The Sound of Satisfaction    
The high-pitched cry echoed through the house, even invading the kitchen to interrupt Hop Sing’s preparation of dinner. Annoyed, the Chinese cook toweled his hands dry and trotted into the dining room to investigate—only to be greeted by another evocative wail from upstairs. Joe, he thought, plen’y tlobuh Mistah Cahtlight come home. He shook his head. Joe knew better than to bring a female into the house for such activities. It wasn’t what Joe was doing so much as where, but his father would have enough anger to take care of the ‘what’ too. The explosion of Ben Cartwright’s opinions on the subject  would likely wipe out the whole first floor.

Hop Sing returned to the kitchen. With any luck, Joe would finish up and escort his lady friend home before the rest of the family arrived.

And so the living room was deserted a few minutes later when Joe Cartwright came in. Whistling to himself, he hung up his hat, rolled his gunbelt to deposit it on the credenza, and dusted his hands on his trousers. I got so much dirt on me, he realized dismally, that if I get into town tonight, Samantha isn’t gonna let me near her, let alone—he cut the thought off out of mental respect. Maybe a bath … An ear-splitting scream rent the air, a long “Ahhhhhhhh” in rising decibels, so unexpected in the silence that Joe jumped straight up in the air. He was already laughing when he came down. Trust Adam, he thought, trying to wipe the grin off his face. Nobody but his older brother would have the nerve to bring a woman into the house for his—uh—recreation. A further “Ahhhhhh” that ended in a little squeak provided even more entertainment. Joe calculated the financial possibilities of blackmail; no one else knew Adam was here with a woman, and it was a cinch that their father would disapprove. Disapprove? He snickered at the thought. He’d blow up the Ponderosa, he’d be so mad.

The cries rang out again. “There! Like that! Ohhhh!”

Joe’s snickers were explosive on their own.

And so he was a little surprised when the front door opened behind him. He nearly choked to see his older brother striding in big as life and as dirty as he was.

Adam stared at him blankly. “What’s so funny?”

“Ah—m’m—aren’t you—?” Joe’s eyes strayed to the stairway and then returned to his brother in confusion.

“Am I what? What’s going on?”

Joe was spared an answer when an abbreviated “Ohhhh, yes! Yes!” sounded from above.

Adam’s brows flew up and his eyes widened. “What the—?”

“I, uh, I thought it was …”

“Me? Are you crazy?” Adam sputtered.

“Well, I mean, it’s not me … wasn’t me … well, anyhow, I’m down here.”

“So am I.”

But the show wasn’t over; a decidedly feminine voice exclaimed, “Ooooh, you’re so good! There, there! Like that!”

Adam’s eyes suddenly gleamed, and when he caught his brother’s gaze, he found an answering sparkle. For a second, the two just stared at each other, enjoying the moment.

“I wouldn’t a-thought it,” Joe finally murmured.

“Our brother’s full of surprises,” Adam agreed. “Just when he’s got us convinced he’s shy with the ladies—makes you wonder what he’s been up to all along … although I can’t see him being this obvious. What’s he thinking about, carrying on here in the house?”

“And why now, this late in the afternoon?”

“That’s for sure. Pa’ll be home anytime now.”

Joe groaned. “I don’t even want to think about it.”

“Well, little brother, there’s only one thing we can do,” Adam returned briskly, “and that’s go stand on the porch.”


“Distract Pa if he rides in before Hoss gets the girl out.”

“Okay, I’ll do my part.” Joe directed a quick glance at the stairway, a little grin flirting on his lips. “Gotta hand it to him, though.”

“Pa finds out, he’ll blow higher than dynamite in a mine,” Adam chuckled. “The whole Comstock’ll be in danger.”

And so they were just starting for the door when it opened and their brother walked in.

“I swear, if I don’t get a bath, ain’t nobody gonna sit down ta dinner with me,” Hoss was mumbling, “and from the smell o’ Hop Sing’s cookin’, that’d be a cryin’ shame.”

Adam and Joe just gaped at him.

“What’s wrong with you two?” Hoss stared at them warily. “You got some foolery goin’ on? Cause I’ll tell ya right now, I ain’t in no mood fer funnin’. I had a long, hard day an’ all I wanta think about is a—”

“Oh, my heavens! Oh my heavens! Ooohhh!”

Hoss’ face squenched in bewilderment. “What’n thunder’s zat?”

“Well—uh—you see …” Joe began and ran down.

“We thought it was you,” Adam supplied.

“Me? You two lost yer minds?”

Adam shrugged helplessly. “Well, no, not really. What were we supposed to think?”

“Oh, glory! Yessss!”

“Whew …” Hoss shifted uneasily. “I mean ta tell ya—”

All of the sudden, the three of them tripped to the same realization at once. Speechlessly, they stared at each other until finally Joe’s face wavered into a grin.

“Pa …” Adam breathed.

Hoss shook his head slowly. “I cain’t b’lieve it. Pa?”

“Who else could it be?” Joe countered, but uncertainty clouded his face. “It is kinda hard to believe, though.”

Adam, recovering, cocked one eyebrow. “What’s the matter? You didn’t think he had it in him?”

“No! I mean, yes!” Joe squeaked. “I mean, I just never thought I’d hear the proof! Or … or … that I’d really need to …” His voice ran down feebly. “Y’know, he’s our …”

“Exactly.” Adam regarded them with a glimmer of appreciation in his eyes. “Our father—may we celebrate him!”

Regaining his equilibrium, Joe finally hooted, “He’ll never live it down!”

“He ain’t gonna hafta live it down, lil’ brother,” Hoss informed him with a deep, rumbling laugh and a slap on the back. “Cause you ain’t gonna say nothin’ about it, not ’less yer thinkin’ ’bout ’n early death. Shoot, won’t be nuthin’ left o’ the Nevada Territory if he ever finds out we know.”

That brought them up short.

“So what d’we do?” Joe spoke for all of them.

Adam tried to sound authoritative, but the quaver in his voice gave him away. “We get out of here. Now. As far as anyone knows, we haven’t come home yet.”

“And we won’t till we know she’s gone,” Hoss agreed fervently, his face crimson as he reached for his hat and gun.

But before they could get out of the great room, the front door opened once more.

“Well, good evening, boys! How nice to see you!” The smallish man in the brown pinstriped suit beamed at them. He set his bowler hat on the credenza and removed the gold-rimmed spectacles from his eyes, suddenly noticing their silence. “Did I interrupt anything? Or didn’t your father tell you we were coming? Oh … yes … I’m sorry, I’d forgotten. Ben didn’t know we were coming.”

As no one seemed to be recovering quickly enough to make polite conversation, Adam managed to stammer, “In any case, it’s nice to see you, Mr. Briscoe. You know you’re welcome anytime. Would you—would you—”

“Like to sit out on the porch?” Joe helped out.

“We could git Hop Sing ta make us some lem’nade, er tea er sumthin’,” Hoss picked up. They all three glanced surreptitiously at the stairs.

“Why, of course, that sounds delightful. I’ve just been for my constitutional, so let me get Sallybelle. I’m sure she’d like to join us.”

“She’s upstairs?” Joe asked, his voice a little higher than usual.

“Oh, my, yes. She has to have her rest. We were on our way to Carson City, but wouldn’t you know, the buggy’s axle broke? Hoss, your father was kind enough to say that perhaps you could repair it for us.”

“Yessir, I’ll be glad to, but why don’t we just go out on the …” Hoss made the mistake of looking at his brothers, and he ground to a halt at the stupefied expression on their faces. There couldn’t be two women upstairs.

“Oh, you go on out, boys. I’ll be right along. Just let me rustle up Sallybelle—”

“Faster, faster—that’s it! That’s it!”

Mr. Briscoe halted in astonishment. “Is that Sallybelle?”

“Oh, no, sir, of course not,” Joe blurted. “That’s just—I mean, that’s—”

“A friend of ours …” Adam faltered.

“Yeah, that’s it, a friend who—who, uh, who dreams a lot,” Hoss finished triumphantly.

“Don’t stop now! Don’t—stop—!”

Mr. Briscoe’s face turned a mottled red. “That’s Sallybelle,” he declared, “and I want to know what’s going on!” He headed for the staircase.

“Ooohh, sh—!” Adam bolted after Mr. Briscoe.

“If he’s game, I am,” Hoss muttered.

Only Joe was left flat-footed, dazedly murmuring, “Sallybelle Briscoe? Pa could do better than that …” before trailing his brothers up the stairs.

By nearly running down their guest, Adam was able to insert himself between Mr. Briscoe and the door to the first guest bedroom. “Mr. Briscoe, now, let’s slow down a minute—you know there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for all of this, and you wouldn’t want to embarrass Mrs. Briscoe, would you? Bursting in like this?”

“Adam, you will please remove yourself from the doorway, or I will have to remove you myself!”

Hoss lay a hand on the small man’s shoulder. “Mr. Briscoe, now, you step back here an’ we’ll figure out what’s goin’ on.”

Mr. Briscoe was like a small firestorm. “Hoss Cartwright, I don’t want to have to take you on too, but I will! You will kindly remove your hand from my person and you”—his gaze fixed on Adam—“will open that door!”

Adam glanced over Mr. Briscoe’s shoulder at his youngest brother. Joe, his eyes mirroring the unfolding catastrophe, just stared back helplessly.

“All right …” Adam reluctantly stepped away, only to be propelled into Hoss as Mr. Briscoe flung open the door.

“Sallybelle!” the little man roared.

Hoss nearly fell over catching Adam, so Joe was the first to take in the scene. Inside the room, the spare frame of Sallybelle Briscoe danced nervously on a straight-backed chair. Depressions in the coverlet indicated that she already had hopped on the bed, and an overturned candle on the desk was evidence that she’d roosted there as well.

“Harder, Ben, hit harder! Now, now, now!”

Ben Cartwright’s voice was low, but more than reflected his anger. “I’m trying, Sallybelle!” He waved a broom threateningly. “Now if you’d just quit that squalling, I could draw bead on this thing!”

“What the—?” Joe breathed, spellbound.

“Sallybelle, may I ask what the meaning of this is?” Mr. Briscoe demanded, thrown off-stride to discover that both his wife and their host were fully dressed.

Sallybelle whipped her skirts around as if she was afraid they were a prize of war.  “It’s quite obvious, Elton! A mouse! A mouse!” Her flat chest rose and fell violently, and her colorless hair, usually dragged into a ruthless bun, drooped lopsidedly.

“Your wife spotted a mouse!” Ben explained as he swatted at the baseboard with the broom. “I told her we don’t have mice in this house, but apparently—”

Hoss’ face flushed and his eyes narrowed. “Pa! Ya gotta stop this right now!” He elbowed past his brothers.

“There, Ben! There! Yes, yes, that’s it!” Sallybelle shrieked and pointed at the corner.

Ben whirled on the attack just as Hoss jerked Mr. Briscoe aside to catch his father’s arm. “Hold on, Pa! Nine’ll getcha ten that’s Albert!”

Ben’s face was a study in frustration and his voice went dangerously low. “Hoss … I warn you. I have had a very long and very trying day. I would appreciate it if you would not interfere.”

“Yeah, but Pa, yer just scarin’ Albert.”

“And just who is Albert?”

“That’s what I’m tryin’ ta tell ya. Albert’s a mouse an’ I’m teachin’ him tricks. Betcha scared the little guy outta ’is wits.”

“Scaring him out of his wits isn’t half as bad as what I’m—”

Adam finally came to life. “Ah, Pa—we’ve invited Mr. Briscoe to take tea on the porch and we were just coming to find Mrs. Briscoe. Perhaps if we all …” His voice died under his father’s glare.

“That sounds wonderful! The best suggestion all day!” Sallybelle Briscoe surprised everyone by announcing. “Elton, would you help me down please? Although I must say—”

Mr. Briscoe cut in swiftly, “What Sallybelle means is that we are so sorry to have inconvenienced you.” He handed his wife down from the chair. “We’ll just wait on the porch.”

In their wake, a peace that Adam later ranked with the calm after the Spanish Armada descended upon the room.

Hoss dropped to his knees. “Alll-bert,” he called gently. “C’mon, feller, it’s gonna be all right. You c’n come out now, yer safe, yer friend Hoss’ll protect ya …”

Ben regarded him in amazement.

“Now, stand back,” Hoss adjured them. “Ya already done scared the little feller ta death.”

From under a chest of drawers in the corner, a tiny face appeared. Tentatively, the grey mouse inched forward.

“C’mon now, Albert, it’s all over, boy,” Hoss crooned. The creature scurried to him obediently and Hoss rose slowly, cradling him in both hands. “See? Ain’t nothin’ wrong with Albert. He didn’ deserve all that ruckus.” He carefully stroked the mouse between the ears.

“None of us deserved all that ruckus,” Ben groused, but his temper began to fade. He set the broom aside and wearily ran a hand through his hair. “I’m just glad it’s all over.”

“An’ Albert’s jus’ happy ta be alive,” Hoss said as the furry little rodent snuggled against his shirt.

“And Sallybelle probably hasn’t had this much excitement in fifteen years,” Joe observed, trying to approximate a straight face. “I mean, with good old Elton—”


“Sorry, Pa.”

Adam changed the subject. “So, Hoss, what kind of tricks does Albert do?”

“Nothin’ much,” Hoss replied, but his eyes betrayed a proud twinkle. “We ain’t had time yet, but th’ other night, he sat up on his hind paws when I asked ’im to.”

Adam reached out to stroke Albert’s face, and although the mouse ducked fearfully at first, he quieted in Hoss’ hands and relaxed under Adam’s touch.

Finally Joe voiced the question they all wanted to ask. “So, Pa, what was goin’ on?”

Ben snorted impatiently. “Sallybelle Briscoe is the closest thing to a—well, at any rate, she saw Albert here and became hysterical. Nothing would do but that I come and kill him. Hoss, you’ll have to be careful to keep Albert in your room from now on—if you have to keep him in the house at all.”

“Pa, if I put ’im out in th’ barn, he’ll get et.”

“Well, just so long as you don’t bring in a mate for him. Albert is to remain a bachelor, is that understood?”

A sudden fit of laughter erupted from all three of Ben’s sons. Joe tried so hard to stifle his giggles that tears escaped down his face, Adam nearly strangled, and Hoss even snickered to Albert.

Anger began to build again on Ben’s face. “Exactly what is so funny?”

“Pa, it really is funny—I mean, you’ll see the joke—” Joe offered.

“Just a little running humor about something that happened today,” Adam interrupted with a pointed frown at his brother. “Probably not as funny as we thought.”

Ben eyed them speculatively. “Want to tell me about it?”

“Not really.” Adam managed to be serious for a moment and then burst into laughter again. “Oh, all right … well, actually it had to do with what Sallybelle was saying.”

“Saying? She was directing me in the pursuit of Albert—a little loudly, I suppose, but that was it.”

“Well, it was the screaming,” Joe amended.


“Yeah, Pa, you know, it sounded like …” The amusement faded from Joe’s face.

Dead silence filled the room. Ben gazed suspiciously from one brother to another. “And what did you think she was screaming?”

Joe glanced at Adam, Adam glanced at Hoss, and Hoss stared at Albert.

Finally Adam spoke. “Well, Pa, you have to admit …” His voice climbed an octave. “‘Oh, Ben, you’re so good!’ ‘Faster! Faster!’ ‘Aaaahhhh!’”

Joe choked again and Hoss chewed on his lip. For a second Ben stood forbiddingly, one eyebrow raised. And then he succumbed to a little smile and finally to a chuckle. He shook his head.

“You really thought—?” He gazed at his sons curiously. “You really thought I’d have a woman up here in the middle of the afternoon?”

“Well, since you don’t at night—” Joe replied candidly and then had the good sense to shut up.

Ben had to school his face to keep from laughing. “No, I don’t at night and neither do you, young man. And we most certainly don’t during the day.” He caught himself as he realized what he was saying. “Well, I hope we all have more respect for women.”

Joe’s eyes glimmered. “Yeah, well, Pa, don’t worry about what we thought. I mean, if we’d known it was Sallybelle Briscoe—”

For a second, silence again reigned. Then Ben’s lips quivered and he put a hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Thank you, son.”


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