Whenever You’re in Trouble (by Rona)

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Summary:  Sometimes you don’t have to ask for help — it’s always there.

Rating:  PG  (6,235 words)

Whenever You’re in Trouble

 

Whenever you’re in trouble
Whenever you may need me
I will fight for you
I will help you through
Whenever life’s deceiving,
I’ll give you new meaning
No matter where you are
You’re always in my heart
Whenever you’re in trouble
I will be right here.

Now’s the time
To share what you’re feeling inside
No matter how long it takes
No matter how many mistakes
Oh, now’s the time
To reach and you will find
That whenever you need me to care
I’ll always be there.*

 

“No!” The word thundered across the room and everyone present froze, their eyes instinctively seeking the speaker.

 

From his position huddled on the floor, battered and bleeding, Joe Cartwright looked up in disbelief and breathed a word that only he heard. “Pa.” The relief was overwhelming, but Joe resisted the desire to slide into unconsciousness. His father might well be wielding a gun, but he was still out numbered and Joe was terrified that something would happen to him.

 

Calling on the last reserves of his strength, Joe tried to bring his legs underneath him, but the pain was too great. He began to spiral down into the darkness, regret that he was unable to do anything to help Ben flooding his heart.

 

And just before his eyes closed, Joe saw Adam and Hoss, his brothers, appear in the doorway beside their father and knew that he didn’t have to worry any more. That was the last thing he knew.

 

***********************************

 

Whenever you’re in trouble

 

Sitting by Joe’s bedside, Ben unconsciously rubbed his thumb in a soothing rhythm against Joe’s arm. It was almost the only uninjured part of his son. Almost every inch of skin was covered in bandages, plaster casts, splints, scrapes, bumps and bruises. It broke Ben’s heart to see his lively, energetic, son so still and pale in the bed.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me what was going on?” Ben whispered. He knew that it was unlikely that any sound he made would rouse Joe. The young man had been unconscious since they had found him and Ben knew that the probable skull fracture Joe had sustained was causing the doctor quite a bit of concern. Ben was deeply worried.

 

Whenever you may need me

 

“I knew something was up with you, Joe,” Ben went on. He searched the pale face, looking for some signs of stirring, but seeing none. Joe’s perfect features were marred by a couple of black eyes and a split lip. A graze ran down one cheek and his head was encircled by a thick bandage. “I can always tell, son. Why didn’t you confide in me?”

 

There was no response. Joe’s breathing was harsh, the results of the broken ribs. He was immobilised by a cast that ran from shoulder to fingertips on his left arm. Both Joe’s legs were in splints and bandages were wrapped smoothly over his chest. The gash on his upper right arm was stitched closed and bandaged from elbow to shoulder. Ben shuddered and drew back for a moment, closing his eyes against the tears that threatened to spill over.

 

I will fight for you

I will help you through

 

“Roy will want to speak to you when you wake up, son,” Ben warmed Joe, once he had regained control of his emotions. “Don’t worry, though, I’ll be there with you. And Hiram Wood, too, if you think you’ll need a lawyer. But right now, Roy’s busy with all those people in the jail.”

 

“Pa?” The voice spoke from behind Ben and he turned to see Adam and Hoss standing in the bedroom door. “How’s he doing?” Adam spoke softly, but nothing could disguise the worry in his tones.

 

“No change,” Ben replied, wearily.

 

Coming into the room, both brothers looked down on Joe. It hurt them both to see him like this. “Sure is a trouble magnet, ain’t he, Pa?” Hoss mused. “I never knowed anybody like him fer findin’ trouble.”

 

“I’d like to know what he was doing with the McAndrew clan in the first place,” Adam responded, his voice tight with controlling his anger. Quite who he was angry with – Joe or the McAndrews – Ben wasn’t too sure. Both, he suspected. And it was a question that was tearing at his heart, too.

 

“So would I,” Ben agreed, sighing.

 

Whenever life’s deceiving,

I’ll give you new meaning

 

“Then I’ll tell ya,” responded a new voice. All three of them turned to see Sheriff Roy Coffee standing there.

 

“The McAndrews have talked?” It wasn’t quite a question, nor yet was it a statement. Ben felt his heart rate increase slightly.

 

“They ain’t admitted what they done,” Roy replied, walking into the room. “But I know why Joe were with them in the first place.”

 

The atmosphere in the room changed from expectation to disapproval in a matter of seconds. Roy was braced for it, but it took him by surprise nevertheless. “Don’t git mad, Ben,” he pleaded. “It ain’t what ya think.”

 

“How do you know what I think?” Ben asked, coldly. “I think you’d better tell me what’s going on, Roy.”

 

Quailing under Ben’s stern gaze, Roy took a deep breath. He knew his old friend wasn‘t going to like what he said. “We all know what the McAndrews are like, but Clem an’ I couldn’t never catch them up ta mischief. Well, I got told that they was plannin’ ta raid the Ponderosa.”

 

“What?” Ben thundered. “Why wasn’t I told?” He flinched at the volume of his voice in the enclosed space and glanced guiltily at Joe, fearful that he had disturbed the injured man. But Joe hadn’t moved and Ben was more sorrowful that his shouting hadn’t roused Joe. Taking a conscious grasp of his temper, Ben turned back to Roy. “You’d better explain quickly.”

 

“I only heard this mornin’,” Roy snapped, nettled. “I was jist about ta come out an’ see ya when I seen Little Joe there up at the store. I went over ta tell him, thinkin’ he’d tell ya, but instead he offered ta help me. See, Joe an’ Nell McAndrew was at school together. She’s always had a yen fer Joe, an’ he thought it might be worth talkin’ ta her ta see if’n she would let slip anythin’ about what they was plannin’.”

 

“Go on,” Ben murmured, sorting out those statements in his mind.

 

“Well.” Roy looked uncomfortable. “See Joe an’ Nell got inta bother when they was kids – oh not bad bother,” he added hastily, as he saw Ben’s brows draw down. “Jist kids’ stuff, Ben. But we thought that Nell might be more willin’ ta believe Joe weren’t too happy, considerin’ the mischief they used ta git up ta.”

 

“Makes sense, I guess,” Hoss interjected, feeling that someone ought to try and take the heat out of the situation.

 

Shooting the middle son a grateful look, Roy resumed his tale. “So, Joe went ta meet Nell…”

 

***********************************

 

It wasn’t hard to contrive a meeting with Nell McAndrew. Joe found her, as he had expected, gazing in the window of the ladies’ dress shop. The McAndrews never had enough money, for none of their schemes ever came off the way they expected them to. Nell wasn’t allowed to work – or so she claimed. Joe thought privately that she couldn’t get work, since she wasn’t at all bright – quite the opposite in fact. Nell’s mother and older sister made the family’s clothes and they were very good, since Mrs McAndrew was a seamstress by trade. She somehow managed to keep the family fed on the small wages she earned. Nell, however, fancied herself above the homemade clothes and longed to have a store-bought dress. Consequently, she could be found most afternoons – once she’d completed her chores – gazing in the dress shop window, imagining the outfit she would buy herself when she had some money.

 

“Hi, Nell,” Joe mumbled. He put on his best hang-dog look, the one he wore when Ben was annoyed with him.

 

“Hi, Little Joe.” Nell beamed brightly at him, then realised that her former schoolmate looked utterly dejected. “What’s wrong?” She linked her arm through his and Joe fought down the desire to pull away. “Oh, was it that poker game last night? Barney said ya lost a lot o’ money.”

 

“Yeah, a lot of money an’ Pa’s gonna kill me when he finds out!” Joe whined. In actual fact, he had only dropped about $5 in total, although there had been a lot of money on the table at times. Joe, however, not being the greatest poker player in the world, had kept his money in his wallet and bet only in small amounts. However, since he hadn’t actually won a game, he was aware that everyone thought he’d dropped a huge amount at the table.

 

“How much?” Nell asked, breathlessly. Joe cynically wondered if it was curiosity or concern that motivated her query.

 

“A few thousand,” Joe replied, trying to sound off hand, but not succeeding.

 

“Wow!” Nell’s eyes were as round as a saucer. “What ya gonna do, Joe?”

 

“I don’t know,” Joe admitted. “I ain’t got enough to use as a stake in another poker game. I’ll have to think of something before I get home.” He gave her a tremulous smile. “I don’t suppose you have any ideas?”

 

A crafty look crept over Nell’s face. Joe pretended not to notice, just as he had pretended not to notice when they were kids. Nell knew that her brothers were going to raid the Ponderosa that night and rustle about 200 head of cattle. They had a buyer lined up. The only problem had been that none of the six McAndrew brothers knew anything about pushing cattle and they had been stalling, hoping to find someone to help out. To Nell, Joe’s experience was just what they needed. None of them knew that you needed more than seven men to push 200 head of cattle!

 

“Come with me, Joe,” Nell ordered. “I know jist the thing.” She tugged on Joe’s arm and he followed, smothering the grin that wanted to break free.

 

************************************

 

“I never rated that girl with many brains, but she seems incredibly stupid to believe that Joe would steal from his own family,” Ben raged. He was pacing, listening to Roy’s story and putting together what he was hearing with Joe’s behaviour earlier.

 

“Stop thinking like Ben Cartwright and start thinking like a McAndrew,” Adam advised, keeping his tone calm. “You have honour, Pa. they have none.”

 

“Reckon Adam’s right,” Hoss muttered. “An’ we all know how convincin’ Little Joe c’n be when he sets his mind ta it.”

 

“You should’ve talked Joe out of it,” Ben insisted.

 

“I ain’t his pa,” Roy reminded Ben. “An’ he’s a grown man.”

 

Turning his eyes back to the still, pale figure on the bed, Ben resumed his seat. “Yes, he is,” he agreed, his hand stealing out to clasp Joe’s once more. “But a father still worries, no matter how old his children get.” He looked at Roy. “I’m sorry. Go on.”

 

*************************************

 

As they neared the McAndrews’ run down home, Joe felt his heart beat accelerate. He had never liked the McAndrew brothers and six to one weren’t odds that he fancied at all. But Nell pulled him onwards and Joe took a deep breath as he followed her into the house.

 

“What’s he doin’ here?” demanded Andrew McAndrew, the oldest son, as he jumped to his feet, throwing the paper he’d been reading onto the floor. He was dressed in dirty pants that might once have been tan and his braces hung around his scrawny buttocks. A filthy undershirt of indeterminate colour was all he wore on the top half of his body and cracked boots decorated his feet. He spat a plug of tobacco onto the hearth.

 

“Don’ git angry, Drew,” Nell pleaded. “Joe’s gonna help us.”

 

“What’ve ya told him, girl?” Andrew bellowed and clenched his fist.

 

Stepping in front of Nell, Joe raised his chin. Andrew might be thin, but Joe knew that he was terrifically strong. “She hasn’t told me anything!” he retorted. “Leave her alone.”

 

“What’d ya bring him here fer?” Andrew demanded, leaving his fist doubled.

 

Quickly, Nell babbled out the story Joe had told her. Joe was interested to note that she embellished it slightly without realising, but he didn’t object. Gradually, Andrew’s fist relaxed until his arm was hanging by his side. He gave Joe an assessing look, which Joe pretended not to notice.

 

“So ya dropped a bundle last night,” Andrew sneered. Joe flushed, but Andrew took it for embarrassment, not anger. “Why’nt ya ask yer daddy ta give ya more?”

 

“I can’t,” Joe muttered, looking down.

 

“Why not?” When Joe didn’t answer immediately, Andrew grabbed the front of his jacket and dragged Joe closer. His foul breath washed over Joe’s face. “I asked ya a question, boy!”

 

“It was the payroll money!” Joe snapped. “All right? I collected it early and thought I’d win some extra money. And instead I lost it all!”

 

For a moment, Joe thought that Andrew didn’t believe him. Then the older man let go and brushed some imaginary dirt from the front of Joe’s jacket. He laughed. He laughed so hard that he choked himself. “Oh, boy, Cartwright! Ya sure got yoreself in a pickle, didn’t ya? I suppose ya’d like some fast money ta replace it, wouldn’t ya?”

 

“Of course I would!” Joe drew in a deep breath as though he was trying to control his temper. In fact, he was trying to control his glee. “Got any suggestions?”

 

“Might do.” Andrew appeared to be enjoying himself immensely. “Sit down there, boy. I’ll git ma brothers.”

 

**********************************

 

“I don’t like it.” The six McAndrew brothers, Andrew, Barney, Clyde, Dave, Ezekiel, and Floyd, stood in a semi-circle facing Joe, who still sat on a hard chair. He was beginning to feel rather intimidated and knew that was exactly what Andrew McAndrew had had in mind. “How do we know we can trust him?” It was Ezekiel, commonly known as Zeke, who spoke.

 

“We don’t,” Andrew drawled, sounding amused. “But he can either do as we say an’ git some money out a this, or we kill him.” He patted Joe insultingly on the head.

 

“I’m desperate,” Joe declared. He sounded suitably subdued.

 

“Yore pa got lots o’ money,” Floyd insisted. “Why ya worryin’?”

 

“Pa might have money but we don’t,” Joe replied. “I lost the payroll in a poker game. I don’t earn enough money to pay him back and I’m broke. Pa doesn’t even pay us as much as the hands,” he added bitterly. “We get up earlier and go to bed later for less money.” Joe hated what he was saying, but knew the lie would make his participation in whatever they were planning more convincing. He lifted his head and met every pair of eyes. “I can hardly rob the bank here, can I?” he asked sarcastically. “I’m quite well known.”

 

“I say he’s in,” Andrew voted. One by one, his brothers agreed with him. “All right, Cartwright. You go on home like a good little boy an’ be waitin’ fer us at ten o’clock at the South Forty. Got it?”

 

“I got it,” Joe replied, rising. He froze as Andrew grabbed his jacket with one hand and reeled him in close.

 

“Just in case yer thinkin’ o’ double-crossin’ us, here’s a little somthin’ on account.” He drew back his fist and slammed it into Joe’s belly. Joe doubled over, gasping for breath, his arms crossing over his body as if that would somehow lessen the pain. Andrew allowed him to crumple to the floor. “Throw him out,” he ordered and the brothers did just that.

 

When Joe had regained his breath, he picked himself off the ground and made his way slowly back to his horse. He wondered briefly if he had got himself into a trickier situation than he had first anticipated, but he felt it was too late to back out now.

 

As he put his foot into the stirrup to mount, Roy Coffee strolled past. “All right, boy?” he asked.

 

“Ten o’clock at the South Forty tonight,” Joe replied, equally quietly as he mounted. He didn’t look back at Roy as he rode off.

 

**************************************

 

“And just where have you been, young man?” Ben asked, but there was a hint of amusement in his tones. “I expected you back quite some time ago.”

 

Flustered, Joe hadn’t a clue what to say for about the first time in his life, but as he opened his mouth, Ben started talking again.

 

“I expect you had a beer in the saloon, huh?” Ben smiled and shook his head. “Go and get washed up, Joe. Supper will be ready in a minute.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Joe replied and nipped quickly upstairs. He had a hasty wash and arrived at the table just seconds before Hop Sing started serving.

 

Glancing at Joe, Ben could see that there was something on his mind. He wondered what it was and if Joe would volunteer anything about it, or if Ben would have to ask tactfully around the subject. With Joe, you never knew where he would stand. Sometimes, he wanted to be asked outright; sometimes he would only tell you when things had reached disastrous proportions.

 

But as Joe began to exchange banter with his brothers, Ben decided that this didn’t appear to be a disaster-type mood that Joe was in. And yet Ben was uneasy and he didn’t know why. He kept an eye on Joe over the meal, surreptitiously looking for something that would give him a clue as to what his youngest son had become involved in this time. But when the meal ended, Ben was none the wiser.

 

“Are you all right, Joe?” Ben asked, seeing his son wince suddenly as he rose.

 

“Yeah, I think so,” Joe replied, fighting to keep his hand away from his sore abdomen. “Just a muscle twinge or something.”

 

“Are you sure?” Ben persisted.

 

“Pa, I’m fine,” Joe assured him, grabbing a tight hold of his temper. He hated being fussed over and he was especially on edge that evening. “It’s nothing.” Joe smiled and made sure that he didn’t wince again that evening.

 

A few times as he was playing checkers with Hoss, Joe contrived to yawn widely and soon had the others yawning along with him. “I think I’m gonna have an early night,” he announced. “Good night.”

 

“Night, son,” Ben responded, giving Joe a long searching look. He was still sure that something was up, but he couldn’t decide what. He thought that he might just pop upstairs for a chat before Joe went off to sleep.

 

Upstairs, Joe slid into his jacket, hat and gun belt, which he had managed to bring upstairs by dint of ‘forgetting’ to take them off when he arrived home, and opened his bedroom window. He glanced back at the room and saw that the note he had left for Ben was obvious for all to see in the middle of the bed before slipping quietly out of the window.

 

He hoped he knew what he was doing.

 

*********************************

 

No matter where you are

You’re always in my heart

 

“You havin’ an early night, too, Pa?” Hoss asked, as Ben headed with purposeful casualness towards the stairs.

 

“No, I just thought I’d look in on Joe,” Ben replied. “Something I wanted to discuss with him.”

 

“Do you know what he’s got into now?” Adam asked, thereby proving to Ben that he wasn’t imagining things.

 

“If I knew,” Ben responded, wryly, “I wouldn’t be going to talk to him now.” He continued on upstairs and knocked on Joe’s door. There was no response. “Joe?” Ben knocked again. Surely he hadn’t fallen asleep already? Why it was only ten minutes since he had gone upstairs.

 

Opening the door, Ben looked blankly at the empty room. It took him a moment to realise what he was seeing. The curtains fluttered in the breeze from the open window and a piece of paper lay in the middle of the bed. Moving on numb legs, Ben walked stiffly across the room and picked up the note.

 

He wasn’t quite sure what he was expecting the note to say, but Ben’s heart started to sink at the very first words.

 

Dear Pa,

 

Please don’t be angry with me for sneaking off like this. I’m not in trouble – at least I don’t think I am – but I couldn’t tell you when I came home. There is going to be a raid on the Ponderosa tonight at the South Forty. Come with Adam and Hoss as soon as you can. Roy Coffee and Clem will meet you there. Don’t worry about me, Pa. I’ll be fine and I promise, I’m not in trouble.

 

Your loving son, Joe.

 

Crushing the note in his hand, Ben stood paralysed for a moment. “Oh, Joe, why didn’t you just tell me,” Ben agonised. “It doesn’t matter what you think you’ve done, I’m on your side. Don’t you know that?”

 

Whirling, he hurried out of the room and back downstairs. “Come on, boys. I think your brother might be in some sort of trouble. We need to hurry.” Ben snatched up his gun belt and started to buckle it around his hips.

 

Putting his book down, Adam stared at Ben. “Pa, Joe just went to bed a few minutes ago. How could he…” His voice trailed off and he exchanged a glance with Hoss. “He climbed out of the window, right?”

 

“Right.” Ben picked up his hat and saw that his other sons were still sitting by the fire. “Joe left me a note. There’s going to be a raid on the South Forty tonight. Joe says Roy and Clem will meet us there, but he must have gone already. He says he’s not in trouble, but he’s involved somehow. Now come on!”

 

At his words, both Adam and Hoss got to their feet. Adam was still annoyed at Joe for running off without telling them and worrying their father. But he couldn’t just leave Joe to face whatever it was alone. Protecting the ranch from raids involved them all.

 

**************************************

 

Time seemed to pass very slowly as Joe waited. After a while, he began to wonder if the McAndrews had been inept enough to run into the posse on the way to the ranch, but at last, they turned up. Joe looked at the six brothers and then looked around. “Where are the rest of them?” he asked.

 

“Rest o’ who?” Andrew returned.

 

“The rest of the men to help us,” Joe snapped. “What, do you think the seven of us can push all the cattle in this section?”

 

“That’s ezzacly what I’m tellin’ ya,” Andrew snarled. “Ya got a problem wi’ that, boy?” His hand caressed his gun.

 

“I guess not,” Joe shrugged.

 

“Then let’s go.” Andrew jerked his head towards the dark mass that was the herd.

 

Beginning to feel increasingly nervous, Joe led the way. The hair on the back of his neck was standing up and an uncomfortable feeling prickled along his skin. He hoped that Roy and Clem were nearby and he hoped that his family were on the way. There was nothing he could do alone.

 

The cattle were settled for the night, many of them lying down. They had been on this pasture for several weeks and were accustomed to it. Joe knew that getting them moving would be tricky. He glanced at Andrew to see what he was going to do and realised at once that none of the McAndrews were going to be much help. None of them had any experience pushing cows.

 

It took some time, a lot of orders from Joe and some swearing, but at last, a portion of the herd was on its feet and milling about aimlessly. Joe felt exhausted, but this wasn’t over yet. He pulled Cochise to a stop and stroked down the silky neck. Zeke appeared beside him.

 

“They ain’t all up yet,” he whined.

 

“No, and they won’t all get up,” Joe snapped. “How did you think we were going to manage to push this many head with so few men? Let’s take what we’ve got and get out of here.”

 

Giving Joe a suspicious look, Zeke frowned. “What’s the hurry, boy? Ya think someone might come?”

 

“There’s always a chance one of the hands on night watch might come along to check on them,” Joe replied impatiently. “Unlikely, but possible.” He gestured. “Can we go now?”

 

They managed to get about 25 head moving and had separated them from the main body of the herd when Roy Coffee made his move. “Hold it right there!” he ordered.

 

Cursing, Zeke grabbed Joe’s reins as Joe made moves to do as the sheriff ordered. Someone, Joe thought it might be Andrew, drew his gun and shot at Roy. The next moment, the air was alive with gunfire and Joe saw someone fall from his horse. But there was nothing he could do, Zeke had his rein, Andrew was crowding him from the other side and they were going flat out in the dark, the cattle forgotten.

 

As Clem jumped down from his saddle to bend over the injured man, he heard more hooves approaching. Looking up, he saw the Cartwrights arrive. Roy waved at them. “They‘ve got Joe an’ they went that-a-way!” he shouted. “Come on!”

 

Seeing that the man on the ground – Floyd – was not going to make it, Clem abandoned him and remounted, turning his mount and hurrying after Roy and the Cartwrights.

 

********************************

 

Whenever you’re in trouble

I will be right here.

 

Riding fast in the dark is never a wise thing to do. Galloping flat out is suicide. But it wasn’t Joe’s horse that brought them to grief; it was Zeke’s. It stumbled and bumped into Cochise, who in turn bumped into Andrew’s horse. All three riders were thrown from their saddles and in the confusion screams rent the air.

 

“Get them inta the line shack!” ordered Barney and his brothers hurried to comply. They were not careful and more than one cry of pain was heard.

 

With shaking hands, Barney lit the lantern he found on the wall. He turned to look at the three men on the floor and saw at once that Zeke was dead, his neck broken. Andrew and Joe were both bruised and bleeding profusely and far too pale.

 

“You set us up, Cartwright!” Barney snarled, advancing on Joe menacingly.

 

Too badly injured and in too much pain to consider protecting himself, Joe just lay there, trying to catch his breath. Barney grabbed him and punched him right in the mouth, letting go of Joe as he did. Joe dropped back to the floor like a stone, his head smashing off the corner of the table as he did. His vision began to waver as he slipped towards unconsciousness.

 

“No!” The word thundered across the room and everyone present froze, their eyes instinctively seeking the speaker.

 

***********************************

 

Now’s the time

To share what you’re feeling inside

No matter how long it takes

No matter how many mistakes

 

“Why didn’t Joe tell me?” Ben asked, but no one could give an answer. The only person who could give Ben the answer he needed was unconscious and none of them knew if Joe would recover.

 

A door at the far side of the room opened and Paul Martin came in. He looked weary, as well he ought. He had had a busy evening, but it hadn’t been a satisfying one. He had treated the injured men brought in as best he could, but… Looking at Roy Coffee, he shook his head. “Andrew McAndrew just died,” he reported quietly. “Massive internal bleeding.”

 

Wordlessly, Ben turned and sat down by Joe’s bed again and resumed his former position, holding his son’s hand. Joe was reassuringly warm to the touch, momentarily easing Ben’s fears. But they returned full strength as Paul bent over the young man and listened to his heart. “Well?” he asked, for Joe was still far too pale for Ben’s liking.

 

Straightening, Paul gathered his thoughts. They all knew that Joe, Zeke and Andrew had been trampled when the horses fell. The hoof shaped bruises had been silent witnesses to that fact. Andrew’s abdomen had been black when he arrived in the ranch and although Paul operated on him the moment he had arrived, it had been too late. Ideally, he should have stayed with Andrew, but he had another badly injured man waiting to be treated and Paul had decided that his best bet was to treat the man who seemed most likely to survive. And it wasn’t until he was well on in the examination that he discovered the possible fractured skull.

 

Head wounds were always tricky. Internal bleeding could cause someone to die when they seemed to be doing all right. Paul was beset with an unusual lack of confidence. “He’s holding his own,” he replied at last.

 

The dark eyes that met his were filled with fear. “Does Joe have internal bleeding?” Ben asked, his voice shaking slightly.

 

Hesitating again, Paul saw the fear grow and knew he had to offer Ben support. “Not as far as I can tell,” he sighed. “And,” he pulled out his watch, shocked to see that it was about 4 am, “if there was any internal bleeding, it would have weakened Joe considerably by now.” Paul once more felt over Joe’s abdomen, but there was no unusual rigidity there, no bruises suddenly springing into life.

 

Moving down to check Joe’s legs, Paul was relieved to see that the swelling had gone down a bit since the splints were applied. He suddenly felt more optimistic. If the swelling was going down, then there was no hidden bleeding in Joe’s legs. They were horribly bruised and the imprints of the hooves that had struck him in several places – hard enough to cause breakage – were very defined.

 

Unknown to Paul there had been a change in his demeanour as he examined Joe’s legs and the whole atmosphere in the room relaxed slightly. Straightening, he smiled at Ben. “The swelling is going down in his legs,” he announced. “That’s far sooner than I could have hoped for and I think it’s a good sign.”

 

Leaning over once more, Paul pulled up Joe’s eyelids and was more than relieved to see each pupil contract in the sudden light. There was a tiny tracing of red on the white of each eye, but nothing like as much as Paul had feared to see. There was probably a skull fracture, but the fracture didn’t appear to have affected his brain very much. Of course, there was no way to tell how much brain damage there really was until Joe woke up – and it was anyone’s guess when that would happen.

 

Sighing, Paul stood upright once more. “We just have to wait for him to wake up,” he concluded.

 

Frowning, Ben looked at Joe. Adam and Hoss looked at each other and Roy Coffee muttered something about getting some sleep before it was time to get up again. They all knew that he was going to take McAndrew’s body back to town. The sudden flare of hope that everyone had felt was dissoluted by the unsatisfactory conclusion of the examination. They wanted a miracle cure, for Paul to say “Arise” and Joe would open his eyes, as it happened in the best fairy tales.

 

Medical science didn’t work like that.

 

********************************

 

It was mid-afternoon. Ben was once more by Joe’s bedside. He had slept and eaten but he didn’t look or feel rested. Outside on the ranch, the hands went about their everyday business, but inside the house, Ben’s entire attention was focused on Joe.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Ben asked, not for the first time. “Did you think I would be angry?” Ben reflected on that for a moment. “Well, I might have shouted a bit,” he admitted. “But I would have listened to you, Joe. Don’t you know that?” He had been talking for hours and his voice sounded strained and weary, even to himself.

 

Under his hand, Joe stirred slightly. “Joe?” Ben suddenly didn’t feel tired any more. “Joe, can you hear me?” Joe stirred again. Ben leapt to his feet and hurried to the door. He yanked it open and called, “Paul!” before resuming his seat and taking hold of Joe’s hand again. “Joe? I’m here, son.”

 

“What is it, Ben?” Paul asked, coming in quickly.

 

“Joe moved,” Ben reported, his eyes fixed to his son’s pale face. At his words, Joe grimaced and his eyes flickered open.

 

“Pa,” he breathed, the word barely audible.

 

“I’m here, Joe,” Ben repeated.

 

“It… hurts,” Joe grimaced, screwing up his face and wincing.

 

“Don’t move, Joe!” Paul ordered, placing his hand on Joe’s chest. “It’s really important that you stay still. Do you understand?”

 

“Yes,” Joe agreed, subsiding. Now that he was more or less awake, he didn’t want to move after all. Everything hurt, but most especially his head. “What… happened?”

 

“If you promise to stay awake for a while, I promise to tell you,” Paul bargained. “All right?”

 

Joe began to wonder if the bump on his head was worse than he thought or if Paul Martin had gone mad. He had a good bedside manner, but the way he was talking made Joe wonder. He’d never heard the doctor enunciate his words so precisely. He squinted at Paul. “Doc?” He waited for Paul to nod. “You… okay?”

 

The choked sound Ben made had more of hysteria in it than real amusement and as Joe stared at him in consternation, Ben found himself weeping. Paul, who also felt his eyes damp, patted his friend on the shoulder.

 

“Pa?” Joe queried, growing concerned. He tried to reach for Ben, only to discover the cast on his left arm. “Pa?” he repeated, louder this time and with a clear edge of panic.

 

“I’m all right,” Ben assured him, pulling himself together. “I’m all right, son.” He looked at Paul. “I guess we don’t need to worry about Joe’s mental condition,” he suggested.

 

“No, neither do I!” Paul agreed.

 

He gave Joe an examination while Adam and Hoss were urgently summoned from outside. Once they were present, and the greetings between the brothers had resulted in more damp eyes, Paul explained to Joe what had happened.

 

“I remember,” Joe whispered. He had managed to keep down some water and Paul was hoping to get some broth into him before he went back to sleep. The young man’s eyelids already looked heavy.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me, Joe?” Ben asked.

 

Oh, now’s the time

To reach and you will find

That whenever you need me to care

I’ll always be there.

 

“I thought you might… tell me not to go,” Joe admitted. “I didn’t want… to fight.” He blinked back sleep. “If we’d had… time to talk… with Roy there, too.” Joe stopped and swallowed. Ben offered him some more water. “But we didn’t. So I… decided to do… what I could… to help.” He reached for Ben. “And then I thought… how it would sound when… I told you. And I couldn’t… couldn’t tell you. Sorry. Sorry I just… left a note.”

 

Clutching Joe’s hand close to his chest, Ben gently touched his cheek. “I might have yelled at you,” he admitted and saw a slight smile cross Joe’s face. “But I hope I would have listened, too. You did what you did for the ranch, didn’t you, son?” Joe gave a slight nod. “I knew that there was something on your mind, Joe. I hoped you would confide in me.”

 

“Didn’t want you to… worry all evening,” Joe replied. “Sorry.”

 

“Joe, I’m always there for you and your brothers when you need me. Whenever you need me, day or night, I’ll always be there.”

 

“I know,” Joe sighed. His eyes closed and he drifted back to sleep secure in the knowledge that when he woke up again, Ben would still be there.

 

“He’s going to be all right,” Paul declared. “And I don’t think it had anything to do with me.”

 

“Well, I hope you’re not suggesting that it had anything to do with me!” Ben retorted, looking affronted. “I’m not a doctor. I had nothing to do with it!”

 

“You doctored his soul,” Paul reminded his friend. “With love and compassion when he needed you.”

 

“Just as you’ve always done,” Adam added, softly.

 

“I didn’t do anything special,” Ben objected. “I just did what any father would do.”

 

“I think its special,” Hoss mumbled. “Yer allus there fer us, Pa.”

 

Whenever you’re in trouble

Whenever you may need me

I will fight for you

I will help you through

Whenever life’s deceiving,

I’ll give you new meaning

No matter where you are

You’re always in my heart

Whenever you’re in trouble

I will be right here.

The End

 

* Whenever You’re in Trouble song words by Donny Osmond

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Author: Rona

The redheaded half of the Giggly Sisters, she lives in the Scottish Borders.

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