Summary: Adam takes four-year old Little Joe on a camping trip and a lesson in vocabulary.
Rating: G (2,400 words)
Dear Readers — This story was written almost fifteen years ago for my own pleasure, and I’m happy to share for others to enjoy. I know some readers may wish there was more, but this how I saw fit to write this story. Since I no longer write Bonanza fan fiction, I ask that you honor my request to not post comments asking for the story to continue.
A Camping Story © Nov 2003, 2017 as allowable
Adam Cartwright wondered what had ever possessed him to think he could take a four-year-old camping and survive with his wits intact. He’d picked out what he thought would be a safe location, tucked into a niche of the nearest hill. The rocky walls of the niche encircled a grassy area on three sides, and Adam figured that as long as he kept himself planted firmly at the entrance, Joe could run and play as much as he wanted without getting into trouble.
Their water came from a small spring that fed a narrow stream for about ten yards before descending into the earth again. He’d picketed their two horses at the downstream end, on lines long enough that they could freely graze or drink as much as they wished. The stream was just wide enough to act as a natural barrier, keeping them and Joe on opposite sides of the camp, to his little brother’s utter disgust.
The setup should have been perfect. The stream itself was so shallow that Joe couldn’t really fall in – though that didn’t keep him from building a little fort. It was a marvel of construction, at least for a four-year-old, but it also not so conveniently acted as a dam and created an overflow that had headed straight for their camp. Adam checked his spare shirt where it hung from a nearby tree. Almost dry. His saddle blanket would take a bit longer. The bread was a total loss, but the beans . . . well, he’d simply decided to start dinner a little early, and dropped them in a pot to simmer over the fire.
Gathering wood had been the latest in a long series of battles. Adam had thought it a perfect chore for a little one, but Joe was more interested in playing stick cowboys and Indians – a game that had lost all appeal for Adam at the age of six, when his second mother was killed by an arrow right in front of him. Joe grudgingly gave up his game when Adam refused to join in, and tried to drag a huge log to the fire instead.
Adam had tried patiently to explain that the chunk of wood was too big, but Joe insisted he had to bring a “log” to the fire, just like his big brother.
Adam checked around the campground looking for a piece of wood that would be big enough to satisfy his little brother, but small enough the boy could manage it.
“I gots one!”
Adam studied the branch, then nodded. “That’ll be really good – burn nice and hot for making our dinner.”
Joe staggered backwards, digging a deep furrow in the dirt as he dragged it to the fire. “It’s big, ain’t it!” he said, proud of himself.
“Sure is, little buddy. It’ll burn all the way through dinner, I bet.”
“It’s the biggest log we got, ain’t it?” He dumped it proudly in the middle of the circle of stones Adam had carefully arranged.
He winced, but patiently set about putting them back in place. “Yep.”
He looked up to see a puzzled frown.
“Could Hoss drag that log here?”
He laughed. “Sure could. You’ve seen how he’s getting so big.”
“Could he drag a bigger log here?”
Adam nodded. “I don’t think a log exists in this valley that Hoss couldn’t handle.”
“Exist.” That didn’t satisfy Joe, so he thought for a moment. “Being real. Something you can see, touch. Like our two horses over there.”
Joe still frowned.
“What if I said there were three horses over there?”
Joe’s eyes darted across the stream. “Adam, you makin’ fun. I sees two horsies.”
“But if I said there was a third horse, all purple and pink—”
Joe laughed. “There ain’t no pink and purple horsie over there. There ain’t no pink and purple horsies nowhere! You made that up.”
Adam nodded. “That’s right. I made it up. Pink and purple horses don’t exist.”
“Oooh.” Joe looked again, just to make sure. “Don’t eg-zist.” He nodded once, sure now, and tried out the word again as he ambled over to the stream to stare at the two animals that really were there. “Eg-zist. Brown horsies eg-zist. Pink an’ purple horsie don’t eg-zist.”
Adam sighed in relief. Maybe now he could get dinner started. His stomach was beginning to rumble. He didn’t know if it was Joe’s age that made him so insatiably curious, but Adam sincerely hoped he’d grow out of it soon. A memory of some recent comments by his father on his eldest son’s incurable and insatiable curiosity gave him little hope.
He stirred some dried onions – that had only been dampened by the miniature flood – into the beans and then looked up to check on Joe again. He’d found the creek. Actually, he’d found the place in the creek where it had overflowed. He was now a mud baby. Oh, my.
I really should wash him off and put him in some dry clothes, Adam thought, or just give up and change him right before bed. He nodded once. “Before bed,” he muttered.
“Bed!” the little boy cried. “I don’ wanna go bed!”
The drawn-down eyebrows and pushed out lips were so comical Adam nearly laughed, but caught himself just in time. One thing sure that would send his little brother into another full-blown tantrum was to laugh at him.
“No bed, not yet, little buddy,” he soothed. It worked, because Joe immediately settled back into his puddle. “Brother’s just thinking ahead.”
“Huh?” Joe asked, coming back to the conversation. He tilted his head at a skeptical angle. “What head?”
“My head . . .” Adam muttered to himself, “. . . that I should have examined.”
Joe approached cautiously. “’Zamined? What’s ‘zamined?” He peered carefully at Adam’s head, prodded it with one muddy finger.
“Hey! Stop that!” Adam yelled.
Joe’s eyes narrowed. “You no yell at me. Pa says.”
“Yeah, Pa says.” He narrowed his eyes right back. “Pa also said, ‘Joe, be good.’”
“Joe good!” Affronted, the little boy raised himself up tall. “I always good!”
But Joe was already back to his question, forefinger stuck in his mouth in thought. “Adam,” he said, somewhat garbled, “what’s ‘zamined?”
Adam winced at the finger, but kept stirring. A little dirt never hurt any little kid he knew of. “Examined,” he said carefully. “Means looked at. Checked over. Make sure everything’s okay.”
“Huh. Like you do with beans?”
Adam tilted his head to one side. “Yeah, kind of. Though with beans, you have to taste them, too.”
Joe immediately stuck his finger in the pot, pulled it out and sucked on it.
“AGH!” Adam yelled. “What do you think you’re—” He rose, picked Joe up bodily, swatted him once on the bottom and plopped him down to one side. “Now stay there! Keep your fingers out of our dinner, at least until my part is served up.” He went back to stirring the pot, not noticing the tears that were gathering in his little brother’s eyes. “Never should have done this,” he muttered. “Never should have brought him out here.”
“I hate you!” shouted Joe, tears running down his face. “I hate you an’ I wish you didn’t eg-zist!” He turned and started running toward the opening in the cliffs.
“Joe!” Adam called. He tried to grab the little boy as he flew by, but missed him by inches. “Little Joe, you get back here!” he yelled.
Joe stopped for just long enough to stick his tongue out, then kept going.
Adam took a brief moment to kick some dirt over the fire, then headed out after his brother. He had to reach him before he got through the entrance to the little valley; there were loose branches and gullies and piles of rocks and all kinds of hazards that could hurt a heedless four-year-old.
Joe cut the corner heading out into the open just a little too close and banged into the hillside, dislodging a long, dead branch that had been resting against the hill. Loose dirt began to fall on him, and he froze, looking up.
“Joe!” Adam cried in panic. Bigger clumps of dirt, small stones, sticks, were all coming down, pelting his brother. He knew what could be next – there were sharp-edged rocks and even boulders up above.
He found an extra burst of speed and dove at the boy, shoving him aside. He just had time to see Joe crumpled on the ground, out of the path of danger, when something hard and heavy and excruciatingly sharp slammed into his back. He cried out and covered his head with both arms, but a waterfall of rocks fell, and he couldn’t protect himself from all of them. He tried to rise, was pounded back to the ground, and then there was a starburst of pain in his head, and the world blinked out.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
A sound nudged at his consciousness. Something was wrong, but he ached so fiercely that he wanted nothing more than to sink back into the blackness. The sound grabbed at him, though – wouldn’t let go. He tried to figure it out. What had happened? The all-consuming aching resolved itself into individual pains – his head, his arm, his back. Then he felt something that wasn’t a hurt. Something – someone? – was pulling on his shoulder. Someone was calling his name.
“Adam! I’m sorry, Adam, I din’t mean it, I want you to eg-zist! Please, Adam, please don’t die!”
It was Little Joe. Joe, his four-year-old little brother that he’d flung to the ground with strength he wouldn’t have used on Hoss.
“Please, Adam, I be a good boy from today! Please don’t die!” The heartbroken cries broke down into tears.
Adam raised his head, then tried lifting his body. A shower of dirt and rocks hit the ground all around him. He blinked a couple of times to clear his vision. There was Joe, seated right next to him, scrubbing at his eyes with filthy hands, crying his heart out.
Adam lifted a hand that was every bit as filthy as Joe’s and gently tugged at his brother’s arms. “I’m all right, Little Joe.” He forced a smile. “Just my head hurts a bit.
“Adam! You alive! You eg-zist! Oh, Adam,” he sobbed, “I promise to be good – I don’t hate you.”
Adam sat up very carefully, then gathered the little boy into his arms. Joe grabbed Adam’s shirtfront into his fists and snuggled as close to his chest as possible. Adam held him in the circle of his arms and laid his cheek against the soft hair.
“Joe love Adam,” came the small voice.
“I know,” said Adam as he rubbed his hand in soothing circles on his back. “Adam loves Joe, too.”
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
It was a motley pair that rode up to the Cartwrights’ home that night. They were filthy from head to toe; Joe had stripes of pink down his face where tears had cleaned off the dirt, Adam had a bandana tied askew around his forehead, and he was riding stiff as a board from his aching back.
“Pa, Pa!” cried Joe as they pulled their horses to a stop. “Come help, Pa!”
Adam was glad Joe had called out – he didn’t have enough energy left to raise a peep.
Ben burst through the front door, startling the tired horses. Adam swayed, but Ben grabbed at both sets of reins and steadied the animals, then handed them off to Hoss, who’d been right behind him out the door.
“Little Joe! Are you all right?” He reached up and gently hauled his youngest from the saddle into a tight embrace.
“I’s all right, Pa.” He patted his father’s cheek. “But Adam got hurt by bad rocks.”
Ben turned to his eldest. “Adam?”
“Landslide,” he muttered, his voice strained. “Couldn’t let it get Joe – couldn’t get out from under it in time.”
“Don’t try to get down by yourself, son.”
Adam nodded. His back was stiff and sore, and he doubted he could move even if he had to.
Ben handed Joe to Hoss and then appeared at Adam’s side.
Adam smiled when he saw Joe wrap his arms around Hoss’s neck and gave him a big smacking kiss on the cheek. “Joe loves Hoss,” he said and laid his head on his brother’s shoulder.
Surprised but pleased, Hoss replied, “Hoss loves Little Joe, too, punkin.”
“Take him inside, Hoss,” Ben interrupted, “and start getting him cleaned up, please.”
“Sure thing – Adam gonna be okay?”
Joe raised his head and announced. “Adam gotta get his head ‘zamined.”
Adam caught Hoss’s snort of laughter, and he could see his father was fighting off a grin as well.
“I think so,” Ben finally answered, “but I’ll know better when I get him settled.”
When the two boys had gone inside, he raised an eyebrow at his eldest. “Your head?”
“. . . if I ever volunteer to take a four-year-old on a camping trip again, yes, I’ll need to have my head examined. Otherwise, I’m fine.” Adam pulled his right foot out of its stirrup and groaned as he tried to lift his leg over the back of the horse. “Well, maybe not quite fine . . .”
“That’s it,” Ben said, “easy . . . just let go, son, I’ll catch you.”
Adam nodded and, as soon as he felt his father’s hand on his leg, just slid sideways off the horse. Strong arms caught him, cradled him as they had just cradled his little brother.
“Pa?” The world spun crazily around him, and his back throbbed unmercifully where Ben’s arm held him.
“Shh. There’ll be time enough later to tell us everything.”
“Okay,” he whispered and relaxed against his father’s chest. “Just don’t believe Joe when he tells you about the purple and pink horsie I saw, okay?”
His father’s soft laughter rumbled in his ear, and he smiled and finally let the darkness claim him again.
So you were wondering what the challenge was? After a discussion of some of the more bothersome mistakes writers make, AMG wrote a “Dreadful Text Correction” piece and challenged us to fix it. I [ahem] let it get a little out of hand <G> The accident is from AMG’s piece, as is much of the dialogue in that part, though I expanded it a bit. The rest of the story mine.