My Kingdom for a Horse (by Rona)

Summary:  Set shortly after ‘Behind the Picture’. Joe is determined to own the bay stallion. Is he willing to pay the price to do so?

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  10,556


 

“Hi, Joe,” Kyle McKenzie cried, smiling at the young cowboy. “How’s the hand?”

“All healed,” Joe replied, cheerfully. “Just as good as new.” Joe had been the subject of a malicious group of men who had deliberately misunderstood something they had seen, had kidnapped Joe, and sparked a lynch mob into almost killing Joe’s brother Adam. Joe had broken his thumb while freeing himself and had been more than relieved to get the plaster off a few weeks later.

“Glad to hear it,” McKenzie grinned and after a few more words, they parted company, McKenzie heading back to his stable and Joe to his horse, ready to ride home.

But Joe’s mind didn’t leave McKenzie entirely as he rode home from town. When the trouble had happened, the Cartwrights had been examining a new stallion McKenzie had just bought. It was a handsome bay animal, but it appeared to have a nasty temper. Joe had been very taken with it, and had gone back to look at the horse several times. Now, he found himself wondering if the stallion had been sold. He hadn’t heard about it, but that meant nothing. He had been laid up at home for weeks, so he could easily have missed the news.

For a minute, Joe was tempted to turn around and find out, but he knew that Ben was waiting for the letter Joe had just collected and getting home late would mean a long lecture about responsibility. The letter, with luck, would contain a signed contract for Ponderosa timber that would keep them busy for the next eight weeks or so. They had been expecting the letter for several days now and the waiting hadn’t improved Ben’s temper.

Dismounting at the hitching rail in the yard, Joe wasn’t in the least surprised to find Ben hurrying out of the door. He hid a grin as Ben demanded, “Well? Has it come?”

With a flourish, Joe produced the letter, and did grin as Ben literally snatched it out of his hand. He finished hitching his horse to the rail as Ben ripped open the envelope and began to read. Patting Cochise, Joe looked at Ben and saw at once that it was bad news.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

Glancing up from the letter, Ben favored Joe with the black look he really wanted to give to the writer of the letter. “We didn’t get it,” he growled. He crumpled the offending missive in his hand and stalked off into the house.

Making a wry face, Joe followed him. “Does it say why not?” he asked, as he caught up with Ben in the study alcove.

“No!” Ben snapped, giving Joe another hard glare. “Don’t you have work to do?”

“I don’t know,” Joe replied, uncertainly. “You told me this morning that after I’d collected the mail, you’d tell me what you wanted me to do.”

“Go and tell the timber crews that they won’t be wanted after all and can leave as soon as they’ve finished this contract.” Ben opened his desk drawer and drew out a ledger, which he thumped down onto the desk. Joe decided to make himself scarce, although he was seldom the person who dealt with the timber crews. However, today was clearly not the day to argue with Ben. He left quietly.

The ride out to the timber camp and back would make him late for supper, but Joe wasn’t too worried about that in the meantime. Supper was bound to be a quiet meal, what with Ben in a tearing rage. Joe wondered if this timber contract had been more important than he had been led to believe. When they had decided to bid for the job, Joe could clearly remember Ben saying it didn’t matter if they didn’t get it. What had changed now? Or was Ben just furious at being beaten by a better bid? Either way, Joe was in no mood to get home quickly.

As he had expected, the timber crews took the news quietly. Joe mounted up again and turned Cochise for home, reflecting that he had ridden more than his share of miles that day. Cochise was as eager to get back as Joe was to stay away, and so they got home slightly sooner than Joe had anticipated. He tended to his horse as he had been taught, had a quick wash-up at the horse trough and went inside.

“Where have you been?” Ben barked as he went in. “Supper is over!”

“I was at the timber camp,” Joe shot back, irritated, since Ben himself had sent him up there. “It’s not exactly next door, Pa.”

“I’m sorry, I’d forgotten,” Ben apologized, but he still sounded annoyed. Joe exchanged a glance with his brothers and realized that they had had to bear this all through supper.

“Come, eat,” Hop Sing, the diminutive Chinese cook/housekeeper, ordered and Joe did as he was told, for the lovely smells coming from the kitchen had whetted his appetite.

He ate in suffocating silence. Ben gazed sightlessly into the fire. Hoss set out the checkers board and amused himself building piles with the pieces and Adam opened a book. However, Joe was sure neither of his brothers was engrossed in what he was doing, as they were both glancing surreptitiously at Ben every now and then.

Joining the others by the fire, Joe started to play checkers with Hoss, but his mind wasn’t really on the game. He wondered what he could say to distract Ben and then knew. “Pa, do you remember that bay stallion McKenzie had?” he asked, casually.

“What about it?” Ben grunted.

“Did he ever sell it?” Joe asked.

“No,” Ben replied, obviously thinking that this would be the end of the conversation.

“I wonder if he ever broke it,” Joe mused, casually jumping three of Hoss’ pieces on the board. Hoss, who had been concentrating like mad, glared at Joe. He’d hoped his brother’s inattention would allow him to win this game.

“No, he never did,” Ben replied. “Why?”

“Oh, no reason,” Joe answered, innocently. “I just wondered, that was all. I bet he’s about ready to give that stallion away.”

“I told you before,” Ben said, warningly. “I’m not buying that stallion. With a temper like that, he could easily pass it on! Now listen to me for a change!”

“I didn’t ask you to buy him!” Joe responded indignantly.

“A good thing for you!” Ben growled. “Take your mind off that horse! I forbid you to have anything to do with it, do you hear me?”

It might not have been a good time for Joe to challenge Ben, but it had definitely been the wrong tone for Ben to use with Joe. He rose, suddenly furious. “In case it has escaped your notice,” he said, each word coldly intent, “I am an adult and I will do as I think fit.” He began to walk steadily across the room. “Good night.”

“Joseph!” Ben snapped, but Joe didn’t stop. He mounted the stairs and didn’t look back.

*****

It didn’t take long for Hoss to make himself scarce and that left just Adam and Ben. Adam put his book down and Ben gave him a dark look. Undaunted, Adam asked, “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?”

“What makes you think something is wrong?” Ben replied.

“Well,” Adam considered. “You’ve been snapping at everyone since we came in, you and Joe have just had words and you barely ate anything for supper. Is it the timber contract?”

“Yes,” Ben grunted. For a moment, he thought about keeping the bad news to himself, but then decided against it. “We didn’t get that contract and the letter advised that they would not be considering bids from outside California in the future.”

“Is that so bad?” Adam asked, calmly. “We don’t need this contract, do we? You said we didn’t.”

Rubbing his hands over his face, Ben sighed. “No, we don’t need it,” he agreed. “But the herd didn’t sell as well as we expected. That bout of grass sickness, or whatever it was, cut the numbers of healthy cattle we had by a large number.”

“But we’re not in trouble, are we?” Adam persisted. “Not unless you’ve been doing some creative figuring with the books.” He smiled as Ben looked at him.

Forced to admit it, Ben smiled, too. “No, we’re not in trouble,” he agreed. “But I was foolishly counting on this contract – and perhaps others from the same firm – to provide us with some extra ‘padding’.” He shook his head. “I know; I got this all blown out of proportion. I was counting it as a certainty, when I shouldn’t have been.”

“Padding – as you put it – never goes wrong,” Adam smiled. “But we’re doing all right, Pa. Yes, the herd didn’t do as well as usual, but it would take more than one bad year to put us under.” As Ben nodded, Adam leaned forward. “I remember those early days, too, you know,” he added. “I know why you feel you want the extra money.”

“Remembered nerves,” Ben agreed. “When we were living hand to mouth when we first got here. I wanted to provide you all with a home and security.”

Gesturing to the house around them, Adam remarked, “It looks to me like that’s what we’ve got.”

Smiling, but feeling rather foolish all the same, Ben said, “Thank you, son.” He made a face. “I guess I’d better apologize to Joe and Hoss tomorrow, hadn’t I?”

“Probably a good idea,” Adam agreed. He rose leisurely. “Good night, Pa.”

*****

Next morning, Ben swallowed his pride and apologized to both Joe and Hoss, explaining that he had been taking his disappointment out on them, and both forgave him immediately. Breakfast was a much more peaceful meal than supper had been and Hop Sing was quite gratified to discover that his family hadn’t lost their appetites completely, as he had feared the previous night.

But the peace didn’t last. “Why were you asking about McKenzie’s stallion?” Ben asked Joe, as he headed towards his desk and Joe was strapping on his gun belt.

“Because I wanted to know,” Joe replied. “It’s a beautiful horse, Pa and I think it’s got a lot of potential.”

“Potential or not,” Ben replied, “I refuse to pay good money for a killer!”

“You don’t know that the horse is a killer!” Joe objected. “Besides, with the right handling…”

“Let’s get this straight,” Ben said, flatly. “I’m not buying that horse, Joe, and I don’t want to see it on my place. Do you understand?”

Staring at his father, Joe bit down on his anger, but he couldn’t keep it from his face. His nostrils flared. “I understand,” he replied. “And I didn’t ask you to buy the horse, Pa. But don’t worry; you’ve made your feelings very plain.” Snatching up his hat, Joe jammed it onto his unruly curls and shot another glare at his father. “Very plain indeed!” He stormed out of the door and slammed it resoundingly behind him.

In the yard, Adam and Hoss exchanged a speaking glance. Hoss shook his head slightly, indicating that he wasn’t going to be the one asking Joe what was wrong. Shrugging, Adam went over. “Joe, I want you to work over at…”

“I don’t care where you want me to work!” Joe snapped. He snatched the reins of his pinto gelding and did his usual, effortless swing mount into the saddle, and dug his heels into the pinto’s sides. Cochise broke into a canter before Joe even had his feet in the stirrups. They vanished around the side of the barn with one last flick of Cochise’s black tail.

Adam looked at Hoss. “That went well,” he commented sarcastically. “What do you suppose happened?”

“I dunno,” Hoss admitted, “but I ain’t gonna ask Pa, neither!” He mounted Chubb, wishing that he could do a swing mount and rode out more slowly.

Shrugging, but seeing the wisdom in his brother’s words, Adam mounted Sport, also wishing that he could do the swing mount. Until Joe had done it for the first time, it had never occurred to Adam that you could mount a horse any way but the conventional ways and he had been highly frustrated to discover that he just didn’t have the knack for it. Nor was Sport the kind of horse to stand patiently while he tried to master it. “Let’s go,” he suggested to his horse and they rode away.

*****

Inside, Ben stood gazing at the closed door. He didn’t know if he should go after Joe or not, but the sound of hoof beats told him he’d left it too late. Ben wasn’t entirely sure why Joe was so angry. Surely the boy could see that he, Ben, was just anxious about his safety around that hellion stallion? Having almost lost Joe to another wild stallion once before, Ben was in no rush to repeat the experience.

“He’ll come round,” Ben consoled himself, but there was a trace of doubt in his voice. The only predictable thing about Joe was his unpredictability! He could well hold the grudge for hours.

Sitting down at his desk, Ben tried to lose himself in his work, but he wasn’t successful.

*****

“Hi, Joe,” Kyle McKenzie called as Joe pulled Cochise to a halt by the corral. “What brings you by here?” He grinned. “Not that I’m not pleased to see you, you understand.”

Grinning back, Joe replied, “I believe you! Actually, Kyle, I came to ask you about that stallion. Have you still got it?” He glanced into the corral where the stallion had been the last time he had seen it, but it was inhabited by a handful of half-grown mustangs. Joe assessed them with an experienced eye.

Narrowing his eyes, McKenzie looked keenly at Joe. “I thought your Pa didn’t want that horse on account of his temper?”

Meeting the other man’s gaze, Joe replied coolly, “I’m not my Pa.”

Nodding silently, McKenzie surveyed Joe. He could see that Joe was annoyed, but was sure it wasn’t with him. There was certainly something going on, and McKenzie wasn’t going to get in the middle of it, but Joe was a grown man, and if he wanted to buy the stallion, McKenzie wasn’t going to stop him. “Yeah, I’ve still got him. He’s down at my other place, outside of town. Why?”

“How much do you want for him?” Joe asked.

“$100,” McKenzie replied, promptly.

Joe laughed. “Good try,” he congratulated the older man. “But no way. I’ll give you $25.”

“$25?!” yelped McKenzie. “You’ve got to be joking! That’s a prime horse!”

“And you haven’t been able to sell him for over 12 weeks,” Joe pointed out. “The longer you have him, the less chance you have of getting rid of him – unless you can find someone to break him for you.”

“You interested?” McKenzie returned.

“Not in breaking him for you,” Joe smiled.

Smiling also, McKenzie wished that he was dealing with Ben Cartwright. For all that Ben was wily and experienced, he didn’t quite have the knack of haggling for horses the way Joe did. Joe made up his mind how much he was willing to spend and he was immovable in his resolve. And McKenzie really wanted rid of the stallion. He was fed up of being bitten or kicked at. “All right,” he said, abruptly tiring of the game. “$25 and he’s all yours.”

Reaching into his shirt pocket, Joe got out the money. He had been prepared to go as high as $50 to get the horse, but no further. “Say, Kyle, you got a lot of horses down on your other place right now?”

“Just a couple of weanlings,” Kyle replied. “Why?”

“It’s real busy around our place for a horse like that. I’d like to work him where it’s quiet. Can I bunk at yours for a few days?” Joe kept his face down as he counted the money and kept his voice casual.

“That would be a real big help to me, Joe,” McKenzie replied. “I’m waiting for a man to come through with some horses and he’s been held up. If you could keep an eye on those weanlings for me till I get there, that would be great! Help yourself to the grub that’s there.”

“Thanks,” Joe grinned.

Joe took Cochise’s rein and started to mount, but McKenzie put out his hand. “Be careful?” he suggested and Joe’s grin widened.

“You better believe it,” Joe agreed, mounted and rode off.

*****

The stallion was every bit as handsome as Joe had remembered. He stabled Cochise and then went to lean on the corral, watching the horse, as the horse was watching him. The first order of the day was a name, Joe decided. Names were important. “Captain,” Joe said, softly, and the horse pricked its ears. Well, that was easy, Joe thought. Captain it is.

Sliding between the rails, Joe went into the corral. Captain stamped his foot warningly, but Joe made no move to approach him. Instead, he stood at the side of the corral and looked the horse over, carefully avoiding making eye contact.

It didn’t take long for the horse to start pacing restlessly. Yet Joe still didn’t approach it. He could see the long, lean muscles and the odd scar on the coat. Wherever Captain had come from, he had seen a bit of life, Joe reflected. He was already a mature horse, which didn’t bode well for Joe’s chances of breaking him the conventional way. And that was why Joe was trying out this new method.

It was a remarkably short time before the horse was right over beside Joe. Slowly, Joe allowed himself to make brief eye contact before slowly lifting his hand to the bay face that was so close to him. His fingers touched the silky skin and Captain bit him on the arm.

Yelping out a cry of pain and surprise, Joe reacted immediately and smacked Captain hard on the nose. The horse startled, broke his contact with Joe’s arm and ran off. Grasping his bleeding arm with the opposite hand, Joe cursed silently. But he couldn’t allow a bite to hinder his plan. Picking up the coil of rope at his feet, Joe moved into the centre of the corral and started Captain trotting around the perimeter.

In about 100 years time, Joe’s method would be called by the erroneous name of ‘horse whispering’. It was nothing of the kind; horse whispering supposedly entailed supernatural powers. Joe was just keeping the horse busy, not allowing him time to think while he became used to Joe’s presence. Joe knew horses – knew them so instinctively that he sometimes wondered if he was part horse himself. He knew that when a horse was nervous, it was best to give him something to think about, so he couldn’t concentrate on what was scaring him. It was an old trick, but it worked every time.

And it worked with Captain, for soon the big stallion was relaxed and ‘mouthing’, a sure sign that he wanted to become friends. Joe stopped urging the horse round and let him come to a stop. After a few moments, Captain’s head dropped and he began to come towards Joe. Joe carefully ignored him, until the horse was right beside him. Then, he gently lifted his bitten arm and stroked the animal. This time, Captain accepted the caress.

Satisfied, Joe allowed the horse to follow him around for a while, then he gave him one last pat and left him alone for the day. Tomorrow, he would repeat the exercise, and then start on saddling Captain. Once the stallion accepted the tack, then Joe’s work would really begin.

Feeling quite pleased with his progress so far, Joe went inside to clean up his bitten arm.

*****

“Where is he?” Ben fretted as darkness fell and there was still no sign of Joe. “I’m going to murder that boy!”

Exchanging a glance, Adam and Hoss both made faces. “Pa, however we may feel about it, Joe is an adult,” Adam reminded his irate, worried father. “And whatever he’s doing, there’s nothing we can do to stop him, is there?”

“If he worked for anyone else, they’d have fired him for going off like that this morning,” Ben retorted sharply.

“I know,” Adam agreed, placidly. He found it slightly strange to be cast as Joe’s defender, when he was almost as angry with Joe as Ben was. “But you can’t fire him from the family, can you? Lord knows, I’ve wanted to enough times when he’s pulled another outrageous stunt.”

“Joe ain’t that bad,” Hoss spoke up. “He jist gits an idea in his head an’ there ain’t nothin’ anyones can do ta shift it, I reckon.” He looked at Ben. “An’ Joe can look after hisself.”

“I know,” Ben fretted. “But I can’t help worrying. I still don’t really know why he blew up at me this morning and I wanted it sorted out tonight.” He sighed deeply and Adam repressed a longing to do his youngest brother physical harm for worrying Ben. “You don’t think he really wanted me to buy that horse, do you?”

“What horse?” Adam asked, having rather lost the conversation for a minute while he imagined torturing Joe into apologizing. He knew it would never happen, but sometimes…

“The one that Kyle McKenzie tried to sell us.”

“It’s entirely possible,” Adam admitted. “Joe was very taken with it. I haven’t seen him so taken with a horse since…” He allowed his voice to trail off, but Hoss finished the thought for him.

“Since he tried ta break Satan,” he concluded heavily.

Satan. The big skewbald stallion had almost cost Joe his life and none of the family were happy about Joe’s continued relationship with the horse, even if it was at a distance now, and even if Satan had once saved Joe’s life.

“It’s always horses,” Ben muttered, a combination of pride and resignation in his voice. Marie had been the same; horses had been a great source of joy to her and Ben had often had his heart in his mouth while watching his wife riding some recalcitrant horse. With her death had come the desire to prevent Joe riding if at all possible, but the little boy was a natural horseman and it was impossible to keep him away from the horses and Ben had gradually accepted this.

But still, there was always, in Ben’s heart, a small piece of him that was terrified that Joe would be killed working with the horses. And he was honest enough to admit to himself that this was why he had reacted so badly when Joe mentioned the stallion. Ben swallowed, suddenly afraid that Joe was already hurt and he didn’t know where his son was. “In the morning,” he announced, seeing the sympathy and understanding in his sons’ eyes, “I’m going to go into town and talk to Kyle McKenzie. He might know where Joe is.” Ben shook his head. “I keep forgetting that you boys are grown up,” he apologized.

“We know,” Adam replied. “And most of the time we don’t really mind, do we, Hoss?”

“Nah,” the big man agreed, blushing. “It can be right nice, knowin’ yer here at home, waitin’ fer us ta come in.”

While Ben spoke to Hoss, Adam allowed his thoughts to drift. He was still angry with Joe for worrying them and knew he would have a few choice words to say to his youngest brother when they found him. But he had to admit – reluctantly – to a sneaking sympathy with Joe. He had bucked against Ben’s authority a few times himself, tired of being treated like a child when he was a man. And it must be harder for Joe, he acknowledged. Not only did he have a father who forgot he was an adult, but he had two older brothers who often forgot the same fact.

Maybe he would give Joe the chance to explain before he tore a strip off him, Adam mused as he prepared for bed. Or there again, he thought, as he pulled the covers up round his shoulders, maybe he wouldn’t.

*****

Joe’s arm was stiff and sore come morning, but he wasn’t worried by it. He had had bites before and knew this wouldn’t be the last. He made himself some coffee and wolfed down a few biscuits he found in a tin and then went out to start working with Captain again. He felt a twinge of guilt when he thought about his family. He knew Ben would be worried about him, but he was determined to show that he hadn’t made a rash decision in buying this horse, even if his father didn’t approve.

“I’m an adult,” Joe reminded himself. “Just once, I’d like to show them all that.” And then he shook his head, for he knew his behavior was childish. Yet he couldn’t bring himself to go home. Now that he was set on this course of action, Joe was determined to see it through to the end.

Going over to the pasture, Joe visually checked that the weanlings were all right, and then, his conscience eased, he went over to the corral, collecting an old saddle and bridle that he had seen in the barn the previous day.

Captain met him at the corral gate, and Joe felt a rush of satisfaction. The horse snorted when it saw the strange accoutrements in Joe’s arms and dodged to the other side of the corral to stand there, snorting and pawing the ground uneasily. Joe ignored him, hanging the tack over the corral rail. The then went back to the barn to fetch a saddle blanket, and when he came out, he was pleased to see that Captain was smelling them, obviously intrigued.

As Joe came into the corral, Captain came over to greet him and Joe stroked the horse’s neck. However, when the wild streak re-asserted itself, and Captain made a lunge at Joe with his teeth, Joe knew that his work was just beginning for the day. He dodged the nip and once more smacked the horse firmly on the nose, signaling that that action was undesirable. He knew that it wouldn’t be long before the intelligent beast made the connection between the bite and the sore nose.

Picking up his lasso, Joe walked to the middle of the corral and soon had Captain circling round him. He worked the horse steadily and it wasn’t long before he had Captain back in the middle of the corral, nuzzling his shoulder affectionately.

Bringing the bridle to the barrel he had placed in the middle of the corral, Joe sat down and began to adjust the buckles. Until the bridle was on, he wouldn’t know if it fitted properly or not, but he was sure the cheek pieces wouldn’t be long enough. Captain dodged away at the unfamiliar smell of the leather, but after a few minutes, curiosity got the better of him and he was soon over, shoving his nose into Joe’s hands. Smiling, Joe stroked him, and went on adjusting the bridle.

Now, Joe felt he was ready for the next stage, and he held his hands out to the horse, holding the bridle openly. Had he really won Captain’s trust? Would the wild stallion allow him to slip the metal bit between his teeth?

Cautiously, the horse smelt the leather, then, feeling Joe’s smell on it, he relaxed and shook his head. Joe stepped up to the horse’s left hand side, rearranged his grip on the bridle and laid the bit flat on his left hand. With his right hand over Captain’s nose, he gently encouraged the stallion to open his mouth by inserting his thumb into the space between his back teeth. With the ease of long practice, Joe drew the bit into Captain’s mouth and quickly slipped the headpiece over his ears.

The bridle was too big, but Joe didn’t count that as a problem. The bit wouldn’t fall out of Captain’s mouth and it would stay on as the big horse decided what to make of this new development. He swiftly fastened the necessary straps, patted the sleek neck and stepped back slightly.

For a moment, Captain was quiet, chewing at the strange thing in his mouth. But it wasn’t going away and the stallion didn’t like it. He reared, shaking his head wildly and Joe was spattered with foam from his mouth. That didn’t worry Joe. He knew that it was just the unaccustomed feeling of the bit that caused that. Horses with good mouths always played with the bit when it was first in their mouths and then chewed a few times once it was removed. It showed that they didn’t have hard mouths.

Crashing back to earth, Captain took the time-honored way of escaping something new and ran. He ran round and round the corral, but the strange thing in his mouth didn’t go away. Joe turned with the horse, always keeping him in sight and that very familiarity helped calm the horse until he was trotting, then walking, then turning into Joe once more, this time seeking reassurance.

Joe was glad to give it. He petted the horse and talked a mile a minute while doing so. Joe had always spoken to his horses and swore that they understood better when he told them what was going on. His brothers scoffed at him, but Joe wasn’t worried about that. His methods worked for him, and he’d sometimes heard Adam and Hoss trying it out for themselves.

The next step was the saddle blanket and saddle. Joe made sure that Captain was relaxed and ready for more learning, and soon had the blanket in place. For a while, they played a game where Joe put the blanket on and Captain took it off again. By then, the horse had completely forgotten about the bit in his mouth.

Finally, Joe put the saddle on. Captain stood still, his ears back and his head turned to see what was going on. Joe petted him again while he drew up the cinch enough that the saddle would stay on, but not enough that Captain would start bucking instantly. When the horse realized that this contraption was on to stay, he showed his disapproval by nipping at Joe once more – although he was careful enough not to catch his master – and set off, bucking his way across the corral.

But the saddle was heavy and Captain wasn’t used to weight on his back. He soon calmed down and once more returned to Joe, who praised him. When the horse was once more relaxed, Joe tightened the bridle straps so that the bit fitted properly into Captain’s mouth and tightened the cinch a bit more. He then led the horse around for a while until he figured that Captain had done enough.

As he untacked the horse, Joe reflected that the next day would see the real challenge; he would ride Captain for the first time. Delighted with the progress so far, Joe went off into the house to find something to eat. He realized, with a shock, that he had been working the horse all day and it was almost supper time. He had missed lunch entirely.

“It was worth it,” Joe told himself aloud and started to cook some eggs.

*****

For all that he meant to go into town and track Joe down that day, somehow, Ben never got the chance. Nothing actively went wrong on the ranch, but nothing seemed to run quite as smoothly as it ought and before Ben knew quite where he was, the day had gone and he had not managed to get into town to track down Joe.

As they sat down to supper, Adam and Hoss could see how despondent Ben was. Joe’s empty place seemed to be more obvious than ever. Ben glanced at it more than once and Adam had a mad desire to throttle Joe for putting their father through such anguish. Why couldn’t the boy ever hold onto his temper? And then he caught himself up. That was exactly why. He was thinking of Joe as a boy, and he wasn’t; Joe was a man grown. Adam well remembered his own battles to prove himself a man and thought that in many ways, Joe had taken a less provocative course. He had, typically, gone off to do whatever it was he thought would prove his manhood.

“Tomorrow,” Ben stated, wearily, “I am going into town, come hell or high water!”

It was like a proclamation handed down from on high. No one who heard him doubted that Ben meant every word.

*****

Next morning, Joe was eager to begin. Today, he would ride Captain.

The horse was waiting for him in the corral and came over to meet Joe. He accepted the bridle and saddle without turning a hair and stood quietly, mouthing the bit, while Joe strapped the saddle into position. Now was the moment, Joe thought and felt his heart beat quicken. He knew it was important to remain calm, for horses were sensitive creatures and could pick up on feelings and emotions. Drawing in a deep breath, Joe put his foot into the stirrup and mounted.

For a moment, Captain seemed to draw his body together, the instinctive fear of the horse for a predator jumping onto his back. Joe tightened his muscles, preparing for Captain to buck and spoke soothingly, smoothing one hand down the silky bay neck in front of him, the other hand tightly clutching the saddle horn.

But it was an unnecessary precaution. Captain slowly relaxed and Joe put his heel to his horse. The horse moved forward, and Joe verbally praised him, patting his neck. For the next hour, Joe worked the horse, teaching him the commands from foot and rein that the horse would need for the rest of his working life. Captain was intelligent and learned quickly.

The job was done. Joe dismounted, untacked the stallion and gave him a little grain. And now, Joe thought, putting away the old saddle and bridle he had borrowed from the barn, he would have to go home and face the music. Joe knew there would be a row. He knew that what he had done was foolish, but he didn’t regret it.

Fetching Cochise’s tack, Joe put it onto Captain, and mounted up. He rode back to town, intent on showing Kyle that the stallion was not as intractable as everyone thought. A smug grin affixed itself to Joe’s face and he was unable to chase it away as he rode nearer and nearer town.

*****

Dawn had seen Ben Cartwright sitting at the table having breakfast and he had been out of the house and heading towards town less than an hour later. As had become commonplace over the last two days, anxiety and anger warred for the upper hand in his emotions. One minute he wished Joe was young enough to be spanked and the next, he was fearing that his son was lying somewhere with a broken bone.

On his arrival in town, Ben was thwarted in his desire to speak to Kyle McKenzie, who was busy in his office with a client. Unable to stand still, Ben went to various places in town, enquiring if Joe had been seen and was slightly dismayed to discover that he hadn’t been in town at all.

Discouraged, Ben headed back to McKenzie’s corral and was amazed to see Joe riding towards him, leading Cochise! Ben blinked, and finally admitted that Joe was riding the wild stallion.

A bubble of pure anger burst in Ben’s heart and his anxiety was completely subsumed. He strode towards his son, even more infuriated by the smug grin on Joe’s face and he didn’t wait for Joe to dismount, just yanked him from the saddle.

At once, Joe’s grin vanished and he struggled to keep his feet as Ben kept an iron grip on his arm. “Just where have you been, young man?” Ben bellowed. “Don’t you care that I’ve been worried about you?”

“I know you have,” Joe replied quietly, keeping a tight grip on his own temper. “And I’m sorry about that. But look, Pa! I broke the stallion!” He patted the horse’s neck and Captain, who had suddenly developed an affectionate streak, nuzzled Joe’s shoulder.

“You might have broken your neck, too,” Ben hissed. “And none of us would have known! We had no idea where you were. I told you I wasn’t going to pay good money for that horse!”

“You didn’t!” Joe shot back, no longer caring about keeping his temper. “I paid good money for him! He’s mine, not the Ponderosa’s!” Joe snatched his arm out of his father’s grip and turned away, his mouth set in a grim line.

“And now you think you can just waltz back into your life as though nothing had happened, do you?” Ben asked. “You’re going to present me with a fait accompli and expect me to be happy about it? I’ll have to pay for its feed and keep now you’ve bought it?”

“Oh, don’t worry, Pa,” Joe snapped. “If the money worries you that much, I’ll pay for his keep myself. Or else I’ll find myself another job, where they won’t object!”

All at once, Ben realized how stupid he was being. He grabbed Joe’s arm again. “Joe, wait! I didn’t mean that! I was just angry, and worried about you.” He stopped and swallowed the tears that rose in his throat. “I allowed my anger to take control and I shouldn’t have done that.”

“And I shouldn’t have gone off without telling you,” Joe responded. “But you weren’t listening to me, Pa. You were just telling me flat out what I was and wasn’t to do. I’m not a child any more.”

“I know that,” Ben replied. “And I’m not proud of myself, believe me. But I was afraid for you, Joe. Yes, you’ve broken the stallion, but you don’t know how he’ll react with other horses or on the ranch. You have a special gift with horses, son, and while you may be all right with this horse, how do we know others will be, too?”

“I guess we don’t,” Joe admitted stiffly. “But I think he’ll be fine.”

Sighing, Ben could see Joe wasn’t going to back down on this one. “I suppose we’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?” he replied and Joe knew than that Ben wanted him home – as if he’d ever really doubted that fact. He fell into his father’s arms and the two hugged.

*****

Joe’s return home wasn’t altogether greeted with relief. Like Ben, Hoss and Adam’s initial reaction was relief that Joe was safe, but it was quickly replaced by anger – at least on Adam’s part. Hoss had decided that life was too short for anger and when he saw the horse Joe was riding, he was so proud he nearly burst the buttons off his shirt. “Dang, Joe, if’n that ain’t a handsome horse!” Hoss exclaimed and Joe grinned at him.

“Sure is!” Joe agreed. “Hoss, meet Captain.” Hoss held out his hand and the horse smelt his hand briefly before allowing Hoss to fondle his muzzle.

Unable to forgive Joe just like that, Adam watched disapprovingly from a few feet away and Joe felt his pleasure at being at home draining away. Ben still hadn’t completely thawed either, but Joe could understand that. But he wasn’t so pleased to find Adam displaying a parental attitude towards him. Adam wasn’t his father – just his oldest brother – and Joe wasn’t prepared to take a lecture from him.

The cold shoulder treatment continued until Joe was alone in the barn, taking care of the horses. Adam came in and stood leaning against one of the loft supports, looking the horse over silently. Joe glanced at him, then returned to brushing down the horse, determined not to speak until Adam spoke first.

“I suppose you think he was worth it,” Adam commented.

“He was worth breaking,” Joe agreed. “Worth making Pa angry and worried? Nothing is worth that, Adam. But that’s between Pa and me. It’s got nothing to do with you.”

“This is typical of you, Joe,” Adam retorted. “You only think about yourself. Didn’t it occur to you that Pa might think you were lying hurt somewhere when you didn’t come home? We had no idea where your childish running away had taken you. We might never have found you.”

“It did occur to me,” Joe replied. “And I’ve already apologized to Pa. I’m sorry if you were worried, but I’m not going to justify myself to you. I’m an adult, Adam and I am responsible for myself.”

“I’ll remember that the next time something happens to you and I have to save your bacon,” Adam snapped, knowing full well that he didn’t have the right to say that to Joe, but relieving his anger the only way he could.

As Adam left the barn, Joe rested his head against Captain’s side. He had known his actions would be frowned upon, but he hadn’t quite expected anything like this. Resolutely, he squared his shoulders. He had brought this down on himself and would have to bear the consequences.

*****

It took a while for the bad feeling in the house to completely go away. Joe worked Captain as thoroughly as he worked any new horse and the stallion took to the work like a natural. It gave Joe a lot of pleasure to see the horse that everyone had said was too wild to be broken working like any other horse.

Except for the fact that nobody else would ride the stallion. Joe gradually became aware that Ben never mentioned the horse even obliquely and Adam made disparaging comments about it. Hoss would have liked to have ridden Captain, but the horse was just too small for him. However, Hoss quickly became aware that Captain was a forbidden topic of conversation and fell into line with Ben and Adam. Joe became sullen and withdrawn until he was barely talking to the others.

Finally deciding that he had had enough of this behavior, Ben used the moving of the herd from one pasture to another to pair himself with Joe so that they could talk. Joe scowled noticeably when he heard the pairing, but kept any comments to himself. He was riding Captain that morning, so that Cochise would be fresh for the pushing of the herd that afternoon.

“Let’s take the high country,” Ben suggested and Joe nodded, allowing Captain to stretch out in his very showy trot ahead of Ben on Buck.

Following on behind, Ben had his first close look at the horse since the day that Joe had almost fallen into the corral. The bay coat shone with good health and it looked as though there was more muscle under the coat than there had been. Ben wondered if his prejudice against the horse was partly because of the results of Joe falling into the corral. There was no denying that Captain was a good looking animal.

They worked steadily throughout the morning, the tension between them easing as the work took priority in their minds. It was nearing noon when Ben pulled Buck to a halt and dismounted, loosely tethering the buckskin horse to a tree. “Let’s have a break,” he told Joe.

Nodding, Joe dismounted, too, and tethered Captain a little distance from Buck. He hesitated for a minute before going over to sit with Ben. “Have a drink?” Ben offered, pretending not to notice Joe’s hesitation. It hurt him and he mused over why there was a distance between them of a sudden.

“You think we’ve got the strays from here?” Joe asked, having slaked his thirst.

“I think so,” Ben replied. “We haven’t found any for almost an hour, and we’ve been all over.” He took a deep breath, then forced himself to say it. “You and Captain make a great team, Joe. You were right; he does seem to be a good horse.”

It wasn’t the unqualified praise that Joe was looking for. “Why don’t you try him?” he suggested, casually. “Ride him back to the remuda and see what you think of him?”

For an instant, Ben was going to refuse. But he saw the look in Joe’s eye and knew that if he turned down this chance to ride the stallion, his relationship with his youngest son would be forever altered. He had doubted Joe’s judgment all along, he realized, even when confronted with the proof. He had always trusted Joe’s judgment before and he knew that this challenge was Joe’s way of telling his father he had had enough. Either Ben rode the horse, or Joe would end up leaving.

“All right, thanks,” Ben agreed, casually. He took another drink to hide his thoughts from his all-too-perceptive son. He was shocked to find he was actually nervous. “Well, let’s go,” he suggested, before he could change his mind.

“All right,” Joe agreed and rose fluidly. Ben clambered to his feet and together they walked across to the horses. Joe untethered Buck and turned him around, checking the cinch before he got on. Ben did the same to Captain, briefly fondling the horse’s nose. He was pleasantly surprised that he didn’t get nipped, although, come to think of it, the horse hadn’t nipped anyone since the very first day Joe started working with him.

With one hand on Buck’s saddle, and the other loosely holding the reins, Joe watched as Ben swung himself onto Captain’s back. Although Joe thought the horse looked slightly startled at the change of rider, he stood quietly, just turning his head to sniff Ben’s boot thoughtfully. Joe smiled. Captain had just passed the first test with flying colors – not that he was surprised. He knew that the horse was well schooled.

Turning Captain, Ben urged the horse forward, trying out various commands. Joe still stood, waiting and watching. He began to grin proudly as Ben put Captain through a series of tight turns and the horse moved smoothly for him.

At last, Ben turned back to Joe and grinned at him. “Joe, this is a seriously good horse and I’m sorry I ever suggested otherwise.”

“I’ll forgive you,” Joe replied, lightly, although the words had serious intent. Father and son grinned at each other. Joe started to mount.

Joe had his foot in the stirrup, his other foot off the ground, and his balance at its most precarious when Buck suddenly reared. There was an ominous rattle from under his hooves and the horse twisted away, throwing Joe to the ground. He twisted as he landed, thanks to the awkwardness of his stance and landed almost directly under Buck’s dancing hooves!

“Joe!” Ben cried and saw the snake rearing up, the rattle increasing in volume as the snake prepared to strike its helpless victim!

Snatching up his gun, Ben fired at the snake, knowing the risk he was taking; knowing that his bullet might well hit Joe and not the snake. But his aim was true, and the snake arched backwards. The sound of the shot echoed from the hills around them and Buck fled.

But Ben wasn’t concerned about Buck at that moment. His main worry was Joe. Had he killed the snake in time? Had Joe been bitten? He leapt off Captain’s back and raced towards Joe, instinctively hanging onto the reins. Captain followed willingly.

Kneeling by Joe’s side, Ben could see his son’s green eyes were open, but glittering with pain. “Joe, did it bite you?”

“I’m… not sure,” Joe breathed. He clenched his teeth and groaned as another spasm of pain shot through him. “Buck… stood on… me.”

A shaft of fear shot through Ben. “Where?” he asked, with admirable calm.

“Here,” Joe replied, his right arm fluttering weakly across his torso on the left side. “And… my arm.” He coughed and a spasm of pain shot across his face.

Fearfully, Ben pulled away Joe’s jacket and shirt. Joe winced and bit his lip, losing color dramatically. Ben could see why. A huge, livid bruise was spreading across his abdomen, changing color, darkening, even as Ben watched. Schooling his face – too late – Ben attempted to hide the seriousness of the injury. But Joe wasn’t fooled. “It’s bad, isn’t it?” he breathed.

“It may not be as bad as it looks,” Ben replied. It might not be serious internal bleeding, he told himself. It might just be severe bruising. “Let me see your arm.” He turned his attention to Joe’s arm and saw at once that the forearm was broken in a couple of places. Joe’s hand was already swelling and Ben knew he had to try and align the bones at once, or Joe would lose the use of his hand. “Joe…” he began, but Joe interrupted.

“Whatever it is… just do it!” he panted. He had bitten through his bottom lip, and Ben’s heart skipped a beat, thinking for a moment that it was blood from Joe’s lungs or stomach.

Steeling himself for the ordeal to come, Ben grasped Joe’s hand and braced his upper arm as best as he could. Taking a deep breath, he pulled and Joe let out a strangled cry and slumped down, unconscious. Ben kept up the pressure and felt the bones moving. He didn’t know if it would be enough, or if he had just made things worse, but it was all he could do. He would have to get Joe to safety.

Looking at Captain, Ben wondered how on earth the horse would cope with having them both in the saddle, but he was about to find out. So far, the horse’s temperament had stood them in good stead, but he was still a novice and this might be too much for him. However, Ben had no choice; he had to get Joe to medical attention as soon as possible.

Ben bent, lifted his son into his arms and carried him to the horse.

*****

They were a good way back to the remuda when Adam and Hoss came into view. Ben’s arms were aching from supporting Joe’s dead weight. Joe had been drifting in and out of consciousness for the whole time, groaning steadily and Ben’s heart was in his mouth. But his other main concern had proven to be as reliable as it was possible for a horse to be. Captain had stood like a rock while Ben put Joe into the saddle and then scrambled up behind him. He had walked as obediently as Ben could have desired and the patriarch of the Ponderosa was finally realizing just how special this horse was, and cursing his stupidity in not trusting Joe’s judgment before. He just hoped he would have a chance to tell Joe.

“What happened, Pa?” Adam demanded. “Oh no! Joe!”

“There was a rattler,” Ben explained, while Hoss carefully took Joe from Ben. “Buck was spooked and trampled Joe as he ran away. Joe’s arm is broken in a couple of places and he’s got a huge bruise on his side. I think there might be internal bleeding.”

“I’ll go and get the doc,” Adam responded, casting another anxious look at his younger brother. “The boys should meet you at the track with the wagon, Pa.” He turned Sport and kicked his gelding into a run.

Sure enough, the wagon was waiting for them at the track, and willing hands loaded Joe into it. Ben was terrified that they had moved Joe too much, but he had no other choice. Joe could not lie on a cold hillside and wait for the doctor. Ben tethered Captain to the back of the wagon beside Chubb and gave the horse a grateful pat before he scrambled in to sit by Joe, holding his son’s uninjured hand.

******

It was a long, anxious journey home. Joe opened his eyes a couple of times, but he didn’t seem able to respond to Ben’s questions. The dreadful bruise continued to spread, discoloring all of Joe’s abdomen and Ben could clearly see the point where Buck’s hoof had struck. The shape was unmistakable.

They arrived in the yard at almost the same time as Doc Martin. There was no sign of Adam, but Ben knew that Sport had done a whole morning’s work before he was ridden into town and Adam would be taking his time coming home, putting his horse’s welfare first, even though he was anxious about Joe.

The unconscious man was moved to his bed and Ben gently removed his clothes. Paul bent over Joe, examining him carefully, felling all along the bruised abdomen, seeking for something that Ben couldn’t guess. “Has he been like this all along?” he asked, straightening abruptly.

“He was talking before I moved his arm,” Ben replied. “His hand was swelling badly and I was afraid…” He stopped, for Ben knew that Paul didn’t approve of people trying to set bones.

“Well, I haven’t checked his arm yet, but his hand looks ok to me, so I think you did the right thing there. But did he wake after that?” asked the doctor.

“A few times,” Ben replied. “But we were on the horse and in the wagon…”

There was a groan from the bed and Paul immediately turned back to Joe. “Joe? Can you hear me?”

“Pa?” Joe asked, his voice barely more than a breath.

“Your Pa is here,” Paul replied. “But I’m not him!” He smiled, relieved that his patient seemed to be aware. “Joe? Don’t go back to sleep now, I need you to tell me where it hurts.”

“Everywhere,” Joe grimaced.

“Specifically,” Paul chided gently.

Once more, Joe’s good arm fluttered over his abdomen, and Paul once more gently felt around the area bearing the horseshoe mark. Joe winced quite a number of times and bit his lip fiercely.

“Well?” Ben enquired, concern lining his face.

“The good news is, I don’t think there’s actually any internal bleeding,” Paul replied. “However, there might be a small bleed and I want to keep a sharp eye on Joe over the next 12 hours. But he has been relatively stable, from what you said, Ben, and so I’m leaning on the side of optimism here.” He smiled back at Ben and began to feel gently up Joe’s swollen, misshapen arm. His face was grim as he straightened. “On the other hand, Joe’s arm is a mess. It’s broken in at least three places and I’ll have to set them. I can’t put on a cast until the swelling is down, so I’d appreciate it if you could get me a couple of bits of wood for a splint.”

“Will I…have use of…my hand…after?” Joe asked. Even the doctor’s feather-light touch had sent rivers of agony up his injured arm.

“I hope so,” Paul replied, cautiously, and saw Joe blanch. “The injury is severe, Joe.”

“I know,” Joe whispered. His eyes sought Ben’s and Ben responded at once, leaning over the bed to brush the hair back from Joe’s forehead. Paul wondered how many times he had seen that very gesture.

“It’ll be all right, Joseph,” Ben whispered, knowing that he shouldn’t make rash promises, but unable to help himself. He saw Paul leave the room and assumed that he was going to get the sticks for splints, but he didn’t ask. All he knew was that he had the precious time with his son that he had hoped for and knew he must set things straight between them. “Joe, I have an apology to make,” he admitted.

“You?” Joe asked, clearly surprised.

“Yes,” Ben nodded. “I have to apologize for the way I treated you over Captain. I was wrong about that horse, Joe; completely wrong. He is everything you said he was, and more. I shouldn’t have been so down on your judgment, Joe. You know horses and that is why I put you in charge of the horses for the ranch. I think I was afraid because of what happened with Satan. I should have trusted you more. I’m sorry. Can you forgive me?”

“I shouldn’t have gone off like that,” Joe replied. “Please, forgive me, too?”

“Always,” Ben told him. “Always, son.”

Weeks of hurt and misunderstanding melted away as though they had never been. Ben held Joe’s hand, too afraid to hold him properly in case he hurt him, and that was how Paul, Hoss and Adam found them a few minutes later.

“Hoss is going to help me here, Ben,” Paul told him. “And you’re going to go downstairs with Adam and have something to eat and drink.”

“All right,” Ben agreed, seeing that he was out numbered. “I’ll be right downstairs if you need me,” he told Joe, who smiled.

“I know,” Joe replied. His eyes tracked Ben as his father walked to the door, and then he sighed, wincing almost immediately.

“Here goes,” Paul said, and applied the chloroform.

*****

“The horse is that good?” Adam asked, skeptically.

“That good,” Ben reiterated, sipping his coffee. The brew was strong and bitter and warmed him through. “Joe was right and I was wrong to doubt him.”

“Maybe,” Adam murmured, thoughtfully. “But Joe behaved very badly over it. He shouldn’t have run away like that; he should have come to you and sat down and discussed the situation.”

“And there’s the root of the problem, I think,” Ben replied.

“How do you mean?” Adam asked.

“That’s what you’d do, Adam,” Ben answered. “But Joe isn’t you and he took more direct action. You know Joe; act first and think later. This was a prime example of that. He was sorry he worried us, but he had to show me that his judgment was correct. I refused to see the evidence in front of my face and so caused us weeks of misery. Joe was right – I do sometimes treat him like a child. I need to remember – we all do – that Joe is an adult.”

There was silence while Adam thought this through and Ben’s thoughts returned to the room above them, where Joe lay sleeping under the influence of drugs. Adam could see that Ben was right. “I guess I’d better look at this wonder horse for myself,” he commented.

“Good idea,” Ben agreed. “Take him out for a ride. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

*****

Over the next twelve hours, someone was always with Joe. Paul had a couple of hours sleep in the spare room in preparation for being up all night. Joe came round from the anesthetic and was immediately able to wriggle his fingers, although it hurt. The breaks had been serious, but not as severe as Paul had first thought.

The vigil wore on, with everyone taking a shift and getting some sleep. Joe lay deathly still, deep in a drugged sleep. Paul didn’t want him to move about at all if possible and this was the best way to give him rest.

But when at last the dawn came, the bruising had not spread and Paul pronounced the danger of internal bleeding was over. The relief was overwhelming and Ben had to wipe away a tear. Paul set off for home, telling Ben that Joe would gradually wake up over the course of the day as the drugs wore off. He left some pain relief, knowing that Joe would need it for the next few days and promised to get back out to check on Joe later.

Now that Joe was out of immediate danger, Adam and Hoss went out to the barn to look at Captain. The big bay greeted them enthusiastically and Adam went to get his saddle while Hoss fed Captain a bit of liquorish.

The ride that Captain gave Adam was one of the best he had ever had. The horse was ultra-responsive to the bit and behaved impeccably throughout. Adam had to admit he was impressed. If Joe’s new method of breaking horses got this result, Adam was all for it, although he had rubbished the idea before. He realized he would have a lot of humble pie to eat.

And so it was, when Joe woke again later that day, Adam was sitting with him. “Hi,” Joe breathed.

“You’re awake at last,” Adam smiled. “Good. How do you feel?”

“Sore,” Joe responded truthfully. He hurt too much to lie.

“Pa will be up with your medicine soon,” Adam told him. “Joe, I have an apology to make.”

“Oh?” Joe asked, uninterestedly.

“I rode Captain today,” Adam confessed. “And I’ve never ridden a nicer horse. Joe, I’m sorry I was so nasty to you about him. I was angry that you’d gone off and worried us. I thought it was just a childish trick to get your own way with Pa. I’m sorry. You were right; he is quite a horse.”

“That’s all right,” Joe responded.

“No, its not,” Adam replied. “Joe I was jealous of you. I was jealous that you saw something in that horse that I hadn’t. I shouldn’t have been. I want you to forgive me, please.”

It wasn’t often that Adam ate humble pie like that and Joe was touched. “I forgive you,” he answered. He moved fractionally and caught his breath. When he opened his eyes again, Adam was watching him worriedly. “I’m all right,” Joe assured his brother. As all right as I can be, he thought, ruefully. “So you like my horse, then,” he smiled.

“’My kingdom for a horse’,” Adam quoted and Joe winced.

“Richard III,” Joe responded. “Act 5 scene 4.”

“How did you know that?” Adam asked, frankly astounded as Joe freely admitted he didn’t like Shakespeare.

Grinning cheekily, Joe replied, “It’s about a horse.”

“What’s about a horse?” Ben asked, coming into the room and smiling as he saw Joe awake.

“The only bit of Shakespeare Joe remembers is about a horse!” Adam complained.

Listening with half an ear to Adam’s explanation, Ben thought that Shakespeare had it wrong. He wouldn’t have given his kingdom for a horse, but he would willingly have given it for any of his sons.

“Pa?” Joe questioned, seeing Ben’s mind was far away.

Smiling, Ben looked down at Joe. The best news he could have had was that Joe was going to be better. “The doctor says you can have something to eat. Let’s get you sitting up a bit, shall we? Then we won’t get soup on the pillowcases.”

Joe caught Adam’s eye and they both began to laugh, remembering one famous occasion that Joe was looking after Adam, who had hurt his back* and the pillowcases hadn’t survived!

“Don’t make me laugh, it hurts,” Joe wheezed, but he couldn’t repress another giggle as Ben and Adam helped him sit up.

At that moment, Ben was convinced that all would be well.

***End***

“Love Will Tear Us Apart” by Claire

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