The Art of Parenting: Lesson Two (by the Tahoe Ladies)

This is the second part of The Art of Parenting trilogy.

Rated K   Word Count:  14080

The Art of Parenting Trilogy:

Lesson One
Lesson Two
Lesson Three

 

The Art of Parenting: Lesson Two: Dealing with Sibling Rivalry
As Interpreted by
The Tahoe Ladies

Monday

It started while they were working on the new fence together. Each in his heart knew it was a bad idea for the three of them to be working together but their father had sat at the head of the table that morning and told them in no uncertain terms that the fence surrounding the new pasture would be finished. By the three of them. Together. That day. And when their father’s voice used that tone, well, not one of the brothers was going to argue. At least, not in their father’s hearing range. And most certainly not with Pa. So trying to stay out of one another’s way, the three had loaded the buckboard with supplies and tools. Hoss had snagged enough lunch fixings from Hop Sing and off they had gone, Hoss driving the wagon while Joe and Adam rode on opposite sides.

Once their destination was in sight, Hoss prayed that the work would keep his bookend siblings doing something more than taking potshots at one another. He knew that sometimes you just had to keep Adam and Joe on different sides of the fence. But there were other times that being on the same planet together was a mistake. It was during those times that even Hoss, the eternal peacemaker, tended to find elsewhere to be. A quick hunting trip was his usual out but, on that fateful Monday, he had just returned from a hunt in the high mountains so it was very unlikely that he could use that excuse again any time soon. He fervently hoped that the two of them would do their respective parts and stay out of one another’s way. But that was in vain, unfortunately.

The posts were set solidly into the ground, awaiting the barbwire strung along the length of the line. Hoss took the rolls of wire out of the back of the wagon and sat them on the ground by the first post. His glove snagged on a barb and he was leaning over, untangling himself when he heard the first distant rumble of trouble.

“These posts are too close together, Joe. Thought I told you nine paces apart. These look more like seven to me! No wonder it took you more posts to get around the pasture!” Adam shouted, hands planted firmly on both hips as he surveyed the line of cedar posts.

“They are nine paces apart!” Joe shot back, dropping his hammer to the ground at his feet.

“Calm down you two!” Hoss warned but he thought he would have had more success in calming a wild stallion.

“Old Adam just doesn’t remember-” Joe started, leaning towards a black clad chest with an extended finger.

“No, you just obviously don’t know how to count, Joe. Thought some of your schooling would have stayed with you but I was wrong.”

“Oh yeah? Well look!” And Joe proceeded to stride from one post to the next, counting aloud. When he reached nine and the next post, he turned, crossed his arms over his chest and smirked defiantly.

Never one to let a simple thing stop him, Adam proceeded to do the same thing Joe had, stride off nine paces while counting aloud. His nine stopped him a short distance from the post beyond Joe’s point. Turning, he mimicked Joe’s crossed arms and smirk.

Hoss took a deep breath. The two of them were being foolish, Hoss thought and there was only one way to prove to the two of them that they were both wrong. Like his brothers, he started at the first post and began to stride, counting out loud as they had done. He passed Joe between pace five and six and Adam along about number eight. When he hit nine, he stopped and turned to face them both. “That, gentlemen, is nine paces.” He pointed to the spot at his right boot toe.

“That’s because your legs are longer than mine! Your stride is longer!” Adam quarreled, his hands now planted firmly on his hips and his brow lowering menacingly.

“And yours is longer than Joe’s,” Hoss explained in as patient a tone as he could muster, patting Adam on the shoulder as he walked back passed him. “And you wipe that smile off your face, little brother, or next time I won’t stand up for you.”

“Should have known there’d be a reason for Joe to do more work than necessary. Surprised that the posts aren’t twenty apart so there’d been less work,” Adam muttered half to himself. He considered Joe to be lazy when it came to work that had to be done without the use of a horse. And no one could argue that it wasn’t true. But let Joe need a horse for the job and the boy was all over it in half a heart beat. Only way, Adam thought, you could get Joe to work any faster was to include a girl in it somewhere.

“Well I suppose you want me to pull ’em all up and put ’em back at nine of your steps, don’t you, Mister Perfection,” Joe fumed and leaning down, started to pull on the post closest to him. It wouldn’t budge.

“ALL RIGHT!” Hoss roared and got their attention immediately. “If you two are gonna butt heads all day long, I’m leavin’ ya to it. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with these posts as close together as they are, Adam, and you know it. Might even be a good idea considering Pa wants to make sure the cattle stay out of this pasture until it’s grown up some more. The posts closer together will make the wire tougher to break through. And you , Joseph, don’t need to be getting all riled at Adam. Now then, are we gonna work or stand around here in the hot sun and argue all day?”

Shoulders slumping and jaws clenching tight, the two warring brothers proceeded back to the wagon, Joe a half step behind Adam, his facial gestures mimicking his older brother’s scowl. Once they had retrieved their tools, both eyed one another carefully and, by unspoken consent, moved to opposite sides of the line of posts. And that was how they stayed for the better part of the morning. Hoss would run the three lines of barbed wire off the spools, and hang them on the closest post. Adam would use the gripping pliers and pull the wire taut while Joe would hammer the horseshoe-shaped staple across the wire. Once it was half secured, Adam would get another grip on the wire and pull it tighter while Joe finished nailing in the staple. They had done it so many times together that it didn’t take communication between the three. Indeed watching them work was a bit like watching a finely tuned machine work, so smooth was it. But then came the time when one gear on the machine slipped a cog and perfection fell into chaos.

Joe had just finished pounding another staple home when his hammer slipped from his grip. It didn’t fly far at all but it did happen to land on Adam’s foot with a resounding thud. But it was the yelp of pain that Hoss heard three posts up that caught his attention. When he turned back to look at the cause, he saw Adam had a fist full of Joe’s shirtfront in one hand and was raring back with the other one. Joe, on the other hand, had his left hand firmly planted on Adam’s jawline, pushing his head away. Hoss couldn’t see where Joe’s right hand was but then decided quickly that it didn’t matter where it was. It was more important what it was going to do that bothered Hoss.

Grasping Adam’s shoulder, Hoss flung him backwards before Adam could let loose with his punch to Joe’s jaw. With a quick step, Hoss had placed himself between the two and held them easily at arm’s length. Neither could escape the grip he had on them to get to their real opponent.

“Now then, as willing as I am for you two to have at it, can it wait? Pa said to get this fence line up today. Iffen I let you two go at each other, it wouldn’t get done. And then Pa’d be mad. And not just at you but at me too. I ain’t gonna have that today. So knock it off!” As he spoke, the normally gentle giant became less so, shaking his brothers bodily with each word. Once he got their acquiescence, he set Joe’s feet on the ground and brushed Adam’s scrunched shirtfront down.

Warily, the other two brothers resumed working, keeping a close eye on not just each other now. Bit by little bit, the tension eased off but the caution still remained. Words were held to a minimum. Eye contact was non-existent. When lunchtime came, each took their sandwiches and cookies and sat under separate trees facing away from any one else.

With the warm sun beating down, it didn’t take long for Joe to stretch out and with his hat over his eyes, fall asleep. He was lost in a most delightful dream that involved a lovely young lady and lots of heavy breathing when Hoss’ boot toe nudged him in the side. He was tempted to grab that toe and flip it backwards and return to his dream but with Adam’s shout that Pa was riding up, decided against it.

Ben smiled broadly as he swung down from the saddle. His plan of making his sons work together to mend their differences was paying off, he thought. The fencing was over half done and Ben was sure that the job would be finished on time. As he stood praising his sons for their hard work, he missed the black looks they gave one another behind his back. He also didn’t see the white-knuckle grip Hoss had on Adam’s arm when he mentioned that the close spacing of the posts was an excellent idea. Turning back quickly, he did catch a fleeting smarmy grin on Joseph’s face but passed it off as a squint into the sun.

“Be home in time for supper. Hop Sing is fixing roast pork and all the trimmings,” and Ben cantered away, once again praising himself for raising three fine sons.

 

Tuesday

With the early afternoon sun baking down on them, the three brothers glared at one another across the flat wagon bed. Hoss scratched at his head then resettled his hat before pinning his younger brother with a tightlipped grimace. Joe merely gave him an elegant shrug before leaning on the bed of the wagon and cocking his head in Adam’s direction.

“I don’t suppose that just unhitching the team and going for another wagon is an option,” Joe tried to sound casual since the look on Adam’s face was black enough to match his shirt.

“And I suppose you want the job of going home and getting another wagon while Hoss and I wait here?” Adam responded testily.

Joe smiled fleetingly. But Adam shook his head just once and pursed his lips, his eyebrows lowered menacingly. Tripping over the spilled firewood, Adam made for the front of the wagon.

“What we need to do is get the rest of this wood off the wagon, get the wheel back on then reload the wood. If you two would quit jawin’ about it and get at it, we’d be half done,” Hoss’ gesture at the wood remaining on the wagon clearly said who he expected to off load it.

“Come on, little brother, show us all those muscles you got. Hop up there and get it offloaded,” and Adam’s wave of the hand indicated the same thing Hoss had. “After all, as I recall, you were the last one to grease these wheels. That means that you were the one that didn’t tighten the lug nut down. That makes you responsible for the wheel coming off. And that means you do the unloading so we can fix it.”

“Why handle the wood that many times? We already loaded it once! If I take one of the team and go to the house for another wagon, we can take the wood directly from this one onto it. Then while you and Hoss fix this one, I can take the wood on down to the house,” Joe reasoned and although Hoss thought the idea had some merit, he just didn’t care for the assignments.

“No,” Adam was adamant. “That would take too long. By the time you’d get back with another wagon, we could have this one fixed. Something that we’re gonna have to do any way. So let’s get to it. Now!”

Joe rolled his eyes and hoisted himself onto the load. Hoss and Adam both slipped to the front of the wagon and began unhitching the team. The two older brothers smiled conspiratorially, listening to the thunk-thunk as the chunks of wood hit the ground again.

“You wouldn’t be getting’ back at a fella for yesterday, would you?” Hoss said softly.

Adam just grinned and slipped the leathers from first horse. “We can keep that between us for a while, can’t we? Let junior up there take care of things a while.”

“Hey!” Joe’s shout punctuated the still hot air. “It don’t take both of you to unhitch the team! Let’s have some help up here!”

The brothers smiled and Adam’s brows danced beneath his hat brim but Hoss hollered back that they were coming as soon as they got the team watered and in the shade.

“Shouldn’t take but an hour or so, right, Adam? Then we’ll be right there to help you, little brother,” Hoss teased as they led the horses towards the stream a short ways from the road.

As they loosened the harness on the team, letting them drink deeply from the stream, Adam saw the chunks of firewood stop heading for the ground. He was sure that the next one he saw was going to be headed for Hoss. Or himself. But seeing nothing happen, he told Hoss to take both horses. He was going to check on the progress Joe was making.

He called twice before he got to the road but got no answer either time. There was still plenty of wood on the wagon but no Joe. If he’s headed home, I am gonna catch him and teach him a thing or two, Adam seethed inwardly as he came even with the tilted wagon. There Joe sat, obviously waiting for something.

“Catch a splinter?” Adam asked tersely.

“Nope, just waiting for you and Hoss.” Joe smiled brightly and resumed tossing wood from the wagon to the side of the road, just missing Adam’s head by inches.

“You little–” Adam launched himself onto the wagon and towards his brother who nimbly danced to the front of the load. To get to him, Adam had to clear a path as he wasn’t about to twist an ankle on the loose logs.

Looking up the slope from where he stood waiting with the grazing team, Hoss saw the firewood flying from the pile on the wagon but, because of his angle, he couldn’t understand why it was headed in two directions. Some was headed towards the front of the wagon from the back and then some towards the back from the front. Shrugging his shoulders, Hoss decided he didn’t care as long as it got unloaded.

Late that night, Ben settled into his favorite chair and lit his pipe before he picked up his book to read. A satisfied smile crept across his features as all three of the boys said good night and headed silently up the stairs. He knew they were tired after their day. He had been a bit worried when they were late getting home with that load of firewood but Adam’s explanation of the lost wheel explained it all. But what he couldn’t understand was why Joe and Adam disappeared, leaving Hoss to unload and stack the wood by himself. But he decided that it didn’t matter who did it as long as it got done and there was no fighting over the chore. Yes, he thought, it’s good that the boys work together.

 

Wednesday

It was a good thing that they had gone to bed early because the ruckus started outside just before dawn. The squawk of two dozen or so chickens at full hue and cry can sound like a whole lot more. And, when raised in the dead of night when all else was quiet, it could raise the dead even.

Adam was the first one out the back door, his black jeans and shirt hastily thrown on making him just another shadow. He saw a dark dog-like shape silhouetted briefly beside the whitewashed side of the chicken coop. Damn coyotes, he thought then cursed himself for having forgotten a gun. One shot and that coyote wouldn’t be bothering their chickens again. He was about to turn and run back into the house when the world erupted beside him. Staggering from the auditory onslaught, he held his ringing ears. Amazed and dumbfounded, he watched in fascination as the chicken coop seemed to explode into a mass of swirling white feathers and wooden splinters.

“Damn coyotes!” Hoss swore and lowered the smoking double-barreled shotgun. “You okay, Adam?”

Adam tried to shake the ringing from his ears again. It only magnified it.

“What in tarnation is going on?” Ben shouted right beside Adam’s shoulder but to Adam, it sounded like his father was on the other side of the Ponderosa. And the swinging lit lantern his father carried made his eyes roll.

“Coyotes stealing chickens again. Them dad-blamed ornery cusses are getting bold, Pa,” Hoss hissed, still peering through the dust clearing from the direction of the coop. The now silent coop.

Joe, barefoot and dressed only in a pair of jeans stepped towards the swirling dust cloud.

“Make sure he’s dead, Joseph!” Ben called out and noticing for the first time that Adam seemed to be having some sort of problem with his ears.

“Oh, he’s dead all right,” Joe called back, picking up what remained of one of Hop Sing’s roosters by one foot. “In fact, I think it’s safe to say that coyote won’t be back. Don’t think we got any chickens left he’d be interested in!”

“I meant the coyote! Do you see him?” Ben called out, lifting his lantern higher.

In the not too far off distance, a coyote howled into the night.

“Yep!” Joe called back, looking in the direction of the howl. “And he says thanks but he’ll kill his own, Hoss!”

Hoss gulped twice. He knew Hop Sing loved those chickens. And he knew just how Hop Sing would avenge their death. Meals were gonna get real lean on him for a while, he just knew it.

Feathers finally stopped drifting down from the sky like snowflakes. The dust settled and by Ben’s lantern light, all could see the huge gaping hole the shotgun had blown in the side of the chicken coop.

By the coming of dawn, the chicken coop had completely fallen in. The chickens still left alive, though traumatized, did what chickens do: went about their scratching and pecking in the dirt. And there were more left alive than those whose demise had been Hoss’ doing. That in and of itself was both a good thing and a bad thing. Good because once they recovered from the shock, the chickens would again resume laying eggs. And with the number of mouths that Hop Sing had to feed daily, eggs were a necessity. But it was bad because without a chicken coop to form the back wall of their pen, the chickens were busy ranging far and wide. And no one would own up to not closing the back door to the house. When the rooster crowed to greet the morning, Ben thought he sounded awfully close by but to find the fowl on the foot of his bed was closer than he thought!

It was a rather strained silence around the breakfast table that morning. Hoss felt terrible that he had missed the culprit responsible. Temporarily, at least Adam hoped it was temporary, everything that was said to him in a normal tone had to be repeated louder. Joe, even in the best of times not a morning person, was even grumpier than usual, having had the chore of removing the rooster from his father’s bedroom earlier. That had taken a fair amount of chasing and feathers flying before the fowl had taken the most expedient escape route out the second story window. And having had one wing clipped to keep him from flying didn’t stop him from becoming an addition to the chicken and dumplings Hop Sing was preparing. He just saved Hop Sing the trouble of ringing his neck landing in a heap like he did.

“The chicken coop will be rebuilt. Today. And all the chickens will be re-installed there before dark. Do I make myself clear?” Ben ordered, handing Hoss the un-appetizing bowl of oatmeal. It was obvious what Hop Sing thought of the fiasco. Usually eggs in some form or another graced the table for breakfast. But not this morning. Only oatmeal, milk and coffee were there. And from the direction of the kitchen, an ominous silence leaked out.

“I don’t know why Joe and I have to help! Hoss was the one who blew up the chicken coop!” Adam spoke loudly, not realizing he was nearly shouting until he saw Joe flinch and pat the air with one hand. “Sorry,” he mumbled, “but you did this too! Did you have to let both barrels go right by my head?” Again Adam’s voice rose as he pointed to his ears

“I told you,” Hoss started then raised his voice and looked directly at his elder brother, “I told you I was sorry!”

Ben blinked his eyes several times, wondering again if he shouldn’t take Adam in to be seen by Paul Martin. He poured the cream-rich milk onto his oatmeal and stirred. It was going to be a long day.

By noon, the old chicken coop was gone completely and a new one rising in its place. Chickens were still scattered every where. Ben could hear Joe and Adam joking about having a fowl round-up and he waited at the side of the house for Hoss’ deep laugh. It didn’t come. Ben went on around the corner, having left his bookwork chores to call his sons to lunch. It seemed a bit odd that Hoss wasn’t joining in with his brothers’ jests. But as Ben looked around the construction site, he couldn’t see Hoss.

“Hi Pa!” Adam called and smiled as his father sidled up beside him, a hand coming to rest on his shoulder.

Joe slammed another nail home into the new wall and dropped his hammer into the bucket of nails at his feet. “Think we can get Pa to help us?” Joe teased when he saw his father there.

“You mean with the round-up or with the building?” Ben asked, a picture of innocence. “I don’t think either one. Where is Hoss? I thought for sure you two would be making him do all the work out here.”

“Oh Hop Sing had a job for him,” Adam replied, his voice now back down to a normal level. He smiled and then began to chuckle.

Joe also was laughing. “Yeah, seems he wasn’t gonna let all those chickens go without giving everything they had.” He gestured with his chin towards the open area behind the coop.

Stepping to the side of the new coop, Ben saw his biggest son plucking feathers from the poor victims of his wild shot the night before. Muttering darkly, he was thrusting the feathers into a sack at his feet then tossing the naked carcass into the fair-sized pit at his side. Ben couldn’t make out the words clearly but he didn’t have to in order to know that Hoss was mad. Rather than upset him any further, Ben returned to his more lighthearted sons.

“You should have seen the look on his face when Joe suggested he bury each one in its own separate grave,” Adam smirked again and handed Joe another board he had sawn to right length.

“I thought the one he gave you when you said they all deserved good Christian burials-” Joe hooted but stopped mid-sentence when he caught his father’s dark look that said he didn’t think it was all that funny.

“Your brother is quite sensitive when it comes to the death of an animal,” Ben admonished, trying to maintain a straight face. “So this business of teasing him will stop. Understood?”

Immediately, both of his sons before him dropped their bantering attitude and Adam’s quick “Yes sir,” told him he would be obeyed.

“Lunch is about ready,” Ben said and turned to go back into the house.

“Hey Hoss! Lunch!” Joe shouted.

Behind him, Ben heard all three of his sons following. At the trough, they stopped to clean up but Ben continued on into the house.

“I sure am hungry!” Hoss claimed, sloshing water onto his forearms there at the trough. “Wonder what’s for lunch?”

“Chicken a la buckshot,” Adam quipped straight-faced.

Joe had a smart remark on his lips to make but when Hoss shoved Adam headfirst into the water, he decided against it.

By dark, the last of the errant chickens had been caught and shoved into their new quarters. Throughout the entire afternoon, Hoss had helped his brothers to finish the building then catch the fowl. It had been easier to build the coop than catch the birds, he thought more than once as they alluded him easily. The chickens went places Hoss couldn’t even attempt to go and trying to lasso them was out of the question. They were fearless when it came to heights and flighty bulls and stallions. But they all seemed to know Hop Sing. All of the brothers had a fit of the giggles when the cook had stepped outside for something, his cleaver in his hand, and three chickens they had been pursuing took off at a dead run away from the celestial and smack into the Cartwright’s waiting arms. Or they would have been waiting arms if the motion hadn’t been so fast that they had no time to react and grab legs or necks. But now, the new roosts were filled with somnolent fowls as Adam added one more.

“Found this one in the loft,” he explained as he settled it next to another.

“They sure is tough critters,” Hoss exclaimed softly, picking a feather out of Adam’s dark hair.

“Ain’t they though,” Joe agreed, slumping against the wall by the door as Adam closed it and shoved the wooden bar across it to lock the fowl in for the night.

“I just hope they like their new home and the coyotes don’t come calling tonight for a house-warming party,” Hoss mumbled, following his brothers.

“Supper!” came their father’s call from the front porch.

“Wonder what’s for supper?” Hoss asked as once again they stopped by the water trough in the front yard to rinse the dust off.

“Chicken potpie,” Joe suggested, then followed that up with, “fried chicken. Chicken soup.”

“Chicken fricassee. Sweet and sour chicken. Chicken and dumplings. Chicken-” Adam was ticking off imaginary dishes on his long lean fingers, mindful to stay out of Hoss’ reach there at the trough.

“Don’t forget-” Joe started but it was lost in sputter of water as Hoss dunked his brother.

After giving the curly head under his hand a good dousing, Hoss ambled on towards the house. Behind him, Adam gave out a full-throated “aurooooooo!” while Joe’s “bwwrock,” dissolved into a high pitched giggle that split the night. Hoss gave them his best scowl over his shoulder but that didn’t stop them.

In the house, finishing up his deskwork, Ben heard the sound of Joe’s laugh and smiled to himself. Yes, it sounded like his sons were in high spirits tonight, despite their stressful day. He was two-thirds right.

 

 Thursday

 

Hoss was thankful that Hop Sing rarely held a grudge more than a day or so. But one look at the breakfast table showed that the chickens certainly did. It surely would be a while before an egg would grace his breakfast so heaving a sigh that started some where about his boot soles, Hoss spooned up a little more oatmeal into his bowl and lacing it liberally with sugar, poured the bowl full of milk. But with the rest of the table laden with ham slices, hot biscuits and gravy, Hoss was assured of a little better morning meal than yesterday’s.

He was well into his second helping of ham when it dawned on him that his father was talking, saying something about cedar shakes needing splitting. Caught off guard, all he could do was give his father the best blue-eyed innocent look he could muster.

Laying a hand on Hoss’ forearm to stop the fork headed up from the plate again and get to Hoss’ attention, Ben smiled indulgently before he repeated himself. “I said that we need to take care of those places on the roof. We didn’t get a chance to repair the winter damage last spring so now would be as good a time as any. I am afraid if we wait any longer, the fall rains will catch us. And the last thing we need is a leaky roof. So today, I want you boys to patch the roof.”

“There’s a couple of branches need cutting off those trees on the north side too. Heard them scraping the side of the house when we had that Washoe Zephyr come through last week,” Adam added, lifting the last slab of ham from the serving platter. He could feel Hoss’ eyes tracking it but figured Hoss’d had enough.

“Well, you two just get finished with that little chore before I get home from town,” Joe quipped, grinning maddeningly. “You do remember that it is my turn to go get the mail?” His inflection made it clear that he thought their memories might need adjusting.

“Now Joseph,” Ben started, his voice full of parental concern, “I think it would be best if I went into town today. I can pick up the mail when I pick up the payroll from the bank.”

“That’s okay, Pa. I can do that too,” Joe shot back just a little too quickly, Ben thought.

“You don’t understand, son,” Ben soothed and smiled indulgently. “Fixing the roof is a three man job. Now, since we don’t want Hoss up on the roof,” and the thought flashed through every mind there of Hoss going through the roof , “that means that Adam and you will need to do the actual shingling.”

“But, Pa!” Joe began to protest.

“Joe! I am surprised at you! What? You think we’d make Pa go up there? Where’s your sense, boy? A body could fall off that roof and do some real damage to hisself and you wouldn’t want that to happen to Pa, would you?” Hoss rebounded, seeing the perfect revenge for the past two days.

“No, I don’t want anything like that to happen to anybody. Pa in particular! It’s just that it’s my turn to go get the mail!” whined Joe, still not turning loose of the idea of a day in town. But one glance at his father’s face showed him that he had better give up on it. “All right, I’ll help with the roof. Don’t want Pa falling and breaking any bones.”

Adam couldn’t help himself. “Yeah, old bones are harder to mend than young ones.” There were certain benefits to sitting at the opposite end of the table from his father.

With a resounding thud, Hoss set the block of seasoned cedar up on the big chopping block. He checked the long blade of the splitter before he positioned it less than an inch from the edge of the wood then hoisted the maul and brought it down with a solid hit to the back side of the splitter. It dropped into the wood the depth of the blade. With hit following hit, Hoss worked the blade down the grain of the wood, pulling a wide slab away from the block as he went down its side. It wasn’t hard work. Nor was it altogether precise work, but each shingle that he split looked pretty much like the one before it. That would make them fit better if each one was of nearly the same size and thickness. He’d had a good deal of practice over the years making shingles. Even though all of the Cartwrights were proficient, Hoss felt he was a notch above that level. Since he was sixteen years old and too big to safely walk across most roofs, it had been his job. And he was good enough that he could easily keep up with several men who did the actual roofing.

“Got a another batch ready?” Adam called right over Hoss’ head. “We’ve about got that one section cleared off!”

Hoss bent and tied the rope around the small pile of cedar shakes at his feet. He looped the rope around his hand and climbed the ladder to where Adam lay. Once even with the edge, Hoss could look across the expanse and see the area Adam had spoken of. It would need more than a few shingles to cover it completely. He handed Adam the end of the rope and helped him pull the bundle up to the roof.

“We got enough nails?” Hoss asked.

“What? You looking for a reason to go into town too?” Adam hissed.

“Just askin’ is all,” glumly Hoss replied and lumbered back down the ladder. He almost envied his brothers up there. The view they had was spectacular and one Hoss remembered from when he and his father and Adam had roofed the house the first time.

“Here!” and Adam dumped the first of many loads of cedar shakes beside Joe. Still disgruntled at having missed his trip to town, Joe didn’t even acknowledge his brother. Instead, using the claw on his hammer, he pulled up another old shake that had split one too many times. The nail screeched in protest, the sound reverberating through the clearing. He shoved the old piece of cedar out of the way and inspected the broad beam beneath it. It showed that it was still sound and the tar rope chinking between it and its neighbor was still doing its job of repelling the most insistent of wetness. The cedar shingles they would place over the chinked beams was the first line of defense, these beams the second and the last line was hidden beneath those, the thin layer of tin that was the attic ceiling. When first built, Adam had been adamant about the three layers to the top section of the roof and over the years, he had been proven right for that roof seldom leaked. But there again, his father had been most vigilant when it came to its care. Like now replacing three spots that all together might have been a hundred square feet.

“This is one job I truly hate,” Adam remarked, settling onto his knees beside Joe.

“Why? ‘Cause you can’t do it with your head? ‘Cause you’ve got to use your hands instead?” Joe snorted in reply.

Adam rolled his eyes towards Heaven in a silent plea for restraint.

“You don’t take much in the way of chance when it comes to work. Seems like every time there is some ugly job to be done, you have something else that needs doin’. Amazing how you convince Pa that you are the only one of us who can think,” and Joe sank a nail into a new shingle the same way he did his words into his brother.

Deciding that God was busy doing something else, Adam threw restraint to the wind. “Me?” His voice rose half an octave. “You seem to be the one always disappearing when there’s real work to be done! Doubt if you know the meaning of real work!”

Joe sat back on his haunches and glared at the back of Adam’s head. “Lord knows, you don’t!”

Adam pushed back from the slant of the roof and sat just like his brother did. Coolly, the two of them eyed one another.

“I think,” Adam drawled, his long fingers stroking his chin in thought,” that we need to work on different sections of the roof. Why don’t you go over by the main chimney? That place on the downslope of the ridgepole looks like it needs replacing.”

“Why don’t you go fix it then? I already cleared this section off mostly by myself. Why should I have to go over there and clear that off too?” Joe responded, his jaw setting hard when he finished. He glared into Adam’s eyes.

“No, I cleared this section while you were getting the nails and stuff from the barn. Took you long enough, too! Just go up there and get to it!” Adam hotly commanded, his finger echoing the order when it thrust itself from under Joe’s nose towards the chimney.

“What if I say I ain’t goin? What are you gonna do about it?”

Slowly, Adam rose to his feet, breathing deeply and filling out his broad chest as he did so. He dropped his hammer to the roof, flexed his hands then rubbed one fist into the palm of the other hand. He spread his feet to shoulder width and rose once on the balls of his feet then dropped back down. Adam thrust his chin out and his eyes, hooded now by his lowered dark brows, settled on Joe and dared him to comment.

Move for move, Joe mimicked his brother, coming up not but a few scant inches from Adam’s boot toes but half a head shorted than him. To try and make up for this slight disadvantage, Joe rolled his shoulders and lifted his chin. His nostrils flared briefly.

“You realize that in a no-holds barred fight, I could take you like that!” and Adam snapped his fingers in Joe’s face.

“I doubt that!” Joe’s forefinger stabbed into the black shirted chest in front of him.

Adam slapped the finger away but never let his eye leave his brother’s face. Typical Joe bragging, he thought but then did a quick reassessment of his littlest brother. Joe wasn’t a scrawny scrap any more and, sure, in more than one barroom brawl, Adam had seen Joe take on men bigger than him and come out on top. But it takes more than muscle, he mused, it takes brains sometimes.

“You had better rethink that, little brother. I’ve got a longer reach than you and I outweigh you by a good sixty pounds,” cautioned Adam.

“And you are older and slower, older brother. Remember what you said this morning about older bones mending? Want to learn that lesson first hand?” Joe came back with the obvious.

“You think you’re the one to teach it to me?” Adam leaned towards Joe, his own temper rising, although it was no head of steam like his baby brother could build up. That was his mistake, that leaning forward. It just gave his head that much further to rock back when Joe caught him full under the chin with an upper cut.

Adam splatted onto the upslope of the roof with Joe right on top of him. Their boots scraped ineffectually for a foothold on the cedar shingles. Adam managed to get a fist pummeled into Joe’s side and with a satisfied grin, heard the wind puff from his brother.

But Joe came back with another solid hit to Adam’s shoulder. It shoved Adam back onto the roof again and he felt the bite of a hammer in his lower back. That was when it dawned on him that fighting on a steep cedar-shaked roof was not the smartest thing to do in the world. And following that thought was the one that he had to convince Joe of the same thing. He tried shouting his brother’s name a time or two to get his attention but Joe seemed to have lost his hearing. Finally Adam just wrapped his arms around Joe’s torso, pinning his arms to his side.

“Turn me loose, you son of a–” Joe shouted and tried to twist out of Adam’s grasp.

“No such luck. Listen this isn’t the time or place for this,” Adam shouted back, struggling to keep not only on his feet but his brother constrained.

“Seems as good a time and place as any to me!” Joe squirmed and Adam had to shift his arms to retain his grip.

That did it. That final squirm enabled Joe to pull one arm free enough that he could push Adam away. Adam’s grip broke and he staggered back a few steps, his leather soled boots slipping on the pile of loose shingles. Joe had decided to press the attack and aimed a body block move at his brother’s midsection. But there was the problem. When Joe was about to make contact with Adam, Adam was flat on his back and Joe sailed over him. In fact, Joe flew completely over his brother. And the edge of the roof.

Hoss had heard snatches of the impending fight from where he worked in the yard. His first impulse was to play the peacemaker and go bang their heads together. Then he heard the thumping noises that said they had taken it beyond words. He was about to climb the ladder and do some hollering of his own when he saw Joe fly off the main portion of the roof and land with a resounding thud on the roof of the kitchen. What followed sounded like the house had screamed then groaned. Then there came a clatter and Hop Sing’s shouting.

Adam hurried to the edge of the roof when he saw Joe disappear. Looking down, he felt panic rise in him. Joe had crashed through the roof and into the kitchen to land unceremoniously on the worktable where Hop Sing was busy making bread.

“You okay?” Adam called down cautiously, afraid Joe had been hurt in the short fall.

Joe grunted and sat up, trying to wipe flour and sticky dough off his arms as he did. He tried to wave a hand at Adam to tell him he was okay, but a wad of dough stuck to it and he flipped it aside instead. All it had done was knock the wind from him. And make him feel considerably less dignified. Now Hop Sing was yammering away at him for having ruined a morning’s work. He swung his legs over the edge of the table and stood up carefully, testing for any broken bones. The only part of him that protested was his ego.

Hoss’ hand landed on his shoulder lightly and the blue eyes Joe found studying him closely were concerned. Joe just nodded briefly and took another swipe at the sticky dough coating his backside.

Looking up through the Joe-sized hole in the kitchen roof, Hoss caught Adam’s concerned expression. “Think we found another weak spot in the roof,” he called, hardly muting the chuckle in his words.

Even though he was relieved that Joe was all right, Adam couldn’t help himself. “Hey Joe,” he called down from his perch on the roof and saw his youngest brother look up expectantly, “Doughn’t do that again,” he teased, purposely mispronouncing the first word.

The floury glob hit a surprised Adam squarely in the face. Another caught Hoss unaware as well.

By the time Ben returned home late that afternoon, he was pleased to see that the repairs to the roof were finished. The boys had done an admirable job, even to the point of repairing another spot in the kitchen roof. When Hop Sing announced that supper was ready, Ben was a little surprised to see that Joe was moving stiffly.

“What’s the matter Joe? Don’t tell me that work on the roof was a little hard on you?” Ben asked, a conciliatory hand reaching to a stiff back to blunt the edge of his words.

Before Joe could answer, Adam piped up as he slipped into his place at the table. “Joe was in charge of finding all the places that needed fixing. And you know our little brother here! He really put himself into his work.”

Hoss chuckled and added, “Yep, Pa, you could say he really threw himself into it!”

Ben raised his brows in surprise at the joviality around the table that night even though he thought it was a bit forced on Joe’s part. What he couldn’t understand was why there was no bread on the table.

 

Friday

“When I was coming back from town yesterday, I saw that the spring down by Washoe Road looked way down. I can’t imagine that stretch of water going dry.” Ben commented.

“It’s been rather hot lately, Pa,” Hoss piped up, laying into the apple pie that was the lunchtime dessert.

“I know that! It’s just that that spring never goes dry. Even in the worst droughts. No, I think you boys need to check back upstream. See if there isn’t a problem.” Ben picked up his cup of coffee and headed back to his study, leaving his sons at the table. The three of them studied one another closely, each eyeing the other two with cold and calculating stares. What their father had proposed was not a three-man job. One man could easily check it out and report back. That would leave the other two to a Friday afternoon to do as they saw fit. For Adam, he considered a quick trip to check the progress on the building of the new sawmill. For Joe, it was the denied trip into Virginia City. And for Hoss, there was a fishing spot that he had seen earlier in the week when they had been bringing in wood that he longed to sink a line into.

“Draw straws?” Adam suggested, keeping his voice low enough that their father couldn’t hear.

“Not with you breaking the straws! I still remember last time!” Hoss hissed. Adam merely blinked twice. He thought it had been a great idea. All of the straws had been the same length as he held them in his hand. He had allowed his brothers to draw first, keeping the last in his hand that he was able to snap very short while they were looking at their own. It would have succeeded but the extra length had slipped from his grasp and fluttered to Joe’s feet. And it had not gone un-noticed.

“Burn matches?” Joe suggested.

“I done caught on to you fella gettin’ the stick wet aforehand. I say we arm wrestle!” Hoss’ jaw thrust out a good half-inch and his eyes narrowed.

Ben could see from his study that his sons hadn’t made a move so he gave them another prod. What are they discussing? He mulled, his mouth twisting to the side as he considered a line of figures that wasn’t coming up with the same number twice. “If all three of you go, I am sure that you can fix whatever the problem is and still have time to get into Virginia City for a while. If that’s what you had in mind for a warm Friday afternoon,” Ben spoke lightly but his sons heard the underlying command.

“We’re on our way, Pa,” Joe replied briskly and grabbed at Adam’s arm to haul him off too. Adam shot Hoss a look that told the big man just how long he thought it would take him to follow.

Ben smiled as the boys clattered out the front door. To him it was a happy sound, that bustle of activity that said his sons were going out to work. Too bad he couldn’t see the black looks they gave one another as they donned hats and gunbelts. And when the door slammed behind them, he smiled even broader at the shout that he knew came from Joseph. Once again it was too bad that he had missed the fact that his brothers were intent on doing a little bodily harm to the youngster for his enthusiasm. My goodness but they are in high spirits today, he thought and went blissfully back to his numbers.

The chase ended at the juncture of the Washoe road and the small stream that usually bubbled beneath the bridge there. Joe had pulled Cochise to a halt and was studying the small trickle of water in the center of the now drying streambed. The water he dipped his hand into was lukewarm and as he stood up, he looked back up stream.

“Don’t understand it. This is a mountain-snow-fed stream. The water runs clear up to the banks all year. And its usually cold to boot,” Joe informed his brothers as he swung back into the saddle.

“Fine, ” Adam spat the single word out like it tasted bad. “You go ride upstream and find out what the problem is, fix it and be home by midnight tonight. Hoss and I have other plans.” Before he could pull Sport’s head around to return to the road and his plans of an easy ride to the new sawmill, Joe put Cochise right in his path.

“You heard Pa. He sent all three of us,” Joe replied.

“Joe do have that right, Adam. ‘Sides we can either do it now or later and ain’t you the one that’s always saying don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today?” Hoss shifted in the saddle as he spoke.

“Fine,” Adam said the same word the same way. “You two go fix whatever it is. I have something else I want to -”

Before he could finish his sentence, Joe had leaned over and pulled Adam’s hat off his head and with a quick jab to Cochise’s sides, was tearing upstream. Adam muttered darkly under his breath about what he was going to do to a younger brother and shoved Sport after the quickly dwindling form of the pinto. Hoss just sat there chuckling. They hadn’t played this game in a long time, years to be exact. Ever since Joe had gotten Cochise and could outrun them all, the fun had kind of petered out of the game. But maybe not today. Hoss knew there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell that he and Chubb could catch either one of them but he could watch. He nudged his big black horse into an easy canter to follow them.

Hoss could hear them long before he could see them. The caterwauling had to have come from Joe since the pitch was considerably higher than what Adam’s baritone could reach. Sure enough, as Hoss rounded that last bend, just a ways up from a little bridge they seldom used, he could see Adam but Joe was not to be seen. Hoss pulled up beside the grazing Sport and dismounted to amble down to where Adam stood on the bank. It was about that time that Joe’s head emerged from the pond in front of them.

“That’ll teach you!” Adam shouted but he was clearly winded. Leaning over and resting his hands on his knees he surveyed the damage done to the knee of his jeans. Not bad, a little tear but Hop Sing can fix that. But my shirt, and he pulled at it, is gonna take more than buttons sewn back on.

“Who won?” Hoss asked, mainly because he couldn’t see Adam’s hat any where close by.

“I think it’s a draw. Junior there, when I threw him into the pond, still had my hat in his hand,” groused Adam, getting his wind back finally.

Out in the knee-deep water, Joe pushed his wet hair out of his face, then looked down at the rest of himself. While he liked the color green, the green slime that was currently clinging to him had a rather pungent odor to it as well as an uncomfortable slipperiness. He looked around, hoping to catch sight of his hat, if not Adam’s as well, but they had apparently sunk. Joe shuddered. He was going to have to reach around in the mud and gunk at the bottom of the pond for their hats. For a moment, he considered just getting another one. But that idea he had to dump quickly. Adam would want his back and the offer of purchasing a new one, Joe was sure, wouldn’t appease Adam one whit! No, Adam would insist on the original being returned. The same one. Forget about the fact that it wouldn’t be wearable! The same one. Then Adam would demand that Joe buy him a new one. Joe groaned. Slowly, he slogged out of the pond, the deep mud making his going slow as it tried to pull his boots off. He was still a ways from the edge when he decided to remove them. He plopped himself down in the water and pulled them off. Behind him he could hear Adam and Hoss whooping and hollering and laughing like banshees. None of it improved his bruised ego’s condition.

With a boot in either hand, Joe finally made it to the bank. Hoss and Adam continued their laughing, albeit from a short distance up-wind of him.

“Well, at least we found out what the problem was,” Adam explained, gesturing at the large blockage in the stream.

“Beavers from the looks of it,” Hoss said, his concern more apparent for the beavers than the stream.

“Yeah, looks like they used some downed trees already there and kind of took advantage of things. Well, you know we have to tear it down, Hoss, so don’t go getting any ideas about saving them. Or their den! Joe, why don’t you swim back out there and see how deep the water is in the middle. That’ll tell us how hard it’s gonna be to pull down the dam.”

“Why don’t you go?” Joe lashed out.

“Because you are already wet!” both older brothers hooted, slapping one another as they began to laugh again. Joe certainly was a sight to behold.

“Well, I can remedy that!”

In the end, all three were wet but Joe was the one to go back into the water. The depth at the center of the stagnant pond was just a little less than waist deep on Joe. By Adam’s calculations, that meant that the beaver dam was probably too big to be easily pulled apart and too small to be blown apart by dynamite. It would have to be dismantled.

If Joe had thought the smell of the water was bad to begin with, by the time mid-afternoon rolled around, he considered it to be horrendous. But at least he wasn’t the only one coated with slime and mud from head to foot. Adam as well had been forced to enter the water when the demolition got underway. The tangle of branches, so closely interwoven, also was proving to be tricky underfoot. More than once, each of them had slipped and taken an unexpected dunking. And the branches had snagged at their clothing, ripping and tearing fabric then scraping skin.

Hoss and Chubb had just pulled another large branch from the stream when it happened. He later regretted that he had missed it while it was occurring but said that the first few moments afterward were rewarding enough. The branch he had been towing out had caught momentarily on another. That other one had proven to be the lynchpin holding the remainder of the dam together. With it moved ever so slightly, the bulk began to give way, tearing itself apart. Both Adam and Joe had been standing on the dome of the den when it began to move and shift. The mass under their feet shifted, allowing both men to plunge downward. Unfortunately, they only went as far as human anatomy would allow.

Even from the ten feet or so that he was away, Hoss could see all of the whites in Joe’s eyes, they were open so wide. And poor Adam was grabbing at anything he could put his hands on as the log he was astride of shifted and headed downstream with the now freed water. The only thing he could grab happened to be his big-eyed brother. Together, they headed out, screaming unintelligibly. Joe must have thought that Adam was attacking him since his arms began waving frantically. In actuality, Adam had seen the side of the oncoming bridge and was trying to keep from getting hit with it.

Hoss had turned loose of his rope and threw Chubb into a flat run in the direction his screaming brothers were now headed. He lost sight of them when the trail dipped inland but saw them again at the bridge. There they clung to the side, a pair of sopping wet, slime and mud encrusted miserable human beings. Mindful that the bridge might not hold all of his weight and his horse’s, Hoss dismounted and walked carefully out to where he could lean over and haul his brothers to safety.

Once back on dry ground, both Adam and Joe were still bug-eyed in a very personal agony. Hoss tried to be solicitous but he was having a hard time keeping from laughing as he instructed them to cough. “It’ll move things back down.”

“That far? I think my balls are about up to my ears,” Joe moaned and flopped back into the grass.

“You must have hit harder. Mine stopped about my tonsils but they may have collided with my heart when I saw the side of the bridge coming at me!” groaned Adam and followed Joe into the grass.

“You saw the bridge before we hit it? I didn’t! Couldn’t see it for all the stars in my way!”

“Well, I tried to tell you, Joe, but you had your hand over my mouth.”

“Is that how my finger got bit?”

Hoss, unable to contain himself much longer, gave each a consoling pat to the back and said he was going after the horses. Once he got out of sight, he had to stop. Leaning against a tree, he laughed until tears ran down his face. He wiped his face dry, berating himself for laughing at what was obviously a very painful experience. But then the sight of the two of them floating downstream caught up to him again and he began laughing all over again.

“The stream is back to flowing good,” expounded the big man as he handed Adam and Joe the reins to their mounts. “You know a good cold beer sounds like a real good idea right about now. How about it, fellas? We got time to get into town, get us a few and be home in time for supper, don’t ya think?”

Ah, both Adam and Joe thought at the same time, the long sought after trip to town just at their fingertips. The duo grimaced though. They were filthy and stank royally. Their clothing was torn and disheveled. Neither wanted to go into Virginia City looking like they did but at the same time, they didn’t want to be left out if Hoss went.

Seeing the look his brothers shared, Hoss quickly mounted and moved his horse away from them. He tipped his hat in their general direction, a gap-toothed smile plastered on his round face. “I’ll tell all the purty gals that you was askin’ for ’em,” he teased then made a hasty retreat.

“So help me, I am gonna get him good,” seethed Joe, his grimy hands planted firmly on damp, grungy hips.

“Wait in line. There’s enough of him that there should be something left when I get through,” Adam also threatened, watching the retreating form. “First off, though, I want a bath.”

“No, first we got to get home.” They eyed their saddles. “Think I’ll walk home,” Joe allowed and Adam fell in beside him as they gingerly started down the road towards home.

Ben handed Buck off to a hand to put away when he arrived home after checking out the new sawmill. He sniffed the air and smiled when he realized Hop Sing was preparing pork roast for supper. He strolled on into the house and put away his hat and gunbelt, noting that although their guns were there on the credenza, neither Adam’s nor Joe’s hats were hanging on the pegs there by the door. Figuring they were out somewhere, perhaps doing chores, he shrugged and went around into the kitchen to speak with Hop Sing about supper.

He was surprised to find his sons in the kitchen. “What’s going on here? Where’s Hop Sing?”

A broad smile graced both faces that turned to greet Ben. Joe piped up with the explanation. “We gave Hop Sing the night off! That is after he got supper started.”

“Oh? Just what is for supper?” Ben cautiously asked.

“Revenge.”

Ben shook his head and left the kitchen more confused than he had been in a long time. But ages ago, he had learned to let sleeping dogs lie, so he wouldn’t disturb the peace between his eldest and youngest. He did wonder where Hoss was. It wasn’t like him to miss a meal. And from the looks of things in the kitchen that he had just seen, if Hoss didn’t get there fast, he certainly would.

When Hoss finally did return that evening with tales to regale his family of things happening in town, he could smell the roast pork all the way out in the barn. Salivating, for it was one of his favorite meals, he bounded into the house only to find Joe cleaning the table off. Adam sat over by the fireplace with a satisfied grin on his face as he greeted his brother.

“Gee, Hoss,” he crooned, “We waited supper as long as we could but that roast was getting real dry so we went ahead and ate. Sorry.”

“Dagnabit!” Hoss snapped his fingers in frustration and aimed his bulk to the kitchen in search of something to eat. Hop Sing would have saved something for him, he was sure! But instead of Hop Sing in the kitchen, he found a grinning baby brother.

“But I am sure we can find something for you,” came Adam’s smooth baritone from behind him. “Joe, why don’t you fix poor Hoss here a sandwich? A cheese sandwich.” By the time he had finished, he had Hoss pushed completely into the kitchen.

“I hate cheese!” Hoss protested but one glance around the kitchen showed him nothing else out.

“Too bad, big brother. But it’s either that or pie.”

Hoss brightened at the last word.

“Humble pie.” Adam finished and Hoss gulped, realizing his goose was cooked.

When Hoss stomped out of the kitchen, muttering darkly, Ben looked up from his paper. He started to say something, to ask what the problem was but changed his mind when Hoss clomped up the stairs without a backward glance. Hoss didn’t even seem to hear the sound of his brothers’ laughter from the kitchen.

 

Saturday

“I don’t know about you fellas, but I plan to get this job out of the way as quick as possible today,” Hoss said, driving the points of the pitchfork in his hand into the dirt at his feet with enough force to make both of his brothers involuntarily back up a step. He had just descended from the hayloft where he had been pitching down some fresh supplies for the horses, but it was obvious that the energetic job he had been doing had not cooled his temper off one bit. The skimpy dinner he had made do with the night before had a lot to do with it as well.

“You won’t get any argument from me,” Joe agreed, grabbing two water buckets and tossing the contents out into the yard so hard that he looked as though he were hoping the dirty water would fly all the way to the front porch. “Pa’s idea of making us work together this week has been nothing but trouble.”

“You can say that again,” Adam sneered, shaking his head at the two of them from his place leaning against the end of an empty stall wall. “We’re lucky we managed to keep him from catching on to what’s really been happening this week. If he knew how much you two have been goofing off and causing trouble, he’d probably force us to serve a whole month, just for spite.”

“You don’t have to make it sound like prison, you know,” Joe said hotly. “And what do you mean? The way we’ve been goofing off? We’ve been working just as hard as you have, Adam, if not harder. You just didn’t notice because you spent so much time standing around jawin’ about how much better you could be doing everything, while Hoss and I actually did the work!”

“That’ll be the day!” snorted Adam. “Why, I probably do more work in a single day just by maintaining a steady effort until the job is done than you could do in a week! Look at the way you skip from chore to chore, always doing everything with a lick and a promise.”

“All right, that’s enough,” Hoss bellowed, collaring both of his brothers and holding them at arms’ length apart as they started to advance on each other yet again. With little more effort than a flick of his trunk-like wrist, he tossed Joe to one side where he landed in the freshly forked pile of hay. “Get to fillin’ them mangers, boy. The horses ain’t gonna wait all day just ’cause you’re feeling ornery.”

Lip jutting out just a hair, giving him the appearance of a temperamental ten-year-old as he pulled bits of golden chaff from his curly hair, Joe pointed an accusing finger at the wolfishly grinning Adam. “What about him?”

Sighing disgustedly, Hoss caught up the handle of a hay rake and pressed it into Adam’s hands, giving him a none too gentle shove toward the line of waiting stalls. “Adam is gonna be busy takin’ care of the other end of things.” The stern tone of Hoss’ voice and the way his lantern jaw was hardening caused the mouth Adam had just opened in protest to shut again without uttering a word.

Chortling, Joe pointed to a pile of fresh droppings Chubb had just placed at Adam’s boots. “Looks like we’re gonna get to see how much faster you do your work after all, Adam.”

Grunting a response that brought a duo of wicked grins to his younger brothers’ faces, Adam turned his back on them both and began his pungent chore.

Hoss, hands planted firmly at his beltline, watched to make sure his brothers were going about their tasks. He was just as tired of working with them as they were of working with one another. He let the thought roll once around his head about asking his father if they didn’t need a little more venison. He grimaced, knowing his father would probably say ‘no’ and then ask why Hoss wanted to go on another hunting trip so soon. Adam had been right; it was a miracle that Pa hadn’t caught onto the fact that they were having a hard time getting along. Usually when Pa figured they were fighting, there would be a good long talking to the parties involved. But this week, as far as Hoss knew, Pa hadn’t taken either of them aside for a heart-to-heart discussion. Pa couldn’t be that blind and deaf, could he? Hoss scratched his head and turned to his chores that morning.

He had just finished inspecting Buck’s hooves when he heard the rumble of another feud begin. Hoss chose not to look over the edge of the box stall. He figured if he had that he would have to take sides. Again.

“Would you watch where you’re pitchin’?” Joe yelped.

“I don’t know what your problem is, little brother. It does belong to your horse. Or I guess I should say that it did belong to your horse. Looks like it’s yours now. And you wear it so well.” Adam’s voice had a peculiar oily tone to it.

“That cuts it! I don’t care where-” Joe shouted but the rest of his words were so muffled Hoss couldn’t understand them.

The sound of feet scuffling, grunts and bodies hitting the sides of the stalls finally made Hoss stand up straight and look over the edge of the stall. He shook his head sadly. The two of them were going at it, walloping away on each other for all they were worth. This time, there would be no slipping off the roof to stop them. No cold stagnant water to douse the heat. No wood to throw at the other and whittle down on hot tempers. Nope, none of that. Hoss sighed. He figured that he had two choices: put a stop to them like he had done the day they were fencing or just let them thrash it out. If he let them thrash it out, the noise they were creating would ultimately draw Pa’s attention. And Pa would wonder why Hoss hadn’t stopped them, earning himself an earful as well as them. But Hoss, watching as Adam tried to grab a slippery dung-covered Joe arm, also remembered that this week he had been on the receiving end of his brothers’ attitude as well. He recalled the teasing about the chickens and rubbed his belly, still not full enough considering the missed meal of the night before. Nope, you two are just gonna have to sort this one out on your own, he thought and would have turned his back on them but for what happened next.

Joe later claimed that he really was aiming for Adam’s jaw and that he was not at fault. How could it have been his fault when Adam had jerked his head aside to keep from having his jaw bashed? But Adam had moved so it was his fault that Joe’s solid right, propelled by the force of his falling body, slammed into Hoss’ chin.

For a single heartbeat, everything in the barn went still. Joe’s eyes went to the size of dinner plates. Adam, when he had turned his head to miss Joe’s punch, saw the fist connect. And Hoss rocked back half a step. Slowly, the big man rubbed his palm over his chin and eyed the two now-frozen combatants.

“Dadburnit!” Hoss hissed, “I have had it with you two! If you ain’t fightin’ with yourselves, you’re fightin’ with me. Well, I ain’t gonna take no more of it. Ya hear?”

Hoss rounded the corner of the stall, picking up a length of rope hanging there as he did. Now released from their fear-induced catatonic state, both Adam and Joe tried to move away from the bulk pressing down on them. They could see Hoss’ nostrils flare and the burning in his eyes. Joe gulped once and tried to find his voice, thinking that perhaps if he added his plea to the ones he heard from Adam that Hoss wouldn’t hurt them. By placing Joe’s body in front on him, Adam pleaded for Hoss to settle down and prayed that by the time Hoss got through with Joe that he could be safely in the house.

Half an hour later, Hoss left the barn for a mid-morning snack. He had finished his chores and graciously completed his brothers’ as well. He had done so since he figured they couldn’t, tied up like they were. As he ambled across the yard, headed for the kitchen and the donuts he could smell Hop Sing was making, he wondered how long it would be before their father missed Adam and Joe and went looking for them. Or would the two of them work loose on their own? Hoss figured it was a fifty-fifty deal.

Behind him in the barn, Hoss had left Joe and Adam bound back to back while half perched on a nail keg. He had used their own bandannas to gag them so their pleas for help would go unheard. The rope wasn’t tight enough to hurt them but it was tight enough to hold them for a while. If they worked together for once, Hoss figured they would be able to free themselves but it would take a while. And that would be long enough for his own brand of revenge.

“Oh Hoss, you finished in the barn?” Ben asked, catching Hoss as the big man snagged a still-warm donut while Hop Sing’s back was turned.

“Yes sir, everything is all done. I was thinking about goin’ and doin’ some fishin’ this afternoon. That is iffen you can’t think of nothin’ else that needs doin’.”

Ben poured himself another cup of coffee. “Only if you promise to bring back a couple of nice trout for supper.”

Hoss grinned with delight, grabbing another donut. “Thanks Pa. I’ll get to that little chore right away!”

“Speaking of which, Adam and Joe finished?” Ben’s eyebrows raised as he sipped his coffee.

“Yes sir, their chores are done too but they’re tied up at the moment. I’m sure they’ll be in soon,” beguiled Hoss, almost chuckling out loud.

“Good. You boys have worked real hard this week and I am proud of you. I think an afternoon off is going to do you all a lot of good.”

Patting his father’s arm, Hoss had a hard time keeping a straight face. “I’ll tell them they got the rest of the day off when I see ’em, Pa. I ‘magine though that they’re gonna be busy for most of the afternoon. Keep the frying pan warm, Hop Sing. I’ll be back ‘fore you know it.”

 

Sunday

 

“Since we have all these youngsters with us today, I thought that today’s sermon might be something they would enjoy as well,” the good reverend was explaining the next morning. Ben smiled at the two rows of children from the local orphanage lined up in the front pews, their faces scrubbed until they shone like bright pennies and dressed in their Sunday best. There was a little boy sitting there that reminded him of Adam at that age, so somber and serious the child was, his elbows resting on his knees as the child leaned forward to catch every word the preacher was saying. “But still it is a lesson that we adults need to consider as well. It comes from the book of Genesis, and starts in chapter fifty. But instead of reading it, let me just sit here,” and the reverend came from behind the pulpit and sat on the steps, “and tell you the story.”

If nothing else, the reverend was a good story-teller, weaving the tale of how Jacob’s older sons sold their brother Joseph into slavery because they were jealous of him and particularly so after their father had given him a coat of many colors. The children and the rest of the congregation as well listen with rapt attention as he told of how Joseph found favor with the Pharaoh after he was taken to Egypt, ending up as a high placed official. Then a famine came to the land but Joseph had listened to God and there was enough to eat. When his family came to Egypt, hungry and looking for help, it was a big surprise for them that they found their brother there. But he helped them and they became a happy family again.

“So what do you think God was trying to teach us with this story?” the clergyman asked, his question directed to the children.

Sitting down the pew from his father and brother, Adam buried his smile in his hand. Beside him he could feel Hoss’ shoulder move as the big man leaned enough to whisper into his brother’s ear.

“Make sure,” Hoss whispered very softly, “that when you sell your brother, you don’t sell him to anybody headed to Egypt.”

Adam had to close his eyes tight and twist his head to the side. He wanted to laugh so badly but knew that to do so would bring their father’s wrath down around his head. But he also knew he had an answer to the question as well. “No,” he whispered so only Hoss could hear him, “Make sure you get enough for him that you can move a long ways away.”

Ben, sitting on the end of the pew, felt more than heard something going on at the other end and leaned forward to see passed Joe. By that time, however, Adam and Hoss both had their chins buried in their hands. He caught Adam’s eye and gave him a stern look of reproach. He couldn’t for the life of him understand what those two, Adam especially, found so amusing about this morning’s sermon.

“Yes John Robert, what do you think God is telling us?” the reverend asked the solemn little boy Ben had studied earlier.

“That when you get jealous of someone, it can make you do awful things to that person,” the young lad spoke up, his voice full of certainty.

“That’s very good,” the reverend responded then nodded to a young girl of maybe ten years. “What do you think, Melinda?”

“When God wants you to prosper and you follow His Orders, you will no matter what.” A murmur went through the congregation and heads nodded in agreement.

“That’s also very good. How about from some of you adults? What message is God giving us with this story?”

There was a shifting of feet as the adults there suddenly found their seats uncomfortable. It was finally Abigail Jones, the schoolteacher, who spoke up. “When we do something wrong, like Joseph’s brothers did, we should be sorry, confess and ask for forgiveness.”

The reverend had risen to his feet and returned to his place behind the pulpit as Miss Jones had spoken. When she had finished, he grasped each side of it and surveyed the flock gathered before him.

“And when those who have wronged you ask for your forgiveness, we should do so quickly. Then show them kindness,” a bristled-faced man Ben didn’t know spoke up.

“Any thing else?” the reverend asked. Even though he was truly pleased with the replies he had gotten both from the children and the adults gathered there, there was another he sought. And it was one that he thought was far more important. He let his gaze sweep across the upturned faces, searching for the one who had the answer. Then he saw a curious thing happen. In the pew that held the Cartwright family, the three brothers all made eye contact with one another. The eldest son scratched his brow and the biggest one, Hoss, flicked both hands palm up to the other two. The youngest one, sitting beside their father, leaned back and seemed to find his hands of great interest. But then all three of them smiled and turned again to study each other.

Adam realized that it was up to him as the eldest to speak. He took a deep breath and his smile broadened. “I think the most important lesson in that story, reverend, is that brothers, and sisters, should love one another and only do for them what is good and right.”

“Yes!” the reverend smacked the pulpit before him. “If we take nothing else from the story of Joseph, it should be that family, not just brothers and or sisters, but the family as a whole, should love and care for one another. Just like our Heavenly Father cares for us, His children.”

There was a little more to the sermon but it was lost on Ben Cartwright. He couldn’t understand why it suddenly felt like a dark cloud had passed, leaving him sitting in bright sunlight. Looking down the pew at his sons, something seemed to have changed. No longer were they sitting as far apart from one another as they could. Adam even had one arm draped over the back of the pew behind Joe, his fingers touching his brother’s shoulder. And Hoss was leaning so far over towards Adam that their shoulders were rubbing. When it came time to stand and sing the final hymn, Joe and Adam shared the same hymnal.

Once the service was over, Ben was surprised to find himself alone in the churchyard. Usually at least one of the boys stayed beside him, usually Joseph so he could watch the young ladies leaving. But this bright summer morning, he could see that the three of them were over by the horses and obviously in deep discussion about something. Taking his leave of the reverend, Ben walked towards his sons, hoping to catch a bit of the conversation.

“Well, I’ll go first,” Joe said, his thumbs hooked in the back of his belt. “We had a miserable week and it was mostly because of my attitude. I’m sorry guys.”

“We did have a rough one at that, didn’t we? And I know that my laughin’ at you guys the other day weren’t right. And I shouldn’t have tied you up like that. I’m sorry too.” Hoss kicked the clump of grass at his toe.

“We deserved it, Joe and I did. I mean after all, we teased you about blowing up the chicken coop and then ate up all that roast pork from you. And Joe, turned out you were right about our feet being tied together, even though I am not sure my chest will ever feel the same again after we both landed on it. I’m sorry guys.”

“Heads up, Pa’s coming,” Joe warned just as Ben got close enough to hear them.

“Well, that was a real fine sermon this morning, wasn’t it?” their father asked, knowing he had just missed something important. For now, he would let it slide. He would find out later, he was sure.

As one, his sons looked to one another then mounted their horses. There were muttered assents to his question so he pressed for more of an answer as he mounted Buck for the ride home.

“Well, Pa, it’s like this: I figured we couldn’t get much for our Joseph so we might as well keep him!” Adam teased, edging Sport up on the other side of Joe and Cochise.

“That’s probably right, Adam,” Joe agreed then grinned cheekily, looking over his shoulder to Hoss bringing up the rear with their father. “We could get more for Hoss!”

“All right, now, that’s enough of that sort of talk,” Ben warned then continued, “But what I can’t understand is how a father, as good and kind and loving a father as Jacob was, could miss the fact that his sons were so much at odds with one another!”

There were a few panicky heartbeats as Joe and Adam traded wide-eyed looks at one another. A quick glance over his shoulder showed Adam that Hoss had dropped back some so their father couldn’t see the bemused expression on his face. Adam reined Sport back and settled beside his father. With a lopsided grin, Adam drawled “I wouldn’t worry about it, Pa. It happens in the best of families. Granted, not in this one, of course.”

As the house settled down to sleep that night, Ben Cartwright dropped wearily into bed as well. A human being doesn’t deserve such peace, he thought. And yes, I will miss the boys next week. But the line camps have to be stocked up. Wonder why they decided to split up to do the job though?

 

The end of Lesson Two

Next Story in The Art of Parenting Trilogy:

Lesson Three

 

Tags:  Family

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Author: Tahoe Ladies

Many of you may remember a group of writers called the Tahoe Ladies who wrote some of the most emotive Cartwright related fan-fiction to date. Unfortunately for a number of reasons, their site containing all their work was lost a couple of years ago, leaving the bulk of their stories, as far as we know, only on one other Bonanza site. Sadly two of these ladies are also no longer with us, but one of the remaining Tahoe Ladies has kindly granted us permission and given us her blessing to add over 60 of their stories to our Fan Fiction Library. For those of you not familiar with the stories by the Tahoe Ladies…their fan fiction was sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes heart-warming. In other words you won’t be disappointed. The Brandsters are honoured and proud to be able to share the work of these extraordinary women with you in the Bonanza Brand Fan Fiction Library.

3 thoughts on “The Art of Parenting: Lesson Two (by the Tahoe Ladies)

  1. Speaking from experience, sometimes its better that the parent doesn’t know how the assigned work is getting done.

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