Word Count: 2750
“Dadburnit, Little Joe!” Hoss Cartwright frowned back at his baby brother as he stalked purposefully down D Street in Virginia City. It was a warm summer evening. The sun had set a short time before and the stars were just becoming visible in the rapidly darkening sky. “I ain’t in the mood right now to put up with any more of your foolishness. I’ve got to straighten out this mess you’ve made with Millie.”
“What do you mean the mess I made?” Joe, also known as Hoss’ baby brother, grabbed Hoss by his arm. The look he received from Hoss made him gulp and release him immediately. “Okay… so I was partly responsible for you getting thrown in jail today…”
“…Partly?” Hoss whirled around to face him.
“Okay,” Joe reluctantly agreed, nodding his head. “I’m totally responsible. I’ll take the blame for it all, if that makes you happy… but it was a perfectly innocent misunderstanding…”
“Uh-ha, sure it was…,” Hoss sighed and rolled his eyes.
“Hey!” Joe looked offended. “I paid for all of the damages out of my winnings from the poker game and I bailed you out before Pa found out about it, didn’t I?”
“Right…thanks,” Hoss put his left hand on the railing and moved to put his right foot on the first step up to the dressmaker’s shop where little red haired, green eyed Miss Millie Morgan worked. He glanced up at the open window to see the pretty little lady in question diligently stitching by the light of an oil lamp that was sitting on a table beside her. He smiled and then began to move up to the next step.
“Whoa, there, big fella,” Joe scrambled up on top of a barrel that sat beside staircase, vaulted over the railing and landed on the stair tread immediately in front of his bigger brother blocking his way. “What are you planning to say to her, anyway? She’s gonna be awful mad and need some sweet talkin…”
Hoss gave him a somewhat irritated look. “Listen, Joe… This morning I had a long talk with Hop Sing…”
“Hop Sing…?” Joe was a bit taken aback. “Hop Sing…?!?”
Hoss grinned. “Believe it or not, little brother, Hop Sing knows a thing or two about romancin’ women and such.”
“Ah ha,” Joe crossed his arms over his chest and looked skeptically at his biggest brother.
“And he even gave me this,” Hoss reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a small gnarled Ponderosa pine twig, and showed it to his little brother.
“Let me get this straight,” Joe looked at Hoss like he couldn’t possibly be serious. “This is supposed to patch things up with Millie? To make her forget that you stood her up and didn’t take her to the picnic? Well, sir, I know a thing or two about romancin’ women too and this…thing…” he pointed to the twig, “…is not a proper peace offering. Now flowers,” he quickly stepped around his brother, spotted a rose bush in a nearby yard and started toward it but Hoss managed to catch up with him and restrained him by the arm.
“Listen, Joseph,” Hoss continued to hold on to him. “This’ll work….Just you wait right here and you’ll see.” He stuffed the twig back in his pocket and pulled his younger sibling back to the bottom of the staircase that led up to Mrs. Smith’s shop.
“But, Hoss, I’m trying to help you,” Joe pleaded.
“I’ll be fine,” Hoss tried to reassure Joe, patting him gently on the side of his face. “Just wait right here under the stairs out of sight and I’ll show ya,” he chuckled and started up the staircase once more.
Joe studied him a minute and then sighed, “Okay, it’s your funeral,” he settled himself down on the top of the barrel and gazed up into the starry Nevada sky.
“Hello, Mr. Cartwright. A little late for our date, aren’t you?” Miss Morgan held a short stout needle up to the lamplight and expertly pulled several strands of dark green embroidery floss through its eye. She then picked up her embroidery hoop and began stitching the outline of a holly leaf on the white blouse’s yoke. “Or are you here on a business call? Do you need something for that bleached blonde floozy you had sitting on your lap earlier today?”
Oh-oh. Hoss immediately knew he had his work cut out for him. “Now, Miss Millie…” he took his ten gallon hat off and held it in his hand…“that was all just a big mistake. You see, I was running late ‘cause after I did all of my regular work with the cattle along with both of my brothers’ work, I had to doctor our milk cow Buttercup. She got into a tussle with our other milk cow Geneva. Then the pump wasn’t working so I had to help Hop Sing…you remember him…he’s our Chinese cook. Anyway, when I got that fixed I hurried and got dressed ‘cause Pa was waiting on me and he wasn’t in the mood to be waiting long. Then when Pa and I got to town, he asked me to stop by the livery and get Little Joe, who was supposed to be picking up horseshoes.”
Millie shook her head and rolled her eyes but, nevertheless, patiently listened to his story while she filled in the inside of holly leafs on the white blouse.
“Of course,” Hoss continued, “Little Joe being Little Joe wasn’t where he was supposed to be. I finally found him in the Bucket of Blood playing poker which he ain’t supposed to be doin’ in the first place. Anyway, Joe wouldn’t leave and one thing led to another and …well…chairs got busted and so did some bottles and tables and the mirror over the bar and I ended up in jail until about ten minutes ago when the sheriff let us out.” He smiled at her hoping that she would be satisfied with his explanation.
Millie wasn’t. “That doesn’t explain the blonde floozy on your lap now, does it?” she finished the leaf she was embroidering and moved on to making French knots with some bright red floss for the holly berries.
“Well, ya see Ma’am, it was like this…,” Hoss blinked his blue eyes a couple times and tried to remember himself how tall, scantily clad Imogene ended up in his lap.
“Mr. Cartwright,” Millie interrupted him, put down the garment on the table and stood up. “I hate to be rude but I’ve got a lot of work to do and I just don’t have the time to waste listening to any more of your explanations, so if you could please…”
“Hmmm,” Hoss picked up the blouse she was working on and examined it closely. “I can’t see why you have to be working on this right now. Seems to me this wouldn’t be appropriate to wear for at least – September, October, November, Dece…” He counted the months on his fingers. “At least four months.” He gently put the blouse back down on the table.
Millie cleared her throat and looked up straight into Hoss’ face. “I needed something to do since I didn’t get to go to…” The ‘hurt’ suddenly appeared in her big green eyes and she turned away from Hoss.
Hoss sighed knowing now how disappointed she really was. Maybe it was time for…. “You know, Millie, it’s a might stuffy in here,” he put his hat down on the chair. “Why don’t we just step outside and get a little air?”
“All right,” Millie suppressed a little sob, wiped her eyes, straightened herself up to her full five feet in height and turned back toward Hoss once more composed but unsmiling. She waited for him to open the door and allowed him to steer her out onto the landing at the top of the steps.
Joe, who had been trying to figure out what Hoss was up to with Hop Sing’s twig, jumped to his feet and dove under the staircase when he heard the shop door above him open and his big brother and the seamstress come outside.
Hoss and Millie stood in silence for a minute or so before Hoss broke it. “It’s much better out here, don’t you think?” He glanced over at Miss Morgan, who was standing about two feet away from him.
She nodded but said nothing.
“And just look at all those stars up there,” he moved a foot closer to the spot where she stood and pointed up to the nighttime sky. “You know, according to our cook Hop Sing, in China the people think that all of them stars up there are actually a river of stars and that river flows right past the palace of the Sun King.”
The Sun King? Joe searched his memory trying to equate the twig with the stars and the Sun King. After all, he spent more time over the years with Hop Sing than his older brothers did but he couldn’t recall any story like this.
“Now the Sun King had a very pretty little daughter,” Hoss continued. “And the Princess was very good at making all sorts of beautiful clothes just like you do. In fact, it was her job to make sure that the royal household’s clothes were the best they could possibly be.”
“Really?” She sniffed studying the area of the sky that Hoss had indicated.
“Yep,” Hoss nodded. “And the Princess took her job seriously too. She was a real hard worker just like you. She worked day and night, hour after hour. She never took a break and never let any fella take her out to a party or a picnic. Of course, if someone would have, they probably wouldn’t have stood her up like I did you.” He smiled trying to make her laugh.
It didn’t work.
Hoss took a deep breath. “Anyway, like I said, the Princess just worked all the time. Now, her father the Sun King was worried about her because she worked so hard and he figured she might be happier if she married. Well, the Sun King thought and thought and thought about who in his kingdom would be the perfect match for his daughter. Right away, he rejected all the pretty boys like my little brother Joseph.” He leaned slightly over the railing so that his ‘little brother Joseph’ was sure to hear him, “Because they like to gamble and cause all kind of trouble for themselves and everyone else.”
Hoss’ ‘little brother Joseph’ who couldn’t help but hear the comment, stepped out of the shadows from under the stairs briefly to scowl up at his older brother and stepped back.
Hoss laughed to himself, straightened up, and looked over at Miss Morgan again. “Now there was a big, not so good looking fella — kinda like me.” He again watched for her reaction and observed a faint smile on her lips. Good. Now I’m getting somewhere. “This big, not so good-lookin’ fella was a cow herder who looked after the Sun King’s cattle. He took really good care of the cattle, tending them when they were sick or injured and feeding them. He worked very hard and the Sun King really liked him a lot. The Sun King decided that, after all the thinking he done, this cow herder would make a fine husband for the Princess. So the Sun King arranged for them to be married.”
“Sounds like a match made in heaven.” Millie giggled softly and moved a little closer to Hoss.
“Exactly what I was going to say,” Hoss chuckled, moving closer to her too so that they now stood side by side. “Anyway, wouldn’t you know it worked? The Princess was happy and so was the cow herder but the problem was they were so happy that they didn’t do their work. Before too long, the Sun King and the rest of his court needed new clothes because no one was there to fix them and the cattle wandered around the fields and ate the little bean sprouts and trampled the wheat something awful because no one was watching them either.”
Millie now was looking up at Hoss, hanging on his every word as was his baby brother below.
“The Sun King ordered them to go back to their work but they could not stay apart. They continued to spend their days lazing on the banks of the river of stars. The Sun King tried a number of times to get them to work but nothing he said or did stopped them from neglecting their duties. The Sun King finally got so dadblamed mad at them that he ordered them to split up. He put the Princess on one side of the river of stars so she could do her sewing. Then he put the cow herder on the other side of it so he could tend to the cattle.”
“That’s stinks,” Joe mumbled to himself while Miss Morgan commented sympathetically, “How awful for them.”
“Well, of course, this made the Princess even more unhappy than she was before. It was like the two of them were in jail. They could see each other from their own side of the river but that was all. They started to pine for each other and they started to work slower and slower and soon they stopped working again. The Sun King again tried everything to get them to do their jobs. But nothing worked. Finally, though, he realized that the two couldn’t stay apart forever,” Hoss slipped even closer to her and placed his right hand on the railing so he was sort of encircling her, “So he decided that for just one day, the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese calendar, they would be allowed to be together. When the day finally came, the two stood on the opposite sides of the river of stars waiting anxiously to be reunited but sadly there was no way for them to get to each other.”
“Oh, no!” The little redhead looked distressed.
“Oh, but, it all worked out.” Hoss patted her right hand with his reassuringly, “’Cause as they stood there waiting, tears streaming down their faces, suddenly they heard overhead the sound of fluttering wings. They looked up and saw hundreds and hundreds of magpies. There were so many of them, in fact, that the sky got real dark. Then, those birds all flew down into the river of stars at the same time and using twigs just like this one.” He pulled Hop Sing’s twig out of his shirt pocket and placed it gently in the palm of Millie’s left hand, “They built a bridge for the young couple so that they could be reunited in the center of the river of stars for that single day. And since then, every year on that day, thanks to twigs like this…” he covered her hand with his left hand and looked at her adoringly…“the Princess and the cow herder can meet in the middle of the stars and enjoy each other’s company. And since today is the seventh day of the seventh month…” he smiled broadly and raised his eyes up to the sky once more…“if we look real close up at the sky, we just might see them together again, so very much in love, looking down at us. A cow herder…” he pointed to himself… “and the Princess.” He then looked back down into her green eyes. “And they lived happily ever after,” he whispered, softly placed his left hand on her cheek and tenderly caressed her lips with his.
“I got to get me one of those twigs,” Joe said a little too loudly as he risked a peek at the couple above him.
“Hoss,” Millie broke off their kiss and looked around quizzically. “Did you hear something?”
Hoss’ smile was clearly visible in the bright moonlight. “Probably just a magpie, Princess,” he murmured as his lips once again found hers.
Author’s Note: There are many, many versions of Hop Sing’s little story.
This year (2006) the Festival of the Double Sevens, unofficially known as Chinese Valentine’s Day, fell on July 30th for the United States and Europe and on July 31st for China and Australia.