Little Lady in Red (by DJK)

Summary:  All three Cartwright boys are waiting for their comeuppance.
Category:  Ponderosa
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  7500


 

 It’s her fault!  I can tell you that, and Hoss and Adam will tell you too, even if she is younger than them. Not that it will help to tell Pa. Ben Cartwright always says each person is responsible for whatever he decides to do. That’s why Adam, Hoss, and me are laying on our bunks, hoping Pa ain’t going to kill us. Adam did say dying might be the easy way out, but Adam says things like that even when he don’t mean them. Adam’s my oldest brother. He’s waiting to turn twenty-one, but he’s still got some months to go. He thinks being twenty-one will make lots of difference, but I ain’t so sure it will make that much difference to Pa.  Hoss, my middle brother, just turned seventeen. Since he watched Adam being seventeen, he knows that don’t carry much weight with Pa. Hoss being bigger and taller than Adam and even Pa don’t mean nothing either when it comes to Pa being in charge. I’m Joe. I’m twelve. Adam says I delude myself about lots of things, but I ain’t got no delusions — that’s another one of Adam’s big words — about being a little kid to Pa.

Now most people would find it hard to believe that one female could lead all three of Ben Cartwright’s sons astray. That’s mostly because Pa ‘s done put a lot of effort into raising us right. Then again, some say it’s because, even though there are things about us that are the same because we’re all Cartwrights, we’re real different in other ways. I suppose that’s because we all have different mothers.  Adam’s mother was Elizabeth. She was the daughter of a sea captain, and she died right after he was born, so only Pa remembers her. When Adam talks about Mama, he means Inger who was Hoss’s mother. She was Swedish, and Pa married her while he and Adam were traveling to California from Boston. She died while Hoss was a baby, so he don’t remember her. When Hoss or Adam or me say Ma, we mean my mother, Marie. She was a Creole, and Pa married her in New Orleans. She died less than a year ago here in Eagle Station, so there are only Pa, Adam, Hoss, Hop Sing, and me living on our ranch, the Ponderosa.

Oh yeah, Hop Sing ain’t a blood relation. Some people call him our Chinaman.  Boy. Does that make all of us mad! Nicer people call him our cook or housekeeper. Hop Sing does do all the cooking — if you’d ever tasted Hop Sing’s cooking you’d know why — and lots of other things around the house, but really Hop Sing is a friend who loves us. Not that you’d think it when he gets mad.  Pa says Hop Sing has enough of a temper to be a blood Cartwright; I think Hop Sing has enough temper for two Cartwrights, which is saying something.

Pa’s temper is what has all of us shaking right now. Not that Pa would do anything we didn’t deserve. Of course that’s the problem; what we deserve is going to be bad enough.

Which, as I said before, is her fault. Now she had to use different methods, but she got each of us to join her. She blackmailed me because I knew what Pa would do to my backside if she told him what I done. She could have told because she hadn’t done anything she wasn’t allowed. With Hoss, all she had to do was be pitiful and cry. Hoss is big enough to scare some grown men, but he has a real soft heart. I can get him to go along with most anything if I try hard enough, and he just ain’t no match for a crying girl. Pa has a hard time resisting crying females, but I don’t think that’s going to help Hoss much. Now crying just don’t work on Adam because he can be hard as granite, and she didn’t have nothing to blackmail him with, so she had to play him like you play a fish. It took some doing, but she pulled him in. A little bit ago, he mumbled something about pride going before a fall. I know that’s from the Bible, and that Adam’s done figured out where he went wrong. I guess we’ve all figured out what we did wrong; we just can’t figure out how to get right with Pa except by going through a lot of misery which we’d rather live without.

Now I know your wondering who she is. Well, now there is some question about the exact answer to that, so we’ll just go by who she was when I met her. She was Mary Margaret O’Halleran. Of course, the only person I ever heard call her Mary Margaret was the teacher; everyone else called her Red. Now, you might think folks called her Red because she has red hair, but that wasn’t it.  In fact, her hair is black. Her hair is thick, black, and wavy, and her eyes are blue with long lashes. No, people call her Red because it’s the color she wears. Far as I saw in the months I knew her, she had four sets of clothes. Her two everyday dresses were a red plaid and a red calico with tiny blue flowers scattered across it.  Her church dress — even though Eagle Station don’t have a church right now — was plain red with a white lace collar.  She had a dark red riding skirt with a red and black checked shirt. Her petticoats, stockings, and hair ribbons were always red.  Mitch and I wondered if her bloomers and things were red too. When he up and asked her one day, she slapped his face so hard you could see her hand print an hour later, and we never got an answer.

I didn’t like Red from the start. Now, it wasn’t just because she’s a gal. In fact, like all the Carwrights, I like pretty gals. Adam says I had my first girlfriend when I was five. I don’t remember myself. Pa says that was just because Adam had a girlfriend, and I always wanted to do whatever my big brother did. I have had quite a few girlfriends already, though. No, it’s not that I didn’t like Red because she’s a girl.  I can’t say there was a good reason for not liking her, but I didn’t.

Now, before I start telling ya what really happened, there’s something you have to understand and that is how Pa feels about gambling.  He don’t hold with it.  That’s why we ain’t allowed to gamble in anyway.  Pa takes a broad view of what he considers gambling, so my brothers and me ain’t allowed to bet on anything or play anything to win something.  Now we bet to just to see who wins, but we don’t get or lose anything. We play cards too, but the matches all go back in the same box at the end of the game. Pa thinks gambling includes playing marbles for keeps.  He don’t mind if I play marbles, but he’s forbidden me to play for keeps.  I do sometimes, but I’m careful to keep it from Pa. My friends know not to say nothing, and they don’t. That’s why Pa’s only caught me at it twice; which is a good thing. The first time I got my warning and a restriction. The second time I got a longer restriction and my britches warmed. I also got Pa’s promise about what would happen if he found out I played for keeps again. That’s why I’d do most anything to keep him from knowing.

Eagle Station is a stop for lots of folks traveling to California and Oregon.  In fact, that’s where my family was headed when we found our home.  Once we saw what would become our ranch — the Ponderosa we call it — we didn’t think there was no reason to move on ’cause a bit of heaven was right here.

Some of the folks who are passing through here stay for a time. The ones who stay the longest are those who have to spend the winter because the mountain passes get blocked by snow. According to the teacher, Red and her aunt were with a small wagon train that had started late and been delayed more than most.  Half of their group decided to wait out the winter in Eagle Station. Her aunt decided to stay and enrolled Red in the Eagle Station School.

Now, at first, Red stayed pretty much to herself. She just didn’t seem to want to make friends with anybody. Lots of the kids thought she was kinda stuck up. After a few days, most of us just ignored her. Then she won the math contest.

Now our teacher thinks that contests are motivating — that’s her word — and is always having one contest or another. Mr. and Mrs. Orowitz, who own the trading post, are real good about donating things for prizes, so we can be real motivated.  Now we have a math contest about every term, and none of them have ever been won by a girl.  A girl most always wins the composition and handwriting contests, and the spelling, geography, and history contests go about fifty/fifty, but the math contests everybody knows are gonna be won by a boy.  That’s why the prize this time was a penknife. A real fine penknife it was too. Every boy in the school wanted that knife, but who goes and wins it but a girl. Right then we knew we had to do something to put Red in her place, so when she made that remark about marbles being such a simple game, one thing just led to another.

After the math contest, Mitch, Seth, Tuck, the Langsdale brothers, and me set out to goad Red about girls not being able to play marbles. After a while, Red declared she could win every marble the whole lot of us had. She said if she couldn’t, she would give the penknife to the first boy she couldn’t beat.  Well, you can see why this time I had to play for keeps.

We drew numbers to get the order we would play Red over the next few days.  We were all wanting to be first ’cause we thought the first guy to play her would end up with that penknife. Well, Seth drew number one, and wouldn’t ya know, by the end of the match Red had all of his marbles.  We started to worry some then.  Next she whipped Jeb and Keith Langsdale, one after another. Mitch started out fine, but in the end, Red cleaned him out. By then, Tuck and me were practicing something fierce. Still Tuck lost, and it was up to me. The honor of all us boys was on my shoulders, I really wanted that penknife, and I couldn’t afford to have all my marbles disappear at once. This was the most important game of marbles I would ever play. Now I’m a good marble player. Anyone will tell you that I’m real good, but that day Red was better.

After the match, she stood there and grinned. “Lots of uses for math, boys,” she said. If she wasn’t a girl, I’d have wiped that smirk off her face with my fist, but a Cartwright could never hit a girl.

The next day when we took our seats at school, there was a pile of marbles on each of our desks. Red gave us each back our marbles except for three. She kept the three best and most distinctive — that’s another of Adam’s words — marbles each of us boys had. That’s what she used to blackmail me: those three little marbles.

It started when I found a note on my desk. It said for me to meet her after school behind the livery and was signed Red. I could have ignored that note, but I was curious about what she could want, so I meet her behind the livery.

I asked her what she wanted, and she didn’t pussyfoot around. She just told me straight out she wanted me to sneak into Jack Wolf’s office and steal a letter. I didn’t even ask her why; I just told her she was crazy. She said she was just crazy enough to tell my pa about the marbles match. I should have said go ahead right then, but I kinda heard my pa’s voice in my head warning me about what would happen if he caught me gambling with marbles again, and my backside got a certain feeling, so I asked her about her plan.  Now she had picked me because all the kids at school know I’m the best at sneaking around and getting into places where I don’t belong. She wanted me to sneak in and get some blasted letter from Jack Wolf’s office while she kept him distracted. It was a two-person job, and she figured I’d be better at stealing, and she’d be better at distracting. I didn’t think about it then, but Red’s also smart enough to know if I got caught, she could deny being involved and leave me holding the bag or rather the stolen letter. She said the letter was in a locked box in the bottom drawer of Jack’s desk, and that I would know which one it was because it was written on lavender paper. Heck, I didn’t even know they made lavender colored writing paper, but they do.

Late night was the best time to carry out Red’s plan, so I had to sneak back to town after everybody at the ranch went to sleep. Now that was real risky. Pa is always checking on us at night, and Adam is a real light sleeper. I had to learn to move real quiet just so I could use the outhouse at night without him asking me where I was headed. I was lucky, though. Pa and Adam had to clear a fouled waterhole that day and had all kinds of trouble. They were both so tuckered out that they went to bed early ready to sleep sound. Plus Pa thought Adam was coming down with a cold from being in the water so long and had Hop Sing make up one of his herbal drinks. Besides helping ya keep off a cold, that concoction makes a body real sleepy.

So it turned out I had no trouble sneaking out and going into town. ‘Course, thinking back, it might have been better if I had got caught then, and Pa had put an end to things before they really got started. Anyways, I made it to town and met up with Red. We snuck to the back of Jack’s place. Red told me to count to two hundred before I tried to get inside. Then she left, and I started counting.  When I reached two hundred, I commenced sneaking in. It all went slick as a whistle. I got inside and into Jack’s office with no problem. Then I picked the lock on the desk drawer and the lock on the metal box inside. I know how to pick a lock ’cause Hoss taught me. Hoss learned from Adam. Adam learned when we lived in New Orleans. Adam knew all sorts of people in New Orleans. There were only papers in the box. Jack keeps his money and such in a big black safe. If he had kept his papers in the safe, I wouldn’t have even bothered to sneak in. I don’t know how to open a safe. I looked through them, and sure enough there was a folded piece of lavender paper. I slipped it into my pocket, closed the box, put it in the desk drawer, closed that, and slipped back out of Jack’s. Then I ran back behind the trading post where I had left my pony. Red came running up to me, and I held out the letter. She snatched it out of my hand, said she’d see me at school, and took off. Now wouldn’t you have thought she’d show me the letter and maybe even say thank you, but, oh, no, she just took off. I mounted up and got myself back to the ranch and back in bed. I thought it was over and done with. Boy, was I wrong.

Red had been right when she thought she’d be better at distracting while I was better at sneaking in. Red didn’t tell me what she had done, but everybody else in town ended up talking about it. Seems Red ran into the part of the hotel where they sell drinks, and the girls that work there meet men — her being there would have caused a stir in itself — just screaming and carrying on that something was chasing her. She ran up to Jack, threw her arms around him, and started sobbing into his shirt. Now Jack spends lots of time dealing with the girls who work for him, but I down think he’s use to girls still in braids crying all over him. Some folks said it was real surprising how Jack was kinda gentle with Red and settled her down. She got all his attention, anyway, and the attention of everyone else in the place. Then when Jack was going to walk her home, Red started carrying on how her aunt couldn’t know she was there and ran away. I meant to ask Red about the letter and what Red told her aunt when she heard about Red being in Jack’s like she must have, but I couldn’t seem to get Red alone to talk. Red was avoiding me, so I kinda decided to let it pass.

Now everyone will tell you that blackmailers always come back for more.  Well, mine sure did. She just had to wait for the right time. That time was when she heard me tell Mitch and Tuck that I was having to take orders from Adam because my pa had left on a two-week trip. That’s when Red came out to the ranch.

She was there in the barn when I came out after breakfast. She looked real serious and kinda sad. She said she needed my help. Then she told me that she had to go to Genoa to get something from the bank. I told her there was no way I was robbing a bank. She said it wasn’t money. That it was something she needed to prove who she really was. She had enough sense, at least, to know she couldn’t up and go to Genoa by herself. She said she couldn’t involve her aunt, and she wanted me and my brothers to take her. I told her she was loco.  That’s when Hoss and Adam came into the barn. Adam demanded to know what was going on. Red started telling her story. She said the letter we took — Adam made me explain all about the letter incident — said the proof of who her real father was was in the bank vault in Genoa. The she started crying and asking us to help her. Soon as she started crying, I knew she had Hoss on her side. I also figured that she had so much on me, I better be there too. Now the only way to make sure that Adam didn’t tell Pa everything was to get him in as deep as me.

I didn’t have to help her much. Red hooked Adam with the idea of his being her hero and getting Jack Wolf’s goat. Now Adam kinda has it in for Jack, and Red told him Jack didn’t want it known who her real pa was. She also went on about Adam being smart enough to figure out a plan. She just pulled him in like a fish on a line.  Don’t ya know, the next day we were headed for Genoa.

Now Adam had told Hop Sing we were going hunting for a few days. I think Hop Sing had suspicions about that trip, but he wouldn’t order Adam not to take us hunting. Hop Sing kinda rules the kitchen and sometimes the house and gives me orders all the time, but Adam, he let’s take the rope and hang himself.

Red rode my pony ’cause Red ain’t much of a rider. I rode Beauty instead of Adam riding her because the other horse we had to ride wasn’t fully schooled yet, and Adam rode him. Hoss rode Chubby like always.

At first, nobody said much, then we started discussing plans. Bank robbery didn’t seem like a real good idea, so we thought up something else.

Now, traveling with a girl made everything more difficult, and we had to keep remembering we couldn’t do some things the way we did them when there were just us brothers together. Then there was the question of who was in charge of what. Adam always thinks he’s in charge of Hoss and me, and since he was the oldest, he started giving orders to everyone. Pa, of course, had left Adam in charge when he left, but Hoss and I kinda figured that he was in charge at the ranch, not in charge of a trip Pa would never have allowed. We figured we were equal conspirators not underlings — those are Adam words.  Red thought that since going to Genoa was her idea, she was in charge of the trip, but she listened to Adam some of the time to keep him on the hook. By the time we made camp that first night, we were all tired and pretty ornery. None of us wanted to listen to anybody else.

Right off, Adam and me started arguing, and Hoss had to keep Adam from warming my britches, so Adam and me stopped talking to each other. Adam was mad at Hoss for interfering, so he was barely talking to him. Red got mad when we complained about her cooking and stomped off into the dark. Hoss went after her and brung her back. Adam ordered her not to go off alone. She stopped talking to all of us, curled up in her bedroll, and pretended to be asleep. Adam, Hoss, and me ignored the dirty dishes and laid down too. Eventually we all fell asleep.

Adam woke up and didn’t see Red anywhere. He started bellowing for her and woke Hoss and me. Red came out of the woods, and Adam lit into her for going off alone. She told him that she needed to be alone. Hoss looked at me, and we both got her point right off, but Adam was so mad he didn’t until she asked him if he wanted her to come with him when he needed a privy. Hoss and me started laughing, and Adam stomped off. There weren’t any clean dishes and Red was pouting, so Adam made coffee, and we just ate cold biscuits for breakfast.

It was a real quiet trip that morning. When we stopped for lunch, Adam said enough was enough. He said if we didn’t all settle things real quick, we would be turning around and going back home. Then Red started sobbing, and we all felt bad, even Adam, so we stopped being mad at each other for a while. Adam said a group can’t get anything done without a leader and for a plan to work people have to follow orders, so finally we agreed and made Adam ours.

Now part of our plan was based on looks, ‘cause, truth be told, if you asked someone who didn’t know any of us which two out of the four were related, ten out of ten of them would have said Adam and Red. Of course, Hoss and me don’t have any family resemblance with Adam or each other, but Red resembles him a lot. Adam said that showed life was ironic. So Adam was going to pose as Red’s uncle and guardian which was a good thing because people would have wondered about a girl traveling with three brothers.

When we got to Genoa, we went straight to the hotel. Red was fi… fi… — I can’t remember Adam’s word for it — supplying the money for the trip.  Adam didn’t like using a little girl’s money, but she had plenty, and we didn’t. Now Red had enough money for two rooms. Adam registered as Adam O’Halleran and niece, Hoss registered as Eric Miller and brother, but we really were gonna stay with us Cartwrights in one room and Red in the other. We weren’t using our real names ‘cause this was a secret mission. Next we went and got some supper in the hotel dining room. Then we went upstairs because our business was with the bank, and banks ain’t open at night.

Next morning we all dressed in our church clothes. We had breakfast and then waited for the bank to open. When it did, we walked over and asked to speak with the owner. He was a wiry little man with grey hair and bushy brown eyebrows named Saxon. He looked at us kinda suspicious then asked us to sit down. Adam started in with the story we had worked out about him bringing his niece to claim her father’s property because the poor man — God rest his soul — had passed on to his heavenly reward. Then he showed him the will. Now we had kept the will short and simple and signed the name Andrew O’Halleran like Red had told us. Then Adam explained that he knew Andrew had left a locked box in the bank’s vault, and that he knew to acquire the box also took the signature of one Samuel Miller. Unfortunately, Sam Miller had been killed in the same accident as his friend Andrew O’Halleran, so Miller’s sons had accompanied them and couldn’t Sam’s eldest son Eric now sign in his dead father’s place. Mr. Saxon looked real unsure about the whole thing. Then he asked for death certificates. Red started crying then, and that gave Adam some thinking time. He explained as how a city like Genoa might have death certificates and such but there weren’t no such things where Andrew and Sam died. Red spoke up then, all soft and teary, and asked if she couldn’t just swear on the Bible about it all, and then wouldn’t a good, God-fearing man like Mr. Saxon trust us enough to just let us look in the box and see what it might contain.  I guess Mr. Saxon thought we was all kinda young to be con men and thieves or maybe he was just as weak as Hoss when it came to crying girls, ‘cause he agreed and went and got the box. Then Mr. Saxon said to open the box, we would need the key and, don’t you know, Red pulled out one that she was wearing on a ribbon around her neck. Adam asked for some privacy, and seeing as how Red had the key, Mr. Saxon took us in his office and left us there.  We opened the box. There were a lot of papers and a small cloth bag. Red reached in and took out the bag. She took a brooch from the bag. She told us it was her mother’s and put it in her pocket. Then she looked through the papers and found what she’d come for, which was the record of her birth. We didn’t really get much of a look at it before she put it in her pocket. She put a ring that she always wore in the cloth bag and put the bag back into the box. Then she called for Mr. Saxon. She showed him that the box was full of papers — I thought that was a right smart idea — and then locked it. She asked Mr. Saxon to keep it safe until she and her uncle could get some official proof of her father’s and Sam Miller’s deaths. Then we just walked back to the hotel easy as you please.

Now we walked up the stairs, talking about whether to leave right away or stay over until the next morning. That discussion ended when we saw a man standing in the hall leaning against the wall between the doors to our rooms. We all recognized him. It was Jack Wolf.

Jack sneered and tipped his hat and said, “So nice to see you; let me see, the clerk said it was Mr. O’Halleran and Mr. Miller.”

Well, now, we sure enough didn’t know what to say, but suddenly Red sashayed right up to Jack and said, “Guess now is as good a time as any to talk,” and walked into her room. We all followed.

It seems when Jack found the drawer to his desk open and the metal box unlocked, he figured someone stole the letter. He remembered the whole business with Red and figured out it was a distraction. So he kept an eye out for Red, and when she left town, he figured she had gone to Genoa and came too.  Of course, we only found out about this later.

After we all followed Jack into our hotel room, Red turned around and said she’d like to introduce Andrew O’Halleran and pointed to Jack. Jack nodded and told Red that he knew who we were, meaning my brothers and me, but would sure like to know who she was. Then Red said just as calm as you please, “Your daughter.”

My mouth dropped open and so did Adam’s and Hoss’, but Jack just narrowed his eyes and asked her why she thought that. Red took the paper from the box in the bank and handed it to Jack. Jack glanced at it and said that the paper only showed that some woman claimed Andrew O’Halleran was the father of her child, and oh, of course, that we had committed some type of fraud to get our hands on the paper. Now Adam winced at the word fraud. I guess that’s ’cause he knows what fraud means and that it’s a crime. Red looked at Jack and said, “That woman was my mother.” Then she took the brooch out of her pocket. She fiddled with something on it, and it opened like a locket. She handed it to Adam, and Hoss and me leaned over to look too. There were two pictures. One was a woman with dark a hair and the other was Jack Wolf. Now Jack looked a heap younger, but it was Jack all right, and the lady looked kinda like Red.

Now Adam looked at Jack like he was about the lowest thing on two legs. Jack said that he didn’t deny knowing the woman but as to paternity — that’s the word he used — that was probably her wishful thinking. He said it with a smirk and a shrug of his shoulders. Now that was just plain mean, and I kinda thought Red might start crying, but she didn’t get sad. No, that girl got mad, and she hit Jack.  Now, she hit him in the only place that a girl coulda hit him and hurt him, if you understand me. Jack doubled over, and Adam, Hoss, and me just couldn’t keep from laughing. Then Jack straightened up, mad as a hornet, and backhanded  Red. Adam wasn’t gonna let him do nothing like that to a little girl, and he lit into Jack. Hoss ran to Red and sorta snatched her up to keep her outa harm’s way ‘cause Jack and Adam were going at it real wild and banging into furniture and breaking things. Nobody won the fight actually ’cause the hotel man heard the commotion and called for help, and some men came and stopped the fight, and the sheriff came and arrested Jack and Adam. Hoss, Red, and me ended up at the jail too.

Now when we got to the jail, we made the mistake of keeping quiet at first ’cause we weren’t even sure what names to give the sheriff. This gave Jack Wolf a chance to get his story out first, and we kinda had a problem ‘cause we couldn’t exactly tell the sheriff the real story seeing as how we had sure enough come closer to committing a real crime in Genoa than Jack had.

Now Jack told the sheriff that he was Jack Wolf from Eagle Station. He didn’t mention Andrew O’Halleran, and we really couldn’t either. He said he recognized us and then realized that we were runaways and made some comments about understanding why we might take off what with our pa being strict as he is. That got a rise out of all three of us, but the sheriff quieted that down quick. Then Jack said the fight started when Adam wanted to stop him from coming to the sheriff to tell about us. Jack said that he didn’t know the girl — meaning Red — but that he had seen her around Eagle Station and that she most probably was a runaway too.

Then the sheriff asked us straight out if our name was Cartwright and if we lived near Eagle Station. Adam just answered yes like there weren’t no use denying it.  Then he said we weren’t runaways and that he was old enough to make a trip with his brothers, so that wasn’t what the fight was about. Then the sheriff asked if Adam was of age — meaning was he twenty-one — and Adam said, “Not quite.”  Then the sheriff asked if our pa knew about this trip, and Adam answered, “No.”  When the sheriff asked just what the fight was about, Adam mumbled, “It’s a private matter.”

Well, the sheriff made his decisions. He said first off that both Adam and Jack were spending the night in a cell for disturbing the peace and that the fine and the damages would have to be paid before either one could leave. Jack shrugged and said fine he would pay in the morning. Adam didn’t say anything but looked at Red. She shook her head. We mighta been able to pay the fine, but we sure enough didn’t have money to pay the damages. I think that hotel man demanded way too much for the cheap furniture that got broke. Then the sheriff said our pa would have to come for Hoss and me and that he would wire our Pa in Eagle Station. Adam told him Pa was on a trip. The sheriff said Adam could tell him where to reach Pa, or we could wait until he got back, but to remember we’d be waiting in the jail. Adam told him where to wire Pa, and that’s when we knew nothing but misery was headed our way. The sheriff asked Red who she was, and she told him Mary Margaret O’Halleran. She said her aunt couldn’t make the trip, and the sheriff agreed that Pa could take her back with us. He said he’d wire her aunt that she was safe. Red said that was fine and didn’t look worried at all.  Adam, Hoss, and me spent the rest of our time in Genoa looking worried.

Jack Wolf left the next morning without ever speaking to us or Red. At least he didn’t tell the sheriff to go talk to Banker Saxon. We spent three days in Genoa.  Adam was locked in that jail cell the whole time. Hoss, Red, and me stayed at the jail, but we weren’t locked up. In fact that sheriff kept us busy “working for our keep”.  We asked about staying somewheres else, but the sheriff said he needed to keep an eye on us. He still thought we were runaways.

When Pa walked in that door, I was relieved for about ten seconds. Pa would get us out of Genoa and home. Then I got a good look at Pa’s face and decided the Genoa jail wasn’t such a bad place after all. I slipped back to Adam’s cell and told him Pa was there. Adam stood up and then sat down quick. He looked like he was about to throw up. Hoss was out back splitting wood and there weren’t no way to warn him. I didn’t know where Red was.

We could hear voices and knew the sheriff was telling Pa about everything. At least, about everything the sheriff knew. I kinda toted up what Pa would figure we had done wrong. First off we had lied to Hop Sing, then we had left the ranch and come to Genoa without permission, we’d helped a gal run off from her aunt, and Adam had fought and been arrested. There was enough on that list to make Pa kill us, and it weren’t even all we had done.

Finally we heard the sheriff call for Hoss and Red. Then he came back and got Adam and me. Pa was standing there as we all came into the sheriff’s office. I never again want to see Pa look the way he did right then. There was a stack of money lying on the sheriff’s desk, so Pa had already paid Adam’s fine and damages. It could have been five seconds, or it could have been five hours, but for a while Pa just stared at us. Then he said just three words, “Get your things,” and walked out the door. We gathered up all our things and walked out. We kept looking at each other but never said a word. The sheriff made some comments as we left, but I couldn’t really hear anything except what Pa wasn’t saying. We followed Pa down to the livery where he had to pay the bill for our horses. Pa mounted, and so did we. We rode out of Genoa about one o’clock. The sun was shining, and it was a beautiful day. Not a one of us noticed.

Now some people would bet I couldn’t spend five minutes not talking, but that day I rode until we made camp without saying a word. In fact, the only one who said anything was Red when she told Pa she needed to stop for a minute.

When we stopped for the night, Pa gave orders about setting up camp and fixing some supper. Then he said he was going for a walk. We started talking between ourselves then, but we spoke real soft cause we weren’t sure how far Pa had walked. We were kinda trying to figure out what to tell and what not to tell and arguing about some of it. We were also blaming each other for the mess we were in, just like we’d been doing for three days. We didn’t really settle things, but we had camp set up and supper ready when Pa got back. There ain’t no sense in courting trouble.

After we ate, Pa said real calm like that he wanted to hear the whole story and that if he ever found out we lied or left out one thing, we would regret it, no matter how old we were. Then he called each of our names and asked if we understood.  Each of us brothers answered, “Yes, sir, Pa.”  Then he looked at Red and told her, “I don’t like to be lied to, young lady.”

Red smiled at Pa real sweet like and said, “I don’t either, sir.”

Pa didn’t quite know how to take what Red said, but moved on to questioning us.  He started with Adam. Adam was real careful to only tell the truth while trying not to volunteer details that would make Pa madder than he was. Though I really don’t see how Pa could have been any madder. When Pa got most of the story from Adam, he started questioning me. I just knew that lying wouldn’t do no good, and Pa could only kill me once, so, by the end of it all Pa had the whole story even about the marbles. He didn’t ask Hoss anything because Hoss didn’t really know nothing Adam or I hadn’t told. He didn’t ask Red anything. I think it was because he figured he wouldn’t be able to believe any thing she said even if it was true.

When Pa finished asking us questions, he looked real tired. He told us to go to sleep, and when I closed my eyes, he was just staring into the fire.

We made it back to Eagle Station late the next day. Pa asked Red exactly where to find her aunt. Red said they were staying at the boardinghouse. We went there, but when Red and Pa went into the room, her aunt wasn’t there, but a note was. The note said her aunt had to make a quick trip and would be back soon.  Pa asked around but nobody at the boardinghouse knew anything more. Pa didn’t want to leave Red on her own, seeing as what she had already done, and there was no way Pa would leave a little girl at Jack’s, so Red came home with us.

It was so late when we got to the Ponderosa, so we just ate and went to bed. Pa slept in the bunkroom ’cause Red was in his room. I didn’t sleep very well, and don’t think Adam and Hoss did either. As we found out in the morning, Red didn’t sleep at all. How that girl made it out of the house without any of us hearing, I don’t know. I guess she was as good at sneaking as she was at lying.

Red left a letter on Pa’s bed. The letter said that Red wanted us to know the truth. The truth included the fact that Red had only joined the wagon train a few days before it arrived in Eagle Station which was where Red had been headed all along looking to find out about her real Pa. Red had gotten a lady to pretend to be her aunt for a while by telling her a tale about an evil uncle, but the lady had left three weeks ago with the first group to leave after the mountain passes cleared. The letter said Red was going to talk to Jack Wolf as she now knew for sure he was her pa though he had called himself Andrew O’Halleran when he was with her ma. I wouldn’t be surprised if Jack has used more names than that in his life. The letter said thank you for our help and sorry for lying to us. It asked Pa to forgive her and to forgive us. Now I figure Pa will forgive us ’cause he always has, but forgiving us don’t mean the same as no consequences.

After reading Red’s letter, Pa said he was going into town and told us to do the chores and then wait for him in our room, and that is what we’re doing now.

I keep thinking of all the different things Pa could do when he comes home. Most of them I’m praying won’t happen, and the rest are probably wishful thinking. I wonder if Pa will punish us all the same or each one according to what he did.  I got the longest list of wrongs, and if Pa punishes me separate for each one, I may never leave the ranch or sit down again. Maybe Pa will lump all my wrongs together, but I don’t know if that would help me sit down any quicker. I think Adam’s worried about whether Pa will punish him like a man or a boy. Mostly though, I think he’s worried Pa won’t trust him to be responsible for things for a long time, and that hurts Adam’s heart. Hoss don’t like any kind of upset or trouble between him and Pa, and he ain’t eaten half what he usually does in days.

I guess one way me and both my brothers are alike is that the very worse thing for us is to have Pa disappointed in us or ashamed of what we done. He is right now. Yeah, that’s the worst of it.

Pa just came in and shouted for Hoss to come to the barn. I guess he’s gonna deal with us one at a time and is starting with the one in the least trouble. Well, my time will come soon enough, and there ain’t nothing to be done but to live through it. Maybe Pa will remember I’m his baby and just a little boy. Wish me luck!

***The End***

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One thought on “Little Lady in Red (by DJK)

  1. Oh dear. Well … that went badly for them. It’s a good thing that girl is gone. (Though who knows how long that will last — she seems like someone who might not be able to leave well enough alone …) Do better next time, boys!

    Thx for writing!

    Like

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