Summary: Adam and Hoss find themselves in a tricky situation. Who can be to blame? Watch out, Joe!
Rated: K+ WC 4300
Caught in a Mouse Trap
Monday After the Dance
Joe was in trouble and he knew it. The first time his head submerged under the water he instinctively held his breath, but the second time took him by surprise and he struggled to draw air into his lungs as the murky water seeped through his clothes, clouded his vision and sent panic through his brain.
It seemed like an eternity before his head finally broke the surface once more and his arms flayed in all directions as he tried to find something to grab hold of before he sank for the third time. The feeling of drowning is not a pleasant experience and Joe fought with every fibre of his being to stay afloat, but the respite between the second and third sinking was short lived and he didn’t even have time to cry out before he was plummeting underneath the water for perhaps the last time.
Just when he thought he couldn’t take anymore, Joe felt a hand grab his jacket collar and he was unceremoniously yanked out of the water. Spluttering and coughing Joe wheezed noisily as he fought to inhale the air he had been so painfully denied.
Looking up at his saviour he was surprised to see his eldest brother before him. “T-t-t-thanks Adam” he finally managed to utter. It wasn’t a particularly cold day, but nevertheless Joe’s teeth began to chatter and his slight frame gave him the appearance of a drowned rat.
“What’s going on?” Adam demanded, surveying his youngest brother with more than a little concern.
Just then Hoss stepped forward, “Well you see Adam……”
Adam snapped his fingers in Hoss’s direction cutting him off in mid-sentence, “Not you….. HIM. You will get your turn; I want to hear what Joe’s got to say first.” Adam’s morning had been taxing to say the least, nothing so far had gone right, and his brothers’ nonsense was just enough to push him over the edge.
Joe started to shiver and he looked with pleading at his brother. “I’ve b-b-been half drowned Adam” he stammered. “C-c-couldn’t this wait until I’ve dried off?”
“Explanation first Joe” Adam replied heartlessly, leaning back slightly and crossing his arms in front of him. If truth be known Adam just wanted to get this out the way so he could clean up, eat supper and relax with a good book.
Joe was still knee deep in water and much as he wanted to go home, the look on Adam’s face convinced him he was best advised to stay put. Biting on his bottom lip and weighing up the consequences of what he was about to say, Joe began slowly.
“Wwwell Hoss and I were just discussing the dance last Saturday night.”
“Yeah little brother, just tell Adam all about the dance” Hoss chimed in menacingly.
At the mention of the dance, Adam’s countenance changed, his posture stiffened and he gave Joe his full attention. Joe felt his heart sink as he steeled a quick look at his eldest brother’s face and noted the tightening of the mouth and furrowing of the brow. This did not bode well for his health.
Saturday – The day of the dance
Joe had looked so forward to the dance on Saturday night. He had a date with his new girlfriend Mandy and was full of expectation. Mandy was a girl who liked to have fun and Joe was sure he would have no trouble persuading her to take a walk in the moonlight for a quick kiss and cuddle when they were alone. In fact if he judged right, there would be no need for persuasion, Mandy would probably be dragging him outside.
Adam and Hoss were away from the ranch and on leaving the previous Monday they had not foreseen being home any time before the following Sunday. Joe smiled to himself; with the ‘maiden aunts’ out of the way he did not envisage any obstacles to his plans.
It was early afternoon on Saturday when Joe rode into the yard after a busy morning riding fence. He was in a good mood and whistled as he led Cochise into the barn for a rub down. Stopping in his tracks he surveyed the stalls in front of him with dismay. Inside were Chubb and Sport happily munching on a bag of oats – his brothers were home! Much as he would be happy to see them; after all they had been gone for almost a week (and a week alone under his father’s ever watchful eye could be trying at the best of times), he could perceive his plans for the evening being thwarted. Joe could only pray that his brothers would be so tired after their long journey they would be in need of an early night. No such luck.
Just as Joe could have predicted, Hoss and Adam decided to join him on his trip into town and, as there was no time to make arrangements, they would be attending without partners, therefore, able to give Joe and his ‘date’ their undivided attention.
“Just as well we returned when we did” Adam said, winking at his father “if Joe has a date with Mandy Mason this evening, who knows where it could lead to. I can see you and I have our work cut out tonight Hoss; that Mandy is quite a girl!”
Hoss and Adam ribbed Joe all the way into Virginia City, leaving Joe under no illusions as to how he could expect the evening to progress. The chances of him having any time alone with Mandy were looking less and less. As they cantered along Joe decided he would need to come up with a contingency plan. In the fading light it was lucky for Joe that his brothers’ could not read his mind or see the gleam in his eyes, or they may have been tempted to hog-tie him to his horse and take him straight back home again.
Mandy was obviously delighted to see Joe when he entered the dance hall, but her sunny smile turned down a little when Hoss and Adam followed him through the door. After giving Joe a quick peck on the cheek she whispered in his ear,
“Where did your chaperones come from, I thought they were away this weekend?”
“So did I” Joe whispered back, before taking Mandy by the hand and walking a short distance from his brothers. Joe surveyed the room forlornly, his night of freedom slipping further and further away, but that was before his eyes rested on two individuals in the corner. Oh boy, things were looking up, salvation was in sight and the answer to his prayers might just have materialised.
Taking Mandy in his arms, Joe didn’t give her a chance to refuse before he tugged her onto the dance floor and manoeuvred her to the other side of the room. Once out of sight of his brothers, Joe pulled Mandy to one side and began whispering furiously into her ear. As his plan unfolded a large grin spread over the girl’s face and she clapped her hands in glee at the mischief they were about to put into action.
A couple of dances later and Joe deliberately sat Mandy down next to the Mouse sisters. Never were two women more inappropriately named. Mildred and Jemima Mouse were two of the biggest, brawest women ever to set foot in Virginia City. Even their voices were a deception; if a man closed his eyes he could be fooled into believing that he was speaking to an angel, when in truth they were two of the most malicious women that God or the Devil ever created.
After putting the first part of his plan into action, Joe quickly excused himself from the women and made his exit on the pretext of securing himself and Mandy a glass of punch. More importantly he did not want his brothers to suspect that he had in any way conversed with the two ladies.
Mandy smiled at the sisters sweetly, only her dancing eyes gave any indication that something was afoot. Mildred eyed the blonde, petite beauty sitting next to her with disdain. As far as the Mouse sisters were concerned, Mandy’s slim figure gave her the look of a bag of bones in need of a good meal. Glancing at each other and then back at the girl, the sisters ran their hands over their ample figures and raised their heads with an air of superiority. They were convinced that a man liked a woman with ‘meat on her bones’ and, if that were true, in their case no man could ever be disappointed.
“Aren’t you with the young Cartwright boy?” questioned Jemima.
“That’s right; Little Joe” Mandy replied.
“Hmm” Mildred mused, “a handsome enough lad, but awful skinny. Certainly doesn’t have the presence of his older brothers. Hoss especially is a fine figure of a man.”
Mandy suppressed her giggle. This was going to be a piece of cake; the sisters already had their eyes on the older Cartwright brothers.
“Well it’s funny you should say that Mildred, cause I know Hoss has commented to Little Joe on more than one occasion how attractive he finds you, and likewise Adam is quite smitten with Jemima.”
Mildred and Jemima were suddenly all ears. “I would never have guessed” Jemima stated in her high pitched girlish voice.
“You know men” Mandy continued with a shrug of her shoulders, “sometimes they can be quite shy about taking the initiative.”
The sisters traded a shrewd look; the Cartwright boys were quite a catch and they had set their sights on them long ago, but so far they had not received any encouragement. Adam especially had never been short of partners when attending any social gathering.
“You surprise me Mandy. I never thought of Adam Cartwright as shy” Jemima piped up. “And he certainly doesn’t seem to lack for female company from what I have seen.”
“Oh that’s all pretence” Mandy soothed. “Both brothers have made it perfectly clear that when it comes to settling down, most of the girls in town would not be considered a suitable partner for them, if you know what I mean. In fact just recently I heard Adam comment to Hoss that he thought the Mouse sisters were such fine women. Now you couldn’t get a better recommendation than that.”
The Mouse sisters positively beamed. They too thought that most of the women in Virginia City were sadly lacking, but on the other hand they had no false modesty about their own natural charms.
“Did Adam and Hoss escort anyone to the dance this evening?” Mildred asked dreamily, already imagining herself in a white flowing wedding dress and veil.
“No they didn’t, they came alone and, as it happens, both of them are over by the punchbowl now” Mandy whispered. “Why don’t you go over and introduce yourselves. They will be so delighted. Don’t be put off if they act coy, like I say, underneath both boys are really quite shy.”
Adam, Hoss and Joe were stood together surveying the room in front of them. Hoss dug his elbow into his youngest brother’s ribs, “Hey, how come your not dancing, Little Joe? Mandy got tired of you already.”
Joe gave Hoss a confident smile. “As if that’s likely to happen big brother,” he replied cockily. “I just came to get us some punch that’s all.”
“Well just go easy on the punch Joe” Adam warned, “Pa won’t like it if we have to carry you home.”
Joe smiled sweetly “Okay Adam, I’ll just have one more, I promise.”
Adam eyed his brother suspiciously; it wasn’t like Joe to comply without a fight. He would have to keep a closer eye on him than normal; he was definitely up to something. Before the conversation was able to continue, Joe could see out of the corner of his eye the Mouse women struggling to their feet and heading in their direction. Grabbing a glass of punch for both him and Mandy, he quickly excused himself from his brothers and, making a detour away from the advancing women, he headed back to his date.
Adam and Hoss watched Joe winding his way through the throng of dancers, totally unaware of the misfortune that was about to befall them. Hoss turned to say something to Adam, but was prevented from turning round by the bulk of Mildred standing behind him. Both brothers were cornered with no means of escape. One minute they were enjoying a glass of punch, minding their own business, and the next they found themselves out manoeuvred with no place to run.
Adam’s expression took on that of a trapped animal as he tried to step backwards away from the woman in front of him, but his retreat came to an abrupt end as he felt a solid wall behind him.
Hoss was fairing no better, even his extra height and girth was not proving an advantage, as Mildred was almost looking him straight in the eye and her beam was broader than his.
Joe was transfixed watching them. His normally confident eldest brother was backed up against the wall with a look of pure terror on his face.
“Come on Joe” Mandy insisted, pulling on his sleeve, “let’s go while we have the chance.”
Joe was drawn back to the girl at his side and he smiled knowingly. Much as he wanted to witness his brothers’ demise he had a much more pressing engagement and so, with a last glance in Hoss and Adam’s direction, he grabbed hold of Mandy’s hand and slipped out of the door and into the night.
The Mouse sisters were on a roll. Now that they believed that the interest they showed in the Cartwright brothers’ was reciprocated, they had no misgivings about letting the boys know their own feelings.
“You know, we really were made for each other,” Mildred said to Hoss, linking her arm through his, “we complement each other perfectly.”
“Yes Ma’am” Hoss replied dismally, at a total loss for something else to say.
Jemima was also being just as ‘coy’ with Adam. “I always knew you were a man of intelligence” she said smugly “and those girls you’ve been hanging around with couldn’t hold the attention of a man like you for very long.”
Adam and Hoss were too much in shock to resist their advances and, less than five minutes later, found themselves in a vice like grip and whisked onto the dance floor. Now Hoss was not known for his dancing expertise, in fact many a girl over the last few years had left the dance floor limping when she had been perfectly all right on entering. But it was a different scenario with Mildred; it was not so much ‘mouse’ that came to mind as ‘mountain’. Hoss cried out to no avail, again and again, as his poor feet were trodden on and his shins kicked. As for Adam, he had never before been held so closely and, if Jemima had been taller, she may have registered the look of absolute disbelief on his handsome face.
The women danced the brothers round the room several times for a very good reason; they were anxious to make every other woman in the room aware that Hoss and Adam were now wearing their brand. Only when Mildred and Jemima thought that the message had been received loud and clear did they make their way from the dance floor. Linking their arms through that of their ‘beaus’, the women proudly escorted the Cartwrights to a nearby table to sit down, much to the amusement of the patrons of the dance hall.
Taking the opportunity when released from Jemima’s clutches, Adam rose quickly to his feet, ‘I’ll get us some punch’ he volunteered.
“No Adam, let me” Jemima quickly intervened. “You stay and talk to Mildred and Hoss.” And with that Adam found himself almost manhandled back into his seat.
While she was away Adam frantically scanned the room for his youngest brother; Joe was probably their only means of escape. But Joe was nowhere to be seen. Turning to Mildred he apologised “I’m sorry Mildred, but I’m going to have to leave you. Hoss and I need to keep an eye on Little Joe, you know what he’s like for getting into trouble and I can’t lay my eyes on him anywhere.” Adam made to rise, but found a heavy hand on his shoulder.
“Don’t you worry any about young Joseph; he’s over there talking to the little Mason girl. They aren’t doing any harm?”
Adam didn’t have time to reply or even give it another thought, before Jemima was once more pressed up against him so hard that he was afraid to breath. Her ample bosom was pushing into him and he feared that if he as much as moved a muscle, he may be accused of touching her inappropriately and so he sat ramrod straight, his eyes fixed on nothing in particular and his hands clasped tightly in his lap.
Hoss glanced over at Adam in desperation; surely his oldest, smartest brother could find a way out of this situation. But Hoss didn’t like what he saw. The desperate look in his own blue eyes was reflected back at him from Adam’s dark orbs.
“Well how about Sunday then?” Jemima was saying.
Tearing his eyes away from Hoss, Adam asked. “What about Sunday?”
“The picnic of course” Mildred and Jemima chorused together.
“What picnic?” Adam asked, still finding it hard to breath.
“The picnic after church on Sunday” Mildred explained as if speaking to a small child.
“Yes” Jemima piped in. “If you boys take the buggy we can travel to the picnic together after church.”
Adam quickly found his voice. “I’m real sorry ladies, but Hoss and I are travelling to Placerville on Sunday?”
“Are we Adam?” Hoss asked in puzzlement screwing up his face, before the kick to his shins revived his memory. “Oh, that’s right, Placerville, Sunday, mustn’t forget that.”
“Oh that is a shame,” Jemima said, before slyly adding, “When I think of all the trouble Mildred has gone to. She’s been baking pies and cakes all week in preparation, it would be a shame for it to go to waste. Mildred’s apple pie is to die for.”
Adam gave a worried look in Hoss’s direction. If there was one way to sway his largest brother it was through his stomach. Hoss licked his lips and closed his eyes as he conjured up the feast, but when he opened them again and was faced with the sight of Mildred before him, his appetite quickly diminished and he shook his head.
“Real sorry ladies, but our Pa won’t be too happy if we don’t complete our business.”
Hoss crossed his fingers and prayed that God would understand the ‘white lie’ he had just told. After all hadn’t he been taught as a child that sometimes it was kinder to tell a lie than to hurt someone’s feelings?
Adam slowly let out the breath he was holding. Hoss had just had a lucky escape. If he had succumbed to the temptation, Adam would have felt it necessary to make sure his brother literally did ‘die’ for Mildred’s apple pie.
The dance was almost finished and Little Joe and Mandy had just made it back into the hall in time. Straightening his shirt and refastening his string tie, Joe looked round the room for his brothers, his eyes twinkling when he noticed them still in the clutches of the Mouse sisters. Due to his ingenuity, he and Mandy had been able to share a passionate embrace in the barn, out of sight of everyone, and the flush on both of their cheeks would have given the game away if there had been anyone interested in them enough to take notice.
As Joe and Mandy pulled the last of the straw strands from their hair, a very subdued Hoss and Adam, with Mildred and Jemima in tow, made their way to the exit. Once outside Joe gave Hoss a look of mock concern,
“Are you all right Hoss?” You look a little peaky.”
“Just fine little brother” Hoss replied, giving Joe a sickly smile that almost turned into a grimace.
“No need to walk us home boys,” Jemima chirped in. “Pa will be waiting with the buggy, so we might as well say out goodbyes here.”
What happened next almost made Adam faint on the spot. Jemima puckered up her lips and lunged towards him. Adam’s right hand instinctively reached down and felt for his gun – that’s what he always did when he felt his life was threatened; and at this precise moment that threat seemed very real. Screwing up his eyes in horror he thought, not for the first time that evening, how he would rather face a herd of stampeding cattle than a kiss from Jemima Mouse.
Jemima’s lips closed over that of Adam’s and she held on for dear life. Adam was almost choking for breath before she finally pulled away and he had to physically stop himself from gagging as he tried not to automatically wipe his hand over his bruised lips.
Hoss had also been subjected to the same fate and when Mildred finally unlatched her mouth from his, he just stood there like a statue unable to move. It was only when he felt his eldest brother’s sympathetic arm over his shoulder that he came out of his trance like state and looked about in bewilderment.
“Let’s go home Hoss,” Adam said simply, drained of all emotion.
The brothers’ looked towards Joe and under their scrutiny he gave Mandy a very chaste kiss on the cheek before handing her over to her eldest brother, who had arrived to escort her home.
“Thanks for a wonderful evening” Mandy whispered; the mischief on her face, mirrored back at her via Joe’s expressive eyes.
On the ride home Adam and Hoss tried to analyse what had gotten into the Mouse sisters. Why on earth would they suddenly think that the Cartwright brothers were interested in them?
Adam shook his head “Well I don’t know about you Hoss, but I’m not going anywhere near town until those two ‘ladies’ have got the idea fixed firmly in their heads that we are not interested in them now and never will be.”
“I’m with you there big brother” Hoss replied, “that Mildred makes Bessie Sue look positively fragile.”
Adam shivered at the thought, even though the night air was warm. He wished again for the hundredth time he had stayed home that evening, sprawled out in his favourite blue chair, with a good book, and a glass of brandy in his hand.
Joe surveyed his brothers with glee and couldn’t help adding his own few words of wisdom. “You know guys I’m really pleased you won’t be getting together with the Mouse sisters. I don’t think Pa would have approved either. Cause just think! The way those things breed, before you know it the whole Ponderosa would be overrun with little mice.”
Ducking the arms that swung in his direction, Joe spurred his horse into a gallop and rode off into the night, his high-pitched giggle filling the air.
Monday After the Dance
Joe’s legs went out from under him and he descended into the cold water once again. This time he was half expecting it, but that didn’t mean he liked it any more than the previous times.
As he spluttered to the surface and wiped the water from his face he was met with two very angry pair of eyes, one pair blue and one pair brown. Getting to his feet Joe kept his head down, not wanting to incur their wrath any more than necessary.
“Why I don’t just hold your head under the water, I really don’t know, cause believe me little brother you certainly deserve it?” Adam admonished.
“Well I have half a mind to do it anyway,” Hoss said through gritted teeth, stepping towards his youngest brother.
Joe stepped back in fright, missed his footing and slipped back into the water with a splash. The elder brothers’ laughed loudly at his plight and with arms around each other’s shoulders they headed back towards the house.
Finally righting himself and stepping out of the water, Joe glared at their retreating backs. Not bothering to turn round and look at him, Adam called over his shoulder.
“You know Joe, I’m beginning to think Pa had that horse trough put there just for you.”
Joe childishly poked out his tongue as his brothers walked away, the distance between them making him feel safe enough to do so.
With all the commotion Ben could ignore the rumpus no longer and with pen still in hand he strode outside into the yard. He gave a cursory glance at Adam and Hoss before fixing his attention on Joe, who was now sitting on the ground emptying the water from his boots.
“WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON OUT HERE?” he bellowed.
Hoss looked to Adam to give the explanation; he knew Ben would not approve of them ganging up on the youngest and smallest in the family. As Adam contemplated just how much of the story he would tell his father, without causing himself too much embarrassment, a voice piped up in the background.
“Oh don’t worry Pa, there’s nothing much to tell.” Then when all eyes were focused on him, Joe gleefully added his punch line “Adam and Hoss just got themselves caught in a Mouse trap that’s all!!”
Other Stories by this Author
- Betrayal (by Terri)
- Blood is Thicker Than Water (by Terri)
- What’s in a Name (by Terri)
- Looking Death in the Face (by Terri)
- The Fairness of Life (by Terri)