Summary – Written for the 2018 Bonano Challenge on Bonanza Brand. A Missing scene for The Stranger – When Ben rides off with Charles Leduque, heading to New Orleans, how do his sons react after being told not to follow or rescue their father? They are Cartwrights after all.
Rating = K+, Word count = 5306
When the Hate is Gone
Little Joe Cartwright paced around the confines of his cell. What a nightmare the last few days had been. A stranger from New Orleans shows up in Virginia City and all their lives get turned upside down. His Pa was getting ready to run for Governor as soon as Nevada Territory became a state, but then he backed out because that stranger, a Police Inspector from New Orleans, brought a warrant for Pa’s arrest for a twenty-year-old murder charge. Joe sat for a moment on the cot to think about that and ran his hands through his wavy hair. To make matters worse, the Inspector, Charles Leduque, claimed parts of the story also involved Joe’s mother, and that’s why Little Joe was sitting in jail now. He had gone to get Leduque to back down on his charges against his pa and innuendos against his mother. When Joe grabbed Leduque’s shirt, the Inspector’s deputy pulled a gun, making Joe shoot him in self-defense, only Leduque claimed Joe murdered the man.
When Pa came to see Joe in the cell, he said Leduque had agreed to drop the charges. Joe’s insides had gone cold when Pa explained why, that he was returning to New Orleans with Leduque. Pa had that look that brooked no argument but what could Little Joe do anyway trapped as he was on the other side of the bars. He helplessly watched as his father spoke in a strained whisper to the Sheriff before leaving the office. Since that visit there had been other sounds in the office area so he froze and listened, frustrated that the door was closed. He thought he heard Adam’s voice, rushed and worried. But no one came to see him. At the very least he wished Sheriff Brady would come in and tell him what’s going on. Worry filled his thoughts as he imagined all the horrible things Charles Leduque could do to his father. The man was a liar and despicable beyond measure and the thought that he wanted to arrest his father for murder made Joe’s blood boil.
Joe grabbed the cell bars and glared at the closed door, willing it to open. Pa told him Leduque would come and tell the truth, the truth that Joe shot the deputy in self-defense. That was quite a while ago, just before Pa said he was returning to New Orleans with Leduque. Now Joe was willing the Sheriff, or anyone, to come in and set him free. When that happened he’d be on his horse so fast even his brothers couldn’t catch him. His only goal was to save his father and see that Leduque got what he deserved. Joe rattle the cell door in frustration…would someone ever come and let him out?
On the boardwalk outside the jail, Ben reminded Adam and Hoss not to follow him or try to rescue him, then told them he’d be home soon enough. When Ben handed his gun belt to Adam, that’s when Adam knew he had to do something to help his father. As his father and the Inspector left town, Adam pushed away from the post he’d been leaning against and wandered into the street, staring after them until they disappeared around a corner. Hoss joined him and waited. Adam straightened his muscular frame, looked Hoss in the eye then made tracks back to the jail.
“Wait here Hoss. I’ll just be a minute.” Adam disappeared inside, and almost immediately returned, without their little brother. He faced in the direction of a saloon and stepped off the boardwalk. Hoss jogged a bit to catch up with his brother’s determined strides.
“Adam, why didn’t you get Joe out? Pa said he could be released. Why are we goin’ to the saloon?”
“Not now Hoss,” came the terse reply through tightened lips.
Adam pushed through the swing doors, picked up a couple of beers and headed to a lone table in the back of the saloon. He sat with his back to the wall and Hoss did the same. That way they could make sure no one could wander over and overhear their conversation.
After a few sips of beer, Hoss put his mug down, impatient to hear his brother’s thoughts. “Ya know Adam, despite the heat outside I’m feeling mighty cold in here. You ain’t thinkin’ of goin’ after Pa are ya after what he said?”
Adam sipped his beer a bit longer before finally shifting his distant gaze to his brother. “Sorry brother.” Adam shifted in his chair to lean on the table, still gripping his mug. “It’s not just the air that feels frosty, my gut’s making me feel down right frigid. I don’t trust Leduque any more than you or Joe do. I’m trying to figure out a way to rescue Pa without him knowing we’re involved.”
“Yeah, I know what ya mean. My scalp’s been itching somethin’ fierce since Pa left.” Hoss absentmindedly reached up to scratch his head under his hat. “You got a plan?”
“I think so but I need to think it through some more. And before you ask again, I asked the Sheriff to hold Joe a bit longer. I want to have everything in place before he’s released.”
“Reckon that’s best. Once Little Joe gets his gun belt back and hits the street, we won’t be able ta catch him.”
Adam couldn’t stop the smirk that slid across his face at Hoss’ accurate assessment of their younger brother. Joe had been a time bomb ever since he’d heard Leduque’s story. As Adam settled back in his chair once more and lost himself to his beer and his thoughts, Hoss pulled out a deck of cards to occupy himself. An hour later the brothers headed back to the jail to “spring” their youngest brother.
Sheriff Brady jumped when the door opened admitting the two Cartwright brothers. Little Joe had finally quieted down and Brady settled at his desk to finish some paperwork. He’d been focused on new wanted posters and didn’t hear the heavy footfalls coming up the steps outside the jail.
Bending over to grab some leaflets that had drifted to the floor, Brady looked up and frowned at the brothers. “You sure took your time getting back Adam. Little Joe’s been pesterin’ me somethin’ fierce to let him out. I had to close the door to get some peace and that made him madder than a wounded mountain lion. He must have given up about half hour ago.”
“Sorry for the delay, Sheriff. But we’re here now and we’ll take him off your hands.”
Brady grabbed the keys off the hook as he headed for the cell, a bit too enthusiastically, Hoss thought. “Hey Little Joe, your brothers are here.”
Joe sprang off the cot and toward the cell door in one leap. “It’s about time you two got back. What took so long to get me out?”
As soon as the door was unlocked, Joe pushed through it, rushing for the outer office. He impatiently waited for Brady to hand him his pistol rig, then shot out the door without so much as a “thank you”. Hoss and Adam exchanged knowing looks, then hastily followed him out, Adam stopping briefly to thank Sheriff Brady for holding his brother for nearly two hours.
Outside, Joe was already laying into Hoss. “Where’s my horse? What took you two so darn long to get me out. We’ve got to get going if we’re going to catch up to Pa.”
Adam blocked Joe’s path down the steps. “We’ll go but first we need to talk.” He held up his hand to quiet his brother. “Not here, but once we’re out of town, we’ll stop and I’ll tell you the plan.”
Joe’s fists flew to his hips and his nostrils flared. “What plan? We need to go now, Adam, so we can still track them!”
Hoss grabbed Joe’s arm and brought him around until they were practically nose to nose. “Little brother, you best be quiet and listen to your elders or you’ll find yourself right back there in that jail cell. An’ I’ve a feeling the Sheriff won’t be any more happy to see you than you will be ta see him. Now you gonna do it our way or do we take a short walk thataway?” Hoss thumbed over his shoulder at the Sheriff’s office behind him.
Joe had the good sense to know when he was beat, so he shrugged his arm loose and headed to the livery. “Fine I’ll do it your way, for now at least.”
Adam shrugged at Hoss. “Well, one battle at a time.” He stepped off the platform and followed Joe toward the livery. Hoss brought up the rear.
Three hours after Ben rode out toward the eastern desert with Charles Leduque, three other horsemen headed in a slightly different direction. After riding for a while they crossed the tracks of three horses heading east.
“Let’s go. If we hurry we could catch them by nightfall.” Joe reined Cochise in the direction of the tracks.
“No Joe.” Adam reached for his brother’s arm to hold him back.
“What do ya mean ‘no’? Listen Adam, I’ve had it with you and your plan. Pa’s out there with a madman and you keep sayin’ we’re gonna go after him but then we don’t. I don’t care anymore what you say. I’m going to go find Pa.” Joe started to kick his horse into a run but hadn’t realized Hoss was now blocking his path.
“Listen Joe. We can’t just go running up on them. We know Leduque can’t be trusted to get Pa to New Orleans but we also don’t know what he’s capable of doing to Pa.” Adam sighed and looked at the sinking sun. “Look, it’s going to be dark in a few hours. I want us to ride over those hills. We’ll parallel Pa and Leduque’s track but keep out of sight. If we don’t catch up to them by nightfall, it should be by the next morning.”
Joe wasn’t having any of it. “You’re so damned sure of yourself aren’t you Adam. What are we going to do, shadow them all the way to New Orleans? Yeah, that’s real smart.”
“No Hoss. I’m done with this. While we’re sitting here discussing our plans, Pa’s getting farther away and we’ll lose the tracks soon. Outta my way Hoss. You two may want to play it safe but I’m not planning to shadow them and then find my Pa lying on the ground dead cause you two couldn’t get your courage up to rescue Pa straight out.”
Adam and Hoss both grabbed at Cochise’s reins and held him steady. “Joe please, there are some things you don’t know that Pa told us while you were locked up. Give me time tonight to explain everything, then I’ll agree to let you decide what to do. Fair enough?”
Joe lost his fight when he heard Adam’s words. “What things, Adam? What’s going on?”
“Come on Joe, we gotta get movin’. We’ll explain it all tonight when we camp.” Hoss tugged on Cochise’s reins to redirect the horse.
“Okay, okay. I can guide my own horse if you don’t mind.”
Hoss dropped the lead rein and moved ahead to ride with Adam. Together the brothers headed toward the hills, finally making camp a few hours later. After dinner, Adam and Hoss explained to Joe the deal their Pa had made with Inspector Leduque.
“So you see, Joe, in order to get Leduque to clear you of murder, Pa gave his word that he would return to New Orleans with Leduque, unarmed, alone, and he promised not to escape. That’s why we can’t just chase after them, why Pa told us to not follow him or try to rescue him.”
The only sounds to be heard once Adam stopped speaking were the crackling campfire and an occasional coyote howl. Joe fidgeted with his coffee cup as he studied the logs of the fire. His breathing became more rapid and he finally tossed his coffee into the fire and dropped the cup. Bolting off the log he headed for Cochise.
Hoss started to stand, but Adam stopped him. “He needs to sort through this on his own, just like we had to do. We’ll stay close. He’ll come around by morning.”
Hoss moved off to get his bedroll ready. He dropped down on it, choosing a position that would let him keep an eye on Joe over at the horses. Adam checked the fire before stretching out on his own bedroll. Neither brother slept until Joe wandered back to camp. After that the night became still, expect for the occasional nickering of the horses and Hoss’ snores.
The next day the brothers rode along through the hills silently, each lost in their thoughts or prayers for their father. Each one also kept alert for any sign of their father.
After a long and uneventful day in the saddle, Adam, Joe and Hoss rode up a hill in search of a place to settle for their second night on the trail. As soon as they crested the hill they saw a band of renegade Indians camped in the hollow below. Hoss was the first one to spot the group hidden well under a large copse of trees. The brothers discussed a plan to bypass them but Joe noticed a familiar horse among the others.
“Hoss, Adam! Is that Buck over by the stream? Do you think Pa’s down there too? I don’t see him.”
“I’ll be danged, is sure looks like Pa’s horse. Adam, what’re we gonna do? We sure don’t wanna tangle with no band of renegades, but if Pa’s down there….”
Adam pushed his hat back and studied the situation below them and the sky above them. “It’ll be dark soon. We need to make a temporary camp so we can eat and rest the horses. After dark we’ll ride closer to the renegade camp. Joe and I will sneak in and see if it is Pa’s horse and whether he’s with them.”
Hoss wanted to go too but he knew his brothers were better at sneaking about than he was. In agreement, the three found a place to make a cold camp until they could take care of the renegades. They didn’t want to take the chance of a campfire alerting the Indians prematurely to their presence.
After eating a cold meal and feeding the horses, the brothers packed up the camp. They had altered their plan agreeing it would be better for all three to ride closer to the camp. That way they could get Buck and the other two horses, and Ben and Leduque if they were being held prisoner, and get away more quickly.
While Hoss and Adam packed up, Joe offered to check the horses to make sure they were ready to ride. A split second too late, Adam realized that was a mistake. He and Hoss heard the pounding of hooves heading toward the renegade camp. They crouched down on the crest of a hill and could only watch in horror as the Indians discovered their intruder. Joe was yanked off his horse and dragged to the center of camp as Cochise was tied with the rest of the horses.
Adam rolled onto his back and rubbed his face trying to get his breathing under control. Hoss settled beside him, resting his large hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“I got an idea, Adam, when you’re ready to listen.”
It took a few more minutes for Adam to collect himself and hear Hoss’ plan.
“Before the sun set I could see a grotto not too far from where they’re keepin’ the horses. We could get there and hide our horses. From that point I think we’ll be able to figure a way into the camp to get Joe, an’ if that is Pa’s horse, him and Buck too.”
Adam pursed his lips as he thought about the plan. “Okay. I know the area you’re talking about. We’ll try it, but let’s make sure all our guns are fully loaded and ready. I’m sure all hell’s going to break loose when we go in to get Joe.”
Hoss gave a grim look as he and Adam stood. As quiet as a pair of pumas, the brothers made their way over to the grotto and settled in. On the way they had confirmed Buck was there but they saw no evidence that Ben or Leduque were in the camp. They only saw Joe, trussed up tight and lying on his side under a lean-to. The renegades were enjoying their plunder for that day. Having found some whiskey in one of the saddle bags, they passed it around. Every so often one of them would swagger over to Joe, kick him or threaten him with a knife while the others laughed. To Adam and Hoss it looked like it would be a while longer before they had the chance to get Joe out.
Two hours later snores filled the cool night air, the kind of snores that hinted at alcohol-induced sleep. Adam slipped out of his tan jacket before he and Hoss approached the camp. His all black clothes would allow him to blend with the shadows when he entered the camp to rescue Joe. Hoss quickly dispatched the guard and Adam counted only three more in the camp. Hearing odd sounds in the night, Joe shifted his aching body and saw two familiar silhouettes. Adam slipped in and cut the rough hemp ropes around Joe’s wrists and ankles. He mouthed the word “Pa” and Joe shook his head. Signaling silence, he motioned for Joe to follow him.
Hoss had headed back to Buck and managed to get him saddled by the time Adam and Joe exited the camp. He’d hoped to get the other two horses too but one of the Indians had awakened and discovered the prisoner was missing. With a loud yell he awoke his companions.
Hoss quickly mounted Buck while Adam and Joe ran toward their own horses. Swinging into the saddle, Joe leaned over to grab Chubb’s reins and together the three riders and four horses flew across the dark desert. They bent low over their mounts hoping to avoid the bullets whizzing by them as the renegades gave chase. When only the pounding of their own horses’ hooves and hard breathing could be heard the brothers slowed their pace.
Stopping after a few more miles they listened, and heard only the night sounds of the desert. With the light of the moon they found passage up into the hills which would hide their tracks. After another hour they found a cave and settled there for a few hours of sleep. No one spoke but Joe knew he was in big trouble with his brothers. He also knew that survival was paramount and any discussion of what he’d done would be put off until they were safely away from the renegades. Like his brothers he settled down to sleep. The next day would arrive soon enough and then they could talk about what happened and adjust their plans. As Joe drifted off to sleep, he prayed his father was safe somewhere.
The next morning, Joe was the last one to awaken. He heard quiet voices outside and could tell his brothers were agitated. As he stretched he discovered he hurt all over from the rough treatment by the renegades. Thankfully none of the aches and pains were any worse than being in a fight. What hurt the most were his wrists where the hemp ropes had dug into his skin. Joe managed to make it to the entrance in time to see Adam jerk away from Hoss, nestling his arm to his side. He saw Joe and straightened up immediately. His cold expression told Joe to keep his thoughts to himself. Hoss scowled at Adam, then began to prepare breakfast while Adam moved off to check on the horses. Joe squatted down by the fire to get warm.
“I really blew it last night. I’m sorry Hoss.”
“Yeah ya did little brother. It weren’t the brightest idea you’ve had. Coulda gotten us all killed.” He threw a quick glance toward Adam.
“Yeah. I was just so desperate to see if Pa was there. I guess I didn’t think about there being a guard.”
“No you didn’t, Joe, and that was one of many mistakes you made last night.”
Joe jumped as Adam approached and withered under his glare.
“If we’re going to find Pa, we need to work together. No more going off on your own. Got it?”
“Yeah. I really am sorry Adam.” Joe accepted some coffee from Hoss. “Um, thanks fellas for gettin’ me outta there.”
Hoss snorted and Adam smirked. “You can be kind of dumb now and again but you’re still our brother.”
Joe tried to smile at the teasing but failed when Adam grimaced as he sat down. He was about to say something but Hoss cut him off. “Shortshanks, ya need some salve for your wrists. Best be getting those raw places patched up before they get infected.”
“Thanks Hoss, how about after breakfast. I’m pretty hungry right now.”
The brothers ate in silence then Hoss finally put into words what they all were thinking.
“I don’t like it much that Pa and that Leduque fella weren’t with them renegades. It means they’re out there somewhere on foot. I think we oughta get closer to the trail they’d be takin’ an’ see if we can find ‘em.”
Adam took a slow breath and let it out. “Joe what do you say?”
Surprised to be asked for his opinion, Joe was careful not to waste it. “I know the desert is unforgiving Adam. Pa’s got to need help. I agree with Hoss.”
Adam took one more swig of coffee. “Alright, we’ll head south over those hills. There should be a stream we can follow until we pick up the stage road.”
“Adam if there’s a stage road, then wouldn’t that mean there’s a–”
“Way station. Yeah Hoss, if I’m right it’s about five or ten miles from here.”
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get moving.” Joe’s renewed strength was contagious. Although Adam’s movements were stiff he managed to clean up the camp while Hoss tended to Joe’s wrists. Afterwards they mounted up and headed toward the way station, keeping sharp eyes trained for any sign of their Pa.
As the sun cleared the horizon, the stage driver slapped the reins to get the horses moving. Ben stood for a moment in front of the station house watching the eastbound stage disappear in a cloud of dust. He and Leduque had spent the previous evening recovering from their trek through the desert after renegades had stolen their horses and supplies. That ordeal had brought a confession from Leduque and a peace between the men.
After the dust drifted back to the ground, Ben took a deep, cleansing breath. He was relieved to have it all behind him, knowing Leduque had faked the charges to fulfill his own vendetta. Ben felt Leduque was heading home with a new outlook on his life as well. At least he hoped so after they’d spent time talking the evening before.
Smelling coffee and bacon, Ben headed back to the house for a bit more to eat. He was now waiting on a westbound stage but had another day to go before it arrived. He had just stepped across the threshold when he heard horses coming. As he turned to look, the station master appeared with his shotgun ready.
Ben cocked an eyebrow at him.
“You cain’t be too careful, Mister Cartwright.”
As the horses rounded a bend in the road, Ben grinned for a moment, recognizing the riders, but quickly turned it to a scowl as they approached. Before he could move the station master pushed forward lifting his shotgun.
“Ho there. What’s your business fellas?”
Ben stepped up beside the man and gently pushed the gun barrel toward the ground. “It’s alright, these men are my sons. Although for the life of me I don’t know why they’re here.”
As the brothers dismounted, thrilled to find their father well and standing in front of them, Ben crossed his arms and stared them down. “You three mind explaining yourselves?”
Joe and Hoss looked at each other then at Adam. Suddenly all three found their dusty boots very interesting. Keeping his right arm are still, Adam reached up to scratch his neck with the other until he finally looked his father in the eye. “We came looking for you, Pa. I know what you said but…”
“But you didn’t trust Leduque any further than you could see him, is that it?”
Hoss shuffle his feet. “Well, yeah, guess you could put it that way, Pa.”
“And what about you Joseph? Oh never mind, I already know the answer. So let’s just say that I’m…” he paused for effect, letting his sons sweat a little, “mighty glad to see you three.”
Grins broke out all around and the handshaking and backslapping started up.
As they stepped apart Joe finally got his say, “You really shouldn’t be so surprised to see us, Pa. We’re Cartwrights after all. What else would we do?”
That brought a round of laughter as Ben introduced his sons to the station manager.
“Well, since you three know Mister Cartwright, you might as well come on in an’ get some food. I still got a bit of bacon an’ eggs left.”
With a shout of glee, Hoss led his brothers toward the barn to see to the horses.Their bedraggled condition spoke volumes to Ben. His sharp eyes immediately noticed Joe’s bandaged wrists and Adam’ stiff walk. Concerned about what had happened to his sons, Ben returned to the house to help get the food ready for them. He decided to withhold his questions until his sons had eaten.
After the boys had eaten their fill, the station manager made himself scarce. He figured his guests had quite a bit of talking to do. And he was correct.
As they made themselves comfortable around the fireplace, Ben couldn’t wait any longer. He quickly addressed two of his son’s apparent injuries.
Seeing that Adam and Joe were reluctant to say anything Hoss spoke up. “You see Pa, we was going pretty good till we came across some renegades and saw they had Buck. We worked out a plan–”
“But I messed everything up.” Joe interrupted, taking responsibility for his actions which ultimately led to some injuries. “I was frustrated that Adam wasn’t going straight after you but had us meandering all over the place. Then I was worried the renegades had you so I snuck off and, well, got myself captured.” He held up his wrists. “That’s why I got these rope burns when they tied my hands.”
“So I assume the rescue went as planned?” Ben probed as Adam remained silent and staring at the fire.
“For the most part, Pa. Them renegades had been drinkin’ so we figured they’d sleep through our being in camp. But then one of ‘em woke up an’ saw Joe missin’. That set ‘em off. I’d just gotten Buck saddled so I rode him as Joe and Adam ran for their horses and grabbed Chubb’s reins. We hightailed it outta there as they started shootin’.” Hoss let his voice trail off and Ben didn’t miss the flick of his son’s blue eyes toward his older brother.
“You might as well tell them.” Hoss gave a look of encouragement and sympathy to his brother.
Adam straightened up from his hunched position. “It’s just a graze. We were all riding low over our horses but one of the bullets grazed my back. Well my side actually.”
Ben was at Adam’s side at once. Joe moved to the other side. “I thought something was wrong in the cave, Adam. Why didn’t you or Hoss tell me?”
Hoss got Joe’s attention and shook his head. “I checked it an’ it weren’t too bad, like he said. Put some salve on it.”
Ben had raised Adam’s shirt to inspect the wound. An angry red line carved its way up Adam’s back from his waist to his right shoulder. “Dear God. If you had been sitting up…” He couldn’t even think it.
Adam winced as Ben lightly touch the long wound. “It didn’t go deep but, son, it looks like it’s trying to get infected. You need to lie down and let me clean it out.” Recalling Hoss’ comment to Joe he added, “Hoss don’t fret. If you hadn’t taken care of it when you did, it’d be much worse now.”
Adam acquiesced to lying on the bed in the back room. The cleaning process wasn’t pleasant for anyone but afterward Adam said it felt better and he agreed to rest until they left the next morning.
Ben left his sons resting while he headed to the barn to check on Buck. After lunch everyone felt better so Ben told his sons what had happened with Leduque.
“After losing our horses to the renegades, I realized we were about a day’s walk from this way station. We found small springs along the way but still the heat and exhaustion took its toll on LeDuque. After he passed out, I dragged him here. That’s when he finally admitted that the arrest warrant was false. His plan from the beginning was to kill me. He blamed me for the gunshot wound he’d received while investigating the murder I was cleared of, how it had ruined his life and career. He tore up the warrant, and told me he couldn’t kill without hate, and that the hate was gone.”
Joe had been studying his hands while listening to his father’s story. At the last words his head shot up. “But Pa, how could his hate go away so quickly. I mean he carried that grudge for twenty years.”
Ben studied his young son’s face, seeing something there besides just an inquiring thought, a darkness to his son’s eyes that worried him. “He’d lost his hatred for me when I refused to let him die in the desert. I’d saved his life. He found he couldn’t keep the hate after that.”
Joe’s head drifted back down.
“Joseph? Is there something else I should know?”
“No Pa. Not really. It’s just that when this trip started, actually when Leduque came to Virginia City, all I wanted to do was to shut him up, to make him go away. I was angry at him for trying to hurt you and what he implied about my mother.”
Ben glanced at Adam and Hoss, who remained stone-faced. Joe continued, “With all we went through trying to find you, I figured out some things. That there were other things more important than all those things Leduque said. By the time Adam had rescued me from the renegades, I’d figured out that working with my brothers would get me closer to you than if I went off by myself.” He turned his green eyes to meet his father’s, his voice grew quiet. “And I figured out my anger at Leduque wouldn’t save you. Adam and Hoss helped me realize it might even cost you your life.”
Ben reached over to squeeze Joe’s arm, sharing a reaffirming smile with each son. As they settled into a comfortable silence, enjoying each other’s company, Ben was still smiling. He found himself very glad they had disobeyed him, very glad indeed.