Summary: Joe is on one of his regular visits to Carrie Prickett when trouble breaks out.
Word count: 2,461 (Rating: K+)
This was my entry to the 2013 Ponderosa Paddlewheel Tournament (Round Two). It took second place and I thank everyone who voted for it, I feel very honored by that. I never got around to posting this because I wanted to do some more editing and I just found it while going through my computer. My thoughts then was that I wasn’t happy with it. My thoughts today is that apparently it was good enough to earn enough votes for second, then why change it. My cards will be shown at the end of the story.
“That’s him. That’s Cartwright,” Ray told his companion from where they were hiding amongst the pines; hostility evident in his voice.
“Heard tell he comes every so many months to visit the old woman, doesn’t he?” asked the other man.
“That’s what I heard too, brings supplies and stays to help her out.”
“What are we going to do know? That old woman ain’t gonna be easy to scare off now that he’s here. Too bad we didn’t know he was coming up this soon.”
“You let me worry about that. Let’s get back to camp.
Joe puckered his lips and whistled as he approached the cabin.
“Carrie! Carrie Prickett!”
An older room with graying, golden brown hair that was up in a tidy bun appeared in the doorway of the homestead that was situated in a clearing surrounded by tall pines, near a blue shimmering lake. It was a peaceful spot; a body could lose themselves in the serenity and solitude. Just sitting in the sun listening to the wind whisper through the pines could bring contentment to anyone’s soul.
“Why, Joe Cartwright! Land’s sake what are you doing up here?” Exclaimed the woman as she wiped her hands on her apron. She had a bit of flour streaked across her cheek, testifying to her activities of the day.
“You know darn well what I’m doing here, and don’t you even try denying that you weren’t expecting me,” Joe laughed and swung one leg over his saddle and slid down to the ground.
Approaching the older woman, he gave her an affectionate kiss on the forehead that even after all this time caused a slight blush to appear on her wrinkled cheeks.
The younger man sniffed at the air, “Don’t tell me, fresh baked bread and apple pie.”
“You get cleaned up and come in; I’ll have supper on the table soon.”
“You got it. Just let me unload the supplies and settle the horses.”
His chores taken care of, Joe turned and looked out over the lake. Sliding his hands into the back of his gun belt, he took a deep breath and slowly released it. If it wasn’t for the Ponderosa, this would be the one spot on earth that he would want to live out his days. Chuckling, he remembered the first time he met Carrie. Just over a year ago he came up the mountain intent on filing a land claim in order to block the destruction of the land by a greedy timber company. She sure did keep him on his toes.
“She sure is a stubborn, cantankerous woman; and I wouldn’t want her any other way,” he told himself.
Joe sauntered into the cabin with a smile on his face. “All done.”
“I’ll tell you, Boy, one could set their clock by your arrival; same time every few months.”
“That’s me, Mr. Punctual. Too bad Pa doesn’t see it that way,” chortled Joe. “I saw the lumber I ordered was delivered.”
“You spoil me, that’s for sure. There’s no need for you to do all this work.”
“Look, Old Woman,” Joe started, a stern look on his face. The name was said as an endearment. Joe let her get by with calling him boy and she reciprocated, allowing his reference to her age. “We’ve gone over this before. As long as you insist on living here, I’m going to insist on keeping this place up for you.” He stopped and bestowed a devilish grin on her. “Besides, what would your Amos want?”
That was the cincher, the one thing that always made her cave in. Her Amos would want her safe and comfortable. The young man in front of her had been doing just that since they met at the end of her double barrel pistol.
“But I don’t need another room added to this here cabin. It’s just fine as it is.”
“You may not, but I sure do. I’m getting mighty tired of sleeping on the ground when I come up here. Besides, I’m sure Chigger won’t mind either”
They sat at the table having a companionable dinner. Joe was never at a loss of stories to tell, which Carrie delighted in hearing; no matter how many times he told some of them. She use to feel lonely in her mountain home with no one but her deceased husband for company; now since this extraordinary man came into her life a whole new world had opened up for her. Not only did he make regular visits, but so did Doc. After all the trouble with Jason Milburn when he wanted to steal her land out from under her, the doctor turned his life around and went back to practicing medicine. Joe also gave her the freedom to go into town when she had a need. With the horses and buckboard she was no longer trapped.
“Some more pie, Joe?”
“Oh no, if I eat anything else I’m gonna end up looking like Brother Hoss,” chortled Joe.
When Carrie started to clear the table Joe was immediately on his feet taking the dishes from her. Once he had the dishes done and everything cleaned, Joe poured two cups of coffee and joined the lady of the house on the porch. The porch. That was the latest addition to the cabin. It ran along the front of the cabin and was covered in order to offer protection from the elements. It was a spot both were proud of.
They sat in comfortable silence, listening to the wind whispering to the pines.
Leaning his head back and closing his eyes; Joe sighed, completely content with his world. “I wonder what tales it’s telling?”
“The wind. It’s talking to the pines tonight.”
The old woman smiled. So like my Amos, he is.
“Probably about all those girls of yours and the foolishment you get up to.”
The younger man couldn’t help himself. The laughter gurgled up from deep down and spilled over, becoming the high pitched cackle that was so uniquely Joe Cartwright.
Begin able to breathe again, he finally realized someone was missing. “I take it Chigger is out hunting.”
“He left this morning; said he’d be back in a day or two.”
Chigger was the teenage boy that Joe had hired to live with Carrie and help take care of the place and anything else that was needed. He had met him on his first trip back, and was impressed with what he saw. Talking with the boy, Joe found out that he wasn’t from the area, and he was also an orphan. Taking odd jobs he was able to get by. Joe offered to pay him if he’d help him with the improvements he was making. While they worked together, Joe watched the boy and took stock of him. And he liked what he saw. Before heading back home, Joe spoke first with Carrie and then with Chigger. Both were in agreement that the boy would stay at the cabin.
Joe never understood the connection he had with this woman, nor could he even come close to explaining it—it just was. The relationship filled a need for him, a void that had always been there for as long as he could remember. He felt immense gratitude towards his father for understanding and allowing him the time away from the ranch. Maybe Ben could understand what Joe couldn’t; either way he was grateful.
“Hey, Chigger,” Joe called from his spot atop the roof two days later when the lad rode into the clearing, the bounty from the successful hunt tied onto the back of the horse he led.
“Joe, good to see you.”
Clambering down the ladder, Joe went over to inspect the boy’s prize. “Woo wee, that sure is some buck you got there. Tell you what; the roof can wait while I’ll give you a hand dressing the meat.”
“Oh, no, Sir. I can do it myself.
“Joe Cartwright, you come over here right now,” shouted Carrie from the doorway of the cabin.
“You jest leave that boy alone. He’s right proud of what he’s done. Makes him feel like a man,” she scolded once Joe was in front of her.
“But, he’s only a boy.”
“To you he’s a boy, and also to me, but it’s you he wants to measure up to. Didn’t you ever feel like that?”
Joe looked down at the ground and kicked at the dirt with the toe of his boot.
“Yes,” he whispered.
“What was that? I’m getting’ a might hard of hearing as of late.”
“I said yes, Ma’am. I remember plenty of times feeling like that. In fact, I still do on occasion.”
“You jest let Chigger take care of that ole buck and you take care of the building.”
With a quick peck on the older woman’s cheek, Joe scampered away and back up the ladder; feeling like a chastised school boy.
The days continued in the same fashion, Joe and Chigger worked on getting the extra room added on. The only thing left to complete was the shingling of the roof. The boards were in place and the weatherproofing secured.
The endless pounding of hammers was beginning to drive Carrie to distraction. When there was a pause in the obnoxious noise, she looked up at the ceiling and said a prayer that the boys were through for the day.
“Chigger, do you have any more nails over there?” Joe called.
“No, my buckets empty. I’ll go down and get some.”
While waiting for the youth to return, Joe surveyed the work that had been done so far and was deeply satisfied with what they had accomplished.
“I think we’ll finish off this section and call it a day,” he told himself.
The words were barely out of his mouth when a scattering of wood splinters flew into the air next to Joe’s left hand and the report of a rifle echoed through the trees. Startled, Joe lost his balance and started to slide down the roof. Desperately trying to find a handhold and stop his downward momentum, Joe grabbed for the main beam, but his fingers only grazed it and he toppled to the ground, landing in a battered heap. Another shoot rang out, pinging off the ground inches from his head. Adrenaline surged through his body allowing him to ignore the pain and scramble for cover. When he looked up he saw Chigger in the doorway of the barn.
“Chigger! Stay in there!”
Joe turned in time to see Carrie stepping out onto the porch.
“Get back in the cabin!”
Another shot whizzed over the top of his head causing him to duck back down behind the barrels he was using for shelter. Reaching for his gun, a few choice words flew from his lips as he realized it was in the cabin.
“Who are you?” Joe yelled out to the trees.
“Don’t matter who we are, what matters is that you get off this land.” Ray responded.
Joe tried to locate where the voice was coming from, but with how dense the trees were, it seemed to be coming from various directions.
“What do you mean get off the land? It’s our land.”
“Not anymore it ain’t. We’re taking it, even if we gotta kill the lot of you.”
Glancing towards the cabin door, Joe knew their only salvation was sitting in his holster, hanging off a peg by the door. Frantically, he tried to rise up into a crouched position only to have his right knee pick that moment to tell him of the abuse it suffered in the fall.
“Where’s the dadburn cavalry when I need it?”
Taking a deep breath and clenching his teeth, Joe was just about ready to try for the cabin again when a shot was fired to the right of him. This time it wasn’t coming towards him, but away. Almost immediately a howl of pain followed.
“Ray? Ray, answer me,” called a frantic voice.
Taking aim to where she heard the voice, Carrie let another shot rip from the rifle in her hands; which was followed by a screech. Moments later horses could be heard leaving the area at a run.
Lying on the ground holding his throbbing knee, Joe looked up at the woman standing just inside the cabin, holding the smoking rifle that he had left there for her protection; a satisfied smile on her face.
“Guess you were right, Joe. It did come in handy.” She looked back towards the trees and shook her head. “Ain’t nobody gonna take my Piney Woods from me. Nobody at all.”
Chigger came running from the barn and threw his arms around the woman who had become a mother to him. He was scared to death, but he was also immensely proud of her.
Carrie quickly assessed the situation and took matters into her own hands. “Boy, help me get Joe into the cabin and then I want you to go for Doc. While you’re there tell the sheriff what happened and what to look for. By the sounds of it, them two won’t be going to far, most likely headed for Doc.”
Joe held his breath and tightly clenched his teeth as the two helped him from the ground and into the cabin, straight to Carrie’s bed.
“I can’t take your bed. The floor’s fine,” he gasped.
“Nonsense. You’ll take it and like it. It’s my turn to do the doctorin’.”
Laughing, the teenager wasted no time getting out of the room. He knew from experience how cantankerous the older man and woman could be and he didn’t want to be in the vicinity when they got to going at each other.
“You just relax and let me take a look at that knee.”
“There’s really no need . . .” Joe gasped when Carrie took hold of the said body part and started feeling around it. “Ouch! Look, Old Woman, leave it for the Doc!”
“Jest hush up, Boy, and let me see what we have here. I’ve taken care of all kinds of ailments before. Who do you think took care of my Amos?”
Joe jerked back on the bed when she hit a particular sore spot.
“Well, it ain’t broken. It’s starting to swell quite a bit. I’ve got to get that boot off and cut these here pants.” She looked up at young man’s face and smiled. “You jest never know. It’s my turn to return the favor you bestowed upon me that first time.”
Leaning his head back, the younger man sighed in frustration and gave into the fates. “Do your worse, Miss Carrie.”
King of Hearts – Carrie Prickett
4 of Diamonds – Knee
King of Clubs – Hostility
6 of Diamonds – Lips
8 of Clubs – Gratitude
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