Summary: Joe is invited to a birthday party on Hallowe’en. Spooky goings-on culminate in near tragedy.
Rated: T (10,465 words)
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Witches Coven Series:
“What in tarnation are you all gussied up for?” asked Hoss Cartwright in amazement, as his younger brother Joe came down the stairs in the Ponderosa ranch house, wearing a crisp white shirt, pressed tan pants, and a neatly tied string tie. “This ain’t a Sunday morning. There ain’t no dances on tonight.”
“Well, that’s where you’re wrong, big brother,” Joe answered, good-naturedly. “There is a dance of sorts on. It’s Patty Smith’s birthday, and I’ve been invited to the party!” Crossing to the credenza by the front door, Joe began to strap on his gun. It was a long, lonely ride to the Smiths’ place.
Following Joe, Hoss said, “How come Adam and me weren’t asked?”
Patting Hoss consolingly on the shoulder, Joe fought to keep a straight face. “I guess you’re both just too old and staid, brother.”
For a second, Hoss took Joe’s tone at face value, then he realised what Joe had said, and swiped at the younger man with a massive paw. Joe, laughing, danced back out of reach. “Jist you come back here, you little varmint!” Hoss threatened, as Joe nimbly dodged another swipe.
“What’s going on here?” Ben Cartwright, the boy’s father, asked, coming from the kitchen. He took in the situation with a single glance. “I see you’re ready to go,” he said to Joe, who placed himself strategically by his father’s side. It proved to be a sound move, as Hoss stopped trying to knock his block off. “Well, remember, don’t be too late. Patty’s father doesn’t want a hoard of young people milling about his place till all hours of the morning. I don’t want you going into town afterwards, either. Tomorrow’s a working day, and you have an early start!”
“Sure thing, Pa,” Joe agreed, his laughing green eyes still locked on Hoss, who was taking up position near the door. “I won’t be too late.”
“Enjoy yourself,” Ben said, and turned to sit by the fire. When Joe didn’t move, Ben turned to eye him. “Aren’t you going?” he asked, wondering what mischief his irrepressible youngest son was cooking up now. Life was never dull with Joe around.
“I’d love to, Pa, but Hoss is blocking the door,” Joe complained. “Come on, big brother, I’ll be late if I don’t go soon.”
“For goodness’ sake, let him go,” Ben said. “I’ve got some fresh coffee here, Hoss, and Hop Sing is bringing a plate of cookies.”
Giving Joe a look that told him all was not forgotten, Hoss let his brother pass, giving him a swat on the rear, on account. Grinning, Joe picked up his hat, shrugged on his favourite blue jacket and left.
The music had already begun when Joe arrived at the Smiths’. He sought Patty out, and gave her his gift. There were quite a number of Virginia City’s young people there, and several couples were already dancing. It was a lively atmosphere, and Joe soon found himself in demand as a dance partner. He was light on his feet, an excellent dancer, and very good company. For a while, he danced every dance, but after a few successive fast ones, he pleaded for a rest, and made his way over to the punch bowl.
The punch bowl was proving very popular, he had noticed. Usually, punch at parties like this was thirst quenching, but not particularly flavourful. However, when Joe tasted it, he discovered why everyone was clustered there – the punch had been doctored. Joe could taste the rum in it. With a grin at one or two others who had also realised, Joe said nothing.
As the evening wore on, Joe found himself singled out by Patty. They danced several times, then when a waltz was played, Patty made a beeline for Joe and dragged him out on the floor again. “Do you know what night it is?” Patty asked, smiling seductively. Joe realised she was a bit drunk.
“Sure I do,” Joe replied, smiling back. “Its your 19th birthday.”
“Apart from that, silly,” she chided.
“Hallowe’en?” he ventured, knowing perfectly well that it was. He was rewarded with a groan and a rolling of eyes.
“I don’t know why I like you, Joe Cartwright,” Patty scolded. “After this dance, why don’t you come with me? I’ve something to show you.”
“All right,” Joe replied, intrigued. “What is it?”
“You’ll see,” Patty replied, and gave him another seductive smile. Joe’s smile grew in response. He could hardly wait for the dance to be over.
As they slipped outside, Joe noticed it was growing pretty late. Patty’s father had said the party must stop at 11:30. It was 11:20 now. The crowd were growing rowdy, as the younger guests, not accustomed to drink, were succumbing to the rum in the punch. Joe wondered when the first fight would begin. He was determined to keep clear.
Clutching Joe’s hand, Patty led him across the yard, behind the barn. Joe was even more intrigued. Patty was not the type of girl to risk her reputation for a quick tumble in the barn, no matter how handsome the cowboy. Through the trees, Joe caught the flicker of a bonfire. Sure enough, Patty led the way there.
“Do you like it?” she asked, gesturing to the fire.
“Is this it?” Joe questioned. He’d seen fires before. He wondered how much Patty had had to drink. She’d seemed reasonably sober, but now he wondered if the night air had allowed the drink to catch up with her.
“Not all of it,” Patty said, and she slurred her words. Joe knew she was drunk. “Come on, girls!”
About half a dozen girls dashed from behind the trees, and ran at Joe. He just stood, trying to figure out what was goin on. He shrugged off the first couple who tried to grab his arms, but it wasn’t in his nature to hit a woman, and he soon went down under their combined weight. With many hands making light work, he soon found his shirt ripped from his back, and he was tied down, spread-eagle.
“What are you doing?” he gasped. “Let me up! Patty, this has gone far enough.”
“Its Hallowe’en, Joe, and we are the witches of the coven of Virginia City,” Patty intoned. “You are our sacrifice to the goddess. You are the chosen one!”
The other girls all began chanting, “The Chosen One. The Chosen One,” over and over again. All summer, the girls had been playing at being witches. It had been Patty’s idea. She had come across a book of witchcraft in the attic of her home. Neither parent had known it was there, but Patty had read it from cover to cover, fascinated by the new things she’d learned. Soon, she was showing the book to all her girlfriends, and they had begun to practice some of the spells in secret.
Nothing much had happened, until one of the girls, Ruth, had slipped a love potion into her date’s cup at a dance. Her date had become unwell, then collapsed. Fortunately, Doc Martin had been nearby, and had managed to save the youth, although it had been close. No-one could figure out where the poison he had taken had come from, as nobody else was affected.
Not in the least discouraged by their failures, Patty and her friends decided that perhaps they weren’t real witches yet, and would need to make more effort. So they had taken to meeting once a week and dancing round the bonfire. They chanted words they’d found in the book, that they believed would summon the goddess. Finally, Patty had announced that her birthday would be the perfect day to complete their initiation into the witch-hood. They would offer a human sacrifice.
One or two of the girls tried to back out at that point, but Patty dominated the group completely, and they were beginning to be afraid of her. So, unwillingly, they agreed. Joe was selected as the sacrifice, because he was older than them, and good looking. The sacrifice had to be someone they would miss once dead. Patty rather liked Joe, and knew she would regret his death. That seemed to her to be the meaning of sacrifice.
To ensure her followers’ obedience, Patty had spiked the punch at the party herself, and made the girls drink several cups of it. During the waltz, her followers had slipped out unnoticed, and she had brought Joe, like a lamb, to the slaughter.
Alarmed, Joe fought against his bonds. They might only have been girls, and drunk at that, but the knots that bound him were tight. “Patty, enough!” he cried. “A game’s a game, but this has gone far enough.”
“Not far enough yet,” Patty said, and laughed. One of the other girls handed her a dagger. The firelight flickered off the polished steel, and Joe felt his stomach muscles contract.
Yet, he still thought it must be some sort of sick joke. Witchcraft was against the law, and although he didn’t know the punishment for being a witch, Joe was sure it was a price these girls wouldn’t be willing to pay. He thought they were playing with him, waiting for him to beg for mercy, or some other humiliating thing. So he didn’t shout for help, reluctant to be seen in such a position, and even more reluctant to expose these girls to unwanted attention.
Joining hands, the girls began to circle round Joe and Patty, chanting now under their breath. Patty held the dagger up and chanted, “Great goddess! Come to us, your daughters, and show us the way. Take this sacrifice as your just due.”
With a flair for the dramatic, Patty moved closer to Joe and raised the dagger above her head. For a moment, her eyes locked with Joe’s. “Don’t!” he said, softly. She was too drunk, he reasoned, to know what she was doing, and he didn’t want her to ruin her life with a drunken prank gone wrong. “Patty, think! This is wrong!”
It didn’t seem as though Patty had heard him. The dagger began its downward plunge, and Joe closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see her ruin her life, even as she ended his. I love you, Pa, he thought.
“Stop!” A deep male voice cried out, and Patty, distracted, looked up. The dagger didn’t plunge into Joe’s stomach as she’d intended, but sliced along one of his ribs, opening up a large, deep, gash down his left side. Joe felt the searing pain and cried out, his eyes opening wide.
Two men rode into the circle, scattering the girls, who reverted from being witches to being ordinary teenagers. One man jumped from his horse and knelt by Joe. “Are you all right?” he asked, and Joe recognised Adam.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, and then groaned.
Meanwhile, the other rider, Hoss Joe surmised from the light of the fire, had rounded up the girls, and was now heading towards the house where he would get help. Joe closed his eyes again, the better to bear the pain. He felt Adam slice through the ropes that held him captive.
People came with lights and shouting as Adam helped Joe to sit up. The girls were all milling around, most of them crying. Patty was crumpled in a heap, her eyes fixed on Joe. Mr Smith was first on the scene, and gazed with horrified disbelief at the gash in Joe’s side, which Adam was staunching with the remains of Joe’s best dress shirt. “What is going on?” he gasped.
Quickly, Adam filled him in on what he and Hoss had seen and heard. Mr Smith knelt by Joe. “Joe? Are you all right?”
“We need a doctor,” Adam said, and he sounded angry.
“I don’t think they meant it really,” Joe said, weakly. “The punch was spiked, and they are all drunk. I think they were just pretending to be witches, but got caught up in the idea. It is Hallowe’en, after all. It was just a game, which went wrong. Patty didn’t mean to hurt me. She was startled when Adam shouted.” He shot a pleading glance at his older brother, who knelt by his side holding him. Adam read the glance, and understood it. He knew what Joe was asking of him, and he realised that Joe was probably right. The drink was partly to blame for this. Swallowing, he knew he couldn’t condemn these girls to whatever fate awaited convicted witches.
“I think Joe’s right,” he agreed. “I think I startled Patty.”
Gratitude flowed from the depths of those green eyes, as Joe sagged against Adam. The girls were safe; although Joe thought it unlikely he would want to be alone with any of them for a long time. He looked across at Patty, and she was frowning at him. Joe was too sore to wonder what was bothering her. He was feeling extremely light headed, and cold. He shivered, and Adam immediately stripped off his coat and wrapped it round Joe. “Let’s get you inside,” Adam said, and helped Joe to his feet.
As the girls’ parents arrived to collect them, they were told the story. There were many recriminations for allowing the punch to be spiked, and not supervising them enough, but Joe thought that the punishment each girl would receive would be enough. He waited with his brothers in the Smiths’ front room, where Doc Martin came to patch him up,
It was late as they rode gently home. Joe had been lucky. It was a flesh wound, and had required only a few stitches. “I hope you did the right thing,” Adam commented, softly.
“So do I,” Joe agreed, soberly. “But I remember bits of what it was like the first time I got really drunk. I had no idea what I was doing. Everything seemed like a good idea at the time. Luckily, I had you two there to keep me out of trouble. Those girls had no one.”
“I reckon you’re right there, Little Joe,” Hoss said. He looked uneasily over his shoulder. A wind had sprung up, and the trees round about were creaking eerily in the growing breeze. “Let’s get you home and hope we don’t meet no ghosts on the way!”
“There are no such things as ghosts!” Adam said, firmly.
“And even if there were,” Joe added, “its past midnight, so its All Saints Day. All the ghosts have to go home to bed!”
They jogged on for a moment more. Hoss still looked uneasy. “Adam,” he said, finally, “is there a real good reason that you stopped that little girl from stabbing him?”
The next morning, Joe was allowed to sleep late. When he woke, he was stiff and sore, and he eased himself from the bed cautiously, being careful of his stitches. Dressed, he went downstairs, and wasn’t surprised to find only Ben in the room. “Morning, Pa,” he said, hoarsely.
“Good morning, Little Joe,” Ben said, rising from his desk. “How do you feel this morning?” He crossed to his son, and put a hand on his shoulder. He had been concerned by Joe’s paleness last night, but even to his worried eye, Joe looked better this morning.
“I’m a little stiff, but that’s all,” Joe admitted. “Where is everyone?”
Smiling, Ben guided Joe to the table, where his place was laid. “Out, working,” he answered. “We decided to let you sleep, as you won’t be doing much until your side is healed.” Ben went to the kitchen and returned moments later with coffee. Hop Sing was at his back with a plate of bacon and eggs.
“You were lucky last night,” Ben said, watching as Joe tucked in. “Thank goodness Adam and Hoss were there.”
Reminded, Joe swallowed and said, “Yeah, what were they doing there anyway?”
“As to that, you’d need to ask your brothers,” Ben responded. “I don’t know.” He smiled. “But, as I said, I’m grateful.”
“Me, too,” Joe agreed, round a mouthful of bacon. He ate a good meal, much to Ben’s well-hidden relief. But after that, came the difficult task of keeping him quiet, and Ben ended up devoting quite a bit of the day to keeping Joe occupied.
When Adam and Hoss came back just before supper, Joe was beginning to finally tire slightly. Ben had left him to his own devices for the last few hours, since he had to do the paperwork that was the only, slight, down side to the Ponderosa. Joe immediately began to bombard his brothers with questions, but he got very few responses until they were at the supper table, and had eaten most of the meal.
“I have to thank you for last night,” Joe said, as he played with his mashed potatoes. “It was real handy you being there. Which reminds me. What were you two doing at the Smiths’ place anyway?”
At once, Hoss became very interested in the scant remnants of his meal. He ducked his head, and avoided looking at Joe. Frowning, Joe turned his head to look down the table at Adam, who also seemed to be finding his plate fascinating. “Well?” Joe demanded. “It can’t be that hard a question.” He shot a glance at his father, who was frowning, too.
“Adam?” Ben said, when no answer was forthcoming. “We’re waiting. I’d like to know, too.”
The two oldest Cartwright sons exchanged glances, and Hoss ducked his head again. Adam cleared his throat and allowed his gaze to wander the room. “Well, its like this,” he said, and paused. Joe let out an exaggerated sigh. “We weren’t sure that you’d come straight home, so we decided to go and wait for you, and make sure you came here, and didn’t go to the saloon.”
For a moment, Joe just gazed at Adam, his face expressionless. Then came the moment they had dreaded, and Joe grew angry in an instant. “Well, thank you so much for that!” he exploded. “I promised Pa I would come straight home, but you two! No, you don’t believe I’d keep my word, and so you came to collect me, like I’m still a child! Well let me tell you something, brothers! I’m not a child, and I resent you treating me like one!” Joe pushed back his chair and rose from the table.
“Joe, we was jist thinkin’ of you,” Hoss protested.
“It’s a good thing for you that we did come,” Adam pointed out, avoiding Ben’s eye. “We did save your life, after all!”
“You hardly knew that in advance,” Joe shouted. “Not unless you can see into the future all of a sudden!”
“Calm down, Joseph,” Ben instructed. He sounded angry, too. “Joe is right, though, boys. I didn’t ask you to make sure he came home, did I? Surely Joe can be trusted to keep his word? I’m thankful that you did go there last night, but I’m not happy about your reason for going.”
There was silence. Adam looked at his plate. Hoss’ face was the colour of beetroot. “I’m real sorry I didn’t trust ya, Little Joe,” he muttered.
“I’m sure you are,” Joe snarled. “Now you’ve been found out!”
“Oh come on, Joe!” Adam protested. “Its not as though you’ve never sneaked off into town, is it?”
“That’s not the point!” Joe yelled. “I gave Pa my word, and you decided it was worthless! Well, thanks a lot, brother!” He drew a ragged breath. “I’m going to bed.” He turned sharply away from the table, and caught his balance on the wall. Ben was beside him in an instant, but Joe was too angry to accept help from anyone, even Ben. “Pa, I’m all right,” he said, and shrugged off the helping hand.
Watching, the others saw he was unsteady on his feet, and none of them moved to help him. In this kind of mood, Joe would as soon die as accept the help he needed. Without a backward glance, Joe went upstairs, and they heard his bedroom door bang resoundingly.
Wearily, Ben sat down again. He pushed his plate away in sudden disgust. He glared at his two sons. “I can hardly believe you did that,” he said.
“Aw, Pa, we didn’t mean no harm,” Hoss said, uncomfortably. “If’n Joe had started straight home, we’d have ridden back, and he wouldn’t have know nothin’ about it.”
“As Joe said, that’s not the point. You just showed Joe that you didn’t trust him. What did he do to deserve that? Nothing. I don’t know how you’re going to make it up to him, but I don’t envy you the task.” Ben rose from the table. “Good night, boys.”
As Ben walked up stairs, Hop Sing came from the kitchen and cleared away the meal. He didn’t offer either desert or coffee, and said not a word to the two men at the table. They sat silently, each absorbed in their own uncomfortable thoughts.
“We didn’t ought to’ve done it!” Hoss said. “I guess he’s got every right to be mad.”
“I already said I agreed with you,” Adam responded, irritably. “Do you have to keep going on about it?”
“How we gonna make it up to Little Joe?” Hoss asked. He stopped grooming Chubb and leant against the horse’s back.
“I have no idea,” was the short reply as Adam hefted his saddle onto Sport’s back. “I’d have thought saving his life would have been enough.”
“Aw, Adam, that was jist luck,” protested Hoss. “If’n you hadn’t been watchin’ them gals, we might not have seen what they was doin’.”
“Well, I don’t know, Hoss. Why don’t you think of something for a change?” Adam demanded. He led Sport out of the barn and mounted. Without waiting, he rode away.
With a sigh, and feeling really bad for Joe, Hoss saddled Chubb and led him out of the barn. He glanced at the house before he mounted, but he didn’t see Joe standing at the bedroom window. Joe took care that he wasn’t seen. His heart was cold with a mixture of anger and sorrow. When Hoss rode out of sight, Joe crossed back to the bed and flung himself down on it. His side twinged, but Joe paid no heed. His heart was sorer than any injury he had suffered. After a while, he cried, burying his head in the pillow to muffle his sobs.
The story of the party was all over Virginia City in a matter of days. Ben heard about 4 different versions when he went in to collect supplies and the mail. Almost the only thing the stories agreed upon was the bonfire and Joe being injured. Even there, Ben heard any number of different injuries. Someone even offered condolences for Joe’s death. That was one rumour Ben was happy to quash.
None of the girls involved in the scandal had been seen since the party, and Ben met one or two parents who stammered their way through an embarrassed apology. Another one or two crossed the street, to avoid having to do the same thing. It had been impossible to keep the story from Roy Coffee, the sheriff, and he cornered Ben and asked if Joe was pressing charges.
“Good lord, no!” Ben exclaimed. “What good would that do? Joe is sure those girls didn’t realise what they were doing. They had been drinking spiked punch, and a game just got out of hand, that was all.”
“Are you sure, Ben?” Roy persisted. “Maybe I should ride out to the ranch and ask Joe.”
“If my word isn’t good enough, feel free,” Ben said, slightly stiffly. “But you won’t get a good reception, I’m afraid. Joe has barely spoken to any of us for days.”
“Does he feel that bad about it?” Roy asked raising his eyebrows.
“No,” Ben answered. “It’s just that Adam and Hoss had gone out there to check up on him, and Joe was furious that they were treating him like a child.” Ben sighed, for the atmosphere at the ranch was beginning to get him down. Joe was perfectly pleasant and friendly to Ben and Hop Sing, and coldly indifferent to his brothers. He generally acted as though they weren’t there. He wasn’t even grousing about being laid up, which worried Ben immensely.
“Well, I can’t blame the boy, Ben,” Roy said, after hearing the story. “I would’ve been angry, too.”
“I was angry,” agreed Ben. “But Joe won’t accept their apologies. I’m at my wits’ end with the boy.”
“I won’t bother him, if you’re sure he doesn’t want to press charges,” Roy said. “You know him best. See you around, Ben.”
Thoughtfully, Ben walked back to the buckboard, and loaded the supplies. Joe had had some major tantrums before, but this one was really taking the biscuit. Ben was at a loss to know what to do. “Ben!” hailed a voice, and Ben turned. Paul Martin crossed the main street and smiled at Ben. “Been catching up with the gossip?” he enquired, facetiously. “Tell Joe to come into town and get his stitches out in a couple of days. He should be about healed by now. Since you haven’t sent for me, I take it there were no complications.”
“Apart from his mood, no, none,” Ben answered.
Rolling his eyes, Paul said, “Like that, is it?”
“No, that’s part of the problem.” And Ben told the story again.
“That’s a tough one, Ben,” he said. “Send Joe in tomorrow, and I’ll have a look at the wound. If it’s healed as well as I expect, you can put him back to work the day after, and maybe that will help. Less time to brood.”
“Thanks, Paul,” Ben said, and bid his friend goodbye as he shook up the team and headed for home.
The next day, as good as his word, Paul removed Joe’s stitches. The wound had healed well, but Paul advised Joe to be careful for another week or so. Thanking the doctor, Joe left the office, and unhitched Cochise from the rail. Ever since he rode into town, Joe had known that he was the subject of intense speculation. He could feel eyes on him all the time. Joe didn’t usually lack for confidence, and generally didn’t mind being the centre of attention.
But it was different this time. This time, he could sense the whispers, the rumours. He wondered if everyone knew what had happened to him. Tugging his hat down a little further over his face, Joe swung easily into the saddle and turned Cochise for home. He kept his eyes firmly fixed between Cochise’s black and white ears, and ignored everyone who tried to talk to him.
Once out of the town, Joe lifted his head again, and urged Cochise to a lope. He wasn’t looking forward to going home, either. He was finding it hard to hold the grudge against his brothers, for two reasons. One was that he had no practice at holding grudges. Joe’s nature was too quicksilver for that. The other was that he knew that Adam and Hoss had saved his life. It seemed churlish to him that he couldn’t forgive them. Yet their lack of trust rankled. He didn’t know what to do.
As always, when troubled, Joe found himself at his mother’s grave. Kneeling there, he poured his heart out to the spirit of the woman he could barely remember, not sparing himself in the telling, either. He shed more than a few tears. After a while, Joe felt calmer, and got to his feet, dusting off his knees. “Thank you, Mama,” he said. “I know what I’ve got to do.”
It was with a lighter heart that Joe rode home.
“Hi, Pa,” Joe said, coming into the house, and throwing his hat down on the credenza. He stooped to untie his holster. It followed his hat to the credenza. He crossed to the office, where Ben was sitting reading a letter, and hitched his butt onto the edge of the desk, leaning his arm along his upraised knee. It was a pose totally typical of Joe. “Anything happen while I was gone?”
“Not that you’d notice,” Ben replied, putting his letter down. “You’re back sooner than I expected. Did Paul take the stitches out? Didn’t you meet anyone you knew in the saloon?”
“I didn’t go to the saloon,” Joe replied, getting up and wandering away a little. “The only person I saw was Paul. Yes, he did take the stitches out.” Unasked, Joe pulled up his shirt to show Ben the healing wound. He avoided Ben’s eyes.
“Well, that’s good, son,” Ben said, at a loss. It was a feeling he was becoming all too familiar with in the past week. It was a feeling he didn’t like. “It wasn’t too sore?”
“No, it was fine,” Joe replied, carelessly. It had been rather painful at the time, but Joe was still wrestling with heartache, which tended to block out physical pain. Ben had wanted to go in with Joe, but had realised that Joe might take that as another example of being treated like a child. So the offer had been made casually, and the rejection given just as casually. “I’m okay, Pa,” Joe assured him, briefly making eye contact, and smiling.
As Joe wandered over to the settee, Ben picked up his letter and fastened his eyes on it again. But his mind was on Joe. He had no idea what to say to him to try and make things right between he and his brothers. But something had to be done soon. Ben didn’t think he could stand another week like the one that had just gone by.
Before he could make up his mind to say anything, he heard Adam and Hoss ride into the yard. He tensed unconsciously, waiting for Joe to get up and go to his room, as he’d done so often lately. But Joe remained where he was, leafing through the Territorial Enterprise. He didn’t seem to have heard them. Ben bit back a sigh. He’d found himself sighing a lot lately!
The door opened, and Hoss was first in. He didn’t say anything, his greeting dying in his throat as he caught sight of Joe. “Pa,” he muttered, and spent a long time unbuckling his gun belt. Adam wasn’t far behind. He, too, saw Joe before he spoke, and stood frozen for a moment.
Rising slowly, and carefully placing the paper on the table, Joe turned round. Ben thought he would then go upstairs, but he didn’t. “I want to talk to you,” he said, quietly. “Come and sit down.”
Exchanging glances, they did as they were asked. Joe was silent for a long moment. “I don’t quite know how to say this,” he began, and Ben was gripped by a great fear. He was convinced that Joe would tell them he was leaving, never to return. He didn’t think he could stand it.
Restlessly, Joe paced, as though that might help him find the words. It seemed to work. “I was really angry at you two for not trusting me,” he went on, looking anywhere but at his brothers. “I still am, I guess. But you did save my life, whatever your reasons for being there. And I’m grateful to you.” He paused again, and looked up at them. “I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m sorry for treating you so badly this last week. I hope you’ll forgive me, like I’ve forgiven you.”
Relief overwhelmed Ben, and he had to blink back tears. For a moment, he thought his other sons would reject their brother’s words, but Hoss lumbered to his feet, and went over to give Joe a loving slap on the back. It totally escaped his notice that Joe was almost floored by his affection! “Joe, I’m real sorry, too, and o’ course I forgive you. I’ve missed you this week, Shortshanks. I ain’t never gonna do somethin’ like that again!”
As always, Adam’s response was cooler. “Joe, I was in the wrong, and I apologise. I had no right to treat you like a child, and I won’t do it again.” He offered his hand. Joe looked at it for a moment, then threw his arms round Adam’s neck and gave his oldest brother a quick hug.
“You boys better get cleaned up for supper,” Ben said, and went to stand by Joe as the others went to wash up. “Son, I’m so proud of you,” he said to Joe, putting his arm round the young man’s shoulder. “When did you decide to do this?”
“On my way back from town,” Joe admitted. “I stopped by Mama’s grave. When I was in town, everyone was talking about me. I could see them whispering behind their hands, and it was awful. It was only when I was riding back that I realised that I was lonely. I’ve never really been lonely before. Sure, I had you and Hop Sing, but I missed Adam and Hoss. I missed the fun and the fights. And besides, they saved my life. It was pretty low of me not to take that into account.”
Swallowing over the lump in his throat, Ben gave Joe another squeeze. “Thank you, son,” he whispered, and walked over to the table. “And thank you too, Marie, my love,” he added silently.
Life on the ranch returned to normal. Hoss and Joe teased one another mercilessly, and Joe and Adam bickered over who did the most work. It was like music to Ben’s ears, and several weeks passed before he began to tell them to lay off one another.
In the city, too, things were returning to normal. The girls, chastened and subdued, began to be seen around again. Joe met most of them regularly on a Sunday morning at church, but he seldom spoke to them. Each girl had approached him separately and apologised. Joe found it as embarrassing as they did. He knew that the parson was taking classes with them, hoping to drive out any further ideas of dabbling in the dark arts.
The only one who was not shaken out of the world of make-believe was Patty. She had done some more research into her family, and discovered that her maternal great-grandmother had been burned as a witch in England 50 years before. With each fact she uncovered, she became more and more convinced that she was destined to follow in her great-grandmother’s footsteps. They shared a birth date. For Patty, that was the deciding factor.
Outwardly, Patty put on a show of being repentant. She attended the classes held by the reverend, answered questions when they were put to her, and kept a decorous silence when they weren’t. The rest of the girls shunned her completely, but that only made her more determined to become a proper witch.
On Sunday mornings, she watched Joe covertly across the church. She thought he was the handsomest man she had ever seen, and was still determined to use him as her sacrifice. Patty saw how Joe avoided the girls who’d been at her party, and knew she would have to work hard to charm him back to her side. Late at night, on the next full moon, Patty slipped out of the house, and cast a spell designed to make Joe trust her again.
By Christmas, the Hallowe’en doings were all but forgotten. Virginia City was cocooned in a deep fall of snow, which softened the outlines of the buildings. The Christmas dance was the highlight of the winter calendar, and the Cartwrights made every effort to go. Rather than ride in, Ben hitched up the sleigh, and they bundled themselves in blankets and furs in the back, and rode into town that way.
The hall was full of warmth and light, and Christmas decorations glittered gaily. The rich scent of the Christmas tree added to the joyful atmosphere. It wasn’t long before all the Cartwrights were on the floor, dancing the night away. Joe tentatively accepted dances from one or two of the girls from the Hallowe’en party, and soon it seemed like old times. Adam, keeping a wary eye on Joe, was relieved to see that he didn’t dance more than once with any of the girls who’d come so close to murdering him.
However, when Patty crossed to Joe’s side, Adam practically leapt out of the arms of the girl he was dancing with. Only a dark look, intercepted from Ben prevented him charging across to Joe’s rescue. Still, he kept glancing at Joe until the girl he was dancing with chided him for his lack of attention.
“Joe,” Patty said, looking and sounding subdued. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” Joe responded. He was as taut as a wire, unsure what to say to this girl. “How about you?”
“I’m all right,” she replied, her eyes downcast. “Joe, I wanted to apologise again about the party. It was so wrong of me. I don’t know what got into me. We’d been playing all summer, and then it all got out of hand. How can you ever forgive me?” She wiped a tear from her eye. Patty had been an accomplished actress from the time she was a small child.
“Its all over,” Joe said, uncomfortably. He hated to see girls cry. “Forget about it, Patty.”
“How can I?” she cried. “Joe, if Adam hadn’t stopped me… “
“Patty, drop it,” Joe said, sharply, and walked away. The memories brought back by thinking of that night were extremely vivid and unpleasant. Joe still had the occasional nightmare about it. He didn’t need Patty raking it all up again.
As the evening wore on, the festive atmosphere worked its magic on Joe, and he remembered the Christmas message of ‘Peace on earth and goodwill to all men’. So when Patty approached him again later, asking to dance, just for old times sake, Joe agreed. He’d drunk enough to feel mellow, and the dance passed pleasantly enough. By the end of it, Joe was thinking that perhaps he would be able to trust these young women again some day.
It was a thought that kept him silent on the long, cold ride home. He leant sleepily against Ben’s broad shoulder, and thought about trust. It seemed foolish to hold a grudge against those girls forever. After all, they had all had a very bad fright and learned a salutary lesson. Maybe it was about time he began to treat them like he had always done, and let bygones be bygones.
And so Christmas passed in peace and joy for the residents of the Ponderosa.
As winter wore on, Joe often found himself chatting to Patty when they met in the street. It had been a comparatively mild winter, and the Ponderosa hadn’t been cut off too often. It had even been possible for the Cartwrights to attend a few of the winter dances, a treat they normally had to forego. Joe regularly found himself paired with Patty for dances.
It was after a trip into town for supplies with Adam that the trouble began. “What were you talking to the Smith girl about for so long?” Adam asked.
Unerringly picking up on the disapproval in Adam’s voice, Joe said, defensively, “What does it have to do with you? We were only talking!”
“Don’t get on your high horse!” Adam retorted. “But you seemed mighty friendly with a girl who tried to kill you last year!”
“We agreed that she didn’t mean it,” Joe shot back. “When are you going to let her forget it? Or me, for that matter? If I choose to talk to Patty all day and all night, that’s my business, Adam.”
“I didn’t say it wasn’t,” the older man said, irritably. “I was just reminding you of a fact you seem to have forgotten.”
“Well, thanks for that,” Joe growled, and tucked his head deeper inside his collar. The silence on the rest of the trip home was as frozen as the landscape around them.
It was obvious to everyone that Joe was in a bad mood again. He unloaded the supplies with unnecessary vigour and in total silence, then stormed up to his room to slam the door. He and Adam had always had a prickly relationship. They were opposites, and tended to rub on each other’s nerves after a while. Adam seemed unable to remember that Joe was no longer a child, and unfortunately, that often provoked Joe into acting like a child. With a sigh, Joe threw himself down on his bed.
Downstairs, Ben looked at Adam. “Well?” he said.
With an exasperated sigh, Adam said, “Pa, I asked him what he was talking to Patty Smith about for so long, and he bit my head off. Said it was nothing to do with me. I just pointed out that she tried to kill him last year, and he got all defensive. Yelled at me for reminding him, and said to mind my own business.”
“He’s right, son,” Ben said, gently. “It is his business, and not trusting him to do the right thing caused that breach between you last year. I must admit, I’m not happy that he seems able to trust her again, but Joe is an adult. He must do what he thinks is best.”
Chastened, Adam said,” If it was any of the other girls I’d be happier. But Patty…”
“What about her?” Ben asked, knowing that he found it impossible to like the girl, and always had. He was curious what Adam thought of her.
“Do you remember Jock, the old Scot who worked for us for a while? He had a word he used. Sleekit. It meant sly in an evil way. Whenever I see Patty, that’s the word that springs to mind.” Adam shook his head. “I’m sorry I got Joe all riled up again, Pa. I’ll go and say sorry now.”
“All right, son,” Ben said, and watched Adam crossing the room. Sleekit – the word stuck in Ben’s mind. Yes, Adam was right. It did indeed fit Patty Smith.
Unfortunately, Adam’s interference had exactly the opposite effect to the one he’d intended. If there was one way to make sure Joe did anything, it was to tell him he couldn’t. Adam had basically told Joe to stay away from Patty Smith, and Joe found himself drawn to her like a bee to honey. As the weather thawed to a raw February, Joe seemed to bump into Patty everywhere he went. They were soon the gossip of the town.
Not that Joe was foolish enough to believe he was in love. He simply thought he was helping her get over the nasty experience they had both had the previous fall. He kept his remarks deliberately light when he was with her, and avoided making suggestions that she might misconstrue.
There was no danger of that. Patty had convinced herself that her spell had worked, and that she had charmed Joe back to liking her. More and more often, Patty was slipping out of her room at night, and she had begun sacrificing small animals that she caught in traps. With each step she took, Patty became more and more convinced she was on the right track, and would one day soon be a proper witch.
On St. Valentine’s Day, Joe met Patty in town again. He had ridden in to collect the mail, and was on his way back to Cochise, after drinking a cup of coffee to warm himself up, when he bumped into her coming out of the dress shop. “Hello, Patty,” he said, cheerfully enough, given the raw, blustery wind, which had pushed him all the way from the Ponderosa. He faced riding back into the teeth of it on the way home.
“Hello, Joe,” Patty responded. “My goodness, you look frozen!”
“Its pretty cold,” agreed Joe. “You look nice and warm, though.” Patty was wrapped in a fur coat. “Where are you headed?”
“Back to the buggy and home,” she replied. “I was collecting some dress material for Mama. The wind has picked up a lot since I left. Oh dear! I’m driving Meg, and she hates the wind.”
It was very windy. Looking at the sky, Joe decided he wouldn’t be surprised if it snowed again. “Tell you what,” he suggested. “Why don’t I come with you, and make sure you get home safely?”
“I couldn’t ask you to do that,” Patty protested, although secretly, she was exulting. “Its out of your way.”
“Never mind that,” Joe said. “I’ll come out and make sure you’re okay. No argument. Come on.”
They rode out to the Smiths’ place together. Joe stayed on Cochise, the better to deal with any moves the buggy mare might make, but although there was a lot of tail swishing and flattened ears, Meg made no trouble on the journey. Once there, Joe was invited in to thaw out again before he made his way home. Patty made mulled wine, which Joe had only had occasionally before, but he had to agree that it certainly warmed him through. Patty’s mother barely spoke to him before vanishing off to another room with the dress material.
Finally, Joe rose. “I must go,” he said. “If I don’t it’ll be dark long before I get back. Thanks for the mulled wine, Patty.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, and watched as he put on his outer coat. She pretended not to notice as Joe stifled a yawn. She stood on the porch, wrapped in a shawl, as Joe tightened his cinch, and mounted Cochise. She noticed that he hadn’t attempted to do his usual swing mount. She could no longer hold back her smile, as the cold amplified the effects of the drug she had put into his cup.
Whirling back inside, Patty put on her coat, and slipped outside. Joe was riding slowly down the drive, and Patty went to the barn, where she soon had her pony saddled. It didn’t take long for her to catch up with Joe. He was slumped in the saddle, in dire danger of falling off, when she caught up to him. With one hand, she took Cochise’s reins, and then she propped Joe up as she led him off the drive, into the woods.
This time, Patty took him deeper into the woods surrounding their property. She slid from her pony, and tethered it, and did the same for Cochise. Joe slid easily from Cochise’s back. Quickly, Patty removed his coat and shirt, then tied him tightly spread-eagle on the ground. That done, she turned her attention to the bonfire she had made previously, and lit it.
It took a while, but the bonfire gradually caught hold, and began to burn brightly. Once it was established, Patty dragged over some bigger logs, and positioned them on the fire. She tended it anxiously, afraid it would go out. By the time the logs were burning well, Joe was coming round.
It took him several moments to realise what was happening, but as soon as his mind cleared, Joe began to yell his head off, hoping that he would be heard at the house. He fought against the ropes, but they bit into his flesh even tighter. His hands were going numb, but Joe wasn’t sure if it was only the ropes, or if it was the cold, too. For darkness had fallen, and the temperature, never high, had plummeted. A bitter, raw, wind raised goosebumps on Joe’s bare chest, and he was shivering hopelessly.
“So,” Patty purred, stepping into Joe’s line of vision. “Here we are again.”
“Patty, don’t do this,” Joe pleaded. “Remember Hallowe’en! This is wrong! You know it is! Please, Patty, for your own sake, don’t do this!”
“Huh!” she said, scornfully. “For my own sake? For your own sake, you mean! Don’t kid me you have any kind of concern for me, Little Joe Cartwright! You only want to save your miserable skin. But it’s too late for that. You are destined to be my sacrifice, and I shall become a real witch. My spells brought you to me, and now I shall enter a new world.”
With a flourish, Patty threw off her coat, and stripped off all her clothes till she was clad only in her chemise and petticoats. She threw something onto the fire, which flared up with a whoosh. Joe was forcibly reminded of Tirza, and the exorcism he had watched the gypsies perform. Then, the intention had not been to kill Tirza. But kill was the only thing Patty intended to do. He swallowed hard as Patty began to dance around the bonfire, chanting under her breath.
“Are you sure about that?” Ben asked, and Pete, the young livery stable hand nodded.
“Sure am, Mr. Cartwright,” he said, eagerly. “Mr. Joe came in with Miss Patty, and they left together. Mr. Joe told her she would be all right with him to see her safely home.”
“Thanks, Pete,” Ben said, and gave him a coin. Pete stammered his thanks, but Ben never heard him, his mind fixed on finding his youngest son.
Leaving the stable, he saw Adam and Hoss coming towards him, both wearing remarkably grim expressions. “He hasn’t been seen in hours,” Adam reported, tersely.
“He went home with Patty Smith,” Ben said, his tone as grim as the boys’ faces. “Let’s go.”
It was an anxious ride to the Smiths’ place. Ben dismounted and knocked on the door. After a moment, Mr Smith opened it. “Ben!” he said. “This is a surprise.”
“Will, I don’t have time to explain, but is Patty here? And Joe?”
“Joe?” Smith repeated. “No, Joe’s not here. Patty is in her room. Hold on.” He disappeared inside, shouting Patty’s name. It wasn’t long before he came back, and he looked troubled. “Patty is gone,” he said. “My wife tells me Joe escorted her home. He had a drink, then left. Lisa thought Patty was in her room, but she’s nowhere to be found. I’ll get my coat, and come with you.”
There was more bad news as Smith returned with his horse. “Patty’s pony is missing,” he said, and held up a lantern. Hoss took it, and examined the tracks on the damp ground.
“This way,” he said at last, and the others followed him as he headed into the woods.
The knife glittered in the firelight. Joe watched with horror as Patty thrust the blade into the flames, then laid the steel against her forearm. The smell of scorching flesh came to him quite clearly. “Please, Patty,” he pleaded. He had said the words so often, he was barely aware of them any more. The cold seeped into his body, and he couldn’t feel his hands. His shivering had all but stopped.
“Now I am ready,” Patty said, and turned to face her prisoner. She knelt by him, and caressed his smooth chest. Briefly, her hand moved lower, brushing his groin. But somewhere deep within her was the gently bred girl who wouldn’t dare do such things, and her hand moved upwards of its own volition. “I draw your blood as a sacrifice to the goddess,” she whispered, and drew the blade lightly down Joe’s breastbone.
At first, there was no pain, but as the knife moved, drawing intricate patterns on his flesh, Patty began to dig deeper into his skin. Joe bit his lip to contain his cries, but it was no good. After a few moments, he was crying out his pain.
“Good, good,” Patty said, and made a deep slice down one bicep, then the other. Joe was bleeding from any number of places.
“NO!” he shrieked, and made another galvanic effort to break free. He only succeeded in leaving more rope burns on his wrists.
“Patty!” came a voice, and Joe thought he had imagined it. “Patty, don’t!”
Then Joe felt as much as heard hoof beats on the ground, and he looked round to see Hoss throwing himself at Patty. The girl screamed, and brought the knife up, but Hoss was too quick for her, and knocked it out of her hand. He wrapped his huge arms around the struggling girl, and held her immobile.
“Joe!” Ben exclaimed, and jumped form Buck to kneel by his son. “Joe! Son, oh, son!”
“Pa,” Joe said. He blinked back tears of relief. Adam knelt by Ben and began to hack at the ropes binding Joe. The moment he was free, Adam disappeared. Seconds later, he was back, and as Ben helped Joe sit up, he put Joe’s coat around his shoulders. Weary, Joe leant against Ben, and revelled in the heat coming from him. “I don’t think I feel too good,” he muttered, and slid into a dead faint.
It was difficult to decide what to do. Joe needed medical attention at once, but Ben was loath to go to the Smiths’ house. Patty couldn’t escape the law this time. So Ben and Hoss bundled Joe onto Buck, and they took him home, secure in the warmth of his father’s arms. Mr Smith got Patty dressed again, and Adam escorted them to the sheriff’s office, and saw that the doctor went to the ranch.
By the time they got home, Joe was dangerously cold, and Ben had Hop Sing make up a tepid bath to help warm him up. It also got rid of all the earth stuck to his back. Then, he was taken up to bed, and shortly thereafter, Paul Martin arrived.
“How is he, Paul?” Ben asked, as Paul came out of Joe’s room.
“Well, I’ve stitched him up, and given him something for the pain. With luck, there won’t be too much infection. Joe told me Patty sterilised the knife in the flames. But he was out there in the cold a long time. I just hope it hasn’t gone to his chest. But he’s very depressed, Ben. I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do for that.” Paul sighed. “I thought Joe was doing the right thing in helping those girls get back to normality, but it seems we were both wrong. I have to go, Ben. I have to examine Patty Smith.”
“Thank you,” Ben said, and let himself into Joe’s room.
Turning his head, Joe gave Ben a sleepy smile, but it didn’t have its usual brilliance. “Pa, how did you find me?” he asked.
“We heard your cries,” Ben said. The sound of Joe’s voice echoing eerily though the woods had given them all a shock. “They led us to you.”
“I was trying to keep quiet,” Joe said, and there was a breathy quality to his voice that Ben recognised. “Good thing I failed.”
“A very good thing, son,” Ben said, and stroked Joe’s hair. “You get some sleep. I’ll be here.” Joe clutched Ben’s hand tightly, and fell asleep.
For the first part of the night, Joe slept soundly, but later, as his temperature rose, he began to thrash around, crying out repeatedly. Ben did his best to keep Joe quiet, but it soon became obvious that Joe was very ill. About dawn, he began to cough, and that cough was to haunt the Ponderosa for many days to come. Paul practically lived at the ranch, as he helped the Cartwrights tend to Joe. They tired all sorts of things to bring his temperature down, but it was good old-fashioned ice packs that finally did the trick, and Joe’s fever broke in a drenching sweat after three long days of fighting.
Throughout, Ben had been at Joe’s bedside, constantly keeping watch over his son. He had dozed in the chair by Joe’s bed, letting Adam or Hoss take over the tedious job of keeping a cool cloth on Joe’s head, but whenever Joe stirred, Ben was there, soothing him, loving him, supporting him. When the fever finally broke, and Adam and Hoss were changing the sweat-soaked sheets, Ben took Joe into his arms, rejoicing that after so many days, Joe’s eyes were focused on his face again. “Pa,” Joe whispered.
“I’m right here, son,” Ben responded. “You rest, and you’ll soon be well again.”
“Promise?” Joe asked, and the ghost of a smile flickered over his face and was gone.
Smiling back, Ben said, “I promise.” As a child, Joe had always asked Ben to promise he would get well. It seemed he hadn’t forgotten. “You sleep, Joe,” he soothed, and Joe’s eyes closed obediently.
The cough didn’t disappear at once. In fact, it lingered for almost a month. The least exertion started it off, and Joe would be breathless for several minutes afterwards. It wasn’t helped by the weather taking a turn for the worse, with snow falling and lying again. No matter how careful everyone was, snow was tracked into the house, and melted in little puddles here and there. The dampness seemed to pervade the very air.
Struggling for breath after a coughing fit, Joe would often look at Ben, and mouth ‘promise?’ Each time, Ben would repeat his promise. But it was a sure sign that Joe was depressed. Usually, he was reassuring everyone that he was fine. They all tried to get him to open up to them, but to no avail. Joe kept his thoughts to himself.
Until one night, he wakened screaming from a nightmare. Ben was asleep, worn out from too many nights spent dozing in a chair. Adam had taken over sitting with Joe, and rushed to hold him. “You’ve got to tell us about this,” Adam said. “It’s never going to go away if you don’t.”
Huddled against Adam’s shoulder, Joe told his story in a low voice. He told about the meeting in town, and escorting her home. Then he told of the drugged wine, and how he had barely been able to mount Cochise, and then wakening up to find himself helpless. The cold; the knife; Patty. It all poured out of him in a torrent, and tears washed down his face. By the end of the telling, he was exhausted.
A warm, familiar hand caressed his head, and Joe turned his face from Adam’s shoulder to see Ben, clad in his robe, standing there with tears in his eyes. “Oh, Joe,” he said. “Why didn’t you tell us before? We were here for you.”
“I just couldn’t,” Joe said, but he felt much lighter, as though a thousand pound weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “I’m sorry, Pa, but I couldn’t.”
As Ben sat down on the edge of the bed, Joe untangled himself from Adam and leant on Ben’s shoulder. “I wish I’d told you before,” he admitted. “But I felt like such a fool.”
“Its over,” Ben said. “You weren’t a fool, Joe. You did what you did for the right reasons. But for some reason, Patty wasn’t able to accept your help. That’s not your blame. None of this is your fault.”
With a sigh, Joe snuggled in to the warm embrace, which was his earliest memory. It wasn’t long before he was sound asleep. Ben eased him gently back to the pillow, and went to where Adam stood by the window. He put his hand on Adam’s shoulder. “All right?” he asked.
“I guess,” Adam said. “But when I think of her, it makes me so angry. I wish they would decide what to do with her, so this would all be over. Joe couldn’t testify at a trial, Pa. I’d hate if he had to do that.”
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Ben responded. “I know how hard the waiting is. Joe isn’t well enough yet to testify, so don’t worry about it yet. Paul said he’d let us know as soon as anything happens.” Ben paused. “I’m glad Joe was able to open up to you about this. I think it’ll help him a lot.”
Smiling, Adam said, “Thanks, Pa.” The tautness of the muscular shoulder under Ben’s hand eased.
Finally, Joe was allowed downstairs, and managed to get there without nearly coughing himself to death. It so happened, that that was the day Paul Martin arrived to tell them that Patty Smith had been committed to a sanatorium for the mentally insane.
As Paul finished speaking, Ben glanced at Joe. The young man had his head down, looking aimlessly into the fire. Ben could see the troubled frown on his face. “Joe?” Ben said.
“Was that the only way?” Joe asked, raising tear-filled eyes to the two older men sitting opposite him. “Those places are… “
“Horrible,” Paul said, matter-of-factly. “Which would you prefer, Joe? An asylum, or a hanging?”
Shocked, Joe’s green eyes widened. His mouth hung open for a second. When he realised that he closed it with a snap. Adam rested a loving, brotherly hand on his shoulder. Hoss moved a little closer on the settee. “She tried to kill you, twice,” Adam said, gently. “This is the kindest way.”
“I suppose it is,” Joe said, eventually, having finally thought it through. “Poor Patty.” He looked up at the faces around him. “Perhaps she is mad, after all,” he said.
“Perhaps,” Adam said, but his tone suggested he didn’t agree. Neither did Ben, or for that matter, Hoss or Paul. They said nothing.
Shaking his head, Joe said, “I think I’ll go back to bed. I’m a little tired.”
It wasn’t until Joe had gone that Paul spoke up. “Ben, there is one thing. Patty keeps disappearing from the asylum. She is secured in a room with bars on the windows, but there are times when she just…vanishes. Her room mate is convinced that she turns herself into a bat and flies away.” He held up a hand as Ben tried to speak. “I know, I know, but when I went there last week to see her, she had gone. A short time later, she was back. It’s a mystery.”
With a shudder they couldn’t quite repress, the Cartwrights all glanced at the ceiling. Patty Smith couldn’t escape from an asylum.
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