Silver Lining (by Judy)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  21,716


 

Chapter 1

 

Ben Cartwright watched as his three sons drove the last of the stray cattle into the sheltered lower grazing pastures of the Ponderosa. Adam and Hoss were riding on either side of the herd of cattle, letting the cattle take their time. They had been doing this job for many years and knew that the cattle would eventually get there on their own, with just a little guidance. Ben smiled as he looked at what his youngest son, Joseph, was doing. Little Joe, always in a hurry to get finished with chores—any chore, was riding near the stragglers of the herd, trying to hurry them along. Obviously impatient, he kept getting closer and closer to the herd, Ben was just about to call to him to ease up, when Adam rode back to him and said something to him, and pointed to the direction from which he had just ridden. Ben smiled at this, too. Adam had seen that if Little Joe had kept going, he would have been in danger of having his horse be spooked by the cattle and wind up getting thrown off and trampled by the cattle. Adam had gone over and told Joe to trade places with him.

Ben was glad that the last of the cattle had been driven down to safety for the coming winter. They were now in a pasture that was sheltered from the worst of the weather and where the Cartwrights would be able to reach them with cattle feed, during prolonged snow. Although ranching was a never-ending occupation, activities related to the cattle primarily involved keeping the cattle alive and well through the winter. This task had been made easier by Ben’s decision to bring in some Montana cattle to cross with the Nevada cattle, thus making them hardier and increasing their ability to withstand the cold winters. Wintertime was the slowest season on the Ponderosa; it was also one of Ben’s favorite times of the year. He found the cold weather invigorating and always looked forward to the first real snowfall of the year. He had a feeling that he was not going to have long to wait for the first snowfall of the year. There was crispness and a bite to the winds that, in his experience, meant that there was a winter storm headed their way soon.

Ben determined that he had time left to make a special visit he wanted to make before winter set in and the trip was impossible. He rode over to Hoss, who happened to be nearest him. “Good job, Hoss. Did you have any problems?”

“No, Pa, other than keeping Little Joe at a speed more suitable for cattle than a racing horse”, Hoss replied with a chuckle.

“Well, he is just full of energy and besides, he only has one speed—wide open.”

“I think we made it here just in time, Pa, I think we have some weather coming our way soon” Hoss said, looking around at the pines trees, bending in the wind.

“Yes, I think you are right, Hoss. Can you boys finish up here without me? I have a visit I need to make before it gets too late”.

Hoss replied, “Sure we can Pa, when will you be back?”

“Oh, in a couple of hours, Hoss.” “Good enough, Pa, we will wait dinner for you.”

“Thanks, Hoss,” Ben said, as he rode off towards Lake Tahoe’s northern shore. Hoss watched Ben ride off, knowing where he was headed, without even having to ask.

Ben made this journey frequently throughout the year, but because the weather was unpredictable during the winter, he always made a point to visit just before the first snowfall. Ben Cartwright was known in Nevada as being a practical, hardworking, firm, down-to-earth, successful, and honest rancher; some people even considered him to be a statesman. What only the people close to him knew, was that he was also very sentimental and philosophical. Ben’s visits to his third wife’s grave revealed part of the complexity of this man. He came not just to show respect, but to remember and to reflect. In many ways, Ben Cartwright was blessed—he had three healthy and strong sons, and a successful business—the Ponderosa, the main base of Cartwright Enterprises.

But his success had not come early or easily. Ben had lost two wives, Elizabeth, Adam’s mother, and Inger, Hoss’s mother, before he came to Nevada. He had married Joe’s mother, Marie, shortly after staking the Ponderosa claim. Her influence was still felt in their lives. She had been the inspiration for the design of the ranch house, as well as selecting the site upon which it was built. Unfortunately, she had been tragically killed in a riding accident when Joe was just 5 years old. Through the years, Ben had come to her grave site to share joys as well as sorrows regarding his life.

He especially came here to think and to talk things over with Marie when he felt he needed guidance regarding Joseph. Joseph, Little Joe, as he was fondly called, had been the reason for numerous visits over the years. Little Joe had been a child-rearing challenge from the very beginning, much different from Adam and Hoss. Adam was logical, rational, somewhat cyncial and reserved. Hoss was gentle, easy-going, generous to a fault, and always optimistic. Joe was hot-tempered and impetuous; always pushing himself and others to the limits. Joe never held back, whatever he was doing or thinking, he devoted 100% effort to it, leaving him vulnerable to physical and emotional dangers. Many people didn’t recognize this, but Ben knew that Joe was as easily hurt as he was angered. Hoss is probably the only person besides me who really understands that, thought Ben, though Hoss may not be able to put it into words.

He then corrected himself, ‘No, Adam understands, but won’t acknowledge it.” Adam is too hard on his youngest brother, probably because he remembers all too well the cost of Marie’s stubborn streak. Joe had inherited many of Marie’s attributes—her physical appearance, her lively personality, hot temper, strong will, powerful emotions, and stubbornness. Of course, Ben had to admit that all his sons had strong wills and a fair degree of stubbornness, so he knew that some of that came from him. He thought that Joe just got a double dose of it from him and from Marie.

Joe was especially on his mind because for the last several weeks, Ben had felt a growing concern regarding Joseph’s recent activities. He had recently taken up with a new bunch of friends in Virginia City, they worked in the mines in the day time and stayed in the saloons most of the night, frequently winding up in jail for drunken & disorderly charges. Although Joe had managed to avoid that so far, he had been coming in later and later and becoming more and more moody and argumentative at home. Ben didn’t know what the root of the problem was, but he knew that there was something important on Joe’s mind and that he was trying to work through it on his own. Joe never brought a problem to Ben right away, he generally struggled with his conscience trying to resolve issues that bothered him. Eventually, he would bring it up or Ben sometimes could figure out what the issue was and bring it up himself, then he could help Joe think about the issue. But until that point, it was painful for Ben to watch Joe struggling with such inner turmoil. Thinking about it here, at his Mother’s grave seemed to make Ben feel that he was not alone in the rearing of their son, and that he would be able to get through this stormy period of Joe’s growth, just as they had gotten through so many others.

Ben stayed there at Marie’s gravesite for close to two hours, thinking and talking, and, as always, left with a renewed spirit. “Well, Marie, my Love, if I don’t get back before then, I will be here with the first sign of spring” he whispered gently as he quietly left the grave site and headed back to the Ponderosa. As he rode back to the ranch house, he took in the sights of the Ponderosa. The lovely clear blue Lake Tahoe, the green meadows, snow topped purple mountains in the distance, the huge Ponderosa pines for which the Ponderosa was named, and the cattle and horses, safe for the winter. He noticed a flock of geese flying overhead and marveled at the sight. “Better than going to church on Sunday” he thought to himself. He paused to give thanks to God for his many blessings.

As he rode up to the ranch house, he was surprised to find two of his “blessings” involved in a brawl. The other blessing was trying, unsuccessfully, to stop the fight. Ben rode up to the boys and shouted, “Adam, Joseph!” “Stop that fighting at once.” He jumped off his horse and grabbed Little Joe from behind, allowing Hoss to grab Adam and successfully separate the two. Adam collected himself quickly, but Joe was struggling with his father, trying to get to Adam. “Joseph, stop that this instant. What in the Sam hill is going on here? I leave you working together and come back just a few hours later and find you trying to kill each other” he yelled. “What kind of way is that for brothers to behave?” He asked, looking sternly at first Adam and then Little Joe.

“Pa, I just tried to tell Little Joe what a stupid trick that was this afternoon. He could have been killed or stampeded the whole herd by trying to gain a few extra minutes to waste in Virginia City hanging out with that bunch of good-for-nothing bums he has been hanging around with.” Adam explained in a somewhat self-righteous tone.

“I see,” said Ben. “Joe, what was your contribution to this disgraceful display?” Ben asked.

“Pa, I knew what I was doing, I am not stupid and I am tired of Adam telling me every little thing, like I was just a baby. And I am sick of hearing him call my friends good-for-nothing. They are not good-for-nothings, just because they don’t have a lot of money and wear fancy clothes and go to the opera, doesn’t mean they are no good” Joe said. He was still very angry and was red in the face and, Ben noted, his jaw was tightly clenched. Over the years, Ben had learned that when Joe clenched his jaw like that, so like his mother used to, he would not listen to reason.

“Well, listen boys, we have had a long day and we are all tired. I think you both over-reacted. Let’s just leave it at that for now and go wash up for dinner, unless Hop Sing has already thrown it away.” With that, he put his arm around Joe’s shoulder on one side and Adam’s on the other and led them into the house. “Hoss, I appreciate your efforts to keep these two from killing each other.”

“Sure, Pa, I have been doing that ever since Joe was old enough to talk back to Adam, I guess” he said with a wink at Ben.

“That you have, Hoss, that you have.” By this time, Adam appeared calm on the outside, but Ben could sense that he was still upset. Little Joe on the other hand, unable to hide his emotions, was obviously still angry. Ben knew it was pointless to further argue the point, so he let it drop for the time being.

The obvious strain between his eldest and youngest son made the dinner meal slightly subdued. Hoss tried to make up for the lack of the normal cheerful banter and lively discussion for a while, but eventually, he gave up and the meal ended in silence. Hop Sing noticed the less than usual zeal for his fine cooking and let them all know that he didn’t appreciate it. “Hmm, Hop Sing cook all day, make fine roast lamb for family, why you not eat Little Joe?” he asked.

Joe asnwered him sharply, ” I will eat when I am hungry, Hop Sing.” Then he looked at Hop Sing and regretted it, and tried to placate Hop Sing by saying with a smile, ” I was just saving room for that apple pie I smelled when I came in, Hop Sing.”

Hop Sing, somewhat mollified, tried to hide it by continuing his tirade as he headed back to the kitchen, except this time in Chinese. However, he shortly returned with the apple pie and plates and served them, serving Ben, Adam, and Joe an average sized slice and then putting the remainder of the pie in front of Hoss. He watched happily as Hoss heartily attacked the pie. “Hmm, Mr. Hoss appreciate Hop Sing.”

After the meal, Ben asked Joe and Hoss to go to the barn and make sure that everything was in order in the barn and stables in case the storm hit during the night. He asked Adam to join him for an after dinner brandy in front of the fire in the living room. “Adam, do you have reason to believe that Joe is being led astray by that group of his friends you mentioned?” asked Ben.

“If you mean, do I have evidence, Pa, then the answer is no.” But I have a very good hunch about them and ever since Joe started hanging out with them, he has been going to Virginia City just about every night, coming in at all hours, and being impossible to live with.”

“Yes”, Ben agreed, “it is almost as if Joe has something to prove—but what and to whom, that is what I wished I knew”. To tell you the truth, Adam, I am concerned about Joe right now, too” said Ben.

“Pa, truthfully, when have you ever NOT been concerned about Little Joe”, Adam asked playfully.

“True, Adam, Joseph has always been a handful, but there is something else going on within him right now—some kind of internal struggle, I think.” “The difficulty is that I don’t know exactly what the battle is about, so I don’t know how to help him.”

“Well I sure don’t know either, Pa, you are too easy on him though” Adam said.

Ben considered this statement for a time then said, “Adam, you may be right, I may be too easy on him sometimes, but on the other hand, you are too hard on him sometimes.” Try thinking about your brother’s good points for a change, instead of his shortcomings.” “You know, Adam, Joe can learn a lot from you, but you could learn a lot from him too.” Ben said with a serious look on his face.

“What can I learn from him besides how to get into trouble, unless it’s how to sweet-talk my way out of it?” he asked incredulously.

“You may be surprised, Adam.”

“Well I will try, Pa.” Adam said, but not feeling too sure about the point of that.

“A good place to start would be to apologize to him for tonight” Ben told Adam.

“Alright, Pa, I will, but if he drops dead of a heart attack, don’t blame me!” Adam said, laughing.

When Hoss and Joe came in, Joe headed straight for the stairs and was about to go up without saying goodnight to anyone, but he caught a glimpse of his father watching him from his desk, so he mumbled a hollow sounding “good night” and continued up the stairs. One thing that was guaranteed to make Ben Cartwright angry was to disregard common courtesies, such as saying goodnight. Shortly, Adam said, “Well I think I will turn in now, too. See you in the morning, Pa, Hoss.”

Hoss said, “Now I have seen everything, the two of them being the first to go to bed, Pa.” “Well I guess I won’t get beat at checkers tonight” he said.

Ben said, “well you know, Hoss, Joe isn’t the only checkers master in the Cartwright household. The same person who taught Joe how to play taught me a thing or two as well. How about if I show you how it is done?” Ben said as he came over to the table in front of the fireplace. “I am tired of looking at numbers anyway.”

“All right, Pa, let’s see how good you are” said Hoss. “Besides, I won’t have to worry about your cheating on me like I do with Little Joe!”

Adam stopped at Joe’s room and knocked quietly on the door. Joe, thinking it was his Father, said “Come in, Pa,” in a resigned tone, fully expecting another lecture from his father about his behavior. He was surprised, not pleasantly, when he saw it was Adam.

Adam, curious about the way Joe answered the knock on the door, asked, “What made you think it was Pa?”

“Because Hoss doesn’t knock and you never come in here” Joe said simply.

Adam was thinking—when did this all happen? I used to tuck him in and read him bedtime stories, as well as come to him if he had a bad dream.

Joe’s question brought him out of his reverie, “What do you want? I don’t want any more lectures, if you don’t mind.”

“Actually, Joe I came to apologize for this evening. I was out of line and I am sorry.” Adam said.

Little Joe looked at Adam suspiciously, completely surprised. “Yeah, well I don’t need you telling me what to do and who my friends are.”

“You are right, Joe, I am sorry.” Joe, mystified, seemed to believe there was a catch and just continued to stare at Adam. “Well, good night Joe” Adam said and left the room, quietly closing the door behind him.

Joe lay there in the dark for a long time, thinking about Adam’s apology. He had never expected Adam to apologize, and in fact, he wished he hadn’t. That really made it harder for him to do what he was about to do, but he had given his word so it couldn’t be helped, and besides it was for the good of the Ponderosa. Joe waited until he had heard Hoss and Ben go into their rooms and settle down for the night, then he quietly got up and slipped his night shirt off, revealing that he was fully dressed, and collected the satchel of clothes and supplies he had already packed. Then carrying his boots in his hands to make sure he didn’t arouse anyone, he quietly slipped down the stairs and out the front door. He slid on his boots and went into the barn and, after giving Cochise a pat and putting an extra blanket over her, and refilling her water bucket, he selected a horse from the herd that he had just finished breaking, saddled him with an old plain saddle, and led him out past the corral and far enough away from the house that they couldn’t be heard, jumped in the saddle, and rode off into the night. He was sad as he left because he was leaving behind all the things that were important to him—his father and brothers, Cochise, and the Ponderosa. Only sheer will power kept him from turning around and quietly sneaking back into the house and into his warm bed.

Despite the bitterly cold weather and the approaching storm, Joe paid a visit to his mother’s grave, unaware that his father had been there such a short time ago. Joe prayed at his mother’s grave and asked God and his mother to be with his family and to keep them safe while he was gone and to help them understand why he did what he was doing. He knew that they would just assume that he left because of the argument with Adam and that he had just let his hot temper get the better of him again, but that couldn’t really be helped. He looked up at the stars over Lake Tahoe and asked his mother to watch over them all.

*****

Chapter 2

 

The Cartwright household awoke to a new fallen snow that covered the entire ranch with several feet of wet snow. When Ben arose, he went to the window of his bedroom and surveyed the peaceful scene. The snow blanketed the ranch yard and the tall pines, for which the Ponderosa was named, were covered with snow. What a beautiful sight, he thought. He remembered how Marie had selected this sight and insisted on the balcony on the top level, saying that they would be able to enjoy the view when they were snowed in from this very balcony. Unfortunately she had not had many years to enjoy that view. He was surprised that Joe wasn’t up already and plotting to catch his brothers unaware with snow balls when they went out to begin the morning chores. Joe was more like Ben in that way, they both enjoyed the cold weather and Joe would stay out in it until he was blue all over. In fact, winter-time seemed to be the only time that Joe did like to get up. Adam and Hoss on the other hand, much preferred the warmth of the other three seasons. “I guess all those late nights finally caught up with him” Ben thought.

By the time Ben had dressed and shaved, Adam and Hoss were already at the breakfast table. When he got to the head of the stairs, he noticed that Joe was still not up, so he decided to just go back and wake him up himself, rather than have to send Hoss to wake him up, as usual. He knocked on the door several times, and called out “Joe, up and at ’em, Son. You are missing the first snow fall, and it is a beauty.” Still getting no answer, he opened the door, prepared to take more aggressive measures. He was stunned to find Little Joe’s room empty. He was confused at first, wondering how he had gotten out to the barn without leaving tracks and not realizing the importance of his not being there, until he noticed that several of Joe’s personal effects were missing. Notably, the picture frame with Ben and Marie’s picture on one side and the three boys on the other side. When he noticed that those were gone, he realized that Little Joe had run away from home. Ben developed a hard lump in his throat and felt as if something had taken a strong grip on his heart.

“Adam, Hoss, Little Joe is gone” he told the startled brothers.

“In this weather, Pa”?

“Well his room is empty and some of his personal things are gone” said Ben with a sigh.

“I will go look for tracks, Pa, since the snow ended about 3 A.M., if he left anytime after that, he shouldn’t be too hard to follow” said Adam.

“Good thinking.”

“Why don’t we all go and we can saddle our horses and go find that hot-headed kid and bring him home before he freezes to death” said Hoss.

They were surprised at the absence of footprints leading from the house to the barn, but figured Joe must have gone through the side entrance, by the bunkhouse. They were genuinely shocked to find Cochise in her usual stall and Joe’s saddle still hanging on the rail. “He took one of those new horses and an old saddle, Pa,” Adam said. “He must have left through the back door of the barn, I will go look for tracks back there.”

Hoss pointed out that Cochise had a full water bucket and extra grain and an extra blanket over her. “Joe saw to this horse already, Pa” said Hoss. As he was patting Cochise, he noticed an envelope pinned to her blanket, addressed in Joe’s unmistakable left-handed, slanted handwriting. He unpinned it and handed it to Ben. The envelope had one word on it, “PA”. Inside was a letter from Joe.

Dear Pa,

I am sorry to have to leave without telling you where I am going or when I will return. I do not want you to worry about me. I am not in any kind of trouble, I promise you. There is something that I have to do and I must do it on my own. With all the stock in their winter areas, this should be a good time for me to be gone. I don’t know how long this will take, but I will return as soon as possible. I will explain it all when I come home. Don’t worry, Pa, I am not robbing any banks.

Please tell Hoss and Adam that this has nothing to do with them and ask Hoss to take care of Cochise for me.

Pa, I will be fine, please do not worry.

Your loving son,

Joe

 

About the time Ben finished reading the letter, growing paler with every word, Adam came back in shaking his head. “Pa there is not a track anywhere near the barn.” “He must have left before the snow stopped; he could have left anytime after we went to bed last night.”

“And with no tracks, we have no way of knowing where he was headed,” said Ben, as the grip on his heart got tighter. Hoss took the letter from Ben and he and Adam read it at the same time.

“Dadburn little fool” said Hoss.

“Now where in the world do you think he could be going?” said Hoss.

“And what in the world for?” echoed Adam.

“What do you want us to do, Pa?” asked Hoss.

“I don’t know, Hoss, I don’t know.” Adam and Hoss looked surprised, expecting him to say “We have to go find him”, which is exactly what they wanted to do. Ben saw their surprised looks and clarified, “I mean I know we have to find him and bring him home, but I don’t rightly know where to start looking.” He sighed.

“Well we aren’t going to be able to go anywhere until the weather clears a little bit, this much snow would be too hard on the horses.” Adam declared.

“Boys, I don’t think this was a spur-of-the minute decision Joe made this time.” “I think he planned this in advance, just waiting for the first good snow storm to cover his tracks. That’s probably why he has been so moody lately, feeling guilty about what he was planning.” Said Ben.

“What was he thinking?” Ben said in an anguished voice. “What could be so all-fired important that he had to do, but couldn’t tell his family?”

“Pa, I think me and Chub could make it into Virginia City to see if he was there.” Hoss volunteered.

“No, Hoss, I doubt seriously that Joe went to this much trouble to go into Virginia City, so there is no point in you risking your life or your horse’s life to go there.. We will wait here for the weather to improve, and in the meantime, we will map out a strategy to look for him.” Ben took a deep breath and said, “Will you boys see to the morning chores?” I have to go talk to Hop Sing to see if Joe had mentioned anything to him that might shed some light on this, at the very least I have to tell him that Joe is gone. That is not something I relish, either.” Ben said as he turned slowly back towards the house.

“Dadburn that little brother of ours, Adam, I am going to wring his neck just as soon as I can find him and bring him home safely.” “Do you think he is okay, Adam?, that sure was a bad storm.”

“Well you know how Little Joe likes cold weather, so I guess he planned this, so he will be prepared for it.” Adam assured Hoss.

 

Chapter 3

Three days later, the streets in Carson City had been cleared of snow and ice, which had turned into a brown slushy mess, but the businesses were open. There was a line of potential workers lined up at the entrance to the Courtland silver mine just outside of Carson City. Among those workers was a faintly familiar-looking face with curly dark brown hair and deep hazel eyes, but everything else about Joe Cartwright had changed drastically. He was wearing old, worn-out, hand-me-down clothes and boots, his face was unshaven, and he carried a sack on his shoulder with his possessions—what pitiful few he had. He was in line with about 25 others, mostly young boys or old men. The news on the street was that the Courtland Mines didn’t ask any questions before hiring workers. As Joe was waiting his turn, he watched the other people in line. Their misery showed and it was almost too overwhelming for Joe to face.

The man directly in line in front of Joe had his two sons with him, one about 12 and the other, younger, probably 8 years at the most. They looked like they had skipped too many meals. Joe couldn’t believe it when they got to the mine foreman and the man hired all three of them. But then he told the man that the boys would only get half wages, since they were underage. The man made no objection. When Joe’s turn in line came, the man asked him if he could write his name. Joe was about to say yes, and then thought perhaps it would not be a wise idea to sign his name, even his made up name of Frank Wells. There were not too many left-handed people around in Nevada and Joe didn’t want anyone to think about that, just in case. He told the man “No” and the man asked him his name, wrote it down and then told him to make an X by his signature. Joe managed to do that with his right hand. Your shift begins at 6:00 a.m., if you are late you might as well not come. Your shift ends at 6 P.M. and you get 20 minutes for lunch. You get paid Saturday at noon and you have Saturday afternoon and Sunday off. Pay is $4.00/day. If you don’t show up for work on Monday at 6:00, you don’t have a job. Is that clear?” “Crystal” Frank Wells replied. The hiring foreman looked a second time at Joe, not used to smart answers. Frank Wells just turned and left the office. When he left there were still long lines of people waiting to get in.

When Joe left, he went to the dilapidated rooming house where he had rented a room and hid all his possessions, taking great care to hide his pearl-handled pistol by pulling apart a loose ceiling board, revealing a hiding place. As he reached up to place the pistol in the hiding place, he glanced at the inscription on the body of the gun, “With all our love, Pa, Adam, & Hoss”. He hoped his family was not too worried, but he knew that was an unrealistic hope. He missed them already. But he had to live up to his word and his friends were counting on him and what they had to do was important. He was sure that his Pa would agree in principle to their objective; he was equally sure that he wouldn’t agree to their plan, or at least not his participation in the plan.

After hiding everything that was valuable to him, he realized it was time to go meet his friends. He would have loved to take a bath and shave, but that would make him too visible. He was going to have to get used to the dirt. If Hop Sing could see me now, he thought. Joe locked his room and slipped out into the busy streets of Carson City’s ramshackle Low street. Although he was sure no one he knew was likely to be anywhere near here, he was still careful to avoid observation. He wound through the alleys and back streets until he came to the pre-arranged meeting place to meet his friends. The saloon was nothing like the Silver Dollar saloon that his family frequented in Virginia City, or even the Bucket of Blood saloon that he preferred. This dingy saloon didn’t even have a name on the window, and it was dirty, crowded, and had a choice of beer or whisky, that was it.

Joe ordered a beer, and took it to the back of the bar where he saw his friends, Matthew and Pete. They were astonished when he joined them, they hadn’t even recognized him. “Joe, is that really you? Pete exclaimed.

“Of course it is me, how do I look? Joe grinned.

“Well I don’t think even your own father would recognize you!” Pete said. When he noticed the slight frown that brought to Joe’s face, he quickly added, “or any of those pretty little ladies you court in Virginia City either, for that matter.” Matthew answered him.

“Well good, that is the whole point, remember?” Joe asked.

*****

Chapter 4

 

The rest of the Cartwrights spent a miserable three days waiting for the snow and ice to melt enough to make the roads passable. Since they couldn’t really leave the ranch yet, they only had to do the routine daily chores, which didn’t take much time. That left them to occupy their thoughts while they waited out the storm. During that time, they attempted to console each other and reassure each other and themselves that Little Joe was okay. Yet, in their hearts, they each carried a private grief over his absence that couldn’t be shared or relieved. Making the waiting even worse was the fact that just over 6 months ago, Joe had been kidnapped and held for ransom for about 48 hours. Adam and Hoss had figured out where he was being held by the clue Joe had included in the ransom note they made him write, and rescued him. But that time had taken its toll on Adam and Hoss—they were not sure they would ever see him alive again. Although by the time Ben found out about the kidnapping, Joe had already been rescued, it made him realize how close to tragedy they had come again. Ben thought of Joe’s mother, Marie, and their life together. The happiest years of his life had been the five years after the birth of “Little Joe” until Marie had been killed in a riding accident. After that accident, Ben had almost lost the will to live; in fact, he had contemplated suicide to end his pain.

In his depressed state, he had neglected to properly supervise Little Joe one afternoon, and had in fact, forgotten all about him. Little Joe tried to go home by himself, but got lost and tried to climb on top of a rocky hill to get his bearings, and fell onto a narrow ledge. Luckily, they had found Little Joe, safe and sound, and that near-tragedy had brought Ben to his senses. The reality of how close he had come to losing Little Joe had seriously affected Ben, however. Ever since that time, even 12 years later, Ben could not rest if he didn’t know where Little Joe was at all times. . Since that first time so long ago, that Joe had been lost, Ben had always had a sense that Joe’s life was not something to be taken for granted, that he had to fight some unknown force to keep his third son safe from harm. In the daytime, when Joe was home on the Ponderosa, Ben could forestall that feeling, but at night time or when Joe was not at home or with his brothers, that nagging feeling always came back. Little Joe’s nature didn’t help the situation either. Joe was hot-tempered, impulsive, stubborn, and courageous, all qualities that combined to get him into more than his fair share of difficulties. Thus, Ben felt justified in his protective attitude towards his third son. This had made for some interesting father-son interactions through the years, as Joe rebelled against authority. Yet, Ben felt that he and Joe were still very close and he was alarmed that Joe wouldn’t confide in him about whatever he was up to. In the past, Joe had adopted the philosophy that if there was something he really wanted to do that he didn’t think his father would allow because it was too dangerous, it was best not to ask permission. If he asked permission to do something and it was denied, and did it anyway, he would be in more serious trouble than if he wanted to do something and just did it without asking. Ben, knowing this, was sure that whatever Joe was doing was one of those “risky” situations that he had gotten himself into. But what? He asked that question over and over as they waited out the storm.

Adam also had his own reasons for worrying about Little Joe. Adam had been 12 when Little Joe was born, and although he had resented Marie when his father first brought her to the Ponderosa, he had come to love her. Shortly before her accident and death, she had made Adam promise to always look after Little Joe. He believed that she had had a premonition about her early death and knew that his father would be devastated and wanted reassurance that Joe, her 5 years old son, and her pride and joy, would be cared for. Perhaps she had some kind of premonition about Joe, too, or did she just know that Little Joe would need extra protection because of his temperament, already apparent and so like her own? Adam had made that promise and had taken it seriously ever since. The necessity for him to take charge of the ranch and the family immediately after Marie’s death had put him in a position to be important in Little Joe’s young life. The circumstances of Joe’s childhood and Adam’s role in keeping the family together after Marie’s death, in combination with the vast age difference between them, had made Adam feel more like a second parent to Joe, than just a brother. But beyond all that, Adam genuinely loved Little Joe. Adam felt that Joe represented everything that he secretly wished he could be. Joe was open, honest, brave, witty, fun-loving, and able to express his emotions—too well at times. Adam admired those traits and though he would never admit it, he admired Little Joe.

Hoss was less able to articulate his feelings for Little Joe or even to understand them himself, but he loved Little Joe passionately. Hoss was eight years older than Joe and had a strong filial affection for both Joe and Adam. But his feelings for Joe were deeper than any other feelings. Even when Little Joe was a baby and a cranky, demanding, and difficult toddler, he could always melt Hoss’ heart by just one smile. Hoss remembered the awful time after Marie had died, much more than Little Joe did. It was a very scary time, with his Pa being like a cold, distant stranger, and Adam trying to run the ranch and take care of them. Adam had managed admirably; he saved the ranch and made sure that Hoss and Joe were cared for. He read to them , sang to them, and tucked them in every night.

But in Hoss’ grief, he needed to feel “needed” himself. He didn’t feel that Pa even knew he was around and Adam seemed to be in such control that he didn’t “need” Hoss either. But with Little Joe, Hoss felt needed. In Joe’s attempts to console himself he sought out Hoss and unconsciously fulfilled Hoss’ need to be needed. And, as Little Joe grew, his natural “talent for trouble” as Hoss called it, had guaranteed plenty of occasions in which he did need his big brother Hoss to rescue him from dangerous situations. The relationship was mutual, Little Joe felt the same intense feelings for Hoss that Hoss felt for him. Hoss, like Ben and Adam, knew that the fact that Joe didn’t come to any of them with his problem, whatever it was, was a sure sign that the situation was a dangerous one.

Hop Sing also was consumed with worry about Little Joe. Hop Sing probably understood more than all the others just what Little Joe meant to the Cartwright family. Hop Sing was well aware of all Joe’s qualities—the good ones and the not-so-good ones. He, like the rest of the Cartwright family, loved Little Joe unconditionally, though he recognized the reason for that love far better than the others—Little Joe was a living memorial to Marie Cartwright. All those qualities that Little Joe demonstrated that made him so unique, came directly from Marie Cartwright, Hop Sing recognized. If someone had known and loved Marie Cartwright, then they would naturally love Little Joe Cartwright, it was that simple. Hop Sing looked at Little Joe and he saw Marie, he heard Little Joe laugh and he heard Marie laugh, he saw Little Joe lose his temper and he saw Marie lose her temper. And Hop Sing, like Ben, Adam, and Hoss had known and dearly loved Marie Cartwright. Little Joe was the heart and soul of the Cartwright family. And with him gone, the happiness in the house was gone. Hop Sing determined that if Mr. Ben and Adam and Hoss couldn’t find Little Joe, that he would call on his Chinese relatives to help find him because the sadness of the house was too great without him.

*****

Chapter 5

 

Frank and his friends had gone back to Joe’s room to discuss their plans, afraid they might be overheard at the saloon. “Tell me Joe, why did you go by the name “Frank” anyway? Where did that come from? Is that your middle name or something?”

“Well, it is close enough to my middle name, but not exactly.”

“What is your middle name?”

“Trouble,” according to my brother Hoss”, Joe laughed. Changing the subject so they wouldn’t push to find out his middle name, Joe said, “Are both of you set up now?”

“Yeah, Pete is working at Bristle Cone, and I start tomorrow at Carson mines.” Matthew said.

“We have to be very careful, try to find out as much as you can, but try to avoid drawing suspicion to yourselves.” Joe said.

“We may have to work for a month or longer just gaining confidence.” Said Matthew. “At first, just watch everything and keep an eye on people and activities, but don’t ask any questions.”

“Then we can compare notes and plan what to do next when we get together.”

“Joe, I sure feel bad working at the Bristle Cone and you having to work at Courtland Mines. I know the working conditions are much better at the Bristle Cone than they are at Courtland Mines, because of your family’s influence.”

“Yeah, well we can’t risk someone at Bristle Cone recognizing me.” Joe said. “Just remember you owe me one” Joe laughed.

“Well, I don’t know about you fellows, but I for one don’t relish getting up to begin work at 6 am with less than 6 hours of sleep, so I suggest we all turn in now.” Pete said.

“I just have to go over to that stable and make sure my horse is okay.” Joe said.

“Joe, won’t someone recognize that horse of yours? There isn’t another one like it in this whole part of the country, is there?” asked Pete.

“No, there isn’t another horse in the whole country like Cochise” Joe said proudly, “That is why I didn’t bring Cochise, I brought a newly broken mustang that hasn’t been branded yet just to prevent that from happening.” Joe explained. “And I stabled him in a rundown livery stable on this side of town, so not much chance of anyone I know looking there.”

“Good thinking, Joe” said Matthew.

Joe went over to the stable and gave his horse another ration of oats and refilled the water bucket and made sure he was bedded down for the night. Even though he paid the livery stable to do that, he was in the habit of looking after his own horse, and it made him less homesick to do it himself. He missed Cochise, and taking care of this one made it a little easier. “I guess I will have to give you a name”, he said to the stallion. “Now let me see, what can I call you? How about Trigger?” he said, then, “No, too phony—-how about Maverick?” he said. “Yes, that will do, you are no Cochise, but you aren’t a bad substitute. When I get a day off, I will take you out for a good ride and see what you can do,” he said. After that, he walked back to his room to get ready to enter the world of the mines the next day. As he walked he looked up at the stars, and remembered looking at them when he was little and trying to pick out the one that was his mother. He felt a cold chill and drew his old jacket closer to him and made his way up the stairs to his small room. Before going to bed, he retrieved his gun and put it under his pillow, just in case. As he drifted off to sleep, his thoughts were on his father and bothers, Hop Sing, and the Ponderosa. The strong feelings that his family had for him were not one-sided. Little Joe loved his family, too, and he hated to be the cause of more worry for them. His father had told him many times that his hair started to turn white the day he was born, and every little escapade he was involved in gave him more white hair. Joe went to sleep trying to imagine his father with dark hair.

*****

Chapter 6

 

On the fourth day after the storm, the snow and ice had melted sufficiently that Ben felt it was safe enough to begin their search for Little Joe. Planning their search was difficult; because they weren’t sure whether to begin to look in distant places or if they should begin their search nearby. Adam suggested that maybe Joe had finally followed through with his often-stated desire to go to visit New Orleans. Ben felt this was a reasonable assumption and agreed to send pictures of Joe for publication in New Orleans newspapers. In fact they decided to get with the publisher of the Virginia City Register and see if they could get a picture and story published in newspapers in major U.S. cities. While Ben and Adam were discussing this, Hoss sat silent, with a puzzled look on his face. Ben finally noticed it and asked “Hoss do you think we are making a mistake?”

“Well, Pa, I don’t know if I would call it a mistake, but I believe we should look for Joe closer to home.”

“What makes you think that, Son?” Ben asked.

“Well, if Little Joe was going to go somewhere far away, he would either ride Cochise or he would ride her to the train or stage or whatever, knowing that she would be returned to us. I just can’t see any reason he would have left her here, unless he was going to be somewhere she would be recognized, and that makes me think we should look closer to home” Hoss said.

“And why else would Joe plan it so that we couldn’t follow him?” Ben and Hoss looked at Hoss as he spoke, and then they looked at each other, “Of course, you are right, Hoss,” both of them said at the same time.

“Still, I think we should send the picture to the papers, just in case” Hoss said.

“We will do both, Hoss”. We will send the pictures and the story to all the major papers that Mr. Henricks suggests, but we will concentrate our search closer to home. That way we will be covering all bases.” Ben said.

As Ben, Hoss and Adam were having breakfast and getting ready to start looking for him, “Frank Wells” was reporting for his first day of work at Courtland Mines. Joe had been in the Bristle Cone mines a few times with his father or Adam, but he was surprised at the difference between the Bristle Cone and the Courtland Mine. For one thing, there was not nearly enough timber in place to safely shore the mine to prevent dirt from collapsing. Secondly, there were fewer lamps to light the dark mine tunnels and much less ventilation. Joe had to fight a rising panic as he descended into the depths of the mine. He loved the wide-open spaces of the Ponderosa, and going into the mine was especially difficult for him. He had always been afraid of the dark anyway, something that he tried to hide, and he had been kidnapped and left in a dark mine tunnel for 48 hours only about six months ago, right before his 18th birthday. Although he hid it from his family, he still had nightmares about being alone in the dark and cold mine tunnel. As he descended into the depths of that mine, he tried to convince himself that he had nothing to worry about and that the risk was necessary. He had to find the proof he needed to support the assertions of theft. He practiced forcing himself to breathe normally all the way down into the shaft.

He collected his miner’s hat and tools and reported to the shift foreman to begin work. There were three main sections of the mine, Joe noted. The primary tunnel went straight back or North/south. There were two smaller tunnels leading from the primary tunnel. The tunnel on the left, would be going toward the east, Joe thought and the tunnel on the right would be heading to the west. He was most interested in the tunnel on the left and hoped he would be working in there, that was the tunnel where the reported silver had been found. Unfortunately, he was assigned with three other men to start moving rocks from a small secondary tunnel leading to the right of the mine. He hadn’t expected this to be easy, but he was unprepared for how hard it was. The work was back-breaking, but he was used to hard work. But in the almost dark, small, and airless space, the work was almost impossible. Joe felt like he had to force himself to take every breath and to make every swing of the pick and shovel. He worked for 12 hours that first day, with only a 20 minute respite for lunch. Although he had brought a box lunch made by the owner of the boarding house, he found he was not hungry. Instead, he gave it to one of the little boys he had seen in the line the previous day. Rather than eat, he went up the mine-shaft to get some fresh air. The few minutes in the cold fresh air and sunshine did more to revive him than eating would have. As he made his way back into the depths of the mine after his break, he noticed that the miners from the tunnel leading to the west all were eating in front of the tunnel. That group of miners seemed to be different from the rest of the miners, but Joe wasn’t quite sure what was different about them. He knew he had to get in there and have a good look around as soon as possible. He didn’t want to drag this out any longer than absolutely necessary.

When his shift ended at 6, Joe went immediately to meet his friends at their arranged spot. They were there wating for him, since their shift was over at 5 pm. Courtland made their employees work longer hours for less pay, but they got away with it because they weren’t too picky about the background of the worker. Neither Pete nor Matthew had seen anything out of the ordinary that day. They ordered a meal, ate, and after a beer, decided to call it a night. The long hours of hard work in a cramped space had taken their toll on all three of them.

“Just think, last week at this time, we were in Virginia City, having a ball.” Said Pete.

“Yeah, I sure am sorry that part of the plan is over already, that was the most fun I have ever had working for this company.” Matthew added.

“Well you were just lucky you didn’t have to face my Pa after one of those nights” Joe added with a serious look on his face.

“Yeah, but Joe, look at it from this perspective, you will be a hero to your family when this is over!”

“My Pa isn’t always that impressed by heroism” Joe said ruefully. “He says that sometimes heroism is just a prettied up word for foolishness.”

“Well we will meet again tomorrow, same time, same place., “Matthew said.

“Did that wire go out as scheduled?” Joe asked Matthew.

“Yep, it went out as planned. Don’t worry, they will get it.” Matthew reassured Joe.

The Cartwrights rode into Virginia City about 8:30 am and headed straight for the jailhouse to see Roy Coffee. Roy was the sheriff in Virginia City and a close friend of the Cartwright family. He was sorry to hear about Little Joe’s absence, but tried to make light of the situation since this was not the first time that Joe had been the subject of a search. “Well, Ben, now you know Little Joe has a mind of his own and this is not the first time, and I daresay it won’t be the last time, he decides to run off. Why I can’t count the number of times we have been out hunting him. As I recall, the first time I met you boys was when I was bringing Little Joe home after a disappearance,” he reminded Ben.

“Yes, Roy, but in everyone of those times, we had reason to search for him, so I can’t imagine that this time is any different. ” Hoss said.

Roy started to protest, but realized that Hoss was right. “Well tell me the whole story and let’s see what we can figure out” he said. When they had finished telling him the story and showed him Joe’s letter, Roy agreed with Hoss that Joe must be planning something that would put him at risk for being recognized and he was trying to avoid that. “I am relieved to know that he doesn’t plan to rob any banks” he said with a slight twinkle in his eye. “Now all the other times we had to search for Joe, he wasn’t trying to hide from us, so this might be a new experience for us all.” Roy said.

“I think if I was you, Ben, I would go ahead with the newspaper ads with a picture and a reward for information and I would also print up some flyers with the same information and hand them out in Virginia City. I would send some to the surrounding towns as well, such as Danvers, Carson City, Reno, and Hadleyville. All of those are within a day’s ride of here, which would have been reasonable to attempt, even in this cold weather.” Roy advised.

When they left Roy’s jail, they were headed over to the newspaper office, when the boy from the telegraph office, came running up to them and handed Ben a telegram. He gave the boy some change for his trouble, and hurriedly read the telegram.

I am okay, Pa. STOP Stop looking for me. STOP I will be home as soon as possible. STOP Regards. STOP Joe. STOP.

After reading it, he asked the boy where did this telegram come from? “I don’t know Mr. Cartwright, Mr. Smith didn’t say.”

“Let’s go see where this telegram came from, boys. We may have better luck than we thought.” Said Ben with a note of enthusiasm that hadn’t been there since he discovered that Joe was missing. But when they got to the telegraph office, the operator was not able to offer much help.

“Well, there is something funny about that telegram, Ben” he said. “See, look at this one that came in from Danvers this morning—see that little DNV down in the bottom left side of the telegram? That is the code for the city of origin. All telegrams are supposed to carry one. This one doesn’t have a code at all. This could have come from anywhere in the US that has a telegraph wire. The unusual thing is that most telegraph set-ups put the code on automatically and not many people would even think of taking it off. Seemed odd when I got it in this morning.” Hoss and Adam just looked at each other, then both looked at their father’s face, the small enthusiasm that the telegram had brought, now dissipated.

The Cartwrights posted flyers with a sketched likeness of Little Joe, promising $20,000.00 reward for information about his whereabouts in all surrounding towns. They also had a full page ad taken out in major newspapers locally. This strategy had worked for them before when Joe had been abducted when he was only 17. After doing that, they decided to visit the surrounding towns and conduct a search of the places Joe would most likely visit in each town. They decided to save time that they would split up, Ben would go to Placerville, Hoss would go to Danvers and Reno, and Adam would go to Hadleyville. Then they would meet in Carson City and decide their next actions.

 

Chapter 7

Joe was beginning to get into a routine for his new job as a silver miner. Not exactly one that he enjoyed, but one that he thought he could at least survive for a short time. He found that he couldn’t eat a meal in the middle of the day, he much preferred to spend that short period of time above ground, even if the weather was bad. He started getting up early enough to eat breakfast before his shift. He thought of all the good breakfasts Hop Sing had prepared over the years that he had missed because he preferred a few more minutes sleep to getting up and eating and decided when he got home he was going to turn over a new leaf. Of course, Joe always intended to turn over a new leaf, it just never seemed to be the right time. He continued to purchase the box lunch, which he gave to the two young boys to share. He wished he could do more for them. Their father was not in the best of health, but you could see he loved his boys and hated that they had to be down in the mines with him. Then after his shift ended, he would join Matthew and Pete for the evening meal and to discuss their day’s activities.

Joe thought of what his brother had said about Matthew and Pete and chuckled, thinking just how wrong he had been. Of course, he thought exactly what they wanted everyone to think—that they were lazy, not too bright, and not above turning a blind eye on something to make a little profit. Matthew and Pete worked for the U.S. Treasury department as special agents to investigate claims of fraud or theft of gold or silver from mines. This was a fairly new department, formed just after the Comstock lode was discovered. Because as soon as the gold and then the silver had been discovered, people with criminal minds started trying to steal it-right from under the miner’s noses. One of the more ingenious means to steal the gold or silver was to build a mine tunnel as close as possible to the mine with the gold or silver and then tunnel into the one with the ore, from the other worthless mine. It was hard to prove because there were inspections of mines and there was a general secrecy about the position or size of tunnels and about the worth of the ore. If the tunnels change directions periodically and are dimly lit, it is really hard for miners to know in what direction they are going. It usually required someone in the “good” mine to be involved as well as the miners doing the actual tunneling from the phony mine, in order to keep the legitimate miners heading in the wrong direction so that they didn’t discover the evidence of the theft.

The U.S. Treasury department had been given information that led them to believe that this type of stealing was going on in the mines in Carson City. Specifically, they believed that the Courtland Mining Company and possibly the Carson Mining company had tunneled into the Bristle Cone mine and was stealing silver from this mine. Unfortunately, the miner who had first suspected this and had talked about it openly, had died in a mining accident, the very next day. That was when the Treasury department had decided to send some of their agents into the mine under cover as miners to try to get sufficient information to file charges against the Courtland and Carson mining companies.

Since they needed three operatives for this type of investigation, they asked Special Agents Matthew Young and Pete Greene to recruit someone else. Their plan had been simple, they would just hang out in nearby Virginia City and get to know some of the locals until they found one that they thought would have the courage and conviction to take the job. When they met Little Joe Cartwright, they knew they had found the man for the job. He was young, strong, and not afraid to take risks. He also, they learned later, had a strong sense of right and wrong. He would accompany them in gambling, drinking, and having fun, but he would not participate in any of the criminal activities that Pete and Matthew suggested. Then when they actually confided in him and told them of their plans, he informed them that he was actually part owner of the Bristle Cone Mine, so that he couldn’t say no. They had sworn Joe to secrecy to protect the investigation, making him agree not to inform his family of the operation. Joe knew that he really had no choice, if he didn’t do it, their mine could start to lose money and that could jeopardize the Ponderosa and the Ponderosa was worth any risk.

He knew also that of the three Cartwright brothers, he was the only logical choice. Adam, as manager of the Bristlecone Mine, was far too well known among the mining companies—he would be recognized right away. Besides that, an experience Adam had had with a lunatic named Cain would make it extremely difficult to assume the identity of a miner. Hoss, though not as familiar to the miners, would be recognized just because of his size. Hoss was 6’4″ tall and weighed about 300 pounds and there certainly weren’t many people around his size. And Joe couldn’t stand the thought of his brother Hoss, having to work underground. So, Joe had agreed to take the job and not to tell his family until it was over. He didn’t have to think about not telling his family, because he knew his father would NEVER approve of his participation.

*****

Chapter 8

 

Beginning his second week of mining, Joe was getting a little more accustomed to the dark, stale, and confining size of the mines. Joe, although slender in build, was strong, well-built, and in good shape. But the muscles used in mining were not the same muscles used in ranching, so he had been sore at first, but now was handling the physical part of the work well. He still had to fight to keep down the panic he felt when he descended into the mine every day and his only real peace during the day came during that 20 minutes he spent topside. Unfortunately, he realized that he may be missing an opportunity to get a look at that other tunnel during that time, so he determined that he would start hanging around in the mine during lunch, He had noticed that sometimes the miners who worked in the suspicious tunnel occasionally went topside to eat their lunch. He decided that he would stay underground and watch them and if they went out, he would go inspect that tunnel.

That night after another long and grueling day in the mines, Matthew, Pete, and “Frank” sat at their usual table to discuss any leads. Joe told them that he was just waiting for the miners to leave that tunnel for lunch so he could go inspect it. He asked them to get him a small compass so he could judge the direction of the tunnel. Matthew said that he had overheard a part of a conversation between one of the Bristlecone foremen with somebody who had come down into the mine that seemed to be about the Courtland mine, but when he had moved to try to hear better, they had stopped talking about that and changed the subject. The foreman was Spence Williams, someone that Joe had heard Adam and his Pa mention before. Not for the first time, Joe wished that he had paid more attention to the business side of Cartwright Enterprises. Matthew described the man whom he had been talking to about the Courtland mine as about 6′, 180 pounds, black hair, about 50 years old, but Joe couldn’t think who it could be.

The next day, instead of going up to the daylight at noon, he sat down with the father and the two boys, who were seated near the tunnel Joe was trying to get into. He gave the young boys his lunch and sat down with a cup of lukewarm water from the water bottle. “Well, it is wet, but that is about all I can say for this water.” He said to the man. “I am Frank Wells” he said, offering the man his hand to shake.

“I am George Stone, Mr. Wells.” The man said, shaking Joe’s hand warmly.

“Call me J—Frank.”

“Okay, Frank, if you will call me George.”

“It’s a deal, George” Joe answered.

“It is mighty nice of you to give my boys your lunch, but it is also foolish of you not to eat down here,” he said.

“Eating down here just doesn’t sit well with my insides, but I make up for it at breakfast and supper.” Joe explained.

“Yeah, it is hard to swallow a meal in 20 minutes, much less digest it” George said. “Bristlecone gives you 30 minutes plus two breaks during the day”

“Then how come you work here instead of at the Bristlecone?” Joe asked.

“The owners of the Bristlecone have too many rules, mainly they won’t let my kids work along side of me. They say they are too young to work in the mines.” Joe raised his eyebrows and looked at the boys, but before he could say anything, George said, “Yeah, they are right, but I got to put food in their mouths somehow. I am trying to get enough ahead to buy a small piece of land to farm. That’s what I am, a vegetable farmer from the midwest.”

“How long do you think it will take you to save enough to do that?” Joe asked with interest.

“Well, I figure about one more year ought to do it.”

“How many years have you been saving?” Joe asked.

“Since the little one was 5 years old. He is now 9 years old.” George answered. Before they could say anything else, the whistle blew to send them back to work.

The rest of that afternoon as Joe chiseled away at the rocks, he thought about that young boy having to go to work in the mines when he was 5 years old. Although his mother died shortly after his 5th birthday, most of the memories Joe had of his childhood were happy ones. He vaguely remembered having his own pony, picnics at the lake, being read to, being tucked in at night, and birthday parties. He couldn’t imagine himself being in that little boy’s place. Again he thanked God for his family and hoped they were not worrying too much. But in his heart he knew that his father would not be able to stop worrying about him. He decided to talk to Matthew about speeding up the plan so that they could get it finished earlier. He would just have to think of a way to push ahead the timetable faster.

That night he discussed the idea of speeding up the plan with Matthew and Pete. Matthew said he would consider it and if they could come up with a safe plan to do that, then they would do it. He reached in his pocket and took out a small compass and handed it to Joe.

“Good, I will try to get into that tunnel tomorrow.”

“Joe, don’t take any unnecessary risks. These people are criminals and they are dangerous and the worse thing is, we don’t know who all is involved. Don’t trust anyone.”

“Don’t worry, I will be careful.” Joe smiled.

That night as he lay in his small bed in that noisy boarding house, Joe tried to come up with a plan to get into that tunnel tomorrow. He thought about the miners that worked in that tunnel, remembering that he had noticed something different about them when he first saw them. He went over all the details he could think of, visualizing them in his mind, one at a time. Finally, he realized that the difference was that they all wore big loose fitting shirts over their clothes, not tucked into their belts. “Now why would they do that, since loose clothes are dangerous around mining equipment?” He asked himself. The answer came to him immediately—they were concealing handguns under those shirts. And they were not as dirty as most of the miners, either. Of course! Joe almost shouted out loud. They aren’t miners at all—they are guards, protecting that tunnel. The only time they aren’t there is when they go over to the pay shack, probably reporting to the mastermind of the outfit. I have to get into that tunnel tomorrow, Joe thought as he was finally drifting off to sleep.

*****

Chapter 9

 

Adam was the first to reach Carson City. He left his horse in the livery stable, checking to see if there were any Ponderosa brand horses there, but not finding any. Then he reserved two rooms at the best hotel in town. He sent a wire to Virginia City to Roy Coffee to ask him if he had any news. While he was waiting for an answer, he decided to walk around the town, distribute flyers, and see if anyone remembered seeing his brother. After spending a nonproductive two hours, he went back to the hotel, washed up and changed and went to have lunch at the restaurant near the hotel. While there, he met some acquaintances from some fo the other mines in town. They asked him if he were concerned about the rumors about someone tunneling into the Bristlecone mine from one of the adjacent mines. “Tell me about the rumors, I have been preoccupied with a family matter over the last two weeks and haven’t even heard the rumors.” Adam replied.

“Well it is all over town that there is some kind of investigation into the Courtland and Carson mines about them tunneling into the Bristle cone underground and stealing ore.” They told Adam hurriedly.

“Well you know how rumors are, but just the same, I think I will pay a call to the foreman at the Bristlecone to see if he has heard anything about it.” Adam replied. “You will excuse me, Gentlemen?” Adam said as he arose from the table and left immediately for the Bristlecone mine.

Although Adam didn’t mention it to his friends, he and his Pa had been concerned about the Bristlecone for some time. Although the ore haul had exceeded the estimates initially, the amount of ore being mined presently, was much less than the estimates. It was not unusual for there to be heavier “pockets” of ore, followed by lighter pockets, but this had been a trend, that he and his father were concerned about. They had discussed the problem with the foreman, but he said he was sure that they would get back into the payload soon and had assured them that everything was in appropriate order. But, if there were rumors of theft, why didn’t the foreman see fit to alert them? Adam had been a little suspicious of Spence from the beginning, but there was nothing to support his feelings, and Adam just couldn’t see any logical reason for firing him. But if he were withholding information about the mine’s operations, that was a different story, Adam told himself as he walked to the mine.

Just as he was about to cross the street to head toward the Bristlecone, he saw his father and Hoss come riding into town at the other end of the street. He waved at them and they came over. One look at each other’s faces made it clear that none of them had any luck finding any news of Joe. Adam went with Hoss and his father to the hotel and while they ate, he updated them on the rumors about the Bristlecone.

“I never have trusted that foreman, Adam,” Ben said. “I guess after we look for Joe in Carson City, we should go have a talk with him.”

“I looked everyplace I could think of this morning, Pa, and didn’t see hide nor hair of him. I paid someone to plaster those posters all over town though, including one in every saloon and restaurant in town. I also sent a wire to Roy Coffee to see if he had heard anything. We should check back and see if there is a response to that, too.”

“Well, let’s go do that now”, Ben said. “Adam, I want you to remind me when we do find that brother of yours again about how I am too easy on him!” Ben said with a tight-lipped smile that was more a snarl than a smile.

“I wouldn’t want to be in his boots when you do find him, Pa.” Hoss said. “Of course, you are going to have to stand in line to pound some sense into his head, cause I intend to be first to do that.”

At the telegraph office, there was a wire from Sheriff Coffee stating that there was no news at that end. He said that he had looked for those men that Joe had been hanging around with in the Bucket of Blood saloon, but they were gone, too. Roy found out that they hadn’t been seen since the night Joe left, and that there might be a connection, so that they should be on the lookout for them, too. Adam asked Ben to go with him to talk to the foreman at Bristlecone. Hoss said he would have a look around town while they did that.

*****

Chapter 10

 

Joe was determined to get into that tunnel to see if he could have a look around. This was the day that the “miners” from the suspicious tunnel usually left the mine at lunch. At lunch time, Joe did his usual routine, sitting with George and his boys, in plain view of the tunnel. Joe was encouraged to see that the men were gathering up their gear as if they were going out of the tunnel. As soon as he saw them enter the main mine shaft and turn the corner, he stood up and stretched and said, “I think I will get a little exercise and stretch out the kinks.” And started to just wander around, straight in the direction of the tunnel. After coming to the entrance to the tunnel, he quickly looked around, and seeing no one watching him, ducked into the tunnel. He snatched out his compass and started walking deeper into the tunnel. At first that tunnel didn’t look all that different than the one he was working in, but as he went further in, he noted that there were two separate shafts, one of them headed directly to the Bristlecone. He went into that tunnel and walked quickly back to see if he could find a connection to another tunnel, which would be in the Bristlecone, according to the compass, if he had gone far enough. However, he was surprised to find that that tunnel ended in a blind tunnel.

He came out and started to explore the other tunnel, but he heard the whistle blow, so he made a dash for the entrance. Just as he got to the entrance, he heard the other miners coming back. He was trapped. He was hiding in the darkness, by the side of the entrance, but once the miners entered, he would be easy to spot. He was trying to think of an excuse for being there, when he heard a commotion down the main shaft, and as he watched, the returning miners ran right past him to see what the commotion was about. When they went by, Joe quickly stepped out of the entrance and quickened his pace, falling in behind them. The cause of the commotion was that George had turned over one of the mine conveyers and when the ore had spilled out, it had made the noise. George was explaining that it was an accident, that he had thought he could handle it by himself, but it had been too heavy and didn’t make the turn. Joe had seen George handle that conveyor with much more ore in it and doubted that it had accidentally turned over. He gave George an appreciative look, and then went over and started helping him reload the conveyor. Neither of them spoke about it.

After work, Joe met Pete and Matthew at their usual spot for dinner. He told them what he had found in the tunnel that day. He didn’t tell them that he almost got caught. He told them that now he had to get into the other tunnel because if there were a connection, it would have to be in that one. However, he thought it would be another week before he would have the opportunity to do it at lunch and he thought he needed more time to carefully inspect both tunnels again. He proposed a plan to accomplish that. He suggested that he hide in the very back of the tunnel he was working in after his shift the next day until everyone else had gone and then he could take his time and look around.

“Joe, that plan has one little problem—how are you going to get out?” Matthew said. “They have guards posted at night to keep people out, and they would catch you.”

“Well, I have thought of that; there are two possibilities. One, you guys could somehow create a diversion and I might be able to get out then, if you create a good enough one. Or I could stay there all night and just leave the end of the next day.” Joe said. He didn’t tell them that thinking of staying there all night gave him the willies, because they didn’t need to know that.

“I don’t know Joe this sounds pretty risky to me” said Pete. “We have to come up with a safer plan of getting you time to explore that tunnel.”

“Well, if you are going to think of a safer plan, you better do it right now, because tomorrow night I won’t be leaving that mine until I have seen that tunnel, one way or the other” Joe said with his jaw clenched. ” I have been gone 3 weeks and I know my Pa must be worried sick, I have to end this thing soon. You two come up with a diversionary plan for about 9 pm tomorrow night. That will give me 3 hours, that should be sufficient. If the diversion doesn’t work, then I will just hide in the tunnel til morning and come out at the end of my regular shift.”

“Joe, you better let me check this out with headquarters first” Matthew said.

“Now look, you asked me to do this, and I have been doing it for three weeks your way and it isn’t working. Tomorrow we do it my way” Joe said with a kind of half-smile that meant “my mind is made up, don’t try to confuse me with facts.” This was something else Joe had inherited from his mother, although he didn’t know that.

Pete looked at Matthew questioningly, and after a couple of minutes of silence, Matthew shrugged his shoulders and said, “Alright, Joe, we will try it your way.” Pete and I will have us a gigantic brawl right in front of the Courtland mine tomorrow night at 9 pm. If you get out then, come and join the mob we will draw so we will know you are out. If you don’t get out, we will meet you here after work tomorrow. Joe, be careful, these men are dangerous. They are stealing what amounts to large amounts of money, they won’t take kindly to someone interfering with their scheme. Remember one man already got himself killed for being too inquisitive about that tunnel” Matthew said. “Joe there is one more thing I need to tell you, or actually, I will just show you. I took this down from a window in this very restaurant before you came in.” As he spoke, he handed Joe one of the flyers with his picture and the information about the reward for information about his whereabouts.

“I was tempted to go telegraph your family and blow the whistle on you and collect that reward myself.” Pete said. Looking at that picture gave Joe goosebumps and he got that knot in his stomach that he got every time he thought of how worried his Pa and brothers must be. Pete and Matthew just watched him for a couple of minutes to see how he would react; they wouldn’t blame him if he called the whole thing off right then and there. But instead, Joe looked up at them and said, “You know I don’t think this picture does me justice, do you fellows?”

Pete laughed and said, “Well I tell you what I do think—that not too many people would think that YOU are HIM!” They all laughed about that.

“Must be why none of the girls have been coming over to ask me to buy ’em a drink in the “Hair of the Dog Saloon” Joe said with a smile. “This secret work sure is getting me behind in all my courting.”

*****

Chapter 11

 

First thing the next day, (Friday) Ben and Adam went back to the Bristlecone to see the mine foreman, who had not been there when they went to see him the day before. Adam asked him about the rumors, he said he had heard them, but that there were always rumors going around. He assured the Cartwrights that there was nothing illegal going on or he would have known about it. “The reason the mine is yielding less is that the silver lode is about mined out. This was not a Bonanza strike, and the mine will soon be petered out too much to make it profitable to continue mining.”

“Well if that is the case, I would like to inspect the mine and see that for myself. I had every confidence that there was a substantial ore load in this mine” Adam said. “Pa, would you like to do that today or would you rather us search for Joe today and come inspect the mine tomorrow?’

“Let’s look for your brother , Adam, the mine can wait one more day.”

“Okay, Mr. Williams, we will be here Saturday at 7 am to inspect the mine. I would appreciate your being here to accompany us.”

“Mister Cartwright, tomorrow is Saturday, the men only work half a day and then we have to give out pay, that will keep me busy in the morning. How about, say 1 pm instead? Williams asked.

“Alright, 1 p. m. it is. See you then.” Adam said curtly, as they left the building.

“That man was lying , Pa!” Adam almost yelled. “there is plenty of silver left in that mine; I have been in that mine too many times for them to convince me otherwise. Besides if the mine were petering out, shouldn’t the foreman have informed us?”

“I agree with you son, I have a suspicion that there is something illegal going on. But right now, let’s concentrate on finding your brother, the mine can wait. One crisis at a time is about all I can handle.”

Immediately after the Cartwrights left his office, Mr. Williams exited and went directly to the offices of the owner of the Courtland and Carson Mines. What most people didn’t know was that one man owned both those mines; he was also the business partner of Spence Williams. “Listen we have to get out of here, the Cartwrights have gotten suspicious. They are coming to inspect the mine tomorrow. We have to move the last load tonight and get out of here.”

Joe decided that he would take his pistol with him to the mine Friday morning. He couldn’t very well wear his holster, so he stuck the pistol in his belt and wore a slightly loose shirt to cover it. Good thing I am not as big as Hoss, or that would never work, he thought. He also had his compass and some matches to light the lamps after all the workers were gone. He was not looking forward to being in that mine alone for three hours, and he couldn’t even think about how he would get through it if he had to stay all night. But the good thing about doing this on Friday, was that if he did have to stay all night, at least the shift would be over tomorrow at noon, instead of 6 pm, so he wouldn’t have to be there quite so long.

Joe went into the mine right on time Friday morning and went about his usual routine, being careful to not draw any attention to himself. He did notice George watching him closely and wondered if he had some suspicions about him being in that tunnel yesterday. Joe wished he could take him into his confidence so that someone would know what he was doing, in case something happened; however, Matthew and Pete had made it really clear that he couldn’t trust anyone, so he figured he couldn’t risk it.

At lunch Joe sat with George and watched the tunnel for an opportunity to go in, but the miners there didn’t leave the entrance once. He did notice though that there were more miners than he had noticed before. Joe made it through the rest of the day but it seemed like that day lasted longer than all the others. When it was just a few minutes before quitting time, he looked around to see if anyone was watching him, and seeing no one, he quietly ducked into the tunnel he was working on and made his way all the way to the back and turned into what he knew was a blind tunnel. Shortly after that, the whistle blew and Joe heard the other miners leaving. He was surprised by how quickly they emptied out of the mine. He decided to remain hidden for a few more minutes to make sure that no one was lagging behind. After waiting about 15 minutes in the pitch blackness and fighting his own personal demons during that time, he decided that it was safe for him to get started.

He carefully made his way back out of the tunnel, feeling the walls and slowly moving to avoid any rocks or crevices. He had practiced that route at noon and he memorized the number of steps it would take him. When he finally made it to the entrance of that tunnel, he carefully felt the wall of the tunnel to the left where he knew there was a lamp. Finding it, he lit the lamp with the matches he had brought. He couldn’t believe how big the glow from one oil lamp can seem when you are in the total blackness. For good measure, he decided to light two lamps and take one with him.

Joe carefully made his way to the other tunnel to begin his search. He was feeling much more confident now, since it was so quiet in the mine and he now had a lamp, still it was pretty spooky. ” I sure wouldn’t give up the worst day on the Ponderosa for the best day in a mine,” he said to himself. He retraced his steps to the area where the main tunnel branched off into two other tunnels. This time he turned his attention to the tunnel that seemingly went in the opposite direction to the Bristlecone mine. He realized pretty quickly that this tunnel was longer than the others. He hadn’t gone more than 50 feet when the tunnel seemed to change direction. He got out his compass and confirmed that this tunnel now was heading directly into the Bristlecone mine. He kept following the tunnel, going deeper and deeper into the mine. At about 150 feet into the tunnel, he noticed some crates along the walls. He shone the lamp down on them just to see what was in them. The crates were empty and he was about to go on, when he noticed the name printed on the crate—Bristlecone Mining Company. He looked at the others, and all of them were labeled as being delivered to the Bristlecone. “Holy mackeral, I am in the Bristlecone now. Wait til I tell Adam about this!” He decided he would go as far into the Bristlecone as he could, to see if I can find where they are mining the silver that they are bringing out of the Courtland mine. “Man they have been robbing us blind Pa will be so mad about this, he might just forget about being mad at me!” he thought. “No, that is wishful thinking; he is still going to be mad.”

After about another 25 feet, Joe noticed a light, and thought, “Well there really IS a light at the end of the tunnel! What do you know?” He had gotten so excited that he had forgotten the threat of danger now. He hurried to the lighted area. When he stepped out into the brightly lit area, the first thing he saw was conveyor carts, loaded to the top with silver ore. Unfortunately the second thing he saw was the foreman of the Bristlecone, the foreman of the Courtland mine, and another gray-haired man, whom he didn’t recognize, as well as several other men, all armed. Joe reached for his gun, but had forgotten that it was in his belt and not strapped to his left side. As quick as he was, that wasted first effort to get the gun from the absent, gave the other men the advantage. Joe heard the gun fire and he felt like it took forever to actually hit him, but when it did, it hit him in the right side with a blinding explosion of pain. Joe crumpled to the floor, unconscious from the gunshot wound.

Some time later, he was awakened by someone pouring cold water on his face. He opened his eyes to the fierce expression on the foreman of the Bristlecone mine. “Well, well, just look what we have here, boys.” The foreman of the Courtland mine said, “His name is Frank Wells, he works the Courtland, been there about 3 weeks.”

“Frank Wells, eh? Is that your name?”

“Yeah, that’s my name” Joe managed to answer.

“If you are Frank Wells, I am the king of Spain. You are that youngest Cartwright kid that everybody is looking for all over the territory.”

“Cartwright!” The gray-haired man shouted. “Cartwright, that is all we need.”

“I think Frank Wells is going to have an unfortunate mining accident, don’t you think, Spence?” the Courtland mines foreman asked. One of the gunmen, moved over and held his gun inches from Joe’s head and pulled back the trigger, “I can take care of that” he said. Joe closed his eyes and waited for the end to come.

Just as the man was about to pull the trigger, the gray-haired man reached over and pushed the gun away. “Wait, let us not be hasty; we need to consider all the alternatives here. This kid may mean more to us alive than dead. Besides, if we change our minds, we can let him bleed to death. I hear that the Cartwright’s have posted a reward for $20,000 for his safe return already. I think we should keep him alive until we have finished up here, kind of as extra insurance, you might say.”

“That is good thinking Mr. Weldon,” Spence Williams said.

“Weldon—you are the assayer!” Joe exclaimed more to himself than to the man. “You are all in cahoots, stealing silver from the Bristlecone! You just wait til my Pa and brothers find out about this” Joe said angrily.

“Yeah, well you won’t be around to see what they do.” Weldon said. “You are the only person who will ever know that, and you won’t be telling anyone”, as he said this he motioned to one of the men with a gun. “Tie him up, gag him, and get him out of the way, we have to get this finished and we are wasting time with him. We will decide what to do with him permanently later.”

Two of the men dragged Joe into a corner of the mine, one of them tied his hands and ankles and the other one started to place a gag around his mouth, but looked at the other man and winked. “I just bought this neckerchief and I ain’t wasting it on this kid” and as he said that, he took his pistol and hit Joe forcefully on the back of the head, rendering him unconscious. He reached down and took Joe’s gun, too, saying, “I bet I can get a good price for this down in the alley.” Laughing, they went back to work, loading ore into the empty carts.

Joe gradually came to, some time later. It was completely dark and quiet in the tunnel. He strained hard trying to hear any sounds, but heard only silence. He tried to see if he could get his hands or ankles untied, but the ropes were tight and he couldn’t budge them. He had no idea of what time it was. His side was hurting, but the bleeding had stopped so he thought it was probably not too bad. He was very thirsty and he had a terrific headache, making it hard for him to think clearly. As he considered his predicament, he realized that he had to get free sometime between then and when the men returned. He didn’t know if they were finished or if they would be back before morning, so he knew he had to hurry.

He remembered that he had brought matches with him, but how could he get them out of his pocket? With much effort and a great deal of pain, he managed to get his hands close enough to his pocket that he could get his left hand into the pocket and finally, he grabbed two matches and pulled them out of his pocket. Before attempting to light it, he rested for a few seconds. He knew that the match would only burn for a very short period so he had to look quickly and try to get his bearings, locate the lamps, and figure out how to get to them in the dark. He only had a few matches and he didn’t know if he would be able to get them all lit, or out of his pocket, for that matter.

Luck was with him, the first match lit on the first try and he was able to spot a lamp about 20 feet away from him. He pulled himself up into a sitting position, wincing at the pain in his side, and began to inch his way across the tunnel to the lamp. The going was not easy, he scraped along on the floor, running into jagged rocks and getting cuts and scratches on his legs. He had to stop to rest several times and then when he thought he was near the lamp, he started trying to find it and thought he must have gone too far. He was very disoriented, not sure if he went past the lamp or if he wasn’t close to the lamp yet. He decided he would have to light another match to get a better position on the lamp. Before he did that, he went through the laborious process of getting another match out of his pocket, to be sure he would have one to light the lamp. When he succeeded in locating another match, he carefully struck one and was aggravated to find out, that he was right by the lamp, no more than two inches away. He used the same match to light the lamp. At least he wasn’t in the dark anymore. Now if he could just get his hands and ankles untied, he would be out of here in no time. He looked around where he was sitting and spied a sharp, jagged edge of rock and scooted over to it and began rubbing the ropes on his hands back and forth against the rock. And he almost made it…….

 

Chapter 12

Ben and Hoss and Adam had breakfast in the hotel early Saturday morning. After eating, they decided to split up so that they could cover Carson City more thoroughly and quicker. Adam started towards the East end of town, and Hoss took the west side. They planned to look in hotels, saloons, restaurants, and boarding houses, showing Joe’s picture to see if anyone recognized him. Ben checked with the telegraph office and had not had any messages regarding Joseph. He decided to question the operator about the practice of sending telegrams without city of origin codes. “I received a telegram in Virginia City recently and the operator commented about it not having a code for the city of origin” Ben said conversationally. “He said that was unusual. Is that something you have ever seen?”

“Yeah, we send them out without code of origin for the government all the time.” The operator responded.

“The government? What kind of government?” Ben asked, trying not to show too much interest.

“Well ever since those rumors about the silver ore being diverted from the Bristlecone to another mine, there have been Treasury department agents in Carson City and they requested some be sent without the code of origin on them.”

“If I showed you the telegram I received, could you tell if it were sent from here?” Ben asked, unable to contain his excitement this time.

“Sure, we keep records of them. I could see if it matched up against what we have. Of course I can’t just tell you what was sent, but if you have the original, I can tell you if it was sent from here. I don’t think that would be wrong, since it is your telegram, anyway.”

Ben, pulled the telegram out of his wallet, he had been carrying it ever since he got it, trying to figure out where Little Joe had gone and what he was doing. It was like a tangible reminder of him and Ben hadn’t wanted to part with it. He handed it to the telegraph operator, who said, “It’ll just take me a few minutes, I have to go to the back and pull out the records from that day.”

As he looked at it, he said, “I don’t even have to look it up, I know it was sent from here, because I am the person who took this and sent it. I remember because it struck me as odd.”

“What was odd about it?” Ben asked in an impatient tone.

“Well the person who wrote it out had the crookedest handwriting I have ever seen, all slanted, had to turn it sideways to read it just about. But the man who brought it in and paid to send it, signed the account and he wrote straight up and in a much neater handwriting. And of course, the message was a little odd to me, too. Telling someone to stop looking for him.”

“Do you remember anything else about the men who brought it in?” Ben asked, wishing Adam were in here to hear the description. He was getting a suspicion that those new friends of Joe’s had something to do with his disappearance. “Describe them for me, if you can”. Ben coaxed.

“Well one man was about 6 ft tall, had dark hair, dressed like a miner, and seemed to be the one in charge.” “the other fellow was red-haired, a little shorter, but heavier, also dressed like a miner. But I know that neither of them are miners, cause they work for the Treasury department; I have seen them before.” The operator said. “Seems like the red-haired guy called the other one, Matthew, I believe. That is about all I can remember. Does that help?”

“It sure does, Mr., it sure does. Thank you for your assistance”, he said as he slipped him a $20.00 banknote. Ben hurriedly left the telegraph office to go find Hoss and Adam. Joseph was in Carson City, he was sure of it. And somehow it did have to do with those “friends/government agents”. “You just wait til I get my hands on them, Joe is too young and impressionable to get involved with—-whatever they are involved in” Ben fumed.

Hoss was having no luck on his side of town. The area he was in was the moderate to higher priced area of Carson City. Everyone he asked denied ever seeing Little Joe. He went in to every saloon, restaurant, and hotel, and rooming house, showing Joe’s picture, with no success. Hr thought at first he got lucky, because when he showed it to several saloon girls, they all said, “Oh, that’s Joe Cartwright!”

“That’s right” Hoss said. “When did you see him last?”

“Let me see, the last time was when he got into that fight with Jake Barlow over something Barlow said about his father, I think.”

“And how long ago was that, Ma’am? Hoss asked impatiently.

“That was at least two months ago. He said when his Pa heard about the fight, he probably wouldn’t be back for a while.” Hoss remembered that fight and Joe had been right, Pa had made him work extra and pay him back for the damages before he could leave the Ponderosa. “Thank you, ladies, if you should see him, please let me know. I am at the hotel, I’m his brother.” Hoss said and tipped his hat to the ladies and left the saloon.

The last place he checked was the livery stable, at that end of town, but there were no horses or saddles that looked remotely familiar. He decided to go back and find Adam and help him search that side of town. On the way, he noticed a livery stable that he hadn’t really noticed before; it didn’t look like the kind of livery stable that they would entrust their horses to. But Hoss thought since Joe was not doing anything else like he was accustomed to, it was worth a try. Hoss went into the stable and started examining horses to see if there was one that he was familiar with. He immediately saw one that was a definite possibility; it looked exactly like one of the horses that Little Joe had just finished breaking. Hoss went to examine the horse closer and the owner of the stable came up and asked if he could help him.

“Yeah, I reckon you might be able to.” Tell me who this horse belongs to.

“I didn’t ask the man’s name, he paid for a month in advance. He sure was particular about what I had to do for the horse though; never seen anyone so concerned about a horse before.”

“What did he tell you to do for the horse, mister? Hoss asked, getting excited.

“Well he says I have to clean and refill his water bucket twice a day, something about the horse not liking to drink after other horses, and I have to give him all the oats and grain he can eat. But the crazy thing is, he has been coming every night, about 9 pm and bedding the horse down. He took him out riding every Saturday and Sunday, too.”

“Describe the man to me” Hoss said, becoming more and more convinced that the owner of this horse had to be his little brother. “

“Well, he was kinda on the small size, about 5’8″ and probably weighed 150-160 pounds. But he wasn’t skinny, he looked strong.”

“One more thing, mister, where is the saddle that goes with this horse?” Hoss asked. The man went over to a small room off the stalls and came back with a saddle. Hoss recognized it immediately as one of Little Joe’s old saddles. He patted the saddle and the horse and breathed a sigh of relief, they were really getting close now. “Mr., when was the last time he came by to see to the horse?”

“Well he has come every night except last night. I guess he figured the horse could get by one night without a visit. Seems silly to me, to pay me to care for the horse and then come every day and do it himself.”

“Mister, that is my little brother and my pa and my brother and I have taught him that a man always sees to his horse before he sees to himself.” With that, Hoss thanked the man for his help and walked as fast as his 300 pound frame would allow. “I have to go find Pa and Adam; Joe is here in Carson City.

Adam has wound up on the seamier side of Carson City; how did that happen, he thought to himself. Hoss and I should have traded sides. Still, he was systematically going into every saloon, hotel, restaurant, and rooming house and showing Joe’s picture and no one had been able to make a positive identification. However several people had said he did look familiar. At one of the restaurants, the proprietor said, “well he could be that miner that comes in here for supper after his shift every day around 6:30, but I can’t be sure”, he said. “But you could come back about 6:30 and if it is him, he will be here and you can see if it is who you are looking for or not. Though, now that I think about it, he didn’t come in last night, it was just the other two” , He said, trying to be helpful because he had seen the $20,000 reward notice, on the flier too. Adam thought he should go back and talk to Hoss and Ben to see if they had gotten any better leads.

They had agreed to meet at 10 back in the lobby of the hotel. Ben got there first and paced back and forth in the lobby of the hotel until he caught sight of Hoss. Before he had a chance to explain to Hoss about the telegram, he saw Adam come into view. “I think Joe is in Carson City,” they all said at the same time. They all looked at each other, astonished. Then they all started trying to talk at once. Finally Ben held up both hands and said, “this won’t work, let’s go through this one at a time. Adam what makes you think Joe is in Carson City?” They all relayed the information they had gathered that morning. When they had each shared and digested the findings from the other two, they were all sure that Joe was indeed in Carson City.

*****

Chapter 13

 

After what seemed like hours, Joe finally broke through the rope and got his hands untied, then untied his ankles. He stood up and stretched, that sure felt good after being tied up in a sitting position for so long. He looked at the wound in his side and thought it looked very minor. He found the water bottle and drank thirstily from it; then splashed water on his face and head. He was a little bit dizzy, but the water revived him. He decided to go back to see if the men had taken all the ore they had planned to steal. When he went back to the site, there was no one there.

All the ore had been removed, and the area was completely vacant. However, he heard a strange hissing sound, somewhat familiar and he tried to think what caused that sound. “DYNAMITE!” he yelled as it finally came to him. He immediately began running toward the front of the mine and he had gone about 20 yards when the explosion occurred. The force of the explosion shook the entire mine, and Joe knew that the shoring in the Courtland mine would not withstand that great an explosion. He kept running for the front of the mine as the walls of the mine began to crumble around him. He was hit by flying debris, but kept running, despite the pain in his side. He was probably only about 30 or 40 feet from the main tunnel of the Courtland mine when a piece of falling rock struck him on the head and back, knocking him down-and out.

*****

The Cartwrights were still discussing the information they had learned and trying to decide their next course of action when a man came running into the hotel and yelled, “There was an explosion in the Bristlecone mine.”

Ben, Adam, and Hoss immediately ran toward the mines. When they got there, there was a huge crowd of people already there, and there was a line of miners coming out of the mine.

“Is there anyone trapped in there?” Adam asked the exiting miners.

“No, sir, we were all working toward the front of the mine this morning, so there shouldn’t have been anyone in the way of the explosion.”

Just then Ben saw the foreman, “Mr. Williams, what caused that explosion?”

“Well, we think someone left some blasting caps in there and something ignited them, maybe falling rock or somethin’. We will know more when we get in there and get a good look at the area. I am sending the men home now so we can get a look-see”.

“Pay them their full day’s pay” Ben said.

“I want to go with you to inspect the mine, Mr. Williams” Adam said.

“If you are sure, Mr. Cartwright, it may be dangerous.”

“Well it is our mine, Mr. Williams. I will go with you.” Adam said, leaving little doubt that he didn’t believe what the foreman had told him. Adam knew that blasting caps don’t go off by themselves and that didn’t look like an explosion caused by blasting caps, anyway. It had the look and feel of dynamite, and dynamite definitely didn’t go off by itself.

“Well, I think we should give it a little time to settle before we go in, why don’t we meet in say two hours?”

“Alright” Adam said, scowling.

*****

Joe woke up this time with a worse headache than before. Keeping his sense of humor, he thought to himself, “well at least my side doesn’t hurt anymore.” He was surprised but pleased to see that the lamp he had carried was still burning. He looked about him and found that the exit to the Courtland mine was blocked. “Of course, he thought to himself, they have just sealed the connection between the two mines, so they can just walk away with all that ore from the Bristlecone. Hummph, we have probably been paying miners to rob us blind, though the miners didn’t know it either.

Since the connection into the Courtland mine was now sealed, he knew that he had to get through the Bristlecone mine to get out of there. Unfortunately, Joe knew very little about the tunnels and passageways in the Bristlecone. He had always tried to avoid having anything to do with the mining part of their business ventures. He much preferred the Ponderosa and was content to let Adam and his Pa manage the Bristlecone entirely. He remembered the compass and hoped it would help him navigate the maze of tunnels and lead him to one that would take him out of there. If he wasn’t careful, he could wander around in there and get lost and disoriented an wander around in circles. Since he figured it had to be Saturday morning and there had been an explosion, he knew that there wouldn’t be any miners in the tunnels before Monday. He didn’t want to be wandering around there til Monday. He thought that Matthew and Pete may try to look for him, but they would be looking in the wrong mine, since they didn’t know about the connection between the two, for sure.

*****

Ben and Adam and Hoss decided to follow up on some of the leads they had gotten that morning. The two “miner” friends of Joe’s seemed like the best place to start. So they headed to that diner where the two men with someone who might be Little Joe were frequently seen. When they got there, the manager pointed out the table where they usually sat; it was empty. “Let’s go around to the rooming houses and see if anyone there can identify him” Adam suggested.

As they were walking down toward the block of streets that had a lot of seedy-looking cheap rent rooms, they met a man, obviously a miner, followed by two hungry-looking boys. The man was holding one of the flyers they had posted. “Looking at Ben, he asked, “Are you the men looking for this boy?”, holding up the flyer and pointing to Joe’s picture.

“Yes, I am Ben Cartwright, and these are my sons, Adam and Hoss. We are looking for my youngest son, Joseph.”

“Well that ain’t the name he was going by, but I think it is the same boy.”

“Where, mister?” Hoss interrupted. “Where did you see him?”

“He’s been working in Courtland mines for about 3 weeks now. He has been real nice to me and my boys, giving my boys his noon meal everyday.” Ben and Adam and Hoss all kind of smiled at that, it sounded so much like Little Joe.

“But, Mr. Cartwright, I think he is in trouble” George said urgently.

“What kind of trouble?” Ben asked.

“Well, yesterday, he didn’t leave the mine. I generally allus walk out with him and he talks to my boys, there. But yesterday he was no where around when I left, and I kind o hung around outside to see if he ever came out, and I never did see him. “And he didn’t show up this morning. The funny thing is, I had noticed him before and he was always awful interested in the tunnel that only certain miners could work in. I know he sneaked in there yesterday and he almost got caught, but I set up a diversion so he could get out. We didn’t ever get the chance to talk about that. That was why I was waiting for him yestiddy. I wanted to know what he was up to and to tell him to be careful. The foremen of these mines are all in cahoots, is ‘pears to me.”

“Pa, we need to go check out that mine now, Joe could be in there.” Adam and Hoss said, almost in unison.

“Mister, could you take us down there and show us where Joe was looking and where he was working?”

“Sure, we can let my boys wait for us outside and I will show you right where I saw him go.” They hurried to the mine and were surprised to find it completely deserted. There were no workers, no foreman, no guards. “Odd, isn’t it?” asked Adam. They descended into the mine and George showed them the tunnel Joe had been interested in. George told them how only certain miners could work in there and that there was always someone guarding that tunnel. He was surprised to find it unguarded, even on the weekend. “Maybe there is nothing left to guard” said Adam.

They went all the way down the main tunnel and then the two side tunnels. The first one, the one Joe had gone into first, was vacant and showed no signs of recent mining activity—it looked like it had been abandoned for some time. They backtracked and went down the other tunnel. They saw little if any sign of recent mining. “but that’s where the most of the ore they are mining is coming from” said George, in surprise. “How can it not be mined?”

“Perhaps the ore is not coming from the Courtland mine, but maybe from the Bristlecone!” said Adam, almost jubilantly. “That has to be the answer, Pa, don’t you see? They have tunneled into the Bristlecone and are robbing us right under our noses!”

“Yes, and somehow I think your brother is in danger because of finding out about that.” Ben said grimly.

They continued down the tunnel, expecting to see a connection into the Bristlecone mine. Instead they came to a dead-end, where rocks were piled up, blocking further progress. “Look up there, though, Adam, this tunnel has been dynamited. Smell the air, you can still smell the powder. We have found the cause of the explosion.” Hoss said. Then with a look of alarm on his face, Hoss said, “You don’t think Joe was in here when the dynamite went off, do you?” But it wasn’t really a question he wanted an answer to.

“If there were a connection between these two mines and I think you are right about that, then Joe could be on the other side and be in the Bristlecone” said Adam.

“Right, let’s go look over there.” Ben said anxiously. They quickly retraced their steps in the vacant mine. When they reached topside, Ben asked George to go get the sheriff and to meet them at the Bristlecone as soon as possible. Ben, Adam, and Hoss proceeded directly to the Bristlecone mine. There was no one there either, no guards, no foreman, and no miners. However, just as they were about to enter the mine, two miners came walking up to the entrance. Adam exclaimed, “that’s those two that Joe was with in Virginia City, Pa”.

“Yeah and they fit the description of the two that Joe has been seen with in Carson City” added Hoss.

As the two men drew closer, Hoss kind of stepped away from the group, allowing the two men to get between him and his father and Adam. When the men reached them, Ben asked if he might have a word with them. “Not now, sir, we have to go into that mine—we may have left something in there” Matthew replied.

About time, they said this, Hoss came up behind them and grabbed them both by their necks. “Oh, I think you can take time to answer a few questions for us, fellows. You see that man, there, who is asking the questions. See he is my Pa and his name is Ben Cartwright. That man there, with the gun pointed at you, is my brother, Adam. And my name is Hoss Cartwright. And we are looking for my little brother, Joe Cartwright. And from what we here, you fellows may know something about where he might be. I would advise you to start talking before I get a cramp in my hands and accidentally break your necks.” During this whole time, Hoss didn’t raise his voice or change his tone, but he kept a steady grip on the men’s necks.

“Mr. Cartwright, I am sorry, my friend and I are Special Agents for the Treasury Department. Your son has been working undercover with us for three weeks, trying to get enough evidence to make a case against the owners of the Courtland mines. But something must have gone wrong with the plan. Joe stayed in the mine last night so he could get a good look around. He was supposed to leave at 9 P.M. last night. We created a helluva diversion so he could get out unnoticed, but he didn’t show and he wasn’t at the mine this morning. We were just on our way to go look for him ,now sir.”

Ben continued to glare at the two men while listening to their report. When they finished he looked at them with his eyes narrowed and said, “If anything has happened to my son, both of you and the entire Treasury Department will have to answer to me. But right now, I want to find my son. Do you have any ideas? We just came from the Courtland mine and the explosion sealed off what looked like a connecting tunnel between the two. We were going to look at the Bristlecone mine and see if he is on this side.”

“We will help you, Mr. Cartwright. If anything has happened to Joe, I will never forgive myself.” Matthew said.

“That’s makes two of us, mister.” growled the usually gentle Hoss Cartwright.” “That makes two of us.” He repeated.

*****

Joe had been searching for a way out of the mine for what seemed like days, but he figured it probably had only been an hour or two. He was not making much progress, however. He had run out of water a long time ago. The blood loss, the lack of food for over 36 hours, dehydration, and the blow to the head combined to make him pretty weak and dizzy. He desperately wanted to stop and lie down and rest, but he knew that if he did, he may not get up again. He kept walking, looking for a passage way to take him into the main mine shaft. For the thousandth time he told himself he should have paid more attention to the details of the Bristlecone mine. He was sure that Adam and Ben would know those tunnels in the dark. “In the dark” Joe said, “Who does it have to be so darned dark in a mine, anyway?”

It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep walking. He was having to fight to take every step. He wanted to lie down and rest just for a few minutes. But every time he almost gave in to that urge, he thought of his father and brothers and what would happen to them if he didn’t make it back out—then he would take a few more steps. He had to get out for their sake, if not for his. “Boy if I could see that big brother of mine right now, I think I would give him a kiss” Joe said to himself. By now, Joe could barely stand, he was in fact leaning against the wall of the tunnel, taking one step, then stopping to rest against the wall, then struggling to take one more step. He knew he couldn’t keep this up much longer.

Just as he was about to give up hope, he heard men talking. His first thought was to rush yell for help. But then he thought, “That could be Williams or the others” so he kept silent, listening, trying to catch their voices. “Dadburn it, I am going to tear that boy from limb to limb when I find him” Joe heard someone swear. He knew then that he was safe. Hoss may say he would tear him from limb-to-limb, but Joe knew it was only talk. Joe started moving again as the voices became louder. Just as he had gone as far as he could go, he looked up and saw his father, Adam, Hoss, and Matthew and Pete come around the corner. “Hi, Pa, Hoss, Adam, How are you?” He said, as he started sliding down the wall. Just in time, he felt the strong big arms of his brother Hoss gently picking him up. He looked up at Hoss and gave a weak, lopsided grin and said, “What’s all the fuss about, big Brother?”

*****

Chapter 14

 

The doctor was amazed at how well Joe did after the bullet was removed from his side and he got a good night’s sleep in the comfortable hotel bed. By 16 hours after he had been rescued, he was already fighting with the doctor and his father to let him out of bed. Since the doctor insisted that he have at least 3 days in bed, Ben, Adam, or Hoss stayed with him round-the-clock, despite his protests. Matthew and Pete came by to see him to tell him that they were going to their next assignment in St. Louis. Matthew said, “Joe, have you ever been to St. Louis? We can always use a good man on our team.”

Before Joe could answer, Ben interjected, “Joe is going to be plenty busy at home on the Ponderosa for the next several months; he won’t be going anywhere. Let me assure you of that, gentlemen.”

Joe saw that his father had already forgiven him for leaving without telling him and was just pretending to still be mad about it. It made him realize again how lucky he was to have such a loving family, and he vowed to himself to remember that and try not to cause his father any more worries. He never meant to get into trouble, he just had a “talent for trouble” as Hoss put it.

It took several days for the legalities regarding the theft of silver ore from the Bristlecone to be straightened out. In the end, the foremen of all three mines were arrested and charged with claim-jumping, robbery, assault and battery, and attempted murder. The assayer was charged with collusion to theft, attempted murder, falsifying ore samples, and several other related charges. The criminals finally produced records of how much ore they had stolen from the Bristlecone mine over the past year—it was nearly half the total ore over the year, and had increased substantially over the last four months. The Cartwrights received payment for all diverted ore, and when the miners went back to work on Monday, they discovered that the dynamite blast had opened up a new vein of silver. Although the Courtland and Carson mines closed, there was now plenty of need for the miners to work in the Bristlecone to mine the new discoveries.

Late on the evening of the third day, Ben was in the room with his youngest son. The sheriff had been by and given them a detailed report of the charges and probable outcome of the criminals. One of the head men for the Treasury department had come by to give Joe a personal thanks for helping them get to the bottom of the theft. He looked at Ben and said, “Mr. Cartwright, you should be proud of this young man, he risked his life to save the Bristlecone mine and to see justice done.

“Sir, I have always been proud of my son, and have no reason to change my opinion now.” Ben said, with the hint of a smile.

When the man left, Ben said, “Joseph, I am proud of you, son. But please don’t ever do this again. Let your family help you-we are stronger as a team than we are individually. Remember that, son.”

“Okay, Pa.”

“Well, son, why don’t you get some rest now? The doctor says we can take you home tomorrow.”

“Pa, there is one thing I wanted to ask you. Do you remember the man with the two boys that told you I had worked with in the Courtland mines?”

“Sure I remember him, Joseph.”

“Well he has had a pretty rough time, his boys have to work in the mines with him. Their Ma is dead, too. He is trying to save money to buy a small farm. Could we help him out some, Pa?”

“Joseph, what do you take me for?” Ben asked.

“Pa, I will pay it back, I just hate to think of those two boys working in that mine.”

“Son, I gave your friend the $20,000 reward that we had offered for your safe return; he has already gotten the money and gone to buy his farm, with his boys in tow.” Ben said, smiling.

“Thanks, Pa.”

For a few minutes, there was only silence in the room. Ben thought Joe must be dozing. Then, Joe said in a mild rebuke, “$20,000? Is that all I’m worth to you?”

Ben looked at his youngest son, sighed and said “Well, Joseph, that depends upon which day you’re asking about!” Unable to control himself, Ben reached over and hugged his son tightly.

“Well, Pa, I don’t think I will be signing up to work in any more mines from now on, that’s for sure.”

“Then I guess it is true, Joe, “every cloud does have a silver lining!” When Hoss and Adam entered the room right after that, Ben and Joe were still laughing.

***The End***

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