Summary: Three short stories inspired by writing prompts. The following three stories emerged from a couple of fun exercises. I just enjoyed the storylines so much that I decided to make them short stories.
Word Count: 7470
Between Bread and Brothers
“Dadburn your ornery hide, Joe!” Hoss growled at his brother as he was beaten in checkers for the third time in a row. “You cheated.”
The big man stood up from his seat on the fireplace hearth. He put his hands into his pockets and started to pace. His face was usually graced with sparkling blue eyes and soft dimples around an upturned smile. But today was different. Hoss felt frustration and his usual facial features were replaced with furrowed brows and an unhappy mouth. He glanced at both of his brothers and couldn’t understand how they could sit so still and not seem irritated by anything.
Joe defended himself, “I didn’t cheat. You’re just a bad player.” The smile on his face indicated that he knew Hoss wasn’t really mad. Hoss was only feeling the frustration that all three Cartwright boys were feeling. “Adam, do I cheat?” Joe begged to get his brother’s support.
Adam glanced at Joe over the top of his book, but ignored the comment. He had his own battle with boredom going on and so far, he was winning the struggle with his new book. Adam turned another page keeping his eyes on the words. He acted as if others weren’t present in the room with him.
Hoss wasn’t going to let this drop. “Oh yeah, go cry on Adam’s shoulder. I outta throw you out the door into a cold, deep pile of that snow out there.” Hoss paced back and forth and gave Joe one of his looks trying to get Joe to take him serious. His forehead had deep, serious wrinkles.
The expression and threat only drew a giggle from Joe. Joe found his boredom subside from Hoss’s unintended actions of humor.
When Hoss reached the blue chair that Adam was in, Hoss directed his bad mood at him. “Look at you. You sit there reading all those books and not saying a word. Why are you so quiet?” Hoss gave Adam the same look that he gave Joe. His big towering frame was slightly bent forward towards Adam.
Adam had been very content in the chair and kept to himself while he read. He was in one of his favorite positions where he crossed his right leg over his left knee. His right elbow rested on the arm of the chair and his head was slightly slumped over and rested on his right fist. Adam’s dark eyes rolled upward to look at Hoss’s face. He had no choice now, but to answer his brother’s comment. He bought his leg to the floor. He cleared his throat and then gave his answer in a calm voice. “I’m always reading and I’m always quiet when I read. Now, what exactly is your problem?”
Hoss lightly kicked one of Adam’s books that had been lying on the floor. His hands remained buried in his pockets. “Ah…I don’t know, Adam. I reckon I’m just tired of being cooped up inside the house for so long. I wanna go to Virginia City.”
Joe agreed, “I’d love to go to Virginia City. Hey brother, Adam and I know how you feel. But there’s nothing we can do about it.” He picked up the checkers, as he was just as sick playing the game like Hoss became moments earlier.
The snow was piled high outside. It snowed for about seven days straight and made all activity outside impossible until the snow melted a little. None of the boys expected the short, but heavy storm that left some late winter chores undone.
At first the brothers thought the effects of the storm would be in their favor. They could sleep in if they wanted and just do whatever enjoyment they felt like at the time. But after a couple of days, being inside all the time made those prized, luxurious moments lose their excitement. Their confinement turned them into women. All three tried to busy themselves by cleaning the house, Adam looked over the Ponderosa books for the umpteenth time, Joe twice cleaned every rifle in the house, and Hoss just made himself busy in every way he could.
The boys played checkers with each other, then switched to chess, and then back to checkers. Hop Sing’s uncooked beans became the ante in their nightly poker games. Hoss and Joe tried to out-wrestle each other in arm wrestling with the obvious results. And Adam reread three of his books, after he read his new book one time.
Ben and Hop Sing left for a short trip to San Francisco and weren’t due back until the end of the month, which was two weeks away. Hop Sing knew that the boys could make their own breakfast and all of them were pretty skilled in cooking a steak. But to make sure that he and Ben didn’t return home and find three “skin and bones” bodies on the floor after starving to death, Hop Sing put several dishes and dried foods in the cold cellar for them to heat.
Adam put his book down and was now strumming his guitar while he watched an impatient Hoss still pacing the floor. Joe sat on the settee with his elbow on his knee and his chin resting in the palm of his hand. He stared straight into the fireplace trying to think of something new to do. The room was quiet with only the sounds of the guitar and the grandfather clock ticking.
Then the familiar sparkle was back in Hoss’s eyes. He had come up with an idea. “I’m hungry,” he announced. If activities didn’t take care of boredom, then he figured that food would. At least, it would help time go by with satisfying results.
“You’re always hungry,” Joe answered.
“I ain’t kiddin’, Joe. I’m hungry for somethin’ hot and good,” Hoss protested. He headed for the kitchen. “You two can stay put. I’m gonna make somethin’.”
Adam stopped playing his guitar and looked at Joe. He put a smirk on his face as he addressed Joe. “I swear, if he cooks up any of those mesquite beans, I’ll kill ‘im.”
Joe giggled as he headed for the kitchen. Adam put his guitar down and was right on Joe’s heels. As they approached the kitchen, the sound of a metal pan bumping another metal pan could be heard. Then there was the clank of a utensil hitting the floor.
When Adam and Joe entered the kitchen, there was Hoss completely ignoring them, as he was busy getting the things he would need for his mysterious cooking idea. Adam and Joe watched him in curiosity.
After a few moments, Joe asked, “Hoss…what’s on the menu?” He smiled.
Hoss stood up and faced his brothers. A huge grin was across his face. His blue eyes were bright, “I’m gonna make a loaf of bread just like Hop Sing makes.”
“A loaf of bread?” Adam cautiously questioned.
“Yeah! Bread. Remember that good, hot smell when Hop Sing makes bread?” Hoss asked.
Joe closed his eyes and took a deep breath pretending he was breathing in the aroma of fresh, hot bread. “And that butter melting all over it.” Joe turned to look at Adam and elbowed him. “Sometimes that butter runs down my fingers and I have to lick it off.”
“And, don’t forget the honey.” Adam commented as he rubbed his open palms together. His mouth watered, “I’m in on this.” As he grabbed a nearby apron and tied it around his waist, he proclaimed. “I’ll lead this engineering project.”
Hoss scrunched up his face at his older brother. “Engineering project? Adam, this is just making bread. You know, one little loaf?”
Adam defended his comment. “I know it’s just one loaf. But as usual, the two of you will somehow turn it into a project that needs a drawing. So as the oldest and most experienced in the house, I’ll take charge. I plan to keep it simple.”
Joe looked at Adam for a moment and then stated. “Come on, let’s get started. Hop Sing does this all the time and I’m drooling for some hot bread.”
Adam began by rolling up his sleeves. “Joe you get some flour. We know we need flour and lots of it.” Then Adam’s engineering mind came to a stop and a confused look came upon his face. “Flour…uh…what else?” He looked at Hoss.
Hoss’s eyebrows wrinkled again and his eyes narrowed. He was in deep thought after Adam’s comment. “Well, I reckon there’s some eggs and milk. Ya know? Ya gotta make it into a dough and can’t do that unless you put in some juice.”
“Yeah! You’re both right,” Joe agreed.
Hoss was surprised by Joe’s confidence. “You sit in here and watch Hop Sing bake bread?”
“No. But I’m just using Adam’s logic. It sounds right. Am I right, Adam?” Joe waited with hope on his face that Adam would answer in the affirmative.
“I think that’s a good educated guess. I mean, what else would you use?” Adam answered.
Hoss chuckled at Adam, “Yeah, thanks, educated brother. But I reckon I didn’t think that far ahead. I just thought about some good, hot bread.” Hoss responded. He had hoped this bread baking idea would be a lot easier than it sounded.
Joe took the initiative and pulled the lid off of the flour barrel. He scooped out two big heaps of flour. The scoop was so full that some flour spilled onto his hand. He put both scoops onto a large towel that Adam had placed on top the table.
All three stared at the two piles of flour. No one said a word, but their looks said that none of them thought it was enough. Without being told what to do, Joe took out three more big scoops of flour. The three stood in silence again and stared at the flour as if words might form in the white piles that told them they were doing a good job.
“Yeah, yeah, Joe. That looks good,” Hoss cheered his brother on. “That looks like a good size loaf of bread. You think, Adam?” Hoss asked. He felt they were off to a good start.
“Sure, Hoss. That’s about what I’d get out of the barrel,” Adam said trying to sound confident, but he didn’t have a clue.
“Ah,” Joe expressed. “I think we should put it into a bowl or something.”
Hoss smiled, “You two are putting too much thinking into this. It ain’t that hard.”
Mr. Engineer scratched his head and stared down at the flour. “A bowl, of course, a bowl. What else would we put it in? Then we can add the milk and eggs.” Adam couldn’t help but think to himself that it was a good thing he was here.
Hoss began to put the flour into a bowl, but the bowl was too small. Some of the flour began to spill over the edges back onto the table. Then Hoss went to the cupboard and pulled out a large roasting pan. He began to put all of the flour into the pan.
“Hoss!” Adam said, his eyebrows shooting up to the top of his forehead. “Maybe we have too much flour. You think?” Adam hovered over the table with his hands on his hips.
“Naw…bread’s mostly flour and we certainly don’t want to make any puny loaf. I’m hungry.” For the first time, Hoss was ready to move forward just like an eager soldier wanting to lead the troop. “I reckon if we got too much flour, then it’d just be a little dry and we can put more butter on it.”
Joe agreed, “Makes sense.”
“You’re right, Hoss. I should have thought of that.” Adam said with white flour getting all over his black clothes.
Joe had the eggs and the pitcher of milk. “Now, how many eggs, Adam, and how much milk?” Joe was glad to let these decisions be made by his brother. Joe could decide on ways to break a barn-sour horse and didn’t need any help shoeing one, either. But this was bread and that was a different subject.
“I’m not sure.” Adam gave in and let his brothers see his lack of knowledge. “I guess a few eggs and enough milk to make it wet.” Adam looked pleased with his answer.
Joe quizzed him, “You guess? I thought you were gonna be the Engineer on this project? Now you say you guess.”
Adam rushed to defend himself. “Joe, I know cattle and horses. This is bread. It can’t be that hard to figure out. Just add them.”
“Yeah…good idea.” Hoss put in his vote.
“Alright. Let’s just do it. When I’ve popped into the kitchen and Hop Sing is doing something with flour, he never seems to make anything a big decision,” Adam said, crossing his arms over his chest.
While Joe poured milk and then broke about four eggs into the pan, he proclaimed. “I’m proud of us. Look how great we all work together.” Joe beamed.
Adam began to laugh. “He’s right. This helping each other is a better idea than just one of us making the bread. Remember Joe’s cake, Hoss?”
Joe gave his older brother a defensive look and wished this didn’t come up.
“Yeah,” Hoss gave a chuckle at Adam’s comment. He put his massive hands into the mixture and began to mix it up. Adam and Joe watched intently. Soon Hoss’s tongue came out and covered his upper lip as if it helped him to concentrate.
“Joe, add some more milk. It’s too thick.” Adam gave out his order. “You think it’s too thick, Hoss?”
“Yeah, Joe, more milk,” Hoss echoed Adam.
“I don’t think so, Adam. Bread’s supposed to be thick. Maybe some more eggs.” Joe gave his opinion. The flour seemed to begin to turn into dough. “I’ll put in some more eggs, though.”
Joe broke five more eggs into the mixture as Hoss kept up his mixing. The mixture became a little loose, so the boys put in some more flour. Each time they added something, they all hovered over the mixture like doctors over a patient.
Hoss mixed the huge mixture with it all the way up to his elbows. Adam continued reminiscing about Joe’s cooking mishap around their father’s birthday a couple of years earlier. Joe had been determined to make his father a cake.
Adam crossed his arms as he addressed Joe. “I remember Hoss took all the blame because he didn’t want you to be embarrassed in front of Pa.”
“I remember I wanted Pa to have a special cake.” Joe’s face wrinkled remembering how he felt.
“Oh, it was special, Joe. Real special,” Hoss interjected.
Adam continued, “I’ll bet the cake would have been fine, but the problem came up when he put icing on the cake before he put it into the oven.”
“Joe?” Hoss giggled. “How do you icing a cake before it gets baked?”
Joe blushed a little as the memories rushed to him. “Trust me, brother. It wasn’t easy. It just made sense at the time. I mean, Hop Sing’s cakes always had icing on them when they were set on the table. So, I just figured.”
Adam interjected, “I don’t think the two of you had Pa fooled. And I must admit that Hoss did a good job at trying to take the blame for the mess and smell in the kitchen.”
Hoss laughed out loud. “Yeah, but neither of us paid any attention to the flour and icing on Joe’s cheek that gave him away. I can’t believe I thought Pa would buy my story.”
Adam’s dimples were deep as his laugh matched Hoss’s. “Then I rushed to the kitchen and threw the cake into the pig pen before Pa could see the disaster that Joe created.”
Joe’s giggle was fast and loud at the images in his mind. “But none of the pigs would eat it. It just sat there in the mud.”
“They did try to wallow in it.” Adam offered.
“Dadburn our Pa. Why couldn’t he have had a girl before and after me? I got stuck with two smart alecks for brothers that can’t make a simple loaf of bread.” Hoss responded, but didn’t look at either brother. He was focused on his kneading of the bread. Then a pleased look came across his face. “Yeah, sisters. Then I’d be relaxing in the great room while they were in here baking me some hot, buttered bread”
Joe laughed at Hoss and then directed his comment to Adam. “Sisters! Adam, the poor things would think they’d have to run a bread factory. Our brother, Hoss, forgets how much food he eats.”
The three brothers howled in laughter. When Adam was able to control his laughter, he offered Hoss a thought. “See Hoss, when the two of you get into trouble, you two coming running to me for help and I have to bail you out.” Adam said matter-of-factly. “Sisters can’t help you in that way.”
“I reckon so, Adam. I wouldn’t have as much fun in the kitchen with sisters as I do you two. I guess I gotta thank Pa after all.” Hoss agreed.
Adam finally thought it looked good enough. “O.K. Hoss. Now, I know Hop Sing puts it onto the floured cloth and…uh…you know, does this with his fingers.” Adam said while moving his fingers in the air to show Hoss how Hop Sing kneads.
Hoss dumped the bread onto the table and the three brothers stared at their cooking project. “You think we’re missing something?”
“Sugar…that’s what we need sugar. The dough is still too wet.” Joe grinned real big. If prizes were given out, he’s win first place. He knew the answer.
“We don’t want sweet bread, Joe.” Hoss disagreed.
“Joe’s right, Hoss. I’ve seen Hop Sing put some sugar into our bread. That’s what we need more than more flour. I’m sure of it.” Adam tried so hard to look like he knew what he was talking about.
Joe went over and got a cup of sugar and put it into the mixture. Hoss pushed it around on the floured cloth. The boys all began to smile. The mixture began to take on a look of dough. Just like Hop Sing’s.
“Joe, you butter the inside of the pan. Adam, is the oven ready?” Hoss knew this labor would soon be over.
Hoss took globs of dough and put it into the pan that was large enough to hold a 25-pound turkey and lots of vegetables. He shaped it like a loaf. It was so big that it almost touched the sides of the pan. It didn’t matter. All three Cartwrights looked proud of their accomplishment.
“Boy, I can’t wait. Hot butter-melting bread.” Hoss exclaimed.
Adam scratched his head. “It’s kind a big, Hoss.”
“Yeah, that’s Okay, Adam. I’m hungry enough that you two will be lucky to get some.” Hoss answered.
The mixture was so heavy in the pan that it took two of them to pick the pan up and put it into the oven. Then they all went into the great room, still dirty with flour on them, but they sat down happy to wait for the bread.
Tick, tick, tick…the grandfather clock sounded as an hour and a half passed. Adam was back in his blue chair with his legs crossed. He strummed again on his guitar. White flour still adorned his black shirt and pants. Joe set on the settee thumping his fingers on the material. He too had flour on his shirt and face. Hoss had cleaned himself up since he had his hands had been in the dough. He paced along the front of the fireplace while he glanced up at the clock on occasion.
Tick, tick, tick.
Finally, Hoss asked, “Hey, Adam?”
“What?” Adam answered.
“It’s been a long time and it don’t smell like it does when Hop Sing makes bread.” Hoss answered back. “How long we gotta wait?”
“I don’t know. I never thought about it.” Adam said. He stopped his playing. But before he could say anything further, Joe got up from the settee and went to the kitchen. His older brothers were right behind him.
They pulled the door down and two of them removed the pan from the oven with towels so they wouldn’t get burned. The pan was as heavy as it was when they put it into the oven.
All three stared at it. It just sat in the pan and didn’t look much like bread. Adam then took a large kitchen knife and tried to push it into the loaf. The blade of the knife flexed, but didn’t go into the bread. He made several stabs at it with none of the attempts penetrating the crust.
“It’s kind of hard, Hoss.” Joe said disappointed.
“Dadburn it. I bet we can’t eat it.” Hoss joined Joe in his disappointment.
“Eat it?” Adam added. “I’m afraid not. But we could throw it at a deer and kill it for dinner. At least, we know how to cook meat.”
The Gift To Charity
It was evening but the sun had not completely disappeared leaving the sky softly lit. Inside the house, the table was set with hot food for the entire Cartwright family to devour. Seventeen-year old Hoss stared at the plate of chicken. Creamy mashed potatoes and hot brown gravy steamed nearby. He had worked all day with Adam and now all he wanted to do was dive in and help himself. But a concerned Ben sat on his right and gave out the order to wait for Little Joe. Adam leaned his left arm on the table and focused on the tablecloth. No one said a word, but waited as if Little Joe would burst into the house soon.
Ben sat in his usual place not saying one word. He had his chin sitting atop his fisted hands. He kept looking towards the front door area becoming more and more impatient. Joe was not home like he was supposed to be. Ben tried not to become angry, but was losing his patience and becoming a little fearful for Joe’s safety.
“Pa, why don’t I saddle up and go find him?” Adam offered as he began to remove his napkin from his lap. “Maybe his horse became lame on the trail and he’s walking”
“I was hoping no one would have to go find him, Adam, but I can’t eat without him home. I’m worried,” Ben answered in great concern.
Just as Adam began to stand, the front door opened and then slammed. The sound of fast footsteps came from the front door to the dining room area. Adam sat down. He didn’t need to see who it was because he knew it was his brother.
An eleven-year old Joe sounded a little winded while apologizing to his father for being late.
“Pa, I’m sorry I was late. I tried real hard to get home. But I had important business.” Joe’s expression was very determined and serious. Ben could tell the boy wasn’t late because he was goofing off.
Joe stopped at Adam’s place at the table and handed him ten dollars. “Here, Adam, this is the money I promised for the fund-raiser.”
”Thanks, Joe. But I thought you said it would take another week to get the money. There wasn’t any rush on this.” Adam said.
“It’s okay, Adam. I promised the money and I want to keep my word.” Joe walked over to his place at the table. It was on Ben’s right and across from Adam.
“Young man!” Ben started out. “You know the rules in this house and I demand a reason for you getting home late.” Ben was angry, but didn’t want Joe to know that the look in Joe’s big green eyes could soften him.
“Pa, you know I don’t disobey you on purpose, but this was so important,” Joe said very matter-of-factly.
“Oh!” exclaimed Ben. Adam and Hoss were silent, but listened to every word Joe said.
“Yeah, I had to talk to Johnny before I could come home. He owed me the ten dollars I gave to Adam. Pa! I promised Adam I’d give him that money for his charity.” Joe leaned closer to his father. “I couldn’t let Adam down, Pa.”
“I see,” Ben said still keeping his stern stance on Joe’s coming home late. “But, you told Adam he would have to wait.”
“Well, I did. But then I figured a charity is very important. And you always said, Pa, that we should keep a promise when we make it.” The small eyebrows over Joe’s eyes wrinkled up and Ben could see how serious his young son was about this.
“Yes, I have tried to teach all of you to honor your word. But Joseph, we also have a commitment to our family when we’re all together.” Ben tried to be careful and not step on Joe’s toes for trying to do something right.
“Sure, Pa. But Johnny owed me the money, so I decided to hurry him up a little,” Joe said.
Hoss knew from past conversations, Joe would come up with something good. He was having a hard time restraining a giggle that was trying to come out from behind his smile.
Hoss and Adam picked at the food they had on their plate. Their eyes kept going back and forth from Ben to Joe.
Ben was curious himself about this ‘hurrying up’ that Joe mentioned. “So, Joe, how did you hurry Johnny up? If he didn’t have the money, then how did he give it for you?”
“Oh, Pa, he had the money. He’s always got some money. He was just stalling on givin’ it ta me. Anyways…”
“Joe, it’s ‘he always has’ and ‘anyway,’ not anyways…” Adam corrected Joe’s English as he usually does when he tries to get lazy with it.
“Anyway…I just reminded Johnny that I saw him kissing Amanda behind the building after church last Sunday.” Joe stayed serious, but snickers were heard from both Adam and Hoss. They knew Joe’s stories to his Pa were pretty good and sometimes, inventive.
Ben’s anger rose in Joe’s comment. “Joseph Cartwright!!!! This family does not engage in being peeping Toms to get money or anything for any cause. Do you understand that?”
“I didn’t peeping Tom at Johnny, Pa. I just stood there and he kissed her and I guess that made me a peeping Tom. But, Pa, I didn’t be one on purpose.”
Adam and Hoss giggled some more until Ben gave both a stern look.
”Uh, Pa…”Hoss tried to intervene for his little brother.
“Hoss, do you need to be a part of this conversation?” Ben asked.
“No sir, no sir.” Hoss kept quiet and looked over at Adam who grinned back at him.
Ben continued his questioning of Joe. “I hope, Mother of Mercy, that you didn’t get into any bribery with Johnny for the money?”
“I didn’t use bribery, either, Pa. I just used some information that was going to come to him sooner than it was gonna come.”
Adam kept his eyes on his plate. “Going to, Joe.”
Ben glanced at Adam who didn’t notice and then he addressed Joe. “What do you mean by that, young man? I want an explanation as to exactly what did you said to Johnny.”
Joe softened his voice looking straight into his father’s eyes. “Pa, when I saw Johnny kissing Amanda, Betsy Cooper was with me.” Joe turned his head to look at each one of his brothers. “Well, you all know Betsy. She can’t keep a secret from anyone.” Joe looked at his father again, “She’s got to be the first one to tell some ‘em.”
Adam smiled as he corrected him again, “Something, Joe. Say the whole word.”
Joe continued after giving Adam a little smirk for his interrupting him while he was trying to convince Pa he was doing the right thing.
“Pa, if Johnny’s girlfriend doesn’t know this by now, she will know by tomorrow morning. So, I just figured that I would let Johnny know what I saw before his girlfriend finds out. I just used the information first.”
Ben couldn’t help but softly laugh at the boy. Joe’s logic certainly didn’t match his, but he was only trying to get his money to give to Adam for the charity. He wasn’t using it for himself or trying to be dishonest.
“Amanda isn’t Johnny’s girlfriend?” Ben quizzed out of curiosity.
“Naw!!! He says he doesn’t like her. She’s kind a mean. After he kissed her, she kicked him,” Joe responded.
Adam and Hoss couldn’t help but let their laughter be heard. Ben looked at them again, but with a smile this time.
Ben’s anger melted. “Joe, that is still a form of bribery. You were still using it to get money from Johnny no matter what the reason.”
Joe just smiled at his father.
“Pa! Please don’t be mad at me. I’m sorry, but it was just real important. Like Adam always says.” This comment made Adam sit up in his chair wondering how Joe was going to bring him into this. “When you see an opportunity to raise some cash, then you have to take the ini….”
“Initiative, Joe, but that’s not quite what I meant,” Adam said giving his brother more of a parental look than a brother look.
“Initiative, Pa, I took the initiative.”
Ben couldn’t help but laugh at him now. This has happened before where Little Joe listens to his older brother, but puts a whole different interpretation on it.
“Joe, any sensible father would probably take his son out to the barn for a tanning. But, I’m grateful you are safe. I would like you to make sure that you understand your brothers’ meanings before you try to follow their advice,” Ben said chewing his food.
“I knew you’d understand, Pa. I guess I got that Cartwright sense of business. I just get the job done.”
All the Cartwrights laughed. Hoss patted his brother on the shoulder.
Eat Hardy, But Feed No Fool
Work on the Ponderosa was as usual. The family had a good breakfast and then rode out onto the range to physically do the chores that made the ranch a success. However, today was different. Hop Sing was off on a trip for Ben that left the family relying on each other for their meals. A week didn’t seem too long until the first day passed. Hop Sing was always missed on the ranch, but when the family sat down at the table for the meal to be served, he was dreadfully missed. In fact, the Cartwrights began to think it should be a crime when Hop Sing was not around to cook for them.
“Joe, I don’t want to hear another word.” Ben said, stopping the argument from Joe on this issue. “It’s your turn to cook our dinner and you will fulfill your commitment to this family.”
“Yes, sir,” Joe answered. He hung his head down in defeat.
“Joe, I did it yesterday. I prefer someone cooking for me, but I think I did all right. No one seemed to complain. If I can do it, so can you,” Adam declared, a little triumph in his voice.
“It was good, Adam,” Hoss cheered. “You did good with that bear steak.”
Joe gave his supportive brothers a sheepish smile. But that didn’t mean they were going to be happy having him a part of the family when suppertime came. He couldn’t wait until Friday. The week would be over and they were planning a big meal in Virginia City. Even that thought didn’t make him feel better. He still had a problem. He had to cook the family their meal for tonight. And he had to do it all by himself.
Ben stood up and clapped his hands together. “Let’s go boys. Let’s go get those cattle where they belong.”
Ben slapped Joe on the back of his shoulder as he passed his son to head for the door. Hoss and Adam were right behind him. Joe just sat in his chair looking at the table. Cooking wasn’t something men were supposed to do unless they were on the trail. And that wasn’t really cooking. At least most of the time, he’d warm up beans, eat jerky, or sometimes throw a caught fish into a pan. Easy stuff. But cooking for the family that will be as hungry as bears was another thing. He took a deep breath and began to clean the table.
In the kitchen, Joe washed and put away the dishes. Another chore that Hop Sing always took care of that Joe didn’t want to do. But doing the dishes meant he could put planning supper off that much longer. After all, who can concentrate on getting the dishes clean and think about supper at the same time?
Joe was disappointed. It only took thirty minutes to do the dishes and put them away. Now, he had to plan for supper. What in the world could he make?
Joe leaned forward on the countertop and stared outside at the chickens still pecking at the grain that Hoss threw on the ground this morning.
‘Hm, chicken’s,’ he thought. ‘Fried chicken, baked chicken, just chicken!’ A big smile took the place of his down turned mouth. But it didn’t last. ‘No…I’d have to kill it, then pluck it, then take the guts out, and then prepare it for cooking. No…too much work.’
Joe turned around where he was now leaning his behind against the same counter. His thoughts continued. ‘Hey! Fish. Why not? Sure I’d have to catch it and clean it, but that’s not as much work and I’d have to go fishing to get it.’
Joe sighed a deep breath as he headed for the door. He had the answer and was pleased with himself. Timber Lake was small, but it was close to the house and should have plenty of trout in it.
It only took Joe twenty minutes to retrieve his fishing gear and get to the lake. He threw in his line and laid back against a tree to wait for his much anticipated meal. Time passed and soon Joe fell asleep.
Joe jumped as he woke up. He wondered how long he had been asleep. He looked up at the sun and it was in the position that said it was approaching Noon. Joe looked at his line and there was nothing tugging on it. He pulled his line in and found the hook and bait weren’t disturbed. He threw his line in again and sat next to the edge of the water and waited. He waited and waited. Another half hour passed and nothing tried for his bait. Even the surface of the water was still. Joe just couldn’t imagine why a fish hadn’t tried for his line.
‘Conspiracy. That’s what it was. Conspiracy,’ Joe thought. The fish knew he had a dilemma and was probably all gathered under the surface of the water laughing at him. Puzzled at the entire matter, Joe stood up and walked over to Cochise who seemed to be unbothered by the entire event. His oats would be in the barn, as usual.
“Well, Cochise. This was a great idea that just didn’t work. You didn’t by chance come here yesterday and eat all the fish from the lake?” Joe teased. Cochise sniffed and shook his head as if he was responding to Joe.
Joe returned home and put Cochise in the corral so he could get a little exercise in. After all, Joe planned on being in the house for the rest of the day.
Joe sipped on some coffee as he sat in his father leather chair. He looked up at the grandfather clock that was ticking away his precious time. To fix something decent for dinner, he would need time. What was he going to do? His father wouldn’t be too bad if supper wasn’t as adequate as he would like, but his brothers. And when Adam is tired and hungry, he can be worst than Hoss. Joe rubbed his chin. He had a real dilemma.
Then Joe came alive. His eyes widened and sparkled. An idea came to him that he hoped would work out. It was cheating a little, but the family was expecting supper. Period. He jumped up as he knew just want to do.
Cochise was content in the corral. But when he heard fast footsteps coming at him, his head came up from the trough and looked. As if Cochise could think, he looked at Joe as if he was about to say, ‘uh-oh!’ Cochise knew his human and when his human wanted to get somewhere fast, it usually meant a lot of running for him.
Joe grabbed the saddle blanket and saddle. He jumped on Cochise and both road off as fast as they could. He was gone from the house for about three hours, but returned happy. His idea was the best he could come up with.
Ben, Hoss, and Adam returned home just before the descending sun darkened the sky. They were all dirty and hungry. As they walked into the door, they found Joe sitting in Ben‘s chair reading a book. He looked at them.
“Have a good day?” Joe asked in a relaxed voice.
Ben was first into the room and answered. “Yeah, I’d say we had a pretty good day. At least, we found the thirty head of cattle we couldn’t find the other day.”
Joe stood up to face his family. “Well, I guess you will all clean up before coming to the table. I’ll get supper while you three get ready.”
Ben, Hoss, and Adam all looked at Joe puzzled. Joe’s entire demeanor was completely different than this morning. But they were hungry and supper was ready.
As Joe disappeared from the great room, Hoss commented in a low voice. “Sure smells good in here, Pa. You think Joe was able to cook something?”
Ben answered, “I don’t know, son. I have to admit that it does smell delicious.” Ben turned to Hoss and Adam. “I don’t care what it tastes like or what it is. You boys be grateful to your brother for your supper.”
“Sure, Pa. I’m so hungry I don’t think I care if I eat a boiled shoe,” Hoss proclaimed.
Adam had the perfect answer. “Well, if it’s not good and we don’t want to eat much of it, then we can always meet in the kitchen when Joe’s asleep and have something tonight.”
“Good thinking, Adam,” Ben agreed.
The three went upstairs and when they arrived in the dining room, their looks showed surprise. Joe stood at Ben’s end of the table wearing an apron that he dirtied up on purpose for the occasion. “Gentlemen, if you would take your places at the table. Supper is served,” Joe grinned, all his front teeth showing.
As the three sat down, they gazed over the steaming, hot food that sat on the table. There were two juicy looking baked chickens, green beans, corn on the cob, hot biscuits, and mashed potatoes and gravy. Enough food for more than one helping each. The three looked amazed.
Hoss spoke up, “Boy, Joe, you sure went all out. I thought you couldn’t cook?”
“Well, I got to thinking about what Pa said this morning about my commitment to the family and doing my part. I figure this was the only time I’d be doing supper, so I wanted all of you to get my best efforts.”
“Ha! Ha!” Hoss couldn’t help but laugh. It was real food and he was eating it and it was good. But Joe cooking even had him confused. Just wasn’t making sense.
Joe looked over at Adam who suddenly froze after he put the spoon into the mashed potatoes to serve himself. Joe got a little nervous. He figure his father and Hoss were just so hungry they wouldn’t care. They would just eat and that would be it. But that logical-minded brother of his was capable of upsetting the cart.
“Joe,” Adam began to question. “I’m very grateful for a wonderful dinner, but…uh…you seem to have talents undiscovered by this family.”
Ben jumped in and looked directly at Adam, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Adam. Just eat your dinner.”
Adam kept his mouth shut and continued his meal. No matter what the real answer was, he knew Joe wouldn’t rob a restaurant or do something that would cause Roy to show up.
After that exchange, the men just ate. Towards the end of the meal, the bowls and the platter were almost empty. The men talked briefly about the cattle, but the subject of food seemed to go away.
A knock was heard at the door. Adam was the closest to the door, so he got up to see who their visit was at this hour.
Ben, Hoss, and Joe stayed seated, but looked in the direction of the door. They could hear Adam’s voice and then a pause as if someone was answering him in a low voice where they couldn’t hear it.
Normally, Adam would allow their guests to enter the house and go to the dining room first. But this time was different, as he wanted to announce their guest. Adam stopped at the corner of the great room and dining room and leaned against it. He had his arms crossed over his chest and a sarcastic smirk was on his face. He looked right at Joe.
“Joe. You have a visitor. Seems like you forgot something.”
Ben and Hoss looked at Joe and then back at Adam.
Joe answered, “Forgot what?”
At this time, Mrs. Thackery came around Adam’s right side. She had a big apple pie in her hands. “Joe, I couldn’t catch you in time. When you left my house, you were in such a hurry.” Mrs. Thackery continued to the table and set the apple pie down near Hoss. “You forgot your pie, dear. I couldn’t get it here any earlier, but I wanted you to have your pie.”
Hoss put his chin down onto his chest as he began to chuckle. ‘No wonder this was so good.” He thought.
Ben’s eyebrows rose as he watched Mrs. Thackery look at him. She asked, “Ben, did you enjoy the chicken? I cooked it a little different than I normally do, but it’s a recipe given to me by the Alma Carter.”
“Oh, Mrs. Thackery, it was absolutely delicious. And I want to thank you for helping my son out with the food.”
Joe said nothing, but his face was beet red. He wound up being the only fish hooked that day.
Mrs. Thackery blushed a little. “Oh, it was no trouble Ben. When Joe offered to pay me for cooking, I just couldn’t resist. I will use the money to make my daughter a new dress that she really needs.”
“Well, I’m glad it all worked out in all of our favor.” Ben beamed to see her pleased, but was still in a state of surprise.
“Well, I have to go. It sure looks like you enjoy it.” Mrs. Thackery turned and headed for the front door. Adam graciously saw her to her carriage and then returned to the table.
Everyone was quiet for a moment. Joe was speechless. Then Ben started to laugh causing the boys to join in with him.
Joe finally offered a comment. “Well, Pa. It was my turn to get supper. Was it necessary that I had to cook it? I mean, I did have to warm it up a little.”
“No, son. We only took turns so one didn’t have the burden of the chore to himself.”
Adam was in his chair scooping out the first piece of pie. “Joe. You did a good job and I’m grateful. But I think next time you could tell us.”
“Are you kiddin’, Adam, and miss the expressions I got from all of you?” Joe responded.
Hearty male laughter was heard again in the Cartwright house.