"That Boy!" Ben Cartwright was angry. It was late afternoon and his youngest and most mischievous son was late coming home from school again. Little Joe Cartwright had a bad habit of getting into trouble at school and leaving his afternoon chores for someone else to do; usually big brother Hoss Cartwright covered for him, but today Hoss was out on the range and wouldnít be home until after supper. Big brother Adam Cartwright was older and wiser and hardly ever covered for Little Joe and today he wasnít going to cover for him. In Adamís opinion, Little Joe got away with far too much without his father punishing him.
"Pa? He was probably just kept after school again."
"Adam. Even if he was kept after, he should still have been home by now." Ben paced in front of the massive fireplace that was the focal point of the large main room of the ranch house.
"Maybe Miss Jones is keeping him until someone comes to fetch him. He has been in trouble every day this week Pa, and itís only Wednesday."
"If I have to go to town to fetch that 10 year old scamp, he wonít be able to ride comfortably in his saddle until heís 15." Ben stormed to the door and started to put on his gun belt. He turned to Adam who had stood up to follow him out, "Iím going to town to see if heís there. I want you to ride up by the lake just in case and keep your eyes open. If you find him, unharmed, send him to his room until I get back." Ben turned to leave then turned back, "You may want to lock his window to keep him from climbing out, especially if he knows Iím going to skin him alive."
Both headed out of the house and mounted their horses. Adam secretly hoped Joe was unharmed but it would save his hide if he were in some kind of trouble that was beyond his control. It was highly unlikely, since Joe had been sent home from school two days in a row with a note telling of his school yard fights. Pa had lectured him and promised him a sound thrashing if there were any more fights. Adam sighed as he rode off toward the lake.
Ben had a little time to cool his temper on the ride into town. He was keeping an eye out for Joe just in case he was in real trouble. However, as he entered the schoolyard and saw Little Joeís pony, Shadow, he knew Joe was in trouble again. He dismounted next to Shadow and tied Buck to the hitching post. He leaned against Buck and took several deep breaths to calm the anger that had resurfaced. He quietly walked up the steps and entered the schoolhouse.
* * * * * *
Joe was sitting at his desk with his arms crossed in front of him with his head down on his arms. He knew he was in deep trouble. He was close to crying when Miss Jones told him that she had had enough of his poor behavior this week and that he would have to sit at his desk and wait for his father to come fetch him so she could have a talk him. Miss Jones knew that Ben Cartwright would not be pleased to have to come to town, but she didnít know what else to do about young Josephís behavior.
Joe had tried to plead with his teacher that it wasnít his fault he got into another fight with Bobby. Joe had let his friends talk him into a bet. He knew his father would skin him for betting but he loved the excitement of the chance. However, this bet could cost him a lot more than he planned. It all started so honestly.
Joe and his best friend, Mitch, were enjoying recess when Jeremy came over and started to tease Bec, a girl who acted like one of the guys. Jeremy accused Bec of cheating on her history quiz because she got a 100% and Jeremy had failed it. Jeremy had a problem being shown up by a girl, a tomboy at that.
Joe had come to Becís rescue and told Jeremy that Bec doesnít cheat or lie to get good grades. Jeremy argued that Joe didnít know what a lie was because he was always such a goody-goody and never lied. Then Jeremy challenged him. Little Joe never backed down from a challenge, even a foolish one.
Joe moaned softly at his desk. How could he have been so stupid. Miss Jones looked up and spoke, "Joseph? Are you in pain?"
He looked up and wiped a few tears from his eyes and said, "Not yet Maíam."
Miss Jones smiled. She knew exactly what he was talking about. She knew that Ben would be angry with his young son.
""I really am sorry. Couldnít I please just take a note home? My papa will be really mad if he comes all the way into town just fer me."
"No Joseph. I have sent home notes everyday this week and it hasnít changed your behavior. I will speak to your father about it when he gets here and I donít want to have to explain myself again, understood?"
"Yes Maíam." Joe wiped another stray tear from his eyes and put his head back down.
* * * * *
When Ben Cartwright entered the schoolroom he saw Miss Jones sitting at her desk and Joseph at his desk with his head down. As he stood in the doorway, Miss Jones stood up and spoke.
"Mr. Cartwright." At her words, Joe threw his head up quickly and looked at his father. He saw the anger in his fatherís face and knew he was dead. Ben didnít say anything to Joe, but glared at his son and then turned to Miss Jones. With a forced smile he shook her proffered hand and said, "Miss Jones. What has this young scamp done this time?"
"I am terribly sorry about this Mr. Cartwright, but Josephís behavior has been awful this week. Incomplete homework, talking back, and the fighting in the schoolyard is out of control. I donít know what to do with him anymore. His practical jokes have been disrupting the class and now today he outright lied to me about who started the fight with Bobby."
Ben couldnít believe his ears. Ben turned to look at Joe who was still sitting with his head down. Ben walked over to Joe and stood towering over him.
"Joseph! Do you have anything to say for yourself young man?"
Joe put his head down again and said quietly, "No sir."
Ben took Joeís chin in his hand and raised his head to look eye to eye with him. "Look at me when you talk to me. Do you have an explanation?"
Joe was fighting hard not to cry but a single tear escaped down his cheek. He looked at his father and said, "No sir."
Ben released Joeís chin and looked to Miss Jones. "Whatís the story behind the fight?"
"I was grading some papers during recess and when I looked out the window I saw Joseph push Bobby. Bobby got up and they both were swinging punches by the time I broke it up. When I asked Joseph why he started the fight he said he didnít start the fight. Mr. Cartwright I saw him start it and so did some of the other children. Normally I would believe Joseph, but I saw him. I know heís lying to me about starting the fight."
Ben turned to Joe again. "Joseph come here." Joe slowly stood up and walked over to Miss Jonesí desk and stood between his father and his teacher. "Joseph?"
Joe looked up at his father, "Yes sir?"
"I want the truth. Did you start the fight?"
"No sir." Joe lied. In order to win the bet his father had to believe him. He had to prove to Jeremy that his father would believe him over the teacher.
Jeremy had convinced him that nobody would believe he was telling a lie or the truth when the teacher was telling the tale. Joe had argued that his papa would believe him and not the teacher. What he didnít count on was Miss Jones actually seeing him push Bobby. Jeremy just felt it was a better test of Joeís ability to be believed.
"Joseph!" Joe was snapped back to reality with a firm swat to his backside.
"Joseph. Let me rephrase the question." Years of experience had taught Ben that his wording of a question could give Joe a loophole so he didnít have to reveal too much information. "Did you push Bobby?"
Joe thought about it. If he told his papa ĎNoí he would definitely not believe him because Miss Jones saw him. But wasnít that what Jeremy was trying to prove. That his father wouldnít believe him against the teacherís word. Joe was sure his father would believe him if he was telling the truth. He had always been taught not to lie, and that the hurt from telling the truth is less painful then the hurt when telling a lie. Joe was confused but he had to prove to Jeremy that his papa would believe him, even if it were a lie. Joe looked up at his father and said, "No sir." He then looked at Miss Jones.
"Mr. Cartwright. I donít know what has gotten into him. He doesnít usually lie."
"Is there anyway you could have seen it wrong." Ben asked.
"I donít see how else I could have seen it. But anything is possible. I hate to think young Joseph is lying."
Ben looked at Joe again. "Joseph. I want you to tell me what happened and why you were fighting. Donít leave anything out."
Joe thought. Coming up with another lie to top the first one was hard. Then it came to him. He had pushed Bobby but there were a lot of other kids standing around. He said, "I tripped papa."
"Yes sir." That sounded as good as anything else. "I was arguing with Bobby and I felt someone or something push me and I tripped and fell into Bobby. Then he thought I pushed him and then we ended up fighting." Joe looked at his teacher to see what her reaction would be. She had to know he was lying.
"Well, Mr. Cartwright. If Joseph says it happened that way then it must have because he never lies." Miss Jones added the last part to trigger Joeís conscience. She knew he was lying but she also knew that Ben Cartwright wasnít going to disbelieve him.
"Very well, Miss Jones." He turned to Joe and said, "Joseph. Go get Shadow ready and I will be out in a few minutes."
"Yes sir." Joe won the bet! His father had believed him over his teacher. Joe quickly left the classroom.
"Mr. Cartwright Iím sorry about this whole mix-up." He put his hand up to silence her.
"Miss Jones. Joseph IS lying."
She was shocked. "But he doesnít usually lie."
"I donít know why he insists his version is the truth, but I have found, that his own conscience will bring him around real quick. Joseph doesnít usually lie, but all children lie Miss Jones. Itís in their nature. Joe is 10 years old and he should know better, but he still has a lot to learn. I didnít confront him here because itís important for him to know I will believe what he says to me. I guarantee he will be confessing and apologizing by Monday."
"Speaking of Monday, Mr. Cartwright. Under the circumstances, I think I could use a break from young Josephís pranks. I have already told him he has been suspended until Monday. I am sorry."
"Donít be. Adam can work with him the next couple of days and get him caught up. Maybe he will hate being taught by Adam that he will behave better next week." Ben turned to leave and stopped. "We will both be back on Monday with an apology and a better attitude on Josephís part. Thank you again, Miss Jones."
"No problem Mr. Cartwright. I look forward to seeing you both on Monday."
"Good day" Ben tilted his hat and walked out the door to escort Joe home.
* * * * *
The ride home was a quiet one with neither Joe nor Ben talking. As they entered the courtyard near the barn Ben spoke. "Joseph. Since Adam ended up doing your chores, you can go straight to your room and wait for me there."
Joe looked at his father. For a fleeting moment at the schoolhouse he hoped his father forgot about all of those other offences but those hopes seemed dashed now. He thought about arguing but he didnít want a thrashing in the front yard where someone might see, so he simply said, "Yes sir." Joe started to lead Shadow into the barn to bed him down when his father stopped him. "I will take care of Shadow. You go to your room."
"Yes sir." Joe slowly moved across the yard and into the house. Adam came out of the house and walked over to his father.
"So he was at school, huh?"
"Yes." Ben led the horses into the barn and Adam followed.
"It must be something bad. He looked like his was walking to face a firing squad."
"Heís going to wish I had shot him when this weekend is over." Ben started rubbing down Buck.
"What happened?" Adam started bedding down Shadow.
"He apparently started a fight and lied about it."
"Lied? Joe doesnít usually lie."
"Not usually. Had Miss Jones not actually seen it, I wouldnít know Joe was lying. He still insisted his version was the truth. I donít know why, but I will before Monday morning."
"What happens Monday?"
"Joseph has been suspended until then. Iíll need you to work with him for the next couple of days."
"Pa. I can do it tomorrow but I was suppose to go to Carson City on Friday to pick up parts for the mill."
Ben scowled. "I forgot about that. I guess I can stand in as teacher for the day. By the time you get back from Carson, Joe will regret ever getting suspended."
"That I could believe. One day with you as his teacher will be enough for one life time." Adam said with a smirk.
Ben turned to give Adam a stern look but smiled as he said, "Watch your tone BOY or Iíll turn YOU over me knee." They both laughed and left the barn and headed toward the house.
* * * * *
Joe sat quietly in his room wondering when his father was going to show up. He knew he was in for a thrashing even if his father believed his version of the fight. He was reminded just this morning what would happen if he got into any more fights. He was contemplating his fate when his father came in. Joe immediately stood before his father out of respect. Ben stood before Joe with his hands on his hips.
"Boy. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"Iím sorry, papa."
"Sorry isnít enough Joseph. Getting suspended from school is very serious. The pranks donít bother me as much as the fact Miss Jones says you havenít completed homework and have been talking back to her. Have you forgotten everything I have ever tried to teach you?"
"I think you need to have a refresher course in proper behavior, Joseph."
"Please, papa. I promise Iíll behave better." Joeís eyes glistened with unshed tears.
"I think you need something to remind you of proper behavior. To start with, youíre restricted to your room for the next four days. Adam will tutor you tomorrow and I will tutor you on Friday. You will complete all of the goals we set, before you eat. After that you will be restricted to the house for a week and then the barn and yard for two weeks. You will not be allowed to go anywhere unless you are with Adam or myself. Monday we both will ride into school and you will apologize to Miss Jones. Is that clear?"
"There are only two more matters to discuss. Firstly, I want to know exactly why you were fighting today?"
Joe couldnít remember exactly what he said earlier, "I donít really remember." He hoped this would be enough. It wasnít.
"Joseph. I know you remember. I also know that you seem to be remembering the facts a whole lot differently than Miss Jones."
Joe looked at his father. He had the distinct impression that his father didnít believe his story. He couldnít back down now. "Papa. I didnít want to fight Bobby. It just happened." This was sort of the truth. He only picked Bobby as his fight victim for the bet simply out of convenience. Bobby was available and Joe knew he would put up a good fight. Joe was starting to feel guilty about his lie.
Ben had planted a seed and he hoped Joe would confess before the lie grew too big for Joe to handle. He knew sooner or later Joe would break down and confess.
"Joseph. Everything happens for a purpose." There was a small pause and Joe shifted back and forth on his feet. When he looked at his father Ben continued. "Iím going to punish you for your disobedience Joseph. You disobeyed be by getting into another fight. You also know I donít tolerate talking back or schoolwork that isnít your best work. Do you understand me?"
"Yes sir." Joe said in almost a whisper. He looked at his father and tears fell unchecked, down his cheeks, as his father unbuckled his belt.
* * * * *
An hour later Hop Sing was setting food on the table. He announced, "Suppa leady. 5 minute."
"Thank you, Hop Sing." Ben stated. "I guess I should go fetch the scamp." Ben got up and headed for the stairs. As he reached the first landing the front door opened and Hoss walked in covered from head to toe in mud. Before he made it two steps in the door he heard his fatherís booming voice. "ERIC! You can turn around and get washed up in the bath house before you get mud all over the floor."
"Awe Pa. Iím dog tired." Ben pointed out the door.
Hoss sighed and turned around, "Yes sir."
Ben chuckled slightly and continued upstairs. When he opened his youngest sonís room, he found Little Joe asleep lying on his stomach. He could see the dried tears on his cheeks. He gently sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed Joeís back. "Joseph. Wake up itís time for supper."
Joe stirred. When he opened his eyes he smiled and said, "Hi Papa."
"Are you hungry, Joe? Suppers ready."
Joe slowly and stiffly rose from the bed. He backside throbbed from the tanning his father gave him. He smiled at his father and his father smiled back.
"Letís get your face and hands washed and then we can go eat. Honestly," and he stressed the word Ďhonestlyí, "Iím starving."
Joeís smile faded. He knew his father valued honestly as highly as he did obedience. He was finding it hard to look at his father knowing he had lied.
* * * * *
After getting cleaned up, they joined Adam and Hoss for supper. Everyone enjoyed pleasant conversation, except Joe, who was feeling too guilty to talk. After supper, Ben sent Joe back to his room and sat in his favorite red chair to smoke his pipe. Hoss went to bed early and Adam wasnít far behind. Around 9:00pm Ben headed to bed himself. He checked each of the boys, with his last stop at Joeís room. When he opened the door he noticed Joe was still awake. He moved over to the bed and sat down.
"Whatís wrong Joe? Canít you sleep?"
"No sir." He couldnít tell his father how guilty he was feeling without telling him why but he really needed to talk to someone.
"Can I help at all?"
"No sir. Iím just sore I guess." Joe smiled wryly. Ben smiled back.
"The discomfort will pass, Joe, but I hope the lesson remains."
Ben reached over and kissed Joe on the forehead. "I love you son. Try to get some sleep." He stood to leave.
"I love you too Papa." Ben left and Joe softly sobbed into his pillow. He eventually cried himself to sleep.
* * * * *
The next couple of days were hard on Joe. He was sore, confined to his room and worked with Adam and then his Pa on schoolwork. His conscience was wearing him thin also. He was grumpy and on more than one occasion his father had administered a warning swat to redirect his wayward sonís attitude. Joe was wishing he were in school and not at home.
That was Benís plan. To make Joe so miserable that he would think twice about fighting and pranks and all sorts of mischief in the future. What Ben didnít anticipate were Joeís moods. He knew Joe was going to be sullen but he didnít realize how short his patience was until he was around a normally active little boy who has been stuck in the house. Ben had come close to killing him on several occasions, and probably would have if Hoss hadnít intervened. Ben realized that he must be impatient because Joe still hadnít confessed to his lies. He was hoping he hadnít misjudged his youngest son or himself.
* * * * *
By Sunday morning everyone in the house was grumpy. Ben was tempted to not go to church but decided that maybe church was exactly what his family needed. If nothing else, the buggy ride in some fresh air should help everyoneís attitudes.
Surprisingly, Adam was the hardest to get moving that morning. It was due to the fact that it was close to 4:00am when he finally arrived home and went to bed. He got up and got dressed knowing he would be taking a nap this afternoon.
The sermon that morning was about how God hates a lying tongue. Ben couldnít have been more pleased if he had planned it that way. The ride home was quiet with only one interruption in the quiet by Little Joe complaining that Hoss was too big for the buggy. Hoss threatened to throw him out of the moving buggy but was quickly rebuked by Ben.
The rest of the trip home was quiet.
After a quick lunch, Joe when to his room and Adam went to take a nap. Hoss was fiddling around in the barn and Ben was enjoying dozing in the sun on the front porch.
Upstairs, Joe was miserable. Four days locked in this room was wearing on him. He had decided after this morningís sermon, that he needed to tell his father the truth about the fight. He just didnít know how. He thought about talking to Adam, but he was asleep. Joe was also not allowed out of his room until tomorrow. He tried to nap. He tried to read. He even tried schoolwork. Nothing was working. He had to talk to Adam or he was going to explode.
Joe looked out his window and saw Hoss and his father talking near the coral. He figured big brother Adam was still sleeping. He slowly opened his door and peeked out into the hallway. The coast was clear so he slipped into the hallway and closed his door behind him. He made his way quickly to Adamís door and knocked softly. All he heard was soft snoring from Adam. Joe opened his door and quickly slipped in and shut the door behind him. He saw Adam sleeping. He slowly walked over to Adam and nudged him. Adam stirred but didnít wake. Joe nudged him again. This time Adam opened his eyes. He looked at Joe and frowned.
"Joe. What are you doing out of your room?" Adam propped himself up onto his elbows to look at his baby brother.
"I needed to talk to you."
"You know Pa will be mad if he finds you out of your room just to talk."
Adam sat up and regarded his baby brother. He patted the bed to signal Joe to sit down. "Okay. Whatís this all about?"
Joe looked uncomfortable and finally spoke. "I need to tell Papa something but Iím afraid he wonít love me anymore."
"Joe. You know that there is nothing you could do or say that would make Pa not love you."
"Everyone says that but I donít know if I believe it anymore."
"Joe. Why donít you tell me exactly whatís bothering you and maybe I can help."
"Adam. Did you ever lie to Papa?"
Adam thought about how he would answer this. "Joe. Everyone lies once and awhile. It doesnít make it right, but sometimes it looks like the easy way out of a problem, but in truth it isnít. You expend a lot more time and energy trying to cover a lie than if you spoke the truth the first time."
"But did you ever lie to Papa when you were my age?"
"Yes Joe. A couple times."
"What did Papa do to you?"
"Well, if I remember correctly. He explained to me why it was important to always tell the truth. He said that he would always stand by me when I got into trouble, but he needed to know he was defending the truth and not a lie. He always believed me when I told him something, and still does, because he knows Iím not a liar. He trusts me. Have you ever heard of the little boy who cried wolf?"
"Well, a shepherd boy was watching the sheep and he was bored so he yelled down to the people in the village that there was a wolf coming. The townspeople ran out to help him but only found the boy had lied and there really was no wolf. This made the townspeople angry. The boy thought it was so funny he did it again the next night. Again all of the townspeople came to help but no wolf. The next night a wolf did show up and was about to kill the sheep and the little boy but when the boy yelled wolf, no one came. The townspeople assumed the boy was trying to trick them again. Because no one came to his aid the sheep were killed and so was the little boy."
"Thatís awful." Joe looked sick.
"The people in the town knew the boy lied and when he was telling the truth, no one believed him because he was a known liar. He broke the trust the people had in him by lying. Do you understand?"
"Youíre saying that I could brake Papaís trust that I will always tell him the truth, when I lie?"
"When you broke that trust did Papa still love you?"
"Did he give you a tanning?"
"You bet he did. I can still remember it. He always said the truth hurts but not nearly as much as a lie."
"íCause the tanning was so bad?"
"No. Because when you lie you hurt the people around you. My lie hurt Hoss, because it got him in trouble when it should have been me who got in trouble."
Joe was quiet for what seemed like a long time. Adam broke the silence.
"Joe did you tell Papa a lie?"
Joe looked down into his lap and nodded. Then he looked up at Adam.
"Jeremy made a bet with me that Papa would believe the teacher before he believed me. I said no that Papa would believe me."
"Did Pa believe you?"
"Yes. Even when Miss Jones saw the truth. She said it could have happened the way I told it, but it didnít. I started that fight just to prove Jeremy wrong."
"Now youíre feeling guilty about lying to Miss Jones and to Pa?"
"Yeah. I want to tell him, but I know if I do, he wonít love me anymore."
"Joe, that just isnít true. Pa will always love you. He will be disappointed in you and Iím sure he will give you a tanning, but if you tell the truth, everything will start to get better after that. Pa will always love you Joe."
"Really. Now come here." Adam opened his arms and Joe let him hug him. It was the first time in four days that he felt there was an end to the guilt. They embraced for a minute and then Joe pulled away and wiped his eyes.
"Thanks Adam. Iíll tell Papa before supper."
Before Adam could respond they both heard the unmistakable sound of their father bellowing down the hall.
"JOSEPH FRANCIS CARTWRIGHT!"
"Uh oh." Joe got up and went to open the door. As he reached for the doorknob the door opened to reveal his very angry father.
"What in tarnation are you doing out of your room? The moment I think you may have learned your lesson, you disobey me."
"Save it!" Ben grabbed Joeís left earlobe and dragged him down the hall. "We will finish this discussion in the barn." Adam and Joe knew what that meant. Adam decided to intervene on his brothersí behalf.
"Pa? Can I talk to you first? Please?"
Ben stopped and looked at his oldest son. "Adam if youíre going to tell me that itís your fault he disobeyed me; save it."
"No Pa. But please let me speak before you tan him."
Ben considered his oldest son and conceded.
"Very well. Joseph. Go to your room and wait for me there." Ben let go of Joeís ear and Joe dashed to his room in tears. Ben turned back to Adam and they both entered the room.
* * * * *
Joe was sobbing on his pillow when he heard a knock and then his father came in. Joe tried to stop crying and sat up. Ben didnít look angry. He walked over to Joe and sat down on the chair opposite Joeís bed. Ben patted his lap and opened his arms, telling Joe to come get a hug. Joe immediately wrapped his arms around his fatherís neck and cried on his shoulder.
"Shh Joseph. Itís all right. Papaís sorry I yelled and hurt you. Adam told me why you went to see him. Iím glad you feel comfortable talking to Adam. I wish you could talk to your Papa."
Joe pushed himself up a little and ran his arm across his eyes. Through the tears and hiccups he said, "I was going to talk to you. I wanted to tell you the truth."
"The truth about what Joseph?"
"About that fight at school."
"Tell me now son. Iím listening." Joe told his father everything; from the bet, to the fight, to the lie, to the guilt. He even shared his fear about not being loved anymore.
"Oh Joseph. Papa will always love you. There is nothing you could do or say that would change that. Iím glad you told me the truth. Tomorrow you can apologize to Miss Jones and we will start fresh." Joe still looked upset. "What else is bothering you Joe?"
"Are you gonna give me a tanning for lying?"
"Yes." Ben just waited for Joe to respond. When he saw tears welling up again his father added, "I have always promised a tanning for lying, and I have to keep my promises."
Joe nodded as tears spilled down his cheeks.
Ben stood Joe up and stood up himself. "We might as well get it over with so we can start fresh in the morning."
The tanning was pretty awful, but Joe felt better on the inside. He finally understood that the truth would have hurt everyone less than the fanciful tale he spun. He also believed his Papa when he said he loved him. Papa would never lie.