Summary: The reason behind Little Joe has to get married.
Word Count: 1,285
Joe was being a real pain in the butt that morning. Adam and Hoss had both wanted to throttle him on more than one occasion, but with their father working alongside them, Joe had the ultimate protection and he knew it. Joe used his father’s presence to his full advantage and several times he took the opportunity to childishly stick out his tongue at his eldest brother when he was sure his Pa wasn’t looking. Even Hoss, who would normally forgive Little Joe almost anything, was itching to get his hands round his brother’s scrawny neck.
After one more outburst, Ben decided he wasn’t putting up with anymore of their bad behaviour. “Just get on and finish your chores without another word,” he almost shouted. It was days like this that made him wonder where he had gone wrong; he was sure other people’s sons wouldn’t carry on in this fashion. No one needed to tell him, raising boys made you old before your time; his greying hair was testimony to that.
They carried on working in silence for a while but the tension in the air was building and Joe could never stay silent for long. When the boys started to lock horns for what seemed the hundredth time that morning, Ben decided he had had enough. It was almost lunchtime and in despair he threw down the brush in his hand and walked towards the house to wash-up. The sniping comments going backwards and forwards between his sons was beginning to play on his nerves and he knew if he didn’t calm down soon he would not be responsible for his actions. He did think of insisting that Little Joe return to the house with him, but his anger was such that he thought it better if he had a few minutes alone to bring his blood pressure back down to an acceptable level.
Ben was also feeling a bit guilty; if he was truthful to himself, he knew who the main culprit to the disharmony was – Little Joe. Over the last few weeks Ben had been forced on more than one occasion to take his youngest son to task and he was thinking maybe he had been a bit hard on him of late and so he was trying to ease off on the discipline to see if that worked better. Well, if this morning was anything to go by, the psychology wasn’t working, but he didn’t want to admit as much to his ‘I told you so’ eldest son so early into the experiment.
As soon as Ben had gone inside, Joe decided to leave the rest of the chores to his brothers and with a parting snigger in their direction, he walked over to the corral and climbed up onto the fence. With a little ‘click click’ movement of his tongue, he called to the pretty little foal that was a relatively new addition to the ranch. The little mare trotted happily over to the youngest Cartwright; after all, she had no reason to be angry with him.
Although glad to see the back of his young sibling, Adam still walked over to the barn door and kept Joe in his sights as he went about cleaning the bridle in his hand. Before long, he and Hoss were soon giving vent to the pent up frustration they had both been feeling since shortly after getting out of bed.
“I don’t care what Pa says, Adam; if Joe carries on like this for the rest of the day, I’m gonna pound him good and proper.”
Adam agreed wholeheartedly. “He always has been able to wrap Pa round his little finger. That kid gets away with murder.”
The sound of Joe’s laughter filled the air and Adam watched as Joe rubbed the foal’s head and tickled behind its ears. A sly, cunning smile began to stretch across his lips, “You know, Hoss, there is more than one way to skin a cat. I can think of a way to get back at our little brother without having to lay one hand on him.”
Hoss and Adam slowly sidled over to where Joe was standing. Joe looked cautiously from side to side and then over to the house, wondering if he should make a run for it. He didn’t trust the two of them without Pa around for protection.
Leaning with his back against the fence, Adam stood silent for a minute before announcing, “We’ve seen you, Joe.”
“Seen me what?”
“Kissing that gal,” Hoss replied with a nod of his head.
“So what,” Joe replied with a shrug of his shoulders. It wasn’t a crime, after all.
“Well you know what that means, don’t you?” Adam said with all seriousness.
Joe shook his head; he had no idea what Adam was on about.
“You’ll have to marry her. Isn’t that right, Hoss?”
“Yeah that’s right.”
“M-m-marry her,” stuttered Joe. “You don’t marry someone just for kissing.” Did Adam really think he was that dumb?
“You do if it’s their custom,” Adam said, bending down so that he could look Joe straight in the eye.
“C-c-custom?” Joe asked in disbelief. This was a new one on him.
“Yeah you know, custom. Everyone has customs,” Hoss quickly added, backing up Adam’s statement.
“What if I don’t want to get married?” Joe persisted.
“Should of thought of that before you started kissing, shouldn’t you?”
Joe took a moment to let the information sink in. He didn’t want to get married; he was too young. No one told him about some silly custom.
Adam and Hoss traded a furtive look. Joe was so gullible; they couldn’t believe how easy it was to sucker him in sometimes.
It was just at this point the ranch house door opened and Ben walked down towards the corral. He could see something was up before he got there. Joe had a worried expression on his face and the other two looked fit to burst.
“Something wrong, Little Joe?” Ben asked.
“Adam says I have to get married,” Joe replied. His bottom lip started to tremble and the tears were forming in his big green eyes.
“Now why would you have to get married son?” Ben questioned. His temper had cooled and he didn’t want his youngest son’s feathers ruffled, because that would no doubt have the knock on effect of ruffling someone else’s feathers. That other person was in the house now waiting for them.
“Adam said it was the custom, b-b-because I kissed her.”
Ben took a moment to give Adam one of his steely glares.
“Who did you kiss, Little Joe?”
“Maisy” Joe replied with downcast eyes.
The tears now began to fall in earnest and Joe began to wail, “I don’t want to get m-m-married.”
Reaching down and grabbing the toddler by the waist, Ben scooped his small son up into his strong arms. Rubbing a comforting hand down his four year olds back, Ben placated, “I think it’s time for your nap, young man. Your mama is waiting for you.”
“But Papa” Joe now sobbed, “I don’t want to marry a horse.”
Ben glanced at his sons then down at the little foal who stood expectantly at the fence. “Don’t worry, Little Joe, you won’t have to marry Maisy; your brothers were only teasing.” Then giving his now uncontrollably laughing elder sons a stern glance he added, “And I think I might just do some teasing of my own after lunch. Now what do you think about that boys?”
The laughter died nearly as quickly as it had began.