Summary: Little Joe Cartwright wonders how may roads a man must walk down before he’s considered a man. His father helps him with the answer.
Word Count: 1222
Hoss Cartwright caught his older brother’s eye and almost snickered but Adam’s look told him he shouldn’t. He found it difficult though especially after his little brother had asked their father how many roads a man must walk down before he was considered a man.
“Joseph, we are not talking about you being a man. We are talking about you following rules as my son.”
“But, Pa, that’s the problem, don’t you see? I can’t follow all those rules and be a man. I need to make my own decisions. Like I did last night. I still got to church this morning. The only thing was that I didn’t get home last night as early as you wanted. Otherwise I followed the rules.”
“Do you even remember anything that was said in church today considering the condition you were in?” Ben was quite perturbed not only about the inattentiveness of his youngest son in church services that day but the reason for it. He had only arrived home a few hours before they left for church. Although Little Joe tried to claim illness, Ben saw it for what it was. “A headache and sour stomach from a wild night in town do not qualify as an illness. Now get cleaned up and in some proper clothing for church.” Now he had asked his son about the sermon which he had found inspiring only to find that his youngest apparently had no clear idea what the minister had spent all that time lecturing on to his congregation.
“I do. The minister was talking about men and women and rules about that. He said we should follow the commandments and never admit adultery. He said we should only ever be with one wife at a time because monotony was what God wanted.”
Hoss had to grab a napkin as coffee came out his nose and Adam dropped his fork and needed his napkin to clean food residue from his shirtfront. Ben exploded in anger.
“He said never to commit adultery and monogamy was what marriage should be.”
“Well, I was close. It shows I was listening. Well, I was listening as well as I usually do.”
Oh, Lordy, that statement made Adam and Hoss cringe and try to think of a way to excuse themselves from lunch except Hop Sing hadn’t served anything yet, and you can’t excuse yourself from a clean empty plate. Both knew they were in for the duration. Even Little Joe realized he had gone too far and wished he could shrink as he saw his father’s color rise even further and his lips jut out in preparation for a mighty bellow. But nothing happened.
Surprising all his sons, Ben Cartwright took some deep breaths, turned to Hop Sing who was waiting anxiously at the kitchen door, and signaled for lunch. The meal was nearly silent with glances being thrown by the sons who wondered and waited. At the conclusion of the meal, the sons were hoping to escape, but that’s when their father asked them to wait a moment. He gave Adam his instructions for the trip to Sacramento and Hoss his instructions for herd counts and fence mending. Then he turned to Little Joe.
“So, I’ve been hearing your complaint that you are a man and I don’t treat you like a man. This has been your mantra for at least the past year or two. Is that about right?”
Hoss and Adam waited wondering what would happen next.
“Well, yeah, that’s about right. I can do anything Adam can do, but he gets to do all sorts of fun things that I don’t get to do. He gets to take a lot of trips. He does things without asking permission a lot of the time. He only tells you and then he does it.”
“So, sticking to the main point: you’re saying you would like me to treat you as I treat Adam?”
“Well, yeah, that would be fine and dandy with me. I’d like to be treated like a man now and not a boy.” Little Joe was feeling pretty good about how things were going except that little smile that his father was trying to hold back did make him a little bit nervous.
“If you’re sure about this, I’m ready to do so, but once you make that move, there is no going back. You can’t expect to be treated like a boy again with all the benefits of that.”
“Benefits? There aren’t any benefits. Benefits come with being treated like a man.”
“Very well, I will do so. You will pack your things for two weeks.”
“Am I going with Adam to learn about negotiating some more? Because I really like Sacramento, and I promise I’ll do better this time.”
“No, you are going to the timber camps to mark trees for two weeks.”
“By myself? But I’ve never done that by myself.”
“I will have Adam give you a map and instructions before he leaves.”
“But, Pa, if Adam isn’t there, then you know what they’ll do to me.”
“A man ought to be able to handle that, don’t you think? Now when you get back, you’ll pack up a wagon and head up to the northwest line cabin. The men said that the roof was leaking and in danger of collapsing on one end. Adam usually handles those jobs, but you said you can do anything he can do. You patch that up and do any other necessary repairs. That shouldn’t take more than a week.”
“A week! But I’ll miss the church social!” Seeing his father’s eyebrows move up, he quickly relented. “How many men can I take with me for that?”
“Well, if you can’t do it alone, you can take Mac.”
“But he’s old. None of this will be any fun.”
“No one said it would be fun. You said you wanted me to treat you the same way I treat Adam. So I did that. Those are the roads a man walks, Joseph.”
Without a comment on what had happened, both Adam and Hoss excused themselves and went outside. Adam had packed his bags and only had to go inside to get some maps ready for Little Joe. He decided to write the instructions instead of trying to talk with his youngest brother after what had happened. After he left, Joe finally walked outside to talk to Hoss.
“I suppose he was laughing at me.”
Shaking his head, Hoss was upset a bit. “Boy, you got about as much brains as a turtle has feathers.” Hoss knew Joe didn’t understand. “Adam gave me a bit of advice once when we had a big disagreement, and I was thinking it was all his fault. He said to write it all down but only the facts. Then he said to come back later and read it. Changed my whole way of thinking about it.”
The next night in the timber camp, the men were startled by the “Damn, damn, damn!” that came from the office. Inside, Joe had gotten around to reading his notes.