You Got to Have Heart (by Judy)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  36,377


 

Chapter 1

 

Hop Sing watched from the kitchen window as the Cartwright sons rode into the ranch yard. Little Joe was first, at least 50 yards ahead of Adam and Hoss. Just for an instant, Hop Sing saw Marie Cartwright instead of Little Joe, her son. Hop Sing had been standing right there in that same spot that awful day when Marie had come riding into the yard on a horse that was a bit too wild; and despite her excellent riding skills, she had been unable to control the horse. The horse fell on top of her and she died instantly. From that day forward, Hop Sing had done everything in his power to make up for the loss of Little Joe’s mother. He was moved out of his reverie by the sound of the boys coming into the house, talking, laughing, and as usual, slamming the door.

Hop Sing smiled, then walked quickly out of the kitchen, and putting a mad expression on his face, started talking to the boys in rapid Chinese, ostensibly scolding them for their entrance.

Hoss and Adam looked sheepish and attempted to apologize; Joe, however, who had actually understood most of what Hop Sing had said, replied to him in half-Chinese, half-English, and all nonsense. Hop Sing said “Hummph” or something like that and turned to go back to the kitchen, still muttering, the smile returning to his face the moment he turned his back.

*****

The next day Hop Sing had to go into town to get supplies for the ranch. Little Joe rode along side the wagon on Cochise. Hop Sing had been with the Cartwrights since before Joe was born, and was considered part of the family; yet his Chinese culture did not allow him to act informally with his employers. It was different with Little Joe, since Hop Sing had taken over the primary responsibility for childcare for Joe after Marie was killed. Hop Sing talked more to Joe than to any of the other Cartwrights. Joe confided in Hop Sing and Hop Sing confided in Joe

in return. Hop Sing had told Joe that he was having a problem with some troublemakers in Virginia City and Joe was going along to make sure that he wasn’t bothered this morning. He also planned to pay a visit to the sheriff to tell him about the troublemakers. When they got to town, Hop Sing first had to visit his multitude of cousins in the Chinese section of town. Joe told him he had some errands to run and he would come back to Chinatown in one hour to accompany Hop Sing to the general store to get the other supplies.

When Joe left Hop Sing he went directly to Sheriff Coffee’s office and/or jail. Sheriff Coffee was sitting behind his desk, looking at wanted posters when Joe opened the door. “Come in Little Joe. Where have you been lately? No one has busted up the saloon in almost 2 weeks.

How long has it been since you were in town?” Sheriff Coffee asked with that twinkle in his eye and a poorly-concealed grin on his face. “Hello, Roy. You wouldn’t be implying that my absence from town and the absence of fights are somehow connected, would you?” Joe asked with no attempt to conceal his smile. “Well, Little Joe, just how long has it been since you were in town, boy?” the Sheriff persisted. “Just about two weeks” said Little Joe playfully. “But that is purely circumstantial”. Joe said. “Yeah, Joe the circumstance is that you just seem to invite trouble.”

“Now, Roy, that’s not fair—-” Joe started. Then he looked at Roy and said, “I guess you are right, Roy. But at least you can’t say I am good-for-nothing. After all, I keep you employed!” Then they both laughed.

“Well what brings you to the Sheriff’s office, Little Joe?” Did you just decide to turn yourself in before you start a fight?” Sheriff Coffee asked.

Joe’s expression changed from one of merriment to one of seriousness. “Roy, someone is picking on Hop Sing and the other Chinese citizens of Virginia City. It is that gang from the mines. I had to come into town with him to make sure they don’t mess with him. Last week they pulled him off the wagon and scattered the contents all over Virginia City.” Joe said.

“Yes, Joe, I heard about that.” Roy said. “Well what did you do about it?” Joe asked loudly.

“Well, Little Joe, I talked to everybody anywhere near there and no one would admit to seeing the incident..” Roy answered, trying to calm Little Joe down. “Roy, you know Hop Sing wouldn’t lie.” Joe replied, his voice getting louder and his eyes getting that dangerous look in them.

“Yes, Joe, I know Hop Sing wouldn’t lie, but with no one to support Hop Sing’s claim, it comes down to Hop Sing’s word against the miners. You know that wouldn’t fly in Virginia City right now.” Roy said, somewhat defensively.

By this time, Joe was really angry, not only did he have a personal relationship with Hop Sing and many of the Chinese citizens, he also hated injustice of any kind. “So that’s it?—you are just going to let them get away with it?” Joe asked incredulously, his voice hard and angry.

“Joe, I have assigned a deputy to make regular rounds there and I encouraged the merchants to come forward, and I warned the miners to let up. That is all I can do for now.” Roy had gotten up from his seat by this time and was standing directly in front of Little Joe, staring directly into his eyes. “And I don’t want you going off half-cocked and trying to do my job for me either, Little Joe. And I don’t want to have a gunfight to figure out either. You hear?” Joe didn’t reply and Roy repeated firmly, “Little Joe, do you hear me?”

Joe looked up at Roy, smiled briefly, and said “I hear you, Roy. I had better get back to Chinatown before Hop Sing tries to come over to the mercantile on his own. I will see you later. Sorry for losing my temper.”

“Joe, I know how you feel about Hop Sing and I will try to get to the bottom of this, but I have to be careful how I do it.” Roy said, relieved that Joe had calmed down.

Joe had HEARD Roy, but that didn’t mean he agreed to anything. He had come up with a plan while listening to Sheriff Coffee, but he needed someone to help him carry it out. He walked directly to his friend Pete’s house. Pete lived in town. Joe wished that Lance was in town to help him, but he lived too far away to get his help and he needed help right now. Luckily, Pete was home, outside chopping wood when Joe rode up on Cochise. “Hey, Little Joe. How are ya?” Pete asked, waving at Joe. “HI, Pete, I need your help with something. Can you get away for about 30 minutes?” Joe asked.

“Sure, Little Joe, what do you want me to do? Do you need some more of my help with the girls?” Pete asked with a chuckle. Joe wasn’t likely to need his help with girls–they both knew it was the other way around. “Come on and ride with me over to Chinatown and I will tell you on the way.” Joe said.

*****

Joe and Pete rode up to where Joe had agreed to meet Hop Sing. Hop Sing came out of the small Chinese store when he saw Little Joe. Pete said to Joe, “Joe are you sure you want to do this? You know it will take at least 15 minutes for me to get the sheriff and get back here.” “You just go get him when I give you the signal and I will take care of the rest.” Joe said with a determined look. Pete knew it was pointless to argue, so he just said “All right, it is your funeral.” Joe told Hop Sing to ride on ahead in the wagon and he would follow right behind him on Cochise. Hop Sing nodded and started the wagon toward the mercantile. What Hop Sing didn’t realize is that although Joe was behind him, he was not right behind him. In fact he asked Hop Ling to tie Cochise, and followed the wagon on foot, staying concealed in the shadow of the buildings.

Just as he hoped, when Hop Sing turned the corner on C Street, the group of out-of-work miners were hanging around, looking for trouble. As soon as they noticed Hop Sing, one of them stood up. Joe turned to Pete, who was actually following Hop Sing and signaled for him to go get the Sheriff. One of the miners, a big burly man with a much-scarred face said to Hop Sing, “Did n’t we tell you last week to stay out of Virginia City? I guess we will have to make sure you understand that you aren’t welcome here.” When Hop Sing saw that the miners were coming toward him, he looked behind him, expecting to see Little Joe on Cochise with his gun. Instead, for a minute he just caught a glimpse of Pete riding away at a gallop. He was confused and scared, because by this time the miners were closing in on him, taunting him. Just as they were about to approach the wagon, Joe stepped out of the shadows and said, “Hey why don’t you just go on about your business and stay out of trouble? Hop Sing, you go on to the mercantile and wait for me there.” Joe said. “Little Joe, Hop Sing not go without you. You come now too.” Hop Sing replied.

The miners were clearly confused as to who to take on first. Joe looked at Hop Sing and imitated his father’s “look” and said, “Hop Sing, go to the Mercantile and wait for me. GO NOW, HOP SING.” Hop Sing nodded and urged the horses to move forward, but he was looking back toward Little Joe with tears in his eyes. He knew Joe didn’t have a chance against all the miners. He decided to ride to the jail and get the Sheriff, so he pushed the horses to run.

Joe was stalling for time, hoping that Pete and the Sheriff would get there before the fight got started. Since Roy had told him he didn’t want a gunfight, that left a fistfight. And he figured he could take one or two of the miners, but there were 5 of ‘em. “Oh, well”, he thought, “If I go down, I will take as many of them with me as I can.” Joe kept backing up, talking to the miners, trying to talk to them, stalling for time. When the biggest one stopped right in front of him, squinted his eyes and grinned at the other miners, Joe knew he had run out of time. Thinking surprise might help, he quickly punched the miner. When his first punch hardly phased the miner, Joe thought to himself, “Uh-oh I may live to regret this—if I am lucky, that is.” He was right. Despite getting in a few good punches and making some good defensive moves, he was no match for the miners and was well on his way to getting beaten to a pulp, when Sheriff Coffee, Clem, and Pete came running down the street. Sheriff Coffee fired a gun to get the miner’s attention. Pete and Clem went to help Joe up. Clem took one look at Little Joe, shook his head, and told Pete to go tell the Doc they would be bringing Joe by. Joe protested, “I am fine, just help me up.”

“Go Pete,” said Clem, ignoring Joe’s request.

When Joe got his breath, he looked at Roy, who was still holding a gun on the miners, and said “Sheriff Coffee I was a witness to these men harassing Hop Sing. That one there, in the red shirt admitted the incident last week. And he started the fight when I told him to leave Hop Sing alone. I will testify to that in court if I need to.”

Sheriff Coffee looked at Joe and said, “Well it looks like we can add assault and battery to the charge, too.”

“Will that be enough evidence, Roy?” Joe asked.

“Yes, Joe that will be enough to get them some serious jail time, considering that they all have prior little incidents on their records.” “And I don’t imagine anyone else is going to get any ideas about taking up where they left off, when they see what happened to these men.”

Hop Sing came up in the wagon about this time and quickly jumped down and started to see about Joe’s injuries. “You need go see Doctor Martin, Little Joe. Hop Sing take you in wagon.” He said to Joe. “Little Joe take big risk. Mr. Cartlight be mad when he find out what you do.”

“Now Hop Sing, all I did was intervene when a bunch of ruffians tried to jump you, he would have done the same thing.” Hop Sing was helping Joe into the wagon and fussing in Chinese. Joe talked right back to him, making light of the situation.

Hop Sing drove the wagon to Doctor Martin’s office, who came to the door when they pulled up in the wagon. “Well, Little Joe what did you do to yourself this time?” He said, although Pete had already told him what had happened. Doctor Martin helped Joe down and led him into his office. Pete took Hop Sing’s list and went to the mercantile to get the supplies loaded onto the wagon, since he knew Hop Sing would want to wait there for Little Joe. Hop Sing sat quietly in the Doctor’s waiting room, thinking about what Little Joe had done. Pete came back in about 30 minutes, the wagon loaded and ready to go; he had also collected Cochise from Hop Ling. He sat down next to Hop Sing to wait for Little Joe.

Shortly, Little Joe came out, followed by Doctor Martin. “Hop Sing, will you see that this young man goes home and to bed? He has some cracked ribs and is going to have lots of bruises and swelling, but with a few days rest, he will be okay. But he needs to rest for a few days til his ribs heal some. I taped his chest and I will come by in a couple of days to check on him. Keep him in bed ’til then.” He then looked at Joe and said “That was a foolish thing to do Joseph, but you did it for the right reason, I guess.” He then patted him on the shoulder, smiled and said, “All right Hop Sing, get him on home.”

“Thanks, Doc”, Joe said. Joe looked at Hop Sing and Pete and said, “Well what’s everybody staring at? Let’s get a move on.” And he strode jauntily out the door, ignoring the pain in his side, his face, and his head. He thought a few lumps and bumps was a small price to pay to stop those miners from harassing the Chinese citizens of Virginia City.

******

Chapter 2

 

Paul Martin was the only physician in Virginia City and he had patients for at least a 50 mile radius from Virginia City. Dr. Martin had studied medicine at Johns Hopkins University and had done a special residency at Harvard University dealing with “frontier” medicine. He had also studied for a year in England at Cambridge University. He was probably one of the best prepared physicians in the country. He was certainly the best small town doctor in the west. Dr. Martin worked hard to maintain his knowledge by reading medical journals and textbooks and whenever possible, attending medical education conferences. All this preparation was beneficial to his patients, due to the illnesses and injuries that made up a medical practice in the West and the lack of nearby medical facilities and additional medical resources.

Dr. Martin was getting ready to attend a week-long medical conference at Harvard University on medical and surgical emergencies, with a second week off for a trip to the shore. He had arranged for a physician from Johns Hopkins to cover his patients while he was gone. Dr. Adams had come to Virginia City two weeks in advance so that he would be able to work with Dr. Martin to get familiar with his patients and the territory. Dr. Adams had accompanied Dr. Martin on his rounds and had worked with him in his office seeing patients.

During times when they were not busy, Dr. Martin would review medical histories of his other patients. When they got to the “C”s, they came to the Cartwrights. Ben, Adam, and Hoss Cartwright had average-sized medical records, with a few major injuries such as broken bones and gunshot wounds, but mostly minor illnesses or injuries. Dr. Adams looked surprised when he reached into the filing cabinet and took out Joseph Cartwright’s medical record. “Wow, this one must either have a serious chronic condition or be very old with the size of this medical record.” Dr. Adams said.

Dr. Martin smiled, “No, that is the youngest of the Cartwright’s–he is only 17 years old and is generally quite healthy.”

“Well why does he have such a large medical record?” Dr. Adams asked incredulously.

“I guess you could say he is accident-prone” Dr. Martin said. “I should probably give you a complete history and tell you what to expect if you have to treat him, since with my leaving for two weeks, there is a good chance you could be called to the Ponderosa.” Dr. Martin said, motioning Dr. Adams to sit in the chair next to his desk.

“Joseph Cartwright, or Little Joe, as he is called by most people around here, is the youngest son of Ben Cartwright, owner of the Ponderosa, the largest ranch in Nevada.

Dr. Adams interrupted, “Why do they call him Little Joe?”

That’s a nickname that they started using when he was just a baby because he was so tiny, and it just stuck. He doesn’t seem to mind the nickname now that he has filled out a little bit, but he sure hates being reminded of how young he is. I usually try to avoid calling him Little Joe and call him Joe.” Dr. Martin replied.

“To continue, Joe’s mother died when he was about five. Joe was a small child with a finicky appetite and a tendency to take risks. The first time I was called to see him for an injury, he had tried to ride a horse that was way too big for him to handle and had fallen off. Luckily, his brother Hoss was nearby and got to him before he got trampled. That was when he was 6 and that has been a frequent pattern through the years. Joe is very lively and has a wonderful sense of humor, but he is impulsive and stubborn, as well. He had more than his share of childhood injuries—broken arms, legs, cuts, bruises, broken or cracked ribs, etc., primarily due to his impulsiveness and temper getting him into trouble. “

“As he got older, the type of injuries changed and became more serious. Unfortunately his temper, stubbornness, and strong belief in what is right, gets him into fights that his size just can’t handle. He has also had several injuries that were just bad luck or were beyond his control, such as gunshot wounds. He has always had remarkable recuperative powers, though. An injury that would keep most people down for a month, hardly phases him. After the initial illness or injury, the biggest challenge becomes keeping him in bed.”

“Despite his age, he is one of the bravest men in Virginia City. For example, through some unusual circumstances, Joe was hosting a picnic for the school children and their families, the miners of the Ponderosa Bristle Cone mine, and the Ponderosa ranch hands out at the lake. One of the children, somehow managed to wander off into an abandoned mine and fell into a narrow vent hole. Little Joe insisted that he be the person to be lowered into the vent hole to rescue the little girl. He made it down, tied the rope around the little girl, sent her up, and waited alone, in the dark for us to send the rope down to him. While he waited there was a minor cave-in—I thought we weren’t going to be able to get him up. Fortunately we did, and the girl’s father gave him an award for bravery.”

“Well someone had to go down the hole and it was his ranch, wasn’t it?” Dr. Adams asked.

“Yes, it was his ranch and someone had to do it, but he was only 15 at the time and has an almost-phobic fear of the dark, stemming back to a time when he was kidnapped and held in a dark and cold deserted mine. There were dozens of able-bodied miners and ranch hands, and not one of them volunteered to go down that narrow, dark hole. What young Joe Cartwright did was braver than anything I have ever seen.” Doctor Martin replied.

“And that is just one incident involving Joe, I could tell you dozens more, but it is just as well that you find out for yourself. If you have an occasion to meet him, I am sure you will come to understand why Joe Cartwright is one of Virginia City’s real ‘favorite sons’, and why I am especially fond of him.” Dr. Martin told Doctor Adams. “Just be sure to keep an eye on him if you have to treat him for anything—he is a terrible patient who never follows orders.” Dr. Martin said, laughing.

*****

Chapter 3

 

Ben Cartwright rode alone to the small glen tucked into the mountainside, overlooking Lake Tahoe. He came here to think, to grieve, to seek solace from the sadness that sometimes overwhelmed him. To casual observers, Ben Cartwright was a man of quiet strength and determination, not prone to melancholy or sentimentality. They were wrong. Ben Cartwright was a man of quiet strength and determination; however, he also carried the burden of a life of grief, sadness, and tragedy. Ben Cartwright had married three times, tragically losing each wife in a relatively short period of time. He had been blessed by the gift of a son from each of these marriages and he loved his sons dearly; yet, he was sometimes almost overcome with the feeling of loss of what might have been.

For long periods of time, he would go about his daily routine, running the Ponderosa, raising his sons, and enjoying his life. Periodically, however, he would be overcome with longing for the women of his life. The events that triggered these periods of depression were varied, ranging from a glance at a photograph, a comment by someone in conversation, or something involving one of his sons. Whatever the trigger, Ben would find himself here, at Marie’s grave overlooking Lake Tahoe. Here, he would let his thoughts wander and allow himself, for just a little bit, to give in to the sorrow and pain.

Today’s visit had been prompted by a combination of things, not by a single event. Spring on the Ponderosa was a time of regeneration, renewal, and re-growth; the grass was turning green, the streams and creeks were running full of clear water, birds were nesting, and the cattle and horses were giving birth. Spring was a time of hope and opportunity and he couldn’t help thinking what it would have been like if his last wife, Marie, Joe’s mother, had not died. Ben had loved each of his wives and still felt a sense of loss for each of them. Although he didn’t verbalize it, he sometimes considered the irony of the circumstances of his life. As much as he had hated to lose first Elizabeth, then Inger, he knew that his life wouldn’t be complete if he had not married Marie, who had given him his third son, Joseph. So when he grieved for his wives, it was Marie that he imagined still alive and what their life would be like if she had not died.

She had been vivacious, lovely, mischievous, and warm; yet, she had a fiery temper and was strong and stubborn. Ben allowed himself to stay at the gravesite for two hours, talking to Marie about their unrealized dreams. After two hours though, apparently Marie had had enough of his feeling sorry for himself, for his thoughts seemed to turn toward the good things that had occurred in his life.

Each of his wives had given birth to a son and Ben was extremely proud of his sons. Adam, the oldest, son of his first wife, Elizabeth, was Ben’s right-hand man on the Ponderosa. Elizabeth had died in childbirth in Boston. After her death, Ben had taken his infant son and headed west with the idea of staking a claim in the west and starting a new life, away from the sea. His second wife, Inger, had given birth to Erik Haas, known by all as “Hoss”, due partly to the name Haas, but more than that by his size and strength. Inger had been killed by an Indian attack on the wagon train they were part of on the way West, several years later. Ben had then taken his two young sons as far west as Nevada, and there he settled down and started building a ranch, now known as the Ponderosa. He met Marie on a trip to New Orleans and fell passionately in love with her. She had returned to the Ponderosa with him and shortly thereafter, their son, Joseph was born. Joseph was a tiny baby, especially compared to his brother Hoss, and they started calling him “Little Joe”. This nickname had stuck with him, though the derivation of the name was not discussed unless they wanted to fight.

After his visit to the lake, Ben forced himself to turn his thoughts back to the running of the Ponderosa. The Ponderosa was the largest ranch in Nevada, with 500,000 acres, cattle, mining, and timber interests. Ben and his sons ran the Ponderosa with the help of a large crew of hired hands. Although the ranch was very prosperous, it required a great deal of time, sweat, and effort.

Springtime was one of the busiest times of the year on the Ponderosa and Ben and his sons were busy, not only with their own tasks, but also keeping the ranch crews busy and on target. Ben just could not afford himself the luxury of giving in to his despair. He had too much work to do.

He couldn’t discuss his feelings with anyone either, he kept them hidden, or so he thought. The people who worked for him knew something was bothering him, because he would become hard to please and short-tempered. They usually just tried to stay out of his way until the bad disposition passed.

For the most part his two oldest sons, Adam and Hoss, tried to do the same thing—stay out of his way and not do anything to rile him until he was over whatever was bothering him. Joseph, however, was different. Joe could always sense the reason for his father’s periodic black moods. Somehow he knew that leaving Ben alone and avoiding him during this period was the absolute worst thing he could do. So while Adam and Hoss walked around on egg shells, avoiding their father and doing everything they could to stay out of their father’s scrutiny, Little Joe seemed to do everything possible to demand his attention.

That evening, Ben, Adam, and Hoss had already started having dinner when Little Joe came in, late as usual. Adam and Hoss shared a look of dismay and “glad it’s him and not me” when Joe came in. Ben said, loudly, with obvious irritation, “Joseph, is it too much to ask for you to be on time for a meal just once in my lifetime?” The sarcasm was not lost on Adam and Hoss, who busied themselves with their own meals, not looking up at Joe or Ben. Joe, however, looked at his father, smiled, and said “Why heck no, Pa, but could you give me a little advance notice on when you are planning to die so that I could make sure and do that? No sense in doing it now if you only want me to promise to do it once in your lifetime. You aren’t sick are you, Pa?” Adam and Hoss couldn’t believe their ears. Adam stared at Little Joe with disbelief. Hoss tried to get Joe’s attention to warn him to be careful. Joe, seeing Hoss’ look, winked at him and said, “Hey, Pa, did you hear about that new saloon in town? It is called the Sassarack and they have a piano player and entertainment every night and they have one of those fancy roulette wheels.”

Ben started to answer his son shortly, asking him how he managed to stay on top of all the latest developments in the entertainment in Virginia City; however, when he looked at his son and saw the enthusiasm in his face, the glint in his hazel green eyes, and noted the excitement in his voice, he found it was impossible not to catch a little of the enthusiasm.

He answered, “No, Joe, I wasn’t aware of that”, in a much milder tone than he intended to. Joe proceeded to tell his father and brothers all about the wonders of the new saloon. It occurred to Adam and Hoss that Joe was really going to get it now, since Joe wasn’t supposed to have been to Virginia City for the past two weeks as punishment for taking on that bunch of miners who had been bothering Hop Sing on his own. He would have been in more trouble, but Sheriff Coffee said his actions had helped stop the harassment for all Chinese citizens, which was becoming a real problem. Ben had been angry that Joe had tried to tackle it on his own, rather than appeal to his family for help. However, Ben didn’t seem to think of that and his mood continued to improve as Joe regaled them with the delights of the new saloon.

Finally, Ben said, “Well Virginia City may just never be the same again, son, with such a high caliber establishment.”

“Well, Pa, why don’t we ride into Virginia City after supper so you can see it for yourself?” Joe said, his hazel eyes dancing with excitement.

Adam and Hoss exchanged glances, expecting their father to hit the roof at Joe’s impertinence. Although they knew that Joe often got away with a lot more with their father than either of them could, this was clearly too much. They were sure their father would never let him get away with that. Their looks turned to outright disbelief when Ben replied, “All right, Son, a night in town might do us all good.” In return, Joe beamed at his father and then turned and grinned at his brothers.

During the remainder of the meal, Joe kept up a lively conversation with their father, talking about happenings on the ranch, telling about his latest romance, describing the newest tricks he had taught Cochise, telling about the practical jokes he had pulled on his friends, and other assorted light-hearted topics. By the end of the meal, Ben was joking, laughing, and teasing his youngest son, with no sign of his former bad mood. Hoss and Adam were hardly able to participate in the conversation, due to their awe at the change in their father’s mood.

As they rode into town that night, Ben and Joe rode in front and due to Joe’s eagerness to get into Virginia City, they were beyond hearing distance from Adam and Hoss, who followed them. Hoss and Adam discussed what had happened at dinner. “You know, Adam, I don’t know why we were so surprised. Joe has been doing that his whole life, even when he was a little tyke.”

Hoss said. “Yes, but what gets me, is how does he know when to do that and when not to do it.”

Adam said. “It is like he has some sixth sense about the cause of Pa’s bad moods and knows when he needs to keep a low profile and when to do….whatever it was he did tonight!” Adam said, incredulously.

“Yeah, Adam, just what was what Joe did at supper?” Hoss asked, looking at his brother.

“Hoss, do you remember that book I loaned you about India? Do you remember that picture of the snake charmer?”

“Yeah, Adam. Why?” Hoss said.

“Well, Hoss, the way I figure it, Little Joe is a snake charmer, and Pa was the snake tonight.” Adam said, laughing.

“Yeah, Adam, I guess you are right, but Pa ain’t the ONLY snake Joe can charm, is he?” Hoss said, also laughing.

About this time, they caught up with Joe and Ben who had stopped their horses and waited for them to catch up with them on the outskirts of Virginia City. “What’s so funny, older brothers?”

Joe asked, smiling at his brothers. “Oh, nothing, Little Joe. Joe, have you ever read that book of Adam’s about India?” Hoss asked. Joe gave him a confused look, but didn’t answer as they were then riding into Virginia City.

“This way, Pa,” Joe said, excitedly, leading the way to the Sassarack.

The four Cartwrights rode into Virginia City about 6 o’clock and after stabling their horses, headed straight for the Sassarack Saloon. Adam and Hoss were eager to see the delights of the new saloon, since they, unlike their little brother, had not seen the Sassarack before. As they turned the corner to go to the Sassarack, they ran into Sheriff Roy Coffee.

Roy said, “Well what are the Cartwrights doing in Virginia City tonight?”

“Roy, my young son, seemed to think we needed some entertainment that could only be found in the Sassarack Saloon, and you know how persuasive he can be. So here we are,” Ben replied with a smile and a firm handshake.

“Well after you wet your whistle, why don’t you come on over and let me beat you a few games of checkers?” Roy asked.

“All right, Roy, I will just do that. But I should warn you, I have been taking lessons from Little Joe. I might just beat you one of these days. I will be there in about 30 minutes, you get the board set up.”

Ben Cartwright wasn’t really all that interested in the saloon, but was glad of the chance to spend time with his sons having fun. Ben loved watching the three of them interact, Adam so serious, Hoss so friendly and naive, and Joe—so–…. Ben couldn’t think of just 1 or 2 words to describe his youngest son. He was certainly in a high state of enthusiasm and full of energy. Although Ben had figured out that Joe had sneaked into Virginia City without permission, yet another time, he wasn’t planning to make an issue of it. Although he didn’t consciously think about it, he knew that Little Joe’s actions earlier that evening had been responsible for his change of mood.

After they had been there for about 30 minutes, Ben decided to go on over to the jail for that game of checkers. He moved over to where Hoss and Adam were watching Joe play a game of poker. He noted that Joe had a winning hand, and smiled and shook his head. He really secretly wished that Joe would lose at poker—so he wouldn’t love to play so much.

“Boys, I am going over to talk to Roy Coffee and see if I can beat him one game. Joe, I sure wish I had some of your checker-playing luck. I’ll come back over here about 10 o’clock for another beer with you before we head on home. You boys have a good time and stay out of trouble.” He said, looking directly at Joe with the final admonition.

Hoss and Adam responded in the affirmative, but Little Joe, absorbed in his poker game, didn’t reply.

“Joseph, did you hear me?” Ben asked with a determined look on his face.

Just then, Joe said, “I call you” and his opponent turned over his cards. Joe turned over his cards, a straight flush, easily beating the man’s pairs. Joe raked in the considerable amount of money from the middle of the table.

“Joseph?”

“Sorry, Pa, you go on and see Sheriff Coffee, I will keep Adam and Hoss out of trouble while you are gone. Don’t worry about a thing,” Joe said, with a grin on his face.

“You just see to it that you stay out of trouble, young man.” Ben replied, with a hint of a smile on his face. As he turned his back to leave, his face broke out into a huge smile and he winked at Hoss and Adam, who returned his smile. Once again, Little Joe had charmed the “snake”.

*****

Chapter 4

 

When Roy Coffee had finished making his evening rounds, he went back to the jail and put on a fresh pot of coffee to brew and set up the checker board. He had spent many an hour playing checkers with both Ben Cartwright, whom he almost always beat, and with Little Joe Cartwright, whom he rarely beat. His games with Little Joe had become infrequent, however, since Joe had discovered that he actually liked the girls who had been after him for several years. He hoped that he hadn’t completely given up playing checkers, since Joe gave him a much better game than did his father. After getting the game set up, he sat down and started trying to map out his strategy. As he was doing this he remembered one of the last times he had played checkers with Little Joe Cartwright.

*****

He and Joe were playing their 3rd game of checkers, and as usual, Little Joe was winning. Roy made one very cautious move, for which he had studied the board for a good 10 minutes. Joe watched Roy move the checker, and as soon as Roy’s hand was off the checker, he quickly jumped his black checker over that red checker and every remaining red checker. “Game!” Joe exclaimed.

“Well, Little Joe, one of these days I am going to either beat you or figure out how you are cheating me.” Roy laughed.

“Now Sheriff Coffee, I am surprised at you. Just because you can’t win at checkers, you can’t accuse me of cheatin'”, Little Joe laughed.

“No, but only out of respect for your Pa’s friendship do I put up with you,” Roy teased Joe.

Joe’s face took a little bit more serious expression and he said, “You and my Pa have been friends for a long time, haven’t you, Sheriff Coffee?”

“Yes, Little Joe, your Pa and I have been friends since you were 6 years old,” Roy responded.

Joe looked a little puzzled, “How did you know how old I was when you met?”

“Because you were the reason we met in the first place, Little Joe,” Sheriff Coffee answered.

Joe was about to ask the Sheriff to explain when the door to the jailhouse opened and Adam and Hoss Cartwright walked in, with serious expressions on their faces. They looked surprised to see Little Joe sitting there, playing checkers with Roy.

“Clem told us to get over to the jail right away, said there had been a fight and you brought Little Joe to the jail,” Adam said, looking sternly at Little Joe.

“What’s goin’ on here, Roy?” asked Hoss, looking at both Roy and then Joe. He noticed a bruise on Joe’s left cheek.

“Joe have you been fightin’ again?” Hoss asked.

“Hello, big brothers,” said Joe. “Don’t get so excited, I am okay.”

“Frankly we are more concerned with what Pa is going to think if you are in trouble again,” Adam replied sarcastically.

“Why, Adam, I am shocked that you are more worried about yourself getting into trouble with Pa than with my welfare”. Joe said.

He knew that his father had warned both Hoss and Adam to keep an eye on him all the time and keep him out of trouble. However, they had gotten occupied, Adam had gone upstairs with a girl at the Bucket of Blood and Hoss had gotten involved in an arm-wrestling contest. He had gotten bored and gone to the Sassarack. He had been minding his own business and having a beer with a girl, when her former boyfriend came and started a fight. Roy had just come in and stopped the fight before Joe had gotten too badly beaten up. He had arrested the other man and brought Joe over to the jail with him to keep him out of trouble and sent Clem for Adam and Hoss.

Although Joe had not told Sheriff Coffee of his father’s charge to his brothers to “keep an eye on him”, Sheriff Coffee knew that he would have. He said, “Boys, I suggest you take your younger brother here on home to the Ponderosa, and the next time your Pa tells you to keep an eye on him, you better do it. Is that understood, or do I need to tell your Pa what you two were up to while Little Joe got into trouble?” Roy asked with a stern expression on his face, but with a twinkle in his eyes.

Shortly after the Cartwright brothers had departed, Roy leaned back in his chair and half-awake and half-dozing, he started thinking about when he first came to know the Cartwrights. He had been Sheriff for Virginia City for one month then. He was still trying to get to know all the residents of Virginia City. He was satisfied so far with the job, and he and his daughter Nancy had settled into a comfortable routine. He had been able to hire a very good housekeeper to care for the house and to watch over Nancy when he was at work. He was sure that leaving his former job and town had been the right thing to do for himself and for Nancy, after his wife’s death, there were just too many memories there. He wanted to start fresh and build new memories for Nancy. The job in Virginia City seemed like just the right opportunity for him. The town was growing rapidly and needed a full-time Sheriff to keep the peace. Roy was confident that he would be able to use his common sense and knowledge of the law to do that. However, he also was pretty handy with a gun, if need be.

He had just come to his office in the jailhouse that morning, after having breakfast with Nancy. He was busy shifting through papers on his desk, organizing his thoughts, and getting his day started, when the door opened. A man and a young boy entered the office. The man introduced himself as John Cooper. He told the Sheriff that late last night, this little boy had somehow found his way to their cabin. Since it was so late and the boy looked so tired and sleepy, his wife had simply put him to bed. We’re new here and don’t know the neighbors yet, so we decided to bring him to Virginia City to see if anyone could identify him. As the Sheriff listened to the story, his eyebrows raised and he turned to watch the little boy. The child looked to be no more than 4 or 5, he had dark brown, curly hair, hazel eyes, and was slight in build. The Sheriff noted though that his clothes appeared to be well-made and he had on expensive boots.

Questions began to enter his mind at a rapid pace. Who was the boy? What was he doing out late last night? Why was he alone? Why hadn’t anyone been looking for him? He also noted that the boy didn’t appear to be frightened, but instead, was looking all around the jail, looking at the wanted posters on the wall, and scanning the jail cells. He was surprised that a lost little boy didn’t seem to be afraid at all.

“Son, my name is Sheriff Coffee. Can you tell me your name?”

“Sure. My name is Joe Cartwright,” Little Joe answered with confidence and no hesitation. As he said his name, he held out his right hand to shake the Sheriff’s hand, giving him a confident smile. Roy, somewhat astonished, shook Joe’s hands.

“That is what he told me and my wife too, and he kept saying something about pine trees, but we didn’t know what he meant,” Mr. Cooper added.

Roy was thinking, “Cartwright” that is a name I have heard since moving here. Somebody who owns a big ranch, wasn’t it?”

“Well it is a pleasure to meet you, Joe Cartwright. Now can you tell us where you live?” Roy asked quietly.

“I live on the Ponderosa Ranch—the Pinetree brand,” Joe answered.

“Well, Joe where are your mother and father?” Sheriff Coffee asked.

As he asked this question, Roy noted a momentary look of sadness or grief cross the little boy’s face, then he seemed to catch himself and his face took on a stubborn look.

He said, “I live on the Ponderosa Ranch with my Pa, Ben Cartwright and my brothers, Hoss and Adam.”

Roy noticed Joe’s omission of mention of a mother and decided not to press that issue. Instead, he asked, “Joe, how did you come to be alone? Where’s your family now?”

“My pony couldn’t keep up with my brothers and I got lost. My Pa will come get me though, when they finish eating breakfast,” Joe replied simply. The image of the other Cartwright’s that the Sheriff was forming was not altogether pleasant at that time. How could they have let a boy this young fall behind and get lost, without even looking for him? The little boy must be used to being left behind from the calm way he’s takin’ it, he thought to himself. I think I’ll just go have a talk with the Cartwright family, he decided.

“Well Mr. Cooper, thank you for bringing the boy in, you did the right thing. I’ll see that he gets home and have a talk with a family so careless as to lose such a little young ‘un,” Roy told Mr. Cooper as he was getting ready to leave.

Mr. Cooper hesitated, then said, “Sheriff, my wife and I would be proud to take the boy in, if his family don’t turn up.”

“Thank you, Mr. Cooper, I will keep that in mind,” Roy said.

Joe looked surprised and said, “My Pa will come get me, Sheriff. Or Hoss or Adam will.”

“Joe, you come with me, I need to go by my house for just a minute, then you and I will ride to the Ponderosa together, “ Roy said with a smile at Little Joe.

“Sheriff Coffee, is that the key for the jail?” Joe asked the Sheriff, pointing to the keys hanging on the wall.

Roy followed where Joe was pointing and said, “Yes, son, why do you ask?”

“Well, if someone was in that cell, they could take that little table and move it right over there by the wall and stand on it and reach the keys.”

Roy was smiling at the imagination of the little boy who thought he could tell him how to run a jail, but as he listened to what the child was saying and watched as he pointed, he was shocked to see that the child was absolutely right. He stared at the child in amazement for a moment, then said, “Well Son, I sure hope I never have to keep you in jail ’cause you are the only person to have ever thought of that.”

“Oh, Sheriff, you won’t put me in jail, will ya?” Joe asked with a bright smile.

He was completely taken aback at the warmth of the smile. Roy felt himself developing a good opinion of this small child. “I sure hope not, Son, I sure hope not.”

“Well if you did, could Hoss come with me?” Joe asked.

“You want to bring your horse into jail with ya?” Roy asked with a surprised look.

“No, Hoss is not a horse. Hoss is my brother, Sheriff.”

“Well what kind of a name is that?” Roy asked.

“It’s a big brother kind o’ name, I guess,” Joe said as if that was the most foolish question he had ever been asked.

Roy and Joe headed over to the Sheriff’s house. As they walked down the street, they passed several towns people, Joe smiled and said hello to everyone they met. Some of them just smiled back and continued on their way, many of them though said “Hello, Little Joe. Good to see you” and looked curiously around as if looking for someone. Roy noted this response several times. Finally when it happened for the third time, he asked the woman if she was looking for someone. “Well, yes, I was looking for Little Joe’s father, Ben Cartwright, or Hoss or Adam, his brothers. You never see Little Joe without one of them.”

“Well, this boy was lost all night last night and brought in by a new settler this morning and as far as I know no one has been looking for him! He was riding with his brothers and they went too fast for his pony to keep up with ‘em and that’s why he got lost in the first place,” Roy said emphatically.

“Sheriff Coffee, I guarantee you if that child has been missing all night, Ben Cartwright has every ranch hand on the Ponderosa out looking for him. You should get him home as soon as possible before Ben worries himself to death.”

“That’s what I am doing, I just have to go get my horse and tell my housekeeper where I am going.” Roy said.

The woman nodded her head at Roy and looked at Little Joe and said, “Joseph Cartwright, did Adam and Hoss KNOW you were riding behind them? She asked with a serious tone in her voice.

Joe looked a little uncomfortable and then replied, “I don’t know for sure,” he said, with a grin.

“Joseph, did they know you were behind them?” she repeated.

“No, Ma’am, but I wanted to go with them to round up the strays.” Joe said, stubbornly.

“I see, Little Joe, so you were not even supposed to be riding at all, were you?” The woman asked again.

“No, Ma’am,” Joe replied in a somewhat less confident voice.

“Sheriff Coffee, don’t jump to any premature conclusions about Ben Cartwright, or Adam or Hoss for that matter. I think you will find the situation to be quite different from what you are thinking.” She smiled at him and said, “I would really encourage you to get Little Joe home as soon as possible, before Ben Cartwright has the U.S. Cavalry out on the Ponderosa looking for him.” With that, she said, “I have to be going now. Good day, Sheriff Coffee. And with a smile, she reached over and ruffled Little Joe’s hair and said, “Good bye, Little Joe. Please try to stay out of trouble for a day or two.” Joe brushed his hands through his hair and frowned slightly after the woman ruffled his hair. From the looks of it, Roy guessed that curly head of curly hair got ruffled a lot.

Roy was beginning to think he had really better get this little boy home and fast. He walked into his house, followed by Joe. His daughter, Nancy was sitting in the parlor, playing with her puppy. Little Joe’s eyes lit up when he saw the puppy. He walked over to Nancy and with another of those brilliant smiles, said, “I’m Joe Cartwright. What’s your name? Can I see your puppy? What’s his name? What kind is he?”

Nancy looked at Little Joe and smiled at him in return and began to answer his questions, one by one: ”I am Nancy Coffee. Yes, you may see my puppy. His name is Freckles, and he is a hound dog.”

Roy left Nancy and Joe playing with the puppy while he told the housekeeper where he was going. When she heard him say that he was going out to the Ponderosa to take home a little boy that got lost, she said, “What has Little Joe been up to now?” and smiled at the Sheriff. The Sheriff explained the situation and she urged him to hurry, too. He quickly saddled his horse and then came back to the living room to collect Joe.

“Come on Joe, I will take you home now,” Sheriff Coffee said.

“Alright, Sheriff Coffee. Bye, Nancy, thanks for lettin’ me play with Freckles. Come out to the Ponderosa some time and I’ll show you my horses and we can go to the lake and I can show you my secret place.”

“Bye, Joe. Come back to play with me,” Nancy replied.

Sheriff Coffee put Joe on the front of the saddle and mounted up behind him and headed toward the road leading out of Virginia City. He realized he didn’t know the directions to the Ponderosa. He said to Joe, “I forgot to ask someone how to get to the Ponderosa. I will stop and see if I can find someone who knows.

“I can show you the way to the Ponderosa,” Joe said confidently.

Roy considered this for a minute and said, “Well I don’t know about that—you got lost!”

Joe laughed and said, “Yes, but that was different–I hadn’t been that way before but I know the road from Virginia City to the Ponderosa. I have done this a bunch of times.” Roy was convinced that he did know the way to the Ponderosa, so he followed his instructions. On the way, Joe told him everything about the Ponderosa, his father, his brothers, Hop Sing, and about a million other things. He kept a steady stream of conversation going. He also made several jokes and laughed when the Sheriff made jokes.

Joe asked a lot of questions about the Sheriff, Nancy, and the job of Sheriff, too. Roy was thoroughly enjoying the conversation with this little boy and found himself talking to him as if he were an adult, or he thought, laughing at himself, as if HE were a child, too. “Son, when you get old enough, you can come and be my deputy.” Roy told Little Joe.

Joe’s face took on a serious expression for a few seconds, as if he were considering the offer, then he said, “How ’bout if I be the Sheriff and you and my Pa and Hoss be my deputies?”

Roy laughed and said, “Son, I wouldn’t be surprised if we weren’t all working for you one day.” “But what about your other brother, Adam?” Roy asked, puzzled that Joe had left him out.

“Oh, Adam can’t be a Sheriff, he always wears black. He will have to be the bad guy.” Joe said matter-of-factly. {Yes, I know I am taking literary and period license—just go with it!} That positive feeling that Roy had noted during the initial meeting intensified during that trip to the Ponderosa. Roy was enthralled with the lively personality and spirits of this child.

Upon arriving at the courtyard of the Ponderosa, Roy noticed about two dozen men and horses, who seemed to be waiting for something. About that time, the door of the massive ranch house opened, and three men came hurrying out, buckling on gun belts as they came out. They all strode purposefully and quickly to their horses. Just as they were about to mount up, the Sheriff and Little Joe came into view. The three Cartwrights, as well as the men, seemed to be frozen in their tracks for just a few moments. Then the biggest one let out a whoop and the older one rushed forward.

Roy dismounted and then reached up to help the youngster down. Just as he got Joe off the horse, the older man, whom Roy realized must be Ben Cartwright, reached them and grabbed Joe in his arms in a huge bear hug. “Hi, Pa,” said Joe. Ben hugged the child several times and by this time, the other two had also come over and were smiling at the boy and patting him on the back and ruffling his hair.

After what seemed like an eternity, Joe said loudly, “Pa, you’re squeezing me too tight. Let me down!”

Ben reluctantly loosened his embrace, but did not move to put the boy down, he continued to hold him. His eyes found Roy Coffee’s over Joe’s head. The tears and relief that Roy Coffee saw in his face and eyes told him that he had been wrong about Ben Cartwright. Clearly he had been frantic over the loss of the boy. Before Ben could ask him any questions, Roy introduced himself and told him what had happened, as best he could.

Ben then turned to his young son, and with an assumed sternness that he clearly didn’t feel, he said, “Joseph, did you try to follow Hoss and Adam after I told you to stay with Hop Sing?”

Joe looked a little uncomfortable, but tried to soften up his father by smiling at him. Ben, using great determination, did not return the smile, but said, “Answer the question, Joseph. Now.”

“Yes, sir.” Joe said, with his head down.

“Joseph, look at me when I am speaking to you.” Ben said calmly.

Joe shrugged, took a deep breath, and looked at his father, his hazel eyes luminous with unspent tears. “Yes, sir.”

“Joseph, you go to your room and wait for me. I will be in shortly.” Ben said sternly, putting him down on the ground and heading him towards the house.

Joe shrugged his shoulders again, gave an exasperated sigh, and started towards the house. After a few steps, he stopped, turned around, ran back to Sheriff Coffee, and said hurriedly, all in one breath, “Thank you for bringing me home, Sheriff Coffee. I had a fun time in the jail. Don’t forget to move those keys. Please let Nancy come out to the Ponderosa to see me soon and ask her to bring Freckles.” He then turned around and ran back to the house, with only a brief glance at his father.

Ben didn’t say anything until Joe had entered the house. He then turned to Adam and Hoss and said, “Please tell the men to go on and get some rest and that they will all get a bonus with their pay.”

He then turned to the Sheriff and said, “Sheriff Coffee, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your bringing Little Joe home. I will also go by and thank the Coopers. My sons and I and the men have been out searching for him since yesterday at 4 o’clock. We were worried sick. The Ponderosa is such a big place and we had to search every inch of it, since we didn’t know how he got lost. His pony came home, so we knew he was on foot somewhere. I am so grateful that he found his way to the Coopers. Just thinking that he was out there alone in the dark—well I am sure you can imagine how we felt.”

“Yes, Mr. Cartwright, I think I can now, as a matter of fact,” Roy said with a smile.

“Please call me Ben.”

“All right, Ben, if you will call me Roy,” Roy said offering his hand to shake. Ben shook it warmly.

“That is quite a young man you have there. He sure is a talkative little fella. He told me all about you, his brothers, and the Ponderosa. He also asked me everything about my family, the jail, the law, and being a sheriff. He also gave me some advice on how to do my job.”

“Joe gave you advice? I apologize for his impertinence. He is just naturally inquisitive and talkative; he’s never met a stranger. I hope he didn’t offend you.” Ben said with a concerned look on his face.

“Actually, it was good advice, which I intend to take.” Roy said with a smile. “How old is he anyway?”

“Joseph is 6 and he is quite a young man–he is also quite a handful. That curiosity that you noted isn’t new—it gets him into trouble frequently. Plus he has a stubborn streak unlike any I have ever seen before. He gets that from his mother.

Roy looked puzzled, and said, “I don’t mean to pry, but when I asked him about his mother and father, he looked a little sad, and then said he lived here with you and his brothers.” Roy noticed that same momentary sadness followed by determination on Ben’s face that he had seen on Joe’s face.

“My wife, Marie, Joe’s mother, died just a little over a year ago. I am afraid we are all still getting over that. Since then my other two sons, Adam and Hoss, and our cook, Hop Sing, have tried to fill the void left by her death, but it isn’t easy to do that for a 6 years old little boy who is almost a copy of his mother.”

“I am sorry, Ben. I understand your grief–my wife passed away 2 years ago and I have a daughter, Nancy, who is Joe’s age, by the way. She is just like her mother, too. It is hard to raise a child without a mother. Well, I hope you won’t be too hard on him, Ben, I enjoyed our visit.” Roy said with a twinkle in his eye.

By this time, Adam and Hoss had come back to where Ben and Roy were standing. They all smiled and Hoss said, “Don’t worry, Sheriff Coffee, Pa can’t stay mad at Little Joe long. He mellows purty quick after he sees that smile.”

Ben looked at Hoss as if to contradict the statement, but on second thought, he nodded his head and said, “He’s right, Sheriff. None of us can stay mad at Little Joe for long. But I do have to make at least a pretense of punishment to try to keep him from doing it again.”

“Well, I will be heading back into Virginia City. Next time you are in town, drop by and visit with me. Be sure to bring that youngster, too.” Roy said, waving as he mounted his horse and rode off. As he rode off, he was thinking that he and Ben Cartwright could become friends. He also recognized that Little Joe Cartwright had Carved his initials on his heart.

Roy came out of his reverie just as Ben Cartwright came into the jail.

“Have you got the board ready, Roy?” He asked.

“Yep, and I just made a fresh pot of coffee, too. Now let’s see if you have really been taking lessons from Little Joe!” Roy poured them each a steaming mug of coffee and with that, they each took their accustomed chair and began the game.

*****

Chapter 5

 

After playing two more long rounds of poker and winning both times, Joe said he had had enough for one night and asked his brothers if either of them wanted to take over his spot. Hoss said he would be glad to take his spot, since it seemed to be a lucky seat tonight. Adam said he would just watch. Hoss quickly became engrossed in the poker game and Adam moved in close to watch his progress. . Shoving his winnings into his jacket pocket without counting it, Joe went over to the bar and ordered a beer. No sooner had he gotten the beer than a new saloon girl came up next to him and asked him if he wanted to buy her a drink. Never one to refuse a pretty girl, Joe of course ordered the bartender to get her what she wanted.

“Apple cider” she ordered. Upon hearing that, Joe raised his eyebrows and said, “Now that is not something you see here much. Where are you from anyway?”

“I am Renee’ Jeansonne from New Orleans, Louisiana.” Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr….”

“Cartwright, Joe Cartwright, Mam, at your service.” Joe hastily filled in the missing information.

“My mother was from New Orleans,” Joe told her enthusiastically.

“Really?” she exclaimed, as if she had never heard that before. “What are you doing out here then?” she asked him.

“I was born here. My mother was from New Orleans but she moved here with my Pa before I was born. We live on a ranch outside of town, called the Ponderosa.” He told her. “But tell me about you. How did such a pretty girl like you from New Orleans, wind up in Virginia City?”

“I was on my way to join my family in California, when I got word that they had all been killed in a fire in San Francisco” she told him, her eyes slightly moist as if she was holding back tears. “Now I have to earn money to get passage back to New Orleans so that I can get a job there and support myself. Someone told me I could earn the money faster working in Virginia City than in some of the other towns. But even in Virginia City, it will take almost a year.”

Joe was stricken when he saw her face. He couldn’t imagine such a pretty girl, with such obvious refinement, having to work in a saloon for a year. Right away he determined to help her.

“Renee’ , I can get you enough money for stagecoach or train fare back to New Orleans and enough to tide you over until you can get a good job.” Joe offered.

“You are such a gentlemen, but I couldn’t accept your generosity, that would be too much of an imposition, mon cherie.” She said, smiling sadly.

If Little Joe had any reservations, that last sentence completely dissolved them. “Renee’, I insist on helping you. Working in a saloon in Virginia City is no place for a lady like you. I will go to the bank tomorrow and get you the money. I won’t take no for an answer.” Joe said.

Renee said, “Well kind sir, if you put it that way, I will accept a loan from you. I will send you the repayment when I reach New Orleans and get a job. That I promise you.” As she talked she gave Joe a very bright smile, and softly traced his cheeks with her finger.

“Are you finished here then?” Joe asked.

“Yes, I am ready to go home now. I like to leave before it gets too late. It is safer that way.I do not exactly live in a good part of town” She said, looking a little scared.

“I will walk you home, then.” Joe said.

“Oh, that is not necessary, Joe” Renee said, but her eyes were telling him a different story.

“I decide what is necessary and besides it is no chore to walk a lovely lady home.” Joe said, looking at her with adoring eyes. He looked at his brothers and started to go tell them he would be back later, but they were engrossed in the poker game. He figured he would be able to go and get back before they even noticed he was gone. Holding his arm out for her, he said, “Shall we go, Mam?” And with her holding on to his arm, they walked out of the saloon, arm in arm.

They walked arm in arm down several blocks and then Renee told Joe that she lived in a rooming house down a long, deserted alley. It was very dark in the alley, and she warned him to be very careful because there was trash in the alley. About halfway down the alley, someone suddenly lunged out and stabbed Joe with a long knife. Joe gasped in pain and shock and tried to fight, his thoughts on protecting Renee. He struggled with the assailant who removed the knife and then stabbed him again. After this Joe stumbled and fell, still conscious, but unable to fight any longer. Quickly the girl started searching his pockets, he vaguely thought that she was looking for something to stop the bleeding with.

The man walked over and said, “For Christ’s sake, Darla, hurry up, will ya? Get the money and let’s get out of here.” She quickly reached in Joe’s green jacket pocket and removed the wad of cash he had won in the poker games that night, along with a silver locket she found there. She also removed his wallet and stashed that with the other stolen money. He watched her in shock, unable to say anything, but the hurt and disappointment was evident in his hazel eyes.

“Don’t look at me like that, rich kid. I know all about you; I heard the other girls talking. You wouldn’t have given me any money. I know what you wanted. I know the likes of you. You just wanted to take advantage of me, like all those other men. But instead, I took advantage of you first.” She stared at him with hatred in her eyes, then slowly, she smiled at him and said, “You remember me–Darla Conrad–as you lay there bleedin’ to death. Remember it was me who fooled you and Johnny what stuck ya, rich kid.”

The man grabbed the items from the girl and said, “Come on, let’s get out of here fast before that fool Sheriff comes around agin.” As he said this, he saw Joe trying to reach for his gun, and he swiftly kicked him in the chest and then took the gun out of his holster. “I might be able to find a use for that” He said. He grabbed the girl’s arm and they ran away into the night. Joe could hear the girl still laughing, saying, “that was like taking candy from a baby.”

Joe lay there, unable to move, unable to call for help, unable to stop thinking that once again, he had made a mistake. A baby, she had called him a baby….He felt really strange, he knew he must be dying, but he really wasn’t panicked at all. Instead he felt like he was going to just go to sleep and not have to worry about it anymore. He was too tired to fight. Joe’s eyes closed and he slowly lost consciousness in the dark alley.

*****

Chapter 6

 

Roy and Ben had played several games of checkers, Ben had won two and Roy had won about 5, but they had a good time discussing what was happening in Virginia City and on the Ponderosa.

At about 9:50 pm, Ben said, “Well, Roy, I think I will head on over to the Sassarack and have that one last beer with the boys and then head on to the Ponderosa. Won’t you join us?”

“It’s about time for me to do my night rounds. After I do that, I will swing by the Sassarack and join you for a night cap.” Roy said.

Ben came into the Sassarack just a few minutes later. He saw Hoss and Adam sitting at a table in the back playing poker. It didn’t look like either of them were winning, though. Neither of them had any money in front of them and they both looked pretty serious. Ben smiled to himself, never able to figure out the attraction that all three of his sons had for poker. As he thought this, he was looking around for his third and youngest son, the one who for some reason seemed to be luckier at poker than his two older brothers. Ben knew that it wasn’t really luck, but some innate ability to conceptualize the game and strategize accordingly. That was what made him good at poker, checkers, and even chess. He was becoming somewhat alarmed since he didn’t see Joe anywhere in the saloon. He walked over to where Hoss and Adam were engaged in losing a poker game, and remaining silent and watching for just a few seconds.

When he got a good look at both of their hands, he went ahead and interrupted, since it didn’t look like anything would salvage their hands.

“Boys, where is Little Joe? It is time to be getting on to the Ponderosa.”

Hoss was the first to look up, and look rapidly around the saloon. “Pa, he was just here a little bit ago.” He said. “Adam, did you see Little Joe leave?”

Adam, at this time, threw down his cards and said, “That’s it for me. You have all my money and I am keeping my hat.” “What did you ask, Hoss?” he said.

“Did you see Little Joe leave, Adam?” Ben interjected, becoming slightly concerned by now.

“No, Pa, I didn’t see him leave, he was having a beer with a pretty girl though, about 30 minutes or so ago.” He said. “Ask the bartender, Pa, he probably knows where he went.” Adam said, thinking to himself, “I bet I know where he is.”

All three of them walked over to the bartender and asked him if he knew when Little Joe left. The bartender paused from wiping off the bar with a rag and said, “Yeah, he left about 45 minutes ago, I believe.”

“Did he say where he was going?” Ben asked.

“No, he looked over at Adam and Hoss and said something to the girl like “I’ll be back before they even notice I’m gone and he didn’t want to break Hoss’ concentration.” The bartender replied.

“Girl? What girl?” Adam asked.

“There was a girl in here who said she just wanted to work tonight for tips and she was only here about 3 hours. I thought Little Joe was going to walk her home.”

“Where does she live?” Ben asked.

“Beats me. Like I said, she was just here for a few hours.” The bartender said, becoming slightly defensive.

“Do you think we ought to go out to find him, Pa?” Adam asked, really thinking it would be embarrassing for his brother if they did, but recognizing that Ben was worried. He didn’t want Joe to get into trouble and bring back his father’s black mood, that he had just gotten rid of that night.

“No, let’s just wait here for him for a little while” Ben said, though he didn’t feel altogether happy about that.

Hoss said, “I tell you what, Pa, let’s have a beer, and then if Little Joe aint here, I will go round ‘im up. Three beers, Sam.” He said, before Ben could answer.

Roy Coffee was in the habit of making rounds at 10 o’clock and at midnight, taking a slightly different route each time. He felt that this may keep the muggers and drunks off the street and out of trouble, since they never knew exactly where he would turn up when. This time, he had walked all the way down to E Street and was on his way back, thinking of joining his friends for a half a beer, since it was pretty quiet tonight. He avoided drinking while on the job, usually, but he did have an occasional beer with Ben or his boys when they came to town. He wanted to stop by the Sassarack and see Joe Cartwright before they left because he knew Nancy would ask him about Little Joe if he mentioned that Ben was in town. Nancy and Little Joe had been friends as long as he and Joe’s father had been friends. His memories of that first meeting that he had that night had stirred up the affection he and his daughter both had for Joe.

As he was coming around the corner of D Street, he saw Walter, the town drunk weaving around. Walter apparently saw him, too, because he ducked into a dark alley, trying to avoid the Sheriff. Roy decided to just leave Walter alone tonight, ’cause if he tried to lock him up, he would not get the chance to go by the Sassarack and now that he had thought about it, he definitely wanted that beer—he even thought he would splurge and have a whole glass. He was about even with the alley, when he heard a shriek, and some scrambling noise, then he saw Walter running back towards him.

“Walter, what is it? Did you see a rat?” The Sheriff asked. He had never seen Walter move so fast.

“There’s a dead man back there, Sheriff Coffee, a real live dead man.” Walter said, in as sober a voice as Roy had ever heard him.

“Are you sure, Walter?” Roy asked suspiciously. “You sure you saw a dead man?”

“I am sure Sheriff, and I touched him when I fell and look at my hand” he said as he stuck his hand out for the Sheriff to see—it was covered in red, sticky blood.

Roy knew then that Walter was not making this up or having hallucinations. He said to Walter, “Go to the Deputy’s house and send Clem over here. Better send for the Doc, too and tell him to meet me at the office.” Roy said, thinking they would need his services in one way or another. “Can you do that, Walter?”

“Yes, Sheriff, I am not too drunk fer that, no sirree. A real live dead man. I saw me a real live dead man.” He muttered to himself as he headed straight for the Deputy’s house. “A real live dead man.”

Roy, ever cautious, pulled his pistol out of his holster and slowly advanced toward where Walter had pointed out where the dead man was. He inched his way to the spot, looking all around for someone hiding. He saw no sign of anyone—dead or alive. Then he looked to the left of a large discarded cook stove and he gasped when he saw the “dead man”. “Oh, my God, Little Joe” he said, almost in a whisper. Roy quickly holstered his gun and knelt beside Little Joe. He used his left hand to feel for a pulse in Joe’s neck and was heartened to feel one, although he knew it was faster than it oughta be. In his career he had learned that a fast pulse after a gunshot wound could be as bad a sign as a slow pulse. With his right hand, he opened Joe’s jacket and looked for the wound, finding two stab wounds—a deep one in his midsection and a smaller one in his side. He used his handkerchief to cover the larger wound, pressing down to stop the bleeding.

As he did this, he thought about Nancy just giving it to him today, saying “That you never know when you will need a clean handkerchief, Pop.”

After doing this, and seeing no other injuries, Roy carefully positioned his arms under Joe’s chest and his knees and picked him up, thinking he still is as light as a feather. He had just made it to the street again when Clem came running up to meet him. “Clem, go make sure the Doc is at his office when I get there, and then go over to the Sassarack and tell the Cartwrights to meet us at the Doc’s. This is Joe Cartwright and he has been stabbed, it looks like.” Clem started to ask a question, but Roy added, “Go now, Clem. Just go.” Clem ran off as the Sheriff hurried on to the Doctor’s office, cradling the unconscious Joe in his arms. Roy alternated praying and telling Joe,

“You are going to be alright” all the while he was running for the Doctor’s office.

Roy got to the Doctor’s office just as Paul Martin was unlocking the front door. Seeing Little Joe, the Doctor shouted, “Roy, put him on the first examining table. Clem, go to my house and tell my wife to wake Dr. Adams up and send him over here quick.” Dr. Martin rushed to Little Joe’s side, felt his pulse, and began assessing him for injuries. He frowned when he saw the large hole in Joe’s abdomen. That could be a very serious injury, depending upon how deep it was. The other wound in his side didn’t look too bad, it went through muscle and should be fairly easy to control the bleeding. He applied a pressure dressing to both wounds for the time being and went to wash his hands and get ready to begin treatment. About this time, Dr. Adams came running in, in his trousers and undershirt. He scanned the scene and immediately washed his hands and moved over to the examining table. Taking an instrument from the tray that Dr. Martin had prepared, he began to probe the wound. Dr. Martin was watching Little Joe’s face and thought he saw a slight facial movement and informed Dr. Adams. “Well, that’s good, he is not completely out of it, then.”

Just then, three very frightened men bounded into the room. Paul glanced at Dr. Adams and said, “I’ll talk to them, you keep getting set up and I’ll be right back.”

“Paul, how is he? Ben asked. What happened? Hoss asked. Is he going to be okay?” Adam asked—all at the same time.

Dr. Martin raised his hands and said, “One at a time, please! I don’t know anything except that Joe has two stab wounds, one doesn’t look too bad, but I am afraid the other one is deep. We won’t know ’til we get a good look at it. You are just going to have to wait until Dr. Adams and I have had time to evaluate and treat him, Ben. That’s one good thing, I have an excellent assistant tonight. You just wait out here and I will tell you more as soon as I can. I’m sorry, Ben” he said as he gave his friend an empathetic glance.

Ben started to ask another question, paused, then said, “All right, Paul. We will be here. Please take care of my Son.”, his voice choked with emotion.

Doctor Martin turned and headed back into the treatment room that he used for surgical type injuries. Ben, Adam, and Hoss continued to stand in the middle of the room, not knowing what to do. Roy Coffee came over and ushered them into chairs, and sent Clem to get a pot of coffee.

Momentarily, Ben seemed to revive enough to ask Roy, “What happened, Roy? Who stabbed my boy and why?”

Roy looked at his friend with genuine sympathy. “Ben, I don’t know what happened. It had already happened when Walter found Joe by accident. I got the alley sealed off so that if there is any evidence we can find it at daybreak. But I don’t have any idea what happened or who did this.”

Hoss spoke up, “He left the Sassarack with a girl, Roy. Sam could give you a description of her.”

That’s right, Roy” Ben said. “She must know something.”

Dr. Martin’s wife entered the office carrying a tray with a coffee pot, mugs, and sweet rolls.

“Here, I told Clem I would bring this over to you.” She said. She set the tray down and poured Ben a cup of coffee and handed it to him, practically forcing the cup into his hands. “Here, Ben, drink this, it will make you feel better.”

Ben looked at her with an expression that said, “How can coffee make me feel better when my son is lying in there with stab wounds and may be bleeding to death?”, but all he said was “Thank you, Anna.”.

She also poured coffee for Adam and Hoss. She offered Hoss a roll, and he said, “No, Ma’am, thanks.”

Roy walked out and met Clem at the door and told him about Joe leaving the Sassarack with a girl. Clem left to go over to the Sassarack and get a description of the girl and see if he could find some people to help them look for her. Roy came back in and sat down by Ben and patted him reassuringly on the back. “Ben, you know Joe will be alright. He always is. You’ll see.”

Ben knew that Roy was trying to convince himself as much as he was Ben.

After about another 10 minutes, Dr. Martin came out and pulled up a chair, saying, “We need to talk, Ben. This is the situation. As I thought, the side wound is deep, but not going through any organ. Barring infection, it should heal in time with just stitching and rest.”

“And the other wound?” Ben replied. He had learned that the Doctor Martin always started out by the simplest, most easily-repaired problems, saving the worst for last.

“Well, that one is trickier, Ben. It went into the left side of his abdomen, making about a 1 1/2 to 2 inch gash in his stomach and nicking the abdominal aorta, we think. Both of those will have to be repaired surgically. Fortunately, Dr. Adams is a vascular specialist so he is familiar with the surgical repair of the abdominal aorta. The nick must be a tiny one, or frankly, Joe would have bled to death by now. The stomach wound is actually easy to repair, but there may be problems with recovery of stomach function. There is a real risk that the stomach contents could have spilled out and that can lead to peritonitis or infection of the abdominal lining. Depending upon the degree of damaged area, there may be decreased function of the stomach itself. We won’t know until Joe starts to recover.”

“What kind of problems are you talking about, Paul?” Ben asked, puzzled.

“Well there may be impaired ability of the stomach to absorb and digest food. In any event there will be a considerable amount of pain associated with eating at first. That is worrisome to me, since Joe doesn’t have a lot of stored energy reserves and he has never been a big eater anyway.

But Ben, I think we just have to cross that bridge when we get to it. Right now, I need your permission to operate and repair the wounds as best we can. Dr. Adams is getting Joe prepped right now. We need to hurry before Joe starts bleeding again.”

“You have my permission, of course, Doctor. Take good care of my Son, please.” Ben looked at him with pleading eyes.

“I will do my best, Ben. You know how I feel about Little Joe.”

“Yes, I do, Paul. Thank you.”

With that, Dr. Martin went back into the surgical room and closed the door softly behind him, giving one quick glance at the stricken family before he closed the door.

Ben glanced at his watch, it was just now midnight. He looked at Hoss and Adam, they looked drained and exhausted. “Do you boys want to go get a hotel room for the night? I will stay here with Joe and send for you if anything changes.”

“No, Pa, we are staying here with you.” They both answered, as if one voice. Ben didn’t bother to protest, he knew they wouldn’t leave. Frankly, he was glad of their company; families should be together in times of trouble. Sadly, he thought, this family has seen plenty of trouble, along with their good fortune.

The three men sat down again, and Roy Coffee watched them sympathetically. He spoke softly, “Ben, I am going to go over to the jail and map out what I want done at first light to look for evidence. I will be back over here in less than an hour. Is there anything else you want me to do?”

Ben looked at him and said, “Roy will you have someone see to our horses and bed them down in the stable?”

Hoss added, “Roy, make sure they clean out Cochise’s water bucket, then refill it with clean water, and give her a ration of oats. You know how Little Joe is about that horse.”

“I’ll get Jimmy Ortega to do it, Hoss, he knows just how Joe likes her taken care of.” Roy said with an understanding smile. Everybody knew how Joe felt about that horse.

*****

Chapter 7

 

The three men sat in chairs, uncomfortably. They tried to carry on a conversation, but soon gave up the pretense—it was just too hard. All they could think about was what was going on behind that door and their love for the patient in that room. Eventually, out of sheer exhaustion, they dozed off. They slept fitfully and woke up and then nodded off in starts. Finally, Hoss dozed off and dreamed of better times.

*****

Hoss and Joe were on the last leg of a 6 day trip checking fences on the northern boundary of the Ponderosa. The weather had been uncooperative, at least for Hoss’ taste; he hated cold weather. The temperature had not risen above freezing for 4 days of the 6 day trip, it had snowed heavily for 3 days, and sleeted two days. On this day they reached the line shack at about 3 pm and decided to stay there for the night and head home to the Ponderosa the next morning. The cabin was stocked with canned goods, matches, dry bedding, and other necessities. Joe volunteered to bed down the horses and to bring in a fresh supply of wood while Hoss went on into the cabin to start the fire. Hoss quickly agreed because he was more than ready to get into the cabin and out of the cold. Joe put their horses in the lean-to stable, fed and watered them, and put down fresh straw. Joe spent an hour giving both horses a good rubdown and making sure that they were warm and cozy. As usual he gave Cochise the extra attention that she was accustomed to.

After finishing with the horses, he gathered a good supply of wood and went into the cabin to join Hoss. As he entered the cabin, he smiled. Before even seeing Hoss, he knew that his brother was sound asleep–the sounds of Hoss’ snoring were proof of that. Joe quickly added wood to the fire and coaxed it to burn higher to further warm the room. Joe also appreciated the warmth provided by the fire; however he had a higher tolerance for cold temperatures than his brother Hoss. Hoss often accused him of going barefooted in a “blue norther”. In fact Hoss had been pretty miserable on this trip, complaining of the food, the weather, the work, and just about everything else. Joe had been surprised at the vehemence Hoss had shown during the past few days.

Complaining was not really in Hoss’ nature, but cold temperatures really seemed to bring out the worst in him. Joe was glad that they had finished the fence checking and mending today so that they could go home the next day, for Hoss’ sake.

Joe decided to try to cheer Hoss up and he knew the best way to do that was to keep him warm and well-fed. He looked over the food supplies in the cabin and was not satisfied with what he found–beans, salt pork, canned peaches, rice, meal, flour, and coffee. Since they had been really pushing themselves to get the job done as quickly as possible, they had not had time for hunting or trapping, so they had been getting by on beans and hard tack for the entire trip. Joe didn’t mind so much, since food was not all that important to him, but Hoss, well Hoss missed Hop Sing’s cooking mightily. Being cold was bad enough, but for Hoss being cold AND hungry was just about unbearable.

Joe restocked the fireplace to keep the fire going, then quickly wrote Hoss a note saying he was going to hunt something for their dinner, so that if he woke up he wouldn’t be concerned. Taking his rifle and some extra ammunition, Joe went out to see what he could find.

He had been walking carefully through the woods for over an hour and the only thing he had seen was a couple of raccoons and a few cold-weather hardy birds, nothing to even think of making their dinner. Just as he was about to become discouraged, he caught sight of a huge hare. Taking careful aim, Joe felled the hare with one shot. Joe retraced his tracks and headed back to the cabin. When he got to the cabin, he saw that there was still smoke coming out of the chimney, so he knew the fire was still blazing.

He quickly skinned and dressed the hare and prepared it for cooking. He was surprised when he entered the cabin to hear Hoss’s snoring. He had expected he would be awake by now. He replenished the fire, then taking the spit from over the fireplace, he put the rabbit on to start it cooking. He decided that he would prepare a real feast for Hoss, hoping that that would put him in a better mood. Joe was not accustomed to Hoss being the grouchy one; that was usually reserved for him or for Adam. Joe prepared a pot of beans, adding some of the salt pork for flavor, made some cornbread with the cornmeal, and opened a can of peaches for good measure.

After getting everything started, Joe found himself restless, with nothing to do and no one to talk to. Searching for something to do, he settled on cleaning Hoss’s guns. He didn’t clean his, since he had just cleaned them before the trip. Finding oil and old rags in the cabin, Joe cleaned first Hoss’s handgun, then his rifle. About the time he finished that, Joe checked the rabbit and found that it was done. He was trying to decide which Hoss needed most—to eat or to sleep, wondering if he should let him sleep longer or wake him up to eat now. He needn’t have worried, about that time, Hoss woke up, sniffing the air. Joe walked over from the fire to the cot Hoss was sleeping on and said, “Well, hello, sleepyhead”.

Hoss yawned and stretched and said, “Joe I just had the best dream, I dreamed we were home and Hop Sing was cooking dinner.”

“Really?” Joe said. “Yeah, and it was so real, I could smell his cooking.” Hoss said. He sniffed again and said “Wait a minute, that’s what I smelled in the dream.” The grin on Hoss’ face was more than worth the effort Joe had gone to make the meal.

After they had eaten their fill, they sat around the fireplace talking and discussing their plans, hopes, and problems. Hoss and Joe had a special relationship, they confided in each other and each seemed to understand the other, sometimes better than they understood themselves. His relationship to Joe meant a great deal to Hoss, because despite his friendly personality, he was shy and uncomfortable in most social situations.

In fact, Hoss’ awkwardness in social situations had falsely led many people to believe that he wasn’t “right”. Although Joe was 8 years younger than Hoss, Joe had started school while Hoss was still in school. Some of the bullies in the school quickly learned that they could easily goad Little Joe into a fight by making fun of Hoss. Joe had gotten into many fights when they were still in school, avenging insults to Hoss.

In truth, Joe would have gotten clobbered initially if Hoss had not intervened and helped him out. Hoss appreciated Little Joe’s unwavering support, and he admired his bravery. However, worried that Little Joe’s bravery was going to get him killed, he taught Joe how to fight. He made Joe promise not to tell Pa, because he wasn’t sure how Pa would feel about that. Joe, due to his competitive nature, had started on a secret plan to increase his strength and still maintained his regimen. Hoss was the only member of the Cartwright family who knew that Joe regularly did body-building exercises in his room at night. That muscle-building routine and Hoss’ instruction on how to fight had made Little Joe a better than average fighter.

Hoss was relieved to find out that as Joe’s fighting abilities improved the number of fights that Joe got into seemed to decrease, if only slightly. Still, Joe’s temper frequently led him into fights and Hoss regularly bailed him out. Hoss was greatly surprised years later when Ben had been forced to pay for damages from a fight that Little Joe got into in the saloon, and he overheard Ben and Sheriff Coffee discussing Joe’s fights. “Ben, for his size, Little Joe is the best fighter I have ever seen. He may be little, but he is strong. I am sure that card shark I got locked up in there would confirm that.” Roy said with a twinkle in his eye.

“Roy, you can credit Hoss for that. He taught him how to fight when he was in grade school. If he hadn’t, I do believe Joe would have been beaten senseless by now.” Ben said with a chuckle. Ben had never said a word to either him or to Joe; Hoss had no idea how he knew he had taught him to fight.

After they had about talked out, Hoss and Joe decided to turn in for the night so they could leave first thing in the morning to go home. Joe told Hoss he could take the bed and he would sleep on his bedroll on front of the fire. “Are you sure little brother? I have a lot more padding than you do.”

“I’m sure Hoss, the bedroll will be just fine and I can keep the fire going that way.”

“Well alright, I am going to hit the hay then. I am feeling better than I have in a week, Little Joe. That was a mighty fine dinner, little brother.” Hoss told him with a smile. Joe told him that he wanted to go out and check on the horses one more time before he turned in. “You just want to go tuck Cochise in and read her a bedtime story” Hoss teased his brother.

“Well she doesn’t snore as loud as you do, big brother, maybe I will just sleep with her too.” Joe teased him right back.

“Good night, Joe.” “Good night, Hoss.”

About 20 minutes later, Joe came back into the cabin quietly. He looked over at his older brother, and noticing that his eyes were closed, he pulled the blanket up over him and said in a whisper, “I love you Hoss.” He then quickly laid his bedroll out on the floor in front of the fireplace and lay down, putting his hat over his face, and settling in for the night.

Hoss, who had actually been awake, smiled and said to himself, “I love you, too, little brother.” Soon the cabin was filled with Joe’s light breathing, Hoss’s snoring, and the fire’s crackling. The next morning, Hoss and Joe had a hasty breakfast and set out to go home–both of them in a very good mood. On the way home, Joe talked Hoss into going to the square dance that Saturday night, promising to help him get up his nerve to ask Molly Brown to dance with him. Hoss remembered his memories from the night before, thinking of his teaching Joe how to fight. He guessed Joe had certainly made up for that, with his constant advice and assistance with girls and social situations.

*****

Hoss awakened suddenly from his dream, his thoughts of Joe strong and powerful. “Pa?” Hoss asked, but Ben just shook his head. “Nothing yet, Son.”

“I wish I hadn’t woke up, Pa. I was dreamin’ ’bout that time me and Joe went fence riding on the northern border and it was so cold and we spent the last night in that cabin and Joe kept the cabin warm and went out and caught us some game for supper. Pa, I heard him tell me he loved me, when he thought I was asleep. I wish I had told him I loved him, too, Pa.” Hoss said with tears in his eyes.

“Hoss, Joe knows you love him.” Ben said, putting his arm around his middle son. “Joe knows we all love him”.

*****

Chapter 7

 

At exactly 1 am, Drs. Martin and Adams came out of the room to talk to Joe’s family. Paul introduced Dr. Adams to the Cartwrights. “Ben, this is Dr. Adams, my colleague from Johns Hopkins University. He is here to cover for me while I attend a medical conference next week. Dr. Adams, this is Ben Cartwright and his sons, Adam and Hoss.” They all exchanged quick hand-shakes, but Ben’s eyes never left Dr. Martin’s eyes.

“How is my son, Doctors? ” Ben asked simply. Dr. Martin indicated for Dr. Adams to answer.

“Your son sustained a severe abdominal injury with a small nick in the abdominal aorta, the large vessel supplying blood to the lower half of the body. However, it was a very small nick and the blood loss was stopped. I have repaired the vessel and there seems to be good blood circulation to the lower part of his body now. We will have to watch that to make sure that no problem develops, such as a clot that could block flow to some of the vessels in the legs, feet, or pelvis.” Dr. Adams paused to catch his breath and to see how the family was receiving the news. They appeared to be taking it in, saving questions for later.

He continued, “There was also a gash in his stomach. There was some leakage of gastric contents into the abdominal cavity, which increases the risk of infection. We irrigated the abdominal cavity, and that may decrease the risk. Also it didn’t appear that he had eaten a very large meal recently and that may also reduce the risk for infection some. The cut in the stomach itself was actually no harder to repair than the gash in his side. However the way that the stomach operates, will make that more of a problem.”

“What do you mean, Doctor?” Ben asked.

“Well the stomach is basically a hollow, muscular tube. It expands when we eat and then contracts to help digest the food and move it down the intestinal tract. Making an incision into the stomach, under the best of circumstances, involves some risk of damaging the stomach’s ability to contract and expand, thus making it harder for digestion and movement of food through the intestinal tract to take place. This cut was not at all like a surgical incision, it was jagged and uneven. There may be quite a bit of damage to the muscle itself. At the very least, that is going to result in pain every time food is introduced into the stomach, until the muscle heals. If there is scar tissue, there may always be pain.”

“Doctor, just what are you saying? Are you saying my brother won’t be able to eat?” Hoss asked, unbelieving.

“No, we aren’t not saying he won’t be ABLE to eat, Hoss, we are saying he may not WANT to eat because of the pain and discomfort associated with eating.” Dr. Martin explained, looking at Ben seriously.

“How long will it take for the stomach muscle to heal?” Ben asked.

“We can’t say for sure. It could be from anywhere from a month to six months, depending upon whether or not he gets an infection and if there is any scar tissue. If there is scar tissue, there may always be some residual pain.”

“Ben this ordinarily wouldn’t be such a problem, but you know as well as I do that Little Joe has never been all that crazy about eating anyway. This could become a major issue for his recovery. He is going to have to eat to regain his strength and for healing to occur. He can’t wait for the stomach to heal before he starts to eat, he is going to have to eat, despite the pain it causes.”

“Paul, can’t you give him some medicine for the pain so that he can eat?” Adam asked.

“No, Adam, after the first few days, it would be counterproductive to give him pain medicine. The pain medicine slows down the normal peristalsis or contraction of the stomach and intestines and that would delay digestion and absorption and make the problem worse.” Paul said, then seeing how exhausted they looked, he suggested that they go to the hotel and get at least some sleep.

Ben nodded in acquiescence, but first asked “Can we see him, Paul, Dr. Adams?”

“Certainly, Ben. Just remember, he is sleeping now and he seems to be doing fine. Mrs. Garner, my nurse is with him now. Go right in.” Paul said.

Ben, Adam, and Hoss quietly entered the room. Joe was lying on his back, his chest and abdomen covered with a large, white dressing. There was one small spot of blood, circled in ink on the front of the dressing. When she saw Ben looking at it, curiously, Mrs. Garner said, “That’s so we can tell if it starts bleeding again.” Except for the bandages, Joe looked just like he was sleeping. Hoss thought he should find his hat and put over his face, since Joe always slept with his hat over his face on the trail.

Ben knelt down by his youngest son, and took his hand in his. He looked at his son’s hands, with small calluses, evidence of Joe working without gloves periodically. Ben held his hand tightly with his right hand and reached up to push his hair back off his forehead with the other hand. He noted with a smile, that Joe needed a haircut again. He didn’t care if he never got a haircut again at this point. “You rest easy, Joe, everything is alright. You are going to be alright, too. You just sleep.” Ben leaned over and kissed his son on the forehead and moved away from the bed so that Hoss and Adam could tell him good night.

Hoss knelt down at the bedside and said, “Alright, Shortshanks, you better get some rest tonight, ’cause Hoss will be over here first thing in the morning to have breakfast with you. Now don’t you give me no trouble, ya hear?” Hoss also reached up to push back the curls from Joe’s forehead. “See you real soon, little brother.” Hoss said.

Adam walked over to the opposite side of the bed, while Hoss was still there and said, “You better listen to him Joe. You have to hurry up and get well, ’cause me and Hoss aren’t doing your chores forever. You get some rest tonight and we will see you first thing in the morning.” Adam leaned over real close to Joe’s face and said, “Get better, little buddy.” And reached up and pushed the hair back off his forehead and said, “Good night, Little Joe.”

The three Cartwrights silently left the room, all turning back briefly to gaze at the sleeping Joe.

Mrs. Garner had watched them with tears in her eyes. She had always been fond of the Cartwrights, especially Little Joe who could be such a terror if he wanted to, or such an angel if he wanted to. She reached out and pushed his curls off his forehead, then thought, “Oh, what the heck, let his curls stay where they are. They will anyway.”

*****

Chapter 8

 

Ben, Adam, and Hoss checked into a suite with 3 bedrooms at the International Hotel, which was closest to Dr. Martin’s office/clinic. They each washed up and quickly climbed into bed, never expecting to sleep. But physical and emotional exhaustion took their toll and they all drifted into sleep. Adam went to sleep thinking about how much he loved his little brother, but thinking also about how different he and his brother were. All he had to think of to remind him of that was that guitar. As Adam went to sleep, he was thinking about what his brother had done for him, for the wrong reason. He had never told Joe any different; sometimes he felt guilty about that.

*****

Adam Cartwright was weary from the long stagecoach ride. He was on his way home to the Ponderosa from a business trip to San Francisco. He was pleased with himself because the stocks he had recommended to his father for investment had already paid a phenomenal return. He was also very excited because while in San Francisco he had the good fortune to be able to purchase an extremely rare guitar. Adam was the only Cartwright with any real musical ability; he played the guitar and loved to sing and play the guitar. This guitar was sold as part of an estate sale and somehow the appraisers had overlooked or undervalued. After he had purchased it, he took it to a music store where he knew the proprietor and had it appraised and it was worth 5 times what he had paid for it and the value would certainly increase since the maker had died. So all in all it had been a very successful trip.

He was almost jolted out of his seat when the stagecoach suddenly increased speed. Looking around he noticed that the other passengers were as surprised as he was. He scanned the area on the left side of the coach and saw three armed gunmen chasing the stagecoach. On the right, he saw two more. He could tell that the stagecoach was not going to be able to outrun them. He got out his gun and started firing, hoping to even the odds a little bit. Unfortunately about that time, the stage coach driver suddenly halted the team of horses, causing all the passengers to get jostled around quite a bit. Adam looked out the window of the stagecoach and saw that there were two more riders in front of the stage coach, with their guns drawn and pointed at the driver. Armed men with guns appeared at both sides of the stagecoach, their pistols pointed at the occupants.

“Now, everybody just stay calm and no one will get hurt. We don’t aim to kill nobody, we just want what is in that strongbox up there and any valuables you may have. Everybody step out of the stage, real careful and slow. You better hand over that pistol so you won’t be tempted to be a hero, Mister” the man said, indicating he was talking to Adam. Adam knew that the best thing they could do was to cooperate so he handed him his gun. He briefly thought that he was glad he wasn’t carrying any valuables. The robbers, true to their word, did not harm any passengers, but they stripped them of all valuables. Just as Adam thought they were leaving, one of them who had gotten on top of the stage coach to check for valuables shouted,” Hey, look at this,” he said, holding up Adam’s new guitar. The other man said, “Now that could liven up a Saturday night, couldn’t it? Bring it along.” In all the robbers got a railroad payroll, 4 watches, some women’s jewelry, some cash, and one extremely rare guitar. They made the passengers and the driver walk about 200 yards away from the stagecoach, unbridled the horses, and then took off. By the time, they got back to the coach, rounded up the horses, and got them hitched, and made it into Virginia City, the robbers were long gone.

Sheriff Roy Coffee carefully took the report of the description of the men and the stolen personal belongings and cargo. He sent wires to surrounding sheriffs in the direction that Adam reported they had headed to, and then led a small posse out to the site of the robbery. Despite his fatigue Adam rode with the posse because he really wanted to get that guitar back. Luckily they were able to pick up the trail relatively easily and followed them to a small town on the Nevada border. These stagecoach robbers were really inexperienced, and were easily caught. They recovered the majority of the payroll and personal effects. The one thing the robbers no longer had was the guitar. The man had lost it in a poker game in a small town to a card hustler. Adam was disappointed, though he was glad that they recovered the other stolen goods. He rode by Johnson Creek but could get no information about the lost guitar.

Adam told his family about the robbery and abut how disappointed he was in losing that guitar. Hoss said, “Well Adam, you talk as if it were Sport or Beauty that you lost.”

“No, Hoss, it is worse than that.” Adam replied with a frown. “It is more like Little Joe losing Cochise.”

Hoss and Ben looked at Adam sympathetically, but Joe had a plan forming in his brain. “Adam where exactly did the man say he lost the guitar?” He asked, trying not to act excited.

“Over in Johnson Creek.” Adam replied matter-of-factly.

“Did you go by there to see if you could locate it?” Joe asked.

“Of course I did, but no one could remember it. Why do you ask that?” Adam asked, a little bit suspiciously.

“Oh, no reason. I was just thinking it might still be there is all,” Joe replied with as close to a bored expression on his face as he could pull off.

Later that night when everyone was in bed, Little Joe sneaked out of his room and headed for the downstairs. Just as he reached the landing, he heard sounds from the living room below. He peered around the stair landing, as he had done many times in the past, and saw his father downstairs reading a book. Joe momentarily thought of his father. He knew that when he was missing his mother, he had trouble sleeping. He made a mental note to ask his father to visit his other’s grave with him. That was something special that Joe and Ben shared—going together made them feel closer to each other and to Marie. Joe decided he would have to switch to Plan B, his backup plan. This was also a trick he had used many times in the past. Joe quietly re-entered his room, pulled off his boots, and opened the window in his room. Then he ever so quietly climbed out on the roof, carrying his boots, crept to the side of the roof, and jumped softly to the ground at the far end of the porch. He had been doing this for as long as he could remember, much longer than his family could ever guess. He had become adept at both exiting and re-entering his room in this way. Although his father had eventually caught on to the trick—one night after he had sneaked out to attend a dance that he had been forbidden to go to, he quietly climbed in and as he leaned over to close the window, his father, sitting in a chair in the corner of the room, lit the lamp. However, Joe had not used this trick as frequently as he used to, so his father would only check if he was suspicious and Joe had not given him any reason to be suspicious.

Joe quietly slipped on his boots, went around the barn and entered from the side door. He patted Cochise, slipping him a sugar cube, then saddled him and led him out of the barn, again through the side door. He headed toward Johnson Creek to recover Adam’s guitar. Johnson Creek was a small town and if someone there had the guitar SOMEONE would have to know about it. Or if there had been a stranger in town who won the guitar, SOMEONE should know something about the man to give him an idea of where to start looking. He knew he would be in big trouble when he returned, but he just kept remembering what Adam had said—that losing that guitar was as bad to him as it would be to Little Joe if he lost Cochise. Joe had had Cochise since he was 12 years old, a birthday gift from his father. He and Cochise had developed a strong bond that transcended the normal man and horse relationship. Outside his father, brothers, and Hop Sing, Cochise was the most important thing to Little Joe. If he had lost Cochise, he would sure be out looking for him and he would want his brothers to help him. But Adam was too logical for his own good, to him it wasn’t logical to spend time looking for something that was non-essential.

That was where he and his oldest brother were the most different–what was most important to Joe sometimes was “non-essential”, by Adam’s definition anyway. Joe couldn’t understand why Adam was always so serious and well—glum, most of the time. But maybe getting his guitar back for him would soften him up a bit. Joe smiled at the prospect.

When Little Joe arrived in Johnson Creek, he decided to stable Cochise in the livery stable since he didn’t know how long this operation was going to take. He asked the livery stable owner how many saloons were in Johnson Creek and was told that there were three saloons in Johnson Creek. Joe visited each of the three saloons in turn, asking for information about a poker game in which someone won a guitar. No one in either of the saloons knew anything about the guitar.

Joe didn’t think that the people were trying to hide anything, he really believed that they were telling the truth. He decided to have a beer in the last saloon, while he considered where else he could ask for information. He ordered a beer and took a seat at one of the tables near the bar.

When he was about half way finished with his beer, a very lovely saloon girl came down the stairs, as she walked down, she scanned the room and her eyes came to rest on Joe. She came over and asked Joe if he would like some company. “Sure, would you like something to drink?”

“Yes, I will have one of those” she said pointing to Joe’s beer.

“Two more beers” Joe signaled the bartender. Then he turned to her and giving her his brightest smile, said, “Joe Cartwright at your service. What should I call you?”

“My name is Sherry, Joe. Nice to meet you. Where are you from?”

Little Joe and Sherry spent the next couple of hours together, talking and laughing and drinking beer. Sherry told him about her home in Philadelphia and Joe told her about the Ponderosa.

“That sounds like a beautiful place, Joe. I would love to see it some day”, knowing that she never would, nor would she ever see this good-looking young man again. “What are you doing here, Joe?” Sherry asked him. Joe told her about his mission to retrieve his brother’s guitar.

“But I don’t know what to do now, this is the third and last saloon. I don’t know where else to go.”

“Have you been over to the Mexican saloons in Little Tiajauna”? she asked him.

“Little Tiajauna, what is that?” Sherry told him that there was a Mexican section of town, two streets over where there was an abundance of Mexican saloons and restaurants. “Well, I should go over there and check them out. I wonder if Adam knew about them?” . Joe said a reluctant goodbye to Sherry and headed over to Little Tiajuana.

Joe went into each saloon, ordering a beer and engaging in small talk with the bartender and saloon girls. Once he felt they had gotten comfortable with him, he asked them about the guitar.

In the third saloon, Joe hit pay dirt. The bartender said, “Si, Senor, my son Jose won the guitar.”

Your son? Is he here?” “Si, Senor, he is here.” “Can I talk to him?” “Si, Jose, come out here,” the bartender called to the back room. “Jose, this is Senor Cartwright. He wants to know about the guitar you won in that poker game.” What followed was a serious negotiation process that resulted in Joe’s purchase of one extremely rare guitar for $150.00—which Joe thought was outrageous. However, since it meant so much to Adam, he paid it.

Joe arrived at the Ponderosa the following day about mid-afternoon. When he rode up, he quickly stabled Cochise and hid the guitar in the barn. He quickly brushed Cochise, rinsed and refilled

his water bucket, and fed him. Then taking a deep breath, he reached over to pat Cochise one more time and said to her, “Well, time to face the music, Coch. Wish me luck.” He then turned to head toward the house and found himself looking into his father’s angry eyes. “Hi, Pa. I can explain” he started…..

“You certainly have some explaining to do! Where have you been, young man? We were worried sick. You’d better have a good explanation!” Ben Cartwright exclaimed, with a frown on his face and his eyebrows raised, and his jaw tight—not a good sign, Joe knew.

As soon as his father calmed down and stopped asking so many questions, Joe explained where and why he had been gone and showed him the guitar. Ben’s expression softened considerably, although he was still angry that Joe went off on his own, without telling anyone. “Joseph, your intentions were good, but why didn’t you discuss it with me first?”

“Pa, it was something I wanted to do on my own. It was important. That guitar meant a lot to Adam and I wanted to get it back for him. I am sorry I worried you, but I knew if I talked to you, you wouldn’t approve. I felt I had to do it.”

Ben’s facial expression tightened at this. “So, Joe does that mean that every time you want to do something that you think I wouldn’t allow, you are just going to go off and do it without asking permission?” Ben said sternly.

“No, Pa, but this was different.”

“No, Joe, it wasn’t different and I don’t expect this to happen again. You will not go off on your own again without discussing it with me. Is that clear?”

“Yes, Pa, that’s clear.” Joe said resignedly.

“Just to make sure you understand, Joseph, you will stay on the Ponderosa for the next two weeks with no trips to town. Do I have your word Joseph that you will obey me or will I have to follow you around like I did when you were 6?” Ben said quietly, but with no humor in his voice.

“Yes, Pa, you have my word. I am sorry you were worried, Pa.”

“Alright then, when are you going to give this guitar to your brother?”

“I thought I would sneak it into his room and replace his old guitar with it and not mention it, Pa, and see how long it takes hi to find it.” Dinner that night was a much more lighthearted meal than breakfast and lunch had been. Hoss and Adam were dying to know where Joe had been and they were astonished that their Father didn’t seem to be upset with Joe, despite threatening to punish him severely when he returned. But they thought it was probably better not to mention it. After dinner they all took their accustomed places in the living room. Ben in his overstuffed leather chair, Hoss on the sofa, Adam in the other chair, Little Joe perched on the table in front of the fireplace. Little Joe and Hoss played several games of checkers, which Little Joe easily won.

Ben was reading and smoking a pipe and Adam was reading. Suddenly Ben said “I think we need some music tonight. We haven’t heard you play your guitar and sing for us in a while Adam. How about playing us some tunes?” Ben said smiling.

Adam looked surprised, but said, “Sure Pa. I sure wish I had that guitar that was stolen”, with a slight frown on his face. He arose and headed up the stairs to his room to get his guitar. Ben and Little Joe exchanged conspiratorial glances, Hoss looked from one to the other, trying to figure out what was going on. He didn’t have long to wonder.

Adam came down the stairs slowly, with the new guitar in his hands, and a look of surprise on his face. “Pa, how did this get here? Did the Sheriff return it?”

Ben said, “Adam you will have to ask your younger brother about that.” Adam looked at Hoss and Joe, confused and said “Hoss did you do this?” “Not me, Adam, Pa meant our little brother,” Hoss said.

Adam looked at Joe in surprise. “You did this?” Adam asked incredulously.

“Yes, big brother, I knew how bad I would feel if I lost Cochise so I wanted to return this to you.”

“Joe, I don’t know what to say. Thank you. Where did you find it? How did you get it back?” Adam asked.

“Never mind that now, Adam, play us a song, will ya?” Joe said.

Adam smiled and said “Sure Joe, how about this one?” and played the song that Adam used to play for him when he was little.

Later that night after Hoss and Joe had gone to bed, Adam asked Ben to tell him how Joe recovered the guitar. Ben told him what Joe had done, how he had found it, how much he had paid for it, and the punishment he had been given for leaving on his own. Adam said, “Pa, don’t tell Joe this, but I looked at this guitar as an investment. I chose a bad analogy when I said it was like Joe losing Cochise when I was talking to Hoss. Joe has a strong emotional attachment to that horse. I didn’t really have an emotional attachment to the guitar, I just looked at it as a sound financial investment.”

“Adam, do you still look at it as a financial investment only?” Ben asked.

“No, Pa, it means more to me now than it ever did before, now it is a gift from my little brother and I wouldn’t take anything for that.” Adam replied.

“Good, Son. I think that guitar went from being valuable to being priceless—a reminder of what’s really important.” Ben said softly.

*****

Chapter 9

 

The morning sunlight was filtering in through the hotel window when Ben Cartwright woke up. He jumped out of bed in a panic when he realized that it was after 7 am. He hurriedly shaved, bathed, and dressed and went to see if Adam and Hoss were up. Neither of them were in their rooms, so he figured they had decided to let him sleep late. He rushed over to the Doctor’s office. As he entered the anteroom of the office, he was met by Adam and Hoss coming out.

“Dr. Martin and Dr. Adams are with him now, Pa.” Dr. Martin said for us to go over to the hotel for breakfast and he would join us over there in a few minutes for coffee.” Hoss said, putting an arm on Ben’s shoulder.

“Listen, Hoss, you and Adam go on over to the hotel and have breakfast and I am going to wait here and talk to the doctors. Bring me a cup of coffee. I will have something to eat a bit later.”

Adam and Hoss exchanged concerned looks, but decided that there was nothing else to do, so they said, “Alright, Pa” and walked on over to the hotel.

Ben sat down in the waiting room to wait. God how he hated waiting. He began to think of all the hours he had spent waiting for a doctor to come and talk to him about someone he loved. So far, with his sons the outcome had always come out favorable, but he lived in fear of the time when it would not be. Like the times with their mothers. “Stop it right now, Ben Cartwright” he said to himself. “Joseph will be alright. Marie will see to that” he told himself.

In a few minutes, the nurse came out of the room where Joe was. She looked at Ben and half-smiled and said, “Yes, Dr. Martin, his Pa is here.” She then looked at Ben and said, “Dr. Martin said you could go in now.” And held the door open for him.

Ben walked into the room quickly and went straight for his son’s bed. Joe looked pale and feverish this morning, but he did look better than he did last night. Dr. Martin and Dr. Adams moved over to the door and motioned Ben to come over there for an update. Dr. Martin had learned a long time ago that Joe was not above pretending to be asleep if he didn’t want to do something or talk to someone, or if he wanted to get information not meant for him. Ben knew this, too, and joined the doctors without question.

Dr. Martin said, “Ben, he is doing good so far. His blood pressure is only slightly low and his pulse is not so fast—both good signs that he didn’t lose too much blood. He is developing a fever, and that could signal the beginning of infection of the abdominal lining, or it could be a normal reaction to decreased fluid volume, due to the blood loss and not taking any liquids.”

Dr. Adams added, “I am truly surprised, Mr. Cartwright, I expected him to be much worse. He is in extremely good physical condition and has a very strong heart that is able to compensate for the decreased blood volume very well.”

Ben looked at Dr. Adams and said very low, “He certainly has a lot of heart, that’s for sure.” Dr. Adams looked puzzled, thinking the boy’s father didn’t understand, but Dr. Martin caught his attention and shook his head, cutting off the question.

“So now what do we do, Doctors?” Ben asked. “Is he going to be alright?”

“Ben, we still have to worry about infection from the stomach contents inside the abdomen and the wound itself. We also have to watch his stomach function and as soon as possible we have to get him to start eating and drinking. And I think we need to have a discussion with everyone who is going to be involved in his care for the next few weeks, before we attempt that. I think we have to make sure that we are all saying and doing the same thing. If not, Joe will figure out how to trick us. I know that boy too well.”

Ben nodded. “Has he been awake this morning?”

“He was briefly awake around 7 am when I examined him.” Dr. Adams said. “He answered my questions, but didn’t really ask much else, except he did ask me who I was.” “Mrs. Garner said he woke up several times while we were sleeping, but didn’t talk.”

“Why don’t you try to wake him up, Ben?” Paul Martin asked. He knew that Ben had a good chance of getting Joe to wake up and that it would do his friend good to see that Joe really was able to wake up.

Ben walked softly over to Joe’s bed and said softly, “Joe, I’m here, it’s time to get up. Come on Joe, it is 10 o’clock. Late enough even for you to get up.”

Joe could hear his father speaking to him from a distance. He was torn between going to his father and staying where he was—a warm and pain-free place. His father’s voice continued to intrude upon his thoughts, until he found himself looking into his father’s eyes. “Hi, Pa” was all he said.

Ben Cartwright’s face seemed to lose some of the years that had been added just since last night.

“How are you feeling, Son?”

“I’m alright Pa. Kind of sleepy, though.”

Ben smiled at his youngest son who always hated to get up in the mornings and said, “And what else is new, Joseph?”

Joe smiled and gave a short laugh, followed by a short gasp from the pain.

“Take it easy, Joseph” Ben said.

Dr. Martin walked over to the bed and handed Ben a glass of liquid and said, “Ben, Joe needs to drink this.”

Ben took the proffered glass and put his arm behind Joe’s neck and shoulders and raised him enough to drink from the glass. Joe drank several swallows and then moved the glass away with his hand and frowning, said, “That is awful. What is it?”

Dr. Martin shook his head and said, “It is just some water with some salt and sugar and a few other things you need in it.

You drink it up, then I will let you have some plain cool water.” Joe was about to decline the offer, but Ben raised his head and shoulders again and put the glass to his lips and started to pour it in. Joe had to either swallow it or drown—he swallowed it.

That seemed to satisfy both his father and the two doctors, so after finishing the glass of liquid, the doctors told Ben he could visit with Joe for about 10 minutes, then he needed to get some more rest. Ben sat by his son’s bedside, holding his hand. Joe was tired from the effort of drinking the glass of liquid and before too long he was asleep, the effects of the medication he had received over the past 24 hours still making him drowsy. Adam and Hoss tip-toed into the room just as Joe was dozing off and he acknowledged that he saw them with a brief glimpse of a smile, then went back to that comfortable sleeping place.

That brief period the morning after the stabbing was the only respite the Cartwrights or the Doctors would know for several days. As the day went on, Joe’s fever began to climb and he developed redness around his abdomen, indicative of infection. The Doctor’s continued their vigil and kept him cooled off as best they could. They forced more of the glucose/electrolyte mixture into him every hour to keep him from becoming dehydrated. They were concerned that if his circulating volume was too low, that he could develop a blood clot from the abdominal aorta nick and if it became dislodged, it could block off circulation to his lower body.

By that night, Joe’s fever had risen to alarming heights and he was delirious. Dr. Martin sent Hoss and Adam to the Virginia City icehouse to get ice and crush it to put Joe in an icebath to decrease his fever. After they got him covered in ice, they sat by helplessly, watching him shiver from the cold, while burning up with fever.

In Joe’s delirium he talked to people who were there only in his mind. Ben, Hoss, and Adam all cringed when they heard him say, “Mama don’t leave me. I’ll be a good boy.” Adam and Hoss quickly looked at their father, who had turned pale and seemed to be holding his breath, while tears rolled down his cheeks. The family kept a constant vigil at Joe’s bedside for the next 48 hours. They became quite adept at changing his bed clothes, replenishing the ice bath, and forcing the oral glucose/electrolyte solution and medicine down him.

Still, Joe’s fever raged on and his abdomen became swollen and very inflamed looking. Finally, Dr. Martin and Dr. Adams conferred to discuss the best approach to management. Dr. Adams said, “Well although I have never done it, Dr. William Penrose at Johns Hopkins recommends insertion of small drains to allow the purulent material to drain outside the abdominal cavity. He now does it routinely with all traumatic abdominal cavity wounds. He calls it the “Penrose drain”.

“Can you insert one of them? If we can get one of ‘them, that is,” Dr. Martin asked.

“Yes, the procedure is quite simple and I have several in my bag that Dr. Penrose gave me to bring along to you. I just hadn’t thought about it yet.”

“Let’s talk to Ben about it. I think we have to do something.” Dr. Martin said.

Dr. Martin stepped out into the waiting room and asked Ben to step outside for a minute. Adam got up and came with his father, Hoss stayed by Little Joe’s bedside. That was how it had worked out over the past two days, Adam was “responsible” for seeing after his father and Hoss was “responsible” for seeing after Little Joe. Dr. Martin explained what they wanted to do. Dr. Adams showed them the drain and how it would work. “Ben this may sound unusual, but it really makes perfect sense. Joe’s body can’t get well with all that infection in there, this basically lets the infection drain out. I just think we have to do something to get rid of that infection. His fever has not shown any signs of decreasing. It is still rising. We may soon be at a critical point.”

Ben didn’t hesitate. He said “Do it.”

*****

Chapter 10

 

The doctors ushered the Cartwrights out of the room once again. Mrs. Garner came in to get Joe ready for the surgical procedure. She prepared a tray with the instruments the doctors would need, making sure that everything was on the tray. She then administered the sedative that Dr. Adams had ordered, and gently restrained Joe’s arm to the side of the bed, so that he couldn’t accidentally touch the surgical site with his hands. She removed the dressings and washed his abdomen with a disinfectant solution. By this time, the Doctors were ready.

Dr. Adams performed the procedure while Dr. Martin assisted. Dr. Adams made two small approximately ½ inch incisions into the abdominal wall and inserted the small green rubber drains, copious white pus and bloody fluid began to drain from the wounds immediately. Dr. Adams then sutured the drains lightly in place, taped them securely and redressed the wounds. “That’s it. Now we have to wait and see how it works. From the looks of that drainage, I would definitely say we made the right decision, Dr. Adams.”

“Mrs. Garner, get him cleaned up and make him comfortable and let his family back in as soon as possible. Dr. Adams and I will go talk to them.”

When the doctors went to the waiting room to talk to Joe’s family, they had been joined by Lance Jurgens, Joe’s best friend. Dr. Martin nodded and said, “I wondered when you would get back here.” Lance had been away visiting a cousin when his father had sent word to him that Joe had been injured. He and Joe had a special friendship and his father had known that Lance would want to be there with Joe. Dr. Martin was glad to have Lance there; he had found in the past that Lance could sometimes reason with Joe when his father could not.

Ben looked up, surprised to see them this soon. “Well, how did it go?” he asked, anxiously.

“Well Ben the two drains are in and both of them are working. Now it is just a matter of waiting to see if they will do the trick.”

“When will we know if they are going to work, Doc?” Hoss asked looking at both doctors.

“Well Hoss I would expect to see his fever begin to decrease within the next 24 hours. If it does and continues to go down, I would think that they are going to do the trick. If the fever rises more, I don’t know what else we can offer.” Dr. Adams said gravely, eyeing the stricken family.

The three men and young boy seemed to grasp the significance of his words at the same time. Hoss and Lance both said at the same time, “Then they HAVE to work,” with a stubborn expression.

Over the next 24 hours, Joe’s fever remained constant, but didn’t rise. They continued the ice packing, cold water baths, and forcing fluids into him. He continued to have periods of delirium in which he talked to beings they couldn’t see or hear. Just as they all winced in pain when he called out to “Mama”, they all smiled when he called out “Cochise”. Hoss had taken over the job of tending to Cochise, it gave him something tangible that he could do for his little brother.

At 36 hours post-drain insertion, Joe’s fever began to break and his delirium stopped. He began to alternate between sleep and alert periods. At this point, Dr. Martin insisted that the family start to take turns staying with Joe so they could all get more rest. Lance insisted upon taking his turn along with Joe’s brothers and father. They knew how much Joe meant to Lance and vice versa, so they agreed.

Two mornings after the drains were inserted, Mrs. Garner came in to the room to check on Joe. She found him awake, his brother Hoss sleeping in the chair by his side. Just as she was about to speak, Joe put his fingers to his lips and whispered, “Don’t wake Hoss up, he needs some sleep. He looks tired.” Mrs. Garner smiled and began to perform her routine morning activities, including taking Joe’s vital signs. She smiled when she took his temperature and found that it was 2 degrees lower than it had been 6 hours earlier. She pulled back his bedcovers and lifted the bandages to inspect the incisions and to see how much drainage there was. She smiled to herself when she noted that Joe blushed when she pulled back his covers, revealing his bare chest and abdomen. “He is getting better for sure” she said to herself.

*****

Chapter 11

 

“Good morning, Joseph,” Dr. Martin said as he walked into Joe’s room. Joe looked up and said quietly, “Don’t wake Hoss up, Doc.” Dr. Martin shook his head and glanced at Hoss. “Hoss, you need to wake up now.” Dr. Martin said.

Joe frowned and said, “Doc!”. Doctor Martin laughed and said, “He can sleep somewhere else, Joe.” Hoss sat up quickly, rubbing his eyes and turning frantically to check on Joe. “Hey, Little Joe, you’ re awake. How are you feeling?” Hoss asked excitedly.

“I’m fine, Hoss. You are the one who looks tired.” Joe said with a grin.

“Yeah, well, your snoring kept me awake little brother.” Hoss said with a slight grin. Joe gave a half laugh, then stopped, his eyes opening wider, as he felt a sharp pain in his side. Although he didn’t say anything, Dr.s Adams and Martin both caught the look and knew he had felt pain from the wounds.

“Hoss, why don’t you join your family in the waiting room so Dr. Adams and I can examine our patient?” Dr. Martin said to Hoss.

“Sure thing Doctors. We will be waiting for you.” Hoss said as he quickly left the room.

“Now, Joe, let me formally introduce you to Dr. Adams, my colleague from Johns Hopkins University, though he has gotten to know you inside out over the past few days.” Dr. Martin said with a twinkle in his eye. He enjoyed teasing Joe since Little Joe had pulled so many tricks on him over the years.

“What do you mean by inside out?” Joe asked.

“Well Dr. Adams has been here from the time you were hurt. He has performed surgery on you, not just once, but twice. Very skillfully, I might add.” Dr. Martin said.

Joe, remembering his manners, said, “Pleased to meet you Dr. Adams……I think, anyway.”

“Now then, you lie back and let Dr. Adams and me have a look at our handiwork.” Dr. Martin said, removing one of the pillows that Joe’s head was propped on, placing him almost flat on his back.

“Hey, no fair, two against one.” Joe said, frowning.

Both doctors listened to Joe’s chest and lungs, counted his pulse, took his blood pressure, palpated his extremities for pulsations, palpated his abdomen, listened for bowel sounds, and examined his incisions. They both noticed that his abdomen was very tender, but the firmness was much less noticeable. When they had finished they smiled at each other.

Dr. Adams asked, “Joe, how are you feeling?”

“I am feeling fine.” Joe said, though in truth, he really was tired and his belly hurt where they had pressed on it. And he felt a little queasy, but he didn’t tell them that either. Joe had always tried to keep his troubles to himself. And he had learned that telling Dr. Martin too much could result in all kinds of problems. He made a face as he remembered the “tonics” Dr. Martin and his father tried to make him take when he was little to try to make him eat. “Uggh” he thought and made another face.

“What was the reason for that face, Little Joe?”

“Nothin’. I am just tired’s all.” Joe said, keeping to his usual plan.

“Well you can rest for a little while. I have to speak to your family, then they will want to come back and see you, now that you are awake.” Dr. Martin said, as he and Dr. Adams went out the door and into the waiting room. The doctors walked over to the Cartwrights, Lance, and Sheriff Coffee, who had come by to check on Joe’s condition. When they saw the smiles on the doctor’s faces, they all breathed sighs of relief, but waited for the doctors to speak.

“Ben, it is amazing! Joe is doing much better this morning. His fever broke, his vital signs are closer to normal, his incisions look good, and the drainage has decreased considerably. I think those drains did the trick.” Dr. Martin said.

“Joe is going to be okay?” Ben asked excitedly.

“Well I think the danger of infection is almost over. I think we should leave the drains in until tomorrow, though. Do you agree, Dr. Adams?”

“Yes, that would be my recommendation, Dr. Martin.” Agreed Dr. Adams.

“Well, that’s wonderful” Ben said, clapping his other son’s backs and then shaking hands with Roy Coffee. Hoss and Adam both looked at Lance and they all three grinned.

“Now don’t get too carried away, yet. The hardest part is just beginning, I am afraid.” Dr. Martin said.

“What do you mean, Paul?” Ben asked.

“Remember what I told you about the stomach recovery—that is still ahead of us. Joe hasn’t had to eat anything now for almost a week, but today we need to start him on some broth and tomorrow we will need to get him started eating real food. His abdomen is still very tender and painful and it will hurt more when he puts food into it to stretch it. Stretching those damaged muscles is going to cause severe spasms that may last until the stomach empties and contracts again.”

Dr. Martin paused, took a breath and looked around at the men and young man in the room. “Now you all know how Joe is when he is ill. He just wants to be left alone and the last thing he wants is to eat.”

Ben nodded and said, “Paul, how do you suggest we handle this?”

“Well I think we need to try to not make this into a battle of wills with Joe. If we get that stubborn streak of his activated, this could turn into a major issue. We were pretty successful in getting the liquids into him while he was sick. I would like to try the same approach with food. Just not make a big deal about it. Don’t ask him if he is hungry and don’t try to tempt him to eat. Just bring in the food and somehow make him believe that he HAS to eat it, without calling attention to how important it is. I don’t know if that will work or not, but it is at least worth a try.” Dr. Martin stopped to see if they were in agreement.

“Ben, do you think you can do that?” he asked.

“To tell you the truth, Paul, I don’t know if it will work or not. Joe has always been a finicky eater. I still remember Marie trying to coax him to eat. To this day, when he is the least bit excited, tired, upset, hurt, happy, or angry, whatever, he doesn’t want to eat. Now with pain on top of that, I just don’t know. And how do you make him think he HAS to eat it, without making an issue out of it?” Ben said, looking at Hoss and Adam for their thoughts.

Adam raised his eyebrows and shook his head and said, “I don’t see anyway to make him eat when he doesn’t want to eat.”

Hoss said, “I sure wish I could give him some of my appetite, Doc. He sure don’t love food the way I do. Eating is just one of many activities to him and many others are more interesting to him sometimes.”

Lance didn’t say anything but he was thinking of the times that Joe had given away the lunch that Hop Sing had made for him when they were in school. Lots of times there would be children of the miners in school with little or no lunch and Joe would say he wasn’t hungry and give them his lunch. The children would take it if he said he wasn’t going to eat it anyway, that wasn’t exactly charity; but they wouldn’t take it if he was giving it to them because he felt sorry for them. Lance was the only one who knew that Joe did this because he knew they were hungry and wouldn’t get a good meal at night either.

“Well, let’s just see how Joe does. Maybe it won’t be a problem this time.” Dr. Martin said, but no one was encouraged—they knew Little Joe all too well.

“Ben, why don’t you go on in to see him now? The rest of you wait ‘til Ben comes out, then you can go in 2 at a time for about 10 minutes. Just let him get some rest in between. He still has a long way to go yet.”

“Doc, when can I talk to him about the stabbing? I need to know what he can tell me about that.” Roy Coffee spoke up. “Well, if you can wait until after Ben goes in for a few minutes, I’ll go in with you so I can keep an eye on him. We don’t want him getting excited or over-tired.” Doc Martin said to Roy.

“Thanks, Doc.” Roy said, nodding his head.

Ben walked softly into Joe’s room to see if he were awake or sleeping. He had his eyes closed but they opened rapidly when he heard the door creak as his father closed the door.

“Hey, Pa” he said with a half smile.

“Hi, Son. Welcome back. We have been so worried about you. How are you feeling?” Ben pulled a chair over to the bedside and sat down as close to Joe as he could get.

“I’m alright, Pa. You look tired, though. Have you been sleeping, Pa?” Joe asked, his face full of concern.

“I am fine, Son, and now that you are going to be alright, I will be able to get some sleep. We all will.”

Ben noticed that Joe’s lips looked dry. “Would you like some water, Joe?”

“Sure, Pa.” Ben filled the glass and helped Joe lean up to drink from the glass. He took just a couple of swallows and said, “That’s enough, Pa.”

Ben was doubtful, but didn’t want to make an issue out of it. He knew if he got into a battle over how much water Joe drank, they would never get him to eat. He noticed that Joe’s hazel eyes looked dull and had dark circles under them and he was very pale.

“Joe are you too tired to talk?” He asked.

“Maybe so, Pa. Can we talk later?” Joe asked, his eyes closing.

“Sure, Son, I will be back in a little while. You get some rest now”, he said as he smoothed out Joe’s sheets and covered him up. “You just rest, Joe.” He quietly walked out the door.

Joe’s eyes opened as soon as the door closed. He wasn’t tired, actually. He was hurting. If he didn’t know better, he would have thought that the water made his stomach hurt, but that didn’t make sense—it just must be something else. He steeled himself against the waves of pain that emanated from his stomach. The spasm-like pains were intense and unrelenting. He was also becoming nauseated again. He was having a hard time not crying out, the pain and nausea were so bad.

The door opened and in walked Dr. Martin and Sheriff Coffee. He tried to close his eyes in time for them to think he was asleep, but Dr. Martin had seen his eyes open when he entered the room. Dr. Martin was about to speak to him, when he realized how pale and tense Joe looked. He looked at Roy Coffee who had also noticed that Joe didn’t look too good. Roy spoke up first, “I’ll wait outside the door, Doc.”

“Joe, where are you hurting?” Doctor Martin asked.

Joe didn’t respond–he couldn’t respond—he was trying to ride out the terrible wave of pain in his abdomen and trying not to vomit. However, the pain increased and he was unable to prevent the vomiting. He gagged and gagged, throwing up very little, a little water and some green bilious secretions. Dr. Martin held him as he vomited, trying to help splint his incisions to prevent more pain or damage to the incisions. Finally, the vomiting stopped and Joe lay back, completely exhausted. He was pale and his breathing was very shallow and rapid. Dr. Martin felt his pulse, it was racing. What had changed in such a short period of time? He wondered. Then he saw the water glass on Joe’s bedside table. He looked at it, but didn’t say anything to Joe. He stayed with Joe for another 10 or 15 minutes, as the pain subsided, Joe’s tenseness began to decrease and his respiratory and heart rates returned to more normal levels. As Joe’s vital signs began to return to normal, he began to drift off to sleep. Dr. Martin continued to keep his arms around him until he was safely asleep, then he eased his arms from around Joe, straightened him under the covers and slipped out of the room. He took a deep breath when he was on the other side of the door. He looked up to see five anxious faces staring at him. He took another deep breath, then walked over to where they were waiting for him.

“What’s wrong Paul? Roy told me something was wrong with Joe.” Ben said, his concern etched on his face.

“Ben did you give him a drink of water?” Paul asked.

“Yes, but he only took a couple of sips. Why? I thought he needed fluids.”

“Yes, he does, it is just that Joe just had a sample of the kind of stomach spasms I have been telling you about. But if what he just went through was caused by only a couple of sips of water, I think we are going to have a real problem on our hands.” He said grimly. “I can’t imagine what it will be like if we manage to get any type of solid food in him.” Paul said, shaking his head. “But we have to and we have to do it soon. The longer we delay giving him solid food, the worse the spasms will be. If only there were some way to give nutrition without putting it into the stomach.”

“What do we do now?” Ben asked, worry showing on his face and in his eyes.

“Let’s let him rest and sleep for a little while, then we will try with some warm broth.” Dr. Martin said.

Ben slipped back into Joe’s room quietly and watched his son sleep. Although pale and tired-looking, he looked so peaceful, too peaceful, in fact. Since Joe was always in motion, even if he were sitting still, he was moving something. Ben laughed, remembering how Joe had learned to wiggle his ears, which he would do every time one particular teacher turned her back, making all the children laugh. When the teacher would turn around, Joe would be sitting there with an angelic smile on his face. It took her several days, but she finally got fast enough to turn around and catch him in the act. He had been sent home from school with a note for his father to go for a meeting. Joe however, talked Hoss into going to the school and pretending to be his father. Of course, Hoss couldn’t lie, so it had been a disaster and Ben had to go to talk to the teacher about two sons—one no longer in school.

Watching Joe, Ben clearly saw Marie. She was in his curly hair, his hazel eyes, his small, delicate, but not fragile-looking features, even his hands reminded him of Marie. She was certainly in his personality—right down to his stubbornness and his bewitching smile and liveliness. Ben thought that Marie was the only person who had ever been able to deal with Joe’s moods and temper tantrums, even when he was only a child. If only Marie were here, she would know what to do. She would know how to help their son. He felt so helpless and so scared. “Help me Marie, help me help him, Marie.” Silent tears rolled down his face as he watched his sleeping son.

At about noon, Joe was again awake, and although he was in pain, it was not the severe pain he had experienced earlier that morning. He was able to talk with the Sheriff. He told him the whole story, including the girl’s name and giving a description of the man she was with. “She really messed up—I was going to give her the money in my bank account–close to $3000. I couldn’t have had more than $200 or $300 from that poker game. But she took my locket, Roy. I want it back. After I rest for a day or two, I am going after her to get it.” Joe said determinedly.

“Now, Joe, I reckon you still have your eye on my job, don’t you, Son?” Roy said. Joe looked at him a little puzzled. Roy said, “You just leave the sheriffin’ to me. I will get this description and information out to the surrounding towns. We will catch ’em, I suspect, Joe. You just stay here and do as the Doc tells you. Ya hear me, Joe?”

Dr. Martin came around from the foot of the bed where he had been standing and said, “Roy is that enough for now? I don’t want to get Joe to tired right at lunch time. He is fixin’ to have his first taste of real food in a long time.” He was watching Joe’s face carefully to see what his reaction would be. He was actually pleased because he didn’t see a reaction—none at all. To him, that was a good sign, since Joe usually tried to avoid food when he was injured.

About that time, Mrs. Garner came into the room with a tray of food. On it was a small bowl of steaming broth and plain crackers. “Ah, here you are now, Mrs. Garner, right on time, as usual.” Mrs. Garner went about setting up Joe’s tray on the bedside table and pulling up a chair so she could sit and feed Joe the broth, since he was not able to sit up yet. Still Joe didn’t say anything.

Dr. Martin retreated to the perimeter of the room, planning to watch and see how it went without Joe knowing he was watching.

“Okay, Joseph, here you go, have some of my finest beef broth.” She said, moving the full spoon to his mouth.

“I am not really hungry right now, Mrs. Garner. Why don’t you leave it and I will eat it later?” Joe said.

“No, Joe, it will be cold later and I have better things to do than be heating up broth for you all the time, young man. Just because you have Hop Sing wrapped around your little finger, doesn’t mean that you can bully me, Little Joe Cartwright”. The entire time she was talking, she was steadily spooning the broth into Joe’s mouth, and he swallowed reflexively. Dr. Martin breathed a sigh of relief, Joe had already taken several spoonfuls of the broth before he even knew it. God bless Mrs. Garner, he thought. His relief was short-lived, however, because after two more spoonfuls, Joe started to gag and vomited up all that he had just taken. Then he began to clutch his abdomen and moan and writhe in pain. Mrs. Garner put aside the broth and began to console Joe, but he continued to moan and writhe in pain. Dr. Martin came over and put his arms around Joe and tried to splint his abdomen to decrease the spasms. Mrs. Garner, quite pale herself, changed the bedclothes, removed the tray and slipped out of the room.

Finally, after about another 15 minutes of severe, body-shattering pain, Joe’s spasms began to abate. He was almost gray by this time and his eyes appeared dull, sunken in, and unfocused. He was physically exhausted. He lay back on the bed, taking rapid, shallow breaths, too tired to move any more. Dr. Martin got up, re-positioned Joe more comfortably, and covered him up. Brushing his hair back from his forehead, he said, “Just sleep for a little while, Joe. It is going to be better soon.” But as he was leaving the room, he was sure that his worst fears were confirmed. Getting Little Joe to eat was going to be a difficult task—one that he wasn’t sure they would win. Even if they could get the food in him, his body seemed to physically reject it. No wonder Joe always avoided food when he was sick, he thought. Perhaps he gets nauseated easily, but has just never mentioned it before. That would certainly explain his almost aversion to food at times. Too bad there is no drug to stop muscle spasms and nausea, he thought.

*****

Chapter 12

 

Unfortunately every attempt to get Joe to take any nourishment that day met with the same result, except the muscle spasms and nausea seemed to be getting worse. By nightfall, they had been unable to get more than a few spoonfuls of broth in Joe and most, if not all, of that had come back up. Everyone had tried, from Mrs. Garner, Doctors Adams and Martin, Ben, Hoss, and Adam. Lance finally said, “Let me try. I can’t do any worse than you did.”

They all sighed and said, “It’s worth a try, Lance”.

“Do you want us to go in with you?” Hoss asked.

“No, Hoss, I may have better luck by myself.. You know how Joe hates to be watched when he is sick. Let me try. I’ll call out if I need help.” Lance squared his shoulders, picked up the tray, pushed the door open with his shoulders, put on a smile, and went “cheerfully” into Joe’s room. He was appalled when he saw Joe’s appearance. He was pale, almost-gray looking, and his fever was coming back, he was sweating and his cheeks had rosy spots in them, which stood out starkly against the pallor of his skin and the darkness of his hair.

“Hey, Joe, while you are lying up there in that bed, I am having to do all the work of keeping your father and brother in line. I need some help.” Lance said, with a smile that Joe recognized as phony from the start.

“What are you doing here? I thought you went to your cousin’s in Reno for two weeks.” Joe said, not smiling at his friend, not because he wasn’t glad to see him, but because he just didn’t have the energy to smile, because it took every bit of his energy to keep the pain under control.

“Well do you think I would stay in Reno and let you wallow here in this bed? Not on your life! Besides I want you to help me get Betsy to go to that Harvest Dance with me, Joe. I think she is real purty.” Lance said.

“Betsy Roberts?” Joe asked, interested, despite how bad he felt.

“Yeah, can you help me out? I get all nervous every time she comes around me and I do something silly.” Lance said. Lance, unconsciously, was duplicating Mrs. Garner’s strategy, trying to get Joe to swallow the broth without thinking about it. Joe, however, had learned only too well during the rest of the day, that swallowing anything greatly intensified the rhythmic, sharp, burning pain that was becoming his constant companion. He was not going to be fooled again. Just as Lance was about to pop the spoon in his mouth, Joe turned his head, causing Lance to spill the broth on his own shirt sleeve.

“Hey, whatcha do that for?” Lance said, disappointed that he had not been successful with his plan. “Lance, do you think I don’t know what is going on here?” Joe asked in a slow, deliberate voice.

“Why whatever do you mean, Joe? I am just talking to you while you eat!” Lance said, pretending to be surprised at Joe’s inference.

“Well my belly is hurtin bad enough all the time now, but it gets almost unbearable when I eat, so I am not eating anymore. So if you want to, help yourself to that broth. I ain’t eatin’ it.” Joe said, firmly.

“Alright, Joe, I will level with you. I was trying to trick you—but just because I thought that if you didn’t think about it, it wouldn’t hurt you so bad.” Lance said earnestly.

“Good try, but I ain’t buying it. Look it hurts when I put anything in my stomach, it hurts bad Lance. Too bad. I can’t stand the pain, Lance. It hurts so bad, it is all I can do to keep from crying like a baby” Joe paused, a baby, that woman called me a baby, he remembered. Brother, how could he be so gullible? Well he wasn’t gullible anymore. He didn’t know why his family and friends were trying to trick him into eating, but it wasn’t going to work. He couldn’t let the pain get any worse or he wouldn’t be able to control himself and he couldn’t let them see him cry. They already thought of him as a baby, just like that woman. He had to maintain control over the pain.

“Joe, how about eating just a little bit? Just try one spoonful? For me?” Lance was desperate. He saw that determined look in Joe’s eyes. He would have, under other circumstances, been glad to see Joe’s focus back, but he knew he was focusing on the wrong thing.

“No, Lance, I am not hungry and I am not eating any broth. Now I think I need to rest. I am going to sleep. Tell my family I am asleep. Why don’t you pour that broth out and then they will think I ate it, then they can all get a good night’s sleep, too?” Maybe tomorrow the pain will be gone and I will eat something then.” Joe said this to Lance, but neither of them thought he really meant it. It was just something to say to keep them from acknowledging that there was a problem between them. Joe turned his head away and closed his eyes, feigning sleep.

Lance said softly, “Alright, Joe, but it ain’t over yet. I am leaving now, but I will be back and so will your family and the Doc.” Joe didn’t respond. Lance picked up the tray and walked out the door, meeting 7 anxious faces, Doctor Martin’s wife had stopped in to check on Joe, too. Lance sighed and shook his head, pointing to the full bowl of broth. “I couldn’t get one single spoonful into him, Doc. Mr. Cartwright, Joe knows that the food makes the pain worse and he doesn’t understand why we want him to eat. Have you told what is going on? Maybe that would help. I know this much, we ain’t going to trick him into eating. We can give up on that fer sure. He is too stubborn and smart for his own good.” Lance said.

Ben half-smiled and said, “That is a fact, Lance, that is a fact.”

Taking a deep breath, he looked at the two doctors and said, “Now what do we do?”

Dr. Martin said, “You go on and get some dinner for yourselves and let Jonah and me discuss it. Maybe we can come up with a brainstorm while you are out.” Dr. Martin said, trying to sound optimistic. Ben reluctantly agreed when Hoss and Adam said that they wouldn’t go unless he did.

As the Cartwrights and the Sheriff and Lance went out the door, the two doctors looked at each other and hoped that the other one had an idea. Mrs. Martin said, “Would you like me to try, Paul?”

“Yes, a little later. I suspect we will have to have every resident of Virginia City try before this is over with.” He said, exasperated. “Why in the world did he have to get stabbed in the stomach?” said, as if someone had an answer. He didn’t get one, but he didn’t expect one either.

The two doctors and Mrs. Martin sat there in the quiet for a long time, trying to think of an idea that would be helpful, but didn’t come up with one. Paul looked at Jonah and said, “Well it looks like I won’t be going to that medical conference after all. I was supposed to leave tomorrow, you know.”

“Paul, I think I can do as much for him medically now as you can. You can go ahead and go.” Jonah said.

Mrs. Martin gasped and looked anxiously at her husband. He smiled reassuringly at her before replying, “Yes, I am sure you could. That’s not it, Jonah, I just couldn’t leave with Little Joe so sick. As aggravating and bothersome as he is—my wife and I love him like our own son, don’t we dear?”

She smiled back and nodded her head, “He really isn’t bothersome and aggravating—not all the time anyway. He is a dear sweet boy. And besides, this time he really has a good reason for not wanting to eat. I wouldn’t want to eat either if it made my stomach pain worse.” She said.

“Well we must come up with a plan to get that ‘dear sweet boy’ to eat, because he doesn’t have a lot of reserves. Too bad he isn’t more like his brother, the big one, what’s his name?” Jonah asked. “Hoss.” Dr. and Mrs. Martin replied. Dr. Adams added, “And the longer it takes to get him eating solid food, the worse the pain will become.” Dr. Martin glumly nodded in agreement.

Mrs. Martin said, “Well Paul, we just have to go back to the same old way we have gotten him to eat in the past—part threat, part cajoling, part sheer force, part bribery. “She is right, Jonah. It is annoying as get out, but it has worked in the past, though this is a little more extreme than it has ever been before.”

“Well what do you mean? How does it work?” Dr. Adams looked from one to the other.

Mrs. Martin answered, “Well the threats—that would be his father’s job; the cajoling—that would be done by any of a dozen or so female citizens; the sheer force, that would be Hoss and Adam; the bribery, that would be Paul—making deals with him about his recuperation.

*****

Chapter 13

 

Dr. Adams had stayed until the penrose drains were removed and he was confident that there was no abdominal infection. Then since Dr. Martin was not going to go to the conference or to the shore, he decided he might as well go back to Baltimore. He said a sad farewell to the Cartwright family. He too, had been affected by the enigmatic Joe Cartwright, who could be absolutely charming one minute and stubborn as an ox, the next minute. “Mr. Cartwright, I hope your son recovers fully. I will be praying that he does.” He said as he was preparing to leave. He told Dr. Martin, “When I get back to Baltimore, I will talk to the Professors and tell them about Joe and see if they have any suggestions to offer. If they do, I will send you a telegram right away.”

“Thank you, Jonah. I do hope you will be willing to try this again. Next time, I will plan on going when Little Joe is out of the territory or something.” Dr. Martin said.

Dr. Adams’ last words were, “Now I know why a 17 years old boy can have such a thick medical record!”

Over the next several days, by using all the described methods, they were able to get enough broth in Joe to keep him alive, but that was about all. Hop Sing had come into town to stay with him to see if he would eat better from him. Though he seemed glad to see Hop Sing, it didn’t make an appreciable difference in his pain or in his appetite. He was not regaining his color, his eyes continued to look dull and lifeless, he was becoming more and more lethargic and uncommunicative, and was losing weight at an alarming rate. The abdominal pain was becoming more and more constant and unrelenting. It was preventing him from real sleep, he slept only in snatches, moaning sometimes even in his sleep.

Hop Sing practically moved into Joe’s room with him, encouraging him to take tiny sips of broth, talking to him in Chinese and English. He reminded Joe that it was his duty to get well. Joe tried to keep the broth down, because he didn’t want to hurt Hop Sing’s feelings. But every spoonful seemed to add to the intensity of the pain in his belly. After three days, Ben noticed that Hop Sing was looking exhausted, so he told him to go home and that they would takeover.

Hop Sing didn’t want to leave, but Ben convinced him that Joe was worrying too much about him and it would be better for Joe if he went home and got some rest. Nancy Coffee came on duty next. Joe and Nancy, had been friends for a long time. Nancy’s father had been telling her that he was really worried about Little Joe and what a hard time his family was having getting him to eat. Nancy decided that it was time for her to get involved. Nancy came into the Doctor’s office about mid-day. The Doctor was seeing other patients in the examining room, Lance was going out the door as she came in.

“Lance, how is Little Joe?” Nancy asked, noting his downcast expression.

Lance looked up at her and said, “He is getting worse. He has such awful pain and every time he actually swallows something, the pain gets worse and then he throws it up. His Pa and the Doc are really worried. Mr. Cartwright looks like he hasn’t sllept in weeks. And Joe is worried more about his Pa and brothers and Hop Sing than he is himself.” Lance said, relieved to have someone to talk to about.

Lance knew that Nancy was a true friend. He was hoping she could help Joe somehow. Nancy went resolutely into the doctor’s waiting room. There was no one in the room, not even Mrs. Garner. Not knowing what else to do, she quietly opened the door to Joe’s room. The sight that met them, broke her heart. Joe was lying in the bed, still, pale, and looking lost in the bed. On either side of him, his father and Hoss sat, each holding one of Joe’s hands in their own. The Pastor of the church and Doctor Martin were at the foot of the bed. The Pastor was praying out loud, asking for Joe to be healed, “if it was in His will” but he went on to add, “if it is not in thy will, please help us to accept thy will”. Nancy just stared in disbelief. How could he be praying that—there was no way that either of them would ever “accept” Joe’s dying as God’s will. She quietly closed the door, and silently sat down in the waiting room to wait for the Minister to finish.

Five minutes later, Doctor Martin and the minister came quietly out of the room. Doctor Martin saw them and said, “Hello, young lady, I suppose you have come to see Little Joe?”.

Nancy found her voice and replied, “Yes, Dr. Martin, I thought maybe we could cheer him up and get him to eat something. Pa told us what is going on.”

Dr. Martin said, “Let me go in and tell Ben and Hoss that you are here. I am sure they will be glad to see you.”

He slipped back into the room, and almost immediately Hoss came out of the room. “Hi, Miss Nancy. I am glad you came. Joe will be glad to see you.”

“Hoss, can I see him now?” Nancy asked.

“Yes, Pa and the Doc will be out in just a minute.” Hoss said. Hoss sat down and waited for his father. He tried to comfort Nancy, but even though she was one of Joe’s best friends, he still had a hard time talking to girls—Little Joe always had to coach him. Thinking of that made a big lump come to his throat.

Ben and Dr. Martin then come out of the room. Doc Martin patted Ben reassuringly or sympathetically on the shoulder, then walked briskly out the door. Ben came over and spoke quietly to Nancy, “Joe is dozing right now, but I am sure if you go on in, he will be awake soon. Why don’t you go on in? When he wakes up, please let me know, so I can bring him some soup.”

“Thanks Mr. Cartwright.”

She entered the room quietly and stood by the side of the bed, watching him. She was frightened by how pale and thin he looked. Without thinking, she reached over and brushed a lock of hair off his forehead; Joe woke at her touch. When he looked up, he smiled and recognizing her, said, “Hi, Nancy.” How are you?” Nancy thought that nothing would ever change that smile—no matter how sick Joe was—he still had a dazzling smile. She smiled back at Joe and sat down in the chair next to the bed.

“Joe, when are you going to start getting better?” Nancy asked. “Lance is moping around and he is never going to get up the nerve to ask Betsy to the Harvest dance if you don’t help him.”

“I’m workin’ on it” Joe said, forcing himself to smile and to keep his tone of voice as near normal as possible. It was at great effort though, the pains in his abdomen were becoming intolerable. He was convinced that there was something wrong with him that his father and Doctor Martin weren’t telling him. How could they expect him to believe that eating would make it better when every time he ate, the pains became even worse.

Nancy got up and walked softly to the door. “Mr. Cartwright, Joe is awake now. Why don’t you bring me the soup and let me try to get it in him? She asked this quietly, not wanting Joe to hear. She knew how stubborn he was and if he thought that they were plotting against him, he wouldn’t eat no matter what. Ben brought Nancy the bowl of steaming chicken broth, which she took over to Joe’s bedside.

When he saw what she had, he said, “For crying out loud, Nancy, not you, too! Please don’t ask me to eat that. I am not hungry and food makes my belly hurt something awful. Just sit here and talk to me for a while. I will eat it after you leave.”

“Little Joe Cartwright. Do you think I was born yesterday? You can’t fool me.” Nancy said. “Joe, come on and try to eat a little—if you don’t I won’t give you a minute’s peace and I wanted to talk to you about Cochise. I want to get a new horse and I was wondering if I could get one like him.” Nancy looked pleadingly at Joe. Joe looked back at Nancy, who had the spoon full of soup in her hand, ready to offer it to him. “Little Joe, no talking until you eat something. You know I mean it, too.”

Joe sighed and thought to himself, “Why is everybody so concerned with what I eat. Why can’t they just leave me alone?” Out loud he said, “Alright, Nancy I will try, but just a little, okay?”

She smiled at him and gave him the first spoonful. She talked to Joe and tried to distract him and make him concentrate on talking about Cochise and not on the soup. By doing this she was able to get in 8 or 9 spoonfuls. After that Joe said he couldn’t eat anymore and nothing she said could distract him from the agony he was experiencing. Nancy saw the pain as it developed and knew that Joe really wasn’t just being difficult. Nancy put the bowl of soup aside and just sat there, holding his hands, softly talking about anything she could think of to help him relax.

Dr. Martin came in and said that Joe needed to rest now and asked her to come back soon. She said good bye to Joe and he gave them a very weak half-smile. “Don’t worry. I am fine.” He said through gritted teeth as they left.

Nancy was crying when she left the room. Ben immediately jumped up and met her at the door, asking what had happened. “Oh, Mr. Cartwright I could only get a few spoonfuls in him before the pain started. It was awful, Mr. Cartwright. Dr. Martin you HAVE to do something for him.” She said, desperately, as they saw Dr. Martin come out of the room, carrying the bowl.”

“Nancy, you did better than anyone else so far. I assure you the pain will go away with time, but he has to eat to get better.”

The days became a continuous struggle over nausea and pain. Because of the small amount of food that they could get into Joe at one time, they began to offer him small amounts more frequently. The days became just one long battle to get Joe to eat a few spoonfuls of broth or soup. The only respite he had was when he was asleep, so he began to pretend to be asleep so they would just leave him alone. Then when they became more alarmed at his deteriorating condition, they began to even wake him up, so that he couldn’t count on any peace at all.

One day after another bout with nausea and vomiting after a few spoonfuls of broth, Ben was sitting at Joe’s bedside, watching him, concern evident in his eyes, his face, his body language.

“Pa, tell me about my mother.” Ben started telling Joe about his mother, stories he had told him before, but also other recollections that came to mind. As Ben talked, Joe relaxed and drifted off to sleep.

Shortly after he was asleep, Adam came in with a bowl of broth and said, “Pa, do you want to give him this or do you want me to?”

Ben said, “Adam, he just went to sleep. Let’s let him sleep for a while first. He is exhausted.”

“Pa, he needs to eat. Paul said he has to eat—no exceptions. If you don’t want to do it, I will.”

Ben sighed and said, “I guess you are right, Adam, I will go for a walk if you think you can help him eat.”

“Okay Pa.” Adam was determined to get Little Joe to eat because the strain was wearing on everybody now. He didn’t know how much longer his father could bear it. “Joe, Joe, wake up. It is time to eat.”

Adam said, somewhat sternly. Joe’s eyelids fluttered open, slowly, reluctantly. “Adam, let me sleep a little while longer. I was dreaming about….” “Joe you can sleep later. Now it is time for you to eat. As he said this, he was adding a pillow under Joe’s head and pulling up a chair to the bedside. Joe looked irritated, but didn’t say anything else. Adam put his left arm under Joe’s neck and started to spoon soup into him with his right hand.

Joe instinctively tried to turn his head away when the spoon neared his mouth, but the way Adam was holding him, he couldn’t move his head. Adam forced the spoon into his mouth. Joe swallowed because there was little else he could do. “Adam” he said after he swallowed, but was stopped when Adam spooned another spoonful into his mouth, and again he swallowed.

After swallowing that spoonful, he said more loudly, “Adam, wait a minute, will ya?”

Adam ignored him and spooned in another spoonful. Joe tried to close his mouth, but Adam forced the spoon in. Joe swallowed, but the waves of abdominal pain and nausea were coming back. “No more, Adam, please.” Joe said, weakly.

Adam hesitated just a moment, then said, “Joe you are going to eat this bowl of broth if it kills us both. So just quit fighting it and relax.” And he continued to shovel the soup in. Joe was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, and tried to tell Adam, but Adam was focused on getting the soup in his little brother, not on his little brother. About halfway through the bowl, Joe began to vomit violently, causing him severe abdominal pain. Hoss came in and saw what was happening and immediately he went to Joe and held him until the terrible spasms lessened. Adam had backed away from the bedside when his brother became ill. He hadn’t meant to make him sicker, he had just wanted to get the food in him. Finally, exhausted, Joe lay back on the bed; he was gray in color, his pulse and respirations were sky high, and beads of sweat had broken out on his brow and on his chest.

When Ben came back to Joe’s room, Adam told him what had happened. Ben went into Joe’s room and found Hoss sitting by Joe’s bedside. Hoss looked up at him, then looked at Joe, lying so still and quiet. Hoss looked back at his Pa and said, “Pa, I ain’t going to make Joe eat no more. There has to be some other way. I can’t do that to him anymore. The pain is just too bad. The Doc has to give him something for the pain.”

By two weeks after the accident, they were getting desperate, and as if by a miracle, a telegram arrived from Dr. Adams. It said that he had discussed Joe’s case at a “Grand Rounds” forum and was given two suggestions for management. The first was a recipe for an old herbal remedy for nausea that could be mixed by the pharmacist. The second suggestion was more aggressive and was offered as a last resort—insertion of a nasogastric feeding tube in order to put pureed food directly into the stomach. When Dr. Martin told these suggestions to the Cartwrights, they all were visibly shaken when the procedure for the nasograstric feeding tube was briefly described. If they did that to Joe, he would probably never forgive them and he would certainly never eat again, Ben was sure of that.

Later that same afternoon, Ben was sitting with Joe when he had one of his lower pain periods. When Ben looked up, he was surprised to see Joe staring at him, with tears in his eyes. Ben reached over and took Joe’s hand in both his hands and said, “Joe, it’s going to be alright. You have to believe me and keep trying.”

Joe continued to gaze at him with tears running down his face. Finally he said, “I’m sorry, Pa. I am sorry to always be such a problem.”

Ben had tears in his eyes and his voice was choked with emotion, but he managed to get out the words, “Joe you may sometimes be a problem, but you are also always our joy.”

“I want to go home, Pa. Please take me home.” Joe said, then exhausted, he lay back and closed his eyes. Ben noticed though, that tears continued to spill down Joe’s cheeks. Ben had the terrible thought that Joe wanted to go home to die. His son, usually so optimistic, so upbeat, so persistent, so, so, so—alive, was giving up and wanted to go home to die! Ben was more frightened than he had ever been. Ben sat there until he saw that Joe was breathing regularly and the tears had stopped, then covered him up, and went out to find Doctor Martin.

“Doc, I want to talk to you frankly about Joe.” Ben said.

Dr. Martin had been expecting this type of request from Ben for several days now. He was glad to have it in the open, finally. He led Ben to a chair by his desk, and motioned for him to sit. He sat in the chair behind his desk.

“Okay, Ben, what do you want to know?”

“If we don’t get Joe to eat more than he is right now, what is going to happen? How long can he go without eating more?” Ben looked at him, determined to know everything he could about his son’s chances.

“Ben, I think if we don’t get Joe to take more nourishment and calories within a week’s time, that he may suffer irreparable damage to his muscles, including his heart. I think Joe could suffer heart failure Ben.”

Ben sat quietly, thinking about what the Doctor said for several long minutes. Then he looked at Doc Martin and asked, “What about the medicine that Doctor Adams suggested? Do you think it will work?”

“Ben, I am sure planning on giving it a try. I have Maxwell making it up now over at his pharmacy. But I am afraid that we now have more than just a nausea problem. I think now we have a physical, psychological, and emotional barrier to get past with Joe.”

“What are you saying? Do you Joe is making this up?” Ben asked, astonished.

“NO, Ben, not at all. But I do believe that the stress and emotional upheaval that Joe feels over the situation compounds the actual physical pain he feels. That is why I am skeptical that the medicine will be enough, even if it stops the nausea. Ben, I would give anything if I had some better options for you to consider. I just don’t know anything else to do.”

Ben noticed that Doc Martin had tears in his eyes also.

“Paul, Joe asked me to take him home today. Do you think we could move him home? Do you think being in familiar surroundings may help some?”

“Ben, I think we could safely get him home in a well-padded wagon, going really slow and easy, though it would be pretty painful. It may be worth a try.”

“Paul, I want to take him home tomorrow, try the medicine for two days, then if he isn’t eating, you can use that nasogastric tube contraption you showed me. I can’t stand by and watch my son starve to death, Paul, can I?”

“No, Ben, and neither can I. I was going to bring it up to you in the morning if you hadn’t come to that decision tonight.”

“If you have to do that, Doc, how will you do it?” Ben wanted to know exactly what was involved so that he would know what he was agreeing to.

Doctor Martin had anticipated that request, too. He reached into his drawer and pulled out a sterile package that he had put there just yesterday. It was a long tube, about 1/8″ in diameter, attached to a large syringe-looking apparatus. The tube had a rounded end with two holes in it. He demonstrated to Ben how the tube was inserted and how the food was put in. “It’s very simple, really, Ben.” Ben’s eyes were wide open, in almost terror when Dr. Martin finished.

“Paul, Joe would never stand for that. How would you get it in?” He asked, wanting to know and not wanting to know at the same time.

“Well, Ben I could give him a strong sedative for the insertion, but I couldn’t keep him sedated all the time. We would have to restrain him after it was inserted to keep him from pulling it out. Ben, we will have to tie him down–secure and tight, that’s the only way it will work. We will have to watch him like a hawk to make sure he doesn’t somehow get it dislodged, because if he even gets it partially dislodged, some of the contents could get into his lungs and cause a severe, almost untreatable pneumonia.”

“How long would this have to go on?” Ben asked, experiencing pain and a sick feeling in his stomach, too.

“Hard to say, Ben, I would say at least two weeks or until he started eating on his own.”

*****

Chapter 14

 

The next morning, Hoss rode over to the Doc’s office in the wagon, which had a thick mattress padding and pillows. Hoss and Adam helped Joe to the wagon. Hoss wanted to just pick him up and carry him because he was so weak, but Joe insisted on walking. So they half walked him, and half carried him to the wagon. Hoss did pick him up and lift him into the wagon when they got outside. Hoss was horrified at how light and fragile Joe seemed. Although Joe had never been big, he had always been solid and muscular. Now he seemed pitifully thin and frail-looking. Ben rode in the back of the wagon with Joe. Hoss drove the wagon and Adam rode ahead to the Ponderosa to help Hop Sing get everything ready. Ben had told Lance to just wait until they got Joe home and settled and then come visit him at the Ponderosa.

The trip took a very long time because they were trying to go very slow and cause as little pain as possible. Finally, Joe couldn’t stand it any longer and said, “Pa, tell Hoss to just go fast, it can’t possibly hurt any more than it does already. I would rather get on home.” Ben told Hoss to speed up a little bit. He watched Joe’s face and realized that the pain was probably almost more than he could bear. Watching his usually jolly, happy-go-lucky son in such excruciating pain was almost more than he could bear.

When they arrived home, they were met by Adam and Hop Sing. Hop Sing had Joe’s room ready and Hoss carried him upstairs. By now, Joe was too weak to even protest being carried. When they got him upstairs, Hop Sing told them to leave and let him get Joe settled in bed. “Hop Sing will come tell you when you come back in.” He said and pushed all three Cartwrights out the door. Hop Sing quickly got Joe under the covers of his own bed and positioned him comfortably.

Joe looked up at him and smiled, at great effort, and said, “Thanks Hop Sing, now I feel better.” Hop Sing’s heart was breaking, seeing the suffering on this boy that he loved so much.

Ben, Hoss, and Adam were sitting in the living room, waiting for Hop Sing. Ben felt it was as good a time as any to tell them of his and Dr. Martin’s conversation and the plan they had agreed to. Hoss was devastated by the plan. He knew how much Joe would hate that and he also knew that he would feel betrayed by them. But Adam, agreed it was the only thing to do—nothing else had worked. Hoss was too upset to think about it more logically at this point. He said, “I am going to go to the barn and bed down Cochise. I will be back in a little while. I need to think about this some.”

Ben said, “Sure, Son, it is hard to think about, but I just don’t know anything else to do.”

As Hoss was bedding down Cochise, talking to him like Joe always did, Lance came riding up into the yard. He saw Hoss in the barn and went in to see how Little Joe had made the trip. When he spoke to Hoss, and Hoss turned around, he saw that he had been crying.

“Hoss, what’s wrong? Is Joe worse?” Lance said, alarmed.

“No, Lance, he is not worse, except he aint no better. Pa said that if he ain’t eating by the day after tomorrow, Doc is going to use that tube contraption and force feed him. You know how Joe will hate that. I just don’t know if he will ever forget it or forgive us. I feel like he has so much pain now, that he has just about lost all hope and all the fight has just gone out of him, seems like. He is just wasting away right in front of us.” Hoss looked at Lance and said, “Lance, I can’t live if I lose my little brother. If Little Joe is gone, my heart may as well be gone.” He sat down right by Coshise’s stall and cried, heart-wrenching sobs.

Lance sat down beside Hoss and said, “I know what you mean, Hoss. I feel the same way, and he ain’t even my brother”.

Hoss said, “And my Pa, Lance. My Pa has already lost three wives. I don’t think he could stand to lose Little Joe.”

Finally, Lance said, “Hoss I don’t think I better go in to see Joe tonight. I have to go think some. I am going to go home and I will come back first thing in the morning. Hoss, we ain’t gonna let Little Joe die. We just ain’t. Now you just believe that.”

All the time Lance was riding home, he was trying to convince himself that he was right, that somehow, Little Joe would come through this—Little Joe always got out of situations one way or another. That was part of his magic. But it was going to take more than Joe’s magic this time. Lance remembered how sometimes when they were sleeping out under the stars, Joe would look up at the North Star and say “That star is my Mama. Pa told me that when I was little after she died. He said she would always be with me.” Lance looked up and found the North star and said, “Ma’am, Joe sure needs you with him right now.”

Mrs. Jurgens was surprised when she heard Lance ride back into the barn. She had expected him to spend the night at the Ponderosa. She went into the kitchen to wait for him to come into the house. When she saw him enter, she greeted him with “Hey, I thought you were spending——” She stopped mid-sentence when she saw his face. His eyes were red, his face looked gaunt and he had an almost-haunted look. “Lance! What’s wrong? Little Joe?”

Lance took one look at his mother and burst into tears. She held out her arms and he went straight into them. He cried for a good 10 minutes, she held him tightly and whispered, “there, there, it will be okay. Tell Mama what is wrong, sweetie.” She eased them both down into the rocking chair in the kitchen, she in the chair, Lance sitting on the floor in front of her, with her cradling him in her arms. Finally Lance got enough control to tell his mother about his meeting with Hoss and about what the Doc had told Joe’s father about his heart failing and about their decision to use that tube contraption. After getting the story out, Lance was exhausted, and emotionally spent. He was content to remain with his mother, almost rocking him in her arms, like when he was a baby. While she was calming Lance, she thought about Little Joe Cartwright and what he meant to Lance, to his family, friends, and to their whole family. She remembered another time, when Lance was the one who was ill and Little Joe the one who was healthy.

*****

Hannah Jurgens was worried about Lance. Today was his birthday and he was ill with bronchitis and wouldn’t be able to attend his birthday party. She knew that he had been looking forward to the party for a long time. He had gotten the idea last year when the rodeo came to town and he and Joe Cartwright had gone with Joe’s brothers. The boys had returned from the rodeo with big plans to become rodeo stars. Since the plans for the party had been made and they couldn’t really be changed, it was turning out to be a lonely birthday for Lance. While Lance was home in bed, his friends were going to be attending the special rodeo performance that she and his father had arranged with the rodeo to coincide with his birthday. Months of planning and coordination of the event with the rodeo had gone into this, and all the expenses had to be paid up-front, so there was no point in canceling the party. Although Lance had insisted that the party go on as planned, his mother knew that he was feeling very much alone and very sad on his birthday. She and his family had tried to cheer him up and although he made a pretense of being fine, she knew that deep down, he was hurting. He said he was tired and wanted to sleep, but she knew he wasn’t sleeping. “I wish I could think of something to cheer him up” she thought again.

Just at that time, there was a knock at the door. Mrs. Jurgens wiped the tears from her eyes and went to open the door. There on the doorstep was a smiling Little Joe Cartwright and almost the entire class. They all carried gaily wrapped birthday presents and wore bright smiles.

“Why, Little Joe, why aren’t you all at the rodeo? You should have been there a half-hour ago!” She asked, surprised to see the children.

“I talked to Doctor Martin, Mrs. Jurgens, he said we could see Lance today if we didn’t stay too long and make him too tired.” Joe responded, confidently. “He said to tell you that he would be over here in an hour and see how Lance was doing.”

Mrs. Jurgens was flabbergasted. “But if you want to see the rodeo, you are going to have to leave right now.” She said.

“Today is Lance’s birthday. We would rather spend it with him than at some ol’ rodeo.” Joe told her, looking directly in her eyes. “Wouldn’t we?” Joe asked the others, who all responded, “Yes”.

Mrs. Jurgens, touched by the children, said, “Well, by all means, come in. Let me tell Lance you are here and see if he is up to company. Just wait here in the living room for a minute.”

She went up the stairs quickly to speak to Lance. When she told him his friends were downstairs, Lance brightened immediately. “Wow, how did Little Joe get them to come here instead of the rodeo?”

“What makes you think it was Little Joe’s idea?” she asked.

“Because I know the others and I know Little Joe.” He replied confidently. “Anyway, send them up, please. Is there some of the cake and home-made ice cream left?”

“Of course, I will send them up and bring up some refreshments shortly. Just don’t you overdo it, Lance.” She said as she left the room. “Okay, you can go on up now,” she told the children. As they walked past her, she noticed that Sam Harris had a black eye. She asked, Billy, another close friend of Lance and Little Joe, “What happened to Sam?”

Billy laughed and replied, “Sam took a little convincing that he would rather come to see Lance than go to that ol’ rodeo, Ma’am.”

“And just who did the convincing?” Mrs. Jurgens asked with a smile, though she figured she knew the answer.

“Little Joe, M’aam. He can be VERY persuasive when he needs to be.” Billy said with a smile. Mrs. Jurgens laughed and waved Billy on to Lance’s room, and she went out to the kitchen to prepare refreshments. Sounds of laughter and merriment quickly filled the house. An hour later when the Doctor arrived, he announced that the visit had done Lance more good than all his medicines had done. Later, as Mrs. Jurgens told the story to her husband, they discussed that although he often got Lance in some kind of mischief, they couldn’t ask for a better friend for Lance than Little Joe Cartwright.

*****

When she came out of her reverie, she knew that she had to go do something to help Little Joe and his family. Surely there must be something that could be done, short of the drastic plan that Doctor Martin and Joe’s father were considering. She didn’t blame them, she would try that, too, if nothing else worked, but she wanted an opportunity to try another way, first. “Lance, Lance, wake up, Honey. I need you to do something for me.” She said, a plan forming in her mind. “Go to Mrs. Hutchins’ house and get a dozen fresh eggs and go to the root cellar and bring me some milk.” Lance looked surprised, his friend was sick and she was fixin’ to start cooking? That made no sense.

“Ma, what are you going to make?”

“I am going to make all Little Joe’s favorite desserts, Lance, every single one of ’em. If that doesn’t work to get ‘im to eat—I’ll put that tube down him myself. Now you get a move on, ya hear? We gots lots to do. Oh, bring in about 3 pounds of butter from the cellar, too. Now get a move on, Lance. We only have all night.”

Lance, accustomed to obeying his mother, said, “Yes Ma’am” enthusiastically. The next morning, Lance and Mrs. Jurgens drove up to the Ponderosa early. Mrs. Jurgens jumped off the wagon and Lance began to unload dishes and covered pots and boxes. Ben, Hoss, and Adam came out into the yard to see what was going on.

“Lance, Hannah, hello, what is going on here?” Ben asked.

“Hi, Ben, How is Little Joe this morning?”

Ben answered, “About the same. No better, anyway.”

“Has he eaten anything yet today?” she asked, still unpacking the wagon and piling up cartons on Lance’s and Hoss’s outstretched arms.

“No, not yet. I was just going to try again.” Ben said, looking at her, wondering what in the world she was doing.

“Ben do you mind if I give it a go? Lance has told me everything that has been going on. I would like to try to help if I may.” She said, looking at Ben as if she knew he would say yes, which of course he did. He would have been wasting his time to say no. He was sure of that. Mrs. Jurgens directed Hoss and Lance to put all the cartons in the kitchen, except one small one which she put in her bag and then she proceeded up the stairs, to Joe’s room.

Mrs. Jurgens quietly came into Joe’s room and closed the door softly. She could see Joe lying in his bed, already so pale and thin that it just broke her heart. She sat in the chair next to his bed and looked down on him, thinking of the day—oh, so long ago—when Little Joe Cartwright had first entered her family’s lives. Joe and Lance had known each other for several weeks and Lance had talked a lot about Joe Cartwright and had pointed him out at church one time, but they had not had a chance to meet him or his family. She had heard that Mr. Cartwright was a widower with two older sons, and Joe, only 5 when his mother had died. On this day, Joe had decided he had had enough of staying home with their housekeeper, Hop Sing, while his father and brothers were off branding from before he got up in the morning until after he went to bed at night. He had showed up at Lance’s house alone, riding his own pony. Lance had smuggled Joe into their house; both boys convinced that Joe wouldn’t even be noticed among all his 7 brothers and sisters.

Her eyes had fixed on him immediately when the compact, yet sturdy looking little boy had slid into a chair at the table. Joe had smiled at her winningly and held his plate out to her, just like the other 7 children. She had managed not to laugh at them, instead, then, as always after that, she had fed him, giving him both nourishment for his body, but also nurturance for his small child’s need for a mother. She smiled at the memory of that curly-haired little boy and saw the ghost of him in the young man lying in the bed.

She gently stroked his soft curls from his forehead and Joe startled awake. “Hey, Mrs. Jurgens,” he murmured to her.

“Joseph. What is this I hear about your not eating?” She tried to look stern, but his pale skin and tired eyes wrung her heart.

“I can’t Mrs. J. It hurts too much—it’s easier if I don’t eat.” Joseph said, almost in a whisper.

“Joseph Francis Cartwright, since when have you ever done anything the easy way?”

Joe gave her a half-hearted smile and shrugged his shoulders. He studied her face, small, tiny lines had appeared over the years he had known her, but she still held a special place in his heart. He, too, remembered many happy times at her house. He vaguely remembered how she would kiss him goodnight and tuck him in when he slept at Lance’s–it was always somehow different from the way his Pa did it. He remembered that Lance had accused him one time of liking his mother better than him.

“Joe, you have to eat. You won’t make it if you don’t.”

Joe turned his head away from her, the pain had become so persistent that he didn’t really care if he lived or not. Her hand reached out and she turned his face back to look at her.

“Joe, we aren’t going to lose you, not now, not ever. Do you know what it would do to Lance? To your father and brothers? To everyone who loves you?” She watched his expression to see how her words had affected him. He seemed to be shutting them out. She then decided it was time to use her ace in the hole, “Joe, what would your mother want you to do?”

“Maybe Mama wants me to do this. Maybe she wants me to come join her now.” Joe cast his eyes at his mother’s picture on the bedside table.

“Joseph, no mother would ever want that. Your Mama would want you to try to get better, to be here to take care of everyone. Who is going to make Lance laugh? You are the only one who can do that, you know that as well as I do. Who’s the only one who can get Hoss to even speak to a girl? You know you are. Do you want him to grow old and lonely? And who is the one who brightens up my day each and every time he walks through my door? And Joe, what about your Pa? Who can make him forget his grief and loss and make him happy? You, Joe, and only you. Your Mama would never take you away from so many people who love you and need you, especially the ones she loves, too.” She saw that Joe had tears in his eyes—she had reached him. She had to take advantage of the opportunity now. She leaned over to her bag and pulled out a small covered dish. She opened it carefully and grabbed a spoon from Joe’s bedside table. “Now here, Joe, I brought you some of my special vanilla pudding that you like so much. It is nice and smooth and may not be so hard to swallow.”

Joe considered her thoughtfully for a moment. Her face was composed but he could see the tension in her, the worry and concern for him. He decided to try one more time, despite the pain in his stomach. Mrs. Jurgens gave him the pudding very, very slowly. She stopped feeding him and talked to him quietly when he became nauseated, until the feeling passed. She held his hands when the pain in his stomach grew worse. She put her arms around him and hugged him when he managed to finish the dish of pudding without throwing up.

Ben had gone upstairs to see what was going on after Mrs. Jurgens had been upstairs for half an hour. He stopped at the door and ever so slowly, opened the door and peeked in. He saw Mrs. Jurgens sitting on Joe’s bed, hugging him, encouraging him to eat, talking to him, always positive, and just for a minute, he remembered how he used to watch Marie coax baby Joseph to eat. Marie had always been the one who could get him to eat. No one else had the patience necessary to get him to eat without making him feel rushed or pressured. That was what Mrs. Jurgens had done, instinctively, she had found the way that was like his mother. Ben stood there and stared at the two of them for a long time, tears silently rolling down his face. Thanks to a mother’s love, his son would recover.

*****

Chapter 15

 

Mrs. Jurgens stayed at the Ponderosa for two weeks, sending Lance back and forth with messages for her husband, for clean clothes, for recipes, etc. Hop Sing was ever so glad to prepare any of the dishes she suggested, and he also made Joe’s favorite recipes from his own repertoire. Joe graduated from milk- or cheese-based desserts to other protein rich, calorie rich soft foods. By the end of two weeks, the pain was reduced to a tolerable level and Joe was beginning to “come back”. She knew he was going to make it when he started getting grouchy and cranky. When he fussed, she laughed and teased him, saying “Who do you think you are talking to, young man? I know you better than you know yourself.”

Sheriff Coffee rode out one day to tell the Cartwrights that they had captured the two people who had robbed and stabbed him and the woman had been wearing Little Joe’s locket. Joe was so glad to get the locket. Although he didn’t tell Mrs. Jurgens, he had pretended that she was his mother when she was caring for him. Doctor Martin offered Mrs. Jurgens a job anytime she wanted it. But she said she would reserve her skills for certain “difficult” patients. Even Joe laughed at that. On the day that Lance had come to drive his mother home, he was sitting in Joe’s room talking to him. Joe said he sure hated to see his mother leave. “What about me, Joe? Don’t you hate to see me leave?”

Joe looked at him mischievously and said, “Nah, you know I just like you for your mother, anyhow.” Joe and Lance both laughed.

Ben Cartwright took Lance’s mother’s bags to the buckboard and helped her into the buggy. He looked at her with tears of joy and relief and gratitude in his eyes. “Thank you for saving my son. We all thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You will always have a place in our hearts.”

Mrs. Jurgens looked at Ben and said, “Joseph is a special person, Ben, he touched my heart the very first time I laid eyes on him and that hasn’t changed over the years. He has touched so many hearts, Ben. I am happy that I could help. After all, every famiy’s gotta have a heart.”

***The End***

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