Summary: In this prequel, Ben tries for a romantic interlude, but the weather and hay fever conspire against him.
Rating: PG Word Count: 1,619
Sixteen-year-old Adam Cartwright was in charge of his younger brothers on an excursion. He had been both surprised and a bit bothered when his father and Marie had told him at breakfast that they had decided he could have the day off from chores but immediately saddled him with the responsibility of watching over his two brothers. They had looked quite pleased with themselves announcing it that way because the enthusiasm of Hoss and Little Joe meant there was no possible way for Adam to decline. He knew they knew that. So the day off to just ramble around, fish, relax, swim, and generally have a good time was ruined a bit by being manipulated so skillfully. That part rankled.
“Adam, hey, Adam, is it time to skip rocks yet?”
“We skip stones not rocks. Rocks we throw to make a big splash. We search for flat stones to skip.”
“Well, is it time yet or not?”
Having just turned five, Little Joe was not known for patience. Adam wondered if he would ever discover that virtue. Impulsive and energetic, he never sat still for long either. It could be entertaining to watch him but exhausting too. Adam let Hoss do some of the work delegating the chasing to his middle brother for part of the day as he supervised from a comfortable perch in the shade or in the sun depending on his mood. It would have been nice to take a nap in the warm sun, but he knew he couldn’t sleep unless Little Joe was sleeping right beside him. That wasn’t likely now that the youngster wanted to skip stones because not much could ever deter him from a goal like that. Adam pushed himself to his feet and headed down to the shore to dutifully carry out his promise to conduct a lesson in stone skipping. What he saw though meant the lesson was going to be short. Across the lake, dark clouds were gathering.
“Boys, didn’t you see the storm clouds building up? Hoss, you should have said something.”
“I thought you could see them.”
“No, the trees blocked my view. Listen, just a few skipping stones, and we will have to head for home. I don’t want to be caught out in the open in a storm. I don’t want to be caught anywhere in a storm. We need to be home and inside before that hits.”
“But, Adam, we didn’t have our picnic yet.”
“Little Joe, we’ll have our picnic at home. I promise. We can spread the blanket out inside and stay nice and dry and warm and have our picnic in front of the fireplace. All right?”
“All right. As long as you promise.”
“Little Joe, Adam always keeps his promises to us too. Right?” Hoss said it in his growing up voice trying to sound like he was wise and knowledgeable.
“Right.” Little Joe giggled. “It’s funny. When you try to sound like Papa, your voice squeaks a little.”
Remembering those days being between a child and a man, Adam had some sympathy for Hoss. “Hoss, if our little brother laughs at you one more time today, you have my permission to use him as a pillow to sit on when we drive back home.”
Slapping both hands across his mouth, Little Joe made sure Hoss knew he wasn’t laughing. Vindicated, Hoss got to work following Adam’s instructions on packing things up as Adam took care of getting the horses hitched to the wagon, and Little Joe stayed out of the way for a change. Hoss piled everything into the back of the wagon and waited for Adam to secure it safely knowing his brother was better at packing things away than anyone he knew.
Within fifteen minutes, Adam was done with the harness and had everything packed into the wagon. With the horse and wagon ready for the return trip, he told his younger brothers to hop into the back of the wagon.
“Why do we hafta sit in the back? I thought we got to take turns sitting up by you?”
“If I have to go faster because of the storm coming, I want you to hang onto each other, and I don’t want to have to worry about you. It’s up to the two of you to keep each other safe.”
Adam knew that by phrasing it that way, Little Joe would feel responsible at least for the trip home and not complain. Hoss was always responsible so he wasn’t worried about him. As it turned out, they were able to go home at a normal pace with the storms far enough behind them. On reaching the yard, Adam asked Hoss to open the barn door. He had to yell because the wind was picking up.
Inside the barn, Ben and Marie were in a state they didn’t want the boys to see and had no idea they would be home hours early. They had been doing a little romantic adventuring and suddenly panicked when they heard Adam’s yell.
“Quick, up in the loft.”
“But, Ben, the hay will make me cough and sneeze. My eyes get so red.”
“What will happen if the boys see us like this.”
Marie scrambled up the short ladder to the loft then as Ben grabbed clothing items and a blanket, and followed. Wrapped in the blanket, they snuggled into the hay and straw and were as quiet as they could be as Adam brought the wagon inside.
“Hoss, grab the basket and blanket, please, and take those in the house with Little Joe. Don’t let him get in any mischief. Wait for me. I’ll take care of the horse and harness and be right in hopefully before the rain gets here.”
“All right. Mama and Pa are sure gonna be surprised to see us.”
“Yes, well please tell them we had no choice with that storm coming in.”
That was all the information that Ben and Marie needed to hear to know what had happened. They waited for Adam to finish his tasks with Ben giving Marie his handkerchief so she could cover her mouth and nose and hopefully not sneeze or cough with Adam in the barn. As Adam worked, he noted a couple of unusual things including a bit of dust floating down from the hayloft. Having some experience already at his age of sneaking up there with a girl during parties, he couldn’t help the smirk which he did know no one could see. He dawdled over his chores to get a little revenge, but hearing the wind pick up even more, he decided to end the torment and headed for the house. It wasn’t worth getting wet.
“I guess he didn’t want to go right in to be with his brothers. They must have given him a rough time already. Ben, my love, we’ll have to make it up to him somehow.”
“I don’t know. All that humming and whistling didn’t sound like someone who was unhappy.”
Ben was a little suspicious of his son’s motives in taking so long to finish his tasks. Now though, the romantic mood had passed too. The temperature was dropping, and next they heard rain starting to hit the roof with some force.
“Darling, I’m afraid we’re stuck in the barn for the duration of the storm. We can go in the tack room to try to stay warmer.”
“Are there any blankets in there?”
“I’m hoping there are still some bedrolls in there.”
There was one. With the blanket they had and when they were fully dressed once more, they snuggled and talked. Talk was all they could do because unfortunately, the time in the loft had affected Marie. Her nose was running and her eyes were reddened. In the darkness of the tack room, Ben didn’t realize how bad she looked. When they heard the rain stop, both were anxious to get to the house. When they walked in, they saw their sons lounging on a blanket in front of the fireplace with a picnic basket there with them. Adam was telling a story. A fire was blazing. The scene was charming. At least it was unless Little Joe started crying as his parents came into the light.
“Mama, are you sick? Mama, are you hurt? Are you going to die?”
There were streaks down Marie’s face as the tears had mixed with dust in the barn as she wiped them away again and again. Her eyes were very red. Her nose was red too and running. All in all, she looked nothing like the beautiful woman who was their mother. Ben had no idea until he saw her in the light how bad she looked. One look at him, and she realized by his expression how awful it must be. Bursting into tears, she ran for the stairs with a few bits of straw and hay dropping from her dress as she did so.
Ben comforted Little Joe. Hoss looked confused, and Ben saw the smirk Adam had. His first thought was that he wanted to get even with the young man, and then as his temper cooled, he realized Adam had done nothing wrong. In fact, he and Marie had manipulated Adam into the situation in which they trapped themselves. Ben sent his sons to bed at a reasonable hour. He sat in his chair and smoked his pipe until he had delayed the inevitable as long as he could. Then when he could no longer avoid it, he headed up to his bedroom to deal with the aftermath of his grand idea to recreate a romantic interlude in the barn.
Tags: Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright, Joe / Little Joe Cartwright, Marie Cartwright
Other Stories by this Author
- Picnics (by BettyHT)
- The Worst Thing (by BettyHT)
- An Excellent Plan (by BettyHT)
- A Child was Born (by BettyHT)
- Christmas Story (by BettyHT)