The wild horses ran past him quickly. He could feel the wind they created as they ran. He longed to follow the herd, but his pony was too slow. He watched as the stallion lead the group farther away. Suddenly the herd turned and was running straight for him. As they approached him, the entire herd stopped directly in front of him. As the cloud of dust settled, he could hear his heart pounding. Before him, stood the stallion. A large black, sleek animal with powerful muscles that were twitching with excitement. The stallion held his head high and looked right at the boy. The boy froze. The stallion spoke, "Joe?" The boy looked confused. Horses donít talk. The stallion spoke again, "Joe?" The boy started to shake his head when he heard it again, "Joseph. Son itís time to wake up."
Joe opened his eyes and saw his papa. His father was smiling down at him and spoke, "Well, itís about time sleepy head. Hop Sing has breakfast almost ready and the morning chores wonít wait for you to sleep all morning." Ben Cartwright looked at his youngest son and smiled.
Joe sat up and yawned. "Good morning Papa."
"Good morning. Time to get up." Joe swung his arms around his papaís neck and Ben picked him up and hugged him.
"Yes Joe?" Ben set Joe down.
"Can we go up and see the wild herd today?" Joe said, as he got dressed.
Ben smiled. It always amazed him how his youngest sonís thoughts seemed to run. "Not today son. We have a lot to do and you have school. I want you to come straight home after school today and be on time."
Joe looked at his papa and smiled. "Maybe tomorrow?"
Ben had to smile. Joe was persistent when he wanted something. He wished Joe would be like that at his schoolwork and chores. "Not tomorrow either. I have to be in town tomorrow and your brothers will be out working."
"I could go after school. I know where the herd is and Iím a real good rider." Joe looked at his father with pleading eyes. He knew it was a slim chance his papa would let him go alone. He was seven years old now and thought himself grown up enough to ride alone. His pa didnít let him go anywhere except school by himself and Joe didnít understand why.
"The answer is still no, Joe. You know you are not allowed to go riding about the countryside by yourself. You need to come straight home like I asked. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir," Joe hung his head and sulked.
"Letís get some breakfast before Hoss eats it all." He put his arm around Joeís shoulders and they both walked down to breakfast.
School went slowly for Joe. He kept thinking about the wild horses. His friend, Mitch Devlin had told him about the herd being further north this month. School was almost out for the summer and Joe and Mitch talked about going out to look for the horses. Joe knew that sometimes his papa would let him and Mitch go fishing alone if they stayed at the lake so he started to plan a way to go find the herd of horses.
Because he was thinking about the horses and not his schoolwork, Joe had been reprimanded several times for not paying attention. His teacher, Miss Jones, had decided it was time to send a note home to Joeís father to let him know that Joe wasnít putting his all into his work; again. Joe wasnít happy about the note and tried to think of how or if he was going to show it to his father.
Joe arrived at home on time and finished his chores. He then went into the house to work on his homework. He was very nervous about the note and he didnít want to give it to his papa. He thought about throwing it away, but he still remembered the thrashing he received the last time he didnít give his father a note from the teacher. He decided he would just have to catch his papa in a good mood, and pray that his father was feeling merciful tonight.
Joeís prayers would go unanswered that night.
When his father returned to the house that evening, he was in a foul mood. He had spent the entire day trying to locate about fifty missing cattle. He feared rustlers. When he walked in the door that evening, Joe was sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace with his school books strewn all over the table, doing his homework. The fact that Joe was working on homework was lost on Ben Cartwright. He only saw the huge mess in his living room and took it out on Joe.
"Joseph! I expect that mess picked up NOW!" Ben snapped. "I shouldnít have to come home to a pig sty after a hard days work." Ben moved over toward Joe and towered over him. Joe was shocked. He always did his homework in the living room and it never bothered his father before. Because he was so stunned, he didnít move. "NOW Joseph." Benís booming voice shook Joe. He softly said, "Yes sir" and started to pile up his books and papers. Ben sat down in his favorite red leather chair and tried to calm himself down. He was tired and frustrated and he knew he was taking it out on Joe. He sighed and looked toward Joe, who had his head down, and saw a single tear run down Joeís cheek. He immediately felt bad. He sat forward and said softly, "Joe?" Joe stopped and wiped his arm across his eyes so his father couldnít see him cry. Benís heart broke as Joe looked up at him with unshed tears glistening in his eyes. Ben patted his lap and said, "Come sit with your papa Joe." Joe could see that his father wasnít angry anymore and he stood up, went to his father, and wrapped his arms around his neck.
"IÖIím sssorry papa." Joe started to cry openly on his papaís shoulder.
"Shhhhh. Joe. You have nothing to be sorry about. Iím the one whoís sorry. I had a long, tired day and I took it out on you. Can you forgive me?" Joe nodded and started to calm down. As he wiped the last of his tears away, his brothers, Adam and Hoss, walked in the door. They both noticed Joe had been crying and asked, "Whatís wrong with Joe?"
"Itís nothing boys. I had a rough day and Iím hungry." Ben said to the boys. He looked down at Joe and said, "Why donít I help you take your schoolwork upstairs Joe, and then get washed up for supper." Joe nodded and Ben set him down. They gathered the books and papers and both went upstairs. Both Adam and Hoss gave each other a confused look and then shrugged their shoulders.
Supper was pleasant but quiet. Ben had shared with the boys about the missing cattle and Adam and Hoss offered to help look tomorrow. Joe wasnít hungry, but he tried to eat something to keep his father in a good mood. He wanted to show his father the note but he had already seen his fatherís anger today and wasnít looking forward to seeing it again.
After supper, while everyone was busy doing something relaxing, Joe decided to show the note to his father. He was supposed to go to bed in ten minutes anyway so at least he couldnít be sent to bed early. He took the note out of his pocket and walked over to his father, who was reading the paper. He spoke very softly. "Papa?" His papa didnít hear him. He spoke again. "Papa?"
Ben looked at his youngest and put his paper down. With a little irritation at being disturbed he said, "What is it Joseph?"
Joe knew he needed to show his father the note, but he lost his nerve. Instead he said, "May I be excused and go to bed?"
Ben looked shocked. This boy never wanted to go to bed early. "Certainly Joe. Are you feeling alright?"
"Alright. Good night son. Iíll come up shortly and tuck you in."
"Good night papa. Good night Hoss. Good night Adam."
They all said good night as Joe walked upstairs. He looked at the note, unsigned, as he walked to his room, fighting back tears. He got into his nightshirt and got under the covers. As he was about to fall asleep, his father came in to tuck him in.
"Joe. Are you sure youíre alright."
Joe looked up and tried to hold back the tears that were threatening to pour down his cheeks. He choked out, "No sir."
"Whatís wrong son? Are you still upset with me about this afternoon?"
Joe shook his head Ďnoí. Ben sat down on the bed beside Joe.
"Then whatís wrong?"
Joe wiped his eyes with his sleeve and leaned over to his bed stand. He took the note from the drawer and handed it to his father. His father took it and read it. His face turned from concern to annoyance. He looked at Joe who was playing with one of the knots on his quilt.
"Joseph. Why didnít you show me this earlier?"
"You were so mad when you came home, I was afraid too. Iím sorry. I meant too."
"Joseph, look at me." He slowly raised his head and looked at his father. "Why werenít you paying attention in school?"
"I donít know. I couldnít stop my head from thinking about stuff other than icky history."
"Son, you need to learn to keep your Ďheadí focused. You canít be daydreaming. Weíve talked about this before." Ben paused.
"Are you going to whip me?"
"No Joe." He could see his son immediately relax a little. "I am going to restrict you to the ranch for two weeks though. You need to stop daydreaming in class and if I get another note, for whatever reason, we will have a Ďvery necessary little talkí. Is that understood?"
Joe nodded and said, "Yes sir."
"Good. Now I want you to get some sleep." He tucked Joe in and kissed his forehead.
"Good night, son. I love you."
"I love you too, papa."
Ben turned down the lamp and left the room. Joe was sound asleep, dreaming of wild horses, within minutes.
Joe was tempted to disobey his father and go to find the wild horses on Friday after school, but decided it would be easier to have a whole day on Saturday to look. He came home from school on time for the rest of the week and worked extra hard on Friday to keep his father in a good mood.
Saturday morning dawned warm with the sun shining brightly. Joe got up early and finished all of his morning chores before breakfast. He was sitting at the table starting his breakfast, when his father came down the stairs.
"Well, Joseph. Your up early."
"Yes sir. Iím done all my chores already too." Joe smiled.
Ben walked to the table and ruffled his sonsí hair then sat down. "How come you donít get up early on school days Joe?"
Joe smiled and blushed. "I donít like school, but I do like Saturdayís because I get to play or explore or fish."
"Just remember Joe, youíre restricted to the yard for another week and a half."
Joeís smile faded. He had forgotten about the restriction. "Does that mean I canít go fishing with Mitch today?"
"Iím afraid so. You are to stay in the yard." Adam and Hoss joined them, and they started talking about what they were going to be doing for the day. Joe sat there and sulked.
"Pa. I really need to go check the North fence. Charlie said he saw some of Bishopís men up there a few days ago." Adam said.
"Okay, Adam but be careful. And stay on Ponderosa land. I donít want you shot." He turned to Hoss. "Hoss I could use your help tracking those missing cattle."
"Sure pa. No problem."
Ben turned to Joe and noticed he wasnít eating and was playing with his food. "Joseph. Eat those eggs, donít play with them."
Joe looked up at his father. "Iím not hungry papa."
"I want you to eat." He held up his hand when he saw Joe was about to argue. "No arguments Joseph. Either you eat your breakfast or you spend the day in your room."
"Yes sir." Joe picked up his fork and started to eat. Ben turned back to the discussion of the day. While his father wasnít looking, Joe stuffed small amounts of his eggs in the neck scarf he had on his lap. Ben didnít notice but Adam did. He looked at Joe and gently gave him a kick under the table. Joe looked up and saw Adam give him a warning look. The look wasnít lost on Ben, who turned toward his youngest.
"Joseph! What are you doing?"
"Nothing papa." Joe said sheepishly.
"What do you have in your lap?"
"Just my neck scarf."
"Let me see it."
Joe looked up at his father who had his hand outstretched to receive the scarf.
Joe sighed and handed the scarf to his father and then looked down at his plate. Ben took the scarf and immediately knew what Joe had been doing. "Were you saving these eggs for dinner Joseph?" he asked sarcastically.
"Joseph. Look at me." Joe raised his eyes to meet his fatherís. "You know I donít approve of wasting food. I told you to eat these eggs, not hide them away to, undoubtedly to throw away as so as you got a chance. Am I correct?"
"Did you obey my instructions to eat?"
"Then you know what to expect next. Go to your room and wait for me there Joseph."
"Iím sorry papa. Please, Iíll eat them now, I promise." Joe pleaded.
"Go!" Ben pointed toward the stairs.
Joe stood up and looked at his father with tears in his eyes. "Please Papa?" His father gave him a stern look and rose from his chair. Joe turned and ran up the stairs as fast as he could.
After they heard the door to Joeís room close, Ben sat back down and turned to Adam. "How long has he been pulling this little trick?" Holding up the neck scarf.
"I donít know Pa. I donít always notice."
"Sure you donít. Hoss, go get our horses saddled and Iíll be out shortly." Ben stood up and dropped his napkin on the table.
"Yes sir." Adam and Hoss both headed out to the barn while Ben headed upstairs to deal with his youngest.
Joe had thrown himself onto the bed and cried. He had hidden food in napkins many times and had never been caught. He knew his papa wasnít happy.
He didnít hear the door open or his father enter, until he spoke. "Joseph." Joe sat up and stood respectfully before his father. He tried to wipe the tears away with his sleeve. Ben stood with his hands on his hips. "Young man, I donít know how long you have been pulling this little stunt, and I donít care, but it stops today. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes sir." Joe said softly.
"Good. And to remind you not to disobey meÖ" He began to unbuckle his belt.
Joe pleaded, "Iím sorry papa. Please, I wonít do it again. I promise." He instinctively backed away and covered his backside with his hands.
"I hope this reminds you of that promise." Ben doubled up his belt and sat down on the bed. "Come here son."
Joe approached his father slowly, with tears in his eyes. Ben took Joe over his knee and administered the tanning. When he finished, he held Joe and let him cry. After a few minutes Joe calmed down and spoke, "Iím sorry papa."
"I know you are Joseph. I donít expect to have to mention this behavior again. We donít waste food and when I tell you to do something, you need to obey me. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir." Joe sniffled.
Ben took Joe by the shoulders and moved him so he could look into his eyes. He handed Joe a hanky. "I love you Joe."
"I love you too papa."
"I have to go look for those cattle now. I want you to go finish your breakfast and get your chores done. Try to stay out of trouble this afternoon, and donít leave the yard Joseph, or weíll have another Ďnecessary little talkí. Do you understand?"
"Yes sir." Joe rubbed his backside and paused. As his father stood to leave the room, Joe spoke. "Papa?"
"Can Mitch come over here today? I forgot about the two weeks restriction to the ranch and he was suppose to come and get me to go fishing."
Joe waited for the Ďnoí when his father smiled. "I suppose this once, if you eat your breakfast. But you two stay out of trouble."
Joe smiled, "Yes sir. Weíll behave perfectly. Thanks papa." Joe gave his papa a big hug.
Ben chuckled. "I donít think perfection is an attainable goal for you Joseph, but you can certainly try." Joe looked confused but he didnít care. At least he wouldnít be bored here all day by himself.
Everyone headed out and Joe waved as they rode off. He finished his breakfast and about an hour later, Mitch rode up to the house.
"Joe!" Joe came outside and smiled at Mitch.
"You ready to go Joe. The Ďfishí are waiting." They both knew they werenít going fishing but to look for the herd.
"I canít Mitch. I was restricted to the yard and I canít go. Papa did say you could stay here and we could play." Mitch dismounted.
"I suppose. We could go find the horses in a couple of weeks when you can go." Joe smiled. "So what do you have in mind?"
Joe put his arm around his friendís shoulders and with a mischevious grin said, "Well, let me tell youÖ"
It turned out to be a good day. Mitch and Joe played in the barn in the morning. They were using the pulley and rope to swing from the loft. Joe had once heard Adam talk about doing it. He knew his father wouldnít be pleased but they only did it for a little while, and no one saw them, so Joe saw no harm in it. Hop Sing had made dinner and after they ate, they both did the chores and then wandered down to the coral to look at the horses that were just brought down the past week. Both were talking and didnít see or hear Adam approach quietly behind them.
"I wish I could break and ride one of these horses instead of my pony. Shadowís too slow."
"Joe, your pa would never let you break your own horse; would he?"
"No, probably not. He still thinks Iím a baby. Wonít let me shoot, ride broncs, or even go for a ride by myself."
"He still hasnít showed you how to shoot?"
"No. I ask him all the time but not lately, Ďcause heís been so grouchy lately." Behind them, Adam giggled at Joeís assessment of their fatherís mood. Joe heard the giggle and turned to see Adam. "What are you doing sneaking up on us?"
"I wasnít sneaking. I just got home and Hop Sing told me you two were down here. He also told me to tell Mitch that he should be heading home. Itís getting late."
Mitch looked at Adam and realized he was right. It was late and he needed to get home to get his own chores done. "I should go Joe. It was fun. Weíll go Ďfishingí as soon as your pa lets ya." They moved up to the barn and Mitch saddled his horse. "See you in school Monday Joe."
After Mitch was out of sight, Adam turned to Joe. "Well, buddy. We better get our chores done before pa returns."
Joe smiled, "I did them all already. Mitch helped me."
Adam smiled back. "Well then. Why donít you tell me what you did today?" Both walked back to the corral and Joe told Adam about his day. When Joe shared about the pulley, Adam got pale. "Joe. You shouldnít do that. Pa would have a fit. He wasnít too happy when I did it years ago. I also almost hurt you once. Promise me you wonít do that again."
"But Adam it was fun." Joe whined
"I know Joe, but itís dangerous too."
"Thatís what makes it so fun."
Adam could tell that Joe wasnít going to listen. "Joe. Promise you wonít do it again or Iíll tell pa."
"No buts Joe. I mean it. You could break your neck."
Joe frowned. "Okay." They both stared out at the horses, and Adam heard Joe whisper, "It was fun though." Adam smiled but didnít let Joe see it.
They started to talk about the horses, which lead to the wild herd. "I wish papa would take me out to see the wild herd." Joe said sadly.
"Joe, the horses are too close to Bishop land right now, that it would be dangerous to look for it. Besides, pa is busy trying to find those lost cattle."
"You think its rustlers, Adam?" Joe said with excitement in his voice.
"No. I think they just wandered off and we havenít found their hiding place yet."
"I could help."
"Not on Shadow. Heís too slow."
"I could ride a different horse. If I was with you, papa would probably let me."
"Let you what?" Both boys turned to see their father standing behind them with a smile on his face. Joe smiled and ran into his fatherís arms. Ben picked him up and hugged him close.
"Papa. Could I ride a big horse if Adam was with me?"
Ben looked at Adam and Adam responded with a shrug of his shoulders. Ben turned to Joeís pleading look and said, "And where do you want to go that you canít ride Shadow?"
Joe frowned. "Oh papa. Shadowís too slow and he ainít good for nothing. He canít even run fast."
It was Benís turn to frown. He set Joe down and with a stern look said, "Joseph. You have no reason to run that pony. You arenít big enough for a horse yet. Maybe in a couple of years." Joeís face turned from pleading to anger. He was big enough and his papa was treating him like a baby. Ben noticed the change.
"Papa, Iím almost 8 years old now. Iím not a baby who needs a slow poke pony. I need a real horse. Mitch has a horse and his pa is even teaching him how to shoot."
Ben saw the beginning of a temper tantrum and wanted to nip that in the butt immediately. "Joseph. I donít care what Mitchís pa does. Iím your papa and I know what is best for you. Now itís time to get washed up for supper." He put his hand out to take Joeís hand and Joe pulled away.
"I donít need your hand papa." He snapped as he walked toward the house.
Ben stopped him by grabbing his shoulder and turned him around. "Joseph. Watch your tone and be respectful or I will give you another lesson on respect in your room. Understood?"
"Yes sir." Joe looked away from his father and Ben reached for Joeís hand again. Joe pulled away again. Only babies walked hand in hand with their fathers. Ben simply said, "Take my hand Joseph or I will spank you."
"I donít want to papa." Joe whined quietly. He didnít want to anger his father, but he also hated being treated like a baby.
Ben on the other hand, wanted obedience. Whether he wanted to or not wasnít the issue any longer. He could not let Joe think he was in control. Ben took Joeís left arm in hand and added two hard swats to Joeís backside with his right hand. Joe jumped and started to cry softly. "Now. Take my hand."
Joe wiped the tears from his eyes and took his papaís hand. He hated feeling like a baby.
Joeís attitude for the rest of the evening was far from pleasant. Finally tired of the bad mood, Ben sent Joe to bed early. The extra sleep would help everyoneís mood for church the next day. After everyone was in bed, Ben checked on all three sons, and then he went to bed himself.
"Hoss. Wake up and get off of me." Joe was trying to get a sleepy Hoss off of his shoulder in the pew at church. If their father caught him sleeping it would be hell to pay. Joe was getting frustrated. His papa had told him to behave and he was trying his best, but Hoss wasnít helping. Joe continued to try to get Hoss to wake up. Finally out of frustration, Joe hit Hoss hard in the belly. This brought the gentle giant awake with a grunt.
"Ow Joe. What was that fer?" Hoss was rubbing his belly as Ben turned to see what was going on. He saw Hoss rubbing his belly and turned to Joe.
"Joseph. Did you hit Hoss?" Joe looked at his feet and didnít answer. Ben took Joeís chin and lifted it to look Joe face to face. "Answer me young man."
"Yes sir, butÖ"
"No buts, Joseph. I told you to behave. You will get no more warnings this morning. Sit there, keep your hands to yourself, and be quiet. Is that clear?"
"Yes sir." Joe sniffled back the tears.
"Joseph. You have no reason to cry, but I can give you a reason if you feel the need to cry. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes sir." It wasnít fair. Hoss was the one sleeping and now his papa was mad at him and not Hoss. Joe tried to focus on the preacher. Soon, however, he felt Hoss lean on him again. Joe looked up and found Hoss dozing again. Joe decided it was time to see Hoss get in trouble for a change. He turned to his father and gently tapped him on the shoulder and whispered, "Papa?" No response. Hossí weight was crushing him, so he tried again. He tapped and whispered a little louder, "Papa?" His father didnít even turn around but just shushed him.
He was so frustrated. Hoss was crushing him and his papa wasnít listening. He fought hard to keep from crying and finally he simply got angry. He pulled back his right arm and rammed his elbow into Hossí belly to get him off. Hoss woke with a start.
"Dadburn it Joe!" Joe didnít have a chance to respond before he felt himself lifted from the seat by his father. He struggled a little knowing what was coming next, as his father carried him out of the church. Hoss and Adam watched them go. After they were outside, Adam turned to Hoss and said, "You know if he tells Pa you were sleeping, you could be next." Hoss turned pale.
Outside, Joe was crying hysterically. Ben walked over to a bench and sat down with Joe on his lap. Joe was crying like his heart was broken, so Ben held him tight for a few minutes and then handed him a hanky. He could see that Joe was upset about something other than the possibility of a thrashing.
"Joseph? Are you ready to tell me why you hit your brother after I told you not to?"
Joe calmed a little and as he hiccupped he said, "He wasÖ crushingÖme."
"Crushing you? I donít understand."
"HeÖwasÖsleepingÖHe keptÖleaning onÖme."
"Why didnít you just tell me, Joseph?"
"I...tried. You shuÖshu...shed me. IÖdidnít knowÖwhat elseÖto do." Joe broke down and cried hard on his papaís shoulder.
"Shhhh Joe. Iím sorry. I should have listened. Can you forgive me?"
Joe nodded. When Joe could talk again, he said, "YouíreÖnotÖmadÖat me?"
"Not at you Joseph. However, I will be having a serious talk with your brother." Ben looked at his youngest and smiled. "Are you ready to go back inside?"
"I donít want toÖ sitÖnext toÖ Hoss."
Ben stood up with Joe still in his arms. "You can stay next to me okay?"
Joe nodded and put his head on his papaís right shoulder. Ben started to put Joe down but decide not to. He was enjoying the closeness with his youngest, so he carried him back into the church.
When they returned to the service, the congregation was standing for the final hymn. Ben and Joe joined Hoss and Adam in the pew. Hoss looked at Joe, who had his left thumb in his mouth and his head on his fatherís shoulder. He whispered, "Hey, short shanks. You okay?" Joe was still angry with Hoss, so he moved his head and placed it on his papaís other shoulder, completely ignoring Hoss. Ben gave Hoss a look that told him, that he would be dealt with after church. Hoss turned away and hung his head.
As the song ended, Ben felt Joe snuggle down and relax. The preacher dismissed the service and people started to move toward the door. Adam looked at his father with concern. Ben said, "Is Joseph asleep?"
Adam answered, "Seems like it. I havenít seen his suck his thumb in public in a while. He was pretty upset, huh?"
"Yes he was." Ben looked at Hoss and said, "I will deal with you, young man when we get home. You will also owe your baby brother an apology."
Hoss said dejectedly, "Yes sir."
"Letís go. Adam, will you drive? Iím going to let Joseph sleep a little longer."
The ride home was quiet. Ben dozed while holding Joe. Hoss held his head down and Adam simply drove.
As they entered the yard, Adam helped his father step down with Joe. They walked into the house and were met by Hop Sing.
"Dinna letty in 30 minute." Hop Sing said as he scurried off to his kitchen.
Ben walked over to the couch and laid Joe down. Joe didnít wake. Ben covered him with the blanket from the stairs, pushed a stray lock of his hair off his forehead, then bent down and kissed Joe on the forehead.
He stood up and looked at Hoss. "Eric! Were you sleeping in church?"
Hoss said sheepishly, "Yes sir. I was so tired."
"Tired! You boys all know I donít approve of sleeping in church. Since you were too tired to pay attention, you can skip dinner and spend the afternoon in your room. If I feel merciful later, Iíll let you join us for supper. Now go to your room before I change my mind and give you a tanning to remember."
Hoss was stunned. He hated to miss a meal. He slowly walked upstairs and mumbled under his breath.
"What was that young man?" Ben put his fists on his hips.
"I said Iíd rather have the tannniní instead of missiní a meal."
Ben moved to the bottom of the stairs and said, "A tanning can still be arranged young man. But you will still be skipping dinner and staying in your room. Do you want to reconsider your request?"
"Iím sorry pa."
"Good. Now go to your room and stay there until I tell you, you can come out."
Hoss went upstairs and Ben went to tell Hop Sing that there would be only three for dinner. Hop Sing went on in Cantonese about Hoss missing a meal. Ben simply walked away and went to the barn to find Adam.
When Ben and Adam returned to the house, Hop Sing was setting the table. Ben looked over to the couch and saw that Joe was still sleeping. Walking over to Joe, he sat down on the coffee table. Adam followed him.
"He looks like an angel when he sleeps." Ben mused.
"A wolf in sheepís clothing, more like it. Trouble seems to find Joe even when heís trying to be good. You know pa, he told me this morning that he was going to try to be good today. Itís a shame Hoss got him in trouble." Adam responded.
"Itís usually the other way around, isnít it?" Ben paused. "Hoss didnít really get him into trouble. I didnít tan him at church. He was so upset, we talked and he told me why he hit Hoss." Ben got real serious and Adam put his hand on his país shoulder.
"Whatís wrong pa?"
"Iím not spending enough time with this rascal, am I?í
"Youíve been busy."
"I spend time with you and Hoss."
"Pa. Hoss and I work with you all day. Joe doesnít work with us. He goes to school all day."
"I know. Heís left to his own devices and then I come home and yell. Some father I am."
"Youíre a great father, pa. Joe understands that youíre busy."
"Iím not so sure. Last week he said he was afraid to give me a note from school and then today he told me that he tried to get my attention in church about Hoss, and I wouldnít listen."
"Pa, donít be so hard on yourself. Joeís a good kid."
"Yes he is. I think after dinner, Iím going to suggest a ride, just the two of us. Heís wanted to go see the wild horses."
"Pa, the wild herd moved onto Bishop land yesterday. It could be weeks before they move this way again."
"To the lake then."
Adam decided to change the subject. "Pa, are you aware, Joe really is too small for Shadow. He needs a bigger animal to ride. We have some new ponies that should be about right for Joe until heís big enough for a full size horse. Heís an excellent horseman. Heís going to be great with the horses when heís bigger."
"Are you trying to tell me, that my baby wants to work with the horses." Ben said with a smile.
Adam laughed. "Your baby wants to ride the broncs."
Ben looked up at his oldest and said, "Broncs huh?" He laughed. "Maybe he is ready for a bigger pony. Heís growing up so fast."
"Well heís not going to get any bigger if he doesnít eat."
"You go ahead and wash up Adam, and Iíll wake our young horseman."
Ben leaned over Joe and gently shook him. "Joe. Time for dinner. Wake up."
Joe stirred. Ben reached over and removed Joeís thumb from his mouth. When Joe realized he couldnít get his hand to his mouth, he opened his eyes and saw his papa. He smiled, "Hey, papa."
"Hey yourself young man. Time to get up and eat dinner."
Joe sat up and Ben folded the blanket and put it back in its place on the staircase. He turned back to Joe and said, "Letís get you washed up and weíll eat. After dinner I thought you and I could go for a ride and maybe go up to the lake and do some fishing."
Joe smiled. "Are Adam and Hoss coming?"
"Nope. Just us."
"Okay." Joe ran to wash up. He liked the idea of spending the afternoon with his papa. At dinner he asked about the herd and was sad to hear it would be weeks before the herd was back on Ponderosa land. He asked about Hoss and his papa simply said Hoss was skipping dinner. Joe knew he was being punished for sleeping in church because Hoss never Ďskippedí a meal voluntarily. Ben delighted in his youngest and all his endless questions. Finally, when all the food was gone and there was a small pause in Joeís questions, Joe asked, "Papa?"
"Do I have to ride Shadow out to the lake?"
"You donít have any other horse to ride Joe. Itís too far to walk."
"I could ride with you."
Ben looked puzzled. "I thought you didnít like to ride double anymore?" Ben was secretly delighted with the idea. He really missed the close times when Joe had to ride in the saddle with him.
"I just thought, maybeÖ" he paused.
"Maybe I could ride forward in the saddle and you would let me steer Buck by myself."
Ben thought for a minute. It could be a good way to see how well Joe could handle a bigger pony. He smiled at his boy and said, "Okay."
Joe got a big smile on his face. "Really! You mean it?"
"Absolutely Joe. We can also ride down to the west corral and see if there are any other ponies, which are a little bigger, for you to use as your mount. That way Shadow gets a break and you can still use him as a backup."
"Really? A new pony?"
"Really. Weíll go as soon as youíre done dinner."
"I am done papa. May I be excused?" Joe could barely stay in his seat he was so excited. Ben just laughed, "Yes, you may. Go get out of your church clothes and Iíll saddle Buck."
"YES SIR!!" Joe ran upstairs.
Adam sat quietly at the table with a huge smile on his face. Ben looked at him and smiled also.
"Pa. Youíve made him the happiest boy in the world."
"Iím pretty happy myself. I better go saddle Buck. It wonít take that rascal long to change."
"Have fun pa."
"Weíll be back for supper. Iíll talk to Hoss when I get back. Just leave him be until I get home."
Ben made it to the front door when he heard the sound of boots running down the hallway upstairs. "Slow down Joseph. You arenít allowed to run in the house."
"Sorry papa. Iím just so excited."
"Well, letís go then." They both walked out to take their ride while Adam settled down for a quiet afternoon of reading.
Ben was impressed with Joeís ability to control Buck. While not ready for a big horse, Ben agreed to a larger pony. Joe picked out a black pony with a small white spot on his face. Joe said the spot looked like a star, so he named the horse, Star. Star was a lot livelier than Shadow. He was bigger too. Joe really wanted a pinto, but his father told him he was still too young. For the meantime, Joe was pleased with Star. They spent the afternoon riding and talking. Both father and son enjoyed the afternoon.
They returned with about an hour before supper. Joe washed up and got under foot while Ben went up to speak to Hoss. Ben allowed Hoss to join the family for supper after he apologized to Joe. Then everyone made an early night of it. Joe complained a little, but he was really too tired to put up much of a fight when his papa picked him up and carried him to bed.
Joe managed to stay out of trouble all week. On Monday, the fifty missing cattle were found, so Ben was spending some extra time with Joe everyday. Ben was in such a good mood over it, he decided to have a large picnic on Saturday to celebrate. Joe was excited because his papa said he could invite a few friends also. Joe didnít know that his friends would have been coming with their parents anyway, but it made Joe feel grown up.
Saturday came and it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day. The weather was perfect. After everyone ate, Joe found Mitch and led him away to show him something. After they walked for about fifteen minutes, Mitch asked, "Joe? Where are we going? You donít want to get in trouble for leaving the yard. We wonít be able to go find the wild herd next weekend."
"We may not anyway. Adam said the wild horses were on Bishop land. I canít go there. Besides, papa is busy. He wonít notice us gone for a while, and we will be back before that. Come on." Joe led Mitch through a small cluster of trees and into a clearing. "Wait here." He went over to a tall ponderosa pine and uncovered something wrapped in burlap. He brought it over to Mitch and sat on the ground. Mitch sat down across from him.
"What is it Joe?" Joe unwrapped the burlap to uncover a six-shooter. Shocked, he said, "A gun? Where did you get it?"
"I found it last week. Someone must have thrown it away, because it has no trigger." Joe turned the gun upside down and pointed. "See. The triggerís gone."
"What good is a gun with no trigger, Joe?"
"You donít really need a trigger. I heard of men being faster to the draw because they hit the hammer with their other hand instead of using the trigger."
Mitch looked puzzled. "Like how?"
"Iíll show you." Both boys stood and Joe held the gun by the handle. He aimed into the trees and pulled the hammer back with his right hand. "See. I can hit the hammer a lot faster than the trigger."
"It looks kinda rusted out. Does it still work?"
"I donít know. I cleaned it and oiled it but, since papa hasnít showed be how to shoot, I donít know if it works or not."
"I know how to load it, we could find out if you could get some bullets."
"I got a couple." Joe walked back to where the gun had been buried and pulled out four bullets. "See. I borrowed them from Adam when he wasnít looking."
"Want me to show you how to load it?" Mitch asked.
"We canít shoot it. We ainít far enough from the house not to be heard. You can show me how to load it anyway. Weíll just use one bullet and after you show me, weíll put it away to test it next week away from the house."
"Okay." Mitch proceeded to open the gun and showed Joe how the bullets went into the chamber. He then took the bullet out and handed the gun and bullet to Joe for him to try. Joe loaded and unloaded the gun a few times.
Joe took the bullet out and put it in his pocket with the others. He and Mitch started to play cowboys and Indians. First time around Mitch used the gun and killed injun Joe. (Sorry I couldnít resist) Second time around, Joe was trying to kill injun Mitch. They were so involved in their game, that they didnít hear their fathers approach. Both stopped dead in their tracks, when they heard a booming voice yell, "JOSEPH FRANCIS CARTWRIGHT!" Joe turned to see a very angry Ben Cartwright and a very angry Mr. Devlin and froze.
"MITCHELL DEVLIN!" Mitch didnít appear to be breathing when Joe glanced at him. Finally, Mitch spoke, "Pa. Itís not what it looks like."
"Come with me Mitchell. We will discuss this at home." Mr. Devlin grabbed Mitch by the back of the neck then turned to Ben, "Iíll give you two some privacy. Weíll be heading home now Ben. It was a wonderful picnic." The Devlins walked away.
Ben turned his attention to Joe.
"Joseph, hand me that gun very slowly."
Joe did as he was told and added, "Papa. Itís not loaded. It doesnít even have a trigger." Joe handed the gun to his father and Ben saw that it wasnít loaded and it was indeed missing a trigger.
After he was confident that there was no danger, he said, "Joseph! Where did you get this gun?"
"I found it papa."
"How many times have I told you how dangerous guns are and that you are not old enough to use them?"
"Itís broken. How can it be dangerous?" Joe argued.
"Joseph. If you aimed this at someone who didnít know it wasnít loaded and that there was no trigger, they would think you were about to shoot and would fire back. You could be killed because of this broken gun. Besides, that isnít even the point here. I told you to never touch guns. Did I not?"
Joe saw a loophole. "No papa. You told me not to play with your guns. This ainít yours." Joe was hoping his logic would get him out of this mess, but he highly doubted it.
"Joseph. You knew exactly what I meant. You disobeyed me yet again, young man." Joe couldnít look at his father. "Look at me Joseph!" Joe looked up and Ben could tell he was close to crying. "What do I have to say to you to get you to understand how dangerous guns are in the hands of little boys?"
Joe didnít like to be called a little boy and his fatherís statement made him angry. Something came over Joe and he forgot all common sense. He yelled, "Iím not a little boy!"
Ben moved over and grabbed Joe by the arm and planted a couple hard swats on his backside. "You are a little boy and you will not raise your voice to me." Ben led Joe, sobbing, by the arm, toward the house. "We will finish this discussion at home. I cannot believe I havenít been able to impress upon you how important it is to stay away from guns at your age. I will simply have to repeat the lesson over again until you get it into your head that Iím the boss and you will obey me." When they returned to the yard, Ben sent Joe directly into the house with orders to go to his room and to get ready for bed. He locked the gun up in the gun rack drawer and attended to the remaining people at the picnic. After everyone headed home, Ben found he had calmed down enough to deal with his youngest child.
He climbed the staircase to his sonís room. As he approached the room he could hear Joe crying. He knocked and then entered the room. Joe was in his nightshirt and quickly stood and tried to wipe away the tears. He was scared to death.
"Joseph! Do you know how angry I am?"
"Yes sir." Joe rubbed the sleeve of his nightshirt across his eyes.
"No! I donít think you do." Benís voice grew quiet and calm. "Joseph. Guns are very dangerous. I havenít taught you how to shoot for many reasons. The biggest being youíre way too young. You are not old enough to handle the consequences of using a gun. The only reason to use a gun is to kill. That is a gunís sole purpose. You are not old enough emotionally to handle killing something or someone. Do you know what I am trying to tell you?" Joe shrugged his shoulders and wiped his eyes again. "Joseph. What I am saying is it takes more than skill to handle a gun. You also need the wisdom that comes with maturity, to know when to, and when not to, use a gun. You need to be able to use your head and heart before you can learn to use a gun." Ben paused to see if Joe understood him. "Joseph. Until you are old enough, you will not touch any guns. I will decide when you are old enough and when that time comes, I will show you how to use a gun and teach you to shoot. You need to know that seven years old is not old enough. I only just taught Hoss this year and heís fourteen. You have a long wait. Do you understand?"
Ben stood and unbuckled his belt. "Son. Iím going to punish you for disobeying my directions to not play with guns. Do you understand?"
Joe nodded as the tears flowed freely down his cheeks. His father administered a severe tanning and held his sobbing boy for a long time afterwards. It broke Benís heart to punish his youngest, but he needed to learn the danger involved in handling guns.
After Joe calmed down, Ben said, "Joseph I love you. Thatís why I correct you. If you touch another gun until I say so, I will tear your backside up worst than this. Do you understand?"
"YesÖsir." Joe sniffled.
"Good. You will also be restricted to the ranch until further notice. You will ask me before you venture out of the house and you will not leave the yard. Iíll leave you to think about your actions and how today could have ended tragically." Ben ruffled Joeís hair and said, "I love you Joseph."
"I love you too Papa." Ben left and Joe quietly cried himself to sleep.
When Ben checked on Joe a few hours later, he found his boy lying on his stomach, sound asleep. He covered him up and tucked him in with a kiss on the forehead. Ben quietly left the room.
The following weeks were long and boring for Joe. He didnít get into any major trouble in school and he and Mitch could only talk about the wild herd at school. He was trying to stay out of his fatherís path. His papa was still seemed angry about the whole gun incident. Joe knew his papa had put the gun in the locked drawer of the gun rack and really wanted it back. He pestered Hoss and Adam about learning to shoot, but he didnít dare ask his father.
One afternoon, while he was out in the west pasture with Adam, he asked his older brother again to teach him to shoot.
"Little Joe. You know darned well that pa would have both our hides if I taught you to shoot. Youíre only seven years old. You donít need to know how to shoot."
"What if I had to defend myself or the house after you leave for college at the end of the summer?"
"Joe. Pa will be here and so will Hoss. You donít need to defend them and the house. Thatís their job."
"Hurumph!" Joe started his pony towards home knowing he wasnít going to get anywhere with Adam. Maybe he should just try to get his gun back, but the drawer was locked and he didnít even know where the key was. He was brought back to reality when Adam rode up next to him.
"Tell you what Joe. I canít teach you how to shoot, but I can let you practice riding Sport. That is if you can keep it a secret. Pa doesnít like you riding a big horse by yourself."
"Why is that Adam? Is it because mama fell of her horse and died?"
"Probably. Pa just wants to keep you his baby a little longer. Youíre growing so fast."
"Ha! Not fast enough. I ainít his baby no more."
"On the contrary little brother. Since you are the youngest, you will always be the baby. There is nothing you or I can do about that fact." Adam dismounted and walked over to Joe. "Come on. Sport is tired, so he should be good and gentle for you."
Little Joe dismounted his pony and let Adam help him up into Sportís saddle. Adam watched as Joe walked Sport around in a large circle. He really wanted to let Sport run, but he knew Adam would never let him.
"Can I let him run a little?" Joe asked.
"Not alone. Let me up, and weíll take a run."
"Okay. I still say I could do it though."
Adam climbed up behind Little Joe. "I know you can handle a bigger horse, but you know youíre not allowed. You ready?" Joe nodded. "Then letís go!" Adam spurred Sport forward into a trot. After he was sure the ground was safe, he urged Sport into a run. He glanced at Joe, and saw a huge smile on his face. Adam and Joe rode like this for about 10 minutes. Adam started to slow Sport down and they walked back to where Joe had left his pony. When they got back to where they left Star, Adam noticed his father sitting on Buck waiting. He hoped that pa hadnít seen how fast he rode with Joe. They approached their father and both Joe and Adam noticed the frown on his face.
"Where have you two been? I came by to check on everything and saw Star standing out here all by himself."
"I just took Joe for a ride with me. We werenít gone long. Maybe 15 minutes." Adam hoped his father wouldnít ask what exactly they were doing.
Benís frown disappeared. "Joseph. I have never seen anyone want to ride horses as bad as you. I was going to ride up to the north fence line and check it. Would either of you like to join me?" Ben knew Joe would because the wild herd was in the north end of the Ponderosa.
"Yeah! I would!" replied Joe as he dismounted off of Sport.
"Then go get Star and mount up." Joe ran to Star and Ben turned to Adam. "Did Joseph behave for you?"
"Pretty good. He stayed out of trouble and listened to me."
"Iím glad to hear that." He turned to see that Joe had mounted Star and was waiting. "Do you want to join us Adam?"
"No sir. I still have a section of fence to check." Both Adam and Ben knew that it was hard to get much work done with Joe along.
"Well then, Joseph. Itís just the two of us. Letís go." They both rode off toward the north border of the Ponderosa, while Adam headed back to work.