A Father’s Love aka A Love Without End (by JoanS)

Summary:  A misunderstanding causes Joe to feel his father doesn’t want him to live on The Ponderosa any more.  

Rated: K  WC 24,000

 

A Father’s Love – aka A Love Without End

Chapter 1:

‘For daddies don’t just love their children

 every now and then.

 It’s a love without end, Amen.’

 George Strait
 

 
Part 1

  

‘Joseph I just don’t know what’s got into you lately!’ thundered Ben Cartwright at his youngest son. ‘It seems like every time I turn around I’m having to discipline you for something. I don’t understand why you’re acting like this!’

Joe stood silently in front of his father’s desk with his hands behind his back, waiting for an end to the lecture that he practically knew of by heart.  He fixed his eyes on a spot on the desk in front of him and hoped that his expression was suitably contrite enough to calm his father down.

‘Well Joseph?’

He looked up, realising that he hadn’t been listening again, but took a stab at answering anyway. ‘I don’t know Pa,’ he said, hoping that was the right answer. His father’s expression told him that it wasn’t.

‘You don’t know?’ Ben asked incredulously. ‘How can you not know?’

Joe tried again. ‘I don’t know how come I don’t know,’ he said.

Ben put his hand to his head and pressed his right temple. ‘Joseph, are you trying to make fun of me?’ he asked.

Joe opened his eyes wide and tried to look sorry. ‘No Pa! I wouldn’t do that Pa! Honest!’

‘Then answer me properly please young man,’ said his father. Joe stared at him, still not sure what the question had been. ‘Well?’ Ben asked again, ‘I’m waiting Joseph.’

‘I….um…I didn’t exactly hear the question Pa,’ Joe answered.

Ben closed his eyes for a moment. ‘Go to your room,’ he said quietly. ‘I’m not going to waste a moment longer on a boy who doesn’t even have the decency to listen when he’s in trouble.’  Joe stared at his father. ‘I said GO!’ Ben thundered, as he pointed to the stairs.  Joe turned and hurried upstairs, anxious to get away before his father decided to turn the verbal tirade into something physical.  He knew he would probably get another tanning before the day was out, but he would have liked to avoid more than one if he could.

Ben massaged his temples, trying to will away the headache that he felt was hovering.  It seemed like his life was one battle of wills with that youngest son of his lately, and he was well and truly tired of it.  He just didn’t know what to do with the boy any more. Not only was he in constant trouble at school, but he had been very remiss about his chores lately, was fighting constantly fighting with his brothers and now Ben had discovered that he had lied to him as well.

Why was he acting this way?  Ben couldn’t for the life of him understand how one thirteen year-old could cause him so much anxiety. He didn’t remember going through this with either Adam or Hoss, but then they had very different characters.

It seemed as if Adam had been born responsible.  Of course he had had his problems growing up and Ben could remember many a time when he had to give the boy a good talking to or worse, but never like this!  Hoss was just too easy going to have ever been much trouble at all, and Ben had to really search his memory even to think of a time when he had needed to discipline the boy.  The only times that came to mind really were those times when he had been roped into one of Little Joe’s schemes. No, neither of the other two were the challenge that this youngster was to him.

Ben picked up the framed photo of Marie, Joseph’s mother, which sat on the desk alongside the photos of his other two wives.  He wondered what she would have said about the boy if she were still alive and wondered how she would have dealt with him.  Ben suspected that she would have been better at handling the child than he was, as Joseph had a great deal of his mother’s nature in him and she probably would have been able to understand him well.  She had when the child had been little.

She had also been a lively personality, bubbling over with life and living it to the full.  That was the boy’s trouble of course a lot of the time.  He just didn’t take the time to think things through, as he was too busy trying to cram as much of life in as possible.  Joseph just didn’t think things like chores and homework were that necessary in his life, and tried to avoid them whenever possible.  His sense of responsibility was not what it should be, and Ben was determined that he would instil some into this son of his even if it killed him. And it could well do just that, he thought. I’m really getting too old for this!

What really worried Ben though was this latest tendency of the boy’s to lie.  Joseph had been in a lot of trouble over the years, but he had usually told his father the truth about the scrapes he had gotten into.  Not lately though.  Ben could see a tendency towards sneakiness that worried him, and now the outright lies that the boy was telling made his father extremely anxious.

Ben possessed a very strong sense of justice and expected his sons to have the same.  He was really beginning to believe that Joseph was lacking in this department, and wondered about just how he could get through to him.  The boy had been punished until Ben had run out of ideas about what to do with him next, but still nothing seemed to work.  He just drifted from one situation to the next without a thought for anyone but himself.

Ben shook his head.  He always tried to be fair to his sons, but this one was testing his patience to the limit and he was afraid that he might do something in anger that he would regret later. The real reason he had sent him upstairs was because he was afraid the he might lash out at the boy.  It was best to keep some distance between them until Ben could act calmly and rationally with his son. He suddenly felt very tired.

Ben sighed as he picked up the letter again from his cousin George and smiled broadly as he re-read it again, hoping to keep his mind off the boy upstairs and the problems he faced with him.  He noted the date that George and his wife Lillian would be arriving and mentally began to plan their visit.  It had been years since they had met and he was really looking forward to renewing his acquaintance with them.  George had lived in Chicago for many years and apart from that one time when Ben had first married Marie and they had managed to meet briefly in Omaha they hadn’t seen each other.  Now that George’s company had moved him to San Francisco Ben expected that they would be able to see a lot more of each other, and he was thrilled to think that his boys would finally have an extended family.

This visit was hopefully going to be the first of many more to come, and Ben wanted to give his cousin and his wife a favourable impression of his boys and his home.  He frowned as he thought again of the youngster upstairs.  He must remember to remind him just what kind of behaviour he expected from him while their visitors were here.

Just at that moment Adam came through the front door.  As he flung his hat onto the table he smiled at his father. ‘Hi Pa? Why so serious?’

Ben returned the smile. ‘No reason. I was just thinking about cousin George and his visit actually.’

‘Do you want me to meet them from the stage on Saturday for you?’

Ben smiled to himself. It was typical of Adam to think of such things.  ‘No thank you son, I think I’d prefer to meet them myself.  That way I can show off The Ponderosa on the way out to the house.’

Adam nodded and smiled. He really didn’t blame his father for wanting to show off his beautiful ranch.  After all, he had put so much of his life into it and was justifiably proud of it.  He had every right to want others to admire it as well.

‘Anyway, I’d like you to stay here and keep your younger brother occupied that afternoon,’ continued Ben. ‘As its not a school day I want to make sure that he keeps out of trouble.  He’s going to be confined to the ranch again.’

Adam rolled his eyes. ‘What’s he done this time?’ he asked.

Ben motioned to the letter that was sitting on his desk. ‘Take your pick,’ he said. ‘Trouble at school again, and I’ve discovered that he’s been lying to me.’

Adam raised his eyebrow. He knew just what a dim view his father took of lying.  He remembered trying it on him once to his own detriment. Once had been enough that was for sure!

Ben sighed again. ‘I just don’t know what I’m going to do with that boy.  He seems to be getting worse.’

Adam didn’t say anything.  After all, what was there to say?  He agreed with his father, but didn’t want to make it any worse for his brother.  He watched as Ben got up wearily from his desk and headed for the staircase.

‘Good luck,’ he said as he smiled again at his father.

Ben looked ruefully over his shoulder, shook his head and mounted the staircase.  Adam shrugged his shoulders as he picked up his hat again.  There was no point in staying to hear the usual yells that would soon be coming from his younger brother’s room, so he thought he might as well get a bit more of his chores done before supper.  Hopefully by then the storm would have blown over.

 ————–

 ‘Now remember what I’ve told you young man,’ Ben glared at his youngest son as he spoke. ‘While our visitors are here I expect you to be on your very best behaviour.  No nonsense!’

‘But Pa!’ answered Joe with a grimace. ‘They’re gonna be here for two whole weeks!  You can’t expect me to behave all that time can you?’

‘Yes I can!’ retorted his father with a frown. ‘It’s time you thought past your own selfish needs Joseph and considered other people.  I want our visitors to leave here with pleasant memories of their time on the Ponderosa, not memories spoilt by your selfish behaviour!’

Joe slumped down in his seat and tried to look as if he were concentrating on the plate in front of him. ‘Yes sir,’ he answered in a sulky voice.

‘Also,’ continued his father, ‘I want you to remember that you are confined to the ranch until further notice.  Adam will be here this afternoon to supervise your extra chores, so make sure that you obey his instructions please.’

Joe shot a dark look at his older brother, who merely grinned at him. ‘Yes sir,’ he said again.

Ben stood up. ‘Now hurry up with that food and get started on those chores,’ he instructed. ‘Adam, I’ll be back around five.’

‘Sure thing Pa,’ said Adam. ‘And don’t worry about this one here.  I’ll keep him busy.’  He smiled again at his younger brother who merely glared back at him.

Hoss stood up to join his father. ‘I’ll get started on that fence Pa.  I’ll be back for supper.’

‘See that you are,’ said Ben as he reached for his hat.  I don’t want you to be late for our guests.’

As the front door shut behind them, Adam put down his coffee cup. ‘You heard Pa. Now hurry up and finish.  I’ve got a long list of things for you to do this afternoon.’ Joe slumped down further in his chair and took the smallest of bites. ‘Suit yourself,’ said Adam as he stood up. ‘But the chores will be waiting for you whether you start them now or later, and Pa will expect them all done. If I were you I wouldn’t risk putting him in a bad mood at the moment.’ Joe sighed dramatically and stood up to follow his brother.  Life sometimes just didn’t seem fair to him at all!

He was still in the same frame of mind later that afternoon when he saw his father pull up with their guests in their buggy.  He made no attempt to go and greet them, but preferred to wait inside the barn to check them out first.  He listened while his father introduced them to Adam first and then Hoss as he rode into the yard behind them.  Looking at the visitors he could see a slight resemblance between his father and cousin George.  Both had the same silver hair and brown eyes, and there was a similar look about them in their gestures and stance.  Cousin Lillian looked quite pleasant, and glanced around her in an interested fashion.

Joe heard his father ask where he was and decided that he’d better put in an appearance.  As he stepped out from the barn the others turned towards him, and Ben beckoned.  ‘Here he is.  Joseph, this is my cousin George and his wife Lillian.’

Joe nodded his head at them. ‘Hello,’ he said.

George beamed at him. ‘Hello young man.  It’s nice to meet you.’

Lillian turned to Ben with a smile on her face. ‘He’s the very image of Marie, Ben!’

Ben nodded as he looked at his youngest son. ‘Yes he is,’ he said with pride. ‘Boys, take cousin George’s luggage inside please’. Joe stood still until a nudge from Hoss forced him to join his brothers in picking up some of the bags, and they followed Ben and their visitors into the house.

George looked around the large room. “Ben this is delightful!’ he said.

Ben beamed at them.  ‘Thank you.  We find it comfortable.’

Lillian stared at him. ‘Comfortable?  Why Ben, it’s magnificent.’

‘Well I can thank Adam in part for that,’ said Ben. ‘He helped design it.’

‘Really?’ said George. ‘I’m impressed young man.’

Adam beamed at him. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘Come on you two, let’s get these bags upstairs.’  He motioned to his two brothers to follow him.

‘Come, I’ll show you to your rooms,’ said Ben. ‘You must be exhausted after that long journey.’ He led them up the stairs.

Later that evening at the dinner table, the conversation centred around various topics none of which interested Joe in the slightest, so to while away the time he started to count how many times each person spoke, keeping count with his peas.  He had five large piles of them on the side on his plate by the time his father noticed what he was doing, and a space for himself that had nothing in it.

‘Joseph, what on earth are you doing?’ Ben asked.

Lillian smiled at the boy as he looked up flustered. ‘I think we might be boring Joseph,’ she said gently and winked at him.

He smiled back at her. ‘No ma’am,’ he said. ‘I’m real interested in what you’re talking about.’

Adam laughed. ‘Really?  Since when have you been interested in the latest plays on offer in San Francisco?’

Joe glared at him, eager to be seen as following the conversation. ‘I am too interested!  I’ve been ta San Francisco before!’

‘And what did you enjoy there Joseph?’ asked Cousin George kindly.

‘The harbour,’ said Joe, giving Adam a defiant look. ‘I liked all the ships.’

‘Well your father could certainly have told you a lot about them,’ said George. ‘Do you remember back in Boston Ben, when you were sailing on the……’

Joe sighed as the conversation went off into the adult arena again, and turned back to his game with the peas.  Suddenly he felt someone’s eyes upon him, and he looked up to see Adam glaring at him and shaking his head.  He looked down again, and noticed that he had knocked the bread off the side of his plate.  As he reached to pick it up his elbow knocked against his glass of water and the liquid trailed along the tablecloth and down into Lillian’s lap.

‘Sorry,’ he said and bit his lip as he tried to blot it out with a napkin.

Lillian smiled at him. ‘Don’t worry about it Joseph, I’ll fix it.’

‘No I’ll do it,’ he said and continued to use the napkin to try to catch the water as it pooled in her lap.

Ben frowned at him. ‘Joseph leave it alone. You’re making it worse!’ he said.  He stood up and offered Lillian his napkin as well, as he gave Joe a look.  Joe sat back in his chair, knowing what was coming next. ‘Why can’t you be more careful?’ Ben said in a frustrated tone.

Joe hung his head momentarily, but looked up again as Lillian said, ‘don’t worry about it Ben.  ‘The water will dry and there’s no harm done.’ She patted Joe on the arm and smiled at him again. Joe looked back at her and smiled.  He glared back at Adam and stuck out his tongue, then turned back to his meal again.

‘I thought you might like to see some more of The Ponderosa again tomorrow,’ continued Ben as he sat down again. ‘We could take a ride up to the lake and maybe try a spot of fishing.’

Joe’s ears pricked up. ‘Could I come Pa?’ he asked hopefully.

Ben stared at him for a moment. ‘No Joseph you may not come,’ he said. ‘Have you forgotten you are on restriction until further notice?’

Joe sat back in his chair. ‘Oh yeah,’ he said in a small voice.

‘Don’t worry Joseph, we’ll be here a whole two weeks,’ said George.  ‘I’m sure you’ll be off restriction by then, and you might be able to show us some of your favourite places on this beautiful ranch before we leave.’

Ben didn’t have the heart to point out to his cousin that he wasn’t the attraction in the boy’s eyes – the fishing was. Hoss, however, couldn’t resist making a comment. ‘Yeah well the way this youngster behaves he’ll be lucky ta be off restriction by Christmas.’

Joe glared at him and clamped his jaw shut.  I seemed like every time he turned around lately someone was getting on his back about something!  He looked across the table at Cousin George and noticed the man winking at him, and he smiled back at him. Well at least the visitors seemed to be OK.

 ——————-

Ben found himself very busy during the next few days, in between overseeing the new timber contracts and making sure that his guests were suitably occupied. He was grateful that Joe managed to keep himself out of trouble for the rest of the weekend, but as his father suspected would happen it was only Tuesday before the next letter came home with him again from school.

Joe waited until he was going to bed before he handed it to his father, as he figured that the later he read it the better. He reasoned that he would have less time to get into trouble before he was sent to bed that way.

As Ben opened the envelope and began to read, he couldn’t believe his eyes. ‘You did what?’ he said looking up from the paper in his hand. Joe stared back at him mournfully without speaking. ‘Miss Jones wants me to come and see her tomorrow,’ continued Ben. ‘It seems that she’s had enough of your behaviour as well Joseph.  How could you do this?’

Joe shrugged his shoulders as he stood in front of his father. ‘It was easy,’ he said.

Ben threw the paper on the table in front of him. ‘I beg your pardon?’ he thundered. ‘What did you say young man?’

Joe took a step back. ‘I meant it was easy to get into trouble.  I’m always in trouble with her.’

Ben nodded his head. ‘Yes you are!  And have you stopped to think about why that might be Joseph?’ Joe hung his head and looked at the floor. ‘It just might be because you never think! I just don’t know what to do with you any more and I’m sure Miss Jones doesn’t either!’

‘She never knows what to do with me,’ replied Joseph without thinking again. ‘She makes me get into trouble.’

‘So now it’s your teacher’s fault!’ replied Ben frostily. ‘And could you tell me why that might be?’

Joe swallowed. ‘I just meant that… well… her lessons are so boring all the time!  There’s nothing else to do but get into trouble, cause I’m bored all the time.’

Ben stared at his son for a moment. ‘That is no excuse for stuffing newspaper in the stovepipe and smoking out the entire classroom!’ he yelled.

There was a scuffling noise behind him and he turned to Adam, Hoss, George and Lillian. ‘He did what?’ remarked Adam with a grin on his face. ‘Joe, whatever possessed you?’

Joe shrugged his shoulders again. ‘Seemed like a good idea at the time,’ he said quietly. ‘It made everyone take notice.’

Ben swatted him on the side of the head. ‘I’ll make you take notice young man!’ he said. ‘Just you get upstairs to your room now and wait until I’m ready to speak to you. I won’t have our guests having to listen to any more of your nonsense.’

Joe turned and scampered up the stairs, as the five adults watched him.  As soon as he heard the boy’s bedroom door close, Ben turned to George and Lillian. ‘I’m sorry about that, but you see what I mean about him now don’t you?’

George couldn’t hold back his laughter. ‘I certainly do Ben, but you must admit it took some thinking on his part!’

Ben didn’t share his laughter, but merely shook his head. ‘This is just an example of his behaviour,’ he said.

‘Well I think you should have a talk with Abigail Jones,’ said Adam. ‘If her lessons are really boring him, then maybe she needs to hear that.’

‘Bored or not, that’s no excuse for him to behave like this,’ replied his father. ‘And you know that it’s not just at school he’s in trouble. It’s everywhere.’

‘Yes I know,’ continued Adam. ‘But you do need to tackle the school problem, don’t you think?’

‘Of course I do,’ replied his father. ‘Although Lord knows what talking to Abigail Jones will achieve.  It’s never helped before.’

‘Why?’ interrupted George. ‘Isn’t she sympathetic to the boy’s needs?’

‘Well let’s just say that Abigail is mostly sympathetic to her own needs first,’ said Adam.

‘And yours,’ interrupted Hoss quietly with a grin.

Adam threw a dark glance in his direction before continuing. ‘She’s not a bad teacher, but she’s not terribly inspiring either if you know what I mean.’

‘She seems to be inspired by you,’ said Hoss in a quiet undertone.

Adam glared at him again, and decided to let the remark pass.

‘I’ll talk to her tomorrow,’ said Ben. ‘In the meantime, Adam would you please get George and Lillian a drink?  I have some serious talking to do with a certain young man upstairs.’

 ——————

‘Well? Apart from being bored do you have any excuse for your behaviour?’ asked Ben as he entered Joe’s bedroom.

Joe looked up at his father. ‘No,’ he said quietly.

‘Stand up when I speak to you Joseph,’ said his father. Joe stood up, his hands behind his back, and looked at the floor. ‘Look at me.’  He looked up to meet his father’s eyes and flinched at what he glimpsed there.  ‘I don’t know what to say to you any more.’ Ben continued. ‘I’ve talked until I’m blue in the face, and I’m sick of it.  Do you hear me Joseph?  I’m sick of it!’

‘Yes Pa,’ said Joe quietly.

Ben sighed in frustration as he removed his belt. ‘Take off your shirt,’ he ordered.  Joe started to unbutton his shirt slowly while his father waited.

When Joe’s punishment was over and he was putting on the nightshirt that his father had handed him, Ben thought about how true his words had been.  He truly didn’t know what to say to the boy any more.  It seemed that everything he said just went in one ear and out the other. Their guests had only been with them a matter of days and already the boy was in trouble again.

He sat down on the bed and motioned for his son to sit next to him. ‘Joseph,’ he began, ‘I’m going to pick you up from school tomorrow. Tell Miss Jones that I’ll be there straight after school.’  Joe nodded. ‘And I’ll certainly be very interested in what she has to say about your behaviour,’ Ben continued. Joe sat silently beside his father.

Ben tried another approach. ‘You don’t like school do you?’  Joe shook his head. ‘Well we’ll have to see what we can do about that,’ his father said.

Joe looked up with a smile. ‘Do ya mean it Pa?  Can I leave?’

Ben frowned at him. ‘No I don’t mean that you can leave.  You’re too young for that!’

‘No I’m not!’ said Joe eagerly. ‘Lots of kids leave when they’re my age.  I could….’

Ben held up his hand. ‘Joseph you are not leaving school, and that’s an end to the matter. I happen to believe that the more schooling you get the better.  A good education is very important.’

Joe scowled at him. ‘Well I ain’t getting it with old bossy boots Miss Jones!’ he declared.

Ben reached over and swatted him on the head. ‘Never speak about your teacher like that again,’ he said angrily. ‘Would you like another taste of my belt?’

Joe hung his head again. ‘No Pa,’ he said quietly.

‘I meant that I would speak to Miss Jones about you being bored,’ said Ben. ‘Now get into bed young man. Hurry up!’

As he left the boy’s bedroom, Ben resolved to make sure he got to the bottom of this. He knew that Joe had never liked school.  He had never been the sort of child to enjoy sitting still for long and had always found the confinement of the classroom difficult.  Abigail Jones was also not the first teacher that he caused trouble for, but it seemed to Ben that the boy had taken quite a dislike to the woman, and he wondered why.  He sighed as he descended the staircase wearily. I’m really getting too old for this! he thought.

 ——————-

‘I’m glad you agree Mr Cartwright,’ said Abigail with a smile. ‘Joseph’s attitude does leave a lot to be desired you know.’

Ben nodded. ‘Yes of course, but I do wonder why he’s acting up like this Miss Jones. He tells me that he’s bored at school.’

Abigail frowned and straightened up in her chair. ‘Well that’s a little difficult to comment on Mr Cartwright.  Joseph does the bare minimum where his work is concerned and never shows any initiative at all. If he were finding the work boring, then surely he would be finishing it quickly and looking for more!’ Ben doubted that, but didn’t say anything. He listened quietly as Abigail continued. ‘Mr Cartwright I’m sure you will understand what I’m about to say.  If Joseph’s attitude to school doesn’t improve then I’m going to have to think about suspending him.’

‘Is that really necessary?’

‘I believe it is.  The other children are being constantly disrupted by him, and it’s for their sakes as well as his own.  He has to learn that school is just something he has to put up with.’

Ben raised his eyebrow at her remark.  He was beginning to understand why Joe didn’t get on with her. ‘Well Miss Jones, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,’ he said standing up.  I’ll have another talk with my son.’

‘Please do, Mr Cartwright,’ said Abigail.

As Ben got to the porch of the schoolhouse he saw Joe standing near their horses waiting for him.  Motioning to the boy to mount up, he ignored his anxious look and rode off slowly, Joe following behind.  They were well on their way before he spoke. ‘Well I suppose you realise that Miss Jones is not at all happy with you,’ he said to the boy beside him.  Joe shrugged. ‘She’s talking about suspending you if your attitude doesn’t improve.’  Joe looked at him anxiously. ‘If that happens Joseph, rest assured you will be sorry!’  Joe looked down in front of him and avoided his father’s glare. ‘Do you understand me son?’

Joe nodded.  ‘Yes Pa,’ he said quietly.

Ben pointed his finger at him. ‘I mean it Joe,’ he said sternly. ‘No more chances at school. ‘This is your final warning.’  He kicked his horse forward into a trot, and left Joe to catch up.

 ——————-

For the rest of the week Ben was satisfied that his words had gotten through to his son.  There were no more notes from school and Joe seemed to attend to his homework each night as required.  Not that Ben could be completely sure, as he suspected that there were many times that Joseph didn’t tell the entire truth about just how much work he had to do. He felt sure though that Miss Jones would not let him get away with anything at the moment, and she hadn’t contacted him so that was a good sign.

By the time Saturday arrived Ben actually felt a sense of relief that they had made it through another school week without a major incident. He felt sufficiently relieved enough to lift the restriction that he had placed on the boy the week before. ‘But remember Joseph, I expect you to get your chores done before you go anywhere this afternoon,’ he said at the breakfast table.

Joe nodded. ‘Sure thing Pa,’ he said, relieved to be once again allowed to leave the ranch. ‘I’ll do em straight after breakfast.’

‘Make sure you do,’ said his father. ‘Lillian, Adam will drive you into town this morning to do your shopping, and Hoss will show you the branding George.  I’m sorry but I just have to get onto those contracts and it will probably take a few hours.’

‘Not a problem Ben,’ replied George. ‘We’ll be very happy with those arrangements.’

‘Can I go into town with Adam Pa?’ asked Joe.

Ben stared at him. ‘I thought we just had a conversation about you finishing your chores this morning?’ he said testily.

‘Yeah but I could do em this afternoon, and then I’d be free ta go inta town with Adam,’ Joe replied. ‘Can I Pa?’

‘No you ca … may not,’ replied his father.

‘But Pa….’

‘Enough Joseph!’ Ben held up his hand.  ‘That’s an end to it!’ Joe put out his bottom lip and slumped down in his chair pouting. ‘Now if you’ve finished pushing that food around your plate you can just get out and get started.’

Joe stood up and left the table mumbling to himself.  I t seemed to him that there was no point having his restriction lifted if he wasn’t allowed to go anywhere.  Sometimes his father just didn’t make any sense. As he lifted the hay into the stall to replace that which he had just cleaned away, he watched his two brothers leaving on their various errands with a sulky expression.  Life just wasn’t fair sometimes!  He thought about all the things he could be doing, and resolved to get his chores over with as quickly as possible so that he could get to them.

After an hour or so of hard work he entered the house to find his father and get permission to leave, and was surprised to see Ben sitting at his desk with his head on his hand gazing into space. ‘Pa?’ he said tentatively.

Ben looked at him. ‘Yes?  What is it?’

‘I’ve finished my chores.  Can I go now?’

Ben glanced at the grandfather clock standing next to the front door. ‘You’ve finished? Are you sure?’

Joe nodded his head. ‘Yeah I’m sure. I did the barn and chopped all the wood for both the boxes, and I collected the eggs and fed the hens. I’m all done.’

‘What about the Tack Room?’ his father asked.

‘Do I have ta do that too?’ asked Joe with wide eyes. ‘Aw come on Pa!’

Ben pointed his finger at him.  ‘Joseph when I say do your chores I mean all of them, and that includes the Tack Room.’

‘But Pa it’s not messy!  It looks OK ta me.’ Ben simply stared at him and said nothing. Joe sighed and turned on his heel, muttering under his breath. Ben shook his head and went back to his work glancing up as he heard the front door slam.  He never seemed to get on top of this paper work at the best of times, but at the moment it weighed heavily on his shoulders, and Joseph’s attitude didn’t help.  That combined with the timber contracts that were due were enough to make him hold up his hands in horror at the thought of it all.

After a couple of hours more work he stood up to stretch, and heard the sound of the buggy returning. He glanced out of the window to see Adam and Lillian returning, and went out to greet them. ‘How was town?’ he asked as he helped Lillian down.

‘Fine,’ said Adam.  ‘Paul Martin said to say hello.’

Ben helped Adam get the packages out of the back of the buggy and began to turn towards the house when he heard his youngest son’s unmistakeable giggle.  Frowning, he walked over to the barn and looked inside.  Joe stood with a pistol in his hand, brandishing it around as if firing it at someone.

Ben’s heart stopped for a moment and he waited until the boy had lowered the gun before calling out to him. ‘Joseph!  What on earth are you doing with that?’

Joe looked at his father grinning. ‘Aw, don’t worry Pa.  It ain’t loaded!’

Ben grabbed the gun from his son’s hand. ‘Where did you get it?’ he yelled.

‘In the Tack Room,’ said Joe taking a step back. ‘I think one of the hands musta left it there. But I told ya Pa, it ain’t loaded.’

‘Loaded or not, I have told you never to pick up a gun unless one of your brothers or myself is with you haven’t I?’ Ben thundered. He stepped forward and shook the boy. ‘Haven’t I?’

‘Yes Pa,’ Joe said with a frown. ‘But I didn’t mean any thing by it.  I just found it in the Tack Room.’

‘Well we’ll just put it back in the Tack Room won’t we!’ yelled his father.  He pulled the boy by the arm into the room next door and gasped in amazement at the sight that met his eyes.  The room was a mess with bits of equipment strewn from one end of it to the other. He rounded on his son. ‘I told you to clean this up didn’t I?  You’ve been out here the best part of two hours Joseph!  What’s the meaning of this?’

‘Well I thought I’d do a really good job, so I got everything off the shelves.  That’s when I found the gun and started to …. I mean I just stopped to have a look at it.  I guess I musta got sidetracked,’ Joe finished lamely.

Ben swatted the boy on the backside. ‘Well you can just get sidetracked right back in here and get everything back on those shelves quick smart,’ he said. ‘And when you’re finished you get yourself into the house and we’ll talk about this then.  Now move!’  He swatted the boy on the backside again and shook his head as he took the gun outside with him.

Outside Hoss and George had just ridden up. ‘Trouble?’ asked Hoss.

‘No more than usual,’ his father replied. ‘How was the branding George?’

‘Very interesting,’ said George.

‘Come on,’ said Hoss. ‘I think I can hear dinner calling.  You want me ta get Joe Pa?’

‘No,’ said his father. ‘Your brother has quite a bit of work to do before he’ll be having any dinner.’  He led them both into the house.

——————

Joe crept along the hallway, listening to the muffled voices downstairs.  He positioned himself on the top step where he knew he couldn’t be seen from down below and leant his head against the wall as he listened to the conversation below.  He had discovered in the past that this was a very useful position to sit in, as you never knew just what you were going to hear.  Particularly when he was in trouble, he had found it most useful to know what his father and brothers were thinking.

‘I just don’t know any more,’ said Ben scratching his head. ‘The boy seems to defy me at every turn.  You saw how he was this afternoon.’

George nodded. ‘Yes I did. But I don’t think he’s a bad boy Ben, he’s just young and doesn’t think.’

‘I know that,’ replied Ben. ‘But I tell you George there are times when I really have to stop myself with him.’  Joe frowned as he heard his father’s words. ‘It’s as if he’s doing it on purpose sometimes, and he just makes me so angry!’

There was silence for a moment, and Joe craned his neck as he heard Lillian say quietly. ‘Ben sit down.  You look so tired.’

Ben rubbed his eyes. ‘I am actually.  Its just that there’s so much on at the moment, with the timber contracts as well as the branding to be done.’

‘And we’re not helping by being here are we?’ said George with a glance at Lillian.

‘Nonsense!’ said Ben. ‘You’ve been no trouble at all.  In fact I wish you could stay longer. No, life around here is always hectic and that boy just doesn’t make it any easier. I honestly don’t remember the other two causing me any trouble like this.’

I think part of the problem is Ben, that you’re just so busy with everything around here. I know you try your best with him, but Joseph is a boy who just seems to need a lot of time and attention. That’s obvious to all of us I think.’

Joe heard his father sigh. ‘I know he is,’ he said. ‘All I seem to do is spend time worrying about him, disciplining him or making sure he’s occupied so that he doesn’t have time to get into any more trouble.  Between myself and his brothers he pretty much keeps us all on the run!’

‘Sounds like you need a bit of a break from him,’ said George. ‘Some time out so to speak.’

‘We all do,’ said Ben as he smiled ruefully at them. ‘To be frank I think I’m getting too old for this.  I must admit there are times when I long for a quieter life.’ Joe sat up straight as he heard his father’s remark.  So he was a nuisance to his father?  He had felt it before, but to hear him actually say the words was awful.

Cousin George spoke again. ‘Ben, Lillian and I have been talking about this very thing. We’d be happy to take the boy off your hands for a while.’

Ben sat up straight in his chair. ‘What?’

‘Well it’s been obvious to us how things are, and we would love to have him if that would help you.’

‘I couldn’t ask you to do that,’ said Ben with a frown. ‘It’s too big an imposition.’

‘It’s no imposition at all!’ said Lillian. ‘You know we have that large house for only the two of us, and he could go to school in San Francisco.  He’s a lovely boy Ben, we’d really enjoy having him stay with us.’

‘I appreciate what you’re saying, but you have no idea just how much work he can be,’ replied Ben as he shook his head. ‘He may seem like a lovely boy to you now, but looking after Joseph is full time occupation I can assure you.’

‘And we have the time,’ continued Lillian. ‘I have lots of time to give him, and George’s business is up and running now. We mean it Ben.  It really would help you out, and to be honest the boy could only benefit from the fine schools in the city.’

‘That’s true,’ said Ben. ‘I know the teacher here tries her best, but the standard of education is not as high as it would be elsewhere.’

‘The boy deserves the best,’ said George. ‘We’re only thinking of him.  And you too of course. Ben you owe this to yourself.  You’ve been magnificent with the child since Marie died – with all of them really – but it could really be in the best interests of everyone if Joseph did move in with us for a while.’

There was silence for a few moments, and Joe crept further forward.  He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.  His father was considering sending him away?  That just didn’t seem like something he would have ever thought he would do. He must really be sick and tired of him if he was talking like this!

‘I appreciate what you’re saying, and I can assure you there are many times when Joseph drives me to the end of my tether…’ began Ben, and then stopped as the front door opened.  Joe drew back as Adam entered the room.

‘Evening son,’ said Ben. ‘How was town tonight?’

‘Fine thanks Pa. Roy Coffee said to say hello,’ replied Adam. ‘Evening George and Lillian.’ Joe stood up quietly and got ready to retreat quickly into his room. ‘I think I’ll go straight up to bed if you’ll excuse me,’ Adam continued. ‘It’s been a long day.’  Joe scampered quietly back to his room at his brother’s words, anxious not to be discovered.

He closed the door and peeped through a crack as Adam wandered down the hallway, then sat down on his bed and thought about the conversation he had heard.  Pa wants me gone!  Joe couldn’t believe what he had heard. He drew his knees up to his chest and hugged them tightly, lowering his head onto them.  I never meant to be bad enough to make him want me to go!  He thinks he’d be better off without me!  I guess I’m just too much trouble for him after all.  Before he could stop them the tears began to fall and he wiped them away angrily. He suddenly felt lonely and sad, and wondered why he had behaved as he had. His father had been right!  He never thought about anyone but himself, and now it was too late.  His father didn’t want him any more, and his brothers probably felt the same.

Joe lay down on his bed, letting the tears fall freely.  He clutched hold of his pillow and buried his face in it, so that his sobs wouldn’t be heard by anyone else.

Downstairs, the conversation that Adam had interrupted was continuing. ‘As I said,’ Ben continued, ‘I really appreciate what you are trying to do, but Joseph’s place is here with his brothers and myself.  He’s my son and I would never want him to live anywhere else but on The Ponderosa.’

‘I understand,’ said George. ‘But the offer is still there if you feel you should ever need it Ben.’

‘Thank you,’ replied Ben. ‘Who knows, maybe that young scallywag will drive me to it one day?’ They all laughed. ‘In the meantime though, I don’t think Joseph would be too keen on living away from here. He loves The Ponderosa.’

‘That’s obvious,’ said George. ‘It is a beautiful place Ben.  You’ve done so well with it, and your boys are fine young men.’

‘Thank you,’ replied Ben. ‘We lead a comfortable life here, I sure they’re all happy.’

Upstairs, his youngest son was far from happy as his father spoke those words.  Joe lay on his bed staring at the ceiling, wondering what he could do to make up to his father for all the problems he had caused him, and tried to think of a way to stop him sending him away.

——————

Joe tried his best the next morning to be as pleasant to everyone at breakfast and their way to church.  He was so co-operative in fact that Adam looked at him rather suspiciously wondering what the boy might be up to.   He kept a watchful eye on him all during the Service, and was puzzled to see that he was very attentive and listened well without fidgeting.  It was so unlike him!

He was still thinking about it in the yard afterwards, when he was startled by a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see Doctor Paul Martin his father’s good friend standing next to him.

‘Hi Paul,’ he said. ‘How are you?’

Paul nodded his head. ‘I’m fine thanks Adam, but I just wanted to know how your father is.’

Adam looked at the man startled. ‘Pa? He’s fine. He’s just over there.’  He indicated where his father was busy introducing George and Lillian to some of his friends. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘I saw him in town the other day and he looked a bit unwell that’s all,’ replied Paul. ‘I wanted him to come and have a check up, but you know your father….’

Adam nodded. ‘Yeah I know. And he wonders where Joe gets his stubbornness from!’  He looked over at his father again. ‘Do you think there’s something to worry about Paul?’

The doctor shook his head. ‘No I’m sure there’s not.  I’m sure he’s just a bit run down that’s all.’

‘Well we’ve got visitors at the moment, and you know how hard Pa works.’

Paul nodded. ‘I do indeed,’ he replied. ‘It might be a good idea to encourage him to slow down a bit, just for a while.’

‘That’s easier said than done,’ replied Adam. ‘Plus, there’s Joe you know.’

They both nodded without having to explain the remark.  Paul had known their family for years, and he well knew the energy Ben had to put into that youngster.

Adam looked carefully at his father on the way back from church.  He did look tired!  He resolved to talk to Hoss about it and see what they could do to relieve his stress. He glanced across at his youngest brother and made a mental note to talk to him as well.

Later on as they got up from the dinner table, Ben was startled to find Joe at his elbow. ‘What is it Joe?’ he asked, almost tripping over him as he moved away from the table.

‘Do ya want me to do anything Pa?’ Joe asked.

Ben looked at him for a moment. ‘Do anything?’ he asked.

‘Yeah, you know.  Any chores or anything?

They all stopped to stare at the boy. After a moment Ben said. ‘I beg your pardon?’

Joe looked back at him. ‘Well I just thought there might be something ya might like me to do.’

Ben raised his eyebrows. ‘Nothing I can think of thank you Joseph. You go and enjoy your afternoon.’

‘But Pa….’

Ben waved him away impatiently. ‘Joe please! I have a lot to do this afternoon.  Just go and do whatever you want.’

Joe walked slowly out of the house. Even when he tried to be good his father didn’t want to know about it!  He must really be sick of having him around if he didn’t want him to even do any chores.  He moped around the yard for a while, and then decided to go up to his favourite fishing place by the lake. As he lay by the lake looking up at the sky he thought about all the things he had been in trouble for during the past few days.  It wasn’t as if he had meant to cause problems for his father, it was just that….. Joe rolled over onto his stomach and wondered just what it was that made him do these things.  He guessed that Pa was probably right, and he was selfish after all.

His eyelids grew heavy and as he drifted off to sleep he resolved to try even harder not to cause his father any more worries.  He would be so good, that even Adam wouldn’t be able to believe it.  He gave a sleepy smile as he thought about how confused his older brother would be when he saw the perfect Joe that he was about to become.

When he opened his eyes again, he realised that he must have been asleep for quite a while.  The sun had shifted quite a distance across the sky and it had turned chilly.  He shivered slightly as he hugged his jacket around him and sat up.  Yawning loudly, he stretched and decided he’d better get home quickly if he was to find some extra chores to do before supper.  He wanted to start straight away to mould himself into the perfect Joe that he was about to become.

As Joe rode into the front yard, he was surprised to see a buggy there, for he hadn’t known that they were expecting visitors.  He had a moment’s worry while he searched his memory to try and think about anyone coming that he might have forgotten about, but came up with nothing.  Remembering that his father had told him to go and enjoy himself, he entered the house without a care in the world.

His mood suddenly changed however, as he looked at the scene in front of him.  George and Lillian were seated in front of the fireplace deep in conversation with Hoss, and when they looked up to greet him he could see the worry on their faces.  ‘Joseph sweetheart,’ said Lillian as she stood and made a step towards him. ‘Come and sit down over here.  We have to talk to you.’

Joe sat down warily, sensing the tension in the room. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked. ‘Whose buggy is that outside?’

Hoss took a deep breath before he replied. ‘It’s Doc Martin’s Joe.’

Joe sprang to his feet. ‘Why’s he here?  Is Adam sick?  Where is he?’

Lillian put a reassuring hand on his arm and pulled him back onto the settee. ‘It’s not Adam dear.  It’s your father.’ Joe stared at her. Pa? Pa was never sick! Lillian put her arm around his shoulder and squeezed it. ‘Don’t worry Joseph I’m sure it’s nothing.  Doctor Martin is just checking him over that’s all.’

Joe turned to Hoss.  ‘What happened to Pa?’ he asked.

Hoss wrung his hands and tried to smile at his brother. ‘He just didn’t feel too well Joe that’s all.  He kinda ….’ He looked at Lillian for reassurance. ‘He kinda had a bad spell, so we thought we’d better get Doc Martin out here ta take a look at him.’

Joe tried to stand up again. ‘I want to see him,’ he said, but Lillian held onto his arm.

‘No dear.  It’s best to stay here with us.  Doctor Martin will come down soon and tell us how he is.’  Joe was about to open his mouth again to protest when he heard the sound of footsteps on the stairs behind him and turned to see Doctor Martin and Adam descending them.

‘He’s resting comfortably,’ said Paul as he sat down. ‘I’ve given him a sedative and he should sleep for quite a while now.’

‘What exactly happened?’ asked Adam. ‘I’ve never seen him like that before.’

‘I’m not sure,’ replied the doctor. ‘It could have been a mild warning from his heart, or even his blood pressure.  I do know however that it is an indication that he needs rest for a while.’  Adam and Hoss both nodded and Joe sat looking at the doctor wide-eyed. ‘I’m sure your father will be fine boys.  He just needs rest to gain his strength back.  I’m afraid you’ll have to manage without him around the ranch for a bit.’

‘Don’t worry about the ranch,’ said Adam. ‘Hoss and I will look after that without any problem.  We’re more concerned with how to look after Pa.’

Hoss nodded. ‘Just tell us what we have ta do Doc.’

‘Your father is to have complete rest.  No talking to him about the ranch business at all, and absolutely no stress about anything else.  He just needs plenty of good food and sleep.’

‘Doc Martin?’ said Joe.

‘Yes Joe?’ the doctor turned to the boy kindly. ‘What is it son?’

‘Can I see him now?’

The doctor shook his head. ‘No Joe, not right now. Your father is sleeping and he mustn’t be disturbed. There’ll be plenty of time to see him tomorrow.’  He stood up. ‘I have to get back to town.  Don’t hesitate to send for me if you need me boys.’  Hoss stood up to see the doctor out, and there was silence in the room as the front door closed.

‘Well,’ George said finally. ‘I think we’d better see about getting some supper, don’t you think?’  He motioned towards Joe meaningfully as he glanced at the others. ‘There’s nothing we can do for Ben now until the morning.’

Adam took the hint. ‘I’ll see if Hop Sing has it ready,’ he said. ‘Come on Joe, you can help me.’  He pulled his younger brother to his feet and propelled him towards the kitchen, leaving George and Lillian remaining by the fireplace.

After a moment George spoke again. ‘I think we’d better extend our trip, don’t you?’

Lillian nodded. ‘Yes.  I can’t leave those boys alone to look after their father at a time like this.  We’d better stay for a bit longer.’  She turned as Adam and Joe re-entered the room. ‘Well boys, let’s see about that supper shall we?’

—————–

Joe put his feet on the floor and stood up. He moved quietly over to the bedroom door and peeped out into the hallway cautiously before leaving his room.  As he entered his father’s room he could hear the quiet sound of his breathing in the darkness and breathed a sigh of relief himself.  As he approached the bed he jumped to hear a voice come from the shadows in the corner.

‘What are you doing here?’

Joe turned to see Adam sitting in a chair by the window. ‘I just wanted ta see Pa Adam.  I wasn’t gonna disturb him. Honest!’

Adam stood up and led his younger brother by the shoulders back to his own room. As he sat him down on his bed and lit the lamp, he noticed the boy’s puffy red eyes and guessed that he had probably been crying for hours. He sat on the bed next to him.  ‘You feel better now that you’ve seen him?’ he asked. Joe nodded. ‘Pa will be fine Joe.  You don’t have to worry about him.’  Joe stared at his brother, and Adam said kindly. ‘I think you should be in bed don’t you?  Come on buddy, in you go.’  He pushed Joe to a lying position and covered him with the blankets.

‘I’m sorry Adam,’ said Joe. ‘I just had ta know if he was OK.’

‘I know buddy, we all do.  That’s why I was sitting up with him I guess.  But it doesn’t do him any good to worry you know.  The best thing you can do for him now is to look after yourself and help me and Hoss while Pa’s sick.’

Joe nodded eagerly. ‘I will,’ he said. ‘I’d already decided ta do that.  There’s lots of stuff I can do around here while Pa’s in bed.  I can stay home from school and…..’

‘No way,’ interrupted Adam. ‘You’re not missing any school.  Pa wouldn’t want you to.’

‘But Adam…’

Adam shook his head. ‘No,’ he said firmly. ‘Hoss and I are quite capable of looking after things around here, and George and Lillian are going to stay for a while longer and be here for Pa.  The best thing you can do is go to school as normal and do some extra chores to help Hoss and me. OK?’

Joe nodded. ‘Yes.’

‘Now go to sleep. When Pa wakes up in the morning you can see him then if he’s up to it.’

Joe nodded again. ‘OK.’  As his older brother turned down the lamp and made to leave the room he called to him. ‘Adam?’

‘Yes?’

‘He’ll be all right won’t he?’

‘Yeah, he’ll be all right Joe.  Now go to sleep.’

Joe rolled over to face the wall and closed his eyes.  As sleep overtook him he said a silent prayer that his father would be all right just as Adam had said.

——————–

‘Can I see him now?’ asked Joe as he finished the last bit of food on his plate. ‘You said after breakfast and I’ve had it now.’

Lillian looked at Adam, who nodded his head slightly. We’ll go up together,’ he said.

Joe sprang up from the table eagerly and moved towards the stairs quickly. Adam grabbed him by the arm. ‘Slowly,’ he cautioned. ‘Remember what the doctor said about him having quiet.’  Joe nodded and mounted the stairs with his brother at a more sedate pace.

As they entered their father’s room Hoss stood up and smiled at them both. ‘He’s just woken up,’ he announced.

Adam looked at their father in the bed and noted the paleness of his skin and the dullness of his eyes. ‘Pa?’ he said tentatively. ‘How are you feeling?’

Ben turned his head towards the sound of his son’s voice. ‘I’ve been better Adam,’ he said. ‘I’m just so tired.’

‘That’s the sedative the doc gave ya Pa,’ said Hoss. ‘He said ya have ta sleep as much as ya can.’

Ben nodded without saying a word.  Adam moved towards the bed and pulled his younger brother forward with him, whispering in his ear as he did so. ‘Don’t talk too much.’

Joe nodded and stood staring at his father.  He had never felt so scared in his whole life standing there looking down at the man he loved more than anything looking so frail and sick.  He felt as if his whole world was falling apart.

‘Pa?’ said Adam. ‘Hop Sing’s bringing you up some breakfast now.  We’re going to leave you so that you can sleep some more.’  Ben nodded but didn’t answer, too weary even to acknowledge the remark.

‘Don’t worry about nothing Pa,’ added Hoss. ‘We’ll take care of everything for ya.’

Ben nodded again.  Joe stepped forward and bent down to kiss his father’s forehead.  Ben opened his eyes and smiled at the boy and nodded his head at him. ‘You be good for your brothers Joseph,’ he said.

‘I will Pa,’ whispered Joe. ‘I’ll be perfect.’

Ben gave a slight smile and closed his eyes again. ‘Come on,’ said Adam as he pushed on Joe’s shoulder, ‘he needs to sleep.’

Chapter 2:

During the next few days Joe tried to be the perfect Joe that he had decided he would be out at the lake.  He did all his chores and some of his brothers’ as well, in order to give them more time to take over their father’s jobs.  He behaved himself at school and even tried to concentrate on his work, to the great delight of Miss Jones who praised him for it. He obeyed his brothers and cousins in every way he knew how, trying to make them understand that he could be responsible and grownup when he wanted to be.

He wasn’t allowed to see his father more than a few minutes at a time, for Ben was still very weak and Doc Martin said needed as much sleep as possible.  However they all realised the boy’s great need to make sure that his father was all right and he was allowed a couple of short visits with him each day.

For the main part, Ben acted much the same each time Joe saw him.  He looked extremely tired and only spoke to the boy a few words, but his colour was getting better and Joe took heart in the fact that everyone seemed pleased with his progress. Towards the end of the week he began to feel as if his father was truly coming back to him, and was very pleased when Adam gave him permission to sit with him for a while on the Saturday morning.

Joe sat quietly next to his father’s bed, not daring to say a word. He was under strict instructions not to disturb his father unless he spoke to him first, and was content to sit and just look at him while he slept.

After a while, Ben opened his eyes and smiled at his son. ‘Joseph,’ he said quietly while holding out his hand. ‘How are you son?’

Joe eagerly sat forward in his chair and held onto his father’s hand. ‘I’m fine Pa.  Are ya feeling better now?’

Ben stretched under the bedclothes. ‘Yes, a lot better.  Seems as if I’ve slept for a week.’

Joe grinned at him. ‘You nearly did.’

Ben frowned. ‘What day is it?’

‘Saturday.’

Ben sighed. ‘Then I guess I have.’  He looked at his son. ‘Have you been behaving yourself?’

‘Sure have Pa.  I haven’t been in trouble once,’ Joe said proudly.

Ben patted him on the arm. ‘Good boy,’ he said. ‘Joe could you do something for me?’

‘Yeah Pa! What?’ asked Joe.

‘Ask Adam or Hoss to come up here if they’re around.  I need to talk to one of them.’

Joe’s face fell. ‘I can get you anything ya need Pa.’

Ben shook his head. ‘No.  Just get one of your brothers for me please.’

As Joe left the room he felt disappointed that his father hadn’t trusted him to do whatever it was that he needed.  He bumped into Hoss in the hallway and told him that his father needed him, and as he stood in the doorway and heard their conversation he felt quite left out.  Pa was asking Hoss about the ranch and how things were going.  They were things that Joe could have answered himself if he’d only been given the chance.  He figured sadly that his father probably didn’t trust him to know these things.

As Hoss left the room he smiled at his little brother. ‘Well short shanks, it looks as if he’s on the mend.’

Joe tried to smile back. ‘Yeah,’ he said as he followed his brother downstairs. But he still don’t want me around! he thought to himself sadly.

—————-

‘Hoss I know what you’re saying, but I still believe it would be the right thing to do,’ said George as they sat around the fireplace. ‘Your father is getting better by the day we all know that, and I’m sure it won’t be long before he’s up back to his usual self.  But the fact remains that he needs a break.  Taking Joseph off his hands for a while will help him immensely.’

‘Pa wouldn’t want ya ta take Little Joe anywhere,’ said Hoss. ‘And Joe won’t stand for it neither.

‘Joe will do as he’s told,’ said Adam.

Hoss turned to his brother. ‘Ya can’t be serious Adam!  Ya don’t agree with this do ya?’

‘It’s not really what I want either Hoss, but we all agree that Pa needs to take it easier for a while.  Anyway, it’s his decision not ours.’

Hoss shook his head. ‘He won’t agree to it.’

‘That’s where I think you’re wrong,’ said George. ‘We already talked to your father about this before he got sick.  He was so worried about how to handle that boy that I think that a part of him wanted to agree to it.’

‘We’re not saying it would be forever Hoss,’ interrupted Lillian. ‘It would be just to give your father a break for a while. Joseph could go to school in San Francisco while he stayed with us, and it would be so good for him to experience the excellent schools in the city.’

‘I agree with that,’ said Adam. ‘It might help him to knuckle down a bit and actually do some work.’

‘I can’t believe ya’re serious,’ said Hoss, standing up. ‘Ya can’t split up this family.’

Lillian looked up at him. ‘Hoss we’re not trying to split up your family.  We’re just trying to offer a temporary solution to help your father out.’

‘Well all this is academic until we talk to Pa about it,’ said Adam. ‘And that won’t be for a while yet. Come on Hoss don’t get uptight about it.’

Joe sat on the top step in his nightshirt listening to the conversation below, and wondered what he should do.  He felt so upset to hear them talk in this way about him, and he wanted to go downstairs and yell at them all.  There was no way he wanted to leave The Ponderosa!  This was his home and he’d never lived anywhere else.  Besides, leaving his Pa and his brothers was more than he could bear to think about.  But on the other hand, if Pa wanted him to go away and needed a break from him, then maybe he had to do it.

He had tried so hard during the past few days to behave himself, and yet it hadn’t seemed to make any difference to anyone.  Pa still didn’t seem to want him around, and Adam wanted him to go away too.  Only Hoss wanted him to stay!  He felt very unloved and unwanted as he sat on the top step thinking about his choices.  It wasn’t that he didn’t like George and Lillian and to see San Francisco would be great, but he’d always thought that he’d do that with his father and brothers.  Now they were just trying to send him there by himself it didn’t feel the same.

He wondered what Pa would say when they asked him?  Joe knew that whatever Pa wanted would happen, and at the moment he honestly didn’t know what his answer would be.  Maybe he would really want Joe to go, but he wouldn’t want to hurt his feelings and tell him so?  Maybe Joe would need to tell his Pa that he really wanted to go so that he wouldn’t feel bad about sending him away? He just didn’t know what to think anymore!

——————–

Ben sat on the front porch and breathed the scent of the pines deeply into his lungs.  He had missed that smell so much while he had been inside.  He was a man not used to taking it easy and was rarely, if ever sick, in his life, so the past week had been something that he had found hard to handle.  Not that he’d had much choice though.  Paul had made it abundantly clear that he was to follow orders and George, Lillian and the boys had forced him to obey the doctor’s instructions.  Now after ten day’s rest he felt nearly back to his old self and ready to face the world again.

He smiled as he thought about all the fussing he’d had to endure from them all. George and Lillian had been kindness itself, and the boys – well he couldn’t move without one of them hovering over him like a mother hen.  Now he knew how he must have seemed to them when they were sick all those times.  Adam and Hoss had run the ranch extremely efficiently and he was proud of the way they had done so.  And Joseph had behaved himself perfectly.

He stretched back in his chair and looked around him. Yes life was beginning to look much better!  He turned sharply as he heard footsteps behind him, and smiled to see Adam standing there with two cups of coffee in his hands.  ‘I thought you might like this,’ he said.

‘Thank you,’ said Ben reaching for the cup. ‘I was just thinking how much better I feel.’

Adam sat down on the porch next to his father. ‘That’s great Pa, but you still don’t want to overdo it.  Remember what Paul said.’

Ben put his hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘Am I this bad with all you boys when you’re sick?’

Adam returned his smile. ‘Worse,’ he said. ‘But seriously Pa, you really have to take it easy for a while.  Let Hoss and I do most of the things around here.  We’re quite capable of it you know.’

Ben nodded. ‘Yes I do know son, and I’m sorry if I don’t always show my trust in you.  Rest assured that I’ll let you carry on for a while longer. And what about your brother Joe?  Do you think he’s prepared to behave himself like this forever?’  He laughed. ‘Somehow I don’t think so.’

Adam took another sip of his coffee. ‘Pa, that’s something we need to talk about,’ he said.

Ben frowned. ‘Don’t tell me he’s started already.  What’s he done now?’

‘No.  It’s nothing like that. ‘It’s just that George and Lillian told us that they’d offered to take Joe for a while with them to San Francisco. Have you given any more thought about that since you’ve been sick?’

Ben frowned. ‘No I haven’t,’ he replied. ‘Why should I?’

‘Well if you have to take it easy, then we just thought that maybe it would one solution.’

‘I don’t think so,’ replied his father. ‘Joseph belongs here. I’m not about to let him go and live elsewhere.’

Adam looked at his father. ‘I know what you mean Pa.  None of us really want him to go, but it could be for the best.’

‘What?’

‘Well, you know all the trouble he’s been in at school lately.  He’s nearly about to be suspended.  There are some excellent schools in San Francisco and a year or two in one of them might just be the makings of him.  Plus there’s his behaviour here as well.  Even when you’re well it’s too much at times.  You must admit that!’

‘What makes you think he’d be any better in San Francisco with George and Lillian?’

‘Well Lillian has the time for him for one thing.’

Ben leant forward in his chair. ‘I have always had the time for Joseph,’ he said. ‘I’ve given all you boys the time you needed.’

‘I know you have Pa.  I’m not meaning this to sound as a criticism, but at what expense?  You’ve raised three of us practically single-handedly, and look at what it’s done to you.  When was the last time you had any time for yourself?  When was the last time you had time for your own life?’

‘Adam, you boys are my life.  You are enough for me.’

Adam smiled at his father. ‘That’s really nice to hear Pa, but I think it’s time you started to think about yourself for a change. How many times after all would you get the opportunity to help yourself a bit and also Joe?  The experience of living in San Francisco would do him the world of good.’

Ben was silent. ‘Joe wouldn’t want to go,’ he said after a few moments. ‘He’d want to stay here with us.’

‘Well why don’t you ask him?’

Ben hesitated. ‘What does Hoss think about this?’ he asked.

‘Well you know Hoss. He doesn’t want him to go of course. Neither do I for that matter Pa, I just think it might be for the best for a while though.’

There was silence as the two men drank their coffee, each with their own thoughts.  ‘Well I might see what Joe thinks about it,’ said Ben after a while. ‘I’ll just test the waters so to speak.’  There was silence again.

——————–

‘It’s time for bed Joe,’ said his father, looking up from his book.

‘Aw Pa!  Just one more game!’ said Joe.  ‘Hoss needs ta win at least one before we finish.’

Hoss glared at him. ‘Don’t ya worry about me, thanks very much!  I can win one whenever I like.’

Joe grinned at him. ‘Yeah?  Well why don’t ya then?’ he asked.

‘Joseph, I said it was time for bed,’ repeated his father.

Joe opened his mouth to argue again, but caught the look in his father’s eye and shut it. ‘Good night everyone,’ he sighed as he stood up and turned towards the staircase.  They watched him as he ascended them as slowly as he could, exaggerating each step as if it was all too much for him.

‘I’d like to see that boy obey an instruction just once without arguing,’ said Ben, shaking his head. ‘It seems like the perfect Joseph is disappearing and we’re getting back to normal again.’

‘I knew it’d be too good to last,’ laughed Adam. ‘Nice while it did though.’

‘He’s not a bad boy,’ said Lillian. ‘We’d still be glad to have him. Have you decided yet Ben?’

Ben shook his head. ‘No, I haven’t spoken about it to him yet. I will though.  Excuse me while I go and make sure that he’s actually in bed and not hanging out of the window or something equally dramatic.’

As Ben entered his son’s bedroom, he was pleased to see he was actually in bed. Sitting on the edge of the bed he stroked his hair off his forehead and asked, ‘Did you wash?’

Joe scrunched up his eyes. ‘Kinda,’ he said, looking at the bedclothes.

Ben raised his eyebrows. ‘Kinda?’

‘Well, not exactly,’ Joe admitted. He looked at his father and then sighed as he got out of bed and walked to the basin.  Ben watched as he washed his face and hands, and then climbed back into bed again.

‘Joe, there’s been something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.’

Joe looked at his father fearfully. ‘I ain’t done nothing,’ he said.

‘I didn’t say you had,’ replied his father. ‘I wanted to talk to you about an idea that George and Lillian had.’ Joe tried to look nonchalant, sensing what was coming. ‘They’ve enjoyed being here at The Ponderosa,’ continued his father, ‘but it’s time for them to go back home now.  They were wondering if you might like to go and stay in San Francisco with them for a while.’

Joe lay silently in the bed, not knowing what to say. ‘Why?’ he said finally.

‘Well, because they like you. You could go to school there for a while and see all the sights of San Francisco.  You like George and Lillian don’t you?’

Joe nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said. When his father didn’t say anything else he added, ‘How long would it be for?’

‘I don’t know.  Maybe a year or so,’ Ben replied.

Joe fiddled with the bedcovers rather than meet his father’s eyes. He really wants me to go!  He doesn’t want me around here any more!  More than anything he wanted to ask his father’s opinion and hear him say that he wanted him to stay, but he was sure that it wasn’t the case, so he merely said instead, ‘I don’t know. I’ll have ta think about it.’

Ben was startled. He was sure that the suggestion would result in an angry outburst from the boy, and found it difficult to understand why he wasn’t objecting to it. ‘Are you sure you want to think about it?’ he asked gently. ‘I didn’t think you’d want to leave.’ Joe shrugged his shoulders and didn’t say anything.  What do you say to a father who wants to get rid of you after all? Ben patted him on the head. ‘Well, you think about it if that’s what you want,’ he said.

Joe looked at his father, the question unspoken on his lips. ‘OK Pa,’ he said. ‘Night.’

‘Goodnight son.’ Ben patted him on the head again and turned towards the door puzzled. Never would he have thought the boy would react in this way.  Maybe Adam was right and it was for the best?  After all Joe seemed to want to go, and who was he to stand in the boy’s way if he felt like that?  He closed the door and turned down the hallway sadly.  He would miss the child so much, but maybe it was meant to be.

—————–

For the next day or so, nothing was said about the proposal.  Both Ben and Joe waited for the other one to mention it, and when neither did they each took it for granted that the other one was still thinking about it. Joe watched his father carefully, and noticed that he seemed a bit distant.Probably getting used ta not having me around already!  He doesn’t care if I go.

For his part, Ben watched the boy and noticed the thoughtful look in his eye.  Maybe Joseph was keen to go?  After all he was a boy who had always craved doing and seeing things, and maybe the lure of San Francisco was all too much for him?  Ben had all but decided to bring the subject up with his son when the boy presented himself at his desk one morning.

‘Pa?’ he said tentatively.

‘Yes Joe?’

‘I’ve been thinking about going ta San Francisco,’ he continued.

‘Yes?’

Joe took a deep breath. ‘I think I’d like ta go,’ he said looking at his father carefully to gauge his reaction to his decision.

Ben was startled, but tried not to show it for his son’s sake. ‘Joe, are you sure?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ Joe lied. ‘I’m sure.’

‘Why son?  Why do you want to go?’ Ben tried not to look concerned.

Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘I dunno.  Just ta see things I spose.’  It was the best that he could come up with.  He stood quietly in front of his father, willing him to object to his decision and beg him to stay.

Ben beckoned his son around the desk towards him.  He held onto his shoulders as he said. ‘Are you sure that’s what you want Joe?’ He breathed deeply as the boy nodded his head at him. ‘All right, but remember this.  If you change your mind at any time you just get George to send me a wire and I’ll come and get you.  Understand?’

Joe nodded again, his heart breaking at the ease in which his father was letting him go. He must have really been a bigger worry to him than he had even imagined. He closed his eyes as his father held him in a tight embrace, trying to stop the tears from falling.

—————–

‘Here ya go Charlie,’ said Hoss as he lifted the piece luggage up to the stagecoach driver. ‘That’s the last of em.’

Joe watched with a lump in his throat as his bag was put up with the others.  It made it all seem so final to see it up there ready for the trip.  He had spent the last few days hoping that his father would change his mind and beg him to stay, and had gone to bed each night sobbing into his pillow when it hadn’t happened.  Now that they were about to say their final farewells he tried desperately to keep his emotions in check, not wanting to show any weakness in front of his father and his brothers.  He didn’t want them to ask him to stay out of pity, and he was determined not to hang around where he wasn’t wanted even if it hurt more than he could bear.

Ben watched his son carefully.  He seemed very anxious, but that was to be expected.  After all, Joseph had never travelled away from home so far without either his father or his brothers with him, and Ben was sure that the boy was feeling more worried than he was trying to let on.  He put his arm around the boy’s thin shoulder and squeezed it for a moment, trying to get him to look at him.

But Joe was avoiding his father’s eyes at any costs.  He felt that if he made any kind of connection with him that he would weaken and beg to stay, and he was determined not to do that.  So he tried to appear nonchalant and excited about the trip and it wasn’t until the final farewells that he let his guard slip a little.  When Hoss bent down to hug him he clung onto him tightly for a moment and then let go abruptly.  ‘Hey shortshanks, ya make sure ya write ta us won’t ya?’ his brother asked with tears in his eyes. ‘We want ta know everything about what ya doing.’  Joe could only nod at him, not wanting to trust his voice.

He turned to Adam and gave him a tight hug as well. Adam was startled at the intensity that he felt in the boy’s body, and held him back at arms length for a moment to study his face. ‘You OK Joe?’ he asked.

Joe swallowed and tried to look as if he didn’t have a care in the world. ‘Yeah!’ he said. ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’

Adam ruffled his hair. ‘No reason little buddy,’ he said. ‘You behave yourself now, you hear?’  Joe nodded and hugged his brother again.  Adam let him cling onto him for a few moments, and it wasn’t until he sensed his father come up beside them that he stepped backwards. ‘Bye Joe,’ he said softly as he handed him over to his father.

Ben held his son in a tight embrace, determined not to show how much he was hurting. After a few moments he said. ‘Now you remember Joseph, all you need to do is tell George that you want to come home, and I’ll be there to get you. Understand son?’ Joe nodded and bit his lip. Ben put his hand under his son’s chin and held his head up so that they were looking into each other’s eyes. He frowned to see the look in the green eyes as they stared into his. ‘Joe?’ he said. ‘Are you sure about this?’  Joe nodded again.

‘It’s time to go,’ said George from behind them. ‘Thank you Ben for a wonderful holiday.  Don’t worry about the boy, we’ll look after him.’

Ben held his hand out to shake the other man’s. ‘I know you will.  Thank you George.’ He squeezed his son’s shoulders again before he said with forced brightness. ‘You’re going to have a wonderful trip.  Now you behave yourself Joseph!’  He let go of the boy and pushed him gently towards the stagecoach.

Joe took a step forward, then turned and hugged his father again tightly around the waist. ‘Bye Pa,’ he managed to say.

Ben closed his eyes as he put his hands on the boy’s head. ‘Bye son,’ he said softly. ‘Don’t forget that we’ll be up to visit soon.’

Lillian stepped forward and gently eased the boy away from his father and helped him up into the stagecoach. ‘Come on Joseph,’ she said. ‘Its time to go.’

Adam and Hoss stood on either side of their father and they all waved to the stagecoach as it travelled down the street.  They watched Joe’s hand waving back at them from the window, each feeling an emptiness in their stomachs as they watched the boy depart.

He’ll be OK Pa,’ said Adam. ‘He’ll have a wonderful time.’

Ben nodded at him and tried to smile, but in reality he was holding back tears. ‘I know he will,’ he said simply and turned towards his horse with a sigh.

 

Part 2

Joe sat and stared at the book in front of him trying to concentrate on the words on the page, but found his thoughts kept drifting off onto other things.  He sighed as he realised just how much of his homework he hadn’t done and knew that he would probably be kept in at lunchtime again tomorrow.  Not that he worried about that much, as he didn’t have any friends anyway and the playground was usually a lonely place for him at the best of times.

He missed so many things from home that it was hard to keep track of just how many there were.  Thoughtfully, he took a piece of paper from his notebook and began to write a list, thinking it might make him feel better.  First of all he wrote his father’s name and then his brothers’ names underneath.  He missed them so much that it hurt to think about it, and so he quickly went onto the next thing on his list without dwelling on them.  He wrote the name of his horse next, Cochise.  He really missed riding whenever he felt like it.  At home he could get on Cochise every day and even if he wasn’t allowed to roam the ranch at least he had the opportunity to ride him to and from school.  He really enjoyed taking care of him too, and that was one chore that he never minded doing.  Here in San Francisco cousin George had a few horses, but they were mostly for pulling the carriage and if he wanted to ride he had to wait for the weekend and pick a time when his uncle was available to go with him.  There just weren’t so many places you could ride a horse around the city, and so they would have to go to the outskirts, and that meant a bit of organising well in advance.

The school where he had been enrolled was only a few blocks away, so Joe usually walked to and from there each day.  Sometimes Cousin Lillian came to meet him but he preferred it when she didn’t, for it was usually the only time he truly got to be by himself.  Apart from up here in his room.

Joe looked around at his bedroom.  It was light and airy and was on the top floor with a window that faced the harbour.  His favourite occupation was sitting in the window box and watching the ships coming in and out, trying to imagine where they were going to or coming from.  He often asked if he could go down to the harbour to get a closer look, but had to wait until George or Lillian was available to take him.

It seemed like there wasn’t anywhere he was allowed to go by himself, and he missed the freedom he had had at home.  He missed the wide-open spaces and the lake and his friends and…… he glanced down at his list, which had nearly covered the whole page now and sighed.  It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy the city, and Cousin George and Cousin Lillian were really nice to him, but it just wasn’t home!

They had tried hard to include him in things that they thought he would be interested in.  He had seen lots of interesting places around the city and been thrilled with most of them.  He had lots to do to keep himself busy, but … he was still lonely.

He tried his hardest to be helpful and polite the way he knew his father would expect him to be, and he had mostly been successful.  It was fairly easy to be like that here at ….. he didn’t know what to call it here at his cousin’s house.  They referred to it as home, but it just didn’t feel like it to him.  Yes, it was easy to behave here, but it certainly wasn’t so easy at school.

He sighed again when he thought about school.  He had never been one to enjoy school that was for sure, but at least back home when things got bad he could do a bit of work and pick his standard up with a minimal effort.  But here….. well things here were just beyond him!

The school he had been enrolled in was an all boys’ school with a very good reputation and a high standard.  So everyone kept telling him anyway!  The problem was that they all expected him to be up to that standard too, and he knew that he wasn’t.  For a start they had different teachers for each subjects, not just the one teacher like he had with Miss Jones.  Some of the teachers were very strict as well, and they all demanded his attention at all times. There was no gazing out of the window and using flimsy excuses with these teachers that was for sure.

Joe found it all too much, especially as they expected him to know about subjects he had never learnt before as well. Not only was he expected to know all about Maths and History, but also now he was supposed to be learning about Geography and some language called Latin.  It was all too confusing!

He wished that Adam were here to help him with all this work.  It seemed that the more he tried the more behind he got, and the other boys just treated him like an idiot.  They seemed to think that because he was from the country he didn’t know anything, but if the truth were told Joe didn’t really blame them.  He appeared not to know anything by their standards anyway.

He turned as he heard a voice behind him. ‘Joseph?  Are you ready for supper dear?’

Cousin Lillian was standing behind him, smiling.  He smiled back at her, glad to have an excuse to stop looking at the page in front of him. ‘Yes, I’m coming,’ he said.

She put her arm around him as they descended the stairs and joined George at the table.  Well young man, what have you been up to today?’ asked George pleasantly.

Joe shrugged his shoulders.  ‘Nothing much,’ he said.

‘How was school?’

Joe shrugged again. ‘All right I guess.’

George and Lillian exchanged a look. ‘Have you made any friends yet dear?’ Lillian asked.

‘Some,’ replied Joe, wishing they would change the subject.  He didn’t want them to know the problems he was having at school, because he feared that they would try to interfere.

‘Joe dear, I’ve had an idea,’ said Lillian. Joe looked at her warily. ‘A friend of mine is coming to visit on Saturday and I’ve asked her to bring her son to meet you.  Won’t that be nice?’

Joe shrugged his shoulders again. ‘I guess so,’ he said. ‘What’s this kid like?’

‘He’s a lovely boy.  He’s a year or so younger than you of course, but I think you’ll get on.  His name is Tobias.’

Joe made a face. ‘Tobias?  What kind of name is that?’

‘It’s a lovely name,’ said Lillian. ‘Now I do hope that you’ll be polite to him dear.  Tobias has lived in San Francisco all his life, so I’m sure that if you get on he’d love to help show you around.’

‘Yeah OK,’ said Joe without much enthusiasm.  He sighed a he picked up his fork. As if life wasn’t bad enough!  Now he had some city kid to try and be polite to as well!

—————–

‘Joseph Cartwright!  Did you hear what I said?’  Joe jerked his head up at the sound of his name and stared at Mr Conner in front of him.

‘Sir?’ he said, and flinched at the sound of the boys’ laughter behind him. As usual he had been trying to keep up with the lesson, but had found it so boring that his thoughts had begun to wander. Instead of concentrating on the map in front on him he had occupied his mind with thoughts of Cochise and wondering what he might be doing.

‘I asked you the capital of Missouri?’ repeated Mr Conner.

Um….. Cincinnati?’ Joe took a stab at it, and then jumped as the ruler in the teacher’s hand came down on his knuckles.

‘Did you study the Capital Cities at all last night?’ asked Mr Conner again.

‘Um….. sort of,’ replied Joe.

‘Well you didn’t learn them very well did you?’

Joe didn’t think an answer for this was required, so he sat silently and looked at the man hoping he would move on to someone else.  His hopes were dashed when Mr Conner  said, ‘Stand up please.  We’ll see how much just did sink in to that head of yours shall we?’

Joe sighed and stood up, dreading what was coming next. ‘Capital of Pennsylvania?’ asked the teacher.

‘New York?’  More laughter from the others made Joe turn red.

‘Massachusetts.’

That one he knew thanks to Adam. ‘Boston,’ he said confidently.

‘Better. Delaware?’

Um…..Chicago?’

The teacher shook his head. ‘It seems that you might benefit from an hour’s study of these at lunchtime!’

Joe looked at the floor. ‘Yes sir,’ he mumbled.

‘What was that?’

‘Yes sir,’ he said louder this time.  The laughter around him increased as he sat down and stared at his desk.  So he’d miss out on lunchtime again – what did it matter?  He stared at the book in front of him and tried to concentrate on it, but was interrupted by a voice behind him.  He turned to see William Matthews smiling at him.

‘Dummy!’ he whispered.

Joe glared at him. ‘You shut up!’ he said.

‘What was that Joseph?’ asked Mr Conner from the front of the room. ‘Did you speak?’

Joe looked at him silently.

‘I asked if you spoke?’ repeated the teacher.

‘Yes sir,’ Joe replied.

‘What did you say?’

Joe stared at him.

‘Stand up and tell the class what you said,’ ordered Mr Conner.

Joe stood up and faced the man. ‘Shut up,’ he said looking directly at him.

‘Are you telling me to shut up?’ thundered the teacher.

Joe shook his head. ‘I told William to shut up, but you said to say it so I guess I’m telling you too.’

Mr Conner took two strides down between the desks and held onto Joe’s ear as he pulled him forward. ‘I’ve had just about enough of your insolence!’ he thundered at him. ‘Hold out your hand!’

Joe did as he was told and tried not to flinch as the leather strap came down upon his palm over and over again. Finally it stopped and he looked at the man in front of him angrily.  ‘Now sit down and don’t open your mouth again unless I tell you to!’ Mr Conner said.

Joe sat down and hugged his aching hand close to his waist as he tried to concentrate on the class around him.  What had he done wrong?  He had only answered the question that he’d been asked, and he couldn’t understand why everyone was bound and determined to see him in trouble all the time.

—————-

‘Joseph this is Tobias,’ said Lillian as she beckoned him forward.

Joe smiled ruefully at the other boy. He was supposedly younger than Joe, but looked physically bigger.  He was dressed in a brown suit with his blond hair slicked down carefully and looked Joe up and down with an amused expression on his face.

‘Hello,’ said Joe holding out his hand.

‘Hello,’ said Tobias ignoring it.

‘Would you like to take Tobias up to your room and show him around now dear?’ asked Lillian.

Joe shrugged and figured he didn’t have much of a choice.  He didn’t like the look of the boy, but didn’t quite know why. ‘He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Come on,’ he said.

As they entered his room he motioned to a chair. ‘You can sit down if ya like,’ he said.

The two boys sat and looked at each other for a few moments. Joe was the first one to break the silence. ‘So where do you go ta school Toby?’

Tobias looked at him and frowned. ‘My name is Tobias,’ he said.

Joe shrugged. ‘Yeah whatever,’ he said.

‘So I believe you’re not from around here,’ said Tobias. ‘Exactly where you do you come from?’

‘Nevada,’ said Joe.

Tobias looked at him incredulously. ‘Are you serious?’ he said.  ‘And just how did you end up here?’

‘What do ya mean?  Of course I’m serious, why wouldn’t I be?’ answered Joe indignantly. ‘This is my cousin’s house.’

Tobias snorted. ‘Well they’re very good to have you here,’ he said.

Joe put his chin up and looked at the other boy belligerently. ‘What’s that supposed ta mean?’ he asked.

‘Well it’s obvious you’re not exactly….. well shall we say……born and bred here.  It must be quite difficult for your cousins to teach you how to behave in polite society.’

Joe stared at the other boy with his mouth open. ‘You’ve got ta be kidding!’ he said. ‘You sit there and talk about being polite and you say something like that?’

Tobias went red. ‘Well at least I’m not a ruffian like you,’ he said. ‘What does your father do anyway? Work on one of those ranches or something?’

‘As a matter of fact he does,’ said Joe. ‘He owns one of the biggest ranches around.  It’s called The ….’

Tobias put up his hand. ‘I don’t really care what it’s called,’ he said. ‘I don’t have much interest in things like that.’

Joe made a face at him. ‘Yeah well I guessed that already,’ he said, resisting an urge to grab the boy. ‘What do ya like then?’

‘Oh I don’t know. Riding is an interest of mine.’

‘I’m a good rider,’ said Joe.

Tobias gave him a dark look. ‘I’m talking about proper riding.  Not that roughshod riding you cowboys do,’ he said. ‘I sit a horse in the correct way.’

Joe snorted. ‘Really?  Well I could outride you any day Toby!’

‘I told you before my name is Tobias.’

‘Yeah I know you did Toby,’ grinned Joe. ‘So what?’

Tobias stood up. ‘I don’t think this is going to be a very successful afternoon,’ he said. ‘I think I’ll return downstairs to my mother now.’

‘Yeah fine,’ replied Joe. ‘You go down to mama Toby.  Don’t let me stop ya.’

Tobias gave him another dark look as he moved to open the door. ‘Well at least I have a mother,’ he said. ‘I believe yours died.’

Joe went red and clenched his fists. ‘So what if she did?’ he said. ‘What’s it to you?’

‘Nothing to me,’ said Tobias. ‘Although the way I hear it everyone was glad when she did.  She wasn’t good enough for your father I believe.  So everyone says anyway.’

Joe hit him square on the nose before he could say another word. ‘Don’t you dare say that!  Who’s everyone anyway?’

Tobias put his hand up to his nose.  ‘How dare you!’ he yelled. ‘Don’t you dare lay a hand on me! You’re just a country clod!’

‘Yeah?  Well I’ll show ya a country clod!’ yelled Joe and landed another punch on the boy’s eye. ‘Take that back to ya mama!’ He flung himself on top of the other boy and started hitting him. Suddenly the door opened and Lillian and Tobias’ mother came into the room.

‘Joseph! Get off Tobias!’ called Lillian as she bent down to grab hold of his arms. ‘Get off him Joseph!’

Joe looked up at her and instantly regretted what he had done. He stood up and looked at Tobias who was lying on the floor snivelling, and watched as his mother helped him up and cuddled him to her. Lillian stood beside him. ‘Just what was this all about?’ she asked.

Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘Ask him,’ he said.

‘I think it’s obvious what happened here,’ said Tobias’ mother. ‘We’ll leave before this…… this child can do any more damage to my son!’  And without another word she flounced from the room pulling Tobias behind her.

Lillian gave Joe a sad look and said quietly,’ I think you’d better stay here until your cousin George gets home Joseph,’ she said, and closed the door as she left the room.

Joe stood for a moment to catch his breath and then flung himself down on his bed.  It didn’t matter anyway!  Nothing mattered!  Now George and Lillian wouldn’t want him around here anymore just like ……  He closed his eyes and thought about his father. He missed him so much!  Even now when he was in trouble he missed him.  Pa would have been so angry about what had just happened.  He would have come in and lectured Joe about keeping his temper, and then given him a tanning.  After that he would have been expected to go and apologize to Tobias.

Just as well Pa’s not here, he thought. Other wise he’d be getting all sick again cause I keep getting into trouble. Anyway, he’d be glad I’m not home causing all this trouble.  He doesn’t want me there anyways!

He sat turned his face into the pillow and sobbed quietly for a few minutes, feeling very sorry for himself.  He felt so unwanted!  Even his own father didn’t want him any more!  He decided it was a terrible thing to be alone and unwanted in the world.

——————

‘Pa?’ said Hoss tapping his father on the shoulder. ‘Hop Sing said that supper is ready.’

‘What?’ Ben looked up from gazing at the fire in front of him. ‘Oh yes.  Thank you son.’ He stood and walked to the table, while Hoss and Adam exchanged a look.

‘So did you get everything on the list this morning?’ asked Adam, trying to make conversation.

‘Nope.  They was all out of flour again,’ replied Hoss. ‘Hop Sing’s not too happy.’

Adam smiled.  ‘He’ll get over it,’ he said, and then stopped as he saw the cook enter with another platter. Hop Sing glared at him and banged it down on the table.

Hoss grinned as he helped himself to a generous serving of potatoes. ‘Abigail Jones was in there.  She asked about ya Adam.’

Adam snorted.  ‘Well at least she can’t trap me into talking about Joe now that…..’  he stopped.  ‘Now that he’s not around.’  He glanced at his father who sat silently eating and noticed the look he gave to the empty chair beside them. ‘Pa, I’m sure he’s fine,’ he said.

Ben didn’t need to ask just whom his son referred to. ‘I’m sure he is too,’ he said, but his look didn’t match his words. ‘At least he sounded fine in his last letter.’

‘And George and Lillian said that he’s doing well.’

‘How would they know?’ said Hoss. ‘Do ya really think Joe’d let on if he wasn’t?  You know how stubborn that kid can be. I still think that one of us should go and check on him.’

‘Hoss we’ve been through this before,’ said his father. ‘He’s only been gone a couple of weeks.  How would it look if we all went traipsing up there so soon?’  He shook his head. ‘No, I’m sure he’s all right.’

There was silence for a few moments while they all ate, each with his own thoughts. After a moment Adam broke the silence. ‘You know Pa I think those timber contracts should be checked don’t you?’

Ben looked at him. ‘I’m sure they’re fine Adam.’

‘No I mean they should be checked out with our lawyers in San Francisco.  I could go up there and do it for you if you like.’

Ben smiled at him. ‘I suppose that might be a good idea,’ he said.  ‘And if you’re up there you could drop in and see George and Lillian.’

‘Yes I could.  And Joe too of course while I’m there,’ replied Adam. ‘I could go on Thursday’s stage if you like.’

Ben patted his son’s arm. ‘I think that would be a good idea Adam,’ he said.

—————-

‘So did you get to the bottom of it?’ asked Adam leaning back on the couch and stretching his long legs forward.

‘I think so,’ replied Lillian pouring him another cup of coffee.  ‘It seems that Tobias had been teasing him about a few things. ‘He was quite upset.’

‘Still, that’s no reason to hit the boy,’ said Adam with a frown. ‘Pa wouldn’t be too impressed with him doing it I can assure you.’

‘I know.  That’s why George spoke to Joseph about it. He let him know in no uncertain terms that his behaviour wasn’t going to be condoned here.’ She smiled at Adam. ‘Joseph is going to be so excited that you’ve come Adam. How long can you stay?’

‘Just a couple of days. I suppose you’ve worked out that this trip is a bit of an excuse.’

Lillian smiled again. ‘Oh really?  I never would have known!’

Adam grinned at her and then turned his head at the sound of the front door opening.

Lillian stood up and walked across the room. ‘That will be Joseph home from school,’ she said.  She greeted the boy as he entered the room. ‘Joseph dear, you have a special visitor.’

Joe looked at her puzzled for a moment and then his eyes darted across the room to where his brother sat grinning at him. ‘Hello Joe,’ said Adam. Joe practically ran across the room and flung himself at his brother.  Adam landed back on the edge of the chair with the force of his brother’s body and laughed over the top of his head as he hugged him.  ‘Well that’s a fine welcome,’ he said. ‘It’s nice to know I’ve been missed.’

Joe sat back and grinned at him. ‘Hi Adam,’ he said. ‘Are Pa and Hoss with ya?’

Adam pretended to look hurt. ‘No they’re not,’ he said. ‘Why? Aren’t I enough for you?’

‘Of course you are!’ said Joe. ‘How long are ya here for?’

‘Only a couple of days.  I came to do some business for Pa, so I thought I’d check up on you while I’m here to see if you’ve been behaving yourself.’

Joe glanced across at Lillian, the memory of George’s talk with him still fresh in his mind. But she smiled at them both and said. ‘I’m sure that Joseph will tell you all the about the things he has been seeing and doing while he’s been here.  He’s got lots to tell you about school haven’t you Joseph?’

Joe smiled at her relieved. ‘Yes I do,’ he said.  ‘There’s a different teacher for each subject Adam, not like at home.  And there’s different subjects too, and when we…..’

Adam put up his hand. ‘Hold on!  I don’t think Lillian meant right this minute,’ he laughed. He turned to Lillian. ‘Seeing as tomorrow is Saturday, how about I take this youngster off your hands and go somewhere with him?  That way we’ll have the chance to talk about things.’  He turned to his brother. ‘How about it Joe?  I s there somewhere you’d like to go?’

Joe’s eyes shone. ‘Can we go to Ocean Beach?  I haven’t been there yet and I really want to see the Pacific Ocean.’

‘All right.  Ocean Beach it is,’ said Adam with a smile.  He ruffled his brothers curls and tried to wriggle free of his grasp, but Joe held onto him tightly. ‘Hey let go, you’re squashing me,’ he said.  ‘You haven’t missed me that much have you?’

Joe reluctantly let go of him and shrugged, trying to look casual about it all. ‘Nah. I ain’t missed ya at all really,’ he said, and then laughed. ‘Well maybe just a little bit.’

—————-

The two brothers sat side by side on the top of the cliff looking out over the expanse of churning water in front of them.  The strong ocean breeze whipped up their hair and cause them both to tuck their arms around their waists and hold their jackets to their bodies tightly.  ‘Look at those rocks over there Joe,’ said Adam pointing to the outcrops that pierced through the water and pointed heavenwards.  ‘Just think how long the ocean has been swirling around them for.’

Joe glanced at them, then fixed his gaze once again on the vast expanse of water.  So if we went straight out across here we’d get to China at the end?’ he asked.

‘Well actually you’d get to the islands of Japan first,’ replied his brother.  ‘But China is in that general direction, yes.’

‘How long would it take ta get there?’ asked Joe, expecting Adam to have all the answers as usual.

‘Weeks,’ his brother replied. ‘Why don’t you ask Hop Sing?  He’s done it.’

‘Oh yeah, I guess he has,’ said Joe thoughtfully.  ‘Adam, did Pa ever sail on the Pacific Ocean?’

‘No, just the Atlantic I think.  I don’t know that he ever went around the Horn. Why don’t you ask him?’

‘Mmm, I will in my next letter,’ Joe replied.

‘So how has it been going then?  Are you enjoying living with George and Lillian?’ asked Adam, looking carefully at his brother’s face to gauge his reply.

Joe kept his expression carefully under control. ‘Yeah, they’re nice.’

‘And how about school?’

Joe shrugged. ‘It’s OK.’

‘Really?  You never liked school before,’ replied his brother.

‘Yeah well, I ain’t changed my opinion about it much either,’ replied Joe. ‘It’s harder here too.’

Adam nodded. ‘Yes, well it would be.  Are you coping with it?’

Joe shrugged again. ‘I guess.’

Adam interpreted that to mean the exact opposite.  Many years of reading his brothers’ body language was coming in handy to him. ‘So why’s it so hard then?’

Joe looked at him for a moment, and then the words came tumbling out. ‘Well they’re just so strict!  We get so much homework, and I just can’t understand it all!  There’s subjects I’ve never done before too and they all expect me to know about them!  I can’t help it if I don’t!’

Adam nodded. ‘I know how you feel.’

Joe stared at him. ‘How would you know?’ he asked. ‘You always knew everything at school.’

Adam shook his head. ‘No Joe, I didn’t.  Don’t forget it was years before I even got to go to a proper school.  When I did I admit I did pretty well, but when I went away to College it was a different story.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes.  I thought I was doing pretty well, but when I came across all the others who had been to schools back east all their lives, well……. let’s just say it was hard at first to keep up.’

But you did so well at College!’  said Joe amazed.

‘Yes, but not at first.  And it took a lot of hard work I can tell you.  It didn’t just happen overnight, that’s for sure.’

Joe studied his brother for a moment with a fresh look.  It was strange to think of Adam having to struggle with anything in his life.  He had always seemed so perfect to Joe.  Someone who had always known all the answers!

‘So you see,’ Adam continued. ‘If you want to succeed you just have to take things from where you are and work on it.  I’m not saying it’s easy, but you’ll do all right if you work at it.  You do work don’t you?’

Joe looked away from him. ‘Well…….  most of the time.’

Adam raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.  After a moment he said, ‘Have you made friends?’

Joe was silent.  How could he tell his brother that he didn’t think anyone liked him?  Joe had always been used to being the most popular boy around, and he found it hard to take when he was placed in a position where no one knew him and he had to establish himself from nothing.

‘Joe?’  Adam asked again.

‘No one special,’ he finally said.

Adam drew a deep breath. ‘Well don’t worry, you will.  That takes time too.  You’ve only been here a couple of weeks Joe, give it time.’

Joe nodded, unconvinced. ‘Sure,’ he said.  He lifted his head. ‘So how are Pa and Hoss?’

‘They’re fine. They both send you their love,’ replied Adam.

‘Yeah, Hoss’d miss me,’ Joe left it at that.

Adam looked at him intently. ‘They both miss you,’ he said.

‘Yeah whatever,’ Joe replied with a shrug of his shoulders. ‘Is Pa better?’

‘Much,’ said Adam. ‘He’s nearly back to his old self now.’

Yeah of course he is,’ thought Joe.  That’s cause I’m not there to cause him any worry now.  He’s happy now that I’m not around no more!

‘Pa misses you Joe,’ Adam said, and looked at the boy with a puzzled expression when he didn’t reply.  ‘Hey buddy, is everything OK?’ he asked.

Joe looked as carefree as he knew how. ‘Yeah.  Why wouldn’t it be?’

‘I just thought you might be a bit homesick or something,’ said Adam.

‘Nah!’ Joe lied. ‘San Francisco is too much fun.  There’s lots to do here, and I might even stay longer.’ Why should I go home to someone who don’t even want me? he thought.

‘I don’t think Pa would be too happy about that,’ said Adam.

‘Bet he would,’ said Joe under his breath and Adam pretended he didn’t hear the remark.   Now why would his brother think that Pa didn’t want him to come home?

‘Pa was saying the other night how the Ponderosa is so different since you left,’ he said trying to draw his brother out to say what was on his mind.

Yeah I bet he did!  Joe thought.  He’d think it was real different not having ta go mad on me all the time.  Bet he’s real happy about that!

Adam was taken aback. It was so obvious to him just how homesick Joe was.  He could see it in his face every time he looked at him, but there was no way that his younger brother was going to admit to it.  And he seemed to think that Pa didn’t want him to come home!  Adam wondered why. After all, it had been the boy’s final decision to come here, and Pa had made it very clear to him that he could come home at any time.  Why would he believe that he wasn’t wanted?

He put his arm around his brother’s shoulder. ‘Joe, Pa misses you very much.  He’d love you to come home whenever you’re ready to.’

Joe shook his brother’s arm off. ‘I just told ya, I’m thinking of staying here for even longer.’  He glanced at his brother to see if he was buying it.  ‘I might even stay here and live forever until I’m grown up, so tell Pa he don’t need ta worry about me coming home!’

He stood up and walked away from the cliff face before Adam might check out the look on his face and guess his true feelings.  He didn’t want anyone saying he could come home out of pity.  They didn’t want him, that was obvious, so he was determined that he wouldn’t show them that he wanted them either!

Adam shook his head as he watched his brother walk away.  What had gotten into the boy?

—————–

‘Well then, are there any messages for Pa and Hoss?’ Adam said, trying to sound light hearted and bright.  His brother was clinging to his arm and trying not to show how concerned he was about Adam leaving, but it was obvious to all of them that he was quite upset.

Joe thought for a moment. ‘Yeah.  You can tell them all about the things I’ve seen here.’

Adam studied him intently. ‘Anything else?’

Joe looked at the ground. ‘Tell Hoss ta look after Cochise for me.  Tell him I miss Cooch and him.”

Adam smiled to himself as he thought about Hoss’ reaction to being placed second to a horse.  ‘And anything to tell Pa?’ he prompted.

Joe was silent. ‘Just tell him what I said about staying here,’ he said quietly.

Adam put his hand on the boy’s shoulder.  ‘You know Joe, you could home if you wanted to.  Pa would be real pleased if I got off that stage with you beside me.’

Joe took a step back. ‘No,’ he said, still studying the ground. ‘Bye Adam.’

Adam shot a worried look at George and Lillian. ‘Bye little buddy,’ he said. ‘You take care of yourself.’  Joe nodded and stepped forward to hug his brother around the waist.  As Adam put his arms around him he could feel the boy’s body trembling and he put his hand under his chin to lift his face up, but Joe shrugged it off and stepped away from him again.

‘Bye,’ he said simply, and put his hands in his pockets as he looked into the distance.

Adam turned to say goodbye to George and Lillian, and said in a quiet voice. ‘I’ll talk to Pa about him.’

They both nodded as Adam turned to get into the stage, and Lillian put her arm around Joe’s shoulder. This time he didn’t shrug it off, but stood there mournfully waving as his brother disappeared into the distance.  With a sigh he turned to walk away down the street in between George and Lillian.

————–

‘But why on earth would he think that?’  said Ben. ‘I told him he could home at any time.  I thought I made it very clear to him that it was his decision to go in the first place.’

‘I don’t know Pa.  I could be wrong of course, but I don’t think so,’ said Adam. ‘I just got the impression that he thinks he’s not wanted here anymore. Who knows how that boy’s mind works sometimes.’

Ben stared into the fireplace. ‘Well I can’t have him believing that!’ he said. ‘The last thing in the world I want is for Joseph to live away from us.  I just thought it was what he wanted that’s all.’

‘I’m not so sure that it is what he wants,’ said Adam. ‘But you know what a stubborn little cuss he is.  He won’t admit it.’

Ben frowned. ‘Well I won’t have it!  That boy may be stubborn, but I will not allow him to go on believing that he’s not wanted here. Even if I have to go and tell him so myself.’

He stood up and marched over to his desk.  As he sat down and picked up a pen and a piece of paper he said, ‘Hoss would you take this into town please?  I’d like this wire sent straight away to George.  And book me a ticket on Friday’s stage to San Francisco.’

‘Yes sir,’ said Hoss. ‘I sure will.  You gonna bring that little guy back with ya Pa?’

I don’t know,’ his father replied as he continued to write. ‘I’ll have to see what he says when I get there.  But one thing’s for certain, I’m going to find out exactly what that boy is thinking and set him straight!’

———————–

Joe walked along the street, one foot in the gutter and one foot on the sidewalk.  He inched his way up and down, taking care not to tread in any of the horses’ droppings as he passed them.  His day had school had been a bit better, and he thought that maybe things were beginning to look up.  He had really tried during the past few days to follow Adam’s advice, and had made a great effort with both his homework and listening in class.  While he still felt very much behind, at least he had not done too badly on the assignments he had been given.

Just as well! he thought ruefully. If I’m gonna be here for a long time, then I’ll have to get used to it.  His thoughts ran away with him and he began to visualise what he would look like in years to come when he finally did make it back to The Ponderosa.  He would be fully grown by then, and his fertile imagination pictured himself looking at an old Cochise who didn’t even recognise him any more.  He sighed as he wondered if Cochise would even be alive when he did return.  He conveniently forgot for the moment that San Francisco was only a few days away from his home.  He preferred in his mournful state to think of himself as very isolated from his family, as it seemed to make his situation more dramatic.

He sighed as he kicked a stone in the gutter, stepping up as a carriage went close by him.  He watched as it pulled up outside his cousins’ house, and wondered who could possibly be visiting them at this time of the afternoon.  Joe opened his mouth in amazement as he saw his father step out of the carriage and onto the sidewalk and his first instinct was to run to the man.  He had missed him so much and just to see him caused a thrill to pass through him.

But instead of running forward, for some reason he hesitated and drew back into the shadow of the building and watched his father walk up the front steps and enter the house.

Why would he be visiting?  Adam had just left and he had said nothing about Pa coming to stay. He mustn’t have known then.  Why would Pa have decided so quickly to come, and why wouldn’t George or Lillian have told him? Whatever the reason, Joe was very glad that he had.  He smiled and started to take a step forward again, then hesitated for a second time.

How could he go in there and show Pa how pleased he was to see him?  That would be a big mistake.  His father would maybe feel obligated to tell Joe he wanted him to go back home with him, and Joe didn’t want any pity.  He didn’t want to go home to a family who didn’t need or want him there.  He shook his head and squared his shoulders back with a resolve that he hoped he could keep up.  He mustn’t let Pa know how he was really feeling!  He had to pretend that he didn’t really care about coming home, and that he preferred to stay here.  That way Pa could leave and not be bothered with him. As he mounted the steps he prayed that he’d be able to pull it off.

As Joe entered the room his father turned around and smiled as he held out his arms to him. ‘Joseph!’ he said.

Joe looked at his father, fighting desperately the urge to run to him. ‘Hello Pa,’ he said. ‘What are you doing here?  Adam didn’t say you were coming.’

Ben was startled.  He had expected the boy to come running straight towards him, and couldn’t believe that the youngster who was standing there welcoming him so coolly was his son.  He took a couple of steps forward and grabbed the boy to him. ‘Joseph!’ he repeated as he hugged him tightly.  He frowned as he felt his son’s body stiffen against his.

After a moment he took a step back and looked at him closely. ‘I’m so glad to see you son,’ he said.

Joe nodded his head at his father and gave him a tentative smile. ‘Me too Pa,’ he said. ‘How come you’re here?’

Ben frowned again. Where was his exuberant boy?  Where was the Joseph he knew and loved so much?  Who had replaced him with this cool and appraising young man?

‘I’ve come to see you of course,’ he said.  ‘I just had to know how you were getting on.’

‘Didn’t Adam tell you?’  asked Joe. ‘I told him all about what was happening here.’

Ben nodded as he reached out to stroke the boy’s head. ‘Yes of course he did.  But I meant how you are, not what you’ve been doing.’

‘I’m fine,’ said Joe in what he hoped was an offhanded manner. ‘How are you Pa?’

Ben looked at him amazed. ‘I’m much better now Joe.  Let’s sit and talk for a while shall we?’

‘Sure.  If ya want to.’

Ben pulled him over to the couch and sat down next to him. He stroked the boy’s hair and looked at him lovingly, wondering why Joe seemed to be avoiding looking at him. ‘Joe?’ he said.

‘Yes?’

‘I’ve missed you boy.’ Joe nodded his head, but said nothing. Ben tried again. ‘It just doesn’t seem the same without you at home.’

Joe nodded again. ‘Probably it’s a lot quieter,’ he said.

Ben smiled. ‘Yes it is, I must admit that.’  There was silence again as he waited for his son to speak. After a few minutes he said. ‘I thought you’d be happy to see me.’

‘I am.’

There was silence again for a moment, then Joe looked up. ‘How long are ya staying for Pa?’ he asked.

‘Well I can stay for a few days if you’d like me to,’ said Ben, looking at his son carefully.

‘It’s up to you Joseph.’

‘Whatever you want Pa.  You’ll have ta excuse me now though, I’ve got homework and I know you’d want me to do it.’ He stood up and turned to leave.

‘Of course son,’ said his father with a puzzled expression on his face. ‘I’ll see you at supper. He watched the boy bound quickly up the stairs two at a time.  What was going on?  Why was Joseph acting like this? He couldn’t understand it, but was determined to find out.

—————

Supper that evening was a dismal affair, with George and Lillian fighting a losing battle to keep the conversation going. Ben studied his son throughout the meal trying to get an idea why he was acting in this way.  Joe sat quietly trying desperately to appear polite but detached with his father.  It was harder than he could have imagined, and there were times when he felt his resolve weakening.  He longed to stand up, walk around the table and give the man a hug, but didn’t dare to. He just couldn’t stand the rejection that he thought might be on his father’s face and so he even avoided looking him in the eye.  If he had looked long enough he would have seen the longing that was there, but due to his stubbornness he missed it.

At the end of the meal he excused himself as soon as he thought it was polite to do so.  He couldn’t take sitting there any longer than was necessary and wondered how he was going to get through the next few days.

After the boy had left the room, Ben turned to George and Lillian. ‘What is going on?’ he asked. ‘Do you know?’

George shook his head. ‘No.  He hasn’t been like this with us.’

‘Has he been in any trouble?’ asked Ben.

They looked at each other. ‘I don’t think he’s terribly happy at school, but then I’m sure Adam told you that,’ said Lillian. ‘To be honest Ben I think he’s very homesick.  He misses you all terribly.’

‘Then why is he acting like this?’ said Ben bewildered. ‘I’ve never seen him like this before.  It’s as if he just doesn’t care, yet I know that he does.  Why would he feel that he doesn’t want me to know that?  I think Adam might be right.’

‘About what?’ asked George.

‘Adam thinks that Joe is under the impression that we don’t want him any more.’

‘Why on earth would he think that?’ exclaimed Lillian.

Ben shook his head. ‘I just can’t work it out.  I’m going to find out though.’

Later that evening as Joe was getting ready for bed, he heard a knock on the door.  ‘Joseph, may I come in?’ He frowned when he heard his father’s voice. He had hoped that Pa wouldn’t come to say goodnight, as it had always been the time of the day when they had bonded closely, and Joe didn’t know how he could possibly keep his act up if his father started to get sentimental on him.  But he didn’t know how to avoid it.

‘Sure Pa, he said as he pulled his nightshirt over his head. Ben entered the room to see his son getting in under the covers.  He reached out to help him, but Joe managed to pull them up before he could put his hand on them.

‘I came to say good night,’ said Ben sitting down on the edge of the bed.

‘Goodnight,’ said Joe, looking at the covers and straightening them up.

‘Joe, I’d like to talk to you,’ said Ben.

‘I’m kinda tired Pa,’ said Joe. ‘And I gotta go to school tomorrow so I have ta get some sleep.’

Ben clenched his jaw. ‘This won’t take long Joe. I just want to know what’s going on with you?’

Joe continued to fiddle with the bedcovers. ‘Nothing’s going on with me Pa.  I’m just tired now that’s all.’

Ben frowned. ‘I don’t mean right at this moment Joe.  I mean why have you been acting like this?’ Joe was silent. ‘You haven’t been your usual self since I got here Joe.  Is there something wrong?’

Joe shook his head. ‘No.’

‘Then why are you acting like this? If I didn’t know better, I’d think you didn’t even want to see me,’ said Ben trying to gauge his son’s reaction to his words. ‘You are aren’t you?’

Joe nodded. Of course I am,’ he said. He rolled over and faced the wall, and flinched when he felt his father’s hand stroking his hair.

‘Joe, you do know that I love you very much don’t you son?  I’d really love it if you’d come home with me.’

Joe closed his eyes and bit his lip. ‘I think it’s better if I stay here in San Francisco Pa,’ he said.

‘Why Joe?’

‘Cause I like it here,’ he lied. ‘I told Adam that.  You didn’t have ta come and ask me yourself.’

‘I wanted you to understand how I felt,’ said his father. ‘I know we had some problems together before you left Joe, but it doesn’t mean that I don’t love you just as mush as I always did.  I miss you son, and I want you to come home.’

Joe kept his eyes shut and tried to block out his father’s words. He didn’t want to listen to him saying things out of pity for him.

‘Joe?’ said his father. ‘did you hear me son?’

‘Yes,’ said Joe. ‘But I’m kinda tired now Pa.’

Ben sighed and stood up. ‘All right.  We’ll talk about it tomorrow son. You think about what I’ve said. Goodnight.’

‘Goodnight.’

As Ben left the room Joe opened his eyes again.  He stared at the wall in front of him and let the tears fall down his face freely.  Angrily he wiped them away and sniffed.  He would not give in!  He couldn’t go home knowing that they really didn’t want him there!

——————-

For the next couple of days Ben tried desperately to reach his son, but it seemed like nothing he said made any difference to him.  That boy was just so stubborn! He just wouldn’t give in and admit that he wanted to come home, when Ben could tell that he was yearning to do just that.  No matter how many times Ben told him that he loved him and needed him, he just didn’t seem to listen. It was as if he’d put up a wall between them, and Ben didn’t know to knock it down.

He was beginning to think that he would have to return home without him, or at least making peace with him, and that really scared him.  He felt like he was losing his son, that the gap between them was widening and he would never be able to mend it again.  On the afternoon before he was due to leave, he sat in the small garden behind the house and prayed for guidance.

Marie help me! he thought. How do I reach our boy? Give me the right words to say to make him believe that I love him and want him. He turned as he heard a movement behind him and turned to see Joseph standing there.  Well that’s a start at least.  He’s come to me!  Maybe he’s reaching out for me at last?

‘Hello son,’ he said and patted the bench beside him. ‘Come and sit with me for a while.’

Joe sat down.  ‘Pa are ya really going home tomorrow?’ he asked. ‘Yes, I have to go.  I just wish you’d come with me.’ Joe looked away form him. ‘Son I’ve told you before, I want you to come home.  I think it was a mistake for me to let you come here in the first place.’

Joe looked at his father. ‘Why?  You said it’d be good for me.’

‘Yes I did, and I still believe that Joe.  But I think it’s more important for you to be with your family.  You brothers want you to be at home with them and so do I.’

Joe glared at the ground in front of him. ‘Yeah right,’ he muttered.

Ben put his hand under his son’s chin and pulled his face up so that he had no option but to look into his eyes. ‘Why don’t you believe me Joe?’

Joe tried to look away, but his father had a firm grip on his chin and he couldn’t move. He looked into his father’s eyes and saw the confusion and hurt there and swallowed before he replied. ‘Because you’re only saying that to make me feel better,’ he mumbled.

‘What?’

‘Joe shook his head and put his hand up to push his father’s hand away. ‘Nothing,’ he murmured.

‘Joseph why on earth would you think I would lie to you?  I want you to look at me and tell me that I’ve ever lied to you before. Have I?’  Joe shook his head. ‘Then why would I start now?’

‘So you wouldn’t hurt my feelings,’ Joe replied.

‘Joseph I want you to listen carefully to me,’ said Ben.  ‘I’m going to tell you a true story.  It’s about the most stubborn person I’ve ever known.’  Ben paused. ‘Do you know who I’m talking about Joe?’

‘Me I guess,’ mumbled Joe.

‘No, not you.  It’s about your mother,’ replied Ben and smiled when the boy’s head shot up.  ‘Yes, he continued, ‘your mother was just about the stubbornest person God put breath into.  She wouldn’t give an inch if she felt she was right about something.  You remind me a lot of her.’ Joe was listening now to his father intently.

‘I remember one time when she and I had had an argument about something,’ Ben continued. ‘I was very busy with things on the ranch at the time, and she wasn’t…. well she wasn’t very well.  It was right before you were due to be born.’ Joe listened fascinated.  He loved hearing stories about his mother, and this sounded like something new that his father had never shared with him.

‘Well we had a silly argument.  I really don’t even remember what it was about.  I stormed out of the house and went to work, and when I got home late that afternoon your mother wasn’t there.’

‘Where had she gone?’ asked Joe.

‘Well I didn’t know at first. It took me hours to work out that she had gone into town and was staying at the hotel.  I can tell you they were the longest hours of my life.’

‘Why?’

‘Because I thought I had lost her.  I thought she had left and wasn’t coming back to me.  I realized at that time Joe just how much I loved her, and I couldn’t stand the thought of her going away.  Anyway, when I finally found her in town I had to use all my best arguments to convince her to come back with me.’

‘And did she?’

‘Of course she did. And you were born exactly one week later.’  Ben smiled at his son. ‘I couldn’t let you be born anywhere but at The Ponderosa could I?’

Joe smiled back at his father. ‘No I guess not.’

‘You see Joe the important thing I’m trying to tell you is that I wasn’t just fighting to get your mother back, I was fighting to get something else as well. Something very precious to me.’

Joe looked at his father with a puzzled expression on his face. ‘What Pa?’

‘You,’ said his father gently. ‘I was fighting for the love of my wife and my child.  Two of the most important things in my life, along with your two brothers. If I let your mother go at that time, then I would have lost not only her but you, and that I just couldn’t take.’  Joe sat silently next to his father.

‘I remember the next week on the night you were born,’ continued Ben. ‘We were all very worried about you because you were so tiny and you wanted to be born the wrong way.’ Joe glanced at his father with a puzzled look. ‘You remember I’ve told you before,’ said Ben. ‘You were what is called a breech birth.  You came out the wrong way.’

‘Oh yes,’ said Joe.

‘Well the doctor and your mother and I were so worried about you.  When it was all over we all breathed a sigh of relief that you and your mother were all right.  I remember sitting next to her bed when the doctor had gone downstairs.  There were just the two of us there together and I was making sure that your mother was all right.’ Joe sat entranced by his father’s words.  He had never heard about the night of his birth before.

‘Well suddenly you started squirming and crying.  I looked at your mother and realised that she had fallen asleep, so I bent down and picked you up from your cradle.’  Ben smiled as he thought back to that precious moment so many years ago.  ‘As I sat there looking at you I suddenly realised that we weren’t just the two of us in that room together, we were the three of us.’  He looked at his son and reached over to massage the back of his neck. ‘It was at that moment that you opened your eyes and looked at me, and…..’  he stopped.

Joe looked at him. ‘And what Pa?’

Ben took a deep breath. ‘And……’ he choked with emotion as he spoke the words, ‘and I realised in that moment just how dear you were to me.  I had come so close to losing you that night, and I had no intention of ever going through that again.  Not then, and certainly not now.’  He drew the boy close to him. ‘Joseph I can’t bear the thought of losing you.  I love you so much son.’

‘Even when I’m bad?’

Ben smiled. ‘Even when you’re bad.  Fathers don’t just love their children every now and then you know.  A father’s love is for always.  It never ends.’  He looked down into the boy’s eyes.

Joe moved forward and leant close to his father. ‘But Pa……’

‘What is it son?’

‘I can’t stop being bad.  I can’t be good all the time.’

‘I know that Joe.  I would never expect you to be good all the time.  You wouldn’t be my Joseph if you were.’

‘But if I come back home you might get sick again, having to put up with me being bad.’

Ben hugged his child closer to him. ‘Is that what you’ve been thinking?’  Joe nodded and sniffled against his father’s shoulder.  ‘Joe you didn’t make me sick.  It was a lot of things all together that made that happen. I t wasn’t you son.’

‘I felt like it was.  And I’ve been scared to come home because I thought you might get sick again and I thought that you didn’t …. didn’t want me.  I thought you were sick of having me around.’

‘But you don’t think that anymore do you Joseph?’  said his father.

Joe hugged his father even tighter. ‘No, I don’t think that anymore Pa,’ he said.

————–

Adam leant against the post of the stage office and watched amused as his brother hopped from one foot onto the other. For such a big man, Hoss could certainly move when he wanted to. ‘That’s not going to make it come any quicker you know,’ he said with a grin. ‘It’ll get here when it gets here.’

‘Well dadburnit, why does it have ta be late today of all days?’ replied Hoss giving him a pained look.

‘You know very well it’s late every time it’s due,’ said Adam.

‘Yes but we’re not waiting fer it all them other times,’ replied Hoss with a grin.

Adam stood up straight. ‘Well I think the wait’s over brother,’ he said, indicating the trace of dust in the distance. ‘Here it comes now.’

The two brothers stood side by side as they watched the stagecoach come in.  Before it had completely stopped the door was flung open and they heard their father’s voice shouting from inside. ‘Joseph!  I said to wait until we had stopped.  Get back in here young man!’

They grinned at each other. ‘Seems like nothing much has changed,’ said Adam. ‘That’s our little brother all ….’ His words were cut short as his youngest brother flung himself on him and hugged around the neck.  He endured it for a moment, and then tried to disengage the arms that held onto him. ‘Come on Joe.  I only saw you last week!’

‘Yeah but I didn’t,’ said Hoss with a grin as he stepped forward and lifted the boy bodily up into the air and spun him around to face him. ‘Here, how about a hug for me short shanks?’  He gave his brother a hug that just about knocked the breath out of him, and then put him down on his feet.

Joe grinned up at his two older brothers. ‘Hi!’ he said. ‘I’m back!’

‘Apparently so,’ said Adam dryly.

‘How’s Cooch Hoss?’ asked Joe.

Hoss stepped back to reveal the horse tied up behind him. See for yourself,’ he said.  I knew you’d want ta see him straight away.’

‘Coochie!’  said Joe delightedly as he jumped forward to hug the horse’s neck.

‘Well I don’t know about your priorities Joseph,’ said his father behind him when he had finished greeting his two sons.  ‘You seem to be more pleased to see that horse than your brothers.’

‘No I ain’t Pa, you know that!’ said Joe. ‘It’s just that Coochie’s only got me, but we’ve all got each other. Can I ride him home?’

‘I suppose so,’ said his father as he noticed Hoss’ horse Chubb next to Cochise.  ‘Adam and I will go in the buggy and you and Hoss can ride alongside us on your horses.’

Joe grinned at him and mounted up straight away. ‘It’s great to be back,’ he said as they began to move down the street. ‘Hey Pa,’ he added as they passed the schoolhouse. ‘I don’t have to go back to school straight away do I?’

‘Why wouldn’t you?’ replied his father. ‘There’s no need not to.’

‘Yeah but I figured that I probably deserve a holiday because of all the work I’ve done in San Francisco,’ said Joe.  ‘I’ll be ahead of everyone here, so it’s only fair that I have some time off to give them the chance to catch up.’

‘Well you figured wrong,’ said his father. ‘You’ll be off to school on Monday as usual young man.’ Joe pulled a face.

‘Don’t you start that again,’ said Adam. ‘I thought you were going to behave yourself from now on.’

‘Oh yeah I am,’ explained Joe seriously. ‘But I can’t be good all the time.  Besides, Pa’s given me permission to be bad now and then, ain’t ya Pa?’

‘I most certainly did not!’ replied his father. ‘I said that I didn’t expect you to be perfect, but I do expect that you try Joseph.’

‘Well that’s the same thing,’ said Joe. ‘I’m gonna try hard Pa, honest I am.  But there’s gonna be times that I’m bad now and then no matter how hard I try.’

‘That’s for sure,’ said Hoss with a grin. ‘The day you become perfect short shanks is the day people start calling me thin.’

Joe laughed. ‘Don’t worry Hoss we love ya just the way you are, don’t we Pa?’

Ben smiled at all his boys. ‘Yes Joseph, we do.  I love you all just the way you are, and I always will.’  He looked at his three boys with love in his heart, and thought back to the words he had said to his youngest son a few days before. Yes Joseph it’s true. A father’s love is for always.  It never ends.

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

7 thoughts on “A Father’s Love aka A Love Without End (by JoanS)

  1. Poor Joe. And poor Ben! It was just as well that Adam was able to see a little way into Joe’s confused thinking.
    Thank you.

  2. Misunderstandings can happen so easily and then when you add stubbornness into the mix, it’s a near disaster. I’m glad Ben got things straightened out eventually.

  3. Separation is tough on a family, especially when simple misunderstandings get in the way and true feelings are hidden. Well done, Joan.

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