Summary: This is a prequel in which Little Joe should learn some lessons about telling the truth and doing what is right, but does he? Sadly, Little Joe has a habit of only learning the hard way.
Rating: PG Word Count: 1,535
The Cookie Escapade
“No, Hop Sing, we only need three plates of cookies for dessert. Little Joe isn’t getting any dessert tonight as part of his punishment.”
Sulking but silent Little Joe thought it terribly unfair that because he misbehaved at school, he should miss out on the fresh baked cookies at home. By his math, it was unfair to have two punishments for one offense. He was determined to get justice or at the very least cookies, and late that night, he headed to the kitchen ready to get those cookies stored in that tin on the top shelf. Getting out of his room and down the hall without his father hearing was the hard part. There were floorboards that squeaked so he stayed as close to the wall as he could knowing that the boards didn’t squeak there. On the stairs he kept himself pushed up close to the railing for the same reason. Once on the main floor, he could move freely as that floor didn’t squeak at all. He had learned over weeks of practice to move almost silently in the house at night.
In the kitchen, Little Joe pushed a chair next to the stove, stepped up on it, stepped on the corner of the stove, and reached for the cookie tin up on the shelf. He had done it at least once a week for the past month ever since he had found where Hop Sing was hiding them. In the dark, disaster happened. This time, there was a small jar in front of the tin which he didn’t see. It fell to the floor, shattering, and of course drawing first Hop Sing and then his family to the kitchen.
Caught in the dastardly act, he had no way out and no way to explain his behavior either. His furious father ordered him to bed. He thought he knew what he faced in the morning except his father told him to go see Hop Sing instead. Apprehensive, he walked slowly to the kitchen looking back at his father trying to decipher the look he had but without success. Adam and Hoss sat there with smirks at his predicament. They had both been accused in previous weeks of stealing cookies, and Little Joe guessed now they had let their father know the real culprit had been found out. Working at stirring something in a large bowl, Hop Sing raised a wooden spoon to gesture at him. In another situation, it would have been funny because raw egg dripped from it, but Little Joe did not dare to laugh in this circumstance.
“You let Hop Sing know something he not know. He not know floor so dirty. Lemon oil clean floor very well where it spilled. Hop Sing wipe up oil and floor shine there.”
Smiling, Joe looked down at the spot where Hop Sing was pointing and saw how nice the wood floor looked there. He thought all was well until Hop Sing handed him a bucket with lye soap and a large brush.
“No more lemon oil. You clean rest of floor with soap. Good lesson for you too. Clean floor good for everybody.”
Little Joe nearly groaned out loud looking at the wide expanse of the kitchen and the relatively small area that was already clean because of the lemon oil which he had spilled. Then he reluctantly took the bucket and lye soap. Hop Sing handed him a brush too. He knew he had a full day of work ahead of him. That cookie he had wanted was not worth this, and he knew who to blame for it too. It was Hoss who had told their father that he had a note to deliver to him from the teacher. He remembered very well the teacher poking her finger up into Hoss’ chest.
“Now, you be sure your father gets this note. I will not have young Joseph continuing his bad behavior. He sets a bad example for the younger children.”
Of course, the teacher had told Hoss to be sure to tell their father that, but it wasn’t like he had to do it. After all, Hoss forgot a lot of things. He could have forgotten that. Then Little Joe could have told the teacher anything like he usually did in such circumstances and nothing more would have been said about it. But, no, Hoss had to go and tell their father. Well, by Little Joe’s reasoning, Hoss had to pay for that. He wasn’t sure how to make him pay, but there had to be a way. And then he thought of a way.
Ever since Adam got back from college, he liked to go to town on Saturday nights. Now Hoss was too young to go along so Adam would go with the hands. He and Hoss were very close again though and Little Joe had found out what they were doing. Hoss snuck out the window of his room and down the porch roof. Adam brought him back early enough so he didn’t look like he’d been out at night and helped him climb back up on the roof so he could get back in his room. Then Adam would take care of the horses and sometimes spend some time out in the bunkhouse with the men who came back early too. So Adam came in alone, and Little Joe figured their father never knew what was going on. He decided to fix things for his brothers though. That Saturday night, he waited and sure enough, it happened again. Except this time, he went to Hoss’ room and closed the window and put the bar on top so it wouldn’t open. Then he went to his room and did the same to his window. Waiting by the window, he nearly fell asleep but stirred when he heard Hoss call down to Adam.
“It’s closed and I can’t open it.”
“Go through Little Joe’s window then.”
Little Joe rushed to his bed and slid under the covers acting as if he was sound asleep. Then he listened for Hoss. He heard him try the window and then tap on it. He heard him call to Adam.
“Little Joe’s window is locked too. He must be sound asleep. I can’t get him to wake up to open the window.”
There was more talk but Little Joe couldn’t hear what they were saying because the window was closed. He lay awake for a long time waiting for his father’s bellow when he caught Hoss sneaking in. There hadn’t been a sound of his father coming to bed so he knew he had to be downstairs. Finally it got so late, he fell asleep. In the morning, he went downstairs wondering what had happened. Everyone was at the table talking just like normal. What he heard made him cringe.
“Well, after that mishap last night and after my late-night discussion with Adam, I have decided to change that rule. You may go to town with Adam on Saturday nights if you agree to follow any rules he sets for you and not to drink to excess. You need to come home at a reasonable hour too. Adam has said he will continue to make sure that happens. Is that all agreeable to you?”
“It shur is, Pa. Thank you.”
“Now I do wish you two had come to me and discussed this beforehand, but I think no harm has been done. As long as nothing like this happens again, I think we can move on.”
“That’s not fair!”
Little Joe was incensed.
“They break rules and nothing happens. I break one little rule at school and I get punished?”
“Oh, son, what rule did they break, and what would you know about that?”
Ben Cartwright’s piercing gaze was more than most men could tolerate. A boy of ten was not at all up to the task. Little Joe withered under its intensity.
“What you did was underhanded and mean. You wanted revenge. I can only assume it is because Hoss did as your teacher requested. Your brothers came in last night, admitted what they had done, and accepted all responsibility. They did not tell me at all what you had done. Of course, when I heard that Hoss’ window was locked, I knew I had not done it. They had thought I had found them out. I knew better. Now is there anything you want to add?”
Suddenly, there were three fierce gazes directed at Little Joe. His brothers had not known until that moment that he had been responsible for the locked window in Hoss’ room.
“Little Joe, we’re going to church services this morning. Then after church, your brothers are going fishing. Would you like to go with them?”
“No, Pa, I guess I’d rather stay home with you.”
“That’s good. Now Hop Sing will be gone so this would be a good day to do more cleaning in the kitchen. I’ll tell him you’re available. What do you have to say to that?”
“Uh, thank you, Pa.”
“Very good. You’re learning, although I do wish you could learn by listening instead of by experience.”
Tags: Ben Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright
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