Ben paced backwards and forwards beside the bed where his unconscious son
lay. He hadn't moved a muscle since
being brought to the hotel by his brothers followed by Doc Martin, his
anxious father and Fred Harding.
Ben wanted Paul to talk to him. Tell him what was wrong with Joseph. He
knew the doctor was trying his best but
that didn't do his nerves any good. They were already shot to pieces.
Paul Martin could see his old friend pacing back and forth from worry. He
was concerned himself about Little Joe's
pale face and the lack of response he was getting. He smiled briefly to
himself. If there was one thing that remained
constant in this world it was Ben Cartwright's worry about his sons and his
youngest in particular. Paul knew it wouldn't
matter how old Little Joe got, Ben would still worry every time the young
man was physically hurt or struggling with
Paul admonished himself and he road of nostalgia and reminded himself that
he had a young patient to care for right
now. He dug around in his little black bag and pulled out a small
cylindrical tube containing a dark mustard coloured
The doctor was careful enough with the powder to make sure that he didn't
remove the cap before it was close enough
to the patient. The tube was only small in size and the quantity of
powder equally small in quantity, but Paul didn't
want any of the other people in the room being overcome by the powerful
fumes that were about to exude from it.
He held the tube expertly and at just the right distance underneath Little
Joe's nose to have the right effect. He uncorked
the cork stopper from the tube with his thumb and very slowly brought the
tube back and forth underneath both nostrils.
Paul didn't need to wait long to see the results. Almost immediately Joe
was pulled harshly from his unconscious state
by the acrid smell of the smelling salts. Once he had taken a second
inhalation of the powder, he quickly diverted his
head to avoid the smell that was invading his senses. He almost felt sick
to his stomach.
The tube was removed and the cork replaced at the neck. Everyone in the
room remained silent now as they waited
for Joe to regain his bearings.
Joe could almost feel the silence in the room. He turned his head to the
front again and came face to face with the snowy
white hair of Doctor Martin. The smile in return was warm and friendly
enough but Joe could also read the offer of
pity and understanding that he didn't need right at the moment. He looked
upwards and slightly to the left of Doc Martin
and saw his father, he too had a similar look on his face though the worry
was a little more evident than it had been on
Paul. Joe looked about the room and could see the same expressions on his
brothers and Fred Harding. Everybody
wanted to tell him that everything was going to be alright again. He felt
like he was almost suffocating.
Joe turned his face away from them all and tried to hold the emotions he
was feeling in. As the light from the room
shone on his face, Ben and the others saw a single tear slip down his cheek
and soak into the pillow.
"I think I need to examine my patient alone for a moment" Paul now
suggested seeing Joe's distress. "I'll talk to you
in a few minutes when I have had a chance to check him over properly."
Everyone in the room compiled with the simple request. They were all
anxious to hear what Paul had to say about
Joe and how he was coping. They all wanted to ask the one question that
kept plaguing their mind: What had scared
him so much back at the courthouse?
Paul now smiled back at Joe once everyone had left and tried to drum up
idle conversation to take Joe's mind on
whatever else was bothering him.
"Okay now, let's see wrong with you Little Joe" Paul said innocently.
"There's nothing wrong with me" Joe said through clenched teeth as he held
onto his frustration about everybody
treating him like he was a five year old. Why couldn't people just come
out and say things in plain terms Just
because he fainted didn't mean he was in the mood to be babied.
"Can you tell me why you fainted then Joseph?" Paul now asked, playing
along with Joe rather than trying to fight
"I don't know. Just got uncomfortable answering all of those questions I
guess, that's all doc" Joe lied. His mind
went back to the alleyway and the moment Butch Thomas had grabbed him
around the throat and hissed threats
at him. His body begun to tremble again at the memory and he suddenly felt
cold in the room. He tried to hide his
body's tremors by pulling the quilt from the bed over him.
Paul frowned a little at this exercise. Particularly when he was trying to
examine a reluctant patient. It didn't help
none if the patient was being particularly difficult and preventing the
doctor from checking him over. He could see
the frightened look return to Joe's eyes and feel the small tremors running
through his limbs as he gently tried to
talk Joe into co-operating a little more. Paul decided not to pressure the
young man too much. It was obvious that
his being difficult wasn't entirely his own fault.
Paul finally declared to Joe that he was finished his examination. Joe
looked up dubiously at the doctor as he knew
there hadn't been much poking and probing done. He didn't say anything
though. He wasn't about to invite the
doctor to conduct any more tests on him. He just wanted to be left alone
to sort out the shouting voices in his
head. He wanted to get a handle on what had happened today and work out
what he was going to do tomorrow.
"I'll probably see you tomorrow Joe. You get some rest now" Paul said as
he walked out of Joe's room through
the adjoining door to Fred Harding's suite where everybody else was
Joe nodded his head in acknowledgement but knew that there was not chance
of his mind letting him rest tonight
or anytime in the near future. His mind was just racing, as was his heart
beat and blood pressure. The fear within
him was growing that much he was certain of. If he couldn't find a way to
confront his fears, they would take over
and make him hide away from the world and his family and friends forever.
Back in the other room, the four people waiting in Fred Harding's suite now
gathered around together as Paul
Martin came through the doorway and prepared to tell them about Joe's
"How is he Paul?" Ben asked before anything could be said. He couldn't
wait any longer. He wanted to know
how his son was.
"Physically, he's as good as can be expected. His a little fatigued and
his leg is still aching a little but other than
that and some lack of colour he is holding up physically well. Mentally on
the other hand, that's another issue all
together. I couldn't do much of an examination because Joe just refused to
talk to me. He grunted and gasped
in pain a couple of times when I examined his leg to indicate he was still
feeling some pain. But he refused to talk
about what was scaring him so much or anything at all about what happened
back at the courthouse." Paul now
"Did you ask him what happened Doc?" Hoss now asked.
"Yes Hoss I did, but he said there was nothing wrong with him and that it
was just the questions that got to him
in the end. Though I partly believe that to be true, I doubt that was the
real reason behind his fainting spell. He is
in a very fragile state at the moment. If we push to hard he is going to
withdrawn into himself even more, if we treat
him with kid gloves any more than we are at the moment, we are only going
to end up with a very rebellious and
"What do you suppose we do about tomorrow and the trial?" Fred Harding now
asked. He wasn't willing to risk
Joe's physical or mental condition for the sake of convicting Griffiths,
but he also needed to be prepared to give the
Judge some background information in the morning in his application to have
the matter adjourned to another date.
"I think its too early to say just yet. Let's let Joe get some rest
overnight and I will take a look at him tomorrow
morning and see what his mental attitude is again. At the moment his
attitude is very sullen and moody. I doubt
whether you will get a straight answer from him at the moment were you to
put him back in that witness box with
his current state of mind."
"Is there any instructions for us tonight Paul about what we should do for
him?" Ben asked.
"No Ben, the best advice I can give you at the moment is just to be there
for him. He is feeling all alone and very
vulnerable at the moment so I think we need to show him that he is loved."
Paul replied. "You know where I
will be if you need me." he added at the end and gathered his bag ready to
depart back to his own office.
The four men now had talked for the next hour about some of the things that
had come out in the trial from Joe
today. Adam and Hoss both had angered looks about them when they
remembered how Joe had been lured
firstly into thinking that somebody was hurt along the road on his way to
school. Both brothers knew that it was
in Joe's nature to stop and help someone else if he could. They couldn't
fault him because they probably would
have done the same thing.
Ben had wanted to go back into their own suite where Joe was resting as
soon as Paul had left. But a great deal
of self restraint was used when he realised that his son probably would
like some time to himself. If he was resting
as the doctor suggested he do, Ben didn't want to disturb that much needed
rest even if it was to put a stop to his
own fears and worries.
"I can't say how sorry I am about Joe being put through all of this Ben"
Fred now said to his long time friend as
the conversation between them all but dried up.
"Don't be Fred. These things that are happening are not your fault and
can't be helped. I just wish I knew someway
to get through to Joseph. His fear seems to be his main barrier at the
moment. If we could just find a way to persuade
him to tell us who was responsible for this I think it would help to put
his mind at ease as well as ours. I wish I knew
what to say to help him gain that confidence."
Ben now excused himself from the others so that he could go and check his
son. He quietly and carefully opened the
door, not knowing if Joe had fallen asleep or not.
Joe had heard the creak from the door signalling that somebody was entering
the room. Up until now he had been
awake trying not to think about what Butch Thomas had said. He now closed
his eyes and evened out his breathing,
feigning sleep. Somehow he could tell it was Pa in the room. He would
never be able to explain to someone how he
knew this. Only that he knew.
Ben walked around the bed and now sat on a chair beside his sleeping son.
At the moment his son's face seemed
relaxed and peaceful. It was still slightly pale as Paul had stated, the
dark circles of fatigue more visible than normal.
He gently caressed his son's cheek, hoping somehow his son would feel the
touch and know that his father was
there for him. If Ben could find a way to instil his own strength and
confidence within Joe he wouldn't hesitate for a second.
"Oh Joseph. I wish I knew a way to help you son." Ben said with heart-
filled sounding words.
Joe heard his father's words and part of him wanted to open his eyes and
allow his father to take him into his embrace
and give him the security he craved for. The other part of him, some would
say the selfish part, reminded Joe that he
wanted to be on his own. The selfish part won out in the long run and Joe
lay silently listening to his fathers words but
never acknowledging that he heard them.
"I wish I knew how to take all the pain and hurt away son" Ben said as he
gently stroked Joe's arm that lay limply
alongside of him on the bed. "I wish I could have been there to stop those
men taking you away from me. I hope
someday you will forgive me for not being there when you needed me. I am
so sorry son. So sorry."
Ben's words were interrupted by Adam gently knocking on the doorway between
the two suites. He got up and
answered the rap, leaving his son to continue his slumber.
"Pa, sorry to disturb you but Hoss and I thought it might be a good idea to
order some room service from downstairs
in case Joe wakes later and wants something to eat." Adam said. He
couldn't help but see Ben wipe a stray tear
from his face on his sleeve as he answered the door.
"It's okay Adam, I think that is a good idea. I don't know when he will
wake but he really should have something
to eat when he does." Ben replied. "I think I will leave him for now to
get some decent rest." he added now as he
glanced back over towards the figure on the bed. Ben then joined Adam in
Fred Harding's suite and closed the
door behind him.
Once he heard the door closed, Joe could no longer hold in the tide of
emotion that washed over his tired body.
The tears fell freely down his face as he thought about the words his
father had said. After a while though he started
to talk to himself harshly.
He thought about all of the events over the last month or so. How he was
taken and what had happened back at
the abandoned shack. How his family had been there to find him and bring
him home and nurse him back to health.
Apart from the times that they were prevented being with him they had been
with him. Through thick and thin they
had sat by his bedside and cared for his injuries. They had offered for
him to talk to them about what might be
troubling him. All the time they were holding out there hands to help he
was slapping them away in refusal and
turning his back on them.
The threats from Butch Thomas still echoed in his head but now they started
to mingle with the words his father had
said and the words that Adam and Hoss had said over the last few weeks. He
was very confused about what was
the right thing to do. He was afraid for what would happen if he did tell
somebody about what happened.
After an enormous amount of thought he finally decided that there was one
person that could help him the most at
the moment. That person was in the other room at the moment. He would
need to wait until later tonight to talk
to Fred when the rest of his family thought him to be asleep.
There was a tiredness that was creeping over him now and he didn't try to
fight it. He knew that if he was going to
carry out the task he intended tomorrow he was going to need to be fully
rested to do so. He now closed his eyes
for real and let the pull of sleep claim him.
Adam had checked on Joe a few hours later hoping that his brother would be
awake to take in a much needed meal.
He was a little concerned when it seemed that Joe was sleeping a lot more
than they all expected. Ben had assured
the boys that Joe was both physically and emotionally exhausted at the
moment and that they were bound to take
their toll on his young body.
Joe's sleep wasn't disturbed at all that evening. He could have a hearty
breakfast in the morning to make up for it if
he was feeling up to it. After 10pm Ben and his boys settled in their own
room with Joe and allowed Fred to retire
in his own suite and get some rest as well.
About 1am that night, Joe woke with a slight start. He didn't make any
noise as he looked around the pitch black
room and tried to work out what time it was. He knew it must be very late
and rubbed at his eyes to try and bring
himself more alert.
Joe then looked around the room to make sure that the rest of his family
were still asleep. Hoss was snoring loudly
on the other side of the room. Adam and Ben were in single beds not far
from him. Hopefully Hoss's snoring would
muffle his footsteps across the floor a little.
Joe gently eased back the covers on his own bed and very gingerly placed
his bare feet onto the floor. He saw that
somebody had propped his crutches up against the walk beside his bed. They
were in reaching distance and he
placed them under his arms and used them to support his still injured leg
from any more jarring as he made his way
across the floor in the suite.
Thankfully, being a carpeted suite, the crutches were muffled even more by
the thick pile of the patterned carpet.
He made his way as silently as possible over to the doorway between the two
suites. At one stage he thought he
heard one of his family waking behind him and he stopped dead in his tracks
until he was certain that the coast was clear.
The doorway between the two suites wasn't locked and Joe very quietly
turned the handle on the door and opened
it. He cursed inwardly when the door creaked slightly at the movement. He
walked into Fred Harding's suite and
then closed the door silently behind him. He didn't want to risk knocking
on the door and have somebody hear his
On the other side of the door he could see Fred Harding's bed and the
slumbering figure of the prosecutor on it.
He felt incredibly guilty about disturbing the man at this time of the
night be he thought it important enough to do so.
"Mr Harding" Joe whispered as he gentle shook the middle aged man's
shoulder. The first attempt to wake the lawyer
didn't work so he had to try a little harder and repeat the attempt. "Mr
Harding" he said again and shook a little more
vigorously this time.
"What, who?" Fred said as he woke with a start. He frowned at first to try
and focus on the figure bent over him
and the bed. He couldn't quite work out who it was. He pushed himself up
into a sitting position and put on his glasses
that had been resting on the bedside table.
Joe turned the lamp in the room a little higher for Mr Harding to see.
"Hello Mr Harding. It's only me Joe Cartwright.
I am sorry to disturb you at such a late hour." he now said apologetically.
Fred could now distinguish the outline of the crutches Joe was leaning on
to establish the intruder's identity. "Joe are
you alright? Has something happened to your father?" he began asking. He
knew that the boy had a terrible time
yesterday and as far as he knew up until now had been asleep. The boy
hadn't even woken up for supper so if he was
standing over his bed in the middle of the night something must be
"No everybody is okay Mr Harding. I just really needed to talk to you
about what happened today in the courtroom
and what is going to happen tomorrow." Joe now said.
Fred now got out of bed and led Joe over to the small dining room table in
the room. "Come and sit down Joe. If
you have something important to tell me I would rather be more alert when
you did so."
"Thank you Mr Harding" Joe said, unable to keep the nervousness out of his
"Are you sure you don't want one of your family present when you talk to me
Joe?" Fred asked.
"No Mr Harding. What I am about to tell you is going to be hard enough so
I would rather that they didn't hear what
I have to say until I say it tomorrow."
Fred was now a little more than curious and a little worried about that
"You see Mr Harding....." Joe began. His voice was quite restricted and
his words were not flowing as
smoothly as he would have liked. Fred was patient enough though to allow
his client all the time he needed to say
whatever was troubling him.
Joe now proceeded to tell Mr Harding about why he was reluctant to tell
anybody about what had happened to him.
He was very careful not to give too many details away. He never gave Fred
specifics about what had happened,
just a rough outline. He told Fred about the threats and the fears that
Joe had held since being brought home by his
family. Again he made sure that he left out names and places, never
wanting to relinquish the names of his assailants.
At the end of the very difficult but revealing conversation, Fred sat
silent in thought for a moment as he pondered how
best to tackle the problem.
"I want to tell the truth Mr Harding. I really do. But I am afraid about
what hearing such things might do to my family
and what fate might befall them or me if I should reveal there identity."
"Okay Joe here's what I propose to do" Fred now suggested. He and Joe
spoke for the next two hours, carefully
working out a plan of attack for the courtroom the next day. Fred told Joe
about the approach he would take from
the outset and that Joe would have to bear with him at first when the
questions began in the morning. He told Joe
that he would need to be particularly strong when reliving his story. He
didn't have any misgivings about how hard
it was going to be to tell these things in an open court. Especially when
his family had never heard any of the hard
details about what Joe had been through.
"I can only tell this story once Mr Harding so we have to get it right the
first time. I can't promise how I am going
to be tomorrow. I can't hide the fact that I am almost too scared to go
through with this. But after what I heard
my Pa say earlier this afternoon, I own to my family to tell the truth and
make sure they know that there wasn't
anything else they could have done to prevent those men from doing what
"I think you had better get back to your room before you are missed young
man." Fred now said in lighter
conversation. He helped Joe to his feet and secured the crutches under his
arms enough for him to manage to
the doorway on his own. He watched from behind as Joe made he way across
"And Joe..." he said, waiting for Joe to turn around before he continued
the comment. "When this is all over
tomorrow and your father finds out, please make sure that there is a fast
horse waiting at the stable for my escape.
If there is one thing I would rather avoid is that infamous temper of Ben
Cartwright when it comes to protecting
one of his own. You have nothing to worry about and he can't possibly be
mad at you. But me, that's a whole
"On second thought Mr Harding, I think I will make sure that there is one
for you and me. I don't think I want to
be there to hear what Pa says about our little midnight rendezvous either."
Joe said with a genuine smile.
Joe now crept back into his room and climbed back into bed without making
any noise to alert his family. He wasn't
able to tell if they had awoken while he was out of the room, but if they
hadn't come looking for him it was safe enough
to assume that they didn't know he had been in the other room.
There was only a few more hours to daylight. Joe was tired and didn't find
it difficult to fall back to sleep, but his mind
was still plagued by what was going to transpire tomorrow. He just hoped
he and Mr Harding were doing the right
thing. His very life may depend on it.
The next morning, Ben looked over the brim of his coffee cup at the
slumbering figure of his youngest son on the other
side of the room. He frowned a little at the thought that he would need to
wake the boy shortly to gauge whether or
not the trial would proceed today.
Ben didn't need to wait too long though as Joe started to stir a little in
the bed at the chambermaid came to take away
the breakfast dishes. One tray and coffee pot were left for the still
At first Joe seemed to have trouble waking up. As though his eyes were too
heavy and it was too much of an effort.
The sound of knocking at the door by Fred Harding soon brought the boy
around a little more. He pulled himself up
into a sitting position and rubbed tiredly at his eyes before looking about
the room and the faces that were watching
him from the other side of the room.
"Did you sleep okay son?" Ben asked trying not to be too invasive first up
and allowing the boy to become more alert
before deciding what the agenda for the day would be.
"Yeah, sort of" Joe said in a drone voice. The voice sounded thick, as
though he hadn't gotten enough sleep though
and his blood-shot eyes portrayed a similar picture to the others in the
room. They knew that it must be the stress
of yesterday getting to Joe. As far as they all knew, he had slept through
without so much as stirring until just now.
Ben walked a little closer towards the bed. He gently squeezed Little
Joe's shoulder in a comforting gesture.
"I feel as though I haven't slept very much at all" Joe said being evasive
about the previous night's rendezvous but
being honest enough about how he felt physically because of it.
"I am sure you will feel much better after you have something to eat
Joseph. You didn't eat anything last night for
supper." Ben now said to his son.
Joe now found a tray of breakfast thrust in front of him. He looked at it
and then at the worried faces in the room.
He knew he would have to eat something to ease their minds a little about
his physical well-being. Inside his stomach
was already growing into knots about what was going to happen today.
Fifteen minutes later he had managed to
eat a small amount of scrambled eggs and toast to satisfy his family. He
pushed the tray aside and sipped slowly at
the luke warm cup of coffee.
Halfway through his cup of coffee, there was a knock at the door of the
suite. Adam opened the door and greeted
Doc Martin as he entered the room, medical bag in hand.
"Good Morning Adam, Ben and everyone" he said in a cheery voice. His eyes
though could help but focus on the
figure he could see sitting up in bed.
"I thought I would check you over today Joe before you and your family make
a decision about the trial" Paul said
as he explained his presence.
"It's okay Doc, I have already made up my mind to go back into the
courtroom today" Joe said in a casual voice.
The reaction he got from his family and the doctor was anything but casual.
Fred Harding had just been entering the
Cartwright's suite when he heard Joe say the sentence. He had to hide the
smile he had on his face when he saw
"Your what?" Ben said, not meaning to put so much power into his voice. He
was now staring at his youngest son
with a very puzzled look on his face. He was looking the boy over with his
eyes trying to scrutinize whether the boy
was feeling alright or still undergoing stress from the day before. Adam
and Hoss together with the doctor had
equally curious looks on their faces. Doc Martin thought he would really
need to work on Joe's confidence this
morning to get the boy to even talk about what had happened yesterday.
Joe put his coffee cup down and looked at his family for a few minutes
before answering his father's question.
When he was sure that he had everyone's attention he told them what he
"I can't say that I am not scared, because you know I am. I can't say that
I am going to handle today any better
than I did yesterday. Everything is so jumbled up in my head that it aches
sometimes just trying to work it out
for myself. But after all the hard work Mr Harding has put into this case
I can't just turn my back on it, no matter
how sick in the stomach I feel when I am in that courtroom.
"Are you sure your alright son?" Ben asked. It was a little hard not to be
sceptical about how his son would cope
for a second day under such pressuring conditions.
"Mr Harding if you ask the questions, I promise to answer them as best I
can" Joe said now turning towards the
prosecutor to reassure his family.
"That's just fine Joe. I am sure you will do just fine" Fred replied
simply, so as not to alert the others in the room to
the conversation that he and Joe had had in the early hours of the morning.
"Paul, I still would like your opinion on this and how Joe is. No matter
what Joe says, if you say he's not well enough,
then I won't allow him to be put through the whole ordeal again today." Ben
now said in all seriousness.
Paul nodded his head in acknowledgement and now set his bag down on the
bedside table and pulled out his equipment
to carry out the examination. Joe sighed inwardly but allowed the
intrusion to take place to the time being. As much as
he hated the doctor's well meant check up, he knew that his father would be
adamant enough to stop him from telling
his story today if he even suspected Joe was unwell.
After about ten minutes of total silence in the room, Paul stood up ready
to give his verdict on whether or not things would
proceed as Fred and Joe hoped they would.
"Well, I must say you still look a might tired Little Joe, especially after
your Pa says you slept from when I left yesterday
until just a little while ago. But I suppose, given the unusual
circumstances, that can't be helped a lot. Other than that
and the ache I still know is in your leg,"
Joe looked at him before he could finish the sentence, wondering how the
doctor had known about the pain he was still
experiencing but trying hard to hide as best he could from his family.
"Yes Joseph, I can still hear those small gasps of pain that escape under
your breath when I touched your bandages just
a few minutes ago. I want you to promise me that you will take things a
lot slower and easier today if you can. Other
than that, I think you will be okay. I am going to stay in the courtroom
like yesterday though, just to make sure there
are no problems." Paul now added.
Ben's worry didn't dissipate all together after the doctor's visit, but it
was eased some by Joe's confession of feeling
alright and the doctor's confirmation of that except for the injured leg
and remnants of tiredness from the day before.
Adam and Hoss also made a mental note to keep a closer eye on their younger
sibling today in case he needed them.
By 9.00am they were all back seated in the courtroom. Sheriff Roy Coffee
had brought the prisoner Danny Griffiths
back in handcuffs and he was once again sitting in the dock awaiting the
trial to begin.
Fred was just finishing shuffling through his papers when the Bailiff
announced the Judge's entrance into the courtroom.
He looked over towards Joe in the witness box and gave him a sly wink to
reassure his young client that everything
would work out okay. Ben saw the wan smile in return from Joe but wasn't
exactly sure what secret messages were
going on between them.
"All rise. Judge Collins presiding" the Court Bailiff said as the Judge
walked into the room.
Judge Collins put all of his books and paperwork down on his desk first and
then turned his attention to Little Joe
sitting in the witness box. He wanted to get his own opinion before the
lawyers were given their chance to speak.
"How are you today son?"
"A little better Your Honour. Not much, but a little" Joe said in reply
trying to keep his voice calm and even.
"Are we ready to proceed this morning gentlemen?" the Judge asked, turning
towards Mr Simpson and Fred Harding.
Simpson and his client Danny Griffiths seemed to be the only ones in the
room uninterested in Joe Cartwright's well
being. Simpson had been surprised to even see the kid show up. He threw a
brief glance towards the witness box
and then shrugged his shoulders. He somehow suspected the kid would crack
under the pressure today and he had
done yesterday. If the prosecution wanted to drag this out a little more
for the young man to endure, he was willing
"Ready Your Honour".
"Ready to proceed this morning Your Honour. As you can see our witness has
put on a brave front and presented
himself here again this morning." Fred Harding said as he addressed the
"Okay Mr Harding, but if we need to break at any stage today, Mr Cartwright
only need to whisper in my ear again,
understood? I will permit any of his family to approach him if necessary
as well as Doctor Martin."
All involved nodded their heads in agreement, the Cartwright's thankful
that they had a Judge with a little compassion
for such a young, impressionable and vulnerable witnesses.
"Joe I want to begin by asking you about your testimony yesterday. Can you
tell me if what you said yesterday was
"Some of it was and some of it wasn't exactly the truth" Joe answered,
trying to avoid his father's gaze for the disappointment he expected to
find on Ben's face.
Ben was a little surprised at Joe's admittance of not telling the truth.
He knew he still needed to remained supportive,
no matter what Joe said he had done.
"Okay, so you lied." Fred put it bluntly. "How much of what you said was
true and how much was false?"
"I told the truth about finding the man lying on the road. I didn't
exactly tell the truth about seeing Mr Griffith's
before." Joe now said. His heart was thumping as he gave the first real
indication to the courtroom about knowing
the defendant sitting on the other side of the room.
"Okay, let's start again at the beginning shall we. You promise to tell
the absolute truth this time Joe?"
"Yes, I promise"
"Let's start of with something a little more recent to test your adherence
to the truth. Where were you last night?"
Ben and his boys raised his eyebrows at Fred more than a little at this
question. He narrowed them in suspicion
and waited for his son to answer. As far as he, Adam and Hoss knew, Joseph
had been asleep for the entire night.
Or had he?
"I was in the hotel room"
"Did you remain in your room the entire night Joe?"
"No, I woke with a start about 1am. It was still dark inside the room. My
Pa and brothers were still asleep."
"Did you go back to sleep?"
"Not until about 4.30 this morning" Joe admitted.
Ben ran a hand down his face and now realised why his son looked so tired
this morning. All he needed now was
the truth about where the boy was between 1am and 4.30am.
"Where were you during those early morning hours?"
"I went into your room Mr Harding"
Ben could scarcely believe his ears at Joe's confession. Fred had known
all along that Joe had been awake last night,
but chose not to say anything to the family. Not even this morning when he
entered the room when Paul was there.
It was now obvious that Fred had something to do with Joe's change of heart
about taking the witness stand today.
"Okay Joe, thank you for being honest. Now, I want to go right back to the
beginning of this story and start again
from the morning you left to go to school but didn't quite make it."
"You said yesterday that you didn't know Mr Griffith's when he was
pretending to be hurt on the road?"
"No not at that stage. When I came across him on my way to school, that
was the first time I had ever seen him.
I saw him a lot afterwards when they took me away."
"Your Honour, before we go any further. Some of the details that are going
to follow may become a little more
graphic. The witness and I have agreed that instead of using people's
names in this story, we are going to call
the main offender Mr X. Hopefully this will help Mr Cartwright's fear of
telling the court the truth about what
happened without him thinking about this man the whole time. Once we reach
the conclusion, it is our intention
then to reveal the real identity of Mr X. At this stage not even I am
privy to that information. I assure you that
Mr Cartwright is the only one in this courtroom who knows the identity of
"Very well Mr Harding. I must say this is a little unorthodox. But given
the youth of the witness and what happened
yesterday, I am willing to let you have a little more freedom with your
"Okay Joe, after the man has stopped pretending to be hurt and has pulled
the gun on you, what happened next?"
"Danny Griffith's then whistled, signalling for the other men to come out
from the bushes that were nearby."
"Did you see these other men?"
"Not at first, while he was waiting for them to come out, I tried to turn
around and run. I thought if I could just
make it to my horse I might be able to get away."
"Well, like I said I tried to run, but I didn't get very far. I fell over
and hurt my knee on a rock. I was just starting
to get up again and try to make a second run when I felt a pair of hands
grab me from behind and start dragging
me into the bushes.
"Did you make it clear to these men that you didn't want to go with them?"
"Yes, I started to scream for somebody to help me but then somebody put
their hand over my mouth very hard.
I could scarcely breath."
Ben's heart was aching with every word as Joe relived the story of his
abduction. Ben cursed himself for not being
there to protect his young son from such monsters. Adam and Hoss were
having an equally bad time at hearing
such details from their younger brother. Both of them wanted to know who
this mystery Mr X was and break his
"What happened next Joe?"
"Well they kept dragging me further into the trees. I could see Mr
Griffith's taking Cochise's reins and leading him
into the trees as well. I tried to get away. I was kicking and trying to
get free but there were two of them and they
were just too strong for me. Once we got into the trees were we couldn't
be seen from the roadway, I was pushed
up against a large tree and held there."
"Did you say anything then Joe?"
"No because the hand was still over my mouth then. Mr X took the hand
away and started to tie my hands together
with a piece of rope. I tried to scream for help again when he didn't
have his hand over my mouth, but all he did
was slap me very hard across the face. It stung."
Hoss found himself wringing his hands together to work out the frustration
he was feeling at hearing his brother's
heart-felt story. He wanted so bad to slap these men back for his brother.
How dare they strike a young teenager
without cause. The mere thought made his blood boil.
"You doing just fine Joe" Fred now reassured his witness as he saw the
strain beginning to show on Joe's face.
The kid was still holding up well, but the eyes held all the expression of
fear and anxiety.
"What happened after they tied your hands together?"
"The other man asked what they were going to do with me now. Mr X told
him that they were going to take
me to a place until my Pa did what they said."
"Mr X said that it was time for me to go to sleep then" Joe said as he felt
a shiver go up his spine as he recalled the
rag being placed over his face. "He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket.
It had a strange smell to it. I didn't
like the small and tried to turn my face away before he could place it over
my mouth and nose but he grabbed a fist
full of my hair and forced my face towards the strange smelling cloth."
"Do you remember anything after that about how you might have gotten to the
place where you were being held
"No, I tried to fight against the smell, but after a few minutes I must
have passed out because I don't remember
anything else until after I woke up in the shack."
Adam's face was like a mask of stone as he listened to his brother's story
of pain and anguish. He wanted to take
all the hurt and memories away for Joe. He couldn't have imagined how
frightened Joe must have been of this
Mr X and he was told he was being taken away from his family by force.
"Your doing very well Joseph. I know this is extremely difficult and I
admire your courage and I really need you
to keep being so brave for just a little while longer." Fred now said
sympathetically to the young man. Truth be
known he knew that there was a very long way to go but maybe the thought of
it all ending would help Joe a little.
"What's the next thing you remember Joseph after you were taken by these
"The next thing I remember is hurting all over. My mind was still very
fuzzy from that stuff they used so I had to stop
and think for a few minutes about where I was. The ground was awfully
hard. Somehow my ankles were now
tied up as well as my hands. I don't remember them doing that back at the
tree so they must have tied them after
I passed out."
"Could you describe the surroundings you found yourself in a little better
"I can't tell you what the room looked like if that's what your asking" Joe
now said, his voice becoming distinctly
soft in volume.
"Why is that Joe?"
"Because the men had tied a blindfold over my eyes so I couldn't see where
I was" Joe said and turned his attention
to his feet to hide his anxiety.
Ben gave his son a reassuring smile as the boy lifted his head slightly.
He knew that the boy was going through a
terrible time at the moment reliving something he would rather not. Ben
couldn't help but feel a stab to his heart
though every time Joe uttered a piece to the puzzle he was yet to hear.
"What did you do when you realised that you were blindfolded and couldn't
"For a while I just laid there scared. Not knowing where I was. Where my
family was. Not knowing if any of them
even knew that I was missing yet. I couldn't tell how long had passed
between being on the roadway and waking
up in the shack. It seemed like a long time but it could have only been a
"Go on Joe."
"Well after a while I tried to get the blindfold off so I could see where I
"How did you achieve this when your hands and feet were tied together?"
"I used the hard ground and rubbed the side of my face backwards and
forwards, trying to get the blindfold to move
upwards or downwards on my face."
"That must have hurt some Joe."
"Not much. I felt a little sting but I couldn't see or feel any blood on
Ben sighed inwardly to himself and looked towards Adam with recognition in
his eyes. Both of them had seen the
scratches on the side of Joe's face when they had first taken him to his
room. When they had first found Joe there
were too many other more serious injuries to worry about. With the strong
glow of the lantern in his bedroom, both
men remembered seeing the abrasions on Joe's pale skin and wondering how
they had come about.
"Once you were able to remove the blindfold were you able to see better
your forced surroundings?"
"Not really, it was pretty dark inside the room and it was a very small
space towards the back of the shack. There
was no window in the room, just a door that led into the other room from
the front door."
"Was there any objects like furniture in the room that you could make out
"If there was, I didn't see it. I didn't get much of a chance to look
around the room anyway once the blindfold was
"And why was that Joe?"
"Because that's when Mr X came to the door" Joe said and swallowed heavily
as he remembered the voice speaking
to him as he lay on the hard cold ground in the darkened room.
"What did Mr X say to you?"
"He said there were a few things he wanted to explain to me."
"About what was going to happen to me while I was there I suppose. He
really didn't explain things very much at all."
"What happened next?"
"He took me out of the smaller room into the larger one."
"How did you do this. Did they untie your legs? Did they carry you?"
"No they didn't untie my legs. Mr X grabbed one of my arms and started to
drag me across the floor before I even
had the chance to get up."
Hoss Cartwright's eyes were like two pieces of blue crystal at the moment.
Both of them cold and hard as he heard
his brother's soft voice almost breaking at the ordeal that he was forced
to endure. For a brief moment, the flame
of revenge could be seen to flicker in the very centre of those two blue
"What happened once you were taken into the larger room of the shack Joe?"
"Mr X threw me harshly into a chair that was there. I closed my eyes
because of the light from the lanterns. My eyes
were sore after being in the dark for so long. I had to open them slowly
and allow them adjust to the room so they
didn't hurt so much."
"Did you say anything to your kidnappers at this time Joe?"
"No, once I let my eyes adjust to the light in the room, I started to look
around for some way to escape."
"What was the next thing that Mr X did whilst you were seated in that chair
"Hit me hard across the face when he saw that I was looking around the room
for a way out. He came right up to
my face and said I would regret it if I tried to get away and he caught up
with me. He told me a whole lot of other
things too. Threats about what would happen if I didn't listen to
everything they said to me and told me to do.
Told me about not speaking unless I was told I could."
"Did you answer any of the threats against you from Mr X?"
"I told him that I understood and that's when he hit me hard again for
talking out of line." Joe said grimly and without
even thinking of it, his hand went to the site of the slap across the face
and rubbed at the area in memory.
Ben's blood was almost at boiling point inside. He could scarcely sit still
in the chair long enough to take in what had
happened to his son. He swore that Mr X would pay for every single cry of
pain he caused his son. He would see
justice served one way or the other.
Adam was like Hoss and sat in stony silence as his brother recalled the
events. It was very difficult for all of them
to hear what Joe was saying happened to them. None of them had any idea of
the torment and pain the youngest
Cartwright had gone through. Joe had certainly kept some very dark secrets
to himself about what had happened.
How many more dark secrets did the boy hold onto?
"Was Mr X responsible for making most of the threats at this stage Joe?"
"Yes. The other two just stood behind him, watching it all and then
laughing. I remember Mr X hitting me in the
stomach. I fell out of the chair onto the floor because of the pain. I
could scarcely breathe. Mr X grabbed me
by the collar of my shirt and held me upright. If he hadn't been holding
onto my shirt, I would still be on the floor.
My legs just wouldn't hold me up anymore."
"What did you do then Joe?"
"He held me there for a few seconds and laughed at my pain. The other two
men started laughing at me harder
as well. That's when I started to get mad inside. I was angry at being
hit for no reason. Angry that they thought
I was something just to punch and leave in the dirt."
Ben and Adam had to smirk a little at Joe's temper. If there was one thing
certain in this world it was Joe Cartwright's
temper. Even if he was in the worst situation possible like this,
sometimes there was just no holding him back.
All of them had been on the receiving end of Joe's hot tongue on numerous
occasions when he thought he was being
victimised. His brothers had even been on the receiving end of a few
mistimed punches of Joe's own when he really
got wound up about something he thought was unfair. They had to be
thankful to a certain degree because it was that
same volatile temper that had seen him through some very narrow scrapes in
"What did you do when he made you angry Joe?" Fred asked.
"Do I have to say it out loud?" Joe asked, a little embarrassed and a
little guilty about what his Pa and brothers would
think about where he had kicked Butch Thomas.
"Don't worry son, nobody in this room is going to think any less of you.
You have nothing to fear here about what
you might have done to try and safe your life. You can it out loud without
fear of retribution from anybody in this
"I kicked him in the crotch" Joe said in a barely audible whisper with his
head almost down in his lap. Almost nobody
in the room heard his answer.
"Sorry son, you will have to speak up so everybody hears you."
"I kicked him between his legs" Joe said in a louder voice and then
immediately diverted his gaze from his family, not wanting
to see any disapproving looks that may be present.
What Joe heard was the exact opposite. There was a few whispers amongst
the back rows in the court room. Adam
turned around and gave a stern look to those responsible causing those
responsible to fall into silence once again.
Hoss on the other hand thought apart from it being the most daring thing he
had ever heard Joe do. He also thought
it was the most danged funniest thing he had heard. He was happy that his
little brother had been able to extract a little
pain and suffering from his captors.
Hoss laughed loudly for everyone to hear. Even the Judge himself had to
hide a chuckle at the boy's brash actions.
Hoss settled himself down and gave his brother the biggest grin he could
muster. He definitely needed to pat his little
brother on the back when they returned home.
Ben wasn't disapproving of Joe's actions. He just never thought his son
was capable of doing something like that.
He too was glad that there had been a little streak of rebelliousness in
his son at a time when he needed it most.
The laughter soon stopped suddenly though when everybody waited to hear
Joe's painful recollection of what happened
as a result of that aimed kick.
"Were you able to escape as a result of your kick to Mr X Joe?"
"Almost. My feet were still tied together so I had to hop to the front
door. I managed to get a hand on the doorknob
but those other two fellows then grabbed me and pulled me back away from
the door. They kicked me in the ribs
a couple of times and then threw me back into the chair in front of Mr X."
"What did Mr X do next Joe?" Fred asked, regretting to hear what he already
suspected had happened.
"He pulled me upright again by the front of my shirt this time and held me
out in front of him about arm's length away.
Then he just let loose with fists of fury. The first punch to my stomach
was so hard I thought I was going to be
physically sick. I was going to try and say something to him to make him
stop but before I could even look up he
hit me again. Over and over again he hit me. I don't know how many times
he hit me but after a while I don't
remember any more. I think I must have been knocked out from the punches."
By the time Joe finished this portion of testimony he was physically
shaking. Doc Martin walked over to him and
knelt in front of him, clearly concerned for the boy's well fair.
Ben also went to his son, he quickly wiped away the tears that he couldn't
stop after what Joe had just told them.
He could scarcely find words to speak to his son about how he felt about
such vicious and cruel treatment being
taken out on him.
Doc Martin handed Joe a glass of cool water which was accepted gratefully.
"Are you alright Little Joe?"
Joe continued to sip from the glass for a few more seconds. When he handed
it back to the doctor his face was
still pale in colour and his eyes showed some signs of fatigue setting in.
"I can't stop now Pa or I will never get this finished" Joe said as he
answered Paul's question to his father.
"What do you say Paul? Is it okay for him to continue?" Ben now asked his
friend. Even though he knew the
court needed to continue, he wasn't prepared to risk his son's health and
have him collapse in front of everybody
like he done yesterday. No matter how strong the protests about him being
allowed to continue.
"You're starting to look a little tired there Joe." Paul said, voicing out
loud his observations of the boy's condition.
"Are you sure you don't want a small break even just for a few minutes?"
"If I stop now, these thoughts going around and around in my head and going
to make my go crazy doc" Joe
answered honestly. "I need to get them out and then I can rest. I don't
think I would be able to rest very well
at the moment anyway. My head is so full of flashbacks and memories that
it is difficult to tell my nightmares from
reality at the moment. Please, I need to continue and finish this."
Joe's emerald green eyes held the pleading look that convinced Paul that he
needed to do exactly that.
"Okay, but you say when you have had enough" Paul said making sure that Joe
took note of his advice.
"Your Honour, the witness is getting fatigued very quickly but has
requested that he be allowed to continue.
I will allow him to continue at this stage, but I will be checking on him
regularly throughout the rest of the morning.
If I feel he is risking his health again like yesterday, I will request a
break on medical grounds." Paul said as he
addressed the Judge.
The Judge acknowledged the doctor's sound advice with a nod of his head and
a glance at the young witness
beside him. He had much admiration for a young man so determined to put
things right but so full of painful
memories that nobody should have to go through.
"What's the next thing you remember after being punched over and over by Mr
X Joe?" Fred asked in a very
compassionate voice. He had never had a witness before who had been so
victimised or hurt. He doubted he
would have one ever again that had gone through as much as Joe Cartwright.
"The next thing I remember is waking up with pain. Lots of it. It was
really hard at first to tell where it was coming
from. The punches that Mr X threw seemed to land everywhere on me. When I
started to come to I was laying
on the floor. That's where I must have landed when I passed out."
"Can you describe what sort of pain you were feeling Joseph and where you
think it might have been coming from?"
"It was different from when I woke up in the other room. When I woke up in
there it was just mainly stiffness from
my hands and ankles being tied up for so long and the awkward position I
was lying in. When I woke up the second
time the pain was more distinct and very sharp in some places like my ribs
and chest. I couldn't even move a inch
on the floor to try and sit up to see where I was hurting without feeling
some sort of pain."
"Please continue Joe about what happened after you came to on the floor."
Joe swallowed hard and looked towards his family. No matter how hard the
story had been to tell so far, the next
part was going to be somewhat harder still because these where the
incidents that had truly driven the fear into
Joe. What happened next was why he had woken up screaming from his
nightmares once he was returned home.
These were some of the biggest secrets he had ever dared to keep from his
family and he wasn't sure how they
would react once they heard the entire details.
Ben saw the look on Joe's face and knew that his son was battling again to
keep it all together. He saw his son's
reluctance to reveal the details he had kept to himself for so long. He
continued to show his son compassion,
understanding and love through his dark brown eyes. If it was security and
a sense of safety Joseph needed to feel
right now, then he need look no further than his family sitting only a
short distance from him. They would led him
through the darkness and pain into the light and comfort.
After all they had heard so far, nobody, even Judge Collins was willing to
rush the young man. They sat in complete
silence and waited until he was ready to start telling the story again.
"The next thing that I remember was Mr X lifting me up by the front of my
shirt again and throwing me back into the
chair again. I thought he was going to start the punishment all over
again. I tried to push myself away from his reach,
but he came up close to my face again and told me that I would regret doing
what I had done. He said that he would
make me learn the lessons the hard way."
"What did Mr X mean by this statement Joe?"
He told Danny Griffith's over there to start making a noose out of some
rope. Danny went to his saddle bags and
pulled out some thick rope and started to knot it together."
All eyes suddenly diverted to the prisoner sitting in the dock as it became
clearer that he had a much larger part to
play in this sickening act than first thought. Griffiths could feel the
cold eyes of steel from almost every man and woman
in the court room and was at least grateful for the fact of the slight
barricade of the dock being between him and them
at the moment. It wasn't much protection from an angry mob but it was all
"Do you mean to tell this court Joe that Mr X instructed the defendant in
the box over there to start making a loop
out of rope?"
"Did Mr X give any indication what the loop of rope was to be used for?"
Fred asked, knowing it sounded like a
stupid question before he even asked it.
"Um he said a lot of things really. Some I remember some I don't. Some of
it didn't really sink in at the time. I was
too afraid and too trying to deal with the pain I was feeling." Joe
replied. Although he was prepared to give honest
answers in the court room today. The words that Butch Thomas spoke to him
that day about him being is worst
fear and always being in his dreams was something that he was not prepared
to ever repeat again. The words had
been echoing in his head since he had returned home and they still haunted
Fred saw the reluctance in Joe to fully give the words spoken but didn't
think they were critical to the whole case
as this stage.
Ben also saw Joe's hesitation and wondered whether they would ever know
what this monster of evil had said to
his son that was so encrusted into the boy's mind. Whatever he had said
had poisoned Joe's mind and soul with
"He said he was going to knock some of the fight out of me" Joe now
"How did he intend to do that Joseph?"
"He grabbed me by the front of my shirt again and pulled me to my feet
again. I thought he was going to start
hitting me again. But he didn't. He just started lifting me higher into
the air until I couldn't feel my feet touching
the floor anymore. He lifted me higher and higher and then forced me to
stand on the seat of the chair."
The tears were spilling down Joe's cheeks now as he relived those
terrifying moments but he keep his voice
as steady as possible and continued the story.
"I tried to pull away from his grip a few more times but he hit me a couple
of times again. He then let one of the
hands holding on to me loose. Danny had thrown the long rope with the
noose at the end over one of the beams
close to the ceiling of the room. The noose was just above my head when Mr
X let go with one hand."
Ben found it very difficult to sit and listen to the words his son spoke at
the moment. It was not difficult to work
out why someone would tie a noose in a rope for someone. What made it
harder to take was that this Mr X seemed
to enjoy dragging the torment on for his son. Dragging out his punishment
and pain until the boy was broken physically
Adam had contemplated on taking a walk outside on a number of occasions so
he didn't have to listen to the too
painful recollection of events from his brother. A walk in to the fresh
air might clear his head and prevent him from
hearing anymore than he could stand but he told himself that he needed to
be there not only showing support to his
brother when he needed it most but also because his father and younger
brother were finding this as hard to listen to
as he was. They had to stand together as a family united.
"Mr X was trying to put the noose of the rope over my head. I kept shaking
my head around a little and moving it
from side to side to make it harder for him but eventually he got tired of
fighting against me and yanked my head
still by grabbing a fist full of my hair. Once the rope was around my
neck, he tightened it until I could almost not
breath. He made sure that the knot was directly behind my neck."
"Did you say anything to try and stop him from trying to hurt you any
further?" Fred asked. He wanted to try and
avoid using the words "hang or hanging" as much as possible for the witness
and the family.
"Yes" Joe replied and chewed his lip a little. "I tried to tell him that
he couldn't do it. I was begging him, pleading
for my life because I thought he was really going to kill me right then and
there. But no matter how much I pleaded,
he told me that he could and there would be no witnesses to see it."
"Mr X let go of my shirt then and Danny tied the other end of the rope off
to the side of the room. He pulled it
so tight that I had to stand on tippee toes to reach the chair. I kept
trying to move my head and loosen the rope
but it didn't work. The roped only dug deeper into my neck and starting
irritating the skin around my neck."
"How many men were in the room now Joe when this was all happening?"
"Three. Mr X, Danny Griffiths and somebody else. I knew his name but I
forget it just now. I'll remember it
later. They all stood on the other side of the room closest to the front
"Mr X then told the other two that they needed some shooting practice and
that they could start practicing on
the legs of the chair that I was standing on."
Joe reached for the glass of water that had been left beside him and drank
long and gratefully, trying to hide
his emotions that were threatening to get the better of him again. As he
drank he looked over the rim of the glass
and got to see the distressed look on the faces of his father and brothers
as well as the fearful looks on some
of the other people sitting behind them. His father looked very pale and a
little tired himself to Joe.
"Did they start shooting at the chair Joe?" Fred asked, hoping by some
miracle that something else had intervened
and stopped this act of sheer violence.
"Mr X told them he would take the first shot just to show them what to do."
Joe answered and placed the almost
empty glass back on the ledge of the witness box beside him.
"Which leg did Mr X aim at Joe?"
"I don't know, I couldn't see from where I was standing. But I heard the
gun-shot and then felt the front of the chair
start to tip forward so it must have been one of the front legs that he hit
with the bullet. I had to move my feet towards
the back of the chair to stop it from falling over and the rope from
pulling any tighter around my neck. It took a couple
of attempts to get the chair from rocking back and forth."
Fred looked at Joe as if to ask the next question of what happened next.
He didn't need to though and Joe took this
as his que to keep the story flowing as much as possible. The boy was
beginning to look a little more tired and haggard
in his facial features. Fred could see Doctor Paul Martin still keeping a
close eye on him from nearby.
"Mr X told them to make it quick for me and for both of them to shoot at
the other legs together."
"What was the next thing you heard to saw Joe?"
"I heard three shots. Two together at first which must have been from
Griffiths and the other fellow but I swore as
I felt the chair fall out from under me and the rope start to get tighter
that I head a third shot. I don't know who fired
it. It must have been one of the men in the room there was no one else who
could have done it but I didn't see
anything else. The only thing I could recall at this time was the
sensation of falling as the rope got tighter and tighter.
I couldn't breath and think I must have passed out again before I hit the
"What were your thoughts as you felt yourself falling from the chair Joe?"
"That I was dying" Joe said honestly. "That this was so unfair and I was
going to die right there and then without my
family even knowing where I was or that I was dead."
Ben and Hoss had to wipe away fresh tears from their eyes at the conclusion
of Joe's statement. It was now becoming
clearer by the minute to all of them why Joe had kept all of these thoughts
and feelings to himself over these weeks. How
he had done it without torturing himself further they didn't know.
They all knew that although they were hearing every detail of what had
happened to Joe today for the very first time.
None of them would ever experience exactly how Joe felt at any given time
during his captivity. Joe could describe
the pain he was feeling and they could see the physical injuries and scars
that were to be left behind. But nobody
would ever be able to fully appreciate what terrible monsters these men had
been to do this to Joe.
Fred could scarcely put the words together as he knew he had to ask his
young and already tormented witness
to keep describing the ordeal that he went through.
"Can you tell us what happened next Joe?"
"Well, the next time I can too I was a little confused. I didn't know
whether I was alive or dead. I didn't know how
much time had passed between then and when I had fallen off the chair.
Then the pain in my ankles and wrists started
to get very bad again so I knew that somehow I was still alive."
"Could you tell what time of day it was when you woke up again?"
"No, everything was really hazy then. I could barely lift my head off the
floor without it pounding from the headache
that I had. I never looked out the window to see if the sun was up or
"Was all that happened in the shack Joe?" Fred asked hoping that it was but
knowing deep inside that there had been
"No. I guess they must have heard me when I woke up. I must have been
moaning from the pain. I heard Mr X
come into the room again. I tried to pretend that I was still asleep but
he didn't believe it for a minute. He picked
me up again and pulled me in front of him again. He told me it was time to
play the next game."
"Did you try and plead with him again to stop hurting you Joe?"
"Not really. I was feeling pretty miserable by this time. When he was
telling me that there was more pain and hurt
in store for me I just told him to get it over with and kill me."
Ben felt the blood drain from his face as his son uttered these words.
Paul had seen the paleness of his old friend's
face and could scarcely believe that somebody would be evil enough to cause
enough hurt and pain for the boy to
feel like there was no reason at all left to live. Ben assured Paul that
he was alright but he found his stomach tied
in knots with the worry he was experiencing.
"What was this other sick game that Mr X devised Joe" Fred asked knowing he
was stepping over the boundaries
a little when he made the comment but not really caring about protocol at
this point in time.
"They dragged me over to another chair in the room. I didn't have enough
strength to fight them. I hadn't had any
food or water the whole time and my legs wouldn't hold me up anymore. Mr
X then pulled out his gun and emptied
the shells out onto the floor. My mind counted them as they fell one by
one to the floor. I thought he was just going
to shoot me and it would be all over."
"How many bullets were emptied onto the floor Joe?"
"Six. Four that were still good and two that had been fired. And that's
when I realised that he did have something
else in mind because there weren't any bullets left in the barrel to shoot
"What did Mr X do next?"
"He picked up one of the good bullets and cleaned the dust off with his
shirt. Then he loaded it into one of the chambers
in the gun. He closed the barrel and then begun spinning it around and
Adam looked at his brother. It didn't take a genius to work out what the
game was that this monster wanted to play
with Joe. Russian Roulette was a very old and deadly game. It had been
played many times in saloons and bars all
over the world. He just never thought that his brother's life would be
the ultimate price for such a gamble.
Fred asked the question that everybody in the room already knew the answer
to, "Do you know what Mr X intended
to do with the bullet and the gun Joe?"
"He intended to play Russian Roulette." Joe said without any emotion in his
"Did he tell you how he intended to play out these nasty deeds?"
"Yes, he said that he would spin the barrel first and then shoot and if the
chamber was empty and I was still alive I
would get to spin the barrel next. We were to keep taking turns until my
luck ran out I guess."
"What was his next step?"
"He put the barrel of his gun against my temple and pressed hard." Joe
said. He was looking at the floor as he
spoke trying to avoid his family's reaction. He didn't see Paul Martin and
Ben look at each other and realise for the
first time since they saw it, what had made the perfectly round bruise on
Joe's temple when his injuries were first
Up until now Paul had no idea what had made such a mark on the boy. He had
even testified to
the fact yesterday that he drew a blank at the instrument that might have
been used. He had never thought in all
his professional years as a doctor that he could start feel hatred for
someone he had never even met.
"Joe, everybody here knows what a terrible time you were put through. To
save you some stress and unwanted
memories, I think it is safe to say that when the gun was fired, the
chamber was empty."
"Yes. The first time and the second time." Joe replied, making sure that
they all knew that the scene had been
played out more than once.
"You mean Mr X spun the barrel a second time and pulled the trigger again?"
Fred said a little dismayed at the
man's obvious efforts to totally break the boy's mental and physical
"No." Joe said sharply as he lifted his head and saying the word with
definition on his face.
Fred had a confused look on his face that said he wanted Joe to explain his
"What I mean is that yes the gun was fired a second time but Mr X didn't do
it the second time. He made me
spin it the second time and forced me to pull the trigger myself when the
barrel was against my head. My hands
were still tied together and shaking so much that I could barely get the
barrel to spin properly."
"Oh Joe" Fred said in a very sorrowful voice. He really didn't know what
else to say.
"I guess somebody must have been watching over me" Joe said with a little
false laughter at the end. He knew that
everybody felt sorry for him about what happened. But his fierce sense of
independence wanted them all to forget
what had happened just like he had to try and do.
Ben had a fairly good idea who Joe thought was watching over him that day
and he turned his face towards the
ceiling and sent a silent prayer to the Lord above and his wife Marie.
Joe asked for another glass of water. Hoss was only happy to oblige his
younger brother. At least this way he thought
he was doing something useful. He had promised his father and Marie that
he would always be there for Joe when
he needed him. After hearing his brother's horrific story of self-
reliance and survival he had never felt that he had let his brother down so
"Did anything else happen after that Joe?"
"I don't really remember anything else. I had my eyes closed, to scared to
open then and see the bullet that was about
to kill me. The next thing I felt was a hit to the back of my head with
something hard. I don't know what he used
but it hurt and all I saw was blackness."
"Is that the last time you saw Mr X?"
"Yes and No" Joe answered simply. "But not the last time I heard him or
saw him in my dreams" he thought silently to
"I am afraid you will have to expand on that double answer Joe"
"Yes it is the last time I seen him at the shack. It's not the last time I
have seen him since I was brought home."
Fred made a mental note to explore that answer in detail a little later on.
"Can you tell us how you managed to escape from the shack Joe?"
"I came to back in the smaller room in the shack. My head hurt so bad I
could barely sit up. It took a long time for me
to be able to focus enough to look around. The room was very dark and it
was hard even to make out any basic
shapes. My feet and hands were still tied together. They were starting to
go numb from the blood not circulating
"For a long time I just tried to loosen the rope around my hands and feet.
The ropes were very tight and I didn't think
I was going to do it. After a long time I felt the ropes on my ankles
stretch a little, not much but a little. I took off
my shoes. When my shoes were off it was fairly easy to pull my feet
through the rope. Then I started on my hands.
They also took a lot of time to stretch the rope. My hands stung from the
skin being almost rubbed away in some
"My eyes must have adjusted to the darkness in the room some and I could
see a cup of water sitting on the floor
a little way from me. When I got to it I drank a little of it and then
poured the rest of it over my hands to try and stop
the pain and stinging from the rope. I poured a little on my ankles but
they were as raw because I had long trousers
on. The rope hadn't rubbed against the skin so much around my ankles."
"I started to look around the room for some way to get out. I couldn't
have gone through the front door because they
would have caught me again. I tried to find another way out. I kept
stopping though because I thought I heard them
coming towards the door."
"I moved to the furtherest corner in the room where I thought the sound
would be heard the least. I started to feel
around the boards of the walls for ones that might be a little loose and I
could get my hands underneath. When I felt
the ground underneath the boards it was very wet and muddy from the rain
outside. I could feel the bottom of the
boards were wet too. I put my feet against them and grabbed a hold of one
of them and started to pull from the
bottom. I was lucky and the first one broke fairly easily."
"How many of them did you have to break to make a hole big enough to
"Four. I still hadn't had anything to eat so I was a bit skinny. When I
crawled through the hole and got to the
other side the front of my shirt was covered in mud."
"What time of the day was it outside now Joe, are you able to tell us?"
"I didn't stay still very long to look at the sky Mr Harding, but I think
it was a few hours before sunrise. There
was a little light just above the horizon. After I started running, I
didn't look at the sky very much at all. I just
wanted to get away from there before they found out I was missing."
"Did you have any idea about the direction you were headed in when you
started to run?"
"No. I just wanted to get away. I think I headed towards the light."
"Did the landmarks start to become familiar to you as you escaped Joe?"
"No, after a while I couldn't run anymore because the pain in my chest and
side were just too bad. I had a headache
that was really bad too. All of the trees looked the same to me. I had
to stop quite a lot to catch my breathe.
My lungs were burning so I thought I must have something wrong with my
ribs, maybe from all of the kicks and punches."
"Did you start to recognize things a little easier once the sun rose
"Yes and no. I still didn't recognize where I was. I came across some
muddy water and took a small drink from it.
I thought I might get sick if I drank too much."
"What happened next?"
"After a while walking I came across a stream. Only a small one, not very
wide. Only a few steps to the other side.
I put my foot into the water and couldn't believe how cold it was. I
almost stopped myself from going any further but
there wasn't anywhere else that was any shallower to cross. I didn't know
if I had the time to search for a narrower
crossing further up or down stream. I thought Mr X and the others must
have found me missing by now."
"After that I don't remember anything else until I woke up with Pa beside
me back in my room." Joe said.
"You don't remember anything about stepping on the rusty trap in the stream
and being found unconscious by your
family some time later?"
"No. Nothing. The only thing I felt when I woke up next was being cold."
Ben nodded his head at this statement as he remembered how cold his son's
body had been when they found it in
the stream and how his son had asked for blankets to warm him when he woke
Joe had started to force himself to relax a little over the last half an
hour or so. Although the memories in his head
were still very vivid. He couldn't believe how much relief he actually
got from telling things out in the open. It
was as if the weight he had been feeling on his shoulders was beginning to
lift every so slowly.
That false sense of security was shortly lived as the sound of footsteps
could be heard entering the courtroom.
Joe looked up and saw two men enter the room. His eyes only focused on
one of them. He could feel his chest
and throat begin to constrict with the fear that he felt. He felt as
though he could scarcely breathe. This couldn't
be happening he told himself but the scene before him told him that his
silent nightmare was about to come reality.
Joe had diverted his face and head from the two men as they walked across
the room and sat only a few rows
behind the defence lawyer. It was Henry Williams shouldered by Butch
Thomas. He smirked silently as he saw
the face of his young victim as he entered. It had been just the reaction
he was looking for.
Butch Thomas and Henry Williams had not heard the majority of what Joe had
said. Butch Thomas told himself
that he could watch the trial without fear of being identified. The kid
wasn't going to talk if he knew what was
best for him. He carefully noted the position of various people in the
room. He looked over and looked casually
at Danny Griffiths in the prisoner dock, careful not to allow any sign of
recognition to cross his face and give their
Thomas also made a mental note of where the Sheriff was standing in the
room as well as the kid's family. He
was lucky enough to recognize the black-haired brother he had seen before
he took the kid. He assumed the large
man sitting beside him and the silver-haired man in the same row must have
been the boy's family. He recognized
the doctor he had spoken to after the boy had been found and returned home.
He didn't pay any attention to the
Fred Harding the prosecutor.
Thomas's glance caught a glimpse of the only firearm he could see in the
room, on the Sheriff. He had concealed a
small pistol inside the coat of his jacket. Nobody would even know it was
there. Williams had been suspicious
about the whole thing of going to the courtroom and gloating secretly in
front of everyone. Thomas had been a
little more persuading though and told Williams that everything would work
out as long as he acted like a concerned
citizen like the other people in the courtroom.
Paul Martin and Ben Cartwright had noticed an immediate change in Joe.
They had seen two unknown men walk
into the room and take a seat at the back of the courtroom but they had no
reason to suspect that they were the
cause for Joe's sudden loss of pallor and composure. They both approached
Joe again with concern clearly
on their faces. They knew that something was very wrong with Joe at the
moment. The boy was trembling slightly
again and the paleness of his skin alarmed them the most.
"Joe are you okay?" Paul asked, reaching out a gentle hand and trying to
reassure the boy that everything was alright.
They had all heard the harrowing version of events given by the boy only a
short time ago. Although he seemed to
be as strong as everybody expected throughout the whole story, maybe now
the emotions of what had happened
where truly beginning to catch up with him as he listened to his own words
and remembered the pain that he had
Joe fought against his fear, telling himself that he had to finish this no
matter how hard it was. His eyes kept trying
to pull his attention to Butch Thomas sitting in the room. His mind was
screaming at him that the man was there
to hurt him again. To possibly take him away from his family again.
It took all Joe's willpower to keep his eyes focused on the floor in front
of him. He had barely taken any notice of the
questions asked of him by Doc Martin or his father. He looked up and found
them awaiting an answer to a
question he hadn't heard.
"Sorry Pa, I didn't hear what you said" Joe said in a small voice.
Ben was patient enough to repeat the question for his son, "The doctor
asked if you were alright Joseph?"
"I need to finish this Pa." Joe replied with a pleading look in his eyes.
"I have told almost all there is to know. I
can't tell all of that and then just turn away when I am almost at the end.
I just can't Pa."
Ben knew this statement to be completely true. His son had shown more
courage and bravery than he had seen
in most men twice his son's age to get up on this witness stand today and
tell the story they had all just heard.
He couldn't expect his son to be recovered just because he shared his
experiences. Part of the healing process
involved the completion and closure from the court. If Joe didn't get that
closure, his pain and mental anguish may
never go away.
Ben now looked at the doctor beside him and saw the same thoughts on his
face. He too held the same belief
that the boy needed closure to the matter in his own peace of mind. Paul
was still worried though about Joe's
physical well-being. In addition to Joe looking dreadfully tired over the
last hour or so, he couldn't help but take
note of Joe's slight winces of pain that were evidence on his face as the
young man bent down to try and rub at the
bandages around his injured ankle. The doctor was pretty sure that the
ankle had been causing him trouble
throughout the whole day but had only become to their attention because of
Joe's distract to the throbbing.
"Joe I am getting really worried about you sitting here for so long. You
need to rest. You need to have your
injuries looked at."
"I can't rest until this is finished Doc" Joe said bluntly.
Doc Martin nodded his head in acknowledgement. Joe was probably more right
than he knew. If they did break
for him to rest the boy probably wouldn't be able to sleep anyway. He had
been plagued by nightmares and
dreams since he had been found in the stream by his family.
"Half an hour Joe and that's it" Doc Martin said coming up with a
compromise that he thought was suitable to all.
He know turned and got Fred Harding's attention and then proceeded to
address the Judge as a doctor.
"Your Honour, although it is against my better judgment, I am going to
allow this questioning to continue. But only
for a further 30 minutes. Joe is dangerously close to causing more
unnecessary damage to his injuries from lack
of rest. He is very tired and I cannot allow this to go on for much longer
as a doctor and a friend to him. I am
aware of Joe's pleas to be allowed to go on and respect them but only for a
"Very well then doctor in thirty minutes we will adjourn until tomorrow
morning at your request." the Judge replied.
"Are you sure you don't want to break now Joe?" he asked as he turned to
the boy and asked him directly what
his wishes were.
"I can go on" Joe said with determination in his voice. It was a little
hard to believe him though as the signs of
fatigue and pain began to show on his young and handsome face.
"Mr Harding, you have a further half an hour to ask the rest of your
questions for today."
Fred nodded in agreement and was secretly relieved that this would soon
come to an end for Joe. He hoped he
could get all of the questions out within this time and Joe wouldn't need
to come back and go through any more
Ben and Doc Martin reluctantly took their respective places back behind
Fred Harding. Both of them never
took their eyes of Joe. The young man's posture gave away further his
pain and feeling of fatigue. His shoulders
were slumped and hunched forward. His head hung low as if he didn't have
the strength to hold it up straight.
Little did either of them know that Joe's head hung low for another reason
entirely. At the moment he was battling
as hard as he could not to look in Butch Thomas's direction. The battle
was getting harder and harder.
As hard as he tried though, there was something about Thomas's dark
brooding eyes that drew his attention towards
the man. Joe turned his head and looked into those eyes. He almost felt
like Thomas was able to look into his
soul. He could feel any of the confidence and self-esteem that he had
gained from his family's presence and support
being drained away by Thomas's stare.
Butch Thomas kept his composure throughout. He gave secret and sly smirks
at the young man as he found the
young man unable to divert his eyes. He knew that Joe feared from him. It
was very evidence on his face what he
was feeling. He was determined not to give his identity away and he was
just as determined not to allow the boy
to tell the court anything about what had happened back at the shack. He
was unaware that Joe had already
spoken about his experiences.
Thomas looked about, making sure that nobody was taking particular notice
of him or the fact that he held the young
man's attention. He placed his right hand over his heart, making the shape
of a pistol with his thumb and index finger
to alert Joe to the fact that he had a concealed gun under his jacket.
The gesture wasn't missed by Joe either. He could scarcely draw his eyes
away from the fingers and the fact that
they made the shape of a gun. Joe had taken particular note that Thomas
had dressed himself formally for the court
in order to fool the rest of Virginia City about his true intentions of
being there today. Thomas would not have been
allowed to enter the courtroom with a gun belt strapped to his waist.
Joe didn't think for one moment though that Thomas had come unarmed either.
He had shown back at the shack and
over the last two weeks that he was prepared to take almost any measure to
stop Joe from telling anybody who was
responsible for taking him from his family.
Joe fully realised what the gun gesture meant. Thomas would be able to
shoot anybody in this room if he so chose,
even somebody from his family.
Joe felt the sweat start to bead on his forehead. His heart was slamming
against the wall of his chest as he thought
about the hidden gun. The man's menace knew no boundaries.
Emotionally and mentally Joe was at the end of his tether. He wanted so
much for his family and the other people in the courtroom to know that the
man who had done these torturous deeds to him was sitting right now amongst
Joe was afraid though of what Thomas might do even in front of all these
witnesses. He knew that he couldn't do
this on his own anymore.
Little Joe told himself that somehow he had to tell one of his family of
Thomas's presence without saying the words
or without giving undue attention to Thomas. He looked back and forth
between his family and Doc Martin, trying to
size up who would note the subtle signals and understand their meaning.
This family member would need to keep that information to himself as well
until Joe decided that it was the right moment to identify his kidnapper.
Joe now raised his head and looked intently at his older brother Adam. He
was sure that if Hoss knew about Thomas's
presence, his larger sibling would be out to get retribution as soon as he
knew. His father would want to alert Roy
Coffee to the man's presence and in doing so may put many people in the
courtroom at risk of harm including his family.
He couldn't afford to risk that.
Joe told himself that he needed someone level-headed and cool in a crisis
situation. Adam was the name that first
came into his head. Adam would be alarmed and possibly even concerned, but
he wouldn't fly off the handle like Hoss
was likely to do and he would try and help Joe discreetly rather than
alerting everyone to the situation.
Adam didn't miss the long stare that he was receiving from his young
sibling. He knew as their eyes locked that it wasn't
merely a look that asked for his support and understanding. Joe was trying
to tell him something. Joe's eyes had always
been the most expressive part about him. Joe had never been very good at
hiding anything or keeping his feelings from
his feelings from his family too long. As soon as he tried, his eyes told
them all they wanted to know.
Looking at Joe's emerald green eyes now Adam could see fear like no other.
Over the past few weeks he had known
Joe to show this level of fear when he was talking about or remembering
only one person. As Adam looked at Joe
with his own warm brown eyes, he understood that Joe was trying to tell him
that the person Joe feared most was in
the room. Joe had held up particularly well over the last 6 hours or so
whilst he gave his terrifying version of events
back at the abandoned shack. Joe had only just started to lose his
composure to fear within the last twenty minutes
Joe almost cried out loud in relief when he recognized the message in his
brother's return gaze. He knew that Adam
now understood that his tormentor was in the room somewhere. He couldn't
give away the man's exact position
without fear of putting himself, his family or everyone else at risk of
Thomas's fury. He trusted that Adam would
somehow alert his family about what was going on.
Adam adjusted his head slightly, barely noticeable to anybody else sitting
nearby and whispered into his father's ear
what information he had learned from Joe.
Ben had almost gasped out loud with the words he was hearing from Adam. It
took all of Ben's willpower not to
start scanning the people immediately behind him to see if he could
recognize a stranger sitting amongst them.
He could scarcely believe that the man who had done such terrible things to
his son was still brazen enough to turn
up at the courtroom and terrify his son some more.
Over the next few minutes Adam was able to discreetly alert his brother
Hoss, Doc Martin and Fred Harding with the
help of his father to the fact that Joe's kidnapper was in the room
somewhere. Adam had taken a particular point
of holding firmly onto Hoss's arm out of sight as he told him. Hoss's
brow quickly turned into a frown as he fought
against the urge inside him to pull this animal out of his hiding place and
make a public example out of him for Little
All of them knew the precarious situation that they were all in, especially
Little Joe. They all knew that he was
expecting them all to keep his secret just that until the moment was a
little better. None of them were aware of the
firearm that Thomas had concealed in his jacket.
Fred Harding took it upon himself to make sure that he could word his
questions in such a manner as to draw the
man out in the open and incriminate himself in the process. Hopefully this
would prevent the messy business of Joe
having to point a finger at the man and thereby putting himself in danger
from the man who still threatened him.
"Okay Joe" Fred began with a cough to hide his nervousness. "A little over
a week ago your father tells me that
you fainted in your bedroom. Can you tell the courtroom a little more
about what made you faint that day. Was
it because of the injuries you had received from your abductors?"
"No" Joe said as he saw Thomas shift around in his chair. He knew that
Thomas was becoming aware that he had
told all to the court.
"No, can you add a little more please Joe?"
"I fainted because of something that was placed in my bedroom by Mr X".
"You mean that Mr X returned to your bedroom after you where brought home
by your family?"
"Yes he came back twice." Joe said, keeping an uneasy eye on Thomas as he
saw the man move again in his chair.
He could feel the man's eyes burning into his skin as they got darker and
darker with anger. He started to tremble
slightly at the thought what the man was going to do.
Butch Thomas couldn't do anything to alert anybody to his true identity.
Beside him Henry Williams had looked at
him anxiously a couple of times as Joe and the prosecutor spoke about this
Mr X. Thomas had to laugh a little at
the boy's tactics of dreaming up an imaginary name for him. The boy was
ingenious if nothing else. If the boy wanted
to play games than he was willing to play along for a time He thought that
he had made it abundantly clear that the
boy was never to tell anybody about who he was or what had happened back at
the shack. Once the game was ended he would make sure that the boy paid
dearly for his indiscretion.
"He came back when he put me in the closet but he came back before that"
Joe said his voice almost a whisper again.
"How do you know it was Mr X that came back the first time Joe? It could
have been somebody else that came into
your house without you or your family knowing."
"No it had to be him because nobody else could have left the object that he
left on my bedside table. He knew how
scared I would be when I saw it. That's why he left it there before in
"What was this special item that he placed there Joe? What did he leave
that he knew would make you remember
what had happened to you?"
"He left one of the bullets from his gun" Joe replied and then looked back
towards the ground again to try and hide
the redness that was rising on his face.
Ben and his family still couldn't believe the words that they were hearing
from his son. Joe had known all along that
this Mr X had been in the house before the closet incident. How was this
boy able to keep such horrible secrets from
the ones that loved him for so long? They couldn't help but feel hatred
towards this man who had terrified Joe so much
that he thought he needed to hide things from his family and not tell them
when he was being threatened.
Fred looked at his watch and knew he had to keep going. There wasn't much
of those thirty minutes left and any
minute now Doc Martin was going to put an end to today's proceedings.
"Yesterday Joe when you were in the courtroom, are you able to tell us what
made you faint then? Where you in
too much pain from your injuries or was the questioning getting to be too
much of a burden?"
"Neither. I admit that my leg was hurting some before I asked for a break
and went outside. As for the questions,
well I was trying to avoid answering them as much as possible as I said
"Well then what is your explanation?"
"Well you see, when I got outside and started to head towards the outhouse,
I felt a pair of hands grab my shoulders
from behind. I was going to call out for somebody in here to help me but
the man put a hand over my mouth before
I could scream and then dragged me into the alleyway so nobody would be
able to see or hear what was going on."
Joe could feel the redness starting to rise from the base of his neck again
and travel upwards towards his head.
He could feel the beginning of a headache starting to surface.
There were many whispers and shocks amongst the people in the courtroom
about what had happened to Joe when
he went outside the courtroom. None of them ever imagined that the boy had
been assaulted again.
Fred asked the question that everybody seemed to already know the answer to
"Can you tell us who this man was
that grabbed you and tried to silence your calls for help?"
"At first I didn't know who it was. I was just scared and trying to get
free. Once he had dragged me far enough into
the alleyway he turned me around to face me so I could see who he was.
It was Mr X"
A hush now fell over the crowded courtroom as Joe uttered who the assailant
was. The Judge was appalled and it
clearly showed on his face. He made a promise to himself as a overseer of
justice and to the young man sitting beside
him who had suffered and endured so much pain and torment. Whoever this Mr
X was, he would face the full wrath
of the law when his identity became known.
Doc Martin had look on his face that said he now knew why Little Joe had
faltered in his step when he came back into
the room. They had all been able to see the terror and fear in the young
man's eyes. He had been trembling from fear
and it all became too much for his mind and body to handle. His body had
already been under enough stress over the
last few weeks and was only part way healed.
Fred knew he really only had time for one or two more questions. He was
going to make damn sure that they counted
for Little Joe.
"Joe, we have been referring all day to this man as Mr X. The time has now
come for you to tell us his true name.
Do you know what his name is Joe?"
"Yes" Joe said in a barely audible witness. His gaze once again wandered
to a few rows behind where his family were
sitting. He could see Thomas's face now dark as coal from the anger that
was present. Joe was under no false
impressions. He knew that if Thomas managed to get a hand on him now, he
may very well kill him with his bare hands.
Joe's mind once again travelled over all of the torture and pain he had
been forced to endure during those days of captivity.
He remembered the anguished looks on the faces of his father and brothers
every time he woke them with a nightmare
when he had been brought home. How often they had sat by his beside and
lovingly nursed him back to health
They had hoped that he would open up to them and tell them about what had
happened to him.
It seemed that the last month or so was all a very bad theatrical
performance by Joe. His life had been one big puppet
show with his strings being pulled by Thomas. Thomas was the director and
Joe found himself doing just what he was
told because of the fear that he felt towards this man and the threats that
had been made to him over and over.
Joe told himself that it was time to break free of those restraints, no
matter what the cost and come out and tell the
court who this man was. He wanted to make sure that his man was put away
so he could never do any harm to anybody
else like he had done to him.
With all the courage he could possibly muster, and that wasn't very much at
the moment, he looked directly and
purposefully at Butch Thomas to utter his next words. He wanted to see the
man's face when he revealed his identity.
He wanted Thomas to know what it was like to be afraid. Afraid of what was
going to happen to him, prison or maybe
even death by hanging. He deserved no less.
"The man who did all of this to me is.......Butch Thomas" Joe said, the
effort to get those two words out almost
too much. He would never have believed that it would be so hard to say
Before anybody else had time to react to Joe's words though, Thomas jumped
up out of his seat with a roar of pure
hatred and primal rage. "You little whelp. I warned you what would
happen if you told anybody about me" Thomas
Thomas now reached into his jacket and pulled out the small concealed
pistol and aimed it directly at Joe. Everything
in the room seemed to happen in slow motion now.
Joe saw Thomas fire the gun. He had tried to manoeuvre his body out of the
way but was restricted to a slower pace
due to his injured leg. He was still trying to escape from the witness box
when he felt a red hot searing pain in his
side. The pain that erupted in his chest took his breath away and all he
could get out was a half-strangled cry as he
felt himself topple sideways towards the floor. He put his hand to his
side where the pain felt the worst. When he
pulled his hand away, it was stained bright red with his blood.
Thomas fired the pistol at Joe just a fraction of a second before Hoss
barrelled into the man with his full weight. Hoss
landed on top of the man and started punching him without mercy. Now that
he knew the identity of Joe's kidnapper,
he was about to extract some of his own for his little brother.
Hoss's fists stopped though as he heard an anguished cry from his father.
He had almost forgotten about the gun being
fired and now turned around to see what the stray bullet had struck. He
could scarcely hold back the tears from his
eyes as he saw his father and older brother now kneeling beside the
crumpled form of his little brother.
"JOSEPH" Ben had cried as he saw a man behind him raise a small pistol and
aim it directly at his young and
vulnerable son. He saw the boy gasp in pain and knew that the bullet had
struck him somewhere. He took a brief
second to glance around and see Hoss grab hold of the man who had fired the
gun who was seated behind them
and start punching into him. He didn't even give the man a second thought
for the time being.
Ben and Doc Martin had reached the stricken youth at about the same time.
The courtroom was in chaos as people
heard a gunshot and tried to flee out of the nearest exits.
"Quickly get some cloths or rags to try and stop this bleeding" Doc Martin
shouted to anybody that was nearby.
He was quickly handed some towels from somewhere, he didn't stop to take
the time to thank the person.
Doc Martin now used pressure together with the towel to try and slow the
flow of blood pouring from Joe's side
that was torn open by the bullet. The boy was still conscious and this
gave the doctor a little hope that the pain and
the wound itself maybe weren't as bad as it looked.
Joe grimaced in pain as the world around him began to become fuzzy and
disorientated. He didn't know how much
longer he was going to be able to stay awake so he needed to say things now
while there was still time. He couldn't
tell if the wound was fatal or not. By the worried looks of the faces
above and around him, he judged that it must be
"Everything is going to be okay son. You just hold on now. Doc Martin
and I will take good care of you. You just
lay back and rest" Ben now said soothingly to his son. He was trying to
keep the boy's mind from drifting off and
trying to distract him from the pain that was evident on his pale face.
Ben and the others turned around briefly as they heard a heated argument
"Are you crazy. What did you go and do that for? You just couldn't leave
things alone could you? You thought you
could play it out to the end all on your own. Now you have gone and hung
yourself because of your own greed and
own self glory." Everyone was shocked to hear these words coming from
Henry Williams as he accused his partner
in crime. He had not been happy about going to the courtroom at all but
now with the kid being shot in front of everyone,
Williams knew that everything was going to come out in the open.
Roy Coffee now walked over towards Williams and gripped him by the upper
arm "Now what would you know about all
that has been going on here Mr Williams?" he asked, already hearing
Williams own confession of involvement.
Williams hung his head in shame as he knew that he was up to his neck in
trouble for his association with Thomas.
At first he had gone along with the whole idea of kidnapping Joe for the
lumber contract and ransom. Then as Thomas's
deeds had become much more than that Williams found his association a
forced one, but nobody in this room was
going to believe that. He hadn't wanted to see the boy hurt but things had
gone a little beyond that stage now with
the boy now laying in a pool of his own blood.
"Adam could you help me get this other scum bag over to the jailhouse?" Roy
now asked. He knew that Adam was
concerned with the plight of his younger brother. Looking over at the man
Joe had identified as Butch Thomas, Roy
knew that the man wouldn't be coming to in a hurry.
The man's face was now a colourful shade of black and purple as a result of
alternating left and right hand blows from
Hoss. Roy almost felt like taking a swing at the man himself, even if he
was out cold. It was more compassion than
he had afforded Little Joe Cartwright all that time he was in captivity.
"It's okay Adam, the blood has slowed a little. I will get your father and
Hoss here to help move Joe across to my
office to see what further damage has been caused. You can meet us over
there after you finish helping Roy." Doc
Martin now said as he saw the hesitation on Adam's face. The older
Cartwright was being pulled between his love
and concern for his seriously injured brother and the need to help Sheriff
"Did you get him Pa?" Joe now asked with his eyes closed. He needed to
know what had happened to Thomas.
"Your brother did Joe. Hoss really gave him a working over. I don't think
he is going to be a threat to anyone
anymore." Ben said as he answered his son's question. He could see that
Joe needed that reassurance before he could
start to try and relax or rest.
"Thanks Hoss" Joe mumbled.
"Your welcome short shanks" Hoss said, trying not to sound too upset as he
neared his brother.
"Pa" Joe now said as he forced his eyes open to just a crack. He had a few
more words to say to his father before
he could let himself fall into the perpetual darkness that was tugging at
the edges of his mind.
"Joe you need to keep your strength. You can say whatever you want once
you are patched up. Right now I want
you to take it easy and let us take care of you for a while."
"I need to tell you something first Pa" Joe said, his voice getting softer
and softer as he spoke.
Ben found himself leaning over closer to his son just to hear what the boy
was saying. "What is it that you wanted to
"I'm sorry" Joe said simply, the tears welling up in his eyes as he looked
to his father for forgiveness.
"Sorry for what Joe?" Ben replied as he fought against his own emotions and
brushed the stray tears away from his
"About all the things that I said back at the hotel the other afternoon.
I sorry Pa. I didn't mean what I said. I was
just scared about Thomas. I was trying to push you, Adam and Hoss away
when all you wanted to do was protect me."
"None of that matters anymore son, it was all forgotten about. I know you
didn't mean the things you said. I know
how scared you have been, or I have tried to understand. Until today, I
don't really think I did understand how scared
"And you know the part that hurt's the most about all of this Pa?" Joe
said. His words were beginning to become
slurred and incoherent. He was fighting against the pull of
unconsciousness and knew that he didn't have enough
strength to hold out much longer.
"What's that Joe?" Ben said as he softly caressed his son's unruly curls.
He could see Paul was handling the medical
side of things so he just concerned himself with talking to his son and
trying to keep him calm and relaxed as the doctor
"This is what I get for telling the truth" Joe said bitterly. With the
burden of Thomas now off his chest and the guilt
about the harsh words he had shouted at his father now over with, he could
no longer fight the fatigue and pain that
were battering him all over. He just wanted to curl up and forget about
everything for a while.
"I love you Pa......" Joe said in a thick voice as the room above him began
Joe's eyes now started flickering closed and seemed to roll back into his
head as the boy's body became very limp.
His head lolled to one side and a soft puff of air escaped his lips in a
"Paul!" Ben yelled out in alarm. He didn't know if his son lived or not.
His heart was in his throat. He couldn't
lose Joe now. They had come so far now and it seemed unfair that his young
life should be cut short now when he
had already been through so much. Ben found himself scarcely able to
breathe as he gazed down as his youngest
"He is still alive Ben" Paul assured his friend as he put two fingers to
Joe's neck and felt the pulse beating steadily
within. "The pulse is a little weak and racy, but it is there. His body
has just had enough. He was already weak to
begin with. Now with this added bullet wound. Let's get him over to my
office now" he said as he gave Ben's
shoulder a gentle squeeze.
"Ben can you hold that towel against the wound and press it as hard as you
can while Hoss and I carry him. Hoss
you take his feet, I will lift his shoulders. Be careful of that leg too
Hoss, I don't want to cause more injury to it."
Three men now very carefully and very slowly lifted Joe's prone floor from
the floor and started towards the front
doorway of the courtroom. Paul supported Joe's shoulders and upper body as
agreed whilst Hoss took the younger
man's legs and lower body.
It was an agonising trip across the street to the Doc Martin's office. The
distance was only short but with every step,
no matter how careful they were, Joe would emit a loan moan in the back of
his throat from the pain he was feeling as
Once they got to Paul's office, Hoss was asked to wait outside while the
doctor and his Pa worked on Joe. Hoss
spent an hour pacing up and down the floor of the doctor's waiting room
before Adam walked in.
"How is he?" Adam asked before he even closed the door.
"I don't know dadburnit' Adam. They have been in there for ages. I have
heard anything from Paul or the Doc
about how Little Joe is. It's just about driving my crazy waiting."
"I am sure they are doing the best they can Hoss" Adam said as he gave his
younger brother a comforting slap on the
"How did you go anyway?" Hoss now asked as he remembered that Adam had been
given the unenviable task of
taking Butch Thomas back to the jailhouse. Henry Williams and Danny
Griffiths had gone along with the Sheriff
with very little protest.
"Okay I guess. He was still out when I dumped him in the cell. But Lord
knows he is probably doing a lot better
right now than Joe is." Adam said as he felt the anger start to burn within
him again. It had taken all of his strength
and willpower not to extract some vengeance of his own for Joe when he saw
Thomas laying in the cell.
The conversation between Hoss and Adam was interrupted by Paul as he opened
the door to the surgery and walked
out with Ben not too far behind him. Hoss paled a little as he saw the
front of the doctor's surgical gown covered
in blood. He couldn't help but know that the blood staining the doctor's
garment was flowing in his little brother not
so long ago.
"He's a tough one that's for sure" Paul said trying to relieve the tension
in the room before giving his diagnosis of Joe's
condition. "Your brother is going to be fine, after a lot of rest and
recovery. The bullet nicked his side thankfully but
there was a lot of blood loss as you saw. Joe is very weak. He will be
barely able to lift his head off the pillow for
the next two days until his body replenishes the blood that he lost. His
leg didn't suffer any further damage and is looking
very pleasing at the moment. If he didn't have this other problem from the
shooting I'd say he might be able to stand
on his leg again within about three weeks."
Adam and Hoss couldn't help but slap each other on the back in relief.
They looked towards their father and saw
only relief on Ben's tired face as well.
"When will we be able to take him home Doc?" Hoss asked a little
prematurely but it was hard to hide his excitement
to the news that he just heard that Joe was going to be alright. The man
who had caused his brother such pain and
suffering was now securely locked up in the jailhouse along with the other
man involved. There truly was a lot to
celebrate at the moment and be thankful for.
"Now just hold your horses a bit there Hoss" Paul said in mock sternness.
"I said he was going to be alright but we
still need to keep a good eye on that boy for the next week or so. I want
to make sure that there are no signs of
infection or any other complications from the bullet wound. He is going
to need constant rest over the next two
weeks and lots of good food to help him regain his strength."
"I don't want to go against your diagnosis Doctor, but seeing the torment
that Joe has been put through over the
last two days and few weeks before that. I thought it would be best if he
could be brought home to recover in his
own familiar surroundings as soon as he is able to travel safely" Adam now
"I understand what you are saying Adam, and to tell you the truth I am not
totally against the idea" Paul said to
everyone's amazement. Even Ben had a slightly shocked expression on his
face at the doctor's agreement to Joe's
recovery taking place back at the Ponderosa as soon as possible. "And I
will tell you why. At the moment his
biggest battle is the physical injuries again. Until that bullet wound
starts to heal on its own and he starts to get his
strength back, his health and well-being is the only thing we need to
concern ourselves with at the moment."
"However, once those physical injuries start to heal and he starts to be up
and about again and allowed to go back
to a normal routine, there is no doubt that the biggest hurdle he will have
to face is himself again. There will that
fear of Thomas still for some time to come and the nightmares at night may
continue for an extended length of time.
Joe is going to need the support of his family and friends." Paul
"How long do you expect that fear to still exist Paul, now that Joe knows
Thomas is behind bars?" Adam asked.
"It's very hard to tell. Just because Joe knows about Thomas not being
able to get anywhere near him, that is
no reason to suspect that Joe's fear of the man will lessen to any great
degree. The only solution to Joe's fear of
his attacker and the acceptance of what has happened to him and that his
family are there to prevent it happening
again is time. Time for the wounds, both physically and mentally to heal.
Both he and you all will need to take
things one day at a time for a while until things start to improve for
"Ben I am going to clean Joe up and get him settled into a proper bed for
the night. I will keep a close eye on him
for the rest of the night. If by morning there seems to be no sign of a
fever or any other problems, I will probably
give him a strong dose of painkillers and allow you to take him home in a
padded wagon. I suggest for tonight
that you and your son's get some rest because Joe is probably going to keep
you awake for much of tomorrow
with his on-going care. You are welcome to use the other beds I have so
you can still be close to Joe. I promise
to wake you if there is any change in Joe's condition at all during the
night" Paul explained.
"But I want to ....." Ben started to say before the Doctor cut him off
"No Ben Cartwright. I can see by your face that you are ready to collapse
yourself. I want Adam and Hoss there
to make sure that you eat a decent meal, have a hot bath and then maybe
after all of that you can come and say
goodnight to Joe before you get a good night's sleep" Paul said
admonishingly to his old friend. He knew that
Ben would want to stay with Joe as long as needed, but Joe's care was going
to be a slow process over the next
couple of weeks and he needed to make sure that Ben and his boys were
taking good care of themselves as well
Ben smiled sheepishly at the doctor's advice and nodded his head in
agreement of a hot meal and bath before
returning to Joe. He did however intend to stay with Joe for the night no
matter how hard the Doctor tried to shift
him. "Okay Paul, something to eat and a bath."
Paul was a little surprised that Ben had given in so easily to his demands
but his friend really did look tired from
all of the stress and pressure he had been under. There was just no
telling Ben that he couldn't worry when it came
to his youngest son.
"Don't worry Doc, we will make sure he does what he is told" Hoss said as
he and Adam both flanked their father
as he prepared to head back to the hotel.
"Don't forget yourselves too" Paul said and gently closed the door behind
The doctor then returned to his surgery and found his young patient in the
same position as before thanks mainly to
the dose of laudanum he had been given shortly after being placed on the
"You have a very worried family there young man. I hope you have enough
sense about you when you start to heal
to accept their help graciously. Lord knows you have taken ten years of
my life" Paul said to a still sleeping Joe
as he brushed back a stray lock of hair as Ben would have done if he were
By the time Ben and his boys returned to see Joe, the doctor had cleaned
him up after surgery and was just about
to move him to the bed. He accepted Adam's help to move the sleeping
youth. Hoss did what he could and pulled
back the covers as Adam and Paul gently lowered Joe onto the clean sheets.
Joe never looked like stirring under their administrations and Paul told
them this was to due to the dose of laudanum
that he had given before the surgery. He expected that Joe would sleep
through the night until the next morning
without much difficulty. At the moment the wound was still sealed and the
stitches were holding nicely together.
Paul had been satisfied as he checked the bandages again for signs of fresh
bleeding after Joe was placed in the bed.
Much to Paul's dismay, Ben had fallen asleep awkwardly in the chair beside
his son. He didn't have the heart to wake
Ben and move him into a bed. He just hoped that his friend would get as
much rest as his son tonight. They both
needed it desperately.
At about 3.00am that night, Ben was woken suddenly by a sound. It wasn't
until he sat up in the chair and tried to
rub some of the stiffness out of his neck that he saw the noise had come
from his son. Joe's eyes were still closed,
but his sleep was far from peaceful. The young man was moving about on the
bed and Ben was worried that his
son would undo all the doctor's good work.
Paul was soon at Joe's side checking the young man over. There was a
slight fever present, not much to be too
concerned about. Joe seemed to settle back to sleep a little easier as a
soft dampened cloth was laid across his
forehead. He mumbled something incoherently and then his movements became
less and less until there were
none at all.
Paul and Ben looked at each other silently but knew that Joe's restless
sleep was not entirely from his injury. Joe
still found himself locked within nightmares where he was once again back
in Thomas's clutches and there was
nobody around to help him. This time he hadn't woken up screaming like
other nights, but they had to keep an
eye on them and make sure that he didn't move around too much to cause any
damage to the stitches in his side.
By 7.00am the next morning when Adam and Hoss came into the room where Joe
was sleeping, they found their
brother still sleeping. Ben had told them about the nightmare during the
"Hoss, you and Adam go down to the livery stable and organise a wagon from
Charlie. Try and find as many
blankets and pillows as you can as well and we will start getting things
ready to take your brother home this
Joe's brothers were only too happy to do their father's bidding. Both of
them knew the best place for Joe to
recover was at home on the ranch.
Joe had awakened briefly after they had left. Not for long. He was very
unfocused and didn't understand where
he was. He could feel the pain in his side and gasped out loud as he tried
to breathe in and out. The doctor
warned him that he had to take slow, deep breaths and let them out slowly
in order for the pain to become more
bearable. Joe accepted some water from a glass as it was held to his lips
and even swallowed a few spoonfuls
of very thin broth as it was offered to him.
Within minutes of waking though, the young man was tiring easily again and
he could scarcely keep his eyes open.
"It's going to be alright Joe" Ben said as he caressed the boy's forehead
and watched the boy's eyes slid closed
again in slumber.
"Once you get him home Ben, you will need to try and get some food into him
when you can. Just thin broth to
begin with, but a least three times a day. You may have to wake him up to
do it but without regular food he won't
get any of his strength back. After the second day you may find he will be
awake a little more and you can try
something a little solider. Make sure you keep the fluids up to him to
make up for the blood that he lost."
"I will give you some laudanum. Make sure you use it sparingly though. I
think he will be tired enough to rest on
his own but he may be in some considerable pain for a few days because of
where the bullet struck. I will be out
every day to check on him until I think the visits can be further apart.
If there is anything you need, just let me
know. If there is any change in his condition or he develops a fever, come
for me straight away." Paul instructed
Adam and Hoss now returned and informed them that the wagon was all
prepared and ready for it's passenger.
"Make sure that wagon goes as slow as possible over that road Hoss" Paul
warned them. "Any unnecessary
jarring from some of those ruts may caused the stitches to break or the
wound to open up an bleed. Make sure
you check the bandages once he is home Ben for any sign of bleeding."
Ben assured Paul that he and the boys would take every precaution for Joe's
sake. He knew that Paul considered
Joe like a son to him. "See you tomorrow Paul" he said as they left.
Adam and Hoss carried their precious burden as carefully as they could down
the stairs from the doctor's surgery
and out into the waiting wagon. Once they placed the still sleeping Joe on
the mattresses and blankets, Ben was
immediately beside him, covering his son with further blankets to stop the
boy becoming chilled from the trip home.
(Author's Note: this story now goes right back to the beginning where Joe
is taken home in the wagon
and Ben is pondering things in his leather chair down in the living room.
This is just a repeat of the first
few paragraphs to refresh your memory)
As the wagon bumped along the road back towards the Ponderosa, Ben
Cartwright looked down at his sixteen year
old son who was laying down beside him in a deep sleep. The sleep was not a
natural one however. It came as the
result of the drug combination that Doc Martin had administered only a few
hours ago. It was supposed to help Joe
not feel any physical pain from the injuries he had sustained.
But what about the emotional and mental scars that had been left behind.
What about them Ben asked himself.?
How long would they take to heal? Would they ever heal? Would his young son
ever recover from the torment that
he had suffered at the hands of Butch Thomas over the last month?
If he could turn back the hands of time over the last few weeks and
foreseen what would befall his youngest son,
Ben would have taken the boy out of harms way. He would have simply packed
up Joseph and one of his other sons
Adam or Hoss if necessary and made sure that Joe was safe in another town
away from the dangers that lurked.
Ben caressed the boy's soft curls but his son didn't respond to his touch.
It was like a brick wall had been built between
them and it was getting harder and harder to reach in and find the real
The boy had changed so much over the past few weeks. Going from the
confident, full of energy
and laughter young man that filled the house with love and joy. Now the boy
was sullen, withdrawn and rarely
spoke unless asked a question and even then it was a battle to get some
sort of answer.
Ben swore to himself that he didn't care how long it took, he and his
eldest two sons would be there every minute
of the day and night if necessary to bring the boy back from the brink and
back into the safe and loving arms of his
"He alright back there Pa?" Hoss asked as he guided the wagon team as
slowly as he could over the rough dirt road
back to the Ponderosa.
"As well as can be expected I guess Hoss" Ben replied in a voice that held
no emotion at all. "We will just have to
see how he goes over the next couple of days. It is going to be a difficult
time for us all."
Hoss nodded and turned his attention back to the wagon team. As they pulled
up outside the ranch house,
Adam came outside followed by Hop Sing. Adam had ridden on ahead of the
rest of his family making sure
everything would be ready in time when Hoss and his father arrived back
with Little Joe.
Adam looked at his father also before attempting to take his younger
brother out of the wagon. He hadn't heard
the tone of Ben's voice just a few hundred metres back, but he saw the
tiredness etched on his father's face and
he saw the worry embedded deep into his father's brown eyes. His father
almost looked a broken man. The thing that allowed the man to go on lay
beside him wrapped up in the blankets. Adam didn't want to contemplate how
his father would have gone on if Joe had not come back home. He couldn't
put it into words himself how he would
have felt. One fifteen year old boy held the magical golden key to all
their hearts and kept them all united together.
Now when this same boy had fallen along the way and looked to be headed
away from his family, it was up to that
family to make sure that the boy knew they all loved and needed him
The dark thunder clouds above once again threatened to bring down the
heavens in torrential rain. They needed to
get the boy inside and into his bed before the rain started. The last thing
he needed with all his injuries at the moment
was to get sick on top of it. Hoss thought back a moment and thought that
it had been raining a few days before
this all started to happen as well. Funny how history had a way of playing
on your memory wasn't it he thought to
"Take it easy Adam" Ben said knowing that his eldest son was already aware
of Joe's injuries. "We have to check
that those stitches are still in place in his side when we get him settled
upstairs. Heaven knows what that rough road
had done to exasperate the pain and agony his son felt.
Ben managed to move the still sleeping Joe into a half-sitting position so
that Adam could wrap his strong arms
around the fragile boy and lift him out of the wagon. Ben could feel a
little warmth emanating through the cotton shirt
that Joe wore over the top of the heavy padding and bandages around his
A few spits of rain began to fall just as Adam made it to the porch with
Joe nestled in his strong arms. The boy had
lost so much weight from injury and stress over the last few weeks, he
barely weighed anything his brother noted
with dismay. Ben picked up the tails of the blankets from behind Adam and
followed his eldest son as he carried
Joe into the homestead.
Adam had already made sure that Joe's room was already warm enough before
the wagon pulled up outside. He
walked into the house and climbed the staircase carrying his precious
burden that failed to make a single sound.
Adam laid his unconscious brother on the clean sheets and made sure that he
was resting comfortably on the
pillows while his father started to take off his shoes and socks.
Hoss had volunteered to put the horses and wagon away but both Adam and Ben
knew that it was eating the middle Cartwright up inside to see his younger
brother like this. It went against the very grain of things in Hoss's eyes
what had happened to his brother. He hated the men who had done this to
Joe. He hated the Judge who had put the boy through so much humiliation in
front of everyone. He hated himself for being so angry.
Inside, Joe had not awakened as such, but seemed to be having a battle
against unseen demons again. The demons
had probably been created from the memories of the real monsters that had
stalked the teenager and then caused
him so much hurt and pain. Suffering and fear that he had hidden from his
family. A deep gnawing fear that bit into
the boy's very soul and stole his spirit with it.
Ben sat on the edge of the bed, forgetting all about undressing the boy.
For now, the only real important thing was
to let the boy know that his family was right here with him and that he was
Ben spoke softly to the boy, reminding him of how much his family had
missed him and how proud they were of
him today. While Ben talked, Adam went about finishing the task of
undressing the boy from his good clothes he
had worn to court. The jacket had been left back at Doc Martin's due to the
damage caused to it. Ben had declared
it beyond repair or salvage and could no longer bear to look upon the
garment and see it stained with his
youngest son's blood.
Adam unbuttoned Joe's trousers once the boots were removed and had to keep
his own anger in check as he
saw the bruises and scratches that marred the boy's pale flesh. The
trousers had been a little stubborn at first due
to the thick bandages still adorning the boy's left shin. The bandages
would remain for at least another week or
two Doc Martin had informed them before it could be removed and Joe allowed
to put full weight back on that leg.
Hoss had returned to the house and now came into the bedroom carrying the
other reminders of Joe's injuries.
He propped the two wooden crutches up against the wall in the far corner of
the room. It was doubtful that the
boy would be leaving his bed anytime soon in the next few days.
The crutches told the story that Joe needed more than his family's love and
caring at the moment just to stand.
The boy had stumbled a number of times while trying to manoeuvre back and
forth from the witness stand.
To Hoss and the rest of the family they only seemed to confirm their fears
about how badly Little Joe had been hurt.
Joe was sleeping soundly upstairs and was probably due to stay that way for
several more hours to come.
After Adam had managed to get one of Ben's shirts over the boy's head and
bandages, they tucked the blankets
in around the boy. Adam and Hoss had bid their younger brother good night
and left their father to a more private
time alone with his son.
Ben had continued to talk soothing words to his son as he slept. He
caressed his face then bent down and gently
kissed the boy on his bruised cheek before leaving the room.
About an hour after the Cartwright's had returned home, the three eldest
now sat downstairs in the living room.
All three lost in their own thoughts about the events that had taken place
over the last month.
Ben's mind started to take him back to a time about a month ago when
everything seemed to be going okay. If only
he could go back there now.
By the time Ben had drained the last of the whiskey from his glass, the
fire was now nothing but glowing embers
as he stared into them.
Over the next two days the routine was very much the same. The day after
the shooting saw Joe do nothing but
sleep due to his injuries.
One the morning of the second day Ben had been totally surprised to see his
son awake when he entered the room
with a tray of breakfast. He smiled at his son and set the tray on the
bedside table before sitting beside him on the
"How are you feeling this morning Joseph?" Ben asked, not wanting to ask a
barrage of questions about what had
happened at the trial. They could talk more about what had happened at
the trial when Joe felt he was able to.
"Fine" came the reply from Joe. The voice was thick and Joe's face was
still paler than Ben would have liked to
Ben pondered what question to ask to keep the conversation going when Joe
asked a question of his own.
"When will it stop Pa?"
"What stop Joseph?"
"When do I get to feel safe again. Even now with Thomas away in prison I
don't feel safe. I can't help but
wonder if he is going to be released some day only to come back and torment
me again. I close my eyes to
sleep and all I see is a picture of his face in my head and then his fist
as it swings to hit me again" Joe said, his
voice betrayed him as the tears started to fall down his face.
Ben put his arms around his son and held him close as the boy sobbed into
the front of his shirt. The boy was
hurting so much. It wasn't fair.
"Look at me Joseph" Ben now said gently as he waited for Joe to turn his
face towards him. As Joe did he
wiped away the tear stains from his cheeks. "I cannot tell you when the
memories will stop son. I would give
anything I owned for you to have one night of peaceful sleep, free of
nightmares. I would do anything if I
could just trade that time you were with that man and have you back home
safe with me."
"All I can tell you Joe is that I love you more than anything else in this
world and I would do anything to protect
you. I can't tell you enough how it breaks my heart to see you so upset
or the bruises on your body and the
fear in your eyes when somebody walks into the room."
"I hope that as the days go by you can come to believe in me again and know
that your brothers and I will
always be here for you when you need us. Your brothers are just as
determined as I am to show you how
much they care about you."
"I just want it all to end Pa" Joe said simply and curled up against his
father's chest letting the man's warmth
and security surround him. It was the first time in weeks that he felt
After a while he could hear his son's even and slow breathing that
indicated Joe had fallen asleep again.
He gently moved his son and laid him back down on the bed, covering him
with the covers again.
One the third day as Paul arrived for his daily visit, Ben was surprised to
see Fred Harding sitting in the buggy
beside him. Fred spoke to Ben while Paul examined Joe up in his room.
Fred informed Ben that Thomas was already on his way to the State prison by
prison wagon. Once he got
back to San Francisco he would make sure that Butch Thomas was sentenced to
a long jail term for his deeds.
Williams would also do some time in prison but his charges weren't as
serious as his partner.
Williams would be able to successfully argue that although he knew about
the kidnap plot and even footed the
bill for such a crime, he had not laid a hand on the boy and had not been
responsible for any of the injuries the
boy sustained. He would also be able to defend himself when it came to
the two occasions that Butch Thomas
tormented the boy on the Ponderosa.
Griffiths had confessed openly to his part once Butch Thomas had been taken
back to the jailhouse because he
didn't want to be blamed for everything that Thomas did to the kid. He was
not likely to get a much more lenient
sentence but at least he would be kept from the gallows.
"Do you think I could say goodbye to the boy Ben?" Fred asked. The boy had
come to mean something to him
even though they had only met a few days ago.
"Sure, come on up. He was still feeling very depressed this morning, but
hopefully now he may be in a slightly
better frame of mind" Ben said as he led Fred up the staircase towards
Ben was relieved to see Joe awake and talking to Adam and Hoss when they
came into the room.
"Well, it's good to see you awake son" Ben said.
"We were just keeping him company Pa while the doc checked him over. He's
a stubborn little cuss. Won't
barely keep still for a second for Paul to look at him properly. I told
him I was going to sit on him if he didn't
stop squirming about." Hoss said as laughter shone through his blue eyes.
"Is this true Joseph?" Ben asked in mock sternness as he stood in a
demanding stance with hands on his hips.
Joe looked at his father and then at the lawyer that was in the room. He
had so much to say to the man who had
helped him through the trial. But he didn't think that right now in front
of all of these people was the right moment.
He would write a letter just like his father wanted and express in words
his gratitude and thanks.
Joe saw the lawyer there and couldn't help but ask him about the secret
plan they both worked out together.
"Mr Harding, you know those two horses are probably still waiting for us in
the livery stable back in Virginia
City if we wanted to make that escape. I just need you to give me a hand
getting out of this bed and we can be
on our way." Joe said jokingly.
"Joseph Cartwright you will not move on inch out of that bed or so help
me....." Paul Martin started to say
as he pointed a threatening finger at this most reluctant of patient's.
"Oh don't worry Paul. I have something to say about this" Ben said to his
friend and then turned to address
his son "Joseph, believe me, it is going to be a long time before you are
allowed off this ranch again without
me or your brothers present. Do I make myself clear young man. I will
tell you what I told your partner in
crime here" Ben said as he indicated Fred Harding "You and he are
restricted to the ranch until further notice.
There will a list of chores posted on the barn door for you and him to
complete as part of your punishment."
Everyone in the room laughed heartily at Ben's words and the looks on Joe's
and Fred's faces. Joe had to stop
laughing though as his side began to ache.
"Boy Mr Harding how does it feel to be one of the highest paid lawyers in
the state, but grounded by my Pa"
he said and laughed again whilst holding onto his side.
Joe's family watched him intently as he joined in the laughter in the room.
It was the first real laughter they had
heard coming from the boy for a very long time. It was a very good sound
to hear. They hoped this was the first
turning step in a whole new direction for Joe. Hopefully if he could find
laughter in himself he could begin the
healing process and eventually push the dark memories to the back of his
mind. They probably would never be
gone completely but hopefully they could be suppressed by happier memories.
Over the next few weeks, Joe's injuries began to heal as well as his mind.
There were nights where the nightmares
would become real again and Joe found himself being surrounded by his
family's love in order to drive them away
As he was given more freedom to move about the house and then the ranch,
his family could almost see the real
Joe resurfacing again. Everybody was able to relax a little more, meal
times were shared talking to each other
again. The Cartwright household was almost back to normal.
It was only on odd occasions when Joe would be laughing but then fall into
a deep silence as he stared out in front
of him that Ben knew his son still remembered. Joe's eyes would grow
darker in thought and a shadow would
cross his face as something triggered his memory. Just as quickly as they
had come though, the mood would pass
and his family would never suspect that anything had happened at all.
About a month after he was allowed to return to light duties, Joe was in
Virginia City collecting the mail as part
of his restricted duties for his father.
As he ambled back into the wagon loaded with supplies and took a look at
the five envelopes in his hand, his
curiosity was alerted when one of the letters held his name on the front.
He didn't remember writing to anybody
lately except Fred Harding and he had already received a reply to that
letter weeks ago.
Joe put the letters aside for the time being and drove the wagon and team
home as instructed, knowing that his
father would only worry if he was late. About half way home though the
curiosity was just too great and he
pulled the team off to the side of the road and reached for the hand-
He turned it over in his hand a couple of times before opening it, trying
to judge from the outside who it was from.
There was no post mark to say where it was from and no return address on
the back of the envelope.
Without giving it another thought he slid his finger under the envelope
flap and tore the top open. There was
a single page letter inside.
As his eyes scanned the words, his hand flew to his mouth to stop the gasp
that was on the tip of his tongue.
He re-read the words again, scarcely able to believe what they said:
"SOMEDAY I WILL COME BACK. YOU AND I WILL MEET AGAIN - I PROMISE"
Joe refolded the piece of paper and placed it back into the envelope and
then tore both the envelope and letter
into small pieces, scattering them in the wind as he went. He knew he
couldn't let his family see such a note.
Just as he was about to start the wagon team again, a cool gust of wind
blew against the nape of his neck.
He pulled his jacket close around him and looked behind him....... he
shivered slightly and then
gave the reins a sharp snap to start the team towards home.
AUTHOR - I HOPE YOU ALL ENJOYED THIS STORY - I REALLY LIKED WRITING IT.
THANKS TO ALL OF THE PEOPLE OUT THERE FOR THEIR KIND HEARTED WORDS.
AND THANKS TO THOSE WHO ALLOWED ME TO USE THEIR IDEAS, THOUGHTS OR
CHARACTERS IN MY STORY.