In My Father’s Image

By Jennie A

Black Eyes, Blue Tears

By Shania Twain

Black Eyes, I don’t need them

Blue tears, gimme freedom

Positively never goin’ back

I won’t live where things are so out of whack

No more rollin’ with the punches

No more usin’ or abusin’

I’d rather die standing

Than live on knees

Begging please – no more

Black eyes, I don’t need them

Blue tears, gimme freedom

Black eyes, all behind me

Blue tears’ll never find me now

Definitely found my self-esteem

Finally I’m forever free to dream

No more cryin’ in the corner

No excuses, no more bruises

I’d rather die standing

Than live on my knees

Begging please

Black eyes, I don’t need them

Blue tears, gimme freedom

Black eyes, all behind me

Blue tears’ll never find me now

Find your self-esteem and be forever free to dream



The fist slammed down on the large oak desk causing the young boy to look up with startled eyes.

"I thought I told you to take your nonsense outside," yelled the man as he crumpled a piece of paper in his hand before adding it to the growing pile on the floor. "If
you can’t see your way clear to following directions I am sure that I can find a way to remind you of the consequences," persisted the angry man as he rose from his
chair unbuckling his belt.

Joe slid down from the settee and gathered the wooden soldiers into his small arms mumbling a ‘yes sir’ as he slowly eased his way to the front door. Wanting to
maintain a safe distance from the leather belt, Joe deposited his toy soldiers on the rocking chair before quietly closing the door.

Time passed quickly for the young boy who had lost all sense of reality in the midst of a ranging war. It was the sound of approaching horses that called a stop to the
fantasy that Joe had escaped to during the last three hours. With a promise to return to the battlefield shortly Joe took off in the direction of the barn to greet his

Adam and Hoss had finally returned from their unusual list of tasks and eager for human contact Joe left his soldiers to fend for themselves. Other than the ‘hello’
neither boy acknowledged the presence of the youngest Cartwright, too tired to answer the never-ending string of questions that only Joe could round up. Both were
exhausted and the only thoughts that weighed on their minds were tending to their mounts, completing the barn chores and satisfying the hunger that their stomachs
reminded them of.

"Did you finish the fence yet? Did you find any more new baby cows? What’s ole Papa bull doing now that he’s gots five babies? Bet he’s having fun, ain’t he?" Joe
was throwing his questions out in the open, not even giving his brothers the opportunity to answer as Joe rambled on. "When do ya get to mark them? Can I watch
when ya do it? It don’t make them cry, does it Adam?"

Joe finally stopped long enough to take a breath and realized that his brothers had their backs to him, totally ignoring his presence. When the mention of the barn
being on fire failed to get a reaction from the two Cartwrights, Joe sighed deeply and hung his head in disappointment. The sense of loneliness cradled his heart for
the second time that day as Joe quietly slipped out of the barn.

Determined to make the best of the situation Joe returned to the battlefield, at least there he felt wanted. It wasn’t until the sun had disappeared from the horizon and
the temperature dropped that Joe was reminded that the day was coming to an end and unwillingly abandoned his soldiers in search of his family. He stood patiently
in front of the credenza watching his father continue his own war with the endless stack of papers that seemed to have multiplied since the early afternoon. His trance
was broken when Adam and Hoss returned from the washroom. It was Hoss that finally caused Ben to throw down his pencil and glare up from his ledger.

"Ah, Pa?" questioned the middle boy as an uneasy feeling washed over him, "where’s Hop Sing? It’s getting late and I’m starving." The thirteen year old smiled one
of his famous gapped tooth grins hoping to break through the sudden chill that had settled in the air.

The answer he received was one that none of the boys ever expected to hear. Hoss’ smile faded as their father’s words registered in his confused mind. Searching
for support from his older brother, Hoss looked into Adam’s face.

Adam forced himself to smile at the monarch as Ben crossed the great room to stand in front of his sons. "Good one Pa, but really where is Hop Sing? After a full
days work out in the cold we sure could use a hot meal," inquired Adam watching his father buckling on his gun belt.

"You heard what I said," answered an irate Ben and reached for his coat. "I don’t see any reason why I need to explain my actions to you. Now, if you excuse me,"
continued Ben as he removed his hat from its proper place on the wall, "I am going to town."

Hoss swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat, "But Pa, what about dinner?" The boy’s eyes clearly showed the disappointment of learning that his father
had fired Hop Sing.

Ben placed his hat on his head and opened the door. "I am sure you boys can manage some how," he barked turning his back to the stunned expressions worn on
his sons’ faces. "You seem to do just fine when you are out on the trails," he added sarcastically before closing the door behind him.

Flabbergasted by their father’s remarks Adam and Hoss stood frozen and starred at the retreating back of their father. It was Little Joe’s small bit of reasoning that
brought them back to the present. "He ain’t my Pa," whispered the bewildered boy watching the door close.

Adam clenched his teeth and swallowed his thoughts. He placed a supportive hand on Hoss’ shoulder and took Joe’s hand with his other. Stepping into his role as
temporary father figure Adam led the hungry boys into the kitchen. Adam reached down and picked up Joe setting him on the table. Hoss sat down on a chair that
had been moved next to the table so he could be closer to Little Joe.

"I don’t understand it, Adam," Hoss stated while watching his older brother placing the bacon into the cast iron skillet. "What did Pa mean by savin’ his investments
by firin’ Hop Sing?"

Adam turned his attention to his brother and saw the blue eyes fixed with fear, something that Hoss rarely exhibited. While he carefully contemplated on how to
answer his brother’s question, Adam handed a glass bowl to Hoss and some eggs to Little Joe.

"I don’t understand it myself Hoss," Adam finally answered as he handed Joe the eggbeater. "I guess Pa is under a lot of stress and needs to deal with it his own

Little Joe’s face was etched with intense concentration as he scrambled the eggs that he had cracked in the bowl that Hoss was still holding. "Adam?" asked Little
Joe as he stuck his finger into the eggs to retrieve a shell that had fallen in. "What’s so stressful about doing homework? I done do it all the time," he explained as he
dug out another piece of shell, "and I dont's get stressful."

Hoss saw Joe’s hand fishing around in his soon to be dinner and removed the bowl from his reach. "Eggs are ready Adam," stated Hoss handing the bowl to his
older brother.

Hoss smiled as the raw mixture was poured into the hot skillet causing it to sizzle. Adam turned to instruct the boys in setting the table. Joe was swinging his legs
back and forth causing the table to rock. Adam raised his eyebrow in question as he watched Joe place something into the small pocket on the front of his overalls
before wiping his hand off on the denim. Making a mental note to check the pocket later when readying the boy for bed Adam placed his hand on Joe’s knee to stop
the movement.

"Joe you get the forks and napkins and Hoss can get the dishes and cups," he directed helping Joe down from the table.

Hoss was detailed to cleaning up the dinner dishes while Adam bathed Little Joe. Occupied with the small wooden boat, Joe didn’t notice the eggshell that was
retrieved from his pocket. Humored by his little brother’s attempt to hide his mistake Adam replaced the shell so that it would remain Little Joe’s secret.

By the time Joe was dried off and in his nightshirt, Hoss had completed his chore of cleaning the kitchen. Both young boys took their familiar places on the settee and
listened as Adam read them a bedtime story. By eight o’clock the two boys were tucked into bed leaving Adam to ponder on his father’s behavior.

It had started just yesterday after Ben returned from town. Adam was the first to notice the sudden behavior change and when he asked his father if there was
something wrong, Ben had nearly jumped down his throat. He was told to mind his own business and to leave his father alone. Hoss and himself were given an
unusual list of chores to complete, some that the hire hands commonly did. Wanting to avoid an argument the two boys followed their father’s request leaving Little
Joe home to deal with the fast becoming inpatient man.

Adam and Hoss had returned well past dinnertime that night as they were instructed to complete the chores before returning home. Little Joe was already upstairs
and in bed. Ben was sitting behind the desk working on the ledger and made it quite clear that he was not to be disturbed. Left alone to eat their dinner Adam and
Hoss both brushed it off, as they knew that there were numerous contracts that Ben was hoping to acquire not to mention the deadlines of the ones that he had
already had in progress.

"Adam?" the small voice pierced the stillness that had settled on the homestead. Adam adjusted the wick in the lamp and looked into the doorway to find his little
brother standing there with tear filled eyes. "Can I sleep with ya?" begged Joe.

Adam saw the quivering of the chin and tossed back the covers inviting the youngster to join him. Joe wiped away the falling tears with the back of his sleeve and
climbed into the bed slipping under the quilt.

"What’s wrong Little Buddy?" Adam asked as he wrapped his arm around Joe drawing him closer to the comforts of his body. "Have a bad dream?"

Joe shook his head no to his brother’s question. "Nah, just a bad night Adam."

Joe began chewing on his lower lip as his watering eyes searched the face of his confidant. "Pa wouldn’t even tuck me in." The tears overflowed as the boy began
explaining his encounters with their father. "And when I tried to kiss him goodnight," Joe hesitated and smeared his hand across his nose attempting to stop the
sniffles, "He pushed me away from him."

Adam sat up and gathered Joe into his lap. His thumb wiped away the teardrop that had lingered on the edge of Joe’s nose and then rubbed the troubled boy’s back
in an attempt to calm him.

"I don’t know what’s going on Little Buddy, I wish I had the answers myself." Adam continued the back rub and slowly felt the anxiety fading from the timid child.

Joe dried his face against the softness of Adam’s nightshirt and nestled his body closer to Adam’s chest until he could hear the steady beating of his older brother’s
heart. Ever since the day Little Joe came into the Cartwright’s lives, Joe had found refuge in listening to the continual thumping of their hearts and tonight was no

Empathy for the small boy filled Adam’s heart and he wrapped his protective arms around the crying child drawing him closer to the warmth of his own body. Adam
soothed the distraught boy and eventually Joe slipped his thumb into his mouth before surrendering to sleep. Adam had found it difficult to sleep that night as his mind
repeatedly reviewed the events of the day. Never before had Ben refused to tuck in the small boy and never before had he refused to kiss the youngest Cartwright.
As hard as Adam tried to drum up some excuse for his father’s behavior, those two things that Joe told him about were inexcusable.


It was early morning before Adam finally fell into a restless sleep and had to force himself to get up when nature’s alarm clock warned him that the workday had
arrived. Not wanting to start the day off on the wrong foot, Adam gently roused the youngest Cartwright from the land of slumber. Both boys ran into Hoss in the
hallway and together made their way down the staircase. It came as no surprise to them that Ben was once again sitting behind the desk lost in the mounds of

Breakfast was eaten in the solitude of the kitchen as Ben had instructed. He had once again given Hoss and Adam a long list of unusual tasks to be performed, hence
leaving the littlest Cartwright to fend for himself. Pleads of allowing to ride with his brothers had only resulted in a quick but firm swat to Joe’s backside and a week
of being grounded to the front yard. Joe’s appetite had disappeared as his thoughts returned to the lonely hours he had spent just yesterday trying to occupy his time.
Adam cupped the quivering chin into his own hand and raised Joe’s head until he could see the tear stained face.

"Joe, Hoss and I will be back sometime later this afternoon," reassured Adam as his dried away the remnants of Joe’s tears. "I promise Little Buddy we will do
something together when we return." Adam’s promise was rewarded with a small smile and Joe picking up his spoon to eat the oatmeal that Hoss had prepared.

Joe stood on the front porch and waved goodbye until he could no longer see his brothers in the distance. Reentering the quiet house Joe went up to his room in
search of his soldiers so that the war could be continued. Joe sat on the floor with a look of disgust embossed deeply on his face. He had searched for most of the
morning and could not find his soldiers. His clothes had been tossed carelessly around the floor as he rummaged in his wardrobe where he always housed the toys.
As he descended the flight of stairs he remembered that yesterday the darkness had crept up on him without warning and he had gone into the house. As he passed
by the credenza Joe threw a glance towards his father who was still engrossed amongst the stacks of paper. He gently eased the large door open and giving the
porch a quick looking over went back inside disappointed that his soldiers were still nowhere to been seen.

"Pa?" whispered Joe and not getting a response tried again. "PA!" this time Joe was heard but suddenly wished that he had not spoken to his father.

"What is it boy?" answered his father annoyed that he had been interrupted. "Seems you have a problem listening to direct orders," continued Ben as he stood.
"Maybe you need something to help you remember," snarled Ben as he walked around the desk to stand in front of the frightened boy. "What is it that you need?"
questioned his father as he glared into the depths of Joe’s hazel eyes.

"I….I…I can’t find my soldiers." Joe’s voice was no more than a slight whisper and he could not stop the trembling when he spoke. "I was gonna…"

The large hand flew across his left cheek with such force that it caused Joe to stumble backwards. Joe winced at the stinging sensation that flooded the whole left
side of his face as he gradually raised his hand to touch the tender area. Confusion flooded the boy’s already troubled mind, as his father had never raised his hand to
any of the boys before. Yes, there have been times when one of them had been issued a tanning, but Ben only struck them where they would have difficulty sitting for
a day or two. It took all of Joe’s will power but eventually he raised his head to look into the angry eyes of the man that he so worshiped.

"I found your stupid toys scattered all over my porch. I know that you have been instructed to clean up after you have finished playing." Spittle flew forth from the
hardening face of his beloved father as he verbally chastised his youngest son. "Your toys have been used for kindling being your older brothers failed to fill the box
this morning before riding out."

The patriarch’s laughter rang out through the great room echoing off the beams anchored above them. Joe blinked back his tears as he slowly turned away from his
father. Each step that he took brought him closer to the security of his room. His feet seemed to get heavier and heavier with each agonizing step that furthered the
distance between himself and the man who had given him life. Before Joe could close the door that would separate him from the verbal torments he heard his father
beckoning him. Joe stood at the top of the staircase and softly replied to his father’s call.

"Did ya want me Pa?" Joe gulped deeply praying that his fear did not reflect in his voice.

"No son, I called for your mother," Ben remarked sarcastically as he stood with his hands on his hips and feet slightly parted. "That was a stupid question, don’t you
think?" Not waiting for Joe to reply he continued. "Find something else to occupy your time and take it outside. I do not, and I repeat that, do not want to be
disturbed. Is that understood, you spoiled little brat?" instructed Ben as he returned to his position behind the desk. "You stay out there until I call you in for dinner."

Ben’s words pierced a hole through Joe’s heart and he swiftly located his stick pony from among the mess that had been displayed about his room. Without thinking
Joe threw his leg over the stick and rode the pony down the stairs. The thumping did not go unnoticed and as Joe cantered through the great room Ben tossed a
book at him.

The book flew by Joe’s head and landed on the floor in front of him. Joe pulled his pony to a halt and slowly turned around to face his father. Joe’s eyes followed his
father’s movements until the man was standing in his direct line of vision. Without speaking a word Ben yanked the stick pony out from between Little Joe’s legs and
raised it in the air. Joe turned his back to his father and instinctively covered his head with his arms. The scream rang out in the room as Ben swung the stick down
making contact with the young boy’s unprotected back. Joe sank to his knees and made eye contact with his father when the infuriated man ordered Joe to look at
him. Joe’s moist eyes stared unfocused at the man whom he so much admired and watched as he raised the stick pony into the air for the second time. The
frightened boy could do nothing more than continue to stare as his father brought the pony down across his leg breaking the stick in two. Through tearing eyes Joe’s
head followed his father as he walked across the room to stand in front of the fireplace. The small gasp did not go unnoticed as Ben threw the pony into the flames
that danced in the hearth. Joe was mesmerized when the man laughed as the black and white head of the pony burst into flames.

Ben strolled by the child that was still kneeling on the floor and gave the boy a swift kick to his backside before returning to his desk.

"Go on get out of here before I decide to punish you further," threatened Ben as he picked up his pencil to continue his paperwork.

Joe allowed the wind to slam the door shut as he spurred his invisible horse into a gallop praying that he would escape from the bad guy. Entering the barn Joe
climbed the ladder and took refuge in the loft. Joe amused himself playing sheriff with the cornhusks that he borrowed from the compost pile behind the barn. It was
well past the bewitching hour when his brothers found their way home. Longing for companionship Joe nearly flew down the ladder and jumped into the welcoming
arms of his oldest brother.

Adam knew by the way Little Joe was clinging to him that he had endured another rough and lonely day. Returning the warm hug Adam reminded him of his promise
to entertain the youngster as soon as dinner was out of the way. Joe gave Hoss a smile and returned his head to rest against Adam’s shoulder, once more placing his
thumb into his mouth. He was tired but not from lack of sleep, the endless conflicts that his mind fought with trying to understand the behavior of his father had worn
him out completely. Still no acceptable reasons satisfied the boy’s hunger for his quest.

Once again the boys entered the house only to find their father still concentrating on the growing mounds of paperwork. Without so much as an acknowledgement
from their father the boys silently made their way to the kitchen.

"Ah Adam," whined Hoss as he watched Little Joe beat the eggs in the bowl. "If you don’t learn how to cook somethin’ else real soon the whole lot of us are gonna
turn into a flock of chickens."

Joe’s vivid imagination had began to paint the colorful portrait in his head as he listened to Hoss’ complains of having to eat eggs again. Joe’s lips broke a smile as he
envisioned the three of them with bodies of chickens scurrying around the bare ground. His smile broadened as he imagined them scratching the dirt in search of the
feed that had been carelessly tossed to the ground. The first giggle escaped as his mind set the pictures into motion with them flapping their wings.

Hearing the giggles Adam and Hoss turned to the small boy who had started to play out his portraits giving them life. Both older boy’s moods were enlightened and
began to follow their younger brother around the kitchen. It wasn’t until Adam started clucking that the sounds of laughter grew louder and penetrated to the great
room. Ben walked in to see his three sons strutting their heads and clucking. His face reddened at the sounds that caused him to add the column of figures up

"What in tarnations is wrong with you crazy boys? Have you lost your minds?" The thunderous voice put an immediate stop to their charades and Little Joe ran to the
safety of Adam’s arms.

"Sorry Pa the boys and I were just having some fun," explained Adam as he sat Joe back on his feet. "I was just getting ready to cook us some dinner. Are you

Ben stood with his arms crossed over his chest and Adam could feel the chocolate eyes burrowing deep into his skin. Before he could comment on Adam’s
question, Little Joe poked Ben on the arm and smiled up at his father when Ben looked at him.

"If you eat dinner with us tonight Pa you just might turn into one of these here chickens," laughed the little boy.

Once again Joe was caught off guard as the hand landed a solid blow to the side of his face, knocking the boy to the floor. Adam’s mouth dropped open and quickly
stepped in between his little brother and his father.

"Was that really necessary Pa, the boy was just trying to have some fun?" Adam stated in Joe’s defense.

Now it was Adam’s turn to be taken by surprise. As Adam finished his explanation Ben’s fist made its mark on the left side of his cheek. "Don’t you ever question
me boy," threatened Ben. "I run this house and you will do as I say. There is no room for you to question my decisions around here." Ben grabbed Little Joe by his
hair and pulled him to his feet. "Get this brat into bed and then yourself," directed Ben shoving Little Joe towards the back staircase. Leaving the boys to follow out
his orders Ben spun around leaving three startled boys watching the retrieving back of their father.

Adam was the first to move from his spot and gathered Little Joe into his arms. Giving Hoss a forced smile Adam motioned for him to follow them upstairs. Adam
went directly to his own room and sat down on the edge of the bed. He patted the spot beside him inviting Hoss to sit. No words were spoken as Adam consoled
the youngest Cartwright whom he still held in his arms. The sobs were shaking the terrified boy yet he managed to reach up with his tiny hand and trace over the fast
appearing bruise that had been left on Adam’s face. Pulling back far enough so Joe could look into his older brother’s face Joe leaned forward and gently kissed the
red mark.

"Sorry Adam," he whispered. "I know it hurts. Papa done did it to me two times already today," explained Joe as his eyes filled with unshed tears. "I don’t wanna
stay here tomorrow with him. Can’t I please go with ya, I’ll be good I promise."

The pleading voice of his youngest brother was enough for Adam to agree. "Joe," Adam lifted the trembling chin causing Joe to look at him once again. "When did
Pa hit you the first time and why?"

Joe was not sure exactly when he had been struck by the hand that was suppose to have loved him and shrugged his shoulders. "Sometime today... I don’t really
‘member when," Joe stated as he tried to recall the incident that angered his father. "I don’t ‘member if it was when I couldn’t find my soldiers or when I was riding
my pony in the house." The tears overflowed running down the red cheek leaving a small stream of moisture behind. "Why doesn’t he love us anymore Adam? Why
did he hafe’ta hit us?"

Adam cradled Joe to his chest and rubbed the back of the child that he had helped raised since the boy had lost his mother. "I don’t know what’s going on with Pa,
Joe. I can only speculate that he is under a lot of stress," Adam stopped and smiled weakly at his brothers. "I know that is not a good enough reason but I don’t
know what else to say."

Adam had finally managed to calm his two brothers down even though his own emotions were still at bay. He undressed Little Joe and as he slid the nightshirt over
the small boy’s head he felt Joe flinch. Lifting the nightshirt back up Adam cupped his hand on Joe’s neck and drew the boy’s head down to rest against his chest.
Adam leaned forward and his mouth dropped open when his eyes fell upon the black and blue bruise that ran along the top of Joe’ back extending from shoulder to
shoulder. He couldn’t hide the anger in his voice when he lifted Joe’s quivering chin and questioned him how that mark had come to be.

"Papa hit me," whimpered the scared boy as he buried his head into Adam’s chest and wrapped his arms around Adam’s waist.

"He what!" Adam quickly soothed his brother realizing that his voice had risen a bit too loud and had caused the youngster to tremble.

"He hitted me with my pony." Joe’s voice was hardly a whisper and Adam had to strain to hear the words. Joe was terrified that if his father heard him complaining
to Adam that the next time they were alone he would be punished.

Adam swallowed his anger for the time being and allowed himself to concentrate on comforting his baby brother. The shock of hearing how his father had first stuck
Joe with the stick pony and then breaking it before intentionally tossing it into the fireplace caused an anger to surface within the young man’s body. He had always
respected his father but at this particular moment felt that respect slowly drain from within his inner soul.

Adam pulled the nightshirt back down over the shivering child and stood Little Joe on the bed as he unbuckled Joe’s belt allowing the boy’s trousers to slide down
his legs. Joe placed his hands on either side of Adam’s shoulders to balance himself as Adam removed Joe’s dirty pants. He picked up Joe and sat down in the
rocking chair that was near the bed to read him a bedtime story. Once more he noticed that the small boy cringed when he had been placed on Adam’s lap. Before
selecting a story to read Adam inquired about the tenderness of the boy’s backside and for the third time that night fought back his feelings toward his father when he
learned that Ben had kicked Joe on the backside.

Hoss made himself comfortable by changing into his nightclothes and had rejoined his brother’s in Adam’s room. He curled up on the bed to listen to the story that
Joe had selected. When Adam had finished the short story he was surprised to find Joe still awake. Normally the little boy was fast asleep long before Adam could
even complete the beginnings of a story. Picking up on the boy’s discomfort Adam placed Joe under the warm blankets of his bed and stole down the backstairs into
the kitchen.

As he was gathering some clean towels to take back upstairs he heard the front door close and quietly peered out the window on the kitchen door watching as his
father entered the barn. Minutes later he watched in apprehension as his father spurred his mount into a gallop without so much as a goodbye.

Seeing his chance at grabbing a snack for himself and his brothers, Adam hurried to put together something that they could eat quickly just in case their father
returned soon.

Upstairs Adam heated the towel by the fireplace then joined Joe and Hoss as they finished their snack. When Joe was through he ran to his room to retrieve his baby
blanket and his stuffed dog Scruffy. Once Adam had settled the youngster in the bed he placed the warm compress on Joe’s bruised shoulders. Adam laid down
along side his baby brother and rubbed the lower back luring Joe to sleep. Again the small boy had found peace in sucking on his thumb. This sign was sending a
warning signal to Adam as he noticed that his baby brother had reverted back to the tranquility of thumb sucking, something Joe had not done since he was three.
Thirty minutes later Adam left his sleeping brothers and quietly slipped to the barn to saddle his own horse. Adam’s curiosity had finally gotten the best of him and he
was determined to find out exactly what was happening in town that caused his father to desire to be there night after night leaving the boys home alone. Horrible
thoughts plagued his mind knowing that his father had also taken up drinking. He had smelled the evidence of liquor on his father’s breath and it bothered Adam to
think that his father might be depending too heavily on the bottle to solve his problems.

Adam fought his urge to race into town and putting his safety first, held back on the reins keeping his horse to a trot. The full moon was gracious with her light
enabling Adam to travel in the dark without causing any risks to Beauty. It took him just over the usual hour to arrive and was shocked to find Buck tied to the
hitching post outside The Bucket of Blood.

Adam stood resting his arms on top of the saloon door scanning the crowded room in search of his father before entering the noisy establishment. Confusion seeped
through Adam’s veins as he wondered why his father had chosen this saloon over The Silver Dollar. Ben had never approved of the happenings that took place in
the gambling institution and had advised his sons to stay clear of the trouble that had a way of finding itself in the company of the young men that hung out there. He
sighed deeply hoping to swallow the nervous feeling that had overwhelmed his body as he purposely went against his father’s wishes and entered the saloon. Adam
waved his hand in the air to clear a path through the heavy smoke that hung in the air. Sam greeted him and Adam quickly ordered a beer and searched for a place
to sit and begin his surveillance. Ignoring the lady of the night that tried several attempts to lure him into a dance, Adam made his way to the back of the room and
found a vacant table near the staircase that led upstairs to the brothel. Adam lowered his black Stetson to hide his face as he scanned the room in search of his
wayward father. Taken back by total shock by what he saw, Adam could do nothing but stare at the man in question.

His father was seated at a table with an empty bottle of whiskey in front of him. Two beer mugs sat among the two shot glasses as well as a bottle of cheap wine. A
lady sat on his father’s lap unbuttoning his shirt. Already Ben’s neck scarf had been removed and was draped around the woman’s neck.

Adam forced himself to continue surveying the delicate situation and swallowed the rising acid that was adamant about being set free. Ben had always impressed on
his sons the importance of respecting members of the opposite sex and certainly never approved of the involvement with the ladies who worked the brothel.

He felt his anger rise to another level when he returned his eyes back to his father. Ben was now locked in a tight embrace with this unrespectable person. His mouth
was pressed tightly to hers and his left hand was caressing the bare back of this so-called lady. Adam gulped his beer down and blinked his eyes hoping that what he
was seeing was not really taking place. His father’s right hand was resting on the woman’s bosom and Adam watched in awe as the hand gently closed around the
breast and squeezed. She broke away from the kiss and taking Ben by the hand led him up the stairs. Feeling like he had betrayed his father’s privacy Adam left the
saloon and rode home in silence sickened about what he had seen.

The gentle mist had turned to a steady rain as Adam entered the yard. Eager to go to bed Adam hastily bedded down his horse and made his way across the wet
grounds to the house.

It was well after midnight when Adam entered the house and paused when he thought he had heard the soft whimpering of his baby brother. He lit the lamp and
followed the sounds until he was standing behind his father’s desk. Adam pulled the chair away from the desk and got down on his knees. Little Joe was backed up
against the rear of the desk and had his head buried on the top of his knees. His arms were locked around his legs and he was rocking. Adam reached out and
placed his hand on his younger brother’s back and felt the tiny shudders that racked the vulnerable body. Joe slowly raised his head until he was looking at Adam.
The tears continued to run down the already red and swollen face and Joe ran his arm across his nose using the sleeve of his nightshirt attempting to wipe away the
evidence of his crying.

"Come here Buddy," cooed Adam as he gently tugged on Joe’s arms. As Joe crawled out from beneath the desk his soft blue blanket and his beloved Scruffy fell
from his lap to the floor. Before gathering the sobbing boy into his arms Adam stooped down to pick up the boy’s securities and then walked with him to the blue
chair in front of the hearth. He sat down and drew his brother closer to his chest allowing Joe to lay his head on shoulder. "What’s wrong Little Buddy," inquired
Adam as he rubbed Joe’s back.

"I woke’ed up and went lookin’ for ya Adam," the words came out in between sobs as the small boy fought to bring his crying under control. "When I couldn’t find
ya I went to Papa’s room." Joe stopped long enough to wipe at the tears that continued to roll down his cheeks. "Papa was gone and so were you. I…. I thought
maybe Papa was hurting you again and I gots scared," explained Joe as his hand released his hold of Scruffy, only to grab hold of Adam’s shirt gathering the material
into his fist and squeezing his hand closed. "I hid ‘cause I was afraid that Papa was going to hurted me again."

Adam consoled the small boy until he was almost asleep and then tenderly carried him up the stairs into his room. Adam tucked Scruffy under Joe’s left arm and
smiled as he saw the death grip that Joe still had on his blanket in his right hand. After undressing himself, Adam slipped under the covers and draped a protective
arm around the small frame as he drew the little boy closer to his own body. Sleep came hard for Adam, as visions of his father and the saloon girl were there to
haunt him every time he closed his eyes.


Morning arrived much against Adam’s wishes and he had to force himself to get up. Hoss was already up and dressed and was begging him to make breakfast.
Adam woke the littlest Cartwright up and put on a forced smile as the boy opened his eyes.

"Come on sleepy head, breakfast will be ready soon," Adam explained as he pulled the covers off of Joe’s body.

As they descended the staircase Ben walked through the front door. Little Joe released his hold on Adam’s hand and ran down the steps throwing himself at Ben.
Joe tried to wrap his arms around his father’s waist but was rudely pushed back knocking the tiny boy on to the hard wooden floor.

"What’s the matter with you boy?" yelled the drunken man, staggering as he attempted to take a step forward. "Get away from me."

Joe felt the onset of tears and just as quickly as he had ran down the stairs to greet his father; Joe forced himself to his feet and ran back up to his room slamming the
door shut behind him. Hoss was dumbfounded and stood rooted to the floor, starring at his father. Adam had had enough and before Ben could move from the
foyer, Adam approached him.

"What is wrong with you?" he demanded grabbing hold of his father’s arm preventing him from walking away. "You aren’t going anywhere until we have a chance to
talk about the ways things have been around here the last three days."

Adam turned toward the great room with intentions of having his father follow him. The iron fist slammed into the young man’s back causing him to fall forward to the
floor. Hoss was at his side and helped Adam back to his feet. Hoss led him to the blue chair and as Adam sat down he glanced over in his father’s direction.

"Is this what we are to expect the next few weeks while you work out the contracts?" questioned Adam as he winced from the pain radiating down his back.
"Because if it is I am taking the boys and leaving."

Hoss recoiled as he listened to his older brother yelling at his father. Neither boy had been raised to ever question their father’s actions and out of respect, never to
raise their voices to him. Adam knew he had overstepped his boundaries but the mental and physical abuse that had become a way of life for them gave him no
choice. He swallowed the lump in his throat and half expected his father to swing out at him again. Instead Ben had managed to stumble over to the staircase and
without speaking to either boy dragged himself up the stairs to his room.

Adam was fighting to control his patience but was losing the battle. As his father staggered to the landing he called out to him, hoping that his father would answer
him. "What’s the matter with you Pa?" Adam rose from the chair and stood at the base of the staircase. "Don’t you have enough courage to answer one lousy

Ben stopped on the last step and grabbing hold of the banister to maintain his balance, turned to answer his son. "If you don’t like the way things are, feel free to
leave." The words were slurred and he swayed slightly as he struggled to keep himself from falling down the stairs. "I have no objections to you packing your
personal belongings and leaving, but your brothers stay here. Do I make myself clear?"

Adam shook his head in disgust before answering. "Crystal clear Pa. But before you disappear into your room to sleep off your handover let me make something
clear to you." Adam took the stairs two at a time and stood by his father. "I will never leave my brothers alone to deal with what you have become." Before Ben
could respond to his comments Adam brushed by him and entered Little Joe’s room closing the door behind him.

Adam crossed the room and sat down on the edge of Joe’s bed. The boy had flung himself down on his stomach and was crying his heart out. Adam took a deep
breath and tenderly placed his hand on Joe’s back. "Hey Little Buddy, it’s me Adam."

The small boy rolled over and welcomed the arms of his older brother. Snuggling into the warmth of Adam’s body, Joe laid his head against the familiar beating of his
heart and closed his eyes. The familiar sight of Joe’s thumb entering his mouth had become the small boy’s way of finding comfort during his time of distress. Hoss
joined them and together the three of them sat in silence, each lost in their own beleaguered thoughts.

Hoss was the first to break up the trio and peeked into their father’s room. It was a relief to find the man snoring and fast asleep. "Guess he will be out cold for most
of the day," he informed his two brothers. "I suppose we hafe’ta get those hideous chores done before he does decide to wake up."


Hoss hitched the team to the buckboard while Adam saddled Beauty. Together the two boys loaded the back of the wagon with the supplies that they needed to
mend the broken fences. Little Joe was glued to Adam’s side and made sure that his brother did not wander out of sight. Every little sound caused the nervous child
to jump and Adam was getting concerned about the insecurity of his baby brother.

It was dark when the trio arrived back at the ranch and they entered by the kitchen door, secretly hoping to avoid their father. As they entered the kitchen voices
could be heard coming from the great room. All three of them jumped when Ben greeted his sons.

"I’m glad you three finally decided to honor me with your presence," he smiled and continued. "I was starting to get worried when you were not back before dark."

Three pairs of eyes opened wide with surprise at the tone that their father’s voice had taken on. Ben reached down and picked Little Joe up placing him on his hip
before draping his other arm around Hoss’ shoulder. "Come on inside boys there is plenty of hot food left to warm your empty stomachs."

Hurried looks were passed between the brothers as they walked with their father into the dining room. The table was covered with a variety of vegetables and
potatoes and in the middle sat a roasted beef. Hoss smiled and getting the nod of approval from Ben started to fix himself a plate. As Adam reached for a plate Ben
placed his hand on Adam’s shoulder and giving it a slight squeeze introduced his sons to the group of men that were scattered about the house. The pride was
evident in Ben’s tone as he boasted about his sons and their involvement with the ranch. Little Joe was smiling and quickly erased the events from the past few days
from his memory when his father tightened his embrace. Setting the boy to his feet Ben took a plate into his own hands and filled the plate with the choices that Joe
was requesting. Ben even took the time to cut the roast beef for him before getting the boy situated at the wooden table in front of the fireplace.

Talks of negotiations continued past his bedtime and Ben politely interrupted the discussion to take Little Joe up the stairs and helped him get ready for bed. Joe was
ecstatic when his father knelt with him on the floor to listen to his bedtime prayers. He squealed with delight when Ben tucked him into the bed and kissed him
goodnight on his cheek, promising him a day of fun tomorrow.

Hoss had sneaked down the hall to Adam’s room. He felt that his father’s behavior was real and wanted to talk to his older brother to get his opinion on the matter.
Adam had agreed with Hoss, both brothers arriving at the same assumption. Ben had finalized the contracts and was finally able to relax. The warm feeling of love
and compassion returned, only to reinforce their way of thinking when Ben entered Adam’s room to bid them goodnight. He cupped each one behind their neck and
drew them into a hug, apologizing for his behavior over the last couple of days. They too erased the bad memories from their minds when Ben gave them both a kiss
goodnight and a promise never again to let business interfere with his family. Sleep came easy for the three boys that night as they dreamt about their lives returning to
the way it had always been.


Breakfast was eaten in the dining room with Ben sitting at his familiar place among the boys. Hoss and Adam were asked to take a ride out to the northern side of
the ranch and blaze the trees that could be used to fulfill the lumber contract. Little Joe stopped eating and glanced over to his father. His was rewarded with a smile
and Joe’s fears were put to ease.

"How about you staying home with your Pa and help me get some of those barn chores done?" Ben studied the face of his youngest and his smile broadened when
Joe nodded his head indicating to him that he had accepted the proposition.

Joe stood on the porch next to his father and waved goodbye to his two siblings as they rode off to mark the trees. As soon as the riders disappeared from view,
Ben’s hand dropped from Joe’s shoulder as he directed his son to follow him into the house. "Come with me son, I have something to discuss with you before you
start your chores."

Joe inhaled deeply as he picked up on the tone of voice that his father used. The hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention and a slight shiver ran down his
spine. Ben went directly to his chair behind the desk and motioned for Joe to follow him. As Joe neared the chair Ben pulled him onto his lap and wrapped an arm
around the boy’s waist holding him in place.

"Now that your brothers are gone this will give us a chance to set things right." The icy tone that was used caused goose bumps to appear on Joe’s body. Again he
shivered as his father continued.

"I want you to make me a promise boy," Ben’s hand moved from Joe’s waist and gently held on to the boy’s arm. "This is something that will be our little secret,"
Ben explained as he smiled down at the small boy. "Do I have your promise that what I am about to tell you will stay only between the two of us?"

Joe felt his chest tighten and afraid to trust his own voice simply nodded his agreement to his father’s request. He was rewarded with a slight squeeze of the hand that
held his arm. "Good, I am pleased to hear that."

"Now……" Ben explained his requests to the boy and with each comment that was made Ben tightened his hold on Joe’s arm. Joe was paralyzed with fear and
knew that his father meant business. The threats that had been made against his two older brothers placed a fear of death in his heart. When Ben had finished
speaking once more the man made sure that Joe would keep his promise or be responsible for the uncertain accidents that would fall victim to his brothers. His arm
had gone numb from the pressure that his father exerted and Joe knew that this man would not hesitate to follow through with his intentions of harm his siblings.

When Ben released Joe’s arm immediately the sensation of pins and needles traveled down the length of his limb. He was pushed from the lap of the man whom he
no longer respected and that frightened him more than fear itself. Joe could no longer honestly admit to himself that he loved this man who was his father. Rubbing his
sore arm Joe slowly made his way to the barn to start the many tasks that he had been instructed to complete before his brothers returned for the evening.

The tack room was a mess and Joe struggled to hang the bridles up on the hooks. It took him several minutes to drag a bale of hay into the room in which to stand
on. The hooks were nailed up high and even standing on his tip toes could not reach them. The first time Ben checked on his progress the bale of hay was kicked out
from beneath him and caused him to fall to the dirt ground. He had picked himself up and stood staring into the dark depths of his father’s eyes. Anger was the only
emotion that Joe would read in the penetrating line of vision and he cowered himself against the wall. Ben laughed as he witnessed the fear that had invaded the small
boy’s body. "Now get to work on mucking out those empty stalls, your brothers will be home soon and you still need to pitch some of the hay down from the loft."

Fighting the urge to cry Joe meekly walked past his father and reached for the rake. Glad to be alone Joe went to work raking out the stalls and replenishing them
with fresh straw. He located the wheelbarrow behind the barn and found the shovel in the tack room. He struggled to lift the shovel that was loaded down with the
heavy spoiled straw and as he managed to raise the shovel up higher enough to deposit it in the wheelbarrow, Joe was knocked forward by a deliberate kick to his
backside. The shovel landed in its proper place but Joe was thrown off balance and fell forward scraping the side of his face on the barrow. As he was pulling
himself to his feet the pointed boot landed on the back of his leg. Joe bit his lip to keep from crying out as his father pulled him to his feet by a fistful of his hair.

"Forget it you sorry excuse of a boy," yelled Ben as he hurled the boy towards the ladder. "Get up there and pitch some hay down here so you can tend to the

Joe stumbled forward and as he placed his hands on the ladder another kick was delivered to the back of his leg. By the time darkness descended, Joe’s body was
crying out for relief. Every muscle in his body had been pushed beyond the normal limits of a seven year old and there was nothing Joe could do to prevent it. A
promise was something that he had been taught never to break. As the events of his day flashed before his watering eyes Joe silently prayer for pardon as he fought
with the demons to break his first promise, one that had been sealed with a handshake.

Joe was in the washroom when his brothers arrived home. The front that Ben had displayed earlier this morning was repeated as his brother’s entered the house.
Dinner was eaten pretty much the way it always was. The status of the fence line was the main topic and Little Joe amused himself by playing with his food. His spirit
had been shattered and the threat of harming his brothers weighed heavily on his mind. Hoss had tried several attempts to strike up a conversation that would include
Little Joe, but the boy only replied with simple one or two word responses. Using the excuse that he was not feeling well, Little Joe asked to be excused from the
table to go to bed. Adam and Hoss did not see the worried expression that had washed over Joe’s face as he glanced back at them from the landing.

Joe had changed into his nightshirt and was perched on the windowsill clutching Scruffy tightly in his arms. He had opened the window oblivious to the chill in the
night air. Gazing up into the starry sky Joe located his Mama’s star and in a whispered voice began to tell her everything that had been happening the last week.
When he had finished his story Joe blew his Ma a kiss goodnight and shut the window. He pulled the curtains closed and climbed into bed. Remembering that he had
not said his nightly prayers, Joe quickly slid to the ground and knelt down placing his elbows on the edge of the bed.

"Dear God, I know that I am not always a good boy but I do try hard." Joe opened his eyes and lifted his head so he was looking up towards heaven. "Can’t ya tell
me what I did to make Papa hate me so much?" His eyes filled with unshed tears as he sought the wisdom from his heavenly father. "I wanna make it right with him
so he will love me again. Please help me be good." Joe choked on the last sentence and then stood so he could climb back in his bed. Once under the covers Joe
buried his tear stained face in the soft folds of the pillow, ready to face what was sure to be a long lonely night. He recalled the words from his father and knew that
he would not be able to share the company of his older brother.

He was asleep before Adam entered the room to replace the quilt that had been kicked off. Adam adjusted the wick so that the lamp was left giving off a faint glow
in case his little brother were to awaken anytime throughout the night. Adam picked up right away that something or someone had caused the boy to feel insecure.
The thumb was clasped tightly in Joe’s mouth and when Adam gently tried to pull it out, the involuntary sucking reflex prevented him from doing so. He brushed
back a curl that had fallen to rest on Joe’s brow before kissing him goodnight.

"Hope you feel better tomorrow Little One," whispered Adam before vacating the room.

Joe sat in the far corner of his room muffling his cries with Scruffy pressed firmly against his mouth. The nightmare had returned twice during his fitful sleep and Joe
was determined not to welcome its return for a third. He yearned to run to his oldest brother but the threat that his father had spoken of repelled him from following
through with his need for comfort. Over and over the visions of his father placing a wilted flower on the bare dirt that covered Adam’s pine box kept the small boy
from leaving the confinements of his room. The lamp had long ago burnt out leaving the terrified child to sit alone in the dark, something else that Joe had a difficult
time coming to terms with. The evening passed slowly and even though the boy had willed himself to stay awake, sleep finally claimed him just before dawn.

Hoss entered the bedroom and was surprised to find the small boy hunched in the corner. Joe was leaning against the wood panel wall and his beloved Scruffy was
held captive in his tiny fist. The boy had curled himself up into a fetal position to ward off the chilly night temperature that had invaded the room sometime during the
course of the night. Hoss opened the heavy drapes allowing the bright rays of the morning sun to penetrate the darkened room. Gently he lifted Little Joe up from the
damp floor and placed him on the bed. Hoss figured that the boy must have had a pretty disturbing dream to cause him to hide in the corner. What he couldn’t put
his finger on was why Little Joe had not beckoned for either himself or Adam in his time of need.

Hoss reached up to instinctively pulled his brother’s nightshirt down to cover his legs when he noticed the small bruises that adorned the legs. His index finger softly
traced the discolored flesh before covering the chilled form of his baby brother. Immediately Hoss went in search of Adam to express his concerns of what he had
discovered; first the boy sleeping on the cold floor and second the numerous markings that marred the boy’s lower body.

Adam was already out in the barn tending to the morning chores and sighed a breath of relief noticing that his father’s mount was gone. Hoss reached for him without
warning his brother of his arrival and startled the older man when Adam swung around with his hand balled into a fist.

"Sorry Hoss, a bit edgy this morning," explained Adam as he uncurled his fist. "What’s wrong?" Adam questioned when he saw the worried look that had blanketed
the younger boy’s face.

"Adam, somethin’ just ain’t right," Hoss stated as his eyes darted quickly to the empty stall that housed Buck. "Somethin’ is wrong with Little Joe." The worried
expression was deeply etched in the boy’s face and Adam knew that Hoss was sincere with his reasoning.

What is it Hoss?" inquired Adam before reassuring him that their father had already left for town to take care of some banking needs and would not be back until
after lunch.

"Its best if’n I show ya." Hoss’ voice cracked as he took Adam’s arm practically pulling him towards the house. "Hurry up Adam, I think the boy’s hurtin’ something
fierce. Little Joe didn’t even move a muscle when I picked him up to put him back into his bed.

On the way up the stairs Hoss informed Adam how he had found Joe curled up in the corner of his room. As he started to describe the blemishes that branded the
small legs, Adam darted past him running the rest of the way up the stairs to Joe’s room. Lightly he pulled back the bedcovers to inspect the marks that had left
Joe’s skin discolored. Adam let out a low whistle stunned at the many black and blue abrasions that had left the young boy’s legs dotted with the positive signs of
internal hemorrhaging. The worry that had covered Hoss’ face was now very much a part of the older boy’s expression.

Adam softly shook the sleeping form of his little brother until Joe at last blinked his sleep deprived eyes open. Adam noticed immediately the small red lines that ran
across the whites of Joe’s eyes, indicating that the youngster had little sleep the night before.

"Hey, Buddy," soothed Adam fighting to keep his voice calm and steady. "What happened to your legs?"

The look of sheer panic settled in the soft hazel eyes and Joe gathered his legs up until he was sitting on them. "Nothin Adam," reassured the small boy as he
dropped his head avoiding his brother’s face. "You know, … just playin’ around in the barn and stuff."

Adam and Hoss both picked up on the slight hesitation Joe used before giving them his explanation. "What kind of stuff Buddy?" Adam questioned as he lifted Joe
up by his arms to place him on his lap.

Joe shrugged his shoulders and tried again to convince his brothers that nothing more than normal kid stuff caused the bruises. "Jus climbin’ up and down the ladder
is all, honest." Joe knew that he was not suppose to lie but genuinely thought that God would forgive him just this once being he was protecting his brothers from
bodily harm if they knew the truth about the origin that caused the bruises.

Adam relinquished his hold on the now squirming child as he begged to be allowed to dress and eat breakfast. The tension was gone from Hoss’ face leaving no
evidence of the worry that had been there prior to the discussion with Joe. Adam forced himself to smile on his brothers’ behalf and placed the boy on the floor.

"Okay then Little Buddy, you get dressed and I will heat up your breakfast," stated Adam as he turned to exit the room. "And if you hurry up I just might let you help
me white wash the barn today."

Adam turned back around in time to see the smile that had engulfed the little face and winked at Hoss before heading down to the kitchen. Adam made a mental
note to talk to his father later this afternoon about the possibility of getting Hop Sing back to the ranch. He hated to admit to himself but Joe and Hoss had been
correct about getting tired of eating eggs.

The other thought that haunted Adam’s mind was the boy’s sudden change of appetite. Adam had perceived the difference in Joe’s body weight when he had
picked up and placed him in his lap. He also had felt the defining outline of the boy’s ribs when he hugged Joe to his chest. It worried Adam that the boy was losing
weight over the anxiety due to the sudden change in their father’s demeanor.

The other topic of on Adam’s agenda would be to convince his father to allow Joe into accompanying him on the task of rounding up some strays that had wandered
away as a result of the break in the fence. It was obvious to Adam that Little Joe had too much free time on his hands and that Ben had not occupied that time like
he use to before all the contracts caused his father to act strangely. The man had appeared to be somewhat back to normal but yet something plagued Adam’s mind
and he was more determined than ever before to find out what it was that initiated his father to act so distant from the family.

Hoss had been directed to complete the task of mending the broken fence before taking the afternoon off for fishing. It had taken a great deal of pleading on Adam’s
behalf to get their father to agree to the leisure sport, something that the boys had not been able to do for a few weeks due to the heavy load of repairs that were in
dire need of being completed. Adam had frowned at his father’s request to start with the white washing that was suppose to have been done prior to the rounding up
of the strays, but the fence mending had taken precedence over the chore.

Little Joe had only smeared his breakfast around the plate trying to appease his brothers that he had eaten some of it. Eggs were becoming a ritual and Joe’s
stomach seemed to flip flop every time he saw them being served. After gulping down a glass of milk, Adam had finally caved in to the persistent nagging that Joe
had eaten enough and was anxious to start the white washing.

Adam had emptied some of the white wash into a small pail handing it to Joe to use. He showed Joe the area that he wanted him to work on and gave the boy a
small brush in which to apply the wash. Joe worked vigorously most of the morning with only one goal in mind. He wanted to please his brother in hopes that Adam
would keep him busy and not leave him behind to put up with his father’s physical and mental abuse. By the time that Adam called a stop to the work so that they
might grab some lunch, the barn had received less paint than what Joe had managed to coat his arms and hands with.

Adam set the pails aside and out of reach from the wandering chickens and steered Little Joe to the watering trough helping the boy cleanse himself before entering
the kitchen. Lunch was a repeat of Joe’s breakfast performance and finally tired of arguing with the boy, Adam gave in to his appeals of wanting to get back to
work. He told Adam that he wanted to make Pa proud of his achievements and that he couldn’t get them done if he sat there and played with his food. Laughing at
the serious look that the small Cartwright had on his face, Adam sighed and let Joe off the hook with a promise that he would eat a better dinner.

It was just after the boys had started back to work that Ben rode into the front yard. Adam stopped when he heard the approach of horses rounding the barn and
placed his brush into the pail before turning to greet the riders. He had to swallow his greeting when his eyes fell upon the lady whom his father had gone up the stairs
with the other night in the saloon. Ben dismounted and offered the lady his hand helping her down from her horse.

"Adam I would like you to meet Miss Sylvia," introduced Ben as he placed his arm around the tiny waist of the barmaid. "She and I have become good friends and I
have extended the Cartwright hospitality to her." Ben led her over to Adam and stood in front of him. "She will be staying with us for awhile and has offered to take
over the chores of cooking and cleaning during her visit."

Adam bit his lip and extended his hand to greet the woman. He had to force himself to look at her and anyone who knew him well could see that his smile had been
forced. "Welcome of the Ponderosa."

Adam turned his attention to his little brother and saw that Joe still held the paintbrush in his left hand. "This is my little brother, Joe." Adam waved his hand
encouraging the boy to come forth to greet their father’s guest.

"Howdy," said Joe as he offered her his hand that was covered in paint. "Are you gonna stay long?"

Ben’s eyes darted from his lady friend to Joe. Joe caught the disgusted look on his father’s face and quickly pulled back his hand wiping it down the leg of his pants.
"I guess ya won’t wanna shake my hand, huh?" he asked the lady as he took a step back.

Ben continued to stare at him anger slowly replacing the disgusted look from moments earlier. "Get that boy into the wash room and cleaned up before dinner is
ready," demanded Ben as he encircled the waist of the lady guiding her towards the main house. "Make sure Adam, that Joe does not drip any of that paint onto the

Adam waited until Ben had his back to them and then saluted his father. This caused the younger boy to burst into a round of giggles. Adam quickly placed his hand
over Joe’s mouth in a desperate attempt to quiet the boy before their father heard him. Adam cautiously glanced up to see if their father had heard and was relieved
to see that Ben had continued on towards the house. Sighing a deep sigh of relief Adam turned Joe back towards the barn and handed him his brush. "Back to work
Little Buddy we still have a few hours until dinner will be ready."

Adam stood back to admire Joe’s achievements and had to smile at the inconsistency of the brush marks that adorned the barn. Only able to reach slightly above his
head Joe’s creativity ended at less than 1/3 up the side of the wall. The brush strokes had been zigged zagged panning out in all directions.

"Good job Buddy," Adam praised as he placed his hand on the young boy’s shoulders. "What do you say we clean up and get ready for supper?" Adam turned the
boy around to face him and was honored with Joe’s arms entwining themselves around his waist.

"I done good, didn’t I?" Joe questioned proudly as he tightened his hold on his brother’s waist. "Can I help ya again yesterday?" said Joe taking a step back and
batted his eyes at his brother.

"You can help me anytime you want," laughed Adam and draped his arm around the slender shoulder gently guiding Joe toward the washroom. "Let’s get cleaned
up, all this hard work makes a man hungry."

"Yep, makes a man hungry," imitated Joe as he smiled up at Adam.

Adam was pleased to see his little brother smiling again and feeling in good spirits himself playing around with the small boy as they washed away the paint that had
gathered on Joe’s hands and arms. Noticing the speckles of white paint dotted throughout Joe’s curls Adam snickered and dumped the pitcher of cold water over
Joe’s head. Joe gasped out loud as the cold water ran down his face and turned to face Adam. Watching his older brother double over with laughter Joe quickly
forgot that he was upset with Adam and reached for the bowl of tainted water. Before Adam realized what Joe’s intentions were the cloudy water had been thrown
at him. Their charades did not go unheard from within the great walls of the ranch house.

Both boys heard the thunderous shouting and dropped their arms to their sides when the door was thrown open. Ben stood with his hands on his hips and the anger
was evident on the older man’s face as he reprimanded his sons.

"What in tarnations is going on out here?" Ben’s hand grabbed hold of Joe before he could slip behind Adam.

Both boys were dripping from head to toe with water and stood staring back at Ben. Joe felt the burning sensation of tears gathering in his eyes as he attempted to
pull back from his father’s tight grasp.

"Sorry Pa," Adam said as he placed his hand on Joe’s shoulder. "I’ll clean up the mess," reinforced Adam as he watched his father’s face turn red with anger.

"You’re damn right you will Adam," shouted Ben as he poked his finger in Adam’s chest. "The two of you take a bath and then I want you both of go to your rooms.
I will be up after I finish with my dinner and continue this discussion then."

Joe jumped as the door was slammed shut and his tears overflowed. Fear had consumed him and even the comforting words from Adam did nothing to ease the
knowledge of what their father had meant by ‘continuing this discussion.’

The wait was insufferable as Joe laid across his bed. His father’s threat left him feeling nauseous as he waited impatiently for his punishment. Twice he had opened
his door peaking down the hallway as he longed for the company of his older brother. Hearing the laughter that drifted up the stairwell gave Joe the impression that
he was in no hurry to deliver the consequences anytime soon. Swallowing his fear Joe stepped out into the darkening hallway and tip toed until he stood in front of
Adam’s bedroom door. Without knocking Joe opened the door and quietly slipped inside. He was surprised to see Adam lying on the bed face down.

"Adam?" whispered Joe hoping that his brother had not fallen asleep. He was relieved when Adam rolled over and sat up.

"I’m sorry Buddy," said Adam as he reached for his little brother. "I will talk to Pa and let him know that it was me that started the horsing around." Adam saw the
fear etched on Joe’s face and drew the trembling boy into his arms.

Joe leaned against Adam’s chest and sought the comforts of his brother as he wiped away the tears that had pooled in his hazel eyes. "I’m scared Adam, Papa is
always so mean and he yells all the time." The boy voiced his opinion as he fought to keep his emotions under control. "Why doesn’t he let us play anymore?"

Adam shook his head in confusion and pulled Joe closer to him as he rubbed Joe’s back. "I don’t know Buddy, I just don’t know."

Both boys were lost in each other’s company and didn’t hear the door open. "I thought I told you boys to wait in your rooms?" Ben yelled as he reached for Joe.
"Get to your room now." He shoved the small boy towards the doorway and turned his attention back to Adam. "How dare you defy me?" Ben shouted at his eldest
son before stomping out of the room. "I’ll be back to deliver your punishment just as soon as I finish with your brother."

The departing words caused a feeling of guilt to wash over Adam as he watched the door slam shut. He pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes
desperately trying to understand the circumstances that caused his father to act so unpredictable.

Ben entered Joe’s room and snatched a nightshirt from the dresser. "Put this on." Ben directed as he threw the nightclothes at Joe before unbuckling his belt. "Make
it fast I have plans for tonight and you and your brother will not be the cause of ruining my fun."

Joe removed his shirt before placing the nightshirt over his head. As it slid down his body Joe removed his pants. He peered into his father’s eyes frantically
searching for his father’s forgiveness. Only seeing the cold dark eyes returning his stare Joe stepped back away from his father’s outstretched hand.

"Get over here now," Ben commanded as he sat down on the edge of the bed. "I said now!" Ben’s voice clearly displayed the anger he was feeling and only caused
Joe to cower against the wall, tears blinding his vision.

"Joseph! Don’t make me tell you again!" Ben shouted causing his face to redden with anger.

Joe’s mind was telling him to obey his father’s request but his feet had a mind of their own and Joe stood frozen to the floor. Joe cringed and tried to back up further
against the wall but in vain as his father stood from the bed. Ben’s hand encircled both of Joe’s wrists and with one yank of his hand, jerked Joe forward. He was
unmercifully tossed across his father’s lap and with one arm Ben held him prisoner to the embarrassing position. The belt descended time and time again and just
when Joe’s whimpering had turned to a blood-curling scream did the tanning stop. Joe assumed that his father was done and when his father’s arm did not release
him Joe turned his head in the direction to the other voice in his room.

"That’s enough Pa!" Adam screamed at his father. "My God we were just having some fun." Adam’s hand held Ben’s arm in a tight grasp and both men struggled
against each other.

"Let me go boy," demanded Ben as he tried to pull his arm free.

Adam held his grip and shook his head no. "I can’t do that Pa you are being unreasonable about this whole situation," explained Adam as reached to free the belt in
Ben’s hand.

Joe was pushed off of his father’s lap landing on the floor in a heap at his father’s feet. "Joe." Adam addressed his little brother. "Go find Hoss," he ordered as he
continued to struggle with his father. "Go now!" Adam shouted at Joe as he felt his father pull his hand free.

Joe was not fast enough and Ben grabbed Joe by the hair preventing him from leaving the room. He turned and glared at Adam. "You get out of this room and wait
for me in your own room." The order did not go unheard but Adam refused to follow it. "I told you to do something Adam and I mean for you to follow through."
The look in Ben’s eyes had taken on the appearance of a wounded animal yet Adam again refused to obey.

"Very well son, if you chose not to listen to me I am forced to take it out on this kid," threatened Ben as he yanked Joe’s head back by the hair that he still held in his
fist. "You will be the cause of his pain and suffering if you do not remove yourself from this room immediately."

Adam closed his eyes briefly hoping to erase the horror that reflected in his brother’s eyes. Knowing that his father meant every word of his threat, Adam slowly
retreated from the room and closed the door. Instead of going to his room Adam made his way down the stairs to the great room. He had decided that he was going
to leave and get some help for his baby brother before Ben seriously hurt him. As he paced the floorboards Adam cringed and had to wipe at his own eyes hearing
the screams that echoed in the silence of the house. Adam knew that his father had overstepped his boundaries as Joe cried out in pain instead of the normal yelps
that would generally filter down the stairs. The small boy’s pleas could be heard and Adam could feel the pain that his younger brother was enduring because of his
decision to clown around with the boy.

It was many minutes later that Ben finally released his hold on the small boy only to carelessly knock him to the floor. Joe laid where he had fallen but continued to
call out to his brother. Ben kicked the still form in the small of the back before exiting the room to deal with his elder son. As soon as the door slammed closed, Joe
curled himself up into a fetal position cradling his knees with his arms. The crying slowly subsided as Joe closed his swollen eyes and searched for the darkness that
would take away his pain.

The beginnings of another war were about to erupt by the time that Ben had found Adam’s room empty and now stood face to face with the young man in front of
his desk. Sylvia was dismissed to clean up from dinner as Ben hurled his ironclad fist into Adam’s face sending the boy to the ground. Before Adam could block the
next swing Ben kicked him in the abdomen causing Adam to double over in pain. As Adam forced himself to his feet his own fist flew and hit its target causing his
father to falter back coming to rest against the edge of the desk. Adam fought with the guilt of raising his hand to his own father but quickly pushed the guilt aside as
he took aim and brought his fist back once more. Before Adam’s fist made connection with his father’s face Ben kicked out his foot and laughed as Adam dropped
to his knees.

"Guess you will have to adjust yourself to singing soprano for a few days," taunted Ben as he kicked Adam in the face. Adam struggled to defend himself but fell
victim to the harsh kicks that his father repeatedly planted on his midsection. Adam continued to receive the wrath of his father’s anger and before long fell to the
floor no longer aware of the punches that his father continued to inflect on his body.

Hoss returned to find his father and Sylvia cuddled up on the settee. When he questioned the whereabouts of his siblings, Ben had told him that Joe was already in
bed and that Adam had gone up to the lumber camp to survey the progress of the contract. Hoss ate his dinner in silence and feeling worn out from his day’s
accomplishments, excused himself from his father’s company and called it an early night.

Ben pulled Sylvia into his arms and as their lips met he whispered something in her ear causing her to giggle. She took Ben’s hand into her own and led him up the
stairs to his room. The door was closed and locked and all that could be heard from within the walls of the house where an occasional giggle and the deep baritone
laugh that would follow.


Joe struggled to open his eyes trying to ignore the pulsation in his head. Ben had slapped him on the backside of his head after he had released his hold on his hair.
Before forcing the boy over his lap, Joe was slapped across his face for trying to defend his older brother. Even after Ben had told him to shut up, Joe continued in
Adam’s defense, pleading with his father not to hurt him. He begged his father to take his anger out on him so Adam would be spared the hideous torture that had
and would be inflected on his vulnerable body. At last Joe was able to open his eyes even though the pounding in his head became worse. Every muscle in his body
called out to him to stop as he forced himself to his hands and knees. Blinking back fresh tears Joe used the side of his bed to pull himself up to his feet. With all of
his strength Joe managed to climb into the softness of his bed and collapsed on top of the bedcovers. Muffling his cries into the folds of his pillow, Joe’s left hand
searched and found Scruffy under the other pillow and pulled him under his arm hugging him tightly to his chest. Joe relinquished himself to the pain and closed his
eyes allowing the darkness to act as his refuge.

Ben had waited until he was certain that the boys were asleep. As quiet as a mouse he slipped from the house and entered the barn. Ben saddled up his mount and
led Beauty, who he had hidden behind the barn earlier, to the woodshed. Adam’s arms had been bound behind his back and his legs tied together. Ben’s neck scarf
was stuffed in Adam’s mouth and an empty flour sack tied over his head. The boy struggled and fought the entire way to the patiently awaiting horse. Ben put an
immediate stop to the thrashing when he mindlessly kicked Adam in the head rendering him unconscious. Once the hideous task of placing the unconscious boy over
his own horse Ben mounted Buck and spurred the horse forward.

It was a difficult ride to his hideout. Ben silently swore that the moon knew of his intentions and had decided to play a child’s game of hide ‘n seek thus using up
more of what Ben considered precious time. His lady friend was back in the comforts of his warm bed eagerly awaiting his return. The demonic grin spread across
his face as Ben pulled his horse to a halt. He dismounted and dropped the reins to the ground. Ben gathered the tools from his saddlebag and by the dim glow of the
lantern went to work prying up the boards that had kept his secret safe. He peered down inside the dark abandoned well and his laughter rang out into the night
causing an owl to screech before taking flight.

"Good evening Mister Cartwright," greeted the man as he held the lamp near the opening in the ground. "I’ve brought some company for you." The sounds of the
deranged man’s laughter echoed through the woods as he left to gather his surprise for the man in the well.

Ben forced himself to stand up straining his eyes to see what or whom the man was lowering into the well. A pair of boots grazed by Ben’s face and he held up his
hands to guide the body to the ground. A sack landed near Ben’s feet and a canteen of water followed before the man covered up the opening to the well. The
sounds of the hammer nailing the boards back in place sent a shiver down Ben’s back as all hopes of getting out of there diminished.

Ben’s identical twin arrived back at the ranch and bedded down his horse before entering the house. He rubbed his hands together pleased that things were working
out better than he had originally planned. After the sale of Cartwright’s prized bull the greed for more money drove him to further his risk and take what he could
even if it cost Cartwright his life. The boys were a nuisance but could be dealt with if it meant becoming the richest man in the territory. Adam had tried to come
between the craving of wanting more money and handling the smallest Cartwright boy. Now he too would surrender to the same fate as his father. The imposture
climbed the staircase pondering his next move that would eventually take him and his lover across the barren waters to a new life. He was still undecided as to what
to do with the other two boys and was hoping for something real special for them to make their entry to the other side more memorable. Undressing and slipping
under the covers, the look-alike’s hand moved to arouse Sylvia. His hunger for the woman had gnawed at him the entire time he was away from her and had made
the decision to take her with him when he left for Europe. The transfer of funds was almost complete and soon Mr. Cartwright would have nothing left to live for.

Little Joe woke for the second time that evening and slowly eased himself to the cold floor. He had to visit the outhouse and quietly entered the hallway praying that
his father was not downstairs. Using the wall for support Little Joe staggered to the staircase. The sounds of laughter coming from his father’s room gave Joe the go
ahead that he needed to make his way downstairs without being caught. After the use of the outhouse Joe used the back stairway to get to his room. Just as his
touched the knob on his door his father’s bedroom door opened. The glow from the lamp cast a shadow across Joe’s face and Ben could see the fear flicker in the
boy’s eyes.

"Where do you think you’re going this time of night?" questioned the double as he took hold of Joe’s arm.

"I…I had to use the outhouse Pa." Joe could not stop the quivering in his voice as he answered his father’s question.

"And what’s wrong with your chamber pot?" asked the imposture as he escorted the boy down the stairs.

"I..I gots sick in it." Joe took a deep breath and managed to swallow the vomit that was in his mouth. He gagged on the sour taste that coated his tongue as he was
dragged down the steps and into the kitchen.

His father stopped short and jerked Joe forward. Joe was unprepared for the sudden movement and tripped over his own feet landing on the floorboards with a
thump. The hair slowly rose on the back of his neck and Joe could sense the anger that seeped through his father’s pores. Joe’s head was jerked up until he could
gaze into the dark eyes of the man whom he had now grown deathly afraid of.

"Look at me when I talk to you," hissed his father. The man yanked on Joe’s arm bringing to the boy to his feet. "You get your ornery hide back up those stairs and
in that bed and DO NOT leave it until morning," ordered his father as he planted a firm hand to Joe’s backside. "Do you understand me?" Again another swat was
delivered to the already bruised buttocks to emphasize his point.

"Yes sir," whispered Joe as he painful made his way back up the steps that led to his room. Once he had closed the door Joe ran and jumped on to his bed. Afraid
of his father hearing him crying Joe buried his head under his pillow and asked himself the question that no one seemed able to answer. "Why?"


Morning arrived far too soon for Joe as his aching body had prevented him from returning to sleep. Boggled thoughts flooded his mind and he willed himself to get
out of bed. The desire to see and talk to Adam enabled him to get up and face yet another day in hell. Joe was disheartened when he arrived at the breakfast table to
see no one other than his father and Sylvia.

"Where’s Adam?" Joe questioned as he squirmed in his seat trying to find a more comfortable position. "He said that I could paint with him again."

The impersonator let his fork drop to his plate before answering the boy. "I don’t find it necessary to explain my decision making to a little child, but if you feel that
you have a need to know your brother will be gone for awhile."

The imitator smiled inside as he watched the boy’s eyes fill with tears and he continued the mental torments. "I have send Adam to check the various timber camps
and their progress, I don’t expect him back for a couple of weeks."

The look on Joe’s face was enough to satisfy the man now knowing he had made the right decision to eliminate the older brother. Joe slouched down in his chair and
fought to keep the tears from overflowing. He knew that he could not endure another thrashing and his head was still throbbing from the violent strikes that had
caused his head to snap backwards. Joe politely refused any food that Sylvia had offered him and asked to be excused from the table. Ben’s look-alike allowed the
boy to leave and directed him to start the barn chores being that Hoss was already out rounding up the strays.

He had accompanied his brothers numerous times to the barn and often would assist them with the small chores. Ever since his father had a change of heart when it
came to his sons, Joe had learned quickly that those chores were nothing but difficult for a small boy to work and finally realized why his brothers would not let him
participate with many of them. Even the simple task of filling the water buckets from the trough and carrying them back to the stalls proved complicated as the water
splashed about in the pail dousing Joe’s pant legs. By the time Joe had finished watering the horses his pant legs were soaked to the skin.

Once more Joe fought with the rake as he cleaned out the empty stalls and replenished them with clean straw. Joe could tell by the position of the sun in the sky that
it was noon and he still had to remove the manure pile to the back of the barn. He tossed in a few shovels and then lifted the end of the wheelbarrow and leaned into
the handles. After a slight struggle with the barrow, Joe managed to push it forward. As the boy turned the corner of the barn his father stepped into his path. Joe
turned the barrow causing it to tip over. The impersonator’s hands went to his hips and the look of disgust was apparent when the loud voice broke through the
serenity of the yard.

"Look at what you did," bellowed his father as he pointed to the over turned wheelbarrow. "This is what happens when you don’t take your job serious and give it
your all." To accentuate his point the man cupped Joe’s neck and forced him to his knees. "You best get a move on it if you want to complete your chores before
dark." The pop to the backside of his head only caused the dull throbbing to intensity. Joe closed his eyes briefly hoping that when he opened them his father would
be gone.

He let out the breath that he had been holding and silently thanked God for listening to his prayer. He watched his father until the man entered the house and then
pushed himself back to his feet. Without warning the pain that jolted through his head caused Joe to close his eyes in an effort to stop the queasiness that caused the
acid to rise in this throat. Joe rolled away from the offending stench that rose from the pile that he had deposited on the ground and gasped to fill his lungs with the
much needed air. The exertion caused from the stomach convulsions had left him feeling weak and frightened. He allowed his eyes to close attempting to gather his
strength that he needed to complete his chores before being allowed to enter the house. The afternoon dragged by and the more that Joe forced himself to
accomplish the more he felt the weakness claiming his body. By the time Joe put the last scoop of oats into the feeding bins the heavens had opened fulfilling the dry
grounds thirst for water.

As Joe entered the kitchen he heard his brother Hoss speaking with his father. Joe was soaked to the skin and the onset of the evening brought with it the cooler
temperatures of the night. Shivering from the dampness Joe wearily walked into the dining area. He was met with a gapped tooth grin that suddenly vanished when
Hoss saw the small boy trembling from the cold. Before Hoss could stand to assist his younger brother Ben pushed himself back from the table and slapped Joe
across the face.

"Look at the mess you have created on the floor young man," shouted his irate father. "Upstairs to your room now." Ben’s twin pointed in the direction of the
staircase and shoved Joe towards the great room when the boy failed to move fast enough.

"Wait a minute Pa," Hoss interrupted but felt that Joe should at least be given something to eat before being sent to his room. "Can’t he have some dinner?" Hoss
questioned as he walked across the floor to assist his little brother.

"If you can’t mind your own affairs then maybe you should join him upstairs," snarled the imposture as his hand swung out striking Hoss across the cheek. "When will
you boys learn to do as you are told without questioning my decisions?"

Hoss momentarily stood stunned at his father’s reaction to such a simple request. "Yes sir" he replied as he gathered Joe into his arms. "I’ll settle the boy in before
going to my room." Joe laid his head down on Hoss’ shoulder and slid his thumb into his mouth.

Once upstairs Hoss stood Joe on his feet and pulled a clean nightshirt out of his dresser when he noticed the dry blood that had stained the one that was lying on at
the foot of the bed. Hoss didn’t want to upset the young boy more than he already was and did not bother to question how the blood had gotten on the nightshirt.
His questions were answered as he undressed the shivering boy and dried him off with the towel from the washbasin. He winced as he avoided the welts on Joe’s
backside while he removed the moisture from the cold flesh. Hoss put the clean nightshirt on Joe and tucked him into the bed before turning his attention to the
fireplace. It didn’t take long for Hoss to get a blazing fire up and going to ward off the chill in the room.

Returning to the bedside Hoss was relieved to see that Joe had fallen asleep. He leaned down and softly kissed the boy’s bruising face before leaving the room. He
fought with the urge to beat some sense into his father and retired to his own bed with the thoughts of having a talk with Roy before he returned to the house
tomorrow. He already knew that he had to complete the chore of rounding up the remaining strays and it would be the perfect alibi to use some of that time to ride
into town.

Hoss tossed and turned most of the night afraid to close his eyes. Visions of the welts on Joe’s backside and legs haunted his dreams. The protruding backbone had
scared the daylights out of Hoss, as he now knew that his brother was slowly being starving to death. The thought of losing his baby brother plagued his mind and
Hoss avoided sleep in a vague attempt to keep the nightmares at large.

Ben had pulled a match from his vest pocket and stared in horror as he pulled the flour sack off of the unconscious man that had been so heartlessly dropped into the
well. His son’s features were pale and the bruises stood out even in the dim light of the burning match. Ben sat down and pulled his eldest son to a sitting position so
that Adam’s back could rest against his own chest. He had nothing else to do with his time so he sat back and lightly caressed his son’s face waiting for him to return
from what Ben believed to be his hell on earth.

The soft moans caused Ben to sigh in relief. Adam had been out cold for a few hours and it was making the monarch nervous. Ben continued to caress his son’s
battered features as the boy slowly blinked his eyes open.

"Shhh, Adam," soothed Ben as his one hand closed tightly around the hand that suddenly grabbed for the one that was on his face. "It’s okay son, it’s me Pa," Ben
informed the startled man.

"Pa?" Adam strained to focus his eyes in the darkness silently praying that he was not dreaming. The familiar scent of bay rum cologne convinced Adam that this man
was speaking the truth. It was then that Adam realized that the man back at the ranch had been using something other than the scent that he could definitely identify
as bay rum. "Where are we?" His throat was dry and his voice cracked as he relaxed against the man that he recognized as his real father. "What happened? What’s
going on Pa?"

Once more Ben quieted his son and drew him closer to help warm the shivering body that he held so tenderly to his own. "I don’t know where to begin Adam." Ben
expelled a large breath of air before spilling forth the events that lead him to the well. When Ben finished his tale of his abduction he leaned forward and rested his
chin on Adam’s shoulder.

Adam moaned softly as he adjusted his body trying to find a position that would lessen the pain in his lower back. "Pa that man is insane," Adam paused as he fought
the dizzy spell that invaded his head.

Ben fought to hold his anger in tack as he listened to the horrifying details of his imposter’s disciplinary actions. He felt his heart skip many beats as he learned of the
physical and mental abuse that his baby boy had endured and felt an emotion surface that he had not experienced in a long time. That feeling was shaken from his
mind as he focused on what else Adam had to say. Both men clung to each other as they prayed for the opportunity to repay the imposture for his inhumane acts of

The sound of thunder jarred the two men awake and they welcomed the flashes of lightening that followed. It wasn’t much light but it gave each man enough to see
what they had longed to see but couldn’t due to the darkness of their prison. Ben forced a smile hoping that he was signaling a sign of reassurance to his eldest son.
The smile that Adam returned was obvious a weak and tiring one. Ben repositioned himself against the dirt side of the well and wrapping his arms securely around his
son, pulled him into a loving embrace.

"Hang in there son," Ben pleaded as he saw that his son was once again rendered unconscious. He whispered his thanks to the heavenly father for the spontaneous
flashes of lightening that enabled him to see his beloved son. Fatigue eventually claimed Ben allowing his body to consumed the sleep that it needed for the fight yet to


The heavens had dumped an enormous amount of rain during the night and puddles of water remained where the earth had taken her fill on the abundance of water.
Hoss had slipped into Joe’s room before the crowing of the rooster woke the household. He had overheard an argument late in the night and was taken by surprise
when he heard the cries for help coming from his father’s room. Fear had seized his heart and Hoss knew that his trip to town would have to be done this morning
not after the strays had been rounded up. He was trying to decide what to do with Joe to keep him out of harm’s way. That decision had finally came to him as the
sun rose.

"Come on Punkin," urged Hoss as he pulled the covers free from the exhausted boy. "Ya hafe’ta get up baby." Hoss lifted Joe from the bed and placed him on his

Joe yawned and wiped at the heavy sleep that coated his eyes. "I’m tired Hoss, can’t I sleep just a little bit more?" He turned and tried to climb back into the bed. "I
don’t feel so hot either," he added as he leaned against Hoss’ chest. "Please can’t I just sleep today?"

Hoss pat the boy’s back. He understand the sickening feeling that the boy was enduring yet he knew he had to get him out of the house for his own safety. "Joe
please jus get dressed. There are somethin’s I hafe’ta to talk to ya about and we ain’t gonna do it here with Pa listenin’."

Joe willed himself to obey his brother’s request and with Hoss’ help got dressed. Hoss tighten Joe’s belt and buckled it in the last hole and still the boy’s pants
slipped below his waist. Hoss knew that he had made the right decision to go for help regardless what the outcome to his father would be.

Hoss held Joe’s hand securely in his own and led the boy down the back staircase and out the kitchen door. Once inside the barn Hoss put a bridle on Snowflake
and led him out of the stall. Handing the reins to Joe to hold him, Hoss saddled and bridled his own mount. Quickly he stuffed two extra blankets into his saddlebag
and in the other he shoved in some jerky, two extra canteens, some matches, a box of bullets and Adam’s gun that he had found laying on the credenza. Hoss
reached for Joe and lifted him up to place him on Chubb’s back. "Wait Hoss, I hafe’ta gets something," pleaded Joe.

Hoss lowered him back to his feet and watched as the boy climbed the ladder to the loft. It did not go unnoticed that Joe was constantly hiking his pants up only to
slid down again. Within minutes the boy appeared by his side and handed Hoss his beloved Scruffy and baby blanket.

"Do’ya gots room for them too Hoss? I can’t leave them here for Pa to burn." Joe swiped his arm across his eyes to dry the tears that had pooled as the memories
of his other treasured toys were destroyed at the hands of his father.


The heavens had been unmerciful with the torrential rains that quickly flooded the damnation that held Adam and Ben captive. The hurt that Ben was suffering was
nearly unbearable. The pain sent ripples of cramps up and down his legs as Ben struggling to hold the limp form of his eldest son above the water that had thankfully
ended at his waist. Adam had slipped in and out of consciousness throughout the night and now lay resting in his father’s weakening embrace. It would be so easy to
allow himself to go to sleep letting the misery end. Memories of his other two sons plagued his mind and Ben cried out his anguish knowing that he had to get out of
this hellhole if not for himself and Adam but for the sake of his other children. As long as he ceased to exist Hoss and Little Joe would be forced to endure the mental
and physical abuse at the hands of his imposture or fall victim to one of his uncompassionate schemes that would end their lives as well.

The cold water had left the two men shivering and forced to stand. The boy’s head had dropped down coming to rest on his own chest and Ben fought the urge to
close his eyes and let the suffering end. Ben’s arms had long since gone numb from holding his son and his legs shook with the added burden as he fought against his
own weaknesses to keep his son’s body from slipping into the watery grave. Ben continued to fight his own exhaustion knowing if he fell asleep he would lose his
hold and his son’s life would be over. Ben blocked out his own fatigue and stiffness praying out loud that he could prevent his child from slipping out of his hand
forever. Adam, his first born his legacy his reasons for living his will to survive and the most precious reason of all, the miracle that Elizabeth had left in his care.


Hoss gave his baby brother a weak smile and added Joe’s treasures to the saddlebag. He lifted the small boy up and placed him in the saddle before gathering
Snowflake’s reins in his hands and mounting his horse. Tightening his knees, Hoss wrapped his arm around Joe’s thin waistline and led the horses out of the barn. He
glanced quickly at the ranch house praying that their father would not hear them leaving and as he turned the corner of the barn, nudged Chubbs into a canter. He
had made the decision to trek across the meadow instead of taking the dirt road into Virginia City in fear that their father might come looking for them once he
realized that Joe was gone.

The ride into Virginia City was taking longer than usual as Hoss had to slow Chubbs to a walk. The jolting was too uncomfortable for Little Joe and even though he
had bit his lip to keep from crying out, Hoss had heard him. Hoss squinted his eyes as he looked up in the sky at the sun. He could tell that noon was approaching
and he was getting hungry. He hadn’t planned on stopping until they had reached town and talked with Sheriff Roy Coffee but the occasional low whimpers that
escaped Joe’s lips convinced Hoss that he needed to stop to give his brother a rest.

Once they had eaten some jerky that Hoss had taken from the kitchen, Hoss opened his bedroll while Joe went to relieve himself behind a small bush. Hoss had seen
the way Joe walked and winced almost able to feel the boy’s pain himself. He folded up the blanket so Joe could use it to sit on hoping to cushion the hard leather
seat of the saddle. Soon the boys were on their way. Hoss was becoming nervous as he thought back to his father discovering that Joe and his horse were no longer
on the ranch. His backward glances did not fool his younger brother and Joe shuddered at the thought of their father catching up to them. Hoss felt the shudder and
tightened his hold on the smaller boy as he gently drew him back so that he could relax against Hoss’ chest.

Hoss was busy talking to Joe and was not paying much attention to the ground before them and was startled to hear Snowflake snort as he pulled back on the reins
in Hoss’ hands. Hoss reined Chubbs to a halt and turned around to see that Snowflake had stepped on a rotting board and his front hoof had gotten stuck in the
wood. He dismounted and placed Joe on the ground beside Chubbs before handing him the reins to hold.

"Stay here punkin," he ordered as he slowly approached Snowflake speaking softly to him in a vain attempt to calm the horse. "Shhh, it’s okay boy, it’s just me,
good ole Hoss."

The calming voice seemed to relax the pony and allowed Hoss to take hold of his bridle. Hoss squatted down and was able to release the hoof from the plank
before pulling him to safety. As he tied Snowflakes reins to Chubbs saddle horn Hoss heard a fainted voice calling out for help. Quickly he knelt down beside the
boards that were covering the ground and called out. He was stunned to hear a reply not really sure the first time if he had indeed heard someone calling from
beneath the planks. He pulled two of the boards free and pushed the other three out of the way before kneeling on the ground once more.

Hoss sucked in his breath as his eyes fell upon two figures standing waist high in murky water. He could make out that the one individual was slumped against the
second one but could not see their faces in the dark well. Jumping to his feet Hoss grabbed for the coiled rope that hung on Chubbs saddle and with all thumbs
somehow managed to tie the rope securely to the saddle horn. Back on his knees Hoss lowered the other end of the rope that he had made into a loop into the well.
The second individual made a grab for the rope and fumbled with it as he lowered it down the unconscious man’s body. Once he tightened the slack in the rope he
gave it a weak tug signaling the man up above that he was ready. His voice was hoarse from the many hours of calling out for help and his lips had cracked from the
lack of fresh drinking water. He managed to swallow the cotton wad in his mouth and called out to the man that was peering into the watery grave.

"HURRY!" was the one word request that Hoss heard as he placed Joe back into the saddle to guide Chubbs forward.

Joe kicked his heels into the side of the horse and Hoss pulled on the rope desperately trying to keep the man from bouncing off the sides of the well. As the man
neared the entrance of the well a gasped escaped when he recognized him as his brother Adam. Mustering all of his strength Hoss tugged on the rope until at last
Adam was lying on the ground with his legs dangling in the well. His strength was nearly spent and it took Joe urging Chubbs forward to drag his brother to safety.
Hoss removed the rope and as he tossed in back into the well he wondered who the second man could be.

Nervously Hoss glanced back towards his brother who still appeared comatose and then cast worried eyes on his little brother. Joe had made an effort to dismount
wanting to run to Adam but it was Hoss’ urgent plea for help that caused the young boy to stay put. Hoss waited impatiently for the second victim to send his signal
that he was ready to be pulled up and out of the well. Hoss paced the ground around the opening and still no signal was forthcoming. He knew that he could not
lower himself into the well and expect Little Joe to pull him out on his own, even with the help of Chubbs. Throwing a troubled glanced around the countryside his
heart sped up with the unexpected sighting of riders approaching the area. His first thoughts were that his father had found their tracks and had followed them.
Quickly he stood and sprinted to Joe’s side.

As the riders closed the gap between them Hoss sighed a long breath of relief when he recognized Sheriff Coffee. As they entered the vicinity Roy dismounted and
joined Hoss at the entrance of the well. Mr. Devlin was among the riders and quickly took the rope from Hoss’ hands and ordered him to take care of his brother
while he assisted Roy. Not needing to be told twice Hoss moved to aid his older brother. Mr. Tatum had replaced Little Joe’s position on the horse giving him the
freedom to assist with Adam.

Little Joe had sat down next to Adam’s head while Hoss gently tucked a blanket around the shivering body. While Joe attempted to arouse Adam, Hoss worked on
getting a fire started to ward off the cold that had settled into his brother’s body. Adam’s skin had taken on a ghostly white appearance and Hoss knew that he had
suffered from exposure and needed to warm him up quickly. The flames were jumping quite high as Hoss dragged Adam’s body closer to the welcoming heat. Joe
crawled along side Adam and continued to urge his brother to wake up.

Both boys jumped when they heard Dr. Paul Martin call out their father’s name. Hoss turned and stared as the body of his father’s look-alike was picked up and
carried over the blazing fire. He felt somewhat guilty that he did not feel any remorse for the man that now lay shivering on the ground opposite of them. His mind
was swirling with the haunting memories of what that man had done not only to himself but also to his two brothers. He could not and would not be made to return to
live under those conditions and silently prayed that the older man would not survive. His thoughts were interrupted as he heard the scream rip through the air as Little
Joe ran from Adam’s side and jump on to the chest of their father. Roy pulled Joe off but not before he managed to deliver a few punches to the semi-conscious

"Joe!" Roy tried to get the small boy’s attention as he carried the struggling child away from Ben’s body. "You need to settle down before you get hurt."

The words fell on deaf ears as the hatred drove the youngster to fight against the arms that held him captive. "Let me go, let me go. I hate him, I hate him." Joe’s
screams got louder and louder the more Roy exerted force to refrain the squirming boy.

When all the fight had drained out of Little Joe, Roy slowly lowered him to the ground and watched as the small boy dragged his feet as he walked back to sit by
Adam. He turned his head once to meet the eyes of his father’s friend and without any emotion etched on his face spoke.

"I ain’t gonna go back with him Mr. Sheriff." The boy wiped at the falling tears that streamed down his face. "I hate him and I ain’t never gonna go back."

Roy forced himself to return to Ben’s side and looked down into the face of his long time friend. He gave Ben a weak smile. "I’m sorry that you had to hear that
Ben," soothed Roy as he gripped Ben’s hand. "The boy doesn’t know about the perpetrator yet. I thought it best wait until Paul can get you and Adam somewhat
stabilized before filling them it on what has happened."

Ben tightened his hold on Roy’s hand and returned the smiled. " I know how the boy must be feeling Roy." Ben hesitated as he drank from the cup that Paul held
against his lips. "I don’t blame him one bit." Ben’s eyes closed momentarily before reopening. "Adam told me what he has done to them and I don’t blame them at all
for their feelings."

Paul gestured for Roy to leave the talking for later after Ben regained some of his strength. He nodded his acknowledgement of the request and maintained his
position next to Ben as Paul moved to Adam’s side. Roy turned his head briefly as he heard Mr. Tatum and Devlin telling him of their plans to return with a wagon
for transporting the Cartwrights home. His attention was drawn back to his friend as Ben attempted to pull himself up to a sitting position. "Whoa Ben," Roy spoke
softly but firmly as he eased Ben back to the ground. "You need to lie down and stay still."

The pain and hurt were reflected in Ben’s dark eyes as he slowly responded to Roy’s demand and quickly closed his eyes trying to hide the tears that had pooled.
Ben clearly understood the feelings that his two younger boys held in their hearts towards him and could relate to the strong emotion of hatred yet it tugged at his
very existence that his sons believed that he could treat them in such a manner. The confusion that his boys were carrying around in their hearts as well as in their
minds nearly broke Ben’s heart in two as he silently cursed the man responsible for his sons’ misery.

Paul quickly examined Adam and was relieved to find nothing more than a few cracked ribs and a beauty of a bruise that had formed on Adam’s cheekbone. Aside
from the cold and dampness he gave Hoss and Little Joe the reassurance that their brother was going to be just fine. With Paul’s help Hoss wrapped another blanket
around the now still form of his older brother and smiled as Joe crawled under the covers to lie along side of Adam. While they waited for the wagon to arrive and
knowing what the boys had been through, Paul decided to allow the smaller boy to find his comfort in the closeness that the older boy’s body offered.

Paul took this opportunity to explain to Hoss about the imposture that had kidnapped the real Ben Cartwright and that it was in fact their real father who they had
just pulled from the well. He promised Hoss that he would have a talk with the youngest Cartwright just as soon as Adam and Ben were stabilized and back at the
ranch, giving the younger boy a chance to calm himself down.

Sylvia stood quietly off in the distance where the horses had been tethered and watched as the boys stood vigil over their older brother. She had seen the beating
that took place in the great room and knew she could not stay with a man who abused his position as a father. She had heard the screams and arguing coming from
Little Joe’s room prior and had felt her stomach lurch as the small boy cried out for Adam telling him that everything was going to be okay. As the imposture slept
Sylvia had snuck off into town to tell the sheriff of the abuse that was taking place out at the ranch.

The wagon had arrived and been loaded up with an abundance of hay cushioning the ride for the journey back home. Roy held on to Ben’s hand as he was lifted and
carried to the wagon. Once placed inside Roy joined Ben at his side again to comfort his friend. Adam was placed next to Ben and Hoss took his place at the front
of the wagon to drive the team home. Paul was left with the tedious task of persuading Little Joe to go home. The boy felt himself being torn in two as a part of him
wanted to go to be with Adam but seeing his father lying in the back of the wagon made Joe want to continue his trek to town. He no longer felt the love in his heart
for the man that he once respected and cared for. The fight was on again as Joe struggled to free himself from the doctor’s tight grasp. Finally too sore to fight
anymore Joe’s knees buckled and he felt himself being placed next to Adam. As he snuggled closer to his brother Joe glared into the chocolate eyes of the man lying
next to Adam. The hatred had a tremendous power over his other emotions and Joe continued to stare at his father. Ben held up his hand and slowly reached out
towards Joe and was not the least surprised when Joe slapped the hand away.

"I hate you! I’m only going home ‘cause of Adam and once he’s better we are going far away. Just the three of us." Joe moved his attention back to caring for his
older brother and eventually closed his own eyes as he felt the events of the day catching up to him.

The words cut into Ben’s core and he had to look away to hide his tears as they ran down his face. The agonizing ride home gave Ben the time he needed to pray
for the guidance and assistance he knew that his family would need to become one again.

As the wagon entered the front yard Adam stirred ever so slightly but Joe picked up on the movement and cuddled in closer to his brother. "Shhh Adam, I’m here
and I promise somehow I won’t let Pa hurt ya anymore." The words were whispered but Ben could hear them as the horses were pulled to a stop.

Adam blinked his eyes attempting to clear the fogginess that surrounded his vision and turned his head to see the troubled hazel eyes looking back at him. He tried to
speak but the words seemed to be stuck in his parched throat. He reached out and placed his hand over Joe’s hand and gave it a weak squeeze. Even that simple
gesture of love sent streaks of pain throughout his hands. Adam felt the young boy trembled as Roy and Mr. Devlin removed their father from the back of the wagon.
He saw the tears pooling in the troublesome eyes as Joe wiped them away with the back of his shirtsleeve and then blink to further dry away the moisture that
lingered. Against his body’s protest Adam tightened his hold on Joe’s hand. The frightened boy forced a weak smile before turning his head back towards the house.

Dr. Martin and Mr. Tatum had climbed into the wagon to carry Adam into the house and beckoned for Joe to follow. He watched as Hoss walked along side his
older brother and knew that Adam would be okay for the time being with so many other adults present. Quietly and swiftly he untied Snowflake from the rear of the
wagon and mounted his horse. He let his tears fall freely as he urged the pony into a canter and as he rounded the corner of the barn kicked him into a gallop. The
tears blinded his vision and he let Snowflake have his reins as the pony followed the familiar dirt road. He was lost to the shouting behind him as he furthered his
distance from hell.

Joe had only ridden about half a mile when he saw a horse tethered off the side of the road. Slowing his pony to a walk he neared the campfire and dismounted. The
man’s back was to him so Joe could not see who the person was. His fears had been replaced with hope that this man would allow him to travel with him so he
would not be on his own. Joe cautiously approached the camp and drew attention to himself.

"Howdy mister, mind if I share ya’re fire with ya?" Joe continued to move closer until he was standing next to the man.

The man smiled as he stood with his head bent low hiding his identify from the boy. Instead of answering the young boy’s question, the imposture reached out and
grabbed hold of Joe’s arm. The force behind the hold was too tight for Joe to wiggle out of and instead kicked the man in the shine. This only caused the man to be
angered and he swung out striking Joe across the face. Joe’s knees buckled and he was jerked back up to his feet. Laughter accompanied him as Joe was shoved
up against the truck of the tree that the man was using as his shelter. He was knocked to the ground by another blunt blow this time to his stomach. The man yanked
Joe’s hands behind his back and tied them securely together. Joe winced as the rope was wrapped around his midsection and tree preventing him from escaping his
tormentor. As the man moved to stand near the fire Joe saw for the first time it was his father, or was it? Joe knew that he had just fled from the ranch leaving his
brothers behind with his Pa. Confusion swirled around in Joe’s mind causing the boy to become dizzy. He felt his stomach convulse and forced himself to swallow
the rising acid that pooled in his mouth.

The man continued to laugh as he read the emotions on Little Joe’s face and reached out once again to inflect pain on the small boy. The adrenaline rushed through
the man’s body as he watched the boy cower closer to the tree attempting to further himself from the suffering. The man continued to strike at the unprotected face
and his laugher rang out in the stillness of the night. He didn’t hear the approach of horses as the cries of Joe’s agony filtered through the air. It wasn’t until he heard
the shouts from the man behind him that identified himself as the sheriff did he stop the torture and spun around to face the sheriff.

"Back away from the boy and raise your hands in the air," ordered Roy and he cocked his gun anticipating the man’s next move. "You are completely surrounded,"
he added not wanting Joe to witness the outcome should the perpetrator provoke any trouble.

Roy’s assumption had been correct and the man dropped his hand to his holster. Roy pulled back on the trigger releasing the bullet before the imposture could
remove his gun from his gun belt. Mr. Devlin quickly knelt down beside Joe and cut the ropes that held him prisoner to the tree. He glanced a worried look back at
Roy as Joe just sat there with his head cocked slightly to one side and eyes starring into the distance unfocused. It was Hoss’ voice that broke through the barrier
that Joe sat behind and finally he lifted his face to peer into the face of his brother. "Hoss?" whimpered the frightened boy as he held out his arms to his brother.

Hoss moved in closer and gathered the young boy into his warm embrace. "Shhh, Joe everything is going to be just fine, ya wait and see Punkin," Hoss encouraged
his brother as he stood and walked towards his horse. "Everything is gonna be just fine."

Joe sat on the edge of Adam’s bed sipping a cup of hot chocolate as the men told Joe about Dillon McPherson. He had escaped from a prison in Utah after reading
an article in the daily newspaper about Ben’s recent contract with the Army. Dillon had plotted and planned his scheme for months before finally making his move.
Ben had been on his way home from town when Dillon had ambushed him leaving him hidden in the well. What he didn’t realize was that Ben had three sons that
were raised to fight for what they thought was right and began to feel trapped when Adam made his move. Once he had removed Adam from the household, Dillon
had begun to panic when Hoss and Little Joe disappeared and quickly gathered his stash of money. When he could not locate his girlfriend Sylvia, he left the ranch
without her and was heading for town to take a stagecoach back east. He had seen a group of riders heading towards the ranch and recognized Sylvia among the
group. Dillon had backtracked and stayed hidden until nightfall. His plot thickened when Joe had entered the campsite allowing another hideous scheme to spark an
idea into the all too greedy head. Kidnapping was sure to guarantee thousands of dollars above what he already had managed to embezzle.


Joe set his cup on the nightstand near Adam’s bed and gazed hopefully into his brother’s eyes. Adam had to explained things to Joe at his level of understanding and
saw the tears gather into his brother’s hazel eyes when Joe heard that the man who had hurt him was nothing more than a man who looked just like Pa. Joe felt the
desire to run to his father and throw himself into his arms but his body protested every time he attempted to move. Picking up on the boy’s distress Adam struggled
to sit up. Two strong hands quickly eased him back to the mattress and Adam smiled up at the man whose hands stopped him from moving.

Joe felt the pressure of the strong hands gently squeezing his shoulders. He looked at Adam and saw the smile on his brother’s face before turning around to see the
person who was attached to the hands. Joe let his father gather him up and he wrapped his arms around Ben’s neck burying his face into the curve of Ben’s neck.
The men who had relayed the saga to Joe quietly slipped out of the room closing the door behind them. No one dared to interfere with the reunion of father and

Adam and Ben had a restless night’s sleep, each fighting to ward off the details of the nightmare that had devoured the family in a horrifying grip of insanity. As the
sun welcomed a new day the Cartwrights descended the stairs making their way to the magnificent feast that Hop Sing had prepared as a welcome home meal.
Breakfast was started without the presence of the youngest Cartwright who they all felt needed the rest. In the midst of the meal, Little Joe came bounding down the
stairs and threw himself into his father’s lap, savoring the warm loving embrace that he so longed for.

When he finally broke the hold on his father Joe walked around to his own chair stopping in his tracks. His mouth dropped open as he turned his head to question his
father about the brown paper package that had been placed next to his plate. Ben chuckled as he watched his son’s confusion play about his face and answered the
unasked question.

"Joseph, Adam told me about your toys and Roy was kind enough to drop off this package earlier this morning." Ben smiled and watched as Joe tore into the paper,
revealing the new set of wooden soldiers that matched the ones that imposture had so carelessly thrown into the fire.

As Joe placed the figures on to the table, Adam slipped quietly from his chair walking over to Ben’s desk. Joe felt the strong yet gentle hand that came to rest on his
neck. As Joe leaned back to look at who was touching him, he smiled when Adam handed him a replica of his stick pony that had fallen prey to the perpetrator.

No longer able to stop his tears, Joe smiled a silent thank you to each member of his family and swiped the back of his hand across this face thus removing the tiny
droplets of water from his rosy cheeks.

Ben gave the family the day off to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Each of them found themselves drawn into mock battle that Little Joe had displayed with
the new soldiers scattered across the floor in the great room.

Hop Sing stood near the dining room table and smiled as he witnessed Ben sitting on the floor consumed in what Joe had called, ‘The Battle of the Bens.’ "Be careful
Lil’One at which Ben wins the war! Better put your brand on the correct one."

And with that Little Joe grabbed the real Ben and planted wet kisses all about his face causing the onlookers to burst into joyful laughter that had been absent from
their home for too long.


January, 2002