Summary: Joe finds a woman scorned is a dangerous situation, even if he has no idea his offense.
Rated: MA (21,980 words)
To Be Loved As No Other Series:
To Be Loved As No Other
Little Joe was bored. He had been desperately trying to stay out of trouble and be helpful around the ranch. Several weeks ago he had pushed his Pa one time too many, and he was now paying the price. He had crept out of his room after everyone else had gone to bed. That in itself was not the behavior that sent Ben into the fit of rage that had resulted in Joe’s current misery. After successfully escaping, Joe quietly saddled Cochise and had ridden into town. At seventeen he felt he was a man, and as such, deserved a night in town enjoying cards, beer, and flirting with the saloon girls. He devised his plan that morning, and it had been what had gotten him through his chores that day. However, the plan did not turn out quite as he had hoped. Having entered town, Joe went to the Bucket of Blood for cards. He quickly joined a game and was making money. A stranger sat across from him, and in Joe’s opinion was less than polite. This did not really bother Joe until he began drinking his third beer. Feeling lightheaded, he stopped focusing on his cards and started playing poorly. He then began to feel irritated at the stranger’s manner of addressing him. He started to think, this guy ought to be taught a lesson.
Joe decided to become the teacher after the stranger referred to Joe as a child for the fifteenth time. He knew it was the fifteenth time, because he had been counting, and he was sick of it. Without much thought, Joe put his hands under the table and flipped it up so that it landed almost in the stranger’s lap. That was all that was needed to get the fight going, and the rest to Joe was a blur.
Joe’s fighting in town was not something new to Ben either. It seemed to Ben that Joe actually liked a fight, and sometimes would go looking for one. The young man tended to agree with his father’s observation, but he usually preferred to fight when Adam, Hoss or one of his friends was present to watch his back, however, this time he did not have that luxury. Joe did pretty well he thought, being able to land more blows on the man than he had received. It was towards the end of the fight that the events occurred which fueled Ben’s anger to the point where Joe knew he was in more than the usual amount of trouble. When Joe contemplated going against his father he always factored in the punishment and decided if it was worth it. He had not counted on the fight, or the problems resulting from the fight when he had decided to go to Virginia City. He realized too late that he was in a lot of trouble this time.
What Joe now had to factor into his punishment were two things. The first was an expensive new mirror shipped all the way from England. It ended up breaking sometime during the fight. The owner of the saloon was trying to “snazzy up” the place and add a little bit of what he thought was class to his establishment by placing the mirror over the bar. During the fight a chair ended this attempt at class, as mirrored glass showered down on the bartender. The second unexpected event was that in the fight, Joe had ended up punching Roy Coffee, the town sheriff, causing Roy to fall over backwards throwing out his back.
The youngest Cartwright had returned to the ranch at sun up with a black eye and nausea in his stomach. He was not sure if it was from the beer or the fact he was going to have to tell Pa what happened. He was leaning towards the latter. Joe only confessed to his outings when his father had caught him and asked him questions. Even then, Joe made it a practice to ONLY answer what Ben had asked. He’d try and never lie to his father, but he felt that it was best that he practiced discretion. He knew though, this time was different, and he’d better be the one to tell Pa what had happened before Pa got the bill from the saloon and heard from Roy.
Some quick talking on Joe’s part had stopped Roy from locking him up for public brawling. For that Joe was relieved, but the mirror was going to cost $500.00. Joe was to pay the whole amount because several people in the saloon had told Roy it was the young man who had started the fight. Joe felt that maybe he could tell his father in a way that would make Ben not quite so mad. He had thought of ways to do this the whole ride home from Virginia City. He thought maybe he could point out that it is really stupid to have such an expensive mirror in of all places the Bucket of Blood. It was bound to get broke. It was just a matter of time. Joe continued to figure out what to tell Pa. He thought he would say that it was really unfair for his father to get mad at him for punching Roy. He felt real bad that Roy got hurt, but, he reasoned to himself, in a fight he did not have time to look at EVERYONE he was hitting. He would have been clobbered if he had done that, and after all, his family had taught him that in a fight you couldn’t do a whole lot of thinking. Roy apparently had heard the fight and had come in to try and break it up. How was Joe to know that? Roy had not been there when the fight started, ‘cause if he were, Joe would have known to look out for him. The more he thought about it, the more he concluded he should not have had to pay for that mirror all by himself, because as he recalled the events, the chair was thrown AT him. He had simply ducked. Would everyone have been happier if he let the chair hit him?
Joe stabled Cochise slowly, all the while telling the horse what he was going to say to his father. On the way out of the barn Joe remarked, “Wish me luck, Cochise.” Cochise whinnied softly as Joe’s departed.
“Joseph. Where have you been!” Joe immediately heard his father’s voice upon entering the house. He walked around the corner to see his father and two brothers seated at the table. All three looked at Joe. Ben saw his youngest son standing before him in a torn shirt and a black eye. Adam rolled his eyes at Joe, and Hoss winced noticeably. Joe stood before them feeling as if he were going to be sick.
All Ben could manage to say was, “Let’s hear it.”
Joe went on to tell of the fight, finally confessing to the broken mirror and to punching Roy. Hoss and Adam exchanged looks and both decided to leave the room. “Man, I’ve gotta get that hay stacked.” Hoss said and quickly exited.
“I’ll help,” added Adam following behind. As Adam went by Joe he said, “Looks like you have managed to outdo even yourself, Joe.”
“Shut up!” Joe snapped back.
“Joseph, right now Adam should be the least of your concerns.” Ben responded.
Joe saw an expression come over his father’s face that actually scared him. He had seen it one other time when he was eight and the outcome had been Joe’s rear end being very sore. Joe thought to himself, “Surely Pa wouldn’t do that!”
“Joseph, I have had it with you!” Ben said in a low growling tone. “You are out of control. I’ve done you no favor by continuing to clean up after you. I’m tired of it, and I’ll do it no longer. You’ll have to learn.” Ben was trying to maintain control. He had thought this problem over many times. How was he going to get through to Little Joe?
“But Pa, I-”
Ben quickly interrupted “Shut up, Joseph! I’m not going to listen to it.” Joe jumped with his father response and began to wish the floor would open and swallow him up. “Joseph, you’re going to pay for that mirror. I don’t care if you don’t draw wages around here until you are 65. I will pay the saloon now, so they don’t have to be inconvenienced anymore than they already have, and you young man will pay me back every penny. You’ll turn over your savings to me today and the rest you will work off.”
Joe did some quick figuring in his head and realized he was not going to draw money for at least six months. He thought, Now how am I going to take Sarah to the dance Saturday?
As if his father were reading his mind, Ben added, “And if you think you are going to go to town to a dance, a picnic, a play, or a meal you have another thing coming! You’re to stay here on the Ponderosa until I decided you’ve learned your lesson. Cochise will stay in the corral, and you will ride Skip.”
“Pa! Skip? Why are you punishing Cochise? She didn’t do anything. Beside Skip is the worst horse on the place.”
“Joseph, Cochise is just a horse, and I’m not punishing her, I’m punishing you. Skip could use you working with him, and you waste too much time fussing over Cochise.”
“But Pa, she’s not JUST a horse! Cochise needs the exercise. She’ll get out of shape. You know no one else can ride her.”
“Joseph you heard me. Hoss will put Cochise on a halter and exercise her behind Chub.”
“Oh Pa, Cochise will hate that! She needs me to take care of her.”
“Joseph this is not up for discussion! You’ll do as I say. I wish you’d put in as much energy caring for yourself and this family as you do caring for that horse. I’m going to send Adam into town to help Roy. You’ll do Adam’s work as well as your own while he’s gone.”
“And Joseph, you are a reflection of me and this family. You’ll not embarrass me again. Is that clear?”
“Now get upstairs and change your clothes, clean up your face and get to work.”
A very tired and dejected Little Joe walked toward the stairs. He mumbled under his breath, “I’d a rather had the spanking.”
“What did you say, Joseph?”
“Nothing Pa.” As he continued to climb the stairs.
Ben continued to sit, trying to calm himself down. He had heard Joe’s parting comments and could not help but shake his head and think, Joe, I wish it were that easy. Even when Joe was little, a spanking would do little to deter the headstrong child. Ben knew that Joe was not a bad kid, he was simply much more impulsive and free spirited than either himself or his other two sons. Joe had been his greatest challenge, and it kept Ben up nights thinking and worrying about his son. He was afraid of how Joe was going to make it through life unless he learned to channel his energy. Ben did not want his son’s spirit broke, but he definitely wanted him to become less impulsive and think things through.
Ben knew that of all of the punishments he had doled out to his son, the two most difficult for Joe would be not being allowed to go to town and not being allowed to ride Cochise. He was unsure which one was worse for his son. Ben knew that Joe could work hard around the ranch when he wanted to, and Joe was VERY used to doing extra chores. Ben also knew that having to pay for the mirror really had not been a big deal for Joe. He seemed to save most of his money and only used it to gamble and entertain girls. He really did not need any money here on the ranch. Ben hoped by cutting off Joe’s finances it would stop the sneaking out at night.
During the course of the weeks that followed, Adam had come to the ranch a couple of times. He had been staying in town to make it easier to help Roy. Adam reported that Roy was getting better and was not mad at Joe, but unfortunately for Joe that had not changed his father’s attitude towards him. There had been a lot of quietness between Ben and Joe. Joe had talked to Hoss about it, and, although Hoss was sympathetic to little brother, he still thought it was all Joe’s doing in the saloon and he was just making excuses.
Ben had noticed over the weeks that Joseph was working hard, doing a good job. He was purposely cool to help his son realize he needed to change. Ben resisted the urge to give back Cochise, although that was difficult. It was difficult because seeing Joe on Skip was comical. There was no loved lost between horse and rider, so Joe spent a lot of time in the mornings doing battle with the stubborn gelding. He had been bitten, kicked, and tossed by Skip early on, but had managed to win the remaining battles. There was also developing a problem between Hoss and Joe over the care of the animal. Joe insisted on instructing Hoss on how to tend to Cochise, and Hoss was getting fed up. Ben knew that Cochise was Joe’s pride and joy. His son had done remarkable things with the wild black and white pinto. It seemed they understood each other and were a lot a like. The father sat on the porch listening to Hoss and Joe’s latest disagreement over Cochise’s care.
“Little brother, you tell me what to do one more time and I’m gonna pound you! This pony’s fine with what I’m doin’.”
“Listen Hoss. She isn’t Chub. She needs to be treated like she’s smart. She doesn’t like it when you lead her that way. She doesn’t like Chub so close.”
Ben thought to himself that Joe sounded like an old mother hen.
Hoss fired back, “What’s that supposed to mean? You think Chubb’s dumb? As far as I’m concerned with the way Cochise likes you, she must be pretty dumb.”
“ Ha ha, very funny. Will you quit pullin’ on her halter like that, she doesn’t like it.”
“That’s it!” With that Hoss undid Cochise’s halter and put her back in the pasture.
“Hey why’d ya do that?” Joe asked.
“I’ve had it with you Joe. You’re the one who screws up and gets in trouble, and I get punished by having to take care of that dad-burn animal.” Hoss started walking to the house with Joe close on his heels.
“Come on Hoss, Cochise needs the exercise.”
“Leave me alone. I’m warning you.”
“Come on Hoss!” Hoss then turned to Joe, picked him up, dumped him in the water trough, and walked inside.
“Jeez what’s with him?” Joe asked, climbing out of the trough and shaking off the water.
She wondered when she would see him again in town. She had not seen him in town for weeks after having seen what had happened at the saloon. She concluded he must be in trouble and not allowed to come to town. She had been watching him for months and knew his routine. She watched his friends to find out about him. She eavesdropped on conversations where she heard his name. She had made it her daily custom to search for him, although making sure not to let anyone know that was what she was doing. When she had seen him several weeks ago, she knew that he had looked her way and smiled. She also knew what that smile meant. He would not have done that if he were not interested in her. She wanted to see him again. She wanted to watch him closely and wait for him to give her another signal. She knew he would, because they were meant to be together. Sure, the other girls watched him. It was almost the female past time when he was in town. She had seen women twice his age watch him. She liked to see the others look at him and know in her mind that she was the one that was special to him. She was waiting for him to make his move. She had to figure out a way to get him into town. If she did not see him soon she felt she was going to die.
Adam rode up to the ranch and dismounted his horse. He had come home to tell everyone the Larson place in town had burned down, and they needed help rebuilding. This was important to Ben because John Larson was a dear friend and they had done business together. The news would also be important to Little Joe because Rebecca, John’s daughter, happened to be one of Joe’s closest friends, whom Joe usually called Bec. Joe had not really ever thought of her in a romantic way, rather he tended to think of her as a sister, and there were even times he forgot she was female. On one of those occasions Joe had asked her to go swimming, which would have required them to be naked, before he realizing he was asking a girl to take off her clothes. He had made the error because this was something his male friends did on hot days after fishing, and Joe was just thinking of Bec as one of the guys. Joe’s swimming invitation was overheard by two of the town’s more chatty women who were appalled. The women took it upon themselves to make sure to warn other parents of Little Joe Cartwright’s desires regarding their daughters.
Joe had no idea how Rebecca felt regarding him. She was more than willing to be his buddy, although sometimes she wished he noticed her for more than her ability to shoot bottles off of fence posts, or how she wasn’t squeamish at taking a fish off of a hook. He had kissed her once, but he’d never tell anyone, she knew that. It was when they were both ten and Joe wanted to know what it was like to kiss a girl. He talked her into it by telling her it really was nothing ‘cause they were friends. He pointed out though that she was a girl and he was a boy, so why not? After kissing her lightly, Joe pulled away and said, “I don’t see what the big deal is. Adam seems to think its somethin’, but I’d rather just go fishing.”
Rebecca knew very well that seeing kissing as no big deal was no longer the case for Joe. Since he had discovered “the big deal about kissing” he seemed to prefer that to all other activities. She really would like to kiss him again. The way Joe would kiss girls he was courting. And she really wished he’d call her Rebecca, rather than Bec.
Joe and Rebecca had grown up climbing trees together, fishing together, and hanging out with the rest of their friends. Joe had a wide circle of friends and made them quite easily. He was from a much wealthier family than most, but with Joe you would never know that. He was just Joe to them, not Little Joe and not Joe Cartwright, Ben Cartwright’s son. It wasn’t that he did not like being Little Joe sometimes, or Joe Cartwright others, but in his group of friends he was the leader, a very different role than the one he had on the Ponderosa.
Upon hearing the news of the Larson tragedy, Joe began a campaign of continually asking his father if he could go and help the Larson’s rebuild. Ben’s first answer was a resounding no. He justified it by telling Joe he could not afford to lose the work from two of his sons, as well as reminding Little Joe why he was not allowed in town. Hoss was relieved Pa was not letting Joe go because he did not want to be the sole bearer of the daily responsibilities of his two brothers. Over the next few days, a very persistent Joe began to wear down his father.
“Come on Pa, please? I can be of help to Bec. She is always doin’ nice stuff for me. I can stay with Adam at the hotel. I won’t get into any trouble.”
Joe sincerely wanted to help his friend and her family, but he also wanted to get off the ranch for a while. He was very restless and wanting some excitement, anything sounded good after spending endless hours with Skip and cattle.
“Joseph, I think you want to go to town to stir up trouble. Adam’s comin’ home soon anyway. Roy is pretty much healed. I’m not lettin’ you go so you can run the streets of Virginia City and get into more trouble.”
“That hurts you’d think of me that way.” Joe said, pretending to be insulted, although concerned that his father could read him so well.
“Son, are you going to stand there and tell me I shouldn’t think that after what you have done!” Ben’s voice raised several decibels. “Let me run down the list shall I, Joseph? You’ve gotten into so many fights I have lost count. Your firecracker practical joke stampeded a livery stable full of horses. You have been thrown out of not one, not two but three different establishments in Virginia City for your behavior, and may I remind you that I still must do business with these people! You made old Mrs. Winslow faint because you put a frog in her punch at a dance. You…”
“Okay, okay, so I haven’t acted the best at times.”
Joe’s manner of responding always seemed to throw Ben. “Joseph, that is the understatement of this century.”
“Tell you what, Pa, I’ll only go once or um…twice or um… maybe three times a week, and I’ll even come home for supper and spend the nights here. I‘ll do double my work on the days I’m here, and you won’t hear a bit of complainin’ outta me. And you said Adam was comin’ home, so you won’t be short two people.”
Ben knew he could not keep Joe on the Ponderosa forever. He knew there would be a time when Joe would have to go back into town by himself. He just wished Joe would not be hell bent on growing up so fast. Ben also knew Rebecca had talked Joe out of actually doing some of his more wild ideas. She was a good influence on him if Joe would just listen.
“I’ll think about it.” Ben responded.
This was the most positive answer Joe had heard from his father, and it encouraged him that he may get off the ranch. “Hey, Pa, just remember what it was like when you were young.” Joe said, trying to get his father’s empathy.
“Oh, Joseph when I was your age I was-”
“Yeah I know Pa, you’ve told me, Adam’s told me, and even Hoss’ told me. Didn’t you ever want to get off that ship and have something different to do for a while?”
“Son, I think you and I view things very differently. I like the predictability and routine. For you it seems like it tortures you. Anyway, you’re wasting time, and that fence isn’t going to mend itself. Better get to it.”
“Okay. And hey, don’t forget to think about it.”
“I will, Joe. I’m sure you won’t let me forget.”
Ben spent the afternoon balancing ledgers and thinking of Joe’s request. He had wanted to prolong his son’s punishment to make sure he got the message. Ben still was not sure if Joe had. He knew his youngest was uncomfortable, and that tended to get the boy’s attention. Ben was pleased Joe had not responded as he usually did when he was uncomfortable by making everyone else feel that way too. Ben looked to Marie’s picture on his desk. “Oh Marie, I know what you’d say. You’d want me to let him go. If I do, I sure need you to watch over him.”
At dinner that night Joe decided to ask his father again. “Well Pa? How ‘bout it.”
Ben sighed before answering, taking a moment to put down his fork. “Joe you can go, but if you mess up just once, just once young man, you’ll find these last three weeks to have felt like a vacation. Here’s the agreement. You get to go once. I’ll decide if there’s to be more after you get back. There’s to be no drinking, no gambling, and you’re to come home as soon as they stop working for the day. If you’re late young man, or I smell liquor on you, the deal is off, and you’ll be in serious trouble. Understand?”
Joe was a little shocked his father had said yes. It was what he had wanted to hear, but as he worked that afternoon he had been calculating the odds of his father actually giving in. If it were poker, it was a hand he would not have bet much on. Deciding he was extremely lucky, and his luck may just hold, he decided to go ahead and ask his Pa for Cochise. “Don’t worry. I’ll do just as you say. By the way, can I take Cochise? If I go on Skip it’ll take me a week to get there, and that horse’d make anyone late.”
“I hardly think Skip is all that bad, but yes, take Cochise.” Ben had agreed to Joe having Cochise back primarily for Joe’s safety. Cochise had more than once brought Joe home in various conditions where the rider was unable to lead the horse home himself. He would worry just a little less if Joe were on Cochise. It was probably good that Ben did not have a full picture of the stunts Joe tried while riding the paint.
“Thanks Pa. I’d better go get Cooch ready to go to town tomorrow. She needs a good brushin’ an’ a ride with me to make sure she and I can work as well together as before. Chub may have rubbed off on her.” Joe said, winking at Hoss.
“Watch it, little brother. You can still be pounded.” Hoss said smiling at Joe. He watched as his brother moved quickly out of his seat and out the door.
Ben shook his head. “That boy seems to think a couple of weeks would make that horse forget who he is.”
“Pa I can’t believe you gonna let him go into town after you were so mad at him. Adam’s gonna be fit to be tied. You know he’s always sayin’ you go too easy on Joe.”
“Last time I checked, I’m the father around here. You’re usually on Joe’s side. Why the change?”
“I don’t know. Sometimes he scares me with the things he does. I don’t want to lose him. I keep thinkin’ ‘bout that fight he just had. He could’ve taken on someone who could have just as easily shot him. He’s been hurt real bad before, and I just think he’s gonna end up gettin’ himself killed.”
“Son, I worry too, but we can’t lock him up here. I don’t think any of us could stand it if Joe were locked up here. He’d make all of our lives miserable. And Hoss remember it was on the Ponderosa that he had that accident? It was one of the rare times he was working so hard he was distracted. He almost died from that hit to the head. I know you’ll worry as will I, but tell him how you feel and pray for him when he’s away.”
“All right Pa, but dad-burn it, he attracts trouble like he attracts women.”
“I know Hoss, I know.”
Joe was up and dressed early. Pa and Hoss were at the table eating breakfast. “Bye Pa. Bye Hoss.”
“Hey aren’t you even going to stop to eat?” Ben asked, knowing his son was excited and eating was the last thing on his mind.
“Nah, I wanted to get goin’. It takes long enough as it is to get to town.”
“Okay, but you remember what I’ve said. This is it. Your last chance. When you get into town stop and tell Adam you’re goin’ over to help the Larson’s.” Ben knew Adam would keep a tab on Joe.
“Sure thing Pa.”
“Hey little brother be careful ya hear.” Hoss called out.
“I will. You guys worry too much.”
“Son, why don’t you worry just a little and take some of the burden off of us.” Ben answered.
Joe laughed and walked out the door. He went in and saddled Cochise and was on his way. It felt so good to be on his own horse riding into town. Once he reached the main road, he opened Cochise up into a gallop and let out a yell; very few things felt as good to Joe Cartwright as what he was feeling at that moment.
Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the black and white horse tied to the hitching post in front of the jail. She had been waiting and knew he would be in town soon. Just then the door opened and he walked out. He had a smile on his face and his older brother’s arm was around his shoulders. She did not want him to see her just yet. Although she knew he would come to help his friend, she was not expecting him today and had not dressed as she would have liked. He walked down the street with his older brother and went into the mercantile store. She moved to get a better look. There he was. She could see what he was doing.
Joe looked around a bit and stopped at a display of men’s hats. He had been debating whether he should change the color of his hat. He thought, black, now that may work. Wonder what the girls would think? He tried on the black one in his hand. He thought it looked pretty good, and lowered it so he could just see out below the brim. Just then he remembered he had no money and would not be having any for a while. That seemed to put a damper on the idea.
Adam watched Joe trying on the black hat, and his attempt at looking tough, “You look like you’re itching for a gunfight with that thing on.” Adam laughed. The eldest brother was at times impatient with Joe and his knack for getting into trouble, but there were times where he found Joe’s outlook on life to be endearing. It depended on how dangerous or costly Joe’s actions were. Adam loved his youngest brother dearly and he too worried about Joe’s ability to get into highly dangerous situations.
“You have a black hat.” Joe said in his own defense.
“But I don’t wear it like that, and I don’t get into the trouble like you do. Not to mention Pa would kill you if you bought that and wore it like that. Besides the hat you have is just fine.”
“Yeah, I guess your right, better wait. I just got outta one mess, better not be stirrin’ up anythin’ right now”
“Joe, it is amazing how you just don’t get it.” Adam shook his head, but was smiling.
“Get what?” Joe asked, still looking in the mirror and trying the hat in different positions.
“Never mind.” Adam said, not wanting to get into anything at the moment.
“I’m just having some fun. Anyway I gotta get goin’. Oh, and Adam when you talk to Pa, make sure you tell him I stopped by to see you so that you could keep an eye on me.”
With that Joe took off the hat and walked out of the store. The sun was bright so he squinted for a minute until his eyes readjusted. He walked back to the jail, untied Cochise, and hopping on without use of the stir ups, he rode off in a full gallop.
She had seen him trying on the hat at the mercantile. She thought he looked so handsome in it. She also saw that as he left the store he looked in her direction and had winked at her. Again another sign from him! She wanted to give him something. What could she give him… and then it came to her.
Joe had worked at the Larson’s house the rest of the day. He carefully stabled Cochise in the undamaged Larsen barn and then had taken off his jacket, hanging it on a nail. The work of the day was uneventful and Joe had some time to joke around with Rebecca, getting caught up on what his friends were up to. He was bothered that they had all been fishing a couple of times without him and had gone to a couple of dances. Rebecca had told him that they had missed him and that it wasn’t the same with him absent. That consoled him a little, but he vowed he would toe the line with Pa so he did not miss out on more fun things.
It was eventually time for Joe to start home, so he went into the barn to saddle his horse. He noticed there was something on his saddle horn and moved closer to get a better look. It was the hat he had tried on in the store just this morning. In the band was a red rose.
What’s this? Joe thought, picking up the hat. He was quite puzzled. Did Adam do this? He wondered. But Adam wouldn’t put a rose under the band. That’s for sure. Joe continued to be puzzled, but saddled his horse so he wouldn’t be late getting home. He went to take his jacket off of the hook, but it was gone. “Now I know I put that there.” Joe said aloud. He looked around on the floor, but his jacket was gone. “What’s going on?” he said to himself, but shrugged and knew he had to get on his way. He opened the barn door and led the paint pony out. Rebecca was standing near the barn door and saw him emerge. “Hey Joe. Don’t you think two hats are a little much, or is one for Cochise?”
“Bec, did you give me this one?”
“Why would I give you that hat. Its not your birthday and besides that’s not the best color for you.”
“Its not a bad color for me!” Joe said quickly and then realized the color of the hat was not the issue. “I found it on my saddle horn with this rose in the band.”
“Oh! Sounds like you’ve got yourself a secret admirer,”
Joe brushed off the tease. “Did you see anyone go into the barn or someone who looked like they were sneaking ‘round?”
“No, but with all of your admirers, its just probably one of them. You’d better get goin’ if you want to come back again.”
“Yeah, your right. ‘Night Bec”
“’Night Joe” Rebecca said as she watched him kick his horse into a gallop.
Joe moved through town and noticed Sam at the Mercantile was just closing up. He rode over to the shop and dismounted. “Hey Sam. Who’d you sell this hat to?”
“Hey Little Joe, is that the hat I saw you tryin’ on earlier today?”
“Yeah, somebody left it on my saddle horn.”
“I haven’t sold any of those new hats. I was hopin’ you’d buy that one earlier. I think I made a mistake in ordering them.”
“So no one has bought one?” Joe asked, very puzzled. “Has anyone else been in lookin’ at ‘em?”
“No Little Joe.”
“Will you look and see if that hat I tried on is still there?” Joe stood scratching his head.
“Sure, just a second.”
Sam went into the store and quickly returned. “Darndest thing, Joe. The hat you tried on is gone.”
“Well here, if no one paid for it, it still belongs to you.” Joe handed Sam the hat.
Sam smiled at the young man. “Why Joe that’s real honest of you. Here you want the rose.”
Joe blushed and took the flower. He then mounted Cochise and headed for home.
She had seen him come through town again, just as she had hoped he would. She saw him with the hat she had left for him, but he didn’t have it on. She saw him stop at the mercantile and talk with Sam for a few minutes. He then gave the hat back to the merchant. What was he doing? Didn’t he like her gift? She saw Sam give him the rose from the band and he took it and rode away. What was she to make of this? She liked that he kept the rose. Maybe he is just uncomfortable receiving gifts from women. After all, he has a lot of money and probably wants to buy her things rather than the other way around. Yes, that was it. He knew she needed money and he was going to take care of her. He was just so wonderful.
She watched him ride away and then turned and went home. She had a good idea where he was going when he came into town, so it was easy to slip into the barn and leave her gift. As easy as it had been in taking it from the mercantile. She also had taken something from him, but she really did not think he would mind. She had put it up under her dress to bring it to the house so that no one would see her with it. As she returned home, she picked up the green jacket from the chair she had so carefully laid it on. She brought the jacket up to her nose and smelled. This was the closest she had ever been to him, other than the first time she had seen him. He had bumped into her on the street. He had looked right into her soul with those green eyes and said he was sorry in such a loving way. She knew the reason he did not talk to her more was because his brother, Hoss had been with him and he was probably embarrassed. But she knew all that he wanted to tell her.
His jacket smelled of bay rum and him. She closed her eyes and felt his arms around her. She twirled around, dancing with him. She had seen him dancing with other girls and knew just how he moved. He would be smiling and looking into her eyes and telling her all the ways that he would love her and care for her. He’d take her away. Anywhere she wanted. He knew she was the right one for him. Not that Sally Anne or Sarah or Rachel or … As she began to think of all the other girls that she had seen him flirting with, she started to get angry. Those girls were harlots who belonged in saloons. She wanted all of them gone. At that moment she stopped herself. She smelled the jacket again and returned to her thoughts of him. As it got later, she put his jacket on and went to bed.
Joe made it home with time to spare. He loved the quickness of his horse and she loved to run. His father noted the time of the return, but did not ask his son about his day at dinner. Joe wondered if Ben was going to say anything. The conversation revolved around the running of the ranch. It wasn’t until Joe was getting ready to go upstairs for sleep that his father addressed him regarding his day. “Joe, how did it go today?”
“Real good, Pa. It looks like the Larson’s have a lot of work a head of them though.”
“From what Adam had said they must have lost most everything.”
“Yeah, they seem to be in good spirits though.” Joe tried to ease his father’s worry.
“Oh she’s fine, just fine.” Joe answered, feeling a bit awkward.
“Son, thank you for respecting the deal we made. You can go again on Thursday.”
“Thanks Pa. And I’ll work hard here in the mean time.” Joe had a big smile on his face as he went up the stairs two at a time.
After Joe was in his room, Ben looked upward and said, “Marie, he does seem to be trying.”
Joe lay down on his bed and picked up the rose he had take out of his pocket. He looked at it and began to ask who could have given it to him. He thought of all of the girls in Virginia City he knew. He wondered if it could have been Rachel. She was really cute and had the prettiest blonde hair. He had kissed her a couple times. Or maybe Sarah. She had real pretty hair too and she liked it when Joe wore his hat down low. She had kissed him after he had won the shooting contest at the annual picnic. Or maybe it was Sally Anne. He had noticed that she had really grown up recently and was looking more and more pretty every day. He had not kissed her, but he hadn’t really tried yet. Joe thought of a few others, all pretty girls who had caught his eye.
Joe was not serious with any one girl. He felt he was too young to settle down and the girls he knew in Virginia City, although fun to flirt with, were not what he was really looking for. He drifted off to sleep wondering who it could be.
Thursday came and Joe was on the road to Virginia City again. He had worked hard the days he was home. If he were honest he’d have to say he was pretty tired, but then Pa may want him to stay home, and he was not going to pass up an opportunity to ride into town. His father had again asked him to stop in on Adam, so when he arrived in town, the jail was again his first stop.
She saw him ride in on his beautiful horse. He slid to a stop in front of the jail, jumped off his horse and went inside. She had been checking everyday to see if he was in town. She had added a ribbon to her hair and wore her newest dress, wanting to look her best for him. She thought she would have just enough time if she hurried to surprise him. She rushed home.
Joe walked into the jail and saw Adam talking to Roy. This was the first time Joe had seen Roy since the night of the fight and was noticeably uncomfortable and both Adam and Roy found that amusing. “Hey Roy, how are you?” Joe asked rather sheepishly.
“I’m just fine. I was talkin’ here to Adam, tellin’ him he can return to the Ponderosa if he’d like”
“So Adam you goin’ home?” Joe asked hopefully.
“Well little brother, I guess it is time. I have some things to do in town, and I’ll ride back with you tonight.”
Joe was disappointed because he was going to try and swing by and see some friends before going home, and he certainly did not want Adam to be with him then. “Yeah, well, okay, um I’ll come by here and meet you after I finish at the Larson’s.”
Adam wondered what Joe was up to, but agreed.
Joe left the jail and headed for the Larson’s. He decided he’d solve his problem about Adam by leaving the Larson’s a little early to go see a couple of his friends. It wasn’t like he was really disobeying his father. He certainly wouldn’t be gambling or drinking. He just wanted to catch up with everyone. Joe rode up to the barn and took Cochise inside. He put her in the stall he had used the previous visit and unsaddled her. He saw a package and a note with his name on it when he looking into the feed bin to feed Cochise. Joe took out the package and looked at the note. The handwriting was definitely female.
I wanted you to have a little token of our love.
I hope you like it. You don’t need to feel embarrassed.
I saw you take the hat back.
You should have kept it. You looked so handsome.
I also left something for your beautiful horse.
Have a good day my love.
Joe read the letter several times. First of all, who calls him Joseph other than his father when he’s mad or the older ladies at church? And what is this about “our” love? Joe hadn’t told any girl he loved her. Somebody was pulling his leg. He looked around the barn, but did not see anyone. He went back to the package and decided to open it. Inside there was a handkerchief with his initials embroidered on it. J.F.C. Joe looked at it and was again confused. “Now who knows my middle initial is F. except Pa, Adam and Hoss?” he questioned. Joe was embarrassed about his middle name, Francis. He thought Francis sounded like a guy who wore knickers and would get beaten up a lot. That was certainly not the image Joe wanted others to have of him. He got a whiff of something on the handkerchief, so he brought it up to his nose and smelled. It smelled like rose water. He remembered that smell. That was a smell that always made him think of his mother. He had few real memories of her, but sometimes a smell or a sound would bring one. He was lost in thought for a moment, but the other item in the package caught his eye. It was sugar cubes, but on them were small roses made of icing.
Joe turned to Cochise, “Here, I think these are for you.” Cochise eagerly ate from Joe’s hand as just then the barn door opened.
“Joe, what’s taking so long?” It was Rebecca.
“Come here Bec. Look at this.” Joe showed her the note and the handkerchief, as he told her of the sugar cubes.
Bec started to laugh, “ Gee Joe, when’s the wedding? Oh she knows your middle name too, I see.”
“Bec, it’s not funny. And what do you mean she knows it too?”
“Well, you know David’s mother sometimes works as a nurse for Dr. Martin?”
“Well, she was at the Ponderosa one time, I think it was when Hoss was so sick, and brought David with her. You remember that? Well you had gotten in trouble and your Pa had yelled at you. David said he called you Joseph Francis Cartwright.”
“So when did he tell you this?”
“We were talking about the fight you had at the saloon and David said that’s probably how your Pa was yelling at you.”
“So who did he tell, the whole town? The newspaper? Who?”
“Oh, just me, Paul and Richard.”
Rebecca had just named the group of people he hung around most.
“David has a big mouth, and you can tell all of them, they tell anyone and I’ll beat ‘em up.” Joe said trying to be cocky.
“They won’t.” Rebecca assured as she shook her head at Joe’s annoyance.
“Well someone else found out.” Joe huffed and then with that Joe and Rebecca left the barn and Joe went to work. He found himself throughout the day looking around and feeling watched. He never saw her watching him as he worked hard and felt a sense of accomplishment. Joe left the Larson’s early using the excuse he had to go meet Adam. Joe rode down the street towards David’s house because he thought he’d stop by and remind David that he knew David was the one who broke a window at the Café on E Street. Joe wanted to make a deal. He wouldn’t tell about the window, if David wouldn’t tell anyone else about his name. However, Joe didn’t make it as far as David’s house. He saw Rachel walking down the street in a rare moment when her over-protective mother was not with her. “Hello Rachel.” Joe said, pulling up Cochise and hopping off. He did not bother to tie the horse to the hitching post.
“Hello, Little Joe.” Rachel said coyly.
Joe strategically moved himself in front of Rachel and coolly leaned against the building. He used a soft voice to talk to Rachel; similar to the one he used when talking to Cochise. “How are you Rachel? That sure is a pretty hat.”
“Thank you Joe. I haven’t seen you in town lately. Where have you been?”
“Well Pa has needed me at the ranch lately. He’s gotten some new horses that no one can break but me.” Joe gave his most confident smile.
“Oh my, that sounds dangerous”
“It is, but I am the only one who can do it around there.”
“Joe, your Pa is very lucky to have you. But please be careful. I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to you.”
“That sure is sweet, Rachel.” Joe said, moving in to give her a kiss.
Just as Joe was moving in to kiss her, Adam called from across the street. He had watched Joe ride up and begin sweet-talking the young lady. “Come on Joe its time to go.”
Joe thought to himself “Dog-gone it Adam you have terrible timing.” He moved away from Rachel and said, “Sorry ‘bout that. I got a go. Pa has me keeping tabs on Adam and he’s ready to leave I guess.”
The young lady looked disappointed. “Am I going to see you again soon?”
“You sure will Rachel, how about the dance on Saturday? I’ll come by about seven.” Joe said as he hopped on Cochise.
“I look forward to it, Little Joe.” As she said his name she bowed her head and playfully looked up at him.
Joe tipped his hat and then rode over to Adam, and both turned and rode out of town. On the way out Joe complained, “Thanks a lot Adam. You did that on purpose.”
“Joe I am just trying to keep you out of trouble.” Adam shook his head at his little brother’s anger.
“I wasn’t in any trouble”
“Not yet, but that girl was Rachel Lancaster and if her mother caught wind of you kissing her in downtown Virginia City she may just demand a wedding. Either that or put Rachel in a nunnery. ”
“I wasn’t doing anything wrong.” Joe defended.
“I know you weren’t, but you have to be careful. Your attempting to woo every girl you see is going to get you into a situation some day that you can’t handle.”
Joe could not help but think of the note and handkerchief in his pocket.
She had seen him ride up and stop in front of that woman Rachel. She knows why he stopped. That woman had lured him there because she was a whore. She belonged in the saloon making money on her back. She had no reason to be talking to him. She also saw him almost kiss that woman. He was being lead astray by the whore. She knew men were weak and it was the job of women to help them control themselves. That Rachel was openly flaunting herself! That Rachel would have to pay!
Joe knew he was going to have to ask Pa about going to the dance. In order to increase the chances his father would say yes, Joe decided to get up early and be out working by the time Ben woke up. He was in the middle of breaking a horse when Ben rode up. The older man had been surprised that Joe was already up and working, again skipping breakfast. He was suspicious of what Joe may be hiding, so he asked Adam and Hoss at breakfast what his youngest might be up to. Neither Adam nor Hoss had anything to report regarding Joe’s behavior or possible trouble, but the more Adam thought about it, he realized what was going on. “Pa, I think he asked a girl to the dance tomorrow night, and now he has to ask you if he can go.” The three laughed over this together. It was classic Little Joe. Act first and get permission later.
Ben sat on Buck and watched Joe with the horse. It was amazing to see his son work with the wild animal. Ben always thought a reason his son was so good at breaking horses was Joe had that same wildness about him. It seemed his boy knew what to do with the horse’s wildness and how to channel it. Ben continued to hope Joe would discover how to channel it in himself.
“Oh hey Pa, I didn’t see you ride up.” Joe said, having dismounted the horse and walking over to his father.
“You’re doing a good job here. How many does that make?”
“Oh, I think I broke about half of the ones we cut out of that herd.”
Ben was impressed. Joe had been doing a lot. Ben smiled at his son, “Joe, you’ve been working real hard here lately. I think you deserve to go into town to the dance tomorrow night. And listen, take Hoss with you. He has been stuck here a while and needs to get out.”
Joe smiled real big. “Thanks Pa! How’d you know?”
“Joe when have you not wanted to go to a dance and besides you earned it. Now get back to work.”
Saturday night arrived and Joe and Hoss dressed in their best clothes headed to town. Both were excited, but Hoss seemed a little nervous. “Hey big brother, what’s eating you?” Joe asked as they rode side by side.
“Sure it is. What is it?”
“Oh well dad-burn it Joe, these dances make me all jittery. The girls are so pretty and here I am feeling like a bull in a china shop.”
“See brother Hoss, that’s your problem. If you think you’re a bull, you’ll dance like one. You got to realize that women just want a fella who pays attention to them and treats them nice.” Joe thought women wanted a few other things too, but he did not want to overwhelm Hoss. “Hoss you’re the nicest guy around here.”
As they continued to ride along Joe decided to tell Hoss a little white lie. He thought that maybe it would help Hoss relax. “You know, Mary Ann told her little sister who told Rebecca who told me that she thought you were right nice.”
“Really little brother? Your not just funnin’ me are you?”
Joe felt a pang of guilt but held to the story. “She sure did. You go into the dance and just be real nice to her.”
“What ever you say, Joe.” Hoss said as he felt the butterflies in his stomach.
Joe left Hoss at the entrance to the dance. Rachel lived just down the street and Joe walked to her door. He took off his hat and knocked on the door. Finally Mrs. Lancaster answered. “Good evening Mrs. Lancaster, is Rachel ready?”
Mrs. Lancaster broke out crying.
“What is it, what’s wrong?” Joe was caught off guard at her response.
“Joe, Rachel was attacked Thursday night. She was trapped in an alley with…with…with…” Mrs. Lancaster was sobbing.
“With who?” Joe was shocked. He had just seen Rachel Thursday.
“The sheriff does not know who, but the person must have been crazy. He cut her all up. He cut off her hair… he cut her face. He stabbed her. She’s hurt very bad.”
Joe stood looking at the woman. This was crazy. These things did not happen. Who would hurt Rachel? Sweet Rachel. “Mrs. Lancaster, can I see her?”
“No, she’s sleeping right now. I’ll tell her you came by.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Joe felt sick at the news.
“Just pray Joe.” Mrs. Lancaster said, wiping her eyes.
“Mrs. Lancaster, you should know I saw Rachel on the street Thursday. That’s when I asked her to the dance.”
“I know. She had come home and told me. I had sent her to the store after that.”
“Please let me know if I can do anything, and I’ll pray for her.” Joe turned and walked down the steps. He was not sure what he felt. He heard the music from the dance and walked towards it. He knew he was no longer in the mood to be there. This evening had gotten bad real quick. He walked in to find Hoss and saw him talking with Mary Ann. He seemed to be holding his own. Joe looked around and noticed no one seemed to be upset about Rachel. That was not like this town. Usually if something happened, especially something like this, the whole town was up in arms. Just as Joe was walking to get Hoss, Roy intercepted. “Hey Joe, can I talk to you?”
“Yeah, sure Roy.”
“Let’s step outside.” Joe followed Roy outside and they leaned against the railing. “Joe, Mrs. Lancaster does not want the town to know what happened to Rachel.”
“Why not Roy? Everyone can help find out the guy who did it.”
“Mrs. Lancaster is afraid of how her daughter will be treated. Joe, the cuts to her face are really bad. I think Mrs. Lancaster is going to take Rachel away as soon as she can travel.” Roy held his head down, feeling sorry for the young girl.
Joe was shocked Roy was hiding the crime. “People need to know about this! There’s some crazy man running around!”
“I know Joe, and they’ll know as soon as Rachel leaves town. Please respect their wishes. They’re tellin’ people she’s sick. That’s why she is not out and about.”
Joe disagreed with the lawman’s decision, but knew he had to do as he was told. “I won’t say anything, Roy.”
Joe did not bother to return to the dance. He started walking and ended up in front of the Bucket of Blood. He stood debating about going in. Pa had given him a little money to go to the dance, but it would not go far in the saloon. He thought of the agreement he had made with his father. He shouldn’t do it he thought as he walked through the saloon door. He walked up to the bar and the bartender asked, “What’ll it be?”
Joe just looked at him, still conflicted about being in the saloon. The barkeeper impatiently asked, “Well you gonna stand there all night or order something?” Joe shook his head and walked out.
The young man walked back to the dance and took a seat in the park across the street. He could see Hoss every so often and saw he was still entertaining Mary Ann. That made Joe smile. The evening passed slowly for Joe as he waited for Hoss.
Finally a voice was heard. “Hey little brother, what ‘cha doing out here?”
Joe hadn’t seen his brother approach. He had been deep in thought about what had happened to Rachel. “Oh, uh, hey Hoss. Rachel was sick, and I did not feel like going in by myself.”
“Joe, you go to dances all the time by yourself. What’s with you?”
“Nothin’ Hoss, just not in the mood I guess.”
Hoss looked concerned. “Now I know something’s wrong. You must have caught what Rachel has.”
“I guess that’s it. Can we go home now?”
“Sure Joe.” Hoss said, giving his little brother a funny look out of the corner of his eye. He had never heard Joe ask this after a dance. It usually took threats of hog-tying to get Joe to head home.
She had seen him come into the dance and then be stopped by the sheriff. Damn that Roy Coffee. The sheriff had taken him out of the dance, and he had not come back. She had spent half the day getting ready for tonight. She knew he would come to her, and they would dance. She saw him later outside sitting in the dark. Why was he there? Was he too nervous to come to her? She wanted him to make his move soon. What would it take to get him to come to her? She was not going to wait much longer.
Joe was quiet on the ride home and remained quiet the next day. Ben noticed his son seemed to have something on his mind. What he knew about his youngest, though was that Joe did not easily share his troubles. From almost the time he could talk, Joe would hold his problems close to himself and attempt to work them out on his own. It was difficult for Ben to watch, because many times the problems his wrestled with would so easily be solved by family help. Again Ben saw Joe struggling and again he had to wait for Joe’s timing. At the end of the day Ben pulled Joe aside. “Son, are you okay?”
“Yeah Pa, I’m fine. Just tired I guess.”
“Are you wanting to go to town tomorrow?” Ben attempted to cheer his child up.
“Yeah, Pa. Can I?”
“Yes you can. Hoss was told at the dance that you’ve been a big help to the Larson’s. You’re representing the family and making me proud.”
“Thanks Pa. Good night.”
“Good night son.”
The next morning, Joe rode into town at a little slower pace. He wanted to see his friends, so he could try and forget about what happened to Rachel. He performed his usual routine of putting Cochise in the barn at the Larson’s and looked around to see if there was anything mysteriously left for him. There was nothing unusual.
Joe worked hard, and between the sun and the work, he was hot. He removed his shirt about mid day and enjoyed the day, but he continued to look around him as he worked, feeling he was being watched. Joe was right, he was.
At lunch, Joe spent time talking to Rebecca. She had seen him acting unusual and was concerned. “Joe, what’s with you?”
“I don’t really know. I’ve gotta tell you somethin’. Rachel was attacked last Thursday night and hurt really bad. I was one of the last to talk to her. I was supposed to take her to the dance on Saturday.”
Rebecca was surprised. “I didn’t know about Rachel.”
“No one really does and don’t tell anyone. Bec there’s somethin’ else. I keep gettin’ this feeling I’m bein’ watched. That note and the gifts are bothering me.”
“You think it is all that serious?”
“I don’t know. It feels like somethin’s wrong.”
“Joe it’s probably harmless. You know there are a lot of girls who like you. Maybe it’s someone who just can’t tell you how they feel.”
“But Bec, the letter said that we were in love. You know I’d tell you if I was serious about someone. I’m not.”
It was obvious this was troubling Joe, and Rebecca wanted to help. “I think it is probably harmless. After all what can a girl do to you other that break your heart? And like you said, there’s no one capable of doing that right now.”
“Maybe so, Bec.” Joe turned and looked at her with the green eyes Rebecca found to be so handsome.
“Joe…” Rebecca wanted to tell Joe how she felt.
She quickly lost her nerve. “Oh, uh just don’t worry so much.”
“Yeah I’m probably making something out of nothing.”
Joe decided not to leave early and stopped working when everyone else did. He went into the barn and quickly noticed Cochise was very agitated. “Cooch, what is it? What’s wrong girl?”
Cochise continued to dance around in her stall. The young man tried to saddle her, but she made it very difficult for him, eventually making him dropped his saddle. “Cooch whoa, girl!” Joe picked up the saddle and was finally able to saddle a reluctant Cochise. Joe commented, “Don’t you get strange on me too.”
Joe did not realize that the silver nameplate on his saddle had been loose for a while. His father had given Joe’s saddle to him for his 14th birthday. Ben had Joe’s name put on the saddle on a silver plate. When the boy dropped the saddle, the nameplate fell off into the hay. Joe had left the barn without noticing what he had left behind.
She was in the barn watching him. She had tried to pet the pinto, but the pinto became skittish and even tried to kick her. She knew when she told him the pinto’s behavior, he would punish the horse for not accepting her. He would be mad at that damn horse for threatening her. She watched him saddle the animal and take her out of the barn. She then moved over to where the horse had been stabled and saw something silver on the ground. She bent over and picked it up. Her heart leapt when she saw his name written there. She began to twirl around and smiled broadly. She knew it was a sign. They were going to be together and it would be the next time he came to town. It was all coming down to the next time!
Joe was needed at the ranch for the rest of the week. Ben had a buyer for the horses and Joe needed to finish breaking them. Hoss rode into town once that week to help out the Larson’s, and again Hoss reported back to Ben that Mr. Larson was very pleased with Joe’s help and was most appreciative of the Cartwright family. To show their thanks, the Larson’s wanted the Cartwright’s to come into town for the Saturday picnic they were throwing for all of the people who had helped them. Ben felt the ranch could run one day without them and easily agreed.
The Cartwright’s rode in as a family to the Larson picnic. Each dismounted and tied their horses to the hitching post. Joe soon walked over to Rebecca as Ben went to shake hands with John Larson. Adam and Hoss each saw people they knew and went to speak with them. Joe noticed the rest of his group of friends was there too. They quickly broke from the others and started talking.
She knew he would be there for the picnic and she was ready. She had her suitcase packed. He was going to take her away. That’s what the nameplate meant. She made her way over to the Larson’s to meet her love.
Joe began to catch up with his friends. They talked about the fight and Joe minimized his father’s reaction. They talked about the fishing and who was currently winning at their ongoing card game. Joe relaxed and enjoyed himself. He laughed easily and teased his friends. Rebecca began telling the others of Joe’s secret admirer. He tried to stop her, but she had said enough that the others were not going to let him shut her up. Joe explained, “It’s nothin’. I think someone’s just messin’ with me.”
Rebecca teased, “Hey Joe, show ‘em your new handkerchief from your girl.”
“Bec, you know she’s not my girl. I don’t even know who she is. It’s probably someone pullin’ a joke on me.”
“Show us Joe, show us.” The group chanted.
“Okay here.” With that he pulled the handkerchief out of his pocket.
“Let me see.” Said David and took it from Joe’s hand. They passed it around but no one commented on the initials, because they knew that would push Joe too far.
“Its no big deal.” Joe said trying not to let anyone see they were getting to him.
Richard had the handkerchief in his hand and dropped it. It fell into a puddle. “Sorry Joe.” He said lifting it out of the mud. “Here you are.”
Joe took it from Richard and looked at it. “Thanks a lot, Richard. I can’t put this in my pocket. What am I supposed to do with it?”
“I don’t know Joe. Tie it on you saddle.”
Joe walked over the Cochise and stuffed it in his saddlebag. “Let’s go eat.”
She had heard the whole exchange. She was just about to go around the corner and let him take her away when she heard them talking. She had stopped dead in her tracks. She couldn’t believe it! He said he did not know who she was! He let them see the symbol of their love! He let them soil it! How could he! How could he! She began to get enraged.
She ran home as quickly as she could. She wanted to think. She walked back and forth in the parlor for over an hour trying to think. So many things ran through her head. I HATE HIM! HE LIED TO ME! HE LED ME ON! She screamed these things over and over. She saw his jacket she had so lovingly placed on the chair before she left. She walked over and grabbed it and went towards the kitchen. She picked up a knife and stabbed the jacket. It felt good, really good. She stabbed it again. She did not stop until she fell exhausted on the floor. He would pay. She could hate him as much as she loved him.
The Cartwrights had enjoyed the picnic and returned to the Ponderosa late. The next day they returned to the usual duties. As night fell, Hoss and Joe played checkers in the living room while Adam sat reading a book. Ben was at his desk, working on some correspondence to various friends. Suddenly there was a gunshot, and then the sounds of an animal crying out in pain.
They were all immediately on their feet and headed out the door. Joe instantly recognized the animal sounds as coming from Cochise. The sounds were distorted, but he knew her whinny. “Cochise!” Joe yelled, and was the first out the door. He ran across the yard and opened the barn door. He saw Cochise rearing and thrashing about. He also saw the blood. There was blood on her neck – a lot of blood.
“No!” screamed Joe, trying to run to his horse. Cochise did not know him at that moment. She was terrified and in pain. She continued to rear and thrash about as the blood continued to pour out of the wound as the horse panicked.
“Joseph! No get away from her!” Ben yelled.
Joe was panicking. “No Pa. I’ve got to help her.”
“Joseph, she can kill you!”
“No she won’t Pa. She won’t.” Joe continued to try and approach the wounded mare. He was pushed back each time by the mare’s flying hooves.
Ben, Adam and Hoss were standing further back from Joe and the crazed horse. The other horses danced nervously in their stalls. Cochise was harming herself more in her panic, but she was doing what was instinctual to her. She was trying to leave the danger.
Ben turned to Adam and quietly said, “Adam, go get my gun.” Adam ran across the yard to the house. Joe continued to try and approach his horse. Ben and Hoss grabbed hold of Joe and held him back. Adam returned with the gun and handed it to his father. Joe looked at his father just at that time and screamed, “No Pa!” and pushed the gun away. Ben looked at his son. There were tears streaming down his face. “Pa please. I can’t lose her. Please. She’ll listen, let me try.”
“Joseph, I will not let that horse hurt you!”
“She won’t, please, please, let me try.”
Adam and Hoss stood by feeling helpless. They both knew how much Cochise meant to Joe. “Adam, we need to go see if we can find out who did this.” Hoss said.
Adam responded, “Yeah your right. Pa were going to go look around.”
“Pa, please?” Joe said, choking down sobs.
“Adam you and Hoss go take a look around.” Ben said sending his older two sons out of the barn. “Joseph, look at me.”
Joe took his eyes off of the injured horse. Ben saw his son’s pain. Ben realized he had to let Joe try to save the paint pony. “Joe, you have to be careful. Cochise doesn’t know you right now.”
“Pa let me try.”
Ben saw his son as very young at that moment. “Okay Joe, try.”
Joe walked towards the crazed horse. He started talking quietly to the horse. All Ben heard was a series of clicking sounds and Joe’s low voice. At first Cochise did not quiet as she reared again. Joe continued to talk to the frightened horse, and she slowly began to calm. Ben would not have believed it if he had not seen it. Cochise was allowing Joe closer and eventually allowed Joe to touch her. Joe continued to talk to the wounded animal. As he talked he began to look at the wound. It was a bullet hole in her neck. Joe noticed the bullet went clean though the animal’s neck. He had to sew her up, but he did not have to remove a bullet.
Ben asked with concern, “How, does it look?”
“I need to sew this up. The bullet passed through.” Joe explained as he continued to examine the wound.
‘Son, I’ll get what you need.” Ben moved to get the supplies.
Adam and Hoss returned from their look around the ranch and saw Joe in talking quietly to Cochise and comforting the wounded animal. The horse had settled down considerably. “I shouldn’t be surprised that he could do that with that horse, but it still is pretty incredible. “ Hoss said shaking his head.
“You’re telling me.” Adam answered.
“Hey Joe, you need some help?” Hoss offered. Joe did not turn to look at them, but kept talking and caressing the horse. He shook his head yes, and Hoss started to approach. The horse began to get agitated again, but Joe continued to console her. Hoss was able to approach and finally placed his hand on the pinto’s back. Ben returned to the barn with some medical supplies and handed them to Hoss. Adam and Ben stood back in the shadows and watched.
Hoss and Joe worked on the injured animal. They were able to stop the bleeding and suture the wound. Joe took a rag and lovingly cleaned up the animal’s shoulder and leg where the blood had fallen. He talked to her throughout his attending to her. Hoss could hear some of what Joe was saying. His brother was praising his horse for her beauty and speed. He was telling her about his favorite rides with her and how she made him so happy. He told her how much he loved her and needed her to be okay. Hoss could see the tears falling from Joe’s eyes. It made Hoss well up with tears as well.
After finishing the doctoring of the animal, Ben said to his boys, “Its very late. We need to turn in. In the morning, Adam you ride into town and tell Roy what happened.”
Everyone moved towards the door, except Joe. “Pa, I am going to stay in here tonight with Cochise.”
Ben knew this would be the case. “Son, I don’t think it is safe after this happened.”
“Pa, I’m gonna stay. I’m not gonna sleep ‘til I know she’s okay. I’ll get my gun and sit out here.”
Ben saw the look on his son’s face that told him Joe was not going to budge. “Joe, I am going to have Hank sit up outside and keep watch. I’ll bring you out your gun.” Hank was one of their best hands, and Ben trusted him. “Whatever you need to do Pa, but I’m stayin’ here.”
Ben brought out Joe’s gun as his son was again tending to his horse. The father put his hand on his son’s shoulder. “Try and get some sleep. Hank’s outside.”
“Yeah, I’ll try.”
The rest of the night passed without incident. Ben was unable to sleep himself and spent time wondering who could be so cruel as to shoot Cochise. Anyone who knew Joe knew how he felt about that horse. It did not make sense. Ben got up from his bed and looked out the window. The lanterns in the barn were still burning. He thought he would go out and check just one more time.
Ben quietly entered the barn. His youngest son had fallen asleep sitting up with his gun in his lap. Ben attempted to wake Joe, but his son had always been a very sound sleeper. Ben thought to himself, he wants to be a man and protect his horse, but he’s so tired he would be easy prey. Joe let Ben take the gun and then allowed his father to move him to a laying position. Joe was now asleep in the hay. Ben took several of the blankets used for the horses and put them over Joe. Joe stirred and mumbled something, but quickly returned to deep sleep. Ben looked over at Cochise who had appeared to be asleep earlier, but had stirred when he entered the barn. She seemed to be doing okay. There was no new blood on the bandage on her neck. Ben was so relieved that Cochise had made it through the ordeal. He was not sure how Joe would have coped with the death of the horse. He was so thankful he did not have to cross that bridge.
Joe awoke to Cochise’s movements in her stall. He had tied her halter to the side of her stall so she would not move her head much. She did not seem to care for this and was ready for her morning meal. “Hey girl. How are you?”
Joe was relieved to see Cochise had her appetite. He quickly rose and started to feed her. “Now you can’t do a lot of movin’ around.” Joe scolded the horse. He was feeling more confident that she was going to be all right. He decided to go into the house for breakfast. As he walked in the door he heard his father ask from the dining room, “Joe, that you?”
“Yeah, Pa. Its me.”
“Come eat breakfast and tell us how Cochise is doing.”
“Just a sec, Pa. I want to run upstairs and change clothes.”
Joe went up the stairs his usual two at a time. He noticed his door was closed. “Uh, that’s funny.” He thought to himself. Joe opened the door and his eyes were immediately drawn to the bed. His mouth fell open.
Ben waited for Joe to return to the dining room and his customary chair. It had been an unusual amount of time and his son was not descending the stairs. “Joe, everything okay?” Ben called out. There was no answer. “Joe?” still no answer.
Ben threw his napkin on the table and headed up the stairs. Hoss and Adam followed closely behind. They came to Joe’s door and stopped. Joe was standing in his room holding his green jacket in his hands reading a letter. “Joe?” Ben said again. As Ben moved toward Joe he saw the jacket was shredded. There were long tears and slash marks. He also saw that in the middle of Joe’s bed there was a knife stuck into the mattress.
Ben was stunned. “Joe, what is going on here!”
Joe looked up at his father and appeared pale. He handed his father what he had been reading.
Now you will pay for your leading me on. YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!
You are responsible for this, and I will make you pay.
You belong in hell and I am going to send you there.
All I wanted was to love you and you had to ruin all of it.
I will decide when and how I will kill you.
You will lose everything you love, I promise.
The force of the writing tore through several places on the paper.
“Joseph what is going on!” Ben questioned.
“Pa, I don’t know.” Joe’s face still showed shock.
“Son, you have no idea?”
Adam and Hoss started reading the letter over Ben’s shoulder.
“Well, Pa. There has been some strange stuff, but nothing like this until last night. I don’t know.” Joe confessed.
Ben knew he needed to find out everything. “Let’s go downstairs and tell me what has happened.”
She had watched them run into the barn after she had fired the gun. She was angry that when she went to shoot the horse, the horse had moved and the shot was not fatal. She went into the house while they were in the barn and left the jacket and note. Her anger had not subsided from the missed shot, so she stabbed the bed. She quickly exited the house and hid far enough away that she could see what was going on, but she could not be seen. She was almost found by the larger brother, but was able to move away in the dark. She had then watched the others go into the house, but he was not with them. This was her chance. As she began to move in, she saw a man she did not know come out of the bunkhouse with a rifle. She also saw his father carry a pistol into the barn. She decided it was not right at that time. She would bide her time and wait. He’d be alone eventually, and she would savor the kill. She began to plan how she’d do it.
They all moved downstairs and Joe filled them in on what had been going on with the gifts and the love letter. Ben, Hoss and Adam all sat and had similar reactions. It was the strangest thing they’d ever heard. Joe was embarrassed about the situation, but his anger over the horse had gotten him to open up.
“Joe are you sure you don’t have any idea who it could be? Any girl mad at you for anything?” Adam asked.
“Oh yeah, Adam. Assume it’s my fault.” Joe was quickly angered. “You always think that it’s my fault. I haven’t even seen any girls other than Bec and Rachel in over a month!” Joe yelled back.
“Hold it!” Ben yelled over Joe. “Joe, calm down. Getting angry with Adam isn’t going to help. Adam, ride in and get Roy. I want him to see all of this.”
“Sure, Pa. And Joe I was just trying to help you figure out who it could be. Of course you aren’t at fault. Don’t be so quick to anger. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”
“Its okay Adam. I know you didn’t mean it. I guess with some of what I do, I deserved it.” Joe tried to make light of the situation, but it was obvious that he was shaken by what was occurring. “Pa, I think I should go with Adam and start looking around in town to find who this is.” Joe added.
“No Joe, you are staying right here.” Ben answered.
“But Pa, I know she shot Cochise!”
“Joseph, you don’t know who it is, and I’m sure she is not going to walk up and tell you. She wants to kill you son!”
“Pa I can’t just sit here!”
“You can and you will, young man! Adam go ahead and take off.”
Joe continued to try, “What am I supposed to do? I can’t hold up here and you baby-sit!”
“Son, I know you want to go find this woman, but we need to hear from Roy and we need to approach this carefully. You running off half-cocked, and you’ll get yourself killed.”
Joe stood looking defiantly at his father. He started to say something and thought better of it. He turned and walked out the front door.
“Hoss go with him.” Ben ordered.
Hoss went out the door after Joe. “Hey Joe, wait up.” Hoss called after him. “Joe, you know Pa’s right.”
“Save it Hoss! Someone isn’t saying you’re supposed to be in love with them! Someone isn’t after you! Someone hasn’t threatened you! Someone hasn’t tried to kill Chub! As a matter of fact no one in their right mind would threaten you!” Joe was getting increasingly worked up as he talked.
“What’s that supposed to mean, Joe?”
“It means you don’t get into the trouble I do, cause people know they cannot mess with you.”
“Joe I don’t think people deliberately think they can mess with you.”
“Pa won’t let me defend myself. He’d never stop you.”
“But Joe, you don’t know who’s the enemy. What are you going to do, tear Virginia City apart ‘til you find her?”
“Never mind!” Joe knew of course Hoss was right and so was his father, but it felt too helpless. He did not like the feeling at all. He just wanted to do something rather than sit back and wait. “Leave me alone.” was all he could say.
“Can’t do that Joe.” Hoss followed along.
“Oh so the baby-sitting starts now, huh?”
“Look Joe. You have had an attitude that I don’t particularly care for. Because you’re upset or mad doesn’t give you the right to take it out on me. You been doin’ that on and off, and I don’t like it.”
“Get used to it Hoss. As long as you are my keeper I’m gonna have the attitude.” Joe looked furious and frustrated. Hoss knew that, but he really did not like it when he and Joe were at odds. It happened rarely, but when it did Hoss tended to feel very lonely. Joe was his best friend, and Hoss really liked to talk to Joe. Joe was so different than himself, so confident and wild. Hoss tended to be shy and cautious.
Joe walked towards the barn and went inside, as the big man followed, but at a distance. Joe checked on Cochise and then began saddling Skip.
Hoss interrupted. “Where ya goin’, Joe?”
“I don’t know. You’d better saddle up or get left behind.” Joe didn’t bother to look at Hoss.
“We got work to do around here.” Hoss tried to reason with his little brother.
“I’m gonna do my work, but I am goin’ on a ride first.”
“Joe, we should tell Pa.”
“Hoss you tell Pa anything you want. I’m going for a ride.”
Hoss saddled up with Joe. Ben heard the horses’ hooves in the front yard and came out. Joe had ridden off at a gallop. Hoss quickly told his father Joe wanted to go on a ride, he wasn’t sure where, but he’d follow him.
Ben shook his head. “Keep him away from town.” was all he could yell before Hoss too was out of sight.
Joe rode Skip hard and let began to relax. It certainly wasn’t Cochise, but being on a horse felt good. Hoss stayed a distance behind, so Joe started to slow. The older man was unsure if his brother wanted him to catch up or not, but he thought he would try.
As Hoss rode up to Joe, Joe did not take off. They rode along not speaking, but Hoss felt that meant Joe was calming down some. Joe headed toward the lake and Hoss had a good idea where they were going. As they approached Joe’s mother’s grave, Hoss asked him, “You want some time alone?”
“I don’t care. You can come.” Sometimes Joe would want to be alone and other times he would even ask Hoss to go with him. When Joe was real little, Hoss had come with him to help Joe realize there were no such things as ghosts at graves. Hoss smiled remembering his tiny brother looking so scared at the thought that this place could be haunted. Joe made Hoss swear he would not tell anyone that he was so scared. As Hoss recalled Joe had a lot of fears growing up; he still did. Hoss wasn’t sure what all that was about, but he knew his brother was very troubled at times. He also knew when Joe was afraid was when you would see him the most angry.
Joe sat down in his usual spot if front of his mother’s grave. Hoss sat off to the side. Joe did not speak, but was lost in thought. He did not know why, but he was drawn to this place when he felt misunderstood. That’s how he was feeling at the moment. He wasn’t really angry, at least not at his family, but that seemed to be the only emotion he could really let them see. The events with Cochise the previous evening had scared him. He hated to admit it, but he was scared. Of all his feelings he did not care for it was fear, so to feel it was extremely uncomfortable. Joe really was not very concerned about his own safety, because he felt he could take care of himself. At least that is the only thing he would allow himself to believe. Last night something he loved was harmed. What if that happened again and it was a person? A member of his family? He did not want to be responsible for that.
Joe had the strangest desire to be little again with little problems like his Pa making him go to bed early. He’d never tell his family, but there were times he was not so wild on the idea of growing up.
Finally, Hoss interrupted. “Joe, we need to get goin’. Roy’s probably at the house.”
“Yeah.” Was all Joe said and headed for the horses.
They mounted up and returned to the ranch house. Roy’s horse was there and they went inside.
“Boys, good of you to join us.” Ben said scowling at Joe. ”We’re filling Roy in. Joe I think he has some questions for you. And young man, you will be civil.”
Joe was embarrassed at his father talking to him that way. “What do you need Roy?”
“Well Joe, I’ve got a few questions. First off, where were you when you got the note and other things?”
“In the Larson’s barn.”
“Who else was there?”
“No one. When I came out Bec was there, but no one else.”
“Joe could Rebecca Larson be doing this?”
“Rebecca!? No, not in a million years, Roy. She is just about the best friend I have. She’d never do something to hurt me. She especially wouldn’t hurt Cochise. She always gives her sugar when she sees her. She says they are the only females allowed in our group. Bec? No not her.”
“Roy, we’ve known the Larson’s for years. Joe and Rebecca Larson have grown up together.” Ben added.
The sheriff explained, “Its worth asking Ben. I’ve never seen anything like this. Joe, was anyone else around when you were talking to Rachel?”
“No, just Adam.”
“Rachel? Rachel Lancaster? What does she have to do with this?” Ben asked.
Joe hadn’t told his father or brothers what had really happened to Rachel. He had not tied that in to the rest of the events. Roy told them the story.
“Roy, how does that fit in?” Joe asked.
“I’m not sure but my gut says it does. Your jacket is cut up and the knife in your bed. You were the last to see her. I cannot help but wonder.”
Joe had a sinking feeling. It had happened. Someone had gotten hurt. A person whom was good and innocent and connected to Joe was hurt and hurt badly.
“Adam, did you see anyone around?” Roy asked.
“I wasn’t really looking for anyone else, Roy. I just was looking at Joe and Rachel.” Adam recalled.
“Adam go over everything you remember seeing.” Roy requested.
“Well I walked out of the jail. I saw Joe pull up on Cochise and say something to Rachel. He got off the horse and walked in front of her. He talked to her and then he started to kiss her. That’s when I interrupted.”
They all looked at Joe. Joe didn’t feel well. His nightmare was coming true. He hadn’t meant anything by trying to kiss her. There was an awkward silence and then Roy spoke. “Well I am going to get some men to look around Virginia City. I’ll let you know if I find anything Ben.” With that Roy left. The others continued to stand in the living room as if waiting for something more to happen.
“Well boys, last time I looked we had a ranch to run. Lets get going.” Ben felt it would be best if they returned to the routine. They all walked outside and began doing their usual routine. Joe did not want to talk, so he worked quietly and quickly. He could not get the thought of Rachel out of his head.
Weeks had passed and everything appeared to return to normal. The Cartwrights went through the daily routine without incident. After the events with Cochise and Joe’s jacket, Ben had several of the hands placed on regular guard duty around the place. This became the custom, but it was hard for all four Cartwright’s to get used to the idea of seeing men with rifles all around the ranch.
Joe remained quiet and withdrawn. At night he was having nightmares of losing everyone he loved. Most mornings he looked like he had been up all night. Each of the Cartwrights wondered how long Joe was going to hold out before he broke down and talked to them about how he felt. Several times Ben had heard Joe in the night and had gone in to comfort him. Joe would not comment on what he was dreaming about, but Ben noticed that Joe seemed relieved to see him.
The remaining Cartwrights began to relax. Ben hoped the whole incident was behind them. Roy was unable to find a trace of anything in town. The fact that no one else had been hurt was a relief. They felt better about the situation as each week passed. However, Joe was still accompanied almost everywhere he went and he had not been to town since the picnic.
However, Joe had developed the ability to lose people who were supposed to be watching him. He made it his daily challenge to lose his “baby-sitter” for a period of time. The longer the situation went on, the more Joe was determined he was going to have it conclude one way or the other. He thought the best way might be to have him move around the ranch some by himself and see what happened. He had been trying this for over a week and it had been quiet. He had been vulnerable several times and there was no attack. Joe decided to try to get a day to himself, maybe even go into town and see what happened.
This idea was of course not shared with his father. He knew Ben would say no, but Joe felt he had to do it. He was tired of the dreams and the anxiety of waiting for something bad to happen. Maybe he could even find out who this woman was and get her before she got him. He just wanted it over. Joe’s plan took shape and he decided he would leave early the next morning.
The young man woke early and tiptoed out of the house. He decided not to take Cochise because he did not want her hurt. Cochise’s wound had healed nicely and Joe was glad that there was very little scarring. He had made a point to rub the scar daily with lineament, and that seemed to have done the trick. Joe saddled Skip and led him out of the barn.
Joe rode around the Ponderosa checking fences and the livestock as he went. He thought maybe that Pa would go easier on him if he did some work while he rode. There were places he had missed while this ordeal had been going on so he decided he would visit them as well. He rode to the fishing hole he and his friends liked so much and dismounted. The best fishing hole in the area was right there on the Ponderosa and not really too far from town. Boy do I wish I’d brought something to fish with. He thought. Joe moved towards the water and let Skip take a drink. He thought he saw something in the reflection of the water. The next thing he felt was a hard blow to his head and then nothing.
She had been waiting, biding her time. She knew after her attack at the ranch it would be a while until he was alone again, but she knew he would eventually wander out. She had been back and forth from town to the Ponderosa numerous times while she waited. She would train the sights of the gun she carried on him as he worked. She saw her opportunity this morning and decided this would be the day she killed him. But she had more to the plan. She had to work fast. She had thought of the addition at the last minute. She would need to restrain him while she did it. She thought a while and then it came to her.
Rebecca had been sweeping the floors in the recently completed house when there was a knock at the door. She opened it, but there was no one there. She looked down and saw a note with her name on it. She picked it up and read it.
I’ve missed you. I really need to talk to you.
Come to the fishing hole at 11:00.
The note immediately confused Rebecca. There was something strange about it. She could not put her finger on it for a minute, and then she realized what it was. Joe’s handwriting was always messy and this note wasn’t messy, but there was something else about the writing that told her this note wasn’t from Joe. Joe was left-handed and that fact had given him grief throughout his schooling. Every new teacher who came along wanted Joe to learn how to write with his right hand. His knuckles were rapped more times than Rebecca could remember. Joe never did learn how to write right handed and the teachers eventually grew weary of the struggling with him. Since Joe wrote left-handed he had a backward slant to his writing. It was very distinctive. This note did not have that slant.
The more she examined the note the more things she thought of that convinced her this was not from Joe. He never called her Rebecca, and he never wrote notes. She did not know if he wrote any to other girls, but he certainly did not to her. Something was wrong and she would go see, but she would go carefully.
She rode quickly to town and put the note on the whore’s step and quickly rode back. She had tied and gagged him and then tied him to a tree. She did not think he would regain consciousness before she got back. She had hit him in the head with the butt of her gun and knew that would keep him out for a while.
The next sensation Joe felt was an excruciating headache. He tried to lift himself out of the fog that had rolled into his head. He was confused. Slowly he felt more in touch. There was something in his mouth and he could not move much. He could hear in a distance someone yelling. He was startled when he felt water thrown in his face. Joe opened his eyes and saw a woman standing in front of him screaming at him. Nothing made sense. What was she doing there and why was he tied up? Slowly it came back to him.
“You are going to pay for it all! You led me on, you bastard! You couldn’t just accept us could you?! You…”
She continued her tirade and Joe sat looking up at her.
“Stop looking at me like that!” She said, and with that gave Joe a hard kick in the stomach. Joe gasped to breathe as he felt his insides radiate with pain. She dove on top of him flailing her fists and screaming “I HATE YOU!” over and over. She hit him numerous times in the face, and scratched his cheek with her fingernails. Joe was shocked at the amount of power she could put behind her blows. As sudden as her attack started, it stopped. She stood up and looked down at him.
“You know you have brought all of this upon yourself.” She said in a calm voice. Joe looked into her eyes and saw madness. He knew she was not going to be reasoned with. He had to think of some way to get out of this.
“You think you are so above me, but you’re wrong.” She continued. “You’re just like every other man, a whoremonger and a liar.” She reached down and roughly pulled off the gag and pulled out the rag she had stuck in his mouth.
“Tell me why you did this to me!” She demanded.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry.” was all Joe could think of to say.
“Your sorry?! Your sorry?! That’s all you can say?!” She was screaming again. Joe recoiled from her reaction. He had no idea what to say to her. “Tell me!” She demanded.
Joe’s mind raced. What is it she wanted from him? “I uh, I um…”
She kicked him again in the stomach. “Answer me, DAMN YOU!”
Joe contracted with the pain, and the words came out of him through clenched teeth. “I thought you were too good for me.” Joe thought he would try and play her game.
“You were right about that. You are so beneath me. You make me sick!” She began to tirade again, while Joe tried to think clearly and develop a plan. He realized no one knew where he was. He was going to have to get himself away from her by himself.
She continued to scream as she walked over to a place where it looked like she had some things and she picked up a knife. She walked back over to him and sat on his legs so she was looking directly into his face. Their eyes locked, hers showing madness, his trying not to show fear. She grabbed him by the back of the hair and pulled his head back. She then kissed him hard on the lips. He wasn’t sure if he should try to seem like he was kissing her back. He waited too long to react and she stopped kissing him. She again looked him right in the eyes and spit in his face. Joe was unable to hide his reaction from his eyes. He felt afraid and she saw it.
“I have a surprise for you.” She said calmly. “I have invited a friend of yours to join us. She should be here soon. Your precious Bec is coming and I’m going to make you watch me kill her. Then I’ll kill you.” The manner in which she said this was chilling. She brought the knife up to his face and continued to speak, “I should cut that pretty face of yours all up.” She ran the back of the blade over his cheeks and forehead. She talked more quietly as she was doing this, almost as if in a trance of some sort.
Without warning she reared back and stabbed the knife into Joe’s shoulder. He screamed out in pain. She laughed out loud, a wild maniacal laugh. Joe’s shoulder felt like it was on fire. He looked at her and then saw just over her shoulder the best sight he had ever seen.
Rebecca was standing there with a gun drawn. The young woman saw the figure sitting on Joe’s legs drawing back a knife. She fired the pistol and the woman went limp.
“Oh God, Bec! I can’t believe its you!” Joe said with relief.
Rebecca ran to Joe and saw his shoulder bleeding. “Joe are you okay?” she asked, concerned.
“Yeah, I’m fine really. Here get her knife and cut these ropes!”
Rebecca pushed the woman off of Joe, put down the pistol, and took the knife. She cut the ropes that held Joe. He struggled to his feet, becoming very aware of feeling all of the places where he was sore and hurting. His shoulder especially was hurting much worse than he would admit. He saw he was losing blood and he knew he needed a doctor. He grabbed Rebecca’s arm and said, “Come on I’m getting you out of here. Where’s your horse?”
“Over here, Joe. Come on. This way.” Joe put her in front of him and she led them to her horse. He put her up on it, just as a shot went by his shoulder. Realizing the woman wasn’t dead, he knew they had to get out of there. Joe had no idea the location of Skip. “Bec I’m gettin’ on too.” Joe held his breath against the pain and got onto Rebecca’s horse behind her. Rebecca kicked the horse hard and it began to run. Another shot rang out, and she felt Joe move hard against her. Joe moaned and almost pulled them both off the saddle. Rebecca kept the horse running and yelled, “Joe! You all right?”
“Um, Bec I think she hit me.” Joe felt warm sticky fluid run down his back and intense pain hit him hard.
“Joe, I am going to stop and take a look!”
“No you can’t! Just head to the house! Run this horse!” Joe found talking to be getting harder.
Rebecca knew he was right, but she was worried that the ride may do more harm to Joe. They rode at a fast gallop until the horse was noticeably tired and they had to slow. Joe leaned forward against Rebecca, his face in her hair. He thought it funny that at the time when he hurt so badly, he noticed how nice Bec’s hair smelled. “Hey Bec,” he said in a low voice. “Your hair smells real nice.” He managed to get out the words as he felt groggy and his words were slow in coming.
“Thanks Joe.” She thought to herself, this would be the only time that she had his arms around her and he smelled her hair. It wasn’t quite how she pictured it. “Joe you need to keep talking to me. I need you to help me get the horse to the ranch. I haven’t done this ride by myself.” She wanted him to keep talking to reassure her he was alive, and that he was going to be able to stay on the horse.
The trip was very slow to the ranch. Rebecca began to ask Joe questions. “Joe, tell me all the hands of poker that can win.” She tried to keep him going.
“Um there is the uh…oh god it hurts!” Joe exclaimed.
“I know it does, but concentrate and tell me.”
“There’s the high card…a pair… um uh three of a kind… oh jeez the uh, straight… a flush… four of a kind… straight… flush and…. royal flush.” Joe felt it took massive amounts of energy to talk, but he knew what she was doing.
“Good Joe. Hey Joe, tell me about Cochise. How is she doing?”
“She’s… uh… okay… She… doesn’t have much of a… scar.”
Rebecca felt his grip around her loosening. “Now Joe, you gotta hang on. Grab hold of me real tight like your dancing with one of your girls.”
“Bec… I wish… we were… dancing.”
“Me too Joe. You know you’ve never even asked me to dance, how come?”
“I, uh… don’t know.”
“Well you know I have been wanting to dance with you since we were fifteen and you grew taller than me.” She couldn’t believe she said that, but she felt no need to be guarded with what she said to him.
“Huh… But… you… like… David…”
“Where did you get that idea?”
“You…oh man jeez.” Joe was wracked with pain.
Rebecca had tears in her eyes. She felt Joe was dying. The horse walked along and Rebecca prayed it wasn’t much further. “Joe, where do we go from here?” They were at a fork in the road.
Joe had to lift his head. He moved slowly. “We uh go… to the… right.”
Rebecca guided the horse in that direction as she prayed.
Joe had something he needed to say, “Bec…I want to tell you… um, uh… if I don’t make it… I wanna thank… you. Tell my… uh Pa and um… Adam… and Hoss… I love them. Bec… I…” Joe stopped talking. He felt a strong draw to just let go.
“Joe now you stop it. You cannot do this to me!” Rebecca was crying. “Joe I love you and I don’t want you to die!”
“You… love…” Joe heard her talking but it sounded far away.
“Yeah and you’ve got to make it. I want to get that dance from you!” As she talked she saw the back of the Cartwright barn. “Joe we’re there!” She made the horse run and yelled as they approached. “Help me! Someone help me!”
Ben was the only one home. He had sent Adam and Hoss out to look for Joe when they had realized what he had done. Ben heard the yelling outside. He quickly ran to the door. Ben saw Rebecca Larson on a horse with Joe behind her. “Mr. Cartwright, help. Joe is hurt real bad!”
Ben ran up to the horse and grabbed his son. “Joe, my God boy, what happened?” Ben asked as he tried to get Joe off of the horse. He noticed Joe had his arms tightly around Rebecca’s waist and was not going to let go.
“Joe it’s me, Pa. You can let go now.”
“Joe sighed and released his grip. Ben pulled Joe off of the horse as Joe moaned loudly. “Pa…”
Ben took him in his arms, carrying him inside. Rebecca dismounted and followed. Ben continued upstairs, as did Rebecca. Ben laid Joe on his bed and began looking him over. “Mr. Cartwright,” Rebecca spoke in a shaken voice. “Joe’s been shot in the back, and he was stabbed.”
Ben looked at his son and saw him beaten and battered. “Rebecca, go get one of the hands and send them into town for the doctor. And have him get the sheriff too. Come on back up here, after. There’s no one else to help me. Hop Sing’s in town visiting family, and Adam and Hoss aren’t here.”
“Certainly, Mr. Cartwright.” Rebecca ran down stairs to do as Joe’s Pa had asked.
Ben began to undress Joe to look at his son’s wounds. Joe’s face grimaced in pain. “Son you’re going to be okay.”
“Pa…it …really hurts.” Joe was praying to pass out.
“I know son. Just try and not move.”
“She’ll be here in a minute. Son, who did this?” Ben asked with a pretty good idea who had hurt Joe.
“A woman…don’t know…her.”
Rebecca returned to Joe’s room. “How is he?”
“He’ll be okay.” Ben said looking at the young lady.
Rebecca could see the worry in his eyes and she was unsure if Mr. Cartwright really believed it himself. She looked at Joe lying in the bed. His father had him lying on his side to take the pressure off of both his shoulder and his back.
“Bec…” Joe asked with a strained voice.
“Hey Joe, I’m here.”
“Oh God…!” Joe screamed and writhed in pain.
“Joe hang on. We’ve sent for the doctor.” Ben knew they had at least two hours to wait for the return of Doc Martin.
“Rebecca stay with him, please.” Ben said and left the room. He went to get the same sutures and lineaments he had given Joe to help Cochise and impatiently waited in the kitchen for the water to boil. Ben knew Joe’s shoulder had to be cleaned out and closed up. He didn’t think it should wait until the doctor arrived. Ben returned to his son’s room to see Rebecca holding Joe’s hand and talking softly to him. Joe was gritting his teeth through the pain.
“Son, I’ve got to work on your shoulder. This is going to hurt, but it has to be done.” Ben was dreading this. “Rebecca, you can leave the room if you want to.”
“No Mr. Cartwright. I can handle it. You need my help.” Rebecca was unsure if she really could hand it, but she knew this was not something Joe’s Pa could do by himself. Ben was thinking of giving Joe something to drink to knock him out. He knew that alcohol thinned the blood and was afraid to take the chance. “Son, I can’t give you anything. I don’t want you to bleed more.”
Joe’s mind was playing tricks on him. He could hear his father and Bec talk, but they seemed to be far away at times. Then he would become extremely aware of the pain he was feeling and the voices were clear. He wanted to sleep.
Ben soon began the process of cleaning out the wound. Joe screamed and grabbed Rebecca’s hand tight. She jumped a little at how tight Joe’s grip was.
“You okay Rebecca?” Ben asked seeing her distress.
“Uh yeah. Joe’s just hanging on real tight.” She said, indicating her hand.
Ben tried to work quickly, but carefully. He wanted to clean up any chance for infection. Joe began moaning, “Pa stop…please stop…I can’t…don’t Pa.” Joe’s begging tore at Ben. He knew he was doing right, but he also knew his son was in extreme pain.
“Hold on Joe. I’m almost done.”
“No Pa… please.”
“Shhh, Joe. Its okay.” Rebecca talked softly. She moved Joe’s damp hair from his forehead. “Joe, you know about that cave you found several years ago? Well David thinks its full of gold. You think he’s gonna get rich?” Rebecca was just talking to distract Joe. She felt so helpless. “We should go and claim half that gold once you’re better.” Rebecca had tears in her eyes. She wanted them to be able to continue the fun they had as friends. She had so many fond memories. She felt Joe’s hand release and it scared her. She looked down and saw Joe was breathing, but he was unconscious.
“Mr. Cartwright. I think he’s passed out.”
Ben too checked to see if Joe was still breathing. He was relieved that Joe was not feeling the pain any longer. “Thank you, God.” Ben said out loud. He added silently to the prayer, “Please keep him alive.”
Ben finished suturing his son’s shoulder. He cleaned up the area where he had worked and then spoke softly to his boy. “Son, I’m sorry for doing that to you.” Ben saw his son as so young and fragile at that moment. Joe was built solid, but he was still not a man yet. At least not in Ben’s eyes.
“I’m glad that’s over.” Ben admitted to Rebecca.
“Me too.” Rebecca and Ben moved into the chairs in Joe’s room to wait for the doctor. The minutes ticked by until Joe stirred again. There was a wash basin and a towel on Joe’s dresser. Rebecca walked over and brought them over to the bedside table. She dabbed the towel in the water and started to clean up Joe’s face. “Joe, you remember the time you decided to scare Richard by covering yourself in chimney soot and jumping out from behind that tree in the woods. I didn’t think someone our age could have a heart attack, but it sure did look like that’s what Richard was gonna do.” Rebecca began to talk to him about the adventures she had had with him.
Ben noticed Joe settled down some. Joe would go in and out of consciousness, but Rebecca kept talking to him. “You remember the time you bet Stevie Potter you could jump Cochise over that wagon?” Ben listened to his youngest son’s exploits and tried not to react to some of his son’s behavior. “You ended up jumping that wagon about five times that day. You took the money you won and took us to the store for candy and drinks. I remember you saying later that you’d never jumped Cochise that high and far, but you figured she could do it.”
Ben and Rebecca stayed with Joe until the ranch hand returned. Both were tuned into Joe’s breathing and would watch it carefully when Joe would go unconscious. When Ben left to go down and greet the doctor, Rebecca stayed by Joe’s side. A few minutes later Ben returned to Joe’s room alone. “Rebecca, the doctor and Roy are still in Virginia City. There was a mining accident and they can’t come right now. I’m going to have to do it myself.” Ben felt ill. He had helped men on the trail who had been shot. He knew how to remove bullets, but the thought of digging a bullet out of Little Joe was something all together different. “Rebecca, run downstairs and get the bottle of whiskey in Hop Sing’s cupboard in the kitchen. Also put on some more water to boil.” Ben was not going to let Joe experience the intense pain again. If Joe came too enough, he was going to give him enough whiskey to dull the pain.
Ben took advantage of his time alone with Joe to talk to his son. “Son, I love you so much. The day you were born I was so proud. And your mother? She thought you were the crowned prince of the Ponderosa. You have such a life a head of you. I want you to be stronger than you’ve ever been Joseph. You have to use all that fire and spunk you have to make it through this. Channel it son. It will keep you going.”
After Rebecca returned, Ben went down to the kitchen to get the knives he’d need. As he came up the stairs he continued to pray, “Lord, watch after me and guide my hand. And Lord if you can, give Joe extra strength. You know he’s a good kid, and he really needs it right now.”
Ben walked into Joe’s room and took a deep breath. As soon as he began, Joe moaned. “Rebecca, see if he will drink some of the whiskey.” Ben asked.
“Joe, are you awake? Here drink this.” Joe was out of it, but did as he was told. He felt the warm burn of the whiskey, but it did not register with him what the substance was. “Mr. Cartwright, how much more?” Rebecca asked showing Joe had drunk about a shot glass full.
“See if he’ll do another.”
“Joe, here drink some more.” He did as was asked although he choked on the last of it. “Its okay. Shh… you’re okay.” Rebecca comforted him.
Ben waited as long as he dared and then started the operation. He tried to tell himself this really wasn’t his son, but a stranger. He talked himself through the steps of what he knew he had to do. Joe was quiet, and Rebecca held his hand comforting him. Joe cried out once, “get away” but it did not seem to be pain related.
Joe was trapped in his own nightmare. He was being held by the mad woman and tortured over and over. He saw his family watching but unable to reach him. Then the dream switched to his Pa jabbing at him with a sharp object telling him not to move. Then he heard Rebecca telling him to drink poison. This dream kept going over and over and Joe was left only to endure.
Ben was relieved to see the bullet was not lodged in a vital organ. He had no idea what he would do if that had been the case. Ben retrieved the bullet, which was resting against what Ben thought may have been Joe’s kidney. He released a “thank you God” when Ben realized the organ was not harmed.
“I’ve got the bullet. I think everything is okay.” Ben informed Rebecca. She said her own prayers of thanks. Ben cleaned the wound and sewed Joe back up. This was an afternoon he never wanted repeated. If he’d have shared that thought with Rebecca, she would have whole-heartedly agreed.
After both were assured Joe was breathing deeply and regularly, they were willing to feel that he was out of the woods. “Well Miss Rebecca, I owe you a huge debt of gratitude. You are truly my son’s friend.” With saying this Ben reached out and hugged her. Upon seeing her with his son during the whole ordeal, Ben knew for certain that Rebecca felt more than friendship for Joe. He knew she loved his son and he felt his son was very lucky.
Rebecca liked the hug Joe’s Pa gave her. She did not like him referring to her as a friend, because she knew she really wanted more, but she guessed her friendship with Joe was also a wonderful thing.
“Rebecca, do you know what happened this morning? Do you know what Joe went through?”
Rebecca began to fill Ben in on everything she knew and saw. Ben realized how bright she was when she told him of her figuring out the note. He was so grateful to the young lady. During the ordeal, Rebecca had been milling over what was familiar about the woman she had seen hurting Joe. She thought she knew who she was. “Mr. Cartwright, I’ve been thinking, and I think I know the identity of the woman.”
“Yeah, I think so.” I saw her when I moved her off of Joe. I think she’s Katherine LeGrande.”
“Who is that? Any relation to the widow LaGrande?” Ben had known of the widow through his work on last year’s Town Expansion Committee. That was a fancy term for trying to bring in things such as a library and an opera house.
“Yes it’s her daughter. See I used to go with my mother when she would do sewing and alterations in homes. This was before Pa did so well in banking. Katherine was a strange person even then. She didn’t go to school. Her mother said it was because she was needed at home. The rumor was Katherine was sent away because she went crazy after her father died.”
“Rebecca, why isn’t this common knowledge?”
“I don’t know, but they had not been in town very long, and I don’t think anyone ever knew about Katherine. I heard the rumor more from my mom talking to my dad. I never met Katherine, but I saw a picture. If I remember right, she looks like the woman who hurt Joe. Mr. Cartwright, Katherine LaGrande is probably ten years older than Joe.”
“Rebecca, can you stay around and tell Roy when he gets here. He’s coming here after the problem in Virginia City is cleared up.”
“I was planning on it Mr. Cartwright. I want to make sure Joe’s okay.” Rebecca turned to go to Joe again and Ben noticed the back of her shirt was covered in blood. “Child are you okay?” Ben asked in a panic.
“Sure I’m fine, why.”
“Your back has blood all over it.”
“That must be Joe’s. He leaned on me for most of the ride.” Ben looked at the blood and was again thankful Rebecca was there for Joe.
“Here. Let me get you something to change into. We don’t have young ladies around here, but I could probably find a shirt. Here, Joe probably is the closest in size.” Ben had opened Joe’s drawer and pulled out a fresh shirt.
Rebecca looked over at Joe then back at Ben. “Good thing he’s out of it. I don’t know if he’d like one of his shirts messed up by a girl.” Rebecca said smiling.
“Oh, I don’t think he minds that.” Ben returned the smile.
Adam and Hoss and gone by the fishing hole, but all they found were ropes and bloodstains. It was when they found Skip running free that they headed back home. Roy, a deputy, and the Doc arrived close behind. The doctor immediately went upstairs to look in on Joe. Rebecca told Roy as much as she knew about what had happened and who she suspected. Roy then sent the deputy into town to investigate.
Doc Martin returned downstairs after about 20 minutes. ”Ben, you did an admirable job with Joe. It looks as good as something I would do.” Doc Martin praised.
“Doc, is he okay. I tried to do the stitching so he wouldn’t have bad scaring and how about infection?
“It looks as good as can be expected. You know how it goes Ben, especially with Joe. You know what to look for and what to do.” Unfortunately Ben knew too well. Having three boys had brought the usual physical problems, but Joe seemed to have a knack for hurting himself in ways that were dangerous and, unfortunately for Ben, life threatening.
“Here, I don’t know if you have any left from the last go round, so I brought you a pain killer for Joe. Same as before, Ben, only if he needs it.”
The Doc and Roy left soon after and it was the Cartwrights and Rebecca now left to discuss what Joe had been through.
“Little lady, I want to thank you for what you did for short shanks up there.” Hoss said giving her a hug.
“Hey Hoss don’t spend all day I want to thank her too.” Adam pushed Hoss out of the way and gave her a hug as well.
“I think you guys should know that when we were riding to the ranch Joe said that if he didn’t make it, he wanted you all to know how much he loved you.”
“Oh we know that. He wouldn’t be such a pain if he didn’t love us.” Ben answered.
During the next week Roy returned to the ranch with the diary of Katherine LaGrande. In it were the comings and goings for Joe for almost a year. Roy also told Ben of the body found in the cellar of the LaGrande place. It was the widow. Roy put out a wanted poster on Katherine, but had heard nothing.
Joe slept for most of the first few days after he was hurt. Hop Sing doted on Joe trying all different things to stimulate Joe’s appetite. Hop Sing had been with the Cartwright’s before Marie had died, and saw Joe as one of his own. He spent a lot of time in Joe’s room making him comfortable.
Joe spent his waking hours trying to distract himself from the ordeal he had been through. He knew it would come to him in dreams, so he did not want to think of it when he was awake. Hoss managed to keep him occupied with checkers, and Adam shared some good books. Joe found himself wanting to see Bec. He wanted to see her a lot. When Joe was strong enough, Roy came and took his statement. When Roy showed Joe a picture of Katherine, it was all Joe could do not to cry out. That was the face in his nightmares. He fought hard to keep the image away after Roy left. It would take time.
Katherine had escaped and made it away before anyone noticed. She rode until she collapsed from the bullet wound. Damn the whore, but she got the whoremonger, she thought as she drifted into unconscious. The next thing she knew she was in someone’s cabin. The days remained blurry until she came completely around. She saw his face, his eyes. The man had kind eyes. He would take care of her. She would make it work this time. She knew it….
Joe sat on the porch enjoying being outside. He was surprised his Pa had gone for it after he had been so protective the past few weeks. Just then he heard horses and then saw a buggy. He watched Mr. Larson get out of it and then walk over to a beautiful young woman and helped her get out. Joe saw long flowing brown hair and a petite waist. She looked so familiar in her smile and her laugh, but the rest!
Joe made it a point to rise and walk over to the visitors. “Mr. Larson, welcome. I don’t believe I’ve met the young lady accompanying you.”
“Mr. Joseph Cartwright, may I introduce my daughter, Miss Rebecca Larson.”
“My, my Miss Rebecca you are something to behold.”
“Why thank you, Mr. Cartwright.”
“Please ma’am call me Joe.”
“And you can call me Rebecca.”
Ben had come outside when he heard the buggy approach. “Hey John.” He called and John Larson walked over.
As Joe and Rebecca stood looking at each other, John told Ben, “it took her half the morning to get ready. Her mother was so glad to see her all dressed up. She’s been wanting to come out here for days.” Both men looked back at their children.
“Bec…No, I cannot call you that looking like you do. Rebecca you look gorgeous.”
“Why haven’t I seen this before?” Joe began to flirt.
“I don’t know, why haven’t you.” Rebecca secretly was thrilled at Joe’s reaction.
“I don’t know, but I’m not going to overlook you again.” Joe smiled.
They both laughed and then Joe got real serious. “Rebecca I want to thank you for all that you did. I can’t begin to tell you.”
“You thanked me already.”
“I want to thank you proper like.” With that Joe drew her close in his arms and kissed her. He kissed her passionately and long. He kissed her for so many reasons, the latest being how beautiful she was. She kissed him because she loved him, pure and simple.
Joe finally drew back from her and said, “Now that beats fishing any day of the week.”
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