The Wainscots (by ViveAdam)

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Summary: After a meal washed down with plenty of wine and whisky, Ben makes a bet and that’s trouble for Adam

Rated: K  WC  2400

 

The Wainscots 

For Ben Cartwright, breakfast was obviously the best moment to give orders and allocate his sons their daily chores. That morning, first of April, the three boys, Adam, Hoss and Joe were wondering whether, by miracle, they weren’t to be at the beginning of an unexpected day off.

“Hoss, leave some for Pa”, Adam reprimanded while his huge brother was taking a third share of baked custard.

“But you can see he’s not going downstairs”, Hoss answered with his mouth full. “ They sure have boozed hard, yesterday evening, his buddy Harry and him, and he’s certainly sleeping it off. There’s no point in losing such a good cream.”

“ Who is charging me for being sleeping my wine off ?” a voice asked, coming from the firs floor.

Hoss blushed as red as a peony: “It’s me, Pa”, he mumbled. “I apologize. You see, I was just joking…”

“I don’t believe you but I accept the apology since you’re quite right.” Ben answered while coming downstairs very carefully. “Joe, please, pour me a cup of black coffee and you Adam, ask Ho-Psing to cook me a pair of eggs and bacon. It will help me.”

Once fed up, Ben settled himself comfortably and considered his three sons who were waiting, a little disconcerted.

“Well, sons, I had been at least ten years without meeting Harry again. Last time he had caught sight of Joe, this one was still a lad with short pants. Good old Harry! Lucky Harry, we used to call him. Everything he wanted, he had it by luck while I got it by working. When he wanted something, he found a good bet to make with the owner and he won. According to him, he never lost a bet.”

“Maybe, it will never happen” Joe said, laughing.

“Hope you’re wrong, because the last bet he made, he made it with me, yesterday evening.”

“That you did? You’re not scared!” Joe resumed, banging his thighs.

His father smiled to him : “I think I was smashed.”

Adam huddled up in his chair: “May we know what was the bet about?” he whispered between his teeth.

Ben emphasized his smile : “Do you know, he definitely wanted to take me home and he went up to my bedroom. He was absolutely charmed by the wainscots you applied on my walls. I told him each panel was a handicraft from you. He could not believe it.”

“I thank him for the compliment but this has nothing to do with my question.”

“You’re wrong. I bet with him that you’re able to do the same in his bedroom within a month.”

Adam got up abruptly, hands laid down on the table: “Within one month ! But do you realize how much time it took for me to put the finishing touches to your panels. Each one unique ! I started on your fifty-third birthday to have your room ready for your fifty-fourth.”

“Yes but you were doing it after work. In this case, I will give you the full days to work on it.”

On the edge of a nervous breakdown, Adam sank down into his chair.

“And the stake ?” he weakly asked, trembling, “what’s the stake ?”

His father kept silent for a while. He knew his son and was weighing what answer could lead him to surpass himself.

“The sawmill.”

Absolutely blank, Adam got up: “But you’re crazy !” he shouted, “The sawmill, the sawmill… Do you realize ?”

“Bah” retorted Ben, “the sawmill, you’re the only one to care for. Your brothers have always been more interested in raising cattle than in cutting boles into sections.”

“But wood business is a good part of our income.”

“So what? We’ll sell the trees, that’s that. Besides, there’s nothing to worry about, we’re going to win this bet.”

“Easy for you to say that”, his eldest fulminated. Ben looked for help from his other sons but Hoss was rolling astounded eyes and, for once mute, Joe was scratching his head. So he got up and came next to Adam.

“Listen Adam : it’s very important for me to win this bet. I’ll put all the hands, all the means you need at your disposal. And if you’re successful, I’ll give you anything you want.”

With a fit of anger, Adam freed himself and headed to the door.

“Where are you going ?” Joe asked.

“Where do you think I am going ? To the sawmill. I guess I’d better start immediately”

He went out and then stopped on the doorstep :  “You’d better bring me supplies and my blanket. And spare clothes too. I’ll have to sleep on the spot.”

“You’ll have anything you wish” said Ben, attentive.

“In that case, don’t forget to provide two shirts a day. I hate to be left to stew in my sweat.”

Then, getting on his horse, he rode off at a gallop.

“He’s mad”, Joe stated.

“But Pa”, Hoss pointed out, “what a weird idea you had : taking the sawmill as stake. Why did you do that ?”

Ben burst out laughing : “So, you too, you swallowed the bait. I never bet the sawmill… I bet… Oh, no, that’s too funny… I bet…” Choking with laughter, he was unable to go on.

“But at last, what was the stake ?”, Hoss asked

“My old uniform. The one I wore as an officer of the navy. I haven’t been able to worm my way into it, for ages. Harry always admired and coveted it.”

“What if you win ?”

“I win this wonderful amber pipe of his, carved in a woman’s body’s shape. Never saw such a beautiful pipe !”

“But why did you say Adam…”

“That the sawmill was at stake ?”

“Don’t talk both at the same time. If I had told Adam what trifling things were at stake, he would never have accepted to work relentlessly during a month as he intends to do now.”

“But Pa, don’t you think it’s a little… too much to let Adam work so much … for such a small thing ?”

“Yes, I think so, Hoss, but it’s too late. The bet is done, fairly done. My honor has to be saved. Moreover, I would be annoyed to give my uniform. It’s a memory for me, of the time I was wooing Adam’s mother. Well, let’s go and bring him his stuff. And afterwards, we’ve got to go to work. We will be only three, for a month, to accomplish a four men task.”

As they reached the sawmill, Rabouy, the foreman, got close to Ben and said : “I dunno what you did to Mr. Adam, Mr. Ben but he hustled us more than ever. He says we have to prepare moulds for wood engraving, that four patterns will be far enough for this… Oh, no I can’t repeat the word he said… In short, everybody is now busy cutting very thin planks, as if Ponderosa inhabitants’ life was depending on it”

“Something like that, Rabouy, something like that ! Listen, I’m asking to make your outmost to fulfill Adam’s needs. I’m aware that I ordered him something very difficult to achieve. So please, help him. Everybody will receive a bonus at the end of the month. That will be a compensation to suffering my son’s quick-temperedness.”

« But Mr. Hoss or Mr. Joe, they never hustle us this way”

“You know, Fred”, Hoss had his good large smile while talking, “Joe and I must admit that we’ve never been in charge of such a work as the one Pa has just left to Adam’s care”

“Well, sure that Mr. Adam is a hard worker. None of us can pride himself on working more than him. That, we must acknowledge. And he is the best to organize work. But what do you mean, Mr. Hoss ? What’ s this job he’s been given ? ”

“The kind of job that seems impossible to achieve.” Ben answered

“Oh, he’ll do it, don’t worry. D’you know what I say ?”

This was Rabouy’s main failing : he liked to make jokes.  Awful jokes ! But he would repeat it until he heard a giggle from the person he was speaking to, so you’d better hurry up to laugh whatever you could think.

“What do you say ?” Ben asked, patiently.

“I say : what is more stubborn than a mule ?”

“Adam ?” Joe tried.

“No”, laughed Rabouy, banging his thighs, “two mules. And what is more stubborn than two mules ?”

“Three mules” Hoss retorted.

“No, Mr. Adam !”

Proud of himself, Rabouy stared at his boss but seeing that Ben was hardly smiling, he became serious: “All right, Mr. Ben, we’re going to give him a hand, your kid. Basically, we like him, d’you know ?”

“So do I, Rabouy”, Ben commented with a crooked smile, “but right now, I wouldn’t take the risk to disturb him. Hoss, take his stuff to him. And make sure he gets enough coffee, he’ll certainly need a lot.”

“We would have added a bottle of whisky if we had one but Pa and his friend have emptied the supplies”, Joe observed ironically.

“Joe”, Ben retorted, “remember that I’m still able to give you a spanking !

”****************************************************************

A MONTH LATER

« Harry », a triumphant Ben declared, “this is April 30th and Adam told me he was sticking the last wainscot this morning”

“Yes, Ben, it’s superb ! I definitely don’t regret my old pipe or my first lost bet. Except for yours, no room can match my bedroom. Of course, I’ll pay the supplies and the work.”

“It’s worth a lot !”

“I guess so. That’s why I have a deal to offer. Give me your son. We could mass-produce wainscoted rooms to Sacramento’s wealthy classes. He would just have to draw-up one design per family and the factory would produce it instead of him manufacturing it. There’s a lot of money to earn.”

« Ask him personally. He’s old enough. Here he comes.”

With his shirt widely opened on his chest’s abundant growth, Adam had just appeared. He planted himself in front of Harry, hands on the hips in a typical attitude of his and said : “Your room is ready, Mr. Burby. In less than a month !”

With his sleeve’s cuff, he wiped the sweat that formed on his forehead.

“Please, call me Harry and let me congratulate you, young man. Why don’t you have a cup of coffee and, while you drink it, I suggest something I’ve in mind for you ?”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait, Mr. Burby. I don’t know what you’ve got in mind but as for me, at this very moment, I’ve got only one idea : my bed ! I’ve not been sleeping more than four hours a night for a month.”

And glaring to his father, he went out without adding a word.

He slept forty-eight hours at a stretch. When finally he emerged from his sheets, he found a sumptuously dressed table with a French bottle of champagne waiting to be uncorked. His father had everything in hand to celebrate, as deserved, his success.

“Come on, champion. Hope you’re no longer angry.”

“Well, no. Difficult to stay angry when you get out of such a deep sleep. And I’d say this champagne bottle is a good idea of yours. I think I quite deserve it.”

“Speaking of that”, Ben said, “it’s time to talk about your reward. Just name a number. Of course, it will be a supplement to your usual wages.”

“Don’t need money”, Adam answered with a smile, “the sawmill is mine.”

“What do you say ?”

«  Hadn’t I won your stupid bet, Mr. Burby would presently be the sawmill’s owner. I prevented it to happen, the sawmill is mine, it’s just fair !”

“But, but… Adam”, Joe stammered.

“What’s the matter ? Do you think I’m stealing your inheritance ? Don’t blame me, your father is the one who put our patrimony at stake, not me.”

Hoss wanted to plunge and speak the truth. Ben stopped him : “Then, the one who wanted to diddle is diddled” he said. “I told you a ridiculous lie, to drive you, Adam, to win this bet with the only purpose to pride myself. I wanted to be the one who would have Harry loose a bet. It costs me the sawmill. The deal is fair.”

Turning back to his younger sons, Ben apologized : “Basically, the sawmill was the least of your worries. I’ll compensate you. Harry paid a good price for his luxurious room”

“May be the reason is I’m half asleep” Adam said “but, I’ve undoubtedly overlooked a few details”

Ben looked miserable. “Fifty-four years old and I still didn’t learn to weigh the consequences of my acting and talking. I had to be really drunk not to have realized that I’d better loose my bet than lie to my son. Adam, I can’t conceal it to you any longer, the sawmill wasn’t the stake. It was only my old navy officer uniform. I found this invention to make sure you would do your best. From now on, you will not trust me any more.”

Hoss came next to his father as to protect him. Joe’s eyes were growing black. Adam stood a moment remaining silent, his mouth half opened and then exploded in a burst of laughter.

“You did that, you, only to keep my nose to the grindstone ? Ha, ha, ha, Pa, you’re definitely the youngest of us. Ha, ha, ha… When I think I’ve been working so hard just to preserve you navy officer uniform ! »

“Which now fits only me” Joe noticed joining his eldest in his mirth.

“And all he won” Hoss added guffawing, “it’s a nekkid woman shaped pipe.”

“Well, I had to find a lady friend to share my beautiful bedroom”, Ben concluded, highly relieved. “Now, it’s dinner time, come and eat. After all these emotions, I could eat a horse ! Bet I will eat more than Hoss.”

“Don’t bet, Pa, Hoss is able to win Ho-Psing !”

 

THE END

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