Summary: Adam returns to find that he and Joe must readjust to each other. — Sequel to ‘Care Package’. Written 10-01.
Rated: K (48,390 words)
The Care Package Series:
Bridging the Gap
Jim Dawson whistled softly as he rode into the main corral before the large ranch house, which housed his employers, the Cartwrights. Today felt like an extra fine day somehow. The sky was clear and blue, the birds were chirping gaily and a soft breeze blew through the trees covering every part of the vast Ponderosa. It was simply the kind of day that made a man feel good and glad to be alive. A steady horse beneath him and the prospect of a good meal and a game of cards ahead of him made Jim smile. He was a man who worked hard and took time to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. The fact that he’d been sent to Virginia City for a few hours today to pick up the mail and send a few telegrams for Mr. Cartwright, and had therefore had time to stop in for a cold beer with a pretty saloon gal hadn’t hurt his feelings a bit either.
Jim heard the voice and shaded his eyes from the sun to get a look at the owner, though in truth he had known who it was without bothering to look. It was hard not to when he was the only little young’un on the whole spread. “Howdy, Little Joe! You getting them broncs busted for me, partner?”
The eleven year old boy laughed and hopped down from the fence where he had been watching a couple of the men tame the wild horses his father wanted to turn into riding stock. Little Joe was not considered big enough or strong enough to do the job himself, but everyone knew it would only be a matter of time. He was already an amazing rider and once the initial fit of hellfire and stubbornness had been ridden out of a wild horse, there was nobody on the whole Ponderosa who was better at training and gentling those animals than this boy.
“Cole and Danny have broken three horses since you left for town,” Joe reported to the hand, “but they’ve both gotten pitched off that big red sorrel twice already.”
Jim dismounted and hitched his thumbs into his belt, approaching the corral with an exaggerated mosey that set the boy laughing again. “Well, now, maybe I ought to just get on in there and show ‘em how it’s done!”
“Maybe you just should!” shouted Cole McGwire from the fence where he’d been listening to the exchange with a toothy grin. Cole was a big man, twenty years old with a shock of bright red curls, vivid blue eyes and a hint of a Scottish burr. He winked broadly at his partner, Danny Martinez, a nineteen year old Mexican vaquero who had signed on to the Ponderosa just recently. “What do you think, Dan? You think the old man can show us how it’s done?”
Danny thoughtfully smoothed his thin goatee, casting a doubtful eye on Dawson. “No, amigo, I think he is much too far past his prime to attempt anything so dangerous. Say, Jim, there’s a nice rocking chair on the porch over there if you need a rest after that long ride in from town!”
The two young cowboys howled with laughter at Danny’s jest.
Jim stooped and clutched at his back, puckering his lips over his teeth and squinting at his friends, threatening them with an imaginary cane. “Why, you whippersnappers! In my day, we knew how to show some respect!” This performance from a man who was only twenty five years old himself, sent his two fellow ranch hands and the boy at his side into fresh gales of laughter. Jim chuckled too. “Actually, boys I think I’ll leave the dirty work to you today. I got that fence to check on the north rim, just as soon as I drop off the mail to the house.”
“I’ll take it,” volunteered Joe. “I was about to head in anyway. They’ll probably be calling me any second for…”
“Lunchtime, Little Joe!” The voice of Joe’s father, Ben Cartwright suddenly bellowed out clear and strong from the doorway of the main house.
“Lunch,” finished Joe with a grin.
The three cowboys grinned back at him. A man could set his watch by the meals Hop Sing served to the Cartwright family. Jim fished into his saddlebag and pulled out a string tied bundle of letters and papers, which he handed to the child. “Looks like there’s one for you today Joe, right there on top.”
An expression of delight brightened the boy’s cherubic face. “It must be from Adam!”
Joe’s oldest brother, Adam, had been away attending college in Boston for nearly five years and though none of the three ranch workers had ever met him, they felt as though they had. His brothers talked about him all the time and had been known to share interesting items from his letters with anyone who would listen. Jim Dawson had several younger siblings himself and he appreciated the thoughtfulness of a brother who would think to send some of his letters home to a child. Though the contents were usually for the entire family, about one in three letters came addressed to either Little Joe or his brother Hoss. It was obvious how much Joe delighted in seeing his own name on the envelopes, for they were the only letters he ever got. His father understood the importance of the gesture as well, for Joe had proudly told the men that he got to read those letters first rather than just hand them over.
“Well, now, aren’t you gonna open ‘er up and see what he has to say?” Cole prompted, after watching the boy just stand there admiring the envelope for a few seconds.
Joe nodded and drew his letter out from the packet, carefully slitting the edge with the pocketknife Adam had sent him for his last birthday. He silently surveyed the contents for a moment, and then a look of utter shock froze his features. Quickly, his eyes scanned the page again and a huge grin broke out on his face. A joyful scream rose straight from his toes and all the way up as he threw his arms around Jim, nearly spinning him off his feet with the force of the hug. “He’s comin’ home, Jim! Cole, Danny, my brother Adam is comin’ home!” With that, the boy took off toward the house at a dead run, waving the paper and screaming the news loud enough to be heard clear back in Virginia City. Jim chuckled and rubbed his neck. Yes indeed, this was a right special kind of day.
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