Summary: This story follows A Visit and probably makes more sense if you read that one first. Joe receives a second visit but this one follows the tragedy with Alice and after Joe has returned home. Although the material is still serious in nature, the story is in a much lighter tone than the previous one.
Rating: G Word Count: 1477
In his dreams, Joe Cartwright could still smell smoke so stringent it made his eyes water. There were times he could breathe the air that smelled of fresh rain and all the odors that the roiling mud of a flash flood could saturate an area with even faster than the racing walls of destructive slurry could do their damage. Although his wife Alice and his unborn baby died in a horrible fire and his brother Hoss died in a terrible flood, the details no longer were vivid in the memories that haunted his nights. Even their faces were hard to recall now unless he looked at pictures of them. What he remembered were the smells and what he saw was emptiness, yawning chasms of dark space where there had once been something wondrous, but now all there was a great black nothing.
Then came the night when there was another smell. It was one that didn’t belong in his bedroom or even in the house any more. Joe hadn’t smelled that one since the time after Hoss’ death and before his marriage to Alice. It had been another difficult time, and one in which he thought he might have been losing his mind. He opened his eyes to the room lit only by a few feeble rays of moonlight, and the smell was still there. It was the bay rum favored by his oldest brother.
“You’re not losing your mind.”
“What the hell!”
Jumping back and hitting his head on the headboard, Joe rubbed the new sore spot and reached for a lamp almost simultaneously. Getting the lamp lit, he looked to the rocking chair in his room to see his brother Adam sitting in it leaning to the right with a nonchalant almost bored look about him.
“What are you doing here? You’re dead. I thought I imagined you here once, but I got over that.”
“It wasn’t your imagination. I was here. You can’t get over something that actually occurred. What has happened to your brain, little brother?”
“It couldn’t have happened because we had a letter that you were dead so you couldn’t have been here. I know I must have been dreaming it all.”
“But I was here, so it did happen, and therefore, you can’t get over it.”
“My head hurts.”
“Of course it does. You banged it into the headboard so that would make it hurt.”
“No, my head hurts because of you.”
“Well, I suppose you could blame me for the shock that caused you to bang your head into the headboard.”
“No, my head hurts because you’re here.”
“I’m glad we got that settled. So you accept that I’m here.”
“Oh, Lord, I am losing my mind.”
“Now, I thought we had settled that too. You are not losing your mind, although I am glad you stopped drinking so much because that could have had that result.”
“How did you know about the drinking?”
“We all know. Mama wanted me to talk to you about that, but you already stopped so we don’t have to talk about it. That is, we don’t have to talk about it unless you intend to start doing that again.”
“Mama? Which one?”
“Yours, of course. There’s Mother, Ma, and Mama. Hoss likes all three about the same. Mother and Ma said to wait and let you work things out. Of course, they never knew you. Mama did, and she insisted I had to talk to you.”
“Why you and not Hoss?”
“Hoss said he can’t get used to this popping in and then popping out thing. He was afraid he would more likely scare someone to death rather than save you from yourself.”
“It’s not that bad. I don’t need to be saved.”
Standing then and walking to the armoire, Adam opened it and pushed aside some clothing to show the empty and near empty bottles inside. Joe had not yet discarded them because he didn’t want to be found out and to alarm his father. Truthfully, he liked having the alcohol there too in case he did want a drink late at night. The dark dreams hadn’t sent him to the armoire lately, but he wanted that option to be open.
Turning back to him, Adam waited without speaking. It wasn’t necessary to say anything. Joe knew what he meant by that look. Doing what his oldest brother had done so well and taught him to do, he changed the subject. Distraction was useful in stressful situations.
“I think Pa knew you were sick in England. I don’t think for a minute that he believed you were traveling. He’s made some comments about he’s glad you’re finally at peace. He took the news a lot better than I thought he would, a lot better than I did. He must have known you were sick or knowing you had died would have pushed him over the edge. But he wasn’t so melancholy as he was when Hoss died. Of course, maybe he didn’t care so much because it was you.”
Although Joe was hoping all of that would get a rise out of Adam and make him forget about talking about his younger brother, it didn’t work.
“I thought that might be the case. Pa knew me better than any man on earth. We spent so many years together without anyone else. You get to know someone well setting trap lines in winter or building a house knowing if you don’t get it done, you and the rest of the family could die. You can’t bait me either with thinking Pa didn’t love me. He loved all of us for who we were or are. Now, back to you, what were you thinking going off after those killers? Everyone knew you loved your wife, but what about your father who was still alive? Did you think about Pa then? He was here wondering if he was going to lose a third son so soon after losing two.”
“I know. I understand that now.”
“Now is a little late.”
“Dadburnit, Joe, ya gotta think on things some.”
“That wasn’t me. Hoss sent a message. He couldn’t hold back. I didn’t say it, but I was thinking it although not in those words.”
“It’s awfully hard without you two here. I don’t have anyone to give me advice when I need it.”
“You do if you would listen to him.”
“No, he’s not with you often enough. We were thinking of that new foreman. Now, I haven’t met him, but he seems a nice enough sort, and Hoss thinks he’s smart enough. But you need to listen.”
“Could you maybe send a message now and then when I really need it?”
“We’re not supposed to be doing this. I snuck out. I’m good at that, but I can’t risk it again. How about we plant a few ideas in Candy’s head.”
“How will I know it’s from you?”
“You assume if he gives you good advice, it probably came from us or at least we approve. We’ll do our best to keep watch, but Joe, we can’t watch over everything. Like Hoss said, you’re going to have to think about things more. Plan what you do.” Adam turned toward the darkest corner of the room, but looked back over his shoulder. “Oh, and that golden-haired lady you’ve got your eye on: she dreams about you and not only at night. She would be a good choice. Don’t wait too long to ask her for a carriage ride to the lake.” Then he was gone stepping into the dark corner and there was nothing more but the scent of his tonic.
A brief knock at the door and a shaft of light from the hallway announced his father’s presence.
“Joe, are you all right? I heard you talking.”
“Just a dream, Pa. I’m all right. The dream had a happy ending for a change.”
“Oh, good. I was worried.”
“Pa, tomorrow, I’d like to go along to church services with you. It’s been too long since I was there. In fact, I may take the carriage and see if Miss Dee would like to take a ride with me.”
“That sounds wonderful, Joe.”
Pulling the door closed, Ben Cartwright smiled and then glanced about with a quizzical look. He could swear he had gotten a whiff of Adam’s tonic. He wondered if perhaps Joe was using it now. Then he went to his room and slept well.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
Other Stories by this Author
- A Visit (by BettyHT)
- Only a Brother Can Know (by BettyHT)
- Lessons (by BettyHT)
- Contemplation (by BettyHT)
- Only One Returns (by BettyHT)