Word Count: 2013
I haven’t really stolen it. Well, technically I have, but only technically. Of course, Pa would say that stealing is stealing and taking something that ain’t yours without the person who owns it knowing that you took it and with no intention of him ever knowing that you took it is stealing, but Adam is my brother, and brothers share, and I always intended to replace it really, so I don’t think that I exactly stole it. Adam thinks its been stolen, though, and I don’t have it to give back right now, so if he finds out I took it, he’ll think I stole it, and it won’t matter that I only technically stole it. Not that Adam will have me arrested or put in jail or sent to prison like a real thief; Pa wouldn’t let him do that, seeing as I’m only eleven years old, but I might be safer locked in one of Roy Coffee’s cells than in the same room with Adam or even Pa when they find out that I took Adam’s fifty dollars.
I had to take it, you see. A life depended on it. I would have gotten the money from Pa, but he was in Genoa. I would have asked Adam to borrow me the money, but he was in Genoa with Pa. Hoss doesn’t have five dollars, let alone fifty. I don’t know if Hop Sing has fifty dollars in his room. Truth is, I just didn’t think about getting the money from Hop Sing. Now if Pa would let me know the combination to the safe, I would have just gotten the fifty dollars from the safe ’cause the money in the safe is ranch money, and Pa always says that we are all partners in the ranch, so that would having been taking without permission but not stealing, but Pa locks things he takes away from me in the safe, so he won’t let me know the combination. That’s why when I had to have fifty dollars to save a life, I took Adam’s prize money. I mean it was the only fifty dollars in the house that I knew I could get my hands on, and it was exactly the amount I needed, which I think was kind of a sign that I was meant to use it, don’t you?
It’s a simple story really, and not even a long one. I was in Virginia City down by the auction corrals. No, I wouldn’t have been there if Pa or Adam were home, but like I said before, Pa and Adam were both in Genoa. Sure, that is really unusual, but the reason they were both gone doesn’t really have anything to do with what happened. I had told Hoss- he’s my middle brother- that I was going to hang around with my friend Mitch. I just hadn’t told him we were going to the auction corrals, ’cause Hoss would have thrown a fit and told me no and been really mad when I did anyway. Well, while I was there I saw a man and a horse. Well, I saw lots of men and lots of horses, but this one man was with this old pinto horse, and he was treating him real bad. Now that made me mad, and I went up and told the man that no creature deserved to be treated the way he was treating that horse. He told me that it was his horse, and he would treat it anyway he wanted. Then I told him that I wished somebody would come along and treat him that way, so he would know how really rotten it was. He told me to mind my own business before he gave me a lesson in manners, and that he had the right to get his money out of the nag before he up and croaked on him, and I asked how much money he had to get out of the horse, and he said fifty dollars. That was when I said I would buy the horse from him for fifty dollars. He said I had until the next morning ’cause he was leaving town, and I said fine. It was on the way home that I decided that since that man was going to work that horse to death, my buying him was the same as saving his life. Saving a life is a good reason for breaking less important rules, so that’s why I thought it would be okay to take Adam’s prize money. See Adam’s prize was fifty dollars in gold when he won the Founder’s Day Race when he was seventeen before he went to college. That prize was more than money to him, I guess, ’cause he ain’t never spent it. It has been in the chest at the foot of his bed for the past six years. I figured that I could use the money to buy that pinto, save his life, sell him for fifty dollars, and put the money back before Adam missed it ’cause it ain’t like he counts it every night.
It was a good plan. It just didn’t work out. Well, taking the money and buying the horse worked out just fine, but the selling the horse and replacing the money didn’t, and then the worst thing happened.
See, while Adam was in Genoa, he decided what he wanted to spend that fifty dollars on, and when he and Pa got home, he went and checked on his money and found it gone. He came running down the stairs hollering that it had been stolen. I slipped out of the house, and now I’m hiding and trying to think how I’m going to tell Adam about the pinto and his prize money.
Part of surviving is having good timing, and I think I figured out the best time to tell my big brother that I took his money. I’m gonna stay here and wait tell he comes and finds me sobbing, and then tell him fast while he’s feeling sorry for me.
“He’s gone.” I told my father and middle brother after looking for Little Joe everywhere in the house and then finding his pony’s stall empty when I searched the barn. None of us were surprised by the fact that Little Joe had run away. About an hour earlier I had found fifty dollars in gold missing from the chest in my room. If I had taken the time to think, I would not have run down the stairs shouting about the money being stolen. Really, thieves would hardly invade our home, bypass the downstairs safe, and neatly remove a bag of gold from the chest in my room, disturbing nothing else. Only four people even know that I have kept my prize money in that chest for the past six years, and they all live in this house. If anyone else remembers me winning the Founder’s Day Race, I’m sure that they think I spent that money long ago. The fact is that I never thought about the prize in terms of money and what it could buy. It was my prize and my proof, and worth more to me than anything I could purchase. It was only on the trip to Genoa with Pa all these years later, that I realized I didn’t need to keep those five ten-dollar gold pieces inviolate any longer.
By the time I finished telling Pa and Hoss that I had discovered the gold missing, I knew who had taken it — taken, not stolen, mind you, because my baby brother is not a thief. I mean, Pa was with me, Hoss was standing there looking dumbfounded, and even considering that Hop Sing would take money from me is impossible. Joe’s only eleven, and eleven-year-old kids can convince themselves that they’re doing right even when what they are doing is obviously wrong. Pa figured it out pretty quick, and even though Hoss made remarks about not accusing Joe without evidence, I could see in his eyes that he knew it too. That’s why I was the one that went looking for Joe. I mean even though what he did was wrong — he shouldn’t have been in my room or taken my prize money without asking — he needed to know that I didn’t think of him as a thief. Also, since I am an adult and, in this case, the victim, my pa and I agreed that I should be the one to mete out the punishment.
We never even considered the fact that I might not find him. We all know Little Joe so well. He runs when he’s angry or scared, but he never runs too far. He just scurries someplace he feels secure and waits. He was in the third place I looked.
The old cabin is about a ten-minute ride from the house. Pa keeps it in good repair for sentimental reasons, and it’s kept locked, but you can get into the root cellar through the outside bulkhead. That’s where I found Joe crying in the dark. I left the bulkhead door open so there was enough light to see by. He was in the corner lying on his stomach with his face buried in his arms. When he heard me coming down the ladder, he looked up, and scooted back into the corner. I hate it when he looks so scared of me.
I walked over and went down on my heels in front of him. Now, I am not going to tell you that I wasn’t angry because I was, and it surely showed in my face, but I didn’t bellow; I just said his name. He dropped his chin to his chest and started saying that he didn’t mean to steal my money but only borrow it. I said that he knew he needed to ask me before he borrowed anything of mine. The tears were rolling down his face, and he started in saying he was so sorry but that I would get my money back just as soon has he sold the horse and please for me not to think he stole it. When he paused for a breath, I told him I knew he hadn’t stolen my prize money because you can’t steal something somebody is willing to share, and Pa has always made us share. He smiled at that for a moment. Then he got that look we all get when we’re think about what Pa’s going to do about the wrong we’ve done and he asked if he was answering to Pa or me. I told him that his fate was in my hands and that he better start explaining why he took the money and what horse he was going to sell. It seems he took the money to buy a horse from a man who was abusing it. I’ve since discovered that the horse is ancient and not worth fifteen dollars let alone fifty, but the evidence is clear that that horse was being abused. Knowing how Joe feels about horses, I can understand why he did what he did, but the boy has to learn right from wrong. By the time I finished my lecture, he knew what he had done was wrong and that he had hurt me because he took the prize money knowing that those gold pieces were special to me, although he understands that nothing in the world is nearly as special to me as my little brothers. He knows too that I forgive him because I made it clear as glass after I got him home and spanked his backside. It was a sound spanking but not much more than he would have gotten for going into my room and using any of my things. It certainly wasn’t as bad as the tanning I got when I took Pa’s money to save old Ned.