Summary: Ben has a very difficult day and wants to blame his sons for it, but it doesn’t turn out as he expected.
Word Count: 1781
“Just never you mind. Each of you has a job to do today and plenty of time to do it. I have quite enough to do without any of you making any suggestions.”
Watching proudly as his three sons rode off in different directions with tasks to do for the day, Ben turned to go into the house. He had some contract submissions that needed to be worked out. He had a list of supplies and expenses, and he had to compare that to the potential income from the deals to come up with an offer that would be profitable for the ranch and still competitive with the other bidders. He would have liked Adam’s advice on that, but the lumber mill needed some repairs, and he was the best one to design a fix for that. Ben was about to sit at his desk when he heard a terrible commotion in the kitchen. He went there to find Hop Sing chasing a chicken around the room. Soon it escaped into the great room, and it took the two of them quite a while to catch it. Meanwhile they had made a mess of the room and feathers had come to rest in all sorts of odd places.
“You take care of room. It your son fault chicken loose.”
“How could any of my sons be responsible? They all left here quite some minutes ago.”
“Middle son feed chickens this morning. Say he want them fat and happy for dinner. He no close coop properly and now chickens run everywhere.”
“Yes, you catch or I no make dinner.”
So for the next hour, Ben was chasing chickens. He wished more than once that he had told someone to work around the house or stable that day so he could delegate this task, but he was the only one available. When he finished chasing after and catching chickens, Ben made sure the coop was securely latched and went inside to work, where he was forced to remember that the house was in disarray because they had chased that chicken all around the room. He knew better than to ask Hop Sing to help under the circumstances. Another hour later, everything was in its place and any messes had been cleaned up. Then Hop Sing asked him where the box of kindling and small wood pieces for the stove were, and Ben remembered that he forgot to ask one of his sons to take care of that before leaving. He spent the next hour chopping kindling and wood as his penance for being forgetful.
Ben found chopping wood to be a thoroughly disagreeable task. He remembered when Jedidiah Milbank had pushed him to chop a whole pile of wood. He had hated it. He knew that Adam and Joe would take off their shirts and chop away. Many a female visitor to the Ponderosa had been stopped in their tracks as they admired the glistening chests of his sons. Well, no woman would admire him at the moment. He felt absolutely grimy with the dirt and who knows what else on his clothing from chasing chickens, and now he was wet with sweat, and his hair was all askew. He thought he probably needed a bath by now, with everything he had done so far that day. He groaned when he remembered the contracts and the bids he needed to complete. It was probably a four to six hour job, and if he started right away and worked through lunch, he could have them ready by dinnertime.
One thing he had to do before he did anything else was to go to the necessary. Ben never supposed that was going to take more than a few minutes. He stepped in, and in his anger, yanked the door closed forgetting that the door needed to be planed on the top because it stuck tight sometimes. This was one of those times. He wished the necessary was a bit larger and wished he had pushed Adam to design a bigger one. As it was, when he stood, he was right up against the door. It was impossible to get any leverage to push the door open, especially as he was pushing in the middle and bottom of the door and it was the top that was stuck. He sat down and stared at the immovable door. Then Ben recalled he had a pen knife in his pocket. He pulled it out and began unscrewing the hinges that held the door tight. He guessed that, without the hinges, he could at least push the lower part of the door out enough to escape his hot smelly prison. Sweat was running down Ben’s face, back, and arms by the time he had unscrewed both hinges. He got down low and set his legs before giving all of his might to push on the bottom half of the door. It swung out and then the whole door came loose, landing on Ben’s back. He pushed it off, and before stalking back to the house, leaned it against the opening.
“Hop Sing, please heat some water for a bath.”
“Bath in middle of day?”
Standing in the kitchen doorway with his hands on his hips and a scowl on his face, Ben made it quite clear that is exactly what he meant. As Hop Sing turned from the stove to look, he realized, first of all, that is was not one of those times he could rant at his boss. Secondly, his boss certainly did look like he needed a bath. “Yes, Mister Ben. Bath ready no time.”
Then Ben did stalk upstairs to get a change of clothing before returning to find Hop Sing busy heating kettles of water. “I’m sorry if I was so gruff with you, but this has been a very difficult day so far.” Hop Sing nodded and a short time later, Ben was relaxing in a nice warm bath. He had to get out soon, though, and get dressed and head out to his desk, even though he would have loved luxuriating in that bath for another hour.
There was the sound of a horse in the yard, and Ben wondered which of his sons was back early. He stood and looked out the window to see Roy Coffee instead. Meeting Roy at the front door, Ben almost groaned with Roy’s question. “Ben, did you forget that you was gonna meet me today for lunch so we could plan my re-election campaign? Now I done brought out the stuff we used the last time, and I was thinking you could just take a gander at them, and tell me what you think.”
Another hour passed and Ben was thinking he could at least get a start on his paperwork when Hop Sing appeared with a tray of coffee and fresh baked cookies. Well, with Roy, that meant another hour. Bidding Roy goodbye after a second hour had passed, Ben heard another horse on the way as Adam rode into the yard with a wave before disappearing into the stable with Sport. It wasn’t long before Hoss and Joe did the same. Ben realized then, with the angle of the sun and his sons being home, that it must almost be dinnertime, and he had not even started those contract offers. He dreaded what he assumed might be one of the first questions at dinner. Less than an hour later, he was not disappointed.
“So, what did you do today, Pa?”
“Hoss, I was busy all day. Very busy. Now Hop Sing has dinner ready I think. Let’s all sit at the table and you can tell me what you did today.”
Giving each other looks and wondering why their father was so short with Hoss, the sons dutifully pulled out their chairs to sit. Adam picked up a chicken feather. “I could swear this wasn’t on my chair this morning.”
“Yeah, and I went to the necessary, and, dadburnit, the door was just leaning up against it. Somebody removed the hinges.”
“I fell in that dirty beaver pond when I was clearing that dam off the stream in the lower pasture, and when I asked Hop Sing about a bath, he yelled something about how he shouldn’t have to keep heating water for baths when he had other work to do.”
All three looked at their father for an explanation, but Ben was busy stabbing food from platters and refused to meet their eyes. Hoss settled in to eat then, but Adam and Joe had their curiosity piqued. “Pa, Joe and I were wondering if you got those contracts done or do you need some help from us?”
“Well, I can manage those contract offers just fine.”
Joe took a turn. “Oh, how far did you get with them?”
Ben took a deep breath then and exhaled. He knew that Adam and Joe were like a pack of wolves on the hunt. They would never let this drop. So he did what he could. “We will talk about it after dinner.”
All it did was buy him some time to try to figure out a way that he wouldn’t look so foolish. Nothing came to mind, so after dinner he began his tale. “Well, it all started with Hoss feeding the chickens but not latching the coop. There were chickens running everywhere and I had to help Hop Sing catch them all. Then I had to chop wood because my sons enjoyed their hot breakfast this morning but never thought to see if Hop Sing needed kindling and wood for the stove. Furthermore, Adam, I have asked you a number of times to design a new necessary, but you’ve always been too busy. And all of you have complained about the door on the necessary sticking, but not one of you took the time to plane the top down so the door would open and close normally!”
With that, Ben stood and walked toward his desk. His sons’ silence made him smile just a little, for he felt he had quashed their comments. However, just as he got to his desk, he heard Joe’s giggle. Joe tried to suppress it a little probably, but it was still there, and when he couldn’t control it, he started laughing uncontrollably. Soon there was a roar of laughter as first Hoss and then Adam joined in. Why, oh, why did he have to father such smart sons?
Then he smiled for the sound of laughter in his home was the best sound of all.