Summary: Little Joe struggles in his efforts to lose his first tooth and prove that he is a man.
Rated: K+ (7,120 words)
Concerning Teeth and Fairies
“Pa.” Little Joe asked seriously early one morning as he walked down the stairs towards his father. “Can I talk to you?”
“Of course, son.” Ben Cartwright replied pushing aside his breakfast to lift his youngest son onto his lap. “Now, what’s bothering you, Little Joe?”
“There’s something wrong with my teeth.” Joe replied looking up at his father. “The front one wiggled.”
Ben Cartwright almost laughed. But then he saw the serious look on his son’s face and he choked back the laugh with a discreet cough. “Of course it did, son.” He explained. “That means you are becoming a big boy.”
“Really, Pa? How?” Joe asked eagerly. Someday, he kept telling himself, I will be as strong as Hoss and as handsome as Adam. Now maybe that someday had arrived.
“Well, you see.” Ben explained. “Everybody gets two set of teeth. The first set is called your ‘baby teeth’ because you are still a little boy. But when those baby teeth fall out you will get real strong big boy teeth like your brothers and I have. Now you work real hard on that tooth. Wiggle it alot with your finger and your tongue and pretty soon it will fall out and your big boy tooth will grow in.
“Okay, Pa.” Joe jumped off his father’s lap, smiled at him and ran up the stairs to his older brother Adam’s room.
Adam, tired after a late night in town, was sound asleep when his littlest brother opened the bedroom door and peeked in. He flipped over on his side so that his face no longer faced the door. He could see the hall light burning and was still tired. The sun was just rising and it was Saturday, a day Ben let them sleep a little bit longer, and Adam was taking every advantage of it.
“Adam?” Joe asked, entering the room.
“Joe, close that door.” Adam mumbled. “It’s too early to get up.”
“Adam, wake up.” Joe came closer to his brother. “I want to tell you something.”
“Joe, wait until morning.” Adam yawned, opening his eyes slightly.
“It is morning.” Joe insisted.
A slight snore came from his older brother.
“Adam?” Joe asked again.
Joe was about to leave his brothers room. He turned from the bed and walked toward the door. Then he stopped and wiggled his loose tooth. He looked over at his brother asleep on the large bed and a mischievous twinkle entered his green eyes. He smiled broadly then taking a running start he leaped onto the bed next to Adam and shouted “ADAM!”
His brother jumped and reached out an arm. He grabbed Joe around the neck, shoved his face into the blanket and cried “What?”
“My tooth’s loose.” Joe replied happily.
“Is that all?” Adam growled sinking back onto the pillow and letting his brother go.
“Isn’t that wonderful?” Joe asked.
“Sure, sure.” Adam mumbled.
“Adam, you ain’t interested!”
“Of course I am.” Adam yawned.
“No you ain’t. You’re asleep.”
Adam snored softly.
“ADAM!” Joe shouted in his brother’s ear again.
Adam sat straight up and looked at his brother. “Joseph Cartwright, so help me, if you shout in my ear once more this morning or any morning I’ll break every bone in your body and then throw you outside my room. Now GET OUT OF HERE!”
Little Joe jumped off his brother’s bed and ran towards the door. He stopped, turned and stuck his tongue out at his older brother. The he ran out of the room, slamming the door behind him before Adam’s flying boot could do any harm.
He walked carefully down the hall and opened the bedroom door of his other older brother, Hoss. Hoss was lying in bed awake trying to decide if he should go down and get some breakfast or if he should just stay in bed a little longer and watch the rising sun streaming through his open window. He had just decided on the latter when he saw the door open and Little Joe’s voice ask “Hoss?”
Hoss turned toward the door. His face lit up in a happy smile as he greeted Joe. “’Morning, Joe. Come on in, lil brother.”
Joe walked into the room and jumped on his brother’s bed. “Want to see somethin’, Hoss?” he asked.
Hoss had turned back to the window and was listening to a bird singing gaily outside but he turned back to Joe who was sitting Indian style on the bed. “What?”
“Look!” Joe opened his mouth and wiggled his loose tooth with his tongue.
“Say, you’ve got a loose tooth!” Hoss exclaimed turning so that he could better see his brother. “Lemme see it!”
Joe bent his head down slightly and Hoss played with the tooth a little bit. “You’re really goin’ have to work that tooth, Joe.” He explained. “And I’ll tell you what happens after you lose it.”
“What?” Joe asked.
“Well, ya see.” Hoss started. “After you lose yar tooth ya have to put it under yar pillow.”
“Why?” Joe asked wide-eyed.
“There’s a beeautiful fairy that comes at night when you’re sleeping and takes the tooth. Then she leaves you money so when you wake up your tooth’s gone and there’s a shiny new dollar coin under yar pillow.”
“Really, Hoss?” Joe asked interested.
“Really.” Hoss nodded.
“What does she do with the tooth?” Joe begged.
“Nobody knows.” Hoss replied mysteriously. “But they say she stretches ‘em real thin to make the strings on a geetar.”
Joe wiggled his tooth violently. “I want a dollar coin!” he exclaimed. “I’m goin’ work my tooth real hard.”
“Just think.” Hoss smiled. “If you don’t lose that tooth old Adam won’t have enough strings for his geetar.”
“I don’t mind.” Joe jumped off of Hoss’ bed. “He just makes noise on it anyway.”
“The ladies seem to think its real pruty.” Hoss replied kicking off his blankets and standing up. “Come on lets get breakfast.”
“Hoss?” Joe asked swinging on the corral gate and watching his brother rope one of the horses.
“What?” Hoss asked never taking his eyes off the horse.
“How can I make it hurry up?”
“Make what hurry up?” Hoss asked slightly puzzled.
“My tooth.” Joe explained patiently.
“Oh.” Hoss answered. Of course, he should have known. “Well,” he removed the rope from the horse’s neck, slapped its rump and walked towards his brother. “Ya can try one of these.” He removed an apple from his pocket and handed it to his brother.
Joe took it. “Will it help?”
“Shore it will.” Hoss assured him. “I lost a tooth eatin’ an apple once.”
Joe surveyed the apple critically. Then he looked at his older brother. “What else did you have in your pocket?”
“Nothin.’” Hoss replied. “Why?”
“I don’t wanna eat an apple that touched what you carry around with you.”
“Hop Sing just washed these pants.” Hoss answered.
“Empty your pocket.” Joe demanded.
“Joe!” Hoss started. Then he smiled. He did carry strange things in his pockets like leaves or rocks he had found or maybe an interesting bug. And there was almost always string in his pocket. He just never knew when he might need it. “All right.” He agreed and pulled his pocket inside out.
Joe grabbed it and examined it carefully. He even smelt it! Then he smiled and bit into the apple. “Thanks, Hoss.”
Hoss leaned on the fence and watched his brother bite into the apple. He smiled and took another one out of his pocket that he could enjoy. They both jumped when a voice behind them asked, “What are you two doing?”
Hoss watched lazily as Adam approached them. “Joe’s tryin’ to lose a tooth.” Hoss explained.
“No kidding?” Adam asked sarcastically.
Hoss nodded and Joe turned and smiled. “I’m tryin’ to get a gold coin!” Joe exclaimed happily.
“Gold coin.” Adam muttered.
“Waddya say, Adam?” Hoss asked.
“Nothing.” Adam answered quickly. “Hoss, we’ve got work to do. Joe, will you please get off of that gate? Pa made you a swing so you wouldn’t play around here.”
Joe shrugged. “So?”
“So will you please go play over there?” Adam asked.
Joe shook his head. “No.”
“Joe.” Adam threatened reaching out to grab his youngest brother.
But Joe was quicker and jumping off the gate before Adam could catch him he ran to the house porch and called, “Adam, you sound like Pa.” Then he ran into the house and slammed the door behind him.
Adam just shook his head and walked into the barn.
“Adam?” Joe asked his brother after the evening chores had been completed.
“Hmm.” Adam looked up from the guitar that he was strumming.
“Adam, do you reckon the strings on your guitar comes from your baby teeth?” Little Joe was curious to discover what his smart, older brother thought.
“Well, Joe, I don’t really know.” Adam replied. He was feeling a little better than he had that morning so he was willing to talk to his little brother. “What makes you think that?”
Joe leaned on his brother’s leg. “Hoss told me after you lose a tooth a fairy comes and takes your tooth away.”
Adam nodded. “That’s true.” He saw his father put down his cup of coffee and look at him.
“And she leaves you a gold coin.” Joe continued.
Adam nodded again. “Also true.” Ben shot his eldest son another look but picked up his cup again and appeared to be no longer interested in his sons’ conversation.
“But what does she do with the tooth?” Joe pressed.
Adam sat a moment in thought. Then he set his guitar on the floor beside his chair and put an arm around his brother. “Joe, I don’t know.” He answered. “But maybe she uses them to make the keys on a piano.”
“What makes you think that?” Joe demanded.
“Well,” Adam answered groping for an explanation. “Your teeth are white and so are piano keys. Doesn’t it make sense?”
Joe shook his head.
“Why?” Adam asked.
“Hoss says she stretches it real thin to make the strings on a guitar.”
Adam was about to ask ‘Oh, what does Hoss know?’ But he stopped himself. For that matter what did he know? He smiled at his brother. “Joe, I just had a great idea!” he exclaimed, picking Joe up and setting him on his lap. “When your tooth falls out and the fairy comes for it, why don’t you ask her?”
“Joe’s eyes lit up. “That’s a wonderful idea, Adam. I will ask her. Do you think she would tell me?”
Adam was about to answer when a voice interrupted them, “I think it’s about time for bed, young man.” And Ben stood up from his seat at the kitchen table and walked toward his two sons.
“Okay, Pa.” Joe answered jumping off his brother’s lap and running up the stairs. The he stopped and looked through the railing at Adam. “Will you come up and put me to bed, Adam?”
Adam smiled. “I’ll be right up.”
Joe smiled too and ran up the stairs to his room. It was only after Ben heard his youngest son slam the bedroom door that he looked at his eldest son. “Just what do you mean telling him to ask a fairy?” Ben demanded.
Adam shrugged. “How else will he ever know?”
“But, Adam, fairies don’t exist.” His father exclaimed.
“How do you know?” Adam asked tapping a book lying on the table next to him.
“In fiction maybe.” Ben replied. “But in real life never!”
“You’re forgetting about a child’s world, Pa.” Adam smiled standing up. “For most of them fiction is real life.”
Ben sighed. “And what are you going to do if he decides to stay up and wait to talk to the fairy?”
“Don’t worry, Pa.” Adam winked at his father. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t decide to stay up.” And then he walked up the stairs.
Ben shook his head, settled into Adam’s chair and idly picked up his son’s book. He opened it and read the title page. “ ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ by William Shakespeare.”
“Joe?” Adam asked knocking on his brother’s closed door.
“Come on in.” Joe answered.
Adam opened the door and walked into the room. The first thing he saw was his brother’s empty bed. The second thing he saw was his brother, his legs curled up under him sitting on top of the dresser. “Joe, what are you doing up there?” Adam demanded rushing over to his brother.
“I’m checking to see if my tooth is any looser.” Joe replied looking at his brother through the mirror.
“How’d you get up there?” Adam asked wrapping his arm securely around his brother.
Joe pointed down at the open dresser drawers. “I climbed up those. They’re like steps.”
“Joe,” Adam picked his brother up. “Those are not steps.” He set his brother down on the floor. “Now get in your bed.” He bent down and closed all the dresser drawers.
Then he straightened up and faced his brother. “Next time you want to check on the progress of your tooth pull a chair over to the dresser, will you please?”
Joe looked up at Adam. “Why?”
“Because I don’t want you to fall and hurt yourself.” Adam answered sitting on the bed next to his brother.
“Oh.” Joe replied sitting on his pillow as he pulled off his boots and set them on the floor beside his bed. “Adam?” he asked looking back at Adam.
“What?” Adam asked standing up and turning the coverlets down for his brother.
“When I lose my tooth and I put it under my pillow, can I stay up and see the fairy come?” Joe settled into the bed.
“Absolutely not!” Adam smiled as he said it and pulled the blankets up around his little brother.
“Why?” Joe asked.
Adam sat on the bed next to Joe. “The fairy never comes when you’re awake.”
“How do you know?” Joe asked skeptically.
“I tried to stay awake when I lost my first tooth.” Adam smiled. “You know what happened?”
Joe shook his head. “No what?”
Adam sunk his voice into a whisper. “She never came.” He replied.
“Did you ever get your gold coin?” Joe asked anxiously.
“No.” Adam shook his head.
“Never?” Joe’s eyes opened wide.
“Never, Joe. She came the next night and took my tooth but she never left me my money. I was pretty mad. But I learned my lesson. Never stay up if you want your money from the tooth fairy.”
Joe nodded. He was silent for several moments. Then Adam stood up and walked toward the door. “Good-night, Joe.” He dimmed the lamp.
“Good-night, Adam.” Joe wiggled his tooth in the dark of his room.
On Monday Joe woke up bright and early. He ran to the dresser but remembering what Adam had told him two nights before he carefully pulled a chair over to the mirror. The tooth still had not come out yet and Joe was becoming impatient.
He dressed hurriedly, putting his shoes on the wrong feet and forgetting to tuck in his shirt. Then he let himself out of his bedroom and walked down the hall to Adam’s room. He knocked on the door and when he heard his brother’s “Enter” he walked into the room. Adam was dressing in front of the mirror. He had thrown his shirt on his nicely made bed and was brushing his dark hair.
“Adam?” Joe asked.
“Hmm.” Adam never turned from the mirror.
“Adam, how long does it take for a tooth to fall out?”
“I don’t know.” Adam answered. “Sometimes a long time. Why?”
“Can I make it hurry up?” Joe asked impatiently.
“Well,” Adam replied slowly placing his comb back on the dresser and sitting on the bed. “There is a way, but it is painful.”
“What is it?” Joe asked climbing on the bed next to his brother.
“I’ll tie one end of a piece of string around your tooth and the other end on that door handle.” Joe nodded looking at the open door. Adam removed his brother’s shoes and helped him put them on the right feet as he continued. “Then I slam the door as hard as I can and the string yanks your tooth out.” Joe wiggled his tooth with his tongue. “Want to try it?”
Joe shook his head. “I think I want a more painless way.” He replied.
“All right, buddy.” Adam stood up and pulled on his shirt. Joe stood up too and was about to leave the room when Adam grabbed him and tucked his shirt in. “Now, go make your bed and eat lots of apples.”
All right, Adam.” Joe skipped out of his brother’s room. “See you later.”
“Mista Carlight!” Hop Sing cried running into the great room. “I quit! Hop Sing go back to China!”
“Now, Hop Sing.” Ben Cartwright said walking around his desk to stand in front of the angry Chinaman. “What happened this time?”
“House is spooked!” Hop Sing retorted. “Have only few more apples! Maybe make apple pie with it!”
“That’s a great idea, Hop Sing.” Hoss exclaimed coming down the stairs and Adam walking in the front door agreed. “Apple pie would taste good.” Adam smiled.
“No can do, Mista Adam!” Hop Sing shook his head.
“Why?” Hoss’ face fell.
“Apples all gone!”
“What?” The three Cartwright men exclaimed.
“Hop Sing go take apples for pie. Bin empty. No more apples!”
Ben sighed and looked at Hoss. “No apple pie tonight, son.”
Hoss shook his head mournfully. “Where do ya suppose they went to, Pa?”
“Well, they certainly did not walk away.” Adam replied. “Someone took them.”
“Must find apples!” Hop Sing exclaimed. “Have everything but apples for pie!”
“Don’t worry, Hop Sing.” Ben soothed the ruffled Chinaman. “We’ll find your apples.”
Hop Sing walked back into the kitchen muttering angrily in Cantonese. Ben sighed and turned to Hoss. “Hoss?”
“Weren’t me, Pa.” Hoss said quickly. “I ain’t even hungry yet.”
Ben looked over at Adam. He shook his head. “I don’t have them.” He smiled. “Care to search me?”
Ben laughed. “I trust you, son.” Then he turned as the front door slammed again and Little Joe entered the house. “Hi, Pa.” He smiled. He held an apple in each hand and was chewing away at one of them.
“Joe.” Ben said. “Where did you get that apple?”
“Hop Sing’s bin.” Joe replied.
“Joe, Hop Sing was going to make pie out of that.” Ben explained.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Pa.” He whispered looking up at his father. “Adam told me to eat lots of apples.”
Adam nodded. “I did tell him that, Pa.”
Ben smiled at his youngest son. “All right, Joe. You eat those apples and work hard on your tooth.”
Joe nodded, smiled at his father and bit into the apple again.
“Ohhh!” a sound caused Adam to sit up in bed. “Ohhh!” there it was again.
Adam stood up and opened his bedroom door. “Ohhh!” he walked past his father’s door, stopped, and listened. “Ohhh!” No it was not his father.
“Ohhh!” he walked toward Hoss’ room and listened. His brother was snoring loudly. No, it was definitely not Hoss.
“Ohhh!” Hop Sing’s bedroom door was slightly ajar and Adam peeked in. The Chinaman was sleeping soundly. It was not him, either.
There was only one more person. “Ohhh!” Adam paused at Joe’s door his hand on the door handle. “Ohhh!” and he threw open the bedroom door.
“Joe!” he rushed toward his brother’s bed. Joe was lying on his bed, curled up, moaning softly. “Ohhh! Adam, it hurts!”
“What hurts, Joe?” Adam asked worried.
“My stomach!” Joe cried. “My stomach hurts!”
Adam sat on the bed and gently turned his brother onto his back. “How many apples did you eat?”
“I don’t know.” Joe shook his head and clutched his stomach. “All of ‘em, I guess.”
Adam sighed. “No wonder you’re sick. Joe, are you crazy?”
“I wanted to lose my tooth!” Joe wailed. “Ohhh!”
“Shh!” Adam placed his finger over his brother’s mouth. “Don’t wake up the rest of the house.”
“But it hurts!” Joe choked back another groan as he gripped his stomach with his hand.
“I know.” Adam nodded sympathetically. “Now, be quiet and stay here.” He stood up.
“Adam, where are you going?” Joe clutched his brother’s arm.
“I’m going to get you a cup of ginger tea.” Adam replied.
“Noooo!” Joe cried out.
“It don’t help any and it tastes bad!” Joe gasped.
“Well, what do you want to do?” Adam asked a little irritated. “Suffer?”
Joe blinked back a tear and shook his head.
“Then stop complaining.” Adam ordered. “Either drink the tea or suffer the stomach ache.”
Joe swallowed. “The tea.”
Adam nodded and left the room.
“I never want to see an apple again.” Joe exclaimed when Adam returned.
“Ohhh!” Joe moaned when Adam placed another pillow under his head.
“Shh!” Adam warned and Joe pressed his lips tightly together.
He watched his brother pour a cup of the tea and then he asked, “Do I have to drink that?”
Adam nodded. He sat next to his brother on the bed, lifted his head and forced Joe to drink the tea. Then Joe fell back on the bed and opened his mouth to groan again when the look on Adam’s face stopped him. “It hurts.” He whispered.
“Why did you eat all those apples, then?” Adam demanded forcing some more tea down Joe.
“You told me to eat lots of apples!” Joe choked on the tea.
Adam shook his head and sighed. “But not enough for you to get sick, Joe.” He answered making his brother drink more of the home remedy.
“How did I know they would make me sick?” Joe demanded.
Adam smiled. “How do you feel?”
“Sick.” Joe answered.
“Umm.” Adam replied and he gently started to rub his brother’s stomach in a circular motion.
They both were silent for several moments.
“Open the door.”
“That’s no answer.”
“I want it open.”
“The lights on in the hall.” And Adam made Joe drink more tea.
“I don’t care.” Joe gulped.
“You won’t be able to sleep.”
“I don’t want to sleep.”
“I want you to.”
“It’s the best thing for you to do.”
“Oh.” And Joe shut his eyes.
A few moments of silence. Then: “Adam?”
“Go to sleep, Joe.”
“Adam, I feel much better.”
I doubt it!”
“Really I do!”
“Can I stop drinking the tea?” Joe asked as Adam made him take another drink.
“When can I?”
“When I say so.” Adam replied sternly and Joe was silent.
He started to squirm under his brother’s touch. “Will you stop moving, Joe?”
“I feel better, Adam.” Joe replied.
“Well…” Adam stopped rubbing his brother’s stomach. “Are you sure?”
Joe nodded vigorously. Adam smiled. “All right then, Joe. Now drink the rest of the tea and go to sleep.” He handed his brother the cup. “No more moaning. Understand?”
Joe nodded over the rim of his cup as he drank the rest of the tea. “Understand.” He handed the cup back to Adam. “’Night, Adam.”
“Good night, Joe.” Adam replied exiting the room.
“Joe,” Ben called into the house from the front door. “Are you coming into town with Adam and I?”
Joe swallowed the rest of his grits and raced toward the door. “I’m comin’, Pa.” He called picking up his hat on the way.
Ben and Adam were standing by the buckboard waiting for the youngest Cartwright. “Adam and I have work to do in town.” Ben told his son as they climbed into the wagon. “Now are you sure you’re going to help us?”
“Yes, Pa.” Joe nodded and squirmed eagerly in the back of the wagon. It was a rare treat to get to go to town with both Adam and Pa. Usually it was just one or the other.
Virginia City was always such a busy place. Joe liked to go and just look around in wonder at all the men who traveled the streets. There were the rough coarse miners standing around the saloon talking about the day’s work ahead. There were the storekeepers opening their shops in preparation for a busy day. And there were the cowboys. Little Joe always liked the cowboys best. The tall good looking men with their shiny guns and big horses. ‘Someday I’ll be a cowboy too.’ Joe thought. Then Adam pulled the wagon to a stop outside of James Fletcher’s General Store and Joe saw his friend Seth waiting for him.
“Hi, Joe.” Seth called as Joe jumped out of the wagon. “I saw you comin’ up. Hi, Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Cartwright.”
Ben smiled. “Hello, Seth. Your Pa open his store yet?”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Cartwright. You cin go rit in.”
“Thanks, Seth.” Ben Cartwright smiled again at the young boy. “I have to run over to the telegraph office first. Coming, Joe?”
“Can I stay here ‘till you get back?” Joe asked.
“Well, all right.” Ben replied. “Adam, you going to buy that lumber?”
“Do you want Joe to come with you?”
“I can handle it.” Adam scorned his young brother’s help. He was a grown man and Joe just a baby. Ben smiled and headed toward the telegraph office.
“What’s new, Joe?” Seth asked when Ben and Adam had disappeared down the street.
“I got a loose tooth.” Joe exclaimed opening his mouth to show his friend.
“Is that all?” Seth scoffed. “I lost my tooth Sunday after church. And look what I got.” He put his hand into his pocket and took out a shiny brand new coin. “I put the tooth under my pillow and I found this.”
Joe looked at it admiringly. “She left you a coin.”
“Yeah.” Seth agreed. “Didn’t you lose a tooth yet?” He spoke as though he was a veteran. In fact he had just lost his first tooth.
Joe shook his head. “No. But mine’s loose.”
“So what?” Seth asked. “You ain’t a real man till you lose a tooth.”
“I’m just as much a man as you are, Seth Fletcher!” Joe exclaimed hotly.
“No, you ain’t!” Seth replied. “You’re a sissy!”
“I ain’t neither!” Joe shot back unsure of the meaning of the word ‘sissy.’ But he was sure that it was a bad word.
Joe was about to plow into his friend and prove that he was a man when his father walked towards him across the street. He did not notice his son’s clenched fists as he called “Joseph?”
“Yes, Pa.” Joe turned.
“Come on into the store with me, Joe.” Ben ordered. “We’ve got to get this stuff for Hop Sing.”
Joe started walking toward his father. He heard his friend hiss “Sissy! Joe, you’re a sissy!” Then Joe disappeared into the store behind his father.
James Fletcher, the storeowner, smiled at Joe. “Hi, Little Joe, how are you?”
Joe smiled up at the tall man. “I’m fine, Mr. Fletcher.”
James dug into his candy jar. “Would you like a peppermint stick?”
Joe looked up at his father and Ben nodded. Joe reached for the peppermint. “Thank you, Mr. Fletcher.”
He bit into the candy and the storeowner laughed. “You’re supposed to lick it, Joe.”
“I’m tryin’ to lose my tooth.” Joe explained. “I thought maybe this would help.”
Ben smiled at James Fletcher as the storeowner laughed. “You ready to go, Joe?”
Joe nodded. “Give him that package, will you, Jim?” Ben asked picking up a package from the counter.
Jim nodded and handed the lad a package he had just finished wrapping. Joe took it and walked slowly out to the wagon carefully following his father.
He was silent as Adam drove the buckboard out of town. Joe sat on the packages that his father had bought while Ben and Adam sitting in the front discussed the use for the new lumber. They were halfway home before Joe spoke. “Pa?”
Ben turned to look at his son. “Yes, Joe?”
“Pa, what’s a sissy?”
“Where did you hear that?”
“Seth called me it.”
“That was not very nice.” Ben said quickly.
“But what does it mean?” Joe pressed.
“It’s a scared kid, a baby.” Adam cut in.
“Really, Pa?” Joe asked and Ben nodded.
“I ain’t no sissy!” Joe exclaimed.
“Of course you aren’t, Joe.” Ben assured him. “You’re my brave son.”
Joe smiled at his father thankfully, but inside he was determined to prove to Seth that he could lose his tooth and be a man, or die trying.
When they arrived back at the Ponderosa Joe helped Adam and Pa unload the wagon. Hoss came from around the barn wiping his hands on his pants. “Get that lumber, Adam?” he asked.
Adam nodded. “We’ll start the project as soon as we get it all unloaded. Joe, will you please walk a little faster?” This as the youngest Cartwright struggled with several heavy bundles.
Joe looked back at Adam and stuck out his tongue.
Adam pretended not to notice and slipped past Joe to get into the house.
Hop Sing had a job for Joe when he entered the house. “Joe, you take apples to barrel. And no spill any.”
“Sure, Hop Sing.” Joe said picking up the apples and making a face. After his stomachache apples did not agree with him. He was walking toward the bin when he slipped and fell. The apples rolled every which way and Joe hit his chin on the floor. He felt his tooth anxiously wondering if it had fallen out yet. It had not and so he sorrowfully picked up the apples and took them into the kitchen. Luckily Hop Sing had not noticed his spill.
His father came into the house and sat at his desk. He had a stack of contracts to take care of. Little Joe came out from the kitchen and watched his father for a little while. Ben finally looked up at his son. “What’s wrong, Joe?”
“I’ve got nothing to do.” Joe answered.
“Why don’t you help Hop Sing?”
“He don’t need my help.”
“Why don’t you run out and help Adam and Hoss, then?”
“All right.” Joe answered running out the open front door.
Adam and Hoss were working on fixing the corral when Joe came running up. They paid no attention to him when he called “Can I help?” Adam heard him but pretended not to hear him. Hoss had his back turned and did not notice Joe.
Joe stood on the completed gate and watched them. “Can I help?” he asked again.
Adam looked at him. “Joe, please.” he begged. “Not now. Go play in the barn.”
“I want to play with you.” Joe answered.
“We’re not playing.” Adam replied sharply. “But if you leave us alone now I’ll push you on your swing later.”
“Promise?” Joe’s green eyes searched Adam’s face.
“Promise.” Adam replied seriously.
Joe laughed and ran into the barn.
He climbed the ladder to the hayloft and looked down. There was a nice big pile of hay down there and Joe could imagine jumping into it and hopefully losing his tooth. Dare he try it? He smiled. Yes, he dared.
He never thought that maybe the hay was too soft for him to lose his tooth or that it might get lost in the haystack. He did not notice the pitchfork in the hay below or the hay lift above his head. He was young and was thinking only of losing his tooth. So without a second thought he jumped. According to Newton’s theory of gravity Little Joe should have fallen into the haystack. But instead he found himself swinging high above the hay. Surprised he looked behind him half expecting to see Adam holding him back. But no Adam was not there. The Joe looked up. His suspenders had gotten hooked on the grappling hook of the hay lift and now he was dangling in the air. He struggled to free himself but he just succeeded in getting into a worse spot. In his fight the hook started to move along the track. Now Joe hung in the air with no soft hay under him to break his fall. He started crying because he was really afraid of what might happen if his suspenders snapped. But boy like he did not cease his struggles. His kicking and fighting finally brought him to the end of the track and looking out and down Joe saw the hard ground underneath him and the blue sky above him.
Now he was really scared and so he started screaming and stopped struggling. “PA! ADAM! HOSS!” he stopped for breath. “PA! ADAM! HOSS!”
Adam and Hoss looked toward the barn. It was the eldest Cartwright that noticed his brother swinging from the hay lift. “What the—“ he exclaimed running toward the barn closely followed by Hoss.
Adam stood underneath his brother and looked up. “How did you get up there?”
“I tried to jump into the haystack and I got hooked.” Joe sobbed.
“You certainly did.” Adam laughed. “Don’t move. I’ll be right up. Hoss, stay here and catch him in case he falls.” And then he disappeared into the barn.
“Hoss?” Joe asked worried. “Will I fall?”
“Dunno.” Hoss replied. “Ya might. Then again ya might not. Don’t worry. I’ll catch ya if ya do.”
Joe smiled down at his brother. “Thanks, Hoss.”
Then he felt himself pulled back in and Adam was removing the hook from his suspenders. “Joe,” Adam begged. “Why are you being so much trouble? You could have fallen and gotten killed.”
“I just wanted to lose my tooth.” Joe sobbed.
“You can wait patiently.” Adam responded. “It’s not worth getting killed over.”
“No. I can’t.” Joe replied. “I don’t have any patience.”
“I know.” Adam replied heading down the loft ladder.
“Adam, please play with me.” Joe begged following his brother down.
“Oh, all right.” Adam replied. “It seems to be the only way to keep you out of trouble. Come on.”
“Thank you, Adam.” Joe skipped beside his brother.
The swing was homemade. Ben had made it for his young son because he did not Joe swinging on the corral gate. Adam helped Joe into the swing then started pushing him. Higher and higher Adam pushed and higher and higher Joe went. He laughed gaily and tried to kick the hat off of his brother’s head. But Adam was always just a little bit faster and managed to duck every time.
The Joe had a wonderful idea. If he jumped off the swing maybe he would lose his tooth. He looked around. The ground was hard but not too hard for him to hurt himself. So without another word, Joe jumped. He hit his face on the ground and heard Adam scream “Are you crazy?” then everything went black.
He woke up slowly in his own bed. His face was sore but his tooth still had not fallen out. He saw someone move by his bed and he turned towards the person. It was Adam sitting in a chair with a frown and Joe knew he was in trouble.
“Where’s Pa?” Joe asked hoping to delay the upcoming punishment.
“He’s busy.” Adam replied.
“I want to see Pa!” Joe demanded.
“No.” Adam answered. He was so calm and cool and that worried Joe even more. When his brother was gently angry the world would cave in.
“He left me alone!” Joe cried.
“I’m here.” Adam answered.
“I don’t want you!”
“It’s all you get.”
Joe was silent. He was thinking. “Adam, if you kill me will you hang fer it?”
“If I kill you…” Adam smiled. “Yes.”
“I wish I could be around to see it.” Joe muttered.
Adam stood up. “Don’t kill me, Adam!” Joe pleaded.
“I’m not going to kill you.” Adam answered.
“Don’t touch me!” Joe looked up at his brother towering above him. “If you touch me I’ll scream!”
Adam said not a word. He just took his brother out of his bed threw him over his knee and gave him several sound smacks. Joe screamed loudly but Adam did not seem to care. When he had finished he put Joe back in the bed and walked toward the door.
“Adam, I hate you!” Joe shouted but Adam walked out of the room without a backward glance.
“But, Pa, I don’t want to go into town with Adam!” Little Joe cried. “I want to stay home with Hoss!”
“Joseph.” Ben was firm.
“What’s wrong with you anyway?” Adam demanded of his younger brother. “It’s been a living hell with you the past couple of days!”
“Adam!” Ben’s voice was stern. “I do not tolerate that word in this house.”
“Sorry, Pa!” Adam was apologetic.
“But you’re brother is right.” Ben turned back to Joe. “What’s your problem? You’ve been terrible since we went to town on Wednesday.”
“Nothing!” Joe denied. “Nothing’s wrong with me! I’m fine!”
Ben sighed. He was not going to force his son to tell him anything but Adam did need help in town and Hoss was sitting up with a sick calf. “Then you’ll go into town with Adam.”
Joe wiggled his loose tooth with his tongue. He did not want to have to face Seth again. It was not that he was afraid he just did not like being called a sissy. He was jealous of Seth and his gold coin. “Oh, all right, Pa.” He finally said. “I’ll go.”
Seth was standing outside his father’s general store with a group of Joe’s friends. “Hey, Joe.” Seth called when Adam pulled the wagon to a stop. “Lose your tooth yet?”
Joe hopped out of the wagon behind Adam. He paid no attention to his friend as he watched his brother walk into the store. Little Joe followed his brother towards the store but he knew what Adam would say. Sure enough at the door Adam turned to Joe and told him “Why don’t you just wait out here, Joe, until I finish? I don’t want you under my feet.”
Joe sighed. He was hoping that Adam would let him come into the store so that he could avoid having to be around Seth who he was sure would tease him again about the tooth that he still had not lost. Joe sat outside the store door waiting for his brother and hoping that Seth would not bother him anymore. Especially about his tooth.
Seth looked at Joe sitting all alone and spoke softly to his friends. Then they approached Little Joe. “Lose that tooth yet?” Seth teased again and Johnny Chapman grinned showing a new hole in his mouth. But Johnny was a veteran. He had already lost three of his teeth.
Joe swung his legs and whistled a tune ignoring his friends.
“Did you hear him, Little Joe?” Johnny demanded loudly.
“You talking to me?” Little Joe turned.
“Yeah I’m talkin’ to you.” Seth replied.
“What do you want?” Joe asked, innocently.
“You know.” Toby Stewart said. “We want to know if you lost your tooth.”
“Why do you care, Toby?” Joe asked.
“That’s no answer.” Little Joe felt just like Adam telling his friend that.
“ ’Tis good enough for me.”
“My Pa wants me to do some work for him.” Joe said standing up. “Good bye.”
“You ain’t going no place, Little Joe.” Seth grabbed his friend’s shirt.
“Let me go.” Joe said quickly. “I flattened somebody who grabbed me once.”
“I don’t care what you do.” Seth insulted Joe. “You’re still a sissy.”
“No I ain’t!” Joe clenched his fists.
“Yes you are.” Johnny called out. “Until you lose that tooth you’re a sissy.”
Joe walked closer to Johnny Chapman. “I’ll show you who’s the sissy!”
“Yeah?” Johnny asked. “What’d you going to do? Knock my teeth out?”
“Sissy!” Seth called out. “Sissy! Joe Cartwright is a sissy!”
“Sissy!” Johnny and Toby joined in. “Joe, you’re a sissy!”
Little Joe’s blood boiled over. He was no sissy and was determined to prove it. He reached out his fist and punched Johnny in the stomach as hard as he could. The boy’s breathe came out in a gasp and he doubled over in pain. Then Toby and Seth jumped on top of Joe and a full-fledged battle began in the street of Virginia City.
Joe fought furiously against his three friends. His fists were fast but his friend’s were just as fast. Johnny got his breath back long enough to rejoin the battle. But then Joe’s fist crashed between his eyes and he saw stars. Joe managed to subdue Toby with a well-delivered kick in the stomach. Then Seth’s fist crashed into Joe’s mouth and the young Cartwright’s head snapped back. He was spitting blood.
Adam heard the shouting in the street and came running out of the store. He could not leave Joe alone even for a moment before the lad was starting trouble. He saw Seth hit, Joe, saw his brother put a hand to his mouth, and was about to intervene when Joe’s fist crashed into the side of Seth’s head and the Fletcher boy fell to the ground.
When Adam reached his brother Joe was smiling broadly. He was paying no attention to his hurt friends lying breathless in the street. “Joe!” Adam exclaimed, grabbing his brother’s arm. “Look what you did to your friends!”
Joe seemed not to care. “Lookee, Adam!” He exclaimed happily. “I lost my tooth!”
Adam shook his head. “Oh, boy.” Was all that he could utter.
Little Joe put his tooth under his pillow that night. When he woke up the next morning there was a brand new shiny gold coin. When Adam asked him quite seriously if he had seen the fairy, Joe replied just as seriously that he had. Ben nearly choked on his coffee as Adam asked his little brother what the fairy had said. “That’s a trade secret.” Joe winked at his brother and Hoss laughed at the foolish look on Adam’s face.
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