Summary: This is a set of four vignettes written in response to various prompts.
Word Count: 2426
1: All Wet
Of course, looking up and seeing one of my sons or even all of them walk into the house wet, really isn’t so peculiar. From time to time they all do. Really, with rain, sleet, snow, streams, rivers, lakes, and watering holes, it’s bound to happen from time to time. Why, Hop Sing would tell you that it happens all too often to his nicely polished floors, and I’d have to agree or hear him threaten to go back to China. No, a wet Cartwright is not such an unusual sight, but you will have to agree what happened today wasn’t commonplace.
I was sitting in my red leather chair passing a quiet Sunday afternoon reading the Territorial Enterprise when I heard the door open. In walked my eldest muttering curses under his breath. He had on his good black pants, a fine white cotton shirt, and a black string tie. The shirt was still wet enough to see through, the pants clung to his frame, and the tie hung limply. His hair was curling in the way it only does when it is damp. It was obvious that he had been soaked to the skin and had not yet dried out. Now I could see through the window that the sun was still shining; in fact, it hasn’t rained for over a week. Obviously the weather was not to blame. I began to wonder what was. I called Adam’s name. He stopped short thinking I was reprimanding his language- I frown severely on my sons cursing- and said curtly, “Sorry, Pa, but you just don’t know!” Then he uttered a single exclamation with more vehemence than he had given any of his curses. “Women!” he exclaimed and stomped up the stairs.
I knew that Adam had taken Ed McKeuhan’s daughter- I don’t recall her name though it is some kind of flower- for a buggy ride up to the lake. I surmised that the young lady had somehow managed to cause my son a dunking in said lake. Curiosity, if not fatherly concern, assured me that I would be worming the story out of Adam at supper.
It wasn’t five minutes later that my middle son came through the door. His hat and vest were still dripping, and his pants made a wet, slapping sound as he walked. His curses were milder but more colorful. I called his name, and he had the grace to look sheepish. “Sorry, Pa,” he mumbled and then departed. His parting word was uttered with as much vehemence as his brother’s had been, “Brats!”
I didn’t have time to speculate on which brat had caused his dunking before my youngest made his appearance. Little Joe was not only dripping but crumpled like a wad of wet paper. Even though he was only twelve and small for his age, Joe managed to stomp louder than either of his grown brothers. He was also cursing just has eloquently.
My “Joseph Francis Cartwright” was spoken in a tone that reminded the boy he was treading in forbidden territory. He stopped, swallowed, placed his hands over his backside, and gave me his puppy-dog look. “Sorry, Pa,” he said and shifted from foot to foot. His bedraggled state added enough misery to his apology for me to let the swearing go with only a verbal reprimand. Then he asked permission to go and change, and I granted it, of course. He also made a vehement declaration as he made his exit. “Brothers!” he spat at the floor. It was apparent that there would be more than one story to uncover and discuss at the dining table. Speculation easily led me to assume that Joe was the brat and Hoss the avenging brother, but there was always the possibility of less likely explanations.
Hop Sing announced that dinner was ready, and I called to my sons. Three doors slammed, and the boots on the stairs could have drowned out the sound of a stampede. While the three of them were now dry, they obviously were not any less enraged. I met them at the bottom of the stairs with my sternest scowl. In short order, I made it clear that my Sunday supper would not be ruined by angry, sulking boys, and that they had five minutes to achieve peace or they would not be welcomed at the table. I then went out on the porch to wait out those five minutes. I don’t allow my sons to eavesdrop, so I couldn’t actively listen. Their voices were loud enough, though, for me to hear the stray word. Evidently Hoss and Joe had played a prank that resulted in Daisy- or is it Violet, perhaps it’s Rose- pushing Adam into the lake. Hoss held Joe responsible for his dunking even though Adam had been the one to push him into the water while Hoss was the brother that tossed Joe into the water trough. After five minutes exactly, I walked back inside. My sons were seated at the dining table. Actually, we had a pleasant supper. Well, my boys know when to follow my orders. I suppose I never will know the whole story, as I don’t intend to stir the pot by asking any questions. Maybe it’s better that way.
2: Cats and Dogs
Ben sat down on the bench behind the barn to think. He lit his pipe and watched as the first pink of sunset colored the sky. They were at it again. His eldest and his youngest were once again creating tension within the family. The fight that started this new round of animosity was over Joe’s behavior at the last church social. In Joe’s opinion he had just been having a little fun when he had used the dried rattlers he had found the day before to scare Abigail Jones into Adam’s lap. Adam’s opinion of Joe’s antics had been delivered in terms ranging from childish to imbecilic at a decibel level that had almost reached Ben’s own record. Ben shook his head. How did two brothers who loved each other unequivocally find so many reasons to fight? Ben’s eye was attracted by a slight movement. He watched as a cat slipped silently across his ranged of vision. The cat was one of the big toms that keep the barn and other storage areas free from vermin. He was solid black with golden eyes. His fur thick and sleek over muscles that rippled as he moved. Each of his steps was sure, and his every movement bespoke his authority over the land he roamed. Ben made a slight movement, and the cat paused turning his eyes to study the man. Recognizing Ben and deciding he was no threat to his domain, the cat nonchalantly continued on his way. Ben did not call to the cat. While Ben supposed that the cat had a name- well, he was sure that Hoss would have a name for the beast anyway- he knew that this creature came to no man’s call. Ben admired the natural confidence exuded by the animal and then rose to go inside.
Turning, he saw his middle son standing at the corner of the barn holding a wiggling puppy in his arms. Hoss had been caring for the dog since Tom Haydon’s boy had brought the starving runt to Hoss when the mother had refused to feed it. With Hoss’ hand-feeding, the pup had grown into a fat and sassy perpetual motion machine. His long chestnut fur had almost a slight curl to it, and his big eyes gave him a soulful look. As Ben approached the pair, he reached out his hand to pet Imp and received a dozen licks from his wet tongue. Ben grinned; it seemed that Imp could always make him smile.
“Best not let Imp see that cat,” Ben admonished his son.
“I got a hold of him, Pa. This boy ain’t gonna be going after Emperor. Not that he would have the sense not to try. This little one would take on a bear iff’n it got him riled.”
Ben scratched the pup under the chin and muttered, “That he would.”
“Yeah, he reminds me of Little Joe that way. Well, I best finish up in the barn,” Hoss said turning to leave. “See ya at supper, Pa!”
“Right, son.” Ben drew in a deep breath. Yes, if Joe was like the puppy, Adam was that big cat. Ben gave a soft laugh. It was a good thing he and Hoss loved both cats and dogs.
3: The Top of the Stairs
The top of the stairs was a place of knowledge. Each of them had learned something important standing there in silence looking down on the great room below and listening to the voices of the others. Of course, Ben Cartwright would have taken his sons to task for eavesdropping had he known how often they indulged in this behavior, but he was as guilty as they.
It was from the top of the stairs that Adam had seen his invincible father shake with sobs at the news his premature son would survive to bear their grandfather’s name. He had stood there listening to Hoss reveal how often he envied his intellect and Joe’s easy way with people counting himself second to them both. Most often, though, Adam had listened to Little Joe’s voice while striving to understand his baby brother. If not for the top of the stairs, Adam felt sure many rifts between the two of them would have widened instead of closed.
From the top of the stairs, Hoss had watched his father and stepmother and learned what marriage could be when two people truly loved each other more than themselves. He had watched Adam struggle to be a man taking their father’s place when grief had stolen that love away. Hoss did not have to stand at the top of the stairs to listen to Little Joe. If he waited long enough, his baby brother always opened his heart to Hoss, but he had watched the boy when Joe thought he was alone and understood the depth of Joe’s hidden fear each time their father left the ranch.
Little Joe had always used the top of the stairs to learn what his father and brothers felt he was too young to handle. He used it to gauge his father’s moods and his eldest brother’s anger. It was from the top of the stairs that Joe glimpsed the boys his grown brothers had been and the reality of the man his father was.
Ben Cartwright had also learned a great deal while standing at the top of the stairs watching his sons and listening to them when they were unaware of his presence. Sometimes he confronted them with what he had learned, and sometimes he filed it away in his heart.
Yes, the top of the stairs was a place of knowledge.
4: Getting Back
“So, how do we get him back for this?”
“Ya don’t think he’ll come if we just tell him about it?” A frown settled on Hoss Cartwright’s face. “I figured we just send a letter explaining.”
“A letter will take too long,” his younger brother Joe interjected. “There’s a time limit you know.”
“A telegram then?”
“Can’t say enough in a telegram,” Joe mused. “Getting somebody to travel thousands of miles takes some explaining. I mean he’ll want to but…”
“He just has to come back for this, Joe. It’s the only way it will be perfect for Pa.”
“Well,” Joe’s eyes started to gleam, “maybe if we word it just right.”
Joe and Hoss leaned against the counter of the telegraph office and read what Joe had written.
Dear Adam. Come home. Do it for Pa. You haven’t much time. Doc says it’s important you come. Your brothers. Hoss and Joe
“Joe, are you sure about this?” It had been years since Hoss had last seen his older brother in a temper, but he still remembered it as a fearsome thing.
“Why, Hoss, there’s not a single lie in this telegram. Doc Martin did say how important it would be to Pa to have all his sons here to see him honored as Nevada’s Man of the Year.” Joe gave his brother a wicked grin. “Besides, it was always Adam who said it’s a person’s own fault if they jump to conclusions about what other people say.”
“And it was Pa always saying deceiving is deceiving when he was wearing out Adam’s backside for doing what ya just did.”
Joe shrugged. He was long past having to worry about his older brother tanning his hide, and if he had to take a punch in the jaw to make Pa’s big day perfect, so be it. He handed the paper to the telegraph agent and poked Hoss in the side. Hoss paid for the telegram. Seeing Adam, even in a temper, would be the best thing that had happened in years.
It had been a terrible trip. He had prayed he would be in time, berated himself for not visiting his family sooner, and cussed his brothers for not letting him know his pa was ill before it had gotten so bad. When his brothers had met him at the stage, he had gone from joy at seeing them to pure rage at finding out he had been deceived. Not that he had been unhappy to hear that his father was perfectly healthy; no, he had been overjoyed at that news, but still it was hard to forgive his brothers the pain of that trip. Now he stood with those same brothers, looking on with pride as the man he had loved and admired his entire life was being honored, and he knew that he would have paid any price to be there. As his father told the world how much it meant to him to have his sons with him on this day, Adam turned to gaze down at his youngest brother.
Joe felt Adam’s eyes on him. He gazed up at his brother and whispered softly, “I’m sorry we scared ya, Adam, but I ain’t sorry I got ya here.”
“I forgive you, Joe.” Adam replied softly. Then a wicked grin deepened his dimples.
“But don’t think I won’t figure out a way to get you back for it.”