Summary: Injured in a fall, Joe finds himself in a most unexpected place.
Word Count: 1668
It was growing cold and dark and Joe Cartwright knew that if he didn’t find shelter for the night soon, he would be in big trouble. He tugged gently on the reins in his hand and urged Cochise, his black and white pinto horse, to walk on again. The gelding obliged, despite the limp that pulled his head down to his knees with every step. The pinto had thrown a shoe earlier in the day, tripped up and thrown Joe from the saddle. The young man had dislocated his shoulder in the fall and the horse had turned up lame. Since then, the pair had been walking.
“I wish we were home, Cooch,” Joe murmured, seeing the pinto’s ears flicker to catch his low words. But home lay more than a day’s ride in front of them and Joe couldn’t see how they would get there without some help. They trudged on.
Suddenly, Cochise’s head lifted and his ears pricked so hard that they almost touched. Joe stopped and looked in the direction Cochise was staring. Faintly, his ears caught the sounds of hooves. For an instant, caution and hope warred within him. It might be someone who would help them; it might be someone who would take advantage of Joe’s disability and rob him of what little he had.
Before he could stretch for his gun with his right hand, the rider appeared in view and Joe saw at once that he was a working cowboy. The big pinto he rode was very like Cochise in build, but was a skewbald to Cochise’s piebald. The man was a few years older than Joe, wearing dirty tan pants. He drew rein when he spotted Joe, then walked his horse towards them. Cochise snorted.
“Howdy,” he greeted Joe. “Ya look like y’all need help.”
The relief was utterly overwhelming. “I do,” Joe confessed and related his tale of woe. Before he quite knew where he was, he found himself astride the skewbald, while his rescuer – who introduced himself simply as Sam – led Cochise.
Whatever kind of line shack or bunkhouse arrangement Joe expected to find, the one that met his eyes had not entered his mind at all. The square structure rose to a four-sided sloping roof with a silvery ‘knob’ on the top and the door was an archway in the bottom. Joe had never quite seen a building like it.
“This is where you live?” he gasped and Sam laughed good-naturedly.
“It ain’t quite what ya was expectin’, huh?” he grinned. “I felt the same way when I first seen it, too.” He stopped the horses and dropped the reins to the ground. “How ‘bout I git ya settled, see to the horses an’ then I’ll tell ya ‘bout this place?”
“Thanks, Sam,” Joe replied. He couldn’t bite back a groan of pain as Sam helped him slide from the saddle and he leant against the other man as they made their slow way to the door. Joe glimpsed an outhouse amongst some trees near by and a rabbit hopped across the barren grass. About halfway up the building, a plaque read ‘Memory Lane’.
The archway led straight into the stable. There was a stand for the saddle, a peg on the wall for the bridle and a bucket of water stood amongst the hay. A kerosene lamp rested on the floor by a hay bale and a Winchester rifle. Joe cast it a fleeting glance. Lamps were not allowed on the floor in his father’s barn! Sam saw the look and grinned. “The lamp ain’t got no kerosene,” he reassured his visitor. “I use that there candle on the shelf.” He gestured with his head and Joe spotted the shelf in a corner.
It didn’t take Sam long to settle the horses in for the night. He then insisted on setting Joe’s shoulder, giving the younger man several sips of a particularly vile moonshine that he apparently brewed himself on the third floor of the building. Joe was glad enough of the assistance as his shoulder popped back into place. Between the pain and the drink, he passed out and it was dark when he woke.
“Feel like eatin’?” Sam asked, seeing Joe stirring. “Got a bit o’ bacon wi’ yer name on it if ya’s a mind?”
“Sure,” Joe agreed, surprised to find himself with an appetite. Sam helped him sit up, since Joe’s left arm was now bound to his side. A warm patchwork quilt covered him. His shirt was on the end of the only bed in the room, which Joe was currently occupying. A lean dog looked at Joe interestedly from beside the pot belly stove.
“Don’ mind Dog,” Sam told his guest. “He don’ bite less’n I tells him ta.”
Smiling, Joe looked around properly for the first time.
The room was narrow, as he had expected. Close beside the bed was table that had seen better days. A kerosene lamp – this time lit – was on the table, along with a coffee grinder, some scattered cutlery, a mug and a powder horn. Joe’s bedroll lay on the floor between the table and bed. Above the table hung some other battered copper mugs. A tattered chair sat by the table, although it was currently facing away from it, and a barrel labelled ‘salt pork’ was being utilised as a card table – although the cards were scattered all over the floor! From the looks Sam was giving Dog, it appeared that Dog had knocked the cards from the cowboy’s hand.
A rifle hung on pegs over the bed and at the end of the bed was the stove. A peg on the opposite wall supported Sam’s clothing and a tattered picture adorned the wall. Peering at it in the uncertain light, Joe saw that it was a map of the west, with some places marked on it.
“Ya eat up,” Sam encouraged Joe, setting a plate of slightly burned bacon and beans in front of him. “I’ll tell ya the story o’ this place.”
Joe started eating, just as keen to hear the story as he was to fill his belly.
A man had come from England to America to make his fortune in the new country. On the way across, he had met and fallen in love with an English girl. They were married soon after landing and made their way west, working at whatever they could find.
After a few years, the man had made some money and bought himself a small ranch on the boundary of what would eventually become the State of Nevada. The cattle business he built had prospered initially, but the man had felt homesick. So, with some money in the bank, he had built himself a ‘folly’ or gatehouse. It was built in the English style, three stories high, with arches front and back and single windows looking in one direction. He called it ‘Memory Lane’.
The following season had been a hard one and as the year drew to a close, the man suffered an accident and died. His wife, left alone with several children, had sold the place and their once indulgent reminder of home was allowed to fall into disrepair. While the walls and roof were kept wind and water-tight, the paint inside was shabby and peeling, the floors were dusty and the planking warped. A pine tree had rooted itself right outside the back arch of the tower and was growing quickly to block any chance of an exit that way.
The lower room had become a stable; the attic room now housed a washing line, a cupboard that had once hung on the wall, a moonshine still and several mice. There were sacks of potatoes, flour and other staples up there, some rather mouldy cheese in the cupboard and – for a reason Joe couldn’t quite fathom – a frayed lasso. There was also an electric light, which the original owner had bought with the intention of getting “electrickery” in – to quote Sam. Sadly, he had died before his dreams could be fully realised.
“My goodness, what a poignant story,” Ben commented. He had been more than relieved when Joe had finally contacted him. Sam had sent a wire letting Ben know where Joe was and Ben had come with the wagon to collect him. The first thing Ben had done was take Joe to be checked out by Dr Martin, but Joe’s shoulder was properly back in place. Sam had done an excellent job. Joe was glad to be home and was very grateful to Sam for his help.
“Sure is,” Joe agreed. He decided that the atmosphere had become solemn enough and so told Ben, Adam and Hoss about the amusing instances of his stay. “The outhouse had two holes cut in it,” he told them. “Sam had done that in case he had a visitor and they got lonely while they were out there – they could share.” He grinned broadly at the expression on his father’s face while the older man fought to contain his laughter. He failed.
“Fancy gettin’ lonely in the outhouse,” Hoss sniggered.
“Fancy ‘sharing’,” Adam added. “No thanks!” He laughed out loud. “I can just picture the mice nesting in the fallen long johns, too.”
“Pa, when’re we gettin’ ‘electrickery’?” Hoss cried.
“When it’s invented!” Ben sniggered, thoroughly enjoying the joking and lighter atmosphere. The house always seemed brighter when Joe was at home.
Delighted with his success, Joe went on. “And there was this little hedgehog – it was the cutest thing you ever saw and it was completely fearless. It lurked in the stones outside the outhouse door, hoping to catch Sam going out in his bare feet.”
“Did it?” Ben asked.
Joe’s grin widened. “Every time!” he replied.
This story was written to accompany a doll’s house I built and decorated for a competition. I couldn’t resist adding Joe into the story.
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