Summary: A prequel, this story is about telling lies and getting even, and how you pay the price for those sooner or later.
Word Count: 1351
Five-year old Little Joe wanted to go fishing. Ever since he heard Hoss talking about it, he wanted to go except his father had said he couldn’t. There was something about how Hoss at eleven wasn’t old enough to watch out for him for that length of time especially when Hoss would be fishing. Of course having just lost Marie, Ben was probably being overprotective of his youngest. What mattered most though was that he had set that rule for Little Joe. However, one afternoon when Little Joe saw Hoss packing up his fishing pole and digging up some worms by the smokehouse, he snuck away to hide in the grove of trees off the side. He didn’t realize that Hoss had snuck away from work he was supposed to be doing when Adam wasn’t looking because Hoss thought Adam wouldn’t guess where he had gone. Little Joe did his best to follow Hoss, but he had to get some worms first, and Hoss had much longer legs.
When Little Joe got to the stream, he didn’t see Hoss any more, but he did have Adam’s fishing pole and had picked up a few worms from where Hoss had been digging. So he sat on the stream bank and started fishing feeling quite grown up. However when he hooked a fish, it got tangled in some weeds. It felt like a big one, so he grumbled a bit and then had to take off his boots and his pants to wade out into the water to get it. The current was stronger than he expected in that shallow stream, and then he got tangled in the weeds too. He began to get cold and it was getting harder to get his arms and legs to move like they should. He called out to Hoss hoping he was close enough but even his voice was weaker than he expected. Little Joe was getting afraid that he might drown when a big hairy arm wrapped around him and dragged him up and out of the water and took him to shore.
Little Joe was going to be ecstatically happy except it was his pa and not Hoss. One look at his father’s face with those big eyebrows bunched up over his eyes like thunderclouds during a storm and Hoss nowhere in sight to save him, Little Joe decided desperate measures were needed to save himself.
“Pa, Hoss left me all alone. I caught this fish but he wasn’t here to help me get it out of the weeds. I thought he had come back but then it was you. Pa, thank you.”
When Ben got Little Joe home, he was mad at everyone except Little Joe at first. Partly that was because he was still upset that his youngest might have died and the small boy was still cold and shivering. Ben left him in the kitchen with Hop Sing to get hot chocolate after he got him in dry clothing and wrapped in a blanket.
Now Hoss would never intentionally get one of his brothers in trouble so when he was accused of what Little Joe had said he had done, he remained silent and took the tanning his father thought he deserved. Adam wasn’t off the hook either because Ben thought he shirked his duty of watching over his younger brothers so he gave him dirty chores to do for the following week.
Little Joe felt good about getting away with his actions. He knew too that Hoss and Adam never snitched so that was good for him too. He did feel bad that Hoss had a sore backside and Adam had all that dirty work to do, but he wasn’t sorry enough to tell their father the truth. The looks he got from his brothers though told him there would be punishment, but it would be meted out by them when they thought the time was right. He was right to be worried about that.
It happened about a month later when the family was at the lake enjoying a warm Sunday afternoon. Ben and Little Joe had ridden there as Little Joe had just gotten a new pony. Adam and Hoss drove a wagon there with fishing poles, a blanket, a large picnic basket, and a few other items such as a few books to read and the checkerboard. They had a fun afternoon. About five, Ben told Adam and Hoss to pack everything up and head for home because the next day was a workday for them. Little Joe asked if he could swim in the lake for a little longer.
“Tomorrow’s not a workday for me, is it, Pa?”
“No, you go ahead and swim a little. We can ride faster than the wagon can go anyway. We have some extra time.”
They stayed an extra half hour. Then when Little Joe went to get dressed, his clothing was gone. Only his boots remained. Apparently when Ben had said ‘pack up everything’, Adam and Hoss had taken it literally. However Ben guessed there was more to the story, and Little Joe’s words confirmed it for him.
“I knew they would do something sooner or later. They were acting too nice.”
“Why would they do something ‘sooner or later’ and for what? Is there something I should know?”
“No, nothing, Pa. It’s only a joke. We haven’t had one in a while so I knew they’d be doing one.”
Little Joe sounded too nervous for his explanation to be the truth. Ben realized his youngest had a tendency to lie to him on occasion. His eldest son might leave things out, and his middle son might try to soften the impact of what he had done, but neither ever directly lied to him. This was an aspect of his youngest that he didn’t like at all.
“Little Joe, are you telling me the truth?”
“Ah, why you asking me that, Pa?”
“That was not an answer.”
“Nope, I guess it wasn’t.”
“That also was not an answer. What I want is for you to answer my question fully and right now. Why did your brothers think it necessary to do that to you? What did you do to them that required them to retaliate?”
“That’s a big word, Pa. What does that mean?”
“You know what it means well enough, and I am getting angry that you are evading telling me what I want to know. Now tell me the truth.”
Little Joe had two reasons for feeling uncomfortable in the saddle for the ride home and only one was that he didn’t have his pants. When Ben arrived at the stable, he saw Adam and Hoss who were looking a bit worried after what they had done.
“I do not approve of your methods, but I must say that I understand you feeling the need to do something. You were both punished unfairly before so nothing will happen this time. However in the future, I will mete out the discipline to any of my sons. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Pa.” came as a chorus, but both brothers could hardly contain the smirk as they saw Little Joe gingerly peel himself from the saddle and do his best not to look at them.
“I have told Little Joe that there will be no retaliation. If there is anything done as a result of either situation, I will take severe measures. Is that clear to all of you? I want this matter settled and done.”
All three nodded. Adam walked over to Little Joe. “Hoss and I will take care of your pony. You can go into the house. Your clothes are in the washroom.”
“Thanks.” With as much dignity as he could muster with those red cheeks, Little Joe headed to the washroom with visions of revenge in his mind.