Word Count: 2840
If I’d only told her how much I really care… Little Joe Cartwright looked mournfully down at the dinner plate that Hop Sing, the family’s Chinese cook, set in front of him. He heaved a deep sigh and pushed it away from him.
“Little Joseph not hungry?” Hop Sing frowned at the youngest Cartwright with concern.
Joe sighed again, shook his head, mumbled something, got to his feet and left the table.
“Sick?” Hop Sing directed his inquiry across the table to Joe’s two older brothers as the front door closed behind Joe.
“Love sick, I reckon.” Hoss, the younger of Joe’s older brothers, poked Adam, the older of Joe’s older brothers, in the ribs and chuckled. “This is sure some fine fried chicken, Hop Sing,” he smiled appreciatively at Hop Sing and pulled Joe’s abandoned dish toward him.
“He’ll get over it,” Adam grumbled pushing his own plate away. “Excuse me,” he glowered at Hoss, rose and disappeared out the front door too.
“Love sick too?” Hop Sing watched as Hoss also took possession of Adam’s dinner.
Hoss paused to swallow then stated matter-of-factly. “Sort of.”
“How you know?” the Chinese cook looked at him suspiciously.
Hoss grinned a toothy grin and handed him his empty plate. “’Cause Emmy Lou Carson is not goin’ with them to the Valentine Dance, that’s why.”
Hop Sing was stunned. “But brothers spend much time with Missy Emmy Lou and …”
Hoss shrugged his shoulders and started on Joe’s chicken. “Let’s just say I’m a Monkey and she’s an Ox and Joe and Adam are Tigers…”
“What?” Ben, Little Joe’s, Hoss’ and Adam’s father, who had silently listened to the foregoing discussion, spoke up from his place at the head of the table. “What are you talking about, son?”
Hop Sing laughed, “Ancient Chinese calendar,” and shuffled away.
“Okay, Hoss, let’s have it in simple English. No long winded explanations, please.” Ben folded his arms over his chest and gave Hoss a look that truly meant he was ready for whatever the explanation was going to be but it had better be short.
“Yes, sir.” Hoss put the fried chicken down on his little brother’s plate and wiped his fingers on his napkin. “Ya see, Hop Sing explained it to me that the Chinese have named the year after an animal for centuries. Remember the Year of the Goat just a couple years ago?”*
“How could I forget?” Ben rolled his eyes. Oh, yes,… fireworks shooting out from under his desk and Guillermo and Nana the Spanish goats hidden by his sons in the storage room to protect them from the monster Nian and lai see and...** He abruptly shifted his attention back to his middle offspring’s story.
“Anyway, there are twelve different animals…there’s a Dog and a Dragon and a Rooster and a Snake… that’s what you are, Pa…***”
“… and a Horse…”
“…And then Adam and Joe were both born in the Year of the Tiger.**** I think that’s kinda strange but they are born twelve years apart so they are…go figure? Anyway, Tigers are very good looking and hot tempered and mulish… and…well…it describes the two of them perfectly…” Hoss grinned again.
The disgusted, impatient look on his Pa’s face asked the question, could we hurry this along?
Hoss swallowed hard. “Well, Pa, it was sort of like this…” He picked up a worn black reference book from the floor between his chair and the one previously occupied by Adam and began to thumb through the pages.
Not that dratted book again. Ben frowned recognizing the volume that Adam had used to blackmail him into giving them money for fireworks when he was sixteen. “Hold on.” He held up his hand to stop his son’s story, rose, walked over to the liquor cabinet, and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and four glasses. “Now go on,” he said walking back to the table and reseating himself.
Hoss watched as his father poured himself a glass of the amber liquid and then plunged ahead with his hopefully not a “long winded explanation”…
“Looks like we’re too late…That little snake probably already asked her.” Hoss stole a peek through the curtain opening into the Carsons’ parlor and glared at the “little snake” who was sitting on the settee very close to the extremely fetching, brown-haired, blue-eyed Emmy Lou Carson.
Dainty, skin light and flawless as the finest porcelain, Emmy Lou was as delicate as a china doll. Although she was petite, she was endowed with all the charms that nature could supply: a pretty face, a narrow waist and a generous bosom. What man wouldn’t want to get to know her better?
The “little snake” took a second to grin back at him but then returned all of this attention back to Miss Carson.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that,” Adam winked at Hoss and rapped lightly on the front door.
“Well, I would,” Hoss grumped then smiled at Mrs. Amelia Carson who opened the door and bade them to enter.
“Oh, you are ever so clever, Joe,” Emmy Lou Carson giggled as the youngest Cartwright boy handed her the bunny rabbit doll that he had fashioned out of her pink lace-trimmed handkerchief.
“Yes, Junior is, isn’t he?” his oldest brother Adam agreed, handing his hat to Emmy Lou’s mother as he and Hoss strolled into the parlor. He smirked at Joe who was seated beside Miss Carson.
“Why, Gramps, what are you doing here? I thought it was time for your afternoon nap,” Joe sneered back at Adam.
Emmy Lou sighed but managed to smile at Joe’s older brothers. Not again.
You see, although Emmy Lou was a local girl — she and Hoss and Joe had been classmates — she spent her teenage years back East at one of the best finishing schools. During that time, she ‘blossomed’, so to speak, whereupon she found herself pursued by a herd of eager young men. Much to her dismay, she frequently had two and even three beaus fighting tooth and nail over her. She politely endured their overtures but dreaded all the increased attention she received because of her charms. She was really a very private person who wanted to be liked because of who she was inside and not what she looked like outside. She thought it would be different when she came back home to Nevada but she was wrong. Even her old friends the Cartwright boys couldn’t see past her looks. And their arrival could mean only one thing: they wanted her answer as to who was going to escort her to the upcoming Valentine Dance.
Her thoughts swung back to Adam, who had seated himself on the settee beside her and Joe, leaving Hoss to sit on the chair to Adam’s right. “It is nice to see you both,” she smiled across the way at Hoss, then at Joe on the other side of her and finally back at Adam, “But to what do I owe the honor of your company?”
“Well,” Adam cleared his throat and smiled in a way that showed his dimple, “Since you, mademoiselle,” he touched her nose lightly with his index finger, “have been having such a hard time trying to figure out which of the three of us may have the privilege of escorting you to the dance next week, I thought that maybe if we looked to ancient Chinese astrology, we might find the answer.” He pulled from out of his coat pocket a familiar looking worn reference book much to Hoss’ alarm.
“Er…I don’t think that such a good idea, Adam.” Hoss looked warily at the book.
“And why not?” Adam stopped searching through the book and raised an eyebrow at his middle brother.
“Why not, Hoss?” Emmy Lou looked suspiciously at Hoss. In her experience, if she wanted to get to the truth of a matter, all she had to do was ask the affable middle Cartwright brother. Oh, it might take a while to get the answer out of him but at least it would be an honest one.
Hoss blinked his blue eyes a few times. “Well, Emmy, it just seems that things don’t work out quite right every time Adam reads that dad-burned book.”
“Oh, Hoss,” Emmy shook her head and laughed melodiously, “how could reading a book like that cause any trouble?”
“Trust me on this one,” Hoss rolled his eyes.
“Just never you mind your pretty little head about that one.” Adam patted her hand patronizingly. “This will work. Let’s see… you were born in 1843 so you are a delicate little Rabbit and this says that you would be very compatible with a big strong Tiger like me who would protect you.” Adam winked at Emmy Lou, captured her hand in his and brought it to his lips, brushing it ever so gently. He then gave Joe and Hoss a superior look.
“Hey! Now hold on there, old man,” Joe frowned at his oldest sibling, his green eyes flashing. “I just happen to remember from a long time ago Hop Sing telling me that I’m a Tiger too. We were born 12 years apart, which makes me a much younger and more powerful Tiger. So if this delicate little Rabbit is compatible with you, she is likewise compatible with me,” he took her other hand in his. “And I’m the one that was ever so clever enough to make her this.” He picked up the pink hanky bunny.
Hoss’ heart sank as he realized that he was losing out to his brothers once again. Dad-burned book!
Emmy’s heart also sank as she found herself once more being fought over. Too bad she was a Rabbit. Now maybe if she was something else…That’s it….
“You’ll come in real handy if she’s ever attacked by a giant pink lace trimmed handkerchief, pipsqueak, that’s for darn sure,” Adam smirked back at Joe.
“Now, boys…boys,” Emmy Lou giggled softly, trying to keep the little give and take from deteriorating into hand to hand combat with her in the middle. “I hate to disillusion you, and I know that a lady should never admit her age, but I’ve always been a little older than you, Joe. Don’t you remember in school I was a grade ahead of you? I was born in 1841, not 1843.”
“You were?” Joe blinked at her in astonishment as did Hoss. Both could have sworn she was younger than the youngest Cartwright son.
“Oh.” Adam also gave her a peculiar look, paged two pages back to 1841 and turned very pale. “Oh, that can’t be right.” He couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I told you so,” Hoss muttered, shaking his head and glaring at Adam.
“Well, what am I, Adam? A Monkey?” She squealed in delight — gotcha! — as Hoss took the book from Adam and began to read the page that Adam just read.
“No, Em, I’m a Monkey. But you’re an…” Hoss gulped when he saw what the book said.
Adam covered his eyes with his hands. “An…an…”
“Give me that,” Joe snatched the book from Hoss’ hand as he continued to babble, “An… an….”
Joe started to cackle like a blue jay. He managed to finally get out “You’re an…”
“…Hold it.” Ben held up his hand to interrupt his middle son. “You told that lovely young lady that she was an Ox?” he roared so loud he made Hoss wince.
“No sir.” Hoss looked offended. “Joe did.” He motioned to his baby brother who had returned to the table and seemed to be in a much better mood than when he left earlier.
“Well, it’s no wonder she wouldn’t go out with you,” Ben growled at Joe as he gnawed on one of the fried chicken legs that Hoss had not managed to devour during his and Adam’s absence. “Humph…Telling her she was an Ox.” He shook his head in exasperation.
Joe stopped chewing, smiled weakly at his father and put down the chicken.
“Well, if the truth be told, Pa, she was actually quite happy about it…being an Ox, that is.” Adam smiled mischievously. He too had come back into the house with an improved attitude and filled a glass for Joe, Hoss and himself from the whiskey bottle.
“Oh, really now?” Ben sat his glass on the table with a thud. “Why?”
“Well, she figured out that another fellow would be better suited to her based on his birth date.” Hoss shrugged, taking a sip of his whiskey. “And, well… she wasn’t much interested in us after that.”
“She pretty much tossed us out the door,” Joe giggled, winking at Adam who chuckled and shook his head.
“Hmmm.” Ben looked from one son to another to another suspiciously. “He must be one heck of a wonderful guy if she tossed the three of you out the door for him.”
“Oh, he really is, Pa.” Adam smiled as he took the reference volume from where Hoss had left it on the table. “According to the book…”
Again with that book…, Ben sighed.
“…he is exciting, cultured, sophisticated, cunning, graceful, elegant and very, very wise. He’s a dedicated parent and would be a very stable relationship for an Ox like Emmy Lou.”
“Women have to think of those sort of things, don’t you know, Pa?” Joe tried to keep a straight face.
“Ah ha.” Ben nodded at Joe trying to figure this all out. “So who’s she going with?” He made the mistake of taking a big gulp of his drink and almost choked on it when Adam said matter-of-factly, “You’re supposed to pick her up at 6:00, Pa.”
“Me?!?!?!?” Ben thundered.
“According to the book, a person born in the Year of the Snake is the perfect match for an Ox.” Adam smirked back at him and took a drink himself.
“And when exactly were you three going to tell me about this?” Ben snapped, watching his oldest lay the open book face down on the table.
“Well, Pa, we just wanted to get used to the idea of Emmy Lou as our new Ma first.” Adam chuckled thoroughly enjoying their father’s reaction.
“I wonder if she learned to cook any better than she used to?” Hoss grinned while Joe cackled, “Well, at least she’s older than me so that won’t be too bad.”
Ben sank back into his chair while his sons went on with their teasing and joking about “how perfect” Emmy Lou and he were for each other. What was he missing here? Then it dawned on him. He picked up the book from the table himself and began to read. Yep, that’s it. “You know,” he cleared his throat to get their attention, “I’m glad you three boys find this amusing, but I think that Emmy Lou might not be such a bad choice to be your new Ma after all.” He smiled as he placed the open book back face down on the table again.
“You don’t?” Adam, Hoss’ and Joe’s mouths all dropped to the floor at their Pa’s statement.
“She obviously won’t be taken in very easily by any of you since, as you pointed out, she’s not compatible with you.” Their father rose to his feet. “…And, based on what the book says here, I’m looking forward to her help as a parent.” He snatched up his glass and the bottle of whiskey and disappeared into the kitchen, laughing.
Three hands grabbed for the open book with Joe having the winning hand. He quickly scanned the page, his face telegraphing to the other two the contents of the page as he read.
“Well?” Adam asked impatiently, nudging his little brother’s knee with his boot. “Let’s hear it!”
“Oxen are authoritarian and strict.” Joe ran his finger under each word as he spoke it. “They expect their offspring to listen and behave. Showing rebellion is the fastest way to be punished.” He gulped.
“We’ve got to burn that book,” Hoss uttered, shaking his head.
*The Chinese New Year of the Boar (Pig) begins on Sunday, February 18, 2007 and runs until February 6, 2008.
**To find out about lai see and Nian, read HAPPY NEW YEAR OF THE GOAT, PA!
*** For the Chinese New Years from 1645 to 1899 and for information about the individual years, see http://www.pinyin.info/chinese_new_year/cny1645-1899.html
**** Adam was born in 1830 while Joe was born in 1842. Both were Tiger years. Hoss was born in the Year of the Monkey in 1836 and Ben was born in the year of the Snake in 1809.
*****For the record, Lorne was born during the Year of the Tiger (but just barely), Dan and Pernell were both born in the Year of the Dragon and dear Michael was born in the Year of the Rat.