Rolling up the Red Carpet (by DJK)

Summary:   Sequel to Seeing Red.
Category:  Ponderosa
Genre:  Western
Rating  PG
Word Count:   9890


 

This time it was mostly Pa’s fault, but I wouldn’t even say that out loud to my brothers let alone tell that to my Pa.  Of course Red was at fault too ’cause if we had known the truth right off things probably wouldn’t have happened the way they did.  That is one deceitful girl, I’ll tell ya.  Me and my brothers ain’t had nothing but trouble ever since she came to Eagle Station, and I’ve known almost from the beginning that she could make most people believe that the grass was blue and the sky was green but only would if there was something in it for her.  Well, it wasn’t until after we proved the truth about Jack Wolf being her pa that we found out about her biggest lie.

Now Red would say she never lied, and she never actually said that her ma was dead.  She just said things that made everybody think that her ma was dead and never told them any different.  Well, that may not be lying, but Pa would sure say it was deceit.  Red would just shrug and say the best deceit is when you never have to actually say the lie.

Anyhow, we all thought that Red’s mother was dead ’cause, of course, if anybody had known that her ma was alive as you and me, somebody would have sent for her right off, but nobody knew for a while.  Instead, after we proved that Jack was Red’s pa, Red stayed on with the Orowitzs ’cause Jack’s Place still wasn’t a fit place for a little girl to stay even if her father owned the place and she wasn’t exactly an innocent little thing. Something unexpected did happen though.

After Jack knew for a fact that Red was his daughter, Jack started to act like a pa sometimes. First off, he forbade Red to come into his place. She could go to the back door and ask for Jack anytime she wanted, but she couldn’t set a foot inside, and Jack made sure everybody who worked for him knew it. Now I don’t know if she ever snuck in or even tried, but if she did she didn’t get caught, but then Red is real good at sneaking around. Why she’s almost as good as me!  Red also was forbidden to go into Shelby’s saloon. Jack even talked to the teacher about Red. Some of the other pa things Jack did I only know from listening to what Mr. and Mrs. Orowitz told Pa, but everybody sure enough was surprised that he could act anything like a pa.

Truth is, I still didn’t like Red. Of course, she’d never given me any reason to like her; all she’d ever given me was trouble. In fact, I was wishing Jack would take up doing one more pa thing that he hadn’t done yet, and Red would have to start answering for what she did like I had to answer to Pa every time I got in trouble because of Red.  Maybe if that girl spent a little time worrying about consequences, she’d have less time to think of schemes that involved me and my brothers.

Anyway, Red’s ma wasn’t dead. We found that out when the stage came into town. Now the stage had only been making its way to Eagle Station for about a year, and it only came once a month. Pa, my brothers, and me were all in town that day. Pa and my brothers had gone into Shelby’s, and I was sitting outside the trading post eating some licorice that Mrs. Orowitz had given me. Red walked up and stood in front of me. She asked what I was doing, and I asked her what it looked like I was doing. Then Red gave me one of her looks.  She has a way of looking at folks like they ain’t no better than bugs. Then she made a comment about me cluttering up the porch.  Well, we started trading nasty remarks and insults. Who knows how long we could have kept it up?  We didn’t even pay attention to the fact that the stage had pulled into town, and since it only happened once a month, it usually got everybody’s attention when it did, but Red and I had all our attention on winning our insult war. Then we both heard a voice shout Red, and Red stopped talking. I think she may have stopped breathing. Her face went white, and her eyes got the size of saucers.  I hadn’t ever seen Red look like that. Then I saw a lady was walking up behind Red. Red finally took a breath, a real deep one, smiled, and turned around. Then she said, “Howdy, Mama.”

I looked at the woman, and sure enough she looked like the lady whose picture was in the brooch that Red took from the bank. She had Red’s hair and eyes, and anyone would recognize that they were related.

I don’t know what you’d expect Red’s ma to do, but what she did was ask real calm where Red was staying. Red started explaining that she was staying with the Orowitzs who owned the trading post. Then I heard Pa calling my name and turned around. Pa, Adam, and Hoss came walking out of Shelby’s saloon and over toward us. I started to say something to Pa about Red’s ma being alive when Pa looked past me and must of seen Red’s ma. Now Pa went white in the face and looked like he was having trouble standing up. He reached out and put his hand on my shoulder, and I swear it was mostly to steady himself.  He said something real soft. I thought he said Liz, and I was right.  I didn’t know it then, but for Pa it was like he was seeing a ghost.

Remember I told ya before that Adam and Red looked enough alike to be related. Well, according to Pa, Adam looks like his ma, Elizabeth, and like I just told ya, Red looks like her ma, so the reason Adam and Red look so much alike is that Red’s ma and Adam’s ma look so much alike, even though they ain’t related at least not has far as we know. It might not have affected Pa the way it did if it had only been that Red’s ma looked a lot like Elizabeth, but the thing is Red’s ma had grown up outside of Boston, and she sounded Boston — Adam calls it a Boston accent — which meant she not only looked like Elizabeth, she sounded like her too.

Well, Red introduced her ma, and Pa was having so much trouble getting over the fact the Martha Grace O’Hurley looked and sounded like Elizabeth Cartwright that he never even got mad about Red deceiving everybody about her ma being alive. To tell the truth, Pa was besotted — that’s one of Adam’s words that I really like — with Martha Grace from the minute he first saw her, and that’s how all our problems began.

Well, Pa sent Adam to get Jack and told Hoss and me to wait in the wagon. Then Pa took Red’s ma into the trading post and introduced her to the Orowitzs. I don’t know exactly what happened then ’cause Hoss wouldn’t let me go back and listen ’cause he didn’t want no trouble with Pa over eavesdropping. Pa sent Adam out to the wagon after he came back with Jack, so the three of us just sat there waiting and talking about the fact that Red had a ma who was alive and she looked like Adam’s ma. Then Adam got real quiet — my guess is he was thinking about his ma who he never got to know — and we sort of stopped talking and waited for pa. When pa came out, he didn’t say much. He didn’t say anything about what he’d done until we got home. Then he told Hop Sing that we were having guests for dinner on Sunday. That’s right! Pa had gone and invited Red and her ma to Sunday dinner.

About the last person my brothers and me wanted to see at our dinner table was Red — that is Mary Margaret O’Halleran or Mary Margaret O’Hurley or Mary Margaret Wolf; you can take your pick — but Pa decides who eats at our table, and we all know better than to comment on his choice. Hop Sing was planning a real special dinner, but that didn’t make even Hoss look forward to Sunday, and I figured if looking across the table at Red made me sick, I’d be sure to toss up my dinner right in her lap.

Now there ain’t a church in Eagle Station yet, but once or twice a month, if the weather allows, the circuit preacher holds services at the school. That Sunday there were services, and of course all the Cartwrights were there. Red and her mother were there too. Red and I made ugly faces at each other until my Pa caught me. The look he gave me kept me still the rest of the service. Pa took a hold of my arm as we were leaving, and it didn’t take him many words to make it clear he expected me to be on my best behavior if I didn’t want to regret the consequences. Then he told me to wait in the wagon, so I missed getting to talk to my friends. Then Pa, Red’s ma, and Red came, and we headed back to the ranch. Pa was driving, and Red’s ma sat beside him. Red and me were riding in the back. Adam and Hoss were on their horses following us. I don’t know why Pa makes me ride in the wagon to services instead of riding on Paint, but he and I’ve had all the fights about that that I care to lose. Pa and Red’s ma talked to each other the whole time mostly about Boston. Red and I tried to bedevil each other without being noticed by the adults, but Adam could see about everything we were doing and kept glaring at me. Hoss just kept shaking his head and looking about as miserable as I felt.

When we got to the ranch, Adam said he and I would take care of the horses and Hoss could show Red the baby fox he was nursing back to health. Pa said that was fine and took Red’s ma into the house. Soon as we got in the barn, Adam grabbed me by the arm and lit into me about my attitude and my fussing with Red. He didn’t want to put up with Pa being mad just because I couldn’t get along with her for one afternoon. I told him to tend his own business, and he told me if I didn’t get straight, he would tend to my behind. I stuck my tongue out at him and dashed out of the barn, leaving him with the horses to tend to himself. I sulked around for a while and then slipped into the kitchen.  Hop Sing told me to go get Adam, Hoss, and Red ’cause dinner would be ready in ten minutes and don’t forget to wash up.

I told everybody that Hop Sing said dinner was ready, and then we were all sitting around the table. Pa was at one end, and Red’s ma was on his right. Red was next to her ma. Hoss was to Pa’s left, and I was next to him with Adam at the end of the table opposite Pa. Pa can never get Hop Sing to eat with us when there are dinner guests and has quit trying. I didn’t know how I was going to eat with having to look at Red the whole time, but at least I didn’t have to hold her hand while Pa said grace.

Pa and Red’s ma were talking to each other pretty much like they was the only two at the table. Hoss was focused on eating as much of Hop Sing’s cooking as he could. Red and me were giving each other mean looks, and Adam was glaring at the both of us.  Then Red kicked me.   Red would say she kicked me accidentally, but I know it was on purpose. Now Pa has taught us that a Cartwright never hits a female, but he has never said anything specific about kicking. I kicked Red back. She kicked me harder. I got really mad and kicked at her again only my foot connected with the leg my bossy older brother had stuck between us to try and stop us before Pa caught on to what was happening. Exactly how everything happened after that is kind of mixed up, but there was some more kicking and some jerking and some yelping, and Hoss got involved, and the table got rocked, and things got spilled, and about a minute later Adam, Hoss, Red, and me were all on our feet and breathing fire. Red had gravy all over her Sunday dress, and my brothers and I had bits of dinner on our shirts and pants. Red and I looked straight at each other. Her eyes were ice blue and shooting sparks. Then all of a sudden, she dropped her face into her hands with a sob and ran from the cabin crying. That gal can decide to cry at the drop of a hat. Red’s ma went after her. Pa stood up and started looking about ten feet tall. He’d gone right past shouting mad and spoke in his calm, flat voice that meant he was close to killing all three of us.  All he said was “Get it cleaned up,” and then he followed Red and her ma out of the cabin. Hoss moaned, and Adam said “Joe”. I looked at my eldest brother, and his eyes were blue ice. I could see he was blaming me. I went past mad. It was a stupid, kid thing to do, but I did it. I picked up a handful of cooked greens which were the closest things to my hand and threw them in Adam’s face.  Adam was so shocked that I had time to dart behind Hoss before he charged at me. Adam hit into Hoss with such force that Hoss lost his balance and knocked into me. I clutched onto Hoss, Hoss grabbed at Adam, and the three of us ended up in a pile on the floor. Pa and Hop Sing must have heard the commotion ’cause they both came roaring into the room. Pa jerked each of us to our feet, and bringing Hoss to his feet in one jerk is no mean feat, so ya know how mad Pa was right then. One thing that can throw cold water on anger quicker than spitting is fear. One look at Pa and none of us were angry anymore.  Pa took a breath so deep I think he sucked most of the air out of the room which was probably why it was so hard for me to breath right then. After he let it out real slow, he told Adam to go to the barn, Hoss to go to the bunkroom, and me to wait in his room. Adam opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but he didn’t. He just left for the barn. Hoss moved so fast getting to the bunkroom he created a wind. I got into Pa’s room pretty fast myself.

I don’t know how long I was there before Pa opened the door.  He stood in the doorway with his hands on his hips. He told me he was leaving to drive Red and her ma back to town. He said I was to get the table and floor cleaned up and that Adam would be cleaning the kitchen area. We were not to speak to each other. Pa said he would do the talking when he got back.

I went out and started cleaning up. Adam was cleaning in the kitchen.  Hoss came out of the bunkroom, and he took things between us and helped us both. Nobody said nothing until we had everything cleaned up. Then Hoss said something in his Pa voice. Now when our middle brother uses that dead, calm voice that sounds like Pa, even Adam listens. If Hoss used it more, we’d probably all be better off.  Anyway, Hoss said, “Get it settled ‘fore Pa gets back!” Then he went back into the bunkroom.

I looked at Adam. He must have dunked his head to get off the greens and gotten his hair wet ’cause there were messy curls all over his head. Adam looks a lot younger that way then when his hair is all combed neat. His eyes weren’t icy anymore, and he half grinned at me. Then he asked me what kind of flowers I wanted at my funeral ’cause Pa was going to kill the both of us for sure. Well, Adam and me started planning our funerals, and about the time we decided which girls would be crying over our caskets, we forgave each other. Then Adam told me to go on and get ready for bed. I told him there wasn’t no way I was going to take off my pants before Pa talked to me. Adam said if Pa decided to end the talk without my pants to protect me, it wouldn’t matter what I was wearing when the talk started. Well, that was true, so I just shrugged. Then Adam told me to go on and go to bed, and Pa probably wouldn’t wake me up. I asked him if he was coming to bed, and he said he was going to wait and talk to Pa. His eyes got real serious then, and I did something I ain’t done in a long time. I hugged my big brother good night. Adam even hugged me back, but then he swatted my behind. He said that it was for the greens. My behind was stinging, but I know that Adam can wallop five times that hard, so I knew he wasn’t mad anymore; he was just being a brother.

When I went into the bunkroom, Hoss was lying in his bunk. All he said was “Adam?” I told him Adam was waiting up ’cause he was going to talk to Pa. Hoss didn’t ask me if Adam and I had made up. He didn’t need to.

After I got in bed, I listened for a while. Then I fell asleep. I never heard Adam come to bed.

The next morning Pa only had to call once, and I got myself out of bed quick. I didn’t want to give Pa no extra reasons to be mad with me. Hoss was about half dressed, and Adam had already gone out to start the morning chores. I don’t know how Adam can be the last to go to bed and the first to get up so often, but he usually is. When we all sat down to breakfast, everybody was real quiet. I was wondering what had happened between Pa and Adam, but Adam wasn’t shifting in his chair, so I figured I knew what hadn’t happened, but then Adam was only one month from turning twenty-one and being a legal adult, and I wasn’t even thirteen yet, and I had been more at fault than anybody but Red, of course. Truth is, Hoss hadn’t really done anything wrong, and I think Adam must have told Pa that. Then Adam and Hoss left to get started on the day’s work, and Hop Sing said he had some work to do in the garden, so that left me and Pa alone in the cabin. I didn’t even try to head out the door. Pa wasn’t mad like he’d been the night before, but he still blistered my ears and then my behind, but, hey, I was l alive when it was time to leave for school.

I was getting ready to saddle Paint and dreading the ride to school when Adam came into the barn and told me he was taking me to school. I asked why, and he said he had things to do in town. I decided riding in the wagon might not be such a bad idea. I stretched out on my stomach in the back and actually fell asleep. I woke up when Adam hit a deep rut.  On my knees leaning against the back of the wagon seat, I asked Adam what he had to do in town. He said the first thing we had to do was apologize to Red and her ma. I told Adam that I might apologize to Red’s ma, but there was no way on earth I was apologizing to Red. I was ready for him to light into me, but he just shrugged and said if I didn’t, then he would have to tell Pa that I didn’t.  I knew if he told Pa I didn’t apologize to Red, Pa would give my behind a worse blistering than he had this morning, and tomorrow Pa would be driving me to town to apologize. I decided I had to do what I had to do, but I didn’t have to mean it.

When we got to the boarding house where Red and her ma were staying, Adam turned to face me and said, “I know it’s real bitter, little buddy, but sometimes ya just have to swallow it down,” and I knew he hated it as much as I did. Then Adam gave me this look he has that says there’s a way to make the best of something you don’t like. He squeezed my shoulder and told me that anything worth doing was worth doing well. It took me a minute, but then I knew what he was getting at. I gave Red and her mother the most dramatic apology ya ever heard, looking straight into Red’s eyes, so she would know I didn’t mean a word of it. Then Adam gave a long apology with a lot of big words that basically meant he had acted like a kid instead of a man, and he should have known better. Now it sounded real good, but I know something about Adam. The worse he feels about what he did and the more he wants ya to forgive him, the less words he uses to apologize. Red’s ma looked real pleased, though, and accepted our apologies. Then Red and me left for school. I just walked along whistling a happy tune. Every note made Red a little madder.

I think Red and I hated each other more that day than we ever had before. At morning recess, we got into a shouting match and declared ourselves enemies for life. Nobody there would have thought we’d be allies by the end of the week.

That Thursday I came in from the afternoon recess, and there was a note on my desk. It said, “Behind the livery after school. Red.” Now I almost didn’t go what with everything that has happened with Red and me before, but like they say curiosity killed the cat. I went, but I went slow and made Red wait. She was fuming by the time I got there. She started ranting that she should just leave and that it would serve me right and that I probably wouldn’t be any help anyway seeing as how I always made a mess of everything. I told her that she was the one who was always causing trouble for everybody and that if she didn’t want me here why did she leave me the note, and that I would just leave ’cause I didn’t need to be getting home late anyways.  hen she told me to go ahead and leave if I didn’t want to know, and I said, “Know what?” and she said, “My ma intends to marry your pa!” She said it out straight just like that, and I near about had apoplexy at the thought.

Not that I ain’t never thought about Pa getting himself another wife. I guess he should have one if he wants one. It weren’t Martha Grace O’Hurley either, ’cause I’d hardly had time to not like her, but her daughter was a different story. My mind went right to the fact that if Pa married Martha Grace O’Hurley, Red would be my sister.  Well, I’d kill her or myself before that happened because one of us would sure enough kill the other if it did.

For once Red and I agreed about something. She didn’t want her ma married to my pa either. She ranted about not wanting three brothers, especially me, and about some other stuff and besides it would ruin the plan. She didn’t tell me what the plan was, but I kinda figured it might have something to do with her ma marrying her pa instead of mine. That sure seemed like a better plan to me.

I asked Red how she knew her ma wanted to marry my pa, and she said her ma had straight out told her. I said maybe my pa wouldn’t want to marry her ma, and Red started laughing and told me I was a fool if I thought her ma couldn’t reel in my pa, ’cause hadn’t I noticed that he’d already swallowed the hook. Well, I thought about it a moment and some things fell into place about where Pa might have been spending his time since Sunday, and I got plumb sick to my stomach. I told Red we had to figure a way to put a stop to what was happening, and Red said what did I think she had met me here for.  Well, I didn’t have no ideas right off the top of my head, and Red must have been really rattled ’cause she had talked to me before she had a plan, so we decide to think on it and meet before school in the morning.

Now Red has always said the simplest plans are the best. So our first plan was based on the idea that we needed to show Martha Grace O’Hurley that she didn’t want to be a ma to three boys and to show Pa that he didn’t want to start raising Red. After all, my brothers and me had gotten a start on that already. I never stopped to think this plan was going to be a lot more wear and tear on me than on Red ’cause showing how nasty I could be was risking my behind with Pa, but when a body is really desperate some risks seem worth it.  We did decide it would be better if I was at my worst when Pa wasn’t around.

We decided I would start that afternoon after school, so I followed Red to the boarding house when she went home. She was to get her ma to come outside on the street, and she did. I got the Langsdale brothers to chase me down the street. I ran headlong into Martha Grace O’Hurley, spun her around, and “accidentally” knocked her off her feet into a horse trough. I stopped long enough to laugh, say “Sorry!” and make sure she saw it was me, and then I took off again. I ducked behind a building and stopped. Peering around the corner of the building, I watched as Red helped her ma up and started in ranting about boys in general and me in particular. Red’s ma was dripping wet and mad as a dunked cat. I ducked back and took off for home, praying Red would be able to do what we planned and convince her ma that telling on me would cause problems between her and my pa ’cause I was his baby and he spoiled me. Don’t I wish that was true!

Well, like I said before, Red is real good at convincing, and her ma decided not to complain to my pa — thank the Lord, ’cause I sure ain’t thanking Red — so I didn’t get punished. Over the next three days, I managed to catch Martha Grace O’Hurley with a few stray dirt clods from a war with some of my friends, knock her laundry into the mud, and see to it that she slipped and fell seat first into a pile of fresh horse manure. Now, you have to admit I was doing my part.

Figuring how to convince Pa that he didn’t want no part of raising Red was harder. I mean he already knew that she was a liar, a conniving blackmailer, and capable of leading his sons astray, so what more did he need to know. Then I saw Red talking to Jack Wolf. She said something that made him laugh; he reached down and hugged her.  Then I knew. Pa plum hates Jack Wolf. I mean, there ain’t nothing he likes about that man, and Red was Jack’s daughter. Hadn’t we proved that to one and all?  Pa needed to realize that not only does the apple not fall far from the tree and the viper he would be nursing to his bosom was Jack’s spawn, but that Red would be a tie to Jack Wolf from the marriage on. Well, it would be almost like having Jack as a member of the family, wouldn’t it? I didn’t think even Martha Grace was sweet enough to make that go down with Pa. The only thing was how to approach Red about this new idea. I decided to hold back and plow that field alone some first.

It was about then that Adam heard about a couple of the things I had done to Martha Grace O’Hurley. He’d came into town and was having a drink at Shelby’s when a couple of big mouths who had each seen something started telling tales about water troughs and manure. Adam came home and cornered me in the barn and asked what the heck — actually he used the swear word, and I told him he better not let Pa hear him — I thought I was doing, and did I want to live to be thirteen. I told him I intended to live and without any evil stepsisters, and if he had any sense he would thank me and lend a hand. He asked me what the blazes I was talking about, and I told him about what Red had said and what we had planned. Adam told me to get to my chores, and I knew he was struggling with what to do. I know he thought that Pa had a right to fall in love with somebody and get married, and we didn’t have no right to interfere. He might of thought that it wouldn’t do much good anyway because of what he tried when Pa married my ma.

On the other hand, Adam didn’t have to say it; I knew how he felt about Red. Why she was the one who had gotten Adam in terrible trouble with Pa over and over when all he wanted was to make it to twenty-one with out any. Adam had hated the consequences, and weren’t they all Red’s fault? Adam didn’t want Red in the family anymore that I did. Self-preservation won out, and Adam joined the conspiracy. We decided to tell Hoss, and, well, there weren’t no way Hoss wasn’t going to join in on something that Adam and I agreed on.  Besides, he hated Red too.

That night Pa told us that on Sunday we were going with Red and her ma on a picnic up at the lake. The lecture he gave us about behavior wasn’t all that long for one of Pa’s lectures, but it sure was clear that he didn’t want any problems or embarrassment. Pa gave me a private lecture and three more warnings before Sunday came around; but Adam, Hoss, Red, and me still made a plan for one heck of a picnic.

Hop Sing cooked up lots of real good food and then was smart and stayed home. I argued with Pa about going picnicking in my good clothes ‘specially since there were no services that Sunday which wasn’t very smart of me since there weren’t no chance of my winning that kind of argument with Pa. Adam and Hoss both threw me a look, and I apologized and was real good while Pa read from the Bible and we had our devotions. Then we went into town and got Red and her ma. Adam, Hoss, and me rode our horses, and Pa drove Red and her ma in the wagon. My brothers and me didn’t do much on the ride up to the lake; we were just extra loud and stirred up as much dust as we could. Pa didn’t look pleased, but there weren’t really anything specific he could fuss about.

When we got to the lake, we set out the picnic food and ate right off.  That was Hoss and Adam’s time to be unlikable without Pa knowing they were trying, so they each just let their worst side have free rein.  Hoss gobbled and gorged on the food and hemmed and hawed when Red’s ma spoke to him. He also got in a few mentions of how Hop Sing was always packing to leave. Martha Grace should have got the message that trying to feed that boy was more of a job than she wanted to take on. Adam was in charge of making the conversation miserable, poking Red and her ma with “veiled insults” as Adam called them, and “dropping ideas like seeds into fertile ground”.

Now Adam is real good at that sort of thing. He can say words that ya can’t find fault with in a way that cuts like a knife. Say what ya want about Red, she ain’t thickheaded and neither is her ma. hey understood every one of Adam’s digs. Well, there were plenty of things to remark on. I mean there sat Red, and Jack Wolf ain’t never been married. Now I had told Red that Adam and Hoss were going to help us stop the marriage, so she knew why Adam was doing what he was doing, but even so her blood was starting to boil. Her ma was trying to hold back her own temper, and Pa was glaring at Adam so hard I don’t know how Adam got the words out, but eldest brother did himself proud. He must of mentioned Jack Wolf about a dozen times.

Suddenly Pa said he and Red’s ma were going to walk off their meal and the four of us could clear up the picnic things. We did; all the while we were giving each other looks and talking in whispers for fear Pa or Red’s ma might come close enough to hear. When Pa and Martha Grace got back, the four of us had started fishing, more or less. Hoss was stretched out with a fishing pole shoved in the ground beside him.  He was asleep and snoring loud enough to wake the dead. Adam had a pole shoved into the ground and his nose in a book. He made a comment about how softly Hoss was snoring today. Red and I were baiting our hooks. When our folks came closer, we winked at each other and started in. We yelled, threw worms, and ended up in the lake. Now the lake was way too cold for swimming right then, and Pa came over to haul us out. Red did her part and saw to it that Pa ended up falling flat out in the water getting soaked to the skin and knowing that she’d done it on purpose. Pa rose out of that lake roaring like a bear and came toward Red with a look in his eye that meant only one thing to my brothers and me, but Red is real quick, and she was sobbing in her ma’s arms before Pa could grab her. Pa turned toward me, but I started shaking and letting my teeth rattle, and Adam ran up to me oozing concern and wrapping me in a blanket. Hoss gave blankets to Pa and Red while saying how he hoped none of us got pneumonia considering the fact that we would have to ride home soaking wet. Well, Pa forgot to be angry right then what with starting to worry that me or Red might really get sick. I played up how cold I was on the way back. Instead of telling me to quit whining like a baby, my brothers went on and on about how easy I took sick. Red just kept wailing until I think even Martha Grace wanted to shove something down her daughter’s throat. When we got to the road, Pa sent Adam, Hoss, and me straight to the ranch with orders to get me in a hot tub and have Hop Sing dose me with some of his herbs. Pa took Red and her ma back to the boarding house. By the time Pa got back to the ranch, there was a hot bath waiting for him, and I was curled up fast asleep. I honestly had a fever and a stuffy nose in the morning which is what saved my behind. Actually I spent the day in bed with Pa coddling me, and my brothers made themselves scarce doing chores to get back in Pa’s good graces.

Tuesday I went back to school. That’s why I missed seeing what happened next, but I’ve heard about it from about half a dozen people, so I pretty much know what did happen.

Pa came into town and went to see Martha Grace. They were walking through town when they saw Red. Now, Red was supposed to be in school, but she wasn’t. Since Red came to Eagle Station, she’s attended school at her convenience. In fact, Red’s skipping school whenever she wanted is what Jack had talked to the teacher about when he was doing his pa thing. Well, anyway, Pa and Martha Grace saw Red and knew she was playing hooky. Thing is, Jack Wolf was about and saw Red at the same time. Now Pa used his long legs to go after Red and grab her by the arm. Jack got there just about that time and told Pa to unhand Red. That’s when the argument started. Of course, nobody could tell me word for word what was said especially those who only took notice when the argument really got heated up, but basically Pa told Jack that Red should be in school, and Jack told Pa that where Red was was not any of Pa’s business. Then Pa said Red might soon be very much his business and obviously somebody needed to make correcting her behavior his business. Jack told Pa until he had his own sons’ behavior under control, he should stick to tending his own family. I guess there was more of the same said while they both got madder and madder. Now some people say Jack took the first swing, and some say it was Pa. Some people say Pa was winning, and some say Jack had the upper hand. Either way, Pa and Jack fought for a while, but the fight was never finished because of Martha Grace. Apparently, Red gets some of her gumption from her ma because Martha Grace O’Hurley grabbed a bucket that was near by, filled it from a horse trough, and dumped it on Pa and Jack as they rolled around on the ground. Now that trough stands in the shade, and that water was cold. When it hit Pa and Jack, it plum cooled them off in a second. They both jumped up and stood glaring at each other, Martha Grace, and Red. Martha Grace said Red was her business, and she didn’t any help from either of them to deal with her daughter, and took Red, and stomped off.

Now I know what Pa would do to me if he caught me playing hooky.  Red’s ma did bring Red to school, but from the way her eyes looked and the way she sat, Red’s ma didn’t do much else. After school behind the livery, Red told me about the fight. Gosh, I wish I could have seen it. Of course, she said Pa threw the first punch and that Jack was winning, but ya can’t believe most of what Red says, and, after all, Jack is her pa.

 Now when Pa got home, he looked like he’d been in a fight, but Adam and Hoss didn’t really think he had which is why Adam made a remake about did Pa want to explain why he’d been fighting, imitating what Pa always says to us. Adam meant to make a joke — he ain’t stupid enough to say something like that to Pa for real — but Pa near about bit Adam’s head off, and my brothers realized Pa had been fighting, but Pa was too mad for them to ask him anything about it, so they had to wait until I got home and told them what Red told me. Now we figured that Pa fighting with Jack about Red was good for our plan, but what Pa had said about Red soon being his business had us worried. A couple of days later we got even more worried.

Adam had gone into town with Pa, and he overheard Pa talking to the Orowitzs. Now Adam just plain out eavesdropped on the conversation, but you can bet he would never admit it and hopes Pa won’t ever find out that particular detail. Anyway, when I got home Adam got all of us brothers away from the house and told us about what Pa had said.  It seems that Pa thought Red needed someone with a firm hand to keep her on the right path and safe from Jack’s influence. Pa also said it seemed that his sons could benefit from the civilizing and gentling influence of a woman like Martha Grace. Now our plan might have been working some with Martha Grace, but it had plum backfired with Pa. Adam said we knew Pa well enough that we should have expected it. Pa saw raising Red as a challenge, and Pa never backed down from a challenge. I told my brothers that Red had told me that her ma was still talking about marrying Pa even if she had to suffer us as sons and that her ma might have some plans to make that part of her life go easier. That didn’t sound good. Adam said we had to come up with a new angle — that’s what he called it ’cause he likes something called geometry.  Well, I was plum out of ideas. I told Adam to come up with a new plan.

I should have known elder brother would, ’cause Adam never admits he’s been wrong about a plan without coming up with a better one.  That Saturday Adam went into Pa’s room for something and stopped to look at the pictures meaning Pa’s pictures of his three wives:  Elizabeth, Inger, and Marie. Adam was looking at his ma’s picture when it came to him in a flash. That’s what he told us: that it came to him in a flash of understanding. Adam’s word for it was an epiphany.  Anyway he said we weren’t making any headway with Pa because Pa was looking at Martha Grace O’Hurley and thinking she was like his Elizabeth. Martha Grace’s resemblance to Adam’s ma was blinding him to everything else. Adam said we needed to open Pa’s eyes to the fact the looking alike on the outside didn’t mean two folks were really much the same. Maybe it was easy for Pa to think that because we all resemble our mothers, and we are all like them in a lot of other ways too.

Anyways, Adam figured that we needed to get Martha Grace to do something that was so unlike Elizabeth that it would open Pa’s eyes.

Now Hoss — of all people — said Martha Grace had already done something really big that Elizabeth Stoddard Cartwright wouldn’t have ever done, and Pa knew it. Well, Elizabeth would never have had Jack Wolf’s child, now would she?

Adam threw Hoss a look probably because Adam thinks I’m still a baby when it comes to stuff like having babies. Then he said Pa could probably overlook that ’cause it was in the past, and Martha Grace had been so young, and Pa hadn’t really been around to see things happening himself. Adam said we had to get Martha Grace to do something in front of Pa in the right now. The problem was what we should get her to do.

Ya see, of all of Pa’s wives, the one he talks about the least is Elizabeth, so we know the least about her. Plus none of us ever even saw her except Adam, and he was newborn and can’t remember anyway. So our image of Elizabeth Cartwright is kind of like the perfect princess in some storybook. Anything bad would shatter the perfect princess, but Pa loved a real person not somebody in a story, so he probably knows Elizabeth wasn’t really perfect ’cause nobody is, so we needed something just right. I mean, Pa had already seen Martha Grace lose her temper, so just that wouldn’t do it, but we couldn’t be sure what would.

Then Pa caught me lying to him.

Now it wasn’t even a big lie. I just told Pa I had finished some chores that I hadn’t but was gonna do in a bit. Trouble is, Pa asked me flat out if they were completely done, and I told him flat out yes, and that was a flat out lie. Pa hates deceit, and a flat out lie makes his blood boil, and it was a real stupid thing for me to do, and I ain’t hardly ever that stupid, but that day I was. I got my ears blistered, I got my backside warmed, and Adam got an idea.

Adam was sure that his ma hadn’t been a deceitful person. We all would have taken bets on that ’cause Pa wouldn’t have married a deceitful person, so if we didn’t want Pa to marry Martha Grace, all we had to do was show Pa she was a deceitful person.

We never asked ourselves if Martha Grace was a deceitful person. I guess there were two reasons we didn’t. One is that everybody is deceitful sometimes, and the other is that with a daughter as deceitful as Red, ya just have to think the ma is probably deceitful too.

Adam came up with a plan. After Pa made plans with Martha Grace, we would arrange for Martha Grace to need to meet with Jack Wolf at the same time. Adam figured Martha Grace wouldn’t want to tell Pa that she was breaking plans with him to meet with Jack Wolf, what with their past together and the fight and all, so she would probably lie to Pa. Then we just needed to make sure Pa saw Martha Grace O’Hurley and Jack Wolf together. Pa would have apoplexy, his eyes would open to Martha Grace’s true character, and he would spurn her forevermore.  We might even get to see Pa and Jack have another fight.

We figured this plan would take some help from Red, so I met with her behind the livery after school the next day. Red didn’t seem to mind that we were setting out to make her ma look deceitful, but then being so deceitful herself maybe Red don’t think being deceitful is such a bad thing.

In the end, we kind of nudged Pa into making plans with Martha Grace for a private picnic on Sunday. Then Red went to work. Red had a talent we hadn’t known about before. Not that it surprised me that Red could be a forger. Red wrote a letter to her ma from Jack Wolf and one to Jack Wolf from her ma. Then she delivered them. She didn’t tell us what she said that made them both agree to meet on Sunday even though I asked. She read their answers though and knew that they would be together at the spot we had picked. All that was left was for us to get Pa there at the right time. Martha Grace helped by not backing out until Sunday morning. When Pa came to get her, she said she was sick. So Pa came back with an untouched picnic basket, and we convinced him a family picnic with his boys would be about as good as one with Martha Grace. Adam handled everything real fine, and he and Pa walked up just after Jack helped Martha Grace from her rented buggy. Of course, Hoss and me weren’t going to miss something like this and had followed behind Adam and Pa and, though we didn’t know it at the time, Red was hiding out watching too.

Now Pa might have just left quietly, but Adam made a noise, so Martha Grace and Jack turned and saw Pa and Adam. I don’t know how a plan that was working so perfect could end up going so wrong.

At first, Pa said something like sorry for interrupting in a tone that meant the opposite, and we thought things would go just like we had planned, but Martha Grace started talking, and Jack started talking, and somehow it came out that they were both there because they thought the other one had insisted, but that neither of them had written any letters, and Pa stopped thinking about how Martha Grace had lied, and they all started thinking about how they had been tricked. Then it occurred to Pa that his coming up on Martha Grace and Jack was what he called ” just a little too convenient”, and he turned and gave Adam a look that made my big brother wilt like a corn plant in a drought. Pa started demanding, and Adam started answering with as little information as possible, but none of us flat-out lie to Pa when he has that look on his face and ain’t going to believe none of the lies anyway. About the time Pa had gotten the main parts of the story — just the plan for that afternoon, not any of the rest of the plans — Red appeared. That Red would be dumb enough to show herself just shows how mad she was. That girl does let her temper run away with her. She was ranting at Adam about his telling and ruining everything, and what had she really expected, and did she have to do everything herself, and let the Lord preserve her from ending up with addlepated stepbrothers.

By then Hoss and me knew that we were as good as dead, and Adam looked like he wished he was. I don’t want to think about what Pa looked like.

What with watching Pa and then Red, everybody had kind of forgotten Jack Wolf. Now Jack is a schemer, and like most schemers, he don’t like to be schemed. Jack was as mad as Pa, and for once somebody was madder at Red than they were at the Cartwright boys. Jack walked up behind Red, grabbed her by the arm, and turned her so he could glare down into her face.

“You and I have something to settle, girl!” he growled and started dragging Red to his horse.

Martha Grace said, “Wait!” but Jack didn’t even slowdown.

“She wanted a pa, and now she going to answer to one,” Jack flung back at Martha Grace as he threw Red up on his horse. He mounted behind her and left at a gallop. I would have been wishing I could see what he did next if I hadn’t been so busy wishing Pa wouldn’t do what he did next.

Well, after we got back to the ranch, Pa found out about half of what we had done, and the consequences were just about what you’d figure they would be and just as bad as we feared. Pa made it clear that who he kept company with or decided to court, or might even marry was his decision whether we agreed or not, and trying to run them off with bad behavior and hatching plots was a real dangerous thing to do if we wanted to live comfortably to marry someone of our own choosing.

After that, Adam said the only plan he had was to stay on Pa’s good side fifteen more days until he could turn twenty-one, and Hoss gave up on trying to stop the marriage of Ben Cartwright and Martha Grace O’Hurley too. I wanted to keep up the fight, but I just didn’t have any more ideas and couldn’t think of any right then with my mind on the misery I was in.

All the trouble we went through and in the end, we didn’t need a plan to make it happen. Just being ourselves did it.

Now truth is my brother Hoss is the easiest of us all to like. I mean people like Adam and me, but Adam can have a real sharp tongue, be just plain bossy, and some people think he’s prideful and judgmental. I have to admit I have a real quick temper and can cause a lot of trouble even when I ain’t planning to, but Hoss ain’t any of that. Hoss is just plain nice to everybody and wouldn’t hurt a soul, and any good person wouldn’t ever want to hurt him. Now some people look at my big big brother and don’t see everything that’s there. I mean — well, Hoss would be the first to tell ya that he ain’t very fast when it comes to book learning. Adam’s topnotch at that, and it don’t come hard to me either, but it does to Hoss. That doesn’t mean that Hoss is dumb, though some people figure it does. Pa’s had to help Hoss get over teasing about that kind of thing too many times to take it light, so that’s where Martha Grace made her big mistake.

We went to services in Eagle Station that Sunday. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t keep still that morning. Now Pa thinks squirming around and not attending to the sermon is being disrespectful to the preacher and the Lord, so he just don’t tolerate it. The first time he puts his hand on your thigh as a reminder. The second time he squeezes your thigh as a warning. The third time you feel the squeeze even after his hand is back in his lap, and you know there’s gonna be consequences when ya get home. The fourth time Pa’s hand don’t go to your thigh; it goes to your arm, and you get taken out of the services for consequences right then and there. Pa says he only had to do that once each for Adam and Hoss. I’ve gotten to the fourth time twice.  Adam says I would have made it there lots more if Eagle Station had services every Sunday. Adam’s probably right. Anyway, that Sunday I went all the way to the third time before the services ended, so Pa had a hold of my arm as we walked out, and I couldn’t run off and talk to my friends. That’s why I was there to see what happened.

Pa was talking to Martha Grace. I was standing next to him, but I wasn’t listening to what they were talking about ‘cause I was wondering about what my consequences were going to be when we got home. Adam had walked up and was standing waiting for Pa ’cause most of his friends had already left.  Red was standing off to the other side waiting for her ma. That’s when Hoss came walking up with this little dog in his arms.

It seems that Hoss had seen some boys bedeviling the little critter. Now nothing riles my brother Hoss like somebody bedeviling someone, whether it’s a human someone or an animal someone. Hoss had gone over, put the fear of the Lord — or maybe it was the fear of Hoss Cartwright – – into the boys, and rescued the little beast.

Now that puppy was a pitiful sight. He was about as scrawny and filthy as a dog could get with mangy-looking patches on his sides. Hoss walked up to Pa and Martha Grace still fit to be tied and launched into a rant about how some young’ns ought to have their backsides blistered if they couldn’t learn how to treat an animal. Then he said as how the dog was such a cute little thing and held him out toward Martha Grace. Martha Grace pushed Hoss’s hand back so hard that he lost hold of the dog and dropped him to the ground. Hoss kinda burst out asking Martha Grace why she had done that in a tone that wasn’t even near respectful. Don’t know why Martha Grace reacted so strong, but she kinda lost control and shouted at Hoss calling him stupid and asking if he really thought she would want that flea-bitten beast anywhere near her.

I can see everybody real clear in my mind even now. Hoss drew back and mumbled, “Sorry, ma’am!” and you could see how hurt he was.  Adam just turned into a thundercloud, and if Martha Grace had been a man, I believe Adam would have punched her. Pa got real still and stiff. I couldn’t see his face, but I could see Red’s, and she could see Pa’s.   watched Red turn her lips up into the grin that she always gets when she’s won, and she had. Pa’s good-bye to Martha Grace was cold enough to chill lemonade.

Not that Pa never spoke to Martha Grace again, but the next few times he saw her he must have been looking with open eyes and not seeing Elizabeth Cartwright. I don’t know if the two of them had a fight, but a few days before Adam’s twenty-first birthday, all us Cartwright boys got the best present we ever had. Red told me that her ma had told her that she wouldn’t be marrying Ben Cartwright after all. When Red said that, I was so happy that I actually hugged Red. Can ya believe that?  Relief does funny things to a man, now don’t it?

***The End***

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