Summary: Ben has a difficult time getting the answers to some questions. This is a light-hearted story but does deal with some adult themes which may not be appropriate for all readers.
Word Count: 1800
“All right. I don’t care who tells me, but I want to know what happened in town last night. Roy said the Bucket of Blood needs significant repairs, and Adam has written a promissory note against his accounts to pay for all the damages. Sally, the saloon girl, is missing although all of her belongings are gone, so she must have left of her own free will. There’s someone in our guest room, but the door is locked, and Adam has been so kind as to inform me that my presence is not wanted there. Hop Sing has brought food up there and he said Adam told him not to say anything about our guest.”
Adam chose not to respond, knowing anything he said would only make things worse.
“Joe, unlike your oldest brother, you’re not bleeding from any cut, there’s no black eye, and your fists aren’t marked, so can I assume that you were not part of the fighting and you can tell me what happened that your oldest brother seems to want to keep from me? And get your boot off the table.”
Joe gave his Pa one of those grimacing grins that said he would rather not talk. Adam kept his arm around Joe’s shoulder to bolster his courage.
“Hoss, so far you are the only one that doesn’t appear to have anything to do with this mess. I hardly think that’s likely, because you and Adam have been thick as thieves when trouble happened, ever since you were in your teens. So would you like to tell me what’s going on?”
“No, I don’t rightly think I can.”
Hoss kept his head down in dejection. He had been afraid that Adam or Joe was going to say something, but they hadn’t. Now he wished they had, because he was going to have to tell his father the story and it wasn’t going to go well, he just knew it. If only his Pa could just drop the subject for a few days and give him time to work out a solution or a plan. Adam said he had to have a plan but he couldn’t think of one, especially with his father talking like that. Well, it wouldn’t be any better in the morning. So he was going to have to tell him as soon as he stopped talking. Oh, lordy, how was he going to tell him? And when was his Pa ever going to stop talking? Hoss’ head hurt and he just sat and waited for the chance to say his piece.
Finally Ben sat quietly fuming. He could not believe that there was a guest in his house whom he was not allowed to see, and that his eldest son had been brawling in town, causing untold damages. The worst infraction of his standards, though, was the outright refusal of his sons to tell him what had happened. That he would not tolerate, and yet at their ages, he couldn’t think of a way to make them talk, so he was increasingly frustrated. Adam wouldn’t talk unless he wanted to, so there was no use trying. You could torture the man and he wouldn’t make a sound unless he wanted to. Joe was obviously covering for his brothers whom he loved and admired so much that he would never divulge their secrets and risk losing some of their respect. So that left Hoss. Hoss, with the gentle spirit who felt everyone’s pain like it was his own. Hoss he could work on.
“Hoss, my heart is breaking that you would not trust me. After nearly thirty years of being as close as a man and a son could be, I just don’t understand how you can turn on me like this.”
Looking at Hoss in horror, Adam knew exactly what his father was doing and why Hoss’ head was hanging even lower. He would shame him into talking. Maybe riding fence lines and restocking the line shacks for the next few weeks wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Then he could come home and head right out on the cattle drive. That would take at least six more weeks. Adam wondered if eight weeks would be enough.
“Pa, you probably guessed by now that it’s Sally upstairs. Well, we had to help her. She’s gonna have a baby.”
Adam groaned and Joe looked sick. Hoss just kept talking. It seemed once the floodgates opened, it all had to rush out of him, regardless of what damage was being done.
“What does this have to do with Adam getting in a brawl like a common ruffian?”
“Well, that was all just a misunderstanding, you see. Over at the Bucket of Blood, the bartender was telling some of the customers that Sally was going to have a baby and wouldn’t be working any more. Now Sally is a right popular gal over there, so the men was kinda disappointed. Well, when they asked who the father was, and the bartender said Cartwright, they just naturally assumed it was Adam. So when he walked in wanting a drink and nothing else, well they kinda asked him if he was going to marry her, and he said no, so a punch got thrown and Adam had to defend himself, didn’t he?”
“I know I am not going to like the answer, but why would they ‘naturally’ assume that Adam was the baby’s father?”
Groaning more, Adam dropped his forehead into his hands. If only Hoss would stop talking maybe he could salvage something from this, but with hardly time to take a breath, Hoss was talking again.
“Well, since Adam was keeping company with her on occasion and she don’t take any men to her room, they had to assume the baby was his. Now, Pa, I know you don’t like us paying for ladies in town, but you see, this was all right, ’cause Adam didn’t pay. She just would up and invite him to her room some nights when we were in town. I think she was a little sweet on him. Well, anyway, he stopped seeing her that way when I said I was a little sweet on her myself.”
Ben didn’t have to say anything. Adam could feel the heat from his glare. Joe leaned a little away from Adam to avoid any damage by being too close.
“Well, now, Roy got to the fight before Joe did so that’s why Joe ain’t hurt a bit. Good thing Roy got there too, ’cause those men were mighty mad. Anyway, Joe ran to get me so I could get Adam out of jail. Adam said he’d pay for all the damages, and since Roy found out he didn’t start the fight, there weren’t no fine or nothing, so that worked out pretty well.” Hoss thought he was doing a good job with the conversation so far. His Pa hadn’t said one ornery thing to anyone.
“Would you please tell me where you were and where was Joe when Adam was being attacked?”
Oh, dadburnit, Hoss had forgotten he was going to have to explain those two things. Hoss decided he would do Joe first and maybe he could come up with a way to make his part seem not so bad. “Well, Joe was in a poker game over at the Silver Dollar. That’s why Adam was at the Bucket of Blood, ’cause he didn’t want to get pulled into that poker game like he did last time, ’cause even though he won a ton of money, those men were pretty angry with him, thinking he must cheat or something to win so much when Joe loses all the time.”
Joe found that by leaning away from Adam, nothing got any better, so he sat up straight and tried not to look his father in the eye. He was a little worried that the fire in his Pa’s eyes might actually singe him. Of course, so far, he didn’t sound near as bad as his oldest brother, so maybe there was a way to work all of Pa’s anger toward Adam.
“And where were you, Hoss, and you still haven’t explained why the bartender said the father was a ‘Cartwright’?”
Oh lordy, this was getting harder and harder to do for Hoss. Now he understood why Adam had said they should wait and work out how to tell their father. He should have listened to Adam, but he hadn’t and now had to finish the story. He was hoping Adam could forgive him but was afraid to look over at him, thinking he wouldn’t want to see the look on Adam’s face right about now.
“Well, Pa, I was, uh, over at, a place of business doing some business.”
“On a Friday night, what ‘business’ was even open? Oh, no, don’t tell me! You wouldn’t?”
Well, Hoss thought, he might as well say it now. Pa had guessed anyway. “Yeah, Pa, I was at Lulu’s house. Well, Pa, a man’s got needs and sometimes just has to take care of them. I ain’t like Adam or Joe, who get the saloon gals to take them up to their rooms for free. I gotta pay sometimes and that’s just how it is. Well, except for that one time with Sally, and that’s why Adam thought I might be the father, but Sally says I ain’t. She says that cousin Will came into town and got drunk and he was all dressed in black and she was a little drunk herself by the time she saw him, and she thought it was Adam, so she took him up to her room. Only it wasn’t Adam, which she found out when she woke up the next morning and sent Will packing back to Laura to patch things up after the fight they had. Well, anyway, Pa, that might be a little Cartwright she’s got in there and we thought we would have to find a way to take care of her and the young’un. And that’s about that. Oh, I almost forgot: Lulu was wondering when you’d be back. She said your regular gal left, but she’s got another one she thinks you’ll like.”
There was dead silence in the room then. No one said a word.
“Well, Hoss, I think you’re absolutely correct. The four of us ought to sit down here and talk out a plan to take care of that child and Sally.”