Summary: I’ve written several prequels, but this is my first adult Cartwright story. Joe and Hoss have a falling out and Hoss is deeply hurt by Joe’s actions. Will Joe be able to make things right again? Originally posted on Bonanza World
Rating: K+ 6700
A Penny Saved, A Lesson Learned
The door to the hotel room slowly opened and in walked Hoss Cartwright and his younger brother Joe. The two men had been out on the trail for over two weeks and had reached Virginia City at night fall. They could have pressed on, but figured a good night’s sleep in the hotel would make the journey home much easier in the morning.
Hoss flung his belongings onto the floor and immediately sat down on the bed.
“Boy, I’m just plumb tuckered out, Joe,” he told his brother as he began to pull off his boots.
Joe closed the door behind him and turning towards his brother asked, “You’re not thinking of going to bed are you?”
Little Joe raised his arm above his head and extended his pointer finger upward. “The night life of Virginia City awaits!”
Hoss snickered at his brother’s remark. “I’m afraid it is only waiting for YOU, little brother… All that’s waiting for ME is this here nice soft bed.”
Hoss paused to fluff up one of the pillows.
“You go right ahead and enjoy yourself… just remember that Pa won’t take too kindly if he hears of you causing any trouble.”
Joe walked over to the mirror and adjusted his hat. “Don’t you worry, Hoss. I just plan on getting in a few friendly hands of poker.”
Hoss looked at his brother with a smirk of disgust. “I just don’t understand you, Joe. You just got paid and you want to lose every cent in a poker game? Haven’t ya heard about savin’ for a rainy day?”
Joe turned towards his brother. “Oh sure… And YOU are anxiously waiting to put that money you have in your pocket in the bank come morning?”
Hoss gave his brother a dirty look. “Well at least I can hold on to money longer than you can.”
Joe’s words joggled his brother’s memory and Hoss reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a well worn piece of paper wrapped around a considerable amount of money. It was an ad from the mercantile for a fancy new rifle. One he had had his eyes on for several months. He unfolded the paper and held it up to Joe.
“Ain’t she a beaut?” he questioned.
Joe rolled his eyes and snickered at his brother’s childish antics. “Do you know how many times you’ve shown me that picture in the last four months?”
Hoss paid no mind to Joe’s comment. He smiled broadly as he admired the ad once more.
Joe began teasing. “Besides, what are you going to do with it once you get it, brother? You certainly don’t plan on using it, do you? It would tarnish all that fine detail.”
Hoss looked over at Joe with a pout on his face. “Well, little brother, you can laugh if you want to but come tomorrow I plan on buying one of these here rifles and then we’ll see who’s doing the laughing.”
He took one last glance at it and folded it back up around the money. He then put everything back into his pocket neat and tidy, making sure to give his pocket a reassuring little pat.
Joe just shook his head as he walked over to the door. He then turned towards his brother and speaking in baby talk said, “Oh, now don’t you forget to put that ad under your pillow so you’ll have sweet dreams, Hoss-y.”
Hoss grabbed the pillow from the bed and chucked it across the room. Joe managed to exit just in time as the pillow hit the door and fell to the floor. Hoss just shook his head as he heard his brother’s infamous laugh trail down the hallway.
He softly said to himself, “You just wait, little brother… we’ll see who gets the last laugh.”
It didn’t take long for Joe to get involved in a good poker game. It also didn’t take him long to lose most of his hard earned money. It was an honest game that just didn’t seem to be going in Joe’s favor. The other three men had at least won some hands, but not Joe. He had been on the losing end every single time. Old Harry, the luckiest at the table that evening, looked over at Joe. He could tell the young man was defeated and only had but a few more coins left from his night of gambling.
He quietly asked, “Don’t you think you’ve lost enough there, Joe?”
Joe shot a dirty look across the table at the man. He wasn’t about to be a quitter.
“Oh, just deal the cards, Harry, Joe said in disgust. “But, be forewarned… Luck can change, you know.”
The men around the table snickered. Old Harry was having one lucky night.
The game then continued.
Harry broke the silence a few moments later. Looking at his cards he said, “I tried to give you a chance to leave with something in your pocket, Joe, but you just wouldn’t have it.”
“The games not over, yet, Harry,” Joe muttered. He then shot Harry a disgusted look before averting his eyes back to his cards.
They weren’t much to brag about that was for sure. Joe looked down at his remaining few coins. This was it. He’d be wiped out if he lost this hand. He had to bluff. He smiled a coy smile and confidently threw his remaining coins into the pot. “Perhaps luck is changing?” he boldly remarked, then waited.
The other two men at the table fell for Joe’s scheme and folded, throwing their cards down in the pile. Not old Harry, though. He sat staring at the young man for quite a few moments before taking the same amount of coins from his steadily growing winnings and matching Joe’s bet.
“Let’s see what you got there, young fellow,” he said leaning into the table for a closer look. Joe’s expression changed abruptly. His eyes quickly scanned Harry’s face. After a moment, he tossed his cards face down into the pile and softly muttered, “You win.” The men laughed.
Joe began to rise from the table and Harry, being the gentleman that he was, extended his hand out to Joe. “Good game, Cartwright,” he said. Joe begrudgingly accepted his hand, but said nothing, for he hated to give up on anything.
Suddenly an idea came to him. He still had plenty of hours left to earn back his losses. “This losing streak can’t last forever. My luck is bound to change soon,” he thought, trying hard to convince himself.
He looked at Harry and the other men. “I said you won that hand …but the night is still young gentlemen.” The men looked at him dumbfounded.
“Now son,” Harry said. “I think enough is enough…”
“Listen, Harry. You should at least give me a chance to win something back. Just give me a moment, okay?” Joe did not wait for an answer and quickly exited the saloon.
The door to the hotel room quietly opened and Little Joe peered in at his sleeping brother. He could tell by the deep snores exuding from his brother’s mouth that he was soundly asleep.
“A stampede of wild horses couldn’t wake him,” Joe thought. He tiptoed into the room and walked over to his brother’s clothes.
Turning towards his sleeping brother, Joe whispered, “You won’t mind if I take a little loan, will you brother … Especially if I double your money in the process?”
He then quickly took the wrapped money out and removed the ad from around it. He shoved the money into his pocket and tossed the ad onto the desk. It slipped off and fell to the floor. Joe saw it fall, but paid no mind. He had to get back to that poker game.
The next morning, Joe was abruptly awakened by his brother Hoss.
“Joe, Joe, wake up! Dadburnit… Wake up I say!” Hoss shook Joe vigorously, to arouse him.
“What’s going on?” Joe sleepily inquired. He had only been to bed for maybe an hour at most.
“Joe, we’ve been robbed!” Hoss informed him. “Come on, we’ve got to get over to the jail and let the sheriff know.”
Hoss whacked at his brother’s legs to help them find the floor. Joe sat up on the edge of the bed. He was groggy and he hadn’t come to his full senses. Suddenly the realization hit him as to what his brother was ranting about. Hoss was fumbling around the room trying to get dressed all the time muttering about the money missing from his pocket. It was a few more moments before Joe found his voice.
Hoss paid no mind. He walked over to Joe and helped him to his feet by grabbing his arm. “Come on Joe get a move on. I told ya we’ve been robbed.”
Joe stood up and faced his brother. He nervously rubbed the back of his neck and shakily spoke. “You… You weren’t robbed, Hoss.”
Hoss gave his brother a puzzled looked. “What do you mean, Joe?” Hoss could tell by Joe’s fidgeting that there was more to this story than met the eye.
Joe turned and distanced himself from his brother. He heaved a huge sigh and, rubbing the side of his head, softly said, “I don’t know where to begin.”
Hoss’s face now had a scowl upon it. “Joe, you better tell me what’s going on.”
“Well… you see… it just wasn’t my lucky night at poker is all.” Joe sheepishly looked over towards Hoss to monitor his reaction.
Hoss’s brow furrowed. “What do you mean it wasn’t YOUR night at poker?” he questioned.
“Well… I… a … sort of took a loan from you last night while you were sleeping.” Joe cringed, waiting for the anticipated explosion.
Hoss looked at his brother stunned. He then responded in a low steady voice. “I want my money, Joe.”
Joe, swallowed hard. “Well… I kind of lost it all…”
Hoss immediately moved to within inches of his brother. Joe’s eyes scanned upwards at his brother’s ominous stature. He then quickly added “But I plan to pay you back… every penny of it, Hoss.”
Hoss inhaled deeply as he stared down at Joe’s nervous face and pleading eyes.
He coldly reiterated his brother’s comment, “You plan to pay me back.”
Suddenly, Joe noticed a changed in his brother’s expression. The anger had dissipated from his eyes and he just stood there staring at Joe showing no expression whatsoever.
After a moment of silence, Hoss spoke again. “That tweren’t your money to spend, Joe,” is all he said. He then quietly picked up his few belongings and headed out the door.
Joe was shocked and it took a moment for him to gather his senses. It wasn’t the reaction he was expecting. He quickly gathered his belongings and headed down to the lobby. His brother had not waited for him.
As he headed out the door, the hotel clerk noticed Joe. “Your brother said you would be paying for the room, Mr. Cartwright?”
Joe rolled his eyes and walked over to the man. “Well… a… can you…put it on my father’s tab?”
The man politely acknowledge, “Certainly, sir.”
Joe walked out and over to the stables. The owner quickly informed Joe that Hoss had already picked up his horse, leaving him to pay for the charges. Joe sighed. He didn’t expect his brother to be so mad about what he had done. He again had to ask the man to put the charges on his father’s account. As Joe hopped up on his horse, he inwardly cringed at the thought of his father’s reaction upon finding out about the outstanding bills in town.
It took quite a while for Joe to make up ground, but finally he could see his brother in the distance meandering down the road towards home. He hurried to catch up with him.
Joe galloped up alongside his brother and lessened his horse’s gait to match the pace. The two brothers rode quietly along for some time.
Finally, Joe couldn’t stand it any longer and made the first attempt to break the silence. “I told you I was sorry, Hoss. I’ll pay you back… I promise.”
He then focused in on his brother’s face to monitor his reaction. There was no expression. He just kept looking straight ahead as if he were all alone.
This frustrated Joe. “C’mon Hoss… what good is this doing?” Again, his older brother had nothing to say.
Joe decided to try and rationalize his actions. “Hoss, you’ve loaned me money before… I didn’t think you’d mind… I didn’t want to wake you because you were so exhausted is all.”
At these words, Hoss shot Joe a hurtful glare. Joe averted his eyes for he knew it was a weak excuse. “Well, at least I said something that warranted a response,” he thought.
Then Little Joe’s temper started to rise. “Well, be that way, then. Sooner or later you’ll have to talk to me.” Joe waited, but again there was no response.
He thought he knew his brother well. Hoss was always forgiving, not only to family but to anyone in general. Why was he making this so hard for him?
After a moment, Joe decided to give it one more try. “Hoss…I thought you weren’t the type to hold a grudge… let alone with your brother… your true flesh and blood.” Joe watched for a reaction.
Hoss hung his head and Joe took it as a sign he was relenting. Joe soon found out, however, that his assumption was wrong.
After a moment, Hoss heaved a sigh and spoke out softly, taking care not to look in his brother’s direction. He matter-of-factly said, “It just tweren’t your money to take, Joe.” Then he kicked his horse and galloped off leaving Joe in the dust.
Joe decided to leave well enough alone for the time being. He kept a comfortable distance from his brother the rest of the way back to the ranch. When they arrived at home, they were greeted by both Adam and their Pa.
“Well, now Adam. Look what the cat drug in.” Ben Cartwright playfully greeted his two boys. Neither acknowledged his comment.
Ben and Adam exchanged questioning looks. Hoss dismounted and began to loosen the cinch on his saddle.
Adam spoke next. He walked up to Hoss and patted him on the back. “Well now we’ve all been waiting to see that fancy rifle you planned on bringing home with you…”
Adam’s voice trailed off as his brother abruptly shot him a dirty look and quickly started walking his horse towards the barn. That left Joe there all by himself.
By now Ben’s face was showing signs of concern. “Joe, what’s going on with your brother?” he questioned.
Oh no! What could Joe say? He quickly dismounted and started walking in the same direction as his brother. “He probably just inhaled too much trail dust Pa.”
Ben and Adam watched the two travelers meander their way towards the barn. After a moment, it was Adam who first broke the silence.
“I wonder what my little brother has gone and done now?” he stated.
He then began walking towards the house. Ben was about to question Adam on his accusation, but decided it best to leave well enough alone for now. He took one final look and then followed behind Adam.
A week passed. Joe and Hoss had very little interaction. Ben and Adam were still in the dark about exactly what happened. The only thing they had noticed was that Joe seemed all of sudden eager to earn extra money. He was taking on any extra jobs around the ranch and working long hours. Hoss seemed to be dwelling on something. He spoke little, ate little, and kept an obvious distance from Joe. Ben was deeply concerned about what was happening between his two boys. He had hoped they would be able to work it out, but not knowing what had happened made it difficult for him to assist in the matter.
One evening after supper, Ben’s patience finally gave way. The dinner table was meant for the family to gather together and share in the events of the day. It was a bonding time, not a dividing time.
Ben drew the attention of his sons by clearing his throat loudly and setting his utensils down. He then rested his elbows on the table and cupped his hands below his chin. His eyes scanned to all three sons before he spoke.
“Now, I have been patient with this matter, but enough is enough.” Ben’s voice started out low and steady, building to a higher volume. “I want to know what happened between you two and I want to know NOW! I refuse to sit back any longer and watch this family be torn apart over some foolishness.”
Ben’s words were only met by silence, which frustrated him all the more. He sighed deeply and said, “Alright then… Perhaps you two can begin by explaining to me why I had two outstanding bills in town.” Ben slammed one palm down on the table, and three heads jumped in unison.
Hoss shot Joe a look and his brother immediately looked down. Ben could tell that Joe was guilty of something. He knew he could always rely on Hoss for answers so he turned his full attention to his middle son. “Well, Hoss? Care to start?”
Hoss began to shake his head no, but then he inadvertently made eye contact with his Pa and he could tell that he meant business. Hoss had always been the honest one… the one that told it like it was. But this time he was determined not to be the one that opened everything up. He swallowed hard.
“No more…” Hoss said. “Joe will have to tell you himself, Pa.”
Hoss immediately arose from the table and started towards the stairs. Joe could see that his brother was trying to leave him to do all the explaining. Well, he wasn’t going to stand for that. He arose from the table and hastened toward his brother. “Hoss… I’ve apologized and apologized to you and you won’t have any of it.”
Hoss started his ascent up the stairs, paying no mind to his brother. Joe stopped at the base of the stairs and in frustration shouted. “What do you want from me?”
Hoss continued to climb. Just as he reached the top step Joe made one more attempt. “I already have some of the money ready to pay you back!”
This made Hoss pause but for a moment. Without turning to face him, Hoss spoke out. “I don’t want the money, Joe,” is all he said before quietly disappearing around the corner.
Joe stood stunned for a moment. “He doesn’t want the money? Now if that don’t beat all,” he said aloud.
Then he walked over to a nearby chair and walloped it with his fist. He looked up to see his Pa and Adam staring at him from the table. This made him all the madder.
“See…See… he’s just impossible. Well, I’ll tell you one thing… I’m through with this. He’s going to have to come to me now!”
Joe then stormed out the front door.
Ben and Adam sat in silence. Adam could tell that his father was truly frustrated. He still had his elbows on the table, fists clenched under his chin, one hand gently rubbing the other. Adam waited a few moments before saying, “Let me try, Pa.”
Ben nodded and half-heartedly gestured towards the door. Adam arose from the table and walked out to try and find Joe. Joe had made his way to the barn. Adam stepped just inside the door and leaned against the wall, studying his brother. Joe was brushing his horse, Cochise, and was deep in thought, not knowing his brother was present. Adam watched as Joe first brushed vigorously, taking his anger out on the neck of his buddy. The horse let out a whinny of disapproval and Joe gently apologized to his beloved friend.
He started to use softer strokes as he worked his way to the animal’s back. Suddenly, Joe’s demeanor changed. Resting his arms on top of the horse’s back he hung his head. Adam had seen enough.
“Care to tell me about it?” His voice was startling and both brother and horse jumped.
“What’s there to tell?” Joe stated. He began quickly brushing the horse once more. “Hoss just got his nose bent out of shape and he doesn’t seem to plan on straightening it any time soon.”
Adam snickered slightly at his comment then moved closer to Joe.
He put his arm on his brother’s shoulder and softly said, “Joe, Pa’s going to find out sooner or later what happened. We already know that you did something to Hoss, so why not get it out in the open, hmm?”
Adam could tell Joe didn’t know where to begin so he took what information he had overheard and threw it out there to gain response.
“Why do you owe Hoss money?”
Joe shot a look at Adam and he could see the uncertainty in his eyes. “Well… I… sort of borrowed it from him…”
“What do you mean by ‘sort of’? You either did or you didn’t.” Adam simply stated.
Joe heaved a huge sigh then proceeded with a half-hearted confession. “Well I did… but he didn’t exactly know I did…Not until the next morning anyway.”
There was silence. It didn’t take long for Adam to realize what Joe was trying to say. He removed his hand from Joe’s shoulder and stated bluntly
“That sounds more like stealing than borrowing, Joe.”
Joe spun around startled. He glared at Adam. “You take that back!”
Adam eyed his brother for a moment. “Alright, Joe,” he said. “Then why don’t you try to explain it to me in a different way.”
Frustrated, Joe turned away and walked over to the other side of the barn. Adam could barely see him in the shadows, but he could tell his brother was doing some hard thinking. He waited patiently for Joe to make the next move.
Adam’s words had cut to Joe’s heart. Deep down Joe knew that Adam was right. He did take the money without asking, but he never thought of it as stealing… up until now.
From the darkness came Joe’s response. “Adam…” Joe felt tears welling in his eyes. “It WAS… stealing. But Hoss…”
Joe could not continue and hung his head as the tears traveled down his cheeks. Suddenly he felt his brother’s presence. Adam had positioned himself along side him wrapping his arm around his shoulders.
“Sometimes all it takes is for someone to speak the truth, Joe. Now that you realize what you did was wrong we can work towards a solution…together. I’m sure we can find a way to break through our brother’s thick skin.”
Joe snickered at Adam’s words, for he knew usually that anyone could cut through Hoss’s skin with a simple butter knife.
Suddenly, a well known voice startled the two brothers. “Three minds are better than one…” Ben Cartwright simply stated as he walked towards his two sons. He had been quietly listening at the door for several minutes and had witnessed Joe’s acknowledgement.
He took a seat on a nearby bale of hay and leaned back against one of the stall posts. Folding his arms, he then heaved a huge sigh.
“Well, Joseph. We now know you took Hoss’s money… I presume it was the money he had been saving for that rifle. I’m glad you realize what you did was wrong, but what was so important that you needed to… ‘borrow’ these funds without his permission?”
Joe suddenly felt like he was 10 years old. Here he was with his father in the barn having to explain his wrongdoings and knowing full well what his father’s reaction would be. In some ways, he wished he WAS ten again. He would have confessed, his father would have been angry and made him apologize. He then would have received extra chores to pay back the money taken as well as a very ‘necessary talk’ with his father out in the barn. Then all would be forgiven and life would have returned to normal. The only difference was that his brother Adam wouldn’t have been there to witness it all.
Joe looked at his father and saw that stern ‘I’m waiting’ look he so often gave. Perhaps it was a good thing Adam was present. He could at least attempt to save him from his Pa’s wrath once the true reason for taking the money was revealed. “Oh Pa isn’t going to like this,” Joe thought.
It took a moment longer for Joe to find his voice. “Well… um… when we got into town, Hoss was tired and wanted to just go to bed. I wasn’t tired, so I decided to go down to the saloon and get into a friendly game of poker.” Joe paused, glancing only briefly at his Pa and then to Adam to monitor their reactions. Neither said a word, but their expressions were that of disgust.
Joe then nervously continued. “Well… old Harry was there with two other guys and asked me to join in…Well… I felt real lucky and took them up on their offer. We played for a couple of hours…”
Joe’s voice trailed off as his father decided to abruptly stand up. Ben knew all to well where this was leading and could feel his anger growing. He suddenly felt the compulsion to pace. Joe was for a moment entranced by his father’s movement as he watched him move back and forth and back and forth, eyes down, arms folded tightly. It was as if he was trying to stop the force of a bullet from firing out of a rifle.
Joe’s thoughts were interrupted by his brother’s calm but serious voice.
“Then what happened, Joe?”
Joe’s eyes broke a way from his father as he glanced at Adam. “Well… um… it wasn’t my lucky night. Harry cleaned us all out. I … uh… lost everything and it made me mad. When Harry held his hand out for me to shake it…”
Joe paused for a long moment. He walked over towards a post and leaned his forearm against it, hanging his head in shame. He felt his eyes welling with tears once more, but fought it.
After a moment, he shakily spoke. “I don’t know… I just didn’t want to give up I guess. I told him I’d be right back with more money…”
The three men stayed in their respective positions for several moments, digesting the information that had been shared. Ben was fighting a battle within himself. Part of him wanted to rant and rave and shout at his youngest, pointing out the ill effects of gambling, but the softer side knew that his son needed his advice, not his wrath.
Adam was the silent observer, quietly analyzing both his father and brother. He couldn’t believe that Joe could do such a heartless thing. Yet, he knew his brother was young and foolish and more times than not acted in haste.
Joe waited until he couldn’t stand the silence any longer.
“I…I kind of messed up, didn’t I?” he said.
Ben turned towards his son wiht fire in his eyes and quickly shortened the distance between them. He heaved a huge sigh and Joe couldn’t help thinking to himself, “Oh my, here it comes…” He braced himself for the explosion, but none came.
When he finally made eye contact with his father, his eyes were dark and unmoving. Joe could feel the penetration of anger and disappointment exuding outward from him. Ben reached up and put a hand on one of Joe’s shoulders. He then sternly stated, “Yes, you did son. You CERTAINLY did.”
Joe hung his head. It wasn’t the reaction he had expected.
It made him realize, however, that his actions were unfair and inconsiderate and Hoss had a right to be angry with him. Yet, he still felt Hoss was taking it too seriously by not giving him a chance to make it up to him.
“I said I was wrong. I apologized to him. I’ve been working my tail off to try and repay him, but he won’t have anything to do with me, Pa. I’ve done my part. He’ll have to come to me now.”
Ben couldn’t believe his son’s remark. He turned and walked away from Joe, rubbing his hand through his hair in frustration. It was all he could do to keep his anger in check. He then quickly turned around and moved towards him once more, this time waggling his finger at him in a scolding fashion. He started to speak and then thought better of it. He decidedly turned towards his more rational son and angrily said, “Why don’t you try and talk some reason into him.” Ben then turned his back on both boys to gather his thoughts and calm his nerves.
Adam casually stepped forward. “Joe, don’t you realize you took more than money from Hoss that night?”
Joe was stunned by Adam’s comment. What else could he have taken from him? Not knowing exactly what Adam meant he responded, “Well, I know he couldn’t get that fancy rifle he wanted…”
Now it was Adam’s turn to be agitated. He stepped closer to his brother and exasperatingly said, “How can you be so self-centered? Apologizing…replacing the rifle… is the least of your worries, Joe. Can’t you see that?” Adam abruptly walked away from Joe, hands clenched behind his back. It was his turn to gather his thoughts and calm his nerves.
Joe now was at a total loss. After a moment, he turned towards his Pa with a perplexed look upon his face. “I just don’t understand what he means, Pa.”
Ben sighed. He couldn’t help Joe if Joe didn’t fully understand what had happened. He decided to affirm Adam’s statement. “Your brother is right, Joseph. Yes, you took his money, you gambled it away, and you apologized and made an attempt to repay him. What your brother is trying to say is that you also took something from him that won’t be that easy to fix…if at all.”
Ben paused to make sure he had his son’s full attention. “RESPECT, Joseph. That evening you took away your brother’s respect… and that isn’t an easy thing to earn back.”
Joe hung his head and inwardly repeated his father’s words. Ben could tell by his son’s expression that they were beginning to take effect. He motioned Adam to leave and Adam complied. He then walked towards the door himself, turning to make one final statement to his youngest son.
“I want you to listen to me Joseph and listen real well. Think about this, son. If it had been Adam or me in that hotel room that night, would you have taken that money?”
Ben then quietly walked out.
At that moment, Joe never felt more alone in his life. Tears welled in his eyes as his mind raced through all that had been said. He now fully understood what he had done and didn’t blame his brother for his actions. “What must he think of me?” Joe thought. With a heavy sigh he began thinking… thinking of a way he could make things right again.
The next morning, Adam went to check on Joe and found his bed had not been slept in that night. He hurried out to the barn only to discover that his brother’s faithful horse was also missing. As he entered the ranch house, he found his father just about to sit down to his breakfast. He joined him at the table.
“Well, Pa, it looks like Joe is gone.”
Ben was not surprised by this news. He casually took a sip of coffee and started to dish up his plate. Adam joined him.
After a moment or two, Ben said, “Well, perhaps our little discussion from last night has finally brought your brother to his senses.”
Adam gave his Pa a sly smirk and said, “Or perhaps the young scallywag decided to take the easier way out… by fleeing.”
It was a comment meant only in jest, but Ben was in no mood for Adams’ sarcasm.
He shot his eldest son an annoyed look. “Well…regardless… it’s up to your brother now.”
Adam could see the worry hidden behind Ben’s words. He quickly apologized and reassuringly said, “I’m sure he’ll do the right thing, Pa.”
Just then, Hoss came downstairs. He said a quiet “mornin’” to the both of them before joining them at the table.
Normally, Hoss was full of energy at meal time, and exuberantly dove into his food as if he hadn’t eaten in weeks. This morning, as it had been at every meal since the problem occurred, Hoss took only an ample portion of food and spent more time playing with it then escorting it to his mouth. Ben and Adam noticed that Hoss kept eyeing the empty chair across from him.
Finally, Hoss softly muttered, “Where’s Joe?”
Ben and Adam exchanged looks. “Well, Hoss, I don’t rightly know,” Ben simply stated.
“Did you need to speak with him, brother?” Adam then questioned. Secretly he was hoping his inquiry would encourage Hoss to open up in Joe’s absence.
Hoss vigorously shook his head no. He then put his fork down and arose from the table. “I best get busy with my work.”
He grabbed his hat and gun belt and headed out the door towards the barn. Ben and Adam were left sitting at the half empty table.
Joe did not come home that evening. The next morning, Ben noticed something sitting on his desk. He walked over to take a closer look and found a note from Joe.
Please give this package and note to Hoss for I cannot bear to
face him myself.
Ben Cartwright removed the envelope from within and a smile crossed his face. Just then Adam started down the stairs. Ben stopped him half way.
“Adam, go get your brother Hoss and tell him to come down here right away.”
Adam noticed the package lying on his father’s desk and smiled at his Pa. He quickly turned around and traveled back up the steps.
A few moments later, Hoss was sitting in a chair near the fireplace with Adam leaning against the mantel and his Pa standing before him.
“Hoss, we know about what happened between you and your brother. I found this on my desk this morning. It’s from Little Joe.”
Hoss scowled and hung his head. He knew what was in the package and he wasn’t about to accept it.
Ben could see the obstinacy building within his son. He then placed the rifle on the coffee table next to the chair and held out the written letter. Hoss just stared at it.
Ben spoke directly and to the point. “Hoss, think of what Joe must have gone through to write these words to you. It couldn’t have come easy. The least you can do is read them… You don’t have to AGREE with them… but at least READ them.”
He wiggled the envelope slightly in encouragement.
After a long moment, Hoss heaved a huge sigh and begrudgingly took the letter from his Pa’s hand. Ben smiled reassuringly and gave Hoss a pat on the back as he left the room.
Adam slowly walked over to the door and opened it. He noticed that Little Joe’s horse was tied up outside the barn eating hay. Adam turned towards Hoss before making his exit. “If you feel like talking with someone, I’d say it’s a safe bet you’ll find him in the barn.” He then walked out closing the door behind him.
Hoss sat there for several moments reflecting back on what had happened. He was filled with a hurt and anger that he had never experienced before in his life. He looked at the fireplace and contemplated tearing up his brother’s note and throwing it right in there.
But what good would that do? He knew deep down that he needed to give his brother a fair chance and he hadn’t allowed that to happen… up to this point anyway.
Hoss opened the letter and unfolded it. With hesitancy, his eyes fell to the page.
When I came into the hotel room that evening, I was only thinking
of one person… me. I was being led purely by pride. There’s no
excuse for my actions. What is done is done and I can only humbly
ask for your forgiveness. In the last few weeks I have learned a
valuable lesson in humility, brother. You have taught me the
importance of friendship and family. I now know that it is something
that should be valued and respected beyond anything else in this
world. It must never be bought or thrown to the side. It must simply
be earned. I can only ask you to give me the opportunity to earn back
what we have lost between us. Nothing can explain the fear and sorrow
I am feeling right now, not knowing, as you read these words, whether
you will accept my apology. Please note that I will honor and respect
whatever decision you make.
Forever your brother,
Hoss sat with tears in his eyes digesting his brother’s words. For the first time in over two weeks he felt compassion for his little brother. He now knew that Joe fully understood what happened and that if he was willing to meet him half way then the least he could do was offer the same to him. He glanced over at the rifle and reached for it. He removed it from the package and began to admire its details. As Hoss worked his way towards the butt of the stock he noticed some writing etched in the bronze plate. He moved in for a closer look.
May we find that our paths, regardless how windy, always lead us back to each other.
Respectfully your brother, Joe.”
Hoss smiled and laid the rifle back down on the table. He folded up his brother’s letter and stuffed it in his shirt pocket, making sure to give his pocket a reassuring little pat. He arose from the chair and quietly headed for the door.
Joe was busily cleaning the stalls when Hoss walked into the barn. He instantly stopped and looked at his brother. He did not know whether he felt more relief or fear at seeing him stand before him. Hoss kept his eyes to the ground. He did not know where to begin. He knew his brother was waiting for one thing… an answer. He kicked the dirt at his feet and spoke outright.
“Joe… I accept your apology.”
Joe was stunned for a moment. Then the tears began to well in his eyes as the relief of those words cascaded through his body. He couldn’t find his voice to speak for several moments.
Hoss walked closer to Joe, struggling himself to fight back the tears. “What do you say we start all over again, huh? I’m willin’ if you are little brother.”
Joe nodded as tears began to fall. Hoss reached out for his brother, who willingly accepted his full embrace.
Joe softly said, “thank you,” and then no more words were spoken between them. The two brothers had found their way back on the same path… a path that perhaps in time would rekindle their relationship and, if anything, make it stronger.
Other Stories by this Author
- Ducky (by pbeaking)
- Shame (by pbeaking)
- The Scent of French Cologne (by pbeaking)
- Indiscretion (by pbeaking)
- Come Hell or High Water (by pbeaking)