Summary: Joe comes home shot and fighting for his life. His family and friends hope and pray he will make it.
Word Count: 10,159
Joe rode out of Virginia City in the wee hours of the morning. He knew he was coming home later than he should. He knew better than to stay in town so late and alone. Joe’s family had often warned him about the dangers of being alone so late at night, but he had done it many times before and he never had a problem. He looked at the lightened horizon ahead and realized that sunrise would be here in about an hour or two. Oh Joe was in trouble all right. If he was lucky maybe he could get in a couple of hours of sleep. He was glad that Pa was away on a business trip to San Francisco and not home to give him a lecture. Only Adam and Hoss were home. Joe hoped they were both asleep and not up waiting for him. He could just picture the disgruntled looks on their faces. He had lost track of time like he often did. He had visited friends – including his best friend Mitch Devlin. Then Joe took part in an all night poker game at the Silver Dollar. He even managed to win $2,500. Maybe Adam and Hoss would be proud of him for being so lucky.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, two gun shots rang out in the night. Cochise reared up and Joe slid to the ground. His left shoulder and his groin area both felt like they were on fire. He sensed he needed to close his eyes and lay very still. Joe remembered back when Pa and Adam started teaching him to shoot when he was about 12-years old. Adam once told him that sometimes it was a good idea to play possum and pretend he was dead if he was ever shot. There were people in the world who thought nothing of shooting a man again to make sure he was dead. Joe closed his eyes and laid still as he heard a horse neighing and footsteps approaching. Cochise?
“Whoa!” A man’s voice said. “Whoa boy! Is Cartwright dead?”
A set of footsteps came up to where Joe laid as a second man’s voice replied, “Yep! He’s dead all right!”
A third man’s voice added farther away, “Serves them Cartwrights right. They think they’re so smart and so mighty and everyone respects them.”
“Isn’t he the one who’s mother was from New Orleans?” The second man questioned.
The third man replied, “He’s the one.”
“I’ve heard about her.”
“A lot of people have heard about her.”
The first man said, “All right let’s get the money and go.”
Hands reached into Joe’s pockets and pulled out his wallet. He continued trying to lay very still so that the men would still think he was dead. He heard rustling sounds like someone going through the saddlebags. Searing pain continued to shoot through Joe’s upper torso as he wondered how he was going to get home. He did not want to die out here alone. In fact, he didn’t want to die. He wanted to get home to his brothers.
“All right, let’s get out of here,” the first man commanded.
The third man replied, “Yeah, before his old man and his brothers come looking for him. I wish I could see their faces. It serves them right.”
As Joe listened to their footsteps fade away he opened his eyes real quick to get a peek at them. In the bright moonlight he spotted three men running through the trees, and one of them had long red hair. Joe closed his eyes tight again while he heard horses’ hooves galloping away. He laid there for a few moments with his eyes still closed as he wondered how he was going to get home. Next a horse nickered close by. Cochise? Joe opened his eyes just in time for Cochise to nuzzle his face. Cochise nickered again like he was talking to him. Joe lifted his head up in time for the horse to nuzzle his face again.
“All right, All right.” Joe slowly sat up. “I’ll get us home somehow.”
God, please help me get home. I just want to get home. Please let me be okay. I don’t want to die.
The next several minutes were a blur that seemed to take forever. Joe somehow managed to stand up and pull himself up onto Cochise in spite of the burning pain from being shot.
“I shouldn’t have been there,” Joe whispered as he rode home. “I should have been home by now.”
Now he shook his head as he wished his family wasn’t so right this time about the dangers of being out so late. Joe wondered how he got himself into this mess? Cockiness. That’s what it was. His own cockiness had lead him into this. He had no one to blame but himself.
Joe again remembered what had happened several minutes ago. It had all happened so fast that the memory was just a series of blurred images. He was surprised that Cochise had stayed nearby after the shots rang out. How was it that he didn’t get spooked and run away? At least those men left Joe’s horse behind.
He also remembered his mama being mentioned. What had that one man heard about her? Joe had always felt protective of Mama even though he had only a few memories of her. She died not long before he turned five.
Now Joe clutched Cochise’ mane while sharp pain continued to shoot through his upper body. He noticed that his shirt and pants felt wet. Wait a minute. That couldn’t be right. It wasn’t raining and there were no clouds in the sky. In fact the entire night sky was covered by a blanket of tiny stars. Joe looked down and realized that the wetness was from his own blood. Oh, great. This was not how he wanted his family to see him. At least Pa was not home and he wouldn’t be seeing him like this. But his brothers were both home, and they would be seeing him shortly. Oh, great. Joe wished he had come home a few hours sooner. He now noticed that the sky was getting more lighter at the horizon. Sunrise was coming.
Joe felt very weakened while they rounded the barn, and came into the yard. He felt lightheaded as he stared at the ranch house that he had always known as home. Joe slipped his feet out of the stirrups, and fell to the ground. More pain seared through his body. Maybe falling to the ground wasn’t such a good idea. His eyes closed as he heard the front door creak open.
“Joe!” Adam’s voice yelled.
He heard the sounds of two sets of footsteps run toward him.
“What happened!?!” Adam’s voice asked.
“Come on, little brother, talk to us!” Hoss’ voice sounded pleading. “Give us a sign here!”
Joe only responded with a low moan. His brothers’ voices continued to talk to him as they trailed off into the distance. Why did his brothers sound so far away? …
“Let’s get him into the house to his bedroom,” Adam said as he noticed Joe’s shirt was soaked red.
Hoss replied, “I’ll carry him.”
“Be careful. I think he was shot.”
“Yeah, I think so too. I’ll be careful.”
Hoss gently put his arms around Joe and slowly lifted him up. Then he turned and walked back into the house. Adam followed right behind them.
“Hop Sing!” Adam yelled. “Hop Sing!”
Hop Sing soon appeared in the dining room. “What is it?”
“Get clean towels and bring them up to Joe’s room!”
“Just bring the towels!”
Hoss slowly carried Joe up the stairs, and Adam followed behind him. They went into Joe’s room where Hoss gently laid him down on the bed while Adam turned up the lamp. Adam noticed the front of Joe’s shirt was soaked in blood. He also noticed that Hoss had smears of blood on his own clothes.
“We need to get the bleeding to stop.” Adam started trying to slip Joe’s green jacket off of him.
Hoss replied, “Yeah.”
They both carefully took off Joe’s jacket and shirt. Hop Sing arrived with an armload of towels. Adam grabbed a towel and started wiping away the blood from Joe’s chest. He noticed bullet wounds in Joe’s left shoulder and in his stomach area.
Adam started sensing a dread that this could end very badly. He noticed a very worried look on Hoss’ face.
Dear God, please don’t let my little brother die. I don’t want the responsibility to tell Pa that his youngest son is dead. I don’t want to ever see the grief that I know would be on his face. This house will be way too quiet without Joe’s laughter. He has that smile that always warms and disarms people. We will all miss so many things about him if he is gone.
At some point Joe opened his eyes to see Adam and Hoss’ faces in front of him. He realized they were both talking to him. He glanced around to see where he was and he saw that he was in his bedroom, laying in his bed. His brothers were seated on both sides of him as they leaned over him.
“Come on, Joe, stay with us,” Hoss said.
Adam asked, “What happened? Who did this?”
Joe did not like the worry that he saw on their faces. He wished they would stop looking at him like that. Adam’s dark hazel eyes showed dread like he feared the worse.
“Coming home,” Joe managed to whisper. “Three men.”
“Do you know who they were?” Adam questioned.
Joe replied, “No.”
“No?” Hoss answered.
“Please don’t worry about me. I’ll be all right.”
Joe closed his eyes while his brothers’ voices trailed into the distance again. He thought of Mama and the few memories that he had of her. The memories were just brief scenes that had always been in the back of is mind. Joe remembered something about running across the yard with Mama chasing after him. He also remembered Mama reading bedtime stories and singing lullabies to him at night.
Then Joe remembered something about reading a poem about a farm family that experienced a healing. Was it the father who was dying? One of the children went off and prayed for him to be okay. There was a sunrise and father opened his eyes. He turned out to be okay. Joe tried to remember where he had seen that poem. Was it in that book of poems that he had given to Adam for his birthday a few years ago?
God, please let me be okay like the father in that poem.
It was sunrise as Hoss rode into Virginia City to do the three things that Adam had asked him to do. He had always thought there was something peaceful about the world lighting up just after dawn with the birds singing their songs in the trees. This morning he did not feel so peaceful.
Hoss rode over to Doctor Paul Martin’s house, got down from Chubb and knocked on the door. A couple of minutes passed before the door opened and the doctor appeared with eyes that looked weary as if he had just waken up a short time ago.
“Hoss!” Paul exclaimed as he stared at him and started to reach his hands toward him. “What happened to you?”
Hoss looked down at himself and now noticed some of Joe’s blood was on his clothes.
He replied, “I’m sorry, Paul. It’s my brother, Joe. He came home early this morning, shot. He needs your help.”
“I’ll get my things together right now, and head right over there.”
“Does the sheriff know?”
“No. I’m fixing to see him next.”
“How are your pa and Adam holding up?”
“Adam hasn’t left Joe’s side, and Pa is in San Francisco. I’m going to wire Pa after I talk to the sheriff.”
“All right. I’ll be heading over to the ranch shortly here.”
Hoss walked down to the jail and knocked on the door. Silence followed for a couple of minutes and he knocked again.
“Just a minute hold your horses!” Sheriff Roy Coffee’s voice yelled from somewhere inside.
About another couple of minutes passed before the door opened and Roy appeared in the doorway. The sheriff opened his mouth to say something and stopped as he stared at Hoss.
“Hello, Roy,” Hoss said. “My brother, Joe, came home early this morning, shot.”
Roy asked, “Did he say who shot him?”
“No, Sir. He’s been in and out of it. He said something about coming home and three men. Did you see Joe here in town last night?”
“Yes, I did. I think I noticed him about two or three times during the evening. At one point I saw him with Mitch Devlin. The last time I saw him was just after midnight when I was making my last round. I saw him in a poker game over at the Silver Dollar.”
“We noticed that his pockets were empty, and his wallet is missing.”
“Sounds like he may have been bushwhacked. I’m sure you’ve already seen Doc Martin?”
“Yes, sir. I just saw him. He’s getting ready to go out to the ranch.”
“Good. I hope Joe is going to be all right.”
“So do we.”
“I’ll ask around and see if I can get an idea who did this or what may have happened. Your pa is out of town isn’t he?”
“Yes, Sir. He’s in San Francisco on business. I’m going to go now and wire him and let him know about Joe.”
“You go ahead and do that, and I’ll start checking around.”
Next Hoss walked on down to the telegraph office to wire Pa. He glanced down at his blood stained clothes as he walked into the office. The young man behind the counter stared at him with an aghast look on his face.
Hoss slipped a folded piece of paper out of his shirt pocket and handed it to the man. “Here I need to send a wire.”
The man unfolded the piece of paper and read it.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.” The man looked up. “Is he all right?”
Hoss replied, “We don’t know. Just send the wire please. Our pa needs to know.”
“Oh I’ll send it right now.”
“Thanks. I’ll wait here for a reply if you don’t mind.”
“Oh that’s fine.”
As Hoss sat down in a chair he thought of family friend Susie Blanchard. He remembered some years back he and Susie and her father were in a wagon accident, and her father died. Susie was injured and unable to walk. Hoss introduced her to a so-called miracle maker who claimed he could make her walk. The man left her when he saw that he couldn’t make her walk. Afterwards Susie managed to get up and walk on her own. Hoss told her that there was only one Miracle Maker. Now Hoss hoped the real Miracle Maker would come and help his little brother.
Lord, please help my little brother. He really needs your help right now. We sure don’t want to lose him. I keep telling myself that everything is going to be all right. I really want to believe that.
Joe drifted in and out of consciousness for he didn’t know how long. He always saw one or both his brothers right there beside him.
“Come on, Joe, stay with us,” They told him. “Stay with us.”
“I will,” he whispered. “I will.”
Joe closed his eyes and continued thinking about Mama. He remembered being in Mama’s lap when he was about three or four-years-old while they were out on the front porch. Her pots of flowers and her rose tree had all started blooming. Mama told him about a garden back in New Orleans that she used to often visit. It was at the convent where she grew up. Having flowers at the ranch reminded her of that garden back in New Orleans.
Now a thought crossed Joe’s mind that he wished he could see Mama again and talk to her.
Roy knocked on the front door of the Devlins’ two story house. Little Joe’s best friend Mitch lived here with his elderly mother whom he was taking care of. The door soon opened and there stood Mitch in his bathrobe. His half opened blue eyes widened when he looked at Roy.
“Good morning, Sheriff,” Mitch said. “Is there something wrong?”
Roy nodded. “Yes, Little Joe Cartwright came home shot early this morning.”
“What! Is he all right?”
“I don’t know. Hoss just told me a little while ago, and I just saw the doctor leaving to go out to the ranch.”
“I hope he’s all right.”
“So do I. Didn’t I see you two together at the Silver Dollar last night?”
A worried and concerned look had already crossed Mitch’s face. “Yes you did. Joe was laughing and carrying on like he usually does. He started playing the all night poker game that they were having and I watched a few rounds. Then I went home and went to bed.”
“Did you see Joe have any problems with anyone during the night?”
“Do you remember noticing anything suspicious or seeing something that gave you a funny feeling?”
Silence followed for a few moments. Mitch stared at the ground like he was thinking hard.
“Well, I can think of one thing that made me feel a little funny when I was leaving,” Mitch said. “But, it might not be anything.”
Roy replied, “That’s all right. Go ahead and tell me.”
“There were three guys sitting at a table and watching the game. I remember feeling chills when I walked by them.”
“Do you know who they were?”
“No, but I’ve seen them around. I think they used to live here several years ago, and they just came back about a few weeks ago. I know they look familiar to me. One of them has long red hair.”
“I know who you’re talking about.” Roy nodded with recognition. “They’re always in the saloons watching the card games. How was the game going when you left?”
“Joe had just won a 500 dollar jackpot.”
Roy thought he felt the hairs on the back of his neck go up as he remembered some news he had read in various crime notices from sheriffs of towns across Nevada and even California from about the past year and a half. There were a few times when he saw something about some man found shot dead and the killers were not known. Each victim was found dead the morning after he had won substantial winnings in a card game.
“Thank you for the information,” Roy said. “I think I’m going to go wake somebody up at the Silver Dollar and find out what they can tell me about that poker game last night.”
“Did he lose a lot of blood?” Doc Martin asked.
“I’m not sure how to answer that,” Adam replied. “Obviously he was already bleeding when he came home. We saw what looked like a lot of blood.”
Joe laid unconscious while the doctor sat beside him and Adam stood by the foot of the bed. Paul had a hand on one of Joe’s wrists and then on his forehead.
“He’s very pale,” Paul informed. “He feels cold and clammy, and he has a fever. Has he been conscious very much?”
Adam answered, “He’s been in and out of it.”
“I’ll be honest with you, Adam. I can’t guarantee anything except to do all I can to save him.”
Adam stared at him for a few silent moments. The thought ran through his mind that his youngest brother just might not make it. No he had to.
This all felt déjà vu to Adam. He remembered about two years ago Joe was laying here in this bed with a bullet wound. Adam had shot his own brother in a hunting accident that involved a wolf. They almost lost Joe back then. Pa was away from home then as well.
“I can tell he’s fighting,” Paul added. “That may help in the long run. Of course, he’s always been a fighter.”
Ben walked into the hotel lobby with a business associate he knew here in San Francisco. They talked and laughed about something as they crossed the lobby.
The hotel desk clerk called out, “Mr. Ben Cartwright?”
“Yes?” Ben turned and stepped over to the desk.
“A telegram has come in for you.”
Ben wondered why he would be getting a telegram, and from who? The clerk handed him a folded piece of paper. Ben unfolded the paper and saw that the message was from Hoss. Hoss? What was going on back home? He read the message which simply said, “Joe came home shot”. Shot? Joseph? Ben stared at the telegram in disbelief while it registered the enormity of what had happened. His boys needed him! Now! Ben quickly folded the paper and slipped it into his shirt pocket.
He turned and informed his business associate, “I apologize, there’s been an emergency back home. I need to leave now. My sons need me.”
“Is everything all right?” The associate asked.
Ben replied, “No.”
Ben strolled out the door as he headed toward the nearby stage office to check the schedules.
Dear Lord, please be with my sons right now. I don’t know what all has happened. All I know is my youngest has come home shot. I remember the Bible speaks of miracles. Please let there be a miracle for Joseph.
Adam was downstairs in the main room when Sheriff Roy Coffee arrived at the ranch house. Roy held Joe’s beige hat in his hands.
Roy held out the hat and questioned, “Is this Little Joe’s hat?”
“Yes, it is.” Adam nodded as he took the hat. “Where did you find it?”
“On the side of the road. I’ve gotten a posse together, and we think we’ve figured out the spot where it happened. We found tracks, and we’re going to follow those.”
“It looks like Little Joe was thrown off of his horse, and he managed to get back on.”
“Oh, really? He fell off of his horse when he got home.”
“Hoss told me that Little Joe said something about coming home and three men. Has he said anything more about what happened?”
“No. He’s been in and out of it. What did you find out in town?”
“He visited with a couple of his friends during the evening. Then he played poker over at the Silver Dollar before he left for home. He won about 2,500 dollars.”
“We found his wallet gone.”
“Yes, that’s what Hoss told me.” Roy paused a moment. “Is Doc Martin here? I thought I recognized his wagon out here.”
“Yes, he is. He’s upstairs right now trying to remove the bullets from Joe.”
A moment of silence followed. Adam noticed sadness and concern in Roy’s dark eyes.
Roy replied, “I was hoping I might be able to talk to Little Joe. That will have to wait. Has the doctor said how he’s doing?”
Adam swallowed a hard lump in his throat. “It doesn’t look good, but Paul is doing all he can to save him. Joe is also fighting.”
Adam hoped the doctor could save his youngest brother.
Roy and four other men from Virginia City followed three sets of horse tracks through the brush. Deputy Clem Foster had been left at the jail in case anyone needed the law for something. Yep! Three of them just like Little Joe had told his brothers.
“That Little Joe Cartwright he’s a wild one ain’t he?” Someone asked low.
“No he’s a good kid,” Roy replied. “Sure he gets into mischief sometimes and he likes to pull pranks on his brothers and he gets into scraps. Still if someone is in trouble Little Joe is right there to help them out.”
“One time the Cartwrights were on some kind of trip and they set up camp somewhere. The next thing they knew they were surrounded by Indians. Adam went out to get water and he got himself shot. Little Joe ran out, grabbed him and carried him back to camp all the while they were being shot at.”
“Really? Who told you about that?”
Stunned silence followed.
Roy remembered earlier the worry and dread that he had seen in Adam’s hazel eyes. He wondered if Ben had already seen Hoss’ wire by now. Roy was sure Ben was probably already making plans to come straight home as soon as he could. More than once Ben had privately told him that nothing came between him and his sons. Not even the Ponderosa. Period.
God, I am not much of a praying man, but I do believe in you. Ben has been widowed three times. The last thing he needs is to lose one of his sons. I’m sure you know how much those boys mean to him. Please have mercy on this family. Let Little Joe live. And help us find the guys who shot him. They don’t need to be getting away with this – especially if they’ve already murdered other men.
About a minute later Roy thought he heard voices way off in the distance.
“Shh! Stop! Listen!”
The men all stopped their horses and sat in silence. Roy could make out what sounded like two drunken men’s voices singing out of tune.
“Do you hear that?” Roy asked.
Two of the men answered, “Yeah, sure do.”
“Sounds like someone is having themselves a little party.”
Doc Martin had just left when five of Joe’s friends rode up to the ranch house. One of them was Joe’s best friend, Mitch Devlin. Adam opened the door just as they were all getting off of their horses. Adam invited them all inside.
“The sheriff told me about what happened to Joe,” Mitch said with worry in his blue eyes. “Is he all right?”
Adam swallowed and replied, “Right now he’s asleep. The doctor got the bullets and he’s doing all he can to help him.”
“We hope Joe will be all right.”
“We all do.”
“I saw him last at the Silver Dollar. He started playing that poker game. I watched for a little bit and went home. He was laughing and carrying on like he usually does. I can’t believe this has happened to him.”
Silence followed. Adam hoped he would never see these young men be given bad news that their friend had passed on. He felt a lump in his throat just thinking about it.
Joe slowly opened his eyes as Adam laid a cold wet cloth across his forehead. His whole upper torso felt sore like he had been rolled and bounced down a rocky hillside. He also felt hot and sweaty.
“Oh, you’re awake.” Adam got up and sat down on the bed beside him. “The doctor just left. He got both bullets out. He said you have some broken ribs and you’ll be hurting for a while. He’ll be back to check on you.”
Joe managed to whisper, “Oh.”
“Some of your friends, including Mitch, were here a little while ago. They said to tell you ‘Hi’.”
Joe weakly smiled. He remembered saying “goodbye” to Mitch while he was playing poker. Joe hoped his friends weren’t worried about him. He could sure see worry in Adam’s hazel eyes. He really wished that his brother would not look at him like that.
“How are you feeling?” Adam asked.
Joe did not respond as he drifted back into darkness. He started to remember another memory of Mama.
It was Adam’s 15th birthday. Mama handed him a new guitar. Adam grinned as he held it and started strumming and singing a melody.
Joe knew the story well from hearing it a few times over the years. Mama had once heard Adam make a passing comment that he wished he knew how to play the guitar. She immediately found someone in town to teach him how to play. It was some old guitar that he had learned to play on. It was something old that someone had and gave to him. Later Mama gave Adam a brand new guitar for his birthday.
Hoss ran into the ranch house, saw no one downstairs and ran on up the stairs. He hurried down the hall and into Joe’s bedroom. He noticed Adam sitting on the bed beside Joe whose eyes were closed.
“You just missed him being briefly awake about two or three minutes ago,” Adam said.
Hoss questioned, “Was the doctor here?”
“Yes. He got both bullets out. Joe has a fever and some broken ribs. Paul will be back to check on him.”
Hoss sat down on the bed. “Did Paul say our little brother’s going to make it?”
Silence followed for a few moments. Hoss noticed dread in his older brother’s eyes as he appeared to swallow hard. Hoss started to feel a foreboding that this could end very badly. They could really lose their little brother. He wished he could punch whoever had shot him.
Adam replied low, “Paul said that Joe lost an awful lot of blood which is not good. He also said that the only thing he can promise is to do all he can to save Joe. He is a fighter.”
“Of course he is.”
Hoss looked down at his younger brother and noticed how pale he really looked. There was almost no color in his skin. Even his lips were almost colorless.
“Did you get the wire to Pa?” Adam questioned.
“Yes.” Hoss nodded. “He wired back that he will be here on the noon stage tomorrow.”
Then Hop Sing stepped into the room. “You boys eat. I make sandwiches.”
Hoss and Adam both looked over at him and then at each other.
“No, not now,” Adam replied. “Maybe later.”
Hoss added, “I’m really not hungry right now, Hop Sing. Sorry.”
Hop Sing’s eyes widened. “Mr. Hoss not hungry?”
Hoss remembered something similar to this had happened about two years ago with Joe laying here in his bed near death. Joe and Adam had been involved in a hunting accident. Hoss and Adam both didn’t eat then as well until after Joe had waken up from his fever.
Roy and his posse slowly and quietly stepped into the camp. Three men were sitting around the campfire as they drank and drunkenly sang some song that Roy did not recognize. He did recognize them as the three men whom he was sure Mitch had noticed at the Silver Dollar last night. One of them had long red hair.
“All right, hands up!” Roy called out.
All three men stopped singing and slowly stood up with their hands raised.
“What?” The red-haired man asked. “The Sheriff?”
Roy replied, “You’re all under arrest.”
“What did we do?”
“A young man was shot early this morning. We followed the tracks of the shooters and they lead us right to you.”
There was silence for a few moments before one of the other men questioned, “Who found Cartwright dead? His daddy?”
Roy answered, “Who told you he’s dead?”
“Well he sure looked dead to us after we shot him. His eyes were closed and he wasn’t moving.”
The third man added, “He didn’t move when I went through his pockets and took out his wallet.”
Roy announced, “Very slowly unbuckle your gun belts and drop them. You’re all under arrest for attempted murder and for robbery.”
“Attempted murder?” The red-haired man replied. “You mean he’s alive?”
“For your information he got back on his horse and rode home.”
“Drop your gun belts slowly. Now!”
Roy and the posse all carefully watched the three men slowly unbuckle their gun belts and let them drop to the ground. He felt sickened at the thought that these men had enjoyed doing what they did to Little Joe. Then the red-haired man turned and started to run away toward some horses that were tied to some trees on the far side of the camp.
Roy drew his gun. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
The man continued running, and Roy shot him in the leg. The man cried out as he fell to the ground.
Images of various memories ran through Joe’s mind like train cars going down a track. There was a brief glimpse of this moment and a brief glimpse of that moment. They were all memories of mama. He kept seeing her warm face and her loving brown eyes. Joe saw her smiling and laughing. He saw her holding him close in her lap.
Joe opened his eyes and noticed that he was still laying in his bed. Adam and Hoss were seated in chairs on both sides of his bed.
“He’s awake,” Hoss said.
Adam and Hoss both came and leaned over Joe. Tears seemed to show in their worried eyes. Okay, he thought they really needed to stop looking at him like that. He was not liking this one bit.
“You stay with us, little brother,” Hoss told him. “You hear? You stay with us.”
Joe tried to whisper back, “I will.”
Yet the words didn’t quite come out. His lips only moved in silence.
Adam informed, “Pa will be home tomorrow. I’m sure he’s anxious to get here.”
Joe hoped Pa wasn’t worried like his brothers were. He closed his eyes and drifted back into darkness. He started to remember another memory.
He remembered being out in the barn one night with Mama, Pa, Adam and Hoss when a foal was born. Hoss was almost dancing with excitement when he reached out his hand and let the newborn foal sniff it.
Hoss had told Joe many stories over the years about Mama telling him various things about horses. She even shared with him about the different horses she had back in New Orleans.
The one thing that Joe always especially remembered Hoss telling him was that Mama never called Adam and Hoss her stepsons. She always referred to them as her sons.
It was late afternoon when Roy knocked on the ranch house door. Hop Sing opened the door and let him in. Adam appeared at the top of the stairs.
“Is Hoss with Little Joe?” Roy asked as he climbed the stairs. “I have something to tell both of you.”
“Yes,” Adam replied.
Roy followed Adam down the hall into Little Joe’s bedroom. Roy saw Hoss sitting in a chair beside Little Joe’s bed. He noticed Little Joe looked very pale. Roy had seen dead men who looked just a little paler. He felt something inside him drop. This could not be good.
“Roy has something he wants to tell us,” Adam told Hoss.
“We found the three men suspected of shooting and robbing your brother,” Roy informed them. “We arrested them, and they’re sitting in jail right now. They’ve been charged with robbery and attempted murder.”
Hoss replied, “Thanks for finding them. I wish I could punch all three of them.”
Roy nodded. “It’s very understandable that you would feel that way, but you know you can’t do that.”
“If our brother dies …” Adam added and stopped like there was something that he really didn’t want to voice.
Roy noticed that hot anger that he rarely saw in Adam’s hazel eyes. It was a fiery look that caused him to feel chills. The last time he had seen that look was when all three Cartwright brothers were convinced that their pa had been murdered, and they were going to find whoever was responsible. That happened several months ago. Roy was relieved when Ben turned up alive, and his boys ended up not taking the law into their own hands. He now glanced over at Hoss and saw fierce anger in his blue eyes as well.
Silence followed for a few moments.
Roy informed, “We also recovered Little Joe’s wallet. It still has his money inside. We’ll be hanging onto it for now to use as evidence for trial.”
“Good,” Adam replied.
“Do you know when your pa will be back?”
“He will be here tomorrow on the noon stage,”
“Who’s meeting him at the stage?”
“We haven’t decided yet.”
Roy thought about that for a moment and answered, “I’ll meet him and bring him home.”
“Roy, you don’t need to do that,” Adam responded.
Hoss added, “Yeah, one of us can go get him.”
“That’s all right, boys.” Roy held up his hands. “I really don’t mind doing it. In fact I want to. I think you boys are needed at home with your brother. I’ll go get your pa and bring him right home.”
He noticed Adam and Hoss look at each other like they weren’t sure if they should really go or stay. Roy really wanted both of them to stay out of town with that anger he sensed was in them. He didn’t want any chance of them making their way over to the jail to have words and more with the suspects.
Then Little Joe softly moaned.
“I think he’s waking up,” Hoss said.
“Good,” Roy replied. “I’ve been hoping to talk to him.”
Adam informed, “He’s been saying very little.”
Little Joe opened his eyes and glanced from face to face with a sort of puzzled look. Roy noticed his green eyes seemed clouded like he was gazing through a fog.
Roy sat down on the bed and leaned over him. “Little Joe?”
Little Joe silently looked up at him.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Coming home,” Little Joe whispered so low his voice was barely audible. “Shot.”
“Did you see who shot you?”
“No. Eyes closed.”
“So you don’t know how many there were?”
“Three men’s voices.”
“Three men’s voices?”
“Three men. Long red hair.”
Little Joe closed his eyes like he was going to sleep.
“Little Joe?” Roy laid a hand on Little Joe’s arm.
The young man’s eyes remained closed and he did not say anything more.
“He’s been like that all day,” Adam said.
Hoss added, “Yeah, he wakes up for a few seconds and he’s back out of it again.”
Roy was glad he was able to hear something from Little Joe himself. Still what was this about eyes closed, three men’s voices, three men and long red hair? Well, there were three men in jail right now and one of them had long red hair.
A little later Roy returned to Virginia City. Back at the jail Clem handed him three notices that he had retrieved from the files.
“I think I found those cases you’re wanting,” Clem said.
Roy took the notices from him. “Good.” He read through all of them. “Yep, those are the ones.”
These three cases were very similar to Little Joe’s and they were all from about the past year or so. Only Little Joe managed to make it home alive. In each case the victim had won considerable winnings in a card game the night before. The first three victims were found dead and no witnesses were found.
“What do you think?” Roy asked.
Clem replied, “I think it’s pretty obvious those cases are all related to Little Joe’s except Little Joe is alive and they’re not.”
“Right. Bring me that saddle bag with the wallets in it.”
Clem grabbed a worn saddle bag out of the safe and brought it over to him. Roy pulled out four wallets – the fourth one being Little Joe’s. He compared the names inside the wallets with the names on the notices, and saw he had three matches. Clem looked as well.
“Oh, yeah, just as I suspected,” Roy said. “Three families are going to be very grateful that justice is coming for their loved ones.”
Roy was glad to see four cases solved and three killers stopped.
A few times during the night Adam got up, went to his bedroom and closed the door just so that He could be alone with his thoughts.
Once he laid down on his bed and drifted off into a deep sleep. He dreamed he, Pa, Hoss and Paul watched as Joe breathed his last. Paul drew the bed sheet over Joe’s face. Adam, Pa and Hoss all sobbed uncontrollably. Next, they all stood around Joe’s grave. Friends and neighbors had all joined them. Joe had been buried next to his mother. Adam stared hard at the gravestone on Joe’s grave. He wondered how life could be so unfair that his kid brother had died so young. This just wasn’t right. Then Adam woke up feeling confused and disturbed. Was that just a dream he had or did all of that really happen? He hurried out of his room, up the hallway and into Joe’s room. He noticed Joe’s eyes were open and looking up at Hoss who was talking to him. Joe turned and gazed over at Adam. A determined look showed in his youngest brother’s eyes.
In the morning Adam stood at Joe’s bedroom window as he realized that Pa would be coming home today. He watched the deepening gold and orange colors of the sunrise cross the sky.
“Maybe today our little brother will start to get better,” Hoss said.
Adam continued to silently stare out the window. He so wanted to believe what Hoss just said. Yet the memory of that dream played across his mind over and over again.
It was just past noon when the stage arrived in Virginia City. Ben stepped out of the stage coach to see Paul and Roy both standing there with grim faces.
“How is Joe?” Ben asked Paul.
Paul stood on one side of Ben and laid a hand on his back. Roy stood on the other side and laid a hand on Ben’s arm.
“He lost an awful lot of blood, Ben,” Paul replied. “I’ll tell you what I told Adam. All I can promise is to do all I can to save him. He is a fighter.”
“Do we know what happened?”
Roy answered, “We’re not real clear on that right now. It sounds like he was shot and robbed when he was coming home. It was very late at night. We have found and arrested the guys suspected of doing this.”
Ben glanced around and looked back at his two friends. “Where are Adam and Hoss? I expected one of them would meet me here.”
“They’re both at home,” Roy replied. “I told them it would be best for them to stay home with their brother, and I would go to meet you and bring you home.”
Ben thought about that for a moment and nodded. “All right. Let’s go.”
Paul informed, “I have a few patients to check on. Then I’ll be over at the ranch to check on Little Joe.”
Ben and Roy soon left in the Cartwrights’ wagon. For a few minutes they rode in silence.
Ben asked, “How are Adam and Hoss doing?”
“I see the worry in their eyes,” Roy answered. “I can tell they’re both upset at the thought they might be losing their little brother.”
They rode the rest of the way to the Ponderosa in silence.
Ben thought about the night that Joe was born. Marie shook Ben awake from sound sleep and told him that the baby was coming. It seemed like it was just a few short minutes later when the baby was born with a cry. Ben also remembered Adam and Hoss each taking turns holding their baby brother.
Dear Lord, I ask again for a miracle. I hope you don’t grow tired of me asking again and again. I ask that my youngest son will somehow get through this and live. I also don’t want to see my two older sons lose the baby brother whom they adored when he was born.
They soon arrived at the ranch house. Adam met them out in the yard as they got off the wagon.
“How is Joe?” Ben immediately asked Adam.
Adam replied with graveness on his face, “He’s been pretty well out of it. Once in a while he wakes up for a few seconds, and then he’s out of it again.”
Ben walked into the house and up the stairs with Adam and Roy following behind him. He stepped into Joe’s room to see his youngest son looking very pale as he laid in his bed. His eyes were closed like he was in a deep sleep. Hoss was seated in a chair beside the bed. Ben sat down on the bed and leaned over Joe.
“Joseph?” Ben said. “Can you hear me? This is Pa. I’m home now.”
Joe remained silent and sleeping. Ben wished his youngest son would wake up and say something.
Roy stayed for a little bit and left. Ben discussed with Adam and Hoss about what all had happened at the Ponderosa while he was gone. He also told them a little about his trip.
After awhile Ben got up to pour himself a cup of coffee at the small table near the door. He noticed the coffee pot was nearly empty.
“I’ll get us some more coffee,” Ben announced.
He grabbed the pot and went on downstairs to the kitchen where Hop Sing was placing sandwiches on a plate.
“Hello, Hop Sing,” said Ben. “Do you have some more coffee?”
Hop Sing nodded. “Yes, Mr. Cartwright.”
The cook grabbed a pot off of the stove and poured more coffee into the coffee pot.
“How have things been going the past couple of days?” Ben questioned.
A worried look showed on Hop Sing’s face. “Not good.”
“Boys not eat.”
“Adam and Hoss?”
“They not eat yesterday. They not eat today. They say not hungry.”
Ben thought about that for a moment and answered, “You put some food on the table. I’ll send them both right down.”
“Yes, Mr. Cartwright.” Hop Sing smiled.
Ben marched back up the stairs with the coffee. He set it back on the small table in Joe’s room.
“Hop Sing is putting food on the table,” Ben announced. “You boys go ahead and eat something.”
Adam and Hoss looked at each other like they weren’t sure if they really wanted to eat.
Ben added, “You boys are not helping your brother by not eating. I’ll be right here with Joe. You two go eat something.”
Adam replied, “Pa, the reason why we haven’t eaten is because we haven’t been hungry.”
“We haven’t had much of an appetite,” Hoss said.
“Just eat something,” Ben answered.
Adam and Hoss slowly got up and left.
Joe opened his eyes to see Pa sitting beside him on the bed. He noticed no one else was in his bedroom with them. He also noticed the worried look on Pa’s face. His dark eyes showed dread. Joe wished that his father would not look at him like that. It was the same look he kept seeing from his brothers.
Joe also remembered he sometimes heard his brothers talking while he was out of it. He had also heard the voices of Pa, Sheriff Coffee and Doctor Martin. He even at one point had heard the voice of his best friend Mitch.
“Hello, Joseph.” Pa slightly smiled as he leaned over and held one of Joe’s hands. “You’re awake. I’m here now. Your brothers are both downstairs. They’ll be back shortly.”
Joe whispered, “Pa, don’t worry.”
“Please don’t worry. I’ll be okay.”
“I’m not worried.”
“Yes you are. I see it on your face.”
Pa just gazed at him in silence with a troubled look on his face.
Joe added, “I wish you and Adam and Hoss and everyone else wouldn’t worry.”
“We’re concerned, but we’re not worried.”
“I hear everyone talking about me. Please stop worrying. I’ll be all right.”
As Joe drifted back into darkness he heard Pa’s trailing voice call, “Joe? Joe…”
God, please help me to be okay. I want to wake up and be okay. I want my family to stop worrying about me. I want to be like the father in that poem.
Joe remembered a certain night when he was about two or three-years-old. He woke up to a very loud thunder and lightening storm going on outside. He got out of bed and ran out of his bedroom. Joe ran down the hall and into Mama and Pa’s room where he jumped up onto their bed.
“I’m scared!” Joe cried. “Scared!”
Mama wrapped him up in her gentle arms. “It’s all right, Little Joseph. It’s just a storm.”
“You’re safe, Son.” Pa put a hand on Joe’s shoulder.
Joe also remembered Mama trimming and watering her flowers in the pots out in front of the house. Pa had always said that Mama was like springtime year round.
Adam nibbled at his sandwich while he and Hoss sat across from each other at the dining room table. He still did not really feel like eating, but he forced himself to chew and swallow a couple of bites of the sandwich. He noticed Hoss was eating a few bigger bites of his sandwich.
“I keep trying to tell myself that everything is going to be all right,” Hoss said while worry still showed in his blue eyes. “Our little brother is going to make it.”
Adam nodded in silence. He still hadn’t told anyone about that bad dream he had last night. He felt so disturbed by the dream that he was afraid to go back to sleep for fear he would see Joe’s grave again.
Adam replied, “He’s barely more than a kid.”
“Yeah.” Hoss nodded.
A few minutes later Adam and Hoss returned upstairs to Joe’s room without finishing their sandwiches. Pa still sat beside Joe’s bed.
“You just missed him being awake,” Pa informed. “He was only awake for a few seconds.”
Adam questioned, “Did he say anything?”
“He just asked for us to stop worrying about him and he said he can hear us talking.”
Adam remembered back to that hunting accident. Joe later told Adam that he could hear people talking around him like he wasn’t there. Adam wondered what Joe was hearing now.
That evening Paul and Mitch both came to spend the night with Joe. It was late at night when Joe woke up and Mitch sat down beside him on the bed.
“Hey, Joe, we need you to get better,” Mitch told him.
Joe whispered, “I will.”
During the night everyone sat around and dozed off only to wake up every time Joe happened to stir. Adam started to feel like they were all on some kind of death watch. Of course he knew everyone wanted his youngest brother to somehow pull through. At one point Adam even slipped into a brief slumber only to dream again about everyone standing around Joe’s grave. He startled awake just as he saw Joe’s eyes flutter open. Adam got up and sat down on the bed beside Joe. His brother’s green eyes looked up at him with such determination.
“Please stop worrying,” Joe whispered so low that it was barely audible.
Adam laid a hand on his arm. “Hang in there, little buddy, hang in there.”
“I’ll be okay just like that father.”
Joe’s lips moved in silence like he was trying to say something else. Then his eyes closed like he was drifting off to sleep and he said nothing more.
Adam looked around the room to see everyone awake and watching.
“What did he say?” Pa asked.
Adam replied, “It sounded like he was trying to tell me something about a poem.”
“He was probably just rambling,” Paul answered with sadness in his eyes. “I’ve seen that many times.”
Adam thought about that for a moment, but felt very strongly that Joe really was trying to tell him something about a poem. What poem? He looked out the window and noticed that the sky had started to lighten. Sunrise was coming.
Adam stood up. “I’ll be back in a little bit.”
He walked out of the room, up the hall into his bedroom and closed the door behind him. Adam sat down on his bed and stared up at books on his shelves. He realized that many were poetry books. Several he had bought over the years. A few had been given to him by family and friends. He had read them all – some many times over.
Dear God, what was Joe trying to tell me? It sounded like he was trying to tell me something about a poem. What poem?
Adam scanned the books while his eyes kept staring back at a certain small blue book nestled between all of the others. Wait. Wasn’t that the poetry book that Joe had given him for his birthday a few years ago? Adam remembered Joe telling him about finding it somewhere and reading a few of the poems in it. He liked the poems and thought Adam would enjoy them too. Now Adam pulled the book out and slowly fingered the blue cloth cover. Then he vaguely remembered reading a poem about a healing happening in a family. Was that poem in here? He opened the book and scanned the table of contents. There listed was the title “The Healing”. The healing? Adam turned the pages to the poem and read it.
The Healing (*)
The dying sun in flames,
Flat prairie out in the west,
A family of nine,
A small dusty farm.
Pa was sick and he was dying.
The moon and stars kept vigil,
A hushed congregation.
Beth knelt behind the barn.
“Dear Jesus, please don’t let my pa die.
Please make Pa better.”
Early morning dawned,
The golden sun crested distant hills,
Prairie grasses waved
Silently in stilled awe.
Pa opened his eyes
And he lived.
Adam stared at those last two lines. Pa opened his eyes and he lived. He lived. Just a few minutes ago didn’t Joe say he would be okay just like the father? The father in this poem!
Adam walked back to Joe’s room and sat down on the bed beside his youngest brother.
“Hey, little buddy, I don’t know if you can hear me right now,” Adam said. “But I have the poetry book here that you gave me for my birthday a few years ago. I think I found the poem that you were trying to tell me about. It’s called ‘The Healing’.”
Adam felt hope rise inside of him as he read aloud the poem. Silence followed in the room for a few moments as Joe continued to “sleep”.
Pa replied, “The Bible talks about healings. Jesus went about healing people.”
“I know a healing happened in my family,” Mitch informed. “This story comes from my grandmother. One of her babies was born bluish and not breathing. Grandma immediately prayed and asked God to heal her baby. The baby finally started breathing and she wasn’t bluish anymore. That was my Aunt Adora. She grew up, got married, and had children of her own.”
“I’m glad your aunt was all right,” Paul answered. “I have heard of stories about miracles happening to people. There have been a few times when I’ve wondered if I had just witnessed one.”
Adam looked over at the window and saw that the sky had turned golden peach. It was sunrise just like in the poem.
Joe heard Adam’s voice in the distance. He was reading the poem that Joe had been remembering. Adam found the poem!
Next Joe saw Mama standing before him. She smiled while her warm brown eyes showed great love. He realized how much he had missed her since he was a little boy.
“My little Joseph all grown up,” She said.
Joe replied, “Mama, I’ve missed you.”
“I’m always watching over you.”
Joe felt comforted by that thought. “I don’t like it when people say bad things about you or they insinuate bad things about you.”
“I know that has always troubled you.” Mama nodded. “Some people don’t understand, they will never understand, and there’s nothing we can ever do to make them understand.” She paused a moment. “You have some memories of me, right? I know you were very young when I left.”
“Yes, I have a few memories of you. I will always remember you.”
She smiled. “Your father and brothers have shared with you their memories, right?”
“Hold on to those memories. You four know the truth.”
They took a hold of each other’s hands. She felt so real. Joe had a momentary thought that he wanted to stay with her and not let her out of his sight again.
“I wish I could talk to you forever,” Joe told her.
Tears seemed to show in her eyes. “It’s not your time yet. Someday we’ll all be together forever. Right now you need to go back. Your father and brothers and some other people have been very worried about you.”
“I love you, Mama.”
“I love you, too, my sweet little Joseph. Remember I am always watching over you.”
Then Mama faded from Joe’s sight like she had been part of a dream. Why did she have to go?
Morning light had started to fill Joe’s bedroom. Adam and Pa both sat beside Joe on the bed. Adam was on one side of Joe while Pa was on the other. Pa had a hold of one of Joe’s hands. Joe still looked colorless while his lips moved silently like he was talking to someone. Then he softly moaned. Next coloring started to return to his skin as he no longer looked pale.
“I think his coloring is coming back,” Adam informed.
Paul got up, walked over and sat down beside Pa. “I’ve never seen this happen before.”
“He doesn’t feel cold and clammy,” Pa added.
Adam laid a hand on one of Joe’s arms. The coldness was gone and warmth had returned.
Joe opened his eyes to see Pa, Adam and Paul sitting beside him on his bed. Hoss and Mitch both stood near his bed.
He looked up at all of them and asked, “Why is everyone in my room?”
Pa replied, “We’ve all been very concerned about you, Son.”
Joe started to lean forward and pain shot through his upper torso. Oh that was not a good idea. Pa and Adam both gently pushed him back against the pillows.
“Easy there,” Paul said. “How do you feel?”
“Like I’ve been rolled down hill,” Joe answered.
“I bet you do. You were shot twice and you have broken ribs.”
Paul laid a hand on Joe’s forehead. “The fever’s gone. That’s a very good sign.”
Joe realized he no longer felt hot and sweaty.
Hoss added, “You gave us all a real bad scare, little brother.”
Joe answered, “I’m sorry.”
Later in the morning Joe was seated up in his bed while Adam sat in a chair beside him. Joe glanced over at his nightstand and saw a blue book that looked like that book of poems he had given to Adam for his birthday a few years ago.
Joe pointed over at the book. “Isn’t that the book of poems that I gave you for your birthday one year?”
“Yes.” Adam smiled as he grabbed the book and held it in his hands. “Didn’t you tell me you had read a few of the poems in here?”
“Did you read a poem called ‘The Healing’?”
“Is that the name of that poem?”
“It’s about a farm family. The father was sick and dying.”
“Sunrise came, and he opened his eyes and he lived,” Joe replied. “I heard you reading it.”
“Good. I was hoping you heard me.”
Adam opened the book and read that poem again aloud.
The dying sun in flames,
Flat prairie out in the west,
A family of nine,
A small dusty farm.
Pa was sick and he was dying.
The moon and stars kept vigil,
A hushed congregation.
Beth knelt behind the barn.
“Dear Jesus, please don’t let my pa die.
Please make Pa better.”
Early morning dawned,
The golden sun crested distant hills,
Prairie grasses waved
Silently in stilled awe.
Pa opened his eyes
And he lived.
Joe thought about that father fighting to live so that he could still take care of his family.
Thank you, God. Thank you.
Tags: Little Joe Cartwright, Adam Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hop Sing, Sheriff Roy Coffee, Doctor Paul Martin
Author’s Note: This story started as a few paragraphs written for a challenge on Bonanza Boomers
(*) I wrote “The Healing” back in the 1990s. I think it was within about two or three years after Michael Landon had passed away in 1991. I remember I had “Little House On The Prairie” on the “brain”. I think I had found a TV/cable channel that was showing reruns of the show. I was thinking of Charles/Michael when I wrote the poem. Beth is actually Laura. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the poem, but I always felt to hang on to it. While I was working on this story I remembered that poem and felt I was to include it.
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