Summary: The Family worries about an injured Hoss.
Rated T WC 19,000
Joe stood in the doorway to his brother’s bedroom and stared towards Hoss’ bed. The mammoth of a man lay there motionless, his eyes closed and his face pale and drawn. Just the sight of him made his little brother bite back his fears and say a silent prayer for his recovery.
Moving across the room Joe stopped when he reached the bedside chair, which held the patriarch of the Ponderosa. Ben was there, as always, keeping vigil over his beloved son. Joe could read his father’s face as he made it over to the nightstand. His heart fell in his chest when he noticed how old the man looked.
Pa was forever young as far as Joe was concerned. It didn’t matter that the man’s face contained numerous worry lines and that his hair was snow white, his youngest son never counted his father’s years by that. Ben Cartwright was as close to being a legend as any man could be; at least in the eyes of his youngest boy.
It was only during times such as these, when one of his son’s lives were in jeopardy, that Joe thought of his father as being human. All other times his pa was untouched by the fading of years and appeared to be as virile and young as when he had looked at the man some eighteen years prior, on the day that Joe had drawn his first breath.
Joe dropped his hand down on his father’s sunken shoulder. “I brought you some coffee—figured you could use it,” he offered.
“Thanks,” Ben nodded and took the cup from his son’s hand. He pursed his lips and drank some of the brew, all the while keeping an eye on his youngest. Ben knew that the young man was all torn up inside about his brother and it showed as Joe moved to sit down on the bed next to Hoss. He watched as Joe placed his hand on top of Hoss’ massive right hand and squeezed it gently, praying for a response.
“Any change, Pa?” Joe whispered, and his eyes yearned for an affirmation to his question.
“Not yet, but you know Doc said it might be awhile.”
Joe frowned and shook his head frustrated. “But, it’s been two days—maybe Doc missed something?”
Ben set down his coffee and stood to move over next to his two boys. He rubbed the back of Joe’s neck affectionately, trying to help with his mounting stress. “I know you’re not questioning Doc Martin’s ability!”
Joe gave a wry smile and shrugged his shoulders, “No, I didn’t mean it like that, Pa. We all know that he’s nothing short of a miracle worker when it comes to treating me. But—It just seems like Hoss should’ve moved, said something after all this time!”
“He took quite a hit to the back of his head—you saw it! We’re contending with the swelling right now. Paul said once it goes down a bit—well—Hoss should start coming back to us. I know it seems like forever—believe me—I feel the same way. But, worrying and getting yourself all torn up inside is not going to help your brother.”
“You should talk!” Joe shot back as he stood from the bed. “Pa—you’ve only nodded out for thirty minutes at best for the last two days. You know Doc said you better get some real sleep or you’re gonna be in your own sick bed!” Joe chastised.
“I’m fine. Hop Sing watched Hoss for a couple of hours this afternoon and I got some sleep. But, I’ve been doing this kinda thing for many years—as YOU know. I am fine.”
“Wish Adam was here—I sent that wire yesterday and still haven’t heard nothing.”
“Did you check this afternoon when you went to Virginia City?” Ben asked.
“Yeah—Pete said we haven’t gotten anything. He said he’d send someone out if we do.”
“Well—he’s down in Tucson—probably out with that herd and hasn’t gotten word yet. I’m sure as soon as he gets the telegraph he’ll head on home and leave the cows to Jake and the boys to bring back here.”
“You sure you want me to go to Carson City tomorrow? I mean—what if Hoss comes around? I sure would like to be here when it happens!” Joe asked as he walked with his father to the doorway.
“Sitting around and staring at your brother isn’t helping you—and you know how important he thought that project was. I’d like to be able to tell him—when he comes around—that his little brother handled it just fine,” Ben smiled and gave Joe the subtle hint that there would be no getting out of his new mission.
“I know—I know—” Joe grinned, knowing why he was being sent away for the time being. Pa was evident in his motives as always. Yes, Hoss had come up with the idea for a drainage system to be placed at the base of Syler’s Ridge to help resolve the erosion problem caused by the heavy winter snows.
By setting the system of metal pipes, it would save the oak groves that had helped to shore up the hillside that overlooked one of the most beautiful areas the Ponderosa had to offer. The entire Cartwright family were very concerned with conserving the ranch’s beauty for future generations and had replanted areas after timber cutting season. Along with that, they were always trying new ways to help prevent erosion, and Hoss’ idea was one way to accomplish that.
Joe also knew, however, that his father wanted to keep him occupied so he wouldn’t be hovering over Hoss all day and night. Sending him into Carson City to get the equipment was a good way to kill two birds with one stone; they would be able to get started with Hoss’ project and give the youngest son something to do with all his nervous energy. “You want to keep me out from underfoot don’t you?”
“You’re getting awfully suspicious of your old man here lately,” Ben teased and enjoyed a light moment after so many hours of worry.
“Just know you that’s all,” Joe nodded and moved into the hallway. “You will wake me up if Hoss comes around, right?”
“Of course I will,” Ben insisted.
“And tomorrow—when I go to Carson—it’s gonna take me hours to get that wagon load over to Syler’s Ridge—if anything happens—” Joe stopped and his face took on a pained expression. He hated the way his words had come out, almost like he was expecting some dreadful news about Hoss.
“He’s going to be fine, Joseph—but if he comes around I will send someone for you. Now, you need to get some sleep. I want you to stop by and get Hank Jefferies to help you with that equipment first thing in the morning.”
“I can handle it by myself, Pa. Gonna pick up the wagon already loaded with the equipment right there at the mercantile in Carson—so I don’t need no-one to go with me!” Joe protested.
Ben grabbed his son’s arm and stopped his objections. “Just humor me, will you? I already have one son who’s laid up—don’t make me go all day and night worrying about you!”
Joe sighed as he looked at the intent brown eyes, which were aimed right at his heart. “Okay—okay—I don’t need no-one to go with me—but if it will make you rest easy—then I’ll go get Hank on my way out tomorrow. There—now go on in there and keep your sentry duty.”
“Thank you, Joe—for doing as instructed—for a change,” Ben nodded and patted the boy’s shoulder as he turned back into the room.
Joe watched as his father moved over to the chair once more. His movements seemed so slow, as if he was aging with each passing hour. Joe knew in his heart that the only way to put the spring back in his father’s step was to have Hoss open his eyes and prove he would be okay.
“Wake me if you need me—good night, Pa,” Joe called into the room.
“Good night, Son,” Ben nodded and reached for Hoss’ hand.
Joe wasn’t able to sleep any better than his father could that night, his thoughts always trailing back to his brother Hoss. He washed and dressed and after checking on Hoss one last time he bid goodbye to his pa and hurried out on his assignment. Joe’s eyes scanned the skyline as he headed east towards the Jefferie’s ranch. The foreboding clouds were grouping in odd formations just off in the distance. There hadn’t been a good rainstorm in weeks and though it was needed for the local crops and also the cattle, Joe hoped it would hold off long enough for him to make his way back home with his supplies.
Dismounting in front of the small but well-kept ranch house, Joe saw the front door open and out stepped Grace Jefferies. Offering a brilliant smile, the young man sauntered up to the stairs and removed his hat.
“Morning Grace, how are you?” Joe started the conversation.
“Been better to tell you the truth, Little Joe—Hank’s laid up,” the woman sighed and motioned for Joe to enter the house.
Joe made his way into the front room and saw Hank laying on the sofa slathered in blankets. The man’s appearance was wan and Joe could tell he was hurting.
“What happened to you, Hank?” Joe asked as he moved in closer to him.
“Touch of pneumonia—Doc insists I stay in bed for the week. I told him I’d do better if I was just allowed to work up a sweat—but you know Paul! Not to mention this woman of mine—who also insists I stay down,” Hank fussed.
Joe laughed as he watched the exchange of looks between the married couple. “If I was you I’d do as I was told. Don’t know about Doc—but looks like Grace could take you in your condition. Don’t push your luck!”
“I’m gonna keep him down all right—but if he gives me any more grief about it I’ve got a good sized fry pan at the ready!” Grace smiled and winked towards her husband.
“What brings you out here, Joe? I heard about Hoss—did he come around yet?” Hank asked worriedly. He, like just about everyone else who knew the gentle giant, thought very fondly towards him.
“News sure travels fast around here,” Joe sighed and his face took on a worried expression just thinking of his brother lying lifeless back at the ranch house.
“Well—Paul told us when he checked on Hank yesterday, Little Joe,” Grace explained. “So? How’s Hoss doing?”
“No change yet—it’s got us all worried too! But Pa wanted me to get that drainage supply shipment to get started on the project Hoss came up with. I was heading over to Carson and just decided to drop by to say hi to you all,” Joe lied, not wanting Hank to feel bad that he wouldn’t be able to help.
Hank narrowed his eyebrows and stared into the young man’s hazel eyes. “I think you came by for me to help you and now that you seen me laid up you changed the story.”
“Well—I was gonna ask you to come along with me but that was Pa’s idea actually. That wagon is all loaded and ready to go. I told him I didn’t need any help—but well—you know how he is!”
Hank began to pull himself up from the sofa but his wife’s hand stopped his progression. “Nothing doing—you lay back down. Joe says he has it okay now you rest up, Hank,” Grace warned the man with her gaze.
Joe’s quirky laughter filled the room and he said, “I’d do like your wife says, Hank, if I were you. There’s no sense in ruining a perfectly good frying pan on your head!”
“You sure you can handle it okay, Joe? Maybe you can ride over to the Devlin ranch and see if either Mack or his son could help you?”
“I won’t have any problems. Thanks anyhow—you get well. Oh, mind your wife too!” Joe grinned and winked over at Grace. He then turned for the door and headed back out for his horse.
High noon brought Joe into Carson City and though the clouds still threatened a downpour they had held up for the time being. Sam Kershaw looked over the Cartwright order and one by one checked all the supplies, which had been loaded inside the extra wide wagon. It was the largest wagon that could be rented from the local livery stable and was needed to hold the lengths of piping and other drainage equipment that Hoss had ordered for his project. Joe was soon standing behind the man and watching him as he went about his business unbeknownst to the store owner. It wasn’t until Sam stood back and tied down the canvas covering that he noticed the young man with the Cheshire smile.
“Joe! You almost scared the daylights out of me!” Sam exclaimed as he spun around. “What are you part mountain lion—or half Injun?”
“Just enjoying watching a man so intent on working,” Joe replied and shook Sam’s hand. “You got it all for me?”
“Yep—all there—with a bit to spare. Them twelve footers come in shipments of fifteen and not ten like I thought. So, you’ve got yourself quite a load. You have a strong team to pull it all—so I doubt you will have any problem. But, you’re sure gonna need some help when you get to Syler’s Ridge and unload this mess!”
“Well—I’ll get some men when that time comes. Today’s job is just to get it out there then I’ll go steal some of the workers at the timber camp to help me unload it.”
“Hey—how’s Hoss by the way?” the storekeeper asked with heavy concern in his tone of voice.
“You heard too?” Joe asked surprised. He was starting to believe that Hop Sing had rigged up a telegraph right at the ranch house.
“Yeah—well—something happens to someone in the Cartwright family and it spreads fast around these parts. So, is he okay?”
Joe sighed and shook his head. I sure hope so Joe thought to himself and said a silent prayer for his big brother. “Yeah, he’s gonna be okay, just took one heck of a bump to his head. Doc says he should come out of it soon. I’ll tell him you asked about him,” Joe said and climbed up into the wagon’s seat. “I left my horse at the livery. As soon as I get this stuff where it belongs I will drop the wagon off at the stable and change it out for my pinto.”
“That’s fine, Little Joe. Tell your pa I’ll just put the charges on his account. Be sure to give Hoss my best!” Sam called up to Joe as he stood back up on the porch.
“I’ll do that—thanks, Sam, for having it all ready for me. See you tomorrow!” Joe called over to the man and then sent the team of horses forward.
“How’s our patient doing?” Paul Martin asked as he moved into Hoss Cartwright’s bedroom.
Ben stood from the side of the bed where he had been sitting for hours caring for his son. He shrugged his shoulders and replied wearily, “Well—he kinda muttered a couple of times. Nothing that made any sense but at least it was something.”
Ben moved away from the bed to allow the doctor to draw closer to his patient. Doc went about the normal routine of checking Hoss’ pulse and listening to his heart and then he examined the man’s pupils.
“Well?” Ben asked hopefully.
“He’s still under, but his heartbeat is good and strong and his breathing is regular,” Doc paused as he turned Hoss’ head to get a look at the injury. “The swelling seems to have gone down quite a bit more from yesterday. So, like I told you all before—he’s gonna come out of it soon.”
“You sure there’s not something else?”
“Nothing that I can see. But it’s a danged good thing that all your boys have hard heads like their father or Hoss might have been worse off than this!” Paul tried his best to put the anguished father’s worry at bay, if only temporarily.
Ben’s face showed signs of a brief smile and then he cleared his throat and went back to the issue at hand, “Both Hop Sing and I have gotten a bit of water down Hoss’ throat hoping to prevent dehydration like you warned us about.”
“Well once this young man wakes up he’ll want more than water! I bet you he has Hop Sing cook everything in the pantry to make up for these past couple of days,” Doc replied and closed his medical bag. “I’d like to say I could stay longer to sit with you, Ben, but it looks like there’s a storm brewing and I need to get back to town before it lets loose.”
Ben walked to the window and gazed out at the sky. He hadn’t even noticed the distant sounds of thunder, though it had been going on for hours. Once Ben Cartwright’s mind was focused on an injured son, little else mattered. Now, however, his thought went to another son, one who was about to be in the midst of a storm. “Joe’s out there—I hope he won’t be trapped in the middle of that storm either!”
Paul patted his old friend’s shoulder and remarked, “I’ve examined that youngest of yours and I can assure you he’s not made of sugar. He won’t melt if that’s what’s worrying you, Ben!”
Ben chuckled over the doctor’s words. He knew why the man had said them and appreciated his friend’s understanding over the situation. Paul Martin knew perhaps better than any other non-family member that Ben Cartwright worried about all his sons whenever he couldn’t lay his eyes on them. “I just hope that kid knows to get out of the rain if it starts up! He’s hauling a big load of piping for a drainage job.”
“Is he alone?”
“No—Hank Jefferies is with him,” Ben replied.
Paul frowned and wondered if he should break the news to the already troubled father. Finally, he decided he had to reveal his information. “Ben—Hank can’t be with him—I left him at his place. He’s got pneumonia and is on strict orders to stay in bed.”
Ben stared out once more at the threatening clouds in the sky and his posture grew rigid.
“I’m sure once Joe learned about Hank’s illness he went and got someone else,” Doc offered.
“Not Joseph!” Ben exclaimed, “I had to guilt him into taking Hank with him. Once he learned Hank wasn’t gonna be able to go I’m quite sure that boy went on alone.”
“Just as I told you—hard heads—the whole lot of them!” Doc nodded.
“I hope he’s okay.”
“You’ve got one boy to worry over—go sit with him and don’t worry about Joe. He’s not a little kid you know? He’s been through more things at eighteen than most folks have been through in a lifetime. Joe’s gonna be fine. But—I’m not—that is—if I don’t get out of here!”
“Yes—you go on ahead, Paul. Thanks so much—as always—for coming out to tend one of my hard headed sons!” Ben replied and threw his arm around Paul’s shoulder as they both moved towards the bedroom door.
“I’ll be back tomorrow. And I’ll just bet you now that Hoss will be wide awake when I get here too!”
“I hope so—I sure hope so,” Ben sighed, “Paul, you be careful heading back to town.”
“I will—see you tomorrow. And stop worrying—I don’t need any more patients right now,” Paul smiled and walked towards the staircase.
Joe pulled back on the reins of the team of horses and jumped down from the wagon seat. He had incurred much more trouble than he thought he would in the several hours that he had been driving the wagon towards the Ponderosa. The weighty lengths of piping had continually shifted and was hindering his progression towards Syler’s Ridge.
“Dadblast it!” Joe muttered as he untied the canvas covering of the wagon. “Something tells me that Sam knows nothing of packing a wagon.” He went about trying to even out the load of piping and retied the canvas before heading back towards the two horses. Grabbing the reins in his hands, Joe pulled the team behind him and walked towards the small stream. He knew it was time to let them drink and regroup their strength before continuing their journey west.
Joe sat down on the bank of the stream and pulled up a reed. He played with the end of it and thought on his brother Hoss. Joe remembered how his brother had taught him how to swim when he was only about six years old. Chuckling as his thoughts went to that summer day and how his big brother had thrown his skinny little body into the river right under the Simeon Bridge, Joe stared off into the distance. The journey towards Syler’s Ridge would take him right past that very bridge.
Joe wished he could be riding side by side his older brother, as had been the plans before Hoss had been injured. The two of them were to complete the drainage system and have it ready for inspection by the eldest brother, Adam, by the time he returned from Tucson. Those plans were quashed now, due to a loose board in the barn’s hayloft and how it had come down unexpectedly on top of Hoss’ head. Joe remembered hearing the sound and then seeing his brother lurch forward and drop to his knees. It had happened so fast, that at first Joe was sure that his brother was faking the fall.
They were both known as pranksters and enjoyed tricking each other, even though they were no longer youngsters. But, as Joe had moved over to Hoss he knew that there was no joke involved. There had been some blood on the back of the big man’s head and he was out cold. It was then that Joe had raced inside the house and came running back to the barn with their father in tow. Next came the frantic ride to Virginia City to bring the doctor to the house. Joe had been sure that his heart would play out before they made it home. He was just that worried about his brother.
The horses snorted their impatience standing there at the water line and it jogged Joe’s memory enough to realize that he had sat on the bank a bit longer than he had originally planned. On top of that was the fact that the clouds above had turned darker than they had been all day. Joe turned the collar up to his green jacket and stood to retrieve the reins. He knew he had to get going in order to beat the pending storm. The last thing he needed was to be stuck half way up Syler’s Ridge with a load of heavy pipes and two horses that had already proven to be very skittish.
The snap of the reins picked up the pace and the team of horses pushed forward. Every now and then Joe would cast a glance back towards the wagon bed and make sure the load hadn’t moved. The first raindrops started to fall a mile before the bridge that Joe would have to cross in order to make his ascent towards Syler’s Ridge. The wind had also started to whip the canvas and it was beginning to startle the horses. Joe tried his best to coax the animals forward, but several times they stopped in their tracks and became as stubborn as a team of mules.
“Come on now—let’s go!” Joe urged the horses and snapped the reins a tad harder. “We’ve got to get up there before this storm hits. Giddy up now—come on go!” Joe insisted and whistled through his teeth.
The horses obliged temporarily and continued the trek towards the bridge. Once Joe caught the sight of the river he knew that he was almost done with his long journey. Syler’s Ridge was only another two miles past the bridge and there was a covering that Hoss had rigged up where Joe knew he could hold up and wait out the storm. The horses finally began to cross the bridge and their hooves beat a strange rhapsody against the thick timbers below. Joe’s vision began to blur as the rain started to come down in buckets. His hat’s brim bent from the heavy assault of raindrops and Joe could feel water coming through his jacket and shirt. He wished he had thought to take a slicker with him, but it was still in Cochise’s saddlebags back at the livery in Carson City.
“Come on now—let’s go—almost there!” Joe called over the loud sound of thunder as the storm advanced almost on top of them now.
The wagon passed the end of the bridge when lightning lit up the sky and the crash of thunder sounded out like a cannon blast. The two horses bounded forward and the wagon creaked from the strain of the sudden jolt. But, worst of all, the pipes suddenly shifted to one side and the combination of the unexpected movement and increased weight against the wagon bed caused it to lean to the left. Joe tried with all his might and years of experience with horses to get the situation under control but it was to no avail. The horses bolted to the right as the wagon jogged to the left and the stress sprung the harness leads and uncoupled the wooden tongue that had held them.
In the blink of an eye the horses were running up the trail and the wagon was crashing onto its side. Joe reached out, trying to get a hold of something to brace his fall but his hands came up empty. Then, there was a crashing sound that was even more thunderous than the storm and everything went black. Laying on the cold wet road was Joe, and pinning him there was a wagon and the massive weight of the drainage pipes. The fall had knocked the young man unconscious and made him unaware of the seriousness of the situation. He was lying on his back, his head drooped to one side and his body a prisoner to the wagon and its contents. Even the pelting raindrops failed to bring Joe back to reality. Slowly the hollow in the road, where Joe’s head rested began to take on water.
Subconsciously Joe went back in time. The six year old stood on the bank of the river and stared out into the water where his two brothers frolicked. He felt his father’s hand as it reached down and ruffled his light brown curls.
“You sure you don’t want to at least try this time, Little Joe? Your brothers will help you and I’ll be right here on shore if you need me,” Ben asked as he knelt down to look straight into the frightened hazel eyes.
“I don’t wanna swim—told you—I wanna go home, Papa,” Joe pleaded.
“It’s really easy once you get over your fear of the water, Son.”
“I ain’t got no fear! I just don’t like gettin’ wet,” Joe replied, dropping his head down so he didn’t have to look into his pa’s eyes.
Ben sighed and sat down on the blanket that Hop Sing had provided. He reached over, pulled the little boy onto his lap, and pointed out towards his other two sons.
“I taught both of them to swim—and if you want me to, I’ll get in there with you!”
“Next time—I don’t feel like it now—I just wanna go home,” Joe answered meekly.
Hoss stared towards the shoreline where his father and brother were still sitting. He felt real bad for the little boy, remembering back to his own fear of the water when he was younger. At only twelve years old, Hoss was amazing both in size and in strength. He hoped that he could get his baby brother over his fear and get him into the water so that they could all play together. Adam swam to the other side of the river; he had only gone into the water so that Hoss wouldn’t have to swim alone. He was eighteen, and didn’t draw as much fun out of swimming as he had in earlier days. But, he hoped that once Little Joe started to swim that Hoss would have someone to play with and his presence wouldn’t be needed all that much. Adam already had his mind set on going to college and he knew that would leave both of the younger sons to fend for themselves. He figured the sooner that happened the better so he wouldn’t feel so guilty for leaving for Boston the following fall.
“Hey Little Joe!” Hoss called as he swam closer to shore. “Come on out here and we’ll go dunk big brother!”
“Don’t wanna!” Joe shouted back and hid his face against his father’s chest.
Ben looked towards Hoss and just shrugged his shoulders helplessly. It looked as though the plans for a picnic and a swim were out of the picture, at least for the youngest member of the family.
Hoss pulled himself out of the water and sloshed his way towards his father and brother.
“Come on Little Joe—don’t you wanna play with me?” Hoss urged.
“Not in there—I’ll drown!” the little boy insisted frightened.
Hoss took one last look into his father’s eyes and could see him nod his head. He knew it was time to take drastic action.
“Okay Little Brother—it’s time to show you that the water won’t hurt you none,” Hoss called down to Joe and then swooped him up in his arms.
“No! Don’t!” Joe screamed as he thrashed his legs and arms against his brother’s strong hold.
“Be careful Hoss!” Ben called from the shoreline as he watched both of his younger boys move deeper into the river.
“Papa help!” Joe yelled again.
“One—two—three!” Hoss shouted and tossed his little brother through the air.
Joe hit the water and held his breath. He kicked his legs and tried to come up out of the water.
“I got him, Pa—don’t worry!” Hoss sang out and then dove under and came up with the boy. “See there—you didn’t drown, Little Joe,” Hoss grinned as he held the boy in his protective embrace.
Joe spat out some water and looked towards the shore where his father was standing and clapping his hands. He looked proud and that made Joe decide that maybe he had impressed his pa with his swimming technique.
“Watch me, Papa!” Joe called and started to flail his arms like he was swimming in the same manner as Adam, who was on the other side of the river waving towards them all.
“Good job, Joseph!” Ben replied.
Hoss stayed very close to the boy and showed him how to properly make the movement of both his arms and legs go in sync with each other. Joe paid close attention to his brother’s instructions and soon was doing amazingly good for someone who was only six years old.
“Way to go there, Little Joe—dad gum if you ain’t a natural swimmer!” Hoss said and held Joe in his arms, knowing the boy was playing out.
“Know what?” Joe whispered in his brother’s ear.
“You’re my bestest friend, Hoss—you showed me how to not drown. I love you!”
Hoss laughed and held the boy closer and whispered right back, “You’re my bestest friend too, Little Brother—and I love you too. Now—let’s go across and dunk old Adam—whatcha say?”
“Yeah—that will be funny!” Joe said exuberantly.
Ben watched as Hoss and Joe eventually caught up with their brother, and he could hear the laughter echo across the river. Good job Hoss—I knew you wouldn’t let anything happen to our boy. Ben thought to himself. He sat back down on the blanket and watched his three sons playing together in the water.
“Any change?” Ben asked as he entered Hoss’ bedroom and turned his attention on the cook, and adopted family member, Hop Sing.
“Mister Hoss make move of arm—then he make grunt sound. Think maybe start coming back now, Mister Ben,” Hop Sing answered and stood from the chair allowing Ben to take over the watch.
Ben eased into the chair and reached over to touch the big man’s arm. “Hoss? Hoss can you hear me? It’s Pa—come on and open your eyes, Boy!” he urged.
With eyes that remained closed, Hoss muttered something that was undistinguishable to both of the other men in the room.
“Hoss? What did you say?” Ben asked again, moving over to sit on the bed next to his son.
“Joe—Little Joe—hold your breath—you ain’t gonna drown,” Hoss mumbled.
Ben shot a confused look over at Hop Sing and the oriental man shrugged his shoulders.
“What Mister Hoss say? Must be in dream land, Mister Ben,” Hop Sing announced.
“Hoss? Open your eyes for me—come on—you can do it!” Ben urged again as he gently caressed the young man’s cheek hoping to awaken him.
“Don’t worry none—I ain’t gonna let you drown—kick your legs—” Hoss muttered once more.
Ben shook his head and turned again to stare into the dark eyes of Hop Sing. “Must be delirious—but at least he’s coming around a little,” he sighed.
Hop Sing moved over to the bedroom window and closed it tightly due to the rain, which pelted against the pane.
“Vely bad storm—much rain. When Little Joe come home?”
Ben joined the cook across the room and his expression turned glum. He hadn’t noticed how fierce the storm had gotten in the last few hours, though he had heard the rain against the rough hewn timbers.
“I’m sure Joe took shelter, Hop Sing. He’s smart enough to know to get out of a storm this bad. I bet he’s up under the make-shift shack that Hoss assembled to hold the piping he ordered. There’s more than enough room to hold Joseph, the wagon and the team of horses. He’s probably just waiting it out until the rain eases up,” Ben explained hoping to relieve both his fears, as well as those of Hop Sing.
“Yes—boy smart,” Hop Sing nodded and touched his friend’s arm briefly, offering his own encouragement. “Hop Sing go start supper—maybe Mister Hoss wake up soon and he be vely hungry.”
“Good idea,” Ben replied and smiled gratefully towards the cook.
Hop Sing walked towards the doorway and paused briefly and called over to Ben, “Hop Sing make apple pie too—that for Little Joe—both boys be hungry later!”
“He’ll like that,” Ben nodded and said a silent prayer that both of his boys would be all right.
Joe coughed and gasped for air. He had, in his unconscious state, sucked in a good amount of rain water. Slowly he opened his eyes only to have them blurred by the assault of rain drops. Night had fallen and the storm still violently raged on and the only brief flashes of light were that of lightning strikes. Grimacing in pain, fear gripped the young man when he realized exactly what had happened. Trying valiantly to free his legs from under the weight of the wagon Joe screamed in anguish. From his kneecaps down his lower extremities were trapped and there was no getting free. But, worst of all, the puddle underneath Joe’s head grew deeper and deeper filling up with the torrential rain.
“Help!” Joe cried out, but only the thunder heard him. Joe waited for the next bolt of lightning and further assessed the situation. Though a good half of the drainage pipes had rolled off the over-turned wagon, the remaining weight of piping combined with the heaviness of the wagon was not about to be moved. Joe felt something else trapping him from movement and realized that a ten foot piece of pipe now rested on his chest.
He knew he had to try to remove it from his torso or he would be unable to keep his head above the rising water. Joe strained both of his arms, locking them tightly at the elbows and pushed the pipe higher in the air. The weight was incredible and his strength left him as the pipe crashed back onto his chest. Again, Joe gasped for air, feeling the impact of the equipment as it pushed the air out of his lungs.
Another bolt of lightning lit up the area and he could see what the trouble had been with lifting the piping. On the far right end of the pipe sat another three measures of pipes along with one of the wagon wheels, which had ripped apart in the crash. Joe knew there would be no sitting up now. He was sure that his ribs had been cracked or even broken during his last attempt. Bending as far as he could forward Joe screamed out in pain. His ears were full of water and the puddle beneath his head was becoming deeper.
Of all the ways to drown—I have to drown in a puddle just a little bigger than my head! Joe thought to himself and then watched another crash of lightning, which lit up the river over to the side of where he was laying. Twelve years—has it been twelve years since Hoss taught me to swim? Seems like just yesterday—right over there! God how I wish you were here now Big Brother! You saved me from drowning back then—sure could use you right now! Joe closed his eyes as tears began to fall from them and mixed with the raindrops careening down his cheeks. I hate to do this now—not without you here—without anyone here with me. I don’t want to die alone! Please God—please don’t let me die this way—not for myself—but for my family. I don’t want them to find me like this and to know I died this way. God how I wish you were here, Hoss—I know you could get me out of here! Joe continued to pray and to hope that if he had to die, that it would come swiftly.
With the very next crash of lightning and rolling thunder that shook the entire earth, Joe opened his eyes and saw a man standing right over him. He blinked several times, disbelief spreading in his hazel eyes.
“H—Hoss?” Joe whispered as he stared up at the hulking figure staring down at him.
Hoss didn’t say a word, but he did look down at his little brother and gave him a confident smile.
“How—how did you get here? When did you wake up?” Joe continued. He was starting to wonder if he had passed out and was in the midst of one final dream.
First, Hoss lifted the pipes from off his little brother’s chest and tossed them aside as if they were merely toothpicks. Next, he reached underneath the over-turned wagon with one hand and lifted it high in the air. Bending with the same movement, Hoss pulled his brother’s body out from under the wagon with his other hand. The wagon creaked as it was set back down on the ground.
Joe screamed from the release of the heavy wagon on his legs. Hoss pulled him as gently as possible far out of the way of all the wreckage. He bent down and smiled again and then lifted his brother in his massive arms and carried him towards the shelter of an oak tree that sat just past the end of the bridge.
“Hoss? How’d you get here anyway? Where’s your horse? Why did Pa let you come out in this storm?” Joe fired off a rapid succession of questions, but still Hoss didn’t say a word. He just stood over his little brother and smiled down towards him. “Hoss? Where are you going?” Joe asked as the man started to move away from the tree and off into the darkness. Hoss waved towards his brother and disappeared into the night.
Joe leaned against the tree and drew in a deep pain-filled breath. He wondered why his brother had never said a word and how he had gotten all the way from the ranch house. Joe hadn’t heard the sound of a horse nor a rider earlier and Hoss had disappeared just the same as he had entered into the picture moments earlier. Trying to move from his position in the hope of catching a glance of his brother, Joe’s body refused to accommodate the motion and he had to ease back again. No matter where Hoss had gone off to, Joe knew that he would be back with help. For the time being all Joe could do was to rest and say a prayer of thanksgivings that his brother had been healed in the nick of time. If he hadn’t showed up when he did, Joe knew he would have died underneath the wagon.
Hop Sing set the tray on the nightstand next to Hoss’ bed and turned to stare over at the injured man. He had noticed the slight fluttering of Hoss’ eyelids and had hoped that he was finally going to awaken.
“Mister Hoss? You hear Hop Sing?” the cook asked as he gently dabbed the cool cloth on the man’s face.
“Get Joe—get Joe—” Hoss mumbled.
“Little Joe okay—he be home soon,” Hop Sing insisted, just as Ben reappeared coming into the room.
“Is he talking again?” Ben called across the room and hurriedly moved next to his son.
“Pa—Pa—” Hoss began once more, this time slowly opening his eyes.
“Well, Young Man—it’s about time you came back to us. How do you feel?” Ben smiled and sat down next to him.
Suddenly Hoss’ right hand locked onto his father’s arm. “Get Joe—Little Joe needs help!” Hoss sang out frantically.
“Hold on now- just hold on there, Hoss. You simmer down now. You’ve been out for a couple of days. It’s you that we’ve all been worried about,” Ben tried his best to calm his son.
“Bridge—Joe—he needs help,” Hoss insisted and then began to close his eyes again.
Ben exchanged confused looks with Hop Sing and then felt Hoss release his arm from his tight grip.
“Joe’s fine—he’s out getting that drainage system going for you, Son,” Ben whispered, trying to reassure Hoss that all was well with the youngest member of the family.
“NO—no he’s hurt—go to him—needs help—Simeon—Simeon Bridge—” Hoss called out one final time and then fell back into a deep slumber.
“I wonder what all that was about?” Ben asked Hop Sing.
“Maybe Mister Hoss have bad dream about Little Joe?” Hop Sing replied, just as confused as Ben was at the time.
“Probably,” Ben nodded and tucked the covers back around his son’s shoulders. It was then that a loud crash of lightning illuminated the dimly lit room and both men waited for the sound of thunder. It came with a loud bang which shook the foundation of the house. “That was a close one!” Ben exclaimed.
“GO now!” Hoss muttered and turned his head on his pillow and was soon breathing easier.
“I take care of Mister Hoss—you go!” Hop Sing insisted.
“Go find Little Joe!”
“You said it was probably just a nightmare. Joseph, most likely, is up at Syler’s Ridge right now waiting for it to lighten up before heading home,” Ben replied, trying harder to convince himself than he was Hop Sing that all was well with the youngest son.
“Two little boys grow up together—they share same heart same mind sometimes—maybe Mister Hoss know something that father does not,” Hop Sing argued.
Ben gazed over at his slumbering son and then back into the coal black eyes of the cook. As much as he was trying to fight off his gut feeling that something was amiss with Joe, he couldn’t deny that Hoss seemed purely frightened for the boy.
“Let me go get my rain gear and a lantern—Hoss mentioned that bridge—it’s not far from where Joseph was supposed to drop that shipment of pipes. I guess it wouldn’t hurt none to go and make sure he’s okay. Maybe I’ll run into him before I even get that far,” Ben replied and headed for the bedroom door.
“Hop Sing take care of Mister Hoss—you go now!” Hop Sing called across the room.
Ben frowned and fought back his dread as he made his way to get his gear ready to leave in search of Joe.
Joe had no idea how long he had rested under the tree where his brother had set him. He did know that he had dozed off and on and each time a crash of thunder had brought him back to reality. Wondering why Hoss hadn’t yet made his way back with help, Joe tried to check out his wounds. Each time he tried to bend forward to inspect the damage to his legs he groaned from the injuries to his rib cage. He was soaked to the skin and in awful pain, but he knew that no matter what, his brother would be back for him.
The journey was long and arduous as Ben rode into the night. He had to fight the torrential rain along with the fierce winds and several times, he had to stop to re-light his kerosene lantern. After almost an hour in the saddle Ben finally spied the wooden bridge up ahead and he coaxed his horse onward. Crossing the Simeon Bridge, Ben shouted out his son’s name.
“Joseph! Joseph—are you out here?” Ben tried to raise the pitch of his voice above the crashing thunder.
Joe still sat propped against the oak tree oblivious to his father’s advance over the bridge. It was too dark and too noisy to see or hear the man as he came across on the other side and made his way towards the wreckage of the wagon. Ben spotted the over-turned wagon and sprang from his saddle, holding Buck’s reins tightly in his hand for fear of the horse bolting from the storm’s assault. He made it to the side of the wagon which once held his son a prisoner. Ben’s heart beat so hard inside his chest that he was sure he would pass out from the pressure. Bending down next to where the pipes lay scattered about, he was sure he was about to find his son’s crushed body amid the rubble. He breathed a sigh of dull relief when he realized that Joe was nowhere near the wagon. Ben reasoned that his son must have jumped from the accident in time to avoid injury.
“Joseph!” Ben called out again and held his lantern high in the air hoping to spy his boy.
Joe opened his eyes when he heard the faint sound of his father’s voice. With all the strength he could muster, he screamed his reply. “Pa! Pa—over here!”
Ben hurried towards the direction of the voice crying out for him. Soon he made it to the oak tree and immediately fell to his knees in front of his son.
“Joseph! What happened to you, Boy?” Ben asked as he held out the lantern in front of his son’s face.
“Wagon—wagon turned over—horses ran off—” Joe started, but then relief took over and he reached towards his father.
Ben pulled his son’s rain soaked body towards his chest. He clung to the boy and whispered to him, “It’s okay—it’s gonna be okay, Joseph—I’m here now. It just about scared your old pa half to death when I saw that wagon—I was so sure I’d find you underneath it.”
“I was—I was under it—” Joe replied and reluctantly let go of his father’s embrace in order to catch his breath. “Ribs—ribs busted, Pa,” he muttered weakly.
Ben eased the boy back against the tree and held the lantern up again to get a better look at his son’s injuries. “You were underneath the wagon? Where did it get you?”
“Legs—think they’re broken—can’t walk. Hurts to breathe too—pipes fell on my chest.”
“Dear Lord—let’s get you home,” Ben whispered and reached for his son. “I’ll do this as gently as I can—but I’ve got to get you up on Buck. Can you hold onto the lantern?”
“Yeah,” Joe nodded and took the lantern’s handle in his left hand.
“Let’s go then,” Ben said and pulled his son up into his arms and neared his horse.
“But Hoss—Pa—what about Hoss?” Joe asked confused.
“Don’t you worry—Hoss is fine—let’s go home!” Ben insisted as he positioned the boy towards the front of his saddle and then climbed up on the horse behind Joe. As carefully as possible, Ben eased the horse past the wreckage of the wagon and they headed towards the bridge.
The ride home was wrought with peril because of the heavy rain, which had in some places completely washed out the main road that led to the ranch house. Ben tried his best to pull his slicker across his son’s chest but it was a losing battle due to the whipping winds. Joe, though in severe pain, held onto the saddle horn and refused to give into his injuries. All he wanted was his own bed and to get out of his wet clothes.
He also wanted to see his brother Hoss to thank him for rescuing him. Joe did wonder why Hoss hadn’t showed up along with their father to bring him home. He finally surmised that the man was just a bit over taxed due to days spent in bed. Joe was so relieved to know that his big brother was okay and not still laying unconscious up in his room. He wanted to ask his father a million questions about when Hoss had come around and what had made him come to his aid, but the loud winds made conversation impossible.
Hop Sing peered out of the bedroom window just in time to see Buck entering the front yard carrying both Cartwrights. He left Hoss, who was still asleep in his bed, and hurried down to assist the other family members. Grabbing a coat next to the front door, Hop Sing threw it over his head and made his way towards the hitching post where Ben had just dismounted.
“What wrong with Little Joe?!” Hop Sing’s raised voice shouted out.
“Boy’s hurt—let’s get him inside!” Ben replied and moved closer to Buck in order to pull his son down into his arms. Joe came off of the saddle with little effort and soon was being carried into the warmth of the living room.
“How bad hurt?” Hop Sing asked as he followed Ben towards the staircase.
“Bad enough—send someone from the bunk house to put Buck away and see if they’ll brave the storm to fetch Doc Martin!” Ben called down from the first landing.
Hop Sing hurried back outside to do as he was instructed. He was lucky to find one of the hired hands still awake in the bunk house. The few that remained at the ranch house and hadn’t gone on the buying trip with Adam had all turned in for the night other than Cliff Meadows.
“Mister Carlight—need help—Little Joe hurt. Can please go get doctor to tend boy?” Hop Sing asked, almost entirely out of breath.
Cliff stood from his chair and pulled on his coat and then his slicker. He wasn’t looking forward to the long ride into Virginia City, but he not only worked for the Cartwrights, he also happened to like them.
“Sure thing—I’ll go now!” Cliff answered and headed out towards the barn.
Hop Sing made his way over to Buck and pulled his reins behind him as he also headed to the barn. He figured he would put away the horse so that Cliff could get on his way sooner. At that point Hop Sing felt an urgency to help in any way. Most of all, he wanted to get back upstairs and see what had befallen the boy he considered to be a surrogate son.
Gingerly Ben set his son on top of the comforter on his bed. Joe groaned from the movement as his pain was now back in full force. He watched as his father hurried into the hallway, coming back with a handful of bath towels.
“First thing we need to do is to get you out of those wet clothes. Doesn’t look like that’s gonna be very easy though,” Ben began as his eyes dropped down towards Joe’s pant legs and he could see some of the damage that the wagon had caused. On top of the mud that was caked on the twill material was a good amount of blood. “Maybe instead of trying to pull these down I can just kinda cut you out of them?” Ben asked, more of a question to himself than to his son.
“You’ve got my permission,” Joe quipped, trying not to show the severity of his pain. “I don’t think I’ll be using them any time soon anyhow.”
Ben turned from the bed when he heard Hop Sing in the hall.
“Come help me with this will you?” he called to the cook.
Hop Sing joined Ben next to Joe, “What you want Hop Sing to do?”
“You get that shirt off of him and I’ll work on these pants.”
“Hey—I can take off my own shirt!” Joe protested and began to fumble with his buttons.
“You just lay still there, Joseph,” Ben replied pointing his finger towards the boy. “We’ve already moved you around far too much tonight.”
“Anybody got some whiskey on them? My legs are killing me by the way,” Joe asked, and this time he wasn’t kidding.
“Just as soon as you are dry—I’ll go get you something for the pain. Hop Sing—did you get someone to fetch Doc?” Ben asked as he opened his pocketknife to begin cutting away Joe’s pants. He carefully removed the boy’s boots and socks and then started to cut the pant material.
“Mister Cliff going to town now. Hop Sing put away horse for you,” the cook replied proudly.
“Good job old friend,” Ben smiled and slowly continued to free his son’s legs from the material.
“That pulls you know!” Joe called down to his father. The places where the blood had dried and caked onto his legs was ripping off as his father pulled at the sides, cutting them away.
“Close your eyes and count to twenty—I’ll be all done by then!” Ben instructed.
“I’m not a kid anymore, Pa—” Joe started to protest but one look into his father’s eyes told him to stop. “One—two—” Joe closed his eyes and began to count.
Ben tossed the soaked pants to the side of the bed and reached over his son’s body to help Hop Sing ease the boy’s arms out of his shirt.
“Twenty,” Joe announced and opened his eyes.
Ben pushed back the hair from his son’s forehead and grinned, “Joe—I was through cutting away your pants a long time ago!”
Joe winced as he was eased up on the bed slightly to allow the soaked material to pass from behind him. Then he felt the warmth of towels covering his chest. It was the first time he had been dry and warm all evening.
“Better?” Ben asked as he sat down in the chair next to the bed in order to regroup a bit before further inspecting his son’s injuries.
“I’ve got mud in my ears—mud in my hair—two busted legs from the feel of them not to mention some cracked ribs—but yeah—I feel better already!” Joe smirked.
“At least you have your sense of humor. Hop Sing—will you go down to my study and find where I put that bottle of imported brandy?” Ben asked the cook.
“You mean what you were saving for birthday?” Hop Sing countered, surprised.
“I thought that was for a celebration—this isn’t exactly a party, Pa!” Joe added.
“I never said anything about celebrating—I’m trying to get you out of pain long enough for me to have at those legs. Looks like they’re both gonna need to be set, Joe.”
“Go get it, Hop Sing—and anything else you can find that will knock me out!” Joe called after the cook.
As soon as Hop Sing had left the room Ben turned serious. He knew that his son’s injuries were severe and that the boy had been doing everything he could to prove otherwise.
“Now—tell me—what hurts worse—your legs or those ribs?” Ben asked quietly.
“Yes,” Joe answered and bit his bottom lip to hold back his groans.
“Guess I will have to answer this one myself,” Ben countered and slowly felt at his sons rib cage. Joe sucked in air when his father’s fingers hit the most tender parts of his chest. After examining that area, Ben moved his attention to Joe’s legs. He winced his own face when he got a good look at the boy’s right leg. Just below the knee cap Ben could detect the protruding bone that was so close to the skin that it appeared as though it would poke through at any time.
“So far we have at least three broken ribs and one broken leg—let me look at this other one,” Ben sighed and felt around Joe’s left leg. “It’s swollen enough—that’s for sure—let me know when-” Ben started but was cut off by his son’s scream.
“When!” Joe yelled and tried to come off the bed.
Ben’s left hand moved to ease Joe back onto the pillows. “Sorry—think I found another break, huh?”
“Doctor Cartwright,” Joe muttered and sucked in another painful breath.
“I guess it didn’t help that the wagon was loaded down with all that piping. I just thank the good Lord that you were able to pull yourself out from under there,” Ben remarked as he moved back over to the head of the bed.
“Huh? Pa—I didn’t—” Joe stuttered and was about to fill his father in on the details when Hop Sing reappeared in the room.
“Here—one for father—one for son!” Hop Sing smiled and handed each of them a glass brimming with the expensive brandy.
“Thanks—I hope you brought the rest of the bottle—my legs are killing me!” Joe reiterated and downed the full contents in one fast swallow.
“Hold on there, Joseph—that’s some strong stuff you just gulped!” Ben protested. It was no use however, the glass was empty and Joe’s left hand came towards his father hoping for a refill.
“You drink father’s brandy—Hop Sing go get more!” the cook insisted and removed Ben’s glass from his hand and eased it over to Joe. Joe tossed that glass of brandy down as fast as he had the first.
“You’re going to be unconscious before Doc gets here,” Ben frowned and set the two empty glasses onto the nightstand. He watched as his son’s eyes started to appear glassy and knew it was only a matter of time before he would be falling to sleep. “You just relax for a spell, Son—you’ve been through the mill today. I’m going to try to bind those ribs but I’m going to need Doc’s expertise with your legs. They’re both going to need to get set.”
“I go get binding for ribs—oh—and father some brandy!” Hop Sing smiled and headed back out of the room.
Ben sat on the side of the bed and stared down at his son. He felt relieved that he was there in front of him but worried about all the boy’s injuries.
“Pa—where’s Hoss—when did he wake up?” Joe asked as he fought off slumber.
“He’s here—now you just stop talking and settle down. As soon as we get those ribs bound you need to try to sleep. Once Doc gets here you’re going to hurt worse than you do now. But, we don’t want to wait too long to get those bones into the proper position,” Ben answered quietly and began to stroke his son’s head trying to relax the boy.
“Feel dizzy—must’ve been that brandy,” Joe muttered.
“I would think so!” Ben chuckled. “I believe it was around ninety proof and you downed both glasses in under a minute, Young Man.”
“Here binding,” Hop Sing announced as he moved over to the bed.
“Get behind Joe—I’m going to need you to push him into a seated position and hold him there while I do this,” Ben instructed as he took the bandage from the cook. Hop Sing moved up to the head of the bed and placed his hands on the young man’s shoulders. “This is gonna be rough for a minute, Joe—just hang in there for me.”
“I know—I’ve gotta take in a deep breath—if I can. How many ribs can a person break in a lifetime anyway, Pa?” Joe sighed wearily.
“I don’t know—but I am quite sure that you’ve beaten the record. Okay now—get ready!” Ben replied as he began to encircle his son’s torso with the bandage. He could feel the sweat beading up on Joe’s back and worried that the boy felt awfully warm. Ben prayed that his son hadn’t developed pneumonia from being out in the rain so long. That was the last thing the boy needed on top of all his injuries. “Big breath—hold it!”
Joe sucked in air and his face took on an anguished expression which his father got a good look at. He hated that the treatment had hurt his boy even more. But Ben knew from past experience, that the binding had to be tight enough to lock the ribs in good to prevent them from movement. Finally Ben had the bandage in place and he helped Hop Sing to ease Joe back against the pillows.
“Good job, Son. Now you rest if you can while we wait for the Doc.”
“Here your drink, Mister Ben,” Hop Sing said and handed the man another glass of brandy.
“Mind if I drink this one, Joe—or do you want it too?” Ben smiled over at his son.
“Naw, you go ahead—think I’ve had enough—my head’s swimming,” Joe replied and closed his eyes.
“Why don’t you go check on Hoss, Hop Sing? I’ll sit with Joe until Doc makes it in.”
“Mister Hoss asleep—looked in on him when I was coming back in to bring bandage.”
“Hoss? He’s sleeping?” Joe asked and opened his eyes again.
“Hush—you close those eyes and try to sleep—we’ll talk later,” Ben ordered.
“But—Hoss, I was going to—” Joe began but soon felt his father’s firm hand on top of his left arm.
“Eyes closed—that’s it—settle down,” Ben urged and his son finally obeyed.
Hop Sing and Ben watched as Joe slowly fell off to slumber. Ben drew up the comforter from the foot of the bed after removing the towels they had used to dry Joe off earlier.
“He’s out of it,” Ben whispered to the cook, “God only knows what he’s gone through tonight. I just don’t understand—how did Hoss know? He was so sure that Joseph was in trouble.”
“Brothers vely close—maybe close enough to know such things,” Hop Sing answered.
“Maybe—maybe so. I sure hope I got to him in time—he feels warm to me,” Ben remarked as he touched the boy’s cheek with the back of his palm.
“You tell Hop Sing all time—not to borrow trouble. Maybe so Mister Ben need not to borrow trouble!” Hop Sing replied with a grin. “Little Joe vely strong—just like Mister Hoss. Both boys be all light.”
“Well at least we have them both where we can see to them. Go on in and check on Hoss —I’m sure Doc will be here soon.”
“You call if you need Hop Sing,” the cook answered as he turned for the door.
Doctor Martin had a harrowing trip back to the Ponderosa that night. The storm still raged on and bolts of lightning and the deluge of rain hindered the progression of his carriage. Cliff’s insistence that Joe needed help was the only thing that could have gotten the middle aged man out of his house that evening. He had just finished a leisurely dinner and was looking forward to reading a good book and then getting to bed at a decent hour for a change. Being a country doctor, Paul knew that plans were best not made too far in advance due to the many citizens of Virginia City and inhabitants of the surrounding ranches. Unfortunately, he was not only the best doctor in town, he was also the only doctor in town so he was always in great demand. Grabbing his cloak and hat Paul had headed to the livery stable and his carriage. He followed Cliff back to the ranch house, the whole time wondering what had befallen the youngest Cartwright this time.
“Where is he?” Paul asked Hop Sing as he entered the living room and stopped long enough at the front door to remove his rain soaked coat and hat.
“Little Joe up in bedroom—so glad you come!” Hop Sing replied and led the way up the long staircase.
Ben turned in his chair as he heard the footsteps in the hallway coming closer. Soon he was staring over at a very flustered looking Paul Martin.
“I knew I’d have to get out in that storm!” Paul grunted as he cast a look over at Ben and then turned his attention towards the boy on the bed. “Joseph Cartwright—what have you done to yourself this time?”
Joe’s eyelids slowly opened and he grinned shyly. “Sorry Doc. Looks like you’re gonna be working all night on me again!”
“Well—I should’ve known—it has been a good six months since I’ve doctored you—you were due,” Paul smiled, giving away his fondness for the boy who was most often his patient. The doctor calmly began his examination. “You know your father was worried about you hauling that drainage equipment in this storm. Of course I assured him you would be fine. Just shows I am either dumb or far too optimistic!”
“Wasn’t my fault this time! That team of horses I got in Carson were jittery even before the storm got on top of them. They took off one way—the wagon took off the other. I ended up underneath,” Joe explained.
“Nasty break,” Doc muttered after checking Joe’s right leg. He then moved over to the left. “This one’s not so bad—but you’ve got some bad cuts next to the busted bone and they’re gonna need stitches.”
“He’s got some busted ribs too, Paul—I bound them up as best I could,” Ben pointed towards his son’s bandage covered chest.
“I’m gonna need to sedate you for this. Neither set is going to be easy—and with your ribs messed up I don’t want to chance you jumping up at the wrong time,” Paul said and opened his medical bag.
“I’m not going to jump—you don’t have to knock me out!” Joe protested to deaf ears.
“Paul knows his business, you just do as instructed, Joseph,” Ben countered and set his hand on the boy’s arm to quiet him.
“Well—give me something to drink will you? I don’t want a shot—I’ve got enough things poking at me right now—don’t need no needle,” Joe insisted.
Paul smiled and poured some liquid onto a spoon. “I wasn’t going to give you a shot anyhow—so don’t think you’re running this show. Now drink this down and settle back. Next thing you know you’ll be all patched up,” Paul instructed and moved the spoon in front of his patient’s lips. Joe swallowed the medicine and settled back.
“How’s Hoss doing, Ben?” Paul asked as he began to set out the instruments he would need to patch Joe up.
“He came around a couple of times—still isn’t fully awake though,” Ben replied.
Joe stared up at his father and the doctor and his face took on a strange expression. “What? Did Hoss have a re-lapse or what?”
“What are you talking about?” Ben asked confused.
“He was okay earlier—what happened?” Joe replied.
Ben and Paul exchanged surprised expressions and then chalked Joe’ remarks up to being under the influence of the medicine.
“Everything’s fine, Son—you just close those eyes and go to sleep so we can get you all fixed up. Don’t worry about your brother, he’s going to be fine,” Ben said, his tone intentionally softer as he tried to lull the boy back to sleep.
“Going to be fine? He is fine—Pa—Hoss—” Joe started in on the subject again but lost steam as the medicine hit him hard. He closed his eyes and turned his head on the pillow, finally giving in to the sedation.
“Looking at these injuries—well—I’d say we’re lucky that Joe is still with us,” Paul said and threaded the suture material through his needle.
“I don’t know how he pulled himself out from under it, Paul—that whole wagon was loaded down with those steel pipes. I just thank God that I went out there,” Ben sighed and moved to the bottom of the bed to assist the doctor with Joe’s lacerations.
“What made you decide to go check on him anyway? I mean—I know you—you’re over-protective—but with one boy laid up I figured you’d be here fussing over Hoss.”
“Actually it was Hoss—he was the one who kept insisting I go out and find the boy.”
“Hoss? I thought you said he was still out of it?” Paul wondered.
“He was dreaming I think—Hop Sing and I both heard him—he kept saying that Joe was in trouble and that we should go get to him. The strange thing is the fact that he mentioned the Simeon Bridge. That’s exactly where that wagon overturned! I found Joe just at the end of the bridge. If I hadn’t gone—I hate to think what might have happened to the boy.”
Paul stared up into his friend’s eyes as amusement spread across his face, “If anyone else told me a story like that I would say it was pure malarkey—but—knowing this family the way I do—it doesn’t even surprise me in the least. We’ll have to ask Hoss about it when he comes back around. Right now, however, we’ve got to put this kid back together. Let’s get the sutures in then we’ll get to setting these bones.”
“Guess you’re right, Doc,—this family has had its share of interesting experiences,” Ben nodded, “I just wish those experiences wouldn’t end with this one hurt. The kid’s had enough injuries hasn’t he?”
“He sure has. In fact, I believe I’ve set both of these legs before. Too bad his bones aren’t quite as hard as his head,” Paul chuckled and then diligently went back to the business of healing Joe’s wounds.
Late that night Ben finally fell off to sleep in the chair next to Joe’s bed. He had watched and fussed over the boy for hours but exhaustion had taken over and he was soon in a deep sleep. Too many nights of worrying over Hoss had taken its toll on the weary father and in total he hadn’t gotten more than a couple hours of rest all week. Ben’s dreams were troubled ones, full of the sights and sounds of bones snapping into place and visions of both of his sons who lay in their sick beds at the time.
Hop Sing padded quietly into the bedroom and smiled when he made his way over to the sleeping father keeping vigil over the youngest son. He hated to awaken the man, but he knew that Mister Ben would want to know that Hoss was finally totally conscious and had been calling for his father.
“Mister Ben? Mister Ben—Hoss awake,” Hop Sing whispered as he bent down closer to Ben’s ear.
Ben blinked hard, trying to come back to reality. He finally looked up into the dark eyes of Hop Sing and muttered his reply. “Hoss? Hoss is awake?”
“Yes—ask for father—Hop Sing hate to wake you—but know you want to see him when he come back around. You go—I sit with Little Joe,” the cook insisted and traded places with his boss.
Ben yawned and stretched his knotted body which had conformed a bit too well to the chair. “Doc said Joe will sleep all night. You can go ahead and get some rest.”
“Hop Sing can sleep in chair as good as father can. You go!” Hop Sing ordered.
Ben smiled and headed for the doorway. Making his way down the hall he stopped when he reached his other son’s room. Peering towards the bed he could see that Hoss was leaning against the headboard with the pillows propping him up.
“Well there, Young Man—you sure gave me a scare. You’ve been out of it for days!” Ben called out jovially as he made his way over to the bed.
“What happened?” Hoss asked as he rubbed the back of his head. “Hop Sing said a board hit me on the head?”
“Yes—a loose board from the hayloft. Smacked you good too! That was four days ago, Hoss. And, I’ll tell you that I’ve sure been worried about you coming back around! You said a few things yesterday but that’s all we’ve heard out of you since Saturday when you got hurt,” Ben replied as he sat down in the chair next to the big man’s bed. He reached over and patted Hoss’ arm and smiled. “Between you and your little brother you’ve both put me through the wringer this week!”
“Joe? Where is he? Is he okay?”
“He’s fine—settle back. It’s you I’m concerned with right now. How’s that head of yours feeling?”
“Smarts a bit—” Hoss began as he rubbed at the soreness of his wound. “Sorry I worried you, Pa. Now—what about Joe?” Hoss got right back to his little brother, fighting to remember the strange dream he had encountered the day before.
“He had a little accident yesterday—” Ben started but Hoss cut him right off.
“Little accident?” Hoss asked, confusion filling his expression.
“Well—I guess not so little—well—your brother doesn’t have any “little” accidents does he?” Ben shook his head remembering all of his youngest son’s previous injuries. “He’s okay though—kinda banged up. Do you remember what you said yesterday? We weren’t sure if you were dreaming or what.”
“What I said? What do you mean?”
“Well—yesterday—it was storming really bad—and you came around just long enough to tell me to go and get Joe. You were very insistent about it too! The strange thing about it—was that you even gave me a location as to where to find your brother. You told me the Simeon Bridge. Incredible as it might seem—that’s exactly where I found the boy.”
Hoss took in his father’s story and tried to process the details in his brain before responding. “Pa—I kinda remember—a strange dream—about Little Joe. It’s sort of foggy right now. Something about the time I taught the kid to swim—remember that?”
Ben chuckled and nodded Hoss’ way, “Of course I remember! And, as I recall, you taught him to swim right there at that old bridge too!”
“Then—there was something about him being hurt or something—don’t remember it now. But, I knew he was in trouble. That’s all.”
“Well, it was enough to make your old man go looking for the boy. If I hadn’t—well—he might not have pulled through. That whole wagonload of drainage equipment turned over on top of the boy. That on top of the storm and him getting soaked to the skin—well could’ve proven fatal. I’m just glad I listened to your dream, Son. It’s a bit odd all right—but in a strange way you saved your little brother’s life.”
“Is Joe all right?” Hoss asked again, worried for his brother.
“Well, he’s got two broken legs, some busted ribs—you know—the norm for Joseph,” Ben answered a bit of sarcasm in his tone of voice.
“I wanna see him!” Hoss insisted and threw his legs over to the side of the bed. The movement made him dizzy and his father could tell.
“Nothing doing, Young Man! You get yourself back in that bed now—and that’s an order!” Ben demanded and stood to make sure that his son obeyed his command.
Hoss settled back but his face took on a frown, unhappy to have to stay in his bed. He wanted to see Joe with his own eyes to make sure he was really all right.
“Aw—Pa—I’m okay—just got a lump on my head is all!” Hoss protested as he eased back against the pillows.
“That lump had you out for days. It’s nothing to play with. Now—Doc is here—sleeping. Once he gives you the go ahead to move around you can. But, until then you stay put!”
Hoss sank back against his pillows, not wanting to rile his father. Seeing Joe would just have to wait until Doc Martin gave the okay for him to get out of bed. At least he knew that the kid was safe at home, and that helped ease his mind some.
“Now—it’s kinda early for breakfast,” Ben paused as he stared over at the clock on Hoss’ night stand, “I bet you’re hungry though. How about I go whip you up some eggs and toast?”
“I am kinda hungry—sounds good, Pa,” Hoss nodded.
“That’s a good sign!” Ben exclaimed and stood. “I’ll be back in just a little while. You’ve got quite a few meals to catch up on, Hoss.”
“Now you stay in that bed though—don’t go pulling the kinds of stunts that Joe would,” Ben instructed as he headed for the door. He paused and watched as his son settled back on the bed to show his father that he wasn’t going against his orders.
Six a.m. the next day saw Doctor Martin making his way down into the living room. He walked over towards the dining room in time to see Ben coming out of the kitchen.
“Well—Paul—how are you this morning? Get any sleep?” Ben asked cheerily.
“More than you did I’m sure. You know, Ben, I was thinking. Maybe I ought to move my practice out here to the Ponderosa—seems it would ease up on all my traveling back and forth!” the doctor joked as he sat down at the table.
Ben poured the other man a cup of coffee and laughed over his words. “I’ve told you for years that you should keep a couple changes of clothing up in the spare room.”
“I did—where did you think I got these?” Paul smiled as he indicated his suit of clothing.
“Sorry—didn’t notice the change. When you got here late last night I wasn’t paying much attention.”
“I just checked in on Hoss. The boy looks lots better. There’s still a bit of swelling around his wound so I told him he has to stay in bed the rest of the day. I know he wants to go and see Joe. So—I said if he stayed down until this evening he could peek in on him later.”
“I was glad to see he’s gotten his appetite back too,” Ben chuckled and sipped his coffee. “I already made him two breakfasts and he’s wanting more!”
“Yes—I would say that is a good sign.”
“Did you see Joe? He wasn’t awake when I checked on him a little while ago.” Ben asked, concern for his youngest moving into the forefront of the conversation.
“I didn’t think he’d be coming back around any time soon. I gave him a powerful dose of laudanum to make him sedate enough to give those casts time to set. It’s always a problem to keep that one still you know?”
“Yes,” Ben agreed wholeheartedly, “I know this time it’s going to be a real chore. Two broken legs—that’s a bit much even for Joseph!”
“His forehead was a bit warm but his chest sounds pretty good considering how long he laid out there in the rain. We’ll just keep a watch on him and hope that it’s just a cold he’s gotten.”
Ben frowned, knowing what the doctor was dancing around, and that was the chance of pneumonia. “Anything we can do?”
“Normally I’d have him move around a bit to prevent chest congestion. But, that’s out of the question considering how bad his legs are. I’ve got some medication we can try just in case his fever gets higher.”
“So—he’s going to be all right?” Ben asked hopefully.
“You know that kid of yours as well as I do! As long as we can get him to follow orders he has a good chance of recovering fully. So—stay tough!” Paul grinned.
“Oh you think I’ll cave in to his wishes just ‘cause he’s hurt?” Ben interjected.
“Yes—once he turns those sad puppy dog eyes on you you’re putty in his hands!! But, this time don’t fall for his little tricks.”
“He’s wrapped you around his finger a time or two, Paul, I wouldn’t talk,” Ben hinted to past injuries and how Paul had let his own guard down when it came to Joe.
“Yes, I know. That’s why it comes as no surprise to me that I started to get white hair the same time you did, Ben. We all know why—and the reason is laying upstairs.”
Hop Sing came in from the kitchen and set out a fresh pot of coffee for the two men along with a platter of scrambled eggs.
“Hop Sing? I already made some eggs earlier—I set them on the stove. Why did you make more?” Ben asked the cook.
“Doctor only like Hop Sing’s cooking. Man work hard fixing boys—no need poison on top of long ride!” Hop Sing insisted and turned back into the kitchen.
“You think my boys give me trouble? Hop Sing and his daily insults and mutiny threats are starting to get just as bad!” Ben laughed and handed Paul over the coffee pot.
“Well—hate to say it—but you aren’t much of a cook, Ben. And if I get sick who’s gonna tend all your casualties?”
“You do have a point,” Ben grinned as he helped himself to the eggs Hop Sing had made. “Guess it’s good that Hoss will eat just about anything. He didn’t complain about my cooking— but then again— he was starved!”
“Leave the cooking to Hop Sing from now on—we don’t need Hoss to suffer a relapse,” Paul laughed and helped himself to the meal Hop Sing had prepared.
Doctor Martin returned to Virginia City a short time after breakfast in order to check on some of his other patients. Hop Sing harangued Ben so much that he finally did as the cook had ordered and went to take a badly needed nap up in his own room. Sleeping until a little past two that afternoon, Ben felt a whole lot better than he had in the preceding days. He washed off, dressed in fresh clothes, and then stopped by Hoss’ room where he found the young man conversing with Hop Sing.
“You look better, Pa. The bags you had under your eyes earlier have shrunk some,” Hoss chuckled as his father made his way over to the bed.
“I guess that’s a compliment of sorts. Thank you,” Ben grinned and sat next to his son on the bed. “So—how is this patient doing, Doctor?” he directed his question over to Hop Sing.
The oriental man’s face lit up from the suggested title of doctor and replied, “Mister Hoss on road back—much better. Still need to stay in bed—as other doctor said! Eat two breakfasts and one lunch and still hungry!”
“Hey—like Pa said—I’ve got about four day’s worth of meals to make up for!” Hoss protested.
“Well, I’m just glad to see you awake and feeling better. If we have to send someone for more supplies so be it,” Ben announced and watched as Hop Sing moved towards the bedroom door.
“How’s Joe doing?” Ben called to the cook.
“Little Joe wake one time. He make groaning sound so Hop Sing give pain medicine like doctor say. He go back to sleep then.”
“Guess now that I’ve had a little nap I’ll go sit with the boy for awhile,” Ben announced and stood from the bed.
“I sure would like to go in and see Joe too, Pa,” Hoss hinted for an early release.
“Tonight, Hoss, just like Doc Martin said. Now it wouldn’t hurt you none to take a nap yourself,” Ben urged.
“Aw—shucks—I’ve been asleep for most of the week. I ain’t tired!”
“Now you sound like Joseph! Please give your father a break and do as I say. I’m going to have my hands full when my other son wakes up and protests his incarceration,” Ben pleaded for mercy, at least from one of his boys.
“Okay, Pa—I’ll shut my eyes. But, I can’t guarantee I’ll sleep.”
“Well try will you? Running this hospital is very taxing!” Ben laughed and headed for the hall.
Hop Sing had purposely pulled the curtains in Joe’s room shut in order to block out the streaming sunlight. The fierce storm of the previous day was history now, and in its wake was a beautiful cloudless sky. The cook didn’t want the youngest boy to wake up and see what he would be missing being confined in his room. It was hard enough to keep Joe in bed, Hop Sing didn’t want the young man fussing about being trapped inside on such a pretty day. It looked as though Joe would be missing quite a few nice days now. As Ben made his way into the bedroom, he stopped at the foot of the bed and stared down at the two heavy plaster casts which engulfed both of Joe’s legs from the knees down.
Poor kid—done it again huh, Joe? Ben thought to himself as he bent over and straightened the covers over his son’s body.
“Supposed to get that wagon back to Carson today,” Joe mumbled as his father sat down next to him.
“Joe? You awake?”
“Yeah, Pa—just woke up a little while ago. I was just thinking about Sam—and how he’s going to have a heart attack once he hears what I did to his wagon!”
Ben reached over, grabbed the water pitcher, and poured his son a glass. He handed it to the boy and Joe gratefully drank the full contents.
“You don’t worry about that wagon, Son. A wagon—even a team of horses I can replace,” Ben paused and pushed back the bangs which were hanging down into his son’s eyes, “but I can’t replace you!”
“Bet you want to sometimes though—right, Pa?” Joe asked as he tried to pull himself up in the bed a little.
“Of course not!” Ben insisted and reached across the bed to adjust his son’s pillows in order to prop him up higher.
“Come on—tell the truth. I can’t even get a wagon loaded with pipes up to Syler’s Ridge without getting myself half killed,” Joe frowned, feeling bad that he had failed in his assignment.
“It wasn’t your fault, Joseph. Stop blaming yourself.”
“I did go to get Hank—like you told me to, Pa. But—he was sick— so I went on alone. Guess that was stupid too. Sometimes I think I can’t do anything right,” Joe’s voice started to crack with emotion and he looked away from his father.
Ben could tell that Joe was very upset over what had happened and that, combined with the pain of his injuries, was making him even more emotional than usual. He leaned towards his son and gingerly wrapped his arms around the boy and held him close.
“You didn’t let me down if that’s what you’re getting at, Joe. You did what I asked, that’s all I ever wanted. Yes, I wish you had someone along with you, but that wasn’t your fault about Hank,” Ben tried to cajole the boy.
“Everything was going so good, Pa—until I got to the bridge. Then—well—it was like all Hell broke loose!” Joe explained as tears rolled out from his eyes and tracked down his cheeks. “Those horses had been acting up all day but when that lightning hit they went totally crazy. I tried—tried real hard to keep them in control, Pa—but they went one way and the wagon went the other.”
“That had to be awfully scary for you, Son—I would’ve been shaken up myself after something like that happened,” Ben whispered and slowly stroked the back of his son’s head full of curls. “Actually it scares me just to hear it happened to you. If you hadn’t pulled yourself out from under there—well—you might not be here with me now.”
Joe pulled back a little from his father’s embrace and stared into his warm umber eyes. He thought Pa knew who had saved him but apparently from what the man had just said he had no idea. “Pa? Pa—I didn’t pull myself out from under there. I thought you knew?” Joe asked confused.
“What? You didn’t? But, you said you were trapped underneath it, right?”
“Yeah—I got knocked out during the crash. I don’t know how long I laid there before coming back around, but when I did I found my head laying in a puddle of water. I couldn’t move—because one of the pipes was on my chest and it was loaded down by the wagon wheel and some other stuff. My legs weren’t any use either—they were caught under the wagon bed. I tried with all my might to lift that blasted pipe too! I couldn’t get it off of me and it crashed down on my chest. That’s how I busted these!” Joe indicated his ribs.
“Then—who—who got you out of there, Joseph?” Ben questioned.
“Well—I was laying there—thinking that I was gonna drown right there like that, you know? I mean the puddle underneath my head was so deep that the water was almost over my mouth and nose.”
“Dear Lord—” Ben interjected, the very thought of his son’s near death experience was making him cling tighter to the boy now.
“Yeah—I know,” Joe nodded, knowing exactly how his father was feeling just listening to the gruesome details. “Then I don’t know if I was dreaming or what—but I could see myself back when I was a little kid. It was so vivid, Pa—so strange! But, there you were—and Hoss and Adam and I was standing on shore not wanting to go in. That’s when Hoss came up to me and took me into the river and tossed me in.”
Ben’s face took on a strange appearance that Joe didn’t miss. The young man stared into his father’s sympathetic eyes and wondered why he looked that way.
“Pa? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing—nothing, Joseph—go on. Tell me what happened,” Ben answered and tried to shrug off the weird feeling he was having. He had remembered Hoss saying that he had that very same dream the day before but Ben didn’t want to let on to Joe just yet.
“Well—then—just before the water got to the point where I would drown I kinda prayed—you know—prayed that I wouldn’t die that way. I didn’t want you to know that it had happened like that when all it would’ve taken was just someone to get me free from the wagon,” Joe continued but began to choke on his words again, the images were all too clear of his traumatic experience the night before.
Ben hugged Joe closer to him and let out a deep sigh. He hated that his youngest had gotten to the point where he truly thought he would die. “It’s okay, Joseph—it’s okay,” Ben whispered soothingly and gave the boy time to continue with his account of what happened next.
Joe pushed aside some fallen tears and started up again in his recollection. “I prayed that Hoss would come and rescue me. Not that I thought he would—I mean when I left here he was still out of it. Anyway, with the next bolt of lightning I saw a man hovering over me. I could hardly believe my eyes! There was Hoss—just smiling down at me! I was so relieved because it meant he was okay—and that meant I would be okay too.”
Ben eased Joe back against the pillows and straightened to a sitting position as he stared at his boy like he was somewhat insane. “Hoss?” Ben asked, totally bewildered by the boy’s revelation.
“Yeah, Pa—I don’t know how he got there so fast—or what brought him out to the bridge but he was there and within minutes he had that old wagon off of me and set me underneath that oak tree. What bothers me is what you said last night. I know I was kinda out of it because of that brandy and the medicine that Doc gave me—but you said Hoss was still asleep. What happened? Once he came back to get you did he have a relapse?”
Ben reached over and touched his son’s forehead, wondering if he was perhaps a bit delirious. The skin was a bit warm, but not overly so. Shaking his head, Ben fought to piece together what Joe had related in order to make sense of it.
“What’s wrong, Pa? Hoss is okay isn’t he? I hope him coming out there didn’t make him worse! I want to see him!” Joe’s voice was almost at the panic level. He had read the confusion on his father’s face and could only presume that something had happened to his brother after he had made the rescue the night before.
“Joe—I really don’t know how to tell you this—but there’s no way on earth that Hoss pulled you out from under that wagon. He’s been in this house for four days. Perhaps it was someone else—did the person say anything to you?”
“It WAS Hoss!” Joe insisted. “He didn’t say nothing—but it was him, Pa! He got me away from danger and then he headed back here to get you.”
“Joseph—you just calm down now. You can’t be getting upset right now—those legs are bad off and so is your chest for that matter. We’ll figure this out—:” Ben tried to calm the boy but he cut off his father’s words.
“Figure it out? Pa—there’s nothing to figure out. Now—maybe you didn’t see Hoss leave—but I promise you it WAS Hoss and he WAS the one who saved my life!” Joe insisted.
“Maybe it was someone who looked like your brother? You know, Son—you were hurt pretty bad—and you went through an awful lot,” Ben tried once more to calm the boy.
“Yeah I did go through a lot—but I know what I saw—and I know it was my brother who saved me. Go get him, Pa—go get Hoss and he’ll tell you!”
“Joseph, Hoss came around sometime yesterday afternoon. He was having a dream—one that he told me about this afternoon. It was a dream very close to the daydream you said you had. He dreamed about teaching you to swim right there at the bridge. He came out of it just long enough to tell Hop Sing and me that you were in trouble and for us to go and find you. That’s the reason why I showed up when I did. So—I am not denying that Hoss helped to save you. I’m just telling you that he hasn’t left this ranch in four days. Hop Sing sat with him the whole time I was gone.”
Joe eased back against the pillows and his mouth fell open in astonishment. He knew it had been his brother who had pulled him out from under the wagon. There was no doubt in his mind or heart. Looking up at his pa, he also knew that he would never lie to him.
“I—I just don’t understand, Pa. This just doesn’t make any sense,” Joe whispered.
Ben reached over for the pain medication, poured a tablespoon of the liquid, and lifted it up to Joe’s lips. “Drink this—I can tell on your face that you are hurting. And you getting riled up about this isn’t helping either.”
Joe swallowed the medicine and closed his eyes briefly, trying to clear his thoughts. When he opened them again he could still see the doubt painted on Pa’s face.
“It wasn’t another man if that’s what you’re thinking. I know it was Hoss, Pa.”
“And you don’t think that—perhaps—you could have pulled yourself out from under there?” Ben asked quietly.
“No—I tried—I told you that. Hoss lifted the wagon and pulled me out. That’s all I know until you showed up,” Joe insisted.
Ben smiled and affectionately ruffled his son’s hair with his hand. “Well— no matter who or what or where—I just thank God that you were rescued. To me that’s all that matters, Joe.”
“I wanna see Hoss, Pa. I have to talk to him!”
“Doc said that Hoss could get up later this evening. So—I’ll make you a deal. If you behave yourself and try to get some more rest I will bring your brother in here right after supper. How about it?” Ben smiled down at his son as he stood from his position on the bed.
“It’s not like I can go anywhere you know?” Joe joked, pointing to his two entrapped legs. “Besides—you just gave me some more of that knock out medicine anyway!”
“I’ll take that as a yes then,” Ben chuckled and leaned down and planted a kiss on his son’s forehead. “Now you close your eyes and get some sleep. I’m going to see to your brother and then come right back in here and wait until you wake up. I’ll be right there in that chair,” Ben paused and pointed at the chair next to Joe’s bed, “in case you have any escape ideas in that head of yours!”
Joe laughed knowing good and well he wasn’t capable of even getting out of the bed let alone making an escape. He grinned up at his pa and nodded his head, “If you ever get tired of this father stuff you’d make an excellent warden, you know?”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Now eyes closed!” Ben ordered sternly.
Joe obeyed his father’s command and within just a few minutes he was back asleep. Ben stood in the room and his face took on the same puzzled appearance that it had earlier. He was still trying to process the story he had just heard from his youngest. Ben decided to bring Hoss into the bedroom as promised right after supper and get the story out to the whole family. He thought maybe someone else might be able to make sense of it. Ben, himself, hadn’t been able to accomplish that feat.
Later that evening, Paul Martin showed back up at the ranch house to make sure that both of his patients were doing well and following his orders. He had gotten a good report from their father, which assured the man that Hoss was on the mend and Joe wasn’t acting up just yet. After an examination of Hoss’ head wound satisfied the doctor that the swelling was, at last, gone, he gave his permission for the anxious brother to go see Joe.
Assembled in Joe’s bedroom were Ben, Hoss, Hop Sing and Paul Martin. The young man on the bed began to move his head back and forth on the pillows, letting all in the room know that he was coming back around. Slowly the hazel eyes opened up and Joe cast a glance towards the bottom of his bed.
“Hey—Hoss! You okay?” Joe fired out, so glad to see his brother healthy again.
“Sure am, Little Brother. But, it sure don’t look like you’re doing very well,” Hoss replied with a grin and moved past his father to get closer to where his brother lay. “How you feeling, Joe?” Hoss asked as he sat down in the chair closest to his brother’s bed. The sight of his brother’s legs both in casts upset the soft-hearted young man. Though he knew of his brother’s legendary healing powers, it was nonetheless, a sobering sight.
“Lots better than I did last time I saw you!” Joe retorted, remembering the heavy weight of the wagon that had held his legs trapped underneath it.
“Huh? Last time I remember seeing you was in the barn. That was right before that dad gum board came off and knocked me out.”
Ben stared over at his two sons and then motioned for Doc and Hop Sing to pull up chairs at the far end of the room. It looked as though the strange story of Joe’s rescue was about to unfold.
“You don’t remember yesterday?” Joe asked his brother, with disbelief written across his face.
“Yesterday? No—I don’t remember much. Pa said I’ve been out of it for four days.”
“Hoss—you’re the one who rescued me from under that wagon. You were there—right by the Simeon Bridge. I called out for you and there you were!” Joe insisted.
Hoss stared over at his father bewildered and watched as Pa simply shrugged his shoulders and waited for more of Joe’s story.
“It wasn’t me, Little Brother—you know that if I could’ve gotten out of my bed I sure would’ve come and helped you!” Hoss responded and reached over and held his brother’s hand in an attempt to calm him.
“Pa? Pa did you already tell Hoss all this?” Joe asked suspiciously, looking across the room.
“No, Son—I wanted it to be you who told him what you said happened,” Ben replied quietly. He could tell by the confusion that Joe wore on his face that the whole event was bothering him very much. The boy was absolutely adamant that his brother had saved him. And, no-one, not even the man that Joe insisted had pulled him away from sure death, could dispel that notion from his mind.
“I-I just don’t understand it—” Joe stuttered and stared back towards his brother. “You never left the ranch—really?”
“No—and from what Pa and Doc said—there was no-way I could have gotten out of bed. But—I can tell you that I was thinking about you! You know I had a dream—about when I taught you to swim. Pa says I woke up and muttered for him to go and get to you and that you were over by the bridge,” Hoss confessed the details over his bizarre dream the day before.
“You did?” Joe shot back. “Hoss—I was dreaming about the very same thing—right after the wagon rolled on me. I was kinda knocked out for awhile. When I came to, my head was in this puddle and it was filling up with rain water fast. All I could think about was the fact that I was gonna drown—just like that—and that there wasn’t anything I could do. I remember wishing you were there—I knew you wouldn’t let me drown—just like when you taught me to swim!”
Paul stared over at Hop Sing and shook his head. He had heard some pretty strange stories concerning the Cartwright family over the years, but had to admit that this one outdid all the ones prior. Ben sat back in his chair patiently waiting to hear what his sons would say next.
“That’s kinda strange ain’t it, Little Brother?” Hoss smiled and thought heavily on all he had heard. The big man’s face took on a quizzical appearance. “You don’t reckon that maybe you were sending me messages or something—you know Adam always talks about folks with that precognition stuff—maybe it was that?”
“Even if we did kinda share the same dream, Hoss, how do you explain the fact that you showed up to save me? And, don’t try like Pa did to say it wasn’t you—I know it WAS! I looked into your face—you smiled at me—then you pulled that blasted wagon off of my legs and pushed the pipes off my chest and carried me over to an oak tree and set me down. I didn’t imagine any of that. Pa will tell you—that’s exactly where he found me!”
“Pa?” Hoss called to his father and turned to look at the man. “You SURE I didn’t go nowhere yesterday? I mean—Joe’s not lying—he’s not this good of an actor!”
Ben laughed and stood to approach the bed. “No Hoss—you were totally out of it. Right, Hop Sing?” Ben asked the cook.
“Mister Hoss—he sleep all time—just woke up to say Little Joe in trouble. Hop Sing sit with Mister Hoss all day—all night!” Hop Sing insisted.
“Well—there’s your answer, Son,” Ben sighed and dropped his hand down onto Hoss’ broad shoulder.
“Maybe we can send someone up there to the bridge—maybe someone about my size was up there and one of the hired hands can track them down? You know it was dark and rainy—” Hoss started but his brother cut him off in mid-sentence.
“Well YOU should know—YOU were there!” Joe retorted sharply.
“Settle down there, Young Man!” Ben warned and moved to sit on the bed next to his youngest to quiet him.
“I second that—Joe—I don’t have any hankering to re-set those legs—so you just settle back and quiet down!” Paul interjected with a stern expression that was shot his patient’s way.
Joe frowned and crossed his arms. He was starting to feel like no-one would believe what he saw. But, he knew it to be true, even though he had no clue as to how his brother could have been in two places at the same time.
Ben noticed the pout on his son’s face and he reached over and ruffled the boy’s hair affectionately. “It’s okay, Joseph—we’re not saying you’re crazy!”
“You’re not?” Joe replied and stared up into his father’s eyes for reassurance.
“No—you saw what you saw—though I can’t figure it out anymore than you can. I sent one of the hired hands out earlier to check on the wagon. He came back to the house right before we ate dinner. Jim found the team of horses—they had weathered the storm fine and are now back in Carson City. The wagon is a total loss, but the pipes were put on another wagon and are out at Syler’s Ridge. So, you don’t have to worry about Sam having a fit over what happened. Jim paid him well, I can assure you.”
“To tell you the truth, Pa—I wasn’t worried about the wagon—those stupid horses—or even Sam for that matter. I’m just worried that I must be out of my mind or something,” Joe sighed and looked back over at Hoss.
“One thing—of course the rain was awfully bad—but I did have Jim take a look around for tracks up there at the bridge where the wagon crashed. Other than the team of horses and Buck—there wasn’t any other sign of anyone else being up there,” Ben threw in what further information he had to add to Joe’s case.
“Unless someone walked in on foot—saved you, Joe—and then left—I don’t know—” Hoss continued.
“No—it wasn’t anyone else, Hoss. And you all can go and look around—heck put up a reward for whoever it was who pulled me out from under the wagon. Do whatever you want but I’m telling you that you won’t find nobody. My brother—and only my brother—saved me. End of story,” Joe insisted vehemently.
Ben grinned broadly knowing that his youngest son wasn’t ever going to change his mind. And in all honesty, his father couldn’t blame the boy. If it was that vivid in Joe’s mind then so be it! Unless someone came forward with information proving the lad wrong, Ben would have to take the boy’s word for all he had experienced.
“It is my opinion that Hoss saved you, Joe—because if he hadn’t told me to go out to the bridge to help you—well—who knows what might have happened to you? So—let’s just say Hoss went above and beyond this time!” Ben announced and stood from the bed.
“Shucks—I like being a hero and all—but just wish I wasn’t asleep during all the action!” Hoss laughed and reached over and squeezed his brother’s arm playfully.
“Let’s go get some coffee, shall we?” Ben turned and asked Hop Sing and the doctor. It was his intention to leave both brothers alone for awhile. He felt they could use the one on one time since they both had been so worried about each other’s health problems. Ben decided that Hoss and Joe would ease each other’s mind about how they were really doing if left alone.
“Sounds good to me, Ben,” Paul smiled and stopped long enough at the end of the bed to cast another stern look Joe’s way. “Hoss—you make sure he doesn’t act up while we’re downstairs!”
“You got it, Doc,” Hoss winked, knowing that Joe wasn’t going too far with two broken legs. Of course that didn’t mean that the kid wouldn’t try.
Once they were left in the bedroom alone, Hoss and Joe spoke of all the strange things that had happened and tried their best to piece the facts together in order to make sense of it. Finally, like their father had, they were resigned to chalk it up to the tight bond that both young men had always had with each other.
“Nobody has all the answers—in fact—looks like we even stumped Pa this time,” Hoss joked as he watched Joe yawn. He knew the boy was playing out after almost an hour of discussion. Not wanting to over tax his brother, Hoss stood from his chair and readied to leave the room. “I think you need to catch a few winks, Little Brother. I’ll see you a little later on, okay?”
“Hoss—wait!” Joe called over to the big man, who stopped in his tracks.
“Yeah Joe?” Hoss asked as he moved back to the bed.
“Hoss—you remember—remember that dream? I mean—when you taught me to swim and all. To me—when I was dreaming—it was like we were still kids—you know? Was it like that for you?”
“Sure it was, Little Brother—heck I could even hear you screaming when I tossed your butt into the water!” Hoss laughed.
“Yeah—me too—do you remember what I told you that day?” Joe whispered, as he fought to keep his eyelids from closing.
“Yeah—yeah I remember, Joe,” Hoss grinned and patted his brother’s arm. “Now you go get some shut eye, okay?”
“Hoss?” Joe muttered, just about ready to give in to waiting arms of peaceful slumber.
“Yeah?” Hoss asked softly, hoping to lull the boy to sleep with his tone.
“You’re still my best friend,” Joe smiled and then turned his head and fell off to sleep.
Hoss pushed aside a teardrop from his cheek and stared down at the boy he had grown up with. He knew that Joe looked up to him and even considered him a hero. Hoss prayed that he would always remain that in the boy’s eyes. “You’re my best friend too, Short Shanks,” Hoss whispered and bent down and kissed his brother’s forehead. Slowly he walked to the bedroom door and cast one final look at Joe. Hoss stared heavenward for just a brief second and muttered, “thanks”.
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