Stuff and Botheration (by Virginia Slim)

Synopsis:  The aftermath of Little Joe being expelled from school.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rating:  PG
Word Count:  13,170
 


 

Warning:  Adult themes. This story includes incidents of corporal punishment and makes references to the use of pornography. Some adult readers may find these themes distasteful and children should not read this story.

This story is NOT pornographic. These are serious issues, and I have tried to discuss them thoughtfully and in a way which might help readers consider them. I hope people enjoy this story.

International readers:  American English is used in this story. Particularly note that:

·   In American English “swank” means “dashing smartness in dress or appearance”. (In British English it means “pretentious show off”.)

·   What the Americans call a Derby hat, the British call a Bowler.

 

The Introduction:  In Which Adam Is Excavating A Mine When Joe Arrives Unexpectedly

Adam Cartwright held up the ground-plan and compared it to the excavation work in front of him. He calculated that they should be finished with this stage of the digging by tomorrow night. He was hot and tired and content. Only weeks ago, he had felt bored and disheartened; there were times he had thought he would explode with frustration. But now things were going well and, although sinking a mine was tricky and testing of his skills and knowledge, he knew they’d get there.

Lester shouted, “Isn’t that Little Joe?”

Adam looked over towards the hill and saw his youngest brother — who was only thirteen — galloping towards them like a Kentucky jockey in the Phoenix stakes. Pa would skin him if he saw the speed.

“ADAM! ADAM!” Joe was soon close enough to hear. “YOU GOTTA HELP ME…”

Joe had now slipped off his pony and stood there almost shaking. “Adam, it wasn’t my fault…”

“Slow down, buddy.”

“Pa never listens to me!”

“Little Joe, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Adam said calmly.

“Ah, Adam. I been expelled from school, but it wasn’t my fault…”

A wry smile crossed Adam’s face. Neither he nor Hoss had managed anything to match what this boy had achieved in thirteen years. No wonder Pa’s hair was white.

“…Really it wasn’t,” the boy repeated.

Adam took a deep breath. “Stop saying that. Every kid who has ever been expelled from school in the whole United States believes it is not their fault and almost always it is exactly their fault.”

Joe stepped forward, grabbed Adam’s arm and pleaded, “You gotta help me talk to Pa.”

Adam shook his head and tried to speak kindly. “I’d help if I could, Little Joe, but Pa won’t listen to me on this subject. You’re better off talking to him on your own. Just do it as soon as possible and keep apologizing.”

“But it wasn’t my fault!”

“I told you not to say that. Look, apologize to Pa for putting him to any trouble this ‘misunderstanding’ has caused. But it won’t help much. Res loquitur ipsa.”

“What’s that mean?” demanded the frustrated boy.

“It’s Latin for ‘the thing speaks for itself’. In Pa’s eyes, anyway. You’ve been expelled; you’re going to get a beating.”

*****

Little Joe Follows Adam’s Advice But Ben Is Enraged

It was getting on to two o’clock and Ben realized he had only just touched the surface of the paperwork on his desk. He had hoped to be finished by now so he could tackle some outdoor work and be outside in the fresh air.

The front door burst open like an explosion, and there stood his youngest boy, nearly shouting, “Pa! I gotta talk to you. I’m real sorry…”

“What are you doing home at this time?” Ben asked, confused.

“It ain’t my fault! Well, I mean, I’m sorry to put you to all this trouble, Pa.”

“What trouble? Why are you home from school?”

Joe stumbled across the floor to his father’s desk and took a deep breath. “Well, it’s just…I really wanna apologize…”

“Joseph, what are you talking about?”

“Oh, Pa!” Joe took a big sigh and then blurted, “Ah, gee, I’ve been expelled from school.”

“WHAT?”

Joe pulled a crumpled sheet from his back pocket and handed it over.

Ben, still seated, opened and read:

Dear Mr. Cartwright,

I very much regret to advise you that I have today been forced to expel your son, Joseph, and Wace Johnson from this school for setting off fire crackers and possessing a cigar and friction matches.

I am, very respectfully yours,

Evangeline Colgrave (Miss)

“JOSEPH!”

“Pa, it wasn’t my … I mean, I apologize for any inconvenience…”

“What were you doing with fire crackers?”

“Nothing, Pa, I…”

“Don’t lie to me, boy!” Ben pinned the boy with a look.

“I’m not, Pa.”

“Go to your room!” Ben pointed to the staircase.

“Pa, please listen…”

Ben stood.

Joe fled.

*****

Hoss Gives Ben Some Advice (Part 1)

Ten minutes later, just as Ben had just poured himself a second whisky, Hoss came in.

“A bit early, isn’t it, Pa?” Hoss said in his friendliest tone.

“Joseph has been expelled from school.”

Hoss’ eyes grew large and a smile formed on his lips. He was nineteen now, a big man, towering over his father.

“Don’t laugh,” Ben said.

“Sorry, Pa.”

Ben handed Hoss Miss Colgrave’s note and took a gulp from his glass. “I can’t understand it. I told Joseph months ago to stay away from that Johnson boy. He must have been lying to me the whole time…”

“Naw,” said Hoss with certainty. “Joe couldn’t lie convincingly to save his soul.”

“I don’t about his soul, but very little can save his hide.” Ben gripped the glass so tightly his knuckles were white. “To tell the truth, I don’t know what to do.”

“Why don’t you just talk to Little Joe and see what he has to say,” suggested the practical Hoss.

*****

Showing Little Joe In His Bedroom Waiting For Ben

Little Joe sat on his bed with knees drawn up to his chest, hugging himself and sucking on his left thumb. His boots lay discarded on the floor. His mind turned over and over what would happen next. Pa would come in and give him a long lecture and there would be some yelling before the thrashing. Expulsion must be pretty serious; Pa might use the razor strop. If only Pa would listen.

Joe’s muscles tensed as he heard his father’s footsteps on the stairs. Pa knocked once and entered. No strop in his hands; Joe’s shoulders loosen.

Pa spoke quietly. “Joseph, I’m less angry now than a few minutes, so perhaps you could tell me your version of the story?”

Joe felt his whole body ease. There was a chance. “Yes, sir,” began Joe and then explained all about it.

*****

The Background To This Story Is Explained In A Charming Fashion

The story starts months earlier on a sunny Saturday afternoon. In an effort to impress his friend Mitch and relieve boredom, Little Joe “borrowed” Ben’s pepper-pot pistol from the sideboard for target practice. He knew if he asked permission, the answer would be ‘no’ but his father and brothers weren’t around. With predictable carelessness, Little Joe replaced the pistol in the wrong drawer. Given time, Ben would have discovered this for himself, but Adam noticed first.

It’s unlikely that Adam meant to tattle but he was surprised to see the pistol in the second drawer. He was talking to himself as much as to anyone else in the room when he said aloud, “Why is the old pepper-pot here?”

Predictable, too, was the uncovering of the crime and criminal, Ben’s anger,  and the ordering of Little Joe to his room to await retribution. Dragging his feet up the stairs, Little Joe caught Adam’s eye and spitted out the words: “You damned snitch!” The curse didn’t bother Adam but turned Ben’s anger into fury. The razor strop was used.

Afterwards, they all felt bad. Ben felt bad because he always felt bad after thrashing one of his boys; he only did it because that was the only sure way to ensure a boy became a civilized gentleman. This time, he felt especially bad because he knew that he’d hit Joe harder than necessary to make his point; he should have just used a belt. It crossed Ben’s mind that he should talk to Little Joe about that, but he couldn’t find the words.

Hoss felt bad because he always felt terrible about family upset. He hated to see his precious, good-hearted little brother punished.

Little Joe felt bad for the obvious reason:  he was in pain. He also felt bad because he’d been so dumb as to replace the pistol in the wrong drawer. But he felt seriously guilty about cursing Adam; he reckoned the licking fair for that alone. He knew his Pa would never curse another man; it was un-gentlemanly. Joe decided he would never curse again. He wanted to be a gentleman. It crossed Joe’s mind to talk to Adam about that but he couldn’t find the words.

Adam felt bad because he thought the punishment too severe. He often thought Little Joe an immature, over-indulged brat, but no one deserved the razor strop. It crossed Adam’s mind to tell Ben what he thought and he did so; Ben was not interested in Adam’s views on the matter.

Adam then considered what he could do to make up for the harshness of someone else’s punishment. No thoughts that his actions had led to the punishment entered Adam’s over-educated, hard head.

*****

Little Joe Celebrates His 13th Birthday

Two weeks later, Little Joe was a happy boy. It was his birthday and he sat at the breakfast table and opened his presents:  from Hoss, three sticks of peppermint candy; from Pa, five silver dollars to put towards a new saddle for his pony; and from Adam, who had been a snitch, a penknife. An American shear and knife pen, it was actually called, and his initials, “JFC”, were carved into the pearl handle. It was handsome, sturdy and beautifully balanced.

“A gift for a man,” Adam said, “now you’re thirteen.”

The final birthday treat was Pa agreeing Little Joe could stay in Virginia City after school. Well, on condition that all Joe’s chores were done and that he was home a half hour before dark.

“You mind the time, young man,” warned Ben. “The roads are dangerous after sundown. You could lose your way, your pony could trip. Robbers have been known. Staying late is a privilege and it can be withdrawn.”

Little Joe beamed. His dark hair and large green eyes and dimples made his face light up. By nature and inclination, he was what the Irish call “cute”. The boy looked at his silver dollars, the candy and the penknife, basked in his new-found freedom and in the love he felt for his family.

“Don’t worry, Pa. You can count on me.”

*****

A New Character Is Introduced

This was the year that Mitch contracted scarlet fever and spent weeks and weeks in bed. Little Joe missed his friend; they’d been sidekicks since early childhood. Together they were beguiling, incorrigible, mischievous and invincible. Joe was pleased when the new boy, Wace Johnson, was seated next to him at school. Wace was fifteen, tall and lanky with striking straw- colored hair worn long, an inch or so below the ears. He wore a snake skin belt with a stallion’s head impressed into its brass buckle and sported a brown derby hat. The other boys, including Joe, had hair chopped short and wore brown or black cotton pants — corduroy in winter, if they could afford it — with wide suspenders. As frequently as not, they wore ill-fitting, lace-up boots and second-hand flat caps. Convention and respectability decreed that children should dress like children.

Joe soon noticed that Wace couldn’t read very well and put it down to the fact that he and his mother travelled around a lot. He’d had lived in Texas and California and he always seem to have money — pennies and nickels — at a time when most children and many adults carried no cash. The day after Miss Colgrave confiscated Wace’s playing cards, he had a new deck. Wace knew lots of dirty jokes, some of which Joe understood. Joe searched for a word to describe Wace and eventually settled on “swank”.

Little Joe still wanted to be a gentleman but he now wanted to be a swank gentleman.

*****

The Shortest Chapter Of This Tale

One evening, Pa sat reading Putnam’s Monthly after supper and Joe and Hoss were settled in front of the checkerboard. Adam said, “Hey, buddy, that new boy at school. Does he have really blond hair?”

Joe smiled. “I guess. You seen him?”

“Yeah,” said Adam. “This morning. Dresses like a gunslinger or something. I guess he was playing hooky.”

Little Joe wished Adam hadn’t mentioned Wace when Pa was around.

It seemed that Pa always listened when you didn’t want him to and never did when you did. Uh!

*****

Hoss Finds Joe In A Bad Mood

“Did you get into a fight or fall off your pony?” This is what Hoss asked Little Joe when he found his brother in the washroom late one afternoon. The boy looked a mess, clothes disheveled and dusty, a small scratch on his face. In his left hand was a damp towel and he’d obviously been trying to wipe dirt from his pants.

Little Joe spat out his response. “I did NOT fall off my pony!”

So there’d been a fight. Hoss said, “Do you want to talk about it?”

“NO!”

“Well, can I help you clean yourself up?”

“I ain’t a baby.”

Hoss put his hands up as though surrendering. “Okay. I’ll leave you alone.”

*****

Little Joe’s Afternoons Are Explained

Once or twice, Joe casually dropped Wace’s name into conversation at home but he just knew that Pa wouldn’t approve of a 15-year-old cardsharp. With that in mind, Joe decided not to bring to the attention of his family that he and Wace and other boys had begun to meet up after school behind McGovern’s warehouse. There the boys could do what they wished without the prying eyes of grown-ups. McGovern himself was usually too drunk by three o’clock to notice anything inside the warehouse, much less behind it.

These afternoons were an education to Joe, who learned new cuss words he had no intention of using and dirty jokes he was too polite to repeat. Joe tried chewing tobacco but it tasted plum awful and gave him a headache. Sometimes a bottle of wine was passed around and Joe occasionally took a swig. He was one of the youngest to be part of the crowd and he treasured each moment. He lived for these afternoons, and desperately wanted to walk and talk like Wace.

He found it difficult to pull himself away in time to get home before dark.

*****

A Haircut Is Proposed

The next Tuesday morning as Joe left the breakfast table, Pa handed him two bald eagle dimes and said, “Get your hair cut after school. You can keep the change.”

Joe didn’t want his hair cut. “I’ve been thinking, maybe, I should grow it longer. For the spring.” The fact this made no sense didn’t occur to Joe.

Pa looked surprised. “You don’t want a hair cut?”

Pa had no idea how to look swank.

Adam butted in. “He wants to look like that Wace boy.”

“Is that so?” asked Pa. He expected an answer.

“I just thought it would be warmer. Y’know in spring.” Joe could see that no one believed him, not even Hoss. He was a useless liar.

Pa said, “Get your hair cut, boy. Today.”

At least he got to keep the change.

*****

Showing The Preoccupation Of Adam’s Mind

The previous fall, Adam had come to the conclusion that he liked the idea of ranching more than ranching itself. Ranching itself seemed to be a collection of menial tasks. He had studied engineering because he liked to work out complicated problems. While such challenges occurred on the Ponderosa, Pa usually tackled them because Pa always had.

Some days this didn’t bother Adam — there is something comforting about doing simple, straightforward tasks again and again. Other days were different. On one of these days, Adam worked out a plan; there were lots of silver mines around, but Adam fancied that at Mawavi, to the north of the ranch, there could be opals. There were already a few profitable opal mines in Nevada and Adam thought they should at least do some preliminary investigations.

His engineering instincts may have been sound, but his timing was terrible. He brought up the idea with Pa a week before three Army tenders were due and two days before a major round-up. Pa gave pretence to listening and then said curtly, “Adam, if you need more work, there’s plenty you can have. Right now, we need an opal mine about as much as an opera singer…”

So Pa stayed at home and did the tenders, and Adam went on the round-up and sulked. Months later, he still felt sorry for himself and occasionally and fleetingly realized that this wasn’t helpful. He hadn’t brought up the opal mine again with Pa, but he wasn’t sure why.

Well, probably one reason was that right after the round-up, Martha Kendell, with whom Adam had been sweet, announced she preferred Luther Watkins as a suitor. Adam felt slighted, although he could see that he’d been amiss; often he didn’t call on Martha for weeks on end. Even Hoss had warned him that a good-looking girl like Martha needed to be doted on with loving care, like a prize hog.

The pain was still raw.

*****

An Explanation Of The Cause Little Joe’s Gambling Prowess

Respectable citizens did not want their young sons taught vile card games; Wace taught them poker. The boys gambled with marbles, Wace explaining that marbles were a good start. They could move on to other stuff once they got the hang of game.

Poker was one thing going right for Little Joe. The summer Adam had returned from college he taught Little Joe how to play. This had left Little Joe with the interesting notion that a familiarity with the rules of poker was the chief advantage of higher education. Obviously, Pa was not aware of Joe’s skills. Ben Cartwright disapproved of gambling; he could be puritanical like that. Even Adam, who enjoyed the occasional card game with friends in Virginia City saloons, did so discreetly.

Little Joe began to fancy himself a crackerjack poker player, his success evidenced by the increasing weight of his marble collection. One Tuesday afternoon, Joe won so many marbles he ended up returning them all to his friends. Well, he couldn’t very well lug a four-pound sack of marbles home without attracting questions. Besides, Pa had said there could be robbers on the road and he didn’t want them stolen. In any event, the decision made him popular with the other boys. And a complete marvel to Wace.

It occurred to Little Joe that poker was one fine card game. It occurred to him that he was one fine poker player. It did not occur to him that Wace was losing on purpose.

*****

 More Of Adam’s Thoughts

The family. They drove Adam to distraction. Little Joe, for instance. When he was a baby and little boy, Adam adored him but now he was half-grown, noisy, irresponsible and prone to recklessness. The boy had no grasp of subtlety, which was why he was forever being caught out.

And Pa! The little things annoyed Adam: the way Pa scribbled notes in the margin of all the magazines and newspapers. Every Sunday, Adam felt close to screaming: Pa insisted on wearing to church the same tarnished cuff links inherited from his grandfather, even though Pa had much nicer, more expensive cuff links which remained in the drawer for months if not years.

It had become just about insufferable when an unexpected letter arrived. An old college friend wrote to ask if Adam wanted to join him in Oregon, to help survey the Columbia River Valley. Adam was tempted; the work would be challenging and rewarding and away from his family.

On the other hand, it meant a long trek – six hundred miles? Adam was sick of travelling. He was three years old when he and Pa started on the road and they had only stayed put, really, when Pa married Marie, Joe’s mother. There had been some superb years of living in a real house, going to school and having regular neighbors. Then Marie had died, and within months, Adam had travelled to Boston for college. When he returned four years later, he silently made a pack with himself to stay put.

But that meant living with Pa, Hoss and Little Joe. It meant ranching.

*****

What Pa Knows

One evening when Pa came into Joe’s bedroom to say goodnight, he asked, “Where do you go after school?”

Little Joe glanced away and said, “Oh, you know, the school yard. Playing marbles. Sometimes we go down to Kruger’s for candy.”

Pa knew he was lying and Joe knew Pa knew. Joe also knew he was a useless liar; he was usually caught out. Sometimes when Pa discovered Joe lying, he’d be punished, but that didn’t bother Joe. His mistakes, misjudgments and misdemeanors made him feel foolish and childish and embarrassed and that was enough.

When Joe was a little boy, it seemed to him that Pa had magic powers because he always knew when Joe had been at the cookie jar, knew it was Joe who spread the boot polish all over the kitchen step, even though Joe insisted it was Hoss. Now he was older, he knew Pa wasn’t magical, but it still seemed to him that Pa knew everything Joe did or didn’t think.

*****

A Short Chapter Regarding Wace’s Brief Disappearance

One Monday, Wace did not show up at school until noon, and when he arrived, he had a black eye, a cut lip and Joe noticed he was limping.

“What happened to you?” Joe demanded.

“Ah, nothin’. Just a lickin’.”

Joe was amazed. “Your ma?”

“Naw, her beau.”

“A bit hard, wasn’t it?”

“Ain’t you ever had a lickin’?”

“Only about a million times,” said Little Joe. “All on my tail.”

*****

Joe’s Gambling Is Discovered!

For weeks, the penknife was constantly in Joe’s hands. He spent hours perfecting his aim, flicking it with increasing accuracy against the target chalked on the back of the barn. Several times a day, he would challenge the others to a contest, an opportunity which Adam consistently declined, though Hoss and Pa occasionally took it up.

The absence of the knife dawned on Hoss one weekend, so at supper on Sunday evening he said, “Joe, where’s your knife? I haven’t seen you with it in a couple of weeks.”

Little Joe stopped eating and tried to think of an answer. The silence was a curiosity.

“Don’t you know where it is, son?” Pa asked.

Finally Joe whispered, “I lost it.”

“We’ll help you look for it,” offered Hoss. “Where’d you lose it?”

But Little Joe remained silent and poked at the mash potatoes with his fork.

“Oh, don’t tell me,” finally Adam said in a joking voice. “You lost it gambling.”

Joe shot him a glance, eyes welling with tears that told everyone Adam was right.

Pa said, “You lost that expensive knife playing marbles?”

Joe shrank.

Adam made a guess. “It wasn’t marbles, was it?

Hoss made another. “Poker?”

Joe looked even smaller.

Ben looked astonished. “Who on earth taught you to play poker?!?”

Hoss noticed Adam’s eyes squeeze shut.

Little Joe’s voice came out squeaky, like a little kid, “Well, see…”

Ben spat the words out. “It was that boy, Wace, wasn’t it? He’s got your knife, hasn’t he?”

Joe managed a stammer. “I guess.”

“Pardon?”

“Yes, sir.”

Pa shook his head with disapproval. “You should stay away from Wace if he …”

“Oh, no, Pa, he’s my friend. He does things for me…”

“Like what? Steal you things?” Adam interrupted.

Little Joe looked hurt. “He won it fair and square.”

There was silence and Hoss worried that Little Joe might still end up with a licking.

Instead Little Joe mustered some courage and looked Pa in the eye. “You were right about gambling, Pa. It ain’t worth a candle.”

Pa’s shoulders seem to fall at this and he smiled slightly at Joe. “I suspect you have learned your lesson, Joseph, but look at the price you paid.”

Joe winced. He got the picture.

*****

Showing A Dialogue Between Adam And Little Joe

“I appreciate what you did earlier, Little Joe,” said Adam with a smile. He stood in the hall just outside Little Joe’s open bedroom door; this was a couple of hours after the last conversation.

“What?” Little Joe stood in his nightshirt now getting ready for bed. He looked confused.

“When Pa asked who taught you poker, you didn’t mention by name.”

“Oh, it was easy ‘cause Pa changed the subject, you know.”

“Sure, but it was still generous of you…”

Joe made a face. “Generous? So why aren’t you more generous with me? You’re always tellin’ on me…”

Adam was baffled. “I haven’t …”

“Sure you have! You told Pa I took the pepper-pot pistol and tonight, you guessed I’d been gambling and said so out loud so Pa…”

“Ah, Joe! Don’t blame me! You get yourself into trouble. If you’d behave …”

Little Joe’s chin butted out. “Know what I think? I think you want me to act like a grown up but I’m only a kid. Anyway, you ain’t so perfect. I hear tell you got whopped for smokin’ in the barn when you were older than me…”

Adam flinched. He was still ashamed: the only time he ever tried smoking and he chose the most flammable building on the Ponderosa, if not the whole of Nevada. If ever there was a Cartwright who deserved the razor strop, it was Adam for that, which is exactly what he got.

Hoss must have told Little Joe. Pa wouldn’t have.

They were silent for a moment and then Adam chose his words with care. “Joe, if I have tattled on you, that wasn’t my intention. But you are the author of your own misfortune…”

Joe stepped forward and closed the door.

*****

Adam Has Cause To Ruminate

There was a full moon that night so Adam didn’t take a lantern when he strolled out to check on the bottom coral. That was his first mistake. His second was to trip over the three-foot wooden sword Little Joe had left on the path; Pa was forever telling the boy to put it away and Little Joe forever forgetting.

Adam sat on the ground and held his head in his hands. This symbolized his whole life: A clear, straight path ahead and he’s tripped up by a child’s toy.

He reached out, fumbled in the dirt for the sword and then hurled it hard into the night. To his dismay, he heard it crack against the barn, apparently snapping in two.

Now he’d have to explain that to Joe!

That impudent whelp! So gawky and blundering. Not like Adam was at that age. As long as he could remember, Adam had possessed the ability to scheme or even connive, and this had helped him sail around Pa. Yes, clever scheming and a bit of good luck got him through childhood. Like that time he stole a horse.

Well, not just any horse. Ben Cartwright’s horse.

He was fifteen and Ben had confined him to the house for two days for some pathetic infraction. Come to think of it, it was gross insolence in front of his younger brothers, so not so pathetic. Adam’s original idea had been just to sneak out one night after everyone was asleep to get some fresh air. When he got outside, he decided he’d prefer to go for a ride; by the time he got to the barn, he’d decided he’d prefer Ben’s horse to his own.

That would have all been fine, except that Mr. Purdy, the temporary foreman, happened to look out his window and see Mr. Cartwright’s horse being ridden away at midnight by an unidentifiable horseman. Fortunately, when Mr. Purdy caught up with Adam three miles later, he recognized him, so he did not squeeze the trigger of the perfectly aimed pistol. Good old Purdy never told on Adam and Adam never stole another horse either.

Adam sat on the ground getting colder and ruminated on his life. He had meant to compliment Little Joe tonight but the conversation turned sour. It was just like when he tried to talk to Pa about the mine. And like with Martha. It dawned on Adam, that there were times when he was a bit gawky and blundering. That might mean, of course that, like Little Joe, like everyone else, he could be the author of his own fate. On a certain level, anyway.

And if I’m like a bit like Little Joe, then perhaps I should try to help the scallywag. He’s only a kid.

*****

A Surprising And Significant Incident

Little Joe didn’t know how he’d survive without Wace but some of the things Wace got up to were plain half-witted. For instance, he got Wesley Kendall tipsy on Mexican wine and left him sitting on the boardwalk in front of Saville’s Hardware on Union Street. That was asking for trouble. Like when Wace threw a couple of lit firecrackers into the Chinese laundry just to scare the women.

Joe knew Wace wasn’t a gentleman but admired him in many ways. For instance, that Wace wasn’t answerable to anyone and never wasted times on chores and only went to school went it suited him. Joe longed to be free of Pa’s rules; Pa was an unnecessary restraint and didn’t know how to have fun. Nor did Pa have any idea how to dress swank. It also irked Joe that he knew his family was rich but Pa never gave him but a dime or so every week when Wace always had cash.

One afternoon, Wace handed Joe a photograph. Joe expected to see a picture of a cowboy or sailing ship or President Taylor. Instead it was of a lady, undressed above the waist standing next to an upright piano with an aspidistra on it. Joe was stunned. He’d never seen anything like this:  his mouth went dry; his hands turned ice cold and he dropped the picture. The other boys laughed and Joe turned red.

“Try this one, Cartwright.” Wace winked and shoved a second photograph into Joe’s hands. It was even more bizarre:  a woman, hands on hips, standing next to a fully set dinner table, wearing only boots and a large flowery hat and nothing else. Joe’s body went cold and he tried not to look.

“Don’t worry, Joe,” said Wace. “You’ll get used to the way they look.”

*****

An Explanation Of Temptation And Gentlemen

Little Joe spent the next week imaging every female he came across as the strange, fleshy creatures in the photographs:  Cassie, Hoss’ new sweetheart; Mrs. Rington, the minister’s wife. Even Miss Colgrave. Not to mention the older girls at school. Ethel Armstrong looked so different now.

He was grievously tempted by sin:  at school, in the barn, doing chores, at breakfast, riding — just everywhere. Goodness knows he’d tried to resist, but after what he’d seen… He was repulsed by the pictures yet wanted to see them again. He thought his head would explode whenever the images came into mind, which was all the time.

Obviously, he could never become a gentleman. Not like Pa. Not now.

Joe sorely missed Mitch. They had no secrets from each other and tended to work out problems together. True, grownups didn’t always like their solutions, but you can’t please everybody. Anyway, Joe reckoned Mitch would be mighty interested in those photographs.

Joe felt cast adrift from his moorings; he needed someone to talk to. That someone could not be Pa. Although Joe didn’t know the term, he appreciated that his father was prudish, not in a judgmental sense, but in the sense that Victorian gentlemen felt responsible for the efficient order of society.

And Joe couldn’t talk to Hoss; you couldn’t involve Hoss in anything as disgusting as pictures of naked ladies.

This only left Adam and he didn’t trust Adam.

After six days, he had no choice.

*****

Adam Explains About Gentlemen, Urges And Ladies

“Adam, I need to talk to you, but you can’t tell Pa,” explained Joe. This was in the barn; it was Sunday afternoon and Pa had stayed on at church for a meeting and Hoss had gone to visit Cassie.

Adam groaned. “What trouble are you in this time?”

Joe’s shoulders sagged. “Can’t I just tell you something without you blabbin’?”

Adam straightened up and smiled helpfully. “Sorry, Joe. Sure, I won’t tell a soul.”

Joe returned the smile and began his sad, erotic tale. Halfway through, Adam did a strange thing: he reached over and ruffled Joe’s hair like he used to do that when Joe was just little and upset. Little Joe felt his muscles ease and knew he was in safe hands.

Little Joe finished with his question. “Well, see, what I want to know… I mean, I wanted to be like Pa … a gentleman, but now…” Joe stumbled on his words.

Adam spoke kindly. “Joe, being a gentleman depends on honesty and integrity and having respect for others. It means good manners and consideration for other people and their points of view. It’s got nothing to do with … urges…”

Little Joe looked doubtful. “How can you be a gentleman… if you give way to…y’know…”

“Why not? Like I just said, being a gentleman depends on honesty, integrity and manners. It doesn’t depend on what you do or don’t do when you’re alone…”

Little Joe didn’t look convinced. “You can go blind. Mitch said.”

Adam shook his head. “If that were true, there would be a lot more blind soldiers, cowboys and governors strolling about.”

They were quiet, Joe sizing up the information.

Adam added. “I thought about it a lot when I was your age and…”

Joe looked up, startled. “It’s not just me?”

Adam smiled slightly. “It’s not just you, young Joseph. It’s boys.”

“But … it wasn’t like this before I saw those pictures…”

“No and you should not have seen those photographs. But the urges? They’re normal for a thirteen year old male.”

Joe fixed on his next problem. “But what do I tell Pa about the pictures?”

Adam looked surprised. “For goodness sake, don’t tell Pa! He’ll have Wace and half of Virginia City locked up.”

“But he’ll know… He always knows what I’m thinking.”

Adam shook his head. “Joe, he knows you’re thirteen and knows what thirteen year old boys think about. He won’t think further about it.”

They sat in silence for a minute and then Adam spoke, “But I am a bit worried about Wace. These pictures — a kid your age should never see them. Grown men should never see them. They’re lewd and licentious and degrade human life, particularly ladies …”

Joe knew Adam was right, though the pictures were interesting.

“…You know, Joe, you should stay away from Wace….”

“No, he helps me!”

Adam raised his eyebrows and looked like Pa, just for a moment. “Helps you lose your pen knife…”

“He won it!”

“Joe, he’s two years older than you and dresses like a….”

“What difference does that make? Hoss is older than me! And you dress, y’know, swank…”

“I do?!?” Adam was surprised. A few days earlier, Adam’s order new clothes had arrived from a high class haberdasher in San Francisco. Little Joe’s envy had been evident as Adam un-wrapped the parcel: two black shirts with white stitching; dark trousers.

“Well, sometimes you do,” Little Joe clarified matters. “Anyway, maybe I can help Wace, ‘cause he doesn’t have a real good family. I can keep him out of trouble.”

Adam looked doubtful. “Little Joe, I really think you should talk to Pa…”

“No! You promised you wouldn’t tell!”

“Okay, Joe. I won’t tell.”

Little Joe was adamant. “Promise again.”

“Promise.”

Little Joe left the barn and headed for the kitchen. Then he turned around and went back. “Hey, Adam, do ladies … have … urges?”

Adam frowned and shook his head. “No, of course not, Joe. They’re ladies.”

*****

Joe Breaks A Rule!

Three days later, Little Joe first broken the rule and came home after dark. It was just after six and the family had sat down to eat when the boy stumbled through the front door.

“Joseph, you are late.” Ben glared.

“Sorry, sir. I forgot the time. I was playing.”

“Who with?”

Joe shrugged. “Y’know, Wesley, Morgan, Tommy, Clarence Knight…”

“Was the Johnson boy there?”

“Yes, sir.”

Ben sat back in his chair and shook his head. “Joe, I am not sure he’s a good person for you…”

“Pa, Wace wasn’t late; I was…”

Adam closed his eyes.

Hoss sucked in air.

Ben was about to reach out and swat the boy across the head.

Little Joe redeemed himself. “I think that might have sounded like sass…”

“It might have,” Ben agreed in an even tone.

“…but it wasn’t, see? I just got my words confused is all.”

“Watch yourself, boy.”

Joe, looking Ben straight in the eye, nodded. “Yes, sir. Sorry.”

Ben accepted the apology and moved on. “To get back to the point, it is dangerous on the roads after dark. I know that the only free time you get with other boys is after school and so I don’t want to insist you come straight home, but…”

“Ah, Pa. I’m real, real sorry. I’ll be more careful.”

Ben suspected the worse, particularly of Wace Johnson, but of late, Little Joe had remembered all his chores and done them thoroughly and had behaved well.

“One more chance, Joseph. Just one.”

*****

Adam Blunders And Ben Wonders

Later, after Joe had been packed off to bed, Ben sat alone at the table drinking coffee and thinking about plans for spring grazing. Adam came up and sat beside him. He smiled before he spoke. “Pa, I don’t think you handled that well.”

Ben said nothing.

Adam continued, “You should stop Little Joe staying in town. He’ll just end up in trouble.”

Ben locked eyes with Adam and said, “Last time you complained I was too harsh; now I am too lenient?”

“I know you want Little Joe to decide for himself to stay away from Wace, but he’s too young and …” Adam just stopped mid-sentence as if the words had dried up in his mouth.

After a minute or so Adam got up and left the room.

Ben pondered this conversion. He concluded that Adam was in possession of facts about his youngest son that were unknown to himself.

Now what could that be?

*****

Adam Devises A Plan

Adam felt like banging his head against the barn door. He had said more than he had intended. Pa would now be suspicious and would ask questions. Adam couldn’t keep his promise of silence to Little Joe and answer those questions.

He recalled a trick he had developed when he was fifteen or so to confuse and aggravate Pa. It was immature and pathetic and no self-respecting adult would employ such tactics.

It might just work.

*****

Adam executes his plan

At 7:30 the next morning, Joe was in the upstairs hall about to come down for breakfast when he heard Pa and Adam speaking. He pinned himself against the wall and cocked his head to listen. He was pretty such Adam would snitch on him, but he wanted to know for certain.

“Adam, do you know something I don’t know about Little Joe?”

“No, sir, I don’t believe so.”

“Why did you call me ‘sir’?”

“I believe it’s considered polite in some circles.”

“It’s considered polite by me, I just haven’t heard it from you in a long time.”

“You haven’t, sir?”

“You know very well I haven’t.”

“An omission. I am so sorry, sir.”

“Well, I don’t care about that. I want an answer to my question.”

“And what question would that be, sir?”

“You know something about Little Joe.”

“Do I, sir?”

“You certainly do, young man.”

“Pa! It’s been years since you called me that!”

“Adam! Please don’t tie me up with your cheap words.”

“Cheap! Do you not recall the cost of my education…?”

“I very much remember the cost! Please can we get to the point:  I am concerned about the moral wellbeing of your thirteen year old brother and I would thank you to…”

“And I must say what an excellent example of American youth that boy has grown into.”

“Adam, am I going to get a straight answer from you about this?”

“Oh, no sir. I wouldn’t have thought that likely. No.”

Little Joe heard the stomping of Pa’s boots across the floor and the opening and slamming of the front door.

Wow! Imagine talking to Pa like that!

“Hey, Joe!”

Joe moved away from the wall and looked down the stair well at Adam who gave him a big wink. “Did you really think I’d break my promise?”

*****

Hoss Gives Ben Some Advice (Part 2)

“Flannel mouthed, over-clever, witty-tongued, upstart…” Ben muttered half out-loud as he stomped over towards the corral. This was an hour later and Ben still fumed. He passed within feet of Walt and Lester, the two new hands, but didn’t appear to notice them. They decided to stay out of Mr. Cartwright’s way.

“…bumptious, arrogant, pretentious pup of a little ingrate…”

Ben saw what he was looking for on the other side of the second corral and he called out: “ERIC!”

Twenty feet away, Hoss turned and frowned and then walked over to meet his father.

Ben stood rigid, clinching and unclenching his fists, trying to control his breathing. When Hoss was within a few feet, Ben said, “Sorry, son. I know you prefer being called ‘Hoss’.”

Hoss shrugged and said, “You don’t look well, Pa.”

“Do you know what your brothers are up to?”

Hoss was puzzled. “Y’mean together?”

“OF COURSE I MEAN TOGETHER!”

Hoss stared at his father but did not reply.

Ben made a conscious effort to relax. “Sorry, Hoss. It’s Adam. He’s so … Well, I’m guessing, but he apparently knows about some kind of trouble Joe is in with that Johnson boy. If Joe is hurt by Adam’s cavalier behavior, I’ll…”

Hoss didn’t know what ‘cavalier’ meant, but interrupted anyway. “Sweet jumpin’ Christopher, Pa! Adam would never let anything happen to Little Joe.”

*****

Adam Regrets

Stuff and botheration! thought Adam as he trotted on his horse towards the lake to check some traps. I should not have done that. It was silly and childish and all I had to do was tell Pa that Little Joe had told me things in confidence and I was handling them. But no! I had to be spineless and let my childish instincts overcome any pretence of maturity I once possessed.

When he’d finished checking the traps, his pocket watch read only 10:22. He didn’t want to face Pa yet.

Anyway, he had to run an errand first.

*****

Adam Journeys To Virginia City And Meets Wace Johnson

In Virginia City, Adam tied his horse to the hitching post outside the Sheriff’s office and walked up and down the boardwalks, searching for a tall, skinny boy with straw blond hair. Of course, Wace could be at school, but on an unusually sunny day, Adam didn’t think so. After forty minutes, Adam gave up and made his way back. That’s when he heard a rumpus at Wildcat Durant’s saloon and looked over to see Wildcat push a blond-haired kid so hard the boy fell backwards off the boardwalk into the dirt road. The boy climbed to his knees, then curled up and began to vomit.

Wildcat shouted, “Stay out until you’ve grown up! And tell that mother of yours to stay out until she pays up!”

Adam winced in sympathy. He crossed the street and stood over Wace, who now lay doubled up in the dirt, eyes closed, moaning. Adam gagged at the sour stench of cheap wine. He pulled off his black bandana, wetted it in a horse trough and knelt down to hand it to the boy. “Wace. Wipe your face with this.”

Wace’s eyes squinted in the sunlight. He spoke surprisingly clearly. “What are YOU supposed to be?”

What kind of question was that? Adam replied, “I’m supposed to be polite. What are you supposed to be?”

The boy promptly threw up, this time into the bandana; Adam decided he’d never liked it anyway.

Adam knelt there, wondering what to do next, when his eyes fixed onto the soiled derby hat on the ground beside him. Adam picked it up and examined it: must be beaver — wide, black ribbon banded the outside. The label read; “Marceau & Sons, Fine Hatters, Montreal”. Wow! Who would buy a kid a hat like this? It must have cost $15.

“Got yourself a problem there, Adam?” This was Sherriff Coffee from atop his horse a few feet away.

Adam stood and shook his head. “Well, he’s not my problem but I’d like to see he gets home safely and not trampled by a wagon or a rabid mule.”

Sherriff Coffee said, “Well, he lives at Tupelo’s on K Street, but do you want to go there?”

Tupelo’s was a brothel and Adam did not want to go there. Even when he was 18 and possessed a seemingly insatiable interest in all aspects of houses of pleasure, he had not wanted to go at Tupelo’s. The very word seemed unsanitary.

“The jail’s empty if you want to put him in a cell for a couple of hours. But you have to look after him; I’m going Carson City.”

With some difficulty, Adam managed to hoist the boy over his shoulder. He prayed the kid would not spew up on his new black shirt. It was meant to look swank.

*****

Wace Surprises Adam A Great Deal

The cell was eight foot square and smelled of disinfectant and mold. Wace slept for about two hours while Adam amused himself by looking at Wanted posters. Although Adam tried to resist the temptation, he ended up trying on the derby hat. He peered at himself in the cracked mirror above the sheriff’s filing cabinet. It looked good. He tilted the hat forward to a jaunty angle, just above his eyes. It looked swank.

The boy eventually awoke and seemed better.

Adam handed him a tin mug of cold, sweetened jail-house coffee.

“Who are you?” demanded the boy.

“I’m the good Samaritan with an important message for you, Wace Johnson.”

“You know my name?”

“Yes and I also know you’d better stay away from Little Joe Cartwright.”

Wace now held the brim of the derby in his grimy hands, and turned it around and around as he spoke. “Oh, are you his Pa?”

Adam was dumbfounded. “No, I am NOT Little Joe’s father.”

Wace screwed up his eyes as thought studying Adam. “Naw, I guess his Pa would look a lot meaner.”

Adam didn’t know if that was a compliment or an insult. He didn’t really care, so he said, “Just stay away from Little Joe.”

That’s when Wace surprised him.

“I can if you want me too.” Then he explained, “But it’ll mean that Grady Campbell will beat him up every afternoon.”

*****

 Adam’s Thoughts, Such As They Are

After Wace left, Adam sat on the steel bed frame in the cold cell and interviewed himself. He didn’t know Grady but he had known his older brother, Warren, at school. Warren wreaked terror on dozens of children but between Adam’s sarcasm and Hoss’ size, Warren left the Cartwright brothers alone. Warren had been killed in a gunfight — a wholly avoidable one, according to witnesses — while Adam was away at college.

Adam had met the teacher, Miss Colgrave, several times and reckoned she knew what she was doing. She’d even managed to get Joe learning some classical Greek, which was little short of a miracle. The chances were she knew Grady was a bully but she couldn’t be everywhere.

So, on the one hand, there was Wace who knew no boundaries, was wayward, unrestrained and a serious threat to Joe’s moral well-being. On the other, there was Grady, a bully and a serious threat to Joe’s physical health.

Adam unconsciously tugged on his ear while ideas swished through his mind. His mind drifted to the discussion he would have to have with Pa. He reckoned he’d have to just sling himself at Pa’s mercy and promise to behave better in future. Come to think of it, that’s what he always used to do when he was a kid.

Generally speaking, Pa hit him afterwards.

*****

Adam Makes Enquiries Of Mitch Devlin’s Health And Meets A Young Lady

“Oh! I know you! You’re Adam Cartwright.” The young woman’s face broke out into a warm smile as she opened Mr. and Mrs. Devlin’s front door wide so he could enter.

Adam was flustered. He’d come here straight from the jail, still postponing the return home.

She was beautiful. Striking. Dark hair, pinned up with a few wisps falling casually around her oval face, large blue eyes, clear pale skin. She wore a purple kitchen apron over her lacy pastel dress. But who was she?

She continued, “You don’t remember me? We met last summer at the Founder’s Day picture. I’m Edith, John Devlin’s niece.”

Adam vaguely recalled meeting some girl, a relation of the Devlins, but he’d been with Martha and hadn’t taken notice. Now in this light, on this Friday afternoon, Edith Devlin was the most interesting person he had set eyes on in months.

Adam found himself lost for words and his hands damp. He prayed he didn’t smell of Wace’s vomit. “Oh, yes… of course! Ah… I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you … I wondered, really… how is Mitch doing?”

When Adam left a half hour later, he had that information.

More importantly, he had permission to call on Edith the following Sunday afternoon.

*****

Adam Gets What He Wants At A Price

It was just after three when Adam came through the front door. He could smell pipe tobacco so he knew Pa was over in the corner, even though he couldn’t see him. Adam wondered why he was doing this? Stupid! Because he was sorry and … because he wanted Pa to know he had the guts to apologize. Adam took a deep breath and tried to stroll nonchalantly over to Pa’s desk, like this was just a normal visit.

“Pa?”

Pa was checking some figures and grunted without looking up.

Adam cleared his throat and spoke. “Look, Pa. I’m sorry…about that. Earlier.”

Pa’s eyes remained glued to the numbers as he said, “You’ve given up calling me ‘sir’ then?”

Adam closed his eyes. “Pa. I’m sorry. It was childish and…”

Now Pa looked up. “Oh wasn’t it? Adam, heaven knows it takes a long time to grow up, particularly with members of your own family. I was still involved in infantile, sibling rivalry with my brother when I was 25 or 26…”

“You were?”

“To my shame, yes. And it didn’t turn out good for either of us. But to address our problem, Adam if you feel such a lack of respect for me then maybe you should be doing something else…”

“Pa…”

“Seriously, I don’t want you to leave — it’s your home, but …”

Adam held his hands up. “No, Pa! Nothing like that will happen again. It was awful and I regret it very much.”

Ben sat back and seemed to understand. He nodded. “Good!” He now reached across the desk for his pipe and began to fill it. “So what is it you know about Little Joe you won’t tell me?”

“Can’t tell you. I promised him I would not and I won’t. But I promise you that I am looking out for Joe and will let no harm come to him.”

The tension lines had disappeared from Pa’s face. He spoke softly fiddling with his pipe. “All right. I’ll take your word for that and I accepted your apology for this morning. Please accept my apology if I seemed abrupt…”

“Pa, it’s fine…” Adam then cleared his throat and said, “…but there is something I’d like to speak to you about. If you have time…”

Ben sat back in his chair and began to smoke. “I’m all ears.”

So Adam once again outlined his plan for an opal mine at Mawavi, only this time Pa listened. He took in the information uncritically, asked relevant questions, and made helpful comments. The discussion took eight minutes; after the spring round-up. Walt and Lester would help Adam with the preliminary digging.

“Thanks, Pa. I appreciate this chance.”

“No, son. Excellent idea! Wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner?”

Better not answer that one, Adam thought. He had leaned against the bookcase during the discussion and now he stepped out into the room, arched his back to stretch and closed his eyes.

“One favor I would ask, though,” Pa said. “Please try to avoid making any confidential agreements with Joseph in future, would you?”

“Sure,” replied Adam as he spread his arms back.

There was no response so Adam opened his eyes and caught Pa’s stare.

His heart sank and Pa’s stare continued.

In the end, Adam did what he knew he had to. He said, “Sorry. I meant, ‘yes, sir’.”

“Why thank you, son. I do so like young people with manners.”

*****

Adam And Joe Talk Yet Again

Adam knew Little Joe would come looking for him and he also knew that neither of them wanted Pa around whenever Joe did show up. So Adam went to his bedroom, picked a much-tattered volume of Don Quixote, sat on his bed and read.

An hour or so, later Little Joe burst in, small fists bunched and eyes glaring. “You went and saw Wace! You skunk! You had no right!”

“Why didn’t you tell us about Grady?” Adam kept his voice even.

“Mind your own business and stay out of mine!”

“But if he’s beating you up, we could help…”

“How could you help? You don’t go to school. Anyway, Wace helped…”

“Joe, you don’t need help from someone like him…” As soon as Adam said it he realized how silly that statement was.

“Yes, I do!”

Adam decided to change the subject. “Mitch is coming back to school next week.”

Joe stopped short, cocked his head in wonder and his shoulders fell. “Oh! Grand! That’s monstrously good!”

Adam smiled. “Thought you’d be pleased.”

Joe beamed. “I can’t wait! He’ll really want to meet Wace …”

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. “No, Joe! You won’t need Wace after Mitch is back. That’s the point! Grady can’t beat up the two of you.”

Joe looked incredulous. “Sure. But Mitch needs to meet Wace…”

“So Wace can steal his penknife?”

“That was a bet!”

“So Wace can show him filthy, indecent pictures. Do you remember how upset you were?”

Little Joe looked hurt. “Well, Wace only did that once…”

“How many times does he need to do it?”

“You don’t understand! Wace … he made sure Grady wouldn’t bother me and, now, see, Mitch and I can help him. Y’know, teach how to read better and how to stay out of trouble…”

Adam covered his face with his hands. There were times when he wanted to hit Little Joe with hard.

“…And you better not tell Pa. You promised.”

For the second time in 24 hours, Adam wanted to bang his head against the barn door.

*****

Ben Meets Sheriff Coffee On The Trail And Later Becomes Displeased With Joe

About ten days later, Ben returned home from Silver City later than expected. He had bumped into Sheriff Coffee on the trail and had spent some time talking to him. So it was after dark when Ben led his horse into the barn and he was surprised to find Little Joe just un-saddling his pony. Joe wouldn’t look him in the eye.

Ben said, “Joseph, have you only just got in?”

“Ah, Pa. I’m real sorry. I…?”

Ben closed his eyes. Did this boy think Ben made up rules for fun? What did Ben have to do to get through to this child? He did not want to wallop Joe. A thought struck him. “Have you done your chores, boy?”

Joe struggled to pull the hefty saddle off his pony. “No, sir. Y’know I was late this morning…”

Ben was incensed. What was the boy thinking? He spoke curtly. “Well, boy, you had better get in the house and fill the wood boxes, hadn’t you? And…”

“But my pony…”

“I will take care of your pony. YOU apologize to Hop Sing for not doing the wood boxes earlier. What are you thinking of? Go! NOW!”

“What about my being late?”

The boy now stood in the centre of the barn and the single chandelier-lantern played tricks with the flickering light. Joe looked so young Ben wanted to scope him up in his arms and protect the boy from all the evil in the world.

That or wring his fool neck.

“You mean about your being late AND not doing your chores? We’ll talk about it later.”

*****

Pa Deals With Little Joe

When Little Joe got to his bedroom, he placed the lit candle on the bureau, then put his back to the wall and slid down into a sitting position on the floor. There he unlaced his boots, pulled off the left one and flung it hard against the wall opposite. Pa had made him sit through dinner, although he wasn’t hungry. When Little Joe said he didn’t want any apple pie, Pa told him to go to his room and wait. Little Joe didn’t care if he got a licking. Anyway, Little Joe could talk Pa out of it … maybe… but the real problem was that Joe had been real dumb…forgetting to do his chores and not leaving McGovern’s earlier enough. Brainless!

Suddenly Pa was in the door frame, hands on hips, looking scary. Little Joe scrambled to his feet, feeling stupid, with one unlaced boot on and one off. He couldn’t look Pa straight in the eyes. At least Pa didn’t have the strop with him.

“You did not do your chores.”

“Sorry, I…”

“You were late.”

“Yes, sir, well…”

Ben’s tone was harsh, unfriendly. “Were you with Wace Johnson?”

“And others, Pa. Mitch, Wesley, Clarence…”

“Were boys smoking?”

Joe now looked Pa straight in the eyes, “Some were. I wasn’t.”

“Are you sure?”

“Pa, I don’t smoke.”

“You had better not. Were boys drinking?”

A more difficult subject. If he lied, Pa would know and Pa was in no mood for liars.

“Joseph?”

“I had a sip of wine. Just a swallow…”

Pa reached out and smacked Joe across the top of the head, not hard. “You know better than that.”

Little Joe bit his lip and resisted tears. He’d rather Pa just strap him without all this discussion.

“Where did the wine come from?”

“Wace.”

“Where did he get it?”

“I don’t know.”

“I know.”

Joe looked up in surprise. “Y’do?”

“He stole six bottles of wine from Wildcat Durant on Tuesday night.”

“I…didn’t…know…I…”

“I’m sure you didn’t know, Joseph. Sheriff Coffee told me this afternoon.”

Joe’s mind raced. Why would Wace steal? He always had money.

“Right, boy. You listen.” Pa was about three feet from him, towering. “Since Wace arrived, you have gambled away an expensive knife, drunk stolen wine and failed to do your chores. You will have nothing further to do with Wace Johnson. Stay away…”

“Pa, he sits next to me!”

“Tomorrow I will ask Miss Colgrave to move you.”

Little Joe was appalled. What would the other kids think? “Pa, you can’t…”

Pa reached over and placed his right hand palm on the top of Joe’s head. “Quiet! You will waste no more of your precious life with Wace Johnson. If I ever hear of you spending any time with him, I’ll skin you to within an inch of your life. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Secondly, in future, you will come straight home from school…”

“Aw, Pa…” began Joe, although he knew he had this coming.

“…If you get back after four o’clock, I’ll want to know why and I will probably skin you, though perhaps not to within an inch of your life. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Finally, boy, for not doing your chores…”

Pa removed his hand from Joe’s head and Joe reckoned this was when Pa would take off his belt. He squeezed his eyes tight and resigned himself to violence.

“…you’re going to chop a cord of wood for me…”

Little Joe’s left eye squinted open and he stared at Pa. “Sir?”

“You heard. A cord of…”

Joe needed to check this. “But that’s like a whole forest. It’ll take months. Maybe years…”

“No,” said Pa firmly. “Two hours a day on weekdays plus five hours each Saturday. Five or six weeks, I’d say.”

Little Joe felt weary. He wrinkled his face and said, “I think I’d rather have a licking.”

“But I’d rather than a cord of wood. And it’s my choice.”

*****

Adam Offers Pa Some Advice

At about ten o’clock that evening, when Adam returned from checking the barn, Ben sat in front of the fire reading a newly arrived copy of Putnam’s Monthly, making notes in the margin with a pencil stub.

Adam knew that Little Joe had returned home after dark and had been sent to his room after supper, so he was surprised to later see Joe playing checkers with Hoss. The boy didn’t look happy, but he wasn’t obviously in physical pain.

Adam helped himself to a shot of his father’s Scotch malt in crystal goblet of and sat down across from Ben. He spoke in a clear, cheerful voice. “You made the right decision there, Pa. Talking to Little Joe about things and making sure he comes straight home from school.”

Ben made no reply.

Adam stretched his long legs and finally said, “Yes, you did the right thing. Strappings have never kept Joe out of trouble.”

There was a long pause now. Finally Ben spoke. “As a matter of fact – and not that it is any of your business – but I have not given up thrashing the boy. I’m just trying something else.”

Adam took a sip of his drink.

Ben spoken slowly. “If, for instance, I catch Joseph spending another afternoon with Wace Johnson, I might well thrash him within an inch of his life, even if he happens to be 35 years old at the time.”

Adam grinned.

There was another silence. Ben sat back in his chair, looked dreamily at the ceiling and spoke slowly. “And, for instance, if my foreman informs me that my son — who I thought was confined to the house — has stolen my horse in the middle of night and has nearly had his darn, fool head shot off, I might well thrash him. Or I might not even mention it, depending on what I believe is best for the boy.

“Any other advice for me, Adam?”

*****

A Chapter In Which Various Strands Are Pulled Together

What would stand out in Joe’s memory about those months was not the things in this story — Wace Johnson, photographs of naked ladies, Adam’s contrary behavior, Pa’s punishments –but rather would be listening to Adam reading The Last of the Mohicans every evening after supper. This was Joe’s introduction to the novel and he loved every chapter. All his life, he would recall warmth of the room, the glimmering, golden light from the fire, Pa sitting over in his Queen Anne chair, Little Joe stretched out on the Chesterfield, his feet draped over Hoss’ lap. Hoss sitting there, hands behind his head. And Adam’s clear, theatrical voice filling the room.

Things changed. Miss Colgrave placed Joe next to a quick-witted, nine year old, Billy Tolson, son of a widow who did sewing for the Cartwrights. Joe was amused by Billy’s impish charm; the little boy reminded Joe of what he used to be like before he met Wace Johnson and saw pictures of naked ladies.

From the other side of the school room, Little Joe began to notice how often Miss Colgrave had to ask Wace to stop talking, stop fiddling, come in after recess, finish his sums. Occasionally, Little Joe thought about the penknife, but all that happened so long ago; it hardly mattered.

When Wildcat Durant said not to bother to prosecute Wace for the wine, Roy Coffee suspected the worse. So the sheriff wasn’t surprised a few days later to come across Wace in an alley behind ‘C’ Street with a swollen jaw, blackened eye and with an apparent broken arm. Wildcat had his own sense of justice.

After six weeks, Little Joe finished the cord of wood and Pa handed him a dime and said “Good job, son.” Joe asked if he could stay on late after school. Pa said no. Maybe September. Maybe.

Chopping all that wood accorded Little Joe with an opportunity to think things through. He decided that classical Greek wasn’t much use on a ranch in Nevada. After a trouble deliberation, he decided that Hoss and Adam (yes Adam) were just about the best two brothers a boy could have. Finally Joe decided that if he had to choose between being a gentleman and being swank, he’d rather be a gentleman…. but wouldn’t it be better if you could be both?

*****

A History Of Miss Colgrave And How She Came To Expel The Two Boys

It was lunchtime of the day when Wace and Little Joe were expelled. The children ran wild on the dirt playground — a few of the boys playing catch with a rubber ball, others playing tag and marbles, the girls skipping rope.

Miss Evangeline Colgrave, exhausted from a difficult morning, glanced out of the window and saw Wace talking to Joe, who stood tossing the ball from hand to hand. She remembered this because she knew Little Joe wasn’t supposed to talk to Wace; in fact, most of the children were now forbidden from so doing.

Miss Colgrave had her own worries. She was 39 years old and had came to Virginia City four years earlier because she had read that men out numbered ladies seven to one. The proportion of men to women in Virginia City was high, but the proportion of drunkards, gamblers, deadbeats, gunslingers and layabouts within the male population was astronomical. She wanted to move on but at a salary of only $23 per month she hardly had enough for her room and board.

Anyway, the children weren’t bad, not considering the type of town Virginia City was. Most of them were polite and respectful, with no interest in book learning. The girls were sweet and helpful; she liked many of the boys and thought them amusing. She liked Mitch Devlin, who often made her laugh, and also, young Billy Tolson. Little Joe had been one of her favorites, but he’d become more difficult in the last few months. She was not surprised when Mr. Cartwright asked for Joe to be moved. What parent would want their child next to Wace Johnson?

Wace was the most difficult child she’d never taught. He rarely did any work and had the concentration of a two-year-old. She tried to talk to his mother but the woman never turned up when she sent a note. Miss Colgrave asked Wace why he came to school at all; he was 15 and if his mother didn’t care, no one else did. The boy had shrugged and garbled that school was a good place to meet kids and keep warm in winter. She didn’t think she could expel him for that.

Miss Colgrave walked over to the blackboard and began to wipe it when the first fire cracker exploded. By the time she got to the door, a second had gone off over by the outhouse shed. She could see Wace over to one side of the outhouse, his hands on his knees, laughing; Little Joe was some distance away, on the other side of the outhouse in the tall grass, in the area out of bounds to students.

Miss Colgrave gathered the young children in the front of the school and screeched in her high pitched, schoolmarm voice for Wace to come into the schoolroom. Then she turned and found Little Joe amongst the crowd and insisted he do the same.

*****

The Penknife Is Found But Joe Cannot Explain Himself Adequately

“I didn’t do anything, Miss Colgrave,” Little Joe interrupted. “I was trying to find Mitch’s ball is all.”

This was inside the schoolroom, with Little Joe stood in front of the teacher’s desk almost at attention, hands at side. Wace was slouched against one of the school desks, his left arm dangled limply beside him. Miss Colgrave’s rapid, shrill words told Joe that this was serious.

Miss Colgrave continued, “… I saw you two together so I know what’s going. Now the both of you, empty your pockets now!”

Wace, with an air of disinterest, shrugged and pulled out a dirty handkerchief, a bullet for a Colt 45, two dimes and a penny, and a pair of dice.

“Joseph, empty you pockets.”

“But, ma’am…”

A loud thump on the door interrupted them. They turned to see Grady Campbell burst in. He had a big grin and shouted, “Miss Colgrave, look what we got!”

On to her desk, Grady slapped a pen knife with the initials JFC carved on its pearl handle. “We found it, just next to the outhouse where them fire crackers went off!”

Miss Colgrave sought to clarify matters. “Aren’t these your initials, Joseph?”

“Yes’m, but …”

Wace stared at the window.

“It’s Little Joe’s,” said Grady with a confident nod of the head. “Gotta be.”

“No, see. It used to be but…” Little Joe tried to continue.

The agitated Miss Colgrave silenced them with a look and decided to move back to the first problem. “Joseph, empty your pockets.”

From his left pocket Joe pulled a clean handkerchief, a rabbit’s foot and two marbles. From his right, came a thin cigar still in its wrapper and a half-empty box of friction matches.

Grady laughed. Joe turned green. Miss Colgrave wrote out the expulsion letters.

*****

Pa Listens To Joe And Concocts A Scheme

“So tell me again what happened,” said Pa. This was in Joe’s bedroom and Pa stood leaning against the bureau; Little Joe still sitting on the bed, legs crossed.

Joe had explained it once, but maybe he’d sort of confused what came first and second and so on and Pa couldn’t understand. “Well, I was playin’ catch with Mitch and Wace came up to me and asked if I’d like to buy some fire crackers…”

“Are you sure you said ‘no’?”

“Pa, I ain’t got no money.” After the gambling incident. Pa made Joe put all his savings into a bank account, despite the boy’s belief that banks were run by scoundrels. Joe also got five cents a week allowance, but two weeks ago, Pa had stopped that after Joe had carelessly lost his grammar book somewhere between the Ponderosa and Virginia City. Since then Joe had been penniless.

Ben nodded. “Okay, you said ‘no’.”

“I threw the ball to Mitch, only I threw it high and it landed in the tall grass…”

“Where students aren’t allowed to go into,” Ben supplied with a raised eye brow.

“It’s just ‘cause there are snakes in summer. It’s okay now.”

Pa shook his head. “So you broke a school rule by going to get the ball.”

“Yes, sir, but I’ve never heard of anyone being expelled for going into the tall grass.”

“And then the fire crackers went off.”

“Yes, Pa, but I couldn’t see Wace from where I was. Miss Colgrave came out and began yelling…”

“And the cigar and friction matches?”

Joe sighed. “I caught Billy trying to smoke it this morning. So I took them…”

“Why didn’t you give them to Miss Colgrave?”

“Pa! That’d be snitching. She’d tell Billy’s ma and Mrs. Tolson’s got so much to worry about. Billy ain’t got no Pa or big brother, so I thought I could…”

Pa rubbed his temple. “Joe, you should have given them to Miss Colgrave. Wace had no matches; it looks like you lit to the firecrackers.”

“Aw, Pa, I didn’t.”

There was silence, then Joe thought he’d introduce an idea he’d been working on. “Y’know, Pa, what I been thinking is, if I am expelled … Well, it might be just as well if I leave school now, ‘cause I been there for years and years and …”

“Joseph! I will do my best to get you back into that school. If I fail, you’ll have to go away to school. There’s a military school in Sacramento, I believe. I have not worked all my life for my son to quit school at thirteen.”

Joe was discouraged. “Oh, well. Just a suggestion, y’know, to save money.”

Pa sighed. “Okay, Joseph. You put on your boots; we’re going to see Miss Colgrave. And you, boy, are going to co-operate with any terms she offers. Otherwise it’s boarding school.”

Joe nodded and began to clamber off the bed.

“A final word.” Pa stood straight now. “You have yet to be disciplined for this escapade, young man, but in due course full retribution will be sought.”

Joe didn’t understand the words; he knew exactly what they meant.

*****

An Explanation Of Nub Of This Story

So what could be said of Wace’s fate? One hundred and fifty years later boys (and girls) like Wace are still around and they rarely fare well. Their lives are blighted, made miserable and cut short by addictions, instability, lack of love and structure, poor diet, mental and physical ill-health, domestic violence, sexual abuse and inadequate education.

A month after these events, Wace and his mother left town for Oregon City. By the next Christmas, she had taken up with a travelling salesman who no use for a boy had named Wace. On his own, Wace lived on the margins – day laboring, bartending, thieving, pimping, card playing. Three years after these events, the body of Wace Johnson was found in a livery stable one bitterly cold Sunday in January, cause of death unknown. Except that the cause of death is obvious to anyone who has ever known a Wace Johnson.

Ben Tries To Charm Miss Colgrave

The town hall clock had yet to strike four when the trap driven by Ben Cartwright drew up in front of the school house. Pa told Joe to wait while he went in. Joe sat there bored and wondered if his pony would enjoy boarding school.

Joe had begun to think they’d forgotten about him when the door open and Pa motioned to Joe to come in. Again Joe stood in front of Miss Colgrave’s desk.

“Joseph,” said Miss Colgrave, “I am disappointed in you. First, you take a cigar and matches from a younger student and don’t tell me; then you got out in the tall grass, which you know is forbidden.”

“Sorry, ma’am,” said Joe. He looked at his boots, held his hat in his hands and tried to look co-operative.

Miss Colgrave shook her head. “I don’t know what to think. I saw you and Wace together, and I guess I jumped to the conclusion the both of you were responsible for the firecrackers. And the knife suggested you’d been where the fire crackers had been set off.”

“Ah, sorry, ma’am,” Joe repeated. Adam said to keep apologizing.

“I think on balance, expulsion is a bit severe. However for having the cigar and matches and for going in the forbidden area, you’ll have to stay an hour after school every day for two weeks…”

“What!” protested Little Joe. Pa’s right palm shot out and slapped Joe across the back of his head. “Oh! I mean, yes’m. That’s fine. I’m glad to help is all. Sorry for all the upset.”

“Wait outside, Joseph,” said Pa.

*****

Joe Waits For Pa In His Bedroom

Little Joe’s boots had once again been discarded on his bedroom floor and he sat in the same position as earlier:  on the bed, arms wrapped around his knees, sucking on his left thumb. His muscles were tense with anticipation.

On the ride home, Pa had been silent. Little Joe tried to bring up interesting topics but Pa’s lack of response quieted him. Joe reckoned Pa should be pleased to have avoided spending all that money on boarding schools, but Pa didn’t seem happy. Once back, in the barnyard, Pa turned to Joe and said sharply, “Go up to your room. I’ll be up shortly.”

He stiffened as he heard his father’s footsteps on the staircase. Please don’t let him have the razor strop. Please. A quick knock, the door opened and Pa entered.

“Right, boy. Let’s get this over with.”

*****

Our Story Is Satisfactorily Concluded

It was nearly six pm when Adam came in the front door, tired from his day at the mine. The log fire gave off a flickering golden glow, and there was the smell of roast chicken and warm rolls. Hoss and Joe sat on the floor in front of the fire, checker board between them. Pa sat in his Queen Anne’s chair reading Putnam’s Monthly.

When Adam saw his family like this, he was surprised how much he loved them. Pa, who toiled all day, organizing things, keeping the ranch profitable and trying to be a good father. Hoss, diligent, loyal, warm-hearted, cheerful. Little Joe, curious, enthusiastic, indefatigable, also loyal. Adam was glad he’d stayed; this is where he belonged. Tonight he was taking Edith Devlin to a concert given by the Palmetto Band at the Town Hall. He needed to wash and put on his new white shirt with the round turned-down collar; Edith liked swank dressers.

Adam walked over and studied the checkerboard. Joe was winning and he certainly didn’t look like a boy who’d recently been whipped. Adam’s eyes fell on the pearl handled pocket knife next to the board and wondered how it had found its way home. He cleared his throat and said, “Had your licking yet, buddy?”

“What lickin’?” said Joe off-handedly, hardly taking his eyes from the board.

As if he didn’t know. Adam raised his eye browns. “The one for being expelled from school?”

“I never got a lickin’.” Little Joe beamed. “My Pa and me, we just talked it through.”

*****End*****

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