Summary: It’s Halloween on the Ponderosa and Ben has a visitor from England.
Rated: K+ (6,610 words)
There Are More Things…
Ben Cartwright waved goodbye to the last of the many guests who had just attended his Halloween party. It was a beautiful late fall night, clear and very cold, the cloudless sky spattered with the lights of a thousand stars.
“Well, Isaac.” Ben enquired, as he turned back to the house and caught sight of the tall, elderly man watching him from the doorway. “How did you enjoy our Western hospitality?”
“I thought it was a wonderful party, Ben.” Isaac Grey had been staying with the Cartwrights for nearly two weeks. An old friend of Ben’s, he was visiting from England and had taken the opportunity to call at the Ponderosa on his way to spend the winter with a cousin in Genoa before returning home. “I’ve had a very enjoyable time here,” he continued, as they went back into the great room of the ranch house, warm from the fire and brightly lit with numerous lamps. “I’m only sorry I can’t stay longer.”
“I’m just glad that you finally got to come and see the place.” Ben smiled, pouring out two generous measures of brandy and handing one to his friend. “And to meet my boys.”
“They do you credit.” Isaac took the drink and sat down on the couch, loosening his tie and relaxing. “Adam and Hoss are fine young men and Little Joe is a nice lad, so full of life.”
“I think they’ve turned out well.” Ben replied, his gaze drifting over towards his desk on which stood the silver framed portraits of his son’s mothers.
“I’m sure they would have been as proud of them as you are.” Isaac told him, seeing the direction of his friend’s glance and realising what he was looking at.
“I hope so.” Ben drained his glass and put it down on the table. “I’m sorry Isaac but I have an important meeting early in the morning in Virginia City so I must head off to bed. I’ll see you for supper tomorrow.”
“I’ll look forward to it.” Isaac looked up at his host. “If it’s all right with you I think I’ll stay up for a while, perhaps have a talk with Adam and Hoss when they finish their evening chores. Goodnight, Ben and do sleep well.”
Eleven-year-old Joe Cartwright moved restlessly around beneath the bedcovers. He had thought that after the excitement of the day sleep would not be long in coming, but now, hours after his bedtime, Joe was still wide awake. From the great room downstairs he could just make out the faint sound of conversation, probably his father’s friend, Isaac talking to his brothers’ Adam and Hoss. It couldn’t be his father as Joe had heard him go to his room some time ago. Hearing a loud burst of laughter from Hoss, he wondered what they were talking about that was so amusing and eventually, curiosity getting the better of him, he slipped out of bed and tiptoed toward the door.
From the top of the stairs Joe could remain out of sight but he was still able to hear every word distinctly. It was a vantage point that often came in useful to a young boy wanting to hear what his elders were saying about him and Joe had often eavesdropped on his family from here. Settling himself down on the smooth wooden floor he leant against the wall, wrapping his arms around his knees, and listened to the cheerful talk that drifted up from the room below.
“Thank you for entertaining Joe this morning, Isaac.” The speaker was Joe’s brother, Adam. Twelve years older than his youngest brother, and recently returned from four years at college in Boston, there was no one who could rub Joe up the wrong way as easily, and he scowled now at Adam’s assumption that he needed to be ‘entertained’.
“It was my pleasure.” Isaac Grey’s clipped British tones were tinged with the soft burr of his native Devonshire accent and Joe could picture the twinkle in the bright blue eyes as the elderly man spoke. “He’s a nice young lad.”
Joe’s father had told him that Isaac Grey was a very important and powerful man and that he ran a shipping line which traded all over the world from its home port of Bristol in England. Ben Cartwright had met him many years ago when he was a ship’s captain and had kept up a correspondence ever since. It had been quite a surprise when Isaac had announced his intention to visit but Ben had welcomed his old friend into his home and he had immediately made himself popular with all four Cartwrights.
“Yes, sir. Those toffee apples you had him making were just plum delicious.” Hoss put in, and Joe could just imagine him licking his lips at the recollection of the sweet, brittle toffee mixing with the tart crunchiness of the juicy apples. The middle Cartwright son was always appreciative of good food, and was especially fond of sweet things.
“Toffee apples are a traditional food for Halloween at home.” Isaac told them, his tone slightly wistful. “Though we don’t especially celebrate Halloween, we tend to make more of Guy Fawkes Night on November the fifth. I usually spend the night with my son and his family, it will seem a little strange not to be with them this year.”
“Well, what is this Guy Fawkes night?” Hoss asked curiously. “Perhaps we could help you celebrate it here at the Ponderosa.”
“In 1605 a man named Guy Fawkes and a group of conspirators tried to blow up the English House of Parliament.” Isaac explained. “He was discovered, brought to trial and executed. Each year on November the fifth bonfires are lit all over England to commemorate the foiling of what became known as the Gunpowder Plot. There are firework displays held and everywhere the air is filled with the smoke from thousands of fires until the whole country seems to take on the pungent smell of burning wood. Children make effigies of Guy Fawkes that are burned on top of the bonfires and we bake potatoes and chestnuts in the embers. My grandchildren are very fond of hot chestnuts but their particular favourites are my toffee apples.”
“Pa might let us have a fire if you’d like…” Hoss began
“No, no.” Isaac interrupted. “I’m perfectly happy to fall in with your traditions. I really enjoyed tonight’s Halloween party, it was nice to meet all your father’s friends and neighbours.”
For a while silence settled over the room and on the landing, Joe shifted uncomfortably. He could hear the gentle clinking of china and assumed that one of the three was pouring coffee. Growing bored, and a bit cold, he was about to go back to bed when Isaac Grey began to speak again.
“Of course there is one Halloween tradition I am very fond of,” he said, and his voice held amusement. “I do enjoy a good ghost story.”
“Ghosts!” Adam snorted almost contemptuously. “Surely an educated man like yourself, sir, doesn’t believe in such things?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Isaac replied, and Joe could just make out the gentle creak of the leather chair as the elderly man settled himself more comfortably. “I try to keep an open mind about the supernatural. Let me tell you a ghost story, one that was told to me by a very dear friend of mine. He swears that every word of it is true, but you can, of course, use your own judgement as to whether or not you believe it.”
Clearing his throat, he dropped the tone of his voice so that his words sounded almost eerie and began. “My friend’s sister, Emily, had been recently widowed and together with her three daughter’s had been forced to move from her old home. She took up a lease on a fine house in one of the best residential areas of the city of Bristol. The family settled comfortably into the house but they were unable to obtain a housemaid for several weeks; yet, not long after moving in, one of the daughters passed a young girl on the stairs, she was dressed in a shabby pink dress and busily sweeping with a dustpan and brush. The daughter thought her mother must have hired a temporary maid and didn’t take too much notice, though she did see that the girl looked untidy, her cap soiled and askew and that she appeared almost hump-backed with a white, unhealthy face. A week or so later another of the daughters came across the girl, who this time rose and walked away down the stairs, grinning hideously over her shoulder as she went into the drawing room and closed the door behind her. Another week passed and the first daughter saw the girl again, this time in the kitchen apparently busy at the range. She knew by then that her mother had not hired the girl and was at a loss as to just who she was. ‘What on earth are you doing here?’ she demanded of her. The girl swung round, an impudent leer on her face and scuttled off into an adjoining room from which there was no other exit. The daughter followed, thinking to confront the girl face to face, but the room was empty. Suddenly scared, she ran off upstairs. Reaching the landing she saw to her horror, grinning at her through the landing window, which was at least thirty feet above the ground, the white face of the ghostly housemaid she had seen just a moment before in the kitchen. Needless to say the family left the house the same day and never returned and I believe that the place still stands empty now.”
“That’s quite a tale.” Hoss spoke up, and Joe thought that his voice sounded just a little shaky. “Did they ever find out anything about the girl?”
“They did make some enquiries.” Isaac told him. ” It seems that some fifty years ago a wealthy man owned the house. He had a daughter, a hunch-backed, slow-witted girl who always wore a cheap pink dress. The poor creature lived a miserable life, unloved, half-starved and often beaten, she eventually drowned herself in a pool in the garden.” **
At the top of the stairs, a slight shiver ran through Joe at the ending to Isaac’s story, raising goose bumps along his arms. Suddenly, bed seemed a very good place to be, and rising quietly, Joe crept away. Crawling beneath the covers he looked around at the familiar outlines of his room, just barely visible in the pale glow of the moonlight filtering through the drapes. Strange how he’d never noticed before just how menacing, and somehow a little scary, some of the dark shapes appeared. For a moment he thought about lighting the lamp but realised that it was quite likely Adam or Hoss would come in to check on him before they went to bed and they’d want to know the reason why it was alight. Telling himself firmly that of course he wasn’t scared just because of some silly story, Joe pulled the sheets up over his head and resolutely closed his eyes.
Ben Cartwright woke with a start in the early hours of the morning to the sound of his youngest son’s panicked yells. Getting swiftly out of bed, Ben quickly donned his robe and lit a lamp before hurrying along the corridor to Joe’s room.
The boy was sitting bolt upright in bed, eyes wide and unfocused, still lost in the terror of his nightmare.
“Joseph.” Ben put the lamp on the bedside table and sat down on the side of the bed, reaching out to gather his son into his arms. “It’s all right. It was just a bad dream.”
“The girl, Pa.” Joe blurted out, his slim body trembling violently beneath Ben’s hands. “The girl in the pink dress, she was at the window!”
“Hush.” Ben soothed, holding the boy close and rocking him gently. “There’s nothing there, son. It was all a dream.”
Turning at a slight sound from behind him, Ben saw Adam standing in the doorway; his eldest son had obviously heard Joe’s words and from the expression on his face, he knew what his little brother was talking about.
“Do you know something about this, Adam?” Ben asked sharply, and saw a guilty look flicker across the young man’s countenance.
“It was just a ghost story Isaac was telling Hoss and me,” he said, coming into the room. “Joe must have overheard.”
“A ghost story!” Ben exclaimed in exasperation. “Really, Adam. You know how imaginative Joe is.”
“I thought Joe was safely tucked up in bed.” Adam told him, casting a baleful look at his young brother who, safe in his father’s arms, was beginning to recover from his terror. “He must have been eavesdropping on us.”
“I couldn’t sleep, Pa. I heard Hoss laughing and I just wondered what they were all talking about.” Joe said plaintively. “I didn’t know Mr. Grey was going to tell ghost stories.”
“You shouldn’t have been listening.” Adam accused him. “Sneaking about the house in the middle of the night…”
“The damage is done now.” Ben interrupted quickly before Joe could answer back. “You’d better get on to bed, Adam. I’ll stay with Joe.”
“No, I’ll stay with him.” Adam said firmly and settled himself down in the chair beside his brother’s bed as he spoke. “You need to be up early for that meeting in Virginia City.”
“That’s true.” Ben conceded. “Is that all right with you, Joe?” He asked his youngest softly as he laid him back down on the pillows and tucked the covers gently around him.
“I guess.” Joe would much rather have had his father stay, but he felt a bit guilty for waking him up in the first place and didn’t want to be responsible for him missing any more sleep.
“Then Adam will stay here until you go to sleep.” Ben got up from the bed, smoothing the covers back into place as he did so. “Pleasant dreams.”
“Pa?” Joe called hesitantly as Ben moved towards the door. “Before you go, could you just…um…look out the window, please?”
Hearing the nervousness still present in the boy’s voice Ben obliged, pulling the drapes aside and looking out into the cloudless night, the empty yard below drenched in the moon’s pallid light.
“There’s nothing there, Joe.” He reassured his son, closing the drapes again. “Now, try to get some sleep. Good night to you both.”
“‘Night, Pa.” The brothers called in unison and Ben smiled softly to himself as he went back to his own bed.
“Ghosts!” Adam exclaimed quietly as they heard the sound of their father’s bedroom door closing. “There’s no such thing, Joe. Ghosts don’t exist.”
“Mr. Grey said that was a true story he told you.” Joe protested. “I heard him.”
“People can imagine all sorts of things.” Adam told him. “I’m sure there was some perfectly logical explanation for the whole thing.” Looking at his little brother Adam saw that there was still a trace of fear lingering in his eyes and softened his tone. “Anyway you know there are no ghosts here, it was all just a dream like Pa said.” He settled back in the chair and yawned widely. “Now go to sleep, I’ll be here if you need me.”
Casting an uneasy glance towards the window, Joe tried to settle himself more comfortably, convinced he’d get no more sleep tonight, but eventually weariness overcame him and he drifted off into a deep, dreamless slumber.
“I’m so sorry.” Isaac Grey’s usually cheerful face was very sober as he faced Adam across the dining table the next morning. “If I’d had any idea young Joe was listening I’d never have told that story. I hate to think that it frightened the boy enough to give him nightmares.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Adam stretched uncomfortably, his back aching. He had meant to go back to his own bed once Joe was settled but had fallen asleep and ended up spending the night in the chair. “You had no way of knowing that he was there. I’m just amazed that you and Hoss slept through it all, he was yelling pretty loudly.”
“I’ve always been a very sound sleeper.” Isaac told him, as he proceeded to attack the plate of eggs and fatback that Hop Sing had placed before him. “You look like you didn’t get too much sleep though.”
“Oh, I slept. Just not very well.” Adam reached for the coffee pot and grimaced as his aching back protested at the movement. “I must admit that I could do with a few hours in bed but there’s work to be done. I’ll just have some coffee, then I’d better go and give Hoss a hand.”
“Does Joe have much to do today?” Isaac asked.
“He’s doing his morning chores at the moment.” Adam sipped the hot coffee appreciatively as he answered. “Then I was going to find some work for him to do, but there’s nothing important so if you have other ideas…?” Raising his eyebrows he looked at the older man questioningly.
“I thought perhaps Joe could show me around the Ponderosa.” Isaac said. “If you could spare him, that is. I’d like to see some more of the ranch and I do so enjoy his company, he puts me in mind of my grandson, Robert. He’s a year or so older than your brother but he has that same energy about him, that same zest for life.”
“I think Joe would enjoy showing you round.” Adam had caught the hint of sadness in Isaac’s eyes as he spoke of his grandson and guessed that his father’s friend was missing his family. “Pa’s in Virginia City till late afternoon so if I ask Hop Sing to pack a cold lunch for you there’s no need to be back till supper time…” He broke off as the door was flung open and the object of their conversation burst in. Chattering happily to Hoss, who was just behind him, Joe seemed none the worse for his disturbed night.
“‘Mornin’ Mr. Grey.” Hoss called, seeing the elderly man at the table. “How are you this morning, sir?”
“I’m very well, thank you.” Isaac rose and walked over to warm himself at the fire, turning to look at Joe who had flung himself down on the couch. “I’m sorry if my story last night scared you, Joe.”
“I wasn’t scared.” The boy denied quickly, anxious that the man shouldn’t think him childish enough to be frightened by the thought of ghosts. “It must have just been something I ate, gave me a bad dream.”
“Oh, I see.” Isaac turned aside to hide his amusement. “I imagine that an upset stomach could very well be the cause of it.”
“Mr. Grey has asked if you would show him round the Ponderosa today, Joe.” Adam said, coming over to join his brother on the couch. “Would you like to?”
“Sure.” Joe grinned over at Isaac. “I’ll take you down by the lake if you like, it’s real pretty down there.”
“Go and get the horses ready then.” Adam told him with a smile and watched as his young brother scrambled up enthusiastically and headed for the door. “And take care.” He called after him. “Remember Mr. Grey isn’t used to this sort of country.”
“Don’t worry, Adam.” Isaac reassured him quickly. ” I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
“Magnificent.” Isaac Grey declared as he looked out over the serene, shining lake, bounded by the dark pine forests and watched over by the soaring peaks of the mountains with their snow capped summits thrusting upwards into the clear, blue sky. “Quite magnificent.”
“Told you it was real pretty.” Joe said, pleased at the man’s enthusiasm. Sliding down off his horse he looked up at Isaac. “We could eat lunch here, if you like.”
“I think it would be a wonderful place to eat lunch.” Isaac smiled at him, and then sat quietly for a moment, drinking in the view before him. “No wonder your father loves it so much.”
“Pa says it’s just about the most beautiful place in the world.” Joe told him, pride in his home evident from the tone of his voice.
“Well, he should know. He saw a great deal of the world when he was a sailor.”
“Have you been to a lot of places as well?” Joe asked with interest, his father’s tales of foreign lands had always enthralled him.
“I’ve been to many countries, Joe.” Isaac dismounted from his horse and reached into the saddlebag for the lunch Hop Sing had prepared. “And seen sights that would astound you. But I’m a firm believer in the adage ‘Home is where the heart is’ and I can see your father’s heart is here on the Ponderosa.”
Joe had no idea what an adage was but he certainly agreed with Isaac’s words. “So your heart is in England?”
“It is.” Isaac nodded his agreement, handing Joe one of the thick, beef sandwiches that he had just unwrapped. “In an old, grey, stone built house on the North Devon coast. It stands on the edge of the moors and is a wild, windswept place in the winter when the storms sweep in from the sea. In the summer, the weather is kinder and the hills are covered with wildflowers and yellow gorse. When I was a lad of your age I’d stand up on top of the cliffs, the moors behind me, and watch the ships sail down the Bristol Channel on their way out to the Atlantic and I’d dream of one day sailing a ship of my very own. But I always knew that whatever I did and wherever I went in the world, I’d go back home someday.”
“And is that where you live now?”
“It’s where my youngest son and his family live. I hope to join them there soon. This visit to America will be my last trip abroad. When I return to England next year I intend to put the business into my eldest son’s hands and spend the remainder of my days in that old house.”
Swallowing a bite of his sandwich, Joe reached for his canteen and took a long drink of water. “Won’t you miss running your business and sailing in your ships?” He asked eventually, as Isaac remained silent, looking out over the still waters of the lake, shimmering in the sunshine of the early November day.
“Probably.” The elderly man confessed. “Then again, I shall enjoy spending more time with my family. However,” he put the sandwich wrappings neatly away in his saddlebag and turned to mount his horse again. “That’s all for the future. How about you show me a little more of this wonderful land of yours before it’s time to get back to the ranch for supper?”
“Would you like to see the lake from a little bit closer?” Joe asked. “I’ve got a boat we can use if you want.”
“I think that’s a splendid idea, Joe. Where is this boat of yours?”
“Just over there.” Joe pointed towards a little bay where the waters of the lake gently lapped a small, stony beach. “We call it Hoss’ Cove ‘cause he likes to fish from there in the summer. It’s my friend Johnny’s boat, really,” he confessed. “But he lets all us kids use it. It’s a bit old, but we look after it real well.”
“Then lead on.” Isaac said, blue eyes crinkling with laughter at the boy’s eagerness, as he pulled his horse around and followed Joe down to the lakeside.
Joe had enjoyed rowing on the lake with his father’s friend. It was a pleasant day for being on the water. The weather was still reasonably mild for this late in the year, a touch of warmth remaining in the November sun. It was getting chilly now though as the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, a timely reminder of how cold the nights were; temperatures falling well below freezing. Very soon the winter snows, as yet restricted to the mountains, would blanket the land. As they headed back towards the cove Isaac took over the rowing and proved to be a good oarsman, covering the distance in half the time it had taken Joe on the outward journey.
They were getting close into the shore when Isaac suddenly bent forwards with a small cry, his face draining of colour.
“Mr. Grey!” Joe exclaimed in concern. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine, Joe.” Isaac straightened up slowly, a hand on his chest. “Just a little pain. Indigestion I’ll wager from rushing that sandwich.” Reaching for the oars he somehow fumbled and dropped one over the side where it promptly drifted slightly away from the boat and out of his reach.
“Damn and blast!” Isaac exclaimed in irritation, causing Joe to smile as he imagined his father’s reaction to the words. “I can’t get the darn thing.”
“I can.” Joe said eagerly, grabbing the other oar from the bottom of the boat, with the intention of using it to pull the floating oar toward them he began to get to his feet.
“Joe, don’t!” Isaac warned, but too late; as Joe stood up the rickety boat performed a kind of drunken roll and tossed both man and boy overboard into the freezing waters.
Spluttering, Isaac came to the surface first. With a wry grimace he put his feet down onto the stony bottom of the lake as he realised that the water was only chest high. Beside him, Joe was coughing, spitting out lake water.
“Come on, Joe.” Isaac reached out for the boat, pulling it towards him and turning round to retrieve the oars, both of which were now floating within easy reach. “We’d better get back to shore and get home to dry off before we catch our death of cold.”
“I can’t.” Joe was white faced, his voice trembling slightly, though whether from fear or the intense cold Isaac couldn’t tell. “My foot’s caught on something under the water, I can’t get it loose.”
“Let me see.” Isaac ducked beneath the water, running his hand down Joe’s leg. The boy’s foot was wedged fast between two large rocks. Holding Joe’s ankle Isaac tried in vain to pull the foot free. Surfacing for air, he took a deep breath. “I’m going to try to move the rocks aside,” he told Joe. “You keep on trying to get your foot out.”
Grasping an oar to use as a lever he plunged back beneath the water.
Struggling to move, his feet and fingers already growing numb with cold, Joe was beginning to feel scared. The water, whilst only to Isaac’s chest, was lapping Joe’s shoulders and there was no sign of movement from the rocks that held him prisoner.
“Can’t shift them.” Isaac stood up, water dripping from his hair and running down into his blue eyes. “Hold on to the boat, Joe. I’m going to have to go back to the Ponderosa for help. You just keep holding on.”
“It’s so cold.” Joe’s lips were already turning blue from the icy waters as he obeyed the man and grasped the edge of the boat.
“I know.” Isaac squeezed the youngster’s shoulder consolingly. “You’re going to have to be very brave, Joe. I promise to be as quick as I can.”
Joe looked up at the worried face of the elderly man and attempted a confident grin, though his teeth were chattering so much from the cold that smiling was difficult. “I’ll be fine. I’m sure I can hold on till you get back and then Adam and Hoss will soon get me out.”
“Of course they will.” With a last reassuring touch to Joe’s arm, Isaac turned away and began to wade toward the shore. He had to hurry he realised, as Joe was already feeling the effects of immersion in the chill water. Suddenly, a sharp knifelike pain shot through Isaac’s chest, and down into his arms. Catching his breath in sudden agony, he stumbled and almost fell. ‘I must keep going’ he told himself firmly, regaining his footing and struggling on through the water, trying to ignore the tortuous pain, ‘I must get help for Little Joe’.
Finding himself with the unexpected luxury of a free hour Adam had settled down to read a couple of chapters of his new book. Hoss was cleaning out the stables and Hop Sing was busy preparing supper, so the house was quiet. The gentle ticking of the grandfather clock and the occasional pop and crackle from the fire were the only sounds that broke the afternoon silence and Adam soon stopped turning the pages as his eyelids began to droop with weariness.
“Adam! Wake up, Adam!”
Shocked into awareness Adam opened his eyes with a start to see Isaac, clothes soaking wet, water dripping from his sparse white hair, standing before him. “Isaac? What’s happened?”
“It’s Little Joe.” Isaac told him urgently. “We had an accident down at the lake. He’s trapped in the water, I tried to get him free but I couldn’t do it on my own so I had to come for help.”
“Where exactly is he?” Adam asked, already up out of the chair and making for the door.
“He called it Hoss’ cove.” Isaac watched as Adam donned his black hat and jacket. “His foot’s caught between two rocks, you’ll need a lever of some kind. And you’d better take a blanket to wrap him in when you get him out of there, the water’s very cold.”
Adam nodded in acknowledgement, and came back into the room to grab the blanket from the foot of the stairs. “You stay here and get dried off.” He advised Isaac. “If Pa gets back while I’m gone tell him what’s happened. Hop Sing.” He called, raising his voice to a shout. “Heat some water for a bath for Mr. Grey, please.” Then turning he was out of the door before the little cook had even answered his call. “Hoss!” he yelled, striding across the stable yard. “Hoss!”
“Where’s the fire, older brother?” Hoss enquired, coming to the door of the stable, pitchfork in hand, in response to Adam’s shout.
“It’s Joe.” Adam told him briefly. “He’s in trouble, down by the lake. Get the horses saddled up while I find a lever.”
Shocked, Hoss asked no questions but hurried off to do as he was bid.
Within moments the brothers galloped away from the Ponderosa, heading for the lake.
Joe was struggling valiantly to do as Isaac had told him and keep hold of the boat. There was practically no feeling left in his fingers now and his whole body felt numb with cold.
“Please hurry.” He muttered under his breath, fear beginning to grip him as he realised that he couldn’t hold on for very much longer. “Please, please hurry.”
“Little Joe!” Hoss’ shout from behind him sent relief racing through the boy. Half turning he saw his brothers wading swiftly through the water and within moments they were by his side.
“It’s gonna be all right.” Hoss reassured him, grabbing the youngster’s frozen fingers between his own big hands and starting to rub some warmth into them. “Adam and me will soon get you out, won’t we Adam?”
“You just hold on for a little bit longer, buddy.” Adam took in Joe’s white face, his blue tinged lips, the exhaustion in his green eyes and realised they had to act quickly. Taking off his hat he threw it into the boat. Then, clutching the metal pole he had brought along to lever the rocks, he ducked beneath the water. Within seconds he broke the surface again, wet hair plastered to his forehead.
“I think we need your strength on this lever,” he told Hoss. “Push it down as hard as you can, I’ll try to free up Joe’s foot.”
Grasping the bar as instructed, Hoss applied all of his might to it as Adam sank down in the water and gripped his youngest brother’s foot. For a moment it seemed that nothing was going to happen then, agonisingly slowly, one of the rocks shifted sideways a few inches and Adam was able to pull Joe free.
“Thank the Lord.” Hoss whispered, dropping the lever and picking Joe up in his arms. “Let’s get him out of here.”
Retrieving his hat, Adam set it firmly on top of his sopping wet hair and followed Hoss back through the water to the shore.
“He’s half froze.” Hoss exclaimed as he set the boy down on the ground “Get me that blanket.” Grabbing the blanket from his horse, Adam handed it to Hoss who gently wrapped it around his brother’s slight frame. Lifting Joe up again he could feel the boys uncontrollable shivering. “You take him home,” he told Adam “I’ll go and get the horses and secure that boat.”
Nodding in agreement, Adam swung up into the saddle taking Joe from Hoss and settling his young brother in front of him.
“All right, Joe?” He asked solicitously, worried by his brother’s silence. “Feeling any better?”
“No.” Joe shook his head weakly “I’m so cold, Adam.” The words were barely loud enough to hear, and tightening his arms around the boy Adam headed quickly back towards the Ponderosa.
Pulling Sport to a halt in front of the ranch house Adam dismounted quickly, reaching up and pulling Joe down into his arms.
“I can walk.” Joe protested softly as Adam carried him towards the house. Ignoring the words, he took Joe inside and over to the couch.
“Hop Sing!” He yelled as he sat Joe down and turned to stoke up the fire. “Hop Sing!”
“What you shout about, Mister Adam?” The little oriental came rushing in from the kitchen, aggrieved at the abrupt summons. “I busy with…” His words tailed off as he saw Joe on the couch, Adam beside him. Raising his voice he called up the stairs. “Mister Cartlight, Mister Cartlight, come quick!”
“Pa’s here?” Adam looked up in surprise. “Didn’t Isaac tell him where we were?”
“I get towels and clean clothes.” Hop Sing bustled off toward the linen store, not answering Adam’s question. “Then heat water for bath.”
“What’s all the shouting?” Ben’s deep voice cut across Hop Sing’s as he descended the stairs, his irritable expression changing to one of concern as he caught sight of his sons. Joe, pale and exhausted sitting on the couch with Adam’s arm around him, both of them dripping wet.
“Joe fell in the lake.” Adam explained, as Ben came to take the boy from him. “I told Isaac to tell you what had happened.”
“I haven’t seen Isaac.” Ben told him, taking the towels that Hop Sing brought to him and gently beginning to remove Joe’s drenched clothing. “There’s only me and Hop Sing here. What happened, Joseph?” He asked his youngest son as he wrapped the boy in a soft, warm towel and began to rub him dry.
“Mr. Grey and me went on the lake in Johnny’s boat.” Joe explained. Adam was relieved to see that he was beginning to look a little better. He had nearly stopped shivering and the blue colour was beginning to fade from his lips. “It sort of rolled over and we fell in. I got my foot stuck under some rocks. I couldn’t move and the water was really cold. Mr. Grey told me to hang on to the boat and then he came back to fetch Adam and Hoss.”
“That’s right, he told me what had happened and where Joe was and I told him to stay here and wait for you.” Adam looked around him in bemusement. “I don’t understand…where can he be?”
“Hot water soon be ready.” Hop Sing announced, coming in from the kitchen, a mug of steaming hot milk in his hands. “You drink this, L’il Joe.” He told the youngster, handing him the hot drink. “It help warm you up.”
“Where did Mr. Grey go, Hop Sing?” Adam asked, as the Chinaman started back towards the kitchen.
Hop Sing stopped, a puzzled look on his face. “I no see Mr. Grey.”
“But you must have.” Adam protested. “I called out to you to prepare a bath for him before I went to help Joe.”
“I hear you say that.” Hop Sing affirmed. “So I come in to ask Mr. Grey if he all right, but there no one here.”
Dried off and dressed in fresh clothing Adam strolled out on to the porch a little while later still feeling confused. Isaac had definitely woken him up and told him about Joe’s plight. So where was he now? And where was Hoss? Adam thought suddenly, realising that he and Joe must have been back at least forty minutes and there was still no sign of his middle brother, surely it shouldn’t be taking this long to secure the boat?
“Well, Joe seems none the worse for his dip in the lake.” Ben said, coming out to join his eldest son. “He was splashing about in the bath and chatting to me as though nothing had happened. Thank goodness you and Hoss got to him in time.”
“That was down to Isaac…” Adam began and broke off with a sigh of relief as Hoss came riding up to the house, leading two horses behind him.
“Good Lord…” Adam heard his father’s exclamation at the same moment as he realised that across the saddle of one of the horses lay a body. The body of Isaac Grey.
“I found him on the edge of the lake.” Hoss announced, dismounting as his father and brother came running over. “A little way down from where Joe was. It looks like he was trying to go for help, but never made it. ”
“But he did!” Adam insisted looking at his father in confusion. “I saw him, he was there in the house. He was right in front of me, Pa. All wet and dripping from the lake water. He must have been there, I’d never have known Joe was in trouble if he hadn’t told me.”
“He liked Joe.” Ben said softly, putting an arm around Adam’s shoulders. “He wouldn’t have wanted anything to happen to him.”
“So, what are you saying, Pa?” Adam asked, looking into his father’s dark eyes. “That what I saw was Isaac’s ghost?”
“I don’t know what it was that you saw, Adam.” Ben looked round at the body of his old friend, sorrow on his face. “Whether it was Isaac’s spirit attempting to help Joe or just some kind of vivid dream. Whatever it was I’m just thankful that Joseph is safe and well. As to explanations, well I can only think of those words of William Shakespeare’s, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth…” ^^
** This is a true ghost story that happened in a house in Upper Belgrave Road, Clifton, Bristol, U.K. Though I have changed the dates as the incident actually took place in the early 1900’s.
^^ ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ ‘Hamlet’ Act 1 Scene V by William Shakespeare.
Other Stories by this Author
- A Winter Evening – a Christmas poem (by KateP)
- Le Collier d’Or #2 – Eloise (by KateP)
- Le Collier d’Or #1 (by KateP)
- Away in a Manger (by KateP)
- Thoughts on Leaving – a poem (by KateP)