Summary: Joe has a plan to bring some excitement into a dull winter but Joe’s plans have a way of bringing unintended consequences. Nothing new there but again the family has something to say about what happens.
Rating: PG Word Count: 2,506
It all started with Joe Cartwright being bored. Winter was a time of inactivity except for chores and limited opportunities for fun or outlets for bottled up energy. Hoss got growly anxious to see the first green shoots of spring. There weren’t enough words to describe how ornery Adam got without a way to express his creativity and satisfy his desire to break free of enforced confinement. So the youngest Cartwright son came up with a scheme to break the monotony of the long winter sentence. He devised a game in which he and his brothers would compete to find items on a list with the one finding the most declared the winner. He asked his father to create the list of items to be found. Also, the prize was to be determined by their father at the conclusion of the game.
Now Hoss was quite bored with sitting around and readily agreed to play. Always skeptical of his youngest brother’s schemes and the disasters to which they most often led, Adam had to be pressured by both brothers to join in. They convinced him that because it was only the three of them playing, there was no possibility of disaster. Although not entirely sure that was true, he conceded out of a desire to do something that got him moving and using time that could speed the passage of winter if only for a short period of time. However, he made one reservation.
“All right, I’ll play, but on one condition.”
“What condition?” Joe was suspicious of what Adam would demand.
“That you promise not to cheat.”
“Adam, how could I cheat on a scavenger hunt?”
“You must have thought of a way or you wouldn’t be evading a direct answer to my request.”
“I’m not evading. Why would you say I’m evading?”
“Joseph, that’s enough. Promise your brothers that you will not cheat on this scavenger hunt and there are no situations that allow you to avoid honoring that promise. Understood?”
“Yes Pa, I understand.”
“Very good. Then, I’ll get those lists ready.”
“He hasn’t made that promise yet.”
The smile that Joe had disappeared and the smile that Ben had did also as he realized how easily his youngest son had manipulated him. Soon Joe had promised as well as apologized. He had also given Adam one of his patented glares that promised there might be retribution.
Sitting at his desk, Ben wrote out a list of twelve items, some in the house and some outside. One goal was to have fun but another was to get his sons outside for a while. Some items were easy to get once one figured out the riddle that told you what it was. Others were clearly identified but would take some ingenuity to produce. He knew that once a son found some rare items, he was likely to hide the others which was going to make the game even more interesting as they would have a nearly impossible search or would have to barter with each other. In order to prevent all out chaos that Ben still feared could ensue, he cut the lists up into slips and divided them into three separate jars allowing each son to choose only one slip of paper at a time. The theory was that each would then be looking for a different item and not likely to fight directly with another brother for that item. How he wished he had known all that would happen once his sons started pulling those paper slips from the three jars to search for items. He did know by the end of the first day, Adam had quite a lead on the other two. He had already accumulated four items: the pink shirt, a bow tie, a copy of Paradise Lost, and a guitar pick. There was little doubt by any of them that he had hidden away the other guitar picks and any additional copy of Paradise Lost. All thought it unlikely too that there was another pink shirt in their house and possibly there might not be another bow tie.
“Joseph, your brother did not cheat. I have been sitting at my desk all afternoon, and none of you have cheated. Those jars have been there in front of me. Each son has taken one slip of paper at a time as instructed without reading that paper until it is picked.”
“Then how did he get the slips with all the hardest things?”
“He did not get all the hardest things. You got the chess queen. Somehow I have found out from your brothers that there are no more queens in the chess sets we have.”
“I had to do that in order to stop Adam from running away with our game.”
“And the buggy whip Hoss found? Those are in the same category. It’s all to stop Adam. You have no intention to keep going like that to win the game?”
“No, Pa, we don’t plan on it because this should keep Adam in line and playing the game as its supposed to be played.”
“In good fun and without complaints when someone else does well?”
“We can’t win now. He got the only pink shirt in the house.”
“Joseph, I’m sure you know how to get a pink shirt.”
Of course until that moment, Joe hadn’t thought about making the items that were on the list, but there was nothing in the game that said they couldn’t.
“I guess we could find some old shirts and get them dyed.”
“I guess you could.”
While Adam smirked, Joe fumed. By the second day, when Adam found a few more items, both Hoss and Joe knew he was the likely winner even as they were only about halfway through the list of items they had to find. They discussed what they could do.
“Hoss, what if we find the items Adam already found?”
“How could we do that ifn he already found them?”
“Maybe we could find them in his room? You know, take a few to even up the odds a little. He won’t be able to prove that we got them from his room.”
“He’s gonna notice if somebody goes to his room.”
“Not if one of us distracts him.”
“Maybe if you go to search in the barn, he’ll go too. Or the bunkhouse? Or the cellar? Make it someplace where he’ll be busy for a while wondering what you’re doing. I’ll go in his room, grab a couple of things, and we’ll split those. That should even up the game and make it fair. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?”
“I guess so. It does sound about right, I think.”
It all worked well except for a couple of crucial things. Hoss headed to the barn in search of a horseshoe. Adam had heard the conversation of the previous day and although had not pulled the slip yet with carriage whip on it, knew he needed one. He went to the barn with his brother. Both of the younger brothers had discovered Adam wasn’t watching over his room because he had locked his room apparently so his brothers couldn’t get in and take the items he had found. When Joe found that out, he knew he needed a new plan. It didn’t take long. When his older brothers left the house, he went into Hoss’ bedroom next door to Adam’s room and opened the window. Looking out, he saw no one and climbed out to take the roof to Adam’s room. He pulled Hoss’ window down but not closed. These windows were too difficult to open if they were shut tightly. Getting into Adam’s room wasn’t terribly difficult but it was a strain being careful with cold heavy snow falling again. Joe did a search and found none of the stash of items. He had taken a pillow case with him to carry items back with him, but it remained maddingly empty. Frustrated, he wanted to scream but instead decided the only thing to do was to get back to Hoss’ room. Then he turned back to the window for the cold trip back to Hoss’ room. He thought about leaving via Adam’s door but that would be too obvious, and he was certain that Adam would call him out even for attempted cheating.
Down the hall, Ben came upstairs to get a sweater as he was feeling a bit of a chill. As he passed Hoss’ room, he shivered and felt a draft. Opening the door, he saw that Hoss’ window was slightly open. He knew Hoss did that sometimes at night to cool his room for sleeping, but he was supposed to close it in the morning. Whispering a few choice words for Hoss’ forgetting to do something so important, Ben pulled the window down firmly and locked it for good measure against the cold wind picking up outside. Then he headed to his room for that sweater.
Meanwhile, Adam found the item he needed in the barn as well as an old buggy whip and headed back to the house to warm up. He was looking forward to a cup of hot coffee and to get another slip of paper from his jar. Hoss hoped Joe had been successful in the half hour or so that Adam had been out of the house. Hoss had done his best to engage Adam in conversation, but his older brother’s sense of competition had been stoked and he wanted nothing more to interfere in his pursuit of the last two items.’ About that time, Joe was climbing out of Adam’s window when he saw him leave the barn. Ducking down on the roof, he hoped he had not been seen. Waiting until he assumed Adam had time to get in the house, he carefully made his way along the slippery roof until he got to Hoss window only to find it closed and locked.
“Damn you, Adam. You don’t have to be so mean.”
Assuming Adam had seen him on the roof and would have locked his own window by then, Joe knew the only way down was to climb down from the roof somehow or jump. It was not a pleasant prospect. Moving with great care to the roof’s edge, he peered over to see where he could jump with the greatest likelihood of remaining uninjured. He picked a spot, stood and prepared to jump, and them slipped and fell awkwardly with pain telling him he had caused a number of injuries. He could only hope none were serious. He tasted blood and knew his nose was bleeding as well as his lip. Somehow his father had heard the noise from his seat at his desk and came outside to see what had happened. He yelled for help and Hoss rushed from the barn, and a moment later, Adam came from the house. Ben was shocked and wanted to know what happened. Hoss had a good idea of what had happened but remained silent. Adam was quiet trying to make sense of what had happened. All three reached for Joe to try to help.
But Joe directed his ire at Adam. “I don’t need your help. You did this to me.”
Flinching in shock from Joe’s accusation, Adam stood back up and away dumbfounded. Ben and Hoss had no idea what Joe meant, but there wasn’t time to discuss it. Ben simply asked Hoss to take Joe inside and then put a hand on Adam’s shoulder to guide him inside as well. Adam was shaking slightly but Ben had no idea if it was the cold, the emotional turmoil, or both. With Joe on the settee, Ben and Hoss tended to his injuries that were minor scrapes and abrasions as well as a split lip and bloody nose. As they did so, they heard Joe’s story and his accusation. Ben nodded as Joe finished his tale that was both incriminating and filled with accusation.
“So, you climbed out Hoss’ window to go to Adam’s room to steal items but you were not successful because your brother must have anticipated that you would not keep your promise and you would cheat. You hid from him when you saw him because you knew what you had tried to do was wrong. Then you got back to Hoss’ window but it was locked because I noticed the draft and closed and locked it. Then because of your guilt, you assumed Adam had done that to purposefully lock you out. Stranded on the roof, you couldn’t call for help because of your guilt, so you attempted to rescue yourself and were injured. Then you chose to accuse Adam, without evidence, of causing harm to you when it was in fact all your fault. Is that version of the story about right?”
“When you say it like that it does sound pretty bad.”
“And Hoss is partly responsible because he agreed with you that this plan to steal items was a good idea?”
“Dadburnit, Pa, it seemed like the kind of thing we do all the time in fun. We didn’t mean no harm in doing it.”
“You didn’t mean any harm in doing it until Joe got hurt?”
“Yeah, pretty much until then.”
“By default, I declare Adam the winner of the Scavenger Hunt number one. As soon as the snow clears enough for anyone to go to town, he gets to take three days and two nights in town.”
Quite pleased with the prize, Adam smiled showing dimples. “Thank you, Pa. All in all, it was a very good game. Thank you, Joe, for thinking of it. I now have something to anticipate for the next few weeks as the warmer days begin to banish winter.”
“By the way you said that, Pa, is there going to be another one?” Joe wasn’t so sure he wanted another one.
“Yes, there is going to be another one. In Scavenger Hunt number two, you and Hoss will be competing against each other.” Ben turned to his oldest son. “Adam, did you hide the extra guitar picks and the extra copy of Paradise Lost in your room?”
“No, I thought that would be too easy.”
“Good. Your two brothers will be in a contest to see who can find them. The winner gets to muck out the barn every week for the month of April.”
Hoss frowned. “The winner? Don’t sound much like winning.”
Adam smirked and Joe sighed because both had a good idea of what was coming next.
“Yes, that’s the prize for the winner because the loser will get to muck out the barn every week in March and in May. And you know what March is like after the winter of not being able to do a thorough job of mucking out that barn for three months.”
Hoss looked at Joe. “Do any of your plans ever work out?”
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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