Summary: A lesson in brotherhood.
Word Count: 1070
I know a secret,” Little Joe Cartwright’s eyes sparkled, and his lips turned up in a Cheshire-cat grin, “that you don’t.” The five-year-old gave his older brother a look of triumph. It was a rare occurrence when the youngest Cartwright had knowledge that the older members of his family did not.
Hoss refused to rise to the bait. “So. Everybody knows secrets.”
“You don’t know this one and neither does Pa.”
The eleven-year-old looked at his youngest brother and noticed an important omission. “Does Adam?”
“It’s Adam’s secret,” Little Joe announced solemnly.
“You been spying?” Hoss responded sternly and then bit his lip. If Little Joe had been spying on their older brother and tattled to their pa both his brothers could be in real trouble.
“Not spying; just seeing. Ain’t my fault Adam never knows I’m there,” Little Joe declared defensively.
Hoss gave a snort in response.
“Want ta know what I seed?” Little Joe fairly danced with the desire to tell all.
“Probably ain’t nothing much.”
“Nuff to make Pa real, real mad.”
Hoss told himself he needed to know if he was to have a chance to head off trouble. “What would Pa be so mad about? Adam don’t do much to get on the wrong side of Pa.”
“He was off at the creek kissing that old Betsy girl,” the little boy declared with a solemn nod of his head.
“How would you know what was going on at the creek? Did Adam take ya there?”
The little boy lost some of his bounce. “No,” he replied softly.
“Ya went down to the creek by yourself, didn’t ya,” Hoss admonished slowly shaking his head.
“He better hope he didn’t.” Both boys jumped as the deeper tones of their older brother descended upon their heads.
Hoss turned to look up at his brother. Little Joe decided instinctively that the best defense was a good offence.
“You was down there kissing that old Betsy,” Joe declared with a stomp of his foot.
“You were down there, you little, little … Pa’s going to spank you good, little boy.” Adam glared down at his baby brother.
“He’s gonna spank you harder when I tell him ya was kissing on that old Betsy,” Little Joe retorted with his own glare.
Adam tugged his ear. Since his father felt he was too young for sparking but not too old for tanning, his little brother might be entirely right, especially since his father had just warned him about that sort of behavior after the last church picnic.
Hoss watched the color leave his older brother’s face. He reached out and snatched his younger brother up turning the boy so that they were face-to-face. “Now, Joe, ya don’t really want Adam to get a tanning from Pa, do ya?”
Little Joe’s eyes grew solemn. He knew how hard his pa could spank, and he knew his older brothers’ spankings were worse than his. He turned his head to look at Adam. “Do ya want to see me get a spanking, Brudder?”
Adam sighed and told the truth. “I never like for you to get a spanking, Joe.” In fact, Adam hated to see either one of his little brothers punished.
“I don’t want ya to get no spanking neither,” Joe admitted.
“Shortshanks, that’s why ya can’t tell Pa nothing. Brothers don’t tattle on brothers,” Hoss instructed.
“Adam tattles on me some,” Joe declared.
“When do I tell Pa?” Adam asked.
Little Joe’s brow furrowed in thought. “When I does something where I could get hurt,” Joe mumbled softly after some hesitation.
“That’s the only time a brother tells on a brother, Shortshanks — to keep ’em from doing something where they can get hurt. Adam can’t get hurt kissing.” Hoss gave his little brother his most serious look.
“I won’t tell,” Little Joe said as he drew a cross on his chest.
Adam felt only a moment’s relief. Since the day he learned to talk, Little Joe had been unable to keep a single secret.
“You can’t even tell Pa or Ma that you know a secret, Little Buddy.” Adam hoped just this once his baby brother would be able to keep something to himself.
“I won’t, Brudder. I promise. Really. I can keep a secret now that I is big.”
Adam just barely kept from rolling his eyes. “Thanks, Little Buddy.”
Hoss set Joe on the ground. After a few steps, the little boy stopped in his tracks. He had just remembered that the reason he was not allowed down at the creek alone was because he could get hurt.
“What’s wrong, Joe?” Hoss was the first to notice the change in his brother.
“Adam’s gonna tattle ’cause I could get hurt at the creek bys myself.” The little boy’s voice was barely a whisper.
Adam Cartwright winced as his own dilemma became clear.
Hoss read his older brother’s face and thought quickly. “Now, Adam, he weren’t really by himself seeing as you was there.”
Adam rubbed the bridge of his nose and went down on his heels in front of Little Joe. “Why did you go down to the creek?”
“I was chasing a butterfly and forgotted to stop. Then I heard ya and was coming to ya, Adam.”
Adam sighed. “You can’t forget to stop next time, little boy,” Adam admonished.
“If you forget again, you’re going to have a spanking to remember.” Adam hoped the stern look on his face would get through to the child.
“Then I won’t tell Pa.”
Little Joe threw his arms around Adam’s neck. Adam picked him up and carried him out of the barn.
Ben Cartwright had just dismounted.
“PA!” Little Joe squirmed and reached for his father.
Ben took his youngest son from his oldest and gave the boy a hug. “That’s a nice welcome, son. Did you have a good day?”
“Yeah, Pa, and ya know what?”
“I knows something.”
Adam’s stomach flipped, and he exchanged worried glances with Hoss.
“What do you know, Joseph?”
“I knows that I gots good brothers ’cause they love me.”
Ben smiled, and Adam’s stomach dropped back into place. “Now, that’s something special to know, Joe. I don’t want you to ever forget that.”
“I won’t,” Joe declared, and his brothers both silently echoed his words.