Summary: Adam and Hoss think their littlest brother is a royal pain…but Ben is beginning to think all three of his sons are a royal pains, and the knowledge soon leads him to take refuge in the hayloft.
Rated: G (9,075 words)
A Royal Pain
Joe was nothing more than trouble to his older brothers, according to their thinking. Adam and Hoss hurried to the barn to escape from the little boy. Hoss quickly shut the door and turning his back, rested against the thick wood.
“Whew, that was close,” he said, giving Adam a wide grin. “I thought for sure he saw us.”
“Yeah…but we shouldn’t have run off from him. I hate to make him cry…and if he does and Pa finds out why…we’ll be the ones in trouble…again,” Adam said as he moved into the stall to saddle his horse.
Hoss sauntered over to his brother’s side and propped his large beefy hand against the pole.
“Aw…shucks…now ya makin’ me feel bad. But dadburnitall Adam, the kid can be a royal pain at times…always underfoot. Ya know, I nearly stepped on him this mornin’ when I got outta the bed. He was hidin’ under the rug and I dang near broke my neck tryin’ to get outta his way; stubbed my big toe, too…hurt like the blazes!” fumed Hoss with a scowl on his face.
Adam looked over at Hoss whose face was scrunched into a scowl and laughed. “Don’t feel so bad, Hoss, I went out to the outhouse a little while ago…thinking to catch a minute or two alone to read the paper. Not more than five minutes later…guess who came knocking at the door?”
“The royal pain?” Hoss snickered.
“The royal pain…he wanted to know if I could make him a sandwich…and me in the privy!” Adam laughed.
“I told him to go find Hop Sing…that was his job, making sandwiches and Little Joe said he tried asking Hop Sing and ‘Hoppy’ told him to ask Pa. Then Little Joe commenced to take about five minutes telling me that he couldn’t find Pa…I wasn’t at all surprised, Pa left to go into town for the day. He told me he needed a little break and wouldn’t be home until late.”
Hoss suddenly snapped to attention. “Late? How late? Does that mean we’re stuck with the kid until then?” grumbled Hoss. “I had plans today…I was goin’ to ride up to the lake and meet up with my friends and do a little fishin’.”
“I guess Pa wasn’t planning on coming home until after Joe was in the bed, which means…”
“Hi ya Hoss, hi ya Adam,” the wee voice called from the doorway. “What’cha doin’ hidin’ in here?” smiled the little curly headed boy as he pulled the door shut behind him.
He turned and smiled at his older brothers. “Is ya playin’ hide and seek?” he asked happily, unaware of the frowns that both older boys was wearing.
“Can I play too…who’s it and who we hidin’ from? Is it Hop Sing…or Pa? Oh wait…I dun forgot, Pa said he had’ta go into town, so it must be Hop Sing…ain’t that right? Heh Adam, heh Hoss?” Joe smiled, revealing the missing teeth in the center of his mouth.
“Joe,” said Adam in a firm voice as he glanced at Hoss and then at the eight year old. “We’re not playing hide and seek and we’re…”
“Then how’s come ya in here with the door shut, like ya was? Are ya doing somethin’ ya don’t want Pa to know about? What is it, heh Adam, heh Hoss? Tell me, I promise not to tell Pa…”
“Short Shanks,” Hoss said, placing his hand down on the boy’s head and spinning Joe around so that he could see the tiny face. “We ain’t doin’ nuthin’ wrong…why would ya think that?”
Joe made a face and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know…maybe cause I seen ya sneak outta the house last night and come in here with Pa’s bottle of whiskey?”
Joe smiled innocently up at his middle brother. Hoss took a large gulp and swallowed, looking over at Adam who was grinning from ear to ear.
“Joseph…hmm…I did bring the whiskey in here…but hmm…it t’weren’t for me, ya see…it was for medic…midis…it was for medical reasons…yeah, that’s it,” grinned Hoss sheepishly.
“Was ya sick?” Joe inquired.
“Hmm…no…I dun said it t’weren’t for me…”
“Then who? I didn’t see no one else in here but you…and I saw where ya hid it.” Joe pointed to the far back corner of the barn. “There in that crate…so if’n it weren’t for you…tell me who…or I’ll tell Pa and he’ll…”
“OUCH! Why’d bop me up the side of the head?” groaned Joe, rubbing the spot where Hoss’ hand had bopped him lightly.
“That’s fur askin’ too many dadburn questions, Little Joe. Ya know, ya ain’t nuthin’ but a royal pain in the…”
“HOSS!” cautioned Adam, laughing at the expression on his brother’s face. “Careful…he has a knack for mixing fact with a very vivid imagination.”
“Oh…yeah…say Joe,” Hoss said in a milder manner. “I suppose I did take a swig or two outta the bottle, but I t’weren’t lyin’ when I said it was for medical reasons. See this here cut on my finger? Well, I cut it adoin’ sumthin’ I t’weren’t suppose to be doin’ and I didn’t want Pa makin’ a big fuss over nuthin’, so’s I brought the whiskey out here and poured it over my finger…understand?” Hoss said, kneeling down so that Joe could see the cut on his finger.
“Sure Hoss…I get the picture…ya tryin’ to pull the wool over my head, ain’t ya?” Little Joe said, placing his hands on either side of his waist and scowling as deeply as he could at his brother.
“Over my eyes,” corrected Adam.
“Yeah them too, Adam,” Joe said, turning back to Hoss.
“I wanna go fishin’ with ya…today…or I tell Pa!” he stated determinedly.
Hoss glanced at Adam, his face of mixture of anger and frustration. Adam stepped forward and glancing at Hoss and then down at Joe, Adam placed his hand on Joe’s arm and smiled.
“Joe, you can’t go with Hoss…not today, Pa said you were to stay with Hop Sing…”
“NO! I wanna go fishin’…or I tell Pa about Hoss sneakin’ his whiskey…”
Adam set his jaw firmly. “Now look here, Joe…”
Joe backed a step away from his brother and folded his arms across his chest.
“Fishin’ or tellin’.”
Adam turned to Hoss, his eyes had grown dark and he was hard pressed to hide his ire at the little boy.
“Well, Hoss…what’s it to be?” he said between clinched teeth.
“Neither!” snapped Hoss making a grab for the youngest Cartwright.
Joe tried to get away as he ran for safety but had forgotten the closed door. Hoss reached the boy in two long strides and grabbed Joe up in his arms, slinging the wiggly boy over his shoulder.
“I’ll teach ya about blackmail, ya little…”
“OUCH! That hurts…ouch! Stop Hoss…stop! Adammmm!” cried Joe as Hoss swatted his backside for the third time.
Adam quickly grabbed Hoss’ arm and stopped any further wallops. He snatched Joe from his brother’s arms. Joe wrapped his arms around his oldest brother’s neck and buried his face against Adam’s shoulder and cried.
Adam cradled the weeping boy in his arms as he scowled at Hoss.
“Hoss…ya shouldn’t have done that,” Adam scolded gently.
“Well dadburnitalltoblazes Adam, the little rat ain’t got no call squealin’ on me, either!”
Joe raised his head and turned tear filled eyes up at Hoss. He sniffled his nose and wiped it dry with the sleeve of his shirt. His chin quivered.
“I wouldn’t of told on ya Hoss…I ain’t no tattle-tail…I just wanted to go fishin’ with ya…that’s all, ya big galoot!” Joe returned his head to Adam’s shoulder and resumed his whimpering.
Hoss lowered his head, ashamed of himself for what he had done. He walked slowly over to where Adam was standing, holding Joe in his arms and placed a tender hand to Joe’s back.
“Aw…shucks, Little Joe…I’m sorry. I shouldn’t’va walloped ya like I dun. Forgive me…please?” he offered, peeking down at Joe’s face. “Purty please?”
Joe raised his head. His lower lip was puckered out in a pout as he looked at Hoss and he refused to smile when Hoss tried to make him laugh by making a face.
Joe slowly shook his head back and forth.
“Nope…I ain’t never gonna forgive ya. Ya was mean to me…and ya hit me and ya know ya ain’t suppose to, cause I’m just little…’member, Pa warned ya that ya might hurt me…and ya did too.”
“I said I was sorry, Joe…what more do ya want from me?”
The minute the words were out of his mouth, Hoss could have bitten his tongue. He had allowed his eight year old brother to lead him right into a trap and now it was too late.
Joe wiggled down from Adam’s arms and made himself comfortable on a bale of hay. He crossed his little short legs, squinted one eye closed and tapped his pointer finger to his temple as if in deep thought.
“Let’s see now,” he began slowly. “For starters, I sure could use that new lagger ya won from Henry the other day. I ain’t got none…I lost mine to Mitch the last time I placed marbles and…”
Adam snickered at the look on Hoss’ face.
“Aw…Joe…I ain’t even got to use it yet…and ‘sides, it’s my favorite…”
“Hoss…ya asked me what I wanted…ya goin’ back on ya word? Cause if’n ya are…”
“NO! Dadburn ya ornery hide, Little Joe…so help me…one of these days!” growled Hoss as he began pacing back and forth in front of the boy.
“And for seconds…”
“Joe, don’t you think you’ve asked enough of Hoss?” Adam said as he sat down next to Joe on the bale of hay.
“Nope…he dun hit me three times…now, Hoss,” Joe said matter-of-factly, “for seconds…ya gotta give me that last piece of apple pie ya got hidden in ya coat pocket…”
“What? Hoss…I thought you said Hop Sing told you there wasn’t any more of that pie?” Adam practically shouted. “I only got one piece and you ate two at supper last night and now you’re hiding the last piece?”
“And it’s mine,” Little Joe beamed, holding out his hand to Hoss.
Hoss made a face and pulled the pie, wrapped in brown paper, out of his coat pocket and begrudgingly so, handed it over to Joe, who smiled up at his older brother.
Joe unwrapped the pie and smiled at both Adam and Hoss before taking a big bite that filled out his cheeks.
“Hmm…this sure is good,” he muttered.
“Don’t talk with food in your mouth,” Adam said as he backed Beauty from the stall and then turned to glare at Hoss. “I can’t believe you lied to me Hoss…what’s becoming of you?”
“Yeah, Hoss…what’s comin’ of ya?” added Joe trying hard to sound like Adam. “Ya gonna grow up and be a disappointment to Pa…yeah…ya are,” sighed Little Joe.
“And ya won’t live to grow up…” Hoss snapped at Joe. “Not lessen ya change ya sneakin’ ways!”
Joe swallowed the last bite of pie and looked with wide eyes at Hoss as he licked his fingers.
“Who’s sneakin? Ain’t me…it’s you…and for the third wallop…ya gotta take me fishin’ with ya today…then I’ll forgive ya,” smiled Joe. “Deal?”
“No deal…I done promised ya my new lagger and gave ya the last bit of pie…that’s ‘nough…I ain’t atakin’ ya with me. Ya gotta stay with Hop Sing…just like Pa said…ain’t that right, Adam?” Hoss said, turning to his older brother for support.
Joe appeared to be thinking again, which caused Hoss to glance worriedly at Adam. Joe stood to his feet, standing on the bale of hay so that he could be taller and more easily able to look into Hoss’ face.
“Alright…if’n ya wanna chance it…but I ain’t promisin’ ya that my mouth won’t over load itself at supper tonight,” smirked Joe, jumping down from the bale of hay.
He moved toward the door, walking slowly. Joe turned and looked back at Hoss with a sad expression. His hand rested on the door.
“I hope ya fall in the crick, and I hope ya stick ya finger with the hook and I hope ya don’t catch no fish and I hope…”
“I get the picture Joe…now get to the house!” growled Hoss with a glare.
“Aw…shoot,” yapped Hoss as he pulled himself from the now muddy water. He glanced over at Henry and Simon who were laughing at him and gave them a dirty look.
“What’s wrong Hoss, can’t ya stand up today?” teased Simon.
“Naw…he’s been sneakin’ his old man’s whiskey again, ain’t ya?” Henry laughed as he offered his hand to Hoss.
Hoss took the proffered hand and allowed himself to be helped from the water.
“It ain’t that…I’ve been cursed…that’s what!” he mumbled, taking his hat and wringing the water from it. He poked the inside up and flopped down on his head.
“Cursed? By who…ain’t seen no gypsies around here in months,” Henry asked, laughing softly and casting his eyes around to see Simon laughing as well.
“Never mind,” grumbled Hoss, “just give me the can of worms,” he said, holding out his hand.
Hoss dug his fat fingers around in the can until he had found the perfect worm. He held the long slimy fish bait up for his two friends to see and then went to work wrapping it securely around the sharp pointed hook.
“YEOWEE! OUCH! DADBURNIT LITTLE JOE!” screeched Hoss, dropping his pole and grapping his bleeding finger with his other hand. He hopped around moaning pitifully, holding tightly to his finger.
“What’cha yellin’ at the kid for…he ain’t even here,” giggled Henry.
“Well…he might as well be…he’s the one what put this curse on me!” Hoss groaned angrily. “And we ain’t even caught not one fish…that’s his fault too!”
Simon set his pole down and walked over to Hoss who was sucking on his wounded finger.
“Let me see,” he said as he took hold of Hoss’ larger hand and pulled Hoss’ finger from his mouth. “Wow…that don’t look to good buddy…ya got the hook caught good. Ya better go home and let ya Pa look at it and see if’n he can get that thing outta there,” Simon said with a touch of concern in his voice.
He released Hoss’ hand and stooped down, picking up Hoss’ fishing pole with the juicy red worm attached.
“I’ll just use your pole,” Simon said as he walked over to the creek bank and dropped the worm into the water.
Hoss stared after his friend and then shrugged his shoulders. “I might as well go home, ain’t no fish bitin’ here today…that’s no thanks to that royal pain,” he grunted.
“What’cha say, Hoss,” Henry called over his shoulder. “Did ya say ya was in a lot of pain? Better get that there finger looked after purty quick…ya don’t want no ‘fection settin’ up and with all the worm juice ya been handlin’, might lose ya finger…”
Henry looked over his shoulder and then glanced at Simon. “Where’d Hoss go?”
Simon pulled back on the fishing pole and smiled as he pulled in a large bass and flung it over his shoulder onto the bank.
“Don’t know…but this here worm was the best yet,” he smiled. He picked up his fish and held it so that Henry could see. “Bet this here baby weighs close to four…maybe five pounds!”
“Yeah…too bad Hoss didn’t wait around…and he thought there weren’t any fish biting!”
“Ouch…Adam, that hurts,” whimpered Hoss.
“I’m sorry…but I have to work the hook all the way through to the other side in order to get it out,” explained Adam as he eased the hook through the flesh.
“It’s all Little Joe’s fault,” Hoss said.
“Oh for heaven’s sake, Hoss…how in the world could this be Little Joe’s fault?” Adam chuckled.
“Cause, ya heard’em this mornin’, first he said he hoped I fell in…and I did, and then he said he hoped I’d stick a hook in my finger…I dun that too, and then he said he hoped there t’weren’t no fish bitin’…and they weren’t. I tell ya Adam, the boy dun put a hex on me!”
Adam had to release Hoss’ finger because he was laughing so hard.
“T’ain’t funny Adam, now hush ya mouth!” snarled Hoss.
Adam tried to calm his laughter and picked up Hoss’ hand again working to free the hook from his thumb. “I’m sorry Hoss…but you make it sound as if Joe has magical powers,” Adam snickered.
“Well, goshdangit…sometimes he does. Ain’t he always gettin’ his way? Why that little scamp can weasel his way outta anythin’ and have the three of us believein’…”
“Hoss…Joe’s just a little boy, the only powers he has is wrapping Pa around his little finger. In that, he does manage to get his way, most of the time…but not always,” Adam assured his brother. “There, I’ve got it…now, where’s that bottle of whiskey you have hidden. I’ll need to pour some of it over this cut and then we’ll bandage it.”
“It’s over here,” Hoss murmured as he walked over to the crate where he had hidden his father’s bottle of whiskey. Hoss pulled up the crate and retrieved the bottle, handing it to Adam. “Here ya do it for me.”
“Alright,” smiled Adam as he pulled the cork from the top of the bottle. He paused and held the bottle up to the light. “Is this the bottle Pa had in the cabinet next to the dining room table?”
“Yeah…why?” questioned Hoss, glancing at the contents of the bottle.
“Seems to me, you must have taken more than a couple of swigs…it’s over half gone,” observed Adam.
“Cain’t be…let me see,” Hoss said, taking the bottle from Adam and holding it up to better see. “Sure ‘nough is…” Hoss said in a low voice.
He looked up at Adam, a worried frown on his face. “Honest Adam, I only took two itty-bitty swigs.”
“Well, someone’s been in here drinking…hey…Hoss, you don’t suppose that Joe…”
“Why that little rapscallion! I bet he dun snuck in here after we left this mornin’ and got…” Hoss paused, scrunching up his face. “Oh no Adam, if’n Joe’s drunk this…then that must mean that he’s…drunk! Ohhhh…..”
“Come on Hoss,” Adam said in a hurried tone. He grabbed the bottle from Hoss and poured a small amount over the cut on Hoss’ thumb. “We have to find Little Joe and if he’s so much as taken one swallow, I’m going to turn that little royal pain in the butt over my lap and…”
Adam and Hoss burst into the house. Adam made for the upstairs and Hoss ran into the kitchen.
“Joe!” Hoss called out in a loud whisper. “Hey Little Joe…Oh, hi Hop Sing,” Hoss grinned broadly as he hid the half empty whiskey bottle behind his back.
Hop Sing stood before Hoss with a quizzical look on his face and tried to look around Hoss to see what the boy was hiding.
“Hmm…ya seen Little Joe, Hop Sing?” Hoss asked, maneuvering his large frame around so that he kept facing the little servant who kept trying to circle around Hoss.
“Little boy not feel verily good…he go to room…what’cha got behind you back?” Hop Sing asked as he tried to peek one more time.
“Nuthin’,” stammered Hoss as he carefully back out of the kitchen.
Once he was in the dining room, he quickly hurried to the stairs and practically ran up them and down the hall to Joe’s room. He pushed the door wide, not even taking time to knock.
“Joe?” he called as he rushed toward the bed.
The covers were in a shambles, but after tossing them about, Hoss could not find the boy. He even stooped down and checked under the bed.
“Golldangit Joseph…where ya ahidin?” Hoss said aloud.
Adam burst into the room at that moment and spied Hoss down on his hands and knees. He stepped into the room and quietly closed the door.
“He ain’t in the house, I checked the entire upstairs…and Pa’s just gotten home. Come on, we have to find the boy before Pa does,” issued Adam as he took Hoss’ hand and helped his brother to his feet.
“Wonder where in tarnation he could of gotten too?” Hoss said as he followed Adam out into the hallway.
The front door opened and closed. Both boys paused as if frozen in time. Adam placed a finger to his lip, motioning for Hoss to be quiet.
“ADAM! HOSS! I’M HOME.”
“I thought ya said he wasn’t comin’ home til after the little squirt was in the bed?” grumbled Hoss in a whispered voice.
“I did…but Pa must have changed his mind!”
“JOSEPH! Where are you son?” Ben could be heard shouting. “Well heaven’s sake, where is everyone? HOP SING!”
“What all the shoutin’ ‘bout? Boss make lots of noise…what matter?” fumed Hop Sing.
“Nothing’s the matter Hop Sing…I was just wondering where the blazes everyone’s at,” replied Ben.
“Then ask softly…no need to shout…Little Joe no feel well…he go upstairs, Hoss hide something behind back he no want Hop Sing to see and he go upstairs…Hop Sing no see number one son…”
Hop Sing spun around on his heels and headed back to his kitchen, muttering in his native tongue, words that Ben was sure he didn’t want to know the meanings of.
“Oh no, he’s coming upstairs,” whined Hoss. “What’ll we do, Adam?”
“The back way…let’s go,” Adam said as he grabbed Hoss by the arm and forced his brother to follow him down the back stairs.
Ben rounded the corner at the top of the stairs, just in time to see a movement at the far end of the hallway.
“Hoss?” he called, pausing at Joe’s bedroom door.
Ben shrugged his shoulders and opened the door, allowing himself to steal quietly inside.
“Joe? Son?” Ben whispered as he inched his way to the bed.
He frowned at the mess the bed covers were in and picked them up from the floor, spreading them neatly across the top of the bed.
Ben seemed lost in thought, wondering where his youngest son might be. Hop Sing had told him Joe had come upstairs because he wasn’t feeling well, but there was no sign of the boy. Ben went to his room, thinking that perhaps Joe might have crawled into his bed, which he often did when he wasn’t feeling very well.
Ben shook his head and moved down the hall to Hoss’ room and then checking in Adam’s. Neither Hoss nor Little Joe was anywhere to be seen. Shrugging his shoulders, Ben made his way back downstairs and to the kitchen.
Hop Sing was muttering while working at the stove.
“Hop Sing…I thought you said that Little Joe and Hoss were…”
“Hoss and Adam run through kitchen…make Hop Sing spill flour all over floor and everywhere…I go back to China…cannot Boss control little boys?” gripped Hop Sing as he untied his apron and flung it onto the table.
“*^#&!@” Hop Sing said as he scowled at Ben. “You want boys…you find boys…I quit!” Hop Sing marched out of the kitchen and to his room, slamming the door loudly.
Ben sighed deeply, stepping over the spilled mess in the floor. His foot hung on a pot that had fallen causing him to stagger forward and hit the pots and pans that were suspended from the beam overhead. The motion caused Ben to reach outward, knocking the cooking utensils to the floor in a deafening clatter. Ben pinched up his face at the racket and made a grab for the table. His only success in righting himself resulted in his hand hitting the sugar tin that was sitting on the table and knocking it to the floor as well.
“Good grief,” sputtered Ben in frustration.
Ben was forced to use both hands to free his foot from the pot. He sat down in the chair and pulled his foot from its brass prison. His toes ached from being swished into the pot. Ben removed his boot and rubbed his toes. From outside the kitchen door, Ben heard voices. Assuming that his sons were headed toward the house, Ben reached for the door and swung it wide, just in time to see the barn door being pulled shut.
With boot in hand, Ben stepped out into the late afternoon sun, looking toward the barn.
“ADAM?” he called, limping as he made his way across the yard.
Ben stopped at the barn door and slipped on his boot. He pulled the door wide and stood in the doorway waiting for his eyes to adjust to the dark interior.
“Hoss…Adam?” he called again as he stepped inside.
“He’s gotta be in here,” whispered Hoss. “And we gotta find him quick like, afore Pa find US!”
“Shh…be quiet Hoss, I’ll check the loft, you keep an eye on the house and tell me if Pa comes out,” Adam ordered as he climbed the ladder.
Carefully Adam made his way to the back of the dark loft. He smiled down at the sleeping boy curled into a tight ball. Adam squatted down and gently turned his little brother over unto his back.
Joe’s eyes flickered and then opened, taking a long moment to come into focus. When he was awake enough that he could recognize his brother, Little Joe smiled.
“Howdy…” he hiccupped, “Adam,” Joe grinned, squinting his eyes and swaying slightly as he tried to rise up.
“Joe…have you been into Pa’s whiskey,” Adam asked as he steadied the little fellow.
“Who…me?” giggled Joe with a crooked smile on his face. He hiccupped again. “I only tooked two witty tiddy shawollows,” Joe giggled again.
“You’re drunk!” muttered Adam in disgust.
“I ain’t dwunk!” stammered Joe as he tried to push Adam away.
“Shh…be quiet Little Joe and let me help you up. We’ve got to get you sobered up before Pa finds you and thinks I let you get this way,” grumbled Adam, pulling on Joe’s arms to get him to stand.
“Tshh…goths to be quiet,” hiccupped Joe as he leaned against Adam.
He had his finger pressed against his lips in a silencing motion and looked up at his older brother.
“I only drunked three witty tiddy shawollows,” Joe snickered. “It thwas hot…goin’ down my…hiccup, throat and practically burned my goosle,” giggled Joe
Adam rolled his eyes as he stood to the edge of the ladder and looked down.
“Psst…Hoss, he’s up here,” Adam said. “You’re going to have to help me, the little scamp’s as drunk as a skunk!” Adam whispered in a low voice. “Any sign of Pa?”
“Nope,” Hoss whispered back as he slowly climbed the ladder. When he got to the top, he paused and extended out his arm. “Here, hold this,” he said, passing the half empty bottle of whiskey to his brother.
“HI YA HOSSIE!” chirped Joe happily.
Adam quickly clamped his hand over Joe’s mouth to silence the giggling boy.
“Shh…I told you to be quiet Joe!” Adam ordered sternly as he backed Joe away from the edge and waited for Hoss to climb the ladder.
“Okey Dokey,” babbled Joe, giving his brothers a lopsided grin.
Hoss scrunched up his face and glanced at Adam. When he turned his attention back to this little brother, Hoss leaned down into Joe’s face and took a whiff of his brother’s breath.
“Whew weee…” he groaned. “How much of that whiskey did ya drink?” he asked Joe.
Joe shook his head, swaying backwards and fell back on his behind, giggling and hiccupping.
“I didn’t dwink much…only four widdy tiddy shwallows, honjest, Hossie,” laughed Joe as he fell from his sitting position onto his back. He groaned softly. “I don’t shfeel sho good,” Joe murmured drunkenly as he passed out.
“Well I wonder why,” grimaced Adam.
Adam and Hoss froze at the sound of the barn door being pulled opened. They stared in shock at one another before Adam made the first move. He placed his finger to his lips and then gathered Joe into his arms. With a nod of his head, Adam motioned for Hoss to follow him. They returned to Joe’s hiding place and carefully laid Joe on the pile of loose hay. Hoss quickly and quietly pulled the bundles around them, hiding them from any prying eyes. Together, as if they were in a conspiracy, they hunkered behind the wall of hay and waited until the intruder left the barn.
The brothers glanced sideways at one another and Adam watched as Hoss gulped. Joe moaned softly, drawing both boys’ attention to himself. They watched as their younger brother made a face and tried to sit up.
“Oh…my head hwerts!” he murmured painfully as he placed his hand to his forehead.
Hoss covered Joe’s mouth with his hand and glanced worriedly at his older brother. He leaned down and whispered into Joe’s ear.
“Be quiet…do ya wanna have Pa find ya drunk?”
Joe’s eyes were wide as he stared up at the angry look on Hoss’ face and shook his head. He pulled Hoss’ hand away from his mouth and then spat into the hay.
“Ya hand takes wike worm juice!” he muttered in a low whisper and spat again. “Yuk!”
Adam turned to Joe and shook a warning finger in the boy’s face. “Don’t say another word…or so help me I’ll…”
Footsteps could be heard climbing the ladder and all three Cartwrights froze, afraid to move so much as a muscle. They stared straight toward the top rung of the ladder that they could see through the slit in the bales of hay.
Ben’s eyes scanned the dark loft, sure that he had heard voices as he came through the door.
“Hoss…Little Joe…are you up here?” Ben called softly, feeling a little silly for talking out loud to the obviously, empty hayloft.
Ben climbed back down the ladder and turned to leave, but stopped short of the door. He glanced over at the horses standing in the stalls and slowly made his way over to them. Ben ran his hand down Beauty’s side and then twisted his mouth up.
“Hmm,” he muttered to himself.
The horse had obviously been standing for sometime, there was nothing to indicate that he been out recently, which only proved to Ben that Adam had gotten home some time ago. Again, Ben’s eyes scanned the darkened barn. He walked over to the tact room and pushed opened the door and made a quick survey of the room. Disgusted, he shut the door and started toward the barn door, glancing at Chubby who whinnied softly at him as he passed. Both Adam and Hoss were home, but where on earth could they be?
Ben made his way slowly back to the house.
Once Adam was sure Ben had left the barn, he turned to Hoss, pointed at Joe who had passed out for the second time.
“Would you look at him…he don’t have a care in the world!” snapped Adam as he held the whiskey bottle up and looked at the contents.
“What’ll we do with’em? For sure we cain’t take him inside and let Pa find’em drunk,” Hoss protested.
“I know that,” Adam said in a gruff voice. He grinned wickedly and pulled the cork from the bottle and took a long swig. “If ya can’t beat’em…join’em,” he laughed in a mocking tone.
“Yeah…why not,” laughed Hoss taking the bottle from Adam’s outstretched hand and turning the lip up to his mouth and doing as his brother had done.
“Hot dang…this sure ‘nough is good stuff,” Hoss snickered, glancing down at Joe who had curled up into a ball and looked as if nothing was amiss as he softly began to snore.
“I’m surprised the boy isn’t sick,” smirked Adam.
He sat down next to Hoss and took the bottle from his large hand.
“You better not drink any more, Hoss…Pa will have my hide if he finds out that I let you have any of this,” he ordered as he took another swig from the bottle.
“Wait’ll Pa finds out I dun snuck it outta the house, that’s one wallopin’ and then when he finds out I let the ‘pain’ get his hands on it and get himself good and drunk, that’ll be another wallopin’,” groaned Hoss. “So the way I figure it…I might as well get drunk too,” Hoss laughed, taking the whiskey from Adam and downing half of what was left in the bottle.
The big boy sputtered and began coughing. He made a face that caused Adam to start laughing.
“Give me that,” Adam ordered. He laughed again and turned the bottle up, taking several swallows. “Whew…that’s hard on a man,” he grinned.
“I wanna twig,” the little voice from behind them said as he stretched out his hand for the bottle.
“Oh no ya don’t…ya already far too drunk as it is,” Adam declared and then hiccupped loudly.
Hoss and Joe both snickered.
“Ya is gettin’ dwunk too, ain’t ‘cha big budder?” hiccupped Joe.
“I…am…not…hiccup…drunk,” Adam laughed.
“Ne meither,” added Hoss. He grinned broadly, swayed slightly and then fell back against the pile of soft hay.
Little Joe giggled. “Hossy ture tain’t told his wicker…can he, Adammm…” Joe turned to search his oldest brother’s face. “Adammmm…is ya tick?” stammered Joe in a slurred voice.
Adam had staggered to his feet and moved to the other side of the loft. His stomach churned from drinking the strong liquor too quickly and when his inner muscles constricted, Adam began to vomit. Several times the hot, sour acid boiled into his mouth and spewed over.
“Ohhh…” he groaned when he was able to get his stomach under control. “I don’t feel so well,” he moaned.
Slowly Adam inched his way back to where Joe sat grinning and Hoss snored loudly. Adam glanced at Joe and made a face.
“How in the world do you do it, Little Joe…aren’t you feeling poorly?” he asked, running his long slender fingers through his raven hair.
“Nope!” giggled Little Joe, speaking far to loud. “I dun told ya…I didn’t dwink but seben widdy tiddy shawollows of twisky,” Little Joe giggled again. “I can hold my wicker…too bad Hossy tain’t!”
Joe smiled innocently up at Adam. “Ya sure is gonna be in wots of twouble twin Pa finds out that ya let me git dwunk,” Joe said with a bit of superiority in his voice.
“ME!” shouted Adam, grabbing his head with both hands. He turned angry, dark eyes over at Joe. “I am not the one who let you get drunk…that was compliments of ‘Hossy,’” glared Adam, taking a swift look at his middle brother.
“I had nothing to do with this!” he declared in his own defense.
The little royal pain raised his hands in bewilderment and shrugged his shoulders.
“Ya could tooken the bottle atway from Hossy…but ya didn’t…Pa’s gonna wanna know why ya didn’t…and ya is too twunk…jist like me and him,” hiccupped Joe. “Now ya and Hossy is both gonna be in big twrouble,” Joe giggled, slurring his words further.
He gave Adam a beaming smile that only further angered the older boy.
Adam wanted nothing more than to turn the boy over his lap and give Joe what he felt the boy deserved, but his pounding head and his churning stomach forbid him from doing so. He groaned softly.
“Joseph, Hoss was right about you…ya ain’t nuthin’ but a royal pain in the butt! Now shut up and let me think!”
Ben sat down in his red chair, his thoughts a mixture of unsettled emotions. He glanced at the grandfather clock as it chimed the hour. It was six o’clock, passed the dinner hour. His growling stomach stressed that point and caused Ben to rise from his chair and go to the kitchen. He stopped at the door, surveying the mess. Carefully he picked his way through the mess in the floor to the door of Hop Sing’s quarters. Ben pressed his ear against the door, listening for any sound or movements that would tell him that Hop Sing had not been true to his promise of leaving.
Softly, Ben rapped on the door, listening. “Hop Sing…please,” he muttered. “I know you’re in there…please open the door.”
“Hop Sing…please…I…I need your help. The boys seem to be missing. Their horses are in the barn, but I can’t find them…Hop Sing…please…I’m worried about them…what if something has happened…especially to Little Joe? He loves you Hop Sing…don’t you care anything about helping me find him? He may ask for you…what do you want me to tell him…that you didn’t care? What if…”
The door swung open wide and Hop Sing had a dark angry glare coming from his almond shaped eyes. He shook his finger in Ben’s face.
“No wonder lit’le boy always get his way…he learn art of manipulating people from father. Verily bad, Mis’tr Cart’lite…verily bad!”
Ben lowered his head. “I’m sorry Hop Sing…honest,” he said truthfully. “I suppose the boys could be down at the creek fishing, but it’s not like Hoss to miss his suppertime,” Ben explained.
“Boy come home when he smell food cookin’,” gleamed the little servant. “You help Hop Sing clean up mess…Hop Sing put supper to cookin’, boys come soon after…Hop Sing promise,” smiled Hop Sing as he tied his apron back around his middle.
He handed Ben the broom. “Boss sweep, Hop Sing cook now.”
Ben smiled at his friend and took the broom into his hand. “I hope I remember how to use this thing,” he snickered.
Hop Sing paused at the stove and turned around to face his boss. “Mis’tr Cart’lite remember, or Hop Sing forget how to cook. Maybe never find little boys,” he said with a mischievous grin.
“Alright…I get the message, you can be boss…for now,” laughed Ben. “But once this mess is cleaned up and supper is on, we have to find the boys…I’m worried Hop Sing.”
“No need, Hop Sing know where boys are.” The little Chinaman laughed at the shocked look on Ben’s face.
“YOU WHAT!” shouted Ben.
Hoss stirred softly, pulling his huge frame into a sitting position. His head was pounding and he propped it between the palms of his opened hands.
“Ohhh golly Miss Molly…” he groaned, turning to see Adam just sitting up.
“Ya look awful,” Hoss whispered, running his hand over his face.
Adam slowly turned to look Hoss’ way. “You don’t look so great yourself,” muttered Adam.
“I don’t feel so great, that’s for dang sure,” Hoss managed to say between moans. “I have a headache the size of Texas.”
“I know the feeling,” muttered Adam. “Look at him, he’s sleeping like a baby,” Adam said poking Joe in the shoulder. “Hey buddy, wake up,” Adam urged.
“Wonder what time it’s getting to be,” Adam said, rising slowly to his feet. “Hey, Joe, come on pal, wake up,” he groaned.
“Suppertime,” said Hoss sniffing the air. “Hop Sing’s baking a ham, and roastin’ sweet tators,” announced Hoss.
He rose slowly, swaying slightly in so doing. “Ohhh…why’d ya let me drink that stuff?” he grumbled at Adam, staggering as he tried to take a couple of steps. He held out his arms to steady himself.
Hoss gently tapped Joe with the toe of his boot. “Come on ya little pain in the butt…get ya self up from there. I reckon its dun time to face the music,” growled Hoss.
“No…my head hurts,” Joe whined as he turned over onto his stomach.
Adam leaned down and took Joe by his arm and pulled the boy upright. “Come on, I’ll help you,” he offered, grinning at Hoss. “Look at those red eyes.” His expression suddenly changed. “Pa’s going to know right off, what we’ve been up too.”
Hoss scrunched up his face. “Yeah…I sure do hope he waits until my head stops poundin’ afore he wallops me,” sighed Hoss as he led the way to the ladder. “I sure ain’t much hungry…that supper does smell purty good, but my stomach is floppin’ like a fish outta water,” Hoss complained.
“Me too,” Adam agreed.
“Are we all gonna get a lickin’?” Joe asked with a worried look. “I only took two itty bitty little swallows…really,” he said as he stumbled precariously toward the ladder.
Adam and Hoss stopped and looked at one another. “Sure ya did Short Shanks,” smirked Hoss.
When Hoss reached the bottom of the ladder he waited until Adam was down and both helped to guide Joe carefully down the rungs. All three were still pretty wobbly on their feet and turning toward the door as though they were one, all three paused and stared in shock at the dark angry scowl on Ben Cartwright’s face.
“SO!” Ben shouted loudly, making all three of his sons to cringe. “YOU’VE BEEN HERE ALL THE TIME! DO EITHER OF YOU KNOW HOW LONG I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FOR YOU? AND YELLING…I’VE CALLED YOUR NAMES AT LEAST A DOZEN TIMES EACH!” stormed Ben as he stood with hands on hips, glaring at his sons.
“And YOU, young man,” he said, pointing to Little Joe, “where the blazes have you been all day? Hop Sing said you went to bed because you were not feeling well…”
Joe made a sickly face and lowered his head.
“Joseph, what’s wrong son,” Ben said, changing his tone as he knelt down on one knee and took Joe by both arms. He was surprised to feel the coolness of Joe’s flesh beneath his sleeves and to feel the tremors that seemed to course their way through the boy’s body.
“Joe, what’s wrong son…answer Pa, and look at me,” Ben ordered gently.
He quickly glanced up at Adam and Hoss who happened to be exchanging looks between themselves.
Ben raised Joe’s head and looked the boy squarely in the eye.
“Hmm…you’re eyes are awfully red, Joseph.”
Ben pressed his hand to the boy’s brow.
He turned Joe’s face gently from side to side. He sighed deeply.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d swear you have been…”
Joe hiccupped loudly into Ben’s face and then giggled, placing his hand over his mouth.
“Whew!” Ben grimaced. “Young man…you have been DRINKING!”
“Ohh…please don’t shout, Pa,” Joe begged, as he placed his hand to his head.
Ben gave Joe a gentle shake. “Alright little boy…where did you get the whiskey?” the irate father demanded.
Joe gulped and glanced up at Hoss and then at his father.
“Umm…I sorta…found it,” Joe stammered.
“Sorta found it? What kind of an answer is THAT?”
“It’s the truth…honest Pa…I…umm…found it; over there,” Joe said in a wee voice as he pointed to the crate where his middle brother had hidden the bottle of whiskey the night before.
Ben stood to his feet and swapped looks between Adam and Hoss. Adam was looking over his shoulder, obviously trying not to look into his father’s angry face. Hoss was staring at the ground beneath his feet and fidgeting with a button on his shirt. Ben singled Hoss out as the most likely to tell him the truth, without avoiding the necessary.
Ben moved slightly to stand in front of Hoss. He heard his middle son swallow hard.
“Hoss…what can you tell me about this?” Ben said as he placed his finger under the boy’s chin and raised his son’s head upward. Ben immediately noted the redness of Hoss’ eyes that matched his younger brother’s.
“I take it, you have been drinking as well?”
“Yessir,” murmured Hoss. “Jist a teeny-tiny bit, honest,” he said in a humbled tone. “I…I…took the bottle from the cabinet and snuck it out here to the barn.”
Hoss looked into his father’s eyes, blinking back tears.
“But I didn’t ‘tend to drink it, honest…I used it to pour over my cut finger,” Hoss said quickly, holding up an injured finger on his right hand and then the one on his left hand.
Ben looked carefully at both fingers. “How did you hurt yourself?” he asked.
“I cut this one on…on…that new saw…and…”
“The saw I told you to leave alone?”
Hoss gulped, “Yessir.”
Ben picked up the second cut finger. “And this one?”
Hoss made a face and turned to scowl at Little Joe who had moved to the empty crate and sat down. “He dun this one!”
“What? I didn’t hurt ya! Ya hurted me when ya tossed me over ya shoulder and whipped my butt!” shouted Joe, rising and moving to stand in front of Hoss.
“I whipped ya butt cause ya deserved it…ya was tryin’ to blackmail me…and ‘sides, ya took my new lagger and…ate the last piece of apple pie…and ya put a hex on me…and ya nothin’ but a royal pain in the…”
Ben held up his hands for silence. “STOP IT!” he bellowed, giving both Joe and Hoss angry glares. “What the blazes is the meaning of this?”
Joe and Hoss both started talking at once, each one’s voice growing louder as they tried to be heard over the other.
Ben turned to Adam who had sat down on a bail of hay and was slumped over with his head in his hands.
“What’s the matter with you?” stormed Ben.
Slowly, Adam raised his head, made a frown and shook his head, lowering it once more to his hands.
“So…by that…I take it that all three of you have been hiding out here in the barn while I’ve been about crazy with worry, looking for you…not to mention the fact that I’ve had to practically get down on my hands and knees and beg Hop Sing not to quit and go back to China…while my three sons were getting drunk in my own BARN!”
Adam raised his head slowly and looked up at his father. “Do you have to shout? There is nothing wrong with our hearing…just our heads.”
Ben puffed up like a peacock and pointed his finger at his oldest son.
“You watch your tone, young man…I hold you responsible for all of this!”
Adam’s face paled and he quickly stood to his feet.
“Me…why me? I didn’t do anything!” he proclaimed his innocence.
Adam pointed his finger at Joe while glaring at his father. “He’s the one that got drunk!”
Joe jumped to his feet. “Hey wait a minute…ya can’t pin this on me…Hoss took the bottle from Pa’s cabinet and snuck it out here…I only founded it…and beside, big brother, ya was the one puking your guts out up in the loft, ya puked and gagged and puked and gagged…I was just takin’ a nap.” Joe stuck his tongue out at his oldest brother and folded his arms across his chest. “Hmp…so there, Mister Smarty Pants!”
“Joe…no need for you to be rude, and certainly no need for you to be so descriptive of your brother being sick,” Ben stated.
Hoss stepped forward, his head held low.
“It ain’t neither of them, their faults, I took the whiskey without asking, and I did hide it in the barn.” Hoss looked up with a troubled expression on his face. “I didn’t know that Joe was watchin’ me…and I certainly didn’t know that he’d sneak a few swigs…”
“Two Hoss…just two itty bitty swigs,” Joe chirped from his perch on the sawhorse. He smiled at his father when Ben looked his way.
“Well, however many…I didn’t figure on Joe drinkin’ any of it, and I wasn’t plannin’ on it either, like I dun said, I needed it for my finger. Once I was alone…I couldn’t resist…so I tried a swig…but just one…honest…until this afternoon,” confessed Hoss.
Adam stood to his feet faced his father.
“Joe threatened to tell on Hoss if he didn’t give him his new lagger and the last of the pie and then tried to blackmail Hoss into taking him fishing this afternoon. When Hoss refused to take him, Joe put a hex on Hoss…”
“A hex?” Ben was hard pressed to hide his smile.
“Yeah, Little Joe said…aw…it don’t make no never mind now, Pa.” Hoss looked at his little brother and lowered his head. “I’m sorry Joe I got ya into so much trouble.”
“Hold on a minute,” Ben said. “Did you force him to drink the whiskey?”
“Aw shoot, Pa…ya know I’d never do a thing like that, course not,” Hoss quickly replied.
“Then your little brother made his own trouble, by doing something he knew he shouldn’t have,” Ben spun around and faced Joe. “Isn’t that right, young man?”
Joe gulped and nodded his head. “Yessir,” he said in small voice.
“Good, I’m glad you understand that…and we will be talking later about your little scheme to blackmail your brother!”
Joe gulped again.
Ben turned back to Adam. “And you, young man…I’d like to know how you play into all of this. Didn’t I send you to the north pasture this morning?”
“I went…everything is under control, I might add.”
“Good, now answer my question? How did you manage to get mixed up in all of these shenanigans?”
Adam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Believe me Pa, it wasn’t easy. You see it’s like this….”
“Well, thank you for your honesty, son. However, you did make a couple of misjudgments. You should have had Hoss return the bottle of whiskey immediately and then report the incident to me, second, you should have taken your little brother under control and given him a much deserved paddling. You know as well as they do, that when I am absent, you are in charge. You failed to do your duty, thus giving your two brothers prime opportunity to reek havoc and to end up drunk.”
Ben turned his attention to Hoss and Joe who were sitting side by side on the crate now.
“And you,” he pointed at Hoss, “will be punished for taking the whiskey, and for leaving temptation in your little brother’s path. He could have gotten seriously ill from drinking so much…”
“Two Pa…just two iddy bitty…”
Ben rolled his eyes upward and sighed deeply.
“Joseph…you knew better than to touch the bottle, period…no ifs, ands, or, butts about it…you knew better. You will receive just punishment for your foolishness in trying to persuade your brother into doing something that he did not have to do. You were told to stay home with Hop Sing…by the way…that’s another matter we need to discuss…”
“Hurry it up, Hoss, this water is getting hot!” growled Adam.
He was standing over the stove, sweat beaded on his brow and dripped onto his cheeks, leaving tracks through his flour-coated face.
“I cain’t help it…this pan is too big!” Hoss snapped in return.
“Move over and let me try,” Adam said, setting the water down on the table and turning to the stove. “There’s no way that pan is too big to fit into the oven!”
“Hey, what’s taking so long in there?” Ben called from the dining room table where he, Hop Sing and Little Joe were waiting for their breakfast.
“Yeah…we’re hungry!” shouted Joe, grinning over at his father.
Adam and Hoss had been issued kitchen duty for a week, which meant that it was up to them to prepare breakfast for the family and then to clean up the mess that they made doing so.
Ben was having second thoughts about issuing such orders, for he hadn’t had a really good cup of coffee in four days, and the lack of one was setting his nerves on edge.
Joe was made to polish the silver, a job that he detested and made no beans about letting his father know about it. Ben had listened to his youngest son’s constant complaining for days on end and had vowed never to purchase another silver anything for as long as he lived.
When his head had begun to pound, either from the steady flow of complaints or from the lack of good coffee, Ben had sent Joe to the chicken house to clean up after the hens. Joe still complained, but the only ones listening were the chickens…,which could account for the lack of fresh eggs each morning.
Ben was weary of hard biscuits and overly cooked bacon, mush and burnt toast. Hop Sing complained that by lunchtime, his kitchen was still a mess and he couldn’t find anything he needed and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to find his knives, his wooden spoons, his favorite mixing bowl, his lard can…
Ben sighed as he glanced at his pocket watch. It was already nine thirty and still no breakfast. He shook his head in repentance.
“I can’t take anymore, Hop Sing,” he said as he pushed back his chair. “Joseph, go fishing…take Hoss with you…tell Adam to go to town…have some fun. I’ll be back later. Hop Sing…I want a good supper when I get home…make sure you out do yourself…and make some coffee…I’m going to need it!”
Ben reached into the cabinet and selected a bottle of whiskey. He turned to see everyone, including Hoss and Adam, staring in stunned silence at him.
Ben nodded his head at the small group and started toward the door, the bottle tucked safely under his arm.
“I’ll be in the loft…if…and I mean only if…you need me. If not, I’ll see each of you at supper!”
“Pa!” echoed Adam, Hoss and Little Joe.
“Not now…I said suppertime!”
The brothers stood watching as Ben walked across the yard and into the barn, pulling the door closed behind him.
The royal pain giggled, “Pa’s gonna get drunk…wonder why?”
Adam tousled the top of Joe’s curls and smiled, “I wouldn’t have any idea, would you Hoss?”
“Nope…but somethin’ must be drivin’ him to drink,” Hoss snickered and laughed at the confused look that spread across his little brother’s face.
“Hmm…ya reckon he’s got a pain, some where?” Little Joe asked innocently.
Hoss and Adam both burst into a merry sound of laughter.
“Yeah, he’s got a pain, Little Joe, a royal pain…but don’t fret ya self, he’ll grow outta it…someday!”