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Lessons Learned

By Texas2002

 

Thank you to Mr. Dortort who created the Cartwrights and the Ponderosa and shared them. And thank you to Ms. Sullivan who gave them new life. This story is purely for entertainment and is not intended to infringe on their rights or the rights of anyone else involved in these marvelous shows.

Rating: G

Author’s notes:

According to the timeline set up in "Treasures of the Heart" and based on promotional materials for "The Ponderosa" that state Joe’s age as 11 in the pilot episode, Joe will turn 12 - not 13 - in the spring of 1850.

Cochise, a Chiricahua Apache, is between 35 and 40 years old at the time of this story. The Apaches and the Mexican government engaged in feuds and hostilities for years before trouble between the Apaches and the United States government began.

 

This story follows "Tug of War"

 

 

I knew I was licked pretty much the minute the one-armed tug-of-war with Pa started.

I couldn’t figure out how he won. I mean I’m bigger than he is. Pa said he beat me ‘cause of all those years he was at sea pullin’ ropes and the like. I decided not to stir up a hornets’ nest by remindin’ him that he’d been about my age way back then. He ain’t been to sea since before Adam was born. And it won’t be too long before Adam’s twenty-two.

Adam said Pa won ‘cause of strategy. He likes to use that word. Uses it every dang time he beats me in a horse race. He used to say it was strategy that helped him trounce me at wrestlin’, too. That stopped the day I flipped him on his back and the air whooshed out of him and his eyes got a funny glassy look to them. Big Brother ain’t wrestled with me since then.

Pa’s and my tug-of-war was different from the one Pa and Mr. McNally had. For one thing it was just Pa, me, Adam, Hop Sing, and Little Joe there at the mud hole. And another thing was that Hop Sing told us if we got our clothes muddy we’d be the ones doin’ the washin’. That ain’t exactly Pa’s or my favorite way to spend an afternoon so Pa came up with an idea. Well, I think it was Adam’s idea but Pa took credit for it. He tied a bandana to the middle of the rope and we agreed that the first fella to get the bandana all the way over on his side of the mud pit would be the winner.

We shook hands and grinned at each other ‘cause we were both convinced we were the one that’d win. I was wrong.

Little Joe was fit to be tied. I told him it wasn’t my fault that he bet Adam that if I won Adam had to eat carrots and if Pa won Joe had to eat spinach. Bettin’ carrots and spinach. That’s somethin’ only Adam and Joe would do. So Joe had to eat spinach that Adam picked special for him at dinner that night. He carried on like it was gonna kill him - even offered to pay me a dollar if I’d eat it for him. But Adam wasn’t havin’ any of that. He sat there and grinned the whole time Joe choked down that green stuff. Pa tried not to let on how funny he thought my little brother’s act was but you know Pa - he never has been able to hold in a good laugh.

I spent all the next day tryin’ to figure out how Pa had beat me at that tug-of-war. Well, not all the day. Calico - she’s a mighty pretty little mare – she was due to have her foal just about any time. I’d brought her to the corral a coupla days before and she seemed like she was even more ready to get on with things so I fixed her up a stall in the barn. If things went the way I was figurin’ they would pretty little Calico would be havin’ the first foal of the spring on the Ponderosa. Joe was just about as excited as I was to see what the foal would look like. And he likes Calico so much he’s made up a nickname for her. He calls her "Callie."

Once I’d finished settlin’ Calico, Pa come into the barn and seeing him made me wonder again about how he’d beat me at that tug-of-war. I finally asked him about it when we were stackin’ feed sacks in the barn.

He leaned on the stall near ‘im and took his own sweet time answerin’ me. I knew he was tryin’ to figure out the best way to tell me because he pulled off his gloves and then he stared past my shoulder a minute. Finally he looked me in the eyes. "Son, brawn isn’t the only thing involved in a contest."

I was gonna storm out of the barn if he told me it was strategy. But just in case that wasn’t what he was talkin’ about, I asked him what he meant and he tilted his head back. I shifted from one foot to the other, wonderin’ what he had to say.

"Did you notice how the tug-of-war went back and forth? You were ahead one moment and then I was in the lead the next?"

I put my hands on my hips and nodded.

He picked up one of the short ropes we use for tyin’ a calf’s legs together when it’s time for brandin’ and he handed me one end. "Hold onto this," he said. He closed his right hand around the other end. "Now when you pull - " He nodded to me to do what he said so I did. "See how you’re putting all your strength into it?" He yanked on the rope and I stumbled toward him. "You’re using your arm and your back, Hoss. I’m waiting for the moment when you have to ease up and that’s when I use my arm and my legs."

His what?

Pa motioned toward one of the feed sacks. "These are heavy, aren’t they?"

"Yeah."

"And Adam’s not as big as you are, is he?"

I grinned. "He ain’t near as strong as me."

Pa slid his tongue from one cheek to the other. "So why is Adam able to lift these feed bags the way you do?"

I’d never given it much thought.

"It’s the same thing, Hoss. You use your arms and back. Adam uses his arms and legs."

"So what you’re tellin’ me is Adam’s legs are strong as my back?"

Pa chuckled. "Something like that."

I shook my head. "That’s about the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard."

He laughed and popped me on the side of my arm with his gloves. "Then you haven’t heard much."

Pa gets some strange ideas from time to time. I figured that bit about legs bein’ stronger than backs was one of ‘em. After dinner I was puzzlin’ about it while I was repairin’ a bridle. I was sittin’ sideways to the table and I guess I was frownin’ ‘cause Adam looked up from where he was readin’ the paper across the table from me and he squinted at me.

"What’s wrong?"

I waved a hand in the air like everything was fine.


"Hoss," he said with that sound in his voice that means he’s known me forever and he doesn’t believe me.

"I just don’t get it," I admitted.

"Get what?"

"That thing about backs and legs."

Adam blinked and leaned across the table toward me. "Backs and legs."

"Yeah."

He laid his newspaper on the tabletop. "What about backs and legs?"

I saw Pa give us a glance and then sit down on the settee to have Little Joe read to ‘im. Hop Sing was sittin’ in a chair by the settee sewin’ a button on one of my little brother’s shirts. Adam and I have to do our own stitchin’ but Hop Sing doesn’t seem much inclined to let Joe anywheres near a needle.

I leaned on the table until Adam’s and my heads were maybe a foot apart and I whispered, "Pa said it’s in the legs and not in the back."

Adam rolled his eyes and then he looked at me from the tops of ‘em. "What’s in the legs and not the back?"

"He says that’s how he beat me at that rope pull."

Adam got his "well, that’s pretty obvious" look.

"Ya mean you know what he means?"

My big brother shrugged. "Sure." He reached for the drawin’ pad and pencil he always has handy and he flipped to a blank piece of paper. "It’s a simple principle - " he started.

I braced myself for one of those answers that Adam says is simple but takes a genius to understand.

"It’s a lot like the principle you use with a lever." He drew some stick figures on the tablet and turned it so we could both see it. "Remember when you were digging out the tree stump behind the house?"

How could I forget?

"You put the pole here - " he pointed to the base of the tree stump he’d drawn " - and you pushed on it. That gave you extra power. Power you wouldn’t have had if you had tried to pull straight up on the stump, right?"

"I guess."

He smiled at me and then sketched two figures holdin’ different ends of the same thin line. "When you pull with your back - " he drew an arrow to one of the men’s backs " - you’re pulling from up here." Then he sketched an arrow to the other man’s legs. "But when Pa pulls from here, he’s pulling from farther down. He makes his center of gravity lower and it works a bit like that lever you used." He laid down the pencil and looked like he thought he’d accomplished somethin’.

"How does that - center of gravity thing work?"

His know-it-all look disappeared. "It’s complicated, Hoss."

Which meant he didn’t anymore know than I did. Believe me, when Adam knows an answer he’s only too willin’ to give it to ya.

I decided I was never goin’ to understand this center of gravity stuff if Adam didn’t, so I let the subject die a natural death. Adam seemed real relieved that I did ‘cause he was back readin’ his newspaper faster than you can blink.

I walked over to the fireplace to pour some coffee into my mug from the pot warmin’ on the hearth. Abigail and John Adams were piled on top of Smoke like always when they sleep. The three of them have learned how to lay just close enough to the fireplace to stay warm without singeing their fur. We’re all grateful that they know how to do that ‘cause when Smoke was little he got too close and the stink of that hot fur was somethin’ awful.

I no sooner settled in the chair opposite Hop Sing than someone knocked at the front door.

Pa looked up from the book Little Joe was readin’ and frowned as he checked the time on the mantel clock. It was just past seven - late for visitin’. When he was sure none of us was inclined to see who was waitin’ on the porch, Pa put his hands on his knees, stood, and muttered somethin’ about sloth.

I was glad I hadn’t been the one to open that door after Pa said, "Hello, Angus. How about a cup of coffee?"

Adam’s shoulders tensed and he pushed his chair away from the table.

"I’d as soon talk to ya out here, Benjamin," Mr. McNally answered.

Pa stepped out to the porch and closed the front door behind him. Adam left his newspaper on the table and walked to the bunkroom a little faster than usual.

That’s when Hop Sing and Little Joe looked at me like I should have some kind of answer about what Pa and Mr. McNally were talkin’ about out there. "What?" I asked.

Joe turned his book from front to back to front. "You don’t figure they’ll get in a fight or somethin’, do ya?"

"You know Pa ain’t gonna fight unless there’s nothin’ else ta do."

Hop Sing bit off the end of the thread he’d used to sew the button to Joe’s shirt. "Mr. Cartwright not a man who wants more trouble."

"Yeah," Little Joe said to Hop Sing. "But Mr. McNally hit Adam. Pa don’t like it when someone picks on one of us."

Hop Sing smiled and lowered his head.

"Sometimes," I said, "he forgets some of us are big enough to take care of ourselves."

"You will always be his boys," Hop Sing observed. "No matter how big."

That’s for sure. That’s why all of us want to do the best we can for ‘im - and none of us particularly cares for bein’ on his wrong side.

The house was so quiet I could hear the clock tickin’. Finally, Joe had to do somethin’ so he poked at the logs until one of ‘em popped and sent sparks flyin’ onto the rug. Smoke sat up and barked. Abigail and John Adams hissed. And Adam yelled from the bunkroom for Little Joe to leave the fire alone.

After he’d put the poker back where it belonged, Joe walked over to me and put his hands on my knees. "Wanna play checkers?"

I thumped him on the head with my thumb and said, "Sure."

I don’t know who we thought we were kiddin’. Neither one of us could keep our minds on the game and we finally wound up sittin’ across the table from each other, chins in our hands, starin’ at the checkerboard.

"Hoss?" Little Joe picked up a checker and spun it on its edge. "You figure things’ll be like they used to be between Pa and Mr. McNally?"

I told him sure I did. "It’s not any different from when some of us has a fight."

"Yeah, but we have to shake hands or Pa’ll get mad at us," he said.

I looked at him. "That ain’t the only reason we settle things, Joe. We settle them ‘cause we’re brothers and brothers have to stick together."

"I know that." He grinned at me. "But Pa gettin’ mad at us is some of it, too." He spun the checker again. "Sometimes it’s most of it."

We laughed.

"How do you figure they’ll work things out?"

"Same way we do. Talk."

"You remember when that fella tried to hit Adam with that whip that time?"

Sure I did.

"Pa knocked him clean into next week."

I laughed again. "Where’d you hear that?"

"Wendell says it all the time."

"Wonder where he got it."

"Lewis, prob’ly."

Dang I hoped Little Joe wasn’t hangin’ around Lewis. Pa’d have his hide and nail it to the barn wall.

My brother musta read my mind because his eyes got big. "And I ain’t been anywhere near Lewis."

That was real good to hear.

Little Joe tossed the checker up and down in his left hand. "Sure wish Pa’d hurry up and tell us what’s going on."

"It’s between him and Mr. McNally. It ain’t none of our business."

Joe twisted his mouth. "It’s our business when somebody hits our brother."

He was right about that.

The front door opened and Pa came inside. He closed the door and looked around the room. "Where’s Adam?"

I pointed toward the bunkroom with my chin and as soon as Pa’d gone in there Joe whispered, "Whaddaya think he’s doin’?"

"Well, he ain’t slept in there since Barbara stayed here so I reckon he’s talkin’ ta Adam."

Joe made a face at me and put down the checker he’d been fidgetin’ with. "I know that, Hoss. I was just wonderin’ what Pa’s talkin’ about."

"Probably Mr. McNally."

"I know that. I was just wonderin’ what he’s sayin’ to Adam about Mr. McNally."

"Probably about when Mr. McNally hit Adam."

Little Joe sighed so deeply his shoulders sagged. "I know that. I mean what do you figure Pa’s sayin’ to Adam about Mr. McNally hittin’ him?"

I shrugged. "Adam’ll tell us later."

"Ya think?"

"Probably."

But he didn’t. All Adam said to us that night was "good night." And a little while later he told Joe to quit hummin’.

Things weren’t right between Adam and Pa the next day. And when them two is at odds it can make for a miserable time for all of us. It’s not that they take it out on us; at least they try not to. But when they’re like that - well - have you ever seen that stuff folks call St. Elmo’s fire? Pa used to tell us how they’d see it at the tops of the masts when he was on sailin’ ships and I figured he was just pullin’ my leg. But then I saw it. These blue lines kind of like lightnin’ flicker and twist all around. I’ve seen it happen between the horns on our cattle. Spooks them like all get-out. And I’ve seen it up in the pine trees. Big Dan’s told me that sometimes, when the trees are dry in the summer, that St. Elmo’s fire can set the tops of those trees glowin’. That’s what it’s like when Pa and Adam are buttin’ heads - there’s this kind of spark and crackle between ‘em that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.

Joe and me figured out a long time ago that if we can’t get away from ‘em when they’re like that, we can sure as heck keep them away from each other. I stick with Adam. Joe stays with Pa ‘cause everybody knows Pa’s easiest on my little brother - and besides, as long as Joe’s stayin’ out of more than his usual amount of mischief, Joe can generally get Pa back to his normal self.

Adam’s another thing again. He’ll keep stuff so snug inside that it’s a flat-out miracle he don’t swell up like a toad. We don’t talk much when he’s like that and I sure as heck don’t do anything to rile him. He’s got every bit of Pa’s temper and he can blister your hide with his hot words before you even know what hit ya.

One thing that’s a dead giveaway when Adam’s got a burr under his saddle is the way he bangs stuff around. He slams the barn door, stomps in his boots until you’d think he’d jar his head plumb off his body, slaps his gloves against the corral or the wheelbarrow or a wall or his leg, and he swings that axe into the firewood so hard you’d swear he was bustin’ rocks. There’s a good side to him bein’ that mad, too. He can dig a posthole faster and pitch hay higher than anybody on the Ponderosa.

Pa and Adam didn’t say anythin’ to each other at lunch and it was so quiet it was downright uncomfortable. Soon as I could I went out and checked on Calico again. When I leaned on her stall she looked up at me like she was askin’ why I kept botherin’ her. I told her she was gonna be a mama and she nickered a little but she didn’t seem much impressed by the idea.

Adam and me worked at gettin’ hay out of the loft that afternoon - me on the ground holdin’ the rope and haulin’ the hay down, Adam tyin’ the rope around the bales so we could lower ‘em. When we’d finished puttin’ the bales on the wagon we hauled them out to a pasture we’d fenced where I keep some of the gentler horses. After we’d done that, Adam and me sat on the back of the wagon, swingin’ our legs, while we watched the horses feed. I’d been noticin’ that Joe was getting’ taller every day – shootin’ up like spring grass - so I was kinda lookin’ over the horses tryin’ to figure out which one he might be able to ride when he was too big for Paint anymore.

"Hoss?" Adam’s voice was kind of worried.

I kept my eyes straight ahead ‘cause there are times when Adam talks better if ya aren’t lookin’ at ‘im.

"Have you had trouble forgiving someone?"

"Sure."

He stuck a thin piece of straw in his mouth and chewed on it.

It was high time to lighten things up a little. "I’ve had trouble forgivin’ you a time or two."

"What’ve I ever done to you?" He sounded like sin had never touched his soul.

I slid him a look and tilted my head. "Adam."

Even though he didn’t want to, he smiled and ducked his head.

"How about the time you ate all them éclairs before I even knew we had any?" I reminded him. "And that time you got mad and broke all those little glass bottles we’d found in our hideout."

His voice was soft. "I didn’t intend to do that."

"Yeah, ya did. You picked up that little box they were in and you threw that thing to the floor for all you were worth."

"I didn’t know they were in there."

That was news to me. "Well, what’d you think I had in it?"

He shrugged. "Those magic rocks."

"Wish it had been."

Adam licked his lower lip. "I’m glad Ma and Pa didn’t know we were fighting that day."

"Then we both would’ve been in for a trip to the woodshed."

Adam shook his head. "Glory, Pa could set fire to my behind with that shutter slat."

I chuckled. "What’re you talkin’ about? He could set fire with his bare hand."

We laughed. Then we got quiet.

Adam pulled the piece of straw from his mouth and tossed it in front of him.

"Pa and I had a talk last night."

"Uh huh."

"Mr. McNally and he worked things out."

I was glad to hear that.

"Pa and I have a problem, though."

"That’s nothin’ new."

His shoulders shook as he laughed.

"Ya’ll have butted heads as long as I can remember," I said.

My big brother turned in surprise. "Pa and I get along fine."

"Most of the time, yeah."

"But - "

"You’re the two stubbornest fellas I know."

He didn’t argue that. "Pa’s disappointed."

"I can tell that."

He gave me a lopsided grin.

"What’s he so unhappy about?"

Adam swung his right arm into the air. "What happened between Angus and me."

I didn’t say anything but I wondered about him sayin’ "Angus" instead of "Mr. McNally." Mr. McNally had told us to call him by his first name and we had for a while but Pa’d finally had his say about that and we’d gone back to callin’ Angus "Mr. McNally."

"Pa knocked Angus off his feet when Angus hit me. And now he says I should apologize to Angus for being disrespectful."

"Were ya?"

"I don’t think so, no."

"But Pa does?"

Adam nodded.

"Pa’s gonna win, ya know that."

"Not about this."

Ut oh.

"What do you think?" he asked.

"I wasn’t there."

He looked ahead but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t seein’ the horses or the fence or even the trees.

"Angus accused me of having my way with Molly."

I couldn’t believe what I was hearin’ and I stared at him until my eyes hurt.

"He insinuated that I was the one who’d gotten her with child and that when I told her I wouldn’t marry her she was forced to leave with James Wallace."

"He - he said that with Mrs. McNally there?"

Adam nodded.

"What’d Pa do?"

"He didn’t have a chance to do anything. I started telling Angus to say what he meant without hiding behind his ‘suppose’ this and ‘what if’ that - I’d just started when he backhanded me."

I still didn’t think Mr. McNally should have done that. No matter how big-mouthed we might get with Pa, he’d never hit one of us on the face. We regret gettin’ disrespectful, that’s for sure. But not because we’re afraid of the back of Pa’s hand.

"So what you’re sayin’ - " I had to go slow here ‘cause I wanted to help Adam see somethin’. "What you’re sayin’ is you got mad back at him and you mouthed off?"

Adam went real still.

"If ya did that with Pa, you’d be in a whole mess of trouble, Adam."

I let him think it over.

"Angus accused me of something I didn’t do."

That don’t sit well with any of us. I’ve never known Pa to accuse Adam of somethin’ he didn’t do. And it’s downright impossible to accuse Little Joe of somethin’ he ain’t done. Pa only accused me of doin’ somethin’ I didn’t do once and that was my own stupid fault ‘cause I’d been so busy coverin’ up what I had done that it looked like I’d done somethin’ else. I tried to cover up a buncha things back when I was a kid ‘cause I didn’t like Pa’s spankin’s one bit. But before too long I learned Pa was just as good at findin’ out about me keepin’ somethin’ from ‘im as he was at knowin’ when I was lyin’ to ‘im. I pretty much gave up the keepin’ things from him - most of the time - and I do my best not to lie to ‘im. It just ain’t worth it.

The sunshine felt so good I stretched and then lay down in the wagon bed. I was gonna have straw all over me but I didn’t care. The sky didn’t have a cloud in it. Except for the bad rains and the late snows, springtime is mighty easy to live with. All the flowers come out and the bare trees put on those pretty, light green leaves -

"You’re saying I was disrespectful," Adam summed up.

"I ain’t sayin’ nothin’, Adam. All I’m sayin’s you’d be in a bad way with Pa if you acted like that with him."

My brother pulled up his left leg and rested his elbow on his knee. "And you think that’s how Pa sees it?"

I laughed. "I guarantee ya that’s how he sees it. Where’ve you been for twenty-one years?"

He smacked my right calf and grinned at me.

I put my hands behind my head. "What’d be so gosh awful about it anyhow?"

"Apologizing?"

"Yeah."

"I don’t think I was disrespectful."

Time for a heapin’ tablespoon of medicine. "Ya don’t think you were or you don’t want to think ya were?"

"You sound like Pa," Adam muttered.

I figured that was a compliment and I thanked ‘im.

"Well what would you have done?" He sounded desperate.

I tried to put myself in Adam’s place - somebody accusin’ me of compromisin’ a girl’s reputation. I knew how I’d feel if Mrs. Greene accused me of doin’ that with Tess.

"It would hurt," I answered. "Thinkin’ someone wouldn’t trust me anymore’n that."

Adam looked at me with his eyes wide and then twisted his lips to the right. "You’d be hurt and I lose my temper."

"I’d probably get mad, too. Someone talkin’ that way about ya is hard to take." I crossed my ankles. "I’ve been meanin’ ta ask ya somethin’."

"Um?"

"Remember that thing ya read me once and there was that line about protestin’ too much? What’d that mean?"

"Where did that come from?"

"I don’t know. You’re the one that read it to me."

"I mean why are you asking now?"

" ‘Cause I fin’lly thought about it when you were around."

"A lot of times when people protest too much it’s because - " He stopped and scowled at me. "You know good and well what it means."

I ignored the invitation to fight. "When they protest too much it’s because what?"

"What do you think?" he spit back.

I knew what it meant when Joe and me protested a bunch with Pa - it meant we wanted to be sure he knew we hadn’t done anything to get in trouble. I told Adam that. He looked at me long and hard.

"That’s not what the saying means."

"What’s it mean, then?"

"Most of the time when people protest too much it’s because they’re guilty."

If I lied to Pa and protested too much it’d be a long time before I heard the end of it.

Adam wrapped his arms around his knee. "Remember when we were kids and Ma would ask about something? She’d always say that the first one to claim his innocence was usually the guilty one?"

"So we’d both stand there with our teeth together and hope the other one’d say somethin’ first." I laughed.

Adam laughed, too. He shifted so his back was against the side of the wagon bed and he was sideways to me. He pulled up both his legs. "We’ve been in some real messes together, haven’t we?"

"I figure that’s why it’s hard when we’re in trouble with Pa on our own. Ya don’t feel like there’s anybody there with ya." I nudged his left boot with my right one. "But there is, ya know."


"Does that mean you’ll apologize to Angus for me?"

"How much would ya pay me?"

Adam shot me a look and then he used one of Little Joe’s favorite lines. "You could do it out of Christian kindness."

That did it. We laughed until we were hopeless. And just when we figured we’d laughed all we could one of us started up again and that set the other one off. Those horses must’ve thought we’d been eatin’ locoweed.

Adam whacked my boot and slid off the back of the wagon. "We need to head back."

I know my big brother pretty well and I was for sure he felt better.

Pa kept his eyes on Adam when me and Adam came into the house for dinner. We elbowed each other at the washbasin and then Adam popped my leg with the towel. I reached for it and he whipped it behind his back with one hand, held out the opposite hand, and said’, "Aht" as if that’d stop me. While Adam had his eyes on me, Little Joe snuck up behind him and snatched that towel away quick as a thief. Just as Adam turned to see what’d happened, Joe laid a crackin’ pop on Adam’s behind. It was hard to tell who was more surprised – my older brother or my younger brother. Joe threw that towel at the floor like it was a hot coal and ran for the back door. Adam took out after ‘im threatenin’ the way he always does to drown Joe in the horse trough.

I dried my hands on my pants legs and Pa raised an eyebrow. "I ain’t got a clean towel, Pa," I explained.

He gave his head a quick shake indicatin’ that my wipin’ my hands the way I had wasn’t what he was raisin’ his eyebrow about. "What happened to Adam?"

Now what kind of question was that? "Little Joe popped him - "

Pa shook his head again. "He came in smiling."

"Yeah."

"He left in a temper."

Oh.

"I guess maybe goin’ out to the horse pasture did ‘im some good."

Pa’s eyes twinkled. "I’ll have to remember that the next time he’s upset."

I laughed and snitched a roll from the basket on the table. "You do that and he’ll make a hollowed-out path goin’ back and forth."

"How are the horses?" Pa pulled out his chair and sat down.

I pulled out my chair but since we weren’t eatin’ yet, I turned it around and sat it like a saddle with my arms restin’ on the back of it. "They look good, Pa. I’m gonna bring two of ‘em in ‘cause they’ll be havin’ those foals any day."

I’d no sooner said the words than Joe threw the front door open. He leaned inside and shouted, "Hoss! Come quick! Callie had her baby."

Behind our little brother, Adam closed his eyes. "It’s a horse, Joe, not a person."

But Little Joe ignored him like he pretty much always does. He hopped on one foot and delivered a Joseph Cartwright command. "Come on, Hoss!"

Pa waved me on and as I stepped out the door, Adam stepped into the house.

Little Joe has this way of walkin’ sideways to me and lookin’ up. He never watches where he’s goin’ so every so often I have to grab his shoulders and steer him around one thing or another. He wasn’t any different this time. "You gotta see him, Hoss. He’s the prettiest baby I’ve ever seen." Joe tugged at my hand. "Yer walkin’ too slow, Hoss. He’ll be grown before we get there."

I grinned at him and bent down to pick the squirt up. He yelped and I stashed him under my arm, on my hip, with his head pointed to the front. He tried to act mad but his laughin’ gave ‘im away. When I put him back on his feet in the barn he tiptoed real quiet-like to the stall where Calico was. "See?" he whispered.

Sure enough Calico had a brand new colt. And Joe was right - he was a pretty little thing. He was a paint like his mama with big old black patches on white. Or maybe it was white patches on black. He had that short, bushy mane like all of ‘em do and that little tail that looks like a broom. And then there were his eyes. Big, round, dark eyes with the thickest lashes. And those eyes were bright. And real smart. There was no way you could look at ‘im and not smile.

Joe climbed up on the tack box and leaned on the top of the stall. "Hoss?" he whispered. "Can I buy him from ya?"

I squinted. You hafta be on your guard when Joe starts talkin’ about money. "Is this another one of yer money-makin’ schemes?"

He shook his head until his hair flopped. "I wanna buy him. For real."

That went against my grain. "I ain’t sellin’ a horse to my own brother."

Little Joe wasn’t following the drift of what I was saying. "Hoss, puhleez? I’ll treat ‘im as good as I treat Paint, I promise."

"I won’t sell ‘im to ya," I said. Then I decided to let him in on what I was thinkin’. "But I’ll give ‘im to ya."

Joe looked like he was gonna faint dead away.

"Your birthday’s comin’ up next month so I’ll give ‘im to you as a present."

For all the world he looked like he wasn’t breathin’. But finally he said, "You’ll give him to me? For real?"

"Sure."

It was all kinds of fun to watch Little Joe look back at that colt like a love-struck kid.

"Now all ya gotta do is figure out a name for him," I said.

"I already know that," he said right back. "Cochise."

"Co-what?"

"Cochise. Carlos told me about ‘im. He’s an Apache Injun."

I was confused as all get out. "You’re gonna name a horse after an Indian?"

"Sure." Joe acted like folks did that kind of thing every day.

We watched Cochise wobble around, tryin’ out his legs and not knowin’ what to do with ‘em. He looked a little bit surprised about things in general and he kept real close to his mama. "He sure does have long legs," Joe said.

"They all do at first. But they grow into ‘em."

Joe laughed and rolled his eyes. "They grow on top of ‘em, Hoss."

I picked ‘im up again and carried ‘im the same way right to the dinner table.

When Little Joe told everybody that I’d given ‘im Cochise, Adam looked up from his plate. "You have so many animals it sounds like you have your own ranch, Joe."

"Farm," Pa said right back. For all his talk about how we didn’t need any cats or dogs on the place, he likes ‘em as much as we do. But he doesn’t want us knowin’ that - even if we do.

Joe made a face at Pa and then asked Adam, "Whaddaya mean my own ranch?"

Adam chewed his mouthful of fried chicken. "You have Smoke and Paint and Webster and now you have Cochise." He got that trouble-makin’ look in his eyes and grinned over at Pa. "And then, of course, you had Jimmy for a short time."

Adam was really feelin’ his oats to say that to Pa that way. For someone who’s mostly easy to get along with and always crackin’ jokes about stuff, it’s kinda odd how Pa still don’t see nothin’ funny about that day Jimmy broke outta his pen and livened things up a bit.

Joe got real interested in his dinner about then which was a shame ‘cause he missed that sparrin’ look that Pa and Adam share sometimes. They ain’t serious and it’s real fun to watch ‘em face off that way. I was sure hopin’ they weren’t gonna start one of them deals where they take a word and try ta outdo each other usin’ it all kinds of ways.

But the minute Pa opened his mouth, with his eyes all full of light, I knew we were in for it. "You have to admit, Adam, it was a hair-raising experience."

Joe moaned and Hop Sing chuckled.

Adam wiped the corners of his mouth with his napkin. "Jimmy did have us all harried for a while, didn’t he?"

"And Smoke came within a hairsbreadth of catching him."

Joe put down his fork, leaned his elbows on the table, and covered his ears with his hands.

It wasn’t enough that Pa and Adam were doin’ it. Hop Sing had to say, "Entire chase was frightening - made hair stand up on neck."

Adam nodded. "It’s lucky for Jimmy that none of us has a hair-trigger temper."

"Or that the chase didn’t scare the cats hairless." Pa looked over at Adam with a lop-sided grin on his face.

"Yeah," Adam said. "Keeping Jimmy in a pen was a hare-brained idea."

Pa thought a minute. He waited until Adam was drinkin’ his coffee and then he said, "It’s a lucky thing he did get loose. The next thing you know he would have had a harem."

Adam sputtered and choked and then slapped his napkin over his mouth.

Pa didn’t let up. "I’m pretty sure his first wife’s name would have been Harriet."

How did they do that? Come up with that stuff so fast?

All three of ‘em - Hop Sing, Pa, and Adam - got quiet. It took me a minute to realize they was all out of jokes. Naw, Adam was gonna have the final word.

"I think Jimmy got away safely because he had a lucky rabbit’s foot."

I groaned and Joe said if they didn’t quit he was gonna throw up right there at the table.

Pa winked at Adam and they settled down.

Not a minute later Hop Sing put his hands in his lap. For some strange reason that got all our attention. "We have rabbit stew tomorrow."

All of us were disgusted. It was such a poor joke. He looked around the table at us and shook his head. "Not making fun. We have rabbit stew tomorrow - with special herbs."

"Hop Sing!" Joe squealed like a pig. "We can’t eat rabbit! It could be Jimmy’s brother or something."

Pa cleared his throat. "I doubt that, Joseph."

But Adam was out to devil Pa good. "I don’t know, Pa. Rabbits breed quickly. Jimmy could have hundreds of relatives out there." That got ‘im a frown from Pa.

Little Joe’s eyes got big as the moon. "Ya mean he has sisters and cousins - "

Adam acted like they were talkin’ about somethin’ dreadful. "It’s possible that every rabbit on the Ponderosa is related to every other rabbit."

Our little brother had no idea he was being had. "You mean there was like a Adam and Eve rabbit and all of them are related to the first two rabbits?"

Pa leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. You’d think by now he’d be used to the way the three of us josh each other. Maybe he is but sometimes he gets the most tired look on his face you ever saw. "Joseph, there is no such thing as an Adam and Eve rabbit."

"Uh huh," Joe shot back. " ‘Cause when that flood happened Noah took two of everything on that boat. So there was only two rabbits."

Hop Sing shook his head. "Never just two rabbits."

I thought that was pretty dang funny but for some reason I was the only one laughin’.

Joe held his head way up high ‘cause he figures he’s smarter than Pa when it comes to Bible stories. "So see, if Noah only took two rabbits then they were Adam and Eve rabbits."

Pa’s eyes opened and Adam slid ‘im a funny look. "Well?" my big brother asked.

"Tell him you were teasing," Pa ordered.

"But I wasn’t."

"Adam."

"Pa."

There was nothin’ fer Pa to do but scoot back up to the table and start eatin’. Adam grinned for all he was worth but he didn’t say anything else.

Before bedtime Little Joe had to go out and see Cochise again. I wondered if he was gonna ask Pa if he could sleep out in the barn but then I remembered how Joe’s imagination gets the better of him and I figured he’d be back before too long. Hop Sing went on to bed and it was so quiet in the livin’ room, what with Pa and Adam both readin’ while Smoke snored, I got sleepy and decided to call it a night. I’d been layin’ in my bunk a while when I realized the reason I couldn’t doze off was because I was hungry again. So I walked barefoot to the bunkroom door and was just about to open it when I heard Adam and Pa talkin’.

"What?" Pa’s voice carried to me.

"Does it?" Adam asked.

"I don’t think there’s anything good to be said for not being sincere, Adam."

"That’s what I’m telling you, Pa. I can apologize to Mr. McNally. But I won’t mean it. So what would that accomplish?"

The room as so quiet I could hear the logs cracklin’ as they burned.

"Adam," Pa said slowly, "do you remember the Lord’s Prayer?"

I could just see Adam lookin’ at Pa like he couldn’t believe what Pa had asked. "Of course I do."

"Read what follows it in Matthew."

I just thought the room’d been quiet before. Strange as it seems it got even quieter.

"Read it aloud, please."

Adam’s voice was soft. "‘For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; But if ye forgive not - ’"

"Go on."

"‘But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’"

"Every man has to make his own choices. But think about it, Adam. A man and his actions aren’t easy to separate." Pa nearly spoke in a whisper. "Good night, son."

"Good night, Pa."

I decided I wasn’t hungry after all. If I knew Adam he was gonna sit there in a chair by the fire most of the night. But come mornin’ he’d know what he was gonna do.

Adam wasn’t at the breakfast table but Pa didn’t act much surprised. Hop Sing was busy tryin’ to figure out what to cook for dinner instead of rabbit - and it was all Little Joe could do to sit still long enough to eat before he could go be with Cochise. I decided that colt was gonna be the luckiest horse that every lived ‘cause Joe was gonna spoil ‘im good. Pa says you can never spoil someone with too much love. Not when it’s real love.

When I could finally talk Joe into lettin’ Calico and Cochise alone for a while I told ‘im if we didn’t get those stalls mucked out first thing, considerin’ how we’d forgotten to do it the day before, Pa was gonna pound us both. He made one of those twisted-up faces of his and acted like he was real put-upon but he grabbed a rake and started to work. That was when I noticed Calico’s stall was all cleaned up with fresh straw scattered around and plenty of water right where she needed.

It seemed to me there was a whole lot of muck that day. It was sure more wheelbarrow loads than I figured it should be. I piled it up where we always do and then Joe and me cleaned up the corral. I don’t mind feedin’ horses, or brushin’ them, or shoein’ them, or waterin’ them, or even doctorin’ them. But I sure wish we could train ‘em to use an outhouse.

Joe and me were talkin’ about if there might be any way to invent some kinda machine that would muck out the barn while we took the last of the stuff to the pile. And I mean pile.

"Maybe we could rig up some kind of big rake to a rope like we put hay in the hayloft with and we could pull that rope and it would clean out the barn," Joe said.

I didn’t know what he meant about "we" puttin’ the hay in the loft. He was more trouble than he was worth at times like that.

"Where would ya find a rake that big?" I asked.

"I bet Adam could draw one up for us. Then we could build it. You’re real good at sawing and I can hammer good as Pa."

I heard a horse trottin’ up to the corral and I figured Adam was back and it had to be Beauty. Sure enough, Big Brother walked around to the back of the barn, pulled off his hat, and said he was real sorry he hadn’t been able to help us take care of the barn and corral. He sounded about as sorry as I would’ve been.

Pa came out the back door about then. He walked over to Adam and asked him if everything was all right.

Adam nodded and said, "Doing the right thing isn’t easy."

Pa put his hand to Adam’s back and said, "No, but it is the right thing."

Little Joe was walkin’ by me like he always does - sideways and not payin’ a bit of attention to where he’s goin’. I suppose it was ‘cause I was busy watchin’ Adam and Pa that I didn’t notice where my little brother was headed. But I sure got an earful when he got there.

He walked right into that smelly pile and his boots slipped and he fell smack on his behind. Dang but he was a mess when he stood up, pretty much knee-deep in the stuff. None of us dared to laugh at first ‘cause he was hot as a rifle barrel and yellin’ for all he was worth. He wanted to know why I hadn’t been watchin’ where he’d been walkin’ and why I’d let ‘im tromp smack into it.

Lordy but he was a sight standin’ there, holdin’ out his arms, and makin’ the awfulest face I ever saw.

Adam started laughin’ then and when I looked back at ‘im he waved his hand toward Little Joe. "See, Hoss," he said to me, "even Joe knows how to put his legs into it."

 

That night after Joe was asleep, and I was in bed, and Adam was still readin’ in his bed by the candlelight, I asked him if he’d apologized to Mr. McNally.

His answer was real short, even for Adam. "No."

I had my eyes closed since we weren’t lookin’ at each other. "But ya told Pa ya did."

"He asked me if everything was all right. I told him it was."

"But ya didn’t apologize?"

"No."

"Well – what’d ya do?"

I half-expected ‘im to tell me it was none of my business. But Adam and me don’t work like that.

"I told Mr. McNally that if I apologized I wouldn’t mean it because I had not been disrespectful."

"Yeah?"

"Then I told him that the past is the past."

I was puzzled. "And that’s it?"

"Yes."

"What’d ya mean the past is the past?"

"I don’t hold what he did against him."

That was when I got his meaning. "You forgive ‘im."

"What’s mine to forgive, yes."

I smiled. "Sounds ta me like sometimes instead of using yer back or yer legs it’s good to use yer heart."

He was quiet a good while and then he growled, "Quit using your brain and go to sleep, would you?"

"Adam?"

"Would you just go to sleep?"

What I needed to say was kinda hard but I went ahead anyways. "I’m glad ya stood up for yourself."

He laughed softly. "You’re just glad you didn’t have to stand up for me."

"I would’ve, ya know."

"I know."

That’s when Joe turned over and said, "If you two get any sweeter on each other I’m gonna throw up."

The bunkroom door eased open and Pa leaned his left hand on the doorframe. "Is everything all right in here?"

"Same as always," I answered.

Pa shook his head but he was smilin’. "That bad, hmm?" He looked from one to the other of us and settled his eyes on Adam. "You didn’t apologize, did you?"

I heard Adam’s bed creak and I was pretty sure he was proppin’ himself up on his elbow like he does. "No."

"But you did forgive." Before Adam could answer back, Pa walked to the door and said, "Good night, boys."

Adam blew out the candle. Then he said, "I’m glad you’re my brother, Hoss."

And Joe moaned. "I’m gonna throw up. I’m just gonna throw up."

 

+The end+