Synopsis: Will the Ponderosa survive a Hoss in love?
Word Count: 3,420
Ponderosa ranch house, June 1854
“Hoss! Hush! It’s nearly 11 p.m. Little Joe is in bed!” Adam hissed the words.
But Hoss burst into song:
“I dream of Cassie with the light blond hair,
Borne like a vapor on the sweet summer air…”
By nature, Adam was a charitable young man. He didn’t mind that Hoss was drunk and didn’t care that Hoss was murdering America’s most popular song, “I Dream of Jeannie”, the lyrics changed to fit Hoss’ sweetheart. He didn’t mind that Hoss had recklessly slammed the front door or the way Hoss swayed across the room, whiskey bottle in hand.
The only thing Adam minded was being pulled away from page 258 of Bleak House, a more elevating experience than a drunken nineteen-year-old brother. For the last hour, Adam had wallowed in the pleasure of sitting in Pa’s favorite leather chair reading Dickens. To Adam, this was one of the closest things to heaven you could experience on earth.
Hoss sang on:
“…I see her trippin’ where the bright streams play, Happy as the daisies…uh…uh…
“…Hey, Adam, what comes next?”
“I don’t know,” Adam replied, although he did. He added, “I do know Pa’ll be down in a minute if you don’t keep your voice down.”
Hoss was a big-built young fellow — tall, strong, generous of spirit, even tempered. People found Hoss easy to like and hard to dislike. With his blond hair, dancing blue eyes and ready smile, he was a good looking lad and the only person who didn’t know that was Hoss Cartwright.
Hoss propped himself against the fireplace; being June, there was no fire. This evening, he wore his best suit, though it was covered in dust and sadly crumpled. Somewhere along the way, he’d lost his collar and tie. From his shirt sleeve, Adam guessed that Hoss also must have lost one of his monogrammed gold cufflinks – the ones Pa gave him for his eighteenth birthday. He’s going to regret this day, thought Adam.
Hoss swung the bottle in a lazy semi-circle; Adam marveled that the cork held. “My Cassie! OH MY CASSIE! OH, ADAM, WHAT AM I GONNA DO?”
“Q U I E T!”
It was Pa yelling this time. Adam could see him over on the landing, dressed in undershirt and trousers, suspenders dangling from his waist, bare foot, like he was just getting ready for bed. His face was full of fury.
“Oh, howdy, Pa!” said Hoss in a cheerful, surprised tone, apparently undaunted. Hoss began to move towards the stairs, presumably to greet Pa, but tripped and sprawled on the floor in front of the fireplace. The bottle rolled under the Chesterfield sofa.
“Oh, deary me! Oh, deary!” Hoss laid on his back and laughed and recommenced his concert:
“I dream of Cassie the light blond hair,
Borne like a vapor on the sweet summer air…”
Adam tried to help Hoss up while Pa stomped down the stairs. “I said QUIET! Eric, have you been drinking?”
Did Pa really need to ask? Adam said, “Ah, yes, Pa, I do believe Hoss is a victim of immoderate consumption of alcohol.”
“Victim?” Pa said.
Adam smiled slightly. “Okay, probably not a victim.” He yanked Hoss upright but the lad swayed erratically.
Pa now stood behind the Chesterfield. “Young man, what have you done?”
Hoss’ words were slurred but he explained, “Well, me and Jackson, we got a bottle of house whiskey at Durrant’s. Only Jackson kept calling it ‘rot gut’…”
“I can’t imagine why,” said Adam.
Pa asked, “And Jackson got you back home?”
Jackson’s full name was Andrew Jackson Jackson but everyone just called him Jackson. He and Hoss had been friends since they were around ten years old and this summer Jackson was working as a hand on the Ponderosa and living in the bunk house with the other men.
“Yeah, Jackson, he helped me get back on my horse.”
Back on your horse? Adam winced at the thought of what must have proceeded.
Pa looked like he was going to explode. “I will have a talk with Jackson tomorrow.”
Adam interrupted, “Pa, Hoss is older, so it might be unfair to blame Jackson…”
Pa looked at Adam and said, “Well, I’ll have a talk with Eric tomorrow.”
Upon hearing his real name, Hoss looked up. “Oh, yeah? What about?”
Pa closed his eyes in frustration.
“Is Hoss drunk?”
This question came from Little Joe who now stood half way down the staircase in his nightshirt.
Pa turned and said, “Go to bed, Joseph.”
Little Joe plopped himself down on a step and continued to watch. He was thirteen and wouldn’t wish to miss this.
Hoss now veered at an uncertain angle. He mumbled, “Oh, Cassie, Cassie!”
“Sit him down,” Pa ordered.
Adam reached over and gave Hoss a slight push on the chest and Hoss, as if obedient to Pa’s desires, toppled into a sitting position on Pa’s chair.
“Cassie, my little Cassie. What am I gonna do…?” Hoss closed his eyes, his shoulders fell and he apparently drifted into sleep.
Adam reached over and touched Hoss slightly on the shoulder to wake him. “Has Cassie got a new beau?”
“Oh, my little Cassie…” came Hoss’ response. “She ain’t got another fellow but she don’t want me no more…”
Ah! Adam felt for Hoss, who’d never had much confidence with girls. Too shy to ask a girl for a single turn at the Fourth of July or Christmas dances. Adam had had his own problems with ladies and had watched with envy at how Hoss blossomed when he met Cassie. What could have gone wrong?
“Where’s my whiskey?” asked Hoss as he sat up with a start.
No one answered that so Hoss glanced over Pa and said, “Hey, Pa, you got any whiskey?”
Pa gave Hoss a stare that terrified Adam but made no apparent dent on Hoss who put his head in his hands and wailed, “Oh, Cassie, how could I do you wrong?”
Adam and Pa exchanged a glance and Adam said, “Hoss, did you…uh, break up with Cassie?”
But Hoss’ eyes were half closed again; his face relaxed.
Pa said, “Is he asleep?”
Adam shrugged and took the opportunity to nimbly reach under the sofa and retrieved the whiskey bottle. He disappeared into the kitchen and returned a moment later without it.
The bright blue eyes jerked opened and darted around as if checking something. Hoss grinned and begin sing:
“Oh, I dream of Cassie the light blond hair,
Borne like a vapor…”
From the other side of the room, Little Joe said, “What happened with Cassie?”
“Joseph, I told you to go to bed.” Pa hardly glanced at Joe when he spoke and Joe moved not one inch.
Adam thought this through. “Hoss, wasn’t Cassie’s sister arriving today?”
Pa added, “Yeah, that’s why you wore your suit.”
Hoss began to moan softly, “Oh, Eleanor, my sweet Eleanor! Pa, you should see her! She’s a real big girl and sweet. So sweet…”
“She’s fat?” asked Little Joe.
Everyone ignored him this time. Adam said, “I think I’ve got the picture…”
“I dream of Eleanor the light brown hair,
Borne like a vapor on the sweet summer air…”
Adam spoke, “Ah, Hoss, did you make…an advance to Eleanor?”
Pa said, “What did you do, son?”
Hoss looked astonished that Pa had to ask. “Nothin’! We were in the parlor drinking lemonade and I just said to Cassie that I reckoned Eleanor was a real cute girl and…”
Adam couldn’t believe his ears. “Hoss, wasn’t that foolish?”
“But Eleanor IS real cute. Like Cassie only more of her …”
Little Joe said, “How big?”
Pa turned and spitted the words at his youngest son. “Joseph, go to bed. I won’t tell you again.”
Joe stood up as if to leave but moved no further.
Hoss looked around. “What happened to my whiskey? You got it, Adam?”
Adam held up two empty hands and shrugged.
“Ah, too bad,” said Hoss. “Hey, Pa, you got some brandy, ain’t you?”
Pa’s eyes looked like they were about to burst from his head. “No one is drinking in this house tonight, sir.”
Adam groaned. One good thing about being over sixteen was that Pa would never hit you again. One bad thing was that when Pa felt like hitting you, he’d call you “sir” with such contempt you wished someone would hit you.
Adam said, “Don’t tell me — Cassie didn’t like you calling Eleanor cute.”
Hoss looked amazed. “How did you know?”
But Hoss interrupted, “Hey, Pa! You should have drink; you wouldn’t feel so ornery then.”
Pa was apparently rendered speechless by this.
Adam persevered. “So, Cassie told you to leave and you got drunk with Jackson?”
Hoss shook his head. “Well …not exactly. I found Jackson in Durrant’s and we had some real nice Mexican wine…”
“Wine as well as whiskey?!?” Pa spitted.
Hoss nodded proudly, like this was an accomplishment. “Sure. It was real nice. Then I went to back serenade Cassie, but…”
Adam’s stomach fell. “You went to Cassie’s house drunk?”
“Naw! I’d only had five or six glasses of wine…”
Adam closed his eyes. “But, Hoss, Mr. Hertzman doesn’t drink. You know that.”
Hoss cocked his head as if considering facts. “That’s probably why Mr. Hertzman didn’t want the bottle of wine I took him.”
“ERIC!” Pa was incandescent.
“When did you have the whiskey?” Adam asked.
“Later, after Mr. Hertzman told me to leave…”
Pa said, “MR HERTZMAN THREW YOU OUT?”
Hoss made a face as if considering this. “Well, he weren’t too polite about it, come to think on it.”
Pa looked ready to explode.
All Adam could think of to say was, “Ah, Hoss!”
Hoss’ eyes closed for a moment and his face looked pale like the blood had been drained away. Hoss jerked his face up to look at Pa. “Know what, Pa? I don’t feel so good.” He struggled to stand and lurched towards the fireplace.
“Adam, get him out of here,” Pa ordered.
Adam wondered why this was his job? Before he had a chance to move, Hoss had dropped to his knees and begun to spew up in the fireplace.
The next morning –- a radiant June morning it was — Hoss felt as bad as he’d ever felt in his life — worse than when he’d had that toothache, worse even when he fell out of a tree when he was twelve and sprained his wrist. He was sure his mouth had been turned inside out. His head felt like a heavy, throbbing, needless appendage to his aching body. He managed to pull himself out of bed, wash his face and drag himself down to the kitchen where he now stood, sipping water from a tin cup. He wore his work clothes – collarless blue shirt, brown pants held up by wide brown suspenders. He was in his stocking feet. He had still to find for his boots; they had to be somewhere around.
Through the open window, Hoss could see Hop Sing and Adam out in the bright sunlight, apparently discussing the kitchen garden. He knew Little Joe was chopping wood behind the shed. What he wanted was to avoid Pa. Pa would have something to say and Hoss did not want to listen. Certainly not this morning, probably never.
On the table lay Adam’s book. Hoss picked it up and read the spine: “Bleak House”. Who’d want to read a big, thick book about something bleak? He set the book down again.
The grandfather clock read 9:13 when Hoss walked through the big room; he was supposed to have met Jackson and Wilf at seven go to up to Northgate and look for strays. They would have set off without him — Jackson knew that Pa was a stickler for timekeeping — and, anyway, Jackson was experienced enough to stay clear of Pa after last night.
Hoss closed his eyes and tried to think clearly. He’d spoiled everything. His sweetheart wouldn’t have him back now, her father hated Hoss, he’d lost a gold cufflink… Just the thought of Cassie made his heart skip a beat. Eleanor may be gorgeous but Cassie was the best. How lucky he had been to call her “sweetheart” for three whole months!
“So you’re awake,” Pa said.
Hoss turned to see Pa in the doorway to the dining room. “Hi, Pa.”
“You are late for work, sir. Jackson and Wilf left just after seven.”
Hoss hated being called ‘sir’; he reckoned Pa knew that. ”I’m just goin’ now.”
“Not before you and I have a talk.”
“Ah, Pa. Not now…”
Hoss squeezed his eyes closed and said, “Pa! I don’t feel up to talkin’ right now…”
“And why should that be, sir?”
Hoss felt an uncharacteristic surge of anger. He banged the tin cup down on the table and said, “Don’t tell me you never got drunk in your life. You were a sailor for four years!”
From the look on Pa’s face, Hoss knew he’d scored a bull’s eye. Pa took a step back and tried to recover. “Whatever I did when I was young does not justify your unseemly behavior to a respectable young lady.”
“I know that…”
Then Pa shot out words like bullets from a Gatling gun. “You were drunk in public, you managed to upset your sweetheart so her father threw you out, you ruined your best suit, you…”
“Pa, another time!”
“You write to that girl and her parents and apologize.”
Hoss took a step back. His spirits soared. Yes! That could win Cassie back. Hoss felt his shoulders drop with relief. “Ah, Pa! I’ll do that. It’s a real good idea…”
As if he could read Hoss’ mind, Pa snapped, “Eric, apologize because it is the correct thing to do and it may give the impression to people that you have some manners. But don’t be so naive as to think it will change the outcome. Mr. Hertzman does not drink and I doubt if he wants his daughters courting some young fool partial to liquor. Cassie’s only seventeen. Why, if I was Mr. Hertzman…”
The words stabbed at Hoss’ heart. With a force that surprised him, Hoss interrupted, “Well, you’re not!”
Pa said, “I BEG YOUR PARDON?”
Hoss looked at the floor and realized he was holding back tears; he hadn’t cried since Marie, his step-mother died, years ago now. In a small voice he said, “Sorry, Pa.”
They were quiet for a long while and then Pa asked, “And what do you proposed to do about Little Joe?”
Hoss felt like his head was being split in two with an axe. “What’s it gotta do with Joe?”
“He witnessed you on your hands and knees and saw you throw up in the fireplace. So he thinks that’s a perfectly reasonable way for a nineteen year old to behave…”
Hoss could have asked why the kid wasn’t in bed, but that wouldn’t have been wise. “I’ll talk to him, Pa, and say what I did was wrong.”
Pa nodded. “Thank you. That would be most helpful. What about Adam?”
“I set a bad example to my older brother as well?”
Pa closed his eyes as though praying for patience. He said, “You might wish to thank him for getting you up to bed safely and for cleaning up your mess.”
“Ah!” Hoss had yet to consider who had cleaned up the mess, but he was glad to hear it wasn’t Hop Sing. In fact, he was glad to hear it was Adam; Adam owed him, though Pa didn’t know.
Three years earlier, Pa had gone away for a couple of days and left Adam in charge. Adam proceeded to get drunk on cherry brandy and taught Hoss and Little Joe how to play poker. Adam watered down some brandy a little for Hoss and a lot for Joe. The taste made Hoss wretch but Joe –- who was only ten at the time — drank it with no trouble and got giggly.
The next day Adam looked plum awful and couldn’t get out of bed. Hoss and Little Joe did his chores and looked after him and later pretended to Pa, of course, that everything had gone smoothly. They were over the moon to have learned poker from an expert. Hoss still thought of it as one of the best evenings of his life.
Hoss replied to Pa, “I’ll talk to Adam.”
Pa walked over to the table, picked up Adam’s book from the table and examined it. He said, “Bleak House? Hump! I hope it’s not supposed to signify the Ponderosa.”
Hoss reckoned that was Pa’s idea of a joke. He took another sip of water from the cup.
Pa replaced the book and said, “Young man, may I offer you some advice?”
Hoss groaned. Why couldn’t Pa just shut up?
“From an experienced sailor who knows far too much about the over-consumption of liquor…”
“… a spoonful of apple cider vinegar in a large cup of warm water. Drink it quickly. It usually works.”
Hoss nodded. “Oh, okay. Thanks, Pa.”
Pa said, “I think the vinegar is in the cupboard,” and indicated to the free-standing wooden cupboard where bottles were stored.
Hoss stepped over to it. He pulled at the handle but it stuck. He closed his eyes and wondered why nothing ever worked for him? He placed his left hand on the frame and, with his right hand, gave the handle a fierce tug. The door jumped open with such violence that a bottle tumbled from the top shelf and, before Hoss could catch it, smashed onto the stone floor where it splintered into a hundred sharp, soggy pieces around Hoss’ sock feet.
From the smell, Hoss knew his gut-rot whiskey bottle was now in ruins. Like the rest of his life. Hoss glanced over to Pa who watched with no apparent desire to speak.
Hoss took a large, careful step away and leaned against the wall. He pushed his hand through his blond hair, looked over to Pa and said, “I know what I did was wrong and that I’ve wrecked my life. I’m real sorry I upset the house last night. I… I hope it don’t… doesn’t reflect badly on you, Pa.”
Pa smiled slightly and said. “Hoss, last night is over; it’s regrettable, but don’t think you’ve wrecked your life. Not at all. You’re young; you’ll have plenty more chances…”
“Not with Cassie.”
Pa nodded agreement. “Not with Cassie nor her sister, I guess. But otherwise, plenty of chances will come your way.” Then Pa turned and left through the dining room.
No, they won’t, thought Hoss. Anyway, I don’t want other chances; I want Cassie.
He turned and walked over to the corner of the kitchen and squatted down to pick up the dustpan and broom so he could clean up the mess.
Pa was back at the door. “Hoss?”
Hoss looked up. “Yes, sir?”
“You can make up the time for being late on Thursday.”
Hoss nodded. “That’s what I intended to do.”
Pa left and Hoss got on with dealing with the debris.
Two years later, Cassie married Delbert Lukens who worked at her parent’s bakery. In due course, she and Del took over the bakery and much later, in the twentieth century, their son took over from them.
On the 6th of April 1917, the day the United States entered World War I, Cassie Lukens died quietly in her sleep at age 79. When her daughter, Erica, went through Cassie’s things, she found a single, old-fashioned gold cuff link (18 carat, mind you) engraved with the initials “EC”. The family discussed it but no one knew any “EC” or where it had come from. They sold it and donated the $12 to a local charity for injured soldiers and their families.
Author’s note: I didn’t set out to write a sad story; I am optimistic by nature. But a positive ending didn’t seem credible after the mess Hoss got himself into in the first half. I hope people enjoy it anyway.
The title is, of course, a based on the 1957 novel “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” by Alan Sillitoe. I would recommend it anyone keen to learn about the lives of provincial factory workers in mid-twentieth century England.