Summary: People have pegged Hoss as different his whole life. Is he really that different from his father and brothers?
Written for the 2014 Bonanza Roundup 2 Writer’s Seminar.
I came within a hair’s breadth of killing my brother last night.
The Ponderosa was dressed in all her glory to welcome Regan Miller, the woman I aimed to marry. Before the party I meant to talk to Adam about her but, doggone it, my temper got the best of me. Pa tried to talk to me after but the arrival of our guests put all thoughts of Adam out of my mind.
While Regan danced with man after man, Pa told me Hop Sing saw Adam leaving, probably to have the doc patch him up. Even though I’d figured I’d wait until Adam came back home to smooth things over, I was up before dawn and on my way to town.
Doc said Adam’s still asleep, probably from the painkiller for his busted ribs but I could stay with him if I wanted. Pacing the doc’s sitting room, I think on that ugly duckling story. That little duck grew up to be a handsome swan. Wish I could say the same had happened to me.
From the first time I recognized the reflection in the looking glass as me, I saw I didn’t bear any resemblance to Pa or my brother. I was different.
When I was a little shaver, folks we met traveling made sure they told Pa it was awful nice of him to raise an orphan boy as his own. I suppose it was only natural they might think that after getting a look at Adam. If Pa convinced those folks otherwise with a few sharp words, they disagreed again right away when I opened my mouth and spoke. I figure I sound like most of the people who journeyed west in those days; I don’t rightly know.
Pa used to show me a picture of my ma and said I was her spitting image. It was mighty charitable of Pa to say so but I don’t look much like her, except maybe around the eyes.
After we settled on the land Pa planned to ranch, we got to know the Paiutes by visiting them in their village and by having them over to our place. They shared meals with us and Pa swapped stories with them. At first, all of the Indians touched my hair in greeting—I worried something awful they wanted it for a trophy. Maybe they just hadn’t seen yellow hair up close before. I picked up words here and there in our visits and pretty soon I understood Paiute pretty good. That’s when I discovered their name for me was Lake Eyes. My brother didn’t have a special name; I think he was kind of jealous about it.
As white folks trickled into the area, yellow hair and blue eyes became a more common sight. My looks weren’t special anymore, which suited me just fine. I didn’t want to be different.
Newcomers asked Pa if I was an apprentice ranch hand or maybe the cook’s boy. Pa used to get so mad his face turned red and his eyes got black as coals.
When Pa hired a Frenchman from New Orleans, a fella named Johnny—John— de Marigny, folks said he talked funny, too. I thought Johnny talked just fine. Johnny taught me some words in French but I’ve plumb forgot most of them since I’ve no call to use them. He told me to ignore insults because they were just words and no one’s words could hurt me without my permission. I told him I’d been cut to the quick many a time but he said folks who hurl words around don’t have the guts to stand on the field of honor. He was right—folks who bark loud rarely bite.
Johnny taught Adam and me all sorts of things—how to judge horseflesh, the best way to hold a calf down for branding, and how to shine our boots with nothing but spit and a bandana. He told us he’d learned all those things working on a ranch back in Louisiana. I didn’t think Johnny was the ranching type but he, and Pa, told me not to judge folks on how they looked; instead, a man’s actions tell who he is. Anyway, I was just a boy so if Pa had told me Johnny had hung the moon up in the sky, then I would’ve believed him.
One afternoon Johnny and I were fishing down at the pond when he asked about our ma. I was ashamed to say Adam had had two but I hadn’t even known my own. Johnny allowed a man should have good memories of his ma to draw on when life got him down. It was after that Pa gave me a picture of my ma for safe-keeping.
Shortly after that day at the pond, Johnny died saving Pa’s life. Johnny made Pa promise to track down his wife back in New Orleans. Well, Pa’s a man of his word so he went and left me and Adam here.
When Pa came home with a pretty lady who talked with a touch of French, I thought I was the luckiest boy in the territory. If I cut my finger, my new ma kissed the hurt away. Truth was it still hurt, but knowing she wanted to take the pain away made me feel better. Eventually, all that was left was a scar and a memory of the love she’d had in her heart for me.
Before too long I had another dark-haired brother. Where Little Joe was rambunctious, I was quiet. Or at least not as noisy.
Adam helped Pa make decisions about the ranch and Little Joe was the center of attention. All I seemed good for was digging fence posts and holding down calves during branding. Not that I minded too awful much as it meant spending time with the hands, learning how to work cattle and studying the lay of the land.
As I grew taller and larger, kids and a few men in town made fun of my size and many times boys my age, though smaller, pushed my temper to its limits. I forgot Johnny’s advice because those boys’ words did hurt. I shut their mouths by ramming my knuckles into their faces, which earned me many a lecture from Pa. After hitting an older boy so hard I broke a few of his ribs, taunts and insults didn’t stick so much, like water off a duck’s back.
Ma was taken from us when I was nearly twelve. She’d rode into the yard as she did every day but the horse lost its footing, crushing her beneath it. Pa locked himself in his room, leaving Adam to run the ranch and tend to Little Joe. I went down to the lake to grieve in my own, different way. We all finally worked the hurt out and came back together, but it took a long time to get used to life without her.
When I started noticing girls could be downright pretty I’d needed a woman’s advice on courting. Maybe if Ma had lived a while longer I wouldn’t get so tongue-tied around pretty gals. I just don’t know how to talk to them. If they’re already spoken for, it’s easier, maybe because I don’t have to use fancy words or impress them before they get a look at one of my brothers.
Most gals, pretty or not, treat me different than they do other fellas. Gals just hand me their packages to tote to their buggy and don’t give me a second look, sort of as if that’s all I’m good for.
But not Regan Miller. No sir. She not only thanked me for carrying her parcels but she smiled as if she meant it. Then she told me to call her Regan, not Miss Miller. My heart skipped a beat or two as I waited for her answer when I told her I’d be happy to show her the countryside and I could’ve plumb walked through fire when she accepted my offer.
She was a big-city gal and real sophisticated, too. I believe I stood taller just knowing she liked spending time in my company. Some gals hang on a man’s every word or look at him all calf-eyed, but not her. Regan laughed at my jokes and never once led me to believe she wanted me to be anything but the man I am.
When we met up in town and I escorted her to the shops, she tucked her dainty little hand in the crook of my arm. She nodded all polite-like when men tipped their hats to her but she never made me think she was with me until someone better came along.
Joe and Pa were happy I’d found a catch like Regan. I’m sure Joe was surprised Regan didn’t fall for his charm, but he’s just a kid. Pa was downright tickled I aimed to marry Regan.
But then, doggone it, Adam had to come home and ruin everything. He couldn’t stand that a right pretty gal was interested in me, not him. Adam may be the educated one but sometimes he’s not all that smart. Instead of offering his congratulations, he set out to prove that he could win her from me. My heart liked to have exploded like a stick of dynamite when I caught him with her in the Millers’ front yard. I couldn’t blame her for falling for his charm but I could darn well let him have it. And I did.
As soon as Adam walked into the bunkhouse my blood boiled over. The only thing that mattered was beating any love Adam had for Regan out of him. My anger grew hotter with each punch and I didn’t stop until Pa and Little Joe interrupted us.
Afterwards, I didn’t care if Adam stayed in the bunkhouse and nursed his pride. Or if he climbed up on his horse and went to town.
Regan loved me and wanted to be my wife.
Well, turned out she didn’t want to marry me after all. I was just a means to pass the time during her visit with her sister.
I’d fallen under her spell like so many other men before me. Even Adam. She’d used them and tossed them aside when she’d grown bored. I’ll never forget the jealousy that pounded through my blood when I saw her with Adam ‘cause I don’t ever want to feel that way about my brother again. I suppose I’m lucky Regan’s true colors showed through before we set up house somewhere to raise a passel of kids, me jealous of any man whose eyes lingered a mite too long and ready to kill to keep her mine.
Just goes to show a man can get suckered in by a pretty face and plumb lose his senses.
Maybe I’m not so different after all.
Tags: ESH, Hoss Cartwright
Other Stories by this Author
- A Woman Cloaked in Scandal (by Patina)
- No More Security (by Patina)
- The Shadow of Jean de Marigny (by Patina)
- Remembering Childhoods (by Patina)
- Under Mesmer’s Spell (by Patina)