Summary: New hands play practical jokes that become increasingly a problem and their justification doesn’t sit well with Joe after Adam gets hurt. Response to October Chaps and Spurs challenge.
rating = T WC = 2870
You Have To Ask the Right Man
When the blow came, it was so made a move against it and therefore it had devastating consequences. He had never expected the heifer to get loose so when it jumped up and head butted him, he wasn’t ready at all. The men laughed as he fell back in a fetal position holding his privates that hurt fiercely. Even Hoss and Joe laughed with them at the image of their strong older brother reduced to moans and grimaces by a yearling. He remembered that day very well and the comments he had heard as he lay there in terrible pain. He wanted to get up but couldn’t. It was all he could do not to cry. He wouldn’t give them that satisfaction, but it took all of his will to force down the sobs that threatened to break free. He wished that Hoss would come to help him instead of taunting him but he could tell that Hoss didn’t know how much he was hurting. His big brother would never have said anything like that if he had known.
“C’mon older brother, you cain’t expect us to do all the work. I branded two of ’em and I already had to let two more go while you was laying there.”
Laughing and then taking a pause, Joe called from the other side. “Yeah, and I took care of two myself and I still have one more ready to go. Help, would ya!”
Sometimes he and Joe had their disagreements, but Joe too would have been at his side in a heartbeat if he knew. He waited for them to realize how badly he needed their help. All he could do was remain where he was knowing that they would eventually come to his aid. When they didn’t after several minutes, he pushed himself up on one knee but could do no more. Even that made him nauseated. It was then Hoss and Joe walked closer to him and realized that the injury was more serious than they had expected. He must have been very pale and he could feel the sweat beading on his face. He struggled to speak. “Help me stand. I don’t want to look like I can’t even stand up by myself.”
Hoss reached for his arm to steady him and offer emotional support. “Ifn ya can’t, then mebbe we oughta get you over to the wagon and let you rest there. What happened? I just thought you took a hit below the belt that took the wind outta your sails a mite.”
He spoke slowly and deliberately but softly too so that only his brothers could hear. “It did, but it did more than that. My whole side there feels like it’s on fire.”
Now finally he heard the anger in Hoss’ voice. “Dadburnit, you and Pa are right. These pranks are getting way of hand. Now we’ll get you to the wagon, and then I’m gonna have a talk with those boys. Ever since we hired them three yahoos, we’ve had one silly prank after another. Some of them been real funny, but it was only a matter of time til somebody got hurt. They seem to take a lot of real pleasure when it’s you on the receiving end of their funning.”
He heard Joe speak in a conciliatory voice. He nodded his approval as he heard his younger brother speak. “Hoss, maybe I should talk with them. You’re so mad right now you’re liable to fire them if they say anything you don’t like. I’ll do my best to get them to back off on all the pranks. Just remember that they didn’t mean to hurt Adam. We thought he just got hit in his jewels just like they did.”
“Joe, I suppose you’re right, but you be tough on ’em. I don’t want no more of this foolishness no more. We got a roundup to finish and then a drive to do. No more pranks. We clear on that?”
“We’re clear. I’ll go talk with them. We’ll finish the work here. You get Adam home. He’s not looking so good, and we got a dance to go to tonight. That lady friend of his isn’t going to be too happy if he isn’t there to take her to the dance.”
He wanted to hear how Joe did though. “No, I think I’ll be fine if I get a chance to let everything settle down some. Just get me to the wagon, Hoss. I can work on the tally there once I can see straight again.”
With his lips pursed, Hoss nodded and helped Adam to walk toward the wagon. There had been a spate of pranks on the Ponderosa since the new hands had been hired for the roundup. Salt had been put in coffee cups, coal oil was rubbed on Joe’s saddle turning the butt of his pants dirty like he had soiled himself, and there was a bucket of cold water that fell on one hapless hand who got into the washroom last. There had been rattlesnake rattles under beds, grasshoppers in boots, and various other minor pranks. It seemed that the three new hands saved their most unpleasant pranks for Adam singling him out for the roughest treatment, but until the heifer maneuver, none of the things they did had the potential to be dangerous. When Joe talked to them, their animosity toward Adam was apparent. He and Hoss could hear the exchange very clearly.
“He’s always harping on work and never wants to let anybody have any fun.” Handy looked to his friends who smiled and nodded. They agreed with his opinion so he felt even bolder. “Yeah, ya dare not smile when he’s around or he’ll come up with more work for ya to do.”
Because Joe hadn’t said anything yet, Mace decided that he could chime in with his opinions as well. “Ya, now how come your oldest brother is so mean, anyway? All we been doing is keeping things fun around here and he acts like it’s some big old deal. He’s kind of a baby about it all anyway. Most men woulda handled that head butt without whimpering like a baby and laying on the ground like that.”
His two friends agreed with him making Joe angry with their disrespect. “Listen, that was no calf that head butted him. That was a yearling and he’s hurt. If it had happened to you, you’d be singing a different tune. He could have been seriously hurt. There’ll be no more pranks. We’ve had enough.”
“Oh, is that what your lord and master has told ya to say?”
“He isn’t my lord and master. He’s my brother, and no, he didn’t tell me to say anything. It’s what Hoss and I decided to do. There’s been enough trouble and the roundup and the drive are too important to this ranch to have it messed up by the three of you. We’d be better off shorthanded than to have more trouble. Is that understood?”
The three men nodded reluctantly as they glanced at each other. They needed the job, but as soon as Joe walked away, they began plotting. They would do as Joe said until they had their chance to get even with Adam because no matter what Joe said, they were sure that he had more say in the running of the ranch because he was older and assumed that he had in fact given the order for no more pranks.
At the wagon, Adam found that the pain did not diminish much. Any movement caused stabbing pains. Seeing Adam’s grimaces as he shifted in the back of the wagon, Hoss told Adam that he had no choice and he was going to drive the wagon back to the house slowly to give him a chance to get over some of the pain and shock of what had happened. Adam didn’t have enough energy left to argue. When they got to the house, they had to explain the whole situation to their father who was understandably concerned about Adam and about the roundup and drive. Hop Sing was there with an ice pack as quickly as he could and suggested that Adam might like to remove his pants and sit in his robe instead. Hoss went upstairs for his robe and Adam stripped in the great room shocking his father with the large purplish bruising on his hip and upper thigh that spread into the groin area.
“That looks very painful, son.”
“Believe me, Pa, it is.”
Hoss had been surprised too at the extent of the injury. “You won’t be riding for quite a while with that injury.”
“I have to. The drive starts in a week.”
Both Ben and Hoss told him that wasn’t realistic, but he insisted he would be ready. Then he said he would take the carriage to the dance.
“You can’t go to the dance! You can barely walk.”
“Pa, I promised Roberta that I would take her to this dance, and I don’t want to disappoint her especially at such short notice. She told me on Sunday that she got a special dress just for this dance. I’m going.”
When Joe got back, he was as shocked as the others had been at the extent of Adam’s injury and also tried his best to talk him out of going to town for the dance. Finally Joe made a suggestion that he accepted. “Well, we’ll get a room at the hotel then and stay there until tomorrow afternoon. That way you get some rest and a chance to heal up some before you have to take the ride back and you can rest easy while I drive the carriage.”
Ben’s relief at that compromise was evident enough to get a smile from Adam who asked if he could sit in the leather chair for dinner. Hop Sing must have read his mind because he brought a tray with a plate and cup of coffee to him a minute after he asked the question. The others filled their plates at the table and then moved over to sit in front of the fireplace to have dinner with Adam. After dinner, Joe brought Adam’s dress pants and a clean shirt down. He cleaned up in the washroom and then dressed but moved very slowly. He knew he would have to tell Roberta what happened and probably would not be able to dance more than a few slow dances with her. It was a mark of her serious interest in him that at the dance, she accepted that and then suggested they might want to sit on the benches outside the hall and talk until his brothers were ready to leave. He told her that he was staying at the hotel and could have lunch with her the next day if she was willing. She was willing so they met for lunch the next day with Joe and his latest lady friend. Things turned out fairly well and by the following Saturday when the drive began, Adam was riding although not doing anything too strenuous leaving the harder work to the men who weren’t recovering from a groin injury. Joe was handling the work Adam normally would have done as Adam stayed close to camp or the chuckwagon most of the time.
Noting that, Handy, Mace, and Meeker joked among themselves about it, but then began thinking about how that might give them an opportunity to carry out their revenge. Their chance came only two days into the drive. Mace and Meeker arrived back in camp just before dinner was to be served. Adam, Hoss, and Joe were together talking away from the campfires. It was a perfect setup as far as the two men were concerned. Handy had given them a plan to carry out when they had the opportunity. The two men went to Hop Sing and asked if they could have some hot sauce for their meal. Hop Sing pointed it out to them but when they reached for it, he stopped them.
“No, I add. Very hot. I add after Mister Adam and Mister Hoss get their dinner. They no like hot food. Then I add very little. You wait.”
“We’ll dish up food for the two of them and set the plates aside so you can add some spice to the stew then. All right?”
“All right. Thank you for helping Hop Sing. Now I go get more water for coffee and be right back.”
The two men quickly got two plates and dished up a huge helping on one plate for Hoss and another smaller helping for Adam. They added a liberal amount of the hot sauce to Adam’s plate and stirred it in well. By the time Hop Sing got back, they were waiting and showed him the two plates. Handy arrived about that time and saw them giving them the thumbs up when he realized they were implementing his plan. Hop Sing put a small amount of hot sauce into the stew and began serving the rest of the men who began eating. The three brothers came over to eat and Hop Sing pointed out the plates for Adam and Hoss and told them that those were plates of stew with no hot sauce. Hoss grabbed the bigger helping causing both Adam and Joe to smile. Adam took his plate and Joe got one from Hop Sing. The three sat together and began eating. After two mouthfuls, Adam spit out what was in his mouth and asked for water in a choked voice. Then he retched up the little that he had eaten and grabbed his lower abdomen as the muscle contractions there from retching hurt his still healing groin area. He dropped to his knees and retched more. Everyone would have wondered what happened except for Mace, Meeker, and Handy laughing hysterically at the sight. Joe confronted the three men.
“What did you do?”
“It’s just a little hot sauce for the baby. He can’t take nothing.”
Handy didn’t get to say anything more before Joe’s fist knocked him on his back. Mace was next. Meeker would have retaliated except Hoss was there and threw him on top of his friends. Joe stood seething in anger.
“I told you no more pranks and you do this?”
“It’s just a little joke. Meeker and Mace thought it would be funny to do.”
“That’s like asking a barber if you need a haircut. If you ask an idiot if you should do something stupid, what are the odds that he’s going to say no? You’re fired.”
“You can’t fire us.”
“I can fire you and I just did.”
“Oh, yeah, and who’s going to back you up on that?”
The rest of the men in camp moved up behind Joe taking the place of Hoss who had returned to Adam’s side to help him. One of the men spoke for the others. “We’re going to back him up. He’s the boss, and we follow what he says. You got a problem with that, then you got a problem with all of us.”
“We got pay coming to us.”
“Yeah, maybe you do. You go ahead and stop by the house and talk to my Pa. You tell him what happened and ask for your pay. Yeah, why don’t you do that. Get your gear and clear out now.”
“But it’s nearly dark.”
“You should have thought about that when you decided to be idiots.” Turning to the men behind him, Joe asked them to escort the three from camp and to make sure they took nothing except what they owned. Then he walked over to check on Adam who smiled wanly at his approach. Hop Sing had given him honey to soothe the burn in his mouth and stomach.
“You handled that very well, Joe. Thank you.”
I’m sorry, Adam. We should have fired them at the branding. I thought I handled that well too. I had no idea they would try something else.”
“It’s all right. None of us knew. It was good for the men to see you act like that though. They’ll take orders from you a lot better now.”
“Because I fired those men?”
“Because you took a stand, said what needed to be said, did what needed to be done, and kept your head the whole time.”
“Yeah, little brother. I was ready to tear them jaspers limb from limb. You did better than I woulda done and our older brother here was still trying to get the tears to stop flowing. I think he’s done crying now.”
“You take a taste of what they gave me and see if your eyes don’t start watering.”
“Hey you two, settle down, or I’ll have to think of something to calm you two down too.” And Joe settled back to enjoy his dinner.