Shirt Tale (K.K. Shaulis)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  G
Word Count:  4700


 

Little Joe Cartwright giggled to himself as he dropped to his knees and began to reach into the dark right hand corner of his bedroom closet. He had been saving this for a long time, for just the right occasion, and this was it! But where was it? He fell flat on his stomach and began to feel around.

His Pa — Ben Cartwright– had ordered him this morning to ride out to the Johnson ranch and give Eda Mae and Jonas a hand in digging the new root cellar. This was part of Joe’s punishment for “his recent lapses in good judgment” after Ben had had enough of his excuses, his less than diligent performance of his own work and his spending too many late nights drinking, gambling and carousing in town. His Pa never counted on the couple being tied up with their prize mare whose foal decided to come into the world today.

Oh, Joe had offered to help them with the horse but he was sent on his way by Mrs. Johnson who proclaimed that it was too nice a spring day for a young man to waste waiting around “for nature to take its course.” Instead she asked if he would mind doing her a favor and taking a freshly baked apple pie in the dish she borrowed from the Browns over to them. She winked as she suggested that the twins “Sally and Sue would probably be home.”

Well, how could he turn down such a lovely lady’s request? Joe grinned, thinking of the identical pretty blonde girls with the gorgeous green eyes and the lyrical laughs and the…he stopped thinking when Mrs. Johnson returned with the pie and handed it up to him as he sat in Cochise’s saddle. Needless to say, he hurried on over to the Browns’ place and spent a very pleasant afternoon sipping lemonade with Sally and Sue. Only when he looked over to the mantle clock did he realize that if he didn’t beat his father home, he might be beat himself. He politely said “goodbye” – after he stole a kiss a piece from the twins, of course – and urged Cochise toward home at a less than leisurely pace.

It just has to be here! Little Joe was frantic now, tossing his boots, slippers, boxes, books, etc. out of the bottom of the closet onto the floor over his shoulder and inching forward on his hands and knees as he went. But it wasn’t and I’m dead, he decided moving back out of the closet and turning himself so he was now sitting on the floor…

It was then when Little Joe saw the really grimy, really smelly yellow shirt with the dirt ring around its collar hanging on the right bedpost at the foot of his bed.

How did that get there? He looked at it quizzically but…shrugged…and decided that he didn’t have time to figure it out just at the moment. Pa would be home soon! He quickly pulled off his shirt, pulled on the filthy yellow one, put his hat back on his head and scrambled down the back stairs buttoning the shirt as he went.

As he exited the house through the kitchen, he spied his father’s horse Buck standing beside Cochise in the corral and immediately realized that he had to make an appearance but he still needed a little something besides the dirty yellow shirt to complete the illusion. He snapped his fingers when his gaze fell upon the geranium pot that sat on the window sill nearest him. He reached in, dirtied his hands and rubbed them over his face for good measure. He then lifted his hat with his dirtiest hand, shook his hair so it wouldn’t look so neat and plopped his hat back down on his head.

Ready! Little Joe pronounced himself and wearily dragged himself across the front porch and opened the ranch house’s front door to reveal his father placing the gunbelt he had just removed on the sideboard in the entry.

Joe heaved a heavy sigh, greeted his father. “Hi, Pa…”

He placed his hat on the rack beside his father’s and his brother Adam’s, and busied himself removing his own gunbelt. “Boy! What a day I had toda…” he stopped as he glanced up to find his father frowning at him, arms crossed over his chest.

“What are you up to, Joseph?” Ben growled circling him.

“Me, Pa? I ain’t up to anything,” Joe giggled nervously, placing his holster beside the other two. “Can’t you tell I’ve been working?” he plucked at the collar — the dirtiest part — of the dirty yellow shirt. He smiled innocently at his father who now was really examining the garment closely, walking 360 degrees around him to do so.

At that moment, his oldest brother Adam descended the stairs, a book under his arm and a smirk on his handsome face. He settled himself in the blue velvet chair by the foot of the stairs to observe but not before giving Joe an amused look.

“No,” Ben shook his head. “I can’t tell that you’ve been working,” he stopped circling, “Especially since less than five minutes ago, your brother was wearing that same filthy shirt!!!” he roared in his youngest’s ear.

“No-o-o, wha-a-a-t–t…???” Joe glanced over at Adam for help but Adam wasn’t about to save him, pretending to be engrossed in his book.

“Come on, Joseph,” Ben took him by the dirtiest part of the dirty yellow shirt and turned him toward the front door.

“B-b-but-t-t, Pa-a-a…” Joe stammered as Ben kicked the door closed behind them both.

Adam laughed a sinister laugh and then closed his eyes recalling the wonderful picnic he had just had with Amy Lou Johnson instead of digging drainage ditches thanks to his little brother’s deviousness in stealing Adam’s dirty yellow shirt in the first place and his own deviousness in stealing it back and turning the whole thing around to his advantage. “It was a dirty trick,” he sighed having a sudden pang of conscience over what he had done to his brother but it quickly passed. “Nahhhh!!!” he then laughed again and went back to his reading.

*****

The book turned out to be a real page turner. Adam became so engrossed in it that he did not hear the front door open and close and the measured footsteps walking toward him. “Ugh-ha,” Ben cleared his throat sharply causing his eldest son to jump in his seat.

“Oh, hi, Pa,” Adam recovered his composure and looked up at his father who had his hands clasped behind his back. “You finish with Little Joe already?”

“Yes, son, and he got the same punishment I intend to give to you but, because you are older and should know better than to pull a stunt like this, yours will be just a little bit more painful,” Ben glowered at him in a way that he hadn’t done in years.

“What did you do to Joe?” Adam closed his book and tried to look unconcerned even though he was.

Ben, however, knew from Adam’s face that he had him just a teeny bit worried now. “Oh, I hit him right about here,” he slapped his right hand against the right back pocket of his trousers twice continuing to glower at Adam.

Oh-oh. Adam gulped, imagining only one thing that their father could have done to his baby brother based on this demonstration. He sighed and set his book on the table beside him. “Joe told you then, huh?”

“Yes,” Ben nodded slowly.

“And you believed him?” Adam crossed his arms over his chest and looked skeptically up at his parent.

Father recognized son’s maneuver immediately: muddy the waters by casting doubt on the veracity of one of his brother’s story. He was ready for this one too. “I didn’t until I remembered that you were wearing a black shirt when you left this morning, not a yellow one.”

“Okay, Pa,” Adam sighed again and got to his feet. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had a discussion in the barn but I deserve it since I did exactly what Joe…”

“Good,” Ben interrupted him. “I’m glad you admit it.” He put his left hand on Adam’s right shoulder like he was going to escort him toward the front door but instead…

“Now, I want to see a clean yellow shirt tomorrow morning, mister.” Ben shoved the dirty yellow shirt in his eldest’s hands with his right hand. “And I don’t care how you do it!” He then turned and started up the stairs.

Adam was thunderstruck. “B-b-but-t-t, Pa-a-a…” he stammered, not unlike how his baby brother had done earlier. “Didn’t you say you ‘hit him right about here’?” He struck himself twice on his right back trouser pocket in the same way Ben had done.

“Oh, that’s right,” Ben smirked at him and pulled his wallet out of his back right trouser pocket. “Because neither of you did any work today, I’m docking you both a day’s pay which, if memory serves me, is more painful for you than him since I pay you more. So I’m hitting you both right here.” He grinned as he replaced his wallet in his back pocket and slapped it again twice. “Oh.” He suddenly looked thunderstruck himself, as if something was connecting in his brain for the first time which it wasn’t, devil that he was. “You didn’t think I meant that I was going to…? Of course, I guess I can if you want me t…” He started back down the stairs and began to unbuckle his belt as he went.

“Oh, no, Pa. That’s all right.” Adam quickly moved to the foot of the staircase while his hands and the dirty yellow shirt quickly moved to protect both of his ‘back trouser pockets.’ “I think losing a day’s pay and dealing with this” — he pulled the shirt out from behind him — “is exactly what I deserve, no less and no more.” He emphasized the last two words much to Ben’s amusement.

“I somehow thought you would, son,” Ben chuckled as he re-buckled his belt and again turned to go upstairs.

Adam watched his father until he disappeared around the corner and laughed to himself, shaking his head. So Pa wants to see a clean yellow shirt by tomorrow morning and he doesn’t care how I do it, eh? He softly tiptoed across the room to where his saddlebag sat by the door and shoved the dirty yellow shirt in it. He would have it laundered the next time he went to town. In the meantime, he’d just dig another one of his old yellow shirts out of the stockpile of them he had, since he was partial to yellow before he realized how good he looked in black. Pa should be more careful in choosing his words, he decided picking up his book and sitting down in the chair once more to read.

*****

Hoss, arms crossed over his chest, leaned against the doorframe and watched as his older brother Adam gradually lost his composure while destroying his perpetually orderly room. First, he pulled all of his socks, gloves and underwear out of the first drawer of his bureau, then all of the shirts out of the second, all of his nightshirts out of the third and finally all of his jeans out of the fourth. Adam mumbled something to himself — “@#^^” — that Hoss could not quite make out, but he had a feeling that it was something that their father would not appreciate hearing in his house coming from one of his sons. Not bothering to put any of that clothing back, Adam moved onto the sea chest he had been given by Ben when he went off to college and removed every sweater, vest, jacket and coat from inside it, tossing them on the bed behind him, now swearing out loud, but not too loud.

“Damn!”

Adam lunged toward his closet, the last place he remembered seeing them. Maybe he overlooked them way, way, way in the very…

“Damn!” he swore again, much louder; this time as he hit his head on the back of the closet wall.

Hoss chuckled. “Wouldn’t it be easier to wash the shirt you stuffed in your saddlebag?” he stated matter-of-factly to his older brother’s backside as his older brother backed up, rubbing the top of his head.

Adam was slightly taken aback by Hoss’ presence and his question. He studied Hoss suspiciously as he slowly got to his feet. “How do you know about…?” he lowered his voice just in case his father happened to be close by.

Hoss laughed, moved some of Adam’s clothes aside and sat down on the bed. “It’s pretty hard to keep a secret around here, you should know that. Wouldn’t you be lying to Pa if you didn’t wash the shirt?”

“He said he wanted to see ‘a clean yellow shirt’ and he ‘didn’t care how I did it’.” Adam quoted his father’s order to him verbatim as he sat down beside Hoss on the bed.

“But, like I said,” Hoss cleared his throat, “wouldn’t it be easier just to wash it?”

“Not if I can find one, it isn’t.” Adam frowned trying to think. “I have a whole stack of those shirts…somewhere.” He glanced around the room trying to remember.”

Hoss also started to think and then his face lit up. “Hey…Didn’t you give those shirts to Little Joe since they were getting pretty small for you?”

*****

“Huh?” Adam gaped at his baby brother.

“One day’s pay.” Joe looked up at his oldest brother from shining his best black boots. “And I’ll tell you where they are.”

“You can’t be serious?” Obviously Joe was still smarting from the ‘hit’ that Ben gave him a little earlier and was trying to make up for it. “They- were – my – shirts – in – the – first – place, Jo-seph,” Adam told him emphatically, accentuating each syllable.

“And you gave them to me,” Joe smirked, spit on the toe of his left boot and buffed it vigorously with the soft white cloth. “Why don’t you just wash the dirty one?” he giggled and put his left boot down beside the right one.

Adam grumbled, realizing it was now nearly seven o’clock and he was running out of time. Resignedly, he reached into his pants pocket, pulled out a wad of bills and peeled off one of them. “Here you go…”

Joe looked at the bill and shook his head. “That’s one day of your pay you owe me, big brother. Not mine.” He gave Adam a superior smile.

Adam took a deep breathe to control himself. “Shylock!” he hissed and handed his little brother one more bill. “Now where are they?”

*****

“I know it’s late, Father O’Brien, but I really do need your help.” Hat in hand, Adam stood outside the little mission church just on the outskirts of Virginia City. It was half past nine.

“Why, yes, what can I do for you, lad?” the old padre smiled up at the oldest Cartwright son and ushered him inside.

“Our family’s Chinese cook dropped off some clothing last Friday and…um…,” Adam chuckled nervously. “Well, Father, I’m afraid that we need one or two of the items back… I’m willing to make a generous donation for your trouble…”

The old priest’s eyes lit up at the prospect of a “generous donation” and he placed his arm around Adam’s shoulders, steering him forward. “Come with me, then, lad, and we’ll see what we can do…”

*****

Twenty minutes and twenty dollars later, Adam Cartwright was the proud owner of another even dirtier yellow shirt than the one that he had inadvertently left at home in his saddlebag. It seemed that the padre had given all but one of the shirts along with the rest of the other clothes to a “lovely family of the faith” with “six strapping sons and one beautiful little baby daughter” who had passed through on the way to California the day before yesterday. The sole remaining shirt had been worn by mission’s handy man the day before when he was cleaning out the “stoves, stovepipes and the ashes.” Father O’Brien apologized profusely for the condition the shirt was in but Adam assured the old priest that he was “happy just to get it back” and would take it to a “family member” to have it cleaned.

Little did Adam know that the “family member” no longer considered himself to be one, thanks to Hop Sing’s lucky streak at mahjong a few weeks ago.

“Ten dollars,” Number Five cousin told him for the third time, wiped his brow with his sleeve and went back to his washtub and washboard.

Adam was getting “hot under the collar”, both literally and figuratively as he stood inside the very steamy Chinese laundry that was owned by Hop Sing’s uncle and was operated by the Cartwright cook’s extended family.

“But, Hop Wen, we’re family,” Adam insisted, snatching up a basket of dirty laundry that the Chinaman was working on and held it up out of his reach.

“It very late, am very busy and shirt very, very dirty, Mistah Adam,” the tall thin man crossed his arms over his chest and frowned up at him. “Ten dollars.”

Adam sighed resignedly. “Ten dollars,” he agreed reaching one more time for his wad of bills.

*****

It was a just a little after two in the morning. Adam sat wearily down on the bench outside the huge tent that was home to the Chinese laundry. After he and Number Five cousin had struck their deal, he was told that it would be at least three, maybe four hours wait until a clean dry yellow shirt could be had, and that was only if he helped stoke the fire to speed the drying along. Adam toyed with the idea of going over to the International House and catching a little sleep but with his cash supply $32 lighter, the loss of his one day pay to his Pa and whatever his fate might be if he didn’t have a clean shirt for his Pa “tomorrow morning” hanging over his head, he thought it best to stay and help. That was three and a half hours ago.

He yawned and pulled out of his pocket the small bundle of beef jerky that he had the foresight to grab before he left the ranch. If only he had had the foresight to stay at the ranch and clean the shirt himself, he thought ruefully tearing off a piece with his fingers and biting off a small piece of that. He chewed it, swallowed it and placed the rest back in the bundle since he didn’t have the strength to eat any more and set it down beside him on the bench. He then closed his eyes “just for a bit” and drifted off to sleep.

In the meantime, Hop Wen had finished washing and hanging all of the laundry he had taken in for the evening and now planned to finish with the yellow shirt as soon as he could so he could close up shop until noon tomorrow. He retrieved the slightly damp yellow garment from the rack, pressed it dry and folded it up. He then banked the fires, turned out the lamps, picked up the shirt and locked the door behind him.

“Mis-tah Adam,” the tall thin Chinaman gently shook Adam by his arm. “Shirt right here.” He set the clean yellow shirt on top of the jerky on the bench beside him.

“Thanks, Hop Wen,” Adam yawned, looked down at the shirt and then closed his eyes again.

“Best go now.” Hop Wen shook him again. “Long ride home.”

“I’ll leave soon,” Adam promised but he didn’t. He leaned his head back against the back of the bench and that was that.

Number Five cousin shook his head and went on his way but not before he stuffed the jerky in the pocket of the yellow shirt and draped it over the sleeping Adam to give him a bit more warmth.

Adam stirred slightly, smiled to himself and pulled the shirt a little closer around him. He would have slept there until dawn had it not been for…

“Sniff-sniff-sniff-sniff…”

Must be dreamin’, he decided shifting his position.

“Sniff-sniff-sniff…”

The shirt then began to slide from his shoulder. He grabbed at it, pulling it back up but, to his bewilderment, it slid off again. He groaned, tugged again and this time, he heard a soft low…

“Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr……..”

His eyes flew open at this noise and there standing beside on the bench, the yellow shirt clutched in his mouth was…

“Patches…!”

…little Johnny Griffith’s black and white terrier, staring him eyeball to eyeball. Adam couldn’t help but laugh! The little dog weighed only about 20 pounds but here he was snarling at Adam like he was a 200 pound grizzly bear.

“Come on, Patches! It’s your old pal, Adam… Come on…Let go!” Adam coaxed softly and tried to pry the little dog’s teeth from the shirt with his thumb. “You are one stub…”

This made Patches snarl even louder and tug even harder to dislodge the shirt from Adam’s grasp.

“What the devil do you want with this old yellow shirt anyway, you crazy mutt…?” Adam tried to get a better grip on the garment by grabbing the shirt’s empty pocket with both hands. What a mistake!

R-I-P-P-P-P-P-P-P!!!!

Adam’s heart made the same sound as the shirt did as the pocket he was hanging on to and part of the shirt it was connected to tore away from the whole and Patches hightailed it down Main Street with the rest of it in his mouth.

“Heyyyyyy!!!” Adam scrambled to his feet and raced after the scrappy little terrier who was dragging the majority of the yellow shirt behind him through the dirt and heaven knows what ever else.

The “miserable little cur” led him on a merry chase indeed for the next half hour up and down all the lettered streets of Virginia City. Along the way, a gang of other “malicious canines” joined the party helping Patches give the shirt “the coup de grace” and tearing Adam’s right pants leg “in the bargain.” Only when he dislodged the package of jerky from the unbelievably intact remaining pocket and sent it flying all over the ground distracting the dogs did Adam see his opening to grab the shirt. Grab it he did! He then flew back to Hop Wen’s laundry, jumped on the waiting Sport and thundered out of town before any of the pack decided to come after him and the shirt again.

*****

The sun was just peeking over the Ponderosa pines when a very weary, very tattered, torn and dirty Adam Cartwright dragged himself and what was left of the very tattered, torn and dirty yellow shirt toward the ranch house. In fact, he was so tired, he was well past caring what Pa was going to say to him or do to him because he had no clean yellow shirt to present to him that morning as instructed.

Whatever happened, he decided he was going to cheerfully take his lumps “like a man” and then find a nice warm quiet place to sleep for a day or two. Oh-oh. As he opened the front door he found himself face to face with…

“Fine job you did on that shirt, son,” Ben clapped him on the back as he passed Adam on his way out the door.

“What did you say…?” Adam looked at his father in a confused way.

His father stopped his forward progress and also looked at Adam in a confused way, noticing his bedraggled state. “My goodness, Adam,” he examined his oldest closely from top to bottom and back again. “I didn’t think getting it clean would be that tough on you. Maybe you should just go to bed.”

“If you say so, Pa,” Adam continued to be confused about his father’s statement about the shirt. Oh, well…maybe this was just a dream…He shrugged, yawned and stumbled into the great room to find ….

“What the…?”

…a clean yellow shirt sitting on the pier table.

“I told you you should have just washed the shirt,” Hoss appeared from the kitchen, unrolling his sleeves and buttoning the cuffs of his shirt.

Adam put two and two together. Why not? “Thanks,” he grinned, handed Hoss what remained of his wad of bills, slapped him on the back and headed upstairs to his bed.

Hoss chuckled to himself picking up the clean yellow shirt. Should I tell him that I had one of his old yellow shirts too? Nah!!! He stuffed the money in his pocket and tucked the shirt under his arm. He would have to remember to put the dirty shirt that he took from Adam’s saddlebag in the wash next time but …maybe…on second thought… it might come in handy again sometime.

 ***The End***

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