Summary: Boys will be boys when a new establishment opens in town, but when a little boy overhears, plans are waylaid.
Word Count: 4,870
Adam Cartwright and his best friend Ross Marquette stood outside the Silver Dollar saloon on a hot sticky day enjoying a long glass of beer. At seventeen years of age, they still had about them the cockiness of youth and a hot summer afternoon to look forward to. In just a few short months, Adam would be celebrating his eighteenth birthday and after that he planned to leave Virginia City for college back east in Boston. However, before then, he was determined to make the most of the time he had left.
As he lifted the glass of warm beer to his mouth once more, Adam groaned inwardly; his father and youngest brother were making their way towards him and the sight did not bode well for the plans he had for the remainder of the day.
“Sorry about this, Adam,” were Ben Cartwright’s opening words, “but Hop Sing is well and truly on his high horse today. After Joseph’s latest escapade, there’s no way I could leave him at home! It’s probably going to take Hop Sing the best part of the day to clean up.”
Adam glanced down at the small child at his father’s side. The five year old looked anything but contrite and Adam had to steal himself not to grimace, as he instinctively knew what his father’s next words were going to be.
“Do you think you can watch your little brother for an hour or so? I have a meeting with Sam Myers to discuss a joint venture on the timber contract we are both quoting for, which could take quite a while.” Ben could not help but notice his eldest son’s downcast face. “I know you have plans Adam and you certainly deserve the break, but what else can I do? There’s no way Little Joe will sit still for five minutes let alone a whole hour.”
Adam tried his best to keep the disappointment from his voice. “Yeah sure, Pa. We’ll just hang around here until you’re finished.”
With a noticeable sigh of relief, Ben turned his attention to his youngest child. “Be a good boy for your brother, Joseph, and don’t forget we still haven’t had our little talk about this morning’s misdemeanor! Don’t go and add to your troubles, young man.”
Little Joe looked up at his Pa with huge innocent green eyes and gave him his best “butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth” look. “Yes sir, I’ll be real good”.
Ben’s worried face relaxed a little and he reached down and ruffled the child’s curls. “See that you are,” he admonished.
Another thought came into Ben’s mind, and with a hopeful look at Adam, he asked, “It might be a good idea to have his h-a-i-r-c-u-t while he’s in town, I don’t suppose……?”
“Aw come on, Pa, that’s not fair, I took him last time,” Adam responded immediately, not wanting to be saddled with the least desirable job in the Cartwright household.
“Hmm, I suppose it is my turn,” Ben admitted reluctantly. “Then again it will be ‘my turn’ every time when you go to college.”
Adam recognized the anything but subtle blackmailing technique his father was applying, but he wasn’t going to fall for it. Little Joe and haircuts didn’t go together, not easily that is, and he for one wasn’t going to spoil his Saturday afternoon, sitting in a barber’s chair trying to hold onto a screaming, kicking, five year old.
“Oh well” Ben said with a sheepish grin, seeing that his ploy hadn’t worked, “it was worth a try.” With a resigned shrug, he ran his hand through the boy’s mop of curls once more and said, “I suppose another week won’t hurt.”
Little Joe hadn’t been fooled by the spelling out of the word, and he smiled happily as he realized his long tresses were to be saved for yet another day. Looking over towards Adam, he tried hard to wink conspiratorially at his big brother but only succeeded in scrunching up both eyes at the same time. Adam almost laughed out loud, but he quickly hid his grin behind his hand. After all, Joe was in enough trouble with his Pa; it didn’t pay to add to it.
“By the way, Adam,” said Ben choosing to ignore his little son’s cheekiness, “I have no objection to you having a couple of beers — after all, it’s a hot day — but under no circumstances do you take Little Joe into the saloon.”
“Yes, of course, Pa, I wouldn’t dream of it.”
After a quick glance at his pocket watch, Ben Cartwright bid his sons farewell and set off in the direction of Hiram Wood’s office. Hiram was the family lawyer and Ben rarely made a business decision without his advice or approval.
“What now?” Ross asked his friend, at the same time reaching down and tugging teasingly at the small boy’s hair.
“Guess we’ll just have to hang around here until Pa comes back,” Adam replied wearily.
The boys had planned on spending the rest of the afternoon fishing down by the lake, but Adam was not prepared to have the afternoon spoilt by taking along his baby brother. Even though Little Joe professed that he loved to fish and boasted he was the best fisherman in his family, he still couldn’t be trusted to keep still or quiet for more than a few minutes at a time.
“I’ll get us another beer,” Ross offered generously, making his way into the saloon. “Want a sarsaparilla, Little Joe?” he called over his shoulder.
“Yes, please,” Joe replied in delight.
Ross returned with the drinks and he and Adam once again resumed their previous conversation, while Little Joe sat happily nearby drinking his sarsaparilla. As the afternoon wore on, Adam watched as Pete Darren came sauntering up the street with his little sister Marcie skipping along beside him.
There were six siblings in the Darren clan, Pete was the eldest and Marcie the youngest. Pete was a couple of years older than Adam and Marcie was just a little older than Joe.
As he approached, Adam called out to his old friend, “Hey Pete, why don’t you come and join us, seeing as how we’ve both been saddled with babysitting duties?”
“Oh I’ve only got her for a couple of minutes,” Pete declared, grabbing hold of Marcie’s hand before she ran off. “Ma’s just doing a bit of shopping so she shouldn’t be long.” With a slight shove on her back, Pete sent Marcie in Joe’s direction.
It was rare for the two younger children to get together. They were both pre-school age and whereas Little Joe spent most of his days with Hop Sing, Marcie was still very much the baby of the Darren family and stayed at home with her mother.
“Want some?” Joe offered generously, holding his glass towards Marcie in a welcoming fashion.
Marcie shrugged but took the glass anyway and proceeded to sip slowly at the fizzy drink.
The older siblings smiled indulgently at the younger ones for a moment and then Pete turned to his friends and whispered.
“Have you two heard about the new place on ‘D’ Street?” This was accompanied by a furtive glance around to make sure no one else was in hearing distance and a self-satisfied smirk covering his face.
“Careful!” Adam warned through gritted teeth, indicating his head towards Marcie and Joe, “little people have big ears.”
“They wouldn’t understand anyway,” Ross declared confidently. “Come on then, Pete, tell all.”
“Well,” Pete continued, hardly able to contain his excitement. “There’s a new establishment opened and they’ve called it Paradise Lost.”
All three friends sniggered together at the irony of the name.
“It’s not very heavenly then,” Adam commented trying to keep a straight face.
“That all depends on what your idea of paradise is,” Pete shot straight back at him with a glint in his eyes.
“Let me tell you,” Pete leered, “they have the best girls in town at those Pearly Gates and one girl in particular called Eve, is the most beautiful fallen angel I’ve ever seen!”
“Paradise and a gal named Eve! Do you suppose it’s her real name?” Adam asked raising his eyebrows.
“I don’t know about that,” Pete replied, his lips curling up at the sides. “But she sure is tempting.”
“Have you really been inside?” Ross asked in admiration, trying to get into the conversation.
“What do you think?” Pete replied straightening his back and preening with pride. At nineteen he considered himself a man of the world in comparison to his younger friends and loved to give them the benefit of his experience.
“My mama’s an angel in heaven, ain’t she, Adam?” Joe’s voice piped up, causing the older boys to nearly jump out of their skin.
“See I told you!” Adam remonstrated, “little people have BIG ears.” Then turning to Joe and bending to pat the little boy’s head, he added. “The word is ‘isn’t,’ not ‘ain’t, and you’re right, Little Joe; your mama is an angel, the best angel of them all.”
Joe looked pleased with Adam’s answer but his smile turned to a scowl as he turned back to face Marcie. “You’re drinking all my sasprella,” he rebuked. “I want it back.”
Marcie tightened her hold on the glass, whereupon an incensed Joe made a grab for it. The two children began a tug-of-war between them and needless to say the glass and the sarsaparilla ended up in the street. Marcie looked down forlornly as the last of the drink flowed from the glass and into the dirt, then with an indignant cry she drew back her hand and smacked Little Joe hard on the face.
Joe was taken aback. The small boy had often had his britches warmed, but no one had ever hit him on the face before. Not having had much to do with girls at this stage in his life, Joe had no compunction about retaliating the best way he knew how. Drawing back his foot, he kicked out at his attacker and landed a heavy boot straight in Marcie’s shin. A shocked Adam was just able to grab him by the seat of his pants and yank him from the ground before the little demon was able to repeat the action.
The little girl began to holler at the top of her voice and, alerted to her baby’s cries, Mrs. Darren emerged from a nearby shop and came running towards them.
“What on earth has happened?” Mrs. Darren cried, taking her small daughter into her arms.
“H-h-he kicked me,” wailed the child, pointing an accusing finger towards Joe.
“You hit me first,” shouted back Little Joe, angry tears threatening to spill from his eyes.
Adam clasped a hand over Joe’s mouth. “I’m really sorry, Mrs. Darren; Little Joe’s got a bit of a temper on him. Pa’s always on at him about it, but don’t worry I’ll see that he’s punished.” Then setting Joe back on the ground in front of mother and daughter, he demanded. “Apologize to Marcie, Little Joe.”
“No, she started it,” declared the tot, his fists clenched tightly by his sides.
Embarrassed by his brother’s rudeness, Adam landed a heavy swat to Joe’s rear end. Pete and Ross quickly covered their ears as this action had the undesirable result of both children starting to wail.
Mrs. Darren reached over and stroked Little Joe’s curls. “Oh Adam,” she protested, “there was no need for that. Marcie can be a little madam when she wants to be, and if Little Joe says she hit first, then I’m quite sure she did.”
“Even so Mrs. Darren, Little Joe has to learn he can’t go around hitting girls.”
Mrs. Darren began to smile. “They’re just babies, Adam. In time, Marcie will learn she can’t go hitting people if she doesn’t get her own way and I’m certain Little Joe will turn into a proper little gentleman one day.”
Marcie was used to being indulged and didn’t take kindly to her mother’s apparent rebuke. Her tears stopped and looking at Joe she stated, “Anyway, Little Joe tells lies; he says his Mama’s an angel.”
“She is so,” Joe declared, his bottom lip beginning to tremble anew. “My Pa told me she was.”
Mrs. Darren’s heart melted, and setting Marcie on the ground she reached over and drew the little boy into her arms. Marie Cartwright had not been one of her close friends, but on the few occasions they had been together, they got on well. A number of people in town thought of Marie as anything but an angel, but there was no way she was going to deny this motherless boy the comfort he got from thinking of her so. “Your Mama is the most beautiful angel in heaven Little Joe.”
Joe’s enchanting smile returned to his face. “Even more beautiful than Eve?” he asked in all innocence.
Mrs. Darren was at a loss. She looked at the older boys and raised her eyebrows in askance. All three shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads. Luckily for them Mrs. Darren didn’t scrutinize their faces too closely or she would have noticed the heightened color in their cheeks and the furtive looks in their eyes.
With a farewell pat on his cheek, she whispered in his ear. “Your Mama’s the most beautiful of them all, Little Joe, even Eve.”
Joe was delighted, but as mother and daughter walked away, he couldn’t resist sticking his tongue out at Marcie as she glared back in his direction.
Once his mother and sister had gone, Pete breathed a sigh of relief, and turning to his friends he asked, “Who’s up for it then?”
“Up for what?” Ross asked.
Shaking his head and wrapping an arm round the younger boy’s shoulder, he explained. “A visit to the Pearly Gates!” Then indicating towards Adam, he sneered. “After all, we can’t let Cartwright here go off to college without getting a ‘real’ education before he leaves. What will those blue nosed Yankees think of our country boy if he arrives there still green?”
“Oh no, you can count me out,” Adam quickly responded, casting a hasty look in Little Joe’s direction to see if the little boy was listening to the conversation. “And for your information, I am a blue nosed Yankee.”
Ross wasn’t so reticent as his friend. “Aw, come on, Adam, we’ve gotta have some fun before you go. Your always boasting about what a ladies’ man you are; well, now’s the time to prove it.”
After a lot of coaxing, Adam’s resolve began to wane. He really fancied having a look inside Paradise Lost and Miss Eve certainly intrigued him. After all, he reasoned, he didn’t have to do anything; just to have been inside would be enough. Where was the harm in that? “Okay then, I’m in. When do we go?”
With a gleam in his eye Pete gave last minute instructions, “Okay Cartwright, I’ll meet you and Ross on the outskirts of town about 8 o’clock tonight.”
Before Adam had a chance to reply, there came a bellow from behind, “Adam for goodness sake, can’t I trust you to watch your little brother for two minutes?”
Adam jumped to attention and quickly scanned behind him to look for his errant sibling. To his utter horror, Joe was sat on the ground making mud pies out of dirt and spilt sarsaparilla. Ben shook his head in despair; his youngest child seemed to attract dirt like a cow attracted flies.
“Hi Pa,” Joe enthused. “Want an apple pie?”
Ben did his best to avoid the outstretched hand and counted to ten in an attempt to get his temper under control. Turning on his elder son, he jabbed a finger into the young man’s chest and declared. “I hold you responsible for this. He was in your care, therefore your responsibility. There’s no way I can take him round town with me now, so I suggest you get on your horse and take your little brother back to the ranch and get him cleaned up.”
“Aw Pa, you know I was going to go…..”
Ben didn’t let Adam finish. “Aw nothing. Is it too much to ask for you to keep an eye on him for just one hour? No argument, Adam; I will see you at home.” Turning to Joseph he added, “I will speak to you later young man. I specifically told you to be good.”
“But I was good, Pa,” Joe replied indignantly, then catching sight of his brother’s raised eyebrow he remembered the Marcie incident and decided he would say no more.
As Ben stomped away, Adam grabbed hold of his little brother’s arm and dragged him to his feet. “See what you’ve done,” he snarled, shaking the small boy harshly, “Now I’m going to have to take you home.”
Joe was unperturbed, “I could make you a pie if you want” he offered good-naturedly, smiling happily up at his eldest brother.
In the face of such innocence, Adam couldn’t hold onto his anger for long. Swinging the child up into his arms he tickled the small boy until he laughed uncontrollably. “I think I’ll pass on the pie, little buddy, but maybe we should take one home for Hoss.”
Ben was in a much better mood when he returned to the ranch just in time for supper. A freshly scrubbed Little Joe ran out to meet him, dressed only in his nightshirt.
Picking up his youngest son, Ben playfully turned him over and swatted his backside.
“Ouch” giggled Little Joe, pretending to be hurt. “What was that for?”
“That young man,” Ben began, wiggling a finger in front of Joe’s face, “is for chasing the chickens into the house this morning and upsetting Hop Sing. And also for playing in the mud this afternoon when I expressly told you to be good.”
“But I was good, Pa. You never said anything about getting dirty.”
Ben just shook his head. Experience should have told him his youngest son needed very specific instructions; otherwise, there was no chance of him following orders.
As soon as supper was finished, Adam excused himself. “Pa, is it okay if I go over to Ross’ house?”
Ben thought for a minute and then acceded, nodding his head a little guiltily. After all, Adam’s rest day had not turned out as he planned. “Very well, Adam, but don’t be too late.”
“Sure, Pa,” Adam replied, quickly strapping on his gun belt and reaching for his jacket before his father had time to change his mind.
Once outside, Adam breathed a sigh of relief, for he had not expected his Pa to agree so easily. As he saddled Sport, a tremor of excitement ran down his spine. Tonight was going to be quite a night! If only he knew!!!
When supper was cleared away, Ben sat contentedly reading the newspaper and smoking his pipe as his two younger children played together on the floor. Suddenly a small head poked underneath his paper and clambered up onto his lap.
Little Joe sat intrigued as Ben continued to puff on his pipe, his little hand reaching out and trying to grab at the smoke as it wafted towards the ceiling.
Ben hugged the small boy to him. Little Joe was obviously very sleepy and Ben was confident that once he was cuddled the child would only take but a few moments to fall asleep.
“Pa” the little voice began. “When can I go and see Mama in heaven?”
Ben put down his paper and pipe and hugged the child closer to him. A knife pierced Ben’s heart as he thought about Marie, but it had been nearly nine months since her death and he was at last able to deal with Little Joe’s never-ending questions with regards to where his mother had gone.
“Oh Little Joe, it will be a long, long time before you go to heaven; in fact, you’ll probably be very old.”
“Mama wasn’t old.”
Ben swallowed hard. “I know she wasn’t old, Joe, but she had an accident.”
“Is Adam going to have an accident as well?”
This was a new one on Ben. Why would the child connect Adam with accidents and heaven?
“No, son, don’t you worry, Adam’s not going to have an accident.”
“Then why’s he going to the Pearly Gates?”
Joe was aware of this expression from his Sunday morning visits to Church with his family. The minister often referred to the congregation meeting the Creator at the Pearly Gates of Heaven.
Ben was becoming more confused by the minute but decided to play along. “Who’s Adam going to meet at the Pearly Gates Little Joe?”
“An angel,” Joe declared, opening his eyes wide to emphasize the importance.
Turning to his middle son Ben asked, “Hoss, do you have any idea what your brother is talking about?”
Hoss shrugged his shoulders and continued to play with Joe’s soldiers on the floor. “Nobody has said anything to me about no angel.”
Ben was intrigued. There must be a reason that Joe thought his elder brother was meeting an angel at the Pearly Gates. “Does this angel have a name, Little Joe?” he asked, but not really expecting an answer.
“Her name’s Eve and she’s beautiful, but not as beautiful as Mama. Mrs. Darren said so!”
Ben was nonplussed. Where on earth did Mrs. Darren fit into all this and who was Eve? Little Joe’s next words set alarm bells ringing in Ben’s head and suddenly things started to fit into place.
“Pete said Eve’s a fallen angel, Pa. Does that mean she fell out of the sky?”
“Pearly Gates and fallen angels,” Ben muttered to himself through gritted teeth. “I’ll blister his hide when I get hold of him.”
Glancing down and seeing that he was alarming Little Joe, Ben tried to calm his voice as he said, “Joseph, Pa has to go out for a while. You and Hoss will stay here with Hop Sing; it’s time you were in bed anyway. Now be good boys and Pa will see you in the morning.”
Ben was expecting Joe to make a fuss, but the little boy scampered off his knee and made his way towards the stairs. “I’ll go to bed right away Pa,” he called over his shoulder as he ran quickly to his room.
A perplexed Ben gazed after him. There was just no figuring that child out. Looking at Hoss he asked, “Do you know what’s up with your little brother?”
Hoss began to chuckle, “It’s ’cause you’re leaving him with Hop Sing. You didn’t tan him for this morning’s mischief, but Hop Sing promised he would, so I guess he figures he’ll be safer in bed.”
“Your older brother won’t get off quite so easily,” Ben declared, leaving Hoss to ponder what on earth his ‘goody two shoes’ elder sibling could have done to get Pa so upset.
Pete met up with Ross and Adam on the outskirts of town. Handing Adam a bottle of whisky, he cajoled, “Just to give you a bit of Dutch courage, as I wouldn’t want you to hightail and run before the fun starts.”
“I don’t need any Dutch courage,” Adam declared with false bravado, but he took a couple of large swigs nevertheless.
Unaccustomed to hard liquor, Adam coughed as the whisky burned the back of his throat, but very soon the alcohol worked its magic and any misgivings he may have had about the evening ahead were pushed way to the back of his mind.
As darkness descended, the three boys dismounted from their horses in front of the Paradise Lost establishment. During the ride into town, they had managed to consume best part of a bottle of whisky between them and Adam took the opportunity to take one last gulp before stuffing the nearly empty bottle into his saddlebag.
Walking up to the entrance, Pete looked back at his two comrades, before confidently pushing open the door and walking inside. Ross followed quickly behind.
Adam stood outside for a moment contemplating whether he was doing the right thing. Thoughts of his mother filled his head. His Pa had once told him his mother’s favorite book had been Paradise Lost and because of that she had named him Adam. With a shake of his head, Adam pushed the images of Elizabeth away; this was not the time and place to be thinking about his mother.
Minutes later, the three friends stood open mouthed in the parlor of Paradise and with hats in hand they smiled shyly at the giggling girls in front of them.
One of the ‘ladies’ took stock of the handsome young men in front of her and before any of the others present could make a move, she pointed at Adam and declared, “Hands off, girls, that one’s mine.”
Walking over to Adam, she playfully reached up and stroked his cheek. “Well hello there, handsome. My names Eve and have I got a rosy apple for you! What’s your name, cutie?”
Blushing to the roots of his hair, Adam haltingly replied. “A-A-Adam.”
With a hoot of laughter, Eve took him by the hand and pulling him over to a chaise lounge she giggled, “See, I knew we were just meant for each other the moment I clapped eyes on you!”
As Ben rode into Virginia City, he turned and headed towards ‘D’ street, a part of the town he wouldn’t normally frequent. He was hoping his suspicions about his eldest son’s whereabouts were wrong, but as he entered the notorious street in question, the first thing he noticed was his son’s horse tied up outside one of the more recently opened establishments.
Ben dismounted and walked over to Sport. Judging by the heat of the horse’s haunches, his son hadn’t been in town for very long. As Ben went to turn away, his eyes were drawn to the empty whisky bottle poking out of his wayward son’s saddlebags. With a shake of his head, Ben looked towards the entrance of Paradise Lost. Women and whisky; Adam certainly was living dangerously these days. Ben strode forward, instinctively resting his hand on his belt, and as he did so, he ruefully had to admit what Adam had to fear most was a lot closer to home than he probably imagined.
Opening the front door and walking inside, Ben was surprised to find how well decorated the hallway appeared to be. The place was certainly not shabby in its decoration and as he looked around appreciatively the Madam of the house came over to greet him.
“Good evening, Sir, can I be of assistance?” This was accompanied by a saucy wink and a smile.
“I’ve reason to believe my son is here; young fellow, tall, with dark hair and eyes.”
“Oh, I see,” the woman responded, realizing with some disappointment that Ben wasn’t a potential customer after all. “I think you’ll find who you are looking for just through there.”
As Ben made his way into the parlor, he breathed a sigh of relief that Adam hadn’t made his way upstairs yet. This whole episode was distressing enough and much as he was angry and upset at Adam’s deceit, he didn’t want to embarrass his son anymore than he had to.
In lots of ways he could understand Adam wanting to experience the delights that were on offer; after all, it was only natural that a boy on the cusp of manhood would want to sow a few wild oats. When Adam left home for college, he would cease to be under his father’s guidance and influence — that task falling to his maternal grandfather — but while he remained under age and under Ben’s roof, his father felt it was his responsibility to instill in him the moral code that he himself lived by.
Adam was relaxing on the chaise lounge, as Eve draped herself over the top of him, running her hands through his wavy black hair and whispering sweet nothings into his ear.
“Adam honey, I think it’s time to make our way into the Garden of Eden. You ready to take a bite out of that apple and have some fun?”
The whisky and the flattery had given Adam all the confidence he needed, not to mention his body’s reaction to the attractive girl sprawled across his lap.
Running his tongue over his lips and trying hard to sound like a man of the world, Adam nuzzled into her neck and replied, “I’m ready and waiting, beautiful angel; just lead me to the forbidden fruit.”
With eyes closed, Adam felt warm breath next to his ear and smiled expectantly, but the low growl of his father’s voice sent his mind into shock and his ardor quickly diminished.
“You can forget all about forbidden fruit and angels, young man. It’s time for you to meet your MAKER!!!”