Synopsis: It should be just an ordinary day, but with a full moon, it’s anything but normal.
Word Count: 3,700
Pulling his horse to a halt, Hoss Cartwright climbed down from his saddle and stood next to the animal on the dusty road. “Dagnabit,” grumbled the big man as he flipped up the saddle stirrup and began pulling on the loose cinch. “Ain’t nothing going right today. First, there’s no eggs for breakfast ‘cause the hens ain’t laying, then I had to put on my old boots ‘cause I broke the heel on one of my new ones, and now my cinch comes loose.”
“It’s the full moon,” advised Joe Cartwright, nodding wisely from atop his pinto.
“What’s the moon got to do with anything?” asked Hoss with a frown as he tightened the cinch.
“It’s a known fact that all kinds of strange things happen when there’s a full moon,” Joe explained. “People and animals start acting kind of crazy, stuff starts breaking, and things just generally get kind of weird.”
“That’s a bunch of hooey,” Hoss replied as he started to mount his horse again.
“It’s superstition,” agreed Adam Cartwright, who waiting patiently for his brother to re-mount. “But a lot of people believe the moon has an effect on events. In ancient days, people built all kinds of devices to track the moon so they would know when a full moon was going to occur. They would offer sacrifices or have ceremonies to insure good luck.”
“Well, the only good luck I want is at the poker table,” Joe told his older brother Adam. “This is the first day off that Pa has given us in a month, and I aim to enjoy it.”
“After we pick up the mail, order the seed, get Pa’s tobacco …” said Adam, starting to tick off a list of tasks on his fingers.
“Adam, you sure know how to spoil a fellow’s fun,” Joe complained.
“You want to tell Pa we were too busy enjoying ourselves to take care of the things he asked us to do?” countered Adam. “Because if you do, you’re going to need a better excuse than there was a full moon.”
“Well, you’re right there,” admitted Joe grudgingly.
“If you fellows sit around here jawing all day, we ain’t gonna get to town until midnight,” Hoss declared. “Let’s ride.”
Once they reached Virginia City, the Cartwright brothers quickly divided up the tasks that their father had asked them to do. Hoss readily agreed to take care of ordering the seed for the meadow in which the Cartwrights were planning to grow hay.
After spending some time gossiping with Sam, the owner of the Feed and Grain Store, Hoss finally got around ordering the seed needed for the hay.
“That should be enough to cover the two acres you are planting to sow,” commented Sam with a nod as he completed writing out the order form. “The seed should be ready for you to pick up at the end of the week. I’ve got a wagon coming in with lots of seed, and it should be here tomorrow or the next day.”
“Lots of people planting, eh?” Hoss remarked.
“Usually happens when there’s a full moon,” agreed Sam.
“Full moon? What’s that got to do with it?” asked Hoss with a puzzled expression.
“A lot of people thinking planting when there’s a full moon makes their crops grow better,” explained Sam. “I don’t know if that’s true, but I always sell more seed than usual at that time of the month, so I’m not complaining.” Suddenly, Sam looked up. “Say, Hoss, would you mind doing me a favor?”
“Sure, Sam, what is it?” replied Hoss.
“Well, I’ve got a bag of fertilizer that I was supposed to take over to Marge Ferguson’s house but I’ve been so busy that I haven’t gotten around to it,” said Sam. “Would you mind taking it over for me?”
Knowing that Marge Ferguson was one of the best baker’s in town, Hoss quickly agreed. He figured that delivering the fertilizer might earn him a reward of some of Mrs. Ferguson’s famous butter cookies.
Carrying the small bag of fertilizer, Hoss hurried to Marge Ferguson’s house. He found the middle-aged lady kneeling in her front yard, spreading dirt over what seemed to be a row of sticks.
“Afternoon, Mrs. Ferguson!” Hoss called cheerfully as he entered the woman’s yard. “I brung you the fertilizer from ol’ Sam. He told me to tell you he was sorry he didn’t get it here sooner.”
“Oh Hoss, your timing is perfect,” Mrs. Ferguson declared as she turned to greet the large man. “Why don’t you put it down right here.”
After laying the bag on the ground near the still-kneeling woman, Hoss couldn’t resist asking, “What are you planting?”
“Rose bushes,” replied Mrs. Ferguson. “My sister sent them from St. Louis. I have to get them planted right away so that they’ll bloom soon. This is the time to plant them, you know.”
“Because of the full moon,” Hoss said, nodding his head wisely.
“Of course,” agreed Mrs. Ferguson. “Everyone knows you should plant under a full moon in order to get good results.” She smiled at Hoss, and then added with a twinkle in her eye, “You deserve a treat for being so nice to deliver the fertilizer. If you don’t mind waiting a bit until I’m finished here, I have some fresh cookies for you to try.”
“I don’t mind waiting, ma’am,” said Hoss quickly. He walked up to the porch of the house and settled his hip on the railing in front of it. The wood of the railing seem to give a bit under his weight, but Hoss was too preoccupied with the thought of cookies to notice.
“There’s not much to them bushes right now,” observed Hoss as he looked down on to the plants below.
“No, they’re mostly branches and thorns,” agreed Mrs. Ferguson. “But with lots of water, fertilizer, and a little care, they’ll grow. I’m looking forward to having a yard full of red roses.”
Shifting his weight again, Hoss leaned forward a bit. The wood underneath him groaned, but once more, Hoss ignored the noise. “It should look real pretty,” he remarked.
Suddenly, there was a load crack and the railing beneath Hoss broke away from the post to which it was attached. Hoss felt himself tumbling forward, right toward the horrified face of Mrs. Ferguson.
Picking up a pouch of his father’s favorite tobacco was easiest chore Adam had to handle. After putting the small sack in the saddle bag of his horse, he walked over to the sheriff’s office to take care of another task that wasn’t quite so cut and dried.
“Howdy, Adam,” Sheriff Roy Coffee greeted the oldest Cartwright son as Adam entered the office. “What brings you here?”
“Hello, Roy,” Adam returned the lawman’s greeting. “Pa wanted me to stop by and tell you we found a campsite and some tracks on near Watson’s Grove.”
“What’s so suspicious about that?” asked Coffee, clearly puzzled. “Probably just a couple of fellows made camp for the night.”
“Well, these fellows tried to hide their tracks,” explained Adam. “They had scattered the remains of the campfire and tried to brush out their tracks. We followed the brush marks but lost the trail when they got to hard ground.”
“Now that does sound suspicious,” agreed the sheriff with a frown. “Any idea who they might be?”
“No,” admitted Adam, “we didn’t find any other signs. But anyone who takes that much trouble to try to hide where they’ve been and where they’re going is probably up to no good.”
“I agree,” Coffee said with a nod. “I’ll ride out to Watson’s Grove and take a look around myself as soon as I can. It might be a day or two, though.”
The sound of yelling interrupted the sheriff. The strident, angry voices were drifting through the open door that led to the cell block. Abruptly, Roy Coffee got up from behind his desk and walked to the door. The sheriff stuck his head into the cell block.
“Now you two quiet down!” Coffee ordered loudly. “You’re already in enough trouble. You don’t want me adding more charges to the ones you’re already facing, do you?” Almost at once, the voices quieted.
“Sorry about that, Adam,” apologized the sheriff as he walked back toward his desk. “It’s been like this for the past two days. The whole town seems to gotten a burr under their saddle. I’ve broken up more fights and taken home more drunks in the last couple of days than I did in the last month.”
“The full moon,” murmured Adam.
“Could be,” Coffee agreed. “Seems like every time there’s a full moon, half this town goes crazy.” The sheriff shook his head. “I’ve got my hands full in town right now, but I’ll get out to Watson’s Grove as soon as I can.”
“You don’t mind if we take a look around ourselves, do you?” asked Adam.
“Go right ahead,” Coffee replied. “But watch yourselves. You don’t know what you’re dealing with. Could be rustlers, bank robbers, or just any kind of sneaky varmints.” The sheriff paused, and then frowned. “You know, I got a wire from Fred Logan, the sheriff in Carson City. Two fellows robbed the bank over there but they didn’t get much ‘cause the safe wasn’t open and the teller didn’t know the combination. Fred thought they might be heading this way. If those bank robbers are the ones who were camping on your land, they could be dangerous.”
“We’ll be careful,” Adam promised with a nod, then turned and walked toward the door.
Outside the sheriff’s office, Adam stopped and looked around. His tasks were completed, but he didn’t feel like heading over to the Silver Dollar Saloon just yet. As he was trying to decide what to do next, Adam saw Mary Lou Adams walking down the street, pulling a dog on a leash behind her. Adam smiled a bit at the sight of the pretty blonde tugging the clearly unwilling dog in the direction of her house. With quick strides, Adam crossed the street.
“Hello, Mary Lou,” Adam said with a smile, putting his fingers to his hat and tipping it slightly. “What’s wrong with Warner?”
Mary Lou returned Adam’s smile before looking down at the German shepherd now lying on the boards of the sidewalk. “He’s been irritable all day, Adam. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He kept prowling the house like he wanted to go out, so I took him for a walk. Warner usually likes to take a run in that area behind the livery, but he just sat there. Now he doesn’t want to go home. I haven’t seen him act like this since he was a puppy.”
“Do you think he’s sick?” asked Adam with concern.
“He ate everything I gave him,” Mary Lou answered. “And he doesn’t act sick. He’s just grouchy.”
Crouching down, Adam studied the dog. Warner looked back at Adam with clear, albeit suspicious, eyes. There was no sign of any spit or foam coming from the animal’s mouth nor was the dog panting heavily.
“What’s bothering you, Warner?” murmured Adam, reaching forward to pet the dog’s head.
Giving a loud yelp, Warner opened his jaws.
Picking up the mail was a simple task, which is why Joe had quickly volunteered for that duty. He had thought it would only take a few minutes and then he would be able to head for the Silver Dollar Saloon. Unfortunately, once Joe arrived at the Post Office, things didn’t go quite as planned.
Ed Walker, the Virginia City Postmaster, wasn’t in his office. A young man Joe had never seen before stood behind the counter.
“Hi,” Joe greeted the young man, “where’s Ed?”
“His wife is feeling poorly so he’s home with her,” the young man replied impassively. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, my name is Cartwright,” Joe explained. “I’m here to pick up the mail for the Ponderosa.”
“All right,” said the young man coolly. “Can I see some identification?”
“Identification?” Joe patted the pockets of his jacket. “What kind of identification do you have in mind?”
“Something that tells me you’re who you say you are,” answered the man behind the desk.
Joe pulled out his wallet and thumbed through it. Inside the wallet were a few ten dollar bills but nothing else. No letter, no papers with his name on it. “I don’t seem to have any identification with me,” Joe admitted.
“Well, then, I can’t give you the Ponderosa mail,” stated the young man, turning away.
“Now wait a minute!” Joe exclaimed. “I’m Joe Cartwright. Everybody in town knows who I am.”
“I don’t,” said the young man briefly.
“You must be new in town,” Joe observed.
“I just arrived last week,” admitted the young man. “Mr. Walker hired me yesterday.” He turned away from Joe once more. “I have a lot of work to do.”
“Well, welcome to Virginia City,” Joe said in a friendly voice. “Now if you’ll just give me the mail for the Ponderosa, I’ll get out of your hair.”
“I’m not giving mail to anyone who can’t prove it belongs to them,” declared the young man stubbornly, his back still to Joe.
Frustrated, Joe pounded the counter with his hand. “Now, look you…”
Whirling around, the young man faced Joe. “My name is Jimmy, Jimmy Wilson.”
“All right…Jimmy,” repeated Joe. “Most of the people in this town don’t carry any identification with them. How are they suppose to get their mail?”
“Mr. Walker knows the people in town and he’s introduced me to a lot of them,” answered Jimmy stiffly. “The ones I know got their mail. Anyone else has to show identification. If they don’t have identification, I tell them to come back tomorrow when Mr. Walker is here.”
“I’m not riding all the way back into town tomorrow just to get the mail,” Joe declared angrily.
“Then I guess you’ll have to do it the day after,” Jimmy countered.
Once more, Joe hit the counter in frustration. He turned and started to walk out of the post office. Through the window, however, Joe spotted Roy Coffee walking down the street. “Wait a minute,” Joe called, rushing out the door. “I’ll be right back.
The young man in the post office watched as Joe ran across the street and grabbed the sheriff by the arm. He saw Joe speak briefly to Roy Coffee and then practically drag the sheriff back to the Post Office.
“Roy, would you please tell this idiot who I am,” demanded Joe as he and the sheriff entered the building.
“This is Joe Cartwright of the Ponderosa,” said Roy obligingly.
“Now, will you give me the mail for the Ponderosa,” demanded Joe.
“I don’t know…” Jimmy began in a doubtful voice.
“Roy!” Joe practically shouted. “Tell him to give me the mail!”
With an amused look on his face, the sheriff studied the youngest Cartwright for a moment, as if he were seeing Joe for the first time. Then he turned toward the young man behind the counter. “I’ll vouch for him,” Coffee stated. “You can give him the Ponderosa mail.”
“Well, if you say it’s all right, I guess it is,” agreed Jimmy. He took a few steps to his left where a pigeon-holed box sat atop a table. Jimmy pulled envelopes out of two boxes and replaced them before he found the mail he was seeking.
Walking slowly back to the counter, Jimmy offered a handful of envelopes to Joe. “Here’s your mail, Mr. Cartwright.”
Joe snatched the envelopes out of Jimmy’s hand. “Thanks,” he muttered turning and walking toward the door. The sheriff followed Joe with the amused expression still on his face.
“You come back and see us real soon,” called Jimmy at the retreating pair.
Looking up, Joe rolled his eyes and shook his head.
Out on the street, Joe shook his head once more. “What an idiot!” he exclaimed.
“Now, Joe, he was just doing his job,” said Coffee in a soothing voice. “You wouldn’t want him to be giving the Ponderosa mail to just anyone, would you?”
“I guess not,” Joe agreed grudgingly. He smiled at the sheriff as he stuffed the envelopes inside his jacket. “I’m heading down to the Silver Dollar. Can I buy you a beer? That’s the least I can do since you vouched for me.”
“I can’t right now,” replied Roy regretfully. “But I’ll walk down that way with you.”
With easy strides, the two men strolled down the sidewalk, exchanging bits of news as they walked. As they approached the Virginia City bank, however, both stopped abruptly. Two men were running out of the bank with bandanas covering the lower part of their face and guns drawn. One man was holding a sack.
“Hold it right there!” shouted Roy Coffee, drawing his own gun. “Stop or I’ll shoot!”
Startled, the two men halted and looked with surprise at the sheriff. The man with the money raised his hands, dropping both the sack and his pistol to the ground. The other man, however, hesitated, then raised his gun as if to fire.
Without thinking, Joe flung himself at the second man, tackling him around the knees and throwing him to the ground. The bandit’s pistol flew out of his hand, hitting the wooden sidewalk with a thud. Joe was getting to his feet when the bank robber reached up and threw a punch.
Ben Cartwright had planned to spend a quiet day at the Ponderosa. With his sons in town, he decided he could do a little bookkeeping and then spend the rest of his time reading the new Dickens novel which he had just acquired. But for some reason, Ben found it hard to concentrate. He felt restless, unsettled, as if he should be doing something else, even though he had no idea what that something else could be.
A few hours passed as Ben worked on the accounts, but he didn’t accomplish much. After spending five minutes trying to add some numbers and coming up with a different answer each time, Ben threw down the pen in his hand. He couldn’t seem to focus on the figures in the ledger on his desk and spending more time working on them seemed pointless. Slamming the accounts book closed, Ben got up from behind the desk and walked over to the fireplace. Sitting on the coffee table in front of the fireplace was the Dickens novel. He picked up the book, then settled down in his favorite red leather chair and began to read.
“Mistah Cartwright, you want some coffee?”
Looking up, Ben saw Hop Sing, the Ponderosa cook, standing a few feet away with a mug in his hand.
“Thank you, Hop Sing, that would be nice,” Ben replied with a smile.
Hop Sing was walking toward his boss with the coffee mug when his foot hit an uneven board on the floor. Pitching forward, the Chinese cook instinctively threw out his arms. The coffee in the mug flew through the air, with most of the liquid in it landing on Ben’s knees.
“Ow!” screamed Ben as the hot liquid burned his legs a bit. He quickly stood and started brushing the drops of coffee from his pants.
“Oh! Mistah Cartwright!! Hop Sing sorry!” exclaimed the cook in dismay. “Hop Sing very sorry!!”
“It’s all right, Hop Sing; I know it was just an accident,” Ben said as he continued to brush his pants.
“Hop Sing very clumsy all day,” the cook stated. “Burn bread, not chop carrots right. Very bad things happen.” Hop Sing shook his head. “Must be full moon.”
“Full moon?” asked Ben.
“Full moon bring bad luck,” explained Hop Sing. “Many bad things happen.” He shook his head once more. “I go do ceremony to keep evil spirits away.” With that, the cook padded softly toward the kitchen.
Ben was still brushing his pants when he heard the front door open. He looked up in surprise to see Adam, Hoss and Joe coming through the door.
“You boys home so soon? I thought…” Ben stopped speaking and stared at his sons. Hoss’ face was covered with scratches; Adam’s hand was wrapped in a white bandage; Joe’s eye was black and his cheek was supporting a large bruise. “What on earth happened to you?” Ben asked in astonishment.
“Rose bush,” answered Hoss.
“Dog,” replied Adam.
“Bank robber,” explained Joe.
“What?” Ben said again. Then he raised his hand. “Never mind, you can explain it later. Right now, I have to go upstairs and change my pants. Hop Sing spilled coffee all over them.”
Adam, Hoss and Joe exchanged looks and then the three of them broke into grins. “You too, huh Pa?” said Joe.
“Me too what?” Ben snapped.
“You suffered from the curse too,” Hoss explained. “The curse of the full moon.”
“The full moon?” Ben repeated with a frown. He remembered Hop Sing’s warning about bad luck. Then he shook his shoulders. “That’s ridiculous. Just superstition.”
“Maybe,” agreed Adam, “but you have to admit we’ve had better days.”
“It’s just nonsense,” Ben stated again. “Things don’t happen because of the moon. They just…happen.”
“I don’t know, Pa,” Hoss commented in a doubtful voice. “There’s some mighty strange things happened today. Ain’t no real explanation except maybe because there’s a full moon.”
“I’m not going to argue such a preposterous idea with you,” declared Ben. “If you want to believe in full moons or four-leaf clovers or whatever, go right ahead. If you want superstition to rule your life, feel free. In the meantime, your brothers and I will just agree that we’ve had a bad day all around, right, boys?”
“Right,” agreed Joe. “But I’ll tell you what. The next time you give us a day off, Pa, I’m going to check the moon before I go into town.”