Summary: In this prequel, a young Hoss gets talked into something that has unpleasant consequences but not the ones he expected.
Word Count: 1883
Sitting in his room, studying the book his father had insisted he study and taking notes as he had been instructed, Hoss Cartwright was the picture of misery. This was the last possible way he would have chosen to spend a beautiful Saturday afternoon. His father had told him that these notes were going to be the basis of his Sunday afternoon work too so he had no hope of a reprieve there either. It was all because of one trip to town. It was his father’s idea too. It had only been the day before, but Hoss was still feeling the effects and not only in the tasks he had been required to do. He had spent the morning cleaning and repairing tack and the smell of leather still lingered on him. He had to admit though that the smell of leather was considerably better than the smells of the previous night when he arrived home. Even doing these tasks was better than that. Who would have thought all of this could have resulted from such an innocent request.
“Hoss, I can’t go to town to get the mail and order the supplies we need because Little Joe is ill and I need to sit with him. You have to go in my place. On my desk, there’s a list of supplies and other things we need.”
Thrilled to be trusted with such a task, Hoss stood tall and proud. “Yes, sir.”
“Now, take two of the hands with you and the big buckboard. I have a letter on my desk authorizing you to charge to my accounts. Get what we need and you can have a meal in town too as it will take you a long time to do everything I need done. You’ve been with me when I’ve done this and you’ve been with Hop Sing and with Adam too when they did it so you know the routine.”
“Yes, sir, Pa, You kin count on me.”
With that, Ben had gone back up the stairs to Little Joe’s room. It wasn’t a serious illness, but after losing Marie only three years earlier, Ben was more sensitive to things such even a cold than he had been before her death which came so suddenly and unexpectedly. Hoss went to find two of the hands to help him and soon had the wagon hitched up and ready to go. It had all gone quite well until it was time for lunch. He told the men he was authorized to buy them lunch on the Ponderosa account and their faces lit up.
“Boy, howdy, let’s get lunch at the Bucket of Blood. Nothing like a beer to chase down a sandwich and some hardboiled eggs on a hot day.”
“Uh, I don’t think my Pa meant for us to eat in there. I ain’t allowed in there.”
“Hoss, you’ll be with us and we can watch over ya. We did all the hard work already. All we have to do is drive back.”
“C’mon, Hoss. It’s Friday. It’s a light workday tomorrow. Let’s just have a quick lunch and we kin have a beer and then we’ll head on back.”
“I cain’t drink beer.”
“Sure ya kin. Hereabouts if ya do a man’s work and can belly up to the bar, you can order a beer. Lots your age do.”
“Shur, long as they’re working, they can.”
So Hoss had gone to the saloon with the two hands and ordered a beer. The bartender had been reluctant to serve him wondering if Ben Cartwright was going to storm in there and bellow about him serving his son, but Hoss showed the paper Ben had signed authorizing Hoss to charge to Ponderosa accounts. It certainly seemed like Ben had decided to treat his son as the adult he appeared to be. The bartender slid the frothy mug to the young Cartwright and waited to see how he liked beer. As it turned out, he loved beer. He loved it so much, he had six of them before they left that day.
Hoss hadn’t planned on it, but he was drunk. He drank those beers so fast that he didn’t realize the effects they were having until he was well past caring. By the time he got home, he couldn’t wait to get off that wagon that rocked back and forth incessantly and made the world spin far more than it already was. He puked the moment his feet touched the ground, and puked again when his father came out to demand to know why he was so late getting home. That time he puked on his father’s boots and dropped to his knees and begged the ground to stop moving. His father had turned his fury then on the two hands who said they had only had one beer each, but then condemned him to his fate by saying he had downed six. It made it seem as if it had been all his idea. Hoss was in no condition to argue. He thought he was going to feel leather on his backside.
Before he had left for college, Adam had told him stories of how his youthful escapades had led to sessions in the stable and leather liberally applied to his backside. However that didn’t happen. His father told him to clean up and get himself to bed. The next morning, he found out he was going to be seeing leather though in a whole different way.
“You will clean my leather boots thoroughly and oil them and make sure that there is no hint of what you did to them last night. Then you will clean tack and repair any that need it for the morning before you come in for lunch. From Monday through Friday of next week, you will spend every evening in the stable inspecting, cleaning, and repairing leather items. If there are none, there are plenty of leather boots around here that need oiling, buffing, and polishing.”
The mention of lunch had made his stomach lurch. He had only cold water that morning. By lunch, he managed some toast and tea. He never thought he would enjoy a meal of toast and tea but did under the circumstances. Then he was in his room with the second part of his punishment and found it far worse than the first. He got a reprieve that night when he was allowed to visit with Little Joe and play some checkers and then go to bed early. Sunday morning church services were a second reprieve before he was back up in his room waiting for his father as ordered. The knock on the door made him jump a little.
“C’mon in, Pa. I’m waitin’ on ya, like ya said.”
Ben entered and saw the notes and drawings on the table. He had Marie’s sewing kit with him, which made Hoss not only surprised but curious. First though, Ben had some explaining to do.
“I’m sure that you expected a necessary talk after your behavior. I know how you and Adam talked, and I assume he told you how he was punished. I have to admit, I don’t think it did any good. I think that boy grew up and changed his behavior on his own, too stubborn to change it because of any leather applied to his backside. A more serious issue though was brought to me by Marie, and I have had years to think about it. She told me that I punished my son because I was angry at him, and that the only result that I could expect from that was anger from him. I’m afraid that may have been the truth of it. So, with you, I did not want to punish you on Friday night when I was so angry. I waited until the morning when I had time to contemplate what was appropriate to your actions and what might help you learn too.”
“I ain’t sure on knowing what all them words meant, but you think cleaning leather will make me learn?”
“What have you been doing while you were cleaning tack?”
“I been thinking. I thought about what I did, and I’m real sorry, Pa. I got talked into something so easy. I shoulda taken more time and thought it through. When Sam asked if I was supposed to be drinking that beer, I should have been more honest with him and with myself.” Hoss paused then and smiled. “I been teaching myself all about the rights and wrongs of what I done instead of you doing it, ain’t I, Pa?”
“You have. I thought you would. Yes, it is a punishment, but I want it to be one with a good purpose too.”
“Pa, I don’t see a good purpose in reading this science book of Adam’s and drawing these bugs and such and taking the notes you said to take.” Seeing his father’s slight smile, Hoss had to ask. “What is it? What’s the secret thing I’m learning here?”
“Well, you see, Doctor Martin does something called fly fishing.”
“He fishes for flies? Pa, that’s a real tall tale.”
“No, he uses a long bamboo pole, light line, and flies on a hook to catch fish. Now, what you do is create what looks like a bug on the hook by tying various pieces of string and such to it. That’s what your drawings are for, to make the shape of the bug simple so we can see if we can make a bug on the hook with these threads and bits of fabric and others little things Marie has here in her sewing kit.”
“Does it have to look exactly like the bug that’s in the book?”
“No, the fish have never seen the book.” Hoss chuckled. “It only has to look like a bug.”
“Oh, look, Pa, there’s even some feathers and such in here. I bet we can make some great bugs for bug fishing.”
“Or fly fishing.”
“Yeah, and Pa, I won’t never drink no six beers ever again.”
“Hoss, don’t make promises like that. They can be very difficult to keep.”
“Oh, well, then, I won’t drink no six beers until I’m big enough to handle it.”
“Good boy. Now, let’s make some bugs, and then we can see what we can do about making some fishing poles as flexible as that bamboo one Doc Martin has. If we make some good ‘bugs’, we’ll give some to the good doctor too. I never did find a proper way to thank him for tutoring Adam in Latin and German.”
“Is that what these here words are under the bugs that I cain’t read?”
“Yes, they are. We can give some to Doctor Martin, and you like to fish, don’t you?”
“Shur do, Pa.”
“Perhaps, next Saturday, you and I could take Little Joe and try out our ‘bugs’ and catch some fish.”
“I’d like that, Pa.”
“I would like that too, son. I would like that very much.”