Summary: What happened before the episode “The Pure Truth.”
Word Count: 2254
Standing on the porch of the ranch house, Joe drew in a deep breath. Springtime has to be the most beautiful time of the year. The weather was finally warming up and driving away the perpetual chill that had lingered for the last few weeks. Hearing a noise behind him, he turned to see the front door open and his father and two brothers walk out.
“Joe, there you are,” Ben began. “I had wondered where you had wandered off to.”
“He certainly didn’t wander off to work,” Adam’s comment came next. Though the words were biting, the twinkle in his eyes belied the sarcasm.
“Now older brother, you know it takes Joe a mite longer to get up enough energy to work. He’s just so puny and all it takes him a bit longer to get ready for the day,” came the rejoinder from Hoss.
“Don’t you two start,” Ben said. “He’s in a good mood. Let’s leave him that way.”
“He is standing right here and isn’t deaf,” Joe said in a slightly miffed tone.
“Enough teasing,” Ben said over Adam and Hoss’s laughter. “Since it’s warmed up quite a bit, I want the three of you to go clear out that stream that’s gotten clogged in the north pasture. We need that water flowing again before we can move the cattle to the higher grazing land.”
Knowing better than to say anything, Joe nodded his assent along with his brothers. He knew his plans to go to Virginia City for the day had just been cancelled. Not that there’d been any specific reason for him to go. He just wanted a chance to catch up with his friends and to have a couple of beers. But, no matter what Adam said, he did think before he acted and he knew telling Pa what he wanted to do was a foolish thing indeed. He may be twenty but he knew his father wouldn’t hesitate to bend his ear had he stood there and announced his plans.
While his brother’s laughter continued, Joe walked quickly to his horse, Cochise. Without using the stirrups, he mounted in a way that he knew both of his brother’s envied. Watching from his vantage point, he tried to appear disinterested as his brothers mounted. Their father, never stopping to breathe from what Joe could tell, gave his final instructions.
“Now, I want you to remember that we don’t have time for you boys to spend the day up there. There are other things that need to be taken care of when you get finished with this,” Ben said. He knew he was overdoing it a bit but he didn’t want to leave room for Joseph to try and find a loophole. It wouldn’t be beyond Joe to try and find a way to convince his brothers to go to Virginia City with him.
Listening to his son’s agreements, Ben stood back and watched the three ride out of the yard and head towards the grazing grounds. Hopefully, they’d stay in high spirits and not come home in foul moods. He knew this was the job that they least liked but it had to be done.
Walking back into the house, Ben put his mind on to his own dreaded task: the ledgers.
By mid-day, it was clear to all that this was a foolish undertaking. Nothing had gone right from the start. Joe and Adam happily put the blame squarely on Hoss’s shoulders. He had in quick succession: managed to get Joe thrown from Cochise, a feat none thought possible; accidentally hit Adam in the jaw as he had tried to help Joe off of the ground; stepped on both brother’s feet; and, as they were discussing the merits of a visit to Doctor Martin, he had knocked the maimed men into the chilly water—the stagnant, disgusting waterhole. To say that Joe and Adam were put out would be a vast understatement. Even as Hoss’s laughter rang out at the sight and smell of the two, they were plotting their revenge.
“I know Pa said we were to go back after this but I don’t think he’d begrudge us a trip to see the doctor, do you?” Adam questioned. Maybe Hoss had some sort of fever, he reasoned to himself. There had to be a reason for all of this no matter how farfetched it seemed.
“I don’t want to go into to town smelling like the backend of a cow!” Joe protested, despite the fact that he was starting to stiffen up from his ungraceful dismount earlier. He could see by the gleam in older brother’s eye, and the huge bruise that was spreading across his face, that there was no escaping this trip.
“I wish you two could see yourselves!” Hoss chortled. He felt bad for having caused the accidents but there was no way he could contain his merriment. “I know you can smell yourselves though! Maybe you could bottle the scent and sell it to the ladies of Virginia City.”
As Hoss’s laughter continued, Joe and Adam limped slowly to their respective mounts. Neither cherished the idea of having to ride so far in a wet saddle nor the idea of the townsfolk seeing them like this. The snickers got closer, letting them know that Hoss was mounting Chub, as well. Had Hoss been paying attention he would have noticed the daggers that were coming from his brothers’ eyes.
“I guess we’d better get started,” Adam sighed. Maybe Doctor Martin could be persuaded to go to the mercantile and pick them up a change of clothes to go home in, he though to himself.
“Hoss, this is your last chance! If you don’t quit that dad-blamed laughing, I’m going to knock you off that horse!” Joe yelled. He couldn’t take listening to Hoss laughing the whole way into town. And, if anything, his threat seemed to send his middle brother into another fit of laughter.
“Why, younger brother,” Hoss choked out, “haven’t you heard that laughter is the best medicine! It must be true because I feel mighty fine! You should try it!”
It was a slightly subdued group, with the exception of Hoss, that headed for Virginia City.
“So you see Doc, there wasn’t any real harm done,” Joe tried to explain. “There’s absolutely no reason for me to have to bind my ribs.”
“Joseph, I might be getting older but I’m not losing my mind,” came the sarcastic reply from the town physician. “You, at the very least, bruised your ribs and I’m not convinced you didn’t crack one or two. You’ll wear this for as long as I say or I’m going to see if I can’t make a plaster cast to go around your ribs. Your choice—”
“Uh, I’ll take the bandages,” Joe said. He knew from experience that the man wouldn’t hesitate to carry out the threat. He’d learned that the hard way, too.
“I thought you might,” Dr. Martin replied. Paul Martin had never, in his life, met a family as prone to accidents as the Cartwrights. He could probably retire on the money he had made from this one young man. Turning, he saw that Adam had picked up one of his medical books.
“So, Adam, are you trying to give me a run for my money?” Paul asked as he finished winding the bandaged around Joe and tied it off.
“No, I don’t think I could put up with the bellyaching from younger brother over there!” Adam started to laugh but stopped when the pain flared in his jaw. Thanks to Hoss, he was reduced to eating broth until the swelling went down and he could chew better.
Thankfully, Paul had sent Hoss to pick them up some clean clothes earlier. While at the doctor’s office, Hoss had managed to break a couple of vases and the window out of the inner office. A sigh of relief went up when he’d announced that he’d go home and tell Ben what had happened.
“Now, I want you boys to take it easy for the next couple of days. And before you start, it’s just a precaution. I want to make sure you don’t suffer any ill effects from your impromptu “bath” in that water. It’s still chilly and you rode, soaking wet, quite a ways to get to town.”
The grumbling from the Cartwrights let Paul know that they had, at least, heard what he’d said. Now, whether they’d follow that was a different matter. So, he continued with, “I’ll be coming out to the Ponderosa early tomorrow morning to make sure that you are doing exactly what I said.”
The chorused “yes, sir” sounded a bit miffed to him but he let it pass. You had to pick your battles with these boys and this one just wasn’t worth the effort.
“Get home, eat something that will warm you up, and get to bed,” Paul instructed.
“Is it okay if we stop by the mercantile before we go home?” Adam wanted to know. He saw the quizzical look Joe gave him but he’d explain later. “If I’m going to be laid up for a couple of days, I’d like to pick up a new book to read.”
“Just don’t be too long” Paul advised.
“Oh, don’t worry! I’m not going to waste all day in there while he’s looking at book,” came the grumpy reply from Joe.
Smiling, Paul led the way out of the examination room. “Don’t forget what I told you. I’ll be by tomorrow to check on you.”
Saying their goodbyes, Joe and Adam slowly made their way towards the mercantile.
“You know something, Joe? I think we need to teach middle brother a lesson. Yessir, a lesson that will last a lifetime,” Adam said conversationally. He could see his younger brother’s look of incredulity. He knew it was out of character for him to suggest such a thing but Hoss had it coming. “Come on, I’ll tell you about it while we’re shopping.”
And, with that, Adam threw his arm over Joe’s shoulder as he steered them across the street.
“So, you boys are all right?” Ben asked, for what seemed to be the hundredth time. Hoss had gone outside to finish the evening chores before dinner and Ben was alone with his oldest and youngest child.
“Yes, Pa. Doc said that we’d need to take it easy for a couple of days to make sure we didn’t get sick from our swim but, other than that, we’ll be all right,” Joe said. He hoped that he had kept the annoyance out of his voice as he’d answered his father.
“Pa, we wanted to talk to you about Hoss,” Adam began, as he put his plan into action. Seeing that he had his father’s attention, he plunged on, “While I was waiting for Paul to finish with Joe, I started to look at one of the medical books lying about. I was concerned about Hoss’s behavior and I found out something.” He paused for dramatic effect and continued, “You see, Pa, I think Hoss has, in laymen’s terms, “Spring fever”.”
“Spring fever? That’s hardly anything to be concerned with,” Ben said. He had no idea where this conversation was going.
“Joe, pass me that book, thanks. See, we picked this up while we were in town. I wanted to show you what I was talking about,” Adam said as he flipped through the medical book that he’d picked up at the store. “Here, this says that it’s a rare occurrence and there’s no known cure.”
Joe sat back and happily watched the show Adam was providing. He knew that his father would buy this coming from Adam—he was so logical and all. He had to keep biting the inside of his mouth not to laugh out loud as his brother/co-conspirator continued.
“Don’t get concerned. It’s not fatal or anything. It just shows up once a year on the first day of Spring, which is what today is. It also goes onto say that the only way to treat the ‘fever’ is to dose the patient with a mixture of molasses and sulfur,” Adam said, pointing to a passage in the book.
“Well, if that’s what we have to do. I don’t understand why I’ve never heard of this before. Too bad we don’t have any sulfur or molasses in the house or we could dose him up tonight to prevent any problems cropping up before bedtime,” Ben said.
“Pa, we thought of that,” Joe said, speaking for the first time since this show had begun. “We picked that up, too, in the mercantile. All we have to do is go in the kitchen, mix it up, and give Hoss his ‘medicine’.”
“Well, I guess we shouldn’t waste any time, then. Adam, you come help me mix this up. Joe, go outside and get your brother. The sooner we start this treatment, the sooner we can all relax for the night,” Ben instructed his boys.
As Joe and Adam went to do his bidding, they shared a look that said it all: yes, indeed, laughter is the best medicine.