Summary: No one pulls a prank on a Cartwright brother and gets away with it. When it’s another Cartwright brother or two, it means ‘war’ or a series of pranks meant to exact revenge until no one can make those scales of justice balance out.
Rating: PG Word Count: 3,383
Eventually they would all think back and remember the first step in the year long feud. Adam had been the first victim and Hoss and Joe the perpetrators. By the time they were done, they were all perpetrators and all victims. It had seemed mostly funny at first especially to Hoss and Joe. Adam had a very different view of how the feud started.
“It’s not what you think.”
Adam noted the skeptical look on Roy’s face even now as Adam sat behind bars trying to explain what had happened, again and waited for Joe to arrive to fill in the rest.
All Adam had wanted was to spend an evening in town without being troubled by his younger brothers. Lately the level of tricks being played had reached a new record surpassing any previous mark by an insurmountable amount. No matter how careful he was, he knew that he would have a bucket of water dumped on his head, a frog in his room, or some other dastardly event befall him. It had been funny at first and a good way to break out of the winter doldrums. He had even participated by retaliating a few times, but it was getting tiresome. He could only imagine what awful things they could be planning for him. The looks they gave him then were worrisome.
So Adam had packed his saddlebag with clean clothes, made sure he had money in his wallet, and had ridden away from the Ponderosa without his brothers seeing him leave. At least he had hoped that was true. To make a clean getaway, he had saddled Sport when they were busy cheating each other at checkers and plotting against him. Walking his horse at least a quarter mile from the stable before mounting up and riding to town seemed to be an adequate precaution. He hated walking, but if it meant he could escape the ranch and his brothers for a respite from them and their incessant pranks, it was worth the aggravation.
Then two hours later, there he was relaxing in a tub of warm sudsy water. He had ordered dinner to be delivered to his room in an hour and had a good book and a bottle of the finest brandy he could find waiting for him there. Sighing in deep contentment, he leaned back preparing to quietly enjoy a full evening without his brothers. He must have fallen asleep for a time because he was startled by a noise in the hallway and realized the water had cooled considerably.
With the water no longer soothing, Adam decided it must be about time to dress for his dinner. He climbed out of the tub and dried himself with the towel. However, when he looked for his clothing, there were none there any more. He heard what suspiciously sounded like Joe’s cackle outside the washroom.
“Joe, you bring my clothes back in here now!”
The only answer he got was more of that ungodly cackle and the Hoss guffaw too. This was the worst they could do! He was mad. They had stolen away his dream. Opening the door, he stepped into the hallway wearing only the towel. Joe and Hoss were bent over in laughter with tears on their cheeks so proud of what they had accomplished.
Stomping toward Joe who was holding his clothing, he was going to grab them back, but Hoss grabbed a corner of the towel and pulled. Adam spun back toward Hoss to grab the towel, but Hoss held it high over his head as three women walked around the corner. They screamed but kept looking and seemed very interested in what they were seeing considering they were supposed to be outraged. Suddenly aware of the scandal they had created, Joe and Hoss took off at a run, but unfortunately still carried Adam’s clothing and the towel. They could have dropped them, but it would have been too far down the hallway for Adam to retrieve them without passing the three ladies and creating an even greater uproar by approaching them.
To escape instead, Adam reached for the door handle behind him and opened it to seek refuge in the washroom. In an additional cruel twist of fate, it was not the washroom door but another guest room. Instead of a refuge, he surprised a man in bed there with a woman, and it wasn’t his wife. Shocked to be interrupted, he jumped out of bed, grabbed his clothes, and climbed out the window onto the back balcony of the hotel presumably to dress there and escape any more witnesses to his adultery. The three women were not giving up their pursuit of Adam and were yelling at him from outside the door claiming that he was some kind of pervert. Seeing no other avenue of escape, Adam slid into bed next to the lady that the man had abandoned.
“Sorry, ma’am, but I just don’t have any other options here.”
Unfortunately, the lady in question had just been hired to teach school in Virginia City and this was going to cost her that job. She started screaming too. And that’s when Roy showed up. He did have the courtesy to knock once and then twice before announcing he was coming in. Adam did yell that it would be better if he didn’t, but Roy said it was his sworn duty to protect the women of the town, and one was screaming in that room.
After Roy got all four of the women to stop screaming, he looked to Adam. “Adam, we got laws against indecent exposure, and lewd and lascivious acts.”
“Roy, honest, it isn’t what it looks like! You can ask Joe and Hoss because they stole my clothes and then took my towel. And it was another man who was the one who took her to this bed. He’s married and took off as soon as I opened the door which I only opened by accident because in my panic I thought it was the door to the washroom. I only got in the bed here to cover myself because I had no other options. My brothers took my clothing and my towel. They can tell you what happened if you can find them or the man who went out the window.”
“Well, son, ain’t none of them here, and you are, so ifn you would get yourself dressed, I’m duty bound to put you in the jail now.”
Adam groaned. The only saving thought was that his brothers couldn’t do anything more to him in there. Or could they? “Ah, Roy, could someone go in the hallway and bring my clothes to me, and perhaps get these other ladies out of the room?”
A few minutes later, Roy was back. “Now, Adam, I don’t know how to tell you this, but there ain’t a stitch of your clothes in that hallway, or the washroom, or the room you rented. There ain’t nary a towel to be found neither. I guess you’re a gonna hafta wrap yourself up in that sheet and walk on over to the jail that way.”
“Roy, you can’t be serious.”
“I ain’t smiling, am I?”
So once the lady in question was given some privacy and time to dress, Adam wrapped a sheet around himself and walked down the stairs of the hotel, across the lobby, and out onto the wooden walkway in front of the hotel. A large crowd had gathered and included Hoss, Joe, Clem, and the ladies who had been upstairs. Adam could not have been more embarrassed or more confused until Little Joe told the crowd a story.
“That’s what you get for kissing my girl.”
“I didn’t kiss your girl.”
“She said you did. She said my brother kissed her, and she couldn’t stay with me because it would be too difficult to be with me when my brother who had kissed her was there too.”
“I tell you, I didn’t kiss her.”
“At the dance, she said you did.”
“I spent the whole dance with my own lady, and believe me, I was not looking for anyone else to kiss when I was with her.”
“Well, why would she say that then?”
Adam turned his gaze to Hoss until it dawned on Joe that his girl had said brother and not Adam.
“Oh, Adam, I am so sorry.”
“Sorry is fine, but could you please retrieve my clothing and tell Roy what happened because he doesn’t seem to want to believe me.”
At that point, Adam doubted that Roy would ever believe this whole story. He was right about that part, but he had time to plot his revenge too. It couldn’t take them away from work on the ranch or their father would be upset. Yet, he wanted it to be dastardly and also funny if possible. If their father would tell the story in town, that would make it invaluable adding to the revenge factor by ten. In the end, it was remarkably easy. He visited a favorite new restaurant in town and indulged himself. The rest was easy. He would do a few little things first as distractions before the main course was served.
When the trap was sprung, they didn’t see it coming and couldn’t avoid it. Hoss and Little Joe set up to play checkers as they did most evenings. Adam took a book and sat in his favorite chair after having spent the day in town and visiting his new favorite restaurant. When the two brothers had split the first two games, it was time.
“I’ll play the winner.”
“What?” It seemed Little Joe’s voice was a bit higher than usual.
“You don’t never play checkers in the evening.” Hoss tried to be diplomatic.
“You two seem to be having so much fun, I thought I would like to join in. You’re not going to deny me, are you?”
There was not much they could do. Adam waited to see what would happen and had a difficult time not laughing out loud. Hoss could not remember a more frustrating game of checkers in his life. He was trying so hard to lose this game, but Little Joe as usual was cheating and trying just as hard to lose. Ben sat in his red chair reading the Territorial Enterprise, but Hoss knew he was really watching their game more than anything. Since Mark Twain had left town, there never was anything remotely funny in that newspaper. He had to be laughing at his two sons in a marathon checkers game. Hoss had purposefully put his pieces in jeopardy time after time, and Joe had ignored them only to put his pieces in even more jeopardy. At one point, Hoss had lined up his checkers perfectly for Little Joe to jump them all. He had even expressed his ‘sorrow’ at seeing the foolish plays he had made.
“Dadburnit, Little Joe. Look at what I done did. I’m real sorry not to have given you a real challenge tonight, but dadburnit, that’s just how it is.”
Then Little Joe had sneezed and reflexively jerked his arm back knocking a bowl off the table behind him. Hoss had gotten up to quickly right things, but by the time he got back, Little Joe had not only recovered completely from his attack of sneezing, but the board no longer looked the same.
“Dadburnit, Little Joe, you moved the pieces.”
“Now, Hoss, would I do something like that?”
“You know you would.”
“I don’t see what the problem is. If I moved the pieces, then why would you be all set up to jump three of my pieces? I guess that sneezing rattled my brain and made me make a dumb move like that.”
Stymied because he could not reveal the truth, Hoss jumped his three pieces and glared at his little brother. In his life, he had never worked so hard playing checkers. The match continued like that for another half hour, and Hoss slowly was gaining the upper hand by putting his pieces in places where Little Joe had to jump them as his only moves. As the pieces on the board diminished, Ben put the paper and all pretense of reading it down as he leaned forward to watch the end of the game. Hoss had been forced to make Little Joe king three of his pieces. Little Joe thought that his strategy was working and never realized that Hoss was maneuvering his pieces into a perfect setup for Little Joe to jump the three he had recently kinged. Hoss at that point could gracefully concede the game because it would be impossible to win with one piece, and everyone in the room knew it. Little Joe’s hand hovered over the board. He couldn’t cheat and he had to win. Both of those things bothered him immensely. Finally he did it.
“Well, that’s it, little brother. You win. I can’t possibly continue with just one piece against yours.”
“Well, you could have tried harder to win.”
“Little Joe, you know how hard I try to win at checkers, but you cheat.”
“I do not cheat.”
“Well, just be sure you don’t cheat ole Adam there. Remember, he said he would take on the winner for a best of three match.”
Little Joe almost groaned. Adam had developed a liking for all Italian food, and recently he insisted on lots of garlic in his food and ate that every time he was in town. Adam had said the only way to enjoy the day was to eat a lot of garlic. He had really developed a taste for it which seemed to only get stronger every day he ate at that new restaurant he liked so much. Even from his perch on the blue chair a dozen feet away, the air he sent their way was pungent. Little Joe could catch the whiffs of garlic. As he looked up at Hoss’ grin, he wanted to strangle him. Instead he wondered if he should ask Hoss how to lose quickly because he was so good at it. It wouldn’t matter though. A game with that garlic breath wafting over him, and he wouldn’t be thinking too straight anyway.
Although Hoss was getting even with him, and Adam was getting even with both of them, he could hardly remember why. There had been so many cases of revenge for acts pulled that he no longer remembered why they had originally started this feud. He had originally preferred to call them competitions, but now he knew they had devolved down into feuds and nothing more.
Then Delores Tenino came to town with her father. She liked many things and sparked a competition among the brothers for her company. It was her love of bullfighting which really brought the feud to a halt. The bull escaped, did a horrible amount of damage, and the brothers had injuries, repairs to make, and payments to render for damages they could not repair. Once she left, a truce was called, but that didn’t mean that all the repercussions ended.
It had been weeks since the Cartwright brothers had been to town. Finally venturing in on a Saturday night, they ended up thinking that it was too soon. Almost from the moment they had leaned on the bar and ordered their first beers, they were accosted by a man in the saloon who had plenty of others as a willing audience. Adam was the first to be singled out, and apparently the Ponderosa hands had been talking because the man seemed to know an awful lot about what had happened when Senor Francisco Tenino and his daughter Dolores had visited the ranch.
“So, let me get this straight now. You tried to win the lady by singing to her, playing your guitar, and saying sweet things in Spanish. That right?”
With the fingers of his right hand, Adam rubbed his left ear lobe. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time, and she had responded favorably smiling at him and taking his arm. He shrugged to agree with the man especially as he had said nothing that was false.
Looking at Joe, the man continued. “You were going to try to outdo your brothers and told her you were a bullfighter. You told her you were going to fight a bull for her?”
“Well, yeah, Hoss had a book about it and everything. We practiced. And well, I guess, well, yeah.”
Joe had nothing more to say. It hadn’t worked out well. He tried to stand tall and look brave, but that didn’t work. It only made the man smirk more broadly at him than he had at Adam.
That man wasn’t done yet. His audience was getting into it too, hooting with every question and answer now. Hoss got the man’s full attention next.
“So it was your bright idea to get Jigger Thurman’s bull for your little brother to fight. You figured on helping him win the senorita instead of your older brother doing it. Is that about right?”
With a rather sickly look, Hoss agreed. He had a pretty darn good idea where this was going. It wasn’t supposed to turn out as it had, but he wasn’t going to do what Joe had done and try to explain it away. That was likely going to make the man go on and on. However he did anyway.
“Except the bull got loose when a red handkerchief was pulled out and did a whole lot of damage to people and property. Seems the wagon was a mite flimsy to hold such a big bull. From what I heard, your father let loose on the three of you and made you fix what you could and pay for the rest. And even after all that, somehow she chose you because you wrestled that darn nasty pile of bones in the streets right here in town.”
Hoss nodded and hoped the man was done. It was a good place to stop telling the story as far as he was concerned. He won the lady and bested his brothers. Now any good storyteller ought to know to stop right there, but this one obviously wasn’t interested in telling a good story. No, he had another purpose in mind apparently because he kept talking.
“Then after all that, she walked away from you too without a second look when her father’s visit was over. Now this is the best part isn’t it. It’s because she had a man she was probably going to marry when she got back home. Now that’s about right, ain’t it? You all did all of that for nothing. All that work, all that time, all that money, all that trouble, and now all of us knowing about it, and it was for nothing. Did any of you even get a good bunch of kissing out of it?”
Dropping his head and scratching his other ear, Adam couldn’t lie to them. Joe wanted to say he had kissed her, but they would all know he was lying. Hoss got a kiss but never got that close to her except that one time, and they all knew it. Everybody in the saloon started laughing. It seemed that every day since it happened, it was going to be like this when they came to town. They finished their beers and decided they might just as well head home. No, it isn’t very pretty what a town without pity can do.
As they rode home, Adam had a thought. “It isn’t that far to Carson City next time we’re thirsty.”
“Or maybe we could buy a bottle and just have a drink with the three of us. At least now, we’re the only friends we have.”
“Adam, Little Joe may be right for a change. We done forgot that for a bit with all that feuding we done.”
“That we did, brothers. Now, about that trip to Carson City. I know a place where I don’t think they know about any of that stuff that happened here.”
And the brothers started plotting but together this time instead of against each other.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, brothers, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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