Summary: Ben comes home to find trouble in the house
Rated: K (6,270 words)
And So The Sad Tale Begins
Ben Cartwright eased himself off his horse slowly and sighed as he straightened up. He rubbed his back thoughtfully as he patted his horse’s muzzle, for it had been a long day and he was aching for a good hot meal and a soft bed to ease himself into. Negotiating those contracts with the army had been hard enough, but having to go to Reno had made it twice as difficult and he was so glad to be home again. Halfway home his weary bones had cried out for rest and he’d regretted the decision not to stay overnight there, but now that he was standing here in the front yard he felt as if it was all worth the effort. There was nothing like coming home, he decided.
The lights of the house beckoned eagerly to him, but years of habit forced him to turn towards the barn instead. Wearily he walked the few steps towards the building, intending as always to look after his horse’s needs before his own. He jumped slightly as a dim figure came out of the shadows towards him. “Charlie?” he said as he recognised The Ponderosa foreman. “What are you doing here at this hour?”
Charlie shrugged casually, but Ben noticed that his eyes didn’t meet those of his employer. “Just taking a walk,” he said vaguely. “I’ll look after your horse for you boss. Reckon you’d best get inside.” He grabbed hold of the horse’s reins quickly and began to walk into the barn.
“Hold on there,” said Ben in a puzzled tone. “What do you mean by that remark?”
Charlie shrugged again and scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Well it ain’t for me to say,” he said, obviously choosing his words carefully. “Only … well I reckon with all the noises that have been coming from the house, that you’d best be getting over there.”
Ben closed his eyes momentarily, envisaging all sorts of trouble. “I see,” he said, after a moment’s hesitation, although he didn’t really. “Thanks Charlie. I am a bit weary and putting up my horse is one thing I can do without.”
Charlie shook his head as his boss turned away from him and then led the horse into the barn. “Glad that it’s him and not me,” he muttered to the animal under his breath.
Ben strained his ears as he approached the house, anxious to hear whatever it was that Charlie had been referring to, but the house was deathly quiet. Ben’s blood froze as he considered the possibilities that Charlie might have meant, yet he felt certain that if it had been something serious like a fire or marauding Indians that the man would have said so. Still, he didn’t like to take a chance, so as one hand grasped hold of the front doorknob, the other pulled his pistol out of its holster in readiness.
As Ben opened the front door, his first thought was that his instincts had been right and marauding Indians had ransacked the house. He stood in amazement at the chaos around him, not knowing where to look first.
Two of the light fittings were hanging crookedly from the ceiling, the dining room table was decidedly crooked, there was soot all over the ceiling and walls, something was hanging from the steer-horns above the fireplace ….
Ben shut his eyes before he could see what else was wrong and then opened them again reluctantly as he turned towards the front wall of the house. Over in his study, his normally tidy desk was strewn with papers, the shutters on the far windows were falling off their hinges, the curtains had been ripped at one end, the bookcases behind his desk had fallen over and books were strewn everywhere. Over near the staircase, the Indian blanket that always hung there had been haphazardly thrown onto the floor and on it were piled several guns from the gun rack.
“Boys!” he shouted anxiously, fingering his gun as he looked around the room. “Adam! Hoss! Joe!”
To his immense relief, a curly head poked up from behind the sofa and Joe’s face smiled tentatively at him. “Hi Pa,” he said simply.
Ben drew a deep breath. “Where are your brothers?” he asked quickly. “Are they all right?”
Joe nodded. “They’re fine,” he assured his father. He stood up and looked around mournfully. “We had a bit of trouble,” he said with a sigh.
Ben put his gun back in its holster. “What was it?” he asked. “Banditos? Indians? Tell me … what happened?”
Joe swallowed. “Well, not exactly,” he admitted.
“Have your brothers gone for the sheriff?” asked Ben, striding across the room towards the fireplace. To his surprise, he kicked up several things on the floor as he walked which could only be described as …. “Feathers?” he said in surprise. “Where on earth did all these feathers come from?” Joe smiled at his father, but even through his own anxiety Ben noticed that his son’s smile was a mighty anxious one.
“They came from the chickens,” Joe said.
Ben tried to get his mind around what his son had said. “Chickens?” he said at last. “I don’t understand.”
“Feathers come from chickens,” explained Joe simply.
Ben closed his eyes for a moment and counted to ten. “I know that Joe,” he said, opening them again. “What I’m asking is … what they are doing in the house?”
Joe shrugged. “The chickens or the feathers?” he asked.
“Lord give me patience!” said Ben angrily. “You are making me very angry Joseph! Tell me where your brothers are!”
“They’re in the kitchen,” said Joe, taking a step backwards. “Hoss is tending to Adam’s back.”
“His back?” asked Ben. “What happened to his back?”
“He hurt it when he fell off the table,” explained Joe. “It was his own fault though cause I told him not to get up there.”
Ben walked over and sat on the sofa, noting as he did so that Joe edged away from it. He was beginning to think that the havoc that he saw around him might have more to do with his sons that visiting banditos or Indians and the thought made his blood boil. “Get your brothers in here,” he said sternly. “Maybe they’ll make more sense of this than you are, young man.”
“But I am making sense,” Joe protested. “I told you that Adam hurt his back when he fell off the table.”
“What was he doing on the table in the first place?” asked Ben, against his better judgement.
“He was trying to get a chicken off the light fitting,” said Joe. “I told him it was better to use a broom though, like Hoss was doing.”
“Let me get this straight,” said Ben. “Your brothers were trying to get chickens out of the house? Pray tell, what were they doing in the house in the first place?”
“The chickens, or Adam and Hoss?” asked Joe.
Ben took a deep breath. “The chickens!” he shouted.
“Oh,” said Joe, taking a step backwards. “Well, they came in through the kitchen when Hoss left the door open.”
“Well that was a stupid thing to do,” said Ben.
“That’s what I told him,” replied Joe. “But I guess he was kinda busy, what with the fire and all.”
“The fire?” asked Ben, looking up at his son weakly. “What fire? Where?”
“In the kitchen,” said Joe. “Oh, don’t worry Pa. It wasn’t a bad one. Nothing much was burnt, except for Hoss.”
“Yeah,” said Joe casually. He turned as his brothers came into the room. “He’ll tell you about it,” he said, indicating a sorry-looking Hoss. “Tell Pa about the fire Hoss,” he said.
Hoss gave his younger brother a dark look before turning to his father. “Hi Pa,” he said.
“Don’t you hi Pa me!” exploded Ben. “What’s this about you and a fire?”
Hoss looked somewhat shamefaced and Ben noticed that his hair had been slightly singed at the front. “Are you all right son?” he asked anxiously.
Hoss nodded. “I’m fine,” he said. “Just a bit burnt in a couple of places,” he added.
“He’s fine,” said Adam, hobbling across the room and sitting down gingerly on the blue chair next to the fireplace. “I’m the one who’s in pain here. Does no one care?”
Ben stared at his eldest son and noted the large wad of cloth that he held to his back. “You fell?” he said.
Adam nodded. “Yes,” he replied. “I must have landed the wrong way and pinched a nerve or something.” He pointed a finger at Hoss accusingly. “It wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t let those chickens in.”
“I didn’t mean to,” said Hoss indignantly. “Anyway I had my hands full with other things at the time.”
“The fire?” said Ben. “I still haven’t found out about that yet.”
“The fire,” said Hoss with a nod of his head. “Which this one here caused.” He pointed at Joe accusingly.
“Me?” squeaked Joe. “That ain’t true Pa,” he assured his father. “He was the one that lit the stove in the first place.”
“Well it wouldn’t have lit up the curtains if it hadn’t been for you firing that gun!” said Hoss grimly.
“Gun?” interrupted their father. “What gun? And why were you firing a gun in the house young man?”
“It went off accidentally,” Joe said.
“The second one did,” said Adam. “The first one was your fault.”
“The second one?” said Ben, looking from one son to the other. “Will someone please start at the beginning? I have no idea what you’re all talking about.”
“We are Pa,” said Joe patiently. “You haven’t been listening.”
“What did you say young man!?” Ben exploded. Joe took a step backwards at the look in his father’s eye. “I come home to ….” Ben waved his hands around the chaos in the room angrily. “… to this!” he shouted. “Tell me one good reason why all of this happened?” he said. “I want one of you to make some sense!”
“Calm down Pa,” said Adam soothingly. “I managed to get control of things and no one was hurt. Well …” he added. “Apart from my back and a few superficial burns for Hoss.”
“What about me?” demanded Joe. “I count too, you know! I hurt my head and my shoulder when I hit that bookcase!” He rubbed his head mournfully and gave his father one of his best puppy-dog looks, but Ben took no notice of it.
“That was your own fault,” said Adam. “I have no sympathy for you. Sliding over Pa’s desk like that was just plain stupid Joe. You’re lucky that nothing more than the picture frames were ….” He stopped as he realised what he’d said, and stared at his father apologetically for a moment.
Ben’s eyes flashed with anger. “Picture frames?” he said, sitting up straight on the sofa. “Please tell me that you’re not talking about your mothers’ picture frames on my desk?”
“I’m afraid so,” said Adam, when it was clear that neither of his brothers were going to speak. “Joe knocked them to the floor when he slid across your desk.”
“I didn’t mean to!” said Joe quickly. “Besides, they’re just a little bit bent. Honest Pa!”
“Get them!” demanded his father. “Now!”
Joe walked meekly over to his father’s desk and picked up the three gold frames that were lying on it. He brought them over to his father and handed them to him, keeping himself a full arm’s distance from the man while he did so. “See?” he said as Ben fingered them gently. “They’re just a bit bent on one side. They can be fixed.”
“You’d better hope so Joseph,” said Ben in a steely voice as he hugged the frames close to his chest. “Or your life won’t be worth living, young man.”
“Gee Pa, I didn’t mean to do it,” said Joe defensively. “It just all happened so quickly. I had to move real fast when that second shot went off and ….”
“I still don’t understand why there were two gunshots,” interrupted Ben. “Will someone please start at the beginning?”
“We’re trying to Pa,” said Joe. “But you keep interrupting us.” He swallowed at the look that his father gave him and took a step backwards again.
“The first shot happened when Joe fired it into the floor,” explained Adam.
“What?” shouted Ben.
“Don’t worry Pa,” said Hoss. “It only made a little hole.” He indicated a small hole in the floorboard next to the fireplace. “It didn’t hit no-one.”
“Joseph? Why were you handling a loaded gun in the house in the first place?” asked Ben angrily.
“I got it out of the gun rack because of the racoon,” said Joe.
“Racoon?” asked his father, not knowing if it was wise to ask.
“Well I couldn’t think of any other way to get rid of it,” said Joe. “And if it hadn’t been for Hoss everything would have been fine.”
“You were going to shoot it,” said Hoss accusingly.
“Damn right I was,” said Joe and then clamped his hand over his mouth. “Sorry Pa,” he said quickly.
Ben decided to ignore the cuss word under the circumstances.
“As if I’d let you shoot a poor defenceless animal,” said Hoss in a huffy tone. “He wasn’t doing you no harm.”
“Well he mightn’t have been doing Joe any harm,” interrupted Adam. “But he sure was wreaking havoc with the walls.” He indicated several scratch marks on the daubed walls that Ben up to this point hadn’t noticed. “You should have let Joe shoot it,” he added.
“Yeah,” echoed Joe smugly. “You shoulda let me shoot it Hoss.”
Hoss gave both his brothers dark looks and said nothing.
“How did a racoon get in here in the first place?” asked Ben. “Did he come in with the chickens?”
“Heck no Pa,” said Hoss. “He came in to get some fruit I reckon.” He indicated the bowl of apples on the table as if that explained everything.
“Fruit?” asked Ben, sitting back on the sofa. He was beginning to feel quite light-headed with all of this.
“Racoons like fruit,” explained Hoss simply.
Ben waited, but no one spoke. “So?” he said finally.
“Well I reckon that the racoon just came in to help himself,” said Hoss. “I didn’t think that he coulda walked after falling from that tree, but he did.”
“Tree?” asked Ben in a soft voice.
“Outside the back door,” Hoss went on. “I found him on the ground out there and I thought he was dead. I put him in a box just inside the house, meaning to go and bury him after supper.”
“Which you burnt by the way,” said Adam accusingly. “All that fuss in the kitchen and we never did get any supper!”
Hoss made a face at his brother. “Well, I’d like to see you cook something with all them animals roaming around the house,” he said.
“Finish about the racoon first,” said Ben, holding up a hand to silence his sons. “Please.”
“Sure Pa,” said Hoss, giving Adam a smug look. “So anyways, the racoon came back to life ….”
“Obviously it was never dead in the first place,” interrupted Adam.
“Well duh!” said Joe. “Anyone could have figured that out professor.”
“Please!” said Ben. “Hoss … continue.”
Hoss nodded. “Well he came back to life and came in here to help himself to some apples I reckon.” He glared at Joe. “But younger brother here decided to get a gun and shoot him.”
“He was scratching all the walls!” said Joe indignantly. He turned to his father and gave him one of his charming smiles. “I knew you wouldn’t approve of that Pa,” he said, but his smile disappeared when he noticed that his father didn’t return it.
“You could have just shooed him out!” shouted Hoss. “You didn’t have to try and shoot him!”
“I did!” Joe shouted back. “I’m not completely heartless you know!” He looked at his father again. “He just wouldn’t go,” he explained in a quieter tone. “I even held the front door open for him, but he wouldn’t go!”
“And that’s when the chickens came in?” asked Ben. “While you were holding the front door open?”
“No,” said Adam. “They came in through the kitchen door when Hoss left it open.”
“Well I wouldn’t have left it open, only that the smoke needed to escape somewhere,” said Hoss. “I thought it made sense.”
Ben shook his head. “So we’re back to the fire again,” he said. “How did that start?”
“It was Hoss’ fault,” said Joe, pointing at his brother. “It wasn’t anything to do with me.”
Hoss’ mouth dropped open and he gave his younger brother an incredulous look. “What?” he said. “Why you little ….” He reached for Joe, but his younger brother took a sideways step out of his reach. “It was all Joe’s fault,” said Hoss, turning to his father.
“My fault?” squeaked Joe. “I wasn’t the one who decided to light the stove in the first place. You were the one who had to cook something to eat or die!” He turned to his father triumphantly. “That’s what he said,” he told the man smugly. “Cause Hop Sing ain’t here, he said he was gonna die if he didn’t get any decent food.”
Ben held up a hand feebly. “Hop Sing lights that stove every day,” he said. “How come the moment that someone else lights it, there’s a fire?”
“Well it wasn’t the stove exactly that was the problem,” said Hoss. “It was more the pan that slid off it and the sparks caught onto the curtains.”
“And why did the pan slide off?” asked Ben, knowing that he might regret asking.
“Cause of the gunshot,” said Hoss.
Ben put his face in his hands. “That gunshot again,” he said.
“Ya see Joe was aiming at the racoon,” continued Hoss.
“And I missed it and hit the floor,” interrupted Joe.
“Thank goodness,” said Hoss, glancing at his brother again. “Anyways Pa, the sound of the gunshot made the pan slip in my hand.”
And it slid off and then the curtains caught alight,” continued Adam. “That’s when Hoss opened the back door to let the smoke out.”
“And that’s when the chickens came in,” said Joe. “You see Pa? It’s all making sense now, ain’t it?’
Ben glared at his son and said nothing.
“Those chickens wouldn’t have come in if you’d shut them in the henhouse like you were supposed to,” said Adam, pointing at Joe.
“Well I was going to,” said Joe defensively. “Only I was busy with the racoon.”
“And when the chickens came into the kitchen they started squawking all over the place,” said Hoss mournfully and pointed to the burn marks on his arms and his singed hair. “And that’s how I got all burnt,” he said. “I was trying to put the fire out with all them chickens all over the place.”
“I see,” said Ben. “It’s beginning to make a little bit of sense now.”
“I knew it would,” said Joe, grinning at his father. “You just needed to concentrate a bit Pa.”
Ben drew a deep breath, but said nothing.
“And all Hoss’ carrying on in the kitchen then scared the chickens into the living room,” said Adam. “That’s when I hurt my back.”
“Cause he climbed up on the dining room table,” said Joe accusingly. “Stupid thing to do, if you ask me.”
“No one is asking you,” said Adam, gingerly feeling his hurt back. “Someone had to take control.”
“Take control?” said Joe. “You weren’t taking control! You were just making things worse.”
Adam’s eyes narrowed as he glared at his brother. “If it hadn’t been for me, things would have been a lot worse,” he said. “And that particular chicken would have put a lot more soot on the roof as well.”
“I was going to ask about the soot,” said Ben, sitting up straight and looking around at the blackened walls and the ceiling.
“We’re getting to that Pa,” said Joe, patting his father’s shoulder. “Just be a bit patient and you’ll hear about it.”
Ben shook his son’s hand off impatiently. “You watch yourself, young man,” he said in a low tone and Joe instantly took his hand away. He gave his father a tentative smile, but when Ben simply glared at him he turned it into a cough. “Go on,” said Ben, turning to Adam. “Tell me about the soot.”
“There was this one chicken that got into the fireplace,” said Adam.
“I hope it wasn’t lit at the time,” interrupted Ben quickly.
“No,” said Adam.
“Otherwise we could have had roast chicken for that supper that Hoss never finished cooking for us,” giggled Joe and then coughed again as his father glared at him.
“Well anyway,” continued Adam, also glaring at Joe. “The chicken got into the fireplace and was all coated with soot. Then Hoss tried to get it out with the broom.”
Ben held up his hand. “Hold on there,” he said. “I thought that Hoss was putting the fire out in the kitchen?”
“I was Pa,” interjected Hoss. “But this was after I got it under control. I came in to see what the shot was all about.” He glared at Joe.
“Yes,” said Adam. “So Hoss was trying to get the chicken out of the fireplace with the broom ….”
“But it flew up and sat on the horns above the fireplace,” interrupted Joe. “I tried to get it down …”
“By standing on the coffee table,” said Adam. “And you had the hide to then complain when I stood on the dining room table.”
“The coffee table ain’t nowhere near as high as the dining room table,” said Joe defensively.
Ben shook his head. “Why would you climb onto the dining room table to get the chicken when it was above the fireplace?” he asked.
“It started off above the fireplace,” said Adam, giving his father a patient look. “But when this one …” He jerked his thumb towards Joe. “ …. decided to shoo it off, it landed on the light fitting above the dining room table.”
“And left a whole heap of feathers up there when it did,” said Joe, pointing to the clump of feathers hanging from the horns.
Adam ignored the comment. “So I climbed up onto the dining room table and while I was trying to get the chicken down, I fell.” He held onto his back and gave everyone a mournful look. “No one seems to care that I’m in a lot of pain either.”
“He never did get the chicken neither,” said Hoss.
“And he cracked a couple of those chair legs when he fell,” added Joe smugly.
“As if that was my fault!” snapped Adam crossly.
“Well if you hadn’t have climbed up there in the first place then they wouldn’t have got broke!” said Joe triumphantly. He turned to his father. “I told him not to Pa, but he took no notice of me. No one ever takes any notice of me. If I …”
“Be quiet Joseph!’ snapped Ben irritably.
Joe’s jaw dropped. “But you said you wanted to know what happened!” he said. “I was only trying to help!”
“Like you tried to help when Adam fell,” said Hoss. “You just made things worse.”
“No one around here appreciates me,” said Joe in a huffy tone. “Who was it that stopped the light fitting from falling?” He pointed to the lop-sighted light fitting above the dining room table. “If I hadn’t jumped up and grabbed hold of that, then it would have fallen on big brother here,” he said, crossing his arms across his chest and giving his two brothers a superior look.
“I caught Adam,” Hoss explained to their father.
“Not in time,” snapped Adam. “You could have been a bit quicker. I managed to land pretty heavily before you reached me.”
Hoss shrugged. “I did the best I could,” he said. “Under the circumstances,” he added.
“Circumstances?” asked Ben.
“The raccoon,” explained Hoss.
“Ah!” said Ben. “I’d forgotten about the raccoon.”
“You gotta concentrate Pa,” said Joe. “You won’t understand unless you do.” He didn’t seem to notice the look his father gave him, but continued unabashed. “That raccoon was still sitting there watching everything that was happening,” he said. “And Hoss kinda tripped on it while he was reaching for Adam.”
“No kinda about it,” said Hoss bitterly. “I really fell on it hard. I hope it was OK.”
“I saw it run out the front door after you’d half squashed it,” said Joe. “So I reckon it was.”
“Good,” said Hoss. “I’d hate to think that it had been hurt.”
Ben threw up his hands in dismay. “Oh by all means!” he said sarcastically. “Worry about the blasted raccoon when you were in the process of totally demolishing the house!”
Adam caught onto his father’s sarcasm. “It’s not that bad,” he said, looking around. “Nothing that a bit of work won’t fix.”
“You’d better hope so,” said Ben, hugging the picture to his chest. “I still don’t know how my study got to be in such a shambles,” he added.
“That was Joe,” said Adam, turning to his youngest brother. “He was responsible for all of that.”
“He slid over the desk,” added Hoss. “That’s when the frames got ruined.”
“We already told him that,” countered Joe. “Sides, they’re not ruined,” he said. “Just a bit bent.”
“Why were you sliding on my desk in the first place Joseph?” asked his father.
“Because of the second gunshot,” said Joe patiently. “I already said that before, remember?”
Ben shook his head that was by now beginning to hurt. “No,” he said. “I don’t remember.”
Joe opened his mouth to say something, but the look in his father’s eyes made him close it again quickly.
“The second shot was me Pa,” said Hoss.
“Yeah!” countered Joe. “It weren’t me that time!”
“You be quiet and let your brother speak,” said Ben.
“Well I helped Adam onto a chair …” began Hoss.
“Which happened to be one of the broken ones,” interrupted Adam. “And I promptly fell onto the floor again.”
“You looked real funny doing that,” said Joe with a slight giggle. Adam reached for him, but Joe easily avoided the contact. “What?” he said. “You did!”
“Joseph!” shouted Ben. “Be quiet!”
“I thought I’d best put all the guns away,” continued Hoss.
Ben shook his head again. “All the guns?” he said. “I thought that Joe only used one? Why were all the guns on the floor?”
“Because of the chickens,” said Joe instantly.
“The chickens,” repeated Joe. “You didn’t tell him that bit,” he said, turning to Hoss accusingly. “How’s he gonna understand it all if you keep leaving bits out?”
“I was coming to that part,” counted Hoss. “All the guns were on the floor cause of the chickens,” he said. “The one that got in the fireplace kinda spooked all the rest and they started flying around the room.”
“I see,” said Ben.
“And a couple of em got caught up in the gun rack and all the guns fell off,” finished Hoss. “So I thought I’d better put em back.”
“Yes,” said Ben. “And?”
“So I did,” said Hoss simply.
“Only in the process of putting them back, one of them went off,” said Adam.
“Accidentally,” chimed in Hoss.
“Why on earth was it loaded in the first place?” asked Ben. “Those guns are never loaded!”
“Well little brother here was to blame for that,” said Hoss, pointing to Joe who looked somewhat shamefaced at his words. “Seems like he put more than one bullet in the gun when he loaded it.”
“Well I thought I might have needed more than one bullet,” said Joe defensively. “And I did,” he added smugly. “That first one never went near him.”
“So Hoss nearly killed everyone because you’re a bad shot,” said Adam sarcastically.
“I am not a bad shot!” shouted Joe. “That raccoon was just tricky, that’s all. He moved too fast. Besides,” he added. “I was the only one who nearly got killed. No one else.” He turned to his father. “I was standing just over here,” he said, pointing to the middle of the room. “And when the shot went off I had to move real fast Pa.” He gave his father a puppy-dog look again. “I nearly got killed,” he said.
Ben muttered something under his breath, but none of his sons caught what it was. “And that’s when you slid over my desk,” he said next.
Joe nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “It was the only thing I could do to get under cover real fast. The only problem was that the shot went into the bookcase over there against the wall ….”
“And the bookcase fell down,” continued Hoss. “And a whole heap of them books fell down too.”
“And I got hit on the head with a couple,” said Joe, running his head and looking around for sympathy but finding none. “I banged up my shoulder too,” he added.
“What a pity about you,” said Adam sarcastically. “Does no one care how much pain I’m in here?” He stretched himself tentatively and then winced. “What about all of Pa’s books?” he asked. “Book are precious things and shouldn’t be thrown all over the place like that.”
“I didn’t exactly throw them,” countered Joe. “They fell.”
“What I’d like to know is how the shutters became broken,” said Ben.
“Oh, well that was because I was holding onto em when I fell,” said Joe. “I had to grab onto something to stop from falling,” he added. “But it didn’t work and I guess I pulled em off their hinges.”
“And ripped the curtains in the process as well,” added Adam.
“Well yeah,” admitted Joe. “But all your other stuff on the wall is OK Pa,” he said, smiling at his father. “See?”
“All I can see Joseph, are the papers that I’ve been working on strewn all over my desk,” said Ben.
“Don’t you worry about them,” said Joe. “I’ll sort em out for you.”
Ben pointed his finger at his youngest son. “You stay away from those papers young man!” he said. “You’ve done enough damage!” He put his face in his hands and shook his head. “I just don’t understand it,” he said in a low voice.
Joe sat down next to his father and put his arm around his shoulder in a comforting way. “Don’t you?” he said kindly. “I’ll tell it all again then. You see Pa, there was this raccoon ….”
Ben looked up and shook his son’s arm away, giving him a steely look. “Be quiet!” he said sternly. “What I don’t understand is how three grown men can cause such chaos in such a short time,” he said. “Three ….” He glanced at his sons who stared back at him mournfully. “Three reasonably intelligent young men who ….” He put his hands up, lost for words.
“It wasn’t my fault,” said Joe, after the silence in the room had become unbearable. “It was the raccoon that started it all, so I guess it was Hoss’ fault for putting him in that box in the first place.”
Adam nodded. “For once I have to agree with Joe,” he said. “It was all Hoss’ fault.”
Hoss said nothing, but merely looked angrily at first one brother and then the other.
“I don’t care who started it!” exploded Ben. “As far as I’m concerned you are all to blame!” He stood up and pointed his finger at all of them in turn. “The three of you are to clean up this mess immediately,” he said. “I need to get some sleep and I can’t be bothered with listening to all this nonsense any longer!”
“Sure thing Pa,” said Joe, smiling at his father. “We’ll get it fixed up first thing in the morning.”
“You will get it fixed up now!” Ben said firmly. “Not one of you is to go to bed until this house is decent again!”
“You want me to cook you up some supper Pa?” asked Hoss.
“Like you did before?” asked Adam, sarcastically. “We never did get anything to eat you know.”
Hoss turned on his brother. “That weren’t my fault!” he said angrily. “I told you before that ….”
Ben held up his hands. “That is enough!” he shouted. “I have heard all I want to hear! You …” He pointed to Hoss. “Stay away from that stove. You are all very lucky that Hop Sing isn’t here to see this mess. I can only imagine what he’d say if he saw all of this.”
“He’d probably say that he was going back to Old China,” said Joe mournfully.
“Exactly!” said Ben. “Now …” He took a deep breath. “I am going up to bed. I don’t want any supper and none of you are getting any until this house is cleaned up again. Understood?”
“Pa, you can’t possibly expect me to clean up,” protested Adam. “I can hardly move with my back and all.” He winced yet again for effect.
“Well I got hurt too,” said Joe. “My shoulder is right sore.” He moved it tentatively and screwed up his face as if in pain.
“I don’t care how it gets cleaned up or who actually does it,” said Ben, ignoring both of them. “But cleaned up it will be! When I come down in the morning I expect it to be back the way it was before and that’s all there is to it!” He turned on his heel and marched up the stairs without another word, clutching the three picture frames close to his chest.
Ben’s three sons all stood and looked at each other for a full minute before Joe broke the silence. “That went well,” he said suddenly with a grin.
Hoss and Adam looked at each other. “You think?” said Hoss, rolling his eyes.
Joe nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I though he’d be a lot angrier than that.”
I think he’s in shock,” said Adam. “I suspect that we haven’t heard the last of this though. I have a feeling that our father will be bringing the subject up again in the morning.” He looked around the room. “You two had better get to work straightening things up,” he said.
“Us?” said Hoss indignantly. “What about you?”
“My back, remember?” said Adam. “I can hardly move.”
Hoss held out his arms. “And what about these burns?” he asked. “I’m in pain too, ya know.”
“Well, so am I,” countered Joe. “My head and my shoulder ….”
“At least you two can move,” interrupted Adam and then stared at them both helplessly. “Oh all right,” he said finally. “I’ll try and sit at Pa’s desk and sort through all those papers while you two get started on the rest of it.” He stood up slowly. “And Joe … make sure there are no more bullets in that gun this time, will you?”
Joe nodded as they all began to move. Suddenly their father appeared at the top of the stairs and they all stopped to look up at him. “Forget something?” asked Adam tentatively, trying to smile up at him.
Ben glared down at them all. “There is a …. chicken …. on my bed!” he shouted. “One of you get up here straight away and get rid of it!”
Adam looked at Hoss who looked at Joe who looked back at Adam. Finally Hoss sighed. “I’m coming Pa,” he said, stepping forward. “I’ll get it for you.”
Joe looked thoughtful. “I thought there was one missing when I put em back in the henhouse,” he said. “Now I know where it went.”
“You’d better hope there was only one missing young man!” shouted his father.
Hoss stopped at the top of the stairs next to Ben and looked at his father anxiously. “You didn’t sit on him or nothing, did ya Pa?” he asked. “On your bed, I mean.”
“No, I did not,” said Ben in a huffy tone. “Now get that animal out of my room!”
Hoss disappeared around the corner of the staircase, followed by his father. Joe looked at Adam again and shrugged before starting to pick up a pile of feathers on the floor. Adam held onto the side of his father’s desk as he eased himself down on the chair behind it. Suddenly there was a loud bang and he fell to the floor, the chair on top of him.
Joe swallowed. “I guess Pa’s favourite chair musta broke when I fell over there,” he said lamely. He looked down at Adam’s prone body and his brother’s dark eyes glaring up at him from the floor. “I think I’ll just go and check that those chickens are locked up good and tight,” he said quickly and fled from the room before Adam could say a word.
Adam lay there, pinned under the chair and unable to move without hurting his back even more. Suddenly he felt a movement beside him and he looked up to see a large chicken about to peck him on the forehead ……
Other Stories by this Author
- The Well (by JoanS)
- The Pact (by JoanS)
- The Map (by JoanS)
- The Dentist (by JoanS)
- Following the Dream (by JoanS)