Summary: A Cartwright lesson in responsibility and in being the boss.
Rated: K+ Word count: 1185
Look After the Kid
Adam Cartwright scanned the men assembling in front of the ranch house. He called out, “Karl!” and a tall, bearded ranch hand ambled over.
“Yes, Boss? Is there some problem?”
“No, not a problem really; I just wanted to speak with you on a matter.”
Karl studied his boss’s posture and tone and then relaxed. “Sure, Mr. Adam.”
“Karl, you know Mike Cooper; he’s been working with your crew, hasn’t he?”
“He has. A spunky kid that one. He’s willing to pull his weight though.”
“That’s good to hear. He is on the young side.” Adam paused.
“Barely shaving,” Karl observed rubbing his own full growth, ”with a lot to learn, but then we all were at one time.”
“That we were,” Adam agreed amiably. “And really that’s what I wanted to speak to you about. This is young Mike’s first ever payday, and, well, I don’t need to tell you that the first time in town with a full wallet can go to a boy’s head.”
Karl nodded his agreement. “Seen it time and again; young ones coming back with nothing to show for a month’s work but a sore head or a hangover.”
“That’s just it. Sometimes a first timer needs somebody to stir him in the right direction, to give some sound advice.”
“You asking me to be Dutch uncle to the boy, to mother hen him a bit?” Karl gave Adam a rather dubious look.
“Well, yes. The men on your crew have always respected you, and I thought, well, if he would heed advice from anyone. . .I know looking out for the kid might dampen your evening some, but, well, I thought you’d be the best man for the job.”
Karl straightened and puffed out his chest slightly. “Well, he is a good kid, a bit headstrong with a touch of a temper and needing someone to give him a word or two of experience until he gets some seasoning of his own… Sure, boss, I’ll keep an eye on him tonight and put a word or two in his ear. You just leave it to me.”
“I appreciate you taking this on, Karl.”
Karl beamed. On the good side of the boss was always a smart place to be.
Adam heard his brother call to him as Karl took his leave. He walked over to the porch where Ben Cartwright and sons would soon begin paying the wages of the men who toiled on the Ponderosa.
Hoss looked at the self-satisfied expression on his elder brother’s face. “Having a word with Karl about them beeves in the north pasture?”
“No, not about the cattle.” Deciding to answer Hoss’s inquiring gaze, Adam continued, “I just asked Karl to keep an eye on Mike Cooper in town tonight and to give him a word about keeping a hold on some of his wages.”
Hoss nodded. “Good idea that.”
Little Joe looked at his brothers as a puzzled frown settled on his brow. “You asked Karl to keep an eye on Mike?”
Adam nodded and then departed into the house to speak to their pa.
“I can see Adam asking somebody to watch out for Mike, but, Hoss, I’d have thought Karl would be the last one of the men on the ranch he’d ask to do that.” Little Joe looked to his brother for an explanation.
“That’s ‘cause you ain’t done much bossing, Short Shanks.” Hoss smiled down at his younger brother. “See, Joe, Karl is the most likely fellow to start in on young Mike just poking a little fun, but if he’s done told Adam that he’ll watch out for the boy, well, he won’t be doing the poking and Karl’s a good man at seeing through any job he’s taken on. Ya, see?”
“Yeah, I guess I do,” Little Joe acknowledged, “and I guess I got some things to learn about bossing. Pa taught Adam, I suppose.”
“Pa and looking after the two of us.”
“Looking after us?”
Hoss draped an arm around Little Joe’s shoulders. “Adam knows he done stayed out of some trouble just ‘cause he was making sure we stayed clear of it.”
Hoss rubbed his chin before he answered, “Remember when we was in that saloon in Bentwood and that big fight started about two minutes after we left?”
“Yeah.” Joe did remember. He had been white-hot mad with both his brothers.
Little Joe set his empty beer glass down on the bar and decided if Adam looked away for a few minutes he could risk asking the barkeep for a second glass. Then he felt a hand take hold of his upper arm.
“Come on, Little Joe, we’re leaving.”
“No way, Adam! We ain’t hardly started having fun yet.”
“You’ve had your beer, and now we’re going!”
“Boy,” Adam had leaned in close and hissed into Little Joe’s ear, “We’re leaving. Now you can walk out, or I can carry you, but if I have to carry you over my shoulder, I’m going to smack your behind a few times on the way out. Your choice, kid.”
Joe followed his brother out of the saloon but balked as they reached the darkened street. He started arguing with his brother as Hoss, who had left the saloon with them, tried to calm Joe down. Then the unmistakable sounds of a brawl had come to them from the saloon. When Joe had turned and taken two steps back toward the batwing doors, Hoss had reached out and hoisted Joe off the ground and over his shoulder. Little Joe had stayed quiet as he was carried back to the hotel only in the hope that no one would notice his embarrassing position.
“Well, Adam saw that fight a-coming,” Hoss declared.
“Are you saying that Adam made us leave because he didn’t want me in a saloon brawl?”
“Yeah, well, me to partly, only he ain’t so worried about me in a big fight except for explaining bruises or bail to Pa.”
Little Joe’s eyes narrowed, “You and Adam would have been in that fight if I hadn’t been there?”
“Maybe, at least for a bit; better that we weren’t. Pa would have busted a gut when he heard about it. The point is being responsible for somebody, well, it makes a difference. Adam knows that for certain, so he made Karl responsible for young Mike.”
The conversation ended as Ben and Adam walked out and took a seat behind the table that had been set up on the porch. Joe watched as the men stepped up one by one to receive their wages. His eyes followed Mike Cooper as he strode proudly away counting his first pay. Karl walked up and started a conversation with the young hand, and the two cowboys walked away together. Little Joe saw his brothers exchange a pleased look and felt a smile turn the corners of his mouth. Of course, it was payday, and payday always put a smile on a man’s face.
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