Summary: Hoss comes across two little boys when seeking shelter from the rain…and somehow they just got to talking about the rain, a flood, an ark and a rainbow.
Word Count: 4900
The rain had not stopped falling throughout the day. It had begun softly early in the morning and everyone had declared how refreshing the air was and how fresh and sweet. They ate their breakfast and discussed their various chores; they drank their coffee and only occasionally glanced out of the window to see whether or not the rain had ceased to fall. It had not. It fell heavier as the meal progressed and by the time they were ready to buckle on their gun belts and pull on their jackets the sweet-smelling rain had become a heavy deluge.
The previously dusty dry yard was now developing vast puddles and the rain drops fell so heavily into these that they spat up mud drops that plopped back into the water from which they had come. They foraged around for their slickers and grumbled to one another as they pulled them on, then slipped on their hats.
Ben Cartwright suddenly decided that perhaps he should tackle the paperwork relating to some timber that had been promised to Jed Clayton. He left his slicker untouched and told the boys not to be late back for supper. Joe and Adam glanced at one another, raised their eyebrows and stepped out onto the porch.
“I wish I had some paper work to do right now. I don’t much fancy going out in this.” Joe groaned as he hunched his shoulders and ran across the yard to the stables, side stepping the puddles but unavoidably splattering up the legs of his pants with mud.
Adam was close behind him; he shivered as he stepped into the stables and drops of rain water trickled down his neck and back. “Last time it rained like this, it lasted nearly a week,” he muttered, and took off his hat. He looked at it ruefully and noticed that it was soaked just in the time it had taken him to cross the yard.
“Yeah, I remember,” Joe stepped into Cochise’s stall and ran a hand over the horse’s coat, gently, a tender caress. He pulled off the bridle and bit from the hook to slip over the animal’s head. “I hate taking Cooch out in this weather. I hate going out in this weather. Why did it have to rain today!”
“Got something special arranged for today then, brother?” Adam smiled over at Joe and met the hazel eyes as they twinkled back at him,
“Well, I finally managed to persuade Jenny Savage to come out on a picnic. There’s no chance of that now…” He paused and glanced upwards as the sound of heavy rain beat a staccato tune upon the shingles of the stable roof. “It’s getting heavier.”
“Yep, and there’s no possible way we will get holes dug without them water-logging right up again straightaway.” Adam frowned. “I guess you need to get into town to let Jennifer Savage know you won’t be able to take her out.”
“I think she’ll realize that… Oh, yeah, I see what you mean.” Joe grinned, “That’s one way of getting out of digging holes — going in the opposite direction.” He chuckled, “Fact is, Adam, by the time we get to the main track heading for town, we’ll be drenched anyway.” He rubbed the back of his head. “Shall we try and sneak back in? Pa won’t beat up on us, will he?” He laughed again — a pleasant sound, warm and mellow on such a bleak day.
The rain was so heavy now that the staccato tune had turned into a heavy drumming that was so loud that the horses pricked back their ears and moved restlessly around their stalls. Adam sat down on a bale of straw and leaned against the bars of Sport’s stall. He sighed. “I ain’t moving from here, and that’s a fact.”
“Nor me, neither.” Joe grinned and picked up the curry brush. “Come on, Cooch, I’m going to groom you so that you’ll shine like a mirror.”
Adam smiled, watched his brother for a moment or two, and then rose to his feet and went into Sport’s stall. It wasn’t long before he was brushing down Sport’s rich chestnut coat and whistling beneath his breath as he did so.
Overhead, thunder rumbled; the rain crashed down as they continued with their work. The stables were dry and warm — the mucking out had been done earlier before the rain had come — so clean straw mixed about their feet. The horses pulled at hay from the baskets hanging from the nails in their stalls as the two brothers brought the curry brushes down along their coats.
In the house, Hop Sing shook his fist at the window and cursed the rain. Today there would be no laundry done, and perhaps tomorrow would be as bad. Too much rain, too much laundry, more work for later but what work to do now? He shuffled around the kitchen until he realized there was a job to be done. He could make chutney, plenty of chutney.
Ben shook his head and stared ahead of him in annoyance. The figures would not come right, his head was aching and he knew that he should have gone out with the boys. He had always maintained that he would never expect his boys to do what he himself did not. Now he had let them down, and all because of some rain.
He got up and walked to the door, which he cautiously opened. Then he quickly closed it again as the rain lashed into the room, splattering him far more liberally than he had expected. With a far less ruffled conscience, he returned to his desk, picked up his pen and resumed his labors.
Hoss Cartwright couldn’t recall the last time he had been so sodden through with the wretched wet stuff. He’d pulled on his slicker as soon as the rain began to fall and urged Chubb to stride out towards town with a quiet confidence that the rain would stop before he reached Virginia City. But the rain had only fallen heavier and heavier, and the hard packed track to town began to be mired with puddles that splashed mud up Chubb’s hooves and matted around his fetlocks.
“Shucks, Chubb, this stuff is getting serious,” Hoss grumbled as they galloped onwards to town, “If’n Pa hadn’t said how important them papers were I was to collect, I’d be all for heading back right here and now.”
Thunder rumbled and rolled across the darkening sky, clouds gathered momentum, huddling closer together as though they had decided Hoss the perfect target to haul down precipitation so vast that he’d drown in the deluge. His hat was so wet that it floundered feebly, the brim flopping over his face and obscuring his view, not that there was much of one with the rain lashing down against his face with a persistency that was becoming quite painful.
“Guess we need some shelter,” Hoss said aloud, not that Chubb could hear above the sound of the rain but it gave his rider some comfort to hear his own voice. He pulled the reins around and headed in the direction of a small line shack not far from the road.
He rode more slowly along the way now, as the going was harder the more sodden the ground became. Some horses liked soft ground but some preferred the harder dry ground and Chubb was of a mind that he preferred good solid ground beneath his feet. Not that he was fussy; it was just that he had his preferences. When Hoss raised his face and squinted pass the brim of his hat, he could see the hut not so far away and urged his horse on towards it.
The door of the cabin, he was surprised to find, was partly open and he pushed it cautiously forward, peering inside before closing it behind him. Rain puddles were deeper than they should have been on the floor and he grimaced.
With the heavy cloud covering the sky, the intensity of the rain, and the sack covering the window, the interior of the cabin was gloomy and dark. Hoss fumbled around until his knee hit against the table and he found the lantern in its center. He struck a match and carefully lit the wick; it flared instantly and shone a warm welcoming light which had the added bonus of reminding Hoss that he was inside out of the rain, that Chubb was under cover in the lean to at the back, and that there were wood chippings and such in the hearth.
He turned to deal with making the fire when he heard a sound close behind him. A scuffling sound. An intake of breath, sharp, sudden. He instantly clapped his hand to his holster and drew out his gun, very slowly. The other man, he reckoned, had the drop on him, having crept up on him from behind. He froze, stood very still.
“Alright, Mister…” Hoss said when the silence in the room had become too prolonged for comfort. “Jest let’s get this over with, shall we?”
There was no answer. He strained his ears above the sound of the rain falling heavily upon the cabin roof.
‘I’m sure gonna feel stupid if all I’m talkin’ to is a rat!’ Hoss thought to himself and gripped the handle of the gun more tightly in his wet hand. Then he slowly turned, tense, waiting for someone to speak, or even worse, fire their pistol at him.
“Best speak up now…” Hoss said very loudly.
Silence again. But no, not quite silence; there was a sound. Hoss leaned forward, realizing he could not see clearly due to the fact that the brim of his hat was flopping about over his face. He raised a hand and carefully pulled his hat off.
Nothing. No one. Hoss grimaced and shook his head, feeling foolish and embarrassed, even though he was on his own and no one had seen him. He slipped his gun back into its holster and relaxed his shoulders, the tension easing away.
He was thinking that once he had the fire alight he would strip off and dry his clothes when the scuffling sound came again.
“Shucks, alright, whoever you are? You just come out here nice and easy where I can see you.”
First one head appeared, then another. Two bodies emerged from the gloom created by an old chest of drawers behind which they had squeezed upon his entrance. Two small boys who shivered in front of him with large wary eyes and barely enough flesh on them to cover their bones.
“Who are you?” Hoss enquired, squatting down a little to get somewhere near eye level with them. “Where’d you come from?”
They looked at one another, alike enough to be brothers, standing close together with a hand clutching hold of the hand of the other. They looked at each other and then at him.
“We ain’t done no harm, mister.”
“Just wanted to git in from the rain.”
“Alright, that’s alright,” Hoss nodded. He reached out to put a hand on their shoulders but they flinched back. “Hey, it’s alright, I ain’t gonna hurt you none.”
Hoss paused, scratched his head and then stood up. They were obviously scared stiff of him, that was for sure. Best thing was to get the fire going, act like it was pure and simply normal to find two little boys in a shack on Ponderosa land in the rain. He struck a match and lit the kindling. He could sense that they were drawing nearer to him, waiting to see the first flicker of the flames that would mean warmth for them. He glanced out of the corner of his eye and felt the smug glow of a man proved right.
“There now, git a good fire going and we kin boil up some water for coffee. My Pa always makes sure these cabins are well stocked with stuff. Guess you’d like something hot inside you, huh?”
They both sniffed loudly, wiped their noses on their shirt sleeves and watched with round eyes as the little flames ate hungrily into the kindling. Hoss added more wood; the boys crept closer and put out their hands to the warmth, leaving little trails of wet on the floor where their feet shed water
“I’m Hoss Cartwright from the Ponderosa,” Hoss said as he opened a door to the small food safe. “You two got names?”
“I’m Ted and this is my brother, Ben,” the taller boy said, shivering now as the wet clothing struck cold against his skin.
“We were on the way to school. Not been here long and the rain came and we got lost,” Ben volunteered, jostling against his brother in order to get closer to the fire. “We’ve seen you in town. Ma and Pa said you and your family own all the land hereabouts.”
“What’s their names?” Hoss put food onto the table along with a skillet and a coffee pot. He quietly got on with preparing something for them to eat as he spoke and listened to them.
Tom and Hannah Jackson came the prompt reply. The family had moved onto a small homestead on the border of Ponderosa land. They had two younger brothers and their Ma was going to have another baby ‘real soon’.
“So you were on your way to school, huh?”
“Yes, sir.” Ben drew closer to the fire. Their clothes were steaming now.
“Do you like school?”
Both boys pulled faces and shook their heads.
Hoss put the skillet on the flames and stuck the coffee pot in the corner of the fire where the flames licked around its base. He surveyed the boys, noticed that the blue tinge about their mouths was fading and being replaced by a more pleasing color. He went to the truckle bed and pulled off one of the blankets which he draped around their shoulders before he pulled off their boots, which he put in the hearth.
The boots were worn down. Hoss could see that even through the mud they had collected during their trudge to the cabin. He pulled at the lobe of his ear, shook his head, and looked at them thoughtfully.
“We didn’t do no wrong, did we, mister?” Ben asked, watching the big man’s face thoughtfully. “Only Ted had a bad cough during the winter and if’n we had gone on to the school…” His thin face quivered, verging on tears, and he looked at his brother with that gentle careful look Hoss had often seen on the face of his elder brother when he, Hoss, had been a young boy himself.
“I don’t like school, and I really don’t like that teacher,” Ted said with a loud sniff. “But Ma said we got to have an edu – what’s that word, Ben?”
“I dunno.” Ben lifted thin shoulders to his ears. “But it means we’re being learned how to do things.”
“Taught…” Hoss said quickly and then grinned. Shucks, didn’t he just sound like Adam? “You get taught by the teacher and hopefully learn as a result.”
They looked at him as though acknowledging the fact that he must think he had said something sensible but it didn’t make much sense to them.
“Bacon’s burning, mister!” Ben cried and watched as Hoss made a valiant attempt to rescue it.
Hoss had pulled a blanket around himself now — pulled off his boots too — and was sitting in the chair with his bare toes wiggling in front of the flames. Still the rain pounded down.
Ted and Ben sat huddled in their one blanket, cheeks pink and glowing, licking their fingers which still tasted salty from the cooked bacon. Hoss was telling them the story of Noah and the Ark, about the animals that had entered into the vast wooden vessel that was going to keep them all safe from the flood. They listened with rapt attention; their big eyes stared at him with no fear, only interest in the story he was telling them.
“Were they happy in the ark, Hoss?” Ben cried.
“‘Course they were,” Ted replied before Hoss could open his mouth. “They was dry and comfy, weren’t they?”
“Could they light a fire, though? What if they did and the boat burned down?”
“It didn’t, though – did it, Hoss?”
Hoss sighed, smiled, shook his head and told them how the Ark had floated on the water before it settled on the mountain.
Ben yawned. After being so cold, he was now just a little too warm, but he didn’t want to give up his cozy position in front of the fire for anything. Ted, lounging against him, was already half asleep; the warmth had eased his aches and pains and left him feeling relaxed and sleepy.
Hoss continued on with his story. He spoke the words as he had been told them long ago one night when he was sitting with his Pa and Adam beside the wagon that had trundled on such a long journey towards the land that was to become their home. He could recall now how his Pa’s deep voice had vibrated gently against him, deep and warm, caressing in his love for the story, his love for his boys, for the land about them.
There had been a shooting star; Adam had exclaimed and pointed it out to them. Pa had stopped talking so that they could watch it fall from the sky, carving an arc of light earthwards. It was beautiful. Hoss had asked Pa if Noah would have seen a falling star too,
“Maybe, son. The most important thing was that he saw the rainbow.”
That was what Pa had said that evening, that Noah had seen the rainbow, and next day Hoss had looked and looked for a rainbow too. He didn’t see one, not for a long time.
So Hoss’ story meandered away from Noah and his Ark to that of two little boys traveling with their Pa all the way from Missouri to Nevada Territory in a covered wagon, and how their Pa would tell them a story every evening before they went to bed in the wagon.
“Was that a long time ago, Hoss?” Ben said with his eyes nearly closed.
“Yeah, well, not that long ago.” Hoss smiled.
“And did you see a rainbow, Hoss?” Ted asked.
“I sure did. It was not long after we found our land and started building the house. It was a day when it rained and we couldn’t do no building. Just when we were thinking what a waste of a day it had been, the rain stopped and the sun shone, and there was the rainbow.” He smiled. “It had one foot in the lake, I reckon, and the other foot stretched right on out just plumb next to our house.” He smiled and leaned back in the chair; he recalled the day with a long sigh of pleasure.
“Do rainbows have feet then, Hoss?” Ben yawned; his eyes were closing. Beside him, Ted was already asleep.
“Do you think Hoss is alright?”
Adam pursed his lips and wrinkled his nose; then he scratched his nose and shook his head. “Should’ve been home a while back,” he said, glancing over his shoulder. “Still raining. May be he’s taken shelter someplace.”
Joe shook his head and looked anxiously to the door of the stable. “It’s not raining so hard now. Maybe we should go take a look for him, just in case…”
There was no need to continue with words. Accidents could happen to the most careful rider, and in the conditions Hoss would have been riding in, it would have only needed one false step for a horse to take a heavy fall. Hoss was a big man; he wouldn’t fall lightly.
As Adam and Joe rode out of the yard, the mud muffled the sound of their passing. Ben, in the study and concentrating on his paperwork, was ignorant that his sons had left the ranch. Hop Sing had brought in coffee and hot cookies, enough to sustain a man on a miserable day.
The two brothers rode at a steady canter through what was now a more gentle rain fall. There was no wind to make it particularly unpleasant; the worse had fallen and they had taken shelter from that. What they now rode through was bearable.
Cochise and Sport cantered sure-footedly along the way towards town. The prints of any other horse, including Chubb’s, were washed away by the heavier rain. There were the ruts of a wagon that had passed, which obscured previous tracks even more so. The two men rode on to Virginia City without having found any sign of their brother.
The rain was easing into a fair drizzle when they dismounted by the General Store. Adam glanced around, up and down the street; there was no sign of Chubb tethered to any hitching rail. He rubbed his jaw and bit his bottom lip, glancing over at his brother. “Where was he supposed to go for Pa, do you know?”
“No, don’t you?” Joe looked at Adam with a question mark in his eyes. Then he shrugged. “Maybe he just went to the General Store?”
Together they made their way to the store, only to be told that Hoss had not been seen there; perhaps they should try the Hardware Store. They made their way to the Hardware Store to be told that, with the rain so bad, they had only just opened. No doubt Hoss had gone to get a drink and dry out in the Bucket of Blood.
They were halfway across the road when they saw Roy Coffee waving across at them. They waved back but the persistency of Roy’s waving was such that they realized he wasn’t just being friendly.
“Anything wrong, Roy?” Adam asked, thinking it better to get to as near the point as possible. If Hoss had managed to do something that had him locked up in a cell so early in the morning, it was better to know quickly.
“We’ve got a problem,” Roy said in his slow ambling manner, “You boys ain’t seen no little boys around, have you?”
Joe raised his eyebrows. “To be honest, sheriff, we’ve been too busy looking for one big boy to worry about two little ones.” He grinned as though he thought that was funny but Roy obviously didn’t, so Joe straightened his face and looked serious. “No, sir, we ain’t seen no little boys.”
“That’s a worry.” Roy rubbed his nose and stroked his moustache, “Fact is, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson got into town earlier with the rain pouring down and such and wagon full of kids. Seems Mrs. Jackson went into labor real bad. Mr. Jackson brought her into town; thought it better that than ride in himself and then having to ride on back. Brought all the children except the eldest two who were supposed to be in school.”
“Only they weren’t?” Adam suggested with a lift of the eyebrows.
“That’s right, Adam, they weren’t. The teacher ain’t seen hide nor hair of ’em.”
“It’s been raining real bad, Roy. They could be anywhere,” Joe said with an anxious feeling creeping up his spine. He knew he wouldn’t have liked a long walk to school in such weather and the likelihood of any child reaching the school safely from such a distance made him wonder about just what kind of parents the Jacksons could be.
“I’m getting a search party fixed up. Care to ride along?”
Adam and Joe looked at one another. Joe rolled his eyes and Adam rubbed his chin before he spoke. “We’d like to help, Roy, but we’re… er…looking for Hoss. You haven’t seen him, have you?”
“No. Now, are you going to help me or ain’t’cha?”
“Once we find Hoss, we’ll come join the posse,” Joe said with a look at Adam who nodded in confirmation.
Roy nodded and turned away, mumbling something under his breath as he went. Adam, feeling a little guilty that they had not been more definite in any arrangement, rubbed the back of his neck before turning to make his way back to the Bucket of Blood saloon.
Hoss wasn’t sure when he woke up whether or not he had dreamed the whole thing. He rubbed his eyes and then his face, and looked about him. The lamp was flickering and the fire was dying out. In front of the fire were two little boys, huddled together among the folds of a decently thick blanket.
Hoss yawned, stretched and leaned forward to put more wood upon the fire. Little snorts could be heard coming from the muddle of arms and legs cocooned in the blanket. He smiled, knowing that it would be some time before the exhausted boys would awaken. He pulled the blanket higher around his shoulders and smacked his lips together; time enough for just a little more sleep himself.
Time ticked on. The embers of the fire flickered against the new wood he had placed upon them, and by the time he was snoring again, the wood had caught and a good fire was burning.
Hoss didn’t wake up until a hand roughly shaking his shoulder aroused him and even then it was as though he were emerging from a dream. He blinked and looked up into the face of his eldest brother, who was looking down at him with a narrow eyed look on his face.
“I ain’t done nothing,” Hoss said immediately, which was often the first response he ever made whenever he woke up to see Adam looking down at him like he was at that moment.
“So we found out,” Joe snapped, leaning against the table with his arms folded across his chest. “We’ve been looking all round town for you, brother, and you ain’t been nowhere that you should have been had you been doing what you should have been doing.”
“What?” Hoss blinked, and looked at Adam who just nodded, smiled and stood up straight to observe Hoss with his head just a little to one side,
“So, where did you come across these two?” Adam asked, nodding towards the two boys who were now sitting up and rubbing their eyes.
“I found ’em here already.” Hoss said quickly, “The rain was… well…it was just too, kinda…”
“Wet?” Joe suggested
“Yeah, that’s right. So I came on in here and found the boys here already. Poor kids, they were soaked through. I couldn’t just leave ’em here, could I?” Hoss’ blue eyes went from one to the other of his brothers, who looked at one another before they both nodded in agreement with him.
Joe looked at the two boys who were emerging from the blanket rather pink faced and drowsy looking. “Ben and Ted Jackson?” He smiled and leaned towards them.
“Yeah – I’m Ted and he’s Ben.”
“I’m Joe Cartwright; that’s my brother Adam.”
“Sure, we seen you in town with Hoss.” Ben nodded and began to busy himself with pulling on his boots.
“Well, Ben, Ted, your Ma and Pa have a real surprise for you when you get into town. How about coming along with us now and seeing what it is?”
They looked at one another, their eyes lit up with excitement. Both of them hurried to pull on their boots and tie up their laces before standing in front of the Cartwright brothers. The fire had died down sufficiently to be easily extinguished; the lamp had already guttered out. Hoss drew open the door to the cabin, and looked about him. There was a sun shining in the sky now, and the air was indeed beautifully clean and fresh smelling. He took a deep draught of it, deep into his lungs.
“Oh, Hoss, Hoss…” cried Ted, tugging at his sleeve.
“Look, Hoss, look!” Ben exclaimed as he tweaked at Hoss’ jacket and pointed to the sky.
“I bet it’s got one foot in the lake and the other right beside our house.” Ted looked up at Hoss. “Don’t’cha think so, Hoss?”
Hoss nodded as he looked into the sky and the rainbow shimmered in a wide arc across the horizon.
Ted turned to Adam. “Is this the surprise, mister?” he asked.
Adam smiled and swung the boy up into his arms; together they looked at the rainbow. Then he carried Ted and put the youngster in his saddle before mounting up behind him.
Joe had ushered Ben towards Cochise and helped him up in the saddle, but turned his head to look back at the rainbow. “It’s a beauty,” he observed as though to himself, “a real beauty.”
“Rainbows have feet,” Ted declared. “Hoss said so.”
Adam looked over at Hoss, who was mounting Chubb. The big man glanced over at Adam and went a little red in the face. Without a word, Adam shook his head as though there just wasn’t anything he could possibly add to that little nugget of information, and with a twist of his wrist on the reins, turned his horse from the cabin towards town.