Silence in the Storm (by Rona)

Summary:

Rated:  PG
Word Count:  10,849


 

The wind howled around the side of the mountains and battered through the sparse trees. Hail was driven horizontally by the 60 mile-per-hour gales. The horses panicked, rearing and dancing about on the treacherous track that they were traversing. “We’ve got to get to shelter!” yelled Hoss Cartwright, the tallest and broadest built of the three Cartwright sons. His voice was snatched away on the wind and the only person that heard him was the horse he was leading.

His warning was superfluous anyway. Both Adam and Joe were well aware that they needed to get to shelter until this storm blew itself out. April was a capricious month and today, the pleasantly warm sunshine had suddenly given way to this storm which came directly from the heart of winter. Just up ahead, less than half a mile away, was the corral and line shack where the boys were working with the two-year-old colts and fillies. Their own horses were there and safe, but in the meantime, they were trapped on the narrow trail, with a steep drop on one side, with panicky young horses. It was far from an ideal solution.

The skewbald colt that Joe was leading – one of Satan’s offspring – balked, refusing to go another step. Joe turned to the young animal, soothing it, stroking its nose and neck, murmuring nonsense in a low voice. The colt pricked its ears to catch the low sound, and Joe urged it onwards once more. Reassured, if only for the moment, the colt began to follow along.

The bolt of lightning caught them all by surprise. The skewbald reared, dragging Joe off his feet for a moment, before the rope burned painfully though his hands. He dropped awkwardly to the trail, barely catching himself on the edge and landing on his knees. As he struggled to his feet, the colt reared once more, and this time, the flailing hoof caught Joe in the middle of the chest and knocked him backwards. For a moment, Joe teetered on the edge, then his balance went too far. With a scream, he fell over the edge and disappeared from sight.

*****

“Yes, I think you should bring the two-year-olds in,” Ben agreed. Joe was perched on the edge of Ben’s desk while they discussed the horses. “But they won’t be ready to do much to, will they?”

“No,” Joe agreed. “But we need to keep handling them, or they’ll be really intractable when we come to break them.” Joe still did a lot of traditional horse-breaking, but more and more he was leaning towards teaching the animals while young, so they weren’t scared when it came time to be saddled. Joe was convinced that the horses made better, more reliable mounts that way, and Ben was beginning to agree with him. Certainly, it had worked spectacularly well with War Bonnet, the Medicine Hat horse Joe had bred. The young stallion had accepted being saddled long before Ben had thought it would be ready and Ben had been impressed. During an encounter with the Indians, War Bonnet had broken free and had not been seen since.

“Getting tired of hitting the ground at high speed, little brother?” Adam asked. He wouldn’t in the least blame Joe if he was; horse breaking was tough work. Adam had been quite relieved when Joe had shown such an interest and aptitude for horse breaking; it allowed him to do other things, and not worry about hurting his sometimes bad back.

Joe frowned. “Are you trying to imply I’m wriggling out of the breaking?” he demanded.

“No, I’m not,” Adam sighed. There were times when Joe simply couldn’t see that Adam was teasing him, usually when Joe was intent on whatever was at hand.  He was also ultra-sensitive of criticism from Adam, whether real or implied. “I was just teasing,” he explained.

“Sorry,” Joe apologized. He knew he was touchy about his new method of breaking, mostly because of the skepticism and rude comments it evoked in other horsemen. Joe had proof that his method worked and he couldn’t see why others couldn’t see the advantages, too.

Studying his sons, Ben could see that the winter had taken its toll on them. They were paler than usual, although Joe’s skin was perpetually golden. Adam looked thin and tired to Ben’s parental eye; his oldest son had had a bout of bronchitis in January, which had been reluctant to leave. They all – Hoss included – could do with a break before calving started in a couple of week’s time. Joe’s idea of going to handle the two year olds sounded like a nice, peaceful diversion for them all.

“Why don’t you all go?” Ben suggested. “Stay for a few nights in one of the line shacks. That way, you won’t waste half the day riding back and forth.”

“But what about…?” Adam began.

“I think I can handle whatever comes up,” Ben told his son, smiling to take the sting from the words. “You boys go off and do this. Have fun before we have to worry about calving.”

“Sounds good!” Joe exclaimed, always eager for a break from routine. “What d’you say, Adam?”

“I hate to leave you with all the work, Pa,” Adam began slowly, but in truth, the idea sounded good to him, too.

“Go on,” Ben scolded. “Go and tell your brother Hoss that the three of you are going to have a few days alone together.”

“All right,” Adam agreed, smiling. He slung his arm around Joe’s neck and gave his brother a brief squeeze before letting go as Joe bounded towards the door, eager to get out to the barn to tell Hoss of the plan.

*****

Two days later, the Cartwright boys headed out. Joe had the colts confined in a large grassy meadow that covered several square miles, allowing the young animals the illusion of freedom, but also allowing the young man to know exactly where they were to be found.  There was already a rough corral by the nearest line shack and that was where the boys were going to make their base.

“See you in a few days!” Ben called after them as they rode away. He received waves from them all before they disappeared around the side of the barn.

Heaving a sigh as the sound of the hoof beats died away, Ben thought how quiet the yard suddenly was without his sons. There was still the usual bustle and activity as the hands prepared to go off to their allotted chores, but the voices that Ben so loved and needed to hear were missing for the time being. Chiding himself as a sentimental old fool, Ben went over to the barn to get his horse.

*****

It was rather like being let out of school early, Joe reflected as he rode along. He was looking forward to this time alone with his brothers. He and Hoss almost always got along; it was a rare occasion when they fell out. But Joe’s relationship with Adam was more strained. Sometimes, they got along just fine; at other times, they were at each other’s throats. Joe knew that Adam was skeptical about Joe’s new method of training horses and Joe was keen to show him how well it would work.

“You think we brought enough food?” Hoss fretted aloud.

“You know there are supplies in the shack,” Adam patiently reminded him. “And we can get a rabbit or two, I’m sure.” Hoss had been elected cook this trip and he always worried that there wasn’t enough. Joe’s appetite, which was generally healthy enough, always increased when they were outside a lot.

“’Sides,” Joe chimed in cheerfully, “if your food is that bad, we’re only a couple of hours from home. We can pop back and get a square meal.” He laughed at the look of outrage on his brother’s face. “I was only teasing,” he shrieked as Hoss urged Chub towards Joe. “Adam, help!”

“You’re on your own there, little brother,” Adam replied, edging Sport out of the way to allow Hoss easier access.

Still laughing, Joe urged Cochise into a gallop and the pinto stretched out across the grassland, with Chub, taller and longer striding, close behind. But Cochise had the turn of speed and soon outdistanced his stable mate. Joe sent a triumphant look over his shoulder as he pulled his horse to a trot. Adam smiled back. It looked like it would be a good few days.

*****

It took them only a few minutes to settle into the shack. Joe tended to the horses while Adam lit the stove and Hoss brought in the saddlebags and got fresh water. There was plenty of daylight left, so Joe walked up to the meadow to look at the colts and it wasn’t long before Adam and Hoss joined him.

“Is it jist me,” Hoss began, “or are there more pintos among this lot than usual?”

“I think you’re right,” Joe agreed readily. He had noticed that as the years passed and Satan got older, more and more of his colts bore his distinctive coloring. He felt a sudden pang of longing for his lost horse, War Bonnet. The animal had never been seen again, and Joe could only suppose that it had met with an accident, or had been captured by another tribe of Indians. Twice more, he had repeated the experiment of breeding his tri-colored mare to the skewbald stallion, but although both foals were beautifully marked, neither was a Medicine Hat horse.

“Are pintos economically viable?” Adam asked. “Most people prefer to have a solidly colored horse.”

“The older people do,” Joe agreed, biting back his desire to be angry. Adam was once more just asking for information and Joe was determined to educate his oldest brother. Adam might do the books, and knew that the horses made a very decent profit, but he didn’t know which animals were sold for how much. “But a lot of the younger ones want something flashy, like a pinto. And good cow ponies sell, regardless of their color, Adam.”

“I guess they do,” Adam muttered. He started looking at the horses again.

Also eyeing the animals, Joe mentally noted the ones that would require gelding and looked for any injuries or lameness amongst the young stock, but they seemed, at a distance, to be remarkably blemish free.

“Let’s go fishin’,” Hoss suggested. “We can start on them horses tomorra. I fancy some fresh fish for supper.”

“Sounds good,” Joe replied, enthusiastically. Both he and Hoss glanced at Adam.  Since this was nominally Joe’s show, Adam really couldn’t say anything about when they started working, but as he was the eldest, he often felt he should show an example and although an afternoon’s fishing was something he enjoyed, his conscience often got in the way and wouldn’t allow him to slope off.

But not today. “I’m all for it!” he agreed and the brothers headed back to fashion some rough fishing poles and spent the rest of the afternoon in peaceable companionship.

*****

The next morning saw the start of the tedious part of the job; bringing the colts in.  Initially, the horses were skittish, turning tail and walking determinedly away from the humans, but soon the sweet hay that Joe had brought persuaded them to come closer and before long, Joe was in amongst the horses, petting this one, scratching that one and gently haltering them one by one. When they all had a horse, Joe led the way out of the meadow and along the trail, back to the corral. All the time, he kept up a low voiced chatter, commenting on the world in general and what he expected of the horse. Even though Joe knew that the horses didn’t understand the half of it, he always preferred to tell them what he intended and what he expected. Even if this was just whimsy on his part, he found that, more often than not, the horse did do as expected.

The most direct route between the meadow and the corral was along a narrow trail with a steep drop along one side. There was a more circuitous route, but Joe reasoned that horses are sure footed and there might come a time when they were expected to go along such a trail and it wouldn’t do them any harm. Adam looked skeptical, but when Joe volunteered to lead each horse along and went first, Adam saw that his brother had a point. The trail, although narrow, was broad enough for human and horse to go along together and the horse Joe was leading went quietly.  The other horses followed Adam and Hoss willingly.

There was no doubt about it; moving 25 horses was time consuming. At each end, Joe fussed over the horses, rewarding their good behavior and cooperation. There was also the walking back and forth, plus the time required for Joe to catch the horses. For some reason, the young animals wouldn’t allow Adam or Hoss to halter them, just Joe. By noon, they had only moved about half of the horses.

The short lunch break was appreciated by all three men, but Joe was raring to go, so they didn’t linger. Adam estimated they would have all the animals moved before supper. Since Hoss was going to be cooking that night, it was agreed that Hoss would start the supper while Adam went back to help Joe bring the last two horses.

“Say, Joe, ain’t that one like Satan?” Hoss whistled as Joe led the magnificent pinto out of the corral. The young stallion already had a presence about him.

“Sure is,” Joe agreed, smiling. “Don’t you think so, Adam?” He glanced over at his older brother and caught the frown on Adam’s face. “What?” he asked, perplexed.

“I don’t know if that’s a compliment,” Adam replied. “Oh don’t get me wrong, Joe; he’s a good-looking colt. But there’s something about him…”

“Just because he’s like Satan?” Joe retorted, bitterly. He knew that Adam feared for Joe’s life every time he came in contact with the big stallion and as a consequence, Adam hated the horse, although he would seldom admit it. “Not that again! We’ve been through this a thousand times! Satan is a wild horse, but we’ve had no problem with his off-spring.”

“I know,” Adam responded. “And I’m sorry. But I can’t help myself. I know it’s irrational, but I just get an uneasy feeling whenever Satan’s name comes up.” Adam looked over his shoulder, as if expecting the horse to materialize out of thin air.

Once more quelling the desire to be angry, and convincing himself that, this time, he would get through to his brother, Joe replied, “Satan’s far from here, Adam. And he’s warier now he’s older. He knows the routines too well. But this fella here isn’t Satan, even if he does look like him. He’s just another horse that we’re going to break and sell.” Joe tried a smile. “Think of him as money on the hoof!”

“I know,” Adam replied and he smiled, too. Hoss looked relieved. He knew how stubborn both his brothers could be and hadn’t really been in the mood to step between them, should they have decided to bump heads. “And you’ve certainly been right about these horses so far.” He turned to lead the way, not seeing the smile broadening on Joe’s face.

*****

The wind howled around the side of the mountains and battered through the sparse trees. Hail was driven horizontally by the 60 mile-per-hour gales. The horses panicked, rearing and dancing about on the treacherous track that they were traversing. “We’ve got to get to shelter!” yelled Hoss Cartwright, the tallest and broadest built of the three Cartwright sons. His voice was snatched away on the wind and the only person that heard him was the horse he was leading.

His warning was superfluous anyway. Both Adam and Joe were well aware that they needed to get to shelter until this storm blew itself out. April was a capricious month and today, the pleasantly warm sunshine had suddenly given way to this storm which came directly from the heart of winter. Just up ahead, less than half a mile away, was the corral and line shack where the boys were working with the two-year-old colts and fillies. Their own horses were there and safe, but in the meantime, they were trapped on the narrow trail, with a steep drop on one side, with panicky young horses. It was far from an ideal solution.

The skewbald colt that Joe was leading – one of Satan’s offspring – balked, refusing to go another step. Joe turned to the young animal, soothing it, stroking its nose and neck, murmuring nonsense in a low voice. The colt pricked its ears to catch the low sound, and Joe urged it onwards once more. Reassured, if only for the moment, the colt began to follow along.

The bolt of lightning caught them all by surprise. The skewbald reared, dragging Joe off his feet for a moment, before the rope burned painfully though his hands. He dropped awkwardly to the trail, barely catching himself on the edge and landing on his knees. As he struggled to his feet, the colt reared once more, and this time, the flailing hoof caught Joe in the middle of the chest and knocked him backwards. For a moment, Joe teetered on the edge, then his balance went too far. With a scream, he fell over the edge and disappeared from sight.

*****

For a moment, Adam and Hoss stood there, frozen, gazing at the edge of the trail where Joe had just vanished. But despite their first impulse to rush after Joe, they couldn’t. They were still in trouble, on the trail with three panicky horses, one of which was now loose.

Since he was closest, Hoss decided that he had to catch the loose horse. He soothed his own colt and began to edge past it, stretching out his hand to grab the dangling lead rope. But the skewbald was thoroughly spooked and Hoss’ movement was the last straw. It dodged and whirled around, barely missing falling over the edge, and fled, lead rope trailing behind.

There was nothing for it but to keep going. Turning the horses loose would just increase the danger Adam and Hoss were in. The storm was getting more intense, and they knew if they didn’t get the horses off the trail, they could end up like Joe.

Leading the horse along the trail, Adam fought to keep his thoughts from lingering on Joe, lying somewhere, either dead or dying, but he had no success. Hoss had no better luck. His mind replayed over and over again the scene of Joe falling over the edge.

They reached the shack at last and turned the horses into the corral before they staggered against the wind into the hut, where they paused to catch their breath for a moment. “Get the ropes,” Adam panted. “I’ll get our slickers and blankets.”

“Adam, d’ya think…?”

“Don’t go there!” Adam warned. “Don’t think! Joe needs our help, and fast!” He hurried over to the bed to strip the blankets off it and snatched up their rain slickers from the corner where Joe had dropped them the previous afternoon. Adam’s heart contracted painfully as he remembered. Hoss grabbed the saddles and hurried out to saddle their horses.

The storm hadn’t eased any, and the horses were reluctant to face it. But Adam and Hoss were both determined and before long, they were headed for the place they thought Joe was most likely to be. The rain and hail battered in their faces the whole way. They were already soaked and neither of them noticed or cared.

“There he is!” Hoss cried, spying Joe’s body lying on the ground. They had been searching for over half an hour.

Flinging themselves from their horses, both men reached for their brother. It was with mingled delight and worry that they saw he was breathing, but was lying so very still. Common sense suddenly reared its head with Adam and he put out a hand to stop Hoss from moving Joe. “Wait!” he ordered. Hoss sent him a shocked look.

“Why?” he demanded, suddenly furiously angry. “We gotta help him, Adam!”

“I know,” Adam soothed. “But we don’t know how bad Joe’s hurt. We can’t move him until we find that out.” Adam dropped to his knees by Joe’s side and peered into his brother’s face.

Joe was lying on his stomach, his right arm flung out wide and his left trapped under his body. His hat was long gone, his curls plastered flat against his head by the torrential rain. Adam had no way to know if Joe had been conscious before they arrived, but the cold hand of fear was gripping his gut and he suspected that Joe hadn’t moved since the fall. Joe’s clothes were torn here and there and a twig caught in Joe’s hair suggested that his fall had been partially broken by the trees that grew sparsely on the hillside. But Adam’s heart still lurched as he spied the blood on Joe’s head.

“How bad is he?” Hoss asked, leaning over and trying to shelter Joe from the worst of the rain.

“Pretty bad,” Adam admitted. He began to feel down Joe’s right arm gently, and was relieved to find it intact. However, he wasn’t as sanguine for the rest of Joe’s limbs, or his back. What if his back was broken? Adam resolutely shoved away the thought.

It was impossible for a layman to tell if there was any breakage in the back or not. Adam didn’t even try. He gently felt down Joe’s legs and realized that Joe’s left leg was broken just below the knee. Pressure on Joe’s ribs elicited several grunts of pain from the unconscious man. Adam sat up. He couldn’t check on Joe’s left arm until they moved him and Adam was reluctant to move him any more than was necessary.

“Well?” Hoss demanded anxiously. “How is he?”

“Broken leg and ribs,” Adam replied. “I don’t know about anything else. We’ve got to get him to shelter.” He glanced around. “Hoss, could you rig up the slickers somehow over there? Make a temporary shelter?” Adam pointed to the slightly more sheltered spot across from where Joe lay, made by a closely grouped bunch of trees. The hail was slowly turning to sleet, which in turn was giving way to snow, and the ground was beginning to turn white, but there seemed to be less white in the spot Adam indicated.

“I guess,” Hoss allowed doubtfully, peering over. “But why don’t we jist take him back ta the shack?”

“I don’t want to move him any distance without a wagon,” Adam explained. “I don’t know if he’s injured his back. You’ll need to ride for help, Hoss, and bring a wagon back here.”

“Adam, ya’ll be here fer hours!” Hoss protested. “An’ this weather ain’t getting’ any better!”

“I know,” Adam replied through gritted teeth. “But we daren’t move Joe too much! He fell down that slope, and through the trees, judging by the evidence. He hasn’t done more than groan since we got here. Does that sound like good news to you?”

The instant the words were out of his mouth, Adam wished he could call them back. Hoss went suddenly very white and his eyes cut back to the still figure of his younger brother. Adam’s anxiety had made him say what was in his mind without any care for his middle brother’s feelings. “Hoss, I’m sorry,” he said, quickly. “I didn’t mean to say it like that. But Joe is badly hurt and I’m afraid to move him.”

“I unnerstand,” Hoss nodded and snatched up the slickers to lace them together with the rope and lash them to the trees. Within a short time, he had a makeshift shelter built and then he and Adam gently lifted Joe and carried him over to lay him on the blanket Adam had put on the cold ground.

“His left arm is broken,” Adam reported, as he settled it carefully on Joe’s chest. He wrapped Joe in the other two blankets they had brought. It was a relief to be out of the howling wind. But Adam’s anxiety was not just for Joe now. He looked at Hoss. “I’m sorry to send you out in this weather,” he apologized. “But we can’t wait for it to blow over.”

“I’ll be all right,” Hoss declared stoutly. “Ya jist take care o’ Shortshanks, ya hear me?” He bent down to gently ruffle Joe’s curls, careful to avoid the gash on his brother’s forehead. Joe’s face was pale under its coating of dirt. “Ya hurry an’ waken up, Punkin,” he urged in a soft voice. “Ol’ Hoss is gonna hurry.”

There was no movement, no response. Hoss’ face was set and white. “I’ll be quick,” he promised and hurried off to mount his horse.

*****

Normally, the journey back to the ranch wouldn’t have taken Hoss quite two hours, but this time, riding into the teeth of the gale, he knew it was going to take longer. The weather was deteriorating, and before long, Hoss’ front was coated in wet snow and he was shivering uncontrollably. Chub was noticeably unhappy about going into the wind, and Hoss had to keep a sharp eye on his surroundings to make sure they didn’t go off track.

It was impossible to keep his mind off Joe. Hoss tried to believe that Joe would be all right, but the picture of his brother’s still, white face kept popping into his mind and his natural optimism was sorely tried by it. All his life, Hoss had done his best to protect Joe, and now he chided himself that perhaps there was something he could have done to prevent the accident. In his heart, he knew there wasn’t. It could have been any of them lying there on the ground and Hoss would have preferred that it was him, rather than Joe.

Three hours had passed by the time Hoss arrived back in the yard. He was so cold he was almost beyond shivering. Chub was exhausted, his head drooping wearily down to his knees as Hoss pulled him gently to a standstill in the yard. “Pa!” he shouted, sliding down and nearly falling as his frozen, stiff legs threatened not to support him. “Pa!”

The house door opened and Ben came out, frowning. “Hoss? What are you doing here? Where are Adam and Joe?”

“There’s bin an accident,” Hoss told him. Ben’s face drained of all color and his breath caught in his throat as he waited to hear the details. Quickly, Hoss sketched in what had happened, as Ben drew him into the house.

“You stay here!” Ben ordered as he snatched up his coat and hat. “I’ll get the wagon and the men and I will go and get them.”

“Ya’ll never find them without me,” Hoss insisted. “It’d take too long. I can take ya right to ‘em.”

“You’re soaked through, son,” Ben reminded him. “And it’s still snowing.”

“I’ll git changed while ya git the wagon ready,” Hoss replied. “I’m comin’ with ya, Pa.”

Unsure, knowing that what Hoss had said was the truth, Ben hesitated. “We’ll see when I’m ready to go,” he replied, evasively. He was extremely anxious to get to Adam and Joe, but he didn’t want to put Hoss’ health at risk to do so.

“I’m comin’,” Hoss repeated stubbornly as his father went to the door. He stripped off his soaking coat and dropped it on the floor, ignoring the mutterings coming from Hop Sing. Quickly, he climbed the stairs and got changed, feeling the warmth of the house beginning to thaw his frozen limbs. He dreaded going out in the snow again, but his brothers needed him and Hoss was determined not to waste any more time. When Ben came back in, Hoss was waiting for him. “I’m comin’,” he repeated and went outside, not waiting for Ben.

The hands hadn’t wasted any time and the wagon stood ready with the cover in place to protect the injured man from the snow, which was now falling steadily. The wind was finally dropping and the snow was wet. It clearly wasn’t going to lie for long, but however long it lay was too long for Joe. “Let’s go,” Ben told Hoss and climbed onto the wagon seat. Hoss mounted the horse that had been saddled for him and led the way.

*****

From somewhere, Joe could hear voices talking. He thought it sounded like Adam and Hoss but he couldn’t be sure. The storm seemed to have stopped, because he couldn’t hear the wind howling any more. Joe thought it was odd that he couldn’t open his eyes, but he was so tired that it was easier not to struggle. Something poked him in the ribs and he couldn’t stifle a grunt of pain. Again, he could hear talking, and this time he was sure it was his brothers, but he was too tired to try and speak to them. He drifted off into sleep.

A while later – Joe couldn’t judge the time – he felt himself being lifted. Pain lanced through his body and he wanted to cry out and stop whoever was moving him. But then he was drifting away again, shivering slightly in the cold. The pain and the cold were tiring, and he was already so tired. For a brief moment Joe was alarmed – why was he so tired? – but he couldn’t stop his drift down into the comforting darkness and he heard no more.

*****

The waiting seemed interminable to Adam. He kept up a string of chat with Joe, cajoling and pleading with his brother to open his eyes. Joe didn’t stir, although when Adam carefully lifted his head, he swallowed some water. Hoss’ shelter kept the worst of the weather off them, but Adam was soaking. Shivering, Adam huddled close to Joe, hoping to keep his brother as warm as possible. Anxiety ate away at Adam’s gut. Surely his brother shouldn’t have been unconscious for so long? What if Joe was seriously injured and Adam had made the wrong decision and should’ve decided to take him back to the ranch – or at least the shack – to get medical attention.

“Wake up, Joe,” he urged. “Please, buddy. I’m getting really anxious here.” It wasn’t often Adam could admit to that kind of anxiety openly, but Joe’s stillness was fast shredding Adam’s noted composure. Isolation wasn’t helping, either.

Rising to his feet, Adam took a turn about their small shelter, trying to keep his circulation going. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been so cold and wet. Regaining his position by Joe’s head, Adam felt Joe’s head to check for fever. Joe’s head seemed warm, but Adam’s hand was icy cold and he found it impossible to gauge his brother’s temperature.

Dragging out his watch, Adam looked at the time, but it seemed to him that the hands were standing still. Time had lost its meaning. Adam had no idea when Hoss had set off for the ranch and he sent up a silent prayer that his middle brother wouldn’t run into any trouble. They already had all the trouble they could handle.

He must have dozed off for Adam came back to wakefulness with a jolt. Blinking, he dragged a hand across his face and looked round to see what had woken him. The wind had dropped back a good bit, but the snow was still falling, and the sky was quite dark. Adam wondered if he should have made a fire earlier. It would be possible to find some dry wood, but it would require Adam to leave Joe while he hunted for it and Adam wasn’t prepared to do that yet. Shaking his head, he berated himself for falling asleep and leaving Joe ‘alone’ in that sense.

“Adam.” The word was barely more than a breath, but Adam knew instantly what had drawn him from his sleep. He scrambled over to Joe’s side, leaning over to look closely into those beloved green eyes.

“Hi there,” he replied, smiling. “I thought you were going to sleep forever.”

Joe blinked. “What happened?” he asked. Adam strained to hear the quiet sound above the soft noise of the wind blowing snow against the slickers. “I…hurt.”

“You fell,” Adam reminded him gently. “You seem to have banged your head, because you’ve been unconscious for quite a while.”

“Have I?” Joe murmured. He didn’t sound very interested.

“Where do you hurt, Joe?” Adam asked. Joe didn’t reply, his eyes beginning to drift close. Adam was no doctor, but he knew how dangerous it was for someone with a head injury to go to sleep, especially when they had been unconscious for such a long time. Adam patted his face gently but insistently. “Joe, you’ve got to stay awake.”

“I’m tired,” Joe protested, petulantly.

“I know you are, buddy, but you’ve got to stay awake. Joe, listen to me!” Adam was seriously concerned. Until then, he hadn’t thought of the consequences of Joe’s awakening, but they were crowding into his mind now and he was just as afraid for his brother now that Joe was awake as he had been when Joe was still unconscious. “Joe, you’ve had a bad bump on the head, so you’ve got to stay awake. If you go to sleep now, you might not wake up again!”

With a visible effort, Joe forced his eyes open. He shivered and winced, his eyes seeking Adam’s to try and gain some comfort. He was confused and tired and sore and he didn’t understand any of this. He didn’t know where he was or what he had fallen off. “Pa?” he asked and Adam hid a wince.

“He’s on the way,” Adam assured him. “Hoss went to get him.” He forced another smile. “Joe, where do you hurt? Can you tell me?”

There was a massive sigh, and Joe’s eyelids dipped momentarily. “My head,” he whispered, each word clearly an effort. He blinked again, for his vision was blurring around the edges. “My arm.” Joe cast Adam another look, this one pleading to be allowed to go back to sleep, but Adam ignored it. Joe frowned, concentrating on what his body was telling him. A shiver wracked him and Joe winced miserably.

“I know you’re sore,” Adam commiserated with him. “But you need to keep telling me where it hurts, Joe. I need to know. It’s important.”

Wanting to please Adam, Joe made an effort to tell Adam what he wanted to know. “My ribs,” he muttered. Breathing was uncomfortable. “And my leg.”

“Which leg?” Adam wanted to know, feeling a measure of relief. He wouldn’t be completely reassured until Joe had seen a doctor and was walking about, but the fact that Joe could feel the pain in his broken leg was a comfort. Adam had removed Joe’s boot, but had not attempted to set the leg.

“Left,” Joe replied. “Like my arm.” The pain was suddenly almost overwhelming and Joe closed his eyes, the better to bear it. Darkness beckoned, offering him a silence in the storm.

“Joe!” Adam’s voice was sharp and he gave Joe a slight shake. “Joe, stay with me! Please, buddy, you’ve got to stay awake.”

The edge of fear in Adam’s voice penetrated the shallows of unconsciousness where Joe lingered and he forced himself to open his eyes once more to the cold, twilit world he now seemed to inhabit. “I’m awake,” he mumbled.

“What about your other leg, Joe?” Adam asked. He had to keep Joe awake at all costs, and talking about his injuries, even if in a roundabout way, was as good a way as any. “Can you feel it? Is it sore?”

There was a petulant sigh and Joe drew his right leg up slightly. “Aches,” he admitted, sliding the leg back down to the ground.

“All right,” Adam soothed, relief sending warm hope through him. “Joe, listen to me.” He watched the glazed green eyes slide over to meet his and Joe gave a slight nod. “You’ve broken your left arm and leg and I think maybe some ribs, too. And I told you you’ve bumped your head. So you’ve got to try and keep awake, but keep still, too. Are you warm enough?”

Was he warm enough? Joe wasn’t sure. “I dunno,” he admitted. Another shiver shook him, but Joe was suddenly stiflingly hot. He tried to throw off the blanket, but had forgotten about his broken arm. A jolt of horrific pain shot through his arm and Joe let out a cry of pain and surprise. His mind cleared for a moment, then the pain backed down and Joe could feel the fog settling in his mind again.

“Take it easy,” Adam soothed, reaching to stroke Joe’s hair. He could feel the growing fever in his brother’s body now and just hoped it was some sort of shock or reaction, and not that he was coming down with a bad cold or worse. “Would you like a drink?”

“Okay,” Joe agreed, to exhausted to try to tell Adam that he didn’t care much one way or the other. All he wanted was for the pain to stop and to go back to sleep. He drank a few mouthfuls, then turned his head away to indicate he’d finished. “I don’t feel too good,” he mumbled, his words slurring slightly.

The fear, which had abated slightly, came back in full force, and Adam felt his stomach clench and for a moment wondered if he was the one who would be sick. He swallowed convulsively several times before he was convinced that he wouldn’t lose the little that was in his stomach. Joe needed him; he didn’t have the time to indulge his queasy stomach. Besides, he chided himself, it was only nerves. He could throw up later, when Pa and Hoss arrived to take charge.

“You’ll be all right, Joe,” he assured his brother, forcing as much conviction into his tone as he could manage. “Do you remember what happened?”

“No,” Joe sighed. At that moment, he didn’t care. Everything was too much bother and he wanted Adam to leave him alone so that he could sleep. “I’m cold.” He tugged the blankets closer to his chin with his good hand.

Why hadn’t he thought of building a fire before? Adam chided himself. He was scared to leave Joe alone while he searched for dry wood, for he knew his brother would drift to sleep if he didn’t keep talking to him. Even as the thought crossed Adam’s mind, he saw Joe’s eyes drifting shut again. “Stay awake, Joe!” he urged once more.

“Don’t wanna,” Joe complained.

“You must!” Adam insisted. He wondered if he would be able to find enough dry wood to hand to light a small fire.

But before he could make any kind of decision about it, Adam saw shapes materializing out of the swirling snow and growing darkness. He jumped to his feet and shouted, “We’re here!” Whirling, he crouched by Joe again. “Joe, Pa’s here,” he cried, excitedly.

“That’s nice,” Joe responded.  He turned his head slightly but couldn’t see anyone, although he could hear voices. For a moment, Joe remembered the disembodied voices he had heard before and realized that they probably had been Adam and Hoss. But then the face he most wanted to see came into his line of vision and Joe felt tears in his eyes, although they didn’t fall. “Pa!” he exclaimed.

*****

As they rode through the snow, Ben could not help but worry as to what he would find when they reached his sons. The poor weather only added to his worries, but they were making quite good time. The wind had dropped although the snow still fell. Ben hurried the team as much as he dared.

Beside him, Hoss fought the urge to put his heel to his horse and race off. He would do Joe no good if he had an accident, too. Hoss had to lead Ben to his brothers. Silently, he prayed that Joe would be all right.

There was no conversation. Ben realized that night would have fallen by the time they reached Joe and Adam and they would have to spend the night either out in the open or at the line shack. From what Hoss had said, Ben suspected they would not be moving Joe more than was strictly necessary, which meant his son would be in the wagon. In fact, Ben vowed that all his sons would be in the wagon.

Time had no meaning. Ben knew that at least a couple of hours had passed before they arrived at the spot where Joe and Adam were, but he couldn’t have said how he passed those hours. They were just a passage of time that had to be endured. His relief when he heard Adam’s voice was overwhelming.

Jumping down from the wagon, Ben gave Adam a quick hug before he hurried over to the blanket-wrapped figure on the ground. Kneeling, heedless of the snow soaking into his pants, he bent over Joe, seeing the glazed green eyes, the wet hair and the dried blood. “Pa!” Joe exclaimed and Ben carefully drew his youngest son into a hug, feeling tears of thankfulness welling in his eyes that his son was alive.

*****

The interior of the wagon was cramped with all four of the Cartwrights in it, but none of them minded. The closeness allowed them to share their body heat, such as it was, and since Ben had thoughtfully provided dry clothes, they all soon felt better. Warm food and a hot drink would have made things better yet, but Ben didn’t want any of them wondering around in the snow, given the traumatic day they had had.

Leaving Adam to Hoss’ capable hands, Ben tended to Joe. His first move was to get his son into the wagon, which he accomplished with Hoss’ help. Joe cried out as he was moved and this time could not keep his grip on the world and slipped away into the beckoning darkness. Ben was frantic with worry, especially as Adam was haltingly explaining how long Joe had been out for. However, after a few minutes, Joe roused again and Ben relaxed slightly.

But the situation was about as far from ideal as it was possible to be. Joe refused to eat anything, claiming he was too tired, too queasy, too hot, too cold. The litany of complaints seemed endless, but Ben understood that Joe’s head injury had made him confused and unable to really say what was wrong. He simply soothed Joe and gave up trying to make him eat and concentrated on getting liquids into him. As the night went on, Adam and Hoss slept fitfully while Ben watched Joe sleeping, his eyes riveted on the regular rise and fall of his son’s chest.

By dawn, the snow was melting and it looked like it was going to be a nice day. Ben’s eyes were grainy, but he refused to let Adam sit with Joe on the journey back. He asked Hoss to drive the wagon and sent Adam on ahead to send for the doctor.  “And once you’re home, you stay there,” Ben ordered him. Adam was sniffing monotonously and coughing regularly, too. “Take a hot toddy, have a warm bath and go to bed!” he added sternly.

“I’m fine,” Adam assured him, nasally.

“And you’re still going to do as I asked,” Ben replied. “You’ve got a cold and I want to make sure it doesn’t turn into anything worse.”

“It’s just a sniff,” Adam protested, sounding more like Joe than he realized. But he mounted Hoss’ horse and rode off quickly, leading Cochise. Adam had slept poorly the previous night and bed sounded very tempting indeed right then. Hoss had gone to the shack and collected Joe’s horse that morning, and set free the horses in the corral. He knew Joe would be disappointed when he learned of that, but they had no time to worry about horses right then.

“Take things as steadily as you can, son,” Ben reminded Hoss unnecessarily, as the big man climbed onto the seat and took the reins.

“Sure will, Pa,” Hoss agreed. “Ya ready, Shortshanks?”

“I guess,” Joe answered, listlessly. He was in intense pain, despite everything Ben had done to make him comfortable. He wished he could slip back into sleep to pass the journey, but he knew it would be impossible. The jolting of the wagon took his breath away for the first few moments, and whenever he closed his eyes, Ben was there, cajoling him to stay awake if possible.

Later, Joe was never able to remember individual moments of the journey at all. It passed in one hellish haze of pain and the only constant was his father’s warm hand, which Joe clutched throughout, as though it was a talisman.

*****

The sudden commotion in the yard drew Adam out of a deep sleep. Disorientated, he glanced around his room, wondering why he was sleeping during the day. Memory came back with a rush and he pushed the covers aside and reached for his robe, shrugging it on as he headed for the door.

The first person he met in the hallway was Hoss. “I didn’t mean to go to sleep,” Adam apologized, as though Hoss was aware Adam had been sleeping. The clues – nightshirt, robe, tousled hair and sleep-swollen face – were there, but Hoss hadn’t had time to notice them.

“It were what ya was needin’,” Hoss informed him bluntly. “Pa’s the next one what needs a sleep.”

“So do you,” Adam told his brother, rubbing sleep from his eyes. “How’s Joe?” he asked, his anxiety surfacing again.

“Not good,” Hoss replied, carrying on along the hall to open the door of Joe’s room. He noticed the warm fire with a satisfied nod and went over to pull back the covers on the bed, moving the stone hot water bottle out of the way.

Hearing footsteps on the stairs, Adam went into Joe’s room and sat down heavily in the chair by the window. He yawned noisily and washed his hands over his face. He glanced at the door as Ben, Doc Martin and a couple of the hands carefully carried Joe in and laid him on the bed.

The poorly stifled groan of pain told Adam that his brother was conscious and he rose to his feet and went over to the bed to smile down at Joe. “Hi there,” he greeted, softly.

“Hi,” Joe breathed. The younger man was pale to the point of transparency and he had bitten through his bottom lip trying to stifle his cries as he was carried from the wagon. The dark oblivion that had been so close and so tempting the day before seemed to have disappeared and Joe missed it sorely. He bravely tried to smile for Adam, who tried to smile back, but neither had much success.

“Joe, I need to ask you a few questions,” Doctor Paul Martin said, leaning over the bed. Joe had known the physician all his life and felt reassured that he was here now. “Can you remember what happened?”

“No,” Joe replied. He was panting as he tried to deal with the pain and he had somewhere lost his death grip on Ben’s hand.

Shooting a glance at Adam, Paul asked him instead. “What happened, Adam?”

Quickly, Adam and Hoss told the story between them. Hoss related coming to fetch Ben and Adam told the story of Joe’s long spell of unconsciousness. Although he didn’t show it, Paul was disquieted by the long gap between injury and treatment. He knew Joe’s pain would be worse than if the bones had been set promptly. “Does any of that sound familiar?” he asked Joe when Adam fell silent.

“I remember Adam talking to me,” Joe replied. He took a deep breath and winced at the pain in his ribs. “And I remember hearing voices in the silence in the storm.”

Beside Joe, Ben caught his breath and Paul sensed, rather than saw, him exchanged a worried glance with his other sons. Even though Paul didn’t know what Joe meant, years of practice meant his face didn’t change. “What do you mean?” he asked. “What is the silence in the storm?”

While Joe gathered his dwindling strength to answer the question that seemed, to him, utterly irrelevant, his family held their collective breaths, each fearing that Joe’s head injury was worse than they had first suspected. Had Joe lost his reason?

“You know,” Joe began, frowning, wondering why the doctor was being so stupid suddenly. “I could hear voices, but the storm seemed to have become silent. I could kind of feel the rain, but it was far away, you know? I think it was Adam and Hoss talking, but I couldn’t really hear what they were saying and I was so tired that I just wanted to go to sleep.”

More troubled glances were exchanged over Joe’s head, but Paul Martin was reassured. He had heard other patients talking about hearing what was going on around them, but being unable to respond. Joe wasn’t, despite his family’s fears, losing his mind. His memory might not be the same regarding that afternoon, but in all honesty, Paul didn’t see that as a problem. “Yes, I know what you mean,” he agreed and could almost hear the cogs ticking in the brains of the other Cartwrights. He gave Ben a reassuring smile. “All right, young man. I’m going to set these bones. I’m afraid it’s going to hurt like the devil, though.”

“Just do it,” Joe grated. His muscles grew tense as his family, still concerned over his mental state, but too scared to say anything in front of Joe, took hold of various bits of his body to hold him still. Joe let out a frightful shriek as his broken arm was set and slid off in a dead faint.

“That’s a relief,” Paul declared and went about his work in a much more relaxed manner. “I did think he might try and hold on. Thank goodness he let go.”

His face creased with worry, Ben stroked Joe’s tangled curls. “Paul, what was he…?”

“Don’t worry about it, Ben,” Paul replied. He grunted as he pulled against Hoss’ grip on Joe’s leg and felt the bones slide back into place. His sensitive, experienced fingers told him that the bones were aligned correctly and he straightened. “That’s quite a common thing to experience with a head injury. Not every part of the brain is as alert as it should be, but there shouldn’t be any lasting damage from it. The main thing is not to worry about it. If Joe senses that you are concerned about his ‘silence in the storm’, he’s going to become defensive about it. He is not losing his mind, Ben, rest assured.” Paul smiled, seeing that the worry hadn’t decreased one iota. “To Joe, it was probably quite a comforting place. He could sense that he wasn’t alone, and he had no pain. I often find this kind of thing is discussed when there are other injuries, too, and I wonder if it isn’t the body trying to protect itself. Sort of like a mental anesthesia.”

“I see,” Ben nodded and his face did look a bit more relaxed. Hoss was frowning, though, obviously not convinced by this and Adam drew him aside and began to talk intently at him, explaining Paul’s theory some more.

“Let’s get the splints on,” Paul suggested. “Then I can give Joe something for the pain.”

“Aren’t you going to use plaster?” Adam asked. He knew that Paul preferred this and went to great expense to procure the necessary ingredients for it.

“Not this time,” Paul replied, regretfully. “Look at the swelling on Joe’s leg. I’ll have to come out every day and check on it. The same on his arm. There was nothing you could have done to prevent this, Adam and I don’t want you to think otherwise, but Joe’s arm and leg should’ve been set yesterday.” He held up his hand to forestall whatever Adam was going to say. “I would only ever advocate amateurs setting bones if they were more than two days away from medical help. It may look easy, but that’s just practice and professionalism. You did the right thing.”

Before long, Joe’s leg and arm were splinted and bandaged. Joe’s eyes had remained tight shut throughout, but Paul reassured Ben that this was natural sleep. The dose of painkiller Paul had given Joe had helped him into this healing sleep. It took a bit of doing, but Paul finally persuaded Ben to sleep while Joe was sleeping and Adam persuaded Hoss to do the same, and he sat with Joe, his eyes riveted, as they had been a good bit of the day before, on his brother’s breathing.

*****

Over the next few days, Joe was often in pain as his injuries began to settle. Movement was restricted to sitting up in bed, and Joe found he couldn’t accomplish that alone because of the splints and the broken ribs. On wakening the first day, he had complained to Adam that the bandages around his ribs were too tight and he couldn’t breathe. By the time he had finished complaining about everything else, Adam found himself wishing the bandages were tighter still so that Joe didn’t have enough breath to talk! But he knew Joe didn’t mean to complain. He was concussed and in pain and wasn’t himself.

After about a week, the swelling had come down in Joe’s leg and arm and Paul Martin, who had been a daily visitor, put them into casts. Adam’s cold had settled into his chest, as often happened, and he had mostly kept his distance from Joe, not wanting to pass on the cough that plagued him so much.

As Joe began to make one of his trademark swift recoveries, he began to remember bits and pieces of the time leading up to the accident and asked Hoss about the colts. “What did you do about them?” he asked.

“Turned ‘em loose,” Hoss answered matter-of-factly. He had brought Joe a cup of coffee and some cookies up and was now engaged in polishing off as many cookies as he could manage before Joe objected. But Joe wasn’t interested in eating at that moment.

“Oh, I see,” Joe responded, his tone flat, despite his attempt to keep it neutral. He had known that his brothers would have had to do something like that, so he wasn’t sure why he was disappointed.

Keeping his attention on the plate of cookies so that Joe wouldn’t see the twinkle in his eye, Hoss nodded. “Yup. Had ta.” He nodded again. “Me an’ a bunch o’ the men rounded ‘em up fer ya yesterday.” He glanced up from under his brows in time to see the news sink in.

A broad grin spread over Joe’s face. “Really?” he cried excitedly. “You did that for me?”

“They’re yar horses, ain’t they?” Hoss replied, grinning broadly. “Ya cain’t break horses when ya don’ have none, can ya?”

“Gee, thanks, Hoss,” Joe mumbled, overcome suddenly. He dashed away the tears that threatened to fall. “Did you find….?”

“That one ya was leadin’?” Hoss replied. “Naw, I’m sorry, Shortshanks, I ain’t seen it nowheres. Don’ worry, though; horses have a habit of turnin’ up when ya least expect ‘em ta.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Joe agreed. He suddenly realized that there was only one cookie on the plate and he all but snatched it out of Hoss’ hand. “Hey, ya big galoot! These are my cookies! Hands off!”

The bedroom door opened as Joe crammed the whole cookie into his mouth. He almost choked as Ben came in with Paul Martin, who had brought out a crutch to allow Joe to get out of bed. “I thought you were supposed to be keeping Joe company, not encouraging his delinquent behavior,” Ben chided Hoss gently. “His manners aren’t anything to write home about as it is!”

Laughing, Hoss took his leave, heading back off to his afternoon chores while Ben and Paul helped Joe learn the tricky art of using a crutch when the arm you would prefer to use is unavailable. But with Joe’s natural balance and athleticism, he soon had the knack and Paul said he could go about some, as long as he didn’t attempt the stairs unaided.

It took a few days for Joe’s muscles to become used to the crutch, since he had been in bed for more than a week, but he was soon traversing the stairs every day so he could eat his meals with his family and sit in front of the fire. Sometimes, he would venture as far as the porch rocker, but he needed help to sit down in it and get out of it again, and Joe’s independent nature rebelled against asking for help if he could avoid it.

The increase in exercise and the fresh air had a corresponding effect on Joe’s appetite and he was soon eating heartily again and his unique laugh could be heard echoing around the house.

One morning, Adam came back from town to find Joe dozing lightly in the rocker, the sun on his face. A blanket had been draped over his knees to keep away any chill. Smiling, for Joe looked so young and innocent sleeping there, Adam tried to walk as quietly as he could, but Joe’s eyes opened the moment his boot heels hit the porch. “Hi, Adam,” he said, sleepily.

“I didn’t mean to wake you, buddy,” Adam apologized.

“That’s all right,” Joe replied. He rubbed his eyes and yawned. Adam sat down on the stool that Joe’s leg was propped on, and tickled Joe’s toes for a second. But he didn’t prolong the torture, knowing that it wasn’t fair.

“How’re you doing?” Adam asked.

“All right,” nodded Joe. “Adam, after the accident. Were you and Hoss talking about me while I was out?”

“Yes, of course we were,” Adam responded. “We were discussing what was best to do. Why?”

“Well.” Joe frowned as he tried to put the vague impressions into coherent words. “I could hear you talking, but I couldn’t really hear the words, do you know what I mean? And I couldn’t respond to you. I was so tired. And yet you say I was unconscious throughout.” Joe shook his head and a curl popped onto his forehead. Joe brushed it back, but it wouldn’t stay and after a couple of attempts to make it behave, Joe just left it. “I just don’t understand it.”

“Well, nor do I, completely,” Adam admitted. “But Paul Martin said he’s heard of this kind of thing before and thinks its kind of a safety device in the brain. It allows you to keep calm, even though you’re hurt badly. That way, you don’t worry too much and can allow your body to do what it needs to do to start repairing itself. With you, it seemed to need you to stay still and unconscious. Probably that was because of the bump you got. But whatever, it seems to have worked for you.” Adam peered at Joe, wondering if that garbled account made sense to his youngest brother, for it was something he still had a few problems with himself.

“Yeah, that sounds good to me,” Joe replied after thinking about it for a few moments. “I felt safe there. The darkness was warm and comforting. Nothing hurt when I was there and I couldn’t hear the wind at all.” His eyes were slightly unfocused as he concentrated on remembering the feelings. “The silence in the storm protected me,” he concluded.

For a time, they just sat in silence, neither wanting nor needing to talk. Then Joe stirred. “Can you help me up, please?” he asked, throwing the blanket off his knees.

“Sure,” Adam agreed, rising and going around to help. “Are you cold?”

“No,” Joe responded and colored slightly. “I need to go to the outhouse.” It had become a source of pride for Joe that he was able to visit the outhouse after a period where he was dependant on help from the others for this basic need.

“Can you manage?” Adam asked, not realizing that Joe had made this journey several times.

Deliberately misunderstanding, Joe grinned broadly. “I know you’re getting on a bit, big brother,” he jibed, “but I learned to pee alone many years ago, remember?”

“Get out of here!” Adam chided, but he couldn’t help grinning back. He went inside with the mail and then returned to the porch so he could keep an eye on Joe. However, his brother negotiated the trip there and back without a problem and stopped by the corral to pet his horse, Cochise. Adam went over to join him.

Suddenly, Cochise’s ears pricked and he looked over Joe’s shoulder, snorting. Adam turned first and froze. More slowly, Joe turned, too, his heart suddenly beating twice as fast as he saw the surprise on Adam’s face. What was behind him?

Somehow, Joe had rather expected a group of men with guns, but what he saw instead also froze him to the spot. There behind him was the colt he had been leading the day of the accident. It still had on the halter and the frayed rope dangled no more than a few inches long. The colt was looking at Joe and its ears were so pricked that they touched at the tip.

Swallowing, Joe found his voice. “Hi there, fella,” he murmured.

For an instant, the colt’s muscles tensed and Joe thought he would bolt. However, curiosity won and it stood its ground. “Joe,” Adam said, in a low voice.

“It’s all right, Adam,” Joe replied, in a smooth, calm voice. “I can do this. Just wait.”

There was utter confidence in Joe’s voice and Adam did as he was asked, although he was ready to knock Joe out of harm’s way should the need arise.

But Joe wasn’t afraid. Slowly, he extended one hand and left it there. “Come on then,” he coaxed the horse. “Nothing’s changed. Sure, I don’t look quite the way I did when you last saw me, but I smell the same, don’t I? I won’t hurt you. Come on, fella, come over and say hello.”

After a moment, the horse took a step forward and stopped again. Joe continued with his monologue, his hand still outstretched, even though his muscles were beginning to cramp from being so still. Later, Adam guessed that they stood there for almost 15 minutes as Joe coaxed the colt to come closer until at long last, he was able to stroke the trembling muzzle and finally grasp the rope hanging from the halter. Joe’s right hand rhythmically stroked down the brown-and-white neck while he murmured something too quiet for Adam to catch. But the colt was listening and it dropped its head and all but leaned on Joe – the prodigal son coming home where it was safe.

As he watched, Adam suddenly had an inkling of the place that Joe constantly referred to as ‘the silence in the storm’. For the colt, which had been running around loose for the last few weeks, had suddenly found a place where it felt completely safe and was oblivious to everything except the hand on its neck and the low voice murmuring in its ear. It had given its trust to Joe and now felt it had come home.

At long last, both horse and man moved and Adam saw the happiness shining from Joe’s face. “You can take him into the barn now, Adam,” he said. He patted the horse once more. “Go on, fella,” he urged. “You’ll be all right with him.” He watched as Adam let the colt sniff his hand, then took the rope and led the animal into the barn.

As he came out, Adam saw Joe standing there. He looked suddenly better, but Adam knew the change was in his own eyes, not in Joe’s actual appearance. Adam thought he looked better because he had an understanding of his brother that he had not had before.

Joe turned and smiled at him and Adam went over to help him back to the house. And he couldn’t help but wonder if he would ever be lucky enough to find his silence in the storm.

***End***

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