Summary: With his sons working at various locations on the ranch; after being nominated to escort the Ladies of Genoa, Ben decides to show them around Virginia City, and then some. Little does he know there will be more than he bargained for.
Word Count: 2,695
“Joe, this is not a discussion. You know what you are supposed to do. So for once just get on and do it without an argument,” said Adam throwing his arms up in the air in exasperation. Why did his youngest brother always have to fight him at every turn?
Adam looked to his father for support and with a heavy sigh Ben stood up from his seat, pushed the chair back away from his desk, and made his way over to his sons.
“What seems to be the problem, Adam?”
“As usual, your baby son here doesn’t want to do the job I’ve assigned for him,” Adam replied, poking his index finger into Joe’s chest.
Joe made to grab his brother’s hand, but Adam was too quick for him and retracted the offending finger. Smiling malevolently at Joe’s angry face, he added, “Maybe he’s just not man enough for the job.”
Joe’s hackles immediately went up and Ben placed a restraining hand on his shoulder, while at the same time giving his eldest son a warning glance. Joe could be petulant and stubborn when forced to accept his eldest brother’s authority, but Adam should know better than to bait his brother into losing his temper.
“It’s not fair, Pa. How come I always get the real dirty jobs to do? Adam has decided that Hoss and him can have a nice easy day in the north pasture putting up fences, while I get to spend the day on my own, knee deep in mud, clearing out that ditch that’s blocked,” Joe whined.
“The ditch has to be cleared, Joe. How else are we to get water to the herd? And I would hardly call putting up fences an easy day. But like I said, if you’re not up to the job, I can always get a man to do it,” Adam told his brother pointedly.
“Give it a rest, boys,” Ben growled, emphasizing the word ‘boys’ so as to let his sons know how childish he viewed their behavior. Turning towards Joe, Ben said in a voice that left no room for insubordination, “Joseph, I believe your brother has given you your instructions. He is in charge of today’s assignments and I expect you to carry out his orders without question. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir,” Joe replied through gritted teeth before grabbing his hat and gunbelt from the credenza. Seconds later he walked out of the house slamming the door behind him.
Ben turned round to face his eldest son. The smirk on Adam’s face quickly dissolved as he noted the darkening of his father’s eyes; a sure sign that his blood pressure was rising.
“I suppose I better hurry up and catch up to Hoss, wouldn’t want him to go without me,” Adam explained before reaching for his own hat and gunbelt and making a hasty retreat out of the door.
Adam and Hoss toiled relentlessly throughout the day. They worked well together, complementing each other’s natural abilities. Hoss lifted the heavy wooden posts with ease and placed them in the allotted holes, a job usually requiring two men. This left Adam free to secure the fencing at a rapid pace. Such was their progress that by mid-afternoon they had run out of raw materials and stood back to survey their handiwork.
“Good job, Hoss,” Adam said, patting his large brother on the back. “Never thought we would get all this done in a day.”
“Me neither, Adam, especially in this heat,” Hoss replied, wiping the sweat from his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt. “But what we gonna do now? It’s too late to go into town for more wood and nails.”
Adam thought for a moment then a slow smile spread across his face. “Well Hoss, I think you and I have earned ourselves a little treat. How do you fancy a nice cool swim in the lake?”
Hoss returned Adam’s smile with a gap-toothed smile of his own. “Sounds mighty fine to me, big brother, but what if Pa decides to come riding out this way? He didn’t seem like he was in a very good mood this morning, and I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him.”
Adam started to chuckle. “I know why he was in such a bad mood, Hoss. Have you forgotten? Today’s the day Pa was nominated to show the visiting ladies from Genoa the sights of Virginia City. I don’t see Pa escaping from their clutches anytime before supper. So that leaves plenty of time for me and you to cool off.”
“Now put like that, Adam, how can I refuse?”
Throwing their tools into the back of the buckboard, the brothers climbed aboard and headed for the lake.
Although it was now late afternoon, the sun still bleached down scorching everything in its path. Little Joe thought his brain was going to fry he was so hot. He was covered in mud, and judging from the smell emanating from his clothes, a number of other things as well. The ditch was finally cleared and the water was beginning to trickle slowly down the hill. Stomping his mud caked boots on the hard earth; he stretched out his aching limbs and cursed out loud as an acute pain ran up his aching back. He just had to find a way of cooling down.
Taking a swig from his now almost empty canteen, he grimaced and pulled a face as the sickly warm liquid trickled down his throat almost making him gag. Joe then bent forward and poured the rest of the water over the back of his neck before shaking his head and sending a shower of drops in all directions. Pondering on his dilemma, he bit on his bottom lip for a moment before coming to a decision. He knew that Adam would expect him to move onto the next job once the ditch was sorted, but the lake beckoned and he decided that to finish work an hour or so early and skive off for a cool dip was well worth risking his brother’s wrath.
Once the decision had been made, Joe’s mood lightened considerably. Never one to ponder the outcome of his rash and impetuous nature, Joe very easily put his Pa and brothers’ out of his mind; after all didn’t he deserve a break, he was the one who had been lying in the mud and heat all day.
Taking hold of Cochise, he prepared to swing mount into the saddle. Just as he leapt into the air, the horse skittered forward and Joe almost ended up on his posterior.
“What’s up with you?” Joe screeched at the animal, totally oblivious of the fact that even his horse was having difficulty dealing with the aroma coming from his young master.
As he neared the lake, Joe dismounted and tied Cochise to a tree out of sight; he didn’t want to be discovered by any of his family that just might be passing by. Creeping through the long reeds on his approach to the water, Joe stopped dead in his tracks. What was that noise he heard? Surely it couldn’t be? But it was!
The deep baritone voice of the eldest Cartwright son carried through the trees. Well, who would have believed it? Joe had been worried that his two work-conscious brothers would be mad at him for finishing early, and here they were stark naked and floating coolly on the top of the lake.
Joe’s first inclination was to strip off his sweat soaked and stinking clothes and join them, but the mischievous side of his nature came to the forefront and his eyes took on a gleam that, if his brothers’ had been able to see him, would have warned them of impending trouble.
Chuckling to himself, Joe gathered up the two sets of clothes lying on a nearby rock and sneaked into the thick undergrowth to watch and wait for the fun. Sure enough, less than fifteen minutes later, two hairy naked bodies emerged from the lake, shook off the excess water and looked around in dismay for their missing clothes.
The penny dropped almost immediately and a knowing wink passed between the brothers as they moved forward as one to search for their errant sibling. They had strayed about twenty feet away from the water’s edge when they came to a halt in shocked silence. Their father’s voice could be heard clearly only yards in front of them.
“Come this way, ladies, we will leave the carriage here. What I am about to show you will take your breath away; it really is a little piece of heaven. I can guarantee that this is a sight you will never have seen the like of before and are never likely to see again.”
Adam and Hoss had no time to retreat to the safety of the water before Ben and the four ladies appeared in front of them. The silence was deafening. The ladies stood frozen in time, completely motionless in shock. Ben could not find his voice, his two grown sons stood completely starkers in front of him with only their hands to cover their modesty.
In the undergrowth, Joe had pushed his hat into his mouth to stifle his laughter. Oh boy, this was turning out even better than he thought it would. This was a story that would keep him laughing into his old age – well provided he lived that long.
Adam was the first to find his voice, but true to form, as he tried to offer an explanation, his natural tendency to talk with the use of his hands took over and before he realized what he was doing the ladies present were given a glimpse of ‘a little piece of heaven’ Cartwright style. Their gasps and yelps were quick to convince Adam of his mistake and he once again placed his hands over the offending paradise.
Miss Primrose visibly swooned and Ben went quickly to her side. “I think it best if you ladies return to your carriage and continue on your way,” he said, somewhat at a loss for words. “Then I think I will be having a little talk with these two young men,” he added, glaring furiously at his sons before turning his back to them and escorting the ladies to their carriage.
Joe could control himself no longer; his screeching laughter resounded through the trees and he fell to the ground in an uncontrollable fit of giggles. The tears streamed down his face and he clutched his aching sides in a vain attempt to catch his breath once more.
His brothers were upon him in seconds and two pairs of large brawny hands lifted him from the ground and suspended him in mid air. Joe hiccupped as his laughter subsided and he looked from one brother to the other as he dangled precariously between them. “Aw, come on you two, you have to admin it was funny,” he squeaked.
Hoss’ face was a mask of rage. “You slimy, conniving, little toad, I’m gonna skin the flesh off your bones and feed you to the lizards”.
“No wait, Hoss, let me have him first; his worst nightmare could not come near to what I am going to do to him,” growled Adam.
Ben had returned and looked on dispassionately as his two elder sons held the younger one between them ready to tear him limb from limb.
Joe looked beseechingly at his father. “Pa, please Pa, make ‘em stop; they’re gonna kill me,” he squeaked.
“Believe me, you’re already dead, little brother,” responded Adam.
Ben’s temper had calmed and he was beginning to see the funny side of the whole situation. He chuckled as he said, “Sorry, Little Joe, but on this occasion, I think your brothers deserve their pound of flesh.”
It was at this point that the close proximity of their youngest brother reached the nostrils of both Hoss and Adam. Dropping him unceremoniously to the ground, Adam’s sensitive nose twitched and his lips curled back in disgust. “Uhh, little brother, only the smell of you has saved your life. I really don’t think I can bear to touch you.”
Hoss wasn’t quite so sensitive and grabbing Little Joe by the belt of his pants, he lifted him bodily into the air and carried him to the lake. With a swing of his arm, he sent Joe flying through the air. Joe landed with a splash, fully clothed, into the lake.
“You need a bath, toad,” Hoss declared, before returning to Adam to retrieve his clothes and boots.
“I think he’s got off far too lightly,” declared Adam, still scowling as he pulled on his pants.
“Oh I don’t know,” Ben mused. “I think I might have a punishment that just might fit the crime.”
The following morning the whole family was up bright and early and made their way over to the barn to prepare their horses for a ride into town.
Hoss and Adam hitched up the team to the buckboard; they still needed extra supplies to finish off the fencing.
On the other side of them a very subdued Little Joe was stood in his Sunday best and trying unsuccessfully to get his Pa to change his mind.
“You know, Pa, there really is an awful lot of work still to be done around here. I haven’t finished all the jobs Adam gave me.”
Ben’s lips pulled down at the sides as he tried hard to suppress a smile. “Oh I think your brothers have everything under control, Little Joe, I’m sure they don’t mind at all you helping me out like this, do you boys?”
Adam and Hoss stopped what they were doing and looked at each other then back at Joe. “We don’t mind at all, Pa,” said Adam. “The kid deserves a break after spending all day in the mud yesterday.”
Joe scowled at his brothers. He was not looking forward to the day ahead of him. In fact, if he had a choice, he would volunteer to clear out another ditch, but he should have known that a dip in the lake with his clothes on wouldn’t be enough to placate his big brothers or his Pa for that matter.
“Well come on, Little Joe, saddle up, we don’t want to keep them waiting,” said Ben, enjoying every moment of his youngest son’s discomfort.
A couple of hours later Hoss and Adam stopped loading the supplies onto the wagon so that they could moved closer to the International House Hotel and witness their little brother’s punishment at first hand.
The ladies stood outside the door appraising the handsome young man before them with positive glee. Ben turned to them and said, “Ladies, I don’t believe you have met my youngest son, Joseph. Well, Joseph has very kindly volunteered to be your escort for the rest of the week.”
Joe squirmed and his eyebrows rose piteously as he looked to his father for a last minute reprieve, but it was not to be. Ben tilted his hat to the ladies and left Joe to carry out the rest of his sentence.
After gallantly helping each of the ladies into the carriage, Joe climbed up into the driver’s seat.
“Now where will it be, ladies?” he asked charmingly, determined to make the best of it.
A young lady in her twenties had made a point of sitting next to him. Rather conspiringly, she leaned towards him and whispered, “Well yesterday I was ill and unable to attend, but my Aunt informs me that your father took her to see ‘a little piece of heaven’ and I was rather hoping you would do the same.”