Summary: Written with Jerri.
Word Count: 48,918
At fifteen, Joseph Cartwright was the most popular boy in Virginia City, and probably in the whole Nevada territory. Little Joe, as he was generally called, was the youngest son of Ben Cartwright, owner of the Ponderosa Ranch, the largest and most prosperous ranch in the territory with cattle, horses, mining, and timber interests spread over 500,000 acres or 1000 square miles. The Cartwright family was well known and respected throughout the Nevada territory. The Cartwright name added to Joe’s popularity but his personality was primarily responsible for his appeal. Joe’s popularity was multi-faceted and was not limited to members of one sex. He was especially good-looking and could be quite charming, which endeared him to women, both young and old. Young women were interested in him romantically; older women usually displayed maternal affection for him. He had a lively imagination, quick sense of humor, and a loyal and generous spirit that endeared him to males and females alike. He often played practical jokes on his peers and on his elders, his two older brothers were especially favorite targets. However, when the tables were turned, he could take a joke as well as he could give one. It just happened that he usually thought of the joke before someone else did, so he was generally on the giving end, rather than the getting end.
He was equally known for his hot temper, stubbornness, and impulsiveness, traits that frequently got him into trouble. The frequent little problems he got into did not adversely affect his image; in fact, it actually served to increase his following among his peers, who admired him for his courage and indomitable spirit. The adults involved generally were willing to overlook or forgive him for his offenses, because, when confronted with the issue, Little Joe was genuinely remorseful and willing to be held accountable. Ben Cartwright often felt conflicting emotions when it came to disciplining his youngest son. He wanted to instill a sense of responsibility and accountability and foster self-control and common sense in Joe, but he also did not want to dampen his natural exuberance and joy of living that made him who he was, and endeared him to his family. But he constantly worried that his quick temper and impulsiveness would get him into serious trouble, as it had in the past.
His older brothers, Adam and Hoss, held similar opinions, though they manifested them differently. Adam, the oldest brother was the total opposite of Joe, personality-wise. Adam was serious, logical, and reserved; whereas Joe was fun loving, impulsive, and highly emotional. This obvious difference in temperament, coupled with the age difference, often resulted in conflicts between the two. Yet, they each admired and loved the other, though they didn’t often express it. Hoss, the middle brother, played the role of peacemaker between the two of them and between the two of them and their father. Hoss was gentle, slow to anger, and quick to forgive. He was especially fond of his little brother and went to great lengths to protect him or rescue him from his many misadventures. Little Joe also easily influenced him, so he often was involved in Joe’s pranks.
Although not limited exclusively to school, Joe’s tendency to get into trouble had certainly had an impact on his school years. He had experienced many difficulties getting through the educational system in Virginia City. There had been hardly a week to go by that he had not gotten into some type of trouble at school. His offenses ranged from being merely inattentive to being downright disruptive. He had tried just about every trick known to school kids and invented some new ones-including playing hooky, being tardy, fighting in the school yard, setting off firecrackers in the classroom, and his most recent achievement—coaxing his horse to follow him into the classroom—pretending not to realize it, of course. Ben Cartwright had made many trips into town to confer with his schoolteachers, and many times the schoolteachers had made trips to the Ponderosa to confer with Ben. If Ben were away, Adam or Hoss would fill in for him. Despite never actually failing a grade, Joe had probably spent more time in school than anyone else in the history of Storey County, if the hours he had to stay after school due to some offense had been counted.
He was in the last year of formal education available in Virginia City and as far as he was concerned, that was coming years too late. Any higher education required going to school in one of the larger schools and since there were none close enough to the Ponderosa, the thought of going to one never even occurred to Little Joe. His brother, Adam, had been different and had gone to the university in Boston for five years, obtaining degrees in architecture and engineering. Joe couldn’t imagine leaving the Ponderosa for five years. He, like his other brother Hoss, had no desire for higher education. What was the point of learning more stuff about history, English, and literature when he knew he was going to be working on the ranch?
Recently there had been an attempt to pass laws that mandated that boys go to school until their sixteenth birthday at least. This had presented a major setback for Little Joe, because prior to that time, boys could legally leave school at anytime. Hoss had actually quit school at just under 15 years of age, when there had been a time without a schoolteacher in the Virginia City school. By the time they had found a replacement teacher, Hoss was working full-time on the Ponderosa. Joe felt that it was unfair that Hoss had been able to leave school before his 15th birthday and here he was almost 16 and still in school. Although Joe would not be 16 until the fall a couple of months after summer holidays ended, he didn’t plan on coming for those two months. He planned to go on the fall cattle drive for the first time this fall, something he had always had to miss because of school. He couldn’t wait to take Cochise, his pinto horse on a real cattle drive. He had been on the spring roundups, but the cattle drive was the major event of the year. It started with a roundup, then taking the herd to market over the open range and all the way to the stockyards. It involved a lot of hard work, but it also meant a month of camping out, being with his brothers and father, and after the end of the cattle drive, a week of vacation in San Francisco.
In the past, while his father and brothers went on the cattle drive, he had been left at home with Hop Sing, the family caretaker. He had tried every year since he was old enough to ride a horse to get his father to let him go on a cattle drive. He pointed out that many of his friends went on the cattle drive and then came back to school after it was over. But his father wouldn’t hear of it. When he was 13 he sneaked off from home and joined the cattle drive after it had started, thinking that it would take too long for his father to make him go back and that he would allow him to stay. He felt that whatever punishment his father would give him would be well worth going on the cattle drive. However, he was wrong. His father not only made him go back home—he went with him, rode with him to school, and to Joe’s mortification, accompanied him into the classroom, and waited for him to take his seat before he left. Joe had never been so embarrassed in his life. He never tried that again.
For at least the tenth time that day Joe Cartwright thought, “Just two more weeks and then I am free”. Suddenly, a stern voice got Joe’s attention from his daydreaming of the cattle drive. “Joseph Cartwright, are you daydreaming again?” his teacher, Miss Woods said sharply. Joe, knowing he was caught dead-to-rights, quickly considered his options and decided that honesty was the best policy and replied, “Yes, Miss Woods. It is just such a pretty day today and it is kind of warm in here, too.” He said this with his most disarming smile. Fortunately for Joe, this teacher was not immune to the charms of that smile like the last two teachers had been.
Miss Woods returned the smile and agreed “It is certainly a pretty day, Joseph, but if you wouldn’t mind, we have another half hour to go before school is out. Unless of course, you would like to spend time after class finishing your lessons?”
“No, Mam, I am sorry, I will pay attention. I promise” Joe said, and to his credit, he tried very hard to concentrate on what she was talking about. She was saying something about next year and since he knew he wouldn’t even be here next year, he found it very difficult to pretend to be interested. She passed out some papers, and although he had no idea what they were for, he took one and put it with his books, not bothering to read it.
Mercifully, the final bell sounded and the class was dismissed without Miss Woods noticing that he still wasn’t really paying attention—or so he thought. Miss Woods had noticed, but didn’t feel that calling attention to it would remedy the situation, so she let it pass.
Along with the other pupils, Little Joe rushed for the door, grabbing his books out of habit. He had learned a long time ago that he had to bring books home from school every day because if he left them at school, his father became suspicious and asked too many questions. He usually threw his books down on his desk in his room and didn’t touch them again until the next morning, but if he didn’t have them, his father always demanded to know why he didn’t have any homework. Joe had never been an outstanding student, but if he halfway paid attention in class and did the minimum he could do for outside assignments, he was able to pass, although he certainly didn’t set any records for high marks.
He had learned the hard way the summer he was 12 what happened if he actually failed a course for an entire grading period. That summer was the worst in his memory, but it had had a very happy ending, because that was when Adam gave him Cochise, his black and white pinto horse that he was so proud of. Since then he had been careful to put forth enough effort to make sure that he didn’t actually fail anything. To him, anything beyond that was wasted effort and he had too much to do to waste effort on schoolwork. Unfortunately the last two teachers had felt obligated to motivate him to “reach his potential”, sometimes using Adam’s university education as an example. That had been painful for everyone involved, Joe, the two teachers, and especially to Adam and his father. Fortunately both of those teachers had stayed only a year each.
Miss Woods, who had been here for the past two years, had a different philosophy. Although she also wished Joe would try harder, she recognized other abilities that he possessed, and rather than get into an all-out battle of wills, as the previous teachers had, she was able to encourage him without trying to completely change his personality. That was what had doomed the efforts of the two past teachers. The teacher who was there immediately prior to her arrival had warned her about Joseph Cartwright, pointing out all his deficits. Miss Woods was expecting a veritable barbarian when she met Joe for the first time. She was quite astonished when on that first day, she realized that this young, good-looking, popular, humorous, and very engaging boy was THE Joseph Cartwright she had been warned about.
As soon as he was out the door of the schoolhouse, a crowd of people gathered around him. Several boys wanted him to go fishing with them. There was also a group of girls who just wanted to talk to him or wanted him to walk them home. Little Joe loved to go fishing-he was probably the best fisherman in Virginia City. But he also was quite fond of talking to girls, too, especially the pretty ones. He didn’t want to disappoint anyone, so he suggested a compromise. “Why don’t you girls come with us to the lake and we can talk and fish at the same time?”” he suggested with that fabulous smile. The girls weren’t really interested in going fishing, but they were interested in Little Joe Cartwright, so they agreed. The boys were either disgusted or delighted at the inclusion of the girls, depending upon their specific interest in girls.
The boys who had suggested the fishing trip volunteered to go get fishing poles and bait and to meet them at the lake. One of the girls had to go home to get permission to go along on the fishing trip. That left Little Joe with the other two girls, Sarah and Lucy. Sarah, also 15, was the daughter of the owner of the mercantile store. She had long red hair that hung in gentle waves down her back, green eyes, and a beautiful face. Her only flaw, as far as Joe was concerned was that she was too tall-she was at one inch taller than he was, probably more like two inches taller. But she was so much fun to be with and so darned pretty that he was willing to overlook that tiny flaw. The fact that he was shorter than she was obviously wasn’t something that worried her. Lucy, just turned 16, was the daughter of a woman who ran a boarding house in Virginia City. Lucy was petite, had blond hair, blue eyes, and a smattering of freckles across her face. Although the two girls had been best friends for most of their life, they now considered each other to be rivals for Joe Cartwright’s affections. There was a dance Saturday night in two weeks and they both wanted Little Joe to ask them to be his date.
When the boys got to the lake with the poles and bait, they found Joe sitting with Sarah, Lucy, and Jennifer, who had joined them. Jennifer was also petite, but she had dark hair, brown eyes, turned-up nose, and a mischievous smile. She had asked Little Joe over a week ago to escort her to the dance and he had agreed. She was enjoying watching Lucy and Sarah try to trick Joe into asking them to the dance. She didn’t understand the convention of always waiting for the boy to do the asking; she preferred a much more direct route. She was wondering if Little Joe was aware that they were both trying to get him to ask them to the dance or if he were really that naïve, when she happened to look up at the right time and caught his eye, and he winked at her. She laughed out loud. He did know what they were doing and was enjoying it, too. What fun they would have at the dance!
The boys were hanging around, trying to join in the conversation and get the girls interested in them, instead of Little Joe. They knew that eventually Little Joe would ask some girl to the dance and then they would ask one of the others. They had learned over the past couple of years that they might as well wait for Little Joe to make his plans known before they asked anyone, because all the pretty girls wouldn’t give an answer to them, in case Little Joe asked them later. If Little Joe hadn’t been so much fun to be with, they probably would have resented him. But the boys, like most other people, found it impossible to stay mad with Little Joe for very long. Finally, the girls said they had to get home, so they all left together, just to make sure that none of the other girls stayed longer and got Joe to herself. When the girls left, Joe looked at the boys, Mitch, Lance, and Pete and said, “I thought we were coming to fish!”
“Well you’ve been fishin’, alright Little Joe, but the bait you were using sure wasn’t a worm.” Laughed Pete.
“What say we get down to business and see if we can catch some fish for supper.” Joe said, as he picked up a pole and selected a big, fat, brown earthworm and speared it with the hook. “I can’t tell Pa I was late getting home from school because I went fishin’ without some fish to prove it.” All the boys busily got their poles and baited them, trying to put their pole as close to the spot Little Joe’s was in as possible. Little Joe’s line had barely been in long enough to drown the worm, when it started to pull and go under. Little Joe carefully worked the pole, keeping the line taut, but not pulling it too strongly to avoid breaking the line. After less than a minute, he pulled out a huge catfish. The other boys all shook their heads and tried to put their lines in exactly the spot Joe’s pole had just vacated. After unhooking his catfish, Little Joe carefully selected another earthworm, a red wriggler this time and baited his hook again. This time, he walked a few feet away from where the other boys were and threw in his line. Before the bait was completely submerged, he had another bite. The line disappeared under the water and Little Joe had to work to get this fish on shore. When he finally did, it was another catfish, almost twice as big as the first one. Smiling, Little Joe said, “Well at least I have enough for Hoss now. I had better see if I can get something for me, Pa, and Adam now.” And again he went through the same process, selected yet another site, and within minutes, had another fish, this time a perch.
During this time, the other three boys had exactly 1 nibble—and that one got away. Within 30 minutes of fishing, Little Joe had more than enough for his family’s supper and he spent another 30 minutes catching fish to supplement the other boys’ meager catch. In all, Pete, Lance, and Mitch caught 4 small to medium-sized fish and Little Joe caught 11 big fish. He took home six and gave the others to his friends to share.
“Little Joe, I just don’t understand-we use the same bait, the same kind of pole, and the same spot—why do you always catch all the fish?” Lance said.
“You boys must not be thinking right, I guess,” said Joe, with a chuckle. “You have to think like a fish if you want to catch a fish.” ”
Well does that mean you have to think like a girl to catch a girl, Joe?” Mitch said with a mischievous grin on his face. “Cause if you do, then I am surprised you aren’t wearing high heels and dresses.”
Pete retorted, “Well if I could get that Sarah or Lucy or Jennifer to look at me the way they look at Joe, I would wear a dress and high heels!”
Joe retorted, “If you wear high heels and a dress, I am sure they will all look at you, that’s for sure.” They all laughed and went their separate ways, glad that it was Friday and that they had two days off from school.
Being late leaving for home, made Joe late to get started on his evening chores, which were supposed to be finished before dinner. His being late getting home was a frequent subject for father-to-son talks. Tonight, though when he showed the fish to his brother Hoss, he was so excited to have fresh fish that he volunteered to help Joe finish his chores and eagerly took the fish to Hop Sing to cook for dinner. Hoss generally covered for Joe’s lateness on average of at least every other night, just to keep him out of trouble with his father. Hoss generally tried to protect his little brother from all kinds of trouble—including the wrath of his father. Hoss had probably pulled him out of enough fights to save his life a dozen times over and that was just counting the ones in the past couple of years. Hoss teased Joe frequently, saying that he had a “talent for trouble”.
Joe didn’t seem to mind being teased by Hoss, because Hoss was always there to help him out of trouble and he didn’t lecture him every time he did. Adam, on the other hand, was a different story altogether. Adam, the oldest Cartwright son, had been 15 when Joe was born and after Little Joe’s mother was tragically killed, Adam had helped rear Little Joe. He still felt responsible for Little Joe in many ways. Unfortunately, the way he acted on those feelings often created conflict between the two of them. Their personalities were so different that neither could really understand the other. Yet, they had a deep affection for each other that often went unspoken, mainly due to Adam’s natural reticence to express emotions and Joe’s quick temper and rebellion against authority. Little Joe knew though, deep down, that he could always depend on both his brothers in time of trouble.
Conversation at the dinner table that night was lively and worry-free. Everyone was pleased with Joe’s fish catch, since they hadn’t had fresh fish for several weeks. Hop Sing had fried the fish and for once Adam and Ben gave Hoss a run for his money over whom would eat the most. In the end, Hoss won, but everyone else had done an admirable job. Joe’s fishing abilities were well known in his family. He had been catching more fish than the rest of them combined ever since they first took him fishing. Like his friends, they couldn’t figure out why. Whatever the secret to his success was, Little Joe was not inclined to share it with anyone. Fortunately he was always willing to share his catch, so it didn’t really matter. Ben always said that if they told Hop Sing that either he, Adam, or Hoss were going fishing, Hop Sing would start cooking a chicken for supper. But if Little Joe said he was going fishing, Hop Sing would start making up hush puppies and slaw to go with the fish.
Saturday morning as the Cartwrights were finishing breakfast, several horses rode into the courtyard and someone pounded furiously on the door. Out of long habit, Ben, Adam, and Hoss all waited for Little Joe to answer the door. Also out of long habit, Joe pretended not to notice either the knocking or the looks from his father and brothers. Ben finally said, “Joseph would you please answer the door?” in a calm and quiet voice. Joe rolled his eyes and made quite a big deal of pushing his chair back from the table and ever so slowly headed towards the door. Ben, Adam, and Hoss shared a conspiratorial smile. This was one of the small ways in which they got revenge for Little Joe’s mischief and they all delighted in it.
By the time Little Joe got to the door, the visitor was coming in the house to see what was taking so long. “Hello, Sheriff Coffee, what brings you out so early?” Joe asked, inviting the Sheriff inside. “Well, for a cup of Hop Sing’s coffee and pastry, the ride is worth it, Little Joe.” By this time, Ben, Adam, and Hoss had come to the foyer and were walking back to the dining room table with Joe and the Sheriff. “Hop Sing, please bring Sheriff Coffee a cup of coffee and some of those sweet rolls if Hoss didn’t eat them all” Ben said. Before he could get the sentence out of his mouth, Hop Sing appeared with a tray containing a fresh pot of coffee, cups, and a plate with assorted gooey buns and rolls. Hop Sing served Sheriff Coffee, refilled the Cartwright’s cups, and placed the sweet rolls in the center of the table. Hoss grabbed a sweet roll saying, “I don’t mind if I do.” Ben and Adam raised their eyebrows and stared at Hoss; Little Joe just smiled and shook his head. Little Joe was amazed at how much his big brother could eat.
“Well, Roy, in addition to Hop Sing’s cooking, what brings you to the Ponderosa today?” Ben asked.
“I was just getting to that, Ben.” The Sheriff replied as he swallowed the last of his sweet roll. “I am looking for some help on a little job I have to do. I have to take Nathan Yates to the Yuma Territorial Prison and I need some men to accompany two deputies and me. Someone I know I can trust. I was wondering if you and one of the boys would go with me.” Roy said, looking at Ben. “I figured to leave tomorrow and the trip would take about a week to ten days, I expect.”
“Are you anticipating any trouble, Roy?” Hoss asked.
“Well you know me, Hoss, I am a cautious man. When you are dealing with the criminal element, you have to always anticipate trouble. But you know Yates was one of the Benton gang and they are still around here somewhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t try to ambush us along the way.”
Adam said, “Pa, I could go with him if you would like.”
Little Joe eagerly said, “I can go with ’em, Pa.” Ben said,
“Hoss, why don’t you and Adam go with the Sheriff? I think Joe and I can run things here for a week.” At this Joe scowled, but didn’t say anything. He hadn’t expected his father to let him go anyway. Ben, seeing the scowl, said, “Joe, you have two more weeks of school this term, you can’t possibly leave right now. I doubt if your grades would allow you to miss any more days.” Joe scowled more and his jaw was tightly set. Ben decided to just let it pass. “Well, why don’t we meet at the jail tomorrow, say around 8 am and I believe we could easily make it to Liston Wells by nightfall.”
Roy said to Adam and Hoss. “Be sure to bring plenty of ammunition, just in case.”
“Alright, Roy, we will meet you there in the morning.” Adam and Hoss both said.
Ben walked Sheriff Coffee to the door and then returned to the table to finish his coffee. Adam and Hoss were discussing their upcoming trip and deciding what they needed to do before the next day. Joe, now in a bad mood, was not saying anything. As soon as Ben returned to the table, he got up and mumbled, “I have to go finish my chores” and left the table, slamming the door as he left, just to make sure no one overlooked the fact that he was irritated.
Adam looked up and grinned at his father, “I think our little brother is upset with you, Pa.”
Hoss, always looking out for Little Joe said, “Well, he did volunteer to go, Adam, and I didn’t. Now I don’t mind going, I just didn’t speak up soon enough. But you know how that must have felt to him, what with him trying to be grown up and all.”
Ben smiled and said, “He sure is trying to be grown up, alright. I sure wish he weren’t in such an all-fired hurry to do it.”
“Well, if you ask me, he has a long way to go to grow up; don’t forget that prank last week with Cochise.” Adam said and all three of them chuckled, remembering the chaos that had caused. It just so happened that the three of them had been in town that day when the teacher dismissed class early, and they had seen the commotion when all the kids started pouring out of the school, laughing and talking. All the kids except the one they were looking for. When he didn’t come out, they went over to see what was going on and there in the middle of the classroom was Cochise, nuzzling against Little Joe, trying to look in his pockets for the sugar cubes he knew were in there. Miss Woods, having a hard time keeping a straight face, was attempting to scold Little Joe. All the while, she was gently petting Cochise.
“Yes”, agreed Ben, “He has a way to go, but I for one, am not in that big a hurry for him to get too grown up.”
Hoss said, “me neither, Pa, it would be awful dull around here if he was to get too grown up.”
Adam added, “well he does keep it exciting around here, that’s for sure.”
Joe managed to keep up his injured routine for most of the morning, but by late morning, he found the struggle to stay mad too much effort, so by lunchtime, he was his usual good-natured self, in a good enough mood to pull a couple of minor pranks on Adam, his favorite target. Thanks to Hoss’ intervention, Adam had taken them both good-naturedly. Ben, relieved to see that Little Joe had recovered his good humor and was not going to sulk for the entire week that Adam and Hoss were gone, decided to reward his good behavior. “Little Joe, how would you like to go to Virginia City with me this afternoon?” “Sure, Pa,” Joe answered without hesitation, never passing up an opportunity to go to Virginia City.
“Pa, Hoss and I were thinking of spending the night in Virginia City tonight so we won’t have to get up so early to get there,” Adam said.
“That is a good idea, Adam. Well, why don’t we tell Hop Sing to take the rest of the day off and we can all meet at the International House for an early supper before Joe and I come home?” Ben suggested.
“That’s a great idea, Pa,” Hoss added, ignoring the slight frown on Little Joe’s face. He didn’t mind eating with them, but it just reminded him that they were doing something exciting and he had to stay home and go to school. It just wasn’t fair!
Virginia City was just beginning to really come alive by the time the Cartwrights made it into town. Virginia City was rapidly growing as the silver mines were operating at full force now. There were several hotels, two churches, and at latest count, about a dozen saloons or bars, and more opening every day. All the new people coming into the town had created a need for more banks, stores, hotels, and all other kinds of businesses that people need frequently. Of course, all that prosperity also drew the kinds of businesses that polite people don’t openly discuss. Fortunately, most of these “businesses” were on D Street and not scattered throughout the town.
As they came into town, they stopped at a livery stable on the end of C Street and stabled their horses. Ben Cartwright had always taught his sons to look after their horses before they saw to their own needs. If they were going to be in town for more than an hour, he insisted that they stable the horses, rather than tie them to a hitching post. Little Joe was always happy to oblige, because he didn’t want Cochise standing around in the hot sun for long and he also was afraid someone might steal him, since he was such a spectacular horse. Joe was very particular about Cochise. He gave him extra grain and always emptied the water bucket, rinsed it out and refilled it, before he would leave.
When they finished with the horses, Adam and Hoss said they would meet them for supper at the International House at around 6 and they would go check into the hotel and then check with Roy Coffee to let him know where they were. Ben said, “Joe, I have an appointment with George Reed at the attorney’s office and then I have to go see Harry Lawson at the bank. By then it should be about 6 PM and we could meet Adam and Hoss for supper.”
“Okay, Pa, I will meet you there at 6” Joe said, smiling.
“What are your plans between now and 6, Joe?” Ben asked.
“I thought I would go over to the mercantile or go by and see if Lance or Pete are around.” He replied.
“Well, that sounds alright, Joseph, but let me tell you three things to keep in mind. One, I want you to go first to the barbershop to get a haircut. You seemed to have forgotten that the last time I told you to get a haircut. You look like a riverboat gambler. Second, you stay away from D Street. Third, don’t let me catch you anywhere near a saloon. Is that understood?” Ben said, looking Joe directly in the eyes, leaving no room for him to doubt that he meant every word he said.
“Yes, Pa, I understand.” Joe said with a scowl on his face.
“Just for my peace of mind, Joseph, please repeat what I just told you.” Ben said, still staring at Joe directly in the eyes.
“Go to the barber shop, don’t go on D Street, and don’t let you catch me near a saloon.” Joe mumbled.
“Alright, then, Little Joe, have a good afternoon and I will see you at 6 for supper.”
So Ben went in the direction of the attorney’s office and Little Joe set out to find his friends. He was in luck because when he went to the mercantile, there was a whole group of his friends gathered there, playing checkers. They asked Joe to play the winner of the present game. Watching the two players currently playing, Joe knew he would have no trouble with either one of them. Joe had a knack for checkers, it was a game that his mother had taught him to play when he was a very young child. Although he didn’t remember his mother very well, he did remember what she had taught him about playing checkers. Joe said, “Alright I tell you what, I bet I can beat the winner of this game. Who wants to bet on it?” Although most of the boys knew that it was almost impossible to beat Little Joe at checkers, some of the younger boys or the newer ones in town, didn’t know any better and made bets. Joe bet them two bits each that he would win the game. Finally, after a protracted 45-minute game, Cliff beat Josh, so the board was quickly reset for Joe vs. Cliff. Joe said, “I’ll flip you for first move”, taking a coin out of his pocket, he flipped it and covered it with his hands and said, “What’s it gonna be—heads or tails?”
Cliff said, “Heads”.
Joe glanced down at the coin and said, “Heads it is, you get the first move.” After they had each made about 5 moves, Joe got a gleam in his eye and said, “would you fellows like to make this more interesting?”
The spokesman for the boys who didn’t know Joe that well, said, “Sure what do you have in mind, Cartwright?”
“I bet you double or nothing that I can beat Cliff here with two more moves, no matter where he moves in his two moves.” Joe replied with a serious look on his face.
The boys stared at the board trying to see if Joe saw a way to win the game of if he were just bluffing. They didn’t see anything out of the ordinary so the boy said, “Sure, why not?” With his next move, Cliff moved a black checker onto Joe’s back row and Joe crowned him, pretending to be worried. With Joe’s move, he moved one of his red kings back toward his back row, putting Cliff’s new king in jeopardy, if he didn’t move something in between them. So Cliff moved another black king from Joe’s back row to block the jump that Joe had seen earlier. However, Joe then took his red king and with 5 jumps, took every last black checker on the board. Cliff and the onlookers stared in disbelief and silently retraced the path of Joe’s checker, to make sure he wasn’t pulling something over on them.
Joe just sat there, with his hand held out to be paid. Reluctantly, all the boys who had bet against him pulled out 50 cents and paid Joe. In all, he won $5.00-not bad for 10 minutes work, Joe thought to himself. After the game was over and most of the crowd had dispersed, Lance looked at Joe and said, “Joe, I saw that coin—it was tails, why did you let him go first?”
“Strategy, Lance, strategy” he replied with a smile.
With Joe’s newfound wealth, he bought everyone who was still there a cold sassparillo from the mercantile. “Well I have an hour before I have to meet my Pa at the hotel, what do you want to do until then?” Joe asked.
One of the boys who were with them, Billy Peterson said, “Why don’t we go over on D Street and see if we can get a glimpse of some of the ladies?”
“I can’t go over there,” said Lance.
“Me, neither, my Pa gave me specific instructions about that.” Joe said.
“Well what else is there to do? If we don’t do anything except what your Pa said you could do, we might as well go sit in the church and pray.” Pete said.
“Now wait a minute, let me think, Pa didn’t exactly tell me what I could do, he told me what I couldn’t do. Let’s see, he said go to the barbershop to get a haircut”.
“From the looks of your hair, I would guess you didn’t do that so you are in trouble already.” Lance laughed, knowing how Joe’s Pa hated to see his hair curling over his collar.
“Well that wasn’t my fault, the barber shop was full with a long line.” Joe said, although he knew that he only barely glanced at the barbershop on his way past, so he could truthfully say that there was a line. “Now what was the other things he told me, “Oh, yeah, to stay away from D street, so that is out. And the other thing was not to let him catch me near a saloon.” Joe finished triumphantly.
“Well that leaves out everything then if you can’t go to a saloon.” Lance said disappointedly.
“Now wait a minute, boys, Pa didn’t exactly say I couldn’t go to a saloon. He just said not to let him catch me near one. Well I sure don’t intend to let him catch me near one, but if we play it right we can go to a saloon, but we have to go to one on either C street or on E street. Now, my Pa or my brothers are likely to be in the Silver Dollar or the Sassarack and they are on C Street, so my best bet is to avoid C street altogether. But that leaves E Street, doesn’t it? My Pa never goes to E Street, so there is not much chance that he will catch me near a saloon there, is there?” Joe said happily.
Lance and Pete looked at each other and then looked at Joe with admiration. Pete said, “Joe if you aren’t a rounder, I don’t know who is.” Lance said, “Little Joe are you sure you want to risk it? After all it was just last week that you took Cochise to school and had to work after school for the rest of the week?”
“Heck, cleaning black boards for Miss Woods is no hardship. Haven’t you ever noticed those pretty blue eyes she has?” Joe asked incredulously. Lance and Pete and Billy all said, “Well, what are we waiting for? E Street here we come.” And they were off.
E Street made D Street look plumb elegant by comparison. E Street was made up of rundown, seedy-looking saloons, bars, beerhouses, cheap rooming houses, and quite a few “ladies” working houses. It was frequented mostly by out-of-work miners, derelicts, gunfighters, and by anyone who wanted to avoid being seen by the law in Virginia City. Joe had a moment of guilt when they first came onto the street and saw a lady dressed in a flimsy gown, lounging by one of the saloons, smoking a cigarette. He knew that he was once again doing what his father was always saying, obeying the letter of the law, but not the spirit. Just when he was thinking of suggesting they leave, Pete said, “Did you see that woman? She was smoking a cigarette!”
Joe looked at him and said, “Oh, was she? I didn’t notice the cigarette!” with a mischievous grin on his face. They made their way to one of the “better” looking saloons and went in, trying to look much older than they were. They needn’t have bothered; the bartender looked at them, waiting for an order, so they ordered three beers. They took their beers and went over to a corner table, just to make sure they couldn’t be seen through the window. One of the saloon girls came over and started flirting with them, since it was a slow day and there weren’t any “real” customers in yet. “Does your mother know you are in here?” she asked the boys, looking at Little Joe.
Lance answered quickly, “Why, no, Mam, does yours?” before Little Joe said anything. Lance had been Joe’s friend for a long time and he knew that Joe was very sensitive about three things: his mother, his size, and the fact that he always looked younger than he actually was. She had managed to hit on two of the three sensitive areas in one innocent question. He had seen the cloud pass briefly over Little Joe’s face, but by the end of his question back to the woman, the cloud was gone again. It was hard to keep Little Joe down for long.
Little Joe magnanimously offered to buy the “lady” a drink and she immediately took him up on that, and ordered two double whiskies, one for her and one for him. When the barkeep brought them the whiskies, she asked Little Joe if he was allowed to drink whiskey. He looked at her calmly, picked up the shot glass, and drank it all in one swallow, throwing it into the back of his throat the way he had seen hired hands do it at in the bunkhouse. Although his throat and stomach were burning, he smiled and said, “Well I don’t generally start the hard stuff ’til later at night, but for you, I will make an exception.” Lance, Pete, and Billy were astonished, because they were pretty sure that Joe had never had an ounce of whisky in his life and not many beers before today either. They had sneaked some now and then, but this was their first time in a saloon. They watched in admiration as he talked and flirted with the saloon girl. They did notice that his eyes seemed to be unusually bright, but other than being a little more talkative than usual, he seemed to be doing okay.
But Lance, more worried about apprehension than the other three, decided that it was time to break this up, before they got into trouble. “Little Joe we better be leaving now, or you will be late meeting your Pa and he could come looking for you and then you would be in big trouble. And besides if I am late for supper, my Ma will skin me alive.” He was watching Joe carefully, trying to tell if this was going to be a problem—getting Joe out of there. He was worried when he was talking about Joe’s Pa, but when he got to the part about his own Ma, Joe relaxed and he could tell it would be alright. “I almost made it worse” he thought to himself. “Gotta watch that from now on.” So the four boys said good bye to Abby, Joe quickly leaned over and gave her a kiss, walking away before she could react. As they came out of the saloon, they looked at the clock tower and it said 6 PM.
“Hey, good timing, if we all hurry we won’t be late enough to count.” Joe said. So the boys headed towards C Street and making it there in no time flat, headed off in opposite directions. Joe walked as fast as he could toward the International House, wishing he had a little more time, because though he never would have admitted it to the others, he was feeling a little sick to his stomach and a little bit light-headed. If he could have seen his face, he would have also noticed that his cheeks were flushed and his eyes were very bright.
He hurried into the hotel, feeling more and more queasy, but he didn’t want to be late, or his father would demand to know where he was. Joe never lied to his father, but he always answered only the question asked. When he entered the lobby, Pa, Adam, and Hoss were sitting at the hotel bar, waiting for him. Pa looked at him and said, “Joseph, your hair doesn’t seem to be appreciably shorter than when I saw you last.”
“Pa, there was a long line at the barber shop, it being Saturday and all.” Again this was true, though it had nothing to do with his not getting a haircut. Truth was, Little Joe liked to let his hair grow long. If it were up to him, he would let it grow long like some of the trick gun showmen he had seen. Problem was, his father would not leave it up to him, so Joe did everything he could to postpone the inevitable “scalping” as long as he could.
“Hmm. Well I think we will just have to make another trip into town on Monday and we will both go to that barbershop and if there is a line, I will keep you company while we wait, Joseph.” Ben said.
“Alright, Pa.” Joe said, not really feeling up to arguing right now. He was focusing on remaining upright.
Joe sat down on a stool next to Hoss, as far away from his father and Adam as he could get. “You know, Pa” said Hoss, “I think it is time we introduce Little Joe to the pleasures of a nice cold beer on a hot day like today. Come on Pa, we might as well be the ones to introduce him to beer as some of his friends.”
“He has a point, Pa,” added Adam. “At least we can teach him responsible drinking.” Joe was not saying anything, but he was sure hoping his father would say no. He didn’t think he could handle beer right now. He was feeling more and more queasy. He was sure he would not be able to eat a thing as it was.
Ben looked at Adam and Hoss and said, “Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt for him to have one beer. But Joe, this doesn’t mean you can have one any time you want, is that understood?”
“Yes, Pa,” said Joe, not looking at his father.
“Sam, give Little Joe a beer then!” Sam put a glass of beer in front of him, with the foam dripping down the side of the glass.
Knowing what was expected, Joe picked it up and took a long drink made a face, and said, “That sure does hit the spot.” His father and brothers laughed and went back to finishing their own drinks. But since he knew they were watching him, he knew he HAD to drink all that beer, regardless of the fact that his head was spinning and his stomach was churning. So, to get it over with, he picked it up and emptied the entire glass without putting it down. “Man, that’s good” he said out loud in a forced cheery voice. Hoss, Adam, and Ben watched him, wondering if they had made a mistake.
Shortly after Joe drained the beer glass, the waiter came to tell them that their table was now ready.
The Cartwrights got up and followed the waiter to their table. Ben noticed that Joe was a little unsteady on his feet, so he put his arm around his shoulder to steady him as they walked to their table. When they sat down, Ben said, “I don’t even need to see a menu, Charles, I will have the prime rib.”
“What about the rest of you” Charles asked, indicating Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe. “That sounds good to me” Hoss said.
Adam said, “Me too, what about you Little Joe?”
By this time, Joe was concentrating hard on not passing out, so he said, “Yeah, me too” though he wasn’t even sure what they had ordered and he knew he didn’t want anything to eat.”
While they waited for their meal, fortunately Ben and Adam and Hoss discussed the status of the jobs they were working on, so that Ben could follow up on them while they were gone. Joe focused on just sitting there without falling out of his chair. Now his head was aching and the room was spinning, but he managed to hang on and so far his father hadn’t noticed anything. When the waiter came back to serve them, he started serving them from the other side of the table, starting with Ben, then Adam, and then Hoss.
When he got to Little Joe, he placed the platter with the very rare prime rib, swimming with bloody juice, directly in front of Little Joe. Little Joe took one look at that bloody steak and knew he was a goner. He immediately got up and ran from the dining room. Ben, stunned, quickly followed. He found Joe in the alley behind the hotel, just after Joe had vomited. He was by this time, quite green and quite light-headed. Ben assisted his son, giving him his handkerchief, wiping his forehead, and sitting with him until he was feeling better. After a time, Joe was feeling better and he said he was okay now. Ben said, “Are you sure, son?”
“Sure, Pa, why don’t you go back and finish your dinner? I am not hungry just yet.”
“Well, okay, why don’t you wait on the front porch of the hotel? I won’t be long. And that is the last beer you are going to have for a long time. I am so sorry, son, I didn’t know one beer would make you so sick. You must just not be ready for alcoholic beverages, young man.” Ben said with a concerned, yet puzzled look.
“That’s okay by me, Pa” Joe replied, content to let Ben think that one beer had made him that sick.
By the time, his father and brothers finished their meal and came out to find him, Joe was feeling much better, though he still had a headache and his stomach was still doing some mild rumblings. But at least he didn’t think he was going to die from it by this time. Hoss said, “Joe, I sure am sorry about that, I had no idea it would make you sick.”
“Yes that sure was a surprise, Little Joe” Adam said.
“Well, you boys better get on and get some rest before tomorrow and I had better get this young man home to bed.” Ben said. “Please be careful and don’t take any chances with that Benton gang on the loose.” He cautioned. “Send me a telegram as soon as you get to Yuma and let us know when you expect to be home.”
“Alright, Pa, we will be careful.” “You take care of my little brother for me, Pa” Hoss said. Adam added, “And Little Joe, you take care of our Pa while we are gone.” The men briefly hugged and Adam and Hoss went into the hotel. Ben and Little Joe headed toward the livery stable to reclaim their horses. Joe was sure glad he was riding Cochise so he wouldn’t have to worry about staying on the horse or guiding him home. All he had to do was manage to get in the saddle and Cochise would take him home.
The next morning Ben let Little Joe sleep late, in light of the shape he had been in when they got home the night before. Joe had made it home and up to bed, but Ben could tell it was by sheer willpower. He was about as green as he could ever remember him. He couldn’t believe that one beer could do that. He was really surprised at that because he had figured that by now, Joe and his friends would have managed to get a taste or two. When Joe did finally make it down for breakfast, he looked basically all right, though not bounding with energy as usual. Ben decided they would forego church services this morning. Hop Sing brought Joe some coffee and was going to serve him breakfast, but Joe said he thought he would just have some toast instead. Hop Sing went off muttering in Chinese, but Ben and Joe didn’t pay any attention to it. After Joe drank about half a cup of coffee and eaten some toast, he was looking a little bit better. Ben suddenly had an idea, “Joe, why don’t we ask Hop Sing to fix us a picnic lunch and let’s go to the lake for awhile?” He didn’t have to specify which spot on the lake, they both knew.
Joe said smiling, “that would be great, Pa. That is just what I was thinking.”
So Ben and Joe spent a lazy Sunday afternoon at the lake, enjoying the late spring scenery, looking at the signs of approaching summer. By this time, Joe was feeling much better physically. The headache was just a faint dull reminder and the queasiness of his stomach was gone, as was the lightheadedness of the evening before. After eating the sandwiches and fruit that Hop Sing had sent for their lunch, he almost backs to his usual self. Until his father brought up the subject of the previous evening, that is. “Joseph, I feel I need to apologize to you for last evening” Ben started.
Joe, knowing what was coming, tried to change the subject, “Pa, let’s just not talk about last night, please.”
“No, son, there is no shame in talking about it; it was just an unfortunate situation, that I feel responsible for. I should have paid more attention to how you were responding to the beer before letting you drink it all.” Ben said, holding his hands up to quiet Joe while he finished speaking. Of course, by this time, Joe’ conscience was having a royal battle—should he confess to ease his father’s feelings or should he keep quiet and get away with it? Joe thought it was not fair for him to have the “talent for trouble” as Hoss called it, and to have a conscience, too. He wished he could either quit doing things that made him feel guilty or quit feeling guilty about the things he did.
He looked up at his father’s face and his decision was made. “Pa, it wasn’t the beer I had with you and Adam and Hoss that made me sick. I had a double whisky and two beers in a saloon on E Street yesterday. That is what made me sick. I was already sick when I came to the hotel,” He said, in a rush because he knew if he didn’t say it fast, he would lose his nerve. He found that he couldn’t look his father in the face, so he studied his boots during his confession. After he finished speaking, he waited to hear the outpouring of wrath he expected from his father. After several moments of silence, he was very puzzled, so he sneaked a glance at his father. When he did, he wished he had kept looking at his boots. His father was quietly watching him, with his eyes narrowed, his face hard, and his lips tightly clenched. . “I’m sorry, Pa. I didn’t mean to disobey you.” He said, genuinely remorseful-he just didn’t know why that at the time he was having all these ideas they seemed like so much fun, then after he had done them, he always regretted them. Now he was really regretting letting his father down, once again. He was also regretting his father’s reaction. He had learned from plenty of experience that the longer it took for his father to speak to him, the madder he was. He had also finally learned that when his father was like this, that it was better to not try to keep talking to cover up the silence. That never helped and on occasion, it made things worse. In fact, sometimes he had wound up confessing to something his father didn’t even know about and getting himself in more hot water. He sneaked another glance at his father and saw that his father was still sternly regarding him. He sighed a deep, dejected sigh. Oh, brother, this was not going to be easy to get out of, that was for sure.
“Joseph Francis Cartwright” started Ben.
“Uh-oh” thought Little Joe, not just “Joseph” but “Joseph Francis Cartwright”—that was a sure sign of disaster.
“I thought I gave you explicit instructions to stay out of saloons!” he said angrily.
“No, sir, you just told me not to let you catch me near a saloon, Pa.” Joe answered hesitantly. He knew this was liable to make his father even madder. His father had given him many lectures over the years about his ability to sidestep a rule or an instruction he didn’t like by carefully disregarding the actual intent of the rule. ” I followed the letter of the law, just not the spirit of the law again, I guess. His father continued to glare at him and he forgot one of his lessons from the past. Instead of being quiet and waiting for his father to make the next move, he kept talking to try to fill up the silence. He couldn’t tolerate that silence any longer. “I did go to the barber shop, which is what you told me to do. I did stay away from D Street, as you instructed. And I didn’t let you catch me near a saloon.” He said. He continued to avoid his father’s gaze.
“Joseph, look at me” his father said in that no nonsense tone of voice that Joe knew so well.
“Joseph, I am very disappointed in you. “Every time I think you are finally growing out of some of the mischief you get into and are starting to act responsibly, then you go and do something totally irresponsible. I don’t know what I am going to have to do to get through to you, Son, but I promise you this—I am not going to quit trying. No matter how much pain it causes for you or for me, you have to learn to be accountable and to obey me.” Ben said, his voice very determined. Joe met his father’s gaze steadily but with great difficulty. He hated to have his father mad at him, but even worse he hated to disappoint his father.
“Joseph, what saloon did you go into?” Ben asked, curious despite his anger.
“We went into one on E Street, Pa.”
“Is that where you ordered whiskey?”
“Yeah, Pa, but I didn’t order it, I just drank it.” “Well who ordered it, Joe?”
“The saloon girl, she ordered a double whiskey for her and for me, and then she asked me if I was allowed to drink whiskey and I didn’t want to tell her no, so I just drank it.”
Ben regarded Joe thoughtfully for several minutes. Joe figured he was trying to decide his punishment, and that was what Ben expected him to think. In reality, Ben was recalling the night of Joe’s birth and how happy his birth had made Marie. As he so often did, he wished she had lived to see her son grow up. Sighing, he brought himself back to the present situation.
“Well, Joseph, what have you learned from this experience?” Ben asked with a stern note in his voice.
“That I have to work my way up to double whiskey.” Joe said, trying to lighten the situation a little bit before his father suggested punishment.
“And what else have you learned that might help you avoid situations like this one in the future, Joseph?” Ben asked, with not even a hint of amusement.
“Pa, I know I shouldn’t have done what I did, and that I shouldn’t do it again.” He said, hesitantly.
“But what, Joe?” Ben prompted, catching the hesitancy in his statement.
“Pa, I just don’t know what makes me do things, it isn’t as though I MEAN to do most of the things I do, it is just that when I think of them, I don’t think of the bad things that happen after or worse, how I let you down.” Joe said, sincerely.
“Joe, every action has a reaction. In life, every choice we make has consequences. It is imperative that you learn to consider the consequences of your actions before you act. Failure to do so, may someday lead to severe consequences.” There were reasons I didn’t want you on D Street yesterday, not to mention not wanting you on E Street or in a saloon or drinking whiskey. Those things all put you in environments and situations that could have bad consequences. Consequences that you are obviously not mature enough to handle. You have to learn to obey me when I give you directions, as well as learn to make the right choices yourself. Do you understand that, Joseph?” Ben asked in a strong, firm tone of voice that left no room for misinterpretation.
“Yes, sir, I understand. I promise I will try harder, Pa. I promise.” Joe said with a slight quiver in his voice. He hated to disappoint his Pa worse than anything in the world.
“I shall expect you to keep that promise, Joseph. I will also expect you to stay out of Virginia City except for school for the next 7 days and to confine yourself to the Ponderosa. I also think you should lay in a supply of firewood to last for the next three months. I will expect you to rise an hour early every morning during the next week.” Ben said. He knew that making it in the morning was a double hardship for Joe, since he hated getting up so much and always tried to get in extra sleep in the mornings, by cutting out as much as possible from the morning routine.
“Yes, sir, Pa,” Joe said with relief. He hated to have to chop wood, especially in the morning, but he had been expecting worse, much worse. He didn’t want to miss the dance and it was in two weeks, and that also meant he couldn’t go get a haircut tomorrow!
Just as he was thinking that he had gotten away easy again, his Father said, “Of course that does not exclude our trip to the barbershop in the morning before school, Joseph,” with a smile.
Joe thought to himself, “How does he do that?”
Adam and Hoss were the first of the volunteers to arrive at the Sheriff’s office on Sunday morning. Roy had just brewed a fresh pot of coffee, so he invited Adam and Hoss to join him. The prisoner they were to take to Yuma was having his breakfast in the last cell. He was a large man with a black mustache and almost black eyes. He stared at the Sheriff and Adam and Hoss as he ate his breakfast. Hoss said, “That fella kind of gives me the creeps, the way he stares at us”.
The Sheriff said, “Don’t pay him no mind, Hoss, he is trying to make you nervous, is all. If we get nervous, we are more likely to make a mistake or get careless and that is just what he wants. As long as we pay attention to what we are doing and don’t get careless, I think we will make out just fine. I am thankful you came with me, though. It always increases my confidence to have a Cartwright along on something like this.”
“We are happy to do it, Roy.” Adam replied. “Besides it will give Little Joe a lesson in what it is like to do his chores plus someone else’s” Adam laughed.
“Now, Adam, you know Joe isn’t trying to shirk doing his fair share of the work, he just gets sidetracked too easily.” Hoss said in defense of Joe.
“Yeah, well it doesn’t matter what his motivation is—the bottom line is he does frequently neglect his chores.” Adam replied.
“Adam, since I am the one who usually does ’em when Joe doesn’t, and it don’t bother me none, I don’t see why it should bother you none. You got to be a little more understanding of our little brother, that’s all.” Hoss replied.
Sheriff Coffee interrupted, “You know Adam, I remember a conversation I overheard between your Pa and Joe’s Mama about the same subject, only Ben was saying what you are saying and Marie was saying what Hoss is saying.”
“That can’t be, Roy, Little Joe was too little to do chores before his mother died.” Adam said, looking at Roy as if he had gone crazy.
“Now I said the same subject, not the same person, Adam,” Roy said with a twinkle in his eyes and the ghost of a smile on his face. “Your Pa and Marie were speaking about you, Adam.” At this, Hoss burst into laughter. Adam looked a little taken aback at first, but as Roy joined in Hoss’ laughter, Adam finally couldn’t hold back the laughter either. “I think Little Joe’s just going through normal growing pains, as his mother told Ben you were going through, Adam.”
Adam said, “I guess that is fitting, Roy, a reminder from Little Joe’s mother. I guess you are right. I’ll have to remember that.”
By this time, the other volunteers and the two deputies had showed up, so they got busy and got ready to depart. The group of them started out toward Liston Wells with the prisoner riding between the Sheriff and Adam. His hands were tied loosely so that he could hold onto the saddle horn and the Sheriff held his reins. Hoss alternated with riding on ahead and searching for potential problems and with dropping back to ride beside Adam and Roy to talk with them. Adam and the Sheriff had a close relationship since he had returned from the University. Sheriff Coffee admired Adam for returning to the Ponderosa and taking his place helping his father run the ranch. Adam had had a short youth, with the death of Hoss’ mother and subsequently Little Joe’s mother, he had to assume responsibility for helping his father run the ranch and care for his younger brothers. Roy Coffee had watched him grow up almost overnight and he was really glad to have him along on this trip.
When they stopped for lunch on the way, Roy tied Yates to a tree and told one of the deputies to watch him while they ate. He went over to sit and talk to Adam and Hoss while they ate. “Adam, I expect if we are going to have any trouble with the Benton gang, it will come either tomorrow night or the next night. The road to Liston Wells is pretty flat and open, so there would be no place for them to hide and I think they will want the advantage of a surprise attack.” Roy said to Adam.
Adam thought about what the Sheriff said and then said, “I think you are right, Roy. It would seem to me that the best place for an ambush would be between Liston Wells and Goshen Flats at the point where the elevation starts to change, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, Adam, that would give them a good place to hide out, they could see us coming for miles before we got there and we wouldn’t be able to see them until we were right up on ’em.” Roy said, considering what Adam had pointed out.
“What do you think is our best way to deal with that, Roy?” Hoss asked.
“Well I don’t know anyway except head on and keep our guns drawn the whole time.” Roy said.
Adam was thinking, though and he thought he might have a way to better the odds of getting the prisoner to Yuma, without risking a direct confrontation with the Benton gang. “Hoss, do you remember that time you and I went to Yuma cross-country to herd those steers to the Wilford Ranch?” he asked his brother.
Hoss slowly nodded his head and said, “Yeah, Adam, I remember that. We went all the way around Goshen Flats, didn’t we?”
“Roy, what if we changed directions and didn’t go by way of Goshen Flats? The Benton gang would have no way of knowing that for sure and we could avoid them altogether.”
“Well, Adam, that sounds like a right good idea, but won’t that add several days to the trip?” Roy asked.
“Yes, it is a long way out of the way and it would probably add at least 3 days and it is hard riding, but we could make up some of it on the return trip when we wouldn’t have to worry about the Yates’ escaping.”
Hoss added, “That sounds like a good plan to me, too, Roy. Besides there isn’t much going on at the ranch anyhow. We could send a wire when we get to Yuma telling Pa that we will be back a little later than we thought, that way he won’t be worrying.”
“All right, boys, we will do it, but let’s not tell anyone else until the morning. We might as well keep it to ourselves.” Roy said, with a wink at Hoss and Adam. “We will just go on to Liston Wells tonight and in the morning instead of going towards Goshen, we will go your way. I expect it will be at least two days before the Benton gang could figure out that we went a different way. The more I think about this plan, Adam, the better I like it.” Roy said.
Monday morning, Little Joe and Ben had breakfast alone. Hop Sing, used to cooking for four men, including Hoss who could eat as much as all the others put together, had made way too much, but the aroma sure smelled good. Joe was up on time for a change and was being very cooperative to make up for the deception of Saturday. He also was hoping that if he could get busy doing something and get his father involved in some ranch business, then perhaps Pa would forget about that haircut. He didn’t see why his father insisted on his keeping his hair cut so short. He liked it when it was longer and the girls really liked it when it curled down over his collar. Jennifer had said that was one of the first things she noticed about him, even when they were little and they had just moved here. She said she had always wished she had curly hair like his.
Thinking about Jennifer made Joe think of the dance in town next Saturday. He couldn’t wait because by then school would be over for him! He could hardly wait. All of a sudden he realized that his father was speaking to him. “Er, sorry Pa, I was just thinking. What did you say?” he asked.
“You must have been thinking deep thoughts, Joe, I called your name three times.” Ben said, with a smile. “I said why don’t you hurry up and let’s go on into Virginia City for that haircut this morning so I can get back to the ranch by lunch time?” Ben repeated.
“Oh, Pa, do you really think I need a haircut bad enough to make a special trip to town for?” Joe asked, wishfully.
“Yes, son, I sure do. Now hurry up with your breakfast so we can get started.”
“Pa, you don’t have to go, I will go get a haircut by myself.” Joe said, resignedly.
“No, Joseph, I said I was going with you and I am going with you. That way there will be no excuses and I won’t have to send you back to get it shortened again like I did the last time.” Ben said firmly, though without anger. He was quite accustomed to the constant tug-of-war over the length of Joe’s hair. Joe had shied away from haircuts all his life and it didn’t look like it was ever going to change. I guess when he gets really grown, he will have his hair as long as he wants, but not as long as I maintain some control, he thought to himself.
When they rode into Virginia City, they were surprised to see a crowd of people at the schoolhouse and there were kids playing in the schoolyard, although it was still over an hour until time for school to start. “Joe, what is going on at the schoolhouse this time of the morning?” Ben asked.
“Beats me, Pa, I don’t know anything about it.”
“Was there some parent-teacher meeting today that you forgot to tell me about?” Ben asked.
“Not that I know of, Pa.” Joe said, truthfully. “Well we better ride on over there and see what it is about then”
Ben said. “Yes, sir, Pa” Joe said with enthusiasm, thinking he might escape that haircut after all.
When they approached the schoolhouse, they dismounted and tied their horses to the shaded hitching posts designed for children to tie their horses to for an all day period. As they came up the stairs, Miss Woods was standing in the doorway, greeting parents and children. “Hello, Mr. Cartwright, Little Joe, I am so glad you came.”
“Miss Woods, I have to confess I didn’t know about this meeting. What is the purpose?” Ben said, shaking her hand and smiling at her. “I fear my son failed to pass on some important information to me” Ben said, glancing at his son, who gave his father a wide-eyed innocent look.
“Joseph, did you show your father the paper I handed out at the end of the day on Friday?”
“What piece of paper?” Joe said, but just as he got it out of his mouth, he remembered shoving the piece of paper in his books. He reached into his book and pulled it out. “Oh, do you mean this piece of paper?” he asked sheepishly.
“Yes, Joe, that piece of paper. Did you even look at it?”
“No, Ma’am, the bell rang and I forgot.” Joe said.
Miss Woods smiled and said, “Well, no matter, since you are here anyway.” “The purpose of the meeting, Mr. Cartwright, is to announce that the school district has approved our application to become a full secondary education school site, effective next fall.” “The meeting today is to inform everyone of the new opportunities that will be available for students right here in Virginia City to finish their high school education.” Miss Woods said, enthusiastically.
Joe felt like someone had just punched him in the middle, knocking the wind out of him. This was the absolute worst thing that could have happened. All he could think was if he had gotten that haircut on Saturday, his father wouldn’t have come into town and he wouldn’t have heard about this. His father and Miss Woods were talking about what wonderful news that was for the residents of Storey County and talking about how they were going to have to build on to the school and hire more teachers, etc. Joe was silent during this time, hoping it was all a bad dream. Finally, Miss Woods said, “Well I think the meeting is about ready to begin. Mr. Canton from the School Board is going to start the meeting, then I will discuss what this means to our currently-enrolled students, like Joseph” she said, looking at Joe and smiling. Joe didn’t return the smile, as he was still in shock. His father noticed that he looked less than pleased, but made no comment.
The meeting lasted for about 30 minutes, although Joe didn’t hear much of it. The only thing he heard was that, effective next Fall, there would now be 11 grades of education available in Virginia City, rather than the current nine. For Joe that meant he could conceivably have to go to school for another 2 years! He couldn’t have felt any worse if he had just been sentenced to two years in prison. Adding to his anxiety was the reaction his father had had to the news—as if this was a good thing. When the meeting was over, it was almost time for school to begin, so he didn’t have a chance to talk to his father about school. He didn’t want to bring it up until he had time to think about it and strategize the best way to approach it. Ben knew that it wasn’t good news as far as Joe was concerned, so he said, “Joe, we will talk about this more later, Son. Come straight home after school.”
Joe looked at his Pa and said, “Sure, Pa, see you after school” and turned and went back into the schoolhouse, not even noticing the girls who were trying to get his attention. He realized that his father had forgotten to tell him to get a haircut and ordinarily, that would have been a small victory, but he was so concerned about the school change that he didn’t even care.
When the bell rang, Joe went into the classroom and took his customary seat, next to Molly Carter, one of the prettiest girls in town. He used to sit in the back of the classroom next to Lance or Pete, but Miss Woods had moved him to the front of the classroom during her second week in Virginia City. She thought that if he were closer to the front, he would be less likely to let his mind wander. When she had told him to move to the front of the room, there had almost been a fight between the girls trying to make room for him to sit next to them, and that was when he was only 13 years old. His charm had increased since then, and so had his popularity. She had thought that having him in the front row helped somewhat with his attention span. However, she noticed today that he wasn’t paying attention at all. “Joe, what do you think of what Mary Anne just said?” she asked loudly.
“I really can’t say because I didn’t hear what she said.” Joe said, disinterestedly.
Miss Woods was taken aback—where did that attitude come from? “Well, why don’t you read pages 30-35 in your history book during recess and then we can hear your opinion of that right after the break” she said, not unkindly. “The rest of the class may go for the recess now.” Miss Woods said, dismissing the class. Most of the students rushed out of the room, but a few looked at Joe uncertainly. Lance and Pete were probably the only two who knew what was wrong with Joe and they felt the same way so they wanted to talk to him. “Lance, Pete, do you need to read your history lesson, too?” Miss Woods asked them.
“NO, Ma’am” they said and turned and ran out of there quickly.
“Joseph, when you have finished reading your lesson, you may join the rest of the class.” Miss Woods said, smiling at him. She was really surprised when he did not reply nor return the smile. He sat there and appeared to be reading; though as she watched him, she wasn’t sure he was actually reading.
After about 10 minutes he said, “I have finished. May I go out now?”
“Yes, Joe if you have read all the lesson and understand it, you may go join the others.” Joe got up and left the classroom. However he didn’t stop at the playground and he didn’t join the others. He went directly to where Cochise was, mounted him, and rode away fast—without looking back.
He rode steadily for several minutes at a very fast gallop. Cochise loved to run, so he was enjoying this. Little Joe seemed to let the horse lead the way. Since he had no destination in mind when he left, it was just as well that Cochise knew where they were going. After about 20 minutes, he began to realize what he had done. He had skipped school before and he had been late for school many times, but he had never actually left during school without permission. He just felt like he had to escape, he had to get away somewhere to think and he couldn’t stand to be cooped up in that classroom all day. As usual when he needed to be alone with his thoughts, he turned towards his special place on a rocky outcropping overlooking the shores of Lake Tahoe, the site where most of the few memories he had of his mother took place, and the site where she was buried.
Joe often wondered what it would be like for his family if his mother had not died. He had been slightly less than five years old, and Hoss was 13 and Adam was 19 when she died. Although he loved his Pa and brothers and he knew they loved him, he felt that they didn’t always understand him and he thought that his mother would have understood. And although he loved his father more than anything else on earth, he did sometimes feel kind of sad when he would spend time with his friend’s families, where there was a father and a mother. He always told people that he didn’t miss not having a mother since he had never really known what it was like, but that wasn’t really true.
Ever since he was a child, when he would spend the night with one of his friends, like Lance or Pete, their mothers would fuss over him to make him feel welcome. He enjoyed it, but it also made him sad because it made him feel the loss of his own mother. That was the way he was feeling now–overwhelming sadness.
He wasn’t sure why the bad news about the school triggered these feelings, but he just couldn’t there in that desk in that classroom all day. As he sat at the lake, watching the ducks and geese flying overhead, and seeing the occasional turtle jumping off a log into the water, and the blue sky with puffy white clouds, and the clear aqua blue water of Lake Tahoe, he let all those bottled up feelings wash over him. As the intensity of his emotions decreased, a sense of peace and calmness replaced them. This was why this was his special place. No matter what was troubling him, he always felt better after coming here to this place that was his mother’s favorite spot on the Ponderosa.
As he sat there thinking, he lost all track of time. He was still sitting there when Cochise decided it was time to go home for supper. He came over and started nuzzling Little Joe, as if to say, “Hey, wake up. It’s time to go home.” Joe started talking to Cochise and petting him, and gradually reconnected with the world. He looked at the sun and realized that it was late, and that he should have been home from school already. He vaulted onto Cochise’s back and headed towards the Ponderosa. He knew he would have to tell his father that he had left school, but thought if he could get home and get his chores done that he could at least wait until after supper. Pa was always in a better mood after supper, especially if Hop Sing had made a spectacular meal.
As Joe rode up to the ranch house, he saw that he would not be lucky after all. For there, sitting on the porch drinking iced tea with his father, was Miss Woods. She must have come out to tell Pa that Joe had left school. Oh, well, might as well get this over, he thought and rode on into the yard and dismounted. “Charlie, will you take care of Cochise for me? I need to talk to Pa.” Joe asked a ranch hand.
“Sure, Joe, your Pa told me to tell you to go straight to the house when you got here.” Charlie said.
Joe squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and walked with his head held high directly over to where his father and teacher were waiting. “Hello, Miss Woods. Hi, Pa.” Little Joe said. Before his father or teacher could reply, he added, “I am sorry I left school without permission, Miss Woods. I hope you weren’t worried.” Miss Wood’s facial expression changed from one of reproach to one of concern. Ben also was surprised by Joe’s forthrightness. Ben knew that Joe would never actually lie about something, but he did frequently try to conceal or minimize certain facts to reduce his culpability.
“Well, Joseph, I appreciate your honesty. However, we are waiting to hear what you have to say for yourself.” Ben said firmly, looking his son directly in the eyes.
“I just had to get away from everybody so I could think, Pa.” Joe said. When Joe said that, Ben knew immediately where he had spent the afternoon.
“Where were you, Son?” he asked, merely for something to say to give him a little time to think himself.
“I was at the lake, Pa.”
“I see,” said Ben. “Joe, what was it you had to think about?” Miss Woods asked. Ben knew without asking what Joe was thinking about, but thought it was good to let Miss Woods ask Joe that question, so he didn’t interrupt.
Joe answered, “The school changes you told about this morning, Miss Woods.”
“Joe, I don’t understand. I told the class about applying to increase the curriculum available at our school at least two months ago, and have mentioned it several times since then. Are you telling me that this is the first time you have heard about it?” she asked incredulously.
“Yes, Mam” Joe answered, blushing, embarrassed to admit that he obviously hadn’t been paying attention for quite some time. Miss Woods didn’t say anything, but continued to look at Joe with a thoughtful expression on her face.
“Miss Woods, I apologize for my son’s disobedience this afternoon and the anxiety it caused you. I assure you that it will not happen again. I appreciate your coming out to discuss it with me today. I think that my son and I have some things to discuss privately. After that, I will need to speak with you again. May I come by the school one afternoon after classes are dismissed?”
“Yes, of course, Mr. Cartwright, any day this week will be fine.” She said, smiling and rising from her chair.
“Joseph, would you get Miss Woods’ buggy ready for her?” Ben asked his son calmly.
“Sure, Pa,” Joe said and quickly headed for the barn, glad to get away from that, for even a few minutes.
A few minutes later, Miss Woods was on her way back to Virginia City. Ben turned to Joe and said, “Joe, get to the barn and get your evening chores finished. We will discuss this further after dinner.” With that, Ben turned and went into the house and Joe dashed across the courtyard to the barn.
After sending Joe to do his chores, Ben found himself at his big leather-covered desk, gazing at the silver-framed picture of Marie, Little Joe’s mother. He picked up the frame and fingered it carefully. He knew every nook and cranny of that picture frame, from many years of running his fingers over it as he thought about Joe and his mother. “Marie, what would you do if you were here with us?” he asked the picture, looking at it as if he fully expected to get an answer. “You told me a long time ago that you didn’t think our young son would ever be a scholar.” He said reminiscing. “He has certainly lived up to that prophecy. But, he could be if he wanted to be”. Ben smiled, thinking about how very bright Joe actually was. Hoss and Joe always teased Adam about being the smart one in the family, and Adam was certainly the most scholarly of his three sons. He had worked diligently in the little county school, and had then gone on to earn both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture and engineering at Harvard in just 5 years. Although Ben had many misgivings about allowing Adam to leave to go to a university so far away and for such a long time, Ben had known that it was the right thing for Adam.
Hoss had a wealth of common sense and was very knowledgeable about ranching, but he had never shown an aptitude for book learning. Hoss had tried hard in school and had made acceptable grades, through his hard work and desire to do what was expected of him. There had been no question that Hoss be allowed to end his schooling when the local school had to be closed for a short period to find a new teacher. When they had finally found one, Hoss was so near the age at which he could legally finish, that Ben had not made him return at all. He had never once regretted that decision. But now, here he was faced with making this decision regarding Little Joe’s education. In this area, as in just about every area he could think of, Little Joe was different from both his brothers. The decision was not as clear as it was with either Adam or Hoss. Joe was as bright as Adam, but he didn’t have the same interest in learning esoteric things as Adam. Ben knew that Joe had the ability to do anything that he wanted to do. And that, he thought, is just the problem. If it was something that he was interested in doing, no one better get in his way, because he would get it done. On the other hand, if he weren’t interested in doing whatever it was, then one might as well forget it or do it themselves, because if Joe wasn’t interested in something, he would expend more effort in NOT doing it than it would take to do it. Ben knew that Joe was going to be a rancher and that the Ponderosa meant as much to him as it did to his father and brothers, perhaps even more, since he had been born here. He had learned much about the ranching, mining, cattle, horses, and timber aspects of the Ponderosa. He was the most knowledgeable about the horse side of the ranch, being the best horse breaker and trainer and rider of the family. With more experience, guidance, and maturity, Ben had no doubts that Joe could run the ranch successfully, by himself with no further education. In fact, Ben admitted to himself, the dilemma he faced had little to do with education, and much to do with Joe’s safety. Along with Joe’s physical appearance, he had inherited his mother’s warmth, energy, sense of humor, lively imagination, and intelligence. On the other hand, he had also received Marie’s quick temper, impulsiveness, obstinence, and strong emotions. These traits made Joe an absolute joy to his family, but they also made him push the limits and strain at authority—his or anyone’s.
Since the day he was born, it seemed, Joe had been headed for disaster, in much the same way as his mother had. In truth, these traits had already gotten him into far more dangerous situations than Ben liked to think about. Little Joe Cartwright had been shot, beaten up, robbed, kidnapped, framed for murder, stranded in the desert, and shot with an arrow, just to name a few. Thus far, although he had been physically or emotionally injured many times, his father and brothers had always been there to save him. Ben constantly worried that some day, Joe would face the ultimate dangerous situation, and his family would not be there to save him. This fear was the driving force behind the firm disciplinary stance that Ben had always taken with Little Joe. He felt that if he was a firm and strong disciplinarian with Joe, perhaps he could keep him safe from that “ultimate danger”. Yet, the older Joe got, the harder it was to control that “wild” side of Joe. Ben constantly tried to dampen the wild side of Joe, without doing irreparable damage to his personality and spirit.
Ben, like Joe, had not really even given any consideration to sending Joe to one of the larger schools to continue his education, and he knew that Joe would never agree to go to a university. Ben had no intentions of sending his youngest son away from home against his will. His family would miss him too much for that and he was sure that Joe would miss his family too much, too. And it would in fact, be a waste of time and money, because if Joe didn’t want to go, he wouldn’t have learned a thing. Ben smiled slightly as he thought of the many attempts Adam had made to get Joe interested in school. He had planned to let Joe withdraw from school after his next birthday. However, since he had learned about the expansion of the local school, he had been thinking that perhaps this might be the right thing to do for Joe. This way, he would still be home, wouldn’t have to go far away, but for two more years would be in a school environment. The additional two years could provide some of the maturity and experience that Joe needed to stay out of trouble. He wished Marie could be there to help him decide what to do.
Joe went to the barn, to feed and bed down the horses for the night. As he was rubbing down Cochise, Hop Sing entered the barn. With his eyes searching Joe’s, Hop Sing asked, “Little Joe, what trouble you get into at school?” Miss Woods come see Mr. Cartlight and both have worried face.” Joe, always comfortable confiding in Hop Sing, told him the entire story. Hop Sing looked at him sympathetically and said, “Little Joe, if honorable father, Mr. Cartlight wants number 3 son to go two more years, Little Joe must honor father and go to school for two more years. Missy Woods say “Joseph could make good grades if he would just concentrate and try.”
“No, Hop Sing, that isn’t so. I TRY to concentrate and I just can’t. That is what I can’t seem to make Pa understand. I am trying, but I can’t make my mind “pay attention”. Hop Sing patted Joe on the arm sympathetically. He hated to see Little Joe in trouble or upset.
Supper was a subdued meal that evening on the Ponderosa. Ben and Joe were both lost in their own thoughts—although they were both thinking about the same subject. Finally after the meal, which neither of them fully appreciated, according to Hop Sing, Ben asked Joe to join him in the living room to discuss school. “Joseph, I know you didn’t mean to worry anyone when you left school today, but in fact, Miss Woods was very concerned for your safety. I don’t know what she would have done if Pete and Lance had not told her that you probably just went out to the Lake to think. You must not do that again. Is that understood?” Ben started.
“Yes, sir, Pa.” Joe said, passing up the opportunity to say “not go out to the lake or not think, Pa?”
“And as for the expanded school option, I think we both need to think about that. Although we hadn’t really discussed it yet, I was not planning to insist that you go to a larger school to complete the two additional years of school, mainly because I didn’t want you to have to live away from home during the week. That is probably selfish on my part, but that was what I was thinking. However, having the expanded option available in Virginia City makes the situation much different. Joe, if you should decide that you want to get a university education, you would need those two years of basic schooling first. Adam had to take his in Boston before he entered the University.” Ben said.
Joe was squirming in his seat during this entire conversation, and finally, he could stand it no more, and said, “Pa, I don’t want to ever go to a university, and I don’t want to go to any more school after next week. I don’t need to think about it any more. Getting out is all I have been thinking of for two years all ready.” Joe’s face was set in a determined expression and he looked his father directly in the eyes as he said it. Ben, returning Joe’s gaze, recognized the look in his son’s green eyes. He had seen that look in his son’s eyes many times during his life, but he had seen it in his mother’s eyes many times before that. He knew that he was not going to get anywhere tonight by reasoning with Joe and since he wasn’t sure what he should do, he didn’t want to give Joe an ultimatum.
Instead, he said, “Joe, we are not going to make a decision tonight. We have until your 16th birthday to make this decision. All I am asking you tonight is to think about it, Son. Will you do that for me?” Ben asked, holding Joe’s gaze until he was forced to answer.
“All right Pa, I will think about it. But I won’t change my mind.” Joe said, with a determined look in his face. His father, seeing that, knew that he was right—Joe wouldn’t change his mind, so he knew that he had to make the right decision for Joe and he had to be willing to enforce it—against his son’s will, if necessary.
Hoss was awakened by something tickling his face. At first he merely brushed at his face with his hand. Then the tickling came back, more pronounced this time. Hoss swatted at his face and said, “Little Joe, I am going to clobber you!” When he opened his eyes, he was surprised to find Adam at the other end of the feather instead of Little Joe.
Adam, laughing by now, said, “I figured you were missing Little Joe by now, so I thought this might make you feel better.” Hoss stretched and looked around sleepily, seeing that most of the others were just now waking up, too.
“What I am missing more than my little brother right now is my breakfast” Hoss said. “The coffee is ready. Let’s go see what we can rustle up for breakfast,” Adam said.
After they had eaten breakfast, Sheriff Coffee said, “All right everyone, we ride in 15 minutes. Let’s get moving and get underway.”
Everyone set about packing up their gear and getting their horses ready. When they were ready to go, Roy led off, heading toward Yuma. After riding for about two hours, they came to a division of the trail. The straight way led toward Yuma directly through Goshen Flats. This was the fastest; most widely traveled route and the one that they were expected to take. Sheriff Coffee, however, turned his horse and that of the prisoner, toward the smaller of the two trails; the one that led to Yuma through a circuitous route that would take several extra days.
One of the deputies questioned Roy about the route, but Sheriff Coffee just said, “This is the way we are going and I don’t want to hear any complaints.” Adam and Hoss were carefully watching the rest of the men to see if anyone seemed particularly upset about the change of directions. Hoss thought that the man who had initially objected seemed to be more distressed than expected. He planned to keep an eye on him.
The rest of the morning went uneventfully. They came to a level, partially shaded spot and decided to stop there for the noon meal. Adam and Hoss spent the time talking about the Ponderosa and the other two members of their family. Adam asked, “I wonder if Pa is going to let Little Joe quit school after this year or if he will make him go another two years.”
“What do you mean, Adam? You know Pa is not going to make Joe go to school somewhere else and he will be finished with school in Virginia City in another week, unless Pa makes him go until his birthday in the fall.”
“No, didn’t you hear that they have applied to extend the Virginia City school for two more years?” Adam asked.
“No, I sure didn’t and Joe hasn’t mentioned it either.” Hoss said.
“He probably was hoping Pa wouldn’t find out or something,” Adam said.
“No, if he had known anything like that, we would have been able to see that something was bothering him. You know how he is when he is worried about something—he can’t hide his feelings. And I haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary.”
Adam said, “Hoss, Joe probably hasn’t even been paying attention to what was being said. You know how he is, if he isn’t actively doing something, he is daydreaming about actively doing something.” Adam said with a smile.
“Yes sir, he is either moving or lost in another world,” Hoss said
“It is a shame, too, cause Joe has a fine mind, but I can’t see him ever going off to college.” Adam said.
“Well, I am glad, cause I don’t want him to go off to college. Your going off to college was bad enough, I don’t want to lose another brother for five years to the city.” Hoss said. Then he looked thoughtfully at Adam; “Do you still miss the East, Adam?”
“Yes, Hoss, I do miss the East, but it is not so much the East itself, as it is the difference in civilization there. I liked not having to carry a gun to protect myself. I wonder sometimes how our life would be different in the East than it is here. Pa wouldn’t have to worry about Joe getting into a gunfight in the East. Nobody wears guns there.”
Hoss said, “Adam, if we had lived in the East, Joe and me would have long ago left home to head West. Neither one of us is cut out to live in the East. Now you and Pa can be at home in both places, though you are certainly more at home in the East than even Pa. You may be more at home in the East than in the West, but you still fit in here. Me and Joe wouldn’t fit-in back East. Me, especially. Joe might like it for awhile, but eventually, he would feel cramped and would want to run free.” Hoss said.
Adam listened carefully to his brother’s assessment and found it to be amazingly insightful. Hoss had nailed it—Ben, more at home in the West, but could live in the East; himself, more at home in the East, but could live in the West; but Hoss and Joe could only be happy in the wide-open west. This helped Adam put something that had long worried him in perspective. He constantly struggled with his desire to return to Boston or some other eastern city to live. He had tried to think of scenarios where his family would move with him to the city.
He now realized he had no choice if he wanted to stay with his family—he could choose to live in either place, but his two brothers didn’t have that option. Hoss was right; he would never fit in back east. He would be miserable with the routines of polite society. Joe would do better than Hoss in society, especially with the young ladies of society. But he would never be happy in such a formal lifestyle. He couldn’t see either of his brothers working in, say, a bank. The very idea was ludicrous and brought a smile to Adam’s face. He knew that, finally, he had an answer to his internal dilemma. It was so simple; really, he loved his family and wanted to be with them, the only place to do that was the Ponderosa. So the Ponderosa would always be his home. He felt like a heavy burden had finally been lifted. He might always miss the East, but it could never again be his home.
As they sat there, both lost in their own thoughts, there was the sound of a scuffle and a shot fired. Both Adam and Hoss immediately drew their pistols and moved behind a rock until they could see what was happening. What they saw was that the Sheriff had just shot the deputy whom had been upset about the direction change. As he lay dying, the prisoner moved over to him, talking to him, calling him his little brother. No wonder the deputy had been upset about the change in plans; he was supposed to guarantee that the party was taken by surprise when his brothers ambushed the party. Now he was dead and there was no way the rest of the gang would know what happened. Before they moved on, they buried the man and Roy Coffee said a few words over the grave. The prisoner seemed to have lost his spirit along with his brother. Roy thanked Adam for his change of plan idea. It probably saved them from an ambush and saved a lot of lives—both theirs and the outlaws. “I am thinking we should have a pretty safe trip from here on out, but let’s keep our eyes open, just in case.”
At breakfast the next morning, Ben tried to carry on a normal conversation to ease the strain of the previous day. Joe cooperated as best he could. He had never been able to hide his emotions. Whatever his mood, angry, worried, happy, sad—whatever, it showed clearly on his face and in his body language. This morning, Joe was clearly worried, but he tried to hide it, because he didn’t want his father talking with him about school any more. Not now, not ever. Ben, sensing that, steered the conversation to ranching activities. “Joe did you have a chance to look at that string of horses that Jed brought in a couple of days ago?” he asked Joe.
“Yeah, Pa, I gave ‘em the once-over is all.”
“Well, what do you think?”
“There are some really good horses there, Pa. I would say out of the 20, about 14 of ‘em are going to be very good working horses. Of the other 6, two of ‘em are going to be even better. Of the other 4, two are going to be average and two are not going to make it as a cutting horse, but would be suited for light riding or something like that. Maybe we could sell them to the livery stable.” Joe said, methodically. As he mentioned them, he thought of each individual horse, one at a time. “Of all of ‘em, the best one is the red sorrel. With proper breaking and training, that will be a mighty fine horse.”
“As good as Cochise?” Ben asked, with a smile.
“Now, Pa, you know there isn’t another horse as good as Cochise!” Joe said, laughing with his father. Joe made no secret of his love for his pinto horse, which he named after the great warrior Indian chief of the same name. “Cochise is the best horse in the territory, Pa, you know that.” Joe said.
“I was just teasing you, son. I appreciate what a fine horse Cochise is.” Ben said, holding his hands up to signify surrender. “When do plan to start breaking ‘em, Joe?” Ben asked.
“Well, I thought I would get started this afternoon after school, unless you wanted me to get on it faster, and I could just stay home and work on them today.” Joe said, more as wishful thinking than as a statement.
“I just bet you would, Joe, and I appreciate your willingness to get started, but there is no real hurry. After school will be just fine.”
Joe’s face lost some of its prior enthusiasm, but he begrudgingly said, “Sure, Pa, I will get right on it after school.”
“Joe, one more thing, do you think you could manage to go by the barber shop and get a haircut after school?” Ben asked with a semi-stern look on his face. J
oe sighed a deep sigh, “I will try, Pa.”
“See that you do, young man.”
Joe sat through class that day, with his eyes open and looking toward the front of the class, but his thoughts were far, far away. He thought about his few memories of his mother, of his brothers and father, of Cochise, of the Ponderosa, of that whiskey he had drunk just a couple of weeks ago, and any other thing he could think of to occupy his mind. He was careful to pay just enough attention so that if his teacher called on him, he could bluff his way to an answer, even if it were the wrong answer. “Would this school year ever end?” He asked himself about 50 times that day. Miss Woods did call on him a couple of times when she was sure he wasn’t paying attention, but his method worked and he was able to convince her he was paying attention. He got one answer correct and one “almost” correct, so she decided he was at least trying to pay attention. As soon as the first recess started, his friends started asking him where he had gone yesterday. His unplanned “early dismissal” had increased his reputation among his peers, who admired his bravery. It took a lot of courage to ride out of school without telling the teacher or anyone, knowing that he would definitely be caught. His friends wanted to know what he had done, but more importantly, they wanted to know what punishment he got or if he got away with it. “Well when I got home, Miss Woods was sitting on the porch, talking to my father, if that tells you anything.” Joe said.
“What punishment did your father give you?” Lance asked.
“He just talked to me,” Joe said.
“Oh, sorry, Joe” Lance and Pete both said at the same time. They somehow had the idea that a talking to from Joe’s father would be worse than any punishment their own Pa’s could ever give out. Joe was inclined to agree with them, because a talking-to from his father always made him feel so guilty, which he was sure, was the intent of his father. He had always thought that he would prefer a fast tanning, cause once it was over, it was over. But his father seldom resorted to that, though he had on occasion when he felt it was the only way to get Joe’s attention.
Joe made it through the entire day and when the bell rang, he decided that he had better go on and get that haircut, as much as he would have liked to claim he forgot it. He knew he would look guilty and then his father would know that he willfully disobeyed again and there would be another lecture and probably another trip to town early,
accompanied by his father. He didn’t want to risk that. So, Joe accompanied by Pete and Lance went over to the barbershop. Pete and Lance came along to give Joe moral support, since they knew how bad he hated getting a haircut. They didn’t really understand because by the time Joe finished telling the barber what and how to cut his hair, it didn’t look a lot different when the haircut was finished, than before. On more than one occasion, his father had made him go back and have it done again on the same day. But Joe lucked out this day—there was a sign on the barbershop door that said CLOSED FOR WEEK DUE TO EMERGENCY. There was no other real barber in Virginia City, except the ones that worked on D or E streets and since Joe was not allowed to go there, he couldn’t very well get a haircut. Smiling, Joe said, “Well someone up there must be on my side today! I am going to get home and get started breaking those new horses. Would you like to come watch?” Both Lance and Pete enthusiastically agreed. Although they rode horses and Lance’s father owned a few horses, neither of them had the opportunity to work with breaking wild horses like Little Joe did. They admired the way he rode the horses and loved watching him work with them. Joe was glad for the company, and it wouldn’t hurt to have someone along to corroborate his news about the barber.
When they got to the Ponderosa, they went straight to the kitchen, where they were met by a smiling Hop Sing with freshly baked chocolate cake and cold milk. Hop Sing always had a special treat ready for Joe when he got home from school, as a reward for making it through one more day. Hop Sing had watched Joe’s mother struggle with trying to teach him when he was little and even then, he had hated to have to sit still for longer than 5 minutes at a time. Hop Sing was always prepared for visitors, so the two extra boys were welcomed.
As they were finishing off their cake and milk, Ben came into the house. When he entered the front door, he called out “Little Joe”, where are you?”
“Over here, Pa,” Joe answered. When Ben came around the dining room table, he was glad to see Joe’s friends. He asked them about their parents and siblings and joined them for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake that Hop Sing brought him. As he was watching the three boys talk, he noticed that Joe’s hair was curling down over his shirt collar. While he waited for the conversation to pause, he remembered how he and his mother used to argue about Little Joe’s hair, when he was little more than a baby. Joe had been born with thick dark brown, very curly hair. His mother loved his hair and hated to have it cut, even when he was getting old enough for a shorter hair cut. He on the other hand, liked boy’s hair to be cut short and neat. He always teased her and said she was trying to let Joe’s hair grow out like a girls, and she told him he was just jealous of their son’s hair. Even now, Ben could remember the way her eyes sparkled and the way she laughed as they pretended to argue about it.
As the boys were finishing and getting ready to go outside, Ben said, “Joe, could I speak to you privately for a minute?”
“Sure, Pa, you guys go on out to the corral, I will be there in a few minutes. Tell Hank to saddle that red sorrel for me.” Joe told the Lance and Pete.
“Joe, what is your excuse for not getting your haircut THIS time?” Ben asked with as stern a voice as he could manage, looking into those sparkling green eyes of his son, so like his mother.
“Pa, I went to the barber shop to get a haircut and the shop was closed.”
“Closed on a Wednesday afternoon?” Ben asked.
“Yes, Pa, there was a sign that said Closed for week due to emergency. I swear, Pa.”
“Joseph, don’t swear. A simple statement of fact is sufficient.” Ben said, trying to suppress his smile. “Now get on out there and get that red sorrel broken. I want to see if he is as good as you say.”
“Yes, sir, Pa!” Joe said, and rushed for the door before his Pa could change his mind.
“Marie,” Ben said, “ I know you were behind that barbershop emergency, don’t try to convince me otherwise!”
For the next three days, Sheriff Coffee, Adam, Hoss, and the others had a routine, uneventful trip. They saw no signs of any people—Benton gang or anyone else. In fact, the only living things they saw besides trees, were a couple of jackrabbits and a hawk or two. They rode into Yuma about 4 PM on Thursday afternoon. Since they came into town by the telegraph station, Adam said he would go in and wire Pa and tell him they made the trip safely and would be leaving first thing Friday to go home. He figured they could be there by Saturday night or Sunday mid-day, at the latest. Hoss said he would ride on with the Sheriff to the prison to deliver the prisoner, then he would meet Adam at the hotel. They were both ready for a hot bath and shave and a good night’s rest in a real bed, before heading home. They were anxious to leave for home, though, so as to not leave Ben short-handed for too long.
After sending the wire to Pa, Adam went and checked into the hotel and went on up and got a head start on that bath. He took a leisurely bath; shaved, dressed and read the paper he had picked up in the hotel lobby. He was surprised that Hoss wasn’t there yet, and wondered if he had stopped off at the saloon for a beer first. Not a bad idea, he thought.
Just when he finished reading the paper and was thinking about going to have a beer for himself, Hoss came into the room, with a frown on his face.
“What’s the matter, Hoss?” Adam asked, quietly regarding his brother.
“Well, Adam, we got the prisoner to the prison, all right, but there is a problem there.”
“What is it now?” he asked.
“Well, there was a jail break two nights ago, and there is a huge hole in the wall in what used to be the prison gate.” “And the worse thing is, the warden was killed in the attempt. There is chaos in that prison. There is a standoff going on. The prisoners can’t get out, but the guards can’t get in. They have been trying to negotiate with ‘em, but since the prisoners know the warden is dead, they ain’t believing they have any other choice but to try to stay in control.” Hoss said.
“So what do we do with Yates, then? Can we put him in the Yuma jail until they get this figured out?” Adam asked.
“Roy says he wants to take him on to Lebanon Prison, cause that little jail here wouldn’t keep the Benton gang out for a minute.” Hoss said.
“And I suppose he wants us to go with him? You know where Lebanon is, don’t you? Right on the California border.”
“Yeah, Adam, I don’t see as how we got any other choice.” Hoss said, nodding his head. “
I see. I suppose he wants to go on out of Yuma now to get out of here before nightfall?” Adam asked, already grieving over the loss of sleeping on a good bed.
“Yep,” Hoss said. “He’s waiting on the outskirts of town with Yates and the others. I told we would be along shortly. He is kind of nervous without us there, Adam, considering what happened with that other deputy.”
“Okay, I’ll get my things and we’ll get going.” Adam said.
Adam quickly stuffed all his clothes and shaving equipment into his travel kit. They stopped on the way out and returned the key and gave the clerk a generous tip, and headed off to join Roy and the others. On the way out of town, Adam went in to send a second wire to his father, advising him of their delay. “Sorry, mister, the telegraph line is down between here and the next town; I can’t send it until it gets repaired.” The telegraph operator told him.
“How long will that be?” Adam asked.
“More’n likely late tonight or early tomorrow.” He replied.
“Well just send it out as soon as you can then.” Adam said, and he and Hoss left with the Sheriff to escort the prisoner.
“Well this trip will put us at least another 5, maybe 6 days late getting home. I bet Joe will be fit to be tied if Pa makes him do our chores” Hoss said to Adam with a grin.
On Friday morning, after Joe had gone off to school, Ben was enjoying a cup of coffee and thinking about the day’s activities. He was also thinking about Joe’s assessment of that last string of horses. He had been right on every one of them. It was really amazing, since Joe was only 15 and had only spent less than an hour watching the horses and making that initial evaluation. But yesterday, Ben had gone to watch Joe work with the horses. He did this for two reasons: 1, he truly enjoyed watching his son break horses. He was so graceful and had such a natural talent for it. 2. If he watched Joe break horses, Joe was less likely to take risky chances that might save a little time but were more dangerous for the rider. Joe had handled that sorrel with ease and style that was truly amazing to see. He had been exactly right about the horse’s potential, too. He was thinking of keeping that horse as a backup to his own horse, Buck.
A knock on the door disturbed Ben’s reverie, so he got up and went to see who was there. It was Slim Sanders from the telegraph office, bringing Adam’s telegram from the day before. Ben was pleased to see that it was a wire from Adam, saying that they would be home either Saturday night or Sunday by mid-day, at the latest. It would be good to have all three of his sons home again. He had stopped wondering if he were too over-protective over his two grown sons and over his other “thinks-he-is-grown” son. He just enjoyed their company and he always felt more secure and happy when they were all home together. The house was way too quiet when they were all gone. He would never be able to stand living here if they should decide to move away. “Snap out of it, Ben Cartwright” he told himself. “Get up and get moving.” So he did.
At lunchtime, Hop Sing told him he needed some supplies from town and asked him to send someone to get them. Ben decided that he would go himself to get the supplies, and have a cold beer, and perhaps ride home with Joe. So he got up, and taking Hop Sing’s list, prepared the wagon to go into town. As he was riding, he glanced at Hop Sing’s list. One page of it was written in Chinese. This page was to go to Hop Sing’s “honorable Cousin # 4” in Virginia City’s Chinatown. Cousin # 4 would take the list and fill it, visiting the necessary shops in Virginia City. The other page of the list was to be filled at the mercantile. On it there were all the usual things, coffee, tea (lots of tea), sugar, meal, etc. There were also items such as lemon and peppermint sticks, licorice, salt water taffy, canned peaches, fresh apples and oranges, and raisins. Ben knew that these items were always hidden away and brought out for one thing only—to go into Little Joe’s lunch bag. Ben chuckled to himself over this. As much as Hop Sing loved and cared for them all, there was never ANY doubt in ANY of their minds, that Little Joe was Hop Sing’s favorite. Little Joe could do no wrong where Hop Sing was concerned. Those few times that he had to admit that Joe did something wrong, he generally found a way to blame them on someone else—frequently on Ben himself for not being “good” father. Hop Sing loved Hoss’ appetite best—he loved the way Hoss appreciated his cooking; but there was no doubt that Joe was the apple of Hop Sing’s eye.
When Ben rode into town, he stopped at the mercantile and gave his order to the owner, leaving the wagon parked out front so it could be loaded with the supplies. Then he walked on over to the Chinese section to give Cousin # 4 Hop Sing’s list. When Ben was ready to go, the items from this list were always packed and loaded onto the wagon. Ben never paid for these items, and had never figured out how they were paid for or when. Hop Sing would never give him an answer, but would just smile and say; “You pay already, Mr. Cartlight”. Ben had no idea what he meant by that, but he had learned to stop asking questions about it, because Hop Sing was not going to divulge that information.
After taking care of another couple of errands he had to do, he headed towards the Silver Dollar for a beer. On his way he passed the barbershop with the “Closed” sign and again he chuckled. “Does the whole world want my son to wind up looking like a riverboat gambler?” He said out loud, without thinking about it. One man heard him and looked around to see just whom he was talking to and not seeing anyone else, looked at Ben strangely. Ben, seeing this, laughed louder. The man hurried on his way, making Ben laugh even louder.
Ben entered the Silver Dollar in a good mood and ordered a beer. He invited Sam to join him in a drink and he was delighted to do so. Ben had been there about 20 minutes and was just getting ready to go to the schoolhouse. He realized he needed to stop and talk to Miss Woods, but he preferred to wait until Joe had already left school. No use in adding to his son’s anxiety, especially when he hadn’t made a decision yet. He was just going to talk to Miss Woods, explain the situation to her, and she what she might suggest. In any event, he wasn’t making a decision today.
When he thought he had waited long enough for Joe to be gone, he headed over to the schoolhouse. He hated being somewhat dishonest with his son, in fact, it made him think he was doing the same thing that he often accused Joe of doing—not being completely above board. But he knew that if Joe saw him talking to the teacher, he would think that meant that he had decided that Joe should continue school for two more years, and that wasn’t the case at all. As he walked into view of the school, he could just barely see Joe, accompanied by three riders this time, one of them a girl, headed for the Ponderosa. Hop Sing would really break out something special when they got there, Ben was sure. Hop Sing loved to show off for any female visitors. He often accused the Cartwright’s of being too simple to appreciate his fine culinary skill. Of course when he watched Hoss eat, he always had a look of rapture upon his face.
Ben walked into the schoolroom and smiled at Miss Woods. “Oh, Mr. Cartwright, please come in. I was expecting you today or tomorrow, although Joe didn’t seem to think you would be coming.” She said.
“My son sometimes sees the world only as he wants to see it,” he said with a shrug. “I was hoping you could give me some guidance about what is best for my son, Miss Woods, from your perspective” Ben said simply.
“Mr. Cartwright, I will certainly try. However, your son is a complicated young man. I am afraid I have more questions than answers in that regard.” She smiled at Ben.
“Miss Woods, this is a small community and there is always a lot of talk. I was wondering just how much you know about my son or my family, for that matter. It sometimes helps to understand Little Joe if you understand some of his background.” Ben said.
“I do know that Joe is the youngest of three sons, and that his mother died when he was very young, and he was raised by you, with the help of your other two sons, and according to some, by a Chinese cook named Hop Sing. Is that what you mean?” She asked.
Smiling, Ben said, “well in this case, at least, local gossip seems to be pretty accurate.” “Joe was not quite five when his mother was killed in a riding accident. Joe is, in many ways, just like his mother. He has her looks, her size, her temperament, and unfortunately, her impatience, anger, and impulsivity. Since he was born, Joe has hardly ever stopped for longer than a few minutes. He is constantly on the go, enthusiastic, energetic, and always in a hurry. He is almost in perpetual motion.” Ben said.
“Yes, Mr. Cartwright, that is certainly obvious in school.” She concurred. “But the difficulty is that Joe is also bright, sensitive, fair, and courageous.”
“Yes and these different qualities in combination often make things difficult for Joe. I know Joe has gotten into trouble here many times, just since you have been here. But I don’t believe my son is really a trouble-maker, Miss Woods. But enough of what I think, what I want to know is, what do you think of my son? And more importantly, do you think he should go to school for another two years? Do you think he would benefit from another two years? It is almost certain that he hasn’t paid any attention in class since the last snow melted.” Ben said, looking at Miss Woods expectantly. He was hoping she could make this decision easy for him.
“Mr. Cartwright, I agree with you about Joseph. He is bright, he is energetic, he is enthusiastic, he is impulsive, and he is sensitive. When I first accepted this position I was warned by the former teacher about Joe.” Ben frowned at hearing this; he remembered all too well the many battles his son had with that teacher. “I was frankly amazed when I met Joseph; he was certainly nothing like what was described to me—thank goodness. However, I have seen hints of what he was talking about. Joe can be as stubborn as the proverbial mule and if he thinks he is right, he won’t back down—for anything. That can be a positive trait, say for a politician or a lawyer, but it can also lead to some pretty intense battles over some relatively unimportant issues. I think that is the mistake my predecessor made. For whatever reason, he chose to battle Little Joe over every issue—no matter how trivial. It became a challenge for both of them—neither of them would back down. I might add, that in the end, I guess Joseph was the winner, since the teacher left as soon as he could” she said chuckling. “Don’t misunderstand me, Mr. Cartwright, I am not blaming the teacher’s leaving on Joe. It was inevitable. I would not be surprised to find out that he is no longer teaching at all.”
“I have been more careful in picking my battles with Little Joe. I don’t do battle over every little point and I have a chance of winning on the bigger issues. But Mr. Cartwright, it is a constant struggle. Little Joe can be charming as he wants to be, he can also make every day a challenge.” Miss Woods said, looking at Ben to try to gauge his reaction. She knew that Mr. Cartwright was an important man in Virginia City and had in fact, just been elected to the school board. She didn’t want to unnecessarily alienate him by what she said about his son. But he had asked her opinion.
Far from being upset, Ben was smiling. “It sounds as if you really do know my son, Miss Woods.” Ben said, laughing. “Have you been spying on us? Based on what you are telling me, do I understand that you are not recommending that Joe continue with his schooling?” Ben asked, secretly hoping for an affirmative response.
“No, Mr. Cartwright, I can’t make that recommendation. Joe has a quick, agile mind and he could go far with the proper education……. I am sure he would do equally well as a rancher…As you are aware, Joe holds the key to his success. IF he wants something, he will do whatever it takes to get it. If he doesn’t want it, he won’t make it happen.”
“So, as much as I may regret it, I am saying that this decision must be made by Joseph for himself—we can’t make it for him.”
“If I read your facial expressions right, Mr. Cartwright, you seem to really have mixed feelings about this yourself. If you were strongly insistent that Joe complete two more years, together you and I might be able to push, pull, prod, and drag him through it, against his will. But if we do that, we need to know that unless Joe has a change of heart, it will be a long two years for all three of us. If you are sure that is what you want, I am willing to give it my best, for Joe’s sake. However, if you are ambivalent about it, as you seem to be to me, I don’t think we can do it.” She said this with a quiet, nonjudgmental, matter-of-fact tone of voice.
Ben sat there for a few minutes to let her words sink in. When he spoke, it was with a sense of relief. “You are right, Miss Woods, I am ambivalent about it. I want what is best for Joe, and I want him to be happy. Although I know that things are changing and that someday children will stay in school longer, right now there doesn’t seem to be a real advantage for Joe to go to school any further. My only reason for thinking about it has nothing to do with education. I was looking at another two years of school as a way to keep Joe safe for another two years. But that is not a role that the school should be expected to bear—that is primarily my responsibility, and to a lesser extent, the responsibility of his two older brothers.”
“But remember, Mr. Cartwright, ultimately, it is Joe who must be responsible for his actions. Staying in school another two years would probably just delay his taking over that responsibility from you, me, and his brothers,” she said kindly. “Joseph must be allowed to make this decision, but he also must be allowed to be accountable for that decision. I think that if he is doing what he wants to do, it might decrease some of the daily struggles, although with his nature, there may always be some struggles,” she said smiling at Ben. “But Mr. Cartwright, I believe in Joe, as I am sure you do. He is a fine boy who is becoming a fine young man with excellent spirit and good strong values. I am sure that he will choose the path that is right for him, with a little help here and there from his family.”
“Thanks for your time, Miss Woods. You have been of valuable assistance to this father.” Ben said, tipping his hat to her, as he turned to exit the schoolhouse.
As Ben was pulling away from the store on the supply wagon to begin the journey home, the man from the telegraph office came out of the office shouting, “Ben, Ben Cartwright!” Ben heard his name and stopped the horses in their tracks and allowed the man to catch up with him. “Telegram for you, Ben” Mr. Hall said, out of breath.
“I wonder if Adam and Hoss were detained,” said Ben out loud. He took the telegram from Mr. Hall and read it quickly. It was from his attorney in San Francisco.
BEN. STOP. LAND DEAL IS SET. STOP. URGENT YOU
COME TO SF TO SIGN PAPERS. STOP. PLEASE COME
ASAP. STOP. DEAL WON’T WAIT. STOP. MUST SIGN
BEFORE 21st. STOP. Perry Harris, Esq. STOP.
Ben was elated by the telegram. They had been in negotiations to purchase a large tract of land adjacent to the western edge of the Ponderosa. This particular tract of land would protect the Ponderosa’s last unprotected boundary. This parcel of land would make it much easier to preserve the natural beauty of the Ponderosa, so that his sons and their sons and daughters and their sons and daughters would be able to enjoy the wonder of the Ponderosa, as God had created it. This was the most important acquisition he could make, much more valuable to him than the Bristlecone mine, even. He thought about what this would mean as he drove the wagon toward home. He felt better than he had felt in a long time, knowing that this land was soon to belong to the Ponderosa.
He realized that he needed to leave immediately for San Francisco, so that he could get there by early next week to clinch the deal. They could not afford to lose this deal. Then he thought about both Hoss and Adam being gone. That posed a dilemma, he didn’t want to wait until they came back to go because that would make him get there toward the end of the week and that could be too late. He knew that he could safely leave the ranch for a day or two until Adam and Hoss got back, but what about Little Joe? Ordinarily, he would just take Joe with him to San Francisco. He really enjoyed showing Little Joe the sights of the city and traveling with him was always interesting. But there was the matter of the last week of school and the fact that Joe was being punished and wasn’t supposed to leave the Ponderosa.
Ben thought about the situation all through dinner, trying to decide what to do. Finally, he came to a decision. “Joe, I have some good news. Our attorney has been able to negotiate a deal for us to purchase that parcel of land near our western border, that will bring the Ponderosa all the way to California, son.”
“That is great, Pa. Congratulations.” Joe said, with a smile. He knew how much that piece of land meant to his father and to the Ponderosa.
“But there is one small problem, Joe, I have to be there by Monday in order to close the deal.” Ben said.
“Well Pa, if you leave tomorrow, you should make it to San Francisco by Monday without a problem.” Joe said, not seeing the problem.
“Of course, you are right, Joe. But remember Hoss and Adam won’t be home until tomorrow night or Sunday morning. That would mean I would have to leave you alone until they return. Can I trust you to mind the chores and keep out of trouble for a day and a half, Joe?”
“Why, heck, yeah, Pa. I can’t go to Virginia City before Monday anyhow, Pa. What kind of trouble can I get into on the ranch?” Joe said with a mischievous grin.
“Don’t ask questions like that, Joseph if you are trying to reassure me”. Ben said, also smiling, but looking directly into his son’s green eyes.
Saturday was a busy day for Little Joe. He spent most of the day down in the corral systematically working his way through the string of horses he planned to break that day. By the end of the day he was tired and hungry and rode Cochise up to the house.
Hop Sing met him on the front porch. “Dinner almost ready Little Joe. Are you hungry?”
“Hop Sing, I’m so hungry I think I could out eat big brother Hoss. Are Adam and Hoss back yet?”
“No, Little Joe. But man came from town and he bring telegram for your father.”
Joe followed Hop Sing into the house and tore open the envelope Hop Sing handed him. As he read his face grew solemn. Hop Sing looked at his face and asked, “What the matter, Little Joe?”
Joe glanced at Hop Sing. “Well Hop Sing it seems Adam and Hoss have to go to Lebanon to take the prisoner to jail there. There were some problems at the prison in Yuma. They don’t expect to be home until the end of the week.”
“What that mean, Little Joe?” Hop Sing asked.
“What it means is that I have to be the one to run the ranch for the next week.” Joe’s face was very grave, suddenly looking years older than his usual age.
Hop Sing was taken aback. “Little Joe, you no run ranch, you must go to school.”
“No, Hop Sing, with Pa and the others gone, I’m going to need to be here. Come on; let’s go have dinner.” Hop Sing wasn’t convinced, but he knew it wouldn’t do any good to argue with Little Joe when his mind was made up, so he decided to just try to watch Joe and try to keep him out of trouble.
The next morning Joe moved quickly through his morning chores. At mid-morning the ranch foreman, Charlie Morgan rode up to the house and seeing Joe came over to him.
“Morning, Little Joe.”
“Morning Charlie. What can I do for you?”
“Well Joe, I need to see your Pa. There are a couple of decisions he needs to make today.”
“Charlie, Pa’s away for a couple of days, I’ll be running the ranch while he’s away. Let’s go into the study where we can talk.” Joe turned and calmly walked towards the house. His exterior was calm, while inside his stomach churned nervously. If Charlie fought him on this, he knew that none of the men would listen to him, if he had Charlie on his side he would be able to pull it off. As Joe went through the front door he called for Hop Sing to bring them some coffee. He moved into the study and seated himself carefully behind his father’s desk. “Have a seat Charlie. Now tell me what’s going on.”
Charlie stood for a minute looking at Little Joe. Charlie was one of the few men who could remember when Joe’s mother was still alive and for a moment he saw a lot of her in Joe, her stubbornness and her determination to do the right thing. When she had come to the Ponderosa she had made her share of mistakes, going from living in a big city to living on a ranch. Some folks hadn’t wanted to give her a chance; they respected Ben Cartwright but hadn’t felt that the pretty little Southern girl was the right wife for him. They felt she was too small and too frail. How they had all underestimated her. He had been just a ranch hand, struggling to feed his wife and new baby. One day he came home to find the table set with a fine meal, his wife wrapped in a new afghan and Marie Cartwright sitting cradling his tiny son. She had heard what was happening and from that day on Marie became a part of the Morgan’s lives. Marie and his Katie had been good friends; Katie had even helped care for Joe when he was just a baby. He smiled inwardly as he realized that Joe needed his help, and here was his first chance to repay just a little bit of Marie’s kindness. “Well Joe, we have some decisions that we need to make about the herd. First off, the south pasture is getting a little sparse, seems like we need to move them up to the low ridge pasture.”
Joe looked thoughtful for a moment, then, to Charlie’s surprise shook his head negatively. “No Charlie, I was up there yesterday, The grass has not come back there the way I expected it to when we moved the herd last month. I think the dry spell has hurt it a bit. I think the best move would be to take them to the northern pasture, near the mill creek. The creek has kept the grass fairly full up there and it’s also got some extra shady areas that should keep the cattle cool.”
Charlie thought for a moment then realized that Joe was absolutely right. “Excellent Joe, shall I tell the men to move the cattle today or will tomorrow be soon enough?”
“Aren’t most of the men with their families today Charlie?”
“Yes Joe, those that have them are.”
“Well, I think it can wait until tomorrow morning. Will you be riding with the men?”
“Fine, what else do you have for me?” For the next hour Joe and Charlie reviewed what was going on at the ranch. Joe made a number of decisions, surprising Charlie by the subtle change in his manner throughout the meeting. Normally, Joe was quick and eager to laugh and play. He could still see this in him, but it was tempered by thoughtfulness and a keen insight into the workings of the ranch. Charlie had thought he knew the Ponderosa better than any man, except perhaps Ben Cartwright. Now he realized that perhaps Joe knew it better than any of them, including Ben. Joe was, after all, the only one of them truly of the Ponderosa, having been born and raised here. As he had presented Joe with each issue he had noticed that Joe would, for just a moment, close his eyes. Charlie finally realized that Joe was able to picture each and every place they discussed as it had appeared the last time he had been there. When they had finished their talk, Charlie had stood and after pausing for just a second, had held out his hand to Little Joe. Joe blinked momentarily in surprise, then shook it firmly. “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. I’ll have the men gather at about 7 tomorrow before we head out. You can give them any directions at that time.”
Joe smiled his thanks at Charlie. “Thanks, Charlie, I’ll see you all tomorrow morning. I’ve got about five more horses to break tomorrow. Then I’ll probably ride up to the mines on Tuesday to see how things are going there.”
Charlie left and Joe leaned back, sighing in relief. Somehow he had been worried about being asked questions that he couldn’t answer, like a test in school. But he knew the Ponderosa better than anything he ever heard in school and somehow the right answers just came to him. He just hoped that when Pa, Hoss, and Adam came back he would be able to convince his father to let him quit school and work here full time.
Hoss, Adam, and Roy Coffee kept up a steady pace for the first two days while they were transporting Yates to prison in Lebanon. There was no sign of the Benton gang and Yates had been totally silent, lost in his own thoughts. That evening as they were sitting by the campfire, Yates finally spoke. “Coffee, you didn’t have to kill my brother, you didn’t.”
“Yates, you know I didn’t have any choice. He pulled a gun on me, I was only firing in self-defense, plus he was trying to set you free. It was my job to stop him.”
Yates continued to glare at Roy, “But he was just a kid Sheriff, not even sixteen years old yet.”
Hoss and Adam exchanged glances at that remark. That meant the deputy was the same age as Joe.
“My gang is going to be coming after you, Coffee and then you’ll pay for what you’ve done.” Yates subsided into a sullen silence.
Hoss, Adam and Roy huddled together to briefly plan their strategy. “Roy, I think we need to make the assumption that the Benton gang is probably out there tracking us. We need to take more precautions. I’ll keep watch for the first four hours tonight, Hoss you can take the next watch, then I think we should ride before dawn.”
Hoss and Roy nodded in agreement. The three men settled down for the night, after making sure that Yates was securely tied. After Roy went to sleep, Adam sat staring into the fire, periodically getting up to stretch his legs. He jumped when he heard a twig snap behind him. Hoss moved up to join him.
“Yeah Hoss, what’s the matter, can’t sleep?”
“Yeah, I guess I just keep thinking about that kid, the deputy.”
Adam nodded in agreement. He hadn’t paid much attention to the kid when the original posse was together. Now, somehow whenever he pictured the kid he saw Little Joe’s face. “Me too Hoss.”
“Are you thinking about Little Joe?”
“A bit. I know he’s safe at home with Pa and Hop Sing looking out for him, but sometimes I just find myself worrying about him. He’s so impulsive. And this school thing must really be upsetting him. I know he just wants to be turned loose to work and have his own life.”
“I know, he seems to spend all his time trying to prove how grown up he is. And it’s just so hard to see him that way, him being so little and all.” Hoss grinned suddenly, “Of course I have a hard time thinking of you as grown too, Adam,” and threw back his head and laughed heartily. Adam joined in, and then suddenly a gunshot rang out from the darkness, hitting just to the left of where Adam was standing.
“Well, I guess the Benton gang finally found us” Adam shouted to Hoss as they ducked for cover and drew their weapons. Soon, Roy Coffee and the other deputy was also up and taking cover behind a huge boulder on the opposite side of the camp from Adam and Hoss.
“Adam, Hoss, are you boys all right?” Sheriff Coffee hollered.
“Yeah, we are fine, Roy.”
“Can you see anything?” The Sheriff asked.
“Not a thing, Roy. What about you?” Hoss asked, as he was peeking over the rock he was hiding behind. Just then another shot rang out, making a hole in Hoss’s hat. “Dadburn it, that hat was just broke in” Hoss said, getting mad now.
“Keep your fool head down, Hoss. You are acting like Little Joe!” Adam hissed.
“Now, Adam, that was uncalled for” Hoss replied. “You know if that had been Little Joe’s hat, they couldn’t have hit it. It ain’t big enough.” Hoss laughed. Although Adam and Hoss were carrying on a conversation, they were both actively scanning the area, looking for telltale signs of the Benton gang.
“Adam, do you see that little rock outcropping over there behind that tree?” Hoss asked, pointing in the direction of what looked like a pile of rocks.
“Yeah, Hoss, what about it?” Adam asked, following his brother’s pointed finger.
“Well, there are two of them behind it. I think there is another one behind that gray boulder right over there.” He continued.
“Yeah, I thought so, too, but I can’t tell if there are any more.” Adam answered, still carefully observing the area in back of them and to the other side.
“Boys, I make out three of ’em. What about you?” Roy spoke out to Adam and Hoss, trying to speak loudly enough for them to hear him, but for the Bentons to be unable to hear.
“We only see three, Roy, but something tells me there is at least one more, probably a little higher up.” Hoss said.
“Yep, I figured that, too. Do you think one of you could make your way up that hill and come up behind ’em?” Roy asked. I figure we can keep you covered from here.” Roy said.
“Yes, Roy, I am sure I can do it,” said Adam. “Hoss, you keep me covered and I am going to work my way right over that ridge.”
“All right, Adam. You be careful.” Hoss said, keeping a constant look at the area where the shots had come from.
As Adam got ready to go, Hoss stood up and began firing into the night, aiming in the general direction where they thought the gang members were hiding. Adam moved quickly and skillfully to the protected area of the rocks. When he got there, he silently motioned to Hoss to let him know he made it safely. For the next 10 or 15 minutes, the Sheriff’s posse and the Benton gang traded gun shots. Hoss heard a moan after he fired one shot, but was unable to tell how badly the person was hit. One of the deputies got a close scare from a bullet that ricocheted off the surrounding rocks and just barely grazed his arm. Hoss was becoming concerned because he hadn’t heard anything from Adam since he had gotten to other side. He was about to start moving in closer to the Benton gang when he heard Adam shout, “All right, drop those guns.” Immediately there was the sound of two gun shots.
Hoss hollered “Adam, are you all right?” and began running carefully toward the spot where the shots had been fired, with his pistol ready. Relief flooded over Hoss when he heard Adam shout, “Hoss, would you hurry up and come help me with these two guys?” Hoss and Roy Coffee made it to Adam at the same time. One more of the Benton gang lay injured and two others were standing there with their arms held up, facing Adam’s drawn pistol.
“Was there only the three, Adam?” Sheriff Coffee asked.
“No, there is one more—the lookout—tied up and gagged about a 1/4 mile down the way up on that ledge. They didn’t choose their lookout too well–he was passed out drunk when I got to him.” Adam said with a smile.
The Sheriff was examining the wounds of the injured Benton gang member–it was Jeb Benton himself, the leader of one of the most notorious outlaw gangs in Arizona, Nevada, and California territories. “Well Adam, looks like this one will make it to go to trial. But it will slow us down some. We need to see to his wounds and get him bandaged up and let the bleeding get stopped before he can ride a horse. But the good news is, you and Hoss will get the reward money for ’em.”
“Oh, well, Roy, I guess Pa and Joe will just have to get along without us for a few more days.” Adam said. Truth be told, neither he nor Hoss was too happy about that. Ever since they had found out about that deputy being Joe’s age, they both had an irrational, uneasy feeling about Little Joe. But they knew that there was nothing to be done about it, they had to help the Sheriff and he was right about Benton. Besides, Pa was home. He could certainly handle any mischief Little Joe got himself into.
Little Joe saddled up Cochise and rode at a steady pace to check on the Ponderosa mining operations. While his family owned interests in a good number of mines they owned two mines outright that resided on the Ponderosa itself. Joe had never really been involved in the mining side of the operation, as that tended to be Adam’s specialty, but he had spent many days exploring the mine shafts with his brothers and father. He would never admit it, but he hated going into those dark, damp tunnels. As he rode up he cast his eyes around near the mine entrance. He smiled when he saw Liam Carlson emerging from the mine entrance. Liam squinted into the bright sunlight and wiped his hand across his blackened forehead. He smiled as he saw Little Joe riding up.
“Morning Little Joe.”
“Morning Liam, how are you today?” Joe swung down off his saddle and held his hand out for Liam to shake.
“I’m just fine Little Joe,” Liam scanned the road behind Joe. “Are your father or brothers with you?”
“No Liam, they are away this week. I’m taking care of the ranch and mining operations until they get back. I rode out to see if there was anything you need to keep the mine going.”
Liam frowned. “Well, Joe, in fact if someone from the family hadn’t come out today I was planning to head down to the ranch this afternoon. We’ve run into a small problem in the build out in shaft number seven and I need some help in getting some materials.”
“What kind of problem?” Joe looked up at Liam in puzzlement.
Liam hesitated, then turned and beckoning for Joe to follow headed into the mine. Joe felt a knot appear in his stomach at the thought of going into the mine. He took a deep breath and followed Liam into the mine entrance. Liam took up a lantern and together they moved deep into the mineshaft. Finally, after what seemed like miles, Joe and Liam arrived at the end of Shaft 7. Joe looked around and saw that the ceiling seemed to be relatively high in this section of the mine.
“Liam, tell me what I should be seeing?”
“Joe, when we tunneled through to this section of the mine we found that the ceiling that we blew out is actually about three feet higher than in other parts of the mine. The timber we’ve been using for shoring is three feet too short. We need to get new timber cut at the mill.”
“What is the problem then?” Joe was puzzled; a simple order needed to be placed.
“The problem is old man Hammond, he refuses to do any kind of work without cash down payment up front. I thought perhaps your father could help us get the money but with him away…” Liam frowned thoughtfully.
Joe stared at his surroundings, his large green eyes taking in the tall ceiling. “Is there anything else the men can work on until the lumber arrives?”
“Not really Joe, we need to make sure this part of the shaft is secure before they go any further in any of the other sections.”
Joe scratched his head thoughtfully then resettled his hat on his head. “Then you and I better ride down and have a talk with Mr. Hammond and see what kind of deal we can work out.” Joe turned and began to move back towards the mine entrance. When they exited the mine, Joe went straight to Cochise and mounted her without putting his feet in the stirrups.
Liam smiled inwardly at that; Joe is still a kid at heart, he thought. Liam carefully mounted his horse, and together they moved off towards the mill. During the ride Liam could not help smiling at Joe’s grim determination. Once at the mill they tied the two horses and walked inside. Joe went up to Mr. Hammond and over the sound of the saws cutting the wood, shouted a greeting. Mr. Hammond turned to Joe and looked him up and down carefully, then gestured for Joe and Liam to follow him outside.
“What can I do for you boy?” Mr. Hammond growled at Little Joe.
Joe swallowed hard and proceeded to explain what the Ponderosa needed at the mill. Joe knew for a certainty that Mr. Hammond would have accommodated his father’s request but he wasn’t sure what he would do for him. Liam watched with some anxiety, it was his job to make sure things kept running at the mine and Joe’s success or failure would be shared by them both. He was not hopeful since Hammond was known for being impossible to work with. When Joe finished his explanation, Mr. Hammond continued to ponder him in silence. Joe evenly met his stare with his own direct unflinching gaze.
Mr. Hammond smiled inwardly at Joe’s spunk. What Joe did not know was that he had a special place in Mr. Hammond’s heart. When Hammond had first moved to Virginia City seven years ago, he had four children including his beloved youngest daughter Antonia. Antonia had been the perfect child, loving and docile, the apple of her father’s eye. Antonia had also been born with a club foot. Her club foot had often made her the butt of jokes in other towns where they had lived annd she had been hesitant about attending school in a new town. On her first day at school Antonia and her younger brother had come home walking on air. Over dinner she had done nothing but chatter happily about her first day. After dinner Hammond had cornered his son Nicholas to ask him about the first day. During morning recess, Antonia had been cornered by some of the younger children including the school bully Jackie Turner. Jackie Turner had been cruelly teasing Antonia when suddenly a small child had pushed through the crowd. Little Joe Cartwright had at that moment walked into Antonia’s life. Joe had marched straight up to Jackie and told him in no uncertain terms to stop picking on her then and there. Jackie, being a bully, had immediately shoved Joe aside and turned back to the younger girl. Little Joe, never one to back away from a fight, had launched into a counter attack resulting in Jackie ending up with two black eyes, and Little Joe a bloody nose. Once the fight had been broken up, Jackie had been sent home and Little Joe patched up. At lunch Joe had appointed himself Antonia’s defender and escorted her to the prime spot under the apple tree and introduced her to his merry band of cohorts. From that day forward, Antonia had been the happiest child in the world. Four years later when Antonia had died during the influenza epidemic, Little Joe had been among the many children at her funeral. Hammond would always remember Joe for his kindness to Antonia, but Joe was completely unaware that Mr. Hammond even knew who he was. Hammond knew that Ben Cartwright would make good on any promissory note his son would sign. Joe still stood gazing at Mr. Hammond, wondering what he would do if he was turned down.
“Well Mr. Cartwright, your accounts with us have always been paid promptly. I don’t think I’ll need a down payment for the work. I can get that lumber you need cut for you, when would you like to come pick it up?”
Hammond smiled at the reactions on the faces of the two men facing him, Joe’s and Liam’s mouths had both dropped open in astonishment. Joe was shocked that his direct approach had worked. Liam was shocked that there was no down payment required; even Hoss had to pay a down payment the last time an order had been placed with Mr. Hammond.
Joe recovered himself quickly. “Thank you very much Mr. Hammond. How about we pick up the lumber tomorrow morning?”
Mr. Hammond agreed and reached out his hand to shake Little Joe’s. “It’s a pleasure doing business with you Mr. Cartwright, your order will be ready by ten.” The men exchanged goodbyes and Joe and Liam rode off together. Joe and Liam traveled back to the mine to arrange for the men to pick up the lumber the next day. Joe told Liam that he would meet them early at the mill to sign whatever note Mr. Hammond needed. Once back at the mine, Liam wasted no time telling everyone the miracle Joe had wrought with the curmudgeonly Mr. Hammond. Joe finished up his business with the miners and rode home, feeling proud of a good day’s work. He was pleased with the success with Hammond, but he was as surprised as Liam was. He frankly didn’t know what he would have done if Hammond didn’t agree. But, Little Joe was not one to worry about things that didn’t happen, so he put those thoughts out of his mind. Hop Sing broke his customary rule about not eating with the family and ate dinner at the big empty table with Little Joe. Hop Sing did this frequently when Joe was little when the other Cartwrights were gone. Ben, Adam, and Hoss were not aware that Hop Sing ever ate with the family at the main meal. That was just one of Little Joe’s and Hop Sing’s secrets. Another was that Joe had a pretty good mastery of the Chinese language, although his diction was not exactly right.
After dinner when Hop Sing was cleaning up the kitchen and putting everything in order for the next day, Joe found himself sitting alone in the living room wishing for his father’s and brothers’ return. Generally he spent the evenings beating Hoss in endless games of checkers and an occasional game of chess. He actually liked chess a lot, but he pretended that he preferred checkers because he said chess was too complicated. Truthfully, Joe played checkers because Hoss liked checkers better and Joe was more interested in the companionship with Hoss than with the game itself. And besides, he could beat Hoss at checkers just as well as he could at chess. He missed that companionship tonight. He felt great being able to take care of the Ponderosa himself, but he missed having someone to share his triumphs with. He could just hear Hoss’ and Adam’s reaction to the deal he had struck with Hammond. Even his father would have to be impressed with that, maybe even enough to realize that he didn’t need to go back to school. With a deep sigh, he decided to go on up and take a nice hot bath and then go to bed. He had lots to do tomorrow, too. “Running a ranch is hard work” he thought to himself. “I will have to be kinder to Pa from now on”.
Wednesday was indeed, a very busy day for Joe. He spent the morning working with the miners, loading the lumber at the mill and hauling it back to the mine. In the afternoon he went to check to see how the settlers on the Tahoe rim were doing. As he rode into the first small homestead he was greeted with the sight of several children crying. He quickly dismounted and hurried over to the children. He immediately saw what the problem was. A small dog was lying at the children’s feet, his leg obviously broken. Joe squatted next to the dog, gently petting it’s head as he examined the leg more closely. Looking up at the oldest child he asked, “What happened here Tom?”
Tom hastily wiped the tears from his eyes. “Joe, it was my fault. I didn’t keep Copper on the rope the way Pa told me to. He ran off and got his leg caught in a wolf trap. I found him this morning. I brought him home, but Pa and Ma ain’t here and we don’t know what to do.” With that, all four children burst into tears.
Joe scanned the area, looking for a solution to this problem. Finally his eyes lit on the laundry hanging on the line and he saw some small towels. “Ok, kids I can help the dog but I need some supplies. Can you help me?” He quickly told them what supplies he needed and what he was going to do. One of the side effects of Joe’s “talent for trouble” was that since he had suffered so many injuries throughout his life, he had acquired a pretty good working knowledge of first-aid, which came in handy at times like this. All four children nodded, looking up at Joe with total trust. The children quickly brought Joe the items he had requested: some straight pieces of wood, strips of cloth, and old towels. He carefully tied the dog’s mouth shut to make sure that no one would get bitten. Working quickly he carefully aligned the bones in the dog’s leg and splinted it. Copper seemed to understand that Joe was trying to help, because he didn’t even try to get away. When he finished he turned to the now quiet mob of children.
“Ok, it’s up to all of you to make sure that Copper doesn’t walk on his leg or tear off the splint. Can you all do that for me? If you can keep him off of it for a few days, and keep it clean, it should mend all right. Get your Ma or Pa to look at it everyday and change the bandages as they need to.” Joe instructed. All four children nodded back at him solemnly. “And mind your Pa next time” Joe said. Joe smiled broadly at the youngsters, then mounted up and rode on.
At the end of the day Joe rode home, allowing Cochise to settle into an easy canter. As he approached the Ponderosa he saw a small surrey sitting in front of the house. As he reigned Cochise in, he saw Miss Woods sitting on the front porch, sipping from a tall glass. “Uh oh,” he thought, “I guess I should have sent word that I wouldn’t be in school this week.”
“Good afternoon Miss Woods.” Joe smiled and greeted his teacher warmly.
“Good afternoon Joseph.”
“May I help you with something?” Joe sat down slowly in the chair next to Miss Woods. Except for the few times that Hop Sing had mentioned school to him this week, Joe had completely forgotten about going to school this week.
“Yes, Joseph. I was becoming quite a bit alarmed about you. Your father had assured me that you would be coming to school this week and that I would have his decision about whether you will be attending school next year.”
Joe frowned at that thought. Even though he missed his father and brothers, he had enjoyed this week more than he had anything else in a long time. He knew that he could never go back to school after this. Miss Woods watched as Joe’s thoughts were clearly reflected in his face—happiness, wistfulness, and the frown at the end of concern.
“Joseph, please tell me what you are thinking?”
“Well Miss Woods, my father and brothers had to go out of town this week and I was needed here at the ranch. It’s been one of the best weeks of my life.” He replied simply.
“Why is that?”
“I’ve never been so busy in my life and I’ve been able to help the ranch.” Joe went on to detail his adventures of the week. Miss Woods smiled as she saw how animated Joe’s face became as he described solving the problems of the cowboys and the miners. She laughed at the thought of Joe setting the dog’s leg in front of the concerned audience of children.
“Miss Woods, please don’t make me come back to school, the ranch needs me. Can’t I make the work up somehow so I can finish out the year?” Joe pleaded.
Miss Woods grew thoughtful for a moment. He was so obviously happy doing this work, putting him back in the classroom would only cause him to act out, to the possible detriment of the rest of the class.
“All right Joe, let me ask you a few questions, if you can answer them then I’ll consider you to have satisfactorily completed the year and you won’t have to come back.” Miss Woods led Joe through some questions covering the material she had covered throughout the year. She was pleasantly surprised when he was able to answer most of the questions correctly. Somehow being on his home territory made Joe relax and he was able to figure out even the more complicated math questions quickly and easily.
“Well Joseph, I would say you passed with flying colors. We still have the matter of what you are going to be doing next year to settle, but that’s a decision for your father to make.”
Joe frowned at the thought. “Miss Woods, do you really think I need to go to school for two more years, honestly?” Joe’s face reflected his earnestness. Miss Woods found herself taking his question very seriously.
“Joe, in all honesty, I don’t think that you would be happy if we were to keep you in school two more years. In fact I think you would probably find some way to disrupt most of the school on a daily basis.” She smiled at him.
“Am I really that bad?” Joe looked concerned, he had never really meant to cause any harm, he just found it hard to spend his days locked up inside.
“No Joe, actually you are very bright, very honest, and a good friend to everyone. But you just aren’t happy in a classroom. I understand your brother, Adam was something of a scholar. Has it been hard for you to be compared with him?”
“Pa tries hard not to compare me to him, but it was just so hard for him to send Adam when he went to college, we didn’t have the money we have now. Now he has the money and resources to send me and I don’t want to go. I know he must be disappointed in me. I was his last opportunity to have another son go to college.” Joe’s voice grew wistful. He hated to disappoint his family. Miss Woods looked at Joe with sympathy.
“Joseph, you shouldn’t feel you are a disappointment. I know for a fact that your father and your brothers all love you just the way you are. Your father just wants to make sure you won’t be sorry later.”
With that, she stood and glancing at the sky, began to straighten her skirts preparing to depart. “Joseph I must go. Please thank Hop Sing for the tea.”
“Miss Woods,” Joe had risen to his feet and found himself impulsively making an offer, “I know that you like to hold a last day of school picnic. Why don’t you hold it here this year?”
“Here at the Ponderosa?” Miss Woods paused. She had been thinking of holding a picnic and inviting the families of her students.
“Yes ma’am. We have a beautiful meadow out near the lake that would be just perfect. Wait here and I’ll write down the directions. I’ll have Hop Sing prepare a picnic and we’ll barbecue a pig.” Joe jumped to his feet, eager to begin planning.
Miss Woods smiled at his enthusiasm. “Thank you, Joseph. I’ll let the students know tomorrow. We’ll have everyone arrive about noon?”
“Perfect.” Joe smiled, flinching only slightly at the thought of what his father would say about him throwing a party while they were all away.
Joe escorted Miss Woods to her surrey and helped her climb aboard. He waved as she drove down the road then turned on his heel and raced into the house. He and Hop Sing had a lot of work to do.
Ben had satisfactorily concluded his business in San Francisco and began the journey home. He rode by stage the first day, stopping first in the town of Lebanon, California. The stage was stopping overnight in town and Ben decided to find accommodations in the Lebanon Inn, a small hotel in the center of town, which he and Adam and Hoss had stayed in on some other trips. He checked into the hotel, paying the four dollars for the night in advance. He put his things in his room, then feeling somewhat hungry, decided to go in search of a restaurant to have his dinner. Overall, Ben was very happy with the results of his business. He had also had time to think about Little Joe while away from the ranch and Little Joe. The distance between them had given him some perspective on his dilemma regarding Joe’s schooling. While Joe might be miserable in school for the additional time, Ben was willing to have him continue for the next two years. He would never force Joe to go to college, but he didn’t see any good reason for Joe not to continue in school in Virginia City. With his mind made up about that and the successful land deal completed, Ben was feeling very good. As he walked into the small restaurant he was shocked to see his two oldest sons, Hoss and Adam, sitting at a corner table, polishing off the remains of a hearty meal. Ben raced to the two and greeted them with surprise. Seeing their father, Hoss and Adam sprang to their feet. They exchanged handshakes and embraces and Ben clapped both his sons on the back heartily. Then, as if of one accord, all three said at the same time, “Where’s Joe?”
Ben was the first to recover from his surprise, “What do you mean, where’s Little Joe? He is supposed to be with both of you.”
Hoss gaped at his father, “Why would he be with us Pa, he’s with you back at the ranch.”
Adam was the first to realize what had happened, “Pa, Roy asked us to come with him to Lebanon because of some trouble at Yuma Prison. We sent you a second telegram telling you we would be late coming home. Didn’t you get it?”
Ben began to visibly pale, “No, but I got your telegram saying you would be home on Sunday. I had an emergency meeting in San Francisco and left the Ponderosa Saturday morning.”
Hoss finally said what all three were thinking, “That means Joe’s been alone on the ranch since Saturday—that’s six days.”
Adam tried to put the situation in a positive light, “Come on Pa, don’t worry. Hop Sing is with Joe, how much trouble could Joe get into?”
Hoss spoke up, “Remember when Joe convinced Hop Sing to let him bring home that mountain lion cub while we were on the cattle drive five years ago. The cub destroyed most of the furniture and my bedroom.”
Ben flinched at the memory. The worst part was Joe’s heart-break when the lion cub had to be killed because it developed a taste for chicken. That had been one of the hardest things Ben had ever had to do, but it had to be done. At the time, Ben hadn’t thought Joe would ever get over that. He hadn’t spoken to his father or brothers for about two weeks afterwards. At first Ben had thought he was just mad at his father and brothers for putting down the lion cub. After two weeks of Little Joe avoiding him and Adam and Hoss, not eating, and not talking, Hop Sing had finally told Ben the real reason for Joe’s distress—he blamed himself for the lion cub’s death. His silence and obvious distress was because of his own feelings of guilt, not anger at them. That day Ben made Joe go with him to visit his mother’s grave and forced him to talk about it. Joe finally broke down and let all his emotions out. Ben had been able to comfort his son and after that, Joe was soon back to his normal happy self.
“How about the time Hop Sing got mad at Pa and quit? When Hop Sing left, Joe was so upset he decided to go with Hop Sing and live in Chinatown.” Adam barely suppressed his laughter, Hop Sing quit on average once a month, upset by some imagined admonishment of Ben’s.
“Yeah, the ladies there made such a fuss over Joe that he wouldn’t come home, even after Pa got Hop Sing to come back. We finally had to lure him home with the promise of Hop Sing’s fried chicken.” Hoss guffawed.
Ben’s face grew grim. For every funny story there was another potential disaster springing to mind. “Boys, are your horses here?”
“They are stabled at the livery down the street Pa.”
“Fine, we’ll ride at first light, I’ll go arrange to buy a horse. We have to get home to your brother as soon as possible.”
While his father and brothers were rushing to save Joe from impending doom, Joe was busy setting up for his big party. He and Hop Sing had spent several hours shopping in Virginia City on Thursday selecting party supplies. Hop Sing spent the rest of the day preparing pork and beans, salads, and baking fresh bread, cakes, pies, and cookies. Joe selected the pig to be slaughtered and lined up the assistance of the cowhands to help with the setup. As the plans for the picnic came together, Joe decided to send a message to the miners and cowhands to join the barbecue. He slaughtered an extra pig and prepared for the party to begin.
Miss Woods and the children and their families all showed up promptly at noon. Soon the children were all racing in all directions, playing games and enjoying the freedom the large meadow offered. Joe had even thought to bring some gentle ponies for the younger children to ride and had asked some of the ranch hands to assist them. He had set up games for the adults to play, such as horse shoes. Some of the other parents helped the kids with games such as sack races, relay races, and blindman’s bluff. Joe busily supervised the barbecue and played genial host. He made sure that everyone had plenty to eat and drink and that everyone had someone to talk to. If he saw someone standing or sitting alone, he went over to that person and before long, there was a crowd there. He made everyone feel comfortable. This was very rare for the miners and ranch hands to socialize together, as there were usually fights any time the miners and ranch hands got together in the saloon. But eveyrone was having such a good time, that the miners and ranch hands found they had a lot in common. His friends, Lance and Billy quickly sought him out to find out what he had been up to all week.
“Hey Joe, how did you get out of the last week of school?” Lance asked curiously.
“Well, Pa, Hoss, and Adam all went out of town, I had to stay home and run the ranch.”
“Your Pa and brothers all went out of town at the same time, Joe and your father left you in charge?” Lance asked, incredulously. “Now, Billy, don’t go jumping to conclusions.” Lance said.
“That’s right” said Joe said. “I didn’t say that they all went out of town together and left me in charge. They didn’t technically do that. It just sorta happened that way.”
“Bet your Pa told you to get a haircut before he left.”
Joe smiled and shrugged, “Yeah, but the barbershop is still closed as far as I know.”
Jennifer sidled up to Little Joe, with a smile on her face, “Joe, I just love your party. This doesn’t mean you won’t be coming to the dance tomorrow evening, does it?”
Joe smiled broadly, “Certainly not Jen, In fact, I had the surrey polished today, just for you.” He gallantly offered her his arm and went to pay his respects to Jennifer’s father and mother. The party continued for several more hours. Shortly after lunch was finished, everyone was relaxing, talking and telling stories, stuffed as full of food as ticks.
Suddenly shrill screams came from the direction of the old mine. Joe, who was not really sitting, but was standing and walking around talking to all his guests, leaning or perching occasionally, but not really sitting, leapt to his feet and raced ahead of the crowd in the direction of the screams. Everyone else followed close behind. Joe found several screaming children at the entrance of the old mine. The mine had been boarded over years before but he could see where the boards had been torn down and cast aside. He moved to the oldest child, Sally Caputo. “Sally what happened,” Joe gripped her tightly on the shoulders and shook her gently to get her to stop screaming.
“Oh, Joe, it’s Frannie. She fell down. She fell down the hole.”
Joe quickly took Sally’s hand, “Show me where.” Sally lead Joe through the large hole, followed by most of the men from the party. Sally led Joe a short way into the mine and then stopped near three or four small children, gathered around a hole in the ground. Joe leaned over carefully and looked down a seemingly endless hole. “What happened here?”
“We was playing here in the cave and Frannie was running and suddenly the boards under her broke and she fell through the hole.” Sally began to cry again in fright.
Joe turned to one of the men who had followed him to the mine entrance, “Get the children out of here.”
The men gathered to consult. One of the older miners came forward. “That there hole happened the last time we dynamited in this here mine, the hole just caved in. They closed the mine down after that, they thought it wasn’t safe no more. Guess they was right.”
Joe issued orders quickly to the other men, “Liam, go find all the rope you can out there. Jack, go get the lanterns from the wagon, Hop Sing and I brought extra. We’ll need it if it gets dark. Sam, do you know how deep the hole is?”
“No Joe, but we sent somebody down once, it got real narrow, he couldn’t go all the way down.”
Joe nodded and thought furiously, running his hands through his long, thick, curly hair.
“One of us is going to have to go down the hole,” Jennifer’s father put in.
“I’m going.” Joe spoke up firmly.
“No Joe, we can’t let you do that.” Liam said as he arrived with several lengths of thick rope.
“Liam I don’t see where you have much of a choice. You heard Sam, the hole narrows. I’m the only one here that can possibly fit down there. Besides this is my responsibility, I invited all of you to attend this party, it’s my responsibility to see all my guests are safe.” Joe’s face reflected his earnestness and sincerity—and stubbornness.
“Joe, it ain’t safe.” Liam protested even as he watched Joe pick up the first length of rope and loop it around his waist.
“Don’t worry, Liam, it will be fine. I will be careful” Joe said, giving him that brilliant smile. Joe and Liam organized the men together. Joe pocketed several candles and matches to light when he got to the bottom. He took several bandanas from the men to use if Frannie needed anything bandaged. He and Liam quickly agreed to several signals, one jerk meant stop, two meant start lowering him again and three jerks would mean pull up. Joe carefully removed his hat and jacket and handed them to Lance. He paused to pull on the work gloves he kept in his pocket. Finally ready, he looked at the men gathered around him and moved to the edge of the hole. Carefully he sat on the edge and took one last look around. Jennifer’s father, Mr. Jenks, felt a pang of fear at the thought of what Ben Cartwright would do to them all if he found out what they were letting his youngest son do. Perhaps he should stop this, he thought, but at that moment it was too late, Joe slid into the hole. Slowly the men lowered Joe down the deep hole. Joe held on and braced his feet carefully against the wall, cautious to not dislodge any dirt and stones. The deeper he went into the hole the narrower the walls became. At one point the hole narrowed until Joe had the wall of the hole about six inches from his face.
Joe began calling to Frannie as he got deeper into the hole. Suddenly he heard a small voice, “Joe, is that you?”
“Yes, Frannie it’s me, I’m coming to get you out. Can you see me?”
Frannie was quiet for a moment then said,” Joe, I think I can see your boots.”
“Are you hurt at all?”
” I hurt my leg, Joe. But I think if they pull us out on the rope I’ll be able to get out.”
Joe finally felt the ground under his feet. He let the rope come down another six feet to get some extra length then he jerked the rope once. Immediately it stopped. Joe turned in the narrow space to face Frannie. He could hardly bend over to check on the child.
Frannie was about nine years old and she was sitting on the bottom of the hole, her left leg was turned at an odd angle. Joe stooped over her and carefully lit one of the candles he had brought down.
“Frannie, I’m going to get you out of here, can you wait a minute while I figure this out?” Joe gave Frannie his brightest smile.
She looked at him through tear filled eyes, and then despite her fear and her pain, like women of all ages, she smiled back at him. “Joe, we missed you at school this week. It wasn’t any fun without you.” Frannie said. “Are you coming back?”
“I don’t know just yet, Frannie, but you can come visit us at the Ponderosa any time and I will give you a ride on Cochise.” Joe was trying to keep her mind off the predicament they were in and the pain from her injured leg. Joe carefully looked back up the hole. He knew that they would never both be able to be pulled up together, the hole was too narrow to let the two of them pass through it. Joe decided the best thing to do was to tie the rope around Frannie’s waist and let the men above pull her up. They could simply send the rope back down to him.
“Frannie, I’m going to tie this rope around you and the men up top are going to pull you up. Do you think you can make it ok?” Frannie looked scared but nodded her agreement. “When you get up to the top ask them to send the rope back down to me.”
Frannie nodded again. Joe had her put her arms around his neck and lifted her to a standing position. He tied the rope securely around her waist and checked to make sure she was ready to go. Then he reached over his head and jerked the rope quickly three times. Slowly the rope was drawn upwards, then slowly Frannie was lifted up and away from Joe. As Joe watched, she rose slowly over his head towards the faint light hole at the top of the pit. Joe sat down to wait for the rope to return. Minutes seemed to stretch into hours and he was very glad that he had the light of the candle with him. He examined the sides of the hole and shuddered at what could have happened. He hoped that they didn’t waste any time sending that rope back down. He hated being in there. The men at the top of the hole pulled slowly and steadily on the rope. Finally, Liam who was looking down into the darkness saw the top of Frannie’s head. “I see something. It’s only one of them.”
Moments later Frannie appeared at the top and she was quickly pulled to safety. She was hugged and petted and the men gathered around her to see if she was ok. Frannie finally broke away from her father to say, “Please everybody, you have to get Joe.”
Guilt stricken, the men turned back to the dark hole, realizing for a moment that they had rescued one child and for only a moment forgotten the other one. Liam moved to the edge to drop the rope down. Suddenly the side of the hole crumpled under his foot and dirt and stones fell into the hole. Two men pulled Liam away from the edge and they all listened carefully as the rain of stones and dirt gradually died down. Liam paled and moved slowly to the edge of the hole. He looked down but darkness met his eyes. He gestured for the rope to be brought over. Slowly the rope was lowered into the darkness.
Joe had done his best to sit still at the bottom of the hole. He occupied his mind by thinking of all the things he would have to get done at the ranch the next day. He tried to think of the fun things he would do when he got home. Suddenly, a hail of stones and dirt began to fall on his head. Instinctively Joe raised his arms to protect his face and head. His right arm was hit with a large sharp rock and he felt blood trickling down his arm. Another rock glanced off his face and he felt the blood begin to drip from a cut on his cheek.
Joe huddled as best he could for protection and finally the hail of rocks and dirt ceased. He waited a few moments and then carefully uncovered his head. His candle was gone, buried under the dirt that had fallen. Slowly he climbed to his feet and he checked his pockets carefully for another candle and his matches. He lit the candle and looked around him. He tilted his head back and stared upwards at the tiny hole of light. He closed his eyes and fervently prayed that someone would come help him.
He wished for his father to come home. He would gladly have him lecture him again. He thought of his father’s words before he left “Don’t do anything your father would not allow.” He wasn’t sure that what had happened wasn’t his punishment for disobeying his father. Not that he had done anything that his father told him not to do, his father had never made rules about these specific things like throwing a school picnic or going to save someone in a big hole. Joe knew that the more specific Ben tried to be in telling him what not to do, that always just gave him more ammunition to get around what he wanted to do. He doubted his father would have allowed him to do this, but again he didn’t see any alternative. He knew that they had to get Frannie out and out soon, because that old mine was unstable. At least he was pretty sure Frannie had made it out, even if he didn’t ,that was a good consolation. Suddenly he saw something snaking towards him. The rope came and dropped right into his face. Joe grabbed the rope with his left hand and working awkwardly with his sore right arm quickly tied the rope around his waist. Once he had tested it to make sure it was secure he gave it three strong tugs and found himself being lifted slowly off the floor.
Liam had breathed a huge sigh of relief when he felt the three tugs on the rope, signaling Joe was alive and ready to be brought up. He had had some nightmarish moments imagining Joe lying unconscious at the bottom of the pit without any hope of rescue. The men slowly and steadily pulled Joe upwards. Finally the crown of Joe’s head appeared and the men gathered to help him from the hole.
Joe was helped from the hole and as he stood up several of the men gasped. His face was smeared with blood and his right arm had a large bloody cut on it. He was helped from the mine and was quickly brought into the sunlight. Blinking at the brightness he walked out into a cheering crowd. Doc Martin rushed to his side. He had attended the picnic along with his youngest daughter. He had temporarily fixed Frannie’s leg but had waited until Joe was safe before leaving. He quickly cleaned the cut on Joe’s face and bandaged Joe’s right arm. He told him he would come by the Ponderosa that night after he got Frannie’s leg set so he could suture the cut on his arm. “Don’t be moving it around or lifting anything until I get there.” Doc Martin said.
Finally the doctor turned Joe over to Hop Sing and his admiring friends. Joe was overcome with embarrassment at the fuss everyone was making and blushed bright red when Jennifer gave him an enthusiastic hug and kiss right in front of her father.
Everyone had shaken his hand. The rescue of Frannie had taken well over an hour and by the time everyone was done celebrating it was getting quite late. Joe and Hop Sing supervised the clean up of the picnic, and with the wagons loaded, headed back to the house, accompanied by the hands and miners. The hands insisted on unloading the wagons and making sure that Joe was ok. Doc Martin rode up into the courtyard soon after they had gotten into the house. He carefully re-cleaned and re-examined Joe’s cut on his arm and his face, and checked him over carefully for other lumps, bumps, cuts, or breaks. He sutured the cut on his arm and put a small bandage over the cut on his face so that it would heal without leaving a scar. “Well Joe, believe it or not, you don’t have a cracked or broken rib this time. That must be a record for you,” Doc Martin teased Joe.
Joe made a half-smile, though he really didn’t think it was all that funny and he was very tired. Finally Joe was left alone in the living room. Hop Sing had gone along to bed, muttering in Chinese, promising himself never to let Little Joe out of his sight again. Joe sat in the living room and heaved a deep sigh. He was actually glad to be alone now, because if his father and brothers had been here, one or all of them would have been hovering over him. He hated when they did that. His arm throbbed some, but it wasn’t too bad. He just hoped that his father and brothers didn’t notice anything when they came back. Maybe he would be lucky and the arm would be healed before they got home. He tilted his head back and closed his eyes, thinking of the party tomorrow night and how Jennifer had made him promise all the dances to her. She said she had also bought a new dress to wear to the dance and bought new perfume, too. Perhaps… and with that thought, a very tired Little Joe fell asleep on the couch.
Ben, Hoss, and Adam rode into Virginia City as darkness began to fall on Saturday evening. Having ridden for almost two days with very little rest, both men and horses were close to exhaustion.
“Pa, we gotta let the horses rest before we ride out to the ranch. Chubb here is just plum tuckered out.” Hoss told his father. Adam added that Sport was tuckered out too.
Ben nodded thoughtfully. His thoughts had grown ever darker over the past two days, his mind imagining all all sorts of disasters that could have befallen Little Joe. “All right Hoss, let’s stop by Doc Martin’s. If anything has been going on with Joe, the Doc is bound to know about it.”
The three men rode down the strangely quiet street. As they approached Doc Martin’s office and dismounted the light inside the office went out and the front door opened. Doc Martin issuing his two daughters and wife in front of him stepped out onto the street. His eyes widened in surprise at the sight of Ben Cartwright and his sons. “Ben, Hoss, Adam, I didn’t know that you were back. Have you come for the award ceremony?”
Ben frowned, “No Doc, we’re just passing through on our way to the ranch.”
Little Missy Martin’s mouth rounded in an O and she turned to her father, “Pa, isn’t Mr. Cartwright gonna go see Joe get his award?”
“Missy, I’m sure Mr. Cartwright will come with us.” Paul smiled at his daughter reassuringly. He glanced up at Ben, “I’m sure you want to see Joe get his award don’t you Ben?”
Ben’s eyebrows drew together in a thunderous frown. “Paul, would you mind telling me what award my son is accepting?” He had the strangest feeling that he wasn’t going to like the answer.
“Well Ben,” Paul paused and was interrupted by his daughter, “Joe’s gettin’ an award cause he’s a hero, he saved Frannie’s life.” Missy beamed and nodded earnestly at Ben.
“And just how did Joe save this little girl’s life?” Hoss found himself getting more and more interested.
“Well she fell down this deep hole up in the old mine by the lake, and then he…”
“What was she doing up at the old mine?” Adam asked, his expression puzzled.
“Well she was at the picnic with everybody.” Missy rolled her eyes at the obvious ignorance of the Cartwrights.
“What picnic?” Ben asked.
“The one Little Joe gave, just about the whole town was there.” Missy answered patiently, like she was talking to very simple-minded people.
“Paul, would you mind telling me exactly what Joe was doing throwing a picnic for the whole town. And just how did he rescue this little girl?”
“Ben it’s really very simple. Joe offered to hold the school picnic at the Ponderosa. Miss Woods accepted and the children, their parents, the hands and the miners all came. It came to about 100 folks overall.”
Ben winced at the thought of Joe throwing a party of that magnitude. He could only imagine what the house was going to look like. He had about fifty questions but decided not to interrupt just yet.
“The picnic was a huge success Ben, my children loved it,” Paul smiled down on his two daughters. “Anyway some of the children wandered off and got through the boards blocking up the old mine. Frannie fell down the deep hole that’s near the front of the mine.” Paul paused, looking for how to explain what happened next.
“So what did Joe do?” Hoss leaned forward.
“Well he and the miners got some lengths of rope and they lowered Joe down into the hole.” Paul opened his mouth to continue but stopped as he saw Ben slowly begin to go red in the face. “Ben you ok?”
“You mean to tell me that my youngest son decided to go down into that hole and you all not only allowed him, you helped him?”
“Ben we didn’t have a choice, the hole narrowed down and Joe was really the best one to go down.”
“Was the little girl all right?” Adam asked. He was having a hard time picturing Joe as a hero but was intrigued by the story.
“She had a broken leg. Joe made it to the bottom but it was a tight fit. He tied the rope around Frannie’s waist and had everyone haul her up.”
“You mean Joseph stayed down in that pit alone?” Ben was amazed. One of Joe’s true phobias had always been the dark. To voluntarily stay in a dark pit would have taken all the courage Joe had.
“Yes Ben. Once they got Frannie out there was a bit of a cave-in. But he’s fine,” Paul rushed to add as he saw concern leap onto all their faces. He decided not to tell them about Joe’s minor injuries. “He’s really just fine Ben. A real hero. And Frannie father, Ephraim Jones decided to give him a reward at the dance. It’s a surprise for Joe.” Paul pulled his pocket watch out and smiled over at his wife. “Ben, we best be going if you want to see the award given, they’re doing it in about 15 minutes.”
With that, Paul offered his wife his arm and set off down the street. Ben, Hoss, and Adam stared after their receding backs, then after exchanging glances, they followed quickly. The dance was going full swing when the Cartwrights arrived. The band played a lively tune and the dance floor was filled with dancers, the girls skirts swirling in a rainbow of colors. Ben, Hoss and Adam scanned the crowd looking for some sign of Little Joe. They didn’t see him but were shortly joined by Charlie Morgan and his wife Katie.
“Evening Mr. Cartwright, Hoss, Adam. Did you have a good trip?” Charlie smiled at the three men genially.
“Yes Charlie, quite successful, we acquired that land we wanted on the California border.”
“Yes, Little Joe told me all about it. He was real glad about that. He sure was a real pleasure to work with while you were gone Mr. Cartwright. Those changes he made in the grazing really seem to be working out well.”
“Changes, exactly what changes did Little Joe make?” Hoss gazed at Charlie fiercely, the cattle operation was primarily his responsibility.
“Well Hoss, we were running out of good grazing land. Joe suggested we move them down to the northern pasture near the mill creek. What a difference, plenty of grazing and the cattle have really settled down. And he was right, it is about ten degrees cooler there and the flies are a lot less of a nuisance. The other changes he’s made have worked out just fine too. And he got all those horses broken and has buyers lined up for most of them right now. That red sorrel is about the best wild horse I have seen in a long time. And Joe has her practically following him around in the corral. In fact if it weren’t for Cochise, I think the horse would follow him into the barn. Mr. Lancaster from Meadowbrook is really interested in him and made a fair offer, but Joe said he could get more. I was sure he was going to regret that, then yesterday, George Spencer came by and offered double what Lancaster had offered. Joe still wouldn’t sell it though, said he was going to suggest you keep it as a backup for Buck. If I were you, Mr. Cartwright, I would sure take him up on that.”
Ben, Hoss and Adam all gaped at Charlie. Joe had done all this. “Charlie, are you telling me that while we were gone you were all taking orders from Little Joe? Weren’t there any problems?” Ben asked incredulously.
“Why, no, Mr. Cartwright. The ranch has been running just as smooth as if all of you had been here. The men all respect Little Joe. We found out that nobody knows the Ponderosa like Little Joe does, Mr. Cartwright. We’ll all happily work for him any day.” Charlie put his arm around Katie and turned back. “We best get up close so we can see Joe get his award.” With that he and Katie moved off.
“Pa, you reckon Joe really did all the things Charlie said? You know Pa, that was a brilliant idea about the grazing, I don’t know why I didn’t think of it.” Hoss was bewildered. He had not really thought of using the north pasture during the spring months. They had an unusually warm spring, it made a lot of sense. How did Joe know?
“It sure sounds like it Hoss. Maybe he has been listening to us after all.” Ben shook his head, mystified. As he gazed around he realized that many of the people attending the party were not just the townspeople, in fact many of the people at the party were Ponderosa employees, both cattlemen and miners laughing and joking together.
“Hey Mr. Cartwright, you made it back in time.” Liam walked up to Ben and shook his hand cordially. “You must be very proud.”
“Yes Liam, from what we’ve heard Joe is a real hero.”
“Yes sir, I was there. There’s not many men who would take such a risk. I’ll tell you sir, I don’t know that I could have done it.” Liam shook his head. “And he certainly was a godsend at the mine this week. Without him we’d be a week behind, or more.”
“What do you mean Liam?”
Quickly Liam explained what had happened at the mine and what Joe had been able to do with Mr. Hammond. Hoss was astounded. “He gave Joe the lumber without a deposit. He wouldn’t do that for me just a month ago.”
“Hoss not only that, he gave it to him without making Joe sign a promissory note. He told Joe that his handshake was good enough for him.”
Adam was baffled. Mr. Hammond was known for his distrust of everyone, even Ben had to sign a note. It didn’t make sense. As Liam moved off Adam turned to his father. “Pa, either Little Joe is the best businessman the territory has ever seen— or he has cast some sort of spell over this whole town. He’s just a kid but he could be elected mayor tomorrow if he wanted it.”
Ben nodded. As he went to speak the band stopped playing and Ephraim Jones climbed up on the stage, his daughter Frannie cradled in his arms. Her leg was carefully wrapped in bandages and plaster. She beamed down on the crowd. Ephraim went to the center of the stage and the band leader held up his hand to quiet the crowd.
“Folks, I want to thank you all for coming here tonight. Now as all of you know I have a lot to be thankful for tonight and there is one person here I have to thank for it. I would like to ask Joseph Cartwright to come to the stage.”
Ben and his sons craned their necks to see where Little Joe was. There was a stirring in the crowd in the back corner and they saw the crowd parting as someone moved through it. Little Joe was heartily clapped on the back by many of the men he passed. He had Jenny by the hand and was towing her along behind him. At the base of the stairs he paused and gave her a quick kiss then bounced up the stairs. Joe moved quickly over to Mr. Jones. He was very surprised about being called up by Mr. Jones but he had known something was afoot, Jenny had been giggling and beaming all evening.
“Joseph, my family and I owe you a debt that it will take me my life to repay. I would like to present you with this medal and this award of $100.”
Joe was speechless for one of the few times in his life. He stepped forward to receive the beautiful gold medallion which hung on a short red ribbon. He looked at it closely and saw it was engraved with his own name and the date. He shook Mr. Jones hand, wincing slightly at the pain the movement caused in his right arm. He smiled at Frannie who rested on her father’s left arm and leaned over to kiss her gently on the cheek. Frannie abandoned her father and wrapping her arms firmly around Joe’s neck hugged him fiercely. He laughed and hugged her back and the crowd applauded them fervently.
Joe handed Frannie back to her father and with a shy smile, stepped up to the front of the stage and said, “Thanks, but seeing Frannie safe was all the reward I needed Mr. Jones. Now everybody, let’s have some music so I can dance with my date.” With that, he went back down the steps to show Jenny his medal. He was quickly surrounded by his friends, all eagerly crowding around to see the medal. Ben, Hoss and Adam quickly worked their way through the crowd to Joe’s side. Lance and Billy glanced up over Joe’s head and saw his father and brothers approaching. Joe saw that they were looking at something over his head and turned around quickly. When he saw his father and brothers his face broke into a grin of pure delight and he threw himself on them all enthusiastically.
“Pa, when did you come back? Boy have I missed all of you.” He gripped his father fiercely, thinking of his fervent prayer the day before to have his father with him. He turned to his brothers and hugged them both in turn.
“Joseph, what’s this I hear about you going into deep holes in the ground,” Ben put on his sternest frown. He saw Joe’s face fall and felt momentarily abashed, “And I hear you come out of these holes the town hero.”
Joe grinned at his father’s words. “Pa, I only did what I had to do to make sure Frannie was ok. I couldn’t decide if it was something you would do, but I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Joe showed his father and brothers his medal and they all admired and exclaimed over it. A few minutes into their reunion, just as Ben was preparing to interrogate Joe about all the activities he had heard so much about Jenny came up and tapped lightly on Joe’s shoulder. The band had reconvened on the stage and the dance music was about to begin. Joe smiled down at Jenny and turned to his father.
“Excuse me Pa, duty calls.” As Joe moved away from them Ben saw someone accidentally bump into Joe’s right arm and saw Joe flinch away and grip his arm in pain. As Ben started for Joe he felt a hand gripping his own arm. Ben turned to see Paul Martin standing beside him.
“He’s just fine Ben. While he was in the hole there was a small cave-in and he got hit by some sharp rocks. His arm got a deep gash but I stitched it up and bandaged it. He’ll be just fine. I made sure Hop Sing had him rest today and not let him work. I wouldn’t let him break any horses this week but other than that he should be just fine.”
Ben began to speak and realized that there was nothing he could say. He turned and watched his son’s bright and happy face looking down on Jenny as they moved gracefully across the dance floor together. He felt as though he couldn’t get enough of looking at his truly amazing son.
The rest of the dance passed in a flash. Ben, Hoss and Adam stayed till the end so they could accompany Joe home. Over and over they heard stories of Joe’s remarkable heroics from the many people that were there. Shortly before the end of the dance, Miss Woods approached Ben. “Mr. Cartwright?” she gently touched his arm to capture his attention. Ben had been staring blindly at his youngest son who was slowly dancing with Jenny.
“Miss Woods. How are you? How was Joe in school this week?” Ben paused, “Perhaps I should say how was school without Joe this week? It sounds like he couldn’t have been there very much this past week.”
“It was very peaceful Mr. Cartwright. But I did want to tell you that Joe and I had a long talk and I gave him an oral exam on the materials that he was to be tested on. He passed with flying colors.” She turned and gazed at her young pupil. “Joseph is quite a boy, Mr. Cartwright. You should be very proud of him.”
Ben smiled, “I am Miss Woods, I am.”
“Joe and I had a long talk about his future Mr. Cartwright. He really does not want to return to school next year. After watching him at the picnic yesterday I have to agree with him.”
Ben looked surprised. He had not expected her to give in so readily to Joe’s desires. “Really Miss Woods. I had been thinking that an extra two years might be a good thing.”
“Mr. Cartwright, Little Joe knows his own mind better than most people twice his age. From everything I’ve heard he’s done everything you or his brothers would have done if you were here, and he has earned the respect of many of the people that will be working for him. And he had the town leaders yesterday following his instructions when it came to the rescue operation. Mr. Cartwright, he will not be happy if you make him return to school.”
Ben nodded thoughtfully. His fears of the past two days had in a way been both eliminated and enhanced. He saw that Joe had done no harm to the ranch, in fact Joe had been instrumental in improving a number of things. However, his worst fear, that Joe would do something reckless and foolhardy had been realized. Without his father and brothers to keep him from it, he had risked his life, the fact he had gotten the entire town behind him by doing so only re-enforced his concern.
“Miss Wood, I can promise you that I will give your words careful consideration. Now is there anything Joseph must do to complete his schooling for this year?”
“No Mr. Cartwright he is quite done.” Miss Woods nodded and moved away, concern nibbling at her conscience. She felt like she was letting Little Joe down, but she didn’t know what else she could say to persuade his father, and it was after all, his decision. She hoped he made the right one, whatever it was.
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear. Ben came downstairs early to review the accounts and ledgers for the ranch. He smiled as he saw amongst his own writing and Adam’s neat printing, Joe’s own entries, the slant of his left handed writing standing out in sharp contrast to his own. Marie had initially tried to teach Joe to be right-handed, but had quickly learned that it was not going to work and had let him use his left hand. Ben noted carefully Joe’s entries. All seemed in order and he was amused at the careful notes Joe had left for him, explaining each expense. There was also a list of the horses that had been broken and the offers made by each potential buyer. Joe had also noted where he thought they should accept the offers and where he thought a higher price could be achieved. Eventually Ben heard stirrings upstairs and soon Hoss and Adam descended the stairs.
“Hey Pa, breakfast ready yet?” Hoss looked towards the dining room and sniffed appreciateively. Hop Sing was cooking up pancakes, bacon and eggs.
“In a few moments boys. Where’s your brother?”
“We ain’t seen him yet Pa.” Hoss continued his steady trek towards the kitchen.
“I’ll go get him, Pa.” Adam turned and walked sedately up the stairs. A solid week in the saddle had left him feeling more than a little tired and sore. He had no plans for the day but to do a little reading. At the top of the stairs Adam turned and tapped on his brother’s door. After a moment he heard Joe saying softly, “Come in.”
Adam opened the door and saw Joe standing without his shirt on near his dresser. His back was to the door. He seemed to be staring at his arm.
“Hey Joe, Pa wants you to come down so we can all have breakfast together.” Adam moved slightly forward to see what Joe was doing. He gasped in sympathy when he saw Joe’s arm. The long gash on Joe’s arm had taken more than a dozen stitches. It still looked very painful with some redness and swelling. “Joe are you ok? Has Pa seen that?”
“Yes Adam, I am okay. No, Pa, hasn’t seen it, but the Doc said it would be fine, so I don’t want to worry Pa about it. But I can’t get the bandage on that the Doc left for me.” He turned to his brother and simply asked, “Can you help me?”
Adam smiled at the memory of Joe when he was just a little kid asking for his help with so many different things. “Sure Joe, let me do that for you.” Adam carefully took up the bandage and rewrapped Joe’s arm. “Too tight?”
“No Adam, that’s great.” Joe smiled at his older brother. On impulse he held his arms out and hugged his brother. Adam started in surprise but hugged Joe back.
“Now what’s that for?” Adam asked gruffly, feeling a lump form in his throat.
“Nothing, I’m just glad you are all back.” Joe smiled and picked up his shirt and put it on, hastily buttoning it up and tucking in his shirt tails. “We better get downstairs before Hoss eats your breakfast and mine as well as his own.”
“Bet that the one thing you didn’t miss while we were gone? No sharing your breakfast.” Joe nodded his agreement amiably and they moved together down the stairs. Once breakfast was over Ben declared that all three of his sons could have the day off. He finished reviewing the accounts and called Joe into his study. Joe had been happily playing checkers with Hoss, pleased to have his favorite playmate returned to him.
“Joe I have just a few questions for you. Take a seat.” Joe sat down looking a trifle uneasy but prepared for his father’s questions. “Now Joe, can you tell me how it is that you threw a party for over 100 people but I see no sign of any expenses appearing in the records.”
Joe sighed and said, “Well Pa, I knew we would need two hogs for the barbecue. Since you told me that the two I raised from piglets were mine I used those. When Hop Sing and I went to town, he got a lot of the things we needed from his relatives in Chinatown. The rest I explained to Mr. Matthews at the Mercantile we needed for the school picnic. Since he and his three children were coming to the picnic he donated the rest of the supplies we needed. So really the picnic didn’t cost you anything.” Joe smiled and nodded at his father. Ben steepled his fingers and gazed at his son thoughtfully. Joe had used his own resources and achieved quite a bit. “Joseph, can you explain how you got Mr. Hammond to go along with you and give you credit at the mill?”
“No sir. I just asked and he agreed.”
Ben nodded, that was a mystery he would uncover some other day. “Well son, it seems you did a fine job while we were gone. However, there is one thing.”
“You have still not gotten a haircut.” Ben frowned at his son brown curls, which were now definitely curling at the top of his white shirt collar. Joe grinned, but then grew serious.
“Pa, have you thought about what we talked about? About me not having to return to school next year?”
“Yes Son, I have. And Miss Woods spoke to me yesterday. I understand your concerns and Mis Woods seems to feel that you should not have to return. However, I still have some doubts about allowing you to leave school.” Ben frowned at his son. Joe struggled manfully to keep his composure. “Then you haven’t made your decision yet?”
“Joe, let’s just say I would like a little more time to think about it.”
Joe nodded and then got up, returning to the fire to play checkers with his brother, wearing an anxious expression on his face. He knew his father well enough to know that his father was leaning heavily towards making him go for the two more years. He had to think of some way to change his father’s mind.
The next morning Ben assigned his sons their tasks for the day. He had gotten a look at Joe’s arm the evening before, after Adam had suggested he take a look. One look had convinced him that Joe was not going to be doing any heavy lifting that day. He set Joe to grooming the horses, something he would do with his left hand. Hoss and Adam were sent to the mill to pick up a load of wood pallets they needed for some construction. Ben worked through the morning, studying his books and checking the accounts. He enjoyed the feeling of normalcy that had come back into his life. His concerns about Joe were behind him. Under his father and brothers’ care there was less to worry about. As lunch time approached Ben heard the sound of the wagon approaching from the mill. He walked outside and smiled and waved as Hoss and Adam drove up, Hoss guiding the team, while Adam stretched out next to him relaxing. They both climbed down and Hoss began to untie the load while Adam moved to the far side of the wagon. Unseen by any of them the wagon’s axle had developed a crack when the boys had hit a particularly deep pot hole in the road on the way back from the mill. The load in the wagon had also gradually shifted during the trip. As Hoss released the second rope there was a sharp crack and the wagon suddenly sagged to one side. Ben could see what was about to happen and tried to call out to Adam, who was underneath the toppling load.
Suddenly a figure raced from the barn, plowing into Adam and throwing him clear of the load. The rescuer was not so fortunate, and as his father watched in horror, Joe was knocked to the ground by the massive load of wood and quickly buried beneath it. Ben’s legs suddenly unfroze and he raced across the yard. Adam slowly climbed to his feet, dazed and unsure of what had happened. He turned and saw his father frantically attempting to move the heavy pallets, calling Joe’s name. Hoss and Adam joined their father and began to move the pallets aside. Charlie Morgan came from the bunkhouse and calling loudly for the other men joined them. In short order everyone was working to uncover Joe’s body. Finally Ben was able to move the pallet that had rested on Joe’s head. The others joined him and within a matter of seconds Joe was uncovered. Joe lay deathly still on the ground, his face pale and covered with cuts and red marks. He was unconscious.
Charlie quickly dispatched one of the men to get the doctor from town.
Ben stooped over his youngest son and with Hoss’s help slowly rolled Joe over onto his back. Carefully they examined Joe, immediately seeing that he had a number of broken ribs and a broken right wrist. A small stream of blood ran from Joe’s mouth and his clothes were torn and bloody in several places. Finally Ben and the men gently lifted Joe, carefully holding his head still and moved him into the house and up to his room. With Hoss and Adam’s help Ben got Joe’s clothes off and carefully doctored his various cuts. Through their ministrations Joe remained eerily still, so still that Ben found himself frequently checking his pulse and checking to make sure he was still breathing. Finally after an eternity, Doc Martin arrived. Ushering Ben, Hoss, and Adam from the room, Doc Martin bent to examine Joe carefully. He listened to Joe’s heart and lungs. He examined the cuts Ben had doctored and frowned thoughtfully at a large bruise that had formed across Joe’s lower back. He carefully checked Joe’s ribs and wrapped them tightly. Finally after an hour he emerged to find Ben, Hoss, Adam and Hop Sing waiting for him in the hall.
“Doc, how is he?” Ben leaped forward towards the doctor.
“Ben it’s pretty bad. He has a severe concussion, about six broken ribs, and a broken wrist. But worst of all, I fear he has internal injuries and there is no way to tell how bad those are. He’s already beginning to run a fever and there’s no telling how high it is going to go.”
“Doc, ain’t there nothing you can do?” Hoss’s eyes pleaded silently with the doctor.
“Not right now, Hoss. Ben, if you don’t mind sending one of your men into town, I’d like to send my wife a message that I’ll be staying here the next day or so. I want to keep a close eye on Joe.” Ben nodded and gestured to Hop Sing who raced downstairs where Charlie and the rest of the men had gathered. Charlie dispatched one of the men into town.
“Doc, what can we do?” Adam asked. He felt terrible, Joe was in danger and all because he had saved him.
“Adam, I have medicine to keep him comfortable when he wakes up and we’ll need to keep him cool. In this case, it’s just a matter of time.”
Ben nodded his head. Time. Just this morning he felt he had all the time in the world to deal with his youngest son.
Adam looked at his father, “Pa, I’ll go talk to the men, they are all waiting downstairs. Doc, is there anything we need before I send them back to work?”
Doc Martin thought, “Do you have plenty of ice in the ice house?”
Hoss thought for a moment, “Yes, Doc. We had a long hard winter, we got plenty of ice.”
“Good, Hoss we need to keep Joe comfortable and cool. He’s running a low fever right now. He’ll be ok for now but if it starts to go up we may need to ice him down. You may want to make sure we have several buckets of ice chips, we may need them during the night.”
“Yes doc, I’ll put the men on it right away.” Adam turned and raced down the stairs.
“Ben, someone should stay with him at all times. I’ll check on him every hour or so. Let me know right away if he should show any signs of waking up. It is imperative that he lie still, so those broken ribs don’t puncture a lung. He could also have internal injuries that movement would make worse.”
Hoss spoke up, “I’ll sit with him now Pa. You go and get something to eat.” Hoss’ concern shone in his face, he could see the terrible strain his father was under.
“All right Hoss. Paul, join me?” Ben marched down the stairs, using all his will power to keep his back straight.
Paul went to follow, then turned back to Hoss briefly. “Hoss, you may want to try speaking to him. He may respond to you.”
Hoss nodded and slowly turned the doorknob to his brother’s room. For a moment he found himself unable to bear looking at his brother’s broken body, Joe’s small body was dwarfed by his bed. He found himself looking around his brother’s room, on the wall hung the beautiful Indian shield Joe had gotten when his father had returned from a trading expedition with the Shoshone. On the opposite wall was the epee he had inherited from his mother, one of his most treasured possessions. Another wall held the war bonnet that had been personally given to him by Chief Winnamucca of the Piaute Indian tribe. On his desk stood three framed pictures. There was the picture of Joe’s Mama, her curly brown hair and smiling eyes shining through even the tinted picture. The picture next to it was of Hoss, Ben, Adam and Joe from four years ago. Hoss even remembered the day the picture was taken. The photographer had made them pose for almost an hour, Joe had been unable to stop wiggling. Finally his father had settled him down with a stern talking to. Hoss smiled at the picture, even after being scolded Joe had a big grin spread across his face in the picture. The third picture was of Hoss, Adam and Joe on their first trip to San Francisco together a little over a year ago. All three were very formal in their suits and ties, keeping their faces serious. The picture had been a gift to their father and all of them had copies of the picture in their rooms. Hoss sighed and moved to his brother’s side. Joe’s breathing was so quiet it could hardly be heard. Hoss gently laid his hand on his brother’s forehead. It felt warm to the touch and slightly damp. Hoss rose and took one of the towels from next to the basin. He dipped the cloth in the water, wrung it out and gently wiped it across his brother’s forehead, careful to avoid the bandage that was securely wrapped around Joe’s temple. Joe’s eyebrows drew together in a slight frown. Hoss peered closely at his brother’s face. “Joe are you awake? Joe come on now buddy.” Hoss studied his brother’s face and was rewarded again with a small twitch. He thought a moment, then smiled. “Short shanks, Hop Sing done made us your favorite for dinner, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and a nice cake for dessert. Come on shorty, you know you want some.”
Joe wrinkled his forehead and fluttered his eyes briefly.
“Joseph Francis Cartwright, you wake up right now, before I pound you.”
Joe’s eyes opened at that and he stared at his brother blankly then briefly struggled to sit up before collapsing back on his pillows with a moan.
“Joe, just lie back, relax now. I gotta go get the doctor.”
“Hoss,” Joe placed his hand on his brother’s shirt sleeve. Hoss immediately subsided at Joe’s side. “Hoss, what happened?” He coughed and immediately winced in pain, clutching his side. His voice was very soft.
Hoss clasped his brother’s hand briefly, “Joe, you had an accident. But you’ll be just fine now.”
“Did it happen in the mine Hoss?”
“No Joe,” Hoss frowned. “No, you were coming out of the barn and you had a bunch of wood pallets fall on you. You saved Adam from getting hit with ’em, Joe.”
A puzzled expression crossed Joe’s face, “But the little girl, Hoss. She’s still in the hole. We have to get her out.”
“Joey, no she’s just fine. You got her out just fine. You just lie back, I gotta go get the doctor.” Hoss stood up and moved out the door quickly.
“Pa! Doc! Adam! He’s awake, come quick.” Hoss called from the top of the stairs. The three men raced up the stairs and down the hall. Ben entered the room first and stopped at the sight of his youngest son, his face as pale as the cotton of his nightshirt, looking up at him from the pillow, the only color in his face his green eyes.
“Joe, how are you son?” he asked softly. Ben went to Joe’s side and gently placed his hand on his head, brushing the damp curls off his forehead.
“Hey, Pa.” Joe smiled up at his father faintly. He remembered his father coming home and how happy he had been to see him. “Pa, I…” Joe gave a faint cough, and grimaced in pain.
Doc Martin ushered everyone out of the room quickly. Ben tried to linger, but Paul gave him a firm push out the door. Turning back to his patient, Paul went over to Joe and leaned over. “Well young fella, what have you gotten yourself into this time?”
Joe frowned, thinking hard. “I don’t rightly remember what happened to me, Doc. Did something happen up at the mine? Hoss said no, but I don’t remember.”
“No Joe, you got hit by some pallets. I bandaged you up some, but I need you to tell me where it hurts.”
“Everywhere,” Joe sighed.
Paul laughed, “Well I can see why that would be so, Joe. Let’s start at the top of your head and work our way down. How does your head feel?”
“My head feels all fuzzy and it aches a bit, Doc.” Joe’s face reflected tremendous weariness.
“How about your sides, your ribs?” The doctor pulled the sheet down from Joe’s chin and gently pressed on Joe’s ribs through the cloth of his nightshirt. Joe’s loud moan gave him the answer he needed. “Joe you need to stay in bed for the next few days. You’ve got a lot of bad bruises and some broken ribs. And it looks like you’ve got a bad concussion too. I’ll be staying here tonight and I need you to tell me if any of the pains get real sharp in any one area. Can you do that for me, Joe?” He fixed Joe with his sharp gaze.
“No need to stay, Doc. I’m all right.” Joe said automatically.
“Joseph, I surely wish you would quit telling me how to do my job. Now I ask you again, can you let me know if your pains get any worse?” the Doc said firmly.
Yes, Doc. I’ll try.” Joe licked his lips to moisten them; they felt so dry.
Noticing that the Doctor asked, “Would you like some water, Joe?” The doctor moved to the night stand and poured some water from the pitcher of clean water. Joe nodded weakly and Paul held the glass to his lips. Joe drank a few small sips then began coughing violently. Paul held his violently shaking body, frowning. As the coughing began to subside, Joe leaned back against the pillows, pale and exhausted. His lips were pursed and he was grimacing at something.
“Joe, where is the pain you are feeling right now?” Paul said urgently.
“Just my back,” Joe gestured towards his lower back. “And my ribs.” Joe felt completely exhausted. Slowly his eyes began to flutter and he slowly slipped into a deep sleep. Paul watched Joe a few more minutes, checking his pulse and his temperature, and watching his breathing. Frowning, he finally moved away from Joe’ bed and into the hallway.
“Paul. We heard Joe coughing, what’s going on?”
“Ben, it’s too soon to tell. His ribs are in real bad shape. He needs rest and we need to keep an eye on his temperature. Hoss, go on back in. Don’t try and wake him. Call me when he wakes again.” Paul turned away. That bruise across Joe’s back worried him. It could be any of a number of things. He just hoped that Joe would be able to overcome any internal damage.
“Let’s go back downstairs now. Hop Sing has prepared some dinner. I’ll have him bring some up to Hoss.” Ben ushered Paul and Adam down the stairs before him. He paused to cast a quick glance back up at Joe’s closed door. He felt a band of fear tightening around his chest. The coughing he had heard from Joe’s room mixed with moans of pain terrified him.
The grandfather clock in the living room chimed five o’clock. The ranch house was plunged in darkness. The men in the bunkhouse were all sleeping, though there was much tossing and turning. Each man’s dreams were tormented by the sight of Joe’s body, buried under the lumber that had fell on him, completely covering him. In Joe’s room a small candle flickered in the darkness. Adam sat patiently at his brother’s bedside, an open book lying unread in his lap. Adam watched over his brother, rising as the clock downstairs chimed to gently check Joe’s forehead and wipe it off with a cool damp cloth.
He had begun worrying at four when he thought he felt Joe’s forehead was warmer than it had been. Joe had also become slightly more restless, shifting slightly and moaning with greater frequency as the time ticked by. Adam had felt consumed with the strangest feeling since the accident. He knew it had not been his own fault, but as he looked at his younger brother he could not help but feel that it should be him, not Joe, lying in this bed. Adam’s uneasy feeling had been growing as he continued to check Joe that he should go wake the doctor. His protective feelings were very strong, as they often were with his much younger brother. His father had always relied on Hoss and Adam to keep Joe out of trouble as best they could. Outside of school, Joe spent most of his time with his two brothers. Hoss often relied on his physical strength to rescue Joe. Adam relied more on sheer force of will, many times when they were in situations that were more than a little risky, Adam often found himself checking to see what Joe was doing. And just as often Joe would be watching Adam carefully, almost unconsciously taking his lead from his brother. He remembered the day four large men had entered the Mercantile and begun rough-housing and talking rudely to the storekeeper. Adam had seen Joe begin to reach for his gun but glance first at Adam. Adam had merely shaken his head briefly and he had watched his brother relax into a more watchful position. A few moments later Roy Coffee had come in and the men had moved on. Adam never said anything to Joe, but he knew that Joe followed his lead and he was always aware that any example he set would be followed— for the better or worse. This time he knew Joe had reacted without thinking, just as he or Hoss would have. But twice in less than 48 hours, his baby brother had demonstrated selfless courage and had saved two lives. He realized that he would never think of Little Joe as just his younger brother again. He checked Joe again, and knew he needed to get the doctor. Rising silently to his feet he picked up the candle and moved down the hall to the guest room. Tapping on the door softly he heard a soft, “Come in.”
“Paul, it’s Adam. You need to come check on Joe. I think his temperature is climbing.”
Paul nodded and rose from where he had been lying on top of the coverlet in his clothes. His shirt was untucked and his tie was on the dresser. “Is he still sleeping Adam?”
“Yes, but he’s really restless. Paul what’s the matter with him?” Adam tried to ask the question simply but there was real anguish in his voice.
“Adam, I just don’t know. He might have some internal injuries. If that’s the case his temperature will continue to increase. I’ve got some medicines and tonics that will help but he’s going to have to fight to get himself better.”
“Well if there is one thing that Joe is, it’s a fighter.” Adam smiled at the thought of the long running battle his father had been fighting for weeks over Little Joe getting a haircut. “If he can beat out Pa, he can certainly beat any old injury.”
“Yes, I did notice that Joe’s hair was quite a bit longer than your father usually allows it to get.” Paul smiled.
“He’s quite a boy. I’ve never been prouder than I was when he rescued Frannie, Adam. That boy never had a moment’s doubt, a moment’s fear.”
“Maybe that’s the problem Paul, he has no fear, he just rushes in.” Adam’s voice roughened slightly.
Paul draped his arm around Adam’s shoulder. “Adam, if Joe had hesitated even for a minute, that might be you lying in there and it might have been a whole lot worse.” Paul squeezed Adam’s shoulder gently. “Now let’s go check your brother.”
Back in Joe’s room Paul and Adam lit several oil lanterns. Joe had tossed back his covers. His brow was covered with a faint sheen of sweat and his cheeks were reddened, in his still pale face. Paul frowned as he felt Joe’s forehead then pulse.
“Adam, it’s quite bit higher. We need to get him cooled down. Wipe down his forehead and face.” Paul brushed Joe’s sweat dampened curls back. Adam quickly wet the cloth and wiped Joe’s face. Paul went to his bag and after sorting through the various vials and bottles carefully poured some medicine in a small glass, double checking the amount. “Adam, help him sit up so he can drink this.”
Adam put his arm around Joe’s shoulder and helped him sit up. Joe moaned and opened his eyes. Looking up at his brother with his wild gaze Joe mumbled something unintelligible and coughed slightly. Paul held the glass to his lips and tilted it back. Joe drank down the medicine and then sank back onto his pillows. His eyes still remained open, staring around the room.
“Joe it’s me Adam. How are you buddy?”
“Adam, where is she? Is she ok?” Joe stared wildly around the room again.
Adam was bewildered. “Who, Joe? Who are you looking for?”
Joe looked directly at Adam, then muttering to himself his eyes slowly closed. Adam leaned back, frowning fiercely. He watched his brother’s restless sleep briefly, then rose to wake his brother and father.
While Joe appeared to be sleeping his mind was in a constant whirl of people, places, and images. Joe found himself walking alone, desperately thirsty, but unable to reach the lake. It was a hot summer day and as he moved towards the lake he found his way blocked by a woman, standing with her back to him.
“Pardon me ma’am.” Joe went to walk around the woman, tipping his hat in the most elegant of fashion’s, as he had seen the dandy’s in Virginia City do.
The woman turned to him and smiled, “Hello Joe.” Her luxurious, brown curly hair fell loosely down her back and her green eyes twinkled.
Joe found himself staring at her intently. “Do I know you ma’am?”
“Joe, you have something you need to do don’t you? Before you go to the lake?” She placed her hands on her hips watching him intently. Joe suddenly found himself to be much smaller, no more than seven or eight years old. He frowned up at her.
“Joseph Francis, don’t tell me you have forgotten? You still have something you must do.”
“Yes Mama,” Little Joe’s eyes filled with hot, salty tears at his mother’s stern speech. He was still so hot, but he turned from the lake and began to walk down the trail towards town. He turned to look back at his mother but she shimmered briefly and vanished.
Adam hovered anxiously over his younger brother, tossing and turning restlessly in his bed, moaning with pain. He rewet the towel that had fallen from Joe’s forehead and wiped his brow off again. Paul Martin placed his hand on Joe’s forehead then cheek, and frowning turned back to Adam. Dawn was just breaking over the Ponderosa and both men were bone tired.
“Adam, you best go wake your Pa and Hoss. His fever is rising, you’re going to need to get some ice to chill down the water.” Paul continued to check Joe over, taking his arm he checked his pulse carefully.
“Doc, is he going to be ok?” Adam flinched, as the doctor raised his sad weary eyes to look at Adam.
“Adam I can’t answer that. Something inside him is hurt bad. There really isn’t anything I can do; it is up to Joe. He has to fight to get better.”
Adam nodded and went to rouse his father and brother.
Throughout the day the Cartwrights and Hop Sing were running up and down the stairs, carrying ice, clean towels, and water. Joe was burning with fever, sweating through his nightgown and sheets. Twice his father and brothers struggled to get him out of his sweat soaked nightgown, without hurting him.
As they changed him the second time Joe seemed to come to himself, blinking open his eyes to see find himself in his brother Hoss’s arms, as his father sponged down his chest, arms and legs. “Pa,” he croaked, his throat raspy and dry.
“Yes Joe, I’m right here, Son.”
“Pa, Mama was here. What did I forget Pa?” Joe’s lip trembled and he seemed on the verge of tears. “Please Pa, what did I forget?”
Ben shook his head helplessly. He was consumed with fear for his young son.
“What’s he talking about Pa?” Hoss still cradled Joe in his arms. He could feel Joe’s fever burning through his fingers.
“I don’t know Hoss. What could he be forgetting?” Ben shook his head.
Adam moved up next to Hoss holding a clean fresh nightgown. Hoss helped him slip the nightgown over Joe’s head and pulled the nightgown over him. He gently laid Joe back on the clean pillow. Adam pulled the clean sheets and blankets up over Joe and the three men gathered, looking down at Joe with shared concern. The hours crept by slowly. As the shadows lengthened towards the end of the day, Joe tossed his head back and forth on his pillow, seeking a cool spot to rest his head. Doc Martin shook his head with concern. He had Hoss roll Joe over so he could examine his back. He checked Joe’s back carefully and finally moved to his bag. He took out a small bottle and poured a small amount of the clear liquid in the bottle into a glass.
“What’s that Paul?” Ben’s voice shook with tiredness.
“Just something that may reduce some of his pain and make him sleep, Ben. It may help him to rest a bit more easily. We’re going to need to ice him down. Hoss,” Paul glanced to where Hoss stood staring out the window.
“Have them men get a large quantity of ice. He’s burning up and we have to get his fever to come down somehow. Adam, help me take off his gown, we’ll start out by wrapping him in damp sheets.” The three men set to work as Hoss went out to the bunkhouse to have the men start chipping the ice blocks into small chunks. An hour later Joe lay wrapped in the icy cold sheets. He was in a deep drugged sleep, though still shivering. Hoss and Adam had forced their father to go downstairs for a while and try and eat something.
After Ben finished eating he went to sit behind his desk. Ben sat gazing at Marie’s picture, unable to clear his thoughts of Joe from his head. All the time he had been on the trail with Hoss and Adam he had imagined so many things that could have gone wrong without either he or his brothers there to keep him out of danger or to rescue him— Joe getting thrown by a Bucking bronc, Joe getting caught by a cattle stampede and trampled, or Joe simply losing his temper and getting beaten. Ben shook his head. As he stood to go upstairs he paused when he heard a horse riding up. Ben opened the front door to find Mr. Hammond from the mill standing on his doorstep. Jack Hammond took a step back when he saw Ben Cartwrights strained white face. He found his words dying on his lips. Ben gestured for Hammond to come in and followed him. “Jack, I’m sorry. I’ve been meaning to send someone to your place with the payment for that promissory note of Joe’s. I’ll get it for you now.” Ben turned to move towards his safe.
“Ben,” Jack laid his hand on Ben’s arm. “I didn’t come for that. I heard about your boy. I wanted to see if he was all right. If there was anything I could do.”
Jack’s sincerity shone in his eyes. Ben found his curiousity piqued by Jack’s words and expression. He remembered what Liam had told him. “Jack, may I ask you something?”
“Jack, why did you do it? Why did you give Little Joe the lumber without a deposit?” It suddenly became important for Ben to know. Jack stared at Ben for a moment, then licked his lips, “Ben, your Joe once did my family a tremendous favor. I will owe him for the rest of my life. In fact, he could have free lumber forever if he wanted it.”
Ben was puzzled. “Jack, Joe is very ill. The doctor, well the doctor isn’t sure he’s going to make it. Please I need to know, somehow it seems so important.” Ben’s face began to crumble, a barely suppressed sob escaped. Hammond reached out, firmly gripping Ben’s arms.
“Ben, sit down.” He guided Ben to the couch, then sat down across from him. “Ben, I’ve always been a very private man. When my family and I came to Virginia City I had a daughter. She was tiny, delicate, a very sweet child. And she had a club foot. In every town we had lived in, other children, strong, healthy children, picked on her, teased her, were purposefully cruel. We moved around a bit, times were hard. In every town she would try the new school and in every town the children would be so hard we would end up taking her out of school.”
“I don’t understand Jack. What does this have to do with Little Joe.”
“When we came to Virginia City we had decided that Antonia didn’t have to go to school anymore. But she wanted to Ben. More than anything, she wanted to be like her brothers, like the other children. Finally we agreed to let her go. When we dropped her off I was so scared. She and her brother came home after school that day, she was like a different child. She laughed, she giggled, she was happy.” Jack subsided into silence, his mind’s eye fixed on his daughter’s face.
“Jack, I must be missing something. What does this have to do with Little Joe?”
“Everything Ben. Joe was the one who made a difference for Antonia. He stood up to the school bully and licked him good when he picked on Tonia. He was one of her best friends. Do you mean that you never knew? They spent whole days together. He taught her to ride, he even gave her a pony. I always thought when they were 11, that someday, perhaps, they would, well marry. But then the influenza came. She was never that strong physically. It took her from us. I remember her whole class came to the funeral. But it was Joe, Ben, Joe that gave her the chance to go to school, to learn the way she wanted to.”
Ben’s astonishment was evident. “Jack, are you telling me that Joe, my Joe, did all this?”
Jack sat back and stared at Ben. “How is this possible Ben, he never told you about her?”
“Pa, I bet that Antonia was Little Joe’s friend, ‘Tony’.” Hoss spoke up. He had been standing on the staircase listening. He camed down and sat next to his father. “Remember how he was always going to play with Tony. After I started working and Adam was away at school, if we was busy on a Saturday or during the summers, lots of times he went off with Tony. I guess we just always thought Tony was another little boy.” Ben’s eyes widened in recognition that Hoss was right. He remembered Little Joe talking about Tony all the time. He just never knew.
“Ben, can I see him? I know he’s powerful sick Ben, but I want him to know that he did a good thing. That I’m grateful.” Jack waited for Ben’s answer.
“Certainly Jack, Hoss show him upstairs.” Hoss led Jack upstairs.
Outside Joe’s door, Hoss hesitated and turned to Mr. Hammond. “Mr. Hammond, he’s real sick. He may not know ya.” Hoss opened the door and Jack Hammond went in. He paused as his eyes took in the still body lying on the bed, covered in wet sheets. He moved to the head of the bed and stared down at the young face. Adam looked up from his seat at Joe’s bedside. His face registered his surprise, “Mr. Hammond.”
“Adam, may I have a moment alone with your brother?”
“Sure Mr. Hammond.” Adam joined Hoss in the doorway, exchanging a long look with his brother.
“Joe, son, can you hear me?” Hammond leaned over Joe who barely stirred.
Joe was being lowered into the deep hole in the mine. He went deeper and deeper; it was dark and oh so cold. He knew he could stop it with a simple yank on the rope. He persisted. As he approached the bottom he could see the top of the little girl’s head shining in the light. His feet gently touched the ground and he was suddenly the same size. She looked up at him.
“Tony,” Joe gasped in surprise.
“Hello Joe. Thank you for coming to me, Joe. I’ve waited for you all these years.” She smiled at Joe. “I just wanted to thank you, Joe, thank you for everything.”
Joe returned her smile, “I’ve missed you Tony, an awful lot. You were the only person that made school fun for me. It ain’t been the same since you been gone.”
“I know, Joe. But, you done real good. I am real proud of you.”
“I’m real sorry they wouldn’t let me say goodbye to you Tony. It’s all I ever wanted to do. I didn’t want to just forget you.”
“Joe, you won’t forget me. Every time you do something good, I’ll know about it, you done good by me Joe, real good. But it’s time for you to go back now.”
Joe stood looking at her. He remembered when he was just eleven. The first time he ever kissed a girl it was Antonia, up by the lake. She smiled at him, sharing his memory. “Joe, you love your freedom, the way I loved going to school. You stick to your guns. You’ll be just fine, your Pa won’t make you keep going.” She reached up and gently brushed his hair back from his face. Joe paused then quickly saying good by, he bent and kissed her on the lips. As he straightened she smiled and faded away. He felt himself being drawn back up, towards the light. He heard a voice speaking to him. Thanking him. Briefly Joe stirred and opened his eyes. Mr. Hammond stood over him looking down. “Hey Mr. Hammond.” Joe smiled up at the man briefly, sleepily blinking his eyes.
“Hello, son. How are you feeling?” Hammond smiled with relief, things might not be as bad as he had feared.
“Better. I saw Tony, Mr. Hammond. She wanted to say goodbye. She’s just fine.”
Jack Hammond bit his lip, the boy looked so sincere, so calm. Could it be? “I’m glad Joe. You just rest and get better. I can’t go losing my best customer now can I.”
“No sir. Mr. Hammond, thank you.” Joe’s eyes conveyed his gratitude. Hammond nodded and Joe slowly closed his eyes and went back to sleep. Hammond stood up and moved back to the door. As he swung it open he found the three Cartwrights waiting patiently in the hall.
“He was awake Ben. He seems better somehow. Best you go check on him.” Ben and the boys pushed past Jack and rushed to Joe’s bedside. Jack looked at them and nodded one last time at Joe. He turned and moved down the stairs.
As Jack walked outside he saw Lance and Billy riding up to the house. “Howdy Mr. Hammond.” Lance nodded soberly. “How’s Little Joe doing sir?”
“Well boys, seems to me he’s doing just a bit better.” Both boys grinned.
“Really sir? Do you think we can see him now?”
“Not just yet boys, but I expect you’ll be seeing him real soon.”
Paul Martin leaned over Joe, checking his fever and pulse. He turned to Ben and his sons, “Ben, seems the fever is broken.” He bent over Joe. “How are you feeling son?”
“Doc, I’m a little cold. Could I have a blanket?” Joe looked puzzled when his father and brothers all began to laugh.
“Ben, let’s get this young fella dried off and warmed up again.” Hoss and Adam of one accord moved forward. Before they redressed Joe, Doc Martin carefully rewrapped Joe’s ribs tightly and checked to make sure the plaster on his broken wrist was still dry. Once Joe was warm and dry again, the doctor finally took his leave of the Cartwrights, after cautioning them to keep Joe in bed and still.
“Paul, thank you for everything.” Ben warmly shook the doctor’s hand. “Is there anything we should do?”
“Ben, just keep him in bed, he needs to get complete bed rest. I’ll be back tomorrow to check on him. Give him the sleeping powders I left upstairs in the evening, that will help him get some rest. There is some medicine up next to the bed for the pain as well.”
Ben took Paul downstairs and showed him out. He walked him to the courtyard and one of the hands brought around his carriage. “Goodbye, Paul. Thanks for everything.”
“Goodbye, Ben.” Doc Martin waved and urged on his horse. As the Doctor rode away, he sighed a huge sigh of relief. He had been almost certain at one point that Joe had a ruptured kidney and that he was going to die from internal hemorrhage. He almost surely had either a small kidney hemorrhage or a small adrenal gland hemorrhage. Fortunately, they had been small and stopped before doing too much damage. If they could keep Joe still long enough, they should heal without problems. Like the Bible says, “the good Lord watches out for fools and his children.” I am sure that Little Joe Cartwright fits into both categories, Paul thought to himself. Then chuckling, he snapped the reins of the buggy and hurried the horses home toward his own family. Ben stood watching the carriage move off, feeling a weight lifting off his shoulders. He turned back to the house and then paused, as he saw Lance and Billy sitting side by side on the end of the porch. He smiled and moved over to the two boys. Both stood up when they saw him coming.
“Hello Mr. Cartwright.” They chorused. “How’s Little Joe, sir?” Lance added.
“Well boys, he seems to be doing much better. He’s asleep upstairs. You can see him in a few days when he’s feeling a bit stronger.” Ben eyed the two boys. Both their faces had brightened considerably when they heard Joe was improving.
“Mr. Cartwright, could I see him tonight, just for a minute.” Lance looked Ben in the eye, his lanky height putting him eye to eye with the older man. “I just want to tell him something. It won’t take but a minute and I promise I will get right out. It is real important, Mr. Cartwright,”
Ben eyed him briefly, began to say no, then relented. “Lance, if you go quickly.” Lance smiled and turned and dashed into the house. He bounded up the stairs and paused at the closed door to Joe’s room. He opened the door slowly and saw that Joe was alone. Slipping inside he moved over to Joe’s bedside.
“Little Joe,” he whispered softly. Joe opened his eyes and smiled weakly at the sight of his good friend.
“Hey Lance, what are you doing here?”
“Billy and I came when we heard about your accident. Are you ok?” Lance was feeling a bit scared, Joe was awfully pale and looked terrible.
“Hey, I’ve been through worse. I’ll be just fine.” Joe smiled as reassuringly as he could.
“I asked your Pa if I could see you so I could tell you something important. Joe, I ain’t going back to school either. I’m leaving just like you are.” Lance looked at Joe earnestly. “I talked to my Pa, he’s awful mad, but it was real important that you know.” He fell silent watching Joe.
Joe thought about what Lance was saying. He remembered what Antonia said, that he would have to stand up to his father. He knew that he had a big battle in front of him, his Pa’s protectiveness was bound to be much stronger after the accident. He shrugged his shoulders, “Thanks, Lance, thanks for coming to tell me. If you can stand up to your Pa, I’ll do my best to stand up to mine.” Joe grinned suddenly, “That is, when I can get out of bed.”
Lance smiled back. “Well, you know what we always said. When we got out of school we could go off on our big adventure. San Francisco, China, Australia, Europe.”
Joe gave a brief laugh and suddenly gasped in pain and clutched his side. Lance reached forward and briefly clasped Joe’s arm. “You ok, Joe?”
“I’ll be fine, Lance, ” Joe spoke through clenched teeth. The pain in his side burned white hot. “I don’t think I’m ready for China quite yet. But if Pa won’t let me work here at the ranch, if he tries to make me go back to school, I’ll pack my bags and we’ll take off.”
“You better rest, Joe. I’ll come see you in a couple of days.” Lance stood and quickly moved out of Joe’s room.
Closing the door gently he found himself suddenly weary and leaned against the wall. Hoss came out of his own room and saw the younger man. “Lance, what’s the matter? Is Joe all right?”
“I don’t know, Hoss. He was ok for a bit, then the pain got real bad again.”
“I’ll go take care of him Lance, you best head on home.” Hoss watched Lance disappear down the stairs then he quietly entered Joe’s room. Joe was asleep. His hand clutched the quilt that covered him. Hoss settled into the chair next to the bed and watched over his brother. Hours later Ben went to check on Joe and found Hoss asleep next to his bed. He shook Hoss awake and sent him to bed. As Hoss went down the hall he paused outside his brother Adam’s door. Lightly knocking he opened the door. Adam was sitting up in bed, his robe wrapped around him. He was holding a book listlessly in his hands, staring at the pages without seeing the words.
“Hey Adam. How are you?”
“I’m fine Hoss. How’s Joe?”
Hoss sat down on the edge of Adam’s bed carefully. He and Joe had often shared late night talks, but Hoss seldom found himself in Adam’s room. He tried to respect his brother’s privacy. “He’s doing better Adam. Pa gave him some more of the pain medicine and he’s sleeping pretty good. How are you?”
“Oh I’m fine Hoss. I was just thinking about Yates and his younger brother. Remember how Yates was when he realized his brother had died trying to save him, he was all filled with hate at Roy and us?”
“Yeah, I do.” Hoss frowned, so much had happened in the past few days he had almost forgotten the reason he and Adam had been gone during Joe’s week of ruling the Ponderosa.
“Well, I don’t think he did hate Roy or us. I think he hated himself, Hoss. He hated himself because he knew that it was really his fault his brother was killed.”
“Then Yates was wrong, Adam. His brother did try to save him, but it was his own choice. Every man ultimately makes his own choice. Adam, you know Joe would give his life for you, just like you would for him. You can’t blame yourself, just like Joe don’t blame you.”
“But Hoss, I owe him my life. How can I make that up to him?”
“Maybe you can’t right now Adam, maybe you won’t be able to for the next twenty years. Maybe you will tomorrow. Just remember, Joe gave you your life, so you best make sure you don’t waste your life like Yates did. His brother’s sacrifice was all for nothing, Yates will be in prison the rest of his life.”
Adam nodded soberly. He glanced at Hoss, staring at him with concern on his face. “Hoss, don’t start worrying about me now. Let’s focus on helping Joe get well.”
The two weeks after Joe’s accident passed quite slowly for the Cartwrights. Doc Martin rode out each afternoon, keeping a close eye on Joe’s ribs and the slowly fading bruise across his back. After the first week, Paul finally allowed Joe to get out of bed, spending much of his time sitting in a big rocking chair on the front porch of the Ponderosa. Joe’s school friends all flocked to the Ponderosa, keeping Joe company throughout the day. His father and brothers initially hovered, but soon found themselves sitting on the sidelines as Joe held court. He had the ranch hands and miners all doing his slightest bidding. He was a hero twice in one month, saving little Frannie and his brother Adam. And his good deeds in his week running the ranch were not forgotten. To his friends and the hands, Joe appeared his usual self, laughing and joking, though he was without his usual boundless energy. He tended to keep very still, protecting his still extremely painful ribs. Ben, Hoss, and Adam kept watch over him as best they could, making sure that Joe rested and ate well.
About two weeks after the accident, Adam came riding up to the house on his horse Beauty. Joe was sitting alone on the porch, staring out at the yard. “Hey Joe, what’s up? No visitors today?”
“Hello, Adam. Yes, Billy, Steve and Lance were here this morning. But they had to go back to work.” Joe’s expression was preoccupied.
“Joe, what’s troubling you?”
Joe glanced at Adam. “What makes you think something’s troubling me, Adam?”
“Because if there wasn’t you would be tearing the place apart to get off this porch and back out on Cochise. Pa would have Hoss guarding you every minute to make sure you didn’t do too much. Now, I’m not saying you are ready to go back to work, but you just aren’t yourself.” Adam was sincerely worried about his baby brother. Joe’s wrist was still in its plaster cast and his ribs were still taped.
Joe eyed his brother, wondering what Adam would say if he told him what he wanted. “Adam, you know about school being extended two more years?”
“Yes.” Adam started to say something but held back, waiting to see what Joe had to say.
“I don’t want to go back to school in the fall. I want to go on the cattle drive with you, Hoss, and Pa. I want to work here on the ranch, Adam. I’ve been waiting forever.”
“Yes Joe, I think everyone knows that.” Adam waited patiently for his brother to continue.
“Adam, how do I convince Pa that this is the right thing for me? I’ve tried to talk to him about it. He simply won’t discuss it.” Joe’s unhappiness was plain.
“Joe, are you absolutely sure that you don’t want to continue in school? There are so many things you haven’t seen or learned yet.” Adam kept his voice soft and gentle, conveying only interest.
“Adam, school learning isn’t the only kind of learning. I’ve learned from you, Pa and Hoss. I’ve learned from Hop Sing, from my friends, from the stock-men, from the miners. Sitting in a classroom just seems to me a waste.”
“A waste of your time Joe?”
“Yes Adam, when I sit in the classroom it’s like I can feel my life rushing past me and I’m not able to do anything with it.” Joe struggled to express his feelings to his brother.
Adam suddenly grasped what Joe was feeling. What if Joe had been killed by the accident that had so nearly proven fatal two weeks ago. He would only have had that one week running the ranch on his own. Only one week doing what he really wanted to do with his life. Perhaps Joe had a feeling deep inside him that he wouldn’t always have more time to do what he wanted in life. “Joe, Pa just wants to keep you safe.”
Joe laughed ironically, a harsh laugh, unlike Joe’s usual joyous high pitched squeal. “Safe, Adam? You, Pa and Hoss were all in the yard with me when the accident happened Adam. If all of you couldn’t keep me safe then how can a classroom? A classroom has four walls Adam, it’s just like a jail cell.”
Adam realized that now was his chance to repay the debt he owed his brother. He stood and moved to his brother’s side. He gripped his brother’s shoulder firmly. “I’ll talk to Pa for you, Joe. I’ll make him understand.”
Joe tilted his head back, “Thanks, Adam.” He smiled briefly, but his gaze again turned somber.
“Joe, what’s wrong? I told you I would talk to Pa.”
“Adam, I do appreciate it. But everyone has spoken to Pa, I guess I don’t see how what you have to say is going to make any difference to him.”
Adam grew thoughtful. “Well Joe, I’ll do my very best. If that doesn’t work then we’ll think of something else.”
Joe gazed soberly at his brother for a long moment. Then he smiled. “Well, I can always run off to China with Lance. Of course I’ll have to take Hop Sing along to make introductions for me.”
Adam laughed, “Well that might not change Pa’s mind but Hoss would be so upset he would give you his share of the ranch to keep you here.”
Joe chuckled, “Well, maybe I’ll just do that.”
Dinner that evening was quieter than usual. Joe kept his attention focused on his plate, though his stomach churned at the sight of the food. He could feel his anxiety level growing and he periodically cast sidelong glances at his father. Adam was thoughtful, pondering how he was going to convince his father to let Joe leave school. He was mildly amused at the irony, he had fought like the devil for over a year to get his father to allow him to go to college. Now he was preparing to battle his father to set Joe free from the school regimen that made Joe feel imprisoned.
Hoss could sense both his brothers’ feelings. A feeling of trepidation hung over him, he sensed that something was about to happen and he wasn’t sure where he wanted to be when whatever happened.
Ben was chewing his meal thoughtfully as he surveyed his sons. Joe was still looking pale and tired. He was pleased to see him making the effort to come to the table but was worried it might be a bit too much for him at this early stage of his recovery. Ben had found himself relaxing this week, as it became more evident that the danger to Joe was passing. Paul had cautioned him about allowing Joe do too much, but there had been no sign of Joe trying to escape his ever vigilant keeper Hop Sing.
As dinner concluded, Joe stood and excused himself from the table. “I think I’m going to make an early night of it Pa. I’m feeling a little tired.” Joe cast a final look at Adam, and Adam felt his sense of obligation grow as he saw the look of wary hopefulness in Joe’s eyes.
Ben eyed Joe anxiously, “Are you sure you are all right, Joe?”
“Pa, I’m fine, really.” Joe responded and headed up the stairs. Ben watched him momentarily, then realized that he was probably over-reacting and allowed himself to relax. “Good night, Joe.” He said.
Hoss sat for a minute then realized Adam was signaling him subtly to leave. “Pa, I think I’ll head upstairs too. I’ll check and make sure Joe is doing ok.” Ben smiled at Hoss gratefully. As Hoss walked upstairs, he started in surprise as he saw that Joe was in fact sitting on the top stair, well out of sight of the dining room and living room.
“Hey Joe, what are you doing?”
Joe quickly gestured for his big brother to be quiet and moved over to make room for Hoss to sit down. “Hoss, be quiet, I have to hear what Adam and Pa say.”
“Joe what’s going on?” Hoss asked but Joe simply hushed his brother and leaned forward to listen.
“Pa, I need to talk to you.”
“Certainly Adam.” Ben turned his attention to his older son. “Let’s have our coffee in the living room.” Ben seated himself in his favorite red chair and gazed fondly at his oldest son. Adam stood with his back turned to the fireplace as he marshalled his thoughts together.
“Pa I want to speak to you about Joe. He and I had a long talk today. Pa he doesn’t want to go back to school this fall. He wants to stay and work full time on the ranch with the three of us. I agree with him Pa, and I think it’s time you told him that you approve.” Adam paused and checked to see his father’s reaction. He started to speak again but held himself in check.
Ben drew his eyebrows together in a serious frown. “Adam, I really don’t see how this involves you? The decision is mine and it involves only Joe, not you or Hoss.”
“Pa, that isn’t true. This is a decision that affects all of us. When Joe is unhappy all of us are unhappy, you know that. This really means a lot to him Pa. He can’t stand another two years in school.”
“Adam, I must say I find myself a bit surprised that you are advocating Joe being allowed to drop out. If I recall you’ve always felt that your brother would do fine in school.”
“Pa, that’s not exactly true.” Sitting on the stairs Joe leaned forward to hear what his brother had to say. “I said I’ve always thought Joe is very bright. And I think that he can excel at anything he sets his mind to doing.” Joe relaxed, smiling at his brother’s praise. “But he is also the stubbornest cuss in the world.” On the stairs Joe frowned and Hoss grinned at his brother’s discomfort. “If he wants something he will move the world to get it. But if he doesn’t want to do something he will fight it every step of the way. He’ll never get anything out of school if he doesn’t want to be there. He will make you, me, Hoss, the teacher, the students, and probably half the territory miserable before he gets finished. He’s only been held in check because he knew he had no option and he knew his time would be over when he turned 16. But now you are telling him two more years, Pa. It just won’t work.”
Ben had listened to Adam carefully. He respected his oldest son’s opinion in many things. But Joe was Ben’s responsibility. “Adam, I really don’t think that letting Joe drop out will be the best thing for him. Perhaps we just need to make him realize the benefits of continuing in school.”
From his perch Joe shook his head. There were no benefits.
“What are those, Pa? He already knows how to read, write, and do math. He does like to read, I’ll make sure he gets plenty of interesting books to read, when and if he’s ready for them. He already knows how to run the ranch—we all saw that.”
Ben felt trapped, uncomfortable with having to justify himself to his son. He became more aggressive, “Adam I don’t think you understand, it just isn’t safe having Joe run loose on the ranch all day long. At least in school we know he’s safe. If he’s free all day there’s no telling the kinds of trouble he’ll get into, you know how impulsive he is. He really can’t be trusted to know when to be afraid.”
On the stairs Joe seemed to shrink in upon himself. Hoss looked at his brother in concern. Hoss gently put his arm around his little brother and hugged him close. Joe glanced up at Hoss’ concerned face and ventured a weak smile. He did feel better with his brother close by.
“Yes Pa, I’m alive right now because of Joe’s impulsive nature. Frannie is alive because Joe wasn’t afraid to take a chance. Locking him up in a class room isn’t going to keep him safe. If anything it will just make things worse when he’s out of the classroom. Joe told me himself, it’s just like keeping him locked in a jail cell. Pa, if he had died two weeks ago do you realize that he would never have had any time to live the life he wants to live, except for that one week?” Adam realized he had been shouting and lowered his voice. “Pa, putting him in school won’t keep him safe, he’ll have to ride Cochise back and forth every day. He could get thrown or robbed. No better you should keep him here near the house. Oh, but look what happened to him out by the barn, with all of us watching. You could keep him in the house, but he better not go up and down the stairs, he could fall and break his leg. No maybe you should wrap him in cotton and keep him in his room. That way he can never get hurt. But then he won’t have a life either.”
Ben rose to his feet. “Adam, I’m not talking about wrapping him in cotton. But there are dangers to ranch work, you know that.”
“Pa, would you rather have him working on the ranch or out wandering through China?” Ben started in surprise. Hoss swung his gaze to Joe’s face and saw Joe pointedly studying the tips of his boots.
“China? Joe.” Hoss whispered. “You ain’t gonna run away are you Joe?” Hoss’s voice quivered. He couldn’t lose his younger brother, not again.
“Not just now Hoss. Plus I’d take you and Hop Sing with me when I go. Now, hush.”
“What do you mean China?” With that Ben rose to his feet, his voice thundering.” All three of his sons winced, that tone meant nothing good.
“I mean that Joe isn’t going to stay here another two years as a school boy, Pa. He’s a man and you have to treat him like one. He has the right to make his own decisions.” Adam was shouting back at his father.
“Adam,” Ben took a step towards his son, but he paused at the sound of a step on the stair. Both turned and saw Joe walking slowly down the stairs, his right arm held protectively against his side. Joe walked by his father and up to Adam. Looking up into his brother’s eyes Joe smiled at him.
“Thank you Adam. I think I need to take it from here.” Joe squared his shoulders and turned back to his father. “Pa, don’t yell at Adam. He felt he owed me something, but not this much. Pa, Adam’s right, I don’t want to stay in school another two years. Even Miss Woods doesn’t think I should be there. I won’t be going back in the fall, Pa. If that isn’t acceptable to you then I’ll leave.” Joe’s face was set in stubborn lines, the mirror image of his father’s.
“Joseph, you will do as I think best. I will not stand for this type of defiance.”
Hoss slowly came down the stairs and stood next to Joe, placing a large, beefy hand on his brother’s shoulder. Adam moved up to stand at Joe’s other side. Hoss spoke, “Pa, like I told Adam when we was on the trail. If we had been brought up back East, Joe and I would already have moved west by now, we never would have stood for being locked up in a city. Well, Joe can’t stand being locked up Pa, and I can’t stand seeing him locked up. If he goes I’ll go with him.”
Adam stepped forward, “Pa, we aren’t defying you. You always taught us that it is important for us to stand together as a family, to stand up for what we believe in. That together we are strong. Pa, we three are together on this, come join us.”
Ben gazed at his three sons soberly. Suddenly he found himself smiling, at his two oldest sons aligned with their younger brother; helping him fight his fight. The three gazed back at him uncertainly, wondering why their father was smiling.
“Joseph, come here.” Joe hesitated, checking his two brothers’ faces before stepping out before them to stand in front of his father. “Joseph, it seems to me that if you don’t want to be in school, your brothers don’t want you in school, and your teacher doesn’t want you in school then who am I to argue with you—that is as your father.”
Joe smiled in relief. Ben spoke again, “However, as your boss, if you ever cause me this much trouble again, if you don’t turn out to be the best worker this ranch has ever seen, you will answer to me.” Ben thundered. Joe gazed silently at his father, tears welling up in his eyes, and he threw his arms around his father. Ben hugged his youngest son tightly. “Now young man, you are not working for me until you are completely recovered, is that understood?”
“Yes Pa.” Joe smiled through his haze of tears.
“Now off to bed with you.” Ben swatted his young son on the behind.
Joe smiled and went to hug his two brothers. Then he went off to bed, followed closely by Hoss. Adam turned to follow but was halted by his father’s voice.
“Adam, you really stood up for your brother.”
“Yes Pa, I did.”
Adam turned and smiled. “I owed him my life Pa, I thought the only way to even the score was to give him his life.”
Ben smiled and nodded. He found himself swelling with pride. His sons had defied him, it was true but now he truly knew that he could trust his two oldest sons to take care of and watch over their younger brother. Perhaps this would be the best way.
The summer passed quickly. Joe grew stronger each day and as July turned into August he began working full time for the ranch. He started by riding fences and gradually returned to his true love breaking horses, under the watchful eyes of his father and brothers. As fall drew near the entire family began to plan for the cattle drive. Joe brimmed with excitement at the thought of his first cattle drive. Many of his friends, with the exception of Lance, had returned to school but Joe had no regrets. He did miss getting to see Jenny and the other pretty girls who had been in his class. But he was more than satisfied spending his days working side by side with his father and brothers—there was always the nights!. And there was a whole world of adventure opening up to him on the cattle drive. He had heard so many stories of the saloon girls and wild partying at the end of the trail, and of the long nights under the stars. Joe could hardly wait.
Ben sat at the dinner table the night before the trail drive was to begin, listening to his three sons discussing the drive. He smiled at Joe’s youthful enthusiasm. Joe had been fully recovered from his accident for over a month. His wrist and ribs were all healed and the cuts and bruises had faded away. His smile faded away as he took a closer look at his youngest son.
“Joseph, did you go into town today as I instructed you?”
Joe turned to his father smiling, but his eyes grew watchful as he took in his father’s stern face. “Yes sir. I went in just like you told me.”
“And what did you do there?”
“I took in the buckboard and stopped at the general store and picked up the extra supplies we needed for the chuck wagon. And I stopped by Miss Maggie’s and dropped off that ham that Hop Sing sent in for her.”
“And?” Ben’s eyes locked with Joe’s. Joe squirmed slightly.
“Well, Pa, I, I, I…” He turned to see if his brothers would be any help at all. Hoss merely smiled, chewing a mouth full of food. Adam tipped back in his chair watching the skirmish with amusement.
“Joseph, did I or did I not tell you to go to the barbershop and get that mop of hair of yours cut. It was bad enough three months ago but this is ridiculous.” Ben indicated Joe’s rather long curls, which were covering the collar of his shirt in the back. At that very moment with his face framed by his curls, Joe reminded Ben very strongly of his mother.
“Pa, I did go to the barbershop.” Joe smiled at his father.
“And did you go inside?”
Joe’s smile faded, “Well sir, not exactly.”
“And just what exactly did you do?”
“Well Pa, I got up on the porch and there was this sign in the window.”
“And what did that sign say Joe?”
“Well Pa, it said “Moved to California” and I didn’t think you wanted me to go all the way to California for my hair cut.” Joe beamed in triumph.
“Joseph Francis Cartwright do you mean to tell me that there is only one barber in the entire town of Virginia City?”
Joe’s smile faded. He hadn’t thought to go to another barber. “Sorry Pa, I never thought of looking for another barber.”
“I bet.” Adam threw back his head and laughed. Hoss quickly joined in. Ben found himself starting to smile, the corners of his mouth quirking upwards. Finally he threw back his head and roared with laughter. Joe sat watching the three laughing men, his face set in a frown. He waited patiently for their laughter to quiet. “Pa. Pa.”
Finally Ben sobered and wiping his eyes turned back to his youngest son.
“Pa, I don’t want to get my hair cut. I like it this way.” Joe’s eyes were defiant and his jaw began to set in the stubborn way his brothers knew foretold another battle brewing on the horizon. Hoss and Adam looked at each other and tacitly agreed to stay out of the middle of this one.
“Joseph, you are working for me now. I will not have a hand that looks like a two bit riverboat gambler on my cattle drive.” Ben crossed his arms stubbornly.
Joe gazed back at his father, then a broad grin covered his face. “That’s fine, Pa. I’ll just stay here and run the ranch again. What could happen?”
The next day, the cattle drive began, Joe leading the way sitting proud and tall on Cochise, long curls intact.