Summary: Retaliation for a prank leads to revenge and a mystery which relieves some of the boredom of a long snowy winter.
Rating: PG Word Count: 3,079
Waking in the early morning, Adam’s room was bathed in the dim light of the winter dawn filtered through the frost that covered the window of his room. He was getting in the habit of getting up later and later because there was less and less to do each day. The snow was getting so deep that most of the day was spent getting paths open to the barn, the storehouse, the necessary, and the smokehouse. At Hop Sing’s insistence, he and Hoss had built a special enclosure in the barn for the chickens and they had been moved there. It meant they didn’t have to open a path to the chicken coop nor worry about the safety of the chickens quite so much. Though the chicken coop had been well insulated with layers of straw, the fear had been that it would only make it that much more vulnerable to intrusion by weasels or other animals intent on chicken dinners. The insulation that protected the birds would also stop their squawking from being heard too.
The work had been difficult but actually a welcome diversion from the boredom of the enforced isolation and inactivity of the heavy snowfall of this winter. Months of heavy snows had piled up several feet of snow. Usually there were periods of melting that would reduce the amounts but this year, there had only been snow followed by cold and then by another snowstorm. It would be nice to have another project to avoid going a bit crazy with boredom. Of course, he guessed his family wished he had a project too because he could get rather ornery caged up as he had been for so many weeks. He simply found few reasons to smile caged up as he was. Having these thoughts wasn’t helping his mood of course.
Deciding to move on and try to think about something else, he took care of business, shaved, washed his face and what needed it most. He pulled a pair of pants from his dresser and was surprised there was only one there. At that point, all he thought was that Hop Sing must be falling behind on the laundry too. Chilled a bit, he moved to his armoire to grab a shirt but all that hung there was a pink shirt with frills. He searched his room but there wasn’t any other kind of shirt anywhere to be found. With no other choice and getting colder, he pulled on the pink frilly abomination. At least it was warm. In his searching, he had realized there wasn’t a vest, robe, jacket, or any other type of clothing in his room. His boots were missing too so he had to wear the only option which were his slippers with no socks. Fuming, he pulled his door open, and when he saw his father’s bedroom door open, he bellowed.
“Joseph Cartwright, where the hell are you and what did you do with my clothing?”
Joe’s door stood open as did the door to Hoss’s bedroom. A quick survey of both rooms revealed that his clothing was not in either room. He headed to the stairs and got the reception he anticipated. Hoss and Joe took one look at him and broke into nearly hysterical laughter. His father had a slightly more controlled laugh but still laughed at him. Infuriated, he wanted to hit someone but was too mature to do so.
“Where are my clothes?”
“What? You don’t like the ones you’re wearing?”
Joe was even more amused by his own comment and cackled even more making Adam more furious if that was possible. Hoss had the good sense to try to get his laughter under control.
“Lordy, Adam, where did you find that shirt?”
“It was in my armoire, and don’t act so innocent. You did it or know who did.”
Putting up his hands in surrender, Hoss did his best to appear innocent. “Honest, I do not know who did this to you and had no part of it either.”
Because Hoss wasn’t good at lying, Adam’s attention returned to Joe. He tried to do what Hoss did but laughter prevented him from sounding sincere. By then, Hoss was laughing again too so Adam wasn’t so sure of him either. Ben stopped both of his younger sons from laughing at all. From the dining table, he joined in on the conversation.
“Adam, what about your boots? Do you only have slippers?”
“Yes, Pa, they took everything except what I’m wearing.”
“Well, then, Joe, Hoss, you two better get busy. Adam won’t be able to help you today unless you have an idea where his clothing is and would like to share that news with him now.”
Joe and Hoss said nothing.
“Very well, then. Adam, would you like some breakfast. After that, perhaps we could enjoy a leisurely chess match? Hop Sing had mentioned he might make some cinnamon cookies. I know those are one of your favorites. The house is going to smell wonderful while we compete.”
Hoss had an angry look for Joe who gave an equally angry glare back at his big brother. Once they were outside and working, Hoss let loose with his ire.
“Why didn’t you tell him where his clothes were so he could help us?”
“Me? Why didn’t you tell him?”
“Cause I didn’t take them so I couldn’t tell him where they were.”
“Well, I didn’t take them either.”
The two stood staring at each other for a short time wondering who could have taken them. There were two or perhaps three choices. They had to discuss the three possibilities.
“Hop Sing likes Adam too much to do that to him. He does his best to try to get Adam out of his ornery moods. He wouldn’t do anything to make him worse than he already was.”
“Well, it wouldn’t be Pa so that leaves Adam.”
“Dadburnit, he is a sneaky one. You think he stole his own clothes so he could blame us.”
“I think he stole them so he could get out of work. You know how much he complained about how cold it was when the two of you were building that new coop and moving the chickens. He didn’t seem to care at all that I was the one who had to do all the shoveling so you could move the chickens.”
“So, we got to hunt through the house and find them.”
“That’s about it.”
“First we got all this work to do.”
“Yeah, that is a problem.”
At lunch, both brothers shot withering looks at Adam who smiled at them thinking they were mad because they had to do his work. He did ask if they were ready to tell him where his clothes were. Joe sneered at him before answering.
“You should know that better than anyone.”
“Know when you’re going to tell me?”
Somewhat frustrated, Joe was peevish in his answer to that. “No, know where your clothes are because you’re the one who hid them.”
“I hid my own clothes?”
Hoss and Joe answered that together. “Yeah.”
“Why would I do that?”
Joe was quick to offer their rationale. “To get out of work.”
“As much as I hate being trapped in these four walls, you think I did something to get myself locked in here with no way out?”
The two younger brothers hadn’t thought about it that way. Joe started acting like a suspicious detective though.
“Maybe you’re clever and did it because of that knowing we might not suspect you because it wouldn’t look like you had a good motive.”
“So where did I hide my clothing because I didn’t find them in your room or in Hoss’ room?”
“Let’s go search right now, and we’re going to search your room.”
“Go ahead. If they were there, I’d be wearing them. If you think I like wearing this shirt or being cold, you need to re-evaluate your thinking.”
Before Hoss or Joe could react to that, Ben interrupted their plans and the argument about to ensue. “First, there is work to be done before you go off to play your games.” He stared at his sons until they all agreed.
As Hoss and Joe headed back outside to work, Ben and Adam continued their chess match. Adam was distracted by thinking about his conversation with his brothers which caused him to be less sharp in the match. Ben enjoyed that because it gave him a chance to win. It almost worked out for him until Adam noticed what was happening and concentrated on the game pushing his father into a few bad moves until he had him in check at which point his father conceded.
Shortly after that, Hoss and Joe were back inside and ready to search. By then, they had convinced each other that Adam had to be the culprit. They searched his room, their rooms, the hall closets, and the attic. The boxes and crates in the attic took a long time and stimulated quite a few conversations. If Adam didn’t get so cold up there with no coat and no underwear, they might have stayed in the attic much longer. However, they didn’t find his clothing and he did get cold, so they gave up the search there and headed down the stairs. They had searched the brothers’ bedrooms, the guest bedroom, and the attic. It was time to search the first floor which didn’t take long.
Next, they headed to the cellar but Adam grabbed a blanket off the settee before they headed down the narrow steps to the cellar. He didn’t trust his brothers so he had to go with them but another chill was something he didn’t want to face again. His clothes were not in the cellar. It was getting very frustrating and not only for Adam.
“Where else could his clothes be?”
“The bunkhouse?” Hoss wasn’t thinking about any place that wasn’t occupied by humans.
But Adam was. “If we’re going to look outside the house, it could be the barn, the storehouse, or anywhere, and I can’t go with you.”
The three stood quietly for a time stymied by the effort that had been fruitless and so far unable to even figure out who would have done this although each of them suspected it could be one of the other two. Motive was still a mystery too. Hop Sing knew he didn’t do it and from the looks of the three brothers, he was fairly sure they had not done it either. That left only one possible culprit, but as the cook, he didn’t want to directly name him.
“I have coffee and doughnuts. You warm up and then you can search more. Maybe you think of one more place to search.”
However, Adam was suspicious. “It’s almost time for dinner, but you’re going to give us doughnuts? What’s going on here?”
“Aw c’mon, Adam, don’t say no to doughnuts.”
“He’s right, Hoss. Hop Sing, what do you know that we don’t know.”
“You eat doughnuts and think about that.”
The cook wouldn’t say any more. Under suspicious stares from Adam and Joe, he placed a plate of doughnuts on the table and got three small plates and then placed three cups and three saucers beside them. Hoss began sorting out the place settings and when Hop Sing brought napkins, he placed one of those in front of each of his brothers who continued to stare at the cook who brought the coffee pot and set it on the table before going back to the stove, turning his back, and busying himself with dinner preparations. Hoss was through waiting for his brothers and grabbed two doughnuts. Joe gave in and took one too as well as pouring coffee for all of them. Adam was quiet and didn’t do anything until he stood.
“Damn, I’ve been stupid about this.”
“If you’re looking for an argument, you better change the subject.”
Both Hoss and Joe snickered at Joe’s comment, but Adam ignored it and walked from the room.
“Where’s he going?”
“I don’t know. He looks mad though.”
“Yeah. Guess he don’t want his doughnut. I’ll have it for him. Wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”
Sitting at his desk, Ben watched Adam stride up the stairs with not even a look at his father. He shrugged. It had been only a matter of time before he figured it out. Sighing, he stood to follow his oldest son up the stairs and found him carrying his clothing from his father’s room back to his own. He made a few trips and then stood in the doorway with the last armful.
“You were all so bored. You needed something to break up the monotony. You have to admit this was the most interesting day you have had in all the weeks since Christmas.”
“I wanted a chess match. You’re the best chess player in the house. Putting all this pressure on you worked, and I almost won.”
“You are a conniving old pirate. You know they’re going to think I did this.”
“I certainly hope it isn’t against me.”
“Don’t count on it.”
“Your turn to worry.”
“What are you going to do?”
“Go get dressed. I’m cold.”
Turning on his heal, Adam went to his room to put his clothing away in an orderly fashion. He got dressed in his own warm clothing and pulled on his boots with nice warm socks on. He took a look at that pink shirt with the frills and had an idea. Heading back up into the attic, he pulled out the photos they had found of his father in New Orleans. Sorting through them, he found the one he needed. He carried the photo to his room and put it in a small box with the pink shirt and wrapped it up tightly in some brown paper and tied it with string. He marked it with a card for his father indicating it was a birthday present. He took an old handkerchief, tore it up, and tossed it in the fireplace where it burned slowly in the coals. Then he went down the stairs for the inevitable accusations from his brothers but not before leaving a tiny slip of brown paper in the door to indicate if anyone entered his room before he came back. There was an old saying his father liked to use about giving a man enough rope to hang himself.
“Where did you find your clothes?”
“Didn’t Pa tell you?”
“How would he know?”
“They were in his room.”
“Damn, Adam, you knew we wouldn’t look in there. You are as sneaky as Hoss says you are.”
“I didn’t hide them there, Joe.”
“Aw, Adam, give up. Me and Joe ain’t gonna do anything to ya. It’s all over now.”
“I didn’t hide them there, Hoss.”
“You want us to believe Pa did it? Adam, you think Hoss and I are going to fall for that?” Turning to their father, Joe asked him directly. “Pa, can you believe Adam would accuse you of doing that?”
“I am surprised at that, Joe. I didn’t think Adam was going to tell you that.”
Hoss wanted the argument to end. “Sheesh, Adam, give up. It’s over. You don’t always get to win.”
“What did you do with that pretty shirt, older brother?”
“I threw it in the fireplace. It was the last I ever want to see of it.”
Adam could see his father was a little startled by that, but he couldn’t say anything without incriminating himself. After dinner, Ben made a show of yawning and acting quite tired until he excused himself to go to bed. After he went up the stairs, Hoss looked at Adam who watched his father walk up the stairs with a slight smile.
“What’s going on?”
“Oh, if I’m right, our father is now searching my room looking for his shirt.”
“Surely you don’t think that shirt was mine, and it didn’t belong to either of you, so it has to be his.”
“You said you burned it up.”
“I did say that.”
“What game are you playing?”
“I’ll let you know tomorrow morning.”
In the morning, Ben looked tired. When Adam got to the breakfast table, he got a scowl.
“What was that for?”
“You know what it’s for. You didn’t have to burn up that shirt. It was a perfectly good shirt.”
“Oh, was it yours?”
By then, Hoss and Joe were at the table so Ben couldn’t answer that question honestly. He evaded.
“It doesn’t matter whose shirt it was. What matters is that you burned up a perfectly good shirt. You weren’t taught that way. We don’t waste things.”
“What about telling the truth? What is it that we were taught about that?” Adam looked at Hoss. “Did you bring it down with you?” Hoss handed over the wrapped box. Adam handed it to his father.
“It’s not my birthday.”
“I know, but it was the only way to stop you from opening it when you searched my room last night.”
By then, Ben had a good idea what was in the box, but he was trapped and had no idea of the second item that was in the box. The picture dropped on the table when he opened the box and took out the shirt. There in the picture, he was wearing that shirt more than twenty years earlier. It was the one time it had been worn before he had left it for Adam to wear. He stared at the picture until Adam took it from him and handed it to his brothers who stared first at it and then at their father.
“Marie picked out this shirt for me. I had to wear it at least once. When I thought you burned it up, well, I.”
“Pa, I knew it was yours. But, Pa, never try to outplay me. You should have learned that at the chessboard.”
Hoss commiserated. “Yeah, Pa, we know, he doesn’t just get even, he gets ahead.”
Hop Sing came out and put food on the table. He was silent. Ben looked at him and nodded. “I know. Too much foolishment. It’s what happens when we’re stuck in this house too long.”
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