By: Stephanie James
Little Joe is walking in his sleep…what’s going on?
“Do ya see it? DO YA!?” Stubby shouted anxiously.
“No, I don’t see it!” Hal snapped back in a snide tone. “I don’t see nothin’. It’s too damn dark and the holes too narrow.”
“Well how about the rope? Do ya see the rope? Coop, tied it off just below the opening,” Stubby pressed. “Look harder, it’s gotta be there!” He urged with growing anger.
“No it ain’t GOTTA be there! It otta be there but it ain’t gotta.” Hal shouted. “And I done told ya, I don’t see nothing, no rope, no nothin’!” Hal growled, only to hear his partner Stubby sigh disgustedly. “Well if ya think ya can do better, then be my guest.”
“Fine! Git out the way,” Stubby said as he laid down to peer into the opening of the hole. The hole was a narrow ventilation shaft the led down to a larger cavern that was once part of a mine. The cavern was criss-crossed with rickety support timbers, but miners had even mined above the old timbers, leaving room to stand on the old beams. The bottom was covered with a few feet of stagnant water. The vent shaft was the only way to the cavern as the main mine was shut down years before after a cave in.
“Well here’s the rope, you idiot,” Stubby said smugly, but as he pulled up the rope he became worried, it was too light to be supporting their treasure. He shot a troubled look to his partner. He pulled the rope from the hole and held the frayed end up for Hal to see.
“It’s gone!” Hal stated the obvious.
Stubby grabbed the end of the rope and cursed, “Damnit! Some bodies took the money!” He shouted.
“Maybe,” Hal agreed, “but nobody knewed it was here,” he offered.
“That kid, that kid knew it was here!” Stubby shouted his anger. “Stupid Coop and his bright ideas… ‘Let’s take that kid…he might come in handy’” Stubby mocked their former leader.
“The kid, oh, come on…” Hal started to argue the logic of his friends’ thinking, but was cut off.
“Well who else?” Stubby yelled.
Hal took the rope and held it up to Stubby’s face so the frayed ends were obvious, “It mighta just fell to the bottom. The rope coulda worn through over the years.”
“Or the kid coulda took it…but it don’t matter, either he’s gonna give it back or he’s gonna get out of there. I’ve waited too long to come away empty handed now!” He bellowed out his frustrations. “Ya remember that kid’s name?” He shot a questioning look to Hal.
“Ya, his name was, Cartwright, Joe Cartwright.” Hal said
It was Sunday morning in Virginia City. The town was relatively quiet, but church services had just concluded and the town folk began spilling out into the street. Over at the stage depot the mid-morning stage was arriving and the lone passenger was stepping out of the coach. The middle-aged gentleman smiled and patted his rib cage as he filled his lungs with the clean mountain air. The looked up and down the street searching the faces of the town’s folk for someone he might know. A huge smile graced his face as his eyes fell on Ben Cartwright.
“Ben, Ben Cartwright!!!” The man called down the street.
Ben looked toward the direction of the voice and he studied the man walking toward him. At first, Ben was puzzled and he looked at his two older sons to see if they recognized the man. It was obvious they didn’t by the shoulder shrugs he got to his unspoken query.
“Who’s that, Pa?” Little Joe asked curiously, but no one answered him.
Ben smile cordially at the man and then his eyes lit-up with recognition as he slapped his thigh and let out a joyful greeting, “Well by golly, Jake Kelly,” Ben exclaimed as he grasped the man’s outstretched hand and shook it vigorously. “By Golly,” Ben said again happily, “How are Jake? It’s surely is good to see you again, is Madeline with you?”
“No, no she not. She’s at home. I was traveling on business out to San Francisco and I promised myself I’d stop in Virginia City on my way home, so here I am.” Jake Kelly answered, his face beaming with a huge smile.
“Well I’m glad you did. Can you come to the house for supper? Ben asked hopefully. “I’d love a chance to catch up with you my old friend”
“I was surely hoping you’d ask, Ben,” Jake replied glancing to the young men standing with Ben. “These men can’t be your little boys, Ben?” Jake asked with a chuckle.
“Yes they can,” Ben, answered as he turned to Adam and
clasped him on his shoulder. “You remember Adam, of course. He’s a college graduate now.” Adam blushed slightly and extended his
“Mr. Kelly, it’s good to see you again sir. It’s been a long time.” Adam said politely.
“Yes it has Adam, too long. Well congratulations are in order. Did you get that degree in architecture or engineering…or perhaps both?” He asked with a smile.
“Both,” Adam replied with a grin. Jake Kelly had been a big supporter of Adam’s dreams of college and urged him follow his passion.
“Well good for you son! I’m sure Ben must be very proud of you. I knew you’d do well. I think we left Virginia City shortly after you left for the college. And it’s Jake now, please,” Jake said. Adam smiled at the compliment.
“Thank you, Jake.”
Jake Kelly turned toward Hoss, “This strapping young man must be Hoss. All grown up now I see. You must be of tremendous help to your father, I’m sure. ” Jake beamed with happiness as he shook Hoss’ hand, he was happy to see friends again.
“Hoss handles all the cattle operations for us now, Jake. He has quite the aptitude for dealing with the stock,” Ben said with pride.
“Always has as I recall,” Jake agreed with a smile. Hoss blushed slightly at the praise.
“Well now, we have Adam and Hoss, so this must be Little Joe,” Jake said as he patted Little Joe on the back of his shoulder. “But you’re not so little any more are you Joe? My goodness you’ve grown-up. Last time I saw you, you were no higher than your Pa’s knee. How old are you now, Joe?
Joe beamed as someone finally noticed he was getting bigger and not a little kid any more. “I’m fourteen now sir,” he answered proudly.
“Fourteen!?!?! Well I’ll be. It didn’t seem like eight years had past until I got a look at these son’s of yours, Ben. A fine lot they are Ben, you must be very proud of them.”
“Oh I am. They keep me on my toes and keep me young,” Ben said with fatherly pride.
“Young,” Jake laughed pointing to Ben’s hair. “So where did all that snow on the roof come from then? This one still giving you fits,” Jake said again patting Joe on his shoulder.
Everyone, except Joe, joined in the laughter as memories of Ben’s old friend, Jake Kelly, came flooding back.
“Mr. Kelly sure has your number Joe,” Hoss laughed. “Oh the stories we could tell you about my little brother…”
Joe’s face clouded as he thought they were laughing at him. Ben saw the storm brewing and was quick to interrupt to defuse the boy’s temper. “Joseph has added his share of gray hair to my head, but then each of the boys can claim their share, right boys?” Ben defended his youngest trying to head off an outburst and it worked.
“That may be, Ben, but I recall my last day or so in town were full of worry thanks to your youngest,” Jake said.
”Oh?” Adam asked with interest. There was nothing he liked better than to see his youngest brother squirm and stories of his antics always produced squirming. “I don’t think I’ve heard this story.”
“Well I remember. I think you’d only been away at college for a few months.” Hoss started to explain and Adam looked to his father with an unspoken question.
“I don’t think I wrote you about this Adam,” Ben explained. “You’d only been gone a little while and I didn’t want you to think we couldn’t manage,” Ben paused and turned to his old friend, “Jake, we were going over to the hotel for dinner, please join us then we can all head back to the ranch for a late supper and you can spend the night,” Ben extended the invitation, knowing he would enjoy a day with an old friend.
“Oh, I’d like that Ben, just thinking about Hop Sing’s cooking makes my mouth water, but I’m afraid I’ll need to return to town later tonight, unfortunately I have to catch the early stage in the morning.” Jake said with regret.
“Well then we’ll make the most of the day.” Ben said with his usual positive attitude.
The group settled into their table in the restaurant and Adam returned the conversation back to the story about Joe that he’d not heard. “So what was it my little brother did to cause so much worry?”
“I don’t remember doing anything to worry folks, Pa?” Joe defended himself.
“You never do, do you shortshanks?” Hoss asked with a chuckle.
“Ha Ha, very funny.” Joe snapped.
“Now settle down Joe, this was along time ago I’m not surprised you don’t remember. In fact, you didn’t remember much of what happened then either,” Ben soothed.
“And so…” Adam prompted earning him a ‘look’ from Ben.
“And so,” Ben continued, “it was also a Sunday and we had just finished with church. We were standing around outside talking when someone came running down the street yelling FIRE.” Ben began the story and Jake jumped in.
“The fire was in my freight warehouse and apparently the entire building was involved before anyone noticed. So all the men took off in run toward the fire, we were afraid we’d lose the whole block. Hoss came along too, to handle the water pump, but Joe stayed behind with Madeline.
“Why didn’t I get to go?” Joe asked indignantly.
“Joseph, you were only six years old, son,” Ben said gently.
“Oh” Joe said sheepishly.
“Go on,” Adam said, intrigued.
“Well we had our hands full with the fire,” Ben started again but Jake quickly took over and told the story in animated fashion. “We must have fought that fire for hours. When we finally got it knocked down and I started to get a look at the remains of my warehouse I realized that the safe had been broken into and a shipment of gold coins was missing. Oh, I tell you I couldn’t believe it. The warehouse was lost, plus our home which was next door and a few other buildings. It was a real mess. We assumed the fire was set to cover up the robbery. But it didn’t matter, with the warehouse gone; I was ruined in Virginia City. By the grace of God, Madeline and I were packed and ready to leave that next afternoon on a trip to St. Louis. So at least we had some personal belongings. So I decided we’d just take that trip and start over in St. Louis,” Jake paused in his story telling to take a drink of water.
Adam shook his head in disbelief, “I can’t believe you didn’t write me about this. I remember Pa saying you’d moved on, but he never said why. This is unbelievable,” Adam started but was interrupted.
“Oh but it gets worse,” Jake started again. “Madeline was beside herself with worry about the business and my fighting the fire that she didn’t pay close enough attention to your little brother so as you can imagine, Joe being Joe, he wandered off.”
“Naturally,” Adam said and Joe scowled.
“By time we realized Joe was gone, we figured he could have been gone for hours. We had no idea which way or where he went. We were all exhausted from fighting the fire, but we knew we had to find the boy, so we started to search the town.” Again Jake paused for a drink and Ben took up the story.
“We searched all over town and I was frantic. By nightfall we still had no clue and I became convinced that who ever set the fire and stole the gold must have taken Joe as a hostage. I was sick with worry. I sent Hoss to spend the night with Hop Sing who was visiting at his father’s and we continued to search the town. By morning I was fit to be tied. Roy had been urging me to take Hoss home, get some rest and then return with the hands to continue the search. I finally agreed and we went home.”
“Well where were you?!” Adam asked Joe who also sat spellbound by the story.
“I don’t know, I don’t remember any of this.” Joe stated apologetically.
“Well that’s what you said then, too,” Ben continued. “After searching for nearly 18 hours, Hoss, Hop Sing and I drove into to the yard to find Joseph curled up and sleeping on the rocking chair by the door.”
“Well where had he been all day?” Adam asked again.
“We never did find out, did we Joseph?” Ben replied and Joe just shrugged his shoulders.
“I asked him over and over where he had been and he always said he couldn’t remember, just that he’d gotten bored with the ladies and went for a walk. And if I recall correctly, even a trip over my knee for wandering off didn’t jog your memory.”
“So you never found out where he was? How did he get to the ranch?” Adam pressed.
“No, never did find out and he must have walked all the way back. I figured in the time he was gone he could have made it. And at that point I was just happy to have him back safe and sound,” Ben answered.
“So what happened to the gold?” Adam asked Jake.
“We never did find it or the robbers. Roy made an investigation, but nothing came of it. There were no witness, no clues, no trail…it was pretty hopeless. But once we knew Joe had been found and his disappearance had nothing to do with the robbery, Madeline and I took the stage east and we left Virginia City and all our problems behind. I started over in St. Louis and thank the Good Lord, I’ve done well.” Jake concluded.
Adam shook his head in disbelief, “Leave it to you little brother. You had the whole town in a uproar and you’re home asleep.”
“I didn’t do nothing,” Joe stated defiantly.
“You never do,” Adam said sarcastically.
“Okay, now that’s enough, it was a long time ago and of no consequence now…so Jake tell me how Madeline is and….” Ben turned the conversation, and the old friends talked throughout the meal, until Ben wiped his mouth again and concluded, “…so let’s head back to the Ponderosa and relax before supper. Joseph, please run down to the livery and bring the surrey back here,” Ben said with a smile, knowing how much Joe loved to drive the rig. “Sure, Pa,” was the excited reply from his youngest.
Outside the livery, Hal and Stubby stood just looking around. They had spent the most of the midday in the saloon and were now feeling the effects. “Well where’d ya figure we outta start asking around?” Hal asked softly. “I don’t know,” Stubby said disgustedly, “Iffin we get too nosey folks’ll start a wonderin’,” he finished. Just then Joe ran by and into the stable.
“Hey, you’d get a look at that kid that just went by?” Hal asked.
“Na. Why?” Stubby questioned.
“He just looked kinda familiar, like it could be the kid wez lookin’ fer; older o’course, but maybe….” but before he could finish Stubby was through the doors of the livery and staring at Joe.
“It’s gotta be him,” Stubby whispered to Hal and continued, “Big mop a hair and them eyes, yeah it’s him,” his voice trailed off as he moved from Hal over to Joe.
Joe was adjusting the harness on the horses when he felt a hand grab his upper arm. “Hey,” he shouted, “let go, you’re hurting me,” the fearless boy demanded.
“I’ll let go when I’m good and ready sonny, now yous got something that belongs to me and I want it. And I want it now,” Stubby demanded.
Joe’s eyes grew wide at the man’s demands and the smell of alcohol on his breath, he had no idea what the man was talking about. “I’m sorry mister, I don’t have nothing of nobodies, I swear. I don’t even know you.” Joe tried to explain as he twisted from the man’s grasp and jumped up into the surrey.
“Oh, you know me boy, you mighta forgot jist now, but you think about it, and it’ll come to ya. And when it does you’ll know I’m gonna get back what’s mine,” Stubby hissed, wagging his finger at Joe.
“Really mister, you must have me mixed up with some other kid,” Joe said trying to mask his fear. “ I gotta go, my Pa’s waiting for me,” Joe added hoping the man would step aside so he could drive the buggy out.
“Oh, you can go for now kid, but mark my words, “I’ll get back what’s mine, boy,” Stubby stated coldly.
“I hope you do mister,” Joe called back to the man.
Hoss was walking down the street as Joe approached. “What took you so long, Shortshanks? I was just coming to help ya. Pa wants to get home,” Hoss said climbing into the surrey giving Joe a frustrated look.
“Sorry Hoss, There were a couple of drunks in the barn and they were talking crazy. Trust me I got outta there as quick as I could,” Joe explained.
“You alright?” Hoss asked concerned.
“Sure, lets go,” Joe said as he flicked the reins.
“Alrighty then, drive on driver,” Hoss said with a chuckle.
Back in the barn the two men watched as Hoss and Joe drove down the street.
“Well was that him, ya figure?” Hal asked.
”Ya it was him, he just don’t remember, so were gonna have to remind him,” Stubby said snidely.
“Well it don’t wonder he can’t remember, Coop gived him so much of that joy juice, just so as he would forgit,” Hal explained.
Stubby rolled his eyes and growled, “Well he remembered enough to go back and take my money!”
“Our money!” Hal corrected. “And ya don’t know he took it,” He added.
“He took it! Oh he took it, all right!” Stubby yelled as he turned and walked back to the saloon.
The lively group returned to the Ponderosa and the remainder of the day and evening was spent in conversation, as the group relived other memories, and traded tales about life in St. Louis and life on the Ponderosa. Everyone had stories to tell, even Joe, as the happy group laughed and talk well into the night. Finally Jake declared it was time to return to town.
“Well it certainly was good to see you again Jake, please give my best to Madeline and next time you’re in the area on business, take a few days out for pleasure and come to stay with us.” Ben said warmly.
“I’ll do that Ben. We can’t have another eight years pass without seeing one another again. Thanks again for your hospitality and I’ll keep in touch, this time.
“You do that,” Ben said, as he shook is friends’ hand. “Joseph, say good night and good bye then it’s off to bed for you, it’s late son,” Ben added when Joe look like the was going to argue. But he just rolled his his eyes and did what he was told. “Adam and Hoss will see you to town Jake, now you boys drive carefully.” Ben instructed.
Adam and Hoss shared a look and a chuckle knowing their father would always worry about his sons.
As they headed out the door Adam smiled and explained to Jake, “Pa’s still an old mother hen,” The older man grinned and laughed, for he knew Ben Cartwright well.
“It my prerogative, now get. Ben said with a smile.
“Bye Ben” Jake said one last time as the surrey headed out of the yard.
“You know he’ll be waiting up for us when we get home,” Hoss said with a smile.
“But he’ll claim he was just up reading,” Adam added.
“And you boys wouldn’t want it any other way.” Jake said knowingly.
”No we wouldn’t,” Adam and Hoss answered together.
As the boys predicted, Ben was sitting in his favorite red leather chair with a book across his lap as they came in the house. His head was resting on the back of his chair and his eyes were closed. Adam and Hoss each smiled at the sight of their father as they removed their gun belts and closed the door. Ben stirred at the sound of the door closing. “Oh hello boys, I was, um, reading and just took a moment to rest my eyes.”
“Of course, Pa,” Adam said with a soft chuckle as he moved over toward the fireplace.
Ben cleared his throat and asked, “Did Jake get settled at the hotel all right?”
“Yup, no trouble at all, Pa,” Hoss answered as he sat down on the settee.
Then a noise on the stairs drew all their attention. Joe was walking quietly down the stairs and he stopped on the landing. He turned toward the great room and said,
“Stop! You’re using up all the good air!” Then he turned and went back up stairs.
Ben, Adam and Hoss all looked at each other confused and after a moment of silence, Hoss chuckled and said, “What in tarnation was that? What was he talking about?”
“I don’t know, I’d better go see if he’s alright,” Ben said as he moved toward the stairs.
“Is he all right?” Adam asked when his father returned moments later.
“Yes, he’s in bed, sound a sleep, with bed clothes and pillows all over the floor just as usual. I wonder what that was all about?” Ben said with a shake of his head.
“He must have been having a dream or somethin’,” Hoss suggested.
“I guess,” Ben agreed confused but not overly concerned as they had all experienced nightmares with Joe, then after a moment added, “Well I’m off to bed, you boys coming?”
“Yup, I’m tuckered out” Hoss agreed.
“Me, too, oh and Hoss?” Adam called to Hoss as he climbed the stairs. Hoss paused and looked back toward his brother, “Yeah?”
“Don’t use all the good air up there,” Adam said barely able to control his laughter. Ben and Hoss joined in the laughter as they all headed to their rooms.
The next morning Ben, Adam and Hoss were seated around the breakfast table when Joe came bounding down the stairs.
“Joseph!” Ben bellowed from across the room. “Slow down before you fall down those steps.”
“Sorry Pa,” Joe said, but he was already at the bottom. Joe soon took his seat and began to spoon some bacon and eggs onto his plate.
Hoss looked at Joe and then to Adam. He winked at Adam, and then he spoke between bites, “Say Joe,”
“Huh,” Joe asked peering up from his plate to see the looks his brothers were sharing and the laughter they were trying to suppress. “What?” He said.
“So did you get enough good air last night little brother?” Hoss said laughing.
“Yes, we didn’t use it all did we, Joe?” Adam added his laughter building, until both he and Hoss were roaring.
“What?” Joe asked with a frown, he was starting to get mad that his brothers were laughing at him. “What they talkin’ about, Pa?” shouted over the laughter.
“All right now boys,” Ben said with a chuckle, but he quickly cleared his throat, he didn’t want Joe to think he was laughing at him too, but it was hard to control the tickle in the back of his throat.
“Pa, are you laughing at me too?!” Joe asked incredulously. “I don’t even know what’s so funny!” Joe said as he leaped out of his chair and pounded his fists on the table.
“I’m sorry son. But you were very entertaining last night.” Ben tried to explain.
“Entertaining?” Joe asked as he plopped back into his chair.
“Yup, you was havin’ some kind of dream last night, Joe and ya walked right down them steps and told us to stop, cause we was usin’ up all the good air,” Hoss said his voice full of laughter.
“Hoss, you’re funnin’ me. I don’t talk in my sleep,” Joe argued.
“You wasn’t just talkin’ little brother you walked all the way down here and then turned around and went back up,” Hoss continued to laugh.
“I think you were sleepwalking Joe” Adam stated, more composed.
“No I wasn’t,” Joe snapped. “I ain’t never done that before,” he added his anger growing. “I ain’t hungry,” he said shoving his plate away. “I’m gonna go do my chores,” he said as he left the room in a huff.
“Well ya done it last night little brother,” Hoss shouted with laughter as Joe slammed the door.
“That’s enough Hoss, finish your breakfast and then go help Joe. When you’re done with the barn chores you and Joe go look for strays and no more about last night. Understood,” Ben stated, his composure restored.
“Yes, sir and I’ll apologize to him first thing,” Hoss said
When Ben and Adam were alone, Ben asked his son, “So you think that’s what Joe was doing last night, sleepwalking?”
“I think so Pa. I remember a fellow who went to college with me and he used to sleepwalk.”
“Every night?” Ben asked astonished.
“No, not every night, only before an exam. He’d walk into every room in the dormitory and ask each of us for a pencil.” Adam explained.
“Why only then?” Ben asked curious.
“He said it was something he did all his life when he was worried or upset. I guess the anxiety of tests made him do it,” Adam explained.
“Well Joe has nothing to be worried or anxious about. Has he said anything to you or Hoss maybe?” Ben asked with a touch of concern in his voice.
“No, he hasn’t spoken to me, but if there is something bothering him, maybe he’ll confide in Hoss today.” Adam suggested.
“I wonder what could have caused his walk last night?” Ben asked his thoughts out loud.
“I don’t know Pa. We both know Joe’s always been sound sleeper, but he’s had his fair share of nightmares, maybe this is just part of that. But whatever it is I’m sure its nothing to worry about,” Adam suggested hopefully trying to ease his fathers mind.
“I hope so, I certainly hope so…well let’s get to those books, shall we,” Ben said as he ushered his eldest toward the study.
“After you, sir” Adam replied with a smile and a grand sweeping gesture.
Later that evening found the Cartwrights in familiar positions, Ben and Adam were in their favorite chairs reading and Hoss was sitting on the settee braiding some rawhide. Joe had been sent to bed an hour or so earlier. The evening was chilly and a storm was building outside. Hearing the wind picking up outside, Ben spoke up, “sounds like a storm is brewing,”
“Yup,” Hoss replied, “I wonder if we’ll have any other entertainment tonight,” he added with a chuckle.
“Well I don’t know, but if we do, I don’t want you boys teasing him about it tomorrow,” Ben said sternly. “We don’t need him in a foul temper tomorrow, too.”
Closing his book, Adam stood up and stated, “I think I’ll head up and get a new book. I’ll peek in on sleeping beauty while I’m up there.”
“Thank you, son,” Ben said with a smile.
Coming back downstairs, Adam smiled and said “I think the show will be confined to his bedroom tonight, he appears to be having one heck of a dream.” Ben raised his eyebrows in a questioning fashion so Adam continued. “He’s all over his bed and sounds like he’s having a whole conversation with someone, but it’s all mumbled.”
“Shucks,” Hoss said in mock disappointment.
Ben replied with a look and said, “That’s enough Hoss, something must be bothering him for him to be having a nightmare”
“We don’t know it’s a nightmare, Pa,” Adam tried to soothe his father’s worries, but he was concerned too and the look his father gave him told him he was also worried. “But, I left his door open so we could hear him,” Adam added.
“Thank you Adam” Ben said again and Adam gave him a slight nod of his head.
Once again the three men settled into their positions and the only sound in the room was the crackling from the fireplace. The men stirred from the silence by a sound from outside. Each man looked up as if to listen more sharply and again they heard something.
“Sounds like a branch is banging on the roof,” Hoss suggested.
“Could be, let’s go check,” Ben stated. “We might need to cut it back before it does any damage to the house. Ben added.
Ben pulled open the door and each pulled in a sharp breath as the cold air and biting wind hit their skin. “Dadburnit, it got cold,” Hoss, stated the obvious as he stopped just outside the door.
Adam pulled his brother along by the elbow, “Come on let’s get this over with so we can get back by the fire.”
Ben walked out into the yard past his sons and chuckled as the boys complained, “All it takes is a little cold, to bring out the whiner in you boys, maybe I should go wake Joseph. That boy likes the cold, in fact…Oh my God!” Ben cried as he looked up to the roof, expecting to see a branch hitting the house, but the sight before him filled his heart with terror. There on the edge of the roof stood Joseph clad only in his nightshirt that whipped in the wind.
Adam and Hoss were a few steps behind their father when he
cried out and they hurried to his side to see what caused him to stand in a
Hoss was horrified as Joe teetered on the edge of the roof, “Joe” he whispered in fear. Adam leaped into action and ran back into the house, up the stairs and to Joe’s room in just a few seconds. As Adam climbed out the window, Joe weaved back and forth and spoke, “No, NO I don’t want to! It’s too dark. It’s too dark! I want my Papa!” He cried. Ben and Hoss watched terror struck as Adam slowly made his way toward the boy.
“I’m here Joseph,” Ben called to him but Adam motioned with his finger to his lips for quiet. And he quietly put his hands on his brothers shoulders and turned him back toward the window and guided him back into his room and over to the bed. As his sons climbed in the window, Ben made a beeline toward the house, with Hoss on his heels. Both men ran up the stairs. By time Ben got to Joe’s room Adam had the boy back into his bed.
Ben sat down next to the bed and took his son’s hand in his and spoke to his other sons. “I’m going to sit with him for few minutes, I’ll be down soon. Pour some brandy.”
Adam led Hoss back down stairs and they waited in worried silence for their father. About a half hour later, Ben came slowly downstairs. He reached for his brandy as he sat down. He sipped the liquid slowly as Hoss spoke. “I ain’t never been that scared. I’m sorry I laughed at him, Pa.” Hoss said apologetically. “Did ya hear him? He sounded like a little kid…callin’ ya Papa and all,” Hoss added bewildered.
“We all laughed son, but this isn’t funny anymore. He could have been killed if he fell off that roof,” Ben stated with a shutter. “I’m going to talk to Paul tomorrow and see what he has to say.”
“He’s never been able to help the kid with his nightmares, Pa. I don’t see what he can do.” Adam said cynically.
“Well I have to do something, but first thing first. I’m going to put him in my room with me tonight. Hoss you get a hammer and nails and nail that window closed. He won’t be going out that window again,” Ben said firmly, then he paused and sipped the rest of his brandy. He studied the empty glass for a moment and turned hopefully eyes to his eldest son. “Did your college friend ever stop, Adam?”
Adam looked up into his father’s eyes and sadly dashed that hope he saw reflected there as he replied, “Not as far as I know. Eventually we all just started leaving pencils on our night tables at exam time and he’d just walk around collecting them. But this seems different from that, Pa. This started all of a sudden with Joe, and he’s done different things each time and said different things, too.”
”Let’s hope Paul has some answers for us,” Ben stated.
“Well did ya find anything out?” Stubby asked from his perch by the campfire. He and Hal had set up camp a ways outside of Virginia City and had been quietly trying to gather information.
“Yeah, that kid in the livery was the kid we’re lookin’ fer. He still lives around here at that same spread about 20 miles south of town. I think it’s called the Ponderosa,” Hal started to explain as he grabbed a cup of coffee. “They’s got a lot of money near as I can tell…” he had more to say but was cut off by Stubby.
“Well they’d better not be living high on the hog on my money, is all I can say.” Stubby growled. “Let’s check out this Ponderosa tomorrow and see if we can spot the kid. I’m getting’ tired of waitin’! I wish I knew where Coop was and whether or not he’s still alive, so I could kill him…so much for easy money…his easy money scheme has taken over eight stinkin’ years.”
“Hi Ben, is this a social call or are you needing my services?” Doctor Paul Martin asked with a friendly smile.
“It’s a professional call I’m afraid. I have a problem, or I should say Joseph has a problem,” Ben stated hesitantly unsure as to how to explain what’s been happening with his youngest.
“Oh,” Paul said with a chuckle, “Why am I not surprised.” But when Ben didn’t return his smile, Paul changed his tone. “Is it something serious, Ben? Is his sick?”
“I don’t think he’s ill, but something’s wrong. Only he doesn’t seem to notice it.” Ben spoke in riddles.
“Why don’t you start from the beginning,” Paul tried to get Ben to organize his thoughts.
So Ben relayed the odd happenings of the last few evenings. “…so like I said, the first time it was funny and even funnier the next morning when Joe didn’t even know he’d done it. But last night was anything but funny and again this morning he wasn’t even aware that he stood teetering on the edge of the roof…” Ben paused and shuttered at the memory. “I’m afraid of what he might do next,” Ben added.
“And you said he spoke like he was having a conversation with someone, but his voice was different.
“Yes, Hoss pointed it out. His voice sounded like that of a young child. He even called out ‘Papa’ and he hasn’t called me that for years. It gave me shivers.” Ben said.
“I think Adam’s right. It sound like sleepwalking and some severe instances I’d say. It’s curious that it’s started all of a sudden. Has anything unusual happened to him lately?” Paul asked searching for answers.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Ben assured the doctor. “What do you think, Paul?”
“I’d like to observe him doing this. I’ll tell you what. How about I come out for a late dinner tonight and then just wait with you and see if anything happens. If need be I’ll stay the night. Perhaps I can talk to him while he’s asleep and see if we can learn anything. Before I come out, I’ll do a bit of research and send a few wires to colleagues and see if I can learn anymore about sleepwalking and how to deal with it. Try not to worry, Ben. It may disappear as quickly as it appeared,” Paul tried to encourage his old friend. But he knew telling Ben Cartwright not to worry about his sons, especially Joe, was like telling the sun not to shine.
“I hope it does before he hurts himself. I’ll see you tonight,” Ben shook the doctor’s hand as he left.
“Evening Ben, boys” Paul called as he pulled into the yard. He climbed down from his buggy and looked around. Adam walked over to the doctor and shook his hand and responded to the unasked question. “Joe’s not around, Pa let him go fishing so we’d all have time to talk. What did you find out?” Adam asked abruptly.
“Let go inside and have some coffee,” Ben suggested and ushered the doctor into the house.
“Thanks Ben, unfortunately, I didn’t find out to much that’s encouraging. Sleepwalking is not that unusual in children, but most are outgrowing it by Joe’s age, not just starting. Likewise talking while sleepwalking is not unusual either, but generally it’s incomprehensible muttering or the use of words they’d never use awake, not conversations like Joe seems to be having. Most cases report episodes once a month or so, not night after night like Joe. His case is most puzzling, but then again that seems normal for Joe. He never does anything the easy way,” Paul concluded.
“So now what?” Ben queried anxiously, he had hoped the doctor would have had more to offer.
“I think we wait and watch, but don’t hover over him. We don’t want to alert him to our concerns” it was all Paul could offer.
All the Cartwright sighed…waiting was one thing they all hated.
Six hours later, a long day was catching up with the weary men. Hoss was nodding off on the settee and Adam was struggling to concentrate on his book. Ben and Paul were fighting sleep over the chessboard. Joe had been sent off to bed a few hours before and so far had not stirred. Finally Ben stood and stretched. “You boys should go on to bed. No sense in all of us sitting here, he may just sleep through he night.”
“You don’t have to ask me twice. I’m for bed,” Hoss said with a yawn.
“Me too, but call us if anything happens,” Adam said as he headed for the stairs clasping Hoss on the shoulder. “Let’s go brother.”
“Boy it sure is cold up here. Your window open Adam?” Hoss asked innocently.
Immediately, Adam quickened his step, as he spoke, “No! You sure you nailed Joe’s window shut?” He asked as he hurried to Joe’s room. The door had been left open so the family could hear if Joe stirred, but as Adam peered into the room, his stomach dropped. The bed was empty, yet the window was closed. “Hoss,” Adam called as he moved down the hall “Joe’s gone, check the other rooms see whose window is open. Pa! Pa!” Adam called as he headed back down the stairs. “Pa, Joe’s not in his room!”
“What?! We didn’t hear anything. Is he upstairs?” Ben asked as he moving toward the door. Hoss came bounding down the stairs calling out his report, “Pa’s window was open, but I didn’t see Joe on the roof.”
The frantic group quickly headed out the door and turned back to look on the roof. Hoss was the last one out and looked across the yard. “Look,” he cried. “The barn doors open.”
“Oh no, could he have ridden off?” Ben cast a worried look to the doctor afraid what might happen to his son, if he’d ridden off while sleepwalking.
“Come on,” Adam called as he ran across the yard; he slowed as he reached the entrance and looked inside. “His horse is still here, Pa,” Adam whispered.
“Do you see him in there?” Ben asked as he too stood in the barn entrance, flanked by Paul and Hoss.
“No” came the quick reply from Adam.
“Well then where is he?!” Ben asked in frustration, waving his hands out and glancing briefly upward. It was from that random glance that something caught his eye and Ben slowly looked up into the rafters of the barn. What he saw caused his heart to freeze in terror. “Joseph!” Ben whispered. There over the main floor of the barn some 25 feet above stood Joe on the support rafters of the barn. All the men heard Ben’s whisper and looked up to follow Ben’s stare. For a few moments they were all paralyzed by fear, and it was Joe’s voice that broke the spell.
“I don’t want to play anymore,” was the pitiful cry in a childlike voice. “I want to come up. Me scared I’m gonna fall! I don’t like the dark! I want my Papa,” Joe cried. “Please! Please! I’m gonna fall!”
“Oh dear God, he’s going to fall,” Ben said in hushed tones.
Adam squeezed his father’s arm and spoke softly, “I’ll get him Pa.”
“Be careful Adam, don’t startle him, if he wakes abruptly, he could lose his balance and fall,” Paul warned.
Hoss stood frozen as he watched his little brother standing on the rafters, then, as Adam moved toward the ladder, Hoss sprang into action. He quickly he began raking hay from the stalls toward the center of the barn. He worked as fast as he could and paused only for a moment when he caught a glance from his father. “In case he falls,” he explained sadly.
“Ben,” Paul caught Ben’s attention, “try talking to him; see if he’ll answer questions about the situation he thinks he’s in.”
“Are you sure I should talk to him? Last night Adam thought I should keep silent,” Ben asked softly, unsure what was the best thing to do.
“I think we have to try, Ben,” Paul assured him.
“Okay,” Ben said hushed then spoke louder to his son, “Joseph,” he call upward. “Joseph, Papa’s here and you’re not going to fall. Joseph, how did you get their son?”
“I wanna come up now, please PLEASE!” Joe shouted. “I don’t wanna play no more. It’s too dark. I’m gonna fall. No, no get away from there. Stop, your using up all the good air” Joe continued to cry out, not hearing his father.
“He’s not listening to me, he’s not making any sense now…he wants to come up, but he’s afraid he’s going to fall,” Ben said sadly, not taking his eyes off of his sons. Adam was slowly making his way toward his brother. Ben looked on, he had two sons in danger: one painfully aware of the peril and one oblivious to all around him.
Adam made his way to the edge of the loft where the rafter came to intersect. He quickly developed a rescue plan. He needed some rope. He tied one end of a rope around his chest under his arms and the other end to the rafter, just in case. Then tied a second rope to the rafter as he’d done his own. He took the second end and made a slipknot loop which he slung over his shoulder. His plan was to get the second rope tied around his brother, a rope burn under his arms would be far better than plummeting to the floor of the barn, he reasoned. Adam sat down on the rafter, straddling it. He clutched the beam between his muscular thighs, then leaned forward resting his palms on each edge; then he slowly inched his way across the narrow beam toward his brother.
Ben watched with a strange mixture of pride and horror. He was so proud of Adam with his quick thinking in coming up with a plan and his selfless devotion that drove him to save his brother; and he was horrified for Joseph so unaware of the danger he was in.
“Easy, son, be careful,” Ben whispered so softly only Paul, standing right next to him, could hear.
Adam was only a foot from Joe and Ben was about to exhale a breath in relief when Joe spoke again, “NO!” he shouted. “I done told ya, I don’t wanna play now I’m gonna come up!” he cried tears rolling down his face and he started to move loosing his balance.
Joe’s arms flailed about as he tried to steady himself,
but he started to fall and he pitched forward.
Then everything seemed to happen at once…Ben shouted out “NO!” as Joe
fell from the beam striking his head as he fell. Adam saw his brother weave and he lunged
forward till he was laying chest down on the beam, he frantically reached his
hand out but all he could grab was a handful of nightshirt. Joe hung in his shirt, unconscious, dead
weight in Adam’s hand, as Adam cried out in a strangled breath, “Joe, Joe wake
up buddy, help me, OH GOD…grab my arm JOE….I….I….can’t hold you….the shirt’s
ripping.” Desperately Adam tried to
reach his other hand under the beam to grab hold of Joe, but he couldn’t
maneuver. He could just hold on for dear
Ben was climbing the ladder as he called out to his son, “Hang on Adam, hang on I’m coming, I’m coming son.” But as Ben reached the top of the ladder he heard a rip, followed by a terrified, “Oh God!” and then a thud. In a few fast strides, Ben was to the edge of the loft and instinctively he knew to look down, and saw Joe lying in the middle of the pile of hay Hoss had created. He just stared down watching Hoss and Doctor Martin tend to Joe. Then he looked over to Adam who was still on the beam holding a handful of nightshirt and he was the picture of misery. He had tears rolling down his face as he apologized to his father. “I’m sorry Pa! I tried…I tried to hold him.” Ben quickly cut him off to assuage his son’s guilt, “I know Adam, you did all you could, and it wasn’t your fault, let’s get down to your brother now. Be careful son.” Ben guided Adam off the rafter by gently pulling on the rope, then the two quickly returned to the barn floor.
“How is he Paul?” Ben asked anxiously.
“He was lucky he was unconscious Ben, that and the hay probably saved his life. Miraculously, I don’t see any injuries from the fall. The only problem seems to be from when he hit his head on the beam. Looks like he could use a few stitches on that gash and he probably has a slight concussion. Let’s get him inside and I’ll take a proper look,” he explained.
Warily, Paul descended the stairs to the great room “Well he’s going to have quite a headache when he wakes up, that’s for sure. But I think he’s going to be fine.” He surveyed the room and took in the solemn faces gathered around the fireplace. “We were lucky this time,” he added.
“Yes, this time. But what about next time?” Adam asked with tension in his voice.
“I think we’re fine the rest of the night. But I left Hop Sing with him, just in case. We certainly can’t take any chances,” Paul explained with a definite emphasis on any. “He needed about 10 stitches in that gash and he has a concussion but it’s relatively minor, but he needs to spend the next couple of days in bed. Honestly Ben, this sleepwalking has me puzzled. It’s not like any of the cases I’ve read about or tended. But then again I’ve not tended many sleepwalkers and certainly none that have resulted in injury like Joe’s,” Paul paused and looked at the tired group and continued, “But we’re not going to solve this problem tonight. Let’s all get some sleep. I think we’re going to need our rest in order to keep that boy in bed tomorrow. Come on Ben,” Paul said reaching out to take Ben’s arm.
“Sleep!!” Ben thundered. “How could I possibly sleep! My son wanders around in his sleep and just plummeted from the barns rafters and you want me to go to sleep!”
“Pa, calm down,” Adam tried to penetrate his father’s angry outburst. “Paul’s right, Joe’s going to be fit to be tied in the morning,”
“Special since he probably won’t remember what happened. He hasn’t recalled any of the other incidents, has he? Ben?” Paul asked
“No, No he hasn’t,” Ben agreed and sighed deeply his voice tight with concern, “What are we going to do? Next time he might kill himself.”
Paul studied the distraught father. He had hoped to get some rest before tackling this problem with Ben, but he knew Ben wouldn’t let it go, not after what happened earlier. So the doctor took a deep breath and started to list off his suggestions, “The first thing we have to make sure of is that he’s not alone when he’s asleep. One of you should plan on bunking in with him. I’d also move him downstairs, no sense in taking any chances that he might climb out onto the roof again. We might also put bells on the doors and windows that lead out of the bedroom they’d work like an alarm should he start walking.”
“That’s it! That’s all we can do?” Hoss said sharply. “Watch him and rig up cow bells…it don’t seem like we’re doin’ much to help fix this for him.”
“I agree with Hoss, I think the answer lies with why he’s doing this…” Adam started but Paul interrupted, “I agree too, Adam but until we figure out the why of this, we can only try to prevent him from getting hurt,”
“Any more” Ben said sadly.
“Yes, any more, and if any of you have any idea as to why
this has sprung up all of a sudden, I’d be more than happy to discuss it with
you,” Paul said in frustration. “Ben,”
Paul started again he was working on an idea, something he remembered from his
research on sleepwalking… “have you told Joe much about what he’s doing?”
“No, not really, I mean, after that first night, we sort of teased him a bit,” Ben explained and Hoss hung his head shamefully, “but he got angry, so we dropped it. Then after that second time, I was so worried and I didn’t know what to do, that’s when I came to you.”
“I kinda did,” Hoss admitted softly.
“You kinda did what?” Adam asked tentatively.
“I kinda told him some of what he done, ya know being on the roof ‘n all,” Hoss said, his voice full of regret. He continued, “I was feelin’ bad about teasin’ him, so I was kinda treatin’ him with kit gloves. He got mad and wanted to know what was goin’ on. So I told him what he done. I’m sorry, Pa. I didn’t know ya didn’t want us to. I didn’t make it worse for him did I?” Hoss asked in pleading tones, the last thing he wanted was to make the situation any worse for his little brother.
“No I don’t think so Hoss, in fact it may paved the way for further discussions,” Paul reassured him in a kindly fashion.
“I think tomorrow, once he’s feeling better we need to talk to him. Explain to him further what he’s been doing and watch his reactions. If something is troubling him deep in his mind, perhaps hearing all the details may bring it out in the open.” Paul ventured.
“Huh? What are ya talking about doc?” Hoss questioned his guilt easing.
“You see, one of the articles I’ve read on sleepwalking points to the sleeping mind dealing with problems the awake mind has yet to recognize. Much of Joe’s sleeping behavior seems to point toward that Let him rest most of the day, I’ll come back late tomorrow and we’ll talk with him, but be sure and wait for me, I want to monitor his reactions. Now let’s get some rest. Ben, why don’t you sleep in with Joe the rest of the night?” Paul added needlessly, everyone knew Ben would be sleeping in with Joe that night.
“Well good morning sleepy head. You sleep well?” Ben said too cheerfully from the chair he’d pulled up to the bed to watch his boy sleep.
“Morning Pa,” came the mumbled reply from Joe. “What you doing in here?”
“Well you had a rough go of it last night, so I thought I’d stay with you. How are you feeling?” Ben asked casually, not wanting to have to explain yet what happened.
“Fine” Joe gave the standard Joe Cartwright explanation.
“Really?” Ben questioned with raised eyebrows.
“Well maybe a bit of a head ache,” Joe conceded but if he were truthful it was quite a lot more than a bit.
“Paul left some headache powders for you. You can have one after breakfast,” Ben said.
“I’m not hungry,” Joe said firmly, he had no desire to even think about food.
“I know, but I’ll bring up something light, you need something on your stomach before you get the medicine,” Ben said with a smile but Joe responded by rolling his eyes. An action he quickly regretted as the movement intensified his headache and caused him to wonder.
“What happened to me, Pa?” He asked softly.
“You had a little accident last night, but you need to rest now. We’ll talk about it later. I’ll go get your breakfast” Ben tried to answer his son’s question, yet be vague as to not further upset the boy. Ben turned to leave the room.
“I did it again, didn’t I?” Joe beseeched his father, tears filling his eyes.
Ben’s mind raced…how should he answer the boy?… tell him the truth?…put him off?….What was the best way to go? He simply went with his heart, which as he stared at his son, ached for him…so he gently said, “Yes” he paused to let that information sink in and then continued. “Do you remember?” he asked as he sat down on the bed and gathered the frightened boy in his strong arms.
“No, but Hoss told me I did it before,” he said as the tears rolled down his cheeks. “He said I was standin’ out on the roof like an ole hoot owl in the night. Why Pa, why is this happening to me?” Joe cried out for an explanation from the man he thought knew everything.
Ben felt woefully inadequate as a parent as he had no explanations to offer his child. “I don’t know son, but we’ll figure it out. You’re not alone in this and we’re going to help you. But you need to calm down; you don’t want to make yourself sick. You took a pretty good knock to the head, so let’s settle down,” Ben soothed.
“That how I hurt my head? Wondering around in the night. Did I fall down the stairs or crash into the wall?” Joe asked bitterly.
“Now I said we’ll talk all about it later. Doctor Martin will be back to check you over later today and if he says your head is better, then we’ll talk all about last night. Now you eat and rest.” Ben said sternly.
“But,” Joe tried to press his father.
“No buts Joseph. In this house we follow doctors orders and he said you rest. So rest.” Ben said with mock anger as he gently pushed his son down into the pillows. “I’ll be right back with your breakfast.”
Hidden on a hill in the trees near the ranch house, Stubby and Hal studied the house and yard below.
“Well there don’t seem to be any hands around. And someone left earlier, but since then I ain’t seen nobody,” Hal laid out all he’d seen, then asked a question. “Who’d we figured be around again?”
Stubby sighed angrily, “How many times I gotta tell ya. They’s got that Chinaman, the old man, the man in black, the big un and the kid. We’ll take out the Chinaman, grab the kid and use the others to get him to do what we want. Plus if we take ‘em all we don’t have to worry about anyone going for help,” he explained smugly, very proud of himself and his plan.
Hal shuddered at the thought of ‘taking anyone out’ and voiced his concerns. “I ain’t never kilt anyone Stubby, can’t we just tie-up the Chinaman and hide ‘em somewheres?
Again Stubby sighed in disgust, “Fine! I don’t care what you do with ‘em, but you’d better make sure he don’t get away. All I want is that kid and my money! Let’s go!
Adam and Hoss were seated at the table as their father cam down the stairs. “Morning Pa,” they called out.
“Morning Boys,” he answered and then he started to shout for Hop Sing, “Hop S…” but he was cut off as the little man hurried from the kitchen with a tray containing scrambled eggs and toast. “Hop Sing have breakfast for my Little Joe.” He interrupted his boss. Hop Sing wanted to bring the boy his breakfast and sit with him for a while. Ben seemed to realize this and said “Well your Little Joe said he wasn’t hungry, so do your best, he needs to eat, oh and Hop Sing, he was upset…”
“No worry Hop Sing take good care,” he nodded repeatedly and moved up the stairs.
Hal and Stubby entered the house through the kitchen door and moved quietly toward the dining room. With guns drawn they burst into the dining room. Stubby was quickly behind Ben and held his gun to his head. Hal was behind Adam and had his gun pointed at Hoss.
”Good morning folks. Now don’t anyone talk or move, cause if ya do we’ll shoot the other two. Now my friend here is gonna tie ya up. You first Blackie,” Stubby said to Adam. “Git them arms behind ya or I’m gonna shoot the old man.” Adam did as he was told and his wrists were tied tightly behind his back. “You next Chubbie,” Hoss put his hands behind his back and opened his mouth to speak, but stopped when Stubby cocked his pistol. “I said don’t talk, unless acourse ya want me to shoot the old man here,” Hoss remained silent, but his eyes darted from Adam to his father. “Okay you next old man.” Ben quickly did as he was told as so not to put Adam and Hoss in danger. He hoped the men would just rob the house and leave his family alone. He had no idea what they had in mind.
“Okay good deal, now all we need is the Chinaman and the kid. Where are they Chubbie? I want that kid!!!” Hoss was mortified. How could he respond? This was sheer torture…Joe and Hop Sing or Adam and Pa…his mind raced with indecision.
“You’d better speak up Chubbie,” Stubby said as he and Hal pointed the loaded weapons at Ben and Adam. But before Hoss could respond, Hop Sing came down the stairs chattering loudly… “Little Joe eat good for Hop Sing, he good boy.” He moved down the stair and finally looked toward the dining room as he reached the landing. “What going on? What men want?”
“Right now we want you Chinaman,” Stubby barked and he moved over toward Hop Sing and punched him in the face. Hop Sing was down and out. “Tie ‘em up Hal and dump him the spring house, hurry back. We’ve got work to do.”
Hal made quick work of Hop Sing and returned to Stubby a few minutes. Stubby continued to issue orders. “Okay, you keep a gun on these gentlemen, if anyone as much as twitches, shoot ‘em. I’m gonna find the kid.”
Hoss and Adam sent knowing looks to Ben. Ben realized they were all in agreement they had to do what they could to protect Joe, who seemed to be the reason these men were here. “Please,” Ben pleaded. “Please leave him alone, he’s not well. Take whatever you want, take me, but leave him alone, he’s just a boy.”
“Shut up old man!” Stubby sneered at Ben. “I’ve waited eight years. Eight years! Now that kid’s gonna give me what’s mine or he’s gonna die trying.” Ben sat stunned, as Stubby stormed the stair in search of his prize. Ben was horrified at what he’d heard. He had no idea what this man was talking about, but some how it involved his son. His injured, vulnerable baby, and yet he was helpless and unable to protect him. It ate at his soul. Ben closed his eyes at the muffled shouts he heard coming from upstairs. After a moment he was unable to stop himself and he moved to rise. The motion only brought Hal’s gun toting fist down on his shoulder with a verbal reproach. “Move again old man and I’ll shoot your boys…I mean it.” Ben hung his head and fell into his chair. The shouting from upstairs was ringing in his ears. As Stubby’s voice continued to fill the air, Hal took that as sign to continue with the plan. He raised his gun and fired into the ceiling, causing each man at the table to flinch. The next sound they heard was Joe screaming ‘NO’, over and over again. Hal laughed at the child’s cries, and gleefully told the stunned Cartwright about this part of Stubby’s plan. “Hah, that’s priceless ain’t it…Stubby knowed the kid wouldn’t tell what he done with the money, so he told me to fire off a shot after he’d been up there a bit…ya see he told the kid…” Hal paused to laugh out loud, “…he told the kid one of yous’d would git shot if he didn’t tell. I tell ya that Stubby’s a smart one…now that he’s done heard that shot, I bettcha that kid’s singing like a song bird.”
Ben stared at Hal as if he was a two-headed beast. His eyes were smoldering with anger and he struggled against his bonds earning himself another crashing blow to his shoulder. “I done told you to sit still, don’t make me shoot anyone for real,” Hal snarled.
After minutes that seemed like hours, Stubby appeared on the stairs dragging Joe behind him. Joe was pale, his eyes red and swollen from crying and his face was set in a grimace that spoke of the pain in his head, but when he saw his family he heaved a huge sigh of relief. “He didn’t take it Hal…I was pretty sure, but once you fired that shot, I was real sure.”
“So what are we gonna do now,” Hal asked. Ben exchanged anxious glances with Adam and Hoss as the outlaws discussed their options. Each man was worried about the others safety should they try to escape and there was special concern for Joe who was visibly ill after his interrogation.
“I done told ya, since the kid ain’t got it, it must be in that hole so that’s where we’re going, all of us.” Stubby explained as he stood in the great room pressing his hard fingers into Joe’s shoulder and it appeared that was the only thing keeping Joe upright.
“Alrighty now folks we go for a little walk. After you Old Man, Blackie, Chubbie, let’s go. Don’t worry, me and the kid will be right behind you,” Stubby laughed as he issued his orders…his plan was working.
Ben walked along with his hands tied in front of him now and he was tethered to a long rope tied to Hal’s saddle horn. Flanking him on each side was Hoss and Adam each tied in a similar fashion. Farther ahead of them rode Stubby with Joe in the saddle in front of him.
“Can either of you get a good look at your brother?” Ben asked his voice tight with concern.
“No,” Adam replied.
“Me neither,” Hoss echoed.
“I pray he’s okay, he didn’t look at all well back at the house,” Ben sighed in despair.
“Well at least that Stubby’s keepin’ the pace slow, that might help Little Joe some Pa,” Hoss said hoping to buoy his father’s spirits.
“Maybe,” Ben said with a smile, he knew Hoss was trying to ease his mind and he appreciated the effort, but he knew that fast or slow on horseback was no place for a boy with a head injury. He prayed they’d reach their destination soon, but he also worried what would happen when they got there.
“Have you figured any of this out yet, Pa?” Adam asked as he tried to piece together the scant details he’d heard.
“Near as I can tell, something must have happened eight years ago and these stupid people somehow think Joseph is involved,” Ben started to outline what they knew.
“Yes,” Adam agreed, “and they also think Joe either took whatever it is or knows where it is.”
“Ya don’t think it could have any thing to do with Mr. Kelly’s gold?” Hoss said in a questioning voice. “Remember Pa, we were just talking about it the other night. That happened eight years ago. Roy never did find it, or who took it,” Hoss ventured. “And Joe was missing that day…you even thought at the time he might have been kidnapped…maybe he really was. That’s why these men think Joe knows where the gold is, because he was there.”
“But why didn’t he tell me then, why can’t he remember now?” Ben countered the seemingly logical explanation.
“I don’t know Pa…” Adam started but stopped when they all heard the unmistakable sounds of vomiting.
“Damn it boy, that’s disgusting. Get off a’here,” Stubby yelled. Hal stopped and everyone watched as Stubby dumped Joe from the saddle as the boy continued to retch.
“Please let me go to my son!! I told you he’s ill.” Ben begged as he pulled on the rope, desperate to get to his son. Hal studied the worried father and figured it couldn’t hurt to let him tend the kid. After all they needed Joe’s help and if he was too sick they couldn’t use him.
“Just you old man and make it quick…clean him up and give him a drink and like I said make it quick,” Hal explained as he untied Ben’s rope from the horn and moved the group nearer to Joe. Ben was allowed to move around to Joe while Adam and Hoss were told to stay back.
Ben took the proffered canteen and used his neckerchief to
cleanup his son while he spoke softly to the boy. “It’s alright Joe. Take deep breaths and try to relax. Your Pa’s right here.”
Joe looked up into his father’s eyes and tried to reassure him and not have him fuss over him. “I’m okay now, Pa.” After taking a small drink he quickly asked his father, “Are you all right? Adam and Hoss, too? I thought he shot you,” he croaked out.
“We’re all fine. Don’t you worry about us. We’ll all get through this. Don’t worry, we will…” he was trying to reassure Joe that they had a plan, even thought they didn’t but Hal cut him off.
“That’s enough old man, get back over here,” Hal called out and tugged the rope attached to Ben’s bound hands. Ben stumbled away but shot Joe a look that Joe knew too well, ‘Please do what you’re told’. Joe smiled at his father and Ben felt a touch of relief, his son got his message, little did Ben know Joe had already been given that messages and a strong motivation.
“Get over here kid,” Stubby called to Joe “We’re almost there, and don’t you puke on me again kid or you’ll be sorry,” Stubby threatened.
The group continued to walk for the remainder of the morning. The slow pace and methodic plodding of the horse lulled Joe to fitful doze on the horse, much to Ben’s relief. Ben prayed the rest would help restore Joe and give him strength for what ever awaited them.
“Well here we are folks…everybody enjoy the walk?” Stubby spoke rhetorically at the tired group and started to shake Joe. “Wake up kid,” he yelled needlessly loud in Joe’s ear. Startled, Joe tumbled from the horse. Stubby looked down on him and laughed. “Need a rest kid? Well ya rest up while we’z get your family settled and you remember what we talked about whilst we was at the house, now ya hear,” he laughed at Joe, who sat stunned on the hard ground. Joe remembered all to well what Stubby told him at the house. Stubby and Hal thought Joe had some gold and they wanted it back. He tried to tell him he didn’t know what they were talking about, but Stubby slapped him and told him he did. Stubby also told him that his family was downstairs with guns pointed at them and if he didn’t cooperate they’d be killed and it would be his fault. Joe was told he needed to do what he was told and not put up a fuss, because if he did and his family tried to help him they’d get shot. Joe was consumed with fear for his family. He knew that just him being a prisoner was enough to make his Pa and brothers react, let alone if he were sick and put in further danger. He knew he had to be strong, stronger than he was on the trail. He had been so worried when he got sick that his father would be killed for coming to his aid. No matter what, he had to do what these men wanted; his Pa and brother’s lives depended on him.
Hal untied the Cartwrights from the horse and retied their hand tightly behind their backs and settled them under a tree before finally binding each man at the ankles. Each was feeling the effects of the long walk and immobilized hands. They were exhausted and consumed with fear for each other and Joe. The outlaws were purposely keeping Joe separated from the others.
Once they were left alone Hoss spoke up, “What do you suppose he told Joe at the house? He looks terrified and why are they keeping him apart from the rest of us?”
“I don’t know what they told him for sure but I think they are using us to get him to what they want,” Adam ventured
“Could be, but I’m more worried for your brother’s health. That ride was hard on him. He looks terrible. We need to get him to a doctor,” Ben said with concern.
“I agree, but we can’t do much trussed up like this. While they’re distracted over there we could take them if we can get free. Hoss is there any play in your ropes?” Adam asked as he worked anxiously to loosen the rope on his wrist.
“Nope, but I’ll keep workin’ ‘em,” Hoss grimaced as he worked the ropes and they bit into his arms. Ben, too was trying to loosen his bonds, but it was slow going all the way around as they tried to be discreet.
“Hey one of ‘em is headin’ toward Joe,” Hoss said with fear in his voice.
“Okay kid,” Stubby started as he pulled Joe to his feet. “Ya remember any of this at all?” Joe slowly shook his head no, and quickly
regretted the movement as the world started to tilt and he swayed. He would have ended up back on the ground but
for Stubby’s tight hold on his arm. But
Stubby either didn’t notice or didn’t care, but the Cartwrights did and Ben did
and called out.
“Leave him alone!! Can’t you see his sick!” His voice was deep and commanding and tight with anger.
“Shut up old man, I can still kill those other boys of
yours if you don’t watch that mouth, at that right kid? Stubby yelled back jerking Joe back and
“I’m okay Pa, really” Joe called trying in vain to sound fit.
“Come on kid,” Stubby instructed as he led Joe to the narrow opening. Hal tied a rope tightly around Joe’s chest and he and Stubby positioned him over the hole, preparing to lower him in.
“It must be some kinda hole. They’re gonna send Joe down into a hole, Pa!” Hoss cried softly his voice a mixture of anger and horror as he quickly looked to his father and brother, then back at Joe.
“What are you doing? LET HIM GO,” Ben pleaded for his son.
“I’ll do it, let him be, I’ll go!” Adam offered.
“SHUT UP!!” Stubby yelled as he grabbed his gun and fired in the general direction of the Cartwright.
“NO!!,” Joe screamed jerking around to see if anyone was hit. Again he sagged against the grasp of Hal and Stubby this time in relief when he saw his family was all right.
“Iffen a grown man woulda fit, we wouldn’t need this kid,” Hal stated more calmly.
Again Joe call to his family, “I’m okay, it’s all right.”
The Cartwrights watched in terror as Joe was lowered into the hole.
Ben’s mind with racing, he couldn’t believe what was happening to his family. They were all prisoners of these crazed gunmen. But Joe?…he thought, Why did they want Joe? Could Adam and Hoss be right? Is this about an eight-year-old gold heist? Had his son been a victim of these men eight years ago and he never knew? Why here? Is the gold here? Is that why they sent his son into this hole? What was down there? But most importantly: How would they get away?
Stubby lowered Joe into the hole and Hal split his attention between the hole and the Cartwrights. Hal saw they were working the ropes and moved over toward them. “Trying to loosen my handy work are ya?” He said as he bent Ben forward and adjusted the ropes, tightening them more. He repeated the task on both Adam and Hoss, leaving the Cartwright angry and frustrated. Hal was excited to be so close to getting the gold and his excitement loosened his tongue and he stared to talk. “It ain’t no us trying to get away or jumpin us. Nobody’s leavin’ here till we git our gold. We thought the kid mighta took it, but Stubby don’t think so now, so it’s gotta still be in that old mine down there. That there vent shaft is the only way in so nobody else coulda stole it. That’s why we needed the kid, he got it in there for us before, so we figured he could jest get it out. We had tied it off after the kid hid it, so we’z could just pull it out, but the rope rotted. It mighta fell into the water at the bottom of the mine. I jest hope the kid remembers where he put it. Stubby’ll keep him down there till he finds it. From the smell of it, the airs not fit and that waters probably stagnant, so it’s gotta smell pretty bad down there.”
Hoss hung his head and tears filled his eyes as he imagined what his brother was dealing with. He raised his head and the Cartwright’s all shared knowing glances, finally they were getting some answers. None that put their minds to ease, but at least they knew.
A call from the hole drew Hal back to the opening, “Don’t lean over the hole, I can’t see and you’re using up all the good air!” Joe shouted up defiantly.
“Watch your mouth boy and get lookin’,” Stubby shouted down as he fed more rope into the hole.
“Pa,” Adam called urgently but Ben was concentrating on Joe so Adam turned to Hoss, “Hoss, did you hear that, Joe told him to stop using up all the good air.”
“Hey yeah, just like the other night!” Hoss agreed.
“Could all this be connected to Joe’s sleepwalking?” Adam asked and then continued his train of thought. “He started sleepwalking that night after Jake’s visit, maybe hearing that story about the fire and robbery stirred up some old memories.”
“Could be…that makes some sense…Ya know that was the day, it took Joe so long to get the buggy and I went to get him. He told me he ran into some drunks in the livery and they thought he had something that belonged to them. You think it was these two yahoos?” Hoss added another piece to the puzzle.
“I bet it was, Hoss and that chance meeting and Jake’s story brought it all back to him, except only in his sleep,” Adam reasoned.
“What, what are you two talking about…” Ben started to ask a question but was cut off from another cry from the hole.
“I can’t find it! I’m gonna fall! I want to come up!” Joe cried out his voice shaky.
“You keep lookin’ damnit! If you don’t find it right quick, I’m gonna start shootin!”
Stubby yelled down the hole.
“No! I’ll keep looking, PLEASE NO!!!!” Joe screamed out and Ben felt his heart lurch. His son had taken the burden for their safety squarely on his shoulders and should something happen to him, Adam or Hoss, Ben was sure Joe would never recover.
“I need some more slack in the rope if I’m gonna look further,” Joe yelled out and again Ben felt his stomach roll as he wondered what was facing his son.
“There ain’t no more,” Stubby called down to Joe. “Just take the rope off and keep lookin’, then you can come back to it when you found it,” he commanded.
“No!” Joe yelled. “I’ll fall, just tie more on the end,” he pleaded.
Silence fell over the group as Stubby straighten up and stretched his back by the hole then he inhaled deeply trying to calm himself. He failed. He motioned to Hal to keep his gun on their captives. Hal approached the group and whispered to the men, “Any of you make so much as a peep, and I’ll shoot the other two. Got it?” Hal turned and nodded at Stubby who raised his gun and shot into the air and then yelled loudly down to Joe, “DO IT AND DO IT NOW!!!” Gut wrenching sobs wafted up from the hole and filled the air. Joe was certain the evil man had killed his pa or brothers. None of the Cartwrights dared to speak fearing the consequences to the others so each was left to hear Joe’s suffering.
“Don’t make me shoot again, kid!” Stubby taunted Joe viciously as the boy sobbed. Joe didn’t know he’d shot harmlessly into the sky.
Down in the hole Joe shook from sobs as he slowly eased the rope from around his chest to continue the search as Stubby demanded. It was hopelessly dark. The light from the hole opening gave very little light and Joe could only search by using his hands and feet to feel around. Now he had to face that task without the reassurance of the rope to keep him from falling. Slowly he inched his way around the support beams of the old mine cavern. His movements were slow and his reflexes dulled both by his head injury from the night before and now by the crushing grief he felt. As he fumbled along the beams he tried to focus on the quest for the gold and saving the rest of his family, but the beams were narrow and some were slick with mold and moss.
While Joe searched, things were happening around the camp. Sheriff Coffee and his deputies were taking positions around the group. Sheriff Coffee was looking for an opportunity to catch the outlaws off guard and not further danger the Cartwright. He was confused and concerned, Hop Sing had told him all the Cartwrights had been kidnapped, but he could only see Ben, Adam and Hoss. Where was Little Joe? Again his eyes tracked the area searching for Little Joe. He stopped when he heard the child cry out. He looked to Ben and saw the worried father’s eyes glued to spot Stubby and Hal were crouched down by. Roy listened. Joe had slipped and fallen from the beam and in a scene reminiscent of the night before he clung to the beam. “Help!” He cried out. “Help me, I’m slipping, I can’t hold on….” Joe pleaded.
Immediately Ben leaped to his feet and shouted, “MY GOD MAN! He’s going to fall, do something, Let me help my son.”
Ben’s pleading was the diversion Roy needed and he motioned to his men to storm the camp. “Hold it right there,” Roy yelled to Stubby and Hal. “Your surrounded throw you guns down,” Roy ordered.
Stubby made a move to raise his gun, but Roy was faster and shot the weapon from his hand, leaving Stubby clutching his wounded hand to his chest.
Ben was running toward the hole his hands still tied
behind him, as Roy subdued the outlaws.
Ben was shouting to Roy or anyone who’d listen. “We need a rope, quickly now we have to help
Joseph. Joseph, Joseph, hold on son,
Clem was gathering all the rope from their horses, while other deputies were untying the Cartwrights. Immediately, Ben threw himself on the ground near the holes’ opening and pulled up the rope to tie other onto the end, but he stopped short as he heard Joe call out again, “Pa, Pa help me!! PAAAAAAAAAAA.”
As the last cry faded away the sound of a splash rocketed out of the hole and snapped Ben’s head up. “My God he’s fallen into the water,” Ben cried as Hoss and Adam joined him at the hole.
“JOE, JOSEPH!” Ben called repeatedly into the hole as Adam and Hoss fed the new lengths of rope down toward their brother and the seconds felt like hours as they waited for a reply. Finally they were rewarded by a faint voice calling out “Pa.”
“Joseph,” Ben repeated “Are you all right, son?”
“Pa? Pa is that you? Are you all alright?” Joe called out hopefully. “I thought he’d shot you. Are you sure you’re all okay?” He asked again.
“Yes, son, please try and grab the rope. Can you find it? Please son, try,” Ben urged his son.
“I found it,” Joe yelled to his father, relieved he found the gold.
“Good son, Good, now tie it around you,” Ben instructed.
“Okay” Joe answered softly, his head was throbbing again and he was unsure if he would throw up again or not, but he did as his father told him and he tied the pouches of gold coins to his belt. Then he felt the rescue rope tickle the top of his head.
“Alright, son, we’ll pull you out,” Ben told him, thinking Joe had the escape rope tied around his chest.
“Wait,” Joe called out, “Let me get this rope around me first,” Ben turned sad eyes to his sons and Roy, and whispered, “He’s not thinking clearly.”
“Don’t worry Ben, Paul is waiting for us at the house,” Roy assured.
“I’m ready Pa,” Joe called to his father.
“Okay,” Ben called to Joe and then turned to his older sons and directed them. “Slow and easy boys.”
They started to pull steadily on the rope and the weight surprised Adam and Hoss. “He must really be water logged,” Hoss ventured.
“Really,” Adam agreed and he was going to say more when they heard Joe throw up again.
Quickly Ben called out to reassure his son, “Hang on now Joe, you’re almost here. Take deep breaths, relax, son…..” The words were meant to comfort, and they were all the worried farther could do at the moment. But soon his son’s dark curls poked from the top of the hole. Ben gently pulled his son from the hole and gathered him in his strong arms. As he hugged the boy to his chest he felt something bang into his side. Looking down he saw bags attached to Joe’s belt. He picked it up and it jangled.
Joe looked up into his father’s face and gave him a weak smile, “I found it,” he said softly then he passed out, his head injury and anxiety getting the better of him.
“That’s mine!” Stubby yelled, still trying to claim the gold even though he was in the sheriff’s custody.
“That ours” Hal corrected him.
“Yah, Yah, whatever, okay, it’s ours,” Stubby argued. “The time limit’s runned out on that gold heist, so it’s ours.”
“Well, maybe, maybe not. But it don’t matter none. You fella’s are facing a lot of time on four counts of kidnapping and the way I see it, it’s a matter of finders-keepers and as near as I can tell, Little Joe here found it,” Roy explained the facts as he saw it.
“Roy,” Ben interrupted, “I need to get Joseph home now.”
“Of course Ben, we’ve got a wagon about half a mile down the rode. Hoss, you go get it, you can take my horse,” Roy said and then added again, “Paul is waiting at the ranch, Ben.”
Ben looked up to Roy with grateful eyes and murmured, “Thanks.” Roy gathered up the gold coins from Ben and said, “I’ll just hold on to these till we can get this all sorted out.” Then the Sheriff turned to Clem and the other deputies, and asked, “You think you boys can get this trash into the jailhouse? I want to go with Ben back to the ranch and get some statements.”
“Sure thing Sheriff,” Clem assured the lawman. “Come on you two,” he said to his prisoners with authority and a shove toward the horses.
“Take care and I’ll be back later,” Roy stated dismissing his men and the prisoners then turning to Ben. “How’s Little Joe doing, now Ben?”
“I’m not sure, Roy,” Ben answered as he sat on the ground rocking his son back and forth. “He had a concussion before this nightmare even started and he’s been sick a few times this morning. I hope that fall into that stagnant water didn’t do him any more harm.” Ben sat holding Joe until Hoss returned with the wagon. Then with speed and gentleness the group moved the boy into the wagon and headed to the ranch and the healing hands of Doctor Martin.
Ben stayed with his son while the doctor examined him. “He seems so out of it Paul, is he all right?”
“He’s had a rough go of it without question. That once mild concussion is now a bit more serious from all the harsh treatment today, but I feel certain with the proper rest, he’ll be fine. He may have some pretty nasty headaches for a while, but again they should pass. I’ll leave some more headache powders for you.” Paul explained in detail, because he knew Ben would accept no less and he paused to see his reaction. What he saw was a mixture of parental worry, concern and guilt.
“Try not to worry Ben. He’s going to be fine, really,” Paul tried to reassure his friend. But he saw the way Ben was looking at his son, and knew there was more there than he had seen before when the child was sick. “What is it, Ben?”
“He’s been through so much…those animals put our safety on his shoulders…they made him think he was responsible for what ever happened. He must have told me two or three times he’d thought he’d gotten one of us shot.” Ben poured out his frustrations and concerns with tears in his eyes while clutching Joe’s hand. Then turning his tear streaked face to the doctor Ben asked quietly, “Are you sure he’ll be all right?”
Paul moved to his friend and turned to Hop Sing, “Hop Sing will you stay with Joe? He should sleep for a while, but if he wakes call me immediately. Otherwise I’ll be back to check him in a while.”
“Hop Sing stay, watch carefully,” the caretaker said.
Paul led Ben into the hallway and placed his hand on his shoulder. “Ben, you and I both know no matter what those men had or hadn’t said to Joe, he, just like any of your boys, would have put your safety and the safety of his brothers ahead of his own.” Paul said firmly yet with a gentle tone. Then added with a smile, “That boy’s a Cartwright, through and through and in part, that means he loves his family, specially his pa. Now lets go downstairs and get you a brandy, we need to discuss how we’re going to handle that boy’s recovery. He’s never given us an easy time in that area and this time we’re going to need a plan. Now come on.” As Paul had been talking he had been leading Ben toward the stairs and they were descending the staircase as he finished speaking. Anxious eyes greeted the men as they moved toward the brandy. Unwilling to wait for the doctor to offer a report, Hoss spoke up, “Well Doc, Pa how’s Little Joe?”
Doctor Martin turned to explain all the while ushering Ben into his red leather chair. “He’s not feeling too well at the moment, but he’ll be fine with the proper rest. He’s sleeping right now and he’s going to want and need a lot more. That’s where the problem comes in.”
Immediately Ben shot forward in his chair, “What! What problem? You said he’d be fine.”
“Now calm down Ben. He will be fine…with the proper rest. And as I said he’s going to want to sleep quite a lot from that concussion and THAT, my friend will only exacerbate our original problem. We can’t have him up sleep walking in his condition. He could do himself some permanent injury.”
Ben fell back against his chair and heaved a loud sigh and asked, dejectedly, “What do we do?”
“We’ve been discussing that Pa.” Adam began. “Remember Paul, you said the root of Joe’s sleepwalking lay not in what he was doing, but why he was doing it?” Paul nodded his head and arched an eyebrow; clearly Adam must have a theory. “Well, while we were being held by those men, Hoss and I listened to Joe. Don’t you remember Pa, when they had him in that hole, the things he said?” Ben furrowed his brow and thought back to that afternoon, he had been so intent on his son that he hadn’t focused on what he actually said. He just heard the tone and terror not the words.
Adam didn’t wait for his father to answer; he wanted to push ahead with the explanation. But Hoss jumped in, “Yeah, Pa the things Joe was saying was just like what he was saying that night on the roof and then that next night in the barn…remember, and yeah that thing about the good air too, Pa!” Hoss explained excitedly.
“What Hoss and I figured,” Adam tried to explain calmly, “is that those two, Hal and Stubby, were involved eight years ago at Jake Kelly’s. And when Joe disappeared that day, those men really did him and they used him to hide the gold down in that hole. They came back, now, to get the gold but couldn’t find it so they figured they needed Joe again. That’s why they came here today.”
“But what about the sleepwalking,” Roy chimed in intrigued by the entire theory.
“I think the sleepwalking is in response to seeing Jake Kelly after all these years. Plus we were talking about the fire and robbery, and then Joe saw and talked to those men in the livery. Yet for some reason he couldn’t remember or didn’t want to remember so it all came out in his sleep, just like his nightmares, but this time it was sleepwalking.”
Paul Martin jumped into the story here, “This all makes perfect sense really, Joe’s subconscious mind took over where is conscious mind couldn’t remember and everything surfaced during these sleepwalking episodes.”
“So you think that with everything that happened today, he somehow confronted these memories that he’s done sleepwalking?” Ben asked hopefully.
“It very well could be, Ben.” Paul suggested with a slight nod of his head. “I still think we need to have someone will him all the time until we have a chance to discuss this with him. Just to be sure.”
Joe slept soundly through the night, with no sign of nightmares or sleepwalking. Paul checked on him occasionally, waking him to check the status of the concussion. By mid-afternoon the next day, Joe was feeling a bit better and staying awake for longer periods. Paul felt he could discuss what happened with out any undo effect.
“Well sleepy head, how are you feeling?” Ben asked tenderly as Adam, Hoss and Roy gathered around his bed. Paul and Ben had taken position at the head of the bed on either side, one to offer comfort and the other for medical care should the child need it while telling his story.
“I’m fine, Pa. Are Adam and Hoss okay? You too, Pa?” Joe asked again fearfully.
“We’re fine Joe,” Adam chimed in.
“We sure are little brother,” Hoss added.
Joe’s face lit up as his eyes found each of his brothers. “Boy I’m sure glad! I was worried they’d hurt you. They said they would, if I didn’t do what they said. I was sure scared I’d mess up and get you all hurt.”
“Don’t you worry none about that now, Shortshanks. You did great and we’re all fine,” Hoss assured his little brother.
“Joe, you feel up to telling the whole story to Sheriff Coffee?” Paul asked, he didn’t want Joe to tire himself out before Roy could get a statement.
“Sure,” Joe said enthusiastically. “I remember everything now, Pa,” Joe said grinning at his father.
“That’s fine son, but you take it slow and if you need to rest, we can do this later.” Ben said as he stoked his son’s arm.
“No I’m fine, Pa, really.
I remember the whole thing now!”
Joe said getting excited, again. “Even all that stuff from along time
ago. Ya know with them robbers and
all…and, and, and…I was with ‘em,” Joe rattled on wide-eyed his voice raised in
Roy pulled a pencil from his vest and started to make notes, but paused raising his hand to stop the boy, “Okay, now Joe slow down, son. I’ve gotta be making some notes here, so you’re gonna need to start at the beginning and go slow, so I can get the details. Now starting back with the warehouse fire, who was involved, son?”
“I remember the leader guy, his name was Coop. He seemed real nice…at first.” Joe started to tell all he remembered and he looked apologetically at his father, as he continued. “ I kinda got bored with those ladies, so I went for a walk. I met Coop near the saloon,” Joe said as he cringed from his fathers’ glare, but he continued. “Coop asked me what I was doing and I told him I was going for a walk…” Joe launched into his memory:
“Where you going kid,” Coop asked in a friendly voice.
“I’m going for a walk,” Joe replied confidently.
“All by your self?” Coop asked again, looking around for anyone who might be with the boy.
“Yup, I’m pretty grown up ya know,” Joe declared.
“Oh I could tell that,” Coop said with a smile.
“Whatcha doing just hanging around,” Joe asked. “Why ain’t ya helping with that big fire? My Pa and brothers are.” He added proudly.
“Well that really isn’t my kind of work…I’m more of a treasure hunter kind of guy,” Coop said with a smile.
“Treasure Hunter!” Joe exclaimed. “Are you a pirate?”
“Well I just might be,” Coop said laughingly, “and I was just about to meet my friends and go bury some treasure.”
“Hidden treasure, Oh Boy!!! Can I come?!!” Joe asked excitedly. “I love to play pirate! I’m real good too! Do ya have swords and a pirate boat? Can I come, please!”
Coop kept looking around checking to see if anyone was watching them. “Well, I guess I could take on a first mate, but first thing we’re going to need is a bottle. Wait here a moment matey.”
Joe’s eyes grew wide at the mention of a bottle, but being called matey and the lure of a good pirate game made him wait. Coop was only gone a second and returned with two bottles and he held them up for Joe to see. “One for you and one for me,” he said.
Joe flinched at the sight of the bottles and spoke up quickly. “My pa don’t let me drink yet.”
“Don’t worry none mate, it’s sarsaparilla, but we’ll pour it into this here flask so the fella’s think you’re a tough ole pirate.” Coop explained to Joe and the little boy was bursting with excitement. But what Joe didn’t see was that Coop mixed the whiskey with the sarsaparilla and the mixture was more whiskey than sarsaparilla. “Well here’s to ya mate,” Coop said as he handed Joe the flask. Joe took a long drink and started to cough. That tastes kinda funny!” He said.
“It our special pirate brew…good huh?” Coop said encouragingly.
“I suppose,” Joe answered still coughing. “Are we going to bury the treasure now?” Joe asked hopefully.
“Sure mate let’s go. You can ride with me.”
Joe paused in his story and gave a big yawn and unwillingly closed his eyes. “I think that’s enough for now Joseph,” Ben said as he settled Joe down in his bed.
“I’m all right Pa,” Joe said stubbornly.
“Well I think you’ll be more all right after a nap. Then you can tell us more. Now sleep,” Ben said firmly.
Hop Sing entered the room and quietly said, “Lunch ready. All go eat, Hop Sing stay with boy.”
As Roy and Paul shared lunch with the Cartwrights the conversation naturally revolved around the story Joe just told.
“It’s no wonder Joe couldn’t remember anything back then. He was probably so full of whiskey, he’s lucky to have survived.” Adam said grimly.
“Looks like it was a chance meeting but that Coop figured he could use Joe as a shield or a hostage,” Roy suggested.
“So he just preyed on a little boy, using him in some sick game. That’s just sick!” Hoss shouted.
“Roy, what do you suppose happened to this Coop person? Any idea who he might be?” Ben asked worried that yet another tormentor from the past might return to harm his child.
“Can’t be sure Ben. But once I get back to the office I’ll check into it.” Roy shrugged one shoulder.
“Roy, how’d you end up finding us today?” Curiosity had been eating at Adam all day.
“I think I’m responsible for that,” Paul announced. “I was worrying about Joe so I came back early. I found breakfast still on the table and no one around. I knew immediately something was wrong. I knew Ben Cartwright wouldn’t willingly take his sick child from his bed. I looked around and found Hop Sing. I went for Roy right away.”
“The trail was pretty easy to follow…two horses and three men on foot…couldn’t have been any easier had you left directions,” Roy chuckled.
“Yeah, they weren’t too worried about bein’ followed,” Hoss stated.
“Well they should have been,” Roy said, “but we’re lucky they weren’t. If they’d been smarter, we might not have found you in time.”
Ben shuttered involuntarily at the thought.
After a short nap, Joe was ready to continue his story and his audience reassembled in his room.
“We rode out to that spot where we were yesterday and there were a lot more men there.”
“How many Joe? Did you catch any names?” The sheriff asked, wetting his pencil tip on his tongue.
“I think there was maybe five or six and two of ‘em were Hal and Stubby. But I don’t know who the others were or what their names were. I’m sorry, Sheriff Coffee.” Joe said sadly.
“That’s okay, Joe, just tell us what you do remember.” Ben reassured his son.
“I didn’t know what they’d done back in town, I really thought we were gonna play a game, but..it kinda got scary once we got to that hole. Coop changed…he got mad when they couldn’t get the coins to stay where he wanted ‘em. That’s when told me he wanted me to go into the hole and hide the treasure. I didn’t want to,” Joe paused and added in a hushed tone, “Ya know I kinda didn’t like the dark when I was a kid. And it was dark in that hole.” Ben smiled and gave Joe a comforting hug as he continued. “The rest was a lot like what happened at the hole the other day. That’s when it all came back to me. All of a sudden while I was in that yucky water I could just remember everything.” Joe said proudly, but with another yawn.
“You did great son, but more rest for you now. Hoss, will you sit with your brother for a while, please,” Ben asked.
“Sure Pa.” Hoss said with a smile.
Gathering again in the great room the small group sipped coffee and reflected on all that they’d learned.
“Ben, I would seem to me that Adam’s theory is sound. The trauma of the kidnapping helped to jar loose all these old memories in Joe’s mind and I’d venture a guess that we’ve seen the end of the sleepwalking. Let’s keep an eye on him and see what the next few nights bring,” Paul stated with authority.
“So what happens to the gold coins, now Roy?” Adam asked curiously.
“Well I gotta do a bit of investigating. But it seems pretty certain that it’s the
gold from Jake Kelly’s warehouse,” Roy explained. “And if the statute of limitations has run
out on that robbery, technically the gold would belong to whoever found it. So I figure that’d be Joe.”
“Well I know I speak for Joe when I say if that is Jake’s money and I think we all know it is, then it should go back to him,” Ben said firmly. “It would be a good excuse to get him to come back for that visit, if he had to come claim his property,” Ben added with a smile.
A week later, life around the Ponderosa had returned to normal and as evening grew into night, Ben, Adam and Hoss had taken their usual positions around the great room and Joe had gone off to bed an hour or so earlier. Each was finally at ease as the events of the past week were behind them. Joe was nearly completely recovered from his ordeal and had experienced no further episodes of sleepwalking. Ben, Adam and Hoss were all looking forward to a peacefully evening and a good nights rest. The comfortable silence was broken as Joe slowly moved down the stairs. Ben, Adam and Hoss all looked up at the soft noise of feet on the stairs. Hoss’ mouth fell open as he stared and mumbled “Ah-oh”.
Adam reached up and pinched the bridge of his nose as he slowly shook his head and added “Not again”.
Ben rose quickly from his red leather chair and he moved silently toward Joe. Joe stopped at the bottom of the steps and looked around the room noting the concerned faces of his family, finally Joe broke the uncomfortable silence, “What? Can’t a fella get a drink of water around here?” he asked his face glowing from his brilliant smile.
“Joseph!” Ben bellowed, “You scamp, you scared the life out of me…”
“Me too, short shanks, I figured you was walking in your sleep, again,” Hoss interrupted.
“Nope just thirsty,” Joe giggled, holding up the water pitcher from his room.
“Well come on then, let’s get you some cool water,” Ben chuckled grabbing Joe by the nape of his neck and moving him toward the kitchen with a light swat on his behind.
As Hoss watched his father and brother head into the kitchen, he asked, “Do ya think we’ve seen the last of Joe’s sleepwalking, Adam?”
“I hope so Hoss, but you never know with Joe,” Adam said with a shrug of his shoulders, he was silent for a moment and added with a slight shake to his head, “Can you imagine what would happen if he starts this again while we’re on a cattle drive or out with a posse somewhere someday….”
Hoss looked stricken, as the recent memories came flooding
back, “Ya don’t think that could happen do ya?”
“Why not Hoss? Who knows what else is hidden in that kid’s head.” Adam said flatly.
“I done told ya that kid would end up with my money,” Stubby growled in low tones from the back of the prison wagon.
“No ya didn’t. Ya said he had OUR money, or that he took OUR money, or he’d get us OUR money…but ya never said he’d end up with OUR money,” Hal corrected.
“SHUT UP, will ya just SHUT UP!!! Stubby yelled out in frustration.
“Well it don’t matter none now no how. By time we get out….” Hal lamented. He and Stubby had been found guilty of kidnapping and were heading to the territorial prison.
“Oh, don’t you worry none. I’ll get my money or I’ll be takin’ it out of that kid’s hide. You mark them words,” Stubby said ominously, as the wagon came to an abrupt halt
“OUR money,….” Hal corrected again, as the wagon’s steel door was pulled open by the guard.
“Technically I’d say it was my money.” The guard said with a sneer.
“COOP!” Stubby shouted.
“Is that really you?” Hal said disbelievingly.