Every Purpose Under Heaven #1 (by Wrangler)

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Summary:  Thieves invade the Ponderosa, setting devestating events into motion.

Rated: T  WC 36,000

 

Every Purpose Under Heaven Series:

Every Purpose Under Heaven

Another Season

Dru

Every Purpose Under Heaven

Chapter One : A Time To Mourn, And A Time To Dance

Adam Cartwright stood dead center amidst total chaos. How he ever let himself be talked into being in charge of the Fireman’s Dance was beyond his comprehension. He thought back to the day that the idea had been first brought up and remembered now how his little brother had egged him into it. Yes, it was Little Joe’s idea all along. He was always big on ideas, but fast with passing the buck when it came to work being involved. Adam stared around the dance hall and saw Hop Sing scurrying all over trying to set up the refreshments. Hop Sing had been another one that Joe had “volunteered” without his knowledge or approval. Adam sighed and looked over the list of sheet music he would need to get ready before the guests started to appear. He was in charge of the set up along with the musical entertainment. Joe being only in charge of squiring around the prettiest girls in Virginia City.

Adam moved some tables to suit Hop Sing’s demands and grabbed a cookie. He deserved something for all of his hard work. He thought again of his little brother. Joe had purchased a new suit for the occasion and was probably home trying it on at the moment. When it came to humility, Joe had none. Or at least that was Adam’s opinion of his brother. Yet, despite all of his youthful pranks and irritating ways, Adam couldn’t help but be amused by his brother’s ability to get his own way about things. Joe used his winning smile to totally disarm anyone who had a gripe with him. It had always been that way, and probably always would continue.

“Hop Sing, let’s go get the other tablecloths from the mercantile. Then we can set up the last two tables and at least that one chore will be done.”

“Mister Adam, Hop Sing know what to do. You take care of your chores, Hop Sing take care of his!” He replied and hurried out of the room.

“I’m gonna get you for this, Joe.” Adam remarked out loud and continued with his responsibilities. Still two hours before the dance was to begin, and still so much to get accomplished. Adam made a mental note to put his little brother on the clean up roster.

Adjusting his back string tie, Joe stared at himself in the bedroom mirror. An egotistical grin creased the corners of his mouth. He reveled in the good looks that reflected back at him. Joe knew he was handsome, and now, in the new suit he had just purchased, there was no denying his charm. The suit was a blend of silk and cotton and had found its way all the way from San Francisco. It had been tailor made to fit him perfectly. Joe grinned again at the thought of how the well cut suit would attract the many girls in town who were waiting the chance to have a dance with the youngest of the Cartwrights. Joe hoped to give each one of those girls ample opportunity to spend some time with him.

Dousing himself with Bay Rum cologne, Joe studied the perfect placement of each curl which graced his head. He had argued with his father over whether or not he needed a haircut, and this time had won that battle. Joe liked to wear his hair long, so that it framed his face and crept down past the nape of his neck. Finally, having everything about him just as perfect as possible, Joe reached for his black suit coat. He shrugged into it and once more looked at himself in the mirror. Now he was ready! Ready for an evening of dancing and laughing, and maybe a few stolen kisses. Joe thought for a moment on why his appearance was so important to him. He knew that he would never in life be as smart as his brother Adam, nor as strong as his brother Hoss. None of that really mattered at the present. Joe knew that when it came to the Cartwright’s attributes, he had been gifted with more than his share of stunning good looks.

The eyes of both Ben and Hoss Cartwright were on Joe as he made his grand entrance coming down the staircase. Joe could see that the suit was already starting to make a great impression.

“Don’t he look purdy?” Hoss chided as Joe approached.

“Very funny.” Joe returned and jabbed at his brother’s ribs playfully.

“Don’t tease him, Hoss. He looks very nice.” Ben corrected as he walked over to his youngest son and inspected the suit. “Well, for what you paid for it, I hope that it serves its purpose tonight.”

Joe smirked at both of his family members and replied, “I’ll have to beat the women off of me with a stick!”

“That’s what I like about you, Little Brother. You are humble.”

“Yeah. Hey—why don’t you and Pa change your minds and come along? I’ll find some women for both of you.” Joe teased as he walked over to the hat rack and took down a new black hat to go with his ensemble.

“No thanks. We just got back from Sacramento two hours ago. We’ll probably be in bed before you even get to Virginia City.” Hoss answered starting to yawn from exhaustion.

“Well, you are gonna miss one heck of a dance.”

“And you will too, Joseph. That is if you don’t stop kidding around and get riding.”

Joe stared at the grandfather clock by the front door and whistled through his teeth. “Gee, it is getting late. Gotta run. I’ll tell you all about my adventures tomorrow at breakfast. That is if I’m home by then!” Joe laughed.

“You better be home a whole lot earlier than that.” Ben warned his youngest son.

“Yes, Sir.” Joe replied obediently. He reached for the doorknob just as the front door flew open. It was then that all hell broke out.

Four men with guns drawn burst into the Ponderosa ranch house. Hoss moved from his place on the settee and charged toward them. A single gunshot rang out and when the smoke died down Hoss lay sprawled on the livingroom floor. Joe was forced by one of the men up against the wall, while Ben’s attempt to check Hoss’ wound was met by a pistol blow to the back of his head. Joe watched in horror as two of his family members were now crumpled bodies on the floor. He fought with all his might to break free of the large man who held him relentlessly. Joe prayed that Hoss’ wound had not been fatal. He also worried about whether the crack on the head had killed his father.

“Get them up and over to the sofa.” One of the men yelled and both Hoss and Ben were dragged over by the coffee table and almost thrown together on the settee.

“Are they dead?” The man who had issued the order to move the bodies asked.

“Naw—but the big one is bleeding pretty bad.”

“Cliff, you and Williams go outside and stand guard.”

“No need for that. All the hands are gone.” Cliff protested as he drank from the brandy decanter he had stolen from off Ben’s desk.

“I said move!” The man in charge yelled.

The two men left the house taking positions out by the front porch as they had been instructed. The one in charge walked over to the fireplace and lit a cigar from the flames. “Bring the kid over here where I can see him.” He ordered and Joe was dragged across the room.

“You got a name, kid?” He asked and Joe looked over at him viciously, wishing he could kill him with his eyes. Joe just stood there in front of the man refusing to dignify his question with an answer. “How about I do some more shooting? Will that get you to answer me?” The man pointed the gun towards Ben, who was just starting to come around.

“Cartwright, Joe Cartwright.” Joe caved in to the request worried that the man would make good on his threat.

“Nice to meet you, Joe. My name is Cade, and this here is my associate Sam. We need some place to spend the night. You don’t mind us staying here, now do you?”

“Leave us alone!” Joe yelled, he knew the evil that stood before him. He could see the prison attire that the four men wore. They were convicts and they were deadly, and Joe knew it would take a miracle to survive the plans that they had for all of the Cartwrights.

Ben’s vision cleared slowly and the first picture to come into full view was his son Hoss unconscious next to him. He saw the gunshot wound that had torn through the big man’s shoulder. Ben reached over to look at it as Cade approached the settee.

“He’ll live.” Cade said with an absence of emotion.

“He needs a doctor!” Ben protested loudly.

“No deal.” Cade replied and turned toward his friend Sam. “Go get the old man something to put over the wound. Then get the boys out there to bring us in some rope.”

Sam walked toward the kitchen and came back with a couple of dishcloths and handed them to Ben. Cade could see that Joe was ready to make a fool hardy attempt to jump him from behind. He saw the move before it happened and spun around and pointed his gun at Joe’s abdomen. “Now, Joe. Don’t make me kill you, okay? I’m trying real hard to be friendly and all. Look I even got the ox doctored.” He pointed back to Ben who was stuffing the cloths into Hoss’ shoulder wound. “It would be a pure shame to kill you, Boy.”

Ben gave his youngest son a look of caution and Joe refrained from moving toward Cade.

After a few moments Sam came in with the rope. One by one he tied both Ben and Hoss’ hands behind them. Hoss did not move, and Ben was afraid to struggle and risk the lives of his two sons.

“What about the kid?” Sam asked moving over to Joe who still stood in front of the fireplace.

“I’ll take care of him.” Cade smiled and walked back to face Joe. “Hey, Joe—I see you are all dressed up. Were you planning on going somewhere tonight?”

Joe did not answer until he saw Cade’s gun point back over toward his father and brother.

“Joe, how many times do I have to tell you? This is my game we are playing now. Now the rules are that you answer all my questions and these two don’t get shot. You understand now?”

“Yes. I understand.” Joe barely whispered.

“Okay. Now first of all, who are these two? Are they your kin?” Cade continued.

“That’s my father and that’s my brother.” Joe pointed over to each of them. Ben looked over at Joe and his heart went out to the boy. He hated to see the mind game that Cade was playing with his son. Ben knew he could do nothing to stop it, other than to pray.

“Okay—your father got a name?”

“Ben Cartwright.” Joe replied again.

“And the ox over there?”

“His name is Hoss.”

Both Cade and Sam laughed at the sound of the big man’s name and then Cade continued. “So, tell me where you were headed tonight Joe?” Cade asked and sank down in Ben’s blue chair. He kept a steady trigger finger on his gun.

“To a dance in Virginia City.”

“Oh really? Sure is a pure shame that you are gonna miss it! And that suit—is it new?”

“Yes it’s new.” Joe fought back his anger as he answered once again.

“Well it looks very nice on you.” Cade remarked and stood back up. “We need to get that coat off of you before we tie you up. Wouldn’t want to mess that nice new suit up, right?”

Joe stared over at his father, the child deep inside of himself wanting Ben to do something. But the man in him knew that there was nothing Ben could do to stop what was happening. Joe pulled off his coat.

“Here—” Cade reached out to take it from Joe. “I’ll make sure it stays nice and neat. I’m sure there will be plenty of other dances to go to in the future.” Cade tossed the coat on the back of the chair and then signaled for Sam to hand him the rope. “Turn around, I need to tie you up.” He instructed and Joe did as he was told. Cade tied Joe’s hands tightly behind his back and then pointed for him to sit down on the coffee table.

“Now, Joe, you got a special lady friend you were going to this dance with?”

“No.” Joe spat his reply out.

“Oh—you playing the field then? Giving all the girls their chance, huh?”

Joe looked down at the floor. The questions that Cade asked were getting on his nerves and he wanted to yell. He stared over at his father and brother and shook his head helplessly.

“I asked you a question.” Cade reminded his hostage.

“Yeah. I’m playing the field. So what’s it to you? Why does my personal life intrigue you so much?”

“Just trying to get to know you better. That’s all. No need to get all riled up.” Cade said and put his hand on Joe’s shoulder. Joe cringed at the man’s touch.

“Look over here, Cade! It’s a safe! You reckon there’s any money in it?” Sam called from Ben’s study.

“Let’s ask Joe. So, is there any money in there, Joe?”

“What else do you keep in a safe?” Joe replied with heavy sarcasm.

Cade laughed and patted Joe on the back. “I like you, Joe. You have a great sense of humor!”

“Leave him alone!” Ben yelled, having witnessed enough of the game that Cade was playing with Joe.

“Old Man, you just sit there and shut up! If you open that mouth again I am gonna finish off the ox—and I might even finish off Joe as well.” Cade warned and pointed at each of Ben’s sons with his gun. Ben fought back the words he longed to say to the vicious man who stood before him. He couldn’t risk getting his sons shot, so he kept still.

“Joe, let’s you and me take a walk over to that safe, shall we?” Cade pulled Joe up by his arms. They made their way to the safe which stood behind Ben’s desk. Sam was on the floor waiting for the combination. Joe shot a glance back at his father. Ben nodded for Joe to do whatever he had to do to keep all of them alive. Their only hope being the fact that Joe had not made it to the dance. Adam would surely figure there was something amiss and come to find out what had happened. That was Ben’s only thought at the time.

“Two times to the right to twenty.” Joe started and Sam turned the dial. “Three times to the left forty-two. Then once around to zero.”

The safe clicked and Sam drew back the heavy steel door. He reached inside and was excited to see a satchel that contained more than two thousand dollars.

“Bonanza!” Sam yelled and handed it to Cade. Cade turned and looked at Joe again.

“Good job, Boy. Now what is all this money doing here instead of in a bank?”

“Payroll. We pay the men at the end of the month.” Joe replied angered at all the hard work that it had taken to earn the two thousand dollars.

“Well, the men will have to wait till next month looks like!” Cade laughed and pushed Joe back over to the fireplace. Joe sat down again on the coffee table facing his family members. Hoss stirred a moment and Ben looked to see if he was regaining consciousness. Hoss turned his head and fell back off into the void where he was unaware of the awful situation that had befallen the Cartwright family.

“Sam—look around for some valuables. Just take what will be easy to sell.” Cade instructed and Sam searched around in Ben’s study first.

“You’ve got the money from the safe! Now why don’t you all just leave? I’m sure there’s a posse out after you. Be smart and get out of here while you can.” Joe cautioned hoping to get them all to leave.

“You worried about me, Joe? That is very touching. But, I’m not ready to leave yet. Besides, you and I haven’t finished our game!” Cade laughed maniacally.

“Cade! Look at these frames! They are pure gold!” Sam shouted excited by his find. He brought over the three pictures of Ben’s wives and set them on the coffee table next to Joe.

“Beautiful women! Who are they, Joe?”

“Don’t touch them!” Joe yelled at the man. He could not stand the thought of such filth touching the beloved memories of the three Cartwright wives. And he stared in particular at the one baring the image of his own mother.

“The game, Joe.” Cade warned.

“They were my father’s wives.” Joe answered sullenly and shot his father a pathetic glance.

“Oh—I bet this one was your mother!’ Cade exclaimed and held up Marie’s picture. “My God, Boy! You look so much like her, it’s uncanny.” Cade stroked the image with his fingers. Joe could not stand that violation, hands tied or not. He lunged toward Cade, but again, Cade saw it coming and grabbed Joe by the collar of his shirt and pushed him back down on the coffee table. Ben witnessed the eruption and fought the desire to assist his son. He knew it would be a losing battle. One that would get all of them killed.

“Don’t try that again.” Cade warned. “Now—as I was saying. You look like her, but something’s not quite right with your hair.” Cade grabbed a fist full hair from the back of Joe’s head, where it fell down his collar. Joe grimaced in pain as the man pulled tighter. “Sam, hand me your knife.” Cade called to his partner. Sam opened the blade to his pocket knife and handed it to Cade. In one swift move, Cade chopped off a good three inches of Joe’s hair.

“There!” Cade laughed and tossed the hank of hair into the fireplace. The room filled with the pungent odor of burning hair. “Now you look more like your ma, Joe!”

Joe determined that no matter what Cade did to him he would not cry, no matter how badly he wanted to. That was the one thing he wouldn’t get from him. He refused to give the man the satisfaction of knowing he was hurt in any way. Cade sat back down in the chair and stared over at Joe. He could see the boy’s jaw tense, trying to control his anger.

“Aw—you ain’t mad with me are you, Joe? I think you look just fine now—just fine. You even look more handsome than you did when we first broke in here.”

“Go to Hell.” Joe replied viciously. He was wearing thin now. He looked over at Ben and his father could tell by the look in his eyes that it wouldn’t be long before Joe would absolutely explode from within.

“How you coming, Sam?” Cade called up to the man who had gone upstairs to loot more Cartwright possessions. The man was soon back down with two pillow cases full of items. He met Cade in the livingroom.

“We got more stuff than we ever thought we would from here. Why don’t we just take the loot and get outa here before someone comes?” Sam was starting to get worried. He was not sure just how far ahead of the law they currently were.

“Soon, we have to let the horses rest a little more first. Go tell the boys to check the barn. See if there’s better horses in there than ours. If there is, then saddle them. We’ll leave in an hour.” Cade instructed and Sam walked outside carrying his looted items.

“Well, Joe. I know that’s got to make you happy, right? You glad to see we’ll be going soon?”

“Yes, very happy.” Joe nodded and shot the man a deadly gaze. “Let me guess. You are gonna kill us all anyway, right?”

Cade laughed and announced, “Joe, I thought you and I was friends? How can you even think that?”

Sam walked back into the house and over to his partner once again. “The boys are getting the horses all watered and saddled. What now?”

Cade stood and walked directly in front of Joe. He stared down at him for a moment deep in thought. Then, he walked over to the dining room. He turned the doorknob to the room which sat just off to the left. Cade walked inside the room and then smiled as a thought came to his mind. He lit a lamp in the room and walked back out. He looked at Sam and the other man read in Cade’s wild eyes what he had planned for Joe.

“Bring Joe over here, Sam.” Cade said coldly and Sam reached down and pulled the boy up by his arms. Joe had no idea what the plan was and why he was being dragged over to the dining room. Cade took Joe from Sam and pushed him into the bedroom. He turned back for a moment and said to Sam, “Don’t disturb us, Joe and I have more of our game to play.” Then he shut the door.

Adam Cartwright stepped down off of the platform which had been constructed for the musicians. It was time for a much needed break. The dance had been going on for more than two hours now and still he had yet to spot his little brother. As Adam walked over to sample the punch yet another girl approached him and asked where Joe was. He simply shrugged his shoulders non-committal and reached for a glass cup. Adam surveyed the room starting to get a knot in his stomach. He knew that nothing would have kept Joe from coming to this dance. And also, that nothing would have prevented Joe from showing off his new expensive suit. At that very moment, Roy Coffee made his entrance into the large dance hall and sought out the oldest Cartwright brother.

“Adam, looks like you all got one heck of a turn out for your dance.” Roy smiled and Adam handed the sheriff something to drink. “Looks like the entire town showed up.”

“Yeah—but not my baby brother. And to think he was the one who roped me into all of this in the first place!’ Adam returned frustrated.

“Where do you think he is?” Roy asked concerned with the other information that he was about to pass on to Adam.

“Don’t know, Roy. Unless his horse threw a shoe or something. Joe was so eager to show off his new suit and dance with every girl here tonight—it just doesn’t make sense.”

Roy reached in his coat pocket and his brown eyes turned intense. “Here. Read this. I got this wire a little while ago.” Roy handed Adam the telegraph and he read it quickly.

“Escaped cons heading this way? If they were spotted in Genoa earlier today they could be any place by now.” Adam reflected and then he felt a stab of worry that took over all other thoughts. “They could even be on the road to Virginia City—maybe Joe ran into them? Or they could have made it to the Ponderosa.”

“We better check this out. Hopefully we are worrying about nothing. But, it sure don’t hurt to go see if we’re wrong.”

“I’ll meet you outside. I’m going to tell Craig to take over my duties for awhile.” Adam hurried over to confer with one of the other musicians. Roy walked out of the room feeling his own sense of dread.

Joe stood up against one of the walls in the guest room. Cade leaned back on the bed with his gun still drawn and pointing directly at his hostage. Joe decided that if he were to be lucky enough to survive, that he would etch the evil man’s image into his head. He wanted to remember everything about him. He had already sized him up in the living room. The man was a little over six feet tall. He had dark black hair and appeared to be in his late forties. He wore a beard, which only partially hid a deep scar that went from the man’s right eye all the way to his chin. Joe wanted to remember these features. He prayed that he would have the chance to wage his revenge on Cade. He would get even with him for having shot his brother. He would make him pay for hitting Ben on the head with his gun. And, he would also pay for all the humiliating mind games that Joe had been forced to endure. Joe seethed inwardly, waiting to find out what the man had in mind for him next.

“C’mon over here, Joe. You look mighty uncomfortable standing there.” Cade called out.

“I’m fine where I am.” Joe muttered still memorizing the man’s outward appearance, commending it to memory.

“I said over here!” Cade yelled and pointed the gun at Joe again.

“I’m not afraid to die.” Joe replied. “In fact if I have a choice in the matter I think I’d rather you shoot me now than to spend another minute with you.”

“I don’t plan to kill you, Joe. That would be too easy. I have something else in mind for you.” Cade now stood and walked directly in front of Joe. “You know how handsome you are don’t you? You really have a way about you. So sure of yourself in every way, right?”

“Shoot me or let me go.” Came Joe’s request and it was answered with a long string of laughter. Cade reached over and grabbed Joe up by his shirt collar and looked directly into his eyes.

“I’ll let you go, but not till I’m done with our game. You’re gonna love the next part, Joe!” Cade smiled sinisterly and then shoved Joe over to the bed.

Ben Cartwright could hear the languished cries of his youngest son coming from the next room. Ben fought to break his ropes in order to go to help his son but could see Sam coming closer, his pistol pointed at the incapacitated Hoss. Ben had to refrain from a further attempt at freedom. Though he did not know what was happening to Joe, he did know what a risk he would taking in regards to his injured middle son.

It seemed like the screams from the other room lasted for hours, but in fact it wasn’t more than thirty minutes after Cade had taken Joe in there, that he walked out and back into the livingroom. Ben’s piercing brown eyes searched the man as he strode casually across to the fireplace and lit his cigar.

“What have you done with my son?” Ben questioned, unable to take the uncertainty of whether Joe had been killed or not.

“Joe is just fine.” Cade laughed and drew in the smoke and exhaled deeply. “He was kinda tired so he’s sleeping right now. You will find him safe and sound.”

Ben did not believe what the criminal had told him, he felt in his heart that Joe had indeed been hurt. He watched as Cade and Sam called for the other two men to come in and they all gathered up the rest of their looted goods and turned to leave. Ben was sure that they would not leave without killing all of their hostages. But, instead, they all headed out the front door without any further violence. Cade stopped short and turned back toward Ben and smiled at him.

“Tell Joe goodbye for me. Tell him I enjoyed our little game very much!” Cade laughed and left the house closing the door behind him.

The night was pitch black as Roy Coffee and Adam Cartwright rode up to the ranch house. They almost ran into Cade and his bunch head- on as they were coming around the back side of the barn. The night air was filled with gunshots. One man who had been riding Ben’s horse fell to the ground dead, as another, riding Hoss’ horse was winged in the shoulder and also fell off his mount. Two riders did manage to escape, and despite the strong urge to go after them Roy and Adam turned their attention on going into the house to check on the other Cartwrights.

After checking on the winged convict, and making sure that the other one was really dead, Roy tied the wounded man up and then he walked into the house with Adam. Ben was standing now, trying to reach into the fireplace to burn off his ropes. Adam saw Hoss’ still form on the settee. He tired not to panic but the sight turned his stomach and ripped at his heart. Adam wished he could have been at the ranch instead of at the dance. Maybe he could have prevented what had happened to his family. Adam surveyed the room and saw the disarray. Books having been tossed around and other family mementoes laying dashed on the floor. None of that mattered at the time, his eyes were seeking one thing in particular; his brother Joe.

“Adam!” Ben yelled greatly relieved to see reinforcements. “Thank God!” Ben moved over to his oldest and Adam was quick at untying his father. Roy walked over and checked out Hoss’ shoulder wound. He was soon joined by Ben and Adam and their eyes filled with worry.

“He’s gonna be okay. I’m no doctor, but I’ve seen enough of these wounds to know the real bad ones. Looks like the bullet went clean through. I’ll go get Doc Martin out here.”

“But where’s Joe?” Adam asked, and Roy also was waiting for that question to be answered. They both saw Ben’s face go white as he looked fearfully over toward the guest room.

“One of the men took him in there.” Ben said gravely and started walking toward the dining room. Adam started to follow his father but Ben stopped and held up his hand.

“Let me handle this, Adam. I don’t know how bad this is going to be. I’ll be right out. Roy—go ahead and get Doc here quick as you can.

“I’ll be back before you know it!” Roy exclaimed and hurried out of the ranch house. Adam stood bewildered by all his father had said about wanting to check on Joe by himself. He shook his head disgusted and returned to assist his brother Hoss.

For nineteen years Ben had kept a watchful eye on his youngest son. He had tried his best to protect him from the evil that prowled the earth. So many times he was accused of being overly protective of the boy, but now, as he caught sight of Joe, he felt that he had truly failed him miserably. Ben approached the head of the bed and saw Joe’s clothes had been torn, as if done during what must have been a terrible struggle with Cade. He could see where the ropes that bound Joe’s wrists had eaten into his skin and blood trickled out from under them. Ben was having trouble breathing just staring at the still figure of his son. He reached down to untie the ropes and Joe came around.

“No! Don’t!” Joe screamed and tried to muster the strength to begin fighting once more.

“Joseph—it’s me—” Ben tried to calm him. Joe continued to struggle against the touch.

“Don’t!” Joe shrieked again. He tried to roll off the bed and Ben caught him by the shoulders.

“Joe—it’s pa—you’re safe now. They are all gone. You are safe.” Ben continued with his pleas for the boy to settle down so his ropes could be removed.

Joe struggled to return to safety. He fought to register Ben’s voice in his mind. It was his father’s voice, not Cade’s. He slowly began to stop fighting Ben’s attempt at untying the rope. When his hands were free at last, Joe slowly rolled over onto his back and turned away from the anguished look his father now wore. Ben watched sadly as his son pulled himself off of the bed and reached for the blanket laying on the footboard.. Joe wrapped it around himself, partly due to the intense shaking, he was experiencing and partly to hide his tattered clothing.

“Joseph, the doctor will be here soon.” Ben said and tried to reach for his son. He yearned to pull the boy into an embrace so that he would be fully aware that he truly was safe. Joe resisted his father vehemently. He pulled back away from him, as if Ben were also an enemy. As if Ben might also cause him pain. Ben could not understand why his son had backed away. Joe had always turned to him in times of crisis. He wondered what had made the boy fearful of his own father’s touch.

“No doctor.” Joe finally managed to spout out adamantly. He held the blanket tightly to his chest and slowly inched out of the bedroom. Ben followed, his heart heavy with worry.

Adam looked up from his position next to Hoss as he saw Joe enter the living room heading toward the stairs. He couldn’t believe that the person he was looking at was his youngest brother. Joe was no longer the lighthearted nineteen year old that Adam had seen earlier in the day carrying his new suit inside the house joyously. His walk was that of a wounded animal, and his features showed damage to them that went beyond normal comprehension. Foremost in Adam’s thoughts, Joe looked old.

“Hoss is gonna be okay.” Adam called to Joe, uncertain as to what to say at this point.

Joe stared for only a brief moment at his two brothers and then continued his trek up to the solace which only his room could provide for him. Both Ben and Adam’s anxious eyes followed Joe’s departing form up the stairs.

It was almost one a.m. by the time Doctor Paul Martin had finished repairing the damage that Cade’s bullet had done to Hoss Cartwright’s shoulder. He stood at the wash basin in the big man’s room and finished drying his hands. He turned and cast a concerned glance at Ben and Adam who were waiting anxiously for a full report on their loved one’s condition.

“He’s going to be just fine. Roy was right. That bullet passed right through Hoss’ shoulder and it doesn’t look like any permanent damage. He has lost a considerable amount of blood so all I want you both to do is to make sure he stays in bed for the next couple of days. When he’s able to move around more, we will put a sling on his left arm to help prevent those stitches from getting pulled.”

Adam and Ben sighed relieved and Ben felt his son’s face. There was no sign of fever present. At least they had all been lucky that Cade’s aim had been off.

“Thanks, Doc.” Ben nodded. Paul walked over and pulled on Ben’s arm to get him to sit down in the chair next to Hoss’ bed. Ben reluctantly sat as the doctor examined the good sized knot that was on the back of his head where he had been pistol whipped. The doctor dabbed some ointment on it and Ben didn’t even feel the pressure, his mind being on other things.

“Get Hop Sing to fix you up an ice pack to help with that swelling.” The doctor commented and then looked at both men waiting to hear about Joe.

“I need you to check Joseph out. But, he was adamant about not seeing you. He was put through some kind of terrible trauma by the convict who took him into the back bedroom. I don’t know what happened in there, I only know that Joe needs help.” Ben was careful in his words. He still hadn’t told Adam the whole story, they had been much too busy with Hoss.

Hop Sing appeared in the room. He had hurried home after spotting Roy in town. The sheriff had filled him in on what had happened and the Chinese member of the family had raced the buckboard almost blindly in the dark to get to the ones that he loved. Hop Sing walked to the head of the bed and put his hand on the still unconscious Hoss. He muttered some words in his native tongue and then turned toward the other three men.

“Mr. Hoss—will he be okay?” Came his worried question in typical broken English.

“He’s going to be fine, Hop Sing.” Paul assured.

“And Little Joe—he fine too?”

Ben and Adam looked at each other and knew that Joe’s current condition would upset Hop Sing more than anything else at the present. They knew that Hop Sing had always held Joe in his heart as a son.

“I haven’t checked Joe out yet. But, there is something you could do for us that would help a great deal. We have to get him to go to sleep so that I can examine him. He is very upset right now, and he insists on not seeing anyone. Do you think you could get him to drink something? I can lace a glass of water with sleeping powder.” The doctor asked Hop Sing and the cook shook his head up and down insistently.

“I get Little Joe to drink! You give Hop Sing water now!”

Paul fought back a smile, it didn’t seem the time or the place for humor, but nevertheless, Hop Sing’s confidence amused him. He had witnessed over the years the magic that the cook had when it came to dealing with the orneriest member of the family. Paul poured water from the pitcher on the night stand and then reached in his medical bag. He opened a small bottle and poured some medication directly into the glass. Then he handed it to Hop Sing.

“Hop Sing.” Ben called and approached him before the cook left the room. “Joe is not acting like what you are use to seeing. He is very upset. Don’t get your feelings hurt if you can’t get him to drink that.”

“Little Joe drink for Hop Sing.” The man shook his head solemnly and walked out of the room and down the hallway.

Joe had already been deep in his own personal Hell all night and he could not fall asleep. All the dreadful details of the evening pulsated throughout his troubled mind. When he had first entered his room that night, there was still a strong scent of Bay Rum cologne hanging in the air from all he had used in preparation for the dance. But Joe never caught the smell of the cologne. His nostrils were only filled with the sickening smell of Cade and the musty stale cigar smoke which permeated his clothes. He hadn’t been in his room more than five minutes before he started vomiting. As he bent pathetically over the basin he could still hear Cade’s laughter and feel his touch. When Joe’s eyes had inadvertently caught his appearance reflected back in the dresser mirror, he saw the remnants of his new suit ripped before him. Joe’s white shirt had all its buttons missing and his pants were torn. It was after seeing the aftermath of his torture, that Joe had flung the cologne bottle at the mirror shattering it.

Now Joe laid in bed, blankets tightly wrapped around his body and his eyes fixed on the ceiling. He fought to free himself from the scenes of the guest room but could not. Frightened, lonely and in total despair, he turned in bed when he heard the door open. Hop Sing walked slowly into the room and attempted to light the lamp at Joe’s bedside.

“No!” Joe yelled and scared Hop Sing so badly he had almost jumped out of his skin. “Go away.” Joe pleaded. Hop Sing stopped the attempt to get light on in the room. He looked lovingly at the frightened young man before him.

“Okay—Hop Sing go away, but you need to drink this first. It help take all pain away so you can sleep.”

“Just leave.” Joe begged and turned his face away from the man.

“You drink. Hop Sing go then.” Hop Sing insisted and handed the glass to Joe. Joe reluctantly took the glass in his trembling left hand. He looked down at it. His only thought was to somehow get Hop Sing to leave him alone. Joe could not face anyone at this point, and seriously doubted if he ever would be able to face anyone again. Joe drank the water and returned the glass to Hop Sing.

Hop Sing saw that the Joe he had helped to raise was frightened beyond belief. His heart reached out to him, even though he couldn’t reach out physically at the moment. He would give Joe the solitude he had requested. Muttering a Chinese prayer Hop Sing left the room.

Hop Sing had reported back to the family and Doctor Martin that the task had been completed and then hurried downstairs to try his best to put the house back together. Doctor Martin reached into his vest and drew out his pocket watch.

“It shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes. Once he is good and asleep we can see how Joe is.” Paul commented and the three men waited.

Carrying with them a kerosene lamp, Ben and Paul made their way into Joe’s bedroom. It had been almost a half of an hour since Joe had taken his medication. The two men stood on opposite sides of the bed and stared down at the sleeping boy. Even in slumber Joe’s face carried a grimace and the doctor was starting to have his own suspicions at this point as to what had truly happened to him. He looked over at Ben and realized that the last thing he needed was to have the worried father leaning over his shoulder during the examination. And if Paul’s suspicions were found to be true, he worried about Ben’s own physical health and how he would manage to come to grips with it.

“Ben, you go downstairs and rest awhile. Get Hop Sing to get you that ice for your head. I will be down shortly.” Paul reached over and touched Ben’s arm and stared into his eyes.

“You might need me.” Ben protested. He wasn’t at all sure of what injuries they would find on the boy and what steps would have to be taken to tend them.

“I’ll call if I do. Now go on. I’ll be down soon.”

Ben reluctantly walked to the door and shot another desperate look towards his son. Then he left the room and walked despondently down the stairs. Doctor Martin set about the task of identifying Joe’s injuries. Upon checking his chest, he detected three cracked ribs. He went to his medical bag and pulled out some material to wrap the boys chest. It was upon turning Joe over to bind the ribcage that he saw the tell tale signs of what Joe’s other injuries were.

Doctor Paul Martin looked at the young man whom, nineteen years earlier, he had helped bring into the world.*******What kind of an animal would have done this to you, Joe? My God! What you must have gone through! I didn’t bring you into this world to be so hurt by the evil that came here tonight. Please, God, give me the strength to help this boy. And give me the strength to help his family!******Paul thought to himself and began the long task of at least trying to make his patient a little more physically comfortable. Paul knew that there was nothing in his black bag that could even start to repair the boy’s tortured soul.

Ben’s wait had been a long one and his patience was wearing thin. He wondered what could be taking so long with his son’s examination. Ben was just about ready to go and find out for himself when Doctor Martin appeared at the top of the stairs. As he slowly walked down Ben couldn’t help noticing the grim look that the man now wore. Paul was slow in making his way over to the settee and he sat down heavily, emotionally spent.

“I could sure use a drink.” Paul stated earnestly and Ben was surprised by his request. Ben had rarely seen the doctor indulge himself with the use of alcohol. He assumed this meant there was bad news to be forthcoming. Ben strode over to the table in his study and noticed that Hop Sing had already been hard at work trying to straighten up some of the damage that the convicts had caused. Ben opened a new bottle of brandy. He poured two glasses of the liquor and then brought it over to the doctor. Ben sat opposite Paul and waited for the explanation.

Doctor Paul Martin drank heavily of his brandy. Of all the examinations that he had performed in over forty years of medical practice, the one he had just finished doing was by far the most excruciating emotionally. Looking over at the worried father, he paused to choose his words carefully.

“Joe has several cracked ribs. I have bound them. He has numerous contusions and scratches. All of those will heal.” The doctor paused and took a deep breath. He had to tell Ben the truth. “But, what has been done to your son at the hands of that animal is something I just don’t know how to heal. I can set bones, suture cuts, but repairing an injured soul is something I just can’t do.”

Ben studied the doctor’s careworn face and was starting to get an idea as to what the man was trying to tell him. Ben did not utter the words for a long while. He was afraid that if he did, it would make what had happened to Joe a reality, and not as it had been; just an awful implication.

“Tell me.” Was all that Ben could finally choke out. “Tell me what he did to Joseph.”

Doctor Martin reached over for the arm of his long-time friend. He knew his answer would forever change Ben Cartwright’s life. The doctor sighed deeply, fighting for control of his own emotions. “Ben, Joe has been assaulted.”

“I don’t understand. You mean beaten? I saw how he looked, bruises and all. You mean that man beat Joseph?” Ben’s eyes pleaded for understanding.

“Ben, I mean assaulted.” Paul thought for another minute, trying to phrase his next statement as gently as possible. “Do you remember Sarah McNeely?” Paul asked.

Ben felt his body go limp. His mind took him back several years. There had been a close friend of Adam’s named Sarah McNeely. She was a lovely girl and had grown up in Virginia City. She had been Ben’s oldest son’s first girlfriend and later close friend. The girl had been raped by a drunken cowhand. Her life had been destroyed, and despite the love of friends and family, the girl had ended up committing suicide. Ben was now totally aware of the point the doctor had been making in bringing up Sarah.

“No.” Ben’s trembling voice shot out.

“I’m sorry, Ben. But, it’s true. Joseph was sexually assaulted by that man.”Ben felt his breath leave him. He closed his eyes and felt the sudden surge of bile rising in his throat. He tried to will away the nausea. Ben knew he could handle the fact that his home had been violated. Personal mementoes smashed beyond repair. But not his youngest son! Ben looked up toward the top of the stairs and could still see the vision of Joe. How the boy looked, so excited to be going to the dance that evening. Joe had been absolutely glowing as he showed off his new suit. Now the boy was hurt, hurt beyond all repair. Ben stood and smashed his glass of brandy angrily into the fireplace.

“No!” Ben yelled more to the heavens than to anyone in the room. “Not my son!”

Paul walked over to try to console the bereaved father. He put his hand on Ben’s shoulder and tried his best to comfort the man. “Ben, somehow the family will get through this.” The doctor reassured.

From the corners of his glazed eyes Ben caught sight of Joe’s dress jacket still where Cade had set it, on the back of the blue chair. Ben reached for it and brought it up to his face. The scent of both his son and the cologne was still there. Ben closed his eyes again.

“All Joe wanted to do was go to a dance. This was his new suit.” Ben whispered and the emotions were taking over his whole person. He needed to escape the house before he became sick to his stomach.

Outside in the yard, Ben Cartwright looked up to the heavens. The dark clouds had passed and millions of stars twinkled in the distance. Ben had his own deep personal belief in God. Though it had been challenged many times during tragedies in the past, he had always clung to the belief that a higher power watched over them all. Ben leaned against the hitching post and images of Joe flashed through his mind. The happy go lucky kid who was always in and out of trouble came first to mind. Then, the risk taking young man came into view. Ben remembered all the injuries that had almost taken the boy from him in the past. Joe was resilient, and had overcome even the worst life had to offer. But, that was before Cade had entered their lives and changed Joe’s world forever. Ben knew what the assault had cost his son. He did not think it was humanly possible to get over such a vicious attack of mind, body, and soul. Ben looked toward the sky one last time. Heaven never seemed farther away than it did at that moment, nor did God.

Ben was on his way to his bedroom after the doctor had forced a much needed sedative on him. Paul had warned the upset father that if he didn’t get his rest that he would be no good to either of his injured sons. Reluctantly, Ben had taken the medicine and agreed to turn in. He checked on Hoss and saw that Adam was keeping the normal vigil by his brother’s bed. Then, Ben entered Joe’s room and walked over to the bed.

Kneeling down on the floor in prayer, Ben took Joe’s left hand. He wearily dropped his own forehead to rest on the bandaged wrist. It had been the longest night of Ben Cartwright’s life. Ben whispered his son’s name and wept.

Chapter Two: A Time To Embrace, And A Time to Refrain From Embracing

Ben poured his morning coffee as he sat in his chair at the head of the dining room table. He looked at the empty place settings around him. Adam had already eaten and was up with Hoss and Joe was still asleep when he had last checked. Hop Sing had spent the better part of the morning straightening up the house to give is some semblance of normalcy. Ben’s eyes shot over to the guest room to his immediate right. He closed his eyes and could still hear his son’s screams from the previous night. He couldn’t shake the awful memories and he knew his youngest son probably would never be able to erase them either. Ben rubbed at his temples trying to stop the headache he was experiencing. He knew the trauma to his head by Cade’s gun was only one reason his head hurt so bad.

Adam walked down the stairs carrying Hoss’ empty breakfast tray. He took it into the kitchen and then sat down next to his father.

“Hoss is doing real well, Pa. He ate everything Hop Sing fixed for him.” Adam tried to sound upbeat seeing the sadness which controlled his father’s face.

“I’m glad, Son. I’m going to go sit with him in a little while.’

“I have to warn you, he wants to know all about what happened here last night.”

Ben nodded and looked into Adam’s eyes. They, too, were questioning.

“I don’t think he needs to know just yet. Let’s give him a couple of days to heal first.”

“Okay. But, you are going to tell me, right?” Adam asked having waited long enough to know what was going on. He had seen his little brother and knew that he must have suffered something awful to be in the condition that he was in when he had walked solemnly to his room.

Ben knew he must tell Adam the truth. He also knew that he would have to tell Hoss eventually too. The family was a tight knit bunch, and secrets never lasted long in the house. But this secret was an awful one. As Ben studied Adam’s handsome face he shook his head wondering how to tell him about Joe and Cade.

“I told you last night that the one called Cade took Joe into the room.” Ben pointed toward the closed door of the guest room. “I was tied up as was Hoss. I wish I could have done something to prevent it—” Ben trailed off and dropped his head down into his hands.

“Prevent what? What did he do to Joe?”

“Adam, your friend Sarah—Sarah McNeely—you remember?” Ben had decided to go the same route as Doctor Martin had chosen the night before. He did not want to say the correct definition as to what the act of violence had been.

Adam stared blankly at his father. His thoughts going back to a young girl with a bright smile and long blonde hair. He remembered vividly his first case of puppy-love. He remembered Sarah’s warm smile and gentle touch. Suddenly, Adam thoughts turned toward the broken girl he had tried to comfort. A girl who could not be healed mentally. A girl who had chosen to jump off of a cliff instead of dealing with the tortured thoughts of what had been done to her.

Adam stood from the table and walked out of the house slamming the door behind him. He stood out on the porch willing all that he had heard away. He had lost someone close to him before due to the vicious act of a rape, he could not bear the thought of the chance that it could happen again. Adam thought about his little brother. The kid with the constant smile. The kid who knew he was handsome and enjoyed all the attention he garnered from it. Adam thought about what the violence would take from Joe. Without that fierce pride, without the self-assurance, without the winning smile, Joe would not be Joe. It would leave him without anything. Adam walked out to the yard trying to fill his lungs with fresh morning air. He turned and stared up at the room above the front porch. Little Joe’s room.

Ben walked outside to join his eldest son, and somehow try to help him deal with something that was beyond all reason. He walked over to him and put his hand on Adam’s shoulder.

“Not the kid, Pa. I can’t bear this. How the hell could this happen?” Adam’s voice was shaky and he fought to refrain from tears.

“Adam, I wish I had the answers for you, but I don’t. I don’t have any answers of any kind right now. I don’t even know how to help Joseph. All I want to do is to go in there and tell him everything will be all better. But, I don’t think it ever will.”

“Cade is still out there—him and that Sam fellow. I’m gonna catch up with the posse and kill both of them!” Adam swore and started off toward the barn. Ben followed closely and grabbed Adam’s arm spinning him around.

“No! Not now! I need you here. I need you to help me. Roy has enough posse members chasing them already. He’s got half of the town out there. I am not risking another son. I just can’t.” Ben stopped and Adam saw the tears leaving his father’s eyes.

Adam thought on all that his father had said. He rationalized that he was indeed needed right now. Needed to keep Ben together and later Hoss once he was told. But, he wanted to kill Cade and bring him back to his little brother as a trophy. Something he could show the boy to prove that the evil did not really win. Adam gave in. He saw the intensity on Ben’s tired face and knew his place, at least at the moment, was at his father’s side. He did not answer his father verbally. Adam threw his arm around Ben’s shoulder and turned back toward the house.

Joe winced as he slowly made it back to reality. He moved onto his side and tried to catch his breath. He wondered why he felt so awful and then the dullness of the sleeping powders began to wear off. Falling back into his mind with a crushing weight came the memory of Cade. He tried to sit up but his pain was too great. Joe pushed down the sheet and heavy quilt. His mind went back to the previous night once more. Joe saw that he was now wearing long john bottoms. He had not changed before he had drank Hop Sing’s medicine. Then, Joe felt the tightness of the white bandages that wrapped his torso. It suddenly became apparent to him that he had been doctored. His anger mounted at the idea of having a doctor examining him in his sleep. Joe had told his father he would not see the doctor, and yet they had gone against his wishes anyway. The dreaded realization hit now. Doctor Martin was a thorough man. Joe knew that after having inspected his patient, the doctor would know all the details of what Cade had done to him.

Joe fell back against the pillows cursing his family, God and himself. He never wanted to die more than he did at that very moment. Joe couldn’t imagine facing his family now that they knew. He grabbed his ribcage as a stitch of pain shot upwards from under the tight bandage. But, no physical pain matched what he was feeling emotionally. It was at that moment that the bedroom door opened and in walked Joe’s father.

Ben brought in a tray of food and set it on the night stand. He had never before been uncomfortable around his youngest son. They had the type of relationship that any other father or son would envy but not be able to duplicate. It might have been due to the fact that Joe was Ben’s youngest, his last child. Or it might have been due to the very nature of the boy. Though always trying towards independence, he often sought the strong shoulder of his father when he was hurt. Ben said a silent prayer that somehow that would come back to them both and Joe would turn toward him and not away from him.

“I brought you something to eat.” Ben began, trying to sound in control.

“Go away!” Joe yelled and pulled the covers back up around him.

“Joseph—” Ben started but Joe cut him off.

“I said go away! I don’t want to see you—I don’t want to see anyone. Just leave me the hell alone.” Joe grimaced as he tried to roll over and away from his father’s worried gaze.

“You need to eat, Son.” Ben persisted, letting Joe’s anger roll off of him. He knew why the boy was upset and could not blame him.

“You know everything now. You know when I need to eat. You know when I need to see a doctor. You know everything!” Joe spat out bitterly.

Ben frowned, he knew it wouldn’t go over well, once Joe knew the doctor had worked on him the previous night. “Joseph, you have some busted ribs. The doctor had to bind them. They could have pierced your lung if he hadn’t.”

“Like that would be a bad thing.” Joe replied sarcastically.

Ben sat down on the side of the bed and fought hard not to reach for Joe and pull him close. He knew the damage that had been caused by Cade. He knew that Joe did not want to be touched now, maybe not ever again. Joe moved farther away from his father and stared in the opposite direction.

“Joseph, please talk to me. Let me help you with this.” Ben spoke out gently.

“You want to help me, Pa?” Joe asked, his voice sounding strained.

“Yes, I want to help you.” Ben repeated once more.

“Then get me a gun and close the door after you leave.” Joe’s reply was not in jest. He meant every word of it. Ben could tell that he was indeed serious.

“That’s not the way, Son. I know you feel that way now. But, somehow you will get over this.”

“Oh yeah? How about YOU, Pa? Could YOU get over this?” Joe asked earnestly.

Ben looked down at his suffering son. He did not answer Joe’s question. He couldn’t answer Joe’s question. He wasn’t at all sure if he would ever be able to get over what had happened to his son, let alone if it had happened to himself. Ben stood up and shook his head at a total loss at what he could do to help his son.

“Nothing that has happened to you will ever change the way I feel about you, Joseph. I want you to know that. And, I want to help you when you are ready to talk.”

“Just go away. Please just go away.” Joe was now sobbing. He did not understand why he had turned so violently on the one person he loved more than anyone in the world. He didn’t understand why he wanted to die either. He didn’t understand anything at that moment.

“I’ll be back to check on you later.” Ben whispered and turned to leave the room. He fought the strong urge again. He wanted to hold Joe and tell him the lie that everything would be okay.

By late that afternoon, Hop Sing was tired from all the care taking he had done. He had spent his time trying to tend both of the injured Cartwrights but was having no luck in aiding Joe. Hoss was doing much better and was even sitting up in bed now. He had eaten a full breakfast and lunch and by his appearance seemed well on his way toward recovery. Hop Sing sighed discouraged as he left Joe’s bedroom. For the second time that day he had taken out a tray from the boys room that had been untouched. No food had been eaten and Hop Sing was getting more worried about Joe as the day went on. He ran into both Ben and Doctor Martin coming out of Hoss’ bedroom.

“Still not eating?” The doctor asked staring down at the food tray.

“Not eat anything all day.” Hop Sing replied and then turned his attention on Ben. “Little Joe ask Hop Sing to fix bath. That okay?”

Ben looked back at the doctor and shook his head. “His ribs are bandaged. I don’t think that would be a good idea right now, Hop Sing.”

“Wait.” Paul broke in and touched Ben’s arm. “Go ahead and get it ready for him. It will be okay.” Hop Sing nodded and hurried to get the necessary things ready.

“But, Paul, that means he will have to have those ribs re-bound. And right now he won’t let anyone near him to do it.” Ben protested.

“Ben, this is something that Joe wants to do. Let him do it. We’ll get him fixed up afterwards. It’s very common to want take a bath at this at this point.” The doctor tried to get through to the worried father. He had seen this very behavior before in other assault victims.

Ben caved in to the doctor’s request, though he was not happy with the idea of what they would have to go through with Joe later on.

Adam made it a point to help Hop Sing carry up the buckets of water into Joe’s room. He felt that he would not be seen to be intruding; just helping. Joe never spoke to either Hop Sing nor Adam. He held his position on his bed beneath all the covers and waited for them to have the tub ready. Finally the tub was full and Hop Sing had laid out some fresh towels.

“Need some help?” Adam asked his brother, hoping to break his silence. He wanted to do something at this point, in fact anything, that would help his little brother in some way.

“I don’t need any help. Just leave me alone.” Joe muttered. He wasn’t about to get out of the bed until he had total privacy. He didn’t want the stares, he didn’t want the pitiful glances that he had already witnessed.

“Hop Sing be right out side of door. You need me—you call.” Hop Sing and Adam turned out of the room closing the door.

Joe drew back the covers and carefully pulled himself over to the edge of the bed. He bit his lip trying to muffle the moans that were escaping his mouth inadvertently. The pain engulfed his whole body and he had trouble standing at this point. He grabbed for the bottom bedpost to help steady him. His eyes caught on his bedroom mirror which had taken a beating the previous night. It reflected back a distorted figure. It cast the image of a shattered young man. Joe reached for the end of his chest binding and untied it. He pulled away all the trappings and tossed it on the floor. Next he pulled off his long johns and made the two steps over to the tub.

Totally submerging himself under the hot water, Joe held his breath. A strong urge was to just stay under, but he finally came up. He brushed his wet hair off of his forehead and his hand followed the hair down to the back of his head. Joe remembered how Cade had slashed off a good chunk of his hair. Joe felt shivers up his spine even though he was still beneath the hot water that Hop Sing had provided. He grabbed the bar of soap at the side of the tub and started scrubbing himself. In Joe’s mind he wanted to wash away the entire event, as if it never had happened to him. He wanted to rid himself of the smell of the awful man. He wanted to feel clean. Frustrated and tired after only a few minutes, Joe realized that it would take more than a bath to make the sights, sounds, and smells of his trauma go away.

Joe had already dried off and slipped into fresh long john bottoms by the time Hop Sing knocked on the door. Joe didn’t want to tell him to come in, he wanted to be alone. Not getting a response, Hop Sing peered into the room and saw Joe stretched out on the bed.

“Hop Sing get tub out of here for you.” He announced.

“Just leave it for now. I want to be alone.” Joe replied angrily.

Hop Sing left the room hurting for his young friend. He could see what had happened to him. Hop Sing was the one member of the family who did not have to be told by the doctor or anyone else what Cade had done to Joe. Hop Sing felt it in his heart.

Ben drew in a deep breath to summon the courage to enter his youngest son’s room. He knew that he would be in for a battle with the boy. He wished that they could just give Joe more sleeping powders to make what was about to happen next easier on everyone, but the doctor was against that. Ben approached the bed seeing Joe laying with his back turned towards him; his robe wrapped tightly around his chest.

“Joseph—” Ben began his explanation but Joe didn’t let him get beyond the name.

“How many times do I have to tell you and everyone else in this house to go away?” Joe asked viciously.

“We have to get your ribs bound back up. After we do that we will give you some peace.”

“No.” Joe spat out insistently.

“Now you can either have Doctor Martin do this or I can do this. You make the choice.” Ben was not giving in on this one. He knew that Joe’s physical condition had to take priority over his emotional condition at the present.

“Neither.” Joe returned madly. He didn’t want anyone to touch him in any way. He thought of the doctor and his anger mounted. He was extremely mad at Doctor Martin. Joe felt that if the doctor hadn’t examined him then Joe might have been able to prevent his family from finding out about his attack. Doctor Martin was definitely out of the question. Joe next thought about his father. He wasn’t happy about the idea of Ben binding him either. There was still the seed of resentment that Joe held in his mind. He wondered why his father hadn’t come to his rescue. Yes, he knew about the other convict with the gun, and he knew about Ben having been tied. But, he always thought of his father as being beyond human in some ways. He expected Ben to have saved him from Cade’s brutal attack somehow.

“I’ll go get the doctor.” Ben said and started for the door.

“No—I hate him! Keep him away from me!” Joe shouted.

Ben walked back over to the bed and held up the binding that the doctor had given him to use. “Then stand up so I can do this. The sooner it’s done—the sooner I will leave.”

Joe pulled himself again over to the edge of the bed. Ben watched the pain in his son’s movement and he tried to stay focused on what had to be done. Joe leaned on the bed for balance and then stood. He pulled off his robe and closed his eyes. He hated the fact that he had to submit himself to further humiliation. Joe couldn’t bear to look into his father’s eyes. He imagined what he would see in them. Joe was sure that Ben felt that he had disgraced the family for having lived through the assault. He knew that Ben only felt pity for him now, not love or respect.

“Lift your arms, Son. And take a deep breath. This has to be tight.” Ben said firmly but with great compassion bleeding out in his words. Ben watched as Joe did as he was told. He saw how the boy was avoiding his eyes. As Ben rolled the bandaged toward Joe’s back he caught the first glimpse of some of Cade’s damage. There were fingernail scratches that started at Joe’s shoulder and deepened as they proceeded down his back. Ben saw the bruises, and witnessing it all; his mouth dropped open in anguish for his son. He struggled to not let his facial expression give way to his feelings. When he finished binding Joe’s ribs he let out a deep sigh of relief that he was able to pull it off without taking his son into his arms to shoulder his misery.

“All done.” Ben announced. Joe simply turned back toward his bed and crawled under the covers, turning away from his father.

Three long days since the lives of all the Cartwrights had been changed dramatically by the events of the night of terror, there was a conference going on in the living room of the ranch house. Doctor Martin, Adam and Ben sat facing each other discussing Joe’s condition.

“Three days and he still refuses to eat anything.” Ben stated totally distraught.

“This is taking it’s toll on all of you.” Paul announced as he accepted some brandy that Adam offered. Joe’s ordeal was affecting everyone including Doctor Martin. “I gave Hoss a sedative. He’s taking this very badly. He needs another couple days in bed but is insisting on going to Joe.”

“I know.” Ben stood and took a poker to the fire logs just to have something to do with his hands other than wringing them. “I hated to tell him. I have never seen that kind of anger on his face! He wants to kill the man who did this to Joe so badly.”

“We all do!” Adam insisted angrily.

“Well, before you all go off and try to track down anyone, we have to figure out how to keep Joe alive first. He has got to eat.” Paul looked back and forth between both father and son and could feel the need for vengeance that had hung within the walls of the Ponderosa for days begging to be let loose on Cade.

“How?” Ben asked turning back around and falling into his chair exhausted.

“I want to go and speak with him.”

“Doc, you know Joe won’t talk with anyone. And, from what Pa said he’s really angry at you!” Adam protested. He was feeling the urge to talk with Joe as well, but each time he had tried he had caved in to the notion that he could offer no solution to the anguish that the boy was suffering.

“You both are not objective enough. You love him and only see the hurt. I think I can get through to him, maybe at least enough to get him to eat. All I can do is try.”

Hop Sing came in from the kitchen. As he normally did, he had ease-dropped on the whole conversation. He brought with him a tray with soup and toast on it and walked over to Paul.

“You get Little Joe to eat.” Hop Sing insisted. Hop Sing had tried and failed for three days and was a picture of pure worry. Paul stood and took the tray from Hop Sing and headed up the stairs. Ben and Adam both closed their eyes and prayed that the doctor would be able to help. But, in their hearts, both of the Cartwrights braced themselves for the yelling to begin.

Upon entering Joe’s bedroom, Doctor Paul Martin did two things that already had angered Joe. First, he lit the lamp by Joe’s bedside, next he sat down on the side of the bed. Joe pulled the covers up and rolled onto his side and away from the doctor.

“Joe, I no longer have the patience or time to wait for you to eat. I want you to sit up and do it now.” The doctor’s voice was stern and direct and the sound of it started to fuel the pent up animosity that Joe felt for the man.

“Go away. Leave me alone.”

“I am not going away and I certainly am not going to leave you alone.” Paul replied flatly.

“I hate you!” Joe yelled.

“That’s fine, Joe. If you really need someone to hate, I’ll gladly be your target. But you are going to eat. And you are going to live. And you are going to survive.”

“Yeah—that’s easy for you to say.”

“No, Joe. It’s not easy for me to say. And it’s not easy for me to see you like this. I know you are only thinking of your own personal pain, but what happened to you has hurt all of those around you.”

“Then maybe you shouldn’t have told them, huh? Maybe if you had just doctored me up and lied about it then I would be the only one dying from this?” Joe spat back viciously.

“I don’t think you are that good of an actor, Joe. Don’t you understand they would have eventually found out? And how could they help you anyway, if they didn’t know?”

“They can’t help me!” Joe shouted again. “You can’t help me. Not even God can help me now. I just want to die.” Joe’s voice broke and the tears started again. He fought to gain control but could not.

“Everything you have just told me is perfectly normal. Every feeling that you have is perfectly normal. Anyone who has been through what you have been through feels the exact same way. Right now you can’t imagine living through this, but you can. I know you can.”

“I don’t want to.” Joe sobbed.

“Joe—I’ve always taken special interest in you. I always take special interest in the ones that I help to bring into this world. I feel a certain responsibility towards them. I’ve watched you grow, I’ve seen your strength displayed throughout the years. I’ve witnessed your triumphs and your tragedies. And through it all, you have always managed to survive. This is no different.”

“Doc, I don’t want to live anymore. I’m done with this world, it’s all just too much.’

“If you die, Joe—” Paul paused and stared down at the young man. “If you die, that means that Cade won.”

Joe finally turned to make eye contact with Doctor Martin. His words hung in Joe’s confused mind. Joe already felt that Cade had indeed won, he wondered if his own death would just mean one extra victory for the animal.

“Cade already took everything from me.’ Joe replied.

“He didn’t take your life, Joe. Are you willing to give him that too?”

“I just don’t want to live.” Joe said this time without anger, only hurt.

“Right now, I think we can settle on just not dying, okay? Let’s get some food in you. Worrying about living can come later, okay?” Paul’s words were chosen carefully and he could see that Joe was just starting to buy into them.

“I’ll try.” Joe whispered softly and pushed back his tears. He looked into the doctor’s compassionate eyes and had his first twinge of regret for having felt hatred toward the man.

A short while later Doctor Martin walked down the long staircase carrying Joe’s tray. He met Hop Sing in the livingroom and the cook surveyed what was left.

“He eat one piece of toast, and just little of soup.” Hop Sing sounded discouraged.

“Now, don’t your people say that a journey of a thousand miles starts with just one step?’ The doctor smiled at the cook and he brightened up. Paul then looked over to Adam and Ben.

“It is only the first step and this journey may even be longer than a thousand miles, but at least he has started it now.”

“Thank you.” Ben choked out, his eyes misting. He hoped that having talked with the doctor now, that Joe might just start talking to him as well.

Chapter Three: A Time To Be Silent And A Time To Speak

“It’s been five days now and I’m getting out of bed.” Hoss complained to his father as he turned in bed and swung his legs over the side. He had enough of laying around and enough of being told that he couldn’t see his little brother.

“Well, at least let me put on that sling then.” Ben caved in to the big man. It had been a struggle to contain him as long as he had. Ben wrapped the sling around Hoss’ neck and gently maneuvered his left arm inside. Hoss draped his robe around his shoulders and stood.

“I’m gonna go see Joe.” He insisted and headed toward his door.

“Hoss, I’ve been telling you for days now that Joe just wants some time alone. We finally have him eating a little but he’s adamant about not talking right now.” Ben persisted following Hoss out into the hallway.

“I just got to see him, that’s all.” Hoss turned his troubled blue eyes on his father and Ben read in them the heartache Hoss was feeling. Ben simply shook his head and sighed, then he stepped out of the way. Hoss walked down to his brother’s room.

The room stood in darkness, the only light was a thin shaft that permeated the curtains of Joe’s window. Hoss entered the room and made his way over to his brother. Joe sat in a chair by the window, his gaze on the wall and not on the view outside. Hoss sat down on the end of the bed and stared at his brother. Joe wore pants and a shirt that was untucked and unbuttoned giving way to the sight of his bandaged ribs. Joe’s hair was tousled and unbrushed and he had dark circles under his eyes. Hoss thought along the same lines that his older brother did; Joe looked old.

“I guess Pa didn’t give you the complimentary warning that I don’t want to see anyone.” Joe muttered his sarcasm pouring out. He did not look at his brother, he couldn’t. Joe had always wanted to be like Hoss. His whole life he wished he had his brother’s strength. Joe felt weak, even more so now. He reasoned that if he had Hoss’ strength that Cade never could have gained total control of him.

“Pa warned me all right. But, you didn’t think that would stop me did you?”

“I can’t talk about it.” Joe said flatly.

“Then we won’t.” Hoss answered.

“Okay—then let’s see—what should we talk about? How about the weather? You want to talk about that?” Joe again broke out with sarcasm.

“Well, you and me haven’t been out of here in days so guess I can’t comment on that.” Hoss played right along. Joe frowned, he was having a harder time brushing Hoss off than he thought he would.

“How’s your shoulder?” Joe finally asked as he spied the sling out of the corner of his eye.

“I’m gonna be fine. This thing comes off in a week. Then I’m going hunting.”

Joe knew of Hoss’ intentions not having to have it spelled out to him. Hoss was referring to Cade. Joe knew that would be the next step in his family’s plan.

“Just leave it alone.” Joe whispered and closed his eyes trying to shut out the image of Cade from his mind.

“I’m going to break every bone in his body. Then I’ll kill him.”

“Yeah? And what difference will that make now? You think it’s gonna “fix” me?”

“It’ll be a start.” Hoss replied and reached for Joe’s shoulder. Joe jerked away involuntarily. He looked at the rejection on Hoss’ face. He had seen it before on his father’s face as well.

“Hoss, I’m sorry—” Joe started but could not explain his reaction to being touched.

“It’s okay, Little Brother, I understand. We all understand. You just need time is all.”

“I’m kinda tired.” Joe dropped his head down. He couldn’t handle anymore conversation at the present. Hoss got the hint and stood up.

“I’ll stop by later. You get some rest.” Hoss turned and reluctantly walked away closing the door behind him. He stood outside of the room for a long while wondering what he could do to bring back the Joe he had grown up with. Hoss felt he might never see that person again.

The next morning at breakfast the three oldest members of the Cartwright family sat together at the dining room table. They had just started talking about plans to do what the posse had failed to do; finding Cade. Ben’s eyes caught on the descending figure of his youngest son slowly making his way down the stairs and signaled Adam and Hoss to stop their discussion. Joe made his way over to the table and took his normal position next to his brother Hoss. He looked much as he had the previous night, disheveled and weary.

A harsh silence fell over the room as each of the Cartwrights wondered what to say. Ben cleared his throat and simply passed a coffee cup down the table towards his youngest son. Joe accepted it from Hoss without speaking. Hop Sing entered the room bringing in another plate and setting it in front of Joe. He, too, did not speak. Joe stared down at his plate as Hoss passed him a platter of eggs. He took off only a spoonful and passed it back. Adam passed Joe the toast and Joe drew off a piece and set it on his plate. Joe picked up his fork and as he glanced across the table toward Adam his eyes caught sight of the guest room door. He dropped his fork down and hurried outside.

“I’ll handle it.” Ben insisted seeing both Hoss and Adam stand. He made his way out to the front porch. Joe was at the far end sitting on the top step, his head in his hands. Ben walked over and sat down next to him.

“Will you talk to me now, Joseph?” Ben asked quietly, still refraining from touching Joe.

“How can I tell you how I feel?” Joe replied choking back his tears.

“You can try.”

“I can still see him, Pa. I can still feel him. He doesn’t go away.” Joe’s voice was becoming more desperate in tone.

“It’s going to take time, Son. But, it will go away.”

“I wish he had killed me.”

“Someday you won’t feel this way.” Ben reassured.

“Why me?” Joe finally looked into his father’s eyes expecting an answer.

Ben shook his head and his eyes clouded with tears. “I don’t have an answer to that. I wish I could spout some great wisdom here but I can’t. Only God can answer that one, Joseph.”

“God?” Joe stood and laughed loudly. “No God—no merciful God would allow this to happen! There is no God, Pa.”

“Don’t say that, Joseph!” Ben exclaimed and stood to face his son.

“Why? What will he do? Strike me down or something? I’d welcome that.”

“Joseph, you have to find your own peace with this. If it were something I could do for you I would have already done it.”

“The only peace I will ever know is when I’m dead.” Joe stated seriously and walked away from his father ending their discussion.

It had been two long weeks since Cade had made his attack on the Cartwright family and still he was no where to be found. Despite thorough searches headed by Roy Coffee along with prison officials, it seemed as though both Cade and his partner had disappeared off the face of the earth. The Cartwrights had planned to start searching themselves, all but Joe. He spent his days in solitude and his evenings drinking. When he had finally run out of pilfered liquor he had ventured into Virginia City. He chose the Bucket Of Blood Saloon instead of his usual haunt, The Silver Dollar.

Bruno hardly recognized the young man as he approached the bar. Joe was dressed in old loose fitting clothes his hair unkept and unruly. He had a small stubble of beard and his eyes were dull, not their usual penetrating green.

“Joe? You okay?” The bartender asked concerned.

“I’m just fine. I need two bottles of whiskey.” Joe stated and dropped his money onto the bar.

“Haven’t seen you around for awhile.” Bruno stated as he reached for the liquor as requested.

“Just the whiskey. I don’t have time for small talk. I’ve got things to do.” Joe replied sharply and drew the two bottles to his chest. Bruno looked hurt at Joe’s bluntness, always finding Joe to be one of his favorite patrons. Joe turned and left the bar.

Joe tied Cochise up to the front hitching post. It was already after midnight and he frowned as he spotted the figure sitting under the lantern on the front porch. Joe took out his whiskey and approached his oldest brother.

“Don’t tell me—let me guess. You were worried about me?” Joe laughed and sat down on the porch step and uncorked the bottle. Adam walked down the step and sat next to him.

“Everyone’s worried about you, Joe.” Adam replied.

“Oh—let’s see that’s right, it’s your turn now to talk to me. Am I right? Sure I am! Let’s see first it was Doc, then Hoss, then Pa, so that just leaves you and Hop Sing!”

“Actually I was just waiting for you so I could get some whiskey. It seems like for some reason, all we had on the ranch is now gone.” Adam said straight faced and Joe looked at him amused.

“Sure—I have enough to share. That is if you like rot gut.” Joe handed his second bottle over to Adam. Adam uncorked it and took a swig.

“Rot gut is very appropriate a name.” Adam announced, his mouth burning from the taste.

“So, you just wanted a drink, huh?” Joe asked knowing better. Even as he became more inebriated, he could tell his brother had something else in mind.

“Joe, Hoss and I are going out after Cade tomorrow. Pa won’t be happy that I told you, but I felt you should know.” Adam turned serious and saw his brother’s eyes take on a frightened look. He could almost see the reflection of the man as Joe’s mind thought again of his ordeal.

“Don’t bring him back for trial.” Joe finally muttered.

“No, Joe—we don’t plan to do that. We know what that would do to you. If we find him we are going to kill him. Plain and simple, the man is dead.”

“You know why I can’t go with you?” Joe asked drinking more whiskey to summon the courage to talk about Cade.

“I know, Joe. We can’t do anything to take the memories away from you, but we can stop that bastard from ever doing what he did to anyone else.”

“Even when he’s dead he’ll still be in my head.” Joe whispered and closed his eyes.

“Time, Joe. Time is the only thing to help that.” The compassion came out in Adam’s word’s.

“Time is all he left me.” Joe replied and drank more. He turned and looked at his brother and said one last statement before heading inside the house. “Kill him.”

The next morning at first light Joe peered out his bedroom window to see his two brothers leaving. He could tell, even from that distance, that they had a determined set to their shoulders and only one thought in mind; to find and kill Cade. Finding that he couldn’t go back to sleep he dressed again in the same clothes he had worn the day before and made his way down the stairs. He took his seat at the table and noticed how his father stared at him. Joe knew he looked awful, and he wanted it that way. Ben, however, could not understand why his son chose to look so unkept. Joe had always prided himself in his attractiveness before but

now, he chose to look as unattractive as possible.

Ben passed Joe down a cup of coffee which he took without making conversation. Joe was having a bout with the hangover from the night of drinking. Ben could see the pain on his son’s face and finally decided to address the issue.

“This drinking till all hours of the night has to stop, Joseph. You look terrible.”

“I’m up and ready to do my chores. So what’s the problem?” Joe retorted angrily.

“The problem is you are not eating right, you are not sleeping right, and on top of that you get drunk every night.” Ben tried not to over-do the sternness of his tone but his concern continued to raise Joe’s ire.

“I can handle it. Hell—I can handle anything!” Joe answered raising his voice to almost a shout. He threw down his napkin and left the table saying, “I’ve got work to do.”

Ben heard the front door slam as Joe departed. He dropped his head in his hands praying for the right words to bring him back his son. He wanted the boy with the quick grin and the contagious laughter. He wanted the boy who didn’t mind being touched and comforted. He wanted the Joseph Cartwright who had looked so handsome and alive before Cade had taken all of that away.

Joe mopped his brow with his forearm and tossed another piece of wood onto the pile he had already cut. He had been working for hours chopping wood. With each swing of the axe he saw Cade’s face and the wood splintered as if it were the man’s head. Joe noticed how his father had decided to bring out his paper work to do on the table on the porch. He figured Ben wanted to keep an eye on him as he worked.

Shortly before noon, a wagon pulled up into the yard and Ben stepped off of the porch to greet the two visitors. A man stepped down and offered his hand toward Ben and introduced himself.

“My name is Kevin Patrick, and this is my wife Kay. We just purchased the old Fedderly place, thought we’d come by and meet our neighbors.” The man smiled and Ben nodded toward the woman who still sat in the wagon.

“Glad to have you. I’m Ben Cartwright.” Ben paused and looked over towards Joe who continued to cut wood, totally ignoring the couple. “And that young man hard at work is my son, Joseph.” Ben gave Joe the eye and he finally stopped and just nodded his head towards them all.

“We’ve heard about the Ponderosa, it’s beautiful.” The woman smiled. Ben walked over to the young woman and noticed she was very pregnant.

“Well, I’m sure you will have a nice place too. And it looks like we’ll have another neighbor soon. When is the baby due?” Ben asked.

“About a month. It’s our first though so we’ve never been through this before.” Kay said showing a little concern in her voice.

“Well I’ve been through it three times. So don’t you worry I’m sure you’ll be just fine. My other two sons, Hoss and Adam, are away right now. But, as soon as they’re back we’ll all come over and see if we can help you with anything. Right now, though, how about coming into the house and getting some lemonade?” Ben offered the young couple.

“No. We best be going. Just wanted to stop by and meet you. We’ve got supplies to get to the house.” Kevin nodded at Ben and climbed back up into the wagon.

“You just let us know if you need anything—anything at all.” Ben insisted.

“We will, and thank you.” Kevin and Kay waived goodbye and turned their wagon towards their new ranch.

Ben walked over to Joe who still stood staring past the departing wagon.

“A new couple just starting out. Almost reminds me of your mother and I.” Ben stated wistfully thinking back to his third wife.

“Yeah—it’s a shame they’ve got to bring a baby into this miserable world.” Joe fiercely drove the axe down into the wood block and pulled down his sleeves.

“Joseph—” Ben began and Joe simply turned and walked away. He walked toward the barn and in a few minutes he galloped out on Cochise turning his horse away from the ranch house. Ben stood in stunned consternation.

Ben stood in the barn and readied his horse for a long ride. He was more than worried now, as Joe had not made it home the previous night. Ben was not at all sure where he would find the boy, only that he had to try. He thought on Joe’s mental state and wondered if he would find his son alive. Ben’s stomach churned as he led Buck out of the barn. Right before he put his left foot in the stirrup a horse appeared coming from around the barn. Ben stopped what he was attempting to do and walked over to see what the rider wanted.

“Can I help you?” Ben asked the man and then spotted a deputy’s badge on his vest.

“You Ben Cartwright?” The man answered looking down.

“Yes.”

“I’m Deputy Baker from over in Carson. We got your son locked up and the sheriff told me to come fetch you to get him out.”

“What did he do?” Ben sighed, now he knew where Joe was, but not what he had gotten himself into.

“Got him on a drunken and disorderly charge. Got in a fight with some fellows. Busted up the saloon pretty good. Sheriff Clayton says he knows you all pretty good so he will release him to you. You ready?”

“I’m ready.” Ben frowned and mounted his horse.

Ben stepped up the planked walkway that led to the Carson City Jail. He drew in a deep breath fighting to control his anger. Entering the doorway he was greeted by his friend Sheriff Bill Clayton.

“Don’t have to ask what brings you out this way, Ben.” The sheriff smiled and shook Ben’s outreached hand.

“I wish it was a pleasure trip, believe me. So, tell me what happened.” Ben sat down by the desk and removed his hat.

“Well, the way the story goes, your son picked a fight with three loggers. I guess the boy was drunk. That’s all I can figure. It was a fool thing to do, and it could’ve gotten the kid killed. Luckily I was passing the bar when I heard the brawl. No-one is pressing any charges, so that’s good. Damage to the saloon is gonna be around three hundred dollars.”

Ben shook his head frustrated and opened his wallet. “And the charges?”

“I’ll let him off with just a warning this time, Ben. Next time though, I’ll throw the book at him. I sure don’t want to have to send someone to the Ponderosa to tell you he’s been killed. And if he keeps doing these foolish things that’s exactly what’s gonna happen.”

Ben counted out the three hundred dollars and handed it to the sheriff. “Thank you, Bill, I will make sure that Joseph doesn’t come back here for a long while.”

The sherif put the money in his safe and then grabbed the keys. Both men walked through the doors to the jail cells. The sheriff unlocked Joe’s cell and Joe stood up from his cot.

“You are free, Joe. But next time I’ll put you at hard labor breaking rocks.” The sheriff warned and Joe walked out. He didn’t look into his father’s eyes, he knew what he’d see there.

Ben stood, hands on hips, his feet spread in his paternal stance waiting for an explanation from his son. They stood in the livingroom of the Ponderosa ranch house and squared off.

“I’m waiting.” Ben repeated for the third time.

“I don’t have anything to say.”

“You are trying to get killed, is that it?” Ben yelled venting his worry.

“I am indestructible, I thought you knew that, Pa.” Joe replied with sarcasm.

“No you are not! And someone is going to get hurt and it’s going to be you. Hurt or killed!” Ben approached Joe only to see him turn towards the stairs. Ben, out of habit, grabbed Joe by the elbow and spun him around. Joe’s eyes went wild as he drew back his arm abruptly.

“Don’t touch me!’ Joe yelled and in his mind he saw Cade and not his father.

Ben stepped back and read Joe’s face and saw the fear again. He wished he had not broken the unspoken bounds. Ben wished he had not grabbed Joe and made him remember.

“I’m sorry, Joe.” Ben spoke quietly and watched as tears filled his son’s eyes. He could tell that part of the boy wanted to break free of the hold Cade had on him and reach toward the protective arms of his father. But the victim in Joe prevented him from doing that, the part that still resented all human contact.

Joe looked up at his father and his mouth opened and yet he could not speak. He shook his head sadly, hopelessly, and turned and hurried up the stairs.

Chapter Four: A Time To Break Down and A Time To Build Up

Ben heard the horses as they thundered up to the ranch house. It had been four long days of worrying about his two oldest sons, and finally they were back. He made his way to the front door just as they were coming in. Ben read on their discouraged faces that they had yet to find Cade.

“Welcome back boys.” Ben greeted them as they removed their gun belts at the door.

“Didn’t have much luck.” Hoss stated remorsefully and hung up his hat.

“No sign of them?” Ben countered.

“We tried north and south—that still leaves us east and west. We’re gonna head back out in the morning but thought we’d report back first. How’s Joe?” Adam asked as they all walked to the livingroom to sit down.

Ben shrugged his shoulders in response and said, “About the same. Got into some trouble in Carson City the other day. But he hasn’t gone off anywhere since then.”

“Still drinking?” Hoss wondered seeing the concern etched deeper in his father’s face.

Ben nodded and sat back in his chair. Hop Sing came in from the kitchen and looked at three of his favorite people. He smiled broadly at them.

“Have vely fine supper ready soon. Hop Sing made plenty of roast.”

“Sounds good, Hop Sing. Especially after trying to choke down Adam’s cooking on the trail.” Hoss laughed and the cook hurried back to finish preparing their dinner.

Joe walked into the house and removed his jacket. He had already spotted his brother’s horses as he rode up from the east pasture. He stared over at his family and could tell that they had not yet found their man.

“Joe—come on over and join us.” Adam called over and Joe reluctantly sat next to his oldest brother on the settee. He stared into the flames of the fireplace and waited to be informed.

“We are going back out tomorrow—gonna try up in the rimrock area. That’s one place Roy didn’t spend much time in.” Hoss explained.

“You are wasting your time. You’ll never catch them.” Joe answered sullenly.

“We’ll find them.” Adam assured his youngest brother.

Hop Sing called over to the family, “Dinner ready you come now!”

Everyone stood but Joe, he sat with his arms crossed tightly across his chest as though he was trying to hold in all the emotions he was feeling.

“C’mon Joe.” Hoss stopped short of patting Joe on the arm, remembering at the last minute that physical contact was taboo.

“I ain’t hungry.” He whispered mainly to himself.

“Hop Sing wants a family dinner—let’s all sit at the table at least. Maybe we can talk Pa into opening some of that special wine he has been hiding on us!” Hoss continued to cajole his brother until he finally stood and walked with them over to the table,

Ben poured the wine into the four glasses. He refrained from having a customary toast, as there currently seemed to be nothing to celebrate. He passed the glasses to his sons. Throughout the meal, Ben led the conversation on many topics; none of which was the hunt for Cade.

“So that couple bought the old Fedderly place, huh?” Adam remarked sipping his wine.

“Yes, it’ll take a little of fixing up, but will be a great place for children. And they already have one on the way.” Ben smiled at the thought.

“Maybe when we get back we can go over there and see if we can help.” Hoss offered.

As the conversation persisted Joe fell into his own thoughts. He stared over at the guest room door once more. He closed his eyes and heard his own screams and smelled Cade’s cigar smoke again. Joe held his left hand so tightly around his wine glass that the pressure of his internal anger mounted and the pure strength of it burst the glass. All of the other Cartwrights looked in shock at the way Joe simply sat, unmoving in the chair as if he had felt nothing. Ben hurried over to him and could see the scarlet drops of blood intermingled with the burgundy of the wine as it dripped down onto the white satin tablecloth. Joe sat transfixed on the guest room door and it was only the touch of his father’s hand on his shoulder that brought him back to reality.

“Joseph!” Ben exclaimed and reached for the boy’s hand. He pulled the shard of glass from Joe’s left palm and the blood dripped down faster. Joe stared down at it wondering what had happened. He suddenly stood as Ben’s hand fell from off of his shoulder.

“I’m okay.” Joe said and rushed toward the stairs and away from all of the attention.

Ben Cartwright carried bandages and ointment up to his son’s room, after giving Joe a few minutes to himself. He was determined to fix his hand regardless of any protest on his son’s part.

“I said I’m okay.” Joe sounded off as his father approached.

“Let me see it.” Ben’s voice was riveting and he was not asking, he was commanding.

Joe frowned and opened his palm, displaying it under the light on his night stand.

“It’s almost deep enough to need stitches.” Ben complained as he prepared to doctor it.

“It doesn’t hurt.” Joe argued and reluctantly allowed Ben to inspect it more thoroughly.

Ben drew the side chair over and sat to cleanse the wound. He watched as Joe shut his eyes as he touched and prodded the cut. It was the first physical contact that the two had made for any duration of time and Ben was sure that Joe would eventually pull away as he had so many times in recent days.

“You know, Joe. When you were little you always said I could make all the hurt go away.” Ben stated as he slowly wrapped the palm with gauze bandage.

“Some hurt never goes away.” Joe whispered, thinking of a more deeper wound than his left palm.

“Some hurts just take a little longer, that’s all.” Ben replied and made it a point to hold onto Joe’s hand longer than he needed to. Joe dropped his head down embarrassed by his weakness and finally pulled his hand out of his father’s grip. Ben stood and gathered all of his medical supplies. “Can I get you anything?” He asked cautiously.

Joe shook his head and rolled onto his side avoiding his father once more. Ben left the room hoping in his heart that in some small way he had made a connection with his son.

“Is Joe okay?” Adam called over to his father from the livingroom. Ben finished putting away the ointment and then joined his two sons. He sat down in his chair exhausted emotionally.

“His hand will be all right.” Ben replied.

“He sure isn’t getting any better emotionally. He didn’t even feel that glass cutting into his hand.” Adam’s worry crept out in his tone.

“We’re gonna get Cade. Maybe that will help.” Hoss was insistent.

Ben shook his head sadly. “I don’t think even that will help your brother. He has all his memories locked up in his head. It seems to be with him all the time. He drinks to escape it, but it’s always there.”

Adam walked over and dropped his hand down on his father’s shoulder affectionately.

“You’re not saying that you don’t want us to go after Cade, are you , Pa?”

“No. I feel the same as each of you, and for the same reasons. If you find him, I want him dead. But, you make sure it’s a fair fight.” Ben’s voice took on a more serious tone and he fought to control the situation.

“Fair!” Hoss shouted and stood up from his seat. “Fair like his fight was with Joe? That animal does not deserve any more mercy than he showed the kid when he dragged him in that room!”

Adam turned and faced his brother, he saw on his stricken face the rage which coursed through each Cartwright. He felt the exact way. But, Adam, being the oldest, knew what his father was saying. He tried to defuse Hoss, if only for the time being.

“All Pa is saying is that we don’t back shoot him. He’ll have a gun, so will we. I know you want to personally beat him to death. We all do. But, there’s never going to be a doubt that we ambushed him or didn’t let him look into our eyes when we kill him.”

“He’ll see my eyes!” Hoss continued. “He’s gonna know who we are and why we’re killing him.”

Ben watched the inter-play between Hoss and Adam and worried about what might happen if they were lucky enough to find the assailant. He reasoned that Adam would find a way to help Hoss. He counted on his oldest son to do just that.

“I just want you both to be careful. No matter what. I don’t want another son shot or hurt due to that animal.” Ben stood and reached for both of his sons.

“You don’t have to worry about us, Pa.” Hoss assured and turned toward the stairs.”Well, if we’re gonna hit the trail first light we better get some sleep.”

“It’ll be okay, Pa.” Adam nodded and read his father’s eyes. “I’ll make sure.”

“I have faith—faith in you both.” Ben looked over as his two oldest sons made their way up the stairs. He prayed that they would be safe, and he prayed that they would find their man.

Hoss Cartwright leaned against his saddle resting blanketed by his bedroll on the cold ground. He sipped at his coffee trying to ward off the early autumn chill of night. Hoss stared over at his older brother who had been sitting quietly for what seemed like hours gazing into the camp fire.

“What are you thinking about?” Hoss finally asked.

“Joe.” Adam stated shaking himself from his thoughts. He dropped his tin cup down and rested against his own saddle.

“Just Joe—or someone else?” Hoss had caught the glimpse of an old pain as it reflected in his brother’s dark eyes. Hoss knew it was a reminder of a girl that Adam once cared for.

“You know me too well.” Adam nodded and sighed. “I was thinking about Sarah.”

“I thought so. You tried your best, Adam. Everyone tried to help her.”

“And look what happened. She couldn’t live with the memories and took her own life. I don’t want that same fate to happen to Joe.”

“You don’t think he would do something like that do you?” Hoss shuddered at the thought.

“You’ve seen him, Hoss. He’s just a shell of his former self. I think Pa is right, even if we get rid of Cade permanently Joe will still be haunted by what happened.’

“But kill himself? Not Joe! He’s tough, he wouldn’t do that!” Hoss insisted, trying to convince his brother and also himself that it couldn’t happen.

“He is not the same kid, Hoss. And I’m not at all sure if we’ll ever really see our little brother again. This has changed him so. I know Pa will keep a watchful eye on him, but it seems as though Joe’s depression is getting worse. The night he broke that glass in his hand and didn’t even wince from the pain is a good example.”

“Let’s get Cade. We have to focus on that for the time being. Then, we will see how best we can help Little Joe.” Hoss reminded his brother of their purpose. He watched as Adam thought on it and then settled back.

The following day came the Cartwright brother’s first bit of luck. The trail that seemed to be cold, suddenly warmed to tracks. Turning their mounts toward the high country they spotted a horse tied loosely to a thicket of sage and dismounted. Hoss was quick to fill his large hat with water for the animal, and the beast accepted it gratefully. Adam drew his pistol and surveyed the area. Slight impressions of boot prints appeared to head up toward a protrusion of rocks.

“C’mon.” Adam whispered and Hoss pulled out his weapon and they went up the incline.

A solitary figure laid against a small crevice and the Cartwright’s hearts leaped thinking that at last they had found Cade. As they approached, the man still lay unmoving. Hoss reached him first as Adam cautiously looked around for the other known partner. Hoss noticed that there was blood coming out from under the man’s shirt as he stared at his face to determine who they had found.

“It ain’t Cade. It’s his partner.” Hoss called over to Adam discouraged.

“See if you can bring him around.” Adam bent down next to the injured man. Hoss held up his canteen and poured a small amount of water down the man’s throat. The man slowly blinked his eyes as he swallowed.

“Where’s Cade!” Hoss demanded lifting the man’s head up.

“Double cross.” The man said hoarsely. “Shot me and took off with all the money.”

“Which way did he go?” Adam persisted even though the man was in bad shape.

“Not sure.” He answered frightened.

“Not good enough!” Adam yelled and shook the man.

“I’m telling the truth. I don’t know. He shot me and left me here two days ago. Rode off toward the east.”

“Let’s get him to Virginia City, Hoss. After he’s in jail where he belongs we’ll head out after Cade. At least he’s only a couple days ahead of us and is probably hiding out.”

Hoss nodded and lifted the injured man. He brought him down the hill and planted him on his horse and then made sure his hands were securely tied behind him. It wasn’t Cade, but it was somebody who had helped him perpetrate the attack. Both Cartwrights would have been happier to have just let the man stay and bleed to death, but they felt there may be more information they could get out of him once he had seen a doctor.

“Going somewhere?” Ben asked as Joe walked across the livingroom and over to the hatrack. Joe strapped on his holster as his father drew closer.

“Just into Virginia City.” Joe muttered his reply.

“Joe—” Ben started but Joe stopped him short.

“I’m not going to get in any fights.” Joe interjected remembering his ordeal in Carson City and knowing he was about to get the usual lecture.

“I was just going to ask if you’d like to join me for supper. I have to go into town later myself and thought maybe we could eat at the International House later.”

“I’m not exactly dressed for entertaining.” Joe answered, and that was an obvious fact. Still in his oldest and most unfitting clothes, he looked more like a weary saddle tramp than the son of an affluent rancher. “But, I’ll be at the bar if you want to stop by for a drink.” Joe said half-hearted and turned to leave. Ben watched from the front door as Joe made his way out to the barn. He noted the form with its sagging shoulders and hunched appearance and remembered how the young man had been before. Ben missed the self assurance and the proud saunter of his youngest son. He was determined to stop and see Joe in Virginia City to make sure he kept true to his word and didn’t get into any trouble.

Joe walked down C Street and was careful not to look into anyone’s eyes as they passed him. He fought to keep his distance from towns folks as they meandered about in the late afternoon. Joe had just reached the corner where he planned to cross over to the Bucket Of Blood Saloon when a call rang out his name.

“Joe!”

Joe turned around and saw the minister, Reverend Hastings approaching. He frowned wondering how to get rid of him so he could head for some badly needed alcohol.

“Haven’t seen you in a long while, Joe. How are you?” The man smiled.

“Fine.” Joe lied. “I would stay and talk but I have plans.’

“Can I get you to help me with something first?” Reverend Hastings was persistent.

“What?” Joe sighed trying to get out of it.

“Just follow me down to the church, it will only take a couple minutes. I promise.”

Joe followed the reverend down the street to the local church. They entered the building and Joe only took his hat off out of habit; not respect.

“I’m afraid Bob Collier built the new pulpit out of solid oak and I don’t have the strength to move it by myself.

“Where do you want it?” Joe asked hoping to finish with the task quickly.

“Let’s move it over to the left, up on that step I can see all of the faces of my parrishners especially the ones who sleep in the back.” Reverend Hastings pointed to their target and laughed.

Joe and the reverand moved the large pulpit to its desired spot and Joe turned to leave.

“Wait a minute, Joe. Won’t you sit for a minute with me?” He asked.

Joe stared up at the stain glass window and watched as the afternoon light cast the colors brightly against his face. He looked down at the floor full of inner conflict.

“Joe?”

“Okay.” Joe sat down in the front pew and waited for what the minister had to say.

“I heard you all had some trouble out at the ranch a few weeks back.”

“What exactly did you hear?” Joe was worried now, worried that someone else knew about what had happened with Cade.

“Just that Hoss was shot and you were beaten up. Why? Is there something else?” The reverend looked at the boy bewildered at the change he saw before him. The Joe Cartwright he remembered was bright and lively and usually the best dressed parishioner.

“No. We’re all okay now.” Joe lied once more.

“Your eyes say different, Joe. Anything I can help you with?” He asked compassionately.

“I guess you can say I am having a crisis of faith. Isn’t that what you ministers call it? You know when you don’t believe that there’s a God?”

“I think everyone at some point of their lives have a crisis of faith, Joe. But, you need to turn to God and not away from him.” The minister’s words were quiet and heartfelt.

“And what if you just don’t believe in God anymore? Then what?” Joe shot his eyes away from the altar in front of him.

“Then God will find you and bring you back.”

“Yeah, right.” Joe said disbelieving and stood back up. “I gotta go.”

“He will find you, Joe.” Reverend Hastings stood and called toward the departing young man. He then sat down and prayed for his young friend.

Sitting alone at the farthest table in The Bucket Of Blood Saloon, Joe sipped on his whiskey. He had been there for hours and turned away many a friend from his table. He wanted his own company only. The dull affects of the alcohol taking longer than usual to start made Joe wonder just how many glasses he had consumed. How ever many, he reasoned it was not enough. He wanted to drink until he no longer remembered anything. But, still the images appeared before him and he signaled the bartender over for another bottle. Bruno had learned that his friend did not want conversation. He simply handed Joe the new bottle of whiskey and took the money Joe placed on the table.

The wafted smell of cigar smoke made its way over to where Joe sat. He froze at the aroma and closed his eyes in remembrance. He wondered if it could be Cade and fear paralyzed him momentarily. Finally, summoning his remaining senses, Joe looked across the room and spotted his father’s business associate puffing on his cigar. It was enough to end Joe’s sojourn at the Bucket of Blood, and he grabbed his bottle and headed outside.

Joe was somewhat surprised that it was now pitch black. He guessed he must have been in the saloon longer than he thought. Deciding it was time to find the livery stable and retrieve Cochise he headed down the street. As he rounded his final turn he was suddenly aware of the sounds of people shouting and the bright flames which were shooting out of the local boarding house. Joe dropped his bottle and ran across the street. The building was entirely engulfed in flames and heavy black smoke billowed out of the doors and windows.

The towns folks stood helplessly as they saw two frightened figures come to the second story window. There was no way into the building and everyone stood in horror. Joe dashed around the building and precariously climbed up the trellis. It was a fragile piece of wood lattice and barely could hold even the light weight of the young Cartwright. Joe did make it to the second floor walkway and hurried around toward the two screaming women.

“Stretch out a tarp! I’m gonna throw them down!” Joe screamed at the people below. He choked from the smoke pouring out and coughed waiting for them to move. Two men ran over to a wagon across the street and tore off its canvas covering. Then the people below circled around holding the material taunt as they waited to catch the first woman.

It was at this point that Ben Cartwright had stepped out of the International House and followed the water wagon and the Virginia City volunteer fire department down the street. He stood transfixed on the image of his son on the second floor. He watched as the flames leapt around Joe as he tossed the first woman down to safety. The people below caught her and readied for the next one. Joe took the second woman in his arms, she fought him as he did it. Her fear of falling to her death made her cling to the boys shirt. Joe finally broke her hands free and tossed her down. She, too, made it safely.

“Joe!” Ben yelled as he joined the men holding the canvas. “Jump!”

Joe simply stood and waited, feeling the heat of the fire and his mind telling him to stay and let his life be over.

“Jump now!” Ben yelled again as he saw the wood railing that Joe stood on start to break away. It was only the fact that the wood propelled him over that brought Joe down to the canvas and into the safety that was below.

People gathered around and everyone commented on the young man’s bravery.

“That was the absolute bravest thing I have ever seen!” The president of the Virginia City Bank remarked to Ben. Ben reached to pull his son up from the ground. He knew better. Ben knew what Joe’s motivations were. It was not hard to be brave when you wanted to die.

“Most fool hardy—” Ben stopped himself as Joe coughed into his fist releasing some of the inhaled smoke.

“What’s going on?” Came Adam Cartwright’s voice from behind the other on-lookers.

“Adam? Where did you come from?” Ben spun around to view his oldest son.

“Hoss and I just took a prisoner in for Roy.” Adam spoke and saw Joe’s eyes grow cold.

“It’s the other one—the one named Sam.”

Ben stared over at Joe and then back at Adam. He left Joe’s side and pulled Adam off by himself. “I need some time with your brother alone. I’ll explain later. You and Hoss get something to eat and give us a couple of hours.” Ben’s voice seemed unusually harsh and Adam could read the anger in it all too well. He reasoned that whatever it was, it concerned something that Joe had done.

“Okay, Pa. We’ll meet you home later. Then we’ll fill you in on the rest of it all and you can fill us in on what happened here tonight.” Adam walked off to find Hoss.

“Get your horse, Joseph.” Ben commanded and walked with him down to the livery stable.

The ride home to the Ponderosa that night never seemed longer to Joe. Unfortunately the cool night air had worn off the effects of the alcohol and he was now stone cold sober. He stared over at his father and could tell that he was angry. Joe realized he was surely in for a lecture. Ben knew in his heart that he was close to losing his son forever if he didn’t take some kind of action. He had tried to give the boy time to work out his feelings and all of the freedom in which to do it in. But, that only led to Joe falling deeper into his depression and closer to taking his own life. Ben determined he would have to make his son face up to the attack by Cade. He prayed that his plan would help Joe and not send him farther away from him.

“I’ll have one of the hands tend to the horses. I want to see you in the house right now.” Ben commanded as they dismounted in front of the ranch house. Joe followed his father inside closing the door behind them.

Ben walked over to his study and poured a shot of brandy, tossing it down in one fast swallow. He needed the strength in order to do what he knew he had to. Ben knew Joe had to confront the memories head-on in order to deal with them fully. He approached his son who stood in silence in the living room.

“I just saw my youngest son trying to kill himself. Do you wonder why I am mad?”

“I told you before, I am indestructible.” Joe spat out heavy of sarcasm.

“You are going to face it, you are going to face it now!” Ben drew closer.

“No!” Joe shouted and tried for the stairs and his usual escape to his bedroom.

Ben caught Joe’s arm and this time, unlike before, held tightly refusing to let go.

“Don’t touch me! Leave me alone!” Joe screamed and fought to break free of the hold.

“No, Joseph. This has to be done.” Ben pulled Joe across the livingroom and over to the guest room. He opened the door and pushed Joe inside. Joe froze in his tracks his eyes focusing on the bed. Ben released his grip and Joe moved his way over to the wall and stood paralyzed up against it. Ben lit the lamp in the room and walked back over to his son.

“Tell me what you see.” He begged Joe to release the haunted memories of his attack.

Joe stared as the scene flashed in front of his eyes. He saw Cade point the gun at him. He saw Cade pulling him over to the bed. It was then that Joe spoke out in a whisper all of his torment.

“He pulled me over to the bed, I fought him each step of the way. When he pushed me down I turned and kicked him across the room. He came back and punched me in the stomach until I couldn’t breathe. Then he forced me down. He ripped my clothes. I begged him to just kill me but he wouldn’t. He held me down and I couldn’t believe what was happening. I couldn’t believe it could happen to me. The harder I cried the louder he laughed. When he was done I begged him again—begged him to kill me. But, he wouldn’t —he wanted me to live with the memory of what he did to me.”

Joe’s legs gave way and he sank down to the floor resting his head on his knees. He sobbed out of anguish and humiliation. “Why couldn’t I have stopped him? Why couldn’t you have stopped him?” He asked his voice trembling.

Ben knelt down along side of his son. “Joseph we were all victims that night. You couldn’t stop him—I couldn’t stop him. Do you have any idea how I am haunted by this too? I hear your screams and know I did nothing, could do nothing to help you? What happened to you happened to this whole family.”

“I feel so ashamed.” Joe confessed shaking his head back and forth hopelessly.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of, Joe. It was not your fault.”

“He hurt me so bad, Pa. So bad.” Joe made the move that Ben had been waiting for, praying for, for weeks. He reached over for his father and Ben pulled him into his arms. Joe yielded to his father’s touch and continued to cry in his protective arms.

“You’re not ashamed of me?” Joe asked quietly afraid of what the reply would be.

Ben drew Joe’s chin up so that he could look into his eyes. “Ashamed? Never. What you have gone through has taken more guts than I’ve seen displayed in my entire life. But, I need you to keep fighting this, Son. I can’t stand the thought of losing you.”

“Part of me is already lost, Pa. I don’t know how to bring it back.”

“Some of you came back tonight.” Ben paused as Joe suddenly became aware of the fact that he was in his father’s arms. The touch had not repelled him this time. Joe closed his eyes again and tried to feel safe for the first time in weeks.

“I’ll never be what I was before.” Joe whispered against his father’s vest.

“None of us will” Ben reminded him.

“I’ll try, Pa. But I can’t promise anything more than that.” Joe conceded.

“Bring me back my son. The one I love so much.” Ben said stroking Joe’s head of curls.

“I don’t know how. I don’t know if he still exists.”

“He’s in there somewhere, under all the hurt. You just have to look deeper.” Ben watched as his son’s eyes looked around the room again and he could almost feel the ever-present vision of Cade. “Let’s get out of here.” Ben whispered and helped Joe stand up. Ben threw his arm around Joe’s shoulder as he led him out of the room.

Ben sat in the chair next to his youngest son’s bed and watched as he drifted off into an exhausted sleep. The night’s events having taken their toll on Joe, he had not protested his father following him up to his room. They spoke no more of the horror of the night of the attack, both of them being emotionally spent by the time they had made it up to the bedroom.

Reaching over, Ben pulled up the covers when he was sure Joe was totally asleep. He brushed the hair off of his forehead and gave a tired sigh. He knew that Joe had only begun his laborious journey back from his ordeal. Ben knew that the assault had changed his son in so many ways that it wasn’t going to be as easy as just getting him to talk as he had downstairs. No, Ben knew that there was a lot that still needed to be accomplished before he would ever see the famous Joe Cartwright smile again. Unfortunately, he also knew that the biggest part of the healing had to come from deep within his son, and hopefully would be aided by divine intervention.

“Pa?” Adam whispered as he entered the bedroom followed by Hoss.

Ben turned and signaled the two to come closer. “What happened with your prisoner?”

“Didn’t get too much from him, Pa.” Hoss replied and moved to stand along side his father. He continued in a whisper, “Said that Cade double crossed him, shot him and left him for dead.”

“That does not surprise me.” Ben frowned at the thought of the evil man.

“But, we do know he’s only about two days ahead of us now. Headed up towards the rimrock like we thought, heading due east.” Adam interjected and saw his father take on a more hopeful countenance.

“You both come on downstairs. I don’t want to wake Joe, I just got him to sleep. I’ll tell you what happened in town.” Ben stood and took one last long look at the sleeping Joe and then they all walked out of the room closing the door quietly.

Joe sat up in the bed. He had not been totally under as Ben had surmised when he heard the voices of his two brothers. Knowing how protective the family had been, Joe decided to play possum to learn of the information they had offered Ben. Joe knew now what he had to do. He knew that Hoss and Adam would leave out in the morning to track Cade down. He would have to head out as soon as the other Cartwrights turned in for the night.

Joe slowly made his way out of bed walking gingerly to prevent the floor from creaking and giving him away to the ones downstairs. He washed his face in the water basin to wake himself fully. Joe would wait and listen and as soon as he heard the last bedroom door close he would leave the house. Joe walked over to his desk and drew off a piece of paper and reached for a pencil. He knew he had to leave word as to where he was going, just in case his plans went terribly wrong. Joe chose his words carefully as he composed the letter to his father.

Pa,  I’ve gone out after Cade. I know you all want to kill him, but I want it so much more. You said you wanted your son back, maybe this will bring back at least a part of him. If anything happens please understand this was something that I had to do.  Joe

Chapter Five: A Time To Kill And A Time To Heal

Joe slipped out of the ranch house totally undetected. He had carefully checked both his Colt revolver and the rifle he had taken from the rack in the livingroom. After he had loaded up with ammunition, he hurriedly mounted Cochise and took off in the darkness heading eastward. Joe knew that the man was far ahead of him, but that did not matter. He would pursue Cade for months if need be. Something in Joe’s mind told him he had to find the one who had injured his body as well as his soul. These thoughts spurred him onward.

Hoss prepared to saddle Chub the next morning and only stopped from tightening the saddle cinch when his eyes had caught sight of the empty stall. It was Cochise’s stall. Hoss’ heart went cold and he rushed back to the ranch house.

“Got the horses ready that quick?” Adam asked as he set down his coffee cup preparing to strap on his gun belt.

“Cochise is gone.” Hoss stated flatly and looked toward the top of the staircase where he spotted his father. Upon hearing that statement Ben turned back toward the hallway and his youngest son’s room. He was soon back at the stairs again and took them two at a time coming down.

“He’s gone after Cade.” Ben called out holding Joe’s note in his hand.

“I’ll get the horses ready.” Hoss said and started again for the door.

“Saddle Buck. I’m going too.” Ben announced and reached for his holster.

Stopping only long enough to rest his horse, Joe was making good progress toward the high country. He had been on the trail all day and now the sun was setting behind the vast mountain range in the distance. Joe knew he would have to stop for the night and he spotted a safe clearing to bed down. Tying Cochise to a tree, Joe pulled off the horse’s saddle and fed and watered the animal. He then prepared the campfire and spread out his bedroll.

Joe leaned back against his saddle and hoped that sleep would come. But when he closed his eyes all he could see was memories of Cade. Joe felt that unless he pushed himself to track the man down that he would never really be safe. He knew that his brothers wanted the kill themselves and before his trip into the guest room the previous night, that would have been just fine. Now it was something Joe knew that he had to do to gain back some kind of closure to the attack. He wanted to be able to track the man down and see fear in Cade’s eyes the way the fear had been in his own eyes the night of the attack. Joe wanted to hear Cade scream out for mercy the way Joe had. The only difference being that if Cade were to ask to be killed, Joe would gladly oblige. Joe knew that the man only let him live because he knew it would be a long slow death instead of a quick one that a bullet would have brought. To live with the memories of the assault was much more cruel than if he had taken Joe’s life. Joe still felt regret that Cade hadn’t ended his life and he was determined that either Cade would die or he would die himself, once the two met again.

Also bedding down for the evening were the other three Cartwrights. They were still several hours behind Joe and had ridden as hard as possible trying to catch up with him. Knowing that his tracks would be impossible to follow at night they reluctantly made camp.

“He’s not too far ahead of us now, Pa, don’t worry.” Adam said handing his father a cup of coffee.

“Yeah.” Hoss added. “We’ll catch up with him tomorrow.”

Ben shook his head as he gazed into the campfire. “I can’t help thinking that it’s my fault that he did this. If I hadn’t taken him in that room—” Ben trailed off.

“Pa, you didn’t have any other choice. Joe has been hell bent on getting killed. You had to do something!” Adam protested sitting down along side of Hoss.

“He was content in letting you both go after Cade, that is, until last night.”

“I don’t think it’s a bad sign. He’s trying to fight his way back, Pa.” Hoss returned softly.

“I pushed him right back at the man now! The last thing I wanted to do.” Ben cursed himself internally, worried that Joe would indeed find Cade.

“We’ll catch up to him long before he finds Cade.” Adam insisted and saw his father sigh wearily and lean back against his saddle.

“Let’s get some sleep. First light we’ll find your brother.” Ben spoke pulling his hat down over his eyes. He couldn’t help the dread he was feeling and said a quick prayer that they would get to Joe in time.

The next day the ride was harder and the trail more rocky as it ascended upwards toward the mountains. Joe slowed his pace a bit to keep his mount from stumbling on the shale rocks. The air grew colder as did Joe’s thoughts as he reached a crest and stared at the forest before him. He would have to choose his path by instinct alone now, as there were no tracks, no signs of anyone having been on the trail. Joe rode again until dark and found a small clearing surrounded by pine trees for protection from the night’s falling temperature. After tending to Cochise he made a fire and sat by it warming his hands. Joe knew it had only been two days since he had left the security of the ranch, but he missed it more than ever. He wondered if his family was following behind. Joe knew in his heart they would be, especially after what his behavior had been lately. Joe reasoned that his father and his brothers surely thought he was going insane. He worried about the fact that they just might be right.

Finishing his coffee, Joe spread out his bedroll and leaned back against his saddle. He drew his blanket up for warmth. He was more physically tired than he had thought and found himself falling into a deep sleep. His dreams were a jumbled collage of scenes from previous days and always the laugh of Cade broke out in them. Joe tossed back and forth on his bedroll trying to escape the man in his dream. He could, even in his sleep, smell Cade’s cigar smoke. Joe fought his way back to reality. As he opened his eyes slowly, he saw the man standing in front of him. The cigar smoke had not been a dream. Cade stood there, smiling as he puffed away on his cigar. Cade’s gun pointed directly at his victim. Joe slowly pulled himself into a seated position wondering if the scene before him was real or if he was still dreaming.

“What’s wrong, Joe? Looks like you’ve just seen a ghost?” Cade laughed. Joe reached over for his gun and saw his holster was empty. Panic filed his body as he looked back over at Cade.

“Oh—sorry I already took care of all your weapons.” Cade remarked and pointed across the camp where he had placed them. Joe made a dive towards the guns and Cade caught him and threw him back down. “That’s not how we play the game, Joe. Don’t you remember?”

“How did you find me?” Joe asked as he tried to think of a way to catch the man off guard next time.

“I have been watching you for two days. I even saw those two brothers of yours when they carried Sam away. I had planned to just high tail it out of here but then I thought about it and I knew that you would eventually come looking for me. It was worth the wait.”

“Holding that gun on me means nothing you know? I told you before that I’m not afraid to die.” Joe hissed out his warning.

“Oh I remember, Joe. I seem to recall you actually begging for me to kill you. This time I will take you up on it. But not just yet.” With Cade’s final word he went for Joe. Joe struggled against him as Cade drew back and managed to hit the back of Joe’s head with the butt of his gun. Joe was rendered unconscious. Cade took his time tying his victim up. It was all just a game to the man, a sick and twisted game.

Joe blinked hard, his head aching and his vision somewhat blurred. He saw the form of his tormentor slowly coming into view. Cade sat back calmly drinking what was left from the coffee pot. He smiled sinisterly and drew closer to Joe.

“You got what you wanted, why did you stick around?” Joe asked referring to the money he had stolen from the safe at the ranch.

“I had to get rid of Sam first. Then that damn sheriff and his posse they almost had me a couple of times. As a matter of fact I was just about to get out of the area when I spotted you. I knew then that I had to see you one last time.” Cade pulled out his knife from its sheath and placed the blade against Joe’s right cheek. “What’s happened to you lately, Joe? You just don’t look like the happy, good looking kid that I remember. Something been troubling you?”

“Get it over with.” Joe said and closed his eyes waiting for his own death.

Cade lightly scraped Joe’s cheek with his knife and then laughed again. “I have to finish the game first. You enjoyed the last one didn’t you?”

“ Kill me!” Joe screamed. He was only answered by more sadistic laughter.

Three figures pressed against the trees surrounding the campsite where Joe was being held. Hearts pounding in unison the three men made their plans on how to enter the camp.

“Go ahead Hoss. I think it will work.” Ben whispered and Hoss quietly made his way to the back of the tree line.

“Let’s go, Adam.” Ben shot his oldest son a determined look and they approached the campfire, their guns drawn.

“Let him go!” Ben yelled as he approached. Cade spun around pulling Joe in front of him. He held the knife at the boy’s throat and backed up against a tree.

“Drop your guns—both of you or I slit his throat!” Cade warned. Ben and Adam looked at each other and tossed the guns down at their feet.

From behind the pine tree, what looked and felt like the arm of a grizzly bear reached out catching Cade around his throat. The man was paralyzed from the impact and dropped his knife involuntarily. Joe fell to the ground in a crumpled heap. Adam ran toward his brother as Ben retrieved all the weapons. He looked up and saw that Hoss was just about to squeeze Cade to death.

“Not this way, Hoss!” Ben shouted as he approached them both.

“I’m gonna kill the bastard!” Hoss protested unrelenting.

“Hoss, let him go.” Ben begged and the big man finally let Cade loose. He fell to the ground coughing, trying to force air back into his lungs.

Adam untied Joe’s arms and legs. He noticed how his brother had a fixed stare on his face and it was then that he realized the boy was in shock. Lifting him into his own arms, Adam carried him over to the warmth of the campfire. He drew off his coat and placed it around Joe’s shaking shoulders and then pulled his brother back into his arms.

“It’s gonna be okay now, Joe. We are here, he can’t hurt you.” Adam repeated over and over again rocking nervously back and forth. His main worry was that his brother had gone so far into his own mind that he may not be able to snap out of it. He felt Joe’s warm rapid breath against his own neck. Wondering if Joe was indeed lost to them forever, Adam noticed a single tear as it fell out of his brother’s left eye. He pushed it aside hoping it was a sign that Joe was still in there somewhere. Adam would have shielded Joe from the sight of his assailant but he didn’t have to. Joe’s eyes remained fixed as the shock continued.

Ben Cartwright’s fists opened and closed as he tried to fight his primal instincts. He wanted to just shoot the man down right then and there and have it be over with. Yielding to all that he had taught his sons through the years, he knew he had to do it in a different fashion.

“Hoss, pick up Cade’s gun.” Ben said and watched as his middle son also fought to control the urge to kill the man. He handed the weapon over to his father and moved over to be next to Adam and Joe.

“Is he okay?” Ben called over to Adam who still held the trembling Joe.

“He’s in shock, Pa.” Adam replied.

“Now you’re going to die.” Ben warned Cade as he moved a good distance from the man who still sat on the ground. He tossed him the gun. “Reach for it.” Ben yelled.

“Fair fight, huh?” Cade laughed maniacally. “And what if I don’t pick it up?”

“Then I kill you right now and put the gun in your hand afterwards.” Ben threatened never taking his eyes off of the evil before him.

Cade slowly picked up the pistol and stood with it at his side. Ben holstered his gun after he saw Cade put his away first. They stood there staring down each other. Hoss and Adam watched holding their breath waiting for what was to happen. Finally Cade made his play a second before Ben’s shot rang out. The bullet grazed Ben’s left arm taking with it a piece of his shirt. But, Ben Cartwright’s bullet found a solid target and drove its way into the man’s chest piercing his heart.

Ben walked over to stare down at the dead man. His thoughts turned to the night his son had been attacked. Ben wished that he could have stopped him that night, to save his son from all the torment. But, at least, Cade was dead and no longer a threat to anyone. Ben turned and approached his sons and Hoss inspected his father’s arm.

“Just took off a little hide.” Hoss remarked and tied Ben’s kerchief around the wound.

“I’m fine. How’s Joe?” Ben kneeled down to look at this youngest. Adam still held him hoping that he would come back.

“I’ll stay with him, Pa. You and Hoss get rid of Cade. If Joe comes to, the last thing he needs to see is that bastard—dead or not.” Adam spoke out still filled with anger toward Cade flowing through his soul.

“We’ll take care of it.” Hoss paused and noticed his father’s anguish at the sight of Joe’s condition. “He’ll be okay once we get him home tomorrow, Pa.” Hoss reassured and walked off to rid the camp of the Cade’s body.

The next morning the Cartwrights broke camp. Joe had not come back to them yet. His eyes still fixed in a stare, the most they could do for him was to get some water down his throat and keep him warm. With Adam’s coat to shield him from the chill of the morning, Joe was helped up onto the saddle. Adam wrapped his arm around his youngest brother’s waist to keep him balanced in the saddle and started their journey back to the ranch. Hoss led Cochise and Ben rode next to Adam and Joe who were both mounted on Sport. Ben worried as to what had happened between Joe and Cade the night before. He wondered what damage the man had caused his son this time.

The ride back to the ranch was grueling. They had to accomplish the two days journey in one day as they fought to get Joe home and have him looked at by the doctor. It was almost midnight by the time they finally reached the ranch house, and both the men and the animals were exhausted. Adam handed his brother down into the waiting arms of his father and dismounted. Ben carried Joe into the house and up the flight of stairs. Hoss sent a ranch hand into Virginia City to summon Doctor Martin and then he put away the horses.

Settling Joe into his own bed, Ben removed the boys boots and tried to make him more comfortable. So far the only damage that he had detected was a lump on the back of Joe’s head and a minor cut on his cheek. Ben worried about what damage he couldn’t see. He pulled up the chair and sat down along side the bed and waited. Adam soon joined him and carried up some coffee for his father and himself.

“Here, Pa. Looks like it’s gonna be a long night.” He said handing Ben the cup.

“Thanks.” Ben nodded and took the cup gratefully.

“The kid’s really out of it isn’t he?” Adam worried as he sat down next to his brother on the bed.

“I don’t know how long Cade had a hold of him, Adam. We don’t know what he’s been through this time.”

“Too bad you can only kill somebody once, isn’t it?” Adam’s remark came off venomously.

“Yes it is. But he is dead now. If Joe knew that, maybe he’d come around. I have the feeling that in Joe’s mind right now Cade is very much alive.” Ben reached over and felt his son’s forehead. There was no fever but Joe’s stare remained unbreakable.

Three o’clock in the morning brought with it a very tired Doctor Paul Martin to the ranch house. After being briefed by a weary Hoss, he walked up to Joe’s bedroom. He saw the other Cartwrights still sitting at Joe’s bedside and approached them.

“Hoss told me most of it.” Paul announced taking Joe’s wrist and checking his pulse. “What did that animal do to him this time?” He asked turning to confront Ben.

Ben shook his head. “We don’t know. We don’t know how long he was holding Joe before we got there. He has a lump on the back of his head and that cut on his cheek. That’s all we know right now, other than the fact he has been in shock ever since we got to him.”

“You two go downstairs. I’ll check him thoroughly and be down shortly.”

“You don’t think—” Ben started and was stopped in mid sentence by the doctor.

“I don’t know, Ben. I’ll let you know.” Paul answered knowing what the worried father was alluding to. The question was in all their minds at the time, even the doctor’s. Had Cade assaulted Joe again? Paul prayed that he would find no evidence to prove that was the case.

Only the fear about Joe’s condition kept the three men downstairs from falling to sleep as they awaited the doctor’s findings. They sat in the livingroom forcing down coffee to stay awake. It wasn’t long before the doctor walked down the stairs and over to the family.

“This time I’ll just take some coffee.” Paul smiled over at Ben, and in his statement revealed it was good news he had to offer not like the previous time he had examined Joe. Hoss poured the doctor a cup and handed it to him.

“I’m not making light of Joe’s condition. It does worry me. But, at least we know that you all got there in time—before anything else happened.”

“Then, he didn’t?” Adam asked in broken language unable to choke out the words.

“No, there’s no indication of an assault.” Paul assured and saw three men breathe easily for the first time all night.

“What about the shock—anything we can do?” Ben asked upset over the duration of time that Joe had been unresponsive.

“I gave him a sedative. It will knock him out totally for the rest of the night. We will see what tomorrow brings. Can you put me up for the night?”

“Of course. Take the room next to Joe’s.” Ben insisted standing.

“My advice to all of you is to get some rest. You’ll be of no use to Joe if you are worn out tomorrow. Joe is stable and there’s nothing you can do for him right now but let him sleep.”

“You heard the Doc, Boys. Everyone to bed.” Ben called out.

“That means you, too, Ben Cartwright.” Paul smiled knowing the father would probably sit in a chair all night next to his youngest son’s bed. “But, first, let me have a look at that arm of yours.” The doctor noted that the bullet wound was only a graze. He administered some ointment and covered the wound with a bandage. “Now, go on to bed.” Paul insisted.

“But what if he comes around?” Ben protested.

“I’ll be in the next room. Now doctor’s orders. Everyone go to bed.” The doctor admonished the Cartwrights, and slowly they made it to their rooms.

Hop Sing made sure he had a big breakfast waiting for the Cartwrights and Doctor Martin the next morning. After he had set everything out he made his way up to Joe’s room and ordered all the others downstairs to eat it. He stayed by the boy’s bedside and waited.

“He’s still out of it.” Hoss commented to his father as he started passing the platters around the table.

“The sedative I gave him should wear off soon.” Doctor Martin replied as he sipped his coffee.

“Seeing Cade again, having to face him, has set Joe back again.” Ben commented just as an ear-piercing scream came from upstairs. The four men stood and hurried up the staircase. Upon entering Joe’s room they saw Hop Sing trying his best to keep Joe in bed. The boy was fighting like a wildcat to flee. Ben and the doctor took opposite sides of the bed and grabbed each of Joe’s arms allowing Hop Sing to step back.

“I have to get out of here!” Joe screamed. “Cade is here—let me go!”

“Joseph, it’s okay now. Cade is dead.” Ben tried in a soft voice to release Joe from his terrifying vision.

“No he’s not! I can see him!” Joe continued to fight against the hold.

Doctor Martin shook his head indicating to Ben that they needed to do something to settle the boy down. “Adam—hand me my bag and take over here.” He called and changed places with Joe’s brother.

“Joe,” Adam tried this time, “Joe, Cade is dead. Pa shot him. He can’t hurt you now.”

“He’s here—I can see him.” Joe continued his plea to be let loose. The doctor drew up some medication in a syringe and injected his right arm with it.

“Adam’s right, Joseph. I killed him. He can’t ever hurt you again.” Ben sat down next to Joe as his muscles in his arms started to go lax with the medication taking over. Joe stared into his father’s eyes and said weakly, “No, Pa. He’s still here.” And with that, Joe fell into the drug induced sleep.

“He’s just coming out of shock, Ben. Don’t worry too much.” Paul tried to ease the strain he saw on the worried father’s face.

“He was so adamant that Cade was in here—” Ben trailed off.

“He’s been through some pretty rough trauma. It’ll take awhile. I’ll check in on him later. I need to stop by and check on Mrs. Patrick before going back into town. The doctor closed his medical bag and looked back at the three concerned faces. “Give him time. Try not to worry.” He said and turned to leave.

Adam Cartwright walked into his bedroom deep in thought. He had left his father in Joe’s room with Hoss. He wanted some time to himself to think. Walking to his bureau, Adam opened the top drawer and took out a small chest. He opened it and retrieved a gold heart-shaped locket. Taking it in his hand he walked to his bed and sat down. The memories flooded his mind. Memories of a girl he had given the locket to. His mind went back to the day he had given it to Sarah. They had gone on a picnic down by the lake and he had made her close her eyes as he placed it in the palm of her right hand.

“Adam? What’s this?” She asked surprised at the gift.

“Just something I wanted you to have.” He smiled and placed it around her neck fastening the clasp.

“But, we agreed that we were just going to be friends.” She sighed at the thought of their on again and off again relationship. They were too much alike. Both prone to bouts of broodiness and with the love of books.

“Well, who says that I can’t give my best friend a gift?”

“Best friend?” She asked unaware that Adam thought of her that way.

“Best friend.” Adam insisted. “And the prettiest girl on this planet.” He kissed her cheek.

“I hope we are always best friends.” Sarah smiled down at the heart pendant.

“Till death do us part.” Adam laughed. He was willing to settle with Sarah as his friend for life.

“Till death do us part.” She repeated.

Adam stared down at the pendant as the memory faded slowly. He remembered Sarah’s father handing him the pendant back the day of Sarah’s funeral. He kept it as a remembrance of his best friend.

“Son? Are you all right?” Ben’s voice came from the doorway. He noticed the look on his oldest son’s face. Then, approaching the bed he saw the locket that Adam held.

“Yeah.” Adam replied with little emotion. Ben moved to sit down next to his oldest son.

“Sarah.” Ben commented softly. “I was worried that this would bring it all back to you again.”

“I could almost see her face a minute ago when Joe was screaming about Cade. The same frightened look I saw on Sarah. Even after the posse tracked down her attacker, she never came out of it.” Adam’s voice was tinged with a deep regret that he could not save the young girl.

“You did your best. Sarah could not be saved, Son.”

“And Joe? What about him? Do we watch as he does the same thing?” Adam stood and anger at the situation controlled his emotions. Ben stood and followed his son over to the bureau.

“No, not Joseph. He will find his way back. I know he will.” Ben insisted, trying to push the thought of losing his youngest out of his mind.

“I hope so, Pa.” Adam said sadly as he placed the locket back into the chest and closed the drawer.

The sun had already begun to set as Ben made his way back into Joe’s room to check on him again. Hoss stood and stretched giving up his seat for his father. He had kept his own vigil for hours waiting for his little brother to wake up. Hoss was determined to help Joe no matter how awful his reaction was going to be when he returned to them.

“You go get some supper. Hop Sing has it waiting for you.” Ben announced sitting down wearily.

“He hasn’t moved for hours.” Hoss sighed. “You’d think the medicine would have worn off by now.”

“It might not just be the medicine, Son. Joe may be fighting not to come back to reality. He may be too afraid of what he will find here. Especially if he still thinks Cade is alive.”

Hoss squeezed his father’s shoulder and gave a knowing nod and left the room.

A little more than an hour later Joe began to stir in bed giving the sign that he was waking. Ben moved to sit next to him just in case his reaction would be what it had earlier.

“Joseph? Can you hear me?” Ben whispered softly.

Joe shot up in bed, instant panic taking his breath away. Ben grabbed his shoulders to keep him from bolting off of the bed.

“Kill me!” Joe yelled seeing Cade’s face in front of him.

“Joseph, you are safe now. You are home. See? You are here in your room.” Ben tried not to raise his voice. He wanted to bring Joe back slowly if he could. Joe broke his stare and fell back onto the pillows. He turned his head and only then did he notice his father sitting next to him.

“Pa? How did you get here?” Joe asked muddled in confusion. He thought he was still back in the camp where he had been held a prisoner by Cade.

“Joseph—you are home. We brought you home last night. Everything is all right, Son. Settle down now.”

Joe surveyed his surroundings and bewilderment took over his face. “Cade—he found me, Pa.” Joe mumbled still confused.

“I know, Joe. But, we found you too. He’s dead now. He can’t ever hurt you again.”

“Are you sure? You sure he’s dead? I just saw him.” Joe looked around the room waiting for the vision to come back.

“I killed him. He is dead and buried.” Ben repeated as he watched Joe’s further confusion.

“He wouldn’t kill me, Pa. I asked him to and he wouldn’t do it.” Joe whispered in disbelief.

Ben held his son close to him and did not let go. He could feel the way Joe’s body quaked with the memory of his abduction. Ben worried that the last go round with Cade had affected the boy’s mind permanently.

“Try not to think of him right now, Joseph. You are home and safe and that is all that matters right now.

“Don’t let him come back, Pa. He will you know.” Joe whispered and buried his face in his father’s shoulder.

“He’s never coming back, Joseph. I promise you—he’s never coming back.” Ben kept repeating until his son fell back to sleep.

Exhaustion had taken over Ben and he fell off to sleep in the chair next to Joe’s bed. He didn’t hear his son as he quietly made his way out of the room. Joe had gathered his clothing and dressed in the dimly lit hallway and then made his way down the flight of stairs. He walked over to the rifle rack and drew out a rifle. Standing there, he carefully loaded the weapon. Hoss had heard the sound in the hallway and saw from the first landing his brother preparing the gun.

“Joe?’ Hoss called quietly as he made his way down the stairs and over to his brother. “What are you doing, Joe?”

“I’ve got to kill Cade. I know you and Adam want to, but I have to do it.” Joe’s eyes were dark and determined.

“Give me the rifle, Joe. C’mon it’s okay. Let’s talk for a minute first.” Hoss pleaded with him.

“No, Hoss. I have to do it.” Joe protested refusing to turn over the weapon. Hoss walked over to the settee calmly and waved for Joe to come and sit next to him.

“Talk to me first, Joe. You can keep a hold of the rifle if you want. It’s okay.’

Joe looked at his brother. He felt an impatience to be off and onto the kill. Finally, he walked over and sat down next to Hoss. He still held the rifle tight in his hands.

“Now, Little Brother.” Hoss started softly. “Have I ever lied to you?” He asked.

Joe looked down at the floor and shook his head.

“Okay, then. And I ain’t about to start now. You are just a little confused right now, is all. But, that’s okay. Let me tell you what happened. Me and Pa and Adam got to the camp and found you with Cade. I would have choked the man to death, but Pa made me let go. Then, Pa tossed him a gun and the two of them—Pa and Cade shot it out. Cade winged Pa’s arm, but Pa made a dead shot in Cade’s chest. He died instantly.”

Joe looked up at his brother as tears streamed from his eyes. He fought to believe what Hoss had just related to him.

“He’s dead?” Joe asked trembling, trying his best to take the information in to his brain.

“I buried him myself. I’d never lie about something like this—you know that!” Hoss assured his brother and put his arm around his shoulder. Joe let the rifle rest up against the coffee table and covered his face with his hands.

“I thought I saw him, Hoss. Maybe I’m going crazy.” Joe sobbed.

“No you aren’t. You’ve just been through so much. It’ll go away. It might take some time but it will. Especially now that you know he is dead.”

“Pa really killed him?” Joe asked again to confirm all that Hoss had said.

“He sure did.” Hoss patted his brother’s shoulder. “Now let’s go get you back in bed. You gotta get some rest. Everything is going to be fine.” Hoss helped Joe to stand up and he walked with him up the stairs. When they reached the top step Hoss saw his father. Ben had been standing there the whole time listening to his two sons. Ben nodded to Hoss that he had done a good job.

Chapter Six: A Time To Be Born And A Time To Die

The following few days brought with them changes in Joe’s behavior. He no longer screamed out at the visions of Cade, though he still felt the man’s presence around him. Joe was unusually quiet, his motions slow and his depression heightened. All the other Cartwrights noticed the changes and worried as to what they meant.

Hop Sing had laid out a change of clothes for Joe on the end of the bed. It was time for Joe to start to get up and move around and try to fit back into the everyday life on the ranch. Joe looked at the pants and shirt and sighed. They were not the old clothes that he had been use to wearing. He pulled them on, not protesting the reason that they had been chosen for him. It was Hop Sing’s own way of telling him to try to be as he had before. Before Cade.

Joe made his way to the breakfast table. His family noticed an improvement in his appearance. Joe had shaved away the stubble of beard that he had been wearing for weeks. His hair had been brushed and they all knew what an effort it was for Joe to have come down the stairs and try to appear normal. No-one spoke of the changes, not wanting to set the young man off or to embarrass him.

As they ate their meal, the family could tell how it was only the change in Joe’s appearance that was truly different. Joe did not converse with the rest of them as they spoke of the upcoming cattle drive. He answered all questions in one word responses and sat speechless throughout most of breakfast. Before the meal was over Hoss made an attempt to bring Joe around a little.

“Joe, we got the new horses in. How about you and me going over to check them out?”

“Not today.” Joe replied sullenly.

“It might do you some good, Joe. You know getting out of the house for awhile?” Hoss continued.

“Just not today. Excuse me.” Joe stood and walked off going outside to get away from the worried stares of his family.

“Doctor Martin said that he might be like this for awhile.” Ben reached over and patted Hoss’ arm. “We just have to give him some time.”

“He’s worse than he was before, Pa. At least before he was angry and all. Now he looks like he just plain has given up on life.” Hoss returned anxiously.

“Don’t worry, Brother.” Adam broke in. “We are all going to keep our eyes on him.”

Hoss frowned. He wished he had the power to free his brother from all his memories and all of his hurt. It was totally out of his control, as well as his family, and he wondered if Joe had anything left deep inside of himself that would help him find his way back.

Hoss and Adam left for the day of work, setting themselves for the various tasks that had to be accomplished in readying for the cattle drive. They were so used to Joe being with them for the spring round up and drive east it seemed odd not to see his pinto next to them as they made their way out to the herd.

Ben kept a watchful eye on his youngest son that day. Always in the back of his mind was the worry of the boy’s emotional state. Joe did menial chores, something he had always rejected doing in the past. He cleaned the barn and chopped wood, staying close to the ranch house. By noon Ben made his way out to the barn where Joe was polishing saddles. He watched Joe for awhile wondering what was in his mind. Joe’s actions were slow and monotonous as he continued to apply the saddle soap and go over the same areas of the saddle.

“Joseph—” Ben started walking towards the stall where the saddle was mounted. “I was going into town, I was hoping maybe you’d ride with me.”

Joe continued to polish the saddle, never turning toward the voice of his father.

“Not today.” Joe mumbled.

“You sure? I could really use the help with the supplies?” Ben continued on.

“Not today, Pa.” Joe repeated.

Ben drew closer and took the cloth from Joe’s hand, forcing his attention.

“Joe, it’s not that I don’t appreciate all that you have done today. I do. But, you are wasting your talents. You know you are the best wrangler on this ranch. We need your expertise with the horses. These barn chores can be done by anyone. You are much too vital to have hanging around here.”

“I just don’t want to be around anyone right now. Pa, you just have to understand.” Joe whispered fighting to control his emotions.

Ben frowned, he had hoped that he could get his son to start trying to fit back in with everything, but was losing the battle.

“Okay, Joe. I won’t push. But, I would appreciate it if you would go look at the new horses. There’s a whole corral full of them up at the east meadow. The hands are all off with the herd, so you won’t run into anyone. Will you go and check them out for me? They were purchased from a string that Harve Jenkins had, and I’m not sure we got our money’s worth.”

Joe knew what his father’s intentions were. He yielded to his request, knowing how persistent Ben was when he set his mind to it.

“I’ll go out later.” Joe conceded finally.

“Thank you, Son. I’ll be back after awhile.” Ben briefly touched Joe’s shoulder and walked away.

Joe did as he had promised later that afternoon, and rode out to the east meadow. He tied Cochise up to the main gate and stepped inside the fencing to inspect the string of horses. This use to be one of his favorite things to do, he had always been enthusiastic over the purchase of new horses for the ranch. One by one he looked them over. Joe went through the motions as he had so many times in the past, but found no joy or sense of accomplishment when he was finished with the task. He made his way out of the corral and back to Cochise. Mounting his horse, he turned and instead of heading back for the house, he headed south towards Lake Tahoe.

“Where’s Joe?” Adam called walking in to the ranch house, throwing down his hat.

“I sent him out to look at the new horses. I just got back myself from town. He’s probably still out there.” Ben replied from his chair in his study.

“He’s not out there, Pa. I was just out there myself.” Adam had worry in his response.

Ben stood and walked over to get his hat and holster. “I’d better go and check on him. He’s probably just out riding.” Ben tried to ease his oldest son’s mind. He could read in Adam’s facial expression what he was thinking. “Don’t fret, Adam. He’s okay. I’ll be home as soon as I find him.” Ben said and walked out of the house.

The cool wind from the lake blew across the shore and up into the trees which surrounded Marie Cartwright’s grave site. Joe was not sure what had possessed him to go there that afternoon. He pulled off his hat and sat down on the tall grass which grew around his mother’s final resting place. Staring at her tombstone he began talking to her.

“I don’t know why I am here, Mama. Right now I don’t know much of anything. When I’ve come here before I was so sure you could hear me. Like you were looking down on me from heaven. Pa always said that anyway. But, now, I don’t know if there is a heaven—or a God for that matter. If you are in heaven—is it peaceful? All the pain from this world —is it gone now? I wonder what that would be like. To not feel pain. To be somewhere where there is no hurt. It sounds awful good to me. You know all the others—Pa, Adam, and Hoss—think I’ll be okay. Somehow they think I can get over what Cade did to me. I can’t. And I really don’t want to be here anymore. I can’t see anything worth sticking around for anymore. I think the only reason why I haven’t ended it all is because of them. I don’t want to hurt them. But, I don’t want to live any longer.” Joe wiped his eyes and stood again. “Maybe you can’t really hear me anyway. Maybe there’s nothing else when you die. But, even that would be better than this.” Joe said and walked away.

Joe led Cochise down the hill and out onto the sandy shore of the lake. He dropped the reins and the horse walked to the shoreline and drank from it’s water. Joe walked out onto the rocks which jutted from the shore outward into the lake. He climbed farther and farther out, finally reaching the last rock. Joe sat and stared at the lake, it’s azure blue no longer as awe inspiring as it had always been to him. Joe remembered his youth and the many times he had climbed out to this very spot and how it had always lifted his spirts. Today he found no joy in it. The vastness of the lake only reminded Joe of the vastness of time he had to live with his haunting memories.

Ben stood at the bottom of the hill and spotted first the pinto, and then the figure sitting on the rock. He made his way over to Cochise and dropped Buck’s reins down next to the other horse. Ben made the trek out to the last rock and sat down next to his son. He didn’t say anything, waiting for Joe to be first.

“I’m sorry that I worried you.” Joe apologized, knowing why his father had tried to find him.

“I thought maybe you’d come out here. I don’t think I will ever grow tired of that view. It is breathtaking, isn’t it?” Ben asked quietly.

“It use to be.” Joe answered.

“And now?” Ben stared into his son’s hopeless eyes.

“Now it means nothing.” Joe responded sadly.

“Tell me what you are feeling, Joe.” Ben asked his son, hoping to release some of his pain.

“You wouldn’t really want to know, Pa.”

“Yes, I would. You can tell me anything.” Ben was sincere in his statement.

“I don’t want to live anymore. There. I said it. I told you that you wouldn’t want to hear it.” Joe sighed finally getting the words out of his gut.

Ben draped his arm around Joe’s shoulder and replied, “If you can talk to me about it, then maybe we can change it. If you keep it to yourself, there’s no way we can.”

“I don’t think it can be changed. I can’t stop what I am feeling. I just don’t want to be here anymore. I know you all think I am strong and can get over anything. Maybe anything else—but not this. Do you know what I see when I get up in the morning? What I see when I go to bed at night?” Joe’s eyes questioned his father, their glow was intense with pain.

“Cade.” Ben answered quietly.

Joe nodded his head. “Yes, Cade. Do you know what I see when I look in the mirror? I see a broken man. Someone I don’t even want to be around.”

Ben was searching for the right words to say and was having trouble this time. Joe continued on.

“I thought that once Cade was dead—then maybe I could go on. Maybe I could find some kind of peace. But, that isn’t happening. You know I was thinking about Adam yesterday. I saw the way he looked at me when I walked outside. He was thinking that I was going to do what Sarah did. I know I am a reminder of all that to him. But, I understand why she did it now. I don’t blame her for wanting it to all go away.”

“Are you saying that is what you want to do, Joseph?” Ben choked out, the fear in his question and in what Joe’s response would be, quickened his heart.

“I’m saying I don’t want to live. I don’t know if I’d do anything about it. I don’t want to hurt you, Pa. But, this is how I feel.” Joe looked down into his reflection in the lake and threw a stone to shatter the image and to make himself disappear.

“You have so many people in your life who love you. If you were gone it would take a part of us with you.”

“Maybe if I just go away—” Joe trailed off.

“Maybe if you just stay and try to fight.” Ben countered and pulled Joe close to him. “One thing I have always counted on, since the day you were born, is that you are a fighter.”

“I’m not that strong anymore, Pa.” Joe confided his idea of his own weakness,

“You are stronger than you will ever realize, Joe. Please promise me you will try to fight a little longer?” Ben pleaded with his son, never releasing his hold on him.

“I’ll try.” Joe agreed. He knew his father needed to hear it, even though he wasn’t at all sure that he could keep his promise.

Adam walked out to the front porch late that same night and sat down on the step next to his youngest brother. He knew how Joe felt and still didn’t know how to help him.

“What are you drinking there?” Adam asked and Joe looked over at him blankly.

“Brandy.” Joe replied and finished the contents of his glass.

“What? No rot gut?” Adam questioned trying to sound shocked.

“No. No rot gut tonight.” Joe set the glass on the step and looked into his brother’s eyes. “Did Pa send you out here?” He asked suspiciously.

“No. I just wanted to ask you what you thought of the horses we bought. Pa did say that you went out and looked at them.”

“They are fine.” Joe returned with no emotion in his response.

“You gonna help us break them?” Adam persisted.

“No. I don’t want to.”

“What do you want, Joe?” Adam asked softly trying to get Joe to open up.

“I want peace. Now, unless you can tell me where to get that, I guess this conversation is over.” Joe could not help feeling threatened by Adam’s questions. He wanted to be left alone with his misery.

“Well—I’ll tell you, Joe. You can start by coming with us to church tomorrow. As a matter of fact there is a social afterwards with the best food and the prettiest girls in town.”

“Have a good time.” Joe said flatly and stood up. Adam stood also and grabbed Joe’s arm to stop him.

“Will you at least think about it?” He pleaded. He thought that although his brother wanted to stay away from people, that was what he needed to bring him back to life.

“Goodnight, Adam.” Joe said solemnly and turned toward the door.

“Let me ask him one more time.” Ben said to Hoss and Adam who stood by the front door the next morning preparing to leave for church. They shook their heads discouraged as they watched their father walk up the stairs in search of Joe. Ben knocked on the bedroom door and then walked in. Joe was dressed and sitting in the chair by the window.

“Joe—you sure you won’t come along?” Ben asked concerned with leaving his son, especially after the talk they had the previous day.

“No. You all go ahead.” Joe replied and noticed his father did not move. Looking over at Ben, Joe frowned. “I’m not going to do anything—if that’s what is keeping you here.”

“Church would be good for you.” Ben addressed the faith issue.

“You know how I feel. It’s not going to change.” Joe answered. “Go on, don’t keep Adam and Hoss waiting.”

“I’ll see you later.” Ben said, giving up on his try at introducing Joe back to God.

“Where you go?” Hop Sing insisted on an answer seeing Joe strapping on his holster and pulling on his jacket.

“I’m just going out for a ride.”

“Mr. Ben say keep an eye on you. Hop Sing go too!’

“Hop Sing.” Joe walked over to the cook and reached out to him gently. For some strange reason he did not feel awkward about touching his old friend and protector. Joe stared directly into his eyes and said softly. “I know Pa has assigned you the job of babysitting me for the day, but you don’t have to. And you don’t have to worry either. I’m just going for a ride. I’ll be back before Pa gets home.”

“Hop Sing worry about Little Joe.” He said troubled by all he had witnessed lately.

“I’m not going to do anything. Just ride for awhile.”

“You promise Hop Sing?” He asked searching Joe’s face for the truth.

“I promise.” Joe nodded and walked to the door.

Joe rode for more than an hour, heading no place in particular. He fought to just look at the scenery and forget the images that were creeping back into his tormented mind. When he had turned to head back, his eyes caught sight of an over-turned wagon on the road which led to Virginia City. He kicked at Cochise’s sides and galloped over.

Laying on the road was Kay Patrick. She moaned and writhed with pain as Joe approached her. Joe looked in the wagon and found a blanket and brought it to her. He placed the rolled up blanket under her head and spoke softly trying to bring her around.

“It’s okay, M’am. You are going to be fine.” Joe whispered.

Kay looked up and recognized Joe Cartwright. Her face was controlled by the fear she was feeling.

“Joe? Joe Cartwright?” She asked, tears streaming from her eyes.

“Yes, M’am. You’re Mrs. Patrick, I met you at our ranch.”

“It’s Kay.” She corrected the boy. “And, Joe, I’m afraid I’m about to have the baby. I was heading out to find Kevin when the wagon wheel broke. I don’t think I’m hurt, but I know the baby is coming now.” She warned and Joe’s face found a similar case of fear reflected in it.

“I’ll ride and get the doctor.” Joe replied and stood up.

“No!” She yelled as another pain ripped at her body. “There’s no time for that. You have to deliver the baby, Joe. I need you.” She was now sobbing, so afraid for her infant; her first baby.

Joe breathed in deeply. He had never delivered a baby. In fact, he had never even seen how it was done. Other than a colt he had never witnessed any other birth. Joe felt as though he would faint, but drew from some unknown inner strength and started to ready for the delivery. Removing his jacket, Joe kneeled on the ground and bit at his bottom lip, trying to show Kay that he would be okay with the birthing.

“You have to tell me what to do.” He said and squeezed her hand.

“I’ve helped bring in a few, Joe.” She said and stopped as another contraction hit hard. She moaned at the duration of it and knew she was almost ready now. “When you see the baby’s head crowning—you have to help it out—make sure nothing is caught around the baby’s neck.”

“Okay.” Joe said hesitantly, and feeling somewhat embarrassed, pulled up the young lady’s’s skirt.

“Oh no!’ She screamed as another pain racked her body. “It’s coming!” She screamed.

Joe saw the top of the baby’s head as it crowned and tried to find it’s way out.

“Push, Kay, push!” Joe shouted and the woman strained with all of her might.

As the baby shot forward Joe could see the cord was around it’s neck. He gently managed to pull it aside and shouted one more time.

“Once more—it’s almost out now—push!” Joe screamed and Kay struggled to push for the final time. The baby came out into Joe’s waiting arms. He saw that it was turning blue and had not made a sound.

“Oh, God—no!” Joe shouted to himself. Kay had passed out and he was the only one to witness what was now happening. “God—please not this child—please not him!” Joe wrapped his green jacket around the infant, the cord still attached to the baby. “Breathe!” Joe yelled and blew his own breath into the lifeless form in his arms. All of a sudden, like the blast from a cannon, the baby cried and took his first breath. His color started to change to a healthy pink and Joe clutched him to his chest. “Thank you, God.” Joe cried as he stared down at the perfect baby boy in his arms.

The sound from a fast running horse drew Joe’s attention momentarily and he breathed a deep sigh of relief as he spotted his father’s mount. Ben galloped up to the wagon and hurriedly dismounted. Witnessing the first of two miracles, Ben smiled as he saw his youngest son holding the new born infant in his protective arms. The next miracle would come several weeks later.

“Pa! Come here and help—we need to cut the cord.” Joe called, so glad he now had help. Ben pulled out his pocket knife and reached into his saddlebags for something to tie the cord with. He knelt down next to Joe and went about the task of freeing the baby and mother from the umbilical cord. When he was done he turned to Joe, a proud smile entertaining his face.

“Well, what have you got there, Joseph?” He kidded and saw Joe had the most unusual look on his face. A look of pure awe.

“It’s a boy, Pa. You go ahead and take him, I’ll go get the doctor.”

“No.” Ben replied standing up. He checked on Kay and determined she would be okay and then faced Joe again. “You have everything under control, Son. I’ll go get the doctor. You stay here with Kay and the baby.” Ben turned and mounted his horse.

“But, Pa—” Joe started, still nervous to be holding the new life.

Ben knew that this was what he had been praying for in church that morning. Joe needed something, anything to give him hope and maybe even some long forgotten faith. He grinned and waved and turned Buck back toward Virginia City.

Joe walked over to where Kay was sleeping. The woman had been exhausted by the birth and was totally out. Sitting down next to her, Joe crossed his legs and held the infant close to him. As the baby started to cry, Joe rocked him gently and spoke soothingly.

“It’s okay, your ma is just sleeping right now. When she wakes up she is going to be so glad to see you. You are one tough little guy, you know? You didn’t give up, you were determined to come here today. Your folks are always going to remember this day. And they are going to tease you mercilessly that you chose to come out on this road instead of a nice comfortable bed.” Joe noticed the baby had settled down, listening to his voice. He continued speaking and rocking the infant. “You are going to have a good life, there’s so much that you have to see.” Joe looked up at his surroundings and started to describe it all to the baby. “There’s trees here that touch the sky. And mountains so tall that they reach right into heaven. And birds and deer and all kinds of animals. And someday you’ll have your own horse and will help your pa build his ranch up.” Joe closed his eyes feeling tears sting them all of a sudden as he had brought forward some of his own memories in his speech to the baby. “And sometimes there will be hard times, but they will just make you stronger. They will just make you realize how much all the good things mean to you. But, I know you are a fighter—you didn’t give up a minute ago—you kept fighting to live. I know you will be able to do anything. You are a strong kid. And you are going to have a good life.” Joe bent down and kissed the baby’s forehead. The baby fell asleep in his arms.

 A short time later Ben was back with a wagon and Doctor Martin. Kay was just starting to come back around as the doctor checked her out.

“Well, Young Lady, what are you doing having a baby here instead of at home where you belong?” The doctor chastised her.

“I got scared, I was trying to get to Kevin.” She whispered and then Joe bent down next to her.

“I think this boy belongs to you.” Joe said and handed her the baby. She smiled gratefully and then looked up at Joe.

“Is he okay, Joe?” She asked worriedly.

“Yep—got ten toes and ten fingers—I already counted them. And the kid has a strong set of lungs too!” Joe nodded as he saw Kay settle back.

“You did a fine job, Joe.” Doctor Martin patted Joe on the shoulder. “Well, let’s get these two over to their ranch and find the nervous father so we can tell him the good news.”

Joe walked back over to his horse and Kay called over to him.

“Joe? How can I ever thank you for what you did?”

“No thanks needed, Kay.” Joe answered, feeling a bit choked up by all the events.

“You coming with us?” Ben asked walking over to his son.

“No, Pa. I figure you and the doctor can handle it from here. I think I need a drink.” Joe tried not to give away his emotions to his father just yet.

“Okay, Joe. You did a wonderful job—I’m very proud of you.” Ben stated seriously and saw Joe nod as he turned his horse back to the ranch.

Ben and Doctor Martin lifted Kay and the baby into the wagon. Ben tied Buck to the back of the buckboard and took the driver’s position, leaving Doctor Martin in the back with his two patients. Ben turned toward his three passengers and spoke.

“You all ready?” He asked.

Kay tilted her head and smiled at him. “Yes, the doctor and I are ready—and so is Joseph.”

“Joseph?” Ben asked confused.

“Joseph Ryan Patrick.” Kay laughed at Ben’s stunned expression. “It’s the least I can do for your son after all he did for me.”

Doctor Martin watched as Ben took it all in. He knew what he was thinking, having known the man for so long. Paul knew that the baby might provide some kind of hope to the young man that they all had watched faltering lately.

“Well, Ben—are we gong or aren’t we?” Paul called to break Ben’s gaze.

“Yes—let’s go.” Ben replied and sent the team of horses forward.

Chapter Seven: A Time To Weep And A Time To Laugh

A very weary Ben Cartwright walked into the ranch house late that night. He hung up his hat and unstrapped his holster at the front door. He was surprised when he turned around toward the livingroom and spotted Joe sitting on the settee. It was almost midnight and he expected everyone in the house would be in bed asleep.

Ben walked over to his chair by the fireplace and sank down into it. He looked over towards his youngest son and saw he was deep in thought.

“I thought you would be in bed.” Ben announced and broke Joe’s concentration.

“Adam and Hoss turned in awhile ago. I kinda wanted to wait until you got home.”

“Sorry I am so late. We got Kay and the baby settled and then found Kevin. He was so thrilled with his new son. You should have seen him with the boy! Then I stayed and helped them with some chores and Doc and I made their dinner. They are all doing fine.” Ben replied and noticed that Joe had an odd look on his face again. “Now—why did you wait up for me?”

Joe stared directly at his father and tried to get his thoughts together. He felt as though he had a million things to say, but, he was having trouble putting them into words so that his father would understand.

“I just kinda wanted to talk to you.” Joe began again.

Ben smiled and moved over to sit next to his son on the settee. “Well, that’s good, Joseph, because I’d kinda like to listen.’ He put his arm around Joe’s shoulder knowing that the boy was about to reveal to him his feelings.

“I don’t know really where to start, Pa.” Joe stammered. “What happened today—it was so strange. You know after the things I said—about this being a miserable world to bring up a baby in? Then, there I was trying to save the kid. I was so scared—scared that he wouldn’t make it. He had the cord wrapped around his neck—came out blue and all. When he cried for the first time—I just can’t tell you how I felt.”

Ben just nodded not wanting to interrupt Joe’s confession.

“He fought so hard to live, Pa. He really did. Then, after you went off for the doctor, I sat with him and talked to him. I told him about what his life would be like.” Joe stopped talking, fighting with his own feelings and wondering if he could get them out so that they would make sense to his father.

“Go on, Son.” Ben encouraged Joe to continue.

“I thought about all the things that he had to look forward to, you know? Like his first pony—his first crush—his first kiss. And it made me wonder if maybe this really isn’t such an awful world for him to be in. Or me.” Joe stared into his father’s eyes and could see relief in them.

“Pa—I know what I told you yesterday. Some of it still holds true. I still have the memories—I may always have them I don’t know. But, I figure if that baby could fight so hard to stay here—then maybe I should fight to stay here too.” Joe stood and walked over to the fireplace and sighed. “Pa—I don’t really think I’ll ever smile again. And I don’t think I’ll ever laugh again. But, I am going to keep on living. I know that now.”

Ben moved next to his son and hugged him. It was what the worried father had been praying to hear for so long. “I think you will smile again, Joe. It will come in time. Do you remember the lines from a verse I use to read to you? There’s a time for every purpose unto heaven? It says in it that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh.”

“Yes, I remember.” Joe nodded. “I hope so, Pa.”

“Well, you do have a lot of things to live for, Joseph. One of them is that new Godchild of yours.” Ben smiled and saw Joe look up into his eyes bewildered.

“Godchild?” Joe asked.

“Yes, Kay and Kevin were so happy that you were there to bring the baby in, that they asked me to ask you about being the baby’s Godfather.”

“Me?” Joe was touched by the news.

“Well—after all, he is your name sake, Joseph.” Ben stated and waited for the response.

“What are you talking about?”

“They’ve named the baby Joseph Ryan Patrick.” Ben announced and saw Joe’s mouth drop surprised by the honor.

“They didn’t have to do that.” Joe sighed thinking of the child.

“They wanted to.” Ben corrected and Joe nodded his understanding.

“What a day. I can honestly say I will never forget this one.”

“Neither will I.” Ben responded with his own meaning in the words. It was a day that he saw some of the old Joe Cartwright start to return to him.

Two weeks later Hoss and Adam stood in the living room waiting for their father to come back into the house. When Ben walked in, they moved over to him.

“Here’s the suit, Pa.” Adam stated handing his father the clothes bag. “We were hoping you’d take it up to him.”

“Oh you were, huh?” Ben smiled knowingly. “Well, since you and Hoss bought it for your brother, it seems like the two of you would do the honors.”

“Well—Pa—” Hoss stammered nervously. “You have a better way with Joe than we do.”

“What you mean, Hoss, is that you are worried this might in some way set Joseph off again and you would much rather he get mad with me than the both of you.”

Adam grinned at his father, he should have known they couldn’t pull one over on him after all the years that they had tried. “Okay, Pa. You are right—but how about it?” Adam asked.

Ben frowned and took the bag. “Cowards.” Ben muttered as he walked up the stairs.

Joe stood staring into his wardrobe as Ben entered the room. He did not turn around, so he didn’t notice the bag that his father had brought with him.

“You getting ready?” Ben asked walking up behind his son.

“Can’t figure out what to wear.” Joe shrugged his shoulders still looking in the closet.

“How about this?” Ben asked and Joe turned to see him standing there with the clothes bag in his hand.

“What’s that?” Joe asked confused.

“Your brothers bought you a new suit.” Ben handed it to his son and Joe took it over to his bed and opened it up. Joe inspected the suit and looked over at his father.

“Why didn’t they give it to me?”

“Because they were worried that you might get angry. So, naturally they let me face your wrath myself.” Ben teased his son.

Joe thought for a moment and realized what his brothers had been so worried about. He remembered the night he had worn his new suit. They had obviously thought that even the idea of a new suit would upset him. Joe also figured that was the reason that they had replaced the torn black suit with a blue one. They were trying their hardest to help him in some way. Joe felt a bit emotional as he looked back up at his father.

“It’s a nice suit.” Was all he could say at the moment.

“Well, it’s not every day that you get to see your Godson christened.” Ben smiled and patted Joe’s shoulder. “You go ahead and get ready.” He said and walked out of the room.

Joe stood in front of the mirror to his dresser. The mirror had been replaced since the night he had hurled the cologne and shattered it. Joe stared at his reflection. He remembered how he felt the night he was to go to the Fireman’s Dance. It seemed like a life time ago. Now his image seemed to be different. Joe knew he looked older and a bit sadder. He shrugged into his suit coat and attempted to tie the string tie. His hands shook nervously. Joe wasn’t sure if it was the idea of the baby’s christening or that he was dressed up for the first time in so long that made him feel so rattled. Giving up on the tie, he let it hang around his neck loosely and headed out of his bedroom.

Three pairs of eyes watched Joe descend the staircase. Each family member reflecting back on all that the young man had been through. They were amazed at how handsome he now looked as he made his way over to his family. None of them wanted to say anything that would upset Joe. There was no teasing him relentlessly about his good-looks as there had been in the past. That would have to wait.

“See Adam—I told you blue was his color.” Hoss smiled as he looked at his little brother.

“It’s teal, Hoss. How many times do I have to tell you it’s not blue?” Adam corrected and Hoss laughed, as did Ben.

“Well—” Joe started a bit sheepishly. “Thanks for the suit. It is nice.” Joe paused and then frowned. “But this blasted tie! I can’t get it right.” Joe remarked frustrated.

Adam walked over to Joe and said, “Here—let me have a try.” He saw Joe hesitate at first and then nod his acceptance of the help. Adam took his time until he had the bow perfect.

“There!” He announced proudly. “One perfectly tied tie!” Adam smiled and could see Joe’s eyes thanking him.

“Well, if you all are ready now—let’s go.” Ben called from the front door. He watched as each of his sons filed outside to the carriage. His heart was very full seeing them all together again.

Church was crowded that particular Sunday, but the front pew was reserved for the Cartwrights and the Patrick family. They all took their seats with Joe sitting next to Kay and the baby. Reverend Hastings began the service with several hymns and then got to the sermon.

“I’m sure it will make many of you, especially those of you asleep in the back pew, happy to hear that I will not be giving a long sermon today.” He announced smiling and there was a brief amount of laughter in the church. “We have a new member to introduce to the congregation today and a christening to accomplish. So, I will get right to my sermon now. A few weeks ago one of my flock came to me and said they had lost faith in God.” The Reverend paused and stared briefly over at Joe Cartwright. He caught the Reverend’s stare and shifted nervously in the pew, breaking eye contact with the man. “It was pointed out to me that this person had a doubt as to the very existence of God. This is nothing new for a preacher to hear, I might add. It happens all of the time. When a tragedy occurs it’s easy to assume that either there is no God, or that God has turned away from you. I tried to think of something inspiring to say to this person, but found words that were meaningful hard to come by. I wanted to tell this person that maybe God had not turned away from him, but that he had turned away from God. All I could manage to come up with at the time was that God would find him and bring him back.” The Reverend paused again and smiled over at Joe. “I can tell you now that I happened to be right.”

Joe nodded toward the pastor, trying not to give away the fact that it was he that the man was referring to.

“Today’s reading will be from the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter three verses one through eight. To every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose unto heaven. A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which was planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silent and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace.”

Joe shot a glance over at his father at the Reverend’s selection of the day. Ben simply grinned and shrugged his shoulders. Joe wondered if it had been a coincidence that it was the very same verse Ben had mentioned to him when they had their talk days earlier.

“And now I would like to introduce this congregation to our newest member. Kevin and Kay Patrick’s little boy, Joseph Ryan Patrick. Won’t you three come up here —oh and bring the Godfather with you.” The Reverend’s face was filled with joy as the three people and the baby made their way over to the pulpit. Joe stood behind Kay and Kevin nervous to be in front of the whole church. The Reverend winked at Kay and she did as they had earlier planned. She turned and placed the baby in Joe’s arms. He was surprised, not knowing he would hold the child during the christening.

“Oh—I introduced the new parents but forgot to mention the new Godfather—you all know Joe Cartwright?” The Reverend laughed as did the congregation. Everyone knew Joe.

Joe looked down at the baby who was wide-eyed but not protesting being in his arms. Right before the Reverend started the christening, the sun, which had been clouded over all morning, burst through and cast it’s rays through the stained glass window. Covered in a multitude of bright colors, Joe could feel the presence of God.

“And now, Joseph Ryan Patrick, I christen thee in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” The Reverend said as he sprinkled the water on the baby’s forehead. The baby did not cry out. Instead, the child looked up at his Godfather and felt safe in the arms of the first person who had held him in life.

“Good job, Joseph.” Joe dropped his head down a little and said to the baby for not having cried. The baby grabbed the loose end of Joe’s string tie and pulled it so hard that the bow came totally undone.

It was at that moment that Ben Cartwright witnessed his second miracle. Staring over at his youngest son he saw how the baby’s action of untying the tie, which had been so difficult to get just right, cracked Joe up. First, Ben saw Joe’s first smile, and a brief second later the church was filled with the contagious laughter of Joseph Cartwright.

Catching his father’s eyes, Joe nodded over to him, amazed himself to have been able to laugh again. The Reverend said a closing prayer and Joe handed the baby back to Kay. As they all filed out of the church, Joe felt his arm being tugged on and he looked around to see Doctor Paul Martin.

“Joe, didn’t I tell you that you always take special interest in the ones that you bring into the world?” He asked smiling broadly to see the change in the young man.

“Yeah, Doc. You were right.” Joe confessed and walked outside to the steps of the church. He was soon surrounded by the rest of the Cartwrights.

“Well, as happy as I am for you, “ The doctor paused and tried to feign an irritated look. “What’s this about you cutting in on my business? You going to start delivering babies now?”

Joe looked over at his father amused by the doctor’s statement and said, “No, Doc, you don’t have to worry about any competition from me. I am perfectly content being the best wrangler on the Ponderosa.” Joe noticed how a contented smile took over his father’s face when he made that statement. Then Joe felt a clap on his back from both of his brothers.

“Well, that’s good, Little Brother, cause we just happen to have two dozen broncs just waiting for your expertise.” Adam asserted, trying to be stern, but his face giving his mood away.

“Oh—sorry you two.” Joe turned and grinned back at them. “I’ve got this nice new suit on—guess it’ll have to wait. And besides—I gotta go catch up with my Godson now.” Joe walked briskly down the stairs and sauntered over to where the Patrick family was talking to some friends.

From the church steps, Adam, Hoss and Ben Cartwright watched as Joe stole the baby out of Kay’s arms and swept him into his own arms laughing. All three Cartwrights had the same exact thought at that same moment. Joe Cartwright was back.

The End

April 27, 2001

Next Story in the Every Purpose Under Heaven Series:

Another Season

Dru

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.

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Author: Wrangler

8 thoughts on “Every Purpose Under Heaven #1 (by Wrangler)

  1. A difficult subject and it after effects are dealt with really well in this story. Glad to know Joe made his way back, with the help of his family. Great job Wrangler.

  2. This was a wonderful series. There were a lot of up and downs for Joe and his family, sometimes there just aren’t quick fixes for things, especially when it tears you apart.

  3. Wrangler
    Always love your fan fiction. This story was wonderfully told and it too its time to reach a “happy place” but the drama and the reality plus the reactions and love of the family help Joe become Joe again. i was hoping that the expectant baby would be an important catalest to Joe’s recovery and it was the hing he neede to feel a glimmer of hope and a reason to fight to get better.
    You are always good with Hoss’s character and you really nailed his calm, quiet loving persona. Thanks for the GREAT read Judi

  4. Wow ! I absolutely loved this story ! Just so full of emotion and drama , couldn’t stop reading it and looking forward to reading the follow up !
    Well done .

  5. The promise of an evening enjoying a fun-filled dance turned unimaginable. The depths of despair and suffering the whole family experienced; there wasn’t just one victim that night…

    I loved the reverend’s ministrations; yes, you might be lost, but given time, He’ll find you, again. I believe God didn’t need to find him, He was always there and carried him until he was able to stand on his own. Powerful.

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