The Only (by Donna)

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Summary:  Ben sends Joe to New York on business, but also to help him overcome his inner turmoil at being the only son left on the Ponderosa.

Rated K+ (9,435 words)

The Only Series:

The Only
Adjustments
Finding the Way Home

The Only

The grandfather clock was ringing as Ben Cartwright awoke from what should have been a long night’s sleep. His body ached as he got up from the blue chair in front of the fireplace, again worried about the wherabouts of one of his boys. Not boys, Ben thought, but men; grown men who can take care of themselves. Nevertheless, as he headed to the kitchen to make another pot of coffee, Ben figured he’d wait a little while longer to see if his youngest son would make an appearance.

“Queens over tens. Thank you gentlemen.” Joe said, leaning forward to collect another pile of money off of the table. Luck was certainly on his side tonight, he thought, as he tucked his winnings into the inner pocket of his green jacket. As the other men left the table, Joe sauntered over to the bar, ordering one more whiskey before he headed for home.

It had been a rough year in the life of Joseph Francis Cartwright. He never thought he’d have the chance to experience life as an only child, but with the death of his brother Hoss, Joe was the only Cartwright son left on the Ponderosa. His devil-may-care lifestyle had come to an abrupt halt, and he alone was left to shoulder the responsibilities of the ranch. Resentment had risen to the surface and as a result, Joe spent his nights trying to recapture some of his days of reckless youth.

Leaving the empty glass on the bar, Joe headed to untie Cochise and begin the long journey home.

Ben was still in the living room as he heard the galloping horse enter the yard. Eventually, the front door opened and Joe appeared, putting his hat and holster in their usual places. Relieved, Ben kept his emotions in check as he spoke to his youngest, and for all intents and purposes, only child.

“How are you, son?” Ben asked, waiting to get the standard reply. “Fine Pa”, Joe said with a voice that spoke volumes. Joe may not have realized it, but as his father watched him head up the stairs, he could sense that his son was empty, both emotionally and physically. He needed something, but what? At that very moment, Ben decided that the best he could do for his son, to hopefully bring him back from this mental abyss, was to send him on a journey. A long journey, away from the Ponderosa.

Breakfast came early as always, and as Ben awaited his son’s decent down the stairs, he knew that this morning’s conversation would not be an easy one.

“Mornin’ Pa!” exclaimed Joe, bounding down the stairs. “Looks like a great day for working that North Pasture. I figure I’ll check the line shacks out that way too while I’m there” he added as he sat down and stabbed a stack of pancakes. Ben wasn’t surprised by his son’s Jeckyl and Hyde behavior. This had been the pattern for months, and Ben knew that it had to stop.

“Joseph, before you head out, I need to discuss a few things with you” Ben said as he got up from the table and headed to the living room. Joe asked in a worried tone “Pa, is everything alright? Are you OK?” “No, No, nothing like that son” Ben assured him. “It’s just that I need you to take a trip for me.” In a nonchalant manner, Joe replied, “Sure Pa, when do you need me to head out? The sooner I leave, the earlier I can be back for supper.” To keep his emotions in check, Ben stated in a matter of fact tone, “Joseph, this trip is much longer than that. I need you to travel to New York and attend some meetings concerning the new railway that wants to start running on land adjacent to the Ponderosa. We need someone there to make sure that our interests are protected, and it can only be you or I. I’m sorry but I’m really not up to making a long trip like that so I guess you win by default.”

Joe’s emotions ran the gamut as he heard his father’s words. He didn’t know whether to be happy at the prospect of an adventure or angry and resentful that he again was left to shoulder the responsibilities of the Ponderosa. Not wanting to upset his father, Joe spoke excitedly as he said, “Sounds like an interesting trip, Pa. When do you need me to leave?” Joe was surprised when his father replied, “In two days, son. You leave on Friday.”

Friday came quicker than both men had wanted it to. As they found themselves waiting for the stage in Virginia City, both men knew what they wanted to say but neither wanted to be the one to start the conversation. Joe, knowing that time was fleeting, decided to break the ice. “Pa, please don’t worry about me. I’m a grown man, I’ll be fine.” Ben, his eyes starting to moisten with tears, said “I know son. It just seems that time has gone by so fast…..” Ben couldn’t finish his sentence without his voice cracking. It didn’t matter, because Joe completely understood what his father wanted to say. Galloping hooves were heard and dust was seen in the distance as the stage made its appearance. “Pa, I will send a wire as soon as I can. Take care of yourself now, you hear!” Joe embraced Ben as his emotions betrayed him as well. As the stage pulled away, Joe fixed his gaze on his father as both men waved goodbye.

The ride to New York was uneventful. Although he didn’t want to admit it to himself at first, the prospect of going to New York was an exciting one. It was a chance to shake himself of the ghosts he felt were with him everywhere he went on the Ponderosa. Perhaps this was a chance to start fresh, he thought…and then a warm smile came across his face. It was then that he realized that this was his father’s plan all along. Well Pa, we’ll see what happens, mused Joe to himself as the train neared its final destination.

Joe had no time to think about ghosts of any kind once he arrived in the city. As he attempted to find his hotel, his senses were overwhelmed by the sights and sounds before him. He couldn’t fathom just how many people lived in such a relatively small place! Once he had arrived at his destination he was happy that he had shed his western clothes for the attire more appropriate for city life. After sending a wire back home to Ben, Joe headed upstairs to his room. When he entered, he was surprised to find that it was much smaller than the hotels he was used to back home; but that’s OK, he thought; I probably won’t be spending much time here anyway. Joe gave passing thought to spending his first night in New York finding some fun and excitement – he figured that there had to be a card game somewhere with all these people around. Out of nowhere, he then thought of his last encounter with his father, and knew that he wanted to make Ben proud of him. Drinking and gambling tonight might be the answer to his own personal demons, he surmised, but he knew that it would disappoint his father. With that revelation, Joe washed up, ate an early dinner, and headed to bed, wanting to be on top of his game in his meetings with the railway in the morning.

When the sun rose, so did Joe Cartwright. He knew he had an important day ahead of him. He dressed quickly and went downstairs to have a leisurely breakfast. Drinking his coffee, he scanned the newspaper and brought himself up to date with the latest news on the railroad company he would be negotiating with in a few hours. Adam would be surprised to see me of all people reading a business section of a newspaper, that’s for sure, Joe chuckled to himself. He frowned as he thought of his older brother, thinking about how upset both he and Ben were when Adam couldn’t come home for Hoss’ funeral. Since then, no one had heard from Adam, and that was months ago. He could be in New York for all I know, thought Joe. His emotions started again to rise at the thought of his family, and all they had lost over these past months. Regaining his composure, Joe reminded himself that he had a job to do and that was more important than wallowing in his own personal pity party. He finished his breakfast and after stopping at the front desk for directions to his destination, set out for his first day in the big city.

The executives of the Empire Railway Company did not expect the baby-faced youth that stood before them in the conference room. “And just who are you again?” bellowed Harold Walsh, a round-faced gentleman with a smoking cigar sticking out of his mouth. “Joseph Cartwright, Mr. Walsh. I am a partner at the Ponderosa with my father and I am here to discuss your intentions on the old Benson property.” Joe hid his true emotions, but was annoyed at the condescending manner in which the older gentleman had spoken to him. “Very well, please have a seat and we’ll get started, son” mumbled Walsh. “Mr. Cartwright to you, sir, as I am not your son” snapped Joe. Walsh was taken aback that this young man would have the nerve to speak back to him, as he was trying to do everything he could to intimidate him. “Mr. Cartwright it is, then” said Walsh, as the rest of the men at the table eyed both men cautiously.

The meeting began cordially, but then started to deteriorate rapidly. Walsh was trying to put some track on land that was too close to the Ponderosa land line for Joe’s liking. “That is not an option Mr. Walsh” Joe stated. “We have too much livestock in that area and in case some get loose, the proximity of the track at that point is too close.”
“What’s a few head of cattle when we need to move people as quickly as possible Cartwright?” Walsh countered. “A few head of cattle to me is just as important as your desire to move a few bodies across the country, Mr. Walsh.” Joe said in a derisive tone.

“Well, maybe you should speak to your father about this before you become so adamant in your objections” replied Walsh. With that, Joe got up, startling the other men around the table. “I see that we’ve gotten as far as we could for today. I will not be changing my position nor consulting with anyone else on this matter. Either you move that section of track or we will not be signing off on any agreements.” Joe said bluntly. With that, he walked to the door and left the older men in the room stunned at his directness.

As he left the building, Joe felt his adrenaline start to fade. He saw a small park in the distance and decided to collect himself there. He began to go over the events of the day in his mind. Did he handle Walsh properly? Would Pa, or for that matter Adam, do anything differently than he did? He rubbed his temples and slouched over, putting his head into his hands, beginning to doubt his actions.

“Nothing could be that terrible” a voice said. At that moment, Joe wished he was back on the Ponderosa, alone with his thoughts. New York has to be so crowded that you can’t even have a quiet moment, Joe grumbled to himself as he looked up at the person sitting on the bench alongside him. He was not prepared for what he saw – a beautiful young lady with blonde hair and the deepest blue eyes was gazing back at him. Joe gave a faint smile and said, “Maybe you’re right. But at this moment, it doesn’t feel that way.” “I’m a very good listener, so perhaps if you tell me what the trouble is, I can help” offered the captivating young woman. “But before that, I do think that introductions are in order. I’m Meredith Hamilton, but my friends call me Merrie. And you?” “C- Cartwright, J-J-Joe Cartwright” Joe stammered, finding himself becoming increasingly captivated by this forthright young woman sitting beside him.

In a half joking manner, Merrie said, “So, Joe Cartwright, what has you looking so forlorn? Woman trouble? Being one myself, I could offer some help there.” With a small smirk on his face, Joe replied, “Nah, nothing like that – that would be easier than this. It’s business, Merrie. My family and the railroad business. I don’t think you’d know anything about that.” Merrie’s eyes darkened. “Joe Cartwright. You’ve known me for five minutes and you assume I know nothing about railroads? Well, you are mistaken. In fact in today’s New York Observer there was an article about…” Merrie then told Joe exactly what he had read in the morning, along with her own observations on the matter. Joe was taken aback by the amount of knowledge Merrie had. No other girl he had ever met in his life ever had an ounce of the knowledge Merrie had exhibited in these past few minutes. At that moment, he knew that she was special. And more importantly, he knew that he wanted to get to know more about Merrie Hamilton.

Joe was contrite as he said, “Merrie, I am sorry that I’ve underestimated your understanding of business. Where I come from, girls don’t care to know anything about things like this.” Merrie smiled. “I know it may be unusual for someone of my gender to know about these things, but I guess it’s one of the results of going to college. You had to be well-versed or else you’d fail. And failing wasn’t an option for me.” Joe looked at her, but she seemed to be miles away. As she sighed, Joe said,”Merrie, you may think this to be rather forward, but I was wondering if perhaps you’d agree to have dinner with me tonight. Just sitting here with you has helped me, and I’d like to repay you somehow for your kindness.” Merrie snapped back to reality at Joe’s words and quietly replied, “Joe Cartwright, I’d enjoy that very much. You can pick me up from my home at 7:30 tonight. I live at 827 East 56th Street. Thanks so much for asking me.” And with that, Merrie got up and started to leave the park. “Wait!” Joe exclaimed. Can I walk you home now?” “That’s OK, Joe,” Merrie answered. “I have a few stops to make on the way home. See you tonight.” And as she began to walk away, Joe felt better than he had for a long time. He was actually looking forward to his date with Merrie and walked back to the hotel thinking about the evening ahead.

Promptly at 7:30, Joe arrived on 56th Street and found the address Merrie gave him. As he rang the doorbell, his stomach began to tighten as he waited for the door to open. When it finally did, an older gentleman gazed at Joe through tiny round spectacles. “Mr. Cartwright, I assume?” said the gentleman. Joe nodded, and the man replied, “This way sir” and led Joe to a large living room, complete with velvet curtains and a large fireplace. “Miss Meredith will be down momentarily” the man said as he left the room.

Joe sat down and looked around the room, and quickly came to the conclusion that Merrie and her family were of some means. He was looking at the books on a shelf by the fireplace when he heard a man’s voice. “Am I to assume that you are the gentleman escorting my daughter this evening?” Joe turned to see a tall, thin man, with a generous head of blonde hair, staring at him intently. “Y-Y-Yes sir” Joe stammered, taken aback by the appearance of this man standing before him. “And your name happens to be…” the man asked. Still flustered, Joe said, “Joseph Cartwright sir.” Sticking out his hand he continued, “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” The man took Joe’s hand and shook it. “Hamilton, Don Hamilton, pleased to meet you Joseph. Please sit down; you never know just how long it will take Meredith to get ready.”

The two men sat across from each other in two leather wingback chairs. Hamilton asked, “So, are you from these parts, Joseph? Never heard Merrie talk about you before, so I guess you aren’t from Colgate either. When did the two of you meet?” Joe was nervous as he crafted his response. “Well sir, I am here on business. I live in the Nevada Territory, with my father on our land – it’s known around those parts as the Ponderosa. And as for when I met Merrie, we met for the first time this afternoon.” Joe waited as he saw Hamilton’s face wrinkle with concern. “Young man, you mean to tell me that you have only known my daughter for a matter of hours and had the audacity to ask her out on a date….”

“Dad, that’s enough!” Joe turned to see Merrie standing in the doorway, hands on her hips, her eyes blazing at her father. “How dare you talk to Joe that way? For your information, we had a nice afternoon together talking and Joe was kind enough to ask me to dinner. I am old enough to decide when and who I eat with!” Her face was as red as the curtains behind her. Hamilton looked at Joe, and then back at his daughter and said, “Merrie, I only want what’s best for you. I…” Merrie cut him off, saying, “Dad, please stop it. Joe, let’s go. I’ll be back later Dad, no need to wait up.” And with that, she stormed from the room, Joe catching up with her after he said a brief goodbye to her father, who remained scowling in his chair.

As the front door closed behind them, Merrie let out a sigh. “Joe, I understand completely if you want to end this evening here and now. I knew it was a mistake when I…” Joe put his finger to her lips. “Merrie, what happened in there means nothing to me. I’ve been looking forward to being with you this evening and that’s exactly what I intend to do.” He gave her one of his best smiles, one that hadn’t been on his face in months. The couple descended the stairs and headed out to begin their night together.

Joe had spoken to the concierge at the hotel and made reservations at one of the top restaurants in the city. As shared a bottle of wine, both Joe and Merrie started to talk about themselves and their lives. Joe found out that Merrie was the oldest of three daughters, that her father was a banker, and that she was the first woman in her family to have gone to college.

“My father feels that a woman needs to be self-sufficient. I always felt that I needed to live up to his expectations at college, that anything short of that would be a failure.” Merrie lamented. “For four years, I never stopped studying. Looking back Joe, I feel as if I never had a life of my own. Never really had an opportunity to socialize, always with my nose in a book. Always trying to please other people. I’m tired of living for others, Joe. I need to live for myself.” Merrie chuckled. “Now, don’t you regret not ending this date on the front steps? I’ve certainly brought this conversation down a few pegs.”

Joe looked at her and replied, “No you haven’t, Merrie. I can understand your feelings more than you know.” And with that, Joe proceeded to tell Merrie about his life out west and the events that had precipitated his trip. “After my brother Hoss died and with Adam gone, I resented having to pick up the entire responsibility of the Ponderosa. That hadn’t been what I envisioned. I always thought it would be the three of us there, running the ranch. I never expected or wanted to do it alone.” He took a sip of his wine and put down the glass. “And here I am, trying to negotiate with the Empire Railway to protect our interests, feeling as if my brothers are looking over my shoulder.” Joe picked up the glass again and said, “Nevermind bringing down a conversation, I think I just killed it.”

Merrie turned to Joe and said softly, “You know what, Joe? I think that both of needs, better yet, deserve to enjoy ourselves this evening. Let’s leave this stuff behind us for the night and vow to have a bit of fun.” Joe raised his wine glass once more. “To Fun, Merrie Hamilton” he said. “To fun, Joseph Cartwright” Merrie said as both of them clinked their glasses and toasted the night that was yet to come.

With a mischievous look in his eye, Joe turned to Merrie as they left the restaurant. He had enjoyed their dinner immensely and didn’t want the evening to end just yet. “Miss Hamilton, you are the native here and I am but a young cowboy from the untamed West. So, what should we do now?” Joe asked, his best puppy dog expression across his face. Merrie laughed and told him, “That’s for me to know and for you to experience, cowboy.” With that, she flagged down a taxi buggy and said, “Ready?” As he helped Merrie onto the carriage, Joe replied, “Ready!” “Driver, please bring us to Fifth Avenue” Merrie requested, and the driver snapped the reins and headed to their final destination.

Fifth Avenue was something Joe had never envisioned in all his years. People dressed in the most elegant outfits he had ever seen; stores selling anything and everything one could imagine. “Merrie, is it always like this?” Joe asked. “Considering it’s 830 in the evening, this is not as crowded as it could be” Merrie chuckled, watching Joe’s eyes widen with surprise. She continued. “Let’s go a few blocks up, there’s something I want to show you.” As they walked, the crowds began to dwindle. Joe thought he was seeing things as he looked at the great expanse of green grass before him. “What, did they forget to build something here?” Joe said jokingly. Merrie looked at him, her deep blue eyes gazing intently at his face. “No, this just happens to be the most beautiful spot in New York, and for me, the entire Earth. This is Central Park, Joe. This is a place where you can get away from it all and think.” As Joe looked back at her, he saw the seriousness that had overtaken her and responded in kind. “Merrie, this is a beautiful spot.” He led her to a wrought iron bench that was by a huge fountain. There they sat for the rest of the evening. Not many words were spoken as they both sat and enjoyed the solitude that they both needed.

As Joe brought Merrie up to her door, he took her hand and brushed it with his lips. “Thank you, Merrie Hamilton, for a night I will never forget” he added. Merrie blushed and replied, “You are very welcome Joe Cartwright. I had a wonderful time.” Gathering up his nerve, Joe smiled. “Well, Merrie, since you are my first and only friend here in New York, how about we spend some time together tomorrow after my meetings? I –I mean, if you haven’t any plans, or if you w-w-want to for that matter” Joe stammered.

“I’d love to Joe” Merrie said softly. “I’ll meet you at six at the park near the railway offices.” She then gave Joe a peck on the cheek and quickly said “Tomorrow” as she turned and entered the house. Joe let out a deep breath, smiled, and said to himself, “Tomorrow” as he headed down the stairs and back to his hotel.

The next morning, Joe went through the paper with earnest. He wanted to see what the railway was saying, if anything about their negotiations. He was amused when he saw that their meeting was reduced to a sentence. “Empire Railway continues to negotiate with representatives from the western territories….” Well, Joe thought to himself, it was more of an attempt to strong-arm rather than negotiate yesterday, let’s see what tactic they use today. Putting down his coffee cup, Joe left the dining room and headed out for another day of dealing with the Empire Railway Company.

As Joe entered the boardroom, Harold Walsh got out of his chair and approached him. “Good Morning Mr. Cartwright” Walsh said. “Can my secretary get you a cup of coffee?” Not entirely surprised by Walsh’s sudden change in demeanor, Joe replied, “That would be great, thank you.” As he sat down, Joe heard Walsh bellow, “Miss Hamilton, would you please come in here?” Joe was dumbstruck. His mind raced as he thought, it couldn’t be. Why wouldn’t she tell me she worked for Empire? As he looked in the doorway, he heard a voice and saw a young woman enter the room. It was Merrie. “Yes, Mr. Walsh?” she replied. “Please bring Mr. Cartwright a cup of coffee. How would you like that Cartwright?” Walsh asked. His green eyes filled with anger, Joe looked at Merrie and said bluntly, “Black.” Looking back at him, Merrie was devastated by the tone of Joe’s reply. She turned and left the room before anyone could see the tears that were beginning to fill her eyes. A few minutes later, another secretary entered the boardroom and gave Joe his coffee. The secretary closed the boardroom door as she left, and the railway negotiations began once again.

Joe’s emotions were everywhere. He couldn’t get the image of Merrie standing before him out of his mind. Was it all a plan to weaken him? Was she sent to that park? Was it all an act? Joe realized that he had to put this part of his life out of his mind immediately if he was going to deal with Walsh. He had to.

“So, Cartwright, I’ve given your position some thought. I might be willing to move that section of track further away from your property line – – if …” Walsh’s words were again cut short by Joe. “Mr. Walsh, I don’t take kindly to ‘if’s’. Either you move that track back or you don’t, which means we either have a deal or not. It’s up to you and your Board of Directors here. I will not compromise the Ponderosa.”

Walsh looked around the table at his Board. “Gentlemen, do we move the track or not?” With that, every member seated at the table nodded yes. Walsh’s face reddened at the prospect of giving the young westerner his way, but he realized that he was outnumbered.
“Well, Cartwright, looks like we’ll be moving that track. Let’s take a look at the map here and see what we can do.”

The rest of the afternoon was spent negotiating the finer points of the contract. Joe and Walsh went toe to toe a few more times, but both were content with the final product. After they had both signed the contract, Walsh put down his pen and commented, “Cartwright, I am impressed with how you have handled yourself here. Would you ever consider staying here in New York to work for us at Empire?” Stunned, Joe couldn’t believe his ears. As much as the prospect interested him, Joe knew in his heart where his priorities were. “That’s a kind offer, Mr. Walsh” Joe replied. “However, my responsibilities right now are to my ranch and the Ponderosa.” Walsh wasn’t one to give up easily. He countered, “I thought that you had older brothers who could handle that. Couldn’t they handle the Ponderosa without you? This would be a tremendous opportunity for you.” Joe’s answer remained the same. “Mr. Walsh, I am the only son at the Ponderosa at the moment. My responsibility is to the Ponderosa. I thank you for the opportunity, but I must decline.” Joe started to rise from his chair. Walsh stood and said, “Cartwright, you have done well for a man of your young age. I hope that perhaps one day you will reconsider my offer and join us here.” With that, Walsh shook Joe’s hand heartily. Joe returned the handshake, but his mind was already elsewhere.

Joe left the boardroom, his head swiveling back and forth, looking for Merrie. He looked at his watch, and realized that it was close to six o’clock. Standing in front of the railway building, Joe wondered if Merrie would be waiting for him at the park. As he remembered her face in the boardroom that morning, he thought perhaps it was all just a coincidence. She must have an explanation, he rationalized to himself. I bet she’s waiting for me in the park to tell me. As the church bells in the distance chimed to six, Joe ran to the park, looking for Merrie at the bench they had shared less than twenty four hours before. As he rounded the bend, he looked ahead and saw the wooden bench. It was empty.

His head hung low, Joe started the long walk back to his hotel. I should be happy, he thought to himself, I negotiated a hell of a contract with Empire Railway and was offered a job as a result! Again, the noose of the Ponderosa was around my neck, and even if I wanted to stay here in New York and take the job, I couldn’t, he lamented as he found himself walking in the opposite direction from the hotel. His mood darkened as he kept thinking about his conversation with Walsh. “I am the only son at the Ponderosa at the moment….” Only. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, he said to himself, as he entered Central Park. He thought of Ben and mumbled, “Pa, your plan didn’t work the way you thought it would. Here I am, 3,000 miles away and I feel the same as I did six months ago. Oh, I had one wonderful day, but my hair-trigger temper ruined that.” As he finished, he found himself standing behind the wrought iron bench he shared with Merrie the night before. As he looked down, he saw a tiny figure turn around and look up at him with tear-streaked blue eyes. “You didn’t ruin anything, Joe. I did.” Putting her head into her hands, Merrie began to sob.

Joe rushed to sit beside Merrie and took her into his arms. “No, Merrie, it was me. I should have given you a chance to explain before I assumed anything” Joe squeaked, his voice giving way to his emotions. Merrie’s body shook as she continued to sob uncontrollably. “Joe, I meant to tell you that I worked at Empire. But you were so upset with what had happened yesterday that I thought it best to wait. I work in the temporary secretary pool – you know, fill-ins for when the regulars are out sick. And my luck today, Walsh’s secretary didn’t come in. When I saw you in that boardroom this morning I just wanted to run away, crawl under a rock and die.”

Joe gently put his hand to Merrie’s chin and lifted her face to look at his. Wiping the tears from her face with his other hand, Joe said softly, “Merrie Hamilton, if you had tried that, rest assured that I would’ve turned over every rock to find you.” Joe leaned down and kissed Merrie gently on her lips, and was surprised to feel her returning the emotion. As their lips parted, Joe continued. “Merrie, I am so sorry for how I treated you this morning. I had no right. You are entitled to work wherever you choose to. Who am I to question anything – I’ve known you for twenty four hours.” he whispered. Merrie leaned in close to Joe and quietly said, “Only the best twenty four hours of my life, Joe.” With that, Joe leaned in once again and gave Merrie another kiss, to which she again responded eagerly.

Knowing that they were in public, both pulled away quickly, not wanting to ignite the passion both of them were feeling. Pulling Merrie to her feet, Joe said, “Think it’s time for us to grab a bite to eat.” He winked at Merrie as he continued, “All I’ve had today was coffee.” Merrie began to laugh as she stood and took Joe’s arm. “Joe, I don’t ever want to hear that word ever again.”

The next morning found Joe relaxing in bed longer than he had in months. His work in New York over, he thought about what his future plans held. With all that had gone on the day before, he had neglected to wire Ben about the completion of the Empire Railway contract. Joe knew that once he did, it would be inevitable that Ben would be looking for him to return to the Ponderosa right away. What Joe really wanted, he knew he couldn’t ask for, either from Ben or Merrie. To ask his father for a few extra days would lead Ben to think that perhaps he didn’t want to come home. And to even think of asking Merrie to come back to the Ponderosa with him – well, that was insane. Her life was here. What would a college educated woman want with living in the West? Joe weighted his options and decided to ask Ben for a few extra days to ‘see the sights’ that being in meetings had prevented him from visiting. That’s the solution for now, Joe thought as he threw his covers over his head and decided to grab a few more hours of sleep.

Ben was in Virginia City when Joe’s wire arrived.

TO – BEN CARTWRIGHT, PONDEROSA RANCH, NEVADA TERRITORY
FROM – JOSEPH CARTWRIGHT, ST. REGIS HOTEL, NEW YORK CITY

PA – NEGOTIATIONS WITH EMPIRE RAILWAY FINSHED. PONDEROSA INTERESTS SAFE. CONTRACTS SIGNED YESTERDAY. WOULD LIKE TO REMAIN IN NEW YORK A BIT LONGER TO VISIT SIGHTS MISSED SO FAR. PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF THIS IS A PROBLEM – WILL COME HOME WHENEVER YOU SAY.

MISS YOU – HOPE ALL IS WELL AT HOME – SEE YOU SOON

YOUR SON
JOSEPH

Ben was surprised at the news that the Empire Railway contract had been finished so quickly. He looked at the paper in front of him, proud of the job his son has done. How he wanted to see him and tell him! But looking down once again at the wire, Ben could sense that there had to be a reason why Joe would want to stay a bit longer. As work on the Ponderosa was slow, Ben didn’t object to Joe remaining in New York. Grabbing a pen from the desk in front of him Ben said “Evan, I need to send a wire back to Joe.”

After lunch, Joe checked the front desk for any messages. Of course, his Pa had already read and replied to his wire. Joe squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, hoping that the response would be positive. He smiled as he began to read:

TO: JOSEPH CARTWRIGHT – ST. REGIS HOTEL, NEW YORK CITY
FROM: BEN CARTWRIGHT – PONDEROSA RANCH, NEVADA TERRITORY

JOSEPH – GLAD TO HEAR THAT ALL WENT WELL WITH EMPIRE RAILWAY. I AM SO PROUD OF YOU. BY ALL MEANS TAKE SOME TIME IN NEW YORK. PONDEROSA IS FINE, DON’T WORRY. ARE 7 DAYS ENOUGH? LET ME KNOW.

PA

Joe was elated! He couldn’t send the return wire fast enough. His mind racing, Joe wanted to go and tell Merrie that they had seven days together. Unfortunately, as he looked at his watch, he realized that he had to wait a few hours before he would have the opportunity.

Joe’s face lit up as he saw Merrie approach the park. Scooping her into his arms, Joe asked, “Did you have a good day Miss Hamilton?” “As good a day that I could have without you Joe Cartwright.” Merrie answered, giving him a peck on the cheek.

As they sat on the bench, Merrie turned to Joe and asked, “Have you given any thought to when you will be returning to the Ponderosa?” How this woman could read his mind, Joe thought as he replied, “As a matter of fact, I have. Sent a wire to my Pa today and it looks like you have me for another seven days – that is, if you still want to be with this cowboy.” Merrie’s face lit up at his words and replied, “You are MY cowboy Joe Cartwright – and I can’t wait to spend every minute with you.”

When she returned to work the next day, Merrie was able to take off the remaining days of Joe’s stay as part of her vacation. Sitting in a restaurant that evening, Joe said casually, “We have 6 more days together. Does my tour guide have any ideas as to how we are going to spend them?” He then gave her one of his big winks, reminiscent of those he used to give Hoss when they were getting into some sort of mischief. Merrie put down her fork and countered, “Joseph Cartwright, as a matter of fact, I have made some plans for us – but I am not at liberty to disclose anything at the moment.” Joe took her hands and gave them a kiss. “Please, oh pretty please, can you tell me?” he begged. Giving Joe a phoney look of exasperation, Merrie said, “All right. I’ll tell you the biggest surprise now. On your last day here in New York, we’ve been invited to the Winchester Ball – it’s being held at Town Hall. It is a gala affair, I’ve been told. Not that it matters to me much, but everyone who is anyone in New York City has been invited.” Joe gulped. “D-D-Does that mean I have to get even more dressed up than this?” he stammered. “Yes, I think more formal dress is necessary, cowboy” Merrie answered, her eyes dancing with amusement. Joe laughed. “You think it’s funny, m’am?” he replied, as his eyes also flashed with the enjoyment of the situation put before him. “I think your reaction is what’s funny, Joe.” Merrie retorted. Joe then turned serious as he raised his wine glass. “That the next six days be as wonderful as the first four have been” Joe whispered, as he gazed intently at Merrie. “To the next six days, my darling cowboy…” Merrie answered as she raised her glass to Joe’s.

The next five days were a whirlwind for both Joe and Merrie. To Joe, it seemed as if they had covered every inch of New York City. They spent their afternoons visiting museums and art galleries, and spent evenings at fine restaurants as well as attending some of New York’s cultural experiences. After returning from a night at the opera, Joe shook his head as he retired for the evening. If Adam could’ve seen me in the opera house, well, he would’ve fainted, Joe thought as he splashed his face with some water. As he prepared for bed, Joe recollected the arguments he and Adam would have when it came to things of culture and chuckled to himself. How Adam would reprimand him for wasting his time reading dime novels instead of reading classic literature – wouldn’t he be surprised to learn that his little brother had visited museums and actually was able to discuss the meaning of the works he viewed? Joe laughed out loud at the thought of the incredulous face Adam would make if he ever knew. Not like ever would know, Joe realized as he put on his nightshirt. After all, he hasn’t cared about anything involving the Ponderosa since he left. Going to bed that evening, Joe tried to put the thought of Adam and his absence from the Ponderosa as far out of his mind as possible. Tomorrow was his last full day in New York with Merrie, and he refused to let his brother’s ghost get in the way.

As the buggy pulled up to Town Hall, Joe suddenly felt intimidated. Looking around him, the people filing into the Ball seemed to belong there – and he didn’t. All of a sudden, Joe felt a squeeze of his hand. “It’s OK Joe, really. Don’t be nervous, we are going to have a good time.” Merrie said as she gave him a quick kiss. “Well, if there are more of those where that came from…” Joe whispered, as he returned the gesture. “Town Hall!” the driver barked, and the couple reluctantly exited the carriage. Merrie looked beautiful in her sapphire blue gown, and Joe equally as handsome in the black suit he purchased specifically for the evening.

Joe could never have imagined the size of the room he entered. Hundreds of people were filing into the ballroom, yet it didn’t seem to be the least bit crowded! Joe and Merrie found their seats and introduced themselves to the other guests at their table. Tableware tinkled in the room as the evening was about to get underway.

When the music began, Joe looked lovingly at Merrie. His green eyes twinkled with merriment as he said, “Can I have this dance, Miss Hamilton?” Merrie gave Joe her hand and without a word, joined him on the dance floor. Both Joe and Merrie were lost in a world of their own as they danced to every song that was played. They talked, laughed, and held each other close as they both realized that their fairytale time together was coming to an end.

As they danced after dinner, Joe looked over Merrie to see just how many people filled the room. As he looked in front of him, his eyes latched onto something he never expected to see. Adam. Joe’s heart raced as he squinted his eyes to take another look. It was Adam. A bit heavier, hair a bit thinner, but it was his brother, make no question about it.

“Joe, what’s wrong?” Merrie asked worriedly. Joe whispered in her ear, “It’s my brother Adam, Merrie. He’s over there, dancing with the woman in the yellow gown…” Merrie gave a quick glance to see for herself. “Go to him, Joe,” Merrie told him. “You have to talk to him; you’ll regret it for the rest of your life if you don’t. I’ll be fine; I will wait for you at the table. I promise I won’t move from this spot until you return.” She gazed at Joe with the most understanding and loving eyes he had ever seen. “You are something, Merrie Hamilton. I’ll be back, don’t you go anywhere.” Joe said as he gave her a kiss. Merrie watched as she saw Joe straighten himself, take a deep breath and head to where his brother now stood.

Joe waited until his brother finished his conversation with an older gentleman, and then stood before him. “Remember me?” Joe said angrily. “You remember me, the only brother you have left!” Joe’s eyes were blazing with fury. “Joe!” Adam cried. “Is it really you? What on Earth are you doing here?” Adam then pulled his baby brother into a hug. Joe stepped away, unsure of his emotions. Puzzled, Adam again asked, “What are you doing here in New York, Joe? Is Pa alright?” His anger rising once again, Joe spat “Pa is fine, Adam. We’re both fine. I’ve been in New York on Ponderosa business. You know, that place where we all used to live?” Joe tried to keep his emotions at bay, but at the moment was failing miserably. He then felt a small hand slip into his and give it a loving squeeze. “Hi Adam, I’m Merrie Hamilton, Joe’s date for this evening. He’s told me so much about you. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” She’s done it again, Joe thought to himself. Knew just when I needed her.

Merrie’s introduction gave Joe the time to gather himself and get his feelings under control. He heard Adam speaking to Merrie. “It’s a pleasure to meet you as well Miss Hamilton. I can see that my brother has not lost his impeccable taste in women.” Merrie smiled and said, “Joe, I am going to have a seat. My feet are killing me after all that dancing! Adam, it has been a pleasure meeting you.” Giving Joe a kiss on the cheek, Merrie disappeared into the crowd. “Can we go outside to talk?” Joe asked Adam. “I think that’s a good idea” remarked Adam as they both proceeded to the balcony.

Alone, both brothers turned to face each other. “I know you’re angry Joe, and you have every right to be.” Adam stated, his face emotionless. Gave him time to regroup himself too, Joe thought to himself. “Adam, where on Earth have you been? Couldn’t you at least write to Pa? He doesn’t know if he has two living sons or not.” “Joe, it’s too complicated to explain” Adam started to reply. “Too complicated to explain?” Joe interjected. “Adam, I’m not that wet behind the ears kid you left on the Ponderosa years ago. I’m a man, Adam, a man that has run the ranch you left behind. The ranch that your brother Hoss gave his life for. Can’t you at least stand here and finally treat me as a man, an equal? For the love of God, Adam, isn’t that the least you owe me?” Joe drew in a deep breath as he finished his words.

Adam, staring intently at his brother standing before him, realized the truth in his words. Joe wasn’t a boy any longer. He was a man, a responsible man who had inherited the work of the Ponderosa although he hadn’t asked for it. I do owe him an explanation, whether he likes what he hears or not, Adam thought. Pinching the bridge of his nose, Adam then spoke to Joe. “Joe, I know I’ve been selfish when it comes to our family. My work here has become very important to me, and I have attained a status that I never could’ve had out West. The business world here is very competitive, and if you miss a step you can lose everything. And after all the years it’s taken me to build my business, I was not willing to take a chance and lose it all. That’s why I didn’t come home for Hoss’ funeral. The trip would’ve ruined me financially at the time. I’ve been too embarrassed to write Pa to tell him that. Thought it would be better if he didn’t hear from me at all.”

Joe looked at Adam, knowing just how hard it was for him to finally admit his shortcomings. “Adam, are you married? Do you have a family?” Joe asked. “No, Joe,” Adam said dejectedly. “A few relationships here and there, but my work…” “I understand Adam” Joe interrupted. He didn’t want his brother to revisit what he now realized were painful mistakes. As he looked at Adam, he realized just how much they both had changed. The Ponderosa was a part of Adam’s past – but for Joe, it was part of his future.

Joe turned to Adam and smiled. “Big brother, we all have to do what is best for us at times. You did what you thought you needed to; I’m not here to question that. I’m not angry at the decisions you’ve made; hurt, maybe, but not angry. Perhaps it’s just that I wish you would’ve communicated your feelings with us. It was a bad time for Pa and me, Adam, we could’ve used that. It’s all in the past now, Adam. Just remember one thing: you’re my brother and I’ll always love you no matter what decisions you make. Please write to Pa and be honest with him. You know he loves you unconditionally and would never judge you. Give him that chance Adam, please.” Adam’s eyes glistened with tears. “Just when did you get so smart, Little Joe? I left a boy behind to discover what a mature man you’ve become. I can’t tell you how proud I am …” With that, Adam dissolved into tears, and with tears streaming down his face, Joe took his brother into his arms. “I love you Adam” Joe said, and Adam replied, “I love you too, little buddy.”

The men reentered the ballroom together. Joe remarked to Adam, “Have to find that date of mine. I’m afraid someone may steal her from me.” In an amused tone, Adam, asked, “Is she just ‘a date’ Joe, or something more? From the look on both of your faces, I think it’s the latter.” Joe blushed. “Adam, I think I’ve fallen in love with Merrie. She completes me Adam, in every sense of the word. But her life is here. I could never ask her to leave all this behind to come out to the Ponderosa with me. Merrie is the smartest woman I’ve ever met in my life. She’s a college girl, Adam. What would she do with me there? Collect eggs in the morning, wash laundry, bake cakes? That life isn’t good enough for her. She deserves better.”

“Did you ever think to ask her what she wants, Joe?” Adam said. Joe listened to Adam’s words, knowing that once again, the Yankee Granite Head was right. Nodding in agreement, Joe replied, “Guess I owe her that.” “Then go to her and talk to her, you’ve wasted enough time with me tonight, and you’ll be hearing from me again by the time you get back to the Ponderosa.” Joe gave Adam a hug and whispered, “Thanks Adam.” Adam returned the hug and said “No, thank you Joseph.” With that, Adam disappeared into the large crowd.

Joe proceeded to weave through the sea of bodies in the room until he found his table. True to her word, there Merrie sat, looking at the program given to them for the evening. She looked up as Joe stood before her. With concern in her voice, Merrie asked “Is everything OK?” “Fine, positively fine” Joe answered and continued, “Merrie, I need to talk to you. Can we find a quiet place?” Merrie’s blue eyes dazzled Joe as she softly said, “Yes, Joe, let’s go find a quiet place.”

This particular night, Central Park was particularly beautiful. The moonlight illuminated the fountain before them, water cascading down its sides. Joe and Merrie took their usual spot on the wrought iron bench which had been the scene of many memorable moments for them before. Both of them looked wistfully into each other’s eyes as they knew that this evening was drawing to a close.

Joe was the first to speak, as he couldn’t keep his feelings bottled up any longer. “Merrie, I love you. There, I’ve said it out loud. I have never met a woman like you. You’re beautiful, talented and smart. I have enjoyed every moment we’ve spent together. For the first time in months, I feel alive again. It’s because of you, Merrie Hamilton, no doubt about it. You complete me, you make me whole. I know I have no right asking this of you, but would you come back to the Ponderosa with me? I know it wouldn’t be the life you envisioned for yourself, but I can’t think of living my life without you. I’m sorry for being so selfish, but I just love you so much. Say you’ll come back with me Merrie.”

Joe’s face dropped as he saw Merrie’s eyes fill with tears. He braced himself, preparing to hear the words he dreaded.

Merrie looked up at him, tears falling from her deep sapphire eyes. “Joseph Cartwright, I fell in love with you the first time I saw you. You are the most sincere and loving man I have ever known. Spending the rest of my life with you would make me the happiest woman on Earth. You are my partner, MY cowboy. And I love you.” She continued, “But I can’t go back with you right this moment. I have a job, a family here that I have to deal with. Have to resign my job, and even more importantly, tell my parents about my plans. I know you can’t wait for me. Your father needs you back at the ranch. But I promise you, Joe Cartwright, that I’ll be right behind you as soon as I can.” With those words, Joe took Merrie’s face into his hands and said, “I will wait for you Merrie Hamilton. As long as it takes.” At that moment, time stood still for Joe and Merrie as they both fell into each others arms and kissed with a passion that neither had ever experienced before. On the walk home, Merrie and Joe talked about their future, laughing and thinking about their life ahead together.

The next afternoon, their happiness had been replaced by tears of sadness. Standing on the train platform, Joe looked at Merrie and trying to smile, said, “I have a surprise for you, Merrie Hamilton.” Merrie looked up with her tear streaked face, unable to speak. She raised her hands as if to say, “What?” Joe pulled a box from his suit jacket and said, “It’s for you. Something to remember me by until I take you off the stage in Virginia City.” Merrie opened the box and found a gold necklace. At the end of it was a charm. It was a cowboy hat, with a sapphire stud in the front of it. “It’s beautiful, Joe, please help me put it on.” Merrie said in between her tears. Holding back his own tears, Joe squeaked, “When you go to your most special place on the entire Earth, you’ll think of me, your cowboy, right?” Tears started to trickle down Joe’s face. “Joe, I have a new special place.” Merrie whispered. “When I am finally in your arms, with the moon over Lake Tahoe, my feet standing on Ponderosa soil, then I will be in the most special place on the entire Earth.”

“All aboard!” the conductor yelled. Joe and Merrie embraced and kissed one last time before Joe boarded the train.

“I love you Merrie Hamilton!” Joe said as he hung on the stairs, his voice overcome with emotion. “I love you too, MY cowboy!” responded Merrie. She clutched her necklace as she watched the train leave the station, knowing that her heart was going with it.

As Joe settled into his seat for the long journey home, he realized that he was not the man who left the Ponderosa close to a month before. His journey had helped to make him realize that the life he had on the Ponderosa was the life he wanted for himself. He was finally able to establish himself as a man in the eyes of his brother and his father, something he had always yearned for. He was finally able to accept the decisions of others, now understanding that for his brother, the Ponderosa didn’t hold the importance that it once did, as still did for Joe.

But as Joe gazed out the window, the revelation that he wasn’t alone anymore brought him the most happiness, a feeling he never thought he’d have the opportunity to experience again. He now had a partner, someone whom he loved and was loved by in return. He was her cowboy, and he couldn’t wait to see her again and introduce her to the West. As Joe fell asleep to the click- clack motion of the train, he started to dream of Merrie in his arms as they stood above Lake Tahoe in the moonlight, and knew in his heart that they would soon be together.
~ The End ~

Next Story in The Only Series:

Adjustments
Finding the Way Home

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Author: Donna

A married mom of two who has fun reading and writing about Bonanza! Thank you for taking the time to read my stories....hope you enjoyed reading them as much as I enjoyed writing them!

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