Summary: Joe, once again, trains Hoss for a competition, but Adam puts a damper on their plans.
Word Count: 7,355
“But, Hoss. We can’t lose!”
“Joe. If I had a nickel for every time you said that to me, I’d be a rich man.”
“Ah, come on Hoss. Trust me.”
“Trust you? Last time I trusted you, we ended up bringing home an elephant.”
“You mean Old Sheba?”
“Yeah, I mean Old Sheba. I cain’t think of any other elephant we brought home lately.”
“Well, this time it’ll be different.”
“Because there’s no one in the entire territory that can chop wood better than you can, big brother. Look at you. Sometimes I confuse you with the livestock.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“What I mean, Hoss, is that next month Virginia City is having its first lumberjack contest and the prize is $1,000. And we… we… are going to win it.”
“We? What do you mean we?”
“I’m putting you back in training, my brother.”
“Oh no you ain’t!”
“But Hoss. One – thousand – dollars.” Joe enunciated. “That’s six hundred and fifty for me and three hundred and fifty or you.”
“Six fifty for you? How do you figure that?”
“I’m the one who entered you in the contest, aren’t I? I’m the one willing to put in ALL the time it takes to put together a training program. I’m the one who will have to get Hop Sing to prepare special meals. I’m the one…”
“Waaaait – one – dang – moment, big shorty. Special meals?”
“Oh, no. I ain’t doin’ that again.”
“Why not? We are talking about one thousand dollars here, Hoss. Can’t you even do this one little thing for me, your loving brother?”
“NO! Not this time, Joseph. I can’t live without food and lots of it. You should know that by now.”
The two brothers were huddled in the stall that held Hoss’ horse Chubb. Little Joe leaned casually on the horse’s rump. Hoss groomed his steed dutifully, but Chubb was oblivious to the men’s conference. He just stood quietly, enjoying the brush sliding over his withers. Hoss stroked his gelding as he listened to his little brother try to manipulate him into yet another moneymaking scheme. But, this time, he was wise and Joe was finding his plan difficult to sell. As Joe continued his spiel, they were interrupted by an ominous voice.
“Weeeeellllll what’s going on in here?”
Their older brother Adam entered the barn and heard his younger siblings deep in conversation. It was never a good sign. He was always suspicious of the pair when he found them tucked in a corner away from the rest of the world. Adam sauntered over to Hoss and Joe and squared himself in front of the opening to the stall. He placed his hands on his hips and cocked his head arrogantly.
“And just what are you two up to, huh?” he asked skeptically from under his furrowed brow.
“Oh. Hi, Adam. I didn’t see you there.” He smiled sheepishly.
“Hello.” He answered as he shifted his eyes toward Hoss. “What is he trying to talk you into this time, Hoss… besides a corner that is.”
“Nothin’.” The big man replied defensively.
“Nothing, my foot.”
“Listen, Adam,” Joe snapped, “this is a private conversation between me and Hoss. So, scram.”
“Scram?” Adam exclaimed with gritted teeth. “Don’t tell me to scram boy, or I’ll tan your hide.”
Yes, it was true. Adam was merely the boy’s older half sibling, but Joe knew he would pay for his dismissive remark even before he flung it. Adam helped his father raise his two brothers and usually had their respect. Adam was Pa #2 and didn’t take well to Joe’s impertinence and Joe knew it.
“Now. Fill me in, you two.” Adam pointed back and forth to each of them. “What’s with all the covert activity?”
“The what?” Hoss asked with a scrunched face.
“Why the secrecy?”
“It’s nothin’ really.” Joe shrugged as Hoss returned to his grooming regimen to allow Joe to explain. “Virginia City is having a lumberjack contest and Hoss is going to win it.”
“Win? Again?” Adam chuckled remembering the twosome’s previously failed attempt at gaming.
Now both glared at their brother.
“So where do you fit in, Joe?” Adam asked skeptically. “In this lumberjack contest, I mean.”
“I’m training Hoss for the events.”
“What makes you think Hoss can win?” Adam asked, now leaning on the adjoining stall’s half-wall.
“Adam.” Joe exhaled as if the question was ridiculous. “Look at him. He’s stronger than a team of plow mules. He can’t lose.”
“I’m gitting real tired of being compared to livestock.” Hoss sighed with frustration.
“Joe, this kind of competition requires more than just strength.” Adam announced, ignoring Hoss’ aggravation. “Didn’t you read the list of events? It’s not just a matter of chopping a few logs, you know.”
“Well… I…” Joe’s face sagged. “No, I guess I didn’t.”
“Can Hoss burl?” Adam expounded. “Can he climb a tree? And, what about the springboard chop? He’ll plant the board in the stump and then snap it right off when he stands on it. He’s too heavy for that event. He’s too big for burling. He’s too big for just about anything as far as logging skills go. Yes, he can eat a lot of flapjacks, but that’s about as far as his talents go. And, even then, he didn’t win that contest either.”
“Now wait just one dad burned minute, Adam.” Hoss barked defensively.
“It looks like, once again, you two have bitten off more than you can chew. And this time you might just choke on it. Besides, I know who is going to win the competition. There’s already a man signed up who’s leading all the betting in town.”
“Oh, yeah?” And, who might that be?” Joe asked with a smidgeon of fear.
“Me.” Adam blurted with a wicked grin.
“YOU!” Hoss and Joe responded in unison.
“Yes. Me. And, you know what, my younger brothers? I’m going to win that grand.” Adam flattened his hand on his chest and bowed slightly. “And, when I do, I’m finally going to buy that piano I’ve wanted my whole life. It isn’t often one has a thousand dollars to spend on one’s self, is it?”
“But, you…” Joe tried.
“Tut, tut, tut.” Adam mocked. “Don’t speak.” He held up his hand to stop Joe from saying anything more. “You both know I’m the best burler and springboard cutter in these parts. Not to mention speed climber. So, I’ll see you two next month. And, by the way, Hoss,” Adam said picking up an axe that was conveniently leaning against the wall. “This is the end that you sharpen.”
“Very funny.” Hoss spat as he regrouped to hurl a threat. “Well, I’m the best underhand cutter and axe thrower west of the Mississippi, so what do you think of that?”
“I think that I can improve in those areas, Hoss. But, there is no way you’re beating me up that tree or running me off those logs. So, go ahead, Joe, train ’im. We’ll see who’s that best lumberjack in this family. Experience boy. Bull of the woods… remember?”
“All right. I will.” Joe threatened. “I’ll train him into the ground if I have to.”
Hoss gave Joe a pain-filled glance, fully aware of what was in store.
“Now that that is settled, let’s go,” Adam said, changing the subject and straightening his stance. “Hop Sing sent me in here to get you two for supper. So, hurry up and get washed up before he throws a fit. I’m sure he can prepare a plate of raw vegetables for Hoss on short notice.”
Adam turned to leave the barn. He shook his head and chuckled, knowing he’d thrown a fly in Joe’s ointment. He knew he only had a to take three events to win the whole competition and he was right: he was the best burler, climber and springboard cutter in The Comstock. There was no way Hoss could catch him there.
Adam had the perfect build for a lumberjack. He had a strong, powerful upper body and lean muscular legs. He was swift, well-balanced and a natural athlete. He also had stamina to burn. Years of working on a ranch had ensured tip top conditioning.
Yes, this would be fun Adam thought. He had no sympathy for either of his brothers. Joe and Hoss were not strangers to these sorts of escapades. Maybe this time they’d learn a lesson. But, then, again… that was most improbable.
The four men sat at their respective places at the dinner table. The usual banter was absent. Ben propped his fork in front of his chin. It held a single green bean. He looked at each of his boys and noticed each one was in a completely different frame of mind.
Adam curled his lips giving him the expression of a wily coyote. Joe seemed to be sulking and shot dagger glares at Adam. He sporadically shifted in his chair as if he were itchy. Joe was definitely peeved about something. But that was not uncommon when it came the eldest and youngest brother. Hoss shoveled food into his mouth as he always had but was somewhat out of sorts as well. He seemed almost hurt, wounded – by what Ben had no idea.
“Boys?” he said, breaking the silence and his sons’ preoccupations. “Is there something I should be aware of? You are all awfully quiet this evening.”
“No, Pa.” Joe replied. “We’re just hungry. Right Hoss?” He winked at his brother.
But, Adam could not stay silent any longer. He was more than willing to tell his father Joe’s scheme.
“I’ll tell you what’s going on, Pa,” he volunteered. “Joe has entered Hoss in Virginia City’s lumberjack contest next month.”
“So, according to Joe, Hoss has already won.”
“So?” Ben retorted again. His single green bean had yet to be consumed.
“SOOO, there are five events Pa. Burling, speed climbing, springboard chop, underhand chop and axe throwing.”
“Yes, and…” Ben probed for more information.
“Well, who would you say is the best burler, climber and springboard chopper around?”
“Well, that would be you son.”
“Aaaah. Once again I rest my case.” Adam held up his glass to toast his father while giving his brothers a smug smirk.
“I still don’t understand what the problem is.” Ben said with confusion.
“The problem is…” Adam explained, “what my younger brothers did not know or factor into their scheme, is that I have also entered the contest. It’s put a bit of a crimp in their plan, I’m afraid.” Adam chortled.
“Oh, I see.” Ben said as he finally ate the bean. “Is this true, Joseph?”
“Yes sir.” Joe replied sheepishly.
“What have I told you about gambling.”
“Gambling? I haven’t been gambling, Pa.” Little Joe flashed a tooth smile at his father and shifted in his seat uncomfortably.
“Joe?” Ben said with a doubtful glance.
“All right, so I placed a bet. It’s just a small bet, Pa. Nothing to be concerned about.”
“Just a teeny, tiny wager.” Joe explained as he held up his thumb and forefinger separating the tips an inch or so.
“HOW MUCH!?” Ben blasted.
Joe flinched when his father’s resonant voice thundered. Hoss, too, took cover but Adam found the exchange amusing. The elder Cartwright rarely intimidated him.
“Only five Pa. That’s all. Just five.”
“Well, aaaah…. five… hundred dollars.” Joe said as he readied to duck.
“Five… hundred… dollars.”
“Ye, yes sir.”
“On Hoss to win?”
“Yes, sir.” Joe answered simply.
“Do you have five hundred dollars to lose, Joseph?”
“What do you mean, Pa?”
“What I mean is, if I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times… don’t bet what you don’t have.” Ben exclaimed.
“Ah, well, when Hoss wins, I’ll be able to cover my bets, Pa.” Joe responded positively.
“And if, by chance, he loses?”
“Hey. Wait a moment!” Adam piped up. “I told you who was going to win that contest, Joe and it certainly isn’t going to be Hoss. As a matter of fact, if I lose, I’ll muck out both your horse’s stalls for a month.”
“You’re on, older brother.” Joe accepted the challenge.
“What was it our friend Sam Clemens said?” Adam offered, putting his hands flat on the table. “Let us be thankful for the fools. But for them, the rest of us could not succeed.”
PART TWO – Up and Adam
A sliver of sunlight cut its way through Hoss’ bedroom curtains. The line of white shone across the hardwood floor and onto the bed where Hoss slept soundly. His rhythmic breathing rattled through the air like distant thunder. Little Joe cracked open Hoss’ bedroom door and crept in being careful not to wake the sleeping giant. He tiptoed across the floor until he was right beside the bed. He leaned over his brother and shook his head as if Hoss should be ashamed of himself for sleeping. Joe squatted right next to Hoss’ head and aimed his mouth squarely into his brother’s ear.
“FIRE!!!” Joe shouted as loud as he could.
The sudden alarm spooked Hoss so violently he shot out of bed like a loco steer. He spun in the middle of the room trying to orient himself. His feet tried to keep up with the rapid motion of his neck and shoulders; his arms flailed about wildly. His heart rate accelerated to pounding. It took several seconds before Hoss recovered from the initial shock of Joe’s abrupt wake-up call. Once Hoss got his bearings and regained his respiration, Little Joe’s slight frame finally came into focus. Joe held his sides as he howled with laughter at his brother’s panicked dance. Hoss’ face turned so red it glowed. He planted himself firmly and slowly raised his arm then pointed an accusing finger in his brother’s face.
“JoooOOOOEEE!!” He bellowed. “I’m gonna…”
But Joe was already in flight before Hoss could complete his threat. He scampered out of the bedroom, still in fits of laughter. Hoss clumsily gave chase shouting as he went. Joe ran down the upper hall toward the stairs. He looked back at his lumbering brother who was now gaining on him. Now it was Joe who was spooked. He momentarily lost his balance and totally missed the first step. He tumbled head-over-heels down both levels of the staircase, finally landing in the living room. Only the chair that sat at its base prevented Joe from rolling right into the fireplace. His sprawling body slid into the coffee table and rumpled the rug.
Still giggling like a schoolboy, Joe got to his feet and raced behind the settee where Ben sat peacefully sipping his morning coffee. He’d heard the beginnings of the fracas and witnessed Joes’ spectacular descent. But, he decided to wait patiently for the melee to end naturally. These playful outbursts by his boys happened frequently and Ben had learned it was best to just stay out of the way until the dust settled. He always prayed that the furniture would survive. It usually didn’t. Joe scrambled behind his father for protection and braced himself for whichever direction Hoss chose to take to continue the pursuit.
“JOE! When I get my hands on you, I’m going to plant you in the ground like a fence post!” Hoss threatened from the lower landing of the staircase.
“Now boys.” Ben said calmly, setting his cup on the displaced coffee table and holding his arms out, subliminally separating his two sons. “Please do your roughhousing outside. How many times do I have to tell you.”
“Just trying to get Hoss outta bed, Pa.”
“Sounds more like you raised a bear from hibernation.” Ben commented drolly.
But, Hoss was undeterred by his father’s plea. Darting down to the living room, he leapt at Joe who turned tail and ran out the front door like a jackrabbit. Still laughing, Joe took refuge in the barn until Hoss had time to calm down.
“AND STAY THERE!” Hoss warned from the threshold of the front door. “Ya little varmint!”
“Hoss, must your shout?” It’s so early. Can’t we just have a nice, quiet morning.” Ben appealed.
“Well, Joe just about scared me half to death, Pa.” Hoss complained as he took several deep breaths to regain control. “One of these days, he’s gonna to do it too. Little imp deserves a good whoopin’.”
“Yes, yes. Doesn’t he always.” Ben agreed as he place his hand on Hoss’ massive shoulder and steered him back towards the staircase. “Now, go back to your room and get dressed and come down for breakfast like a civilized person.”
Hoss pulled a sour-faced pout and nodded reluctantly. Shaking his head and letting out an elongated sigh, Ben muttered, “Why couldn’t I have had daughters.”
Little Joe peered through the front door to make sure the coast was clear. It was. He entered the house only to find Hoss stuffing his face with flapjacks flooded with maple syrup, bacon and fried potatoes. When Hoss saw Joe approach, he stopped in mid-chew and smiled.
“Mornin’ Joe.” He said brightly. Knowing full well Joe had planned to start his lumberjack training that day.
When Joe realized his brother had forgotten about the chase and was distracted by food, he relaxed and joined his family at the table. He didn’t say a thing as he prepared a plate of his own. He made no comments about the feast Hoss was consuming.
“Ain’t ya goin’ ta get Hop Sing to make me a special breakfast for me, Joe?” he asked.
“No. You can eat all you want, Hoss. The more the better.”
“Really?” Hoss replied with glee.
“Yes, really. Go ahead. Eat it all.”
“Okay!” Hoss started to oblige then stopped, somewhat puzzled. “I thought I was in training though, Joe?”
“You are, Hoss, you are.”
“Then how come yer lettin’ me eat all I want?”
“Because, my brother, you are going to need all the strength you can get.”
Ben sat back in his chair and looked suspiciously at his youngest son. He knew Joe could be devious, especially when it came to using Hoss to get what he wanted. He wondered what exactly he was up to this time. The next few weeks would be anything but boring around the Ponderosa.
“What exactly do you have in store for your poor brother here?”
“Oh, just some exercises and… you know, training, Pa, that’s all.” Joe replied casually as he ate.
“Hey,” Joe said, pointing at the empty chair across from him. “where’s Adam?”
“Well, my boys…” Ben exhaled. “It seems Adam is taking this little competition very seriously. He’s packed up and headed up to the north line shack. Seems he wants to prepare for this little endeavor in peace. He told me to tell you that he will see you in Virginia City three weeks from Saturday.”
“You mean he’s left the ranch to get ready for the contest?” Joe asked despairingly.
“Yes. He has.” Ben affirmed, aware that Joe now realized he was behind in the game.
“I wanted to keep my eye on him.”
“Adam knows you all too well, Little Joe.”
“Come on, Hoss,” Joe ordered abruptly.
“But I ain’t finished my breakfast yet.”
“You can make up for it at lunch. Let’s go.”
“All right, all right. I’m comin”
Hoss stood and grabbed the remaining pieces of bacon, jamming them between two pieces of toast. He took a huge bite out of his hastily constructed sandwich as he followed Joe submissively.
“Yes, sir?” Both of them stopped in their tracks and turned to face their father.
“It’s all well and good that you have entered this contest but don’t forget we have a ranch to run, and I won’t have you neglecting your duties. When you have finished your chores, by all means, train all you want.”
What about Adam?” Joe protested. “Why does he get to go off and leave us with all the work?”
“I’ve given Adam plenty of work to do as well. There’s lots of fence up there that needs repairing.”
“Yes sir.” Joe answered sheepishly, knowing Ben would not let Adam get away with a three-week vacation.
The two men left the house leaving Ben to reflect. Again, he leaned back in his chair and gazed upward. He couldn’t help but comment on the unfolding adventure.
“Where did I go wrong, Lord?” he said blankly. “Where did I go wrong?”
PART III – TRAINING DAY
“Hey. How come the buckboard ain’t hitched up? We gotta pick up that grain in town, remember?”
Joe did not answer Hoss’ question, but rather stood beside the wagon with his hands clasped neatly in front of him. He rocked in his boots – heel to toe, heel to toe. From under his tipped hat, he grinned, his bottom and top teeth clenched together to form a fiendish expression of pure evil.
“Oh, no…” Hoss whimpered. “You ain’t thinking about hitching me up to that thing, are you?”
Again, Joe remained silent. He stepped aside and gestured like a waiter showing a patron to his table. He held out his arm indicating just exactly where Hoss should position himself.
“But, Joe… I…”
“Look, Hoss.” Little Joe finally spoke. “Adam is already way ahead of us. The way I figure it, he’s probably going to go all out to win this contest. You know how much he wants that piano.”
“Yeah, but…” Hoss pleaded.
“Do you want him to win? Ummm? Do you?” Joe chastised, his voice reaching its highest register.
“No. I guess not. But pull that buckboard? It’s embarrassing, Joe. What if somebody sees me?”
“Don’t you want to show him, Hoss? Aren’t you tired of Adam always being right? Aren’t you sick of his mightier-than-thou attitude? He thinks he’s better than us. He thinks you’ve got no chance to win this contest, Hoss. Adam thinks he’s got this whole thing sewn up. Why should we just let him win without a fight? Ummm? You tell me why.” Joe almost ran out of breath before he finished his speech.
“You know,” Hoss said as if he’d just been enlightened by a preacher, “you’re right Joe. I’m just as good as he is. Maybe even better!”
“Of course, you are Hoss.”
“But, this time, it’s fifty-fifty.” Hoss’ expression became cross all of a sudden. “I ain’t doin’ all this work and embarrassing myself by pullin’ this wagon for a measly three hundred dollars.”
“Three hundred and fifty dollars.” Joe corrected.
“It’s five hundred dollars each or I ain’t pullin’ nothing nowhere.” Hoss announced boldly.
“OK. OK. It’s not the money I’m interested in anymore anyway.”
“Oh no? Since when?”
“Since Adam is so sure he’s going to win, I really want to get him this time. He’s been pushing us around for years. It’s time we put a stop to it. The money will just be a bonus to beating Adam. We’ll just see how superior he feels when we’ve won. Victory will be sooo sweet. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah… sweet victory.”
Hoss and Joe stood side-by-side looking off into the distance as if they were dreaming of the day they could silence their pompous older brother for good. They stood there for several moments before they snapped back to reality.
“Well, then, let’s have at it.” Joe said as he slapped Hoss on the back loudly. “Let me get you hitched up.”
“Joe, I don’t know how you came up with this idea, but it’s a good one, I’ll give you that.”
“Hoss, you are going to be in the best shape of your life. You’ll see. It’ll all be worth it.”
“Yeah. If it don’t kill me first.”
The next three weeks were filled with sheer torture for Hoss. Joe had him lifting fence posts like barbells, herding cattle without his horse and pulling everything from a sled loaded with hay to wagons filled with barbed wire. But, what Hoss didn’t realize was that his “workouts” were merely a way for Joe to get his chores done. Every evening Hoss would eat everything in sight and then stagger wearily off to bed.
For Adam, this was yet another opportunity to outwit and outplay his siblings. Any circumstance in which he could compete with them whetted his appetite. He relished being the number one son and all the privileges it afforded. Adam was a proud man and rarely let anything get the better of him, especially his little brothers. He was also motivated by the opportunity to buy the piano he’d longed for all his life and he wasn’t about to let it slip away.
He’d been diligent in his preparations for the competition and by the end of the three-week, self-imposed training camp, Adam was in the best shape of his life. He’d built himself into a formidable contender. With his physical and mental training now complete, Adam felt invincible. He would win the contest and finally, finally have his piano. But, more importantly, he’d continue his ongoing dominance over his younger brothers.
PART FOUR – THE GAMES
A large crowd had gathered several miles outside Virginia City. The organizing committee prepared a small fairground in a wide clearing and all the events were set up and ready for the competitors. Families brought picnic lunches and they staked out the best spot to spend the day watching the lumberjack contest. Children ran about playing tag and hide and seek. It was an idyllic atmosphere for a community outing. And it was a beautiful day.
Not one cloud appeared above, only a crisp, cerulean sky so brilliant it shone like a gigantic sapphire. The sun was just a white ball, seemingly cut out of paper and placed over the Sierra Nevada Mountains by God himself. The air smelled of pine – fresh and sweet. And, even though it was mid-July, a welcome coolness settled over Lake Tahoe making the morning dew shimmer on the grass like millions of crystals.
Ben, Hoss and Little Joe had a leisurely breakfast that morning. Then they loaded up the buckboard with equipment and a hamper of food that Hop Sing had prepared for them. The men headed to the site for a day of competition and fun. When they arrived at the fairgrounds, they spotted Adam and pulled the wagon up beside him. He looked fit and well-prepared. Ben was glad to see him. Adam was not only his son but also his best friend and confidant. Ben had missed him.
“Weellll… how are you son?” he said as he wrapped his arm around his eldest boy, affectionately shaking him by the nape of the neck.
“Fine Pa. Just fine.”
“Well you look ready.”
“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” Adam replied confidently. “How have my younger brother’s fared? Hoss looks a little tired.”
“You know,” Ben answered with a chuckle, “I swear Little Joe only does these things to get Hoss to do his chores.”
“Of course he does.”
The elder Cartwright couldn’t help but see the humor in it all. Joe had put Hoss through the wringer, and Adam was right: he was exhausted. But Hoss was the workhorse of the clan and, fatigued or not, he would put on a good show. He knew he had limitless power. He had pride too, and hated losing just as much as the rest of his family did.
The three brothers and their father huddled together to compare notes. Hoss rummaged through Hop Sing’s picnic hamper for a snack but was interrupted by Sherriff Roy Coffee, the game’s referee.
“ATTENTION!!” Roy blared through a large bullhorn. “Attention, everyone!” Roy stood above the crowd on the back of a wagon. He held a list of the events and contestants. “I’d like to get started.”
The crowd slowly settled and formed an orderly semicircle around the makeshift stage.
“Welcome to Virginia City’s First Annual Lumberjack Contest!” Roy said and then got right down to business. “We have 10 men signed up for these events, and we’d like to thank all of them for taking part.”
The crowd clapped politely.
“So, let the games begin!” Roy announced dramatically.
More light applause echoed through the air.
“I’m going to call up each man one-by-one. And, if you still haven’t placed your bets, you have until the first axe is swung. All right… here we go. Our first competitor is Jimmy Yeager.”
Jimmy, a lean and tall blonde-headed man, broke from the crowd and stood in front of Roy.
“Charlie Snider.” Roy continued to go down the list. “Adam Cartwright, Bill McClenny, John O’Donnell, Aaron Bryer, Hoss Cartwright, Dan Clarry, Calvin Williams and Doug Hougton.”
Adam and Hoss gathered their axes, and as they went up to join the line with the others, Ben shook their hand and wished them luck. He’d cheer for both his boys. Joe gave his final instructions and boost of confidence to Hoss and sent him on his way.
“Come on, younger brother,” Adam urged as he flung his axe over his shoulder. “Onward and upward… and good luck.”
Hoss bowed to Adam to let him pass. “Age before beauty, older brother. Age before beauty.”
The spectators followed the competitors to the site of the first round of the contest. The springboard chop. The idea was to cut a precise groove into the tree trunk about four feet from the ground, plant a board into the groove, stand on it and from there chop off the top 2-foot portion of the post. The trick was to get the board in the groove firmly enough to take the weight and motion of the man. Leverage and precision were everything in this game.
There were ten 8-foot stumps placed in a row. They stood like soldiers about 9 feet apart. Each man took his place in front of one of the posts and prepared for the starter’s gun.
Adam rolled his sleeves up above his elbows and spit on his hands for extra grip while at the other end of the row, Hoss checked his blade for sharpness. Joe stood close beside Hoss to cheer him on. All the participants were ready.
“On your marks!” Roy shouted. “Get set!”
The pistol’s shot rang out and Adam was the quickest on the draw. His blade was the first to make contact. He gritted his teeth with intensity. But Hoss’ first chop was the deepest. While the others had to make four or five cuts, Hoss could get away with three. He planted his board first.
The sound of iron hitting wood echoed through the pines like an orchestra of woodpeckers. The rhythm the men created was musical. Chips flew through the air like confetti. The spectators rooted for their chosen man.
Now all the competitors were up on their boards. Hoss’ board started to sag and he lost that all important leverage he needed to sustain power. Adam’s board was taut and upright and his stroke was consistent and relentless.
His face glistened with sweat. But Hoss was right in there, swinging with great strength and persistence. In the end, it was Adam whose post top went flying. He held up his hands in victory. He jumped off his board and the crowd applauded. He strolled by his brothers and gave them a wink.
“Like lambs to the slaughter.” He jabbed as he moved to the next event confidently. “One down… four to go.”
The next event was the axe throw. Each man would take a turn standing 20 feet from a target 3 feet in diameter. With the axe held with both hands, they would pull the axe back over their heads and throw it toward the target. The closest to the center wins.
Adam was first up and took his place at the line. He held his axe squarely above his head and rocked back and forth. He pointed the tip of the blade toward the center of the target. Then he pulled back into the starting position. He did this several times, silencing the crowd with anticipation. He took one swift lean backward and then let it fly end over end. It hit the band just about the bull’s eye.
After the next eight men, Adam’s throw was still the one to beat. Hoss was the last man to throw and this was his best event. The assembly joined Ben and Joe and applauded Hoss as he approached the line. He was very popular with the townspeople. They shouted encouragement, trying to give him extra support. He seemed to be the crowd favourite. They loved Nevada’s gentle giant.
But, Hoss was nervous. The pressure was on him to take this event and it made his throat dry up. So, he took a deep breath, set himself in position and immediately let the axe go. Its flight seemed gracefully slow as if it floated toward the target. The axe hit the bull’s-eye squarely with a solid thud. The crowd burst into a roaring ovation. All the kids rushed Hoss and jumped all over him playfully. He picked them all up at once and carried them to the next event.
His brothers and father couldn’t help but smile at Hoss’ obvious innocence and charm. It made Joe feel guilty for being so hard on him. It was moments like this that reminded his family just how genuine he was. Even though Adam was disappointed over losing this one, he couldn’t help but be proud of his brother – not just for winning but for just being Hoss.
On they went to the speed climbing. Two 50-foot tree trunks stood stripped of their branches for each man to climb. They competed two at a time trying to out race the other. To get up the tree, each man would buckle on a steel plate to the bottom of their boots. On the inside of each plate were spikes that dug into the bark and helped propel the man upward. Around each contestant’s waist was a heavy rope that hung loosely around the post. Each man would fling it up the opposite side of the tree and pull on it to gain altitude. It was a skill difficult to master but Adam had always been the best at it ever since he was a kid. It came as naturally to him as riding his horse.
Hoss, however, was a bit too heavy for this event and was eliminated in the first round. Adam was right. Hoss just wasn’t the right build for speed climbing. So, after the heats were complete, it was Adam and Doug Houghton who were left in the final. With all the sundry gathered around them, quiet with suspense, the men took their places at the bottom of the trees.
Adam was completely focused as he stared up the shaft of the rough bark. His goal: the top where a bell was mounted. He was determined to hit it first and then quickly descend the tree to the finish.
“Ok, folks.” Roy announced through the bullhorn. “The final of the speed climb is about to begin. Is everybody ready?”
The crowd cheered their affirmation.
“Doug? Adam? You boys ready?”
Both men nodded, but Adam never took his eye off the bell that dangled 50 feet up.
“On your marks… get set… GO!!”
Adam took his largest stride possible, raising his left knee all the way to his chin. Step by steady step, he ascended the tree with Doug just one step behind. His focus never diverted from the pinnacle and that bell. He powered up the trunk and was the first to ring the bell and start his rapid, wild descent.
He touched ground just seconds before his worthy opponent, taking his second event of the games. Out of breath and wet with sweat, he bent over and leaned both hands on his knees to gain respiratory control. It was an exciting finish and the crowd cheered boisterously, gathering around Adam and Doug, giving them pats on the back and shaking their hands. The first round of the games was over and it looked like Adam would, yet again, outwit his brothers.
After a short break for lunch the crowd gathered around the next event – the underhand chop. Adam and Hoss took the first two logs and stood atop the platforms that firmly straddled the logs. The object was to stand over the log and chop downward between their feet. They would hack away on the first half of the log and then turn to finish cutting through it. Adam checked his blade for sharpness and Hoss leaned on his axe casually.
“Okay, men. Is everybody ready?” Roy asked from atop his buckboard stage that over looked the event.
The people clapped their approval and all the competitors were set.
“The first man through his log is the winner.” Roy held his hand up to silence the crowd and begin the countdown. “On your marks… ready…”
Again, the starter’s pistol rang out through the trees sending a flock of squawking crows into the sky. Then came the thumping sound of axes striking wood.
At first, all the men seemed to be in sync as if they were beating a drum in unison. Then, the rhythm scattered into pieces like the logs themselves.
Hoss was the first to make the turn and was clearly in the lead. Adam turned second and the remainder of the competitors were right on his tail. But, with one massive swing, Hoss smashed through his log as if it were made of glass. Joe leaped into the air and rushed at his brother and jumped on his back. Hoss and Adam were now square with two events each.
A single log floated in the pristine waters of a Lake Tahoe lagoon. The log was surrounded by a 4-foot-wide frame dock that was attached to it at each end for stability. The shadows of the Ponderosa pines fell across the site making the water look like ink. The rich tones of green contrasted with the pale, gray rocks where many of the people sat to watch the burling.
There were five heats eliminating half the field of competitors. Hoss was beaten by Jimmy Yeager in the first round and he was happy to spend the remainder of the burling competition cheering on the other participants.
After drying off, he grabbed the picnic hamper from the buckboard, carried it to the water’s edge and ate its entire contents as he watched the rest of the event. Joe joined him, looked into the empty basket and grinned at his big brother’s predictable appetite.
Their only chance to win was if Adam lost the burling and then met Hoss in a tiebreaker event.
Adam did make it to the final. His competition was Dan Clarry, a young professional lumberjack who was wiry, athletic and fast. It would be the best two out of three. With the crowd shouting encouragement, the men stood across from one another, ready to step onto the log as soon as Roy gave the word.
“This is it folks. Our final event of the day. And the winner will receive one thousand dollars!” Roy announced happily. “If Dan Clarry wins, Hoss and Adam Cartwright will be tied with two events each. If that happens, we will repeat the axe-throwing to break the tie.” Roy explained. “All right. Adam? Dan? Are you boys ready?”
Both men nodded in unison.
“Take your positions.” He ordered. “GO!”
With a sudden splash the pair tried to feel each other out. Adam stepped forward quickly but then immediately jerked back to try and throw Dan off his balance. But, Dan anticipated Adam’s move and was able to stay in stride. Adam began to speed up and Dan was finding it hard to keep up. He pushed his arms out in front of him to try to regain his stability, but it was no use; he’d lost his rhythm and fell backward into the water. Adam was up one round and all he needed was one more take the prize.
But, it was not to be. Dan won round two and now it was down to one last burl. The men stood on the log, again focused on each other’s feet. As soon as Roy said “Go”, they both tried to outrun one another. The log spun fast and furious, with Dan and Adam propelling it like a sternwheeler. Water splashed about as if the pool was filled with biting fish. Back and forth, back and forth. Several minutes went by with both men staying firmly atop the log without mishap. But, Dan suddenly put on the brakes catching Adam off guard. Adam’s arms began to swing in circles like pinwheels as he desperately tried to regain his balance.
“Stay on son!!” Ben shouted. “You can do it Adam!”
Dan sped up spinning the log in the opposite direction and Adam was sent flying through the air landing squarely on his back into the water. The splash he made drenched several of the onlookers.
When they pulled Adam out of the drink and moved onto the tiebreaker, it only took Hoss one throw to outdo his brother. Hoss won the contest, the one thousand dollars and finally – finally put Adam in his place.
It was the last day of Adam’s payback. He’d been humbled by his little brothers and was glad the lumberjack episode was almost over. He was just finishing up Cochise’s stall when his father entered the barn.
“Glad it’s the end of the month, son?”
“I sure am, Pa. Mucking out stalls isn’t exactly my favourite pastime.”
“Well, put the pitchfork down and come with me.”
“I’m almost done, Pa. I’ll be in for breakfast in a few minutes.”
“It can’t wait.” Ben urged. “Come with me.”
Adam shrugged and rested the tool against the post and followed his father out into the courtyard. A strange wagon was waiting there with a large object in the back. The thing was covered with a tarp. Hoss and Joe stood in front of it with wily grins as they watched their brother approach.
“What’s all this about?” Adam asked warily.
“Well, older brother,” Joe began to explain. “Hoss and I agreed that we need a little more entertainment around here. So, we thought this might help.”
“Oh?” Adam said with mild caution.
Joe took hold of the tarp and pulled sharply revealing a brand-new, upright piano. It stopped Adam in his tracks. He stood in front of it – speechless. His throat tightened with emotion. His eyes widened.
“Looks like we finally found something that keeps Adam quiet, huh Hoss?”
“Yep. Sure looks like it, Joe.”
“It’s a piano.” Adam gasped as a smile slowly came over his complexion.
“No. It’s a new oven for Hop Sing.” Joe jabbed. “Of course, it’s a piano.”
Ben stood with his hands on his hips, lapping up every moment of his boy’s camaraderie. It delighted him. These were the best times of life.
“You got me a piano… I’m just so… a piano,” Adam stammered. “What did I do to deserve this?”
“What was it a wise young man once said?” Joe expounded. “Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth.”
“Well, I sure won’t.” Adam agreed. “Thank you. Both of you. Thank you.”
Together, the foursome unloaded the instrument and carefully moved it into the house. They placed it against the wall beside Ben’s study. Immediately, Adam sat and began to teach himself how to play. His father and brothers gathered around, relishing Adam’s happiness.
The contest had paid off for everyone. Hoss proved his physical power: Joe finally managed Hoss to success; and Adam… Adam found respect for his siblings and, of course, a gift he would treasure always. Not just the piano itself, but the unconditional love of his family.