The Long and Winding Road (by chellek)

Summary:  The boys get kicked of the stage and must find a way to get back home.  

Rated: K+ (17,730 words)

The Long and Winding Road
 

A savage kick sent the bucket bounding across the dusty road.  It rang on the hard earth with a harsh metallic sound that matched the fury of the man that kicked it.  He couldn’t believe he had let things get this far out of hand!  He couldn’t believe he had thrown the first punch that ended when he and his brothers were kicked off the stage.  Even worse, he had let his brothers provoke him into losing his temper.  Now they were stuck out here in the middle of nowhere, miles and even days from home.  They had very little cash between them – certainly not enough to cover stage fare for all three of them – even if they could wait a week for the next one to arrive.

He was at a loss as to what to do, they had to get home soon; their father was counting on the contracts they had secured while on their visit to San Jose. He took a deep breath, looked up at the sky and exhaled slowly.  There had to be a way out of here, there had to be a solution; he just didn’t see it yet. He rubbed at the bridge of his long, straight nose and demanded his brain come up with something, anything to help them immediately.  The heavy footsteps of his middle brother interrupted his futile efforts to think, and he turned to meet him.

Hey Adam…what are we going to do?” Hoss asked, as he approached him uneasily. 

He could tell his older brother was a little more than furious, and he knew that by asking the obvious question he was inviting his brother’s wrath.Adam closed his eyes in frustration. His head ached from when it had connected with the hard wood of the stage wheel after a thunderous counter-punch from his younger brother.  The scowl on his faced deepened as he turned to Hoss and spoke tersely.

“I haven’t figured it out yet. At this point we might as well start walking. The station keeper says he only has two horses and a jackass he can sell us; and with the price he’s asking; we won’t have two cents to rub together. I seriously doubt those animals he calls horses can make it even halfway to the Ponderosa and that ass… Let’s just say I’ll be surprised if it makes it out of the corral!”

Hoss tried to keep his voice calm; he didn’t want another fight on his hands, and judging by Adam’s posture, he was in the sort of mood where anything might provoke him into a shouting rampage. “Well, I don’t see as to how we have much choice…We can’t walk all that way; it’d take us weeks…and we certainly can’t stay here; we can’t even afford the stage home.”

Adam nodded. He had already come to the same conclusion. “I know Hoss…I…guess we’re going to have to take our chances on those animals and pray for the best.” He kicked the dirt in frustration and stalked toward the station keeper’s house.  It galled his thrifty nature to pay such exorbitant prices for rag tag animals.

Joe watched from the corral fence as his oldest brother walked into the station keeper’s house. He was still fuming over the fight he had with Adam. It had built up all week; they knew each other’s anger points too well – knew when to goad, when to prod a sore spot in what had became a wicked game.  Joe smiled; he has glad he had won, pushed his brother over the edge, and made him throw the first punch.  It was usually the opposite.  Adam would provoke Joe into striking first, but not this time.  Joe’s chest swelled with satisfaction.  He had successfully provoked Adam into causing the whole ruckus.  Heck, it was even worth getting kicked off the stage for. At least Joe wasn’t the one who was at fault…well, not completely, he thought with a smirk.

***

“…One hundred, one-hundred and twenty, one-hundred thirty, one-hundred forty-five, and one-hundred and fifty.” Adam reluctantly laid the last of his money on the table. He looked up at the old charlatan of a station keeper and said in a defeated voice, “There’s your one-hundred and FIFTY dollars for the two horses, jack-ass and gear.  Now, if you don’t mind we’d like to be on our way….”

The station keeper took the money greedily, and smiled as he recounted the cash. It was a very nice profit he was making off of these three men, and his cheerful manner made it very clear he was quite pleased with himself. “Shore thing sonny. You jest come with me to the barn and we’ll getcha your gear.”

Adam scowled as he followed the little old scoundrel out to the barn; he was not used to parting with his money so easily. The station keeper grabbed three dusty, well-worn saddles and rusty bridles from their hooks and handed them to Adam.

“This is all you got?” Adam asked.  His disapproval of the tack he was being handed clearly evident in his voice.

“Yup, unless you want to ride bare back or somethin’.”

Adam opened his mouth to argue but quickly closed it again and, instead, took the two saddles the old man had handed him.  So far the only thing that arguing with the old timer had gotten him was a thinner pocket book.

The old man carried the lightest saddle, obviously for the ass, while Adam struggled to carry the other two saddles and tack across the yard to the corral. Reaching the corral, he dropped them in a heap on the ground.

Hoss, who had been waiting by the fence, grabbed some of the gear for their horses and set them on the fence, while Joe walked into the corral and lead out the horses. Joe snatched one of the moth-eaten saddle blankets and threw it on the horse.  He began to saddle what he assumed was going to be his ride. As he tightened the cinch, he became aware of someone standing behind him.  He peered over his shoulder to find his older brother standing with legs spread, eyes narrowed and hands firmly on his hips.  Didn’t take much to guess he was still a little annoyed with the whole situation.

“Somethin’ wrong Adam?”

“Just what do you think you’re doing?”

Joe frowned. “I’m saddling up my horse, what does it look like?”

Adam shook his head, “Oh, no. No, you’re not riding a horse little brother. Your steed is over there.” He pointed in the direction of an old broken down donkey that was standing at the other end of the corral, chewing lazily on some straw.

Joe’s mouth gaped, “You gotta be kiddin’ me! Why do I have to ride that old thing?”

Adam smiled with satisfaction. “Because you got us into this mess, and Hoss is too big; he’d probably founder the poor thing.”

Joe’s face flushed and his eyes glittered, “ME?  I got us into this mess? You’re the one that hit me, not the other way around! If you think I am going to ride that thing, you’re crazy!”

Adam smiled arrogantly.  He knew he would win this argument; there was no way in hell he was going to ride that animal. “That may be but you’re the one that’s been itching for a fight for the past week. I finally just let you have it. Besides, I paid for these animals, so I get a horse, little brother.”  With a smirk he grabbed the reins of the old, sway-backed and wry-necked animal. “Thanks for saddling him up for me.”

Joe seethed with anger as he watched his pompous older brother lead the horse across the yard.  He couldn’t believe Adam was getting away with this! Worst of all, he was going to have to ride the sorry excuse for a jackass. He knew one thing though, Adam was not going to get away with this embarrassment, and he would make sure older brother got his before this journey was through.

Hoss eyed Adam curiously, as he tightened the cinch on his saddle. “What are you smiling about?”  He asked as Adam approached with his already saddled horse.

Adam raised his eyebrows and replied, not so innocently. “Oh, nothing… You about ready?”

“Yeah, I’m done.” He said as he finished adjusting the girth. Looking up, he searched for their youngest brother, “Where’s Joe?”

“Oh…I’m sure he’ll be coming along anytime now,” Adam said with a smirk. Raising his voice, he yelled, “Hey Joe! Come on will ya! We gotta get going!”

A minute later Joe appeared leading or, more appropriately, pulling the donkey toward his brothers.

“Hurry it up will ya! We don’t have all day!”

Joe scowled at his brother; he was dangerously unhappy. “Tell that to him! And if that doesn’t work you can just shut up!”

Adam bit the inside of his cheek, wisely deciding that it would be best not to provoke his brother anymore than he already had. “All right, let’s get going” He stepped into the saddle.  “We don’t need to make this journey any longer than it already is.”

Hoss followed while Joe urged the jackass to move forward, and it did, albeit reluctantly. The dim-witted animal followed slowly behind the two elderly horses with Joe kicking it furiously in a futile attempt to quicken its pace.

Chapter 2 “On the Road”

Hoss pulled his horse to a stop for the tenth time in the last three hours. “Hey Adam! Hold up, will ya?”

Adam drew rein and sighed, clearly annoyed with their slow progress. “What’s the hold up now?”

“It’s Joe; that ass just ain’t cooperation’ with him! He’s behind quite a fer piece.”

“So what else is new?” Adam groused.

After about fifteen minutes of waiting a very uncomfortable and agitated Joe appeared as he and his lackadaisical mount finally reached the bend in the road.

Adam sat up in the saddle. “Joe would you hurry it up! We ain’t got all day!”

Joe’s face flushed with anger. “Adam, shut up! I’ve had just about enough out of you! One more word and I’ll knock you off that horse!”

Adam answered Joe’s challenge with narrowed eyes and slowly tilted his head back, looking down his nose at his brother.  Adam was unable to hide a half smile as he laid down his own challenge, “I’d like to see you try.”

That was the last straw. In an instant Joe, was off of the donkey and heading toward Adam—intent on knocking his attitude down a notch or two. Stopping two feet short of Adam’s horse he stood with fists clenched and chest thrust forward, “Come on, Adam. Come down from there and let’s settle this right now! I’m getting real sick of your snide remarks and insults. If you want to fight, fight like a man!”

Adam sat there for short moment steaming over what his brother said. Leaving behind all reason he jumped off his horse and faced Joe.  “All right, you want a fight? I’ll give you a fight, boy!” Adam snarled, his voice seething with anger as he pushed Joe’s chest with his forefinger.

When Joe heard the word ‘boy’ he lost all composure. “All right! That’s it!” Swinging wildly he threw a punch at Adam.

Adam stepped forward to clamp down on Joe’s arms and walked right into an uppercut with all of the kid’s weight behind it.  Stunned he reeled back and twisted as he fell, face down in the dirt.  He threw up his arms to protect his head as Joe piled on top, hitting him again and again.

Hoss watched the whole exchange from atop his horse. He couldn’t believe they were fighting again. Furious at his brothers’ adolescent behavior, he got off his horse and stormed over to where they struggled on the ground. He grabbed Joe by the shirt collar and pulled him off of Adam, “All right, that’s enough! Ya hear!”

Joe continued to struggle, as he tried to get back to pummeling Adam. Hoss tightened his grip and shook as he repeated, “I said that’s enough, Joe!”

Joe stopped and threw off Hoss’s hold, “All right! Let me go!”

Adam stood up slowly.  Blood seeped from the corner of his mouth; he swiped at it with the back of his hand.  He appeared shaken as he leaned over and tried to catch his breath.

Hoss looked at each brother angrily. “I’ve had just about enough out of you two! You’ve done nothin’ but fight and argue since we been on this dadburn trip. Ain’t it enough you got us kicked off the stage?”

Joe looked up at the comment, “ME? Adam’s the one that threw the punch at me! He’s the one that started the fight!”

“You just hush up now! You’re the one that egged Adam on all week trying to get him to pick a fight with you. You wanted Adam to fight with you!”

Joe closed his mouth and looked away.

Adam, who was quite recovered, smiled at Hoss as he dusted off his hat, which had fallen off during the fight. “Thanks, I’m happy to see some intelligent observations around here.”

Adam now earned Hoss’s angry glare. “I don’t want to hear it, Adam! You’re just as bad as he is! You’ve been pickin’ on Joe just as much as he has you. You’ve been a bear the whole rest of the trip out here. If ya ain’t angry with Joe, you’re mad at both of us and just askin’ for one of us to clobber ya.  So, I don’t want to hear no more!” Looking at both his brothers he added, “And that goes for both of ya! I don’t want ta hear no more arguin’, you got that?  Come on we still got a ways to go.”  With that Hoss stalked back to his horse and climbed into the saddle.

Both Joe and Adam stood side by side in silence, stunned by their gentle brother’s anger.  When Hoss turned to his mount, however, each gave the other a resentful glance as they returned to their respective animals. Hoss was the first on his horse and the first to head back down the road towards home. Tension filled the air as the brothers rode silently down the trail.

***

The sun began to set as the three brothers traveled toward home.  Hoss looked up worriedly; he didn’t like the look of the sky above. It was dark in the horizon, darker than it should be for a late spring day. The wind began to howl as the temperature also dropped. He was beginning to feel uneasy as they pressed on.

He was lost in his thoughts when Adam rode up beside him. “The sky doesn’t look so good does it?”

Hoss was surprised to hear his brother’s voice, “Hmm? Oh, yeah, it don’t look too good at all. You think we should stop off somewhere’s and try to find shelter?”

Adam squinted at the dark sky, “Yeah, I think we better. We better tell Joe what our plans are; he’s liable to lose us if we don’t.”

Hoss grinned; looking behind he could see his youngest brother riding along slowly, half a mile behind. “I’ll go tell him. Poor fella…”

Adam smiled at the thought of his brother—well he deserved it. Slowing his horse, he waited for the arrival of his two brothers.  Hoss rode up to his miserable youngest brother trying to hide a smile at his brother’s predicament. “Hey, Joe, we need to stop off somewhere and find some shelter. Looks like there is a big storm a brewin’.”

Looking ahead, his eyes narrowed, “Do you think brother Adam can keep a civil tongue in his mouth?”

Hoss shook his head in disappointment. “Joe you ain’t still frettin about all that are ya? Don’t pay no mind to Adam; you know how he gets sometimes, specially when things aren’t goin’ his way.”

Joe’s expression didn’t change, “Yeah, well that still doesn’t mean he has to take it out on me.”

“Yeah, I know, Joe, just don’t let him get to ya so easily. Let it roll off your back; he’s just frustrated that’s all.”

Joe nodded; he agreed with what Hoss said. It was true his older brother did lash out when he was feeling frustrated. Come to think of it, Joe thought with a wry smile, so did he.  Adam waited and waited. He couldn’t believe how slow Joe and Hoss were. The storm was threatening to break any moment. From the looks of the clouds, the flash of lightening and the crash of thunder above, the storm was on the verge of sending a downpour on the three unfortunate brothers.

After fifteen minutes of waiting, Hoss and Joe joined Adam. “It’s about time. Come on we better find some shelter; that storm is going to break any minute now.”

Joe rolled his eyes and gave his donkey a hard kick, “Well, come on then!”

Adam raised his eyebrows. “Do you have any suggestions as to where we might go?” he asked sarcastically, still miffed at the earlier altercation with Joe.

Joe rolled his eyes again, as he tried to keep his temper under control. “Well, last time I was through this area I seem to remember a farm about two miles from here. In fact, dear brother, it’s just over this next hill.”

Adam squinted, trying to see any sign of the farm. “All right, let’s go then.”  With that he gave his horse a kick and started back down the road.

Chapter 3 “A Quiet Respite?”

The rain came down hard.  It was icy and smelled of far off dark forests. It pounded into the dust, converting it instantly into mud.  They were soaked, miserable and shivering by the time they slogged the two endless miles to the saw the small farmhouse Joe had spoken of earlier.

Adam was the first to dismount, as the brothers arrived in the yard. He stepped onto the porch and eagerly knocked on the front door. Joined by his two brothers, they all made a pathetic sight as each huddled against the cold. Their clothes were soaked through to the skin and no longer provided their intended protection.

The door opened a narrow crack and a pair of faded blue and bleary eyes shadowed by shaggy white eyebrows peered out.  Adam smiled and moved closer to the door, he was about to say something when he noticed the barrel of gun poking through the doorway.  He stopped in his tracks and held his hands up slightly as he tried to show he meant no harm.

“Who are you, and what are you doing here?” An old man’s voice demanded through the door.

Adam sucked in his breath; he didn’t like it when strangers pointed guns at him for no reason. “Uh, I’m Adam Cartwright and these are my brothers, Hoss and Joe. We’re on our way to Virginia City and our ranch, the Ponderosa. We just needed some shelter for the night, and we saw your farm here….”

The door opened a few inches more and an almost baldhead was thrust out.  He squinted closely at the men before him.  The gun did not waiver, however; it was still aimed at Adam and his brothers.  “Well, we don’t want ya here! You’ll jest have to go somewhere else!”

“Now wait a minute, couldn’t we just stay in your barn? We need to get out of the rain and cold,” Adam protested, annoyed at the man’s inhospitably.

“No, I told ya! We don’t want no visitors here!”

“Harry? What’s going on out there? Who’s at the door?” a new and decidedly female voice chimed in.

The old man lost his look of determination and glanced back into the house, obviously annoyed at being interrupted. “You just hush up now, Margie! I’ll take care of this myself!”

Soon a short, round-faced woman was at his side peering at the three men standing on her porch. “Harry!  Why are these three young men standing out here? They look miserable! For goodness sakes, Harry, let them poor fellows in! It’s much too cold and wet outside!”

The woman flung the door open and motioned for the brothers to come inside the house and ignored the red-faced Harry. The three men gladly entered the house, their clothes dripping on the floor as they followed Margie.

“Margie! You can’t just let them come in our house like this! You don’t have any idea who they even are!”

Margie waved him off, much to the delight of the tired, wet and hungry Cartwright sons. “They don’t look like they’ll cause no harm, Harry. They just need ta warm up at the fire and get some food in their stomachs. Poor souls.”

She ushered the men into the kitchen, “Now, I want you three to sit here at the table so’s you can warm up.  I’ll fix you some food and get you some warm blankets.  And you’ll all be feelin’ good as new.”

Adam, Hoss, and Joe looked at each other, disbelieving their sudden change of fortune. Each took a seat, carefully easing their aching bodies into the wooden chairs that surrounded the well-worn kitchen table.  Joe raised his brows and grinned at his brothers as Margie left the room.

“Now, who told you there was a farmhouse just down the road?”  He added smugly to Adam, who only glared in response.

The old woman soon returned from the back of the house with three large blankets. Handing one to each, she said, “Now, iffen you want ta get out of those wet clothes, ya can change in the back room there. I don’t have no clothes for y’all to wear, but these blankets are big enough to cover you boys while your clothes are dryin’.”

Joe gave her his most charming smile as he accepted the blanket, “Thank you, Mrs…?”

The old woman smiled, “The last names Wilder, but you three can call me Margie. And don’t you worry none about my husband; he gets a mite cranky round strangers. Seems like strangers are always after our grand-daughter, least that’s the way Harry sees it.”

Joe perked up, “Granddaughter? You have a granddaughter here, ma’am?”

Margie smiled, “Why, yes I do, young man. Her name’s Doris. She’s been living with us since her Pa, bless his soul, passed on a few years back.”

Adam eyed Joe.  He didn’t like the look in his brother’s eyes. After Margie retreated to the back of the house once again, he leveled a finger at Joe and spoke in a clipped, hushed tone, “Joe…you stay away from that girl! We don’t need any trouble tonight.”

Joe looked up innocently and glanced at Hoss, “Did you hear that? Already brother is expecting me to cause trouble! We’ve only been here ten minutes!”  He stood up and clutched his blanket tightly. “Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ll try my best not to cause you any embarrassment while I get these wet clothes off!”

Hoss looked at his brother, his brows furrowed. “Now, why did you have to say something like that, Adam?  You lookin’ for another fight?”

Adam frowned in reply, “Hoss, come on, you know how Joe is…  I thought it would be better to say something now than when we are all being chased out the door by old Harry there, with a rifle in hand.”

***

Joe draped his wet clothes across the back of a chair in the small bedroom he was using as a changing room. He rewrapped the blanket around himself, relishing the warmth it offered. He gathered his wet closed and then stopped when he noticed his image in a full-length mirror that leaned against the wall.  He laughed quietly to himself. He looked much like a picture of one of the Romans he used to study in school.  Smiling, he stood up straighter and imitated the pose he had seen of Caesar—one hand placed high on his chest, his chin raised slightly.  His images of ancient nobility were broken when he heard a noise behind him.

He whispered as he scanned the room, “Who’s there?”

He was alarmed to see one of the curtains by the window rustle with movement and even more so when a young, but somewhat homely looking, girl stepped from behind it. Joe immediately took her to be the granddaughter, Doris. The girl—who appeared to be about his age—stepped slowly towards him and grinned widely as she approached.

“Why hello there, handsome….”

Joe’s eyes widened in surprise as questions ran through his head. How much had she seen? Why on earth was she in the room, while he had been undressing?

“I…uh… Excuse me….” His voice squeaked as he backed away, his hand grasping desperately for the handle of the door that would lead to the relative safety of the warm kitchen.

The girl, unperturbed, continued to smile seductively at him as she maintained her advance. “Hey where you going, handsome?”  The girl asked as Joe opened the door and made his escape; he did not stop to answer.

Adam and Hoss still sat in their wet clothes as they waited for the makeshift dressing room to become available.  Both looked up in surprise as a frantic Joe rushed into the room.

“Bout time you got back. Hoss and I are going to catch pneumonia waiting for you.”  Adam arched his eyebrows at his brother’s strange behavior but decided not to comment.  He pushed himself up from the table, “I’m going to get these wet clothes off.”

Joe’s eyes grew big, and he reached for Adam’s arm.  “NO, ADAM! Don’t go back there!” he pleaded.

Adam pulled his arm from Joe’s grasp and looked at him as if he were mad.  “Why not?  I certainly can’t change here. If I don’t get these clothes off, I’ll catch a cold.”

“You don’t understand… If you go back there, you’re liable to get us kicked out of this house!”  Lowering his voice to a whisper, he said, “There’s…there’s someone back there….”

Adam sighed and spoke to Joe as if he were a small child. “Of course, there’s someone back there. Margie went back there, don’t you remember?”

Joe shook his head in frustration, “No, Adam, that’s not who I’m talking about! D-D-Doris is back there….”

“No, I’m not.” A young woman’s voice exclaimed from directly behind him.  Addressing Adam she thrust out her slender hand, “Pleased to meet ya! I’m Doris.”

Adam took her hand gingerly, “Pleased to meet you. I am Adam Cartwright and these are my brothers, Hoss and Little Joe.”

Doris gave Joe a sly smile, “Yes, we’ve already met….”

Joe swallowed nervously as she winked at him.

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to get out of these wet clothes,” Adam said.  He fingered the wet garments that still clung to his body.  With that he left the kitchen, leaving his brothers alone with Doris.

When Adam returned to the kitchen a few minutes later, he found Doris sitting in his chair and the room filled with an awkward silence. Doris had eyes only for Joe, who was playing nervously with a spoon that had been left on the table.

“Hey, Hoss, the back room is all yours….”

Hoss jumped at the chance to escape the table.  Aside from the lack of conversation, he didn’t particularly like the way Doris eyed Joe as if he were the night’s special at a restaurant. “Yeah, Adam, I think I will get out of these clothes. Scuse me, Doris, Joe,” he said politely as he left for the room.

Adam took a seat and smiled at both Joe and Doris, unsure of the cause of the awkward silence.  Doris turned her eyes to the elder Cartwright and appraised him much like she had Joe earlier in the night.  Adam looked from Joe—whose eyes were securely focused on the table—to Doris whose eyes were appraising them as if they were two prized head of beef at the local meat market.

It would be an understatement to say that her gaze made Adam feel uncomfortable.  He tugged on the blanket, wrapping it tighter as he tried to recover some semblance of modesty. He cleared his throat and made a nervous attempt to bring some levity to the table. “So…Doris…you get many visitors around here?”

Doris stared dreamily at Adam as she spoke, “No, we don’t get too many and it seems like when we do they get chased away by my grand-daddy. He don’t like strangers too much. Specially when they’re men.”

“Really?” Adam smiled in return and once again tugged at his blanket.

He welcomed the interruption that was provided by both Margie and Hoss entering the room.  While Hoss sat down, Margie glanced at the three heaps of wet clothes the men had piled next to their chairs.

“Here boys,” she said, indicating the fireplace behind her, “why don’t you put your clothes here so’s they can dry out some.”

Adam and Hoss were closest to the fireplace and quickly spread their clothes over the fire screen. By the time Little Joe had reached the fireplace, he was dismayed to find that there was nowhere for him place his damp clothing.  He frowned at his two brothers and their inconsiderate ways.

Margie smiled at the young man’s predicament. “In the other room, son, there’s another fireplace where you can set your clothes.” Looking down at Doris who still sat at the table, she said, “Doris, here, can show you where to put ‘em.”

Doris smiled widely at the suggestion. She quickly stood up and eagerly pulled on Joe’s arm, leading him to the backroom. “Come on, this way.”

Adam and Hoss, who were once again seated at the table, ignored their youngest brother’s plight as their minds were focused expectantly on the food whose mouth-watering odors wafted from the stove.

Joe followed Doris, albeit reluctantly, as she led the way down the short hallway.  Their journey brought them to the same room that had earlier served as a changing room.  Once inside the room, Doris shut the door, and much to Joe’s alarm, she also locked it.

She grabbed Joe’s clothes from his arms and set them near the fireplace.  She took her time as she laid each article of clothing out, all the while stealing glances at the still shocked Joe Cartwright. When she had finished with the clothes, she turned to Joe, a seductive look on her face.  Not for the first time that night, Joe felt himself redden with embarrassment as the Doris took slow steps toward him.

With an anxious grin, he backed away, clutching his blanket tightly to him.  Holding up his hands, he said, “Look, Doris…I don’t even know you…wh-what about your grandfather….”

Doris smiled, an almost evil look, “Forget about those things, just think about what we can be doing….”

Joe’s eyes opened wide, and he swallowed as panic began to set it. “Look! I really should be getting back to my brothers…” He was alarmed to find himself pinned in the corner of the room; his attempted retreat had come to a halt.

Doris touched his bare shoulder, running her hand down his arm. “I don’t think anyone so handsome has ever come to this ranch before…”

Joe shuddered at her touch, why had it suddenly gotten so hot in here?
Doris’s eyes narrowed as she took in Joe’s scantily clad form.  Wrapping her arms around his neck, she moved in for a kiss

Joe attempted to duck away from her touch. “Look, Doris, I really don’t think this is such a good idea…”

“You’re not supposed to think!” she said, swooping in for another kiss. This time her lips connected with Joe’s in a furious barrage. Joe backed against the wall, trying to get away from the girl, definitely a change for him, he thought absently between the silent screams for help from his brothers. Margie set a steaming plate of hot food in front of Adam.  As the heavenly smells drifted towards him, he was reminded just how hungry he really was.  He remembered that he hadn’t actually eaten anything since the mediocre breakfast they were served at the way station earlier that day. He sat there for a moment savoring the aromas drifting up from the plate.

“Ma’am, you bet I am going to enjoy this! It smells DE-licious!” Hoss grinned as he picked up his fork ready to dig in.

Adam smiled, “My brother never passes up a good meal, Margie. This smells great; thank you for all the trouble you’re going through for us.”

Margie patted Adam on the back, “Oh I like having guests; we don’t get many round here, and I don’t get to pamper nice boys like you too often.”

Adam picked up his fork and took a bite of the steaming food.  The bowl of roast beef stew was filled with carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, green beans and various spices. He hadn’t eaten anything that looked as good as this since they had left San Jose nearly a week ago.

As Adam and Hoss began to eat, Harry began to grow suspicious. He had been watching the three brothers from the shadows of the living room. He didn’t like the way the youngest boy had been looking at Doris; he liked it even less when he had left to go to another room with Doris.

His shotgun was gripped hard and pointed straight ahead as he slowly made his way through the dark hallway to the room Doris and the young Cartwright had entered.  His eyes narrowed in anger when he saw the door was shut.  He reached for the doorknob and attempted to turn it.  His temper flared when he realized it was locked.  He cocked his gun with one hand as he kicked in the door.

“What the HELL do you think you’re doing with my granddaughter!” he yelled at Joe.

Joe and Doris looked up in shock.  Joe was frightened by the look in the old man’s eyes and backed away from the shotgun-wielding grandfather.  Doris stood in front of Joe protectively; her arm outstretched trying to keep Joe behind her.

“Grandpa, PLEASE DON’T!”

“Get out of my way, Doris, I want to take care of this little scalawag right now!”

“L-l-l-look, Mr. Wilder, this, this is all just a big misunderstanding! I, I’m not the least bit interested in your granddaughter!” Joe pleaded, hoping to comfort the distraught man.

Doris’s mouth gaped open in shock, “What did you say? Joe I thought…?”  With that she burst into tears.

Touching her arm, he tried to calm her, “Please…Doris, I’m sorry I didn’t mean it like that…”

Harry grew angrier at his granddaughter’s rejection. “How you can you trifle with a poor girl’s affection like that. You’re the worst kind there is, Cartwright!”  He took a menacing step towards Joe as he leveled his gun at his midsection. “You and your brothers got ten seconds to get out of my house before I start shootin’.”

Joe stood there stunned; he couldn’t believe what had just happened. His inaction made Harry even madder, “I said ten seconds, boy! Ten…nine…”

Joe snapped into action; grabbing his clothes from the fireplace, he quickly ran towards the kitchen, “Adam! Hoss! Come on, we have to get out of here!”

Adam and Hoss looked up from their steaming plates of stew, confused.  They had heard some muffled shouting, but they didn’t expect to see their brother in such a state of panic.

“What’s going on?” Adam asked, not sure if he wanted to hear the answer.

Joe looked at them both, willing them to move before the old man did something they would all regret. “There’s no time to explain, just move, or there won’t be a later.”

It took no more explaining on Adam’s part; he jumped up clutching the blanket close to him and grabbed his clothes.  Hoss stuffed a few more forkfuls of stew into his mouth before he too got up and snatched his clothes. Together the three brothers ran hastily for the door, holding tightly to the blankets that covered their person.

The rain still poured from the sky as they ran out of the house; their bare feet sank into the muddy yard. The old man stood in the doorway with a smirk on his face. “You can stay in the barn since it’s still raining, but if you’re here when I wake up tomorrow mornin’, I won’t hesitate to blow your heads clean off. And I better not catch you within 5 yards of my house if you know what’s good for ya.” With that the man slammed the door shut. His head soon peeked through the window to watch the movements of the three stunned brothers.

Hoss and Adam were shocked at the new turn of events. They had been sitting down in a nice warm kitchen eating a warm bowl of delicious food when they were so rudely torn from the table by the anxious urgings of their younger brother.  Now they were back out in the cold night air, with blankets as their only protection from the rain that to continued pour from above.

“I…” Joe started, stunned by the turn of events.

Adam cut him off, “We’ll discuss this in the barn.”  With that said he adjusted the blanket and walked briskly towards the barn.  At least it would be warmer than staying outside.

Once inside, Adam turned to Joe his eyes squinting dangerously. “You mind telling us what that was all about?”

Joe shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not really sure…”

Hoss turned, shaking his large index finger at his brother. “Well you better start explaining little brother cause you just got us kicked out of a warm house with warm beds and, most importantly, a warm meal!”

Adam and Hoss waited impatiently as he tried to formulate an answer that would save his hide. “Well…I…well, you see Doris, she, was, she was out to get me. She took me in that back room and well… well she locked the door and started kissing me! That’s when the old man came in!”

Adam rolled his eyes.  He moved in front of Joe and looked him in the eye as he spoke, “I would think you could keep your hands to yourself for one night. It was pretty obvious Harry wasn’t too keen on letting anyone of us near his granddaughter. You just had to push and see if you could get the girl again, didn’t you?”

Hoss shook his head as he passed Joe, he couldn’t believe his brother had already got them kicked out of such a nice home. “I thought the stage was enough Joe; why’d you have to make trouble here too?”

With an exasperated sigh, Adam cut off any further arguing. “I think it’s best that we all get some sleep.

“Yeah, good idea Adam.” Hoss harrumphed.

Joe stood there a moment stunned.  He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He was completely innocent, and they didn’t even believe him!  With a shrug he decided, like his brothers, to find a place to sleep for the night.  Joe chose an area on the other side of the well away from his brothers.  He too began to scratch his skin; the blanket was beginning to make it crawl. Finally, he decided to discard the blanket for his own sanity and opted to put on his sodden clothing—at least they wouldn’t itch.

Adam plopped down on a haystack. He felt miserable; he was tired, hungry, wet, and itching terribly from the wet wool blankets. His sour mood was not helped as he began to scratch his now irritated skin.  He frowned as he considered his only other choice—putting on his still wet clothes.  Hoss, too, chose a private area; he wasn’t about to talk to either one of them anymore then he had to.  Feeling the insistent itch of the wool blanket that served to protect him from the elements, he became more resentful of his two brothers.  If it weren’t for them, they never would have gotten in this whole mess, he thought angrily. Grabbing his wet clothes, he unwrapped the blanket disdainfully—at least his clothes wouldn’t itch as much.

Each brother found a section of the barn to sleep in. Adam opted for the loft, as did Joe, although each took opposite ends.  Hoss chose an empty area where some extra hay was being stored on the bottom floor. At least he wouldn’t have to look at his brothers, he thought as he lay down uncomfortably in the hay.

Adam had slept fitfully through the night.  The cold, drafty barn was accentuated by the wet clothes, every cool breeze made him feel like he was sleeping in the unsheltered outside. Joe slept similarly; he felt miserable and regretted the day he had managed to get his father’s permission to accompany Hoss and Adam on the long trip to San Jose.  And Hoss, although cold and hungry, snored peacefully down below, adding to his brothers’ misery.

***

Joe shook Adam’s shoulder as he desperately tried to wake him up before the old man came into the barn. “Adam, Adam, come on we have to get going. It’s almost dawn!”

Adam awoke slowly; he felt as if he had just fallen asleep, and now, Joe was shaking him, telling him it was time to go already.  He sat up and tried to rub the sleep from his eyes, as his brother’s form did not want to come into focus.

Joe looked anxious as he watched his brother move slowly, “Come on, Adam! We have to get going!”

Adam pushed himself up wearily, “All right! I’m coming. Is everything ready to go?”

Joe nodded, “Yeah, Hoss and I already saddled the horses. Come on, I saw some movement in the house!”

Adam hurried as fast as he could down the hayloft ladder; he was feeling clumsy, as he was still not quite awake. Hoss, who had been waiting outside, handed Adam control of his horse.

“All right, let’s get going.” Adam said, his voice husky as he mounted his horse.

The day had dawned bright, cool and cloudless.  The previous night’s storm had left pools of muddy water throughout the yard and surrounding landscape.  Hoss and Joe did not wait for their brother and were already well out of the yard by the time Adam had settled in his seat.  As he urged his horse into a faster gait, he saw Mr. Wilder step onto the front porch with gun in hand.

Chapter 4 “On the Road Again”

The day passed slowly for the three sullen brothers as they continued their journey homeward. Adam had a dull headache, as did Hoss and Joe, which only added to their misery and sour moods. It was mid afternoon by the time Adam finally broke their silent trek when he spoke to Hoss.

“How much further to the next town?”

Hoss considered the question for a moment. “I don’t rightly know. Think there’s one about another day’s ride from here.”

Adam scowled at the idea of spending the night on the trail without proper provisions. All they had for guns were their pistols, and those were hardly adequate for hunting.  They had no blankets, as they had decided it was best to leave the ones they had been lent with their previous ‘hosts.’

“I guess we’ll have to make camp in a few hours then.”

Hoss nodded; he wasn’t very fond of the idea either. “I suppose so.”

Without bothering to look behind him, Adam asked, “Is Joe still back there?”

Hoss turned around; he had almost forgotten about his brother. He was relieved to see him coming along at a slow but steady pace.  “Yeah, he’s coming…surely but slowly.”

A grin passed Adam’s lips at the thought of his brother on the jackass. “Serves him right for getting us kicked out of that house.”

***

Nearly four days since they had left the Wilder’s house, the three brothers came into the small town of Springfield. Each looked the worse for wear. Adam had come down with nasty cold.  They were all covered in trail dust and mud from sleeping on the roadside and traveling unprotected in the rain storms that seemed to pop up frequently while they were on the road.

They wearily dismounted in front of the livery stable. Adam dug in his pocket and pulled out a handful of dollar bills. He counted them to himself then turned to his brothers, “Well, all I’ve got left is seven dollars. How about you two?”

Both Hoss and Joe reached into their pockets, repeating Adam’s earlier actions. Joe looked up, “I’ve only got three.”

Adam looked at him incredulously, “ONLY THREE DOLLARS??? What on earth did you spend your money on?”

Joe shrugged his shoulders, “Well I didn’t figure I would need anymore between San Jose and home so I spent it on poker and Sarah.”

Adam rolled his eyes; his brother was so irresponsible! “How about you, Hoss? What do you have left?”

Hoss counted his money one more time. “I’ve got ten.”

Adam sighed, “That leaves us with a total of twenty dollars… not much.”

Joe looked at him surprised, “Not much? That’s plenty. That’s enough to get us a hotel room, board the horses and get something to eat.”

Adam shook his head, “Joe we have to make this money last. Remember there are three of us.  It’s going to cost us $3 for the horses, about $4 for rooms at the hotel over there and at least $5 for meals. That only leaves us at most with six dollars to last us another week.”

Hoss and Joe sighed; this trip was only getting worse. Adam handed his horse’s reins to Hoss, sneezing as he did so. “I’ll go get us some rooms at the hotel. I’ll see about getting us some baths too.” With that he started to head for “The Victorian Palace”. Stopping suddenly, he turned around, “What day is it?”

Hoss scratched his head. “I think its Saturday. Why?”

Adam sighed, “I was hoping to send a telegram to Pa. Maybe he can wire us some money… It will have to wait until Monday though.”

Joe looked up, “Hey Adam that would mean we’ll have to stay here another day.”

Adam nodded. “I know, I just hope our funds last that long…” Turning around once again he headed for the hotel.

Chapter 5 “The Victorian Palace”

Adam walked through the doors of the town’s hotel. He was rather surprised to see the immaculate decorations adorning the hotel lobby. The furniture was obviously expensive, made of velvet and other fine materials, and he guessed mahogany wood. The walls were adorned with paintings, not exactly the kind of hotel he expected for such a small town. He felt embarrassed walking into the hotel in his state; however, all he cared about at the moment was getting a room with a warm bed and a hot bath.

As he approached the reception desk he was disappointed to find that it was unattended.  He dropped his carpetbag with a weary sigh and then reached for the bell on the counter.  He gave it three quick rings and leaned against the counter to wait for the clerk to arrive.  With his unshaven face cupped in his hand, he closed his tired eyes. He had almost fallen asleep when he heard the unmistakable sound of man clearing his throat.

The desk clerk looked at him with disgust, his tone demonstrated his distaste for the obviously vagrant customer, “May I help you…sir?”

Adam eyed the man, not pleased with the clerk’s tone. “Yes,” he began, but was interrupted by an uncontrollable sneezing fit. When the sneezing subsided, he continued, “I’d like a room for my two brothers and me.”

The clerk opened his book, scanning it for rooms. “We have a suite available sir.”

Adam shook his head. “I was hoping for something a little more…modest,” he said, coughing when he finished the sentence.

The clerk raised his eyebrows in disapproval; “We have room 39…it has a full size bed with a cot in the corner….”

Adam bit the inside of his cheek in frustration. The clerk was quickly getting on his last nerve. “How much for two nights?”

The clerk looked down his nose at him, “For three of you…” he looked at a book as if checking the price. “For three of you it will be $3 a night.”

Adam sighed; it was more then he expected, and he thought he had been generous with his first estimate. “All right. We’ll take it.”

The clerk smiled condescendingly, “That will be up front, sir. And you will also be having three baths prepared?”

Adam’s eyes narrowed; speaking tersely he said, “Yes. We’ll have three of them prepared.”

Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his money, “You always ask people to pay up front?”

The clerk smirked, “No, sir, only our special guests.”

Adam had a sudden urge to reach across the counter and plant a right cross on the clerk’s chin.  With his fists balled in anger, he said slowly and distinctly, “How much for the baths?”

The clerk smiled, “$1 apiece.”

Adam unfolded the money and handed the clerk the nine dollars for the room and the baths. The clerk took it gladly, recounting the money as he did so.

He grabbed a book from behind the counter and set it front of Adam.  With great care, the clerk opened the registry to the page marked with a red ribbon.  He pointed to a blank line on the page and held a pen to Adam. “Sign your name here. If you can’t write just make an X.”

His face flushed with anger, Adam took the pen and clearly and distinctly signed his name with a flourish.  The clerk took careful note of his “guest’s” signature, skeptical of the untidy man’s credentials.  His disbelief that the man before him was anything but a no-good tramp was not disguised as he read his name aloud, “Thank you…Mr. Cartwright.”

Adam held out his hand for the key but was forced to wait as the clerk took the book and put it in its place with exaggerated care. Finally, done with the task he turned around and lifted a key from its hook. He dangled the key in front of Adam as he spoke, “Room 39 is on the third floor. Take a left at the top of the stairs and walk all the way to the end of the hall. And enjoy your stay here at the ‘Victorian Palace.’”

Adam took the key in a huff and headed off to find their room. He climbed the three flights of stair with great effort; four days of riding on a swaybacked, animal with an unsteady gait had made him incredibly saddle sore.  Once he reached the third floor he turned left, as instructed, and made his way down the hall in search of room 39. With his reserves nearly spent he was nearly overcome with relief when he found the room in a secluded corner.

He opened the door and shook his head in disappointment; the room was much smaller then he expected. There indeed was a full size bed, but the room was barely big enough to hold it. The cot the clerk had spoken of was crammed in the corner next to the bed. Against the inner wall, next to the door was also a small wardrobe, as well as a stand with a washbasin. The room would be cramped enough for one man, let alone three large men, who at the moment could hardly stand each other. Adam grimaced at the thought of having to spend the night with his brothers in the cramped quarters.  ‘Oh well,’ he thought, ‘at least it was better then spending the night on the trail.’

He closed the door behind him and dropped the carpetbag next to the bed.  With a frown he pulled out what little money he had left and recounted it.  Much to his disappointment the count came to the same dismal amount he expected, frustrated he dropped the money on the stand.

Adam rubbed at the ache that now pounded across his forehead.  He surveyed the shabby room once again, his frown turned to a wry smile as he spread his arms out and said aloud, “And then return and sleep within mine inn, for with long travel I am stiff and weary.”*

He laughed softly to himself as he lowered his own “stiff and weary” body to the bed.  He removed his boots and gently massaged his tired feet.  He lay back as the softness of the mattress called to him.  He had only intended to lie down for a few minutes, however, as soon as his head hit the mattress, he fell into a deep slumber.

***

Hoss was the first to enter the small hotel room. He stopped suddenly and held up his hand to prevent Joe from entering.  “Aw, Joe would you look at that… Adam’s already asleep.” He whispered.

Joe rolled his eyes, “That’s probably why he wanted to get the room, so he could get the bed.”

Hoss waved him off. “Aw come on, Joe, Adam ain’t like that, and you know it. He probably just fell asleep waitin’ for us. I’m sure he was plum tuckered out.”

They both entered the room the rest of the way, carrying their carpetbags with them. Joe set his on the end of the bed.  He opened it and rummaged through to pull out a somewhat clean, and very wrinkled shirt and trousers.  “I guess these will have to do…”

Hoss did the same, “Yeah, we can’t walk around town in these clothes!” He indicted with his hands the filthy clothes they both wore. Hoss scratched his head in thought, “You reckon Adam got us baths?”

Joe nodded yes, “You think older brother would forget something like that!” he said with a smirk.

“I reckon not.” Hoss answered with a smile. “Where do you reckon we find one of them baths?”

Joe shrugged, “I don’t know… why don’t you wake Adam and ask him.”

Hoss waved him off, “Nah, he needs his sleep; he’s been so dagburned crabby the last few days he needs all the sleep he can get. We can just ask the clerk downstairs.”

Joe threw his clothes over his shoulder, “All right with me as long as I get cleaned up.”

He grabbed the money Adam had set on the small table. Some of it was his too, he thought with a shrug, besides Hoss and he had to eat. Stuffing the money into his pocket, he made his way to the door. Before they both exited the room, Hoss picked up a blanket from the end of the bed gently pulled it over Adam as the room was rather cold. Together the two brothers walked out of the room, leaving Adam soundly asleep on the bed.

Chapter 6 “Brotherly Love”

Adam woke several hours later to a dark and empty room.  Unsure of where he was, he sat up, rubbed sticky eyes and tried to collect his thoughts.  He hauled himself up groggily and fumbled his way to the lamp on the dresser.  He lit it carefully and let its flame brighten the room.

He scratched his head, where could his brothers be? He poured some water in to the basin and splashed his face in the hopes that it would take some of the grime off.  He examined his face in the mirror as he dried his face off.  Boy, he thought, you like hell.   His face was still dirty from the dirt that that had managed to embed itself deeply into the crevices of his face. Several days worth of facial hair growth added to his unkempt appearance.  His hair was disheveled from the combined effects of wearing his hat, sleeping and lack of grooming. And he felt like hell too; his body ached from the cold he had contracted, and his nose was so clogged up he couldn’t breath.

He sighed dejectedly; he hated being sick, and he hated looking like this. It was not often that he let himself go, but the last few days had been very trying. He would rather go on a six week cattle drive then ever have experience this type of debacle again. He took his hat from its resting place on the bedpost and decided it was time to take a nice hot bath to wash the away the days on the trail. After that he would be off to find his brothers and a warm meal.

When he reached the hotel lobby, he headed for the reception desk. The desk clerk saw him immediately, and noticeably cringed at the sight of the filthy patron. It was not good for business to let such men of poor breeding into the hotel.

Adam approached the desk, “Can you tell me where the bath house is?”

The clerk shook his head in disappointment. “Yes, I can, sir, but I’m afraid its closed for the night.”

Adam raised his eyebrows in surprise, “It’s closed? Why?”

“Well, sir, most customers don’t get baths this late in the evening. If you had been down here an hour earlier, we could have accommodated you, but seeing as it’s such a late hour, I am afraid we can’t.”

Adam sighed.  Reluctantly giving up on the idea of being clean for the night, he left the hotel and headed for the saloon where he knew his brothers would be.

He pushed the swinging doors open to reveal a bustling saloon, filled with drunken men as they spent the money they had earned during the week. Adam was aware of an uncomfortable scrutiny from many of the customers.  Made him feel like an unwashed Injun at a society ball.  He spotted his two brothers at the bar he made his way through the throngs of people. He clamped a hand on brothers’ shoulder to get their attention.

“Well, if it isn’t my two brothers…” he said with a smile.

Joe and Hoss turned to him, “Uh, hi, Adam…” Hoss said nervously. He looked at his brother; he looked awful. He was as dirty as he had ever seen him; his eyes were blood-shot, most likely from the cold that had been plaguing him.

Joe smiled at Adam, slapping him on the back.  He was in particularly high spirits at the moment, “Hey, Adam, join us for a beer.  You look like you could use it!”

Adam nodded, but before he could answer, he was racked by a sneezing fit. Once over, he shook his head, trying to regain his composure. “Yeah, I think I could use one…”

Joe smiled, “Hey bartender! Another beer for my brother here!”

The bartender, complied, giving the two clean-shaven men a skeptical look as he served the dirty cowboy. He held his hand out and waited to be paid for the beer.  Joe reached into his pocket and pulled out a coin and flipped it to the bartender.

Adam took a long sip of the beer, relishing the taste of the cool liquid. The liquid raced smoothly down his throat and coated his stomach with its bubbling foam. After taking the drink, Adam realized how hungry he was. He hadn’t had a thing to eat except beef jerky and that was in the early morning. He took another long sip before turning to his two brothers.

Sticking his hand out, he looked at them both. “How about some money so I can get some food, huh?”

Hoss looked at Joe, “Joe’s got the money, Adam…”

Adam turned to Joe and waited impatiently while Joe searched his pockets. Not finding what he wanted in his pants pockets he felt the pockets of his shirt.  He started to look alarmed as he completed each probe and came up empty.

Adam’s eyes narrowed, “What’s the matter, Joe? Don’t tell me you can’t find it. I’m not in the mood for a joke right now…”

Joe looked at Hoss, hopefully, “Umm, Hoss, didn’t I give you the money?”

Hoss shook his head with a scowl on his face, “No, you never gave me no money. You’ve been paying for everything, remember?”

Joe nodded and then looked sheepishly at Adam. “I…I can’t find the money, Adam…”

Adam’s eyes became dark with fury. His voice became quite and cold as he spoke, “What, do you mean when you say you can’t find the money?”

Joe shrugged, throwing caution to the wind. “I mean I can’t find it. I had some and it’s gone now.”

Adam took in a deep breath and tried to calm the anger that began to build. It didn’t work and his voice began to rise in an uncontrollable fury. “Of all the irresponsible, foolish, selfish things you have done…this tops them all! Do you realize that was the last of our money? Do you realize we now have no way to get word to Pa that we need money?”

Joe began to worry.  What he had done finally sank in. “Well…I…I’m sorry, Adam, I didn’t think…”

Adam’s face had changed from its normal healthy tone to a deep red. He had had enough! For two weeks he had been arguing with his brother, keeping his temper under control, except for one small incident. He had just spent the most miserable week in recent memory in the rain, cold, and on the slowest, most worthless animals he had ever set eyes on. He didn’t feel good, he didn’t look good, and he was tired, in short, he was thoroughly unhappy.

Joe continued trying to calm his brother but when he looked at his face he realized it was pointless, Adam was beyond being calmed. Suddenly Adam loosened his grip on Joe’s shirt, and let his arm’s fall to the side. Joe felt safe for a moment; maybe Adam had calmed down and could see it was not all his fault.

Adam rolled his head back, closed his eyes in frustration, and took a deep breath. Joe began to relax.  It looked like his brother was going to get his temper under control. Joe turned around to take another drink; after that little fiasco he needed it. Just as the mug reached his lips, he was suddenly jerked away from the bar by a strong hand gripping his shoulder.

Before he had time to react, he saw a fist head straight for his face. It connected with intensity and made him see stars. He fell back against the bar. Stunned for a moment, he shook his head in the hopes that he would be able to see straight. When he looked up he saw Adam start to walk away, obviously pleased with himself.

Joe was furious; he pushed himself away from the bar and launched himself at Adam’s retreating form.

Taken by surprise, Adam was driven forward and sprawled across a table with Joe’s weight on his back.  The saloon patrons sprang up and pushed back forming a circle around the brawl.  Adam rolled up and spun around.  His upper lip curled in a snarl of rage.  He easily sidestepped Joe’s renewed charge and drove his fist into his brother’s belly as he ran by.  Hoss slammed a massive fist down on the bar.  He figured Joe had it coming when Adam hit him.  And Joe was entitled to get his own back, but this fight was getting out of hand.  He’d had enough of his two siblings’ squabbles.  It had to stop now!  He stormed toward his brothers.

Anger had driven out all sense.  Adam and Joe were trading savage punches with equal intensity.  Joe’s inebriation and a longer reach gave Adam an advantage.  Hoss stepped between them.  He pushed strongly against both heaving chests, and his brothers reeled back.

“All right! That’s enough you two!” he said forcefully.

Joe and Adam caught their breaths. Joe swiped some blood seeping from the corner of his.  This fight was not finished, he thought angrily.

“Stay out of this, Hoss! This is between me and Adam!”

Adam nodded in agreement. “Yeah, Hoss, for once little brother is right; this is between me and him! So stay out of it!”

At the mention of “little brother” Joe once again saw red. He charged Adam, slamming him into the bar. Adam got the wind knocked out of him as he connected with the bar’s wooden surface.

Hoss grabbed Joe by the shirt collar, “Come on, Joe, that’s enough!”

Joe would have none of it.  He maneuvered his way out of Hoss’s grip. “I said stay out of it, HOSS!” Swinging wildly he struck Hoss in the chin, making him lose his temper. Adam, by now had regained his breath and was ready to continue the fight. In an instant, he was close enough to Joe to get a punch in. Joe, however, saw it coming and ducked. Adam’s fist collided solidly with Hoss’s face.

Hoss lost all his cool. “ALL RIGHT! You two want to fight, then we’re going to fight.”

Adam was the first to receive Hoss’s powerful right cross.  It sent him sprawling on the saloon floor. Joe took the initiative and struck Hoss first.  With as much force as he could muster he slammed his fist into Hoss’s face. Hoss returned the punch and sent Joe over the only standing table in the saloon.

The fighting had quickly escalated as the three brothers fought each other viciously. Some fifteen minutes later, when they had almost beat each other to exhaustion; they were stopped by the sound of a gunshot. Standing in the saloon doorway, was the town’s sheriff.

The look on the Sheriff’s face was one of disbelief.  Never before had he seen a saloon so ravaged by three men. He shook his head as he entered the saloon and hauled one of the brawlers to his feet.

“All right. Fights over. You three are coming with me.”

Adam shook his arm out of the Sheriff’s hand. He was completely exhausted; he couldn’t remember the last time he had been involved in such an intense fight. Slowly and painfully Joe, Hoss and Adam followed the Sheriff to the town’s jail.

Chapter 7 “Jailhouse Rock”

Sheriff Miles Harmon ushered the three men into the jail cell. Standing in the door, he eyed the three as they each sat gingerly on the two cots in the cell. “Y’all mind telling me what on earth you were thinking when you busted up that saloon? We don’t take kindly to strangers coming into our nice peaceful town and busting things up…”

He eyed each man individually and waited for a reply.  Each man, however, had their eyes firmly focused on their boots, not ready to volunteer any information.

The Sheriff sighed, “All right, how about your names then?”

Still, much to the ire of the Sheriff, no one answered.   He turned to the dirtiest of the three men and leveled an accusatory finger, “You, in the black shirt—name.  Then I want you to tell me exactly what happened tonight.  And, you better give me a straight answer or I’ll let the saloon owner, Pete come in here and beat it out of ya.  Last I saw, he was burnin’ mad and I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate to give you a good beating…”

Adam sighed and looked up at the sheriff, then turned his gaze back to the floor.  “The name’s Adam Cartwright, and these are my two brothers, Hoss and Joe Cartwright.  The fight was caused because my youngest brother here lost all of our money, like the irresponsible fool he is.”

Joe’s head shot up, fury in his eyes. “Shut up Adam! If it wasn’t for you we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place!”

Adam’s eyes narrowed, pointing his finger at Joe he said angrily, “That was the last of our money Joe! You lost the last of our money, the money that was supposed to pay for our food and for our shelter! How much more irresponsible can you be than that?”

Joe stood up angrily and started to move toward Adam, intent on knocking him down a notch or two.

The sheriff saw the young man’s advance and quickly stepped in between the kid and his older brother. “That’s enough! I see I am going to have to separate you two,” he grumbled.  With a nod to Adam, he motioned for him to stand, “All right, you come with me…”

Adam stood up, grimacing from the pain the movement caused.  He followed the Sheriff to the next cell.  The sheriff opened the cell door, and Adam limped in.  Turning to the form on the cell’s bed, he yelled, “Hey! Frank, you got a new cell mate!”

The man on the bed stirred and lifted his head to take a look at his new companion. “Awe, come-on, sheriff; why’d you have to move him in here?  He looks like he ain’t bathed in a week!”

The sheriff couldn’t help but smile when he saw Adam’s eyes narrow at the comment. While Cartwright did look awfully dirty he felt inclined to defend the new prisoner with a witty retort of his own.  “Now, Frank, I know you ain’t bathed in at least two, so the smell can’t be that bad.”

Hoss and Joe both laughed at the last comment and earned their own deadly stare from their brother.
The Sheriff shook his head as he locked the door to the cell.  He looked twice at the battered men in the cells and said, “I suppose I should get the doctor to see to those injuries y’all got durin’ your fight; although I don’t rightly think you deserve it.  I ain’t never seen men tear a place up like that…” Shaking his head, he started to walk back into his office.  Stopping, he turned and spoke firmly to the new occupants of the town’s jail, “And when I do bring the doctor I’ll have some more questions for y’all, and this time I’ll be expectin’ some answers.”

Hoss and Joe both sat down tiredly on the cots in their cell. Joe avoided looking over at Adam as he muttered, “I guess Pa’s going to hear about all this…”

“Oh, rest assured, Pa is going to hear about this.” Adam commented from the other cell. His aching head was cradled in his hands as he sat on his cot.  “There’s no way in hell he won’t. We don’t have enough money to make bail, and I have a feeling the Sheriff isn’t going to let us leave this town without paying damages for the saloon, if that’s all we get. We’ll probably be prosecuted for public brawling.”

Joe and Hoss frowned at the thought of facing their father after their recent fiascoes.

Frank, Adam’s new cellmate listened to the three men as they contemplated their fate.  He looked curiously at them.  The two in the other cell appeared to be clean, well-off men, but his cellmate looked like he had just been picked up off the road.  They were certain to have an interesting story.

Addressing his depressed cellmate, he asked, “Mind me asking where you fellas are from?”

“From around Virginia City, the Ponderosa Ranch.”  Adam did not lift his head as he spoke; it hurt too much to move.

“The Ponderosa Ranch?”  Frank asked in surprise, “You fellas work there?”

“No, well, yes, in a way…” Adam replied, still not looking at Frank, “We live there.  It’s our Pa’s ranch.”

Frank nodded in disbelief, why he was sharing a cell with some of the richest men in Nevada!  “You’re kidding? Your Pa’s Ben Cartwright? You sure don’t look like no son of a rich man…” He scratched the stubble on his chin as he considered the new occupant of his cell.

Hoss and Joe began to snicker as they listened to Adam’s interrogator balk at the very idea that their brother was not a Cartwright.

Adam lifted his head slightly and leveled an irritated gaze at his two brothers before he addressed his inquisitor. “Yes, well my story is sad and long, and unlike my two brothers, I have not been fortunate enough to get a bath or to have something to eat… Now, are you quite done?”  Adam’s voice was weary and bored.

Frank narrowed his eyes, “Yeah, I’m done. You don’t have to be so snippy about it, I was only askin’.”

Hoss scowled at Adam.  He didn’t need to take his bad temper out on anyone else. “Awe, Mister, don’t take my brother’s bad mood too personal. He’s had a rough week, and he’s hungry; he gets real crabby if he ain’t eaten in a while.”

Adam rolled his eyes. Exhausted, he decided sleep was his best option for the time being.  He gently lay down, his muscles protesting from the effort.  With one arm flung over his eyes he attempted to block out his unpleasant surroundings.

Soon after the town’s doctor, Omer Fillmore, arrived.  He first attended to Hoss and Joe. He gently cleaned their cuts and put a soothing salve on the bruises that had been steadily appeared since their fight.

When his ministrations were finished the kind, elderly Doctor looked at Adam who still slept in the next cell. “Well, I suppose I should wake that one up and give him a checkup….”

Joe nodded, “Yeah, just be careful with that one.  He ain’t been in the best of moods lately…”

The Doc Fillmore gave him a questioning look, “He isn’t going to be violent is he?”

“Nah, I wouldn’t worry about it; just be sure you stay out of his reach…” Joe replied with a wink.

Joe smiled triumphantly at the prank he had just set up. The Doctor carefully and slowly approached the unlocked cell door. The Sheriff had left it unlocked, as he didn’t think any of his ‘guests’ would try to move, let alone escape in their current condition. The Doctor walked slowly into the cell, as he considered the best method to wake his patient without provocation.  With pursed lips he made a decision and stood at the foot of the cot.  He hesitated only slightly before he tugged the boot of the sleeping man in an effort to wake him.

Adam frowned as he felt the tug on his boot and his dreams of a pleasant evening at the opera with the beautiful Ann Pierson had been rudely interrupted. Lifting his head, he looked at the Doctor with a perplexed expression. “What on Earth are you doing?” he asked incredulously.

Joe clamped his hand over his mouth to stifle the giggle that had nearly escaped when the Doctor looked at Hoss and him for encouragement.  Hoss winked, and with a nod urged him to proceed.

Dr. Fillmore nodded.  Swallowing nervously, he turned back to Adam. “I just wanted to have a look at you, Mr. Cartwright. Fix up some of those scratches and bruises you got in that fight.”

Adam nodded and began to sit up. As he did so, the doctor backed up nervously. Adam glanced at him, confused by the doctor’s strange behavior. Once he had stopped moving, the doctor sidled closer. Carefully, he proceeded to take out a swab and pour alcohol on it. “I just need to disinfect some of those there scratches.”

Adam nodded in acknowledgment. The doctor nervously approached him and began to tend to the scratches on his face. One particular gash above his eye made Adam breath in sharply. The doctor backed away, out of his reach.  “I’m, I’m sorry….”

Adam looked at him his eyes full of question, “What for, you’re just doing your job.  It just stung a little that’s all…” he said as he carefully fingered the cut above his right eye.

The doctor sighed with relief and stepped closer to finish his ministrations. He had to change swabs several times from the amount of filth that came off Adam’s face. Giggles continued to emanate from the adjoining cell as the doctor finished.  Adam cast his brothers a suspicious glance; he knew they were up to something but what, he wasn’t sure. He suspected it had something to do with the doctor’s strange behavior, it was almost as if he expected Adam to slug him at any moment.

Finished tending Adam’s wounds the doctor put away the remaining bandages in his bag.  Once done he stood up and appraised the condition of his last patient once more.  Although Adam did look slightly better he was not pleased with his patients sallow complexion.  He was about to comment when Adam let lose with a string of sneezes.

When the spasm ended, he tried to compose himself.  His persistent headache pounded with renewed vigor.  He moaned slightly.  One more misery to deal with.

Dr. Fillmore looked at him with even more concern. “That’s a nasty cold you got there…”

“Yes, it is…”

Dr. Fillmore took the admission as an invitation to proceed with further ministrations.  He removed his stethoscope from his bag and began to prod Adam in attempt to listen to his chest. Adam, however, was not in the mood. He knew it was nothing more than an annoying cold, and the doctor’s unneeded examination did nothing to help his sour mood.

In fact doctor’s attempts to question and further examine him only made Adam’s irritation grow.  He continued to insist that it was nothing, but Dr. Fillmore was a stubborn man and pressed on with his examination.  When the good doctor asked Adam to open his mouth and say “ah”, Adam lost the fragile hold on his temper.

“No!  You’ve done enough!  Now get out of here!  I don’t need anymore medicine!” he growled as he pushed the doctor away.

The doctor stepped back with shock at his patient’s anger.  With only a slight hesitation he grabbed his bag and backed out the cell, fearful of the man’s temper. Howls of laughter escaped from the adjoining cell as Adam seethed. He knew then exactly what his brothers had done. Giving them an unappreciative stare, he snapped, “Why don’t you two hyenas shut up for once!”

The remark only earned more laughter from Hoss and Little Joe. Adam rolled his eyes, not at all amused by his brothers’ jubilance.  Throwing one more disapproving glare at his brothers Adam lay down on the cot; he was exhausted.

Sheriff Dawson entered the cell area and smiled as he saw the two clean men in hysterics. From the look of the doctor they had pulled off some trick to make him high tail it out of the jail. He glanced at the brooding, dirty tenant in the adjoining cell. It was time to get that information he needed.

“All right, boys. I’ve given you plenty of time and even let the doctor take a look at you… Now, how bout telling me where you’re from and how you’re going to pay for the damages at the saloon and for yer bail….”

Adam threw his arm over his eyes; he was determined not to say another word. All week he had been tried to solve the problems that had been popped up, and all he got for it was a headache. This time his brothers were going to do some explaining.

Hoss glanced to Joe, who quickly looked away, and then to Adam, who looked like he was sleeping. It was clear that his brothers were not about to volunteer their usually silver tongues. Swallowing hard, he started to speak. “Well…. Sheriff…. we’re from the Ponderosa Ranch near Virginia City…. We ah… We, ah… well we’re not really sure how we’re going to pay for everything… ya see… we’re kinda broke. We ain’t got no more money at all… We was plannin’ on sending our Pa a telegram asking for some money but… well it didn’t work out that way….”

The Sheriff nodded. “Well…I guess we got a problem here don’t we.”

“That’s an understatement,” Adam mumbled from the other cell.

Sheriff Harmon pushed back his hat as he considered the three men before him. “Yup, I don’t rightly know what we’re going to do…”

“You… You could send a telegram to our Pa, Sheriff. He’d pay for everything.”  Joe suggested.

Harmon scratched his chin as he thought his options over. “Yeah, I guess that’s what I’ll have to do… It’ll have to wait till morning though… I’ll also have to get Matt Thompson to open up the office; he usually closes the office on a Sunday…”

With a clap, Harmon smiled at the Cartwright brothers, “Well boys it’s been a long night. I’m going to hit the sack. See y’all in the morning!”

Hoss and Joe mumbled good nights as Harmon blew out his lantern and cast the two jail cells, and its occupants, into darkness.

With little else to keep the three brothers occupied they were soon fast asleep.

Chapter 8 “Bad News on a Nice Day”

“Mr. Cartwright! Mr. Cartwright! There’s a telegram for ya, Sir!” Young Paul Ward came running down the street as Ben walked towards the Sheriff’s office to have a chat with his friend Roy Coffee.

He turned around with a smile on his face he was expecting his sons on the stage that day. They had been gone for five weeks now on a trip to San Jose. He had let them all go on the trip so they could have a nice little vacation after the long hard summer. He had stayed behind to get some rest himself and to get away from his sons for a while. He loved them to death but they had been getting on his nerves and each other’s before the trip. He had hoped the trip would be enough to calm them down and let them make peace again.

Ben took the note from Paul, handing him a nickel for his troubles, “Thank you Paul.” He said cheerfully.

Paul smiled appreciatively at the gentleman; “No, thank you Mr. Cartwright!” with that he ran back to the telegraph office.

Ben continued on his way to the sheriff’s office as he opened the telegram. He entered the office, smiling at Roy, “Howdy Roy!”

Roy looked up from his desk, pleased to see his friend. “Why, howdy Ben. What brings you in here? Nothing bad I hope…”

Ben smiled, “No. Just thought I would stop by and see how you’ve been.”

“Been good, real good Ben. How bout yourself? Those boys of yours come home yet?”

Ben grinned widely at the mention of his sons; “They’re supposed to arrive today on the stage. I came to pick them up actually and as it is I am rather early…”

Roy smiled, “Well that’s good news.”

Yeah” Ben said absently as he began to read the telegram. The smile fell from his face as he read.

Roy noticed the change in Ben’s composure, “Something wrong Ben?”

Ben re-read the telegram not trusting his eyes at first. Finishing it and finding it came out the same way, he looked up angrily at Roy. “Yes. There is definitely something wrong Roy. Seems those sons of mine are in jail in the small town of Springfield and they are not going to be released until I settle the damages they inflicted on a local saloon!”

Roy frowned. “Are you sure it isn’t a mistake Ben?”

Ben showed the telegram to Roy. “There’s no mistake about it. This is from the sheriff of Springfield. Seems they’re out of money and can’t settle this up themselves.”

Roy shook his head, feeling sorry for Ben. “Well I know this fella, Sheriff Ed Harmon. Nice fella and a good lawman too.”

Ben’s face was colored with anger. “Well, I guess I won’t be seeing those boys of mine today. I better get some supplies it seems I’ll be making a trip to Springfield.”

Roy, smiled slightly, he could just imagine the look on the Cartwright boys faces when their Pa came to bail them out. It was not going to be a pretty sight. Slapping Ben on the shoulder he followed him to the door. “Good luck Ben, I hope you get everything straightened out!”

Oh you bet I’m going to get this settled! Of all the confounded things… when I get my hands on those boys…” Ben replied.

He didn’t finish a complete sentence on his way to the mercantile—he was too infuriated. Within an hour and a half Ben Cartwright was on the road, making the two-day trek to Springfield.

Chapter 9 “Anticipation”

“Dang-it! I didn’t see that comin’!” Frank yelled, disappointed as Adam jumped his last surviving red checker.

Adam looked, “You never do…,” his voice laced with boredom.

Frank shook his head, “Ready for another game?”

Adam sighed; this was the fifth game he had played in less than an hour. It had taken no more than ten minutes to beat the town’s drunk.  Normally, he found the game to be stimulating when faced with more worthy opponents, but now the game was beyond tedious.

Frank had already collected the pieces and had began setting them up. “I think I know what to do this time…”

“Look, I think I’ve had about enough of this.”  Adam groaned as he stood up and began to work out the kink that had formed in his lower back.

Frank looked up, hurt by the refusal to play. “You don’t want to play anymore? But, but I’m sure I can beat you now… I figured out what I done wrong…”

Adam rolled his eyes, “You said that three games ago.”

“Awe, come on, Adam, he’s gotta have it for sure this time.” Joe commented smartly from the adjoining cell.

Adam rolled his eyes; but reluctantly sat back down on the cot, “All right… one more game…”

Before the game could once again resume Sheriff Dawson entered the cell area from his office.  “Afternoon, everyone. Just thought I’d let you Cartwrights know that I got that telegram sent off to Virginia City and already got a reply…”

Five pairs of eyes immediately focused on the piece of paper the Sheriff held in his hands.  Impatient Joe prompted the Sheriff to hurry along, “SO… what does it say?”

Dawson smiled at the young man’s eagerness, “Your Pa says he’s on his way, and he should be here sometime Tuesday…”

Hoss slapped Joe on the back, nearly knocking him from his perch on the cot, “Yehaw! That shore is good news Sheriff!”

Adam on the other hand remained composed and emotionless, at least on the exterior.  Although he was thrilled at the prospect of leaving the ‘good’ town of Springfield behind he was not so sure he wanted to face the temper of his father.

“Well, I just thought I’d let you all know. If you’ll excuse me I got some administratin’ to do.”

Before the sheriff had made it out of the cell area, Adam stood up, “Uh, Sheriff… one more thing before you go…” Dawson turned around expectantly. Adam continued, “Well… we left our bags at the hotel… and I was wondering if maybe you could send someone to get them…”

The Sheriff nodded, “Yeah, I’ll send someone to get your stuff for ya. Anything else?”

“Uh, no thanks.”

“Good.” Dawson winked in response.

Returning to his seat, Adam surveyed the checkerboard and his eager opponent with a skeptical eye. Yes, indeed, this was going to be yet another long day.

Hoss and Joe had also returned to their own chess game. As Hoss contemplated his next move, Joe thought about the last week and what was about to come. “I wonder what Pa’s gonna say when he gets here?”

Adam and Hoss both looked up from their boards. Adam grinned, “I’m not sure I want to necessarily hear what he has to say.”

Hoss agreed, “Yeah me neither… knowin’ Pa though, you’ll be able to hear him all the way in Virginia City.”

“Yeah… I’m not so sure we shouldn’t just stay in here… It might be better than seein’ Pa… I can just see his face; bright red as he pays the saloon and the Sheriff.” Joe chuckled.

“It’s sure to be safer!” Hoss added.

“I can just hear him now… ‘I send you boys on one trip, one simple task and you end up in jail!’”  Joe imitated.

“Well, if I were you, I would be as humble as possible when Pa gets here. It’s going to take days to get him to calm down after this fiasco.”  Adam added in a more serious tone.

Hoss and Joe sobered at the comment. The day of reckoning was fast approaching, and the reply the sheriff had read to them made them all realize there was going to be a lot of explaining to do. When that time came, it was going to be a long and difficult task.

Chapter 10 “The Arrival”

Tired and anxious after a long three-day ride, Ben reached Springfield.  Throughout the journey he had tried to think of the many ways his sons could have gotten into so much trouble.  He had yet to come up with a reasonable explanation. Dismounting at the livery stable he proceeded to board the horse; he had little doubt that he was going to be here for quite sometime.

Next he made his way to the hotel. Ben was in no hurry to get over to the jail; his sons had been there for about three days now and a few hours more certainly weren’t going to hurt. After securing a couple rooms, he decided it was time to head over to the jail and retrieve his wayward sons.

When he entered the sheriff’s office, he found the sheriff sitting lazily at his desk with his feet propped up.  Sheriff Dawson lifted his hat and peered at Ben from underneath the brim.  “Howdy, somethin’ I can do for you, sir?”  Dawson asked as he sat up and moved into a more respectable position.

“I’m Ben Cartwright. I got this telegram from you two days ago.”  He pulled out the telegram and presented it to the Sheriff.

“Yes sir, Mr. Cartwright. I got your boys in there,” he said, pointing to the cell area.  “But, before I release ’em to ya, there’s this matter of a few bills that need to be reconciled. Your boys said you might be willin’ to pay for ’em…?”

Ben frowned at the mention “of a few bills.”  “Yes, that’s right; I will reconcile what is necessary.”

“Good, I was gettin’ kinda tired of having such a crowded jail.”

“I can imagine. Now, may I see them?” His patience was quickly wearing thin.

“Sure, sure you can see them.”  He reached for his keys and proceeded to open the closed doors to the cell area, “Hey you Cartwright fellas got a visitor.”

All three men stood up eagerly as their father entered the room.

“Boy, Pa, you sure are a sight for sore eyes!” Joe said cheerfully.

“We’ll see if you still think that after tonight,” he said dryly.

Ben looked his sons over to assure himself they were okay.  He inwardly smiled at the nervous glances that passed between Hoss and Joe. When his eyes fell upon Adam, however, he had to do a double take. He almost didn’t recognize his son. He looked awful. His hair was matted to his head; he looked filthy: as if he hadn’t bathed in ages.

“Adam? Are you all right, son?”

“Yeah, Pa, I’m fine, but I’ve certainly seen better days.” Fatigue evident in his voice.

“Sheriff Dawson, how about letting my boys out of here?”

The sheriff nodded, “Sure, I’ll let them out, after you pay their bail.”  He added to avoid any protests, “Sorry, but that’s the rules.”

Ben frowned, “All right. How much?”

“Well, let’s see, just for the bail…” The sheriff walked back to his desk and picked up a piece of paper. “Well that’ll be ten dollars apiece.”

“TEN Dollars apiece?” Ben balked.

“That covers their meals too, Mr. Cartwright,” the sheriff replied calmly.

Ben’s frown deepened as he pulled out the bail money. “All right, there’s your thirty dollars.”

Dawson took the money, “On behalf of the citizens of Springfield, I thank you.”

“All right, you three, your Pa’s paid your bail, so you can go.” He announced to three of his guests as he unlocked the cell doors.  “Sit back down Frank, you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

The brothers walked out of the cells, shoulders noticeably slumped; they had yet to face their father’s wrath. They also knew there was the small matter of the wrecked saloon, which had yet to be mentioned.

Ben turned to the Sheriff expectantly, “Well, is that all?”

“Fraid not, Mr. Cartwright. You see, the reason, your sons are in jail is because they wrecked one of our fine saloons, and well, as you might expect, the owner ain’t too happy about it.  As one might expect he’s pressing charges against your three boys. Now, the Judge ain’t gonna be round here for another month or two, so your boys are gonna have to come back and face a trial.”

Ben scowled, “Just how much damage did they do?”

Dawson scratched his chin absently, “Well, Pete reckoned the damage to be around $700. That’s includin’ the chairs, tables and the booze they destroyed while fightin’, plus the money he figures he lost due to closin’ the saloon for a day and a half.”

Ben fumed; he knew they had caused considerable damage to the saloon or they wouldn’t have been held for so long, but to hear that it was going to cost him at least $700 was quite a shock.

“Sheriff, if we settle this with…Pete, might the charges be dropped?”

“Well I reckon I can drop the public brawling charges, and I reckon Pete is a generous enough man that he would drop his complaint if you paid for the damages.”

“And where might I find this saloon, Sheriff?” Ben asked.

“It’s across from the Victorian Palace, Mr. Cartwright. And, by the way, I wouldn’t take those boys in there if I were you.  Pete’s likely to throw you out before you can so much as say ‘What do I owe you?’”

Ben’s eyes narrowed at smart comment, he did not appreciate the humor.  “Thanks for the advice, Sheriff…and everything else.”

“All right, let’s go.” He commanded to his sons.  They had all wisely remained silent during the exchange.

As soon as the door to the Sheriff’s office was closed firmly behind them, Ben turned to his sons his face red with anger. “I don’t know what this is all about, but you can bet we’re going to take care of this as soon as I get things settled with Pete over at the saloon. I want you three to go over to the hotel and wait for me there. I already got us rooms.”  He started to walk away when he suddenly stopped and turned back to his sons. He pulled out a dollar bill and handed it to Adam, “You need a bath!”

Adam raised his eyebrows, at his father’s temper. “Now that’s the best thing I’ve heard all week.” With a shrug he started for the hotel, his brothers close behind.  Their laughs were barely stifled as they followed.

Chapter 11 “Cause and Effect”

Adam felt like a new man when he walked into their much bigger hotel suite.  He had taken a bath, managed to get all the grime off and even get a close shave. He hadn’t felt this good in a long time.

His two brothers lounged in the comfortable plush chairs that were positioned in the room. Adam looked at them skeptically, “Pa isn’t back yet?”

“Nope.” Joe replied lazily.

Hoss looked over this older brother and could not help but smile, “My, Adam, you sure do clean up real nice. You look like a new man!”

Adam grinned in reply, “I feel like one. I was beginning to think I would never see bath water again.”

“You sure smell a lot better too!” Joe commented mischievously from his chair.

“Thanks a lot!” Adam took a seat next to Joe, relieved to once again have a comfortable seat.  “Pa’s been gone a long time. I wonder what’s keeping him?”

Just then the door opened and Ben Cartwright strode into the room looking none to happy. “I’ll tell you what’s been keeping me!” he growled as he looked at each of his sons. “Do you realize how much damage you three caused?  I had to pay that man a total of 800 dollars!”

Adam frowned, “Pa, I know we didn’t cause that much damage.”

“No, you didn’t cause that much damage. I would estimate it to be only about $500, but in order to keep you boys out of court, I had to pay the owner a little extra to drop the charges!” he steamed.

The three brothers grimaced at their father’s tone of voice. They all knew he was not through with them quite yet so they wisely remained silent.

Ben remained quite for a few minutes as he tried to control his anger. Joe couldn’t stand the uncomfortable silence any longer. “We’ll pay you back, Pa!”

Ben turned to his son angrily, “You can bet your life you’re going to pay me back! All three of you are going to pay me back every last cent!”

All three humbly nodded in acceptance.

Ben took off his hat and threw it on a table. He then went to the complimentary liqueur cabinet and pulled out a bottle of brandy.  As he poured himself a drink he took his time and let his sons squirm behind him. Downing the drink in one quick gulp he slowly turned back to his sons. “All right. I want to know what happened. Why did you three get kicked off the stage? Why you got into a fight in the saloon and how you lost all your money!”

Adam cleared his throat, “Well, Pa, it’s a fairly long story…”

Ben pursed his lips together, “I don’t care how long it is; I want to hear it. Don’t worry, I’ve got lots of time on my hands.”  He folded his arms across his chest and looked expectantly as his sons.

Adam furrowed his eyebrows.  Before speaking again he looked to his two brothers for support.

Both nodded their encouragement.  It was one of the first times in the last two weeks that they all actually supported each other.

Adam cleared his throat again, “Well, ya see, Pa, it all started in San Jose when we were all working on our different contracts.  Joe was the first one to get his done, and well… he decided to celebrate…and I guess we weren’t too happy Joe was already having fun.”

Joe spoke up, “Well, Pa, mine was really easy to settle, and I guess I did kind of flaunt that fact in front of Adam and Hoss. In fact, you can say I was teasing them pretty badly.”  He smiled apologetically.

Hoss nodded in agreement, “Yeah Joe was being down right ornery!”

They all laughed at the recollection, that is, all but Ben. “And.” he said, urging them to get back on track.

Adam picked up the story again, “And, well, the fifth night we were there, I was still in the process of negotiating my contract, and I had an early morning meeting. That night, however, Joe decided to go out on the town again. He didn’t show up at the hotel when he said he would, so naturally Hoss and I started to get a little worried.  We ended up going out to look for him around one o’clock in the morning.   When we got back to the room, about three in the morning, Joe was sitting there, warm and comfortable, as if nothing was wrong.  He proceeded to tell us how worried he was and that we shouldn’t just up and leave like that.”

Joe knitted his brow together; he was glad Adam didn’t mention how drunk he has been that night.

Adam continued, “Well, Pa, Joe kept on talking, and I suppose that’s when my temper got the best of me. Before I thought about it, I had hit Joe square in the jaw.”

“Yeah, Adam was so mad I had to pull him off of Joe.” Hoss added.

“Well, that’s when it all started.  Joe and I were not on good terms for the rest of the week, and we kept trying to needle the other and start another fight.  We managed to keep from exchanging blows, that is, until we were stopped at one of the way stations on the trip back home…” Adam paused; hoping one of his brothers would jump in.

Thankfully, Joe did, “Well, Pa…we stayed the night at the way station, and all night me and Adam had been arguing with each other.  I suppose I wanted him to fight me.  I was itching for a reason to pay him back for the hotel.  Well, as we were getting on the stage the next morning, I smarted off to Adam… and I guess it just got to him.  Before I knew it, he punched me, and we were both fighting right there in front of the stage. Well, needless to say, the driver wasn’t too happy with us, and he kicked us all off.”

Hoss, Adam, and Joe continued with the saga of their journey as Ben listened without comment.

Once finished, Ben simply nodded. “Well, I hope you all learned something from this.”

The three brothers exchanged surprised glances.  This was not the response they had been expected from their father.

Ben stood up from his chair and picked up his hat from the table.  Putting it on, he said, “Well let’s go get something to eat. I haven’t had a good meal in days.”

Joe looked at Adam and then Hoss with wide eyes.  He thought for sure they were going to be in store for a long lecture. Both his brothers shrugged and followed Ben out the door.  They all wisely believed that it was best not to question their father’s seemingly uncharacteristic response.

Ben stood just outside the door and as he waited for his sons to pass through.  When his oldest passed he took Adam by the arm to walk by his side.  “I must say, son, you look one hundred percent better then the last time I saw you.”

A smiling Adam wrapped an arm around his father’s broad shoulders.  “Thanks, Pa. I feel it too.”

***

The next morning the Cartwrights were preparing to leave on the early morning stage for Virginia City. Ben threw his bag up to the stage driver. As Joe started to do the same Ben grabbed his arm, “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m… I’m putting my bag up there.  We’re going on the stage aren’t we?” Joe answered, clearly confused.

Ben smiled, “No, we’re not going on the stage… I’M going on the stage. You three can ride back on the animals you bought and paid for.”

Three mouths opened in surprise, ready to protest.  Ben’s look quickly squelched any ideas of that.  Adam shrugged dejectedly.  Clamping his hand on his youngest brother’s shoulder, he said, “Come on, we got a long ride ahead of us.”

“Yeah, I guess we do, but if you think I am going to ride that stupid jack-ass….” Joe scowled.

Adam smiled warmly, “Relax, brother, you can ride my horse.”

Joe perked up, “Really? You’re going to ride the jack ass?”

Adam shook his head and answered calmly, “No, I’m riding Pa’s horse; someone has to take it back home!”

Joe glared suspiciously at his oldest brother. “How come you always get the good horse?”

“Haven’t you learned by now that the eldest always gets his way!”

Hoss couldn’t help but laugh at his brothers’ exchange.  Draping his arms across their shoulders he said, “Come on you two; we got a long ride ahead.”

Ben smiled at his sons; glad to see they were getting along so well. “You boys keep out of trouble, ya hear!”

“Don’t worry, Pa.  I think we’ve had enough trouble to last a good few years!”  Adam replied.

“Well, just be sure you make it home. I’ll see you three in a few days,” Ben said as he climbed into the stagecoach.

The three brothers stood side by side on the sidewalk.  They watched their Father’s stage drive towards Virginia City and their home; all three were envious of their father’s comparatively short journey.

As the stagecoach disappeared around the corner, Joe spoke up, “I sure would like to be on that stage instead of riding all the way back to the Ponderosa.”

Hoss placed a firm hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “And miss out on all these good times?”

All three erupted in laughter at the comment.

“Come on boys, I’d rather we not stay here any longer than we have to. We’ve still got a long journey ahead of us.”  Adam urged.

“Aw, come on Adam.  I was thinking maybe we could get a drink first!”  Joe said, a mischievous glint in his eye.

Hoss yanked on Joe’s arm, “Oh no you don’t!  Let’s get goin’ youngin’ I’ve had enough of this town and right now the sooner we get home to Hop Sing’s cookin’ the happier I’ll be.”

THE END

*William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors: I, ii

(c)1999, Revised 2004

 

Tags:  Family

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Author: chellek

Not much to say. I'm not the most prolific fanfic writer. It's been nearly 10 years between my last two stories. I hope to write at a faster pace in the near future though that will remain to be seen.

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