Gypsy (by Judy)

Summary:   When Ben tries to teach Joe a lesson, it is he that learns a greater one.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  64,940


 

“Gypsy, one scattered race, like stars in the sight of God”
(Gypsy Motto)

 

Chapter 1

 

Adam Cartwright was trying to hurry his little brother along from their trip to Virginia City. His father had insisted that Little Joe get a haircut that day and he had drawn the responsibility of taking him. He chuckled to himself, as he wondered that if Joe hated a haircut this bad at seven, what would he be like when he was a few years older. After they had gotten the haircut over with, he had several errands to do, and as usual, having Little Joe with him had had its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages were that he was really a lot of fun to have around, asking endless questions and always adding a little fun to the routine. Also people in town seemed to be drawn to him like magnets and he never met a stranger; ladies of all ages especially seemed to be drawn to him. The disadvantages were that it was almost impossible to keep up with him–he dashed around like crazy, and it was no easy chore to keep him out of harm’s way, and the endless questions could sometimes be a bother.

Finally he had gotten his errands run so he had taken Joe over to the ice house for the promised ice cream. He was not above using bribery to accomplish his mission. Joe had requested a double scoop of chocolate and vanilla on a cone. Adam, knowing that he would probably make a mess had told him to sit on the bench in front of the general store while he ate it. Adam had gone inside to talk to Grace Bentley while Joe finished his ice cream. He had asked Grace to be his date for the upcoming square dance in Virginia City and she had accepted. As he got ready to leave the store, Grace had walked slightly ahead of him as they were leaving. She had wanted to see Little Joe before they left. As they came to the door, Grace motioned for Adam to stop and put her fingers to her lips to caution him to be quiet. He didn’t know what Joe was doing, but Grace was doing all she could to keep from laughing out loud. As Adam looked out the window pane of the glass, at first all he saw was his brother licking his ice cream cone, right where he had left him. There was a slightly scruffy, but friendly-looking dog sitting at his feet. Adam looked back at Grace with a puzzled expression on his face. She said, “Sshh. Just keep watching.” Then as he watched, Little Joe lowered his ice cream cone and let the dog take a lick. As Adam watched astonished, Joe methodically took a lick, then offered the dog a lick. Adam’s eyes widened as he watched. Just as he was about to go stop him, Grace tugged on his shirt and pointed to Joe again. Apparently, he had had enough of the ice cream so he gave the dog the rest of the cone. Grace was laughing out loud by this time. As Adam watched the dog finish off Joe’s ice cream, he saw Joe begin to look around curiously, which meant he would shortly be in trouble if Adam didn’t get back out there. He reached over to open the door, but Grace put her hand on his wrist and said, “Adam, don’t make a big deal out of it. He is just a little boy and it won’t hurt him.” “I wouldn’t think of it Grace.” He said smiling.

He went out and collected his brother and said, “Come on little buddy, we’d better be getting on home or we will be late for supper and Hoss will eat up all the food”.

Little Joe giggled, but said, “Nuh uh, Adam, Hop Sing will save us some.”

“Well you should know, you are late more often than you are on time. Pa is gonna get you for that one of these days, Joe, I am warning ya.”

Little Joe sighed and said, “Adam why does it matter what time we eat? Why can’t we just eat when we’re hungry?”

“Because Pa says so, Joe”. Adam replied. He knew he dodged the issue that was at the root of Little Joe’s question. Little Joe had been a finicky eater all his life, but after he’d had pneumonia a of month ago and Dr. Martin had commented that his being underweight hadn’t helped, Pa and Joe had become engaged in a battle of wills over Joe’s food intake. Adam had tried to tell his father that his approach was making it worse, but when his Pa had his mind made up, he was used to getting his way and he didn’t give in gracefully. Adam believed that in the case of his younger brother, Pa might have met his match. Little Joe had inherited his father’s stubborn streak, and that was considerable, but he had also gotten the stubbornness of his mother. Marie Cartwright had been without a doubt THE most stubborn woman he had ever met. So together, he felt they could hardly blame Little Joe for being stubborn. Yet, he knew that trait had already gotten him into trouble and he was more than likely headed for more as he grew older.

Adam was having a hard time getting Joe to keep his pony moving steadily along the trail to home. He kept stopping to look at things and ask questions or point out things. When he pulled up Star for the 5th or 6th time, Adam almost lost his temper, but as he was about to scold him, he realized that he was looking at his mother’s grave and he couldn’t do it. “Adam can I go say hello to Mama? Please it won’t take but a minute.” Joe looked at Adam, his green eyes wide open and pleading.

“Oh, all right, Little Joe, but just a couple of minutes and I mean it now.” Joe flashed him a smile and quickly headed his pony towards the lake. Adam thought to himself, “Sucker. That is what I am—a sucker.” As he turned his horse to follow his brother to the grave site of his mother. Little Joe’s mother had been dead for almost two years now. And still Joe periodically had nightmares that would wake the entire household. They seldom could go by this way without Joe asking to stop and generally they all let him, believing that it was somehow good for him to be able to visit his mother’s final resting place. Joe first cleared away a few weeds and sticks that had fallen on her grave, then he carefully picked some pretty yellow flowers that grew all around. Then he sat down and leaned against the headstone as Adam had seen his father do so many times in the past. Fifteen minutes later, Adam had to practically drag Little Joe away from the gravesite.

They had made it all the way to the meadow near the road leading to the Ponderosa and Adam was relaxing a little, because although they would be later getting back than he had planned on, they wouldn’t be late for dinner. He didn’t want to be responsible for touching off another battle between his Pa and Little Joe about dinner. Suddenly Little Joe let out a loud gasp and before Adam could locate the cause of the exclamation, Little Joe had taken off on his pony down to the meadow.

Adam followed Little Joe’s direction with his eyes and let out a loud “Oh, no.” Camped in the meadow were 4 colorful gypsy wagons. As Adam took off after Little Joe, he knew this was going to be a problem. Previously his father would have given the gypsies one night to get off the Ponderosa and been there early the next morning to make sure they were. However, he had granted a limited passageway to the territory to allow homesteaders to cut through on their way to California. The gypsies could legally camp there for an indefinite period of time if they said they were just passing through. Now that did not give them rights to hunt, fish, cut down a tree or do anything else; however, in the past gypsy travelers had been responsible for stealing cattle, hunting, cutting down trees, and trying to make the Ponderosa their permanent home.

Adam quickly followed Little Joe down to the meadow and caught up with him just a few feet away from the wagon. The little boy’s eyes were wide open and he was clearly in awe of the sight of the wagons before him and the people milling about them. Adam counted about 6 adult men, about the same number of women, and 5 children. The women and children were dressed in brightly colored skirts and blouses, while the men were dressed in black and white with colorful sashes or vests. Joe had never seen anything like it before. The wagons were not the typical ranch wagon, or even a covered Conestoga wagon. They were more like homes on wheels. They were covered in intricate designs and with etchings and pictures. The front wagon had a green and blue flag with a red wagon wheel in the center of it.

Adam reached over and grabbed the bridle of Joe’s pony and was about to turn the horses toward the ranch house, when several of the men and children approached them. One of the men said loudly, “Welcome to our camp, strangers. May we be of service to you? Would you like to water your horses or are you in need of a meal? You are always welcome at the caravan of the Prasko family.”

Adam turned loose of Joe’s horse’s bridle and turned to speak to the men. As soon as he did that, Little Joe slid off his pony and excitedly joined the children near the wagon. “I’m Joe Cartwright” he said, “What are your names?” The oldest of the children responded, while the smaller children seemed to be wary of the strangers. As soon as Adam saw that Joe had gotten down from his horse, he immediately got off Sport and went to fetch his little brother.

In that split second, Little Joe and one of the gypsy children had become friends. Joe was proudly showing him his horse and inviting him to go for a ride with him on the next day. When Adam walked up to Little Joe with a frown on his face, he was met by his younger brother’s grinning face, “Adam, this is my new friend, JOSEPH Prasko. Joseph, this is my big brother, Adam” Joe said proudly. Adam couldn’t resist returning the smile and politely greeting his brother’s young friends. Adam extricated himself and his brother from the gypsy camp as quickly as possible, though it had not been easy, since Joe was so excited about his new found friends. His new friend had insisted on introducing Little Joe to all his siblings and cousins, as well as to all the adults of the caravan. Each of the women had invited the two of them to join them for supper and Little Joe had clearly wanted to, but Adam had politely and firmly declined. He finally managed to drag Little Joe to his pony, and over Joe’s protests, turned the horses toward home. Joe continued to wave and yell back to the children as they left the meadow and headed toward home.

As they rode out of sight of the meadow, Joe turned excitedly to Adam and said “Ain’t that great, Adam? I have a friend close by to play with and HIS name is Joseph, too! Wait’ll I tell Papa about this!”

Adam knew that his father would not be quite as happy about this news as Joe thought, but decided to let his father handle the situation. He just said, “Oh, I bet Pa will be surprised, Joe. I bet he will be surprised.” As he said this, he reached over and patted Joe on the back and said, “How about we see who can get home the fastest?” Laughing, he watched as his little brother took off for home at full speed. He waited several long seconds before he spurred Sport to speed up a bit, giving Joe plenty of lead so that he would win the “race”. He realized he shouldn’t have challenged his brother to race home, since Little Joe wouldn’t think to slow down and would go into the ranch yard at full speed, something sure to set his father on the warpath.

Adam spurred Sport even faster, hoping to catch up with Joe and slow him down before entering the ranch. He saw as he rode into the yard, that he was too late. Joe went racing into the yard, as fast as his pony would go, and his father stood there watching, his face pale and drawn. Joe’s mother, Marie, had been killed in a riding accident in much the same spot that Joe had just ridden into. Adam regretted his part in reminding his father of that painful day. He quickly rode up to try to defuse the situation. However, as his little brother got off the pony, he ran eagerly over to his father and was talking so fast and was so excited, and so glad to see his father, that his father temporarily forgot his concern and scooped Little Joe up into his arms. “Now slow down, Little Joe, I can’t understand a word you are saying.” Ben said, looking fondly at his youngest son.

*****

Chapter 2

Adam and Ben were discussing the presence of the gypsies before dinner. Joe had excitedly told Ben of his new friends, and had not noticed the displeasure that immediately came onto his father’s face. He soon saw Hoss and ran off to tell him about his new friends. After Little Joe left, Ben looked to Adam to fill him in on the presence of the gypsies.

“Well, Adam, how many are there?” he asked.

“Pa there are four wagons. I saw about six men, several women and children. I don’t know exactly. These gypsies seemed to be a little different than any I have ever seen before.”

“Different? How so, Son?”

“For one thing, they didn’t try to sell me anything the entire time we were there” Adam said, with a chuckle, since the last gypsies they had on the Ponderosa kept trying to sell them their OWN calves. Ben joined in the laughter. “But that is not all. They had very different wagons, very intricately carved out of fine wood, with a top and very large wheels on the back. I have never seen anything like it.” Adam said. “They also had a flag on the first wagon. It was blue and green with a red wagon wheel on it. They introduced themselves and invited us to eat with them.”

“Hmm. That doesn’t sound like the typical gypsy, I agree. However, it is probably just another con game. We need to be careful and keep a close watch on them. And don’t do anything to encourage them to stay here any longer than absolutely necessary.” Ben said.

Just at that time, Joe and Hoss came in the front door. Joe was talking rapidly to Hoss, who was smiling and nodding his head at him. Ben and Adam both smiled at the sight of the two, knowing that Hoss was using the same technique they both used to deal with Little Joe’s enthusiasm. As they came in closer to the living room, Ben heard the word ‘wagons’ and knew that Joe was telling Hoss about his new friends.

“Hoss, would you take Joe upstairs and get him cleaned up for dinner, please?”

“Sure Pa, Come on Short Shanks, let’s get ready for dinner” he said, guiding Joe up the stairs. Joe was still talking a mile-a-minute as they made their way upstairs.

Ben looked at Adam, “I don’t want Little Joe around the gypsies, Adam.”

“Pa, now that he has seen them, and they are so close, it is going to be hard to keep him away from them. I heard him tell the boy he would come over tomorrow.”

“Well we will just have to keep him busy here then.” Ben said, knowing that would be easier said than done. Adam rolled his eyes towards his father, as Joe and Hoss came back downstairs, Little Joe still talking excitedly, telling Hoss all about his new best friend, Joseph Prasko and his wonderful wagon home.

Dinner that night was another battle of wills between Joe and his father. Joe had started out eating all right, as he was trying to talk about the gypsies and asking questions. But his father and brothers kept changing the subject and didn’t seem to share his enthusiasm, just smiling and nodding at him. He knew they weren’t really listening to him and he decided to prove it to himself.

“I am going to ride Dynamite tomorrow instead of Star” he said out loud.

Hoss and his Papa gave him a half-smile and Adam nodded, and then the three older Cartwrights continued their talk of the branding.

“I am going over to Bec’s tomorrow and we are going to go to Beaver Falls and go over the falls.” Joe said, with a questioning look on his face, watching his father’s reaction.

“That’s nice, Son.” Ben said. Adam and Hoss nodded.

Scowling now, Joe said, “I robbed the bank and the mercantile today while Adam was sweet-talking Grace in the store.”

“We’ll see, Joseph. We’ll see, son.” Ben said, barely glancing Joe’s way.

Satisfied that he was not getting the appropriate attention, he decided to try another strategy. If he could get away now, he would be able to go back to the gypsy camp and play with his new friends for a little while before dark.

“Papa can I be excused now?” He said, already rising from his chair.

Unfortunately this statement did not go unnoticed by his father. Ben’s attention shifted from his conversation of the ranch to his youngest son—-or more accurately to his youngest son’s half-eaten meal.

“No, you may not be excused, Joseph. Not until you have finished your meal.” He said sternly, giving Joe his full attention.

“Papa, I’m full. I don’t want no more.” Joe replied.

“Come on now, Son, you have to finish your meal.” Ben said, getting ready for the usual battle.

“But Papa, that ice cream Adam got me filled me up” Joe said, glancing at Adam with a hidden smirk.

Ben, too, glanced at Adam with a quizzical expression on his face.

Adam hastened to explain, “That was hours ago and he didn’t even eat half of it.”

Adam and Hoss spent the remainder of the meal as observers as Father and youngest son engaged in a grand battle. In the end, neither of them could claim a clear victory. Joe had eaten some more food, but not all of it and they were both in a bad mood when Hop Sing, ready to clear the table, declared the meal finished.

“Dinner is Over. Hop Sing must clear table. Soon Hop Sing have to fix breakfast.” He said, with a scowl and his arms crossed over his chest.

“All right, Hop Sing. We are finished, I guess. Joseph, you are excused.” Ben said, fixing his rapidly-departing son’s back with an exasperated stare. Hoss and Adam had been sitting there drinking their coffee and watching the entire battle with a little bit of amusement, trying to see whose stubborn streak was the widest—their father’s or their younger brother’s. By intervening, Hop Sing had effectively declared the contest a draw, but they knew it was just one round of many more to come. Hoss decided to change the subject so he asked Adam to tell him more about the gypsies that Joe had told him about. While they drank their after dinner coffee, Adam told them of their experience with the gypsy travelers.

“Pa, Little Joe sure is took with ’em. He told me he was going over there tomorrow to play with ’em.” Hoss said.

“Yeah, Adam told me of your brother’s plans, but I have different plans for your little brother tomorrow. I don’t think it is good for him to be hanging around with them. He is too impressionable and impulsive. No telling what kind of crazy notions and ideas he could pick up from a bunch of gypsies!”

*****

Chapter 3

Morning dawned bright and clear on the Ponderosa Ranch. Ben Cartwright awakened early and took his first cup of coffee and walked out to the small balcony of his bedroom, overlooking the back of the ranch house and the view of the snow-capped mountains and the azure blue lake in the distance. He enjoyed this time of the day; he had always been an early riser, as were Adam and Hoss. He smiled as he thought of his youngest son, who generally had to be dragged out of bed every morning. He was feeling very clever because last night he had given Little Joe a list of chores that he had been told to do over the past few weeks and had gotten out of, one way or another. He had told him that he would have to get them done before he had any more free time. Knowing Little Joe’s gift for procrastination, he figured he could easily keep him busy until the gypsies were long gone. He knew that this was not the most direct way to handle this, but he didn’t want Joe around the gypsies and he didn’t want to have to respond to the interrogation he knew he would get if he just told Joe to stay away.

Soon he heard his sons getting up to begin their chores. He finished his cup of coffee, enjoying the view. When he had finished, he shaved and dressed, then went to go downstairs to breakfast. Since he didn’t hear a fight going on in Little Joe’s room, he thought that Hop Sing must not have made it upstairs to get him dressed yet. He opened the door to his room, but was surprised to find Little Joe gone already. His bed was unmade and his pajamas were strewn on the floor, but Joseph was not there. He was surprised and hopeful that perhaps his son was outgrowing his customary late-rising habits.

The three brothers were coming into the house just as Ben came down to breakfast. Little Joe was talking to Hoss, telling him something about Dynamite and Star but Ben couldn’t quite make it out. “Good morning, Boys.” He said to all three of them and was greeted in return by enthusiastic good mornings from all three. Joe came over, all smiles and gave his father a hug. His father, as usual, swooped him up in his arms and gave him a bear hug, then plopped him down in his chair.

Joe laughed and said, “Papa, I already ate breakfast.”

Seeing his father’s puzzled look, he continued, “I ate with Hop Sing a long time ago and I have been doing all my chores, Papa. I am almost finished with ’em, too!”

“Hop Sing!” Ben bellowed, and was a little embarrassed when Hop Sing appeared right by his side. “Is this true, Hop Sing? Has Little Joe already eaten breakfast?” he asked, not believing his son had really gotten up that early. He knew that Hop Sing was the original bona fide believer of “early to bed and early to rise” since he went to bed as soon as dinner was finished, and rose well before dawn, eating his own breakfast before he began housekeeping or preparing the family breakfast. Hop Sing generally had the house cleaned, the laundry done, and breakfast ready before the Cartwrights were up.

“Yes is true. Little Joe eat breakfast long time ago with Hop Sing, velly velly early.”

“I see” Ben said, though in reality, he didn’t see. While he was looking at Little Joe trying to figure out what had prompted this, he heard the answer in Joe’s conversation with Hoss.

“Hoss when you finish the brandin’, do you wanna go fishin’ with me and Joseph?”

“Wait just a minute young man, what about those chores I told you about last night? You aren’t going fishing with Joseph or anyone else until they are done, young man.” Ben said, fixing his son with a stern look.

“I know Papa, that is why I got up so early. I been working on ’em for hours so I can get ’em all done.” Joe explained patiently.

“Well you just see that you do and I don’t want you rushing through them either. You do them right the first time. You hear?” Ben was not really concerned, he had given Joe a list that should be sufficient to keep him busy for quite sometime. “And you will sit right here and have some milk while we have our breakfast, Joseph. Meal time is meant to be family time and you won’t miss it, even if you did eat already.” Ben said sternly.

“Well Papa, Hop Sing is family, too, ain’t he?” Joe asked, his eyes wide and his face creased with consternation.

“Of course he is family, too, Joseph. But I meant with your brothers and your father.” Ben explained, somewhat taken aback. Hoss and Adam exchanged an amused look over that exchange. Adam leaned over to Hoss and said, “I think we have to give this round to our little brother, don’t you?” Hoss, unable to keep it in, laughed out loud, causing Ben to fix him with a stare and Joe to look up at him and join in the laughter, despite having no clue as to what it was about.

While his father and brothers ate and discussed the ranch, Joe sipped on a glass of milk and day-dreamed about what he and his new friends would do today. He had asked Hop Sing to get him up when he got up so he could get all those chores done. He briefly wondered why his father had suddenly remembered about all those jobs that Joe had long since forgotten about. But since he knew he should have already done them, he wouldn’t get anywhere by complaining. It wasn’t that he didn’t mean to do them, he just forgot. As soon as he heard the list, he knew it would take him at least 8 hours to get them all done and if he started at the regular time, that would mean it would take him all day, and no time left to play with his new friends.

That was when he came up with the idea of getting up with Hop Sing. He regretted it when Hop Sing came to get him up, but he was too determined to have time to play to go back to sleep. He had enjoyed the peaceful breakfast with Hop Sing and had eaten more than usual. Hop Sing, glad for the company had gone out to collect the eggs when Joe had gone out to the barn to begin his chores. Little Joe was just glad that Hop Sing had gone out with him, without realizing that Hop Sing had done it because he knew he would be afraid to go out to the barn alone, since it was still dark. Hop Sing had collected the eggs and fed the chickens and then stayed around, helping Joe with his chores until daylight. Then he had gone back in to prepare the family breakfast and take Ben his coffee. By the time Ben Cartwright came downstairs, Joe had finished over half his chores because of the early start and Hop Sing’s assistance.

After the other Cartwrights finished their breakfast, all three sons headed back out to finish the morning ranch chores. Ben, heading into Virginia City, admonished Joe, “You stay right here ’til you get all those chores finished, Son.” Ben didn’t really believe that Joe could have gotten much done this early, knowing how sleepy-headed he was, so he didn’t think to check out just how much remained to be done of the list. “I will be back in time for supper. You boys be on time. And Joseph, I want you to eat a good lunch. Understand?”

Little Joe smiled and said, “I will, Papa. I promise.” He then hurried back to working on his list. He was sure that if he kept it up, he could be finished with his list by lunch time.

When Hop Sing called him to lunch, Joe was on the next to the last chore on the list. He hurriedly finished re-buckling the buckle on the last cinch. He had decided that he would just skip lunch and go on working, but he remembered his promise to his father to eat a good lunch, so he ran into the house, planning on eating in record time. He was glad to see that neither his father nor Adam was home. Although his father insisted that they dine together in the evening, often ranch chores made it difficult for them to eat as a family during the noon meal. Often it was just Little Joe and Ben or sometimes just Hop Sing and Little Joe for lunch. Upon those occasions, Hop Sing would either join Joe in the dining room or invite Joe to eat with him in the kitchen. Little Joe had developed a fondness for their shared meals and Hop Sing had taught him much about Chinese food, language, culture, religion, and beliefs during those times.

Today it was Hoss and Little Joe so they sat in the dining room while Hop Sing brought in steaming mugs of soup and sandwiches and fruit. Hoss started telling Joe that he had to go into Virginia City to pick up some supplies that Adam hadn’t been able to get yesterday and asked him if there was anything he could get for him.

“I wish I could take you with me, Short Shanks, but you have to finish your chores or Pa will have me and you both for supper.”

Little Joe laughed at the thought of their Papa eating the two of them and Hoss joined in the laughter, glad that Little Joe was taking the exclusion in such a good mood. Generally Little Joe was in a bad humor if he couldn’t go to town with one of them. It didn’t occur to Hoss to inquire about the status of his chore list either. He had seen him working diligently a couple of times, but figured he would still have plenty to do. He wasn’t sure his Pa was handling the gypsy situation in the best way, but he sure wasn’t going to argue with his Pa about how to handle Little Joe. Joe scarfed down a sandwich and ate his soup, and washed it all down with a glass of milk. Hoss thought that there didn’t appear to be anything wrong with Joe’s appetite today. As soon as they both finished, Hoss got ready and went to Virginia City, telling Little Joe he would see him soon.

Little Joe waved goodbye to Hoss and then turned his attention to the next and final chore on his list—the woodpile. He got started enthusiastically on the job, but was quickly discouraged—it would take him forever to chop and stack as much wood as his father had directed. Just when he was going to concede that he wouldn’t get to go play with his friends that day, Hop Sing again came to his rescue. Hop Sing brought a man and motioned for Joe to give the man the ax.

“Joe, this man ask Hop Sing for food in exchange for chopping wood. He come two or three times a month. He come today and eat so he will chop wood for you. You go finish other chores.”

“But Hop Sing, Pa told me to chop…” Joe started.

Hop Sing interrupted, “Is okay, Little Joe. Mr. Cartwright say is always okay for Mr. Jones chop wood for meal. You go. Hop Sing tell Mr. Cartwright, Hop Sing tell you go.”

With a huge smile and an enthusiastic “Thanks, Mister. Thanks, Hop Sing.” Little Joe quickly headed towards the barn as Hop Sing headed towards the house.

*****

Chapter 4

Little Joe quickly saddled Star, although he thought about saddling Dynamite instead. After all, he had “told” his father he was going to. He decided against it, because he knew that his father would ask him if he thought his father had actually heard what he said and agreed to it. His father was always saying something about him getting off with a “tecknoCALotee”, whatever that was. He didn’t know what it was, but he sure knew his Papa didn’t like ’em much and this seemed like the situation that always made his father think he had one. It must be some new kind of saddle or something.

Joe headed over to his friend’s camp at about 1 PM. It wasn’t as early as he had wanted, but it was much earlier than he had thought he would have been able to get away. He was sure lucky that Mr. Jones had come that day to chop wood, or he wouldn’t have made it. Joe galloped right up to the wagons and dismounted his horse. He looked eagerly around and saw Joseph and the other gypsies, sitting around the campfire. Joe boldly walked over to the circle of people. The adults and children all smiled when they saw him and called out to ask him to join them. One man was seated at the front of the circle of people and all eyes were on him. Little Joe slipped in next to Joseph and whispered, “What’s going on, Joseph?”

Joseph replied, “That is my grandfather, the head of our family. He is telling tales of the way it used to be.” Little Joe listened intently as Joseph’s Grandfather told of the history of the Gypsy people from the time of their ancestor’s flight from India’s Punjab region to escape the invasion of the fighting Arabic and Mongolian warriors, to their spread throughout Africa then Europe and eventually to the Americas. Although Little Joe had never heard of any of the places or people Mr. Prasko mentioned, Joe listened and tried to remember them so he could ask Adam about them later. “Our family traveled from Germany many years ago to escape the forced living confines ordered by the government. My Grandfather, also Joseph Prasko,” he said smiling at Little Joe’s friend, “decided that his family would not live in the camps, but would have a chance to be free. He worked and raised the money for his family to book passage on the big ships and we come to America. He brought with him two small Cobb ponies, and they are the revered ancestors of our own fine horses.”

Little Joe looked around and asked Joseph, “What horses is he talking about?” Joseph motioned for Little Joe to follow him and they quietly left the circle of people. As they got out of hearing range, Joseph started talking, “I didn’t think you would come.”

“But I told you I would come today” Joe replied, puzzled by the comment.

“Yes, but I didn’t think your father was too happy to see us yesterday.”

Little Joe looked confused for a minute, then he grinned, “That was not my father, that was my big brother, Adam.”

As they were walking, they continued to talk. Joseph told Little Joe that every day for several hours after lunch, his grandfather would talk to everyone who wasn’t busy to tell them the story of their people to remind them of their heritage. “It would get boring except Grandfather can make the stories come alive. After he tells the general history of the topic, then he tells exciting stories. You must come tomorrow, he is going to tell us about the history of the Cobbs.” Joseph said, still leading Little Joe to a spot behind the wagons.

As they reached a small clearing behind the wagons, Little Joe looked up in amazement at the sight before him. He saw several of the biggest, most beautiful horses he had ever seen. He was speechless for a moment, something that hardly ever happened. When they neared the glade where the horses were tied, Little Joe couldn’t contain himself any longer. He walked over to the string of horses, and right up to the largest stallion he had ever seen. The stallion was huge, at least 18 hands high. He was a light cream color with patches of frosty tan in a remarkable pattern. He looked sturdy and sleek as could be. Joe reached up and offered a sugar cube that he always kept in his pockets for his own pony to the horse. The horse reached down, sniffed the sugar, looked at Little Joe as if sizing him up, then deftly ate the sugar cube, while Joe patted the horse’s chest and legs. He would have loved to rub his muzzle, but he couldn’t reach it!

“Wow. This is the best horse I have ever seen, Joseph. Does he belong to your family?”

“Yes, this is King Frederick Romonov Prasko, the descendant of the ponies brought over from Germany. We call him Freddy.” Joseph explained to Little Joe. “When my father comes, he will let us ride him.”

“Your father will let us ride this stallion?” Joe asked incredulously, knowing without a doubt that his own father wouldn’t let him get this close to the horse.

“Sure, if you are a good rider, that is. He will let us ride one of the others at least.”

“Boy, you are so lucky, Joseph. Those horses are better than any on the Ponderosa!” Joe said in all earnestness. Little Joe, like his family, appreciated a good horse and he was becoming a good judge of horse flesh from watching and listening to his father and brothers. He was always trying to convince his father to let him have a bigger, faster horse, but so far he hadn’t been able to get anything any faster or bigger than Star, a small, slow and steady pony. How he would love to ride this big stallion and ride as fast as he could go.

“Where is your father, Joseph?” he asked, trying to remember if he met him yesterday.

“He had to go to sell some of the colts and he is to join us here. That is why we have stopped the vardos here.”

“What’s a vardo, Joseph?” Little Joe asked, curious as ever.

“A vardo is our home on wheels” Joseph laughed.

“Oh you mean the wagons” Joe said.

“Well, yes, but a vardo is much more than a wagon, my new friend. A vardo is home to the gypsy, so wherever we go, we are at home.” Little Joe considered this for a minute and thought about the Ponderosa on wheels. The thought made him smile. “Come, the lesson should be over, let us go to the caravan so you can meet my mother and grandmother. I will show you our vardo, too.”

Little Joe went with Joseph to the vardos and they were joined by many of the children he had seen yesterday. One of them, a girl, positioned herself close to Little Joe and looked at him with shining dark brown eyes. “My name is Marietta. What is your name?”

Little Joe smiled at Marietta, thinking she was much prettier than the girls in his school. “My name is Joseph Cartwright. My family calls me Little Joe.” He told her.

“I saw you yesterday when you came with the dark-haired man. Is he your father?”

Joe laughed again, “No, he is my brother. I live just over that meadow. This is our ranch.”

“You mean you always live here?” Marietta asked, with a wistful expression on her face.

“Yeah, of course we always live here.” Joe answered, unsure of the meaning of the question.

“Do you have a big bed all of your own or do you share with your brother?” she continued.

“No, I don’t share with Adam, he has his own room and I have my own room. We all have our own rooms. Why are you asking that?” Joe asked, trying to understand her questions.

Marietta laughed and said, “Later I will show you our vardo, then you will understand.” Joseph walked over just then and said, “Marietta, I am going to show him our vardo right now. Would you like to join us? Joe, this is my cousin, Marietta, sometimes she is called Marie for short.” Joseph did not see the sudden change in expression in Little Joe’s face. He had thought Marietta pretty before, now he thought she was beautiful.

Joseph pulled Little Joe along to one of the brightly painted and carved wagons, with the flag on the front. “Ma-Ma and GrandMa-Ma, may I present to you, my friend, Little Joe Cartwright? Little Joe this is my mother and my grandmother.”

Joe looked at the two smiling women, both dressed in bright, gay skirts and blouses, with bright gold or colored jewelry. He gave them a warm smile and said “Hello, pleased to meet you” to both of them.

The older woman was short and round and had fine wrinkles around her eyes, but she gave the impression of being very lively. The younger woman was a younger version of the older; she said, “Welcome to our vardo, Little Joe Cartwright. Tell me, is your full name Joseph Cartwright?”

Joe grinned and said, “Yes, Mam, but my Papa and my brothers call me Little Joe.”

“I see. Hmmm. We shall call you Little Joseph.” She said, as if that settled an important problem. “Now then, Joseph, would you and your friend, Little Joseph, and your cousins like some refreshments?”

“Yes, Ma-Ma” Joseph replied.

“Very well, please give us a few minutes and we will serve you outside.” She smiled at her son.

“Ma-Ma, may I please show Little Joe our vardo?”

“Certainly, Joseph” she replied.

Joseph motioned for Little Joe to follow him and they climbed up into the wagon. Joe was amazed when they entered the wagon, for it was like no other wagon he had ever seen. He had already noticed that the outside of the wagon was different, being carved of wood and covered with fancy carving and decorative items. However, the inside of the wagon was even more amazing, for rather than having a bench and boxes and storage trunks like most wagons he had seen, this wagon was like a little room. There was a built-in cupboard, a table with benches, a dresser, complete with mirror, and on the wall there were bunk beds. Joseph showed Little Joe how the table could be folded up to give more room, and how the cupboard doors could be locked tight to prevent items from falling out when they traveled. He also showed Joe how there was a small, but serviceable stove built into the side of the wagon. “We only use the inside stove when the weather is too bad for cooking outside, because of its size.” Joseph explained. There were also shelves that could be folded down to give more storage space or folded up to give more room to move in the wagon. “Wow, Joseph, this is the nicest wagon I have ever seen. It reminds me of Hop Sing’s kitchen!”

“Do you sleep in here, Joseph?” he asked.

“Only when it is too cold or raining so that we can not sleep outside. But if we need to sleep inside, we can all sleep in here.” Joseph gave Little Joe a conspiratorial wink, “But GrandMa-Ma snores, so I prefer to sleep under the stars.”

Little Joe laughed and said, “I wonder if she sounds as loud as my brother Hoss?”

“We will have to compare their snoring and see” Joseph said.

About that time, Mrs. Prasko stuck her head into the wagon and said, “Come, Children. I have refreshments ready for you. You must hurry before the other children eat them all!”

Little Joe laughed and said, “That sounds like my brother Hoss, too. We had better hurry.” The two children quickly jumped out of the wagon and were met by loud laughter and excitement of the other children. Mrs. Prasko gave each child a glass of a sweet, red-colored drink and placed plates of freshly-baked pastries out for the children. Soon the children were enjoying the flaky pastries and drinking the red fruit-flavored drinks and laughing and talking as if they had all known each other for ever. They told Joe of some of their adventures and Little Joe regaled them with stories about his family and the Ponderosa.

Little Joe was having such a good time that he didn’t notice that the sun was getting low and that dusk was descending upon the meadow. He probably wouldn’t have thought of the time at all except one of the men came over to remind Joseph and some of the other boys that it was time for them to feed and water the horses. About that same time, the girl children began to drift off to assist their mothers and grandmothers in the preparation of the evening meal. Joseph said, “Little Joe, you would be an honored guest if you would like to dine with us this evening. You could help us feed the horses and take them to get fresh water.”

Little Joe was sorely tempted, but he knew he couldn’t stay any longer without getting in trouble. He had to get home and get his evening chores finished. “I had better go on home, Joseph, but I would like to come back tomorrow. Then maybe you could come with me to the Ponderosa!”

Joseph said, “You may certainly come back, Little Joe, anytime that you wish. However, we will have to see what your father says about a visit to the Ponderosa.”

Little Joe loved the way Joseph said “Ponderosa”, making it sound even more wonderful than it was. “My Papa will be happy for you to visit us, Joseph. I am sure of that. I will see you tomorrow.” With that, Little Joe said good bye to his new friends, including the adults in the caravan, then he went over and mounted Star for the short ride home to the Ponderosa. As he rode to the Ponderosa, he imagined that instead of riding Star, the placid pony, that he was riding King Frederick Romonov Prasko as fast as he could go.

Little Joe was feeling very good and was in a very cheerful mood as he turned into the courtyard of the Ponderosa. He smiled eagerly and enthusiastically when he rode into the yard and saw his father standing there, as if waiting for someone. Little Joe’s smile faded when he saw the look on his father’s face. Little Joe did a quick mental run-through of the list of chores and was sure that he had finished all of them. “He must be mad at Hoss or Adam” he thought to himself, relieved that it wasn’t him who was going to feel his father’s wrath.

However, as he approached closer to the barn, he heard his father yell “Joseph Francis Cartwright, you get off that pony and come directly inside!”

“Uh-oh” he thought, “I must have forgotten something!”

*****

Chapter 5

Joe quickly got off his pony and walked her into the barn. Once inside the haven of the barn, he slowed down, stalling for time as he tried to figure out just what he had forgotten. He again tried to go over everything his father had told him to get done. Although he didn’t have a written list, he was usually able to remember something by recalling the conversation in his head. But he could not think of one thing he had forgotten to do, but he must have because his Papa sounded as mad as he had been the time he had sneaked that skunk into the outhouse at the school. He slowly unsaddled Star and rubbed him down and gave him clean water and grain. Finally when he could think of nothing else to do to stall, he slowly headed towards the ranch house.

Just as he got to the barn door, he was met by his father, obviously coming to hurry him along. “Boy, I must be in big trouble this time. Maybe Mitch had told his Pa about them skipping school the last week of school to go fishin.” He thought. “Well you certainly took your time, Joseph. Come along into the house, though it might save time to have this conversation in the barn.” Ben said, looking ominously at his youngest son. Joseph sometimes was able to talk his father out of punishment, but there were other times when his father held firm. Joe had no doubt that this was one of the latter, not former times. Still he didn’t know what his father was so upset about. Generally his father was the most upset when he disobeyed a direct order and he couldn’t recall having done that recently. He sighed and dejectedly followed his father into the house, preparing for the lecture and punishment to come. His father took long strides in front of him, stopping at the door to hold it open for him, and pointing for him to go over to his desk. Little Joe meekly followed his father’s direction and took a seat facing his father’s desk.

When his father took his seat behind the desk, Joe continued to stare at his boots, ashamed to meet his father’s gaze, for although he didn’t know what he had done, he was sure it must have been something truly awful for his father to be so upset. He waited for his father to speak; he didn’t have long to wait. “Well, young man, what do you have to say for yourself?” his father asked.

Joe was really confused now, because he had NO idea what to say for himself, since he didn’t know what his offense was. He continued to look down at his boots, hoping he would get swallowed up by the earth or struck by one of those meteors Adam was reading to him about. But no meteor or hole in the ground was going to save him.

His father, sensing he was not going to answer, continued. “When I leave you a list of chores, I expect you to do them. What do I find when I come home instead of you working on your chores?” Hearing this, Joe felt a moment of hope, but before he could say anything his father went on, “I will tell you what I find, I find you gone and no one knows where you are. That’s what I find. Did you think I would just forget about your chores, young man? I thought I could depend on you to obey me, Joseph.”

“But Papa, I did my chores!” Little Joe interjected, speaking fast and loudly. He knew that he had to get that in somehow or his father would carry on for some time.

“Don’t raise your voice to me, Joseph.”

Little Joe sighed and mumbled, “That’s the only way you’d hear me.”

This made his father stop talking and glare at his son with his eyes narrowed, “And I will not tolerate impertinence Joseph. Now what do you have to say for yourself?” His father paused in speaking and looked at Joseph, expecting a response.

Joe took a deep breath and said, “Papa I finished my chores—all of ‘em.”

“Joseph, I don’t see how you could have finished all those chores in one day.”

“But Papa, remember I got up early and started on ‘em.”

“Even so, Joseph, there were many chores that I told you to complete. Are you sure you did them all?” Ben was becoming confused himself. He had purposely put more chores on the list than his son could possibly get done in one day—there were easily enough for two full days at least. He hadn’t bothered to check up on Joe’s progress when he came home and found him nowhere in presence, he had assumed that Joe had left them undone to go off to play with the gypsies. He began to question Joe about each task on the list, and each time, Joe assured him that the chore was finished. And Ben knew his son well enough to know that he would not lie to him. What was going on here? he wondered. When he got to the wood chopping and stacking, he was sure there was no way Little Joe could have stacked and chopped as much wood as Ben had told him to do in one day. “And the wood Joseph?”

At mention of the wood, Joseph blushed a little and a look of consternation came across his face. “Uh oh, what if the man hadn’t finished the wood chopping?” he thought to himself.

Ben, seeing the look on Joe’s face, thought “that is it—he forgot the wood.” Ben was not really upset with Joe for having forgotten the wood, after all, he had just wanted to keep him busy so he would not be able to leave the Ponderosa. If he was mad at anyone, it was himself for not being more direct with Little Joe. Out loud he said, “Why don’t we go take a look at the woodpile, Joe, and just see how well you completed that chore?” He got up and led the way towards the door, with Little Joe following slowly behind him. However when they approached the woodpile, their expressions changed. Ben’s turned from a frown into bewilderment and Little Joe’s turned from dejection into elation. Mr. Smith had chopped even more wood than Ben had ordered Little Joe to chop, and it was all neatly stacked by the side of the house, and the wood-box was full! Joe smiled and couldn’t resist laughing a little out loud.

Ben turned to him and said, “Joseph, this is impossible. How did you get all this wood chopped and stacked?”

Joe said, “Well, Papa I didn’t chop all…”

Ben interrupted, “Oh you didn’t? Didn’t I tell you that I expected you to chop this wood?”

“Yes, sir” Joe answered, losing the smile quickly.

At that time, though, Hop Sing came out of the kitchen to get wood for the stove. When he saw Ben and Little Joe and saw the expressions on their faces, he sensed what was occurring and intervened on Little Joe’s behalf. “Mr. Cartwright, Hop Sing tell Little Joe leave wood for Mr. Smith to chop. Mr. Cartwright tell Hop Sing Mr. Smith can always chop wood for meal. Mr. Smith come, eat very big meal today, so he chop very much wood today. Hop Sing tell Little Joe to go finish other chores and leave wood. Did Hop Sing do wrong?”

Ben sighed and turned to Hop Sing, “No Hop Sing, you did right. That is very good.” He then turned toward his youngest son, swallowed and said, “Joseph, it seems your Papa made a mistake. Please forgive me. You did all your chores, just as I asked you to.”

Little Joe, relieved to be off the hook once again, was in the mood to be generous. He smiled at his Papa and said, “That’s okay, Papa. You must have one of those “tecknoCALoties”, huh?

Ben looked slightly puzzled for a minute, then broke out in laughter and grabbed his son up in his arms and hugged him tightly, until Little Joe said, “Papa I can’t breathe.” Then he released him, put him down, and said, “Go get washed up for dinner, Joseph.” Joseph scurried off, not wanting to give his father any reason to change his mind nor his mood.

On the way past Hop Sing, though, he reached and gave him a hug, too. Hop Sing returned the hug, then said somewhat gruffly, “Little Joe go wash up now.” But the gruff words didn’t fool any of the three.

As he rode into the courtyard, Adam noticed his father standing on the veranda apparently lost in thought. He asked one of the ranch hands to care for his horse and walked over to his father and said, “What’s on your mind, Pa? You look troubled about something.”

Ben smiled at his oldest son, always sensing when he was wrestling with a problem. “I was trying to figure out how to keep your younger brother away from the gypsies, Adam.”

“I thought you gave him enough chores to keep him busy for a week at the rate he procrastinates. Did he sneak off without doing them?” He asked, surprised that Joe would be that blatant—subtlety was more his style.

“OH no, he didn’t sneak off—he got them all done!”

“All of them? That is impossible; I couldn’t have gotten them all done.”

“Well as luck would have it, a man that Hop Sing feeds periodically for chopping wood came by today and did the wood chopping. Joe did everything else.”

Adam laughed and said “That kid is the luckiest little cuss in the world.” Ben joined in the laughter, and said, “Here comes Hoss, we better hurry and get ready for dinner. You know Hoss won’t want to wait.”

Dinner that night was a loud, lively affair. Little Joe would not be denied his attention that night. He chattered nonstop throughout the meal, telling them about his afternoon with the gypsies, telling them about the huge horses, the wagons, the history of the gypsies, the children, and everything he could remember about the gypsies. He was so excited that he didn’t notice that his father and older brother were exchanging concerned looks over some of his stories. Hoss, unaware of the depth of his father’s concern about Joe’s involvement with the gypsies, asked questions and provided appropriate enthusiasm to keep Joe engaged in the story telling without noticing that all three of them were not equally interested.

Ben sat listening to his son, trying to figure out what to do about the situation. It was obvious that Little Joe had already come under the influence of the gypsies—just what he had wanted to avoid. Little Joe was so impulsive and impressionable and drawn to fun and excitement and the gypsies were flamboyant, carefree, and exciting—at least on the surface. They were also unproductive, non-law-abiding, and shiftless—all things he didn’t want Joseph to become. He had wanted to avoid a direct confrontation with Little Joe about the gypsies, because he hated to have to tell him that sometimes people are not what they appear to be. Joe had a very trusting nature and he hated to have to change that, but there was no other way that he could see. He decided to talk to him at bedtime and tell him the facts about gypsies. He belatedly noticed that while talking and laughing about the gypsies, Joe had eaten without commenting on the food. For once there was no meal-time battle about Joe’s eating habits.

After dinner, they went about their usual routine. Ben worked on the ledgers briefly, then settled into his chair by the fire to read the papers that he had brought back from Virginia City. Adam, too read the newspapers, then got into the book he was reading about astronomy. Hoss and Little Joe played several games of checkers with Little Joe winning the majority. Joe’s mother had taught him to play checkers and he had a natural ability for it. Hoss wasn’t as good at it, mainly because he lacked any amount of ruthlessness—he tended to avoid making moves that would be detrimental to the other player. Instead he tried to make moves that would keep his men safe, but not jeopardize the other player. After a few moves, this strategy was always unsuccessful because Little Joe was ruthless in his competition and delighted in jumping Hoss’s checkers. After getting beaten 4 out of 5 games, Hoss declared he was through playing checkers that night.

Little Joe looked around at Adam and Pa for one more game. His father was deeply engrossed in the newspaper, but Adam had closed his book and was watching them play. “Adam, want to play a few games with me?” Little Joe asked. He and his brother were more evenly matched. Adam was much better at strategy than Hoss and didn’t mind beating his little brother; however, Adam lacked the intensity for playing the game that Little Joe had. It was this intensity that Joe had that frequently got him into trouble. Whether he was playing checkers or performing some other activity, he generally gave 110% effort, unless of course it was something that he didn’t want to do—then it was a job to keep him at it.

He and Adam played two games, with Joe winning the first one in 5 moves and Adam winning the second one after a long game. They had just started the third one when Ben noticed the time and said it was time for Little Joe to go to bed.

“But Papa this game isn’t over yet. I have to beat Adam in this game, Papa.”

Ben relented, and said “You may finish this game if you do it soon. No long drawn out games, though, Joe, it is already past your bedtime.

“Don’t worry, Pa, I am gonna beat him in two moves” Joe assured his father.

Adam had been studying the checker board and quickly made a move and said, “Oh I don’t think so, younger brother.”

Little Joe looked at the board, studying the impact of Adam’s move on his strategy, then all of a sudden, said loudly, “You are right, Adam, I am gonna do it in just one move”, and with that he jumped in succession over all Adam’s remaining checkers, winning the game.

Adam was left staring at the board, trying to reconstruct Joe’s moves to make sure they were legitimate. Finally he shrugged his shoulders and said, “Lucky little cuss” and laughed. Hoss and Ben and Little Joe joined in the laughter.

“Come on Son, it is bedtime” Ben said, grabbing his youngest son’s hand and leading him toward the stairs. “I’ll read you a bedtime story and then we are gonna have a talk. Tell your brothers good night, Joseph.” Joe ran over and gave Hoss and Adam a quick hug and they all said their “good nights”.

*****

Chapter 6

Putting Little Joe to bed was something of a mixed blessing to Ben. He enjoyed the closeness with his son, but it could sometimes be a battle as Little Joe resisted going to sleep and tried every way he could think of to postpone the inevitable. Tonight was no exception and he stalled by asking questions, telling his toys long drawn-out good nights, interrupting the bedtime story frequently to ask questions, and finally saying a long bedtime prayer, asking God to bless everyone living in the Nevada territory—by name. At these times, Ben longed for Marie, who somehow managed to get Joe to bed in a reasonable amount of time without putting either of them in a bad humor.

Finally, Little Joe was settled down and about ready for sleep, and Ben took this opportunity to broach the subject of the gypsies to Joseph. “Son, I was worried about you when you weren’t at home today. I don’t want you going off without telling someone exactly where you are again. Is that understood?”

“Sure, Pa, I didn’t go far and I told you the night before I was going to go see my new friend, Joseph. I am going back tomorrow. Can he come for supper tomorrow night, Papa?” Joe asked, already planning what he was going to ask Hop Sing to cook for supper. He had liked the sweet pastries that Joseph’s mother had made so he wanted Hop Sing to make something as good.

“Joe, I think it is best if you do not go back over to the gypsy camp.”

Joe looked a little surprised, but figured his Papa just didn’t understand how close they were, so he explained, “Papa they don’t live far, I have been farther than that by myself. You can ask Adam.”

“Joseph, the distance is not the issue. I do not want you in that gypsy camp. Nor do I want you inviting the gypsies over here. It is better that way.” Ben realized that Joe was looking at him with wide eyes and disbelief in his face and it made him uncomfortable and a little defensive. “Is that understood, Joseph?” he asked, a little more forcefully than he meant to.

“But Papa, Joseph is my friend and…” Joseph began, but Ben interrupted him.

“Joseph, you have only known those people for a little over a day. They can’t possibly be your friends in that period of time. Now you just stay away from them and I don’t want to hear anything else about it.”

“But Papa” Joe said, loudly with tears forming in his eyes, which he was blinking back.

“Joseph, that is enough.”

“NO, Papa, Joseph is my friend and I will go see him. I will. I will. I will!” Joe shouted, his jaw set and his arms crossed in front of his chest.

Ben could see a full-blown temper tantrum in the making and he wanted to spare the household that if at all possible. “Joseph, you will lie down right now and go to sleep. This discussion is over.” He looked at his son with a look that even in his bad temper, Little Joe could recognize as a warning that he was approaching the point of no return. Little Joe continued to stare at his father for a few seconds, then he lay back in bed, still staring at his father. His father reached over and pulled the covers up to his son’s shoulders and kissed him lightly on the forehead and said “good night, Joseph”. Little Joe continued to stare at his father and didn’t say anything; he was concentrating on holding back the tears. He made it just until his father went out and closed the door behind him. Then he turned over in bed and sobbed into his pillow. However, the early hour of arising and the hard work and play he had done that day quickly robbed him of his wakefulness and he was soon asleep, tear tracks visible on his cheeks.

When he awoke the next morning, Ben had a foreboding that it was not going to be a pleasant day. He had felt badly after his talk with Joseph, he knew his son wasn’t old enough to understand why he had forbidden him to interact with the gypsies, and wished he had been able to do a better job of explaining it to him. He hoped Little Joe would soon forget it and become interested in something else. Joe was passionate about things that interested him but he was also quick to change interests. He prayed that this would be one of those times; if it weren’t Joe would do everything possible to make sure that everyone knew he was not happy. Ben half-smiled at that thought, his youngest son’s moods had a way of rubbing off on the whole family. Hop Sing summed it up best when he said, “Little Joe not smile, everybody on Ponderosa frown.”

As he headed down stairs he stopped and checked to see if Little Joe was up and found that he was. The bed was unmade and his pajamas were in the usual spot on the floor. Ben went on downstairs, and saw that Hop Sing was beginning to serve breakfast. Hoss and Adam were coming in to breakfast with Little Joe in tow. They each had a firm grip on his hands, half-dragging and half-walking with him into the dining area. One look at his face was enough to convince Ben that Joe was indeed still in a bad temper. He decided to ignore it, if possible. “Good morning” he greeted his sons cheerily. “Let’s have some breakfast. I smell sausage and pancakes, Joe.” Everyone knew that pancakes were Joe’s favorite breakfast food.

“I ain’t hungry” Joe said. Adam and Hoss rolled their eyes at Ben, as if to say, “Here we go again.”, but they didn’t say anything out loud. The battle lines were drawn and the battle would begin with breakfast.

Ben met his son’s eyes and grimly set his jaw and mentally prepared for the battle. “Joseph, take your seat and let’s have no more pouting.” Ben then motioned for Hop Sing to resume serving their breakfast. Hop Sing served them, beginning with Ben then moving down the sons by birth order. When he came to Little Joe’s plate, he noticed that Joe had a sullen, stubborn expression on his face and was sitting with his arms crossed in front of him. Hop Sing served his plate, putting three pancakes on his plate, along with sausage. He poured an overly generous amount of warm thick rich maple syrup over his pancakes. He had already poured him a glass of cold milk. After Hop Sing had completed serving them, Ben bowed his head and said grace, silently adding a prayer to aid him in the coming battle. Saying “amen”, the three older Cartwrights began to eat.

Little Joe remained sitting as he was, arms crossed, not saying anything and not making any move towards eating. Ben waited a few minutes, hoping the aroma of the pancakes would prove to be enticement enough to make Joe begin eating. He talked to Adam and Hoss about their plans for the day, ignoring Little Joe altogether. Joe was surprised at this, since he was not used to being ignored. In reality, Joe was having a hard time maintaining his refusal to eat, as he was really hungry and he did love pancakes. The smell of the pancakes was making him hungrier by the minute and he wished his father would notice that he wasn’t eating. Ben continued to ignore the fact that he was not eating and Little Joe was completely baffled. He was determined however, so he continued to sit there, not eating, staring at the food on his plate or when no one was looking, stealing glances at his father to see if he was looking.

Adam and Hoss were also confused by their father’s indifference to Joe’s refusal to eat. Apparently he was trying a new strategy and they would just have to wait and see what that strategy was. When they finished their breakfast, Hoss and Adam got up to leave, saying a hasty goodbye to their father and to Joe. They felt kind of torn between wanting to get out of there fast and staying around to see what was coming next. What they didn’t know was that their father was sitting there trying to decide exactly what was coming next too. He thought he’d gotten an insight about Joe’s eating habits over the past couple of days and he hoped he could use it to Joe’s advantage. Doctor Martin had voiced some concern over Joe’s small size when he had pneumonia and since then he had been trying to encourage Joe to eat more. But watching him eat a good meal last night when he was excited and no one was paying attention to his food intake had made him reconsider his strategy. In contrast, this morning Joe was deliberately not eating, despite this being his favorite breakfast. He was trying to decide the best way to handle the situation in light of these revelations. He decided to try to call Joe’s bluff and see how long he would go without eating.

“Joseph, if you are not going to eat, I suggest you get on out to the woodpile and begin filling the wood box for Hop Sing. When you have finished that, come see me. I will be at my desk.” Ben said as he casually poured himself another cup of coffee. Joe was flabbergasted, but he would not give in, so he got up noisily from the chair and started abruptly for the door.

“Just a minute, young man” Ben said. Joe, relieved thought his father was now going to insist that he eat his pancakes and was inwardly relieved, but managed to keep a sullen look on his face. He was even more surprised when his father reminded him simply, “Joseph, when you leave the table, you must ask to be excused.”

“Excuse me” Joe said, really confused now.

“Certainly, Joseph. Now go get started on your chores. After you fill the wood box come straight inside to my study.”

After Joe had left the dining room, Ben sat there, wondering if he was doing the right thing. Adam had tried to tell him several times that he was making Joe’s eating problem worse by calling attention to it and he knew in his heart that he was right. Yet Joe had been so sick and Dr. Martin had mentioned that if he gained a little weight, it might give him better resistance. But he realized that the more he tried to make Little Joe eat, the less cooperative he became. Joe had never been a big eater, he remembered countless mealtimes when he and Marie had both used subtle and not so subtle methods to get Joe to eat more and after her death, Ben periodically tackled the issue, with varying results. This morning’s refusal to eat was just his way of showing his displeasure over his restriction from playing with the gypsy children. Well he would just wait and see what happened at lunch time. He wouldn’t starve by missing just one meal anyway.

Little Joe went outside and if he were in a bad mood before breakfast, which his brothers would certainly attest to, he was really in a bad mood now. He was still angry with his father about not being allowed to play with Joseph and his other new friends and now to top it all off–he was hungry. He had thought that if he wouldn’t eat, then his father would ask him why he wasn’t hungry and he would have had an opportunity to bring up going to play with his new friends again. When his father said end of discussion, Little Joe had learned that it was easier to bring up the subject again with an opening created by his father. Usually a sure-fire way to do that was to get into a disagreement with his father over something else—and lately, his eating had become a frequent source of an argument. Well it didn’t work this morning and he had had to sit there and watch three of Hop Sing’s delicious pancakes, practically drowning with warm syrup lay on his plate and get cold. He had watched the syrup that initially had been flowing rapidly over the pancakes, slow down as it cooled and eventually stop moving altogether and begin to congeal. Although he tried to push the thought out of his mind, he was a little afraid that he had pushed his father too far and maybe now his father just didn’t care about him anymore. Maybe he didn’t care if he starved to death. Maybe he wouldn’t let him go play with his new friends because he didn’t care about him. What other reason could there be for his father to not let him play with his friends?

As he began to collect the wood that had been chopped and stacked beside the house and carry it to the wood box next to the kitchen, Joe alternated with being mad at his father for being so mean to him, and sad that he had so disappointed his father that he didn’t care about him anymore. The logs were heavy and awkward to carry and he couldn’t carry more than a few logs at a time. On his fourth trip to the wood box, when he was trying to carry more than he could safely handle, he stumbled and as he tried to keep his balance, he dropped the logs. One of the logs scraped the length of his arm from the elbow to his hand as it slid out of his grasp. Wincing, he looked at the scrape, fascinated by the bleeding. He was just about to wipe the blood off with his other hand when his father said, “Wait, Joe, let me see that” and took hold of his arm. Joe, startled to hear his father because he had not heard him open the door, jumped slightly at his father’s voice.

His father held his arm and looked at it carefully, then looked at Joe and smiled, “That doesn’t look too bad. Let’s go get it washed and cleaned up though.” And started leading Joe into the house.

When Joe had looked into his father’s brown eyes when his father was looking over his scrape, Joe had been reassured that whatever the reason his father wouldn’t let him go play with his new friends—it wasn’t because his father no longer loved him. Of course if someone had heard the commotion Joe made during the few minutes that it took to wash and put some ointment on his scrape, they would have thought that someone was surely killing him. “Papa, it’s clean enough. Stop. Please Papa. That hurts!” Joe said loudly, with tears in his eyes.

Ben, quite used to this kind of reception to simple first aid, not just from Joe, but from his older two sons, as well, just shook his head and continued to perform the necessary first aid. Finally, when he was satisfied that the wound was clean and had been protected with ointment, he released Little Joe’s arm and said, “There. All done, young man.” Immediately the yelling stopped and Joe carefully scrutinized the scrape to verify that his arm was still intact after the treatment.

Ben helped him down from the kitchen table and said, “Now let’s go get that wood picked up before Hop Sing gets back from town.” As his father helped him finish filling the wood box, which took only one more trip, Little Joe was more confused than ever about his father’s actions. He wondered again though, as he often did, why his father insisted that he fill Hop Sing’s wood box. His father or Adam or even Hop Sing could completely fill the wood box in two trips. Heck he had seen Hoss fill it with just one trip; but it took him six or seven trips to fill it up to the top the way Hop Sing insisted. Why didn’t his father see what was so obvious to him?

After the wood box was finished, Ben said “Now come on inside, I want to talk to you.” Joe managed to remain quiet and cool to his father, without being openly hostile. Inside his emotions were in turmoil as he tried to understand his father’s recent actions. “Boy grownups are impossible” he finally concluded. Out loud, he shrugged and squared his shoulders and went inside with his father, expecting to get a lecture about his behavior last night. And indeed, his behavior last night was the topic of discussion, although it was not quite as bad as Joe had anticipated.

“Joseph, I want to discuss your behavior at bedtime last night. That was not acceptable.” Joe just looked at his father and didn’t say anything. “Now I can make allowances for disappointment. I realize that you were excited about the possibility of having friends your own age nearby.” Joe was about to interrupt, when his father held up his hand and said, “I am not finished speaking, Son.” “Regardless of that, your behavior was intolerable and I can not allow that to go unpunished.” By this time, Joe was sitting still, his eyes narrowed and his jaw set as he felt that somehow he was not being treated fairly. He didn’t say anything and his father continued speaking. “There are three things that I absolutely expect from you and your brothers—obedience, honesty, and respect. The three things that I absolutely will not tolerate are disobedience, dishonesty, and disrespect.” (Gentry, personal communication, 1998) Ben paused, briefly and looked at his son, sitting there with a hard, stubborn look. “Joseph do you know what those words mean?”

Ben stared at Joseph, who didn’t want to reply, but as his father stared at him, he felt compelled to answer, “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Your tantrum last night was disobedient and disrespectful. I will not tolerate an outburst like that again. Is that understood?”

Again his eyes bored into Little Joe, overcoming his inclination to refuse to answer his father. “Yes, sir.”

Ben relaxed and smiled at his son and said. “All right then, I want you to go clean your room and then remain in your room until I call you for lunch. You will return to your room and spend the afternoon reading or practicing your writing until time for your evening chores. Now get going.”

Little Joe got out of his chair and turned and headed up the stairs. He was quiet outside, but he was shouting inside. “That’s not fair, Papa. Why can’t I go play with my new friends? I promised ’em I would come and now they are gonna think I am a liar and they won’t want to play with me anymore.”

*****

Chapter 7

Joe went to his room and just at the last minute, caught the door to keep it from slamming shut and likely bringing his father up the stairs after him. But inwardly he slammed it—he slammed it hard. He headed straight for the window and opened the window and slipped up onto the window ledge—one of his favorite places to think. From his vantage point, he could see most of what was going on around the ranch. He could see the barn, the corral, the bunkhouse, and the yard. He sat there, trying to calm himself down and to figure out exactly what he was feeling. As he sat there, he gradually looked around the room and smiled—his room was already clean. Hop Sing had already cleaned it.

Although cleaning his room was something he was expected to do on his own, Hop Sing most times did it for him. Hop Sing, although non-emotional and seemingly detached on the surface, was extremely attached and protective of Little Joe. He sometimes disagreed with his father’s child-rearing methods and in his own, unobtrusive way, he spoiled the little boy that he loved so much. Little Joe recognized this and he and Hop Sing had a special relationship that was mutually beneficial to them. Hop Sing, with a different cultural philosophy, was able to provide some of the “softer” touches that a little boy needed, and in return, his relationship with Little Joe filled a need for him to be needed.

Little Joe sat on the window sill for a long time, trying to make sense out of what was going on with his father and trying to think of some way to get his father to change his mind. After a time he found himself day-dreaming and imagining what it would be like to live with his friends in their cozy wagons and to be able to roam free much of the time. Joseph had told him that the gypsy children didn’t attend school. The adult men taught them how to perform the chores, work with the horses, and some of the other trade skills that they would need. The women taught the children to read and write, but they didn’t have to do their lessons at any certain time. His friends had been remarkably free to play and left pretty much to entertain themselves; however, the adults were always eager to stop what they were doing and play with the children. Joe was envious of this, because although his father and brothers would play with him, they always made it clear that the work had to be done first. Joseph’s family seemed to look upon play as just as important as work. As he sat in the window and day-dreamed about the gypsies, it became more and more important to him that he get to know them better. As always, when Little Joe became still and quiet, he became sleepy. He finally got up and lay down on his bed and within seconds of touching the pillows, he was asleep.

About an hour later, his father came up stairs and knocked softly on the door, hearing no movement, he quietly opened the door and was not surprised to see that his youngest son was sound asleep. He noted the cleanliness and tidiness of the room and the carefully made bed and knew that Little Joe had not been responsible for doing it. He shook his head and smiled, he knew it was useless to talk to Hop Sing again about teaching Little Joe responsibility—Hop Sing had his own ideas and he was not going to change his mind. As usual, Ben decided to feign ignorance to keep the peace. He walked softly into the room and noticing the open window, he gently closed it and since the room temperature was a bit cool, he pulled the bedspread up over his son. He stood there for a few minutes, watching the angelic face of his son in deep slumber. All that could be seen was his dark hair, which despite being cut just a couple of days ago, were already starting to curl softly. Smiling, he quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.

*****

“Hey, Short Shanks. Wake up.” Someone was shaking Joe and had pulled the cover down. Joe realizing that there was something bothering him, quickly turned away from the intrusion and continued to sleep. More forcefully this time, Hoss shook his shoulder and spoke louder, “Joe, get up. It’s lunch time and I am hungry. Get up, you gonna sleep your life away?”

Joe slowly rolled over and groggily looked at the giant who had so rudely woke him. As his eyes focused, he was relieved to see that the giant was his brother Hoss. He smiled at him and said “Hi, Hoss. Is it morning already?”

“Mornin’? ” Hoss replied, laughing. “You ain’t been sleeping that long, Little Joe. Come on, let’s go eat lunch. I am starvin’.”

Joe, whose stomach reminded him that he was hungry, too, quickly got up and jumped off the bed onto Hoss’ back, who was all set to give him a piggyback ride downstairs. As they went down the stairs, Hoss pretended to be a bucking bronc and Joe had to hang on tight, squealing with delight when Hoss stopped at the landing and pretended that he was going to throw him over the railing. When they got further down, Adam said, “Well, it’s about time, you two. I thought Hop Sing was gonna throw it out.” He reached over and swung Joe down from Hoss’s shoulders and swirled him around. “How you doing, Buddy?” he asked his little brother.

“Fine, Adam. Let’s eat.” Joe said, spying the fried chicken and potato salad and corn on the cob on the dining room table. Hop Sing had even put the red and white checkered table cloth on the table, the one that Little Joe said made him think they were at a picnic.

“Where’s Papa? Joe asked, looking around and not seeing him and noticing that there were only three places set at the table.

“He had to go over to Charles Milford’s house to talk to him about something.” Hoss said. “Pa said you are supposed to have lunch with us, then go back to your room ’til we come get you for chores this afternoon.” Joe frowned, realizing that his father’s absence didn’t mean the end to his punishment. Adam and Hoss seeing the frown, gave each other a smile and rolled their eyes at each other. They knew exactly what Little Joe had thought and what he had been thinking.

“Well let’s hit the chow” Hoss said. Hop Sing had placed all the food on the table and after Adam said grace, they served themselves. Joe took one of the largest pieces of fried chicken and began to eat it hungrily. Adam and Hoss exchanged amused glances over his appetite, in light of his abstinence at breakfast. Ben had cautioned them to make sure that Little Joe ate, forcing him if necessary. They realized that was not going to be necessary this meal for sure. After they had finished with the meal, Hop Sing came into the dining area bringing dishes of home-made apple cobbler, piping hot from the oven. All three of the boys dived right into the steaming hot apple treat. No one had to be forced to eat anything at that meal.

When they had finished eating, Hoss and Adam were talking about their plans and Little Joe was sticking with them, hoping they wouldn’t remember he was supposed to go back to his room. Both of them remembered, but neither of them wanted to make him. They both lingered in the house as long as they could, pretending to be discussing business and talking to Little Joe. However, eventually they both realized that they had to go on about their own jobs and started to leave. Adam said, “well Hoss are you ready to head back out?”

“Yeah Adam, I guess we better.” Hoss replied, with a glance at Little Joe. He saw the look of disappointment come across Little Joe’s face, and he reached over and ruffled his hair and said, “Cheer up Short Shanks. You are getting off easy and you know it. We will be back before you know it. Now you go on back up to your room and wait for us or Pa. Ya hear?” As he said this, he gently, but firmly pushed on Joe’s back, heading him toward the stairs.

“But Hoss don’t you need me to help you get Chub ready to go?” Joe asked. Hoss frequently pretended that he couldn’t get Chub to open his mouth and accept the bit, without some assistance from Little Joe.

“Now, Little Joe you go on upstairs now before you get into even more trouble.” Hoss said firmly and again headed him toward the stairs. Joe realizing that he was getting no where with Hoss looked at Adam to see if he would have any better luck, but the look on Adam’s face mirrored that of Hoss’ so he knew he would not get any further with him. He slowly headed towards the stairs, shuffling his feet and with his head down, looking as if he had lost his very last friend in the world.

Seeing him, Hoss lost his resolve and started to speak to him, but Adam put his hand on his shoulder and shook his head and said, “Come on Hoss, he will be fine and if you take him outside, Pa will have YOUR hide, too.” Hoss shrugged and nodded and walked out with his brother. They both turned back at the door and watched Little Joe go on up the stairs as if he were going to an execution instead of his own bedroom.

*****

Chapter 8

Little Joe went up the stairs slowly and entered his room. Once there, he went quickly over to his window so he could watch his brothers go into the barn. He saw them head in and was watching when they came out, leading Sport and Chub. They climbed up on their horses and rode away. Joe watched them as long as he could see them, then feeling very sorry for himself, he looked around his room looking for something to amuse himself. He went over and looked in the wooden carved toy chest that had Joseph Cartwright carved on the lid and pulled out a box of toy soldiers. He lined them up on opposite sides on the floor and tried to play a battle with them. But without Hoss or his Pa or Adam to move one army, it wasn’t much fun and he soon lost interest in them. Looking in the box again, he pulled out a ball, which of course he couldn’t play with by himself either, so he dropped that back in the box and looked again. He brought out a mechanical toy that Adam had brought him from a trip to San Francisco and played with it for a while. It was fascinating at first because he didn’t know what made it go; however, once he figured that out, he lost interest in that as well. He looked in the toy box one more time and this time he didn’t bother to pull anything out, he just stared blankly at the toys in the box, rejecting each one. Nothing in that toy box held any interest to him; he loved to play with his toys—but he seldom had to play alone–usually one of his brothers or his father would play with him.

He sat down beside the toy box and tried to think of a story his father had told him or one of the stories Hop Sing had told him about old China, but he just couldn’t concentrate and he also couldn’t keep still. He longed to run and play and laugh; he had so much energy after sleeping all morning and then eating so much lunch that he longed for an outlet for that energy. He found himself again thinking about what his friends would be doing in the Gypsy camp, and wondered if Joseph’s father had made it home today as he had promised. Joe hoped he did for Joseph’s sake, but he also knew that the Gypsies were just staying there until Joseph’s father got back and then they would soon be on their way. Joe had asked them where they were going and Joseph had given him the oddest look and said “to where ever we are”.

Joe had not at all understood what Joseph meant, he was used to people who were headed to a specific place—Virginia City, California, even Oregon, but not just traveling with no particular place to go. His grandmother had seen his puzzled look and motioned for him to sit by her and she had told stories of their travels and the many wonderful blessings they had found in each place they were. He had asked her, “What blessing did you find here, Mrs. Prasko?” and she had looked at him, and with a warm smile, reached over and hugged him and said, “We found you here, Little Joseph–what a blessing you are.” He had loved that hug, it was so different from the hugs from his brothers and Papa. They hugged him often, but it was not like Mrs. Prasko’s hugs. Her hugs were soft and strong at the same time, and they ended slowly rather than abruptly, and she smelled like some of the homemade cookies that Hop Sing made sometimes. And when she smiled her eyes were dancing and the corners of her mouth turned up and even her eyes smiled. Little Joe missed his mother since she died two years ago, but he had never known a grandmother, now he realized that he had missed another important part of some families. He wondered if the two Mrs. Prasko’s were baking pastries or telling stories this afternoon. Then he remembered that Joseph had promised to ask his father to let them ride the horses when he returned to the camp.

He heard a wagon and ran to the window to see if someone was coming to the house. Instead he saw that Hop Sing was leaving in the wagon, this made him feel very alone. He knew that Jake, the man in charge of the stable and responsible for watching the barn animals would be around somewhere and that he wasn’t really alone—but he felt very lonely and almost abandoned. He was definitely not used to being left to his own devices for long and just knowing that he had to be there all afternoon instead of out with his brothers or riding his horse—or playing with Joseph—made him feel very sad. He went back to the window sill, but this time instead of sitting on the window sill, he climbed carefully out his window and sat on the roof. He had done this several times at night after his father had tucked him into bed when he couldn’t sleep. He enjoyed the quiet and peaceful feeling he got there at night, watching the stars and trying to decide which one was his mama. He knew she was the brightest one, so he located her star and then would talk to her in his head.

This time of course, he couldn’t see her star because the sun was still very bright, but he liked the feeling of openness on the roof far better than being in his room alone. As he sat there, he started looking around to see how far he could see. He found that if he was careful he could easily walk around on the roof of the house and from the far side of the roof, if he stood on tiptoe and peaked around the corner a little, extending his head beyond the house, he could see the Gypsy camp. By stretching he could even see the people around the camp. He saw lots of children and he saw the adults and children playing some kind of game. How he wished he were there. A squirrel who hadn’t noticed him sitting there came onto the roof and then when the squirrel saw Joseph, he scampered off. Joe almost as startled by the squirrel as the squirrel was startled by him, thought it would be fun to see where the squirrel went, so without thinking he stood up and chased after the squirrel across the top of the roof. The squirrel disappeared down the side of the house. That puzzled Joe, since there was no tree there, so he went to investigate further. He was able to get a quick glimpse of the squirrel scampering away after climbing down the column supporting the porch roof. Joe looked at the post and thought that looked so easy. He thought to himself that if the squirrel could do it, he could do it, and without thinking, Little Joe had climbed down the post and found himself on the ground by the back porch.

The significance of what he had done did not sink in until he had already done it. He had gotten out of his room without coming down either the front or back stairs. He could do that with no one even knowing he was leaving he realized. But then he realized that having a secret escape route wouldn’t help him if he couldn’t get back into his room in the same way and getting up might be harder than getting out. He looked around carefully and decided that the best way to reenter his room, would not be by going back up that post, since it might prove to be too hard to climb up. But by the end of the porch there was a ponderosa pine tree that was growing very close to the house, touching the roof and hugging the house. He had heard his father say that the men building the house almost cut the tree down and his mother had made them stop and spare the tree. He went over to the tree and investigated its suitability for climbing up. He got started climbing and with no trouble whatsoever, he found himself back on the roof. He again climbed down the post, since it was faster to climb down than the tree, and for good measure, he quickly climbed the tree again to check out his route. Then with no more thought on the matter, he climbed down the post, went and quickly saddled his pony and after looking to make sure no one was in the yard, he headed for the gypsy camp.

 

Chapter 9

Hop Sing was trying to decide whether he wanted to bake sugar cookies or old-fashioned teacakes when he returned from his trip. He had gone over to take some supplies to the wife of one of the married ranch hands, after the birth of a new baby. The Ponderosa had several ranch hands or cattle wranglers who were married and had families and Mr. Cartwright was always very generous to them. Hop Sing always took them some prepared foods as well as supplies. This trip had gone quickly since it was one of the closer cabins. He knew that Little Joe would be feeling really lonely so he thought he would bake some cookies to cheer him up. Finally, he decided that he would bake tea cakes, but he would sprinkle some of them with sugar–that way he would be baking both of Joe’s favorite cookies. When he got home, he gave the horses to Jake to unhitch and he went hurriedly into the house. Since Little Joe couldn’t come out of his room, Hop Sing decided to quickly mix the cookies and get them baked, then take some hot from the oven to him. He happily busied himself mixing the flour, butter, eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla to make the cookie dough. He rolled them out quickly while the oven warmed up. He selected some of the cookie cutters that he had ordered from China. Some of them were stars, some were crescent moons, and some were tiny child-like figures.

Soon, the smell of freshly-baked cookies filled the whole Ponderosa ranch house and Hop Sing was taking the first batch from the large oven. He put 5 of the cookies on a plate and filled a glass with cold milk from the spring-house and went up the stairs to spend some time with Little Joe while he ate them. He knew that he couldn’t let Little Joe out of his room, Mr. Cartwright would never allow that–but he couldn’t very well tell Hop Sing not to go into Little Joe’s room. Hop Sing smiled to himself, “What Mr. Cartlight not know, not hurt him” he thought to himself. He went to Joe’s door and knocked and hearing no response, he listened and then knocked again. Still getting no response, he quietly opened the door, expecting to find Little Joe fast asleep. He was surprised to find the room empty. He walked over and closed the window and as he came back across the room, he knelt down and picked up the toy soldiers and mechanical toy and placed them in the toy chest. He smiled as he picked up the toy soldiers, it was the last gift that Mrs. Cartwright had given Little Joe before she died. When Little Joe became too old to play with the soldiers, Hop Sing was planning take them and save them for Little Joe’s own chidden. Sighing, he took the cookies and returned down the stairs, slightly surprised that Mr. Cartwright had apparently changed his mind and taken Little Joe with him. “Is good” he thought to himself. “Little boy need to run and play, not be inside and quiet like grown man.”

Little Joe rode his pony as fast as he could go to the Gypsy camp, not wanting to miss another minute of fun. As soon as he rode into the sight of the camp, all the children ran to meet him, laughing and all talking at once. Joseph grabbed Joe’s arm and said, “Come meet my Pa-Pa, Joe” dragging him along.

He took Joe to a group of men who were standing and talking and laughing, and said, “Pa Pa, may I please present to you, my friend, Joseph Cartwright of the Ponderosa? Joseph, this is my Pa -Pa, Reginaldo Joseph Prasko.”

Joseph’s father excused himself from the conversation with the other men and knelt down so that he was at eye level with Little Joe and solemnly proffered his hand. He said, “It is an honor to meet you, my young friend. My son and my dear wife and mother have told me of your visits. I understand that it is upon your land that we camp. We are indeed honored by your presence. Welcome to our humble camp.” Joe was not used to grown-ups paying so much attention to him, or if they did, they usually treated him like he was a baby–messing with his hair or the worst—pinching his cheeks or asking how old he was. He shook hands with Mr. Prasko and told him he was happy to meet him too.

“Come tell me what you children have been doing while I have been gone.” Joseph’s father said. Joseph told him of the games they had played and the stories they had heard. He told them stories about his travels to sell the horses, telling them in detail about all the sights and scenery and the people he had met and the places he had camped. He told them where each of the horses had chosen to live.

Joe must have had a puzzled expression on his face over that because Mr. Prasko laughed and said, “What troubles you my new young friend?”

“What do you mean where they chose to live?” Joe asked. “Don’t they have to live where you sell them?”

“Ah, but no, Joseph, that would never be the right thing to do to such fine animals as our horses. Each horse selects the owner he or she would like to be sold to. Then and only then do I negotiate a price and complete the deal. It would never do to sell a horse or any animal to someone without the animal’s complete permission.”

Joe was wondering if the horses his father sold were happy with the owners they were sold to, then he had another thought. “What about cattle, Mr. Prasko? Do they select their owners too?”

Mr. Prasko again laughed and reached over and tousled Little Joe’s hair and then patted him enthusiastically on the back, “But of course, my young friend. Every animal must be content with their owner to be content with their station in life. It is the same with cattle.” Joe was thinking that he had to talk with Pa and Adam and Hoss, because he wasn’t sure they knew this. Time passed swiftly as the men and women of the camp had joined the group and after Mr. Prasko had finished talking about his trip, first one and then another would tell a story or sing a song.

After a while the children began to get fidgety, and Joseph’s grandmother stood up and clapped her hands, “Enough of this, ‘Naldo, can you not see that the children need to play in the sunshine? Save the rest of your stories for the night time after the dinner is eaten and we are all ready for listening to stories.”

She was smiling as she said this, and no one was offended. Joseph’s father said, “Yes, Ma-Ma, as always you are correct. I was letting my excitement get the better of me. But it is time for me to go see how our horses are doing and to tell them where their loved ones have chosen to live.” As he said this, he looked at Little Joe and winked and then he stood up and said, “Who thinks they can be the first to get to the horses?” Many voices attested to their belief that they were the fastest. Mr. Prasko said, “Ah, then we must have a race to see who is the fastest. The first person to get to the horses can have a ride on any horse in the corral.” He said, laughing. All the children were hardly able to stand still they were so excited. The children of the camp were used to horses and loved them as much as Little Joe did. Mr. Prasko said, “You must all form a line starting here”, indicating a position by a rock. “George, will you go to the other end and help me make sure we have no one getting an early start?” One of the other men enthusiastically got up and strode quickly to the other end of the rapidly-forming line of children of all ages. Little Joe was hesitant at first, not knowing if he were included, but Mr. Prasko said, “Come Joseph. Can you run fast? Let us see if you can.”

Little Joe excitedly joined the line getting in between a spot between Joseph and Marietta. Mr. Prasko said, “Okay when I give the word, you must all run as fast as you can to the horses. The first person there is the winner. But if you start before I give the word, you forfeit the race. Does everyone understand?”

Joseph was amazed that everyone in the camp was standing watching the race, not just the children were interested, the men and women of the camp were all there, and seemed just as excited as the children. “On your mark, get set, RUN” Mr. Prasko said and the line of children began running. The younger children and some of the older ones were soon left behind. At the halfway mark, there were 4 children still in contention, and of these 4, two were neck and neck. One of these was an older gypsy boy, named Marc and the other was Little Joe Cartwright. The children could hear the adults cheering them on and running behind them so they could watch the race. Most of the children and adults of the camp had no favorite—they were cheering for all the children. At the last few feet of the race, Little Joe increased his effort and took the lead, beating Marc by at least 6 or 7 yards in the end. When he reached the corral and turned around, he could see the gypsies cheering and slapping each other and hugging the other children, as if this had been a real race at the Founder’s Day picnic. He wondered how Marc would react, but he shouldn’t have worried, Marc came and grabbed him and gave him a pat on the back and then Mr. Prasko swung Little Joe up and deposited him on his shoulders. He then hollered, “I declare Joseph Cartwright to be the winner of the race.” With that everyone cheered and Joe looked around and beamed at them all.

After the excitement had died down and the adults had headed back to the cool glade where the vardos were stationed, Mr. Prasko turned to Little Joe and said, “Well it is time for your reward. Which horse would you like to ride?”

Without hesitation, Little Joe answered, “I want to ride King Frederick Romonov Prasko, pointing to the stallion.”

Mr. Prasko’s eyes followed Joe’s outstretched arm, hoping that he was hearing him wrong, but he saw that Joe was in fact, pointing to Freddy. “Well, Joseph Cartwright, I can see that you are a good judge of horses; Freddy is our best horse. But he is a very big horse for such a one as you. Are you sure you would not like to ride Katherine or Antigone?” he asked hoping to change Joe’s mind.

“No, sir. I want to ride Freddy.” Little Joe looked at him with his eyes wide open and innocent, but reminded him, “You said the winner could choose which horse to ride.”

Mr. Prasko laughed and said, “Ah, Joseph Cartwright, I would not like to have to trade with you in a few years. I would come away with no silver in my pockets and you would have all my horses, eh?”

Joseph spoke up, “Pa Pa, you did say the winner could choose.” Hoping to help his friend out. “Besides, Pa Pa, his family also raises and sells horses and he rides his horse alone. See he came over here alone today on his pony.”

Mr. Prasko listened to Joseph, and looked back at Little Joe and said, “Is this true Joseph, did you ride your pony over all by yourself today?”

Truthfully, Little Joe answered, “Yes, sir.”

Thinking that meant that he had ridden over on his own horse by himself, Mr. Prasko was reassured. Surely no one would let such a small child ride alone unless he was an exceptional rider. Still he was concerned about the safety of the child on Freddy without knowing what his skills were.

“I tell you what I am going to do, Joseph. You ride first on Antigone and if you can handle him well enough, then you can ride Freddy. Is that a satisfactory compromise, my fast and clever young friend?”

“Yes, sir” Joe answered, happy to know that he was going to get to ride not one, but two of those magnificent animals. While they had been talking, the other Gypsy men had saddled several of the horses, getting them ready to be ridden. Mr. Prasko whistled and signaled one of the men to bring Antigone over. He helped Joe into the stirrups and adjusted them to fit him, and then gave him several minutes of instructions on the best way to handle these horses. Then he led Little Joe around the exercise pen, with the horse walking slowly behind him to see what kind of a rider Little Joe was. Satisfied that he was a safe rider, he let him ride Antigone several times around the corral.

Soon, however, Joe rode over to him and stopped the horse. He looked at Mr. Prasko, expecting some resistance, and said firmly but politely, “I am ready to ride Freddy now.”

Mr. Prasko laughed and said, “And so you shall, my young friend. And so you shall.” Then he signaled one of the men to bring over Freddy. While Little Joe had been riding Antigone, he had asked one of the other men to ride Freddy to make sure he was not too excited and to mellow him down some just to be on the safe side.

As the man came over, he raised his eyebrows at him, and the man smiled and said, “Freddy is as gentle as a lamb today.”

Relieved, Mr. Prasko helped Joe into the saddle and adjusted the stirrups and again began to give him further instructions about handling this particular horse. He found himself impressed with Joe’s knowledge and skill with the horse. He started out walking around the corral, watching how Little Joe moved with the horse and making sure that he could handle the big horse safely enough for a short ride. He would make sure that it was a short ride, because if startled or if pushed, Freddy could be hard for a grown man to handle. He found himself relaxing though as he noticed that the little boy seemed to be very comfortable and to be a natural horseman, with good instincts.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ben Cartwright was stabling his horse when he noticed that Little Joe’s pony was not in his stall. He figured Hoss had turned him out into the corral for some exercise, since Little Joe wouldn’t be riding him today. Hoss was so attuned to the needs of the animals on that ranch, he thought. I don’t know what we would do without him to remind us to see to their needs. Smiling he headed into the house to go see if his young son had learned his lesson. When he got to the door and went inside, the smell of freshly baked cookies wafted from the kitchen. He smiled again at this. “It never fails” he thought. “every time I punish Little Joe and make him stay in his room, Hop Sing bakes cookies. Does he think I haven’t figured out what he is doing?” But he knew he wouldn’t say anything to Hop Sing about it. He would have to put up with his dirty looks and muttered Chinese tirades if he did. “No, just better to plead ignorance sometimes” he thought to himself.

Just as he went around toward the kitchen, planning to snatch a few of those cookies for himself before Joe and Hoss had finished ’em all off, Hop Sing came around the corner, carrying a plate with cookies on it. Ben reached out to take the plate, thinking Hop Sing was bringing him cookies. But Hop Sing snatched the plate away and said, “Cookies for Little Joe.” Then looking around behind Ben, he asked, “Where Little Joe?”

“What do you mean, where is Little Joe? Isn’t he in his room?” Ben asked loudly, walking rapidly across the room even as he asked the question. Both he and Hop Sing made it to the upstairs and saw the empty room when Ben opened the door wide. Nothing in the room was out of place, not even a wrinkle on the bed to show that Little Joe had even been in the room recently.

“I told Adam and Hoss not to take him with them.” Ben said, loudly, clearly perturbed at his son’s absence.

“He not leave with brothers. Mr. Adam and Mr. Hoss ride out after lunch together. Little Joe go back upstairs. Hop Sing go take supplies to Missy Watson. When Hop Sing return, bake cookies, take to Little Joe. Little Joe not there. Hop Sing think you come back, get him.”

Remembering that Joe’s pony was not in the barn, Ben said “I have an idea where he is” and walked outside towards the corral. He expected to see his son at the corral with his horse, but Jake was the only person there and Little Joe’s horse was not in sight either. “Jake, have you seen Little Joe?”

“Yes, sir, he rode out of here ’bout three hours ago.”

“Rode out with whom?” Ben asked.

“He weren’t with nobody, Mr. Cartwright.” “He rode off on his pony BY HIMSELF?” he asked incredulously.

“Yes, sir. I am sorry, Mr. Cartwright. Was I supposed to stop him?” Jake asked, worried that he was in trouble with the boss for letting Little Joe go off. He had thought it odd that he did, but hadn’t thought to interfere.

Ben took a deep breath and slowly exhaled, “No, Jake. Watching Joe is my responsibility, not yours. It is all right. Which way did he go?” Jake pointed to the east and suddenly Ben realized exactly where his youngest son had gone. Grimly, he said, “Thanks, Jake. I know where he is. You have been a big help.” He walked quickly towards the barn to get Buck. His mind was filled with two thoughts. First and foremost to find his youngest son and make sure he was safe and bring him home. Second, what type of punishment was it going to take to get through to that child. He was determined to teach Little Joe a lesson about obedience that he would not soon forget.

*****

Chapter 10

Little Joe was having the time of his life. This was the biggest horse he had ever been on. He had to hold his legs tight to stay in the saddle since Freddy was so big, but he was exhilarated by the feeling of the powerful horse beneath him. He was sure he could ride the horse and would love to see how fast he could go. Mr. Prasko called to him, “Haven’t you ridden enough, Joseph?”

“Let me go just one more time around the corral—all by myself. Okay?”

“All right Joseph, one more time and then you must let Freddy rest. He is not young as you are, remember.” Little Joe decided that if this was his last time to ride the horse, he had to make the most of it. He spurred the horse faster by digging his knees into the horse’s sides. The horse increased his speed and for a few wonderful seconds Joseph felt the most excitement he had ever experienced in his entire life. Then just as he heard Mr. Prasko tell him to stop the horse, and he started to slow down, Joe looked toward Mr. Prasko, and his heart almost stopped. Riding toward them at full speed was Buck, and even from the distance, Joe could see that his father was furious.

Joe reined Freddy in and Mr. Prasko reached up to take hold of the horse’s bridle, just as Buck stopped and Ben Cartwright jumped off. Little Joe didn’t think he had ever seen his father look like that. He tried to speak but his father’s expression stopped him cold. Without saying a word, Ben jumped over the corral and reached up and took Little Joe out of the saddle and held him by his arms and shoulders so that Little Joe was at his eye level. Little Joe had been punished by his father often–but in reality he had never before been afraid of his father–but this time he was afraid. “Papa” he choked out in a quavering voice. “Not one word, Joseph. You go over and wait for me next to Buck.” His father directed.

“But Pa..”

“NOW, JOSEPH” Ben yelled, red-faced and tight-lipped.

Mr. Prasko and the other gypsy men had watched the whole exchange in a state of confusion at first. When Mr. Prasko had heard the word “Papa”, and the look on the man’s face, he knew. It wasn’t the first time that this or a similar incident had happened. He had thought it was different this time, since Joseph and his wife and mother had told him that the little boy had come everyday to play with the children and that not once had anyone told them to leave. The little boy had seemed so friendly and confident; somehow he had forgotten to be cautious, and as usual, it would be so hard to explain to the children. He quickly turned to Joseph and said something in a language that Joe didn’t understand. Joseph and Marietta quickly gathered all the other children and herded them back towards the vardos. Joseph and Marietta gave Joe a sympathetic look as they hurried by, their eyes wide with fear.

Mr. Prasko approached the man, with his hand held out to shake the stranger’s hands, but the man didn’t not hold his hand out.

“What is the meaning of this?” Ben bellowed.

“You must be Mr. Cart……”Mr. Prasko started.

“Yes, I am Ben Cartwright—that little boy over there is mine. He could have been killed on that stallion! HOW DARE YOU ENDANGER HIS LIFE LIKE THAT?”

“Mr. Cartwright, if you……”

“No, you listen to me.” Ben tried to get his voice under control. “I know my son came here on his own, though without my permission, so I am not going to have you arrested. That is if you and your whole band is gone by morning. But I warn you if you or any of you come anywhere near my son again, I will have you arrested. Now you get started and get packed and get out of here. RIGHT NOW.” Ben was having a hard time controlling his emotions, his anger and disappointment in his son, combined with the panic he felt when he saw him on the huge horse, overwhelmed his usual logic.

“Mr. Cartwright,” the gypsy leader tried again. Ben stopped, his back by now turned toward the interloper. “We welcome you as we did your son…with an open heart and open arms. I can assure you, your son was in no danger from the horse he was on. And, I can also assure you, none of us had any idea your son was not allowed in our camp. Had we known, we would have sent him straight home.” The gypsy stopped, to draw a breath, watching the other man’s motions carefully, trying to see if he were making any impression on Ben Cartwright’s erroneous assumptions. Ben stood, tensed, his anger obvious. In a lower voice, Prasko finished, “That you refuse our hospitality and our honest explanations is your problem, Mr. Cartwright. Both are offered in sincerity and without rancor.” As Ben strode toward Buck, the gypsy patriarch turned back toward his family, sadness in his heart for his family, their lot in life, and especially for his son’s young friend.

Joe had collected Star and stood beside Buck with the pony’s reins in his hand. “You’ll ride with me on Buck,” Ben said curtly.

“Pa,” Little Joe began to protest, but the look from his father quelled any further pleadings.

“If you persist in acting like a little boy, you will be treated as one. You will not ride your pony alone, Joseph, for quite some time.” Ben efficiently set Joe up on Buck. Joe moved to slide back behind the saddle when Ben stopped him. “You’ll ride in the front, Joseph.”

Joe looked at his father, not believing his father would make him ride up front like a child who couldn’t even hold on. Ben’s look was unrelenting and the boy moved forward, allowing room for his father to swing into the saddle. After settling himself in the saddle, Ben rode off without a backward glance, Star’s reins in his left hand, his right encircling Joe’s middle with Buck’s reins in them.

The ride back to the ranch was as cold and silent as the high meadows on a winter’s night. Joe had hoped that some of his father’s anger would have dissipated by the time they arrived back at the ranch house, but it was not to be. The boy couldn’t remember his father ever being so angry before. Jake and Charlie came up as they rode in, ready to put the two horses away. Ben lifted his youngest son from the saddle, then handed the reins to the wranglers.

“Pa,” Joe began again.

“Not another word, boy. I’ve always believed a child’s punishment should be done in private, but if you persist in saying one more word, you’ll be over my knee, on the receiving end of a thrashing you’ll not soon forget…right here in front of this barn and these men.” He was yelling at Little Joe. “Do I make myself clear?” Embarrassed at witnessing Ben’s anger at his young son, Jake and Charlie quietly turned to the barn, leading the Cartwrights’ horses to their stalls.

Joe swallowed hard, looking quickly to the ground while blinking back tears of embarrassment and hurt. Afraid to even respond aloud, he shook his head silently, acknowledging his father’s question. Oh, why wouldn’t his father even let him explain? It was bad enough that he was in trouble but surely, if he could just get a chance to petition on the Prasko’s behalf, Little Joe was sure his Papa would understand and realize his anger shouldn’t be directed at Mr. Prasko and his family. The chance that he might be given that opportunity surely seemed slim just then.

“Joseph,” Ben’s voice was raised as he put his hands on the boy’s shoulders. Joe stood, still staring at the ground. Shaking Joe to get his attention, Ben yelled, his anger almost out of control. “Look at me when I speak to you, boy!” Joe quickly looked up, taken aback at the anger in his father’s voice. He almost cringed, afraid his father indeed might begin his punishment right in front of the barn, a humiliation too terrible to contemplate. “You will wait for me in your room. When I have calmed down, you can be sure you will receive a tanning you won’t soon forget.”

Ben’s voice dropped to a calm, low manner, a sure sign of his intense displeasure. “If you think for one moment of sneaking out of your room, I can promise you, you will certainly wish you hadn’t.” He turned the boy toward the house, sending him on his way with a hard swat that promised a very sound punishment. Tears falling, Joe covered his bottom with his left hand as he hurried to his room. He couldn’t remember his father ever being this disappointed in him.

It was almost an hour later that Ben Cartwright felt sufficiently under control to confront his youngest with the boy’s failings. He strode purposefully up the stairs, pausing at Little Joe’s door only long enough to knock, before entering. Joe jumped off the bed and stood, turned toward his father with his eyes downcast.

“Young man,” Ben began in that low, quiet voice. Little Joe knew that now was not the time to plead the gypsies’ cause. The boy kept quiet, his eyes riveted to the floor. “You have been in trouble before…look at me, son.” Joe’s face jerked up to look his father in the eyes. “You have been in trouble before, but never of this magnitude.” Joe had trouble maintaining eye contact, but knew it was expected of him. “I gave you a direct order, to stay in your room until it was time for chores, did I not?” Joe nodded, almost imperceptibly.

“When I came home, not only did I find you had disobeyed that directive, I also find you have disobeyed my order from last night not to go to that camp again. Did I not?” Again, Joe nodded slightly. He desperately wanted to look away, but feared inciting his father’s wrath even more.

Ben’s voice raised several decibels. “Twice you have disobeyed me, including avoiding your punishment earlier for your disrespect. To say I am disappointed in you would only begin to describe how I am feeling towards you right now.” Joe blinked back tears, looking down to his boots. “Look at me, boy.” Joe’s head jerked back up, tears stealing down the side of his face. His eyes widened as he watched his father slowly remove his belt.

“I have never punished you with a belt, Joseph. And I hope never to again, but you will learn that disobedience has its consequences. Do you understand this?” Joe nodded silently. “Do you have anything to say about your behavior?”

“I’m sorry, Papa. Honest.” Joe knew now was not the time to discuss why he had gone to the camp. And, he knew his apology would not allow him to escape his punishment. It was enough for his father to know he truly regretted his actions.

“I am, too, Joseph. Come here, please,” Ben spoke softly, but without the low calmness that signaled such intense anger that he had felt earlier. The father wanted this over as badly as did his son.

Joe sobbed tears of anger, hurt, humiliation, and repentance as his father delivered his punishment. Ben finally released his son’s arm and gently directed the boy to his bed. Joe fell onto the covers, clutching at the pillow into which he now cried. “We’ll talk about this later, Joseph,” Ben spoke gently. He rubbed his son’s back for just a moment, then stepped from the room, quietly closing the door behind him.

Ben went downstairs and headed toward the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Once inside the kitchen, he was met with a sullen-faced Hop Sing. Hop Sing, seeing the defeated expression on his face, softened and offered him a cup of coffee without comment. Ben took the coffee, with a soft “thanks, Hop Sing” and went over to his desk, ostensibly to work. In fact he needed the time to recover from the events of the past two hours. Ben Cartwright was tough and strong, but his heart was soft and it had truly been as painful to him to administer his son’s punishment as it had been for Joseph to receive. He believed that discipline was as important as love and understanding in rearing children. He had realized early on that Joseph was going to demand a lot of all three attributes and he was determined to assure that he received what he required.

He and Marie had talked and laughed about the emerging temperament of their child even as an infant and had discussed how they must meet the challenge. He was confident that it would have been so much easier to know the right thing to do if Marie were still with them. She was the only person he had ever known able to match their son’s intensity of emotions–whether it be happiness, anger, joy, or sorrow. Seeing Joseph on that big horse had caused the pain of watching her die resurface. So alive and excited over her trip to town and her happiness over seeing him one minute; so lifeless and still the next minute–crushed by a too-easily startled horse. As he reflected he realized that pain and helplessness he had felt had contributed to his anger at his son. Yet, Joseph had disobeyed and that could not be overlooked.

After 20 minutes or so of reflection, he felt himself calming down and was able to focus on the ledgers and other paperwork necessary for running the Ponderosa. He waited about an hour and a half to give his son sufficient time to recover from the physical punishment and to have some time to think about the crime as well as the punishment. He knew that when Joseph had said he was sorry that he was sorry, not just for getting caught and being punished, but for the disobedience itself. When he felt that both he and his son were ready to discuss the crime and the punishment, he walked resolutely up the stairs. He stopped at his son’s door, knocked softly, and entered. He was not surprised to find his son asleep, still hugging the pillow. He walked over to the bed and reached his hand out to wake him, but he paused briefly and looked at his youngest son. He was so much like his mother that it sometimes took his breath away to see him. His cheeks were red and showed dried tear tracks, his eyes were slightly puffy from crying. Ben reached over and brushed the hair off his forehead automatically. Joe stirred as his father did that and at first he didn’t remember the circumstances and he smiled and said “Hi, Papa”.

Ben returned the smile and said, “Hi, Son, we need to talk.”

As he woke more fully, Joe remembered the events of the afternoon and his smile faded. “I’m sorry Papa.” He said in a very small, soft voice, unable to look at his father. Ben sat down on the side of Joe’s bed and lifted his son so that he was sitting beside him, then put his arm around him and pulled him close. He then took Joe’s face and turned it towards him so that they were looking face to face. “Now, then Joseph, I would like to have an explanation for your failure to obey my instructions.”

As he looked at his father, tears started to form in his eyes again as he tried to think how to explain to his father. He wanted to explain to his father, but how could he explain to him what he didn’t understand himself. He didn’t mean to disobey, he certainly didn’t intend to sneak out of the house and go to the gypsy camp—but he knew that would not satisfy his father. As he tried to formulate an answer, his father quietly reached into his pocket and pulled out a clean, neatly folded handkerchief and handed it to his son. That simple action, done so routinely and so patiently, filled Little Joe with self-recrimination and the flood of tears that hadn’t been exhausted earlier, came again. Joe’s body racked with heart-breaking sobs as he cried, worried that his relationship with his father had been irreparably damaged. Seeing his son’s distress, Ben reached over and picked Joe up and held him in his arms, rocking him slightly. “There, there, Joseph, it is going to be all right, son.” Ben held Joe and let him cry until the sobs diminished and eventually stopped. He continued to hold him closely for a few more minutes to allow his son to recover and to catch his breath. Finally, he said, “Feeling better, son?”

“Yes, Papa” Joe said, feeling safe and secure in his father’s arms. “Papa I am sorry I disobeyed you.”

“I know you are, Joseph, you told me that. I believe you. Furthermore, Joseph, I forgive you.”

Ben began to question his son about how he had come to leave his room and how he had wound up at the gypsy camp. Joe, determined to be completely honest even if he got another tanning, didn’t leave out any details–even the part about climbing out the window. Ben’s eyes widened as he heard this and realized that Joe’s afternoon had been even more dangerous than he had known about. He realized as Joe was retelling the entire escapade that his son had once again gotten into trouble, not by intention, but by impulsive behavior. That was no less wrong, but Ben knew that it was the most difficult misbehavior to prevent. His son would have to learn to think about the consequences of an action before he did it–something that he had a suspicion was going to be a hard problem to solve. When Ben was satisfied that Little Joe had told him everything that had led to his disobedience, he talked to him about thinking through his plans before putting them into action and hoped that this lesson would help his son to remember in the future. At least for a few days, he thought to himself ruefully.

Then he said, “Well young man, I will expect you to spend tomorrow morning in your room to make up for this afternoon. Now why don’t we go see if your brothers are home and have our dinner?” Joe hesitated, he was so relieved that his father had forgiven him and wasn’t mad at him anymore, that he hated to do anything to change his mind again, but he felt he had to bring up the gypsies to set the record straight. Ben noticed the reticent facial expression on his son and helped him out, “Is there something else you want to talk about, Joseph?”

Joe took a deep breath and looked his father squarely in the eye and said, “Papa, it wasn’t Mr. Prasko’s fault that I was there. He didn’t know I wasn’t allowed there. I – I – I- didn’t tell him Papa. It wasn’t their fault, Papa.”

“Joseph, I know that you went there on your own. Still they should have known you were not supposed to be there on your own.” Ben replied, trying to remain calm.

“Papa, they are really nice and I had a really good time with them, Papa. Please don’t make them leave Papa. Mr. Prasko just got back today and he needs to rest the horses before they leave.”

“Joseph, it is better for all concerned if they continue on their journey. Now I will not get into a debate on this Son.” Ben said, standing up and holding out his hand for his son.

Joseph tried one more time, “Papa couldn’t they just stay until the horses are rested? I promise Papa, I won’t go there again.” He said this with pleading eyes, but Ben could see the sadness in them too.

“Joseph, NO. There are some things that you just don’t understand yet. You will understand them when you get older. In the meantime, you have your family to make those decisions and care for you. I have made my decision. Now we will talk no more of this, Joseph. Is that clear?” His voice was still calm, but had risen several decibels and Joe knew that he would not help the situation by pressing further.

“Yes Papa.” Joe said.

“Good, now let us go down to see your brothers. Come on son,” he said, taking Joseph and swinging him up onto his back and giving him a piggyback ride down the stairs.

Although this was something that Little Joe generally loved, he didn’t feel the usual exhilaration from the ride. He knew that the Praskos had been treated unfairly by his own family and that it was his fault and he was sad about that. He was glad to have his father no longer angry with him, but he felt that somehow he had failed his friend Joseph and his family. He was gladdened to see Hoss and Adam when they came down the stairs. Seeing them, he smiled and though he didn’t forget about the Praskos, he decided he would think about it later and maybe he could think of the right words to say to his father to explain. “Yeah that is what I have to do–just think of what to say first and then Papa will understand.” With that resolved in his mind, he laughed as his father bounced him around the living room, running him into Adam and Hoss, who lifted him off his father’s back and swung him onto his.

“Hey short shanks, I sure missed you today. I thought I would never get Chub’s bit in his mouth!”

“I told ya, you needed me to help you Hoss.”Joe replied, smiling.

*****

Chapter 11

Dinner was a light-hearted meal with Adam and Hoss telling Little Joe everything they had done that afternoon, with emphasis on the details they knew he would be interested in, such as seeing a herd of wild ponies. “Was there any pintos with ’em?” he asked as he always did. Ever since he had received a book about horses with a black and white pinto on the cover, he had become enthralled with pintos.

“No, Joe but there was a huge black stallion that you would have loved.” Hoss said. All three of them noticed the not too subtle change of expression on Joe’s face as a look of sadness replaced the enthusiastic one. Adam and Hoss looked at each other and then at their father, who shook his head to warn them to let it go. Still curious, they both let the subject go.

Ben noticed that after that innocent remark, Joe, who had been eating heartily, stopped eating and began to merely push food around on his plate with his fork. He decided to not push the issue at this meal, and realized just how much Joe’s emotional state affected his appetite. Unlike the rest of them whose appetite was unaffected by minor shifts in emotions, Joe’s appetite was directly tied to his emotional state. If something was bothering him, whether it be of minor or major significance, he had no interest in eating, while his attention was devoted entirely to the issue at hand. Just another facet of his son’s makeup that he found so fascinating—-and so challenging.

After dinner, they settled into their usual routine, except Ben who had finished his paperwork earlier in the afternoon, settled into his favorite chair by the fire. He could tell that Little Joe was still feeling the effects of the afternoon’s punishment, seeming to need a little more closeness than usual, so he offered to read him any book he wanted. Joe ran upstairs to retrieve a book. “Pa, did something happen with Little Joe this afternoon that we should know about?” Adam asked.

Ben smiled at both his older sons and said, “No.” Little Joe came bounding down the stairs, the book of horses with the pinto on the cover in his hands, along with a couple of other favorites as well. Ben read all three of the books, confirming to Adam and Hoss that something had transpired between their father and little brother. They knew that it would be pointless to question their father any further about the issue. However, they both knew that was a moot point, their little brother would be much easier to get the details out of—all they needed was a little time alone with him and some kind of enticement. With Little Joe’s curiosity and enthusiasm for so many things–the enticement would not be hard to offer.

As he finished the last book, Ben noticed that Little Joe was having an extremely difficult time staying awake, despite his best efforts to hold off sleep as long as possible. The events of the afternoon had taken a toll on him emotionally as well as physically. Ben closed the last book and said, “Bedtime, young man”. Joe was starting to protest that he wasn’t sleepy when there was a loud knock at the front door. The Cartwrights exchanged glances, wondering who would be coming to their door this late, but as always visitors were welcome at the Ponderosa. Adam was the first to get up and he went to greet the visitor. He was surprised to see Sheriff Roy Coffee standing there. The three older Cartwrights immediately feared there was a problem, necessitating a visit from the Sheriff this late at night.

Little Joe, however, was just excited to see his friend, the Sheriff, and he ran towards him and gave him an enthusiastic welcome. “Hi, Sheriff Coffee, come in!” he said, extending his arm, directing him into the house, as if he were the master of the house.

The Sheriff smiled and reached down and scooped Little Joe up and gave him a hug, “Hello, young man, and how is my best deputy?”

“Hello, Roy. Good to see you. Come on in” Ben welcomed his friend into the house. “Would you like a cup of coffee, Roy?”

“No, Ben, I can’t stay. We have a bit of a problem that I need your help on.”

“Of course, Roy, whatever you need, I am sure we will be happy to assist you.” Ben replied as expected.

“What is the problem, Sheriff?” Adam asked. He knew that the Sheriff was not part of a posse, because there had been no sound of multiple horses, so he was not sure what the nature of the late visit was.

“Well, seems there is a bit of a problem with the fever in the area.” Roy explained.

The faces of all the men in the room took on a more serious expression. Even Little Joe, who didn’t know exactly what the implications were, knew that “the fever” was something that everyone was always worried about. His father and Doc Martin always felt his forehead when he was sick to see if he had a “fever”, so he knew it was not something good, but he didn’t see how the Sheriff was involved. Then he had a scary thought and interrupted the conversation, “Sheriff Coffee does Nancy have the fever?”

The Sheriff and the others smiled at Little Joe, and Roy reassured him that Nancy was just fine and at home in bed by now. When he said that, Ben noticed the “uh oh” look come across Joe’s face and smiled and said, “Little Joe was just on his way, weren’t you Little Joe?”

Ben looked at Little Joe with his eyebrows raised and he answered, “Yes, sir.”

Ben turned back to the Sheriff, whom he could tell was anxious to convey his request. “Now Roy, what is it you need from us? We have not had any fever on the Ponderosa.”

“Well the Doc told me to stop all unnecessary travel from ranch to ranch and from the ranches to town until we could get this controlled.”

“Oh, I see, well that is fine, Roy. I can have the men stay on the Ponderosa until the threat is over. That is no problem at all.” Ben reassured Roy.

“Well, Ben, that will be good, but there is one other thing we need from you.” Roy looked a little uncomfortable as he said this.

Ben was puzzled and said, “Out with it, Roy. What is it you are trying not to say?”

“Well, Ben I stopped over there at that Gypsy camp to tell them to stick around until I give ’em the all clear and they said that you had directed them to be gone by morning. They said they would stay only if you approved this measure.”

Ben’s face had immediately changed when Roy had mentioned the gypsies and he blushed just a little. Hoss and Adam exchanged glances with each other and then looked at Little Joe, who was beaming at this news. Unfortunately Ben chose that moment to look at Joe, too. He stopped and said, “Excuse me a minute, Roy.” Then he turned back to Little Joe and said, “Joseph you go to your room and get ready for bed. I will be up to tuck you in shortly. Tell your brothers and the Sheriff Good night.”

This time he waited until Joe started to head to the stairs. Joe turned and said “Good night, Sheriff Coffee, Good night, Adam. Good night Hoss. Good night, Papa.” He only wished there was someone else in the room to say good night to, but catching his father’s eye, he decided he had better not dawdle any longer. He turned and walked slowly, but steadily up the stairs. His father did not resume talking until he heard his son’s door close.

When he reached his room and closed the door, he stuck his ear next to the door, hoping he could hear the conversation, but was disappointed that he could not hear a thing. As he undressed and put on his pajamas, he couldn’t help but think that the gypsies getting to stay would certainly give him an opportunity to convince his father that he was wrong about the Praskos. Perhaps he would get to invite them over for dinner after all he thought, optimistic once again.

Downstairs, Ben turned to Roy and said, “Yes, of course, Roy, you may tell the gypsies that they may stay until the threat of fever is gone, but only until then.”

Roy wondered why Ben was being unusually inhospitable to these gypsies, who as gypsies go, seemed to be less of a problem than the rest. However, he was tired and he still had a few more stops to make before he could go home, so he didn’t ask for any explanations. “Fine, Ben, I will pass that message along to them. You just please let your hands know.” With that, Roy put his hat back on and headed out the door. “Good night, Ben. Good night, Boys.”

After they had told Sheriff Coffee good night and seen him out the door, Adam and Hoss shared another look and Adam made a motion to Hoss with his eyebrows. Hoss, picking up on the signal, said, “Pa, did you tell them gypsies they had to leave?”

“Yes, Hoss, I did.” Ben said quietly, offering no explanation.

Adam again motioned with his eyebrows to Hoss, but Hoss looked at him and shook his head, ever so slightly, then directed the same type of eyebrow movement to Adam.

Adam cleared his throat and said, “Er, Pa, did you have a run-in with them today?”

Ben, not in the mood to be questioned by his two sons, said, somewhat sternly, “You might say that. Now if you two don’t have any other questions for your father, I would like to go tuck Joseph in bed before he goes to sleep.” He turned and went toward the stairs and Hoss and Adam gave each other a quizzical look, but neither of them said anything to him.

After they heard him enter their brother’s room, Adam looked at Hoss and said what they were both thinking, “Boy we have to have a talk with our little brother first thing in the morning!” Then they both laughed and resumed their evening activities.

Ben walked up to his son’s room and knocked softly at the door and entered. He saw his son, in his pajamas, sitting up in bed with his head and shoulders against the headboard, sound asleep. It was obvious he had tried to stay awake, but as always happened, the minute he got still he fell asleep. He was an energetic, very active child, who was seldom still, so when forced to be still, his body took advantage of the stillness and sleep rapidly overcame his efforts to stay awake. Ben went over and lifted Joe into his arms, and then holding him against his shoulder, he turned down his covers, then gently placed him in bed and pulled the covers up to his shoulders. He leaned over and gave him a kiss on his forehead, and without thinking brushed his curly hair off his forehead. Joe stirred in his sleep and appeared to be trying to wake up, but sleep had a strong grip on him and he merely snuggled into his covers a little deeper. Smiling, Ben Cartwright stood at his son’s bedside and watched him sleep for several minutes, filled with love for his youngest son. Then he quietly tiptoed over and turned the lamp light as low as it would go without being extinguished, then walked quietly to the door, and after one more glance at the tousled hair and angelic face of his son, he quietly left the room and closed the door.

 

Chapter 12

The next morning at breakfast, Ben asked Hoss and Adam to complete several tasks that he normally would have done, telling them he had some paperwork he had to finish at home that morning. “Little Joe, do you want to go with me to check the fences in the North pasture? We might get a look at that herd of wild ponies while we are there” Hoss asked. Little Joe was enthusiastically nodding his head to indicate that he did, when he noted his father looking at him. Then he remembered that he had to stay in his room this morning and his smile faded. He said “No, Hoss, I can’t go.” Hoss was about to question Joe’s reason for leaving when Ben interrupted. “Joe has a little unfinished business to do this morning, and then I thought he might want to ride with me to the timber camp.”

When Joe heard the word timber camp, he couldn’t contain his enthusiasm; going to the saw mill was one of his favorite activities. In order to go to the sawmill, they had to go through some of the most beautiful areas on the Ponderosa and Little Joe loved the trip. He also enjoyed seeing the men who worked at the timber camp; they were unlike the cattle and ranch hands that worked on the Ponderosa. He loved to see them, to hear them talk and to watch them work. Since most of them were away from their families, the men were always happy to see Little Joe and they made a big fuss over him, another reason he enjoyed going. Joe’s enthusiasm for the afternoon, overshadowed the morning he would have to spend in his room. Hoss’ invitation forgotten, he started asking his father questions about the proposed trip to the timber camp in rapid succession. The two older Cartwright brothers laughed as they heard their father attempt to deal with Joe’s barrage of questions. They said quick good byes and let themselves out the door, leaving Ben to deal with Little Joe’s enthusiasm alone.

After they had gone and Ben has spent a few minutes answering Joe’s questions, including telling him that he could not ride a bigger horse “so that his pony wouldn’t get too tired on the long way to the timber camp” Ben said, “All right Joseph, you may be excused and get on upstairs to your room. I will come get you for lunch.”

Joe left reluctantly, because he wanted more information about the trip, and because he wasn’t looking forward to being in his room all morning. However, the lesson from yesterday was still fresh—in his mind and on other places. So he went upstairs to his room and closed the door softly. He looked around the room for something to do to occupy his mind and despite the toys and books, he didn’t see anything. He settled in the window to watch what activity he could see from the window. As he sat there, he began to daydream about what it would be like to be a gypsy. He already had the right name for it, he loved adventure, he would love to travel, he loved the big horses, and besides the gypsies seemed to think fun was just as important as work.

“Joseph, Joseph”. Little Joe felt someone calling him from a long way off, but he couldn’t make out the voice and he wasn’t sure he wanted to investigate. “Joseph” the voice persisted and Joe felt someone shaking him, he finally rolled over and slowly opened his eyes. He slowly realized that he was asleep and his father was trying to wake him up. At first he thought it was morning but the sun was shining in his window too brightly for that. Slowly he remembered that he had been in his room since breakfast and that it must be noon and his father had come to get him, as he said he would. But what Little Joe couldn’t remember was when or how he had gotten from the window to his bed.

“Well it took long enough son. You must not be getting enough sleep at night. Perhaps an earlier bedtime might be in order.” Ben Cartwright said, smiling at his sleepy-headed son. He knew how Joe had gotten from his window to his bed—he had found his son asleep sitting propped up on the window and carried him to bed. He had been grateful that Joe hadn’t fallen out onto the roof after falling asleep. He had come by to check on Joe about 45 minutes after he had gone to his room, planning to have him spend some time reading some of his school books, but had found him asleep instead. So Joe’s punishment had probably served to meet his body’s need for rest. When Joe was awake—he was 150% awake, but when he got still—he was soon asleep. Ben knew that part of it was his body’s need for rest, but he also thought part of the reason for his ease in going to sleep was his optimism—he seldom worried about things excessively. “Ah the sleep of the innocent” Ben thought to himself.

“Hi, Papa. Are you ready to go to the timber camp?” Little Joe asked enthusiastically, jumping into his father’s outstretched arms. Ben laughed and said,

“Well how about if we eat lunch first, Joe? Hoss and Adam were riding in just now and I bet they are powerful hungry.”

Joe laughed and said, “I bet Hoss is, anyhow.”

“Well come on then, let’s go.”

“Papa I will race you downstairs” Joe challenged.

“Hey wait a minute. Aren’t you going to put on your boots?” Ben asked. He could see Joe looked puzzled and thought about telling him that he had removed his boots when he put him in bed.” But he decided to just let Little Joe wonder about it. Joe sat down and pulled his boots on and then jumped up and said, “I’ll beat you.” And started running for the stairs. Ben made a pretense of trying to race him, but they both knew he was only pretending to race. Joe always won races against his Papa and against Hoss. Adam sometimes beat him, but those times were becoming fewer and fewer as Little Joe grew.

As Joe came running down the stairs, Hoss and Adam were just coming in from the outside. Adam swooped Little Joe up in his arms and tossed him over to Hoss who caught him and tossed him back to Adam. Little Joe was squealing with delight when Adam had a thought, “Hey Joe what was your punishment for yesterday?”

Because Joe was laughing so hard that he couldn’t answer right away, he had a few moments to think and in those few moments, he realized that his father had not told Hoss and Adam about yesterday. That meant that Adam was trying to trick him and Little Joe wasn’t going to be tricked. When he caught his breath he looked at Adam and said, “what are you talking about Adam?”

Before Adam could reply, their father had joined them downstairs and Hop Sing reminded them pointedly that lunch was served. Hop Sing wanted their meals to be perfect when they were served, so it made him very unhappy when they didn’t come to meals exactly when they were ready. All the Cartwrights preferred not to make Hop Sing unhappy. In fact, keeping Hop Sing happy was one of Hoss’ goals in life. Cause Hoss, especially liked Hop Sing’s cooking. They all gathered at the large oak dining table and sat down and bowed their heads while Ben said grace. Then the conversation turned to the activities involved in running the ranch. Little Joe listened to parts of the conversation, taking in miscellaneous facts about running the ranch and filing them away without even knowing he was doing that. All the information that Joe received and stored would come in handy for him when he was older.

Joe’s interest in the conversation was increased when the topic turned to horses. Little Joe passionately loved horses. He was a very good rider already, and with practice he knew he could be even better. The problem was that his father was too darned cautious and wouldn’t let Little Joe have a “regular” horse; he was still riding a pony. It was a good pony, as ponies go, but Joe wanted a horse. He knew he was ready for one and could handle it, but he couldn’t get his father to listen and unfortunately the ranch hands wouldn’t let him ride another one even if his father wasn’t at home. One of his more recent spankings had come because he had taken advantage of his father being gone and finding a new hand, unfamiliar with this rule, had told him to saddle another horse for him. Little Joe had been doing fine riding this horse and was just about to take him out of the corral for a real ride when he rode right into the path of his father. His father had spanked him soundly for that and now all new hands on the Ponderosa were told that Little Joe was to ride only two designated ponies unless specifically told otherwise by Ben Cartwright.

“Pa, I really think we need to bring in a new breed of horse to breed with our Ponderosa stock–something with a little more endurance and strength. I was thinking of perhaps some Montana or maybe even some Texas stock.” Ben and Adam were discussing the horse-breeding operation of the Ponderosa. Adam frequently felt over-whelmed by trying to run the horse operations in addition to his other responsibilities. None of them had the time to really devote to it as they needed to make it the type of operation that they all knew it could be. Adam did the most of the work on it, and it bothered him because he knew he couldn’t give it the full attention it needed.

“Well Adam, whatever you think, but I sure don’t know how you can get away to go look at the breeding stock and I don’t know who we could send to do it for you.” Ben replied, understanding Adam’s frustration.

At this point, Little Joe, who had been silently listening to the entire conversation, piped up, “Why don’t you buy Freddy or one of his foals?”

Adam looked at Little Joe, having no idea who Freddy was, and said, “Who is Freddy, Joe?”

“Freddy is Mr. Prasko’s stallion, Adam. He is big and strong. He is even bigger than Chub!” Hoss had looked at lots of horses in lots of places looking for a big strong horse, before he had found Chub.

“How do you know so much about Mr. Prasko’s horse, Little Joe?” Hoss seized the opportunity. He had somehow known that his father’s directing the gypsies to leave the area and his little brother’s behavior of the night before had been related.

Before Ben could say anything, Little Joe replied, “‘Cause I rode him, Hoss. He is huge and very strong and he has lots of foals, too.”

Adam was torn between his curiosity about his little brother’s ride on a stallion bigger than Chub and finding out more about the horse itself. His curiosity about his little brother’s ride won the contest and Adam asked, “Little Joe are you joshing? Did you really ride a stallion? Or are you just funning us?”

“I did too ride him Adam. Ask Pa if you don’t believe me.” All the Cartwright brothers then turned to look at their father. Joe was looking for verification that he was telling the truth, Adam and Hoss were looking for verification that something happened that their father hadn’t told them about. All three found the verification that they sought.

Ben who knew he might as well tell the whole story replied, “Yes, it is true that Joseph rode the gypsies’ big stallion. Though, Joseph, if I were you, that is not something I would boast about, considering the events that followed.” He looked at Little Joe, who did realize that perhaps it would have been better NOT to mention that.

However, Hoss and Adam could contain themselves no longer and asked “Pa, would you please tell us what is going on around here?”

Ben related the events of the previous day, including Joe’s ride on the stallion. Upon hearing that, both Adam and Hoss looked at Joe with something like admiration in their eyes, a look not missed by their father, prompting him to tell them of the consequences of Joe’s ride and visit to the Gypsy camp. Their looks turned from admiration to something mixed with amusement and sympathy. Little Joe who had been embarrassed when his father told his brothers that he had received a tanning, was also worried because the way his father said “his first tanning” indicated that there could possibly be more than one. That was enough to give him momentary pause—he was still sitting uncomfortably from that.

Although only seven, Little Joe had good instincts and knew that King Frederick’s bloodlines could improve the Ponderosa herd, as well as help out the Praskos, so he persisted. “Adam you should go look at Mr. Prasko’s horses. Just go look at ’em, you’ll see. King Freddy is the best working horse I have ever seen. He won awards at the Apple fair.”

“The Apple Fair? What the heck is an apple fair, Little Joe?”

Little Joe wasn’t sure, but he knew it was important. “Ask Joseph’s grandfather, he can tell you” Little Joe told Adam.

“All right, enough of this foolishness. We have a ranch to run. Joseph if you plan to accompany me to the timber camp, you had better finish your lunch.” Ben had noticed that as soon as they had started talking about the gypsies, that Little Joe had stopped eating. Little Joe was no longer hungry, but knew it was not the time to push the issue, so he forced down enough to satisfy his father, carefully hiding some under his napkin and moving some around on his plate—all tricks he had learned early in what promised to be a lifelong battle between him and his father. Finally his father was satisfied, and he excused Little Joe to go get ready to go.

“Pa, why didn’t you tell us about the problems with the Gypsies?” Adam asked curious.

“I don’t know Son; it was over and done with before you and Hoss got home and I just didn’t see the point in going through it again. I had expected them to be gone by now.”

“Well did you get a good look at those horses Joe was talking about Pa?” Adam asked.

“No, Son, frankly all I saw was my small seven years old son on top of a horse bigger than Buck. Joe is right, he probably is bigger than Chub, too.” Ben added. “My concern was just getting him off before he got killed” he continued, his voice much lower.

Hoss and Adam knew what their father had been thinking when he saw Little Joe. They also knew that it was the reason for their father’s reluctance to let Joe ride a bigger horse, even though both of them had tried to convince him that Little Joe was ready for a bigger horse.

Hoss said, “well Adam, Little Joe is a darned good judge of horse flesh even if he is only 7 years old. If I were you, I would go check ’em out. What can it hurt?”

“Yes, Hoss, you are right. After all, it won’t take but a few minutes. Pa, do you mind if I just go have a look?” Adam asked, not wanting his father to think he was trying to disregard him.

Ben shook his head and said, “No, Adam I don’t mind. I doubt if the gypsy horses are going to be the answer to the Ponderosa’s horse breeding plans, but it won’t hurt anything. As long as you keep your little brother away from there. Is that understood?”

Hoss and Adam both replied, “Yes, sir.”

*****

Chapter 13

Ben and Joe left shortly to head toward the timber camp; Joe complaining as much as he felt he could get away with about not getting to ride a bigger horse. However, his punishment from the previous day was fresh and he didn’t push much–it was more a formality than a real complaint. Joe was silent as they rode past the Gypsy camp, but he watched the camp as long as it was in sight, catching glimpses of some of his new friends. He didn’t risk waving at them, though he wanted to. After they rode past the Gypsy camp, his father started talking to him, pointing out landmarks or special areas of the Ponderosa.

They rode almost automatically toward the lake and to the resting place of Marie Cartwright. They dismounted and walked over toward the grave, Ben reaching over to take Joe’s hand as they neared the grave. He missed his wife greatly and a day didn’t go by, that he didn’t think of her. But in addition to his own grief, he grieved for his son’s loss of a mother who adored him and who understood him better than anyone else. Joseph had inherited his mother’s temperament and so many of her characteristics; when he looked at his son, he saw Marie so vividly. He had vowed to keep her memory alive in their son and he aimed to keep that promise. He made opportunities to speak with Joseph about his mother and their dreams for him. He wanted his son to remember all the good things, so he purposely focused on their life after they had married and started the Ponderosa. He felt that her life before she had come west with him would be more difficult for their son to understand so he omitted that part. As far as Joseph was concerned, Marie’s life began when she married him and came to the Ponderosa. If Joseph asked questions about her life before that time, he re-directed them to that precious, but short period from their marriage to his birth to her death.

After a brief period of companionable silence, Ben said, “Well we better get going, Little Joe or we are going to be late!” Little Joe was a nickname given to him by Hoss the first time he had seen him and now at 7, the name was as natural as any.

“Pa, can I ride in the front?” Joe asked. The trail that led to the timber camp and saw mill went through some heavily wooded areas and the trail was narrow, making it necessary for the horses to ride single file. Joe asked his father this question every single time he made the trip and his father, ever cautious always said, “No.”

This time Joe was genuinely shocked when his father responded, “Well how about if you ride in front half-way and I ride in front half-way?”

“All right, Papa!” Joe said, his enthusiasm evident. Ben laughed to himself, something so simple was all it took to put Joe in a good mood. He knew that the first part of the trail was the widest and the least likely to cause a problem, so he was able to indulge his son without really endangering him and he was glad he had done it. Little Joe was excited to be in the lead and he carefully followed the trail, slowing down when the trail was slightly narrower or if there were debris that could be dangerous. Ben admitted to himself that his son did seem to have a natural rhythm and ability for working with horses.

As Ben and Joe were heading toward the timber camp and saw mill, Adam and Hoss went to the Gypsy camp. When they dismounted, they noticed that the Gypsies seemed to be almost fearful of their approach and most of them faded out of sight. One tall dark-haired man approached them and held out his hand, “I am Renaldo Prasko. I take it that you must be Adam and Hoss Cartwright.” He said smiling. Adam and Hoss exchanged quizzical looks and seeing their puzzlement, Mr. Prasko said, “Your brother Joseph described you quite well.” Then a slight frown came across his face and he asked, “Please pardon me I am out of line, but how is Little Joseph?” Mr. Prasko had been concerned for Joe’s safety with his father when Ben had carried him from their camp.

Hoss knowing what he was trying to ask, laughed and said, “Don’t you worry none ’bout Little Joe, Mr. Prasko. Pa ain’t gonna hurt much more than his feelin’s.”

Adam said, “You have to know our little brother to understand how exasperating he can be sometimes.”

“Ah, yes he has high spirits and high ambitions, but he has a very kind heart, too.” Mr. Prasko said somewhat sadly.”Now to what do I owe the honor of your visit? Has the traveling quarantine been lifted? Did you come to tell us that it is now time for us to vacate your lovely Ponderosa?” He asked, trying to relieve the awkwardness of the two young men whom he thought were sent to send them on their way.

“No, sir, Doc Martin said the quarantine would go on for at least another week” Adam replied. “But Little Joe was telling us about your horses and we would like to have a look at them, if that is all right with you.”

“Certainly, a Gypsy man has no greater possessions than his family and his horses. Come this way and I will show you both.”

Mr. Prasko led Adam and Hoss through the camp, introducing them to everyone in the camp, including the children. Joseph took the opportunity of his introduction to ask, “Where is Joseph? Why does he not come to see us now?”

Hoss said, “Well Little Joe can’t really go visiting right now, but I am sure he would like to.” Mr. Prasko silently signaled Joseph to prevent him from asking more questions. He did not wish to be rude to their guests and he also didn’t want to hurt his children’s feelings. He knew all too well that Joseph had probably been forbidden to come to see them, to keep him away from their “bad” influence—he had seen it many times before.

All of the gypsies told Adam and Hoss to tell Little Joseph hello for them. Joseph’s grandmother came to them and gave them a wrapped container and said, “Please give this to Little Joseph and tell him I miss telling him stories of the old days.” They noticed that she had unspilled tears in her eyes as she spoke.

Hoss took the proffered package and said, “”Yes, Mam. I will be sure he gets it and I will tell him your message.”

Then the brothers followed Mr. Prasko to the paddock where the horses were penned. Adam let out a small whistle of surprise when he saw the horses—they were all sleek, well-fed, well-groomed, and well-developed—unlike any horse he had ever seen a gypsy have. “Dadburn it, Adam. I told you Little Joe knew good horse flesh when he saw it.”

Mr. Prasko laughed and said, “Your little brother is already a very skillful rider; he handled Freddy as well as any man I have seen” pointing to the big stallion.

Adam said, “Can I get a closer look?” “Certainly, Mr. Cartwright. Come with me.”

“Please call me Adam” .

“Well Adam, if you will do the honor of calling me ‘Naldo, since all men are Mr. Praskos here, that would be much less confusing to everyone.”

Adam and Hoss went around and carefully inspected every horse, looking in their mouths, feeling the musculature, looking for flaws or defects. Mr. Prasko walked with them initially to tell them the ages of the horses and some general information about the Cob horses, then he excused himself so that they could examine the horses and discuss them privately. “Adam, these are mighty fine horses. Just look at how well developed the legs and chest are.” Hoss said, looking pleased.

“Yeah Hoss I totally agree with our younger brother’s assessment of these horses—the little cuss was right about them. That’s for sure.”

“Are you planning on buying some? Hoss asked, knowing that with his father feeling the way he did, that might be controversial on Adam’s part.

“Yes Hoss I am.” Then seeing the worried expression on Hoss’ face, he said, “But I will talk to Pa about it first. I think if we can just get him over here to see them for himself and really look at them, he will agree.”

“Yeah Adam but getting him here to look at them is not going to be an easy job—not after the other day. You know how Pa is once his mind is made up.” Hoss and Adam laughed. Both of them were thinking, “as if you weren’t just as stubborn yourself.” But neither of them said it.

When they headed back toward the camp, Mr. Prasko excused himself from the group of children he was talking to and came toward them. Both Adam and Hoss had noted how respectfully and kindly all the children in the camp were treated by all the adults. They were asked politely to do something, they had heard several requests made of the children by the adults and all of them had been a request, not a demand. “No wonder Little Joe likes it here so much” Adam thought. He was aware that his little brother did bear the negative benefits of being the youngest as well as the positive benefits of being the youngest. He was seldom asked to do anything., Adam realized, he was told to do something. He made a note to be more respectful to his younger brother to see if that would make their relationship less volatile.

“The children would like to ask you to please take a small gift to your brother from them. Would that be permitted?”

“Why sure, Mr. Prasko, Little Joe loves surprises.” Hoss said.

“We will see that he gets it Mr. Prasko, along with the package from your mother.” Adam reassured him. Mr. Prasko again excused himself and returned to the children, who after a brief conversation, scurried off excitedly.

“They sure are the politest bunch of gypsies I ever saw” Hoss said. Adam agreed with his brother; he was becoming more and more convinced that these gypsies were not like regular gypsies. He was remorseful that his little brother could not come and play with the children while they were here. He was sure that his younger brother needed to have contact with children his own age, but the Ponderosa was so isolated that was not easy.

When Mr. Prasko returned he and Adam and Hoss discussed the horses including selling price, availability, and training. “Well Mr. Prasko, I am very interested in purchasing several fillies and a couple of colts. I would like to ask my father to come look at them too.”

Mr. Prasko raised his eyes, but didn’t say anything. Adam chuckled, “Well I can try to get him to come look at them anyway.”

“As I told your father, your family—all of your family–is welcome at our camp at anytime.” He said, slightly bowing and indicating the camp. “Now it is noon and I would like to invite you to join us for our noon meal.” Adam and Hoss started to make excuses, but Mr. Prasko said, “To refuse the offer of a meal is an insult to the Gypsy, Mr. Cartwrights. Surely you do not wish to insult me?”

Hoss said, “No sir, we surely don’t mean to insult you and besides my stomach smells something powerful good.”

Adam looked fondly at his younger brother, who outweighed him by about 100 pounds and said, “Mr. Prasko, I guess Hoss’ stomach has spoken. We would be pleased to join you for lunch.”

*****

Chapter 14

Ben and Joe reached the timber camp about mid-afternoon. Joe’s excitement and enthusiasm increased as they neared the camp until by the time they reached the camp, he could hardly contain himself. When they reached the camp, before Ben had dismounted, Little Joe had already run over to where the men were working to talk with them. The men always enjoyed the boss’ visits, but they enjoyed them the most when he brought his young son with him. Because of the harsh conditions on the top of the mountain where the timber camp was set up, the wives and children did not accompany the men to their jobs. Ben gave them a generous time off schedule so they could have time at home, but they still missed their families. Joe was so friendly and so lively and seemed to enjoy their attention, so they always laid it on thick.

When the foreman saw Little Joe running up to them, he called and told the men to put down their equipment to make sure that there were no accidents. The men turned put down the equipment and walked over to talk to the young son of their boss and then their boss. “Hello, Mr. Conn”. “Hi, Mr. Brodie.” “Where is Mr. Moore?” “Hey Mr. Gentry.” Little Joe walked unconcernedly among the men, greeting his friends, asking about the whereabouts of others he didn’t see.

Ben walked up to the timber camp foreman and seeing that he was following Little Joe’s every movement with his eyes and hadn’t even noticed him, spoke, “Hello John, remember me? I am that boy’s father AND your boss.” The two men both laughed over that remark; they had been good friends for a long time–longer than Little Joe was born. In fact, Mr. Conn had cut the timber that had become the Ponderosa ranch house. He had been with the Cartwrights since he was 14 years old; he was now in his early 30s. Ben had made him foreman of the timber camp when he was 22 and he had never once regretted that decision.

Some of the men yelled hello to Ben as they walked by, Joseph in tow. As usual, they were going to take him to see the flume and to show him how the men walked on the logs to keep them from getting blocked in the river. They were very careful to keep an eye on the young boy since the first time they had taken him down to the water to watch them, he had promptly walked out onto a log to do it himself. Fortunately the water wasn’t deep there, since he was only four years old at the time. His mother had refused to let him come back to the timber camp for several months until the men sent a spokesman to ask her to reconsider if they promised to be really careful. She had laughed and relented, saying that she knew how hard it was to keep an eye on him–she had the same problem with him at home. Since that time, whenever they saw Mr. Cartwright coming up, if they saw that Little Joe was with him, they all put down their equipment, put down their saws, and took time off to visit with him. When Mrs. Cartwright had been killed, all the crew came to the funeral and their hearts ached for the hysterical little boy who wanted his Papa to not let them put his Mama in the hole.

Ben went over the newly-signed timber contracts as well as the plans for the tree-planting picnic for the crew and their families. Ben Cartwright’s love for the Ponderosa was deep and long-standing. He wanted it to be beautiful and thriving when his sons’ sons were gone. In order to achieve that, he had a strict policy that for every tree cut down, they planted a replacement. Marie had turned the event into an annual picnic and gathering for the crew and their families and Ben had carried on the tradition. They had grown 1000 saplings to plant on the hill beyond the most recent timber-cutting and it was going to be time to plant them in just a couple of weeks. The Cartwrights enjoyed this day as much as the crew did. Little Joe loved the day, because the men brought their children to the picnic and their mothers organized games for them to play, while the men planted the trees. Then they had a picnic with all the food supplied by the Ponderosa. Hop Sing had help from several of his cousins and some of the men manned the huge barbecue grills and served up barbecued beef, pork, and chicken. Afterwards there were horseshoes, sack races, and tree-cutting contests, as well as games for the children. Despite the differences in the children’s circumstances and living conditions, Little Joe and the logger’s children played side-by-side until the very last of the children were gone.

After concluding his business with the foreman, Ben made his way back to the flume to retrieve his son. He heart was overcome with joy when he saw his young son talking and laughing with the loggers, as if he were one of their own. The loggers were a rough-looking and talking lot, and some people were uncomfortable around them. Joseph, however, had never met a stranger and he was proud of him for that. He experienced a momentary twinge of guilt as he thought this, since he knew that that was the same reason he had so easily made friends with the Gypsies. He quickly chased that thought out of his mind and went to get Little Joe.

It took some time to get underway, as the men all had to tell Little Joe good bye and he had to tell all of them to tell their sons and daughters hello. Ben was amazed that the little boy who couldn’t remember to say excuse me when he wanted to leave the table, could remember all the men’s children and so much about them. When they got underway, Joseph was talking nonstop, telling his father all the news from the logger’s children and some of news from the camp that his foreman hadn’t mentioned. Ben just made the mandatory comments and remarks and let his son chatter on. It was a pleasant afternoon and they enjoyed the ride. They did go around where they might see the wild ponies but to Little Joe’s dismay, there were none to be seen. “Papa do you think they all ran away?” he asked.

“No, Son, there will be wild horses on the Ponderosa for the rest of your life, if we take good care of the Ponderosa.”

“Good, Papa, ’cause I want to catch one of those wild ponies—a pinto.”

“Sure Son, one day when you are much bigger.” Ben agreed with his son.

Adam was a little uneasy about joining the Gypsies for a meal for several reasons. First, he was sure Pa would not approve. Second, he wasn’t sure what the motives for their invitation was. Third, he wasn’t sure he would like typical Gypsy fare, whatever that might be. He figured that there would be chicken, since the last time a band of gypsies had come by, there had been a lot of missing chickens in the area. Hoss however, hadn’t thought of any of these possibilities–he had just realized he was hungry and was not one to turn down the offer of a meal. The brothers were quickly shepherded to a gathering near the wagons. They were given seats on the wooden benches that seemed to be plentiful and soon Mrs. Prasko brought them steaming plates of a spicy rice dish, with onions, peppers, garlic, and other seasonings that neither Adam nor Hoss could identify. There was also bread and butter on their plates. While they ate, Adam and Mr. Prasko continued talking of the horses and of the best way to train them. While Adam and Mr. Prasko talked and ate, Hoss ate and watched the people around him. He noticed that the plates of the other adults contained much less food than his and Adam’s plates. He also noticed that only the children had bread with their meals, none of the adults did. He realized that their hosts must be low on food and supplies, and were doing without so that their guests and the children could be fed. Hoss determined to do something about that before the day was over.

Finally, Adam and Hoss said their good-byes and left the camp, both of them feeling glad that they had come. As they headed back towards the Ponderosa, Adam and Hoss shared with each other the thoughts they had had during their visit. Adam told Hoss what a good business man Mr. Prasko was, but that he had not made any exaggerated claims about the horses and had in fact, pointed out some of the disadvantages of the Cob horses. Hoss shared his beliefs that the Gypsies were running out of food and that the adults were doing without to make sure that the children were fed and that they had probably put a large dent in the available food supply by accepting the meal.

“Adam, I am going to go back to the Ponderosa and gather up some supplies and take it to them. We should have already thought of that—with them not able to travel or go into town, they were bound to run out of staples. I am to fix that before nightfall.”

“I’ll go with you, Hoss. Probably be better if we do it and get it done before Pa gets back.” When Hoss gave Adam a surprised look, he said, “We can tell Pa about it after we do it. Sometimes it is better to do something and apologize for it later than to ask permission and risk being denied.”

Hoss laughed and said, “Now I know where Little Joe gets that notion from.”

When they got home they quickly went into the kitchen and gathered up flour, coffee, sugar, corn meal, rice, and beans from the pantry. And from the spring house, Hoss got some vegetables, milk, cheese, eggs, butter, and some freshly cured ham and beef. They were riding away toward the Gypsy camp as they saw their father and little brother coming towards the house. “Whew that was a close one”

Hoss said. “Yep, too close. We better hurry up and get home.”

Adam and Hoss once again rode into the Gypsy camp and were met by the group of Gypsy men, with puzzled expressions. “Hello, Friends, welcome back. We are pleased to see you, as always, but what brings you back so soon?”

“Mr. Prasko, we enjoyed your hospitality so much at lunch that my brother and I wanted to return the favor. We figured that you may soon be running out of supplies what with the quarantine on travel, so we hoped you would do the honor of accepting a few things from the Ponderosa?” Adam was amazed that his brother, usually so shy and slow to speak, could so eloquently make an offer that allowed the Gypsies to accept the gift of food, without feeling embarrassed.

Mr. Prasko said, “Ah, I see that your little brother is not the only Cartwright with a kind heart. On behalf of my family, I gratefully accept your very generous offer.” Hoss and Adam made their good byes once again and headed again toward the Ponderosa, feeling good about their afternoon’s activities.

“You know Adam, it is a shame that Pa won’t let Little Joe visit with those people. Everyone of the children and the women asked about him. Seemed like they really liked him.”

“Yes, Hoss, I agree. Maybe we can work on Pa and soften him up.” Adam said, also wondering how he was going to broach the subject of the horses to his father.

“Well, it sure would be good for Little Joe to have some young’uns his own age to play with” Hoss said.

“Yeah, it would be good for us for Little Joe to have some one his own age to play with.” Adam said and they both laughed. Without saying anything, Adam spurred Sport to a faster gait, and Hoss took the bait and the two of them raced each other home. They rode up into the yard, just as their father and Little Joe came out of the barn. Adam jumped off Sport and grabbed Little Joe and swung him up onto Sport’s saddle. Little Joe was first taken by surprise, but as soon as he found himself on Adam’s horse, he grabbed the reins and started to urge him forward.

His father, however, stopped that by reaching out and grabbing the horse’s bridle. “Just a minute, young man, I believe you better let Adam put his horse up and you go inside and get washed up for supper.”

“Papa, can’t I ride him just once around the yard?” Joe pleaded.

Ben was about to say no, but he saw the pleading in all three of his son’s eyes, so he reluctantly relented. “All right, Joseph, once around the yard, but just walk him, no running.” Father and two older sons watched Joseph ride around the yard, the two brothers thinking what a good horseman he was, and the father thinking that the horse was too big for him to be riding.

*****

Chapter 15

After one trip around the yard, Ben stepped up and took hold of Sport’s bridle, bringing the ride to a quick end, and took the already-protesting Joseph off and depositing him on the ground. Ignoring the protests Ben said, “Joseph, you get inside and get washed up for supper” giving him a push towards the back door and a playful swat on his backside. Joe knew there was no point in arguing so he reluctantly headed towards the house. His father and brothers smiled as they watched him go in. Ben turned towards Hoss and Adam and asked, “Where did you two get off to? I saw you riding out just as we rode in.”

“We had a little errand to run. We will tell you about it later. We better get these horses cooled down now.” Adam said, taking his horse and leading him towards the barn. Hoss quickly followed Adam’s lead. Ben was a bit puzzled, but let it pass and turned and walked inside to oversee his youngest son’s wash-up.

Hoss looked at Adam and said, “Quick thinking older brother”.

Adam said “Yeah, well all that did was buy us some time, Pa wasn’t buying it, I could tell.” The two brothers discussed how they would approach talking to their father about the two visits to the gypsy camp. The only conclusion they reached was that Adam would take the lead and Hoss would be the support.

Dinner was going well, with Little Joe excitedly telling Hoss and Adam about all the activities of the timber camp as they ate. After letting him chatter on for several minutes, Ben realized that Joe was too interested in talking to actually eat, so he decided to change the conversation. He took advantage of one of the brief pauses where Little Joe had to take a breath and turned to Adam and said, “So what did you two do this afternoon?”

The look that passed between Hoss and Adam was not missed by Ben or Little Joe. Joe stopped talking and sat there looking between Hoss, Ben, and Adam. Ben’s eyebrow raised and he said, “Adam?”

Adam took a deep breath and said, “We went over to the gypsy camp, Pa.” There was a long silence during which they digested this information.

Joe was the first to recover from the revelation and said enthusiastically, “Did you see Joseph? Did you see Grandmama Prasko?”

Before he could ask any more questions. Ben silenced him with a “Joseph, finish your dinner.” “Adam, what is the meaning of this?”

“Pa, I wanted to go have a look at those horses Joe was telling me about, so I went over there this afternoon.” Adam didn’t mention that Hoss was with him., figuring there was no need to further aggravate the situation.

Hoss, however, did not attend to let Adam bear the brunt of his father’s anger, so he spoke up, “I went with him, Pa.”

Another silence followed as Ben considered this information and Adam and Hoss waited for him to speak. Joseph watched the others, his fork held in mid-air, his food forgotten. Ben finally broke the silence by asking, “Well what did you think of the horses, Adam?” in a tightly controlled voice. Adam decided to answer his father’s stated question and ignore the unstated emotions behind the question. “Pa, you would be surprised. They have some of the best horses I have ever seen, Pa. I think you ought to go look at them.”

Joe was unable to contain himself any longer and said, “See Adam I told ya,” looking at his brother with a smile. Joe’s comment brought him back under Ben’s scrutiny and Ben reminded him to “eat your dinner”. Ben continued to stare at him until Joe’s smile was replaced with a frown and he looked down at his plate, pretending interest in his meat and potatoes.

Adam spoke up, “Pa, I really think you should come with me to look at them. I think they would really help our breeding line and save me a long trip.”

“Yeah Pa, I agree with Adam. They are fine looking animals, especially that stallion.” Little Joe again couldn’t help himself and said excitedly, “That stallion is King Frederick and I rode him all by myself!”

This again brought Ben’s attention back to Joseph and he said, “Joseph, eat your dinner right now,” with a very stern look. He continued to stare at his son, who again feigned an interest in his food. Ben then turned his attention back to his older sons and said, “We will discuss this later, Adam. Now let us finish our dinner.” His look was sufficient to dissuade Hoss and Adam from mentioning the horses or the gypsies again.

Joe, however, could not so easily forget the fact that Adam and Hoss had visited his friends, so after a few minutes of moving food around his plate, he again spoke up,

“Hoss did you meet my friend, Joseph?” Hoss replied,

“Yes, Little Joe, we sure did. As a matter of fact, Joseph’s grandmother sent you something—it is still in my saddlebag.”

“I”ll go get it” Joe said and started to get up out of his chair. His father managed to grab hold of his arm and held him in his chair. “Joseph, you will sit right here and finish your dinner.” Ben said, giving his son a disapproving look.

Hoss, sorry for getting his little brother in trouble, said “I’ll go get it right after dinner.”

“But Pa, it won’t take me a minute and I am finished eating anyway.” Joe pleaded.

Ben looked at his son with a determined stare and said, “Joseph you are going to sit right there until you eat everything on your plate.”

Joe’s face took on a look closely matching his father’s and said, “I ain’t hungry, Pa.” Father and youngest son stared at each other, engaged in a contest of wills, neither of them willing to give an inch. Hoss and Adam looked at each other, knowing that there was no way to interrupt the tug-of-war between father and son.

The rest of the meal was finished in silence, Ben, Hoss, and Adam resolutely finishing their meal; Little Joe sitting stubbornly staring at his plate, as if expecting the food to disappear on its own. Eventually, the three older Cartwright’s finished eating. Ben, who had had time for his temper to cool down, realized that his frustration with Joe had been Stared by the news of Adam’s and Hoss’ visit to the gypsy camp, was trying to think of the best way to handle the situation. “Adam, Hoss, would you go finish the chores please?”

“Sure thing, Pa.” They said, eager to get out of the middle of the battle they expected battle.

When Adam and Hoss had gone out of the house and the door was closed, Ben took a breath and looked at his youngest son who was still stubbornly staring down at his plate, “Joseph, do you intend to eat your dinner?” he asked. Joe didn’t respond initially and Ben said, in a slightly louder voice, “Joseph, I asked you a question. I expect an answer.” Joe mumbled something under his breath, without looking up. “Joseph, look at me when you speak to me. Now what is that you said, again, Joseph?” Joe sighed and looked at his father, knowing he was in trouble and not wanting to be, but he didn’t know how to avoid it. “Joseph, I was hasty when I told you had to sit here until you finished your dinner.” Ben said.

Joe looked at his father with surprise, thinking he was going to get out of trouble with his father, something that rarely happened. His father however, had no intention of letting Little Joe get off that easily. He looked at Joe and said, “Son, have you eaten all the dinner you want?”

“Yes, Pa, I have” Joe said.

“All right then, I want you to go to your room and remain there for the rest of the night. I will come up later to read to you. If you aren’t going to eat with us, then you just go on upstairs and rest in your room.”

“But Pa.” Joseph started to protest.

“No buts, Joseph. Now get on upstairs. Now.” He looked at his son, his face determined and firm. Joe knew he would not get a reprieve, so he started for the stairs, his head down, shuffling his feet, wanting to make sure that his father knew he was not being treated fairly. Ben watched his son trudge upstairs, realizing that although he had avoided another long battle, neither he nor his son had claimed a victory. He figured that Joe being upstairs early tonight would be a good idea, since he had to talk with Adam and Hoss about their visit to the Gypsy camp.

 

Chapter 16

Joe went upstairs and closed the door to his room, as loudly as possible without actually slamming the door. He headed straight for the window and sat in the window sill to watch the activities below. He had only been there for a few minutes when he heard a knock on his door and his father stuck his head into his room. Surprised Joe looked up startled and said, “Hi, Pa”.

Ben smiled and said, “Hello, Joe. I just wanted to remind you that you are not allowed to climb out that window. Understand?”

“Yes sir, Pa.” With that, Ben turned and let himself out the door and went back downstairs. Little Joe returned to watching the activities of the ranch as the hands finished their chores and came into the bunkhouse. Joe was usually outside during this time of day so that he could see what was going on. For a few minutes the yard was filled with ranch hands and horses as the workers came in from their day’s work. The bustle of activity soon ended as the men put away their horses and went into the bunkhouse for their evening meal. Joe saw Adam and Hoss come from the barn, walking toward the house. He could tell they were in deep discussion, and although he couldn’t hear what they were saying he did see Hoss point towards the gypsy camp. He knew that his father and brothers would discuss Hoss and Adam’s visit to the gypsy camp and he wanted to know what they were saying.

Joe walked quietly over to the door and opened the door a crack to see if he could hear anything from the room below. He could hear voices but he could not hear what they were saying. Without thinking Joe slipped out of his room and headed towards the stairs. He crept to the stairs and went down to the third stair step above the landing. From this vantage point, he could hear what was being said without being seen. He could not see them, but he could tell that his brother and father were sitting in his father’s study.

Ben was sitting behind his desk, a displeased look on his face, listening to Adam’s explanation of his and Hoss’ afternoon visit to the Gypsy camp. “Pa, I know what you are thinking—but these are not the same kind of gypsies that we have seen around here before. They are friendly, honest, and—-well, they are just good people.”

“Yeah, Pa, Mr. Prasko is as good a horse breeder as I have ever seen and he has a fine string of horses. You ought to go see them.” Hoss added in support of Adam’s assertion.

“Boys I appreciate what you are saying, but it isn’t just you that your decision affected. You KNOW I didn’t want your brother exposed to the gypsies—he is too young and impressionable. You saw what happened when you brought the topic up at dinner.” Ben stopped talking for a minute, lowered his voice, and looked directly at his two sons, then pointed upstairs and said, “Joseph is upstairs right now because of the talk about the gypsy camp at dinner.” Adam and Hoss passed a look between them, they had discussed what had happened at supper and knew that Joe’s problem with Pa had been a result of his interest in the gypsy camp and they were ready for this argument.

“Pa, we met the adults and the kids in that camp and we both feel that Joe would be safe with them. We think that Joe should get to go visit the gypsy camp. They seem to really care about him.” Adam said to Ben.

“Is that so?” Ben said, his voice quiet, in control and intense. “So you two spend a few minutes with them and now you think you are qualified to tell me how to raise my own son?” he asked.

“No Pa, of course not. But we are telling you that we spent the entire afternoon with the gypsies and we saw absolutely nothing that you would be concerned about Little Joe seeing.” Adam met his father’s gaze directly.

Ben was a little surprised at Adam’s demeanor, though he was pleased to see his son’s resolve to stand up for himself and for his beliefs. He looked at Hoss and said, “Hoss do you agree with your brother about this?”

Hoss looked at his father with his open, and honest facial expression, “Yes, sir, I do, Pa.”

Ben was inwardly glad that his two sons supported each other and were able to stand up to him, despite the temporary discomfort it was causing him. As he had listened to them and watched their resolve to present their side of the issue, although he could tell they hated to argue with him. He found himself wanting to hear what they had to say to see what had made such a strong impression on them. Strong enough to make them push the issue. “Well, why don’t you tell me more about these horses then?” His sons were somewhat taken aback by the ease with which their father seemed to go from being unwilling to listen to anything to at least being willing to let them speak about the horses.

“Pa, they have a breed of horses called Cobb horses, they are bigger than a cutting horses, yet have the strength and endurance of mustangs. I think if we got a few of them to breed with our stock, it would improve our bloodlines.”

“I see, Adam.” Said Ben. “Hoss do you agree with Adam about the horses?”

“Yeah, Pa. They got some good-looking horses and they are all in good shape. I got a good look at all of them, too. Not a bad-looking one in the bunch.” Hoss had an earnest look that his father had never been able to resist.

“Well, boys, if you two are so sure that these horses are of good quality and would improve the Ponderosa herd, then I won’t stand in your way. Use your own judgment regarding those horses.”

Joe was becoming encouraged at the turn of the conversation taking place below him. He was sure that his father was going to change his mind about the gypsies so he could go visit his friends. He was thinking of going back to his room when he heard the conversation continue.

“Just one thing—this does not mean that I have changed my mind about the gypsies. I do not want them around here and I DO NOT want your brother around them. Is that understood?”

“Pa, I really think you should reconsider that….” Adam began, but his father interrupted.

“Adam, now I will go along with you on the horses, but I will not change my mind about this. I have to think of your brother’s safety and welfare and he is too young and impressionable ….” Ben stopped speaking and looked at his two oldest sons. “I do not have to explain my reasons for my decisions, do I?”

Hoss and Adam glanced at each other and Adam gave an almost imperceptible shrug. Both Hoss and Ben caught the signal, though neither one acknowledged it. Adam knew that to push the matter at this time would be unproductive. He thought that if he let it go now, he might have a chance to change his father’s mind later. But if he pushed too hard now, his father would become more determined. Hoss realized what Adam was doing, so he followed his lead.

Little Joe was heart-broken at the turn of the conversation. He had thought that Adam and Hoss were going to get his father to change his mind about his friends, but now Adam and Hoss were just giving up. Why would his Pa let them buy horses from the Praskos but not let him play with Joseph. That wasn’t fair. He kept straining to hear the conversation, hoping that Adam would bring it up again, but they had started to talk about other ranch things. As he listened he became sleepy and gradually he leaned back against the stairs and drifted off to sleep. The last thing he heard them talking about was moving the herd to the north pasture.

Adam and Hoss talked for another half hour about various ranch activities, then decided to move over to the fireplace for a cup of coffee. Adam said, “Well I am going to go get a book I was reading. I’ll be right back.” He was bounding up the stairs when he came to the third stair from the top of the landing and stopped suddenly. There lay his little brother, curled up in a little ball, sound asleep. The sight was so touching that he almost called to his father and brother to come look. However, when he thought of the consequences to his brother, he opted not to. Instead he bent down and gently picked up his brother and carried him to his room and lay him on his bed. He did not bother to take off his boots because he knew his father would be up shortly. Although he and Hoss often read to Joe at night and took over the putting him to bed occasionally, the official duties of putting Little Joe to bed belonged to his father. Adam knew that this was a time that both his father and little brother enjoyed.

*****

Chapter 17

Ben finished his cup of coffee and reached over and placed the cup and saucer back on the serving tray and said, “I’m going up to put Joseph to bed now and then I am going to bed myself. I’ll see you in the morning”. “Night. Pa.” Adam and Hoss both said. Ben went up to his son’s room and knocked briskly on the door and opened the door. He smiled at the sight of his son, lying on top of his bed with his boots still on. He was sound asleep and he was lying on his side with his arms beside his face. His hair had fallen down over his forehead in gentle curls. Ben walked over and sat down on the side of the bed and spoke softly to waken his son. “Joe let’s get you ready for bed, Son” Joe was half awake and cooperated with his father as he helped him change into his pajamas and took off his boots and then helped him under the covers. Then Ben selected a book and pulling Joe close to him, he began to read to Joe.

Joe was still drowsy and Ben was just about to ease off the bed and cover him up when Joe said, sleepily, “Pa why can’t I go play with my friends at the gypsy camp?”

Ben ignored the question and continued to lay Joseph down and cover him up, telling him goodnight and saying “I will see you tomorrow mornin’, Son.” Little Joe wanted to talk to his father more but he was too sleepy and couldn’t concentrate. He was thinking about Joseph and his other friends as he drifted off to sleep.

Breakfast the next morning was an enjoyable meal—Hop Sing had fixed pancakes and country-fried ham since he knew that Little Joe had not eaten dinner the night before. Ben and Adam and Hoss were up and halfway finished with their meal and Joseph had not made it downstairs yet. All of them had looked in to see if he were awake when they came downstairs, but he had still been soundly asleep, his covers strewn all over the bed and floor, his hair tousled, his face angelic. They each decided to let him sleep a little longer. When Hop Sing served them their second cup of coffee, he asked Ben if he wanted him to wake Little Joe and Ben agreed. After a few minutes, Little Joe came running down stairs. He skipped into the dining room and gave his father and brothers a hug and then slid into his chair. Hop Sing hurriedly served him and Little Joe began to eat enthusiastically, the events from last night forgotten.

After breakfast Ben reminded Adam and Hoss that he had to go into Virginia City for a school board meeting and asked them to keep an eye on Little Joe. If he had not been going into a meeting, he would have taken Little Joe with him, but Little Joe had too much trouble trying to sit still and Ben wouldn’t be able to pay attention to the meeting and keep an eye on Little Joe. Little Joe had just been to school for one year and had already demonstrated a proclivity for getting into trouble because he couldn’t sit still.

Adam and Hoss went out to the barn, with Little Joe right behind them. They finished the morning chores with Little Joe’s “help”, which although enthusiastically given, didn’t reduce the time required to complete the jobs. Ben insisted that he have his own tasks that he was responsible for, no matter how much easier it would have been for someone else to do them. And Adam and Hoss made sure that he did his jobs because that was one of the responsibilities of keeping an eye on him. After finishing the morning chores, Adam sent Little Joe into the house on a made-up errand so that he could talk to Hoss about their plans.

“Look, Hoss I want to go back over and talk to ‘Naldo about those horses, but we can’t take Little Joe with us or we will have Pa on our cases.”

“Yeah, Adam I guess not, but I sure would like to get another look at ‘em too.”

“But Hoss we can’t both go and one of us has to keep Joe occupied—you know that. How about if I go this morning and pick out the ones I think are the best and then you go back this afternoon and make the final selection and finish the deal?” Adam asked, speaking fast because Little Joe had just slammed the door and was running towards them.

“Okay, Adam that’ll be fine. I’ll take Joe with me over to the Moore place to pick up that bull calf we bought from ‘em.”

“Okay, Hoss, I’ll wait until after you leave to go. We’ll meet back here for lunch and then we will swap duties. All right?”

“Sounds good to me.”

By this time, Little Joe had come running up to where his older brothers were standing. “Here, Adam is this the right one?” he asked holding up a piece of paper he had gotten for Adam off his father’s desk.

“Yep, that is it, Joe. Could you read the writing on it?”

“Well, I could read the Cartwright part, Adam, but I couldn’t read the rest of it.”

Hoss reached down and swooped Little Joe up and swung him up onto his pony, which he had saddled. “Come on Short Shanks, how about you go with me over to the Moore’s to pick up that bull calf we just bought from them. I bet Mrs. Moore will offer us some pie, if you are with us.” Hoss mounted his own horse, and then looked at Adam and winked. “Mrs. Moore always wants to fatten Little Joe up—it is some kind of thing between her and Hop Sing, I think.” Laughing, Hoss started off down the road, with Little Joe on his pony right beside him, talking all the while. As soon as Hoss and Little Joe were out of sight, Adam climbed onto Sport and headed over towards the Gypsy camp.

Adam was greeted warmly when he entered the gypsy camp. One of the men immediately said he would go fetch ‘Naldo and one of the women, brought him a cup of coffee. He took a sip and was pleasantly surprised by the taste of the coffee, it had a dark color that belied its smooth flavor. He was still drinking the coffee when ‘Naldo and some of the other men came to join him.

“Good morning, Adam. How are you this morning?”

“Great, ‘Naldo, it is good to see you. I was hoping to get another look at those horses this morning. I wanted to see if I could find one or two of them that might do for a ranch horse.” He said with a smile in his eyes. ‘Naldo, seeing the twinkle in his eyes, did not take offense, instead he played along.

“Well, whether or not they will make a good ranch horse is not the important question, my young friend.”

“What is the important question then?” Adam asked.

“Ah, the important question is whether or not they WANT to be ranch horses.” ‘Naldo said with a laugh.

Adam, looked slightly puzzled, but did not question ‘Naldo further. Instead he asked, “Can we have a look at them?”

‘Naldo and Adam and several of the other men went to the horse corral. Adam carefully examined every horse and finally narrowed his selection down to two large colts and one two year old filly. After Adam had made his selection, he and ‘Naldo negotiated price. Adam and ‘Naldo finally agreed upon a price that was satisfactory to both of them. Adam told him of the agreement that he and Hoss had made and that Hoss would be coming by that afternoon to complete the deal and that he would bring the cash and take the horses home.

“Why did your brother not come with you this morning, Adam?” ‘Naldo asked, puzzled.

“Well Hoss had to watch Little Joe and….” Adam hesitated, realizing what he was about to say would be hurtful to his new friend.

‘Naldo guessed what the rest of the sentence was and completed it, “your father will still not allow Little Joseph to visit us, so you could not bring him with you.”

“‘Naldo, Pa doesn’t mean to be….. er I mean he is just doing what he thinks is best for Little Joe.” Adam finished somewhat lamely. He had started to say his father didn’t mean to be prejudiced and he was shocked at the revelation. He had never considered his father to be prejudiced, in fact, he had considered him to be the most unbiased person he had ever known—until now. He didn’t know what to say to this very kind man, whom he had a lot of respect for. He had never had to make excuses for his father before and he did not like the feeling. He resolved to talk to his father again that very night.

‘Naldo tried to put him at ease and said, “Do not worry, my friend, the gypsy life is hard for someone with strong ties to the land to understand. And sadly, many times the only gypsies people meet sometimes set a bad example, because they have given up the old ways and not found a niche in this new world.” His face showed disappointment and hurt that was far deeper than this one particular incident. Still, he tried to make Adam comfortable, so he forced a smile to his face and said, “Please tell your brother that I will wait for him anxiously.

*****

As Adam and ‘Naldo were examining the horses, Hoss and Little Joe had arrived at the Moore’s to fetch the bull. Sure enough, Mrs. Moore, upon seeing Little Joe with Hoss had come out onto the porch and invited them inside. Once inside, she gave Little Joe a hug and pinched his cheeks, which caused him to frown. Fortunately, only Hoss saw the frown and he winked at Joe, who then laughed and returned the wink. Mrs. Moore said, “Little Joe you are just getting taller everyday” and this made Little Joe smile, since he was very concerned about his size—all the kids in his class at school were bigger than he was—including the girls.

“Now I just took two pies out of the oven, Little Joe. How about if I cut you and Hoss a piece of them?”

Little Joe was really not hungry and didn’t want any, but he knew if he said no, Hoss was liable to kill him, so he smiled politely and said, “Yes, Mam, that would be nice.”

Mrs. Moore, beaming, reached into the cupboard and removed a peach pie and cut two generous slices and placed them on plates and put them in front of Hoss and Little Joe. The pies were still warm and there was steam coming from them and the aroma was enticing. As a bonus, she poured them each glasses of cold milk to go with the pie. Mrs. Moore bustled around the kitchen, cleaning and straightening as she chatted to the boys. Although he had not been hungry, the pie was delicious so Little Joe dug into it. He finished about half of it, then while Mrs. Moore wasn’t looking, he pushed the rest towards Hoss, who obligingly scooped the remaining pie onto his own, now empty plate. When Mrs. Moore turned around and looked at them again, she was delighted to see two empty plates. They declined her offers of seconds, though Hoss was tempted, but he figured he had better get on to the barn and retrieve the calf and head towards the Ponderosa so they wouldn’t be late for lunch.

When they went out to the barn, Mr. Moore had the calf all ready to go. He was haltered and had a sturdy lead rope that was long enough that he could be led behind the horses. As they got ready to go, Hoss noticed Joe getting close to the calf and it looked as if he were talking to the calf. After they got underway, Hoss mentioned this to Joe and said, “I never saw you pay that much attention to a bull before. What were you doing?”

“I was just asking him if he wanted to come live on the Ponderosa and describing it to him, so he could make up his mind.”

Hoss looked at his little brother as if he had lost his mind, but he didn’t say anything. He was always amazed at the things that his little brother could come up with. He and Little Joe enjoyed the ride home, taking their time so as not to tire the bull calf. As they talked, Joe told Hoss about all his friends at the gypsy camp and told about the stories Joseph’s grandmother had told him. He said he wished his Papa would let him go see them again. Hoss felt guilty, knowing that Adam had been there this morning and that he was going there that afternoon. He felt like he was betraying his brother’s trust but he couldn’t take him there without disobeying his father, something that Hoss never did on purpose. He wasn’t afraid of his father, but he had such respect for him, he hated to disappoint him.

The three of them made it back to the Ponderosa about the same time. Little Joe asked Adam what he had done that morning, but chattered on about what he and Hoss had done, without noticing that Adam had avoided the question. He and Hoss exchanged looks above Little Joe’s head and Adam winked at Hoss to let him know that the deal had been made. The three brothers had a quiet meal of homemade beef-vegetable soup and sandwiches, washed down by fresh lemonade. Hop Sing left them to go to visit a cousin as soon as he had served them. Adam volunteered to clear the table for him when they finished eating.

After lunch Hoss got up and said he had to go do some errands and would be back later that afternoon. “I’ll go with you, Hoss!” Joe said eagerly.

Before Hoss could say anything, Adam said, “Hey, Joe, you went with Hoss this morning. I was hoping you would go with me to see if we could find those wild ponies.”

Little Joe looked from one brother to the other, clearly torn–he wanted to go with both of them. “Can’t we all go together?” he asked.

“I tell you what, Short Shanks. You go with Adam to see the wild ponies and after I get my errands done, I will join you at the lake for a little fishin’. How about that?”

“Come on, Adam, let’s go get our fishing stuff. I bet I can catch more fish than you can! See you at the lake, Hoss.” Little Joe said, enthusiastically. He was headed toward the barn as he spoke. Adam and Hoss laughed and went after him. Hoss helped Joe re-saddle his pony, after convincing him that he couldn’t ride one of the other horses instead. “See you in about an hour or hour and a half at the most, Joe and Adam,” Hoss said as he headed in the opposite direction from Little Joe and Adam.

As Adam and Little Joe chased the wild horses, Hoss examined the three horses that Adam had picked out and completed the transaction. He switched one of the horses for one that he thought was superior to the one Adam had picked out. ‘Naldo said, “I agree with you that this horse is better, but I did not want to insult Adam, and of course ALL my horses are of good quality, so it was a minor difference.”

“Yessir, I don’t think we would have gone wrong with either of ’em, but there is something in this one’s eyes that I like. I don’t quite know what it is though.” Hoss said, smiling and agreeing with ‘Naldo.

“Oh I can tell you what it is. Confidence. This horse has the knowledge that he can meet whatever challenge is presented to him. He is confident that you will make a good owner, too. He is ready to make the Ponderosa his home. That other one, he is not so sure he will like it here. He may not be ready to settle down yet. That is the difference.” Hoss thought momentarily of Little Joe’s comments about the calf this morning and thinking of how much he had wanted to come back to see the gypsies, he again felt guilty. But it couldn’t be helped, at least not right now, but Hoss planned to try to talk to his father again tonight and see if he couldn’t convince him to let Little Joe at least come say good bye to his friends. Hoss had seen the children of the camp, playing, laughing, and talking to the men and women of the camp. They watched him, but didn’t come near him.

Hoss took the three horses home and stabled them in a corral off the back of the barn to give them time to get acquainted to their new surroundings before they were turned out with the rest of the herd. Then he hurriedly grabbed a pole and some fishing gear and headed towards the lake. When he got there, Adam and Joe were already fishing. Adam had caught two medium sized bass and one catfish. Little Joe, a natural fisherman, had caught three large mouth bass, two large shellcracker bream, and one medium catfish. Hoss said, “Well I don’t even need to catch any, you done caught enough for my supper. “

“Yeah well the rest of us may want some fish too, Hoss, so you better start drowning some worms” Adam said. The three brothers enjoyed a companionable afternoon fishing in the lake. Adam and Hoss concentrated on the job at hand, trying all kinds of techniques designed to lure fish to their lines. Little Joe however, talked, moved around, and did everything that was supposed to scare fish away, yet he was the one with the biggest string when it was time to go home. And that is the way it always was.

As the sun headed towards the horizon and the shadows began to lengthen, Adam said it was time for them to get home, so they packed up their gear and their fish and headed home to the Ponderosa ranch house. As they rode into the yard, they noticed their father, standing on the porch. Adam chuckled, he knew that Pa was worried about them, but also that he would never admit it. Sure enough as they rode up, Pa said, “Hello boys, I was just enjoying the view.” Adam and Hoss laughed and winked at each other.

Ben came around and lifted Little Joe off his pony and swung him around. “Did you miss me, Son?” he asked.

“Yes, Papa. I missed you.” The two older Cartwrights cared for the horses and Ben and Little Joe went on into the house. Hoss and Adam used the time to plan their strategy for talking to their father about the horses they had purchased and also about the gypsies, specifically about letting Little Joe visit them.

*****

Chapter 18

Dinner started out much like any other meal at the Ponderosa. Hop Sing brought out the food and served them beverages. Everyone praised Hop Sing’s culinary talent, and then after grace, they began to eat. Little Joe told of his day, starting with his trip with Hoss to the Moore’s, then telling about his trip with Adam to see the wild horses, although to his disappointment, there were no pintos, and ending with their fishing trip. Hop Sing had fried the fish for dinner and they were joking about who caught which fish. Little Joe had surprised his brothers by catching the most and the biggest. The same thing had happened the first few times they had taken him fishing and they were beginning to wonder if it were more than just beginner’s luck. They had frankly been shocked that he could sit still and be quiet long enough to catch any fish. They had not expected him to catch any since they figured he would make so much noise that he would frighten away the fish. Instead, when he was fishing, he seemed to be better able to sit still and concentrate than at any other time in his life. Adam had joked that it was too bad school couldn’t hold his attention the way a fishing pole could.

After the fish discussion, Ben turned towards his two older sons and asked, “Well what did you two do today?” Adam and Hoss exchanged a quick glance at each other, each hoping the other would speak up.

Finally Hoss said, “Well Joe and I went over and got that calf this morning.” Ben spoke up, “Yes, Hoss Little Joe covered that—in detail. What else did you do?”

Again Hoss and Adam exchanged a look. Adam tried to come to Hoss’ rescue by stating that he had taken Joe to check some fences and check out the wild horse herd. Ben didn’t speak for a minute as he reflected on what his two older sons had told him. It occurred to him that both of them had told them of their activities for half the day–the half that they spent with their youngest brother. The manner in which they both did that, led him to the conclusion that they were trying to hide something and he was trying to think of the best way to get to that.

Little Joe beat him to the point though by asking, “Adam where did you go this morning when me and Hoss went to the Moore’s?” Hoss gave Adam a pained look and Ben looked at Adam and smiled and said, “Yes Adam where DID you go this morning?” Before Adam could answer, Ben added, “And Hoss where did YOU go this afternoon?” By this time it was obvious to both Ben and Little Joe that Adam and Hoss were hiding something. Ben continued to look at both Hoss and Adam, waiting for a reply. Little Joe watched the three of them, glad to have his father’s questions about activities directed at someone other than him.

Adam was considering how to respond to his father. He of course planned to tell him the truth, but his concern was that his father would be more upset if the conversation were held in front of Little Joe. He was trying to think of a way to delay the conversation until after Little Joe had gone to bed. Ben however, was used to having his questions answered, said “Adam?”

Adam sighed and said, “I went to the Gypsy camp to look at those horses, Pa.”

Little Joe who had been holding his fork in mid-air watching the exchange between his father and brothers, dropped his fork to the table, making a loud clattering sound as it hit the plate. He said loudly, “That’s not fair, Adam, why didn’t you let me go with you? Did you see Joseph and his…..”

Ben interrupted, “Joseph, are your finished with your meal?”

Little Joe knew that if he said yes, he wouldn’t be there to hear the end of the conversation, so he quickly picked up his fork and said, “No, Pa. I am still eating.”

Ben knew that Little Joe just wanted to hear the conversation, but also knew that he couldn’t send him away from the table without giving the impression that he was being punished. So he said, “Well, Joseph, you concentrate on your food while Adam and Hoss and I discuss this. This does not concern you.” Ben had a determined look on his face and he looked sternly at his son.

Joe held his gaze briefly defiant, but he also quickly realized that if he openly disobeyed his father, he would get sent to his room, so he mumbled, “Yes, sir” and turned his eyes, though not his attention to his plate.

Ben turned back to Adam and Hoss and said, “Adam, tell me about your morning’s activities, please.”

“Pa, I told you I wanted to see those horses, I found some information about them in a book on history. Cobb horses are very well respected in Europe and Asia. And I went to look at them, Pa, and Little Joe was right, Pa. They are great-looking animals–strong, sturdy, but not too heavy to run either. I think they would improve our stock considerably.”

“I see” Ben said. “Hoss, I assume you also went to the Gypsy camp?”

Little Joe could not hold back and a “No fair!” escaped his lips. Ben turned to look at him, but Little Joe recovered quickly and again turned his attention to the uneaten food on his plate. Ben looked at him momentarily, then shifted his attention to Hoss.

“Yes, sir I did. I agree with Adam, Pa. They are fine-looking animals. They will improve our herd, I am sure of it.”

Ben looked at them silently for a moment while he considered what his response should be. Finally he said, “Well if you feel that strongly about it, I won’t interfere with your plans. You may purchase a few of the horses and give them a try. Adam and Hoss both looked quickly at each other, Hoss blushed and Adam definitely appeared uncomfortable.

“Well, Pa, I am glad you feel that way, because well, you see, we already did. I went over and looked at them this morning and selected three of them and Hoss went back this afternoon and looked at them and completed the deal and brought them home.” Adam said, somewhat sheepishly.

“I see” Ben said again, taking in this information, “So you just bought them without consulting me?”

“Pa,” Hoss interjected, “I bought that string of horses from Carson City two months ago without consulting you. I bought that bull calf that me and Joe brought home today without consulting you. What is the difference between those and these horses?” Hoss asked, knowing that the only difference was his father’s distrust and dislike of the owners.

Ben started to answer angrily, but just as he started to speak, he caught sight of Little Joe watching him, waiting for his answer. He saw something in those big hazel eyes of his youngest son that he didn’t like. He took a deep breath and said, “You are absolutely right, Hoss. There is no difference. I can’t wait to see the new horses. Now then, I suggest we all finish our supper.” This last sentence was directed to Little Joe, who despite staying at the table because he hadn’t finished his supper, had not taken another bite since the topic had been brought up.

*****

Chapter 19

The meal ended on a much different note than it had started. As soon as Ben dismissed the topic of the Gypsy horses, he immediately turned his attention to Little Joe and the status of his meal. By this time, Little Joe was full of questions, curiosity, and resentment that Adam and Hoss got to go to the Gypsy camp and he did not get to go—he had no room left for food. By this time, the uneaten food on Little Joe’s plate had gotten cold and was unappetizing to him and he resisted his father’s attempts to get him to eat. The remainder of the meal was a conflict between father and son over what Little Joe ate. The conflict escalated until they were both short-tempered and the pleasant beginning of the meal was long forgotten as they were dead-locked in a no-win situation. Adam and Hoss excused themselves to go finish the chores, leaving father and son to their battle of wills. Ben and Joe were still sitting at the table 20 minutes later when Hoss and Adam came back in, after finishing the chores. Ben had forced Little Joe to eat more of the food than he had thought he would, by sheer determination and force. Little Joe did everything he could, short of outright disobeying his father to prolong the inevitable. He knew that unless his Papa changed his mind, he would have to eat the cold and soggy food, but he was determined to make it take as long as possible. By this time, Ben was having second thoughts about his handling of the discussion with Adam and Hoss about their decision to buy the horses from the gypsies. He realized that he should have cut the discussion off right away and saved it until after Joseph was in bed.

Joe was too high-strung and any amount of conflict or emotion at mealtime always resulted in a loss of appetite for him. Too bad he was not a little more like Hoss in that regard, he thought to himself. Ben was considering excusing Little Joe when Hop Sing finally ended the battle by announcing that either they let him clear the table right then or he would pack his bags and leave immediately. Although everyone including Hop Sing knew that he was not going anywhere, Hoss saw that as a good opportunity to end the battle that he and Adam had watched helplessly. “Pa, you ain’t gonna let Hop Sing leave are you?” he asked in as serious and worried a voice as he could muster. Ben used this opportunity to rescue them both from a losing battle. He looked at Little Joe’s plate as if considering it and said, “All right Hop Sing. I think Joseph has eaten enough. Joseph, you may be excused.” Joe gratefully got up and ran from the table to find his two older brothers and find out more about their visit to the Gypsy camp and to see the horses they had bought. Hoss immediately jumped up and told Joe he would take him to see the horses, thinking it was best to get out of their father’s sight for a while. Adam quickly accompanied them.

Ben moved over to his study and sat at his desk and pretended to work on the ranch ledgers. He found himself staring at the picture of Marie, Joseph’s mother. Joe looked so much like his mother, including his hazel eyes that looked green sometimes and gold sometimes. Ben reflected on what he had seen in his young son’s eyes that night that he had never seen there before. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was—disappointment, doubt, disillusionment, disbelief? But he knew instantly that he didn’t like it, and it caused him to change his discussion regarding the horses.

He was not happy being put on the defensive against all three of his sons; this was not customary for the three brothers. He and Adam had frequently disagreed, but they had always been able to discuss their differences rationally and arrive at a satisfactory decision. Adam would argue and debate but if Ben would not change his mind, Adam always conceded out of respect. Recently Ben had begun to concede to Adam on more and more issues. Hoss hardly ever argued or went against his father’s wishes; preferring merely to state his objections for the record, but concede easily to his father’s side. Little Joe was proving to be the direct opposite of both his brothers. Like Hoss, Joe would state his position or view of an issue. Like Adam, Joe would argue and attempt to persuade him to change his mind and see it his way. Unlike his two older brothers; however, Little Joe didn’t give in or give up, stubbornly sticking to his own view point. It was this stubbornness that often led to problems for him and for his family.

Now all three of his boys seemed to share a common perception. He had thought that the difficult part was over. Since Little Joe’s punishment, he had seemed to be getting over the idea of going to the Gypsy camp. Ironic that it was Adam and Hoss who had refused to let it go this time and continued to resist his position. Ben was sure that now that his youngest son knew that Adam and Hoss had been over to the Gypsy camp, he would renew his efforts to lobby for visiting the Gypsies. Ben took a deep breath and shook his head, as if to clear his head of these thoughts. He turned his head away from the portrait of Marie and turned to the work at hand. He deliberately focused his thoughts on the ledgers detailing the timber operation and away from the problems with his sons and with the Gypsies.

Little Joe ran ahead of his brothers as soon as he saw the direction Hoss was heading and was quickly up on the fence before Hoss or Adam could catch up with him. When Hoss and Adam reached the corral where the new horses were stabled, Little Joe was feeding one of them sugar cubes out of his hand, stroking the horse’s head, and talking soothingly to the horse. Adam was a little uneasy about Joe’s perch on the fence, so he reached up and grasping Joe just above the waist, hoisted him aloft and settled him onto his own shoulders. Little Joe had started to protest when he thought Adam was just going to put him down on the ground again, but he enjoyed sitting on his father’s or brother’s shoulders. The horse had moved away when Adam had moved Little Joe so suddenly, but now the horse came back nervously, looking for more petting and sugar cubes. Little Joe leaned back over the fence and started talking in a low soothing tone to the horse. Soon the horse was back and eating out of Joe’s hands again. After all the sugar was gone, the horse remained at the fence, enjoying the gentle petting and conversation he was receiving from Little Joe.

Adam concentrated so that he could hear what Little Joe was saying. “You will be glad you decided to come live on the Ponderosa” Joe was telling the horse. “You made the right decision” Little Joe was saying to the horse. Adam looked at Hoss with a questioning glance, but Hoss just winked at him. Neither of them were ever too surprised by the things their little brother could come up with.

“What do you think we should name him, Buddy?” Adam asked Joe. Joe turned to Adam and stated matter-of-factly,

“His name is Frederick III, but he is called Trey. Mr. Prasko said it meant “three”. The other two are Alexander and Alexandra–they are called Alex and Zander.” Joe said as if that settled it.

“Joe ain’t them names a bit too high-falutin’ for ranch horses?” Hoss asked.

“Hoss, we can’t change their names. That would be like you moving and someone telling you your name couldn’t be Hoss anymore.” Joe said, giving Hoss a look that implied that was a ridiculous argument. Hoss and Adam exchanged an amused look over their brother’s head, but the issue was definitely settled. The horses were Trey, Alex, and Zander from then on.

After petting and talking to each of the three horses, Little Joe turned to Adam and said, “Did you see Joseph, Adam? Did you see Mrs. Prasko?”

Hoss stepped to Little Joe this time and said, “Hey, Joe Joseph’s grandmother gave me this to give you yesterday, but I ….Well, anyway, here, Little Joe.” Hoss handed Joe the package that Mrs. Prasko had given him to give to Little Joe upon his first visit to the Gypsy camp. Joe’s eyes lit up when Hoss handed him the package; it was no secret that their little brother loved presents. Adam put Joe down on the ground and he quickly tore into the wrapping and pulled out the treasure hidden inside–an intricately carved wooden replica of the Prasko family vardo. On the side of the wagon was a flag made out of shiny fabric. The top of the flag was turquoise, the bottom half of the flag was green, and there was a red wagon wheel in the center. Above the flag, burned into the wood were the words, Gypsy, one scattered race, like stars in the sight of God“.

Little Joe traced the design of the wagon with his finger and turned it over and over, inspecting every detail. Hoss and Adam watched him, taken aback at the detail of the workmanship that had gone into the toy wagon. As Joe was looking at the front of the toy wagon, he realized that the doors of the wagon actually opened. When he opened the door, a tiny slip of paper fell out. Adam picked it up and handed it to Joe, who carefully opened the note and looked at it silently. As Adam and Hoss watched him, they noticed tears spilling down his cheeks. “Hey, Joe, what is wrong?” Hoss said, reaching out to his little brother. Hoss swung Joe up in his arms and Joe buried his head on Hoss’s shoulder and cried. Adam reached over and took the note from Joe’s hand to see what it said that had upset Joe so much. He read

Dear Little Joseph,

I hope this makes the light shine in your eyes like seeing you ride King Frederick made me smile. Although we may not see you again, you will be in our hearts forever. You are Gypsy in spirit, if not by blood. Be happy, my young friend.

With our love,
The Prasko Family

When he finished reading the note, he held it up so that Hoss could read it. When he finished reading it, he looked at Adam with a determined look on his face. He looked at his little brother, and said, “Joe, listen, don’t you worry. I am going to talk to Pa and see if I can’t get him to change his mind. You hear? Come on, now. It’s gonna be okay, you’ll see. Please stop crying.” Adam looked at Hoss, with his eyebrows raised and a warning look on his face. He had been thinking of doing the same thing, but he wouldn’t have told Little Joe, in case his father wouldn’t change his mind. But Hoss’ face looked more determined than he had ever seen it. Little Joe held his head up and looked his older brother in the eyes to see if he were serious. His eyes were red and starting to look puffy and the tears had left visible traces down the sides of his face. The crying had made his hair wet and his hair was hanging down on his forehead in soft, shiny curls. Hoss pushed his hair back from his forehead, without even thinking about it. Joe looked at Hoss for a few seconds, then he wiped his eyes with his shirtsleeve and after taking a few more snuffling breaths, said, “Really Hoss? Will you? Do you think he will let me go see Joseph and the Praskos? Joseph is my best friend and Mrs. Prasko said she would tell me more about their travels.”

“Joe, Hoss and I will both try to talk to Pa, but don’t get your hopes up. You know how stubborn he is and he may not change his mind, Joe.” Adam felt it imperative that he try to prevent Little Joe from getting his heart set on their father changing his mind. He wished Hoss hadn’t said anything to Little Joe, but the damage was done now—he and Hoss would HAVE to make Pa change his mind.

“But Adam if you and Hoss both talk to Pa, he’ll have to listen!” Joe said excitedly. Hoss, relieved to see that Joe had stopped crying said,

“You betcha, Little brother” and gave him a bear hug, which Joe enthusiastically returned. Adam, feeling left out, said,

“Well hey, I said I would help too” and reached out and took Little Joe in his arms and gave him another eagerly-reciprocated hug.

“Papa will have to change his mind if we all three tell him, won’t he Adam?”

Adam said, “well we will sure give it a try, Joe. We will sure give it a try, little brother.” With that, the two older Cartwright brothers turned and headed toward the house, their little brother walking between the two of them, his vardo held carefully in his hand. Little Joe was in better spirits than he had been since he had first been banned from the Gypsy camp.

*****

Chapter 20

Adam convinced Little Joe to let him and Hoss talk to their father first, thinking they could soften him up some with facts and rationale and then let Little Joe go in for the knock out blow. Although his father believed in discipline and demanded obedience, he like everyone else found it hard to say no to their little brother. For the five years after Hoss was born and Inger was killed, there had been very little laughter and gaiety in their lives. When Ben had met and married Marie, all that had changed. Despite his attempts to dislike Marie, Adam had been won over by her love and she had brought love, life, and laughter into their lives. Her death had affected Ben so powerfully that Adam had despaired that their lives would ever be happy again. Then Little Joe had become lost and the realization that he almost lost Marie’s son, had not only brought Pa back to them, it had made him stronger. Little Joe, so like Marie in physical appearance and in temperament and personality was a constant reminder to all of them of how precious life is. Because of this, Little Joe was cherished by not only his father, but by his brothers as well. Adam knew that if he and Hoss could make Pa realize that the Praskos would not be a harmful influence on Little Joe nor would his visiting them put him in any kind of danger; then Little Joe and his big green eyes and angelic face could probably get the desired response from his father.

So it was that the three brothers came back into the house without mentioning either the Gypsies or the horses. Ben was a little surprised, but since he was not looking forward to defending his positions against all three of his sons, didn’t bring up the subject either. Ben and Adam worked on the ranch accounts and Hoss and Little Joe played checkers. Joe was getting better and better at checkers and he beat Hoss 4 out of 5 games. When Ben and Adam finished the accounts, they joined the two younger brothers.

“Hoss, did he beat you again?” Adam asked, smiling and shaking his head. Joe had a knack for checkers and Marie had taught him to play when he was just four years old. At first they used to let him win, then they realized he didn’t need their help to win. Now it was each man–or boy–for himself.

Adam had an idea and said, “Hey, Joe, how about letting me teach you to play chess? That might prove more of a challenge to you.”

Smiling Little Joe said, “Sure Adam!” The next thirty minutes or so were pleasant as Adam taught Joe the rudimentary rules and strategies of chess, while Hoss and Ben watched, offering advice now and then. The game was interrupted by the sound of horses and a loud knock at the front door. Hoss was the first to get to the door and was met by Dr. Li, the Chinese physician in Virginia City. Although Dr. Li was an excellent physician and he and Dr. Martin consulted each other on occasion, Dr. Li generally cared for the large Chinese population and Dr. Martin cared for the other residents of Virginia City.

“Dr. Li, come in. What brings you out here?” Ben said, welcoming Dr. Li into the house.

“Good evening, Mr. Cartwright. I am sorry to disturb your evening. I wonder if I might ask Hop Sing for his assistance.”

Ben said “Of course, Joe would you please go tell Hop Sing that Dr. Li is here to see him?”

“Sure Pa.” Joe said, then he looked at Dr. Li and said something to him, in what sounded like Chinese, and Dr. Li smiled and said, “Yes, Joseph. Kim Lee asked me to tell you hello as well.”

Ben and Adam shared a surprised look, but by then Joe had scampered off to get Hop Sing. Ben directed Dr. Li on into the house and they all took seats.

Quickly, Hop Sing and Little Joe came from Hop Sing’s room to the living room. Dr. Li and Hop Sing exchanged a fast and serious conversation in Chinese, which the older Cartwrights were unable to understand at all. Little Joe understood enough to know that there were many very sick people and Dr. Li wanted Hop Sing to go with him to help him take care of them. As he heard this, Little Joe reached for Hop Sing’s hand and held on tightly, not wanting him to go with the doctor. The other Cartwrights noticed that Little Joe seemed a little upset but didn’t know why. They patiently waited for Hop Sing and Dr. Li to finish their conversation. Finally Hop Sing turned to Mr. Cartwright and said, “Dr. Li say many, many new case of fever in China town. He needs Hop Sing to go help. Is okay with Mr. Cartwright?”

“I am sorry to hear that, Dr. Li. Of course you may go Hop Sing. Dr. Li is there anything we can do to help?” Ben offered.

“Thanks, Mr. Cartwright. I have lots of volunteers to do the work. What I am most in need of is someone to organize the work and the helpers. That is what I need Honorable Hop Sing to do. With his help, we can manage.”

Smiling Ben said, “Oh I am sure in Hop Sing’s capable hands, things will run smoothly in no time. Hop Sing, you may go and stay as long as you are needed, the boys and I can manage. It will make us appreciate you even more.” Adam and Hoss both nodded their heads in agreement. None of them noticed Little Joe at that time. He stood there gripping tightly onto Hop Sing’s hands, his eyes wide with fear and distress. He had understood enough of what Dr. Li was saying to know that many of the sick people had died and that others were still in danger of dying. He did not want Hop Sing to go because he was afraid that Hop Sing could get sick.

Hop Sing said, “I will go get things and be ready soon, then we go.” He started to turn to go to his room and realized that Little Joe had almost a death grip on his hands and only then did he notice the little boy’s face. Knowing that Little Joe had undoubtedly understood some of the doctor’s news, he said, “Come Little Joe go help Hop Sing get ready to go.” And as he said this he led Little Joe out of the room towards his room. When he got into the privacy of his own room, Hop Sing knelt down beside the little boy and smiled at him and said, “Little Joe not worry ’bout Hop Sing. Hop Sing have fever long time ago. Hop Sing not get fever again. Hop Sing be okay and come home soon to Ponderosa.” As he said this, he placed both his hands on either side of Little Joe’s face so that he was looking directly into Little Joe’s sparkling green eyes, which had tears that were just a few drops away from spilling down his cheeks.

Little Joe looked at Hop Sing, considering what he said and trying not to cry. Hop Sing repeated that he would come back soon to the Ponderosa. Then he said, “Hop Sing make deal with Little Joe. If Little Joe need Hop Sing, just send someone to town and Hop Sing come right home.” Reassured, Little Joe put his arms around Hop Sing and Hop Sing held him tightly for several seconds. Then he pulled away, holding Joe at arm’s length. He pulled a clean handkerchief out of a drawer and wiped the tears that had finally spilled down Little Joe’s cheeks. Then he said, “Now please go to storeroom and bring Hop Sing bag. Hop Sing must hurry and go with Dr. Li.”

Little Joe gave him a small smile and said “Okay Hop Sing, I’ll get it”.

A few minutes later, Hop Sing and Little Joe returned to the great room, Little Joe carrying Hop Sing’s bag for him. Ben, Dr. Li and Adam and Hoss were discussing the status of the fever outbreak in the surrounding areas. “Yes, Dr. Martin is even busier than I because he has so many areas to cover.” When they saw Hop Sing and Little Joe, they stopped talking and Dr. Li rose and said, “We should get going, if Hop Sing is ready.” They all rose and walked Hop Sing and Dr. Li to the door.

The elder Cartwrights all said good bye to Hop Sing, joking about how Hoss might starve to death with him gone. Hop Sing said, “Not wolly ’bout Mr. Hoss starve. Wolly only ’bout Little Joe not eat.” Just as they were starting to go, Hop Sing knelt down and gave Little Joe another hug and said something softly to him that they couldn’t quite make out. Little Joe looked at Hop Sing solemnly and nodded. Then Hop Sing and Dr. Li were out the door and out of sight.

As they turned around, Ben noticing the time on the grandfather clock beside the front door, said, “Joseph, it is way past your bedtime. Come on and I will put you to bed.” He then turned to Hoss and Adam and said, “I think I will turn in after that myself, boys. I am tired myself. I will see you in the morning.” “Good night, Pa. Good night, Little Joe.” both Adam and Hoss said. Ben helped Little Joe get into his night shirt, tucked him into bed, and then read the book with the pinto pony on the cover until they were both too sleepy to continue. When Ben realized that Little Joe was asleep, he gently removed the book and placed him carefully on the pillow, pulling the quilts up and tucking him in. He stood there for a minute, watching his sleeping youngest child, so quiet and still and so silent—-three things that he never was when he was awake. After a few seconds, Ben leaned over and kissed him on the forehead and said softly, “Sweet dreams, Son.” . He then turned the flame on the lamp to its lowest setting and then glancing over at Joe one final time, he walked out of the room and softly closed the door. As he entered the hallway, he took a deep breath and thought to himself that he must really be getting older, he couldn’t remember being so tired in a long time.

*****

Chapter 21

Adam and Hoss stayed up after Ben and Joe had gone to bed, discussing the best way to convince Ben to change his mind about the gypsies. Adam told Hoss some of the earlier experiences that Ben and he had with gypsies to explain why Pa felt the way he did. “Well, Adam, I reckon there are good and bad gypsies just like with everybody else.”

Hoss said. “Yeah, it just so happens though that Pa hasn’t met any of the “good” ones, Hoss. Of course, he hasn’t met many Gypsies for that matter.”

“I wish we knew more about them. Joe was telling me all kinds of stuff about them.” Hoss said.

“Hey, one of those new world books I just got may have something in them. Let me go see.” Adam said, jumping out of his chair and heading up the stairs. In a few minutes Adam came down the stairs saying, “Hoss listen to this….” He had found a chapter devoted to the Appleby Horse Fair, held in England each year. “That is what Little Joe was talking about when he was saying the Apple horse Fair” said Hoss. I didn’t pay much attention, but he was saying something about an Apple fair when he was talking to those horses.” Hoss said excitedly. The two brothers read and discussed the information in the book until they decided to turn in themselves.

“This may help Pa change his mind. I sure hope it does ’cause Little Joe has sure taken a powerful liking to that family and I hate to see him not get to see them before they leave.” Hoss said.

“Yes, he sure is attached, but that is just how he is. If Pa doesn’t let him, he will get over it soon enough. ” Adam said this to Hoss, though he frankly had doubts about the accuracy of his statement.

The next morning, Adam and Hoss were already at breakfast when their father came down the stairs. This was surprising to both of them since Ben usually rose earlier than they did. Their breakfast that morning consisted of oatmeal and toast and bacon—a far cry from Hop Sing’s breakfasts, but since Adam had cooked it, neither Hoss nor Ben were inclined to complain. Ben dished himself a bowl of the oatmeal, though he decided to forego the bacon this morning. He didn’t mention it, but he was not feeling rested this morning and had not really been rearing to get up this morning. He chided himself for becoming as lazy as Little Joe in the mornings. He sipped his coffee, a bit on the strong side, but hot, while Adam and Hoss ate and discussed their planned activities for the day.

“Pa?” Ben realized that Hoss had been speaking to him. “Oh, sorry Hoss, guess I was just thinking. What did you say?”

“Do you want me to go get Little Joe up?”

“Yeah, you’d better Son, or he will be there at lunch time.” The three Cartwrights smiled and Hoss pushed his chair back to go get Little Joe up. Although one of them did this chore almost daily; Hoss generally did it the most often. He actually preferred to do it himself so he usually volunteered before his father or Adam did it. Little Joe didn’t like getting up in the mornings and was always in a bad mood when he was awakened. While everyone in the family knew this, Hoss was the one who understood it best. He never took anything his brother said or did when he first woke up seriously. Pa and Adam sometimes did and the end result would be everybody would be cranky for a period of time. So Hoss tried to wake Joe up because he never let Little Joe’s moods bother him and in within a few minutes, after Joe had a chance to wake up a little bit, he would be in a better mood so the morning just got off to a better start. This morning was no exception and after a few grumpy declarations, soon Little Joe and Hoss were talking and laughing as they made their way downstairs.

When they got downstairs, Little Joe ran over and gave his father a hug and plopped into his chair. He opened his mouth to complain when Adam served him oatmeal–his least favorite breakfast, but something in his father’s face made him change his mind. Instead he sat down and began to quietly watch his father to see if there was something wrong with him. Although he didn’t know what was wrong or what made him notice it, Little Joe knew that there was something wrong with Pa. Adam and Hoss didn’t seem to notice, as they finished eating and discussed their plans for the day. Little Joe sat there and played with his oatmeal and didn’t drink any of the milk or eat the toast, but Pa didn’t say anything to him.

Adam and Hoss told Ben that they were going to go check on the progress of the ranch hands who were moving the cattle to a different grazing field and that they would take a lunch with them. Hoss asked Ben if Little Joe could go with them, which Joe had made Hoss promise he would ask while Hoss was getting him up and dressed that morning. Ben looked at the faces of his three sons and started to say no. He was the most surprised person in the room when instead, he said “Yes, Hoss, if you don’t mind being responsible for him all day, I guess that would be okay with me.” Hoss and Adam were shocked and Adam was frankly annoyed with Hoss. Being responsible for Little Joe would decrease Hoss’ productivity. But the decision had been made and seeing Little Joe’s face, Adam didn’t have the heart to dispute the wisdom of it.

So the three Cartwright brothers went out to the barn and emerged several minutes later, their horses in tow. Adam and Joe mounted their horses and they took off, pausing only long enough to wait for Hoss who had been in the kitchen packing some lunch for the three of them. Of the three of them, Hoss naturally was the most concerned with having lunch, but although he would not admit it, he was much more concerned that his little brother have lunch than he was concerned about himself, since he had noticed that Little Joe had not eaten breakfast. He had been surprised that his father hadn’t mentioned it, but Hoss just figured his father wanted one peaceful meal for a change.

The brothers were very busy that day. Adam was pleased that Little Joe didn’t seem to get in the way quite as much as he used to. They took more frequent breaks than they normally did, so that Little Joe wouldn’t get too tired, but even when they did take a break–it was the two older brothers who rested. The younger brother ran around and explored everything, never staying in the same place for longer than a minute. “You know Adam, I don’t think I am going to bring Joe with us to work anymore.” Hoss said.

Adam was surprised and raised his eyebrows in a questioning look, “What am I hearing? I can’t believe it. I didn’t think you could ever get tired of Little Joe.” He laughed.

“Well, Adam, it ain’t that I am tired of Little Joe. It is just that watching him makes me plumb tuckered out—and look at him—he is still going.” The two older brothers laughed and Adam remarked, “I think that is just what Little Joe needs to do everyday—wear himself completely out—then maybe he would be too tired to get into trouble.” Both brothers laughed, knowing that this was more fantasy than possibility.

When the Cartwright brothers had finished their assistance and supervision of driving the cattle to their new grazing field, they stopped to pay the workers who had signed on just for the several days it took to accomplish this chore. While Adam and Hoss made out the bank drafts and paid off the ranch hands, they directed Little Joe to sit by their gear and “keep an eye on it and guard it for them”, which was really their way of keeping him occupied, out of their way, and (they hoped) out of harm’s way. When the two brothers had finished issuing payment to the hands, they got up and went to get ready for the trip home. They found their little brother, curled up with his head on a saddle blanket, firmly gripping Adam’s saddle bags with one hand—-sound asleep. His hat was covering his face, he was lying just slightly on his side, and he was sucking his left thumb. They laughed quietly at the scene. Little Joe was constantly moving and very active when awake, but if he got still—for whatever reason–he invariably fell quickly and deeply asleep. Once asleep, he was difficult to wake up, so it took a few minutes for Hoss to rouse his brother sufficiently for them to begin the ride to the Ponderosa.

*****

Chapter 22

When they rode into the courtyard of the Ponderosa, they were surprised to see Buck loosely tied to the hitching post. If there was one thing that Pa was a stickler about, it was properly caring for the horses. So it was indeed a surprise that Pa had left Buck there at the hitching post, unless he was planning on going out again, and considering the lateness of the hour, Adam doubted that. When they dismounted, Hoss and Joe took their horses and went into the barn to stable them and care for them. Hoss helped Little Joe get the harness and saddle off his pony and Joe set to work brushing him. Adam walked in with Buck and Beauty in tow and said, “Well I will put Buck up for Pa, but I am telling him he owes me one.”

“Maybe that will put him in a good mood, Adam” Little Joe said with a smile, “So you can ask him tonight if I can go see the Praskos. You just gotta Adam, ’cause they might be leaving soon.” Little Joe said with pleading eyes.

“All right, Little Joe, I promise I will try to do it tonight. But you remember, now, you leave that to me and Hoss. Understand?”

“Sure Adam, and then I come in for the kill, right?” Joe beamed at Adam. Adam looked startled and Hoss burst into laughter, realizing that their little brother had overheard their entire strategy session.

“Why you little……” Adam said as he made a mad dash for Little Joe.

Little Joe quickly dashed behind Hoss and said, “Save me, Hoss. Save me.”

Hoss reached over and swung Little Joe onto his back and looked at Adam with mock severity and said, “If you want my little brother, you have to come through me first.” This sent a squeal of laughter from Little Joe and it was so darned contagious, that both older brothers joined in. Soon they were all three laughing so hard they had tears in their eyes.

“Come on you two, before Pa gets to wonderin’ what we are doing in the barn for so long” Hoss said. “Besides with Hop Sing off helping the Doc, we may have to do the cookin'”. He said with a less than enthusiastic expression on his face. The three brothers then headed into the house, with the two oldest walking side-by-side and the youngest perched on the shoulders of the largest.

When they entered the great living room of the ranch house, they were surprised that they didn’t see their father nor did they smell anything cooking in the kitchen. They were also surprised that there was no fire going in the great fireplace which was the showcase of the entire room. They teased their father about how much he loved that fireplace, often building fires when it was perfectly comfortable without a fire, just to watch it burn. Truth be known, however, they all regarded that fire as part of the family tradition and they loved it too. “Wonder where Pa is?” Adam said. “Well I am going to take Joe to the kitchen and wash us both up. Why don’t you see if you can find him. Me and Joe will start to rustle us up some supper, too. Won’t we Shortshanks?”

“Sure Hoss. I know how to make pancakes!” Little Joe said excitedly.

Hoss and Joe headed towards the kitchen while Adam headed up the stairs. He stopped briefly in his own room, leaving the book he had taken with him to read at noon. Then he headed towards his father’s room and knocked on the door. Hearing no reply, he knocked louder and said, “Pa?”. He thought he heard a muffled reply, so he opened the door quickly, alarmed. What he saw thoroughly alarmed him. Ben Cartwright lay on top of his bed, covered with a comforter. His face was a combination of pale and flushed, and he seemed to be having chills. “Pa?” Ben Cartwright opened his eyes and tried to rise when he saw his son.

Instead his son reached over and said, “Just lie still, Pa. How long have you been lying here?”

Ben took a deep breath and spoke as calmly as he could. “I started feeling tired around noon, Adam. What time is it?”

“Pa, I think I had better send for the doc. You obviously have a fever” Adam said, putting his hand on his father’s forehead to confirm his suspicions. “Yeah you are burning up.”

His father grunted, “I may be burning up but I am so danged cold, I can’t get warm.” “Here Pa, let me help you get into your nightclothes and get into bed and then I will cover you up.” Adam helped his father, concerned that Pa was not even attempting to protest, a sure sign that he was indeed very ill. After he helped him get into his night clothes, he helped him under the covers and took two extra blankets from the closet and covered him up well.

“How is that, Pa?”

“That is much better, Adam. Thanks.” Ben said, taking a deep breath.

“Pa I will go bring you some broth and something to drink to get that fever down. I will be right back up.” He headed for the door, but was stopped when his father called to him.

“Adam?”

“Yes, Pa?”

“You and Hoss need to stay out of here as much as you can and keep Little Joe out of here. It is too risky for him to be here, in case I do have the fever. He’s just now getting over the pneumonia, he can’t get this. He just can’t. Okay?” Pa’s eyes had an almost haunted look as he said this. He knew what that would do to Little Joe, but he couldn’t risk having him get the fever.

Adam could tell that it was taking every bit of his father’s strength to speak. He hurried back to the bedside and smiled and reassured his father, “Don’t worry, Pa. Little Joe is busy helping Hoss make pancakes. And you probably just have a touch of the influenza or even a cold. Now you just rest and I will be right back up.” Adam walked down the staircase slowly, trying to think what he should do. He knew deep down that it was likely that Pa had the fever, not just a cold. He also knew that the Doc may not be able to get there right away. When he came to the bottom of the stairs, he headed straight for the front door and to the bunkhouse. Finding the men relaxed and playing poker, he asked Sam to ride into Virginia City to find Doc Martin. “Don’t come back until you find him, Sam. Tell him Pa is really sick. Then you come straight back home. Understand?”

After sending Sam to find Doc Martin, Adam went back into the house, to take care of the rest of what he knew he had to do. He was not looking forward to telling Hoss that Pa was sick; he was absolutely dreading telling Little Joe that Pa was sick and that he could not see him. Ever since Marie had died, Little Joe was terrified that something might happen to Pa, or to him or Hoss. Little Joe projected a confident, almost cocky air most of the time, but that confidence depended upon the security that he received from his family. He decided to talk to Hoss first so that they could talk to Little Joe together.

When he walked into the kitchen, Hoss and Little Joe were busy mixing up pancakes. Hoss had heeded Little Joe’s request for pancakes, figuring that would be easy and fast and besides, Little Joe loved pancakes and would be more apt to eat them, thus avoiding another dinner-time battle. Hoss looked up and grinned at Adam over Little Joe’s head, indicating the flour that was covering him from head to foot. “Our little brother is a master pancake mixer-upper, Adam” he said with a grin. His grin faded quickly when he saw the anxious expression on Adam’s face. He was about to question him about it, but Adam quickly shook his head, casting a glance at Little Joe. Hoss felt his heart constrict, knowing that something was wrong.

“Joe, how about going out to the hen house and seeing if Hop Sing’s chickens laid any fresh eggs so I can scramble ’em up to go with the pancakes?” Hoss said. “Sure Hoss, I bet I can get lots of ’em!” He said, and ran out the back door, leaving it open. Adam walked over and closed the door.

“What’s wrong, Adam? Where is Pa?”

“Hoss, I think Pa has the fever. I sent Sam for Doc Martin” Adam said, putting his hand on Hoss’ shoulder and giving him a comforting squeeze. “The fever? Let me go see…” Hoss said and started for the door.

“Wait a minute Hoss. I told Pa I would bring him some broth and something to drink. Let’s fix that and then you can take it up to him. But we have to figure out what to do about Little Joe.” As he talked he began to heat up broth and to squeeze oranges for fresh orange juice to take to his father.

“What do you mean, Adam? We can take care of Little Joe.” Hoss said, getting even more anxious. He had a dread of what his brother was going to say.

“Hoss, with Hop Sing gone, it is going to take the both of us to take care of Pa. I sent for the Doc, but you know what Dr. Li said. Doc may not get here right away. In the meantime, we are going to have to keep Pa’s fever down and get fluids in him.”

“But Adam, one of us can do that and the other one can take care of Little Joe.” Hoss said, almost desperately.

“Hoss, Pa specifically said for us to keep Joe out of there. You know Pa has been worried ever since Joe had pneumonia last month. He is more worried about Little Joe getting the fever than he is about himself. There is no way we can keep him here and take care of Pa and keep Little Joe out of Pa’s room. And Pa won’t rest if he is worried about Little Joe and you know it.”

Hoss took a deep breath and shook his head and said, “Adam what are you suggesting?” although he really knew what was coming.

“We have to send him over to stay with Charlie and Savannah, Hoss. Just ’til Pa gets better.”

Hoss swallowed, “I reckon so, Adam, but that is going scare him to death. You know how he is.”

“Yeah, Hoss, but there just isn’t any other way right now.” Adam said, with more confidence than he felt. He, too, hated to think what being sent away with his father ill would do to Little Joe.

“Here, Hoss, you take this up to Pa and get him to drink it all. I will bring some cool water up shortly.”

“Adam can we have supper with Little Joe before we talk to him?”

“Yeah, Hoss that is what I was thinking. Then we can tell him together and you can take him over to Charlie’s and I’ll stay here with Pa.”

Hoss had just headed up the stairs when Little Joe came rushing into the kitchen, proudly carrying a basket of fresh brown eggs. “Look Adam, this one is a double yolker!” he said excitedly. “that’s the kind Hop Sing likes the best on account of it doesn’t take so many to cook for Hoss. Hey, Adam where is Hoss and where is Pa?”

“They are upstairs, hey come on, let’s get these eggs scrambled up and put those pancakes on the griddle. I am starvin'” Adam said, ruffling his little brother’s hair. Little Joe smiled at him and said, “Let me crack the eggs, Adam. I know how. Hop Sing showed me.” As he said this, he excitedly reached for an egg, but it slipped out of his hand and hit the floor.

He looked wide-eyed at Adam, in surprise, then he was watching him to see what his reaction was to see if he was in trouble or not. “Here, Joe, let me help you clean that up” Adam said and he bent down to help his little brother clean up the mess made by the egg.”

“Sorry, Adam, it just slipped.” Joe said.

“That’s all right, little brother, just one less for Hoss to eat is all.”

Soon they had dinner ready. “I’m gonna go find Pa and Hoss and tell ’em to come to dinner before the pancakes get cold.” Joe said and headed for the stairs.

Adam was right behind him, but he needn’t have worried for Hoss came around the corner just at that time and swung Little Joe up into his arms. “Hey watch where you are going, Shortshanks” he said, gently tickling Little Joe, who was soon giggling hysterically.

When Hoss finally put Joe down, he deposited him directly into his chair at the dinner table, he and Adam quickly sat down and began to serve the plates. “Hey what about Pa?” Joe said. “Oh he’s not hungry now, you better eat ’em while they are hot.” Adam said. Joe was momentarily satisfied and turned his attention to his stack of pancakes. Hoss and Adam forced themselves to make small talk and try to keep the meal lighthearted. It seemed to work for a few minutes, but Little Joe quickly detected something out of the ordinary and he began to watch his two brothers carefully. He also began to ask more pointed questions about his father, all pretense of eating over. Adam looked at Hoss and sighed, and said, “Come on Joe, let’s go over to the couch. We have to talk.” He said, taking Little Joe by the hand and leading him to the couch.

Little Joe was becoming more and more agitated as they headed towards the couch. He was looking from one brother to the other, he was particularly frightened because Hoss would not look him directly in the eye. “I’m going to see Papa!” he said and tried to pull away from Adam, but Adam held him firmly.

“Joe, Pa is not feeling well. He needs to rest and get some sleep. We don’t need to disturb him.” Adam began. Adam sat down on the couch and held Joe firmly in his lap. Hoss sat down next to them.

“I won’t ‘sturb him Adam.” Joe said with a scared look on his face, tears starting to form already.

“Little Joe, Pa is going to be all right, but he is going to have to stay in bed for a few days until he gets better.” Adam said, looking to Hoss for help in explaining what was coming next.

“That’s okay Adam, I will read to him from my pony book”. Little Joe said, starting to feel better. He could stay with Papa while Hoss and Adam did the ranch chores.

“Joe, you can’t go into Pa’s room until he gets better.” Hoss interjected.

“‘Course I can Hoss. I can stay with Pa while you and Adam are working.” Little Joe said reasonably.

“Joe, it wouldn’t be any fun for you to be here for the next few days, what with Pa sick and Hop Sing gone and Hoss and I busy running the ranch and taking care of Pa.” Adam said, trying to maintain an even tone, but he could tell from his little brother’s facial expressions that he wasn’t buying it. Joe’s face had paled, his eyes wide open, his lips grimly set.

Hoss tried to help his older brother out, “Joe, you know how much fun you had that day you stayed with Charlie when we had to be in Virginia City all day and Hop Sing had gone to visit his cousin?”

“I ain’t going to Charlie’s, Hoss. I’m stayin’ here.” Joe said, with a defiant look. For added emphasis he crossed his arms in front of his chest, and stared alternately at his two brothers.

“Buddy, you just don’t have any choice. I’m sorry but that is the way it has to be. It won’t be long, Joe, you’ll see.” Adam said, realizing that the situation was hopeless; Joe would never give in and they didn’t have time to waste trying to persuade him.

“Hoss how about if you pack some things for Joe for a few days and take him over to Charlie’s? I’ll go see to Pa. I’m sorry, Little Buddy, but it won’t be for long. I promise you.” With that he released his grip on Little Joe and stood him down on the floor, as he prepared to stand up. Little Joe, realizing he was loose; however, had a different plan. As soon as he realized what Adam was doing, he decided to take matters into his own hands—or feet. The second Adam took his hands off him, Little Joe bolted for the stairs heading straight to his Papa’s room. Stunned, Adam and Hoss took a minute to respond, but as soon as they could move, they both took off after Little Joe.

Adam yelled, “Joe, don’t go in Pa’s……..” But before Adam could get all the words out, Little Joe made it to his father’s room and flung open the door. He saw his father lying in the bed, covered up with several blankets. He was sweating and shivering at the same time. His face looked pale, except for red spots on his cheeks. Joe was terrified. He wanted to cry out but he was only able to get out a small sounding “Papa”.

Adam and Hoss rushed into the room just at that time. Adam motioned for Hoss to get Joe so he quickly bent over and swooped Little Joe up and carried him out of the room, while Adam checked on their father and moistened a washcloth and placed it on his forehead. Ben’s eyes blinked open while Adam was doing this. “Sorry, Adam. Didn’t mean to be so much trouble.”

“You just rest Pa, we’ll take care of everything.” Adam reassured his father, glad that he hadn’t seen Little Joe come into his room.. He didn’t need to be worrying about Joe while he was sick.

Hoss had taken Joe into his room to pack his things and to calm him down. However, as they had left Pa’s room, the tears and sobs that Joe had suppressed while in his father’s room burst out. Joe was crying with his head buried on Hoss’ shoulder. Hoss eased down into the rocking chair by the window and tried to comfort the frightened little boy. Inconsolable, Little Joe continued to cry until exhausted, he fell asleep in his big brother’s arms. Adam had come into Joe’s room and seen what was going on and he and Hoss shared a sorrowful look over Little Joe’s head. Adam whispered, “I’ll pack his bag and go get the horses ready. Just let him sleep ’til time to go.” Hoss nodded his head in agreement.

While Adam packed Joe’s bag and readied the horses, Hoss continued to sit in the rocking chair, holding Little Joe. Hoss’ heart was breaking, too. He was worried about Pa and he was worried about having to send Little Joe away. He wasn’t sure this was the right thing to do, but he knew that there was no way that the two of them could take care of Pa, the ranch, and take care of Little Joe, especially if they had to keep him out of Pa’s room. But he was afraid that this would be too hard on Little Joe. Joe was still having nightmares about Marie’s death.

In a few minutes, Hoss looked out the window and saw Adam come walking out of the barn leading Chub and Star, so he knew he had to get going. He very quietly eased out of the chair and carefully walked downstairs, careful not to wake his brother. When he got to where Adam was standing with the horses, he whispered, “Adam I am gonna lead Star and just carry Little Joe with me.” Adam nodded his head and reached over and took Little Joe gently out of Hoss’ hands so that he could get on his horse. After Hoss was seated comfortably in the saddle and Star’s reins were tied to Chub’s saddle horn, Hoss reached down and Adam lifted Joe so that he could take him. Just before he handed him up to Hoss, Adam looked down at the tear-streaked face of his little brother, whose hair was lying in curls over his forehead, “You’ll be home soon, Buddy. Everything’s gonna be okay”. He whispered as he planted a soft kiss on his little brother’s forehead.

Hoss took Joe in his arms and headed towards the home of their foreman and his wife. Charlie had been a friend of the family long before Pa had come to Virginia City. He and Joe looked on Charlie as part of the family, but Joe had never spent the night away from the Ponderosa, unless he was accompanied by one of his brothers or Pa or both. Hoss knew that he would be afraid of being away from his family and of the reason he was away from the family. But at least with Charlie and Savannah, Little Joe would be safe and cared for. Savannah especially liked Little Joe, so he would be okay, Hoss reassured himself as he neared the large cabin that was home to the foreman and his wife.

As he rode into the yard, Savannah came out of the cabin to greet them. Her smile faded as she saw Hoss’ serious expression and noticed that he was holding Little Joe in his arms and leading his pony.

“Hoss, what is wrong? Has Little Joe been hurt?” she asked, trying to see the sleeping child.

“No, Ma’am, Little Joe’s fine; he’s just asleep. It’s our Pa, he’s sick and he’s afraid he might have the fever and he didn’t want Little Joe to get it, what with him just getting over the pneumonia a while back.”

Before he could go further, he felt Little Joe struggling to get out of his arms. Savannah, now certain of what Hoss was asking, reached up and took hold of the struggling child and pulled him into her arms. Hoss quickly jumped off the horse and took hold of Little Joe again.

“Joe, it’s okay. You will just be here for a few days and then I will come back and get you. It won’t be long.” Hoss tried to console Little Joe, all the while looking desperately at Savannah for help.

“There, there, Little Joe, staying with me and Charlie won’t be so bad, will it? You and I can make some cookies. Maybe you can teach me some of Hop Sing’s secrets so mine will be as good as his.”

“NO. Hoss take me home NOW.” Joe said as loudly and as strongly as he could, after all the crying. While he said this, he reached around Hoss and grasped him around the neck as tightly as he could. “I wanta go see Papa, Hoss. I gotta see Papa, Hoss. Please, Hoss. I won’t do nothin’ bad, Hoss. Please.” His cries and pleas were becoming more and more desperate in his attempt to stop Hoss from leaving him. Without being able to put it into words, at the root of Joe’s need to go to his father, was the still fresh loss of his mother. That morning she had been fine and that night, she was gone. What if his Papa left the same way? Joe clung desperately to Hoss,

By this time, Charlie had come to the front of the house from the barn and had heard enough of the conversation to know what was going on. He looked at the two brothers, both of them hurting and knew that he had to intervene to help Hoss because Hoss would never be able to leave his little brother. So he walked up and started disengaging Little Joe’s grip on Hoss forcibly and said to Hoss, “Hoss let me have him. He will be all right after you leave. He’ll calm down and we’ll see after him. You better get on back home to help Adam with your Pa.” At first Hoss held on to Little Joe, not wanting to let him go, but eventually Charlie’s words sunk in and he allowed Charlie to wrest Joe away from him.

“Hoss, don’t worry, Little Joe will be fine with us. We’ll take real good care of him. And you let us know if you need something else. I take it you sent for Doc Martin already?” Savannah asked. As she spoke, she was gently stroking Joe’s head, trying to soothe the hysterical child. Joe continued to squirm and struggle in Charlie’s arms, but his strength was no match for Charlie’s and his efforts were futile.

“Hoss, you’d best get going. He’ll be all right.” Charlie said.

Hoss shrugged his shoulders, then turned and untied Star’s reins and tied them to the hitching post. He mounted up and turned once more to look at the three people below him. Joe had a brief spurt of energy and increased his efforts to get down, but again he was no match for Charlie. Hoss said one last time, “Little Joe you’ll be all right and I will come back to get you as soon as I can.” As he turned to ride away, he heard his little brother begging him to take him home, “Please Hoss. Don’t leave me. Let me go Hoss, please. Hoss….Hoss…Hoss.” Hoss forced himself to keep riding away, not bothering to wipe away his own tears that streamed down his face, leaving tear tracks down his face.

*****

Chapter 23

Hoss quickened his pace as soon as he left the cabin, trying to get some distance between him and the sounds of his little brother. Hoss continued to hear the sound of his little brother pleading with him long after it was physically possible to hear him. That was something that he would never forget. It reminded him so much of what happened at Marie’s funeral. Hoss had vowed then to keep Joe safe from all harm then so that wouldn’t happen again and now here he was, barely two years later, leaving him. But Hoss also knew that his Pa and Adam were right, if Joe got the fever, he might not be able to fight it off, after having pneumonia. He just wished that keeping Little Joe safe didn’t require breaking his heart.

When Hoss rode back to the Ponderosa ranch house, the courtyard was deserted. He walked into the house and the great room was empty; Hoss had an empty feeling too. He hurried upstairs to see how Pa was doing. Adam was just coming out of the room when Hoss got there. Adam came out and quietly closed the door.

“Well how did Joe take it?” he asked.

“Adam ’bout broke my heart to leave him. He was begging me not to leave him.” Hoss answered with a desolate look on his face.

“Well he will be all right, you know how Savannah dotes on him. She’ll take good care of him.” Adam said trying to relieve his brother’s pain.

“How’s Pa?” Hoss asked Adam.

“Well he is burning up with fever and he has the chills. His breathing doesn’t sound too bad, though I did hear a little rattle. We need to keep sponging him off to try to keep the fever down and keep getting liquids in him until the doctor gets here.”

“Sam or the Doc haven’t made it back here yet?” Hoss asked, more for something to say than to expect an answer.

“Nope. Not yet. Listen why don’t you sit with Pa for a while and I will go clean up the supper dishes and then I will bring some more cool water up to you. Just keep him sponged off as much as you can. Holler if you need me.”

“Okay, Adam, you think the Doc will be getting here soon?”

“Well if Sam can find him. I told him not to come home ’til he found him.”

Hoss went into Pa’s bedroom and went to his bedside. He could tell that his fever was higher than it had been earlier. His face was burning red, with sweat beads on his face. His breathing seemed to be raspier than it had been earlier, too. He prayed that Doctor Martin would get there soon. He sponged his Pa’s forehead and readjusted his covers, hoping to make him more comfortable. As he was wiping his forehead, Pa opened his eyes and looked at him, recognition evident in his eyes.

“Hey, Pa. How you feeling?”

“Okay, Hoss. I’ll be okay. Don’t worry.”

“Oh sure you will be okay, Pa. I know that. You just rest now though.” Hoss said, aware that the effort of speaking was taking a toll on Pa.

“Little Joe?” Ben said simply.

“Little Joe is fine, Pa. I took him over to stay with Charlie and Savannah ’til you get better.”

Ben nodded his head and closed his eyes, exhausted from the brief conversation.

Hoss sat down and waited and watched. Soon Adam came upstairs with a new pitcher of water to replenish the wash basin. “Hoss why don’t you get a few hours of sleep now? I’ll stay with Pa, then I’ll wake you when I get too tired. We need to take turns so we don’t both get too tired to help Pa.”

“What about the Doc?”

“Sam rode in right after you came up here. He got a message to the Doc, but Doc Martin is tied up with the miners right now. They have about 30 cases of fever. He said he would try to get here tomorrow and for us to keep doing what we are doing. I think we are in this alone, Hoss.”

Hoss agreed that since the Doc may not make it tonight that they should alternate, so after making Adam promise to come get him in three hours or sooner if Pa’s condition changed, he went to lie down for a brief nap. As he passed by Little Joe’s room on the way back to his, he stopped and went quietly into the room. The room seemed large and empty. He looked around and realized that Adam had been in such a hurry that he had not packed any of Little Joe’s special things—his pinto pony book was still on the shelf, his mother’s picture was still on the dresser, and even his bag of marbles was still there. Little Joe took those marbles with him everywhere, even if they were going to Virginia City for a day. Hoss smiled as he remembered the last time Little Joe had taken his marbles with him to Virginia City. They had been going to church and no one knew that he had them with him. But sometime during the sermon, Little Joe had taken them out of his pocket and opened the bag to play with them. That wasn’t a problem, until he fell asleep. When he fell asleep, his grip on the bag relaxed and the marble bag fell to the floor, sending the colorful marbles all over the three pews behind them. That was bad enough but when the children in the surrounding seats realized that there were marbles on the floor—they had all tried to help pick them up. Children were climbing under seats, around people’s feet, startling unsuspecting people—generally setting off a melee from which the minister could never restore a quiet and prayerful solitude. Hoss laughed out loud remembering the ruckus that had caused. Joe had spent the afternoon in his room over that. Hoss hoped fervently that his little brother was doing okay.

*****

As Hoss rode off, Charlie continued to hold onto Little Joe. Charlie knew that if he released Joe too soon, he would go try to catch Hoss and he had a feeling that Hoss wouldn’t be able to leave him if he did that. “Come on, Sav, let’s go inside”. They went inside carrying Little Joe, who was still fighting, but his will and his strength were both flagging by this time.

“Here, Charlie, bring him to me” Savannah said as she sat down into a rocking chair by the fire. Charlie handed her Little Joe, who by this time seemed to have lost all fight and was becoming limp. Savannah took the child in her arms and began to rock and talk to him in a low, soft, soothing voice. She took a handkerchief out of her pocket and wiped his face, then she pushed the hair that had fallen down on his forehead in soft, wet curls back. Without thinking she said, “Little Joe your hair is just like your mother’s.” When she said this, the child who had been calming down, began to cry again. “Joseph, I am sorry. I know you miss your Mama. Sssh now, it will be okay. Just relax now. Ssh.” She continued to console and rock him, talking to him softly, then she began to hum a lullaby to him. Gradually, he quieted and the crying stopped except for an occasional spasm, then he fell asleep.

Charlie and Savannah shared a look of relief over the sleeping child’s head. Savannah continued to rock him and hum softly as she and Charlie had a quiet conversation. “I sure hope Ben doesn’t have the fever. For Ben’s sake and for the sake of this little boy. It would just be too tragic for him to lose his Mama and Papa while he is so young.” Savannah said. Charlie agreed, “Yeah I don’t rightly know how Adam and Hoss could manage one so young and run that Ponderosa.” Unfortunately the child Savannah was rocking was not truly asleep; instead he was in a half-awake, half-asleep state and he heard what they were saying through the daze of sleep and exhaustion. He was too tired to question what they were saying; his mind accepted it as fact.

Finally after Savannah was convinced that Joseph was asleep, she moved him into the spare bedroom and put him to bed. She didn’t want to risk waking him, so she just slipped his boots off and covered him up in his clothes. She stood by the side of the bed watching him before she left the room, reflecting upon her desire to have a child like him and wondering why that had never happened. Then she blew out the lamp and left the room, closing the door behind her. She walked back out to the fireplace and joined Charlie on the couch in front of the fireplace.

*****

Chapter 24

What Savannah didn’t see as she watched Joe from the doorway, was that Little Joe was not really asleep. His eyes were closed and he was pretending to sleep, but the tears rolling down his face would have given him away had she been looking closely at him. When Savannah left the room and closed the door behind her, Little Joe opened his eyes. He didn’t get up immediately because it was dark in the room and he was afraid of the dark. His Papa and brothers and Hop Sing always left the lantern in his room burning. Thinking of his family brought back the fear that had been intensifying ever since he saw his Papa was sick. His Papa looked so white, so still, “What if he died, too? What if he died and he never got to see him again? What if he didn’t get to tell his Papa he was sorry about the bad things he did?” Then another thought entered his mind that further intensified the terror gripping his heart. “What if Charlie were right? What if his Papa left? Would Adam and Hoss send him away?”

Little Joe lay there, insecure, afraid, and alone. He had cried so much that he couldn’t cry anymore. His head was hurting and his tummy was feeling funny, too, so he lay there, trying to talk himself out of his fears and to think of what had to be done. He had realized right away what had to be done, but he hadn’t been able to tell Hoss or Adam before Hoss left him. Now it was up to him to do it. He wished he could ask Charlie for help but he knew that since Hoss had brought him over here, Charlie wouldn’t listen to him either. He was gonna have to do it himself. He would have to go get Hop Sing himself. He remembered Hop Sing’s parting words to him, Hop Sing make deal with Little Joe. If Little Joe need Hop Sing, just send someone to town and Hop Sing come right home.” Little Joe figured he needed Hop Sing more now than he ever had in the past. If anyone could get Papa well and take care of him, it was Hop Sing. Now he just had to get the message to him.

He could hear Charlie and Savannah talking outside the bedroom. He knew he would have to wait for them to go to bed before he could leave, so they wouldn’t wake up. He would then have to get to the barn and saddle Star, something that he usually had help with, but there would be no help tonight. Then he would just go to Virginia City and go to Chinatown and someone there would help him find Hop Sing. He knew that if he could find his way to Hop Ling’s house he would help him find Hop Sing. Then Hop Sing would come home and he would take care of everything. Yep, all he had to do was go find Hop Sing and everything would be all right. He decided he would sleep a little now that he had a plan and wait until Charlie and Savannah were asleep before he left.

*****

Adam and Hoss had taken turns tending to their father throughout the night. Despite their efforts, Pa’s fever had continued to rise and he was burning up right now and speaking out of his head when he spoke at all. They winced when they heard him call out for Marie or speak of his sailing days. He occasionally called out to one of his three sons, carrying on a two-sided conversation that only he could hear both sides. It was especially painful when they realized he was trying to coax Little Joe into eating some long past meal. About two AM, Pa’s fever seemed to be critically high and they sent another man to try to locate either Doc Martin or Doc Li to come to their father. By this time, they were using ice water to sponge Pa to try to bring down his fever. Despite his delirium, they managed to get him to swallow cold water to keep him from getting dehydrated and they gave him ice chips to melt in his mouth. Still, his fever raged and Hoss and Adam were beginning to feel very hopeless.

Several hours after falling asleep, Little Joe woke up. He was confused at first because he didn’t remember where he was, but as sleep faded, he remembered where he was and why he was there and what he had to do. Despite the lantern not being on, there was light from a full moon shining through the window. Joe was thankful for that. He slipped out of bed and picked up his boots. He considered going out the window, but since it was next to the window of the other bedroom, he was afraid that would make too much noise, so he crept over and slowly and carefully opened the door and looked around. There was no one in sight and the house was still, except he could hear Charlie snoring from the room next door. Joe half-smiled, remembering the arguments he had heard Savannah and Charlie have over whether or not Charlie snored.

Little Joe closed the bedroom door behind him and headed to the front door. He had to reach as high as he could to reach the latch but he was able to get the latch unlocked. He carefully closed the door behind him and then sat down on the stoop and pulled on his boots that he was carrying in his hands. Then he stood up, squared his shoulders and headed towards the barn. It took all his courage to go into the barn, since there was no light. He thought about lighting the lantern, but since he wasn’t allowed to use matches, he couldn’t light it, so he had to work in the dark. It took him much longer than he would have liked to get Star saddled, since he had no one to help with the harder parts. At home, someone always helped him put the saddle on the pony and get the bridle on and the bit in the mouth.

Finally, Little Joe had Star saddled and ready to ride. He carefully led the pony out of the barn and was disappointed to see that the full moon was now blocked by clouds–nasty-looking clouds at that. It was not going to be as easy to get to Virginia City as he had thought, but still he had to go get Hop Sing to help his Papa. He would just have to be very careful. Little Joe knew the way to Virginia City from the Ponderosa, but it was a little different going from Charlie’s. He could just go back to the Ponderosa and then go from there, but that would add extra time to the trip and he needed to find Hop Sing and get back to the Ponderosa as soon as possible. He would have to find his way from Charlie’s straight to Virginia City. He took a deep breath, squared his small shoulders, and sat up straight in the saddle and began the trip to Virginia City in the dark.

*****

Chapter 25

Little Joe tried to think positive thoughts as he rode to keep his fears at bay. The paths were unfamiliar to him and he was concentrating hard to remember which way to go. He wished the clouds were gone so that he could use the stars to guide him, like his Papa had taught him. The clouds were if anything getting darker and heavier and the wind was starting to get higher, too. He had rode for what seemed like hours and he knew that he still had a long way to go. The territory was becoming more and more unfamiliar to him and he wasn’t sure he was heading in the right direction. Still he kept going, determined to get to Virginia City to find Hop Sing. Hop Sing would know what to do. This thought kept him going, despite the ever-increasing wind and threat of a thunderstorm.

He came to a part of the path that he did not remember ever seeing before. The path veered off in three directions here. None of them looked well-traveled, so he wasn’t sure if either of them actually went to Virginia City. He paused momentarily trying to decide what the best thing to do was. He considered turning back and back-tracking and going by the Ponderosa, but he rejected this idea quickly. His desperation to get help for his Papa before it was too late, drove him to choose a path and follow it. Seeing no path with a noticeable advantage, he chose the one that looked the straightest and spurred Star on.

By this time, the rain finally started falling, in heavy sheets that pelted him and the pony. He wished he had a jacket or rain slicker, but he didn’t, so he just kept going. The pony, not used to being out in the elements or even at night, was becoming skittish and difficult to manage. Little Joe coaxed her and encouraged her on. He had gone about two miles when the path again came to a crossroads, hardly pausing, he chose a path and continued on his way, praying that he was making the right choice. As he rode he engaged in a conversation with God, asking him to please spare his father. In return he promised to obey his father, eat his carrots instead of hiding them in his napkin, and always remember to say his prayers before he fell asleep. After a few seconds of this conversation, he apologized to God for the marbles in the church, hoping that was not something that was unforgivable.

He continued on the path for another 35 or 40 minutes, going as fast as he dared, constantly reassuring his hesitant pony, urging them on. As he came around a bend in the path, he was elated at what he saw. There less than 200 yards in front of him was the Virginia City road, leading directly into Virginia City. He had chosen the right path and the rest of the trip should be easy now. He halted the horse momentarily to let her rest and he relaxed his hold on the reins slightly, to allow the pony to relax, too. Just at that time, a loud clap of thunder roared and a lightning bolt hit a tree standing about 20 yards away. Both Joe and Star were momentarily stunned. Unfortunately, Star recovered from the initial shock of the noise faster than Little Joe. The pony reared and took off running. Little Joe was unprepared and was thrown from the pony, hitting the ground with a thud. He was conscious when he hit the ground and he thought of his Papa and that he had to go get Hop Sing. As he tried to sit up, he felt himself becoming dizzy and despite his efforts to fight it off, soon blackness engulfed him and he was no longer aware of his surroundings.

*****

‘Naldo Prasko sat under the canopy of his wagon, enjoying mother nature’s display of lightning and thunder. He had arisen to make sure that the horses were safely corralled and secure. The horses were used to being in the weather and they were standing peacefully in the rain, waiting for it to pass. While he sat there, enjoying the ferocity of the storm, his mother came and smiled at him. “‘Naldo, I thought I would find you here.” She said. He slipped over and made room for her to sit beside him. They sat companionably for several minutes, watching the sky, the only sounds they made were “oohs” and “ahs” over a spectacular bolt of lightning. They watched as one struck the ground, about a quarter of a mile away. The thunder clap was louder than a cannon and the lightning bolt itself seemed to light up the entire sky.

“What troubles you, ‘Naldo?” she asked, for she knew that there had been something on his mind for several days. Despite his gay and carefree attitude, she knew that her son’s heart was as soft as butter. When something bothered him, she could tell it. He looked at her and with a small smile, said,

“I can never fool you, my sweet Mama.”

“And you had better remember that , eh, ‘Naldo!” she laughed at him. “Now what are you so worried about? Is it just being still for too long when you are ready to travel?” For she knew that ‘Naldo, a Gypsy through and through, was never happy unless they were traveling with open road in front of them. This fever quarantine had made everyone a little jumpy, especially the men.

“That is of course, part of it, oh wise Mother. I long for the road, for new campfires, and new splendors to see.” He replied.

“But what is the other part, ‘Naldo? What else troubles you? We have food, we have enough money to buy supplies, we have our families and our horses. What else is it that you want ‘Naldo?”

“I wish that all white men could see the Gypsy as Little Joseph does. It saddens me to think that in time, he will become one of them–distrustful and filled with hatred for our people.”

“You do not know that, Son. Little Joseph seems to have a mind of his own even at his young age. It is possible that in time, he will convince others to view our people as he does, rather than the other way around.” She smiled at him.

They both laughed thinking how the little boy had already shown that he was an independent thinker and how that had apparently gotten him into much trouble—long before they had even met him. “Still I wish I could have the opportunity to see him one more time before we leave to tell him good bye. I do not believe that his Father will grant me that wish. And I can not go against his father’s wishes, no matter what.” He said, sadly. His mother reached over and patted him on the arm, saying, ‘Naldo, sometimes you need to do some talking instead of just thinking. As she said this she raised her eyebrows and indicated the sky. ‘Naldo laughed and said, “Yes, MaMa, I will talk about it to Him. Now we must get to bed before my sweet wife misses me.” He said. “Oh she knows where you are, Son. She told me to come keep you company because she was tending to little Anna.”

Just as they were getting ready to go back into the wagon, they heard a horse approaching. They looked and were surprised to see a small pony, saddled, but no rider approach the corral. ‘Naldo quickly ran out into the rain and by speaking gently and softly, he calmed the animal down enough so that he could approach. He grabbed the reins of the pony and led it back to the canopy of the wagon. He examined the horse for injuries and didn’t see any. His mother was watching him and they were both trying to solve the puzzle of where the pony came from and why it was out in the night.

Neither of them saw Joseph come out of the wagon. He went directly to the pony and patted him on the head. “Papa, this is Joseph’s pony! See the brand of the pine tree. Joseph told me it was the brand of the Ponderosa. And see the star on his muzzle—that is his name, Star.” ‘Naldo reacted to this news, quickly. “MaMa wake the other men, we must try to follow the tracks of this pony before the rain obliterates them. Little Joseph must have been riding this pony and he could be hurt somewhere. We must find him. Quickly, Joseph, you rub this pony down and stable him.”

Shortly the Gypsy was alive with movement, as men saddled their horses and women began to make coffee and food for the men. ‘Naldo allowed Joseph to go with them since he was Little Joseph’s friend. Within 10 minutes of the pony wandering into their camp, the Gypsy men were on their way, trying to trace the pony’s trail. Following the trail was difficult but not impossible. The rain had washed away some of the signs, but in places where the mud was deep and the pony had slid or bogged into the mud, there were tracks evident. They followed the tracks for about an hour and a half, going slowly, retracing their path sometimes.

Just as the rain was giving way and dawn was approaching, they saw the small figure lying by the side of the trail. The Gypsies jumped down immediately; ‘Naldo reached the little boy first. He very carefully examined the boy’s limbs and didn’t find any broken bones. He then cautiously lifted the boy’s head and found a large bump on the back of his head, where he had hit the road. Little Joe was pale and his breathing was slightly irregular, and he was cold and completely soaked. ‘Naldo said, “Let us get him back to the camp quickly. ‘Naldo supervised another man who picked Little Joe up, and after ‘Naldo mounted his horse, he handed him over to ‘Naldo who rode back to the camp, cradling Little Joe.

When they got to the wagons, the two Mrs. Praskos immediately took possession of the child, shooing the men away to get into dry clothes and get warm. The two Mrs. Praskos removed Joe’s wet clothing and dried him with blankets warmed by the fire. They examined him carefully and found some bruises on his back and the bump on his head but found no other injuries. As they worked, they talked to him, encouraging him to respond. Gradually, Little Joe began to wake up. He at first thought he was home in his own bed and that his mother was talking to him. Excited, he tried to sit up, but a wave of dizziness came over him and he lay down again.

GrandMaMa Prasko’s voice finally got through Joe’s fog and he opened his eyes and seeing GrandMaMa Prasko, he attempted to smile. “Hi, Mrs. Prasko.” He said softly.

“Well hello young man. How do you feel?”

“I’m okay” he said, trying to get up again.

This time, Mrs. Prasko gently pushed back on his shoulders keeping him on the bed.

“You just rest a bit, Joseph. Now what were doing out in this weather?” she asked.

Joe didn’t answer for a minute as he tried to remember what he was doing out in that weather. When he did remember, his eyes opened wide and a frantic look came upon him. “I have to go to Virginia City…I have to go get Hop Sing… I have to go….” he said.

By this time, ‘Naldo had come back into the wagon. “What is so important that you can not wait for daybreak to go into Virginia City, Little Joseph? And why is it you are alone?”

“My Papa is sick. Hop Sing can help him. I gotta go get Hop Sing. Please Mr. Prasko. I just gotta go get Hop Sing.” Joe’s eyes were filled with tears and it looked as if he might become hysterical at any moment.

“Ssh, Joseph. We will help you. Calm down and tell me what is going on.” ‘Naldo said to comfort the child.

After hearing the entire story, ‘Naldo said, “Joseph, I will take you back to your family and if necessary, I will then go to Virginia City myself and find this Hop Sing for you. Now you just lie there and rest for a few minutes.

After ‘Naldo had gone out to ready his horse again, GrandMaMa Prasko began to question Little Joe about his father’s illness. Little Joe described everything that he heard Adam and Hoss and Charlie and Savannah say and what his father had looked like when he went into his bedroom. GrandMaMa Prasko smiled at Joseph and said, “Don’t worry Little Joseph, I will help your Papa. It is going to be okay.” Joe’s eyes lit up with relief, he was sure GrandMaMa Prasko could help his Papa.

GrandMaMa Prasko went out to her son and said, ‘Naldo I am going with you to the Cartwright Ranch. I must go help Joseph’s Papa.”

“But Mama, Mr. Cartwright does not trust us. He will not want our help, however well-intentioned it is.” ‘Naldo tried to dissuade her. However, once her mind was made up, she was not to be dissuaded.

She looked at her son and said, “‘Reginaldo Joseph Prasko, do I have to saddle a horse and ride it or will you please ready the small wagon for me?”, her voice leaving no doubt that she was indeed going with or without him to the Ponderosa.

When his mother got that way, he knew it was futile to argue, so he sighed and said, “I will ready the wagon quickly, Mama.” She smiled at him and said, “thank you Son.”

Then she turned and went to ready Joseph for the trip to the Ponderosa. Since his clothes were soaked, she found some children’s clothes that would fit him and dressed him, letting him doze slightly in the warmth of the wagon. Joe’s color was starting to return and his shivering was starting to go away, too. She fed him some hot broth and then pronounced him ready to travel. She supervised ‘Naldo in wrapping him in blankets and carrying him to the waiting wagon. Finally she went back to the wagon and retrieved her bag of medicinal herbs and her book of herbal remedy recipes, then they set out for the Ponderosa Ranch. So, just as dawn was breaking, the wagon came into the Ponderosa courtyard. At almost the exact same time, a horse came riding up into the courtyard, a grim expression on his face. Adam and Hoss both came expectantly to the door, thinking at long last that Doctor Martin or Dr. Li had arrived.

*****

Chapter 26

Adam and Hoss hardly knew what sight to attend to at first, the wagon or the lone rider slightly ahead of the rider. However, as they drew nearer, Adam recognized Charlie before he recognized the occupants of the wagon. Upon seeing Adam and Hoss, Charlie rode his horse all the way to the porch and dismounted hurriedly.

“Charlie, what’s wrong?” Adam asked, alarmed at the early arrival.

“It’s Little Joe….” Charlie shouted.

“It’s Little Joe!” Hoss shouted.

Now Adam, Hoss, and Charlie were all confused. Charlie and Adam turned to the direction that Hoss was pointing and sure enough, in the wagon sat a woman with a sleeping child, bundled in a blanket, whose curly brown hair identified him unmistakably as Little Joe Cartwright. The man sitting in the wagon had jumped down by this time to assist the woman holding the child to get off the wagon. Hoss, however, came and pushed the man aside and took his little brother in his arms, looking anxiously at the child.

“What’s the meaning of this? How did Little Joe get….” Adam shouted, looking first at the woman and then at Charlie.

“Mr. Cartwright, perhaps we could move into the house to get Little Joseph out of the elements?” Mrs. Prasko said, moving towards the house and taking Hoss by the arm and steering him in that direction.

Charlie, Adam, and ‘Naldo followed her without questioning the question that wasn’t a question, but a command.

When they entered the house, Mrs. Prasko said, “Mr. Cartwright if you would be so kind as to show me where Little Joseph’s room is?” Again she directed Hoss and he said “Yes, Ma’am. This way” indicating the stairs. As they started up the stairs, followed by the other men, she turned back and looked at them and said, “‘Naldo, would you please explain to these gentlemen how it is that Little Joseph came to us?” Again this was a command, not a question. ‘Naldo, said, “Yes, of course, MaMa. Mr. Cartwright, Mr. ?” he started indicating Charlie. He led them back towards the sofa.

Adam finally found his voice and spoke up, “Wait a minute. Is Little Joe all right?”

Mrs. Prasko smiled at him and said, “He will be fine, Mr. Cartwright.” Then she continued up the stairs. When they came to Little Joe’s room, she directed Hoss to put Joe in bed. When Hoss pulled back the covers and put him under the comforter, Little Joe rolled over and snuggled up, as if he had been there all night. By the time Hoss covered him up, Little Joe was dreaming. Mrs. Prasko briefly told Hoss what had happened and why Little Joe had been out alone. Hoss said, “I knew I shouldn’t have left him. If anything happened to him…” “Ssh. Nothing happened to him that some sleep and some warm covers and hot tea won’t cure.”

“Now then, Mr. Cartwright.” She started, but Hoss interrupted her.

“Ma’am, I wish you would call me Hoss, there are too many Mr. Cartwrights around here already.”

“Certainly, Hoss. You may call me Grandma Prasko. Now then, please take me to your father.”

“Ma’am, Pa is not up to visitors right now. Maybe if you would wait ’til Pa is feeling better….” Hoss said.

“Nonsense, Hoss. Now take me to your father. How can I take care of him if I do not know where he is?” As she said this she was headed out the door. Hoss, taken aback, led her to his father’s door. Then he tried again, “Mrs. Prasko.” “Grandma Prasko” she corrected.

“Yes Ma’am, I mean grandma Prasko, Pa ain’t feeling well. We think he may have the fever. You ought not to…” Mrs. Prasko simply pushed Hoss aside and entered the room. When she entered the room, she went directly to Pa’s side and put her hand on his forehead and frowned when she felt the heat. Next she moved over to the dresser next to the bed and moved some items over to the side. She opened the bag that she had been carrying with her and took a fresh towel off the bedside stand and spread it out on the dresser. She began to take bottles, jars, and bags out of the bag and arrange them neatly on the towel. She put one hand on her mouth and closed her eyes as if in concentration, then as if making a decision, she rummaged in the bag for a final selection. She surveyed all the items and then as if satisfied, she closed the bag and placed it on the floor.

Hoss was unsure of what was happening or what to do about it. “Ma’am?” he said.

As if remembering he was there for the first time, she turned to him and said, “Hoss, please go put the kettle on and bring me the water when it boils. Also I will require several pots and spoons and cups.” Hoss continued to stand there, as if rooted in his spot. She spoke more loudly and more forcefully, “Hoss, go heat the water please. Do you not want to see your father get well?” Hoss made a decision himself, “Yes, Ma’am, Grandma Prasko. Hot water coming up.” With that he left the room.”

Mrs. Prasko pulled out a handwritten notebook from her pocket and began to turn the pages looking for exactly the right one. “Ah, yes, this is just the thing for you Mr. Cartwright.” She said as she found the page:

Anise-Willow Bark Tea

anise
linden blossoms
black elderberry blossoms
rosemary
ground willow bark
Mix 1 handful of anise, linden blossom, black elderberry blossoms, and rosemary
with 1 tablespoon of ground willow bark. Use one tablespoon per cup of tea. Cover
mixture with boiling water. Steep for 13 minutes.
 Sip one cup of tea two or three times a day. This tea will make you sweat (or if you are a lady, perspire). Therefore, the patient must remain in bed. After the sweating has subsided, quickly rub the patient with a sponge dipped in cold water and wrap him or her in a previously warmed towel.

As Hoss came hurrying down the stairs he ran into Adam just coming up the stairs. “Is Little Joe all right Hoss?” he asked anxiously. “He sneaked out of Charlie’s and Savannah’s in the middle of the night. Apparently the storm scared Star and he got thrown. Star wandered into the Gypsy camp and they went looking for him and found him.” Adam explained quickly.

“Yeah, Adam, Mrs. Prasko explained that part to me. But why do you think he left Charlie’s?” Hoss asked puzzled.

“Oh ‘Naldo said that Joe said something about having to go get Hop Sing to come make Pa all right.”

“Huh. That makes sense. Little Joe thinks Hop Sing can fix anything.”

“Well thank goodness they found him when they did.” Adam said.

“Is Mrs. Prasko still with Joe?” Adam asked.

“No, Adam, she is with Pa and I have to go get her some hot water. I don’t want her to have to tell me again.” With that, Hoss hurried past Adam, leaving Adam puzzled. Adam stood looking after Hoss briefly then headed up the stairs to his father’s room. When he came to Little Joe’s room, he couldn’t resist peeking in on his little brother. When he first looked all he could see was a spot of soft curly brown hair on the white pillow. He walked over and looked more closely. Little Joe looked a little pale, but his color seemed to be coming back and he was snuggled in and sleeping soundly. Out of habit, he reached up to brush the hair out of his eyes and tucked his blankets in a little tighter. Then he left the room, leaving the door open so they could hear him when he woke up.

He then went into his father’s room, and was struck by what he saw. Mrs. Prasko had taken over the room. She had rearranged the furniture to suit her, opened the window, and had removed some of Pa’s blankets. She had also repositioned him so that he looked more comfortable and had placed a fresh cool cloth on his forehead. She was standing beside the window reading something and looking at something on a towel on the dresser. He wasn’t sure what to do, so he simply used that old trick when one didn’t know what to do, he cleared his throat.

Mrs. Prasko turned around, but frowned when she saw him.

“Oh it is you, Mr. Cartwright. I hoped it was your brother with the hot water. Do you know what is keeping him?” she asked.

“Er, he will be right up, Ma’am. Mrs. Prasko, just what are you doing here?” Adam asked forcefully.

“I promised your little brother that I would take care of his Papa and that is what I am going to do, Mr. Cartwright. NOW, if you will please go hurry your brother with my hot water and then if you would be so kind as to bring me some cold water and perhaps some ice?” as she said this, she gently but firmly pushed Adam out the door. As soon as she closed the door behind him, she returned to Pa’s bedside and began to rearrange his covers and to wipe the sheen from his brow.

Adam passed Hoss on the way upstairs carrying a huge kettle of hot water. He stopped, expecting Adam to say something to him. Adam did, he said, “Well hurry up, she is waiting for you.” Adam ran downstairs to see about getting some cold water and ice. He found Charlie and ‘Naldo still waiting by the fireplace. ‘Naldo was telling Charlie about Little Joe’s infamous ride on King Frederick.

“You should have seen him. Back as straight as a rod.” ‘Naldo bragged.

Charlie frowned as he recalled Ben’s anger when he told him about seeing Joseph on that huge stallion.

“No wonder you and Ben got off on the wrong foot, ‘Naldo. Joe’s mother was killed by falling off a horse and Ben is awful particular with that boy. More so because of that, but also that boy can try the patience of a saint sometimes. He has a mind of his own.”

“Yes, I can see that is true. If I had known that I would not have allowed Joseph to ride Frederick. I must apologize to his father. But he is also a very brave little boy to attempt such a ride on such a night.”
They stopped talking when they saw Adam approaching them.

“Adam, is there anything I can do for you?” Charlie asked.

“No, Charlie, Mrs. Prasko seems to have everything under control right now. We sent one of the men to see if they could find Dr. Martin or Dr. Li. I guess later you could send someone to let Hop Sing know that Pa is sick. Joe had a good idea, if he had just told someone else about it.” Adam said ruefully.

“Well, then Adam I am gonna get on back home and tell Savannah so she can quit worrying. She has probably done wore a path in the house pacing by now. You know how she feels about that boy. I will be back later and take care of all the chores and the men. You just take care of your Pa and little brother. I sure am sorry ’bout him getting out and all, Adam.”

“Don’t worry, Charlie. We know how Little Joe is once he makes up his mind to do something.” Adam clapped Charlie on the back in a warm, friendly gesture as they headed towards the door.

“Well, Mr. Cartwright, I too, must be on my way, unless of course I can be of further service to you. I take it my MaMa will be staying for a while?”

Adam smiled, “I am sure not gonna try to stop her!”

‘Naldo laughed and said, “If you would be so kind to let me know if my Mama requires me or when she is ready to return to the camp. I will come and collect her. She wants to help is all, Mr. Cartwright. She promised your little brother that she would take care of his Papa and she will not go back on her word.” ‘Naldo smiled as he said this.

“You know ‘Naldo, I believe you are right and I wouldn’t want to risk the fate of trying to prevent that, I don’t think.”

“That is a wise decision, Adam. I am a grown man, but I do not cross my Ma Ma!” he said laughing. Then in a serious tone, he added, “Your father is in very good hands with my MaMa, Adam.” With that, he headed out the door and to the wagon. Adam turned back to the kitchen to fetch ice and water for Mrs. Prasko.

*****

Chapter 27

Adam got the ice and a fresh pitcher of water and went back up the stairs, again peeking in on Little Joe who was still sound asleep, but all the covers were strewn on the floor. Shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head, he went in and straightened the covers, again tucking him in tightly. Then he headed into his father’s room and this time it looked even less like his father’s bedroom. Hoss and Mrs. Prasko were both absorbed looking into a pot that she was stirring. A very pungent, yet vaguely familiar odor was taking possession of the room. Again Adam cleared his throat to get Mrs. Prasko’s attention.

She turned to him and said, “Well, it is about time.” Turning back to her pot, she said, “Ah, now it is ready.” She looked from one brother to the other as if sizing them up for an important mission.

She said, “Hoss, you must help me get your father into a sitting position and hold him up. Adam you must give him this cup of tea to drink.”

“Wait a minute what is in this tea?” Adam risked saying. Mrs. Prasko did not respond; instead she stood straight and looked at him, making him avert his eyes in embarrassment.

“It’s all right, Adam. It is some herbs and stuff like Hop Sing uses sometimes. It is okay. Don’t it smell like licorice candy to you, Adam?”

Adam immediately recognized the smell then and realized that it wouldn’t hurt Pa, even if it didn’t help him. So he said, “All right then, get him sitting up.”

Hoss, under Mrs. Prasko’s direction, moved Pa into a sitting position and sat holding him. Mrs. Prasko then gave Adam the cup and instructed him to coax his father into drinking it. She stood back, out of sight while he did this. It took some cajoling and they had to wake him up several times and force him to drink, but they did eventually get all the hot tea into him. Then Mrs. Prasko directed them to reposition Ben in bed comfortably and to place a fresh cool compress over his forehead and eyes.

“He will begin to sweat soon now, and it will be your job to keep him bathed off so that the fever can leave him.” She said.

“Now I must prepare the ointment for his cough and breathing while you do that.” She said and again reached into her pocket and pulled out the book that Hoss had seen her looking at.

“Ah yes, this is the one.” She said, looking closely at a page in the book. “Now let me see if I have everything I will need.” She began to look over the items on the towel and then to search for something in the bag.

“May I see that?” Adam asked, still a little uncomfortable with her potions and herbal cures.

“Of course, Mr. Cartwright” she said, showing the page to him.

Adam read:

Cough Salve

Mix 1/2 cup each of pine resin and cold-pressed olive oil to a creamy consistency.
Add 7 drops of thyme oil.
Smooth the salve onto the chest and back, cover with cotton padding, and wrap the
 upper body warmly.

Again Adam decided that the cure would do no harm if it didn’t do any good. And when Little Joe had pneumonia, Doctor Martin had put some kind of salve on Joe’s chest too. He didn’t know if it helped, but he knew Joe sure hated it.

While Adam read the recipe for the salve, Mrs. Prasko had busied herself in mixing it up. When she saw Adam watching her, she said, “This pine resin comes from the big pine trees right here. Little Joseph told me that they are called Ponderosa Pines and that is why this land is called the Ponderosa. Such a good name for such a beautiful land.” She smiled at Adam.

“Now, Hoss, if you will again sit your father up.” Hoss did as he was told and Adam helped. Soon they had the cough salve all over their Pa’s chest and Mrs. Prasko wrapped him up in smooth cotton padding that she had gotten out of her bag.

“Now, then we let your father rest. One of you stay with him and just keep him bathed off with the cool water as he sweats. The other one of you should rest. You both look like you have had too many nights without sleep. I now go to see about Little Joseph. You will call me if your father needs me, please.” They both realized that it was not a question and said “Yes, Ma’am” at the same time.

Hoss said, “Adam why don’t you go rest for a while? I will stay with Pa and come get you when I get tired.”

Adam nodded his head and then said, “Come get me if anything changes.”

“Don’t worry, Adam, your Pa is going to be fine.” Mrs. Prasko assured him.

For the first time in many hours, Adam and Hoss believed that was true.

Mrs. Prasko then left Pa’s room, followed closely by Adam. She headed directly toward Little Joe’s room. Adam said, “I’d like to look in on him too, before I go to sleep.”

“Of course, Adam, you will want to see your little brother. We must see if the rain or the fall has caused him any injury.”

She opened the door and went into Little Joe’s room. The first thing she and Adam both noticed were the covers all strewn, some on the floor, some at the bottom of the bed.

“Man, I just straightened those covers, not more than an hour ago and now look at ‘em.” Adam said exasperatedly.

Mrs. Prasko laughed and said, “Little Joseph is not still even in his sleep, is he? Always he must be moving, doing something. He has far to go, this little one and always in a hurry to get there, No?”

“That couldn’t be truer, Mrs. Prasko. Much to my father’s regret sometimes.” He said.

“Ah, but what your father truly objects to is his hurry to grow up, yes?” She asked with a searching look that Adam felt looked right through him.

“Yes, I suppose you are right about that, He wants to be treated as if he were as old as Hoss or me.” Adam agreed.

Their conversation, although soft eventually filtered through to Little Joe and he began to wake up. He moved around in the bed as if he were trying to escape from sleep and sleep was winning the battle. Gradually however, the struggle turned in his favor, and he began to blink his eyes. Finally after several minutes, he opened his eyes and they stayed open. He looked around the room, confused at first, but then he saw Adam and Mrs. Prasko standing side by side by the bed. His first response was to rub his eyes again, to make sure he was seeing clearly. Then he smiled—a broad, warm smile that both Adam and Mrs. Prasko responded to in kind.

“Hi, Adam.”

“Hi, Grandma Prasko. What are you doing here?” he asked still confused. While Adam and Mrs. Prasko responded to his greeting, his memories of the previous night came back and he sat upright in bed and started to get up. Adam and Grandma Prasko both put out a hand to halt his egress from the bed.

“Papa! I have to go see Papa. I have to go get Hop Sing.” Joe said frantically, pushing against the restraining arms.

“Little Joe you just lie still now.” Adam said, firmly.

“But Adam, Papa…” Joe attempted to argue with his brother.

Mrs. Prasko said, “There, Little Joseph, do you not think that I can care for your Papa? Did you not go with me to collect the resin from the Ponderosa pines? Do you doubt my abilities so quickly Little Joseph?”

Joe was confused again, but didn’t want Grandma Prasko to think he doubted her.

“No, Ma’am, but my Papa is sick and I have to go get Hop Sing.” He didn’t want to hurt her feelings by having to tell her that Papa would never let her take care of him, but he knew that he wouldn’t. No matter how sick he was.

“Joe, Mrs. Prasko is taking care of Pa and she is doin’ a fine job. Now you just quit worryin’ about Pa and tell us how you are.” Adam said, as he pushed Joe’s curly hair off his forehead. Joe moved his head away as Adam tried to place his hand flat on his forehead to check for a fever; he was too familiar with that maneuver.

Mrs. Prasko, smiled inwardly at the little boy, but outwardly she put on a stern face and said, “Now then what shall we do with little boys who go riding in the middle of the night in a storm, Mr. Cartwright?”

Adam took his cue from Mrs. Prasko and said with a threatening expression, “Well I know what Pa would say about it”.

“But Adam I just was gonna go get Hop Sing to come take care of Pa…” Little Joe started to say. But the long night and exposure to the rain manifested itself and he started to cough. Immediately the joking was put aside as Adam and Mrs. Prasko moved to help him control the coughing.

“Get him some water, please Adam.” She directed, while she patted Joe on the back.

When Joe’s coughing subsided, he drank some of the water, then lay back against Grandma Prasko to rest a bit. She felt his forehead and frowned momentarily, then she said, “Well I think Joseph is going to need some of my medicine too.”

Joe was feeling better by then and said, “No Grandma, I am all right. I just wanna go see Papa.”

“You will stay right here in this bed, young man, until Grandma tells you to get up.” She said firmly with her hands on her hips. “Is that clear, young man?” she said.

“Jeez you sound just like Papa, Grandma. I am all right.” He argued.

“Joe, a bit of advice from one brother to another: You are wasting your time arguing with her. Better just to do what she says.” Adam said with a smirk.

“But….” Joe started, then seeing the stern look being fixed upon him by Grandma Prasko, he thought better of it and didn’t finish his argument.

“Much better, Little Joseph. Adam, will you stay with your brother for a few more minutes? I must go prepare some medicine for him. It will not take long. Then you must rest.” She left the room as she said this, and once again Adam straightened Joe’s covers and covered him up. He noticed that Joe was not arguing nearly as much as he would have if he were really feeling all right.

Soon Grandma Prasko was back with a cup of a new concoction. As she walked into the room, she handed the book of recipes over to Adam and said, “it is the page on the right of the mark”, knowing that he would want to read the ingredients before letting Joe drink it. He shrugged, not really feeling the need to check it for safety, but being naturally curious, he did read the recipe.

Tea for a cough

thyme
eucalyptus leaves
sage
black elderberry blossoms
Mix one handful of thyme and eucalyptus leaves and 1/2 handful sage and black Elderberry blossoms. Steep in boiling water for 13 minutes. Drink one cup three to six times daily.

“This is just for the cough. The fever will go away on its own when it has run its course. I also want to put some of the salve on his chest that will speed his recovery.” She said as though explaining to an assistant, which Adam had now willingly become.

“Here I will give the tea to him.” Adam said, taking the cup. He couldn’t help making a small grimace at the aroma of the dark wine-colored liquid, but he realized that it had helped him breathe easier.

Joe was lying in bed, watching the two of them, trying to figure out some way of getting out of drinking that awful smelling stuff. He knew he was outnumbered and he knew he couldn’t win an argument against both of them, so he decided that perhaps he could avoid the inevitable by pretending to be asleep. He closed his eyes and relaxed his body, hoping they would leave him alone if he were asleep. Neither of them was fooled, though they both thought it was a heroic try.

“Come on Little Joe, you aren’t fooling anyone. Here drink this” Adam said as he sat by Joe and sat him up in bed. Then he took the cup and held it right in front of Joe.

“Augh. That smells awful, Grandma. It’ll make me throw up if I drink that.” He tried, making a face at the smell.

“Let us hope not, Little Joseph because then I would have to mix up something to keep you from getting sick on your tummy, and then you would just have to take both of them.” She said, winking to Adam above the child’s head.

“All right, come on little buddy, let’s just get it over with” Adam said as he held the cup and forced the child to drink. Despite Joe’s faces and sounds that signified his displeasure, Adam eventually got all the hot liquid into him.

“There” he said when the cup was empty, “that wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Joe looked at him for a few seconds and then said, “Why don’t you have a cup, Adam?”

Adam laughed and said, “No Joe, I didn’t go riding in a storm in the middle of the night.”

“Okay, Adam, now if you will sit your brother up one more time and remove his shirt so I can apply the cough and fever salve.” Grandma Prasko said.

Joe really looked horrified at this and said, “Please no, Adam, that stuff will burn my hide off!” But Grandma Prasko said, “No Little Joseph, this will feel cool and it will make you feel better much sooner.” Over Joe’s protests, she and Adam, working as a team, soon had the salve spread all over Joe’s chest and back and wrapped him in soft flannel that Adam got her, since she didn’t have enough cotton batting left. Finally, Mrs. Prasko leaned back to survey her patient, and said, “Now, Little Joseph, you must rest and you will soon feel good as King Frederick’s new colt.” Joe doubted this, but he was tired and sleepy, so he didn’t protest much as she and Adam repositioned him and covered him up. “Now sleep” she said, and he was complying even as she finished speaking.

*****

Chapter 28

Over the next two days, Mrs. Prasko ran the Ponderosa ranch house, keeping a constant vigil over the oldest and youngest Cartwrights, and keeping the two middle Cartwrights too busy for them to worry. Ben was by far the sicker of the two, and he received many different types of Mrs. Prasko’s teas and salves, aimed at treating his various symptoms. However, once she got started with him, his fever never seemed to get any higher. She alternated the hot teas and salves and kept him comfortable and made sure he drank plenty of liquid and got plenty of fresh air.

By the second day, the biggest problem she had with Little Joe was keeping him in bed. Adam and Hoss laughed as she fussed at him, hearing her use the same kind of logic, bribery, and finally threats that Pa and Doctor Martin used to keep him in bed. Late afternoon of the second day, Adam walked into Joe’s room with some soup he had made and he heard Mrs. Prasko talking to Joe. He hesitated, not wanting to interrupt, and he was soon entranced as she told the story of her people’s flight from India to escape the civil war. Her voice was usually clear and melodic but at times, her voice became wistful as if she were remembering these events that happened long before she was born. Adam cleared his throat and walked into the room, saying “Don’t stop, Mrs. Prasko. That is fascinating.” So she continued to talk, telling tale after tale about the flight of her ancestors and how they had gone from India to Asia to Europe, and finally to America. Adam was as mesmerized by the story as Little Joe was.

Little Joe’s illness amounted to not much more than a bad cold with some coughing and moderate fever. Whether it was his strong constitution or Grandma Prasko’s medicinal herbs, they weren’t sure, but Adam and Hoss were relieved that Joe didn’t develop pneumonia again. Finally by the third day, Mrs. Prasko declared Little Joe well enough to get out of bed, but she extracted a promise that he would stay in the house and out of his Pa’s room until she gave him the all clear. Seeing how scared Little Joe was about his father’s health, she agreed to let him go just to the door of his father’s room so he could see for himself that his Papa was all right. She arranged for Hoss to carry Little Joe to the doorway, to make sure that he didn’t get excited and run into the room when he saw his father. Seeing that his Papa was breathing and looked much better than the last time he had seen him, reassured Little Joe so that he was content for the most part to stay out of the room.

On the fourth day, Ben Cartwright began to make remarkable progress toward the road to recovery. His fever had been progressively staying lower and lower and although it still rose in the day time, it was not getting as high on each subsequent peak. His coughing was also improving and he was breathing much more comfortably. Late in the afternoon of the fourth afternoon, while Hoss was sitting with him, Ben began to come out of his fever-induced sleep. Hoss saw that he was waking and bathed off his face with a cool cloth to help wake him.

“Hey Pa. How are you feeling?” he asked, relief evident on his face.

“Hoss. I’m okay. How long have I been sick?” Ben asked.

“About five days in all, Pa.” Hoss replied. “Today is Wednesday. You have been mighty sick for a few of those days.”

“Yeah I can tell. My head is still spinning.”

Hoss reached over and gave him a cool drink of water.

“Thanks, son.” Ben replied. As his head cleared a little more he asked, “Hoss are Adam and Little Joe all right?”

“Sure Pa. Adam and Little Joe are downstairs playing chess. Want me to go get ’em for you?” Hoss asked.

“No, not yet, Son.” Ben hesitated, not sure how to ask what he wanted to ask. Finally, he said, “Hoss, was there a woman here? Or was that just the fever?” Ben asked.

Hoss laughed and said, “No, Pa that wasn’t the fever— that was real. I don’t know what me and Adam woulda done without Mrs. Prasko helpin’ us. Why, she took care of you and Little Joe just like she was a doctor.”

“Little Joe? Did Little Joe get the fever too, Hoss?” Ben asked, alarmed.

“Nah, Pa, he just had a little bit of a cold from being out in the thunderstorm.” Hoss replied, trying to soothe his father’s worries.

“Out in the thunderstorm?” Ben asked, as loudly as he could manage.

About that time, as Hoss realized he had messed up and instead of soothing his father, had in fact, upset him; the door opened and in walked Mrs. Prasko.

“Oh I see you are awake, Mr. Cartwright. And you have some good color back in your cheeks, too. Hoss why don’t you go tell your brothers they can come up to see their father for just a few minutes?”

Hoss said, “Yes, Ma’am” and hurried out of the room, calling “Hey Shortshanks, Adam, Pa is awake and Mrs. Prasko said you could come see them.” Ben and Mrs. Prasko heard a whoop and heard the sounds of feet coming up the stairs rapidly. There was no time for conversation in between the time Hoss left the room and the door was flung open, revealing Adam and Little Joe.

Ben saw Little Joe stop nervously at the door so he summoned more strength than he thought he had and said, “Well what are you waiting for? Come give your Papa a hug!” Little Joe then giggled and ran towards him and practically jumped on the bed and put both arms around him and hugged him tight. “Oh Papa, I missed you so much.” Ben returned Joe’s hug, breathing in the scent of his son. When he pulled away, both father and son had tears in their eyes.

“Don’t you worry, Joseph. I am going to be just fine.” He couldn’t resist adding, “And then I want to hear about that ride in the thunderstorm that you took!” Joe looked anxious for a split second, then seeing his father’s face and realizing his father wasn’t angry, he smiled and laughed with his brothers. Adam spoke briefly to Pa and then Mrs. Prasko said, “Okay, everyone out now so that Mr. Cartwright can have his soup before it gets cold. I have left the fire on the stove to keep the soup hot for you. You go eat while your Papa eats. And Joseph, you must eat the entire bowl. Now out, all three of you.”

When the three sons had gone out of the room, there was an awkward silence as Ben tried to figure out who this woman was and how she had come to be so much at home in his house and with his children. Mrs. Prasko, seeing his discomfort, took the opportunity to introduce herself. “I am Mrs. Teresa Prasko, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Mrs. Prasko?” Ben as confused as ever, but then it hit him and his eyes widened.

This was not missed by Mrs. Prasko, who laughed and said, “Yes, Mr. Cartwright, I am one of the Gypsies camping on your fine Ponderosa.”

“How, Why, When…” Ben couldn’t quite figure out what he needed to ask the most.

Mrs. Prasko told him the entire story, while she fed him the hot soup. It was probably a good thing that he was too busy eating to say anything because he didn’t know what to say. As she told the story, especially how her son had gone looking for Joseph after finding Star and how she had cared for both Little Joe and for himself, he began to feel a deep sense of shame. He had treated the Gypsies unkindly and had not given them the opportunity to explain. Yet, they had saved not only Little Joe’s life, but possibly his own, as well.

By the time the bowl of soup was empty, Ben Cartwright had learned a lesson that he hoped to never forget. It was all so clear to him now, he had acted like a bigot. “No” he mentally corrected himself. “I was a bigot.” He recalled vividly the look in his young son’s eyes that had bothered him so much and he realized now what the cause of that look had been. Joe had recognized the bigotry in his father—even though he didn’t know the word, he recognized the attitude and he knew it wasn’t right. Ben felt ashamed of himself and proud of his son. Joseph had met the Gypsies and had accepted them as he would have accepted anyone else. Ben knew that this was one example of the son teaching the father a lesson.

“Mrs. Prasko, I am indebted to you for many things. I hardly know where to begin. I guess first and foremost I owe you and your son an apology.”

“Mr. Cartwright, your son, Adam, told me of the death of Little Joseph’s mother. ‘Naldo did not know that, of course, or he would not have let Little Joseph ride King Frederick.”

“Yes, I am beginning to understand what a fool I have been, Mrs. Prasko.”

“Please, call me Teresa, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Well, if you will call me Ben.” He smiled at her and she returned the smile.

Over the next few days, Teresa Prasko and Ben Cartwright talked and shared tales of their travels as Ben recuperated. As his fever continued to decline and his cough resolved, he became stronger every day. She told him of the death of her husband and how she had raised ‘Naldo alone until they had joined with some other family members in a caravan. She told of ‘Naldo’s love for horses and how he had saved to get the money to bring the Cobb horses from England the first time. As they talked, they grew very comfortable with each other and they began to share some of their worries and concerns. Teresa told Ben how they loved to travel and how it made them feel close to God to sleep so near the stars. She also told him that she always was filled with a combination of anticipation and excitement as they approached each new mile. Anticipation of what could be awaiting them—what new natural sight, what new person, or animal or blessing. Dread of what could be awaiting them—bigotry, misunderstanding, hatred.

Ben winced when she said this, knowing that he himself had contributed to this. He told Teresa of his three wives and the three children they had each left him and how he had raised them alone for the most part. He told her of how hard it had been to be both mother and father to the boys at different times and how frustrating and how joyous was the fact that each of them was so different. They talked at length about Joseph since he was so well-known to the Gypsy family. Teresa told him how bright and curious and open he had been with them–well with everything except the minor fact that he wasn’t supposed to be there. Eventually they got around to mundane matters. Ben particularly told her about the problem he had getting Joseph to eat sometimes and she agreed that he did have a tendency to play with his food rather than eat it. “I just may have a solution for that, Ben. I will check on that.” She said. “But now you must get some rest, then this afternoon, I think you can come downstairs for a short visit.”

*****

Chapter 29

The Cartwrights received word from town that the fever was subsiding and that the quarantine was over. Hop Sing was staying a few more days to help care for the recovering Chinese citizens. They had sent a message to Doctor Martin and Dr. Li that Ben had recovered and was no longer in need of a physician’s care. Over the next two days, Ben regained his strength and his color. Mrs. Prasko announced at breakfast that she would be going home that day. “Hoss would you go and ask ‘Naldo to come fetch me home?” she asked.

“Sure thing, Ma-am, or I could just take you in the wagon.” Hoss replied.

“No, there is something I need ‘Naldo to bring to me first. I have one more herbal compound I must mix”. Ben and Little Joe both glanced at her and then at each other, both hoping it was for the other one. After breakfast, Grandma Prasko gave Hoss a slip of paper folded up and asked him to deliver it to ‘Naldo. Without even having been asked, Ben said, “Joe why don’t you go with Hoss?” Joe excitedly jumped up and said, “I’ll race you to the barn, Hoss” and without stopping to give Hoss a chance, he headed out the door towards the barn. Within an hour, both Hoss and ‘Naldo were back at the Ponderosa ranch house. “Pa, I let Little Joe stay to play with the other kids for a while. I told him I would go back to get him later. Is that all right?” Hoss asked. “Yes, Hoss, that is just fine.” Ben said and truly meant it. ‘Naldo handed his mother a parcel and she went immediately into the kitchen. Adam, unable to resist followed her into the kitchen to see what she was making up now.

“Oh, Adam, I thought you would come. Here is the page right here. What do you think of this?” Adam read the list of ingredients and instructions and said, “What’s it for?” She laughed and said, “Motivation, Adam, pure motivation.”

Dandelion Tonic

centaury root

dandelion leaves

red wine

juniper berries

Cut 1 handful of European centaury root into small pieces, and mix with one handful of Dandelion leaves. Pour 1

liter of red wine over the plants, and cover. Steep overnight. The next morning, bring to a boil and simmer for 13

minutes.

Grind 3 juniper berries with mortar and pestle, add to the mixture and simmer for 3 more minutes. Allow to cool,

strain and fill bottles that can be closed tightly.

Drink 1 liqueur glass of the tonic twice daily before a meal. This tonic is an excellent appetite stimulant and

helpful for anorexia.

When she entered the great room again with the new mixture, Ben and ‘Naldo were sitting in the living room talking by the fire. Ben had already asked ‘Naldo to forgive him and had been assured that all was forgiven and forgotten. Ben was fascinated by the Cobb horses and by the lengths that ‘Naldo had gone to get them into the country and how he had set about breeding and training them. “Well, ‘Naldo, we are always in need of good horses on the Ponderosa. Please stop here as long as you like whenever you are near here. And I mean that sincerely.” Ben said. “Thank you, Ben. My family will graciously accept your hospitality if we cross this way again.”

‘Naldo, if you would put my things in the wagon, please?” Mrs. Prasko said, indicating that she wanted to speak privately with Ben. “Your wish is my command, MaMa, if you promise to make your vegetable stew tonight.” He said, smiling. “Of course, ‘Naldo, we shall have it for sure.” When ‘Naldo had gone to put her things in the wagon and wait for her there, Teresa pulled out a brown jar that she had in her pocket.

“What’s that for, Teresa?” Ben asked, only a little apprehensively.

“This Ben, is the answer to Little Joe’s lack of appetite.” She replied smiling broadly.

“I have used it many, many times and it always works—it is like magic. One dose is all it ever takes.”

“Do you mean to say that what is in this little bottle will make Joe eat?”

“Yes.”

“Well that is hard to believe. Doc Martin has given him all kinds of tonics and nothing has worked for long. How does this work, if the others don’t?” he asked, skeptically.

“Take the lid off and smell it, Ben.”

He did this and quickly moved the bottle from his nose and recapped it. “Whew, that smells awful, Teresa.” He said frowning.

She laughed out loud and said, “Yes, that is why it works so well. You see, Ben the trick is not IN the medicine itself, but in the desire to avoid the medicine.”

He looked puzzled, so she elaborated. “This is how it works. The very first night that Little Joseph does not eat, give him one tablespoon full of the medicine–after the meal. At the next meal, just set the bottle of medicine on the table—so it will be handy. I assure you that Joe will eat his meal without being persuaded.” Ben thought about this as she said it, and suddenly he realized the beauty and logic behind the simple plan and they both burst out laughing.

When Ben escorted Teresa out to the wagon, he tried to tell ‘Naldo and Teresa how thankful he was that they had helped his family when they so desperately needed it, but also for opening his eyes. The Praskos though said there was no need for thanks; as they were all neighbors in the sight of God. As they were leaving, ‘Naldo asked Ben to bring Hoss and Adam and to come join them at their camp for supper that night and Ben accepted the offer.

When the Prasko’s had gone, Ben directed Hoss and Adam to gather non-perishable supplies and a couple of young heifers to take to the Praskos. From Hop Sing’s smoke house, Ben collected hams and smoked turkeys to add to the assortment of goods. At about sundown, the Cartwrights rolled into the campsite of the Prasko family of Romany Gypsies for a shared meal and an evening of storytelling, dancing, and singing. The older Cartwrights listened raptly as the stories were told and watched as Little Joe joined in the play and laughter of the Gypsy children. At around about 10 PM everyone gathered together by the campfire and Reginaldo Joseph Prasko told the story of the Gypsy people and of their travels. When the storytelling began, Little Joe came and sat down in front of his father. Ben noticed that the mothers were putting the younger children to bed under the canopies and that the older children were also settling down near their parents. Ben hugged Little Joe tightly to him. When the campfires died down, the storytelling came to an end. Then ‘Naldo announced to the camp that they would be leaving early in the morning, that the sheriff had come to tell them that he quarantine was officially over and that they could again travel. A cheer went up from the family as they heard this news. The Cartwrights heard the excitement increase in the camp as the family began to make plans for leaving.

The Cartwrights thanked their hosts for a wonderful evening. Ben again thanked them for what they had done for Joseph and for him. Joseph was sound asleep by this time and his father carried him in his arms. “‘Naldo, please know that you and any of your people will always be welcome on the Ponderosa.” Ben told him.

“Thank you, Ben” ‘Naldo said, patting him on the back.

“Next time we come by here, I bet this young son of yours will be riding the best horse on the Ponderosa.” ‘Naldo laughed.

Ben looked down at his sleeping son. His brown hair was softly framing his face with curls and his face looked so young and innocent. “You may be right” he said.

“He is a fine boy, Ben, you can be proud of him. As you can of all your sons and your fine ranch.” ‘Naldo said.

“And you have much to be proud of too, ‘Naldo. I am proud to count you as my neighbor. Goodbye, my friend.” With that the Cartwrights climbed on their horses and rode home. Hoss led Little Joe’s horse and his father carried him home in his arms.

The next morning when Ben Cartwright came downstairs to make himself a pot of coffee, he was met by the smells of fresh coffee, pancakes, eggs, sausage, and bacon. As he went toward the kitchen, Hop Sing came out carrying a cup of coffee for him. “Hop Sing! When did you get home?” Ben asked, smiling and gratefully accepting the cup of coffee from the Chinese cook and housekeeper.

“Hop Sing come early this morning. Hop Sing very wollied about Mr. Cartwright and Little Joe. Hop Sing hear Little Joe try to find Hop Sing in night, get thrown from horse. Hop Sing velly solly not here to take care of Mr. Cartwright.”

“No need to worry, Hop Sing. We are both fine. Fortunately, the Prasko family was nearby and lent a hand while we were sick. Mrs. Prasko is quite a woman and knows a thing or two about doctoring. She used some of those herbal remedies you use sometimes.”

“Many peoples know herbs can cure different things long time. Herbs make strong medicine. She must know this.” Hop Sing said, approvingly.

Well, Hop Sing, I tell you one thing she couldn’t do—she couldn’t cook like you can. How long before that breakfast is ready?” Ben said smiling.

“Breakfast ready now. You get sons from barn. I get Little Joe up.” Hop Sing said, anxious to see him again.

“Oh sure Hop Sing. I didn’t realize Hoss and Adam were up yet.” Ben said as he headed towards the barn.

Hop Sing knocked and then entered Little Joe’s room. Unknown to the rest of the family, his first stop when he had arrived home had been to check on both Little Joe and Ben. He had straightened Little Joe’s covers and tucked him in then. Now the covers were again on the floor. Hop Sing shook his head and went to wake the youngest son of his boss and Hop Sing’s heart.

“Little Joe is time to get up and eat breakfast.” Hop Sing said, gently shaking him. Joe mumbled something and rolled over, away from the movement and sound. Hop Sing repeated his message, a little louder and shook him a little harder this time. Several more minutes they played this game. Finally Hop Sing’s persistence paid off and Joe slowly opened his eyes, rubbing them to clear his vision. “Hop Sing! You are home!” he said, and threw his arms around his friend.

Hop Sing smiled briefly at the boy and hugged him swiftly. Hop Sing’s culture did not show emotions openly, so he held back some. Little Joe was never offended by this, understanding better than most Hop Sing’s attitude. He knew Hop Sing loved him and he loved him and that was all that mattered. Hop Sing asked Little Joe about his ride and his fall and Joe chatted amicably while Hop Sing helped him get dressed. They conversed in Chinese and in English, slipping back an forth between the two languages without thinking about it.

Breakfast was a lively happy meal. Little Joe, overjoyed that Hop Sing was back and that he had made his favorite breakfast—no oatmeal—that he ate with no persuasion. Ben and Adam and Hoss talked about the running of the ranch and what they needed to do to get caught up on the last week. Adam was anxious to start working with the new horses so he planned to do that first thing. Little Joe asked if he could watch and Pa told him that he could, but of course he must stay behind the fence. After everyone had eaten, they all got up and went to begin their day’s work. They ate lunch separately. Adam and Little Joe eating sandwiches that Hop Sing brought to them at the corral.

At the end of the day, the family gathered for the evening meal. Everyone was talking about their day. Ben had received news about some investments that they had made that had shown an outstanding return on their investment. The three older Cartwrights spent the remainder of the meal talking about things like stock options and investments, and returns and Little Joe had no idea what they were talking about. As they continued to talk about these topics and pay very little attention to him, he began to play with his food. He pushed the peas around on his plate. He made mounds in the potatoes and piled the peas in the middle of the mound. He crumbled his bread up into tiny pieces and mashed them ’til they were doughy little balls. He moved his meat around and around, cutting it into tiny, tiny pieces and adding them to the peas on top of Mount Potato as he called it. He lined the bread balls up in a pile and called them cannon balls. He took the green beans and stacked them up to build a barricade in front of the fort on Mount Potato.

His father noticed his son’s playing near the end of the meal and opened his mouth to say something to him. He remembered just in time and closed his mouth. When everyone else was finished eating, he got up and said, “I have to get something out of the kitchen. I will be right back. Please wait for me here.” Little Joe and Hoss had no idea what their father had to get out of the kitchen. Adam had an idea and he was sitting back, waiting for the show, a wicked grin on his face.

Ben returned to the table with a long brown bottle and a tablespoon. He set the bottle and spoon down by the side of his plate. “Come here, Joseph.” Joe hesitated, unsure about what his father had in mind, but certain he wanted NOTHING to do with that bottle. His father spoke again louder and firmer, “Joseph, did you hear me? Come here son.” Joe slowly got up and walked to his father’s side, keeping his eyes on that bottle. Adam was having a hard time not laughing out loud. Hoss was eyeing that bottle with about as much dread for his little brother as his little brother had.

“Joseph, you know how worried I have been about your not eating properly?”

“Yesss sir.” Joe stammered slightly in reply, still eyeing that brown bottle.

“Well, Mrs. Prasko has given us the solution. Right here in this bottle.” He took the lid off so that Joe could get a whiff of the liquid.

He did and made a terrible face and said, “Yuck.”

“You see, Joseph, now we don’t have to worry about whether you eat or not. This medicine can take the place of the meal if you don’t want to eat it. If you don’t eat a meal, all you have to do is take one tablespoon of this medicine. Isn’t that wonderful?” Ben said. He too was having a hard time not laughing out loud now.

Joe and Hoss had the most terrible expression on their faces—as if they were in front of the firing squad. “So here you go, Joseph” he said as he poured out a tablespoon of the vile smelling reddish-brown liquid. “No Papa, that smells awful” Joe said and as he had his mouth open to protest again, Ben shoved the spoon in his mouth and poured the liquid in. Joe was forced to swallow to keep from choking. When he did, he started making sounds as if he were dying and he ran over to his water glass and drank a glass of water, then picked up a piece of bread and chewed it and swallowed it very quickly.

“Ugh that is awful, Papa. It’ll burn my insides up if I have to take that stuff. Ugh.” He repeated several sentiments like this, while Ben, Adam, and Hoss looked on, trying not to laugh.

“Well, Joseph, it is only required that you take it when you don’t eat a proper meal. Maybe you won’t have to take it too many times.” Ben said simply, then he said, Well come on boys. Let’s go over to the fireplace. How about you and Hoss play a few games of checkers while Adam and I work a little bit and then I will take on the winner. Ben said, getting up and walking toward the living room. He barely made it before his face broke out in a grin. “Joseph Cartwright had finally met his match. Teresa Prasko had succeeded where modern science failed. She had known how to conquer a little boy’s stubbornness. Something mothers have known through the ages”, Ben thought to himself.

***End***

Author’s Note

The history of the Romany Gypsies is fascinating and somewhat mysterious. The Gypsies have been a frequently misunderstood, persecuted, and “forgotten” race. I hope that you will find this informative as well as entertaining. Although I have taken some liberties with the time periods, the facts of the story are true (except the Cartwright part, of course!). In writing this story, I have relied heavily on internet resources.

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