Word Count: 1500
Joseph Cartwright bounced down the stairs with his shirt still unbuttoned and a towel in his hands. He paused once he had gained the ground floor and looked around the big room, giving his face a final rub with the towel as he did so, “What’s the problem?” he asked his father and eldest brother, “I thought I could smell coffee and bacon ages ago.”
“You did,” Adam yawned, stretched and unravelled himself from the big leather chair. He closed the book he had been reading and placed it down on the table, “We’ve been waiting for that brother of yours to return from town with the mail.”
“We had to tell Hop Sing to hold up breakfast until Hoss got back. So far Hoss is half an hour late and from the sounds of it Hop Sing is far from pleased.” Ben raised his eye brows ceiling wards in exasperation.
“Huh, it’s unusual for Hoss to be late for breakfast,” Joe muttered, tossing the towel over the chair and heading for the table, “Can we start anyway?”
“Once you’ve got yourself decently dressed,” Ben muttered, indicating with a nod of his head Joe’s unbuttoned shirt.
“Sorry, Pa,” Joe mumbled and pulled a wry face as he began to button his shirt as he took his place at the table.
“Let’s get started then, before Hop Sing skewers one of us for supper,” Adam grinned, and took his seat opposite his brother.
Adam had just picked up the coffee pot when the door slammed and Hoss, his face alight with expectation, came into the room. He slammed the door shut behind him with unusual gusto, tossed his hat onto the bureau and approached the table with a grin on his face, rubbing his hands in anticipation of the culinary delights that awaited him.
“Sorry I’m late, Pa,” Hoss said dragging the chair away from the table.
Joe and Adam exchanged a swift glance. Ben sighed and shook his head,
“That’s alright, Hoss, but there was no need to slam the door so hard.” Ben grumbled, giving Hoss a rather puzzled look. For some reason that he couldn’t fathom, he could sense there was something no quite right with his son, but he shook his head barely hearing the mumbled apology Hoss rendered him, “It’s a good thing we didn’t start eating at our usual time, Hoss; in all probability there would have been nothing left for you.” He relaxed a little and smiled. “So? What kept you so long anyway?”
“Aw, nothing much. Just a hold up in town,” Hoss said and speared some ham onto his fork which he tossed down onto his plate with an enthusiasm that seemed even greater than usual.
Once again Joe and Adam looked at one another and raised their eyebrows. Adam’s nose twitched slightly and Joe pursed his lips questioningly.
“Whereabouts was this hold up then, Hoss?” Adam asked, turning to survey his brother with a look in his eyes that would have usually warned Hoss to be careful how he answered.
“I told ya, in town.” Hoss mumbled, getting down to the serious business of eating as much as he could as fast as he could.
“Was it serious?” Adam enquired, passing the coffee pot to his father and eyeing his brother thoughtfully, “No one was hurt, were they?”
“Shucks no, don’t reckon so.”
Adam and Joe glanced at one another again, eyebrows were raised. Joe’s nose now twitched and shook his head slightly as though he was rather doubtful as to what was the cause.
“So what actually happened then, Hoss?” Joe now asked, surveying his brother with a slight frown on his brow.
“Shucks, I told ya, a hold up in town.”
“Is there something you’re holding out on us about this?” Joe asked, scowling darkly over at his sibling who nonchalantly slapped several eggs onto his plate and licked his lips in happy delight at the sight.
“Why should I hold out on anything to you about a hold up that held me up in town?” Hoss gulped down an egg, “I told ya no one was hurt, and it weren’t that serious.”
“This early in the morning, it could have been the stage coach.” Ben frowned, “There’s a lot of mail due this week, Hoss. Did you collect our mail?”
“Dadgumit, I knew there was summat I had to do in town.” Hoss frowned, and stared down at his plate as though its contents were entirely to blame for the mornings disruption, “Fact is, I got so held up by the hold up that I thought I’d hold back from collecting the mail until later, but by then the hold up was so lengthy that I was held up too long and forgot it. Do you want me to go back and collect it after breakfast, Pa?”
His father and brothers looked at one another, and then at Hoss. With deep sighs, they looked at each other. Joe decided on another attempt at trying to elicit some information from Hoss, who seemed blissfully unaware of just how confusing his rambling account of the proceedings was becoming to his listeners,
“Hoss, have you been drinking?” Joe asked very solemnly, giving his brother a long dark look from his green eyes.
Hoss blushed and dropped his fork on to the plate where it landed with a clatter. He eyed his father, who looked sternly at him, and then at Adam, who seemed to have a look of smug awareness on his face which rather stung Hoss’ sense of pride.
“It was like this, Pa,” Hoss turned to his father from whom he anticipated a more sympathetic hearing, “I went into town and Charley yelled over to me, ‘Hoss, can you come over here and hold up this here barrel for me.’ So I went over and hoisted it up. Trouble was there was a leak in it. First off I thought it was raining. Then I realized there was just a constant dripping on my hat in just the one place. The Charley came out and said how I was looking kinda hot so he took off my hat. That left me just standing there with this barrel.”
“This story wouldn’t hold up in court,” Adam grinned. “Are you trying to tell us that Charley did not know one of his kegs was leaking beer everywhere?”
“Weren’t leaking everywhere, Adam; it was just leaking on me. On my head, then down my face. ‘Course, I had to look up and see what was going on and it kind of started leaking into my mouth.”
Joe and Adam frowned and looked at one another suspiciously,
“Just how long did Charley expect you to hold up this barrel of beer, Hoss?” Ben asked.
Hoss looked now decidedly forlorn, and he sighed heavily. He pushed aside his plate and looked at his brothers, then at his father, “Seems that Charley and a couple of the boys had a wager on how long I could stand there and hold up that keg of beer.” His solemn face suddenly broke out into a blissful smile, his blue eyes twinkled and nearly disappeared in the folds of his cheeks with the width of the smile on his face, “Of course, the more the beer leaked out, the lighter the keg became, so the longer I could hold it up.”
“Just how big was this keg of beer, Hoss?” Joe chortled, “If it was as big as the ones I’ve called to mind, you would never have survived either drinking that amount or holding it up for so long.”
“Shucks, just as my legs were beginning to give way and I was beginning to get a bit of a sick feeling from the beer, Charley came and said there was no need to hold up the barrel any more as he had won the wager twice over.” Hoss frowned, “They invited me in for a drink but for some reason I just couldn’t stand the thought of another sip of the stuff. So I came right on home.” He sighed and leaned back in the chair which protested with a valiant squeak, “Fact is, I’m just about beginning to feel really unwell.”
“You look green,” Joe observed unsympathetically.
“I don’t think he’s going to be able to hold up his head for much longer,” Adam murmured.
“I think you’re right,” Ben said just as Hoss slumped face down onto the table.
“I bet it wasn’t even Charley’s best beer,” Joe lamented on his brother’s behalf and he sighed sadly as he forked some more ham onto his plate.