Once Upon a Wish
Julie Jurkovich

June 2003

Hoss sauntered across the yard. His boots scraped through the dirt, raising eddies of dust that swirled about him. He looked contentedly at the emerging stars in the darkening eastern sky.

"Hey, big brother, you’re ruining the view," teased Joe. "Folks are gonna think there’s a dust storm around here if you keep that up."

Hoss leaned against the fence, causing a tremor that shook both of his brothers. "Boy, ain’t that a fine view!" he exclaimed as dusk slowly claimed the Ponderosa. "Wonder how come it is that a feller never notices the view in his own yard? Must be we get too busy."

"Not to mention the earthquakes in our own yard." Adam looked straight ahead but had a tell-tale twinkle in his eyes.

Hoss looked at his older brother with a puzzled expression. "Whaddya mean, Adam? We haven’t had no earthquakes around here in some time."

Adam winked at Joe, who turned aside to laugh. "You know what I used to do when I was little, and my mother took me outside to watch the sunset?" said Joe. "I used to wish on a star. She told me that any good, unselfish wish I made would come true!"

Hoss and Adam laughed. "And just what unselfish wishes did you make at that age?" teased Adam.

"Candy for all of us, I bet," said Hoss. "That would have been my kind of wish!"

"That was one," said Joe. "Another was that you wouldn’t have to go to school, cuz I could tell you didn’t like it, and that when I got older, I wouldn’t have to go, either!"

"You played hooky almost enough to make that true!" said Adam once they finally stopped laughing.

"Hey, my mother said my wishes would come true! Maybe I should make another wish right now."

"Unselfish, Joe!" reminded Hoss. "Remember!"

"I’ve got it!" said Joe. He pointed to the brightest star on the horizon. "Star light, star bright, first star I’ve seen tonight: I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. I wish – I wish – that we would all find our one, true love!"

"Whoa! Little brother!" Hoss backed away, followed by Adam with his hands raised palm outward in front of him.

"That’s one dangerous wish, Joe," added Adam.

"But it’s unselfish, right? And Pa always says that it’s time we settle down!" Joe walked after his brothers, who continued to back away from him.

"I’m about as settled as I’m gonna be," vowed Hoss.

"Unless his unselfish wishing messes things up," said Adam.

"Hey!" protested Joe. "There’s no harm done in making a wish!"

"Especially when you’ve got your eye on that pretty new filly in town," said Hoss. "You really think this is gonna make her fall for you? Why, I saw a couple other fellows talking with her not too long ago, and she seemed real happy to see them, too. She even -"

Joe picked up a clod of dirt and tossed it at Hoss. When his brother ducked aside, Joe ran and tried to jump on him, but Hoss leaped aside at the last minute, leaving Joe sprawled in the dirt.

"I wish that Hoss and I would get in the house, fast!" shouted Adam, and sprinted for the door, followed by Hoss.

Joe leaped up from the ground and quickly closed the space between them. Just as Hoss followed Adam through the door, Joe leaped on his back. Amid shouts and laughter, Hoss pulled his brother off his back and tossed him head over heels onto the sofa. Joe scrambled up, stepped onto the table, and launched himself through the air toward Hoss. Hoss stumbled backward and bumped into Ben’s desk.

Joe suddenly froze and his eyes widened as he looked over his brother’s shoulder. "Uh – hi, Pa!"

Hoss turned around and saw Ben glaring at them from behind his desk. "Good evening, boys. Nice to see you in such high spirits."

Hoss pulled his brother’s arms from his shoulders, and put Joe on the floor. "We was just – having a little fun, Pa."

Ben moved the inkwell back to its place with one hand and replaced some papers with another. "It’s good I was here to mitigate the consequences of your ‘little fun’," he remarked.

Joe and Hoss looked at each other. "Uh, yeah, Pa. Whatever you say." Joe scratched his head.

"What I say is, it’s a good thing Hop Sing isn’t here right now, or he’d have much more to say about the dust you’ve tracked in and the mess you’ve made."

As they swept and straightened up, Hoss said, "When is Hop Sing comin’ back? I’m getting so tired of our own cooking. I’m hankering for some of his fried chicken and cherry pie something awful."

"We’re behind on the wash, too," said Adam.

"Just a couple more days, most likely," said Ben. "I’ll be glad to see him back, too."

"Once he finishes yelling at us about the mess we’ve left," added Joe.

Hoss and Joe settled into a game of checkers, while Adam strummed his guitar and Ben finished work on the ranch’s accounts. Not very long after night settled over the house, they blew out the lamps, banked the fire, and went upstairs to bed.


The scream jolted Ben from a deep sleep.

"Nooo! Noooooo! Help meeee! Heeelp!!!"

The screeches raised what hair Ben had left, and he felt a shiver of terror clear down to his toes. He leaped from his bed and ran for the door, tripping over his robe as he tried to shove his arms in the sleeves while running down the hall. He fell hard on his arms, banging his nose against the floor, and lay still for a moment, waiting for his breath to return and hoping that the blood-curdling screech was only a phantom of an evil dream.

Almost immediately, a door burst open next to him. Before he could move or even draw breath, a shadow in striped pajamas charged through the door and tripped over him, kicking him in the side and falling hard across him onto the floor.

Another door opened cautiously ahead of them. "Pa? Adam? Joe?" A voluminous checked nightshirt emerged in the hall, and fluttered slightly as it moved first toward the stairs, then toward them. "What’s goin’ on? Adam? Is that you?"

Adam dragged his legs forward, kicking his father in the head and again in the side as he heavily pulled himself to his feet. "Yeah, Hoss, it’s me."

"Where’s Pa?" asked Hoss.

"Uh, I think he’s asleep, isn--"

"I’m right here," grunted Ben. He tried again to get his legs and arms to move. "I must be getting old," he thought. "Can’t get up as quick as these confounded youngsters." As he pushed himself up, Adam stepped toward his voice to help him, and kicked his arm in the dark.

"UMMPH!" Ben collapsed on his face again.

"Oh – sorry, Pa! I can’t see anything," complained Adam.

"Well, I can see you," growled Ben. "Your stripes and that blasted checkered shirt of Hoss’s are the only things I can see! If I can see you, I should think you’d be able to see me!"

"Well, Pa, are you wearing that dark robe? Maybe if you took it off, we could see you, too," suggested Hoss.

"Don’t be silly!" exclaimed Ben. "I wouldn’t have anything on if I did that!"

Adam managed to find his father’s arm in the dark, and pulled him to his feet. He tried to put his arm about Ben and guide him down the hall to where Hoss stood, but Ben impatiently shook him off.

"What is going on?" Ben demanded. "I thought I heard a scream downstairs."

Neither of his sons replied. Ben wanted to shout to fill the silence, but instead admitted sheepishly, "I must have been dreaming."

"I heard it, too," confessed Adam. "Sounded almost like a wildcat."

"But with words," added Hoss.

"We’d best go down and take a look," said Ben. "Where’s your brother?"

Adam snorted. "Probably asleep."

"Yeah, nothing much ever could wake that young’un," agreed Hoss.

Ben yawned, and wished he was back in bed. He suspected that one of his sons had yelled during a nightmare, and didn’t want to admit it. But until they investigated downstairs, no one would go back to sleep. "I’ll get a light," he muttered, and felt his way back to his bedside.

The three men crept cautiously down the staircase. Ben held the light high and shone it about the great room as they slowly paced from one end of the house to the other. The stripes of the satin sofa glimmered as they passed. A few charred logs in the fireplace glowed dimly red under a coating of fine grey ash. The loud tick-tock of the grandfather clock resounded ominously by the door.

"There’s no one in here," said Hoss in a strained whisper. "Let’s check outside."

"What’s that?" Adam’s breath hissed through his teeth as he instinctively reached for the gun at his hip. He swore softly when he realized it wasn’t there. "Over there, at the table, by the window! Look!"

A shadowy shape sat in a chair, silhouetted against the window. A log in the fireplace shifted, casting a flurry of sparks toward the hearth and up the chimney. Several bright flames flared upwards, flickered briefly, then sputtered into darkness. The men jumped at the unexpected sound, and gathered closer together, straining their eyes to see beyond the quickly fading firelight and the flickering circle of brightness from Ben’s lamp.

"Who is that?" whispered Hoss.

"Who’s there?" demanded Ben.

No one answered. The three men stared at the apparition before them. As they approached the table and the unknown figure, they saw the hard white light of the milky cascade of stars glimmer through the window and gleam in the polished dark wood of the table.

Ben lifted the lantern as he circled the table. A suspicious frown grew on his face, and his dark brows drew together. Those tousled curls looked familiar, as did the smooth, muscular chest, the well-proportioned arms, and the strong hands gripping the knees so tightly that the knuckles, even in the feeble light of the lantern and stars, were obviously white.

"Joseph." Ben’s voice was crisp and commanding. "What are you doing down here, at this hour? And what was that scream we heard?"

"Shhhhh!" Joe looked about him apprehensively. "They’re coming, Pa! They’re going to get me! I saw them – and heard them. They said they’d be coming – and now – they’re here!" His voice diminished to a panicked whisper, and he looked furtively about him, cowering down in his chair.

"Joseph, what are you talking about?" Ben demanded. "There’s no one here but us!"

"They must have heard you, and left," breathed Joe. "They were in my room. I saw them! I heard them!"

Ben didn’t take his eyes off his youngest son. "Adam, light the lamp on the table, and go look in Joe’s room. Make sure you check his window." He turned his head slightly toward Hoss. "Get a gun first," he added as Adam started toward the stairs. "Hoss, take this lamp, please, and see if the front door has been forced open, or if any windows down here show signs of tampering."

As his two older sons left, Ben knelt next to his youngest. "Now, Joseph, what seems to be the problem?"

"They were here, Pa," gasped Joe. "I heard them coming, and I saw them." His hands gripped his father’s arms, and his breath came in ragged gasps.

"Who was here?" Ben grasped his son’s hand. "Who?"

"They were in my room," Joe whispered. "They said – they said -" He leaned into his father’s strong arms, and Ben hugged him. Both of them stiffened as they heard a startled yell from Hoss.

The yelps continued, though the words were unintelligible. Finally, Ben pried himself from Joe’s iron grip and followed the sounds down the hallway, around the corner, and into the kitchen. In the flickering light of the lamp on the chopping block in the center of the room, he could see the white checks on Hoss'’ nightshirt as the big man cowered in a corner between the sink and a window. The light glittered on the shiny blade of a sharp knife as he held it aloft. "Stop! Stop right there!" Hoss shouted.

"Hoss, it’s me," Ben said shortly, resisting the irritation that surged within him. Why were his two youngest sons behaving like children suffering from nightmares?

"Put the knife down," Ben ordered. As Hoss reluctantly lowered the weapon, Ben demanded, "What exactly do you think you’re doing?"

Hoss stood trembling with the knife at his side. "Didn’t you see them, Pa?" He wiped the sweat from his face and looked anxiously around the kitchen, peering into the darkened corners. "They were right there, right where you’re standing!"

Ben glanced skeptically to either side of him. "See who?" he thundered. "What has come over you and your brother tonight? First, Joe wakes up the entire household with a nightmare, and now, you take up where he left off! I can only deal with one of you at a time!"

"They were right there, Pa, just afore you came in. Honest they were!" Hoss’s grip on the knife tightened.

"Who was there?" A voice cracked nervously from the doorway behind Ben. "Who’d you see, Hoss?"

Ben whirled around. "Joseph! I thought I left you in the dining room!"

Joe’s eyes faltered. "Uh, I was – scared to stay by myself, Pa," he muttered. He looked back at his brother. "Who was it you saw?"

"Emily!" breathed Hoss. "Emily and her brother. You remember Emily, that little red-headed gal? Why, they moved to San Francisco years ago, and her brother always did think I shoulda married his sister! He told me so, and half of Virginia City, too, I think, while he was at it. But dad blame it, I couldn’t marry that little girl! Why, she gave me nothin’ but trouble, and made me so dad gummed angry that I – well, I couldn’t marry her. No way!

"And Sarah Jane, she was here, too! Remember her?" Hoss paused to gasp for air, and his eyes darted about the room. "Sarah Jane fixed her cap for me years ago, but her brother had gambling debts, and I know her pa wanted her to snare me to help pay those off! Remember? Adam tried to tell me how things were, but I wouldn’t listen, and afore I knew it -"

He stopped as heavy footsteps rushed down the stairs and crossed the great room. As they came approached the kitchen, Joe looked over his shoulder and stumbled into the room. Ben jumped out of his way as he fell over.

Adam, hair disheveled and gun in his hand, appeared in the doorway. "Who yelled?" he demanded. "What’s wrong?" His wide eyes flickered wildly from Joe on the floor to Ben and Hoss standing near him.

Ben stared at Adam in amazement. "No one is yelling, except you," he said. He eyed the gun in his eldest son’s hand. "Why don’t you put that gun down over here?" He indicated the chopping block, and held his hand out, hoping that Adam would put down the gun before he accidentally shot someone.

"Somebody yelled!" exclaimed Adam. "Someone’s here!"

"Did you see them too, Adam?" Joe sat up on the floor. "Were they upstairs?"

Adam stared uncomprehendingly at him before stuttering, "Y – yeah. I – I saw them."

Joe nodded. "I knew it. I knew it! They’ve come. They’re here. We can’t get away!" He grabbed his father’s legs and held on tightly.

Ben tried to shake him off without success. "Get up!" he said. When Joe didn’t let go, Ben yelled, "Let go of me and get UP!" He pulled his legs free and stumbled backwards, grabbing the chopping block to steady himself.

He glared at Joe as he lay huddled on the floor. Then he looked at Hoss, who still cowered in the corner and gripped the knife. His gaze moved to Adam who remained in the doorway, staring at them like a madman and, Ben noticed with a thrill of fear, still holding his gun on them.

"Will someone please tell me what’s going on here?" he demanded.

"Pa, I done told you," Hoss said in a tremulous voice. "I saw Emily and her brother, and Sarah Jane and her pa, and they -"

"No, Hoss, it wasn’t them." Joe’s voice quavered from the floor. "It was Connie and her father, Denver McKee. That sheriff who was in cahoots with those thieves and murderers, remember?" He slowly rose and faced Adam. "And I saw SuEllen Terry, too, Adam." Joe’s voice had diminished to an ominous whisper. "I saw her sister, too."

Adam slowly turned his dark eyes toward Joe, and shifted the gun slightly in his direction. "You think that’s bad," he hissed, " I saw Senorita Cayetena Losaro and her father. They told me who they were." He glared menacingly at his youngest brother. "They’re looking for you, Joe!"

"Now – now – wait a minute!" spluttered Joe. "Senorita who?"

"Senorita Cayetena," said Hoss. "That there southern California gal that you compromised when you and me went to buy that bull Pa had his eye on. Here I thought we was just pickin’ up a bull, while we got us a whole heap of trouble with you and that senorita." Hoss shook his head. "Pa shoulda known better than to send you along on a trip anywhere near Mexico. You nearly ended up bringing back the bull, the boy who took care of him and his family, and a new wife, Little Joe. You darn near got both of us killed!"

"Hey!" Joe’s voice rose to a squeak. "All I did was kiss her!"

"And look at her with them liquid eyes of yours, and kiss her hand real pretty-like, and get her brother and her fiancé into an uproar over her honor because you were alone with her in that little shack and kissed her several times. That’s all you did, Little Joe."

"Hey!! I kissed her once!"

"She said three times," countered Hoss. "And I’ll bet that there was a whole lot more ‘n that that went on, knowin’ you."

"There was not!" countered Joe. He rose from the floor and glared at his brother. "She kissed me, twice!" he bellowed. "And then she said I’d compromised her!"

"Are you sure she only kissed you two times, Joe?" Adam’s skeptical voice cut in sarcastically. "Or did she kiss you more than that?"

"Lots more, I’ll bet," added Hoss.

"She did not! I mean, I did not!" Joe insisted. "I didn’t – I mean, she didn’t do anything wrong! I wasn’t compromised! I mean, she wasn’t!"

"Enough!" shouted Ben. "What does all this nonsense have to do with what – what you boys are seeing?" A distant crash immediately followed his words.

"What was that?" quavered Joe.

"It was upstairs, whatever it was," replied Adam.

The men looked at each other. No one volunteered to check out the noise.

Ben groaned with resigned weariness. "Come on," he said. "Let’s all go together. Adam, you probably brushed against something while you were checking the upstairs, and whatever it is fell over." As they left the kitchen, Joe huddled close to Ben, while Hoss crowded behind. Adam edged nervously between Joe and Ben, muttering reproaches under his breath.

Ben felt the sharp point of a knife press slightly into his back. "Land’s sake!" His exclamation made the others jump. "Would you put those things down? Hoss! Adam! Before you kill somebody!"

Hoss made no move to lay down Hop Sing’s knife. "Pa, I ain’t going nowhere without something protecting me," he said.

"You told me to get a gun before I went upstairs," retorted Adam when Ben’s glare shifted to him.

"That was before I knew you were all losing your minds," Ben replied tersely. Seeing there was no chance of getting them to relinquish their weapons, he uttered a quick prayer that they wouldn’t kill or injure one another. "Come on, let’s go see what that noise was."

As they crept toward the dining room in a huddled knot, they heard some creaking floorboards and shuffling footsteps. Joe gasped and grabbed Adam’s arm, and Hoss jumped.

"Stop that!" hissed Ben. "You’re scaring each other now!"

"They’re on the stairs, Pa!" whispered Adam.

"Nonsense! You’re hearing our own footsteps! Now, stop getting scared of your own shadows and come on!"

Ben quickened his pace, determined to get everyone back upstairs and into bed. He practically dragged the reluctant threesome into the dining room, and started to herd them toward the steps. But Joe gave a strangled cry, and Hoss shrieked, "Pa!" before they could even get around the table.

Ben saw the figure on the steps. Someone or something was standing there. He pushed the barrel of Adam’s gun away from it and called, "Who’s there?"

He lifted the lamp and moved carefully around the table, not taking his eyes off the figure. As he crossed the room, he felt Joe’s grip on him tighten until he thought his arm would go to sleep. Adam drew in a sharp breath that hissed over clenched teeth. Hoss gave a low cry and grabbed Ben’s other arm to pull him to a stop.

The four men gaped at the stairs. Ben could see the woman fairly clearly now. She was dressed in a gown of either blue or green – he couldn’t be sure in the lamp light - and a hat. She held a closed parasol in one hand. Ben realized he was staring, and pulled his mouth shut, swallowed hard, and tried to ask, "May I help you, Ma’am?" But as soon as he opened his mouth to speak, he realized who she was. He jumped and stared harder before managing to gasp, "Why, Lady Chadwick! Linda! What are you doing here?"

Suddenly, he realized she was not alone. The widow Clementine Hawkins stood behind Lady Chadwick, tilting her head and giving him that simpering smile that made his stomach downright queasy. She batted her lashes at him and tried to go around Linda, who moved her parasol into the other woman’s way without taking her eyes from Ben.

Ben’s mouth was parched. He watched as Clementine tried once more to get around Linda. The Lady Chadwick again blocked her way, and advanced down the steps toward Ben. That was enough for him. He thrust the lamp into Adam’s hands, ran across the room, and out the door into the night.

Adam barely closed his hands on the lamp, nearly dropping it while mesmerized by the scene on the stairs. Abigail Jones beamed delightedly at him, and began descending the steps. Adam backed away, and saw Melinda, their one-time guest from Baltimore, watching him longingly over the banister. He turned to Joe in a panic, prepared to say he never wanted to stand in his way with Melinda, and saw Laura Dayton at the bottom of the stairway. He froze.

Laura smiled, and extended her arms toward him. "Oh, Adam!" she simpered. "I -"

Adam shoved the lamp into his youngest brother’s hands and fled from the house.

Joe tried to hide behind the lamp as he peered at the steps. Through the glow of lamplight, he could feel the smoldering eyes of Delores before he saw her gazing at him through her long, dark lashes. He gulped as he remembered his bullfighting endeavors and his other disastrous attempts to win her attentions. He shifted his gaze, and his eyes fell on Senorita Cayetena. She was dressed all in white, with a lacy veil partially concealing her lustrous dark tresses. Her eyes sparkled as she watched him.

"Uh – Miss – I mean, Senorita – What are you doing here?" Joe managed to squeak.

The senorita flowed gracefully down the steps. Her veil fluttered about her shoulders, and she cast her dark eyes upon Joe as she approached him. A sudden clatter above made Joe, who had been frozen in place, look up.

"Senor Cartwright! You have compromised my sister! You will give me satisfaction, Senor!" Senor Losaro stood behind his son, ready to witness the defense of his daughter’s honor.

Joe Cartwright thrust the lamp into Hoss’s hands, and did what he had never done before. He scuttled across the room, bumped into the sofa, tripped over the rug, and raced out the door with one beautiful women pursuing him and another following close behind.

Hoss stared at the open doorway for a moment, before a rustle on the steps startled him. He looked up to see the widow Helen Layton leaning over the banister and giving him a beautiful smile. His eyes widened, and he backed away as she descended the stairs.

Suddenly, a glad voice called out, "Hoss!" A pert redhead stepped lightly onto the stairs and swiftly descended. "I knew you’d come back for me! I knew it!" She reached Helen Layton and attempted to go around her, but Helen’s smile had disappeared, and she put a restraining hand on the newcomer’s arm. "I knew you wouldn’t leave me with that old Mr. Walter Prescott!" Lottie continued as she tried to pull away from Helen. "I just couldn’t marry him, once I’d met you."

"Uh, Miss Lottie – I mean, Miss Hawkins," stumbled Hoss. "What are you doing here?"

The two women on the steps eyed each other, Helen obviously at a loss as to why the other woman was there, and Lottie in a hurry to get past her so she could see Hoss.

"Why, you’ve come to marry me, haven’t you?" asked Lottie. "But what is she doing here?" She gestured angrily at Helen. Lottie’s brows drew together and her pretty blue eyes darkened. "Have you been two-timin’ me, Hoss?"

Hoss shook his head vigorously. "Oh, no, Ma’am," he said. "I ain’t been two-timing nobody."

Lottie pulled away from Helen and continued down the steps. Helen hurried after her.

"Cartwright!" bellowed a voice from the upstairs hallway. "Are you down there?" Walter Prescott stepped into view with a shotgun in hand. "I’m gonna kill you for thievin’ my intended! You hear that, Cartwright? You stole my woman! I’m gonna kill you!"

Hoss waited to hear and see no more, but fled through the door after his father and brothers.


Hop Sing turned the cart down the road leading to the Ponderosa. He had spent the previous night with a Chinese family in Virginia City after visiting his relatives in San Francisco for several weeks. He had risen before dawn to return to the Ponderosa with the supplies he had purchased from his number one cousin in San Francisco, along with several items that Ben and Adam had asked him to purchase for them.

Hop Sing took a deep breath of the pine-scented air, and listened to the bird songs of the early morning. He was anxious to see his "family" again. He cared deeply for the Cartwrights, and missed them after he’d been away. Doubtless, the house was a mess and the kitchen unscrubbed. But he knew that after the first meal he’d cooked for them, he’d be forgiven any fits of temper or scolding words. He smiled as he imagined Hoss wolfing down a big chicken dinner and a pie for dessert. The big man’s voracious appetite and his appreciative words and other noises while inhaling his food always made Hop Sing feel good. He chuckled.

A flickering light ahead of him drew his attention, and he stopped the cart to look more closely. What could that be? The western sky ahead of him was still dark, though the stars had faded with the approaching daylight from the east behind him. An explosion of colored light illumined the western sky, followed by an cacophony of sound. He frowned. Fireworks! The Cartwrights must be setting off fireworks! Why? Where did they get them? Who gave the explosives to them? Didn’t they know how dangerous they could be?

He whipped the horse to a fast trot, ignoring his discomfort as he bounced on the seat over the ruts in the road. Foolish boys! Playing with fireworks! Doubtless, this was some scheme of Little Joe’s, which he had beguiled Hoss to join. But Adam might be in on this, too. None of his boys could ever resist something exciting. Leave it to them to get into trouble while he was gone! What else had they done while he was in San Francisco? Couldn’t Mr. Cartwright ever control those boys of his?

He approached the corral and outlying buildings, and pulled the horse to a stop. The cart rattled over a few more bumps before settling to an awkward halt on a slope with one front wheel in a rut. Hop Sing stood up and gazed intently ahead of him.

A figure that had been standing at the bottom of the hill began approaching him. As it came nearer, he could see it was a small but upright woman who marched determinedly until she stood directly in front of his horse.

Hop Sing’s jaw dropped when he met her eyes. "Tai Lee!" he exclaimed. "How you come here? Why -"

As if in answer, more fireworks whistled, exploded, and cascaded through the sky to the ground behind the woman. Hop Sing stared in amazement and then reined in the skittish horse, who wanted to run over the woman and down the slope. The wheel was pulled from the rut, the cart rocked about, and Hop Sing lost his balance and stumbled to the ground, but somehow managed to keep hold of the reins. He worked his way to the horse’s head and did his best to hold him.

Finally, the last of the whooshes and bangs subsided, and the smoky haze slowly dissipated. The horse snorted and tossed his head, but stopped trying to run. A slight breeze blew as the sun rose, and turned the haze to glittering quicksilver. Tai Lee, seemingly crowned with a silver halo, pointed ominously at Hop Sing.

"You do not work any more for white man and his family! You are slave to him!"

Hop Sing shook his head and opened his mouth to protest.

"You demand more wages! You protest bad worker conditions!"

Suddenly, the woman faded like the mist on a summer morning. Hop Sing looked wildly around him, wondering at his sanity. Only the thin shreds of wafting smoke and the acrid smell of the explosives confirmed that he hadn’t imagined everything. He thought of searching further in the trees for the Tai Lee, but decided he’d better get to the house. He gave the horse one last reassuring stroke on its neck, and climbed back on the cart.

His brows knitted in consternation as he came closer to the house. The horses were neighing and the milk cows lowing in the barn. The sun had been up for at least 15 or 20 minutes now. Why had none of the Cartwrights tended the stock? And surely, the door to the house couldn’t be standing open?

He raced the horse to the house and jumped down from the cart. He ran in the door and looked around. "Mr. Cartwright! Mr. Hoss! Mr. Adam! Little Joe!" He ran upstairs and saw the empty beds, then came back down and went into the kitchen. He almost said a few choice words despite his worry when he saw how messy his boys had left his kitchen.

"Do not worry," said a soft voice. "I help you take care of Cartwrights."

Hop Sing saw a young girl by the cupboard putting away dishes. For a moment he couldn’t speak. "Su Ling!" he finally sputtered. "I thought you leave! Long time ago!"

"I belong to this family now," Su Ling replied. "I stay. I help."

The sound of rasping metal in the kitchen doorway startled both of them. A Chinese man with a stern face stood there looking menacingly at them. He held a sword in his hand. "You are mine!" he declared to Su Ling. "I, General Tsung, bought you, and young Cartwright stole you from me! I will take you back!" His eyes moved threateningly to Hop Sing. "And you -" He approached the smaller man. "You try to take my woman, you will die!!"

Hop Sing fled through the back door of the kitchen, ran to the barn and locked the door. After he caught his breath, he wondered why there was no sound of pursuit. He listened carefully, but heard only the startled animals resume their bawling and whinnying for food and milking.

As his fear of pursuit lessened, Hop Sing tried to look about him. He was sure he heard breathing and rustling that didn’t belong to the stock in the barn. He tried to follow the sounds, but couldn’t see as he moved away from the light leaking in about the door. He listened again, but the restless stocks’ insistent cries were too loud.

He returned to the door and peeked through a tiny crack. The sun now shone brightly in the yard. Hop Sing looked about as much as he could, but saw nothing and heard only the raucous call of a crow. He could not believe there was neither sound nor sight of anyone, and almost opened the door so he could see more, but thought better of it. Finally, he took a lantern down from a shelf next to the doorway, lit it, and went through the barn searching for the snoring he was certain he heard rumbling under the sounds of the livestock.

As he walked toward the back of the barn, the snoring grew louder, until he recognized it unmistakably. He had heard Hoss’s rumblings and snorting all too often over the years not to know that sound when he heard it. But where exactly was it? And why was Hoss sleeping in the barn?

Hop Sing stopped for a moment, wondering if Hoss had been driven here by the same visions that had chased him from the house. His heart pounded. If he went on, what would he find? Was Hoss really here? Or was this another ghost from his past?

A sudden yell made him jump, and the animals shifted and banged about in their stalls. A couple of frightened whinnies added to the din. Hop Sing’s first thought was to run in a blind panic from the barn, but he recognized that yell. It was Little Joe, and it had come from the loft. Forcing himself to master his fear, Hop Sing went to the back of the barn and made himself climb the ladder into the hayloft.

He waded through the hay, holding his lantern high. A glittering light suddenly flickered along the back wall, and he heard some rustling, saw movement, and heard Little Joe cry out again. As he approached, he saw the light suddenly move upward and a large form take shape behind it.

"Stop right there, now. Don’t come no further."

That was Mr. Hoss. He sounded very frightened, but it was his voice. Hop Sing finally recognized the glittering light and the form behind it as Hoss holding a sword in front of him. No, not a sword. A large knife. Hop Sing came closer. The knife was shaking. A thrill of fear ran through Hop Sing as he realized that even Hoss was frightened enough to tremble. Suddenly, Hop Sing recognized his butcher knife, and his fear was quickly replaced by anger and indignation.

"Mr. Hoss? What you doing out here in barn?"

"Hop Sing?" Hoss’s voice was still trembling.

"Yes, Hop Sing back. What you doing in barn? Why you have Hop Sing’s butcher knife? Why you bring it to barn?"

"Well…. You see, Hop Sing, I – Oh, shoot! Pa, you explain!"

"Me!" exclaimed Ben. "What do you expect me to say? That Joseph roused the entire household, and then all you boys started acting like children having nightmares?"

A long silence followed. Hop Sing stared at the Cartwrights, who refused to look him or one another in the eye.

Finally, Adam stood up wearily and brushed some of the hay off his pajamas. "I’m going back to bed." He headed for the ladder.

"That’s the first sensible thing anyone’s said all day," muttered Joe, who stood up and followed.

"You mean all night," corrected Ben, who followed his sons.

"Sounds good to me." Hoss handed Hop Sing the butcher knife as he passed.

Hop Sing was left alone in the loft, holding the lantern and his butcher knife. Suddenly, he scurried to the ladder and caught up with the others. "Yes, yes!" he exclaimed. "Go in house! Go to sleep! No one explain to Hop Sing why you come to barn, why you sleep out here! No one tell Hop Sing why house was open, door unlocked! No one tell Hop Sing anything!"

"Hey, why won’t this door open?" Adam fumbled about the barn door. "Joe, did you lock the door?"

"No, I didn’t lock it," protested Joe. "We were all hiding in the trees, weren’t we, and then we came in here. I don’t think I even shut the door, I was so tired."

"I lock door," announced Hop Sing. "You leave door to house open and door to barn open!"

Adam finally opened the door, and they stood for a moment, letting their eyes get accustomed to the bright sunlight. "Why is that horse and cart by the house?" asked Adam.

"I drive it from Virginia City," replied Hop Sing.

"You just left it by the door, Hop Sing?" asked Ben. "Why didn’t you unload the cart and take care of the horse?"

"You – you -" Hop Sing spluttered wordlessly, and finally launched into a tirade in Chinese. Adam dodged the butcher knife that was being brandished dangerously close to him, threw his hands up, and headed toward the house.

"This is too much for me," muttered Joe as he followed. "I’ll see you in the morning, Hop Sing, everyone."

"Hop Sing." Ben laid his hand on his friend’s shoulder to calm him. "I smell gunpowder. Have you been setting off fireworks?"

"Me? Set off fireworks? No! I no bring back fireworks! You make enough trouble with fireworks before!"

"Sure smells like someone set off fireworks to me," said Hoss, as he passed them and went to the house after his brothers.

"Well, no matter, Hop Sing." Ben patted him on the shoulder. "I’ll see you in the morning." He also walked to the house, leaving an astonished Hop Sing open mouthed behind him.

Hop Sing stomped his foot in frustration before he followed them into the house. "You boys!" he shouted. "You leave house, leave door open, sleep in barn! You no take care of animals! Now Hop Sing have to unload cart, clean stalls, feed animals, clean up after careless boys!"

Hoss and Ben were hastily ascending the steps. Adam and Joe had already disappeared.

Hop Sing took his butcher knife to the kitchen, and the tirade began anew. "You leave kitchen a mess! You take knife out of kitchen! You no appreciate Hop Sing!" He went outside to unload the cart, furiously banging the door behind him and glaring at the upstairs window. "You go to sleep in middle of day and leave Hop Sing to do all the work!" he shouted at the window. In and out of the house he went, banging the door behind him each time. "You hiding in barn, scared like little boys! You no tell Hop Sing what going on!"

Upstairs, the Cartwrights huddled under the covers and pulled pillows over their heads. Each one fell into a deep sleep which no dream disturbed. Hop Sing’s rantings gradually diminished to an angry muttering. The wind blew harder about the house, carrying away the last trace of smoke and stench. Finally, the mouth-watering scents of fried chicken and apple pie wafted through the house. Hoss turned over in his sleep, and his snoring took on a different note. Peace had descended upon the Ponderosa once again.

The End


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