One in One Hundred Thirty
Kate Pitts

This story is dedicated to my daughter, Nicola, who developed epilepsy in 1998 aged 17 and has coped with it in a brave and mature way, and to Chrissy of the Bonanarchy list who helped me understand a little better what Nicola went through. Thanks also to Jeanie of Bonanarchy who got me some interesting information about the history of epilepsy treatment.

The story is an attempt to look at the effects of epilepsy on a sufferer and their family. Oh, and the title refers to the number of epilepsy sufferers in the U.K at present – it really is that common.

For a moment Ben thought Joe was just being silly and pulling faces. His youngest son had put aside the newspaper he had been reading and was sitting on the couch, apparently deep in thought, staring into the flickering flames of the fire that blazed on the hearth when, quite suddenly, his handsome young face contorted in a strange grimace and he emitted an odd guttural moan.

“Joe.” Ben began. “Are you…” he stopped speaking as horror seized him, the cold chill of fear tingling through his nerve endings as his son’s whole body became rigid and then began to shake and jerk uncontrollably. Joe’s eyes rolled back in his head until just the whites were visible through half-closed lids, his arms and legs flailed wildly. Before his father could reach him, he had fallen to the floor, still jerking, his sun bronzed face paling to take on an almost blue tinge. The whole thing lasted no more than two or three minutes, but to Ben they were the some of the longest minutes he’d ever lived through. As the jerking began to lessen Ben realised that Joe was unconscious, eyes closed now, his breathing coming in gasps. He knelt down on the floor, pulling the boy to him and cradling him in his arms, holding him, talking to him, reassuring him, even though he knew his son couldn’t hear his words.

“It’s all right Joe, it’s all right, you’ll be fine.”

Joe’s eyelids flickered, consciousness returning. Dazed green eyes stared confusedly up at Ben.

“Joe.” Tentatively Ben touched his son’s face, noting with a further jolt of alarm the trickle of blood at the corner of his mouth.

“I…what happened?” Joe’s voice was dreamy, far away. “Pa…” With an apparent effort he focused on his father’s face. “What…?”

“It’s all right, son.” Ben gently helped his youngest back up onto the couch and laid him down, kneeling beside him. “You’re going to be fine. Joe, do you know where you are? What day it is?” He waited anxiously for the answer, concerned at the vague look on Joe’s face.

“I’m at home.” Joe frowned, struggling to collect his thoughts. “And it’s Monday isn’t it? I can’t think… Monday or is it Friday? I’m real tired Pa, and my head aches.”

Ben gently stroked his son’s cheek, trying to dispel the knot of fear that had formed within him. What was wrong with Joe? What had caused the awful seizure he had just witnessed?


“So what’s all this about then Little Joe, disturbing my Sunday off?” Doctor Paul Martin strode into Joe’s bedroom and smiled at the young man in the bed. He had been enjoying a quiet hour to himself when a thunderous knocking at his door had disturbed him. He had opened up to find Ben Cartwright’s middle son, Hoss, sent in to Virginia City by his frantic father.

“I don’t know really. I don’t remember too well, Pa says I passed out.”

“Yes, I just spoke to your father.” Paul noted the young man’s pale face as he reached for Joe’s wrist to check his pulse. “How are you feeling now?”

“Tired, a bit sick and my tongue hurts – fine otherwise.”

“Uh huh.” The doctor sat down in the chair beside the bed. “Now, can you tell me the last thing you remember before you passed out, what were you doing?”

“Nothing much.” Joe frowned, brow furrowing in concentration as he tried to remember. “I’d been reading the newspaper and I guess I was just sitting, thinking.”

“And how were you feeling? Hot or hungry or tired for example?”

Joe shook his head. “I felt fine.”

“Had you been drinking?”

“In the morning?” Joe laughed shortly. “With Pa here?”

“I guess that’s a no.” Paul smiled. “Now, how about when you woke up, what do you remember?”

“Just that I was on the floor by the couch, and Pa was there.” Joe looked down at the bed, not for anything would he tell the doctor that his father had been cradling him in his arms like a baby, not the eighteen year old that he was. “I felt tired, sick, and my head hurt. What is it Doc, what happened to me?”

“I can’t really say at the moment.” Paul stood up and went to fetch his bag from the dresser where he had placed it on entering the room. “I’ll just give you a general examination, make sure you didn’t hurt yourself.” He paused, thinking. “Have you had any kind of head injury recently, Joe?”

“I got thrown by one of the horses I was working with last week.” Joe told him. “Hit my head on the fence. I was only out for a couple of minutes, didn’t think it was worth seeing you about. Could that have something to do with it?”

“Perhaps.” Paul reached into his bag. “We’ll see.”


Ben was waiting anxiously at the bottom of the stairs as Paul came down from seeing Joe.

“He’s fine at the moment.” The doctor reassured him. “Just needs to sleep for a while.” He saw Ben’s shoulders sag with relief and looked at him with regret, if what he suspected was true, the diagnosis would devastate the Cartwright family. “Sit down, Ben.” He caught hold of his friend’s arm and gently propelled him across to the blue chair by the fireplace. “I need to ask you some questions about what happened.”

Ben nodded, sinking down into the chair. The doctor put his bag down on the floor, perched on the arm of the couch, and cleared his throat before beginning.

“I want you to tell me exactly what Joe was doing when the seizure started. Describe to me what happened, everything you remember, how long it lasted, how Joe looked, the entire sequence of events.”

“He was sitting over there, on the couch, just watching the fire and then…” Ben described as best as he could what he had witnessed. “I felt so helpless.” He finished. “So useless.”

“Was Joe confused when he came round?”

“A little. He knew where he was, who I was, but he couldn’t recall what day it was. What is it Paul? Not something wrong with his brain…not some kind of…?” Ben stopped, unwilling to voice the deep-seated fear that he was feeling.

“Not a tumour, no I don’t think so.” Paul denied quickly, guessing what Ben was imagining. “But I have to ask another question and I want you to try to keep calm, Ben. It may be nothing to do with it, could just be a reaction to hitting his head the other day. But, is there any history of epilepsy in your family or Joe’s mother’s family?”

“Epilepsy?” Ben felt the blood drain from his face; he gripped the arms of the chair as a wave of dread passed through him. “Are you saying my son has epilepsy?”

“No, I’m not saying that.” Paul shook his head. “But I am saying it’s a possibility, Ben. This seizure he had may just be an isolated incident, but if it happens again, then epilepsy will need to be considered.”

“As far as I’m aware, no one in my family or Marie’s suffered from it.” Ben’s tone was even, but his stomach was churning with fear, his mind racing. All the stories he had ever heard about epileptics dancing in his thoughts…weren’t epileptics mad, or went mad from the disease? Hadn’t he heard they had second sight? That sometimes they died from swallowing their own tongues? Dear God. He closed his eyes in despair. Not Joseph, not my Little Joe.

“Ben, please try not to worry too much.” Paul reached forward and placed a reassuring hand on his friends arm. “And don’t let Joe know what I said, I don’t want him fretting over it. In the meantime I want you to make sure he has regular meals, with plenty of vegetables, and gets a decent amount of sleep, no late nights. I also recommend that he doesn’t have a lot of alcohol, doesn’t ride for at least six weeks, and keep him away from sharp objects like axes and knives.”

“Joe will never agree to that.” Ben was aghast. “Not riding for six weeks! You know how he loves to ride, Paul.”

“It’s just a sensible precaution Ben, if he should suffer another fit whilst riding, and fall…”

Ben felt physically sick as he slowly began to realise all the dangers that surrounded his son if he were indeed a sufferer of epilepsy.

“Also, make sure there’s someone within earshot when he’s bathing.” Paul continued. “And if he should have another fit…well, most doctors say to put a piece of wood in the mouth to stop tongue biting, but my personal opinion is that it could cause more harm than good. Don’t try to restrain him, you can’t stop the muscle spasms, just try to clear anything out of the way that he could hurt himself on and wait till it’s over. Then send for me at once.”

Ben nodded numbly; hardly able to believe this was happening. Why my son, he thought to himself, Why Joseph? Paul mentioned heredity, could it be something present in myself, in Marie, are we to blame for this?

“Let’s hope it’s just a reaction from that head injury.” Paul pushed himself up from the arm of the couch. “Joe will feel fine after a sleep. He’s bitten his tongue quite badly though, so you might ask Hop Sing to prepare something fairly soft for supper, it will hurt him to eat for a day or so.”

“What do I tell his brothers?”

“Tell them the truth.” The doctor picked up his bag and prepared to leave. “Tell them we don’t know anything yet, but prepare them for the possibility that Joe may have another seizure. If he does we’ll talk again, and I’ll explain more about epilepsy.”


For a long while after the doctor’s departure, Ben remained seated, his mind going over and over what he had just been told. Eventually he got to his feet and slowly ascended the stairs; hand on the banister rail as if in need of its sturdy support.

Quietly opening the door of Joe’s room he saw that his son was asleep, his face less pale now, so young looking in repose. He leant against the doorframe and watched the boy sleep for a while, all the time a fervent prayer running through his head Please God, let my son be all right. Let him be well.

The sound of footsteps on the stairs brought Ben from his reverie, softly closing Joe’s door, he turned to see Hoss coming along the corridor towards him.

“What did Doc Martin have to say?” Hoss had spent most of the afternoon worrying about his younger brother, his father had told him only that Joe had collapsed, but the look of fear on his face had spoken volumes.

Ben held a finger to his lips, and indicated that Hoss should follow him downstairs. “I need to speak to you and Adam.” He said as they went down into the great room. “Is he on his way?”

“He stopped by the corral.” Hoss was apprehensive now; his father was making this sound very serious. “Said he’d be ten minutes.”

“I’d rather tell you both together.” Ben reached for the decanter of brandy that stood on the table by the armchair, and poured himself a small glass of the spirit. “You go on and get cleaned up, but don’t wake Joe.”

“I’ll just sit here and wait, if that’s all right by you, Pa.” Hoss, thoroughly alarmed now, settled himself on the couch, watching his father with anxious eyes. His mouth suddenly dry with foreboding.

True to his word, Adam pushed open the door ten minutes later. Hanging up his hat and unbuckling his gunbelt he became aware of the heavy silence in the room.

“What’s wrong?” He noted the brandy in Ben’s hand, the fearful look on his brother’s face. “Joe?”

As Adam advanced into the room, Ben’s control suddenly crumbled, putting down the brandy with a trembling hand, he sank into the armchair and buried his head in his hands for a moment.

“Pa, what is it?” Putting a hand on his father’s shoulder, Adam exchanged an anxious glance with Hoss.

Taking a deep breath, Ben looked into the worried faces of his two eldest sons. “Paul told me that there’s a possibility your brother may have epilepsy.”

“But, don’t that mean… Joe…he ain’t crazy Pa!” Hoss rose to his feet, anger in his voice. “The Doc’s gotta be wrong. Joe ain’t mad…he ain’t!”

“Hoss, please.” Adam crouched down beside Ben’s chair. “Those are just stories, Pa. Epilepsy doesn’t mean Joe’s crazy or going crazy. There are lots of tall tales about the condition but that’s all they are Pa, just tales.”

“But it is serious?” Ben’s deep brown eyes were clouded as he looked at his eldest son. “If it is epilepsy your brother’s life will never be the same, will it?”

“No, it won’t.” Adam dropped his gaze to the floor, unwilling to see the impact of his words. “I don’t know a lot about the condition, but I know that it’s serious and it’s untreatable.”

“You said it’s only a possibility.” Hoss spoke up. “It might not be that bad.”

“No, it may be just a reaction to Joe being knocked out last week.” Ben admitted. “I pray that’s all it is, but in the meantime we need to keep a close…” he broke off, listening intently.

“Joe?” Adam whispered, glancing upwards.

“I think so. Not a word about this boys.” Ben looked from one to the other, seeing their nods of agreement.

By the time Joe clattered down the stairs, hair tousled from sleep, shirt untucked, his family had scattered around the room. Hoss was seated at the table, Adam by the fire - book in his hands, and Ben was at his desk, apparently intent on a ledger in front of him.

“Hello there, young man.” Ben looked up with a forced smile, trying to inject some cheerfulness into his voice. “How are you feeling?”

“Fine!” Joe’s voice sounded odd, there was a kind of thickness to his words caused by his swollen tongue. He made for the table, and picked up an apple from the bowl of fruit. “Doc said it was probably just something to do with that fall last week. But I feel great now, except that it hurts a bit when I speak, there’s nothing wrong at all. I thought I’d just go out and see to Cochise. Take him a treat.” He held up the apple, and then began to polish it on his shirt.

“The doctor did tell you he didn’t want you riding for a while?” Ben asked anxiously.

“Yep, he told me.” Joe grimaced. “He said six weeks, but I’ll have a talk to him about that in a few days time.”

As Joe headed for the door, Ben watched him anxiously. Catching Hoss’ eye, he motioned for him to follow his young brother out to the stable, unwilling to let the boy be alone.


The next few weeks were a constant battle of wills between Ben and his youngest son. As Joe continued to feel fine, and no further seizures occurred, he grew more and more irritated at his father’s refusal to let him ride or resume work on the ranch. He also soon became aware that everywhere he went he was never alone. Ben, Hoss, Adam, even Hop Sing, one of them seemed to be constantly at his side. At first it didn’t bother him overmuch, he knew his father was worried about his collapse, in truth he was pretty worried himself, but as days turned into weeks with no sign of a let up in the constant supervision, Joe’s temper began to rise.

He took to creeping downstairs in the early hours of the morning, when his father and brothers were safely asleep, and heading out to the stable to relate his frustrations to Cochise. The pinto stood patiently, just snorting a little from time to time, as Joe groomed him, all the while giving vent to his annoyance with his family.

The last straw came about four weeks after the seizure, coming out from taking a bath, Joe was annoyed, but unsurprised, to find his oldest brother lurking in the corridor outside the bath house.

“Oh now, brother, this is just too much.” Joe leant against the wall, angry glare resting on Adam who looked back at him uneasily; fully aware of how short his young brother’s always volatile temper was at the moment.

“Sorry, buddy.” Adam held up his hands. “Doctor’s orders, just till we’re sure you’re not going to pass out on us again.”

“It’s been nearly a month now!” Joe’s voice began to rise as fury grabbed him. “When does it stop Adam? I’ve told you all over and over that I’m fine, but you just don’t listen! Pa won’t let me ride Cochise, won’t let me go into town or do any work, and now I can’t even take a bath without you hovering around!”

“I know.” Adam’s tone was apologetic, his expression one of sympathy. “But you must know how worried Pa has been about you…look, how about coming into town with me? You’re right, you’ve been cooped up on the ranch for too long.”

“I just want to be able to go on my own!” Joe snapped, pushing roughly past his older brother. Once past he halted suddenly, and sighed. “I’m sorry Adam, it’s just that all this is getting me down. Of course I understand Pa’s worried, but I really am fine.” He smiled wryly, anger abating. “I’ll take that trip into town with you though, guess it’s the only way I’ll get off the Ponderosa for a while.”

Adam returned the smile, though behind it a feeling of sadness lay heavy on him. He felt so sorry for his little brother, watched and restricted for all this time.


“And I’ll need some nails as well.” Adam looked at the growing pile of packages on the counter of the General Store. Hop Sing had given him a long list of supplies to get and Hoss and Ben had each added a few extra items to it. Behind him, Joe was wandering around amongst the goods on display, impatient for Adam to finish his task and get across to the saloon for the beer he had promised to buy him.

“How many will you be wanting, Adam?” Jim Dekes, the storekeeper finished wrapping the pipe tobacco Ben had requested, added it to the pile, then made his way across to the hardware section of his store. “And what size?”

“I’d better take a couple of pounds of the large ones and the same in small.” Adam told him. “We run through them pretty quick, as you know.”

Reaching up for the boxes of nails, Jim quickly weighed out and wrapped them, returned to the counter and added the packages to the rest.

“That it?” he asked, scribbling the cost down at the bottom of the list he was keeping.

About to reply, Adam was stopped by a sound that made his blood run cold, a groan, almost a yell that came from his younger brother. Whipping round, he was in time to see Joe collapse to the floor, his arm catching a display of wooden toys that rained down on top of him as he fell.

“Joe!” Adam leapt across the store, thrusting aside two other customers who stood in his way. He reached his brother to see the boy in the midst of a seizure, his face was deathly pale, arms and legs jerking uncontrollably, blood flecked saliva running down his chin. Adam bent and pulled him sideways, away from the legs of the display table. Picking up the scattered wooden toys, lest Joe roll onto them, he thrust them to one side. Then he could do nothing further but wait and watch, a mixture of horror and pity running through him, until the spasms ceased and Joe lay still.

Taking off his jacket, Adam folded it and carefully raising his brother’s head, slid the wadded cloth underneath him as a pillow. Only then did he turn and look at the other people in the store. Jim and the two women customers were standing staring at the two Cartwright’s, Adam wasn’t surprised to see the blend of fear and revulsion apparent on their faces.

“Fetch Doctor Martin.” He told Jim sharply. “Now!”

Only too glad to leave Joe and Adam behind, Jim hurried to obey. The two women, whom Adam knew only vaguely, remained in the shop, watching as Adam pulled a clean handkerchief from his pants pocket and gently wiped blood and spittle from his brother’s face.

By the time Doctor Martin burst in through the door, Jim hot on his heels, Joe was conscious, though dazed.

“So it happened again.” The doctor came to kneel beside Adam, reaching for Joe’s wrist. “How long was he out?”

“No more than three or four minutes after the… after it stopped.” Adam rose from his brother’s side, making room for the doctor. Now that Joe was in safe hands, Adam allowed himself to relax a little, letting his feelings through. He felt shaky, his hands trembling slightly. Pity for his brother was overwhelming and he turned aside in case it should show in his expression and alarm Joe. As he turned, he saw the two women, still standing as though rooted to the spot, staring at Joe and Doctor Martin.

“Haven’t you seen enough?” He asked them quietly, his voice strained. “It’s all over now, just leave…please.”

Wordlessly the two obeyed, but Adam had little doubt that within hours all of Virginia City would be aware that the youngest Cartwright son had suffered a fit.

“I’m all right.” Joe’s bemused voice brought Adam’s attention back to his brother and Doctor Martin. Joe was sitting now, supported by the doctor’s arm.

“Do you feel sick Joe? Any headache?” Paul asked, looking searchingly at his patient. Joe still looked confused and before he told him the bad news about his condition he wanted him fully aware and alert.

“Yes, my head aches a bit, and I feel tired. Now can I go?” Joe managed to stand up unaided, but he swayed a little on his feet. “I just want to go home, Doc.”

“Yes, you get on home.” The doctor glanced over at Adam, who nodded in understanding and moved to Joe’s side, ready to assist him out to the buckboard. “Go straight to bed and sleep for a while. I’ve got a few things to finish up in town and then I’ll be out to see you.”


For the first few miles of the journey home to the Ponderosa Joe sat silently on the seat of the buckboard next to his brother. Adam shot him a worried look from time to time, concerned about his silence almost as much as his pallor. They had just crossed the boundary onto Cartwright land when Joe spoke at last.

“What happened to me, Adam?” His voice trembled a little and the thickness was back in his words from a tongue once more swollen up. “Don’t say I just collapsed. I saw Jim Dekes face, he looked at me like I was some kind of monster.”

Reining in the horses, Adam turned to face his brother. It was a question he didn’t want to answer, but knew he must. As he had helped Joe from the store, he too had caught sight of Jim’s expression. For the last few miles Adam had been inwardly examining his own reactions to his brother’s seizure. The picture of Joe on the floor of the store, muscles jerking wildly in spasm seemed etched indelibly on his mind, he could see it before him each time he closed his eyes. But what of his feelings during the experience? Much as he hated to admit it to himself, the over-riding sensation was one of fear. Sympathy for Joe had been there as well, but there was no denying that the seizure, so violent and uncontrollable, had been scary. “You really ought to wait till Doc Martin sees you.” He told him. “He knows more than I do.”

“No.” Joe shook his head and grimaced as the pain of his headache intensified. Adam saw the contortion of his brother’s face and felt an immediate flare of alarm. Was another seizure on its way?

“What is it?” Joe sensed Adam’s fear and it scared him. “Adam, what is it? What’s the matter with me?” panic edged his voice.

“All right, I’ll tell you, only please calm down.” Taking a deep breath, he looked at the young man. His little brother, just eighteen years old, on the brink of life and now struck with this dreadful condition. “You didn’t just pass out Joe, you had a seizure, a convulsion. You know what that is?”

Joe nodded numbly. “One summer when you were away, I found an old dog down by the lake. It was having seizures. Adam, they were horrible, frightening. I got Pa but he said there was nothing could be done. Adam, it died!”

“You’re not going to die!”

“Then why is this happening to me? Why?”

“I don’t know Joe. I only wish I could explain it to you, but I’m not a doctor, I just don’t know. Let’s get on home and you can get some sleep, huh? Doc Martin will explain it all to you later.”

Misery etched on his face, Joe dropped his gaze. “Jim Dekes saw me have this… this convulsion?”

Adam inclined his head slowly, wishing he could spare his young brother this pain. “He saw it.”

Joe closed his eyes, a look almost of shame crossing his face. “Take me home.” He said suddenly, and the agony in his voice was almost more than Adam could bear. “Please, take me home.”


“I thought I heard you two!” Ben called from the porch as the buckboard drew up by the barn. “Didn’t take you very long.” He started forward to meet his sons and was taken by surprise when Joe leapt from the wagon and made swiftly for the house, ignoring his father’s greeting.

“Joseph!” Ben turned to stare at the boy’s retreating back. “Joe.”

“Leave him be, Pa.” Adam jumped down from the buckboard and walked round to unhitch the horses. “He needs some sleep. He had another seizure while we were in town.”

“No!” Ben exclaimed in dismay. “I thought…I hoped it was going to be all right.”

“Doc Martin’s going to come out and see him later.” Adam stopped what he was doing and leant heavily on the fence. “It was awful Pa, I just can’t get the picture out of my head.”

“I know son.” Ben squeezed Adam’s shoulder gently. “I have the same problem.”

“But that’s not the worst of it.” Adam told his father heavily. “Jim Dekes was in the store, and two women, Mrs. Simpson I think, and Mrs. Jacobs, I don’t know them too well but I understand Mrs. Jacobs is a real busybody.”

“Poor Joseph.” Ben looked towards the house. “You know how proud your brother is, to know folk saw him that way…I’d better go and talk to him.”

“No.” Adam laid a restraining hand on his father’s arm. “Leave him Pa, wait till the doctor gets here and let him talk to Joe, he knows so much more than we do.”

Reluctantly Ben agreed to wait for Paul Martin to arrive. Returning to the house he tried to get on with the bookwork he had been doing when he heard the buckboard returning, but was unable to concentrate. His mind kept straying to his youngest son, his lively, volatile, handsome boy with the huge appetite for life. What was this going to do to him?

It was with great relief that he finally heard the doctor’s buggy come rattling into the yard. Rising to greet his friend at the door, Ben ushered him inside, calling for Hop Sing to bring a pot of coffee.

“How is Joe?” Paul asked as they waited for the drink to be served. “Did he say much to you about what happened?”

“No, he went straight on up to bed and I haven’t seen him since.” Ben smiled his thanks at Hop Sing as the diminutive Chinaman brought in the steaming coffee pot and placed it on the table together with a pair of fine china cups and saucers. “Adam told me all about it.”

“Well, once I’ve washed the dust down with a cup of coffee, we’ll go up and see Joe.” The doctor looked at Ben with understanding. “And I know how worried you are, so I hope I’ll be able to answer some of your questions too.”


Ben and Paul found Joe still asleep when they entered his room some half an hour later; he stirred immediately, disturbed by the sound of their footsteps.

“Hello there, Joe.” Paul picked up the chair that stood by Joe’s desk and carried it across to the side of the bed. “How are you feeling now?”

With eyes still fogged with sleep Joe watched the doctor seat himself. “Fine. I guess you’re here to tell me what this is all about?”

Ben recognised the apprehension in his son’s voice, it was very much how he himself was feeling. He moved across to the bed, sitting himself down on the edge, close to Joe in case the boy should need him.

Paul looked from father to son; the silver headed older man and the curly haired youth, both watching him with trepidation, fearful of what he was about to say. Leaning back in the chair, fingers interlaced in front of him, he gave them his diagnosis. “It would appear Joe, that what you are suffering from are epileptic seizures. Now epilepsy is a term for a medical condition, where for some reason the brain stops functioning for a short period leading to a fit or seizure. Sometimes there’s a reason for this, an illness or an injury, most usually there is no known cause. Sometimes it’s an inherited thing, sometimes not.” He glanced across at Ben, seeing a flicker of relief cross his friend’s face as he spoke; he guessed Ben might have feared that he was to blame for Joe’s condition. “These seizures you’ve had, Joe, are called ‘Grand Mal’ type, where the sufferer has uncontrollable muscle spasms and lapses into unconsciousness. Sadly, at the present time there is no known cure, and though I’ve heard that an English doctor has been using bromide to try and control the seizures in some patients it’s not something I’d recommend as yet. In time you may become aware of certain sensations before you suffer a fit that may help you recognise when one is on the way, but not all sufferers do. I’m afraid that having this condition places certain restrictions on your life, obviously it would be foolish to ride or swim. You need to keep away from sharp objects, don’t walk near cliff edges or climb ladders. Make sure someone is close by when you’re bathing and keep the water shallow.”

“In other words, stop living.” Joe broke in, his tone bitter.

“No, no, you mustn’t look at it that way, Joe.” The doctor was emphatic. “It’s a condition, not a disease. No-one can catch it from you, you’re not going to die from it, you’re not going to go mad or any other of those stupid stories people tell. You must learn to live with it, take sensible precautions, but don’t stop living. You’re young, you have a good, long life ahead of you and a caring family to help you. It’s quite a common thing Joe, I have several epileptics on my books, I could arrange for you to meet one of them, to talk about it if you would like?”

Joe shook his head. “How can I carry on like this? Never knowing when it might happen again. You didn’t see Jim Dekes expression this afternoon, the way he looked at me. How can I face people?”

“I know this has come as a huge shock, to you and your family.” Paul told him softly. “And I know it can affect the way you feel about yourself, and the way others see you. It’s a fact that epilepsy does carry a stigma and some ignorant people link it – quite wrongly – with mental illness. It’s vital that you don’t let that stop you from leading your life. And you can still lead a full, active life, Joe. You’ll need to make some changes, I admit, but you aren’t going to be an invalid. Now I know this is going to take you time to come to terms with, I’m going to go now and let you talk it over with your father, any questions you’d like to ask before I go? No.” He acknowledged Joe’s negative nod. “Then I’ll be off. Oh, Ben. If another seizure should happen, let me know, but there’s no need for me to come out unless Joe is unconscious for more than five minutes or another seizure follows immediately.” He stood up and headed for the door. “ I’ll see myself out.”

 Ben hardly noticed the doctor leave, there were a few more questions he would have liked to ask him, but they would keep. Right now his attention was focused on his youngest son, watching the boy struggle to keep his composure in the face of the information he had just been given. Joe was biting his bottom lip, anguish in his eyes and Ben ached with pity and fear for him. Gently he laid his hand on his son’s cheek, turning the boy’s head to face him.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked softly, hoping that Joe would confide his feelings, let Ben try to help him.

Joe shook his head, pulling away from his father’s touch. “I’m all right.” He stated, though the look on his face, in his eyes, belied the words. “P-please leave me alone Pa, I need to be alone. To think about this on m-my own.”

“If that’s what you want.” Ben got heavily to his feet, the slight catch in his son’s voice nearly breaking his heart.

“I need to…I have to…Oh, Pa.” Abruptly the eighteen year old young man vanished before him as Joe’s face twisted in torment. He was suddenly a little boy again, looking to his father to keep his fears at bay…to make it all better. “Why?” he cried, reaching out to Ben who moved swiftly to take him in his arms, throat aching with unshed tears as he stroked Joe’s soft hair, wishing desperately that he could take his boy’s hurt away. “What did I do to deserve this Pa?” Joe was sobbing openly now, clinging frantically to his father, fingers clutching at the cloth of Ben’s shirt, face buried in his shoulder. “Why is it happening to me?”

Unable to give any answer, Ben could only hold the boy close till the storm of misery abated.


Alone in his bed that night, pale moonlight filtering through the window and illuminating the room with it’s cold radiance, Ben tossed and turned restlessly, unable to get any sleep. Fears and anxieties crowded his mind, and each time he attempted to sleep he saw again the anguished look in his youngest son’s luminous green eyes, the fear and bitterness in his expression. And as he attempted to put that picture aside another, far worse, rose before him. Joseph in the grip of the seizure, limbs shaking and twitching. At that image a feeling of such helplessness and despair overcame him that he almost wept. Eventually, unable to bear the torment any longer, he got up and padded softly downstairs, deciding that a cup of hot milk might help him fall asleep. On the way he couldn’t prevent himself from looking in on Joe, his youngest seemed to be sleeping peacefully enough, the lamp beside his bed still burning low. Gently, he adjusted the blankets around his son, allowing his hand to drift upwards and tenderly stroke the boy’s soft dark curls as he had done so many times before.

Somehow, Ben wasn’t surprised as he descended the stairs, to catch the aroma of fresh brewed coffee in the air. Reaching the landing, he saw the lamps were alight in the great room and his two eldest sons were sitting at the table, cups of coffee before them.

“Couldn’t sleep either?” Adam enquired quietly as he caught sight of his father on the stairs. “We’ve got an extra cup, kind of thought you might be along.”

Gratefully Ben accepted a cup of the steaming brew, taking it across to the leather armchair where he settled himself down and sipped the drink in thoughtful silence.

For a long while nobody spoke, all three lost in their own dark imaginings. Eventually Adam rose from the table and came to take a seat on the couch. “So, are we going to talk about it?” He looked from his father to his brother. “We’ve all got the same thing on our minds, it might help to discuss it.”

“Talking won’t change anything.” With an unsteady hand Ben put his cup down on the fireplace. “Joseph is never going to get well.”

“We don’t know that.” Adam was quick to point out. “Doc Martin said many people only experience a few of these seizures and then it passes, but even if he does have it for life, it’s not the end of the world.”

“No?” Ben questioned. “You heard about the list of restrictions Paul gave him, and then there’s how people are going to feel about him. How is he going to feel when his friends turn away from him because they are frightened of this illness he has?”

“Pa’s right.” Hoss put in, his voice shaking slightly with distress. “Lord, Adam, if I believed all that stuff about epilepsy being the disease of a madman how many others believe it?”

“You know, it was only a few years ago that epileptics were put into hospitals and kept there for life.” Adam saw his father pale at his words. “But we know better now. Yes, there are lots of things Joe won’t be able to do any more, and there are many ignorant people out there that are going to hurt him with their beliefs. We have to help him face it, support him, not wallow in regrets. He has this thing, it’s happened, we can’t change it. Right now we have to help him, help him get on with life despite it. Right Pa?”

Ben nodded slowly. “You’re right of course, Adam.” He smiled gratefully at his eldest son. “Joe needs our support, and we’ll be there, that’s what families are for after all.”


Ben was a late arrival at breakfast the next day, he had eventually returned to his bed in the early hours of the morning, but sleep had still eluded him for most of the night. Around dawn he had dozed off at last, but his slumber had been punctuated by worrisome dreams and he woke feeling drained and irritable.

As Ben joined his sons at the table he was pleased to see Joe in his usual place. It was apparent though that no one had much of an appetite today. Hoss had made an effort and was chewing his way slowly through a pile of pancakes but Adam and Joe had empty plates before them.

Ben picked up his own plate and helped himself to one of Hop Sing’s golden brown pancakes, feeling that he should eat something even though he felt repulsed at the very thought of food.

“Coffee, Pa?” Adam asked as he refilled his own cup. “It’s good and strong.”

“Please.” Ben pushed his cup forward for Adam to fill, glancing at Joe as he did so, his youngest son appeared to be lost in thought, moodily stirring his coffee.

“I’ve got some business to attend to at the lumber camp today.” Adam put the pot down and picked up his full cup. “And Hoss was going to ride out and check the waterholes over in the south pasture if that’s all right by you?”

“That’s fine.” Ben poured syrup on to his pancake and cut a small piece. “I’ve got some work to do here, so I’ll stay with…”

“Stay with Joe!” his youngest looked up sharply, eyes ablaze. “Is this how it’s going to be for the rest of my life Pa? Will I need to have a babysitter all the time?”

“No, of course not.” Adam jumped in, shooting an annoyed look at his father. “Pa didn’t mean it that way. As long as you’re sensible about it there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t stay here alone, there’s plenty of work to do isn’t there Pa?”

Ben put down his fork, quailing at the thought of leaving Joe unsupervised. Suppose he had another seizure while he was alone, or worse, ignored the doctor’s advice and had a seizure while handling something dangerous. “I er…I think I’d rather stay…” he said at last.

Joe was on his feet now, temper flaring. “You heard what the Doc said. Get on with your life, don’t let this stop you living. How can I do that Pa, if you won’t even let me be on my own?”

 “He’s right.” Adam gave his brother an encouraging smile before turning to his father. “You don’t need to treat him like he’s breakable, Pa. He’s got to learn to cope with this.”

“That’s true, Pa.” Hoss spoke up, pushing his plate aside.

Massaging his suddenly aching forehead Ben looked at his three sons, and sighed. “Very well.” He conceded. “I do have something I need to do in Virginia City this morning. I guess Joe can mend that broken fence out by the corral while I’m gone.” He should be safe enough with a hammer and nails he thought to himself as he watched Joe sit down again and pick up his coffee And I’ll tell Hop Sing to keep a close eye on him.

“Well, I guess I’ll get started then.” Adam drained his cup and stood up. “I’ll be back in time for supper.”

“Before you go.” Joe spoke up abruptly, looking up at Adam then across at Hoss and Ben. “I just want to say, I’ve been thinking a lot about this epilepsy thing. Doc Martin said I ought to try and carry on living as normal a life as possible. So I’m going to try to do that as best I can.”

“Good for you.” Adam smiled approvingly. “I think you’re doing the right thing.”

“So do I.” Hoss grinned over at Joe, resolutely putting aside any doubts he might have about his brother’s ability to lead a normal life.

Ben regarded the determined look on his youngest son’s face with a mixture of pride and fear. He was proud of Joe for wanting to fight against his condition, but fear of all the terrible things that could befall the boy crowded his thoughts and made him long to protect his son in any way he could. Becoming aware that all three of his sons were watching him, waiting for his comment, he cleared his throat awkwardly. “Just remember you’re not alone Joe.” He said softly at last. “We’re all here to help you if you need us.”


Leaving Hop Sing with strict instructions to keep a close watch on Joe, readily agreed to by the little cook who was as anxious about the youngest Cartwright as his family were, Ben rode into town. Several times along the way he was tempted to turn back as his imagination sent up dire images of what might befall Joe with no one to watch him. Telling himself not to be so overprotective, he tried to settle his mind on the business he was about to conduct in Virginia City.

Tying Buck to the rail outside the bank, Ben was approached by James Dewar, the head of the law firm that handled all his legal business, who had seen him ride in.

“Mr. Cartwright.” The tall, distinguished looking man seized Ben’s hand in a sympathetic handshake as soon as he drew near. “I was so sorry to hear of your troubles. This must be a dreadful time for your family. If there’s any help I can offer in finding a suitable place for your son, and of course changing the will…”

“Suitable Place? Changing the will?” Ben was baffled. “What are you talking about Mr. Dewar, I’ve no plans to change my will.”

“I’m sorry.” Dewar coloured up slightly. “I do apologise if I’ve jumped the gun a little here. It’s just that obviously you’ll want to remove Little Joe as a beneficiary and make some arrangements for his long term care.”

Enlightenment dawned on Ben’s face. “My son will not need any ‘long term care’ as you put it.” Ben pulled his hand from Dewar’s. “And he will remain a beneficiary, exactly the same as his brothers. He may have an illness, Mr. Dewar, but he is perfectly competent.” Turning away from the man, who remained on the sidewalk staring after him, Ben walked swiftly away, rage sweeping through him.

All thought of business forgotten Ben headed across the dusty street in the direction of Doctor Martin’s office. The lawyer’s attitude had shaken him badly and he needed to talk to his old friend, seek some reassurance from him about Joe. As he walked he was aware of several people glancing sympathetically in his direction, though none approached.

Pushing open the doctor’s door, Ben was very relieved to find that the waiting room was empty. Crossing over to the examination room, he knocked sharply on the door and was thankful to hear Paul Martin’s deep voice bid him enter.

“Ben!” Paul looked up to see his old friend in the doorway. “Come in, sit down. I was hoping that you’d be along to see me. How is Joe?”

“He seems all right at the moment.” Ben sat down on the rather rickety wooden chair in front of the doctor’s desk. “In fact, he’s being very brave about it, says he’ll try to live as normal a life as possible. But how normal will that be Paul? I worry as soon as he’s out of my sight. Is there no treatment for this thing? You mentioned an English doctor...”

“I did.” Paul agreed, abstractedly doodling figures on his blotter with the pencil he held in his hand. “A Sir Charles Locock has had some success in treating epilepsy with bromide, but I don’t recommend it for Joe.”

“Why not? Surely if it stops these fits...”

“That’s just it, it does help certainly, but there have been cases where the treatment has led to a series of fits, one after the other, no gap between and the result has been the death of the patients.”

Ben leant forward, resting his elbows on the desk and covered his face with his hands for a moment. “I just met James Dewar.” He said at last, raising his head to look at Paul. “He told me I ought to take Little Joe out of my will, send him away somewhere to live. He expected me to abandon my son, my child. How many more share his attitude Paul, how many good citizens of Virginia City think my boy should be locked away? How will Joe face it, how can he...”

Standing up, Paul walked swiftly around the desk and grasped his friend’s shoulder in sympathy. “I know this is hard to face Ben.” He said softly. “But I’m afraid that this attitude towards epilepsy is common, people are frightened of the condition. Joe is going to come across a lot of ignorant prejudice and there’s nothing much you can do about that. More importantly, Joe is going to have to come to terms with it himself. I’m glad to hear that he’s trying to face up to it, but I think it’s going to be very hard for the boy to accept the limitations the illness places on him.” Crossing to the bookshelf, which stood against the wall opposite his desk, the doctor ran his finger along the spines of the books until he located the one he wanted. Picking up the volume he opened it and brought it over to Ben.

“Read.” He instructed, placing the open book on the table.

Ben scanned the text before him, portions of it leaping out at him.

‘Treatment. Keep the patient from hurting himself, particularly the head which he is apt to dash violently against the ground’

‘White vitriol, the mistletoe, carbonate of iron have been recommended and tried for the cure of this complaint, but in vain’

‘Persons subject to these fits should never ride on horseback, for obvious reasons’

“There is really very little known about the condition.” Paul told him as he looked up from the page. “I just wish I could offer you a more favourable outlook, you know how fond I am of Joe. I’m not saying Joe will get any more seizures, I can’t tell. Sometimes people experience a few seizures and never get any more, but he’ll need to be seizure free for at least six months before I’d consider changing my diagnosis. For the moment you must consider Joe an epileptic.”


Riding back to the Ponderosa, Ben could feel his anxiety growing. He couldn’t help worrying about what might have happened in his absence. It was with a huge sense of relief that he saw Joe, standing talking to Hoss by the stable.

“Hi, Pa.” Joe greeted his father as Ben dismounted and led Buck over to join his sons. “I’ll take your horse for you if you like.”

“Thank you.” Ben relinquished the reins to Joe, then turned to speak to Hoss. “Waterholes all clear?”

“They were fine, Pa. I just got back about a half an...” Hoss broke off abruptly, looking over his father’s shoulder.

Turning to follow his son’s gaze, Ben saw Joe standing motionless in the stable doorway. He had let Buck’s reins fall from his hands, hands that were now clenched tightly into fists as he stared transfixed into the interior of the stable.

“Joe?” Ben took a tentative step towards his youngest. “What is it? What’s the matter?”

With a sound almost like a moan, Joe whirled round suddenly, a look of intense pain on his face. Not looking at either his father or brother he headed for the house.

“What in tarnation happened?” Hoss asked, staring after his brother, a puzzled frown creasing his brow.

“I don’t know.” Walking over to catch Buck’s reins, Ben stood where Joe had been. Through the open door he saw Cochise, the pinto clearly illuminated by the sunlight flooding into the stable. As Ben watched, the horse tossed his head and snickered softly – and he suddenly understood. Handing Buck over to the bemused Hoss, Ben followed Joe inside.

The great room of the house was empty, but from upstairs came the sound of something breaking. Taking the stairs two at a time, Ben arrived at the open door of Joe’s bedroom where he paused, aghast at what he saw.

Joe had flung everything he could onto the floor; the lamp from his bedside table lay in shards beside his bed, a large puddle of oil slowly spreading over the wooden floor. Clothes, brushes, hair oil, all lay scattered about. Joe was in the midst of the debris, the water jug from the washstand held above his head.

“Joseph!” Ben picked his way across the room. “Stop this now.”

Ignoring his father Joe hurled the jug against the wall where it shattered noisily, tiny splinters of china flying everywhere.

“Joe, no!” Ben grabbed his son from behind, pinning the boy’s arms to his side. “That’s enough.”

For a moment Joe struggled angrily against Ben’s restraining arms, then, letting out a long, shuddering sigh he slumped back against his father’s chest.

“It’s not fair, Pa.” He said bitterly. “It’s damn well not fair.”

And once again Ben felt his inadequacy in the face of his son’s need, for there were no words he could find that would help or comfort Joe. Nothing he could say to make it better.


For the next two weeks Joe tried his best to carry on as normal, but it was apparent to his worried family that the young man was finding it very difficult to come to terms with the restraints imposed by his condition. Meals, usually a time when the Cartwrights talked together about the daily running of the ranch became morose affairs. Joe ate little, just pushing his food around the plate and Ben couldn’t find it in his heart to reprimand him. Hoss and Adam, unable to face the naked longing on their young brother’s face when they talked of working the Ponderosa, ate in virtual silence. Ben too, found himself avoiding any conversation that touched on the work that Joe could no longer do.

Just as Joe struggled to accept his illness, so did his father. Ben was finding it very difficult to give his youngest son any freedom at all. He tried to find jobs for the boy to do but would then find himself wandering out to check that all was well, or sending Adam or Hoss along. Any odd grimace or sound from Joe would set Ben’s pulse racing as fears of another seizure came thrusting to the fore.

At first both Hoss and Adam attempted to treat their brother as normal, but as the days progressed Joe stopped responding to their banter. It was obvious, to Adam at least, that the young man was becoming very depressed. He was doing less and less on the ranch, often spending hours just sitting in his room, a situation that wouldn’t have been tolerated by his father under normal circumstances.

It was a day or two before Adam got the chance to talk to his father alone, Hoss had headed out to work as soon as breakfast was over and Joe was still in bed. Pouring coffee for himself Adam glanced over at Ben; his father had the Territorial Enterprise open before him, but though his eyes were fixed on the page Adam could see that he wasn’t reading. Clearing his throat Adam spoke hesitantly. “This can’t go on Pa.”

“What can’t?” Startled from his thoughts, Ben looked up.

“Joe. We have to do something.”

“There’s nothing to be done.” Ben’s tone was bitter. “Don’t you think I’ve talked it all over with Paul? There is no cure.”

“I know that.” Adam ran his fingers through his hair in exasperation. “I just mean…Pa, would you describe Joe to me.”

“What on earth for?”

“Just do it, Pa, please. Describe Joe to me as if I didn’t know him.”

“I don’t see what that will accomplish.” Ben began, then seeing the determined look on his eldest son’s face he sighed. “Oh, very well.” His tone softened as he began. “Joe is eighteen, dark haired, the image of his mother. He can be quick tempered and moody, but he’s full of life, full of energy…at least…” his voice trailed off.

“At least he was.” Adam finished for him. “That’s what I mean, Pa. We have to do something.”

“And what do you suggest we do?”

“I don’t know.” Adam confessed, pushing his now cold cup of coffee away. “But I think it might be a good idea if we at least get him off the ranch. I’m going to Virginia City this morning, why don’t you get him to go with me?”

“Do you think that’s wise?” Anxiety rose in Ben at the thought of Joe being away from the Ponderosa. “If anything should happen…”

“I’ll be right there with him if it does, and no one will say anything to upset him with me there.” Adam reached out his hand to cover his father’s, squeezing Ben’s fingers reassuringly. “Please, Pa. Joe’s so depressed, a change of scene might do him good.”

Reluctantly, Ben nodded. “I’ll speak to Joe.”


Ben was still sitting at the table when Joe eventually descended the stairs.

“Morning, Pa.” He said quietly, taking a seat at the table and reaching for the coffee pot.

“That must be cold, Joe. I’ll ask Hop Sing for some fresh.” Ben picked up the pot and took it into the kitchen. Returning, he scrutinised his youngest son as he put the coffee before him. Adam was right, he conceded. The boy was looking very down; the vitality and exuberance that was such an essential part of Joe was gone.

“Joseph, I’d like you to go into town with Adam this morning.” He held out a list of supplies that he’d just had Hop Sing write. “He’s just getting the buckboard ready.”

Taking the list, Joe fingered it uncertainly. “Into town.” He repeated. “I don’t know, Pa. What if…”

“You haven’t been off this ranch in weeks.” Ben told him softly. “You have to face people some time, Joe.”

“I guess…” Joe looked up; his eye’s locking with his fathers for a moment. Then, giving a small nod of assent, he drained his coffee and headed for the door.

In the yard, Adam let out a small sigh of relief as he saw his brother coming towards him, he’d been worried that Joe would flat out refuse to leave the ranch and he knew his father wouldn’t make him go if that happened.

“Got the list?” he asked as Joe climbed up beside him and sat down.

Joe nodded but didn’t speak, slumping down in the seat and pulling his hat down over his eyes. Adam shrugged, moving the buckboard out of the yard; obviously his brother wasn’t in the mood for conversation.

Joe remained silent for most of the journey, but as they drew closer to Virginia City Adam could see the boy grow tense, changing position in his seat to stare rigidly ahead, his hands opening and closing nervously. They had reached the outskirts of the town when he finally spoke up.

“Adam, I don’t think I can do this.”

Looking round at Joe, Adam saw the look of fear in his eyes. “You can’t stay at home for ever, Joe.” He said, his voice reassuring. “I’ll be right there beside you and if it gets too much we’ll go home, but I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“But what if it happens again?” Joe asked tightly. “I don’t want anybody else to see me like that Adam.”

“I know you don’t.” Adam searched for the right thing to say, to try and help Joe face what lay ahead. “You told us you’d try to live as normal a life as possible, that means facing people, Joe. Showing them you’re normal, that your illness is nothing to be scared of, that you’re still the same Little Joe Cartwright you were before. Not hiding away from everyone.”

His words appeared to have the desired effect and he was pleased to see the determined look that settled on his young brother’s face as the buckboard rattled up to Jim Dekes store.


“Morning, Jim.” Adam addressed the storekeeper cheerfully as he and Joe entered the store. “How are you this fine morning?”

“Why I’m just fine, Adam.” At the greeting Jim glanced up from the newspaper he had been reading. He looked a little surprised to see Joe beside his brother but made no comment beyond a brusque. “Morning, Little Joe.”

“Morning, Jim.” Joe handed over the list his father had given him. “Can you get this together for us, please?”

“Uh huh.” Jim ran a practised eye down the list. “I think I’ve got all this in stock. Take me about half-an-hour.”

“That’s fine.” Adam told him. “There’s no rush, Joe and I are heading over to the saloon for a beer, we’ll be back to pick up the goods in an hour or so.”

As they headed out of the dim interior of the store Adam couldn’t help averting his eyes from the spot where Joe had collapsed, even now he could still ‘see’ the seizure clearly in his mind. Wondering if that picture would remain with him forever, Adam led the way across the sunlit street to the Silver Dollar saloon.

“Two beers, Jake.” Adam called to the bartender as they entered. Glancing at Joe he was surprised and relieved to see a smile on his brother’s face. It was a long time, he realised, since he’d seen Joe looking happy.

Taking their drinks, the two sat down at a table. At this time of day the saloon was nearly empty, the pretty bargirls that were employed in the place were still abed and most of the men of Virginia City were working. There were just a couple of older men, engrossed in a game of cards at a table near the stairs and a young cowboy sitting alone at the bar, a bottle of whisky and a glass on the counter beside him. Behind the bar, Jake was polishing glasses. No one appeared to take any notice of the Cartwright brothers.

“That sure went down well.” Joe put his empty glass down on the table with a sigh of satisfaction. “Like another?”

“If you’re buying.” Adam smiled, draining his own glass. He almost reminded Joe of Doc Martin’s advice over alcohol, but decided against it. One more beer wouldn’t hurt, and he’d make sure that it was only one more.

Lingering over the second beer, Joe began to ask a few questions about the work his brothers had been doing on the ranch the last couple of weeks, a wistful look crossed his face at Adam’s answers but at least he didn’t change the subject. Later, as the brothers loaded up the buckboard and headed back to the Ponderosa, Adam felt that his insistence on getting Joe away from the ranch had paid off, the boy seemed more animated than he’d been in weeks.

He wouldn’t have been so pleased if he could have known what was going on back in Virginia City. In the saloon, Jake had carefully deposited the glasses Joe had used in with the garbage to be disposed of and in the General Store Jim Dekes was busily telling all who would listen that he’d ‘Always known that young Cartwright boy wasn’t right in the head. Stands to reason, all that high strung Creole blood he got from his Mama.’


For the next couple of days Joe seemed much more like his old self. He worked happily enough alongside Hoss, digging postholes, and if some of the ranch hands appeared to be avoiding any contact with him, he did his best to ignore it.

Ben was pleased to see that his youngest son’s appetite had picked up a little, meals had become less of an ordeal as Joe seemed to be coming to terms with his condition, talking and joking with his brothers again. The sound of Joe’s laughter and the sight of his dazzling smile gladdened Ben’s heart.

Joe couldn’t hide his pain at being unable to ride though, he had accepted Adam’s offer to exercise Cochise for him, but couldn’t bring himself to watch as his eldest brother rode the pinto out each day. Ben would watch him pretending to read as he waited for Adam to return, trying so hard to look as if he didn’t care.

Coming in one morning after stabling Cochise, Adam joined his father at his desk. “Weren’t you going into the bank this morning?” he asked, pulling up a chair.

“Hoss is going.” Ben answered, not looking up from the ledger that was open in front of him. “I’ve got a few problems to sort out with the books, in fact I’d like you to take a look at them with me, if you would?”

“Sure.” Adam shifted his chair round to sit beside his father, ready to help.

“All right if I go with Hoss?” Joe spoke up from the couch, where he had been listening to the exchange. “We could take the buggy.”

“Of course you can.” Ben looked up to smile at his son, pleased that Joe was volunteering to go into Virginia City. “Hoss should be back any minute, he’s just gone to have a word with one of the hands down at the corral.”

“Right, I’ll go and get the buggy hitched up ready then.”

“Good to see him happy again.” Adam commented quietly, as Joe grabbed his hat and jacket and made for the door.

Ben nodded his agreement, it did seem that things were getting back to normal lately. He couldn’t help but hope that, maybe, God willing, Joe would be all right.


“You get the beers in little brother.” Hoss instructed as he halted the buggy in front of the Virginia City bank. “I aim to be as quick as I can with this business for Pa ‘cause I’ve got a powerful thirst from that long, dusty road.”

“Better get you an extra big glass then.” Joe leapt lightly down from the buggy and regarded his older brother with a grin. “Or perhaps you’d like me to buy you a barrel all to yourself?”

“Just a regular glass will do.” Hoss smiled back, fumbling in his pocket for the bank draft Ben had given him. “And no more than two beers for you, remember.”

“I know.” Annoyance touched Joe’s face for a moment at his brother’s reminder. “I’ll get the mail for you, then go order the beers.” He said, walking away. “ See you later.”

Hoss remained where he was for a moment, watching Joe as he headed toward the stagecoach office to pick up any mail that had come in. He was uneasy at letting his brother out of his sight, but knew Joe wouldn’t take kindly to being made to accompany him into the bank.

Picking up the mail from the stagecoach office Joe made for the Silver Dollar, riffling through the letters as he walked. It looked like mainly business mail, though there was a letter for Adam with a return address in Sacramento. Stowing the envelopes away in his jacket pocket, Joe pushed open the swing door to the saloon. The place was busier today than it had been when he came in with Adam, with most of the tables occupied. Stepping up to the bar Joe waited as Jake finished serving a couple of cowboys that he recognised as hands from the Anderson spread, on the other side of Virginia City.

“Two beers, Jake.” He called as the bartender finished with the cowboys and turned in his direction. Wordlessly Jake served up the liquor, putting the glasses down in front of Joe and accepting the payment. Picking up his glass Joe had just raised it to his lips when he caught sight of Luke Hopkins, a friend of his from schooldays, sitting at a table at the back of the room. Taking a long swallow, he picked up Hoss’ beer in his free hand and headed toward his friend.

“Hey, Luke. Didn’t see you there.” He said, approaching the table. “Mind if I join you? Hoss’ll be along in a minute.”

Joe couldn’t miss the nervous look that appeared on Luke’s face at his words. “I…er…I was just leaving, Joe.” The youth mumbled, getting to his feet. “I’ll…um…see you around.”

“Yea, sure.” Joe’s voice was strained now; he looked pointedly at the almost full glass of beer on the table. “Not going to finish your drink?”

“Well…no…I gotta run.” Luke’s cheeks were flushed, his eye’s darting nervously about the room.

“Fine.” Joe put the beers he was carrying down on the table and held out his hand. “Some other time then.”

A look of panic crossed the young man’s features, backing away from Joe and ignoring his outstretched hand he headed for the door. “Yes, some other time.” He called back over his shoulder as he hastily left the saloon.

For a long time Joe remained standing by the table, the room around him falling silent except for the two cowboys at the bar whose words carried clearly and distinctly across the saloon.

“I wouldn’t touch him either, wouldn’t want to catch it.”

“Hear tell it’s just a matter of time till he goes mad, guess his family will have to get him locked up somewhere then, with all the others like him.”

“Yep, you gotta feel sorry for old Ben Cartwright.”

Without a word, Joe turned and walked quickly towards the door, almost colliding with Hoss who was just on his way in. Hoss put out a hand to stop his little brother, but Joe shook him off angrily and headed out into the street.

“What happened?” Hoss asked Jake, as the door swung closed behind Joe. “What upset him?”

“You oughtta keep your crazy brother at home.” Called one of the cowboys before Jake had a chance to answer. “It’s not right, letting him come in here, might infect us all.”

His friend nodded vigorously in agreement and there were one or two murmurs of accord from the other customers.

Slowly, deliberately, Hoss walked the length of the bar, his normally amiable face set like stone, blue eyes hard as steel. Reaching out he put one large hand on each cowboy’s head, and then with a swift movement soundly banged their heads together. Leaving them, dazed and reeling, behind him, he followed Joe out of the saloon.

“That’s got it.” Ben smiled triumphantly at Adam as he tossed his pen aside. “I was beginning to think these figures would never add up.”

“Just one tiny little error and the whole lot were out.” Adam stood up and stretched. “I think I deserve a nice, strong cup of coffee after that, Pa. How about you?”

“Please.” Ben gathered up the ledgers as Adam went off to the kitchen. Opening the desk drawer he was about to put the books away when he heard the sound of the buggy returning. Within moments the door flew open and Joe stalked in.

“Joseph.” Ben got to his feet, seeing at once that something was very wrong, Joe was obviously furious, his eyes glittering angrily. A quick glance out of the window showed Ben the buggy standing abandoned by the hitching post, no sign of Hoss. “Where’s your brother?”

“I don’t know, I guess he’s still in town where I left him.” Joe’s tone was caustic. Reaching into his jacket pocket he withdrew a sheaf of crumpled letters, which he flung on his father’s desk. “Here’s the mail.”

“What happened?” Fear flared in Ben’s eyes, a cold sensation trickling through his veins. “You didn’t…”

“Collapse again? No, I didn’t and yes, I drove the buggy home on my own. Oh, I know I shouldn’t have, but then what can you expect from a madman who needs locking up?”

“Locking up?” Ben repeated angrily. “Who said that to you?”

“Just a couple of cowboys in the saloon. But I guess it’s what the whole town’s thinking. They’re all real sorry for you, Pa, having a son that’s going c-crazy.” Joe’s voice cracked as anger faded and misery took over.

“Joe…” Ben started towards the boy.

“No, Pa.” Joe shook his head, backing away as his father advanced. “Please don’t say it will be all right, because it won’t… it won’t!” Turning, he ran quickly up the stairs.

Ben remained where he was, staring after him, a sick sensation in the pit of his stomach. Joe was right, there was nothing he could say that could take away his son’s pain this time.

Coming over from the kitchen doorway where he’d heard everything that his brother had said, Adam put a sympathetic hand on his father’s arm. “Go after him, Pa.” He said softly “He needs you right now.”

“And what do I tell him?” Ben whispered brokenly. “What can I tell him?”

“You don’t need to tell him anything.” Adam said quietly. “You just need to be there.”

Adam watched as his father nodded slowly, then began to climb the stairs to Joe’s room. He waited till he heard Ben’s soft knock on his young brother’s door then headed out to the stable, stopping on the way to quickly sort through the mail on Ben’s desk.

Upstairs, Ben took a deep breath, making an effort to compose himself before he entered Joe’s bedroom.

His son was standing by the window, staring out at the yard below where Adam had just emerged from the house and was walking across to the stable.

“Joseph?” Ben said quietly, coming up beside the boy. “Little Joe?”

“I’m sorry, Pa.” Joe turned to face his father, attempting a smile. “I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

“That’s all right, son.” Ben put an affectionate arm around the young man. “That’s part and parcel of being a father.”

“It wasn’t just the cowboys, Pa.” Joe told him softly. “It was Luke. Luke Hopkins, I thought he was a friend of mine, and he couldn’t even look me in the face, let alone shake hands. He was frightened of me, Pa. Scared he’d catch epilepsy from me.”

“It’s just ignorance, Joe. He was scared because he didn’t understand. In time, people will come to accept your illness, not be frightened by it.”

“No, they won’t, because I’m not going to go back to Virginia City again, not ever. I can’t do it, I can’t stand the fear and the pity I can see when people look at me.”

“Oh, Joe.” Ben gently massaged his thumb over the boy’s arm, feeling the tension in him. Father and son stood quietly together for a few moments, while beneath them Adam led Chub and Sport from the barn.

“Pa?” Joe asked eventually, his voice scarcely more than a whisper. “What will happen to me? Those cowboys in town said people like me got locked away, were they right?”

“A long time ago that sometimes happened.” Ben told him, remembering what Adam had said. “But not any more, Joe. Nothing will happen to you, son. I promise you that.”

But even as he promised it Ben worried about his son’s future. If the seizures didn’t stop it would never be safe for Joe to be alone for long. For his lifetime that was no problem but what then? Was it fair to tie Hoss or Adam to the lifelong task of watching over their brother? And what of Joe’s own hopes and dreams? Were they all to come to nothing? Joe was right he thought sadly It’s damn well not fair.


Adam hadn’t far to go before he met up with his middle brother, he’d not long left the yard of the Ponderosa when he was amused to see Hoss riding toward him on the puniest looking horse he’d seen in a long while. Reining in Sport, he sat easily in the saddle, and waited for Hoss to draw abreast.

“Is Joe home?” Hoss called anxiously, as he approached.

“He’s home.” Adam reassured him. “And he’s fine. I was just coming to find you. Seems like you got yourself a nice new mount there, brother.”

“Only dangblamed animal left in the livery.” Hoss dismounted, the tired looking creature he’d been riding appearing relieved to be rid of it’s burden. “I came out from the saloon and Joe had just driven off in the buggy, figured I’d best get after him, he was pretty upset.”

“What exactly happened?” Adam asked, watching Hoss mount Chubb and settle into the saddle. “He was really angry when he got home, said some cowboys called him crazy.”

“They did.” Hoss brought Chubb alongside Sport and the brothers headed for home, Hoss leading his erstwhile mount. “I don’t blame Joe for getting angry, I was just surprised he didn’t wade in and punch them out.”

Adam didn’t answer, he could guess why Joe hadn’t reacted to the men’s words in the way he normally would. Adam was pretty sure that at some level Joe was scared that the cowboys were right, that he was going to go crazy. Reaching inside his jacket pocket he touched the letter from Sacramento that he’d just picked up off his father’s desk, feeling the crinkle of the stiff paper. He hoped that he had been right to contact his friend, that this reply to his letter would somehow help his youngest brother.


 Waking suddenly in the middle of the night Ben lay still, listening for any sound from the quiet house around him. Whatever had woken him wasn’t repeated, the silence remained undisturbed.

Closing his eyes, Ben tried to drop off to sleep again, but memories of the previous day began to surface in his thoughts, making rest impossible. Recalling Joe’s state of mind yesterday evening he wondered if he should go and check that his son was all right. Something must have woken him, perhaps Joe had cried out or perhaps, Ben cut the thought off; telling himself not to worry so much, after all Joe had been fine for weeks now. But, yesterday had been very distressing for his son, and although Joe had joined his family at supper he had eaten very little and said even less. Eventually, giving in to his anxiety, Ben sat up, slipped out from beneath the covers and reached for his robe. Lighting the lamp on his bedside table and picking it up in his right hand, Ben quietly opened his bedroom door and made for Joe’s room.

Moments later, he was staring in dismay at the disarrayed covers on Joe’s empty bed. Rushing from the room, Ben headed downstairs, hoping to find his youngest son in the great room, but the downstairs lamps were unlit. The embers of yesterday’s fire gave off a faint glow on the hearth but apart from that the room was dark and quiet. A quick glance at the coat rack by the door confirmed Ben’s growing suspicion, Joe’s jacket and hat were missing, it must have been the sound of the front door closing that had roused him from sleep.

Hoping that Joe had just gone across to the stable to see Cochise, Ben let himself out of the door and walked swiftly across the yard. His hopes were dashed as he pulled open the stable door to find Cochise’s stall empty, the horse’s tack missing.

Hurrying back to the house, Ben’s intentions were to get dressed and ride out after Joe, but as he reached the door common sense began to prevail. The night was dark, he had no idea where Joe had gone and his trail would be almost impossible to pick up. With a heavy heart he realised that he had little option but to wait for Joe to return, or first light, whichever came sooner. Entering the house, he closed the door behind him, turned the lamp down low, and settled down in the leather armchair to wait, his thoughts in turmoil.

It seemed like hours had passed, though it was probably no more than thirty or forty minutes later, when Ben heard faint sounds from the yard. Rising quickly, he crossed to the window behind his desk and peered out. Joe was leading Cochise towards the stable, obviously trying to be as quiet as possible. The relief Ben felt at seeing his son safe and well had turned to anger at his disobedience by the time Joe pushed open the front door.

“And where do you think you’ve been, Joseph?” He demanded as soon as Joe had closed the door and hung up his jacket. At the same time he reached out to turn up the lamp, throwing a pool of light around the fireplace and the chair in which he was sitting.

“Pa!” Horrified at finding his father awake and waiting for him, Joe tried desperately to think of an excuse for where he’d been. “I was just… I was just over at the stable.”

“I know that. I saw you taking Cochise back, you’ve been out riding haven’t you?”

“I…um…” Joe saw the look in his father’s eyes and decided a straight answer would be the best thing. “Yes, I have.”

“Joseph!” Ben exploded. “You know you aren’t to ride, and at night too! Don’t you realise what could have happened! How could you be so….”

“I’m sick of this!” Joe’s temper suddenly snapped, his voice rising to match his father’s. “I’m sick of being watched, I’m sick of feeling like some kind of freak, I’m sick of not being able to work! So I rode Cochise! I’m old enough to make my own decisions, Pa and if I choose to ride Cochise sometimes…”

“Sometimes!” Ben was bellowing now. Standing up he advanced on Joe. “Just how many times have you disobeyed me, Joseph?”

“A few times.” Joe confessed, his temper abating in the face of his father’s fury. “I didn’t go far, Pa, but can’t you see…I wanted to forget all this for a little while. To be on my own without everyone hovering around me, just waiting for me to collapse.” He dropped his gaze to the floor, his voice fading. “I wanted to feel normal again.”

Abruptly Ben’s anger drained away. Putting an arm around Joe’s shoulders, he drew his son close. “I can understand that.” He told him softly. “But I can’t let you carry on doing it, Joe. It’s just too dangerous. I’m sorry, son, but I’m going to have to ask you to promise me that you won’t ride Cochise again until Doctor Martin says you may.”

Reluctantly Joe raised his eyes to look at his father. The misery etched on the boy’s face was hard for Ben to bear, but he took a deep breath, hardened his heart and waited.

“All right, I promise.” Joe whispered at last, as he pulled away from his father’s embrace and headed for his room.


Upstairs, Adam had been woken by the argument between his father and Joe. Though he hadn’t heard everything that was said he’d been able to make out what had happened and found himself wondering how he hadn’t realised what Joe had been doing. Several times in the past few weeks he had found Cochise reluctant to leave his stall in the morning but had put it down to the horse missing his normal rider. Joe and Cochise had a strong bond between them.

Hearing his young brother’s light footstep in the corridor, Adam settled back down, turned over and closed his eyes. Sounded like all the excitement was over for tonight. He was just drifting off to sleep when the crash of breaking glass and a heavy thud came from Joe’s room. Immediately alert, Adam threw back his bedcovers and ran for the door, grabbing his robe on the way.

Flinging open Joe’s bedroom door, Adam saw his youngest brother on the floor beside the bed, his body convulsing in seizure. Beside Joe lay the remains of an oil lamp, that he had obviously knocked over as he fell.

Quickly reaching his brother’s side Adam was vaguely aware that his father had entered the room behind him and Hoss was standing by the door. Kneeling down, he brushed aside splinters of glass, noticing with concern that Joe had several deep gashes on the left side of his face.

Ben grabbed a pillow from the bed and as the seizure abated he tenderly lifted Joe’s head and placed the pillow beneath him. “Get some warm water and a cloth.” He instructed Adam. “And some of Hop Sing’s salve. We need to clean up those cuts, make sure that there’s no glass in them.”

“Right, Pa.” Adam got to his feet, seeing with relief that Joe’s eyes were beginning to flicker open. “Back in a minute.”

Turning towards the door, he saw Hoss, still standing in the doorway. The look on his face one of shock, wide blue eyes filled with tears of distress.

“Hoss?” Adam put a hand on Hoss’ arm, but the big man remained immobile, staring at Joe and his father. Grasping his brother’s arm tightly Adam practically dragged him from Joe’s room, pulling the door closed behind them. “Pull yourself together.” He whispered urgently. “You can’t let Joe see you like this.”

“I never realised…” Hoss blinked the tears away, running a hand over his face. “I never seen anything like that, Adam. Poor Little Joe.”

“I know it’s frightening to see.” Adam leant against the wall, speaking softly so Joe wouldn’t hear. “But you mustn’t let Joe realise that it upset you. He needs us to treat him just the same as always. You have to go in there and reassure him that he’s all right, that he’s not some crazy person like those ranch hands in town said. Do you think that can you do that?”

Squaring his shoulders, Hoss managed a shaky smile. “I can do it.”

“Good.” Adam stood up straight and smiled back. “Then you go see Joe while I go and get the water and salve.”

Taking a deep breath, Hoss pushed open Joe’s door. Inside the room Ben was just settling Joe into bed. His younger brother was very pale, the gashes on the side of his face standing out vivid red against the pallor of his skin.

“Watch your feet.” Ben warned, seeing Hoss come into the room. “There’s broken glass on the floor.”

“Hey there, Joe.” Hoss walked carefully across to his brother and sat down on the edge of the bed.

Joe looked up at him, his eyes still clouded with confusion from the seizure. “Hoss.” He whispered in a weak voice. “Guess I woke everyone up. Sorry.”

“Don’t matter none.” As Hoss smiled down at the boy a picture of the seizure formed in his mind and he quickly pushed it aside, concentrating on his brother’s face. “Long as you’re all right now.”

He was dismayed to see tears start in Joe’s eyes, his mouth twist in a grimace of pain. Instantly, Ben reached for his youngest son’s hand and Joe grasped hold, clinging tightly to his father. “I’ll never be all right.” He said softly, closing his eyes and causing the tears that trembled on the ends of his lashes to spill unheeded down his cheeks. “Never.”

“I didn’t mean…” Hoss started, looking at his father, his voice filled with pain.

“I know.” Ben reassured him. “Joe’s just a little emotional at the moment from the seizure.” He looked up with relief as Adam came in, carrying a bowl of warm water, a cloth and a small pot of Hop Sing’s homemade salve. “Let’s get these cuts cleaned up.”

“We’ll leave you to it, Pa.” Adam placed the bowl, cloth and salve on the bedside table and turned to Hoss. “I think Joe needs a little peace and quiet at the moment.”

As his two older sons left the room, Ben soaked the cloth in the water and gently began to bathe the gashes on Joe’s face. He had to do it with one hand, for though Joe didn’t open his eyes, or speak; his grasp on his father’s hand didn’t loosen.


The first glimmer of daylight was just showing through the window as Ben slowly descended the stairs into the great room.

“How is he?” Adam looked up from the couch where he had been dozing for the past half hour, not feeling like going back to bed.

“Asleep.” Ben headed across to the kitchen to deposit the bowl, cloth and salve he had used on Joe. Getting tiredly to his feet, Adam followed behind.

“Oh, hi Pa.” Hoss was seated at the kitchen table, a plate of cookies before him. He had been trying to take his mind off things with food, but it hadn’t worked and the cookies had remained untouched.  “How’s Joe?”

“Asleep.” Ben repeated, throwing the bloodied water away and replacing the pot of salve on the shelf with the rest of Hop Sing’s remedies. “He drifted off as I was cleaning up his face.”

“I didn’t mean to upset him.” Hoss pushed the plate aside and stood up. “I’m real sorry about what I said.”

“You didn’t upset him, Hoss.” Ben closed his eyes for a moment, remembering his argument with Joe. “If anyone upset him, it was me. I was too hard with him over riding Cochise. Perhaps that’s what triggered this convulsion.”

“C’mon Pa, you don’t know that the argument had anything to do with it.” Adam protested. “It’s happened twice before and Joe hadn’t been arguing with anyone then. You couldn’t have just ignored him riding Cochise, he was putting himself in danger.”

“There’s danger everywhere isn’t there?” Ben said quietly. “I thought he was safe here at home, and look what happened.”

“Granted.” Adam leant against the counter. “We can’t guard against every eventuality and Joe needs some freedom, but if he had a convulsion when he was riding…” Watching his father, Adam saw the older man shudder at the idea. He looks ill; he thought suddenly, all this worry over Joe is taking its toll.

As if catching the thought, Hoss put his hand on Ben’s shoulder. “You look tired, Pa.” He said with concern. “How about we all go back to bed for a while?”

“I don’t think I could sleep if I did.” Ben sat down in the chair that Hoss had got up from and rubbed his eyes wearily. “I just don’t know how to handle this.” He confessed. “Whenever Joe has been ill before, there’s always been hope, always a conviction that he would get well. But this…it’s like struggling through a dark night and knowing that morning just won’t come, that there won’t be any light to end the darkness. If I feel that way, how in God’s name must Joe be feeling? This thing has stolen his future away from him, all the things that he loves to do are being denied him.”

“Then we have to help him build a new future.” Adam came over to take the chair opposite his father. “You, me and Hoss. Joe needs to be needed, to feel that he’s still useful. We have to show him that there are still things he can do, he may not be able to ride and he certainly can’t break horses any more, but he still knows horseflesh. He could set up a breeding programme perhaps, buying and selling the horses. Or he could take over the bookwork side of the ranch. It may not be quite the future he’d have wanted for himself, or we’d have wanted for him, but he does have a future. He’s going to have a lot of restrictions to cope with and prejudice to fight, but I think there is a glimmer of light in that dark night of yours, Pa.”

Looking across the table at his eldest son, seeing the conviction in the dark eyes, Ben felt his spirits lift just a little. He’s right. He thought. There are still things Joe can do even within the restrictions imposed upon him by his illness. Reaching across the table, he put his hand over Adam’s. “I should be counting my blessings.” He said softly. “At least we still have Joe here with us, when he had that first seizure I must admit that I feared the worst. I’ve been so caught up in how badly this is affecting him that perhaps I haven’t given enough thought to ways of helping him cope with it. Helping him learn to live with it.”

“You hoped you wouldn’t have to.” Adam said. “We all hoped it was only a temporary thing. But we have to accept it, just as Joe needs to do, accept him the way he is, not keep wishing he was different.”

“He’s still Joe ‘ain’t he?” Hoss broke in. “Guess we just need to remember that.”

“Guess we do.” Ben looked at his two older sons and smiled slightly, feeling the dark cloud that had hovered over him these past weeks begin to fade as a small ray of hope shone through it.


Coming in to get the morning coffee on and breakfast started, Hop Sing was surprised to find Ben, Adam and Hoss already eating. No one had felt like returning to bed, so Hoss’ idea that they cook breakfast themselves and get an early start to the day had been eagerly seized on.

“I have to go into Virginia City this morning.” Ben said as he finished his eggs and bacon and pushed the plate aside. “I’ll call in and tell Doctor Martin what happened while I’m there. I don’t think he needs to come out and see Joe, the cuts on his face are quite deep but they’re clean enough.”

“Mind if I ride along, Pa?” Hoss asked round a mouthful of food. “I need to return that old nag I borrowed.”

“That’s fine.” Wiping his mouth with his napkin, Ben stood up. “Leave Joe to sleep.” He instructed Adam, who was toying with the food left on his plate, trying unsuccessfully to stifle his yawns. “I’ll speak to him when I get back.”

Adam nodded, giving up on his food and pouring himself a cup of coffee. He was still sitting at the table, a third cup of coffee in front of him when Hoss and Ben left. As the door closed behind them, Adam made his way over to the blue chair by the fireplace, sitting down wearily, tired from the unsettled night. Leaning back, he closed his eyes for a minute and the next thing he was aware of was Hop Sing muttering to himself in Chinese as he cleared away the remains of breakfast.

Opening his eyes, he sat up straight, realising he must have dozed off. By the look of the sunlight flooding through the windows it must be nearly mid morning. He turned to look at the clock, wincing as he moved his head, his neck aching from sleeping upright in the chair.

“You wake up now, Mister Adam.” Hop Sing exclaimed, seeing him move. “You sleep long time.”

“So I see.” The clock read ten thirty; he had slept for close on three hours. “Is Joe up yet?”

“Mister Little Joe, he up and he out. He say no want breakfast, just pick up hat and go.”

“Go?” Adam asked anxiously, getting stiffly to his feet. “Go where?”

“He not say. But not go far, no horse.” Hop Sing picked up the last plate from the table, added it to the pile he held balanced on his arm and headed for the kitchen.

Relieved to hear that at least his young brother was on foot, Adam got his own hat and gun and went to find him. He didn’t have far to look, he saw his brother as soon as he left the house. Wherever Joe had been he was back now, leaning on the fence of the small corral next to the stable, watching Cochise.

“You should have woken me up.” Adam said, walking over to stand beside him.

“I thought you could do with the sleep.” Joe’s voice was thick again. Obviously he had bitten his tongue. The scratches on the side of his face still stood out angrily, though they were already beginning to heal. “I’m sorry I woke you all.”

“It was Pa that woke me.” Adam smiled, recalling his father’s angry voice. “He was pretty mad wasn’t he?”

Joe nodded, but didn’t reply, his attention on Cochise.

Reaching into his shirt pocket Adam withdrew the letter from Sacramento. Opening the envelope he took out the sheet of paper within, unfolding it and smoothing it out. “I got this letter yesterday from a young lady who’s a friend of mine.” He told Joe, seeing the boy glance sideways at the paper. “You picked it up with the mail in Virginia City. I’d like to read it to you if I may.”

Joe shrugged. “Read it if you like.”

“It’s important to me that you listen to it, Joe. Will you promise me that you’ll listen?”

“I guess so.” A trace of curiosity tinged Joe’s reply and he watched Adam with interest as he began to read.
‘My Dearest Adam,
      What a very great pleasure it was to receive your letter. I’m glad to hear that you are well and hope very much to see you again when you are next in Sacramento. I was surprised that you enquired about Marcus, as I recall your mind was not exactly on our conversation when you last visited and I did not think you heard much of what I said about him.’

Adam cleared his throat at this point and Joe shot him an amused look, wondering just what exactly his elder brother’s mind had been on.

‘Marcus is well.’ Adam read on. ‘He is at the moment residing in France and intends to visit Italy and Spain before returning home next year. He continues to be an inspiration to all of us. As I told you, he totally refuses to give in to his illness; instead he lives life to the full. We were worried about him going abroad for so long, but he insisted all would be well, hired a companion, in case he suffered any convulsions while away and so far is enjoying himself tremendously.’

“What is this?” Joe interrupted angrily. “You’ve been telling this friend of yours all about your poor ill little brother? I don’t need her sympathy.”

“Her name is Isabella.” Adam told him. “And I didn’t tell her about you. All I did was ask after her cousin Marcus. He has epilepsy and I remembered Isabella saying how well he coped, so I just thought I’d enquire about him. How he handles living with his illness.”

“Well I don’t want to know anything about it.” Joe turned to leave but was stopped by Adam’s hand on his arm.

“You promised you’d listen.” He said quietly. “Please, just let me finish the letter.”

Joe shook his arm free of Adam’s grasp. He turned his back on his brother, anger apparent in his stance, but he didn’t walk away.

With a sigh of relief Adam continued reading. ‘You asked how he copes with his condition, the answer to that is ‘Very Well’. He says that the greatest enemies of those with epilepsy are superstition, ignorance and fear and he is resolved to fight all three. Of course, he is limited in certain things by the dangers inherent in them. He does not ride and never travels alone, but he isn’t afraid of his illness, he accepts himself as he is and makes the best of his life. He tells me that many great men in history were epileptics, like Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great, even Lord Byron whose poetry I like so much, as you will no doubt recall.’

“The rest gets kind of personal.” Adam folded the letter and returned it to the envelope, his eyes on his brother. “What do you think?”

Joe turned to look at Adam, eyes blazing, temper beginning to flare. “I think that this is my problem, not yours. You don’t know how I feel, what this is doing to me. I don’t care how other people handle this, Adam. I care about what it’s doing to me…to my life! Every day I wake up thinking, will I be all right today or will I end up unconscious somewhere? I see you and Hoss riding out to work and I get so angry because I can’t do it any more. All my life I wanted to break horses, I can’t do that. I can’t even take a damn bath without someone around. You just don’t know what that’s like.”

“Then tell me.” Adam said, his gaze steady on his brother’s face. “Tell me how you feel.”

“All right then, if you must know I’m scared to death. There, happy now?” Joe flung up his hands and started to walk towards the house. He’d only walked a few paces before he stopped and turned back to where Adam still leant against the corral fence. “I don’t feel in control any more.” He explained more calmly. “This thing could happen anywhere, any time, and I can’t stop it. I’m eighteen Adam, I’m grown up and yet all I want is for Pa to tell me that it’s all going to be okay. How stupid is that? I know I’ve got to learn to live with it, but it’s so darn hard. I did try, you know that, but I never realised how much it was going to hurt. How it would feel when people I’ve known all my life treat me like I’m some kind of monster.”

“So, what are you saying?” Adam asked softly. “That you’re going to give up on life. Turn into some kind of hermit and never leave the Ponderosa? I thought better of you, Joe. I thought you had more fight in you than that.”

“Think what you like.” Joe flashed back, and walked away.


Joe shut his bedroom door with a resounding bang that vibrated the walls and echoed around the still house. Feeling slightly better for having taken his anger out on the fittings, though it would have been more satisfying if Adam had been inside to hear it, Joe flung himself on the bed. Lying on his back, arms behind his head and feet on the quilt, heedless of the dust on his boots, he stared resentfully up at the ceiling. Damn Adam, what did he know about it anyway? He didn’t know what it was like. The terror that lived with you all day, every day.

Eventually, as the house remained quiet around him, the only sound the low drone of a fly buzzing lazily around the room, Joe’s anger faded. Getting up off the bed he crossed to the window and looked out, Adam was still where he had left him, leaning against the corral. He had Isabella’s letter open in his hands, and even from this distance, Joe could see the soft smile on his brother’s lips.

 ‘So, what are you saying?’ The words Adam had spoken replayed themselves in Joe’s head as he watched his brother from the window. ‘That you’re going to give up on life. Turn into some kind of hermit and never leave the Ponderosa?’  The full enormity of that suddenly hit home to Joe. To never leave the ranch, never realise those half formed dreams he had of someday seeing New Orleans and New York. Yet apparently this Marcus was travelling all over the World, not worrying about people seeing him have a seizure, just getting on with living.

Thoughtfully, Joe returned to his position on the bed, though this time he pulled off his boots before putting his feet up on the quilt. ‘The greatest enemies are superstition, ignorance and fear,’ he recalled the words from the letter, ‘and he is resolved to fight all three’. And since when, Joe thought with a wry smile, have I ever run away from a fight?


Adam was chopping wood in the yard when Ben and Hoss returned that afternoon. Putting down the axe, and wiping the sweat from his brow with his shirtsleeve, he walked over to greet them as they dismounted from their horses.

“Everything all right?” Ben enquired anxiously as Adam approached.

“Everything’s fine, Pa.” Adam reassured him quickly. “How was Virginia City?”

“Oh, noisy as always.” Ben smiled. “Makes me appreciate the quiet out here on the Ponderosa. Joe around?”

“He’s in his room.” Adam told him. “I think it might be best to leave him be for a while. We…um…had a bit of a run in earlier. I think I…er…annoyed him a little.”

“He’s all right, ‘ain’t he?” Hoss asked in concern.

“Yes, he’s fine. We just had a bit of an argument that’s all.”

“May I ask what about?” Ben asked, handing the reins of his horse over to Hoss.

“It was nothing, Pa. Just leave it, please.”

Ben was stopped from replying by Hop Sing, who appeared in the open doorway with a pot of coffee in his hand.

“Have coffee ready.” He announced. “Come drink now, before it get cold.”

“I guess we’d better go in.” Ben laughed. “Would you put the horses up please, Hoss? We’ll save you a cup.”

Adam followed his father into the house as Hoss took the two horses off to the stable. Hanging up his hat and jacket and removing his gun belt, Ben crossed to the chair by the fireplace and sat down, accepting the cup of coffee that Adam handed him. Pouring himself a cup, Adam was just about to join his father by the fire when Joe came downstairs.

“Hey, Pa.” He greeted his father breezily. “How was Virginia City?”

“Oh, much the same as usual.” Ben replied, looking up at his youngest with some surprise. Despite the slightly slurred speech caused by his swollen tongue, Joe sounded in good spirits, not at all how his father had expected to find him after the previous day. Especially as Adam had said that the two of them had argued.

“Anything going on in town this evening?” Joe asked, coming over to sit on the couch. “I wondered if there might be a dance or something, it is Saturday after all.”

“I think there’s a social on at the Town Hall.” Ben took a sip of his coffee. “Why?”

“Well I just thought, if one of my brothers hasn’t already got plans for the evening, perhaps they’d like to tag along to the social with me.”

“With you?” Ben coughed, almost choking on his coffee in shock. “You want to go to town, Joseph?”

“I want to go to town, Pa.” Joe smiled at his father’s stunned expression. “I’ve given it a lot of thought this afternoon and I reckon it’s about time I stopped wallowing in self-pity and started getting on with my life.”

“Well, I had no plans for the evening.” Adam interrupted, walking over to join his brother on the couch. “So, if you can put up with my company, I don’t mind going with you.”

“Then that’s settled.” Joe got up. “I’ll just go see if Hoss wants to come too. Oh, Pa.” He turned to his father, who was watching him in amazement. “Perhaps we could have a talk about finding me some more useful work around here? Guess I could always have a go at the paperwork if nothing else.”

“Yes…of course…Joseph, what’s brought about this change of heart, son? Yesterday you were adamant that you weren’t going to Virginia City ever again.”

“Just something in some letter Adam read me.” Joe turned to look at his brother. “I thought about it and I decided Marcus was right, Adam. I’m going to go out there and start living again. If the people of Virginia City are frightened of me, that’s their problem. They’ll just have to get used to seeing me round the place, I’m not going to hide away.”

“I’m glad, Joe.” Adam said softly.

“I’m still scared.” Joe confessed. “And I hate the thought of people seeing me have a seizure. I’m not real happy about having to take one of you along with me wherever I go either, but I’m going to try to do what Marcus said, accept myself as I am and get on with my life, hey if Julius Caesar could do it, so can I.”

Baffled, Ben looked from one son to the other. “Who is Marcus, and what has Julius Caesar got to do with it?”

“You might like to ask Adam about that, Pa.” Joe’s eyes twinkled with mischief as he answered Ben’s query. “Because Marcus is the cousin of a young lady called Isabella. Seems older brother here has been seeing quite a lot of this Isabella whenever he’s in Sacramento. I thought you sent to him to Sacramento to do business for the Ponderosa, Pa. Perhaps Isabella is a business acquaintance?”

With a quick burst of high pitched laughter as he saw the embarrassed expression on Adam’s face and the questioning one on his father’s, Joe went off to find Hoss.


Despite his resolve, going into the social that evening was one of the hardest things Joe had ever done. The lull in conversation and the pitying and fearful looks he got when he walked in almost made him turn on his heel and leave. It was only his stubborn pride and the reassuringly solid presence of his brothers behind him that kept him in the room. It was Joe’s friend, Mitch Devlin who broke the embarrassed silence, weaving his way through the throng with a cheerful greeting. “Good to see you, Joe.”

 As Mitch grabbed his arm and pulled him firmly over towards the punchbowl Joe noticed some of the townsfolk move quickly aside, but most just gave Joe a sympathetic look and turned away to carry on with their conversations. Taking their lead from Mitch, a few of Joe’s friends made their way over to join the two young men. There were a few awkward moments when it seemed nobody really knew what to say, and then, suddenly, everyone was talking at once and amid much laughter the atmosphere lightened. Joe even managed to laugh it off, though it hurt very deeply, when as he reached for a sandwich, his hand brushed that of a middle-aged woman who pulled back as though stung. “Don’t worry.” Joe reassured her with a tight smile. “I’m not contagious.”

As the dancing began, Joe seemed to have a reasonable number of young ladies wanting to partner him and Adam and Hoss, who had been worriedly watching over their brother, began to relax and enjoy themselves.

Over the next few weeks Joe gradually began to come to terms with his illness, it didn’t happen overnight, there were still days when he despaired at the thought of living life like this for ever, when he railed against the unfairness of it all, but he refused to give in to these feelings, determined to show his family and friends that he could accept his condition and get on with his life.

Wanting very much to prove that he was still useful around the Ponderosa, though he knew his family didn’t count his worth in those terms, he took over some of the bookkeeping work from Ben. It was a job that he didn’t much like, finding it tedious and repetitive, but he did his best with it.

The most difficult thing was facing the people of Virginia City. Joe continued to go into town regularly, always accompanied by one of his family; though the fear of the townsfolk witnessing him have another seizure was constantly present. Gradually, folk became used to seeing him around and as time went on and Joe neither went mad or gave any one else epilepsy they began to stop worrying about his illness and accept him again as just Little Joe Cartwright. There were still a few citizens that held back, their fears too deep seated to overcome, but in general Joe was made welcome in the town. At the General Store Jim Dekes was even heard to say he’d. “Known all along that epilepsy weren’t catching. Shame young Cartwright got it, but you have to admire how he’s not letting it get him down.”

The winter snows still lay heavy on the top pastures of the Ponderosa, though down by the ranch house a thaw had set in and Ben could hear the constant drip of melting ice falling from the pines as he rode home. Riding into the yard he was looking forward to a nice warm fire and a quiet evening. The sight of the doctor’s buggy drawn up in front of the house drove all such thoughts from his mind, filling it instead with fears for his family.

Dismounting quickly and looping his horses’ reins around the hitching post he rushed to open the door. It was with great relief that he saw all three of his sons sitting around the fireplace with Doctor Martin, glasses of brandy in their hands.

“Hi, Pa.” Adam looked up with surprise as his father entered. “We didn’t expect you home till this evening.”

“That’s right, Pa.” Joe spoke up, getting to his feet and coming over to Ben’s side. “If we’d known you’d be back this early we wouldn’t have started the celebration without you.”

“Celebration?” Ben queried, regarding Joe carefully. His son’s face was slightly flushed, either from the heat of the fire or the brandy he’d drunk.

“Celebration.” Joe repeated, and grinned widely, his eyes suddenly aflame with happiness. “Don’t tell me you didn’t remember?”

“Six months, Ben.” Doctor Martin announced from his seat by the fire, glad to be the bearer of good news for a change. “It’s been six months.”

“Joseph.” Ben exclaimed, reaching for his son and hugging him joyfully as he realised the meaning of the doctor’s words. It had been a full six months since Joe’s last seizure. Holding Joe away from him, he looked down into the young man’s animated face. “I imagine this mean you can go riding again?”

“I’m going as soon as I finish this drink.” Joe’s blazing smile testified to the delight he was feeling. “I can’t wait to get back in the saddle, and back to work.”

“Never thought I’d hear that, little brother.” Hoss called over. “I’ll remind you of it in a few weeks time.”

With one arm around Joe’s shoulders Ben led his son over to join the others at the fireplace, accepting the glass of brandy that Adam held out to him.

“To Joe.” Hoss raised his glass, the flames of the fire reflecting in the amber liquid. Around him the others followed suite, drinking a toast to the youngest Cartwright.

“Sorry that I have to dampen the proceedings a little.” Doctor Martin finished his drink and placed his glass carefully on the table in front of him, looking around at the Cartwright family. “But you have to understand that I’m not saying Joe is cured. There is no cure for epilepsy. Joe has gone six months without a seizure and it’s possible that he may never have another one. But I can’t guarantee it; it’s also possible that it could happen again, though the odds are in Joe’s favour. It may not even have been epilepsy; it still might just have been a reaction to that head injury he had. We really don’t know enough about the workings of the brain to be sure of anything.”

“I can live with that.” Joe told him soberly. “Six months ago I thought my world was ending. I was scared; I was ashamed that people had seen me like that. But now I know that life does go on. I’ve hated having to give up riding, not being allowed to use knives and axes, doing that boring paperwork instead of breaking horses.” He shot a wry grin in Ben’s direction. “Very boring paperwork. But I’ve found out that I can live with it, if it does happen again, and I pray to God it won’t, I’m not going to fall apart.”

“None of us will fall apart.” Ben said quietly. “We’ve all had to learn to live with it, but you most of all Joseph. I’ve watched the way you’ve coped these past months. I know how you’ve been hurting inside not being able to do the things you love but you haven’t complained. You stood up to the ignorance and prejudice you met in Virginia City and overcame it. You’ve been very brave and very mature and I am so proud of you, son.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you, Pa. And Adam and Hoss.” Joe looked round at his family with a shaky smile, perilously close to tears. “But all the same, it’s going to be so good to get away from you all for a while.”

And, finishing their brandy, they all trooped outside to watch as Joe saddled Cochise and mounted up. “See you later, Pa.” He called back, resolutely pushing aside the slight glimmer of fear that lurked in the back of his mind. Perhaps the seizures might recur, but for now he was going to live for the moment. Letting out a mighty whoop, he rode away from the Ponderosa.


© Kathleen Pitts 2000


Joe was lucky in this story, he may not have had epilepsy at all, and if he did he became seizure free. However there are many, many people who live with epilepsy every day of their lives. Epilepsy can affect any of us, at any age and from any walk of life. Boys and men tend to be slightly more prone to develop it than girls or women – though no one really knows why.

In most cases – six out of ten, in fact – there is no known cause and this is called idiopathic epilepsy (The kind my daughter has). Thankfully most epileptics can control the seizures with drugs. But, these drugs are powerful and sometimes have unwelcome side effects. For example the drug used by my daughter negates the effect of the contraceptive pill, can cause hirsuteness, can lead to blood disorders and reacts badly with caffeine.

Epilepsy places certain restrictions on life and though after a year of being fit free my daughter can now start driving and take baths without someone being around she will never be able to take up certain jobs, like a pilot for example. And she hates having to tell people about her condition as she has come across ignorance about it. One of her friends actually thought he could catch it off her!

If you ever come across a person having an epileptic seizure the following advice from the British Epilepsy Association (BEAcon) may come in useful.



Loosen any tight clothing around the neck

Protect the person from injury (remove sharp or hard objects from the vicinity; or guide him or her away from danger if s/he is having a partial seizure

Cushion his or her head if s/he falls down

Aid breathing by gently placing the person on his or her side if s/he has fallen down

Stay with the person who has had a tonic/clonic seizure (like the one Joe had, where the person becomes unconscious) until s/he comes round and fully recovered

Be quietly reassuring


Try to restrain the person having a seizure

Put anything in the person’s mouth or force anything between his or her teeth

Try to move him or her unless s/he is in danger

Give the person anything to drink until s/he is fully recovered

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