A light comedy involving all the Cartwrights. While Ben and Adam are away on business, Joe turns the Ponderosa into a hotel to help out a pretty girl.
Hoss had never been so hungry as he was that morning. Having been awake since dawn the previous day, he was plumb tuckered out. He and Joe were managing the Ponderosa on their own for three weeks. Adam and Ben were away in Sacramento for an important business deal. They had all their own chores and their father’s and brother’s to attend to. Not to mention, a lively social life to keep up while their elder brother and father were away.
“Hey, Joe, pass the ketchup, will ya?” Hoss shoveled in a mouthful of egg as he spoke.
Hoss couldn’t believe that he’d lost his little brother in such quick time. His plate of food was untouched, his chair empty. The big man sat back from the table and scanned the dinning room for his sibling. There, out near the door, stood Joe. One hand resting on the doorjamb, the other embellishing some fantastic tale to Miss Harker from the International Hotel.
Hoss signed with resignation. Joe didn’t let a woman out of his sight without trying to talk to her. Unperturbed, Hoss saw the moment as an opportunity. Grabbing Joe’s plate, he tipped the entire contents onto his own and continued to eat. Eventually, when he had well and truly finished, Joe returned to the table to find his breakfast gone.
“Hoss, did you eat all that?” Joe realized his mistake in leaving unattended food in his brother’s path.
“You was too busy, little brother, chattin’ up a storm with that pretty gal from the hotel.” Hoss wasn’t sorry one bit.
“Aw, Hoss, I was just tryin’ to be nice, and help her out with a sticky problem she’s got.” Joe motioned to the waitress to bring another meal. He should’ve just ordered two in the first place.
“Problem, what sorta problem would she have?” Hoss stirred his coffee, only half interested in Joe’s answer.
“Gracie, that’s her name, she sure is a beauty.”
“Well, what problem’s she got then?”
“It turns out, her and her father have been working hard refurbishing all the rooms at the hotel after old man Carter died.”
Hoss nodded, having noted that the hotel looked much more decent now they had taken it over.
“Well, they’ve had a whole lot of requests for rooms.” Joe eagerly took a fresh plate of food from the waitress, giving her a cheeky wink at the same time.
“So, that ought to be good then, shouldn’t it?” Hoss eyed off Joe’s bacon, wondering how he could trick him into giving him some.
“Should be Hoss.” Joe explained between chews. “Trouble is, she’s got two groups of people who want to come in the same week. She’s only got room for one lot. She’s gonna miss out on a whole load a money, and they really need it to pay for the renovations.”
“Well, caint she ask one of ‘em to come a week later, that would solve it.”
“She’s already tried that and they can’t. That’s when I said, we’d be happy to help.” Joe stopped talking and hoed into his steak.
Hoss knew Joe had slipped out the last comment quickly; hoping it would pass by his ears without being comprehended. He was wrong.
“Help at the hotel, what do you mean by that?” Hoss suddenly had a deep furrow of worry on his forehead, as he watched Joe cautiously. He had experienced his little brother’s helping hand before.
Joe took a moment to answer. How was he going to explain this to make it sound good? Hoss wasn’t going to like it. “Well, I didn’t mean we had to help out at the hotel.” Joe smiled weakly and filled his mouth.
“Oh, that’s all right then. We got too much to do at the ranch anyhow.” Hoss didn’t wait for an invitation, as he stole a strip of bacon from Joe’s plate.
“I just said we could maybe take in a couple of the guests for a few days to give them a hand.” Joe leaned back in his seat, waiting for Hoss’s reaction.
“You what? What you mean by that? We cain’t have guests out at the ranch now. Hop Sing is away in San Francisco, visitin’ his cousins. Why do you think we’re eatin’ in town? Besides, we only got two spare rooms. We can hardly make much of a difference to the hotel.” Hoss frowned at Joe, not liking this at all.
“Four rooms, brother. We got four.”
Hoss slapped his napkin down on the table and faced Joe down.
“How you figure that? We got the guestroom downstairs and one spare room upstairs. You cain’t put payin’ people in the bunk house.”
“Hey, I never thought of that . . .”
“Joe, don’t you even think it.” Hoss warned him with a sharp expression.
“I kinda’ counted Pa’s and Adam’s rooms. They won’t be needed them for a while.”
“Joe, you just itichin’ for trouble. We cain’t let out their rooms to strangers. All their stuff and personal things is in there.”
“So, we just take them out for a week. They’ll never even know. It’ll all be over well before they get back.”
Hoss was having a hard time controlling his temper. He was certainly not going to let Joe go through with this fool thing.
“Joe, what about food. Remember Hop Sing?”
“Sure, I thought about that. It’s the end of the drive season. There’s plenty’a range cooks hangin’ around looking for work. We’ll just test them out and pick the best one. Easy.”
“And the room chores. Payin’ folks expect to be looked after, have their rooms made up, you know.”
“I never thought about that.” Joe leaned forward, deep in thought for a moment. “Hank’s not doin’ much at the moment, neither’s a couple of the other boys. We can train ‘em up, just like valets.”
“But Joe, what these people gonna do out there? Who are they? They must be comin’ to Virginia City for a reason. Why would they wanna be stuck outa town on a ranch anyhow?’ Hoss was running out of resistance.
“That’s the best part, Hoss. This group is coming out here to get away from the city for a week. They want to go picnicking, riding and enjoy the country air. What better place to do that than at the ranch. We’ll have a great week, playing hosts to all those lovely women, then…”
“Who?” Hoss cut Joe off.
“All those women.” Joe trailed off his words, watching his brother with caution.
“Women, how many women?
“Just, eight . . .eight women. They, they won’t be any trouble.”
“Dadburnit Joe, what we gonna do with eight women for a week?”
“Hoss, keep your voice down, people are listenin’.” Joe looked worriedly at the other patrons, craning their necks to hear the gossip.
Lowering his voice again, Hoss continued. “Joe, that’s too many. Maybe we could take two, or even four but not eight! You gotta be plumb loco.”
Hoss didn’t like it one bit.
“’Sides, what do we get out of this. Seems to me this is just gonna’ be one big heap of trouble, for what?”
“Hoss, ain’t you got any compassion? That poor little Gracie, struggling down there with her father, tryin’ to make ends meet. This could be their only hope of survival. Imagine if we didn’t help them out, that nasty old bank manager, Mr. Nolan might take away their hotel and their livelihood. How would that be, knowin’ you were the cause of sending that poor sweet girl and her father out into the street to earn a living?”
“Aw, Joe, dadburnit, if you ain’t the most annoyin, aw, alright. I give in, but you betta’ have this planned out real good, otherwise I’m sending a telegram to Pa to come straight home.”
“Hoss, you wouldn’t!’
“Wouldn’t I, you just watch me.” Hoss moved his chair away from the table with a loud scrape. “And you, little brother, can pay for breakfast. I’m goin’ home to get some sleep.” Hoss turned his back and stalked out of the dinning room, leaving Joe to work out his plans. Hoss would come round. This was going to be an exiting week, yes sir!
Adam slowly raised a cup of strong black coffee to his lips. Fully absorbed in Sacramento’s daily newspaper, he didn’t hear his father’s footsteps coming up to the table.
“Morning, Adam. I have a good feeling about today. I know we’re going to make progress with that contract.”
“Hmm, oh, sorry Pa. I was just reading about that poor Mrs. Henderson.”
“Oh, who’s that?” Ben picked up the menu and tried to decide what to have for breakfast. The food at the Palace Hotel was always excellent.
“She’s that widow who ran the finest finishing school in the western territories. The school building burnt down last week, leaving her penniless and her students stranded.”
“Oh, yeah. I read about that in the Territorial Enterprise just before we left. Terrible tragedy.”
Ben made his order, then settled back in his chair.
“So, what’s happened about it. Was the building insured?”
“Only for part of it’s value, apparently. It says here, that she’s decided to give up teaching and go back east.”
“That’s a shame. We really need some good facilities out here. Its people like that who need to be encouraged about staying in the west.”
“It does say, though, that she and her students are going on a short vacation, to get over the shock and to have one last week together. At least that will be nice for them.”
“Yes, I expect so. Oh, well. You can’t help that sort of bad luck. It’s a pity there’s nothing we could do to help. Now, let’s discuss our strategy for the meeting.”
The two decision-makers of the Ponderosa talked earnestly for a while, never realizing for one minute that there was indeed something they were going to do. Right this very instant, their rooms were being emptied of all their possessions, in readiness for an invasion. An invasion from Mrs. Henderson and her seven spoilt teenage girls, no less!
Hoss sat at the dinning table with six lunches in front of him. A couple looked mighty good. Two were ordinary and two looked plain dreadful. Taking up a knife and fork, he set about tasting each one, starting with the bad ones.
Yuck, they were bad. A murky brown soup that looked like dishwater and a plate of very burned steak and beans. Next, two plates of beef stew that looked all right, but were tasteless. The best two dishes, a rabbit stew with dumplings and a very flavorsome roast beef, were his pick. After taking his fill, he called the six cooks out from the kitchen.
“Hey, fella’s, come on out.” They all filed out of the room, hope in their eyes.
“Well, boys, you outdid yaselves, nothin’ surer. But, I’m mighty partial to this roast. I have to go with Clyde. Thanks a lot for tryin’ out.”
The rest of the men hung their heads in disappointment, as Clyde smiled a toothless grin at Hoss.
“Well, Clyde, I hope you can cook as good as that for every meal.” Hoss continued to gobble up the roast.
“Sure can, Hoss. Every meal.” Clyde returned to the kitchen to count his supplies. Hoss felt satisfied with his choice, and once finished with eating, left the table to go check how Joe was making out with the boys.
Adam was relishing his days in Sacramento. He had lots of spare time between negotiations, and he enjoyed going out in the evenings. As he walked up Main Street, he noted the new buildings being put up. Some with very interesting architectural designs. As he rounded the next corner, he saw the burnt out shell of the School he had been reading about. Out front, he noticed a large closed carriage, piled high with luggage. Several young girls were fussing around it, as was an older lady. These must be the students and their teacher, moving out, Adam thought as he crossed the road; curious to get a closer look at the lady that was forced to leave Sacramento.
“Now girls, you can’t take everything. I know you all have new outfits for the trip, but goodness, we’re only going for one week!” Adam listened to her instructions, smiling at the predicament of taking so many young ladies on a holiday.
“Mam, what is one supposed to wear on a ranch, anyway? I bought this beautiful new riding habit, but maybe I should buy a western hat.”
“Rose, I don’t think it’s going to matter. You will be able to get suitable riding clothes in Virginia City if you require them, I’m sure.” Adam, about to move away, pricked up his ears when she mentioned Virginia City.
“Do you think we’ll get to ride, and picnic, and have a ranchers Ball?” Another pretty young girl spoke from the side of the carriage.
“I’m sure you will. The ranch caters for guests, so I’ve no doubt they will do what ever we want to keep us happy. I’ve been told The Ponderosa has a wonderful reputation.”
Adam’s eyes widened at the mention of his home. The Ponderosa! He must have heard wrong. How could they be possibly be going to the Ponderosa? He sidled up into the shadows of the tailors front entrance next door, keen to overhear more.
“Really, Miss Henderson? Susan told me we’re going to have our own valets and our own chef to cook us what we like. Isn’t that right?”
“Well, Mr. Cartwright did mention those things in the telegram.”
“Mr. Cartwright, who’s he?”
“He’s the proprietor of the ranch. He’ll be our host, along with his brother, so I have been told.”
“Oh, two men to show us around. This is going to be exciting,” squeaked Rose.
Adam about choked when he heard this. What were his brothers up to? Surely they wouldn’t have hired the ranch out to visitors. If Pa found out about this he would be furious. He moved away, and wondered what he should do. This was just like one of Joe’s schemes. Some money making venture, no doubt.
Adam’s mind ran wild as he walked back to the hotel. How could he control this without his father knowing? He was stuck here in Sacramento for at least another couple of weeks. Possibly, if he came up with a good enough excuse, he could return to the ranch before his father and deal with the situation, however out of hand it had become by that stage. And it would be out of hand. He was quite certain of that as he looked back at the laden wagon.
He had a mind to tell his father about it, but then, Ben didn’t need this kind of worry. He was having a difficult enough time running the serious issues of the ranch without being told his home was being turned into a hotel. No, this was up to Adam to sort out. As he entered his lodgings, he knew he had to come up with a good story to get him back to the Ponderosa, double quick!
“NO, Hank. Not like that. These ladies are refined. They will expect you to serve them properly, like a waiter at a fancy restaurant. You can’t just slop the stew onto their plates like you’d feed the hogs!”
“Oh, Joe, I’m sick ‘a this. I cain’t be no waiter. I’ll chop the wood and stuff, but you can do this dang fool thing.” Hank, in a temper, untied the apron from his middle and stormed out of the dining room.
“Hank, wait.” Joe called, but it didn’t do any good.
“Well, little brother, looks like you gotta do the waitin’ all by yourself.” Hoss chuckled from the settee, where he was taking a break and munching on an apple.
“Hoss, be sensible, I can’t serve the food, I’m the host, remember. How would it look for me to do it?”
“Well, someone’s gotta do it, as well as clean the rooms, answer them bells you done put in the rooms, get horses ready, clean and help Clyde in the kitchen.” Joe ran his hands through his hair, then, finding the solution, looked at Hoss.
“Hoss, do you think you could try somethin’ for me?” Joe said in his politest tone.
“What now? I done did all those things you already made me, got ridin’ horses, got extra stores for the kitchen, moved all Pa’s and Adam’s things. Not to mention . . .”
“Hoss, just one thing. I need to see if I’m teachin’ it right.” Joe smiled and beckoned his brother.
“Don’t you be thinkin’ I’m gonna be servin’ the food, now too.” Hoss reluctantly got up and walked over to the table.
“No, no Hoss. I wouldn’t do that, it’s just that, well, I need to practice what needs to be done. Now, why don’t you try carryin” out three plates at a time.” Joe smiled and Hoss obeyed. Why did he always get caught out in these fool things?
Adam sat at the dinner table in the Palace Hotel, looking sheepish. His father was enjoying a fine wine and a good steak and was in excellent humor. Things were going well, and Adam knew that his father could handle the rest of the meetings without him. It was getting around the reason why he had to leave that was going to be awkward.
It had already taken him a couple of day’s to come up with a plan, and to ensure he caught his father at the right time. By his calculations, the women would soon be arriving at the ranch. As he watched his father from the corner of his eye, he ran through the tale again in his mind. Would Pa believe him? Adam was not usually known for doing rash things, so he had to be sincere. No time like the present.
“Pa?” Adam’s voice was soft and hesitant.
“Mmm.” Ben, attacking his steak with relish, didn’t look up.
“Pa, there’s something important I have to do.” Ben didn’t reply for a moment, then sipping his wine leaned back in his chair, to give Adam his full attention.
“Oh, what’s that?”
“I, I have to go home.” Adam smiled slightly, causing one cheek to dimple.
“Go home, why?” Ben was immediately on guard.
“Well, you see, it’s, it’s like this.” He stopped and looked down at the table. He hated lying to his father. He always had, even when he was a little boy. It seemed so much more deceitful now he was a grown man.
“I’m listening.” The tone of Ben Cartwright’s voice changed slightly, his sons, the only ones who would have noticed the warning sign.
“Well, Pa. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking, here. You remember, Sally?”
Adam winced slightly as he looked back to his father.
“Sally Taylor, from the general store?” Ben frowned.
“Yeah, her. I, well I, can’t stop thinking about her. I really miss her, and I kinda want to go home to, well, to see her.” Adam unconsciously covered his mouth with his hands as his father narrowed his eyes at him.
“But son, didn’t you have a big fight with her. I seem to remember you coming home covered in flour that she threw at you for forgetting to take her to the dance.”
Adam went a slight shade of pink at the reminder.
“Although, that is true, I want to make amends with her. I was a fool and I deserved it.” He spoke low, hoping to hide the deceit.
“Adam, can’t it wait? We have some important meetings coming up.” Ben put down his wine and studied his eldest.
“Pa, well, I thought, the hard work’s done now, you can do it all with your eyes closed anyway. I really need to go, Pa. If I leave it any longer, well, that Sam Collins from the blacksmith’s will be courtin’ her.” Adam pleaded with sincerity.
Ben didn’t believe one bit of this story. It was interesting, he pondered, that Adam would think that he would. Ben knew his sons much better than they gave him credit for. Adam, for instance, would never have forgotten to take a woman out if there had been any spark between them. Let alone, suddenly get the urge to walk out on a significant deal to chase a girl he last week had described as aloof and boring.
Even so, Ben was curious. There must be a reason Adam wanted to go home. Quite an important one too, if he had made up such a fantastic tale to allow him to be excused. He hadn’t received a telegram from home because Ben would have known about it. What could it be? He trusted Adam, though and hoped he was using his best judgement, whatever the situation. If it were really serious, he would have told him, no question about it.
“Pa, can I go?” Adam sounded like a child, asking to go to the local picnic. Ben couldn’t stop the smirk on his face.
“Alright, Adam. I trust you have thought about this carefully?”
“Thanks Pa.” Adam, off the hook, returned to his rapidly cooling dinner.
Ben continued to watch Adam as he appeared deep in thought for the rest of the evening. He informed his father he would leave on the early morning stage, and said his good-bye at the stairs.
“Good luck, Pa.” He shook his father’s hand.
“You too, son. Does this mean wedding bells?” Ben asked innocently.
Adam went red again, something only Hoss usually did.
“That’s a bit rash,” he mumbled.
Slapping Adam on the back,
Ben followed him up the stairs. If he didn’t win the contract, he
would also be home sooner than planned. He wondered if Adam remembered
that. A surprise homecoming, with what going on, he wondered.
It was almost worth giving up the contract, to find out.
Joe ran around the house, making sure everything was in place. He had paid Hoss a substantial bribe at this point, to ensure he didn’t walk out on him, as he had to Hank, Charlie and Billy. They had all been so difficult to deal with. Why, he didn’t know. It was going to be such fun, hosting young refined ladies. He had the two guestrooms, Pa’s and Adam’s rooms ready. He hoped the ladies wouldn’t mind sharing, as the only way they would fit would be two to a room.
Joe was also hoping the extra money Gracie had promised him from the guests would cover his bribe money, plus a little extra for himself. He had failed to tell Hoss that Mrs. Henderson had agreed to pay considerably more to come to the ranch instead of staying in town. Joe rubbed his hands together. This was going to be doubly good because not only would he get extra money, but he would win Gracie’s affections too. Satisfied with the arrangements at last, he settled down on the settee to await the arrival of the guests. Hoss had gone to town to collect them earlier With his feet resting confidently on the table, he leaned back and smiled like a cat who had the cream.
Joe was fast asleep on the couch when the carriage arrived. The first thing he knew of their appearance was Hoss opening the door and yelling his arrival. Joe sprang from the settee in a daze.
“Joe, come quick, they’s all here. Come greet ‘em like you said you would.” Hoss had a deep mean frown on his face, that Joe didn’t like the look of.
“Sure Hoss, coming.” He scurried to the front door, asking Hoss on the way what they were like. Hoss only replied with one word.
Joe straightened his hat, and checked his pants for dust before he went out to greet them.
“Do I look alright, Hoss?”
“Oh, you look fine, little brother. Just you mind your grammar. They already told me off for mine.”
“No problem. I know how to handle women, Hoss.” With that, Joe strode confidently out to the yard to welcome the guests.
“Well, Howdy Mrs. Henderson. Welcome to the Ponderosa.” Joe’s words trailed off as he set his eyes on her and the girls. They were all pretty and very young. Around 16 years old, he guessed. All too young for kissing, that was for sure. And just old enough for mischief. Mrs. Henderson looked like a typical disapproving school marm, as she frowned down at Joe.
“Mr. Cartwright, I presume?”
“That’s right, Mam. Welcome. I hope you had a pleasant trip.” Joe tipped his hat, with all the girls looking on. Several of them giggled and one swooned, causing a mad flurry of flapping fans. Joe helped Mrs. Henderson down, while trying to ignore the admirers.
“I must say, Mr. Cartwright. I had heard you were a much more, well, mature gentleman.” She looked at him with suspicion.
“Oh, well, that would be my father, Ben Cartwright, mam. He was called away, urgently on business. I hope you don’t mind having to put up with me and Hoss.”
“Hoss and I!” She swept her skirts to the side and brushed past him with annoyance. “My goodness, but I’d hoped you would have better language skills. I can’t allow my girls to be subjected to too many rough, cowboys.”
“Oh, no mam. You’ll find us most, er, very civilized. Won’t you and your young ladies come inside?” He again tipped his hat and beckoned all the girls down off the carriage. They giggled with delight as he lifted them all down in turn. Hoss was stewing in the background, while lugging the bags, inside wishing he had stopped this before it ever got started.
“Come along, girls. Lets get freshened up. It’s not long until supper time.” The woman stalked into the house, followed by a single file of impressionable teenage girls. Joe took a deep breath. This wasn’t going to be so easy after all.
At a way station, Adam tried to relieve the stiffness from his muscles while the stage made a brief stop to change horses. It would be tomorrow afternoon before he made it back to Virginia City, then he would have to ride back to the Ponderosa. He wondered what was happening. Would he be too late? Those girls certainly looked like a handful.
Ben sat at a round table, trying to keep his mind on the business at hand. Several other men were with him, all arguing at the top of their voices, unable to reach an agreement on who was to win the contract, Ben Cartwright or Dan Morgan. They had been deadlocked all morning. Ben was getting sick of the bickering and quite frankly, he was loosing his enthusiasm for the contract all together. This was usually Adam’s forte, stubbornly hanging in there, and persuading others to see it his way. Ben too, was like that, only this morning he was fed up with it all. He wanted to go home, see if everything was all right. They already had more work than they could handle anyway. Wanting this contract was probably being greedy. He made a decision.
“Well, gentlemen, that’s enough for me. I’m bowing out of this fight. Morgan, you can have the contract. I’m going home.” Ben stood up and began to walk out. Six stunned faces watched him go.
“But Ben, you can’t do that. We have to reach a fair decision.” Morgan loved arguing almost as much as winning.
“This is a fair decision,
Morgan. Congratulations.” Ben gave them all a disgusted look
and walked from the meeting.
“Mr. Cartwright, this is totally unsatisfactory.” Mrs. Henderson was proving a prickly guest.
“Mam, what’s wrong.” Joe stood behind her in the hallway upstairs.
“It simply won’t do that I have to share a room with one of the girls. I must keep my professional distance, you know.” She sniffed in annoyance.
“But mam, we don’t have enough rooms for that. I was told two to a room would be fine.” He smiled pathetically.
“Well, what about these other two rooms up here? They look nice and comfortable. I’ll take one and Miss Jones will take the other. She doesn’t get on with the others girls too well. You’d be well advised to heed my warning on that.”
Without waiting, she walked into Joe’s room and deposited her night bag on the bed.
“But, mam, that’s..”
“What, young man.” She didn’t look amused. “Don’t forget I’ve paid a lot of money to come here.”
“I’ll get some fresh linen.” Joe retreated and mumbled to himself, “That’s my room.” As he walked past Hoss’s room, he noticed Miss Jones had settled right in. This was not going to be easy for him to explain. It looked like they were both going to be sleeping in the bunkhouse.
For the next hour, Joe, Hoss, Hank and Billy were run off their feet, fetching and carrying water, towels, cups of tea, coffee and anything else the little brats demanded. Charlie cleaned out Hoss’s and Joe’s rooms and changed the beds. None too well, either, as Mrs. Henderson reprimanded him plenty of times before he was finished. Hoss felt like taking a punch at Joe for giving up his room. The bunkhouse was always so uncomfortable. With his size, he wasn’t going to get a wink of sleep.
When the time came for supper, Joe was exhausted. He checked on Clyde who thankfully seemed under control in the kitchen. All the young ladies dressed for dinner and came out looking their finest. The men washed and changed too, and finally things seemed to be smoothing out. Joe escorted each of the girls to their places and Hoss did the honors with the wine and drinks. Even Mrs. Henderson seemed more content.
The meal went along fairly pleasantly, until one of the girls started chatting to Joe exclusively.
“Tell me, Mr. Cartwright. Do you shoot that big old gun of yours, or is it just for show?”
“Cally, really. That’s no question to ask.” Mrs. Henderson frowned from across the table.
“Do you break those bucking Broncos? I’d love to see that. Will you do one for us?” Another girl piped up.
“And I want to round up some cattle. I bought a western style hat just for the occasion.
“Hoss, can you show us some bear cubs? I’ve always wanted to see one up close.”
“And I want to go riding.”
“Horrid, how could you want to do all those boyish things? I want a party, a Ranchers Ball, Saturday night. Or I won’t be nice, not one bit.” Rose pouted her lips. The spoiled Miss Jones.
“Girls, girls. Remember that this is a working ranch. These gentlemen may not have the time to be at your beck and call all week.” Mrs. Henderson replied.
“No, mam, we’d be happy to do all those things. I think we can even arrange a party, don’t you think Hoss?” Joe was confident again. Parties he was good at.
“Yeah, sure Joe, anything you say.” Hoss brought out the meals in stony silence, not enjoying his waiting experience one bit. Luckily, the food was edible. Clyde had made his excellent roast for dinner. They all seemed to enjoy it.
Later, after dinner, when they were all mingling around the fire, Joe noticed some of the ladies giving him admiring glances. He began to feel uncomfortable as they edged toward him more and more, quietly suggesting he take them on a moonlight buggy ride to the lake.
“I, I don’t think that Mrs. Henderson would approve.”
“Oh, that old bat, she doesn’t have to know.” The girl called Cally sidled up to him and whispered in a low tone.
“We have money of our own, you know. We are all from rich families. We can pay you, for extra outings.” She smiled with a wickedness Joe had only seen on girls much older. He started to back up. This was not good.
“We want to go to the lake, and maybe even for a swim.” Susan piped up as well.
“Shush, we don’t want Mrs. Henderson to hear.” Cally smiled at Joe, twiddling her flaxen hair in her fingers. “Remember, after everyone else is in bed, we’ll go, or we’ll tell Mrs. Henderson you tried to take advantage of us.” Joe went pale as they retreated. He was stuck in a very awkward corner.
Later, when the time came, Joe did his best to stop the deceitful ride. Nothing worked and so he found himself dodging three girls for four hours, all trying to capture him with an embrace or a kiss or in a compromising position. When they were returning, the girls started a fight over him. Clawing and hitting each other like children, they caused the horses to stampede. Putting his life on the line, Joe climbed down between the team, trying to get them under control. Several scrapes and bruises later, he brought them to a halt. Three scared and regretful girls apologizing from the buggy.
He was sore and sorry when
he finally crawled onto a bunk later that night. Hoss was snoring
loudly, his feet dangling over the end of one bunk. Joe sighed.
This was turning out to be a nightmare.
Things seemed quiet. Lamps were burning in the windows, and he could hear the murmur of voices drifting from inside as he stabled and bedded down his hired horse. As he was about to go inside, a movement in the shadow of the barn startled Adam. He drew his gun and assertively called for the intruder to come out.
“I think it’s you who has to drop the gun, Mister.” A girl, no more that fifteen emerged from the shadows. One of his father’s expensive rifles in her shaking hands, the barrel pointed right at his gut. Adam instantly on the defensive dropped his gun and spoke calmly.
“How about you put that gun down? You could kill me with that thing.”
“I know, I’m not stupid. Now, get your hands up, nice and slow.”
“You’re making a big mistake, Miss. I live here. My name’s Adam Cartwright. Joe’s brother.” He smiled his most winning smile and watched the gun barrel nervously as it shook in her hands.
“You’re lying. Hoss is Joe’s brother. Besides, you don’t look like a Cartwright, in those filthy clothes. Come on, move.” Adam, resigned to the ridiculous situation, turned and walked from the barn with his hands in the air. As they reached the door, he could hear arguing from inside. Opening it up, he discovering bedlam.
Three young girls, one of whom Adam recognized from the other day came tearing down the stairs, screaming.
“Rose put a frog in our beds. She’s so hateful. We’re going to toss her in the lake tomorrow!”
“Mr. Cartwright, that meal was terrible tonight. I hope the fare is better tomorrow, or you’ll not be getting what you were promised. How can we eat the same roast at every meal? Surely you don’t think…”
“Hoss, get me my bath water, right now. I’ve been in that filthy mud puddle you call a lake. It was disgusting and I got muck all over my shoes.”
“And it stinks of cattle down there. Ugh, I went to the horse corral. It was terrible.”
“And Mrs. Henderson, did I tell you where that hateful Joe Cartwright took us last night, after you were asleep in bed?” Cally began, but Susan covered her mouth with panic.
Adam was totally confused as he bounced his gaze from one to the other, trying to follow all the confusing babble.
“Look what I caught, mam. A genuine outlaw out in the barn, trying to steal the horses. I think we ought to tie him up and make him confess.” The girl who had captured Adam piped up with confidence from behind him.
Everyone swung around to look, including Hoss and Joe. They saw their elder brother by the door, his hands up, looking low down mean. They both sank into a chair, their faces drained of blood. Adam was home. Now they were really in trouble.
Ben booked his passage on the stage and went back to the hotel to pack. His temper diminished, he wondered if he had done the right thing. There was probably no reason to go home. Adam may have even been telling the truth. Still, there was nothing to be done about it now, as he had given up the timber contract. It had been a busy year and it would be good to have a few pleasant days at the Ponderosa with nothing planned. Sit back for a while; maybe do some fishing before the winter started to bite. Yes, a few quiet days would be wonderful.
Joe rushed over to the girl holding Adam up with the gun and explained that he really was his brother and not some outlaw.
“Another Mr. Cartwright? Well, maybe you can talk your brothers into some order around here.” They bombarded Adam so much with problems from all sides; he hardly knew which way to turn. Finally, out of patience, he yelled in a booming voice above all of them.
“I don’t care what you all want. Right at this minute, I’m tired, filthy, hungry and irritable. I’m going to wash up, eat and go to bed!” He glared at his brothers and stormed past them out to the kitchen. Hoss hurried behind, leaving Joe to apologize yet again.
“Adam, I’d betta tell ya right now. You ain’t goin to bed upstairs tonight.” Hoss swallowed and backed up against the wash room door, as his brother splashed wildly in a cold bucket of water.
“What!? Hoss, I don’t even want to know what possessed you two to do this idiotic thing, but we’re going to have a good talk about it in the morning, before Pa is liable to get home and find them all.” He tipped the cooling water all over his upper body, washing the grim of the day off.
“And what do you mean, I’m not sleeping upstairs tonight?”
“Well, Adam, it’s kinda like this. Joe done let out all our rooms to them gals. Just for a week. We figured you and Pa wouldn’t be home for another two.”
“You did what?”
“Let out your room.”
Adam looked shocked. He didn’t think they’d go that far. His room was sacred. No one messed with it. They all knew that.
“Where’s all my stuff. What have you done?” Adam walked over to Hoss and grabbed him by the collar.
“Now, just simmer down, Adam. All your stuff is safe and sound, out in the bunkhouse. That’s where Joe and I been sleepin’. Just to keep an eye on it for ya.” Hoss backed up to the door as far as he could. He was bigger than Adam and packed a harder punch, but he was no match for him when he was in a raging temper.
“That’s just wonderful, Hoss. It better be alright or I’ll tear you and Joe to pieces, understand.” His tone turned low and threatening. Hoss nodded meekly and stepped aside for him to pass.
“I guess that means I’m in the bunkhouse too.”
“Yeah, kinda. But it’s only until Sunday. That’s when the gals gotta go back.”
“Great.” Adam turned and headed back outside, his face carved in stone. Sunday was five nights away. He could feel his back begin to ache with the thought of it.
Adam couldn’t believe he was caught up in this thing. He was taking several young ladies for riding lessons on the flat bottom pasture, after which he had been roped into riding a Bucking Bronco for their amusement. After a sleepless night on a rock hard bed, and Hoss’s and Hank’s snoring in unison the whole time, Adam felt like a dead man. The three girls with him were quarrelling with each other. One called Rose didn’t seem to get on with the other two, called Sammy and Isabelle. Isabelle was the girl who caught Adam in the barn. She now seemed to be much more pleasant toward him, smiling and following his orders without fuss.
“Well, girls, how are you going, all right?” He stopped in the middle of the pasture to check their progress.
“Fine, thank you Adam. You know, I really wouldn’t have shot at you the other night, don’t you?” Isabelle smiled sweetly as he dismounted to check their cinches.
“I sure hope not, young lady. Those weapons are dangerous. They’re not toys or for show. You should treat them with respect.” Adam satisfied with his little speech, smiled back. Suddenly, Isabelle held a hand to her forehead.
“Oh, Adam, I don’t feel so well.” Faking a dizzy spell, she slumped on the horse and slipped into his arms. The other two girls giggled in the background as a startled Adam caught her.
“Oh, er, Miss Isabelle, I should take you back to the ranch, then.” He looked down at her smitten face, suddenly realizing he’d been had. She burst into a fit of laughter.
“You’re so strong, Adam.”
“Alright, hold it right there!” Adam dropped her onto the ground and waited for her shocked reaction. “You girls behave, or you’ll get a spanking, Mrs. Henderson or no Mrs. Henderson. Do I make myself clear?” He stared at each one of them in turn. They nodded their heads, eager to appease his temper.
Once they were under control again, Adam mounted and moved off. They followed along, secretly tittering to each other.
“He’s so strong. He held me like I was nothing.”
“So dark and handsome, and to think, you almost shot him!”
“Well, I hope he can dance. He can escort me to the party Saturday night.”
“You, why you Rose? I found him, didn’t I?”
The quarrelling started up again and Adam sighed. On to the corral.
“Hoss, you told me you loved my roast.” Clyde banged down a kitchen knife on the bench.
“I do, Clyde, and if it were up to me, I’d have it everyday. But, them ladies, they just don’t understand. They like different things at each meal. Can you do just a couple’a different things?”
“No, I cain’t. But it don’t matter no more, I quit!” Clyde untied his apron and stormed out of the kitchen, leaving Hoss with no cook. “Dadburnit, now who’s gonna make them fancy meals.” Hoss didn’t know, but it sure wasn’t gonna be him, or Joe. They didn’t have a clue on cookin’.
Joe lay back on the blanket, admiring the pretty day. The two girls he had taken for the buggy ride and had subsequently told on him, Cally and Susan, walked around picking flowers, giving them to Joe. He found that if he played along with them to a certain extent, they would do all his little jobs for him. Girls, think you could fill up my glass, it’s getting empty.
“Oh, sure Joe. Let me do it.” Susan raced across and filled his glass with the cool water they had brought for the picnic.
“And Joe, I’ll get you another sandwich. You must be starving after all your trick riding this morning.” Cally burst into an adoring smile and handed him some more food.
“You’re so right, girls.” Joe leaned back. This wasn’t so bad after all.
Hoss got the short straw, with Mrs. Henderson having stayed at the ranch. Hank had taken out Emily and Polly in the buggy for a trip to town. They wanted to buy something special for the dance.
“Hoss, will your father be home by the dance on Saturday?” Mrs. Henderson looked up from her needlepoint as he entered the room.
“No mam, we don’t expect him back at all.” Hoss, still deep in thought about the cooking, didn’t offer any further explanation.
“That is a shame. It’s so peaceful here. I’d love to meet the man who made all this possible. He must be quite a fellow.”
“He is that, mam.
Now, if you would excuse me. I gotta errand to run. See you
later, mam.” He grabbed his hat and gun belt and hurried out the
door. Mrs. Henderson returned to her sewing, disappointed that she
would not meet Ben Cartwright. He would make a mighty fine catch.
Ben, bone weary from his journey, entered the house late. He said goodnight to Hop Sing at the door. He had been glad to run into the Chinese cook in town, he himself returning from his stay in San Francisco. The house was in darkness, the boys obviously having gone to bed some time ago. He trudged sleepily through the great room and up the stairs. He was so looking forward to a good night’s sleep. Walking down the hall, he entered his room quietly, trying not to wake his sleeping sons. Lowering himself on the bed, Ben began to remove his shirt. Sniffing the air, he smelled an unusually strong sickly sweet scent of perfume. All of a sudden, he sneezed, loudly.
Two screams ripped from behind him, loud and ear piercing. Ben startled, leapt from the bed and turned to see who was in his room.
One of the girls struck a match and turned up the lamp, and again they screamed, discovering an older man with grey hair, standing over them with a gun in his hand and his shirt unbuttoned.
“Who are you?!” Ben’s shocked voice rattled out the question.
“Who….who… are you?” One of the young girls managed to stutter.
By that time, Mrs. Henderson and the other girls had opened the door and burst in. Ben swung around, in total confusion. This was his house, wasn’t it?
“Please, sir, don’t harm them. Their only children,” Mrs. Henderson pleaded.
Ben looked from the door to his bed and back to the door again. There was only one word that sprang into his mind. That word was Joseph!
“So you see, Pa, there was nothing I could do, I had to help her. It was the right thing to do.” Joe put on his puppy dog eyes for his father, as did Hoss. Adam just sat in the background holding his head.
“Yeah, You just had to help, didn’t you?” Ben’s brows were knitted together in a dark furrow.
“And you, just had to go along with him, I suppose?” Hoss lowered his eyes and answered meekly. “Yeah Pa.”
“Yeah, Pa. And what about you? I haven’t heard a word out of you. How’s miss what’s her name from the store?” Ben’s words dripped sarcasm as he grilled his eldest son.
“I, she, Oh, I don’t know. I just wanted to protect you, that’s all.” Adam mumbled, picking absently at the wood on the corner of his bunk
“You three really are exasperating. Not only am I humiliated in my own home, but I am held at gun point by a shot gun wielding fifteen year old would be Calamity Jane.” He yelled with purpose as Joe winced.
“Joe, they’re going back to town in the morning. You can just give back all the money. I don’t like the idea of you turning our home into some sort of boarding house. It’s terrible!”
“But, Pa, they don’t have anywhere they can stay, remember. That’s why they’re here in the first place. You’ll like ‘em, really. And we’ve got a dance planned for Saturday night. It’s going to be lots of fun. And that Mrs. Henderson, Pa. She’s a real nice lady.” Joe winked at his father, turning on every bit of boyish charm he possessed.
“Joseph, I. Oh, never mind.” Ben, totally defeated and fed up decided arguing the point at this late hour would not solve anything. He would decide what to do in the morning. “Let’s get some sleep.” Ben lay back on the hard bunk, cringing. Adam turned down the lamp, wondering what his father would do about the snoring. Nothing it appeared, as Hoss, Hank and Ben all made for a nightmarish harmonious trio.
Hoss got up in the morning, dreading breakfast. There wasn’t going to be any. Slinking into the kitchen, he was surprised at the cleanliness. Clyde had messed things up good. All was soon revealed, as Hop Sing came out of the wash house, spouting angry Chinese at Hoss.
“Hop Sing, when did you get back?” Hoss beamed at him.
“Hop Sing get back with Missa Ben. Hop sing find kitchen in mess! Then find eight guest in house. Have to fed. Hop Sing quit!” He bustled past Hoss with a large basket full of fresh eggs.
“Hop sing, that’s music to my ears.” Hoss skipped out of the room, knowing everything was under control. Hop Sing never made good his promise to quit!
“Oh, Mr. Cartwright, I hope you are not too mad with us this morning. I know we must have given you quite a start last night. We didn’t realize you would be coming home.” Mrs. Henderson, very pleased with Ben’s distinguished appearance and shirtless chest the night before, batted her eyelids.
“Oh, that’s all right. I was just a little surprised. My son’s didn’t write me to tell me of your visit” He stared at them all in turn, showing his continued displeasure. Ben felt he had to host the women, it was the least he could do now. Maybe he could even talk Mrs. Henderson into re-opening her school in Sacramento.
“But, as you are here, how would you like to come with me to the lake. I’d like to show you how I built the Ponderosa.”
“That would be lovely. I surely would like to come.”
The rest of the days, until Saturday were very pleasant. Joe had his two admirers, Adam his three and Hoss had won over Miss Emily and Miss Polly by picking up a yearling calf in his bare hands. They swooned at his show of physical strength. Ben showed around Mrs. Henderson, and the hands got on with the ranch work. Hop Sing worked hard cleaning and making up the rooms and cooking up a storm. Everyone praised his efforts, which pleased him no end.
The time arrived for the dance. All the girls spent hours getting ready. Adam, Joe, Hoss and Ben could think of only one thing. This was the last night they had to sleep in the bunkhouse. That was a blessing. Joe had invited all the young people from Virginia City and all their personal friends. By nine o’clock, the ranch was buzzing with guests, music and laughter.
Adam escorted Rose, Sammy and Isabelle. Joe took charge over Cally and Susan, while Hoss had Polly and Emily in tow. Everything was going smoothly until an argument broke out between Rose and Cally.
“You take that back about Little Joe. You’re not fit to wipe his boots!”
“I will not. Adam is twice as smart as him, and twice as handsome.”
“You must be joking. He’s old, and too grumpy. Joe is wonderful, young and princely.” Cally raised her voice, causing the others around them to stop and listen in. “You can have that old Adam. He’s as old as my father is! And he’s got awful brown eyes.”
“Better than those murky green ones.”
“You take that back!”
Rose’s temper flared and she slapped Cally across the face. The fight was on. All of Joe’s and Adam’s other admirers piled into the middle, making a mess of their dresses, the dance and their delicately bred reputations. Mrs. Henderson who had been dancing with Ben turned in horror. All five girls were rolling around, hitting and punching. This was an utter disgrace.
Joe and Adam acted quickly, embarrassed by the affair. When it was safe, they hauled each girl up and held her apart from the others.
“Girls, come on. You don’t need to fight over us.” Joe said, really quite pleased with the brawling compliment.
“That’s right, we’d like you to dance with both of us and the other boys. We’re flattered that you came to our defense, but it’s really not necessary.” Adam cleared his throat, uncomfortable with fifteen and sixteen year old girls fighting over him.
“We had to defend you Adam. You’re so wonderful.” Isabelle looked up at him, her new dress torn at the shoulder, revealing soft white flesh, which Joe couldn’t help but admire.
“Well, thank you. How about you all go out to the kitchen and get Hop Sing to mend your dresses and clean you up. Then, why don’t you dance with some of the other boys for a while?”
They sheepishly nodded their heads and retreated. Joe was telling much the same thing to the other two. When the crisis was over, both Cartwright’s ambled over to the punch bowl and settled in around it.
What really got them upset was Hoss; totally oblivious to what had happened, happily dancing with Polly and Emily who never left his side.
“Huh, how you figure that, Adam?”
“I don’t any more. Drink?” He handed Joe some punch.
Once the five girls came back, they started to mix with the young lads from town. Adam and Joe were promptly forgotten, as they had a delightful night, mingling with the guests more their own age. Adam sighed gratefully as he watched from the sidelines. Joe he noticed was a little put out. He had enjoyed being idolized for a while.
Ben came over to Adam later in the night when all but a few guests remained.
“Well, this is the end of a very long week.” Ben rubbed his stiff neck.
“Say, Pa, I forgot to ask you about the contract. Did we win?”
“Oh, that depends son.”
“On what?” Adam gave his father a puzzled look.
“On how much extra work we can demand out of Hoss and Joe to make up for this little charade. I can feel a vacation coming on. With a couple of valets at our beck and call.” He smiled, slyly.
“Yeah, that sounds good.” Adam understanding his father leaned back crossing his arms. “You mean, The Ponderosa Boarding House will still be open for business next week?”
“Most definitely, and the
week after that. I think we’re going to have a wonderful holiday.”
Ben laughed and Adam joined in with relish.
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