Summary: It’s just one of those days, and nothing’s going right for Little Joe. But things go from bad to worse when he tries to ride an unruly bronc. Will a simple comedy of errors turn into something much more serious?
Rated: K 7100
A String of Bad Luck
Joe knew he was falling, felt himself slip then tumble to the ground below. A hoarse yell escaped his lips as he landed with a loud thump. Eyes blinking slowly, he realized his hands were still holding onto something, but what? He remembered grabbing for Cochise’s mane. . . Could it be he was still hanging onto his horse?
The insistent voice of his brother calling his name finally brought Joe around. Looking about, it took several minutes for him to realize he was laying not on the cold ground, but the hard wooden floor of his own room. The mane in his hand was actually the covers from his bed, pulled down in a heap around him.
“Joe, you alright boy? I’ve been calling ya for almost five minutes.”
Looking up, Joe realized his brother was staring at him from the open doorway.
“Yeah, Hoss, I . . . I’m fine.”
“Well, then, you’d better hurry up. Pa’s waitin’ for ya at the breakfast table.”
“Tell him I’ll be right down.”
Hoss shook his head and chuckled softly as he stepped back into the hallway and closed Joe’s door behind him. Stepping to the stairs, he could still hear the mumbling from inside his brother’s room.
Pulling himself from the floor, Joe picked up the twisted pile of sheets and blankets from the floor and flung it to the bed. In a hurry to get to the table before Pa lost his temper, Joe stepped into his tan pants then quickly slipped his arms into his shirt. Grabbing his boots and trying to pull them on as he hurried towards the door, he stumbled and fell again.
”What’s going on up there?”
The voice bellowing from the room below brought Joe’s head up instantly. In a stumbled flurry of movement, he managed to reach the door and fling it open to holler back.
“Nothin’, Pa! Everything’s fine. I’ll be right down.”
It was only minutes later that the young man was racing down the stairs and towards the dining room. His pa and brothers were already gathered around the morning feast, enjoying their coffee and flapjacks, a platter of meat just now being placed on the table by Hop Sing. In his hurry to get to the table, Joe took the last few steps a little too fast. There was no stopping the fall as his boot slipped on the final stair. Even with his arms flung out to his side, Joe’s rear hit the floor with a resounding thud.
The men at the table were on their feet in an instant, Ben rushing to reach his youngest son. But a motion from Joe stopped their progress. His right hand held up in front of him, eyes bright with pain and humiliation, the young man motioned them back to the table. Rising unsteadily to his feet, he moved a little more carefully toward the table. Reaching his chair, he settled, rather uncomfortably, on its cushioned surface.
“Mornin’ Pa. Adam. Hoss.”
The voices that echoed back were muffled, as the three men had already returned to their seats and were busy with their breakfast. He either didn’t notice or refused to acknowledge their amused grins. Joe picked up the coffee pot and poured his first cup, then reached over for a slab of ham.
“What was all the noise in your room about, Joseph?”
Halting with fork in mid-air, Joe looked up into his father’s dark brown eyes.
“Well. . . guess I was dreamin’, Pa. I thought I was falling off of Cochise, but it was really the bed I was falling off of.”
A loud guffaw was silenced immediately by the father’s glance. Adam’s smile was silent but carried the same degree of humor as his larger brother’s earlier outburst. Ben stared briefly at his older sons before turning again to his youngest.
“Are you alright, son?”
Realizing his father was asking not only about the earlier incident, but also about his fall on the stairs, Joe smiled reassuringly at the older man.
“Yeah, Pa, I’m fine.”
The men resumed their eating, the conversation turning easily to the chores and projects planned for the day ahead. It wasn’t until they gathered near the front door, strapping on gun belts and donning their hats that Hoss brought up the subject of Joe’s fall again.
“What do you think, Adam? Will our little brother be able to stay in the saddle today? He’s been pretty unlucky so far, and you know what they say about days like this.”
“Yeah, I know, Hoss, but we’re going to need his help out there, so I guess we’ll have to chance it.”
Adam’s laugh echoed back to his youngest brother as he walked toward the barn, and Ben shook his head at the antics of his three sons. He hoped Joe wouldn’t take offense at his brothers’ teasing.
Saddling their horses, the three men headed down to the fence line in the south pasture. There was a new herd of cattle being moved in and Ben had insisted the fence should be checked and repaired prior to their arrival.
The day was hot, and spirits dragging. In Joe’s case, everything that could go wrong was continuing to do so. Within the first hour, he’d dropped a hammer on his foot, fell off the back of the wagon as he was helping Hoss unload the fence posts, and smashed his thumb while digging a post-hole. The constant teasing wasn’t helping and his earlier patience had long since disappeared, leaving in its place an extremely surly attitude that only seemed to goad his brothers into more teasing.
“Hoss, think you can toss me that hammer without dropping it?”
“Why sure, Adam, and you be careful with that post-hole digger. Wouldn’t want you to smash anything . . .”
Another round of laughter proved to be too much for Little Joe. Throwing a look of contempt at his siblings, he gathered his gun belt and hat then moved over to the side of his horse. After checking the cinch strap carefully, he vaulted into the saddle only to find himself not landing in the saddle, but dropping to the ground below his horse’s feet.
Running feet could be heard then seen as Joe looked up from his place below Cochise. Shaking his head, he allowed himself to be pulled to his feet by Hoss. Adam grabbed his shoulders in an effort to look him over.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Leave me alone. It was just a little fall, nothin’s hurt.”
“That was quite a show, little brother. Cochise must’ve been off-balance on this slope and she took a step to the side just as you started to mount. You’re lucky you didn’t hit your head when you went down.”
“Well, I didn’t, so you can quit fussin’ over me, now. I’m fine.”
Dusting himself off, Joe pushed past his brothers and to his horse. Rubbing his hands gently over her neck and side, he stepped carefully in the stirrup and mounted slowly. The pinto moved in response to its rider, and the two galloped away, but not before Joe heard a burst of laughter and a warning to be careful.
“Watch out, Shortshanks, this sure isn’t your lucky day.”
“Yeah, kid, maybe you’d better go back to the ranch and take a nap. You’d be safer in your bed. Or would you?”
Another burst of laughter ensued, but Joe didn’t bother to answer or respond to his brothers, he merely kicked Cochise in the side again as they headed for home.
It was almost noon when Adam and Hoss rode up to the barn. There were plenty of chores left for the afternoon, but the two men were relieved to have a brief respite, which would include one of Hop Sing’s delicious meals. Having taken a few extra minutes to unhitch the team, Hoss found Adam and Ben already in the middle of a heated discussion when he entered the house.
“But Pa, he rode out over two hours ago. Hoss and I figured he’d headed back here.”
“What’s got into you boys? Always prodding him. Can’t you figure out when enough is enough? There’s too much work to be done around here, and I don’t have time to go looking for a lost son who’s out moping around like a six year old because his older brothers are picking on him.”
Hoss strode up to his father, anxious to calm the man. Ben was quickly working himself into a temper, and neither son had any desire to see that happen.
“Aw, Pa, you know Joe hasn’t gone off to sulk somewhere. He probably just stopped to work with the broncs. You know he was planning to do that this afternoon. Anyways, we were just joshin’ him, like we always do.”
“Yes, like you always do. That’s the point. He was obviously having a bad day, and you two just kept rubbing it in. Don’t you think we deserve at least one peaceful day around here?”
The question was never answered as the men’s conversation was interrupted by the click of the latch on the front door. Watching expectantly, the three stood transfixed as the heavy door move slowly inward. For a moment, Ben wondered if there was anyone behind the door, but he suddenly had to choke down his laughter as the subject in question appeared before him.
The young man stood in the doorway, hat tilted forward severely as if to hide his face. However, there were no distinct features to hide. The brown mask completely hid the man from head to toe behind its cover; only the whites of his eyes betrayed the presence hidden there. A hand moved stiffly to remove the hat, revealing a familiar mop of curls interlaced with more of the peculiar brown material.
Coughing loudly in an effort to cover his amusement, Ben struggled to gain his composure before speaking to the boy. Unfortunately, he was unable to control himself as a fit of laughter overtook him, and bending over, he grasped his sides as he gave in to the comical site before him. The forlorn figure, however, was not amused. In fact, the more chuckling he heard, the angrier he became. Joe slapped his mud-covered hand against his leg as he stomped past his father and brothers, and none of them spoke as he stormed up the staircase. Ben slipped into the nearest chair, his sides aching. Tears streamed down Adam’s face and he clutched the back of the settee in an effort to remain standing. Hoss was doubled over, his shoulders visibly shaking with laughter. Not even the sound of a door being slammed shut could stop them.
It was some time later when a relatively clean Joe Cartwright emerged from his room and headed downstairs. After washing up as best he could without taking time for a full bath, the young man had to admit the whole affair was a bit funny. The problem was, there had been too many things that were amusing his family today, all of them at his expense.
Seating himself quietly in his chair at the dining table, he was relieved to note that no one was watching him. In fact, it almost seemed as if the members of his family were going out of their way to ignore him. He wondered for a moment, what his father might have said to his brothers then dismissed the whole affair from his mind as he grabbed a fork and started to eat.
Ben, however, wasn’t about to let the matter go. Watching his youngest son working his way diligently through his noonday meal, he finally could contain himself no longer.
“Well, Joe, are you going to keep us in suspense, or are you going to tell us what happened?”
Laying his fork down carefully, Joe stared at his father for only a moment before making his decision. Might as well get it over with.
“Just had a little accident, Pa.”
“Yes, I could see that. But what exactly caused the . . uh . .accident?”
Joe could feel his brothers’ eyes boring into him, anxiously waiting to hear what kind of scrape their youngest brother had gotten himself into. He knew they wouldn’t be disappointed.
“Yeah, Pa. I was riding home and when I crossed the creek, there was one of the yearling calves caught in the mud along that swampy area. I stopped to get it out, and . . well, you saw what happened.”
There were no sounds of laughter this time, and Joe slowly looked around. Although the humor was obvious in their eyes, none of them gave in to the temptation. The young man was grateful for that at least. However, the teasing which followed was almost worse.
“You know, little brother, it’s probably not a good idea for you to go back out today. Maybe it’d be best if you just stayed in the house with Pa. That way you’d be safe from any more of that bad luck that’s been houndin’ ya.”
“Yeah, kid, it probably has something to do with the date, or maybe you’ve fallen under some evil spell. I agree with Hoss, you’d better stay home, where you’ll be safe.”
“Well, but you know, Adam, he might not be safe here either. Remember what happened in his very own bed this morning? And don’t forget his little mishap on the stairs. Seems like there might’n be any safe place for our little brother today.”
Ben listened to the good-natured ribbing for a few minutes, but he quickly realized that the one being teased, was not taking it too well. The anger on Joe’s face was evident, and Ben recalled his earlier chiding of his older sons.
“Alright, alright. That’s enough boys. Let Joe eat his meal, then you all get yourselves back to work. This ranch can’t run itself, and there’s a lot of work left to be done.”
The group fell to eating and in a short time were pushing themselves away from the table. Ben watched as Adam and Hoss hurried to strap on their gun belts and reach for their hats. Hoss was heading into town for a load of supplies, while Adam planned to work with Joe on finishing up a string of horses for the army. Though most were already green-broke, there were a few stubborn ones that needed some additional work, and Ben was anxious to have that task out of the way. But as Joe stood and slowly followed his brothers to the door, Ben felt a strange stab of apprehension.
“Joe, are you sure you want to work those horses today?”
“Sure, Pa. Why wouldn’t I?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Just thought that you might want to wait and start in the morning.”
“No, I’ll get started on them now. I know you want to have them ready before that Army captain shows up, and I think Adam and I can finish them this afternoon.”
Ben watched his son closely, the uneasy feeling growing as Joe moved carefully to retrieve his hat from the peg next to the door. Out front, Adam was already mounted on Sport and waiting impatiently for his brother.
“Come on, Joe, let’s get started. Or are you going to go hide in bed for the rest of the day?”
An answering chuckle was heard from their middle brother as Hoss climbed into the wagon.
“You be careful now, Little Joe. Sure don’t want to hear about Adam havin’ to pull ya out of a cactus bush, or somethin’.”
The large man’s laughter carried back to them as he drove away. Joe’s answer was to shove his hat down on his head as he strode over to Cochise. Grabbing the reins, he vaulted into the saddle and kicked his horse into a gallop. Ben watched as his sons rode out to perform their respective chores, a wide grin his only comment on their youthful enthusiasm. However, he couldn’t seem to shake the unusual feeling that he should’ve stopped Joe.
Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for him to go out today. . .
As the two rode toward the corral where the broncs were being held, Adam chanced several glances at his brother. He realized the amusing incidents of the day were weighing heavy on Joe’s mind, and he also knew how important it was to have your wits about you while attempting to ride one of these wild horses. For whatever reason, Joe had been experiencing a string of comedic errors; now Adam sought a way to reassure the young man. He made a silent promise not to chide his brother in front of the hands, but somehow felt he needed to do more.
The holding pen was in sight when Joe slowed his horse to a walk. It was then that Adam made his decision and reigned in Sport.
The pinto was pulled to a halt, but there was no answer from his rider.
“Joe, it was just a string of accidents that are over now. I’m sorry about laughing at you.”
Adam was almost surprised when a thin voice answered readily.
“It’s alright, Adam. I guess it was pretty funny. But you have to admit, it wouldn’t have been funny if those things had happened to you.”
“You’re right. But you also have to admit, you’d have been laughing just as hard if those things had happened to Hoss.”
The young man’s familiar giggle relieved the tension, and the two brothers shared a light-hearted moment before continuing toward the corral.
The problems, which had plagued Joe earlier in the day, seemed to have disappeared. With each successful ride, the young man felt more like himself, confident and proud of the ease with which he handled the wild horses. Adam took turns working the wild stock and within hours, the string of horses was almost ready for delivery. Only two horses remained in the holding pen, one of them already having been ridden once, the other had never felt the weight of a man on his back. Watching the roan carefully as the animal moved restlessly inside the pen, Joe overheard several of the hands talking.
“You know, Hank, that one has a look about him.”
“What kind of a look?”
“The look of the devil.”
“Oh, Tom, you’re just superstitious.”
“Maybe so, but if I am, then today’s the day for it.”
Joe stared at the men in wonder, unable to comprehend what they were referring to. After all, it was merely an animal standing there before them, an animal that would bring a fair payment to his father, thereby a profit for the Ponderosa. Shaking his head at the men’s strange behavior, Joe walked over to the gate and motioned for Adam.
“Which one you want, older brother?”
“Guess I’ll take that roan, Joe. Looks like he has a lot of fight in him, might be we’ll both have to spend some time on him.”
“I was thinking the same thing. Only problem is, I was planning to ride him first.”
“Well, kid, I’m the oldest, and I say I’m riding him first.”
The two grinned at each other, their spirits raised by the productive afternoon they’d experienced.
“How ‘bout we flip for it?”
“Alright, but I’ll supply the coin.”
Adam’s insinuation that Joe might cheat was greeted by outright laughter, not only by Joe, but also by the rest of the hands. Pulling a shiny coin from his pocket, Adam flipped the silvery piece of metal in the air as Joe picked his call. Staring at the deciding coin, which now lay in the powdery dust at their feet, Joe’s resounding yell was the answer to his definitive win.
“Okay, older brother, I’ll show you how it’s done.”
Joe was happy to see that Hank and Tom had saddled the wilder of the two horses, and were even now holding him in position for the next rider to mount. Striding toward the group, Joe straightened his chaps and adjusted his gloves. Reaching the horse’s side, the anxious rider took several minutes to check the saddle for himself. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust the men working for them, yet after his experiences that day, he felt it wise to take no unnecessary chances.
Satisfied that all was well, Joe reached up to grab the pommel, then pulled himself carefully into the saddle. Lowering himself gently onto the roan’s back, Joe watched and waited for several seconds as nothing happened. The men had removed the blindfold from the animal and were even now waiting on top of the rail fence to see the show. Still the horse stood quietly, the only obvious movement being its ears as they flipped back and forth, listening closely to the sounds around it.
But from high atop the horse, Joe knew there were other more subtle movements taking place. The animal was alive with motions that only the rider could feel, and within moments, the straining muscles unleashed their power as the wild horse began to buck. Adam drew in a breath as he watched his brother move with the roan. Joe had been fully prepared for the onslaught, and the graceful way he handled the powerful steed was not only amazing, but also a joy to watch.
Around and around the paddock the pair went. Each buck and kick the wild horse made was designed to remove the offending creature from his back. But the man perched there had no intention of being dislodged. Years of experience along with plenty of natural ability, kept the young man firmly attached to the saddle. His arm swung out behind him with each movement, his back arched to accept the rough treatment the animal was serving up.
It was some time before the animal began to slow its pace, and Adam couldn’t help thinking that Joe must be getting tired. After all, they’d been at this for most of the afternoon. But he was proud of his younger brother’s ride, and joined in the cheers of the ranch hands.
Looking around, Adam realized that several of the men were already riding over to help Little Joe dismount. As Adam started to drop down from the fence in preparation for his next ride, a shrill call from one of the other horses caught his attention. The high-pitched neigh was not that unusual. What was peculiar was the strange affect it had on the horse Joe was riding. Having already kicked his feet from the stirrups in order to slid off his mount and over to the back of the other horse, Joe was in no position to regain control of a bucking horse. But that was exactly what he was forced to do as the animal reacted to the wild call.
For several minutes, the corral was alive with activity. Two horses shot out of the way, their riders fighting for control as the terrified animals dodged the kicking feet of the wild horse. On its back, the young man, who moments before had breathed a sigh of relief at the end of his ride, was now struggling to curb the animal’s renewed attempt at freedom. Adam wasn’t even aware that he was yelling until he found himself gagging on the dust in his throat. His eyes never left the form clinging to the roan’s back, more accurately they didn’t leave the sight of Joe trying to regain control. The struggle lasted only seconds, but to Adam it seemed like hours. It felt like he was frozen in place, his leg hooked over the top rail of the corral, hands clutching the wood instinctively. Only when Adam realized his brother’s body was no longer on top of the horse but was now plunging to the earth, did he finally move.
Springing from the fence, Adam was at Joe’s side in an instant. The young man’s crumpled form was lying amidst the broken railings of the east side of the corral, and Adam was almost afraid to touch his brother. Rolling Joe over gently, Adam began to check for broken bones even as he shouted orders to the men.
“Tom, ride into town and get Doc Martin. Have him meet us at the ranch.”
“Hank, get back to the house and tell Pa what’s happened. Then bring the buckboard out here as fast as you can.”
“Dave, get my canteen for me.”
“Billy, let’s get some of these fence rails out of the way so we can lay him down flat.”
The men rushed to complete their tasks while several of the other hands worked to control the horse that was still in the corral. It wasn’t long before the roan was safely penned with the other horses, and Adam glanced back at the animal that was now standing quietly by the fence. He knew there was no sense in blaming the horse. The animal was just reacting naturally when his freedom was threatened. But Adam prayed silently that the frightened animal hadn’t permanently harmed his brother.
“Mr. Cartwright. Mr. Cartwright! Come quick!”
Jumping up from his desk, Ben hurried to open the front door, just in time to see Hank coming out of the barn leading a team of horses. Hurrying across the yard, he stopped in front of the man, looking for some explanation for his strange actions.
”Hank, what is it? What’s happened?”
“It’s Little Joe, Mr. Cartwright. He took a fall off one of those broncs he was ridin’. Tom’s already went for the doc, and Adam wanted me to let you know.”
Ben’s voice was terse as he answered. “How bad’s he hurt?”
“Don’t know. He hadn’t come around yet when I left. But it looked pretty bad, Mr. Cartwright.”
Turning on his heels, Ben rushed towards the house, shouting back across his shoulder as he ran.
“Wait for me, Hank. I’ll be right with you.”
Charging through the front door, Ben hollered for Hop Sing as he gathered an armful of blankets.
“What Mr. Cartwright yelling for? No yell in house unless mad at boys. What wrong now?”
“Hop Sing, Joe’s been hurt. Someone’s already went for Doc Martin. I’m riding out with the buckboard and we’ll be bringing Joe back as quick as we can. You be ready.”
The string of Chinese that floated back as the little man hurried toward the kitchen brought a fleeting smile to Ben’s face. He knew how much Hop Sing loved Little Joe and he could already imagine the pampering that would be bestowed on the young man as he recuperated. The smile turned to a frown as the worried father pondered that last thought.
Heading quickly toward the waiting buckboard, Ben threw the blankets in the back. He climbed swiftly up to the seat even as Hank slapped the reins across the back of the team. Seconds later, dust was settling in the yard as the team raced toward the injured man.
The streets of Virginia City were fairly deserted this time of day. Most of the miners and ranch hands were still busy at work. Hoss had almost completed the list of duties his pa had given him, and was anxious to stop at the saloon for a quick beer before heading back to the ranch. Just as he was tossing the last sack of grain onto the wagon, a familiar figure raced by. Hoss watched with troubled curiosity as the man pulled his lathered horse to an abrupt stop in front of the doctor’s office. Vaulting from the saddle, Tom was up the steps and through the door in seconds.
Without realizing he’d even moved a step, Hoss was halfway down the street when the doctor hurried down the steps, tossing his black bag in his buggy as he climbed in. Before the big man could reach him, Doc Martin was driving away, the buggy already gathering speed. Reaching Tom’s side, Hoss could tell the man was winded, almost as bad as his horse.
“Tom, what happened? Somebody get hurt?”
The ranch hand knew how close the two younger Cartwright brothers were, and he didn’t want to be the one to convey bad news. Almost afraid to reply, Tom stalled for a moment, but the big man gripped his arm, demanding an answer. Realizing there was no use in putting off the inevitable, Tom finally turned to face Hoss, fully aware of the concerned look on the man’s face.
“It’s Little Joe. He took a nasty fall of that big roan. Adam sent me in for the doctor while they moved him down to the house.”
There was no answer to his question and Hoss was losing his patience.
“Tom, how bad?”
“Don’t know for sure, but he didn’t look good.”
Hoss stood stock still as the realization hit him. His little brother, the happy go lucky kid who could nearly drive them crazy at times, was hurt. And this man in front of him was telling him Joe was in bad shape. Suddenly, Hoss moved into action.
“Tom, you tie that horse of yours to the wagon and take it back to the Ponderosa. I’ll get a horse at the livery and head home.”
Not waiting for an answer, but knowing the trusted hand would follow his orders, Hoss raced across the street and into the livery stable. Before Tom finished tying his horse to the wagon, Hoss was already riding out of town towards home.
As he rode, Hoss thought back over the events of the morning. Every laugh, every jibe came back to him, and his heart was filled with regret. He knew his brother had been having a bad day, but did he do anything to relieve the stress? The answer, of course, was no. Both he and Adam had taken every opportunity to tease and torment their little brother. Kicking the stable horse in an effort to increase his speed, Hoss prayed that he’d have a chance to make it up to Little Joe.
Adam continued to kneel in the dirt next to his injured brother. The broken fence boards lay scattered about, a vivid reminder of how hard the boy had landed against them. Several of the men were standing above Joe in an effort to shield him from the burning sun, but even with that protection, Adam could see a thin sheen of perspiration on the kid’s face. Some of the men had suggested moving Joe into the shade of the tree line, but Adam had been reluctant to move his brother.
After checking for broken bones, he was fairly sure that the main injury was a dislocated shoulder and several cracked ribs. Though painful, these injuries would heal much quicker than a broken arm or leg. What worried Adam the most was the gash on Joe’s head. It had bled freely at first, but they’d been able to staunch the flow, which was now a mere trickle. The lump above his right ear, however, seemed to have grown in size. Adam had tried several times to rouse him, but there had been no response. Now the men merely waited quietly, knowing there was nothing more they could do until the doctor arrived.
It seemed like hours before they heard the sound of the approaching buckboard. Even though his back ached with the strain of his position, Adam would not leave his brother’s side. But the relief he felt at the sight of his father was immeasurable.
Ben took control immediately. After jumping from the buckboard, the worried father was instantly beside his son, checking Joe’s condition and shouting orders. In short order, the men had used one of the wide boards that Hank had brought back to carry Joe over to the buckboard. Now that the young man was loaded safely in back, with blankets carefully tucked around him to make the ride as painless as possible, Ben nodded to Hank and they began the slow journey home.
If Joe had been able to open his eyes, he might have been surprised to see both his father and oldest brother perched beside him. One was holding his shoulder to keep the bumpy journey from causing further damage. The other was gently cradling his head, while whispering silent prayers for his son. But the young man was oblivious to the activity around him. Only an occasional moan escaped his lips as the buckboard moved slowly towards home.
The sound of voices in the yard brought Hop Sing running from his preparations. Holding the door, he watched as the men carried his favorite Cartwright into the house. Ben quickly dismissed the idea of placing his son on the settee; its narrow width would not allow the doctor the room needed to tend Joe’s shoulder. Instead, the entourage moved carefully up the steps and down the hall to Little Joe’s room. After his son was settled on his bed, Ben quickly dismissed the men and began his ministrations.
With Adam’s help, they carefully removed Joe’s shirt, revealing the hideous bruises, which were now forming on his side. As Adam had suspected, the shoulder was dislocated, but neither man touched the area, waiting instead for the doctor. Within a short time, they were rewarded with his presence. Both men were surprised but relieved to see that Hoss was with him, and the family gathered at the end of Joe’s bed as Doc Martin checked over his patient.
Even though he knew it hurt them to see Joe injured, Paul was glad to have their assistance as he worked to set the young man’s shoulder. He was also relieved that the young man had not regained consciousness. It would be that much easier to perform this feat without causing the boy any more pain. But after the shoulder was back in place, Joe’s arm firmly bound against his side to keep it immobile while the shoulder healed, Paul began to fret. The young man should’ve come to by now, and with each passing hour, the doctor was increasingly worried about the severity of the boy’s head injury.
Ben sat next to Joe’s bed, his presence a constant during the past four hours. His concern and worry had turned into outright fear as the young man continued to remain oblivious to his surroundings. Moving a lock of hair off his son’s forehead, the father studied his child’s face, scrutinizing it for any sign of consciousness.
Standing by the window, Hoss focused a worried stare on his brother’s horse in the paddock below. As the minutes ticked by, the man’s level of guilt rose. Guilt, not for the accident, but for the shabby treatment he’d given his brother that morning. Now that the sun was setting behind the Sierra’s, the end of the day at hand, Hoss couldn’t imagine what it would be like to get up each morning and not have his little brother there with them. Yet remembering, vividly, his first look at Joe that morning, Hoss couldn’t stop the slight grin that twitched the corners of his mouth. Joe was a sight for sure, lying on the floor all tangled up in the bedclothes. Looking at his brother now, his grin faded. How would they go on if this injury silenced the family’s youngest member for good?
Adam sat across the room, his silent demeanor belaying the rapid pounding of his heart. As he watched his father care for Joe, he was suddenly overcome with emotion. It seemed so clear, somehow, how much this boy meant to not only the family as a whole, but to himself in particular. There were so many instances where the oldest and youngest were at odds with each other, yet the bond between them was strong. Adam knew the kid loved him, he just hoped that Joe was aware of the love his eldest brother felt for him in return.
Stepping into the doorway, Doc Martin casually assessed the mood of the room. The family was gathered together, again, to watch over its youngest member. Paul wondered if anyone was keeping count of the number of times this same scene had played out. But the humor of the situation was lost on him as he worried over his friends. He knew how important this young man was to his father and brothers, and the doctor would do anything in his power to make the boy well again. Unfortunately, this time the outcome was out of his hands. After checking Joe’s pulse and breathing, the doctor sat tiredly on a chair across from Ben, and quietly joined the vigil.
The first sound Joe recognized was the deep voice of his father. The only problem was, Joe couldn’t make out any of the words. Straining to make sense of the situation, the young man wondered, oddly, where he was. Everything seemed so confusing, almost like his mind was in turmoil. He fought to remember the last thing he was doing before this, but everything seemed shrouded in a gray fog that he could not escape from.
There was a light around him, which seemed blinding even behind closed eyelids, but something told him that if he would open his eyes, all of his questions would be answered. Finally giving into the temptation, Joe slowly opened his eyes slightly. Even through this small expanse, he instantly recognized that he was in his own room, and the light that seemed so bright was merely a lamp placed close to his bed. But this knowledge didn’t seem to help him understand. Once more his mind reeled with questions that could not, or would not find answers.
Opening his eyes a little farther, Joe realized his father was watching him intently, and that the words he’d heard earlier were probably directed at him. But again, the knowledge did not help, as his mind could not focus on the outside world. It seemed as if his whole being was straining to figure out what had happened to him and why.
Slowly, Joe became more aware of his surroundings, and it was also becoming clear that something serious must have happened. Several attempts at moving his arm had brought sharp pain to his shoulder, and any movement at all caused his head to ache with alarming intensity. Looking past his father, Joe realized that Hoss was standing in the room, and by carefully moving his head just the slightest bit, he could make out Adam’s form at the end of his bed. Now a hand was reaching for his wrist, and he recognized the presence of Doctor Martin. It was then that several pieces of Joe’s memory slipped into place.
Horse. I fell off a horse. No, that wasn’t Cochise. That was my bed. But wait, that was when I got up this morning. I fell down the stairs after that, so I must be in my bed again. But what happened? There was the fence, and then the calf. Uh . . . horses! Adam and I were working with the horses in the lower corral. I was riding that roan. . .
The day’s events were finally clear to Joe, and he looked back at his pa and found himself staring into a face lined with worry. His strong love for his father overrode any feeling of pain or discomfort, and the older man’s past hours of concern were erased by Joe’s first words.
“Well, what happened to me this time?”
The laughter that erupted from the others caused Joe’s head to swim, but as he looked into his father’s eyes, he forgot the hurt. The tears he saw there were tears of joy, and that knowledge was enough to relieve the young man from any distress. As Ben stroked his arm, Joe watched Hoss and Adam clap each other on the back. Their laughter was filled with love, and Joe was happy to be a witness to their emotions.
However, the doctor put an abrupt end to their demonstrations.
“Quiet down, you two. This boy needs some rest. He’s had a hard day, and needs his sleep.”
Adam and Hoss looked at each other, eyes twinkling. Relief and happiness over their brother’s recovery caused their earlier feelings of guilt and remorse to be forgotten. Besides, everyone knew how much these men cared for each other. And they knew that deep down, Joe was aware that their teasing was just another form of that love. Chuckling softly, Hoss was the first to answer the doctor.
“You’re right, Doc, he has had a hard day. First he fell off his bed, then he took a fall down some steps. . .”
Adam was quick to join in: “Yeah, and don’t forget the problems he had building fence.”
“And the calf.” Hoss put in.
All the while, Ben watched his youngest son’s face. There was no trace of bitterness or anger, and he wondered at the calmness Joe displayed at his brother’s teasing Little did he know that the boy was reveling in his brother’s harassment. It was clear to him, for now at least, that they were in some odd way, showing him they cared.
Once again, the doctor interrupted.
“Well, I’ve had quite a few cases today, and some of them have been pretty unusual. But I must say, young man, your day sounds like it takes the prize. I, for one, am glad this kind of day comes around only once in awhile.”
Joe looked from face to face in an effort to understand the doctor’s comments, but no one offered any explanation. Afraid that the aching in his head was causing the confusion, Joe looked at the doctor expectantly.
“What do you mean, Doc, this kind of day?”
“Why, don’t you know what today is, Joe?”
“No. What is today?”
The doctor’s answer was met with another round of laughter, including Joe’s.
“It’s Friday the 13th, of course.”
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