Summary: Ben is not happy with how two sons decided to deal with a third who did something they didn’t like. He’s even more unhappy with the third one though.
Word Count: 1170
Sitting at his desk, Ben was surprised to hear the front door open. Adam and Hoss had headed out to the lake to swim after a long day of branding. Joe was supposed to be doing a herd count in the southeast pastures, and Ben needed those numbers but thought it too early for Joe to be back. He heard nothing, and then saw Adam walking across the room to the stairs. “Anything you want to tell me, son?”
“No, Pa, just gotta go upstairs and change my shirt. This one is a bit large and smells bad.”
So Adam proceeded up the stairs dressed in only one of Hoss’ shirts and nothing else. The shirttails hung to mid-thigh on him, and the shirt was as big as a tent on him. His privates were covered but his legs were bare. Ben stood up and was going to call to him to come back and tell him what the heck was going on except Hoss came in then wearing only his pants. Furthermore, they were wet. Hoss trudged up the stairs without a word, even when Ben asked him what had happened.
“Hoss, I want to know what’s going on!”
“Pa, you can ask Joe when he gets back. Might be a while, though. He’s kinda tied up in the pasture right about now.”
“Doing the herd count?”
“Ah, yeah, I guess you could say he could be doing that.”
Hoss turned and climbed the last set of steps in a hurry, and then Ben heard his bedroom door close. Ben walked to the table and poured himself a brandy. He drank it and then poured another. Somehow he sensed he was going to need it. About fifteen minutes later, Adam and Hoss came down the stairs in clean clothes but wearing their old boots.
“Pa, we’re going to town. We need to buy a few things. Is there anything you need?” Adam asked.
“Adam, what I need is an explanation of what the heck is going on around here.”
Adam was his usual taciturn self and Ben was upset that he wouldn’t tell him anything.
“Nothing is going on here, Pa. Like I told you, Hoss and I need to do some shopping. We’ll be back in a few hours. We’ll make sure Joe is home by then, and he can tell you all about it if he wants to.”
“Hoss, I know your brother won’t tell me anything, but surely you can answer my question?” Ben was frustrated and waited with anxious thoughts hoping Hoss would tell him something.
“I can’t right now, Pa. I’m a bit too angry, and anything I say is gonna come out all wrong. I’m going with Adam. We’ll be back in a few hours.”
There was nothing left for Ben to do but wait as his two older sons left. Hop Sing held dinner later at Ben’s request but wasn’t at all happy about that. About seven, Hoss and Adam walked in wearing new boots and smiles. It was clear they had stopped at the saloon to have a few. Joe walked in a few minutes later but in a dark mood. Hop Sing called them to dinner, so Ben decided the explaining could wait until after dinner. Finally, when dinner was over and the plates were cleared, Ben asked his sons to explain.
Joe was only too willing. “Pa, they tied me up in the pasture. Adam ran a rope over a branch and Hoss tied a lasso around me and they left me there for hours. I was sitting on Cooch and if he would have moved, I would have been hanging in the tree.”
“You left your brother where he could be hanged?” Ben’s mouth would have hung open if it wasn’t so impolite.
Finally Adam was willing to say something but nothing that Ben wanted to hear. “The rope was around his chest, not his neck, although for a moment I was tempted.”
“Adam, you apologize this moment for that remark.”
“Sorry, Joe, you didn’t deserve to die for what you did.”
Now Ben was even more motivated to find out what had happened. “What did Joe do that my older, supposedly mature, sons would do such a thing to him?”
“Pa, dadburnit, we was swimming and he threw our boots in the lake and burned up Adam’s clothes and my longjohns. So all we had left between us was my pants and my shirt. You saw us when we got back here. Adam was darned uncomfortable riding that way too.” Hoss leaned back in his chair, thinking he had explained as much as he needed to explain.
“Pa, I never did none of that, well, at least, not on purpose. They saw me taking their clothes, so I threw the boots to slow them down. Pa, I had no idea those boots would sink that fast. Then Adam was really mad ’cause he just got those new boots, and he started coming after me, so I threw the clothes too. Hey, Pa, the next part was kinda funny if you think about it. They had this little campfire with some coffee brewing, and Adam’s clothes kinda accidentally fell in the fire along with Hoss’ longjohns. Then I just ran and headed out to the pasture, just like you asked me to.”
“And why did you feel it was necessary to steal your brothers’ clothing while they were swimming?”
“Pa, it didn’t seem fair that they could be having fun swimming, and I had to work.”
Pushing himself up, Adam was about to reach across the table and throttle Joe at that point, but Ben bellowed at him to sit down. Adam did, but with a glower that could melt lead. Hoss looked almost as angry.
“But Joseph, you were the one who slept late this morning so that Adam had to take your place at the branding. Then you went in to get supplies and stopped for a couple of beers, arriving home so late that the only task you could still get done today was the count in the southeast pasture. But your brothers put in a solid day of work in the hot sun. Is that about right?”
“Well, Pa, when you say it like that, it doesn’t sound quite the same.”
Ben bellowed, “Joseph, that is what happened. You won’t be leaving the ranch for some time now, young man. As for you two, I can hardly restrict you, but I would like to. What were you thinking leaving him out there alone?”
“Aw, Pa, me and Adam done asked Hank to watch over him while we were gone. Nothing bad was gonna happen to him. He just had to sit in one place for a while, that’s all.”
Shaking his head, Ben stood and went to pour himself another brandy. Wisely, none of the sons asked him to pour one for them.