Word Count: 11,600
Adam Cartwright rode slowly into the yard of the Cartwright’s Ponderosa Ranch. It was a beautiful sunny spring afternoon and the big blue Nevada sky was streaked with wispy white clouds. A gentle breeze played in the tall Ponderosa pines that surrounded the ranch house, their sweet fragrance filling the yard. The beauty of the day however was lost on the oldest of Ben Cartwright’s three sons. He was a tall young man of twenty-five years with dark handsome looks and an air of mystery about him. Growing up in the wilderness of the west had made him strong and confident, but today he slouched in his saddle, a look of discontent on his face. He had been out to check on the high pastures and had come across half a dozen cattle that had got mired in a bog. It had taken a lot of time and effort to get the cantankerous beasts free and what had begun as a pleasant ride had become a dirty and difficult job. He was dressed in the black clothes that he had taken a liking to since returning home from his years of studying in the east, but their usual pristine condition was spoiled today by mud which as it dried had turned the black to grey. Adam’s favourite horse, Sport, was as grimy as his rider. Splatters of mud had taken the gloss from his chestnut coat. The young man dismounted wearily and led his horse to the water trough to drink. After tethering Sport he removed his hat and gun belt and hung them from the end of the hitching rail. He worked the pump handle and bent his head under the refreshing water, washing the sweat, dust and grime from his neck and face. Then he cupped his hand and drank copiously of the cool clear water. After refreshing himself, Adam sat on the edge of the trough and began to tug at one of his boots.
From his vantage point in the corral behind the barn, 12 year old Little Joe Cartwright had seen his brother ride in. Joe had been cleaning out the stalls in the barn and pitching clean straw and hay, and was taking a break, petting his horse. Cochise had been a birthday gift, and he and Little Joe had been partners for only a short time. He was a pinto just like Joe had always dreamed of riding, and the boy and horse had become almost inseparable. When he spied Adam, Joe clambered down the corral rail, eager to tell him of Cochise’s latest achievements. Little Joe saw Adam sitting on the edge of the water trough and was about to shout a greeting to his big brother when his facial expression slowly changed, until it was full of mischief. He crept silently up behind his brother as Adam removed his boot with a jerk, and tipped out an offending stone. By the time Little Joe reached him he had his left foot resting on his right knee while he rubbed the spot where a blister was beginning to form. So engrossed was he with his sore foot that he didn’t hear Little Joe come up beside him.
“What’s up, Adam?” Little Joe suddenly asked, causing Adam to start and almost lose his balance.
“What did you do that for! Don’t you know better than to creep up on a man?”
In spite of the fact that Adam sounded pretty grumpy, Little Joe just couldn’t resist the temptation that had presented itself to him. “Gosh Adam, what’s wrong with your foot?” Little Joe asked in an overly concerned tone. He leaned forward to take a look at the same time giving Adam’s arm a gentle push. It was all that it took for Adam to topple backwards into the water trough with an almighty splash. Little Joe was doubled up with hysterical laughter when Adam reappeared above the water’s surface, his black hair flattened to his forehead, water running in rivulets down his handsome face and dripping from the end of his nose and ears. The prank caused Little Joe to laugh so hard that he could hardly speak. “Hey Adam, most people take their clothes off before taking a bath,” he managed between his high pitched guffaws.
Slowly Adam stood up in the water, his face like thunder, and glared at his young brother. “Why you little monster, just wait ’til I get my hands on you!” he yelled as he stepped out of the trough.
Little Joe’s expression abruptly changed to wide-eyed alarm as he realised that his big brother was about to grab him and he bolted into the house, raced across the living room and up the stairs.
“JOSEPH, WALK.” His father’s voice boomed out from the study, but Little Joe had already disappeared from sight. Almost immediately the huge front door slammed and Adam’s voice yelled out furiously, “Come back here you little varmint, you’re not getting away with this!”
Ben Cartwright got up from behind his desk and quickly made his way to the door. He was a big man, his handsomely chiselled face topped with silver hair, his still black eyebrows arched over deep brown eyes. His oldest son Adam was standing just inside the door dripping and a puddle was beginning to form on the floor around his feet. His wet shirt and pants were clinging to his body, one foot was bare and one booted. Ignoring his father’s look of surprise that was rapidly turning to annoyance, Adam angrily demanded to know where “that boy” was hiding.
Ben ignored Adam’s question but asked one of his own, a touch of irritation sounding in his voice. “Adam, what are you doing?”
Adam’s eyes were searching the room. “Pa, where did he go?” Adam was about to step further into the room to continue his search.
“Oh no you don’t, OUTSIDE, NOW!”
“What! exclaimed Adam testily.
Ben’s dark eyes locked with his son’s hazel ones. “You heard me Adam, OUT. Just look at this mess you’re making on the floor, what on earth are you playing at!” With that Ben took hold of Adam’s arm and firmly turned him round to face the door. Hop Sing, the Cartwright family’s Chinese housekeeper, heard the commotion and came into the room to investigate. He had spent the morning polishing the wooden floor, and so when he saw the puddle, which was rapidly growing larger, he gave voice to his exasperation very loudly and in Chinese.
Little Joe was watching the whole pantomime from the security of his hiding place, behind the wall at the top of the stairs. He began to giggle and clasped his hand across his mouth in an effort to keep from being heard. It wasn’t that he wanted his brother to get into trouble with Pa, it was just that the expression on Adam’s face was so funny. With a final push from his father Adam went back outside, and Hop Sing returned to the kitchen to get the mop, complaining profusely as he went. Ben took a deep breath and then spoke loudly as he walked across to the foot of the stairs. “All right Joseph, I think you had better come on down.” When Little Joe failed to appear he added, “Adam has gone back outside, so you just come down here.”
Very slowly Little Joe began to descend the stairs, a suitably sheepish expression on his face. Ben waited until Little Joe reached the bottom, and the boy stood uncomfortably in front of him. Ben Cartwright was a formidable presence and his young son was trying to gauge how angry he was. Ben observed Little Joe for a few moments and then said, “Your brother Adam is drenched. He is also extremely mad with you. I take it that there is a connection between the two?” Little Joe nodded. “Would you care to explain?”
“It was an accident Pa. Adam was sitting on the edge of the water trough, looking at his foot, and he just sort of toppled in,” explained Little Joe innocently, his eyes focused on his feet.
As Ben again considered the youngster a frown formed on his face. “Just toppled in!”
Little Joe chanced a look at his father. He wasn’t speaking in that very quiet voice that he used when he was really mad and Joe hoped that was a good sign.
“Well I might have just accidentally pushed against him, just a little bit,” confessed Joe. Ben shook his head. “In that case Joseph I think you should apologise to your brother, and then get back to your chores.”
“Right now Pa?”
“Right now Joseph. Off you go.”
“Yes sir,” said Little Joe with a resigned sigh, knowing that Adam would probably be much harder to face than his father had been. He made his way across the room, stepping around Hop Sing who was still muttering to himself as he mopped the floor, cautiously opened the door and peered out. There was no sign of Adam so he walked out on to the porch looking carefully around, determined to avoid his irate brother for as long as possible. Letting out a relieved sigh, he relaxed deciding that Adam must have gone into the house through the back way to avoid Pa. Joe stepped off the porch and was about to go back to the barn when a vice-like grip took hold of his shoulder.
“You!” said Adam through clenched teeth. At 6’2” and with a muscular build, he towered over his little brother. Despite his desperate situation it was all Little Joe could do not to laugh. Adam had stripped down to just his drawers and Joe thought he looked very comical. His jet-black hair was still plastered down from the water and unbidden curls were beginning to form, and his wet underwear clung to him like a second skin. “I suppose you think that that was very funny don’t you?”
Little Joe decided it best not to answer that question under the present circumstances.
“Well you just come along with me.” Adam transferred his steely grip from Little Joe’s shoulder to his arm and dragged him across the yard towards the water trough. Joe dug his heels into the ground and struggled to get away from Adam’s tight hold, but his brother was far too strong. Adam picked up the struggling boy and flung him over his shoulder, while Joe kicked and wriggled, beating Adam’s back with his fists.
“Let me go Adam,” he yelled. “What’s the matter with you, can’t you take a little joke?”
“Sure I can little brother,” replied Adam. Adam lowered Little Joe down to the ground, then grabbing an arm and a leg, he roughly and unceremoniously dumped his young brother in the trough. Joe spluttered as he tried to get out. “One more time I think,” said Adam with satisfaction as he pushed Joe back under the water with his bare foot. By the time Joe surfaced for the second time, coughing and spluttering even more, Adam was disappearing into the house.
A few days later Adam was the last family member to appear at the breakfast table. Hoss was tucking into a plate piled high with food. Little Joe was paying his breakfast scant attention, while he was mentally going over the spellings he was supposed to have learned for the test at school. The previous evening he had felt very confident about the coming test and had spent only the briefest of time looking at the words. He had somehow forgotten to mention to his father that he was having a test today and so no one had checked that he knew the spellings. However with the cold light of dawn had come uncertainty in Joe’s mind. If he failed the test he would get kept back after school, and it would probably result in a letter to his father too, which to Joe spelled all kinds of problems such as extra homework and extra chores. Once more his father’s voice interrupted his mental revision. “Joseph, eat please, you will be late for school.”
Just at that moment Adam came to the table and Ben’s attention moved from his youngest son to his oldest. Adam was dressed after a fashion. He was barefoot and he hadn’t tucked his shirttail into his pants, he was unshaven, the stubble giving his face a dark shadow, and his hair was tussled. He pulled out his chair and sat down heavily. Ben looked at his usually fastidious son with surprise, and greeted him. “Good morning Adam.”
“Mornin’ Pa.” Adam poured himself some coffee, tasted it, made a face and put his cup down.
“Adam, you look terrible,” said Ben getting straight to the point.
“I feel terrible,” replied Adam.
Ben looked closely at the young man seated opposite to him. Adam’s normally tanned features looked pallid and yet there was an unhealthy flush to his cheeks.
“Are you sick Adam?” asked Little Joe with genuine concern.
Adam looked at his brother with bleary eyes and nodded.
“Adam if you feel so badly perhaps you should go back to bed,” suggested his father.
Adam merely nodded again and closed his eyes.
Ben stood. “Little Joe, Hoss, I think that it’s time you boys were on your way.”
“Sure thing Pa,” said Hoss. “Come on Little Joe.” Hoss was the middle Cartwright brother and at 18 years of age he was already a big man. He was the self-appointed guardian and supporter of both of his brothers. As he passed Adam he patted his brother’s back. “Hope you feel better soon Adam.”
“Yeah, me too Adam,” chimed in Joe.
When they had left, Ben moved down to Adam and felt his son’s forehead checking for fever. Adam pushed his father’s hand away. “Don’t do that,” he said grumpily. Ben sat down in Joe’s chair. “Adam, tell me how you’re feeling?”
Adam’s head ached and felt heavy, his eyes ached, he had whistling noises in his ears and worst of all his throat was sore. “I just told you Pa,” he replied irritably, “I feel terrible.”
“Then go back to bed,” urged Ben, “come on now.”
Wearily Adam got up from his chair and made his way back up to his room, undressed and got back between the sheets. The trouble was that he didn’t feel any better when he was lying down than when he was up. A little while later Ben entered Adam’s room bringing some cool drinking water with him. After he had had a drink Adam apologised to his father for being so offhand.
“That’s all right Adam, but please tell me how you really feel.”
“Don’t look so worried Pa. It’s just a cold, my head is aching and my throat’s a bit sore, that’s all.”
“All right then, you just stay put, and try to get some sleep. Sure you don’t want me to send for the doctor?”
“No Pa, I’ll be fine.”
When Little Joe got back from school Adam was still in bed, and remained so all evening. Joe was concerned for Adam, but at least it meant his father was distracted and hadn’t noticed how much extra homework he had to do for failing his spelling test that morning. Fortunately, Joe hadn’t been kept late and there was no note for his father.
During the night Ben had checked on Adam a number of times. Each time Adam had been awake and restless. By morning Adam could barely speak and refused to drink, just managing to say “Too sore,” when his father tried to make him swallow some water. Ben went downstairs to join his other boys for breakfast.
“Joseph, do you think you could manage to leave a little bit earlier than usual today, so that you will have time to go to Doc Martin’s before school?”
“Sure thing Pa. Is Adam worse?” he asked a worried look on his young face.
“Well just a little, Joe. I think the doctor might have some medicine to help Adam’s throat feel better.”
“Well I’ve finished my breakfast so I can go now.” Joe felt that going for the doctor was an important thing to do and was pleased that his father had given him the responsibility and had not asked Hoss.
“Thank you Joe. Oh and Joe, just ride steadily, this is not a life or death situation. Just tell the doctor that Adam has a very sore throat and a headache and that he’s a little feverish. And don’t dally after you’ve been to see Dr. Martin, I don’t want you to be late for school.”
“Okay Pa, I can do all that,” said Joe eagerly, keen to show his father that he could be trusted to carry out an important errand and not to take advantage of the situation.
Dr. Paul Martin had been the family physician for a long time, and at sometime or another had ministered to all of the Cartwrights. He had arrived at the ranch house just after noon, and now Ben and Paul were in the living room discussing Adam’s condition.
“Well he’s certainly feeling rather sorry for himself, but I don’t blame him, he must be feeling pretty bad. His throat is the main problem; it’s badly infected. He really must drink Ben. It’s very painful for him to swallow I know, but I tried to stress to Adam that he must drink water, little and often is best. Also a warm, soothing drink would be helpful, honey and lemon with a drop of brandy, or something like that. I am sure that Hop Sing will be able to make up something. But he must keep drinking. His temperature will probably go up again tonight. Cool him down as best you can. Really though there is not much that I can do for him, it will just run its course. It will probably be two or three days before he begins to feel better.”
“He’ll be all right though won’t he Paul? I mean this isn’t something serious is it?” Ben hesitated for a moment. “It’s not diphtheria is it?” Ben had known people who had died from diphtheria, and he had been fighting that particular fear all morning.
“No Ben, he’ll be fine. Keep the other two out of his room. One sick son is more than enough I ‘m sure you’ll agree, and Adam’s not going to be feeling much like company just now.”
Ben nodded. “I’ll do that.”
“Well then, stop looking so worried. Adam has a sore throat, he’s in no danger, he will be fine. Ben you fuss over these boys like a mother hen,” joked the doctor.
Ben smiled at last. “Yes your right, of course, he will be fine. Paul have you time to have lunch before you head back to town?”
“Old friend, I thought you would never ask.” Paul Martin was glad to have the opportunity to sample one of Hop Sing’s renowned meals.
Little Joe had been anxious all day, he wanted to get back home and see if Adam was all right. Adam was rarely ill, and Little Joe couldn’t remember him staying in bed for so long. Hoss too had been thinking about Adam, and had decided to finish his work early, and the two younger Cartwright boys arrived home at almost the same time.
“Hi short shanks. How was school?”
“Okay. How’s Adam doing? Did Doc Martin come?”
“I don’t know Little Joe, I only just got back.”
Little Joe bounded up to the house and threw open the big front door. “PA,” he shouted as he took off his hat and coat, dropping his books on the floor.
“Joseph, there’s no need to shout, and please pick up your books.”
“How’s Adam Pa? Did the doctor come?” questioned Little Joe as he returned to the door to retrieve his homework books,
By now Hoss was inside too. “Hi Pa, how’s Adam?”
“Hello Hoss. Adam’s all right. Doctor Martin came Joe, you did a good job son, thank you.”
Little Joe was pleased with his father’s praise.
“Adam has a badly infected throat, and he feels pretty poorly just now, but the doctor says he will be fine in a few days. Meanwhile you two are to stay out of his room.”
Disappointment registered on the faces of both boys. “How come Pa if he’s okay?” questioned Hoss who had planned on going up to see Adam straight away.
“Because those are the doctor’s orders,” answered Ben. “Adam has a bad headache, he can’t talk because his throat is so sore and he just wants to be left alone. Also Dr. Martin doesn’t want either of you coming down with the same infection. So until you hear differently, you both stay out, and keep the noise down too.”
“You’re really sure Adam is going to be all right aren’t you Pa?”
“Yes Joseph, he’s going to be all right. He probably just caught a chill. He will be fine. Now why don’t you go out and take care of Cochise.”
Little Joe headed for the door, but Hoss hesitated. “Hoss, believe me, your brother will be fine. Now go stable your horse.” Hoss nodded and followed his little brother out of the house.
On Saturday morning three days later, Adam suddenly began to feel a whole lot better. The long painful days had been followed by seemingly longer, more painful nights that had been punctuated with fearsome nightmares. But now at last Adam felt like himself again. His headache had gone along with the dreadful ringing sounds in his ears that had almost driven him crazy. His throat was much better and he could speak again, and he had actually felt hungry this morning. After a late breakfast of tea and scrambled eggs, Adam was propped up on pillows reading a new book that he had started just before he became ill. He was contemplating getting up for a while when there was a knock on his door. It opened immediately and Hoss enter with Little Joe following behind. Adam smiled, pleased to have some company.
“Hi Hoss, glad to see you,” greeted Adam, his voice sounding hoarse.
“Hey yourself, Adam. How ya doin’, you feelin’ better?”
“I feel much better,” whispered Adam, “I was just thinking of getting up.”
“Uh uh, Adam; if you don’t want Pa comin’ down on you, best wait for permission.”
Adam thought this was ridiculous, but didn’t say so. He was wondering what Little Joe was doing, he seemed to be hiding behind Hoss.
“What’s that you’ve got hidden behind your back?”
Hoss’ face broke into a toothy grin and he reached behind him to pull Little Joe forward. “You mean this Adam? Just a kid brother,” he said, ruffling the boy’s unruly locks.
“Hi Joe, you okay.”
Joe nodded. “Are you all right now Adam?”
Adam nodded in reply.
“Pa wouldn’t let us come to see ya, would he Hoss.” Little Joe looked up at his brother who shook his head in agreement. “I’m sure sorry you got sick Adam. I really didn’t mean that to happen, honest.”
Adam couldn’t help but smile at the contrite expression on his little brother’s face. “What are you talking about Joe? What has my being ill got to do with you?”
“Well it’s because I pushed you in the water trough, that’s why you got sick,” explained Little Joe.
“Ah, now we have it, true confessions. You did push me in,” whispered Adam with mock severity, which made Little Joe look even more troubled.
“Hoss would you pass me that glass of water please.” Talking had made Adam’s throat feel dry and sore again. After taking a drink, Adam beckoned Little Joe to the side of the bed. “Sit here Joe,” he said patting the bed. “Now,” he continued after Joe was settled, “explain why you think dumping me in the water trough made me ill?”
“Because Pa said you must have got a chill,” answered Joe.
“Mmm,” mused Adam. “Joe, tell me have you been ill too?”
“No.” Joe shook his head and looked puzzled.
Adam continued in a croaky whisper. “Well if my memory serves me correctly, I seem to recall that I wasn’t the only one to get a ducking, you got one too, in fact you got a double ducking! Served you right too!” Joe flashed a huge smile at Adam, remembering the antics of that afternoon. “So it seems to me that if the soaking was the cause of my sore throat, then you would have been ill too.” Adam raised his eyebrows and gave his young brother a questioning look.
“I never thought of that Adam, I guess you’re right.”
“Of course I’m right Little Joe, I always am,” said Adam folding his arms across his chest, a smile playing on his lips.
“You are not,” refuted his young brother.
Adam ignored Joe’s remark. “So what have you two been up to these past few days then,” he enquired.
Hoss moved round and sat on the other side of Adam’s bed. “Well Adam, while you have been lazing around in bed me and Little Joe have had to do your chores as well as our own, and take care of all the ranch work,” moaned Hoss in a hard done by tone.
“Yeah, and I’ve had to go to school as well,” added Little Joe with a pained look, “and I’ve had to….” Just as Little Joe began to recite a catalogue of grievances, Ben opened the door.
“Come on you two, long enough.”
“Aw Pa, we only just came up here,” whined Little Joe.
“Come on. If Adam can stand it you can come back later.”
“Is that okay Adam,” asked Little Joe hopefully.
“Sure, see you later Little Joe.”
Hoss had already moved towards the door. Little Joe jumped off the bed and followed him out of the room.
“You feeling all right son?” asked Ben when the two had left.
“I’m fine Pa. Perhaps you could just pass me some water, then I might just have forty winks.”
During the afternoon Little Joe took a bowl of soup up to his brother. He sat in a chair waiting for Adam to finish his meal, but before long he became restless and began to prowl around the room, looking and poking at things. He strummed the strings on the guitar which was propped up against the wall, and then opened the pencil box on Adam’s desk and began to rummage through the contents.
“Don’t touch things Joe, come and sit down will you.” Adam immediately regretted his testy tone. He hadn’t meant to sound so bad tempered. Joe plonked himself back in the chair. “I don’t know why you have to be so grumpy Adam,” he complained.
“Sorry Joe. Tell me how are you getting on with that little pony of yours?” asked Adam. He thought asking about Cochise would take the pout off his brother’s face.
“Oh very funny. My little pony happens to be the best horse on this ranch, I’ll tell you.” Joe was indignant at his brother’s description of his beautiful horse. By now Adam had finished his soup and handed the tray to Joe to put on the table. Having done so, Joe came back and sat on Adam’s bed, leaning his back against the foot of the bedstead, hugging his knees to his chest. His countenance changed as he began to speak of Cochise, love and enthusiasm shining on his face. “He runs like the wind Adam, and he’s getting real good with the cattle too, and he can turn on a dime.” In his delight at talking of Cochise he had forgotten to be mad at Adam for calling Cochise a little pony.
“Mmm, you wouldn’t be exaggerating just a little bit would you Joe,” Adam teased.
“Uh uh, you haven’t seen him in a while now Adam. He’s brilliant; he’s the best horse in the whole of Nevada. And, he comes when I whistle him.”
Adam smiled at his young brother’s exuberance, but he couldn’t help teasing. “Of course it would be different if you compared him to a real horse like Sport,” he whispered huskily.
Little Joe got a determined look in his eyes. “Okay Adam, when you’re better we’ll have a race, and I bet you that Cochise can beat Sport any day.” The challenge issued, Joe watched his brother.
“Are you serious Joe,” croaked Adam. “Have you actually looked at Sport lately, compared his size to Cochise? Cochise is just a baby compared to Sport.”
“Just because Sport is a just little bit taller and a little bit older than Cooch doesn’t mean a thing. Besides Sport’s always prancing about, I think he’s far too fidgety,” replied Joe. “You know highly strung horses just aren’t suited for life out here in the west,” he added knowingly.
“Is that so,” said Adam, wondering where his little brother had picked up that piece of wisdom, more than likely from one of the hands. Adam considered for a moment. “All right, little brother, you’re on.”
“Great,” said Joe jumping off the bed. He picked up the tray. “I’d better take these down,” he said heading for the door. He raced downstairs, the dishes wobbling precariously on the tray which he deposited in the kitchen and went straight outside to saddle Cochise.
At dinner that evening the forthcoming race was on Joe’s mind. “Pa, how long do ya think it will be before Adam is better,” he asked.
“Oh, I’m not sure Little Joe, a week or so I expect,” Ben answered.
“Do ya’ think he will be back at work in two weeks then Pa?”
Hoss chortled. “What ya doin’ Little Joe? Working out how much longer ya’ll have do his chores?”
“Oh no Hoss, me and Adam are goin’ to have a race and I was just wondering when we could have it.”
“A race! What kinda race Joe, a runnin’ race?” asked Hoss with interest.
“No, of course not a runnin’ race. A horse race! I’m gonna race Cochise against Adam and Sport. I figure I could put up some logs or a fence or somethin’ to jump over to make it more exciting. Cochise could manage anything like that ya know Hoss. He’s gettin’ real good.” Little Joe was never very good at sitting still at the best of times and now he was squirming in his seat, getting very excited at the thought of the race and how he and Cochise were going to beat Adam and Sport.
Ben’s stern voice broke in. “There’ll be no race.”
Joe looked at his father with disbelief, his smile gone. “Why not, Pa? Adam said it was okay. We’ll do it on a Saturday afternoon.” He had assumed his father was concerned that they would be racing instead of working.
Hoss looked back and forth between his brother and father, his surprise at Ben’s outburst evident in his clear blue eyes.
“There will be no horse race between you and your brother and that’s an end to it. Adam should know better than to encourage such fool ideas. Now eat your dinner. I want to hear no more about it.” Little Joe’s shoulders drooped and he stared at his plate, his high spirits replaced with confusion and dejection. After a few moments Ben spoke again. “And Joseph, if you can’t ride your horse sensibly and safely, then I will take him from you and you will be back to riding your little pony, do you understand?”
Little Joe nodded, his heart suddenly pounding in his chest. He could hardly believe what he had just heard his father say. Tears smarted his eyes. Pa had said he would take Cochise away from him. He just didn’t understand what he had done that was so wrong. Little Joe swallowed hard and blinked away the tears. There was no mistaking his father’s tone, he meant what he said. Joe wanted to ask again why they weren’t allowed to race and what it was he had done that was so naughty, but he didn’t dare. When Little Joe looked across at Hoss, all Hoss could do was shrug his shoulders
Ben had some paperwork to take care of after dinner, and while he sat at his desk he quietly fumed about the proposed horse race. He couldn’t understand Adam encouraging such a foolish and dangerous notion. By the time Ben had finished his work Little Joe had already gone to bed after bidding his father a rather subdued goodnight. Ben decided to go up and speak to Adam about the race, but to his annoyance he found Adam asleep, and he hadn’t the heart to wake his ailing son.
Little Joe woke early the next morning. He was still puzzled over his father’s reaction to the race, and so still in his nightshirt he quietly made his way to Adam’s room. Adam was always a safe harbour for Little Joe when he was sailing in rough water, unless of course it was Adam that he was in trouble with. “Adam, are you awake?” he whispered loudly in his brother’s ear.
Adam groaned. “Well I am now little brother. What’s the matter with you?” Adam yawned and pulled the bed covers closer.
“Adam, Pa got awful mad at dinner last night, and I don’t understand why. Hoss doesn’t know why either.”
Adam opened his eyes and regarded his brother. “Well one of you must have done something you shouldn’t have?” said Adam.
“No, we didn’t.” Joe looked perplexed, and he wrapped his arms around himself as he began to shiver in the cool morning air.
Adam held up the bedcovers. “Come on, get in before you freeze to death.” Joe gratefully snuggled into the warmth of Adam’s bed pulling the covers up to his chin. “Maybe something happened on the ranch yesterday that made Pa mad then,” suggested Adam.
Little Joe thought for a moment then shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Well there must be something; Pa doesn’t get mad for no reason. Why don’t you just ask him?”
Little Joe looked horrified at the suggestion. “Oh Adam, I can’t do that, you don’t know what he said.”
“Oh! What did he say?”
“Well it was right after I told Hoss about the race. Pa got real mad and said we couldn’t have a race and that you should have known better. I wanted to ask him why Adam, but he was just too mad.” Joe took a deep breath and then added, “Adam, he even said he would take Cochise way from me.” Joe’s voice was tremulous as he thought about losing Cochise.
Adam sighed. “Joe, why didn’t you say it was about the race to begin with instead of us having to play question and answer games?”
“Well I sure don’t know why a race would make him so angry, there’s nothing wrong in having a race is there Adam? And why would he take Cochise from me Adam? Pa is so mean!”
“Pa’s not mean, Joe. He must have a good reason for not allowing the race.” Adam was racking his brain, trying to come up with a valid motive as to why his father wouldn’t want them to race.
“You’re wrong Adam, he’s just being mean. How could he even think about taking Cochise away?”
“Well Joe, perhaps Pa’s worried that you might get hurt.”
“That’s just stupid.” The more he thought about the situation the more disgruntled Little Joe became. “Adam, do you think he would really take Cochise?”
Little Joe looked so forlorn that Adam’s heart went out to him. “I may have an idea about what the problem might be,” he said.
Little Joe propped himself up on his elbow and looked intently at his brother.
“Well I was just wondering if maybe this is all to do with your Ma.” Little Joe frowned. It was obvious that he couldn’t see connection between his mother, and his father not allowing them to race and threatening to take away his beloved Cochise. “Joe, tell me do you remember anything about your mother?
“Sure I do Adam.” Then after a moment he added, “Well maybe just what you and Pa told me I think.” Joe liked to believe that he could remember his mother but although he tried very hard he couldn’t really, his memories were very vague.
“Well Joe, she was a lot like you. She was very lively and happy, and she loved to do exciting things, things like riding her horse too fast. I remember Pa telling her a few times that she should slow down, but she just laughed and told him she was a good rider, which she was, and that he worried too much. But one day she did have an accident Joe, you know that. She fell from her horse and died. Pa was heartbroken; he could hardly bear to be without her.” Adam’s voice had grown quiet, his expression full of sadness. Little Joe thought about his mother. He pictured her the way she looked in the photograph on his Pa’s desk. Of course he knew how his mother had died and his father had told him lots of things about her. How pretty she was, how she would laugh and sing and especially how much she loved her little boy. But Pa had never spoken of the accident to Little Joe; it had been Adam who had told him about that. Although he had been five years old when it happened he didn’t feel the pain the way that his father and brothers did. Adam said that it was God’s way of protecting little children from too much hurt. But he knew that he missed her and he felt sad whenever he thought about her.
Joe lay back down on the pillows and frowned again as he considered Adam’s words. “So Pa thinks that if we have a race that we’re goin’ to fall off our horses and die too?” Joe’s question brought Adam’s mind back to the present and he nodded. Joe thought for a moment. “But Adam we ride our horses all the time. Why is a race any different?”
“I don’t know Joe, I guess the idea just upset Pa, and it’s getting close to the anniversary if your ma’s death too. I suppose it’s on Pa’s mind at the moment.”
Little Joe perked up. “We could do it in secret Adam. Pa would never know.”
“Oh no! Pa would be sure to find out, and besides it would be outright disobedience and how mad do you think that would make Pa?”
Joe was disappointed. “I suppose so. I was really looking forward to that race though Adam, and so was Cochise. We talked about it; I just know he could have won.”
“For goodness sake, Joe, you act as though that horse of yours was a person!”
“Well he almost is Adam; he understands everything I say to him, he really does.”
“Yeah, okay. Look Joe, just don’t say anything else about the race, especially to Pa, right? Maybe when he’s in a better frame of mind I can ask him again.”
“Oh will you Adam, I’m sure he’ll agree if you ask him, don’t you think so?”
“I doubt it Joe but I’ll try, but in the meantime you just forget all about it.”
“All right Adam. I gotta’ go, see ya Adam.” Joe bounced out of the bed and ran back to his own room to get dressed, feeling much brighter after his talk with his big brother. Little Joe had every confidence in his oldest brother, he felt certain that Adam would be able to get their father to agree to the race. As he dressed Joe thought the situation through very carefully. Adam was a grown up so that definitely helped. Also he had been to the university and he knew lots of big words. Sometimes when Adam and Pa discussed things in the evening Joe really couldn’t follow the conversation at all, but Pa always seemed to be impressed with Adam, even if they didn’t agree. And that was another thing, Joe reasoned to himself. Adam seemed to be able to argue with Pa without getting into trouble. That definitely was a good thing. Oh yes, he was absolutely certain that if anyone could get Pa to change his mind, then big brother Adam was the one to do it.
After Joe had gone Adam too puzzled over his father’s reaction to the suggested race. Little Joe was right. They rode their horses every day, what difference was a race. It wasn’t as though Marie had been racing; she had been in the yard. He was surprised too at how the conversation with his little brother had evoked all those long buried emotions. His feelings for his own mother did not have quite the same potency because he had never known her, but he knew how his father still grieved for her. Inger had been his beloved mother and he had lost her. Then, though he had tried not to, he had grown to love Marie. But she had done exactly what his other two mothers had done. Deserted him, died and left him to deal with unbearable loss. He had heard it said that children soon get over a loss; it had been that way for Little Joe, and possibly Hoss too he thought. But no matter how deep he buried it his own pain never went away. He felt hot tears stinging his eyes, and berated himself for wallowing in self-pity. He brought his mind back to the present and considered Joe’s problem. After what Joe had told him he expected that his father would broach the subject of the race, and so he decided to wait and see what his Pa had to say.
At breakfast time Ben was considerably calmer. Little Joe had obviously accepted his father’s decision as was evident by his happy frame of mind, and he had not spoken of the race again. As far as Ben was concerned the matter was over. Little Joe, however, had not forgot the race, but he followed Adam’s instructions and kept silent about it. Unbeknown to his father, he began to secretly train Cochise, urging him to run fast and straight. Little Joe rode part of the way home from school with friends, but once they had all gone their separate ways and he was alone, he would practice. Practice makes perfect, how many times had he heard that. He would gallop Cochise as fast as he could for about half a mile, then slow down and walk his horse for a while, then they would be off again. He was careful to let Cochise cool down before arriving home and would ride into the yard at an easy pace. Had Ben been aware that his son was careering home each afternoon, Little Joe would have been in for a sharp reprimand. Ben was constantly telling his youngest son that he must ride sensibly, for his horse’s sake as well as his own. Ben felt that concern for Cochise would have a greater effect on the way Little Joe rode than would concern for his own safety. Little Joe had remembered what Adam had said about racing in secret, but he didn’t consider what he was doing to be racing. After all to run a race you needed to have another competitor and Joe and Cochise were alone. Thus, after an initial pang of guilt, Joe reassured himself and kept a clear conscience. He just knew that Cochise could beat Sport. Although his growing excitement made it very difficult, Little Joe followed Adam’s advice and didn’t mention the race again to his Pa. Joe did however confide in Hoss that he had high hopes that Adam would be able to fix things with their father. The two younger Cartwright brothers were in the barn taking care of the chores.
“Hoss, do you want to help me get Cochise ready for the race? You could time us, see how fast we can run?” asked Joe hopefully.
“Little Joe, don’t you never learn. Pa said no race, and little brother you should know by now that when Pa uses that tone, then nothin’, not even wild horses, can move ’im.”
“But I just told ya Hoss, Adam’s gonna fix it!”
“Joe, Pa ain’t gonna change his mind just ’cos Adam asks,” he said shaking his head, sure that no good would come from pursuing the topic with their father.
“Yes he will, you’ll see,” said Joe his confidence in Adam unshaken.
That evening before going to bed, Hoss went to see Adam for a while. He was pleased to see his brother looking so much better. After enquiring how Adam was feeling, and talking about what he been up to, he decided to bring up the subject of the banned horse race.
“Adam, what you been sayin’ to Little Joe about this race. You know don’t ya that Pa said there wasn’t to be any race. He meant it Adam. He had that look; you know the one, when you know it’s just no use in arguin’ with him.”
Adam gave a slight grimace. “All I said was that if I could catch Pa in a good mood, I’d ask again.”
Hoss shook his head. “You shouldn’t have done that Adam. Pa ain’t gonna change his mind and Little Joe’s gettin’ himself all wound up about beatin’ you in this dadblamed race.”
“I told Joe to forget about it. He hasn’t said anything else to Pa has he?”
“No, I don’t think so, but he asked me to help him practice,” said Hoss.
Adam raised his eyebrows. “Practice! Sounds like little brother’s taking this all very seriously!”
“Yeah, an’ he’s gonna be mighty disappointed when it doesn’t come off. So I think it’s up to you to tell him again to forget it. It ain’t fair on the little fella,” said Hoss, ever concerned for his little brother.
“Mmm, well I’ll see what Pa says first.” Adam was beginning to relish the challenge to see if he could change his father’s mind almost as much as Little Joe was relishing beating his brother in the race.
Once Adam’s recovery had begun it was speedy, and to Ben’s surprise Adam was back at work within a few days. One morning after Hoss and Little Joe had left, Ben and Adam were in the study going over a lumber contract. Ben was pleased that they had won the contract; it meant steady work at the mill, and a decent income that would stand them in good stead over the winter. He was also glad of Adam’s prowess with these legal documents, but above all he was enjoying his son’s company. Adam too was happy to be back at work and they were now relaxing with a cup of coffee and some cookies courtesy of Hop Sing, served at Ben’s large desk in the study.
“Pa, can I ask you something?”
“Why yes Adam. Is there something we have overlooked here?” Ben queried picking up the contract and beginning to read it through again.
“No Pa, it’s not about the contract. Like I said, that looks fine to me.”
“Oh, what about then?”
“Well, now don’t get mad Pa,” cautioned Adam.
Ben put down the piece of paper and leaned back in his chair, sipped his coffee and looked at Adam. “Well?”
“Well, I just wanted to ask you about this race Joe and I want to have.”
Ben’s face clouded over. “Oh that. Hmmph. Well I told your brother and now I’m telling you, there will be no race.”
“Yes Pa, I know that’s what you said. What I’d like to know is why not?”
“Adam, I’m your father. I don’t have to explain myself to you,” answered Ben angrily, noisily putting his cup down on its saucer.
“But it’s just a bit of fun; I don’t understand why you’re so against it. What are your objections? I just want to know that’s all, no need to get upset about it.”
Ben calmed himself. “I am not upset,” he said more quietly. “Adam you’re a grown man, I can’t prevent you from doing anything once your mind is made up, but Joseph is just a little boy. I will not allow him to put himself in danger by running some fool race with you, jumping that horse of his over goodness knows what kind of obstacles he’s planning to erect. That horse is very young and barely trained. When I agreed to allow Joseph to ride him, it was on the understanding that he was sensible and careful. To be truthful Adam, I am somewhat surprised and disappointed that you would be party to such a thing. You should be helping him to train his horse, not encouraging him to be reckless.”
Adam smiled to himself and shook his head.
“Oh, I see. So you find this amusing do you?” said his father in a cutting tone.
“No of course I don’t. Joe has obviously embellished the plan since he spoke to me about it. No jumps Pa, I promise.” Ben was shaking his head, still against the idea. “Look,” Adam tried to explain, “I was teasing Little Joe about Cochise and he challenged me to a race. It’s just for fun. Come on Pa, we race all the time!”
“Well you shouldn’t, you should know better,” admonished Ben, “I’m going to have to speak to your brothers about this.”
Adam rolled his eyes, and sighed. Even though he suspected the reason for it, he still felt that his father was being over-protective.
“Joe said that you had threatened to take Cochise away from him.”
Ben sighed. “Yes, maybe I shouldn’t have said that, I over reacted. Adam, I don’t think I could bear it if anything happened to any of you boys. And Little Joe, well…”
“He reminds you so much of Marie that you worry that he will have an accident just like she did, is that it?” Adam spoke quietly and watched his father with gentle understanding in his eyes.
“Yes, I suppose so. And you remember there was that accident with little Grace Hudson not so long ago. Broke her neck Adam, just like Marie.”
“Oh Pa, she was just a little tot, and her brother put her up on a horse she couldn’t handle. Cochise is coming along just fine and Joe handles him really well. Come on Pa, give credit where it’s due. Little Joe is a very good rider. He’s a far better horseman that I was at his age.”
Ben smiled slightly and sighed deeply. “Yes, I know and that’s what worries me. He’s far too confident. That boy doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything, or to foresee danger.”
Adam was quiet for a moment then decided to take a chance and go for it. “You know when we have this race, I have a sneaky feeling he just might beat me!” Adam looked sidelong at his father through half closed eyes to catch the older man’s reaction, his own expression as inscrutable as ever.
“I don’t remember saying there was going to be a race,” said Ben quietly.
At this Adam raised his eyebrows and gave his father a winning smile, a rare sight indeed, and one that Ben found hard to resist.
Ben considered for a moment longer. He knew he was being unreasonable. He had an irrational fear and was punishing his sons for it, but he knew that Little Joe was a risk taker and it frightened him. But he could feel himself wavering. “No jumps!” he said at last.
“No jumps,” agreed Adam solemnly, knowing that any show of victory could lose this for him.
Ben thought for a long moment. “I mean it Adam, you impress that on your young brother or I really will take Cochise away from him.” To emphasise his point Ben wagged his index finger under Adam’s nose.
“Thanks Pa. Now what about this other lumber deal?” Adam hoped that directing his father back to business would prevent him from having second thoughts.
When Little Joe arrived home from school Adam was waiting for him in the barn. “Hey little buddy, how was school?” he asked.
“Hi Adam. Oh it was mostly boring as usual,” answered Joe has he began to unsaddle Cochise.
“You been practising at all for the race?” Adam let the question slip out casually.
Joe stopped what he was doing and looked at his older brother. A smile began to spread over his face. “You did it didn’t you Adam! You got Pa to change his mind. Yippee!! Adam you’re the best, I knew you could do it.” Joe was jumping up and down with excitement. Adam’s dimpled smile lit up his face and his eyes twinkled as his young brother leapt on to his back, unable to contain his delight. Adam grabbed the youngster and hauled him over his shoulder setting the boy on his feet in front of him and ruffling his hair.
“Yes well I was pretty good, even if I do say so myself,” said Adam just a little smugly. “It’s a talent you see. You’ve got to get him in just the right mood, then work him just right. Actually it was much easier than I had anticipated,” he boasted.
“Is that so!” Ben had come into the barn and had heard Adam break the news to Joe.
Adam coloured a little. “Oh, Hello Pa,” he said. “Umm, I was just kidding,” he said giving Joe a wink.
“Mmm, well I haven’t heard you tell your brother about the conditions.”
“Yes, well I was just getting round to that part Pa. Joe, there are to be no jumps. You understand? I agreed that with Pa.”
“Oh that’s okay, I promise.” Little Joe turned to his father. “Thanks Pa.” His face was aglow with happiness. He went back over to Cochise and patted his neck. “Did you hear that Cochise, now we can show Adam and Sport just how good we are.”
Ben left the barn wondering just how these two boys had managed to get him to do a complete turnaround.
When their father had left Adam counselled Joe. “Now listen to me Joe. Just make sure you keep in Pa’s good books. Do all your chores, and your homework, and behave at school. Don’t give him any cause to get mad at you do you hear, or he’ll change his mind again. And what was all that about jumps little brother?”
“I thought it would make it more exciting Adam.”
“Well Pa sure doesn’t like that idea, and he’s right too, so don’t you go jumping over anything, anytime, do you hear. That is dangerous. Don’t forget Joe he didn’t lift the threat of taking Cochise away!”
That thought sobered Joe considerably and he nodded. “I’ll be on my best behaviour,” he said seriously, “and I promise no jumping over anything at all.” Joe began grooming Cochise. “Adam, when are we gonna to do it then.” Now that Pa had agreed he was anxious to set a time and date.
“Well, what about Sunday afternoon, if you think you can be ready by then,” said Adam
“Oh, we’re ready, aren’t we Cochise?”
“All right then, Sunday it is.” Adam stretched out his hand and the brothers solemnly shook hands, sealing the pact in the time-honoured tradition.
Little Joe broke the good news to Hoss at dinner that evening. He had almost said “I told ya so,” but stopped himself just in time, realising that his Pa could just as easily change his mind again. He would brag to Hoss about Adam’s powers of persuasion later when they were alone.
“Hey Joe that’s great.” Hoss glanced at his father, more than a little surprised that he had changed his mind. “Do you really think you can beat ol’ Adam here?”
“Sure can,” answered Joe confidently.
“You know Adam, I think that maybe he can at that,” observed Hoss. Adam just shook his head.
When the conversation turned to other subjects, Little Joe could think only of the forthcoming race. He was disappointed that there weren’t to be any jumps, but then considered that may be that wasn’t such a bad thing after all seeing as how Sport was a little bigger than Cochise and Adam had probably taught him to jump too. But on the flat he just knew he could beat Adam. Then he got another wonderful idea. When there was a lull in the conversation he decided to test it out.
“I’ve been thinking about the race on Sunday,” he announced, “and I’ve had a really good idea.”
“Little Joe, you sure do have a one track mind,” said Hoss.
Ben’s apprehension about what was coming next was obvious, and Adam looked on with amusement.
“Well let’s have it then,” said Ben reluctantly
“We could have a family race Pa. You and Hoss could race too, then we’d really know who had the best horse.” Joe’s green eyes were shining at the thought.
Adam grinned at Joe’s suggestion. “Yeah Pa, and we could sell tickets,” he added mischievously.
“Hey, now that’s an idea,” started Little Joe excitedly.
“ADAM!” Ben sent Adam a withering look which had absolutely no effect on his firstborn who had given his young brother an encouraging nod. Ben gave up on Adam and turned to his youngest son. “Joseph I will not be joining in your race and you most certainly will not be selling tickets.” He was almost certain that Joe had taken Adam’s suggestion seriously, and in the fleeting moments since Adam had spoken he had had visions of his young son skipping school so that he could peddle tickets to the miners who inhabited the saloons in Virginia City.
Little Joe wore a downcast look. “Don’t you think it’s a good idea Pa?”
“No, I do not. You will have the race as we discussed or you will not have it at all, understood.”
“Yes sir. I expect you and Buck are too old anyway,” said Joe with a pout, deciding that his father really didn’t know how to have fun. Ben’s face was a picture of indignation, Hoss couldn’t quite believe what his little brother had just said, and Adam grinned at his brother’s audacity and gave him a wink, which made Little Joe feel much better. At least he could race Adam and he just wished Sunday would hurry up and come.
On Saturday afternoon Adam was in the yard. He had tethered Sport to the corral rail and was grooming him. Little Joe came over and climbed up to sit on the top rail of the fence.
“What ya doin’, giving Sport some last minute advice,” giggled Little Joe.
“Don’t you be so cocky youngster, you haven’t won this race yet you know.”
“Adam, I was thinkin’.”
“You’re doing a awful lot of thinking these days Little Joe. I hope you’re giving as much deliberation to your schoolwork,” interrupted Adam.
Little Joe frowned. Sometimes Adam was just like Pa. “I’m being serious Adam,” retorted Joe
“So am I,” his older brother answered.
Joe frowned even more deeply and sighed.
“All right, what have you been thinking then?”
“How about us having a bet, just to make the race even more interesting?”
Adam considered for a moment, giving Joe a searching look. “Depends,” he said.
“On what you’ve got to put up as a stake,” replied Adam. “I thought I heard you complaining to Hoss that you didn’t have any money.”
“No I don’t, but I wasn’t thinking of money,” answered Joe.
“Chores! If you win I do yours for a week and if I win you do my chores for a week.”
Adam didn’t answer immediately.
“What’s the matter Adam, stakes too high, scared your gonna lose,” teased Little Joe,
“Oh all right, one week’s chores. In fact make that two weeks. I just hope you’re up to doing double chores for two weeks little brother!”
Little Joe grinned cheekily. “Nope, I’ll be having two weeks off, can’t wait!” He jumped down from his perch and went back to the house whistling as he went, wondering if he shouldn’t have upped the stake to four weeks. Adam shook his head and smiled to himself as he watched him go.
At last Sunday arrived. To Joe’s dismay Ben had insisted that they all go to church. Joe had begun to complain but after a warning look from Adam he had kept quiet. It was the longest sermon he could ever remember having to sit through, and then Pa dawdled along talking with people he could easily speak to on any other day. While waiting for his father and brothers, Little Joe told Dr. Martin about the race he and Adam were going to have that afternoon. The doctor managed look horrified and warned Little Joe to be careful. He really didn’t fancy having to drive out to the Ponderosa at breakneck speed to be setting someone’s broken bones, he said with a laugh. Little Joe couldn’t see anything funny and he wondered at the strange sense of humour grownups had, and why they always expected the worst. They never seemed to want to have any fun and excitement.
At long last the race time arrived. It was to be held in the home meadow where the land was flat and even, the venue having been Ben’s decision. It was to be a short race to test speed rather than endurance. They would run for about 700 yards to the old oak tree, ride around the tree, and back to the start where Hoss and Hop Sing would hold a rope aloft as the finishing tape. When Little Joe had first told Hop Sing about the race Hop Sing had scolded the boy, saying he would make his father angry. Little Joe had soon managed to sweet talk the man round, and Hop Sing was pleased when Joe had asked him to act in an official capacity. First rider and horse to cross the finishing line would be the winner. Ben was to be the judge, and the judge’s decision was final. Although he had been forbidden to sell tickets, Little Joe had managed to inform most of the ranch hands about the race. The contest provided a welcome diversion on a Sunday afternoon and there was a good crowd of men gathered to watch the Cartwright boys battle it out. There was lots of easy banter on the best way to win a race, opinions on which was the better horse or rider, and tall tales told of other horse races. There was a holiday mood on the Ponderosa on the day the of “Great Ponderosa Horse Race” as Little Joe had taken the calling the contest.
At last the time had come and the two brothers lined up ready to go, anxious for Hoss to fire his gun as the starting signal. Little Joe was crouched forward in his saddle. He had seen a picture of a real jockey riding this way and he had been practising the technique, figuring that it would help him to ride faster. Cochise seemed to sense Joe’s excitement and was rarin’ to go. Adam was taking the whole thing a lot more seriously than he had originally intended and wore a determined look on his face. Sport was playing up, prancing nervously and tossing his head, just as Joe had predicted, sensing that something was about to happen. The tension mounted as they waited and then Hoss fired his gun and they were off. Little Joe had the best start and he urged Cochise on, keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the big oak tree ahead. He felt exhilarated as the wind whipped at his face. Despite his late start, Adam was gaining on his brother and Joe could sense Sport’s head alongside him. The minds of the two riders’ were now focused on the race; all other thoughts were banished. The only sounds they heard were the dull thuds of the horses’ hooves as they pounded on the meadow, and the loud thumping of their own hearts. Once Sport was galloping he needed little urging from his rider and as the boys reached the tree they were abreast. Little Joe took the tree on the inside forcing Adam into taking a wider turn, and so falling behind slightly. Once they were on the home straight both boys urged their horses on, Little Joe shouting to Cochise “Come on, come on”. For a while they were neck and neck and then, just when it seemed that Adam would overtake Little Joe, Cochise seemed to find new strength and the little horse surged forward again. Adam began to gain ground again, but too late. Little Joe and Cochise rode through the finishing line first, the sound of the cheering audience ringing in Joe’s ears. The two boys slowed down their steeds and walked them back to where Ben and Hoss were waiting, both horses and riders breathing hard.
“Well done Joseph, you did it,” congratulated Ben slapping Little Joe on the back as he jumped down. In spite of himself Ben had enjoyed the race, although he was unsure which son he was shouting for when he joined Hoss in cheering them along. “Vely good ride Li’l Joe,” said Hop Sing feeling very proud of his little boy. Adam dismounted and both boys patted their mounts and gratefully accepted the drinks offered to them. Ben put a consoling arm around Adam’s shoulders. “Bad luck Adam. Just pipped at the post, eh!” Adam gave his father a wry grin, then shook Joe’s hand and slapped him on the back.
“Well done Joe, I guess you beat me this time. Another few yards though and I would have had you!”
“Thanks Adam.” Joe couldn’t suppress his grin. “Never mind though, you did come second,” he commiserated with an infectious giggle. Adam couldn’t help but laugh along with him. The men from the ranch gathered round, some congratulating Little Joe, telling him what a fine ride he’d had, and praising Cochise. Others were giving Adam black looks asking how come Adam Cartwright couldn’t beat his kid brother, and claiming that Adam had let his baby brother win. The Boss didn’t know it but bets had been placed and once back in the privacy of the bunkhouse hard earned cash would be changing hands. It had been the best Sunday afternoon the men had had in a long while. Joe revelled in the glory. He was a winner and it felt good.
As the men began to drift back to the yard, Adam realised that thanks to Joe’s publicity campaign, it would be quite sometime before he was allowed to forget that his 12 year old brother had bested him. And then there was the matter of the chores. Prior to the start of the race Adam had confided in his father details of the bet that he and Joe had going, and had demanded that as judge he was to give no favours to his youngest son. Ben had been indignant that Adam had even suggested such a thing, and had assured him that he would be completely impartial.
As the family made their way back home, leading the two horses, Ben put his arm around his young son’s shoulders. “Well Little Joe, it looks like you will have an easy couple of weeks ahead of you with Adam doing your chores.”
“Four weeks actually Pa,” Joe answered.
“Oh no little brother, the bet was for two weeks,” corrected Adam quickly.
“Oh yes I know Adam, but I bet with Hoss too. He bet two weeks’ chores that you would win,” said Joe triumphantly. Adam and Ben looked across at Hoss who by now was glaring at Adam.
“Dadburnit Adam, I really thought you could beat a 12 year old kid,” he said miserably.
“Pa?” said Joe, “do you fancy going fishing?”
“Why Joseph, I think that is a splendid idea. What about after school tomorrow, you don’t have anything else to do then do you?”
“Nope, not a thing Pa,” said Joe happily as he put his arm around Cochise’s neck.
Adam and Hoss followed along behind. “Well Hoss, it would seem our little brother has got the better of both of us,” said Adam ruefully.
“Yeah,” agreed Hoss, “and wouldn’t you just know it, it’s just come round to Joe’s turn to replenish the wood pile.” Hoss shook his head sorrowfully and looked at his older brother. “Ya know you’re never gonna hear the end of this don’t ya!” Adam didn’t answer. He knew only too well that Little Joe would milk this for months to come, maybe even years!