Summary: Ben and Joe try to put the memories of their trip to town behind them. They must now rely on their inner strength to help them see past the guilt, anger, and pain. Can Joe forgive himself for what happened and allow the healing to begin?
Rating: K+ 4450
Inner Strength Series:
IT IS STRONGLY ENCOURAGED FOR YOU TO READ THE FIRST PART OF THIS STORY BEFORE READING ITS CONCLUSION.
Inner Strength – Part II
Adam was jolted awake by the screams of his little brother across the hallway.
“OH WHAT HAVE I DONE!?”
Joe suddenly bolted upright in bed. Beads of sweat were forming on his brow and his heart was beating wildly. He wiped the moisture from his forehead and took in a deep breath. Just then, the door to his room quickly opened and his brother Adam entered. Little Joe looked up at his older brother with tear filled eyes.
“It happened again, Adam.”
Then he bowed his head and the tears began to flow. Adam had fallen witness to these outburst several times the past few months. Ever since the boy and his father had been injured on their way to town, Joe had not been able to forget what had happened. His father had been recuperating steadily and the two had talked extensively about the matter, but Joe was having difficulty letting go.
Adam cradled Joe’s head in his arms and let the boy release his emotions. After a few moments, he quietly spoke.
“Joe, you have to let this all go. Pa told you that it was an accident caused by both of you not thinking.”
Joe simply nodded and wiped his sleeve across his nose.
“I know, Adam,” he said. “But I just keep hearing that wood crack and Pa yelling out in so much pain.”
He winced at the thought of that piercing scream that fueled his nightmares.
Just then Ben Cartwright hobbled into the room.
“Son, are you okay?” he asked.
“Yes, Pa, I’m sorry I woke you.” Joe responded.
Adam quickly intervened. “Everything is fine, Pa. I’ll read Joe a story until he falls asleep again. You need your rest.”
Ben looked past the words of his son. He saw a tired young man who, in the last few months, had taken on the role of family patriarch. He had kept things going around the ranch, handled business in town, monitored the books and records, and took care of his two younger brothers without one complaint. The dark circles under his eyes and the noticeable thin body frame told Ben that the burden was beginning to wear the nineteen year old down.
“Adam, why don’t you let me read to Joe tonight. You need your rest, too. Besides, it’s about time I started doing my share around here again, don’t you think?”
Adam gave his father a grateful smile. He, too, understood the meaning behind his father’s words.
“Goodnight, Joe. Sweet dreams,” he said.
He then brushed past his father as he exited the room. Ben quietly closed the door and slowly worked his way over to the bed. Joe watched his father’s every move. The bones in his legs had healed well, but it would take some time for him to gain the muscle strength back after being bed ridden for so long.
“Well, young man. What would you like to hear?” Ben asked his son as he sat himself awkwardly down on the edge of the bed.
Joe averted his eyes and looked down. Guilt began to swell within him, knowing all to well that he was the reason for his father’s condition.
After a long moment, he softly said, “I don’t feel much like a story, Pa.”
Ben ignored his son’s words. He reached over and raised Joe’s chin up with his finger, gaining full eye contact with the boy.
“Come now, I may not read with as much expression as your brother, but I’ll give it my best effort. Now lie back down and close your eyes. Try to think happy thoughts, Joseph.”
It didn’t take long for the 7 year old to relent. Ben began the story and his voice was soothing. In a matter of moments, the boy had fallen fast asleep.
Ben sat watching his son for some time. There was a deep look of concern on his brow. He and the boy had had many discussions about that fateful day and he thought Joe understood. Yet, the nightmares were becoming more frequent and intense.
“There has to be something the boy is not facing,” thought Ben.
Ben leaned down and gently kissed his son on the head. He carefully arose from the bed and worked his way to the door. Standing in the doorway, he took one final look at his son’s peaceful body and silently said a prayer. He could only hope that time would eventually bring everything to the surface.
The next morning, Hoss and Adam were the first down for breakfast. Hop Sing, the Cartwright chef, was busily serving the food and grumbling about the two missing Cartwrights.
“I prepare food for four… only two here to eat… food no good when cold.” He grumbled in a strong Chinese accent.
Adam piped up in his father and brother’s defense. “Joe had another nightmare last night, Hop Sing. Both need their rest.”
Thirteen year old Hoss was stunned by his brother’s comment. “I didn’t hear anything last night, Adam. Is Little Joe, okay?”
“Yes, Adam acknowledged, “but the dreams seem to be getting worse and we can’t figure out why. Pa keeps saying to give it time, but I can tell he’s worried, too.”
Just then, Little Joe bolted down the staircase with a smile on his face. It was Saturday and he didn’t have to go to school.
“Morning,” he simply said as he took his place at the table. Hop Sing looked at Joe and scowled.
“Number three son late to table …Eggs are cold… not very good. You eat… now.”
“Sorry, Hop Sing,” Joe simply said and began to dish up his plate. He noticed both brothers watching him intently.
After a moment, he stopped mid-scoop and questioned, “What’s wrong? Do I have a wart on my nose?”
Hoss snickered at his brother’s comment.
“Sorry, Little brother,” he said. “Adam told me you had another bad dream last night is all. How ya feelin’?”
“Okay, I guess. I slept the rest of the night anyhow.”
Just then their father appeared at the top of the staircase. Adam and Hoss began to rise.
“Here Pa let us help you…” Hoss said.
“No!” Ben said firmly, “I can do it boys.”
Adam turned back to the table and motioned Hoss to do the same. Both boys focused their attention back on their meal.
Joe’s eyes, however, were locked on his father as he began his decent. Although he had improved greatly, he still wore braces below the knee and used two canes for support. It was a laborious effort for both father and son as Joe watched his Pa painstakingly take on every step. Joe could tell by his father’s facial features that each jarring move brought pain and he shared that pain with him in his heart. Suddenly, as Ben neared the bottom, his right leg slipped and he tumbled down the remaining few steps.
Ben let out a loud yell, intermixed with a few chosen other words, and lay on the floor wallowing in pain. Adam, Hoss, and Hop Sing rushed to his aid. Joe, however, was frozen at the table. Tears began to well in his eyes.
“Pa, are you okay?” Hoss asked.
“Yes… just get my canes.” Ben said harshly, “I’m tired of being an invalid!”
Everyone helped Ben to his feet. When they turned back toward the table, Joe was gone. The only sign of his presence was the opened front door and the uneaten food still on his plate.
There was silence for a long moment. Ben suddenly pounded one of his canes on the floor in frustration.
“Oh, why did he have to see me fall?” He then moved slowly towards his favorite chair.
“Don’t worry, Pa. We’ll find him,” Hoss said. “He couldn’t have gone far.”
“Why don’t you try to eat some breakfast, Pa. We’ll go look for Joe,” Adam reassuringly added.
They left their father in care of Hop Sing.
The very moment Joe left that table he started running. He ran out the door and down the road just as fast as he could. The direction didn’t matter. He had to get away… away from seeing his father. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he ran and ran and ran and never looked back. The boy ran steadily for what seemed like hours. Finally he succumbed to thirst and exhaustion. Joe laid face down in the dirt and cried himself to sleep.
“Joe! Joe! Wake up little buddy,” were the first words he remembered hearing.
He raised up to find his brother Hoss smiling down at him.
“We’ve been lookin’ everywhere for ya, boy. How’d you end up here by the lake?”
Joe sat up and wiped the dirt out of his eyes.
“I don’t know,” he softly said.
“Well, you gave us all a pretty good scare. We best git ya home.”
Joe just shook his head no stubbornly.
Just then, Adam rode up. He jumped down from his horse and came right up to his brother.
“Are you all right, Joe?” he asked.
“I ought to turn you over my knee right here and now for scaring us like that.”
Joe only muttered a soft “Sorry, Adam.”
“Well let’s get you back home…”
Joe looked up at Adam with fire in his eyes.
“NO! I won’t go back, I won’t!” he shouted. He couldn’t bear to look at his father again.
Adam was not in the mood to deal with his younger brother’s attitude.
Adam grabbed Joe forcibly by the shoulder. “Joe, you will go home!” Adam’s voice was harsh and his eyes were intense. Joe, however, stood his ground, pulling away and emphasizing his unwillingness by folding his arms and pouting.
Hoss intervened. “Come on you two, what good is this doin’? Joe ya know you gotta go back… And, Adam, …yellin’ at him doesn’t solve nothing.”
Adam realized he was letting his frustration get the better of him. He heaved a huge sigh and turned away from his brothers to gather his thoughts.
After a moment, he spoke out into the air. “Joe, I know it’s been tough. It’s been tough on all of us seeing Pa the way he is right now. But think of how much he’s improved since it happened. The doctor says that he should be able to walk without the canes and braces soon.”
Adam turned back to face Little Joe.
“It takes time, Joe, but Pa will eventually get back to his usual self.”
His brother’s words started the tears flowing again. “But what if….”
Joe could not finish his statement.
Adam bent down next to his brother. “Joe, if we based our lives only on the ‘what if’s’ we wouldn’t be living life at all. Please try to understand.”
He then scooped his youngest brother up into his arms and handed him up to Hoss. The three siblings headed for home. It was getting dark by the time they reached the ranch. Ben Cartwright stumbled out to greet them followed by Hop Sing. Joe was sound asleep in the saddle. Hoss gingerly handed the boy down to Adam.
“We found him over by the lake, Pa. He’s fine, but exhausted. He must have run for miles. I’ll put him to bed.”
Ben softly caressed his son’s curly locks as Adam walked past and disappeared inside.
“I’ll take care of the horses, Pa,” Hoss stated as he led them towards the barn.
Hop Sing was a wise man and oftentimes the silent observer to the Cartwright woes. He looked over at Ben Cartwright and saw a man defeated. Defeated in the sense that he could not figure out a way to ease his boy’s troubles. He started to turn towards the house and then suddenly paused. “Mr. Cartwright…. Hop Sing glad number three son okay.”
Ben said nothing for he was deep in thought.
“Mr. Cartwright,” Hop Sing spoke with more emphasis in his voice.
Ben turned to look at him.
“Healing…. a matter of time…. but also a matter of opportunity.” Hop Sing then turned and walked quietly into the house.
Ben wasn’t quite sure what the China man meant by his words that evening. He was glad his son was home, safe and sound. Again he could only hope that an end to this matter would come in time. For now, he hadn’t much choice. The family would have to face the storm ahead in hopes of eventually reaching calmer waters.
The chilly days of spring relented to the heat of the summer. Joe awoke almost every night to the same nightmare. Pa, Adam, and sometimes Hoss would take turns checking in on the boy and providing as much comfort as they could, but it was wearing everyone down. Joe also became more quiet and reserved. He spent a lot of time alone in his room, or wandering around the yard, and seemed to be avoiding his Pa at all costs.
Ben sensed his boy’s invasiveness, and chose to allow him that space. It hurt him deeply to think his son didn’t want to be near him, but perhaps honoring that space would help heal the wounds within.
The truth of the matter was that Ben had steadily been improving these past few months. He no longer needed the braces and he could get around with the use of only one cane. He was demanding less and less assistance in everyday needs and was starting to reclaim some of his ranch responsibilities from his eldest son.
One afternoon, Hop Sing came outside to hang up the weekly laundry. He noticed Joseph sitting on the porch looking very glum. Ben was inside doing the books and Hoss and Adam were out rounding up some cattle. Hop Sing watched the boy from afar for quite some time. He knew the boy was not letting go of his anger and guilt, and decided to try and speak with him.
“Number three son look very unhappy… very unhappy indeed.”
Joe looked up at Hop Sing.
“Hi, Hop Sing,” was his polite response.
“Hop Sing want to tell you story… when he was little boy… just like you.”
Before Joe could respond, he sat down next to him on the step. Joe didn’t feel much like listening to a story, but he also knew Hop Sing well enough to know you didn’t argue with him. He turned his head to listen.
“Back in China when I was …little boy…my brother and I got into terrible fight. We had a toy we both liked… We wanted to play at same time. I grabbed toy and pulled… My brother pulled… toy ripped in half. We were angry… started fighting. My father came… grabbed us by the arm.”
“I bet your Pa was really mad.” Joe interrupted.
“Father very mad… punish us good. Told us brothers should never fight.”
“What happened next,” Joe asked.
“My father put broken toy in our room… Told us it was reminder of what anger can do.”
“I bet you never fought with your brother again, right?” Joe once again interrupted.
“Not so, Little Joe. Toy not good idea…When I looked at it… brought more anger toward brother. Days went by… I not speak to brother… he not speak to me. We still blamed each other.”
Hop Sing paused to look at Little Joe. He then continued.
“One day my father woke me and brother… He gave us shovels… took us where we fought. Told us to dig hole… we worked all day… side by side… very hot day. Finally father told us to stop… he pulled broken toy out of pocket… Gave each of us piece… told us to throw away anger. We threw toy in hole. Then we filled hole back up.”
“Were you still mad at your brother?” Joseph asked.
Hop Sing smiled at the boy, “No, Little Joe.., anger all gone. Your sadness will go, too… in time… once you let it go.”
Joe smiled at Hop Sing as he rose from the steps and headed back to his laundry. He sat there a moment and pondered Hop Sing’s words. He knew Hop Sing was trying to make him feel better, but he did not fully understand the meaning behind the story. After a moment, he arose from the steps and decided to head out towards the barn. As he made his way across the yard, Ben Cartwright came out onto the porch. His eyes steadily watched his youngest as he crossed the yard. He had overheard the conversation between Hop Sing and his son and he, too, was pondering the words. Suddenly Ben remembered what Hop Sing had said to him that night Joe had run off. “Healing…. a matter of time…. but also a matter of …”
“Opportunity!” Ben said aloud to himself. A knowing smile appeared upon his face. He knew at that very moment how he could help his son.
That evening at the dinner table Ben Cartwright seemed to be in the best of moods. Adam noticed that he was very talkative and upbeat where as the rest of the table seemed subdued. After the meal, he asked Adam to help him with something out in the barn. Adam knew his father was busting at the seams to tell him something. The two entered the barn and Ben wasted no time addressing Adam.
“I have a plan as to how to settle this thing with Joe once and for all, but it’ll take all of us to do it.”
“Adam responded. “Sure, Pa. What do you have in mind?”
“Well, first I need you and Hoss to go into town for some supplies. I’ll make a list.”
Ben carefully laid out his plan and what was expected. When he was finished, Adam said,
“You know, Pa. I think that just might work. I’ll talk to Hoss and we’ll leave early tomorrow morning.”
The next morning when Joe came down to breakfast he found only his father at the table.
“Where are Hoss and Adam, Pa?”
“I sent them to town on some errands, Joseph. They left early this morning.”
Joe began dishing up his plate. Ben waited a few moments before speaking again.
“Joseph, I want you to come along with me today on an errand,” he simply stated.
Joseph looked up at his Pa.
“You mean you want me to help you with something around the ranch?”
“No, son, we’re going on a little day trip together. You best eat up because I want to get an early start.”
Little Joe sat there stunned. Tears began to well in his eyes and anger began to build in his face. How could his father be so cruel as to expect him to go somewhere alone with him? Ben deliberately kept his eyes focused on his breakfast and ignored the boy’s actions.
Suddenly, Joe found his voice and with defiance said, “I won’t Pa…. I won’t!” Tears began to roll down his cheeks.
Ben looked deep into the eyes of his son. His heart was breaking, but he knew he had to stay firm.
“Joseph, I am not giving you an option in this matter. Now finish your breakfast so that we may go.”
Joe knew by his father’s tone that he had absolutely no choice. He’d be forced to obey his father’s wishes.
After a moment, he softly said, “I’m done.”
He followed Ben slowly out to the barn to get Buck. Ben had him readied in but a few moments and before Joe knew what was happening, father and son were headed down the road once more.
It didn’t take long for the boy to realize that he and his father were headed down the same path they had traveled many months prior. Every step Buck took reminded Joe of the long journey home that evening with his father in tow. He held onto the saddle horn with all his might as tears of anger and grief continued to fall. As the trail to the watering hole appeared around the bend, Joe’s heart began to race. Ben could feel his son shaking and tightened his arms around him as they slowly meandered into the opening. Ben dismounted first and reached up to grab Little Joe. Joe remained like a statue in the saddle.
“Why, Pa? Why? Why are you doing this to me?” he cried out. Ben grabbed Joe and pulled him down to the ground. Once the boy’s feet felt the earth beneath him he began swinging wildly with his fists.
“I hate you… I hate you…. I hate you…” he repeated. Ben painfully allowed his son to vent. “I hate you… I hate you……. Oh, Pa….I HATE MYSELF!” Joe wailed.
With his last utterance, Joe flung his arms around his Pa and sobbed. Ben scooped his son up and stood cradling him for some time.
Not a word was uttered between them. Ben waited until he felt his son’s body relax and could only hear the sound of sniffles.
He lowered his son to the ground and turned Joe to face him.
Just then, Adam and Hoss pulled into the clearing. Joe watched as they dismounted from a wagon that was filled with lumber. The two boys approached.
“Hey, Pa we got the things ya asked fer,” Hoss said with a big grin.
“Have you told Little Joe of our intentions?” Adam inquired.
Ben ignored their comments and turned his attention back to his youngest son.
“Joseph, there’s something we need to do here today. I think I know a way for us to put what happened in the past behind us forever…but, I’m going to need your help.”
Joe gave his father a puzzled glance. “I don’t understand, Pa.”
Ben limped over to the wagon and grabbed his cane and braces. He then returned to his son.
“Take my hand, Joseph.”
The boy hesitantly took his hand.
“Walk with me and trust me.”
The two walked toward the big rock that was one of the established boundaries that fateful day. Neither of them hesitated. They continued beyond, walking, side by side, up to the opening of the mineshaft. Adam and Hoss kept their distance, following behind in the wagon.
Ben did not look at his son, but kept a firm grip on his hand.
“Joseph, I want you to take one of these braces and I will take the other. Let’s throw all the pain, hurt, guilt, and anger away.”
Ben led his son to the edge and they both threw the objects down into the darkness. He then took his cane and delivered to it the same fate.
There was a moment of reflection as father and son stood there with tears in their eyes.
“Listen to me son… We are going to fill in this hole, burying all that lies beneath it.”
Ben motioned to Adam and Hoss and they began unloading the lumber.
He released his son’s hand and bent down to pick up a sizable rock. He motioned for Joseph to do the same, and soon, they all were filling the hole with whatever they could find. The four Cartwrights worked silently, but diligently, enclosing the mineshaft. As Adam and Hoss laid the last pieces of lumber flush with the ground, Ben led Joseph over to the wagon.
He reached in and grabbed a small can of paint and a paintbrush and handed it to his son.
“None of this would have happened that day, Joseph, if we both had taken heed to that warning sign. I think you know what needs to be done to assure others do not follow the same suit.”
Joseph smiled up at his Pa. It was the first smile that Ben had seen from his son in quite some time. He then turned back towards the hole and knelt down by the “DANGER” sign. Ben sat himself down on the edge of the wagon and watched his son’s every stroke. He was tired and his legs were aching from the exertion, but the joy he was feeling inside outweighed the physical pain.
Adam and Hoss came over to the wagon to join their father.
“Well?” Adam asked. “Do you think we’re on the road to recovery?”
Ben said nothing, but nodded in approval. He then walked up to Joseph as he was putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece.
“What do you think, Pa?” the boy asked as he stood up to admire his work.
Ben grinned at his son. “I’d say you’d have to be blind not to see that sign all the way from Virginia City.”
Little Joe snickered.
Ben placed his arm around his son as they both took their final look around. They stood in silence for several moments before Joe softly spoke.
“Pa… I was so scared that day. I thought… I thought I was going to lose you… like ma.”
“I was scared, too, Joseph. You were my only hope. You saved my life and for that I will always be grateful.”
“But I didn’t listen to you….”
“We all make mistakes, Joseph, and we all learn from them.”
Joe hesitated, and then asked, “Why didn’t you punish me, Pa?”
Ben was taken aback for a moment by his boy’s words.
He looked down at Joe and said,
“Sometimes the worst punishments are the ones we inflict on our selves, Joseph.”
Joe kicked the dirt at his feet then turned to his Pa in all sincerity.
“Well, I promise from now on to do whatever you tell me, Pa.”
Ben knew deep down that his seven year old had just made a promise that he undoubtedly would not be able to keep.
After a long moment, he said, “I appreciate that Joseph, but you should only promise what you can deliver. Then deliver more than what you promised.”
Ben led Joe over to the wagon. They tied Buck to the back and the four Cartwrights climbed aboard. As the wagon slowly made its way back to the Ponderosa, no one looked back and no one said a word. Their minds were at rest and now the healing could continue. That night Little Joe Cartwright slept peacefully and soundly, as did his Pa and two older brothers.
Other Stories by this Author
- Inner Strength – Part 1 (by pbeaking)
- Little Joe Cartwright, Thief (by pbeaking)
- In Defense (by pbeaking)
- Scars (by pbeaking)
- Indiscretion (by pbeaking)