Raul's Victory
Fan Fiction

 

This story is the continuation of The Wild Herd. It is a story in and of itself, but it may be helpful to read the Wild herd first.

The Tree House 
by Victory 

Ben woke early. He dreaded facing this day. He knew it was going to be near impossible to keep his youngest inside for one more day without a fight. Joseph had served all but one day of his restriction to the house. While keeping Joe inside was a good punishment for Joe, it also punished the rest of the family because they had to deal with his bad moods. Joe spent the previous night making hints about Ďserving enough timeí as Joe put it. He still had three more weeks of restriction to the yard afterwards, but Joe was only thinking of getting out of the house. As an added incentive to not leave the house, Ben had confiscated Joeís boots after church on Sunday.

Ben did his morning chores and when finished went to find his youngest son. When he entered Joeís room, he was surprised to see an empty bed. Joe never got up early if he didnít have to. He quickly went downstairs and found Adam and Hoss coming in for breakfast.

"Have either of you boys seen your baby brother?" Ben asked as he approached the table.

"No pa." Adam replied.

"I heard him moving around in his room after you got up pa." Hoss said.

"Well heís not there now. Iíll check with Hop Sing, but so help me if that boy has stepped one foot outside this house Iíll skin him alive." Ben entered the kitchen to talk to Hop Sing while Adam and Hoss exchanged glances.

"You think he disobeyed, Adam?"

"I certainly hope not Hoss. I was hoping to get pa to allow Joe and I to start that tree house Joeís wanted to build since before school got out."

"Thatís a great idea Adam. Then he will be able to stay connected to you while youíre off to college."

"My thoughts exactly."

Both boys stopped talking when they heard a stream of irate Chinese coming from the kitchen, followed by their father coming out.

"Youíd think HE owns this house." Ben said with irritation.

"Doesnít he pa?" Adam said as he looked away.

"Harrumph!"

"Did you find Joe?" Hoss asked.

"No. Iím going upstairs to see if his boots are still in my room." Ben stormed upstairs fearing Joe decided to take off.

As he opened his door he stopped at what he saw. There, in his bed, was his youngest son, sound asleep. As Ben approached him, he could tell that Joe had been crying before he fell asleep because of the tear tracks down his cheeks. He sat down on the bed to wake him.

"Joe. Wake up son." Joe stirred and rolled over.

Ben returned Joe to his back and gently shook him. "Joseph. Itís time to get up."

Joe shook his head and opened his eyes. When he saw his papa he smiled.

"Hi papa."

"Well. Hi yourself. Have you taken up sleep walking?" Joe looked at his papa with some confusion. Ben smiled. "How did you end up in my bed Joe?"

Joe suddenly remembered the horrible nightmare he had right before he came looking for his papa. "Papa?"

"Yes Joe?"

"I came looking for you Ďcause I had a bad dream. But you wasnít here." Joe said sadly.

"Are you okay Joe?"

"Yeah. I just lay down for a minute. I musta falled asleep."

Ben cringed at Joeís poor grammar.

"Where were you papa?" Joe sat up.

"I was outside doing chores. Come on, breakfast is ready and you arenít." Ben lifted Joe out of bed and hugged him as he set him back onto his feet. "Go get dressed and come down to eat."

"Yes sir." Joe went to his room and Ben headed for the breakfast table. Ten minutes later, Joe came bounding down the stairs.

"Joseph. Walk, donít run." Joe slowed down immediately.

"Yes papa." Joe sat down and Hop Sing served breakfast while still going on in Chinese. Joe looked at him and then asked, "Papa?"

"Yes Joe."

"How come you upset Hop Sing so much? He said heís going back to China."

Everyone looked around the table. Ben had suspected, for a while, that Joe understood more of Hop Singís Chinese than he let on. "I was looking for you and I ventured into the kitchen."

Joe chuckled.

"What is so funny young man?" Ben asked with mock sternness.

"Papa. Iím only seven but I know better than to go into Hop Singís kitchen."

"Harrumph!" Ben ignored the snickers he heard around the table and ate his breakfast.

When breakfast was done, Adam and Hoss went out to the barn to start work. Ben turned to Joe who had a scowl on his face. Joe didnít want to go to work, but he would love to get out of this house.

"Joe. I want you to go find out what Hop Sing needs help with this morning." Ben was expecting an argument, but didnít get one.

"Yes sir." Joe got up and went into the kitchen. Ben waited for the Chinese explosion, but it never came. It amazed Ben. If anyone entered that kitchen they were chased out with a meat cleaver, unless his name was Joe Cartwright.

**********

Ben spent the morning working on the books. He was so involved that he didnít even notice Joe carrying sheets and clothes up and down the stairs. Around 11:30 Hop Sing told Joe he was done until after lunch. He wandered over to the blue chair and looked at his father. His papa didnít seem to be paying attention so he slowly stood up and casually walked to the front door. As he opened it and looked out, he heard his father.

"Where do you think youíre going Joseph?"

Joe turned toward the study and replied. "No whereís papa. I was just trying to remember what the outside world looked like."

Ben had to chuckle. He stood up and walked over to Joe. Joe shut the door and looked at his papa. "Iím sorry Papa." He was afraid his father was mad, but instead he saw a smile.

"Tell you what Joe. If all of your work is done and I get these figures to add up correctly, Iíll take you for a ride after lunch."

"Really, papa?" Joeís face lit up.

"Really. And starting tomorrow you can go outside, but youíre still restricted to the yard. Understand?"

"Yes sir."

"Go wash up for lunch then."

Joe almost ran up the stairs to wash up. Ben went back to his paper work. Lunch came and went and Joe played on the couch while he waited for his father to finish his paperwork. When Ben noticed it was too quiet, he moved over to the couch. He saw his baby son curled up sound asleep with his thumb in his mouth. Ben covered him up with a blanket and let him sleep.

*********

When Joe woke from his nap, he and his father went for a ride. Joe was happy to be out of the house even for an afternoon and tomorrow he would be able to go outside again. He knew his papa had a list of chores for him to do but it didnít matter to Joe.

Later that evening, after Joe and Hoss had gone to bed, Adam approached his father about Joe. Ben was enjoying a quiet evening in front of the fire, smoking his pipe.

"Pa?" Ben looked up at his eldest son and smiled.

"Yes Adam?"

"I was wondering if you would let me and Joe work on that tree house he wants to build?"

"Heís still restricted to the yard. I certainly donít want a tree house in the yard."

"He would be with me. I was thinking about putting it in the big tree near the creek. Itís in the back, away from ranch business and you could see him from the back porch."

Ben thought for a minute. It would keep Joe busy for the next few weeks before Adam left. It may even help Joe with the separation. "I guess that would be okay. How much time were you thinking of spending on it? You also need to think about preparing for school."

"Iíve thought about that. I can do my work in the mornings and Joe can get his chores done and then in the afternoons we could work on the tree house. Sort of use the tree house as a motivator to get his chores done."

"Your not fooling anyone son. You want to do this because you want Joe to have a solid reminder of you while you are at college."

Adam was quiet for a minute. "I suppose youíre right. Iím afraid he will forget me with me gone for four years. Heíll almost be a teenager when I get back."

"It will be hard at first, but I donít think Joe will forget you. Besides, as long as you send him letters it will be a little easier."

"I know. Iíll just miss the little pest."

Both men sat in comfortable silence for a while. Finally Ben broke the silence.

"Do you want me to tell him itís okay or would you like to?"

"He doesnít even know I have the idea so I can tell him. I know he feels bad about what he did this last month and heís trying hard to be good."

"Yes he has been trying." Ben smiled. "Well then you can tell him that as long as he completes his chores he can work on the tree house. I will leave it up to your judgment how high the thing should be. I trust his safety to you."

"Thanks pa."

Ben rose from his chair and tapped out his pipe. "Well. Iím going to check on your brothers and go to bed."

"Right behind you pa. I have a lot of work to do before I go to school."

Ben checked on Hoss and Joe and found both boys sound asleep. He stopped in and said good night to Adam and then went to bed.

************

Over the next month Joe and Adam worked hard on their chores and the tree house. When Adam had told Joe about his idea he was ecstatic. He thanked his papa for allowing him to build it. Joe would have preferred the tree house be in the mountains somewhere, but he knew his papa wouldnít let him build it too far from home. The creek was okay since he could be seen if needed and he felt like he had some privacy. He could also fish right from the tree house if he wanted because it overlooked the creek. Adam and Joe designed the little house to over look the creek and it had a small platform to sit on and fish from. Their father insisted they add a railing to the design to keep Joe from accidentally falling into the creek. Joe started spending his free time in the tree house and Ben liked the idea that Joe could hear him calling from the back porch if needed.

After the tree house was built, Adam focused on college. He knew Joe was going to have the hardest time with this departure because he asked Adam not to leave the entire time they were working on the tree house. The two brothers working on a fun project had brought them closer to each other. Joe looked up to his big brother a lot and didnít want him to leave.

Adam could still hear all of Joeís questions. Who will help me when I have a nightmare? Papa will. Who will teach me how to ride like a real cowboy? Hoss can. Whoís gonna teach me about women? No one, youíre too young. What if I wet the bed? Who will help me get cleaned up? Papa will help you. What ifÖ? The questions were endless.

The day before Adam was to leave on the stage, Joe asked him again to stay.

"But I donít want you to go." Joe said almost in tears.

"Joe we talked about this. I have to go."

"Why? Itís just stupid school." Joe crossed his arms and pouted.

"Well I want to go back to school. I can learn a lot of things to help with the ranch." Joe just stared at Adam defiantly. When Ben entered the yard, he could tell that Joe was about to blow.

"Hi boys. Whatís going on?" Ben dismounted and walked over to the porch where Adam and Joe were talking.

"Same old argument Pa. Joe doesnít want me to leave." Adam sat down defeated. He didnít know what to say to convince Joe that everything was going to be all right. Ben walked over to Joe and sat down in front of him. He drew Joe toward him and spoke. "Little Joe?" Joe looked up into his fatherís eyes. He was having a hard time holding back the tears. Deep down he knew Adam was right. He just didnít want him to go. "Boy, everything is going to be alright. Adam will write and you can write to him. Youíll still have me and Hoss here to play with."

Joe was looking intently at his papa and then at Adam. He couldnít hold the tears any longer and he threw himself into his papaís arms.

"Shhhh. Joe itís okay." Ben rubbed Joeís back as he sobbed. "Joe. Shhhh. Try to calm down son before you pass out." After a few minutes Ben could feel Joe start to calm himself.

"IÖdonítÖwant himÖtoÖgo." Joe said through gasps of air.

"I know Joe but Adam wants to do this." He father tried to explain.

Joe looked at Adam. "Why? Why do you want to leave me?" Joe started to cry again.

Adam got down and knelt in front of Joe. "Buddy. Itís not a matter of me wanted to leave you because I donít want to leave you."

"Then why?"

"I want more Joe. I want to go see my grandfather and reconnect to my mother. I also want to go back to school."

Joe wiped his eyes with his sleeve. "I donít want you to go."

Adam reached out and hugged Joe. Joe wrapped his arms around Adamís neck, burying his face in Adamís shoulder and cried. "I know Buddy. But I have to."

"I donít like it."

"I know Buddy. It stinks. If I could go to a good engineering school closer I would, but there isnít anything closer. Do you understand Joe?"

Joe just nodded, not trusting his voice. He didnít want to let go of his brother.

Adam started to break out of the hug but Joe had a steel grip around his neck. Adam decided to pick Joe up and they sat in the rocker on the porch. Ben smiled when he saw Joe put his left thumb in his mouth and occasionally hiccup from his sobbing.

Ben ruffled Joeís hair. "Iíll call you two for supper when itís ready."

"Thanks pa." Adam just rocked Joe and Ben went inside.

Within minutes, Joe was sound asleep, emotionally exhausted from his crying. Adam enjoyed the closeness for another twenty minutes and then brought Joe into the house and set him on the settee. Adam covered him up and walked over to his fatherís study and sat down in a chair. He leaned back exhausted and closed his eyes.

Ben looked up at his eldest son. "Heíll be fine Adam. It will just take time."

"I know. I just wish it wasnít so hard."

"Itíll get easier. I promise."

**********

"Joseph!" Where could that boy be? "Joseph!"

"Canít find him?" Hoss asked.

"He has to be here. I think heís just trying to avoid Adam leaving today." Ben said in frustration.

"Iíll go check out the tree house."

"Good idea Hoss. Iíll check the barn."

Hoss walked into the back yard and over to the creek. As he looked up toward the tree house he could hear the faint whimper coming from inside. Hoss carefully climbed the ladder and silently thanked Adam for making the whole tree house sturdy enough to hold him. Even at 14 he was already bigger than Adam. Hoss peeked into the house and saw his baby brother curled up in a ball crying.

"Hey short shanks. Papaís been calling ya."

"I donít want to go Hoss." Joe sat up and wiped his eyes with his sleeve.

"Itíll be okay punkin. When we come back from town, we can do some fishiní if ya want."

Joe just looked at him sadly. He turned his head when he heard his papa calling him.

"Come on Joe before papa gets mad. Iíll be right here."

Joe just nodded and moved down out of the tree house. Hoss followed. They walked toward the house hand in hand. They approached the wagon full of luggage and Joe felt his eyes watering again. His father saw and took him up into his arms and hugged him.

"There you are young man. You wouldnít want to miss a trip into town would you?"

Joe answered by putting his thumb in his mouth and his head down on his papaís shoulder. Ben rubbed his back and spoke softly, "Itís going to be okay, Little Joe. The time will fly, I promise." Ben and Joe cuddled until Adam came out of the house. Ben loaded Joe up next to Hoss and they all rode toward town.

*************

The good-bye was hard on everyone. Little Joe stood with his hand firmly stuck in his papaís, tears running unchecked down his cheeks. After the stage left, Ben wiped Joeís eyes and led both boys toward the mercantile. Ben bought both boys a sarsaparilla and then told Joe to stay in the wagon while Ben and Hoss got the supplies ready to load into the wagon.

Joe sat quietly drinking his soda when he heard gunshots. He turned to see a man in a mask come running toward the wagon. When the man noticed Joe, he reached out and grabbed the boy. Joe screamed in terror.

"Halt or Iíll shoot." Joe looked up to see the sheriff. "Let the boy go and nobody gets hurt."

"No way sheriff. He goes with me to keep you from shooting. I might let him go after I get away."

Ben and Hoss came out of the store to hear the manís last statement. They had responded to the gunshot and Ben was horrified to see his baby son in the hands of a madman.

Joe looked for his papa. When he saw him he tried to speak. "Papa!"

The gunman tightened his grip on the boy and said, "Shut up kid."

"Iím right here Joseph. Papa wonít let anything happen to you." He turned his attention to the gunman. "Listen mister. Iím sure we can make a deal. I donít want my son hurt."

"Then stay back. All of you. I wonít hesitate from killing this little whelp if you try to stop me."

Joe was crying by this time and shouted again. "Papa!"

"I said shut up kid and quit your blubbering." The man was slowly walking backwards toward a horse. As he reached the horse, Ben moved closer. The man threw Joe up onto the horse and vaulted into the saddle. Ben stopped when he saw the gun pointed at Joeís head.

"Any closer and the kid is dead. Iíll let him go after Iím far enough away. Donít follow me." The man galloped away quickly. A couple of the deputies started shooting at the retreating man. Ben yelled, "Hold your fire. You could hit my son!"

Roy Coffee ran up next to Ben as the men stopped shooting. "Weíll get him back Ben. I promise."

"Unharmed! Or that man wonít be able to hide." Ben turned toward Hoss who had found two saddle horses from somewhere. When he saw the look on his fatherís face he said, "Laffe told me to take them and bring back Joe."

Ben smiled and saddled up and along with the sheriff headed out after the gunman and his baby son.

*********

Joe struggled to stay on the horse. The gunman wasnít concentrating on holding onto his hostage, just getting away. Joe was so frightened that he wet himself but he didnít care about anything but getting home. He wanted his papa. After the gunshots stopped, the man seemed to be leaning on Joe and was sandwiching him between the saddle. Joe noticed a mark on the manís hand that looked like a snake but when Joe couldnít stop crying, the man slapped him, and Joe cried harder, forgetting about the mark.

Finally frustrated with this squalling baby, the man stopped. He tossed Joe to the ground and laughed. "Pray someone finds you before some critter gets hungry."

Joe started to get up. He heard a shot and froze. The bullet hit the ground only inches from where he stood. "Sit there and donít move or Iíll make sure you donít ever move." Joe didnít move. He heard another shot and another bullet hitting the ground really close. "I said sit!" Joe obeyed.

The gunman laughed and said, "Good. Now donít move." Then he rode off. Joe was terrified. He wrapped his arms around his knees and started to cry and rock. All he said over and over again was Ďpapaí.

**********

About a mile outside of town the posse heard the gunshots. Benís heart sunk. He didnít want to think about losing his baby son. Hoss touched his fatherís shoulder and said, "Iím sure it was nothing pa."

"Letís go." They all moved faster down the rode. Another mile and Ben could see something in the road. Again his heart skipped when he recognized his sonís clothing. As they got closer, Ben vaulted off his horse before it even stopped. He ran to Joe and could see the boy was alive. He let out a breath that he didnít realize he was holding.

After a quick glance, Roy and the posse continued after the gunman. Leaving Ben and Hoss to take care of Little Joe.

As Ben approached Joe he could see him rocking and crying. He also could see blood on his clothes. Had he been shot? Ben touched Joe and the boy screamed.

"Shhhhh. Joe itís okay. Itís your papa." Joe looked up into his fatherís eyes and couldnít believe it. Ben began to lift him but Joe fought him.

"NO! Donít move or die!"

"Joe youíre safe now. No one will hurt you." Ben saw pure terror in his sonís eyes.

"NO! PAPA! Heíll shoot me." Joe sobbed.

Ben gathered Joe into his arms despite the boys protest. "Shhh. Joe look." Joe turned. "See you moved and youíre okay. Iím with you." Joe turned back to his father and with tears in his eyes, crumbed into his fatherís embrace. Ben rocked his son until he calmed down.

"Joe? Are you hurt?" Joe shook his head. "Are you sure? Where are you bleeding?"

"Iím not papa." Joe sniffled and stuck his thumb into his mouth. He didnít say another word.

"Hoss help me get Joseph back to town to see the doc." When Ben lifted Joe, he noticed Joe was wet. He gently kissed Joe on the cheek and set him on his feet. Joe started to get nervous. "Donít leave me papa."

"Iím not going anywhere Joseph. Iím just getting a blanket to keep you warm. Okay?"

Joe nodded but reached out and took hold of Benís belt as he reached for the blanket on his horse. Ben turned and had to pry Joeís fingers from his belt. "Itís okay Joseph. Iím right here." Ben wrapped the blanket around his son and put him up onto his horse. Ben mounted behind him. Ben looked at Hoss and said, "Letís go. Ride ahead of me and let Paul know we are on the way."

"Yes sir."

After Hoss left, Ben could feel Joe shivering. He kept speaking calming words to him to keep his tears from becoming sobs and rubbing his arms to keep him warm. It seemed to take forever to get the couple miles back to town, but Ben finally stopped in front of the doctorís office. Hoss met his father and Ben handed Joe down to him. Joe started to scream, "NO! PAPA!" Ben dismounted quickly and took Joe again in his arms. Joe immediately put his thumb in his mouth and calmed down.

"Pa?" Hoss looked concerned.

"Donít worry Hoss. It was just a scary experience and he needs all of us right now."

They walked into the doctorís office and were ushered into the examining room quickly.

"Ben. Why donít you set young Joe on the bed and go get yourself a cup of coffee."

Ben started to set Joe down and Joe screamed again. "NO! PAPA! DONíT LEAVE ME!" Paul Martin could see the trauma in this little boy.

"Okay Ben. You get to stay this time. Set Joe down and sit next to him."

Ben set Joe down again, but this time talked to him and explained that he wasnít going anywhere. Joe calmed down and sat next to his papa with his hand firmly wrapped around his fatherís index finger and his other thumb in his mouth. The doctor made a quick exam and found nothing more than a few bruises. The blood on Joeís shirt must have been the madmanís. Ben sent Hoss to the mercantile to get Joe some dry clothes while Mrs. Martin prepared a hot bath to clean Joe up. When the bath was ready, Joe would only let his father undress him and put him in the tub and only while holding on to his father. After the bath and getting redressed, Joe fell asleep in his papaís arms. While asleep Ben asked, "Paul? He seems so insecure."

"Ben. Itís to be expected. He was torn from his family and treated badly. I wouldnít be surprised if he has nightmares for a while. Joe has always had nightmares and this trauma will probably make them more frequent."

Ben asked as he looked at his baby son, "Can I take him home?"

"Yes. Iíll come by sometime tomorrow and check on him. Heís going to need his family to support him and to make him feel secure again."

"We will Paul. Thank you."

"No problem Ben. Take good care of this rascal." Paul ruffled Joeís hair as they left.

Ben let Hoss drive home while Joe slept secure in his papaís arms.

***********

When Paul Martin entered the large ranch house the next afternoon, a very tired looking Ben Cartwright met him.

"I take it from the way you look, the night didnít go well. Howís Joe?"

"Paul. Come on in and have some coffee." When both men were sitting, Ben began, "Joseph kept me up pretty much all night."

"Nightmares?"

"Sometimes. He would wake up screaming and was hard to calm down. He came and crawled into my bed once and it was nearly impossible to get him to stay in his own bed. After I promised to stay in his room he slept in spurts. I think he kept waking up to make sure I was still there." Ben leaned back into his chair and closed his eyes.

"Ben you need some rest."

"I know." Ben sighed heavily. "I donít get any sleep propped in that rocking chair."

"Then sleep in your bed."

"Paul. I understand that. Joseph screams if Iím not right there. Itís almost like he is afraid of everything and only I can calm him down. He wonít even let Hoss stay with him alone."

"He needs your presence to feel like his world hasnít fallen apart."

"Yes and as long as he wants only me, I wonít be sleeping in my own bed. I will get enough rest; I have to for Joseph."

"Ben? Why donít you just let him sleep in your bed? It couldnít hurt."

"I suppose. Iím just afraid he wonít want to ever go back to his own bed."

Paul chuckled. "Well I canít picture Joseph sleeping with his pa until heís a teenager."

"You laugh, but he has five more years before he becomes a teenager. Besides, that boy fights with the covers all night long. Always has."

"Are you afraid that your baby son will give you some broken ribs in your Ďadvanced ageí?"

"ADVANCED AGE! Huh!"

"Iím sorry Ben." Paul smiled. "I see no harm in letting him come to your bed then. Let him know that heís safe in his bed alone and if he needs you then he can come and get you. Maybe if he feels he can come to you at night, he will be able to stay in his own bed longer each night. That way you get some sleep and he feels secure."

"That only works if he isnít afraid to walk across the hallway."

"Ben you are making this harder than it needs to be. Joe will recover. Heís a strong boy."

"I know." Ben sipped from his coffee cup and winced at the cold liquid.

"Ben why donít you take a nap."

"I probably should while Joseph is sleeping."

"Iím going to go check on him and then I want you to take a nap." Paul rose and went upstairs with Ben following.

***********

Joe was in the depths of a nightmare. Everyone he saw had heads like snakes. He would try to run, but they hissed all around him. He was about to run when he heard a voice say, Ďdonít move!í. Joe froze. He knew that his papa could protect him but he wasnít here. Where was his papa? His papa always made the bad people go away. He could only hear the hissing of the snakes. Then he saw the face of the biggest snake. He started to cry. ĎQuit yer blubberingí the snake hissed. The snake drew a gun and aimed it at Joeís head. ĎMove and yer deadí the snake hissed. Joe could feel the fear. He didnít look but he could feel the fact that he had wet himself again. ĎWhat a babyí the snake hissed. ĎNobody wants a wet crybaby. Even the critters donít want yaí the snake said with venom. Joe cried harder. He could hear the scream start from deep down and it was only an echoÖsomething was breaking through the dream. Was it the snake?

"Joseph! Wake up boy." Doctor Martin was checking his small patient when Joe started to thrash around in the bed. His low moans were an indication of another nightmare. He shook Joe to wake him.

NO!!!!!! The snake was coming. Where was his papa? PAPA!!

"PAPA!" The scream pierced ears. Ben moved over to the bed and shook Joe firmly.

"JOSEPH! Wake up son itís just a dream." As Ben spoke Joe stopped screaming and moving. "Thatís right Little Joe. Wake up."

As Ben spoke Joe could hear his papa and the Ďsnakeí started to fade. Soon he opened his eyes and saw his papa. The tears flowed as Joe sat up and hugged his papa tight.

"Shhhhh. Itís okay Joseph. It was just a dream." Ben continued to rock his son and noticed that Joe had wet the bed. Doctor Martin noticed also and called for Hop Sing to bring some warm water.

Ben continued to comfort Little Joe as he stripped and cleaned him up. Doctor Martin checked the bruises and didnít get much response from Joe. After Joe was dry again, Ben picked him up and sat in the rocker holding Joe. Joe had become quiet, with the only noise being a slight whimper when someone walked to close to him. He kept his thumb firmly in his mouth and his fingers wrapped tightly around his fatherís shirt. Ben just rocked him until he felt Joe relax. The doctor helped Hop Sing change Joeís bedding and glanced over to see Joe drifting back to sleep. He reached into his black bag and pulled out a couple of packets of sleeping powders and handed them to Ben.

"What are those for?"

"If he isnít sleeping more that an hour or two at a time, neither of you will get any rest." He looked at his timepiece. "Itís two oíclock now. If he wakes up before five, I want you to mix a teaspoon of this powder into a glass of water and make him drink it. After he eats some supper."

"Make him drink it? Are we talking about the same child?" Ben was smiling.

"You have had seven years of practice with this rascal. I know youíre up to the challenge."

"Iíll try." Ben looked down at his now sleeping son.

"Ben, I want you in bed." Ben stood up and was going to put Joe back into his own bed when Doctor Martin stopped him.

"Youíll get more rest if you take him with you. If he wakes up he may go right back to sleep if he feels you next to him."

"Okay Paul, but if he wets my bed, Iím going to have a talk with you." Ben chuckled as he moved to his bed. He settled Joe under the blankets and stood up to walk Paul to the door. Doctor Martin raised his hand.

"I know the way out Ben. I want you in that bed next to that other troublesome Cartwright."

"Other? Are you saying Iím trouble?" Ben said with mock severity.

"I only speak the truth Ben. Now go to bed."

Ben saluted and sat down to take of his boots. Confident that Ben was following doctorís orders, Paul left. Ben crawled under his blankets and was quickly asleep next to Little Joe.

***********

"Pa?" Ben woke up to the gentle prodding of his middle son, Hoss. He opened his eyes and looked down at his baby son, sound asleep. He turned to look at Hoss.

"Sorry to wake you Pa, but Hop Sing says supper will be ready in 30 minutes. I thought you might want to eat."

"What time is it?" Ben whispered.

"Six oíclock."

"Six? I didnít expect to get that much sleep." He looked at Joe again. "I guess Paul was right about him sleeping better if he was right next to me."

"He looks very content snuggled up against you pa. How are you gonna get up without waking him?"

"Well. He needs to eat. Iíll try not to disturb him but it wonít matter if I do." Ben got up without waking Joe. "Maybe heíll sleep long enough for me to take care of a few personal needs. Will you stay with him for a few minutes please Hoss. Just in case he wakes up."

"Sure pa."

"Thanks Hoss." Ben took his boots and headed downstairs.

Hoss sat and watched Joe sleep for a few minutes and then noticed that Joe started to stir. He smiled when it looked like Joe was searching for something with his hand in his sleep. When his hand didnít find what he wanted, he started to open his eyes. Joe looked around real quickly and saw Hoss. He looked right at his older brother and said, "Whereís papa?" and started to cry softly.

Hoss moved to the bed and gathered Joe into his arms. "Papa just went downstairs. Youíre okay. Youíre in papaís bed."

"I want papa." Joe said softly through his tears.

"You can get up. Do you want me to help you get ready for supper?"

"I want papa." Joe said a little louder.

"Let me help you get cleaned up and then we can go find papa. Okay?"

"I WANT PAPA!" Joe screamed and started to cry harder.

Hoss tried to calm him down but it didnít seem to work. "Joe papaís downstairs. If you want papa then you need to get cleaned up and come downstairs."

Joe looked at Hoss. Why didnít he understand he only wanted papa? No one else!

"Please Hoss." Joe pleaded through his tears. "I want papa."

"Then come downstairs." Hoss stood up and looked down at Joe.

Joe suddenly got frightened. What if the snake was downstairs and he couldnít find his papa? What if the snake got his papa? Why wouldnít Hoss understand?

Joe started to sob and hid himself under the covers. Hoss moved over to Joe to calm him down.

"Joe itís okay. Papaís downstairs. Why donít you let me take you to him." Hoss moved to pick Joe up but Joe just screamed. The scream brought Ben back up to his bedroom quickly. Hoss looked relieved when Ben entered.

"Iím sorry Pa. He wouldnít let me help. He only wanted you."

"I know Hoss." Ben had moved over to his bed and sat down. He gathered Joe into his arms. Joe fought him until he heard his fatherís soothing voice. "Itís okay Joe. Papaís right here."

Joe started to calm down in his fatherís embrace. When Ben felt Joe relax, he asked, "Joe?"

Joe looked up at his papa and tried to smile. This made Ben soar. He missed Joeís smile.

"Joe, are you hungry?"

Joe nodded his head. He wasnít really hungry but he didnít want his papa to leave again.

"Why donít we get washed up and go eat. Hop Sing has made your favorite dessert, apple pie." Joe smiled again.

Ben lifted Joe out of the bed and set his feet on the floor. Joe immediately tensed up and reached for his father. Ben knelt down in front of Joe.

"Joseph. You are completely safe. You can walk across the hall to your room. I will not carry you everywhere. Youíre a big boy now, not a baby."

Joe started to cry softly again.

"Joseph. There is no reason to cry. Papa wonít carry you, but I will hold your hand and take you to your room. Okay?"

Joe stopped crying, wiped his eyes and nodded his head. Ben felt this was progress. Joe took his fatherís hand with an iron grip and was hesitant when walking out the door. When they both reached Joeís room, Ben let go of Joeís hand. Joe started to panic. Ben knelt in front of Joe again and said, "Joseph. Youíre safe in your room. Youíre safe in this whole house. No one can hurt you while youíre home and with your family. Do you understand?"

Joe nodded.

"Good." Ben slowly walked away from Joe and toward the dresser to get some clean clothes. He watched Joe out of the corner of his eye and noticed that Joe was not totally relaxed. He was looking around the room like he was waiting for something to come out and get him. Ben wondered if he would ever get his bold and daring son back.

Ben helped Joe get dressed and was pleased to see Joe actually help. Ben then took Joeís hand and they walked downstairs. Ben had to constantly reassure Joe that he was safe and that nothing could harm him. Ben got Joe to sit in his chair to eat and was well aware that Joe was watching his every move.

After Ben finished his supper he got up and headed for his red chair. Joe started to get up also. Ben stopped him.

"Joe. Are you going to finish your dessert?"

"Papa. Iím not hungry no more."

"Then you need to ask to be excused."

"May I be excused Papa?"

Ben smiled and sat in his chair. "Yes Joe. You may."

Joe got up quickly and walked over to his father who was about to light his pipe. Ben looked at his young son and still saw insecurity in his eyes.

"Papa? Can I sit on your lap?"

Ben smiled and patted his legs to invite Joe up. Joe bounded onto Benís lap and cuddled close against his chest. When Ben looked down, Joe had his thumb in his mouth and was looking into the fire. Ben hugged him and Joe relaxed in his fatherís embrace.

The quiet was broken when there was a knock at the door. Joe tensed up and started to whimper. Ben rubbed Joeís back and spoke calming words to him while Hoss answered the door. Roy Coffee entered with a smile. Hoss left them alone and went to finish his chores.

"Roy, what brings you all the way out here this time of night?"

Roy entered and saw Joe crying. "Little Joeís still shook huh?" Roy took a seat on the settee.

"Heís a little better today. He slept and I actually got him to come downstairs and eat with us. Heís still a little insecure." Ben turned to Joe. "Joe?" Joe looked up at his papa. "Itís just Sheriff Coffee. You know he wouldnít hurt you." Joe nodded his head and turned and smiled at Roy.

Roy returned the smile and said, "Hey Little Joe. Are you feeling better?"

Joe nodded but didnít say a word.

"Thatís a good sign, isnít it?"

Ben smiled. "Yes it is. Heís starting to feel safe again I hope."

Roy looked up at Ben again. "The reason I came out was because we caught a man who matched the description of the madman that robbed the bank and grabbed Joe. I was wondering if Joe could identify anything about the man to make sure we have the same guy."

"I donít know Roy. He hasnít said a whole lot." Ben could feel Joe tense up again. "Would he have to testify of what happened in court?"

"I donít think so. He could probably just tell me and my report should be enough. We found a man with the money and a gunshot wound. Iím pretty sure thatís enough, but this man is claiming innocence."

Ben looked at Little Joe. He took Joeís chin in his hand and made Joe look him in the eyes. "Joe? Do you think you could tell Sheriff Coffee what happened?"

Joeís eyes started to water and he shook his head Ďnoí.

"Joe? Papa wants you to try. It may help if you talk about it."

"I donít want to papa. Please?" Joe started to sob in his papaís arms. Ben rubbed his back to calm him down.

"Ben, Why donít I come back in a few days? Iíll bring the Doctor and he can witness Joeís statement and his emotional state. Hopefully that will be enough with the other evidence."

"Okay Roy. Iím sure Paul will want to be here." Ben felt Joe relax.

"Good." Roy stood and looked at Joe, who had his eyes closed and looked asleep. Roy gently ruffled Joeís hair. "I hope he gets better quickly."

"Me too Roy. I hate to admit it but I would rather have a mischievous rascal than a scared little boy."

"Heís tough. Iíll show myself out Ben. Iíll see you tomorrow."

"Okay Roy. Good night."

After Roy left, Hoss came in from evening chores. Ben looked up and smiled.

"Everything finished in the barn son?"

"Yeah Pa. I hope Joe gets better soon. With Adam gone, itís gonna take twice as long to get chores done."

"Iíll ask Jake to give you some help."

Hoss motioned to Joe. "You want me to put him to bed?"

"Sure Hoss. Put him in my bed though. We both need some sleep." Hoss gently picked Joe up and carried him upstairs. A few minutes later, Hoss returned.

"I just took off his boots and covered him with a quilt. I didnít want to wake him by trying to get him undressed."

"Thatís okay Hoss. Iím going to have him use the chamber pot first anyway. I certainly donít want him wetting my bed."

Hoss chuckled. "Well, Iím plum tuckered out. Iím gonna go to bed. See you in the morning."

"Good night Hoss."

"Night Pa."

Ben sat up enjoying the solitude for a couple hours. Then he dimmed the lights and went upstairs. He helped a half-asleep Joe use the chamber pot and then got him into his nightshirt. After Joe was tucked under the covers, Ben got into his nightclothes and sat in front of the small fire in his room to read. Ben read until he noticed Joe moving around in the bed, apparently having another nightmare. Ben got up, turned out the lamp, and crawled under the covers with his young son. Joe immediately snuggled up to his papa in his sleep and settled down. Ben smiled, kissed Joeís curly head, and went to sleep.

*************

Joe woke up feeling warm and cozy. He slowly opened his eyes and saw his papa sleeping next to him. For the last few days his father had let him sleep with him instead of by himself in his room. Joe was grateful for the extra closeness with his father. He wasnít having nightmares as often anymore but he was nervous about today.

Today, his papa was going to insist he talk to the sheriff about that bad man who took him away. He knew his father could protect him and that he was safe here at home but he didnít want to go to court.

Joe looked at his papa and smiled. He took his right hand, his left thumb in his mouth, and slowly and gently stroked his papaís face. He didnít want to wake his papa but he needed to use the outhouse. He still wasnít comfortable going by himself, but he probably could use the chamber pot safely.

He slowly got out from under the covers and slid to the edge of the bed. He leaned over to look under the bed to make sure nothing was there. Once he was sure he was safe he slid to his feet on the floor to use the chamber pot.

While he was doing this, Ben had opened his eyes and saw his young son venture out of the bed to do his business. Ben smiled to himself. He was very happy that Little Joe was starting to become more independent. The last few days had been hard to get anything done because Joe was glued to his fatherís side. Ben thought maybe they would try letting Joe sleep in his own bed tonight. He watched Joe for a few minutes and then quickly closed his eyes when Joe turned around.

Little Joe smiled. He could tell his papa was awake and was faking it. Joe climbed back under the covers, kissed his papa on the cheek, and snuggled up to his papa with his thumb in his mouth. "I love you papa." Joe whispered.

Ben opened his eyes and smiled down at his baby son. He leaned and kissed Joe on the head. "I love you too son."

Joe opened his eyes and smiled at his papa.

"Good morning, young man."

Joe removed his thumb and smiled. "Morniní papa."

"You about ready to get up and have breakfast?"

"Sure papa."

Ben slowly rolled to the edge of the bed and helped Joe get to his feet. "Go ahead and get dressed and meet me downstairs."

Joe frowned. "Papa?"

"Youíll be okay Little Joe. Youíre safe in the house."

Joe looked nervously toward the bedroom door. He turned to his papa. "CouldÖyou go with me, papa?"

Ben thought for a moment. He needed Joe to deal with his fear but he also didnít want Joe to feel he wasnít supported. "How about I watch you from my door?"

Joe thought about it. He knew he should do it to show his papa that he was brave but he was still scared. With a slight quiver in his voice he spoke. "Okay papa. But youíll watch the whole way?"

"Yes Joseph. Iíll even keep my door open so we can see each other."

"Okay." Joe slowly walked out the door into the hallway. Joe looked back at his papa and smiled. He continued to his own bedroom door. He pushed open the door and peeked in. He checked to make sure he could still see his papa and he could. Joe smiled weakly at his papa and went into the room. Joe quickly got dressed and was back in his papaís room before Ben was even half dressed. Ben looked up at his young son and smiled.

"Well Joseph. Iíve never seen you get dressed so quickly." Ben finished dressing while Joe sat at his papaís feet and waited. "What do you want to do today Little Joe?"

"Why papa?"

"I thought maybe youíd like to go outside today."

Joe looked down at the floor. "I donít think I want to go out papa."

Ben picked Joe up and set him down on his lap. "Joe, youíre safe here at home. That includes the yard and the barn. No one is going to hurt you."

Joe responded by putting his thumb in his mouth and snuggling up to his papa. Ben hugged him tight and decided not to push the issue.

"Letís go get some breakfast." Ben set Joe down and took his hand. They both walked downstairs for breakfast without another word.

************

The morning was quiet. Joe played with his toy soldiers in front of the fireplace, while Ben worked on the accounts. Hoss tried to convince Joe to go fishing but Joe wouldnít go outside. He was nervous about the talk with the sheriff and he didnít want to leave his papaís sight.

Ben was also nervous. He didnít want what progress Joe had made to be ruined by bringing up the whole nightmare.

After dinner, Ben was about to take Joe upstairs for a nap when Doctor Martin and Sheriff Coffee arrived. Joe immediately curled up in the red chair and whimpered. Ben welcomed his visitors and then went to Joe. He took Joe into his arms, sat down in the red chair and rubbed Joeís back to calm him down. Doctor Martin approached Ben and Joe.

"Howís my young patient today?"

Joe didnít respond. Ben gently took Joeís thumb out of his mouth and said, "Joseph. Doctor Martin asked you a question. Please answer him."

Joe looked at his papa. "Yes sir." He turned to the doctor. "Iím fine Doctor Martin."

"I can see youíre doing a lot better. Why donít you let me see how your bruises are healing?"

Joe smiled weakly and let the doctor examine him. Afterwards, he climbed back into his papaís lap.

Sheriff Coffee sat on the settee. "Ben?"

Ben nodded his okay to question Joe. The sheriff looked at Joe.

"Little Joe?" Joe looked up. "Could you tell me anything about the man who hurt you last week?"

Joe was thinking. He spoke slowly and softly. "HeÖtold me to be quiet. I couldnít stop crying. HeÖhit me. When all the shootiní started I was so scared. He crushed me and I couldnít breathe." Joe looked like he was going to hyperventilate.

Doctor Martin spoke up. "Joe just breath normally. Take your time."

Ben gave Joe a reassuring hug. Joe smiled at his papa and then turned back to the sheriff.

"He got tired of my crying and stopped. He throwed me off the horse and when I tried to get up he shot at me. The bullet hit real close papa. When I stopped moving he shot at me again." Joe breathed deeply. He again looked at his papa and started to cry gently. "The next thing I remembered was seeing you papa."

Ben hugged Joe close and rubbed his back.

"Joe, did you get a look at the man?" Sheriff Coffee asked.

Joe shook his head. "He had a mask on."

"Was there anything else, Little Joe?"

Joe thought for a minute. Suddenly he shot up. "A SNAKE!"

"A snake?" The three men were confused.

"He had a snake on his hand."

"What kind of snake Little Joe?"

"Like a mark or picture or something. It looked like a snake."

"That tells me a great deal. Thanks Joe." Sheriff Coffee stood up and smiled at Joe. Doctor Martin stood and went into the kitchen. He returned with a glass of water.

"If thatís all Sheriff, young Joseph looks like he could use some rest." He handed the glass to Ben. Ben recognized the milky liquid and smiled. He took the glass and turned to Joe.

"Here son. I want you to drink this."

Joe took the glass and asked, "What is it papa?"

Doctor Martin spoke. "Itís something to help you get some rest."

"Rest?" Joe looked at his papa and Ben simply said, "Naptime."

"Nap? But papa Iím not tired."

Ben looked at Joe and smiled. "Joseph. I want you to drink every drop in that glass. I want you to take a nap and itís not up for discussion."

Joe looked at the glass again and then to his papa. He did feel a little tired. He said, "Yes sir," and drank every drop. He handed to the glass back to his papa and started to cry. He was so tired. Ben cuddled with Joe and softly rocked him until he felt Joe relax. Doctor Martin watched Joeís eyes close.

Ben turned to Sheriff Coffee. "Did he give you enough information Roy?"

"Yes Ben. I wasnít sure I had the right man until Joe mentioned the snake mark. The man in my jail has such a mark. He also had a gunshot wound. That could explain how Joe ended up with blood on his clothes that wasnít his."

"Good." Ben looked down at his sleeping son. "Well gentlemen. Iím going to put this young man to bed." He stood up and easily adjusted Joe without waking him.

"Weíll show ourselves out Ben."

"Let me know if you need anything else, Roy."

"I will Ben. Just take care of my favorite deputy."

Ben smiled. "I certainly will Roy. Paul?"

"Iíll be by tomorrow to see how heís doing. If he has trouble sleeping again, use the sleeping powders."

"Thanks Paul. Roy."

Both men left and Ben carried Joe upstairs and set him into his own bed. Ben debated putting Joe into his bed or even leaving him down on the settee, but Joe needed the rest and Ben wanted to see how Joe did in his own bed.

After tucking Joe in, he was going to take a nap also, when he heard Hoss come in.

"Hi pa."

"I thought youíd still be fishing. Is there anything wrong?"

"No pa. I was just bored. Itís not the same without Little Joe." Ben smiled. "I thought Iíd come home and get a snack and then check on the colts in the barn."

"Sounds fine Hoss. Go ahead." Ben yawned.

"Whereís Joe?"

"Taking a nap in his own bed. Iím going to lie down too Hoss. Will you wake me in a couple of hours?"

"Sure pa. Iíll take care of things."

"I know you will son. Wake me if you need me."

Ben headed upstairs and Hoss headed for the kitchen. Ben checked on Joe and was happy to see him sleeping peacefully. Ben left Joeís door and his door open, as he lie down and instantly fell asleep.

***********

Joe woke slowly. He opened his eyes and for the first time in a couple of weeks he wasnít frightened. He looked around and realized that he was in his own room. He sat up and looked toward the door. He could see his father asleep on his own bed across the hall. Joe slowly got up and used the chamber pot and then walked quietly into his fatherís room. He smiled down at his father who was still asleep. Joe decided to go get his toy soldiers and to play quietly in his fatherís room while he waited for his papa to wake up.

Joe carefully walked to the top of the stairs. He had left the toys in the living room but he knew he was safe enough to run down and get them. He looked around and then ran down the stairs, grabbed the toys, and ran back upstairs. He breathed a sigh of relief that he did it by himself.

Joe walked back to his papaís room and sat on the floor next to the bed. He played quietly, so as not to disturb his papa.

Ben was slowly waking when he heard faint whispers. He opened on eye and saw his youngest son playing quietly on the floor. It made Ben happy to see Joe getting some of his confidence back. He was very content to lie there and watch Little Joe play. It was a very peaceful scene.

The peace was shattered when Ben heard the front door slam. Must be Hoss. Ben mused. Ben heard the heavy footsteps on the stairs, but most of all he noticed how tense Joe became. Joe jumped at the door slamming, but he stood and moved closer to the bed as the steps approached the upstairs. Joe quickly jumped on the bed and hid behind his father under the quilt.

Ben turned toward Joe and he jumped. "Joseph?"

Joe peeked out at his father and tried to smile. "Thereís someone in the house papa. You think it could be the snake man?"

"The Ďsnake maní?"

"The man that took me?"

"Joe that man is in jail. Those footsteps," Ben pointed to the hallway, "belong to your brother Hoss."

As if on cue, Hoss poked his head in and smiled. "Yer both up. Good. Iím Ďbout starved and Hop Sing says dinner is ready."

Joe smiled at Hoss. He knew he was safe with his big brother so he got out of the covers and went to Hoss, who picked him up and hugged him.

"What was that fer, punkin?"

"ĎCause I love you thatís all." Ben got up and everyone went down to dinner.

Ben was very pleased with Joeís progress so far. Joe was a little anxious when Ben put him to bed in his own room, but Ben assured Joe that he was still there and he could come get his papa or just call out and his papa would come to him. Joe agreed.

***********

The next few days, Ben woke up with Joe sleeping next to him. Sometime in the night Joe would wander in to his papaís room scared by a nightmare. Ben would calm Joe down and let Joe climb in with him.

Ben had convinced Joe to go outside also. On several occasions Ben had to work in the barn and Joe would be content to sit and play on the porch. A few times he ventured to the barn.

Ben was still concerned that his young son hadnít regained all of his confidence. He was at least allowing Ben to leave the ranch house for business and letting Hoss or Hop Sing act as his security, but he was still acting insecure at times. Ben talked to Doctor Martin about it and the doctor suggested a little experiment to see if Joe may be faking the trauma now for the attention.

The idea that Joe may be faking some of the insecurity bothered Ben. Doctor Martin suspected it, but Ben couldnít believe that his son would do such a thing. The idea was for Ben to tell Joe that he would be gone for the day and to conveniently leave the boy alone to see what his reaction would be. Ben reluctantly went along with the idea.

*********

When Joe looked around the ranch house he couldnít find anyone. He carefully checked the barn and the bunkhouse, but no one was around. This bothered Joe and he couldnít understand where everyone was. He was about to go back into the house when he saw a stranger approach. He quickly recognized the man and ran into the house.

From a short distance away, Ben watched his young son carefully look around for everyone and then he saw fear on the boyís face as a stranger approached the yard. Ben didnít know why, but he quickly spurred Buck back to the house.

He rode into the yard and found his front door open. Ben quickly drew his gun and went into the house. The stranger was surprised when Ben entered.

"What are you doing in my house mister?" Ben snarled. He was also scanning the room for Little Joe.

"Jest came to take care of some unfinished business." The stranger said.

"What kind of business?"

"The kind that involves taking care of any witnesses." As the stranger wiped his brow with his hand, Ben noticed the snake mark on his hand. Recognition hit him.

"Youíre the man who stole my son and then tormented him."

"Ah. I see my secret is out."

"How did you get out of jail?"

"Letís just say that deputy is going to have a mighty big headache when he wakes up."

"Whereís my boy?"

"Donít rightly know? Chased him in here but heís gone. Iíll get him though." The stranger went for his gun thinking Ben was distracted. He thought wrong. Ben fired and knew the man was dead even before he hit the floor.

The sheriff rode up to warn Ben of the escape when he saw the dead man in the living room.

"Ben? Are you and Joe okay?"

Ben looked at his friend. "I am. I donít know where Joe is. Iím going to go look for him.

Sheriff Coffee took care of the body and then helped Ben look for Joe. Ben was getting frantic when after an hour they couldnít find him.

Sheriff Coffee approached Ben. "Ben? Iíll go get a posse together and weíll look further away from the house. Weíve searched everywhere between the trees and the house."

Ben looked at his friend and smiled. "No we didnít Roy. I didnít look in the tree house."

Both men ran toward the creek where the tree house stood. Ben began to climb the ladder and silently thanked Adam for building it strong enough to hold the adults in the house. Ben approached the entrance and smiled at the sight before him.

Curled up in a corner with a blanket, was Joe, fast asleep. He must have hidden up here and fell asleep when it became quiet. Ben carefully crawled into the small tree house and brushed Joeís curls out of his eyes. Joe stirred.

"Little Joe. Time to wake up son."

Joe woke with a start. He stared at his father. "Papa?"

"Yes Joe?"

"That man! Heís in the house."

"No heís not. I saw him go after you and I stopped him. Heís dead Joe. He canít bother you ever again."

"Never?"

"Never. Letís get down from here. Your old papaís knees arenít used to this hard kneeling."

Joe giggled.

"Whatís so funny?"

Joe stood up straight. "Just stand up papa." He giggled again.

"Why you little rascal." Ben took hold of his young son and started to tickle him until Joe begged him to stop. "Have more respect for your elders boy."

Joe giggled again as they both left the tree house. As the walked toward the house, Ben asked, "Joe?"

"Yeah papa?"

"Why did you hide in the tree house?"

"Adam told me that if I was ever scared or wanted to feel him near, I could go in the tree house and he would be there. You know papa? He was. I really miss Adam papa. Whenís he gonna write?"

"Should be soon Joe. He should have arrived in Boston by now." Ben picked Joe up and hugged him close. He then carried Joe into the house.

Sheriff Coffee had taken care of the body and Ben observed that Hop Sing had already cleaned up the blood. You couldnít even tell there had been a body there. Ben set Joe on the couch and went in the kitchen to get something to wash Joe up with. When he returned, the door flung open and there stood Hoss.

"Hey Pa!" He hollered. "I picked up the mail while in town. We got letters from Adam."

Joe jumped up. "Any for me Hoss?"

"Sure is short shanks." Hoss handed the envelop to Joe and then gave the rest of the mail to his pa. Joe tore open the letter and started to read.

Dear Buddy,

I just got to Boston yesterday. I saw the great big sailing ships like pa was on. You would like them. I hope you are well and not missing me too much. I miss you. I will send you some drawings of the ships when I get a chance. I love you.

Big brother,

Adam

Joe was softly crying and Ben asked him, "Are you okay Little Joe?" He was worried that Joe would never be okay again.

Joe looked at his papa and smiled. He never felt better in his whole life. He missed Adam but he knew his family loved him and no matter what, he would always be all right.

"Yes papa. Iím great." Joe hugged his papa and Ben knew everything was great.

The End


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