Summary: Four short stories about a father’s worries about his sons from what happens in school to learning to use a pistol or how to handle an embarrassing moment or even if the family can have a pet.
Word Count: 4100
All day, Ben worried. He remembered the first day of school for Adam and the first for Hoss. Neither of them had enjoyed their first day of school. He hoped that Little Joe would have a good first day and break the trend, however unlikely that was.
Ben had actually expected his bright oldest son to revel in the chance to go to school, but it hadn’t worked out that way.
“Pa, I won’t say it. I won’t ever use those words. So I can’t tell you what those boys said. You can tan me and give me as many punishments as you want, but if anyone insults Hop Sing like that again, I won’t listen to it.”
Adam had stood as defiant as an eight-year-old boy could stand trembling with anger and fear when Ben picked him up from school but not before Ben had to withstand a tongue lashing from Adam’s teacher.
“That boy of yours has no fear. He attacked three boys, and then refused to tell me what they said that made him so angry. You better teach him some proper behavior or he will not be allowed to continue in this school. Only civilized children are allowed here.”
Oh, Ben remembered that day so well. Tanning, lectures, extra chores, and banishment to his bedroom, and Adam finally accepted that he should not fight at school. Oh, there were more fights until Adam didn’t fight any more at school, but there were plenty of fights off school grounds until he got control of that temper of his, and the other students learned a healthy respect for his willingness to defend the downtrodden. Ben had tired of talking to the teacher and parents long before that happened.
Then a few years later, it was Hoss’ turn for a first day at school. Adam gave Hoss a ride, and later brought home a little boy with a downcast, tear-streaked face riding in front of him. Adam was as sour-faced as Hoss was sad. Sweet, mild-mannered Hoss had been picked on unmercifully that first day for his size and the mistaken belief that he was stupid. Twelve-year-old Adam felt helpless to do anything about it because the children doing the hazing were only six years old themselves. It was another difficult transition for Hoss until he was accepted and liked by the other students for the wonderful traits he had, including a natural ability to understand the world around him and appreciate it. His knowledge of the world of nature and his skill with animals had earned him respect as time went on.
Now today, Adam was gone to college and had left that school several years earlier, leaving Hoss as the only Cartwright enrolled. Hoss had been waiting for the chance to have his little brother in school with him. The two had talked for days about all the fun they would have being able to be in school together. Hoss had taken on the older brother role and given Joe a ride to school.
However, when Ben heard Hoss ride in, Joe wasn’t with him. “Where’s your little brother? It was your job to watch out for him.”
“He’s coming. He wanted to walk the last bit so I dropped him off by the first fence. He’ll be here in a few minutes. Ah, Pa, please let him explain everything before you get mad.”
“Well, he’ll have to tell you. It says so in the note.”
“A note from the teacher? Already?”
Shaking his head, Hoss walked his horse into the stable and began his chores. He heard his father greet Little Joe and worried about what would come next. There was a bit of silence that Hoss assumed meant that their Pa was reading the note. Then he heard the first growl.
“Pa, I just brought some stuff to school that I thought would make the day go better.”
“It says you released a frog into the classroom!”
“Pa, that was an accident. I had him in my lunch bag, but he was jumping around in there so much, he gottest out.”
“The note says you hit the teacher in the face!”
“Pa, that was another accident. She was gonna smash Froggy with a broom. Pa, she could of killed him. I had to get her attention, but when I was gonna tap her on the shoulder, she spunned around so fast, I tapped her in the face.”
“She says you screamed at her and spit in her face!”
“Pa, she scared me. When I tapped her in the face, she raised her arms and yelled so loud it hurt my ears. I was so scared I screamed but not at her. I guess some spit could of come out with it. She’s really scary, Pa.”
“She says you exposed your privates to her and relieved yourself on her shoes!”
“Pa, she made me sit in the corner, and I really had to go bad. She wouldn’t let me talk, even to tell her I had to go. At lunch, I ran out there to go, but there was a really long line for the necessary, so I walked behind it to go in the bushes like we do here. She came up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder when I was going, and I spunned around but I wasn’t done yet and some spilt on her shoes. Pa, it ain’t polite to tap somebody on the shoulder when they’re going. Oh yeah, Pa, she yelled some of those really naughty words at me then. You know those words that Adam used when I dropped the axe on his foot. Maybe you ought to have a talk with her about her words, ’cause you said you’d wash my mouth with soap if I ever said those words.”
“Well, there’s nothing about the afternoon. Did it go better at least for the last couple of hours?”
“Yeah, Pa, you know I told her that my brother Adam wanted to know all about my first day of school, and you was gonna help me write him a letter and tell him everything. She got a funny look on her face then and never said another word to me all day, even when I dropped the box of chalk and pieces flew all over the room, or even when I opened the window and those bees flew in the room. Hey, Pa, did you know that if there are bees in the school, we get out early?”
“Why did you open the window to let bees in?”
“Oh, Pa, I didn’t know those bees would come in. I mean, why would they want to come into the school? There ain’t no flowers and no honey in there. I just knew it was hot so I opened the window.”
Ben rubbed his forehead and told Joe to go do his chores. Walking to the house, Ben felt the pain in his neck and in his forehead. He suspected it would go away in about ten years when Joe finished school.
A Puma, a Bear, and a Dog
Joe wanted a dog so bad. A thirteen-year-old boy ought to have a dog to run with through the meadows. A dog could sleep at the foot of his bed. A dog could warn of intruders in the house. A dog could help track any lost person or animal. Joe had heard all the arguments Adam had made for a dog years ago. Then Hoss had repeated them, to no avail, many years after that. Ben Cartwright said a ranch was no place for a dog, and that’s that. If you asked for a pet, he always suggested one more cat. And he put a limit on it too: he said one pet was allowed and that was it. Hoss didn’t like that rule either.
Joe was commiserating with Hoss as they did chores. Joe very much wanted a dog. Hoss kind of wanted him to get a dog too. But they both knew their Pa was absolutely opposed to having a dog on the ranch. As Adam sauntered in to do his share, Joe shut up quickly. He didn’t want Adam to argue with him about a dog. He felt bad enough that he wasn’t going to get one, even though that is all he wanted for his birthday.
“Now you know I worry whenever you stop talking when I get near you. Do I have to worry that you’re in trouble already or are you just planning it?”
“Aw, Adam, it ain’t nothing like that. Joe wants a dog. You know what Pa told us when each of us asked. He’s just feeling bad about it.”
Adam had been thinking about this for years. He liked to think about things, and when it was something he failed to do, especially if that something hurt his brothers too, well, then he thought even more about it. He had been waiting for just such an opportunity as this. He started to formulate a plan. Hoss saw the look in his eyes.
“Oh boy, Joe. Adam’s thinking on a plan. I can see it in his eyes. He ain’t talking either, and if he’s awake, that’s another good sign that he’s a thinking.”
“Hey, Adam, what are you thinking? Huh? Come on Adam, you can tell us. You know we can keep a secret.”
“Joe, you can keep a secret about as well as a sieve holds water. Now all you two have to do is cooperate. When Pa asks for help going to pick up that load of barbed wire that should be in town soon, both of you need to volunteer and insist on coming along.”
“I’ll tell you the rest when you need to know and not sooner. Now if you will finish up my chores, I have a few errands to run in town.”
Two days later, Ben made the aforementioned request and was gratified that all three sons volunteered to help. In fact, they insisted that all three of them should help. It was a rarity that all three were so cooperative, and Ben just reveled in the moment. They loaded up the barbed wire in town, and then all three sons had to run short errands, they said. Within fifteen minutes, they were all back. Adam had a pretty saloon girl on his arm and she was leading a young puma on a leash with a studded collar around its neck.
“Hey Pa, you always said we could have a cat as a pet. I found one I want. And Sally will come along to take care of it. I’m sure we can find somewhere in the house for her to stay.”
“Adam, that animal is dangerous.”
“Well, so am I, and I stay on the Ponderosa. You’re not going back on your word that you gave me years ago, that I could have a cat, are you?”
About then Hoss showed up with a St. Bernard pup that was already larger than most full-grown dogs.
“Hey, Pa, I found a dog that would be good on the ranch. He could track strays. He’s warm and he hardly ever barks. Jason over to the livery says he’s afraid of cows and horses so he wouldn’t scare any of the stock or ever chase them. How about it Pa? You said one pet and this here is a good one.”
“Hoss, that animal would eat more than all four of us combined. And for what happens later, I don’t want that all around the house.”
“But Pa, you said we could have one pet.”
Ben watched as Sally unbuttoned one of Adam’s shirt buttons and twirled her finger in his chest hair. He saw how Hoss was already getting attached to that huge puppy. Ben struggled to come up with a way out of this dilemma now that his sons had mentioned his promise in front of all of these people. As he worried about what to say, Joe walked up with an adorable collie puppy.
“Hey, Pa, Mr. Matthews said to tell you that he can probably help you with those loans you need tomorrow morning. He said he thinks he has found the money to help you out. He just has to get rid of all the puppies in the litter his daughter’s collie had so he can finish working on a deal. He was wondering if you wouldn’t mind taking one of these pups off his hands.”
Ben thought for only a minute.
“Adam, Hoss, I’m sorry but only one pet, and we have to do this favor for Mr. Matthews. He is an old and trusted friend of the family. So, Joseph, why don’t you hop up in the wagon with our pet, and we’ll head for home.”
Ben got in the wagon quickly with Joe and snapped the reins to get the wagon headed for home before Adam or Hoss could object. Adam kissed Sally on the cheek and handed her a gold coin, thanking her for playing her role just perfectly. He was sure that Sally’s presence had rattled his father’s concentration. Jason walked over to claim his prized pet. Hoss thanked him and promised him a few cats for the stable with the next litter at the Ponderosa. Cats were valuable in the West at keeping the rodent population down and away from supplies like the grain in the stable. Hoss and Adam mounted up, and Hoss gave a salute and a grin to Adam. Then they began the ride home to play with their new dog.
Ben stood by his desk staring intently out the window. There was nothing to see that was a problem, but his heart was racing at the sight nevertheless. His youngest son, Joseph, was being taught how to draw by his eldest son, Adam, who was showing Joe how to draw and slide his finger onto the trigger as he brought the gun up. Joe had wanted to put his finger on the trigger as he first gripped the pistol, but he had been told that was a great way to shoot yourself in the foot or leg. Instead Joe needed to practice this seamless way; Adam drew and had his finger firmly on the trigger as he leveled his pistol at his target.
That was also part of the lesson: how to pull fast enough to beat your opponent but be able to stop the momentum when the gun was level. Adam told Joe he was learning how to be a ‘smart draw’ not a ‘fast draw’. Joe was practicing with an unloaded pistol because of all the risks in learning to draw and kept trying to draw faster and faster. Adam told him each time that a smart draw that left you in a position to make an accurate shot was better than a faster draw that might lead to a wild shot. In a contest where a fraction of a second could mean the difference between lying bloody in the dirt or standing over your fallen opponent, Adam’s instructions could be crucial.
Yet, Joe was only fifteen years old and his father hated the idea that he might have to face such a challenge so soon. But just yesterday, Adam and Joe had been accosted by outlaws. Adam had handed over the money rather than put his unarmed little brother at risk. Ben had praised Adam’s decision when he apologized for losing the money. But then Adam had said that, at fifteen, he had already shot a man, and that at fifteen, Hoss had worn a pistol rig anytime he left the house. Both Adam and Hoss had openly wondered if their father, in an effort to protect his baby son, was actually endangering him. Ben had acquiesced and the result was what he was watching.
Soon, Ben knew they would take Joe behind the barn and give him ammunition so he could draw down on a line of bottles or cans on a fence rail. Ben had to wonder how long it would be before Joe was tested by a man with a gun. He remembered how Adam had been changed with that first test of him as a man. He had gotten colder, harder to read, and even more serious. He had been remorseful over taking a life, but also wanted to be sure next time that he would be better. Ben heard him tell Joe to keep his shoulders down to keep his arm and back muscles relaxed and loose so that they could draw rapidly. He told him to control his breathing so it wouldn’t throw off his aim when he pulled the trigger. He told him to keep the gun level, keep his eyes wide open to see all around him, and to listen behind him for any unusual sounds. It was too much for the teenager to learn in one day, but Ben knew Adam would keep pushing until Joe could handle himself well. He would do it and accept Joe’s complaints and excuses because he would do anything to help keep his brothers safe.
Standing at Adam’s side, Hoss reinforced everything Adam said in the lesson. Hoss had just turned twenty-one and had yet to shoot a man, but Ben knew that in this dangerous land, that could change. He wondered how such an act would affect his gentle, kind-hearted middle son.
So Ben stood at the window and watched his youngest son taking a big step toward becoming a man. Occasionally, he noted how Adam or Hoss would look back at the window, nodding almost imperceptibly to acknowledge his concern and reassure him that he had made the right decision. He knew he had, but that did not lessen the pain in his heart that his sons had to do this to be safe. Innocence had to be sacrificed for safety in this hard and beautiful land.
The Lily Pad Misadventure
Grabbing his son’s arm as he walked, Ben was upset that Joe had gone to see Mr. Fenster without him. Ben had ridden to town in a hurry when he realized that evening that all of them were gone. They were supposed to be outside talking, or at least that was what they said they were going to be doing. They neglected to mention that the talking would be on the way to town as they tried to defuse a situation they had created. He had been angry, and then worried, as he saddled up Buck and then took the long ride into town. Once there, he had to go to the Sheriff’s office to get Joe released from jail. Hoss and Adam had been sitting inside waiting. He had asked why one of them had not come home to get him, and Adam had said that when they didn’t return, they knew that would get him to town. In fact, Ben had, of course, been on the way when all the trouble had started. When Ben asked what happened, Roy pointed at Joe and said he had the story, so Joe explained that he had gone to see Mr. Fenster and had been unarmed.
“Joseph, that wasn’t a very smart thing to do going to see him unarmed.”
“Pa, I had Adam and Hoss there to back me up. They had their guns, and you know how good they are with them. I wasn’t worried about that part.”
“But there was still a big risk in what you did.”
“Pa, Marlene’s father said he’d shoot me if he ever saw me again. I figured if I showed up without my pistol, though, he wouldn’t just shoot me down, and maybe I’d get a chance to explain. I never meant to hurt his daughter.”
“Why didn’t you ask me to come with you? I had nothing to do with it, and he might have been willing to let me talk about why my youngest son was buck naked and jumped out of the lake, scaring his daughter and her friend.”
“Well, it kinda was partly Adam’s fault and Hoss too, so they felt like they ought to help.”
“Yes, I know what part they played in this.” Both of his older sons were favored with one of Ben’s ominous frowns then.
“Well, you see, Pa, then, it all makes sense.”
“Yes, it does, Joe, but not the part about you tackling him. Roy said you tackled Mr. Fenster and disarmed him.”
“Well, you see, Pa, he saw these two men lurking in the bushes, he said, and he was gonna fire that shotgun in there. Now I couldn’t tell that to Adam and Hoss because they might have shot him if he was shooting at them. So I tackled him.”
“Did you get to explain at least before Roy got there?”
“Yeah, Pa, I did. He even had a little chuckle about the whole story until I got to the part where I jumped up out of the water and scared his daughter. I swear, Pa, I thought it was Adam bringing my clothes back. I had no idea his daughter was there with a friend to try to catch some fish. I mean, we were on the Ponderosa. They were trespassing.”
“So you explained why you were completely naked when you jumped up out of the lily pads and frightened his daughter?”
“Yeah, I did. I told him my brothers stole my clothes when I was taking a swim. I never meant for her to fall like that, and it was just bad luck that those rocks were right there. It isn’t all that awful, though. I mean the doc said she’ll be out of that cast in a month, so her broken arm really wasn’t too bad.”
“Now, I understand all of that, but why were you hiding under the lily pads in the first place?”
“Well, you see, it’s like this. Hoss and Adam stole my clothes, and that was really mean. I was gonna hide under them lily pads so they wouldn’t see me anywhere. Hey, Pa, I used a hollow reed just like you taught me to do years ago.”
“Yes, Joseph. Now what about the rest of the story?” Ben had a tendency to be impatient when Joe was telling a story because Joe seemed to have all this commentary that had nothing to do with the immediate event.
“Well, I thought Adam and Hoss would get really worried and think maybe that I had drowned or something and then they would feel really bad about me drowning and such because they stole my clothes, and then I was gonna jump up and scare them too. It only seemed fair after what they did to me. But Pa, from underwater, it’s real hard to see who’s walking up to the shore. I had no idea it was two girls, honest!”
“Joseph, did her father accepted your explanation?”
“Yes, he did, Pa, but when his daughter asked if I would take her to the lake for a picnic sometime, he got all mad again. That’s when Roy took me to the jail and said he would only release me to you. He said I was a threat to the public safety, and you had to take me home.”
“And that young man is exactly where you’re going. There are a lot of chores to keep all of you busy so there won’t be a repeat any time soon of this kind of foolishness.” Three sets of shoulders dropped with that last comment, but there wasn’t much they could do about it. Ben’s tone of voice left no room for argument.
Adam and Hoss were sure that they were not going to be treated like boys and ordered around like Joe, or at least they hoped that wouldn’t happen. Hoss especially hoped it wouldn’t happen because when their Pa tried to do that with Adam, there was usually quite an argument and things got very tense around the place for days sometimes. Mealtimes were especially stressful when that happened, and that bothered Hoss as much as anything, because it was difficult to eat a decent meal with all that anger in the air.
Ben said no more, so Hoss relaxed. At least all three of them had a great story to tell the next time they got together with their friends.