Trust (by JoanS)

Summary:   Joe feels that his father doesn’t trust him anymore

Rated: K (11,125 Words)

 

Trust

‘Ow!’ Little Joe Cartwright pulled back his hand quickly and put it to his mouth to suck on it. ‘What did ya do that for?’

Hop Sing waved the wooden spoon around in the air and then aimed it at the youngster again as he pretended to swat him a second time. ‘Leave alone!’ he yelled. ‘Cookies still hot from oven!’

‘I can tell that,’ said Joe sulkily as he continued to suck on his hand. ‘There’s no need to hit me though.’

‘Is need,’ declared Hop Sing as he went back to stirring the batter in the bowl. ‘Leave alone.’

Little Joe waited until the cook was intent on his work again, before reaching out and carefully removing two cookies from the tray.  He grinned as he popped them into his pocket and then said casually. ‘Well I’d better get back to work.  See ya later Hop Sing.’  He whistled as he left the kitchen and headed back to the front yard.

Behind him, Hop Sing grinned to himself as he gave the departing youngster a sideways glance. ‘Enjoy cookie,’ he muttered under his breath. It was always like this between the two of them.  Ever since Little Joe could first remember, Hop Sing had been with the Cartwright family.  He was as much a part of The Ponderosa as his father or brothers and Joe couldn’t even begin to imagine what life would be like without the Chinese cook.  The bond between the two of them ran very deep since it had been forged when Joe’s mother had died many years ago.  The little boy had turned to Hop Sing in his confusion when his father had been so consumed by grief that he had been incapable of giving the child the attention he needed at that desperate time.

Hop Sing himself would never have admitted that he felt a special bond between himself and the boy … he felt that he treated the three Cartwright sons the same … but it was there all the same and everyone knew it.  It was evident in the way in which he allowed Little Joe more freedom in his kitchen than anyone else, it was evident in the way he scolded him and it was evident in the way he looked at the boy when he thought that he wasn’t being watched. Everyone knew that their relationship was special, even though it was an unspoken thing within the household.

Hop Sing smiled as he began to knead his bread dough.  The sound of shouting came from outside and he craned his neck to look through the small kitchen window.  His smile broadened as he watched his boy ducking away from his older brother Hoss who was reaching out to hit him.  No doubt he’d played some trick on his brother again.  The youngest Cartwright just didn’t seem to be able to help himself and his brothers often bore the brunt of his mischievous nature.  Not that Adam tolerated it much, but Hoss was a different matter.  He would put up with a lot from the little brother that he had worshipped ever since he’d first drawn breath and judging by the expression on his face Joe must have done something to really annoy him.  His words floated through the window and reached the cook’s ears.

‘You get back here Joe or I’m gonna pound ya!’ shouted Hoss.

Joe stepped nimbly to one side. ‘Aw come on Hoss!’ he shined. ‘Can’t blame a fellar for an accident can ya?’

‘That weren’t no accident and you know it!’ said Hoss with a scowl as he reached into the water trough and fished out his hat. He turned to his brother again. ‘I’m gonna pound ya Joe!’

Just at that moment Ben Cartwright came out of the barn and Joe stepped quickly behind his father ginning all the while at Hoss. ‘What’s all this about?’ asked their father sternly.

‘Nothin Pa,’ replied Joe quickly. ‘You got that list you mentioned?’

Ben gave his youngest son a suspicious look and handed him a piece of paper. ‘Here it is,’ he said. ‘Just give it to Albert at the mail office and he’ll take care of it.’  He hesitated before adding. ‘And make sure that you come straight home young man.  I don’t want to have to send one of your brothers in to get you as I had to the other day.’

Joe tried to look affronted. ‘Sure thing Pa,’ he said. ‘I won’t be long.’  He vaulted up into his saddle and tucked the piece of paper into his jacket pocket. ‘See ya!’

Hoss continued to glare at his brother as he rode off. ‘Hmph!’ he said.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ asked Ben.

‘That younger brother of mine,’ said Hoss grumpily. ‘Ain’t a day goes past when he don’t cause me trouble in one form or another.’

Ben made a face. ‘What’s he done now?’

‘Hoss shrugged. ‘Nothin important,’ he acknowledged. ‘He jest can’t help himself is all.’

Ben sighed. ‘I must say I have to agree,’ he replied. ‘It seems that not a week goes past when he doesn’t get himself into some sort of trouble in town either.  I think Roy Coffee is beginning to hate it when I send him in.’

‘Then why do ya Pa?’ asked Hoss. ‘Seems ta me iffen ya kept him on the ranch more often things would be a lot easier.’

Ben shook his head. ‘Well it might make it easier in the short term Hoss, but it wouldn’t help Joseph learn how to behave himself if I never give him the opportunity to prove that he can do it.’  He sighed. ‘Although sometimes I must admit that I wonder why I do it myself.’  He put his arm around his middle son’s shoulders. ‘Come on son, we’ve got work to do.’

‘Yeah Pa,’ said Hoss with a sigh.

Hop Sing frowned as he listened to the exchange between father and son. He too had been aware of just how often Little Joe had been in trouble lately for fighting and he hoped that today wouldn’t be one of those times.

———-

‘Joseph I fail to see how that could possibly excuse you!’ thundered Ben as he stared at his contrite son. ‘I gave you instructions to go straight to town and come straight home again. And yet here you are trying to tell me that you had no choice but to stop and get into a fight in the middle of the street!’

‘Yeah but Pa…’ began Joe.

Ben held up his hand. ‘I’ve heard it all before son.  There’s always a reason why you end up looking like this isn’t there?’  He glanced at his son’s dirty and torn clothing and bruised face. ‘Joseph there is nothing you could say to me that would convince me not to be angry with you over this!  Nothing at all!’

‘But I didn’t have no choice!’ interrupted Joe and earned himself a further glare from his father. He swallowed and carried on regardless. ‘Bill White called me a coward so I didn’t have no choice but to clobber him!’

Ben’s eyes widened. ‘So you’re telling me that you started this fight?’ he said incredulously. ‘After all I’ve said on the topic?’

Joe swallowed again and nodded reluctantly. ‘Well yeah, I kinda did,’ he said. ‘But like I said Pa it was…’

Ben put up his hand. ‘Stop it Joseph,’ he said wearily. ‘I’m not listening anymore.  You are confined to this ranch for the next week and there’ll be no going into town if you can’t behave yourself.  Now go and get cleaned up!’  He motioned the boy away and turned back towards his desk.

Joe stood for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders before turning towards the kitchen.  He rolled his eyes as he walked across the dining room and heaved his shoulders dramatically. ‘Stop that!’ said Hop Sing as he entered the kitchen. ‘Boy in plenty trouble already.  No make father more mad with eyes roll!’

Joe scowled at him. ‘Weren’t my fault!’ he declared as he sat down where Hop Sing indicated.

‘You always say not your fault!’ said Hop Sing angrily as he wet a cloth and held it out. ‘Wipe face!’ He swatted the boy on the side of the head.

Joe ducked and then took the cloth and began to clean himself up. He sighed, more for effect than for anything else. ‘Still say it weren’t my fault,’ he mumbled under his breath and then stopped as he saw the glare that Hop Sing gave him.

‘You not go town now?’ said Hop Sing as he picked up a knife and began to chop the vegetables.

‘No,’ said Joe mournfully. ‘Pa said one week restriction this time.’

‘You lucky not longer!’ said Hop Sing as he pointed the knife in Joe’s direction. ‘Father plenty mad.’

‘I know,’ sighed Joe. ‘Seems I make him mad all the time lately.’

‘Then you stop fighting!’ said Hop Sing.

‘I try to,’ replied Joe. ‘But every time I go in there someone wants to be in a fight with me.  I can’t help that can I?’

Hop Sing thought for a moment. ‘Why?’

‘Why what?’

‘Why they all want fight with you?’

‘I don’t know.  Different reasons all the time.’

Hop Sing chopped fiercely. ‘Who get in trouble when you fight?’

‘Me.’

‘Then why you let them fight you?’

Joe shrugged. ‘I told you.  I just can’t help it.’

Hop Sing stopped chopping and stared at him. ‘You help,’ he said. ‘You walk away.’

‘Easier said than done,’ muttered Joe. ‘Sometimes that’s a hard thing to do.’

Hop Sing continued to stare at him. ‘Too hard?’ he said. ‘Prefer trouble from father instead?’

Joe sighed. ‘No.’

The cook started chopping again. ‘Then stop fighting,’ he said simply.

Joe stood up. ‘Yeah,’ he said with a shrug. ‘Well I’d better get back to work or I’ll be in even more trouble I guess.’

‘You change clothes,’ said Hop Sing. ‘I fix for you.’

Joe grinned at the cook. ‘Thanks Hop Sing,’ he said. ‘I’ll bring them down to you.’

Hop Sing shook his head as the boy left the kitchen.  He wondered how long it would take to get into his head that fighting was only hurting him.  It seemed to him that the boy still had a lot of growing up to do.

———-

‘Now remember,’ said Ben. ‘I expect you to get those supplies out to the North Section by lunchtime.’

‘Don’t you worry Mr Ben,’ said Hop Sing from his perch on the buckboard next to Little Joe. ‘I make sure he be there in time.’

Ben lifted an eyebrow. ‘Thank you Hop Sing,’ he said. ‘But Joseph is old enough to make sure that he obeys my instructions … unless you believe that you still need someone to look after you Joseph.’

‘No Pa,’ sighed Joe. ‘We’ll be home in time.’

‘Well see that you are,’ said his father sternly. ‘I hope that past week here on the ranch has made you stop and think about your behaviour young man.’

‘Yes Pa,’ sighed Joe. ‘I’ve learned my lesson.’

Ben didn’t look convinced. ‘Well I hope that you have.  I’m not tolerating any more of your nonsense.’

‘No Pa,’ sighed Joe. ‘Can I go now?’

Ben nodded as his son and Hop Sing rode out of the yard together. He shook his head as he turned back towards the house again.

‘So where do ya haveta go in town Hop Sing?’ asked Little Joe as they disappeared around the side of the barn.

‘Mercantile,’ said Hop Sing. ‘Mr Hoss eat all the fruit.  Also flour and other things to get.’

‘Well while you’re over there I could go and see a couple of friends of mine,’ said Joe.

Hop Sing frowned at him. ‘Father say home by lunchtime,’ he said. ‘No time for friends.’

Little Joe put on his most innocent look. ‘It’ll be OK Hop Sing.  By the time you’ve ordered your stuff I’ll be back to load it up for you.  I promise.’  He gave the cook one of his devastating smiles, but Hop Sing wasn’t taken in by his charm and merely frowned and wiggled his finger at him.

‘No nonsense!’ he said.

Little Joe shook his head and continued to smile at the man. ‘No nonsense,’ he promised.

———-

‘Thank you Mr Winters,’ said Hop Sing and gave the man a small bow. ‘Have been most kind.’

‘No problem,’ said Sam Winters. ‘Sorry I didn’t have the sugar, but everything else is there.  You want some help loading it?’

‘No thank you Mr Winters.  Little Joe be back soon and he load supplies.’

‘Anything you say,’ said Sam Winters as he disappeared into the store.  Hop Sing looked up and down the street impatiently, but didn’t see any sign of Little Joe in either direction.  He shook his head angrily and began to load the supplies himself as he muttered in Chinese under his breath.

Suddenly a shadow fell over him and he looked up to see three men standing there. ‘What ya doing China boy?’ asked the taller of the bunch. Hop Sing ignored him and continued to load the supplies.  The man reached out and held onto his arm. ‘I said what ya doing China boy?’ he snarled. ‘Where’s ya manners?’

Hop Sing stopped. ‘Loading supplies,’ he said shortly. ‘Please excuse.’  He tried to step past, but the man blocked his path.

‘Ya hear that?’ he said over his shoulder to his friends. ‘He asks ta be excused.  How about that?  Should we excuse the China boy?’

One of the others spat on the sidewalk before replying. ‘Nah,’ he said. ‘He don’t deserve ta be excused.’

‘You hear that China boy?’ said the first man. ‘My friend here say ya’re not excused.  How about that?’

Hop Sing stepped sideways again, but was this time blocked by the third man. ‘Please let past,’ he said. ‘I not bothering you.’

‘Ya hear that?’ said the man with a chuckle. ‘He says he’s not bothering us.  How about that?  Do ya think he’s bothering us?’

‘I think he is,’ said the first man.  I think he’s bothering us all right.’ He reached out and gave Hop Sing a shove. ‘Hey China boy, stop bothering us!’

Hop Sing looked around frantically. ‘Please let past,’ he said.

The first man grabbed him by the collar and drew back his fist.  Just as he was about to hit Hop Sing though, he was knocked off his feet and let go of Hop Sing as he lost his balance. Hop Sing looked up in amazement to see Little Joe standing next to him, his fists clenched and an angry look on his face. ‘You leave Hop Sing alone!’ he cried.

The third man stepped forward and shoved Little Joe backwards. ‘This ain’t no business of yourn sonny,’ he said nastily. ‘Why don’t you go and find ya Mama like a good boy?’

Little Joe turned to face him, his eyes blazing. ‘I said to leave Hop Sing alone,’ he yelled.

The second man laughed. ‘What’s the China boy to you?’ he asked.

Little Joe ignored him and turned to Hop Sing. ‘Let’s finish those supplies Hop Sing,’ he said. Suddenly he was knocked off his feet by the second man who stood over him grinning. ‘Seems to me that sonny boy here doesn’t know how to mind his own business,’ he snarled. ‘Let’s show him how to, eh fellers?’  With that he hauled Joe to his feet and held him while the other two began to pound into him.

‘Hop Sing!’  A voice behind the cook made him turn sharply. ‘Run and get the Sheriff,’ called Sam Winters. ‘Hurry!’

Hop Sing needed no second bidding and ran as fast as he could up the street to the Sheriff’s office. He burst into the room to find Roy Coffee sitting with his feet on the desk reading the newspaper. ‘Sheriff Coffee!’ he called. ‘Hurry!’

Roy put his feet down and stood up. ‘Hop Sing!’ he said. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘Is Little Joe,’ said Hop Sing as he struggled for breath. ‘Three men beat him up.’

Roy was out of the office in an instant and with Hop Sing running behind him made it back to the Mercantile in a minute.  As he approached the building he drew his pistol and fired a shot in the air, stopping one of the men just as he was about to kick Little Joe as he lay on the sidewalk. ‘That’s it!’ he shouted. ‘Stand back all of you!’

The three men stood rock still and Hop Sing ran over to Little Joe and helped him up. ‘Thanks,’ mumbled Joe.

Hop Sing pointed to the men. ‘They beat up Little Joe,’ he said. ‘They threaten me!’

One of the men opened his mouth to speak,’ but Roy silenced him with a gesture. ‘Don’t even think about it,’ he said. ‘It’s obvious to me what was going on here.  Three men against a half-grown boy ain’t good odds any way ya wanna look at it.  Now hand over them guns.’ He took the weapons as they were handed to him and then gestured towards the jail. ‘After you,’ he said. ‘A night in jail might just help to settle down those tempers of yours. Now get.’  He looked over his shoulder as they headed off. ‘Better get him down ta Doc Martin Hop Sing,’ he said. ‘Looks like he could stand to be checked over.’

Little Joe scowled at the sheriff as he left, still smarting from the half-grown boy remark.  He flung off Hop Sing’s arm as the man tried to move him off the sidewalk. ‘I’m fine,’ he mumbled. ‘I don’t need ta see no doctor.’

Hop Sing frowned. ‘You see doctor!’ he said insistently. ‘Come!’  He began to pull on Little Joe’s arm.  Joe sighed, but allowed himself to be led down the street by the man, scowling as they reached the doctor’s office.

‘He’ll only fuss like he always does,’ he said sulkily. ‘I don’t wanna….’  His words were cut short as Hop Sing pushed him through the open doorway.

‘Joe!’ said Doctor Paul Martin, looking up as they entered the room. ‘And Hop Sing.  What brings you both here?’  He stopped as he observed the bruises that were beginning to appear on Joe’s face. ‘Ah I see,’ he said. ‘Another fight I take it?’ Joe shrugged his shoulders, but said nothing. ‘Well get on up here and I’ll check you over,’ said the doctor.

Hop Sing stood by as the doctor gave Joe a check. ‘You’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘Just some bruising this time, nothing more.’  He hesitated as Joe did up his shirt. ‘What happened?’

‘Nothin,’ mumbled Joe.

‘He beaten by men,’ said Hop Sing. ‘They threaten me.’

Paul raised an eyebrow. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘Are they in jail?’ Joe nodded. ‘Good.  Hop Sing get this young man straight home.’  He pointed a finger at Joe. ‘And you need to get some rest tonight,’ he said. ‘Tell your Pa you can have the night off from chores. All right?’  He grinned at the boy who merely shrugged again as he left the room.

Hop Sing touched the doctor on the arm. ‘Hop Sing look after him,’ he said quietly before leaving. Paul Martin shook his head.  It seemed that Ben’s youngest son couldn’t stay out of trouble if he tried.

———-

‘You feel all right?’ asked Hop Sing as he glanced at Little Joe beside him on the buckboard.

‘I’m fine Hop Sing,’ replied Joe. ‘Stop fussing will ya?’

‘You save Hop Sing,’ said the cook. ‘Much grateful to Little Joe.’

Joe shrugged. ‘Forget it,’ he said. ‘I didn’t do nothing.’

Hop Sing nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘You save Hop Sing. Hop Sing thank you.’

Joe shrugged again. ‘You done plenty for me Hop Sing,’ he said. ‘It was the least I could do I reckon.’  He closed his eyes as the buckboard jolted and sent a wave of pain through his body. ‘Guess I do ache a bit,’ he acknowledged. ‘I’ll be glad when we reach home.’

By the time they drove into the front yard Joe was feeling worse than ever and he got down from the buckboard slowly and leant on the side. Hop Sing was around to him in an instant. ‘You go inside and lay down,’ he said. ‘I take supplies to men in North Section.’

Joe gave him a grateful smile. ‘Thanks Hop Sing,’ he said. ‘I might just go and rest a bit before lunch.’  He waved as the cook disappeared around the side of the barn again and then headed slowly into the house.  As he shut the front door behind him his father’s voice called out.

‘Hop Sing, is that you?’

‘No Pa, it’s me,’ said Joe as he hung up his hat and took off his jacket.

‘Where is Hop Sing?’ asked Ben as he walked over from the study. ‘And why aren’t you on your way to the North…’  He stopped as he looked at his son and his face darkened.

Joe looked up at him and smiled ruefully. ‘I didn’t much feel like going up there with the supplies,’ he said. ‘Hop Sing is doing it for me.’

Ben nodded. ‘I see,’ he said shortly. ‘Well judging by the look of you Joseph, I suppose that might be a good idea.’

Joe shrugged. ‘I thought I might lie down for a bit,’ he said.

Ben folded his arms in front of him. ‘Did you get checked over by Paul Martin?’

‘Yeah.’  Joe headed for the stairs. ‘He said I’m OK.  Just some bruises is all.’

‘Good,’ said Ben in a tight voice. ‘Then you can stop just where you are young man.’

Joe stopped and faced his father silently. ‘Yeah Pa?  I suppose you want to know what happened.’

‘Not particularly,’ said Ben. ‘I think it’s obvious what happened, don’t you?’

Joe shrugged. ‘Well I was in a fight if that’s what you mean,’ he said. ‘But…’

Ben put up his hand to silence his son. ‘I don’t want to hear any buts Joseph,’ he said. ‘I’ve heard just about every excuse there is where you and fighting are concerned.’

‘But Pa….’

‘Be quiet!  How many times have we been through this Joseph?’ demanded his father. ‘I have certainly lost count, have you?’

Joe shrugged. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘But this time there’s a good reason for it. You see….’

‘I said to be quiet!’ thundered Ben. ‘Nothing you could say would make me not angry with you at this point. I have had it with your attitude and your fighting!’ He glared at his son angrily.

Joe felt his temper beginning to rise. ‘I only wanna tell you what happened,’ he said. ‘It was…’

‘Enough!’ interrupted Ben. ‘I don’t want to hear your excuses Joseph!’

Joe glared back at his father. ‘I’m not making excuses,’ he shouted. ‘You don’t care, so what’s the point of telling you anyway?’

Ben shook his head. ‘I do care Joseph and that’s precisely my point,’ he said. ‘I care very much, but you just don’t seem to. I think you’d better get up to your room young man.  And this time you can consider yourself on restriction for the next two weeks!’

Joe stared at his father. ‘But that ain’t fair!’  he said. ‘You …’

‘Go to your room!’  Ben thundered. ‘Before I decide that you aren’t too old to put you over my knee and give you the tanning you obviously deserve.’

Joe gave his father one last glare before turning and stomping off upstairs to his room. Ben shook his head as he turned back towards his desk.  Why couldn’t the boy just keep out of trouble for once?

———-

Hop Sing put the platter of meat down on the table. ‘Little Joe not come down for supper?’ he asked.

‘No,’ said Ben. ‘He says he’s not hungry.’

Hop Sing looked worried. ‘He in fight today,’ he said. ‘You talk to him about it?’

‘Of course I talked to him,’ said Ben curtly. ‘I think it’s best if he stays upstairs in his room for a while.’

Hop Sing nodded. The boy hadn’t looked too good to him and he thought that Mr Cartwright was right to be so concerned. He knew that the man would have been proud of the boy and the way he had defended Hop Sing as well. ‘I take him food,’ he said.

Ben nodded shortly. ‘See if you can get him to eat something,’ he said. Angry as he was with his son, of course he didn’t want him to get ill.  Joe hadn’t looked too well when he came in, even through Ben’s anger he could see that and he thought that staying upstairs would do him good as well as punish him. Sort of killing two birds so to speak.

As Hop Sing entered Joe’s room with a tray he noticed that the boy had been crying. ‘You feel bad?’ he said as he put it down and looking at him anxiously. ‘You still hurt?’

Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘I’m not hungry,’ he said. The way he was feeling, food was the last thing on his mind.

‘You eat,’ said Hop Sing firmly. ‘Get sick if don’t.’

Joe smiled at him ruefully as he picked up his fork. ‘OK,’ he said. ‘I’ll try. Don’t feel much like it though.’

Hop Sing watched as the boy pushed the food around his plate for a while. He must have been feeling worse than he looked. ‘Father talk to you about what happen in town?’

Joe shrugged again. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘Sure did.’

Hop Sing nodded, satisfied that the two of them had talked it through. ‘You rest now,’ he said.

Joe sighed as Hop Sing left the room. He thought it strange that the cook hadn’t mentioned the fact that he was being punished for something when he didn’t really deserve to be, but he figured that Hop Sing felt that it wasn’t his place to comment on Ben’s decision to punish his son.  Joe sighed.  He could understand his father being angry with him if he thought he’d disobeyed him and fought again, but he couldn’t understand why the man hadn’t given him the opportunity to explain why it had happened.

He set his jaw. ‘It ain’t fair!’ he said, his anger beginning to boil over again. ‘He never even gave me a chance to say why it happened. He don’t trust me!’ He lay down the bed and rolled over to face the wall, feeling very sorry for himself.  He didn’t see why his father should treat him in this way when all he had done was try to help Hop Sing.  The man was being unreasonable and Joe didn’t see why he should be the one to suffer for it.

———-

Joe squared his shoulders as he reached the bottom of the staircase and glanced over to the breakfast table where his father and brothers were eating.  As he slid into his chair he gave his father a sideways glance before reaching for the eggs.

‘Good morning Joseph,’ said Ben as he lowered his cup of coffee.

‘Morning Pa,’ replied Little Joe.

‘Wow ya sure got a shiner this time,’ said Hoss through a full mouth.  Joe glared at him and didn’t answer.

‘Please remember that you’re on restriction for the next two weeks,’ said his father.

Joe sighed. ‘I don’t see why,’ he said sulkily. ‘It weren’t my fault this time.  I only…’

Ben put up a hand to silence his son. ‘I told you last night what I thought about all of this young man and that’s an end to it. I don’t want to hear any more about it, is that understood?’

Joe scowled at his father.  He was just about the most stubbornest man that there was.  Well if he didn’t want to hear his side of it, so be it, he reasoned. If his father wasn’t ready to listen to him and trust him, then two could play at that game!  He picked up his fork and began to eat in silence.

Everyone felt the tension at the table and Hoss gave Adam a look as he rolled his eyes. Adam cleared his throat and said, ‘You want me to start on that batch of horses this morning Pa?’

‘Yes,’ said Ben. ‘You’ll have to bring them in from the West Sector first though.’

‘OK.  You want to come with me and help Joe?’ asked Adam, trying to draw the boy out of his black mood.  There was nothing Joe liked better than working with the horses and his brother knew it.

‘How can I?’ asked Joe sulkily. ‘I ain’t allowed out remember?’

‘There’s no need to speak to your brother like that Joseph!’ said Ben. ‘He isn’t the one in trouble around here.’

Joe gave his father another glare and clenched his jaw shut. Adam rolled his eyes back at Hoss and stood up. ‘Well I’d better get going,’ he said and motioned to Hoss. ‘You coming?’

Hoss got up from the table, snatched the last of the rolls and stuffed it into his mouth as he followed his brother. Ben continued to sip on his coffee as Joe pushed the eggs around his plate. ‘You’d better hurry up,’ he said. ‘You’ve got plenty of work to get to out there.’ Joe stood up and made to leave the table. ‘Sit down and finish that first,’ said his father. Joe sat down with a thump and picked up his fork again without saying a word. Ben put his cup down. ‘There’s no need to carry on like that Joseph,’ he said. ‘Eat your breakfast and be done with it please.’

Joe stuffed some eggs into his mouth and chewed them with a clenched jaw.  He stared at his plate and refused to look at his father who simply sat sipping his coffee.  When he’d finished he stood up again and left the table without a word.  As the door banged shut behind him, Ben flinched and put down his cup.  That boy!

———-

During the remainder of the morning the two of them stayed away from each other.  Ben observed that Joe worked hard at the various tasks that had been assigned to him but failed to come in at lunchtime to eat.  Finally, he sent Hop Sing out to the boy with some sandwiches. ‘Father say eat these,’ said the cook as he held them out to the boy.

Joe put down his axe and sat on the end of the porch. ‘Thanks,’ he said and began to eat hungrily.

Hop Sing stood and stared at him. ‘Why you not come inside?’ he asked.

Joe shrugged. ‘I’m in trouble,’ he said. ‘Pa’s mad with me.’

‘And you mad with him,’ said Hop Sing wisely.

Joe gave the cook a half smile. ‘Yeah,’ he acknowledged. ‘He won’t listen to me about yesterday.’

Hop Sing frowned. ‘About fight?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I tell,’ said the cook. ‘He understand then.’

Joe shrugged. ‘I don’t think he’ll listen to you either,’ he said. ‘Ain’t no point.’

Hop Sing turned and walked into the house angrily. Sometimes those two could make him so mad… madder than either Adam or Hoss. The boy might look like his mother, but he sure acted as stubborn as his father.  When the two of them put their minds to it, neither of them would budge and a ballet of wills was usually the result.

Hop Sing strode straight over to Ben’s desk where the man was busy doing the accounts. ‘What for you angry with boy?’ he asked.

Ben glanced up. ‘Hop Sing please stay out of this,’ he said wearily. ‘This is between my son and myself.’

‘No,’ said Hop Sing. ‘Boy in fight because of me.’

‘What?’

‘Boy in fight because of me,’ he repeated. ‘He fight men who attack me.’

Ben looked puzzled. ‘Then why didn’t he tell me that?’ he asked.

Hop Sing shrugged. ‘You not listen,’ he said.

Ben stood up and frowned. ‘Well I’ll listen to him now,’ he said. ‘Thank you.’  He opened the front door and walked out while Hop Sing shrugged and walked into the kitchen muttering in Chinese under his breath.

‘Joe?’ asked his father as he approached his son.

Joe wiped the crumbs off his shirt and stood to pick up his axe. ‘I’m working!’ he said abruptly.

‘I didn’t mean that,’ said his father. ‘Stop for a moment please.’

Joe clenched his jaw and put the axe down as he stood in silence. ‘What?’ he said crossly.

‘Why didn’t you tell me about the fight yesterday?  Hop Sing said that you were defending him.’

‘You didn’t let me remember?’ replied Joe. ‘Anyway, would it have made any difference?’

Ben frowned. ‘Of course it would have made a difference. I realise now that you weren’t just fighting for the sake of it.’  Joe was silent. ‘I’m sorry that I didn’t listen to you,’ continued Ben.

‘You never listen to me!’ The words exploded form the boy’s mouth before he could stop himself. ‘You always think the worst and you never trust me.’

‘That is not true Joseph,’ said his father. ‘You know very well that it’s not.’

‘Yes it is,’ replied Joe angrily. ‘You always think first of how I’m in trouble and you never let me explain!’

Ben pointed his finger at his son. ‘I have given you many chances to explain in the past Joseph,’ he said. ‘And you are usually at fault.  You can’t blame me for assuming that you were this time.’

Joe rounded on his father. ‘Yes I can!’ he declared. ‘You don’t trust me Pa and that’s all there is to it!’  He stormed onto the porch and headed towards the house.

‘Joseph, come back here!’ shouted his father, but the boy simply ignored him and slammed the door behind him.

———-

‘Fix up with father now?’ asked Hop Sing as Joe passed him.  The boy didn’t answer, but Hop Sing could tell from the look on his face that all was still not well between them. He shook his head and then turned as the door opened again behind him.

‘Where did Joseph go?’ asked Ben.

‘Upstairs.’

Ben strode over to the staircase and followed his son without another word. He walked to Joe’s bedroom and hesitated before knocking on the door. ‘Joseph?’ he said.  There was no answer, so he knocked again. When he was greeted with silence for a second time, Ben clenched his jaw and put his hand on the doorknob. After a moment’s hesitation he withdrew it again and turned to leave.  Perhaps it was better if he gave them both time to calm down before pursuing the matter, he reasoned.  When Joe got like this there was no talking sense to him and the way Ben himself still felt… well, it was better if he calmed down himself.

As he reached the bottom of the staircase again, he saw that Adam and Hoss were seated at the table ready for lunch. ‘Where’s shortshanks?’ asked Hoss. ‘He wasn’t outside when we rode up.’

‘Joseph is in his room,’ said Ben as he sat down.  Hop Sing came into the room, glared at Ben and banged a plate down on the table before leaving again.

‘What’s wrong with him?’ asked Adam.

‘It seems that I was a bit hasty last night,’ replied his father. ‘Apparently Joseph was defending Hop Sing in town yesterday and that’s how he got into that fight.’

‘Oh?’ said Adam. ‘How did you find out?’  Hop Sing came into the room a second time, banged down another plate and gave Ben a filthy look before exiting again.

‘Hop Sing told me,’ said Ben.

‘Well if looks could kill he’d have you carved up and ready to serve fer lunch!’ said Hoss with a chuckle. ‘He sure is angry with ya Pa.’

‘So is Joe,’ said Ben. ‘He won’t listen to reason.’

Hop Sing entered the room again with a tray.  ‘I feed boy,’ he said shortly. With a glare at Ben he went towards the staircase and climbed it without another word.

Adam raised his eyebrows. ‘Seems like we’re in for some frosty weather around here,’ he said.

Ben sighed. ‘I should have listened to Joe last night,’ he said. ‘But I was just so angry with him for fighting again.  He said that I don’t trust him.’

‘Well he ain’t exactly earned anyone’s trust lately has he?’ asked Hoss as he helped himself to some food.  Nothing spoilt Hoss’ appetite at the best of times and he wasn’t about to let a little family disagreement upset him now when there was food to be eaten.

‘True,’ acknowledged his father. ‘Still, I should have listened to him. I’ll go up and talk to him after lunch and see if I can get through to him then.’

‘You want me to pick up the mail this afternoon?’ asked Adam as he began to eat as well.

‘Please,’ said Ben. He began to push his food around his plate, not really feeling like eating for once.

———-

‘Joseph?  I’d like to speak to you please son.’  Ben spoke through the closed door and waited.  After a moment the door opened and Joe walked back towards his bed and sat down.  Ben hesitated for a moment and then entered the room, sitting on the bed beside his son.

‘I came to apologize,’ he began. ‘I should have listened to you last night Joe.  I’m sorry that I didn’t.’ Joe was silent as he stared at the floor. ‘Did you hear me Joseph?’ asked Ben. ‘I said that I’m sorry.’

‘I heard you Pa,’ said Joe in a quiet voice. ‘Am I still on restriction then?’

‘No of course you’re not,’ said Ben with a smile.  He reached out to put his arm around his son’s shoulder, but Joe shrugged it off and leant away from his father. ‘You’re still angry with me aren’t you?’ asked Ben.  Joe said nothing. ‘Joseph you haven’t exactly given me cause to trust you lately have you?’ his father continued.

‘That’s not the point,’ said Joe. ‘You should have trusted me this time.  I didn’t do nothing wrong.’

‘I know that now son,’ said Ben. He bent his head to look at his son’s face. ‘Do you forgive me?’ Joe nodded curtly, but it was obvious to Ben that he still harboured angry feelings towards his father.  ‘Well you can have the afternoon off Joe to make up for this morning,’ he said as he stood up. ‘Why don’t you go fishing or something?’  Joe merely nodded his head and continued to look at the floor.

As the door closed behind his father, Joe finally looked up.  He scowled at the closed door and ran his hand through his hair in frustration.  Why couldn’t his father see that it wasn’t just about last night?  Well it was, but that was just the beginning of it.  His father didn’t trust him and there was no mistaking that fact.  What would happen the next time that something like this happened?

———-

‘I thought I’d find ya up here,’ said Hoss as he got off his horse and came to sit beside his brother.

‘Pa said I could have the afternoon off,’ said Joe with a scowl. ‘I ain’t doing nothing wrong.’

‘Did I say that you were?’ said Hoss. ‘Honestly Joe, stop biting everyone’s head off without any cause.’

Joe continued to scowl at the water and was silent for a moment before he spoke. ‘I spose you’ve come to tell me not to be angry with Pa no more.’

‘Darn right I have,’ replied Hoss. ‘What’s got into you anyways shortshanks?’

Joe shrugged. ‘He didn’t believe me,’ he said. ‘He didn’t even give me a chance to tell him what had happened.’

‘So?’

Joe looked at his brother incredulously. ‘What do you mean so?’ he asked. ‘I told you he didn’t even let me tell him what had happened.’

Hoss shook his head. ‘You’re acting like you deserved to be believed,’ he said. ‘How many times have ya come home and lied ta Pa about things ya’ve done?  Huh?  How many times Joe?’

Joe glared at his brother ‘I didn’t lie this time,’ he said. ‘I didn’t even get the chance to even if I’d wanted to.’

Hoss shrugged. ‘Seems ta me that Pa’s got cause ta think you might have been though,’ he said, ignoring the dark look his brother gave him. ‘Face it Joe, ya ain’t given anyone any cause lately ta think of ya any other way but in trouble.’

Joe clenched his jaw and stared at the water. ‘He shoulda believed me,’ he insisted. ‘I didn’t do nothing wrong.’

Hoss shrugged again.  It seemed that there was no talking reason to his brother when he was in one of his moods. ‘Well if I were you I’d give it some serious thought,’ he said as he stood up. ‘Pa’s mighty upset about all this ya know.’

Joe watched as his brother walked away from him and mounted up on his horse again. ‘I didn’t do nothing wrong,’ he said again softly. ‘If Pa’s upset … well so am I!’ He lay down on the grass and put his hands behind his head as he stared up at the sky, feeling very hard done by and very sorry for himself.

———-

‘Joseph I’d like you to go into town this afternoon and pick up the mail please.’  Ben smiled at his youngest son, knowing full well the reaction he would get from him in response to his statement.  It was a rare occasion that he asked Joe to go into town during the week, as the boy was more than likely to get into trouble and Ben usually preferred to send one of his more dependable older brothers. To his amazement, however, all he got in response from his son was a slight incline of his head as he continued to eat. ‘Did you hear what I said Joseph?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ said Joe shortly.

Ben raised an eyebrow at the boy.  It had been like this for the past three days and he was getting mighty sick of his son’s sulking.  He clenched his jaw and continued to eat his lunch as well.

After a moment, Adam broke the awkward silence. ‘Hoss and I’ll be bringing those new horses in this afternoon from the North Pasture Pa,’ he said. ‘It’s time they were broken.’  Ben nodded and didn’t comment.  He caught the look in Adam’s eye and then smiled at him as he caught onto his meaning.

‘Good,’ he said. ‘Looks like you’ll have your work cut out for you in the next few days then Joe.’

Joe said nothing, but continued to eat. Adam exchanged a glance with his father and then said, ‘Pa wants you to start on them Joe.’

‘I heard him,’ replied his youngest brother.

‘That enough Joseph!’ said Ben angrily.

Joe looked up at his father’s words. ‘What?’ he said defensively. ‘What did I do now?’

Ben glared at him. ‘You know very well what I’m talking about young man,’ he said. ‘Stop this sulking act immediately.’

Joe looked back down at his plate again and clenched his jaw. ‘Can I go now?’ he said. ‘If you want me to get into town I have to get started.’

Ben gave a frustrated sigh. ‘Go then,’ he said finally.

Joe stood up. ‘Aren’t you going to tell me not to get into trouble?’ he said angrily.

Ben stared at his son. ‘I said to go Joseph,’ he said. ‘You know how to behave in town and you certainly don’t need me to tell you.’

Joe stomped away from the table angrily and within a minute they heard the slamming of the front door as he exited.  ‘That boy!’ said Ben as he shook his head. ‘Seems like he just can’t simmer down about all this. I really don’t know what to do with him.’

Adam exchanged a look with Hoss who shook his head slightly. ‘He’ll settle down in time Pa,’ said Hoss. ‘You know he always does.’

Ben didn’t look convinced. ‘Yes I suppose so,’ he said. ‘But I really don’t like this coldness between us in the meantime. It’s just not like him to carry on like this for so long.’  He sighed again and then continued in a quieter voice. ‘I think I’ve really hurt his feelings.’

‘Oh come on Pa,’ said Adam. ‘You had every right to act as you did.  Joe just has to learn that he’s not the only one in the world that’s all.’

Ben gave his eldest son a sad look. ‘I should have believed him,’ he said. ‘Now he thinks I don’t trust him any more.’

‘Well then why don’t ya give him a job to show him that ya do?’ asked Hoss.

Both Ben and Adam looked at him in amazement.  Sometimes it took Hoss with his slow deliberate way of thinking to cut across a problem and see it for what it really was. Ben clapped his middle son on the back. ‘Of course!’ he said. ‘Now why didn’t I think of that?’ Hoss puffed up and grinned at them both.

‘Yes but what?’ asked Adam. ‘It would have to be something that you don’t usually ask him to do with enough responsibility to show him that you trust him, yet not enough in case he messes up again.

Ben sat for a few moments in thought and then straightened up. ‘I think I know just the thing,’ he said happily. ‘I’ll give Joseph the chance to show me what he’s made of.’

———-

‘You want me to what?’ asked Joe in amazement.

‘I want you to deliver this Bank Draft to the Bank in Placerville for me,’ repeated Ben patiently as he held it out to his son. ‘If you leave this afternoon you should be back by tomorrow night.’

Joe looked at the paper in his father’s hand in amazement.  He’d never been asked to do an overnight job before, except when he was being accompanied by one of his brothers. ‘How come me?’ he asked. ‘Why not Adam or Hoss?’

‘Because I’d like you to do it,’ said his father. ‘I trust you to get the job done.’  He looked meaningfully at his son. ‘Do you think you can do it?’

Joe grinned at his father for the first time in days and snatched the Bank Draft from him. ‘Sure can!’ he said happily. ‘I’ll go get packed right now Pa.’

Ben smiled as he watched his youngest son bound up the stairs two at a time.

‘Do you think that was wise?’ asked Adam from his position on the sofa.

Ben nodded. ‘Joseph can handle it,’ he said. ‘He know I trust him now.’

‘Yes but Pa that Bank Draft is for an awful lot of money,’ said Adam. ‘Maybe it would be better if you found a way to trust him with something less valuable.’

Ben raised an eyebrow at his son. ‘It wouldn’t mean as much to Joe though would it?’ he asked.

‘I guess not,’ said Adam with a shrug of his shoulders. He sat forward in his seat. ‘You want me or Hoss to follow him from a distance in case?’

Ben shook his head. ‘No,’ he said. ‘He’ll be fine.’  In his heart he tried to believe his own words.

———-

‘Now be careful Joseph,’ said Ben as he patted his son’s horse and looked up at the boy. ‘Remember what I told you.’

‘I will Pa,’ said Joe happily. ‘I’ll deliver it straight to the Bank in Placerville and come straight home.  I won’t get into no trouble this time I promise you.’

Ben smiled at his son. ‘I know you won’t,’ he said. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow night son.’

Joe started to turn his horse away and then hesitated. ‘Bye Pa,’ he said over his shoulder. ‘And thanks.’ He watched his father’s reaction to see if he understood his meaning.

Ben waved at him and smiled. ‘You be careful Joe,’ he said and watched as his youngest son spurred his horse to a trot as they made their way out of the yard.

———-

Joe’s ride to Placerville was uneventful and he spent the time thinking about how his father had trust in him again and how he wouldn’t let him down. ‘Noway am I gonna mess this one up Cooch,’ he said to his horse as they rode along pleasantly. ‘This time Pa’s gonna be so proud of me!’

As he rode into Placerville he looked up and down the street.  He’d never actually been here by himself before, but had always been with one of his brothers or his father when they were conducting business. He rode straight to the Hotel where the Cartwrights usually stayed and walked into the foyer. ‘Hi Mr Charlton,’ he said to the desk clerk

Michael Charlton looked up. ‘Why Little Joe,’ he said in surprise. ‘Where did you spring from?’  His eyes darted over the boy’s shoulder. ‘Which of your family is with you today?’

Joe tried not to give the man a frustrated look. ‘No one,’ he said. ‘I’m here by myself this time.’

The man raised his eyebrows. ‘Oh I see,’ he said. ‘Do you need a room?’

Joe nodded. ‘Sure do,’ he said happily. ‘Just for the one night.’  He drew out a wad of money that his father had given to him and handed it over. ‘How much?’ he asked.

The desk clerk looked at the money and took a few bills from the wad before reluctantly handing it back to the boy. ‘That’s enough,’ he said, still eyeing off the wad as Joe put it back into his pocket. ‘Here’s your key.’

Joe shook his head. ‘No I don’t need it yet,’ he said. ‘I need to get to the Bank first for Pa and then get my horse stabled. I’ll be back in a while for it.’  He grinned at the man who smiled back at him as the boy left the room.

Michael Charlton scratched his chin thoughtfully for a moment and then reached over and took his hat from the hook on the wall behind him. ‘Sam!’ he called. ‘Can you cover for me for a few minutes?  I have to see someone.’  With that he abruptly left the room, banging the door behind him.

———-

Joe walked happily down the street.  By his reckoning he still had about half an hour to go before the Bank shut which was just enough time to get the Draft deposited for Pa and then he was free to enjoy himself. He’d get Cochise stabled and then … his eyes drifted over to the Saloon on the other side of the street and he smiled as his thoughts turned to the cold beer that he thought he’d treat himself to.

Suddenly he stopped and burrowed his hands into his pockets as he remained deep in thought. No, he decided. Pa is counting on me this time and I ain’t gonna do anything that might spoil it. He decided against the Saloon after all and looked around for somewhere where he could grab a bite to eat instead. As he stood surveying the street he felt a knock and stumbled slightly. He looked up crossly to see a man grabbing hold of him. ‘Sorry,’ said the man apologetically. ‘Are you all right sonny?’

‘I’m fine,’ said Joe as he shook the man’s hands off him. ‘No harm done.’  He straightened up as he watched the man tip his hat and hurry off down the street quickly.

Joe shook his head. ‘Some people sure are in a hurry,’ he said. He looked up and down the street again and decided on a small café a few shop down from where he stood.  Nodding slightly, he walked down to the Bank and entered and shut the door behind him.

‘Good afternoon,’ he said to the Bank Teller. ‘I have a Bank Draft to deposit for my father.’

‘Name?’ asked the man without looking up.

‘Joe Cartwright,’ replied Joe. ‘I mean Ben Cartwright.’

The teller looked up in frustration. ‘Which is it?’ he asked.

‘I’m Joe Cartwright,’ said Joe. ‘My father is Ben Cartwright.’

The man looked him up and down. ‘I see,’ he said. ‘And the account would be in your father’s name?’

‘Yeah,’ said Joe.

The two looked at each other for a full minute. ‘Well do you have the Bank Draft?’ asked the teller finally, to break the silence.

‘Oh yeah,’ said Joe with an apologetic smile. ‘Sorry.’  He reached into his pocket to retrieve the piece of paper and frowned as he realised it wasn’t there.

‘Well?’ asked the man behind the counter.

‘I had it before,’ said Joe as he searched desperately in his other pockets. ‘I don’t know why it isn’t there now.’  He looked on the floor, hoping that it might have fallen out of his pocket.

The Bank Teller lifted an eyebrow as he watched the youngster. ‘Well if you’re depositing anything would you please step aside?  There are other customers waiting,’ he said.

Joe looked at the man desperately. ‘But I had it!’ he said. ‘I musta dropped it someplace.’

‘Well then I suggest you go and find it,’ the man replied. ‘Please step aside.’

Joe stepped away from the counter and scratched his head in a puzzled fashion. For the life of him he couldn’t understand where the paper had got to, but one was for sure … he had to find it again!

He walked out of the Bank and retraced his steps back to the Hotel, looking at the ground the while way.  It wasn’t until he was nearly there that he accidentally bumped into a woman coming in the opposite direction. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled as she glared at him. Suddenly a thought occurred to him.  The man who had bumped into him! Joe clicked his fingers… that must have been it!  The man had lifted the Bank Draft and ….  He reached for his wallet and with a sinking heart realised that it was missing as well.

Joe cursed softly under his breath.  How stupid could he have been not to have realised what was happening.  And now he had no money… not to mention Pa’s Bank Draft that he knew was worth a lot of money.  With another soft curse under his breath, he headed for the sheriff’s office.

———-

‘I see,’ said Sheriff John Mitchell. ‘And what did this man look like?’

Joe hesitated. ‘I don’t really know,’ he said. ‘I didn’t look.’

‘Well that’s not much help is it?’ said the sheriff as he sat back in his chair. ‘You can’t remember anything about him?’

Joe thought hard. ‘He was wearing a red shirt,’ he said finally. ‘And a black hat.  I think he had black hair too.’

‘Hmm. Well that would narrow it down to about fifty suspects in town tonight,’ said the Sheriff. ‘I can’t help you if you can’t give me any more than that.’ Joe gave the man a frustrated look as he took off his hat and ran his fingers through his hair. ‘Tell you what,’ suggested the Sheriff as he noticed the youngster’s anxiety. ‘Why don’t you walk around for a bit and see if you can pick this guy out?   He might still be around town if he thinks that you didn’t realise what had happened. You can come and let me know if you see him.’

Joe nodded, glad to have a plan. ‘Yeah that’s a good idea,’ he said. ‘I will.’ He bounded out of the Sheriff’s office and looked up and down the street again, hoping to catch a glimpse of the man in question, but couldn’t see him anywhere.  With a frustrated sigh, Joe turned towards the Bank once again and began to make his way slowly down the street.

———-

About three hours later, he was still walking.  It seemed to Joe that he must have covered the entire town five times over, but still he hadn’t caught a glimpse of the man in question.  He was just about to give up when he caught a glimpse of a red shirt as he passed by the Saloon. He stopped and looked inside and to his delight he recognised the man from earlier that afternoon.

Joe hesitated. If he left to get the sheriff the man might get away, but how else was he to get help?  He stood on the sidewalk for a few moments while he pondered the problem and had just decided to get the Sheriff when the man stood up and made his way over to the door.  He pushed past Joe roughly, swaying a little on his feet as he did so. ‘Watch it kid,’ he said roughly, his words slurring slightly.  It was obvious to Joe that he was slightly drunk.

Without thinking, Joe grabbed hold of the man’s arm. ‘Wait,’ he said.

The stranger turned towards him. ‘What?’ he asked.

Joe swallowed, not sure what to say next. ‘I… um that is… I…’

The man shook his head and shrugged his arm out of Joe’s grasp and then turned to walk away. ‘Get lost kid,’ he muttered.

Joe walked after him. ‘Stop,’ he said. ‘I… um… you need to come to the Sheriff’s office with me.’

The stranger gave a short laugh. ‘I what?’ he said.

‘You need to come to the Sheriff’s office with me,’ repeated Joe.

The man gave him an amused look. ‘Really?’ he asked. ‘And why is that?’

‘You know very well why!’ said Joe, his temper rising.

‘I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about,’ the man sneered. ‘Beat it kid.’  He walked away from Joe and turned into an alleyway.

Joe ran after him. ‘You give me back that Bank Draft and my money!’ he shouted. ‘You’re a thief!’

The man turned towards Joe and before the youngster knew what had hit him he had been knocked backwards and stumbled to keep his balance. ‘I said to get lost kid,’ said the man again.

Joe took a step forward and hit the man square on the jaw, causing him to stagger backwards a couple of steps. He gave the boy a strange look and shook his head. ‘That was a big mistake kid,’ he said. ‘A big mistake.’  Without hesitation he drew his fist back and punched Joe in the stomach and laughed as the boy fell to his knees. ‘A big mistake,’ he repeated as he stepped forward towards his victim.

———-

Joe opened his eyes and stretched without thinking.  He frowned as his aching body reminded him of last night’s events and he put his hand up to feel his split lip which still felt tender.  He sighed as he sat up and put his feet to the floor, willing the memory of what had happened to go away.  But try as he might, it remained with him.

He could still see that man’s face as he stood over him and sneered before punching him over and over again.  He had been grateful that unconsciousness had finally over taken him and released him from the pain, but when he had woken up again it had come back in full force. He wondered how he had had the strength to get himself to the Sheriff’s office as he had done and guessed that anything was possible under such circumstances.

Of course the man had long gone by the time he had given the Sheriff his story.  There was no way he would have hung around after what had occurred and Joe knew that with his departure had come the only chance of getting Pa’s Bank Draft back again.  The Sheriff had been kind enough to help him along to the doctor’s office and afterwards Joe’s aching body had felt a little better.  He stretched again tentatively and realised that he did indeed feel better than he had the night before… a good night’s rest had been just the thing as the doctor had indeed told him it would be.

Joe had been grateful that the management had let him stay at the hotel after all, but he supposed it wasn’t surprising seeing as how his father was so well known here.  He blessed the fact that his father’s reputation had earned him a good night’s sleep after all.

As he stood up and caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror, Joe flinched.  There was no way that Pa would understand about this, he reasoned.  Not after all the trust that the man had put in him.  He dreaded going home to tell his story, but figured he’d just as soon get it over with sooner than later.

Half an hour later, Joe was dressed and ready to leave.  As he made his way downstairs he sensed everyone’s eyes on him and pulled his hat down as far as he could over his face. ‘Thanks,’ he mumbled to Michael Charlton and wondered at the strange look that the man gave him before looking away. ‘You’ll send the bill to my Pa I suppose,’ he added.

‘Yes,’ said the man, avoiding looking at the youngster. ‘I will.’

Joe nodded and left the hotel, heading towards the Livery Stable.  He kept his eyes peeled for the man in the red shirt, but wasn’t the leats bit surprised not to see him.  No, he reasoned again, he would have been long gone by now.

Joe mounted up and headed Cochise towards home with a heavy heart.

———-

‘Joseph!’ said his father as he caught a glimpse of the boy’s face. ‘You’re hurt!’ Joe stood silently, waiting for his father to begin yelling at him.  His heart sank even further with every minute and he wished that they could just get this part over with as soon as possible. ‘Have you been in a fight again?’ asked Ben in a stern voice.

Joe nodded as he looked at his father. ‘Yeah,’ he said in a quiet voice. ‘And I lost the Bank Draft too…. And my wallet,’ he added miserably.

Ben took a deep breath as he gazed at his miserable son. ‘Come here and sit down,’ he said. ‘Tell me what happened.’

As they sat side by side on the sofa, Joe related his sorry tale to his father. ‘I spose you’re real angry with me Pa,’ he said miserably when he had finished. ‘I don’t blame ya if ya are.’

Ben looked at the boy. ‘Why would I be mad with you?’ he asked.

Joe looked confused. ‘Well… I lost the Bank Draft and my wallet. Plus I got into a fight again after everything you’d told me.’  He looked up at his father. ‘I guess you’d be mad.’

‘Well you’d be wrong,’ said Ben.

‘Huh?’ said Joe, looking even more confused. ‘Why not? You trusted me Pa and I let you down.  I guess it’s just like you always say… I got an attitude when it comes ta fighting.’

Ben smiled and put his arm around his son’s shoulders. ‘Joseph I’ll admit that I get plenty mad with you at times son.  But this time I don’t see that it was your fault.  It could have happened to any of us and you really couldn’t have helped it if that man was out to steal from you.’

‘But what about the fight?’ asked Joe.

‘You had the right to try and get your property back,’ said Ben. ‘Just like the other day… you had the right to defend Hop Sing as you did.  The only difference son is that I’ve learned a very valuable lesson.’  Joe looked at his father as he continued. ‘I’ve learned that I should always listen to you and get your account of the story before I fly off the handle.  Don’t you agree?’

Joe nodded ‘Yeah I guess,’ he said.

‘If I had done that the other day you wouldn’t have been in trouble,’ continued his father. ‘Just like you’re not in trouble now.’

‘But Pa… the Bank Draft. I lost it and it was worth a lot of money,’ protested Joe.

Ben shrugged. ‘Yes it was,’ he admitted. ‘More than I’d care to have had stolen I must admit.  But the important thing Joe is that you’re all right.  Money means nothing to me compared to your safety you know.’ He rubbed the back of his son’s neck as he smiled at him. ‘Nothing,’ he said again softly.

Joe smiled at his father for a moment and then shrugged his shoulders. ‘I guess you won’t be trusting me in a hurry again though, will ya Pa?’ he said.

‘And why wouldn’t I?’ asked his father. ‘I told you it wasn’t your fault.’

Joe’s face lit up. ‘Ya mean it?’ he said.

‘Of course,’ said Ben with a smile. ‘However I would prefer that you try not to come home with a split lip next time if you can avoid it.’

Joe began to giggle, but stopped and put his hand to his mouth as he realised how much it hurt his lip. ‘I’ll try,’ he said.

‘Joseph I know that you’re not going to ever get into a fight again,’ said his father. ‘The only thing I ask is that you try son. If you can do that, then I’ll try to remember to trust you.’

Joe nodded. ‘Sort of a pact,’ he said.

‘Mmm,’ said Ben. ‘That’s a good way of looking at it. A pact.’

‘I’ll try,’ said Joe. ‘I promise Pa.’

Ben raised his eyebrows at his son. ‘That’s all I ask son.  And in return I’ll try and remember that you’re growing up and becoming responsible…. Most of the time,’ he added with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Now let’s get that face of yours cleaned up shall we?’

Joe stood up. ‘Hop Sing can do it for me,’ he said. ‘He’s good at it.’  He sauntered out to the kitchen and a moment later Ben heard the cook yelling something in Chinese, followed by a loud yell from Joe.

Ben shook his head and raised his eyes to the ceiling. ‘Back to normal,’ he said out loud to no one in particular.

The End

 

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Author: Joan S

From her Australian base, Joan is one of the most prolific writers of Bonanza Fanfic over the past few years. Although you can read 67 of her stories on Bonanza Brand, she also has a website where you can access her whole collection of stories. http://sites.google.com/site/joansstories/home

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