The Runt (by HelenB)

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Summary:  The Cartwrights learn that sometimes the best things really do come in small packages

Rating:  T  (3,150 words)

The Runt

 It was just after midnight when the scream shattered the quiet stillness of the night. Rushing to the room of his youngest son, Ben met his elder sons, Adam and Hoss, in the hallway, as they too rushed to Joe’s room. Ben reached the room first and went to the bed, gathering Joe up into his arms.

 

“Shh, Joseph, it’s all right,” Ben held the little boy and kept repeating the soothing words until Joe calmed down. Adam lit the lamp as Ben lifted Joe from the bed and carried him over to a rocking chair by the window.

 

Turning to his older sons, Ben said, “Go back to bed, boys, it’s late. I’ll sit here for a while.”

 

Adam and Hoss nodded, both reaching out to touch their little brother and wish him a good night before going to their own rooms.

 

                   **********

 

Early the next morning when Adam got up, he went into Joe’s room to check on him, finding the bed empty, he knew his father had taken Joe to sleep with him.

 

Ben came downstairs a few minutes later and sat down with Adam and Hoss for breakfast.

 

“How’s Little Joe?” Hoss asked.

 

“Still asleep,” Ben replied, “He didn’t have another nightmare after I took him in with me.”

 

“Poor little kid, he hasn’t slept the night through since….” Adam broke off and looked away.

 

Joe’s mother, Marie, had been killed in a riding accident a month ago. Joe had been plagued by nightmares since that day.

 

Ben nodded solemnly. “I know. I don’t know what to do.”

 

“I think he’s scared about me leaving for college, too. I’ve tried to explain to him that I won’t be going for a while yet and that I will come back but he’s too little to really understand. To him, he just knows I’m leaving him.”

 

“He’ll accept it, son,” Ben replied, “He just needs time.”

 

“I have to go into town today for some supplies,” Adam said, “Is it all right if I take Little Joe with me?”

 

“That’s fine,” Ben nodded, “He should wake up soon. You two finish breakfast and do your chores, I’ll get Joe ready.” As if on cue, he looked up to see five year old Little Joe walking down the stairs in his nightshirt. Ben stood up and went over to his son, picking him up. “Come on, son. You need to get dressed if you’re going to town with Adam.”

 

Joe clapped his hands excitedly and smiled. “Going to town with Adam?” he asked.

 

“That’s what I just said didn’t I?” Ben joked as he tickled Joe’s side, delighting in the sound of his baby son’s giggle.

 

                   **********

 

By the time Adam and Hoss were ready to leave, Ben had Joe dressed and had gotten him to eat his breakfast.

 

Adam lifted the little boy up onto the wagon seat and Joe turned and nodded at his father as Ben called, “Be good, Little Joe.” Joe waved at his father until they rounded the barn and he was out of sight. Hoss rode alongside the wagon on his horse and the boys talked until they reached the road to the schoolhouse and Hoss turned off.

 

When they reached town, Adam helped Joe down and kept a hold of his brother’s hand as they went into the general store. The first thing Joe saw when they went in was a black and white puppy curled up in a box. “A puppy!” he yelled with delight, pulling his hand free from Adam’s, he rushed to kneel beside the box, reaching out his hand to stroke the dog. The puppy was almost all black, the only bit of white was on his face and his two front paws.

 

“Our dog had pups,” Mr Williams the store owner said, as they watched Joe pat the pup. “Had four of them, that’s the last one. He’s the runt of the litter, should have gotten rid of it when it was born. Probably won’t amount to much, that’s why no one wants it. You can have it if you want. I either give it away or drown it.”

 

Joe’s eyes widened in shock, he looked down at the pup and then up at Mr Williams again. “Drown him,” he shook his head, “but you can’t.” Joe’s eyes filled with tears and he looked at his big brother.

 

Adam knelt down beside Joe and put his arm around him. “Don’t worry, Little Joe, we’ll take him home with us.”

 

Standing up, Adam looked at Mr Williams. “We’ll take the dog.”

 

Mr Williams nodded. “That’ll make my wife Rose happy. She wanted to keep it when it looked like no one would take it but I told her we have one dog and that’s enough, we don’t need another.”

 

Joe picked the puppy up and held him tightly in his arms as he walked to the door. 

 

Adam was disgusted at the man’s cruelty and quickly bought and loaded the supplies, wanting to leave as soon as he could. Joe went back into the store to wait for Adam and he heard Mr Williams say, “Just get rid of it if your Pa says you can’t keep it, drown it,” Joe’s lip trembled as he turned away and walked back to the door.

 

                   **********

 

Adam had thought Joe would talk excitedly all the way home and he was surprised and worried about how quiet his little brother was.

 

Ben came outside when he heard the buckboard. Joe climbed down and saw his father coming towards them, before anyone had a chance to say anything, Joe took off and ran into the barn.

 

“What in the world,” Ben said, turning to Adam, he asked, “What’s wrong? Is Joe all right? Was that a dog he had?”

 

Adam nodded and told his father how they had come to have the dog.

 

When he’d finished explaining, Adam asked, “It is all right isn’t it? I mean I know how you feel about an animal earning it’s keep but….”

 

Ben held up his hand and smiled. “Of course it’s all right. The pup will be good for Joe. Why did Joe run off though?”

 

“I don’t know,” Adam replied, “I thought he’d be happy but he didn’t say a word all the way home. He was pretty upset about Mr Williams saying he was going to drown the pup.”

 

Ben shook his head in anger. “That man! Why would he say such things in front of a child.”

 

Ben and Adam walked over to the barn and pushed the door open. They saw Joe sitting in a corner with his knees drawn up, his head resting on his knees, he was crying, the pup on his lap.

 

Ben and Adam sat down on either side of Joe and Ben put his arm around the little boy’s shoulders, feeling him tremble, Ben said, “What’s wrong, son?”

 

Joe looked up and Ben gently wiped the tears away with his hand as he asked softly, “Little Joe, what is it? Tell me why you are so upset?”

 

“We brought a puppy home,” Joe said.

 

Ben smiled and nodded. “So I see. He’s very nice. Has he got a name yet?”

 

Joe shook his head. “He don’t have a name. Pa,” Joe clutched his father’s arm, “I want to keep him. Please don’t drown him, Pa. Please!” Joe’s voice broke and he started to cry again.

 

Ben lifted Joe onto his lap, pup and all and said gently, “Shh, Joe. Of course you can keep the dog.” Ben rubbed Joe’s back as his small son snuggled against him and waited until the boy calmed down before asking, “Why did you think I’d drown the pup, Little Joe?” Ben was  shocked that the child thought he would do something like that.

 

Adam put his hand on Joe’s leg as he recalled the conversation he’d had with the store owner. “Did you hear Mr Williams tell me that Pa could do that, little buddy?”

 

Joe nodded and looked up at his father. “He said you could if you didn’t want him,” Joe sniffed.

 

“Well, you don’t have to worry about that Little Joe. I’d never do something like that. The dog is yours to keep.”

 

Joe smiled happily and said, “Pa, can I ask you something?”

 

Ben returned the smile and nodded, ruffling Joe’s hair he said, “You can ask me anything.”

 

“Mr Williams said the puppy was the runt of the litter. What’s that mean, Pa?”

 

“Runt means small, Joe. It means the puppy was the smallest of all the pups that were born.”

 

Joe played with the tassels on Ben’s vest. “He said no one wanted the pup. Why wouldn’t anyone want him just ’cause he’s small? What’s wrong with being small?”

 

Ben gently hugged Joe and said, “There’s nothing wrong with being small, son. Nothing wrong with that at all. And as for no one wanting the pup, well, Mr Williams was wrong about that, wasn’t he?” When Joe looked up at him with questioning eyes, Ben continued, “We want him.”

 

Joe grinned and nodded but he had one more question he wanted to ask. “If runt means smallest. Am I your runt?”

 

Ben and Adam had to fight their laughter. Joe had asked the question so seriously, they knew he’d be hurt if they laughed. Both of them shook their heads amazed at the things Joe could come up with.

 

“It’s different with people, Joseph. You are only the littlest because you are my youngest son. That doesn’t make you a runt. You won’t always be so little,” Ben put his hand under Joe’s chin and tilted the boy’s head up so he could look him in the eyes. “And don’t you ever think you are not wanted because there is no one in the world wanted more than you. I love you, Joseph, no matter how big or small you are.”

 

“That goes for me, too, kid,” Adam squeezed Joe’s leg as he gently shook it.

 

“Now,” Ben said, raising his eyebrows and looking at Joe, “I want you to put any nonsense Mr Williams told you, out of your head. You’re not to worry about it. Do you understand me, young man,” he said jokingly.

 

It got the desired effect and Joe laughed as he nodded and then asked, “What will we call him?”

 

“He’s your dog, Little Joe,” Adam said, “You have to choose his name.”

 

“I can name him whatever I want?” Ben and Adam nodded and watched as Joe happily patted the dog.

 

                   **********

 

That night, Hoss and Joe sat on the floor in the great room, playing with the dog. Suddenly Joe said, “I know what I want to name him. Adam.”

 

“What’s that Little Joe?” Adam asked, looking up from the book he was reading, thinking Joe was talking to him. “What are you going to name him?”

 

“Adam,” Joe repeated, “I want to name him Adam.”

 

In the process of drinking a cup of coffee, Ben nearly choked. After he had finished coughing, he asked, “Why are you naming him Adam, son?”

 

“Because his body’s all black like Adam in his clothes,” Joe replied and Ben and Hoss looked over at Adam, noting that he was wearing all back as he often had a tendency to do, obviously Joe had noticed that, “And his face is white but he has a black spot on the top of his head, like Adam’s hair. They look the same.”

 

Ben and Hoss were trying very hard not to laugh at the look on Adam’s face at being told he and the dog looked alike.

 

Adam was about to protest but Joe continued, “And when Adam goes away, it will be like he’s still here.”

 

The elder Cartwright’s smiled at the logic of the five year olds thinking. Adam wasn’t too keen on a dog being named after him but if it made his going easier for Joe to accept, that was the important thing. 

 

                    **********

 

Two days later, Adam was doing some work outside in the yard when Mrs Ada Plunket came to visit with her daughter Ann.

 

Looking up from the wood he was cutting, Adam smiled, “Good morning, Mrs Plunket. Ann.”

 

“Hello, Adam,” Ann smiled shyly.

 

“Good morning, Adam,” Mrs Plunket said, “Is your father home? I’ve come to talk to him about the fund raising for the church.”

 

“Yes, Ma’am, come in. I’ll let him know you’re here.”

 

“Hello, Little Joe,” Ann called to Joe who was running around the yard with the dog. Joe waved happily, he liked Ann, she was always very nice to him.

 

After showing the Plunket’s inside, Adam went into the kitchen to wash up. He wanted to visit with Ann while she was there as he was quite keen on her and hoped to ask her to the next church social. Joe came in while Adam was washing.

 

In the great room where Ben and Mrs Plunket were talking, Mrs Plunket said, “What do you think of a raffle, Mr Cartwright?”

 

“I think….” Ben started but was interrupted by a string of Chinese from the kitchen.

 

Joe came running in, the puppy at his heels. He ran over to Ben who picked him up and sat Joe on his lap. The little boy didn’t look too worried about whatever Hop Sing was shouting about, he was used to the man’s ways. “What happened, Little Joe?” Ben asked.

 

“Adam peed all over the floor in the kitchen. Hop Sing said to make sure he goes outside next time before he comes in.”

 

“Joe!” Adam shouted sharply, and everyone looked across to see Adam standing at the entrance to the room, his face flushed a deep shade of red with embarrassment.

 

Mrs Plunket took her daughter’s arm. “How disgusting. I thought you raised your sons better than that, Mr Cartwright,” she huffed, “Come on Ann we’re leaving.”

 

Ben put Joe down on the floor and stood up. “Please Mrs Plunket, wait a moment, you don’t understand.”

 

Ann looked across at Adam, who was too embarrassed to even stay in the room, he turned swiftly and walked outside.

 

“Little Joe named his puppy Adam,” Ben said, trying to placate the woman, “That’s who he was talking about Mrs Plunket, the puppy.”

 

“The pups name is Adam?” Mrs Plunket frowned, looking at the dog and then at Joe.

 

Joe nodded, his lip started to tremble as he stood there, not understanding why everyone seemed angry with him.

 

Ann laughed and knelt down next to Joe, patting the puppy as she did so. “Why did you name him Adam, Little Joe?”

 

Joe shrugged, looking down at the floor. “Don’tcha like his name?” he asked.

 

“I think it’s a fine name,” Ann replied, “Isn’t it, mother?” 

 

Mrs Plunket nodded and sat down, suddenly finding the situation amusing she laughed. “An unusual name for a dog but a fine name none the less.”

 

Ben and Ann laughed as well. Ben knew he would never forget the look on Adam’s face when he’d heard what Joe had said in front of their visitors.

 

Turning to his father, Joe asked, “Did I say something wrong?”

 

Ben smiled and ran his fingers through the boy’s hair. “Don’t worry, we’ll talk about it later.”

 

“Am I in trouble?”

 

Ben laughed and shook his head, “No, son. It’s just a misunderstanding, that’s all.” 

 

“Mother,” Ann said, “Is it all right if I go outside and talk to Adam?” Mrs Plunket nodded her agreement.

 

                   **********

 

Later that day when Hoss got home from school and was told about what had happened, he roared with laughter.

 

“It’s no laughing matter,” Adam said. Everything had been sorted out with the Plunket’s and he was going to the social with Ann but Adam still hadn’t been able to bring himself to laugh about it.

 

“Oh come on Adam, you gotta admit it is funny,” Hoss laughed louder, as he pictured the scene. Ben and Joe joined in his laughter. Ben had explained to Joe what the Plunket’s had thought and Joe now found it extremely amusing that they had thought it was his older brother who had peed on the floor.

 

Finally, Adam’s eyes twinkled, his lips twitched and he started to laugh. When the laughter finally stopped he said, “All right, I admit it, it is funny. It wasn’t at the time, though. And you, you little troublemaker,” he said as he walked towards Joe who got up from the floor where he was sitting and started to run towards Ben, laughing for he knew Adam was playing with him. Adam caught the little boy in a gentle tackle and then proceeded to tickle him as he said, “I really think we need to think of a new name for your dog before he gets used to mine. I don’t want something like that happening again.”

 

When Adam stopped tickling him and Joe caught his breath, he said, “But what can I name him?”

 

“How about Hoss?” Adam couldn’t resist joking.

 

“Or Pa?” Hoss joked back and once again everyone was in fits of laughter at the thoughts of the misunderstandings that could occur. Hop Sing came out of the kitchen and stood watching them, wondering if the whole family had gone mad.

 

When he stopped laughing, Joe picked up the dog and put it on his lap. “I want to name him something that will remind me of you but I can’t think of anything.”

 

“I’m sure we’ll think of something, little buddy,” Adam replied.

 

Joe’s eyes sparkled. “How about that? Can I name him buddy?”

 

“I think that’s a great name,” Adam said and everyone nodded in agreement.

 

                   **********

 

Six months later, Adam left for college. While he was there he received a letter from his father that said;

 

Dear Adam

 

I posted you a letter with all our news just this morning but I must tell you what happened this afternoon. We had quite a scare. I took the boys fishing and a snake came out of nowhere and struck out at Joe. It happened so fast. I’m sure my heart nearly stopped. Joe was between the snake and myself and I couldn’t shoot for fear of hitting him. Buddy attacked the snake before it could bite Joe. I was then able to get a shot off and kill it. Little Joe was so upset, he was afraid Buddy had been bitten, I feared the same thing but by some miracle, he wasn’t. I recalled the day you and Joe first brought that dog home and you reminded me how I always said that any animal on the Ponderosa had to pull it’s weight. That dog earned his keep for the rest of his life today, Adam, and then some. I think the runt turned out to be the pick of the litter.


The End

 

August 2004

 

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Author: HelenB

5 thoughts on “The Runt (by HelenB)

  1. such a cute story . A funny story too. Joe and a puppy what a cute combination. poor Adam, glad he saw the humor in what happened.

  2. Oh how funny, the scene in the kitchen. Out of the mouths of babes.

    And yes, he surely did become the ‘pick of the litter’.

    A wonderful story. 🙂

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