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“What did you say the fellers name was Pa?” Hoss
Cartwright asked, shifting uncomfortably in the heat. It was just past and the sun was at its
zenith in a cloudless sky, not the best time to be standing on the hot, dusty
“His name is Sir Charles Rymont and he’s travelling with his son Edmund and his daughter Charlotte.” Ben told him, unable to restrain a smile as he saw how uncomfortable Hoss looked in his new suit. All four Cartwrights were dressed for the occasion in their best clothes, which was making the oppressive heat even more difficult to bear.
“I sure hope that this Charlotte Rymont is pretty.” Ben’s youngest son Joe put in, pulling at the collar of his shirt, which was feeling damp and sweaty around his neck. “That just might make all this waiting around worthwhile.”
“You’ll find out in a moment.” His eldest brother, Adam, told him, pushing himself away from the wall he’d been leaning against and coming over to stand on the edge of the sidewalk. “Here comes the coach now.”
In a cloud of dust the stagecoach rattled into the
main street of
“Ben.” A tall, lean, grey haired man was the first to alight, catching sight of Ben as he did so and grabbing his hand in an enthusiastic shake. “So good to see you again.”
Shaking hands with Adam, Sir Charles was joined on the sidewalk by a blonde haired man of around thirty years of age. “My son, Edmund.” Sir Charles introduced him, then turned around to assist the last member of his party from the stage. “My daughter, Charlotte.” He said proudly, drawing forward a petite young woman of no more than twenty. Holding a handkerchief to her face to avoid breathing the dust, she was dressed in the height of European fashion, a silk dress trimmed with black lace which ballooned out beneath a tiny waist and Joe Cartwright’s first thought as he saw her was how uncomfortable her outfit must be in this heat. His second thought, as she lowered the handkerchief and shook hands with his father, was that the waiting had certainly been worthwhile. Charlotte Rymont had flaxen hair that cascaded in ringlets from beneath her modish bonnet, milky white skin, and her eyes, Joe had never seen eyes quite like it, they were almost the same colour as her dress, a stunning and unusual shade of violet.
“Miss Rymont.” He took her hand as she extended it
to him, raising it to his lips. “Pleased to meet you.” He felt rather than saw
his father’s frown at the gesture but
“The pleasure is mine, Mr Cartwright.” She said with a little dip of her head.
“Call me Joe.”
“Then you must call me Charlotte.”
“Errhmm.” Ben cleared his throat loudly and all eyes turned his way. “Now the introductions are over, allow me to escort you to the buggy.”
As the entourage made its way along the street to
where the buggy was tied up next to Cochise, Sport and Chubb, Joe tried to
manoeuvre himself so that he was walking alongside
Coming out of the house into the cool night air, Adam Cartwright made his way across to join his brother, Hoss, who was leaning on the fence of the small corral next to the barn talking softly to his horse. “Something wrong with Chubb?” He asked as Hoss turned around at his approach.
“Thought his right knee seemed a mite stiff when we were ridin’ back from town.” Hoss told him. “Seems all right now though. You finished talkin’ business with that Edmund feller?”
“He’s gone on to bed, said the journey had tired him out.” Adam turned and leant back against the fence. “Pa’s still up, catching up on old times with Sir Charles.”
“And Little Joe?” Asked Hoss with a grin. “He still starin’ starry eyed at that Miss Charlotte?”
“Like a lovesick calf.” Adam’s tone was amused. “He hardly ate anything at dinner, he was so engrossed with her.”
“I noticed that. Hop Sing cooked up a storm to welcome the Rymonts’ and Joe and Miss Charlotte ate hardly a morsel between them.”
“I guess you can’t keep a figure like hers if you eat a lot of food.”
“Guess not.” Hoss agreed. “I swear, Adam, her waist ain’t as big round as the top of my arm. She sure is pretty, too.”
“She’s a beauty all right.” Adam looked toward the house as a lamp was lit in an upstairs bedroom. “Looks like she must have gone to bed, little brother is turning in for the night.”
“Oh, he’ll have plenty of time to spark her tomorrow.” Hoss chuckled, merriment dancing in his blue eyes. “When Joe falls for a girl he sure falls hard don’t he?”
“I just hope he doesn’t get his heart broken with this one.” Adam said softly.
“Why?” Hoss questioned, surprised at his older brother’s reply. “You got some reason to think he might?”
Adam shook his head. “Not really.” He said. “I
suppose it’s just…well, Joe’s lived out here all his life. He’s not really very
experienced in the ways of the world however much he likes to think he is. From
Turning out the lamp, Joe settled himself back
against his pillows with a contented sigh. The light of the moon through the
window filled his room with its gossamer light as Joe closed his eyes and
called up a picture of
He had hardly noticed the food that Hop Sing brought
to the table, his attention given over wholly to
He let his thoughts turn to tomorrow and the buggy
ride he had promised to take
Joe was alone in the great room when
“I am sorry for being so tardy this morning,”
“Ethel?” Joe questioned, puzzled.
“My ladies maid,” Charlotte explained. “She’s the
daughter of one of the tenants from our estate in
“Sure.” Joe rushed to open the door for her, standing back to allow her to walk through.
“Thank You.” She acknowledged, sweeping outside and across to the buggy that was standing ready and waiting in the yard.
Joe handed her up into the vehicle. “I thought we might take a drive out by the lake.” He told her as he climbed up beside her and took up the reins. “It’s real pretty out there.”
“That sounds delightful.”
“I guess so.” Joe swallowed his disappointment at
the change of plan. “But you won’t find many stores in
“The little place where the stage stopped?”
They travelled in silence for a while,
“The boundary of Ponderosa land is about a mile back,” Joe told her. “But we actually own about a thousand square miles in all and yes, I guess we are fairly wealthy.”
“Then why do you have such a small house?”
“It’s one of the biggest houses around here.” Joe defended his home, stung a little by the comment. “And we don’t need anybody else to look after us.”
“It’s not even half the size of our
“Sixteen staff!” Joe was astounded. “Don’t you do anything for yourself?”
“Just to look after three of you?” Joe asked incredulously, breaking into her list.
“Four of us.”
“How come she didn’t join you on this trip?”
“Mama never goes anywhere with us.”
“Well, not balls exactly, but there are dances in town quite often and my Pa was thinking of throwing a party at the ranch on Saturday for folk to meet your father.”
“I’ll look forward to it.”
“Is there a restaurant in town?”
“Well, actually.” Joe confessed. “There’s a picnic lunch in the back of the buggy. I got Hop Sing to make it up for me this morning. Of course if you’d prefer a restaurant, there’s the International House over there.”
Casting a quick glance across the street to where
With a beaming smile Joe handed her up into the buggy and a half hour later they were comfortably settled on a grassy bank beside the river, tall trees throwing shade over the tablecloth where Joe had laid out the chicken legs, bread, ham and various other foods that Hop Sing had packed for them.
“I think I must have been the most envied man in
“I caught a few envious glances myself.”
Feeling a little self-conscious Joe looked away, turning his attention to the meal. He picked up a hunk of bread and bit into it, chewing hungrily.
With a smile
Joe swallowed the bread quickly, his pulse quickening at her touch. “I…er…I guess so.” He murmured thickly, turning to look down into her violet eyes. “That is you’re the most beautiful…”
“Kiss me.” She whispered softly, and laughed merrily at the look of amazement that crept across his face at her invitation. “Go on.” She urged.
Hardly able to believe this was happening so quickly, Joe caught her face in his hands, his thumbs gently stroking the line of her cheekbones. For a long moment he just looked at her, drinking in her beauty before lowering his head and softly brushing her lips with his. He was caught by surprise once more as she responded, lifting her arms and entwining her hands in his hair pulling him closer and parting her lips beneath his. The kiss seemed to last for minutes as her tongue explored his mouth and he felt his heart beginning to pound in his chest, his blood racing.
She pulled away at last and sat back, looking at him. “I’d say you’ve kissed a fair number of girls before.” She said, her hand returning to his leg. “You certainly do it well.”
“No more.” She put two fingers up to his mouth. “Not here anyway. How about you drive me out to that lake tomorrow? Perhaps we could continue this there.”
Joe shook his head. “I have to work tomorrow. Pa let me take today off to show you around but he’ll expect me back at work in the morning.”
“Yes, of course.” Joe said, not understanding why she should find this so strange.
“But, your father is rich. You don’t need to work.”
“My Pa expects us all to pull our weight on the Ponderosa.” Joe explained. “We get paid a decent wage to work together and help to build up our ranch.”
“I see.” Reaching forward she brushed her lips against his cheek then turned back to the food, picking up her chicken. “Then we’ll have to wait until your father gives you some time off, unless…” Her voice trailed off and she looked up at him, her eyes gleaming.
“Unless what?” Joe asked softly.
“Unless you would like a moonlight ride tonight.”
Joe knew that he shouldn’t, his father would frown on taking a girl out to the lake in the dead of night, even if she weren’t the daughter of his old friend. But he agreed eagerly, only too keen to carry on where they had just left off.
The lake lay calm in the moonlight, scarcely a ripple disturbing its dark surface. Above, in the black velvet of the night sky a full moon hung ripe and yellow, surrounded by a multitude of twinkling stars. From the depths of the pine forests that edged the water the deep cry of the great horned owl could be faintly heard and from a clump of ferns close to the water’s edge came the call of a bullfrog. The air was heady with the scent of pine and wildflowers and Joe bent and picked a columbine, its bright red colour sapped by the night to a dark brown.
“For you.” He bowed gallantly, handing the flower to Charlotte who stood beside Cochise, looking out at the lake. “Not that it can match your beauty.”
“Why, thank you.” With a smile
“It’s a good place to come and think.” Joe told her. “Nice when you want to be alone, but I’ve never thought of it as eerie, it’s just a part of my home.”
“It scares me a bit.”
“Sometimes it’s good not to have people around.” Joe’s voice was husky as he took her in his arms. “And there’s no need to be scared with me here.”
Their lips met in a long, deep kiss and for a while
the sounds of the night creatures were all that could be heard. Breaking apart
“We can’t stay too long.” Joe told her, though his
words were only a whisper as her lips nuzzled at his neck. “My family get up
early and we’d better get back before they…” His voice trailed off as her mouth
moved first to his ears, her teeth nibbling delicately at the lobes and then,
leaving a trail of tiny kisses, moved on to his lips. “
With her fingers sliding beneath Joe’s shirt, gently
brushing his nipples and hearing his quickened breathing,
Joe was lost in a world of sensation, a fire burning
deep within him. His hands trailed over
“No.” His voice was shaking as he spoke, desire almost overcoming his resolve. “We mustn’t.”
“Why not?” Her tone was querulous, not amused at Joe being the one to stop. “Don’t you like it?”
“Of course I do.” Joe caught her hands in his and
brought them to his mouth, kissing her fingers. “I don’t want to stop but we
must. I can’t risk your reputation,
“Nobody would know.”
“They might.” Joe searched for words to explain what
could happen if they went much further. He was sure that
“You mean I might fall pregnant.”
Settling himself behind her on Cochise, Joe turned towards home. “I think I’m falling in love with you, Charlotte.” He whispered to her as they rode, holding her tightly against him and enjoying the feel of her body against his.
A small, victorious smile played across
Supper was not long over on the Ponderosa the following
“I came to see exactly what you think you’re playing at, Charlie.” Edmund shut the door behind him and leant back against it.
“Of course you do.” Edmund said with a disbelieving laugh. “I saw the way young Cartwright was looking at you at supper, I think Father was the only one who didn’t notice. You’ve been encouraging the boy haven’t you?”
“Perhaps a little.”
Obediently Edmund came to stand behind his sister and unfasten her buttons. “Don’t go too far with young Joe.” He warned. “Remember you’re engaged to Lord Percy.”
“How could I forget?” Charlotte asked acidly. “Oh, don’t fret, Edmund, Lord Percy will not find me damaged goods on our wedding night.”
“No?” Edmund undid the last button and stepped back
“I don’t think any of them want to stop,
“What’s the attraction with him?” Edmund asked curiously, seating himself on the edge of the bed and watching his sister as she picked up her hairbrush and began to run it through her flaxen hair.
“He’s very handsome.”
“I’d have thought Adam was more your style. More man of the world.”
“No, I like Joe’s youth, his innocence. I have a plan for him, Edmund.”
“Plan?” There was a hint of alarm in Edmund’s voice. “If you jeopardise this marriage…”
“Of course I won’t.”
“Then what plan can you possibly have for young Joe?”
“I want to take him back to
“And Lord Percy?”
“What Lord Percy doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
“He wants an heir, Charlie.”
“I know that!”
“He won’t know. I can be discreet, Edmund, just like our dear Mama is.”
“Not so very discreet, Charlie, we know that Mama has lovers.”
“So you want to be like Mama?” Edmund sounded incredulous. “I thought you hated her?”
“It’s not the same.”
“Suppose he doesn’t want to come to
“Of course he will.”
Edmund nodded, it did seem that his sister, with her stunning looks, held a fascination for others of his sex. “Joe’s not like the men you know.” He warned, getting up. “I don’t think it will be as easy as you think and anyway, what will you tell Papa if Joe does agree to accompany you?”
“I’ll think of something.”
Edmund opened the door. “Suppose he turns you down?” He asked.
“He won’t. I know he’s falling for me. I think I can make him believe that I love him as well and can’t bear to be parted from him.”
“But you don’t feel anything for him?”
“Just a while?”
“If there is one thing Mama has taught me.”
“Well, I think you’re underestimating that young man.” Edmund told her. “Just for once, Charlie, I don’t think you’re going to get what you want. I’ll wager you ten pounds that Joe Cartwright will turn you down.”
Shrugging, Edmund turned away and, whistling, went
down the stairs into the great room. Behind him Adam opened his bedroom door
more fully, he had been about to leave his room when he had heard
Finishing work the following afternoon Joe led
Cochise into the barn, his thoughts on
“Hey, Joe.” Adam greeted his youngest brother, pleased to find the young man alone. “All finished?”
“For today.” Joe broke himself free of his dreams at
the question. “I got that fence mended up in the
Adam nodded, wondering how to broach the subject he
really wanted to talk about. “You seem to be getting on well with
“Isn’t she the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?” Joe asked enthusiastically, lifting the saddle off Cochise’s back and hanging it over the side of the stall. “She’s so different from the girls round here.”
“She’s certainly that.” Adam agreed dryly. “Look,
Joe, just remember
“And I suppose you really like her?” Adam asked,
“Of course I really like her.” Joe answered, a hint of anger edging his tone. “What business of yours is it, anyway?”
“I don’t want to see you hurt.” Adam ploughed on, trying to disregard the thunderclouds that were gathering on his brother’s face. “This young woman isn’t like the girls you’re used to, she may not be quite as sincere as she appears.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about me, brother.” Joe’s tone
was acid now. “I’m old enough to take care of myself. You sure it’s my welfare
you’re concerned for, or could it be you’re just jealous because a girl as
“I have no interest in
“Just keep out of it.” Joe snapped, clenching his fists and taking a step towards his brother.
“Have it your own way.” Adam threw up his hands and moved away. “I tried to warn you.”
“Why don’t you just keep out of my life!” Joe yelled after him as Adam left the barn. His older brother paused at the words and appeared to be going to say something but in the end just shrugged and walked on.
The party that was held at the Ponderosa that
Saturday night was a huge success and Joe was proud to be seen with
In the weeks following the party Joe and Charlotte managed to spend almost every night together beside the lake. At first Joe enjoyed ever moment of their trysts, she was the most beautiful girl he’d ever met and she knew just how to arouse him, to drive his senses crazy with desire, a desire that began to erode his sense of morality. It became more and more difficult to stop before things went too far between them but somehow they always managed never to go beyond kissing and fondling although Joe was unsure whether that was down to him or Charlotte.
It was towards the end of the second week of the
Rymont’s visit that Joe found himself beginning to have doubts about his
Then there was the resentment Joe was beginning to
feel towards her. Every day she would emerge from her room near , bright eyed and well
rested while he had dragged himself from bed at first light to attend to his
chores. The lack of sleep was beginning to tell on him, he was finding it
difficult to keep up with his work around the ranch and had drawn a few barbed
comments from Adam who, Joe was pretty sure, had guessed about his nightly trips.
At first Joe had considered the exhaustion a small price to pay for the thrill
of being with
But the third and final obstacle was the one that so
far had stopped him from speaking up and that was guilt. He knew he should
never have gone as far as he had with
So now he found himself in a quandary. He hoped that
Yawning widely and casting a longing look at his
bed, Joe combed his hair and prepared to go down to supper. Hopefully he could
manage to retire to bed early, pleading tiredness, and get at least a couple of
hours sleep before he and Charlotte slipped out of the house. It would be no
lie, he was very tired. He wondered, not for the first time, how
Tucking in his shirt, Joe took a last glance in the
mirror and was just turning to leave the room when a soft tap on his bedroom
door surprised him. Before he could move to answer, the door opened and, with a
soft rustle of silk from her wide skirts,
“You shouldn’t be in here.” Joe admonished softly as she closed the door behind her and went to sit on his bed, tapping her hand on the covers to invite Joe to sit beside her. “What would your father think?”
“It’s because of Papa that I’m here.”
“Well, that’s wonderful.” Joe smiled down at her, though dismay flooded through him at her words. “I thought you might say something soon, it’s not long until you have to leave.”
“I intend to speak to him at supper.”
“I couldn’t leave for good.” Joe stood up, beginning
to grow agitated. Even if he had to marry the girl he certainly didn’t want to
leave the Ponderosa. “This is my home,
“What?” Joe exclaimed, his mind whirling. The news that she didn’t want him to marry her was welcome, but he didn’t understand why. “I thought you said loved me, Charlotte, I thought you wanted to marry me?”
“I do love you.”
“Arranged?” Joe asked, confused. “Do you love this Percy?”
“Of course not!”
“Papa must know nothing about the deal with Edmund.”
“There must be some other way.” Joe was horrified at the thought of this arrangement, the beautiful young woman with such an elderly man. “There must be.”
“You want me to be some kind of kept man?” Joe
asked, putting his hands on
“I think you’d better leave.” Joe said, his voice
suddenly hard with dislike. Now he knew the truth about
As the door closed behind
Getting up, he examined his reflection in the mirror. His hair was a little mussed from lying on the bed and he ran his hand through it, giving himself a crooked grin. He’d had a lucky escape, he mused, and at least tonight he could look forward to a decent amount of sleep. With a last, longing look at his bed he left the room and went down to supper.
Descending the stairs into the great room, Joe was
surprised to find only his family present at the table. The chairs set ready
for Sir Charles, Edmund and
“Where is everyone?” Joe asked, sliding into his own place and pouring himself a glass of water.
“Miss Charlotte said she done wanted to talk to her Pa ‘bout somethin’.” Hoss told him with a longing look at the covered dishes that stood in the middle of the table. “Sure hope they hurry ‘cos I’m real hungry.”
Joe felt a prickle of apprehension at his brother’s
“It won’t hurt you to wait a little longer, Hoss.” His father admonished. “It’s only polite…”
“Here’s Sir Charles now.” Adam interrupted softly, catching sight of the man at the top of the stairs and smiling a welcome at him. The smile froze on his lips as Sir Charles came down. The man’s face was red with anger, his eyes fixed on Joe.
“Charles?” Ben asked in alarm, getting to his feet. “What’s the matter?”
“He is.” Charles pointed at Joe with a trembling finger. “This young pup of yours has been forcing himself on my daughter.”
“What?” Ben asked aghast, while Hoss and Adam exchanged horrified glances before turning to look at their younger brother.
“That’s not true!” Joe denied vehemently, jumping to his feet. “I would never do such a thing.”
“Do you deny that you have been taking my daughter out to the lake in the middle of the night almost every day since we arrived?” Sir Charles asked, rage causing his voice to quiver. “Do you?”
“No.” Joe said softly, and winced inwardly as he saw his father’s disappointed look. “We have been going to the lake, but I swear, except for a few kisses, nothing happened.”
“It’s not true.” Joe denied hotly. “I didn’t,
“Do I have your word on that?” Ben asked, looking his youngest in the eyes.
“Honestly.” Joe met his father’s gaze, intensity in his one word answer.
“Then I believe you.” Ben said softly, and Joe
closed his eyes momentarily, thankful for his father’s trust. “Charles, perhaps
there’s been some sort of mistake, possibly
“Hardly a thing a girl could be confused over.” Charles said with a grim laugh. He moved to stand beside Joe and it was then that Adam noticed that he held in his hand a pair of black leather gloves. “Sir Charles…” He began in alarm, rising from his seat as he realised what the man intended.
“I didn’t do it.” Joe interrupted his brother, turning to look at Sir Charles. “I promise…”
Before he could finish, Charles drew back his hand and slapped Joe’s face with the gloves. “You cad.” He said bitterly. “I will avenge my daughter’s honour. You will meet me in a duel at dawn tomorrow, down by the lake that you are so fond of. Pistols are to be the weapon. I take it you do possess duelling pistols?”
“I have a pair.” Ben said, moving to stand beside Joe who was staring at Sir Charles in stunned silence. “But you can’t mean this, Charles. There has to be another way, we should talk about it.”
“Dawn!” Charles repeated. “Unless you wish to prove
yourself a coward, sir.” Turning away he addressed himself to Adam. “Perhaps
you would be good enough to take
As Adam stood slowly to do his bidding, the rest of the Cartwrights stared in dismay at the man’s retreating back as he headed upstairs.
“I think you owe me an explanation, Joseph.” Ben said, coming slowly back inside after the Rymonts had left the ranch, his further effort to talk to Charles unsuccessful. “Just what has been going on?”
“I…” Joe dropped his gaze to the floor, a flush
staining his cheeks. “I didn’t force myself on
“I know that.” Ben moved away from the door, catching Joe’s arm and propelling him towards the couch. “But I want to know exactly what did happen.”
Darting a quick glance at his brother, standing by the table, Joe sat down on the couch. “I’ll tell you.” He said softly, looking up at his father. “But could it be in private, Pa, please?”
“I got a few chores to see to.” Hoss said, seeing his father raise an eyebrow before nodding in agreement to Joe’s request. “I’ll be in the barn for a while.”
“Well?” Ben asked quietly as his middle son left the house. “Would you like to tell me about it?”
Clasping his hands together Joe looked down, unable
to meet his father’s eyes and see the disappointment there. “I’m sorry,
“No, you shouldn’t.” Ben sat down beside Joe, the suppressed anger in his voice making his son cringe. “But now I need to know how far it went, Joe, what happened between you and Charlotte.”
“We…I mean I…well…” Joe stammered, keeping his face averted from his father. “She…”
“Joseph.” Ben reached out and laid a hand on Joe’s
cheek, gently turning the boy to face him. “I know this is uncomfortable for
you but if I’m to understand why
“We kissed a lot and…” Joe’s face was flaming and his greatest wish at that moment was that the ground might open and swallow him, telling his father the details of his nights with Charlotte was the most embarrassing thing he’d ever done. “We…we sort of…touched each other a bit.” He finally blurted out. “But it didn’t go much further than that, Pa, I swear.”
“These nights by the lake, whose idea were they?”
“At the very least it was compromising
“I know.” Joe looked away again, shamefaced. “I know it’s not much of an excuse but I did think I was in love with her, well at least at the beginning I did.”
“At the beginning?” Ben questioned, with a sharp glance at his son. “When did you decide you weren’t?”
“Over a week ago.” Joe confessed. “And I know, I should have told her.”
“Why didn’t you?”
“She said that she loved me, I couldn’t hurt her like that.”
“So just what did you intend to do?”
“I don’t know.” Joe raised a hand to his eyes and sighed deeply. “I hoped perhaps she’d just leave with her father and I could forget about it, if not…well I was prepared to marry her.”
“Marry her?” Ben’s voice rose in disbelief. “Even though you didn’t love her?”
“To save her reputation.” Joe explained quickly. “I mean we may not have…you know…but we did go further than most girls I …” He trailed to a halt and looked up at his father. “I’m sorry, Pa. Sorry to make you so ashamed of me.”
“Oh, Joseph.” Putting his arm around Joe’s shoulder
Ben pulled him close. “I’m not ashamed of you, son. A little disappointed,
maybe, but I do understand. You’re young and a beautiful girl can easily turn a
young man’s head and make him do foolish things. I was young myself once, you
know. But what happened between you? Why has
“She wanted me to go to
“Some kind of?” Ben questioned quietly when Joe remained silent.
“She wanted me to be her…I don’t know. Pa…she’s
getting married, to an old man, a Lord, and she wanted me to live in
“And her father knows nothing of this?” Ben asked, astonished at what he had heard.
“He doesn’t even know she’s getting married. It’s something Edmund’s arranged, to get him out of debt.”
“Then Charles should be told.” Ben got to his feet. “He should know what his daughter is doing.”
“Why not? It would stop this foolish duel.”
“He most probably wouldn’t believe you.” Joe
reasoned. “Even if he did, it would break his heart to find out what
“I guess it would.” Ben said softly with a quick glance at the door where his old friend had so recently exited. “He really loves the girl, thinks she’s so sweet and innocent.” He sighed deeply and turned back to Joe. “You can’t go ahead with this duel though, son.”
“I have to.” Joe told him, determination in his voice. “I’d be labelled a coward if I didn’t show up.”
“So you’d rather risk your life for something you didn’t even do?”
“It’s not much of a risk. I heard Edmund tell Adam that Sir Charles isn’t much good with a gun.”
“Someone is likely to get hurt. God forbid it should be you but I don’t want Charles hurt either.”
“Then I have to go to town.” Joe stood up and headed
for the credenza to pick up his gunbelt. “If I can get to see
“No!” It was an order and reluctantly Joe stopped
and looked round. “If Charles found you with
Reluctantly Joe put his gunbelt down, seeing the validity of his father’s words. “Okay.” He agreed slowly. “I’ll let you try.”
The ride into town with
Leaving the Rymont’s at the door of the Hotel, Adam
hitched the horse and buggy up outside the Silver Dollar saloon. He was pretty
sure that he’d find Edmund either here or at the Bucket of Blood. Both saloons
had become the man’s haunt recently as he squandered his money in games of
poker. Sure enough, Adam caught sight of Edmund as soon as he pushed through
the swinging doors. The Englishman was seated at a table with three
“Edmund.” Adam greeted the man, pulling up a chair from a nearby table.
“Good evening, Adam.” Edmund barely glanced up, his gaze intent on his hand of cards. “Are you intending to play this evening?”
“Not me.” Adam shook his head. “I need a word with you.”
“I’m a little busy at the moment.” Edmund said impatiently, taking a few coins from the pile beside him and throwing them into the middle of the table. “I’m afraid that it will have to wait.”
“I don’t think so.” Adam’s tone was pleasant enough but there was an undercurrent in it that caused the Englishman to glance at him sharply. “It concerns your sister.”
“Let’s just say it’s a matter of honour.” Adam told him softly and was unsurprised when the man gathered up his money and suggested moving to a table out of earshot of the other poker players. Agreeing, Adam called over to Jake the bartender to bring them a bottle of whisky and two glasses.
“Well?” Edmund asked impatiently as Adam poured the
drinks and settled back. “What’s happened to
“She’s made an accusation against my young brother.” Adam told him, gently swilling the whisky around in his glass before taking a sip. “An accusation I believe to be a lie but that your father considers to be true.”
Edmund took a gulp of the whisky, almost choking on it before banging the glass down on the table. “What has she said?”
“She said that Joe had forced himself on her. Now, I know my brother and I’m certain that’s not true.”
“And she told my father that?”
Adam nodded. “He was furious, as you can imagine. He’s challenged my brother to a duel tomorrow morning at dawn.”
“A duel!” Edmund’s face paled. “The stupid old fool, he’s likely to be the one that ends up dead.”
“My brother is an excellent shot.” Adam agreed, pouring himself another whisky. “But he’s also a kind-hearted kid and I don’t think he’ll have the heart to shoot to kill. Someone could easily end up hurt though and I don’t want it to be Joe, especially for something I’m sure he didn’t do.”
“Leave it me.” Edmund got to his feet. “I’ll speak to my sister, if the silly girl has jeopardised her marriage I’ll never forgive her.”
“Her marriage?” Adam questioned, looking up at Edmund in confusion. “What marriage?”
“Nothing that need concern you.” Edmund said hastily, aware that he had said too much. “Just leave it to me, Adam, I’ll sort it out.”
He dashed from the saloon leaving Adam staring after him uncertain just what was going on with the Rymont family.
“What in damnation do you think you’re playing at,
“Well, good evening, Edmund.”
Coming into the room, slamming the door hard behind him Edmund advanced on his sister furiously. “Damn you, Charlotte, you’ve put everything in jeopardy.”
“Of course I haven’t.” She flashed back, violet eyes snapping with rage. “And keep your voice down, you might wake Papa.”
“He’s not here.” Edmund told her. “I caught sight of him in the bar downstairs when I was on my way up. How could you do this to him?”
“This is because Joe Cartwright wouldn’t fall in with your plans isn’t it?” Edmund asked, leaning over his sister and staring down at her. “Isn’t it?”
“He rejected me.”
“So you say he raped you!” Edmund accused, laughing hollowly as he saw her flinch. “Yes, it’s not a pretty word is it?”
“It means everyone in this stupid little town will hate him like I do, the girls won’t think he’s so wonderful now.”
“And did you stop to think what Father’s reaction would be when you span him this yarn?”
“I didn’t mean for there to be a duel.” For a moment
a shadow of guilt and worry passed across
“Then you don’t know Father very well.” Edmund snapped, pacing across to the window and back before taking the seat beside his sister. “He loves you, Charlie, he’d do anything to defend you. Including risk his life.”
“Risk his life?” There was a trace of fear in
“Defeat Joe?” Edmund sighed heavily. “Oh Charlie, you little fool. Father is a passable shot at best, and then only out on the moors after grouse. He’s never shot a person, he’s never had to.”
“He can do it, Edmund. After all Joe’s only young.”
“He’s grown up with guns.” Edmund told her
earnestly, trying to make the young woman see how serious the situation was.
“He’s an excellent shot and he’s had to shoot to kill from time to time. It’s
Father that’s in danger,
“I couldn’t do that.”
“You’d rather he risked his life?” Edmund asked. “And what of Percy? He’ll not want to marry you if he hears about it.”
“He’s hardly likely to.” The anger and defiance was back. “It’s not something that will be reported in the society pages of The Times.”
“No?” Edmund queried quietly. “Are you sure about that? The daughter of an aristocrat and a cowboy. It will be in the local rag I’ve no doubt and quite probably a San Francisco newspaper, the London press could well pick it up, then bang goes the marriage.”
“And your money.”
“Oh, don’t give me the uncaring brother speech.” Edmund stood up, anger suffusing his face. “You might not like the idea of Percy but you certainly don’t object to his money and his title.”
“I won’t take it back about Joe.”
“You’re impossible…” Edmund began when a sharp rap at the door stopped him. Crossing the room he pulled the door open angrily, not really surprised to find that the visitor was Joe’s father. “You try talking to her.” He told him, pulling the man inside. “I can’t make her see sense, I wish you better luck of it.” And, with Ben and Charlotte facing each other across the room, Edmund left.
“Come to plead for your son?”
“I’ve come to ask you to tell the truth.” Ben told her, taking off his hat and advancing into the room.
“But I am telling the truth.”
“I don’t believe that,
“Oh?” She queried, looking up sharply. “And how can you be sure he’s not lying?”
“I’m not fool enough to think that Joe has never
lied to me.” Ben came to stand beside
“You’re a fool if you believe what he says.”
“I’m sorry if your experience of men has been that way.” Ben told her gently. “But you know that Joe isn’t like that. Yet with your lie you have put him, and your father, in danger.”
“My father is behaving like a gentleman. Defending my honour.”
“Yes, he is.” Ben agreed. “In his place I would do
the same. But he’s doing it for the wrong reason isn’t he,
“Shut up!” Raising her hand,
Ben caught her hand in his, easily warding off the slap she aimed his way. “I’m going.” He told her. “But just think about it, if you have any feelings for your father you won’t let him go through with this duel.” Dropping her hand, Ben turned and left the room.
“You’re not gonna go through with it are you?” Hoss asked his brother, coming in to find Joe sitting cross-legged on the table in front of the fire, cleaning his gun.
“I have to.” Joe paused in his task for a moment and
looked up. “If I don’t they’ll say I’m a coward, and worse, that I did what
“You know you didn’t.” Hoss came across to sit on the arm of the couch. “Ain’t that enough.” He sighed when Joe shook his head. “Sure don’t wanna see anyone hurt.”
“Think I do?” Joe put the gun down on the table and stood up. “Sir Charles is just doing what he thinks is right, I don’t want to hurt him.”
“Perhaps Pa’ll be able to get Miss Charlotte to see
sense.” Hoss said hopefully. “If anyone can it’ll be
“I guess so.” Joe ran a hand through his hair and looked worriedly at the clock by the door. “Hope he’s back soon.”
“He will be.” Hoss assured him. “Now, I’m gonna get Hop Sing to rustle us up some hot chocolate, might cheer you up a bit.”
The two brothers were sat on the hearth sipping their drinks when Ben and Adam arrived back. Hearing the sound of the buggy Joe hastily put his cup down and headed out to the yard, Hoss close on his heels.
“Well?” He called as he saw his father and brother. “What happened?”
Ben and Adam exchanged glances, they had met each other on the road home and discussed what had happened with Edmund and Charlotte.
“I’m afraid that
Joe laughed harshly, the sound holding no humour. “Then I guess I fight a duel in the morning.”
“You’re set on going through with it?” Ben asked sombrely.
Joe nodded. “I have to,
“And I guess there’s no use trying to talk you out of it?”
Joe just shook his head and Ben sighed deeply. “Let’s go in.” He said, drawing Joe toward the house, Hoss and Adam close behind.
The dawn was a glorious one, the fiery orb of the sun rising slowly into the pale blue sky. The air was clear and cool, not a breeze stirred the leaves and the lake lay smooth and still in the early morning light. Reining in his horse, Ben glanced alongside him at his three sons and offered up a fervent and heartfelt plea to his Maker that all three of them would be riding safely home with him later. He looked down at the case he had brought with him, the case containing a finely crafted pair of pistols that he could only hope would not be responsible for the death of his son or of his old friend this morning.
The four Cartwrights dismounted, and walked to where Sir Charles waited for them by the lakeside. By his side were Edmund and Charlotte, the latter dressed in a bright red outfit with matching hat that reminded Ben, rather uncomfortably, of the colour of blood.
“I have asked that Dr. Paul Martin be present here this morning.” Sir Charles told them as they approached. “As soon as he arrives we should be ready to begin.” He turned to Joe with a contemptuous look. “You have a second, sir?”
“A what?” Joe asked in confusion, not understanding what the older man meant.
“A second is someone to help you.” Ben said quietly coming to stand beside Joe. “He makes sure that everything is done fairly, checks the weapons, that sort of thing.”
“Oh, right.” Joe looked round at his brothers. “Would you do it then please, Adam?”
Slightly surprised at Joe’s choice, Adam nodded in agreement. Taking the leather case containing the duelling pistols from his father, he was directed to stand with Edmund who was acting as second for Sir Charles.
“Ah, here’s Doctor Martin now.” Ben looked up as the sound of a horse approaching.
As everyone moved forward to greet the doctor Joe
found himself standing beside
Icy violet eyes swept over him, the hatred in them sending a chill down his spine. “I told you you’d be sorry.” She hissed. “I told you.”
“You may be the one that ends up sorry.” Joe said quickly, seeing Sir Charles turn in his direction. “Sorry that you did this to your father.”
It took very little time to arrange everything to Sir Charles’ satisfaction. Standing together Adam and Edmund carefully examined the weapons to be used and declared them sound.
“Would everyone except the duellists and their seconds please clear the area.” Doctor Martin called as Joe and Sir Charles took their places back to back beside the lake.
Obediently Hoss, Ben and Charlotte moved away,
walking over to stand at the edge of the pine forest. Ben listened anxiously as
Paul Martin explained the rules of the duel to Joe and Sir Charles, Adam and
Edmund standing beside him. Glancing at
“You both understand?” Paul was asking. “On the count of ten you will take twenty paces then turn and fire.”
“Understood.” Joe’s reply was only just loud enough for Ben to hear, Sir Charles just nodded tersely. Withdrawing with the two seconds to a safe distance the doctor began the count and Ben found himself holding his breath, waiting with dread for what was about to happen. Feeling a hand on his shoulder he glanced up at Hoss, seeing his own fears reflected on his middle son’s face.
“Nine…Ten.” Paul counted and Ben closed his eyes as
Joe began to walk forward, unable to bring himself to watch. A strangled gasp
brought his eyes open again with a start to see
“Don’t…” Hoss cried hoarsely, grabbing at the girl
but she easily evaded his grasp and dashed away. The next few moments were
total confusion as gunfire erupted just as
“How is she Paul?” Ben asked in a loud whisper as the physician came out of the guest room, closing the door softly behind him.
“She’ll be all right.” The doctor said with a reassuring glance at Adam, Hoss and Joe who were standing close behind their father waiting for the news. “The bullet went right through with very little damage. She should be up and around again within a couple of weeks.”
“That’s a relief.” Joe ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “When I saw her lying there I thought…”
“It was Sir Charles’ bullet that hit her, Joe.” Adam laid a reassuring hand on his brother’s arm. “It’s not your fault. It shows he was a pretty poor shot, he was nowhere near his mark.”
“And I was aiming wide, I didn’t want to hurt the man.” Joe shook his head, moving over to the couch. “I still feel responsible though. If only I’d had the sense not to take her out to the lake in the first place none of this would have happened.”
“That’s true.” Ben agreed, deep brown eyes
sympathetic as he looked at his youngest. “But it has happened. The one most to
blame in the whole sorry affair is
“Guess she found she did care about her Pa after all.” Hoss observed, taking a seat beside his younger brother. “Think she might ‘fess up that it was all a lie now, Pa?” He looked up at his father questioningly.
“Has she said anything yet?” Ben queried, turning to Paul Martin.
“Not a thing.” Paul told them, putting his hat on and getting ready to take his leave. “Her father is less than pleased that we brought her back to the Ponderosa by the way, even though I explained that it was by far the best thing to do, being so near.”
“I suppose I’d better go in and see him.” Ben glanced toward the bedroom door as he spoke, obviously reluctant to face the Rymont family. “Thank you for attending to her, Paul.”
“That’s all right.” The doctor shook hands briefly with Ben before heading for the door. “You can tell Sir Charles he’ll receive my bill in due course.”
The door had just closed behind the physician when
Edmund came out of the guest room looking pale and tense. “Joe.” He addressed
the youngest Cartwright. “I’d like a word with you if I may.” He glanced round
at the other three members of the family. “In fact I suppose you may as well
all hear this.” Coming to stand before the hearth he stood with his hands
behind his back and cleared his throat nervously before beginning. “This
morning I could have lost my father or my sister.” He started, then swallowed
hard as emotion threatened to overtake him. “I’m very fond of my father and,
despite her many faults, I love my sister. I cannot excuse the lie that
“This is going to hurt your father a great deal.” Ben said quietly, his face grave as he thought of the pain his old friend would feel at Edmund’s revelations. “Are you sure you want to tell him?”
“I think it’s best, Mr. Cartwright.” Edmund gave a
wry smile. “My father has been living a lie for some years now, thinking he had
a perfect family while in reality my mother is a hopeless flirt and a gambler,
much as I am, and
“Of course.” Ben nodded and turned to his sons. “Don’t we have some chores to do, boys?”
It was an uncomfortable leave taking. Ben stood by
the door of the Ponderosa, his sons at his side as Sir Charles assisted his
daughter into the waiting buggy that would take them to
Pale from her ten days convalescence
“I’m sorry for all the trouble.” Edmund said quietly, pausing in front of Joe. “But at least things have been set straight now.”
“My father tried to talk her out of it.” Edmund told
him, glancing across to where Sir Charles was taking his place next to
“I just wish your father had been able to forgive me.” Joe said softly, with a sideways glance at his own father. “It seems a shame that after he and Pa have been friends so many years they part like this.”
“Father has had his pride rather severely dented, I fear.” Edmund’s expression was sorrowful as he remembered his father’s disbelief at his wife and son’s gambling, his horror at his daughter’s peccadillos. “In time he’ll come to realise that none of this was your fault.”
As Edmund joined his father and sister in the buggy and the Rymonts left the Ponderosa Ben and Hoss turned to go inside. About to join them Adam was halted by his youngest brother’s hand on his arm. “Could I have a word with you, Adam?”
“Sure.” Adam acquiesced, with a puzzled look at Joe who motioned him over to the corral, out of earshot of the house. “Well?” He demanded after they had stood in silence for a few minutes, Joe scuffing at the dirt with a booted foot. “What is it?”
“I’ve got an apology to make.” Joe didn’t look up but Adam could see that this was making him uncomfortable.
“I don’t often get one of those from you.” Adam said with what Joe would have said was a smirk if he’d looked up to see it. There was a touch of disbelief in his tone though, it was a rare moment when his younger brother said sorry to him. “What brings this on?”
“You tried to warn me about
“Joe, it wasn’t your fault.” Putting his hands on his brother’s shoulders Adam ducked down to look him in the face. “She knew exactly what she wanted, there was no way you could have stopped it.”
“I shouldn’t have gone with her.”
“I don’t know of many men that wouldn’t.” Adam said and saw a wry smile touch Joe’s lips. “She was beautiful and worldly and you were flattered that she seemed to like you. You should have tried to tell her that you didn’t love her but she’d probably have done exactly the same thing when you did. She just wanted to hurt you for turning her down.”
“She did try to stop the duel.” To his surprise Joe
found himself defending
“Her one saving grace.” Adam said with a small laugh. “In the end she decided she really did love her father.”
“I still kinda feel sorry for her. Married to a man she doesn’t love.” Joe shivered slightly. “If things had turned out the way I imagined then I’d be marrying a girl I didn’t love and it’s not a nice thought.”
“But you’d have married her for honourable reasons at least, she’s marrying for greed.” Adam said softly. “Forget her Joe. She’s not worth your pity.”
“I guess so.” Joe said with a sigh and turned toward the house.
“You know what?” Adam asked falling in beside him. “I was in town yesterday and Jane…it is Jane isn’t it that works in the bank?” Joe acknowledged that it was. “Well she was asking if you’d got a partner for the dance on Saturday night, seems she’s free.”
“I wasn’t intending…” Joe started then suddenly flashed a dazzling grin. “Jane, you say? Well, perhaps a night out...” And the two went inside.
© Kathleen Pitts 2001
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