Summary: There are certain tasks that a father must attend to.
Word Count: 1,225
Ben Cartwright was feeling hot and irritated. The job he had started early that morning was still unfinished and he was fast running out of time. This was an ongoing project and a one that he was beginning to regret even starting. If he’d had more hours in the day, he would probably have enjoyed spending his leisure periods in the barn making things with his hands. But as it was, there were just too many other jobs calling for his attention. As the ranch flourished, the more of his time it demanded.
Looking at the plans spread out in front of him, Ben felt a surge of pride as he studied the carefully worked out dimensions he needed to follow. Adam was so meticulous; Ben doubted whether he would have had the patience to go into such detail if it was left up to him.
Taking the chisel between his thumb and forefinger and placing it on the wood in front him, Ben tapped lightly here and there, marveling at how his ‘project’ was taking shape. Lifting the hammer once more, Ben brought it down in one smooth motion.
“Pa, Pa, are you out here?”
Ben yelped in pain. The unexpected interruption had caused him to miss his target and his thumb, unfortunately, took the full impact of the hammer.
“I’m here, Adam,” Ben replied in frustration, sticking his now throbbing thumb into his mouth and sucking hard. “What is it?”
“It’s Little Joe, Pa; he needs you,” Adam replied warily, seeing the angry look on his Pa’s face.
“I thought he was sleeping? Has he been sick again?” Ben asked, a wave of guilt sweeping over him. Joe hadn’t been well for nearly a week now. His breakfast had come back up again faster than it had gone down and Ben was sure he was running a temperature. Maybe he should have stayed with him.
“No, he doesn’t seem to be sick, Pa. As for sleeping, well he was, but Hoss was in his room just now and Joe’s awake,” Adam replied, avoiding telling his Pa that Hoss’ presence was the real reason why Joe had woken in the first place.
Ben inwardly sighed, his guilt once again being replaced by irritation. “If there’s no urgency, can’t you deal with it, Adam? I just need to finish off this job? I won’t be long.”
Normally Adam would have been more than grateful to do his Pa’s bidding, but this was one job he wasn’t willing to volunteer for.
“From what Hoss says, Joe needs you now, Pa; I don’t think it can wait,” Adam persisted. Ben gave him a pleading look, but Adam was resolute. “You know Joe; he doesn’t like me seeing to him. He’ll want you.”
Ben sighed, “Hmm, same thing as this morning I suppose?” Adam just nodded his head and looked away, hoping his Pa wouldn’t put him under pressure to do the deed himself.
“Okay, just let me wash up.” Ben sighed. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
Putting down the hammer, Ben surveyed the barn. There were pieces of wood everywhere. Maybe he should have taken up Adam’s offer of help, but this was one project he wanted to do himself. The table and chairs he was making were to be a surprise for someone special, but as he looked around him, he thought he might just have bitten off more than he could chew. The likelihood of him finishing the project in time was getting slimmer and slimmer and despondency washed over him. But there was nothing for it — his work would have to wait; Little Joe was his responsibility this morning and his needs must come first. After quickly washing, Ben entered the ranch, and without further ado, made his way to his youngest son’s bedroom.
Hoss was sitting just outside Joe’s door and stood to attention when he saw his Pa coming along the landing.
“Haven’t you got anything to do?” Ben queried, giving his middle son a look that made Hoss wish he were somewhere else.
“Thought I would just keep an eye on Joe till you got here. Pa,” Hoss replied, hoping his excuse would seem reasonable.
“You can’t be keeping a very good eye on him from outside the door,” Ben reprimanded.
Hoss wrinkled his nose and shuffled his feet; he really didn’t want to go in there.
“That bad, huh?” Ben asked, seeing his middle son’s reluctance to go into the room.
“Worse, Pa. Much worse than this morning.”
As soon as Ben pushed open the door and entered, he knew that Hoss was right; the smell that hit him was overpowering. Steeling himself against what he was about to do, he made his way over to the window and opened it a little in order to let some fresh air into the room.
As he turned around, he caught sight of Joe watching him. Little Joe was wide-awake and staring up at his Pa with unshed tears in his bright green eyes.
Ben went quickly to Joe’s side and ran his hand caressingly over his son’s soft curls. “Hey, hey, what’s this?” Ben chided. “There’s no need to get upset; I’ll have you cleaned up in a few minutes and you’ll feel as good as new.”
Joe didn’t utter a sound, but as his eyes blinked a single tear rolled down his face. Ben’s heart almost melted. Taking his calloused thumb, he gently wiped away the lone tear and lovingly stroked Joe’s cheek.
The duty couldn’t be put off any longer and Ben knew it. Taking the basin of lukewarm water from the top of the chest of drawers, Ben checked that he had everything he needed; soap, washcloth and a change of clothing and bedding. Finally he pulled the bedclothes away from his son and, trying hard not to gag as the foul odor filled his lungs, he set about cleaning and washing Joe’s body.
Little Joe lay still and helpless as his father performed the unwelcome task. Once finished, Ben smiled and chucked his son under the chin. “See all done. That didn’t take long.”
It was with some reluctance at first, but after a few seconds Joe returned his father’s beaming smile with a devastating one of his own and once again Ben’s heart melted with love.
Picking up Joe’s soiled clothing and sheet, Ben headed out of the door and went in search of Hop Sing. As he passed by a still hovering Hoss, he declared, “It’s all safe, you can go in now.”
Hoss opened the door to the room very cautiously, but after ascertaining that most of the foul smell had gone, he quickly made his way to Joe’s side.
Taking hold of his little brother’s hand, he squeezed it reassuringly and was rewarded with a smile and squeeze in return from Joe.
“You know Little Joe,” Hoss began. “I’ll be so pleased when you’re going to the outhouse, ‘cause I don’t think anyone, anywhere, can poop as bad as you.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” Adam’s voice boomed out behind the startled six-year-old. “When you were that age, a baby elephant produced much less waste than what we found in your diaper!!!”