Summary: This is a collection of five short pieces each written in response to a specific prompt. The prompt was used to title the piece. I hope you enjoy them.
Rating: G (4,140 words)
First Bit: A Fresh Start
She had told him that this was a fresh start. No doubt that was part of her standard speech to every new student. Words meant to provide motivation for steady effort and proper behavior. Adam Cartwright did not need motivation. He wanted to learn, to try hard, and to make his pa proud. He wanted not another fresh start, but a chance to finish all the things he would begin at this school before it was time to go. Adam sighed. Pa was haying at a farm outside of town. They would stay until the hay was cut and stored and the workers paid. Pa had said that would take about three weeks. For three weeks he would be the new boy, and then he would be gone. Adam reminded himself that he was lucky to be able to attend school at all. If the farmer’s wife had not volunteered to care for his baby brother during the day, Adam would have had to forgo school to care for Hoss while his pa was in the fields. Adam gave the teacher a polite, “Yes, ma’am, I’m glad to be here and plan to try very hard.” It was his standard response to each new teacher’s welcome. Then he took his seat as every eye in the one-room schoolhouse watched.
Adam put his schoolbooks in the wagon that was his home and went to fetch his baby brother. Knocking on the kitchen door, he waited to be invited inside. Hearing the expected invitation, he entered and scanned the room for Hoss. He was playing in the corner with the farmer’s two-year-old son. Hoss was barely one, but already bigger than the other boy.
“I’ve come for Hoss, ma’am. I hope he wasn’t much trouble,” Adam said to the woman shelling peas at the wooden table.
Mrs. Haverty shook her head. “Ain’t had a mite of trouble from that one.”
Hearing his brother’s voice, Hoss had pushed himself to his feet and begun toddling over to Adam.
Adam met him halfway, kneeled down, and gave the little boy a hug. “So you were a good boy, were you?”
Hoss cooed, “Goo bo,” and smiled.
Mrs. Haverty also smiled. The dark, slim seven-year-old and his study blond brother made a sweet picture. “Don’t suppose you’d like some fresh bread and jam before you go, or do you think it would spoil the little one’s supper?”
“Nothing spoils my brother’s supper, ma’am, but you don’t have to go to no trouble,” Adam was quick to answer.
“No trouble, child, sit down right here.”
Adam seated himself and his brother at the table. Mrs. Haverty was a mighty nice woman, and they were lucky that Pa had gotten a job working on the Haverty farm. Adam had learned to appreciate people like the Havertys. Some people were just plain good and a friend to anyone who came along, and some people were just plain mean-spirited. Pa and he had met both kinds many times as they traveled west. Pa said to thank the Lord for the good and ignore the rest. Sometimes Adam wanted to do something more to the mean ones, especially the boys at school who bullied every new boy, but Pa was real strict about fighting, and Adam had learned to just avoid them. In the end, both the good and the bad were left behind when they moved on.
Adam thanked Mrs. Haverty and took Hoss back to their wagon. They were camping in a nice spot next to a pond in sight of the farmhouse. Pa would bring supper from the cookhouse when he returned, but Adam still had chores that needed doing. He sat Hoss down with a stern admonition to stay put and went to work.
Ben Cartwright leaned down and lifted his youngest into his arms. The baby smiled and hugged his neck. Ben felt some of his weariness slip away and thanked God for his baby’s sunny disposition.
“Adam,” Ben said turning to his eldest, “Did you have a good day at school?”
Adam walked over and received a hug from his pa. “Miss Parker seems like a real smart teacher, Pa. She’s got some books I ain’t, uh, haven’t seen before. She said it was real good that you read your Shakespeare book to me.”
Ben noticed an inner shadow darkening his son’s eyes and the fact that he had never said yes to the question. “Any problems, son?”
“Not really, pa.”
“What not real problem did you have then, Adam?”
Adam leaned against his father’s leg and ducked his head. “Just the usual, Pa. Some kids testing the new boy.”
Ben knew he could substitute teasing for testing. He set the baby down and drew Adam into his arms. Lifting Adam’s chin, he looked into his eyes. “You know how to handle that, don’t you?”
“Sure I do, Pa,” Adam replied softly, but he could not resist muttering into his pa’s leg, “I’ve had enough practice.”
Ben stepped back and knelt in front of his son, “I know you have, Adam, and sometimes you have made the wrong choice.” In a sterner tone, Ben added, “I’m sure that won’t be the case this time.”
“I won’t fight, Pa. I know how you feel about that,” the boy answered. This time he kept the rest of his answer only in his mind: and I know how my behind felt when I did.
“Well, we best eat this food while it’s still warm,” Ben said as he ruffled Adam’s hair.
They finished supper, and Adam completed his homework. Ben put Hoss down for the night, and Adam sat beside his father as Ben read to him. Ben rarely missed this special time with his eldest for it always brought a feeling of closeness and contentment to them both.
“Time for bed, now,” Ben said has he closed the book.
Instead of rising, Adam slipped his arm around Ben’s waist and snuggled closer to his father. “Pa, please tell me about how it’s going to be when we get there, please.”
The pleading tone in his son’s voice told Ben that Adam needed to hear again the dream for which they reached. In his deep, rich voice, Ben once more wove a picture of the life they would have at the end of their journey. Finally he stopped, ready to lift the child he thought had fallen asleep, but Adam looked up into Ben’s eyes. “Do you promise, Pa, that that’s the way it will be?”
“I promise, Adam.”
Adam Cartwright slept deeply that night dreaming of the time when he would have his final fresh start.
Second Bit: A Storm
The air had been heavy all day. Hoss had repeatedly announced that they would soon be in the middle of a storm. Each time he had said it, Little Joe had shuddered. Finally, when Hoss said for what felt to Little Joe like the millionth time that tonight they would have a devil of a storm, Joe had shouted for him to shut up. That had gotten the six-year-old a glare and curt reprimand from his eldest brother, Adam. Little Joe had slammed his fork into the table and refused to eat. Adam had then ordered Joe to behave and to finish his dinner and followed his commands with a threat. Little Joe sat quietly then and moved the remaining food in circles around his plate, but no more food had actually made its way down his throat. When Adam had finally released him from the table, the boy had gone and curled up on the settee refusing Hoss’s offer of a checkers match. The two older boys had then settled to evening work. Adam worked on the never-completed ledgers while Hoss braided a new lariat. Little Joe stared into the fire. There was going to be a storm, and his Pa was not there.
Joe lay in his bed and listened to the wind blow through the trees outside his window. He had protested, whined, and begged to stay up just a little longer. Adam had said no repeatedly, becoming increasing frustrated with his little brother’s antics. When the eighteen-year-old came to the end of his patience, he had simply picked up the struggling child, carried him to his bedroom, undressed him, put on his nightshirt, and dropped him none too gently onto his bed. Joe had recognized the look on his big brother’s face when Adam had told him that if he set one toe out of the bed he would receive a spanking. That was Adam’s I-really-mean-it look. Joe had pulled the covers up over his head and waited for the storm.
Little Joe was never afraid of storms when his pa was there to hold him. Pa’s voice could drown out the thunder, and his arms could hold Joe to the ground no matter how hard the wind might try to tug him away. When he sat on his Pa’s lap, Joe could watch the lightning bolts with the same wonder as he did the fireworks the town sent into the sky on the Fourth of July. Only tonight Pa was not there, and Joe shivered with fear as the first roar of thunder filled his room. As the second bolt of lightning lit the room, Little Joe Cartwright dived under his bed and curled up against the wall.
Adam made his way up the stairs. He was so tired. He wished his Pa were there, but Adam doubted if Pa would be returning anytime soon. Since the death of his stepmother Marie, it seemed that Pa hated the house as much as he had loved it before and spent as much time away on business as possible. Adam wondered if his Pa realized how many important decisions he was allowing his oldest son to make. Well, someone had to make them, and if Pa didn’t like the decisions he was making, then Pa just best stay around and make the decisions himself.
Adam knew his Pa had always checked on each of his sons before retiring to his own bed. He sighed and opened the door to his middle brother’s room. The sound of Hoss’ snoring could be heard between the peals of thunder. Adam smiled. Perhaps the reason he could sleep through any storm was all the years he had had to sleep with Hoss snoring in his ear.
Adam made his way down the hall and stopped in front of the door to his youngest brother’s room. Had he been too gruff with the boy earlier that night? Adam sighed again and opened the door. A flash of lightning illuminated the room, and Adam looked for his little brother on his bed. The bed was empty. Adam’s heart lurched. “Joe,” he called, but his cry was lost in the next boom of thunder. Adam rushed in, lighted the lamp, and began searching the room. Crouching to look beneath the bed, Adam recognized the form of his small brother huddled in terror. Reaching his long arms under the bed, he gently pulled the child to him. Gathering the trembling child into his arms, he held Joe against his chest. As his brother clung to him, Adam began to sing an old lullaby that Marie had always used to sooth her son.
Little Joe listened as his big brother’s voice drowned out the thunder. He felt the strength of Adam’s arms and knew that the wind could never get strong enough to tug him away. Little Joe relaxed and drifted into sleep.
Third Bit: Stampede
At first he had been proud just to be allowed to help with the roundup. Little Joe had been sure he could prove to his pa and brothers that he was old enough to go along on the cattle drive. He had worked hard and swallowed his anger every time his big brother Adam had gotten bossy. He had done everything he could to show them all he could be a reliable hand, but last night he had found out for sure that he was not going to be included in the drive. Once more he was going to be left alone for weeks under the supervision of Hop Sing.
He had asked his pa if he didn’t think that Joe could be a big help on the drive, and stated if he went on the drive then Hop Sing might have a little vacation and maybe pay a visit to some of his relatives. His pa had smiled and said no. Joe had known he might have to do a little persuading to help Pa get use to the idea, so he had launched into the many reasons he had prepared for the occasion. His Pa had simply refuted each one. Then Adam had started adding his comments, and things had gone from bad to worse. Joe had argued, pleaded, cried, and the thrown the grandest tantrum he had had since turning four. That had resulted in a very uncomfortable reminder of his father’s intolerance for disrespect. Now he was helping to round up the last few steers while sulking and nursing a sore backside.
Joe had been given permission to watch the herd start out before reporting to school. He sat astride Cochise on a rise above the area where the steers had been gathered. As he watched his family, he made the final decision to go through with the plan he had made yesterday. If he followed the herd for a few days before he joined them, his father and brothers would have to take him along the rest of the way. There was only a minimal crew going on this drive, and Pa would not be able to spare anyone to return Joe to the ranch.
Sure, his pa would probably give him a tanning for disobeying, but as long as he didn’t do it in front of the hands, it would be a price worth paying.
Things went well the first two days. It was not exactly difficult to follow three hundred head of cattle. Joe had brought supplies with him and he had been camping with his brothers often enough to know how to take care of himself under these conditions. Sure it was lonesome and kind of scary at night, but he had Cochise, and he knew his pa and brothers would come right off if he fired a distress signal with his rifle. He slept with his arm around that rifle.
He would probably never know what had startled him awake, but half asleep and scared he had grabbed his rifle and fired.
Adam was riding night herd. He had felt uneasy since the start of the drive, and that unease had grown through the past day. He was almost sure that someone was following them, and tomorrow he would find out whom. Tonight he was worried about the unrest among the herd. Well, they said music had charm to soothe the savage beast. Steers weren’t exactly savage, but many cowboys sang to them anyway. Adam let his baritone out in a slow and mournful ballad.
Suddenly a gunshot split the air. Adam knew what would happen before the lead steers started to run.
“STAMPEDE! STAMPEDE!” His shout was only the first of many as every hand scrambled into action. Adam had time only to pray that every one would survive before he was consumed by the chaos.
Joe came fully awake and then froze. He could hear the shouts and the rising thunder of hundreds of hoofs. It took him only moments to realize that the sound was headed in his direction. He looked for Cochise. The horse had broken free and was running in fear. Joe felt his own terror deepen. There was no way he could outrun the herd.
Adam realized that they had succeeded. The lead steers had been turned and blocked the path of those behind them. The stampede was over, but how had it begun? Who had fired that shot? Adam had heard enough gunfire of all kinds to know that the shot had been fired by a rifle, and to recognize the general vicinity from which the sound had come. He checked and discovered that his father and brother were fine. No one had received more than minor injuries. Relief was followed by anger. Adam headed Sport toward the source of the upheaval.
Adam found the broken rifle. Just as he recognized the Ponderosa brand burned into its stock, he heard his name. He looked up and saw his youngest brother clinging to the branches of a tree. My God! Adam did not know whether he had meant it as a curse or a prayer.
“Joe! What in thunder!” He realized that the boy must be frightened out of his wits. He softened his voice. “Come on down, Joe. Big brother’s here now.”
“I’m scared.” Adam knew for Joe to admit that to him meant his brother was beyond terrified.
“Come on, Joe. Everything’s all right now.” Seeing that cajoling was not moving his brother, Adam tried commanding. “I said get down here now, Joseph!”
Joe responded to the tone of his brother’s voice automatically and began his descent. As soon as he came within reach, Adam pulled him into his arms. Joe clung as fiercely to his brother as he had to the tree during the stampede. Adam ran his hands over his brother’s body searching for injury. He found none. “Joe, are you all right?”
“Yes. Did… did anyone get hurt?”
“No, Joe, no one was hurt. Thank God!”
“It was my fault, Adam. I didn’t mean to … I don’t know… sorry. I’m so sorry!” Adam felt his brother’s body begin to tremble uncontrollably.
“It’s okay, Little Buddy. I know. It’s okay.” Feeling suddenly too weak to stand, Adam sank to the ground and rocked Joe gently while repeating his litany of reassurance. Finally, Joe’s sobs subsided into hiccups. “Pa won’t ever forgive me.”
Adam had never heard such a forlorn sound in his little brother’s voice. “Sure he will, Joe. You know Pa has always told us there isn’t anything he can’t forgive his sons. You know Pa never lies. Everything will be all right.”
“Even my butt?”
“Well, now, I can’t promise that, little brother, but I’ll try and help keep the damage to a minimum.”
Fourth Bit: Remembering
It had been raining for three days, and Little Joe had exhausted his list of indoor things to do. He was bored. He looked over at his father who was working on the accounts. That alone was enough to put his father into a bad mood, so Joe decided not to voice his problem. He could hear his father’s solution in his mind, “If you’ve nothing worth doing, Joseph, I’m sure Hop Sing can find something worthwhile for you to accomplish.” At age eleven, Joe wanted to do some tiresome chore like polishing the silver even less than he wanted to do any of the things he had been doing repeatedly for the past three days. Joe sighed deeply. Hoss had slogged through the rain and mud to tend to his animals, but Pa had forbidden Joe to accompany him. Adam had his drawing tools out and was working on designs for an addition to the mill. It would be even more risky to disturb his older brother than it would be to disrupt his pa. Joe sighed again. He could sneak outside and worry about the consequences later. Joe considered the possibility that he could venture outside without getting caught. Joe could not convince himself that the chances were better than 90-10 with the odds against him. Would the probable consequences be worth the taste of freedom? Joe looked once more at his father. Ben Cartwright scowled as he attempted to correct an error. No, Joe decided that the price would be too high. He sighed again.
“Joseph.” Ben had grown tired of the boy’s sullen looks and sighs.
Joe heard his pa’s voice and scrambled to his feet, “I was just going upstairs, Pa. Did ya want something?” Joe queried.
Ben shook his head. “No, son.”
Joe made his way up the stairs and out of his father’s sight. Going into his room, he walked across to the window and opened it. The damp air rushed in, and Joe breathed deeply. Leaning his head against the window frame, he closed his eyes. Breathing in the smell of the rain-soaked air, muddy earth, and wet pines, Joe drifted into a memory.
The house had been hot, so Little Joe had opened the door. A minute later, he had been standing on the porch watching the rain. The rain was water. When it was hot, Joe liked swimming in the water. It came to his five-year-old mind that he could go swimming in the rain, and he would not even have to leave the yard to do it. Joe started to step off the porch but stopped as he remembered that a body did not go swimming in boots and britches. He sat down and pulled off his boots. Then he stood and discarded his shirt and pants. He paused to consider if he should leave his drawers on or go skinny-dipping. That is what Hoss called going swimming with nothing on. Joe looked at the mud and decided skinny-dipping was the best idea. His drawers dropped onto the heap formed by his other clothes. Little Joe stepped off the porch into the rain. The mud squished up around his feet, and rivulets of rain ran down his body. He giggled and stomped his foot. Mud and water shot out from beneath it. He jumped forward smacking both feet into the muck and slipped landing on his bottom. He laughed. The mud felt funny there. Then he threw his body backward landing with his arms out spread. Breathing deeply, he pulled in the fresh smell of wet pine. Inspired, he made a mud angel and stood up to admire his handiwork. Thinking it a fine sight, he proceeded to make three more before his eldest brother came walking over from the barn.
“Hey, Adam! I’m making angels.” Joe smiled up at his brother. Adam towered over him with his hands on his hips.
“Does Pa know that you’re out in the rain, not to mention naked as a jaybird?”
Joe sat up shaking his head. “No.” Suddenly becoming concerned, he pulled his knees to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. Dropping his head to his knees, he mumbled,” Is he gonna be mad at me.”
To Joe it had seemed like a long time before his brother answered, “Not if I’m playing with you.”
Joe had looked up in surprise to see his brother smiling. Then Adam had doffed his hat and slicker tossing them onto the porch. Joe had watched with his mouth hanging open as Adam had taken off his shirt, pants, and boots. Standing in his drawers, Adam had tipped his face to the sky and laughed. Then he had swooped, grabbed Joe, and tossed him up into the air.
Joe opened his eyes and stared down at the yard. He did not know how long he and Adam had played in the rain and mud that day, but he knew that for every second they had both been totally happy. Even when they had heard their pa call both their full names, the brothers had only giggled. Joe did not remember what their father had said to them, but he remembered knowing that even in his most serious, grown-up brother there was a still a boy.
Joe reached out and shut the window. A grin spread over his face as he went downstairs to find out if there was any of that boy left in his bossy brother.
Fifth Bit: Poetic Remembering
Indeed I do.
I was afraid Adam would kill the both of you.
Now it weren’t really all that bad.
Don’t know why Pa and Adam got so mad.
Yeah, I got all the blame.
Bet folks in Canada heard Pa shout my name.
Well, I didn’t exactly lie.
I sure am glad Pa let that one slip by.
Pa, how could we forget?
It was a week before either one could sit.
Such foolishment! Hop Sing no stay!
Go home to China. Leave today.