Summary: After reading Jules’ tribute to life on the Ponderosa, we wondered what real-life impact would be on the Cartwrights. Here is our interpretation
Word Count: 2400
Something was very badly wrong on the Ponderosa. Joe’s bedroom had remained in the same location for several days now and even the bed had stopped switching positions in the middle of the night. Adam had learned several new songs, so that the familiar strains of his unique renditions of those perennial favorites, Sweet Betsy from Pike and Early One Morning, no longer echoed around the living room, permeating every square inch of the house. Ben’s favorite aubergine shirt had faded to a becoming shade of pale pink, when Hop Sing was busy playing cat’s cradles with Paw, the Giggly Sister’s pet bear, instead of keeping an eye on the laundry. This color change proved so upsetting to Ben that he actually paid Paul Martin’s latest bill without batting an eyelid.
Consequently, the Cartwrights were now facing an uncertain future. Paul had cannily included the costs of his many years of devoted service tending to all the many and varied injuries sustained by the Cartwright family and Ben unthinkingly paid up without a murmur. As over 15 years had passed without a single bank note ever being seen to have changed hands in exchange for Paul’s devoted ministrations, this amounted to an astronomical amount of money and bankruptcy seemed just around the corner.
“We’ll have to tighten our belts, boys,” Ben pronounced firmly over dinner that evening, as Hop Sing inched gingerly in. For once he was not almost obscured from view by an enormous platter of steaks/chops larger than the average family-size pizza, plus mounds of mashed potatoes. That evening, dinner consisted of a small side salad, six sardines, some cheese scones and a rather elderly-looking pilchard. The Giggly Sisters eyed this assortment dubiously and decided just to have some fruit. After all, the coffee table always sported an unfeasibly large bowl, overflowing with apples, regardless of the season. In point of fact, the sheer weight of the fruit was so great that Ben had commissioned a special, heavy-duty coffee table made out of railway sleepers, for the sole purpose of supporting the fruit bowl. He was always slightly worried that it might prove unequal to the strain and consequently never allowed anyone to put their feet on the table.
“T’aint fair!” Hoss protested and the blonde wondered (not for the first time) just why he displayed such markedly different syntax to the rest of his family. There had to be a good reason, didn’t there? She made a mental note to have a little word with Ben later on.
“Most of that there bill’s due to Shortshanks! I ain’t hardly never maimed.”
Ben hastily intervened before Joe threw the pilchard at his brother. He had plans for that fish…
“Yes, but what with Joe being pocket-sized, it doesn’t take much to feed him. It’s a bit more tricky trying to keep you stoked up.” He gave Hoss an apologetic smile.
“I don’t think that’s entirely fair,” Adam protested. “After all, if it wasn’t for Hoss, you wouldn’t be the successful cattle baron/mine owner/timber grower/horse exporter you are today.”
A series of stunned looks greeted this pronouncement and Paw took advantage of the situation to abstract the pilchard and swallow it whole, while Adam continued with his story. “When we arrived here, it was just the three of us: Pa, Hoss and me. Hoss was only a young baby.” (He carefully avoided using the word small, for Hoss had never been small. Ever.) “Even at the tender age of 18 months, he needed at least three scrambled eggs, a side of bacon and an entire trifle. Just for breakfast. Well, you can imagine the financial strain. It’s not easy to get all that custard and sponge fingers at short notice.”
“And what does this have to do with Ben’s success?” asked the blonde. She had noticed Paw flitch the pilchard, but pretended not to have seen.
“Well, Pa had to start earning at living at once, and so he realized that the quickest way was grow his own beef, so there was always some kind of food on hand.” Adam smiled at his middle brother, who looked most discomfited. “He soon found that others were more than willing to pay for his beef, which allowed him to buy more store-bought goods, and that brought him into contact with more people, and they asked to buy his timber, and then horses.” Adam thankfully ran out of breath at that point.
“I think we get the drift,” the redhead said, her eyes glazed over with boredom. “If Hoss hadn’t needed such huge quantities of food, Ben would never have made it big out here.”
“I’m sure that’s not true,” Ben huffed. “I would have been a success even without Hoss to feed.” He glared at the empty plate, and then at Hoss, thinking that he had eaten the pilchard.
“I still think I should get a bigger share than pipsqueak,” Hoss mumbled sulkily. “I’m bigger and I’m older. Stands to reason. Plus I’ve hardly been maimed at all. Unlike some people.”
“You do seem to revel in those unfortunate accidents,” Adam observed, knowing just which buttons to push to get Joe worked up. It worked beautifully: Joe leapt to his feet, planted his hands on his hips and flared his nostrils. “A classic strop!” Adam crowed happily.
Ben wisely decided to intervene before things got out of hand. He still hadn’t forgotten that little mud-wrestling escapade in Springtime that had resulted in having Jedediah as a rather unwelcome houseguest. “Don’t tease your little brother!” he chided.
“You always take his part, “Adam said sulkily, quite forgetting he was well into his thirties. “You never even congratulated me for saving him from that wolf attack in My Brother’s Keeper. It’s not fair!”
“The poor wolf only attacked Joe because he was lying helpless on the ground, badly wounded,” observed the blonde. “And I still don’t see how you could possibly mistake him for a wolf. Did you think he’d got his hair straightened, or something?”
Just when it looked as if things were about to get very heated, there was a knock at the door. Everyone turned and looked expectantly at Joe, even Hop Sing, who was warming his feet at the fire. With a long-suffering sigh Joe got up and opened the door to reveal Doctor Paul Martin.
“Thought I’d just deliver my final paper!” he beamed, handing over a copy of the Territorial Enterprise. “Since my financial affairs are finally in order, I can give up the paper round.”
Ben went very pale and for a moment Paul thought that he was going to have another patient on his hands. Should he ask for payment in advance this time? However, he was essentially a kind soul and decided to put his old friends’ minds at ease.
“I’ve just got my first lot of royalty payments in,” Paul announced proudly, “and I owe it all to you, Joe.”
“Say that again?” Adam’s voice was full of disbelief.
“It’s quite simple really. I’m surprised a college-educated man like you never figured it out, Adam. Did it never cross your mind that the viewers would never stand for Joe being permanently scarred? The occasional sling: no problem. Bandaged chest: guaranteed rise in viewing figures. And he was cut so often above his left eyebrow that the wound practically deserved its own credit. But permanently scarred – never!” With a flourish, Doc Martin produced a pot of smoothing from inside his coat. “Doc Martin’s Wonder SalveTM,” he proudly proclaimed. “My own patented cream that guarantees that a scar won’t be left.”
They all passed it round eagerly, poking their fingers into the creamy solution and sniffing at it tentatively. It smelled remarkably pleasant for something medicinal and there was intense speculation as to its ingredients. However, Doc Martin wouldn’t be drawn.
“No, I’m not telling,” he kept saying. “But it’s all thanks to Joe. If he hadn’t been maimed so often, I’d be eking out my living as a penniless country doctor. As it is, I’ll be living in comfort for the rest of my days!”
Ben eyed him speculatively. This could be another opportunity to earn some wonga, he thought gleefully. “So, what part of the royalties come to the Ponderosa, given that it was Joe who prompted you to create this wonderful masterpiece?” he asked.
Paul glared back, glad that Ben was sitting down, for the good doctor was a short and rather stout man. “The part that comes to the Ponderosa is this.” With a flourish he pulled out a sheaf of papers, six inches thick, tied together with pink ribbon and headed up “Cartwright Medical Bill”. Everyone winced at the sheer size of the bill and speculated idly as to the possible total.
“Some of the pages appear to be different colors to the others,” the blonde noted. Sure enough, while most of the pages were cream, there were spatterings of blue, green and yellow interspersed here and there.
“How very astute of you, young lady!” Paul could be rather patronizing at times, but then he was a doctor and this was part of their medical training: how to intimidate your patients so that they don’t ask awkward questions you can’t answer. “I’ve color-coded all my records for easy reference. Blue is for Ben – who enjoys remarkably good health for a man his age, but then desk work isn’t the most hazardous of occupations, is it? Green for Adam – a few bullet wounds here and there, but nothing to write home about. Yellow for Hoss – the occasional Cartwright Concussion in the main.”
“And cream colored pages for Joe! I told you he was the main expense around here!” Hoss looked very happy until he discovered the pilchard was gone.
The redhead gave the family a long-suffering look, while simultaneously stroking Joe’s hand gently. “It’s hardly your fault, sweetie. I’d blame the director myself. After all, you are the most portable of the family, so nobody minds carting you around when you’ve been maimed. It’s a one-man job after all, which is more than can be said for any of the others.”
Joe flushed with pride, while the other Cartwrights fumed at her perspicacity. They’d always hoped that no one would spot that little ruse. Joe had nearly spoilt things when he’d picked up Adam and sprinted nimbly with him in The Honor of Cochise, but things soon went back to normal.
“Besides which, all that lovely, curly hair cushions those blows to the head a treat!” the blonde added, surreptitiously playing footsie with Joe under the table.
“All in all, you’ve been a boon and a blessing to medical science, Joseph!” Paul beamed. “Which is why I’m waiving this bill!” He wrote “paid in full” across the top sheet, tore up Ben’s check and sauntered out. Stopping at the door, he called back, “Next time I’m called out though, I want traveling expenses, after-hours compensation and a bed to sleep in. I’m fed up cat-napping on that hideously uncomfortable sofa!”
“There’s just one thing that’s still worrying me,” Joe confided. “Why has my room stopped moving about? It’s rather disconcerting after all these years to find everything so still. In fact, it’s like being at the vortex of a whirlwind – I keep expecting something much worse to happen at any moment.”
Adam was examining the Territorial Enterprise, which now contained a fiction section. “I think I can explain! There’s a writer here who claims that your bedroom doesn’t even exist! She says that you go through to the door to complete and utter nothingness!” Everyone exchanged startled looks – that surely couldn’t be right? Of course Joe had a bedroom, even if it enjoyed playing hide and seek with its owner.
Ben took the newspaper and began reading. “Who are these people called Lorne, Pernell, Dan and Mike and what are they doing in my house? And when did my chair change color?”
At that, they all exchanged looks, but said nothing. The change in color of his chair from red to blue was a mere nothing compared with the way Ben’s hair seemed to change color to keep up with his many changes of mood. None of them had bothered to mention that they all noticed the changes of rug, so Ben fondly imagined that none of them knew he wore a wig.
Heaving a sigh, the redhead patted Ben’s hand comfortingly. “Don’t worry about it,” she assured him. “Its just fiction, and we all know that the only people who write about real life here on the Ponderosa are my sister and myself.” She smiled at Ben. “Our stories have a world-wide following, and we make sure we record everything for posterity.”
At that Ben swelled with pride. My, what wonderful girls the Giggly Sisters were; not only beautiful but talented, too. He just knew that his many worthy qualities would shine particularly brightly in their stories, and they would all be shown off to their best advantage.
“I think that calls for a little celebration,” Ben stated. He glanced at the food on the table, and decided that it really wouldn’t stretch far enough, especially as Hoss had eaten the pilchard. “Hop Sing – another pilchard, if you please.” He glared at his middle son. “And don’t eat it all this time, Hoss!”
“I didn’t eat it all last time!” Hoss protested, with markedly improved English all of a sudden. He then recalled that his diction wasn’t good, and reverted to normal. “It were that there bear, I bet!”
At this Paw looked very offended, as Joe picked up the tightly bound bill and began to read through it. His eyes grew large. He was totally oblivious of the wrangling around him as they quarreled over who had eaten the pilchard. He put the bill down slowly and cautiously felt around his middle.
“Pa,” he said, and they all looked at him. “When did I get my right kidney removed?”