Word Count: 11,692
Seventeen-year old Joe Cartwright stood in a daze, his eyes staring and unblinking looking at the fallen horse in front of him. His fear had grown to monumental proportions in a matter of just a few short minutes and he shivered, not from the cool crisp evening breeze but from the fear growing from deep down inside the pit of his stomach. The fear was beginning to make his stomach queasy and he felt like he might vomit. Joe swallowed several times trying to keep the bile from spilling into his mouth and on to the rocky ground on which he stood.
Why had he been so stupid as to run from the house in such a rage only to jump on Beauty, his older brother’s horse, and race from the yard as he had? Now it was too late, it was over and he knew that he would be paying dearly for his error in judgment he chided himself.
Adam and he had been arguing, something that seemed to have been happening a lot these days, when Adam had accused him of lying. Joe had tried to explain to his older brother that he had finished the work assignment that Adam had given to him earlier but Adam refused to believe him saying that Joe had not spent enough work time to have completed the task as specified. Joe had then asked his brother to see for himself and when Adam explained to the younger Cartwright that he had already done so and was not satisfied, all hell had broken loose. One thing had led to another and before Ben, who was sitting at his desk letting his sons settle the dispute on their own, could intervene fists began flying and Joe had found himself knocked across the settee and laying face down on the floor. Joe knew he had made a big mistake by calling his older brother a bastard but before he could tell Adam he was sorry, the older boy had decked him. Embarrassed, humiliated and angered, Little Joe had run from the house with tears streaming from his swiftly blackening eye.
Now an hour later, Joe stood looking at his brother’s horse lying dead from the bullet that he had had to put into the animal’s head. Beauty had run like the wind with Joe’s anger just beginning to dissipate. The thoughts of returning home were halted abruptly when suddenly the large stallion had stepped into a hole falling and breaking his front leg. Joe was unceremoniously thrown out of the saddle and into the air only to land on his back, the wind knocked from him and lying in a heap nearby the fallen animal. Stunned, Joe had lain for several minutes before coming to his senses enough to hear the soft grunts made by the injured horse. With a broken leg, Joe knew that the only humane thing that could be done for the animal was to put it out of its misery. He would not even be able to get the animal back to the barn first, so with no other course of action being available, Joe pulled Adam’s rifle from the scabbard and fired a single shot into the animal thus ending the pain of the suffering stallion.
Joe’s grief and shame overcame him and he fell to the ground on his knees and wept. He covered his head with his arms and hands and allowed the tears to flow freely; his mournful sobs heard only by the night creatures that roamed nearby. He had never meant to injure his brother’s horse, he had immediately been sorry for calling Adam such a name and now he was afraid to go home. How would he ever be able to face let alone convince his oldest brother that he was truly sorry, that injuring the horse had honestly been an accident? Joe knew that just saying he was sorry would not be enough. If Adam punched him for name calling, what would he do to him for killing his horse? The bile that continued to rise finally became too much and as his stomach contracted Joe lowered his head to the ground and emptied the contents of his stomach.
Joe shivered again, this time from the cold. He was sweaty and his body felt clammy to the touch, his face hurt from where he had been punched but his heart was broken from shame and remorse caused by his own actions. Joe knew he had been warned his whole lifetime never to take anything that did not belong to him, and what had he done? He had taken his own brother’s horse and had been the reason for the horse to now be lying dead. Joe had the feeling that he was about to lose something far more important to him than what Adam had just lost, and that was his brother’s respect, his love, his trust and possibly the brother himself.
All of these things were going through Joe’s mind as he managed to remove his brother’s saddle and bridle from the fallen horse before beginning the long walk home. An hour into the hike Joe realized that the walk home would take longer than he had first thought that it would. He was sore from the fall when Beauty had gone down and thought that he might possibly have cracked a rib or two. Carrying the saddle and other tack had further slowed the trek home, with each step the cumbersome load seemed to become heavier and heavier.
The lights were still on in the house when Joe finally walked into the yard. Instead of going directly into the house and risking a confrontation with his older brother, Joe slipped into the barn and tossed the heavy saddle over the rail where it was stored. Joe sighed deeply releasing the air from his lungs slowly as he wiped the sweat from his brow. He then took off his hat and ran his other hand through his hair.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” the voice in the dark breaking the quietness of the barn.
Joe nearly jumped out of his skin as he turned and faced his oldest brother. Adam’s brown eyes, usually full of warmth when he looked at his brother, had turned black and the fury that Joe saw in them sent chills up his spine.
Joe took a step backward and felt himself stopped by the half wall that divided the stalls. He swallowed hard and tried to think clearly but Adam only advanced on him until his face was inches from the younger boy’s face.
“Where’s my horse?” Adam asked, the anger very much alive in the words that he spat at his younger brother. Adam kept his eyes directly on his brother’s face and though Joe’s face held the expressions of fear, remorse and sorrow the older Cartwright brother seemed not to notice.
Joe hung his head unable to meet his brother’s dark penetrating eyes. “Adam,” he began slowly in a voice that sounded shaky even to his ears.
“I’m waiting.” Adam said icily as he clenched and unclenched his fists that he held straight down to his sides. He knew something had gone wrong, his brother had returned carrying his gear and without his horse. Adam felt his anger quickly reaching the boiling point and his patience with the boy was wearing thin.
Joe could feel the heat radiating from his brother’s body and it scared him. Never before had he felt fear of his older brother. On many occasions when Pa had been away on business and Adam had been left in charge, Joe had found himself in some sort of trouble and his backside had been a recipient of his brother’s stern discipline. But not before this moment had Joe ever really feared his brother or his brother’s wrath. What he was seeing now on his brother’s face caused the hackles on the back of his neck to stand on end and he shivered slightly with the fear that invaded his body.
With head hung low Joe started to explain, “Beauty stepped in a hole, Adam. I didn’t see it and he went down,” Joe said and raised his head slightly to check his brother’s reaction before continuing.
“And?” Adam now stood with his hands on his hips, his eyes never leaving his younger brother’s face. He was expecting the worst but he wanted to hear it from his brother’s own mouth. He was almost positive about which direction this conversation was heading and the thought caused him to draw his lips into a tight line to control the words he wanted to shout at his brother.
Joe gulped and swallowed the lump that had grown in his throat and tried to speak. “He broke his leg and I had…” The rest of Joe’s sentence was cut short as Adam grabbed Joe by the front of his shirt and pulled him in close to his own face leaving Joe standing on tiptoes. Joe could feel his brother’s warm breath on his face and Joe’s nose picked up the scent of Adam’s bay rum after-shave.
“What did you say?” snarled Adam as his anger fully exploded. Joe saw his older brother’s face turn red as his confession registered in his brother’s mind and in that moment Joe knew that he was in deeper trouble than ever before.
“I had to shoot him…Adam…he broke his leg. It was the only thing I could do,” Joe stammered in a whispered voice.
Joe heard Adam’s sudden intake of breath and watched as the face before him became more distorted as the man’s anger grew to magnitudes that Joe had never seen before. Adam tightened his grip on the front of Joe’s shirt and Joe raised both of his hands and placed them on each of Adam’s trying to force the older boy to loosen his hold but was having no effect. Joe’s eyes began filling with tears and he fought to control his trembling body.
“If you weren’t my brother, I’d have you hanged as a horse thief!” snarled Adam through gritted teeth. When Adam saw the shock register on his brother’s face and the raw fear that came into the hazel tear filled eyes he instantly regained control of his anger and released his hold giving Joe a backward shove into the wall before taking a step backward.
“I’ll never forgive you for this Joe, never. Do you understand me?” Adam turned his back and walked out of the barn unaffected by the quivering chin and of the tears that silently fell from his brother’s sad eyes.
Joe dropped to the ground in a sitting position and pulled his knees up to him wrapping his arms around them. He laid his head on his knees and allowed his tears to flow. This was worse than he had expected. If Adam had only taken a few punches at him, Joe reasoned he could have lived with that. But for Adam to with hold his forgiveness was more than Joe could stand and the knowledge broke his heart and tore at his very soul.
Much later his father entered the barn and found his youngest son in the same position. The tears had stopped their flow but now the boy was rocking back and forth making soft whining sounds as he did so. The sight of his son in such a manner ate away at Ben’s heart. The sounds reminded him of a wounded animal and Ben fought to control his own tears. Kneeling down in front of the boy Ben rested his hand on the top of the curly head and gently rubbed.
“Joseph,” Ben whispered softly. Joe kept up his rocking and the whimpering sounds continued unaware that his father had spoken to him.
“Joseph, look at me son,” Ben gently cupped his son’s chin with his hands and raised Joe’s face so that he might look the boy in the eyes. The eyes that met the father’s were red rimmed and puffy from crying and they had lost the sparkle that before had always left one with the impression that they were dancing with laughter. Joe was quick to lower his face to avoid having to look into his father’s eyes and see the pity that he knew would be there.
“Pa, just go away and leave me alone, please,” cried Joe returning his head to his knees.
“Son, you cannot stay out here. It’s getting colder and I don’t want you getting sick. Come inside, please,” Ben said trying to reason with the boy.
“No, I can’t Pa…I can’t,” Joe tried to stop the sobs but his sorrow was too great. “You don’t understand. Pa, Adam hates me.” Joe raised his head and looked into the eyes of his father and instead of pity, saw the unconditional love that his father was famous for.
“He said he would never forgive me, Pa. I didn’t mean for his horse to step into that hole and break his leg, honest Pa. You believe me, don’t you?” Joe was on the verge of hysterics.
“I know I was wrong to take off on him, but I didn’t mean to hurt him. I’d never intentionally hurt an animal. Pa…Adam wanted to hang me for stealing his horse…Pa…I didn’t steal him, honest.” Joe’s voice was beginning to get louder as he spoke and Ben knew he had to do something to calm the boy down. Joe had started to shiver violently; Ben was not sure that if the chill in the air or his son’s unstable condition was the cause for it.
Ben rose from his knees where he had kneeled in front of Joe and reaching out with both hands pulled Joe to his feet. As soon as he was on his feet Ben gathered the weeping boy into his arms and pulled him close hugging him tightly.
“Shh…Joe, I know you didn’t mean to hurt Beauty. Just give Adam a little time, he’s hurting too you know but he’ll come around.” Ben slowly began moving toward the door in hopes of getting Joe out of the barn and into the house where he could put the boy to bed.
Joe allowed himself to be led by his father. He found a measure of comfort in the arms that held him. His father had always been his solid rock, someone who he could depend on and trust during the worst times of his life. His father had always been there for him, just as he was now. As Ben and Joe made their way to the house Ben felt his son beginning to relax.
“Joe, we will talk about it in the morning; right now I want you upstairs and in the bed, do you understand?” Ben ordered gently, his voice containing no anger, though anger had been surfacing all evening while he had waited for this boy to return home.
Ben had had every intentions of having a very necessary little talk with the boy upon his arrival home but had changed his mind when his oldest son had stormed into the house shouting and yelling that Joe had killed his horse. Ben had talked for the better part of an hour trying to calm the angered Adam down to a degree that the younger man had finally given up the shouting and retired to his room for the night. Ben had then hastened to the barn to check on the condition of his youngest. When he had entered the barn and heard the whimpering sounds his anger had left him as he realized that the pitiful sounds where made by his baby son.
Ben managed to get Joe as far as the front door before the boy began pulling back, causing them to stop. Ben felt his son’s body stiffen and the tension return as they halted their steps.
“I don’t want to go in, not with Adam in there,” Joe pulled back looking up at his father with sad eyes.
“Joe, Adam is in the bed. You won’t have to see him anymore tonight. Now let’s go.”
And with that Ben slipped his arm around Joe’s and led him into the house. Joe’s eyes scanned the room and when he realized that his oldest brother was nowhere to be seen, he freely climbed the stairs and went into his room. It did not take Ben long to help Joe ready himself for bed and by the time he was ready to turn the lamp down Joe was sleeping soundly.
It was sometime just before daybreak when Ben was suddenly awakened by the screams coming from Joe’s bedroom. As Ben leapt from his bed he grabbed his robe and ran from the room. In the hallway he almost collided with Hoss who had also been awakened by the screams. Ben entered his youngest son’s room; Hoss was close on his heels. Joe was kicking at the covers and thrashing from side to side all the while calling out for his brother Adam. Ben grabbed Joe’s arms as he flung them about in the air and gently shook the boy as he repeatedly called his name.
“Joseph, Joseph, wake up son. Joe, open your eyes, it’s me Pa,’ Ben continued until at last he was looking into the hazel eyes. Joe recognized his father and relaxed into the comfort of his arms as they encircled him.
“Adam…Pa, I want Adam…I have to tell him something. Please Pa, I have to make him understand,” Joe said softly.
Ben raised his head slightly and looked toward the door. Adam had heard the screams and had come to stand at the bedroom door but made no effort to enter or to console his brother. Ben and Adam’s eyes locked, Ben’s asking and Adam’s refusing. Without so much as a word to anyone, Adam turned and went back to his room. Ben felt the anger rising inside of him but refused to allow it to surface.
“Shh…Joe, I’m here and Hoss is here. You just had a bad dream.” Ben lowered Joe back into the comforts of the bed and pulled the blankets around his shoulders. “You try to rest now son, I’ll stay right here until you go to sleep. How’s that?”
Joe looked from his father to Hoss. “No, you go back to bed Pa, you too Hoss. I’ll be fine. I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to wake you.”
Joe turned on his side and snuggled down hoping that his father and brother would take the hint and leave him alone. He had caught a glimpse of Adam standing in the doorway and knew that his brother had heard him asking for him. Joe’s heart had leaped into his throat thinking that Adam might come to him but when he had seen Adam turn away the hope had been dashed and replaced with bitter disappointment.
Each day that past was the same as the day before. Ben watched with growing concern as his oldest son and his youngest son seemed to further distant themselves from each other. Ben saw Joe’s personality begin to change; the once happy go lucky boy now was becoming sullen and withdrawn. His once bright eyes now appeared dull and unhappy. Gone was his smile and laughter, replaced with frowns and tears. His temper short like the fuse on dynamite, one never knew when or what might set it off. Joe hardly ever spent time with his family now, other than meal times, which were almost unbearable for the entire family. He was gone from the house for hours at a time and lately had taken to staying away all night. This worried Ben most as he was not sure where the boy was spending his time, nor with whom.
Adam on the other hand seemed to almost relish the fact that his younger brother was missing from the house, from meal times, and from family times in the evenings. Adam spent much of his time working on the ledgers or in his room reading, sketching or out in the barn doing chores that were already completed, shining saddles and leather until they looked like new. Other times he would ride off alone just to be by himself. Ben watched his oldest and knowing him as well as he could ever know anyone, the father could tell that the son was troubled. Once Ben had approached his son hoping to get the silent man to open up to him but was cut short by Adam’s sharp tongue.
“Pa, I don’t have anything to say about the matter. As far as I am concerned, if Joe wants to stay away then that is his right. I for one am not going to beg him to come home. If he hates me that much then fine, he can just hate me,” snapped Adam as he started for the stairs. His father had no idea what he really felt and he couldn’t explain it to him, thought Adam; I don’t understand it myself.
“Now hold on just a minute, son. I doubt seriously that Joseph hates you. I would think that he might be thinking the same thing about you hating him,” Ben came to stand next to Adam and laid his hand on the younger man’s arm in hopes of offering some measure of comfort and support.
“I don’t hate him, but I hate what he did. Do you realize how bad that made me feel? And you did nothing to punish him for it! I have a right to be mad not just at Joe, but at you too. Now, if you will excuse me I am going to bed.” Adam pulled his arm free from his father’s grasp and climbed the stairs. Ben stood silently watching his son’s retreating back until he heard Adam’s bedroom door shut before he returned to his favorite chair and sat down.
Several evenings later Ben, Adam and Hoss were sitting at Ben’s desk discussing business details when the front door opened and shut loudly moments later. Three heads looked up to watch as the youngest Cartwright entered the house.
“Joseph, come here please,” stated Ben as he rose and came around the corner of the desk. Adam was sitting on one corner of the large oak desk, his long leg swinging back and forth while Hoss was sitting comfortably in the chair next to it, his legs crossed.
Joe immediately did as his father ordered. He knew that he was in trouble; he had been late for supper again, having missed the same meal for the third time this week.
“Yes sir?” Joe asked as he neared his father. Joe’s eyes darted from his father to Hoss and finally came to rest on Adam’s dark eyes. Joe instantly turned from his brother back to his father; being in such close proximity to his older brother unnerved him.
“Joseph, you missed supper again tonight. That is the third time this week. Where were you?” Ben asked as he stood facing the boy who suddenly could not look him in the eye.
“Out,” was the only answer offered. Joe hated being interrogated and moved nervously from one foot to the other and began to chew on his lower lip.
Hoss rolled his eyes heavenward, ‘boy you are asking for it,’ he thought. Adam remained seated on the corner of the desk, a slight smile beginning to work on the edge of his lip amazed that his brother could be so brazen when speaking to their father. ‘The boy has spunk, I’ll give him that much,’ thought Adam.
Ben placed his hands on his hips, a sure sign to the faltering lad that he had not given his father a satisfactory answer. “I am aware of that fact Joseph, out where? And with whom?” Ben demanded.
“Just out riding Pa, honest. And I was by myself, really.” Joe offered looking up into his father’s face. He was beginning to get uncomfortable with the questioning. He did not want his father to find out just yet what he had really been doing. It was too soon to let on to anyone, especially his father and his older brother. Joe cast worried eyes in Adam’s direction and noticed that the older boy seemed to be enjoying his discomfort, which angered him somewhat.
Without thinking about his actions Joe stepped around his father and faced Adam. “What?” he shouted out, “What do you find so amusing?” he continued not realizing that he had mistook the look on Adam’s face.
Adam stared back at Joe, dumbfounded at the boy’s outburst. “Me? Nothing, I was just listening that’s all.” Adam held his hands up as if in question.
“Joseph, calm down and look at me when I am talking to you,” stated Ben as he turned Joe around to face him.
“Pa honest, I was just out riding; I went up to the lake. Then I rode out to the foothills, I wasn’t doin’ nuthin’ I wasn’t suppose too, honest,” Joe explained and Ben watched as the hazel eyes began filling with unshed tears. “Can’t a guy just be by his self every once in a while?”
Ben’s anger left him as he watched the young boy trying to control his emotions. “I suppose every now and then a man needs time to him self,” soothed Ben as he gathered Joe into his arms and held him. Joe buried his face in his father’s chest, glad of the chance to stop his tears.
“I just don’t want you missing supper again. Is that clear, young man?” asked Ben pulling the boy back so he could see his face. “Hop Sing left you a plate in the warming oven; I suggest you go eat something, please.” Ben ruffled the top of the curly head and smiled down at his son.
“Okay Pa, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again,” answered Joe, still fighting with his tears.
He turned to head for the kitchen and stopped. Turning to glance again at his father, he smiled and gave Hoss a brief smile also. Looking in Adam’s direction he noticed the dark scowl that crossed his brother’s handsome face and listened as his brother confronted their father.
“Letting him off again heh, Pa?” Adam said rising from his spot on the desk. “How’s he ever going to take you seriously if you continue to let him have his way?” Adam was leaning over the desk facing his father, his anger now apparent in his voice.
“What’s it to you?” yelled Joe, the tears rolling off his cheeks. “You aren’t my father, just shut up!” Joe ran from the room into the kitchen to get away from Adam who acted as if he were about to advance on him.
Ben rose from his seat where he had sat back down intending to confront the fleeing boy but Hoss put out a hand out to stop his father and rose from the chair. “Let me talk to him Pa, if you don’t mind that is,” offered Hoss who shot his older brother a look of anger.
“Okay Hoss, see if you can get something out of him. I can’t help but worry; he seems so mad one minute and about in tears the next.” Ben turned his attention to Adam, “Adam, Joseph is my son, please remember that. When and how I choose to discipline him is my decision and mine only, do I make my self clear?” Ben stated firmly.
He wasn’t really mad at Adam but he did want his oldest son to understand that he was, is and always would be in charge, at least where raising Joseph was concerned. He handled things differently with each of his sons; the boys were as different as day is to night and what might be right for one was not necessarily right for the others. Adam needed to understand that.
“Yes sir, I’m sorry Pa, it’s just that it seems like lately the boy can get away with anything.” Adam’s face took on a worried look as he continued. “Regards of what any of you think Pa, I don’t hate him,” Adam dropped his head, “in fact I’m getting sorta worried about him myself.” Adam raised his eyes and looked into his father’s chocolate brown ones, “I don’t know what to say to him anymore. Every time I get anywhere near him, he goes the other way, it’s as if he’s afraid of me, so, I just leave him alone. Any suggestions?”
Ben watched his son’s face and could see the worry lines etched across the brow. “I’m glad to hear that you still care about him, not that I ever thought that you had stopped. But…well, with things like they have been I couldn’t be one hundred percent sure. I know Joe misses you Adam. He asks for you at night when he wakes up from one of his nightmares. Why have you stopped going to him, son? You were always the one who could console him quicker than either Hoss or myself.” Ben had moved around the desk and took a seat on the edge while Adam stood facing his father.
“I’m not sure Pa, at first, I was mad I guess. Then later, I was hurt and disappointed in him or maybe at myself, I don’t know anymore. I suppose I felt as if no one cared how I was feeling, I mean, I did raise Beauty from a colt. Seemed like you and Hoss were more concerned over how Joe felt about doing what he had done,” Adam explained his feelings to his father. “Sounds rather childish now that I’ve actually said it out loud,” he gave a small laughed and watched his father’s face.
Ben stood up and put an arm around his son’s shoulder. “Nonsense son, I can understand how you felt. I’m sorry that I seemed more concerned over Joe than how you were feeling. Maybe I did handle it wrong; sometimes it’s hard for a father to know the right thing to do. I thought about punishing the boy but son, when I found him in the barn that night, I just couldn’t do it. He was punishing himself far worse than what I would have done to him. He is still punishing himself, he doesn’t eat, he doesn’t sleep, he stays gone for hours on end and now he has started staying out all night.” Ben shook his head as if not knowing what course of action to take. “I just don’t know son, I wish I could help you, but I can’t even help myself at this moment.”
“Maybe tomorrow I’ll ride out after he does, just to keep an eye on him, see what he does while he is ‘just out’,” suggested Adam as he grinned at his father. “That boy sure knows how to dance around questions and avoid giving a direct answer,” laughed Adam, Ben joining in. Adam placed his arm around his father’s shoulders glad that the tension between them was gone.
Joe had taken his plate from the warming oven and sat at the small table in the kitchen. Hop Sing had retired early and Joe was left to himself. Joe thought about his secret wondering if he should share it with Hoss. He certainly could use his big brother’s help in accomplishing what he needed but he was still uncertain if he should involve Hoss in something that might end up getting the older boy in trouble with their father. As he was deciding what he should do Hoss entered the kitchen.
“Are you okay Short Shanks?” Hoss asked softly as he pulled out a chair and sat down opposite Joe.
“I reckon. I ain’t hungry though and Pa expects me to eat this,” Joe pointed to his plate with his fork. “I’d rather just go to bed but I know he’ll ask me if I ate.” Joe looked up at Hoss and smiled, “want some?” he offered and pushed the plate over to Hoss.
“Now Joe, ya gotta be the one to eat, not me,” rebuked Hoss, pushing the plate back to Joe. “Go on punkin eat just a little, at least that way ya can say ya ate and not be lying to him.”
“Oh okay, you’re right.” Joe stuffed his mouth full and chewed as Hoss poured a glass of milk and sat it in front of Joe. “Drink this too, it’ll make Pa happy.”
When Joe swallowed what was in his mouth, he downed the glass of milk in large gulps and wiped the milk from his lips with the back of his shirtsleeve. “Hoss, can I ask you somethin’?”
“Sure Joe, what?” Hoss turned his full attention to the younger boy. Hoss noticed the tears that began forming in his brother’s eyes. “Joe, what’s wrong baby?” Concern for his brother crept into Hoss’ heart. The boy had not been himself for sometime now. Something was eating away at the boy causing his tears to come frequently and Hoss could not hide his concern.
Joe could not bring himself to look into Hoss’ eyes and see the sympathy he knew he would find there. “Adam hates me,” said Joe without raising his head. “He’s never gonna forgive me for what I did, is he?” Joe’s question was sounding more like a plea than what it really was. “He told me as much that night in the barn. Hoss, why didn’t he just beat the hell outta me? I could have lived with that, but this? I don’t know how much more I can take…it’s killing me. It hurts in here and sometimes I feel like I can’t breath,” Joe patted his heart and continued. “I’ve tried talking to him, but I don’t know what to say to him anymore, and Hoss,” Joe’s eyes met Hoss’, “sometimes he scares me…the way he watches me…follows me with his eyes, it scares me. I want things back the way they used to be, I want my brother back.” Joe’s tears ran from his eyes and down his chin.
Hoss reached one of his large hands across the table and took the smaller hand in his own. “Joe, I don’t reckon Adam hates ya punkin, he’s just…well…he’s just…Adam. Ya know how he gits sometimes when he gits a burr under his saddle. He’ll get over it…might take him a while. But I seriously don’t think he hates ya.” Hoss felt his own eyes filling with tears. Joe was his baby brother and seeing the hurt on his brother’s face and hearing in his voice as he talked ripped away at the older boy’s heart.
“I wish I could believe that Hoss,” said Joe as he looked into the blue eyes that watched his face. “But I can’t…I just can’t.”
Joe quickly rose from the table and ran from the kitchen. Adam was just coming around the corner when Joe ran smack into him. Joe stopped suddenly and Adam noticed the tears that shone on the boy’s face. Before he could say or do anything Joe pushed by him and ran to his room taking the stairs two at a time.
Adam entered the kitchen and found Hoss still sitting at the table. “What was that little outburst all about?” questioned Adam.
Hoss suddenly was mad, mad at his oldest brother for allowing this situation to continue for so long. “Outburst?” Hoss said as he rose from his seat. “I’ll tell ya what it’s all about…you…that’s what!” Hoss stood directly in front of Adam and poked him in his chest with his finger causing the older boy to take a step backward.
“That boy,” Hoss pointed to the door, which Joe had just fled through and jabbed his finger at Adam a second time, “thinks you hung the moon. Dadburnit Adam, Little Joe luvs ya and ya treat him like he was a criminal.” Hoss’ anger was beginning to grow and his face was getting red. Again he poked Adam in the chest. “Wanna know somethin’ else? He’s scared of ya Adam, ya hear me? He’s scared of ya!” Hoss’ face was inches from Adam’s but Adam never flinched.
Adam said nothing, but allowed Hoss to vent his anger and frustrations. “When are ya goin’ to tell him that ya forgive him? Can’t ya see what ya doing to him Adam? He cries for you, calls out for you during his nightmares. Hell Adam, he’s wasting away to nothin’; he don’t eat. Wanna know why?” Hoss did not stop to wait for an answer but continued, “cause his heart is broken, that’s why! What’s wrong with ya? You act like you care more about that dang horse of yours than you do about your own brother. Sure I can understand ya caring for your horse, but Adam, that boy is your brother!” Hoss was nearly shouting by this time and without warning he grabbed Adam by the front of his shirt.
“Watch it Hoss,” Adam glared back at his brother. He had no intentions of physically fighting with this brother. He knew it would be no contest, especially as mad as Hoss obviously was.
Hoss released his hold on Adam’s shirt and hung his head shaking it slowly from side to side. “I’m sorry Adam. I just hate to see Little Joe like he is. He’s grievin’ fur ya, and ya won’t give him the time of day. I don’t understand ya sometimes, big brother.” Hoss turned leaving his brother to his self. Without saying another word Hoss then walked from the kitchen into the great room and climbed the stairs going to his room.
Adam stood alone in the kitchen thinking about what Hoss had said. His brother was right, reasoned Adam; he had been acting badly toward his youngest brother. Adam dropped his head as shame filled him. Hoss had hit the nail on the head when he said that he was acting as if he cared more for the horse than for his brother. He had not been able to see past his own hurt much less see the boy’s pain. But Hoss’ remark changed that, the statement had hurt; it had hit home. Pa was always saying that the truth hurt, and it had. Adam told himself that it wasn’t true about caring more for Beauty, his brothers, both of them, and his father was his whole world. Joe was special to him, he had cared for the boy most of his life and loved him as if he had been his own. But now Adam felt as if he had somehow let the youngster down, that he had failed him in some way.
‘Damn,’ thought Adam, ‘what a fool I have been. No wonder the boy has nightmares.’ Ashamed of himself for being so unfeeling toward his brother’s feelings Adam climbed the stairs and stopped at Joe’s bedroom door. Not sure whether to speak with the boy tonight or wait until tomorrow, Adam decided that there was no time like the present.
Gently Adam pushed the door opened and stepped inside the dimly lit room. On the bed Adam could make out the still form of his brother. Joe was lying face down on the bed, a pillow pulled over his head and the covers had been kicked to the floor. As Adam approached the bed he could hear the steady breathing coming from beneath the pillow and knew that Joe was sleeping soundly. Instead of waking his brother, Adam reached for the fallen blankets and covered the boy up. Adam smiled to himself at the sight his brother made; Joe could turn and twist his body into all angles when asleep.
“Tomorrow little buddy, we are going to wipe the slate clean. We are going to get this settled once and for all,” whispered Adam as he turned toward the door and stopped. “I’m sorry pal for being such a, ‘bastard’, I think you called me. You were right, I am.” Adam closed the door behind him, walked down the hall and entered his own room.
Adam woke the next morning with hopes of catching his younger brother still in bed and having their talk before going down to breakfast. Hurriedly Adam pulled on his pants and shirt carrying his socks and boots with him he went to Joe’s room. As he pushed the door open he was surprised to find his brother already up and gone, thus dashing any hopes that Adam held in regard to restoring his relationship with the younger boy. Disappointed, Adam went to join his father and middle brother who was already seated at the breakfast table.
Ben and Hoss looked up as Adam joined them. “Mornin’ big brother,” said Hoss in-between mouthfuls, the argument from the previous night forgotten.
“Good morning son, sleep well?” greeted Ben as he looked up and smiled at Adam.
“Morning,” Adam greeted both his father and brother as he pulled on his socks then his boots. “I slept okay I guess. Has anyone seen Joe this morning? I need to talk to him,” stated Adam as he began filling his plate.
Hoss and his father exchanged glances before either of them spoke. “I would think that the boy is still sleeping, wouldn’t you think so?” replied Ben.
“No, I just checked in on him, he’s already up,” answered Adam as he sipped his coffee.
Hoss swallowed the food in his mouth and glanced again at his father who was as surprised by the news as he was. Both knew that Joe was not an early riser, he much preferred sleeping for as long as he could get away with and still stay out of trouble.
“This early? Joe’s up this early?” questioned Hoss and refilled his empty mouth.
“I hope he hasn’t gone off again today. That boy needs to stay around here once in a while,” snorted Ben, angry at thinking that his youngest had chosen to defy him and stay away from the house once again.
Ben rose from his seat and moved toward the door. “I’ll check the barn and see if his horse is gone.” On the way to the barn, Ben ran into Charlie, one of their long time hands. “Charlie, have you seen Joseph this morning?”
“Sure ‘nough Boss, he rode out about half an hour ago, headed south. Had some gear with him, said to tell ya not to worry, he might be gone for a day or two. Also said to tell ya he’d explain everythin’ to ya as soon as he could and said somethin’ about settin’ things right with Adam when he got back. Anything wrong?” Charlie asked, concern for the youngest Cartwright showing on his rugged face. “I’d a told ya sooner if’n I’d a known you was worried, Boss,” added Charlie, noting the expression on Ben’s face.
“No…” Ben shook his head, ‘no…just wondering where he made off to at such an early hour. Thanks, Charlie.” Ben returned to the house and met Adam at the door strapping on his gun belt.
“I heard Pa. Let me go look for him. I’m the reason he left in the first place, we both know that,” Adam said as he slipped on his jacket and reached for his hat. Adam waited for his father’s response, hoping that he would be given permission but knowing that with or without it, he would find his brother; his mind was made up.
Ben watched his son’s face and saw the determination in the dark eyes and knew that regardless, Adam would search for his brother. Ben knew that sometime over the course of the last several hours Adam had come to terms with what had transpired between him and his younger brother and was now ready to fix it. Yes, decided Ben, Adam was the logical choice to find his brother
“Okay Adam, you find him. And bring him home, please,” smiled Ben as he patted Adam’s shoulder. As Adam turned to leave Ben halted him briefly. “Adam, find out first what he’s been up to if you can. He doesn’t have to know at least not right away. I just want to make sure he’s not getting into any trouble.” Ben walked out onto the porch with Adam, “keep him safe, you stay safe also, son.”
“Don’t worry Pa, I’ll take care of him you know that. And thanks Pa,” added Adam.
“Thanks? For what son?” asked Ben, puzzled.
Adam gave his father a half grin, “everything, your understanding, your patience, love, respect, everything.” Adam turned away from his father not wanting the older man to see the tears that had suddenly sprung unannounced into his dark eyes and mounted his horse. “See ya in a couple of days,” he tossed over his shoulder as he rode out of the yard.
It didn’t take Adam long to pick up his brother’s trail. Joe was making no attempt to cover his tracks, which told Adam that the boy was not in fear of being found. Adam wondered briefly what the boy was up to. He wondered if his brother’s absences from home had anything to do with what had been going on between the two of them but knew the answer already in his heart. Adam could not imagine what that something could be, but he aimed to find out. Adam nudged his horse into a faster pace, he was anxious to catch up to his brother and set things right between them.
It took until mid-afternoon before Adam had closed the gap between himself and his brother and he slowed his pace. He pulled his mount to a stop and tied the horse to a near by bush. He had seen Joe from a distance disappear behind some large rock formations and knew that beyond the rocks was a boxed canyon. Wanting to see why Joe had stopped at such an odd place, Adam inched his way up the side of one large boulder and peered over the top. What he saw surprised him, for his brother had at some other time managed to put up a make-shift fence across the opening of the boxed canyon which was closed on the other three sides by the large rocks. Adam watched, not seeing any sign of his brother until finally Joe stepped from behind a large boulder carrying something in his hand that Adam could not identify. Adam sat puzzled watching to see what Joe was doing.
Suddenly a shrill whistle broke the silence of the late afternoon tranquillity and Adam was left speechless as he watched in wonderment the young sorrel stallion that ran from behind the larger rocks. Adam was stunned as the wild animal cautiously approached the boy and snorted loudly. Joe slipped carefully into the make shift corral and slowly extended his arm in the horse’s direction and Adam’s eyes grew wide when he witnessed the animal take from Joe’s hand the carrot stick that was offered. Adam sat as if in a trance as he watched the boy and the horse staring each other down. His heart leaped into his throat as the stallion began pawing at the ground and when Joe turned his back on the animal, Adam almost shouted out a warning to his brother. He stopped short when the horse walked behind Joe and nudged his brother’s back with his nose when Joe ignored him.
‘So this is what the boy has been up too,’ thought Adam. Adam had seen the sorrel stallion several times himself beginning when the horse had been just a colt. He had often thought that he would love to capture the horse himself and break it, ‘but, looks like little brother beat me to it,’ thought Adam. A wave of disappointment washed over him as he watched the boy working with the horse. Adam smiled though his disappointment as he kept his eyes trained on the display below; the boy sure had a way with horses, even this big sorrel was like putty to a potter in the hands of the charming boy, Adam laughed to himself. He was even more amazed when Joe carefully slipped a halter over the sorrel’s head, all the while talking in soft tones to the animal. Pride swelled in Adam’s heart for his young brother. Joe reminded him of the stallion, full of uncontrolled energy and spirit, both young and unspoiled by life’s hardships. No wonder the animal responded so well to the boy. Adam was lost in his thoughts when suddenly he was pulled back to reality.
Without warning and for unknown reasons the sorrel stallion whinnied loudly and started tossing his head from side to side. The horse bolted to the side of the rock wall and turned sharply, rearing high and pawing into the air. It was then that Adam saw three men running toward his brother, taking him by surprise as he crawled from between the railings of the fence. Before Adam could make a move, Joe was jumped from behind and grabbed by both arms by two of the men. The third man began punching the boy about the face and stomach finally knocking the lad to the ground. Adam drew his pistol to fire but the men jerked Joe from the ground and half-dragging, half-pulling moved the boy out Adam’s sight.
Adam quickly mounted his horse and being as quiet as possible rode down around the rocks and stopped a short distance away from where he had last seen Joe and remained unseen by the three men. Crawling on his stomach and making sure he could not be seen Adam searched the area for his brother. After several minutes one of the men hauled Joe to a near by tree and tied him up. Joe’s face was bruising and Adam could see a cut above one eye. Joe favored his left side where he had taken most of the punches delivered to his mid-section. As the man moved from Joe’s side Adam heard the boy call out to his tormentor.
“Leave that horse alone, he’s mine! I caught him!” Joe yelled out. The man returned and bending down laughed in Joe’s face before he slapped him hard across the mouth. Joe’s head snapped back, hitting the tree behind him then slumped forward. Adam knew that Joe had passed out.
Anger raged within Adam. He wanted nothing more than to get his hands on the man who had abused his young brother but knew he had to have a plan. From his hiding place Adam watched and listened, hoping to determine what the three men might be planning.
“This stallion will bring us a nice sum at the sale,” laughed the oldest of the three.
He was a tall man, heavy in build and his face wore a menacing look. The men where standing by the fence watching the horse who had by this time sensed the danger and had moved to the far side of the boxed canyon where he stood snorting at the intruders.
“Harry, put a rope on him,” ordered the man who was obviously the boss.
“Why me? Why not wait ‘til mornin’ and then we can get out of here? Ain’t no place to go this late in the evening noways, Boss” complained Harry.
Boss turned to face Harry and grabbed him by the front of the shirt, slapped him across his cheeks then laughed in the smaller man’s face, “for once ya probably right. We’ll make camp right here, thanks to the kid over there we have everythin’ we need. Now go see if’n the kid brought somethin’ ta eat.” Boss shoved Harry backward causing him to fall into the dirt. When Boss acted as if he were going to kick at Harry, Harry jumped up and did as he was told.
The third man who had tied Joe to the tree came to stand next to Boss. “What’ca gonna do with the kid, Boss?” he asked.
Boss turned to look at Joe who was just coming around. “Don’t rightly know, might kill’em. Ain’t got no need for’em now.”
Boss moved to the fire that Harry had started and grabbed the biscuit that was offered to him and stuffed it into his mouth. The men had been watching Joe for several days while he captured the stallion and worked at taming the horse. When Boss had felt the time was right, they had made their move. The days of waiting seemed to have paid off for Boss had watched from his hiding place the way that the horse had responded to the boy and figured that if the boy could handle the animal then surely three grown men would be able too.
Adam’s blood turned cold upon hearing the man’s words in reference to killing his brother. Quickly Adam’s mind started working on a plan; he had to get Joe out of there and soon. The three men had started to drink and Adam knew that things could turn nasty really fast. From his advantage point Adam could still watch the men who had now gathered around the fire and were sharing the bottle of whiskey.
Joe stirred slightly and moaned as the pain in his side and arms intensified as he moved.
His head hurt as did his jaw and he worked his mouth back and forth trying to work out some of the soreness. He watched the three men who had jumped him but sat silently working his wrists up and down on the bark of the tree trying to loosen the rope that held him captive. Joe had no idea how he was going to make his get-away. He had left home without a word to anyone other than Charlie, but even the ranch hand had no idea where he was planning to go. And Joe remembered telling Charlie to inform his father that he might be gone a couple of days so Joe was not expecting anyone to come looking for him. He had no idea that his oldest brother lay hiding just a short distance from him in the bushes.
Adam waited patiently while the men finished their bottle of rock gut whiskey and started on the second before crawling from his hiding place. The men were pretty well drunk by now and that would help to even up the odds. Adam momentarily wished he had brought Hoss along with him; he could have used the larger boy’s muscles about now.
As Adam backed out from under the bushes he saw Boss move towards Joe and Adam’s heart stuck in his throat as the man pulled his pistol from his holster, cocked it and waved it back and forth in the boy’s face. As the man advanced on Joe, Adam made the decision that it was now or never, and moved toward the camp and shouted.
“Hello in the camp,” he shouted as he walked into the light of the fire carrying his saddle.
The three men stopped and turned toward Adam, pistols drawn. “Who are you?” asked Boss as he moved to stand next to his men. ‘Three ducks in a row,’ thought Adam.
“My horse went down on me, had to shoot it awhile back,” he lied with a smile on his face and trying to avoid answering Boss’ question. “Coffee smells good, mind?”
Adam moved to the fire and knelt down as if to warm his hands. He had his back to Joe, he didn’t want the boy to give him away; the element of surprise was on his side, that and the fact that the men were so drunk they could hardly stand.
Adam poured himself a cup of coffee leaving it on the rock by the fire and rose to a standing position. The three men had replaced their pistols into their holsters and sat back down, which told Adam they did not consider him a threat, or they were too drunk to care. Adam turned then to look at Joe and silently shushed him. Joe took the hint and remained quiet acting indifferent to the man in black.
Adam moved slightly and positioned himself between his brother and the three drunken men. “What’s the kid tied up for?” he asked nonchalantly.
“What’s it to ya mister?” Boss rose to his feet and faced Adam, his hand moving slowly to his gun. The move did not go unnoticed to Adam who also lowered his hand.
“Nothing to me. Just wondering, that’s all,” Adam’s tone of voice becoming deeper than usual, a tone that Joe recognized all too well.
“Caught the kid trying to seal our horse there,” Boss said and pointed to the stallion pacing nervously around the corral. “Had to teach him a lesson.” Boss laughed as he nodded his head in Joe’s direction. Adam watched him sway slightly.
“He don’t look like a horse thief to me. A mite too young for that wouldn’t you say?” Adam watched the second man rise to his feet and stagger forward.
“Age don’t matter none, Boss dun told ya the brat was stealing our horse,” the second man’s words were slurred as he spoke.
Adam tossed a glance over his shoulder at Joe, “Hey kid, you steal this man’s horse?”
“No sir, that horse is mine. I caught him myself. They were trying to steal it from me,” called out Joe going along with whatever it was his older brother had up his sleeve.
Adam turned to face Boss and Harry. “Says the horse is his.”
“He’s lying and I’ll prove it,” Boss took a couple of steps toward Joe and Adam stopped him.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” growled Adam getting ready to pull his gun on the big man.
“Who’s gonna stop me?” Boss threw Adam a mean look and went for his gun. Adam saw the move; with lightening speed he pulled his gun and fired at the man. The man staggered backward, clutched his chest and fell to the ground.
The second man started for his gun and Adam fired a warning shot, stopping the man instantly. “Don’t shoot me mister, please. It was all his idea, honest,” begged Harry.
Adam looked in the direction of the third man but the man had passed out and was unaware of what was taking place. Adam turned his attention back to Harry who had dropped his gun.
“Sit down, right there,” ordered Adam kicking the man’s gun out of the way, “and don’t move, or I’ll have to shoot you.” Harry sat obediently and seconds later he too past out and fell backward to the ground.
Adam quickly loosened Joe’s bounds and in a sweeping motion Joe’s arms wrapped around his brother’s neck in a tight embrace. “Boy, am I glad to see you,” cried Joe.
Adam’s arm automatically encircled Joe’s body and held the boy. Adam could feel his brother’s body trembling and knew that the boy had been scared. “It’s okay Joe; it’s over,” soothed Adam.
Joe refused to release his hold on his brother. “Adam, I’m sorry, about Beauty I mean. Honest, you gotta believe me,” Joe could do nothing to stop the tears. The tension between himself and his older brother mixed with what had just happened had finally reached the boiling point causing the boy to ramble on and on between his sobs.
“I didn’t do it on purpose, I was just mad at you. I didn’t mean it when I called you that name, please Adam, please say you’ll forgive me,” sobbed Joe.
“Shh…Joe, it’s all right. Hush now,” Adam patted his brother’s back and held his hand at the back of Joe’s neck holding the boy close to his chest. “Joe, that’s why I came to find you, to tell you that I was sorry.” Adam pulled the boy back so that he could look into his eyes. “Did you hear me little buddy? I said I was sorry for acting like an idiot. Can you forgive me?”
Joe stopped crying and swiped the back of his shirtsleeve across his nose. “You ain’t mad at me anymore?” he asked watching Adam’s face.
Adam smiled at Joe, “I never was mad at you, not really.”
“Not mad at me? Well you could have fooled me!” said Joe, puzzled by the statement.
“Joe, I found out that it was myself I was mad at, not you. I know you didn’t mean for Beauty to get hurt. You shouldn’t have ridden off on him, but his stepping in that hole was an accident, I know that. I knew that then, and I should have told you so, but I was mad at myself about things that had happened earlier that day that had absolutely nothing to do with you. I’m sorry Joe, I was wrong to take my spite out on you. And because I did, I caused you a lot of heartache, for which I am also sorry. Can you forgive me?” Adam hung his head; the shame and the remorse he had felt earlier had returned, and he experienced the same need for his brother’s forgiveness as Joe had been feeling.
Joe knew that for Adam to admit he was wrong was a hard thing to do but he admired his brother for it. “Only if you forgive me, I know I was wrong for what I did and for what I said,” admitted Joe.
Joe wrapped his arms around Adam’s neck again and the older boy returned the hug. “I love you Joe, don’t ever forget that. Even when I do get mad at you, I will never stop loving you. And Joe, just to set the record straight, I can get another horse but there will always be only one of you.”
“I love you too Adam,” answered Joe as he wiped the remainder of his tears from his face.
Later Joe helped Adam tied Harry and the third man up for the night then wrapped Boss in his bedroll. In the morning the two brothers would take the body and the two potential horse thieves into Virginia City and turn them over to Sheriff Coffee to stand trial.
By daybreak they were on their way, the body secured across the saddle of the dead man’s horse. Harry and his friend had their hands tied to their saddle horns so that they could not escape, not that they tried, both moaned from the pain in their heads caused by too much whiskey.
About half way home the brothers ran into the sheriff and a posse. “Howdy boys, what ya got there?” asked Roy.
“Would be horse thieves and kidnappers. They tried to steal Joe’s horse last night. I had to shoot one after he went for his gun. They took a few punches at Joe while they were at it.” Adam explained.
“Well, you might have just done me a favor and saved my men and I some work. These are the same men that robbed the bank last week in Placerville and then stole three horses from the livery late yesterday, took a couple bottles of whiskey from old Josh too,” replied Roy with a laugh. “See they must have enjoyed it too.” Roy watched the two thieves as they swayed in their saddles and continued with their complaints of how badly their heads were hurting.
“I’ll take ‘em off your hands Adam. You better get that boy home to his daddy. I stopped by the ranch on my way out this morning and he was fixing to come looking for the two of you,” Roy informed him as he took the reins to the other horses. “I’ll see ya later and take a statement from the two of you then.”
“Thanks Roy,” Adam said and turned to Joe. “What’ll you say we get that stallion of yours back to the ranch before he decides to escape?” smiled Adam as he reached over and patted the boy’s arm.
Joe returned the smile and Adam noticed how tired Joe looked. “Come on buddy, you need to get home and rest. Are you sure you’re okay?” Adam was becoming concerned about his brother; Joe had been put through a lot the last few weeks. Adam felt responsible and the need to get his brother home tugged at his conscience. Joe tried to hide the fact that he was uncomfortable but it did not go unnoticed by Adam’s sharp eye.
“I’m fine, just tired. Let’s go.” Joe kicked gently at Cochise’s sides and urged the horse forward. The sorrel stallion, which was being led by Joe, pranced about pulling back on his lead but finally stopped and followed willingly. Joe smiled to himself, the beating had been worth it and he had gotten his brother back, with or without his surprise.
Ben and Hoss were just mounting up when Adam and Joe rode into the yard. Ben looked from one son to the other, unasked questions showing in his eyes. Hoss ran to Joe after seeing the bruises on his face and helped the boy to dismount.
“What happened ta ya, punkin? Did Adam do this ta ya?” Hoss wrapped his arm around the boy’s shoulder and cut his worried eyes in Adam’s direction. Ben stood on the other side of his youngest inspecting the bruises and waited for the answer.
“Adam?” said Joe, the shock showing on his face. “Of course not. The men who robbed the bank and tried to steal my horse did; Adam saved my life! Hoss, shame on you,” Joe looked at Hoss who stood with his head hung in shame for suspecting his older brother. He knew in his heart that Adam would never have beaten his little brother like this, regardless of how angry he might become at the boy.
“Robbed the bank? Tried to steal your horse?” questioned Ben “What are you talking about son? Where have you been? Better yet, what have you been up too?”
“I’ll explain it to you later Pa. Right now I have to take care of this stallion,” replied Joe giving his father a weak smile. He knew he would have some tall explaining to do later and he sighed, dreading the inquisition he knew was sure to follow.
Hoss had seen the look on Adam’s face when he had accused him of hitting on their brother and instantly felt bad for voicing his thoughts out loud.
“I’m sorry Adam,” Hoss glanced at Adam and noticed that Adam’s expression had changed. He watched the smile that appeared on his brother’s face and the dimples that always showed up in the cheeks when his brother smiled broadly and relief washed over him.
Before any one could say another word Joe pulled away from his brother and father. He untied the lead rope from his saddle and led the sorrel stallion to the corral but stopped at the gate when Adam called out to him.
“Hey Joe, what are you planning on doing with him?” Adam thought that if the boy were going to sale the horse he might just have to buy him.
Joe smiled broadly, now was a good time to tell his brother, “Oh, I have plans for him.” Joe was stalling wanting the suspense to build just a little more. “I was planning on making a gift of him.”
He glanced at his father and winked, Pa had not forgotten what today was ‘cause he returned the wink and the smile causing Joe to smile broadly and continued on with his gently teasing.
Hoss stood with arms crossed in front of him grinning at the look on Adam’s face. He remembered what today was but obviously Adam had forgotten.
“A gift, Joe?” Adam scratched the back of his neck. “Such a magnificent animal as this? Who would you know that would be worthy of a gift such as this beautiful stallion, pray tell?” questioned Adam wondering at who the lucky recipient might be. Adam looked at his father and thought possibly that Joe had captured the horse for him.
Adam rubbed the soft nose of the horse that in turn nudged him back. Adam could tell that Joe had spent days and days working with this animal. This explained why Joe had been absent from home all those times when he should have been doing chores and other things about the house.
“Hey Sport,” Adam whispered softly to the horse as he rubbed his hand up and down the side of the horse’s neck.
Joe watched his brother stroking the horse and knew instantly that he had made the right choice. “Have you forgotten what today is big brother? It’s your birthday.” Joe watched as that fact registered in Adam’s memory and his dark eyes widen at the knowledge. Adam turned to face Joe and Joe laughed at his brother’s expression.
“Happy birthday, Adam.” Joe smiled as he reached for Adam’s hand and placed the stallion’s lead rope into his brother’s opened palm and folded the long fingers around the rope.
Adam looked into the hazel eyes of his kid brother and felt his own brown eyes fill with tears. “For me?” For several moments Adam was numb, speechless and he felt his heart in his throat when he finally tried to speak. “Joe, it’s too much. I don’t deserve this,” Adam choked out the words.
“You’re right Adam, you don’t deserve this,” replied Joe. “You deserve much more, but this is all I have to give you, except for this.” And with that Joe wrapped his arms around Adam’s neck, Adam’s arms interlocking around Joe’s and together the brothers stood, embraced in each other’s love.