Summary: A sequel to “Land Sharks” — the pranks get out of hand and lead to serious consequences.
Word Count: 2662
“Pa, Adam keeps laughing about those land sharks. It’s not funny, Pa. He’s just being mean.”
“Now, Joseph, you laughed about tricking Adam into doing your barn chores for you, and then you tried to get him to weed the garden for you too. Isn’t that correct?”
“Yes, Pa. But I ain’t laughing no more and he is.”
“Just wait til tomorrow. It’ll all be over.”
Thinking that it better be done soon, Joe got back to thinking about what he could do to Adam. Most of the ideas weren’t that good, but he had one ready for the next morning. It wasn’t all the revenge he planned to exact, but a kid had to start somewhere. The next morning, Adam sat down for his breakfast and found a full glass of milk by his plate when he arrived at the table. Thinking that someone had been kind, he dug into his breakfast, greeted his father and Hoss when they arrived at the table, and the grabbed the glass of milk to drain it before heading out to work. In seconds, he spit milk all over the table in front of him and some splashed onto Hoss’ plate and onto his shirt.
“What is the meaning of this?” was Ben’s bellow as soon as he found his voice to react.
From the top of the stairs, there was a hysterical giggle that answered several questions. Adam stood to go deal with the little prankster, but Ben grabbed his arm.
“But, Pa, that milk was full of salt and something very hot. My mouth and stomach may not recover anytime soon.”
“I will deal with our young prankster. You will go in the kitchen to get some rags to clean this up after you get a nice cold drink from Hop Sing. Cool down that temper of yours, do as I say, and then get to work.”
After Adam left for the kitchen, Ben turned his attention to Hoss. Before he could say anything, Hoss resolved the situation himself. Staring forlornly at the flapjacks that had been splashed with some of the milk Adam had spit out, Hoss decided that being hungry was worse than anything else, so he dabbed up as much of the splatter as he could, poured a lot of syrup over them, and began eating.
Still laughing and surprised that his prank had affected both brothers, Joe was quite proud of himself until he looked at his father’s face. Then Joe realized he might have a problem. He was correct, and sitting at breakfast wasn’t very comfortable after that.
“Pa, can I ask a question?”
“I think you just did.”
“No, I mean, yes, but, I really have something I don’t understand.”
“What is it?”
“Why is it that Adam and Hoss only had to weed the garden for their prank, but I got spanked?”
“Their joking did not harm anyone and could not have harmed anyone except to frighten you. Your so-called joke could create some problems for Adam. He doesn’t usually eat anything with Hop Sing’s hot sauce on it because it upsets his stomach so much. With that and the salt, he may be suffering much of today. That is not a funny thing to do to someone.”
“Oh, Pa, then I think I have to go outside and take care of something right away.”
Yelling and pounding on the front door meant that wasn’t going to be necessary. One of the hands was standing at the front door when Ben answered it, and soon another hand came carrying Adam who seemed senseless.
“Oh my God, what happened?”
“Adam mounted up on that new horse you got him, and it went crazy, bucking all over the yard. He tried to hang on, but it caught him so much by surprise, he got bucked off. One of the men already headed into town to see if the doc can come out.”
As the hand carried Adam to the settee and set him down, Ben could only say one thing. “Adam has ridden bucking horses for over a year now and usually does so well.”
“He would of been all right except he landed near the corral fence, and his head hit the post. We weren’t ready either, and nobody got to him fast enough to grab that fool horse.”
Hoss had rushed over to help and was pulling off Adam’s boots. At the dining table, Joe stood quietly. He was as pale as he could be. Ben looked at him once and tried to reassure him that Adam would be all right. Joe turned and rushed from the room. Ben wanted to go help him, but Adam needed his attention at the moment. Hop Sing came in with what he thought they needed, and it was just in time as Adam opened his eyes and almost immediately started retching into the bowl that was provided. There was no more fear that the hot sauce and salt would bother his stomach because it was out. Adam looked up at Ben and asked what had happened. Ben told him, and then a few minutes later, Adam again asked what had happened and Ben patiently told him once more. It was clear then that Adam had a concussion. Ben stayed by his side until the doctor arrived and pronounced that rest would lead to a full recovery. Ben and Hoss helped Adam to his room, and settled him in his bed.
Leaving Hoss to sit with Adam, Ben headed out to find his youngest.
“Mr. Cartwright, we found this under the saddle blanket on Adam’s horse. Somebody did it on purpose, and we’ll take care of him when we find out who done it,” said one of the hands. The hand held out a burr.
Suddenly everything clicked for Ben. “I’ll take care of it. I think I know who did it, and I will deal with him.”
Walking, Joe could not have gotten far. Ben walked toward the stream that emptied into the lake. He expected he would find Joe soon, but it took much longer than he had thought. Joe must have been running at first to have gotten so far from the house. Ben regretted not saddling up a horse for this trek. Finally he thought he heard someone and walked rapidly toward the trees up ahead. He found Little Joe huddled next to a tree, sobbing. All of his anger at his young son forgotten for the moment, Ben wrapped his arms around the boy, who seemed almost unaware at first that anyone was there.
“Joseph, Joe, Little Joe, listen to me. It’s going to be all right. Everything will be all right.”
“Oh, Pa, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to kilt him, I really didn’t. I thought it was just a funny thing to do, and then Adam would be so mad, and I was gonna just laugh when he came in. I never thought he would get hurt and die. Really, Pa, I didn’t.”
“He’s not going to die. He probably wishes he had right about now with the headache he has. He won’t be out of that bed today. He probably won’t be able to do much of anything for a few days.”
“Really, Pa, really? ‘Cause, Pa, when they carried him in there, he looked just like Mama, and I thought he was kilt. And I wondered who would take care of you ’cause Adam took care of us when Mama died, but if Adam was kilt, then we wouldn’t have anybody.”
“Oh, Joseph, we are all here for each other. And Adam will be fine. Now do you want to tell me why you thought putting a burr under his saddle blanket was a good idea?”
A little embarrassed to have to admit to eavesdropping as well as the other things that he had done, Joe sat up a little straighter and looked at his father’s face. “Pa, I heard some of the hands say that one of the new men is too smart-mouthed for his own good and brags all the time. They said they should put a burr under his saddle ’cause that would teach him a lesson. I thought if they could do it, I could do it too and teach Adam a lesson.”
“Oh, and what lesson were you going to teach Adam?”
At Little Joe’s squirming and silence, Ben had a fairly good idea. “So the lesson was that he shouldn’t play tricks on his youngest brother? Perhaps you’re forgetting all the tricks you played on him since he played that one trick on you. Let me see, there was the frog in his chamber pot, and then there were the grasshoppers in his boots. If I recall there was a large spider that somehow ended up on his back one morning as he was sitting at the breakfast table that caused him to spill his coffee all over his pants. Where there any others I don’t know about?”
“Ah, maybe somebody put all of his books upside down on his bookshelves and out of order?”
Ben had to chuckle at that one. He could almost see the exasperated look that would have been on Adam’s face when he retired to his room for the night, hoping to fall into bed only to find that he had to rearrange his bookshelves first, for Adam never would have been able to sleep knowing that they were messed up like that.
“Did he retaliate for all of those pranks?”
“Did he get even? Did he play a host of pranks on you?”
“Nah, he kept saying that if I did another one to watch out because he could play pretty good pranks himself.” To himself, Joe was now thinking he was in big trouble. He certainly had done enough to earn the one prank Adam had played on him, but he hadn’t been thinking about that when he decided to get even.
“So you played quite a few pranks on Adam, and he played one on you, so you decided you had to get even? Seems to me, you were way ahead at that point and could have let it drop. But instead, you decided to be quite mean with your next pranks, and despite the fact that Adam will be fine, he could have been seriously hurt or possibly killed today. How does that make you feel?”
Tears started flowing again. “I’m really sorry, Pa, I really am.”
“Well, I’m not the one you should be apologizing to, but I’m afraid if you apologize to Adam today, he won’t remember it. His head is a bit addled at the moment. Now you know what has to happen now, don’t you?”
With his head down, Joe nodded. “Yes, Pa.”
“In addition, you will apologize to Adam tomorrow, you will help Hop Sing with his care, and you will do his chores for the next two weeks.”
“Would you like to try for a month? It is your fault that Adam won’t be able to do his chores for the next few days. After that, it is punishment for what you did, and evidence of your sincere apology to Adam. Just saying you’re sorry doesn’t always make things right. Adding something like doing his chores will show your sincerity. You are truly sorry, aren’t you?”
Joe nodded enthusiastically to that. He was hoping that his father would forget the other part of his punishment if he agreed to doing Adam’s chores.
“This will show Adam that you are truly sorry then. And none of this changes the other punishment.”
Soon after, father and son began the walk home with Little Joe trying not to rub his sore backside. Once they were home, Little Joe was sent to do chores. He wanted to say he was sorry to Adam but was told Adam needed quiet and rest, and that he could apologize the next day.
As soon as the sun was up the next morning, Joe was in Adam’s room but he was still sleeping. He went to open the curtains that had been pulled, and as the sunshine flooded the room, Adam began groaning. Within a minute, Ben was there, saw the problem, and quickly pulled the curtains closed again. Joe was standing by the bed wondering what had happened.
“Joseph, why did you do that?”
“Pa, Adam always likes the sun shining in his room. But now he doesn’t. Did that bump on his head change him? ‘Cause I heard if a wolf bites you, you change into a man-wolf so I figure a bump might change you too. Is Adam gonna be changed forever?”
“Adam is not changed. He just needs quiet and a darker room. Noise and bright light will bother him for a few days probably.”
“Oh, is that why we’re whispering?”
“Could someone tell me what’s going on?” From the bed, Adam had a request, but Ben was happy that he was awake and lucid. He told him what had happened but waited to let Joe admit the part for which he was responsible.
“Uh, Adam. The horse bucked you off ’cause I put a burr under the saddle. I just thought it would buck you around, and, Adam, you’re the greatest at breaking those horses, so I never thought you would fall off, and I’m really sorry you bumped your head, and I hope you’re going to be all right ’cause Pa says you’re gonna be all right.” Joe stopped to catch his breath and then held it again waiting to see how his oldest brother would react.
Adam rubbed his forehead and slowly processed all that he had heard in that run-on sentence that may have been the longest he had ever heard. “You did this? But, why?”
“Well you played that prank on me with the land sharks and laughed about it.”
“But you must have gotten even with me with all those pranks you’ve been pulling on me since. Why did you have to do that to me?”
“Cause you was still laughing about that trick you played on me.”
“But didn’t you laugh and brag to the hands every day about the tricks you were playing on me?”
Poor Joe had no answer for that one. He wanted to be the jokester and didn’t like sharing that with Adam. Suddenly he realized what his father had meant yesterday when they had discussed this, and their father told him that pride was a deadly sin and could have killed his brother. “I’m so sorry, Adam. I’ll never do anything like that again, I promise.” Tears were flowing then as Adam told him it was all right. Joe offered to get him something to eat or drink, to read to him, or to sit and talk.
“No, Joe, I would just like a little quiet time to rest.” Adam saw how disappointed that made his little brother, so he amended his statement. “Maybe if someone wanted to sit here and hold my hand, I could rest better knowing I’m not alone.”
Pulling a chair to the side of the bed immediately, Joe sat and took Adam’s long fingers into his grasp. Adam closed his eyes then, and Ben left them in peace. He expected that Joe wouldn’t be able to manage this for more than about fifteen or twenty minutes so after an hour, he walked back up the stairs to check on him. As he pushed open Adam’s door, he had to smile. Joe was lying on the bed next to Adam. Joe’s head rested on Adam’s shoulder with Adam’s arm wrapped tightly around the curly headed scamp. Both were peacefully napping. Ben pulled the door closed, relieved that this year’s season of pranks had come to an end.