Stop the Press! (by Tessa)

Summary:  The lengths Joe will go just to get a loan for one of his schemes.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  G
Word Count:  19,795


 

Silver Dollar Saloon, One Afternoon in Virginia City

Hoss laughed and slapped his knee while he half-joked with his little brother. “Joe, we talkin’ about the same Adam?”

“Sure we are. Brother Adam. He’s at the bank,” Joe leaned back in his chair a little as he took a big gulp of beer. He swallowed and let out a composed, confident sigh of pleasure.

“And you know why he’s over at the bank?” Hoss continued. “Cuz’ he’s counting his money, little brother. We ain’t, cuz’ we’re broke.”

“Hoss, you worry too much,” Joe commented.

“No, Joe, it’s not worry. I just know Adam well enough to know he ain’t gonna give us money as easy as you think.” Hoss said, laughter still in his voice.

“What’d ya talking about? We’re family,” Joe confidently stated. “We take care of each other.”

“Uh-huh! So if we’re family, then how come we don’t go to Pa with this idea of yours and ask him for the money?” Hoss asked.

“Don’t you think Pa has enough problems? Now Adam is bothered by what’s happened just like we are.” Joe stated.

Joe picked up the previous edition of “The Freedom Courier.” This was a tramp newspaper that came into town right after Ben began his pursuit to be the head of the cattlemen’s association. In order for Ben to be chosen, it’s the voting members that will actually perform the election. But these people are aware that favorable public opinion of anyone they choose is very important. So putting doubt in the public’s minds would help anyone that did not want to see him in the position. This newspaper ran article after article that attacked Ben and his efforts toward his goal.

There wasn’t much talk around town, but all of the Cartwrights knew that Agnes Finster was behind the entire campaign. She invited the paper to do business in Virginia City on a promise of profits. Agnes Finster was one of Virginia City’s resident widows. For the past three years, she pursued the attention of Ben Cartwright with no success. Her bitterness grew at not being a part of the Cartwright clan that she fantasized would bring her wealth and popularity. Agnes had no cattle to deal with, but this was just her personality and revenge was how she handled her unhappiness.

“Joe. I’m just not sure we should be involved in this. What’d we know about the newspaper business?” Hoss asked.

“I told you. Jake Willis will be our partner and his entire family has been in the business for years,” Joe persisted. “We’re only gonna be in the business until Pa is elected.”

Hoss nodded his head cautiously. “And how harmful can Agnes be anyway?”

“I don’t know. But to just sit back and doing nothing while Pa is drug through the dirt is hard for me to do,” Joe said, then he perked up. “I’ll get the fight back in you. Listen to this article about Pa.” He unfolded the paper and began to read.

Most of the cattle ranches in this area are small and not always well run. These ranches are managed by inexperienced, poor farm boys trying to feed their families. Nothing wrong with that, but no matter how many ranches there are, most of the cattle in this region cover the landmass of the Ponderosa, which is headed by Ben Cartwright. Fair opinions? With one man rich and powerful, how can any poor farm boy have an opinion? How will he feel that he can have an independent opinion or even challenge this cattle baron? Some say favorably that he is a big man. We say that this big man is pushing his weight around for his own benefit.”

Joe noticed that Hoss had the expression he usually wears when he didn’t like what he just heard. Joe continued, he had to erase any doubt that Hoss might have about starting their own newspaper to defend their pa.

“…I

“Dadburn those people,” Hoss burst out, “They don’t know, Pa,” the tone in his voice then turned from disgust to defensive, “But Joe, remember the other night when Pa told all three of us to stay out of his business?”

“Sure, but Pa hadn’t read this article then, either. Now listen. There’s more,” Joe urged. He needed Hoss and didn’t want to lose him now.

“…But afterwards, if they decide on an issue that keeps this powerful man from getting the beef or tallow prices he wants, will these innocent victims, who are now his supporters, be as important?”

“They should stop conjuring up a wordy war of misinformed facts,” Joe said matter-of-factly. He kept his head still, but his eyes rolled to the side of his head to see if he was getting a reaction from Hoss.

It was working. Hoss looked puzzled, “Huh? How come you talkin’ like that?”

Joe giggled at Hoss, “Jake said that. He’s smart, huh?”

“He’s smart, little brother. But those of us who know you might think you’re touched in the head talkin’ like that,” Hoss claimed, he laughed with his brother.

Joe read a little more,

“…What we think is fact: Wealth doesn’t come from compromise nor feeling sorry for someone. It’s built by good business decisions. We think that when the cards are laid out and Ben Cartwright has his position that he will turn a cold back to these very supporters he says he wants to have a bigger voice. Simply put…he won’t need them any longer.”

“Agnes Finster probably thinks she’s gonna come out of this smelling like a rose,” Joe casually commented.

Hoss was feeling perturbed, “Yeah, Well I don’t care what Agnes smells like. I’m with you, little brother. Let’s go in with Jake. We’ll explain to Pa when we need to.”

Joe was elated at what Hoss just said, “Great! I knew you’d see it the way I did. Now, we just gotta come up with the money that I told Jake we would get for the office and equipment.”

“And you think our brother is gonna just give us the money? Just like that!” Hoss asked.

“I think when we tell Adam what we’re gonna do, he’ll want to help,” Joe replied.

Hoss chuckled. He knew Adam better than Joe. “And I think you fell off your horse, little brother, and it kicked you in the head.”

“We’ll give back his money,” Joe insisted.

“You bet he’ll want his money back…with interest.” Hoss bounced his head in a big nod and widened his eyes to accentuate his point. “That is if you can convince him in the first place.”

“I thought you were all for this. Now you sound like you’re in doubt,” Joe said, sounding a bit surprised.

“No, little buddy, I still think it’s a good idea. I just doubt the financial help from Adam.”

“Hoss, you need to know how to talk to Adam,” Joe assured him.

That comment provoked a bigger chuckle from Hoss. “You know how to talk to Adam? Now I know you been kicked in the head by a horse.”

“Let’s go. I’ll show you how to handle our brother.” Joe swallowed the last of his beer and stood up.

“Okay, Joe. But I think you’re plumb crazy,” Hoss responded. He slapped Joe on the back as they walked out of the saloon.

A Few Moments Later Outside the Virginia City Bank

“Hey Adam!” Joe called out. He picked up his pace almost to a run.

Stopping dead in his tracks, Adam looked up to see his two brothers hurrying in his direction.

Joe, maybe you should let me handle this?” Hoss offered as he stood behind Joe.

“Handle what?” Adam responded innocently.

“Uh, Adam…uh…Joe and I wanted to talk to you…uh ‘bout Pa.” Hoss tried to find a good beginning.

“Hoss, let me handle this!” Joe demanded.

“Handle what?” Adam inquired again with curiosity.

“Hoss and I been talking and we don’t like all this stuff about Pa in the paper,” Joe began. He cleared the lump in his throat, and then continued. “You said yourself that you think it’s wrong.”

“Yeah, Adam, I remember you sayin’ that the other night,” Hoss said. He grinned wide.

“Hoss. Will you please be quiet and let me handle this?” Joe’s voice squeaked as he forced his tone.

The grin Hoss had dissolved.

Adam stared at Hoss. “I remember expressing my feelings to you two.” Then he looked at Joe, “Handle what?”

When his brothers tried to explain something to him, but failed at getting right to the point, it was usually an indication to Adam that trouble was brewing.

“Adam, Adam,” Joe shot back with confidence. “What’s the best way to stop a newspaper from printing up lies and about Pa? Hmm?”

“Tell the truth by those who know…” Hoss volunteered. He couldn’t stay out of it.

“Hoss, please. I can explain this all to Adam,” Joe pled with Hoss.

“Please do,” Adam said. He leaned on the post of the porch, keeping his arms crossed over his chest.

“Hoss and I have a chance to get some printing press equipment and set up an office with Jake Willis. You know Jake? His uncle was a printer at the Sierra Bulletin in Genoa.”

“I see. So, you and Hoss are going into the newspaper business?” Adam remarked with suspicion.

“Yep!” Joe declared. He grinned so big the sun sparkled off his teeth.

Hoss nodded to show his support.

“If I recall correctly, Pa told you two to stay out of his business,” Adam declared.

Joe jumped right in. “We’re not in Pa’s business. We just want truth and justice to be heard in Virginia City.”

Adam twisted his mouth in response to his little brother’s logic. “Truth and justice? And the two of you are going to right all wrongs?” Adam knew what was coming, but let his brothers take the lead.

“Somebody’s got to,” Hoss said. Innocence rang throughout his voice.

“And you want me to finance it?” Adam added.

“Well, Adam…not exactly,” Joe said in a business-like manner. “We don’t want you to finance anything.”

“Oh,” Adam said in a silent exaggerated gesture. He asked, “Well then, what are you trying to handle?”

“A loan. All we want is a little tiny, small loan,” Joe answered quickly.

“A loan? So you DO expect me to finance this little venture of yours,” Adam said with no surprise in his voice. “And how much money are you going to put in?”

Joe hesitated and then offered, “Well, uh, Hoss and I have our money tied up in other, uh, ventures.”

“We do?” Hoss responded as he wrinkled up his nose and look at Joe for some kind of answer.

Adam smirked. They were up to their old tricks. They were speculating a new venture and trying to drag him into it. “You’re broke and I’m about to hear a very sad tale.”

“Just get us started. That’s all we want,” Hoss noted.

“There is no sad tale,” Joe said, “It’s true that our money is tied up.”

“Uh-huh.” Adam said dryly. He looked at Joe, “Well, your money would be tied up in ladies.” Then he looked over at Hoss, “And where’s your money tied up?”

“Ah, Adam. What difference does it make? You’re our brother and we thought you’d like to help,” Hoss said.

“Look Adam, after the first month, we’ll pay you back every cent,” Joe offered.

“With interest,” Hoss volunteered.

Joe glared at Hoss. He tried to shore up his confidence, but Adam’s expression melted it like ice in the sun.

“How much?” Adam asked.

“We’ll give you more interest than the bank would give you in one month,” Joe said timidly. Adam just had too many questions.

“How much?” Adam asked again.

“You’ll never believe this, Adam. All we need is five hundred dollars,” Joe continued, trying not to give Adam too much time to think. “Ain’t that something? Just five hundred measly little dollars.” Joe held his breath.

“Five hundred dollars?” Adam bent a little forward towards Joe, and furrowed his brows. “You have no experience and you want me to put five hundred dollars into your hands and trust I will get it back.”

“Yeah, Adam…and don’t forget the interest,” Hoss added.

Joe glared at Hoss again. Then asked Adam, “Don’t we trust each other?”

“Oh we trust each other, all right. And as a trusted family member, I’m gonna save the both of your hides and say…No!” Adam responded adamantly.

“No? Don’t be so hasty. It’s good equipment and Jake has experience. We can’t go wrong,” insisted Joe.

Hoss couldn’t help but think Joe should have been an attorney. He probably wouldn’t win many cases in court, but he was sure putting on a good case with Adam.

Adam chuckled, “How many times, little brother, have you and Hoss been involved in some kind of adventure to help someone and the intended victim never wants to see you again?”

“We can’t go wrong!” Joe stressed, “Hoss and I would never do anything wrong to Pa.”

“If you two are involved, then just by nature it’s going to go wrong.” Adam then thought of a good obstacle. He cocked his head and a little smile appeared. “Speaking of Pa, what about him?”

“Pa?” Joe choked.

“Oh yeah. We weren’t gonna to say anything to Pa, at least, not right away,” Hoss admitted.

“And how do you think you will keep him from finding out?” Adam asked, continuing his interrogation.

“Well, we thought we’d put out a couple of editions and he’ll see the good it’s doing and he’ll be thankful for it,” Joe explained.

“Ah, thankful. He’d be more thankful if the two of you just stayed on the ranch and stayed out of his business,” Adam reprimanded.

Hoss began to lose his patience with Adam’s continuous questions. “Dadburnit, Adam. We’re doin’ a good thing and just want you part of it. Now, you in or you out?”

“Out! But I must give you credit. Where you lack intelligence, you make up for it with gumption,” Adam said, starting to walk away. “I’ll see you two around.”

Joe called after his fleeing brother. “Later, Adam. We can talk about this later.”

“Gumption? You think he’s trying ta fun with us, Joe?” Hoss asked.

“Naw!! He just means we have spunk to get it done,” Joe answered.

As an idea suddenly came to him, Hoss’ confused look turned to a big smile. “Hey, Joe. Let’s use our gumption and go into the bank and get a loan.”

“Good idea, Hoss. Good idea.” Joe’s voice brightened. The family name has been around for a long time and securing a loan shouldn’t be a problem. He patted his brother on the shoulder. “I knew I had the real brains in the family with me.” He grabbed Hoss’ arm and led him inside.

Inside the bank, Mr. Whitley, the banker and loan officer, was sitting behind his desk in a back corner while Solomon Harris, the teller, quietly worked behind the front counter. Hoss and Joe knew Harris better than Mr. Whitley, so they approached him first.

“Hey Joe! Hey Hoss!” Solomon called out softly as if he was glad to see them.

Joe leaned towards the teller and asked in a whisper, “Solomon, we’re here to talk to Mr. Whitley. Is he in a good mood? ‘Cuz this is important.”

“Mr. Whitley is never in a good mood. But today he seems to be worse,” Solomon replied, his voice still low.

“Why’s that?” Hoss whispered back, worried.

“Well, earlier he said something about having to sleep in the parlor because Mrs. Whitley was mad at him. Then when your brother Adam left, he made some comments about the Cartwrights always wanting things their way.”

“Oh. We won’t take up much of his time. And we’re not demanding like our brother, Adam. Can we see him?” Joe requested confidently.

“I’ll go check. You wait here.”

Solomon walked over to Mr. Whitley. He bent over towards Mr. Whitley and whispered. Mr. Whitley looked at Joe and Hoss then back at Solomon. He did not smile and the wrinkles between his eyebrows seemed to deepen. Mr. Whitley said something to Solomon and then Solomon came back to Joe and Hoss.

“He’ll see you. Just be careful,” Solomon warned.

After walking over to the loan officer’s desk with Hoss in tow, Joe extended his hand to shake Mr. Whitley’s. Mr. Whitley just sat there and stared at the younger Cartwright boys.

“Did Adam send you in here?” Mr. Whitley inquired in a gruff voice.

Joe responded right away. “No. Hoss and I know you’re a solid businessman and that you have business sense.”

Hoss gave a nervous chuckle, “Yep, Mr. Whitley, Joe and I were just talkin’ about how solid you are. Real solid.”

Mr. Whitley leaned back in his chair with his head bent forward. He stared at the two Cartwright boys through his bushy eyebrows. “I see. You sound like you’re here for some kind of business deal,” Mr. Whitley observed.

Joe took the lead. “Hoss and I would like to take out a very small loan.”

“A loan, huh? Do you have any collateral?” Mr. Whitley asked and then frowned at the boys. He knew they had no money in his bank.

“Collateral?” Hoss repeated. His head stayed straight, as his eyes shifted to the side of his sockets and looked at Joe.

“Well, it’s such a small loan that we didn’t think about needing any collateral.” Joe laughed nervously

“How much?” Mr. Whitley asked.

“You know, it’s such a small amount that we thought we’d just give it all back after one month,” Joe stated.

Hoss nodded, giving his little brother all the support needed.

“How much?” Mr. Whitley asked again in a more serious tone.

Putting a big grin on his face, Joe answered, “Just five hundred dollars. That’s it! A little bit of money for a big business that gives you back a tidy profit.”

“I see. Five hundred dollars to two men who can’t provide any collateral?” Mr. Whitley now sat upright in his chair. He impatiently tapped the top of his desk with a pencil while he stared at the boys. The room was so quiet that nothing could be heard but the pencil and the monotone ticking of the wall clock.

”Well, we figure the Cartwright name is good collateral.” Joe said, clearing his throat nervously.

“The Cartwright name, huh?” Mr. Whitley asked, a little confused at this response. “I’m sorry but the Cartwright name can’t be considered collateral. So, what do you have of value that is worth five hundred dollars or more that could support a loan?” Mr. Whitley said.

Joe frowned. He had been holding the brim of his hat in both hands, and his nervousness caused him to subconsciously roll the brim into a tight roll.

“Why don’t you go to your Pa?” Mr. Whitley interjected. “He’s got money in my bank.”

“Pa? Well, you see Mr. Whitley, we’re gonna help Pa out and asking for money wouldn’t be doing that,” Hoss said.

Joe tried to rescue them. “What he means Mr. Whitley is that our pa has enough to take care of right now and doesn’t need to worry about putting some money into a good business idea. Besides, we want to do this on our own.”

“I see. Did you ask your brother, Adam? He has money in my bank,” Mr. Whitley remarked with curiosity. He felt Adam would have been a good choice.

“Uh, yeah…but you know Adam.” Joe laughed again. He elbowed Hoss who tried to laugh. But the chuckles stuck in the big man’s throat.

“Adam supports us. Well…uh, not with money, but he believes in truth and justice. Just like Joe and I,” Hoss reassured the banker.

Mr. Whitley eyed both young men suspiciously. “Truth and justice?”

“You know, Adam. He wants to be so bossy, so Hoss and I decided that we should do this ourselves since we have business sense,” explained Joe.

“Business sense?” Mr. Whitley commented with surprise in his voice. “So, Mr. Cartwright, what kind of business venture is this where you have more sense than collateral?”

Joe moved to the edge of his chair. “You see, Mr. Whitley, we’re gonna go in with Jake Willis who has lots of experience with running a newspaper. We believe that the truth should be told. And who better than us?”

“Yeah, that’s right, Mr. Whitley. Truth and justice.” Hoss repeated the phrase, making it sound like it would become their motto.

That didn’t help the Cartwright boys at all. Mr. Whitley frowned now just as much as he did when the boys first sat down. “I think this idea is just to get revenge for your father. Don’t you boys think that the people of this city know your pa well enough to just let all this blow over?”

“We know most trust Pa. And we aren’t after revenge. We just want to tell our side of all this,” Hoss blurted out.

“Will you give us the money, Mr. Whitley?” Joe begged, starting to feel a little defeated.

Mr. Whitley cleared his voice before he spoke. “I’m sorry, boys. But I’m afraid I can’t loan you any money.”

“Why?” Joe asked, his voice almost falsetto.

“I admire your need for the truth. But I can’t run a bank on admiration. You come up with collateral and I’ll give it a second consideration.” Mr. Whitley stood up to indicate the meeting was over.

“Yes sir,” Hoss responded obediently. He got up and turned for the door. Joe followed him and glanced at Solomon on their way out.

Outside the bank, Hoss turned to Joe. “Well, ya wanna go back to the Silver Dollar? Jake should be there by now.”

“Yeah, might as well. He needs to know the bad news.”

Same Afternoon Inside the Silver Dollar Saloon

“Hey, Joe, Hoss. Over here,” Jake called out over the laughter of a small crowd of men at the end of the bar.

As Hoss and Joe walked where Jake was sitting, neither smiled nor signaled for a beer. Cosmo, the bartender, followed them with two beers in hand. In the corner of the room, the piano clanked out a familiar tune. The atmosphere in the saloon was gay, but did not match the mood of the boys. Jake noticed.

“Well, did you get the money for the equipment?” Jake asked.

Joe shook his head as he spoke. “Not yet. We tried Adam and then Mr. Whitley at the bank. Just not interested.”

“Joe, you gotta get the money. That’s our agreement. I’d get the equipment and you’d get the money. My uncle was all excited about this when I told him,” Jake pleaded.

“I know, Jake, but we tried. We tried real hard.” Joe took a sip of his beer. All that talking to Adam and Mr. Whitley made him dry. “We need to think of something else.”

“I got Mr. Hatfield to agree to let us have that vacant office to use and get paid later,” Jake whined. “But we gotta get the money for the equipment. My uncle will sell it to someone else if we wait too long.”

“We know, Jake,” Hoss acknowledged. The wrinkles in his forehead showed that he was thinking hard for an answer. “We’ll get the money. Just gotta think of something.”

“Geez, I figured with your family and the Cartwright name, you wouldn’t have any trouble. I mean the Willis name is nothing in Virginia City, yet I was able to get the vacant office,” Jake said in a very disappointed voice.

“We know, Jake, we know. Don’t give up on us yet. We said we’ll get the money, so we’ll get the money.” Hoss declared a bit defensively.

“I trust you. I just thought you’d have it by now, that’s all,” Jake responded.

“Tell you what, Jake.” Hoss was now talking in a different tune. “You go tell your uncle that he can deliver that equipment and in about a day, we’ll have that money.”

“Really!!! I’ll go right now.” Jake stood up and hurried out the door. “Are you sure?”

Hoss immediately responded, “Yep, I’m sure.”

Joe looked at Hoss a little dumbfounded. You’d think that Hoss had been absent during their discussion with Adam and then with Mr. Whitley.

“See you two later,” Jake said and dashed out the door before Hoss said something different.

Just then Bill Best, a miner of the Savage mines, came into the Silver Dollar carrying a copy of the “The Freedom Courier.” He saw the Cartwright boys setting at the table, but went directly to his group of friends at the bar. After saying something to his friends, he faced Hoss and Joe and began to read the latest article.

“It was noticed that the high and mighty Ben Cartwright walking around town Saturday afternoon in his normal arrogant manner. He preaches in his saintly voice about giving the small rancher a vote in the prestigious cattlemen’s association. When confronted on the street to question him further of his convictions, he stayed silent and walked away, completely ignoring our staff that pursues the truth and intends to reveal his true motives.”

“Just thought you boys might be interested. This edition just came out and you know this paper is trying to ruin your pa’s reputation,” Bill called out and then turned to face the bar.

Both Hoss and Joe stared at him for a moment.

Although the article was new, it was the same rhetoric about their father that has been printed almost on a daily basis. But the articles didn’t sit well with the Cartwright boys.

“Dadburn it, Joe. Ever time I hear or read what that dang paper says about Pa, it just makes me want to take their office apart piece by piece,” growled Hoss.

“Yeah, I know,” Joe acknowledged. “But you watch. I’m the genius that’s gonna think of something.”

“I’d rather you not be a genius ‘cuz that gets us into trouble. I’d rather you try and think of what Adam would do,” Hoss stated.

Joe defended himself, “Now, Adam’s been in trouble with Pa don’t forget.”

“The only time Adam has been in trouble with Pa is when he follows us,” Hoss lectured.

“All I know is that we made a promise and somehow we’re gonna keep it,” Joe commented.

Both Hoss and Joe were quiet for a moment. But then Hoss thought of another person. When his brother wasn’t cluttering up his mind with ideas, Hoss could see things a little clearer.

“There’s one person we forgot about, Joe,” Hoss said, poking his index finger into Joe’s shoulder.

“Yeah, who’s that?” Joe asked, rubbing his poked shoulder.

“The widow Mindlebrice,” Hoss said and grinned big.

“Oh no, Hoss. I’d rather not ask her,” Joe begged a little. “In fact, why don’t we just go get Adam, sit him down with a nice beer, and talk sense into him?”

“Adam’s got sense,” Hoss advised his brother. “Sometimes I still can’t help but think we should just stay on the ranch.”

“Hoss!! You think way too much. We can’t let Pa down. Maybe you’re right. We’ll talk to the widow Mindlebrice. Where else can we go?”

“Now you’re thinking, little brother. We can make her the same deal as we were going to make Adam and Mr. Whitley,” Hoss suggested.

Joe perked up. “See, Hoss? Didn’t I tell you earlier that I had the real brains in the family with me?”

“Yeah,” Hoss said in a weak voice. He wasn’t that sure if he agreed.

Joe got up from his chair. “Come on, let’s go home. We’ll do this right and call on the Mrs. Mindlebrice this evening.”

Hoss scrunched up his nose at Joe. “How we gonna do this right?”

“Get cleaned up,” Joe answered.

“Cleaned up?” Hoss leaned over and smelt the sleeve of his arm. “I’m clean.”

Joe playfully swatted at Hoss. “Come on. Let’s go home and eat, get cleaned up and then we’ll call on Mrs. Mindlebrice.”

Hoss grinned, “Food. Now you’re talkin’.”

That Evening at the Ponderosa Ranch

Hoss paced the great room floor as he occasionally glanced up at the top of the stairs, hoping Joe would come down and they could leave before their father became suspicious. They managed to get through the family dinner with the subject of them going out for the evening mentioned only once. Even Adam’s comment about staying on the ranch and out of trouble was stated without any response from their father. This was the one time Hoss was happy that Pa was consumed by the latest problem of the railroad right-of-way possibly crossing the southern tip of the Ponderosa.

Adam was reclined in his favorite blue velvet chair, trying to keep his mind on his reading. But Hoss’ unusual pacing kept distracting him.

”You’re about as antsy as a chicken staring at a Dutch oven. What’s wrong?” he finally asked.

Hoss stopped pacing to answer his brother. “Oh, nothing. Nothing. Just wishing Joe would come along before it gets late.”

“Where are the two of you going in town?” Adam asked in a probing manner.

Hoss nervously glanced over at his father who still had his nose buried in his papers. “You know, just into town for a while. Nothing else.”

“Uh-huh! Gonna see someone special?” Adam inquired, as he was lining up all the logical factors to determine the real answer to his question. Which weren’t many when it came to his brothers.

“Nah! Just have a beer,” Hoss replied, trying to keep his answers short and hoping Joe would appear anytime.

The sound of a door slamming shut upstairs caused Ben, Adam, and Hoss to look up. A few moments later, Joe appeared. He wore a clean dress shirt, a black string tie and a brown jacket worn often to church on Sundays.

Hoss put a broad grin on his face when he saw his brother. Now they could get out of there. The way Joe could dress was bound to get them the money they needed. How could anyone turn Joe down when he was dressed up like this?

Ben looked completely confused and said nothing. He got up from his desk, kept his stare on Joe, and walked slowly to where Hoss and Adam stood.

Adam’s expression was more of a smirk than a smile. After their afternoon conversation with him, he knew this was no little beer-drinking trip to town.

Gliding down the stairs, Joe used his hands to smooth down the front of his shirt.

Adam broke the silence. “Joe when it comes to dressing to impress the females of our community, you take the prize.”

“Thanks, Adam,” Joe said, but not with gratitude. He wished his older brother would just stay quiet. He felt in his bones that Adam knew something.

“Is it someone I know, Joe?” Ben asked his son anxious to know who the girl was.

Before Joe could answer, Adam answered. “It’s the widow Mindlebrice.” Through deduction, he figured she was the only one that might lend them the money. The widow Mindlebrice is another woman that’s been pursuing the attention of Ben.

Ben’s pleased expression immediately turned confused. “You courting the widow Mindlebrice?”

Joe gave Adam a hard, unpleasant look. Then he smiled at his father and responded. “Naw, Pa. You know I wouldn’t court the widow. Uh…me and Hoss…we…”

“Hoss and I, Joe,” Adam interjected. Then he stayed silent while he stared at his uncomfortable brothers.

Joe turned to his father once more to answer him. “Hoss and I thought we’d just go pay the widow Mindlebrice a visit. You know, she’s been so supportive in the last charity we all were involved in.”

“A visit?” said Ben. “That’s nice of the two of you, but why are you so dressed up for this visit?”

Joe struggled to find some answers. “Well, you know, Pa…uh, the widow is an elegant woman and she would expect her visitors to dress well.”

Oh,” Adam said and looked over at Hoss. “I didn’t know she liked beer.”

“Well, I meant after we go see her,” Hoss replied uncomfortably.

Adam couldn’t help himself. “Her money lets her be quite elegant. Right, Joe?”

Joe ignored Adam.

“Oh, that’s not a bad idea.” Ben answered back. Then he glanced over at Hoss. “Why aren’t you dressed up?”

Hoss became defensive. “Well, I’m gonna do just that, Pa. I’ll put on my nice coat and a tie.” He immediately raced upstairs as if he was trying to escape the Sheriff from a long interrogation.

“The widow Mindlebrice can be very charitable to a good cause. I’m sure she’ll appreciate your visit.” Adam continued his torture of Joe.

Joe twisted his expression at Adam and looked like he just bit into a sour cherry.

“I’m very pleased with the two of you for being so considerate. You must give her my best and thank her for all she did,” Ben told Joe.

“Yes, Joe,” Adam agreed. “You’ll have to thank her for all of us. Maybe she will do something for you in return.”

Joe didn’t want to respond to Adam’s comments and was afraid he’d say something that would alert his father to their true intentions. But Joe no more thought that when Hoss came to the rescue by coming down the stairs.

“Okay Joe, you ready?” Hoss asked.

Joe headed to the door. “More than ever.”

“You boys enjoy your evening,” Ben remarked. “I’m very proud of you.”

Adam slapped his father on the back of his shoulder. “Your baby boy will make us all proud, Pa.”

At last, Hoss and Joe were able to escape to the front yard. As they climbed up into the buggy, Hoss asked, “I don’t know, Joe. Maybe we’re not doing the right thing. You think Adam might be right?”

“Naw, Forget Adam. He always thinks the answers are in his books.”

“Yeah, but Pa didn’t seem to be bothered at all by that latest article in the paper,” Hoss noted.

“Pa’s thinking about that railroad. Anyway, if that paper were attacking one of us, Pa’d be down there in that office and they’d be answering to him.”

“Yeah, I reckon you’re right,” Hoss agreed, his voice full of doubt.

“Then we should defend our Pa,” Joe declared.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Hoss responded no more confident than his last answer.

An Hour Later on the Outskirts of Virginia City

Joe pulled the buggy up to the front of the Mindlebrice house. Both he and Hoss stared up at the front window where a bright light shone from a lantern that sat on a table between the curtains.

Rose Mindlebrice was a young widow living with her unmarried, 18 year old daughter, Marigold. Rose was not pretty, but had some very handsome features. She carried her broad shoulders well. Her upper body tapered down to a not quite slim figure. When she walked, it was graceful.

Rose was married to Clarence Mindlebrice until he died. He wasn’t rich, but he was very thrifty and built his wealth from stringent methods. During their twenty-year marriage, Clarence rarely allowed his wife and daughter new dresses. After he died, the widow gave him the frugal funeral he requested. But after that, she had afforded herself and her daughter luxuries that would put a horrified look on her dead husband’s face.

“Come on, Joe, get out. Or are you gonna sit there all night?” Hoss said as he nudged his little brother. “We’re always welcome here.”

Joe finally spoke. “Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of.”

“As nice as she is, Joe, maybe we should be doing what we told Pa. Thanking her.” Hoss elbowed him in the side and Joe slid off the seat of the buggy.

Taking a big breath, Joe walked to the front door. Rose opened the door and Hoss saw her hook an arm through one of Joe’s, as she appeared to pull him inside.

“What a delight to have you for a visit, Little Joe,” Rose said. “Are you alone?” She was so focused on Joe that she failed to see Hoss waiting outside in the buggy.

“Oh no, Mrs. Mindlebrice. Hoss is waiting outside. I can go get him,” Joe exclaimed and tried to turn around for the door.

Grabbing him by the arm once more, Rose helped Joe sit down into a chair. Returning to the front door, she acknowledged Hoss, but didn’t offer to invite him in. Instead, she turned away and then walked to the settee a short distance across from Joe.

“And how is your father?” Rose was eager to know. She hated it when he wasn’t in town for long periods of time.

Joe answered back, “He’s fine. Just fine. Ah…Mrs. Mindlebrice.”

“Oh you Cartwright men are so handsome.” Rose said as if she didn’t hear the answer. “But you, Little Joe, you are very handsome. Of course, your father is the most handsome of the Cartwright men. But then, that’s where you would get your looks.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Joe acknowledged. “I…uh…I mean, Hoss and I…”

“But how many times have I told Marigold that looks aren’t the most important thing in a man,” Rose said. She adored Ben Cartwright and wanted to keep the conversation on him as much as possible.

“Marigold?” Joe answered. His voice rose a little. He tried to ward off any turn in the direction of the conversation. “Mrs. Mindlebrice. You see…”

“A man, like your father, knows and understands the finer things in life are very important. He must provide for his family, you know?” she interrupted.

“Yes, his family…Mrs.…” Joe tried again.

“His family. The wife and the children they have together. Although, children that each man and woman bring to the family counts, too.”

“Yes ma’am. I agree…uh…as I was saying…” Joe tried once more after he took a quick sip of the tea she poured him earlier.

“Oh Joseph!!! How wonderful that you and I see eye-to-eye. I just knew you were a bright boy.” Rose declared, her voice full of glee and delight. “If I had a son, I’d want him to be as handsome and smart as you.”

“Yes ma’am, thank you,” Joe answered quickly. But he wasn’t quick enough to stay ahead of Rose.

“Isn’t Marigold a beautiful name?” Rose asked.

“Yes, it’s beautiful.” Joe swallowed hard and twisted his mouth a little in his discomfort.

Rose continued, “The women in our family were always named after flowers because they are so delicate.”

“Flowers!” Joe said, then tried again, “Mrs. Mindlebrice, my visit tonight…”

“I always wanted a granddaughter to be named Camellia, after my mother.” Rose didn’t hear Joe’s statement. “What’s your mother’s name, dear?”

“Yes it’s beautiful, too,” Joe agreed, “Uh, Marie…it’s Marie.” This was going to be harder than he thought. “Mrs. Mindlebrice…I have come here to talk some business.”

“I know, Joe. I know exactly why you are here,” she said in a more serious tone of voice. “Don’t worry, you and Hoss have the money. I’ve already notified the bank to give you a draft tomorrow morning.”

Joe was silent and caught off guard by her statement. How did she know, he thought.

“I haven’t liked the way that tramp newspaper has conducted itself since its first edition,” she continued with a smile. “And to attack your wonderful father the way they do just shows how despicable those people are. They should be put out of business.”

Joe’s eyes lit up. “That’s just what Hoss and I thought. But instead, we decided that we should…uh…fight fire with fire.”

“Joseph, get off your soapbox. Just tell the truth and you’ll be fine,” she softly scolded him. “When I first heard that that awful, uncultured Agnes Finster was involved with this paper, I knew that I wanted to do something.”

Joe beamed and began to stand up. “I’m surprised that Agnes would have the power to bring a business like that to Virginia City.”

“Sit down, young man!!!” Rose demanded. “We’re not finished.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Joe immediately plopped himself back down into the chair as if he was in school and the teacher ordered him to sit.

“Agnes Finster most likely promised something down the road that she will not be able to produce. She has always had a liken’ to your pa. But since she finally figured out that he didn’t feel the same for her, she’s tried to spread rumors about him and you boys because you all like to indulge.”

“Indulge?” Joe asked, his brows drew upward and close together in puzzlement.

“Indulge, of course. Everyone has seen that you and your brothers occasionally frequent the saloons. And your father frequents the smoking room of the International Hotel with the other businessmen having their brandies and such.”

She stopped long enough to dab her lips with her napkin, but didn’t give Joe a chance to say anything. “Now mind you, Marigold and I certainly don’t think a man indulging in his liquor now and then is something of concern. But that’s just the bullet that Agnes needs to put into her temperance gun.”

“Temperance gun? Oh…yes…” Joe giggled. “My brother and I thank you for the support and the money and I know we will do a good job.”

“So do I, Joseph. I certainly trust that you will write articles with fact and honesty. Besides, if a young man like yourself is going to produce a family in the future, you need to make sure you have established yourself in the community.”

“Yes…and as far as our newspaper is concerned, truth and justice seems to be our motto. That’s just what Hoss and I talk about all the time.”

“I can imagine that your pa is very proud of you to do this for him,” Rose said in a serious tone.

“Pa? Well, I’m sure he’s always proud of what we do. Right now, Hoss and I won’t bother him with this because he’s so busy,” Joe replied, staring at her.

“Oh yes, Joe, I understand. Your poor, dear father. He must have his hands full all the time with the ranch. Sounds like a woman in his life would be good for him.” Rose said, trying to sound a little humble.

“Oh,” Joe said defensively, “Hop Sing is wonderful taking care of the house and cooking. You know, things like that?”

“I realize that, but Hop Sing is a man, Joseph. A woman’s softness and understanding can bring peace and calm to a man during a crisis. And it’s a woman’s touch that soothes when a man or his sons are sick.” Rose watched Joe’s reaction.

“Pa’s had three wives and they’ve all been great,” Joe defended his family.

“Yes, but they are gone now. And I bet his life is…well…kind of empty. Hop Sing and you boys taking care of each other is wonderful. But when the bedroom door closes, no man should be alone.”

Joe blushed a beet red. “Yes ma’am.” He was surprised at Rose’s boldness. Or maybe she was just so comfortable with him that she felt she could say that. Either way, he was speechless and figured she saw herself as the woman behind his father’s door.

Rose wasn’t finished, “Marigold is shy, as you know. She never has any men callers and the girl is getting beyond courting age.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Joe answered and began to wonder what he got himself into.

“You see, Joe. Marigold needs to be seen in the company of a man and not so much her mother.”

“I…uh…with a mother like you, I’m sure she will find a good man someday,” Joe tried to end this conversation. “Hoss and I are grateful for the money…very grateful.”

“I know you are a man of manners. Sometimes not as refined as your brother Adam’s, but you always mean well.” She saw him settle down.

Joe smiled at the compliments she paid him. “Thank you, Mrs. Mindlebrice. I appreciate your confidence in me.” Joe said and sounded as grateful as he said he was.

He decided that this was a good time to leave. He stood up. “I really need to go, Mrs. Mindlebrice. Hoss will be getting tired of waiting for me.”

Rose stood and extended her hand to him. “Oh Joseph, I just knew you and I have like minds and could agree on so much. We would get along just grand if I saw you more.”

Joe gave a nervous nod. “Yes, ma’am…I’m sure.”

She put her arm into the crook of his left arm and walked to the door with him. “Make sure you say ‘hello’ to your father,” she said, then became more stern, “Make sure, Joseph, he knows who really supports him.”

“Oh, I will. I will,” Joe hurriedly said and practically tripped while trying to get to the buggy fast.

A few moments later, Joe climbed back into the buggy and sat down next to Hoss. He didn’t say one word and stared straight ahead.

Hoss was elated at Joe’s return and just knew that all would be fine. They would be able to meet Jake with their share of the money. “You got the money, huh, Joe?” But when Hoss saw Joe’s sullen expression, he lost all of his excitement. “You did get the money, didn’t you?”

Joe looked at Hoss and nodded. But the expression that Hoss saw on Joe’s face was the same sick, droopy-eyed look that was on the puppy Hoss once rescued and nursed for two days.

Hoss questioned his little brother further. “If you got the money, then how come you look like that?”

Finally Joe spoke. “Yeah, we got the money.”

“Well, you don’t look too happy about it.” Hoss looked puzzled by Joe’s lack of excitement about anything.

“I feel like I’ve just survived some kind of battle.”

A confused Hoss asked, “Huh? What kind of battle?”

Joe glared at Hoss. “It’s called women. You know, where a man has to lay low and escape the bullets of matrimony. If she didn’t have an admiration for Pa, we may not have gotten the money.”

Hoss belted out a belly laugh. “Little brother, you got us into this and if you had to marry the widow Mindlebrice yourself, me and my shotgun would escort you to the wedding.”

“Yeah, easy for
you to say. But it’s Pa and I that wear targets.” Joe protested.

“Well, when I was waiting for you, I thought about something that just might work,” Hoss said.

“What’s that?” Joe asked.

“Let’s give the money to Jake like we planned. He can go ahead and set up this business, make his profit, and give us the five-hundred back to give to Rose,” Hoss explained.

“Hoss! I thought that up. So, what’s different?” Joe asked.

“What we’ll do is meet with Agnes. Try and talk some sense into her. You know, you said this is all about Pa not showing her attention…”

Joe interrupted, “So, what are we gonna to try and do? Take his place?”

“Naw, but let’s meet with her and see if we might be able to solve this whole thing by talking. Reason with her.”

Joe lit up like a lantern, “You’re brilliant. We’ll talk to her and sweeten her up. Then we tell Pa and Adam and we solved the problem.”

“Yeah, talk. Pa always said that if you can get an enemy to talk, you’ll solve the problem faster than a fight,” Hoss said confident.

Joe’s thinking didn’t stop. “I got this all figured out.”

Hoss looked at Joe confused, “I thought this was my idea?”

“It is, it is. But the details, big brother, you just leave those to me.”

“Uh-oh,” Hoss exclaimed with caution.

Joe offered, “Tomorrow, we’ll go looking for her. She’s always around town somewhere.”

“What if she doesn’t agree with us?” Hoss asked.

“Hoss! Why are you such a big doubter about everything? We have experience with ladies,” Joe pled his case.

Hoss chuckled, “Yeah, we’re good with ladies, but this is Agnes.”

Both of them broke out into laughter together. They knew, along with Adam, that it was because Agnes was abrasive in her words and actions that this was the primarily reason their father showed no interest in her. She was head smart in business, but that’s where her personality ended.

“I think we should go have a beer and then get home,” Hoss offered.

“Yeah, bargaining with a woman over Pa can get me thirsty.” Joe joked.

The Next Morning in Virginia City

Hoss and Joe hurried into town right after their breakfast. Jake was setting up the office and Joe and Hoss promised to help. But “first things came first,” as Joe commented earlier to Hoss. They needed to find Agnes.

Joe was right when he said she was always around town. The boys found her in a favorite local cafe.

Agnes was never hard to spot. She wore her usual dark colored skirt and waist jacket. Her black hat with dull colored flowers and ribbons made her appear as if she was always in mourning for her late husband.

Joe and Hoss stood at the edge of her table. “Agnes, Hoss and I would like to talk to you,” Joe asked.

She was silent.

“Uh…if you don’t mind.” Joe said, trying to get a reaction out of her.

She buttered her last piece of toast and glared at them as if Joe had just insulted her.

Joe tried again, “You see Hoss and I…”

“I know what you are trying to do. I think it’s ridiculous,” she snapped, still chewing her bread

“Ridiculous?” Joe asked.

“Yes, ridiculous. The thought that the two of you are running a newspaper. It’s all over town and everyone, including me, are laughing.” Agnes said as she kept glaring at them.

Hoss stood next to Joe and said nothing. He had his hands on his hips and rolled his eyes up to the ceiling after her last comment. He had decided that wrestling with a mad grizzly would be more fun than talking to Agnes.

Joe kept his composure and asked her to let them sit down.

“I’m in a hurry. I don’t have time to dawdle. But I’ll listen to what you have to say if it doesn’t take all day,” Agnes commanded.

The boys sat down fast before she changed her mind. Hoss was going to let Joe take on their enemy. She was petite, but Hoss didn’t want to tangle with her.

“Well, what is it?” Agnes said. Her voice always had an edge to it.

Joe didn’t hesitate and spoke right up. “It’s that tramp newspaper you brought into Virginia City that is constantly attacking our father.”

“That’s true, I invited them here. What they print is their business,” Agnes replied coldly.

Joe became stern, “I suppose what they have been writing about Pa doesn’t have any of your influence.”

“Why do you think I’d have any influence with them?”

Joe took a risk. “Maybe because you’re mad at Pa.”

“Mad? Why would I be mad at your father? I like your father; I just don’t think he would be a good leader for the cattlemen in the area.”

Hoss became impatient, “Agnes, everyone around here knows that you liked Pa and he didn’t return your interest. This is your way of getting back at him.”

“He’s hurting himself,” Agnes defended herself. “A man who lives alone can think and do odd things. He needs a woman to balance his life.”

“He doesn’t live alone. He lives with us,” Hoss volunteered.

“But not with a woman, Hoss. There’s a difference,” Agnes responded. Her voice was now a little softer.

Hoss blushed. Joe ducked his head so Agnes wouldn’t see his chuckle.

“Well, what does living with a woman and my pa wanting to head the cattlemen’s association got to do with each other?” Hoss asked.

“What’s the matter with your thinking, young man?” Agnes asked indignantly. She was beginning to get bored. “If your father was with a woman, she would straighten him out. How absurd for him to think that it is a good idea for the small ranches to have a voice in cattle matters. Why, a woman would get him to understand the disadvantage of doing such a thing.”

Joe decided to take a different approach for his father’s sake, “Agnes, you’re alone. Now, shouldn’t a…(it caught in his throat)…lovely lady like you use your time to find a gentleman to spend evenings with?”

“Oh Joseph. You are a sweet boy, at times,” Agnes said in a flattered voice. But then she took a deep breath and became tough once more. “Young man, I am not going to continue this conversation. I have to meet with the ladies of the temperance and I don’t have time to delve into my private life.”

Joe apologized. “I’m sorry, Agnes. But I did mean what I said. Putting your energies into your personal life, instead of this newspaper…” Joe tried to calm her down.

“This conversation has come to an end. Get out of the newspaper business, Joe. You don’t know what you are doing. And a little competition for your father isn’t a bad thing.” Agnes said abruptly, got up from her chair, and left them before anything else was said.

“You know, Joe. A woman like that sure makes a man happy he ain’t hitched,” Hoss offered.

Joe sighed, “Yeah. And we didn’t accomplish a thing. Well, I guess we’re still newspapermen.”

“Dadburn it we tried. And I was hoping that we’d get Jake started and then just get back to the ranch and be ranchers.”

“We will. But our father’s reputation is at stake and like I said in the beginning, who better than his sons can report his side and defend him from these vultures?”

“Yeah, I reckon. But sometimes, little brother, I think you are a good politician and should run for office.”

“Well, right now let’s go help Jake. Adam said he would meet us later at the Silver Dollar. We’ll let him know that we tried.”

It was now after mid-afternoon and Rose strolled down “C” Street. She stopped by several stores as she conducted her business. The town seemed serene until she got closer to the Silver Dollar Saloon and heard the distinct sound of Agnes’ drum pounding the same drone note as always. It was the sound of the temperance ladies conducting their campaign against the saloons. Today, they targeted the Silver Dollar.

Rose spotted Agnes at the head of a group of ten women. Agnes banged on her drum while the other women waved their signs of different warnings about the evil of liquor. The drumming stopped and Agnes, head of the Virginia City temperance committee, began her same old speech…

“How many times have you seen the drunken man stagger and fall after he has emerged from the sinful pit of the saloon? His clothes soiled from his fall and his direction for home is forgotten. His home is filled with children afraid of him and a wife who lives a miserable existence. Shame, shame, shame on all of you who find the taste of alcohol satisfying.”

Rose kept walking, but attempted to cross the street to avoid the group. The way Agnes directed her anger at Ben was disgusting, Rose thought. She never had any right to the man. The Cartwright boys have often frequented the saloons in town. But none of them had caused anyone any misery. It wasn’t fair to Ben or his boys. It didn’t matter to Agnes. Ben was the main focus of her bitterness.

Agnes saw Rose coming her way and before Rose could get across the street, Agnes confronted her.

“Rose! I demand to know why you insist in putting money behind the Cartwrights!” Agnes commanded.

Rose was cool in her response. “Where I put my money, Agnes Finster, is my business.” She tried to move forward, but Agnes stopped her.

Agnes was relentless and stood close to Rose’s face. “You are supporting a man who believes in the sins of the world. And obviously, he has raised his sons to be just like him.”

“I am supporting a man who realizes what kind of a woman you really are. Why don’t you just admit that you are sour because Ben Cartwright just wasn’t interested in you? Now the poor man has to suffer all because he has taste.”

“Taste? You’re right, Rose. He has taste enough to certainly not be seen having dinner with the likes of you. And I know you. I’ll bet you gave the Cartwright boys money and one of them will have to court your skinny, undesirable daughter for it.” Agnes said with a sarcastic tone. “At least, I don’t have to buy men.”

“You’re so ugly, Agnes, you couldn’t attract a man even if you had a full case of whiskey for them. Ben Cartwright is more interested in a woman who has some class. Who is a little refined. Not a barn cleaner who has to bring in a tramp newspaper to do her dirty deeds,” declared Rose.

Agnes gasped at Rose’s comments. “I support the truth and it’s coincident that the newspaper mirrors my thinking.”

“Oh Agnes, I’m so tired of your negative attitude. A funeral dirge would mirror your thinking.”

“How arrogant you are, Rose. Oh and who’s the refined woman? Certainly not you! And why would Ben Cartwright want any woman who is known to have men come to her house late at night?”

“How would you know, Agnes? Nothing else to do, but sneak around my house? At least, men come to my house. The truth is that you are a hypocrite,” Rose fired back. She hissed a ribbon of air through her pursed lips to relieve the tension that built up inside her.

The two women got closer to a confrontation as Agnes slapped Rose. Rose, in turn, pushed Agnes backwards. Rose then tried once more to move around her, but Agnes became combative. Soon, the women were in a pushing match. Agnes began hitting Rose with her loosely closed fists. This was all it took for the other women of the temperance committee; they joined in on the fight and all began to attack Rose.

Only a few minutes after the fight started, the three Cartwright boys emerged from the Silver Dollar. None of them had been aware of the confrontation outside, as the noise inside the saloon was too loud for them to hear.

Surprise became their expressions when they saw the women brawling in the street. Rose was now huddled down on the ground with her arms folded over her head for defense.

Hoss was the first to speak. “I hate seeing women fight. But more ‘n that, I hate an unfair one.”

“I think we’d better break this up before it really gets out of hand,” Adam told his brothers as he stepped forward. Hoss and Joe were right behind him.

Each Cartwright took hold of a women’s arm or elbow in an attempt to pull her off of the pile of battling women. The vicious women made this task harder than trying to pull a calf out of some mud.

“Ladies, ladies,” each would say, trying to get the women’s attention.

“Ladies, please. Let’s break this up,” Hoss was heard to say over the shouting women. “You ought to be a shamed of yourselves fighting like this in the street.” He no more said that when a pokey elbow came upward and pushed his nose into a painful direction.

Arms and signs kept flying around in the air. Occasionally, a sign would come down on someone’s head or upper body part. But Adam, Hoss, and Joe kept trying their best to get the women to stop fighting.

At one point, Joe stopped long enough to comment to Adam, “You’d think this wouldn’t be so hard. These are women.” Suddenly, Joe’s head jerked back as someone got a handful of Cartwright hair.

“Ouch!” he said, but when he looked behind him, he couldn’t tell who pulled his hair, as there was nothing but a pile of women flinging their arms.

One of the brothers would finally succeed in pulling a woman away from the ruckus, but then she would find her way back into the fight.

In no time, the sound of “ump…” “ouch,” and “dadburn it,” came from the crowd as the women managed to get an advantage on an unsuspecting Cartwright. They used their signs and fists to pelt the boys.

Over the sound of the fighting, laughter was heard from spectators who gathered to watch. But instead of cheering for the Cartwrights in their attempt to stop the fight, the crowd enjoyed each punch, poke, or prod delivered by the women.

Rose, who was not hurt but was stunned, took advantage of the Cartwrights becoming the new victims and crawled to a safe place. She watched in bewilderment as the Cartwrights tried and tried to stop the fighting and calm the women down.

“Ladies, ladies, let’s try and resolve our differences in a civilized manner,” Adam cried out. But instead, he was answered with a right upper hook from Esmeralda, who was the size of a big lumberjack. Her punch to Adam’s jaw was hard enough to knock him backwards and onto the ground. His usual black outfit became baptized in Virginia City dust.

Hoss managed to wrangle two women at one time, holding both around their waists. “Now ladies, don’t you think we’ve had…ump!” He didn’t finish his sentence as the end of a pole that held a sign came crashing into the middle of his stomach. It caused him to double over and let out a big wind of air while he let the women go.

Joe made his attempt at quelling the fracas. “Ladies, let’s have some hot tea and discuss this.” His answer came with a sign up the side of his head.

Finally, a familiar voice was heard shouting above the noise the women created while fighting. Roy Coffee used his authority to break up this fight as he had many times when men had disagreements. The women finally stopped and listened.

“Now, ladies. You have a choice. You either go home and stay there or I will lock you up and let your husbands bail you out,” the sheriff commanded.

With that warning ringing in their ears, the women picked up their signs and walked away in difference directions. Their dresses were torn and soiled. Once perfectly placed hair was now hanging limp around their heads. They were battle worn, but felt victorious.

Roy turned his attention to the Cartwrights and glared at them. The boys were nursing their wounds as Roy reprimanded them.

“Now, may I ask what you think your father is going to say when he hears that his three sons were in a fight with women?” Roy scolded them like Ben would do.

Adam rubbed his sore jaw and answered, “Roy, we weren’t fighting. We were trying to stop an attack on Rose Mindlebrice.”

Roy looked around, but didn’t see Rose anywhere. “If Rose Mindlebrice was a part of this, then where is she?”

“Ah, Roy. She probably went home,” Hoss offered, as he rubbed his sore stomach.

“Well, I’m gonna go to her house and get her side of the story. See if she wants to press any charges. In the meantime, I think you boys should go home before you cause anymore problems.” Roy left before the boys could respond.

Adam turned and faced his brothers. “I’ve had enough. I think I will take his advice and go home.”

“Hoss and I need to get back to the office. I sure hope Pa doesn’t hear about any of this,” Joe said as he put his hat on. He scrunched up his face as he felt a little pain from the impact of the sign.

“Yeah, I’d rather fight them women again than to face Pa. Joe, maybe we should go home with Adam and tell Pa what we’re about to do?” Hoss asked.

Joe shook his head. “No, I think we should go to the office and do what we planned.” He turned to Adam and asked, “You gonna tell Pa anything?”

“No. But I will worry that the Virginia City gossip line might make it’s way up to the house,” Adam said.

“If Pa asks where we are at, will you cover for us, Adam?” Joe asked his brother with sincerity in his voice.

“You know I don’t approve of this,” Adam replied.

“Will you cover for us, Adam?” Hoss repeated what Joe asked.

“Yeah, Adam, Hoss and I are committed and it wouldn’t be right if we backed out on Jake, right now.”

Adam smiled at his brothers. “I’ll cover you. But don’t drag this thing out too long. I think if Pa didn’t have this cattlemen’s association and railroad business keeping him busy, he’d be asking me more questions about your whereabouts.”

Hoss again rubbed his sore tummy. “I’ve been beat up before, but never by women.”

Adam chuckled at his big-sized brother. “Hoss, you haven’t been hit until you get a right upper hook from Esmeralda.”

Next Afternoon of the First Day of Business

“Hey, brother, let’s go get a beer,” Hoss suggested as he readjusted his hat. He was feeling good about their accomplishments so far and felt that he made a right decision to follow Joe into this business.

“Okay, we can talk out some ideas, huh?” Joe responded and slapped his brother on the back.

Walking into the saloon, they saw Adam sitting at a table towards the back. Adam noticed them approaching and waved to Cosmo to bring his brothers a beer.

Hoss greeted him with a slap on the back of his shoulder. “Hey, I didn’t know they let trouble-makers in town.”

“Well, if it isn’t the ‘truth and justice’ boys,” Adam teased his brothers.

“Oh yeah, what do you really think about how we’re doing?” Joe asked his oldest brother a bit warily. The newspaper business was tougher than Joe had planned.

“Well, you just started. But if everything goes as well, then I’d say it was a good idea. Just make sure that you tie this little project up in a couple of days before Pa gets back.”

“Pa? I was wondering why he wasn’t in town yet. Where’d he go?” asked Hoss.

“He left yesterday evening to meet Mr. Cebe in Placerville regarding the railroad project. He plans on coming home in about two days,” Adam informed them.

Joe had a big smile on his face. “That means Pa didn’t hear about what happened in front of the saloon yesterday?”

“Nope. He didn’t have a chance to hear a thing about it,” Adam responded.

“That’s good, Hoss. And with Pa gone, that will give us some time to wrap this all up,” Joe commented.

Adam knew they were determined so he gave them his best advice. “Make sure you proof each other so any errors can be corrected.”

“Proof what?” Hoss asked and frowned. He made a slurping sound with a sip of beer and then licked the foam from his upper lip.

“When one of you writes something, the other should proof it to make sure there are no mistakes,” Adam answered.

Hoss scrunched up his eyebrows. “Ah Adam, I reckon that’s good advice. But Joe and I haven’t made any mistakes. You said you saw the draft of our first article and liked it.”

“To err is human, dear brother,” Adam responded.

“There’s that Shakespeare stuff again,” Hoss protested as he looked at Joe. Then he looked back at Adam. “Well, we don’t err ‘cuz Joe and I are on top of it.”

Adam finished his beer and stood up. “Just remember, two days. I still say Pa wouldn’t approve of this. And uh…I might add you’re not too old to be taken to the barn.”

Joe let out one of his high giggles at the thought of being taken to the barn.

“Ah, Adam! You worry too much,” Hoss chuckled.

Joe teased Adam, “Older brother, you can be like a mother hen sometimes.”

Adam smiled and waved at them as he left. “Farewell, baby chicks.”

Later That Afternoon

Jake’s uncle, Eli Willis, walked slowly into the press office. He had been in the newspaper business for a long time and felt his experience might be needed. His sixty-six year old eyes were hidden behind very thick glasses. Like all the Willis men when they are older, he had a very robust middle showing his love for food.

When he entered the office, he could see the backend of Hoss sticking up from his position on the floor next to the press machine. Hoss was on his knees with his upper body scrunched down so he could look upward at the undercarriage of the press. The sound of a metal tool clinking on the metal press parts was heard. Joe had volunteered Hoss since he had a lot of experience with equipment at the ranch. Or that was Joe’s argument to stick Hoss with fixing the machine. Joe preferred gathering the news by walking the streets. It gave him an opportunity to say “hello” to the ladies he would meet.

Eli stopped in front of the counter. He called out to Hoss, “Hello, young fellow.”

Hoss pulled himself off of the floor and turned to greet Eli. “Howdy. You ain’t by chance Jake’s uncle?”

“Yep, in the flesh. Name’s Eli,” he answered.

Hoss shook his hand and introduced himself. “What’d ya think about how the office looks?”

“Looks real good. I thought I’d come by to see if I could help in any way,” Eli offered, hoping Hoss would let him help. What Hoss didn’t know was that he was forced out of the business because of failing eyesight.

“You bet I can use some help. Joe and Jake left me here all by myself while they get some news for the paper. I need ta get this printing press fixed in about an hour.” Hoss smiled broadly as the offer of help from an experienced newspaperman was just what he needed.

“Hoss, I’d love to. I can do anything you need me to do,” Eli said, excited to do anything just to be back into the business.

“Could you move a couple of typeset stories for me?” Hoss asked.

Eli gladly accepted and Hoss set him down in front of the type that Joe had previously set.

“Now, Eli, all you have to do is just move these two articles here at the top to the bottom of the page. We’re gonna put a big article about my Pa at the top.”

“Hoss, you just go fix your machine and you can trust this old newspaperman to take care of this,” Eli assured the biggest Cartwright and smiled with confidence.

Hoss went back to his repair work on the press. He’d been so busy and focused on his repair work and the deadline he needed to meet that he never noticed Eli’s thick glasses. Anyway, Eli was experienced and that can make up for a lot of defaults.

Eli sat there for a moment and stared at the typeset. His eyesight was so bad that he had to squint through the thick glasses to get the individual letters in focus. He slowly went to work to move a few words at a time from the top of the page to the bottom. In the process, he dropped a few letters. He picked them up and managed to get them into the grooves to be ready for printing. Occasionally when he would drop a letter, he would glance over at Hoss to see if Hoss noticed. Hoss was so busy that he just didn’t. So Eli went back to work, not saying a word. He was confident that he handled this task well and had everything in place.

By the time Hoss finished the repairs in less than an hour, Eli had both of the articles moved to the bottom. It felt so good to be involved again. He didn’t dare ask Hoss to proof what he did. The two men talked newspaper business for a short time, with Eli giving Hoss some advice in challenging this tramp newspaper, which was slandering his father. Then he left Hoss in the office by himself.

About two hours after Eli left the office, Joe and Jake had returned. Joe had a copy of the other newspaper in his hand.

“Hey, Hoss. You’ll never believe it. You, me, and Adam all made the front page of this ridiculous paper,” Joe said and threw the paper onto the counter.

“What?” Hoss exclaimed. “What does it say?”

Jake couldn’t help but chuckle as he had seen the article.

Headline: “CARTWRIGHTS IN BRAWL WITH WOMEN.”

Article: “Seems like the Cartwright clan have a talent for causing trouble. Horrified citizens around the Silver Dollar Saloon yesterday watched while the sons of Ben Cartwright battled in the street with the Virginia City Temperance Committee. From the reports we received, it appears that the brawl began when the women were merely trying to express their opinions in public. Like father, like sons, we would say. Before taking on these women who do not agree with the hard drinking of many men, the Cartwright boys emerged from the very saloon being protested. A family of hypocrites in this family for sure. Something to think about before giving Ben Cartwright any power to run the Cattlemen’s Association. We might add, the women won.”

“Well, I’ll be dogged,” Hoss said with disappointment. “How can they do that and get away with it?”

“I’m afraid, Hoss, that’s the business today,” Jake answered. “Freedom of speech.”

“That ain’t freedom of speech. That’s down right lyin’,” Hoss said.

Joe responded this time. “That’s why you and I are in this business. To tell the people the truth about Pa.”

“Yeah, little brother, we give freedom of speech in the form of truth and justice,” Hoss declared and smiled. “We’re what a newspaper should be.”

“You wanna help me get this article written on Pa’s behalf so we can get this paper out?” Joe offered.

“Sure,” Hoss said, he retrieved a pencil and piece of paper. He wet the lead with his tongue. “I’m ready.”

Joe drew in a big breath, looked up at the ceiling, and began to think. “Let’s start with our title for this article. Something catchy.”

“Ready,” Hoss assured him.

“How about…Ben Cartwright, the Best Choice…nah, nah. Let me think,” Joe began. He paced around as he thought.

Hoss had begun to write, but then scribbled out the words as Joe was changing his mind.

Joe chimed, “Got it! The Charismatic Ben Cartwright, the powerful leader…”

“Joe, Joe, wait a minute. You’re too fast,” Hoss said, he wet the lead of his pencil again. His eyebrows furrowed as he wrote, “K-A-R…how come we using these big words? You get it from Adam?”

“No, I found it myself,” Joe answered.

“Look Joe,” Hoss began to lecture, “Shouldn’t we just keep it simple? I mean if I don’t recognize the word, neither is any of the people we’re trying to reach.”

“You know, Hoss, I was just thinking that same thing,” Joe said confidently.

Hoss looked up at him, “Sure you were, Joe.”

“A real newspaperman reports the facts and answers the questions of Who, What, How…” Joe hesitated to see if he got his brother’s attention.

“Huh? What’s all that got to do with Pa?” Hoss questioned.

“Well, there are new people in the area now that don’t really know Pa. So I thought we’d kind of introduce him in the article.”

“Joe, let’s just keep it simple, write the article, and then worry about a title for it,” Hoss recommended.

“Hoss, I’m so proud of you. You’re learning from me,” Joe glibbed. “All right. Here it is…”

Hoss licked his pencil again.

“…Ben Cartwright, owner of the well-known Ponderosa, has the best interest of all ranchers in the area…”

Joe glanced at Hoss to see if Hoss was going to protest this beginning.

Hoss didn’t. He was engrossed in his writing, occasionally dabbing the end of the pencil lead on his tongue.

Joe continued to pace, but now had his hands behind his back.

“…he’s been a part of the area’s past and now wants to make sure he’s a part of its future by giving the small rancher a voice in important cattle matters. Something that hasn’t been done in the past.”

Joe briefly stopped and smiled. It sounded good.

“He’s recognized for years that the small rancher is intelligent and desires to build quality ranches. Ben Cartwright is aware of how many times the small rancher has been silenced on matters that concern him and his neighbors…”

“Joe!” Hoss interjected, “I didn’t know you could sound like that. This is good.”

“It’s not hard when I’m talking about Pa,” Joe answered and went on.

“…It’s time for change. These ranchers must have a say on important matters and not be outbid on fair prices by larger ranchers who have more power. That’s what Ben Cartwright stands for and nothing else. Freedom to decide, fairness to everyone, and a charismatic leader.”

“You got all that down, Hoss?” Joe asked.

“Just a minute,” Hoss answered, “…to everyone and a good leader.”

“Ah, Hoss, that’s not what I said. Quit changing things.”

“I know,” Hoss answered back, “but that’s how we’re gonna say it. No big Adam words.”

Joe said nothing and let Hoss have his way. “Let me think and we’ll add a little more later. But this should help Pa.”

Hoss grinned a huge smile, “Don’t cha feel real good, Joe? Won’t Pa be really happy about this?”

Joe bounced up and down on his feet and felt a lot of pride. “You know, Hoss. I like this newspaper business. I just may have found my calling. Instead of help running a ranch or barn cleaning.”

Hoss grinned again at his little brother, “Yeah, I reckon. But you better stick to barn cleaning. I think Pa needs your help more than Jake will ever need it. Or Virginia City for that matter.”

The Next Morning At the Press Office

Adam strolled casually through the door of the press office, stopping at the counter.

“Hey Adam, did ya see our article about Pa?” Joe exclaimed with excitement in his voice.

“Yeah, I’m afraid I read the entire paper,” Adam smirked. “Did you?”

Hoss frowned and questioned, “Of course we did. We wrote it.”

“What are you talking about?” Joe jumped in. “That piece we did on Pa will have a big impact for a long time.”

“Yes, you did very well on that piece. But, uh…I’d say that you were going to make a bigger impact than you think.”

The green in Joe’s eyes brightened and a victorious smile came on his face. “You hear that, Hoss? Our big brother Adam thinks we’re gonna make a big impact in Virginia City.”

Hoss beamed and shared his little brother’s excitement.

“I didn’t say that exactly, Joe. Didn’t you proof-read like I told you two to do?” Adam asked.

“Ahhh, Adam,” Hoss answered. “We were careful.” Hoss wrinkled his nose up and chuckled. “I love that saying you said about erring is human.”

Adam frowned at Hoss. “And Shakespeare, my dear brother, knew what he was talking about. Or did you write this article on Rose Mindlebrice on purpose?”

Joe was puzzled. “What are you getting at?”

“I’m getting at this article,” Adam poked the paper where the article was located. “You know she’s going to read it. Not to mention Agnes Finster.”

Joe rushed over to Adam and grabbed the paper out of Adam’s hand. He began to read the article at the bottom of the page they published about the widow. As he read, his eyes grew big enough to fit wagon wheels within his eyelids.

Hoss noticed the distress on Joe’s face. “Joe, what is it?”

Joe cleared the frog lodged in his throat and read:

“Mrs. Rose Mindlebrice made quite an impression last Saturday in winning the honor of prized pig making Mr. John Johnson proud.”

“Oh Lordy.” Hoss exclaimed.

“…Her contributions to the cause has been very generous and helped many people. When not competing, the sow loves to slop in the mud.”

Joe looked sick.

“Oh Lordy! Oh Lordy!” Hoss repeated and swallowed hard.

Joe got his composure. “Hoss, will you quit praying and tell me how this happened?”

“How this happened? It ain’t my fault,” Hoss defended himself.

“What’d ya mean? The articles you moved to the bottom of the page were fine when Jake and I left. What happened?”

“Dadburn it Joe, you leave me here all by myself with a deadline coming and a broken press ta fix and now you blame me.”

Joe argued back. “All you had to do was move the two articles on Mrs. Mindlebrice and Mr. Johnson’s pig down to the bottom of the page. Nothing had to be rewritten.”

“I told you. I didn’t do it. Jake’s uncle moved the articles for me.” Hoss raised his voice to back Joe off.

Jake rushed over to Hoss with a look of horror on his face. “You let my uncle help with the articles?”

“Yeah, I sure couldn’t count on the two of you,” Hoss said.

Adam interjected, “Hoss, haven’t you noticed his very thick glasses?”

Jake slapped his forehead. “Hoss, my uncle had to get out of the business because he doesn’t see well anymore. Print in newspapers and books can be blurry to him.”

“Well, why didn’t he tell me?” demanded Hoss.

“’Cause he’s too proud to say anything,” Jake replied.

“Well, dadburn it. It’s like Adam says…Ta err is human.” Hoss didn’t know what else to say.

“How could you let this happen? She gave us the money to go into business,” Joe responded.

Hoss gulped again, trying to wet his throat that became dry. All he could say was “Well, marry her and maybe she’ll be forgiving.”

Adam peered out the window and then made a comment to his brothers that didn’t help. “I think you both should pray because here comes the prized pig.”

“Oh Lordy!” Hoss exclaimed again. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”

Joe was defensive, “You’re gonna be sick. I’m the one that’s gonna be in trouble.”

He no more finished his statement when Mrs. Mindlebrice entered the shop. “Joseph! Is this your attempt to be humorous?”

“Mrs…M…Min…Mindlebrice. I’m, I’m so sorry. I’m so very sorry,” Joe sputtered.

“I gave you the money so you could write a reputable newspaper and put Agnes Finster out of her miserable business. Not a gossip paper full of errors,” Rose Mindlebrice said in a commanding voice.

“Yes ma’am. Did you see the piece on my father?” Joe tried to lessen the effect of the big mistake.

“Yes, I read it and that’s the kind of reporting you should be involved in. And nothing else!” she emphasized.

“Mrs. Mindlebrice, you can bet it will be corrected and not happen again,” Joe promised and would bet his life on it.

“Yes, Joseph. But after this little mess up and as long as you’re in this business, I own you.”

“Yes ma’am,” Joe said in a weakened, but obedient voice.

“I’m going to hold a reception for your father this Friday night. I thought it would give the people a chance to talk to him after this fine article on him. It will help destroy any doubts,” Rose said, “I will make all of the arrangements.”

Adam spoke up, “I think he would like that opportunity. Why don’t you send me the bill? After all, we owe you for the inconvenience of this article.”

Rose pointed a firm finger at Joe, “Joseph, you announce it in your paper and make sure you get it correct. And make sure I get the credit. I want Agnes and everyone to know who is supporting your father.”

“You have nothing to worry about. Ah…and…and I’ll watch my brother better next time.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Hoss asked with a frown.

Mrs. Mindlebrice turned for the door. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go slop in the mud. If I must be paired with something, it’s better I be in the same article with a pig than with Agnes.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Joe grinned and looked sheepish.

When Mrs. Mindlebrice left, Hoss let out a hardy laugh. Adam joined him.

“And what’s so funny?” Joe questioned.

“She owns you, little brother. She owns you.” Hoss laughed.

“Hoss, which one do you think Joe will have to marry in the end? Rose or Marigold?” Adam teased.

Joe complained and pointed his index finger at Hoss. “If I have to get hitched, it will be because of you.

“I knew I should have listened to Adam and stayed out of this,” Hoss said defiantly.

“Oh now remember,” Adam reminded Hoss, not taking sides. “You wanted to pursue truth and justice.”

“Yeah, well, truth and justice just gets me into trouble,” replied Hoss.

“I think I will leave all of you with this mess and go see if my new book has arrived,” Adam stated and turned for the door. “At least you didn’t misspell sow. Pa will be proud.”

“Speaking of Pa, when will he return home?” Joe asked in a voice, which still sounded a bit sick.

Adam answered as he kept walking. “Tomorrow evening. You have the rest of the day to fix everything. My dear brothers who has managed to build the gallows, tie the hangman’s knot, and step on the platform with the trap door ready to open.”

The Next Morning at the Ranch

Adam had just finished his coffee when he heard a fast-galloping horse in the front yard. He got up and walked out to the front porch to see whom it was, thinking it was possibly one of his brothers since his father wasn’t due home until later that day. But he was wrong. It was his father. The tan buckskin horse came to a sudden stop; Ben immediately swung his leg over the back of the horse and onto the ground.

“Pa! What’s wrong? Why are you home so early?” Adam rushed towards Ben.

“Nothing. Nothing. I just wanted to get home. My backside couldn’t wait to get out of the saddle,” Ben assured him. “You know, I ran into Seth Peters on the way home and he was saying something about Hoss and Joe in Virginia City running a newspaper.”

“Oh,” Adam said trying to put on a façade of not knowing much about it.

“What do you know about this?” Ben inquired.

“Ah,” Adam hesitated, “Jake Willis, you remember him? Well he had some printing equipment given to him by his uncle.”

Ben looked puzzled. “What’s that got to do with your brothers?”

Adam tried to stay evasive. “They’re helping.”

“Helping? How?” Ben fired back. He tried hard to be patient, but Adam wasn’t giving him much information.

“A newspaper, Pa, can’t be run by one person,” Adam advised casually

“You mean to tell me that they are spending time in town working for a newspaper instead of the chores on this ranch?” Ben demanded, his voice climbing in volume and anger.

Adam tried to defend his brothers. “Give ‘em a couple of days and they’ll be back on the ranch just like before.”

“A couple of days? I didn’t hurry home so I could find my sons involved in a business they have no reason to be involved in.”

“Pa, you’re getting upset,” Adam said, trying to be the peacemaker.

‘I’M NOT ANGRY!” Ben snapped.

Adam blinked and slightly rocked back on his heels. The blast of his father’s ‘non-anger’ pushed him a little off balance.

Ben took a deep breath. “Get your horse. We’re going to town.”

Adam made a simple suggestion. “Wouldn’t it be better if you stayed home and relaxed. I know they’ll be home soon.”

“Absolutely not! After we see your brothers, you can buy me a beer and I’ll relax then. Like when I’m dead drunk.”

“Yes sir,” Adam said obediently.

Ben had one more question. “And what’s this about you three brawling with women?”

“Pa, I can assure you that none of us brawled with women.”

Ben didn’t comment and Adam didn’t offer any more information. Enough trouble was already on its way to Virginia City.

An Hour Later At the Press Office

Ben entered the office with Adam on his heels. Joe saw them before Hoss.

“Pa! You’re back?” Joe said in surprise.

Hoss, who was carrying a tray full of type, stopped suddenly in his tracks. When he saw his father, his eyes bulged and he dropped the tray scattering the letters that once formed words all over the floor.

“So, I hear you’re helping Jake Willis run a paper?” Ben asked.

Joe responded for both of them. “Yeah, Pa. Isn’t this great?”

“GREAT!! When I rode up the trail on my way home, I noticed the whole section of the south fence was still down, there was a large pile of wood in the yard not chopped, and the wagon wheel is still against the barn. So what’s so GREAT?”

Adam leaned against the door. He rolled his eyes up in response to his father’s anger. He knew all the time that this would happen.

Hoss spoke up. “Now, Pa, we didn’t plan on being here a long time. We’ll get our chores done. Promise.”

“Yeah, that’s right, Pa,” Joe echoed. He leaned a little to look around his father at Adam. “Uh, Adam. I figured you’d have Sam and his crew fix the fence by now.”

Adam stood up. “Couldn’t. I had to send them up to Indian Hollow to cut those trees we marked two weeks ago.”

“Where’s Jake?” Ben asked.

“He’s getting some stories for the later edition of the paper,” Joe answered.

“…and I take it he’s paying you two for the work you are doing?” Ben asked.

“Well, not exactly, Pa,” Hoss stated.

Ben made a fast response. “Not exactly? I pay you two to do chores on the land where you call home and you work for Jake free?”

Hoss cleared his throat. “No, Pa, not exactly.”

“Well then. If he’s not paying you, but you’re not working for him for free, what exactly are you getting out of this?” Ben questioned, trying to stay calm.

Hoss tried to explain. “See Pa, we kind of gave Jake a little money so I guess you can say we’re partners with him.”

Ben’s eyes grew large. “Partners! Doesn’t Virginia City already have too many newspapers?”

Hoss swallowed so hard that Adam could hear it all the way across the room where he stood. Then Hoss tried to placate his father. “Now, Pa, there’s really nothing to worry about. Joe and I plan to get out of this business soon. Very soon.”

“Soon, yes, soon. Your brother, Adam, seems to think you two have your hearts in the right place,” Ben’s calm disappeared. “Well, I’ll give you two days and your hearts, aLONG WITH YOUR backsides, better be at the ranch doing chores,” Ben shouted.

Joe and Hoss answered in unison, “Yes sir.”

“By the way,” Ben continued, “if you are partners and gave him money, then where did you get money for a business like this?”

Once again, Joe had the sick puppy look on his face. First he had to deal with Mrs. Mindlebrice and now his pa.

“Well, we kind of borrowed it,” Hoss answered.

Ben swung around and gave Adam a glare. Adam put his hands up in a defensive move and shook his head to indicate it wasn’t him.

Ben turned around to face Hoss and Joe again.

Joe said, “The truth is that we got it from the widow Mindlebrice.”

“You asked Rose Mindlebrice for some money? What’s wrong with you two?” Ben asked.

“Well, no. She heard Agnes Finster was involved with this tramp newspaper that was attacking you and just gave it to us. We told her we’d have it back to her within a short time,” Joe explained.

Ben took in a deep breath. “All right. Two days and that’s it. Two days and you better have this all wrapped up.”

“Thanks, Pa. We promise everything will be taken care of and finished.” Joe assured his father.

He bent down to pick up the letters that lay on the floor as Ben and Adam left the office.

The Friday Night Reception for Ben

Rose did a fine job organizing and getting help to set up a reception for Ben. He was pleased to learn about the reception as it gave him an opportunity to address some issues while socializing with those who attended.

The festive event was being held in a large room to the rear of the International Hotel. Guests gathered in groups and took advantage of the food that was offered on several tables around the perimeter of the room. Non-alcohol punch was served. A small band played waltzes for a short time and some guests danced.

Joe and Hoss were already at the reception when Ben and Adam arrived together. The two Cartwright newspapermen dutifully set up the tables and chairs to make the guests comfortable. The comfort and happiness of the guests were important, as it would provide a friendly atmosphere that would set the mood when their father was ready to speak. It was Adam’s job to see his father got there on time and fend off any uncooperative adversary. The boys knew Agnes would be there and weren’t sure who else that opposed Ben might attend. Ben had been drug through enough mud.

Rose was late, but finally arrived. Heads turned as she gracefully glided across the floor. Although the event was meant for Ben, she took advantage of stealing a little of the limelight. She picked a dress made of silk imported from China and lace handmade from the finest maker in Chicago. She made a point to be, as lovely as she could and hoped Ben would notice. She secretly hoped that he would see her as an interesting woman and not just a supporter who organized the event.

Adam eventually met Hoss at the food table. There were both hot and cold foods offered, but Hoss wanted to try the oysters on the half shell that Adam said was so good with champagne.

Adam watched his brother to see how he would react to something different than steak. Adam commented, “Well, Pa’s smiling, so I’d say he’s softened on your newspaper idea.”

Hoss answered, “Yep, I’d say you were right. He complimented us on our article about him.” Hoss smelled the oyster before putting it into his mouth.

Joe joined his brothers. He gave Hoss a puzzled look. “What are you eating?”

Hoss couldn’t respond right away. His face was wrinkled up in disgust after swallowing the slimy food. It was a delicacy offered by the hotel at special occasions or to higher quality guests.

“It’s called oysters on a half shell,” Adam offered. “Want to try one with some champagne?”

Joe looked at Hoss who was gulping down a second glass of champagne to make sure the oyster stayed in his stomach and not make its way back up.

Joe asked Hoss, “Are you recommending them?”

Hoss finally replied, “I recommend the champagne, but them slippery things that Adam thinks is food can stay in the ocean as far as I’m concerned.”

Adam couldn’t help but laugh. “And that comes from someone who cooks and eats mesquite beans.” Adam picked up an oyster and downed it in one gulp. Then chased it with a glass of champagne. “Joe, sure you don’t want to try it?”

“After seeing Hoss’ reaction, I don’t think so,” Joe responded. He looked at Hoss, “Better than a beer?”

“Nothing’s better than a beer. I don’t need to tell you that,” Hoss answered.

Adam joked with his brothers, “I should know if it didn’t chew on cow fodder, then you two wouldn’t like it.”

“Adam, this is our chance to get away from this fine food. Hoss and I have to set up the podium for Pa,” Joe said.

“Good, I’m anxious to hear what Pa says and see how many supporters are here,” Adam said.

A few moments later, Ben stood close to Adam. Ben’s eyes scanned the guests when his attention was drawn to Agnes who was on the other side of the room.

Ben leaned his head towards Adam’s so no one else could hear, “Why did she have to come? I cringe every time I see that women.”

“Yeah, I’m afraid I wouldn’t want to run into her in the dark.” Adam commented and popped a small finger sandwich into his mouth.

“The gull of her using a newspaper and my political pursuit to hide her temperance cause,” Ben said.

Adam laughed quietly at his father’s comment. “I wouldn’t exactly say that was the reason.”

Ben gave Adam a confused look. “Huh? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It’s been known in Virginia City for a long time that she chased you all over town after her husband, George, died,” Adam said.

“What are you talking about, Adam?” Ben inquired.

Adam smirked and answered, “A woman scorned, Pa. You’ve had experience like that before.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Ben scoffed.

Adam chuckled at his father’s denial and then tried to assure him. “I wouldn’t worry. People like Agnes always get their comeuppance.”

Ben gave Adam a look of doubt. “I better go get ready to speak.”

Rose stepped to the podium. Since she was the hostess, she wanted to introduce him. It gave her a brief opportunity to let him see her ability to handle herself with grace and professionalism in a public situation. It also gave her an opportunity to irritate Agnes.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention, please.” Rose called out while ringing a small bell that she borrowed from the hotel. Rose looked around the room and noticed Agnes not very far away sneering at her. Agnes’ ungrateful expression delighted Rose. And while Rose looked elegant in the dress, Agnes showed up in her usual black flock that drugged her skin-tone down.

Rose continued over a quiet room, “I am so delighted that you have all come to hear one of Nevada’s finest citizens. And when you do, you will understand why Ben Cartwright is the best choice to head an important organization as the cattlemen’s association.” She briefly stopped and took a breath before she continued. She glanced quickly at Agnes, whose lips were pursed like she had just swallowed a sour piece of lemon. “Please give a hand to Mr. Ben Cartwright.” Rose waited at the podium for Ben to arrive. When he did, she gave him her hand, curtsied, and then left.

Ben looked over the audience and smiled. He was a little nervous, but only because he wanted to find the right words to make the small ranchers that didn’t know him feel like he could be trusted.

“Good evening. You’ve surely heard my name many times whether you know me or not. I’m Ben Cartwright. I can assure every rancher here that what I have promised about giving the small rancher a voice is true and there is no hidden meaning behind that.” He briefly hesitated only to allow his guests to absorb what he just said. Then he continued.

“You see, when I brought my family to this beautiful area, I was a small rancher. I had to roll up my sleeves and work hard before I was able to acquire the property and its richness that it is now. So I’ve been where many of you are and I understand your concerns and what you will experience as you build your ranches. This is a fine community and you will come to love it as I have. But please remember whether I’m the head of an organization or just your neighborhood, I’m always interested in people and their opinions. I believe what we do now will be an example for our sons and their families. It’s important that we all express our opinions as the decisions that are made affect us all. Thank you for coming and please come talk to me anytime. You’re always welcome.”

Ben knew that his short speech was just enough. He could tell what he said was appreciated and accepted by the applause he got from the attendees. He couldn’t help but look over at Adam and Adam gave a silent approval with a nod of his head and a wink of his eye.

Ben started to leave the podium when a male voice called out, “Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben looked over the heads of the guests to see a stranger waving a hand while he called out to Ben. Ben acknowledged the man.

“Sir, my name is Jeremy Watson. I’m new in this area and one of those small ranchers you speak about. I’ve heard people say some good things about you, but this newspaper that seems to be constantly attacking you. Can you answer as to why they would do that?”

Ben returned to the podium to answer the man’s question.

“Mr. Watson, I welcome you to the community. I can only stand by what I personally say. The newspaper you are asking about is new in town and has never come out and given their motive for their style of reporting, I only acknowledge their right to their opinion. I suspect as most tramp newspapers, they will soon leave this fine city and we can go on with our business. Please feel free to talk to me directly and to talk to those who have worked and lived with me for a long time. And I thank you for coming.”

The room was filled with loud applause once again. It lingered a little longer this time. Ben glanced over at Agnes and noticed, for the first time, that she seemed to have a look of defeat on her face. He returned to his guests. He found them enthusiastic with questions.

A half hour later, Rose wanted to socialize with Ben and began to look for him. She knew that the reception was going well, her dress was perfect, and her introduction would all get her a compliment from Ben. She intended to gloat in his praise. She found him talking with Adam on the opposite side of the room from where she had been standing. She headed in Ben’s direction. Ben turned and smiled at the sight of this lovely woman coming in his direction.

There was no warning when Rose’s left foot began to slide from under her. Ben watched her lady-like gaze turn to surprise, then distress, and finally to embarrassment when her backside came to an abrupt hard stop on the floor. Gasps were heard from the guests standing nearby. Rose was wordless, but Ben dashed to her side and, in a gentlemanly manner, helped her to her feet. Rose’s face was a little flush from the incident.

The surprise on Agnes Finster’s face was priceless. She didn’t touch the woman and knew there must be a god. Here was her rivalry on her fanny in front of Virginia City’s finest citizens. ‘How delightful!’ Agnes thought. She rushed forward and was the first guest to approach Rose.

“Are you all right, dear?” Agnes’ words announced concern, but the tone was snide as it reflected her true feelings.

“Yes, thank you, Agnes. Everything important is just fine,” Rose answered politely, but her eyes threw a knife in Agnes’ direction.

“Rose, do you want to go outside for some fresh air?” Ben offered, knowing she may need to get her composure.

Rose shook her head numbly and declined the offer. She was completely annoyed with Agnes at this point, but she was more disappointed in her awkwardness in front of such fine guests. To retreat outside with Ben was an excellent idea since becoming invisible was impossible. But if she stayed inside, Agnes wouldn’t be able to gloat as the better of the two women, with Rose nowhere around to defend herself. ‘Not a chance,’ thought Rose.

Attending the reception were the Bartlett twins. The boys were born in the Virginia City area and went to school with Joe. Both were very handsome, but preferred involving themselves in practical jokes to pursuing a pretty girl. Women often found them immature. But they didn’t care, as doing things to provide a laugh was a worthy cause in their opinion.

Tonight was no exception and spiking Agnes’ punch was in the planning two days prior to the party. The Bartlett twins laughed each time they discussed putting some liquor into her punch without her knowing it. They even made a bet between themselves as to how many cups of punch it would take to get her drunk. To make this happen, they snatched a small container of liquor from a sleeping uncle.

During the evening, Agnes moved around the floor of the ballroom briefly chatting with quests as if she was the hostess. She carried a cup of punch with her and occasionally set the cup aside, leaving it unattended. This was the opportunity the twins needed and they took advantage of each chance. The more punch Agnes had, the friendlier she became and the less she talked about her temperance beliefs.

Rose noticed what was happening from a distance and wanted to say something. But then she bit her lip. If she did say something, it would be the truth. And the way Agnes acted lately, it could trigger another brawl. For hers and everyone’s sake, she kept quiet.

In the meantime, Agnes saw Adam Cartwright standing by himself.

“Adam, Adam, dear,” Agnes said in a slurred speech. Adam glanced around frantically trying to find a way out. But she was too close for him to duck out a door.

“Mrs. Finster. How are you this evening?” Adam politely asked.

“Oh di…di…swell, just swell,” she said. “Isn’t the pun-sh de…delic…good?”

Adam backed off a little as she was beginning to reek. “I haven’t had any of it, yet.”

“You muss hab some pun-sh. It’s just won…won…(hiccup)…is good,” Agnes said as she swayed a little. At one point, she belched like a sailor.

Adam looked away a little embarrassed. He looked around again to see if there was a way out, but Agnes hooked her hand around his upper arm. Adam was captive.

Agnes batted her eyelashes, trying to focus, as her sight wasn’t as clear as it was when she first arrived. “Oh!” she exclaimed and fanned herself. “It’s so warm.”

“Yes ma’am,” Adam answered but tried to look around for his father or anyone familiar to him. “Maybe you should get some fresh air.”

“I want more pun-sh (hiccup),” Agnes commented. “Oh, your father is sooooooo handsome.”

“Thank you. But may I help you outside?” Adam reluctantly offered.

“Ooooh, no. You gotta cigar?” Agnes asked. She leaned into Adam’s chest and whispered, “I hab-n’t had one since George died.”

“No, I’m sorry, but I think you should let me get you a buggy and send you home,” Adam said insistently.

“Oh, you Car-wrights think you know ever-thing,” Agnes complained and staggered away.

Adam didn’t like Agnes at all; she has been nothing but trouble to his family for quite some time. But his values would never let a woman harm herself or put herself in a position to be harmed. So he made a mental note to keep an eye on her…a distant eye.

The reception ended and Ben went home tired and very happy. The only thing that would make it better was when everything was back to normal and the four Cartwrights were working hard at the ranch.

The Next Afternoon and Last Day In Business

“Hoss, I need your help,” Joe announced as he began to get up with a large tray of type.

“In a minute. I’m eatin’ a piece of this delicious pie Mrs. Mindlebrice brought us this morning.”

“I need your help now!” Joe insisted.

“Dadburn it, Joe! Show your appreciation by taking time to have some pie. She’s really a nice lady considering the article we put in our paper.”

“Look, Pa gave us a couple of days to get out of this business. We’re in a mess. We don’t have the money to pay Rose Mindlebrice like we promised her we would.”

Hoss responded shoving the last few bites of his piece of pie into his mouth. “We told her we would in a month and it’s been less than that. Pa would expect us to honor our word.”

“Well great! I appreciate your confidence. But I’m trying to wind this whole thing up in our last paper. Just help me,” Joe demanded again and turned to his to his left to take the tray to the printing press.

At the same time, Hoss finished his pie and got up to turn towards Joe. Neither saw the other and they crashed sending the tray full of type to the floor.

“HOSS!! Look what you did!” Joe cried out.

“Look what I did? You gonna blame everything on me?” Hoss defended himself.

“I asked for your help and all you do is run into me and knock all the type onto the floor,” Joe replied, pointing to the floor. “Look, look what you did.”

Hoss grew angry with Joe. “Dadburn you’re ornery hide, Joe. You talked me into this mess and now it’s my fault ‘cause you’re so clumsy.”

Joe’s voice went up. “Oh, so it’s my fault that you came into this business.”

“Yeah, your fault,” Hoss said. He jutted his chin out at Joe as he placed his hands on his hips.

“Oh yeah?” Joe said.

“Yeah!!”

“Oh yeah?” Joe said again.

“Yeah, and what are you gonna do about it, little brother?” Hoss challenged.

“What am I gonna do about it? …Huh, you wanna know?” Joe said. He put his fists up into the air and started to dance around like a boxer in a ring.

Hoss grinned real big. “So you think you can take me on?”

“Yeah, come on. I can fight you. I’m a lot smaller than you are, but I’m more limber,” Joe challenged again.

Hoss laughed out loud. “Well, little buddy, I guess I need to teach you a lesson now and then.”

Hoss stepped towards Joe giving him a menacing look.

Joe kept his fists up, moving them around, but stepped backwards instead of forward. “Now, Hoss, you calm down,” Joe warned.

“Come on, little brother. I’m gonna just break you like a stick. Really make you a half brother,” Hoss threatened as he kept walking towards Joe.

Joe put his fists down and kept retreating. “Now, Hoss….P…Pa…Pa won’t like this.”

Hoss rolled his sleeves up to his elbows. “I think Pa will thank me for this.”

“All right, Hoss,” Joe pleaded, “Don’t make me mad now. Don’t make me do something I don’t want to.”

Hoss laughed again, mocking his brother. “You want a fight. Well, your big brother Hoss is gonna teach his little brother Joe a good lesson.”

Joe kept backing around the office, trying to keep a distance from Hoss who was coming at him. He pushed some of the papers used for their newspapers onto the floor as if they were going to stop Hoss from coming forward. Then he pushed some chairs in front of Hoss to slow him down. Hoss only pushed them aside with one hand.

Joe then spotted the leftover pie in the pie tin. He picked it up and threw it at Hoss. Hoss shifted enough to miss the approaching object. But the messy pie with its sugary, sticky juices and pieces of apple found a target. It landed solidly onto the printing press and then globs fell down into the gears and workings of the machine.

Joe stopped his retreat and looked horrified. “H…Hoss….look!” He pointed.

Hoss stopped and turned around to look at the machine. “Oh Lordy!” Then he turned to look at Joe again. “I guess you gonna blame me for this, too.”

“Now Hoss, wait a minute. Wait a minute. We got problems.” Joe put his hands out as if he was trying to keep Hoss away. But Hoss wasn’t interested any longer in pursuing his younger brother. The fun was over.

“Joe, we gotta figure out what we’re gonna do. We’re in a real mess now!” Hoss exclaimed, his voice a little stressed.

As both Joe and Hoss just stared at each other, someone was heard coming through the front door. It was their father and his expression was pleasant until he saw the mess in the office.

Adam was with Ben and stayed silent behind him. But as soon as he saw the predicament, he leaned back against the doorframe, crossed his arms over his chest, and held his lips tight together. Once again, his brothers would have to answer to the law of Pa.

Ben placed his hand on his hips. “What is going on here?” he demanded in a loud enough voice to make both Joe and Hoss jump slightly.

Hoss grinned and innocently greeted him. “Oh, hi Pa. Joe and I were just moving things around a little. You know, gettin’ ready to close up our part of the office?”

Adam peeked over his father’s shoulder. His pursed lips broadened into a big grin. “How did the pie get all over the press?”

Joe’s eyes grew large. “Oh…that….uh…” Joe cleared his throat.

Hoss volunteered. “Well, it sort of…uh…kind of fell onto the press.”

“It fell?” Ben questioned with a little suspicion.

“Yeah, Pa. We’re so busy moving things that we got careless where we put the pie. Next thing we knew…it fell,” Joe offered.

At this point, Ben wasn’t sure what he believed. “Just get this place clean and turned over to Jake or whatever. But the two of you get out of this business.”

Joe and Hoss gulped at the same time.

“Ah, Pa? We’ve been talking and figured we can’t totally get out of the business…yet.” Joe said.

“Why?” Ben demanded.

Hoss tried to explain. “See…we still owe the widow Mindlebrice her money. And, then there’s Mr. Hatfield who let us use this office with the idea of getting paid later, and well, you can see the printing press. We’ll have to do something about that.”

Ben wasn’t going to take any chances. If Hoss and Joe stayed in town any longer, things would most likely get worse, as usual.

“All right, I’ll bail you two out this time. However, I own the both of you for a few months,” Ben stated. “And you will pay me back every single penny.”

“Yes sir,” Joe answered with Hoss answering the same right behind him.

“Now that we got that settled,” Ben continued, “you should know that the other paper has closed shop and left town. Seems like Agnes couldn’t pay them the money she promised and they decided just to leave.”

“And after what happened at the dance, I would say she should settle down for sometime about her temperance stand.” Joe laughed, remembering what Agnes looked like drunk.

Ben, Adam, and Hoss joined Joe in his laughter about Agnes. She was a comical character at the event.

Ben turned for the open door to leave. “I would hope that you will be more than happy to clean this place up and get home.”

Both Hoss and Joe nodded in agreement.

“It is a wise father that knows his own child. See you at the ranch,” Adam commented.

“Ah, Adam. Haven’t we been through enough already without hearing that Shakespeare stuff again?” Hoss complained.

Adam knew he had teased his brothers enough. “You know, Pa. You have to wonder what kind of a lonely life you’d live without the three of us?”

Ben smiled and looked at the three of them standing side by side. “I’d probably have a boring life and be a bigger target for Agnes.”

Cartwright laughter filled the room.

Joe turned to Adam, “You gonna stick around and help your brothers clean this mess up?”

Adam didn’t hesitate with his answer. “No! But parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Ben commented to Hoss and Joe, “I think we’d better get working or he’ll quote Shakespeare until we get home.”

Laughter filled the room once more. Without a word to each other, Ben, Adam, Hoss, and Joe all began to pick up the mess in the room.

***The End***  (Or Until Joe Thinks Of Something Else)

Author Notes:

Characters – I thank David Dortort and Bonanza Ventures for allowing fans like myself to use the four Cartwrights, Hop-Sing, and Roy Coffee in fanfic stories. I hold no rights to these characters. I use them for entertainment only. I’ve created my own quirky characters, so don’t take them seriously…just enjoy them.

Historical Facts – The International Hotel did, in fact, serve oysters. I could not find anything that said they ever served them raw on a half shell. I fudged this fact for the humor of the story. Virginia City did have several newspapers, but mine did not exist. Tramp newspapers were real and were known to go into a town or area, work for a while, and then leave. So did tramp reporters & printers.

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