Summary: One wants to teach a lesson, one wants revenge, one just wants some peace quiet. With the three high spirited Cartwright boys home alone for the weekend anything can happen. Which one will come out on top?
Rated: Family Friendly / Word count: 10,300
Revenge…May the Best Man Win
“Adam, please don’t tell pa,” Little Joe Cartwright vainly pleaded with his infuriated eldest brother, “I promise I won’t do it again.”
Joe could see by Adam’s stormy expression that he wasn’t going to get out of trouble this unscathed this time.
“Pa!” Adam shouted as he entered the house.
Joe desperately tried to escape from the vice like grip his brother had on the back of his neck, and yelped as Adam shifted his grasp from his neck to his arm, thrusting him in the direction of his father’s desk.
“Adam, what’s going on here?” Ben questioned.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on!” Adam exclaimed his voice low and menacing, “your youngest son here just caused a stampede.”
Adam unconsciously shook Joe with each syllable.
“Adam, calm down,” said Ben as he reached out to release Joe from Adam’s tight grip, “what do you mean he caused a stampede?”
Adam drew in several calming breaths before answering. “The men and I just finished bringing those new cattle down from the mountains, when Joe here, whom I specifically asked to stay away from the south pasture, decided it would be a good time to practice some of his roping.”
Joe looked anxiously up at his father’s face and could tell from his dark expression that his fate was sealed. He gulped loudly and tried his best to look invisible.
“Joseph,” Ben said placing his hands on his hips, “I want an explanation,” then leaning in a little closer he added, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Joe swallowed again. “Wow, he looks big,” he thought.
Even at fourteen Joe was still quite a bit smaller than the other members of his family, and it was at times like this that he found their size the most intimidating.
“Well, Pa,” he began, his voice trembling slightly, “Miss Jones let us out of class a little early today. The boys wanted me to go fishing with them, but I remembered, how you said to come right home after school.”
“Oh, you remembered that did you?” Ben interrupted, “how is it then that you ended up in the south pasture instead of home?”
“Well, Pa,” Joe stammered, “the Ponderosa is my home and I was on the Ponderosa.”
This statement earned him a fiery glare from his father and a, “Ha!” from his brother Adam. Figuring he better change his line of reasoning he started again.
“Well, Pa, you always say how we should use our time wisely and that practice makes perfect so-”
“Stop right there Joseph!” His father interrupted again, once more calling him Joseph, which was never a good sign, “you are not going to use my own words against me. You know perfectly well that by coming straight home I meant to the house, and that I wouldn’t have approved of you practicing your roping on those cattle without an adult present. I believe it wasn’t all that long ago that I caught you and Mitch out trying to round up a herd of wild horses. I thought I made it pretty clear then about you practicing certain skills without supervision.”
As Ben talked he slowly moved his hands to his waist, hooking his thumbs into his belt. Joe’s shoulders drooped and he was sure he was going to end up out in the barn any minute. What his father said next almost made him wish he could just go out to the barn, at least then the punishment would be over with.
“You, young man,” his father said poking him in the chest with his finger for emphasis, “have cost your brother a great deal of time, and I think it only fair that as punishment you lose some of you own time as well.”
Joe gave his father a puzzled expression.
“You,” his father continued, “will be spending the weekend in your room. The entire weekend. Hop Sing will bring you your meals up there. I don’t want you leaving your room even for chores, and while you’re up there I want you to do some serious thinking about the importance of obedience!”
Ben ended his lecture by pointing firmly towards the stairs.
Joe wanted to protest, he hated being cooped up and away from his family. He would much rather take a whipping any day, but he figured his father new that, and that was why he had decided on this torturous form of punishment.
Joe forced himself to walk calmly up the stairs and then, when he was out of sight, stomped into his room, slamming his books on his desk. He kicked at a nearby chair causing it to noisily scrape across the floor.
“Joseph, do I have to come up there?” Pa’s voice bellowed from the floor below.
“Sorry, Pa, just ran into a chair,” he answered cautiously from his open door.
Turning back to his room he quietly shut the door and sat on the edge of his bed. He decided it would be in his best interest to keep any further protests down to a dull roar. Hearing the front door slam a few minutes later, he figured Adam had left the house.
“Dumb Adam,” he thought angrily, “he’s such a big snitch. I was doin’ just fine with those cows until they stampeded. How was I supposed to know the men had just finished rounding them up into that new pasture?”
He huffed loudly as he thought of Adam roughly dragging him into the house by the back of his neck to face Pa, and now he was going to have to spend the whole weekend up here in his room.
“Mitch sure is gonna be mad at me when I don’t show up tomorrow; we’ve been planning our fishin’ trip for weeks.”
Forgetting Pa’s earlier remonstration he yanked off his left boot and threw it across the room. It landed with a loud bang against the far wall, and managed to knock the small mirror hanging there onto the floor with a crash. Wincing, he quickly ran and opened the door to see if he could hear his Pa coming. After what seemed an eternity of silence he finally felt it safe to let out the breath he’d been holding.
“Pa must have gone out,” he thought relieved.
As he knelt on the floor and began carefully picking up the shards of glass, his temper once more began to simmer.
“Adam thinks he’s so smart . . . well, I’ll show him,” he thought.
A sly smile came to his lips as he began to formulate a plan.
Out in the barn a similar scenario was taking place.
“Dang Little Joe,” Adam said in exasperation, kicking a bucket of feed that was sitting on a low stool. As the feed scattered all over the clean barn floor he sighed, realizing all he had accomplished was giving himself yet another task to do. Roughly grabbing a rake he started cleaning up the mess with a vengeance.
“One thing,” he muttered under his breath, “one thing, that’s all I asked him to do this weekend. Just stay away from the south pasture, Joe, that’s all I asked…Aaargghh!!”
Adam threw the rake to the ground as he roared.
“Well, at least I know your brother comes by his temper honestly,” Ben stated walking into the barn.
“I’m sorry Pa,” came Adam’s gruff response, “but you know I’ve spent the last three days out there rounding up those cattle. I finally get them all settled and no more than thirty minutes later, Little Joe has them scattered all over the Ponderosa again.”
Adam folded his arms and turned to face away from his father; he was seething.
“Now, son, calm down,” Ben soothed, “I’ve sent Charlie into town to hire us a few extra hands for the weekend and they’ll see to getting the cattle rounded up again.”
“Pa, I’m perfectly capable of getting the cattle back into that pasture. I plan to get an early start first thing tomorrow morning,” Adam replied, seeming slightly put out.
“Adam, I’m not questioning your abilities,” Ben quickly responded, “I have something else I need you to do this weekend.”
“Oh, what is that, Pa?” Adam asked, now curious.
“Nothing,” was his father’s answer.
“Nothing,” Adam repeated. “What do you mean nothing?”
Ben placed a hand on his son’s shoulder before continuing.
“Well, son, you’ve been working hard lately and I think you could use a break.”
“A break,” Adam repeated again skeptically. Now he knew something was up. Folding his arms across his chest he waited for his father to reveal the real assignment.
“I have to go to Dayton to pick up some new horses for our army contract,” Ben continued, “I’ll probably be gone at least three or four days, and while I’m gone I would appreciate it if you would just stay around the house, you know to keep an eye on things.”
Adam grimaced now coming to a true understanding of why his father wanted him to stay home.
“And is there any chance the “things” you’re wanting me to keep an eye on is a curly haired, green eyed boy, with a penchant for mischief?” Adam queried.
“Well, since you suggest it,” his father answered, “keeping an eye on your younger brother might not be such a bad idea.”
Seeing that Adam was about to protest Ben raised a hand then continued on hastily.
“I’ve already confined him to his room for the weekend, and Hop Sing will be bringing him his meals. You won’t even have to talk him unless you wish to. Now, come on be a good sport, you get to stay around the house for a few days, maybe catch up on some reading, relax.”
Adam gave a bemused smile before stating, “If you really wanted me to have a relaxing weekend, Pa, you would take Joe with you.”
“And let him think he’s getting off with no punishment,” answered Ben, a shocked expression on his face, “What kind of a father would I be if I did that?”
Adam could only shake his head at that last question.
“Pa, did anyone ever tell you you’re sneaky?” Adam said.
As his father raised his eyebrows he quickly added. “Smart, but sneaky.”
Ben laughed and placing an arm around his son’s shoulder the two walked back towards the house.
Things went smoothly for the rest of that evening. Little Joe stayed in his room, Hoss was in the barn most of the evening with a sick cow, and Adam managed to relax enough to practice strumming out a new song on his guitar. Ben left early the next morning, but not before explaining to Joe in no uncertain terms that he was to stay in his room, and exactly what the consequences would be should he choose to ignore his instructions. It was nearly lunchtime before anything started to happen. It all began with the arrival of Mitch, who as Joe had correctly predicated was quite upset that his friend had not shown up at their pre-appointed fishing spot. Finding no one in the yard when he arrived he knocked on the door before entering. Mitch had been over to the Ponderosa so many times that he was hardly even considered a guest anymore.
“Hello,” he called out and the big empty room seemed to echo his greeting, “anybody home?” Mitch took off his hat and scratched his head puzzled. He was just about to turn and leave when he heard a voice calling from upstairs.
“Mitch is that you?” called Little Joe.
“Yeah, it’s me,” he answered.
Recognizing his friends voice he quickly bounded up the stairs, stopping short when he noticed Little Joe peeking just his head out from his bedroom door.
“What’s the matter, you sick or something?” he asked.
“Nah, I got in trouble yesterday thanks to bossy old Adam, and Pa said I have to stay in my room all weekend,” replied Joe.
“The whole weekend?” whined Mitch, “Ah, Joe, what did you go and do this time?”
“Nothin’ worth getting in this much trouble over,” Joe replied.
He put his hands behind his head as he leaned against the inside of his door frame. He wasn’t about to step foot outside his room, with his luck that would be just the moment Adam would show up, and he had no desire to see Pa carry out his threat.
“I was just practicing roping some steers and they kinda spooked a little and ran off,” he finished.
“You were practicing on real cattle, after what your Pa said a couple months ago?” Mitch exclaimed, “You’re lucky your Pa didn’t skin you alive.”
Mitch sighed and then grinned at his friend.
“Do me a favor Little Joe and try to make it in one piece to your next birthday. I’ve already bought your present and I’d hate to have to return it because your Pa had killed you.”
Both boys snickered and then froze as they heard the front door open and then slam shut. When they heard heavy footsteps approaching the stairs Little Joe grabbed Mitch’s arm and practically threw him into the room.
“Quick hide under the bed,” whispered Little Joe as he quickly shut the door.
Mitch scrambled under the bed just before a sharp knock sounded on the door.
“Joe, you in there?” came a frenzied voice.
Joe breathed a sigh of relief, it was only Hoss. Suddenly, feeling angry over his scare he retorted, “Course I’m in here, where else do you think I’d be?”
“Well, excuse me all to pieces,” Hoss replied as he opened the door and walked in, “I just wanted to ask ya if you knew where that special tonic was Hop Sing made for me the time that calf was sick.”
“Oh,” Little Joe calmed down before answering, “it’s up in the hayloft on that beam just above the three knotholes.”
“The hayloft?” Hoss responded puzzled, “What in tarnation is it doin’ up there?”
Little Joe threw his hands into the air before answering.
“Well, you told me to put it somewhere safe, so that’s what I did,” he ranted, “Good grief a fellow gets yelled at even when he does what he’s asked around here.”
“Ok, Little Joe,” Hoss started soothingly, “I was just surprised is all; you did what I asked alright. You know you might want to spend some of your time up here thinkin up some ways to get back on Adam’s good side. He’s still stompin’ around mumbling under his breath; something about having wasted three days of his life just so you could have your thirty minutes of glory.”
Little Joe smirked, “Oh, I’ve got plans for Adam alright; you just leave that to me.”
“Well, you let me know if you need any advice, like for starters you might want to send Mitch on home before Adam catches him up here.”
Mitch sheepishly popped his head out from under the bed and exchanged a worried glance with Little Joe.
“How’d you know I was here?” Mitch asked peering up at Hoss.
Hoss grinned and then responded.
“Well, it wasn’t too hard to figure out seein’ as how your pony is tied up outside and you weren’t nowhere around. You best just take my advice and head on home. Little Joe’s done used up all of Adam’s patience for about the next three months,” he replied.
“Thanks, Hoss, he’ll be leavin’ in just a few minutes.” Little Joe said as he practically shoved Hoss out the door.
He had just had a wonderful idea on getting some help with his plans for revenge on Adam.
“Hey, Mitch,” he started, when he was sure Hoss had gone, “Why don’t you go home and see if your Pa will let you spend the weekend at my house?”
“How am I gonna stay here with you restricted to your room? Adam wouldn’t let me and you know it,” Mitch questioned.
“Adam doesn’t even have to know,” Little Joe responded, “you can leave your pony over by our secret cave, and then sneak up the tree outside my window. I’ve got some big plans for getting back at Adam and I’m gonna need your help.”
During Joe’s explanation Mitch’s eyes had steadily been growing wider and wider.
“Oh, no you don’t,” he exclaimed when Joe paused, “you aren’t draggin’ me into another one of your crazy schemes. I’m just now sitting comfortable again from the results of the last one.”
“The last scheme as you put it,” retorted Little Joe, “I believe was your idea, and you owe me big. If I hadn’t done some pretty fancy talkin those Indians would have scalped us for sure. You’re the one that wanted to trade those fire crackers for a real bow and arrow, instead of just making one ourselves. After they went off I thought for sure those Indians were gonna murder us.”
Mitch spluttered a bit but finally had to concede the point.
“Well, I guess the least I can do is ask my Pa, but if we get caught you better use your fancy talkin to get us out of trouble. School starts up again in just a few weeks and I want to be able to sit without groanin’.”
“You can count on me,” Joe replied excitedly. “Now before you go I’ll give you a list of things to bring back . . .”
Mitch sighed and settled down to listen to Joe go over his list.
Joe waved to Mitch as he headed down the hall. He was just sure that all of his plans would go off without a hitch. If he had learned anything from past incidents he wouldn’t have been so sure of himself, but Little Joe seldom looked to the past. Why waste time worrying about things you can’t change, or things that haven’t happened yet; when today held so much promise?
It was a good four hours later before Little Joe heard the soft knock outside his window. Scrambling to his feet he quickly opened the window to let Mitch inside.
“Here, Joe,” Mitch said breathing heavily, “take this junk.”
Mitch threw a lumpy saddle bag through the window which landed on the floor with a heavy clang.
“Shhh,” cried Little Joe in alarm, “you want us to get caught before we even get started?” He looked towards his closed door in panic.
“Relax,” answered Mitch still out of breath, “Hoss and Adam are way out over by that new pasture, I saw them there as I was heading over here.”
“Oh, well, why didn’t you just come in the front door then and use the stairs, instead of lugging all this stuff up the tree?” Joe asked.
Mitch looked at Little Joe with a dazed expression.
“Dad burn it, Joe, you’ve got me so bent on secret missions and all I just didn’t think of it, that’s why,” he answered.
Little Joe tried hard not to laugh at his friends predicament as he helped pull him in, but by the time he finished hauling Mitch into the room they were both doubled over with laughter.
“Well, Mitch,” Little Joe asked wiping his eyes, “did you get all the stuff on my list?”
“Yep, I sure did,” replied Mitch, “I had a little trouble getting the red dye. My Ma only had one bottle left; I told her we really needed it for an experiment. You won’t need to use the whole thing will ya? She said she wanted me to bring back what was left.”
“No,” Little Joe winked at his friend, “We’ll only need a few drops. Alright now let’s get started before Adam and Hoss get home, we have a lot to do.”
“You mean I have a lot to do, you’re just gonna be sittin’ here in your room while I’m out there riskin’ my neck,” retorted Mitch.
“What do you mean just sittin’ here?” Squeaked Joe, “Somebody has to be the mastermind, you know, do all the planning and given the orders and stuff.”
Little Joe puffed himself up trying his best to look important. “Besides you…”
“I know,” Mitch interrupted, “I owe you. Remind me never to borrow from you again Little Joe, you charge too much interest.”
“Huh?” Little Joe said looking confused, “What are you talkin’ about, Mitch?”
“Never mind,” he replied, “now what is it I’ve gotta’ do first?”
Mitch spent the next hour sneaking around the barn and house setting in motion all of Little Joe’s plans. He was reminded once again of how glad he was that he and Little Joe were on the same side. It was just a little after five o’clock before Joe decided Mitch had better stay in for the night since Hoss and Adam would be back anytime now.
“Hey, Joe,” said Mitch, “What am I gonna do about supper, and where am I gonna sleep?”
Little Joe waved off his friend’s concerns as he went over his checklist once more.
“I’ve got it all figured out,” he answered without looking up, “you eat the first plate Hop Sing brings up, and then I’ll ask for more. Trust me, he’ll be thrilled. Then tonight when everyone’s asleep you can sneak into the pantry and get some food and we’ll stash it up here. You’re gonna have to sleep under the bed, but I’ve got extra blankets.”
Mitch slowly shook his head before responding.
“You know, Joe, you’re about the only person I know that can make a visitor end up feeling like a fugitive from justice. But don’t worry,” he quickly headed off any protests from Joe, “I don’t have near as much fun with anyone else. I’m with you all the way.”
Little Joe glanced quickly at his friend before once again returning to his list. Finally, satisfied that everything was in order he clapped his hands together and with a look of pure devilment on his face said, “Ok, Mitch, all we have to do for the rest of the night is sit back and wait for the fireworks.”
Mitch nodded and managed a weak smile at his friend.
“As long as those fireworks aren’t going off on our backsides by the end of the night, that’ll be good enough for me,” he mumbled.
Adam rode into the yard whistling, Hoss not far behind. Things were going well with the new crew Pa had hired and they should be done rounding up the cattle by tomorrow afternoon, a full day ahead of schedule. He looked towards the house; he had to admit he was impressed that he hadn’t heard a peep out of Little Joe. He didn’t think his father’s threats would have the least effect on Joe, and had fully expected a weekend of whining, chasing, and teenage tantrums.
“Maybe the boy’s finally growing up,” he thought to himself, “or maybe he’s sick? I guess I should go up and check on him a little later.”
Hoss followed Adam into the barn to put up the horses. He for one was more than glad Little Joe was being so cooperative. When Adam and Joe really got going, things could start to escalate out of control pretty fast. In an effort to keep Adam in a good frame of mind he offered to put up his horse for him. Adam had thanked him and headed happily into the house and after giving both horses a good rub down, Hoss left the barn ready for some good cookin’. Riding always gave him such a big appetite. Suddenly, something nudged the back of his shoulder and he quickly turned around, surprised to see Chubb standing behind him.
“Hey,” he yelled out as he noticed Sport making his way behind the barn toward the corral, “come back here. How in tarnation did you two get out?”
Chubb obediently followed his master back to his stall where Hoss carefully checked the latch. It appeared to have been filed down a bit and would no longer latch properly.
“Dad burn it,” Hoss mumbled under who his breath, “who’d go and do a thing like that?”
He had a pretty good idea who it was, but for now he would keep his opinions to himself. He grabbed a rope to tie the stall door shut and keep Chubb in. He knew it wasn’t going to be as easy trying to get Sport back into his stall, and briefly thought about going to get Adam since it was his horse, but decided it would be better to leave Adam out of this particular problem. He didn’t want to start a war between his two stubborn brothers; at least not without Pa there to referee. He quickly grabbed another rope slapping it against his leg and mumbling under his breath as he trotted after his brother’s high spirited mount.
Several hours later, Adam paced up and down the living room floor.
“Where is Hoss?” he worried. When Hoss hadn’t come in for supper Adam had gone to the barn to look for him. The first thing he noticed was that Hoss wasn’t anywhere around, the second thing he noticed was that Sport was also missing.
“What in the world, does he think he’s doing?” he wondered, “he’s too big for my horse and he knows it.”
Adam walked back into the house a bit perturbed; it seemed that Hoss had borrowed his horse for some reason or other.
“Well, no sense in letting the food get cold,” he observed as he took his place.
It was kind of nice eating in peace and quiet for a change.
That had been three hours ago, however, and now Adam had worked himself up into a real worry. He turned suddenly upon hearing the loud clomping of approaching footsteps. As the front door opened he yelled, “It’s about time . . .”
Any other words he had planned on saying died on his lips as he took in his brother’s bedraggled appearance. Hoss was truly a sorry sight, dripping from head to toe with what could only be described as pond slime, he wearily made his way into the house closing the door behind him. He carried one boot in his hand, the other was nowhere to be seen, his shirt was missing a sleeve as well as most of the buttons, and his hat which he had unceremoniously slapped on top of his head was smashed flatter than a pancake.
“Don’t ask,” he spoke to Adam’s open-mouthed gaping figure, “all I want is a bath, some hot food, and bed.”
Adam badly wanted to ask about his horse, but giving Hoss’s current expression, at least the little bit of expression he could see through the gunk, quickly made him change his mind. He decided on the safer route of going out to the barn to check on the horse himself. Hopefully, Sport would be in better shape than his brother appeared to be in. Adam cautiously slipped around Hoss and out the door, closing it softly behind him.
“Hop Sing,” bellowed Hoss from the doorway, “I need you!”
Hop Sing entered the room and upon seeing Hoss’s condition immediately reverted to his native language, loudly protesting, and waving around a soggy dish rag. After a few moments of ranting he managed to get out enough English for Hoss to understand.
“You go outside around back way to wash house, you no tromp through Hop Sing’s clean house.”
Hoss glared at this statement then, giving a dramatic sigh, threw his hands into the air and turned and walked out of the house, leaving Hop Sing to his fit of frustration.
After Hop Sing had sufficiently calmed down he finally brought Hoss enough hot water to deliver about a dozen babies and a handful of towels. Hoss had tossed his drenched and now smelly clothes into the laundry bucket near the door, and slowly lowered himself into the wonderfully soothing water.
“Ahh, that’s more like it,” he thought to himself.
The bath continued to work wonders on his mood and he was soon back to his old placid self. He noticed a bottle of Adam’s hair tonic sitting on a shelf with the soap. Adam had traded one of the local Indian tribes some blankets in exchange for the hair tonic. It was supposed to make your hair smell good and make it extra shiny. Adam usually only used it when he was going on a date. Grabbing the bottle, he opened it and tentatively sniffed at the contents.
“Not bad,” he thought, “kinda like peppermint.”
He knew Adam didn’t like his things being used without permission, but after the evening he’d just had he figured Adam owed him, and he poured some of the contents into his hand.
“That’s peculiar,” he made a face at the slippery substance, “never seen red soap before.”
He shrugged figuring the Indians knew what they were doing when it came to keeping hair. He poured some more of the liquid into his hand and liberally applied it to his head, then generously massaged it into his scalp, enjoying the tingling sensation it produced. He decided to let it sit for a bit as he soaked. In the dim light of the lantern Hoss didn’t notice the water turning a light shade of pink, and the strong, homemade lye soap managed to get any traces of red off his hands, so a short time later it was a very unsuspecting Hoss that made his way in for a late supper.
Adam having thoroughly checked over Sport and finding him no worse for wear, decided he might as well take care of the stock for the night. After finishing this task he headed back to the house. Wiping his boots on the mat provided by Hop Sing he opened the door and began humming a merry tune. He tossed his hat on the credenza and stepped around the corner figuring he would find Hoss at the table eating by now. He stopped dead in his tracks at the scene before him. Hoss was sitting at the table happily eating the supper Hop Sing had heated for him, acting for all the world as if everything were normal. Adam glanced over toward the kitchen and noticed Hop Sing standing quietly, just staring as Hoss ate.
“What are you two starin’ at?” Hoss asked, “ain’t you ever seen no one eat before?”
“Well, Hoss,” Adam cleared his throat to prevent himself from laughing, “it’s not your eating that’s unusual.”
“What are you talkin’ about, Adam?” Hoss was now growing impatient.
“Well, it’s uh . . . you know the top of your uh . . .” Adam gestured towards Hoss’s hair.
“Adam, are you sure you’re feelin’ alright? You’re actin’ a bit strange,” he questioned.
“Hoss,” Adam managed to squeak out, barely able to control his laughter, “go look in the mirror.”
“What?” Hoss questioned.
“Go look in the mirror,” Adam repeated.
“Now?” Hoss was exasperated. “Of the all the dang . . .”
Adam lost track of what Hoss was saying as he watched him walk up the stairs to his bedroom. He walked over to his father’s red leather chair and leaned heavily on the back waiting for the inevitable. He didn’t have to wait long. He was sure Hoss’s yell could be heard clear to Virginia City. His body shook with silent laughter as he waited for Hoss to come back down the stairs.
Hoss descended the stairs with a fire in his eyes to match the color of his hair.
“Adam,” he exclaimed loudly, “look at my hair, you and your dad burned tonic. What am I gonna do?”
Adam perked up at the mention of his tonic.
“You used some of my hair tonic, without asking?” he snapped.
“I figured you owed it to me,” ranted Hoss, “after I spent the whole dad blamed evening out chasin’ your horse through that stinkin’ swamp. Didn’t think it would be too much trouble for you to let me use just a bit. I can’t figure why it turned my hair red, it aint never done that to yours.”
Hoss flopped into a nearby chair running a hand through his hair.
“I look like a dad blamed candle with a flame lighted on top of my head,” he whined.
Adam having now processed Hoss’s information had come to a few conclusions.
“Hoss my tonic wouldn’t have turned your hair red without…” he began.
“What do you mean it wouldn’t turn my hair red?” Hoss interrupted, “just look at it, Adam!”
“Now calm down and let me finish,” Adam replied, “I was saying that my tonic wouldn’t have turned your hair red without a little help from someone.”
“You mean someone did somethin’ to it so’s this would happen?” he questioned.
A slow dawning realization was coming over Hoss.
“Why that little . . . I’ll skin him alive!” Hoss said as he jumped up and headed for the stairs.
“Hoss wait!” Adam ran over laying a restraining hand on his furious brother’s shoulder, “He’ll be sound asleep by now.”
“Well he’s about to wake up!” Hoss shouted toward the top of the stairs.
“Shhh,” Adam tried to quiet Hoss.
“Look, I’ll do what I can for your hair, but you leave Little Joe to me. Pa told me to keep an eye on him so he’s my responsibility,” Adam said.
“Well, you sure aint been doin’ much of a job so far,” Hoss said, then looked at Adam desperately, “Can you really do somethin’ about my hair?”
“Come up to my room and I’ll see what we can do,” replied Adam.
The boys headed up the stairs leaving a very quiet, very confused cook behind them.
“Mr. Cartwright better come home quick,” Hop Sing muttered, “or Hop Sing go back to China.”
A half hour later Adam stood back and let Hoss observe the final product.
“It looks terrible,” Hoss whined.
“That’s as short as I can get it with these scissors,” replied Adam, “Now, if you want me to just shave it all off…”
“No, no,” came Hoss’s quick response as he lifted his hands in surrender, “I guess this will have to do. I just hope no one sees me.”
Hoss suddenly turned pale and whipped around to face Adam.
“Dad burn it, Adam, I just remembered I’m suppose to go in to town tomorrow to pick up those supplies for Pa. I can’t let no one see me like this,” he said.
“Relax, Hoss,” Adam replied calmly, “your hair’s so short now that as long as you keep your hat on no one will notice that it’s red.”
“You sure?” Hoss questioned, then again panicked as another thought struck him, “Supposin’ I meet a gal? I can’t take my hat off with this hair!”
“You’ll just have to be sure to avoid any girls,” Adam responded coolly, “Now I have to go out for a little while. I won’t be back for at least a couple of hours so don’t wait up for me.”
“Where you goin’, Adam?” Hoss called after him, “it’s getting’ late.”
“Nothing you need to worry about,” he answered, “You get some sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.”
Hoss wearily made his way to his room. How could so many things go wrong in just one day? After a few moments he gave a loud “Hmph!” He knew exactly how things could go so wrong. He glared angrily at Little Joe’s door for a moment and then turned back to his room.
“Guess I can wait to pound him till tomorrow.”
The thought cheered him slightly; that is until he opened his bedroom door. A chilling breeze instantly greeted him as he made his way into his room. He gawked, looking around and surveying the damage. Papers from the top of his dresser were strewn all over the floor, a fresh layer of dirt lay over the top of everything, and his floor and bed were covered in leaves and pine needles. He quickly sized up the situation. Someone had taken the glass panes out of his window, and he knew exactly who that someone was.
“Little Joe!” He yelled making his way towards his brother’s room, “you got about three seconds to high tail it out your window cause when I get in there-”
He paused as he heard a loud scraping sound followed by a dull thud coming from the inside of Joe’s door.
“What’s goin’ on in there?” Hoss asked, as he reached out and turned the door handle.
He was startled to find the door wouldn’t budge. The sound of more scraping along with a few more thuds brought him to the realization that his brother was moving his furniture in front of the door.
“Little brother, if you think that’s gonna stop me, you’ve got another thing coming,” he thought to himself.
A few minutes later Hop Sing down in his own room decided it was probably safe to come out. He had quickly high tailed it under the bed when the thunderous sounds of a bed, a dresser, a desk, and two terrified teenage boys had gone careening across the floor of the room above him. Without another moment’s hesitation he began packing his bags for China.
Back upstairs Mitch huddled in a corner of Joe’s room watching in horror what he was sure was going to be the death of his best friend. Hoss had literally lifted Joe off the floor by the front of his nightshirt and had him pinned against the wall. Little Joe was drawing on every ounce of smooth talk he could muster.
“Now Hoss, Mitch didn’t realize it was your room he took the window panes out of, he thought it was Adam’s . . . Hoss not so tight I can’t breathe . . .You know Mitch has never been in either of your rooms and . . . really Hoss your holding too tight. I can’t get enough air . . . Mitch and I would never do anything to you; you know you’re my favorite brother . . . Hoss, Hoss, really I can’t breathe. ”
Hoss relaxed his grip a little seeing that his brother was starting to turn an odd shade of purple.
“Joe, because of you,” he sputtered furiously, “I’ve spent half the day in a swamp trying to get out of a bog I fell into while fetching Adam’s horse, my room looks like the inside of a barn, and my hair could be used to light the way in a snowstorm! Now, I don’t know what else you got planned for Adam, but you better just unplan it, or I’m personally gonna turn you inside out! You got it?”
Little Joe nodded vigorously. At this moment he was only too happy to comply with Hoss’s wishes.
Hoss set Joe down on the ground none to gently then, without saying another word, he turned and marched into his bedroom, slamming the door shut behind him.
Little Joe and Mitch stayed unmoving for several minutes, afraid that Hoss might come back.
Finally, Mitch spoke, “Joe, I think I’ve done paid you back by now. I really should be getting on home in the morning.”
He looked pleadingly at his friend. Little Joe having come to the conclusion that his plans for revenge were not working out so good, decided to let Mitch off the hook, and with only one day left of his restriction he no longer had the desire to push the limits.
“That’s okay, Mitch, you go ahead,” Little Joe answered.
Mitch breathed a sigh of relief and both boys set to work getting the room back in order.
Around midnight that night at the same time Hop Sing slipped out the back door Adam quietly slipped in through the front door each carrying a sack over their shoulder. Up the stairs Little Joe, Mitch, and Hoss unaware of what was taking place below them were all fast asleep.
The next morning, Adam skipped cheerfully down the stairs. He wanted to get an early start on all his work for the day, so that he would have time to put together his plan for Little Joe. He was surprised to see that the table wasn’t set and he couldn’t smell anything cooking.
“Hop Sing,” he called out as he entered the kitchen.
Sure enough there was no food on the stovetop.
“That’s strange,” he thought.
Glancing around the kitchen he saw a note lying on top of the table. He quickly picked it up and scanned over the brief message.
“Great, just great!” He lamented.
After a moment, he began rummaging through the pantry. He figured he’d better have something cooked up by the time Hoss woke up. It would be hard enough to break the news to him that Hop Sing was gone even with some breakfast as a peace offering. He had just finished setting out the slightly undercooked potatoes when Hoss wandered over to the table. Hoss was sniffling and his eyes were red and puffy. He gave a gigantic sneeze before dropping heavily into his chair.
“Ohhhhh,” Hoss groaned.
“What’s the matter with you?” Adam asked concerned. He knew Hoss hated being sick and he definitely appeared to be coming down with something.
“Just a little too much fresh air last night I guess,” Hoss replied sarcastically.
“I keep telling you to shut your window at night, maybe now you’ll listen to me,” Adam scolded.
“Yeah, I’ll try to remember that,” came his raspy response.
Hoss reached for the eggs and it was then he noticed something was not quite right.
“Hey, what is this?” He questioned, “Who cooked this, and where’s Hop Sing?”
Hoss’s voice had now risen to a state of near panic.
“Calm down, Hoss,” Adam said soothingly, “It seems Hop Sing got a little tired of all the shenanigans going on around here and . . . well he . . . that is . . . ” Adam trailed off helplessly. The pitiful look on Hoss’s face was almost too much for him.
“You’re not sayin’ he’s gone are you?” Hoss asked gulping loudly.
Adam could only nod his head.
“I’m sure he’ll be back. Pa should be home by tomorrow night and he’ll see that everything gets worked out,” Adam tried to reassure him.
Hoss did not look convinced but he began eating the rubbery eggs, and even took a couple of pieces of burnt toast.
“I guess I should bring something up to Joe,” Adam said when they were almost done eating.
“I’ll do that,” snapped Hoss, “I have a few things I want to say to him anyway.”
“Well, have it your way,” replied Adam, “just remember you have to go into town today and pick up those supplies.”
Hoss groaned, “Ah, Adam, can’t you go for me. I’m not feelin’ good. I’ll stay here and do the chores.” Suddenly remembering his hair he added, “Besides, I don’t think I can get away with wearin’ my hat indoors and such.” He gave Adam a pleading look.
“I’m sorry, Hoss,” Adam said, “but I have to ride up and check on the logging crew today. We’re getting ready to build that new shoot and I have to finalize the plans with the foreman.”
Hoss gave a resigned sigh before bringing his dishes into the kitchen, he had a feeling it was going to be another one of those days.
Hoss gave a sharp knock on Little Joe’s door and then entered.
“I’ve brought you your breakfast,” he said, roughly setting down the tray on Joe’s desk, “I think you should know that Hop Sing has gone, thanks to all your pranks, so there won’t be much in the way of eatin’ for awhile.”
Little Joe glanced down at the tray.
“Bread and water?” He squeaked.
One look at Hoss’s bright red nose and puffy eyes was enough to silence any further protests from Little Joe, however.
“Uh, thanks for bringin’ it up,” He stated quietly.
Hoss rode into town using as many of the side streets as possible, and entered the livery through the back door. He didn’t expect their order of horseshoes to be ready until next week, but he had a plan for Jimmy, the boy who swept out the stables. He was relieved to see the young boy entering through the front door, alone.
“Psst,” Hoss motioned Jimmy over to him, “How’d you like to earn a silver dollar, Jimmy?”
The young boy’s eyes shone brightly at the generous offer, and he eagerly nodded his head. Hoss handed him a slip of paper, which contained his list and signature authorizing the boy to gain the supplies at the local mercantile.
“Now,” Hoss told the boy, “there’s two bags of candy on that list. You do a real good job and don’t tell no one where I am and one of those bags is yours.”
Jimmy seemed more pleased by the offer of candy than the money, “I’ll be real careful, Hoss, I promise.” With that the young boy ran out the door to fulfill his duties.
Hoss’s cold was getting worse as the morning progressed. He briefly thought about going to see Doc Martin for a tonic, but didn’t want to risk running into anyone. He slowly sank down into a pile of freshly spread straw in one of the empty stalls. By the time Jimmy got back with Hoss’s packages, the livery was shaking with Hoss’s loud snoring.
Jimmy giggled as he observed Hoss with his mouth wide open. He grabbed a piece of straw and lightly tickled Hoss’s nose. Hoss brushed at the straw and slowly opened his eyes.
“What . . . oh, hey, Jimmy. You back already?” Hoss asked, wiping the sleep from his eyes.
A moment later Mrs. Watkins, the wife of the livery stable owner, stormed in. She had heard Hoss’s snoring, and with her husband momentarily out at the blacksmiths, she had gone to investigate. She rounded the corner just as Hoss, who had been getting up, let out a monstrous sneeze. Not expecting to encounter anyone, she gave a slight scream, which startled Hoss. He jumped back causing his hat to fall off. Mrs. Watkins gave another scream as she caught sight of Hoss’s bright red hair.
Hoss reached out to try and calm her.
“Let me explain,” he started.
Mrs. Watkins instinctively took a step back from Hoss’s outstretched arms, and nearly tripped over Jimmy who had been standing nearby wide eyed. Hoss managed to grab onto her before she hit the floor, and it was to this scene that Mr. Watkins entered the barn. He had heard his wife’s scream as he approached the stables, and had come on the run. He charged over to Hoss and without a word removed his wife from his hold, and delivered a solid left hook to Hoss’s right cheek.
“Yeow, now, Mr. Watkins, hang on just a dad burned minute,” was all Hoss managed to get out before Mr. Watkins followed through with a quick right hitting Hoss squarely in the mouth.
“Henry!” Mrs. Watkins screeched, “stop that fighting this instant! Hoss was only trying to keep me from falling. I got startled is all.”
She tried to look severely at her husband, but secretly she was pleased that he had so passionately come to her rescue.
“Hoss, what in the world are you doing in here?” She questioned.
Hoss rubbed his mouth tenderly then moved his hand to hold it over his aching eye.
“As you can see I had a little accident with my hair,” he explained, “and I didn’t want anyone in town to notice me, so I stayed here and had Jimmy go and fetch my supplies for me. Dad burn it, Henry, you pack a mean punch!”
“I’m sorry, Hoss,” Charlie said, “when I heard Mattie scream, I just reacted before I took time to think. By the way, what did happen to your hair?”
“Never mind, Charlie, never mind,” muttered Hoss.
He gathered his packages from Jimmy and loaded them in his saddle bag. After giving Jimmy his money and the candy, he gingerly mounted Chubb and headed for home. All the while muttering under his breath.
“I told Adam I didn’t want to go into town today, but no, just gotta have those supplies . . . dad burn it!”
Back at the ranch Adam added a few spices to the stew for supper, then sniffing the contents he grimaced. He hadn’t known what each spice was as he added it, but individually they had smelled pretty good.
“I guess they don’t mix too well,” he thought and gagged as he tasted his creation, “Well, I’m pretty sure they’re a few more jars of Hop Sing’s homemade ketchup somewhere around here.”
He scooted bottles and jars around until he found one containing the red substance. He’d have to be sure to tell Hoss to mix a good amount of it with his stew. Adam decided, for himself, to just go with bread and some cheese.
About half hour later Hoss entered the house and started to yell for Hop Sing, but then remembered that Hop Sing was gone. He tried to sniff the air to see if he could decipher what Adam was making for supper, but his nose was too stuffed up. Rounding the corner, he was glad to see that at least everything was all set out on the table. He hadn’t been able to get anything to eat in town between everything that had happened, and he was starving. He could hear Adam whistling in the kitchen and as he sat down at the table he scooped out a generous portion of the stew. He made a face figuring it was probably going to be pretty bad. Hoss looked around the table for some bread and was pleased when he spotted a bottle of Hop Sing’s ketchup on the table. He added a liberal amount to his stew, then taking a large bite, he swallowed almost without chewing. Suddenly, tears started pouring from his eyes and he opened his mouth and gasped. Desperately he began a futile attempt to put the fire in his mouth out by fanning it with his hand.
Hoss had just finished gulping down his water when Adam walked in from the kitchen holding the bread plate. He quickly motioned to Adam for more water. Adam handed him the water pitcher and stood back in amazement as Hoss chugged the whole thing. After a moment Hoss looked up through watery eyes and gasped, “Why didn’t you tell me that was hot sauce?”
“Hot sauce?” Adam answered. “I thought it was ketchup. Sorry about that.”
Hoss no longer felt like eating and was pretty sure he was getting at least one blister on his tongue. He sniffed and found that on the plus side his sinus’s had cleared considerably.
“Hoss,” Adam asked hesitantly, “Did you get into a fight in town today? Your eye looks terrible and that cut on your lip looks like it could use a little doctoring.”
Hoss glared at Adam from across the table.
“No Adam,” came his menacing response, “I didn’t get into a fight.” He breathed deeply trying to calm himself before continuing.
“I really don’t want to talk about it right now. I’m goin’ up to bed. Goodnight.” Hoss headed up the stairs grabbing a couple of extra blankets, since he hadn’t had time to repair his window yet.
Adam watched after Hoss for a moment, then finished off his bread and cheese, washing it down with a cup of hot black coffee. After clearing the table, he decided it was time to start putting his plan into action. Entering the kitchen he got out the sack he had hidden in one of the cupboards last night. He had spent a couple of hours the night before carefully collecting all the ingredients he would need to make the world’s nastiest smelling stink bomb. He had encased the horrible smelling concoction inside of a very thick paper cone that he had hardened by dipping it in a paste made from flour. There was a very short fuse and just enough gun powder woven in to cause the cone to burst and spread the foul odor. He planned to roll it into Joe’s room while he was sleeping, and then wait and watch for Joe to make a quick exit. He then planned to confront Joe with a stern lecture on the wrong’s of seeking vengeance and give him a long list of chores that would keep him busy most of the next day.
About an hour later Joe was in his room under the bed reading his latest dime novel “The Stagecoach Bombing”. He had managed to keep himself content on his last day of solitude with the book, and was on the final chapter now. Adam had checked in on him a short time ago and he had pretended to be asleep. After Adam left he rolled quietly to the floor and under the bed where he lit a candle to read his book by. Of course, lighting candles after bed, not to mention under it, was strictly forbidden, but he just had to find out how Sgt. Watley was going to catch the bomber. His mind was thoroughly wrapped up in mystery and intrigue as Adam slowly opened the door and rolled in the bomb. Little Joe turned as he heard something move along the floor, seeing what to his mind was a bomb, he quickly reacted the way the Sgt. had in chapter three. In an impressively swift move he swept out from under the bed, scooped up the bomb, and rushing to the door flung it open, and rolled the bomb out the door into the hall. According to chapter three the bomb should explode catching the perpetrator with his own weapon. However, the bomb continued to roll, right under Hoss’s door. Adam who had watched all this happen in amazement quickly came alive and ran for Hoss’s door. He had almost made it there when he heard a soft “poof”, and he knew it was too late.
“What in tarnation?” Hoss thundered, as he quickly exited his room, slamming the door shut behind him.
He turned toward Little Joe with an almost maniacal gleam in his eye.
“I warned you what I would do if you didn’t quit with your pranks,” he said, advancing menacingly on the now petrified Little Joe.
“Hoss, wait!” Adam moved to intercede, “It wasn’t Little Joe . . . it was me . . . I was trying to teach Joe a lesson.”
Hoss turned on Adam, “You were gonna teach him a lesson by setting off a stink bomb in my room.” he roared.
“Hoss, please,” Adam begged, “It was an accident. Now, look you’re sick and over tired. Why don’t you just go and get some sleep and everything will look better in the morning.”
“Yeah, Hoss,” chimed in Little Joe, “and with no glass in the window, your room should be aired out by morning.”
This remark earned Little Joe a hard glare from Hoss, and a puzzled frown from Adam.
“All right,” said Hoss, “I’m gonna go sleep in the spare room, and don’t either of you wake me up tomorrow until Pa gets home.”
Both Adam and Little Joe shifted uncomfortably as they thought of what Pa would say when he found out what they’d been up to. Adam could just see the chores piling up and Little Joe was sure he wouldn’t be sitting easily for quite awhile.
As one the three brothers turned and headed towards their various places of rest. Little Joe was just about to enter his room when a he sudden thought occurred to him.
“Hoss, don’t!” Little Joe turned and yelled, but to no avail.
Joe had forgotten about the booby traps Mitch had set up in the spare room. They had figured Adam would be sleeping in there with no glass in his window, and had laid a few traps for him.
A loud crash was heard as a bucket of slop spilled onto Hoss’s head from above the door, and then crashed to the floor. He staggered forward and Little Joe watched in dismay as Hoss slipped on the marbles that had been spread across the room. Hoss’s feet went flying out from under him and he landed with a heavy bang on the hard wooden floor.
Both Adam and Little Joe exchanged remorseful glances as they listened to the pitiful sounds emitting from the spare room. They hated to hear a grown man cry.
It was around one o’clock in the morning before Doc Martin took his leave. The final verdict was that Hoss had a bad head cold, a black eye and split lip, which the doctor had had to put two stitches into. On top of that he had a slight concussion and a sprained ankle. The doctor left Adam with strict instructions that Hoss was to stay in bed for at least a week. He needed lots of rest, plenty of liquids, and some good wholesome meals. Adam thanked the Doc for coming and saw him to the door. Between he and Little Joe they had managed to get Hoss into the downstairs guest bedroom and had wiped away most of the goop. Adam very quietly checked on Hoss one last time and was relieved to see him sound asleep. He was sure the doctor had given him something to help out in that area. He slowly made his way across the room towards Little Joe, who had fallen asleep in his father’s chair. As he gazed down at the sleeping picture of innocence, he chuckled lightly.
“How could such a little trouble maker look so angelic?” He thought to himself.
Adam gently shook Joe’s shoulder. “Joe, it’s time to go to bed. I’m afraid you’re getting a little too big for me to carry.”
Adam helped Joe up to bed, and before leaving turned to him.
“Little Brother,” he said softly, “I think you and I need to call a truce, if there’s any hope for Hoss’s survival that is.”
Little Joe mumbled something incoherent in reply as Adam silently left the room. Tomorrow was going to be an interesting day.
As Adam had predicted the next day was indeed interesting. Little Joe had gotten up very early, partly to make Hoss some breakfast and partly because he was ecstatic to finally be out of his room. Adam joined Joe in the kitchen and together they managed to make a fairly decent stack of pancakes for their invalid brother. Squaring their shoulders they decided to go in as a team to meet their fate.
Little Joe carefully set the tray on the nightstand beside Hoss, then took a few steps back towards his eldest brother.
Hoss looked over at the tray, said, “Looks good,” in a croaky voice, then bent his head to continue writing.
Adam was interested as he watched Hoss writing in a small notebook; he cleared his throat softly not wanting to seem intrusive, but curious none the less.
Hoss finished his writing, and snapped the book shut handing it over to Adam.
Adam opened the book and scanned the first page, quickly flipping to the second, and then a third.
“What’s this?” he asked casually.
“That,” Hoss began, “is what you and Little Joe are going to be doing for me for the next week.”
Adam gave him a bewildered expression, so Hoss continued.
“I’m assuming neither one of you wants Pa to find out about what went on this weekend?” After both of his brothers answered in the affirmative he went on, “Well, I just might tell him that what happened to my face was a misunderstanding in town, which was technically true, and that my sprained ankle was due to my falling down, also true. I won’t have to explain my hair cause as you can see whatever that stuff was that spilled on my head last night caused the dye to come clean out. So, as long as you boys get everything done on that there list, I don’t see any reason Pa has to know anything else.”
Adam gave a low whistle as he again glanced over the list.
“Some of these things on here aren’t going to be easy,” Adam stated as he handed the book over to Joe.
Joe looked over the list his eyes growing wide. He looked up at Adam and the two seemed to come to a silent understanding. As bad as Hoss’s list was, it was much better than having to face Pa.
“Alright,” Adam said, “We’ll do it. I better get going then if I’m gonna be able to get number one on the list done before Pa gets home.”
Little Joe read the item next to number one again.
1. Find Hop Sing and bring him home!
Little Joe gave the book back to Hoss and turned to go also, he too was going to have a busy day. With Adam going after Hop Sing, he would have to do all the chores by himself and then he had to clean up Hoss’s room, replace the window panes, and put some new latches on the stall door out in the barn. Well, at least he wouldn’t be stuck in his room anymore.
When both brothers had gone Hoss plumped up his pillows and, sitting up, grabbed the tray of pancakes, digging in with a relish. He smiled slowly to himself as he thought of all the things Adam and Joe were going to be doing for him over the next week. Of course, he would never really tell on his brothers, but they didn’t have to know that.
Other Stories by this Author
- Wells and Wishes (by bahj)
- Moby Duck (by bahj)
- The Miss Adventures of Little Joe Cartwright (by bahj)
- The Contest (by bahj)
- The Garden’s Secret (by bahj)