Seeing Red (by DJK)

Summary:   A sequel to Little Lady in Red.
Category:  Ponderosa
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  5300


 

This time it wasn’t all her fault.  Adam and Hoss – they’re my older brothers – and me talked about it, and we decided that it’s really Jack Wolf’s fault ’cause if he had owned up to everything in the beginning, there wouldn’t have been anything we needed to prove.   Of course, it don’t ever matter to Pa, who we think is at fault when he goes to dishing out consequences. Last time we all knew it was Red’s fault, and she was the only one who didn’t pay any price for what happened in Genoa. Well, let’s not talk about consequences.  The last ones don’t bear thinking about, and the next ones will be all I can think about soon enough.  Pa ordered us to think about what we done and what we should of done different, and I’m gonna try to start obeying Pa.

Now last time Red – that’s Mary Margaret O’Halleran or Mary Margaret Wolf, I guess you could call her either one, though I wouldn’t call her Red O’Halleran ’cause Hoss says that sounds like a professional boxer, but it is better than Red Wolf which sounds like an Indian. Anyway, now last time Red blackmailed me and my brothers, we wound up going with Red to Genoa to get proof that her real father was Andrew O’Halleran. That was when we found out that Andrew O’Halleran was really Jack Wolf who owns a hotel and saloon right here in Eagle Station. Only Jack said there was really no proof that he was Red’s father; there was just her ma’s word for it.  Jack and Adam got into a fight about that and got arrested. Jack left us in Genoa at the jail, and Pa had to fetch us. When we got back, Pa had a talk with Jack, who wouldn’t take responsibility for Red. I told ya that’s why everything that happened after that was really Jack’s fault. Since there ain’t no orphanage in Eagle Station or anywhere here abouts and because some folks kinda hoped to make Jack see reason, Mr. and Mrs. Orowitz who own the trading post said Red could stay with them. Now most adults only see one side of Red and think little Mary Margaret is a sweet, innocent thing, but me and my brothers know a thing or two about her that would change some minds.  When Adam heard that Mr. and Mrs. Orowitz were taking in Red, he said something about them nursing a viper to their bosoms. Now he didn’t get in trouble for talking about bosoms ’cause he was quoting something. I asked him what he meant, and he explained about holding snakes and getting bit. Now he didn’t think Red would do anything to Mr. and Mrs. Orowitz, like killing them in their bed, but that she’d just betray their trust by lying and sneaking, and, boy howdy, that gal can lie.

Well, Red started living with Mr. and Mrs. Orowitz.  Most folks didn’t know nothing about her being Jack’s daughter or why she was in Eagle Station ’cause the folks that did – Jack, Shelby, Mr. and Mrs. Orowitz, and all of us Cartwrights, of course – didn’t go spreading any gossip around. I might have, but Pa made it clear that telling any tales about Red or our trip to Genoa would get me, or my brothers for that matter, in trouble, and we all were in as much trouble with Pa as we ever wanted to be.

Things went along just fine for a while. I even felt a little sorry for Red one time when I saw her standing outside the trading post looking over at Jack’s Place, watching Jack standing by the door talking to one of his working girls. I mean, it must be hard to have a pa that won’t admit he’s your pa, even if he is someone nobody could really want for a pa like Jack Wolf.

Yeah, I kinda felt sorry for her then, but I still didn’t like her. Truth to tell, sometimes she gives me one of her looks like she is some kind of princess, and I am some kind of bug she’s about to step on — come to think of it, Jack has one of them kind of looks too. Well, sometimes when she gives me one of those looks, I just plain hate her.

 Now she gave me one of those looks when she won the geography bee at school. That look is why I was ready to do what I did to her that Saturday.

 See, me and Tuck and Mitch had been fishing. We had wandered kind of far from where we had left our horses and were walking back when we saw some clothes laid out on some bushes. Right off we knew they were Red’s. We’d seen her in that dress often enough, and she was the only girl we knew who wore red petticoats everyday. Have I mentioned that the reason people call Red Red is that she always wears red?  Well, it didn’t take no smarts to realize Red was somewhere nearby swimming in her drawers, and we boys decided it would serve her right to walk back into town dressed only in them drawers, and see what kind of looks people would be giving her. So we gathered up her clothes and took them with us. When we got back to our horses, we stuffed Red’s clothes into my saddlebags. Mitch and Tuck rode off together ’cause they both live in the other direction, and I started for home, but I did some quick thinking. Taking something that belongs to someone else and going off with it could be called stealing, and making a gal walk back to town in her underwear is the kind of mean prank that my pa wouldn’t think was funny. Mr. and Mrs. Orowitz would probably tell my pa about what happened to Red, and if he found out I had anything to do with it, Red might end up with the last laugh. I decided it would be a good idea to take the clothes back and put them where Red could find them after she was good and worried that she’d have to walk back to town in her underwear.  Really, it was the right decision, only I made it at the wrong time.

Just after I laid those clothes down under some bushes, I heard something behind me.  I turned, and there was Red. She was wearing her drawers and the whatchamacallit that girls wear on top, and sure enough, they were red and wet. Her hair was wet too and hanging down all black and wild. Her blue eyes were shooting ice sparks. I’ve never seen a gal so mad.

She said my name with a hissing sound, and before I knew it, she came at me.  Now, no Cartwright would ever hit a female. Even in a temper I have better sense than that, but that gal sure enough was hitting me, so I starting trying to wrestle her to a stop. I was just defending myself. Now Red is as tall as me and weighs pretty much the same, so we was having quite a tussle. By the time I got her pinned on the ground, the durndest thing had happened. Ya see her drawers had got kind of pulled down, and I could see a part of her that I shouldn’t have been able to see. That’s how I come to know about the birthmark that Red has on her right cheek, not the one you see but the one ya don’t. When I realized what I was staring at, I kind of let go and jumped up quick, like she had gone red hot. Red scrambled up and turned to face me. I could feel my face get as red as Red’s drawers.  Red realized about her clothes and tugged up her drawers. I thought she’d go red in the face too, but she didn’t. She got a funny glint in her eyes and this kind of smirk on her face, and I felt the blood draining from my face down into my stomach, setting it to churning. Then she mentioned my pa. I knew that if Red told my pa her side of this story, the trouble I was just now getting out of wouldn’t have much on the trouble I’d be getting into. Still, I said something about her telling my pa whatever she wanted. Then she said she would unless she had a reason not to tell him, and she’d let me know when she decided what that reason would be. Well, once a blackmailer, always a blackmailer.  I watched Red get dressed and walk away while I wondered what she would force me to do this time.

In the end I decided that it was better to give her a reason I could live with then to wait for her to figure out one of her own. I didn’t figure out what that would be until after I talked to Adam about birthmarks.

Ya see, Sassafras had just had the cutest little colt. We was watching the two of them in the corral. Hoss said something about the colt having just the same blaze as his ma.  Adam said that was not unusual ’cause those kind of markings were hereditary. I said something like, wouldn’t it be something if people inherited markings? And Adam said sometimes they sort of do. Anyway, he ended up telling me that there were some people who inherited birthmarks that their pa or ma had. He said in some families these birthmarks were handed down from generation to generation. After that, I started thinking about Red’s little red crescent.

I figured I needed to talk to Red about her birthmark and whether or not it could be the proof she needed to make Jack admit he was her father. So the next day I left a note on Red’s desk.  After school, she met me behind the livery. I managed to talk to her about the birthmark and only got slapped once. She did say that her mother hadn’t had any kind of birthmark at all. So if Red had inherited her birthmark, it must have been from her pa. Of course, Adam had said that sometimes birthmarks weren’t inherited, so Jack not having a birthmark wouldn’t prove he wasn’t Red’s pa, but his having a birthmark like Red’s would be proof enough for most people that he was.

I made a deal with Red. Since she was a gal, and it wouldn’t be right for her to look at a naked man, even one that might be her father, Red and I agreed that she would never tell Pa about my seeing her birthmark if I checked out Jack to see if he had a birthmark, especially a red crescent. We shook on it. Now, I know I told ya that Red lies, and she sure enough does, so ya might wonder why I would trust her enough to make a deal with her. I don’t know except that a blackmailer has to honor some kinds of deals if she wants to stay in business.  Anyways, I went right ahead and tried to figure how I was going to get a good look at Jack Wolf without his clothes.

I thought of a lot of things that wouldn’t work. Trouble was that I needed a good look, not just a glance. Finally I decided that Jack wasn’t likely to be a nightshirt sort of person, and I might be able to sneak in and look him over while he was sleeping. The thought of Jack waking up and finding me looking at him made me think a little harder. I just needed to make sure Jack wouldn’t wake up. Then I decided that what I needed was one of Hop Sing’s herbal teas that make you sleep. If I could slip the tea into something Jack was drinking, he’d sleep right through my checking him for a birthmark. Once I had a plan, I set to getting the sleeping tea. For a couple of nights I kept getting up and grumbling about not being able to sleep. Finally Pa asked Hop Sing to brew up something to help me sleep. Instead of drinking it, I managed to pour it into a canteen and hide it under my bed.  The next step was to convince Hoss to cover for me.

See, Jack stayed up most of the night conducting his business. He didn’t even go to bed until about three or four in the morning. There was no way I could sneak in and check him out and be back to the ranch in time, so I needed Hoss or Adam to cover for me. Well, it didn’t take much thinking to decide to ask Hoss instead of Adam. I really had to work at getting Hoss to go along, though. The last time we helped Red, Hoss got in the most trouble he ever was in with Pa, and he didn’t want to be there ever again, but I convinced him this wasn’t nearly as bad as going off to Genoa and committing fraud, and I used all my best puppy-dog looks, and I even thought about bringing Red out to the ranch to cry, but Hoss gave in to me like he always does, ‘cause Hoss just hates to see me in trouble with Pa.

I snuck into town the next night. It’s a good thing that I’m an expert at sneaking around and not being noticed. I managed to get the sleeping tea into the last couple of drinks that Jack had. Then I waited in a little closet under the back stairs until he locked up and went to bed. I was real quiet slipping into Jack’s room. I lit the bit of candle that I had brought with me. Jack was lying on his stomach on his bed in just his drawers. I walked over and took a good look at his back and arms. There wasn’t any birthmark. Then I worked on getting him to roll over. When he did, I checked out his chest.  Jack didn’t have no birthmark above the waist; that was for sure, but then Red’s crescent was below her waist, so I was going to have to get Jack’s drawers down. That’s when I heard the door. It was opening. I jumped and dropped the candle. I didn’t even stop to think about it. I was out the window and down the porch roof quick as a rabbit running from a wolf. I would have stopped to get the candle if I had thought it might start a fire. It wouldn’t have started one except it landed on a bed sheet, but the girl who had come into Jack’s room saw the flame and stomped it out, so there weren’t any real harm done.

Hoss covered for me real good, and Pa wasn’t none the wiser about that trip, right then anyway, but I had only got half the job done, and it weren’t even the hardest half. I thought about just repeating what had already worked until I heard talk in town about Jack complaining about the fire and “being slipped a Mickey.”  I guess he figured when he didn’t wake up during a fire, he had to be more than just tired. Jack is a cuss, but he ain’t no stupid cuss, so I figured I needed a new idea. Red cornered me at school and started complaining about my not getting the job done and talking about having to rehearse her story before she told it to my pa. I told her if she had any ideas about how I could see Jack’s bottom half naked she should just go ahead and speak right up. She said the best plans are always the simplest plans and when does a fellow take off his drawers?  Well, of course a fellow takes off his drawers to take a bath, so we decided I needed to get a look at Jack when he was taking a bath.

Now Jack’s Place has a bathing room where anybody can take a bath for a dollar. In fact, there is one room for women and one for men, but I didn’t think Jack did his bathing in the public bathing room. Red said she’d take care of finding out where and when Jack did his bathing, and she did. Jack took a bath in his own rooms in a great big copper tub every second or third night, depending, and he bathed before going to work, not after, so the simplest plan was for me to hide in his room and watch him take a bath ’cause there should be enough light and enough chance to see any birthmark.  I just needed a reason to not be at home, and I talked Hoss into giving me one. He and I was suppose to be out hunting.

I got myself hid under Jack’s bed early. I got settled, so I had a view of the only place in the room they could put a big tub. After a while, a couple of the maids brought in the tub and started filling it with hot water. I laid there thinking that Red was right. The simplest plans are the best plans. Then Jack came in and started taking off his clothes. He took of his jacket and tie and unbuttoned his shirt.  Then he sat on the bed to take off his boots.   That’s when my luck ran out. Jack took off his boot, and for some fool reason, chucked it under the bed. I wasn’t expecting it and couldn’t move out of the way, and the toe of that boot caught me full in the eye. I admit it; I hollered. Well, you try a surprise boot in the eye and see if you holler. Jack jumped up, and I just had to save myself. Now having two big brothers like Hoss and Adam is probably the reason I escaped. I knew just how to grab Jack’s ankles and knock into his knees to bring him face down on the floor. The next thing I did I wouldn’t of done to my brothers, expect maybe Adam when I thought he might really kill me. As I was climbing out over him, I caught him a good one with my boot between his legs. He was howling as I made it out the window and down the porch roof again. I didn’t think he could honestly say he had seen me, even if he thought he knew who it was that was in his room.  I was feeling pretty good as I dropped off the roof until I felt somebody catch me. For a few seconds, I told myself it was just Hoss. It wasn’t Hoss.  It was Adam.

Adam just can’t keep his nose out of my business. By the time we were half way back to the ranch, he had gotten the whole story out of me. By the time we rode the rest of the way, I had got him to switch from taking me to Pa to helping us find out if Jack had a birthmark. It really wasn’t that hard to do. I guess Adam wanted this whole who’s Red’s pa thing settled and Jack made to take responsibility.  He said he would think about a new plan, and he did. The next day, when we was suppose to be doing chores, Adam told Hoss he needed to talk to him about a plan, but to not let me know ’cause I was too young to hear about it. Adam didn’t know I was listening then, and he didn’t know I was listening later, but I was.

Adam told Hoss that there was another time a man took off his drawers, and he wasn’t alone when he did it. Adam figured one of Jack’s girls would have seen him well enough to know if he had a birthmark anywhere, and we just needed to ask the right gal. He said we just needed to find out which girl to ask because they couldn’t just go questioning them all without raising suspicions. That’s when I told him Red could probably take care of that.

Adam nearly had apoplexy when he realized all that I had heard, but I told him I weren’t no baby and knew a lot more about them things then he thought. He said I better not be planning on learning anymore anytime soon, and even Hoss was fussing at me. Then they both just told me to see if Red could find out which of Jack’s girls had been closest to Jack.

Next day I told Red about Adam’s idea, and she said hadn’t she told me that the simplest ideas were the best ideas and not to worry because she’d find out what we needed to know. Sure enough, she did. She said we needed to talk to Gracie or Opal. She said she couldn’t do it ’cause Jack had told his girls to have nothing to do with her. I told her the Cartwrights would take care of it.

That night I told Adam we needed to talk to Gracie or Opal. First he got all high and mighty and told me I could forget the “we” ’cause none of Jack’s girl’s was going to talk about being with Jack to a little boy. I got mad about Adam calling me a little boy, and Hoss ended up keeping me from flying at Adam and Adam from warming my britches.

Finally it all got settled. Since we needed the truth, and Jack’s girl’s weren’t going to give it to us if we just told them what we want to know and why, Adam figured that he would have to buy some time with Gracie or Opal and kinda slip the question into the general conversation. He figured Hoss needed to do the same thing at the same time with the other gal. Then we’d have confirmation – that was Adam’s word – either way. One problem was that they would need some money, and none of us had much. I told him I’d talk to Red about financing – that’s one of Adam’s words too – this part of the plan since she was the one who really needed to know. I did, and she gave me the money, and Adam and Hoss made their plan for sneaking into town. I made my plan for following them. Pa was suppose to be back from a business trip on Friday, so we planed to do it the next night, which was Thursday.  Adam talked Hop Sing into paying a visit to some relatives, so we figured we had no problems.

Since Pa and Hop Sing weren’t on the ranch, Adam and Hoss just got ready Thursday night and saddled up. Adam told me I’d best stay put in the cabin and promised to blister me good if I didn’t. I just put my lip out and started pouting. I pouted for about five minutes, and then I saddled my pony and headed to town.

When I got to Eagle Station, I hide my pony behind the trading post and snuck over to Jack’s. I slipped in and found my old spot where I could see what was happening in the saloon. I watched Adam and Hoss pay Jack and go upstairs. There was one of Jack’s girl’s showing each of them the way. I can’t tell ya what went on upstairs ’cause Adam and Hoss won’t tell me about it, and they ain’t said anything about it where I could hear. I do know they were upstairs about fifteen minutes when it happened. That’s when I near about wet my pants. Pa came stomping into the saloon and up to Jack Wolf.  He asked Jack where his sons were – he must of seen their horses outside -, and when Jack pointed upstairs, Pa decked him. One punch was all it took to lay Jack flat out on the floor. Pa stepped over him and stomped upstairs.  I figured I might never see my brothers alive again. I wanted to run, but some fool was blocking my escape, so I just sat still and hardly breathed. A few minutes later, Pa was at the top of the stairs. He had one hand clamped on Adam’s right arm and the other hand clamped on Hoss’s left arm. He looked like he might throw them down the stairs. They both had their shirts unbuttoned, but their pants and boots were still on. When he told them to get to their horses, he didn’t shout, but his voice was hard and clear. My brothers came down that stairs faster than I would of thought anybody could. They were halfway to the door when the bartender saw me and shouted. I had been watching so close that I kind of forget to stay under cover. The bartender came over and jerked me up by my suspenders.  When my pa and my brothers saw me, they all went stock-still.

Now I thought Pa looked mad that day he fetched us home from jail in Genoa, but I think he looked even madder at that moment. Jack had pulled himself to his feet and was standing there rubbing his jaw. Everybody else had their eyes either on Pa or me. The saloon was quiet as a church. I always figure somebody needs to say something, so I did.  I said, “Hi, Pa.”

It’s hard to tell exactly what happened in the next few minutes. Folks was laughing, and Jack was shouting. Pa came up and grabbed me around the waist. He carried me out of Jack’s slung across his hip like a sack of grain. When he sat me down in the street, we were standing next to my brothers’ horses, and Adam and Hoss were standing there too.  Pa looked at me and said one word, “Where?” I knew what he meant and said my pony was behind the livery. Pa told me to get him and get back quick. It crossed my mind to just get on Paint and keep on going in any direction that didn’t lead to Pa, but once in awhile my good sense kicks in, and I got back to Pa in a couple of minutes.

Now Adam had got up enough spit to start talking. When I got back, he was asking Pa to just listen because he and Hoss had found out something important. Pa wasn’t ready to listen to much, and Adam had a hard time getting it out, but he managed to tell Pa that there was proof that Jack was Red’s father. He told Pa that Jack and Red both had the same red crescent birthmark on their backsides. This distracted Pa from hauling us home and killing us.

It might be Pa wanted the whole business with Red settled, maybe he wanted to lambaste Jack, or maybe he just wanted to do something to keep himself from killing his sons, but he asked Adam some questions about the birthmark, took us over to the trading post, told us to sit there, and then went back into Jack’s Place.  At first none of us said anything.  Then Adam said real calm-like that no matter what Pa did, he was going to keep his promise. I didn’t have to ask which promise. I told him he wasn’t allowed when Pa was around to handle things himself.  Adam just smiled and said Pa was bound to go away on business sometime.

About then Shelby walked up. She stood looking at the three of us and shaking her head.  Seems somebody had walked over from Jack’s to Shelby’s with the story of Ben Cartwright finding his boys there.

Before we even said anything to her, Pa walked up with Jack behind him. Pa pounded on the door, and Mr. Orowitz came down and opened it. Pa told him they needed to talk.  Jack, Shelby, and Pa went inside. Me and my brothers got up to go in, but Pa told us to keep our butts right where they were, so we sat back down. Now Pa don’t believe in eavesdropping, but he can’t seem to break me of the habit. I kind of moved around ’til I could hear some of what was going on inside. They took up discussing Jack and Red and birthmarks and responsibility. Jack admitted he had a birthmark, but demanded to see Red’s before he would believe she had one. Mrs. Orowitz said it wouldn’t be right for Jack to embarrass the girl and would Jack take her and Shelby’s word. Now everybody knows Ruth Orowitz is an honest woman and would only want the truth to be known anyway, so Jack said he would. Then Mrs. Orowitz and Shelby must of went upstairs. Nobody said much until I heard Mrs. Orowitz saying that Red had a birthmark in the shape of a crescent.  When Jack said that he’d be damned, it came to my mind that Jack had really not believed the Red was his daughter. Shelby told Jack to go up and talk to his daughter.  Pa, Shelby, and Mr. and Mrs. Orowitz decided it was too late to decide anything more tonight. I got back to where I was when Pa went inside before he came outside. Shelby looked at the three of us and started to say something, but Pa cut her off.  She shook her head and went back to her place. Pa told us to get on our horses and get back to the ranch. We did, with Pa trailing about a hundred yards behind us. When we got to the ranch, Pa told us to see to the horses and then get to bed. He left us in the barn. Adam lit into me about following them, but Hoss told him to just shut up. Adam was so surprised at how Hoss was talking that he did. We didn’t say nothing more. We just saw to the horses and went to bed. I didn’t go to sleep right away. I thought about what Pa was going to do to us, about what might happen with Red, and about what it would be like to have Jack Wolf for a pa.

 This morning Pa made us tell him everything. Pa made us look at him when we were talking, so we could see which things were making him the maddest. Pa’s face is real easy to read, at least for the three of us. Pa told us he was going into town to talk to Jack and the Orowitzs. He told us what better be done before he got back. He said if we finished those chores, we should go to our room and think about what we did and what we should of done.

 I’ve thought about what I done and counted up all the things Pa would punish me for if I done just them. Last time Red got the three of us in trouble, Pa dealt with each of us separately and punished us for each thing we done wrong. I figure he’ll probably do the same this time. I done more things wrong than Adam or Hoss but at least I don’t have to explain how my shirt got unbuttoned upstairs at Jack’s Place.

***The End***

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