Summary: A gypsy tell Joe what is lucky number is.
Word Count: 5590
“Eight.” He muttered the number softly to himself.
Eight. He wrote the number upon his slate tracing and retracing its interlocking curves.
Eight. He pondered not the truth of its power by why it should be so. He had accepted the fact that it was what the gypsy said as easily as swallowing sarsaparilla. He had never expected it to be this particular number, but then why should it not be eight.
Eight. He deliberated how his new knowledge could be put to use. No immediate application came to mind, but he continued to worry the thought like a finger repeatedly rubbing a smooth stone or perhaps like a tongue thrusting again and again into the site of a lost tooth.
“Little Joe. Joe! JOSEPH!” The third exclamation of his name jerked Joe Cartwright from his reverie. His head came up with eyes blinking.
“Y, y, yes, ma’am.” He swallowed. Eight might be his lucky number, but he doubted that the luck of any number could help smooth Miss Jones ruffled feathers.
“Day dreaming again, young man?” The teacher’s glare caused the boy to squirm.
“No,” he replied softly. The arch of Miss Jones eyebrow increased in disbelief. “Well, not exactly, I was just… well, I guess, um, yes, ma’am. I’m sorry.”
“I’m afraid that this time that is not enough. You will remain after school, Joseph Cartwright, and read aloud to me the history that failed to hold your interest. You will then write an essay giving your opinion on the question I just asked.”
Little Joe sighed. Then he ventured, “Uh, what question was that, Miss Jones?”
Abigail Jones snorted and turned her back on the boy, shaking her head and resolving that she would someday teach even Little Joe to attend to his studies.
Little Joe slumped in his seat and bit his lower lip. Doing the reading might have taken a short enough time that the delay could have been overcome, but writing the essay would seal his fate. Pa would know he had been kept after, and there was little chance that he could avoid his father’s wrath. It was the sixth time this month that he had been kept after school, and he had been duly warned of the consequences should he be kept late again. Little Joe kicked the leg of the bench in front of him in frustration. Now, maybe if it had been the eighth time, he would have stood a chance.
Little Joe slid from the saddle and hurried to lead his pony into the barn. He had hoped against hope that he might have arrived home before both his brothers and his father, but that meager hope was dashed when he heard his brothers’ voices. He stopped short in the open doorway and listened trying to gage the mood of his elder brother.
“I wouldn’t have wasted my money, Hoss.” Adam’s voice carried a chiding note.
“It’s only a dollar, Adam. That ain’t that much to risk.” Hoss’ tone was slightly pleading as he sought his older brother’s approval.
“Think about the work you have to do for that dollar, little brother. The chances are a hundred to one that you just threw that dollar away.”
The corners of Little Joe’s lips curled up as they always did when Adam referred to the largest Cartwright as his little brother.
“Well, if I win, I’ll have a brand new rifle for just one dollar. Ya have to admit, big brother, that is one beauty of a rifle.”
“What rifle, Hoss?” Little Joe asked as he walked further into the barn.
Before Hoss could answer, Adam snapped, “So you finally got yourself home. Need I ask why you’re late?”
“I sure don’t need you to,” Little Joe retorted.
“Well, Pa most certainly will, so I’ll just leave it to him.” Adam had finished settling in Sport, so he turned on his heel and walked out of the barn giving his younger brother a glare as he passed.
“Don’t pay to rile Adam when you’re already gonna be in Pa’s bad books, ” Hoss advised as Joe began grooming his pony.
“Don’t matter. Pa’s gonna warm my behind for being in trouble at school again, and Adam couldn’t stop him even if he wanted to, so it don’t matter ifin he don’t.”
Hoss could think of nothing to refute his brother’s logic, so he simply shook his head and continued laying down fresh straw in the stalls.
“Hoss, what were you and Adam talking about?”
Hoss chewed his lip and then shrugged. There really was no reason for Joe not to know. “The Silver Dollar is raffling off a rifle, a real fine one. You pay a dollar and pick a number between one and a hundred. If they sell all the numbers, they’re gonna have the drawing a week from Saturday. If they draw your number, the rifle’s yours,” he explained.
“And you bought a chance?” Joe inquired eagerly.
“Yeah. I took number 56; I don’t know why; I just had a feeling.” Hoss gave Joe a sheepish grin. “I ‘spect Adam’s right, though. Ain’t much chance that I’ll be lucky enough to win.”
“You have as much chance as anybody,” Little Joe observed cheerily. Then he completed the thought silently, “except for me. That’s why the gypsy told me my lucky number. She wanted me to win that rifle!“
Joe had been with Adam when they had found the gypsy wagon three days before. At first Adam had told the trespassers they had to move on immediately, but Joe had seen a little boy in the back of the wagon, and slipped away to talk to him. When the boy told Joe that his mother was sick, Little Joe had pled the gypsies’ case, and Adam had given them permission to continue camping in the meadow until the woman had recovered. Before he and Adam had left, an older woman had called to Joe and thanked him. Then she had leaned close and whispered to him that she had seen his lucky number. “Eight, “she had whispered, “Eight will bring you luck.”
Little Joe’s eyes danced as he did his evening chores. Everyone said that gypsies knew everything about luck and magic. Now that he knew his lucky number, he was certain to win that rifle if only he could manage to buy a chance. His mind hummed happily with the thought of owning a rifle that was totally his, that was unconnected with his pa, and that he could do with as he chose.
“Joe,” Pa’s voice called from the porch, “Supper in five minutes.”
Little Joe quickly finished and washed up; it was not a good night to be late to the table.
Joe picked at his supper. His father had asked about his tardiness from school, and Joe had given Ben the teacher’s note. The knowledge that his consequences would be administered shortly had hung over Joe’s head throughout the meal.
“Best finish up, Short Shanks, Hop Sing’s got peach pie for desert,” Hoss urged his little brother.
“I ain’t really hungry, Hoss. You can have mine, I guess,” Little Joe muttered softly.
“If you’re finished, Joseph, drink down your milk, and you are excused,” Ben instructed. Little Joe drank what remained in his glass, and then set it on the table. “You may wait for me in your room, Joseph.”
Little Joe glanced at his father and then again dropped his eyes. “Yes, Pa.” He slipped from his chair and up the stairs.
Adam watched his little brother’s departure. “Pa, you know why he hardly ate any supper.”
Ben turned his attention to his eldest. “I do, Adam, and it is a situation that Joe created through his own actions.”
“It’s not like he really did anything, I mean, not like some of the mischief he gets into.” Adam had read the note that Miss Jones had sent his father.
“You don’t considered Joe’s paying attention in class a matter of concern,” Ben asked arching his eyebrow.
“Of course I do, Pa. You know that. It’s just, well, tanning the boy for just daydreaming – and that’s all it was really- well, it just seems too severe.” Adam finished on an adamant note.
“Well, that is my decision to make as his father.” Ben’s tone was sharp, and Adam wondered if he had made matters worse instead of better.
“Maybe just a spanking, Pa.” Hoss slipped his suggestion softly into the conversation.
Ben rose and turned his back to his sons before rolling his eyes. He walked to the top of the stairs and let out a soft sigh and shook his head. His older sons often teased about how much more lenient he was with their younger brother then he had been with them. They never seemed to mention that half the time it happened because they had pled for mercy on Joe’s behalf. Well, if the boy took the proper attitude, perhaps a simple spanking would suffice.
Little Joe took his father’s leniency has a sign that just knowing his lucky number was attracting good luck his way. His pa had promised him a real tanning, but the spanking he had received, while uncomfortable, had been mild in comparison to most of the punishments his pa delivered. Still, Little Joe fought mightily to keep his mind off the Silver Dollar raffle and on his studies the entire next day. Fortunately, the following day was Saturday, and Joe could focus on his top priority: winning that riffle.
Little Joe had considered asking Hoss to buy him a chance. Several things had made him reject the idea. He figured he could persuade Hoss to do it, but if he could not, he would have to get around Hoss as well as Adam and his pa to buy the ticket. Even if he did persuade Hoss, his oversized brother might accidentally give him away to Pa or Adam. Ben Cartwright’s middle son was not particularly adept at subterfuge. Secondly, the thought that the number eight might be lucky only if he himself put it to use had entered Joe’s head, and he could not push it out. Finally, Joe had decided he must do the job himself.
Saturday morning found Little Joe in front of his father’s desk. A dollar weighed down his right pocket, and an angelic look graced his features.
“I’ve got my chores all done.”
“That’s good, son.”
“Well, Pa, I was thinking about going up to the lake. Mitch and some of the boys said they was gonna spend the day fishing.” The last statement was totally true, and Little Joe’s face gleamed with innocence; he had yet to actually tell a lie.
“Are you asking permission to join them?”
“Can I be gone ’til it’s time for evening chores? Hop Sing’ll fix me something to take for lunch.”
Ben considered Joe’s request. “You know all the rules, Joseph.”
“Of course I do, Pa.” Joe dropped his eyes from his father’s face, so Ben would not read his next thought: “And I’m about to break a bunch of them.”
“Stay out of trouble then, and be home on time. I’ll not overlook any tardiness.” Ben’s stern look was followed by a smile, and Little Joe was off like a shot.
Little Joe rode off in the direction of the lake, but after making sure he was beyond his family’s observation, he circled around and headed toward Virginia City. Reaching the outskirts of town, he tied his pony in a small grove of trees out of the sight of any passer-bys. He pulled his hat down low and walked quickly toward his goal keeping in the shadows cast by the storefronts. He ducked in the alley next to The Silver Dollar and paused to think about what he was risking. The Silver Dollar was one of the three saloons that his father and brothers visited regularly. The bartender knew the Cartwrights and would probably recognize him. It was almost a certainty that someone inside would know who he was, and word that he had been the saloon would most certainly reach his father. Of course, when he won the rifle, his pa would know that he went into the saloon to buy a chance; he had known that from the start. The rifle would be worth the tanning, but if someone stopped him before he bought his chance, that same tanning would be a high price to pay for nothing. Little Joe chewed his lower lip. Taking a deep breath, he slid onto the sidewalk and toward the saloon’s entrance.
Joe paused, dropped to his heels, and stared into the interior of the Silver Dollar from beneath the batwing doors. He gazed about trying to recognize the few men inside.
“”Hey, boy! Whatcha doing down there!” A voice rained down from above.
Little Joe scrambled to his feet and turned to see a red-faced miner standing behind him. He stepped backwards and half fell through the saloon doors. Struggling to stay upright, he regained his balance and found himself inside the Silver Dollar.
“Out of my way,” the miner bellowed as he pushed his way past the boy.
Little Joe snorted and then turned to face the bar. Hanging in glorious display on the back wall was the rifle and a hand-lettered sign announcing, “DOLLAR A CHANCE!” Little Joe took a deep breath and walked boldly up to the bar.
“What are ya doing in here, son?” The bartender glared down at the boy, but his tone was not overly harsh.
Joe dug the dollar from his pocket and placed it on the bar. “I want to buy a chance.”
The bartender frowned. “Hey, I know who you are. You’re Ben Cartwright’s youngest, ain’t ya?”
Little Joe bit his lip. “Yes, sir,” he answered. “I want to buy a chance.”
“Do you now? I ain’t so sure I should be selling chances to no little kid.”
Little Joe reddened at being called a little kid but managed to hold his tongue.
“Your papa know you’re buying a chance?”
Little Joe hesitated only a second before replying, “Do you think I’d walk right in here and ask, if he didn’t?” Joe flashed his most cheeky grin. “My brother bought a chance. Now I’m buying one.”
“Well, Hoss did buy himself one,” the bartender mused. He picked up the dollar and inquired, “Ya know what number you want, son?”
Little Joe tried not to appear overly eager. The bartender took out a piece of paper on which the numbers from one to hundred had been printed. Under about half the numbers, names were written.
Little Joe held his breath as he tried to see if the number eight was taken. Then he said softly, “I was thinking on maybe picking eight if no one else has.”
“No, they ain’t. You can have it if ya want.”
“Okay, then,” Little Joe said with his heart soaring, “I’ll take eight.” The bartender looked at him inquiringly, and Joe added, “Joe. My name’s Joe Cartwright.”
He watched as his name was placed beneath his lucky number and then dashed out the door of the saloon. He was a hundred feet down the wooden sidewalk when he collided with solid flesh.
“Whoa, there! Hey, it’s Little Joe.” The boy’s eyes traveled up the chest of the man who held his arms and recognized Ross Marquette. “Adam! Adam, here’s your baby brother.”
Little Joe’s stomach hit the sidewalk as he watched his elder brother walk up behind Ross.
“Little Joe!” Adam pinned his brother with a sharp glare. “What are you doing here?”
“Nothing. Sorry for bumping into ya, Ross. I’ll just get out of your way now.” Ross had released Joe’s arms, and the boy started to dart away, but Adam lashed on to his brother’s arm before his feet left the sidewalk.
“Just a minute, little boy.” Adam hauled Joe in front of him. “Pa told me you were going fishing with your friends. Since when do you boys fish from a town sidewalk?”
Little Joe tried for a nonchalant air. “Of course I ain’t fishing, Adam.”
“Of course not.” Adam’s tone dripped ice. “I asked you already, Joseph, what are you doing?”
Little Joe bit his lip and dropped his eyes to the ground. “Just walking down the street.”
“Just walking down the street alone in town without Pa’s permission?”
“Yeah,” Joe replied softly and then stopped breathing.
Adam shook his head slowly and turned to his friend. “I’m sorry, Ross. We’ll have to have that beer another time. Something has come up that needs my attention.”
Ross gave first Adam and then Little Joe a sympathetic glace. He had been Adam’s friend too long not to be able to imagine what would be happening next.
“Sure, Adam. We can have that drink any time.” Seeing Little Joe squirm in his brother’s grasp, Ross leaned close to Adam’s ear and whispered, “Remember we did much the same, my friend.”
Adam snorted softly. “And paid the price every time we got caught,” he thought to himself. Then sensory memory ran down his back, and his anger softened. “Come with me.” Adam led Joe to where Sport was tied to the hitching rail. He lifted the boy and swung him onto the horse’s back. “Where’s your pony?”
“A little past Decker’s.”
Adam untied Sport, mounted behind his brother, and started the ride out of town.
Adam decided that the grove where his little brother had hidden his pony would afford enough privacy for their discussion. After Little Joe slipped from Sport’s back, Adam dismounted.
“Joe.” Adam stopped the boy by placing his hand on Joe’s shoulder, “We need to talk.” Adam felt his brother shrug and turned him around. “The truth, Joseph, and all of it.”
Little Joe stared at the ground and dug the toe of his boot into the dirt. “Ain’t no sense telling it twice. You’ll be listening when I tell Pa.” Joe’s voice held a surly and defiant tone.
“And when he delivers a very necessary talk to your backside,” Adam snapped.
“Yeah, you’ll really get to enjoy yourself today!” Little Joe allowed his temper to flare. Being mad was better than being scared. He spun away from his brother and took a step toward his horse.
“Joe!” Adam reached out, grabbed Joe’s arm, and spun him back around. Holding Joe by the upper arms, he gazed down at the squirming child. Softly he inquired, “Do you really think I enjoy it when Pa punishes you?”
“I’ve heard ya say more than once, Adam, how Pa needs to bust my tail more, that he don’t do it often enough. Well, today you’re gonna get your wish, so let’s just get to it.” Little Joe jerked from Adam’s grasp and darted to his pony. Adam watched as Joe stopped and buried his face in the pony’s side.
Adam stood and digested what his brother had said and sighed. Of course, he had said exactly that, but only when he knew his father had definitely decided not to tan the boy, and Joe had never heard when he asked Pa to go easy on his baby brother. No, he had always had those discussions with his father when Joe was out of hearing. Adam watched the shaking of Little Joe’s shoulders and knew how hard he was trying not to cry. Adam remembered being eleven and facing a tanning. He walked over and turned Joe toward him. Little Joe buried his face in his big brother’s chest, and Adam closed his arms around his brother.
“Joe, I don’t. . . really, I could never feel that way.” Adam leaned down to whisper conspiratorially into Little Joe’s ear, “Been over Pa’s knee too often myself to be wishing anyone there, especially my little brother.” He stepped back and used his right hand to raise Joe’s chin. “Big brother’s got a temper too, Joe. It gets hold of my mouth sometimes.”
Joe gave Adam a watery smile. “Don’t I know it!”
Adam chucked Little Joe’s chin and shook his head. “Always the cheeky one, aren’t you?” Little Joe nodded and then bit his lip.
“Pa’s gonna blister me good.” It was a fact that Little Joe desperately wished his brother would refute.
“Tell me everything, little boy, and we’ll see what we can do to keep the damages to a minimum.”
Adam led Joe to a fallen log. Little Joe sat down on it, and Adam seated himself on the ground in front of his brother.
“I didn’t go fishing with the other boys.” Joe began with the obvious, and Adam held his tongue. “I came into town, and, well, I went to the Silver Dollar to buy a chance on that rifle.” Adam felt his own stomach sink. Joe kept his eyes on an ant crawling on a fallen leaf. “I bought one, and I was just leaving when I ran into Ross and you. I… I just went in to buy that chance ’cause I knew I could win, and then I’d have that rifle, and it’d be mine, and I could do what I want with it.” Little Joe finished in one rushed breath.
“You made Pa think you were with your friends, came to town alone, went to a saloon, and gambled on getting a rifle because you thought you wouldn’t have to follow Pa’s rules about guns if he hadn’t given it to you,” Adam summarized softly. “Good Lord, help him. That boy’s never going to sit down again,” he finished silently. Hearing his sins laid out by his brother, Joe’s eyes filled and spilled tears down his cheeks.
“Please don’t tell Pa, Adam, please, please,” Little Joe pleaded. “Just this once, Adam, just this once, please.”
“Joe, if something had happened to you…” Seeing denial of his own vulnerability in Little Joe’s eyes, Adam’s voice grew stern, “Oh, yes, little boy, something bad could have happened, and we would have wasted hours looking for you up at the lake. Joe, I can’t be responsible for you thinking you can do something like this again; I just can’t.” Adam wanted very much for his brother to understand why he had to tell their pa.
“Please, Adam.” Little Joe sounded so pitiful that Adam’s stomach twisted.
“Joe, I…” Adam watched his little brother wrap his arms around his stomach and start to rock back and forth. “I don’t, don’t want to, Joe, but…”
Little Joe’s head came up. “If I promise, Adam, if I really promise never to…”
“Joe, I know you’d mean it when you said it, but never is a long time.”
Joe’s chin dropped again, but then it rose, and Little Joe looked directly into Adam’s eyes. “I’ll promise next time I won’t, no matter what the reason, I won’t next time ’cause I promised you. That’s not a promise I’d break, Adam. You know that’s a promise I wouldn’t break.”
Adam sighed. “You don’t have any ideas about being in that saloon when they draw the winning number?”
Little Joe shook his head violently. “You and Hoss can bring me the rifle when I win.”
This time Adam could not keep from rolling his eyes, but Joe did not notice. “Hoss isn’t going to be there either; you know Pa better than to think that.”
“You were gonna bring the rifle to him if he won?”
“Yes. If I bring it to you, I won’t lie to Pa.” “ Not straight out anyway. Lord, as if the boy is going to win.”
“I know.” Little Joe started to truly hope.
“Pa could still find out from someone else.” “If I talk to the bartender, maybe not.”
Adam knew he had capitulated already. “Promise me, Joe, right now.”
“I promise that next time I think about sneaking into town…” Little Joe saw a flicker in Adam’s eyes. “Any place… any place I ain’t suppose to go alone, I promise I won’t. For serious, I promise I won’t.”
“Okay. I won’t tell Pa.” Little Joe stuck out his hand, and Adam shook it to seal the deal. “If Pa finds out about this he’s going to hang both our hides on the barn wall because I’ll be in too much trouble to save either of us.” Adam motioned for Joe to go mount and watched his brother comply. He started to follow and then stopped. It occurred to him that this was the first time he had made the kind of deal with Joe that he had automatically made with Hoss numerous times. He shook his head and mounted Sport.
They rode for a time without speaking. Then Adam said gently, “Joe, you know you probably won’t win that rifle. The chances are a hundred to one.”
Little Joe turned in the saddle to look at his older brother. “But I am gonna win, Adam.”
There was such confidence in the boy’s voice that Adam asked, “Why are you so sure, Little Buddy?”
“I know ’cause I used my lucky number.”
“Your lucky number?”
“Yeah. The gypsy lady told it to me, so I know I’ll win.” Little Joe smiled and straightened in his saddle.
Adam shook his head gently and sighed. “Blast her to the devil! Oh, well, he has to learn sometime.” Adam shook his head again. “When we get to the turn off, you’d best scoot up to the lake and catch some fish, little brother.”
“Yeah.” Little Joe stopped his pony and turned to address his brother. “Thanks, Adam, for not telling Pa, and thanks for being my brother.”
“My pleasure, Joe, my pleasure.”
Adam sat nursing a beer and listening to tinny piano music. He had already politely declined the company of three different salon girls, and all he wanted was for the drawing to be over, so he could leave. The thought that his baby brother might actually win that blasted rifle kept popping into his head, and he was tired of worrying it like an empty tooth socket.
“There’s no such thing as a lucky number. The probability that Joe – or Hoss, for that matter – will win is exactly a hundred to one. Neither of them is going to beat those odds,” he reassured himself. “Of course, somebody will, and it could just be Little Joe.” Adam took another swallow of beer. He had spoken to the bartender about not mentioning Little Joe’s visit or his name if the boy should happen to win. The bartender had agreed – after a sizable tip – to only announce a Cartwright win if either Hoss’ or Joe’s number was drawn and not to discuss Joe’s buying a chance with anyone. Just maybe things would work out, and his pa would be none the wiser. Adam sighed and took another swallow of beer.
The piano music stopped with a flourish, and the bartender called for quiet. The last number had been purchased, and the drawing would be held immediately.
The bartender called for one of the saloon girls to come over. He lifted her onto the bar, and she stood in full view of all the saloon’s patrons. The bartender brought out a huge glass bowl and held it out to the crowd, so they could see the little slips of paper with different numbers printed on them. A number of cheers, comments, and catcalls accompanied the action. The girl leaned over reveling more of her charms and exciting the crowd to frenzy. She closed her eyes, reached into the bowl, and stirred the slips with her hand. Adam held his breath. Her long red nails plucked a single slip of paper from the bowl and held it above her head. Adam strained to see but could not make out the number. Then he realized he had never asked Little Joe just what his lucky number was or Hoss, either when it came to that. Someone called out the winning number. The crowd erupted with the boos and curses of the losers, and then quieted. The bartender announced that the winning number was held by a Cartwright, and a stunned Adam found himself propelled forward. The bartender placed the rifle in his hands as the crowd cheered. Minutes later Adam stood on the raised sidewalk outside the Silver Dollar staring at the rifle in his hand and shaking his head. Then he mounted Sport and headed home.
Little Joe had been tucked into bed hours before, but he sat on the windowsill in his room staring out into the night. He knew that Adam would be bringing home his rifle; he just did not know if he wanted that anymore. The boy shivered in his nightshirt from more than the night chill. Joe knew that his winning the rifle would lead to his pa finding out at least some of the things he had done wrong. Joe sighed. Once his pa started demanding answers he never stopped until he knew the whole story. This time the whole story would get Adam in trouble with their pa too.
“Adam don’t have to worry about a tanning though; he’s too old for that.” Little Joe was surprised that that thought brought him little comfort. Deep down, he knew that his pa would be angry with Adam in an even deeper way and extract a stiffer penalty from his eldest than the worst tanning Little Joe would ever receive. Joe leaned his forehead against the glass and drew his arms tight around his stomach. Then he noticed motion in the shadows and saw a light in the barn. Adam was home.
Adam stopped before the door to his home and shifted the rifle into his left hand. He took a deep breath and opened the door. Walking inside, he saw that his father and middle brother were both still downstairs waiting for him to return.
“What’s that you have, Adam?” Ben asked as his son turned from placing his hat in its customary resting place.
Adam stepped further into the room. “A rifle, Pa.”
“A rifle?” Ben watched his eldest hold the gun out into the light. A smile broke out on Hoss’ face while on the stair landing above Little Joe bite his lip to keep the tears from falling.
“Yeah, Pa, they had a raffle at the Silver Dollar, and it seems a Cartwright held the winning number.”
“You bought a chance on a rifle?” Ben inquired, for that type of gamble was unusual behavior for his eldest.
“Not me, Pa,” Adam answered just as Hoss announced, “I did, Pa!”
Little Joe stood and took one step down the stairs.
“That you did, Little Brother, and fifty-six was the winning number,” Adam announced in a loud, clear voice. He had noticed Joe in the shadows on the stair.
“Yahooo!” The cheer burst from the middle Cartwright son and echoed against the rafters.
“Eric! You’ll wake Little Joe.” Ben’s tone was sharp and a frown settled on his face. He did not approve of gambling, and his son’s participation in a saloon raffle did not settle well.
“Sorry, Pa,” Hoss announced in a quieter tone, but the grin never left his face. He reached out, and Adam placed the rifle in his hands.
“Congratulations, brother. I guess you were right after all.” Adam smiled and clapped his sibling on his broad back.
“Aww, I just had a feeling. Say, Adam, I had me a thought.”
“Umm,” Adam muttered for his attention had been on his youngest brother as Joe slipped up the stairs toward his room. “What… what thought, Hoss?”
“Well, I got me a fine rifle already, and I was thinkin’ as how – now, Pa, don’t say no right off – well, I was thinking this might make a fine present for Joe’s twelfth birthday.”
Adam gave his brother his deepest smile. “Whoever said I was the Cartwright with the bright ideas? That would be real good of you, Hoss.”
Both brothers fixed a pleading look on their father and waited. Ben Cartwright raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “You’d better find a good hiding place quick if you intend to surprise your little brother.”
Hoss chuckled happily, “That’s for sure.” He left the room quickly to do just that.
“I’m headed to bed, Pa,” Adam announced, “Good night.”
“Good night, Son.”
Adam made his way up the stairs and then slipped into Little Joe’s room. The moonlight from the window showed him his little brother was sitting against the headboard of his bed with his knees tucked under his chin. Adam walked over and sat down facing the boy.
“I know you’re disappointed, Joe, but …”
“No, Adam, no, really I ain’t. I’m glad Hoss won.”
“Yeah, well, I figured out it wouldn’t be such a good thing winning that rifle, and Hoss winning, well, I’m happy it was him and not somebody else.”
“Me too, “Adam replied softly.
“You think Pa will find out?” Joe’s whisper was hesitant.
“Not if our luck holds, Little Buddy.”
Little Joe leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Adam. Adam returned the hug. The same thought entered both their heads. “Maybe the gypsy was right after all, and eight had brought good luck.”