Word Count: 2800
Joseph Francis Cartwright — Little Joe to all of his family and friends — stuck his head out in the upstairs hallway. It was slightly after 8:30, and he was intent on sneaking out. The ranch hands had been talking for days about Carlotta, the pretty new brunette who was working at the Bucket of Blood. She was described as a sweet little armful with a tempting smile, milky white skin, fiery dark eyes, a goddess’s figure and a vocabulary that did not include the word “no.”
He cocked his head to the left and carefully listened for noises coming from his middle brother Hoss’ room. Nothing. Good. He then cocked his head to the right. No noise was coming from his oldest brother Adam’s room either. Real good. He then leaned forward straining to hear anything coming from his Pa’s room across from his room. Not a sound. Real, real good. He giggled to himself impishly, then clapped his hand over his mouth to muffle the sound. He turned and began to tiptoe down the hall taking great care not to step on any of the boards that were known to react rather loudly if just a bit of pressure were applied with a … s-q-u-e-e-e-a-a-a-k-k-k!!!!! He froze, stopped breathing and strained his ears again for any signs of life from any of his older relatives’ rooms. Nothing. He would have sighed a huge sigh of relief but for the noise it would have made. In his head he did, however. He took a deep breath and then gingerly picked up his left foot and ever so carefully pushed off down the hall to the top of the stairs. So far so good. He silently crept down all but the last three steps. He stopped at that point and cautiously looked around the great room. Coast was clear. He grinned. Now all he had to do was get out the door, then to the barn and then, with any luck, it would be a straight shot to Carlotta’s willing arms. His confidence in pulling this all off was soaring. It quickly plummeted when he heard…
“Going someplace, little brother?” Hoss Cartwright, who was sitting in the blue velvet chair at the foot of the stairs reading, leaned forward and looked back at him quizzically.
Joe raised his eyes up to heaven dramatically as if asking, Why me, Lord? and then, bending forward, whispered to his older brother, “Where’s Adam?”
“Right here.” Adam came out of the kitchen carrying a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses. He put them down on the pier table and moved so he could study his baby brother critically. “Aren’t you a little overdressed for bedtime, Junior?” he chuckled referring to the fact that Joe was gussied up in his best Sunday-go-to-meeting get-up.
“I’m going out, if you must know,” Joe told him casually and swaggered toward the door. “And Hoss is going with me.” It wasn’t his original plan but, hey, he figured it would be two against one – him and Hoss verses Adam — meaning the odds were decidedly in his favor.
Both of the older Cartwright boys were dumbfounded. “He is?” and “I am?” they said simultaneously, gaping at Joe.
Joe cleared his throat. “Of course, he is. Hoss deserves a little fun too, Adam. We’ve all been working hard. And as we all know, ‘all work and no play makes Hoss a dull boy’.” He grabbed Hoss by the arm and assisted him to his feet.
Adam sighed. “‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’, too. Didn’t Pa tell us he wanted us to start laying out the foundation for the new mill tomorrow, Joe?”
“That’s not a job we have to get up early for, Adam. ‘Man does not live by bread alone’,” Joe urged, pushing Hoss toward the front door.
“Didn’t Pa also tell us he thought we should go to bed early tonight? ‘Act in haste, repent in leisure’,” Adam whispered in Hoss’ ear as the trio crossed the great room together.
“‘He who hesitates is lost’,” Joe grinned handing Hoss his jacket.
“‘Forewarned is forearmed’,” Adam said solemnly and moved to block the front door.
“‘What about ‘eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die?’” Joe wasn’t going to let a little thing like a 170-pound oldest brother dissuade him from his goal — the enticingly beautiful and compliant saloon girl.
Adam put his hands on Hoss’ shoulders and looked him straight in the eyes. “There’s always, ‘fools rush in where angels fear to go.’”
“I don’t know about all this…?” Hoss, who still hadn’t made a move one way or another about putting on his jacket, looked from one brother to another. How was it that he was in the middle again?
Joe frowned. He decided he had to move this along some way or he’d never get to town. “Excuse us, Adam,” he ducked under Adam’s arm so that he was in between his brothers and in so doing, maneuvered Hoss from Adam’s clutches. “Listen, Hoss,” he decided to use the tone he was planning to use on Carlotta. “Would I steer you wrong?” he reached over and grabbed Hoss’ big ten gallon hat from the rack near the front door and somehow positioned it on his middle brother’s head. ‘Faith moves mountains,’ don’t you know?” Also, in theory his 250 pound second oldest brother could move his 170 pound oldest brother, he hoped.
“‘Doubt is the beginning, not the end, of wisdom,’” Adam lifted Hoss’ hat off his head and placed it back where it was hanging before.
“‘Hitch your wagon to a star’,” Joe scowled at Adam, retrieved Hoss’ hat and put it on his middle brother’s head once more.
“‘Better be alone than in bad company’,” Adam again replaced Hoss’ hat on the rack, crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the front door.
“‘No man is an island’,” Joe crossed his arms over his chest also and moved so that he was toe to toe with his oldest brother.
“‘Ignorance is bliss’, I guess,” Adam smirked at him and adopted a superior air.
Joe didn’t appreciate his older brother’s comment but managed to keep his temper in check by continuing to focus on his goal — Carlotta. “Come on, Adam. ‘Every dog has its day’.”
“‘Let sleeping dogs lie’,” Adam advised smiling.
“‘A dog is man’s best friend’,” Hoss offered, laughing at his two brothers’ continuing battle of quotations. He leaned his backside against the table behind the sofa to observe their verbal fencing match from a relatively safe distance.
“‘When the cat’s away, the mice will play’,” Joe parried.
“‘The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’,” Adam thrust.
“Who’s a mouse?” Joe fumed, his green eyes blazing.
“‘If the shoe fits…’” Adam countered smugly recognizing he was getting to his little brother again.
Joe recognized it too and regained his composure instantly since he knew he wouldn’t win if he lost his temper. “‘Carpe diem’,” he jabbed.
“That’s a new one on me,” Hoss chuckled slapping his thigh.
“‘Seize the day’,” Joe looked back to whisper to him.
“Oh?” Hoss nodded as if he knew what it was all along and then chuckled again. “This is downright educational, fellas.”
“‘Better safe than sorry’,” Adam countered only half heartedly.
“‘Better late than never’,” Joe smirked as he incorrectly assumed that Adam was tiring of this game because of his half-hearted response and reached over again to retrieve Hoss’ hat from the rack. He was wrong.
“‘Don’t beat a dead horse’,” Adam advised moving away from the door and also grabbing hold of the brim of the ten gallon hat.
“‘Don’t change horses in midstream’.” Joe tried to tug the hat away from Adam.
“‘You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink’.” Adam pulled the opposite way.
“‘Don’t put the cart before the horse’.” Joe gritted his teeth and tugged harder.
“‘Don’t close the barn door after the horse is gone’.” Adam was just as determined and dug in his heels.
Hoss grinned. “‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mou…’ Hey, that’s my hat!!!” He finally realized what was happening to his chapeau and quickly moved to rescue it from further harm.
“Sorry,” Adam looked sheepishly at Hoss as he tried to straighten out the damage that the two had done in their tug of war. He then turned back to Joe. “Where are we going with this?”
Joe shrugged and shook his head wearily. “I don’t know but I’m going out,” he said taking his own hat from the rack and stepping toward the door.
Like a rattler striking its victim, Adam’s hand reached out, grabbed Joe’s shoulder to stop him in mid-step and turned him back around. “Pa will have your hide. Don’t forget, ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’.” Adam solemnly shook his index finger at his baby brother.
Joe frowned at Adam. Maybe it was time to try a different strategy. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, after all. “You know, big brother. You’ve been working real hard, too. Why don’t you come with us? After all, ‘the more the merrier’.” Joe reached for his big brother’s coat and handed it to him.
Adam looked at him critically. “Oh, sure and me get in trouble with Pa, too, huh? ‘Misery loves company’, I guess,” he sighed and hung his coat back up.
“That’s right and Hoss and I will be glad to be in ‘misery’ with Carlotta’s ‘company’.” Joe turned his back on Adam and winked at Hoss.
Carlotta? Adam suddenly looked like he had been stunned by a left hook delivered by his little brother. Ah, Carlotta…. He recalled his brief encounter with her in town the other day. Hmmm…faint heart never won fair damsel.
“But…oh, well.” Joe smiled to himself knowing that he had successfully hooked his big brother. Now all he had to do was reel him in. “‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,’ I guess.”
This snapped Adam back from wherever his head was. He put his hands on his hips and glared at Joe. “Just who are you calling old, baby brother?”
“‘If the shoe fits…’” Joe didn’t think it was against the rules to use Adam’s quote again since this contest really had no rules.
“‘If you can’t beat them, join them’.” Hoss smiled innocently at Adam.
Joe vigorously nodded his head up and down, just in case Adam needed further encouragement.
Adam sighed deeply and thought for a minute or so. “I guess, ‘a man is known by the company he keeps’, especially if ‘the company’ is as advertised.” He smiled wistfully.
“We won’t know unless we go.” Joe winked at him slyly.
“Who said that?” Hoss was sure someone had to have before Joe did, given almost the entire content of his brothers’ argument.
“I just did,” Joe looked at him incredulously. “How about it, Adam? ‘All for one and one for all’?”
“Well,” Adam took a deep breath and looked at the eager faces of his little brothers. “‘When in Rome…’,” he smirked at them and reached for his black hat.
“‘All roads lead’ there, I hear,” Joe grinned.
“It ‘wasn’t built in a day’ either, you know,” Hoss contributed, putting on his somewhat battered looking hat and pulling on his coat.
“I’ve heard that,” Joe giggled and reached for the front door latch. “But I think…”
“Sons going somewhere?” Hop Sing appeared out of nowhere stopping them dead in their tracks. He raised a quizzical eyebrow at the three of them and then at the grandfather’s clock. “Father would not be happy you go out so late when must get up with chickens tomorrow.”
The brothers looked at each other. How could it be that after all these years this dear little man could always make them feel like they were naughty little boys he had just caught with their hands in the cookie jar? “Ah, Hop Sing, we was just…,” Hoss smiled angelically and began to try to explain.
“Never mind,” Hop Sing held up his hand to stop a long explanation that wasn’t necessary since he listened to most of their conversation from the dining room. “Heard all about Miss Carlotta.” He frowned at them disapprovingly.
“Oh?” Joe gulped while Adam put his hands over his eyes and Hoss tried to look innocent.
“And since Father be home soon, best sons go to bed now.” The Chinese cook folded his arms over his chest and glared at them.
“Pa isn’t here?” Joe looked at him incredulously.
“Mis-tah Cartwright go to Jones place after supper,” the Chinese cook explained tapping his foot impatiently.
“Well, then, fellas, what are we waiting for?” Joe grinned at Adam and Hoss and started to open the door again.
Hop Sing cleared his throat sharply. “Father said be home by nine.” He took another look at the clock as did they all. “Not good idea go out.”
“Ah, come on, Hop Sing,” Joe began to whine like he did when he was almost six. “We…”
But he was interrupted by the Chinese cook once more. “Father have favorite quotation, too, Mis-tah Joseph.” He paused for effect. “‘Spare rod, spoil child’?”
All three were thunderstruck.
“A picture is worth a thousand words’, ain’t it?” Hoss gulped, peeled off his coat, and returned it and his hat to the rack by the door.
“Sure is,” Joe frowned and sank back against the sideboard.
“Yes-sir-eee,” Adam sighed and hung up his hat beside Hoss’ with a flourish.
“Hear Father now.” Hop Sing tilted his head toward the front door. “Probably want know why Little Joseph all dressed up.”
Joe’s face went through half a dozen contortions. He would have a lot of explaining to do if Pa saw him dressed as he was. Simultaneously his older brothers came to the same conclusion.
“‘Ahhhh, yes.” Adam grabbed his stunned little brother by the shoulders and pulled him to a standing position while Hoss took his hat from his head and put it on the rack. “Looks like ‘the chickens have come home to roost’, brothers. Upstairs before…”
The sound of heavy footsteps on the porch caused the three to look at each other in alarm, mumble a quick “Good night,” and run up the stairs before the door swung open and their father asked the Chinese cook, “Anything happen here tonight while I was gone, Hop Sing?”
“No, Mis-tah Cartwright.” Hop Sing had moved to the pier table and had picked up the lemonade pitcher and glasses that had been left there.
“Boys in bed?” Ben yawned unfastening his gunbelt.
“Yes, sir, Mis-tah Cartwright. Just in nick of time,” Hop Sing chuckled to himself.
“That’s good to hear…” Ben yawned again as he rolled up his gun belt and placed it on the sideboard with his sons’. “…especially since we’ve all got to get an early start tomorrow. It’s like I always say, ‘early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’.” He hung his hat on the rack beside the boys’. Then he caught sight of Hoss’ mangled ten gallon hat. “What happened to this?” He pulled it off its peg and held it out for Hop Sing to see.
“Ask sons in morning about Carlotta.” Hop Sing yawned also as he shuffled off toward his room. “‘Early bird catches worms’.”
“You mean ‘worm,’ don’t you?” Ben looked at him wondering if he had made a misstatement.
Hop Sing smiled broadly shaking his head. “Worms,” he repeated.
“Then that makes me?” Ben was almost afraid to ask.
“Early bird,” Hop Sing laughed. “Good night, Mis-tah Cartwright.” He then took himself off to bed, leaving Ben to ponder what went on while he was gone and especially what it had to do with Hoss’ hat.
….Carlotta?…Now where did he hear that na…? That’s right…The new girl in town…Adam had said he had talked…Hmmmmm…Well, Ben smiled to himself, those sons of his would have to ‘get up pretty early in the morning to outsmart him on this one…’
And as luck would have it, even though he did, they did!
*Just in case you are wondering, there are 50 “Words of Wisdom” or pieces of them, including one repeat, in the story.