Cody Pyle Meets Aunt Hattie [1]    
 (November 2003)


Author’s Notes: 

This story is a sequel to “Cody Pyle Returns”.

Thank you, Marion, for the wonderful suggestion of bringing two of Adam’s favorite people together.  However, I’m not so sure that Adam thanks you, at several points in this story!



Ben Cartwright sipped his coffee, soaking up the warmth of lively conversation around the breakfast table.  His sons and Cody Pyle had returned the night before from their extended weekend trip to the family hunting cabin in the mountains.  As Adam and Hoss paused in their jovial rendition of their adventures, Ben glanced at the grandfather clock and sighed.   “While I’m sure your little brother used up a fair amount of energy during your trip, I expect the fact that his spring break is over is the reason he hasn’t graced us with his presence yet this morning.”

Cody chuckled, “That youngun did mention ta me, at least twice on the trail home, that he weren’t lookin’ forward ta ‘bein’ cooped up in the classroom agin.”

With another sigh, Ben directed, “Hoss, go get him out of bed, please.  I won’t have him starting off on the wrong foot, being late to school today.”

Hoss nodded with a grin, before stuffing another forkful of flapjack into his mouth.  As he stood to obey his father, a loud knock at the front door diverted him.  “Who could be callin’ this early?”  The others heard only a brief mumbled exchange before Hoss returned to the table, handing his father a note.  “Pete brung this in from town, Pa.  Roy asked him ta deliver it to ya.”

Flipping open the paper, Ben frowned.  “Seems Miss Jones took ill during her break and the usual substitute, Margaret Ames, is visiting her sister who just had a baby.  School won’t open now until next week...”

“Next week!  WHOOPEE!”  Joe all but tumbled down the steps, glimpsing his father’s scolding countenance as he reached bottom.  The twelve-year-old slipped on a somber expression as he stammered, “Um … I … A course, I’m sorry Miss Jones ain’t feelin’ well.  Uh, hope it ain’t nothin’ too serious.”  With all eyes at the table trapping him now, Joe squeaked, “Really, I hate bein’ sick.  So, I wouldn’t be wishin’ it on no one, not even old ...”   Swallowing the rest of his thought, Joe slunk towards the table and scooted into his chair.  While painstakingly scraping scrambled eggs onto his plate, he attempted a wavering smile at Pa, then wisely dove into his meal.  

Entering with a fresh pot of coffee, Hop Sing scolded, “Boy lucky any food left to eat!  Lot of big appetite at table today.”  Scurrying away, he returned instantly, to place a steaming cup of cocoa in front of the boy and a fresh stack of flapjacks on his plate.

“Thanks, Hop Sing.”  Joe grinned as the little man mumbled a few choice thoughts in his native tongue.  “Aw, Hop Sing, I’m really sorry I was late.”   Turning his attention to breakfast, the youngest Cartwright kept one ear on the now resuming conversation. 

His mind shifting to business, Ben mentioned, “I need to get over to Carson City early on this week, to pick up that bank draft for the lumber we delivered.”

Adam suggested, “Hey, Pa?  Cody and I could ride over and pick it up for you.  It would be the perfect chance to drop in on aunts Hattie and Matilda.  I’d like them to meet Cody...”  Catching his little brother’s hopeful eyes, he continued, “And if you’d like, we could take this rascal of yours along with us.  Wouldn’t want him to get bored, seeing as how he’ll be at loose ends, without school.”

Bright hazel eyes shifted from sibling to father and Ben smiled indulgently, reaching out to run a hand down the back of his youngest son’s head.  “All right, son.  And if you like, and the ladies are willing, you can bring them back with you.  Matilda[2] still hasn’t seen the Ponderosa.”

“Great idea, Pa.”   Wiping his mouth, Adam dropped his napkin on the table as he rose, “Best warn Hop Sing, of the impending crowd.”


Hattie Carlson’s eyes sparkled, as she swung open her grand front door to find the crowd on her doorstep.  “Adam!  Little Joe!  What a wonderful surprise!”  Her gaze rose to meet the laughing brown eyes of their large, rustic companion.  His massive right arm hung comfortably across Joe’s slim shoulders and a friendly grin peeked from behind his graying beard.  Hattie admired the elaborate vest of rabbit and squirrel pelts hugging his broad chest, then glimpsed the impressive knife handle sticking out of a sheath on his belt.  Her eyes shifting back to Adam, she absorbed the special warmth in his expression.  Extending her hand, she surmised, “You MUST be Cody Pyle, because you are the picture of the man Adam has spoken of, on many an occasion over the years.”

His smile widening, Cody took the gracious outstretched hand in his.  “Yes, ma’am.  I’m shore glad ta finally meet ya.”

“Well, come in, all of you and make yourselves comfortable in the library.  I’ll just go find Bessie and tell her to get the rooms ready.   You will be staying, at least for the night?”  Without waiting for confirmation, Hattie turned, continuing to herself,  “Oh, then I must see to bolstering my stew...”

“Aunt Hattie...”

“Not another word, young man.  You just settle yourselves down.  Bessie will be in shortly with refreshments.”

As Hattie marched off, Cody chuckled, “Headstrong old gal, ain’t she?”

Adam laughed, “They don’t make ‘em any more stubborn than that one, I assure you.”

Joe interjected, “Hey, Adam?  Could I run down to the stables, ta see the horses?”

“What’s the matter, boy, afraid of all those books in Aunt Hattie’s library?  Worried brother might take the opportunity to slip in a school lesson?”

The youngster scowled at the thought.  “Aw, Adam, please.”

Sending the boy on his way with a slap to his bottom, Adam reminded him, “Just make sure you find George first and let him know you’re in there.  He’s real particular about who’s around his ‘critters’.”  As Joe shot off toward the back of the property, Adam explained, “George has been with Aunt Hattie forever.  He’s her foreman, handyman, gardener and well, generally, he seems to have a hand in most everything that goes on outside the house.” 

They entered the library and Cody whistled, “By golly, boy, I cain see why you and that fine lady git on so well.”  His eyes continued to widen as they shifted from one book-lined wall to the next.  “Ain’t never been ta no liberry, nowhere, but I think yer Aunt Hattie must own every book ever wrote!”

Adam grinned, his insides fluttering with the same excitement they always did when he entered this room.  “No, not every book, but there’s a lifetime of reading here, to be sure.  And yes, it sure helped to make quick friends of us, back when Pa, Hoss and I first visited.  We were lucky that Pa had reason to come out this way a fair few times.  Aunt Hattie made it real clear, right from the start, that he could drop us off here whenever he needed to.”  Shrugging his shoulders, Adam admitted, “Hoss didn’t get much of a kick out of this library, but Aunt Hattie always had plenty of animals on the property to perk up his interest.  He and George became fast friends, from the outset.” 

“This George fella, he a older folk, like yer aunt?”

“No, he’s a good twenty years younger than Aunt Hattie, I’d guess.  Her husband hired him, but when Mr. Carlson died, George dedicated himself to watching over the place.  He and Bessie live in a small house on the property.  Those two are as loyal a pair as anyone could ever want in their employ.”  His eyes gleaming, Adam added, “They’re both stubborn, in their own right.  It’s an interesting household, to be sure.”

Bessie interrupted them, carrying a tray bearing cocoa, coffee and brandy, with a plate heaped with cookies along side.  Adam smiled warmly, “Something for everybody, eh, Bessie?  Thanks.”

Grabbing one of the sweets, Adam urged, “Help yourself, Cody.  Aunt Hattie is  one heck of a baker and, as you’ll soon find out, just as fine a cook.”  His eyebrows dipped as he wondered aloud, “Where’s Aunt Matilda?” 

Bessie turned at the doorway, “Excuse me, Mr. Adam, but Madam Matilda is with Mr. Jason[3] in San Francisco.”


Disappointment hung heavy in the air until Bessie assured him, “Mr. Jason should be bringing her back tomorrow.  They’ve been away for two weeks.”

“Oh!”  Adam beamed, rubbing his hands together.  “Thanks, Bessie!  This is great!  Cody, Jason is Aunt Hattie’s cousin.  He’s my age.  We used to spend a week together here every summer, from the time I was twelve, up to the age of sixteen.  I wasn’t expecting him to be here.”  The young man glowed with his pleasure.  “All these good friends in one place.”

Helping himself to a glass of brandy, Cody studied his friend.  “Yer aunt must be quite a gal, what with takin’ a pair of rambunctious younguns in at the drop of a hat, plus housin’ you and this other young fella fer a whole week, when the two of ya were goin’ through them spunky years.”

Pouring himself a cup of coffee, Adam settled into his favorite chair in the library.  “Aunt Hattie loves children, Cody, no matter what their age.”  With a wink, he added, “And she knows how to handle them too -- no matter what their age.  I admit, Jason and I were a bit adventuresome and did get into a little mischief during our visits.”  Adding sugar to his cup, he chuckled.  “Thinking about it, Hoss and I probably added a bit more spice to Aunt Hattie’s days than she anticipated…”

“A bit of spice!”  Hattie stood in the doorway, arms folded across her chest, her laughing eyes belying her severe expression.  “Cody, this young man and that large little brother of his…”

“Now, Aunt Hattie, we couldn’t have been that hard on your nerves.  You never told Pa to stop bringing us.”

Her eyes tearing at the thought, Hattie cleared away the tightness in her throat, before scolding, “Well, I couldn’t very well go back on my offer now, could I?”

Cody absorbed the quiet look of reminiscence passing across Hattie’s face.  He couldn’t help but probe, “From what I seen, them two older boys a Ben’s git on right well, ma’am.  Did they scuffle a lot as little tykes?  Ya got a fair number a fine things here.   I cain see how ya might worry about ‘em gittin’ trampled or smashed, under stampedin’ little feet or by two boys rollin’ in a tussle…”

“Oh, it wasn’t that they fought, certainly not with any frequency.  No, quite the contrary, they made a good team.  Adam kept a very close watch on Hoss.  Why, Hoss was only four, the first time they came to stay with me.”  Her eyes dancing, she remembered, “I learned very quickly to cook large meals!  AND to prepare them on time!”

Adam chuckled, realizing where Aunt Hattie was heading. 

Everyone’s thoughts suddenly scattered as Joe bounded into the room.  “Hey, Adam, ya gotta come see Marmalade’s new colt!”

“Whoa, boy!  YOU are not a horse.”

With an apologetic look toward their hostess, Joe offered sincerely, “I’m sorry, Aunt Hattie.”  Bouncing in place, the boy needled, “Adam…”

“Joe, I don’t dare leave this room until Aunt Hattie gets this story out of her system.  I’d be afraid of just what might be said about me or our brother, in my absence.”

His interest perking, Joe asked with a grin, “Aunt Hattie, is this a story about when Adam and Hoss stayed here with ya?”  At the woman’s nod, Joe plunked himself down on the settee and reached for a cookie.

Adam handed his brother a napkin, while pointing at his lap, then poured out a cup of cocoa for him.  Turning to Cody, he winked, “You see, Aunt Hattie was a night owl and tended to sleep late in the morning.  Well, that is until she met the Cartwright boys.”

Hattie picked up the thread of the tale, “Yes, Ben never mentioned that Adam and Hoss rose with the sun.  And little boys who rise before the rest of the household tend to eventually find trouble, especially when they are hungry for breakfast!”

Joe giggled, “Yeah, my brother Hoss gets into trouble, even now, if he don’t get fed on time.  Hop Sing STILL smacks his hands, don’t he, Adam?”

Adam corrected, “Doesn’t he.”  Laughing, he agreed, “Little brother speaks the truth.  Hop Sing does not like prowlers in his kitchen!  Then again, I don’t think Aunt Hattie was too thrilled about young cooks, in hers!”


Ten-year-old Adam woke with a start, his eyes darting from the unfamiliar ceiling to the walls, until he remembered that he and brother Hoss were staying with Hattie Carlson.  Turning his head, he met blue, blinking eyes.

‘Hoss hungry.’

Rolling his eyes, Adam took a moment to sniff the air, then whispered, ‘I don’t smell any cooking yet, Hoss.  Maybe Aunt Hattie doesn’t wake up as early as we do.’


Sighing, the older boy tossed back the covers and swung his feet over his side of their bed.  ‘You can’t have cookies for breakfast.’  With an admonishing glance, he added, ‘Besides, I think you ate all the cookies left on the plate last night, didn’t you?’

‘Hungry,’ the child insisted and rolled out of bed.

Shaking his head, Adam knew he’d better find this boy some food, right quick!  ‘All right, let’s get dressed and we’ll go downstairs.  Maybe by then, Bessie will be here.’  Skinning his brother out of his nightshirt, Adam helped him dress, before climbing into his own clothes.  Pulling on his socks, the older brother glanced up to find the room vacant.  Wide-eyed, he grabbed his boots and dashed for the staircase.

Scrambling down the steps, he caught up to Hoss at the bottom, scolding in a loud whisper, ‘Now listen, Hoss, we ain’t at home.  We can’t just go burrowing around in Aunt Hattie’s kitchen.’  Clamping his hand over the protesting mouth, he continued quietly, ‘Let’s go outside and collect eggs from the chickens.  If no one’s up by then, I’ll…’  The boy chewed his lower lip, before reluctantly promising, ‘I’ll make ya up some scrambled eggs.  Okay?’

Finding the egg basket, Adam handed it to his brother and insisted, ‘Let me do the collectin’, okay?’  As the younger boy nodded, Adam couldn’t help but give him a big smile of approval.

George had warned them about one rather feisty rooster, destined soon for the stew pot!  Grabbing the broom leaning up against the coop, Adam cautioned, ‘Now if Big Red comes at us, I’m gonna whack him, just like George told us he does.’  When Hoss shook his head, disapproving, Adam suggested, ‘Would you rather I let him scratch out your eyes or sink his claws inta your head?’  Hoss vigorously shook his head ‘no’.  ‘Okay then, let’s go in.’

No sooner did the boys enter the dim coop, than the rooster launched itself, Adam’s face his target.  ‘Stay behind me, Hoss!’  Broom and rooster connected with a loud ‘whap’, starting a chain reaction of wild clucking amongst the hens. Red feathers leaped into the air as Adam chased the bellicose bird out into the yard.  Squawking hens scrambled from their nests, leaving Hoss unattended.

The younger Cartwright had been party to egg collecting many times, his role always the same; he held the basket, while older brother slipped a hand carefully under the nesting birds to remove their offerings.  Round blue eyes studied the deserted clutches and with a smile of pride spreading over his face, Hoss grabbed the white booty.  Rapidly filling the bottom of the straw-padded basket, the youngster began a new layer, not realizing how painstakingly gentle brother Adam was at this task.  The sickening crack of egg on egg shattered the child’s gleeful mood.  He peered woefully into the basket, painfully aware of his brother now standing along side of him.

Adam suggested a bit sarcastically, ‘We usually wait until they’re in the pan, to scramble them, little brother.’  When the wide blue eyes looking back at him filled with tears, Adam regretted his comment.  Patting the slumped shoulder, he soothed, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll just use those couple eggs first.’  Noting there were still more to collect, he suggested, ‘How about if you hold the basket and I pick up the rest of the eggs?  You watch how I stack ‘em.  That way, next time we collect eggs at home, you'll know how ta do it right.’  Hoss nodded, a wavering smile pushing away his somber expression.

Basket brimming, the boys started for the door, halting abruptly as the rusty guard blocked their exit.  Adam scolded himself, realizing he’d left the broom leaning up against the outside wall. What would Pa do?  His sharp eyes surveyed the area, searching for an alternate weapon.  As he spotted the ax hanging on the far wall, the barest smirk glanced his lips.  Hmmm, maybe we’ll be having stewed chicken for dinner.  Grabbing Hoss’ arm, he inched them backwards, his eyes never leaving the tricky bird.  Lifting the ax carefully from its place, he instructed quietly, ‘Hoss, stay way in back a me.  That rooster ain’t ta be trusted.  If he flies at me, I’m gonna let him have it and make it count.’

Beady yellow eyes seemed to study the ax head and when Adam walked determinedly toward the exit, the bird backed up several paces.  The boy chuckled, ‘Seen a few friends go before you, did ya?  Well, I mean business, so you’d better let us out.’  The bird took the hint and backed up further.  As soon as both children were beyond the doorway, Adam ordered, ‘Hoss, head for the house and be real careful with that basket of eggs.  And don’t look back.  Just keep goin’ until ya get inside.’

Accustomed to taking orders from his sibling, the hefty youngster trotted off, his blue eyes trained on the cluster of eggs.  Adam continued to step backwards, keeping the ax at chest level and eyes locked on the pursuing red beast.  Suddenly, a voice to his right announced, ‘I’ll take over from here, son.’  George simultaneously reached out from a nearby bush and snatched the rooster’s legs with a gloved hand.  Suddenly inverted, the rusty warrior hung limply, as if resolved to his fate.  ‘You go on inside, boy.  And when you see my Bessie, you tell her to get the stew pot ready.’

‘Yes, sir.’  Handing over the ax, Adam breathed a sigh of relief.  He’d witnessed Hop Sing dispatch several chickens at home.  However, he was just as glad to postpone putting his knowledge to use.  Remembering he had a hungry brother loose in Aunt Hattie’s kitchen, the boy marched quickly toward the house.

Adam discovered Hoss staring longingly at the cookie crock out of reach on the shelves by the stove.  ‘Okay, boy, guess we better put some of those eggs we collected to good use.’  He moved toward the stove and cautiously reached out to touch the metal, grumbling, ‘Cold as winter.’  Gathering wood from the nearby kindling box, he stacked and lit it, before searching the pegs on the wall for the proper skillet.  Dragging over a chair, he climbed up to retrieve the pan, then began his search for a mixing bowl in various cupboards at floor level.

Behind his back, his younger brother commandeered the chair and reached in vain for the cookie supply.  ‘Dang it, Hoss!  No cookies!’  Grabbing the child around the waist, Adam set him none-too-gently back on the floor.  ‘Now, I’m makin’ ya breakfast, so just be patient, will ya!’  Hoss glowered and his brother mirrored the look.  ‘Okay, I ain’t Hop Sing, but I’m doin’ my best here.  Now, you sit yourself down at that table, ‘fore I bring that rooster in here ta guard ya!’

Hoss’ eyes widened and Adam burst into laughter.  By now, that rooster ain’t in no condition to guard an acorn, but this boy doesn’t have ta know that!

As his little brother climbed into a chair at the table, Adam picked through the egg supply and dug out the injured ones, plus several more.  Turning to his sulking sibling, he declared, ‘I’m goin’ to the springhouse for the milk.  You stay put ‘till I get back.’  When Hoss ignored him, Adam demanded, ‘Ya got me, Hoss?’  Hoss nodded, his attention drifting to the cookie container.  Grabbing the boy’s wrist, Adam decided, ‘Best ya come with me.’

Pitcher in one hand, little brother in tow with the other, Adam headed outside. With some difficulty and minor spillage, he filled the pitcher with milk before dragging his charge back to the house.  Pouring his brother a glass of the creamy beverage, he suggested, ‘You drink that and I’ll add some to the eggs.  That’s what Hop Sing does.  Says it makes ‘em taste better.  Trouble is, I ain’t really sure how much…’  Finding Aunt Hattie’s supply of bacon fat, the young cook smeared some in the skillet and set it over the flames.  Dumping a rather generous quantity of milk into the mixing bowl, he began to beat the eggs. Shrugging his shoulders, he poured the contents into the pan, the combination of fat, eggs and a bit too much milk hissing and bubbling in response.

‘What in the world?’  Jumping away from the stove, Adam found himself staring up at an astounded Hattie.  ‘Adam?’

Instinctively relinquishing the spatula in his hand, the child stammered, ‘We, that is, Hoss… I had ta feed him, ma’am or he’d a just started takin’ your kitchen apart.’  Wincing at the gooey, lumpy glob in the skillet, he frowned, admitting, ‘Guess I need more practice on makin’ eggs.’  Brightening, he added, ‘But thanks ta us, you got a chicken to stew tonight.’

Hattie’s gray eyes shifted from the young chef to his sidekick at the table.  A white ring adorned the little boy's lips, connecting to a trail dribbling down his chin.  His chubby arm outstretched, Hoss held his empty glass out for a refill.  Her gaze returned to Adam who quickly offered, ‘Should I fill your tea kettle?’

Eyes glittering, Hattie nodded, ‘Yes, a cup of tea is just what I need right now.’  As Adam grabbed the vessel, she added, handing him a washrag, ‘And take your brother with you.’  As the two boys headed for the pump, she surveyed the skillet and shook her head, ‘Perhaps we’ll just start over and have flapjacks instead…’


Joe grinned, noticing the sheepish look on his older brother’s face.  Still, it was evident from the expression on Hattie’s, that the memory was a pleasant one.

Cody observed, "Bet that pair kept ya on yer toes on most a their visits, didn’t they, ma’am?"

"Cody, you call me Hattie.  And no, not ‘most’ of their visits… ALL of them!"

Joe burst into laughter, then ducked his brother’s hand making a sweep at his head. "I’d like ta hear about ALL them visits, ma’am!"

Adam raised an eyebrow and reminded his brother, "I thought you wanted to show me the new colt?"

Cody chuckled and suggested, "Wouldn’t mind seein’ the little fella myself and all the other fine critters on this here big spread."

Setting his empty cup back on the tray, Joe agreed reluctantly, "Yeah, well, okay."

As the Cartwright brothers headed outside, Cody asked, “Will ya be comin’ along with us, Hattie?”

“No, not just yet.  I need to see to our dinner, but I’ll wander out in a bit.”

The delicious aroma of stewing meat and vegetables entwined with the essence of baking bread.  Cody closed his eyes and inhaled, “That there meal yer cookin’ is right invitin’.  I’ll be lookin’ forward ta settin’ at yer fine table.”


Hattie watched with satisfaction as her guests readily devoured her dinner of beef stew and fresh-made bread.  A hint of cinnamon in the air teased their noses, promising a delicious dessert in the offing.

“Cody, Adam tells me you did a fair bit of the cooking when you traveled with him and his father.”

“Yes’m.  All my life, the outdoors has been my home, from one end of this here fine country ta the other.  Met lots a folks along the way too, who shared their knowin’ with me.  I learned what wild roots and greens ta add ta my rabbit stews and such, ta make ‘em tastier.’  With a wink at Adam, he added, ‘Passed on what I could ta this youngun … when he was a youngun, that is.  He was right careful ‘bout learnin’ exactly what he could pop in his mouth when we come across it, while huntin’ or fillin’ our canteens at a waterin’ hole.”

Joe kept one eye on his older brother’s face as he asked, “Did Adam ever eat somethin’ he shouldn’t a, Cody?  You know, pick up the wrong thing by mistake?”

Catching the glint in Cody’s eyes, Adam tugged at his right ear, surrendering to the inevitable as the large man’s hearty laughter filled the room…


Gathering kindling wood, five-year-old Adam glanced up, then pointed as he announced, ‘That looks like a good stand of cattails up ahead, Cody.’

‘Right you are, son.  A mess of them would go real fine, long side them duck yer pa and me got earlier.  You wanna rustle some up fer us?’

‘Sure!’  Always delighted to play a significant part in providing their meals, Adam left his kindling stacked in a pile and diligently tugged up a sizeable quantity of the young plants, laying them atop the burlap sack he faithfully carried along with him whenever he ventured from the wagon. 

Leaving the pile of greens, he finished collecting the wood and delivered it to his father who was cleaning the birds.  When he returned for the cattails, he found Cody munching on one.  ‘Ain’t we supposed to cook ‘em, Cody?’

‘Sure, son, but ya cain eat ‘em this way too and old Cody’s starved!’

Carefully surveying the discarded plant material at his companion’s feet, Adam selected a stalk for himself, breaking off the root and slipping off the outer most leaves.  Chomping on the end, the boy munched twice before wrinkling up his face.  His lips stuck out in a pronounced pucker as his mouth worked at the foreign taste on his tongue.  Mouth suddenly slack, he focused on the black blob sticking out in between the leaves in his grasp.  Dark eyes swelling to huge circles now, he slung the cattail to earth and spat repeatedly, spattering bits of green slime over his shirt front.  ‘Ptah!  Pttttewi!’   Yanking out his shirt tail, he swiped it repeatedly across his outstretched tongue.

Ben dropped the ducks and scrambled to his son’s side, quickly kneeling to grab the child’s shoulders.  ‘Adam?  Adam, son, what’s the matter?’

Jerking his head from side-to-side, the lad pointed sharply at the discarded cattail on the ground.  His father plucked it up, immediately spotting the hind half of a fat cricket trapped between the bitten leaves.

Standing behind Ben’s shoulder, Cody slipped his hand up over his mouth in an attempt to smother his smile.  Ben dropped his head, hoping to harness his own laughter, bubbling deep within his chest.

Adam scowled at the pair before grimacing and sticking his index finger under his tongue, digging for what felt like tiny legs lodged there.  Again he spat.

Rising to retrieve a canteen, Ben once more knelt before his son.  ‘Here, why don’t you try rinsing your mouth out.’

The boy slurped in a mouthful, swished it around, then spewed it out.  As Ben’s mouth twitched, his son’s scowl deepened and he crossed his arms, complaining, ‘Ain’t funny, Pa.  A fella could get sick.  How come you’re laughin’?’

Finally managing to regain control over his voice, Cody suggested, ‘Come on now, son, there’s lots a respectable critters out there, what would count themselves jest plain lucky, happenin’ on a meal like you jest et.’  Adam clamped his lips together as he simmered, finally spouting, ‘I ain’t no critter!  I’m a man!’

At that, Ben rose to turn away, his grin so wide, his cheeks hurt.  Eyes twinkling, Cody replied, ‘Adam, you, me and yer pa … we’re all of us God’s critters, and that there’s the truth.   As to ya gettin’ sick, that there cricket won’t hurt ya.  Tarnation!  Old Cody’s et more than a bug or two in his time … on purpose, plenty of em.  I bettcha a bug’s jest as much meat to a frog as a squirrel or rabbit is fer us.’

Adam reiterated in a grumble, ‘I ain’t a frog.’

‘Meybe not, but a few bugs along the way ain’t gonna bring ya ta harm.  You think on this:  If ya hadda eat ‘em or starve, I spect you’d be right pleased to come across a bug’s trail.  Bet yer pa agrees with me on that, don’t ya, Ben?’

‘Cody’s right, Adam.   Insects may not be our first choice for a meal, but I’d sooner eat a few crickets and feed them to you, then see us go hungry.’

Adam studied his father’s face, especially his eyes.  Finally he ventured, ‘You been feedin’ me bugs, without tellin’ me, Pa?’  When his father hedged, the boy pressed, ‘Have ya?’

Taking off his hat, Ben played with the rim before planting it back on his head, ‘Yes, but then, it only seems fair, really.’

Eyebrows reaching skyward, the youngster hollered, ‘How come that’s fair?’  A warning look from his father brought an immediate ‘Sir’ and the boy waited for an explanation.

Eyes twinkling, Ben revealed, ‘Well, as I recall, at two you were quite happy to eat bugs, without telling your pa.  Seems only right that I should be able to feed them back to you, without telling.’

Scratching his chin, the child considered the reasoning.  Ben observed the expression crawling over his boy’s face and knew he wasn’t going to swallow the explanation.  He watched the little forehead furrow, the small jaw shift back and forth.  Mimicking his father, Adam removed his hat and fingered it before jamming it back on his head.

‘Two’s just a baby.  They don’t know not to eat bugs.  I was likely just experimentin’.’

Ben nodded slowly, ‘And what about now?  Does five years old make you too old to experiment?’

His mouth twisting into a bow, Adam considered his father’s question, then admitted, ‘I spit it out cause I thought it would make me sick.  I guess it didn’t taste too bad.’  Mulling over Cody’s earlier proposal, he distinctly recalled more than one night, laying in back of their wagon, hunger clawing at his belly.   Finally, he concluded, ‘Pa, if we have to eat bugs sometimes, I won’t put up a fuss … But tonight, could we just have duck?’


Amongst the laughter around Hattie’s table, Joe interjected, “Bet Adam didn’t eat anything but duck that night, huh, Cody?   Didn’t eat nary a cattail for some time ta come, did he?”

Cody chuckled, clearly picturing the dark-haired little boy pushing greens to and fro on his plate.  “Well, yer pa seems ta have a way of convincin’ you boys ta do what yer told, in this case ta eat the meat AND greens in front of him.  Yer brother et em, but his little eyes crawled over every spec, of every leaf, for he stuffed a one of em down his gullet!”

As renewed laughter faded, Adam caught the smirk on his little brother’s face.  “Something else you wanted to say, little brother?”

“What I can’t understand, older brother, is how you didn’t know when Pa was feedin’ ya bugs.  Seems somethin’ like that would be hard to miss.”

Left eyebrow cocked, head tilted to one side, Adam studied his brother until the boy fidgeted, suddenly regretting his question.  “Well you know something, little brother, I think I’ll let Hop Sing help me answer that question for you.”  With a wink at Cody, he added, “Some night when you least expect it, I’ll see that he sneaks a few choice insects into one of his stews or some other dish.  We’ll see how well you do at recognizing them.  Mind you, I won’t tell you until the next day, that you’ve eaten those morsels.”

Nibbling at his lower lip now, Joe stammered, “I was just funnin’, Adam.  Really.  After all, you were just a kid then …   Really, I was just teasin’.”  When Adam didn’t retract his offer, the boy suggested, “Uh, you were just funnin’ back, weren’t ya?”

Without a hint of a smile, Adam responded, “Nope.”  Pausing to wipe his mouth with his napkin, he looked to their hostess.  “The meal was wonderful, Aunt Hattie.”

Watching Little Joe pull at his suddenly tight collar, Hattie rose, “I’ll bring in the dessert and coffee.”

Adam followed, “Let me help.” 

When the pair reached the kitchen, Hattie scolded gently, “That little boy is likely to have nightmares, worrying over that threat of yours.”

Adam chuckled, “Well, I’ll just let him stew in his own juices a bit longer.  I promise I’ll put his mind at ease before he hits the hay, all right?”  Giving Hattie a kiss to the cheek, he added, “You’re an old softie, you know that?”

Returning the kiss, Hattie whispered, “Adam Cartwright, you don’t fool me for a minute.  That’s a very lucky little boy in there.”  Voice dropping further she added, “And your father is a very lucky man.”

Grabbing the tray of coffee and cocoa, Adam blushed, “Come on.  Can’t wait to taste that cinnamon delicacy that teased our noses throughout dinner.”


Adam sat on the edge of Joe’s bed and tucked the blankets up around his chin.  The boy met his older brother’s eyes.  “Adam?”


“Um, I shouldn’t a made fun like I did, before at dinner.  I… Well … I can’t think of once, ever bein’ hungry and not bein’ able to do somethin’ about it.”

True sympathy rang in the child’s words and shone clearly in his eyes.  Pushing the boy’s curls gently from his forehead, Adam assured, “Don’t worry, boy, brother was just giving you a bit of your own medicine.  There won’t be any bugs on your plate, unless you ask to try them.  Okay?”

His throat suddenly tight, Joe picked at the comforter edge.  Adam leaned forward, anticipating his brother’s sudden embrace.  “Thanks for bringin’ me along, Adam.”

Holding the youngster securely, Adam answered, “I know how much you enjoy being with Cody, buddy.  I expect, all too soon, he’ll be moving on again.  I wanted you to have as much time with him as possible.”  Settling Joe back into his pillow, he insisted, “Now, you get to sleep.  Tomorrow, we’ll get in a little exploring before Jason and Aunt Matilda return.  Should be able to head back to the Ponderosa the next day, if Aunt Matilda’s not too worn out from her travel.”

Sleep tugging at him Joe admitted through a big yawn, “Wish Cody could just stay on with us, Adam.”

“Well, much as I agree with you, boy, that’s just not who Cody is.”  Softly stroking his brother’s hair, he explained, “He’s been traveling since he was a baby and it suits him.  Staying in one place too long, well, it just gives him ants in his britches.”  As his brother’s eyelids drooped and closed, Adam whispered, “But I think he’ll find reason enough to drop by more often now.  And one of those reasons is you.”


To Adam’s surprise and the sisters’ delight, Cody offered to drive Hattie’s carriage back to the Ponderosa.  Joe spent a good portion of the journey riding along side, listening as the traveler amused the ladies with his array of adventures.

Jason and Adam took up the rear, catching up on each other’s news.   At the sound of Matilda’s shrill laughter, Jason grinned, “She sure is happy she decided to stay on permanently with Cousin Hattie.”  Shaking his head, he observed, “They love each other as much as any two sisters could, I expect, but they sure know how to rile each other.”

Mouth twisting into a knowing smile, Adam agreed, “Yes, I’ve seen it played out quite a few times.  They’re equally adept at it too.”

“Oh, I don’t know, Cousin Hattie has the edge, I think.”

Considering a moment, Adam nodded, concluding, “It’s because she’s the oldest.  It goes with the territory.”

Jason chuckled, observing his friend with a sideward glance, finally warning, “You be careful, boy and don’t get cocky.”

“Cocky?”  Adam frowned and shifted his hat forward.  “You’re confusing me with my little brother, I believe.”

“Oh?  Are you trying to tell me cockiness has never gotten you into hot water?  No, let me rephrase that … US into hot water.”

Clearing his throat, Adam countered, “Oh?  What about your temper and that pride of yours?  Surely you’ll admit they were motivating factors, a time or two?”

“Well, if you’re thinking of  our introduction to Malcolm Travis, I admit, he got under my skin immediately.  And it was quite clear you shared my dislike.”

“He did have a certain annoying air, didn’t he?  Way too full of himself … just begging to be taken down a peg….”

Joe’s high-pitched giggle cut the conversation short as the boy doubled back to join them.  “The ladies are tryin’ ta talk Cody into bein’ part of their next fundraiser for the older folks home.”

Exchanging a knowing look with Jason, Adam concluded, “Well, then I expect Cody will be participating.”

Perplexed, Joe scratched his head.  “How can ya be so sure, Adam?  I thought you said Cody’d likely be moving on soon.”

Jason snorted, “Because when Cousin Hattie decides she wants something, she pretty much makes sure it happens.”

Adam encouraged, “You’d best get back up there, boy, or you’ll miss watching the master at work.  Aunt Hattie can talk anyone into anything.”

His eyes shifting between his brother and Jason, Joe asked suspiciously, “You tryin’ to get rid of me, Adam?”

“Wouldn’t hear of it.  You’re welcome to ride with us if you like.”

“Naw, I don’t want to miss Cody’s stories.  Aunt Matilda just pulls one after another out of him.  But I think Cody’s kinda enjoying it.  He says the ladies ain’t squeamish about stuff, the way other gals are.  He’s right too.  Ya know, he told one tale about this fight he got into in a saloon… this bear of a man was pickin’ on this little pipsqueak of a guy and Cody figured the big guy needed a lesson.  Had ta break the other fella’s arm, for he’d see reason.”  The boy grinned, “Cody set the fella’s arm for him though.  And when he described all the poppin’ an crackin’, the ladies never even flinched.”

Laughter from the buggy yanked Joe away and Adam considered, “Aunt Hattie’s reactions to things weren’t always predictable, were they?”

Joe’s whoop of glee interrupted the conversation and the young men looked up to see a familiar form heading towards them.  Joe nudged Cochise forward, yelling over his shoulder, “Hey, there’s Pa, comin’ ta meet us!”


Coffee pot in hand, Ben joined the two women on the porch, already sipping the tea Hop Sing had brought earlier.  Watching Cody and the four boys heading for the corral, Hattie commented with a smile, “He’s an impressive man, Ben.  Amazing that he found his way back to you, after all these years.”

Nodding, Ben noted, “It’s been wonderful, for all my boys, having him visit again.  I expect he’ll continue to wind his way back here now and again.  He’s as fond of them as they are of him.”  Breathing in the scent of pine, he added, “And the Ponderosa has a way of drawing people back to her.  She’s an irresistible  lady.”

The two sisters shared an appreciative glance before Matilda commented, “Ben, when Hattie told me how beautiful this place was … well, I have to admit, my imagination didn’t do it justice.   I’m so looking forward to our visit to your lake.  And the meadows of wildflowers we saw on the trail here are just breathtaking!”

“Wildflowers…”  Ben caught Hattie’s eye and chuckled, “They certainly have a way of enchanting you ladies.”

Hattie laughed, then scolded, “Yes, but then you men try to use that to your advantage at times, don’t you?”  Glancing out at the handsome dark-haired young man in the distance, Hattie just shook her head.  “Oh, Ben… he still can’t pass that field of mine, without blushing.”

Matilda frowned at her sister, “All right, you two, what story is lurking behind all this talk of fields and flowers?”

Assured that his sons were well occupied, Ben glanced down at his fingers, before finally surrendering, “Well, since his brothers aren’t within earshot, I expect Adam will forgive me for relaying the story to you.”  His eyes clouded a moment, “Forgiveness … It’s as much a part of this story as flowers…”   Hattie’s warm expression encouraging him, Ben began, “Adam was fifteen at the time and suddenly Miss Patricia Lawrence[4] was no longer just the silly giggling daughter of Hattie’s neighbor.  We decided to take a short ride before lunch, the young people getting a fair distance ahead of us…”


Dismounting, the couple strolled a bit before Adam reached out to take Patricia’s hand.  ‘Would you like to walk through the meadow?  Should be real pretty right about now.’

Patricia’s lilting laughter betrayed her when she tried to scold, ‘Papa warned me about boys like you, Adam Cartwright.’   Suddenly spying the sea of wildflowers ahead, she exclaimed, ‘Oh, they ARE beautiful.  Adam, I’d love to pick some to take home with me.’

With a sly grin, Adam challenged, ‘And why else would I have brought you here?’

Opening her mouth to zing him with a smart comeback, Patricia suddenly let loose an ear-piercing scream.  Amid shrieks, she squealed, ‘A bee!  A bee!  It went up my dress!’  Looking frantically down at her skirt, she grabbed a wad of material at mid-thigh level.  ‘Adam, do something!  I... I’ve got it trapped.  Help me, I don’t want to get stung!’

His mouth gaping, the young man stammered, ‘I ... Patricia ...’

The pitch in her voice seemed to rise with each word as she demanded, ‘You’ve got to get it out from under my skirt!  If I let go of my petticoats, it will get loose and sting me for sure.  Adam!’  Panic consuming her, Patricia screamed again.  

Trying to hold on to his own composure, Adam gestured with raised hands, ‘All right, all right, just keep it trapped until I can think of how to do this without...’

Meanwhile, homing in on the screams, Ned Lawrence and Ben Cartwright rode hard, reaching the top of the hill above the meadow.  Patricia’s shrill shrieking filling them with foreboding, they searched the area below with frantic eyes, finally spotting the young couple.  From their vantage point, the men could see only one thing:  Adam on his knees with both hands up Patricia’s skirt.   Their ears caught only certain words from the frantic discourse below.

Patricia pleaded, ‘Please, take it off, take it off!’

The young man appealed, ‘Patricia, I wouldn’t know where to start!  I’ll just rip away what I need to…’

‘Hurry, Adam!  I can’t stand it any longer!’

Spurring his horse, Ned growled, ‘I’ll kill him!’

Urging Buck forward, Ben shouted, ‘ADAM!’ 

His father’s astonished tone startled him, but didn’t deter Adam from his mission.  As his knife made the final tear in Patricia’s undergarment, he pulled the wad of material free, placed it under his boot, to grind it thoroughly with his heel.  Reaching out to stroke Patricia’s flushed cheek, he was surprised when a huge hand gripped his upper arm and yanked him away. 

‘You... you young brute.  How dare you!  I’ll have you horsewhipped to within an inch of your life!’

‘Papa!  Papa, no!’

Pulling Adam free of Ned’s grasp, Ben insisted, ‘Lawrence, I’m responsible for this boy and will see the proper measures are taken.’  His blazing eyes bored into his son.

Fully realizing the accusations against him, Adam retorted, ‘Pa!  You … you don’t understand...’

Patricia forced herself between father and son.  Mr. Cartwright, please, you’ve got to listen.  Adam wasn’t... well, he would never...  Please, listen.  There was a bee up my skirt.’

Ned Lawrence and Ben Cartwright gaped, before exclaiming together,  ‘A bee?’

Face hot with anger and embarrassment, Adam swept the piece of petticoat off the ground.  Shoving the material into his father’s hands, he snapped, ‘Yes, a bee.’  Tipping his hat at Patricia, he offered in a strained voice, ‘I hope we’ll be allowed to see each other again.’  Temper soaring, he stalked off toward his horse, leaving the two fathers to discover the smashed remains of the culprit on cream colored cloth.

Ben graciously insisted, ‘Please accept my apologies, Patricia.’  Staring at the dust cloud in his son’s wake, he touched the brim of his hat and added, ‘If you’ll excuse me, I have another apology to make.’

Following his gut instincts, Ben located Adam at the edge of the creek dividing the Carlson and Lawrence properties.  From a distance, he observed his son pace at the water’s edge.  The young man chucked several sizeable stones into the rushing water, before finally grabbing his hat and hurling it to earth.  Hearing his father’s approach, he stiffened, deliberately turning his back, stubbornly concentrating on the rippling water.

With a sigh, Ben dismounted and slowly approached.  Hesitating a moment, he rubbed the back of his neck as he watched his firstborn draw his hands to his hips and sharply shift his head, as if to further distance himself from the man so close behind him now.  Another sigh escaped as Ben quietly stepped forward to rescue the discarded black hat, dusting it off meticulously as he wrestled with how to proceed.  Moving to his boy’s side, he suggested, ‘You dropped this.’

His eyes never leaving the water, Adam nodded and silently accepted the headpiece.

‘I owe you an apology, son.  I’m sorry.’

His jaw stiff, Adam frowned, angry words stuck in his throat.  When his father reached out a hand to his shoulder, he shook it off, spinning to face him, eyes flashing.  ‘I would NEVER treat a woman in such a manner.  NEVER!’  His voice dropped to whisper, hurt creeping out in his words, ‘You taught me better than that, Pa.’

‘Adam…’  Again Ben found himself staring at taut shoulders.  ‘Adam … son, I made a mistake.  From where Ned and I sat, we saw… and of course with Patricia screaming … well, we … we drew a wrong conclusion.’  Adam didn’t budge.   His voice gentle, Ben tried again to penetrate the rigid wall, ‘I said I was sorry.  I don’t know what else to say.  Your pa makes mistakes, just like anyone else, boy.’  He let his son chew on the words, then added, ‘And I hope you can forgive me for this one.’

Pursing his lips, Adam continued to study the water as it hurried over large, sharp rocks.  He felt the familiar dark eyes watching, waiting, as memories of his own mistakes wormed their way into his conscience.  How many times in his life had he asked his father to forgive him -- for too many foolish decisions?  Slowly turning, he met the patient eyes.  ‘Yes, sir.  I forgive you.’  Placing his hat firmly on his head, he mumbled, ‘But I don’t know how I can ever look Patricia or her father in the face – EVER!’  Whipping off his hat again, he slapped it against his thigh in frustration, once more facing the creek.

A smile pushing at the corners of his mouth, Ben suggested, ‘I expect you’ll laugh about this incident one day, but for now, I think the best thing for us to do is join the others and just get past the awkward moment.’

Adam conceded, reluctantly, ‘Yes, sir.’  Heading toward his horse, he swiped at the air with his hat, declaring, ‘Gals sure bring on a lot of trouble!’

Ben chuckled, ‘Yes, son, but I think you’ll find they’re worth the trouble.’[5]

A grin chasing away his remaining anger, Adam welcomed the slap on his back as he joined his pa in laughter, ‘Yes, sir.’


Matilda’s laughter rippled down to the corral and Jason caught the look on Adam’s face.  “You know, I have a feeling those two ladies are pumping your pa for tales to amuse them.  Cousin Matilda told me she loves to hear stories about when you were a ‘little fella’.”

Adam snorted, “Yes, and her sister takes great pleasure in obliging her, I’m sure.”  Eyeing his friend, he warned, “Just remember, we were both involved in a number of memorable incidents.  Best to steer clear of any hints along those lines.  They’re sure to snap them up.  And little brother over there just lives for stories that show his older brother isn’t infallible.”

Jason smirked, “You just make sure you follow your own advice, friend.  Or do I need to remind you that that mouth of yours has gotten the pair of us into trouble, more than a time or two?”

Eyes narrowing, Adam countered, “Oh?  Do you take no credit for helping to dig those holes we managed to excavate?  You don’t think that maybe that pride of yours helped tip the scales of fate, once or twice?”

Jason conceded, “Well, we were a team, weren’t we?”  As Ben hollered down for them to come to eat, he repeated, “Just remember what I said and follow your own advice.”

Waving off the warning, Adam glanced uncertainly toward the house, as Matilda’s cackle continued to filter down to them.  “Then again, with Pa as their ally…”

Jason chuckled, doubting the two of them were any match against that trio on the porch.  Turning his head toward the corral, he couldn’t help but think that Cody could be coaxed into telling an incriminating tale or two himself.


As Adam took his seat at the crowded table, his father questioned, with a hint of annoyance, “Adam?  I thought you went to lasso that little brother of yours and bring him to supper?”

Grabbing his napkin, Adam explained, “He was a mess, Pa, so I sent him to the wash house for a quick bath.”  Spreading his napkin in his lap, he shook his head in amazement, “What is it about little boys and mud…”  Looking up to find himself captured in a circle of eyes, Adam shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  Jason took sudden interest in the chandelier.  Hoss rolled his eyes outright, then shook his head as he concentrated on cutting up his beef.  As Ben cocked a bushy eyebrow, Cody threw him a wink before grabbing a slice of bread, a low chuckle starting in his throat. 

The sisters focused on their host, who was folding his arms, studying his eldest, as slow recognition tracked a path across the young man’s face.   A certain victory danced in Ben’s eyes as he prepared to answer the question hanging oh-so-heavily in the air.

Accepting her plate with a nod of thanks at Cody, Hattie, nudged, “Go on, Ben, it’s not polite, keeping your quests in suspense.” 

Laughter brightening his dark eyes, Ben considered, “Well, I should wait for Joseph, before I share this story.  After all, he plays a major part in it.  Though he won’t likely remember it, will he, Adam?”

With a reflexive pull at his right ear, Adam shook his head, “No sir, but then I have a feeling that after tonight, he won’t allow anyone of us to forget.”

As if on cue, the youngest Cartwright tumbled in through the front door.  His nervous eyes on his father, the boy stammered, “S… Sorry I’m late, everybody.”

Ben chuckled as he began to heap food onto the youngster’s plate.  “Actually, Joseph, you’re just in time.”

“Huh?”  Surprised that his father wasn’t scolding him, the boy waited. 

Gesturing to the chair beside him, Ben explained with wide smile, “You’re just in time to hear a story about your older brothers and their fascination with mud.”

A grin chased away his bewildered expression and Joe quickly slid into his place, to join the waiting audience.


Thirteen-year-old Adam placed a wiggling Little Joe down on his feet and grasped the baby’s hand.


The elder brother glanced down, lifting a skeptical eyebrow.  ‘Did he say mud?’

Hoss flashed his older brother a toothy grin.  ‘Shore sounded like it.  Mama says Joe speaks all kinds a words, but Pa tells her it ain’t so.  Says it’s all just baby… uh … gib… giber …’


‘Yeah, that.’  Scrunching up his nose, Hoss peered up into his older brother’s eyes to ask, ‘What’s that mean, anyhow, Adam?’

‘It means nonsense … silly sounds that aren’t really any one word.’  Watching Joe crawl toward the big mud hole ahead, Adam laughed.  ‘But despite what Pa might think, Ma is right.  Joe knows what he’s saying.  And in this case, he definitely meant “mud”.

Walking briskly forward, Adam swept the little boy off his feet.  ‘Oh no you don’t.  If I let you into that slop, my NAME is gonna be “Mudd”!’  Joe squirmed wildly and Adam rolled his eyes.  ‘Now listen, Little Joe, your ma only just finished givin’ you a bath and you weren’t too cooperative about it either.  That’s why you’re out here with us, ta give her a break from your antics.  If I let you get into that mud hole, you’ll need another bath.’  Mumbling more to himself at this point, he added, ‘Your ma is in kinda a bad mood today, so I ain’t plannin’ on getting on her wrong side.’  Looking the baby directly in the eyes now, he insisted, ‘No mud!  I’ll give ya just one more chance on the ground.’

The older sibling set the baby back on the earth.  Instantly, the boy resumed his trek on hands and knees toward the sloppy muck ahead.  Scooping his brother up, Adam suggested to Hoss, ‘We better go down to the coral.  The horses will distract him from this mission of his.’ 

As they walked past the puddle, the middle brother observed, ‘That’d make real fine mud balls, Adam.  Cain we have a contest and throw some at that there big tree?’

Mouth agape, Adam blinked several times before pronouncing, ‘You’re as bad as he is!  What do you think Ma will say, if the three of us come back to the house, covered in mud?’

Hoss kicked a rock in his path.  ‘Aw, gee, we been stuck in that old house fer … fer ferever, Adam!  Mama said go out and play.  Throwin’ mud balls is play, ain’t it?’

Adam sighed.  The boy was right, wasn’t he?  The past week of rain had set the whole household out of sorts.  Marie had had her fill of the older boys fighting, in between trying to keep Little Joe from getting into EVERYTHING.  Hop Sing had had enough of mud tracks on his floor and washing grimy clothes.  Ben was ‘dang near fed up’, with coming home to a cranky wife AND cook, after his long days of working out in the rain.

Giving in to his brother, Adam suggested, ‘Yeah, well, let’s see you hit that spot on that tree, where the branch broke off.  See it?’

Hoss beamed and squatted down to scoop up a handful of mud at the outer edge of the puddle.  Forming a firm ball, he hurled it, just glancing the target.

Adam praised, ‘Hey, that was real good.  Now, see if you can hit that black mark on the trunk, just over the last spot.

Digging out a respectable wad of wet earth, Hoss patted it into another sphere and sailed it at the tree.  The ball splattered the new target and Hoss laughed heartily.  ‘Come on now, Adam, you try one.  Bet ya cain’t hit that there sap glob, on the next tree.  See it?’

Setting Joe down, Adam accepted the challenge.  In very short order, the two older boys had several trees coated with mud stains.  As they scooped up more ammunition, the two froze at the sound of the twittery giggle several feet away.  In the gloppiest, wettest part of the puddle sat their baby brother, up to his waist in murk, fists oozing with luscious, dark brown, sloppy earth as he happily patted a handsome mud tower. 

On the other side of the puddle stood their father, hands on hips, eyebrows in a deep vee, head cocked as he studied the circus before him.  He roared, ‘Just what in tarnation are you three boys doin’?’

Dropping the gooey globe in his hand, Adam grabbed his ear, then winced as the gritty slop coated his earlobe. 

Hoss piped up innocently, ‘We’re playin’, Pa.’

‘We’re playing, Pa,’ came the muttered echo.  Ben’s gaze shifted to the baby.  Dark curls dripping with goo, mud thickening on little hands and knees, the child plowed toward his pa through the murky sea.  Eyes wide, Ben warned, ‘Little Joe.’  The determined babe ignored his father’s tone and grinned, always ecstatic to see his pa after missing him all day.  Ben shook his finger at the crawling machine rapidly closing in on him.  ‘Little boy, your pa does not want to pick you up.  You are a muddy mess!’  Glee in his eyes and laughter, the child scrambled forward.

‘Adam!  You’re as muddy as this little boy.  Come over here and pick him up, before he tries to climb me.’

Perhaps it was the fact that they’d been hostage in the house too long.  Maybe it was the sight of his slippery little brother, doggedly determined to deliver his customary hug to his papa.  But something about the picture of his large father backing away from this tiny baby just struck Adam’s funny bone and he burst into laughter, Pa’s severe expression doing nothing to deter his laughing fit.

Ben barked, ‘Hoss!  I hope you have the good sense to obey your pa.  Pick Joe up and take him to the wash house.’

Infected by his older brother’s merriment, the middle son, chuckled, ‘Aw, Pa, Little Joe’s jest happy ta see ya, is all.’

Reaching the tips of his father’s boots, Little Joe grabbed his trousers, hauled himself upright, then captured Ben’s legs in a mighty hug.  Looking down at the human mud pie , Ben shook his head and began to chuckle.  Hoisting his baby into his arms, he turned his cheek to accept many muddy kisses, before tossing the grimy boy over his shoulder.

Shaking a finger at his other two sons, he ordered, ‘I’d better hear two sets of feet behind me, heading to that wash house.  I will not have my evening ruined by a scolding from your mother!’

Too late.  ‘Ben Cartwright, what in the world has gotten into you, getting those boys and yourself in such a mess when we finally have a dry day!  Why, isn’t it enough that I have three boys, without you acting like one of them?’


Turning on her heel, Marie yelled toward the house, ‘Hop Sing!  We need more hot water!’

The little cook flung open the kitchen door to take in the scene before him.  ‘Hop Sing go back China!  Everly day, mud everlywhere!  Boys bring.  Fa-tha bring.  Missy Cartlight only person in house with good sense!’


Joe hooted, “Boy, my ma sure was mad.  Did you all even get supper that night?”

Adam eyed his brother and reminded him, “Just remember, going into the mud was YOUR idea.”

Joe shook his head and looked to his father for support.  “Uh uh, Adam, Mama made you responsible for me, so it was your fault I got in the middle of that puddle.  You shouldn’a put me down.  Ain’t that so, Pa?”

Ben nodded, giving his eldest son a stern glance, “Quite so, but it would seem your mother took that thinking one step further, for in this case, I felt the brunt of it.”  With another scolding look in Adam’s direction, he grumbled, “Spent the rest of the evening trying to convince Marie that I was innocent.”

The memory of their father retreating from the crawling mud slick, flashed again through Adam’s mind.  His low chuckle drew a frown from his father, but, he shrugged and countered, “Well, as I recall, I found myself with an excessive list of extra chores the following day.”  But that picture of you backing away from Joe made it worth it!

Little Joe caught the odd expression cross Aunt Hattie’s face and piped up, “You got a mud story too, ma’am?”

“Actually, Joe, I think Cody is holding back a tale of his own.”

As Hop Sing slipped a huge slice of apple pie in front of him, Cody rubbed his hands together.  “Well, if folks cain fergive me fer talking and eatin’, I mite be able to remember a story…”


They rolled into the small town in late afternoon, easily locating its mercantile in the short string of buildings along the dusty main road.  As Cody tied his horse to the rear of their wagon, Ben turned to his son, ordering, ‘You stay and mind our things, son.’

‘Yes sir, Pa.’  Adam’s chest swelled and he sat straighter in the seat.  Soon, his restless dark eyes began to wander, lighting on two men haggling in trade over a bedraggled mule.

A round fellow wearing a coonskin cap sqawked, ‘He’s worth more ‘an a pouch of stale tabaccie, that’s fer shur!’

A lanky man in a tattered cloth coat stood nose-to-nose, gesturing wildly as he countered, ‘Tain’t neither!  Look at them bald patches.’  Walking a slow circle around the mangy beast, the lean barterer spat.  ‘An what about that sag in his middle?  Be lucky if he gets me ta the first waterin’ hole.’

Eyes sliding back to await the first man’s response, Adam turned abruptly at the sound of laughter somewhere behind him.   Scooting over to the other side of the seat, he leaned out and stretched his neck, frowning when the source of merriment remained obstructed.  With a quick glance at the storefront, he slid to the ground and crept to the end of the wagon.   Head tilted slightly, he studied two children at a watering trough. 

A slim, red-headed boy, several years Adam’s senior, stood over a plump, little girl contently sitting in the dirt.  She reflected the boy’s fiery hair, round cheeks and splash of freckles across her flat nose.   Mud decorated her calico dress as she slapped thick, sloppy, brown patties in front of her.  Her brother clutched a rusty bowl, dipping it repeatedly in the trough, pouring the contents onto a mound of damp earth.

Curiosity fueling his tongue, Adam finally asked, ‘What ya doin’?’

The lad threw him an inquisitive look before shrugging his shoulders.  ‘She’s makin’ mud pies.  What da ya think?’


The older boy groaned, ‘Pretend pies.  Or don’t you know ‘bout pretend?’

Adam scowled at the criticism, answering defensively, ‘Sure I do.’  The creases in his face faded as he thought about traveling with his father, pointing out objects like the figure of a bird, a dog, a woman in flowing skirt … all carved out of puffy clouds overhead.  They’d wait a moment, for nature’s hand to nudge the pictures, then Ben would take his turn and describe the new sculptures:  a rabbit … a squirrel … a sailor waving his hat.  Oh, and then there was the day Adam spotted the clipper ship!  How his father beamed over that!  It was then he mentioned, quietly, how much Adam’s mother enjoyed cloud gazing.  Pa suddenly grew so silent, Adam feared that they wouldn’t play the game anymore.  A moment later, his father reached out an arm, drawing him close.  To Adam’s relief, his father lightheartedly pointed to a kangaroo and the game continued. 

The boy at the trough interrupted Adam’s musings.  ‘Well, I guess you ain’t gotta sister, otherwise you’d fer shur know about mud pies.  This here is Ellie.  I’m Nate.’

Adam immediately stuck out his hand, ‘My name’s Adam.’

Nate displayed a mud-coated palm and Adam grinned, dropping his hand to his side.

‘You want ta play with us?’

Eyeing Ellie’s mud-caked hair, Adam shook his head.  ‘My pa will be out soon.  He won’t like it if I’m all muddy.’

‘Hey, Nate, who’s your new friend?’  A tall blond boy strolled toward them, all the while looking Adam up and down.

‘His name is Adam.  This here is …’

‘Name’s Samuel.’  Rolling his eyes at the mud pies, he scoffed, ‘Don’t she ever get tired a that?’ 

Nate shrugged it off.  ‘Keeps her from makin’ a fuss.’

‘Yeah, well, how ‘bout makin’ us up some rocks instead.  I just spotted me a big old bear.  We’ll need somethin’ ta pelt with ‘em with.’

Adam glanced around, his expression a painting of confusion.  Nate laughed.  ‘Pretend.  Remember?’  At Adam’s slow nod, the boy urged, ‘Come on, you help us make rocks.  You won’t get too dirty, if ya stay clear of Ellie.  She likes to throw it, once it gets good and messy.  So just set back of her a ways.’

Still perplexed, Adam questioned, ‘But where’s the bear?’

‘Oh, he’ll be comin’, right soon,’ Samuel assured.  ‘First we gotta make up some ammunition, ta hit him with.’

Not really clear on the game, Adam followed Nate’s lead and knelt beside him.  Fairly soon they manufactured a nice stack of mud balls and Samuel announced, ‘Okay, I’ll get us that there grizzly.’

As the older boy ducked into the saloon, Nate urged, ‘Come on, get yerself armed, one in each hand.  Once ya throw ‘em, be ready ta run though, cause sometimes the bear don’t go down, he jus’ gets mad.’

Flying through the doors, Samuel yelled, ‘He’s a comin’!  And boy, is he a growlin’!’

The saloon doors parted with a crash and out stalked Cody, vest dripping with the beans Samuel had dumped on him, before sprinting away like a jack rabbit.  The big man’s eyes fell on Adam, who froze as his companions slung their mud rocks and scattered.  Little Ellie took that moment to turn, and splatter a dumbstruck Adam with all the mud in her grasp, giggling triumphantly as the goop dribbled off her target’s head.

Looming over Adam now, Cody demanded, ‘Boy, what in thunder do ya think yer doin’, partakin’ in this kind a mischief?’

Tilting his palms forward, to let the two balls slide to earth, Adam swallowed repeatedly, until he produced enough spit to speak.  ‘They … They said we were pretendin’.  I didn’t know there was a real bear.’  Heart banging on his chest, the boy gulped once more.  ‘I sure didn’t know it was you.’  Sludge dripping from dark lashes onto paling cheeks, he added in a whisper, 'Honest, Cody.’


Much as he enjoyed hearing about his elder brother getting into hot water, Joe complained, “Cody?  That ain’t fair.  Adam didn’t know those fellas were settin’ him up.  He’d a never done that ta you.”  Eyeing their father, he added, “I don’t think he’d a done it ta anyone else either, specially with Pa just a door away.  Why, if Pa caught one a us throwin’ mud balls at a stranger, well he’d …”  The boy swallowed hard, envisioning the outcome all too clearly.

Cody chuckled, “Funny you should say that, Joe.  Cause yer right, yer pa weren’t too happy, seeing a couple a ornery boys treatin’ a stranger that-a-way…


Ben emerged from the store, arms burdened with supplies.  As the mudslinging scene enfolded before him, he dumped his purchases on the vacant wagon seat and dashed back through the store, hastily locating the back exit.  Sharp ears homed in on muffled laughter and he cautiously snuck up the alley between the store and saloon, grabbing the two unsuspecting culprits by their collars.  Marching the wriggling scamps out into the street, he offered with a certain satisfaction, ‘Cody, would you care to help me do the honors?’


With a wink at Joe, Cody commented, “I expect those two younguns found settin’ down ta their tables a mite uncomfortable that night.’

Still feeling his brother had been served a raw deal, Joe pestered, ‘But what about Adam?’

His wink directed to Adam this time, Cody finished…


The two men found Adam where they’d left him, looking very much as if he’d like to strangle the still giggling Ellie.  Ben distinctly heard his son state, ‘If you weren’t a girl…’


The boy flew to his feet, head jerking up to respectfully meet his father’s gaze. 

‘What do you have to say for your part in all this, young man?’  Adam opened his mouth, but Ben rolled ahead, ‘I gave you explicit instructions to mind our things and what do I find when I return?’  Again the child attempted defense, but his father’s booming voice overrode him, ‘I come out to find you coated in dirt, aiding two rapscallions!’ 

The splattered mud drying on his eyelashes suddenly became so irritating that Adam rubbed furiously at his eyes.  Concern displacing anger, Ben lifted his son and pulled out a handkerchief. ‘Don’t rub them, you’ll hurt your eyes.  Keep them shut until I tell you to open them.’  Cody produced a canteen, heavily dousing the outstretched cloth.  Carefully swiping his son’s tightly sealed lids, Ben removed the caked dirt.  When he was certain he’d done a thorough cleaning, he informed his son.

Reluctantly, the boy opened his eyes, then sucked in his lower lip as he awaited the deep, one word inquisition.  ‘Well?’

With more confidence that he felt, Adam insisted, ‘Well, Pa, I … I was just following your ongoing orders.’

Ben’s eyes narrowed.  ‘Oh?’

Trying to control the quaver in his voice, the boy clarified, ‘You always tell me I should act neighborly when we come into a town … so I was makin’ friends, while you were doin’ our tradin’.  And, uh, I could see our wagon, the whole time.  Never did let it out of my sights.’

Grimacing at the smeared drying beans on Cody’s vest, Adam frowned, ‘I’m sorry they messed up your clothes, Cody.  You gotta believe me, I didn’t know you were the bear.’  Turning back to his father, who was fighting to maintain his stern demeanor, Adam insisted, ‘I’m tellin’ the truth, Pa.’  Glaring down at the girl below, he confided, ‘And I wouldn’t be all dirty, ‘cept for her.’  Voice dropping to a secretive whisper, he revealed, ‘You think she’s just a little girl, Pa, but she’s downright sneaky.’

Losing his battle with laughter, Ben managed to ask, ‘What do you think, Cody?  What should we do with him?’

Glancing at the horse trough, the big man proposed, ‘Well, if I was a horse, I’d be thinkin’ this here water is a bit cloudy fer drinkin’ … what with all that dirt that’s been throwed in it.  Seems proper payment that the youngun should help refill it.’

Nodding concurrence, Ben considered aloud, ‘Think maybe what’s left in that trough would clean off a little boy?  Or maybe I should say, bear cub?’

Adam’s eyes tripled in size.  ‘Pa?’

Cody’s nod was followed by a big ‘kersphash’.  Adam sputtered, as Ellie’s giggles once more filled the air.  Ben lifted his son from the impromptu bath, spiriting him into the back of their wagon to suit him in dry clothes.   To the boy’s delight, he overheard Ellie’s mother, just as Pa pulled the canvas down over the back of the wagon.

‘Ellie Johnson!  Look at you!  Just wait until I get you home, young lady.  And where is that brother of yours?  He’s going to get more than a piece of my mind when I get my hands on him!’


Joe leaned back in his chair, giggling so hard he lost his balance.  His father’s quick hand saved him from a fall.  Recovering his voice, the boy declared with satisfaction, “I’m glad ta hear it!  Even if she was a little kid, she caused way too big a ruckus.”

In spite of himself, Adam couldn’t help but nod in agreement.

Wiping her eyes, Hattie stood, declaring, “I’m absolutely stuffed.  If I don’t get out for some of your wonderful pine air, I may fall asleep right here at my place.”

Always the perfect host, Ben offered, “I’d be happy to accompany you ladies on a stroll.”

Cody slipped away for a ride, as the boys settled round the fireplace for a promised checkers match.


Returning from his moonlit jaunt, Cody found Hattie and Matilda on the front porch with their host.  With a wink at the ladies, he chuckled, “Younguns all tucked in, Ben?”

“Well, my youngest best be asleep by now, or someone will have some explaining to do.  As to the older boys, there’s a good chance their match is still in progress.  The ladies and I have only just returned from our star gazing.  It’s so clear tonight; we had a great view down at the corral.  We were just heading in for a touch of brandy, to take off the night chill.  Won’t you join us?”

“Yep, that would be right welcome, ‘fore I hit the hay.”

As Ben ushered his guests through the front door, they all stopped, simultaneously spying the scene in front of the fireplace.  Adam sat in his father’s favorite seat, legs draped over the chair arm nearest the fire, chin on his chest, book tipped against his stomach.

Hattie’s eyes softened and she whispered, “What a sweet picture.  How often does that happen?”

His own heart warmed by the sight, Ben admitted, “He puts in a long day and he works hard, but still insists on sneaking in a few pages of whatever book he’s reading.  Many a night I find myself nudging him to head up to bed, or just as likely, I slip the book from his hands, up in his room, before turning down his lamp.  He’s a stubborn young man, tries to stretch out the day, even though he knows full well he’s had enough.”

Cody couldn’t help but recall, “He was a stubborn little fella, too, weren’t he, Ben?  Never would admit he was too tuckered, if he thought it would interfere with our plans.  More than once, we had ta team up agin him, ta get him ta curl up, didn’t we?”


They’d walked for some distance from the wagon, in search of fresh water.  The swampy ground making it impossible to bring the team any closer, Cody carried one water barrel, Ben the other.  Adam toted their canteens as well as his trusty burlap sack, which his father draped around his slim shoulders.  They trudged past stagnant pools, ultimately plodding their way to a spring.  After quenching their thirst, they explored further, discovering more stable ground nearby, where they could bring the wagon directly.  Returning to the spring, they began to fill the barrels and canteens.  Ben knelt beside his son, noticing him teetering slightly, eyelids drooping as he held one of the vessels under water.

‘Adam?  How about if you take a rest, son?  Cody and I can finish this.  Pa could make you a place to nap, over there under that tree.’

Rubbing his fists over his eyes, the child shook his head.  ‘I don’t need a nap, Pa.  My job is ta fill up the canteens.  Then we still gotta stir up some game, before we go back to the wagon.  Ain’t that what ya planned?’

‘Well, yes, but we walked further for the water than I intended.  Thought maybe you could do with a rest.’

‘You ain’t gotta stop on my account, Pa.  I can do my share.’

Clearing his throat, Ben captured Cody’s eye and, over his son’s head, gestured with his hands for help.

With a wink, Cody nodded, then stretched his arms, accompanied by a convincing groan.  ‘Ya know, Ben, I shore could do with a rest myself, fore I lift these barrels and tote ‘em back to that spot we come across.  Why, a fella cain’t work all day without a rest, now, cain he?’

Adam looked up as their friend settled himself down at the base of the tree Ben had selected earlier.

‘Right you are, Cody.  The body wasn’t meant to go forever without a break.’ Sliding his back down the tree trunk, Ben leaned his head back and released a contented sigh.  Allowing Adam to completely digest the picture of repose, he patted his lap and suggested, ‘You’re welcome to join us, son.’

Clapping his hand over a wide yawn, Adam conceded, ‘Okay, Pa, if ya think we should.’  He carefully capped the canteen in his grasp and leaned it up against the one he’d already filled.   Unable to hide the next gaping yawn, he half stumbled the few steps to his companions.   Seconds later, the boy snoozed heavily, bottom cushioned by his father’s ample lap, face snuggled into Ben’s warm chest, small frame surrounded by strong, loving arms.   

A genuine yawn muffling his words, Cody suggested, ‘Ya know, Ben, we really could all do with some quick shut-eye … Uh, Ben?  Ben?’


As Ben filled their glasses, Hattie pointed out, “Looks as though Jason lost the battle with sleep too.”  The others glanced the pair of stocking-clad feet stuck out over the edge of the settee. 

Matilda nudged her sister.  “You don’t suppose those two could be playing possum, do you, the way we used to, when trying to pick up a bit of information while Ma and Papa talked in our parlor in the evenings?’

Hattie frowned as she quietly approached Ben’s leather chair.  Her voice a whisper, she observed, “No, though I wouldn’t put it passed these two.  What a couple of schemers they were.”

It was Ben’s turn to frown.  “Oh?  I hope after all these years later, I’m not going to hear that those two gave you too rough a time, Hattie…”

Her eyes suddenly soft, Hattie admitted, “Ben, I wouldn’t have missed those visits from your son for the world.  Nor would Jason.  Those two were so well matched.”  Shaking her finger at the sleeping young men, she tried to look severe but failed.  “They were boys, Ben, just normal boys.  And I know I’m not telling you anything new when I say they had a certain creativity.”  Ben cleared his throat and Hattie amended, “All right then, a certain penchant for creative mischief.  I’ll never forget their second summer with me …”


Thirteen-year-olds Adam and Jason enthusiastically accepted Ned Lawrence’s invitation to visit Cross Creek Ranch.  Hattie’s neighbor, thought it prudent to get to know these boys a little better, before giving them free roam of his property during their annual summer visits.  After all, the boys’ hairy creature prank, the previous year[6], didn’t leave him with the best first impression. 

Like the Ponderosa, Cross Creek was in the budding stage.  Still, Mr. Lawrence had a respectable herd of cattle and he’d recently hired on a new man.  Malcolm Travis[7] had a fair amount of ranching experience under his belt, for a young man of sixteen.  A bit too full of himself at times, he was a hard worker and so Ned ignored the character flaw.

Though eager to explore, Jason and Adam couldn’t very well ignore twelve-year-olds Patricia Lawrence and friend Eleanor Trevor.  For one thing, Aunt Hattie had sat them down for a serious reminder on manners before they’d left that morning.  After introductions were made, the girls accompanied Mrs. Lawrence to prepare lunch for their guests.  When giggles floated down from the house, the boys shared wary glances.

‘They laughin’ at us, do you suppose?’  Jason wondered for both of them.

Adam waved away the suggestion.  ‘Aw, gals that age are always laughin’ over nothin’.  Besides, we haven’t done anything for them to laugh at.’ 

Lowing cattle drew their attention and they wandered toward a small corral.  Climbing atop the fence rails, the pair watched Malcolm and two older men roping and branding calves.  Malcolm glanced up and nudged foreman Daniel, ‘Surely, Mr. Lawrence ain’t stoopin’ ta hirin’ children ta help out here?’

Jason’s jaw tightened and Adam clamped a hand on his friend’s wrist, shaking his head when their eyes met.  ‘Don’t let him rile ya.  That’s exactly what he’s after.’  Called away to lunch, the boys let the incident fade.

After lunch the girls followed Jason and Adam outside and invited, ‘Would you join us in a game of Graces[8]?’

Their backs still to the girls, the two friends exchanged frowns.  Adam rolled his eyes.  Getting into Mr. Lawrence’s ‘good graces’ was the purpose of this visit, but geez!’   Managing polite smiles, the boys turned and Adam responded, ‘Sure, but uh, you’ll have to teach me the rules … I’ve never actually played before.’

‘Me either,’ Jason quickly asserted.

Patricia selected Adam for her teammate and the couples took their places on either side of rope Mr. Lawrence had tied between two trees.  Several moments into the game, the girls decided they’d toss to each other and let the boys do likewise, since Adam and Jason tended to hurl the rings, rather than throw them ‘gracefully’. 

When the gals disappeared to retrieve lemonade and cookies, the fellas drifted back to the corral.  In an exaggerated aside to Daniel, Malcolm prodded , ‘I called them two kids, but seems I got it wrong.  They’re a couple a girls.  Did you catch ‘em frolicin’, just now?’ 

Jason growled under his breath, ‘Adam, now he’s callin’ us girls.’

Adam nodded slowly, observing in a disgruntled tone, ‘This is where my pa would suggest that ignoring the behavior is sometimes the best way to stop it.’

Daniel appeared to be doing just that, but Malcolm continued to taunt, ‘Don’t know why Mr. Lawrence is so worried over that old lady neighbor a his havin’ trouble with them two.  They look like they’d be more than happy to set around with the old biddy and have tea an crumpets all day.’

As Adam drew in a deep breath, Jason pointed out, ‘Now, he’s insultin’ Cousin Hattie.’ 

Intense dark eyes shifted from the laughing Malcolm to his co-workers, neither of whom had cracked a smile as yet.  Turning to his friend, Adam concluded, ‘My pa has also been known to say that some fellas need to be taken down a peg or two.’

‘So, what are we gonna do?’

‘Drink lemonade.’


Jerking his head in the direction of the house, Adam suggested coolly, ‘We’re gonna have a nice polite chat with those two gals and learn about Malcolm’s habits.  You gotta know your prey, before you can set the proper trap for him.’

With a satisfied grin, Jason hopped off the fence as Patricia and Eleanor waved them up to the porch.  ‘Now you’re talkin’!’

The conversation jumped to various light topics, before Adam inquired, ‘So what else do you gals do in the summer?’

Eleanor volunteered, ‘We put on plays.’

‘Plays?  Who for?’

Patricia explained, ‘Well, it started out as a way to entertain Eleanor’s younger brothers and sisters, but word spread and now we get a whole barn full of kids for an audience.  Mama gave us some dresses of Grandma’s to use for costumes.’

The conversation continued to shift, eventually weaving its way around to the crossed creeks and Jason wondered, ‘Your creek deep enough to go swimmin’ in?’

Eleanor tittered.  ‘Malcolm thinks so.’

Cheeks suddenly crimson, Patricia scolded, ‘Eleanor!’

Shrugging her shoulders, Eleanor defended, ‘Well, we didn’t know he was there, the day we went searching for flowers.’  Watching Patricia turn a shade darker, she revealed to the boys, ‘We’d been talkin’ to him for a good half hour and his lips started to turn blue.  That was when we spotted all his clothes slung over some bushes.’

Slowly Patricia’s color returned to normal and Adam asked casually, ‘He go there a lot, does he?’

Eleanor happily volunteered, ‘Every day at lunch time.’

Jason watched his friend.  Adam’s eyebrows lifted ever so slightly as his lips pushed out into a pucker and he nodded slowly, a plot obviously hatching behind dancing dark eyes.  A short while later, the two young men offered polite thanks, insisting they had to be heading back.  Their return ride to Aunt Hattie’s was spent plotting the details of the perfect trap.

After dinner, Hattie settled into her knitting as the boys explored the bookshelves in the library.  Abruptly, Adam asked, ‘Uh, Aunt Hattie?  Do you have any dresses around that you don’t fancy any more?’

The clacking of needles ceased instantly.  ‘Dresses?’

Jason laughed at the befuddled look on his cousin’s face and Adam instantly clarified, ‘Ya see, the gals we met today like to put on plays.  I just thought maybe you might have…’

‘Ah, for costumes.’  After considering briefly, Hattie rose and offered, ‘Well, if you two boys will bring it down for me, we could look through a trunk I have in the attic.  We might come across a few items you could give to the girls.’

Not long after, the two boys knelt beside the old chest, anxiously awaiting Hattie’s selections.  Their eyes widened as she drew out an elaborate pink gown, trimmed to the hilt in frilly lace.  ‘Do you think this will do?’

Two pairs of gleeful eyes connected, before Adam answered exuberantly, ‘Oh, yes’m, that will be perfect.’

Smiling warmly, Hattie sorted through the garments and drew out a light blue dress, generously adorned with bows.   ‘Would you like this one as well?  They both belonged to an aunt of mine.  She was so much shorted than I,  so I could never wear them, but then I couldn’t seem to part with them either.’  Concern crept over Adam’s face and Hattie quickly assured him, ‘But I don’t mind giving them up, knowing they are going to a good cause.’

The boys avoided each other’s eyes this time, laughter threatening now.  But Adam responded seriously, ‘Yes, ma’am, a very good cause.  Thanks for findin’ ‘em for us.’

Mid-morning the next day, the two plotters took off, dresses carefully wrapped in brown paper.  Thanks to the girls, they homed in on Malcolm’s favorite swimming spot and sketched out the final details.

Jason mentioned reluctantly, ‘Uh, so which one of us is gonna be the girl?’

Hedging briefly, Adam snapped his fingers, ‘We flip for it.’  Digging for a coin, he tossed it into the air and Jason called out, ‘Tails.’ 

Frowning at the traitorous disc in his palm, Adam quickly found his humor, ‘Well, I never did think I looked good in blue, but …’  Jason muffled a laugh before Adam began to strip and they carefully reviewed the plan once more. 

Right on schedule, Malcolm appeared and the two trackers pursued him with sharp eyes as they crouched in camouflage.  As they expected, the swimmer removed every stitch of clothing.  He carefully laid his clothes on a large flat rock concealed by some low shrubs, then waded out to where the water was a decent depth for swimming.

Cautiously, the observers separated, Adam to distract the swimmer, while Jason tended to the other part of their plan.  Shaking his head as his blue dress snagged on twigs and stones, Adam mumbled, ‘Can’t imagine being stuck in this kind a getup everyday.  Those gals must have a heck of a lot of patience!’  Hiking the skirt, he launched into his role, uttering an excellent imitation of Eleanor’s titter. 

From his vantage point, Jason clapped a hand over his mouth, to capture his own laughter, enjoying his friend’s theatrics.  As expected, Malcolm stopped swimming, eyes searching for the girl behind the giggle.  Head concealed in a bonnet matching his fancy frock, Adam twittered once more, before skipping toward a nearby meadow.  Malcolm quickly waded for the water’s edge, stopping with a start as he gaped at the rock where he’d deposited his garments.  There before him, spread out in splendor, was the frilly pink dress.

Eyes darting frantically in a useless search for his belongings, Malcolm froze, once more, hearing Adam’s peel of girlish laughter.  It seemed to be getting closer as he became aware of the snapping of branches from another direction, compliments of a secluded Jason.   Groaning, Malcolm grabbed the dress and wrapped it hastily around his waist, before bounding off toward a path away from the approaching sounds.

The boys continued to pursue him from a discreet distance, ever-herding him back towards the Lawrence ranch house.  Gripping the pink wrap tightly at his waist, the cowhand managed to dart from tree to bush until he was only feet away from the bunkhouse.  Luck deserted him, however, as Ned Lawrence appeared on horseback and Daniel immerged from the hands’ quarters. 

Both men simultaneously raised an eyebrow, then swiveled in the direction of boys’ voices behind them.  ‘Looks like something a gal would wear, don’t ya think so, Adam?’

Trying to comb his mussed hair back into place, Adam nodded, scrutinizing the lace with great care.  ‘Yep, don’t normally consider that color of pink for the gear of a seasoned cowhand.’

Tipping their hats, the two pranksters took off in a cloud of dust, leaving Ned Lawrence concealing a very big grin as he decided that Hattie’s boys would bring a welcome spark to his ranch, in summers to come, even if he’d never admit it to them.


Cody observed Ben, not surprised to hear the appreciative chuckle sneaking from their host.  Like Hattie, Ben tried to look stern, but in his heart he held a deep appreciation for his eldest boy’s theatric flare and he was dang proud of his son’s keen mind, even though it led him into hot water, more than a handful of times through the years.

As the others slipped off to bed, Ben continued to study his sleeping son.  The young man’s forehead furrowed a bit, confirming his father’s suspicions.  “Did you think by playing possum, you would avoid my eventual interrogation?”

Adam stretched, grabbing the book off his chest as he did so.  “What?  Pa?  What time is it?”

“What time is it,”  Ben muttered.  Brightening, he concluded, as if to himself, “Time for me to sit Hattie Carlson down, to fill me in on all those weeks you spent with her.  I have a feeling I’ll learn quite a bit about my eldest son.”

With a sour glance at Jason, who took this moment to manufacture a snore, Adam admitted, “You know something, Pa?  I’ve learned a valuable lesson myself, by bringing all these friends of mine together for a visit.”

“Oh?  And what might that be?”

Hurling a pillow at Jason’s head, Adam answered, “Next time, invite them to come separately!”

[1] Cody Pyle first appeared in the author’s story “Echoes”.  Aunt Hattie entered the Cartwright’s lives in the author’s “Turning the Pages of Time”. 

[2] Hattie’s sister Matilda made her first appearance in the author’s story “Two Make the Mischief More Fun!”.

[3] Jason’s first encounter with Adam is recounted in the author’s story “Two Make the Mischief More Fun!”

[4] Patricia Lawrence first appeared in the author’s story “Those Daring Young Men”.

[5] A twist on a bit of dialog between Adam and Ben in the Bonanza episode “The Sisters”

[6] This event is told in the author’s tale “Two Make the Mischief More Fun!”.

[7] Malcolm Travis made his first appearance in the author’s story “Those Daring Young Men”.

[8] “Graces is a game that dates back to the 1830s. It was originally intended as an indoor parlor game, but could be played outdoors as well, and due to its popularity, it often was. It was a two-player game which used two wooden throwing rings, (usually decorated with ribbons), and four catching wands. Each player held two catching wands, one in each hand. The first player would place the rings over the wands which he/she held, then toss the rings, one at a time, to the other player. The winner was the player who had caught the most tossed rings within a set amount of time. It was generally considered a ‘girl's game’ as it was meant to encourage gracefulness--hence, the name, ‘Graces’".  Source:  “Games, Pastimes and Other Activities” ( ).

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