Keeping Things Going (by JoanS)

Summary:  The Cartwrights try to keep things going around the house when Hop Sing leaves for a while

Rated: K (10,000 words)

 

 

Keeping Things Going

‘Of course you must go if your cousin needs you Hop Sing.  Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine.’  Ben Cartwright looked at his cook anxiously. ‘What exactly is wrong with him?’

 

 

 

Hop Sing shrugged. ‘Not sure,’ he said. ‘Message not say.’

 

 

 

‘Well Joseph can take you into town to get this afternoon’s stage,’ said Ben.

 

 

 

‘Why me?’ squeaked Little Joe.

 

 

 

‘Because I told you too!’ replied his father with a look that caused the youngster to slide down in his seat. ‘You take as much time in San Francisco as you need to Hop Sing. We’ll keep things going here.’

 

 

 

Hop Sing continued to look worried. ‘You sure Mr Cartlight?’ he said. ‘Much to do in house.’

 

 

 

‘Of course I’m sure,’ replied Ben. ‘We’ve managed before, haven’t we?’

 

 

 

‘Yes….’ said the man doubtfully. ‘But I always leave one cousin to help before.  No one can come this time.’

 

 

 

‘The boys will all pitch in and help,’ said Ben. ‘Won’t you boys?’

 

 

 

‘Sure,’ said Adam, nudging Hoss who wasn’t looking so sure.

 

 

 

‘Who’ll do the cooking?’ he asked.

 

 

 

Ben gave him a meaningful stare before turning back to Hop Sing again. ‘We’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘Now that the roundup’s over there are only a couple of hands around and they’re mostly in town anyway.  There’s really only the four of us here to worry about and it couldn’t possibly be that hard to keep things going for a few weeks.’

 

 

 

Hop Sing shrugged, but didn’t look convinced. ‘If you say so,’ he said. ‘I go pack now.’

 

 

 

‘Who’ll do the cooking?’ asked Hoss again.

 

 

 

‘We’ll all need to try our hand at it I suppose,’ replied his father. ‘We’ll need to take on a few extra things each until Hop Sing is away… and that includes you Joseph!’ he said as he noticed the face his youngest son was pulling.

 

 

 

Joe immediately tried to look contrite. ‘Anything you say Pa,’ he said. ‘Only I think that Hoss should do the cooking cause he eats the most.’

 

 

 

‘I agree,’ said Adam quickly. ‘It’s only fair after all.’

 

 

 

‘Fine,’ said Ben. ‘That’s settled then.  Hoss does the cooking. And you Adam can take charge of keeping the house clean.’  He tried to keep a straight face as his eldest son gave him a dark look. ‘Any problems with that?’

 

 

 

‘No,’ said Adam shortly.

 

 

 

Little Joe grinned at both his brothers cheekily. ‘I’m sure they’ll do a great job Pa,’ he said as he stood up. ‘Well I’ll be seeing you.  I’d better get the team hitched up if I’m gonna get Hop Sing into town in time for that stage.’

 

 

 

‘Hold on there a minute young man,’ said his father. ‘You haven’t heard what you’re going to be doing yet.’

 

 

 

Joe looked puzzled as the grin disappeared from his face. ‘Me?’ he said. ‘But if Hoss is doing the cooking and Adam is doing the cleaning then that’s all there is, isn’t it?’

 

 

 

‘No, not at all,’ said his father. ‘You’ll be doing the laundry.’

 

 

 

‘Oh.  Well that doesn’t sound too bad,’ said Joe, relieved. ‘Sure Pa!’  He walked towards the front door. ‘Be seeing ya later…. and Hoss, I hope you’ve got something good planned for supper.’  He gave Hoss another cheeky look as his brother glared at him.

 

 

 

‘And what will you be doing Pa?’ asked Adam, staring at his father intently.

 

 

 

Ben looked smug. ‘I’ll be supervising the three of you,’ he said. ‘Someone will need to.  That’s the most important job of all.’

 

 

 

‘Of course,’ said Adam sarcastically. ‘I understand that.’  He continued to stare at his father who looked away quickly.

 

 

 

‘Well I’d better get outside now,’ said Ben. ‘There’s still a lot to be done before supper. Don’t forget that I expect you all to keep up with your usual chores while we’re keeping things going in here as well.’

 

 

 

‘Wouldn’t have it any other way, would we Hoss?’ asked Adam with a sigh.

 

 

 

Hoss looked worried. ‘But Adam….’ he began. ‘I don’t know how ta cook!  I only know how ta eat!’

 

 

 

‘Well I guess you’re about to learn,’ said Adam as he put an arm around his brother’s shoulder. ‘I have a feeling we’re all about to learn a few things.’

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

‘How many cousins ya got anyways Hop Sing?’ asked Little Joe as they travelled towards town together in the buckboard.

 

 

 

The cook shrugged. ‘Not sure,’ he said. ‘Many lots.  Hop Sing not ever count.’

 

 

 

‘Well which cousin is the one that’s sick?’

 

 

 

‘Number eighteen cousin,’ Hop Sing replied.

 

 

 

‘So you know you got at least eighteen of em then huh?’

 

 

 

Hop Sing shrugged again. ‘Suppose so,’ he acknowledged.

 

 

 

‘Don’t they have names?’

 

 

 

‘Yes.  Easier to call by number though.’

 

 

 

Little Joe shrugged, not sure how the man’s many cousins could all have a number, even though he had no idea how many of them there were. ‘Well you have a good trip anyways,’ he said. ‘We’ll be fine here.’

 

 

 

Hop Sing looked at him sideways. ‘Hop Sing not sure about that,’ he said. ‘Much work to do in house.  Cartlights not used to work in house.’

 

 

 

‘We’ll be fine!’ Joe assured him. ‘As long as Hoss gets the hang of the cooking.  After all… what could go wrong with Adam and me doing a little bit of cleaning and laundry?  It’ll be easy!’

 

 

 

Hop Sing tried to keep a straight face at the youngster’s words. ‘Sure thing Little Joe,’ he said. ‘I hope it easy for you.’

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

Hoss scratched his head as he looked around the kitchen at the array of pot and pans. He had no idea where to start in preparing a meal and didn’t really want to have to try.  It was strange how he had always been one to hang around the kitchen, yet he had never really taken any notice of what Hop Sing did there.  He had only ever been interested in the finished product.

 

 

 

He sighed and opened one of the cupboards, searching for something he could use.  His eyes lit up as he saw a blue book that he had seen the cook use many times. ‘This’ll give me some clues,’ he said out loud as he sat down to examine the pages.

 

 

 

About two hours later, Hoss watched anxiously as his father put a forkful of the stew into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. ‘Well?’ he asked.

 

 

 

Ben tried not to show his true feelings. ‘Not bad,’ he said. ‘For a first attempt.  I’m sure you’ll get better at it as you go though son.’

 

 

 

Joe followed his father’s lead and chewed noisily on a forkful. ‘Yuck!’ he said, less tactfully. ‘What did you put in it?’

 

 

 

‘Just some herbs and stuff that Hop Sing had on the shelf,’ said Hoss defensively. ‘What’s wrong with it?’ He stuffed a mouthful in and tried not to pull a face as he tasted it. ‘I guess it’s not too good,’ he said mournfully.

 

 

 

‘You’ll get better at it,’ said Adam, pushing his own plate away. ‘In the meantime we can always fill up on bread.’

 

 

 

‘Yeah,’ said Joe, helping himself to a slice. ‘You might even lose some weight Hoss.’

 

 

 

Hoss glared at the stew on his plate. ‘I can’t understand it,’ he muttered. ‘I used all the ingredients just like it said in Hop Sing’s recipe book.’

 

 

 

‘What recipe book?’ asked his father,

 

 

 

‘The blue one in the drawer,’ said Hoss. ‘It said how to add herbs and stuff.’

 

 

 

Joe choked on his bread. ‘That’s the book he’s always looking at to work out what to give us when we’re sick!’ he said. ‘Them’s medicine recipes not food recipes!’

 

 

 

‘No wonder it tastes so terrible,’ said Adam. ‘What are you trying to do… kill us?’

 

 

 

‘Twern’t my fault!’ declared Hoss. ‘I didn’t ask ta do the cooking! Pa… can’t I swap with one of them?’

 

 

 

‘Not on your life!’ said Joe quickly. ‘I’m quite happy with doing the laundry thank you very much!’

 

 

 

Adam shook his head. ‘No way.  A bit of cleaning is OK by me.  Besides… if you don’t improve I’ll just eat in town for the next few weeks.’

 

 

 

‘That’s enough,’ said Ben. ‘I’m sure you did your best Hoss.’ He stood up from the table. ‘How about a game of checkers son?’

 

 

 

‘Sure thing Pa,’ said Hoss. ‘It’ll keep us busy while Adam is cleaning up.’

 

 

 

‘What?’ said Adam, his head jerking up at the sound of his name. ‘I’m not cleaning up!  You cooked this mess, so it’s all yours brother.’

 

 

 

‘Pa said that you’re in charge of cleaning.  I doing the cooking and you do the cleaning!’ Hoss declared.

 

 

 

‘He meant the beds and furniture and things,’ said Adam, glaring at his brother. ‘Not your kitchen mess!’

 

 

 

They both looked at their father.  Ben hesitated. ‘Well….’ He said. ‘I suppose that’s a tricky one….’ He scratched his head and noticed Little Joe sitting grinning at him while he enjoyed the sight of his two brothers fighting. ‘I think you should all take it in turns with the dishes. Adam you do them tonight, Hoss tomorrow and Joe the day after.’

 

 

 

‘And the day after that?’ Adam asked meaningfully as he looked at his father.

 

 

 

‘All right! I’ll do them the day after that!’ said Ben crossly. ‘Now get to it please!’

 

 

 

Adam stood up and started to clear the dishes, muttering to himself. ‘You missed one,’ said Joe as he leant back in his chair and indicated a lone plate on the tablecloth.

 

 

 

For a moment, Adam looked as if he was about to throw the plate at his younger brother’s head, but instead he gave him a dark look and walked off into the kitchen muttering to himself.  ‘Musta caught the habit from Hop Sing,’ said Hoss as he stood up to join his father at the checkerboard.

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

‘Well at least we can eat fruit and toast for breakfast,’ said Adam as he settled himself at the table. ‘I suppose you can make coffee?’

 

 

 

‘Course I can!’ said Hoss grumpily. ‘And for your information I’ve made eggs.’

 

 

 

Joe looked at the platter of eggs as Hoss dumped it on the table. ‘They don’t look too bad,’ he said as he scooped some onto his plate. He chewed them thoughtfully. ‘Bit crunchy though.’

 

 

 

‘I couldn’t get all the shells out,’ said Hoss as he sat down. ‘Is anyone going into town today?’

 

 

 

‘Why?’ asked Adam.

 

 

 

‘I need some things to cook with.’

 

 

 

‘I’ll get them for you son,’ said Ben. ‘Just write me out a list.’

 

 

 

‘I’ll go,’ said Joe.

 

 

 

‘You’ve got work to do,’ said his father as he helped himself to some eggs. ‘Plus doing the laundry don’t forget.’

 

 

 

‘But Hop Sing don’t do it every day,’ said Joe. ‘I thought I’d do it bout twice a week.’

 

 

 

‘Did you?’ asked Adam. ‘Have you looked in the washhouse lately?  There’s big pile in there already.’

 

 

 

Joe looked puzzled. ‘Is there? Oh.  Well I’ll get it done first thing before I go to work on them horses.  Shouldn’t take too long.’

 

 

 

Ben raised an eyebrow at his son’s words. ‘It takes Hop Sing most of the day,’ he said quietly.

 

 

 

‘Yeah?  Well I’ll be quicker,’ said Joe confidently. ‘Are you gonna spend sometime doing the cleaning in here this morning Adam?’

 

 

 

‘Mmm,’ replied his brother. ‘I’ll do a quick cleanup before I get out to the North Pasture. Don’t forget it’s your turn to clean the kitchen today Hoss.’

 

 

 

Hoss frowned. ‘But I’ve got to get to the branding,’ he said. ‘Can’t you do it?’

 

 

 

‘Nope,’ said Adam as he stood up. ‘I’ve got upstairs to do. And the sooner I get started the better.’  He went into the kitchen and came back out carrying a broom and some cloths.

 

 

 

‘Well Hoss, get that list done and I’ll get into town,’ said Ben. ‘It seems like we’ve got everything under control here boys.  This shouldn’t be too hard after all. Joseph, get to that laundry straight after breakfast please.’

 

 

 

‘Yes Pa,’ said Little Joe as he stuffed the last of his eggs in his mouth. ‘Ya know what Hoss? These crunchy eggs ain’t bad.  They kinda grow on you.’

 

 

 

Hoss smiled proudly as he began to clear the table.

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

As Ben drove the buckboard into the front yard he could immediately sense that something was wrong.  Both the kitchen and washhouse doors were open and he could hear shouting coming from inside. As he got down and walked towards the door, he heard Little Joe shout. ‘I don’t care! I ain’t got time to do em all now!’

 

 

 

‘Joseph!’ said Ben as he walked into the washhouse and saw his eldest and youngest sons standing facing each other, both with their hands on their hips. ‘What is going on here?’

 

 

 

‘Adam’s brought down all these sheets down from the beds and expects me to wash em all and get em dry today!’ declared Little Joe as he turned to face his father. ‘I got enough to do with all of them without sheets as well!’ He indicated the large pile of clothing on the floor.

 

 

 

‘Ben frowned. ‘Haven’t you done any of that laundry yet?’ he asked. ‘It’s almost lunchtime!  I would have thought you’d be finished by now.’

 

 

 

‘Finished?’ squeaked Joe as he waved his hands around. ‘How could I be finished?  Do you know how long it takes to soak them things and then scrub em and then get em rinsed?  Not to mention hanging em out and then bringing em back in again.  We gotta get more clothesline space Pa!  I don’t know how Hop Sing manages with just the bit we’ve got.’

 

 

 

‘So it isn’t as easy as you first thought little brother?’ asked Adam sarcastically.

 

 

 

Joe glared at him. ‘Well it wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t keep dumping all them sheets down here!’ he declared.

 

 

 

‘Pa told me to make sure the house was clean and that’s what I’m doing, said Adam. ‘The beds need changing.  You’re just lucky I didn’t bring all the towels down as well. I’m saving them for tomorrow.’

 

 

 

Well thank you very much!’ said Joe. ‘So I’ll be stuck here tomorrow as well, will I?’

 

 

 

‘I think you can plan on doing a bit each day Joseph,’ said Ben, trying not to laugh. ‘That way it won’t get on top of you.’

 

 

 

Joe looked at the huge pile of wet clothing on the floor. ‘Well I think it’s a bit too late for that!’ he said. ‘From now on I’m only washing a few things each day.’

 

 

 

‘You’ll wash just as much as you need to!’ said Ben angrily. ‘And I’ll hear no more about it young man.’

 

 

 

‘Yeah!’ said Adam. ‘Think yourself lucky you’ve got the easy job and stop whinging about it.’

 

 

 

‘Easy job?’ shouted Joe. ‘You’ve got the easy job!  All you have to do is sweep up a bit and make some beds!’

 

 

 

‘You’ve got no idea have you?’ shouted Adam. ‘Next time you have to empty a full chamber pot and pick up after everyone up there just let me know how easy it is!’

 

 

 

‘That is enough!’ shouted Ben. ‘If this is how it’s going to be for the next few weeks I think I’ll move into town and just leave you to it! Now can we please just all calm down?  I’ll go and unload the supplies while you two finish up here and then we’ll have lunch.’

 

 

 

Joe snorted. ‘Judging from the sounds that have been coming from the kitchen I think I’ll give it a miss!’ he said.

 

 

 

‘What sounds?’ asked Ben.

 

 

 

‘Listen,’ said Adam.

 

 

 

They all stood still and listened to the thumping sounds that were coming from the next room. ‘What is it?’ asked Ben.

 

 

 

‘I think it’s Hoss’ impression of making bread,’ said Adam. ‘He’s been kneading dough like that all morning. If strength has anything to do with it… it should be the lightest bread ever.’

 

 

 

Ben shook his head. ‘Ten minutes,’ he said as he pointed his finger at his sons. ‘I’ll expect you two in there at the table when I come back in.  Tell your brother I want lunch in ten minutes.’

 

 

 

Joe shrugged at Adam as their father left the room. ‘Well we might get lunch in ten minutes,’ he said. ‘Who knows what kind of state it’ll be in though.’

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

‘Well it seems that strength ain’t got anything to do with light bread,’ said Little Joe glumly as he banged his bread roll on the table.

 

 

 

‘I’m sorry Pa,’ said Hoss glumly. ‘I done my best!’

 

 

 

‘I know you did son,’ said Ben as he tried unsuccessfully to break his roll apart. ‘Nobody is blaming you.’

 

 

 

‘It doesn’t taste too bad if you smear the butter on the top of it,’ said Adam as he indicated his own bread roll. ‘As long as you bite into it at the right spot you can chew it… sort of.’  He made as face as he tried to swallow.

 

 

 

‘The salad and the meat is OK,’ said Joe encouragingly.

 

 

 

‘They’re leftovers from Hop Sing,’ said Hoss. ‘That’s the last of em too.  ‘From now on it’s all up to me.’

 

 

 

‘Oh….’ Ben didn’t know what else to say.

 

 

 

‘I thought I’d cook some fish tonight,’ said Hoss. ‘I’ll go fishing after lunch and get some.’

 

 

 

‘How come you get to go fishing?’ asked Joe. ‘I’ll do it.’

 

 

 

‘Neither of you will do it,’ said Ben. ‘There’s work to be done outside that none of you have even started yet.’

 

 

 

Adam sighed. ‘Pa you really can’t expect us to do all this as well as our outside work,’ he said. ‘It’s too much.’

 

 

 

‘I do expect it,’ said Ben. ‘There’s not a lot on in the ranch at the moment for the three of you and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for all of you to do a bit extra in here.’

 

 

 

‘But Pa!’ said Little Joe. ‘You got no idea what it’s like to have to do all these things!’

 

 

 

Ben raised his eyebrows. ‘Really?’ he said. ‘Have all of you forgotten that I raised the three of you for many years while doing all ‘these things’ as well?  I didn’t always have the support of Hop Sing you know and I certainly had to learn to cope with cleaning, cooking and washing along the way…. While I was looking after the three of you and earning a living I might add.’

 

 

 

There was silence. ‘We’re sorry Pa,’ said Adam quietly. ‘I guess we didn’t think.’

 

 

 

Ben smiled. ‘All I’m asking is for the three of you to try your best,’ he said. ‘I think Hop Sing deserves to be able to go away for a few weeks when he needs to and we don’t want him thinking he can’t do that just because we can’t cope without him.  Now I’ve got the railroad contracts and the timber deals to tie up during these next few weeks and I’ll be fairly busy.  I’ll help you when I can boys, but in general it’s over to the three of you to keep things going around here.’

 

 

 

‘We’ll try Pa,’ said Hoss. ‘You can depend on us.’

 

 

 

Ben nodded. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘And to be honest I think it’ll do the three of you good.  Make you appreciate things around here a bit more.’

 

 

 

‘Well I’d certainly appreciate things around here a lot more if Hop Sing were back!’ declared Joe. ‘I could learn to appreciate things from a distance if you know what I mean.’

 

 

 

‘Unfortunately I do know what you mean Joseph,’ said his father. ‘Now if I were you I’d get back to that laundry.  You need to get things under control before you even make it down to the corral this afternoon.  I’ll see you all at supper boys.’  He stood up and left the table, watched by three pairs of mournful eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

‘Pick up your feet please Pa,’ said Adam as he attempted to sweep around his father’s chair.

 

 

 

‘Why are you doing that now?’ asked his father in a surprised tone. ‘Can’t it wait until I’m at least dressed?’

 

 

 

‘If I wait until then I’ll never get the beds done before breakfast,’ said Adam. ‘And today is my day for polishing the furniture so I want to make a start on that.’  He looked at the floorboards. ‘These could do with a wash as well, but I think I’ll do them tomorrow. Downstairs will have to wait until the weekend.’

 

 

 

Ben tried not to smile at his son’s words, but simply moved away so that Adam could get to his bed. He began to lather his face and then stopped. ‘I don’t have any water,’ he said. ‘How can I shave with no water?’

 

 

 

Adam sighed. ‘I haven’t got to that yet,’ he said. ‘I’ll do it now.’ He picked up the jug and left the room.

 

 

 

Ben opened his drawer and began to search through his things. ‘Joseph!’ he called.

 

 

 

Little Joe’s head appeared around the doorframe. ‘Yes Pa?’ he said.

 

 

 

‘Why do I have no underwear in this drawer?’

 

 

 

‘Joe frowned. ‘Don’t you?  Gee I thought you did.  I’ll go and check downstairs.’  His head disappeared again.

 

 

 

Ben sighed as he went to his cupboard and pulled out the same pants that he had worn the day before. It hadn’t seemed worth it lately to expect to have clean ones everyday, so he’d given up putting them out to be washed. He had pulled them on and was searching for a clean shirt when Adam came back with a full jug of water.

 

 

 

‘I’m sorry Pa, but you’ll have to settle for cold again,’ he said. ‘Hoss is mighty tetchy down there in the kitchen and I couldn’t get near the stove for some warm water.’

 

 

 

‘That’s all right son,’ said Ben wearily. ‘I’m getting used to it.’ He poured the water into the basin and began to shave as Adam went back to sweeping.

 

 

 

‘Here you go Pa,’ said Little Joe as he came into the room with his father’s underwear. ‘I couldn’t get some of the stains out though… sorry.’ He held up the undershirt for his father’s inspection and Ben noticed the marks on the front of it.

 

 

 

‘I didn’t put those there,’ he said. ‘What is that from?’

 

 

 

‘Well it kinda got stained from Adam’s black shirt,’ said Joe. ‘It came out a bit different to how it started.  Don’t worry though… no one’ll see it under your shirt.’

 

 

 

‘That’s if I can find a shirt,’ said his father. ‘There doesn’t seem to be a clean one here.’

 

 

 

Joe sighed. ‘I’m sure I put one in there yesterday,’ he said as he rummaged through the drawer himself.

 

 

 

‘Yes you did,’ said his father. ‘And I wore it yesterday remember? It’s a funny thing about laundry Joseph, you keep having to do it son.’

 

 

 

‘I know!’ said Joe. ‘Tell me about it!’

 

 

 

‘Well I’ll have to wear the same one again I suppose,’ said Ben.

 

 

 

‘You’ll be just like the rest of us then,’ said Adam from across the room. ‘I haven’t had a clean shirt in … well, I don’t know how long.’

 

 

 

‘Well how would you know anyway?’ asked Joe. ‘One thing about them black shirts you insist on wearing, you can’t tell if they’re dirty or not.’

 

 

 

‘Just because they’re black doesn’t mean they don’t have to be washed though!’ said Adam. ‘I have a feeling you’re just putting them back into my drawer still dirty and pretending you’ve washed them.’

 

 

 

Joe tried unsuccessfully to look shocked. ‘As if I would!’ he said. ‘That’s a terrible thing to say!’

 

 

 

‘Joseph?’ said his father, looking at him closely. ‘Are you washing your brother’s shirts or not?’

 

 

 

Joe avoided his father’s eyes. ‘Of course I am!’ he said.

 

 

 

‘Well I’m going to start smelling them every morning,’ said Adam. ‘And you’d better be telling the truth little brother or you’ll be emptying your own chamber pot from now on.’

 

 

 

‘Now that’s one job I don’t envy you,’ said Little Joe, wrinkling up his nose. ‘I ain’t gonna do that!’

 

 

 

Ben shook his head. ‘Boys do you think you could have this conversation outside?’ he asked. ‘I would like to finish getting dressed.’ He watched as his two sons left the room, Adam trailing the broom behind him.

 

 

 

‘And by the way,’ he heard Adam say as they walked up the hall together. ‘The rubbish under your bed is disgusting!  Either you clean it out or I’m getting rid of the lot!’

 

 

 

‘Don’t you touch anything under there!’ came Joe’s voice. ‘That’s all my important stuff under there!’

 

 

 

‘Well clean it up then! I can’t get a broom under it!’

 

 

 

Ben shut the door to block his son’s voices.

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

Hoss looked at bit worse for wear as he came into the dining room carrying a large platter. His hair was splattered with flour and the apron he wore had stains on it that no one dared even to guess at.

 

 

 

‘Eggs again!’ said Joe, wrinkling up his nose.

 

 

 

‘I thought you liked my crunchy eggs!’ said Hoss crossly.

 

 

 

‘Yeah… but not every morning,’ replied his younger brother. ‘Can’t we have something different?’

 

 

 

‘I did bacon to go with em this morning,’ said Hoss, indicating some long black strips next to the eggs.

 

 

 

‘Is that what that is?’ asked Adam.

 

 

 

‘And there’s grits,’ said Hoss, lifting the lid from a bowl in the centre of the table. ‘You can put some molasses on em.’

 

 

 

‘Lots of molasses I think,’ said Adam as he put his finger into the bowl and licked it. ‘We’ll need to disguise the taste with something.’

 

 

 

‘Well you see if you can do any better!’ said Hoss crossly. ‘I’m sick of you two complaining about my cooking!’

 

 

 

‘And I’m sick of you two complaining about my laundry!’ said Little Joe.

 

 

 

‘You’re sick of the complaints?’ said Adam. ‘How do you think I feel every day?  Adam… where’s this?  Adam…. where’s that?  You two have to learn to pick up after yourselves! I shouldn’t have to be responsible for everything around here!  And while we’re at it…. the state of your rooms is disgusting!’ He pointed a finger at Hoss. ‘What have you been doing up there? There’s bits of who-knows-what all over your floor and your cupboards are disgraceful!’

 

 

 

‘What are you looking in my cupboards for!’ asked Hoss. ‘It’s none of your business what I’m keeping in em!’

 

 

 

‘It is so my business,’ said Adam. ‘At least I’m attempting to do my job properly.’

 

 

 

‘I’m pleased to hear it son,’ said Ben as he joined them. ‘Actually I was going to commend you on upstairs. ‘It’s not looking too bad at all.’

 

 

 

Adam smirked at the other two. ‘Thanks Pa,’ he said. ‘Oh, by the way… I’m going to do the floors down here today, so can you work upstairs?’

 

 

 

‘Is that necessary?’ asked his father.

 

 

 

‘Yes it is,’ said Adam. ‘I want to do the fireplace as well.’

 

 

 

‘Oh great!’ said Joe. ‘More dirty things for me to wash!’ He sighed. ‘And I have to do the tablecloths today as well.’

 

 

 

‘I’m sure you’ll cope son,’ said Ben.

 

 

 

Joe looked at his hands. ‘Yeah… but will my hands?’ he said mournfully. ‘That lye soap is terrible hard on the skin you know Pa.’

 

 

 

Ben stifled a laugh by holding his coffee cup to his mouth.  ‘Persevere Joseph,’ he said. ‘Persevere son.’

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

Ben stood up to stretch his aching back.  His bedroom table was not the most conducive spot to working on the accounts, but it was far preferable to downstairs where Adam was noisily polishing everything within sight. He walked over to the window and looked down into the front yard.  Every lower branch of each tree as well as several of the corral fences were covered with wet washing and Joseph was in the process of hanging more over the water trough.  Ben shook his head.  He really didn’t know where it all was coming from.  All their clothing seemed to disappear into the washhouse lately and Joseph spent an awful lot of time swishing water around, but none of it seemed to make it back to their rooms again.  It seemed like every day they were all searching for things to wear.

 

 

 

Suddenly Hoss appeared in the yard and emptied a large tray of vegetable peelings onto the compost heap. ‘Watch it!’ shouted Little Joe. ‘You’re splattering that muck on my clean washing!’

 

 

 

‘Well you shouldn’t have em hung there!’ said Hoss, just as angrily.

 

 

 

‘I ain’t got no where else ta put em!’ said Joe.

 

 

 

‘They don’t look too clean ta me!’ said Hoss, inspecting a shirt. ‘This one’s still got bits of food on it!’

 

 

 

Leave it alone!’ said Joe, snatching it from his brother’s hand.

 

 

 

‘Boys!’ shouted Ben from upstairs. ‘Can you keep it down a bit please?’

 

 

 

They both looked up. ‘Sorry Pa!’ shouted Hoss as his father’s head disappeared again. He turned towards Little Joe again. ‘I’m sick of wearing the same shirts all the time.  They’re going a funny colour too.

 

 

 

‘It’s not my fault!’ declared Little Joe. ‘It’s this lye soap.  All it seems to do is ruin my hands.  I don’t think it’s any good for clothes at all.’

 

 

 

‘Well Hop Sing seems ta be able ta make it work,’ said Hoss sarcastically. ‘You must be doing something wrong.’

 

 

 

‘Why don’t you just pay attention to your cooking and leave my washing alone?’ said Little Joe defensively. ‘I’m sick of everyone criticising my washing!’

 

 

 

‘Well maybe if you did it properly we wouldn’t have to,’ said Adam, coming up behind them. If you’re going to do a job Joe, then you should do it properly.’

 

 

 

‘I am doing it properly,’ said Joe. ‘As properly as I can do it at least!  Anyway, what about you?’

 

 

 

‘What about me?’ countered Adam. ‘Everything in the house is as tidy as can be.  You heard Pa say so the other day didn’t you? And that reminds me.  I’ve polished the floors downstairs so be careful when you go inside.  They’re a bit slippery.’

 

 

 

At that moment there was a crash from inside the house and the three brothers looked at each other in dismay. ‘What in tarnation was that?’ asked Hoss.

 

 

 

‘I don’t know,’ said Adam. ‘But whatever it was we’d better check it out.’  He took his gun out of his holster and motioned to his two brothers to cover him as they edged towards the house.

 

 

 

‘Adam… Pa’s upstairs!’ whispered Little Joe anxiously. ‘We gotta protect him!’

 

 

 

Adam opened the front door slowly and then swallowed as he looked inside. ‘I have a feeling I’m the one who might need to be protected,’ he said quietly as he surveyed the scene in front of him.

 

 

 

Ben was sitting on the floor rubbing his back, with a furious expression on his face.  He looked up and saw his three sons peering at him anxiously through the doorway. ‘What in tarnation is going on here?’ he thundered. ‘I came downstairs and the next thing I knew I was flat on my back! The rug just slipped out from under me.’  He tried to get up and slid back down again.

 

 

 

‘Sorry Pa,’ said Adam as he edged towards his father gingerly. ‘I polished the floors and forgot to tell you.  They’re a bit slippery.’

 

 

 

‘A bit slippery!’ thundered Ben as his eldest son helped him to his feet. ‘That’s an understatement!’

 

 

 

‘I think I might have used a bit too much polish,’ said Adam sheepishly. He gave Hoss and Joe a dark look as he noticed them giggling in the corner.

 

 

 

Ben rubbed his sore back. ‘Well, next time be careful please son,’ he said. ‘I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but make sure that you don’t kill any of us in the process.’ He glared at his two youngest sons. ‘Don’t you two have anything to do except stand there and laugh?’

 

 

 

‘Sure Pa,’ said Hoss. ‘I’m just going.’  He turned to leave the room and lost his balance on the slippery floor.  He clutched at Joe as he felt himself falling and the two of them slid to the floor, laughing as they went.

 

 

 

‘Boys!’ said Ben. ‘Please do your rough-housing outside!’

 

 

 

‘We’re trying to Pa,’ giggling Little Joe.  ‘We might just have ta crawl out there to do it though.  Older brother’s cleaning is a bit too much for us.  I’m sure glad you did such a good job Adam,’ he continued, ignoring his brother’s dark look. ‘You’re right about doing something well if you’re gonna do it.’  He dissolved into another fit of giggles, accompanied by Hoss.

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

‘I thought I might eat in town tonight,’ said Adam at lunch time.

 

 

 

‘What’s that supposed ta mean?’ asked Hoss defensively. ‘You criticising my cooking agen?’

 

 

 

Adam sighed. ‘Look Hoss… I know you’re trying hard, but we’ve had the same stew three nights in a row now.  I just don’t think I could take it again.’

 

 

 

Hoss looked hurt. ‘Well it’s the only thing I’ve worked out how ta cook,’ he said. ‘I’ll try something different tonight.’

 

 

 

Ben rolled his eyes at Adam and Joe. ‘Hoss I think Adam is right,’ he said. ‘We might give you a break tonight.  How about I treat us all to dinner in town?’

 

 

 

‘Sounds good Pa,’ said Little Joe.

 

 

 

‘Well all right,’ agreed Hoss. ‘But I’m still trying something new tomorrow. I’ve been thinking about doing something with chicken,’ he mused.

 

 

 

‘Yes, but what?’ whispered Adam behind his hand and Little Joe giggled.

 

 

 

Ben glared at them both. ‘Well then it’s settled,’ he said. ‘We’ll make a night of it boys.  Do us good to get dressed up and…’ his voice trailed off and he looked at Joe. ‘I suppose we’ll have something decent to wear, will we Joseph?’ he asked sarcastically.

 

 

 

Now it was Joe’s turn to look hurt. ‘Course we will!’ he said. ‘I’ve got all our shirts drying on the line outside. Don’t worry Pa, ‘We’ll look fine!’

 

 

 

‘Well I’ve got work to do,’ said Ben as he stood up and stepped gingerly away from the table.

 

 

 

‘It’s not too bad if you don’t step on a rug,’ said Joe. ‘Just walk in between them.’

 

 

 

‘That reminds me,’ said Adam. ‘Those rugs need a good clean.  I think I’ll get onto that tomorrow.’

 

 

 

‘Son there is such a thing as overdoing it,’ said Ben as he continued to make his way carefully across the room.

 

 

 

Now Adam looked hurt. ‘Well Pa it’s like you always say.  If you’re going to do a job, then you might as well….’

 

 

 

‘I know!’ interrupted his father. ‘You might as well do it properly.  I did say that didn’t I?’

 

 

 

‘Many times,’ said Adam smugly. ‘I’m only following your advice.’

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

‘Is that the best you can do?’ asked Adam as Hoss came down the stairs.

 

 

 

‘Hoss looked down at his crumpled shirt. ‘Yes it is,’ he said shortly. ‘You don’t look too great yourself big brother.’

 

 

 

Adam sighed. ‘Well let’s just hope that no one notices,’ he said. He lifted an eyebrow as Joe came bouncing down the stairs looking fresh and clean. ‘Hey!  How come your shirt looks better than the rest of ours?’ he asked suspiciously.

 

 

 

Joe gave him a cheeky grin. ‘It’s just the package older brother.  The wrapping can only look as good as the package after all and with this body… well anything would look good!’

 

 

 

Hoss fingered his brother’s shirt suspiciously. ‘I dunno,’ he said slowly. ‘Seems to me that this looks a lot cleaner than ours.  Have you been paying your own things more attention than ours little brother?’

 

 

 

Joe tried to look offended. ‘As if I would!’ he said. ‘I treat em all the same in the washtub.’

 

 

 

Adam closed in on the other side of him and took a close look at Joe’s shirt. ‘I’m beginning to think our little brother’s been holding out on us Hoss,’ he said slowly. ‘He does look a mite too fresh for my liking!’

 

 

 

Joe swallowed and tried to get away from his two older brothers, but Hoss held him firmly in place. ‘Come on Joseph,’ he said threateningly. ‘Come clean … and I don’t just mean the laundry! Just what have you been up to?’

 

 

 

Joe swallowed again and tried to wriggle out of his brother’s grasp. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ he said anxiously. ‘It ain’t my fault if my shirt looks better than yours!’

 

 

 

‘What’s all this about?’ asked Ben as he reached the bottom of the stairs.

 

 

 

‘We have a feeling our little brother here is holding out on us about something,’ said Adam, still staring at Joe’s shirt. ‘His clothing is a mite too clean compared to ours.  Don’t you think so Pa?’

 

 

 

Ben looked at his youngest son closely. ‘Come to think of it, you’re right,’ he said. ‘Joseph!  What’s the meaning of this?  How is it that your clothes look better than ours?’

 

 

 

Joe looked at his father. ‘Well….’ he said. ‘I guess…. I guess I just musta done a better job on some things more than others. I didn’t mean to!’

 

 

 

‘You certainly did,’ said Ben, fingering his son’s shirt. ‘Why Joseph!  This is as good as they do in the Chinese Laundry in town.  If I didn’t know any better I’d swear it had come straight from there.’

 

 

 

Hoss and Adam stared at their little brother. ‘You little scumbag!’ said Hoss. ‘I’m gonna throttle you!’

 

 

 

‘No!’ cried Joe. ‘Don’t!  Pa, help me!’

 

 

 

Adam grabbed him on the other side. ‘You’ve been taking your own things into town to get done!’ he said. ‘And letting us walk around in half dirty things all this time! How could you?’

 

 

 

‘I couldn’t afford to get everyone’s done!’ cried Joe desperately. ‘It was too expensive!’

 

 

 

Ben swatted his youngest son on the side of his head. ‘You and I are going to have words about this tomorrow Joseph,’ he said in a low voice. ‘This is the end of your little excursions into the Chinese Laundry young man.  From now on you are going to suffer just like the rest of us! Now the three of you get out there to the buggy and stop this nonsense!’  As the Hoss and Adam manhandled Joe out of the room threateningly, Ben looked down at his own shirt which looked a bit worse for wear and sighed. ‘Come back soon Hop Sing!’ he said softly. ‘Before I kill these three boys of mine!’

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

Ben looked crossly across the table at Joe as the youngster gave another huge yawn. ‘Could you at least cover your mouth when you do that?’ he asked.

 

 

 

‘Sorry Pa,’ said Joe as he rubbed his eyes. ‘I didn’t get much sleep last night.  It was so cold in my room that I just couldn’t.’

 

 

 

Ben lifted an eyebrow. ‘May I remind you that no one got much sleep last night Joseph,’ he said. ‘We all had to sleep with our windows open… remember?’

 

 

 

Joe nodded and gave another loud yawn. ‘Who woulda thought that furniture polish could be so bad ta smell?’ he said.

 

 

 

‘Don’t start on about that again!’ said Adam crossly as he sat down. ‘How many times do you want me to say that I’m sorry?’

 

 

 

‘Son we know that you didn’t mean it,’ said Ben as he began to yawn himself. ‘But you really must learn to read the labels on those bottles before you use any more of Hop Sing’s cleaning products.’

 

 

 

‘That’s just the problem Pa,’ said Adam. ‘They don’t have labels.  Hop Sing must just make up the mixtures himself.  Obviously that particular one was meant to be diluted.’

 

 

 

‘Obviously,’ said Joe.

 

 

 

Adam shot him a dark look. ‘Well if we keep all our windows open today it should be all right by tonight,’ he said.

 

 

 

‘You’d better hope so,’ said Joe. ‘I’ve got a lot of work to do and I need my sleep.’

 

 

 

‘You certainly do Joseph,’ said his father in a stern voice. ‘Now that you aren’t going to be visiting any more Chinese Laundries in town your work has probably increased quite considerably.’ He shot Joe a meaningful look. ‘Understand?’

 

 

 

Joe put his head down. ‘Yes Pa,’ he said quietly. ‘He had hoped that his father had forgotten about that, but obviously not.

 

 

 

‘Speaking of which,’ said Adam as he fingered his shirt. ‘You’re obviously being too rough with our things Joe.  Half of my shirts are missing buttons.’

 

 

 

‘Mine too!’ declared Hoss as he plonked the usual plate of crunchy eggs and black bacon on the table.

 

 

 

‘Well that’s not my problem!’ said Little Joe.

 

 

 

‘It certainly is son,’ said his father. ‘Doing the laundry includes any repairs that might need sewing.’

 

 

 

Joe gave his father an appalled look. ‘But I ain’t got any idea how ta sew on a button!’ he said.

 

 

 

‘Well you’d better learn then, don’t you think?’ said his father. ‘This will be a good experience for you Joseph.’

 

 

 

Joe pouted in his chair. ‘I think Hop Sing has a sewing basket in the washhouse,’ said Ben. ‘You can look for it this morning while you’re doing the laundry.’

 

 

 

‘Yes Pa,’ said Joe quietly.

 

 

 

Hoss looked up from his breakfast. ‘I’ve got a new recipe for supper tonight,’ he said enthusiastically. ‘

 

 

 

‘Oh good!’ said Adam sarcastically. ‘What is it to be this time?’

 

 

 

‘Fried chicken!’ replied Hoss with a grin. ‘I reckon I can’t go much wrong with that!  And I’m gonna do baked vegetables with it! Ya know… I’m kinda beginning to enjoy this cooking stuff!’  He stood up. ‘Excuse me Pa. I’ve got ta get ta kneading my dough.  Iffen I don’t get it into the oven before noon it won’t be ready for tonight.’

 

 

 

Ben gave him a weak smile as he left the room. ‘Do you think we should tell him where we’ve been putting the leftover bread?’ asked Joe in a whisper.

 

 

 

‘No!’ said his father. ‘I told you before that it would only hurt his feelings!’

 

 

 

‘Well at least we don’t have to eat it this way!’ said Adam. ‘I figure it’s better buried in the garden than in our stomachs.’

 

 

 

Joe shook his head. ‘You’re forgetting one thing older brother,’ he said. ‘It can’t make it as far as our stomachs.  It’s impossible to chew it into a state where it can get down our throats remember?’

 

 

 

Adam nodded. ‘True,’ he said. ‘Well I’d better get going too. It’s my day on kitchen cleanup today and I want to clean out all those cupboards.’

 

 

 

Ben sighed as he drank his coffee.

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

Ben looked up from his paper at his three sons who were all seated in the living room engaged it what could only be described as unusual past times.  Adam had a happy expression on his face as he polished the silverware, Hoss was studying a recipe book with a confused expression on his face and Joe was almost going cross-eyed as he tried unsuccessfully to thread a needle.  Ben nearly laughed out loud before he stopped himself by coughing.

 

 

 

‘Well you three seem to be finding things to keep you busy,’ he said cheerily.

 

 

 

Adam smiled at his father ‘You know what Pa?  This is kind of relaxing in a way.’  He looked at his reflection in the silver teapot that he was polishing.

 

 

 

‘I’m glad that you think so,’ said Joe. ‘Ow!’  He sucked his thumb as he pulled the needle out yet again.

 

 

 

‘Come here Joseph and I’ll show you how to do that,’ said Ben. ‘It goes like this… see?’

 

 

 

‘How’d ya learn to do that Pa? asked Joe impressed.

 

 

 

‘I told you before. I didn’t always have Hop Sing around to help,’ said Ben. ‘Here … you try.’

 

 

 

Joe gave him a cheeky grin. ‘Why don’t you sew the buttons on Pa?  That way I could watch you and learn while you’re doing it?’

 

 

 

Ben handed his youngest son the needle and thread. ‘I think you’ll learn a lot quicker by doing it yourself Joseph,’ he said. ‘Go on.’

 

 

 

Joe gave his father a sheepish look. ‘Well it was worth a try,’ he said, shrugging his shoulders.

 

 

 

‘Boys I must say that I’m proud of you all,’ said Ben. ‘You’ve really risen to the challenge of keeping things going around here while Hop Sing has been away. Even if it has been with varied success. All in all, I think things around here haven’t been too bad at all.’

 

 

 

He was interrupted by Joe. ‘Ow!’ he said. ‘Darn needle!  Why do they haveta make the holes in these buttons so small for anyways?’

 

 

 

Adam rolled his eyes at his father. ‘You were saying Pa?’ he asked with a grin.

 

 

 

Hoss looked up from his recipe book. ‘Ya know what?’ he said to no one in particular. ‘There’s a big difference between frying and baking.’

 

 

 

Ben gave his middle son a look of astonishment and decided to ignore the comment. ‘At least we’re learning to appreciate Hop Sing,’ he continued. ‘And that can only be a good thing.’

 

 

 

‘Ow!’

 

 

 

‘When do you think he might be back Pa?’ asked Adam as he continued to polish.

 

 

 

‘I really don’t know.  He said a few weeks, so I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.’

 

 

 

‘Ow!’

 

 

 

Hoss began to mutter under his breath. ‘What?’ asked Ben.

 

 

 

His middle son looked up. ‘Oh… sorry Pa,’ he said. ‘I’m just reading an interesting bit here bout bacon.  I think I might try it a bit different tomorrow.’

 

 

 

‘As long as you don’t use the large frying pan,’ said Adam firmly. ‘I just scrubbed it today and I don’t want you getting it all greasy again!’

 

 

 

‘Ow!’

 

 

 

Hoss looked flustered. ‘Well I can’t cook iffen I can’t use the pans and such like,’ he said. ‘That’s what they’re there for!’

 

 

 

‘I spent hours cleaning up that kitchen today and I don’t want you getting it all dirty again!’ said Adam. ‘Can’t you cook without using the pans?’

 

 

 

‘No I can!’ said Hoss.

 

 

 

Joe giggled. ‘He can’t cook with using the pans!’ he said. ‘Ow!’

 

 

 

Hoss glared at him. ‘You shut up and get back ta your sewing!’ he said, burying his nose in his recipe book again.

 

 

 

Ben sighed as he reached for his pipe.

 

 

 

‘Ow!’ said Joe again.

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

Ben raised his head and listened to the shouting coming from outside in the front yard.  He began to massage his temples as he felt another headache coming on. Those boys!  If it wasn’t one thing it was another!  He stood up wearily and headed for the front door, hearing Joe yelling as he opened it.

 

 

 

‘You did it on purpose! I’m gonna pound you Adam!’

 

 

 

Adam put his hands on his hips. ‘You just try it little brother,’ he said.  ‘Come on… I’m ready for you!  You’ve been looking for this for days now!’

 

 

 

‘That’s enough!’ thundered Ben. ‘Is it absolutely necessary to carry on like this boys?’

 

 

 

Joe turned to his father angrily. ‘Look what he’s done Pa!’ he pointed to his washing that was hung up over everything as usual.

 

 

 

Ben looked at the array of underwear, shirts and towels. ‘What?’ he said.

 

 

 

He’s dirtied it all up!’ declared Joe. ‘He’s been hitting them rugs and spraying the dirt all over my clean washing!’

 

 

 

Adam raised his hands defensively. ‘I didn’t know it was there,’ he said. ‘These rugs need cleaning and that was all there is to it.’

 

 

 

‘Didn’t know it was there?’ yelled Joe incredulously. ‘How could you not know it was there?’

 

 

 

‘I didn’t feel it necessary to look all over the front yard for washing,’ said Adam as he hit one of the rugs again that he’d draped over the fence. ‘If you had any sense you’d have hung them on the line out back like Hop Sing does.’

 

 

 

‘I’ve got the sheets hung out there!’ said Joe angrily. ‘I told you we needed more lines out there, but you didn’t put them up did you?’

 

 

 

‘Why should I put them up?  You’re the one that does the washing, not me!’ said Adam calmly as he continued to beat the rug. ‘If you want extra lines then you can put them up yourself.  I’ve got more important things to do.’

 

 

 

‘More important things?’ yelled Joe. ‘Like what?  Polishing things that have already been polished?  Changing sheets that aren’t dirty?  Emptying chamber pots?’

 

 

 

‘Yes,’ said Adam haughtily. ‘All of those things and more.  Cleaning is an ongoing responsibility you know. Not something that you do once and then forget about. If you’re going to do something….’

 

 

 

Joe threw his hands up. ‘Don’t start that again!’ he said. ‘Pa!  Tell him to stop beating that rug here will you?’

 

 

 

‘Adam, isn’t there somewhere else you could do that son?’ asked Ben wearily.

 

 

 

Adam pulled the rug off the fence. ‘All right,’ he said haughtily. ‘I’ll do it around the back.’  He marched off around the side of the house.

 

 

 

Joe shook his head and pulled several pieces of underwear off the tree branches and looked at them closely. ‘I’ll haveta re-do these ones now!’ he said angrily

 

 

 

Ben took a close look at them. ‘Joseph can you tell me why these are all pink?’ he said. ‘Since when have we been buying pink underwear?’

 

 

 

Joe looked sheepish. ‘Oh… well that was kinda a mistake Pa,’ he admitted. ‘You see….’

 

 

 

‘Yes?’

 

 

 

Well, I thought I’d save time and soak them all together.  They kinda ended up pink because they was in the water with Hoss’ red flannel under-drawers.’  He stole a glance at his father’s face and said hastily. ‘But don’t worry Pa,’ he assured his father. ‘It’s only the underwear.  No one sees it under your other things.’

 

 

 

Ben nodded without commenting.  Somehow it didn’t seem worth it to say anything. ‘Carry on then Joseph,’ he said quietly as he turned towards the house again.

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++

 

 

 

 

 

Ben fingered the buttons down the front of his shirt cautiously.  They felt so stiff that he wondered if he would be able to get them through the button-holes.  He turned his shirt inside out and stared in amazement at the huge wad of thread that was holding the button in place at the back of it. ‘Joseph!’ he said in frustration and then pulled the shirt on wearily.  After several attempts he managed to get the buttons done up, although they did look sort of strange sticking out from the material of the shirt.  He covered them up with his vest. At least Joe couldn’t do anything to ruin that! he thought.

 

 

 

He descended the stairs carefully, aware that Adam had been scrubbing them the day before.  He couldn’t be sure if they had also succumbed to his eldest son’s zeal for polishing and so decided not to take any chances.  As he got to the bottom, he noticed the huge vase of flowers on the table and the fresh tablecloth. The fireplace was already ablaze and there was a strange smell coming from the kitchen.

 

 

 

As he stood looking around him, Hoss strode into the room. ‘Morning Pa!’ he said cheerily. ‘Ready for breakfast?’

 

 

 

Ben nodded weakly as he sat down. ‘Eggs again I suppose?’ he said.

 

 

 

‘Nope!’ said Hoss. ‘I tried something different!’  He grinned as he put a steaming plate of hotcakes in front of his father.

 

 

 

Ben looked up as Adam and Joe approached the table. ‘Where are the eggs?’ asked Joe.

 

 

 

‘I did hotcakes this morning,’ said Hoss proudly. ‘Try some!’

 

 

 

Joe looked at Adam. ‘You first,’ he said.

 

 

 

Adam looked at his father. ‘How are yours Pa?’ he asked cautiously.

 

 

 

Ben took a small bite. ‘Not bad,’ he said. ‘I think you might have….’ He spat his mouthful into his napkin and took a long swig of coffee. ‘Hoss!’ he said. ‘What did you put in them son?’

 

 

 

Hoss looked dejected. ‘I followed the recipe exactly this time,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t have gone wrong! There’s only flour and sugar and baking powder in em with a bit of milk. Maybe the baking powder is off.  I’ll go and check it in the red canister.’

 

 

 

‘The red canister?’ asked Adam.

 

 

 

‘Yeah,’ said Hoss. ‘The red canister where it always is. Why?’

 

 

 

‘Oh.  Well I was rearranging the kitchen last night and I forgot to tell you.  I reorganised some of the ingredients in the canisters,’ replied Adam with a shrug.

 

 

 

‘You what?  Why on earth would you do a thing like that?’ said Hoss angrily.

 

 

 

‘Well it makes sense,’ said Adam defensively. ‘I put them in alphabetical order.  It makes it easier to find them.’

 

 

 

‘Well it don’t make it easier to find em iffen ya don’t know what’s in em in the first place!’ said Hoss. ‘What did ya put in the red canister?’

 

 

 

Adam hesitated. ‘Gelatine,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry Pa.  It won’t kill you.’

 

 

 

Ben sighed. ‘At this point Adam, killing me just might be a blessing son.’  He stood up from the table. ‘Boys I know you all mean well, but I have just about had it.  I cannot take one more day of this!  I think I’m going to stay in town for a few days and get myself a decent meal, dress in decent clothing that I know is not going to pop buttons every time I put it on and walk around without falling over every two minutes.’ He flung his napkin down on the table. ‘I must admit, that the sooner that cook of ours gets back the better!’

 

 

 

‘Hop Sing!’ shouted Joe.

 

 

 

Ben glared at his youngest son. ‘Yes Joseph, Hop Sing,’ he said. ‘I haven’t forgotten his name.’

 

 

 

No Pa!’ said Little Joe pointing. ‘Hop Sing!  He’s come back!’

 

 

 

Ben turned to see the Chinese cook standing in the doorway watching them all silently. ‘Hop Sing!’ he said as he walked over and hugged the man. ‘Am I sure glad to see you!’

 

 

 

Hop Sing looked around at them all. ‘What you all yell for?’ he said and frowned as one after the other Adam, Hoss and Joe all gave him a hug. ‘What you do?’ he said as he waved them all away. ‘Fuss!  Fuss! Stop all fuss!’

 

 

 

‘We’re just glad to see you Hop Sing!’ said Adam. ‘We really missed you.’

 

 

 

‘How’s your cousin Hop Sing?’ asked Joe. ‘Is he better now?’

 

 

 

‘He hurt in heart,’ said Hop Sing.

 

 

 

Ben frowned. ‘Oh Hop Sing, I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘Are you sure you should have left him if he’s that bad?’

 

 

 

‘He not bad,’ said Hop Sing glaring at them all. ‘I hit him on head to make better.’

 

 

 

What?’

 

 

 

Hop Sing nodded. ‘It work,’ he said. ‘Knock some sense into him head.’

 

 

 

Ben looked confused. ‘I don’t understand,’ he said.

 

 

 

‘Him got sore heart from Chinese girl,’ said Hop Sing. ‘She leave him.’

 

 

 

‘Oh!’ said Joe. ‘He’s got a broken heart is that it?’

 

 

 

‘Hmph!’ said Hop Sing. ‘Waste of trip!’ He looked around. ‘House look good!’ he declared.

 

 

 

‘Believe me Hop Sing, it is only on the surface,’ said Ben. ‘We really need you to fix a few things up around here.’

 

 

 

Hop Sing glared at him. ‘All time work!’ he said. ‘Hop Sing not appreciated!’

 

 

 

‘Oh believe me Hop Sing, you certainly are appreciated,’ said Ben. ‘We’re so pleased to have you back!’

 

 

 

Hop Sing sniffed the air. ‘What awful smell?’ he asked.

 

 

 

‘That’s breakfast,’ said Joe mournfully. ‘Hoss has been in charge of the cooking.’

 

 

 

‘Number Two son better at eating than cooking,’ said Hop Sing.

 

 

 

‘That’s for sure Hop Sing,’ said Hoss with a grin. ‘I agree with you one hundred percent.’

 

 

 

‘I kept things really clean for you Hop Sing,’ said Adam. ‘I think you’ll be pleased at the state of the house.’

 

 

 

Hop Sing nodded as he looked around again. ‘Look good,’ he agreed. ‘Plenty clean!’

 

 

 

Adam puffed up with pride and gave his two brothers a smirk. ‘Thank you!’ he said. ‘It’s more than can be said for other things around here.’

 

 

 

Now Adam,’ interrupted his father. ‘Your brothers tried their best to keep things going.’

 

 

 

‘Yeah!’ said Joe. ‘It weren’t my fault if the laundry weren’t as good as when Hop Sing does it.’  He put his arm around Hop Sing’s shoulder. ‘I’m gonna put some new washing lines out back for ya Hop Sing,’ he said.

 

 

 

Hop Sing frowned at him. ‘Why?’ he asked.

 

 

 

‘To make it easier for you to get things dry,’ said Little Joe.

 

 

 

Hop Sing shook his head. ‘No need,’ he said. ‘Plenty lines already.  Leave washing alone!’

 

 

 

Joe nodded. ‘I’m only too happy to obey you there Hop Sing,’ he said. ‘I don’t understand how you can possibly manage with things as they are though.  I think you need….’

 

 

 

Hop Sing brushed his arm away and pointed his finger at him. ‘I think you need butt out of Hop Sing laundry!’ he said. ‘All Cartwrights butt out of Hop Sing work!’

 

 

 

Ben laughed. ‘Oh we will Hop Sing!’ he said. ‘Here… let me help you with your bag.’

 

 

 

Hop Sing brushed him aside. ‘Can do!’ he said crossly. He sniffed the air again. ‘Get proper breakfast now.’  He left the room, leaving the four Cartwrights grinning behind him.

 

 

 

Ben clapped his hands together. ‘Well boys!’ he said happily. ‘It seems as if life is about to settle down again.  Let’s sit down and wait for our breakfast shall we?’ He strode over to the table and sat down, grinning at his three sons as they took their places beside him.  ‘Now we can get back to….’

 

 

 

His words were cut off by an exclamation from the kitchen, followed by a string of Chinese words. Suddenly, Hop Sing appeared, waving a pan above his head. ‘Who change things round in kitchen?’ he shouted. ‘All pans moved!  All ingredients changed!  Floor slippery too!’  He glared at them all.

 

 

 

Joe pointed to Adam. ‘He did it!’ he said firmly. ‘It was Adam.’

 

 

 

Hop Sing walked slowly towards the eldest Cartwright son, his eyes blazing. ‘Stay out of kitchen!’ he shouted. ‘And you!’ he banged Hoss on the side of the head. ‘No more cooking! You use all flour! No sugar left!  No one get supplies!’

 

 

 

‘Sorry Hop Sing,’ said Hoss. ‘I was too busy cooking ta get any new stuff.’

 

 

 

‘No breakfast!’ shouted Hop Sing. ‘No time make breakfast!  Hop Sing need fix kitchen!’  He walked back towards the kitchen, hitting Little Joe on the head as he passed him.

 

 

 

‘Ow! What was that for?’ asked Joe indignantly. ‘It was them two, not me!  What did I do wrong?’

 

 

 

‘I think of something!’ said Hop Sing as he left the room. ‘I find what you done wrong later! Sure there be something!’

 

 

 

There was silence as the four Cartwrights looked at the ruined, cold hotcakes on the table in front of them. ‘Well it doesn’t look like we’re getting anything else to eat here,’ said Ben after a moment. ‘How about we go into town for breakfast boys?’

 

 

 

‘Good idea Pa!’ agreed Hoss.

 

 

 

‘And we could take our time in there,’ suggested Adam. ‘By the time we get back Hop Sing might have straightened things out around here.’

 

 

 

‘We could get the supplies he needs to sweeten him up a bit,’ said Joe.

 

 

 

‘Good idea,’ said Ben. ‘Come on boys, let’s get out of here.’  He followed his three sons towards the door.  As he paused to put on his hat, he heard another loud bang from the kitchen followed by another string of Chinese words. ‘Welcome back Hop Sing,’ he said softly as he left the room.

 

The End

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Author: Joan S

From her Australian base, Joan is one of the most prolific writers of Bonanza Fanfic over the past few years. Although you can read 67 of her stories on Bonanza Brand, she also has a website where you can access her whole collection of stories. http://sites.google.com/site/joansstories/home

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