For a long time, Pam kept herself in the shadows. She
was there but not as outgoing as Katie nor as flamboyant as Irish. Once,
walking across a casino floor behind those two, she remarked to me that
she felt a lot like Hoss: the back-up and ugly duckling of the lot.
I have come to realize that she is a lot like Hoss: patient, understanding
and sometimes having to go the extra mile to have her star outshine the
others in our constellation. And usually how she gets there is with a sly,
and-not-so innocent smile. ~BTL
"Okay, but you know Pa'll have a fit if he catches wind of this, don't cha know? But I think we need to make some sort of rules before we go into this. Agreed?" Hoss didn't really want to referee another a match between his two brothers and this one was cooking up to be a real whopper.
Joe skewered Adam with his best and most venomous look. "Agreed."
Adam simply raised his chin, glaring passed Hoss and into Joe's eyes. "Just name it, little brother. I can best you, I know I can."
"I'll make the rules," Hoss insisted. And as the three brothers stood there in the barn that late afternoon, all agreed, eventually, to the rules by which they would abide.
There was to be a dance that evening at the Grange Hall. For once, all three of the Cartwright brothers would have to go stag as they had just returned from a short cattle drive over the mountains and had not had the opportunity to make dates for themselves. That had led to a heated discussion that afternoon as they had ridden checking fenceline and rousting strays. The discussion had centered on which one of them could gather the most young ladies into his court, so to speak. Hoss had just listened as Adam and Joe had verbally tackled one another, boasting and bragging on their own particular prowess and technique. Finally it had come down to a challenge: prove it.
"The gal can't be any younger nor older than you by six years." Hoss started and saw them doing quick calculations in their heads. By six years younger than Joe, he could still hit the young ones, the ones just sixteen or so and by going only six years older, the true matrons would have been beyond Adam's grasp. That would also possibly eliminate too many overlaps, as the two brothers were just a tad more than a dozen years apart in age.
He continued. "Each one gets two breaks to step outside and get a breath. If you take a gal with you, that's fine and you can count her as a dance if you ain't already danced with her. But if you have already, no points. And you can't dance with her afterwards, neither."
Joe sighed as Hoss pointedly looked at him while laying down that last rule. If there was one Cartwright who could spend more time at a dance and have a good time and not dance a lot, it was Joe.
Adam was about to bust, he was so happy with this development. But his happiness was short lived.
"And you have to dance the whole dance with her. If someone cuts in, you lose her point. And neither one of you cuts in on the other. Agreed?"
Eyes narrowing as each reassessed his competition, Adam and Joe solemnly shook hands on the deal with Hoss' big hand over it all as if to seal the deal.
"I'll keep score in my head but if Pa or any body else gets wind of this, it's all off and I didn't know nothing about it. He wouldn't take kindly to us treating the ladies like they's just part of a game, ya know."
"That's not a problem with me, Hoss. You shouldn't have any trouble. After all, I got old Adam beat before he even gets to the dance floor." And with that, Joe headed towards the house, a smile on his face, feeling victory in his grasp already.
Adam simply smiled at his middle brother, clapped him on the back and followed his youngest brother across the yard.
Hoss waited until they were almost to the porch and well out of earshot before he started to chuckle. This evening was going to be one all three brothers would remember for a long, long time to come. Hoss would make sure of it.
What is taking them so long? Ben wondered as he paced in front of the fireplace that early evening. He had started after them and had now been dressed and waiting for them for a good fifteen minutes. It was only the Grange Social, for God's sake, not the Governor's Ball but with the way the three of them had been sprucing up, you sure couldn't tell the difference. He was about to holler up the stairs again for them when he heard footsteps coming down the hall over his head.
Hoss appeared at the head of the stairs, slicking his hair back one last time. As he came down the steps, he tugged on the hem of his tan suede coat once more.
"Come here, son, let me straighten your tie," Ben fussed. Usually, Hoss would have not stood for it but this evening he seemed to be preoccupied, Ben thought as he adjusted the string tie for his son. "There that's better. Think you'll catch the eye of many a young lady this evening, son." Ben encouraged for Hoss was probably his most reticent son. His least reticent of sons clattered down the stairs behind him.
"Joseph, how many times do I have to tell you to walk down those stairs?" Ben admonished again. Sometimes he wondered who would win the battle of the stairs: Joe by simply outliving him or Ben by finally getting through him. Or maybe it would be a standoff and Joseph would marry and move away. No, Ben thought, that would mean his loss as well.
"I didn't know I was supposed to be counting, Pa," Joe teased his father and coming to stand next to brother Hoss, let loose with a soft whistle. "Now don't the two of you look right dashing tonight? Better lock up all the available ladies in town."
"No, I think little brother, that we should lock them up," Adam lightheartedly called from the top of the stairs before coming on down himself. "That way you and I would have a shot at the ladies tonight."
"Well, either way, we had better get a move on, boys." Ben headed for the door, unaware that behind him his oldest and youngest were eyeing the other's dress critically.
"Can tell how nervous you are, Adam. Had to bring out your good Sunday suit, huh?" Joe' words oozed out. Adam was indeed dressed in his best black suit and had even added the burgundy brocade vest his father had given him at Christmas. Joe on the other hand wore no jacket, just his dark blue pants that Adam thought were cut just a bit too tight and a white shirt with dark string tie. Adam reached over as they headed out the door, and touched the shirt.
"You should be the nervous one, Joe. Gonna take more than a silk shirt tonight," he shot back coolly.
By this time they were nearly to their horses. Once Joe swung into his saddle, checking to make sure his favored green jacket was tied tightly behind the saddle, he leaned over to Adam and cautioned him.
"But Adam, there's more to a man than the clothes he wears," and he proceeded to show Adam just a glimpse of his most lethal weapon in their battle: one of his heart stopping smiles, the one that made his eyes dance with pleasure.
"Go ahead, Joe, but I have
one of those too. And mine has dimples."
The bright yellow lights coming from the Grange Hall made a welcoming sight as the four Cartwrights strolled in that direction once they had stabled their horses down at the livery. The tinkling laughter floated on the cool night breezes and as they entered the open double door entry, the strains of the first dance of the evening were just beginning.The Hall was packed but once the music started, couples paired off quickly and the floor space that had once seemed too small suddenly became a vast expanse of whirling colors and life.
Ben had decided to take the cautious route this evening and just watch the younger folks dance. Well, all right, he might take a turn or two around the floor with an old friend or two but he certainly wasn't going to be foolish about it. At least that is what he told himself as the first song began to play, a quick reel that Gus Jordan called out with glee and with much hand clapping. Virginia Temple, a widow and friend of many years however quickly hauled the elder Cartwright out onto the floor. He had to go, he told himself later, he couldn't upset an old friend.
Across the way, the two sparring Cartwright brothers had chosen their first ladies of the evening without much difficulty. Joe had chosen his long time school friend Rachel Anderson and Adam, old beau Elaine Montgomery. Hoss stood back and chuckled to himself as he watched his brothers. Both them gals was married now so one dance was all them two was liable to get before Rachel and Elaine went back to their husbands. Weren't a contest there, Hoss thought, but he put a mental score of one next to each name in his mind and went to find the refreshment table.
A slow waltz followed the reel and as Hoss had expected Adam and Joe both found more suitable partners, Adam taking the doe-eyed dark beauty Carla Whitaker into his arms to float across the floor while Joe was caught up in the arms of Laura Ramsey, a sprightly brunette. Hoss chuckled as he slipped out onto the dance floor and cut in on his younger brother just as the music began. "Too old" he whispered into Joseph ear and saw just the fleeting glimpse of realization hit Joe before Hoss pulled Laura away. Even though most of his attention was drawn to the lady he held in his arms, Hoss gave a point to Adam but none to Joe.
Feeling extremely confident now that his baby brother had lost a point, Adam let Carla go back to her steady once the waltz ended. Keeping his eye peeled for another lady, he almost missed the call for another reel. Now this, he thought calls for a younger woman, but I had better watch it or I'll lose one just like he did. Ah there she is.
"Meredith Sanford, how good to see you again. Would you care to dance?" She was of course delighted. Why not? She had just been passed over by Adam's youngest brother in his beeline haste to dance with her sister Rebecca.
The score as all saw it was three to two, Adam's favor. And as the next song, a quick polka began, Joe scooped up Celestine Winwood and Adam had Sandra Kilmer. Both women were surprised since usually the Cartwright boys didn't go for polkas for some reason. But for some reason that night, they seemed to be all for it, even though Celestine saw Joe shoot his brother Adam a black look halfway through. But just as quickly, his smile returned to her and looking over his shoulder, she saw that another man was now dancing with Sandra and Adam was the unhappy one, slipping from the dance floor.
Joe found himself just a touched winded when the next set started, this time another square set. Looking over the dance floor he saw there all the groups were evenly paired into eights. He almost groaned aloud as he stood between the two Winwood sisters. Lovely blonde Lisa caught his eye and giving a little tug on his sleeve gestured towards the back door. Momentarily torn, Joe quickly remembered that he would get a point up for the trip out into the moonlight and Lisa wasn't a bad one to do it with either. Casting his eyes about, he saw no brother in black.
Just as Joe had taken advantage of his situation, Adam was as well, as his had just been made out the front doorway with Beth Carlisle. He knew he was safe from missing anything since Beth was more into discussing the latest school board decision than doing anything else more distracting.
Hoss, on the other hand was totally enjoying his dance partner in Sandra Kilmer and she was thinking with total female joy that she had danced with two of the Cartwright boys that evening, even if one of them was Hoss. He was amazingly light on his feet, she thought.
An intermission was called so that the musicians could take a short break and the refreshment table was mobbed. Ben, who had danced the last two dances thought a breath of fresh air would do him some good, so thanking Eloise Barker for the dance, he slipped out the same door his oldest had taken. He was surprised to see Adam in obvious discussion with Beth Carlisle. He knew Adam didn't really like the young woman and that he had taken her out into the moonlight… Ben was about to step over to the couple when he saw off to one side a certain white-shirted figure he recognized well. At first he was tempted to go and dissuade that sort of activity but just then the caller back in the hall shouted for a waltz. Both of his sons seemed to lose interest in what they were doing and, taking their ladies' arms, went back into the crowded hall. Ben was left scratching his head.
Never a good one with a waltz, Hoss sauntered over to the punch bowl. While he refreshed himself, he studied the dance floor looking for his brothers. Yep, there they were. Joe had traded Lisa Winwood off for Melissa King and Adam seemed to be enjoying himself immensely with Deanna North. Looking over at the two ladies that had stood just previously in the moonlight with his brothers, Hoss decided that maybe he would try a waltz and asked Beth who he knew loved to waltz. After all, she had been shooting daggers and Adam and Deanna.
As much as he hated to, Adam let Deanna go at the end of the waltz. He was tempted, oh so tempted, as she felt very good swaying in his arms. From across the way, he knew Joe had seen his reluctance because the little wretch was grinning madly at him and even had the audacity to wink, for God's sake! Adam assumed he had points to make up, as he wasn't just exactly where the score was. Why else would Joe be so damnably cocky? He was about to go find Hoss and check the score out when he noted that Brother Hoss was out on the dance floor with Meredith Sanford in lively reel with Brother Joseph and Susan Palmer. And he had no partner!
Just as panic was setting in on Adam's shoulders, he felt his father's presence beside him and along those same shoulders, his father's hand came to rest lightly. He thought a smile would deter any conversation and release him to find a lady to take outside and therefore keep a point. Wasn't to be, though.
"Adam," and he recognized the curt tone of his father's voice even though his father was smiling, "What is going on here tonight?"
Putting on his most innocent air, Adam turned and coolly met his father's eye. "Pa, it's just a dance. Now if you will excuse me, I see a lady I haven't talked to this evening" and he quickly moved away. He knew if he had stayed within his father's reach, that hand on his shoulder would have gotten the whole story from him. And there was nothing greater to be gained in his masculine world that night than bragging rights.
"Paige Jennings, you are looking lovely this evening. Can I interest you in a glass of punch and perhaps a quick stroll outside?" Adam pulled out one of his most disarming smiles to encourage her agreement. It wasn't hard work. Paige was a rarity among the women of Virginia City, being college educated as he was. And it didn't hurt that she wasn't hard to look at either. He took her free hand and walked her towards the door, making sure Hoss saw him.
Once out the door and into the cool air, it was hard to keep his determination to just stroll and Paige wasn't helping matters one little bit.
"It's been a while since you came calling at my door, Adam. What happened?" she cooed and leaned into him.
Besides you wanting to marry me so bad it was written on your face? Adam thought to himself over their short history but refrained from commenting. "Just that the ranch keeps me so busy these days. You know how it is. How is your father doing? Heard he was laid up for a while? Anything serious?" Adam was doing his best to make small talk but it was quickly becoming obvious that Paige was looking for something else. She was pressing up against him now, letting her hands rest first on his chest then creep up to his shoulders, her lovely dark eyes shimmering in the faint light. The warning bells were going off in Adam's head, and it was getting hard to remember that there was something else he was after that night. One kiss and then we'll go back in.
One kiss became another and Adam was soon ensnared into a trap of his own making, he realized. Coming up for air, he was startled to hear the strains of a slow dance just ending. Oh no! They were playing a reel when we came out here. I've missed…
"Paige, I think we need to go back inside," he whispered into her hair.
"Will you be around at my door again soon if we do?" Her hands caressed the back of his neck.
"Would I be such a fool to pass up an opportunity like this again?" he teased and pulled her hands from their soft entreaty. Keep it smooth. You can do it. Just ease her in.
It worked. Or at least it almost worked. As he escorted Paige back towards the hall, he saw Hoss' shape outlined in the door. Bluff him out; let him think that it was just one dance I was out here with her. Keep her moving.
"Nice evening for a dance, ain't it, Adam?" Hoss grinned widely at his brother, letting Paige through but stopping Adam with a casual hand to the arm. "You don't get a point on that 'un. You were dancing with a gal you took outside." Hoss explained, still grinning and looking out over the yard, his back to the hall.
Adam started to protest but Hoss stopped him with a raised open hand. "Nope, you took her outside during one dance and I could see your feet moving when different music was playin' in here. I'd call that a real slow dance you was doin'."
And again, Adam started to protest.
"Now would you like me to call Pa over here so we can discuss it a little more? He might be able to help us sort things out," but Hoss knew he had big brother Adam.
"All right, but what's the score?" Adam fumed, even though he was smiling into the light.
"Well, Joe just took Pamela Hartman for that slow dance so that means he's two up on you."
Adam scanned the room and saw Pamela being led from the floor by her father. Her cheeks were a flaming red as he escorted her closer to where Hoss and Adam stood. Adam couldn't help himself. He nudged Hoss and gestured for Hoss to turn around.
Joe was no where to be seen.
"No. Looks like Pammy's daddy didn't care for baby brother to be playing with his little girl during a slow dance," Adam mocked, all the while grinning like the Cheshire cat. Only a point separated them and even thought the night was winding down, he still had a chance.
Simon Billingsly, the caller stepped up onto the raised platform and announced that the next dance would be a quadrille and for everyone to grab a partner and some friends to "make a square". Adam quickly grabbed the first available lady, Susie Spencer. He almost groaned aloud. Susie was a notoriously poor dancer, spending more time on the man's feet than he did during the course of the dance. He gave her his best smile, even though it was forced.
For the first time that evening, all three Cartwright brothers found themselves in the same quadrille, as Hoss had convinced Carla Whitaker to dance with him. When the call came to begin, Joe couldn't help himself. Over the shoulders of his partner Robin Snow, he smiled and winked at Adam. Adam stumbled just a tiny little bit. Joe knew he had Adam where the hair was short, he knew it. Throughout the rest of the dance, Joe took every opportunity to meet his oldest brother's eye, gloating.
The little by-play wasn't lost on another member of the family. Ben had been growing more and more curious all evening long about what his boys were doing. Their behavior was out of the ordinary, to say the least. Usually at these affairs, they would pretty much stay with the same two or three ladies all evening long if they hadn't brought a date. But tonight, there had been a steady stream running through their hands. Neither of them had danced two dances with the same girl! And now watching Joseph out there visually nailing Adam every chance he got, well, that was just too much. Ben decided that when the dance ended, he was going to do some of his own nailing.
The quadrille ended and just as quickly, a polka began. Hoss quickly turned and snagged little Robin, pulling her into his arms and spinning away. Fortunately for Adam, the other lass in their foursome was right up his alley: Angela Guisseppe. Unfortunately, Joe was caught by Susie Spencer and his glee went to misery in four beats of the music. Too old, he groaned to himself, and I would gladly give her up to someone else but there ain't no body ever cut in on Susie. Ouch! Can't for the life of me imagine why not. Ouch!
Mercifully for the youngest Cartwright, the dance didn't go for extra long. He didn't think his toes could have handled another refrain when the music finally came to a stop. The musicians called for a quick respite and Joe looked around for a suitable lady for the next dance. Too bad, though, his father saw him first and Joe could tell by the way his father was smiling, it wasn't going to be pretty.
"Joseph," Ben sighed as he came to his son's side. "I want to know what this is all about this evening." Even though Ben was smiling and nodding a greeting to Roy Coffee as the sheriff passed by, Joe knew he was in deep trouble. The hand that had slid across the small of his back told him so. "And don't go flashing those pearly whites at me and claim you don't know what I am talking about." The smile on Joe's face disappeared as the hand slid up his side and clamped onto his shoulder.
Across the hall, Adam saw what he had dreaded most to see all evening long: his father standing next to Joe. And he could see his father had a very possessive hand on his brother's shoulder. If there was one of them who couldn't resist "the touch", it was Joe. But worse than that, his father was motioning for him to come over. I am going to kill a brother. But he did as his father bade and taking leave of Angela momentarily, he tried to casually stroll over to his father, still trying to smile.
"Yes sir?" He was trying to sound nonchalant At least Pa's still smiling so he can't know too much . But then Ben put his free hand out and pulled Adam to his other side. It was all Adam could do to keep from rolling his eyes.
To anyone else watching the little family scene, it was just a father standing with his two grown sons, with a very loving hand on each son's shoulder. And the father appeared very pleased as he looked from one to the other. A casual observer would have missed the slight jerk each son gave that signaled when the father's hand had tightened down considerably. And certainly, no one else heard when the father told them both to stay where they were, even though the music was starting back up.
"Last set, everyone. So grab a partner for a nice little two-step!" Simon called out.
Both brothers started to move from their father's grasp but Ben would have none of it. "Not until one of you tells me what is going on here tonight. And I expect a straight answer from one of you." The hand gripping each shoulder became more like an eagle talon, gripping live prey. Ben watched as Joe swallowed hard and looked at Adam. Directing his attention quickly back to his eldest, he caught the very end of a negative head movement. "Okay then, Joseph, why don't you go dance with Nora Vaughn? And I am sure that you won't be holding her as close as you were Pamela Hartman."
"But Pa, she's old!" Joe's voice nearly jumped a whole octave.
"She's the same age I am, young man, and you will go over there and ask her to dance." As if to reinforce his instructions, he gave his son a tiny shove.
Adam was positively gloating. At least until he felt his father's hand tighten its grip again and knew he was next to executioner's block. "And Adam, it seems that earlier this evening, you were nearly dragging Beth Carlisle out the door. I think you should at least give her the courtesy of one dance." Ben chuckled at moan he heard.
As the dance continued, Ben kept a close eye on his two wayward boys but couldn't help notice that Hoss had captured Paige Jennings and he had taken lessons from Joseph about the proper distance to hold a lady while dancing. Not that Paige looked like she wasn't enjoying it. Far from it and at least Luke Jennings was no where to be seen at the moment.
"Last dance is lady's choice and will be a nice slow waltz. So ladies, decide who's taking you home tonight and bring him to the floor one last time!" A titter went up around the room.
Once again, the two Cartwright brothers, oldest and youngest, locked eyes across the room. Each was sure they would be swarmed over by at least half a dozen ladies from whom they could make an appropriate choice.
But when the first soft strains of music were heard, there was only one Cartwright brother taken and that was Hoss and by none other than Susie Spencer.
"Brother, we have a problem," Adam said through clenched teeth as they watched Hoss dancing. "It seems the ladies of Virginia City have had the last word this evening."
Crossing his arms over his chest, Joe agreed but then a smile crept over his smooth features. "Yeah, and we're tied with seven a piece."
Just then both caught the smile on their middle brother's face. It resembled very much the proverbial cat with a mouth full of feathers, even if there was a gap between the two front teeth. Adam was the first to realize just what it meant and he grabbed his little brother's forearm.
"Joe, we have been had." And he went on to explain when Joe looked at him, his face a question mark. "Answer me this. Who made up the rules for the night?"
Joe's eyes narrowed with suspicion and Adam went on. "And when we, you and I, shook hands, where was Hoss' hand? Uh huh, right there with ours. Little brother, we've had competition all night that we didn't even know we had. Any idea how he did?"
"Shh, here comes Pa," Joe warned and both brothers fell silent just as the music died off to applause.
Ben, still not knowing just what was going on, stopped right in front of Joe and Adam. He was about to demand an explanation again when he noted Joe was giving a strange gesture to some one behind him. It looked to Ben for all the world as though Joe had flashed two fingers up after waving. When he turned to see who Joe could have been waving to, he saw everyone seemed intent on leaving the hall. He could clearly see Hoss holding back a little as though waiting for the other members of the family to join him. But Hoss had given a little wave of his own followed by three fingers up and was smiling broadly.
"Will one of you please start making sense?" Ben demanded, his voice just a decibel below a roar.
Joe and Adam exchanged angry looks. Adam turned his father fully around with a gentle hand to his arm so his father could watch Hoss coming across the hall towards them. Both Adam and Joe draped an arm across their father's broad back.
"Pa, you would not believe
how callously we have been used by our dearly beloved middle brother this
night," Adam crooned.
The Tahoe Ladies
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