Word Count: 4300
The four Cartwrights were sitting at the table enjoying their New Year’s Day lunch. Hop Sing had made corned beef and cabbage against his will. Ben had insisted the meal would bring them luck in the New Year. Believing oranges to bring luck, Hop Sing would have preferred to make duck al’orange.
Dabbing his mouth with his napkin, Ben cleared his throat and asked his sons, “What resolutions have you made for this year?”
All three boys looked at each other before looking at their father. They had had such a great time welcoming the New Year that they had forgotten about resolutions. New Year’s Eve was the only time that Little Joe was allowed to consume alcohol. Ben had chilled a bottle of fine champagne all day and then popped the cork at midnight. Hoss and Adam had gotten a head start on welcoming the year at the Bucket of Blood in Virginia City.
“I guess I’ll stick with the one I made last year,” answered Little Joe.
“Remind me what that was,” said Ben.
“Um, you know, not causing trouble.”
“I think you’re confusing what you gave up for Lent with what you resolved to do,” remarked Adam.
“Ha, ha,” said Joe sarcastically.
“As I recall,” said Ben, “your resolution last year was to be a better student. Somehow, though, you managed to come home with fifteen notes from Miss Jones in regard to your conduct.”
“Well, I’ll do that one again,” said Joe.
“Whatcha mean?” asked Hoss. “You gonna be a better student or come home with more notes?”
Both Adam and Hoss burst into a fit of laughter. Ben had to work hard to not join in. Joe could be very sensitive about school.
“What about you, Hoss?” asked Ben.
“I ain’t makin’ any fer this year,” Hoss answered. “If I resolve to eat less, I’ll end up breakin’ it,” he said while reaching for the platter of biscuits.
“As I recall,” reminded Ben, “last year you resolved to help Hop Sing with his vegetable garden so you’d have a greater appreciation for the work that goes into putting food on the table.”
“Well, you certainly help Hop Sing by eating enough for three people,” said Adam. He and Joe started laughing. Ben cracked a smile at that jibe. Hoss certainly had the appetite of three men but he did the work of five men around the ranch.
“What do you resolve, then, Smarty Pants?” Hoss asked Adam. Joe leaned forward expectantly. He knew Old Bossy Boots would probably resolve to ride him harder about chores.
“Yes, Adam, what’s your resolution?” Ben asked.
“I resolve to work harder this year to keep this ranch operating.” Adam then speared another piece of cabbage with his fork.
“Well, that’s a fine resolution, Adam. You two,” Ben said, looking from Hoss to Joe, “would do well to emulate your brother.”
“You’re like one of them Puritans we read about in school,” said Joe. “Do ya really think that lazy hands are the devil’s business?”
“That’s idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” said Adam. “I can’t help it if I inherited that New England work ethic from my parents.”
“Pa ain’t like that,” said Joe, cutting up a piece of corned beef.
“Of course I am,” answered Ben. “How do you think this house got built? Or the barn? Why do you think our cattle and timber operations are so successful?” Ben tapped a finger against the side of his head and said, “Yankee ingenuity built all of this. Of course, Adam and Hoss helped some.”
“What do you mean ‘some’?” asked Adam. “I remember helping you chop down trees and planting grass for the cattle. Hoss helped a lot, too.”
“You boys certainly helped quite a bit, but it was my vision of what this land could be that’s made the Ponderosa so successful.”
“I’m glad I wasn’t around then,” said Joe with a mouth full of corned beef.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full, Joseph,” reprimanded Ben.
“I doubt Pa could’ve kept an eye on you and built anything around here,” said Adam with a snort.
“I wasn’t that bad,” said Joe with a look of disbelief.
“Your middle name shoulda been Trouble instead of Francis,” said Hoss.
“It’s a good thing I had your mother and Hop Sing to help mind you,” said Ben. “I’d probably be completely bald today instead of gray if I hadn’t had their help.”
“When have I not been well-behaved?” asked Joe innocently.
“How about when you drew pictures all over the figures in Pa’s ledger?” asked Adam.
“Or the time ya put some apples in the oven to see if they’d turn into apple pies?” added Hoss. “Hop Sing shore was mad to find those apples melted all over that night’s supper.”
“I was worried about losing a business deal when your mother and I had a guest come for supper and you came downstairs in your mother’s chemise, reeking of her perfume and my cologne,” said Ben.
Adam and Hoss busted out laughing, remembering the stink of the house and Little Joe clad in nothing but the chemise.
“I never did that!” said Joe, green eyes flashing.
“You most certainly did, young man,” said Ben. “Your mother was so relieved that your fascination with her undergarments was short-lived.”
Joe blushed scarlet as Adam and Hoss shook with laughter.
“Well then, I’m gonna work really hard to stay outta trouble this year,” said Joe.
Hoss looked at Adam and said “Wanna bet?”
“Bet what?” asked Adam, drying the tears in his eyes with his napkin.
“On how long Lil Joe can go without causin’ any trouble,” said Hoss.
“Ya don’t hafta bet,” said Joe, “I ain’t gonna cause no trouble.”
“The bet is that Lil Joe cain’t keep this new resolution of his for more’n two days. Loser shovels snow for three months.”
“You’re on,” said Adam. He and Hoss shook hands, sealing the deal.
“I can’t believe that you think I can’t stay outta trouble, Hoss,” said Joe with a pout. “Adam has more confidence in me than you.”
“That’s because Adam was away at college when you really developed your trouble-makin’ skills. He don’t know what all yer capable of.”
“I hope we have a late spring then so you have mounds of snow to shovel,” said Joe to Hoss.
“Now boys, don’t let this get out of hand,” warned Ben. “I admire that Joseph really wants to keep this resolution. Hoss, don’t let me catch you trying to make Joseph break it. Do you understand me?”
“Yes Sir,” answered Hoss.
After finishing their dinner, they retired to the big room. Joe and Hoss began a game of checkers while Ben and Adam sat in their chairs. Adam picked up his dog-eared copy of Moby Dick. The book brought memories of Boston back for Adam—the smell of the salty Atlantic, the ships in the harbor, the sailors out on the town between voyages. Out of the corner of his eye, Adam saw Hoss trying to remove one of his captured checkers from Joe’s growing pile.
“Better keep an eye on that pile of Hoss’ checkers,” warned Adam.
Joe looked at the pile and then at the board. Unfortunately for Hoss, he had a face that registered guilt easily. “I know what you’re tryin’ to do but it ain’t gonna work” said Joe.
“Hoss, behave yourself,” said Ben sternly.
A few seconds later, Joe yelled out “I win!” as he jumped the rest of Hoss’ checkers. “And I didn’t even hafta cheat!” he yelled triumphantly.
“Hmph,” was Hoss’ only response. He knew he was going to have to help Joe along in getting into trouble. If he could get Joe to do something that would get the boy into big trouble, Adam would be shoveling lots of snow for months to come. He was going to have to think hard.
The next morning, Adam and Hoss were in the barn doing chores. Joe, having slept late, was at the table eating breakfast.
“I jest know Lil Joe ain’t gonna be able to keep that resolution of his,” said Hoss with confidence.
“Don’t try to tempt him, Hoss,” cautioned Adam. “I’m proud of him for wanting to try to travel the straight and narrow path. If you try to influence him in any way, the bet’ll be off.”
“Our little brother don’t need much encouragin’. Trouble seems to find its way to him.”
“Just the same, he needs to be given a fair chance. I wouldn’t expect him to make it more than a week anyway.”
“Then why’d ya take the bet?” asked Hoss.
“Because he’s willing to make an effort and make Pa proud.”
“Well, I still believe that you’ll soon be shoveling snow.”
Adam finished grooming Sport and went to Buck’s stall to muck it out. The boys took turns taking care of Pa’s horse. Even though he didn’t like mucking out stalls, Adam always took his turn without complaint.
Joe came out to the barn while Adam was in Buck’s stall. “Mornin’,” Joe said as the boy went to his pony’s stall.
“Good morning,” Adam answered.
“Mornin, Shortshanks,” said Hoss. “How’re ya doin’ this mornin’?”
“So far so good,” said Joe with a wary eye on Hoss.
Picking up a curry comb, Joe set about grooming his horse. He tried to keep one eye on what he was doing and the other on Hoss.
Hoss picked up a cloth and the tin of saddle soap. He began rubbing the soap into his saddle and had a flash of inspiration. Maybe he could over-soap Adam’s saddle and pin the blame on Joe.
“Come over here fer a minute, Shortshanks,” said Hoss.
Joe stepped out of his horse’s stall and set the curry comb on the shelf. He then went over to Hoss. Adam noted that Hoss was soaping Chubb’s saddle and suspected that his younger brother was up to something. Not wanting Hoss to realize that he was on to him, Adam left the barn.
“Ya wanna have some fun with older brother?” Hoss asked, blue eyes practically dancing.
“I dunno, Hoss. Pa’s expectin’ me to heed that resolution I made. He won’t be too happy if I break it the day after I made it.”
“Aw, c’mon, Shortshanks. Adam needs to be taken down a peg or two. A little extra soap on his saddle oughta do the trick. Whaddya say?”
“Uh-uh,” answered Joe. “If Adam got hurt, Pa would tan me so hard that I wouldn’t be able to sit again ‘til I turn eighteen.”
“Pa wouldn’t do that to ya. ‘Sides, how would Adam know you’d done it? He seen me usin’ the saddle soap, not you.”
“Adam’s awful smart, though. He’d figure it out before he hit the ground.”
“Ya never know. Sometimes I think he ain’t as smart as he lets on.”
“But he went to college. Of course, he’s smart.”
“Book smart ain’t the same as bein’ smart,” Hoss replied with a tap to his head and a wink. “Pa’s always fussin’ at him fer readin’ while he s’posed to be watchin’ the herd.”
“But he reads out loud to keep the steers calm. He sings some too.”
“Go along with me, Shortshanks, and we’ll have Adam shovelin’ snow ‘til April.”
“I dunno, Hoss. I don’t want Pa to be disappointed with me so soon in the new year.”
With that, Joe went back to taking care of his pony. He wondered what was in this bet for Hoss, besides watching Adam shovel snow.
Finally finishing up, Joe headed for the house. He noticed that Hoss was rubbing soap on Adam’s saddle.
Going inside, Joe saw Adam going over one of the timber ledgers. “Where’s Pa?” asked Joe curiously.
“He went upstairs to lie down for a while. I guess yesterday’s meal didn’t exactly agree with him.”
“Why does Hoss think I can’t make it for three days without anything happening?”
“Hoss is so used to you being at the center of anything that happens that he just assumes you can’t avoid temptation. I’m confident, though, that you can make it.”
“Thanks, Adam, but why do you think I can?”
“Because you’ve got a healthy dose of the Cartwright stubbornness in your veins. You’ll make it, Joe.”
A knock on the door ended the conversation. Adam opened the door to see Old Man Garvey on the doorstep. “Good afternoon, Mr. Garvey. What brings you out in this snow?”
“This ain’t hardly any snow, boy. I ‘member back in ’31 a blizzard that snowed me in fer four months. If I’d a been marrit, I woulda been single afore I got myself outta that cabin.”
Adam chuckled at that. Old Man Garvey had never married and was thought to be crazy. The man had come out to Nevada Territory to trap and trade with the Indians in the late ‘20s. He was respected by whites and Indians alike.
Reaching into his coat, Mr. Garvey pulled out a sweet looking tabby kitten. “I promised yore Pa one of Bessie’s litter fer a barn cat. The young ‘uns are weaned so this ‘uns ready ta get ta work.”
Adam reached out for the kitten, which hissed at him.
“She’ll make a good mouser, boy. Keep her a bit wild and you’ll never hafta worry ‘bout her goin’ hungry.”
“Joe, come over here and take this kitten,” said Adam. “Mr. Garvey, we’ve got more sacks of potatoes than we can possibly use up. You’d be doing us a favor to take at least one off of our hands.”
“I don’t take no charity offa no man, boy,” replied Mr. Garvey.
“I’m asking you to do us a favor, Mr. Garvey. Even Hoss can only work his way through so many pounds of potatoes.”
“Well, if yer shore that I’d be doin’ yer Pa a favor.”
Joe reached out for the kitten while Adam went to the kitchen to get the potatoes. He added a hunk of beef and a loaf of bread to the sack before tying it closed. Old Man Garvey wasn’t as spry as he once was, but he had helped Adam and Ben set trap lines and skin their catches when they had first settled in Nevada.
Coming back to the door, Adam saw Joe holding the kitten out at arm’s length while its paws swatted the air.
“She’ll calm down in a couple o’ days, boy. Don’tcha worry none, though, she’ll make a fine mouser.”
Adam handed the sack of potatoes to Mr. Garvey, who accepted it with a tip of his hat. Joe was still standing there with the kitten, unsure what to do. In a flash of inspiration, Adam knew just what to do to get Hoss in trouble.
“Give me that kitten, Joe. I’ve got plans for this little mouser.”
Joe was only too happy to surrender the flailing cat. Adam took it tightly by the scruff and headed for the henhouse. This couldn’t be good, Joe thought.
Ben came downstairs to see Joe looking out the open door. “Shut that door, Joseph. We don’t need all of the cold air in the territory in the house. Where are your brothers?”
“Adam and Hoss are out there” said Joe with a jerk of his thumb while shutting the door.
“Out there where?”
Before Joe could answer, Adam came inside. “Old Man Garvey came by to drop off that kitten he promised you, Pa.”
“Oh, good. Now we should have no trouble with mice this winter. Did you give him some of those potatoes?”
“Yes Sir,” answered Adam. “I added some bread and beef to the sack. You don’t mind, do you?”
“No, of course not. He’s been a good friend all of these years. He’s not a spring chicken anymore. Thank you for seeing to him, son. Where’s Hoss?”
“I think he’s still in the barn.”
“Tell him to go check on Hop Sing’s hens before he comes in.” With that, Ben went back upstairs.
A little too eagerly, Adam went out to the barn. He couldn’t wait to go in the henhouse with Hoss. That little kitten was bound to pounce on him.
Adam noticed that Hoss was still soaping the saddles. “Pa wants you to check on the hens when you’re done in here.”
“I’m pretty much done,” said Hoss, putting the lid back on the tin of saddle soap. He put the soap and the rag away and then headed for the barn door. Adam helped Hoss close up the barn and then followed his younger brother to the henhouse. Hoss thought it odd that Adam was tailing him instead of going back in the house.
“What’re you expectin’ ta happen?” Hoss asked.
“Oh, nothing. Just making sure that you see to the hens like Pa asked.”
Getting to the henhouse, Hoss opened the door warily. Seeing nothing out of order in the dim light, Hoss walked in and added straw where needed. He noted the look of disappointment on Adam’s face. Finishing up, they went to the house.
“Where’s Pa?” Hoss asked, entering the house.
“He’s upstairs,” answered Joe.
“You’ve almost made it a whole day, Shortshanks. Think you can make it another?”
“I know he can,” countered Adam.
Joe just looked at the both of them, knowing that this bet had gone way beyond his behavior.
The next morning, Ben went downstairs early. He drank coffee while waiting on breakfast. Adam came down the stairs, buttoning his shirt. He helped himself to some coffee and then sat down in his chair to read another chapter of Moby Dick. Hoss was next to come downstairs. His nose was working hard, but there were no breakfast smells in the house.
“Where’s the food?” he asked.
“Hop Sing went out to the henhouse to get eggs. He’ll get started on cooking when he comes back in.”
A yell and then a stream of Cantonese could be heard from outside. This resulted in the three Cartwrights leaping to their feet. Ben and the boys rushed outside to see Hop Sing outside of the henhouse. The cook, seeing his boss, pointed and said “Some animal in there. It bite me.” He held up a finger which had a small drop of blood on it.
Assuming a fox had made its way in there, Ben strode into the henhouse. Hoss was hot on his heels. Adam was worried that the kitten was going to be his undoing. Hop Sing brought up the rear of this parade with his egg basket over his arm.
Ben turned up the lantern to get a better look. He didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and the hens seemed to have settled down. “Where was this animal?” he asked Hop Sing.
“Undah numbah ereven” the cook answered, pointing to a hen.
Ben went over to the hen and reached under her. His hand encountered something very soft. Lifting the hen, he saw the kitten. “It’s just a kitten, Hop Sing.”
“It bite me,” the cook said.
“Aaawww,” said Hoss. “That lil thing must miss its mama and littermates and done come in here fer company.”
“Well, it can go in the barn where it belongs,” said Ben. He then tried to pick up the kitten, but it didn’t want to leave its warm, comfy home. The kitten hissed and then launched itself at Ben. The little ball of fur’s back paw connected with Ben’s cheek as it leapt from his shoulder onto his head. Before the kitten could launch somewhere else, Hoss reached out and grabbed it. Immediately, the kitten calmed down in Hoss’ hands. “It shore is a cute ‘un,” he said.
Adam was too shocked for words. He was looking at the four scratch marks on his father’s cheek. “You’d better clean that up, Pa.”
“Whose bright idea was it to put Old Man Garvey’s kitten in here instead of the barn?!?” Ben asked, trying hard to restrain his temper for the sake of the egg-laying hens. Neither Hoss nor Adam answered. Ben glowered at the both of them and assumed Hoss had put the kitten inside the henhouse. Stalking back to the house, Ben had his neckerchief pressed to his cheek.
Joe had come downstairs when Hop Sing started yelling. He was shocked to see Pa come in with blood on his hand a kerchief pressed to his face. “What happened, Pa?”
“You wouldn’t happen to know anything about a kitten in the henhouse, would you?”
Joe’s face paled a bit, which Ben’s sharp eyes noted. He had had such high hopes for Joseph making it a few days without causing any trouble. Trouble must be in the boy’s blood, Ben thought.
Adam came inside and went to his chair. Hoss and Joe sat down to play some checkers while they waited for breakfast. Ben went upstairs to clean up.
Coming downstairs, Ben said “I’m going to have Paul look at these scratches. Cat scratch fever is the last thing I need. Let Hop Sing know that I’ll be taking breakfast at the hotel.”
Ben went out and headed for the barn. Joe looked between his brothers. He knew Adam had put the kitten in the henhouse to get Hoss in trouble, but Pa probably suspected him. Why had they made this stupid bet, he wondered.
Joe went out to the barn to see if his father needed any help getting Buck saddled. Ben was putting Adam’s saddle on Buck.
“Why’re ya usin’ Adam’s saddle?” Joe asked.
“The cinch on mine needs to be fixed, so I decided to use Adam’s. I’m sure he won’t mind.”
“Wouldn’t you rather use Hoss’?” Joe asked.
“Hoss’ is too big. Adam’s will do just fine.”
“Why don’t ya use mine?” Joe asked. He knew that Hoss had over-soaped Adam’s saddle to make it really slick.
“Is there a reason I shouldn’t use Adam’s?”
“I guess not,” answered Joe. Maybe Pa would do okay. He was a much better rider than Adam.
Finally getting Buck saddled, Ben led the horse out to the hitching rail. “You go on inside and have some breakfast, Joseph. I’ll be back before too long.” Ben mounted up and headed out of the yard. Joe had stayed outside to make sure Pa kept his seat.
Before getting too far, Buck shied at a rabbit darting though the yard. The horse reared up in fright and his rider tried to get the animal under control. However, Ben slid out of the saddle and landed with a thud on his back. The wind had been knocked out of him on hitting the ground and he didn’t move.
Fearing the worst, Joe yelled for Hoss and Adam. His brothers came running out of the house when they heard Joe. They were stunned to see Pa laying on the ground and not moving. Hoss went over to Buck and saw Adam’s saddle. He gulped nervously. Adam was supposed to take a tumble, not Pa.
Finally getting some breath back, Ben said “I don’t understand why that saddle is so slick.”
“Can you stand, Pa?” Adam asked with concern.
“I think so.” Adam helped him up; Ben seemed to be unhurt. He glanced over at Hoss, who looked enormously guilty. “What happened here, Hoss?”
“I meant ta teach Adam a lesson. I didn’t mean fer ya to get hurt,” said Hoss, eyes downcast.
“Did this have anything to do with that bet you made?” Ben asked.
“Yes Sir,” mumbled Hoss.
“Why can’t you believe in Joseph? You soaped the saddle and put that kitten in the henhouse. I’m disappointed with you, Hoss.”
“I didn’t put that kitten out there. Honest!” said Hoss, looking at his father.
“You’re the only one who could hold that wild thing. Who else could have done it?”
Adam scuffed his boot, a gesture that wasn’t lost on his father.
“You, Adam? I’d have thought you would have better sense than that.”
“Guess not,” was Adam’s only response.
“Looks like Joseph is the only one around here not causing any trouble. As far as I’m concerned, your bet is off. Both of you boys will be shoveling snow until spring comes. You understand me?”
“Yes Sir,” was all Adam had Hoss could say.
Adam helped his father into the house while Hoss took Buck back to the barn. Getting Pa settled into his chair. Adam went to get Hop Sing. Maybe the cook had some herbs that could be used for the cat scratches.
“I’m proud of you, Joseph. You’ve worked hard to keep this resolution of yours. I know it’s probably taken a lot of effort on your part.”
“Thanks, Pa,” said Joe.
A crash from the kitchen interrupted this happy moment. “Who leave lid offa honey jar?!?” Hop Sing yelled.
Ben looked at Joe who only looked at the floor.
“I got hungry last night and came down for some bread and honey. Guess I didn’t get the lid back on the jar, huh?” Joe admitted
“That’s the kind of trouble I expect from you,” said Ben with a chuckle. Everything should return to normal now, he thought, since Joe broke his resolution. The bet was off so there’d be no reason for Hoss and Adam to conspire against each other anymore. Ben hoped that this would be a good year for them all.