Summary: After learning the contents of his father’s will, Hoss’ behavior changes radically.
Rating: K (3,313 words)
Hoss and Adam Cartwright sat next to one another on a fallen log, finishing their lunch. They’d spent the morning chopping trees, and were delighted at the chance of a break-even if the food wasn’t quite what they might have hoped.
Hoss took another bite of his sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. “One thing you can say for your cookin’ Adam. It’s a good workout for the jaw muscles.”
Adam snorted. “Like yours is any better.”
“At least I don’t wander away and start reading a book when I’m in the middle of cookin’ a meal so’s everything turns out burnt. Wish Hop Sing hadn`t gone to Frisco with Pa.”
“Well, it’s Joe’s turn to cook tonight. Maybe he can satisfy Your Royal Highness’ tum. Not that you seemed bothered by the meal last night. It’s a wonder we have anything left for lunch, the way you were putting it away.”
“I was just tryin’ to get rid of it, so we wouldn’t be saddled with it as leftovers today.”
The two grinned at one another as they finished their break.
“Suppose we ought to get back at it,” Adam commented without enthusiasm.
“Ahh…come on, Adam. Just a little longer. It ain’t like Pa’s around to ask us how much we got done.”
“The point of things, Hoss, is that the ranch is supposed to run in his absence the same as if he were here. We shouldn’t let things slide.”
Hoss looked thoughtfully at his older brother. “Hey, Adam. What’ll happen when Pa really is gone?”
Adam looked at him blankly. “What do you mean when Pa is really gone? He’s really gone now. He’s in San Francisco.”
“No. I mean, what happens when he kicks it?”
Adam looked appalled. “You mean, when he dies?”
“What on earth made you bring that up?”
“Dunno. Just occurred to me, I reckon.”
Adam frowned. “Well, if Pa dies, the title of the Ponderosa goes into a secured holding. I get my section over near the lake, you get Hoss Heaven, of course, and Joe’s section is held in trust for him until next year when he turns twenty-one. But most of it stays as a holding with me as head.”
Hoss scowled. “Well, how come you get to decide what happens with all of it? Shouldn’t everything be split three ways? That seems more fair.”
“It’s to keep future generations from carving it up. Assuming Pa manages to shove us three down the aisle one of these days.”
“Well, I still don’t think that’s fair,” Hoss grumped. “And anyway, what would happen if you died, too?”
“Aren’t you full of cheery thoughts today.”
“Well, it ain’t like you don’t run into trouble now and again. Remember when that Drummund fella took you hostage? Held a gun right to your head.”
“Yes, thank you,” Adam said dryly, “I do recall that occurrence. But I appreciate your bringing it up, just the same. Wouldn’t want to forget such a pleasant incident.”
“I’m just sayin’…”
“Look, if I croak before Pa, or at the same time, then you control everything except Joe’s section. It’s all spelled out in our wills. Can we change the subject now, please?”
“What if everyone dies but one of us?”
“Everything goes to the survivor, of course. Now if we could get off this morbid subject, I would greatly appreciate it.”
“Sometimes you’re awful crabby, Adam,” Hoss observed.
“Gee, I wonder why that would be. And during such a pleasant conversation, too. Come on. Let’s get back to work.”
They rose, and taking their axes in hand, began again working on felling the large tree.
That night after a highly indigestible meal prepared by Little Joe, Adam strolled outside to read on the front porch. When Joe had finished lackadaisically washing the dishes, he wandered out into the great room and found Hoss staring in abject fascination at the map of the Ponderosa that hung on the wall behind the desk. He heard Hoss mumbling softly.
“What’ya say Hoss?”
Hoss jumped as if startled, and turned to his little brother. “Huh?”
“What were you saying? Sounded like ‘Someday it’s all gonna be mine’.”
“No, no, no. Don’t be silly. I said ‘Someday it’s all gonna be fine.”
Joe gave him a blank look. “What’s gonna be fine?”
Hoss waved towards the map in a vague sort of way. “Well, you know. The Ponderosa and such.”
“What’s the matter with it?”
“The Ponderosa. If you say it’s gonna be fine one day, there must be something wrong with it now.”
“Oh, well, you know…”
Joe looked at his brother strangely. “You feelin’ all right, Hoss?”
“Sure I’m feelin’ all right.” Suddenly a crafty, speculative look appeared on Hoss’ face. “How you feelin’ Little Joe?”
“Me? I’m fine. Heck, I’m always fine.”
“Yeah, always have been. But you never know about these things. Sometimes people never been sick a day in their lives. Then suddenly they start feelin’ sorta poorly, and they next thing you know they’ve popped off. Odd how that can happen.”
Joe stared at his brother with wide eyes, and didn’t respond.
Hoss relaxed and a smile crossed his face. “Wanna play checkers?”
Joe jumped and backed towards the door, never taking his eyes off his brother. “Uh, no, Hoss. No, I got somethin’ I gotta do. Outside. In the barn. Alone.”
He turned and practically fled, slamming the door shut behind him.
On the porch Adam turned at the sound of the door, and saw his little brother hurrying towards him.
“Can’t you ever shut a door quietly, Joe? You about gave me heart failure.”
Joe slid into an empty seat beside Adam.
“You noticed anything strange about Hoss?”
Adam considered carefully. “No more than usual. And he’s never as strange as you.”
“This is serious, Adam. I just saw him staring at the map.”
“Oh, then by all means, in that case, let’s have him committed.”
“He was talking to himself.”
“Wish I was talking to myself.”
“You don’t understand. It’s what he was saying.”
“Well, what was he saying?”
“I didn’t quite catch it. He told me he said ‘someday this is all gonna be fine’.”
Adam shrugged. “All right, I admit that comment is sort of odd. But it’s about a thousand times more logical than half the stuff that comes out of your mouth.”
“But see, I don’t think that’s really what he said. I think he said ‘someday this is all gonna be mine’. And then he started asking me if I felt all right and how you never know when someone’s gonna croak. Adam, do you think he’s plannin’ to kill me?”
Adam snorted and looked at Joe is exasperation. “When are you going to get a handle on that overactive imagination of yours? This is Hoss we’re talking about. He doesn’t even kill bugs if he can avoid it. Why would he kill you?”
“To get my share of the Ponderosa, of course. He obviously wants it all for himself.”
“Well, why you? Why not kill Pa and me? He knows the Ponderosa belongs to Pa now, and after he dies, control of the majority of it comes to me. And before you say it, yes, I know quite well that he’s aware of that, as we were just talking about it this afternoon…” Adam trailed off, and suddenly looked uncertainly at his little
“See? He’s just startin’ with me. Then it’ll be you. Then Pa. I mean it, Adam, Hoss is gonna kill us!”
The look of uncertainty vanished from Adam’s face. “Forget it, Joe. This is Hoss. I can’t believe I’m even listening to you and your ridiculous notions. Now go away, and let me read.”
Just then the door opened, and Hoss strolled out. “What’re you fellers doing?” he asked.
“Reading,” Adam answered.
“Joe ain’t readin’,” Hoss pointed out.
“I was reading to him.”
“Oh yeah? What’cha readin’?
Joe attempted to look as though the idea of listening to Adam recite Shakespeare filled him with unfettered delight.
“Well, go on readin’. I like Shakespeare,” Hoss announced.
Adam’s eyebrow shot up. “Since when?”
“I admit I didn’t much care for it in school. But I’ve sorta looked through some of your books lately. Shakespeare’s pretty fine. Say, did you ever notice there’s a lot of killin’ in his stuff?”
Adam and Joe glanced at one another and then stared blankly at their brother.
“Yep. Take Hamlet fer example. Or that Macbeth feller. People just droppin’ like flies in them plays. People think someone’s a friend, and next thing you know, they’re stabbin’ you or poisonin’ you, or something. Good stuff.”
Hoss smiled cheerfully at his brothers. “Well, you fellers enjoy your readin. I’m off to bed.”
He strolled back in the house, leaving Adam and Joe gaping at one another in stunned silence.
Adam was a notoriously light sleeper, so it was no surprise that at the slight noise in his bedroom he awoke instantly. He opened his eyes to the sight of Hoss standing over his bed, holding a straight razor in his hand. Adam shot out of bed so fast it was almost impossible to follow his movement. He ended up in the corner, staring wide-eyed at his night-shirted brother.
“What are you doing, Hoss?”
Hoss grinned his gap-toothed grin at him. “Came to borrow your razor.”
“In the middle of the night?”
“Well, I was up, so I thought…”
“What’s the matter with your razor?”
Hoss’ grin widened. “I like yours.”
Adam stared. After a long pause he said, “I guess you can borrow it. Go ahead and take it back to your room.”
“You should get back in bed, Adam. You’ll catch cold standing there.”
“Take the razor and go back to your room, Hoss.”
“Sometimes a cold can even turn into pneumonia. Boy, then you’ve had it.”
“Take the razor and go back to your room, Hoss.”
“Yep. One day you’re fine, the next day you’ve got pneumonia, and then you’re pushin’ up the daisies.”
“Take the razor and go back to your room, Hoss.”
Hoss grinned at his brother a little longer, and then turned and left. Adam stood still for a long moment, then moved rapidly to the door and did something he didn’t recall ever having done before. He bolted his door.
The next day Adam rousted Joe out of bed early and prepared a quick breakfast for them before Hoss got up. Adam hustled Joe out of the house, and on the way to their work area, he filled his little brother in on the visit he’d received the night before.
Joe looked at his brother in fear. “I told you! I told you! Didn’t I tell you? He’s gonna kill us all. You, me, Pa. He’s gonna murder us!”
“All right. He’s acting strange, I admit that. But, honestly, this is Hoss we`re talking about! He’d never murder anyone.”
“Yeah? Doesn’t sound like you were so sure of that last night when he was waving that razor around.”
Adam flushed. “Shut up. Besides, things always seem strange at night. It’s daytime now, and I realize I just overreacted. Hoss isn’t going to kill us.” He paused then added somewhat uncertainly, “He isn’t, is he?”
“All I know is I’m glad I’m working with you today instead of him. And I’ve never said that before in my life, and before today, I’d have given good odds I never would.”
Joe ducked as his brother reached out to cuff him.
As the two worked, by unspoken agreement, they remained silent about their suspicions about Hoss. The whole idea was simply too preposterous for contemplation. Hoss simply was not a killer. It was impossible.
After a long day of hard work, they returned to the ranch house, tired and famished.
“Hope Hoss managed to fix something edible for supper,” Joe commented as they walked in the house. “I’m starved.’
Adam sniffed deeply. “Smells good, whatever it is.”
Hoss walked out of the kitchen just then and grinned as he saw them. “Hey Brothers,” he called out cheerfully. Wash up and sit down. I really worked hard on dinner.”
Adam and Joe sank gratefully down at the table, as Hoss reappeared, setting a heaping plate down in front of each of them, with a distinct flourish. Then he sank down in his usual seat and picked up his water glass, watching his brothers closely.
“Where’s yours?” Adam asked, raising a forkful of greens to his mouth, as he noticed that Hoss didn`t have a plate.
“Oh, I ain’t hungry.”
Adam and Joe froze, their food halfway to their mouths.
“You’re what?” Joe asked.
“I ain’t hungry. I ate a lot while I was cookin’, so this here’s all for you two.”
Adam and Joe looked at one another, and slowly returned the food to their plates.
“Hey. Ain’t you gonna eat? Do you know how hard I worked on that? Least you could do is eat it.”
Joe smiled nervously and shifted his chair a few inches away. “I…uh…I just realized I ain`t real hungry neither, Hoss.”
“Now, Joseph, you’re still a growing boy. You pick up your fork this instant and clean your plate,” Hoss lectured sternly.
Joe turned pleading eyes on his oldest brother.
Adam was busy sniffing his plate suspiciously.
“Now what’s the matter with you, Adam?”
Adam speared a piece of meat and examined it closely. “I’m allergic to this.”
“Pork chops? Since when? You’ve eaten more pigs in your life than half the people in the Territory put together.”
“That the problem. Doc Martin told me last week that I’d eaten too much pork in my life and, I wasn’t supposed to eat any more. Said if I did, I’d likely break out in hives and then just up and stop breathing.”
“Well, you ate bacon for breakfast yesterday.”
“I forgot what he told me. Fortunately I got away with it, but I’d better not tempt fate.”
Hoss frowned. “Well at least eat the potatoes. I added a special ingredient to them. Try ’em and tell me what you think.”
“What ingredient?” Adam asked warily.
“Uh-uh. It’s a surprise. Just try `em. Eat `em up and give me your opinion.” Hoss grinned happily.
Joe and Adam exchanged a look and jumped up from the table in tandem.
“Hey, where you fellers goin’? You ain’t even touched your food.”
“We have to go to the barn. We forgot to take feed the horses when we got back,” Adam answered. He grabbed Joe, and the two backed away and left the house quickly.
“Now he’s trying to poison us!” Joe wailed frantically. “What are we gonna do?”
“Come on. We’ll go to town and get some dinner. As a matter of fact we’ll just stay in town until Pa gets back next week. I don’t know what’s gotten into Hoss, but he can just stay here alone until he gets over it.”
The two saddled their horses and led them out of the barn. They walked back towards the ranch house to get their hats and guns, but stopped suddenly, halfway across the yard. Hoss was standing on the porch staring at them, a gun held casually in his hand.
Joe yelped and dodged behind Adam.
Adam glowered at Hoss. “What do you think you’re doing? Put that gun down.”
“You know, Adam, I don’t think I’ve ever cared too much for the way you order people around.”
“I don’t care if you like it or not. Put that thing down. What’s gotten into you?”
“Nothin’s gotten into me. I just realized a few things the last couple days.”
“Yeah. Fer example, I realize you got yourself a bad habit of struttin’ around like you own the place. And now I know why. You think you are gonna own all this one day.”
Adam glared, but Hoss dismissed him, his gaze shifting to his little brother who was peeking out from behind Adam.
“And you got a mighty bad habit of gettin’ out of chores, Joe. You seem to figure that ol’ Hoss is just gonna come along behind you and fix everything, and do more’n my share. That ain’t nice.”
“I’m sorry, Hoss,” Joe pleaded. “I won’t do it anymore. Please don’t kill me!”
Adam snorted as he looked over his shoulder at Joe. “Stop being ridiculous, Joe. Hoss isn’t going to kill you. That thing is full of blanks.”
Hoss smiled a cold, calculating smile. “That right, Older Brother? Always thinkin’ you’re the smart one and ought to be in charge, ain’t you? Well, you ain’t as smart as you think you are.”
Hoss pointed the gun at one of the porch supports and pulled the trigger. A bullet whined off it, spraying splinters in every direction.
Adam and Joe blanched as they looked at the damaged beam.
“Get out from behind Adam, Joe,” Hoss ordered.
“Hoss…” Joe pled.
“Don`t make me tell you again.”
Joe reluctantly moved out from behind his big brother, despite Adam’s attempt to remain in front, shielding him from danger.
“Stand still,” Hoss snapped at Adam.
“With the two of you gone, I inherit everything. No more swelled-headed Adam. No more self-absorbed Little Joe. Just me. I’m finally going to get what I’ve always deserved.”
“Hoss,” Adam said hoarsely. “You can’t do this. How will you explain it to Pa?”
The cold smile still played around the corners of Hoss’ mouth. “That’s easy. I just tell him that you two finally had it out and got so mad you shot each other. How could he not believe that? ‘I tried to stop ’em, Pa, but you know they way they was. Just couldn’t get along in the same room. One minute they’re sittin’ there playin’ checkers, just fine as frog`s hair, the next they’re both layin’ there bleedin’ on the living room floor. I’m awful sorry, Pa. If only I’d known, I could have stopped it. But it was
all so sudden’.”
“Hoss, please…” Joe attempted.
“Say good-bye, Little Joe. Been nice knowin’ you.”
There was a long silence as the three stared at one another. Suddenly two shots rang out in quick succession. Adam and Joe yelped in dismay, reeling back from the sound, their hearts pounding in their ears.
After a long, frozen moment of staring at Hoss, both suddenly realized that they hadn’t been shot at all.
Hoss started chuckling, and slowly it built into uproarious laughter. He bent over with the force of it. Adam and Joe stared at him in shock.
“They were blanks,” Adam accused his brother, angrily. “The first bullet was just to make us think there was live ammunition in the gun. The rest were all blanks!”
Hoss nodded vigorously, still laughing, holding his stomach and wiping tears from his eyes.
“The razor. The dinner. Shakespeare. Everything. This has all been nothing but one huge practical joke!”
Hoss managed to gasp out a response. “Yeah, and a what great one it was too! Whooee! Y’all should have seen your faces! Yer eyes was as big as flapjacks!”
Hoss laughed harder, unable to stop at the delicious memory of the look of abject terror on his brothers’ faces. He was so out-of-breath he could hardly stand upright.
Adam and Joe looked unbelievingly at one another and then, after a long moment, began to walk slowly and very deliberately towards Hoss.
Hoss’ head was thrown back with his belly-aching laughter, when he caught a glance of his brothers. His smile died away, and a look of uncertainty crossed his face, suddenly replaced by fear at the view of Adam and Joe’s steely-faced advancement. Bit by bit, Hoss began to back away. Then he turned and fled.
Other Stories by this Author
- On the Warpath (by ChristyG)
- Home Invasion (by ChristyG)
- The Murder of Little Joe Cartwright (by ChristyG)
- Joe’s Dilemma (by ChristyG)
- The Curse of the Faceless Fiend (by ChristyG)