Summary: A What Happened Next for “The Stallion” …with a little “Forever” tossed in.)
Ben knew something was terribly wrong when he saw Joe ride into the yard, followed by Candy and Griff who lagged behind just slightly. As Ben moved further out onto the porch, he watched as Joe swung down from his mount, Cochise. Joe’s face bore the signs of fatigue and his clothes were covered with dirt and grime and Ben thought to himself that his son looked about ready to drop.
“Joseph?” Ben called out.
“Take my horse, will ya, Griff?”
“Sure thing, Joe.”
Joe took a deep breath and slowly made his way to his father.
“What’s happened son?”
Ben walked beside Joe into the house, watching the younger man’s face for any signs that might tell him why his son looked so haggard.
Joe took off his hat and tossed it onto the credenza rather than hanging it on the usual peg behind the door. He looked up at his father while working to loosen the knot on the string that held his .45 strapped to his leg. “The stallion is…dead, Pa,” he said, placing the gun next to his hat and turning to take a seat on the settee.
Joe lowered his body slowly, for it ached from the long ride to the cabin and then back, over the ridge. Sighing, he leaned back against the cushions and looked over his shoulder at Ben. Casually, he propped his feet up on the wide boarded table in front of the settee.
Ben started to comment about the dusty boots on the furniture, but thought against it, for the sake of avoiding an argument. Instead, Ben sat down across from his son so that he could see into Joe’s face.
“What do you mean, the stallion is dead?” Ben asked in a shocked voice.
“Dead…you know…D-E-A-D, as in dead,” Joe snapped, as he leaned his head back and closed his eyes.
There was a long silence and then Joe opened his eyes and looked at his father sitting across in front of him. Ben was studying his son’s face.
“I’m sorry, Pa…I didn’t mean to snap at you,” said Joe.
Removing his feet from the table, Joe pushed himself up and walked around the furniture to the hearth where he stood, staring into the fireplace. His fingers were crammed deeply into his back pockets and he rocked slightly on his heels.
“Nothing lives forever, does it, Pa?” Joe asked softly as he turned back around.
Ben moved to the fireplace and standing, looked deeply into the hazel eyes that suddenly appeared so aged and tired. Ben noted that the sparkle that had once glistened in the emerald depths had, over the course of time and events, disappeared.
He knew why; it had started when they had found Hoss dead, having died in his own bed. It hadn’t been that long ago, just a couple of years. His brother’s death had sent Joe plummeting into a pit of despair that Ben had feared would take the younger boy’s life as well.
But things had changed when Joe had met Alice. How quickly the couple had fallen in love and then married. Ben had thought that perhaps both their lives, his and Joe’s, would once again be filled with the love and laughter that his brother’s death had snatched from their worlds.
And then things got all twisted up again when Alice had died in the fire, carrying Joe’s unborn child into death with her. Joe had all but lost his sanity back then. He’d packed his things, determine to hunt down and kill the responsible parties, and had it not been for Candy, who had been like a brother to Joe and a son to himself, Joseph might would have succeed in totally destroying his life in the process.
It had taken months and months but eventually, Joe had returned home, changed forever by the events that had molded his life. Gone was the boyish grin, the infectious laughter; an older, more mature individual; one who had learned to think first and act, second, had replaced the once young jokester. Youth was lost to age and wisdom and Joe had, at last, found a measure of peace in his life…or so his father thought.
“Tell me what happened, son,” Ben said as he sat down on the hearth and patted the space next to him.
Joe, his lips drawn tightly, did as his father indicated and sat down. “That man that came here yesterday…the one looking for a job…”
“You mean Brewer…Billy, I think he said his name was.”
“That’s him. He stole the stallion out of the barn this morning. He was hiding there when I went to see about the horse and he clobbered me on the head and then rode off on him.”
Joe rose and stretched, sitting down on the table and facing his father. “I followed his trail over the mountain. On the way, I ran into this kid…and I gave him a ride home.”
Joe made a snickering sound that was more a disgusted grunt and then continued. “He was looking for a job too. I gave him a ride back to his place. Turned out he was Brewer’s kid. Brewer was there and had the stallion…and my best saddle. When Brewer saw me, he started shooting; somehow the boy got in the way and Billy shot his own kid.”
“Whew,” Ben said. “Is the boy alright, Joe?”
“He’s going to be. I had to fetch the doctor…”
“But that’s nearly a twenty mile ride into town from that cabin.”
“I know, but the boy was bleeding pretty badly, so I rode the stallion. I knew if any horse could cross that ridge, he could…and he did…I ran into Candy and Griff. Griff went on after the doctor.”
Joe lowered his head as a mixture of both anguish and pride in the stallion washed over him. “You should have seen him, Pa…he was magnificent.”
Joe glanced up at his father, and with tears slowly building in his eyes, he smiled at Ben.
“He ran his heart out for me…and for the boy,” Joe said. “If it hadn’t been for him, the boy might not have made it.”
Ben watched as Joe got up and paced around the room. Joe walked over to his father’s desk and stood before it. Pictures lined the top and Joe picked up one and studied the image. When he sat that one down, he picked up another and then another.
Ben had risen as well and had walked softly up behind his son, peeking over Joe’s shoulder at the photographs Joe was examining. When Joe sensed Ben standing close, he turned his head to smile at his father. Ben noted that the smile was forced and the tears still glistened in his son’s eyes.
“It’s silly, me crying over a horse, when we’ve lost so much more,” Joe said softly as he swept his hand out before the pictures he was referring to.
“It’s not silly, son. And I don’t think what you are feeling right now is because the stallion is dead…”
“Then what is it…why do I suddenly feel as if life isn’t worth the living anymore? Tell me why, Pa…everything that we’ve ever loved and cherished has been taken from us? I can’t even hang on to a damn horse…why…what did I do that was so horrible that God is punishing me like this?”
“He’s not punishing you, son…God doesn’t work like that.”
“Oh no? First my oldest brother leaves home; we hardly ever hear from him anymore…I never got the chance to tell Adam how I really felt about him. I loved him, did you know that, Pa…I honestly loved him.”
Joe was forced to look away as he tried to reclaim his composure. But he was so tired of it all, his spirit vanquished, that it made the job of composing himself almost impossible.
“And then, my best friend, Hoss, dies from some stupid setback he got after that so-called minor surgery Doc did on him…and then…just when I think life might be worth giving a second chance, my beautiful wife and unborn child is killed…murdered…burned to death.”
The tears dripped slowly down the sides of Joe’s face. His chin quivered and his nose ran. “Pa…how do you do it? What’s your secret? For all I’ve lost that I held dear, you’ve lost so much more…I don’t understand, I don’t…I’m so tired Pa…please…help me to understand it all!”
The sobs got the better of him and Joe fell into his father’s arms. Ben tried to speak, but he found his words glued to the roof of his mouth and he couldn’t break free the things he wanted to say to comfort his son.
Several moments passed before Joe pulled free of his father’s embrace. His wiped his face on the sleeve of his soiled jacket and then forced a smile for his father. “I’m sorry…I didn’t mean to lose it like that, it’s just that some days are so…hard.”
Joe sniffed his nose and then propped his rear on the corner of Ben’s desk. “You know Pa…all I could think about today was that boy and how much he loved his father. The fact that Billy Brewer was a lazy no-account didn’t matter to his son; that boy still loved him.”
Joe shook his head gently back and forth. “I wish I had gotten a chance to know my son…or daughter…I would have been the happiest man alive…I would have taught my son everything that you’ve taught me…and maybe even more. I’d done the things with him that you and I used to do…we’d go hunting and I’d take him fishing…and I’d teach him all about ranching and taking care of the land, like Hoss taught me. I’d show him the mines and tell him about how Adam used to oversee the work there and at the lumber camps…”
Joe paused and brushed at his face again. “Billy Brewer’s a fool…he has no idea how lucky he is, he hasn’t a clue to what he’s been blessed with…and he called me rich! He has it all, right in front of him and he’s too blind to see it. Someday…I want to be able to have what he’s got. I want to fall in love again, I want to have a son, maybe three,” he grinned at his father. “Or a daughter…oh, Pa,” cried Joe. “We’ve lost so much, but there’s still so much of life left in both of us…so much to look forward too, isn’t there?”
Ben placed both hands on either side of Joe’s shoulders and leaned his face close. “Joseph, in the midst of the tempest, God calmed the angry seas. He can still the ceaseless murmurings of our troubled hearts. God on the highest mountaintop is also God of the deepest valley. He walks with us, He’s ever present at our sides, and those times that we think He isn’t, it’s because we’ve moved in the wrong direction. God doesn’t move away from us…we move away from God.”
Ben slipped one arm about his son and hugged Joe tightly as he sat down on the edge of the desk with him. “Just when we’re ready to give up, God shows us just how much we have to live for. Like today…when you saw that boy shot and how much Billy stood to loose. In a sense, you’ve lost what he had… You found in that moment, another reason to live. You just told me why; maybe you didn’t realize it, but you did…you said you wanted to be able to love again, you want a family…you want children. Well my prayer for you, son, is that you get everything you desire. I don’t believe you’re asking for more than your share; I believe you are asking only for what most men want in their lives.”
“I desire nothing more for my life but to see you happy,” continued Ben. “I’ve had a good life, Joe. I’ve been blessed with wonderful sons, a beautiful home…land and riches beyond my wildest imagination. But your happiness, your well-being is all that’s really important to me. It always has been, for all of you.”
“You see Joe, this house, this land…all of it, it’s only materialistic…it can’t give back to a man, what’s really important. And that’s love of family; respect of friends…Life, Joe…it’s all about Love…and real love comes from God…it’s a gift to be earned, not taken,” Ben said. “A man can live an entire lifetime and never know how it feels to be loved or to give love. I don’t want that for you and me. Love hurts son…you know that as well as I do. I’ve been where you’ve been; I’ve ached in my heart so badly that I thought surely I was dying. But then, when I least expected it…I found love again…and again…Joe, there’s an old saying that goes something like this…‘it’s better to have loved and lost, than to never know love at all’. I think that’s true.”
Joe grinned at his father. “You know, Pa…you’re amazing.”
Joe turned then and glanced at the photographs. Hoss smiled back at him, Marie, his mother, was as beautiful as ever…and Adam still looked as serious as he always had. Inger’s picture was placed next to her son’s while Elizabeth’s picture was facing Adam’s. And Alice was as lovely as ever in her white satin wedding dress.
“They were wonderful people, weren’t they?” Joe asked softly.
“Yes…they were lovely and charming, dashing and handsome…my life would not have been complete without them. You know, Joe…life goes on, as you can see by this menagerie of photos…it’s for the living. Live it son, and live it well…make them all proud!”
“I’ll try, Pa…I promise.”
“I know you will, Joseph…I just know you will.”