No More Eggs (by Donna)

Summary:  A What happens next for the episode “Caution Easter Bunny Crossing.”
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  11,178


 

 

Hoss Cartwright quietly walked through the hallway of the upper floor of the Ponderosa ranch house, hoping to attract no more attention to himself. As long as that step don’t creak, I’ll make it out to the barn without another sound, he thought to himself.

He heard doors close behind him in the hallway, indicating that his father and brother were no longer standing there. The last thing he wanted right now was more questions about what he was doing up so early this Easter morning.

Now which one’s the creaky one?

A big, friendly man with bright blue eyes and wheat-colored hair, Hoss usually didn’t think about how much noise he was making, unless he was tracking an animal on Ponderosa property to protect the cattle herd or planning to surprise someone.

But this wasn’t a usual morning already, and it showed signs of being an unusual day.

At the top of the stairs, Hoss stood debating about whether it was the second or third step that creaked. He decided to skip both steps, just in case.

Ker-thud! He lost his footing and slid down to the landing in the middle of the stairway. Momentarily stunned but unhurt, he sat up and saw his 10-gallon hat up there on the fourth step. Which meant the rabbit ears he wore were exposed for all to see, if anyone else decided to walk downstairs just before dawn.

Remembering that his younger brother, Joe, the family prankster, said something when they met in the hallway about going out again as soon as he changed into his church suit, Hoss climbed back up the stairs on his hands and knees, hoping Joe wouldn’t walk downstairs at that precise moment. He could just hear the wisecracks his fun-loving brother would make if he saw the rabbit ears, let alone the whole Easter Bunny costume Hoss covered with his coat and boots.

It was nearly dawn now and Hoss had to get to the orphanage near Virginia City to deliver Easter eggs to the children.

The hat once again covering the ears to the costume, Hoss stood up and tip-toed the rest of the way down the stairs. Then he walked quickly through the great room, picked up the bag of Easter eggs near the front door and quietly opened it.

He smiled at the thought of all the times Hop Sing and his father told him to quietly close that very same door. Now if he could close it as quietly.

This time, he managed to close it quietly.

As Hoss stepped off the patio in the front yard, he saw a wagon parked in the middle of the yard. He didn’t recognize the driver, so he asked him what he was doing there.

“Top secret,” the gravelly-voiced man answered.

“Top secret?” Hoss asked, his nose scrunched up in puzzlement.

“All I can tell you is that I’m here to pick up a passenger, a Joe Cartwright,” the driver said.

“Joe Cartwright? Er, I’ll see thee — thou — you later,” Hoss said as he scrambled across the yard to the barn, just as a curly-haired young man with green eyes walked out of the house, wearing his black suit and a big grin.

“Looks like you’re going to church this morning,” the driver said.

“With the prettiest girl on my arm. I’m Joe Cartwright.”

“I’m the driver, Wells Fargo sent me. Climb in and we’ll be on our way,” the driver said brusquely.

Hoss hid behind the wagon next to the barn, waiting for Joe to climb into the wagon and the driver to start the team. Here he was, talking like Miss Moffatt in his nervousness. With a deep breath, he reminded himself that there was no point in acting like a scared rabbit.

*****

Hoss opened the barn door. Once inside, he searched for a blanket to cover the horse he was going to ride this morning.

He pulled a blanket out and draped it over the horse’s back, then threw a saddle on the horse. The skittish horse protested the saddle, but Hoss’ calming voice soothed his ruffled nerves.

“Yes, indeed, that was too close. If I hadn’t found this hat, Pa and Little Joe would be bent over double laughing at me in this crazy get-up.”

Hoss adjusted the stirrups, then mounted the horse, not his usual mount. Hoss’ usual horse was recently re-shoed and still in town at the blacksmith’s.

The horse attempted to buck Hoss, but Hoss would have none of that. There was no time. He managed to calm him again and they started out the barn.

Miss Charity Moffatt, the teacher and housekeeper at the orphanage, was very specific about when he was to deliver the eggs: at dawn just when the children were getting up for breakfast.

He could tell plenty of stories about Ben or Joe laughing at him. They always apologized afterward and Hoss usually ended up laughing along with them, but Hoss knew that Joe, especially, loved any reason to laugh.

One time, when Hoss was trying to learn to play the fiddle, Joe and their father, Ben, found him practicing in a field miles from the house.

Their father told Joe to stop laughing which only made him laugh harder and louder. Hoss rode away as angry as he ever got. Normally a gentle giant, he also was a man who preferred to not draw a lot of attention to himself.

Hoss rode along toward Virginia City and the orphanage. Miss Charity moved her charges there several weeks ago from the East, to a ranch that was deserted after a new road was built between Virginia City and Carson City, Nevada.

The Ponderosa, home of the Cartwrights and their crew of ranch hands, was situated northwest of the two Nevada cities. Took up quite of bit of the territory that direction, as a matter of fact. It seemed to go on forever, as far as the eye could see and as far as a man or woman could ride a horse for days on end.

Hoss took a deep breath of the clean Ponderosa air and smiled. His brother, Adam, moved away from the Ponderosa several years ago and now lived in a big city in the East. Hoss’ experiences of big city life only made him gladder that he lived out here on the Ponderosa. Plenty of land to roam about on, miles away from the closest neighbor and all the fresh air he could ask for, when he wasn’t out rounding up the herd. Ah, that was the life for him. Just the thought of the wide open space made him smile.

Hoss continued on his way through a large field within a mile or so of the orphanage. He dismounted, took the bag of eggs off the saddle and took off his coat. He was close enough to the orphanage that there would be no trouble now. He had just enough time to mount again with the Easter egg bag in one hand and make it to the orphanage before any of the children could see him.

He then proceeded to shed the hat, which spooked the skittish horse. At the sight of the giant Easter bunny, he bolted across the field and out of sight. Hoss yelled at him to come back, but he was too far gone. Hoss muttered to himself about the horse’s dependability and started walking.

He walked and walked, looking for something he could use to get to the orphanage before noon, now that the morning sun was making its way overhead. He hated to disappoint the children, but it looked like he wasn’t going to get there before they got up.

Just when Hoss thought all was lost, he saw four horses next to a stand of trees. He not only had a horse, he had four saddled horses to choose from. None of them appeared as skittish as the one that got away.

Or so he thought. As he quietly approached them, all four ran off. Still half-hidden behind bushes, he was puzzled that they would calmly stand there, then run away. Then he looked above his head and knew why they ran off.

The same reason his horse ran off — the rabbit ears.

At least I still have the Easter eggs.

He climbed a hill behind some brush, now that the horses suggested there were other people in the area. No reason to tell them he was around, and he still had the eggs to deliver. Might as well keep going.

He continued his climb, hopping behind one bush or another as he worked his way up the hill. He almost laughed at himself hopping around like a rabbit.

Hoss stayed hidden behind bushes as he hopped along, looking for another way to get those eggs to the children. There had to be a way.

He climbed atop a set of boulders, hoping he might see another horse out there to get him to the orphanage. He sat there for the longest time, pondering his plight. There had to be a way, there had to be a way.

Suddenly, he heard gunshots.

*****

While Hoss was looking for a horse to get him to the orphanage, his brother Joe had other deliveries to make.

He had two purposes in mind this morning: to see a load of gears delivered to the stamp mill in Carson City, and to take a girl to church there. He hadn’t known her long, but he knew that getting to church on Easter was very important to her, which made it very important to him.

The sun was shining and the air was crisp and clear. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the temperature was warming as spring mornings do.

The only thing that stood in his way at the moment was the fact that there was a tree blocking the road.

The wagon driver started to complain.

“Who knows what the day will bring next? You might really have a good reason to be mad,” Joe teased him. The driver grunted in return.

Joe had enjoyed the pleasant day and the countryside. Nothing could spoil his morning; not the hurry to get to Carson City, not even the driver’s simmering temper or push to make up time lost because the wagon was fitted with heavier wheels. He wished the driver’s rush to get to Carson City hadn’t kicked up so much dust, covering his suit coat, but he’d had worse problems. This was a beautiful March morning.

The wagon driver backed up the team of horses and they headed toward the old road, which passed by the orphanage Hoss was about to visit.

“Say, did I tell you about the greenhorn who came into the livery stable last week?” Joe asked the driver, trying to lighten the man’s mood. Joe knew this was going to be a very long ride if he didn’t attempt to make the man smile.

“Yeah, Joe, you did. At least three times,” the driver said.

“Oh. Well, I’ll tell you again. The blacksmith was getting these wheels ready and I was talking to him about the dance the night before. We were talking about this new girl who wanted me to teach her the Virginia Reel and this greenhorn walks in, carrying a Bible with him.”

“And he puts his hand on the hot horseshoe, throws it down, then hot-foots it down the street,” the driver snapped at Joe.

“I guess I did tell you, then,” Joe said, momentarily quiet.

“Yes, Joe, you did. I’m sorry I snapped at you like that. It’s just that I know you are eager to get to Carson City to take that girl to church this morning.”

“Yes, I am, driver. But you know what; I’m more concerned about getting these gears there. I’ll hate to disappoint her, though.”

“Joe, what is your secret?” the driver suddenly asked.

“What do you mean, what is my secret?”

“That’s two girls you’ve escorted in the last five minutes.”

“Oh,” Joe said, a slow grin spreading across his face. “That is my secret.”

*****

From his perch atop the boulders, Hoss saw four men below him, shooting at someone.

Any other day, he would have climbed down the hill and told them to drop their weapons, but there was the costume to consider. They’d probably laugh at him more than his brother and father would.

And the costume had no place for a firearm. Hoss had nothing to shoot back with. Except . . .

He considered whether he should use the eggs Hop Sing, the family cook, hard-boiled and dyed for the orphans or if he should distract the men below. Knowing that someone further down the hill was getting shot at, he decided to distract the men below.

If he squinted just right, he could make out someone near the road below, popping out to shoot up the hill, then popping back behind a tree. Someone who almost looked like his brother, Joe.

Looked like the suit Joe wore to church, except this young man wore no jacket. The black hat sure looked like Joe’s hat, too.

Whoever was down there was getting shot at. He had to decide quickly about the eggs.

Hoss looked around for something he could use to scare off the people shooting at the man who might be his brother.

Pulling small branches off the trees around him would make too much noise and attract the attention of everyone below. Rocks would be painful, could be just as fatal as a gunshot wound. There had to be something he could use that would slow them down without hurting anyone.

He looked at the bag of hard-boiled eggs, ready to be delivered to the orphanage. He picked one up, studied it, almost put it back in the bag. They were hard-boiled, but a lot softer than rocks and less dangerous than rocks, too.

Hoss tossed one egg, then another. With each additional toss of an egg, he hoped he was confusing the gunmen enough that they’d get caught by whoever was down there.

Hoss watched what was happening below as he tossed yet another egg. The black hat was still popping out to shoot at the men between him and Hoss, even shot the tall, black stovepipe hat one of the gunmen wore. A crack shot, could be Joe.

Hoss continued to toss the eggs, until he saw the black hat appear just below the gunmen. Sure enough, that was Joe.

It didn’t take long for Hoss to climb out of his perch to resume the delivery of the eggs.

Eggs he didn’t have anymore, he noted with regret.

Once he was out of Joe’s sight and hearing range, he inspected the bag carrying the eggs. It was undeniably lighter than when he started. The last egg sat in his hand, and he couldn’t deliver one egg to all those children.

What would he do?

Once again he searched the field for a sign of yet another stray horse out here without an owner to claim him.

One that would not run away at the sight of the rabbit ears. He looked at the risen sun, knowing he wouldn’t make it to the orphanage by dawn. By noon, he decided. By noon.

He thought he saw a stray animal and started walking toward it. He spoke softly, held the egg out in front of him as incentive for the horse to stay put.

And this horse stayed put. He stayed put when Hoss approached him, he stayed put when Hoss opened the bag on his back to see if there was a sign of an owner. The only sign of the owner was a full suitcase of Bibles, which gave him an idea about what to use instead of the eggs he no longer had.

*****

While Hoss was deciding whether to use the children’s Easter eggs to stop the gunshots below him, Joe hid behind a bush, just this side of a felled tree on the old road, then popped out to shoot up the hill. Just moments ago, he and the wagon driver accompanying him thought that second fallen tree was their biggest concern on their way to deliver a shipment in Carson City.

Until the first shots sent him and the driver scurrying for cover behind the bushes at the foot of the hill.

Shots rang out toward them from the rocks overhead again and the men attempted to identify where they were coming from, without success.

Another set of shots rang out, this time in the opposite direction from Joe and the driver.

“If they’re shooting at us, they’re the worst shots in the world,” Joe said as he and the driver continued to shoot back.

He looked for a way to climb up the hill and capture the source of the gunshots.

Suddenly a stovepipe hat popped out from behind the rocks and the driver shot at it. The hat disappeared.

“We know where they are now,” Joe said as he looked for a route to climb the hill.

As suddenly as they started shooting at the men and their cargo, the robbers shot again behind them. Joe searched the rocks to see who they might be shooting at now, but only saw a blur of white above the rocks.

Who’s that?, he asked himself. Friend or foe? Why are they shooting at him?

Joe edged closer to where the last shots came from. The white blur was gone, and for a moment he thought he had imagined it.

After a few minutes’ study, he saw a way to climb up in the general direction the shots came from. With the shots going away from him, it was easy to climb the hill.

With very little more effort, he then found four men looking at the rocks above. All of them dressed in city suits, with city shoes. They stuck right out here in the countryside of Nevada, where most people wore much simpler, more functional clothing.

“I saw him, Fred. I really saw him!” one of the men protested as a second man grabbed his hat and hit him over the head. “A grizzle bear with long ears.”

“All right, drop the guns,” Joe called out as he climbed to the rock they sat behind and motioned them down the hill.

“How did we get mixed up with this guy?” the second man asked no one in particular.

“We’re brothers,” the first man declared. The second man scowled.

The men obeyed, following Joe to the wagon. They started to move the tree so the wagon could now pass, under the watchful eye of the driver.

“This won’t look good on a wanted poster,” a third man said.

“What do you mean, Leroy?” one of his brothers asked.

“Gaskill brothers move the tree that stopped the wagon that’s taking them off to jail,” Leroy said.

“Who?” asked the driver.

“Gaskill. G-a-s-k-i-l-l,” Leroy said.

“Now we know you can spell your own name,” the second man said.

“Sure I can spell my own name, Red,” Leroy said.

“Then spell it.”

“I just did.”

“No, the other one, stupid!” Red said, hitting Leroy with his hat.

“Climb aboard,” Joe said, motioning them into the wagon from the front seat.

“You’re going to let us sit with the silver?” Leroy asked. The same man who burned his hand picking up a horseshoe in the livery stable the other day.

“Silver? The stamp mill’s not waiting for silver, it’s waiting for gears,” Joe said as he pulled the tarpaulin away to reveal: gears. “We don’t have all day, fellas. You’ve already cost us a good hour with that tree you dropped on the road.”

“All for a bunch of lousy gears!” “Why can’t Leroy do anything right?” “Should have known when he came back to the hotel with that burn from the horseshoe,” the brothers grumbled as they climbed into the wagon.

The same brother again hit Leroy with his hat.

Leroy ducked, then sat closest to the front. Joe nodded at him, then told the hat-hitting brother to close the tailgate.

“Me? Let Leroy do it!” he protested.

“I told you to close it, er –“

“Red,” Leroy offered. His brother scowled at him.

“Yes, I told you to close it, Red. Leroy’s not getting into any trouble up here, and we’re going to keep it that way,” Joe said.

“All right, I’ll close it,” Red said, plodding along to the back of the wagon, then closing the tailgate.

“Trouble? Me get into trouble?” Leroy asked, first his brothers, then the men in the front of the wagon.

“He saw you coming,” Red said. “He saw you coming and said ‘Here comes ‘trouble.'”

“That’s enough, Red. Driver, let’s go” Joe said.

“Yes, sir,” the driver said, starting the team with a movement of the wrist.

The wagon began to roll on its way to Carson City, with a new destination in mind: the territorial jail.

*****

Along the way to Carson City, the brothers continued to argue about the “grizzle bear.” Red insisted there was no such thing, but his brothers debated about whether it was a grizzle bear or a rabbit.

Talk about a rabbit brought Joe’s brother Hoss to mind, but Joe quickly dismissed the idea. Just a coincidence . . . Hoss talking about dyeing Easter eggs . . . these greenhorns talking about big rabbits with long ears.

What was it Hoss said about Easter costumes?, he asked himself a moment later. He looked back at the brothers, talking about the rabbit they did or didn’t see. One of them said “It had to be a chicken, not a rabbit. Rabbits don’t lay eggs, and the chicken kept throwing them at us until Curly here found us.”

The bickering continued as the wagon approached Carson City. Leroy was sure he saw a rabbit, the brother Leroy called Fred thought it might be a polar bear and Red repeatedly told them not to embarrass him with that “loony story.” The fourth brother sat there, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

Joe had a whole new appreciation for his brother Hoss’ gentle ways. When Joe was a child, Hoss was more inclined to ruffle Joe’s hair than to hit him over the head with his hat. Even now, his teasing was usually in fun. Leroy’s brother Red appeared to relish abusing him with his hat.

Especially when Leroy insisted on telling the story of the bunny he’d seen.

“Are you going to tell that loony story to the sheriff?” Red asked.

“It’s the truth. I saw him myself, with my own two eyeballs,” Leroy assured him.

Hoss, didn’t he say that about the little green men who turned out to be circus performers and settled here a few years back? . . . I saw a white blur, but that couldn’t be Hoss. Unless . . . Well, the idea gives me something to listen to besides these four bickering about the “rabbit” or whatever that was.

After more than an hour of bickering, Joe turned to the driver and said “Stop the wagon.”

The driver appeared not to hear Joe’s words.

“I said, stop the wagon,” Joe repeated, in a tone that meant business.

“What for? We’ve got to get to the sheriff’s in Carson City, and we’ll be there all night as it is,” the driver said.

“Just stop the wagon,” Joe repeated. The driver obliged.

“I want to get one thing straight,” Joe said, climbing from the seat into the wagon bed, studying each of the prisoners.

“Get on with it then,” the driver said.

“I’ve heard nothing for the last hour but how stupid you think your brother is.”

“But he is stupid,” Red said. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

“Maybe that’s because you tell him he’s stupid?”

“He’s stupid!” Red said, shaking his hat in Leroy’s direction. “Stu-“

He never finished the word. Joe grabbed the hat out of his hand, tossed it to the driver. The driver threw it in the floor of the wagon, under the seat.

Leroy smiled.

“You’ll get that hat back when we get to Carson City,” Joe said firmly.

“And how will I shade myself from this sun?” Red asked, sarcastically.

“Grow rabbit ears,” Joe countered as he climbed back into the seat and motioned for the driver to start again. Not a word was spoken for the rest of the trip to Carson City.

*****

Once they arrived in Carson City, the wagon worked its way through the silent streets of a Sunday afternoon. As they passed the general store and the bank, Joe said, “Don’t go getting any ideas, fellas. You’re already in a lot of hot water.”

“What kind of ideas?” Fred asked.

“If you’re willing to steal gears, who knows what else you might steal,” the driver answered.

“What if we cut you into the deal?” Fred offered.

“No deal,” both Joe and the driver said.

“Couple of goody-goodies,” the fourth brother said.

“The Bible says ‘Thou shalt not steal,'” the driver answered.

“What else does the Bible say?” Leroy asked.

“Lots of things. ‘Love one another,’ for one,” Joe said. “Just like you said at the livery stable.”

“Oh, yeah, it does,” Leroy said. Joe threw a glance at Red, expecting him to start again.

“Do unto others before they do unto you,” the fourth brother suggested.

“It doesn’t say that,” Joe said. “The way I learned that passage was that you do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“The Lord helps them who help themselves,” Red said.

“It doesn’t say that either,” the driver said. “You know, this could be an opportunity for all of you to find out what it really says.”

“What do you mean?” Leroy asked.

“While you’re in jail, you’ll have plenty of time to read the Bible and maybe even memorize a verse or two. Like ‘thou shalt not steal,'” Joe said.

“Whenever we get there,” Red said.

“We’re there,” Joe said, pointing to a brick building with the word “Jail” atop the roof.

He climbed down, then opened the gate for the prisoners. The driver climbed down and went into the sheriff’s office.

“Move along,” Joe said, his gun pointed at the brothers. The men climbed down and walked slowly toward the building.

“Hurry it up, let’s go,” Joe called out. They moved a bit more quickly, but a stocky, grey-haired man wearing a sheriff’s badge came out before they reached the door.

“What’s this I hear about a rabbit?” the sheriff asked, chuckling and rubbing his whiskers. “The driver here tells me you fellas saw the Easter bunny.”

“There was a rabbit, he had big floppy ears and white fur,” Leroy explained yet again.

“Did you bring the rabbit?” the sheriff asked.

“What do you mean, did we bring the rabbit?” Joe asked. “Why do we need the rabbit?”

“No rabbit, no evidence, no crime,” the sheriff said. “Now if you’ll excuse me, the missus has Easter dinner about ready and I don’t want to miss it.”

“But, Sheriff, we didn’t come to you about the rabbit,” Joe explained, his patience about to evaporate.

“Then what did you come to me for?” the sheriff asked.
“These men attempted to steal something,” the driver said. “I told you that inside.”

“What did they try to steal?” the sheriff asked.

“Gears for the stamping mill,” Joe said, hesitating. The confidence he usually exuded was also evaporating as he thought how the story must sound.

“Where did they put the gears?” the sheriff asked.

“They tried to steal, sir. We arrested them before they could get away,” Joe said. “The gears are still in the wagon.”

“You brought me away from my missus’ de-licious dinner to tell me these men didn’t steal these gears?”

“Yes, sir, I guess we did.”

“The agent can press charges tomorrow.”

“But what about the prisoners?” Joe asked.

“Yeah, what about the prisoners?” the driver asked.

“They’re not under arrest because no charges have been filed. If the agent wants to press charges, I’ll round them up tomorrow,” the sheriff answered.

“Where are they going to stay?” Joe asked.

“How about telegraphing your rabbit friend to watch them for you?” the sheriff suggested, then walked back to his office.

“Very funny,” Joe said to the sheriff’s receding form. “All right, boys, we go to the Wells Fargo office now.”

But at the office, down the street, there was a note: “Gone to the sheriff’s office for Easter dinner. Drop off the gears and the receipt. the agent.”

Joe started to toss away the message, then changed his mind.

“Driver, we’re going back to the sheriff’s,” Joe said.

“But he said — ” the driver started.

“The man we need to deliver these gears to is at the sheriff’s eating dinner. Something fishy is going on here.”

“Fish isn’t traditional Easter dinner,” Leroy said.

“Neither is sending us on a wild goose chase,” the driver said. “That agent wasn’t in the sheriff’s office when I walked in there.”

“He didn’t want to miss the de-licious dinner,” Joe said, mimicking the sheriff.

“What do we do?” the driver asked.

“Yeah, what do we do?” the brothers asked.

“We find a place to stay until tomorrow.”

“Where?” all five men asked in unison.

“How about the sheriff’s office? We’ll stop in front of it, make him notice us,” Joe said.

“How?” the driver asked.

“I’m working on that one,” Joe said.

*****

The five men sat quietly as Joe thought of a way to attract the sheriff’s notice. Going up to his door and knocking wasn’t going to break through his obvious reluctance to get involved. He thought for more than five minutes, tossing one idea after another away as unlikely ways to bring the sheriff away from his dinner.

Meanwhile, the driver started talking about that ham dinner.

“Ham and potatoes, biscuits and gravy . . .”

“With plenty of carrots,” Leroy suggested.

“Carrots?” everyone asked.

“Yeah, for the Easter bunny,” Leroy said, pleased he’d stumped them all.

“That’s –” Fred started. Joe looked sternly at him, daring him to say the forbidden word.

“One way to look at it,” the driver suggested. “Hm, I smell something now.”

“Like what?” Joe asked.

The driver cocked his head, puzzled. It wasn’t warm enough for rotten eggs, but that was definitely an egg smell.

“Joe, I think I’ve got a way we can get the sheriff’s attention,” the driver said.

*****

Moments later, the Gaskill brothers were whooping it up in the middle of the street in front of the sheriff’s office. They were yelling at each other, pounding each other over the head with their hats and then chasing each other in circles.

“Hey, knock it off! The sheriff might hear you,” the driver called out.

“We want him to hear us,” Leroy said. “That way he’ll arrest us for sure!”

Joe held his index finger up to his mouth, then whispered, “But we don’t want him to know we want him to hear us, do we?”

“Oh yeah, that’s right,” Leroy said, a bit ashamed.

“Fa-la-la, la-la, la-la-la-la,” the brothers sang out as they headed toward the watering trough in front of the office.

“Wrong holiday,” the driver whispered.

“Wrong holiday, wrong holiday, wrong holiday,” the brothers sang as they tossed first one hat, then another, then another into the trough.

“What’s all the singing about?” the driver asked.

“That’s what we’d like to know,” the sheriff said as he and another man stood watching the “disorderly conduct” of the Gaskill brothers.

The man with the sheriff approached Joe. “I’m the agent,” he said, extending a hand to Joe.

“Joe Cartwright, nice to meet you –” Joe started, but the man turned toward the Gaskills.

A moment later, he asked, “Joe Cartwright? The man who saw the Easter bunny?”

“I didn’t actually see him, sir,” Joe said. “The fella over there in the black coat saw him.”

The agent walked over to Leroy and shook his hand.

“Nice to meet you,” Leroy said.

“You saw the Easter bunny?” the agent asked.

“Yes sir, I did.”

“I heard something about you and your brothers trying to steal a gear shipment,” the agent said.

“Yes sir. We thought it was silver,” Leroy said.

“You mean you thought it was silver,” Red grumbled.

“And who might you be?” the agent asked.

“His brother, Red.”

“What part did you play in all this?”

“I planned the job,” Red said proudly. “Didn’t plan for it to turn out like this, though.”

“What were you planning?” the agent asked.

“To sell the silver,” Red said. “Sell it to a guy we know back in Brooklyn.”

“Then the Easter bunny appeared,” the agent suggested. “Where’s the Easter bunny now?”
“He got away after he clobbered me,” Leroy said. “With my brother’s rifle.”

“Let’s see the rifle,” the sheriff suggested. “That could be evidence.”

“I don’t have it,” Leroy said, his eyes downcast.

“Where is it?” asked the sheriff.

“It’s back where the rabbit threw the eggs at us,” Leroy pouted childishly.

“Eggs?”

“Yes, eggs. They were –” Leroy started, before Red threw him a withering look.

“Go ahead, Leroy, tell the sheriff about the eggs,” Joe said, sniffing the air.

“Pink and blue.”

“He’s always been a bit stupid,” Red said, glancing at Joe as he said the dreaded word. “What are you sniffing at, smart boy?”

“Did any of those eggs break?” Joe asked.

“I’m the sheriff, I’ll ask the questions,” the sheriff commanded.

“That might explain the aroma,” Joe said.

“What aroma?” asked the sheriff.

“There’s a smell of hard-boiled eggs in the air,” Joe explained.

The agent and the sheriff sniffed the air, wrinkled their noses and agreed.

“Eggs,” the agent said. “That much is proven, but it won’t stand up in a court of law.”

“Court of law?” Leroy asked.

“You and your brothers attempted to steal something. That’s a matter for the law,” the sheriff said.

“But you have their confessions!” Joe exclaimed. “What more do you need?”

“I understand your frustration, Joe,” the agent said. “But we have what you promised to deliver and we have no time for Easter bunnies or any other nonsense.”

Joe sighed, turned as if he was willing to give in. “What if I could prove there was an Easter bunny?” he asked.

“Then he’d share a reward for stopping these boys with the two of you,” the agent said. “But how can you prove it?”

“Come out to where we found these fellas, and I can prove there was someone throwing eggs. Give me 48 hours and I think I can prove who was the Easter bunny,” Joe said.

“Son, that’d be quite an achievement. Show us the site, and then go on your Easter bunny hunt,” the sheriff said. “Think I’ll get back to my missus’ Easter dinner.”

The agent cleared his throat, nodded his head toward the Gaskill brothers, the driver and Joe.

“Oh, uh, how about all of you join us for dinner? There may not be enough, but my missus sure can spread a little into a lot,” the sheriff offered. The agent smiled, then proceeded back to the sheriff’s home.

“We’d be de-lighted,” Joe and the driver said at the same time.

“Let’s go, then. It won’t keep, you know,” the sheriff said, showing them the way.

*****

After dinner, at the site of the “Easter bunny sighting,” the driver stayed with the prisoners while Joe led the sheriff and the agent up the hill. Meanwhile, the brothers continued to argue about their attacker.

“I tell you it was a grizzle bear,” Leroy insisted.

“No, it was a chicken.”

“Hey, fellas. I don’t care if it was a giant bird, you’re giving me a headache,” Joe called out from the hill. Giant bird? Giant among men, like Hoss when he told us he flew with those homemade wings?

“Maybe it was a giant bird!” the driver suggested.

“Nah, there ain’t no such thing,” Leroy said.

“Well, there ain’t no such thing as a giant rabbit, but you insist you saw one,” Red said with malice.

“Chicken, rabbit, bird, whatever it was, you fellas are in a lot of trouble,” the driver said, more to change the subject than because he thought they needed to know they were in big trouble.

“Good,” Leroy said. “We’ll be famous.”

“As outlaws? You want to be famous as outlaws?” the driver asked.

“Look at the Jameses, the Youngers. Like we were telling that peddler fellow before we took his Bible case, his horse-” Red said.

“And his hat. Don’t forget his hat,” Leroy said, proudly displaying the item in question.

“How could I forget his hat? You haven’t stopped talking about it more than five minutes,” Red said.

“Why do you want to be famous outlaws?” the driver asked.

“We want to make history,” Leroy said.

“Stealing gears isn’t the way to do that, fellas,” the driver said.

“What would you suggest?” Red asked.

“Invent something, other than that crazy story my partner up there believes.”

“Like what?” Leroy asked.

“Well, you could — Or you could — On second thought, maybe you should stick with inventing stories,” the driver said.

*****

Once Joe, the sheriff and the agent reached the general area on the hill where Joe captured the brothers, the agent asked, “What are you looking for?”

“Egg shells.”

“Egg shells? You believe that cockamamie story of theirs?” the sheriff asked.

“Not yet. I just have a funny feeling.”

“You just ate Easter dinner before we came out here. Can’t be my wife’s cooking.”

“I have a hunch about who played that rabbit.”

“If there really was a rabbit. Some fellas will say anything to get themselves out of trouble,” the agent suggested.

“Well, after I look around here, I hope to have some clues that will tell me who played the rabbit. If they don’t pan out, you can donate my share of the reward to an orphanage I know about near Virginia City. Won’t be long.”

Joe was careful to step in his own footsteps so he would disturb the site as little as possible. Once he reached the spot where he found the Gaskills, he looked around and found broken pink and blue eggs. Wonder what color Hop Sing colored those eggs? As he continued the search, he even found one whole blue egg that managed to survive the “shootout.”

He studied the locations of the eggshells and tried to count them, but there were too many to count. About a hundred.

He pulled out a small notebook from his pocket and added a few notes, then led the return to the wagon. He added a few more notes as they headed to town.

Back at the sheriff’s office, the Gaskill brothers were under lock and key, pending the outcome of Joe’s search at the Ponderosa.

He’d know more once he had opportunity to search for evidence there. Not that he really knew what he needed to look for, but he suspected that he would find something that would prove Hoss was the Easter bunny, at least this year in Virginia City’s immediate area.

*****

Joe and the driver left for the Ponderosa the following morning, after a night’s sleep, much conversation about Joe’s theory, and Joe’s unsuccessful attempt to make up for missing the Easter service.

Actually, it had no chance for success, since the girl would not see Joe when he stopped by her home to see her this morning. He even asked the woman who answered the door if he could leave her a note of apology. The woman scowled at him and told him to leave at once; the girl didn’t want to see him. She picked up her broom to emphasize Joe’s unwelcomeness, attempting to sweep him off the porch.

“Sorry you weren’t there to take her to church,” the driver said.

“I am, too. But I wonder if she was interested in me, anyway,” Joe said, with a tone of regret.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, the woman I talked to didn’t even ask what happened, if I was all right. Now if I was late getting home, my father and brothers would be wondering where I was. I’d be wondering why they were late getting home, too.”

“Hadn’t thought of it that way, Joe. She did want you to leave in a hurry, didn’t she?”

Joe grimaced.

“Then again, it’s not as if I’m related to them.”

“But friends, or people who want to be friends, show concern for the safety and well-being of others,” the driver said. “And they don’t sweep you out the door in a hurry instead of giving you a chance to explain.”

“Now I need to check out what color Hop Sing dyed those eggs,” Joe said, smiling again.

“So you really think Hoss was the Easter Bunny?”

“Possible. This is what I have so far:

too many eggshells to count, possibly 100

the white blur I saw at the scene of the crime – could be the Easter bunny, whoever he was

Leroy insists he saw a bunny

Hoss did ask for 100 hard-boiled eggs for the children

But if he had no eggs left, what would he give them instead?

“Why would Hoss use the eggs?”

“Good question. Pa and Candy are riding fence along the south pasture today. Drop me off there and I’ll find out.”

“When you do figure it out, let me know.”

“I thought you didn’t believe Hoss was the Easter Bunny.”

“With you going on about it, I’m not so sure,” the driver said. “Why do you want to know whether Hoss played the Easter bunny?”

“I’m curious, for one thing.”

“Any other reason? Besides the reward.”

“I’d like to thank him for distracting those guys and helping us capture them. If Hoss or whoever hadn’t been there, we might still be shooting it out there.”

“They would have run out of shells or lost the fight out of their own stupidity,” the driver said.

“Hey, don’t let them ruin your good disposition. If you lose your temper this early, you won’t have any left for the rest of the day.”

“Talk like that got us on the road to that shootout, Joe,” the driver reminded him.

“But it had a happy ending. The Gaskill brothers are in jail, we’ll testify at their trial for attempted robbery, and the judge will declare them -“

“Stupid,” the driver said. Joe laughed.

“It does fit, doesn’t it?” the driver said, laughing too. “You know, Joe, if Hoss did play the Easter bunny and used the eggs to help us out, he’s really entitled to that reward all by himself.”

“What do you mean?” Joe asked.

“Well, all we did was take them in to the sheriff. Much as I could use the extra money, I didn’t do much to deserve it. Your brother deserves the credit and the reward.”

“That’s nice of you. I’m inclined to agree with you. Who knows what good it might do.”

The men talked about their ideas of what the orphanage might need as they approached the Ponderosa’s south pasture.

Joe climbed out of the wagon at the edge of the pasture, where his father and Candy, the ranch foreman, were mending fences. Their horses, stood nearby grazing in the field. Joe waved as the driver headed to Virginia City.

Ben Cartwright, a man with gray hair and a stern expression, was pulling out a post. Candy, a dark-haired man in his late twenties, dressed in black and red, was holding the post that would replace it. Both men waved at Joe as he walked toward them.

“How was Carson City?” Ben asked. “Everything work out?”

“Fine, Pa, fine,” Joe said, reaching out to help Ben with the post. “Except that we were held up.”

“What held you up?” Candy asked.

“A band of greenhorns tried to hold up the gear shipment.”

“Oh?” Ben asked, his eyebrows raised in concern.

“They claimed a rabbit was attacking them when we found them.”

“Why did they try to hold up the gear shipment?” Ben asked.

“They thought it was silver,” Joe said nonchalantly. “Claimed this rabbit had big ears.”

“A rabbit?” Candy asked, blankly.

“A big rabbit,” Joe answered. Just tell me if it was Hoss or not.

“A big rabbit. What breed?” Ben asked, prompting as if he was the prosecutor interrogating a witness to a crime.

“White fur, big ears. That breed of rabbit,” Joe said.

“Not Gerby Royals, I presume?” Ben asked. Joe rolled his eyes.

“No, Pa. Not the rabbits Hoss and I raised for fur coats.”

“Fur coats?” Candy asked. “You raised fur coats?”

“Well, neither of us could kill the rabbits, so the men we bought them from bought them back and sold them as pets,” Joe said, his patience wearing thin.

“Big rabbit, big ears. Know anything about that kind of rabbit, Candy?” Ben asked, shaking his head from side to side. There was a hint of a smile as he spoke.

“No, sir, I don’t,” Candy said with mock seriousness.

“You don’t?” Joe asked. “Sounded like a Hoss rabbit to me.”

“A Hoss rabbit?” both men asked, then burst into laughter.

“Hoss dressed up for the orphans, to deliver Easter eggs,” Ben explained.

“Ah-ha!” Joe exclaimed.

“Ah-ha, what?” Ben asked.

“Well, the greenhorns told us the big rabbit attacked them with Easter eggs. I had a feeling. . . ” Joe said.

“When did Hoss go out to deliver the eggs?”

“About 4:22,” Ben said. “I saw him in the hallway, bundled up in a coat.”

“That’s right. I ran into him in the hallway, too. Told him it wasn’t that cold out there,” Joe said, snapping his fingers.

“That must have been when he asked me to button him up,” Candy said.

Joe and Ben studied him a moment. “The buttons were in the back of the costume and he couldn’t button himself.”

“Candy and I should pay a visit to the orphanage, check on the children. It’s the neighborly thing to do,” Joe suggested.

“Absolutely,” Candy said, grinning. “We can look for Chicken Little, ask him if the sky is falling today.”

“Chicken Little?” Ben asked.

“What?” Joe asked.

“You remember, Joe. You were substitute teacher and I stopped by while you were reading ‘Chicken Little,’ complete with animal voices.”

“Ah, now I remember. That was a good one, Candy,” Joe said as he laughed.

“You didn’t laugh at the time,” Candy reminded him.

“True. It was a bit embarrassing at the time,” Joe said.

“That’s the way Hoss feels about dressing up as the rabbit,” Ben warned. “He laughed about it yesterday when we teased him, but he’s a bit sensitive about all this.”

“By the way, where is Hoss?” Joe asked.

“He’s up at the house, getting more wire. Joe, what are you up to?” Ben asked. “I can see in your eyes that you are planning something.”

“We haven’t introduced ourselves to Miss Charity,” Candy suggested.

“And I need to know what time Hoss delivered those Easter eggs. If he delivered them at dawn, he couldn’t be the Easter bunny the Gaskill brothers were talking about,” Joe said.

“Why does it matter?” Ben asked.

“Wells Fargo will pay a reward to anyone who helped capture the criminals. If Hoss helped us capture the criminals, he deserves the reward,” Joe said.

“Any other reason it might matter?” Ben asked.

“They went on and on about the rabbit, and I wanted to know if it was Hoss or not. Sort of like when Hoss was looking for the leprechauns we thought he didn’t see.”

“Hoss saw leprechauns?” Candy asked in disbelief. “Boy, you fellas sure had some adventures.”

“Ask Hoss about the time we trained for a bullfight sometime,” Joe said. “How long before Hoss gets back?”

“He’ll be back shortly,” Ben said.

“Then we better visit that orphanage,” Candy said.

“Are you sure you don’t mean Miss Charity Moffatt?” Ben asked, suspecting the boys wanted to see the teacher/housekeeper for themselves since she was new in town.

“Now, Pa, would we go over there just to meet the headmistress since she’s new in town?” Joe asked.

“Yes, you would,” Ben said. “Get along with you now. I know you, Joe, and you’ll burst out laughing just like you did the day we found Hoss practicing the fiddle out in that field.”

“You’re right, Pa,” Joe agreed. “Let’s go, Candy.”

“Wait a minute. What fiddle? What field?” Candy asked as he started to follow Joe.

“How are you going to get there?” Ben asked.

“May I borrow your horse?” Joe asked.

“Of course you can,” Ben said, waving as Joe vaulted onto his father’s horse and Candy and his horse led the way.

*****

Joe and Candy arrived at the orphanage and found a redheaded woman in her early thirties knitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. Children played games in the yard, shouting happily to each other and enjoying the sunny afternoon after school.

“Ma’am, I’m Joseph Cartwright, Ben’s youngest son. And this is Candy Canaday, our foreman,” Joe said as they approached her. He dipped his hat to her in greeting.

“Miss Charity Moffatt. And these are my children,” she said. Children of all races ran through the yard, calling to each other and laughing. It looked more like a large family than the orphanages Joe and Candy had heard about.

“You’re Miss Charity?” Joe asked.

“Thy brother Hoss was surprised to find out I’m not the old Quaker lady, as he described me,” she said with amusement.

“I’m not surprised, exactly, Miss Charity. Just expected –“

“An old Quaker lady, ma’am,” Candy said, dipping his hat toward her.

“Call me Miss Charity, Friend Candy. What may I do for the two of you?” she asked.

“My friend here, he has some questions for you,” Candy said, pointing his head in Joe’s direction.

“What can I help you with, Friend Joseph?”

“Well, you see, ma’am –“

“Miss Charity, Friend Joseph. Miss Charity.”

“Miss Charity, is there anything we can help you with?” Joe asked.

“Well, a man around the place is always helpful. Thy brother Friend Hoss was gracious enough to offer his help, too.”

“How did he help you?” Joe asked, puzzled.

“We’ll have to go inside to discuss it.”

“Oh?” Joe asked, still puzzled. Candy followed, just as puzzled.

They followed Miss Charity inside to her study, a room furnished with a desk, bookcases and several chairs. Both men found comfortable chairs and Miss Charity proceeded to tell them the story.

“You see, Friend Jonathan had to go back East, illness in the family. He couldn’t be here to give out Easter eggs to the children, so when Friend Hoss brought our new milk cow to us, I asked him to do me a favor.”

“Dye eggs for the children?” Candy asked.

“He said something about that,” Joe added.

“That and more, Friends Candy and Joseph. That and more.”

“Like playing the Easter Bunny?” Joe asked.

“Yes, Friend Joseph. I must say he did a wonderful job. Only one child reported that he saw the Easter bunny, and he wasn’t sure it really was the Easter bunny.”

“No one was supposed to see the Easter bunny?” Candy asked.

“That’s right, Friend Candy. I asked Friend Hoss to leave the eggs at dawn, so the children could look for the Easter bunny when they got up in the morning. He came here for a private fitting of the bunny costume, since I didn’t want any of the children to see him until Easter Sunday.”

“And one child reported that he saw the Easter bunny?” Joe asked.

“He wasn’t sure it was the Easter bunny, Friend Joseph. It’s more of a game for the children, trying to see the Easter bunny. I didn’t want them to know if there really was an Easter bunny, and that’s why I asked you in here.”

“What if I said that I saw the Easter bunny?” Candy said.

“If you did, I’d like him to return the suit I lent him. Haven’t seen it since he took it home with him.”

“We’ll see that he brings it to you, ma’am,” Joe said. “We Cartwrights aren’t thieves.”

“Knowing thy father, I believe that, Friend Joseph. I do have a question, though.”

Joe and Candy looked at each other, then at Miss Moffatt.

“It was well past dawn when Friend Hoss left his gifts. I don’t know what happened to the Easter eggs, but he left us these,” she said, offering Joe a Bible like the one he saw Leroy Gaskill giving away in the livery stable last week.

Joe took the book and looked it over. Same book all right. He returned it to her.

“Where did he get such books, Friend Joseph?”

“I don’t know, Miss Charity. But I’ll find out.”

“I hope he didn’t steal them,” she said. “Although they will go to good use.”

“Friend – I mean Brother Hoss wouldn’t steal them. Like I said, we weren’t raised that way.”

“If Friend Hoss brings back the suit, all will be forgiven. Even the mystery about where the Bibles came from. If you’ll excuse me, gentlemen,” she said as she rose from her chair.

“Yes, ma’am. You’ve been very helpful,” Joe said as he walked out the door, Candy following.

Once outside, Candy asked, “What now? We know he played the Easter Bunny, and he didn’t give out the eggs.”

“Which means he probably used them on the Gaskill brothers,” Joe suggested. “My question is where is the suit, and where did he get the Bibles?”

“Is that enough to earn the reward?” Candy asked.

“Could be. But since I know that Miss Charity meant the Easter Bunny’s identity to be a secret, I think I’ll go to Plan B on this one,” Joe said.

“Plan ‘B’?”

“Let the reward go to the orphanage instead. No one will know who the Easter Bunny is and we’ll help them with that reward money.”

“What about the debt of gratitude to Hoss?”

“I have something else in mind,” Joe said.

*****

“Hey, Hop Sing!” Joe called out as he entered the Ponderosa ranch house with Candy.

He looked around the great room, then started toward the kitchen since he knew Hop Sing, the Cartwright’s Chinese cook, would be in the midst of supper preparations at this time of day.

“Little Joe yell, just like Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Hoss!” Hop Sing said as he appeared from the kitchen and stood in the dining room, next to the large chairs and table set in front of a picture window. A short, stocky man and the family cook since Joe was a child, Hop Sing was one of the few people Joe allowed to call him by the childhood nickname.

“Just wanted to get your attention, Hop Sing,” Joe said. “I have a question for you.”

“No answer when little boy doesn’t know how to enter room,” Hop Sing scolded, pointing his finger at Joe.

“I know how to enter the room. I turn the knob and open the door. Here, I’ll show you,” Joe walked toward the door.

Hop Sing shook his head, then shook his index finger at Joe.

“Hop Sing, I’m sorry I yelled. Is this better?” Joe whispered. Candy chuckled.

“Don’t encourage, Mr. Candy. Little Joe not funny,” Hop Sing said. Candy laughed harder and Joe smiled.

“Of course I’m not funny. I’m Joe,” he said, laughing at himself. Candy tried to look serious, but burst out in laughter all over again.

“Hop Sing busy. What do you want?”

“I want to know what color you dyed the Easter eggs for Hoss.”

“Pink and blue dye,” Hop Sing said. “Why?”

“I ran into the Easter bunny on my way to Carson City.”

“So?” Hop Sing asked.

“Hoss asked you to dye all those eggs, for the children at the orphanage. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“It mean you ran into Easter bunny on way to Carson City,” Hop Sing said as he returned to the kitchen.

“Hop Sing not funny!” Joe called out as loudly as his voice would project. Candy laughed.

“Don’t encourage him, either,” Joe said with disgust. “Does Hop Sing know that Hoss -“

“You’ll have to ask him that when he gets back,” Candy said.

“If he comes back. Pa used to yell and Hop Sing would threaten to quit.”

“Did he ever quit?” Candy asked.

“Oh, at least once a month or so,” Joe laughed. “Hm, there’s a thought -“

“Joe, what are you planning?” Candy asked.
“You’ll find out, buddy, you’ll find out,” Joe said.

A few minutes later, Hop Sing returned to the dining room with a suitcase. Joe thought at first he had gone too far, that Hop Sing really was angry at him for yelling. But Hop Sing was smiling at him.

“Little Joe, found case in Mr. Hoss’ room. Picked up laundry.” He held up the expensive-looking leather case, and set it on the dining room table.

“You did Hoss’ laundry today?” Joe asked. .

“Since when Little Joe care about laundry? Leaves clothes piled in a heap on floor. Mr. Hoss leave white suit under bed.”

“Under his bed?” Joe asked.

“Yes, under bed, under coat. Hop Sing wash suit.”

“Where is the suit?” Candy asked.

“Hanging on laundry line. Nice suit, don’t want to get dirty.”

“Please show us the suit,” Joe asked.

“Since Little Joe asked politely, get it,” Hop Sing said. He quickly disappeared again. Joe and Candy politely waited in the dining room for Hop Sing, knowing he seldom let anyone in the family into his quarters.

Hop Sing brought the suit out, and placed it across the dining room table.

“That’s the suit, Joe. Floppy ears and the button in the back,” Candy confirmed. “Let’s look in that case, Hop Sing,”

Hop Sing opened the case, revealing a Bible, just like the ones left at the orphanage.

“There’s a name inside here,” Candy said. “Nelson and Sons, Publishers.”

“Does the case say anything?” Joe asked.

“Return to Nelson and Son, Publishers if found,” Candy said with a shrug.

“Where would Hoss get the Bibles?” Joe asked.

“Wait a minute. Hoss said he traded an almost worthless horse for the horse he rode home Sunday. Maybe the Bibles were part of the bargain?” Candy offered.

“They wouldn’t have thrown the Bibles into a deal where Hoss already got the better end of the deal,” Joe said.

“You’re right. What do we do now?”

Joe grinned, as if he was about to burst at the seams. “We’ll ask Hoss about the Bibles, but first we’ll have a little fun.”

“Little Joe have look in eye. Trouble,” Hop Sing said.

“Hop Sing, here’s what I need you to do,” Joe said. He whispered to Hop Sing, who nodded in agreement, a gleam in his eyes that matched Joe’s….

*****

“Hey Hoss, I smell breakfast! Hop to it!” Joe called out to his brother as he bounded down the stairs of the Ponderosa ranch house.

Upon reaching the landing, Joe surveyed the great room below and the dining room table. He giggled, clapped his hands together and bounded down the remaining steps. Candy was grinning from ear to ear at the table.

“All ready, Little Joe. Mr. Hoss in for big surprise,” Hop Sing told Joe in a low voice as Joe approached the dining room table.

“He sure is, Hop Sing. He sure is. And you’re the best cook in Nevada Territory,” Joe said. Hop Sing beamed, then returned to the kitchen.

“What are you doing up so early?” Hoss asked as he joined Joe at the table a few moments later. He looked around for the promised breakfast. “You too, Candy?”

“It’s not like you to be suspicious, older brother. Why can’t I be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the morning?” Joe asked.

“Because that’s not like you, little brother. Unless you’ve turned over a new leaf.”

“Easy over on the new leaf,” Joe said. “I have some work to catch up on since I was in Carson City yesterday with that delivery.”

“What delivery was that?” Hoss said. “Hey, where’s the grub?”

“It’s coming. Pa and some of the hands went out to trap some rabbits digging holes in the north pasture,” Joe said as he spooned sugar into his coffee, then drank from the cup to hide his growing grin.

“When will they be back?”

“Don’t know. We delivered gears to one of the stamp mills in Carson City. Delivery went just fine, but we had a couple of delays.”

“Oh?” Hoss asked.

“First, the road was blocked and we had to go a different route. Then a tree got in the way,” Joe shrugged. “Did they find them all?

“Did who find what all?” Hoss asked as he looked in the direction of the kitchen expectantly. “Where’s Hop Sing with that – “

“Right here, Mr. Hoss,” Hop Sing said as he brought out a small plate of scrambled eggs, then returned to the kitchen.

“Is that all you’re feeding us?” Hoss asked.

Hop Sing wordlessly returned from the kitchen, with a larger plate of sunny side up eggs. Joe and Candy exchanged looks, watching Hoss as he looked between the plates of eggs, then at Hop Sing, who nodded and returned again to the kitchen.

“What’s going on here?” Hoss asked. He looked at Joe and Candy, then said, “Dadburn you two!”

“What’s the matter, Hoss?” Joe asked, with as straight a face as he could manage. Candy covered his mouth as Hoss’ face turned redder and redder with anger.

Hop Sing came back from the kitchen, this time with a dozen hard-boiled eggs in a basket.

“Did the orphans find all of the Easter eggs?” Joe asked.

“No more eggs!” Hoss exclaimed in exasperation as he threw down his napkin.

“No more eggs? Ask Hop Sing to hard-boil a hundred eggs, then turn nose up at Hop Sing’s cooking!” Hop Sing said as he retreated to the kitchen, muttering in his native language.

“That wasn’t what I meant!” Hoss called out. “I was answering Joe’s question, Hop Sing.”

“Well, did they find them all? It’ll make a big stink if they didn’t,” Joe said as Hoss looked first at Hop Sing’s retreating back, then at the plates of eggs awaiting him.

“No, they didn’t find any of them,” Hoss said over his shoulder as he stood up to follow Hop Sing.

“They didn’t?” Joe asked.

“No, they didn’t” Hoss called out with disgust from the kitchen.

“Huh?” Joe said, shaking his head.

“Hop Sing quit!” the cook yelled as he carried a suitcase past Hoss.

“You can’t quit, Hop Sing,” Hoss protested. “Pa’s not here to pay you what we owe you, and I’ll starve!”

“Eat eggs then,” Hop Sing scolded.

“Sure wish there was some ham to go with those eggs,” Hoss said.

“Maybe the Easter bunny and his friend will bring it to you?” Candy suggested, biting his lip.

“What friend is that?” Hoss asked.

“Well, the Easter bunny must travel with a chicken, or he wouldn’t have all those eggs to give away,” Candy said. “You think its Chicken Little, Joe?”

“Or maybe it’s Chicken, Little Joe,” Hoss asked, grabbing the opportunity to join in the teasing. Candy laughed and Joe said, “Very funny” as if he really thought it was anything but humorous, then joined in the laughter.

“Hop Sing had hard time finding enough eggs from henhouse,” Hop Sing added.

“The Easter bunny’s come and gone, Candy. And I don’t know about no chicken friend,” Hoss said.

“Me neither. Where did the Easter bunny go, Hoss?” Joe asked quietly.

“How should I know?” Hoss asked. Hop Sing produced the Easter bunny costume from his suitcase, just as if he was a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

“Hey, that’s-” Hoss protested. “Dadburnit, Hop Sing, where’d you get that?”

“Under bed, Mr. Hoss. No place for dust bunnies,” Hop Sing said, shaking a finger at him.

Hoss looked at first Hop Sing, then Joe, who was giggling so hard he fell on the floor.

“Candy, did you tell him I played the Easter Bunny for the orphans this year?” Hoss asked.

Candy shook his head “no.” Hoss studied him for a moment, waiting to see if Candy would give any more information. Candy just stood there, first looking at the eggs, then Hoss, then the eggs again.

“I guessed,” Joe said. “I saw a blur of white fur when the driver and I were shooting at the Gaskill brothers.”

“The Gaskill brothers? Do we know them?” Hoss asked.

“No,” Joe said. “Four brothers from New York. They came out here to steal gears, shoot at people –“

“What’s that got to do with the Easter bunny?” Hoss asked.

“Nothing, just explaining who they are,” Joe said. “We were on the way to Carson City to turn them in, and they told us about this big rabbit throwing dyed eggs at them, and I knew it couldn’t be a real rabbit.”

“What made you think it might be me?” Hoss asked.

Before Joe or Candy explained how they put the case together, Ben walked out from the kitchen, with a platter of ham. Hoss laughed and said, “I knew these eggs would go better with ham. What made you think it was me, Joe?”

“It wasn’t too hard-boiled to figure out, Hoss,” Ben said. “Who else has a big enough heart to dye Easter eggs for orphans he doesn’t know and give them something else when there are no more eggs?”

“Aw shucks,” Hoss said as he swatted the air. “Weren’t nothing.”

“Mr. Hoss make good Easter rabbit,” Hop Sing said. “Cousin said all children have Bibles now.”

Hop Sing’s tone had changed. Instead of anger, his face shone with pride.

“Well, if you’d caught the robbers sooner, Joseph, they would have had Easter eggs,” Hoss teased.

“Come on, let’s eat this breakfast Hop Sing cooked for us. Least we can do, isn’t it, Hop Sing?” Joe said with a wink.

“Little Joe right. Food cold isn’t good.”

“Unless it’s lettuce or carrots,” Joe said, again biting his lower lip to prevent himself from laughing.

“A Bible of very own much better than Easter eggs,” Hop Sing said.

“That reminds me, Hoss,” Candy said as they sat down to breakfast. “Where did you get the Bibles?”

“They came with the horse I found while I was – er-“

“Slowing down a band of robbers” – “Playing Easter bunny” – “Going for a dawn ride” – offered his family.

“That’s right, I slowed down a band of robbers while I was playing Easter bunny on my dawn ride,” Hoss answered, laughing as hard as the rest of them.

***The End***

Author’s Note: The rabbit and the chicken friend joke came from the grandson of a friend of the family.

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