Author's Choice
The Accused
Joan S.

Part One

November 1864


Ben Cartwright raised his glass and turned to face his three sons seated in front of him. ‘Here’s to the latest Cartwright to reach his maturity,’ he said with a twinkle in his eye. ‘Joseph son, there were many times I thought you wouldn’t get there, but I am proud to say that you made it!’ He leant forward and touched his glass to that of each of his boy’s glasses in turn, and they all drank together. ‘In fact Joseph you’ve grown into a son any father would be proud of. I certainly am!’

‘Thanks Pa,’ replied Little Joe and grinned around the table at them all. ‘Sure feels good I must say. No more takin orders from anyone no more.’

‘What gave you that idea?’ asked Adam. ‘You’ll be taking orders your whole life little buddy!  Don’t forget that no matter how old you get, Hoss and I are always going to be older.’

‘And wiser,’ Hoss chipped in, nudging his younger brother in the ribs. ‘Just cause you’re twenty-one now means nuthin little brother. You’re still the pain in the neck ya always were!’

Ben laughed at his boys.  He loved to listen to their banter together, and surrounded as he was now by the three of them at such a festive time, he was in his element. He sat down again and took a small parcel out of his pocket. ‘In keeping with the Cartwright tradition Joseph, I’d like you to have this.’ He handed the parcel to his youngest son with a fond smile.

Joe grinned back at him. ‘Thanks Pa,’ he replied. ‘Bet I can guess what it is.’  He opened the package to reveal a silver pocket watch similar to the ones that Adam and Hoss already owned, and turned it over to read the inscription on the back:

 Joseph Cartwright
on your 21st birthday
from your loving father

‘It’s beautiful,’ he said with shining eyes. ‘I’ll treasure it Pa, and never let it go.’

Ben patted him on the arm. ‘I know you will son.’

‘What do you think is takin em so long in the kitchen?’ interrupted Hoss looking around the dining room with a mournful gaze. ‘A man could starve while waitin fer em to bring food!’

Adam laughed. ‘Well even such an establishment as The International House has to actually cook the food first you know Hoss. They don’t exactly anticipate an appetite like yours coming in here every day.’

‘Yeah well, ya’d think …..’ Hoss stopped as a waiter approached their table. ‘Uh, this is lookin more like it now!’

The four Cartwrights diverted their attention to the food that was placed in front of them and began to eat, and by the time the last course had arrived they were all feeling quite content.  Joe sat back in his chair and said ‘Hey Pa, do we have ta hurry back to the ranch this afternoon?  I’d kinda like ta stay in town for a while.’

‘Joseph, don’t talk with your mouth full please,’ replied his father automatically. ‘No, I’m in no hurry, so I don’t see why we can’t stay for a while.’

‘Great!’ said Joe with a grin.

‘What’s so important?’ asked Adam as he lifted his wine glass to his lips. ‘Surely the girls can wait until Friday night’s dance to see you?’

‘Some of them can’t,’ replied his brother cheekily. ‘Besides I like to spread myself around when I come into town, otherwise they all trip over each other in the rush.’

‘Joseph!’ admonished his father. ‘There is such a thing as modesty you know.  I’m sure that there are some young ladies in Virginia City who have better things to do than fall all over you young man.’

‘Well if there are, then I ain’t met them yet,’ his son replied with a twinkle in his eye. ‘I can’t help it if I’m a natural ladies man.’

‘You’re a natural pain,’ said Adam.

Ben frowned. ‘Joseph, talk like that is not becoming of a young gentleman.  I don’t want to hear it again please.’

Joe glanced at his father and realised that he was serious. ‘OK Pa. Can I go now? I’ll meet ya back here in a couple of hours.  Is that all right?’

‘Yes that’s all right.  But meet me at the Livery Stable instead,’ his father replied.

‘Thanks for the lunch. Bye!’  Joe waved his hand at them all and left the restaurant. They watched through the window as he walked across the street in the direction of the bank where Becky Palmer was standing. Ben smiled as he watched the youngster approach the pretty young lady and tip his hat to her. What a wonderful age, and what a lovely young couple they make.

‘One of these days that boy’s smart mouth is going to get him into trouble,’ said Adam.

‘Well I will admit that Joseph sees himself as somewhat of a ladies man,’ said his father, ‘but he’s at the age when he needs to just experience life that’s all.’

‘Experience life yes,’ replied Adam. ‘But he seems to have every girl in this town who is even remotely near his age dangling on a string. He’s too full of himself for his own good at times.’

‘Not jealous are ya Adam?’ asked Hoss. ‘Seems ta me that you’re a bit of a ladies man yourself at times.’

Adam glared at him. ‘Don’t be stupid Hoss.  I’m just concerned about him that’s all.’

Ben smiled at his two boys. ‘Don’t worry about Joseph, he’s just all talk. He’s really trying to experience life at the moment like any youngster does, but he does know how to behave himself.’

‘And you’re sure about that?’ asked Adam.

Ben hesitated for a moment. ‘I’ll have a talk with him,’ he said.


‘So which one do you like?’ asked Becky as she held the bottles under Joe’s nose one at a time.

He grinned at her. ‘I don’t know. They both smell OK.’

Becky frowned at him and then examined the two bottles of perfume in her hand. ‘Well you’re no help to me!  I wanted to know which one to buy to wear to the dance on Friday night,’ she replied.

Joe leant towards her and whispered, ‘I don’t really care which one you wear, and I won’t be smelling you because I’ll be too busy looking at you.’  He leant even closer and whispered something further into her ear, which made her giggle.

‘Joe Cartwright!  Becky said in a shocked voice. ‘I thought you were a gentleman!’

‘Who ever told you that?’ he replied with a chuckle and made a playful grab for her.

Becky pulled back away from his grasp. ‘Not here!’ she said looking around. ‘Joe!’ she swatted his hand away and laughed. ‘Really Joe, I think I’d better leave you here while I go and finish my shopping.  You’re getting far too pushy!’

‘And you love it,’ he teased. ‘Don’t pretend that you don’t.’

Becky smiled at him to acknowledge that she did. ‘I really do have to finish my shopping though,’ she said.

‘I’ll come with you,’ Joe answered.

‘I don’t think so!’ she replied.  ‘There are some things Joe Cartwright that ladies have to shop for alone you know!’ She tapped him on the head playfully and they both laughed.

‘All right,’ he said with a sigh. ‘I’ll see you on Friday night then?’

‘Yes,’ she answered and left the shop with a flurry.

Joe followed her slowly out of the store and watched appreciatively as she disappeared down the street. Drawing his new watch from his pocket and glancing at it, he noticed that he still had plenty of time before he had to meet his father, so he sauntered off across the street in search of something else to do while he waited.

Across the street Susanna Deane watched Becky depart, and brushed a strand of hair from her forehead as she scowled. That Becky Palmer!  Who does she think she is? Always flirting around boys like she is. Especially that Joe Cartwright.  If it weren’t for her, he’d take the time to notice me for sure!

She watched Joe as he crossed over towards the Mercantile Store and followed him along the street, far enough away so that she wouldn’t be noticed.  She smoothed down her hair and straightened her skirt as she entered the store, smiling widely in case Joe happened to be looking in her direction. But her smile turned to a frown when she failed to locate him at once.

Susanna turned towards the storekeeper. ‘I’m just having a look. I’ll let you know if and when I want something, thank you very much’

Sam Winters nodded at her, and shook his head at her haughty tone. She moved around the back of a counter and began to finger the bolts of material there as she listened to the conversation of those around her.

‘Morning Mr Winters,’ said Joe as he emerged from behind some barrels. ‘How are ya today?’

‘Well, thank you Joseph,’ replied the storeowner. ‘Can I help you with something?’

‘No thanks.  I’m just waiting for my Pa is all,’ replied Joe. ‘Just killing time, so ta speak.’

Sam nodded at him and moved away.  Susanna began to make her way over to where Joe was standing, but turned sharply when she heard a voice behind her. A few bolts fell onto the floor with a resounding crash.  From around the other side of the pile Joe appeared, and they all stood looking at the mess in front of them.

‘Here let me help you,’ said Joe and bent to pick up the rolls of material. Susanna smiled sweetly at him, while Sam Winters scowled.

‘If you can’t be more careful, then you’d better get out,’ he said with a scowl.  Susanna returned the look. ‘I’m going,’ she declared.

‘Hey there’s no need to treat her like that!’ Joe declared. ‘Come on Susanna, it might be best if we get out of here.’ He gave Sam a dirty look and herded the girl towards the door. When they were on the porch outside he turned and said, ‘don’t take any notice of him Susanna, he really doesn’t mean it.’

Susanna looked at him and smiled. He is so gorgeous! She flung her head sideways to show off the effect of the blue bow against her blond hair and gave him a petulant pout. ‘Well thank you for rescuing me, kind sir,’ she said. ‘It was very noble of you.’ She touched him on the arm and let her hand rest there.

Joe took a step back and gave her a half smile. ‘I don’t think you really needed my help,’ he said.

‘Even so, it was kind of you.’

He tipped his hat to her and turned to go, but Susanna called to him and clutched at his arm again. ‘Joe?’ she said.


‘Are you …. I mean I’ll probably see you at the dance on Friday night,’ she said leaning towards him.

‘Sure thing,’ he replied. ‘I’ll be there with Becky.’

Susanna frowned. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘Well I’ll be there too.  I haven’t decided who I’m going with yet.

Joe gave her another half grin and turned to leave. He had known Susanna for years now, and they had been to school together.  Pretty though she was she was never the sort of girl who had appealed to him, although he could never really put his finger on why that might be so.  Perhaps it was the way she had of subtly putting people down in her conversations, or perhaps it was the fact that she obviously had a very high opinion of herself. He knew that many people thought the same about him, and it had always made him wonder if he and Susanna were in fact too much alike to really like each other. Whatever it was, he knew that he tolerated her rather than liked her really.

 Lately she had been trying to give him the message that she was interested in him, but Joe was used to that from a lot of girls.  He had his pick of eligible females around the town, and didn’t really feel inclined to spend his time on Susanna.  Unfailingly polite to her as he knew his father would expect him to be, he was never the less not at all anxious to allow her to form an attachment to him.

As he walked away, Susanna rubbed her arm where Joe had patted it. She looked after him longingly and narrowed her eyes as she thought about Becky going to the dance with him and hanging onto his arm. That should be me with him, not her!  She looked down at her dress and ran her hands over her hair again. If I just had the money to do myself up a bit, I’m sure he’d notice me.  In fact I know he would!  She bit her lip as she pondered the problem that had haunted her for as long as she could remember. How to get Joe Cartwright to notice me!

She turned to walk back across the street and spied in the window of the shop next to the Mercantile Store a sight to take her breath away.  Susanna pressed her face up against the window of the Ladies Apparel Store and gazed at the red dress on the store dummy as she had so many times before. If I could just afford that, then Joe Cartwright would look at me! I know he would!  She sighed as she looked at the price tag that put the dress well beyond her reach, and turned to walk away dejectedly. Time to work on daddy again.  I’ll just have to convince him that his little girl needs a new dress.


Joe leant against the post and watched the man in front of him hold up the horse’s hoof and scrape it. ‘Hey,’ John Shields yelled to the boy holding the reins at the head of the horse, ‘I told you ta hold him still!’

The remark earned him a dark scowl from his son Matt who tried unsuccessfully to quiet the horse. Joe walked around and held onto the other side and grinned at him. ‘Here, let me try.  He might take more notice of two of us.’  He gently stroked the horse’s muzzle and whispered to him softly, and the animal quietened almost immediately. ‘See?’ he said with a smile at Matt,  ‘he’s just looking for attention.’

Matt shrugged his shoulders in Joe’s direction, but didn’t acknowledge his remark in any other way. They stood side by side at the horse’s head while John finished the job. ‘There,’ he said, putting down the hoof. ‘All done!  Thanks Joe!’

‘No problem,’ said Joe and watched as John led the animal away. ‘So Matt,’ he said with another smile. ‘Coming to the dance on Friday night?’

Matt scowled at him. ‘What do you think? Can you really see me at a dance? I’m sure all those girls would be just falling all over themselves to dance with me!’

Joe frowned back at him. ‘Well how do you know if you never try?’ he asked. ‘Some of them might.’

‘Yeah sure! What would you know about it Joe Cartwright? You’ve got plenty of money and looks, so they all fall over you!  Who’s going to take any notice of a half-breed like me?’

‘But Matt!’

‘Come on Joe, just keep away from me will ya?’

Joe looked after him, not quite knowing what to say, and was so deep in thought that he jumped when he felt a hand on his shoulder. ‘What are you looking so thoughtful about?’ his father asked from behind him.

‘Oh hi Pa,’ Joe replied. ‘Nothing really.  I was just talking to Matt Shields. I was trying ta get him ta come to the dance on Friday night.’

Ben smiled at his son. ‘Oh, I see. Any luck?’

‘No. I don’t blame him though really, girls around here have been pretty mean ta him in the past ya know.’

‘Yes I do.  People’s prejudices can be very deep-seated when they want them to be Joe.’

‘I just don’t understand it Pa. So what if his mother was an Indian? What difference does that make to anything? Matt’s a nice guy underneath all that anger, if only people would give him a chance. He might stop being so ornery if they did.’

‘I know it doesn’t make sense son, all we can do is treat him with respect and hope that one day others will too.’ He put his arm around Joe’s shoulder. ‘Come on, it’s time we were getting home.’

Joe grinned back at him, and they moved over to get their horses.


Matt stood just inside the door of the stable and scowled as the two Cartwrights moved away.  What would they know! Never wanted for anything in his life before, that Joe Cartwright!  He’s got no idea what it’s like to be me – a half-breed.  Don’t belong in either world, the white man’s or the Indian’s.  How the hell would he know how it feels?

He sighed as he picked up the rake that was lying next to him and walked outside to begin the end of day cleanup.  Without looking where he was going, he bumped into a figure that was passing and held out his hands to stop Susanna from falling backwards with the force of their collision. She jumped as his hands touched her arms and shrugged them off impatiently. ‘Look where you’re going, you oaf!’  she shouted at him. ‘’Can’t you see something two feet in front of you?’

Matt looked at her for a moment, and drew in a sharp breath as he noticed her blue eyes and the way her blond hair fell down her back. ‘Sorry,’ he mumbled.

‘So you should be!’ she retorted. ‘And keep your hands off me!’

His eyes flashed and he glared back at her. ‘I was only trying to steady you and keep you from falling!’ he answered back. ‘Don’t bother to thank me!’

‘Thank you!’ she laughed. ‘Why would I thank a half-breed like you?  You should be grateful I even take the trouble to speak to you at all!’  She tossed her head in a confident way and gave him an appraising look. ‘Not that I really mind,’ she added in a softer tone.

‘Save it!’ he yelled back at her. ‘Why don’t you just get out of here?’

She gave him one last look and took off down the street.  Matt stood and watched her go, feelings of frustration and anger boiling within him. Who the hell does she think she is? Now that is a good example why I should just ditch this town and go back to my people.  My real people!  He thought of his mother’s tribe and the freedom he had experienced there when as a small boy he had lived among them. Before my Pa dragged me back here!  He looked around him. Back here! Back here to what?  To ridicule, that’s what! These people will never accept me!  Sometimes I wonder why I stay!



‘For heavens sake Joe, ya’re a thing of beauty already! Don’t ya think it’s time the rest of us got ta use that mirror?’ Hoss shoved his younger brother out of the way.

Joe grinned at him. ‘Yeah, well I guess it’s hard ta improve on perfection,’ he teased.

‘You – perfection?’ Adam smirked from behind them. ‘That’ll be the day!’

Joe shrugged and adjusted his tie. ‘Don’t be jealous now older brother.  I can’t help it if I’m the one the ladies are always after.’

Ben frowned as he listened to the conversation from his place on the sofa. Sometimes that youngest son of his worried him with his attitude towards the opposite sex.  With his natural charm and good looks it was true that Joe had always found it easy to attract girls, and Ben worried that he might just take his relationships with them for granted.  ‘Joseph,’ he admonished. ‘There is such a thing as modesty.  I think it’s about time you began to use some.’

Joe raised his eyebrows at his father. ‘Me?’ he asked. ‘I’m just stating facts Pa. The girls are always after me, ya all know that.’ He grinned around the room at them.

‘Joseph I want to have a serious talk with you,’ Ben said to his son motioning for him to sit alongside him on the sofa. ‘Hoss, Adam, Joseph will meet you outside in a few moments.’  His two older sons took the hint and left the room.

Joe looked at his father startled. ‘What did I do?’ he asked suspiciously.  Usually when his father began a conversation in this way it meant that some trouble was about to be revealed.  Joe searched his mind, but couldn’t come up with anything that he had done recently to warrant a ‘serious talk.’

‘I didn’t say that you’d done anything,’ Ben replied. ‘At least I hope you haven’t.’ He frowned at his son who was grinning at him. ‘Joseph I said this is serious and I meant it.’

Joe tried to present his father with a more serious look. ‘Yeah Pa?’

‘Joseph, there comes a time in every young man’s life when he wants to experience life.  I know that you enjoy meeting girls and having a good time with them, but I hope that you …..’

‘Pa!’ Joe interrupted. ‘Ya don’t have ta lecture me, ya know!  I ain’t done nothing wrong!’ He blushed to think of where this talk might be heading. ‘I already know all that stuff remember?  Ya already talked ta me about it ages ago.’

‘Yes I know that Joseph, but that’s not what I mean,’ Ben replied. ‘What I’m trying to say is that I would hope you respect the girls you are seeing.’ Joe blushed even more and fiddled with his tie. ‘A young good looking boy like you is bound to be the target for the attentions of many girls, but I want you to keep in mind that you should always act like a gentleman around them.’


‘Don’t’ ‘Pa’ me young man!  Do you understand what I’m saying to you?’

‘Of course I do. But you don’t need ta worry about me.’

‘There are times when I wonder about that Joseph. You seem awfully full of your own importance around girls sometimes.’ Joe was silent. ‘I just want you to realise that a young man’s reputation is just as important as a young woman’s. I expect that you would never do anything to damage the Cartwright name.’

‘OK Pa, I get the message,’ Joe sighed. ‘Can I go now?’

Ben frowned at him. ‘Yes you may go now, but remember what I’ve said please.’

‘Sure Pa, I’ll be a good boy,’ Joe answered his father with one of his cheeky smiles.  He bounded over towards the front door and yelled as he opened it. ‘Hey you two, wait up for me!’

Ben grinned as he settled himself down with his paper and lit his pipe.  At least with that youngster in town he could look forward to a peaceful night!



‘So which perfume did you decide on?’ Joe asked as he tried to nuzzle his face against Becky’s neck.

‘Joe Cartwright, stop it!’ Becky looked around horrified to see if anyone was watching. ‘Not here!’

‘Well where?’ he asked grinning at her. ‘How about we go outside for a while?’

She glared at him. ‘Yes sure!  My mother would be out there in a minute looking for us both, you know that!  Why don’t we just dance instead?’

Joe sighed. ‘Alright, I’ll just have to …….’ He stopped in amazement as he gazed over Becky’s shoulder.  Becky turned to follow his look and stared at Susanna standing in the doorway.

‘Heavens!’ she said. ‘Is that Susanna Deane? I’ve never seen her looking like that!’

Susanna looked around the room and smiled widely at everyone.  She smoothed down her freshly washed hair and swept across the room with a flourish that caused everyone to notice her in an instant, and the conversations around her began to hush.

She walked straight up to Joe and tapped him on the shoulder as she said, ‘Hello Joe, would you like to dance?’

Joe wasn’t used to being asked so forthrightly by a girl in such a straightforward manner, and hesitated for a moment before replying. ‘Um, yeah sure. Is that OK with you Becky?’

Susanna turned with surprise as if she had just noticed Becky standing by Joe’s side. ‘Oh hello Becky. I didn’t see you standing there.’ She looked down and crinkled her nose. ‘Oh that dress is interesting.  Did you make it yourself?’

Beck glared at her. ‘Yes I did,’ she replied.

Susanna nodded her head. ‘Yes, I thought you might have. How quaint. Come on Joe.’

She pulled Joe onto the dance floor and he had no option but to follow. As he put his arm around her waist he felt he should say something, and said the first thing that came into his head.  ‘I like your dress. Red suits you.’

‘Thank you,’ she whispered, and held herself close to him. ‘That’s lovely of you to say so.’ As the music started he began to sway to the beat pulling her in time with him, and she leaned towards him and smelled the sharp fragrance of his aftershave, and felt his hard chest and strong arms.  She closed her eyes and drank in the moment, fearful of it ending which she knew it would only too soon.  He was a wonderful dancer, so light on his feet that Susanna felt as if she were flying.  Her head was spinning with the joy of it all, and at that moment she thought herself in heaven.  It was with the greatest disappointment that she heard the music finish, and the clapping around her brought her back to reality with a sharp thud.

As she opened her eyes again and smiled, she felt Joe’s intense green eyes watching her.  She looked into them and felt such an intense longing that she thought her knees were going to give way, and she actually swayed against him. He held on to her with a laugh. ‘Are you OK?’ he asked.

She shook her head. ‘I just feel a little light-headed that’s all.’

He looked at her concerned. ‘Do ya want ta sit down or something?’

‘No. I think I’ll just go outside for a bit of fresh air,’ she replied. ‘Do you think you could help me out?’

‘Um … well I should …..’

‘Please Joe,’ she breathed. ‘I really don’t feel too well.’

 ‘All right,’ he said, and led her out of the door and sat her on a bench on the porch. ‘How about I get you some water,’ he asked. ‘Or some punch?  That might make ya feel better.’

She nodded and smiled at him. ‘Thank you Joe, I’d be so grateful to you.’

Joe disappeared through the doorway, and Susanna sat back and rested her head against the wall as she drew in a few deep breaths of the night air. She wished this night would go on forever and ever! As she sat and waited, she heard voices behind her just inside the doorway.

‘Did you see Becky with Joe Cartwright?  Don’t they make a lovely young couple?’ She turned to see Becky’s mother standing with a group of other women just inside the doorway, and scowled at their words. Hmm!  A lovely couple eh?  I’ll show them! Joe Cartwright might have come with her, but I’m going to be the one he takes home, that’s for sure!

‘Here.’ Suddenly Joe was standing beside her again, and holding out a cup.

She smiled up at him and patted the seat beside her. ‘Thank you Joe. Please sit down.’

He hesitated. ‘I can’t. I really have ta get back inside ta Becky now, or she’ll be wondering where I’ve got to.’

Susanna put her hand on her forehead. ‘Oh please Joe, I’m really not feeling well.  Just for a few moments until this dizziness passes?’

He sat down with a small sigh and she moved across to be closer to him. ‘You know I think the fresh air is doing me good.’

‘Great,’ he said without much enthusiasm.

She tried again. ‘Perhaps I should go.  I really hate to walk home alone feeling like this though.’ She waited.

Joe stood up. ‘No problem. I’ll see if I can find someone ta walk ya home.’

She reached up and touched his arm. ‘Oh Joe please don’t!  I don’t want to make a fuss. Couldn’t you just do it?’

He frowned again. ‘I told ya, Becky’ll be wondering where I am.  I really shouldn’t leave her.’

‘Oh pooh!  Becky will be fine if you just tell her. You won’t be gone long. Please?’ she added looking at him beseechingly.

He sighed again. ‘Oh. All right! But I have ta let Becky know first. Wait here.’

She settled back on the seat again with a satisfied smile and waited for him to return, watching him through the window as he spoke to Becky across the other side of the room. She giggled when she noticed how agitated the other girl seemed to become at his words. I’ll show you Becky Palmer!  So you think he’s all yours do you?  Think again!

She wiped the smile off her face as Joe appeared again and pulled her quickly to her feet. ‘Come on,’ he said with a touch of impatience, ‘I can’t be too long.’

As they walked down the stairs, Joe hesitated as he heard a voice behind him. ‘And just where do you two think you’re going?’  He turned to see his older brother Adam standing framed in the doorway.

‘Hi Adam,’ he replied. ‘Susanna isn’t feeling well, so I’m walking her home. I won’t be long.’

Adam turned to go inside again. ‘See that you’re not, or I’ll be out looking for you.’

Joe sighed. ‘Gee!  Sometimes he’s worse than Pa!’ he exclaimed, and Susanna giggled by his side as they walked.

‘It must be terrible to have both of them breathing down your neck like that! Never letting you do what you want!’

‘I do exactly what I want,’ he retorted. ‘I’m old enough ta make my own decisions about my life, thank you very much.’

‘Really?  You could have fooled me!  Seems like you’re always doing what everyone else wants you to do.  Your father, your brothers, even that Becky. If she says get back here quickly, then you jump!’

‘I do not!’

She snorted. ‘Really? ‘Then why are you in such a hurry to get back to her?’

‘Because I happen to like her, that’s why!’ Joe replied impatiently. ‘What’s it got ta do with you anyway?’

She drew close to him and pushed herself against his body, wrapping her arms around him. ‘I thought you might like me, that’s why.’  She breathed into his ear, and he took a step back from her while trying to disengage her arms from around his neck.

‘Well think again,’ he replied. ‘I said I’d walk you home because you’re sick.  I didn’t mean anything else by it!’

She wrapped her arms even tighter around his neck. ‘Why not Joe?  We’d be really good together.  You know that.  You’ve always known it.’

‘Get off me!’ he replied impatiently. ‘For heavens sake Susanna, let me just get you home and stop all this.’  He tried to pull her arms off him again, but she continued to press against him.  Impatiently, he pulled at her and there was a sudden tearing of material as the sleeve of her dress came partially away at the seam.

‘Look what you’ve done!’ she yelled at him. ‘This is brand new, and you’ve ruined it!’

‘I’ve ruined it!’ he yelled back. ‘It was your fault! Here, let me see if I can hold it back together for you.’  Joe reached out and tried to grab the sleeve, but she pulled back again and slapped him hard across the face.

‘Hey, what was that for?’ he yelled. ‘I’m trying ta help ya!’

‘Leave me alone!’ she yelled, and turned to run up the street away from him. ‘You just leave me alone Joe Cartwright and go back to that Becky of yours!’

Joe felt like doing just that.  But he knew it was not the gentlemanly thing to leave the girl in a darkened street like this, so he turned to follow her. ‘Susanna, wait! Susanna, come back!’

Susanna ducked into a side alley and waited, panting. Soon she heard his footsteps approaching and sensed rather than saw him looming over her.

‘Susanna, what is it?’ Joe asked. ‘For heavens sake, can’t you just be sensible so I can take ya home now?’

‘Go away!’ she yelled at him. ‘Just go away!’

‘Why?  What is it?’ he reached down to help her up, but she lashed out at him and her fingernails raked down his arm. He drew back and muttered something under his breath. Susanna began to sob loudly and he bent over her again. ‘Susanna! Keep quiet will ya! I can’t help ya if ya carry on like this!’ He pulled her to her feet and shook her slightly. ‘Calm down!’

Susanna’s sobs increased, and she began to shake. ‘You get away from me Joe Cartwright!’ she yelled. ‘I don’t want you near me, so keep away!’

‘What’s going on here?’ asked someone behind them, and Joe turned to see Sheriff Coffee standing there with a puzzled expression on his face. He noted the girl’s torn dress and the look of anger on her face. ‘What on earth is happening?’

Susanna stared at him and shook free of Joe’s grasp. ‘Tell him to get away from me!’ she yelled. ‘Leave me alone Joe Cartwright!’

Joe stared at her. ‘Calm down Susanna,’ he said. ‘Stop yelling.’

‘Why shouldn’t I yell?  You just keep away from me Joe Cartwright!  Leave me alone!’  She turned to the sheriff. ‘Can I go now?’

Sheriff Coffee shook his head. ‘Of course you can go now Susanna.  Would you like me to walk you home?’

‘No!’ she sniffed, and gave Joe an angry stare. ‘And I’m glad that I hurt you, cause you hurt me!’

Sheriff Coffee looked at Joe’s arm and noted the scratches before shaking his head. ‘I think you’d better get back to the dance now boy.  I’ll see her home.’  Joe nodded and walked back towards the street as the sheriff followed an angry Susanna in the other direction.

Joe shook his head as he walked back to the hall at the other end of the street. Why do girls have ta carry on like that? Honestly, all that fuss about nothing!   He touched his face where Susanna had slapped him, and felt the soreness there. Bet that’ll come up in a bruise!  How on earth am I’m gonna explain that ta Pa? He trudged along feeling his anger mount, and by the time he reached the hall he was in no mood to be civil to anyone, and scowled as he noticed Adam on the porch waiting for him. ‘What are you looking for?  I said I’d be back soon!’ he retorted.

‘Soon is right! It shouldn’t have taken you this long to just walk her home.  Where have you been?’ Adam replied, his anger mounting to meet that of his brother’s.

Joe tried to push past him and enter the room, but Adam pulled him by the arm. ‘What happened to you?’ he said as he noticed his bruised face and the scratches on his arm. ‘You haven’t been fighting again have you?  Pa’s going to kill you if you’ve got messed up with any of those miners again.’

‘No I haven’t been fighting!’ Joe pushed Adam’s hand away from him. ‘Why don’t ya just mind ya business Adam, and leave me alone?’ He walked into the hall and straight over to a group of girls who were standing near the punch table.

‘Well you were certainly gone a long time!’ retorted Becky shaking her curls. ‘What were you doing for all that time? You look like you’ve been hurt!’

Joe frowned at her. ‘It’s nothing! Come on, let’s dance.’

‘Well if that’s your attitude, then I’ll just find another dance partner Joe Cartwright!  See if I care!’ And with those words Becky flounced off across the room.

Joe scratched his head. Now what did I do? he thought to himself. Honestly! Sometimes women just don’t make any sense at all!


‘Well if you weren’t fighting, then kindly explain these, Joseph!’ Ben indicated the bruise on his son’s face and the scratches on his arm. Joe glared at his plate and didn’t answer his father. ‘Joseph I’m waiting!’

He looked up. ‘I walked Susanna home and she got upset. She hit me and scratched my arm, that’s all. Do we have ta make a federal case out of it?’

‘You keep a civil tongue in your head young man!’ Ben glared at his son. ‘Why was she upset?’  Joe mumbled under his breath, and Ben fought to keep his temper with him. ‘What was that?’

‘I said that I don’t really know.  One minute I was walking her home and the next she was … she was all over me. I tried ta push her away and she did this.’ He looked at his father defiantly. ‘It wasn’t my fault!’

‘It’s never your fault is it Joseph?’ his father asked with a sigh. ‘The fights, the brawls – they’re never your fault!  It’s always someone else who starts it isn’t it? And now this, in a public place of all things!’

‘It wasn’t a public place, it was in an alley,’ Joe retorted and bit his lip as he realised what he had said.

Ben stared at him. ‘You started out to walk a young lady home, and you ended up in an alleyway with her? Please explain to me how that happened!’

Joe sighed. ‘She took off and I ran after her, that’s all!’ He looked into his father’s eyes. ‘Honest Pa!’

‘All right, but I think this young lady deserves an apology from you,’ Ben said.

‘She deserves an apology from me?  The way I see it I …..’ Joe stopped as he looked at his father’s face and noted the expression. He sighed again. ‘Oh all right! But I don’t see why I should!’

‘You should because I’m telling you to! Get it over with this morning Joseph!’  Ben stood up from the table. ‘And I expect you back at work straight afterwards.’

‘Yes sir,’ Joe replied and bent over his breakfast plate again.


Joe took off his hat and ran his fingers through his unruly curls before knocking on the door. He fought to keep his temper under control, but could feel it rising as he forced himself to put a pleasant expression on his face. As the door opened he tried to smile. ‘Morning Mr Deane,’ he said. ‘I wonder if I could see Susanna for a few moments please?’

Robert Deane looked him up and down. ‘Of course Joe. Come on in.’ He indicated for Joe to enter the hallway and shut the door behind him. Please have a seat in the parlour while I get Susanna for you.’ Joe sat as instructed and waited.

After a few moments, Susanna swept into the room and stood before him. ‘Well?’ she asked.

‘Hi,’ he said.

‘What do you want? After last night I thought you might need to keep your distance from me!’

‘Susanna I came ta say I’m sorry. I’m not quite sure what happened, but I didn’t …..’

She tossed her hair and glared at him. ‘So you should be sorry! Just what do you take me for anyway Joe Cartwright?’

Joe looked at her puzzled. ‘Huh?’ he said.

She pointed a finger at him. ‘Don’t you think you can insult me like that and get away with it!’ she continued. ‘You just go back to your Becky Palmer and see if I care!’

Joe scratched his head. ‘Susanna I never led you to believe that ….’

She strode to the front door and opened it. ‘Why don’t you just get out!  I really don’t think we have any more to say to each other!’

Joe stood up and walked over to the door. ‘Ya sure got that right! Excuse me for living why don’t ya!’ He flinched as the door slammed in his face, and clenched his fists. Stupid girl! Well I’ve done what Pa wanted me to, so that’s an end to it!  He marched down the front steps and mounted his horse before riding off down the street.


Matt sensed someone’s presence and looked up from the reins he was untangling to see Susanna standing in front of him with her hands on her hips. ‘Where’s your father?’ she asked abruptly. Matt looked at her coolly and didn’t answer. ‘I asked where your father was!’ she repeated. ‘My father told me to ask when our buggy will be ready.’

Matt shrugged. ‘He’s down at the saloon. I’ll tell him to let you know.’

She stamped her foot. ‘Well that’s not good enough!  I want an answer now!’

‘Look Susanna, not everyone does things exactly when you want them to be done. I told you, I’ll give him the message and he’ll get back to you.’  He bent his head over the reins again.

Susanna stood glaring at him. ‘That’s if I could trust you to!’ she retorted. ‘Honestly, with a half-breed like you, who would know what you could be trusted to do!’

He stood up and strode over to her. ‘Why don’t you just shut your mouth?’ he yelled. ‘I’m sick and tired of you sounding off at me!’

She pushed him backwards. ‘Don’t you dare speak to me like that!’ Matt lifted his hand and struck her clear across the mouth, all the anger that had been building up inside him unleashed by her comments. Susanna fell heavily onto a pile of hay in the corner, and lay there for a few moments winded. When she caught her breath again she managed to say, ‘You’ll be sorry for that!  You just wait until I tell my father!’

Matt reached down towards her and began to shake her. ‘You just shut up if you know what’s good for you! Shut up I say!’

Susanna looked into his eyes and began to panic. ‘Leave me alone!’ she yelled. ‘Let me out of here!’

Matt ignored her and pushed her down again on the floor.  Susanna looked up at him in fright, regretting now the words she had spoken. As he moved down over her, her screams were stilled by his lips on hers, and she struggled for breath. ‘Stop it!’ she yelled. ‘I said to stop it!’  But Matt didn’t even hear the sounds she made, as his anger was unleashed.


As Joe reached the crest of the hill he paused to let Cochise get his wind back and surveyed the land before him.  Down below he could see a rider galloping away from the town and towards the mountains in the distance. He squinted his eyes and noted that it was Matt Shields. ‘Hey Matt,’ he called, but the other man failed to stop. Wonder where he’s going in such a hurry? Must be something real important!  He turned his horse homeward and set off at an easy pace down the hillside.

Part Two
February 1865


‘Roy, good to see you!’ Ben reached out and shook the hand of his friend Sheriff Roy Coffee and beamed at him. ‘You haven’t been out in a long time. Come on in and warm yourself by the fire!’

Roy took off his hat and gave Ben a half-hearted smile as he entered the room. ‘Actually Ben it’s not really a social call.  I’ve come on official business.’

Ben raised an eyebrow and stared at him for a moment. ‘Really? Well then what is it?’

Roy hesitated for a moment and then looked around the room. ‘Are the boys around?’

‘Hoss is in the north pasture, but Adam and Joe are in the corral.  Didn’t you see them as you came in?’ Ben replied.

Roy shook his head. ‘No. Maybe they were in the barn or something.’ He hesitated again. ‘Ben I need to speak to Joe about something.’

Ben smiled again at his friend. ‘What has that youngster done now?’ he asked. ‘I hope it’s not too serious!’ He laughed aloud. ‘Not another fight in the saloon?’

Roy frowned at him. ‘No nothing like that.  Ben I really need to speak to him. It’s serious.’

Ben managed to regain a straight face. ‘I’m sorry Roy. I shouldn’t find his antics amusing I know, it’s just that he, well …..’ He noticed the expression on Roy’s face. ‘It really is serious isn’t it?’

‘I’m afraid so, Ben. I’m real sorry to have to bring this to you, but I have to do my duty you know.’

Ben patted him on the shoulder. ‘Of course you do Roy, we all know that. Wait a moment and I’ll get him for you.’ He opened the front door and scanned the front yard quickly for a glimpse of his sons, and saw Adam emerging from the yard. ‘Adam,’ he called out, ‘get your brother for me please.  Tell him I need him inside the house immediately.’

Adam signalled to his father that he had understood and turned to walk into the barn again. Ben shut the door and turned once more to the sheriff. ‘Now Roy you can’t say no on a cold day like this to coffee at least? Sit down while I get one for you.’

Roy shook his head and remained standing. ‘No Ben, I’m fine. I really rather get straight to the point if you don’t mind.’

Ben sat down on the settee, feeling anxious. Roy seemed quite agitated about something, and he hoped that Joseph hadn’t really stepped over the limit this time. There was silence for a moment as the two men were still with their own thoughts, and then the front door burst open and Adam and Joe entered the room.

‘Hi Pa,’ said Little Joe with a grin. ‘Adam said ya wanted me.’ He noticed the sheriff by the fireplace. ‘Oh hi, Sheriff Coffee.’

Roy acknowledged both Joe and Adam with a slight tilt of his head, and Ben motioned to them to sit down. ‘Joe, Sheriff Coffee needs to talk to you.’

Joe sat down with a puzzled look on his face, and Adam gestured with his hand to indicate whether or not he should leave. Ben shook his head and Adam sat on the edge of the sofa near his father. The three Cartwrights waited while Roy cleared his throat and turned to face Joe.

‘I have to ask you a few questions Joe,’ he said in a sombre tone.

‘Sure,’ Joe replied with a grin, ‘ but I ain’t done nothing. Honest Pa,’ he said as an aside to his father.

‘Joe do you remember the dance that was held last November?’

‘Last November?’ Joe replied with a puzzled look. ‘I don’t know, that was an awfully long time ago.’

‘Try to remember,’ Roy persisted.

‘Well,’ Joe scrunched up his face with a thoughtful look. ‘I…. um….yeah that was the night I took Becky I think.’ He thought for a moment. Joe looked at the sheriff again. ‘What am I supposed to remember about it?’

Roy looked at him intently. ‘Did you have anything to do with Susanna Deane that night?’

‘Yeah,’ Joe replied with a puzzled look. ‘I danced with her, why?’

‘What else?’ Roy persisted.

Joe sighed. ‘Nothing else. Unless you mean …’ his voice trailed off for a moment. ‘You remember Sheriff, she got sick and I walked her home.  At least part of the way. Remember?  You walked her the rest of the way after you saw us.

Roy nodded his head. ‘Why did she run off?’

‘I don’t really know. Something I said I guess.’

‘Roy just what is this all about?’ Ben interrupted. ‘Why are you asking this?’

Roy ignored Ben and continued to look at Joe intently.  ‘Just tell me as much as you remember about that night and Susanna Deane,’ he said.

Joe frowned at him. ‘Well it’s like I said,’ he continued. ‘I danced with her, then she got sick so I took her outside. She asked me ta walk her home, so I did. We had a … a disagreement, and she ran off. She went into the alleyway, so I followed her and tried to help her.  Then you came and took her home.’

Roy drew a deep breath. ‘And that’s all?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ said Joe. ‘I don’t understand what all this is about.’

‘Do you remember the scratches on your arm?’ Roy asked. ‘I saw them there myself.’

Joe frowned again. ‘Yeah that’s right.  She scratched me.’


‘I don’t know. She just did.’

‘She also said you’d hurt her,’ Roy prompted.

‘Did she? I don’t remember that,’ Joe replied.

Roy moved away from the boy and stared into the fire for a moment. The silence was broken by Adam who asked. ‘Roy don’t you think you need to tell us what all this about?’

Roy turned to face them. ‘I needed to hear what Joe had to say first,’ he said. ‘Otherwise I might have influenced his answers to a difficult situation.’

‘What situation?’ Ben asked, really worried now. ‘What are you getting at Roy? Is Susanna Deane all right?’

‘In a manner of speaking yes, but then again no.’ Roy replied averting his eyes from Ben.

‘Roy speak plain,’ Ben said. ‘What are you trying to get at?’

‘Susanna Deane is having a child,’ the Sheriff replied. ‘She claims she was… well… forced that night.’

The three Cartwrights stared at him. After a moment Ben spoke. ‘The poor girl,’ he said. ‘That’s terrible!’ Roy looked at him silently. After a moment Ben spoke again. ‘No wonder you’re trying to find out the details of that night. I’m sure Joseph and anyone else who was at the party will help in whatever way they can to try and help find out who did this.’

Joe nodded from his position on the chair next to the fireplace. ‘I sure will,’ he said. ‘What else can I tell you that might help?’

Roy looked at him strangely. ‘I don’t think you understand,’ he said. ‘You see Susanna has made a statement naming the man.’

‘Good,’ said Ben. ‘Have you had any luck trying to trace him?’

Roy hesitated for a moment, and looked back into the fire as he said in a low voice, ‘She named Joe.’

There was a deathly silence in the room, punctuated at regular intervals by the ticking of the grandfather clock near the front door. After a few moments, Ben found his voice. ‘That is preposterous!’ he said. ‘As if Joseph…..’ his voice trailed off and he turned to face his youngest son who sat staring into space with a blank look on his face. ‘Joseph?’ he said quietly. ‘Is there any way …..’

Joe looked at his father aghast. ‘What?’ he yelled. ‘You can’t be serious Pa! As if I would do something like that! How could you even ….’

Ben reached over and put his hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘That’s not what I meant Joe. I’m asking if maybe there is a chance that …. Well if Susanna could have misinterpreted something that happened between you.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Son, is there any way that …..’

Joe jumped to his feet. ‘I can’t believe you’re asking me this!’ he yelled, and turned to face the sheriff. ‘She’s lying! I never touched her that night or any other time! I don’t know why she’d say that I did!’

‘Calm down Joe,’ interrupted Adam. ‘I’m sure there’s a reasonable answer to this.’

‘Yeah?  Like what?’ asked Joe as he turned to face his brother. ‘What possible reason could she have for saying this?’ He drew a deep breath and took two steps away from them. ‘I didn’t do it I tell you!’

Roy scratched his head. ‘The problem is that she is saying that you did,’ he stated. ‘Until this thing is sorted out, then I have to take you into custody Joe.’

‘Roy you can’t be serious!’ Ben interrupted. ‘Joe said he didn’t do anything, and you’re just going to take this girl’s word for it?’

Roy put up his hand. ‘Ben I have no choice. Robert Deane, her father, demands it.  Frankly I think it’d be better for Joe if he was locked up for a little while anyway.  Deane is pretty riled up, and I wouldn’t want any trouble between them.’

‘I’m not going to jail!’  Little Joe yelled. ‘I didn’t do anything!’

Ben put his hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘Joe, Roy might be right. Go with him for now, and I’ll get advice from Hiram Wood. He’ll know what to do.’

Joe turned on his father and glared at him. ‘You believe this don’t you?’ he yelled at him. ‘You believe I did this, and you want to get me locked up and out of the way so you won’t have to get embarrassed don’t you?’ He shook his father’s hand away.

Adam stood up. ‘Joe, don’t be stupid. Pa is only trying to help you. For heaven’s sake do as Roy says and give us some time to get advice on this.’

Joe stood silently and glared at them all. Roy moved towards him and said in a low voice. ‘You have no choice son. The girl’s father demands it.’

Joe drew a few deep breaths and turned angrily on his heel.  As he approached the door he turned back and yelled over his shoulder, ‘I don’t care what she says, I didn’t do it!  Whether you all believe me or not, that’s the truth!’ He slammed the door as he left the room, and Roy moved quickly after him.

Ben turned to Adam. ‘Get out to Hoss and let him know what’s happened, then meet me in town as soon as you can. I’ll see Joseph safely into the jail, then I’ll be at Hiram’s office. Hurry.’

Adam nodded as he followed his father and Roy through the front door. As they reached the front yard, they noticed Joe sitting on his horse waiting for them, his face like thunder and his body rigid as he sat bolt upright in the saddle. He glared at them all, but continued to sit silently as he waited. Ben strode over to him and touched him on the thigh as he looked up. ‘Joe I’m coming in with you,’ he said.

Joe didn’t say anything, but simply nodded his head slightly as he looked away from his father into the distance.  Ben sighed and mounted his horse, following Roy and his son out of the yard towards town.


‘To be honest Ben, I think it’s a good thing the boy’s in jail for the moment.  It might be a good idea if he stayed there for a while.’ Hiram Wood, attorney at law and good friend of the Cartwrights stated his point of view to Ben.  ‘After hearing the facts as you know them, I think the boy might be safer there.’

‘Look Hiram,’ Ben said in agitated tone. ‘I know Robert Deane is a reasonable man. Surely he wouldn’t do anything stupid.  He’d only make the whole situation worse.’

Hiram stroked his beard thoughtfully. ‘Ben, a man who has a daughter in this position is likely to go off half-cocked.  And there’s the town to consider as well.’

Adam looked at him. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked.

‘Well, once word of this gets around, there’ll be all sorts trying to get involved.’  Hiram looked at Ben with pity. ‘I think it’s going to be very difficult for Joseph once the story spreads.’

Hoss glared at the man. ‘It’s nobody’s business!’ he declared. ‘I’ll throttle anyone who says anything about my little brother!’

Ben turned to him. ‘Don’t you dare go making this any worse than it already is Hoss,’ he said as he wagged his finger at him. ‘We have to handle this in the correct way.’

Hoss put his head down. ‘I’m gonna go and visit Joe at the jail,’ he said. ‘He probably needs one of us right about now.’

Ben watched his son leave before turning back to the lawyer. ‘Hiram, what do we do?’

‘Well the first thing is to speak to Joe,’ he said standing up. ‘Then we’ll need to apply for bail to be set pending the trial.’

‘Trial?’ said Adam startled. ‘Surely it won’t come to that!’

‘It could well do,’ continued Hiram. ‘If this girl doesn’t change her story, then Joe will undoubtedly have to face trial.’

Ben put his head in his hands. ‘Hiram we can’t let it get to that. A trial of that sort would be …. well it would just ruin my son’s reputation.’

Hiram looked at him. ‘Ben it would do a lot more than that. Don’t you realise that a charge of this kind could bring a sentence of ten years or more? Joseph has more than his reputation to worry about here.’

Ben shook his head and Adam placed his hand around his father’s shoulders. ‘Pa maybe if we went and spoke to her. Maybe she’ll listen if …..’

‘You’ll do nothing of the sort!’ interrupted Hiram. ‘That could be construed as harassment. You stay right away from that girl, all of you!’

Ben looked up at him. ‘All right Hiram, I promise you that the boys and I won’t go near her. But there must be something we are able to do!’

‘The best thing you can do Ben is be there for Joseph at the moment and let me worry about the legal side of it. I assure you that I’ll do everything I can to clear him of this charge.’

Ben stood up and faced his friend with tears in his eyes. ‘I know you will Hiram, and I’m mighty grateful to you. I just can’t stand to see my boy caught up in this mess, is all.’

Hiram nodded. ‘I know Ben. You concentrate on helping him through it and I’ll prepare the best possible defence that I can. Come on, we need to talk to that boy of yours now.’ The three of them left the room and headed towards the jail.


Hoss stood and watched his younger brother as he sat on the edge of the narrow bunk, his head down and shoulders drooping. ‘Come on buddy, its not that bad,’ he muttered.

Joe looked up at him. ‘Not that bad? Just how much worse do ya think it could be then Hoss?’ he asked. ‘I’m in here with a charge of …. with charges hanging over my head, and you think it’s not that bad?’ He shook his head. ‘I’d hate ta think what ya would consider bad!’

Hoss scratched his head. ‘It’s just that I hate ta see ya looking so down little buddy. Specially when ya ain’t done nothing ta deserve this.’

Joe’s eyes filled with tears. ‘Thanks Hoss,’ he whispered.

Hoss frowned at him. ‘Thanks fer what?’ he asked.

‘For believing me,’ Joe replied. ‘Ya haven’t even asked me what happened on that night, but ya just believe me anyways. Thanks!’

Hoss smiled at his younger brother. ‘Well why wouldn’t I believe ya? I know ya wouldn’t do what she said ya did.’

‘Well you’re the only one who does!’ Joe replied.

‘What do ya mean?’ Hoss asked. ‘Pa and Adam know that …..’

‘They think I’m guilty!’ Joe declared. ‘I could tell back at the ranch when Sheriff Coffee was telling us.  I could see it in their eyes that they didn’t know whether or not ta believe me!’

‘Joe don’t be stupid!’ Hoss retorted. ‘Of course they believe ya!  Why wouldn’t they?’

The door opened and Roy entered the room, followed by Ben, Adam and Hiram. ‘You’ve got some visitors Joe,’ he said as he motioned behind him. ‘Take as long as you want,’ he said before he left. ‘I’ll be just outside if you need me.’

‘Are you all right son?’ Ben asked, looking at Joe anxiously.

Joe turned away from them and faced the wall. ‘Of course I’m all right!’ he said angrily. ‘I’ve only been in here for half an hour!  What do ya think could happen ta me in that time?’

Ben bit on his lip and refrained from speaking harshly to the boy.  He understood how upset Joe was, and didn’t want to make him any more agitated than he already was. ‘Joe, Hiram has come to ask you some questions about that night.’

‘I’ve already said what happened!’ Joe declared, still looking at the wall.

Hiram stepped forward. ‘Joseph if I’m gong to defend you, then you have to co-operate with me.  I need you to give me as many details as you can remember from that night.’

Joe continued to stubbornly look at the wall, and said nothing.

‘Joseph!’ said Ben. ‘Answer Mr Wood.’

Joe turned around, his eyes blazing. ‘Why should I? What difference will it make anyway?  None of you believe me, so he probably won’t either.’

Ben glared at his stubborn son. ‘Joseph that is not true!  No one said they didn’t believe you!’

‘You don’t have ta say it Pa, I can tell!’ Joe declared. ‘Ya really don’t know do ya?  Ya think I could be guilty!’

Adam stepped forward. ‘Joe stop this! The important thing at the moment is to get this thing cleared up, so stop losing your temper and co operate.’

Joe glared at him. ‘I would think the important thing at the moment would be ta get me out of here!’ he shouted.

‘Now you listen young fella,’ began Hiram, but his words were drowned out by the sound of shouting in the outer office. Suddenly the door was flung open and a man entered the room yelling.

‘Let me at him! Just give me five minutes with him!’ Joe stepped back across the cell as the man flung himself onto the bars and tried to reach him through them. ‘You get over here you coward! Try dealing with a man for a change instead of a poor defenceless girl!’

Hoss leant forward and grabbed onto the man, pinning his arms behind him in a tight grip. ‘Easy now Mr Deane,’ he said. ‘Just back off there!’

Robert Deane continued to struggle in Hoss’ grip, shouting all the while. ‘Let me go! Let me at the bastard!’

Sheriff Coffee entered the room brandishing his rifle. ‘Now you just simmer down Robert,’ he said. ‘You’re not helping matters with all this fuss.’  He motioned for Hoss to bring his captive back into the outer office, and they were followed by Ben, Hiram and Adam.  As they left the room, Joe lurched forward panting, and gripped the bars of the cell.  Adam motioned to him to be quiet, and made sure the door was left open so that he could hear what was being said.

After a moment, Roy said. ‘Now, are you ready to calm down, or do I have to put you in a cell as well?’

‘Put me in with that youngster in there and I’ll be happy!’ Robert yelled back at him.

Ben stepped forward. ‘Robert, I know you’re upset, but it’s no reason to carry on like this.  You’re only making it worse for everyone.’

Robert glared at him. ‘Of course I would only expect something like that from you Ben. You never would see that precious boy of yours would be responsible for anything would you?’

Ben glared back at him. ‘I have always raised my sons to take responsibility for their actions,’ he said. ‘But in this case Joseph says he is innocent, and I believe him.’

Robert glared back at him. ‘Are you calling my daughter a liar?’ he spat.

Ben took a deep breath. ‘I’m saying that there must be some kind of misunderstanding here,’ he said. ‘Perhaps when everyone has the chance to calm …..’

‘I’ll see that boy of yours pay for this!’ Deane spat back at him. ‘I don’t care what it takes Cartwright, he’ll pay!  Now let me go!’ he struggled in Hoss’ arms even more.

‘Hoss let him go,’ said Roy, and when the man was released he motioned towards the door with his rifle. ‘Now you get out of here Deane.  And just remember, that boy in there has the right to a fair hearing in this matter, and I won’t have you taking the law into your own hands.  Any more nonsense from you and I’ll take you into custody as well.’ His voice softened as he continued. ‘Now go home to that daughter of yours.  She probably needs you.’

Deane rubbed his arms where Hoss had held onto him. ‘All right Sheriff, I’ll go home.’ He pointed his finger at Ben. ‘But rest assured Cartwright, that boy of yours will pay for this!’  He left the room and slammed the door behind him, as each of the remaining occupants drew a deep breath and looked at each other silently.

After a moment, Hiram spoke. ‘Now you can see why it might be a good thing for Joseph to stay in here for a while.’

‘I ain’t staying in here!’ Joe yelled from the other room. ‘I ain’t done nothing ta stay in here for!’

They all turned to face him. ‘Now you just be quiet young man,’ his father cautioned him. ‘We’ll be guided by what Hiram says in this, and if he says it’s better for you to be there for now, then that’s just where you’ll stay.’

Joe pouted at his father and sat down on the narrow bed with his arms folded in front of him. ‘Fine!’ he shouted. ‘You all just do what you think is best for me, and never mind what I want for myself!’

Ben walked over to the cell and said in a softer tone. ‘Joe, you have to calm down son. Just be patient for a while.’ Ben knew that he was asking the impossible, as patience had never been his youngest son’s greatest strength. ‘Now you need to answer Hiram’s questions.’ He motioned for the lawyer to come forward and stepped back to allow him room.

‘Joseph tell me what happened that night,’ Hiram said.

Joe sighed. ‘I’ve already told it.  I went to the dance with Julie, Susanna was there and I danced with her.  She got sick and went outside, so I got her a drink.  She took off down the street, I chased her and that was it.’  He stared defiantly at them all.

‘Sheriff Coffee had to take her home.’

‘Yeah. So what?’ Joe countered.

‘She said you hurt her and she scratched you.’

Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘So?’

Hiram frowned at the young man sitting in the cell. ‘Joseph I’m trying to help you. How did you hurt her?’

Joe leapt up and shouted again. ‘I have no idea! Why don’t you ask her if you all believe that it’s true?’

Hiram turned to Ben. ‘I think we’d better let this youngster cool his heels for a while Ben.  Perhaps I’ll get more sense out of him in the morning.’

Ben nodded and moved aside to let the man past him. ‘Thank you Hiram. We’ll stay with him for now.’

‘Don’t bother!’ shouted Joe. ‘Why don’t you all just go away?’

Adam stepped forward, his eyes blazing and his jaw clenched. ‘I’ve had just about enough out of you! Why don’t you just shut up and calm down?’ Joe sat down abruptly on the cot and stared at his brother. ‘Can’t you just for one moment listen to other people instead of carrying on like this?’ Adam continued. ‘If you are so determined that everyone believe you, then you’d better give us the chance to without you carrying on like this!’

Everyone was silent as Joe digested his brother’s remarks.  After a few moments he said. ‘OK I’ll calm down. But just get me out of here alright?’

‘Ben reached his hands through the bars towards his son. ‘We won’t leave you in here any longer than is necessary Joseph. Believe me son, we’re going to do everything to help you get out of this mess.’ He beckoned with his hands. ‘Come here son.’

Joe stood up and walked slowly towards his father who gripped him by the shoulders and looked at him intently. ‘You do believe me don’t you boy?’

Joe nodded his head miserably. ‘Yeah Pa, course I believe ya. ‘He looked up at his father’s eyes and said softly. ‘I’m sorry Pa, I didn’t mean all those things I said.’

Ben caressed his son’s neck. ‘I know you didn’t Joe. It’s all right.’

‘No Pa it’s not all right. It’s far from all right.’ He bent his head on the bars and sighed as he closed his eyes.

Ben patted him again on the neck. ‘Joseph, Hiram Wood is one of the best, you know that. I’m sure that he’ll sort this out for us.’

Joe nodded his head. ‘Sure Pa,’ he replied.

As Ben patted his son again, he wished he could believe his own words, but try as he might he still had a nagging feeling in his bones that they were all headed for a rough time ahead.


‘Sign here Ben,’ said Roy Coffee indicating the space on the sheet of paper in front of him. ‘And you Hiram.’  The lawyer bent to counter-sign the document as well. ‘I’ll get Joe for you.’  Roy reached up and took the keys to the cell off the hook before going into the inner room.

Hiram threw Ben a worried glance. ‘Are you sure about this Ben?’ he asked. ‘There’s an awful lot of people riled up about this in town. Robert Deane has sure been doing a good job of spreading the word.’

Ben nodded. ‘Hiram it’s been nearly a week now.  I just don’t think that boy of mine can stand being cooped up in there much longer.  You know what he’s like.’  Hiram nodded. ‘Besides, I intend to keep him on the Ponderosa right away from everyone until this is sorted out.’

Hiram looked worried. ‘Ben, I don’t think it’s going to sort out, as you put it.  The girl is standing firm with her story and I really don’t see how we can avoid this coming to trial.’

Ben ran his hands through his hair. ‘Hiram what are we going to do?’ he asked.

At that moment, Joe burst through the door with a grin on his face.  Ben smiled to see his son looking happy for the first time in nearly a week. ‘Hi Pa,’ he said. ‘Boy is it great ta get out of there! Can we go home now?’

‘We certainly can Joseph,’ replied his father, putting his arm around his son’s shoulders and hugging him to him for a moment. ‘Hiram, thank you.  We’ll see you out at the ranch tomorrow?’

‘Of course,’ replied Hiram. ‘And Joe remember what we talked about.’

Joe nodded his head. ‘I know, I know.  I’ll keep close ta home and I won’t go anywhere.’

Ben ruffled the boy’s curls. ‘And I’ll see to it, don’t you worry.’ He turned to the sheriff beside them.  ‘Thank you Roy. Come on Joseph, your brothers are waiting outside.’

The two Cartwrights left the jail, and stood on the porch outside.  Little Joe put his head back and felt the sun on his face for the first time in days, and smiled as he closed his eyes and savoured it for a moment.  He grinned at his two brothers who were standing holding the horses, and walked towards them. ‘Well what are you two standing around for?  Ain’t ya got any work ta do?’

Hoss reached out and cuffed his younger brother on the head as he said ‘Don’t be smart little brother, or we’ll throw ya back in that jail.’

Joe ducked for cover and laughed as he stepped sideways to avoid another hit on the head. ‘Just you try older brother, just you try!’

Ben smiled to see the horseplay between his two boys. Joseph had been so depressed during these past few days that it warmed his heart to see him smile again. He glanced around and was relieved to see the street deserted, and motioned to Adam to bring his horse forward.  Ben had purposely organised for Joe to be released early enough in the morning for the town to be empty.  He hoped to get the boy away before anyone even knew that he had left. He didn’t intend to have him confront any trouble along the way if it could be avoided.

‘Come on Joseph, get moving please.  We’ve got to get home.’

Joe mounted his horse and looked at his father. ‘Can’t we wait around for a bit Pa until the saloon opens?  I ain’t had a drink in days ya know.’

‘Joseph!  Do you take no notice of anyone?’ his father shouted at him. ‘I told you we’re going straight back to the ranch and I meant it!’

Joe held up his hand. ‘All right! It was worth a try though, don’t ya think?’  He turned his horse to follow his brothers up the street at a slow walk, Ben following.  As they passed the Grain Store a man emerged and stared at them. ‘Hi Pete!’ called Little Joe and waved his hand as they passed. He frowned as the man didn’t respond, but merely looked at him before turning his back and re entering the building. Joe paused for a moment and glanced at his father, then kicked his horse forward again.

Ben urged his horse forward and caught up with his son as they passed a small white house on the edge of town. He positioned himself between his son and that side of the street as they rode past, and noticed the boy tensing up as he did so. ‘You don’t have ta do that Pa. I’m not about ta go in there ya know!’ Joe frowned at his father as he spoke.

‘I know Joe. I just thought you might be worried seeing Susanna’s house that’s all,’ Ben replied.

‘Why would I?’ Joe countered. ‘Her father don’t worry me none.’

‘That’s not the point Joseph. I just don’t want you coming in contact with either Robert or Susanna at the moment.’

Joe snorted. ‘There’s no chance of that is there? After all Sheriff Coffee practically made me swear on a bible that I wouldn’t see her. Not to mention you and Mr Wood. Don’t worry Pa, I’m not about ta go racing over to Susanna’s in a hurry.  She’s about the last person on earth I want ta see right about now!’

Ben laid his hand on his son’s thigh as they left the town behind them. ‘Good.  And just you keep it that way Joe.  We don’t want any more trouble than is absolutely necessary while Hiram works on this.’

Joe looked over at his father. ‘And just what is it exactly that he’s working on Pa? What does he hope ta do – change her story?’

‘No I don’t think there’s any hope of that,’ Ben replied. ‘He’s just trying to get this thing sorted out without having to go to court.’

Joe pulled on the reins and stopped his horse, looking at his father aghast. ‘Ya can’t be serious Pa?  Court?’  Ben nodded. ‘Well I ain’t going!  No one’s gonna force me ta sit in court and talk about this in front of everybody!’  Joe clenched his jaw and pulled his hat down over his eyes.

Ben rubbed his hand over his eyes before replying. ‘Joe you may have no choice. You’re out on bail now, but that won’t last long if you refuse to testify in court. You could well find yourself back in jail.’

Joe’s eyes blazed with fury. ‘Why?  I ain’t done nothing!’

‘And if you have to go to court to prove it, then that’s exactly what you’ll do young man!’ Ben replied. ‘Otherwise this whole town is likely to believe that you’re guilty.’ His tone softened. ‘Come on Joe, we’re supposed to be celebrating you coming home, not dwelling on what might never happen.’

Joe tried to smile at his father, but failed miserably.  As he spurred his horse forward to catch up with his brothers, Ben said a silent prayer that his words would prove to be true.



‘It’s definitely going to happen Ben,’ said Hiram as he took the coffee cup. ‘There’s no avoiding it now.’ He sighed as he put the cup to his lips. ‘This matter is going to court and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop it. Except ….’ His voice trailed off.

‘Except what?’ asked Adam from his position on the blue chair next to the fireplace.

‘I met with Deane’s lawyer this morning and they’re offering a deal,’ Hiram replied.

Ben put down his cup and leant forward. ‘Ah, now we come to it!’ he said sarcastically. ‘Just how much do they want?’

‘They don’t want money,’ Hiram replied glancing over at Little Joe who sat huddled on the other end of the settee, his eyes staring into the fire in front of them.

Ben frowned. ‘Well if they don’t want money, what do they want?’ he asked.

Hiram glanced at Joe again. ‘They’re willing to drop the case if Joe agrees to marry the girl,’ he said.

Joe sprang forward with a start, but stopped as he felt his father’s hand touch him on the leg. ‘What?’ he yelled. ‘But that would be the same as saying I’m guilty.  It’s the same as saying I did it!’

There was silence in the room as they all digested the information. Finally Ben spoke. ‘Hiram, I agree with Joe. If he agreed to marry this girl, then he would be admitting guilt.’

‘Yes,’ Hiram said simply. ‘But it would also save him from a possible prison sentence. I have to be honest with you all and say that there is substantial evidence against Joseph, even though it is circumstantial.’

‘Are ya giving up on me?  Is that it?’ shouted Joe. ‘Cause if ya are, then I’ll damn well get me another lawyer!’

‘Joseph!’ Ben thundered. ‘There is no call for profanity young man!’ Joe dropped his eyes and put his chin on his hands as he stared into the fire again. ‘Hiram is not giving up on you,’ Ben continued. ‘He is simply stating the facts as he is paid to do.’

‘No I’m not giving up on you Joseph.’ Hiram said. ‘I intend to win this case, and I’ll give it all I’ve got I promise you.  However,’ he continued, ‘it is also my job to alert you to the possible outcomes as well.  A verdict of guilty could bring a prison term of ten years.  You have to think about all the alternatives now that are offered.’

‘I don’t have ta think about nothing!’ Joe declared. ‘She’s not going ta force me into marrying her! I’d rather go ta jail.’

There was silence again, and then Hiram spoke. ‘All right, then I’ll reject the offer and tell them to go ahead and set the court date. I’m afraid it won’t be for some time though.’

‘Why not?’ Adam asked.

‘They’ll go for the sympathy vote,’ Hiram replied. ‘All they have to do is plea for time to prepare their case and it could be delayed for some months. That way they would hope to rattle Joe while he waits, and also the girl would ….. well she would be a target for a lot of sympathy in a few months time.  More so than now, if you get my point.  No, the longer they can draw this out for, the better it is for them, that’s for sure.’

Joe stood up and strode away from them. ‘Joseph, where are you going?’ his father called.

‘Out!’ he replied over his shoulder. ‘Don’t worry though, I’m not going anywhere near town!’

‘Joseph!’ called his father again, but the banging of the door signalled his son’s departure. ‘Hoss get after him!  I don’t want him left alone at the moment.’

Hoss nodded and followed his brother out of the room. Ben turned back to Hiram. ‘I just don’t know how Joseph is going to take this waiting, Hiram,’ he said. ‘It’s going to be very hard on him.’

‘He’s just going to have to,’ the lawyer replied. ‘There isn’t a choice Ben. Anyway,’ he stood up and stretched, ‘at least it gives us ample time to prepare the best defence we can.  In the meantime, you keep that boy here on the ranch and away from any trouble!’

Ben sighed.  Keeping that youngest boy of his out of trouble could be a full-time occupation for all of them, and he feared an impossible task.


‘What do you want?’ Joe asked as his brother’s shadow fell across him. ‘Checking up on me?’

‘Yeah sorta,’ Hoss replied as he sat next to him on the grass. ‘Pa sent me after ya.’

Joe frowned. ‘I thought so.  This is as bad as being in jail.  What’s Pa going ta do, have me followed from now until the trial?’

‘Look Joe, he’s just worried about you that’s all,’ Hoss replied. ‘Don’t give him any more reason ta worry will ya?’

‘Yeah cause I’ve already given him more than enough haven’t I?’ Joe asked with a sneer. ‘Just when he thought I was grown up and off his hands, the little boy does something stupid again and everyone has to rescue him.  That’s how it works isn’t it Hoss?’

Hoss frowned back at him. ‘Why don’t ya get that chip off ya shoulder Joe? No one’s blaming ya fer what’s going on.’

‘Like hell they’re not!’ Joe exploded. ‘Do ya think I don’t see it in their eyes? Every time Adam looks at me he blames me for giving Pa all this worry, and as for him and Pa …..’ his voice trailed off.

‘What about him and Pa?’ Hoss prompted.

‘I told ya before, they don’t believe me,’ Joe said in a low voice.

‘That’s just not true Joe.  They do so believe ya!’ Hoss declared. ‘Ya heard Pa say as much ta Robert Deane didn’t ya?’

‘Yeah, well what else was he sposed ta say?  He couldn’t very well tell him what he really thought could he?’ Joe drew his knees up and put his head down on them. ‘You’re the only one who really believes me Hoss.  Pa’s not sure, I can see it in his eyes.  He really thinks I coulda done it.  And as for Adam ….. well he’ll defend me of course, but he thinks I done it!’  Tears welled up in his eyes and he wiped them away furiously before his brother saw them.

‘Joe that’s just plain rubbish!  Pa and Adam want ta help ya that’s all.’

‘Yeah sure they want ta help me.  Can’t have the Cartwright name dirtied can we? Can’t have anyone point the finger at a Cartwright as a convicted criminal. Ya know what? I think they’d be just as happy if I married Susanna and went away somewhere.  Far enough so the scandal would die down. Well I ain’t gonna do it!’ he declared.

‘Joe boy, ya gotta calm down!  Ya just can’t go on like this!’ Hoss said as he put his arm around his brother’s shoulder.

Joe shook Hoss’ hand away. ‘Leave me alone Hoss. Just go away will ya?’ He stared out over the lake.

After a few moments Hoss spoke again. ‘Sorry Joe, I just can’t.  Pa asked me to look after ya, and that’s what I aim ta do.’

Joe smiled slightly. ‘Just like when we was kids eh?’

Hoss grinned back at him. ‘Yeah I reckon so. You sure were a terror ta look after then too.  Always getting inta things and looking fer me ta get ya out again.’

‘I’m still getting inta things ain’t I big brother?’ Joe looked at his older brother with unshed tears in his eyes. ‘Only this time I don’t think you’ll be able ta get me out of it Hoss.’

Hoss put his arm around his little brother’s shoulders again, and this time they sat side-by-side looking at the water in silence together.



‘Pass the bread please Adam,’ Ben asked as he held out his hand. He glanced at his youngest son seated beside him and frowned at the food still on his plate. ‘Joseph please stop playing with your food and eat some of it.  We have a busy day ahead and I won’t have you going out with nothing in your stomach.’

Joe put his fork into his mouth and gave his father a defiant look. ‘Happy?’ he asked.

‘Don’t you dare use that tone of voice with me young man!’ Ben said angrily and Joe hung his head. ‘I know you are worried – we all are – but it’s no reason to act like this!’

‘Sorry Pa,’ replied Joe still concentrating on the tablecloth in front of him.

Ben turned his attention to Adam. ‘Son I’d like you to start on those fences near the creek today.  Joe can help you.’  He sensed his youngest son tense beside him again. ‘And yes Joseph, I do expect you to stay with your brother all day.  We have had this conversation many times during the last two weeks and I am not about to change my decision about you not working alone for now.’

Joe scowled, but said nothing. Adam stood and wiped his mouth on his napkin. ‘OK Pa. Coming Joe?’

Joe looked at his father. ‘Am I allowed ta go yet, or do I have ta ask permission ta leave food on my plate like a little kid?’ he asked.

Ben tried to hold down his temper and merely shrugged at his son and waved his hand. ‘You may go Joseph,’ he replied.

As the two left the room, Ben let out his breath with a rush and put his hand on his forehead. ‘I don’t know how long I can cope with this Hoss,’ he said. ‘The boy is forcing me to lose my temper with him constantly.’

‘He don’t mean it Pa,’ Hoss replied. ‘He’s just so worried about all this.’

‘I know he is,’ Ben answered. ‘We all are!  But he’s not helping himself or anyone else with this attitude.’ He stood up and paced up and down the floor. ‘I just don’t know how to help him Hoss, I just don’t know what to do for him.’

Hoss sat and looked at his father, at a loss as to what to say. After a few moments he said, ‘Gee Pa, I don’t think anyone knows what ta do fer him.  I don’t know that Joe knows himself.’

Ben stopped pacing and out his hand on his son’s shoulder. ‘I know Hoss.  It’s just so frustrating that’s all.  I just want to go into town and have it out with that girl, but I know I can’t.’

Hoss looked up at his father. ‘Ya know that Joe thinks ya don’t believe him Pa?  I think that’s what has got him so rattled.  He told me that you’re not sure if he’s lying or not.’

Ben looked down at his son. ‘That’s just plain ridiculous Hoss.  Of course I believe him. What kind of a father would I be if I didn’t?’

‘I know ya do Pa.’ Hoss stood up. ‘Well I’d better get going for the day.  Those supplies won’t bring themselves home. See ya at lunch.’

Ben nodded at him and sat down again at the table, resting his head in his hands. God help me what kind of father am I? He’s right! I really don’t know whether to believe the boy or not! How could I think that Joseph would be lying to me? He covered his eyes with his hands and prayed to find the strength to convince his son that he believed him.


‘Just slow down for a minute and I’ll grab it!’ Adam said. ‘If you’d just let it go, then I’d be able to hold it for you Joe!’

Joe pulled again on the wire and wrenched it from his brother’s grasp. ‘I can do it!’ he said angrily. ‘Leave it ta me!’

Adam let go and stood back watching as his younger brother pulled on the wire until it snapped. ‘Let’s try again with another piece shall we?’ he asked with a touch of sarcasm in his voice.

Joe stomped away from him, muttering. ‘Do it yourself then if you’re so danged smart!’  He leant against a fence post and listened to the sound of the blood rushing in his head and felt his temples pounding as he tried to gain control of his breathing again. After a moment he felt his brother’s hand on his arm.

‘How about we have a break for a moment eh?’ Adam asked. ‘This isn’t helping either of us.’

Joe shook the hand away. ‘Why don’t ya just leave me alone Adam?’ he said angrily. ‘I can manage just fine without you!’

‘Seems to me like you can’t,’ replied Adam. ‘This is a two man job Joe, and the longer you fight against me the harder it’s going to be.’ He looked at his brother and added, ‘Come on buddy let’s both support each other in this huh?’

Joe turned to him, his eyes blazing. ‘Support? You want support from me? What about me though Adam? What kind of support do I get from you huh?’

‘Joe don’t start with …..’

‘With what?’ Joe interrupted. ‘With all this about the court case? Why not, it’s real isn’t it?  It’s really happening whether we like it or not!  Joe Cartwright is an accused rapist!  There, I’ve said it! Can’t you handle it big brother, or would you prefer that I just go away somewhere until this is all over and you don’t have ta look at me?’ He stood defiantly in front of his brother, his hands on his hips and his feet spread apart. ‘Would that suit you Adam?  Is that what you want?’

Adam clenched his fists by his sides and tried to restrain himself from hitting this young tornado in front of him. ‘Joe why don’t you just ….’

‘Why don’t I what?’ Joe interrupted. ‘Why don’t I just get lost so that you and Pa can get back the Cartwright reputation again? That’d be just fine wouldn’t it?  Then you wouldn’t have the black sheep of the family under foot all the time!  Then you could …..’  He stopped as his brother’s fist connected with his jaw and he was knocked off his feet.

Adam stood above him, his eyes blazing and his fists ready. ‘All right younger brother, you’ve been spoiling for this for weeks.  Come on! Let’s get it over with!’

Joe sprang to his feet and hit back at his brother, sending him flying backwards.  He flung himself to the ground and the two rolled over and over in the dust until they were filthy.  Amongst the tangle of arms and legs they managed to hit each other several times, each hit accompanied by a loud grunt.  After several moments the activity slowed somewhat and they rolled to a halt both panting and trying to catch their breath.  Adam looked at his younger brother lying beside him in the dirt and said coolly, ‘Feel better now?’

Joe grinned at him. ‘Yeah, much!’ He sat up and shook the dust out of his hair as he looked at his brother still lying beside him. ‘How’d ya know I needed ta do that?’

‘Simple,’ replied his brother sitting up as well. ‘I would if I was in your shoes. I’ve seen it building up for weeks now.  Figured you needed to really hit someone to get it out of your system, so I thought it may as well be me!’ He grinned at his little brother. ‘What are big brothers for?’ He stood up and pulled Joe to his feet beside him. ‘Now do you think we can have that break?’

‘Yeah sure brother,’ Joe replied. ‘We can have that break now.’


‘Thanks Sam,’ said Hoss with a grin. ‘Add it to the account will ya?  One of us will be in at the end of the month ta pay it.’

Sam looked at him without smiling. ‘That’s fine Hoss, as long as it’s not that younger brother of yours.  I don’t intend to do any business with him!’

Hoss’ grin quickly faded. ‘What do ya mean by that?’ he asked angrily.

‘Just what I said!’ Sam retorted. ‘Your brother Adam, you and your Pa are welcome in my store at any time, but that younger brother of yours isn’t.  Just you keep him out of here! And I don’t think you need to ask why do you?’

‘No I don’t,’ said Hoss. ‘But you’re being mighty unfair Sam.  Just because someone is accused of …..’

‘I don’t care what you say Hoss! Everyone around here knows exactly what that younger brother of yours done, and he’ll pay for it soon enough.  I’m not the only one who thinks so!’  Sam turned and entered the store, leaving Hoss fuming on the sidewalk. He shook his head and climbed up on the buckboard. Pa was sure right ta tell Little Joe ta stay away from town fer now! Seems like everyone is all riled up about this thing and their minds are already made up!

As he slowly made his way up the main street, Hoss was aware of several people stopping and staring at him. He concentrated on the road in front of him, but felt increasingly uncomfortable as he progressed. By the time he had reached the Grain Store he was having difficulty holding his temper and got down slowly and carefully in an attempt to control it.

As he walked towards the store he felt many pairs of eyes upon him, and turned to see a group of men just standing and staring.  ‘Morning,’ he said, not expecting a response this time, but he was shocked when Clem Davis stepped forward and spoke.

‘Morning Hoss.  How’s that young brother of yours?’

Hoss looked at him warily, not sure what was coming next. After a few moments he said. ‘He’s fine thanks Clem.’

Clem gave him a nasty grin. ‘Well ain’t that dandy? Just you tell him from me that the next time I see him in town I’m going to knock his head off his shoulders.’

Hoss frowned at the man, and clenched his fists. ‘Now there’s no need for talk like that Clem.’

‘No need?’ the man retorted. ‘No need to make sure a dirty low-life like that brother of yours gets what’s coming to him? Tell him I won’t be as easy as that poor little girl he took on last time will ya Hoss?  Tell him none of us appreciate scum of his kind in our town.  Tell him that for me will ya Hoss?’

Hoss threw a punch square into the man’s face and watched as he reeled backwards and hit the street in front of him. The crowd around them tightened, and he looked from one face to the other in dismay as he realised that all the onlookers were itching for a fight just as much as the man who lay writhing on the ground.  Hoss drew a sigh and clenched his fists again.


‘Ow,’ Hoss flinched away from the cloth that Ben was dabbing on his face and screwed his eyes shut for a moment. ‘Watch it will ya Pa?’

‘Sorry son,’ said Ben as he dabbed again, more gently this time. ‘Hold still for a bit longer.’ Hoss sat as still as he could while his father continued to put the iodine over the many bruises and cuts that marred his face. ‘Just what were you thinking Hoss?  You out of all my boys are usually the one to hold his temper the longest. I don’t understand how you got into all this.’

‘If you’d heard them Pa you would have done the same thing,’ Hoss replied. ‘I had ta fight. I couldn’t let them say those things about Little Joe, could I?’

‘What things?’ his younger brother said behind him, and both of them jumped.

‘Joe, I didn’t see ya there,’ Hoss said.

‘Obviously not,’ replied his brother. ‘Well, what things were they saying about me Hoss?’

‘Nuthin,’ Hoss muttered. ‘Don’t ya worry about it Joe, I fixed em good fer ya.’

Joe stared at his brother for a moment. ‘What did they say?’ he repeated.

‘Joseph it doesn’t matter what was said,’ interrupted Ben. ‘The important thing is that you continue to stay out of town. Judging by what happened to your brother today, the best thing you can do at the moment is to stick as close to the house as possible.’

‘Like a little kid who needs protection, eh Pa?’  Little Joe replied. ‘Sure thing! And for how long do you think I can hide here? How long do you think it will take for people to forget about this?  Ten years?  Twenty?  Or maybe you’d like ta see me never leave the Ponderosa again.  Would that be long enough Pa?’

‘Joseph! Don’t you speak to me in that fashion young man!’ Ben thundered at him. ‘I mean until the trial of course.’

‘Oh yeah, of course!  Until the trial!  And then what Pa? Either I’ll be in prison, so I guess that’ll solve the problem won’t it?  Or I’ll be found not guilty and life will go on as normal?  Yeah sure!  I’ll believe that when I see it! Just what is going to happen after the trial Pa? You tell me!’

‘Joseph! I won’t have you talking to me like this!’ Ben reached out and shook his son by the shoulders. ‘Calm down and we’ll talk it through.’

‘Talk!’ Joe shook off his father’s hands. ‘Talk! I’m sick of talk! I can’t stand this much longer Pa!  If we don’t get ta that trial soon I’m gonna explode!’ He turned and marched out the front door, slamming it behind him as he went.

Ben stood holding the cloth in his hand and stared at the door in front of him. Lord help him! And help me too!  Help us all get him through this in one piece.

Part Three
May 1865


Joe sat and stared at the watch in his hand and read the inscription for the tenth time:

Joseph Cartwright
on your 21st birthday
from your loving father

He smiled as he thought back to that day six months ago when his father had presented him with the symbol of his emergence into manhood and remembered how proudly he had looked at him. Joe swallowed as he fought back the tears that threatened to fall as he remembered his father’s words. In fact Joseph you’ve grown into a son any father would be proud of. I certainly am!

Joe looked over the shimmering water of the lake and frowned. How proud of me are you now Pa? You can’t honestly be after all that’s happened this year!  He sighed and rested his chin on his drawn up knees, still clutching the watch in his hand. There were times when he felt so tired of it all that he just wanted to get up and leave it all behind him. Maybe he should have married Susanna after all and moved away from here?  Maybe he should have just taken off and not told anyone where he was going? Maybe his family would have been better off without him and all the problems that he had brought to them?

Joe lay down in the grass and looked up at the sky.  No! I made the right decision by staying. Pa always says we have ta face things in life, and running away wouldn’t have solved anything.  Besides, how could I live without all of this? Joe looked around him at the blue lake and the tall pines stretching up towards the blue sky. He drank in the fragrance of the pines and heard the whistle of the birds in the trees as he lay there. This place was in his very soul, and he knew that he would be miserable trying to live anywhere else on this earth.

Joe shuddered as the thought came to him that he soon might not have a choice.  The trial was due to start tomorrow, and even though he had been longing for that day to arrive now that it was here he was extremely fearful about the outcome. And the actual event, he acknowledged to himself.

Hiram Wood had made him go over and over his answers until he was word perfect with them, but the words had never become easier to say, and Joe was fearful of uttering them in front of all those who he had no doubt would appear to see a Cartwright on trial.  The details of that night were private and embarrassing to him, and he dreaded having to repeat for everyone what had actually happened. Most of all he dreaded what the prosecutor might ask him, and how he might twist Joe’s comments to his advantage.  Hiram had warned him that it could become tricky, and Joe didn’t look forward to what might be ahead of him.

Most of all though, he dreaded what the outcome might be.  Even though he knew himself to be innocent and the evidence against him was mainly circumstantial, it was obvious that the jury would undoubtedly be swayed against him and for Susanna. He didn’t know how he would cope if he were found guilty, and the very thought of what that would mean to his life filled him with a feeling of despair.  Joe closed his eyes and said a silent prayer that he wouldn’t ever have to find out how he would cope with it.

And then there was Susanna herself. Joe hadn’t laid eyes on the girl since this whole business had begun, and he didn’t relish the thought of sitting across the courtroom from her while the trial was taking place. He realised that she would be showing her pregnancy now, and the thought of looking at her in that condition knowing that everyone thought the child was his, was not one that he wanted to entertain at all.

Joe felt the tears begin to fall, and brushed them away impatiently. It isn’t fair! I haven’t done anything, so why do I have to go through this? He turned his head and looked at the stone marker next to him that marked the place where his mother rested. Mama, I need you ta help me tomorrow.  I can’t do this by myself! Please mama, help me!

Joe knew his father and brothers would be there beside him every step of the way.  Up until now they had done everything in their power to make this as easy as possible for him, but Joe knew that tomorrow he would be on that stand alone and facing his personal demons completely by himself. He just hoped that he would be able to cope without embarrassing either himself or his family.

Joe stood and stretched as he tilted his head back and felt the sun on his face, hoping that he would have many opportunities to feel this again in the years to come. The thought of prison scared him witless and he had up until now tried not to concentrate on what it might be like.  Most of all in the world he would miss doing exactly what he was doing right at this moment.  Here by the lake at his favourite spot next to his mother and looking at the land that he loved so much, it struck him just what he might have to endure and for a moment he went cold with the thought of it.

He touched the stone marker by his side and closed his eyes as the thought crossed his mind that it could possible be a long time before he had the opportunity to stand here again. Goodbye mama, stay with me now cause I need you!  I’ll be back one day, I promise!

With his head hung low and the tears falling unchecked down his face, Joe mounted his horse and rode up the hill without a backward glance.



‘Joe?’ Ben repeated, ‘Are you going to eat that?’

Joe looked at his father and shook his head. ‘I can’t eat Pa.  I just don’t feel like it.’

Ben looked closely at his son and noted the dark rings around his eyes and the paleness of his face.  His eyes had a sad and defeated look about them, and his whole body sagged.  He reached out and patted the boy’s arm. ‘I understand Joe, but you’ll have to at least try and eat some breakfast in the morning.  You’re going to need your strength tomorrow.’

Joe nodded. ‘I’ll try.’  He stood up and moved slowly away from the table as if in a daze. ‘I think I’ll go up to my room now.  I need to get some sleep.’ He turned and walked to the staircase without another word, his shoulders sagging and his head bent.

Three pairs of eyes followed him as he slowly mounted the staircase and disappeared. There was silence at the table as the three remaining Cartwrights continued to eat, finally broken by Ben. ‘Boys I want you to stay close to your brother tomorrow when we get to town.  There’s no telling what we’re going to find waiting for us when we arrive.’

They both nodded. ‘Sure Pa,’ Hoss replied. ‘You can count on us.’

Ben smiled at him. ‘I know I can son.’ He stood up and put his napkin on the table. ‘I think I’ll go and see if Joseph is all right, then have an early night myself. See that you both do as well.’

‘Night Pa,’ Adam replied, as they both watched their father go upstairs. ‘Think I’ll get some fresh air Hoss.’ He left the room and Hoss sighed as he was left alone at the table.

Joe sat by the window and looked at the night sky lit with a million stars. He breathed in the fresh air scented with the pines and tried to imprint it on his brain.  He knew that this could be his last opportunity to sit here like this, and the thought wouldn’t leave him. Please God, just let me come home here again and I’ll never ask you for anything else again!  Please God just don’t let this happen! Please God!

He buried his face in his hands and sobbed aloud for a few moments allowing himself the luxury of letting out his feelings.  Suddenly he heard footsteps and turned to see his father standing beside him with tears in his eyes also. No words were spoken as they reached out and wrapped their arms around each other in a comforting embrace.  Ben stroked the boy’s hair and murmured to him as he held him. They stayed in this position for quite some time until Joe’s sobs subsided and he pulled himself away from his father.

‘I’m sorry Pa, I didn’t mean to do that,’ he said quietly.

‘Don’t apologize Joe, there’s nothing wrong with showing your true feelings you know,’ his father replied, while he continued to stroke his son’s hair. ‘I’ve been waiting for you to do that for weeks.’

Joe looked at his father lovingly, the tears continuing to roll down his face. ‘Have you?’

Ben smiled at him. ‘Yes. You’ll be able to face tomorrow a little better with that out of your system now.’

Joe bit his lip as he continued to look at his father. ‘I just hope I can face tomorrow Pa.  I’m …. I’m real scared, ya know?’

‘Yes son, I know.  It’s only natural that you’re scared.  Just remember though that your brothers and I will be there with you every bit of the way.  We won’t let you go through this alone.’ Joe nodded. ‘And when it gets too rough Joe, you look at me.  I’ll be sitting there just for you boy, and I’ll try to help you any way I can.  Just look into my eyes son, and I’ll be there for you.’ Joe nodded again as Ben continued. ‘Your mother will too, you know that don’t you?’

‘Yeah Pa, I know that.  I went to see her this afternoon.  I thought I’d better go in case…… in case I don’t get back there again.’

Ben nodded and held his son tightly to him. His one wish was to take this hurt away from his son, and he felt so powerless because he was unable to do so. ‘Come on son,’ he said patting the back of his neck, ‘I think you need to get some sleep.  Would you like me to stay with you for a while?’

Normally Joe would have scoffed at this suggestion, but tonight he felt that he wanted his father’s presence with him for as long as possible. He nodded gratefully and stood to move towards the bed. Ben watched as his son changed into his nightshirt and got under the covers, and then moved to sit next to him on the side of the bed. Joe reached up and took something off the chest of drawers next to the bed and held it out to his father. ‘Pa I want you ta keep this for me, will you?’

Ben looked down at the watch in his son’s hand. ‘Joe that belongs to you.  I wanted you to have it.’

‘I know Pa, but in case they find …. I mean, in case I don’t come back I want you to keep it safe for me. I can’t take it to …. prison ya know.’  He looked at his father pleadingly.

Ben caught his breath before he replied. ‘Joseph, you’re not going to prison.  Get that thought out of your head!’

Joe continued to stare at his father and hold the watch out to him. After a few moments Ben took it and put it into his pocket. ‘I’ll keep it for you tomorrow, and then I’ll give it back to you,’ he replied. ‘When we come back here together tomorrow night,’ he added meaningfully.

Joe tried to smile at his father. ‘Thanks Pa,’ he said softly, and then rolled over. ‘I think I’ll get some sleep now. Night.’

‘Night son,’ Ben replied, but didn’t move from his position on the bed.  They both knew that the chances of Joe getting some sleep were slim and Ben wanted to stay by his son as long as possible. Together they faced the long and lonely night with all its fears.


As the four Cartwrights entered Main Street, they all felt trepidation at the sight before them.  The crowd outside the Courthouse was enormous and spilled out from the building and across the street.  It seemed as if every family in the district was represented here today, ready to catch a glimpse of the event that everyone had been buzzing about for so long.  Ben felt his youngest stiffen beside him at the sight, and reached out to touch him on the thigh and give him an encouraging pat. He sensed Adam and Hoss drawing their horses closer to the boy as if to protect him on either side as they made their way slowly down the street through the crowd.

As they progressed, a hush drew over the crowd and the entire street became quiet.  Joe kept his eyes focused on his horse in front of him and allowed the animal a free rein to follow his father’s horse in front, not daring to meet the gaze of those around him.  The only sound that could be heard were their horses’ hooves, and they sounded eerie and strangely out of place.

As they reached the Courthouse the crowd in front of them parted and they stopped to tie up their horses. Joe had a strong urge to turn his horse and flee the way he had come, and it took all of his courage to dismount and stand upright next to his father and brothers.  Adam took the reins from his hand and Ben held onto his arm as they mounted the steps and approached the door to the building.  Just as they reached it, a man from the crowd stepped forward and looked at Joe closely with a sneer, then without a word he lifted his head and spat full into his face.

Joe stood stunned for a moment, and then raised his hand to strike his assailant, but Ben held onto it firmly with one hand and pushed his son into the building with the other. They stood facing each other for a moment both breathing heavily, and then Ben pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his son’s face with it. His eyes pleaded with Joe to remain calm and his hand on the boy’s shoulder held him with a vice-like grip. After a moment Joe nodded, and they proceeded to take their places in the front row of the inner room next to Hiram.

Joe sat and studied the floor in front of him, unwilling to meet the eyes of any of the occupants of the room.  He willed himself to keep calm and concentrated on the sounds and the murmurs around him as he waited.  After a moment the murmurs increased and he looked up to see a huddle of people enter from the back door. In the middle of the group was Robert Deane, holding his daughter’s arm to support her.  As they walked the length of the room, Joe could not take his eyes from them, try as he did.  Robert stared directly at him, his face a picture of hatred and rage that boiled near to the surface, and Joe tried not to flinch away at his look.  Susanna held her head high and refused to look at him at all, rather concentrating on her father and his reaction to the boy.

Joe looked directly at Susanna and saw her for the first time in many months.  She was now looking obviously pregnant and carried herself with a weariness that spoke volumes.  He felt a twinge of sympathy for her as he realised just what this must be doing to her as well, but the thought was quickly replaced by the one that she had chosen to be here, whereas he had not.

The sounds around them stilled as everyone in the room craned their heads to see Joe’s response to the girl, and he forced himself to not react in any way.  He felt his father’s hand on his knee pressing hard, as if to remind him to remain calm, and he remembered how he had always done this when Joe was a child in church, trying to keep him still for the service.  He gazed ahead without flinching, and willed himself to concentrate on anything but the sight of Susanna in front of him.

When both groups were ready, the judge entered and before Joe knew what had happened they were into the trial itself.  He tried to concentrate on the opening words of all parties involved, but the sounds seemed to come from a distance and he felt as though he were somewhat detached from it all.  Hiram responded at the appropriate times on his behalf. He was surprised to suddenly see Dr Paul Martin on the stand, and couldn’t remember him being called for.  Joe shook his head and tried to concentrate on the doctor’s words as he described the events when he had examined Susanna and pronounced her to be pregnant.  At his words there was a general murmur around the courtroom, and the judge called for silence.

Next came Sheriff Coffee who gave Joe a sympathetic look as he mounted the stand.  Joe realised how difficult this must be for the sheriff, as he must have been feeling under a great deal of strain at having to testify in this way against his best friend’s son. The sheriff described how he had found Joe and Susanna in the alleyway, and mentioned the scratches on Joe’s arm and the mark on his face when prompted to.  Experienced lawman that he was, he stated the facts as they had happened and didn’t embellish on them at all.  As he got down from the stand and regained his place in the courtroom, he patted Ben’s shoulder as he passed.  Ben acknowledged the touch with a slight smile, and then turned immediately to see who might be called next.

Both Ben and Joe stiffened when they heard prosecutor say ‘Adam Cartwright.’  They had all known that Adam was likely to be called on of course, but hearing his name called still brought a jolt of reality to them all.  The tension in the room could be felt as the brother of the accused described how Joe had left the dance with Susanna and his eventual return.  Adam was forced to acknowledge the scratches and the bruise that he had witnessed on his brother when he made it back to the dance.

‘And did your brother give you any explanation as to where they had come from?’ asked the prosecutor.

Adam stared at Joe with a sorrowful look. ‘No,’ he said in a low voice. ‘No he didn’t.  But ….’

‘Thank you, that will be all,’ the prosecutor waved him aside.

‘But I didn’t really give him a chance!’ interrupted Adam.

‘That will be all,’ repeated the prosecutor.


‘Thank you Mr Cartwright,’ said the judge firmly. ‘You may step down.’

Adam resumed his seat and shrugged his shoulders at Hiram as he did so. Joe gave him a half smile.

‘I now call Miss Susanna Deane to the stand,’ said the prosecutor and the entire courthouse tensed as the girl stood and walked to the stand, supported by her father. Once she was seated she nodded to him and he left her.  Now that she was facing Joe, he found it very difficult to know where to look, and tried his best to fix his gaze at a spot on the wall above the judge’s head.  But time and time again throughout her testimony his gaze was forced back to her as he heard her lies.

He listened as she described in detail the events of that night – events that were very different from the way he remembered them.

‘Joe was all over me right from the moment I walked in.  It was true that I asked him to dance, but that’s all I meant to happen.’ She buried her face for a moment in a handkerchief. ‘I never for a moment realised what he must have had in mind.’

‘Please take your time Miss Deane,’ said the prosecutor sympathetically. ‘What happened then?’

‘Well during the dance he kept …’ she bowed her head, ‘you know, pressing himself up against me.’  There was a murmur from the crowd, and Joe felt himself flush with embarrassment. Liar! She was doing it, not me!

‘And then when the music stopped I told him I was going outside because I didn’t feel well. He insisted on coming out with me and getting me a drink.  I told him not to bother, but he insisted.’  Liar!

‘I felt very uncomfortable with the way he was leaning so close to me, so I told him I was going home. The next thing I knew he was inside telling poor Becky that he needed to walk me home.  He left that poor girl there by herself, even though I insisted that he didn’t need to come with me.’  Another murmur went through the crowd.

‘As we walked down the street he began to …..’ her voice trailed away.

‘Please go on Miss Deane,’ said the prosecutor.

‘It’s so embarrassing!’ sobbed Susanna into her handkerchief.

‘Please take your time Miss Deane.  Take a few moments to compose yourself,’ said the judge.

‘Yes, thank you.’ She looked up again. ‘He began to make suggestive remarks to me. I asked him to stop but he wouldn’t.  When I turned away from him, he….  he pulled at me and tore the sleeve of my dress.’

Joe closed his eyes and felt a feeling of rage and frustration wash over himself. Damn liar! Why is she doing this to me? He felt the powerlessness of his situation overwhelm him and clenched his fists in his lap.  His father’s hand on his arm went unnoticed.

‘I ran from him,’ Susanna continued, ‘but he followed me into an alleyway.  I tried to get away from him, honestly I did!’ Her blue eyes looked pleadingly at the jury. ‘But he was too fast for me. ‘He …. he held onto me.  I screamed a few times, and then I managed to slap his face, but he just kept …. he kept holding on to me and touching ….’ Her voice trailed away again. ‘Oh please, I can’t,’ she cried and buried her face again in her handkerchief.

‘There, there,’ said the judge. ‘I know this is difficult for you my dear, but you are nearly finished. ‘Please tell us what happened next.’

Susanna took a deep breath and stilled her sobs. ‘He touched me and I scratched him. Then he threw me down and ….and ….and he forced himself on me.’

The crowd erupted, and the judge was forced to bang his gavel several times before he could restore quiet. ‘When it was over the sheriff came, and Joe pretended that nothing had happened. I don’t remember much after that, except….’

‘Yes?’ the prosecutor asked. ‘Except?

‘Except that he came to my house the next day and told me that if I said anything he’d hurt me even more,’ she finished with a flourish, looking directly at Joe as she spoke the words.

‘Miss Deane I will need to ask you an important question now,’ the prosecutor said softly. ‘Is Joseph Cartwright the father of your baby?’

Susanna looked directly at Joe as she answered. ‘Yes he is,’ she declared.

Joe couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Why does she hate me so much?  What did I so to make her do this to me?

Hiram did his best to discredit Susanna’s story next, and Joe realised as he went though her testimony just how flimsy her story was, but on the other hand how believable to anyone who had not actually been there.  And the jury hadn’t! Joe glanced at the men who sat in judgement upon him.  None of then had met his eye at any time, and he honestly didn’t know what must have been going through their minds. Did they believe her? Or did they see through her story? Did they see the evidence for what it was, and realise that it was circumstances alone that were stacked against him, or did they see the circumstances as all too coincidental?  Joe had no way of getting inside their heads, and found himself becoming increasingly agitated as he forced himself to sit there. As she was helped down from the stand and returned sobbing to her seat he felt the wrath of the entire room fall upon him and quaked at the thought of what must be going through the minds of everyone who had heard her version of the facts. Liar!

As he struggled to control himself, his father’s grip on his arm tightened and he sought comfort from it. But somehow it didn’t help.  He felt as if he was adrift on a raft by himself, and no one or nothing could touch him.  He was unreachable, and beyond help. He hardly heard the words as they were spoken, and it was only the touch of his father urging him forward that gave him the courage to stand as his name was called a second time.

The walk to the stand seemed to be an endless one, yet when it ended he wished it hadn’t.  To turn and see all the faces looking at him was unbearable. Faces that held no sympathy for him, but surveyed him with looks of pure hatred and venom. He held his breath and fixed his gaze on a spot on the back wall, as Hiram had instructed him to.

‘Joseph, could you please relate the events of the night in question to the jury,’ Hiram instructed him, and he swallowed before trying to find his voice.  As he went through the well-rehearsed speech that they had prepared so well, he once again felt himself detached and somehow drifting above the scene as if he was not so much a part of it as a spectator.   Before he knew it, his recount of the events was over.  He had been factual and to the point, and Hiram gave him a satisfied nod before sitting.

Joe swallowed again as the prosecutor stood and approached him. He looked away from the man and over to the group seated behind the low railing, and caught sight of Susanna’s mocking stare.  He felt another bout of rage rise inside him, and quickly looked to the other side where his father and brothers sat.  He locked his gaze onto his father’s and looked deeply into his eyes for a moment. Help me Pa!  Help me to get through this!

The prosecutor’s voice forced his attention back to the man standing in front of him. ‘Mr Cartwright, you said that Miss Deane was forcing her attentions on you throughout the night?’

‘Yes,’ he replied.

‘You honestly expect this court to believe that a young girl would do that in the middle of a crowded room full of people?’

Joe felt his anger rise to the surface. ‘Yes I do!’ he retorted.  Hiram looked directly at him and shook his head, and Joe immediately sat back in his seat and tried to control himself.

‘And later on the way to her house, you would have us believe that it was in fact her pushing her advances onto you and not the other way around?’

‘Yes,’ he said again, more controlled this time.

And so it went on.  Every statement he had made was questioned by the prosecutor and somehow twisted to look as though it had been exaggerated or somehow incorrect. When the time came for him to step down he felt the frustration build up to an unbearable level, and he longed to yell at them all.

As each lawyer gave their closing statements he found his thoughts drifting away from their words, and concentrated on a simple prayer.  His father had always taught him that God always defends those who are right, but at this particular moment in time Joe began to feel himself doubting that. God forgive me! I really don’t know if I can trust you to get me through this! Please forgive me and help me!

Suddenly it was over.  Joe opened his eyes to the movement of people everywhere.  The jury were departing and the crowd was dispersing and spilling out to the street to discuss the morning’s events over lunch.  His father put his arm around his shoulder and whispered to him. ‘You did well son.  It’s over now for a while.’

He looked into his father’s eyes and tried to give him a smile, but failed dismally. ‘Come on boy, we need to get some food into you.’ Ben pulled his son to his feet and led him out of a back door and into another room. Joe followed his father obediently, not knowing where they were going and not really caring.  His emotions were dead, and the effects of the hours of tension were beginning to tell on him.  He looked around him with a glazed expression and said nothing.

‘This way Ben.’ Roy Coffee motioned for them to follow him through another doorway and up a flight of stairs, and Joe realised that his father must have organised somewhere for them to be away from the prying eyes of everyone who had been a witness to the morning’s events. He nearly sobbed with relief when the door closed and he was left alone with his father and brothers for the first time since they had stepped foot in the courthouse early that morning.

At once, Ben moved towards him and put his arms around his shoulders.  Joe clung to his father and put his head on the broad shoulder as he closed his eyes and listened to the silence around them.  After a moment he heard his father’s comforting voice. ‘Joseph, are you all right?’

He nodded, but didn’t lift his head.  He longed to stay in this position forever, desperate to feel the comfort of his father’s arms and pretend that his touch would make it all go away just as it had when he had been a child. The tears began to fall from his eyes and he tried to brush them away without his brothers seeing them, but after a moment he didn’t even care about that.  The only sound in the room apart from his sniffles was the sound of the clock on the wall ticking.


Joe looked out of the window and stared at the crowd below. What are they thinking? He could almost hear the words as they were spoken, and so engrossed was he in trying to listen, that he failed to hear his father beside him. ‘Joe I really wish you’d try to eat something son.  You need you to keep your strength up.’  He shook his head and continued to watch the crowd below, fascinated by what he was seeing.

After a moment he turned and asked for the tenth time that hour. ‘How long do you think they’ll take?’

Ben gave him the standard answer that they had all learned off by heart now. ‘No body knows Joseph.  It could be hours or even days. Hiram will come to us the minute the jury appears back in the courtroom.’  Joe nodded and turned back to the crowd again.

Ben looked at Adam and Hoss and shook his head. He tried again. ‘Joe, do you want to lie down for a while?  There’s a bedroom next door for us to use.’  Joe shook his head again without even turning this time from the window.

 Ben moved over to him and began to massage his shoulders as he spoke. ‘Joe you have to relax.  This isn’t helping you at all.’

‘I just can’t understand how she could do this to me. How could she say those things?’ Joe looked at his father. ‘Why would she lie like that?’

‘She’s scared Joe. It must be terrible for her to be in the position she is.  Just imagine for a moment how hard it must be for her to face this whole town in her condition. A lot of people must be giving her a hard time over this.’

‘I know that!  But surely it doesn’t give her the right to drag me into this?  Why blame me for it?’  Joe’s eyes blazed with an anger that he sought to control.

Ben continued to massage his son’s shoulders. ‘I don’t have an answer for that Joe.  I don’t know why she’s doing it.’

Joe moved away from his father and bent his face against the windowpane.  After a moment he said again, ‘How long do you think they’ll take?’

Ben grabbed him by the arm. ‘Joe come away from the window now.  Come and sit down.’

At that moment, Hiram entered the room and four pairs of eyes immediately fixed on him. ‘The jury is returning,’ he said simply. ‘It’s time to go back in.’

Ben looked at his youngest son who still stood by the window and noted the colour drain from his face. ‘But they haven’t even been an hour!’ Ben exclaimed. ‘How could they reach a decision so quickly?’

Hiram shrugged his shoulders. ‘All I know is that they have. Come on Joseph, we need to get back down there now.’

Joe stood still by the window, not acknowledging the man at all. Ben walked over to him and bent close to his face as he said quietly. ‘Joseph we need to go back in now. Come with me.’

Joe turned to face his father. ‘Pa?’ he said beseechingly, ‘Pa?’ He held out his hand and grasped Ben’s arm tightly.

Ben nodded to him and patted his shoulder. ‘Come on Joe, your brothers and I are here with you.  We’ll all go together.’  He led the boy out of the room and down the stairs, followed by Hoss.

As Hiram began to follow them, Adam clutched him by the arm and said, ‘Hiram, what does this mean?  Do you think it’s a good sign that they’ve come to a decision so quickly?’

The lawyer frowned. ‘I really don’t know Adam.  It’s always so hard to pick these things. All I know is that the evidence against Joseph is circumstantial, and I hope to God that they see it that way as well.  If not….’  He shrugged his shoulders. ‘There’s always the chance of an appeal.’

‘And how long would that take?’

‘A few months to get back to court.  In the meantime the boy would have to serve his time in prison.’  He tried to smile at Adam and patted him on the arm. ‘Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.  For your father’s sake if nothing else.  I have a feeling that Joseph going to prison would be a blow that Ben would find very difficult to take.’

‘We all would,’ Adam replied. ‘Particularly Joe himself. He’s always been the kind of kid who finds it really hard to stay in one place for any length of time.  Prison would be extremely hard for my little brother.’

Hiram moved through the doorway. ‘Let’s go and get this over with shall we?’ he said as he descended the stairs.


As the Cartwrights seated themselves at the front of the courtroom a hush fell over the room and everyone waited with a tenseness that was tangible for the return of the jury.  Joe felt his heart begin to beat faster and found it difficult to breathe as he watched them return one by one to their places and closed his eyes briefly as he said a silent prayer.  Before he could begin to put his thoughts in order he heard his name called and felt his elbow nudged by Hiram on one side and supported by his father on the other.

His knees shaking, Joe sought to maintain control as he clenched his fists by his side and stood to face the judge.  He tried to concentrate on the words that were being spoken around him, but they seemed far away and he struggled to make sense of them as he prepared himself for the worst.

Please God help me not to break down!  Please God just let me not show them how I feel!

‘Have you reached a verdict?’ the judge asked the foreman.

Please God!

‘We have your honour,’ the man replied and handed the judge a piece of paper.

 Don’t let it happen!

The judge glanced at it for a moment and then looked up to meet Joe’s eyes.

Help me!

‘Joseph Cartwright you have been found not guilty of the charge laid against you.  Case is dismissed,’ he announced, and with that the single sentence the courtroom erupted.

‘NO!’ screamed Robert Deane from across the room and threw himself forward towards Joe. ‘No! He’s guilty! Let me at him!’

Roy Coffee and the prosecutor quickly stepped forward between the Cartwrights and the distraught man and held onto him firmly.  ‘Settle down!’ Roy yelled at him as the crowd behind him began to mill around.  ‘Listen to me Robert and settle down!’

The judge banged his gavel several times to demand silence, but he couldn’t be heard above the noise that was increasing by the minute.

Roy turned to Ben and yelled to him. ‘Get Joe out the back way! Get him out, for God’s sake!’

Ben needed no second bidding to do as the sheriff instructed and grabbed Joe, who was standing as if in a trance, and began to pull him towards the back door.  Adam swiftly ran in front of them and headed straight out.  Ben guessed rightly that he was going to try and grab their horses and have them ready at the back door.  Hoss stood behind his father and Joe, his large bulky frame providing a perfect barricade against the crowd that was now surging forward, his arms flung outward in order to shield them as much as possible from any contact.

Ben held onto his son for dear life, dragging him forward and out of the room. Joe didn’t resist his father, but neither did he seem to care much what was happening either. By the time they reached the outer door and saw Adam with the horses, Ben was shouting into his youngest son’s ear. ‘Joseph! Keep with me boy, quickly now!’

Hoss practically threw his younger brother into the saddle and Adam grabbed the reins as they made their exit via the back alleyway. Behind them the crowd’s noise could still be heard and drowned out the beating of their horse’s hooves as they departed the town and headed for the security of The Ponderosa.



Ben looked up as Adam descended the stairs and seated himself opposite his father on the settee.  ‘Is he still asleep?’ he asked, and Adam nodded.

‘Yes he is.  I’m beginning to wonder if he’ll ever wake up.’

‘He really has a lot of catching up to do Adam,’ he replied. ‘I’m sure he hasn’t slept properly in days.’

‘Have any of us?’  his son replied. ‘Hoss is out to it as well.’

‘Please God we’ll all be able to settle down a bit now that it’s all over,’ Ben replied.  ‘What we all need is some peace and quiet for a while.’

Adam sat in thought for a moment before replying to his father. ‘Pa you know as well as I do that it’s not over by any means.  You saw the reaction of that crowd this afternoon.’

‘I know,’ Ben replied. ‘I think it’s best if we all stay here on The Ponderosa for a while.  Particularly Joseph.’  He frowned. ‘I just hope to God that he’ll be able to overcome this in time.’

‘Well judging by that crowd this afternoon, it’s going to take a lot more than just time to fix this situation,’ said Adam. ‘You know that most of them don’t believe for an instant that he’s innocent, and they’ll do everything they can to make his life a misery.  Not to mention what her father might do.’

Ben covered his face with his hands and sighed. ‘Well all we can do at the moment is make sure that we give Joseph the time to sort out his feelings over this, and the space to keep him from everyone while he’s doing it.’ He glanced across at his eldest son who was trying to stifle a yawn. ‘I think it’s time we all got some sleep,’ he said, ‘come on son.’  As they mounted the stairs wearily together, Ben put his arm around Adam’s shoulder and said quietly, ‘Thank you for helping today with your brother, son.  You and Hoss did a fine job of helping to keep him safe.’

Adam smiled at his father. ‘We’d both do anything for that kid.  You know that Pa.’

Ben squeezed his shoulder tightly. ‘Yes, I do know that son.  Joseph is a lucky young man to have two brothers like you and Hoss.’ He patted him on the back as they reached Joe’s room. ‘You go on to bed now, I’ll just check on your younger brother.’

Adam nodded. ‘Night Pa.’ He knew that Ben needed to check on the boy not for Joe’s sake, but for his own.

Ben knew it too, and didn’t try to disguise the fact.  Seated by Joe’s bed moments later, he looked at the sleeping young man and offered up a prayer of thanks to God for keeping his son out of prison and close by his side once again. No one knew better than Ben Cartwright just how difficult prison would have been for this son of his who had been on the move since the moment of his birth, and before as well.

Ben smiled as he remembered the many nights Marie had kept him awake until the early hours of the morning complaining about this child of theirs kicking her until she was sure she was black and blue inside.  She was sure that he was going to be a boy because she said that no girl would have had that much energy!  Indeed the first time Ben had laid eyes on the new baby he was struck by the amount of energy the small squirming bundle seemed to have had, and continued to have during the months after his birth.  He had surely kept them all on their toes as he demanded their full and utmost attention!

From a squalling infant to an energetic toddler, to a mischievous youngster and now to a restless young man, Joseph had always been the sort of person who could not keep still for anything.  Even now in his sleep he began to toss under the covers as if to prove the point to his father, and Ben smiled as he replaced the covers over him again. Joseph!  Always fidgeting, always moving, always pacing! No Joseph, you would never have coped well with prison.   Ben thanked the Lord that his son had never had to find out for sure.



Joe opened his eyes and blinked as he looked at the stream of sunlight that cut across the bed.  He shifted his head to watch the flapping curtains as they moved in the gentle breeze that drifted in through the window and stretched as he woke fully.

He frowned as he remembered the events of the previous day and shut his eyes again for a moment to help him to recall the words that had finished the nightmare that had been plaguing him for the past few months. Joseph Cartwright you have been found not guilty of the charge laid against you.  Case is dismissed.

There would be no more wondering, no more hoping, no more praying that it would turn out like that.  It was over!

Only it’s not over!   Joe thought as he rolled over to face the wall. It’ll never really be over as long as she continues to lie and people believe her.  Although it had seemed to his family that Joe had been in a daze the day before, he had been very much aware of what was going on, only too stunned to react to it. He had seen clearly the look in Robert Deane’s eyes as he made a move towards him, just as he had seen the look of disappointment and frustration in the eyes of his daughter.  And anger!  Oh yes, of that Joe was sure. Susanna Deane was extremely angry that the jury had not believed her story. Only maybe they had!  Joe didn’t really know what the jury thought, and probably never would.

As Hiram had explained to them when he had come to the ranch last night, the evidence against Joe had been largely circumstantial, and even though the jury may have believed Susanna’s story, they may have felt that they could not bring a verdict of guilty under such circumstances.  Whatever their feelings though, they had brought down a verdict of not guilty, and Joe was free!

Free!  How wonderful that sounded to him.  Free to get on with his life.  Free to start again.  Free to …..  Just what was he free to do though?  Joe knew that the feelings of the town were very volatile at the moment, and his father had made it very clear to him just what that meant.  He would be very foolish to risk a confrontation with Robert Deane and indeed anyone in the town until the matter had subsided.  Hiram and Ben had made him promise that he wouldn’t go off the ranch for a while to come.

Joe sighed.  He had already been confined to the ranch for so long now, that it was difficult to imagine how he would be able to cope much longer.  Joe was a social character and had craved the company of others during the last few months.  The restrictions that had been placed upon him didn’t come easily to him, and he longed to go back to life the way it was before.  However, he knew that was impossible for a while to come.  You just have to wear it for now Joe, he told himself, hopefully it won’t be for too much longer.

‘Joe?’ he rolled over again when he heard his name called, and saw Hoss standing in the doorway. ‘Hey it’s about time ya woke up!  Been thinking ya going ta stay there all day!’

If the truth be known, that was exactly what Joe felt like doing.  His body ached and his mind refused to shake itself out of the lethargy that seemed to have taken hold of it. All he wanted to do was to shut out the world and sleep again, but he forced himself to smile and say ‘No, I’m getting up now.’

‘Good,’ Hoss replied, his smile widening. ‘I thought we might go fishing or something.’

Joe nodded at him and stretched again. ‘OK Hoss, whatever you say.’

The smile from Hoss’ face disappeared as he said, ‘Well ya don’t seem too enthusiastic about it!’

‘Yeah I am, I’m just tired is all,’ Joe replied.

‘OK see ya downstairs then.’ Hoss disappeared and Joe sighed wearily as he put his feet to the floor and reached for his shirt.



‘How many times do we have to discuss this Joseph?’ Ben asked in a frustrated tone of voice. ‘I told you before that I believe it’s best if you stay on the ranch for a while longer.’

‘But Pa!’  Joe replied in the same frustrated tone. ‘It’s been a week now! How much longer do I have to wait?’

‘Until the feelings have died down in town that’s how long!  I told you what Adam said last night!’

‘Yes you told me!  But I don’t see how that really means anything,’ Joe replied.

‘It means exactly what it sounds like,’ Ben said trying to keep his voice controlled. ‘If Adam felt uncomfortable around people in there yesterday then you would only be asking for trouble by going in.’

‘Pa! Being uncomfortable and being in trouble are two different things!  Just how long do ya expect me ta stay here for?’

‘For as long as it takes Joseph!  Now do as I ask please! You are not to go into town until I say it is time, is that understood?’

Joe gave his father a black look and strode out of the house, banging the door behind him as he went.  Ben frowned as he put his elbows on the desk in front of him and rested his head on his hands. He knew how hard this was on his youngest son who had been restricted to the ranch for quite a while now, but he needed to be sure that it was safe for him to return to town before he gave permission. Ben didn’t know how long that would take, but he did know that a week was not nearly long enough for the hatred and frustration he had seen in the eyes of the crowd that day in the courtroom to die down.  He sighed as he pondered the problem of how to keep that volatile youngest son of his occupied and his mind off the issue.

Joe stood outside and watched his brother hitch the team to the buckboard as they prepared to collect the weekly supplies from Virginia City. He stole a glance over his shoulder in the direction of the house and scowled as he thought about his father’s words. Much and all as he was grateful to his father and brothers for all the help they had given him during the last few months he felt as though it was time now to regain his life and begin to make his own decisions again.  Ben’s words had only helped to make him feel more frustrated than ever, and he resolved to take some action.

Waving his brothers goodbye with a forced smile on his face, Joe then took off at a run towards the barn where he quickly saddled Cochise and led him outside.  With a final wilful glance towards the house, he vaulted up onto the saddle and cantered out of the front yard. Without a backward glance he set off after his brothers, being careful to keep to the side of the track so that he couldn’t be seen.

It wasn’t until they were within sight of the town that Joe made his presence known to his brothers by riding out in front of them on the trail. ‘Hi!’ he said nonchalantly as he held up his hand in greeting. ‘Imagine seeing you two here!’

Adam pulled the team to a halt and frowned at his wayward younger brother. ‘What the he…. What are you doing here?’

‘I thought you could use some help with loading the supplies,’ Joe replied with a shrug of his shoulders and a sheepish grin.

‘Well you can just turn that horse around and ride as quick as you can back to the ranch!’ ordered Adam sternly. ‘And hope that Pa hasn’t missed you before you get back there.’

Joe shook his head. ‘I ain’t going Adam,’ he said coolly.

‘Joe don’t be crazy!’ Hoss said. ‘If ya go into town who knows what might happen! Don’t be a fool boy!’

Joe shook his head again. ‘I’ve got ta do it at some stage.  I figure I may as well get it over with.  And anyway, what can happen with you two looking out for me as I know you’re gonna do anyway, whether I like it or not.’

‘Joe I’m warning you!’  said Adam angrily. ‘Get your hide back to that ranch now or I’ll take you there myself!’

Joe shook his head again and turned Cochise towards the town. ‘I’m going inta town Adam.  If you want ta come with me that’s fine, but if not then I’m still going.’ He began to ride down the trail away from them.

‘That fool kid!’ exclaimed Hoss. ‘Come on Adam, we ain’t got no choice.’

Adam glared in the direction of his youngest brother who had by now ridden ahead of them and urged the horses forward again while cursing softly under his breath.
As they turned the corner into Main Street, Adam motioned to Joe to move his horse closer to the buckboard and was pleased to see that his younger brother did so immediately. ‘Now you listen to me Joe,’ he said. ‘We go straight to the mercantile, load the supplies and get straight out again. Understood?’

Joe nodded at him. ‘I may be stubborn older brother, but I’m not stupid,’ he answered. ‘I’m not here ta antagonise anyone ya know!’

Adam shot him a dark look. ‘And you’re not going into the store.  You’re staying outside with Hoss and putting the supplies into the buckboard as I bring them out. Got it?’

Joe nodded again, but didn’t reply.  His eyes were darting from one side of the street to the other, watching for any reaction to his presence. What he saw were several people stopping to stare at him, and he felt himself break out into a sweat as he and his brothers progressed down the street.  By the time they reached the mercantile store, practically everyone on the street had stopped and were simply staring at the Cartwright brothers as they pulled the buckboard and the horse to a halt.

The silence was chilling as Joe dismounted from Cochise and tied her to the back of the buckboard.  Adam signalled to Hoss. ‘Stay here with Joe.  Yell out if anyone causes a problem and we’ll get out of here.’

Hoss nodded and positioned himself next to his younger brother who stood on the porch outside the store.  For several minutes they stood there as the crowds on the other side of the street simply stared back.  Gradually people began to move again, and both Hoss and Joe breathed a sigh of relief.

Joe felt the tension leaving his body and his muscles began to relax again. He stared straight ahead of him, and when Adam appeared with the first bundle of supplies he grabbed it eagerly, wanting something to do to appear busy to those around him.  As the brothers loaded armful after armful of supplies into the buckboard, a sense of normality began to appear around them as the people went about their daily business.  With each trip that he took out to the porch, Adam sensed the town ignoring them, and breathed a sigh of relief each time.  Sam inside the store appeared quite normal in his dealings with him, but then Adam had expected that, as the man had treated him no differently the week before either.

It wasn’t until they were nearly finished though, that he sensed that the very normality of the people’s actions were a puzzle in themselves.  They had expected some sort of trouble, and it was a strange feeling not to have received.  Almost an anticlimax in a way.

Joe was obviously puzzled as well.  Not only was no one taking any notice of him, but they were pointedly ignoring him.  Anyone who came near him simply looked in another direction and went out of their way to give him a wide berth.  It was as if he didn’t exist, and Joe found that extremely hard to take.  Prepared for a fight or an argument, when he got neither he didn’t know what to do.

If there was one thing Joe Cartwright couldn’t take it was being ignored, and if the townspeople had set out to cut him to the quick then they had certainly done a good job of it.  As he left the town behind him he felt more depressed and humiliated than he had during the last few months, and he vowed that he would never put himself through that again.



‘Pa I think if someone had come out and punched him he would have handled it better,’ Adam said to his father later that evening when Hoss and Joe had gone up to bed. ‘You should have seen his face.  He really didn’t know how to handle it.’

Ben shook his head. ‘Well it certainly wasn’t what I would have expected. I thought they would have turned on him.’

‘So did I,’ replied Adam. ‘I was ready to have to drag him out of there by the scruff of his neck when he insisted on going in. Really Pa, it was as if they just didn’t think he was worth the trouble. They just acted like he didn’t exist.’

‘And to Joseph that was harder to handle of course,’ replied his father. ‘Fists, harsh words, even a gunfight he would know what to do, but this……  I honestly don’t know what Joe will do next time it happens.’

‘I don’t think you have to worry about that actually,’ said Adam. ‘I heard him telling Hoss earlier that he won’t be going in again. I really think it hurt him a lot Pa.’

Ben scratched his head. ‘I think you may be right.  I watched his face at supper tonight.  It was as though he’d given up.  There was just no fight in him at all. That’s so unlike Joseph.  Usually there is some spark of anger or defiance in him.’

They sat in silence for a few moments before Ben continued. ‘Well, we’ll just have to take it as it comes now. Joseph is going to have to pick up the pieces and create some sort of life around this now.’

‘Pa?’ Adam asked.

‘Yes son?’

‘What do you think will happen in a few months when that baby is born?  Do you think it will stir it all up again?’

Ben sighed as he stood up. ‘Honestly Adam, I just don’t what to think any more.  All I know is that Joe is going to need our support when the time comes.’

Adam nodded. ‘I just don’t see how this can continue.  That girl and her baby are going to be living right under Joe’s nose for a long time to come.  How will he cope with that?’

Ben shook his head and was silent.  He had no answers for his son.

Part Four
August 1865

Joe picked himself up from the dusty ground and grabbed for the reins dangling beside him. He pulled angrily on them and the horse beside him gradually stopped and stood tossing its head up and down.  Ben frowned as he watched his youngest son’s display of anger against the beast and noted that it was typical of Joseph now to lash out before thinking.  During the past months they had all been victim to his bad temper, and now he was taking it out on a helpless animal as well.

‘Joe!’ he yelled. ‘Leave the horse alone!’

Joe turned on his father. ‘What do you mean leave him alone?  He threw me!’

‘Well isn’t that the whole point of breaking horses?’ Ben replied, feeling his own anger surface. ‘Just take it as it comes and stop baiting the animal.’

Joe let go of the reins and stomped off as he had so many times lately in the middle of one of the many arguments he had had with his father. ‘Well I’m sorry! Maybe someone else could do a better job than me!’ He stomped over to where Cochise was tied and mounted him, giving his father a dark look as he did so. Turning the horse away from the corral he galloped off at a fast pace, dust flying around him.

‘Joseph!’ Ben called, but to no avail.  His son ignored him and kept going until he was a small speck in the far distance. Ben shook his head and turned away from his son. It seemed like nothing he said or did eased the tension that lay between them at the moment, and he knew it was the same between Joe and his brothers as well.  His youngest son was like a bear with a sore head, determined to rattle as many people as possible.  Ben couldn’t blame him really though, as he knew what was behind it all.

First there was the fact that Joe had nothing to do except work for several months now, and that sat very hard with this boy of his.  Every time he had tried to regain some sort of normality in his life, it seemed like something was there to stop him.  He had tried several times to get the boy into town again, but Joe had resisted any contact with people outside the family except when he had been forced to have it.

He had eventually gone into town a couple of times with his father and brothers, but the isolation he felt from everyone there who continued to ignore him had been too much for him to bear and he had left both times nearly in tears.  It tore Ben up to see the boy hurt in that way, and he felt helpless in the face of such absolute refusal of the people to acknowledge him.

Then there were the problems that had begun to surface on the ranch itself.  Ben had actually been forced to fire several ranch hands with whom Joe had experienced problems, and that had not sat well with his son at all.  There was no actual incident that had brought their feelings to a head, but more a stubborn refusal to take any notice of Joe’s instructions and requests.  Under those conditions, the men were not welcome on The Ponderosa and Ben had felt obliged to send them packing.

At first he had been able to do so discreetly, but eventually Joe had found out, and that had caused an argument of epic proportions.

Ben could see where his son was coming from, and that was part of the problem.  When Joe questioned if his father was going to get rid of everyone on The Ponderosa in order to make him feel better, he really didn’t know what to say at all.  Ben knew that if that was what he had to do, then yes he would do it, but also knew that in a practical sense he couldn’t go on shielding his son in this way.

The other reason for the tension was that Susanna Deane was due to have her baby any day now.  The fact was never mentioned in the Cartwright household, as indeed the charge and trial itself wasn’t.  Ben had tried several times to make reference to it, but Joe had brushed him aside, and made it clear to his father that he was not prepared to discuss it at all.  It lay between them like an axe ready to fall, and as the date grew closer so did the tension until everyone who entered the house could feel it.

Ben wondered how they could all survive this.  It seemed as if nothing could stop the accumulation of negativity that hung over them all, and none of them seemed to be able to stop it.  Where would it all end?  Ben hoped that the birth of this baby would somehow precipitate something that at might at least might bring things to a head. He wondered about Susanna and how she was coping with all of this.  Try as he might, Ben couldn’t help but feel anything but sympathy for the girl who had caused his son so much grief. And now there was a third person about to become a part of this tragedy as well.  He sighed again and turned towards the house.


‘Joseph?’ Ben said quietly as he approached his son as he sat by the side of the lake.

 Joe looked up at his father and frowned at him. ‘What?’ he asked. ‘Checking up on me now are ya Pa?’

Ben sat down next to the youngster and pursed his lips before he spoke. ‘Actually Joe, yes I am. Anything wrong with that?’

Joe didn’t answer, but merely shrugged his shoulders at his father’s remark.  Ben continued. ‘You didn’t come home for lunch and I was worried.  I thought I might find you up here.’  Ben knew from years of experience that whenever this youngest son of his was worried or upset about something he usually found his way to this spot.  Here next to the lake that they both loved and next to the grave of the woman who had given birth to him, he usually found the solace and the comfort that he so often craved.

Joe looked at his father again. ‘Well there aren’t too many places left for me ta go now are there? Guess ya didn’t have far ta look.’

Ben was silent for a moment. ‘Joe all that will change one day.  You just have to be patient son.’

Joe raised his eyebrows at his father. ‘Really? Ya really think so Pa? And just what day would that be?  How many days into the future will it be before people forget about it?’

Ben put his arm around his son’s shoulder and was pleased when the boy didn’t shrug him off as he had done so many times lately. ‘I don’t know son, I wish I did.’

Joe hung his head and put his arms around his knees. ‘I’m beginning ta think I’d be better off going away from all this,’ he said mournfully.

Ben jerked. ‘Don’t say that boy!  Running away never solved anything, how many times have I told you that!’

‘I know Pa, but it just seems ta me that nothing around here will ever get any better. I know you and Adam and Hoss are trying ta do your best for me, but it’s ……’  His voice trailed away, and he put back his head to look at the sky above them. ‘It’s just that I’m so …. so lonely Pa!’

Ben’s heart constricted as he heard his son speak the words he had felt for so long.  His boy was suffering so much, and Ben didn’t know what to say to him. He said the only thing he could think of. ‘I know son.’

Joe looked at his father with tear-filled eyes. ‘Do you Pa? Really?’

Ben stroked the back of his son’s neck. ‘I think I do Joe. You are the sort of person who really needs the company of others.  You always have.  Even when you were a little boy you could hardly wait to have the chance to play with other children.  Part of that was the fact that you had no one your own age on The Ponderosa, and so when you had the chance you really loved the company of others.  It was the one thing you loved about being at school remember?’

Joe smiled and nodded. ‘Yes I do.  I used ta think that the best part of the school day was recess and lunch.  And it wasn’t for the food either!’  They both laughed.

‘You always had lots of friends,’ Ben agreed.

‘Had is the right word for it now though,’ Joe said bitterly.  ‘Ya know Pa, none of them want ta know me any more. Even Mitch that day in town.  He saw me ya know, but he pretended that he didn’t.’

Ben nodded. ‘I know.’

‘It really doesn’t matter what that jury said.  I’ll always be guilty in the eyes of the people in Virginia City.  I’ll always be known as Joe Cartwright, the ….. the …..’

‘Joe, don’t go there,’ Ben begged his son. ‘It isn’t worth it son.’

Joe pounded his knees in frustration. ‘But Pa what am I supposed ta do? How can I live like this?  No one will even talk ta me.  They all pretend like I just don’t exist! Do ya know what it’s like ta live like that?’ Ben shook his head. ‘It’s so …. so humiliating Pa.  It’s so ….. lonely.’  Joe put his head on his knees and sobbed quietly while his father massaged the back of his neck.

After a few moments, Ben spoke. ‘Joe how would you like to go to San Francisco for a few days?’

Joe looked up at him. ‘I thought ya said that running away wasn’t the answer?’ he said.

‘I don’t mean for you to run away.  Maybe just have a break from all this,’ Ben said.  ‘I’m sending Adam there next week to do the negotiations for that timber contract.  How about going with him?’

Joe nodded and wiped his tears from his face. ‘Yeah, I’d like that Pa. Only thing is though, could we travel ta Reno and catch the stage from there instead of Virginia City?’

Ben’s heart constricted even more.  His son didn’t even feel comfortable enough to enter the town for a few minutes to catch the stage. ‘You can catch the stage from wherever you like Joe.’  He smiled at him. ‘I think it might be good for you to go son.  You could take in a few sights with Adam and make a bit of a holiday of it.  I think you need it.  Especially at the moment.’  Ben watched his son’s face carefully to see how he would react to the inference.

‘You mean it would be good for me not ta be around when Susanna has her baby?’ Joe said.

Ben nodded. ‘Yes, that’s exactly what I mean.  I don’t think it would do you or anyone else any good for you to be here.’

‘I’ve got ta face it sometime Pa.’

‘I know, but it might be best if ….’

‘Ya know, I haven’t seen her since that day in court.  I’m sure surprised her father hasn’t come after me.’

‘Robert Deane is a reasonable man Joe.  You can’t blame him for supporting his daughter the way he has, and he would naturally feel the way he does about you.  But having said that, he is not a man to lose his perspective easily.’

‘I know.  I just know that he hates me.  I thought he might have tried ta get me in some way.’

‘Well be thankful he hasn’t.  I think he really is too busy trying to support his daughter right about now.’

Joe nodded. ‘I don’t blame him for believing her Pa.  I just blame her for telling all those lies about me.  I guess there are a lot of people in town right about now thinking that you’re about ta become a grandfather.’

Ben jerked at his son’s words.  They seemed to put another perspective on the situation altogether.  Up until now the baby had been something that they had all considered as just something that had precipitated this whole situation.  But his son’s words brought Ben down to reality with a thud and made him think about the child in question.  There would always be those who looked at this child in years to come and would see him or her as a Cartwright.  No matter what was said or done, people would be searching for a sign of recognition in the child that he belonged to their family.  For the first time the reality hit Ben that this child would be forever tied to his family, whether or not he or she truly was biologically attached to it. It was a sobering thought, and one that Ben was not sure how to deal with.  Glancing across at his son’s profile as he stared into the lake before them, he was sure that Joe didn’t know how to deal with it either.



As they rode into the front yard, the first thing that Ben noticed was the buggy hitched to the rail in front of the house.  It was such a rare thing nowadays that it made him start, and he noticed Joe staring at it as well.

‘Well what do you know?  We have a visitor,’ Ben said with forced geniality as he dismounted. ‘I wonder who it could be?’

Joe dismounted beside him and reached for the reins of Ben’s horse. ‘I’ll put the horses away Pa,’ he offered and began to walk towards the barn.  Ben looked after him sorrowfully.  Not even in their own home did his son feel comfortable enough to meet someone.  He knew that putting the horses would take Joe just as long as he would need to stay away from confronting whoever was waiting for them in the house.

As Ben approached the front door it was flung open and Adam appeared. ‘Hi Pa,’ he said easily. ‘Doc Martin is here to see you.’

Ben nodded. ‘Thank you son.’  He held out his hand as he walked inside and approached the doctor. ‘Paul, it’s good to see you.  Coffee?’

The doctor grasped his friend’s hand warmly. ‘Adam has already given me a cup Ben. Thank you anyway.’

Hoss emerged from the kitchen. ‘Pa, Doc Martin is here.  Oh, you found him.’

The doctor nodded, then turned to Ben. ‘Actually Ben I need to speak to Joseph as well. In fact I think that all of you will be interested in what I have to say.’

“Hoss get your brother from the barn please,’ Ben instructed. ‘Tell him that Paul is here to see him.’

Hoss nodded and left the room. Ben indicated for Paul to sit down and they all made themselves comfortable.  There was silence in the room as they all tried to think of something to talk about, and eventually Ben tried to ease the tension by saying. ‘It’s good to see you again Paul. I’m sorry we haven’t seen  much of each other lately.  Been busy?’

Paul nodded, but didn’t say anything.  Ben noticed how the doctor seemed quite agitated which was rather unlike him, and wondered what could possibly be the matter.

The door opened and Hoss returned followed by Joe. Paul stood up and greeted the boy warmly. ‘Hello Joseph. It’s good to see you.  How are you boy?’

Joe jerked, quite taken aback by the warm greeting.  ‘Um, fine thank you,’ he replied.  He gave his father a questioning look, but Ben met it with a slight shake of his head.

As they all sat down, Paul cleared his throat. ‘I suppose that you’re all wondering why I’m here,’ he began. ‘I thought it would be best for you to hear the facts straight from me before you got wind of it elsewhere.’

The Cartwrights stared at him, all wondering what on earth he was talking about.  After a moment’s hesitation he continued. ‘You see, I delivered Susanna Deane’s baby last night.’

Ben looked straight at Little Joe.  The youngster averted his eyes and his father could see the clenched set of his jaw as he struggled to maintain his control.

Paul spoke again. ‘I thought you’d want to know …..’

Joe stood up. ‘Thank you Doctor Martin, but that is nothing ta do with me.  I appreciate ya coming ta let me know, but…..’

‘Joseph please sit down.  I haven’t finished,’ the doctor said.

Joe turned away from them and headed towards the door. ‘I have work ta do.  If you’ll excuse me …..’

‘Joseph sit down!’ ordered his father as he stood and walked after him. ‘The doctor said that he isn’t finished.  The least you can do is to hear him out.’ He held onto his son’s arm and pulled him gently back towards the settee. ‘Go on please Paul,’ he said when the boy was seated again.

Paul looked at Joe with great pity in his eyes. ‘As I was saying I delivered the baby this morning – a boy. Unfortunately the girl had a difficult time of it, and…..’ he held his hands up in a gesture of helplessness. ‘There was nothing I could do.  She died shortly after the baby was born.’

There was silence in the room as the four men digested this information. Joe stared at the doctor with his eyes wide. ‘She died?’ he whispered. An image of the pretty young blond girl floated before him and he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

‘Yes answered the doctor. ‘I couldn’t save her.’

Joe swallowed. ‘She can’t be dead,’ he said. ‘She….’ He put his hands over his eyes to try and blot out the image of Susanna mocking him from the stand with her eyes and her words. ‘My God. I ….. wanted her dead so many times.  I wished she would die.  But I didn’t mean for it to really happen!’

Ben reached out for his son. ‘Joe it’s not your fault!’

Joe looked at his father with grief stricken eyes. ‘But you don’t understand Pa!’ he said. ‘I prayed that she would die when it all first happened. But I didn’t mean for her to!  God, I hated her, but I didn’t really want her to die!’

‘Everyone knows that,’ said his father. ‘Joseph, you had nothing to do with this!  It was just an unfortunate thing.’

Joe’s breathing became ragged and he felt dizzy.  All he could think of was the night of the dance when he had danced with Susanna.  He felt her body moving with his in time to the music and heard her bright laughter as she tried to impress him. ‘Oh God!’ he said again.

Ben put his arm around his son’s shoulders and held him. ‘Adam, get some brandy,’ he said.  He knew that the boy was in shock, not so much from the news, which was disturbing enough, but at the new developments that this might bring.  As he forced the glass of brandy down an unresisting Joe’s throat he tried to bring his own emotions under control.

After a few moments he put down the glass and faced the doctor, still holding onto his son as he spoke. ‘Thank you Paul for coming to tell us yourself.  I suppose this will stir things up even more in town now, and we need to be prepared.’

‘Stir things up?’ the doctor asked.

‘Yes.  I imagine that there will be even more ill feeling towards Joe now with the girl’s death.  Logical or not, he may be seen by some as responsible for this latest turn of events.’  Ben felt his son stiffen within his grasp. ‘Steady now Joseph, just relax son,’ he said softly to him.

‘No Ben, I don’t think so.’ Paul stood up and paced in front of them for a few moments. ‘You see ……’

‘Ben looked at him puzzled. ‘What?’

Paul took a deep breath before answering. ‘The baby.  It seems that the baby has Indian blood Ben. There is no way that Joseph is the father of that baby.  The father was an Indian.’

Ben stared at the doctor, stunned. ‘What?’ he said.

‘The baby’s father was an Indian, or at least part Indian,’ the doctor repeated. ‘Your son is not the father of that child.’

There was silence in the room as the doctor’s words sank in. ‘I don’t understand,’ said Adam. ‘The baby’s father was Indian?  But surely Susanna would have known that!  How could she have expected to get away with accusing Joe?’

‘The father could have been only part Indian.  Who was to say whether or not that child would have inherited his features?  As it turns out he did, but Susanna might have been counting on the fact that he didn’t.  Also, I believe that the girl wasn’t thinking very clearly.  I had a lot to do with her in these past months, and she didn’t seem terribly coherent to me a lot of the time,’ Paul replied. ‘Frankly, I was concerned for a while there for her sanity.’

‘That poor girl,’ Ben said. ‘Nothing good has come out of this tragedy that’s for sure.’ He looked at his youngest son again, who seemed to be in a daze by his side. ‘Joe?’ he asked. ‘Joe do you understand what the doctor is saying?’

Joe didn’t respond to him, but merely sat there unmoving.

‘Joe?’ Ben tried again. ‘Son, listen to me. It’s over now Joe.  Everyone will know that you weren’t responsible for this now.’

Joe stood up and faced the doctor. ‘Thank you for coming ta tell me doc,’ he said. ‘I’ve got work ta finish now.’ He turned and headed towards the door before his father could stop him, but never made it.  As Ben made a move towards him, he saw his son sway slightly, and then fall to the floor in a dead faint.  All four men moved instantly to his side and Ben gathered his son into his arms. ‘It’s over now Joseph,’ he whispered into his unconscious son’s ear, ‘it’s over!’


‘Just let him sleep Ben,’ said Paul as he gathered his things together. ‘If he wakes through the night, then give him this mixed in a glass of water. It’ll send him off to sleep again which is the best thing for him at the moment.’

‘Thank you Paul,’ said Ben with an anxious look. ‘I’m so grateful to you for coming and giving us the news.’

Paul patted his friend on the arm. ‘You can be sure of one thing Ben,’ he said. ‘I will make sure that everyone knows this information about the baby as soon as possible.  Joseph’s name will be cleared if I have anything to do with it.’

‘Thank you Paul.  That will mean a lot to him.’

When the doctor had left the room, Ben sat down heavily on the edge of the bed and watched his sleeping son. After a few moments he felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Adam standing there.

‘How is he?’

‘Paul gave me a sleeping draught for him to have when he wakes. He just needs sleep.’

Adam sat on a chair next to his father. ‘And how are you?’ he asked.

Ben smiled at him. ‘Me? I’m fine.’

Adam scrutinized his father’s face and noted the strained look. ‘Really Pa?  You don’t look fine to me.’

‘It’s just the shock, that’s all.  It’s been quite a morning,’ Ben replied.

Adam nodded. ‘Mmm.  Quite a morning.’  He glanced at his brother sleeping in the bed beside them. ‘How do you think he’s going to handle this Pa?’

‘I don’t know.  He seemed to blame himself for wishing her dead, but I’m sure he’ll come to his senses about that in time,’ his father replied. ‘Adam I just can’t get that poor girl out of my mind.  What a tragedy!’

‘Yes, but Pa her life would have been pretty hard given the circumstances, you must admit.’

‘I suppose so.’  Ben sighed heavily.  ‘There’s just nothing good that’s come out of this at all.’

‘What do you think will happen to the baby?’ asked Adam.

‘I don’t know.  That’s up to Robert I suppose. It’s the child that I feel most sorry for in all of this,’ Ben replied. He sighed again as he studied the face of his sleeping son. ‘Sometimes life can be so cruel Adam. Sometimes it makes you wonder.’


Ben opened the door in answer to the knock that he had heard, and stared in surprise to see Robert Deane nervously standing on the front porch. Before he could speak, Robert blurted out, ‘Ben.  Before you say anything, please hear me out. I want to ….’

Ben held out his hand as he interrupted the man. ‘Please Robert, anything that needs to be said can be said inside. Come in.’

Robert looked at him amazed. ‘I felt for sure that I wouldn’t be welcome here.  Are you sure?’

Ben nodded.  ‘Yes, I’m sure.  Please come in.’

It wasn’t until they were seated in front of the fireplace that Ben spoke again. ‘Robert, I want you to know how sorry I am about Susanna’s death. It’s a great tragedy.’

‘You can say that Ben, after what she did to your boy?’

‘Robert whatever happened is past now.  Joe has a lot of hurt to overcome I won’t deny that, but you have lost your only daughter and nothing will ever replace her.’

Robert put his face on his hands and sobbed quietly. ‘Ben I don’t know why she did it!  I just have no words to tell you how sorry I am! To think that a child of mine would…..’ his voice trailed away. ‘When we buried her today all I could see was the little girl that I raised in front of me.  I just don’t know how it all turned out this way!’

Ben put his arm around the man’s shoulder. ‘Robert no one is blaming you for this.  Least of all myself or Joseph.’

Robert looked up at him. ‘Where is the boy Ben?  I really want to talk to him if he’ll let me.’

‘Of course,’ answered Ben. ‘Actually he’s upstairs sleeping. He’s been having trouble sleeping at night, so I didn’t wake him this morning. I’ll go and get him.’

As Ben approached the stairs, his youngest son appeared at the top of them, shirt unbuttoned and boots in his hand. ‘Morning Pa,’ he said. ‘Sorry I’m late for breakfast.  No one woke me up and I ……’  he stopped as he noticed Robert sitting on the settee.

Ben motioned to him. ‘Joe come downstairs son.  Mr Deane has come to see you.  He’d like to talk to you.’

Joe stared at his father, and for a moment Ben thought he was about to turn and leave again.  But after a moment’s hesitation he slowly began to descend the stairs until he was standing in front of the settee.

Robert looked up at him and said softly, ‘Hello Joseph.  I hope you don’t mind me coming to see you in this way.’  Joe shook his head silently and continued to study the man in front of him. ‘I would like to speak to you if you don’t mind,’ Robert continued. ‘Would you listen to what I have to say please?’ Joe nodded and then sat down on the other end of the settee.

‘Joe, I want to firstly say how sorry I am for what my daughter did to you. I know I can never make up for what happened, but I want you to know that I would give anything if it had never occurred.  I know that Susanna was wrong in what she did, and I am just so sorry that you were hurt.’  The man’s voice stumbled and he found it difficult to go on for a few moments. ‘I believed her because she was my daughter Joe,’ he glanced at Ben. ‘Just like your father would naturally believe you because you are his son. Please don’t blame me for that.’

Joe glanced at his father before replying, and noticed that he had tears in his eyes.  ‘I…. I don’t blame ya Mr Deane,’ he said softly. ‘You didn’t know she was lying.  How could ya?’

Robert brushed the tears from his face and tried to smile at the boy beside him. ‘Thank you Joseph.  It means a lot to me to know that.’

‘Mr Deane?’ Joe asked.


‘What’s gonna happen ta …. ta Susanna’s baby?’

‘I’ll be honest with you Joseph.  When the baby was born I found it very difficult to accept what must have happened.  I suppose I’ll never know the real story behind it, as Susanna never had the chance to confide in me.  But he is my grandson and I cannot turn my back on him.  I’ve decided to take him back to Cincinnati where my sister lives, and raise him there.  I think it’s for the best if we both leave Virginia City for good.’

Joe nodded. ‘I think Susanna would like ta think that her baby was being raised by you.’ He stood up. ‘I think I’ll go and get my chores started now. Do you mind?’

Ben sensed that his son needed to find solace in being alone for a while, and interrupted. ‘You go on if you want to Joseph. Mr Deane will understand.’

‘Yes,’ said Robert as he stood and held out his hand to Joe. ‘And thank you boy.’

Joe shook his hand and turned quickly so that neither man would see the tears that were forming in his eyes.  He left the room in a hurry and banged the door behind him.

Ben and Robert stood looking at each other for a moment. ‘That is one special boy you have there Ben,’ Robert said. ‘But I suppose you know that.’  Ben felt his heart lurch and tears spring to his eyes. ‘Yes,’ he said simply, ‘yes I do.’


‘Pa?’ said Joe. ‘Pa? I’ve been looking everywhere for ya.  We’ve been worried!’

Ben looked up to see his youngest son looking down at him with concern in his eyes.  He motioned for him to sit beside him on the grass, and then went back to gazing out over the lake again. After a moment he said quietly, ‘Funny isn’t it?  I’m usually the one saying that to you.’

Joe smiled. ‘Yes and I’m usually the one who comes up here when I’m worried about something, not you!’

‘I guess that you and I are alike in some ways then,’ replied Ben, without taking his eyes off the lake.

After a few moments, Joe spoke again. ‘Do you want to talk about it Pa?’

‘About what?’

‘Whatever it is that’s worrying ya of course,’ Joe said simply. ‘Something obviously is.’

Ben smiled at him. ‘And just how would you know that?’ he asked.

‘The same way ya know when something is troubling one of us I guess,’ replied his son. ‘I just do, that’s all. I guess it comes from watching ya all these years. Some of my father has to rub off on me.’

Ben frowned. ‘Well I hope not all of your father is in you,’ he said bitterly.

Joe looked at his father puzzled for a moment. ‘What do you mean Pa?’ he asked. ‘You’re a wonderful father to us all, don’t ya know that?’

‘No Joe, I’m not a wonderful father at all. Lord knows I’ve tried, but I’ve made many mistakes along the way.’

‘Nobody’s perfect Pa.’

‘At the moment son, I’m just about as far from perfect as a father can be,’ replied Ben bitterly.

‘Pa surely you don’t blame yourself for anything that has happened!’ Joe protested. ‘You did nothing wrong!’

Ben looked deep into his son’s eyes. ‘Yes Joe, I did do something wrong.  When Robert Deane came to see you this morning he made me realise just how wrong I have been, and how much I have let you down in these past few months.’

‘Pa, ya haven’t!’ Joe replied shocked. ‘You’ve been there for me every step of the way!  Ya made sure I had the best legal help, ya comforted me, ya supported me every minute! How can ya say ya let me down?’

‘Yes that’s true.  I did everything a father should do under the circumstances.  Everything except the most important thing.’ Ben looked directly at his son. ‘I didn’t believe you Joe.  God help me, but I didn’t know if you were really telling the truth or not! I thought you might have done it, and I didn’t know for sure.’  There was silence between them. ‘So you see son, I did let you down.’

‘Pa ya can’t blame yourself for feeling that way,’ Joe replied. ‘The evidence was there after all. I knew ya might have felt that way.’

Ben looked at him surprised. ‘You did?’ he asked.

Joe nodded. ‘Yes.  I didn’t know for sure anyway.’

‘I should have had faith in you,’ Ben said. ‘I should have trusted you.’  He glanced at the stone marker beside them. ‘She would have believed you.  I’ve just been sitting here asking her to forgive me, you know.’  There was silence between them again. ‘I suppose the one I should be asking forgiveness from though is you Joe.’

‘I don’t expect it Pa.’

Ben patted his son on the arm. ‘Nevertheless you deserve to hear it after all you’ve been through.  Joseph I am truly sorry for doubting you.  I should have believed you from the beginning son, and I had no right not to.’

‘Yeah Pa, ya did have the right.  After all, Mr Deane believed Susanna, and she was lying.  Who knows, maybe if I had done it I would have lied about it too.  I might have been scared enough to!’

Ben looked at his son with pride. ‘You know Joseph, I have never been prouder of you than at this very moment.  It takes a lot to endure what you’ve gone through and still be able to say something like that!’ He glanced at the stone marker beside them again.  ‘Your mother would be proud of you too son.’

Joe’s eyes misted over and he bit his lip as he tried to control the wave of emotion that was sweeping over him. ‘Thanks Pa,’ he said simply.

Father and son sat in silence for a few moments looking across the lake. After a while Ben said,  ‘so do you still want to go to San Francisco with Adam? The offer is still there you know son.’

Joe looked at his father and bit his lip. ‘I don’t know Pa.  It all depends. Maybe it would be best ta stay around here for a while now, ya know?’  Ben nodded. ‘I just want ta see how things go in town first.’

‘Of course Joe, whatever you want.  Only mind you take things easy when you go there.  Don’t expect everything to be back to normal all at once.’

‘No I won’t Pa,’ Joe replied. ‘Somehow I don’t think anything around here will ever get back ta normal again.’



‘How about a drink before we head back?’ Ben asked his son.

Joe hesitated. ‘I don’t know Pa.  Maybe we’d better not.’

‘Well that’s the first time I’ve heard you ever refuse a drink!’ his father said, trying to appear light hearted about it. ‘I’m buying you know!’

Joe tried to smile, but the strain of the last hour showed clearly on his face and he failed dismally.  Ben knew just how difficult this had been for his son, although to all intents and purposes the short trip into town to collect the supplies had been without incident so far. Sam in the mercantile had been quite civil to them both, and anyone who had passed them as they were loading supplies had either spoken briefly or acknowledged them in some way.  Nevertheless the strain of wondering how each person would react was a huge one.

Ben put his arm around his son’s shoulder and pulled him along with him down the sidewalk.  ‘Come on Joseph,’ he said simply. ‘We’re going for a drink.’

As the two Cartwrights neared the saloon, Ben felt the tension within his son’s body.  He tried to appear confident by smiling at his son and making light conversation, but if the truth were known he felt the anxiety rise within his own heart as well.  What if it was still not over for Joseph?  What if the people were not ready to accept him again?  Ben dreaded to think how his son would take it if he discovered that he still needed to be patient for a while longer.  Ben didn’t know if the boy had it in him.

The bartender smiled at Ben as they approached the bar.  ‘Hello Mr Cartwright,’ he said. ‘Good to see you.  You too Joe.’

With that simple sentence a heavy weight lifted off Ben’s shoulders and he felt a huge sense of relief. He glanced at his son and smiled at him, noticing the broad smile that had transformed his face from one of despair and wariness to one of delight.  ‘Morning,’ he replied. ‘Two beers please.’

As they made their way to a corner table, Ben noticed a few people nodding and smiling at Joe, who warily smiled back.  By the time they were seated, Ben was pleased to see a look of wonderment and happiness on his son’s face that he hadn’t seen for many months, and he leaned across and clapped him on the back. ‘See, I told you it was time we had a drink,’ he said as he winked at him.

Joe smiled back. ‘Yeah Pa.  Now I’m glad that we did.  Maybe everyone is starting to forget about this after all.’

‘Not only are they starting to forget Joseph,’ his father replied, ‘ but I suspect that they are more than a little embarrassed about the way they’ve treated you.’

Joe glanced around him at those seated in the saloon. ‘Maybe so,’ he said, ‘but they shouldn’t be.  They didn’t know if I was telling the truth or not, cause really it was Susanna’s word against mine after all.’

Ben stared at the youngster across the table from him.  This sure is one special boy I have for a son.  Why has it taken me this long to find out?  ‘Joseph you continue to amaze me,’ he said. ‘I thought you would still be very angry at the way you’ve been treated.’

Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘What’s the point Pa? It wouldn’t help anything would it?’  He hesitated for a moment while he took a sip of his beer. ‘I think maybe I’ve used up all my anger now anyways.’

Ben smiled at him. ‘Oh I hope not,’ he replied. ‘If you didn’t have a bit of anger in you son then you wouldn’t be my Joseph!’  He laughed. ‘Now what would I do if I didn’t have to worry about you getting into trouble?’

Joe grinned at him. ‘I guess you’d just havta start ta worry about Hoss and Adam more. They’d sure appreciate that!’

‘It’s a father’s prerogative to worry Joseph, so you boys are just going to have to put up with it I’m afraid. As long as I’m your father I’ll continue to worry about you.’

Joe touched his father on the arm as he said softly. ‘We don’t mind Pa, honest we don’t.’

Ben stood up from the table and pulled his son to his feet. ‘Come on then, let’s get back to The Ponderosa so that I can keep up with worrying about all three of you.’  He put his arm around his youngest son’s shoulder and walked with him across the saloon and out into the street.



‘So are ya coming or not?’ asked Hoss as he tried to straighten his tie and finally gave up in frustration. ‘Ya said ya were going to, now make up ya mind little brother.’

‘Really Joe, there’s no reason for you not to,’ added Adam.  ‘Everyone in town’s acting like normal to you again, you’ve got to admit that!’

Joe didn’t move from his position on the settee. ‘I know, but I just don’t feel like going now, that’s all,’ he said. ‘Stop pestering me about it why don’t ya?’

Adam glanced at Ben and shrugged his shoulders, and his eyes pleaded for his father to try. ‘Son, you’re all dressed.  It seems a shame to waste a bath after all,’ Ben ventured, trying to make his son smile with a joke. ‘Why don’t you just go to the dance and see how it goes?  You can always leave if you feel uncomfortable.’

Joe shrugged his shoulders, and remained silent.

Ben tried again. ‘Joe you’ve got to try sometime,’ he said softly.

 Joe looked at his father and nodded his head slightly. ‘Yeah well, maybe these two need someone ta look out for them,’ he said with a half grin. ‘Maybe I’ll go just for a while.’

Ben clapped him on the back. ‘I’m glad to hear it,’ he said. ‘You go and try to enjoy yourself.’

Joe nodded as he stood up. ‘I’ll try Pa,’ he said. ‘Come on Hoss, what are ya waiting for anyways?  Seems ta me we’re gonna be awful late if ya don’t get moving!’  Hoss reached out to hit him, but his younger brother sidestepped the movement nimbly and grinned at him. ‘Have ta be quicker than that older brother if ya gonna get me!’ He moved quickly towards the door, followed by Hoss.

‘Adam,’ said Ben, as his oldest son began to move after them.

Adam turned and smiled at his father. ‘You don’t need to say it Pa.  Hoss and I will look out for him, you know that.  At the first sign of any problem we’ll have him out of there so fast that he won’t know what’s hit him.’

Ben nodded. ‘Thank you son,’ he said.


Joe hesitated as the bright light hit him full in the face and he heard the music begin, and frowned as Hoss pushed him forward into the room in front of him.  ‘Keep going little brother,’ he whispered. ‘Ya’ve come this far, don’t chicken out on us now!’

As the Cartwrights entered the room many pairs of eyes glanced in their direction.  Joe tried to find a safe place to look where he wouldn’t have to meet anyone’s eye, but he found it impossible to do so.  He sidled carefully up to a corner and stood there, pretending to be interested in the many plates of food that were on display, and was standing there still immobile when he heard a voice behind him. ‘I’m so glad you came Joe. I was hoping that you would.’

He turned to see Becky Palmer standing next to him, smiling up at him. He realised just how long it had been since he had seen her and in that instant he realised just how much he had missed her. He glanced nervously around before he spoke. ‘Hi Becky. It’s real good ta see ya.’

‘You too Joe,’ she replied. ‘I wanted to come out to the ranch in the last few days to see you, but my parents wouldn’t let me.’

 Yeah, well I guess that’s ta be expected,’ he replied with a touch of bitterness in his voice. ‘I didn’t think they’d be happy for ya to see me at all.’  He glanced around the room again and was pleased to see that no one was even looking in their direction. ‘You’d better go before ya get into trouble for speaking ta me.’

Becky frowned at him. ‘Joe, don’t be so stupid!’ she admonished him. ‘I didn’t mean it like that at all!  My parents just thought that you might need some more time to get over …. you know……. before you started seeing people.  We all feel real happy for you that it’s finally over.’

Joe looked at her, surprised and pleased. ‘Ya do?’ he said.

Becky nodded. ‘Yes.  A lot of people feel like that Joe, they’re just too embarrassed to tell you.  Want to dance?’

Joe grinned at her. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked.

Becky made a face at him as she pulled him onto the dance floor. ‘Don’t you tell me no, Joe Cartwright!  I’ve waited a long time for this dance and you’re not going to make me wait any longer.’

A pair of dark eyes watched the young couple intently as they began to move to the music.  Adam Cartwright smiled in satisfaction and caught the eye of Hoss standing across the other side of the room and winked at him, and both brothers let their breath out with a sigh as they began to relax.



Adam nodded his head and smiled in reply to Ben’s questioning look as he entered the house.  Ben heaved a sigh of relief and he watched Hoss and Joe enter close on his heels with their arms around each other, laughing and joking.

‘So,’ he said with a smile. ‘I can see that you all enjoyed yourselves.’

Hoss grinned back at him. ‘Yeah Pa, ya should of seen this little guy here.  Dancing up a storm he was!’

Joe looked at his father and grinned. ‘It wasn’t as hard as I thought Pa,’ he said. ‘Becky asked me ta dance, and then that started all the others too.  Even some of their mothers were smiling at me.’

‘I’m glad son,’ Ben replied sincerely.

‘I think they’ve missed having me around,’ Joe continued. ‘After all, I am the most handsome Cartwright they’ve got around here, and they sure do depend on me ta keep the flirting going!’ Joe stopped as he realised what he’d said. ‘I mean …. not flirting, but….’

‘Joseph, it’s alright,’ said his father. ‘Son, you can’t keep watching what you say all the time and trying not to offend people.  Just be yourself.’

‘Guess I can’t be anyone else can I Pa?’  Joe asked cheekily as he turned to go upstairs. ‘Well I’d better get my beauty sleep. Night everyone!’

‘Good night Joseph,’ said his father softly. ‘No you certainly can’t be anyone else, and I thank God for that every day!’

The End

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