Synopsis: He thinks he knows all it takes to be a cowboy; leaving Ben to wonder.
Genre: Western, prequel
Word Count: 1,070
Ben Cartwright slowly shook his head at the sight before him. He’d faced hardships before, but the past few weeks had been more difficult than even he had ever imagined. Months had lapsed since his eldest son had stepped foot on the stage coach and set out to fulfill his own dreams.
The two had spoken well into the night on many occasions; there was no changing his son’s resolve. But the discussions he’d had of late were arguments that had never occurred before.
“Man,” Ben mused. “He’s no more than a boy. Wants so much to prove himself all grown up; how do I help him understand?”
Picking up a few articles of clothing from the floor, he made his way to the sleeping figure sprawled across the bed. Curly brown hair swirled every which way. Long, thick lashes hid iridescent green eyes that grieved for the loss of another member of his family. Tear stains streaked the face of the six year old lying on his side, his thumb partially inserted into his mouth.
Sitting on the side of the bed, Ben attempted to straighten the covers the boy had twisted into a mess. Wiping bangs from his child’s forehead, “Joseph, I wish I could make you believe this is for the best.”
“I’m sorry Papa.”
“I thought you might be awake.”
“I don’t hate him.”
Ben waited. Earlier in the evening, once again the battle of wills had ensued, only this time the child’s anger was directed towards his absent brother.
“I don’t want to go. It made Adam leave home.”
“We’ve talked about this before. Adam wanted to learn more than Mr. Carmichael could teach him.”
“But he left me and missed my birthday.”
Pulling the small boy out from the tangle of blankets and onto his lap, Ben cuddled his youngest son.
“You knew he wouldn’t be able to come home so soon. He’ll also miss Hoss’ birthday.”
“I bet he’ll be home for yours.”
“No, not for four more years.”
Joe’s brow scrunched. Ben waited for his son to finish thinking.
“I’ll be ten years old before Adam returns.” He let out a long exasperated sigh, sinking farther into his father’s chest.
“That’s right. You’re getting good at your math.”
“Then I don’t have to go to school!” Somber eyes shined brightly at the exclamation.
“How do you figure that?”
“We’ll if Mr. Carmichael couldn’t teach Adam everything, then why should I go to that school. I don’t want to learn more, and I can help you and Hoss.”
“Joe, I want you to have a good education.”
“But I can learn so much more here practicin’ ta be a cowboy.”
“Son, wisdom is knowing when you’ve lost your battle and accept defeat. And you, my little cowboy, need to say your prayers and go to bed. Morning comes early, and you will be going to school.”
“But I know all about whisdumb.”
“Pa, I learned all it takes to be a cowboy.” Joe scooted up straight and with his left hand he began counting off, on his right, what he knew to be true. “One, lettin’ the cat out a the bag is a lot easier than puttin’ it in. Two, remember that silence sometimes is the best answer.”
“Don’t you think that maybe…”
“But Pa, I know more… Four, no three, don’t squat with your spurs on. That can be painful. Four, this one I learned from Cookie, he said the quickest way to double your money was to fold it over and put it back in your pocket.”
“And how is it that Cookie taught you that lesson?”
“Oh, guess I shouldn’t a said that one.” Innocent eyes looked up. Seeing his father’s arched eyebrows, “I took my pennies to play poker with the hands.”
“Five, the easiest way to eat crow is while it’s still warm. The colder it gets, the harder it is to swaller.”
“Pa, I’s talkin’ crows, not barn swallows.”
Ben tried hard to keep from laughing; the mood of the room had changed to one that Ben was willing to accept. The sullen child of the past few weeks was returning to the impish child he remembered before the death of his beloved Marie. His own subsequent absence and Adam’s departure for college had only made things worse for the young boy. ‘Lord, please let this be a turning point in our healing.’
“Where was I? Oh yeah, six, If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing is to stop diggin’. Seven, never miss a good chance to shut up.”
Ben smiled, wondering if his son understood the intent of the words of wisdom he was reciting. But he had to admit, he couldn’t find fault in the child’s memory.
“Eight, it don’t take a genius to find a goat in a flock of sheep. And I can definitely tell the difference between a goat and a sheep.”
Joe stopped talking, his forehead scrunched once more.
“Pa, if ya got one, it’s a goat and more than one is goats. There’s a mouse and then there’s mice, but what’s more than one sheep?”
“A flock,” Hoss answered from the doorway.
“If you were to go to school, Mr. Carmichael would be able to answer your questions.”
“Even if he couldn’t teach Adam.”
“Even if he couldn’t teach Adam everything your brother wanted to learn,” Ben corrected. “Your brother earned high marks in his schooling. And he tested high on his college admittance exam. He wouldn’t have done so had not Mr. Carmichael prepared him well.”
“I guess I could try it.”
“That’s my boy.”
Ben raised the covers, motioning for his son to climb back into bed.
“Good night son.”
Ben exited the room after blowing out the lamp that set on the bureau.
Hoss waited in the hallway, “I promise I’ll take good care a Shortshanks on our way to Mr. Carmichael’s.”
“I know you will. Now, how about you getting yourself to bed. Morning…”
“I know, it comes early. Night Pa.”
“Pleasant dreams, Hoss.”
Author’s Note: A quick one-shot inspired by a greeting card at the Tractor Supply Store with Cowboy Whisdumb on the front. I felt it tied in perfectly with Cheaux’s 2015 Chaps & Spurs Challenges theme.