Summary: Love, hate, death and Etta, go hand in hand with life on the Ponderosa…Who loves? Who hates? Who dies? Who is Etta? The Cartwright boys find trouble in Turner’s Town. Ben finds trouble in San Fransisco. Is Barney Fuller friend or foe? Candy gets an offer, but is it one he can refuse?
SJS. AHM. PAM.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
Rated: MA (112,575 words)
“Aw, come on Adam. At least let’s check it out? What’s the worst we can loose? If you’re right half a day…but, if l’m right we get home nearly a week early. Aint that a chance worth taking?”
The taller man shook his head in aggravated annoyance. He carried on unsaddling the glossy, chestnut gelding. It was as if he had lost his hearing. He gave no reply or acknowledgment to the smaller, younger man at his side. He too was performing the same task on a black and white mare. Joe persisted in his argument, “even big brother agrees. Don’t ya Hoss?” he shouted at the largest of the trio. Who, was likewise stripping a saddle from an animal. The horse, as like the man was the largest of the three. The charcoal black, sturdy, gentle and patient beast stood as motionless as a statue. Not waiting for any reply the boy in the green jacket pressed on, “ an if big brother says it’s OK, it’s OK aint it?…After all he is the trail and tracker man, aint he?”
Hauling the saddle to the spot that had been designated as suitable for setting camp. Adam Cartwright kept his silence. A silence which only further added to the exasperation of the excitable young man. It was left to the big man to reply.
“You hang fire there shortshanks l aint said OK to naught. My words were….,”
“Dang it Hoss you’re getting as old and crotchety as granite head,” Joe cut in on his brothers explanation. He just about managed, without dropping his own saddle, to avoid a canteen as it sailed in the direction of his head. He heard the dull thud behind him as it hit ground.
“Who you calling old an crotchety?” the thrower of canteen shouted back. “Yer won’t never get old enough to be old an crotchety. I’ll see ta that.” Hoss dropped his saddle alongside his brothers. Then proceeded to dig a small fire pit into which Adam could place the suitable flat stones that he had started to collect.
“Kid l have already told you l will think on it, haven’t l?” Adam deigned a reply.
“Sure you have,” watching his brothers prepare the camp Joe stood arms akimbo, not in anyway bothering to lend a hand, “an when will that be? When l got a head of silver like Pa?”
From where he sat, squatted on his haunches, digging with a small shovel. Hoss looked up at the youngest Cartwright, a smirk of a grin cracking at his round face.
“Well that it won’t be too long, yer already got some snow on the roof,” his belly guffaw brought a soft chuckle from Adam. The chuckle deepened into a full laugh as Adam and Hoss watched their little brother. Frantically Joe grabbed the Stetson from off his head. Pulling at his overly long curly hair, trying somehow to see to the roots.
“What the heck, l aint got no grey hair,” satisfied that his quest had been successfu. Joe slammed his hat back on his head. For the moment the previous topic of conversation had been passed over, “at least l got hair, not like you two ole women. Most of yours is left on yer brush or yer pillow,” as if to confirm his statement. Joe removed his hat and stroked a hand through his thick unruly curls
The pit digging job completed. Hoss strolled over to his younger brother. Joe was still caressing his locks. Batting the boys hand away Hoss grabbed a fistful of hair and gave a sharp tug. Joe’s yelp of disapproval was followed by a swift punch to his brothers rotund stomach. Hoss swatted the futile attempt at retaliation and strolled back to the fire. Joe stood rubbing at his head before angrily ramming his hat back on. Adam having snagged a few twigs that were scattered close by. Ceased setting the fire to watch the antics of his siblings.
“You, elder and wiser brother can be the judge?” Hoss opened his bear like paw in front of Adam’s nose.
Adam investigated the contents with great deliberation. Finally a choice was made. Delicately his long fingers picked into the spread palm. He held the selection close up to his eye. Stretching back and forth, his equally long arm. Adam squinted his eyes and shook his head in sympathy.
“Big brother if you are asking for my honest opinion? I’d say that head should be mined. You could possibly find more silver there than there is in the whole of the Comstock”.
Throwing the strands of rich chestnut hair into the air, Hoss left out a roar of belly laughter and doubled over slapping his thighs in an over zealous show of mirth.
Joe glared at his brothers. One sitting on his haunches, chuckling over the pot of beans and the other barely able to stand upright. Sometimes Joe couldn’t understand how he could even be related to the two of them. “It sure makes my day when l know l bring so much amusement to you two ol’ women.”
Adam ignored his brothers attempt at sarcasm and issued instructions. “If you have nothing better to do than stand there admiring the results of your comedic endeavours. I suggest you put yourself to something useful like collecting wood for the fire.”
Pursing his lips, and silently mimicking his brothers words. Joe held back the tongue he sorely wanted to point in his elder brothers direction. Even he realised that in his nineteenth year, this show of childish petulance was beyond him…just. But he felt that even now it would have made him feel good. Turning on his heel he made for the small thicket of shrubs and trees that were giving shelter to the animals. The three horses, heads down were happily chomping on their evening meal.
Joe returned in a short while with an armful of kindling. He dropped the bundle beside the pile of twigs that Adam was about to set fire to.
“An yer reckon that spit of wood is gonna keep this fire going?” Hoss looked at his brother with disgust.
“What fire?” Joe quipped seeing that Adam’s first attempt had failed.
“It’s true what they say big brother, never send a boy to do a man’s job,” Adam quipped back. Striking a second match on the sole of his boot. This time to avoid the lit match flickering out of existence, he carefeully cupped it in his hands and applied it to the small pile of kindling.
“You saying l’m a boy?” Joe’s temper was faster to ignite than the fire.
“If the cap fits kid…if the cap fits,” Adam blew softly through cupped hands into the smoking twigs until the baby flame caught. He smiled inwardly at the perverse enjoyment he got out of winding up his brother.
Before any words could be spat out or indeed one of the fists that Joe was clenching in white knuckling anger, put to use. Hoss grabbed a hold of his younger brothers arm and pulled him back toward the thicket.
“Aint no need to get inta this,” ever the peace keeper Hoss held a firm grip onto his reluctant brother.
“Whose he to keep calling me boy an kid…one day l’ll show him whose a kid…that ol’ man won’t know what’s hit him,”
“I’m sure one day yer will little brother, but it aint terday. Save yer wind and energy for sum crittur that deserves it,” Hoss knew the further away he could drag his brother from the bone of his contention the better and the calmer he would become. He was correct in his assumption.
Joe kicked out at the bushes and stomped hard on the dirt. But his ire had cooled. He set himself to the task of picking up any twigs and branches he had dislodged or were laying strewn on the ground.
“How can you say he don’t deserve it? Anyway how come he’s so grumpy? l was only tryina help. l thought he wanted to get home as soon as he could?” Joe reverted to his earlier topic.
“Come on Joe, he aint grumpy, he’s jes tired. It’s been a long drive. An maybe he don’t cotton to being called ol’ man an ol’ woman, jes like you don’t cotton to being called kid or boy….”
“All the more reason to take the shorter route, he’ll get home before he meets his maker.” Joe interjected his voice tight with impatience.
“Joseph…yer aint got no call to talk that way”. By the lowered tone of Hoss’s voice and the use of his full name Joe immediately realised he was stepping on shaky ground. His big brother, like his Pa used Joe’s full name as a warning. An alert to watch what he was saying. Or that he had as per usual overstepped the mark. Joe changed his tactics.
“Anyway aint we all tired? l am, aint you?”
“Dadburn right l am, jes give me mah big bed an a big plate Hop Sings fried chicken, an I’ll be happy as an ol’ mama grizzley with her cubs.” Hoss could picture himself settled in his big bed surrounded by dishes of crispy chicken wings and legs. Cooked to perfection, as only Hop Sing can.
“Hoss you convince him. He never listens to what l say,” Hoss threw an unseen glare of discontent at his younger brother for encroaching on his day dream.
“Now shortshanks that aint hardly the truth. Iffun elder brother don’t do nothing other than one thing. l know what that’ll be…that’ll be ter listen. Yer might not like what he has ta say. Yer might not like what he tells yer ta do. But he always listens. An what’s more. The more yer whine and yap on an on. The more he’ll dig his heels in.”
Hoss and Joe their arms laden with scavenged and fallen wood returned to the clearing. They dropped the bundles alongside the first small pile beside the fire. Hoss wiped the palms of his hands together and Joe wiped his palms on the back of his pants.
Adam looked first to the huge pile of wood and then to his huge brother. “For heavens sakes! We’re only going to be here one night. You’ve barely left a tree standing,”
“It gets a mite chilly when the sun goes down an l don’t likes ter get cold. In fact l hates ter get cold. Elder brother don’t yer take on so. Yer mind the beans an l’ll mind the fire,”
“See l told ya…grumpy.” Joe elbowed his big brother. A look of smug, self satisfaction stamped across his handsome features. “how come Hoss a big fella like you feels the cold?”
“Huh?…Whatya mean? l can feel the cold like any other fella.”
“What! with you wrapped in so much lard, how can you possibly feel any bit of cold?”
“Button that smart mouth of yourn shortshanks or you’ll be wrapped in nothing but a frozen smile an find yerself nekked as a jaybird belly down on that dirt.”
“And what are you grinning at?” Adam turned his attention to his younger, younger brother. never ceasing in his stirring the contents of the pot.
“Me? brother, l aint grinning at nothing in particular.”
“Hoss you know l reckon it must be that elder brother aint been to see that little gal on ‘D Street’ for a while. I reckons that’s what’s making him so tetchy. What do you think?”
Not deigning to reply. The pot stirrer eyed the questioner with a look of derision.
“Aint there ever anything else on yer mind shortshanks but That ?” squatting next to his brother, Hoss waited for Adam to remove the pot before adding to the fire.
“Hoss, l am warming beans not firing shoes for horses, l don’t need a furnace,” Hoss turned a deaf ear to Adam’s sarcasm.
“What l have on my mind is a lot more interesting and healthier than the doughnuts that weigh heavily on your mind. An other parts of your body. I’d say you big brother were beginning to look like a doughnut.” To emphasis his point Joe crept up behind Hoss and grabbed two fists full of flesh from either side of his brothers waist. Taken by surprise Hoss leaped up and spun round. For once he caught his slippery little brother. Joe was also taken by surprise at his brothers turn of speed, and found himself firmly held in a head lock.
“Is that what yer saying? l look like a doughnut, is it? I’ll skin the hide offa that skinny butta yers, yer see if l don’t?” With Hoss’s arm circling his neck Joe had no possible way of answering. He struggled to release himself. Hoss eased the strength of his grip. Half choking and gasping for breath Joe tried to make restitution.
“No brother, l’m sorry, not like a doughnut,” Hoss relaxed his grip even more. Joe gulped another lungful of air. Hoping now he could just-a-bout wriggle free. As he made to extricate himself, he rubbed salt into the wound, “like a whole stack of doughnuts.” Hoss’s huge arm tightened and put a stop to Joe’s gallop.
Noting the mischievous look on his big brothers face. Adam’s dimples popped into each cheek. Carefully removing the pot and placing it on the warm stones. He stood upright and pressed both his palmed hands into the small of his back in an effort to ease his stiff muscles. Hoss had once more loosened his grip, but only enough to allow Joe to breathe.
“Hey…no… that’s not fair…not two against one,” Joe managed to gasp as he saw his elder brother approaching with a look of grinning menace on his face.
“l think this young whipper snapper needs a lesson in respect from his elders and betters, don’t you big brother?”
At Adam’s question, Joe felt Hoss’s grip give a little. Quickly he realised that Adam had for a moment diverted Hoss’s attention. He knew that to wriggle free was an impossibility. Back healing his boot sharply he made contact with his big brother’s shin. Roaring like a bull, Hoss totally gave up his grip and bent down to rub his injured leg. Ducking away from one brother. Joe swerved at the same time as Adam side stepped and ran straight into the arms of brother number one. Adam grabbed at Joe’s arm and spun him around. Joe was now secured against Adam’s chest. Adam’s hands and arms were clasped behind Joe’s neck. Little did he know that this was a position that his brother had many times extricated himself from. To the cries of Hoss’s, “Hold him brother,” Joe tightened his shoulders and raised his arms up to his ears. He easily slipped down through Adam’s grasp. His elbows making contact with any part of his brothers body that became available to him. Adam’s sudden gasping intake of breath, heralded a direct hit to his nether region. Both brothers were now doubled up in front of him. Adam clasping a green jacket to his groin and Hoss soothing his bruised shin.
Joe, deciding it was better to be a running dog than a trophy lion. Turned on his heel and hotfooted away from the inevitable. As usual not thinking first, he ran further into the clearing and away from his only means of escape. Quickly he realised his error. He turned to face two very irate, suffering siblings. Doing an about turn he surveyed the boulders ahead of him. Spying a small over hanging ridge. Though above his height, it was still in arms reach. He ran full pelt. Slammed his foot on the face of the boulder and launched himself upwards. His fingers groped for purchase and found their mark. Swinging one leg to the side he managed to haul himself upward. He was almost away with it. A rough tug on his trailing boot caused him to slip. A pull on his pant belt jerked him bodily backwards. He was returned to the bear hugging arms of his big brother.
“Adam get his feet,”
“l have them brother,”
This time there as no easing reprieve. Tightly and securely held Joe was carried back to the camp site. Loudly, with language that his Pa would have done more than frown upon, Joe proclaimed his innocence due to unmitigated provocation.
“Big brother how should we deal with this act of sibling disrespect?”
“l…elder and wiser brother will be guided by you,” Hoss nobly and unselfishly replied.
Joe’s futile attempts at wriggling free came to nothing.“What are ya gonna do? It aint right, you know this aint right? Yer both twice as big as me. Hoss give me a chance?”
“What kinda chance little brother?” Joe smiled inwardly he knew he could always rely on Hoss.
“Any kinda chance, just a chance to get free.” Without giving any warning. Adam who was at the foot end of his smaller brother, halted his stride and turned his head. Hoss, who had the head and chest end of his smaller brother continued in his stride. Joe was concertinaed between the two. Until Hoss took a step to the rear. Joe felt as if the breath was being squeezed from his lungs.
“Little brother, you can’t want to be set free yet, we’ve only just caught you. What do you say big brother?”
Joe tried to twist his head. To enable him to bring his pleading, puppy dog look to focus on his brothers blue eyes. Which was more than difficult with his head being scrunched into Hoss’s chest.
“Well l guess l could see it different, but my leg don’t .”
“No, and neither do my future prospects to father a passel of little Cartwright’s. Guess we’ll just have to play some more. You know little brother, we have got to tire you out before bedtime.” Adam gave Joe a beguiling, condescending smile and carried on walking.
“Come on you’ve had yer fun, put me down.”
“Oh no, little brother we old woman haven’t had nearly enough fun. Why we could play for hours an hours, couldn’t we big sis?”
“All night iffun we have to.”
Joe’s pleas continued to fall on stony ground. Within moments he was bound hand and foot. A noose was slipped over his head and shoulders, then tightened under his arms. An overhanging stout branch came into play. It provided an excellent solution to Adam and Hoss’s problem as to where to dangle their errant little brother.
“It aint right.”
“Sure, we know it aint right little brother, but never-the-less it is very satisfying. Us old women have to get our amusement where we can. Don’t you agree big sis?”
“You two think you’re so funny. I’ll get ya both back. You hear me? You can lay odds on it. This aint the last you’re gonna hear about this.”
“Howdya feel about that elder brother? Yer think it’ll be the last we will hear?” Adam slowly pulled a bandanna from his saddle bag and handed it to Hoss.
“l have every reason to believe that it may well be the last we hear of anything.” Shaking out the folded bandanna Hoss approached his captured brother.
“Come on Hoss don’t do this…you caint…please don’t.” Joe was not averse to pleading. Big brother Hoss as was his usual want, succumbed to his little brothers puppy, dog eyes.
“Iffun you promise to behave yerseff.” The pleading canine look melted into one of slit eyed suppressed anger. Rolling his eyes Joe managed to speak, though his jaw was so tightly clenched as to be locked.
“l caint hardly do anything else can l?” Before he returned to his place beside the fire and his plate of bacon and beans. Hoss with one chunky fore finger, gently pushed it against his young brothers chest. Where upon Joe swung backwards and forwards. A furious human pendulum. Fixing Hoss with a stare that would spear a buffalo, Joe could do nothing but accept his fate.
Hoss joined Adam at the fire and made short work of his meal. Alternatively chewing and grunting his agreement or disagreement to his elder brother’s words of castigation. Adam berated Hoss for being too soft. Now and again Hoss and Adam gazed at their handiwork. Which had left their young brother, swinging aimlessly from a tree.
“Come on…Hoss…Adam…let me down…please, l need to go…l need to have a piss,”
Forking his beans into his mouth, Hoss sucked long and hard on the cutlery,
“What ya think Adam?”
“Well, l don’t know brother, that’s not what l would call a polite or mannerly way to ask to be excused. I am aware little brother cannot raise his arm. Also l had assumed that as you both took so long gathering combustible fodder for the fire. That you and little brother would have attended to any other business whilst you were otherwise roaming around in the area that afforded the perfect and needed amount of privacy that you required.”
“Dadburnit Adam iffun you’re tryinta ask did we have a pee? Yep, that we did,” turning his gaze upon his slowly swinging sibling Hoss voiced his disappointment, “tut, tut little brother l never did figure you for a liar…but…”
“Hoss are you saying little brother’s telling untruths just to get us to release him,” Adam cut in with his voice thick with feigned shock.
“l reckon that’s about the state of it, l guess we’ll have ter sit an think a spell on this,”
Continuing with their meal Adam and Hoss ate in silence, Joe watched. His green eye’s fired with barely controlled anger. His mind already working on some kind of retribution and revenge.
Suddenly, taken completely by surprise Joe thudded to the dirt. Hoss had, on Adam’s nod loosened the end of the rope.
“Roll over this way shortshanks,” Joe completely ignored his brothers offer of help. Once the ropes were loosened he had very little problem in freeing himself. Hoss handed him his plate. Joe ate silently throwing disgruntled glances at both his brothers, “aint no good you sulking shortshanks, iffun ya can’t take it ya shouldn’t dish it out,”
“Sulking big brother, l aint sulking l’m eating. Don’t you fret yourself about me, l got no problem taking it. You’d best be ready when l get to dishing it out.”
Still inwardly fuming Joe duplicated his brothers actions and made ready for sleep. Hoss having drawn the short straw cleaned up after the meal. The task completed he once more piled kindling on the fire and the Cartwright brothers settled down for the night.