ground or each other awkwardly.
“All right. Out with it. What’s going on here?” Joe asked.
Billy took one more look at Steve and said “I’m gonna tell him. I don’t care what they say.”
“Tell me what?” Joe asked perplexed.
“Joe, our Pas said you was an injun lover and we aint sposed to have nothing to do with you so we don’t get scalped our ownselves.” Steve said in a rush.
“Scalped? What are you talking about?”
“We’re talkin’ ‘bout the way you was talkin’ and laughin’ with that injun, Joe. It just ain’t right. Decent people don’t have nothin’ to do with savage heathens.”
“Yeah they’re just lyin’ murderin’ thievin’, barbaric animals, Joe”
Joe’s temper was rising with every word. He couldn’t believe what his friends were saying. How could they say that about ST or about his people?
“Is that the way everybody feels, Steve?”
“Yep Joe that is the way everybody feels.”
“You, too, Billy?”
“What do you need him for, you got us. Ain’t we good enough for you?” Billy asked.
Joe looked at Billy, unable to believe that his good friend could be saying this. He looked back at Steve and found himself ashamed—ashamed of their hatred, their ignorance, their beliefs. He tried to control himself and said, “But you need to meet ST. Give him a chance. You’ll like him to.” Unfortunately, using the nickname that he had given Sharp Tongue gave the boys the opinion that their friendship had progressed even further than it had and that made them even angrier.
“You already using nicknames?”
“What does he call you, Lone Rich White Boy?”
This was more than Joe could stand. Just at that time; however, his father came over and put an arm around Joe, saying “Hi, boys. Come on Joe, you can talk to your friends tomorrow. It’s time to go in.” and with that, he led Joe away, totally unaware of the situation he had just extracted Joe from. The only other person Joe saw from school was his long-term friend, Bec, who had heard he had been injured and came over to see how he was doing. She had overheard her father tell her mother about the fight.
She approached the buggy after Joe’s father had gone to find Hoss and Adam. Joe was sitting alone in the buggy with anger and frustration about to reach the boiling point when Bec approached.
“Hey, Joe. You okay?”
“Sure you wanta be seen talkin’ to the injun lover?” he asked.
“Joe Cartwright, you apologize right now or I may just give you another broken rib. You have no reason to talk to me like that!” she said and as Joe looked at her he knew two things. (1) He did owe her an apology because Bec would never turn her back on a friend, and (2) She probably would give him another broken rib if he didn’t apologize in a hurry.
“I’m sorry Bec, I didn’t mean it.” He said contritely.
“That’s better, Joe. How are you?” she asked concerned.
“I’m fine. I’ll be back at school tomorrow, but ‘Bec what is wrong with everybody? Some of our friends won’t even talk to me.”
“Oh, Joe, it is not all their fault. I heard Mama and Daddy talking. All the parents are riled up about Sharp Tongue coming to school here. Even Daddy didn’t think it was a good idea. That’s why I have to go straight home from school and have to wait ‘til time for classes to begin before I can come.”
“’Bec what do they think that he is gonna do? Scalp somebody right there in school?”
“Joe try to see their side, they are just scared—well at least some of them are scared.”
“And the others, ‘Bec?”
“Well some of the others, like Walter and his gang—well they are just mean and they see a chance of making themselves look more important by pickin’ on somebody else—-at least it’ll give the little kids a break.” She attempted to get Joe to smile, because she could see the smoldering anger in his eyes. It didn’t work.
“And the others, ‘Bec?”
“Well some of the others, Joe are jealous of Sharp Tongue.”
“Jealous of ST? Whatever for?”
“Well they are jealous because you talked to him and didn’t stay with them and he has a pony like Cochise…I don’t know all the reasons, Joe. But I can recognize jealousy when I see it.”
As she said this, Ben, Adam, and Hoss approached the buggy. Seeing them, she said
“I’d better get going myself. See you tomorrow, Joe.”
When Joe didn’t respond, a look of curiosity passed between Adam and Ben who figured Joe and Bec had an argument about the town social or something like that. Joe didn’t join in the conversation on the trip home, causing his father to glance at him several times, trying to see if there were some physical problem. Seeing none, he attributed it to young love and convinced himself to stop worrying about it.
Joseph was up and dressed before his father knocked on his bedroom door on Monday morning.
“Well good morning Son. I hope this is the start of a new tradition—your not having to be dragged out of bed every morning.” Ben said, smiling at his son, the infamous sleepy head and late riser of the Ponderosa.
Joe looked at his father and a brief look of irritation crossed his face, rapidly replaced by a grin. He got tired of being teased about liking to sleep late, but he couldn’t deny the fact that he did hate to get up and tried to get as much “extra” sleep as he could, making him rush around trying to catch up with his chores.
“Well Pa, you know someone has to be the last to get up—-might as well be me.” He said with a grin.
Ben laughed and put his arm around his son and they walked down to breakfast together. Hoss and Adam, already seated at the big dining room table looked up in surprise to see Joe up—dressed and most unusual of all—in a good mood.
“Hey, Half-pint. You look like you are rearing to go this morning. Sure wish you could help out with the bronc-busting today.” Hoss said.
Little Joe looked up hopefully, then realized Hoss was only teasing. His father wouldn’t let him bust any broncs—yet.
“Hoss if you need help, I’m your man” he said grinning at his brother. Adam joined the conversation, saying “Little Joe, just as soon as you are big enough, you can sure ride my share of ‘em. I am tired of trying to sit on stubborn horses that don’t want a saddle on ‘em, much less a rider.”
Hoss and Ben both looked at Adam , expecting his benign reference to “big enough” to set Joe off. Instead Joe smiled at Adam and said, “You got yourself a deal, Adam. I’ll hold you to it.” Hoss and Ben exchanged surprised looks, but said nothing.
Like any other breakfast, Ben and Hoss and Adam ate and discussed their plans for the day. Joe ate some, played with his food some, and planned his day. He knew that if he could just talk to his friends and get them to meet ST, they would like him, too. He had been trying to think of someway to make his friends come around. “Walter is the biggest problem” he said out loud without meaning to.
“Joseph, what did you say about a problem?” Ben asked.
“Uh, sorry, Pa. Well you know how I hate those algebra problems.” He said, not exactly lying. “Pa, may I be excused? I don’t want to be late.” He said, rising from the table.
“Just a minute, Son. I have to go to Virginia City so I will ride in with you.” Ben said.
This of course had the expected reaction from Joe.
“Pa, I don’t need you to ride with me to school. I’m all right.” He said loudly, his face turning red in its intensity.
“Of course you don’t Joe, but I have to go anyway. You aren’t telling me you don’t want my company, are you?” Ben asked evenly, as he walked over to the credenza to pick up his hat and gun belt.
Joe did resent his father going with him, because he knew it was contrived, but he also knew that if he said that, he would be in trouble. He chose to ignore the question and went out the door, closing the door with a resounding slam. He went into the barn and began to ready Cochise for the trip to Virginia City. As he was finishing up Cochise, his father came into the barn and saddled Buck, bringing with him the lunch that Hop Tseng had packed for Joe. Joe took it and shoved it into his saddle bag, with a muttered “Thanks.” Ben chose not to press the issue, he knew that Joe’s bad mood would dissipate quickly enough.
As a matter of fact, the only reason he needed to go to town was to talk to Roy Coffee. Roy and Ben had been friends since right after Marie had died, when Joe had attempted to ride his pony after Hoss and Adam, gotten lost and wound up at a new neighbor’s house and getting taken to the Sheriff’s office. Roy had told him later that he had thought the Cartwright’s had been remiss in their duty of keeping a little boy safe. However, pretty soon after that, when he had gotten to know the family and Little Joe better; he had revised his opinion completely, telling Ben it was a miracle that he had any hair left at all.
Father and son rode in silence for a long time. Initially the silence was awkward and uncomfortable. Soon they both felt an easing of the tension between the two and there was a perceptible change in their posture and their facial expressions. Neither of them commented upon the change, but they both knew the other one felt it too. Midway into the ride they began to talk, or more accurately, Joe began to talk and his father began to listen. This was something treasured by both the son and father. Joe had been feeling neglected of late, thinking his father was no longer interested in him. Ben on the other hand, had been feeling too pressured by demands of the ranch and had missed the time he normally spent with his youngest son. This ride restored the balance between the two.
When they approached the Virginia City school house, Ben could see Little Joe tensing up again. He watched his small son, sit up straight, scanning the school yard as if looking for someone.
“Joe, who are you looking for, Son?”
“Nobody special, Pa.”
“Pa, I can ride the rest of the way from here. It would be easier for you to get to town if you went that way” Joe said, pointing to the road that led straight to the heart of the bustling mining town.
“So you don’t want to inconvenience me, is that it, Joseph?” Ben asked with a twinkle in his eyes. He knew that Joe didn’t want to be seen being escorted to school.
Joe just shrugged his shoulders and looked down at his horse. Ben’s heart melted at the sight of him, with his in-need-of-a-haircut brown hair curling around his collar and his long, dark eyelashes shading green eyes—he looked like the image of his mother.
“Well all right then, I will see you when you get to the Ponderosa. Remember, Joseph, come straight home. You have some chores to catch up on, young man.”
Joe smiled gratefully at his father and said, “’Kay, Pa. Bye.” He urged Cochise into a gallop and headed towards the school. He didn’t turn back to look or he would have seen his father, sitting up ramrod straight in the saddle, watching him. His father rode slowly down the road, keeping sufficient distance behind Joe that he couldn’t hear him, but staying close enough to keep him under surveillance. He noted the teacher come out and signal someone to ring the bell. He watched as Joe reined in Cochise, tied her next to a brown and white pinto, and then walked toward the school. After everyone had entered the school house, only then did Ben turn Buck slowly around and head toward the Sheriff’s office.
He opened the door and went inside the Sheriff’s office to see his old friend. Roy Coffee had been Sheriff in Virginia City for close to 15 years now. He was no longer a young man, slightly older than Ben Cartwright. He had a reputation for being able to outdraw most criminals and being able to outsmart all but a few of the rest of them—the others—he just outlived ‘em. He was honest, hard-working, and dedicated, and had served the people of Virginia City and Story County well over the years. He and Ben had an easy, comfortable friendship that had been tested over the years by sadness, tragedy, grief, and loss. Ben frequently stopped in to see Roy on his trips to Virginia City. Today he had a purpose for the visit; today he was in need of services from the Sheriff.
“Howdy, Ben. You’re out awful early, aint you?” Roy asked, already up and pouring Ben a cup of the black and very strong coffee they both favored. Ben accepted the cup and took a swallow.
“Hello, Roy. How’s it going with you?”
“I can’t complain. Well I could but it wouldn’t do me no good. No one in this town listens to the Sheriff anyway. How’s Little Joe?”
“I just left him at school, Roy. He is fine. But I wanted to talk to you about keeping him that way. I don’t want my boy being beaten just because he is gonna stand up for the Indian boy. And you know Little Joe well enough to know that he won’t back off. Besides, Roy, that Indian boy deserves some protection, too.” Ben said, his voice rising and becoming faster and louder with each word.
Roy raised his hands up, palms turned toward Ben, in an effort to calm him down.
“I’m way ahead of you, Ben. I had me a deputy over to the school house this morning and I got one assigned to be over there at lunch time and dismissal time. Just the presence of the law there oughta keep things calmed down, I’m a thinkin’.”
Ben considered this and finally nodded his head and smiled at Roy.
“Yeah, Roy, I agree. That should just about do it.” He smiled in relief.
“I figgered I can keep it up ‘til the novelty wears off anyhow. Reckon how long that will take?” he asked Ben.
“Well something about hell and freezing-over comes to mind Roy, but perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised. I hope the people of Virginia City are better’n that.”
The two friends chatted amicably while they drank two cups of coffee. Then Ben bade his friend goodbye, after thanking him for thinking ahead. Then he departed and rode back toward the Ponderosa where he had a lot of work to do.
Little Joe went into the classroom, embarrassed by the stares and gasps as he entered and by the snickers and chuckles he heard from Walter and his friends. He glared at them as he made his way to his seat. Sharp Tongue looked at him with surprise when he sat down. He started to ask something right when Miss Lambert started talking. She was generally tolerant of some talking and activity by students; but the tension in the school-room made her nervous and she warned them to be quiet.
“Settle down, class. I will not tolerate talking while I am trying to take attendance. Now I will call roll.” She started with the names, when she came to Sharp Tongue’s there was some snickering to which she replied sharply, “That will be enough.” And looked at Walter with as near a menacing stare as she could muster. It was effective, because the noise stopped. When she got to Joseph Cartwright, she stopped looking at the roll and looked closely at him.
“Joseph, I am so sorry to hear that you were injured. The Sheriff has assured me that nothing of the sort will happen again.” As she said this, she turned from looking at Joe to Walter, whose face reddened and he squirmed uncomfortably in his chair. Joe blushed at her remark, but fortunately no one saw him because their eyes were all on Miss Lambert or Walter.
Sharp Tongue looked at Joe with a questioning look, but Joe shook his head and said “Later.”
The morning dragged on and on endlessly. At least the temporary closure of the school had put several of the grades behind, so Miss Lambert had little time to spend upon any particular subject, including algebra. They took no mid-morning break that day. Any student who needed to be excused had to request special permission. Little Joe began to think that he was going to have to raise his own hand when finally Miss Lambert called lunch. Joe and ST got up and headed toward the back of the class-room. Joe looked at his friends as they stared at him with frowns on their faces. He noticed that the girls were not approaching him, but appeared to want to. He realized that their parents had probably told them to stay away. Little Joe walked towards a group of the boys and saw them turn away. He stopped in his tracks and said,
“Come on ST. Let’s go see about our horses.”
Sharp Tongue noticed the reaction from Joe’s friends and was pleased. He had always known that white people could not be trusted. Here even the white boy’s friends turned away from him. Sharp Tongue’s father’s purpose for him coming to this school was to learn the white man’s ways.
“I see the white man’s ways, Father,” he thought to himself, “and they are cowardly ways, just as the great warriors have always told us.”
When Joe and ST came out of the building, Joe immediately noticed two Sheriff deputies stationed on either side of the school-yard. He guessed this was how Sheriff Coffee had assured Miss Lambert that there would be no more fights. But he knew that the Sheriff’s deputies could not be there forever and that sooner or later, he and Walter would have another round. He just hoped he was alone with Walter when it came. Joe and ST went to tend to their horses and again settled down to enjoy their lunch. ST had brought along lunch, wrapped in a doeskin cloth. He offered some to Joe and Joe took it, not at all sure he wanted it. However, he also did not want to offend ST, so he gingerly put some of it in his mouth and chewed it, followed quickly by a large swallow of water from his canteen. After drinking the water, he wiped his hand across his mouth and quickly took a bite of the sandwich Hop Tseng had packed for him. Without swallowing the food in his mouth first, he assumed as mild and even a tone as he could and asked:
“What was that, ST?”
Sharp Tongue laughed inwardly at the white boy. He could tell he didn’t like the taste of the food, but pretended to like it. He respected the effort. Most white people spit it out. He himself was not all that crazy about pemmican, and ate it only when it was all he had. He intended to eat more of the flat corn cakes and dried deer than the pemmican.
“You no like?” he asked, as if offended.
Joe considered lying to him but he was at heart a truthful person, so he said,
“Well, ST, let’s just say that it wouldn’t be number one on a list of my favorite foods.”
Sharp Tongue actually smiled at this. He looked at Joe and said,
“Not even great Chiefs put it first on list of favorite food.”
Joe laughed at that statement and said,
“Well what is it?”
“It is called pemmican” ST explained. “It is made of dried meat pounded into a flour, berries, and bear fat drippings. It give energy and can last long time.”
Joe made a snarl with his lips as ST explained what it was made of—especially the bear fat drippings.
“No wonder it lasts a long time” he said. “No one wants to eat it.”
He then offered ST some of the many sandwiches that Hop Tseng had packed for him, knowing that LJ would share his lunch.
Just as they were finishing their lunch, they heard a commotion coming from towards Virginia City. Joe and ST got up and ran and looked to see what the ruckus was. They didn’t see anything, except the two deputies got up and mounted their horses and rode away towards the town. From their vantage point, they could see the school yard but they could not be seen. Joe saw Walter and his friends, plus some of the “neutral” boys, and a couple of boys that he considered his friends, all laughing and pointing. He noticed they were pointing towards the trail that he and ST had taken to come up to their eating place. He realized that if he and ST were there when the mob of boys got there, there was no way they could defend themselves against them. The mob of boys had already started up the trail, getting louder and louder as they approached.
Joe knew they had to move fast and they couldn’t get to their horses without going right past the mob on the way down. Ordinarily that wouldn’t have bothered Little Joe but he was not sure that Walter wouldn’t do something to hurt Cochise to make her stumble or slow her down. He would not endanger his horse for his own safety. He looked around desperately, trying to find a way down to safety, but seeing none. Then he remembered the cave.
“Come on ST, we have to get out of here. Follow me.” He shouted and pulling onto ST’s arm, he led him to the cave and pushed him in. He picked up a bush and brushed away their tracks quickly, hoping that none of them were skilled trackers. He then entered the cave, bringing the brush with him. He put his fingers on his lips and signaled ST to be quiet and led the way to the back of the cave. The cave entrance was narrow, more of a hole in the mountain than a cave and they had to crawl into it. After crawling several yards on their hands and knees, they reached an area that was wider and taller. A few more yards and they could actually stand up in the cave. Joe went over to the far side of the cave where there was a ledge in the wall and reaching his hand up carefully, he slid his fingers along the ledge until he found what he was looking for—a flint and some kindling wood. ST was standing quietly in the dark, not knowing what the white boy was doing.
When Joe pulled down the kindling, he put it on the dirt, about ¼ of the way from the left side of the cave, and began to try to light a fire with the flint. ST, recognizing what Joe was trying to do by the sound, reached over and finding the flint in Joe’s hand, took it from him. With two flicks on the flint, he had a spark and soon he was able to light a long piece of the kindling so that the two could see each other.
Joe smiled and said, “I told ya I might need a good hide-away some day.”
ST was about to respond when they heard the sound of the mob of boys approaching. They couldn’t make out the words, but they could tell they were extremely angry. Now and then they would make out a word or a phrase, such as “dirty murderin’ injun” or “sorry injun-lover” or “high-and-mighty Cartwrights”. The mob of boys became louder and louder as their search turned up no signs of the two boys. Joe was relieved that none of them were good trackers; he knew that Hoss would have spotted his quick attempt to disguise their tracks immediately. “I would love to see Hoss right about now” he thought.
“Why you run and hide?” ST asked. “I thought you braver than white man. You must be coward like all the rest” ST said.
“I ain’t no coward.” Joe said with a fierce look, “And don’t you ever say that again or I will pummel you myself. But my Pa taught me there’s a difference between bein’ a coward an’ bein’ an idiot” he said. “Two of us takin’ on 12 of ‘em—that’s what my Pa would call idiotic.”
ST considered this and said, “You are right. I take back saying you are coward. Brave warrior still know when time to leave fight and come back to fight later with better chance of victory.”
Joe looked at him and smiled. This was one of the first times that they had actually agreed on something. “’Course my Pa says ever’ time I get into a fight, it was the wrong thing to do anyways.”
ST nodded his head and said, “My father say same thing, Joe Cartwright.”
From their cozy little hideaway in the cave, they heard the bell ring and then they heard the mob of boys slowly giving up on the search and going back down to the school yard. They were about to come out and rejoin the school, when they heard other voices coming up the hill. Joe sneaked back to the cave entrance so he could hear the voices and what they were saying. He recognized one of the voices as Sheriff Coffee and figured the others were the deputies. Then he heard Miss Lambert’s voice. “What is going on?” he thought to himself.
He made out just enough of their conversation to realize that they were searching for them. Sheriff Coffee was really letting the deputies have it for leaving their post on account of some firecrackers, no doubt set by one of the boys to create a diversion. Joe was about to call out but then he realized that if he did that, everyone would know about the cave. This cave was special to him. Hoss had brought him here the first time when he was very young and he had a problem at school. He and Hoss had come here many times after that; sometimes when he was feeling bad about something at school or sometimes when Hoss was feeling bad about school. But they were always careful not to let anyone know about “their” hideout. Although Joe knew that Hoss wouldn’t get mad at him, he didn’t want to divulge the secret of that hideaway. He didn’t know why, but he felt strongly about that.
He stayed quiet and still within the cave. He at first thought that the Sheriff would be able to see the tracks and the hasty job of cover up, but then he realized that the boys had obscured any visible tracks that he and ST had made. Finally he went back to ST and said, “Unless you have a burning desire to learn all about linear algebra this afternoon, what say we hang out in here until school is out and everyone is gone?”
Joe and Sharp Tongue stayed quiet and still, hidden away in the depths of the shallow cave, lit only by the small embers of flame from the small pieces of kindling they each held. When one would burn down, they would light another one to keep the flame going. As the two sat there in the near darkness, they found it easier to talk. It was as if the barriers of their different backgrounds and cultures disappeared in the ethereal light of the cave. Joe told of his life on the Ponderosa, his father, his brothers, his love for the Ponderosa, and the death of his mother. Sharp Tongue spoke of his life with his tribe, his brothers, his father, the death of his own mother, and the love for the land as well.
As the afternoon wore on, the sounds of the Sheriff and the other searchers faded away from their hearing and quickly after, from their thoughts. Over the course of the next few hours, the two boys spoke more candidly with each other than they would have ever dreamed possible. They revealed thoughts, dreams, plans, and even some of their deepest fears. Their discussion started on the personal level but progressed naturally to broader issues. Despite their differences, they were amazed at their similarities in thought, personal beliefs, and favorite pastimes.
After noting their similarities they were then astonished to find themselves so different on issues that affected not just them, but their family, people, and way of life. This was made clear when Sharp Tongue told Joe that in his mind and in those of his people, the Ponderosa did not belong to the Cartwrights. Joe was aghast to hear this and was at first ready to fight his new-found friend. Angrily, he began to relate how hard his father and brothers had worked to build the Ponderosa and how hard they all worked now to keep it beautiful and safe from people who would destroy its beauty. ST listened. Then ST explained how his people believed that the land and all its natural resources belonged to no ONE person or tribe. He explained that the land was there for all people of all tribes and that all people were responsible for protecting it. Little Joe listened.
After ST finished speaking, a silence came over the two boys as they reflected upon what the other had said. Finally, Little Joe spoke and said, “I understand what you mean, ST.” Sharp Tongue smiled and said, “And I understand what you said, Joe.” The two friends smiled and then ST reached into his pocket and removed a small sharp knife and while looking steadily at his friend, he made a quick slash across the inner aspect of his left wrist, drawing a blood line. Joe initially was surprised by the action, but then he held out his own wrist to ST, who made a similar cut on Joe’s wrist. Then the two boys pressed their cuts together and allowed their blood to commingle. Their eyes held each other for a few moments without speaking. Then ST grasped Joe’s hand, entwined it with his own and said,
“As drops of our blood are now joined in our bodies, so are we joined now in spirit as brothers.”
“Brothers”, repeated Joe, returning Sharp Tongue’s gaze.
After the drama of becoming blood brother’s, they both felt the need to lighten the mood and decrease the intensity of the conversation. Their talk turned to lighter topics. Joe asked ST what he thought about girls and about courting rituals in his tribe. LJ was not too impressed with their courting rituals; he told ST that if he were held to the rules and customs of ST’s tribe, he suspected he would already be considered “married” by now. They both found this funny and laughed out loud. ST replied that his father and all the fathers of the girls in his village didn’t have to know everything. They laughed about this, but the mention of ST’s father made Joe think of his own father. Thinking of his own father was pleasant at first—then he thought of what his father was going to say or do to him if he found out about this afternoon. ST watched him curiously as his facial expressions changed from one of mirth to one of consternation.
“Man, I gotta see what time it is. If I can get outta here on time, maybe Pa won’t hear about this.” He said, jumping up and running to the entrance to the cave. He walked out of the cave, closely followed by ST. Joe was pleased to see that the sun was not too low in the sky, although it was obviously later than he had hoped. He turned to ST and said, “We’d better get going.” They walked quickly to their horses, Joe concentrating on getting on his way as quickly as possible. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the two pinto ponies, right where they had been left earlier that day. He was so concerned about the time and trying to think of a plausible explanation for being late that wouldn’t be a lie, that he didn’t notice the group of people sitting on the grass near their horses. As he walked up to Cochise, something about the pony’s movements made him look around and then he saw their welcoming committee. Walter and his friends were sitting around on the grass near their horses, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes.
He quickly gave Cochise a closer look to make sure that his horse had not been harmed. He moved to get between Walter and ST, trying to think what to do. His quick look around told him there were 9 boys and no one else in sight. He gave ST a quick glance and made a face, which roughly translated meant something like, “Uh-oh, we are in for it now”, then he threw the first punch, hitting Walter squarely in the jaw. ST followed suit, selecting one of Walter’s closest henchmen. In the bedlam that followed, Joe and ST landed a few more punches, but they were no match for Walter’s gang. Walter had recruited some of his older and even bigger cousins to help. They fought back vigorously and with all their might and did a respectable job, considering the odds, but in the end, Walter’s friends overcame the efforts of the two boys.
When they finally were beaten and couldn’t offer up any defense, Walter directed his friends to throw them across their ponies. After they did this, Walter walked around and jerked Joe’s head up by his hair, saying, “That’s what we think of injuns. There’s just one thing I hate more than injuns. That’s injun-lovers Cartwright. You remember that.” He offered one more blow to Joe’s face, after which Joe didn’t open his eyes. With that he swatted the flanks of the two horses, sending them running. The two horses afraid of the commotion both headed to their home; in opposite directions.
Joe was aware that he was in the saddle, half sitting and half lying on Cochise’s neck. Sometime later, Joe aroused sufficiently to slow Cochise down and to seat himself more comfortably in the saddle. He was still only about ¼ of the way home when he was met by a group of riders coming from the Ponderosa into Virginia City. This group was led by a silver-haired man with a worried look on his face. Sheriff Coffee had come to tell him of the day’s events and they had headed back to look for the two missing boys. Hoss Cartwright was the first to spot Joe’s pony.
“Pa, there he comes.” Hoss hollered, pointing to Cochise coming down the road.
Ben was about to say something when he realized that Joe was barely able to stay in the saddle. He and Hoss immediately rode to meet Cochise. They pulled up along side of Cochise and Hoss leaned over and grabbed her reins and stopped her. Ben quickly dismounted and rushed to the horse’s side. Joe looked down and said, “Pa”, then collapsed into his father’s arms.
Joe woke up in his own bed with Hoss sitting by his side. He groaned as he raised up on the bed.
“Hey, Little Joe, just lie still, would ya? Pa just went down to let the Doc in. They’ll be right up.”
Joe frowned and groaned again, this time the groan was in response to Hoss’ statement, not from pain. “I don’t need no…..”
His sentence was cut short as his father ushered in Dr. Martin. Seeing that Joe was awake, Dr. Martin said, “Well young man, now what have you gotten yourself into?” with a mock angry look on his face.
“I’m all right. Pa, I don’t need no…..”
Again Joe’s words were cut short as Dr. Martin came over and said, “All right, everybody out. Let me see what the damage is this time.” Ben looked as though he wanted to stay but Dr. Martin caught his eye and motioned for him to go on out. Ben shrugged and putting his hand on Hoss’ back, began to push him out of the room, as well. They were met at Joe’s door by Adam rushing up the stairs with Joe’s room his destination. Ben grabbed his arm with his other hand and said, “Come on, boys, Dr. Martin evicted us all. We’ll wait downstairs with Roy.” As he led Adam and Hoss down, they met Hop Tseng hurrying upstairs with hot water and bandages.
“Pa, how come Hop Tseng always gets to stay and we don’t?” Hoss asked.
Adam chuckled and said, “Because Pa and Dr. Martin are afraid to run him out, Hoss.”
Ben opened his mouth to protest, but then thinking better of it, he said. “Adam is right, Hoss. I’m not about to even try to run him out and I am sure Paul feels the same way.” Roy Coffee said, “Well don’t look at me, ‘cause I sure ain’t gonna tell ‘im.” They all laughed and then settled in downstairs to wait. Adam fetched coffee for them to drink while they waited and they talked of ranching, of the growth of Virginia City, mining, the law, and many other subjects that none of them could have recalled an hour later, as their minds were all wondering what was going on upstairs. Roy told the other Cartwrights how some of the boys had set off some loud firecrackers as a diversion and when the deputies had gone to see what was going on, Walter’s gang had planned to beat up Joe and the Indian. “But somehow, Joe and that injun managed to hide out so that Walter couldn’t find ‘em. Problem is, neither could I when Miss Lambert informed us that they did not return to the classroom after lunch. That’s when I got the story ‘bout the plan from one of the boys who decided he didn’t want to protect Walter anymore.”
“Well how did they get beat up then, Roy?” Adam asked.
“Well seems to me that somehow Walter and his friends musta stuck around and ganged up on Little Joe and the injun after we left to come get you.” Roy said.
“What did you do with Cochise, Roy?” Hoss asked.
“Well I left her where she was, right with that injun’s pony. They had good shade, grazin’, and fresh water, so I figured they was better off there than in the livery. Did ya know he has a brown and white pinto?” Roy asked curiously. The three Cartwright said at the same time, “Of course when they came back for their horses, they probably jumped ‘em then.”
“Well I give my deputies what-fer for leaving, they won’t be makin’ that mistake agin, I guarantee you, Ben. This won’t happen again if I can help it.”
After only 20 minutes Paul Martin descended the stairs, with Little Joe right in front of him. Joe had been cleaned up and was sporting some new bruises and scrapes on his face, but appeared to be in relatively good shape. Ben, Adam, and Hoss all jumped up and headed to meet them. Ben reached Joe as he landed on the last step. Ben leaned over in front of him so that he was at eye level and looked into the hazel green eyes of his son and saw the clear sparkle that he looked for.
“Paul?” he asked.
“He’s fine, Ben. Lots of bruises, but no broken or fractured bones this time. No bumps on the head, either.”
“I told ya I was okay, Pa.” Joe said, attempting to disengage himself from his father, who had put a firm hand on his shoulder. As Joe began to move away, Ben allowed him, but went with him and steered him to the sofa, giving him no choice but to sit.
Roy Coffee sat next to him and said, “Hey Little Joe, I have a few questions I need to ask you, just for my records.” He looked back at Paul Martin and said, “Is that all right, Paul?”
“Yes, Roy, just don’t overdo it.”
“Little Joe I already got the general idea of what happened at lunch time from Billy. One thing I am dyin’ to know is where you and the injun hid out?” he looked at Joe, all curiosity at this point.
“I can’t tell, Sheriff Coffee.” Joe said, looking him directly in the eyes.
“Just a minute young man, what do you mean you can’t tell? You answer the Sheriff’s questions, Joseph.” His father said authoritatively.
“Pa, I can’t. I promised I wouldn’t tell.” Joe pleaded with his father.
“Promised?” Ben said, his voice rising. “Promised that Indian boy?”
“No Pa, not Sharp Tongue.” Joe replied quietly.
“Then who did you make that promise to, son?” Ben pressed his son for an answer, as he did not like his own authority being usurped.
“I can’t tell, Pa.” Joe said stubbornly, refusing to tell his father and meeting his stare directly.
Hoss, listening to this exchange and watching the stubborn set of both his father’s and younger brother’s jaw was trying to think of something that was niggling at his mind. Suddenly, he remembered and he knew where Joe had been. He looked at his father and said,
“Wait a minute Pa, let me talk to him.”
Ben looked at his middle son, surprised, but said, “If you think you can help, Hoss, please do so.”
“Little Joe, am I the person you made this promise to?” he asked, looking at Little Joe directly. Hoss’ pale, cool blue eyes locked with Joe’s hazel green sparkling eyes and Hoss knew he was right. At first Joe didn’t say anything, but as Hoss continued to look encouragingly at him, he sighed and said, “Yeah, Hoss. I promised and I never break a promise.”
Hoss smiled and reached over and ran his big beefy hand through his younger brother’s curly hair, slightly damp still. “It’s okay, Joe, you can tell. That was real quick thinking of you. I am proud of ya.” Joe hesitated and Hoss nodded his head toward him and motioned for Joe to tell.
“We hid in a little fox cave in that bluff on the side of the school house.” He said without enthusiasm, hating breaking a promise to Hoss, despite Hoss telling him it was okay.
“A fox cave? Near the school? Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” Roy said chuckling.
Ben and Adam looked at each other and both shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads, indicating that they knew nothing about such a place.
“Well why didn’t they look in there?” Adam asked.
Hoss spoke up at this point. Smiling, he said, “I bet they don’t know ‘bout that cave. I found that cave one day and Joe is the only person I ever showed it to.” He said. “You don’t see it if you ain’t looking for it.”
“How’d you find it, Hoss?” Ben asked, interested in this secret shared by his two younger sons.
“I was following a fox one day and she kept disappearing at the same place, so I just kept looking and stumbled on it—literally, one day. Me and Joe used to hide out in there ever’ now and then when we needed a safe place.” Hoss said, meeting his father’s gaze steadily.
“Well, Little Joe, didn’t you hear me callin’ you?” Sheriff Coffee asked, interrupting the discussion of the cave.
“Yes, sir.” Joe said, his eyes downcast.
“Why didn’t you answer me, boy? Or come on out then?” Roy asked, irritated at the time he wasted looking for his friend’s son and the worry he had caused him.
“Well, if I had answered you or come out, you would have found the cave and I promised Hoss I wouldn’t let no one know ‘bout it.” Joe replied matter-of-factly.
The other adults in the room looked at each other and kind of shrugged. By their facial expressions, they showed they could see the logic of this statement. Hoss, however, looked at his younger brother and winked at him. For the first time, since getting home, Joe smiled and his eyes twinkled.
Sheriff Coffee asked Joe a few more questions about what happened and found that his conjecture had been accurate, as had theirs about when and where the boys jumped Little Joe. Joe was reluctant to name the assailants, but Sheriff Coffee tricked him by naming the boys who were involved, plus some not involved. Joe proclaimed the innocence of the boys who had not been involved, thus by default identifying the guilty boys. Sheriff Coffee promised Ben to have a talk with the boys and their families and to make sure that the deputies were more careful next time.
Doctor Martin told Ben that Joe could go to school as long as he stayed out of any fights. As he was leaving Paul Martin told Ben, “Ben, you know I love that young son of yours like he was my own, but I sure don’t envy you trying to raise him.” He and Roy Coffee left together, headed back to Virginia City at a much more leisurely pace than their trip to the Ponderosa had been.
After the departure of the sheriff and the doctor, Hop Tseng announced that dinner was ready and they headed toward the table. Ben at first watched Joe anxiously to reassure himself that he was really all right, but Little Joe and Hoss were engaged in a lively conversation talking about the last time that they had been into the cave together. Joe told Hoss how he saw the fox who inhabited the cave frequently and how he fed her his leftover lunch. Joe failed to note the reaction to that information, but Adam caught his father’s eye and they both shook their heads and laughed. Joe was eating and talking and giving no indication that he wasn’t feeling well, so Ben relaxed.
After the meal was over, they went into the living room. Ben broke his usual routine of working on the paperwork immediately after dinner. Instead he joined his sons in front of the fire. He watched as Joe and Hoss played checkers, and then challenged Joe to a game after he had beaten Hoss three games to one. Joe was free from homework that night since he hadn’t been in class to get an assignment and had left all his books at school, so Adam couldn’t even tutor him at all. He thought to himself that getting beaten up was almost worth it to not have any homework to do.
Ben proclaimed that the whole family should get to bed early that night, drawing protest from only the youngest son for whom the extra sleep was really intended to help. Adam and Hoss both said that they thought it was an excellent idea and they each grabbed Joe by the elbow and Adam said “Come on little brother, don’t make me do it the way I did when you were little.” He and Hoss escorted Little Joe to his room, despite his attempts to persuade first Pa and then them that he wasn’t tired at all. However, once Hoss and Adam had unceremoniously dumped him on his bed, he realized he really was tired. Quickly undressing, he climbed into bed, shifting several times until he found a position that was the most comfortable and avoided the most of his bruises. He was asleep within five minutes of getting into bed.
Ben sat downstairs for a while enjoying the solitude, watching the flickering of the fire as it died down. He thought about what his son had done and although he was not happy about the consequences, he was proud that his son stood up for the Indian boy. He wanted his son to be unbiased and fair and to be willing to fight for his beliefs. But he could not help but worry about him. Although he was developing muscles from working, he was still smaller and slighter of build than most boys his age. His brothers, Hoss in particular, had taught him to fight to compensate for his smaller size. But nothing could have helped him against so many boys. He was proud of his quick thinking and decision to hide from the gang; it almost worked.
When the fire died down completely with just a few glowing embers left, he went upstairs himself. He stopped to check on Joe as he always did, despite Joe’s telling him that he didn’t need to do it anymore. Some things he did for Joe, and some things he did for himself—this was one of those things he did for both of them. Joe was lying on his back, his covers strewn off the bed already. Since he was a baby, Little Joe had wrestled with his covers and tossed them off repeatedly during the night. His mother had said that tossing and turning was what made his hair so curly. As he thought of Marie, he smiled and walked over to get a closer look at his son, so much like his mother. He smoothed a stray curl off his son’s forehead and said softly, “Sweet dreams, Son,” and turned to extinguish the lamp. As happened so many times, just as he was about to put out the flame, a sleepy voice said, “Let it stay on a little longer, Pa.”. Ben smiled to himself and said quietly, “I’ll leave it burning low, Joe. Go back to sleep.” He looked back at his son and he looked exactly the way he did when he had left the bedside. There was no evidence that he had even moved or spoke. He turned the flame as low as possible, then quietly exited the room, closing the door behind him.
Breakfast the next morning was a typical Cartwright morning scenario, with Ben having to send Hoss to wake Joe up. After several attempts, Hoss was able to get Joe up and get him moving. He sat in Joe’s rocking chair and talked to him as Joe performed his morning ablutions. Hoss knew that if he left Joe on his own too soon, he would simply go back to bed and be asleep again in no time. Hoss decided that Joe was not too much the worse for wear, his face was more bruised and a little swollen, but he didn’t look nearly as bad as he did the last time. Without talking much the two of them went down to breakfast. Joe ate about what he usually ate, but drank two cups of coffee. Adam pointed out to his father that some doctors at Harvard were saying that children shouldn’t drink coffee and that something in the coffee made some people too active so that they couldn’t concentrate. Ben appeared interested and Joe scowled at Adam. Hoss said “Why Adam that is about the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of. How can a cup of coffee be bad for you?”
Joe finished his second cup of coffee and asked to be excused to go to school.
“Sure, Joseph. But you be careful.” Ben said, lightheartedly.
“Joe I will ride with you to town. I have some errands I need to do and we may as well ride in together.” Adam interjected.
Joe stood up from the table, looked at both of them and then raised his eyebrows and rolled his eyes back—letting them both know that he was not falling for their charade. He didn’t argue, however, he knew that it would be pointless. He said sarcastically, “Sure Adam if you are dying to ride to Virginia City at 06:30 in the morning, be my guest.” He gave his father a scowl for good measure, then headed towards the barn, with Adam right behind him.
Adam tried to get Joe to talk about the problems he was having with Walter and his friend, but the more questions Adam asked, the more tight-lipped Joe became. Adam finally gave in, saying, “Joseph you are MOST stubborn Cartwright for sure.” Joe didn’t say anything but his facial expression hinted at the humor with which he had taken the remark. When they approached the school-yard, Joe pulled Cochise up to a stop and turned and looked at Adam. Adam stopped and looked at Joe quizzically, waiting for Joe to ask him something. Instead Joe just sat there watching him. Finally Adam asked, “What are we stopping here for?” Joe replied with a smile. “Adam, I am waiting here until I see you right over there on that street in Virginia City. Having Pa watch me go to school is bad enough. I will NOT have my older brother watching me like I was a first-grade kid.” Adam started to refute the comparison, but seeing the set of Joe’s jaw, he knew it was pointless. He laughed out loud and said, “Not only the most stubborn Cartwright, but the most stubborn human being!” and turned his horse and headed toward Virginia City. When Joe was satisfied that he was too far to double back and watch him, he turned his own horse toward the school and rode up to the school yard. He was troubled when he didn’t see Sharp Tongue’s horse. He hoped he had not gotten a worse beating than he did. Just then the second school bell rang, the one indicating tardiness, so Joe hurried to finish caring for Cochise and walked quickly to the school building.
There were several surprised gasps when Little Joe walked into the classroom and took his seat. To show that he wasn’t afraid, Joe turned and glared at the boys who had been involved in the beating the day before, or at least at the ones who were there. Walter and several of the others were not there and Joe wondered what had happened. He had heard the Sheriff tell Pa that he would talk to them and their parents, despite his refusal to implicate them. Somehow Sheriff Coffee had known. As Miss Lambert called the roll, he turned back toward the front of the class room. She again paused when she got to his name. “Joseph, I am glad you are back this morning. We missed you yesterday afternoon.” She said sternly. “Sheriff Coffee must have told her what happened, too” he thought to himself. “Great. Just what I need—another busy-body watching everything I do.” He thought exasperatedly.
The morning dragged on endlessly. Joe watched the door, hoping ST would come in late, but he knew it was futile. He wondered if ST had been injured worse than he was, or if he just decided not to come back anymore, or perhaps his father was getting ready to lead a war party into Virginia City right this very minute to seek revenge. He was imagining the entire scene in his head…the Chief wearing full war paint and his longest ceremonial head dress, surrounded by thirty braves in full war paint and carrying bows and arrows riding down the main street of Virginia City, straight up to the school house….., when he became aware of someone poking him in the back and suddenly, his teacher’s face right in front of his own.
“Ma’am?” he managed in a slightly halting voice.
“Well I can see that your absence yesterday did not make your desire to pay attention to the lessons increase, Joseph.” She said with a minor note of irritation, but also with a major note of humor.
“Sorry, Ma’am. I was just thinkin’ of…”
When his voice trailed off, Miss Lambert interrupted, thinking it was probably in her best interests not to know what he was thinking about.
“Well, Joseph, I do hope that after the noon meal that you will be able to pay better attention. Class is dismissed for lunch.” She said, smiling at the children and starting a mad dash for the cloak room.
Joe turned to thank ‘Bec for trying to save him from Miss Lambert.
He grinned at her and said, “Good try, ‘Bec. What were you poking me with anyhow?”
She laughed and showed him the fountain pen she had used to try to rouse him.
“Is that all? It felt like it was much bigger.”
“How ya doin’ Joe?” she asked.
“I’m fine, ‘Bec. No problems.”
Then one of the girls called her from the back of the room, so she hurried off to collect her lunch and meet her girl friends.
Joe walked to collect his lunch more slowly than usual, just a little stiff from sitting so long without moving. He felt alone and realized how much he and ST had shared in the last few days. . He noticed the deputies on either side of the building and shrugged his shoulders. After getting his lunch he didn’t quite know what to do, since he and ST had pretty much been ostracized by the other boys And some of them he was not all that anxious to see anyway. He decided to go check on Cochise first anyway. As he walked towards Cochise, he saw several of his friends watching him. When he got to Cochise he had a strong urge to jump on her and ride away, back to the Ponderosa, to the lake to think. He saw that the grass where he had tied Cochise was over-grazed so he moved her to a new spot under the shade of some cottonwood trees and refilled her water bucket from his canteen. Then, grabbing the lunch Hop Tseng had packed for him and squaring his shoulders, he marched toward the group of his friends.
They watched him approach, but no one said anything. Their expressions seemed to be wary, but not hostile. He stood awkwardly for a few seconds, trying to decide what was the appropriate action to take. He was about to walk on, when Billy said, “Sit down and rest your legs a spell, Joe.” He sat down and gave Billy a facsimile of a grin. Billy grinned back and asked him what Hop Tseng had sent him for lunch. “My Ma sent me sandwiches made of left-over fried liver! Wanta trade?” Joe made a face at the thought of a fried liver sandwich, then opened up the lunch that Hop Tseng had sent. He pulled out fried chicken, roast beef sandwiches, blueberry muffins, and apples; taking one sandwich and an apple, he put the rest in the middle of the other boys and watched as they grabbed for the food.
In the ensuing silence as the boys began to eat the surplus food from his lunch, he watched their faces, trying to determine what was different about them. When they had all slowed down their feeding frenzy, they began to talk, awkwardly at first, then becoming more natural as their conversation continued. Finally one of the boys asked what he was sure all of them were thinking: “What is that injun like, Joe?”
He was glad the question was finally out in the open. Now maybe he could make them understand ST so they wouldn’t be so harsh to him. Joe tried to tell them about ST, but they interrupted his narrative constantly with dumb questions like “How many white men has he killed?” or “Has he ever been in a war party?” Joe tried to be patient at first but he became more and more irritated as he realized they didn’t really want to know about ST, they just wanted to have the tales they had heard confirmed. He knew that they were willing to accept him back into the group again, only if he played along with them and talked about Sharp Tongue. He couldn’t believe how ignorant and unfair they were being. At last he could stand it no longer and said harshly, “Do you want to know about Sharp Tongue or do you just want me to make up some outrageous lies to tell you?” With that he got up, said, “I’m going inside.” and left the group of boys with surprised looks on their faces that were replaced with frowns. He heard one of them say, “Still an injun-lover, I guess,” and turned around and gave them all a hard stare before continuing into the school building.
As he entered the building, Miss Lambert looked up, surprised to see him coming in early. She said “Well, Joseph, you certainly gave us all a fright yesterday. Thank goodness Sheriff Coffee came by to tell me what had happened to you. If you had come out when the Sheriff was looking for you, you wouldn’t have been harmed, Joe.”
“I know, Miss Lambert, but I just couldn’t.” he said, looking down.
The teacher, very perceptive, could see that something was troubling him by looking into his eyes, so clear and sparkling usually; now they were clouded.
“What is it Joe?” she asked kindly, trying to help him get it out.
“Miss Lambert? Do you know when Sharp Tongue will be back at school?” he asked.
The teacher took a deep breath, knowing that the answer she knew would not help his troubled mood. She considered lying, but she thought that would not be fair, so she motioned for him to sit down. She pulled up a chair and sat beside him. “Joseph, I am sorry but Sharp Tongue will not be coming back. Mr. Carter came by this morning to tell me that Sharp Tongue’s father had told him that the decision was up to Sharp Tongue and he did not wish to return.” She paused to gauge the effect the information had on him and her heart caught when she saw his pained expression. “Joe sometimes things just don’t work out. I am proud of you for trying to befriend Sharp Tongue and for sticking up for him, too, though I wish you would have let us help you. But it is probably best for everyone this way.”
“No it ain’t best this way” Joe said in a quiet, almost flat voice. “It can’t be best this way, Miss Lambert. We have to get him to come back. We hafta convince him to come back.” He said almost desperately. Miss Lambert was taken aback by the urgency of his statements and felt it better to put a quick end to this line of discussion. “Joseph, Sharp Tongue is not coming back. There is nothing we can do to change that. You need to just put that out of your mind and go back to your routine. Your friends are lost without you—why I haven’t had to keep a single one of them after school since you started spending all your time with Sharp Tongue. We gave it our best try Joe, and it didn’t work. Now it is time for me to ring the bell. I suggest you put this out of your mind and start thinking about linear algebra for a change.” She said smiling. As she rose to go ring the bell to signal that the noon break was over, she couldn’t resist ruffling the soft curls on his head.
The rest of the afternoon passed interminably slowly. Joe was again lost in thought, worrying about Sharp Tongue, aggravated that his friends were so ready and willing to accept him back into their group—if he had wanted to go along with them and talk about Sharp Tongue. He was feeling such an emotional upheaval and he didn’t know what to do. These boys had been his friends for a long time; they had played together, talked together, even gotten into trouble together. He had never questioned their beliefs or feelings about Indians before. He just took it for granted that they would be willing to give ST a chance. He felt that if he went along with them he was betraying Sharp Tongue, but he also felt that if he didn’t go along with them, he was somehow betraying their friendship.
But he knew that it wasn’t right that Sharp Tongue left as he did. Miss Lambert was wrong, it wasn’t “best for everyone” and it wasn’t their best try either. There had to be something they could do to persuade Sharp Tongue to come back. There had to be. He vowed to discuss it with his father. “Pa will know what to do” he told himself. “Pa always knows what to do” he concluded. “I’ll ask him as soon as I get home.” That decided, he felt better and although he was still not attentive to his lessons, at least he was not in such emotional turmoil and he daydreamed the rest of the afternoon away.
When the school day was finally over, he rushed out to get on Cochise, not noticing until he got to her, that someone was waiting there for him. “Hoss!” he smiled at his brother. He knew it was no coincidence that Hoss was there to meet him, but he didn’t care, he welcomed the company on the long ride home. He and Hoss talked easily. Hoss didn’t mention Sharp Tongue and neither did Joe. He didn’t mention it not because he didn’t want to discuss it with Hoss, but because after deciding to talk to Pa about how to get Sharp Tongue to come back—it was no longer a concern to him. He knew Pa would take care of it, so he and Hoss just joked and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Joe asked him what he was doing there, just to see what he would say. “Well I had to go to the hardware store for Pa….” Hoss began, but when he saw Little Joe’s skeptical look, he said, “Well dadburn it, Little Joe, we just didn’t want you getting beat up again and I figured it was ‘bout time that Walter tangled with someone his own size for a change.” Little Joe just laughed and said, “Yeah Hoss, all I need is for you to fight my battles for me.” Hoss looked puzzled but didn’t say anything else on the subject.
When they got home, they hurried through their chores, Hoss doing most of them while Joe “helped” him. This was partly due to Joe’s recent injuries, but also was just how it normally happened. Hoss loved hearing Joe talk and didn’t mind the fact that he did more of the actual work than Joe did. Their father had come out as soon as he heard them come into the yard, just “to say hello”, he said, but again Joe was not fooled—he was checking up on him. He had to admit he didn’t really mind his father’s checking up on him and his brother’s back-up sometimes, but sometimes it was annoying. Tonight he didn’t want to show any aggravation because he wanted to make sure his father was in a good mood at dinner when he planned to bring up the subject of getting Sharp Tongue back to school.
The evening meal started out as usual, with everyone in good spirits. The elder Cartwrights were relieved that Joe had been to school and come home with no further injuries. Mr. Carter had come by to offer his apologies for Joe’s injuries and had told him that the Indian boy would not be coming back to school. Although Ben did not approve of what had happened, he was secretly very glad that the Indian boy would not be back—that seemed better for all concerned, especially his youngest son.
Things took a rapid downspin however, as soon as Ben asked Joe to tell him about his day. Joe chose this opportunity to tell his father what Miss Lambert had said about Sharp Tongue. After saying it, he paused, expecting to hear his father’s exclamation about how unfair that was and how it had to be rectified. Instead there was silence from all three of the other Cartwrights. Joe was puzzled but he plunged on with his assessment that something had to be done, that they had to get Sharp Tongue to come back to school. Finally he stopped talking, looked at his Pa and said, “Don’t we, Pa?”
Ben sighed, and looked Joe straight in the eye and said, “No, Joseph, I don’t think we should.”
“But Pa…” Joe started. He was interrupted by Adam saying, “Joe what good will it do Sharp Tongue to learn things like algebra?”
Joe gave him a cold look and said angrily, “It’ll do him ‘bout as much good as it will me, Adam. But that isn’t the point!”
“Joseph, calm down” his father said, trying to restore the peace of a few minutes earlier.
“But, Pa…” Joe said again. This time his father held out his hands and said, “Wait a minute, Joe, hear me out,” giving him a look that said “Listen”.
Joe stopped talking and looked at his father suspiciously.
“Joe I am sorry for the way this happened, but it is just too much to ask of the students and their families. There has been too much blood shed in the past and too much tension to expect people to just accept an Indian.””Ben tried.
“Pa, there’s been Indians killed too—and they were here first.” Joe responded, thinking of some of the horrors that Sharp Tongue had told him in the cave. Sharp Tongue’s own mother had been killed by a raid by some drunken white men.
“Yes, Joe, but this is a very complicated issue and the way it was handled, just sprung on people with no preparation didn’t help. Maybe some time in the future with better planning, it could work, but not now. And not with Sharp Tongue, Joe. It is too late. He has made his decision and we must respect that.”
“But Pa it ain’t fair!” Joe shouted.
“JOSEPH! You sit still and do not raise your voice to me. Is that understood?” Ben said, looking at his son with that look his son knew so well that dared him to proceed. This time, however, he didn’t heed the warning, instead he repeated the same statement, only louder this time, directing the sentence to all members of the family, any men in the bunkhouse, and probably to God himself.
“IT AIN’T FAIR, PA. IT AIN’T FAIR.” He yelled as loudly as he could.
Before he knew what happened, his father was around to his chair, pulling him up firmly, though gently due to the injuries.
“Joseph, you get to your room and wait for me there. I will expect an apology when I come up. For your sake, you’d better hope I have calmed down when I come upstairs.”
Joe gave him one more defiant look, then turned slowly and headed upstairs, stopping only to say, “I don’t like that ol’ broccoli anyhow!” then headed towards his room, slamming the door for emphasis.
Ben sat down, looked at his other two sons and said, “That boy is the most stubborn person I have ever met.”
Adam replied, “I know one more just about as stubborn.” And smiled.
Hoss said, “Well I know two of ‘em near ‘bout as stubborn, as a matter of fact, Adam.”
Ben looked at Hoss over this, started to reply that he didn’t know what they were talking about but finally said, “Well Marie was more stubborn than me.”
Adam agreed, “Yes, Pa. I think you are right, but you were right behind her. The bad news is Joe inherited it from both of you.”
Ben laughed along with them, then said, “SO what you are telling me is that it is my fault?””
”Well, Pa, you have to admit it ain’t ALL his fault since he just got what you and his Ma gave him.” Hoss said, always advocating for his brother.
“I know Hoss, I’m really not even mad with him. He’s right, it isn’t fair. But sometimes life isn’t fair and he has to learn to accept that or he will be in for a lot of heartache and trouble.”
“Joe? In for trouble? And I think he will be giving the heartache instead of having it.” Adam said. They all laughed and started to finish their meal. Ben pushed his plate away and said, “You know what? I hate that ol’ broccoli too.”
Little Joe was more frustrated than angry when he got upstairs. He had been so sure that his Pa would know what to do to get Sharp Tongue back to school. He realized as he waited for his father to come upstairs that he had had unrealistic expectations for his father. “I’m not a little boy anymore and Pa can’t fix everything” he chided himself. Still he hadn’t expected his father to merely give in to the situation without a fight at all. “Fight!” he said out loud. “Of course. That’s why, I bet.” He had figured out that his Pa just wanted to stop the fights that he had gotten into on account of Sharp Tongue. “NO wonder he isn’t going to do anything” he thought. “He’s afraid I will get hurt. I shoulda known. He’s just trying to treat me like a little boy. But it ain’t right.” His insight made him understand his father’s actions and that lessened his disappointment in his father’s response. At least he knew it wasn’t his father’s belief that Sharp Tongue shouldn’t be allowed to go to the school with white boys. But that didn’t solve the problem. He guessed if his Pa wouldn’t help him, he would have to do it himself. As he lay on his bed, waiting for his father to come upstairs, he began to formulate his plans for fixing the problem himself.
About an hour after he had been sent to his room, he heard his father coming up the stairs and braced himself for whatever punishment his father would give him. He wished he didn’t have so many bruises still because he knew that because of them his father would not resort to a thrashing. Not that he liked a thrashing, but at least it was fast and over and done with soon and the lecture was much shorter. When his father didn’t resort to physical punishment, his lectures tended to be longer and he expected Joe to participate in discussion with him. He would know soon, he realized as his father knocked at his door.
When his father came in, he was carrying a book from his study. Joe recognized the book and wondered what the significance of it meant, since it was a book of prayers. “Is Pa gonna make me pray?” he thought to himself. He knew what he had to do and he did it right away to get it over with, “I’m sorry for being disrespectful, Pa.” He said contritely, since he was truly sorry.
“I am glad to hear that, Son. That temper tantrum was not at all acceptable for a young man your age, Joseph—or for any age, in fact. I will not tolerate that kind of behavior. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir. I am sorry.” Joe said dejectedly.
Ben softened as he could tell that Joe was remorseful for his actions. “Joe, I know you are disappointed about Sharp Tongue not coming back to school. I understand how you feel.”
“Pa we were just getting to know each other and if the others would just give him a chance, they would see that….” He was interrupted by his father’s putting his hands around his head, and drawing him closer to him.
“Joe, I want to read you something out of this book of prayers. Listen to this.” He turned the book to a page marked with a book-mark and began to read in his clear, rich, deep voice:
God Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.
living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will,
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
When he finished reading, he looked at Joe and said, “This is a prayer that was written over a hundred years ago, Joseph. Do you understand what it means?”
Joe shrugged his shoulders, not wanting to answer, but Ben didn’t expect him to so he answered his own question. “It means that there are things in this world, that may not be to our liking. With those things if we have courage, we can work to change some of them. But some of them we can’t change by our actions, no matter how much courage we have. We have to have the wisdom to know which is which, Joe. What do you think that means in this situation, Joe?”
Joe again shrugged his shoulders, not wanting to answer, knowing what his father expected him to say. His father, however, pressed him to reply this time, wanting his son to verbalize what he knew he was thinking.
“I guess you think it means that Sharp Tongue leaving is one of those things I am supposed to just accept.” He said in a low, barely audible voice.
“Well Joe, you have already acted with considerable courage and it didn’t help, did it?” When Joe again didn’t respond, he prompted again, “Joe?”
“No sir, but…”
“Joseph, no buts. Just read this again and think about it. We can talk more about it tomorrow. You need to get to bed now so you won’t be such a bear in the morning. And Joe, you owe your brothers an apology in the morning, too. Understand?”
“All right then, to bed with you, son. Good night.”
After his father left the room, Little Joe lay on his bed with his arms behind his head trying to think what to do. He read and re-read the prayer his father had left him, hoping it would make him feel better. He understood the prayer and could see what it meant. He knew what his father was trying to make him see. He just didn’t agree that the situation with Sharp Tongue was truly one of those things that couldn’t be changed. He knew his father had more wisdom than he did; he never doubted that—but his father hadn’t met Sharp Tongue either.
He thought about that last afternoon they had spent together and shared so many things about their lives. Joe had been feeling guilty about how much better his life was and how he wouldn’t switch with Sharp Tongue for anything. He had been shocked shortly after that thought when Sharp Tongue, noted for saying what was on his mind, had voiced the exact same sentiment. He had sounded as if HE felt guilty over how much better his life was than Joe’s. This had been eye-opening for Joe, revealing the difference perspective made.
“If Sharp Tongue doesn’t come back, that big ol’ bully Walter’ll win.” He said to himself. He hated to admit it, even to himself, but that caused as much anguish as not getting to know Sharp Tongue better did. “He’ll just go on bein’ mean and bullyin’ everybody and no one’ll stand up to him.” He mulled over this for a while, then pledged to do something—to change things. Just as he had reached this conclusion, he heard steps coming back upstairs and realized that his father would be coming into his room to check on him. He moved hurriedly and jumped under the covers, pulling them up to cover the fact that he still had on his clothes and closed his eyes, just as his father softly entered the room. His father walked quietly over to the bed, saw the book still on the bed and picked it up and placed it on the bedside table, smiling because Joe had read it as he had requested. He said in a barely audible voice, “Good night, my Son,” and moved over and adjusted the flame, but did not extinguish the flame.
After his father had left the room, Joe opened his eyes again as he listened to the sounds of the house going to sleep. He heard Hoss come upstairs and soon heard him snoring. Adam came later, and he heard him close his door. Adam would not go to bed until much later, but he would soon be engrossed in reading whatever book he was interested in and wouldn’t be paying attention to anything else. He waited for another half an hour or so, then he very quietly got out of bed, and holding his boots in his hands, softly opened the door and crept down the stairs, carefully avoiding the places that creaked. He went through the kitchen making no noise so as not to awaken Hop Tseng. He opened the cupboard and removed some muffins and grabbed some apples off the counter and placed the food in a bag from the cupboard. Then he silently went out the back door of the kitchen and headed to the barn to saddle Cochise.
Ben Cartwright stirred in his warm bed just as the dawn was breaking. He lay quietly in bed for several minutes, watching the colors reflected from the rising sun change the room from gray to salmon or coral and finally to daylight. He rose, then stretched lazily and putting on his slippers he went over to begin his morning ritual of shaving and bathing. As he was getting ready to make lather out of the bar of shaving soap, he heard Hop Tseng enter quietly. He smelled the coffee before Hop Tseng said “Good morning, Mr. Cartlight”. This was one of the small indulgences that he really appreciated, having that first cup of coffee while he bathed, shaved, and dressed for the day. The coffee seemed to give him an invigorating start to the day and he realized that the older he got, the more he depended upon that cup of coffee to get him going. “Thanks, Hop Tseng.” He smiled graciously and appreciatively at the faithful house-keeper, cook, and general ruler of the Ponderosa house, and sometimes the Cartwright family, or so it seemed.
“Are the boys up?” he asked?
“Mr. Adam and Mr. Hoss start on chores long time ago.” Hop Tseng replied.
“And Joseph?” Ben asked, knowing the answer to that question before he asked. They went through this same routine almost everyday.
“Mr. Little Joe not up. Want Hop Tseng go get him up?”
Ben considered that and then thought better of it, perhaps he would be in a better mood if he got him up and besides he had extra sleep last night so he shouldn’t be in such a bad mood today. “No, Hop Tseng, I will get him up on my way down. You go on to finish breakfast. We’ll be down shortly.” Hop Tseng nodded and left the room. Ben finished the shaving and then got dressed in his typical workday clothes. When he finished he strode briskly and cheerfully to Little Joe’s room, calling him as he did so. He knocked on the door but did not wait for an answer, knowing it would be long in coming. He stopped short when he had slung open the door and entered the room. Little Joe’s room was empty. He noticed that Joe had slept on the top of the sheets, with only the comforter being disturbed. He was vaguely aware that something else wasn’t right, but he didn’t give himself time to think about it. Instead he went downstairs and out to the barn, figuring that Little Joe had indeed gotten up on his own and gone to help his brothers with the chores.
Just as he opened the door to come out of the house, he was met by Hoss with a somewhat distressed expression on his face. “Hoss what is it? You look like you have seen a ghost.” Ben told him.
“No, Pa, it is more what I don’t see than what I saw.” Hoss informed his father.
“Hoss don’t speak in riddles, what are you talking about?” Ben asked, as he suddenly realized what he had noticed about Joe’s room—there were no dirty clothes on the floor. The clothes Joe wore the day before always were on the floor in his room until he made him pick them up. He looked at Hoss and waited for him to confirm what he already suspected.
“Cochise is not in her stall, Pa. Neither is Joe’s saddle and bridle.” Hoss said. Then hoping against hope, “Did he say anything ‘bout going to school early, Pa?”
Ben took a deep breath and tried to control his emotions. Finally, he blew out the breath and looked at Hoss and said, “No Son, your brother didn’t see fit to discuss his early morning ride with me. In fact I have a feeling that your brother took off last night!” Hoss’ eyes widened as he considered this revelation. About that time Adam came out of the barn and joined his father and Hoss. As he gathered the gist of the conversation, he spoke up, “Pa you know where he’s gone, don’t you?”
“Yes Son, I guess we all do.” Ben said with a disappointed look. “I just thought I got through to him last night.”
“What do you want to do, Pa?” Hoss asked, knowing what the answer would be.
“Well I guess we will have to go after him, but he has a good head start on us. Hoss you check out the tracks and make sure he is headed toward the Piute village so we don’t head off in the wrong direction. Adam, you ask Hop Tseng to package us some of that breakfast for the trail and let’s get going as soon as we can.”
As the Cartwrights made their plans to go after him, Joe was approaching the Indian village. He had ridden slowly to make sure that Cochise was not injured, but the moonlight had been so bright that he had been able to make good time. It took a little bit longer to find the village than he had anticipated, because he only had a general idea of where it was. However, he figured it wouldn’t have been a good idea to go riding into the village in the night time anyway. He stopped Cochise at the outskirts of the village, aware that he was under surveillance. He straightened up on Cochise and squaring his shoulders, rode directly into the center of the village, right up to the biggest tent, which he assumed to be the Chief’s tent. He was temporarily distracted from his purpose when he glanced beyond the tents and saw a string of pinto ponies—brown and whites and black and whites. He found their appearance breathtaking.
A loud voice redirected his attention back to the tent. “What makes you come into our village?” the man about the age of his father asked. The man was dressed in traditional Indian attire, deerskin pants and shirt, but the intricate beading on the front of the shirt identified him as a tribal elder at the minimum.
“My name is Joe Cartwright, Chief. I would like to see Sharp Tongue.” He said with tiny a quaver in his voice.
“Why you come see Sharp Tongue?” the man continued his interrogation.
“Because he is my friend, my blood brother” Joe said holding up his wrist and showing the mark still visible on his wrist. “I come to see if he is well from the fight.”
The man’s dark brown eyes revealed a spark of understanding and he asked, “Are you white boy who fight with Sharp Tongue?”
“Yes sir. I want to talk to him please.”
The man stood there, saying nothing for several minutes. Joe stood there, returning his look, trying to appear calm, when in reality he was quaking inside.
Making a decision, the man stepped quickly inside the teepee and before Joe could move, he was back with Sharp Tongue. Sharp Tongue was dressed in deer skin trousers, shirt, and moccasins. Sharp Tongue looked very surprised and not too happy to see Little Joe. The Indian Chief said, “You talk. Then you leave village.” And with that he walked off, leaving the two boys alone.
“What are you doing here, white boy?” Sharp Tongue asked, giving Joe a venomous look.
“I came to see if you were all right.” Joe said, overwhelmed at the bitterness directed at him.
“Well now you see I am fine. It takes more than some feeble white boys to harm Indian brave.” Sharp Tongue spit the words out.
“Hey what you mad at me for? I was on your side, ST.” Joe spoke reasonably.
“My name is Sharp Tongue and I will answer to no other.” Sharp Tongue said, his eyes dark and unreadable.
Joe was losing his patience this time. “ I thought an Indian brave would not turn on his brother.” Joe said, holding up his wrist.
Sharp Tongue’s face showed a tiny indication of indecision, then he said, “Sometimes things are not meant to be. The wolf and the lamb are not meant to lie down together, nor the hawk and the rabbit. So it is with white man and Indian—friendship not meant to be.” Sharp Tongue said in explanation.
Joe said, “Come on let’s sit down and talk about it, Sharp Tongue. I rode all this way and I have to let Cochise rest before I can go home anyhow.” Saying this he sat down and leaned against the tee pee. Begrudgingly, Sharp Tongue sat near him, though still separated by some distance.
“Sharp Tongue I am sorry ‘bout Walter and his friends—but all white men ain’t like that. Come on back and give it another try. Please. White man and Indian can be friends—it just takes more work. This ain’t one of those things we just have to accept; it can’t be. We’re blood brothers.” Joe pleaded with his friend and by looking into his eyes, he could tell he was making some progress.
“Joe in all the time I have been in your school, I have talked to only three people who do not hate me just because I am Indian—you, teacher, and your friend who says she can outrun you. All others look at me like I have white man scalps hanging from my waist and afraid that I will eat them for the noon meal.”
Joe got a smirk on his face when Sharp Tongue said this.
“What makes you smile, Joe?” Sharp Tongue asked curiously.
“Well I was just thinkin’ that that may be better than eatin’ that pemmican stuff.”
Sharp Tongue looked at him peculiarly, then laughed, along with Joe.
“Nah, bear fat is much better than white man fat—white man fat too greasy.” He said and they both laughed harder.
“Don’t make me laugh so hard, it makes my sides ache some.” Joe said, laughing even harder.
Joe continued to persuade Sharp Tongue to try just one more time. Finally, Sharp Tongue said in exasperation, “If you will leave off talking, I will go. One more time. But I do not promise to stay. When do we go?”
Joe looked at the sun and doing a quick mental calculation, he said “Why not now? We could make it on time, early even, if that nag of yours can keep up with Cochise.” He saw in his eyes that he had just clinched it. Sharp Tongue would now have to try to prove that his pony was faster than Cochise. He said, “I will go speak to my father and then we will go.” As he waited for Sharp Tongue he was talking to Cochise and telling her that she could beat Sharp Tongue’s horse. It occurred to him that he did not know the other pinto’s name. When Sharp Tongue came back he said, “What did you name your pony?” Sharp Tongue looked at him briefly and said, “Indian do not “name” horse. Horse have own name.” Joe, undeterred, said, “Well then what is your pony’s name that she gave herself?” Sharp Tongue looked sheepish and said, “Geronimo”. They both laughed and as soon as Sharp Tongue had saddled Geronimo, the two boys started off toward Virginia City, going in the opposite way from which Joe had come from the Ponderosa.
Since both boys wanted to test their own pony against the other’s they practically flew into Virginia City, arriving at the school house early—a race so close that they couldn’t declare a winner. They both secretly thought it was the best thing that it happened that way, since neither wanted to win or to lose.
They tied up their horses, taking extra time with them since they had ridden them hard. They were walking and laughing and heading towards the school when they heard Walter. Joe looked up quickly to size up the odds and was relieved to see that there was only Walter and two other boys. He had hoped to be able to talk to some of his friends and make them see that they had to give Sharp Tongue a chance so they would be willing to help defend him against Walter. However, no one else was even around yet. Joe decided that he should avoid a confrontation with Walter if possible. He said, “Sharp Tongue, let’s not tangle with him right now. I would like to go home one day without a new bruise—just to show my Pa that I can do it.” Sharp Tongue said, “It is up to him. I will not start the fight, but I will not hide or run from it. Never again will I hide or run from the white man.”
Joe and Sharp Tongue continued walking in a direction that would take them to the school, but would detour around Walter and his two friends. Joe was holding his breath, hoping that Walter would not start a fight. Joe was praying, but it wasn’t the serenity prayer he was praying. It was not to be answered in the way he had hoped, however. As they drew within 15 yards of Walter, they saw the three boys come towards them and even from that distance, Joe could see the menacing look on his face. He heard Walter say, “Luke you go get the others, we are gonna finish these two off right here and now and I want everyone to get in on the fun.”
By this time, Joe and Sharp Tongue had stopped moving and were standing watching the other two boys approach. Joe tried to head it off by saying, “Come on Walter, let’s let bygones be bygones. What ya say?” Walter stopped, looked at Joe coolly, then spit a wad of chewing tobacco spit between Joe’s and Sharp Tongue’s feet. “I ain’t lettin’ nothin’ go, Cartwright. You and this injun boy has caused me enough trouble and now it is time for me to pay you back.” He made a motion as if he were gonna spit again, instead he belted Joe in the stomach. Joe was knocked down and Sharp Tongue drew back and hit Walter, connecting squarely on the jaw. Joe looked up at Sharp Tongue as he was getting up and said, “Good one, ST.” and the two boys smiled at each other as they continued to alternately duck, dodge, or punch the two boys. Between the two of them, they were able to keep the other two boys pretty much off-balance. Walter was big and strong, but not very fast or agile. Soon the second opponent had run off, leaving Walter to face the two boys alone. Joe and Sharp Tongue alternated fighting with him, allowing the other to catch their breath. The two of them together were able to gain the upper hand in the fight and were near to finishing him off, when the reinforcements came upon the scene. Six or seven other boys, some of them older brothers, soon joined in the altercation, turning the tide against Joe and Sharp Tongue. They stood their ground as best they could, but the extra bodies made them grossly undermanned.
Once Joe and Sharp Tongue had been tamed somewhat by the other boys, Walter again assumed the lead and he directed the other boys to hold them for him. He and the other boys beat Sharp Tongue, until he was no longer struggling, all the while hurling insults and threats against him and his people. Two boys held Joe, during this attack on Sharp Tongue, forcing him to watch. He struggled and pleaded with them to stop, trying to make them attack him, instead of Sharp Tongue, but it was futile.
After kicking Sharp Tongue one last time for good measure, Walter directed his assault toward Joe. He had just begun to really enjoy himself, when a gunshot made them all stop in their tracks. They turned to see Ben, Adam, and Hoss Cartwright riding up at a gallop. Adam had fired the gun and now directed it toward Walter and his friends. Hoss and Ben got down from their horses and hurried to Joe. Adam saw some other school children approaching the school and shouted for one of them to go fetch the Doc. He noticed a tall, dark-haired girl immediately take off toward Doctor Martin’s office. He then dismounted and joined his father and brother.
Ben was cradling Little Joe’s head in his arms. Joe appeared to be semi-conscious and was trying to tell them something. Adam walked over and checked on Sharp Tongue, relieved to see that he was still breathing. He looked up to see Walter try to run away, but he needn’t have worried—Hoss grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around. Walter, surprised by being grabbed made a huge tactical error—he swung on Hoss. For a quick moment, he thought he saw a look of pure glee come over Hoss’ face. That was the last thought he had for some time, when he woke up in the jail. Hoss had punched him so hard that he was knocked out cold for over an hour. Hoss was disappointed that one punch knocked him out, wishing he could have hit him just one more time at least.
Soon Doctor Martin arrived on the scene and began to issue commands. He directed Adam and Hoss to carry the two young men to his office, after carefully checking them over to make sure that it was safe to move them. When they reached the doctor’s office, the two boys were put side by side on two narrow examination tables. Doctor Martin moved to Joe first, but Joe who had become more alert attempted to push his hands away and was trying to say something. Doctor Martin bent down so he could hear and said, “What did you say Joe?”
“See about Sharp Tongue. He’s worse off than me. It’s my fault….” He drifted off into unintelligible speech. Doctor Martin who had given both boys a cursory examination and knew that Sharp Tongue was no worse than Little Joe, whose earlier broken rib had been re-fractured, continued to work on Little Joe. Little Joe continued to try to protest and would not be still. Dr. Martin turned around to his cabinet and poured some reddish brown liquid into a glass and handed it to Ben and said, “Get him to drink this, Ben. I need him to be still before he punctures a lung.” Ben held the liquid to Joe’s lips, forcing him to drink it, despite Joe’s feeble attempts to avoid swallowing it. After he had finished drinking the medication, Joe said, “It’s my fault Pa, it’s all my fault…..” He then drifted off into sleep. Dr. Martin managed to clean and patch all the cuts and scrapes, bandage the larger open contusions, and bind his broken ribs. He bound it tightly this time, intending to make sure that Joe would be unable to do any further damage to them.
After finishing with Joe, Dr. Martin took over from Mary, his nurse who had been working on getting Sharp Tongue’s wounds cleaned up. He completed the cleaning up job and put ointment on the larger cuts and scrapes and bandaged them. Sharp Tongue had suffered no broken bones and his worst damage was bruising to his face. Sharp Tongue came to while he worked on him and Dr. Martin was alarmed by the cold, fierce look in his eyes. Sharp Tongue’s first spoken words were: “I want my horse and I want to get out of this white man’s town. NOW.” Doc Martin was surprised that Joe Cartwright had been so willing to fight for someone with the hatred that he saw in his eyes.
He said, “Let me finish checking you over and I will have someone bring over your horse. I expect I can get someone to take you home in a wagon.”
“I will ride my pony.” Sharp Tongue said, with that same cold, almost burning hatred in his eyes. “ I want nothing from the white man”. He said with finality.
About this time Sheriff Coffee came in and went directly to Ben. “How is he?” he asked, concern apparent on his face. Ben saw something else there, too, but he wasn’t sure what it was.
“Paul says he will recover.” Ben said to allay his fears.
“Ben I am as sorry as I can be. I had my deputies lined up to go, but I din’t think Joe would get to school early.” Sheriff Coffee said, his eyes remorseful as he looked at Little Joe with new bruises on top of fading bruises.
“Roy, if I can’t even keep him on the Ponderosa, how can I expect you to keep him safe? It isn’t your fault. It is that stubborn streak he has. He sneaked out of the house last night and rode out to Sharp Tongue’s village and then they came back to school together. I know this because Adam and Hoss and I chased them all the way.” Ben said, shaking his head.
Roy repeated, “Still Ben I am sorry no one was there to stop that. I got that Walter and his bunch in my jail cell and they won’t be botherin’ nobody for a good spell.” Ben just nodded his appreciation as he sat down next to his son and, taking his hand into his, watched the rise and fall of his tightly-bandaged chest.
Sheriff Coffee moved over to Sharp Tongue to talk to him about the fight. Sharp Tongue would not answer the questions Sheriff Coffee asked. Instead he looked at Roy with cold eyes and said, “Bring my horse here or I will go get him myself.” Roy made several attempts to talk to him and tell him that all the people responsible were locked up. At this, Sharp Tongue fixed Roy, Doctor Martin, and the Cartwrights who were watching the exchange with a venomous look and said, “Not until you lock every white man, woman, and child on the face of the earth in that jail will you have all the people responsible.” He said this loudly and with as much loathing and fury as either of them had ever heard.
As the adults listened to this, Ben realized that Joe was trying to move his hand and he looked into his face and saw that he had heard Sharp Tongue’s acrimonious statement and was becoming agitated. Ben tried to calm him down, but Joe uttered a plea, “Sharp Tongue, NO don’t..” His statement was cut off by Sharp Tongue who jumped up from the table and came to stand over Little Joe. Joe tried to talk to him again, but the look on Sharp Tongue’s face stopped him. Sharp Tongue said, “We were blood brothers for a short time, but the white man’s blood that flows through your body will forever be a barrier between us.”
“But ST.”….Joe managed to say but again was met by an outburst by Sharp Tongue.
“Do not speak to me by that name. I am Sharp Tongue, a proud name of a proud people. I want nothing more to do with white man.” He fixed Joe with a look filled with hatred and bitterness and turned to leave. He stopped and turned back towards Joe and said in a calm, cold, calculating voice, “Do not come to my village again. You will not be welcome.” With that he quickly strode out the door, though slightly favoring his left leg. Sheriff Coffee and Doctor Martin just stared at each other, not believing what they had just witnessed.
Little Joe lay on the examination table with tears streaming down his face. His father and brothers watched him and tried to think of a way to console him. Ben did his best to calm him and told him not to worry that everything would be all right. He talked to him quietly and calmly until finally Joe succumbed to the power of the medication Dr. Martin had given him and slept.
One of the deputies had brought Sharp Tongue’s horse to the office and he jumped on the horse and without a backward glance, rode off toward his village. Many of the townspeople had come out to watch the commotion and see the injun to see if he was really dead as one of the first people to hear about the fight had said. Unseen by any of the people watching, tears streamed down the face of the Indian boy. Sharp Tongue had just tried his best to make the boy who had briefly been his friend, his enemy. He knew that if he didn’t do that, Little Joe Cartwright would keep coming back to his village. But Sharp Tongue had realized what Little Joe had not learned, that this was one of those things that could not be changed. He now felt more bitter toward the white man than he had before he came to know Little Joe Cartwright. It was their hatred for his people that prevented him and Little Joe from remaining friends. He blamed the white man for this—all white men.
While Joe was asleep they procured a wagon and took him home, once again to heal from his physical and emotional injuries. He woke up only briefly when they reached the Ponderosa and he gladly settled into bed. He wasn’t really asleep though, he just didn’t feel like talking. He lay in his bed with his eyes closed, thinking of a world where it didn’t matter whether someone was an Indian or a white man or Italian or Chinese—where people were just people, and they were all treated the same. When he finally slept, he dreamed of racing Cochise against Sharp Tongue and Geronimo and feeling the wind in their faces and laughing.
Ben insisted that Adam and Hoss do the chores and leave him to sit with Joseph. Ben had regretted the crushed look on Joe’s face when Sharp Tongue had spoken to him. He knew that he had witnessed the loss of a huge chunk of Joe’s innocence and eternal optimism that day. Ben wished with all his might that things had been different, that there had been a way to change people’s minds. He wished he had gotten more actively involved. He thought that perhaps if he had tried to help Little Joe there would have been a way to change people’s minds. Maybe he had been too quick to accept that the situation with Sharp Tongue had been one of those things that can’t be changed. Maybe Joe was the wiser of the two, after all. He hoped that someday the world will accept all people as “blood brothers”. He vowed to become one of the people who worked toward that change.