Summary: Little Joe’s conversation with friends upsets his teacher.
Word Count: 1250
“We don’t speak of that!”
“But I was just saying…”
“I have said that in my schoolroom, we do not speak of such things.” The schoolteacher’s voice had taken on its sharpest edge.
“But school’s out for the day, and I don’t…” Little Joe Cartwright spoke up again.
“Joseph! I have made it clear that you will not speak of this again. I do not consider it an appropriate topic for the schoolroom or for you boys.”
“I don’t see why not. It was Adam who told me about how…” Little Joe truly did not understand why Miss Jones was objecting and was determined that his opinion would be heard.
“Joseph Francis Cartwright!” The color had heightened on Abigail Jones face and her words slapped the air. “I shall not abide you’re arguing with me!”
Little Joe took a deep breath. “I ain’t arguing; I’m just trying to tell ya, Miss Jones, that there ain’t nothing wrong in talking about…”
“That’s it! You will go and stand in that corner …”
Little Joe’s outrage caused him to interrupt, “School’s over! I don’t have to…”
Miss Jones eyes widened in shock, but before she could shout in indignation a deeper voice rang out.
The single syllable caused the rest of Little Joe’s statement to be swallowed over the sudden lump in his throat. He did not have to look over his shoulder to know that his eldest brother had entered the schoolhouse.
Abigail Jones looked over Little Joe’s head to focus on the figure in black who was now standing at the back of the classroom. Immediately a simpering smile replaced her scowl.
“Adam! How provident that you should appear!” She glanced at the boys who had been talking with Little Joe. “The rest of you boys have been dismissed.”
Three sets of eyes swept from the schoolteacher to Adam Cartwright and came to rest on Little Joe with sympathy. Abigail made a sweeping gesture with her hand, Adam cleared his throat, and three sets of legs moved quickly down the aisle and out the door.
Adam walked forward to stand behind his brother. Placing a hand on each of Little Joe’s shoulders, Adam pinned the boy in place.
Little Joe twisted his head to look up at Adam. The scowl there told Joe that his brother had heard more than enough to land the youngest Cartwright in major trouble.
Defiance and disrespect were not tolerated in Ben Cartwright’s family.
Adam raised an eyebrow, and Miss Jones answered his unspoken question.
“Joseph was having an inappropriate conversation with those boys. When I instructed him to stop, he became disrespectful and then, well, you heard his defiance for yourself.”
Little Joe stopped breathing. Miss Jones could make the littlest thing sound terrible.
“I’m afraid that I did, Miss Jones, but I can assure you that he will have reason never to repeat such behavior again.”
Little Joe’s stomach fell to his shoes.
Adam turned his brother to face him. “Joseph, when Miss Jones gives an order, you will obey immediately and with respect no matter where or when it is given, is that perfectly clear?”
“Yes, Adam.” Little Joe managed to force out the two words while staring at the buttons on his brother’s shirt.
Adam turned Joe back around to face the teacher. “What do you wish to say to Miss Jones, Joseph?”
“If I say what I really want to, I won’t live long enough for Pa to kill me!” Little Joe swallowed. “I…I’m sorry if I was disrespectful, and I know I have to mind you even if school’s out. I shouldn’t have said I didn’t. I’m sorry.” Little Joe’s eyes never left the tips of Abigail’s shoes that peeked from beneath her skirts.
“Very well then. I will leave the matter in your brother’s capable hands.” Abigail threw another smile in Adam’s direction.
“We’ll be going then.” Adam tipped his hat and took Little Joe by the arm. “Good day, ma’am.” He was striding toward the door before Abigail could reply.
Adam waited like a threatening thunderhead as Little Joe saddled his pony. In fact, he did not speak until they were well out of town, and he looked over and saw a tear running down his little brother’s cheek. He reined Sport to a stop and called gently, “Joe.”
Little Joe stopped and waited.
Adam dismounted and said, “Over there.”
Little Joe slipped to the ground and followed his brother to a small grove of trees.
Adam tied Sport and took a seat on the grass. He motioned to a spot in front of him.
Little Joe sat, lifted his knees to his chin, and buried his face in his arms.
“Joe.” Adam’s baritone was soft and gentle.
“Pa’s gonna kill me.” It was a shuddered mumble.
“He’s at least going to make you wish he had.” Adam sighed.
“It’s your fault.” Little Joe’s head was still on his knees, so he did not see Adam’s eyes widen.
“I was telling the guys what ya said about breeding that new stallion with our mares and him getting all ten of them preg…”
“Joe! Did you say that word in front of Miss Jones?”
“I didn’t know she was listening.” Little Joe looked up at his brother. “I could of said it worse ways, but you said that was the proper word.”
“I should have kept my mouth shut on the entire subject.” Adam tried to swallow the wry grin on his face, but Little Joe caught a glimpse of it.
“I tired to explain, but she wouldn’t let me, and then she told me to stand in the corner, and, well, you heard.” Little Joe’s voice trailed away.
Adam sighed and bit his lip. “You were defiant, Joe, and disrespectful.”
“I…I know, and Pa’s gonna kill me.” Little Joe’s eyes spilled tears.
“I can’t not tell him, Joe. Miss Jones will probably speak to him about it the next time she sees him.”
“I know.” Joe dropped his head back onto his knees.
“Of course, I could tell him that I didn’t bother him with it because I took care of it.”
Little Joe’s head shot up as his eyes filled with hope. “Could ya, Adam, please?”
“Only if it was the truth, Joe.”
Little Joe considered that statement for only ten seconds. “I’d rather you than Pa.”
“Stand up then.”
Adam rose, and Little Joe stood before him.
“You understand that you are not to act in that way again for any reason. Miss Jones is your teacher and deserves your respect and obedience.”
Little Joe nodded.
Little Joe nodded again.
The last part of the ride home was as silent as the first part had been, but the tension was gone.
“I’ll see to Sport for you, Adam,” Little Joe offered as they rode into the yard.
Adam started to decline but realized it was his brother’s thank you.
“I’d appreciate that.” He smiled at Joe as he dismounted and handed his brother Sport’s reins. “I’ll see you inside.”
“Adam, I…well, I know it wasn’t your fault, and, um, thanks for not just telling Pa.”
Adam’s smiled, “Glad to be of service.” Then his dimples deepened. “Just don’t discuss breeding in front of Miss Jones again.”
Little Joe grinned back, “Sure thing, big brother. We don’t speak of that!”