Summary: A conflict over a woman, an impending marriage, and a murder threaten to tear the heart out of the family, but whose heart and which Cartwright SJS, SPS, JAM, PJM,
The hangman’s noose beckons, Adam treads the road to hell as he tries to piece together the fragments of chaos and salvage what, if anything is left of his family.
Rated: MA (83,931)
Love, Honour and Obey
‘Cheers, brother Clay, thanks for nothing,’
The young man held his glass, now only half full of warm beer, aloft as he toasted the unoccupied chair opposite him.
Nobody in the bar paid him any attention, the main reason being that apart from himself and the staff, which consisted of one man and one woman, the room was empty.
He continued his conversation with the chair:
Boy, oh boy, did you paint a good picture, Mexico… excitement, adventure, passion, wine, exotic women… oh sure, women… Conchita’s, Rosalita’s you forgot to mention bigita’s, couldn’t get my arm round one of them, even if l had wanted to… and passion, well l have found more passion in a chilli pepper, least it’s hot an it makes your lips tingle…..
‘Joe Cartwrigh, telegram Joe Cartwrigh.
The sound of his own name being called brought him back to reality, he didn’t know what surprised him the more, the fact that anyone knew where he was, or the fact that there was a telegraph office in this one horse, dusty, no name town.
He returned the glass of beer, that he was getting no particular enjoyment from to the table, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and before he raised the same hand to signal recognition the small, dark skinned, dark eyed, smiling Mexican boy was at his table, handing him the envelope.
‘Se, hiss for you signor,’
Joe Cartwright took the offered paper and smiled openly at the boy, his laughing mouth gave way to a even set of pearly white teeth, which only went to enhance his handsome, boyish features.
‘You sure you’re right kid?’
The boy, after taking a quick look round the small, dark, dusty bar, returned his coal, black stare to Joe’s quizzical look, and nodded, which immediately sent his equally coal, black shiny locks flopping around his head, he shrugged his shoulders, and replied,
‘Se, signor you only gringo here, you only gringo in town,’
Joe giggled, his bubbly infectious laugh burst forth,
‘O.K kid, you got me’
Taking a few coins from the pocket of his green jacket, he tossed one to the boy, it was neatly caught in a small brown hand, it’s authenticity checked by placing the coin between two white teeth and biting down hard, he nodded his satisfaction, grinned happily, and turned to leave.
Yep, thought Joe, still grinning, l woulda done the same.
‘Hey kid, you wanna make a dollar,’
The boy stopped mid-stride in his tracks, spun on his heel and made his way back to the table.
‘Se signor, who do you want me to kill,’
Little Joe’s giggle returned in earnest,
‘Ease up little buddy, just want you to see to my horse, the pinto by the trough,’
Joe pointed at his horse just visible through the swing doors of the bar,
‘Take him to the livery, see that he gets a good measure of oats and a brush down, and then let me know where l can get a room for the night’
The boy’s gaze followed the direction of Joe’s pointed finger,
‘Signor, he will be well looked after, my mothers first cousin’s second son’s, uncle he owns the livery, he is very lazy, but l will see that such a fine looking animal is cared for properly,’
‘Good enough, what about the Hotel,’
The boy turned his attention back to his benefactor, he looked at Joe, a serious, thoughtful expression spread slowly across his face, he appeared to nod and shake his head at the same time.
‘Si, the Hotel is very good, but only for one thing, the breeding and rearing of bugs and fleas, so big’
To give greater effect and credence to his opinion, the boy came closer to Joe, his eyes opened wide, wide as saucers, the whites forming a perfect circle around the black centered sparks.
Little Joe rested his elbow on the table and covered his mouth with his hand in an effort to thwart the laughter bubbling in his throat.
‘No not big signor, huge, so if you are a man who loves to share his bed with such monsters, the Hotel is across the street,’
‘Well…’ Joe hesitated,
‘Chico…Chico Jose Pascal Martinez del Feuago Ortinez’ the boy brought his arm across his waist and gave a small bow.
Joe sat back in his chair in amazement,
‘That’s a kinda grand sorta name you got there, mind if l just call you Chico’
The boy nodded his agreement,
‘Well, Chico, what do you suggest?’
‘My sister Wanita, has a house very close, very clean, very good cook, you can sleep, have dinner and breakfast only 1 dollar, you will be very happy and comfortable,’
‘Chico here’s a dollar 50, let your sister know she’s having a guest, you’ll get the other 50 in the morning providing Cooch is well fed, groomed and rested, thata deal.
The boy extended his skinny brown arm spat into his open palm, nodding his head, he offered Joe his hand, Joe closed the deal with firm hand shake.
Signor Cartrigh, l am honoured to look after your horse l will treat it as if it were my own, l will be back within the hour’
‘Just call me Joe, I’ll be ready,’
The boy strutted out of the bar jingling his fortune in his pocket
Things are beginning to look up, thought Joe, another ‘ita’ but maybe his sister will be the dark, dusky, maiden he had hoped would be falling at his feet ever since he crossed the border
What he would do for another hour he didn’t know, his hand reached for the beer glass when his eyes fell upon the envelope, he picked it up and turned it around in his fingers, he tapped it on his knuckles,
‘what if it’s bad news,’ he thought, his brows veed in a concerned frown
The telegram had been waiting for three days, he tapped it against his chin, then tore the it open, his eyes quickly scanned the contents.
Pushing his hat back on his head allowing his dark curls to encircle his forehead, he banged a fist onto the table, disturbing a couple of months worth of dust, which caused him to cough into the back of his hand.
‘Well I’ll be…’
He rocked back on the rickety chair, it squeaked it’s protest, he quickly restored all four legs to the floor, before the chair gave up the ghost.
‘Well l’ll be…’
He repeated, and as if to make sure that seeing was believing he read the message aloud.
RETURN SOON AS.STOP.CARTWRIGHT WEDDING.STOP. 28TH.STOP.NEXT MONTH.STOP
He removed his hat, scratched his head, ran his hand through his thick brown hair, scratched his head again and replaced his hat.
‘Cartwright wedding, Cartwright wedding’ he mused
He shook his head in disbelief, he had gone off looking for an adventure, hoping to meet up with Clay, the prodigal brother, finding nothing but dust, dust and more dust, for him Mexico had been as boring and as dusty as riding drag on a month long drive, and while he had been away experiencing this insurmountable country of dry dust, and nothingness, one of his brothers had taken the plunge, not just asked for a young ladies hand but set the date.
As much as he hated to admit it to himself he was already feeling homesick, there was aching in his heart to see his Pa and brothers and the green meadows of the Ponderosa, and even though he had already made his mind up to head for home, this telegram confirmed his decision.
Smiling to himself he picked up his glass to finish the remains of his drink, wrinkling his nose in disgust at the layer of dust that had settled like a grey, hairy skin on the surface of the beer, he pushed the cause of the offense into the center of the table, and now that he had a double reason for celebration a second beer would not qualify.
He turned his attention to the ways and means of obtaining another drink, one more suitable to the occasion.
The barman , or more realistically, the man behind the wooden plank balanced across two barrels, a fat, squat, greasy being with dirt under his nails, who appeared to be made of wood as he sat, unmoving staring into space.
The female of the species, equally built and chiselled out of the same wood, sat on a rickety chair alongside one of the barrels.
Joe’s several attempts to attract any attention, with waves and hand signals failed, his shrill whistle initiated the required response, both of the statues heads turned to face him, the girl or woman, Joe didn’t know or care, shuffled, blazing a trail across the dusty floor, to his table, silently she stood before him, she made no attempt to speak.
Sitting back in his chair Joe watched as she raised the unwanted beer glass, flicked a cloth over the surface of the table which did nothing more than redistribute the dust evenly over the table top, the point of the exercise was lost on the him.
‘Whiskey, por vavore,’
She looked at him as if he had asked her to skin a recently slain buffalo, shuffling along the same trail back to the bar, she returned with his order, the bottle she wiped and placed on the table, the small glass she vigorously cleaned, to Joe’s astonishment and disgust, with the same cloth that had cleaned the bottle and previously moved the dust across the table.
Pulling the cork from the top of the bottle with his strong, white teeth, he poured a small amount into the glass, swilled it around then threw the contents beneath the table, the fluid soaked into the dust laden floor, without the mere sound of a splash, as if it had been poured into a heap of sand.
Filling the glass with the golden liquid he raised it in tribute to his brothers, he knocked it back in one gulp, the whiskey more than made up for the tastelessness of the beer, it scorched his lips, mouth, tongue, throat and any other part of his anatomy it touched as it roared its way into his stomach, he jerked upright, spluttered, coughed, gasped, banged his fist on his chest, finally wiping the tears from his eyes with the back of his hand, he composed himself by taking several deep breaths.
Both statues once more turned their gaze to the green jacketed boy, this time with amusement, the male sniggered behind his dirty, nail bitten hand, whereas buffalo woman laughed outright.
Refilling his glass Joe raised it in salute to them, he reckoned that apart from regular cleaning and manners, entertainment was even lower on the agenda, so he was happy to oblige, by bringing some brief enjoyment into their miserable lives.
Hesitantly he sipped from the glass, apart from a slight intake of breath, the second dose went down smoothly, making a snap decision he opted to sip the fire water.
To aid his comfort, he sat back, kicked the opposite chair from under the table, stretched his legs, then lifting his feet rested them on top of the seat, removing his hat he made to place it on the table, thought better of it and hung it on the arm of the chair.
Adam, Hoss…Hoss, Adam…Adam, Hoss…which one could it be?
It’s gotta be Hoss, yeah Hoss, of course, he could be easily ‘swept off his feet’, he remembered, the time before when his big brother was, literally ‘swept off of his feet’, well, not literally, as, it would take a full hurricane to sweep big brother Hoss off of his feet , the picture of his giant of a brother being swirled around and around by a hurricane brought a grin to his face and a giggle to his throat…his thoughts returned to the lady…and sure, she was a lovely lady, no doubt about that, she would of made Hoss a happy man, provided he could pay her gambling depts.
He could only think it was a stranger to town, there was no other girl that Hoss had his sights set on, he would of told me, just in case it was Hoss, he toasted his big brother, emptying the glass in one gulp, which produced an involuntary shudder from his head down through his neck to his shoulders, he refilled his glass.
Scratching his head he continued to slowly sip the whiskey, he was beginning to get used to the sharp rawness of the liquid.
It caint possible be elder brother, Adam, sure, he has had his moments, but spontaneity is not on of his traits, love at first sight and marriage within a month, nah, that was definitely not bossy boots, it would take him a over a month to get through his book of poems, then another six months to six years to get everything about the woman catalogued in number and alphabetical order.
Joe continued his sipping and thinking…
He kept Laura waiting far too long, and then look what happened, she goes off with cousin Will..he mused on that point, seeing a possibility, maybe it is Adam, maybe he has learned his lesson, just in case he toasted elder brother, emptied the glass, no shudder this time, he refilled his glass.
Finally, he toasted his Pa, you never know, he thought, there could still be some life in the old dog, although he would never of dared to be so forthcoming about his father in the flesh, but the idea fueled his imagination and brought another bout of chuckling, maybe Clementine Hawkins had at last secured a replacement for ‘er Arry’..eh ducky, he laughed out loud.
He raised his glass aloft…to you Pa… he emptied the glass.
Chico interrupted the private party, taking stock of the situation, the half empty bottle, the open telegram…
‘Signor Joe, izz bad, trouble, no?’
Smiling he placed a hand on the boys head and tousled the black locks,
‘A wedding , Chico, you like weddings?’
‘Si signor si, you get married,’
Banging the cork back into the bottle, Joe emphatically shook his head, his own dark locks jiggling around his face,
‘Not me, Chico, oh no, me no, one of my brothers’
Leaving sufficient coins, Joe pushed his chair from the table, stood, staggered slightly, shook his head, straightened himself, pressed his hat firmly onto his head and followed Chico, who had made it his business to retrieve the bottle, out of the dark, stuffy bar, throwing a backward wave at the only other occupants as he bodily pushed through the swing doors.
The brilliance of the light and scorching heat of the day brought him to a standstill, raising a hand to his forehead to shade his eyes, he immediately rued the past whiskey filled hour, Chico was already half way along the street, the boy turned and stopped waiting for Joe to catch up with him,
‘Signor Joe, l think you may like a swim and siesta before you eat’
Chico’s smiling brown faced shined up at him, how could someone so small be so wise, thought Joe,
‘Wait up Chico, my saddle bags…’
‘Do not worry they are waiting for you at my sister’s house’
Putting his arm round Chico’s shoulder Joe gave the boy a friendly pat,
‘Why didn’t l have a brother like you?’ Joe asked
Chico drew himself up to his full height of five foot and proudly strode, stride for stride alongside his new friend.
Wanita, wasn’t the slim, sexy, dusky maiden that Joe had in mind, she was a small, plump women, with a tired looking expression, and if all the small children that were darting and running in and out of the yard belonged to her he could understand why.
To her credit she greeted him as if he were a long lost relative, the room she showed him into, although small was spotlessly clean with a bed covered in snowy white linen that looked so inviting and comfortable Joe was tempted to cancel the swim and go straight on to the siesta, however, he grabbed a clean but creased set of clothing from his bags, a white fluffy towel from off the bed and followed Chico to the stream.
The bed was as it appeared, Joe, tingling and refreshed from the cleansing swim laid his damp, curly head on the soft pillow he was asleep before his eyelids drooped shut.
He awoke to a vigorous shaking of his shoulder, looking round the unrecognisable room, Joe, for a moment wandered where he was, the shaking continued bringing with it an awareness of his situation, he sat up digging the sleep from his eyes with the knuckles of both hands.
‘Signor Joe, you come and eat now, si,’
‘Sure Chico, sure, gimme a minute’
After enjoying a delightful meal with Chico’s family, and a rough and tumble with the children, Little Joe sat outside, on the ground with his back to the yard fence, breathing in the cool night air he shook his head in disbelief, and rubbed his eyes, as tiredness claimed him, he bade his goodnight to the family, pleading with Wanita not to put herself out by making him a breakfast as he would be leaving as soon as it was light, this request went unheeded as both Wanita and Chico were seated at the table when he made to leave the following morning.
Whilst he ate Chico brought Cochise from the stable, the black and white pony, was rested, well groomed and on it’s toes it’s master felt the same.
Wanita shyly handed him his laundered clothes, and a sack of food that he knew would last him for days.
Chico hung his freshly filled canteen on his saddle, the boy’s eye’s shone when Little Joe pressed another dollar into his palm, Wanita’s face reddened as he gave her a friendly cuddle and a farewell kiss on the cheek , they waved him off, as he made his way homeward Joe had no doubt that he had just spent the best day of his whole vacation, his extended invitation for them to visit the Ponderosa would probably never be taken up, but he thought, one never knows if one of my brothers is getting married anything could happen.
He pressed on for home with as few stops as possible, riding in the cool of the evening and early morning, resting in any shady spot near water during the heat of the day. The food given to him by Wanita lasted well into the journey, on the fourth morning he was delighted to see familiar territory, he reckoned he would be on the Ponderosa in another day.
He met with very few travellers, just a couple of drifters, who were pleased to share his food and conversation, as much as he liked discussing the time of day and various other topics with Cooch, he couldn’t deny the sound of a human voice was a welcome relief.
At long last they were very near to home, he decided to forgo the afternoon rest and press on to the ranch, he would be there by mid afternoon,
‘Is that OK with you gal?’ he asked
He stroked her soft mane and patted her neck, pricking up her ears at the sound of his voice she snickered her pleasure and agreement, with hand, seat and leg he pushed her into an easy, comfortable in hand canter, slowing down to walk, as he approached the house, there was nobody in sight, which he was pleased about, dismounting he led Cooch into the barn, there were no other horses in the stalls, he meticulously went about dealing with his well loved pony’s needs and comforts, satisfied that the she had everything she could want, he placed a peck on her cheek and tickled her ears, the pony nuzzled his chest slobbering grain and water down his shirt,
‘Thanks a lot,’ he giggled wiping the excess off of his shirt front, ‘guess that means l’m dismissed, eh,’
Giving her a playful slap on the rump, he picked up his bags and slowly, tiredly walked to the empty house, praying that Hop Sing had plenty hot water on the go.
Opening the big door he entered the great room, and looked around, surrounded by familiar sights and smells, he was pleased to be home, hanging up his hat, he removed his gun belt and dropped his bags.
The kitchen hopper was filled with hot water, he sighed with relief and gratitude, and set about seeing to his own needs and comforts.
He soaked luxuriantly, the aching seeped from his tired limbs into the warm soapy water,, laying his head against the upright back of the tub he closed his eyes, the warm steam rising from the water dulled his senses, his eyelids slowly started to droop as sleep silently stole him away, his body slowly slipped lower under the water, both hands created a splash as they slid from the rim of the tub into the soapy liquid, with a jerk he pulled himself upright, ducked his head under the water and proceeded to wash his hair and complete the rest of his bathing.
Toweled dry he wrapped a dry towel round his midriff and sat on the edge of his bed, the silence in the house enclosed him in its comfort and ease, he lay back on his bed and this time welcomed the arm of sleep as it hugged him into its cosy grip.
How long he slept he did not know it could of been five minutes or five hours, he suddenly opened his eyes, what woke him he couldn’t tell, he heard muffled sounds, voices, he lay listening in the semi darkness.
Without warning the bedroom door burst open,
‘Dadburn it, sleeping beauty has returned, little brother, sure as hell know’d bed would be your first stop, l bet elder brother… ,’
Joe raised himself onto his elbows and grinned at his big brother Hoss,
‘Big brother, if elder brother bet on a bath …you owe him’
‘l can sees that shortshanks the surface of that water needs a pick axe to break it,’
‘Brother half the dust and fleas of Mexico are lying in the bottom of that tub,’
‘A description little brother that is totally unnecessary to divulge,’
Adam Cartwright, arms crossed, leant against the upright of the door, a raised eyebrow and half smile graced his handsome face.
Before Joe could sit upright Hoss, laughing had lifted him, as if he was a small child, bodily off the bed, and thrown him back down, Joe desperately retrieved the towel that had slipped to his hips,
‘You best git outa that habit of yers laying round neked, you’d be an embarrassment to yer new ma,’
Hoss’s big round face beamed a gappy grin, his sky blue eye’s twinkled in delight at his little brother’s shocked and amazed expression.
‘Shut your mouth little boy your tongue will fall out,’ Adam quipped.
Hardly able to speak with laughter, Hoss leaned toward the bed slapping his thighs,
‘Dadburn it Adam, look at his face, aint that a picture, l sure wanted to be the one to tell him,’
‘l would have to agree with you Hoss, younger brother looks to be in shock, l think we may have to help him dress,’
Joe couldn’t speak, he lay sprawled on the bed exactly where Hoss had thrown him, he looked in disbelief from Hoss to Adam then from Adam to Hoss,
Laying on the bed, as if frozen in time, still clutching the towel, he finally murmured
‘It was Pa, it was Pa…Pa’s getting married?’
Adam, walked to the bed, gave his younger brother a gentle pat on the head, turning to his large brother, who was now shaking and heaving like a giant jelly, he commented in his usual sarcastic manner,
‘My he is a clever little fella, isn’t he big brother Hoss, he worked that out all by himself ,’
Joe shook his head, trying to gather his thoughts, he had so many questions to ask he didn’t know where to begin.
As if reading his mind Adam advised,
‘Up you get Joe, they will be here shortly, and all your questions will be answered,’
Joe felt himself being pulled up from the bed a brother on each hand,
‘it’s a dream, a dream,’ he thought,
Slipping his hand from Hoss’s grip he gave his elder brother a firm pinch, Adam promptly pushed him roughly back onto the bed,
‘What in tarnation was that for,’ he yelled rubbing his stinging arm,
Joe immediately pinched himself, causing Hoss to collapse onto the bed, tears of laughter streamed from his eyes,
‘No shortshanks you aint dreaming, you sure aint dreaming, aint that a caution Adam, shortshanks thinks his dreaming,’
‘Will you two let go off me’
Joe squealed at his brothers as they once more grabbed his arms attempting to pull him up from the bed, again he was dropped unceremoniously as the sound of a horse and buggy was heard drawing up outside the house, checking the window Hoss nodded at his elder brother and made for the door Adam followed, stopped at Joe’s bed and laughing whipped off the towel that was now only barely covering his dignity, scrunched it into a ball and threw it back at his brother’s head,
‘Smarten up, little brother, you’ll bring tears to the lady’s eyes,’
‘Get out,’ he yelled in annoyance and frustration as he returned the throw, the towel slapped into the back of the closing door and fell in a crumpled heap to the floor.
Adam’s hearty laugh could be heard echoing down the hallway.
Raising himself to a sitting position he swung his legs to the floor, eventually, and in complete disbelief he set about making himself presentable, finally satisfied with his appearance he made his way downstairs.
His father and brothers were sitting in the great room, the dining table was grandly set, Hop Sing had excelled himself.
Ben Cartwright clasped a hand round his son’s neck, his other hand clapped him on the back in welcome,
‘So my boy, how was Mexico, did you have a good time,’
‘Sure Pa, it was great, had a great time,’
Joe’s handsome face broke into a cheeky grin, as he lied openly, he extricated himself from the strong grip and walked over to the table,
‘Hey, Hop Sing has really gone to town’
The Chinese cook popped his head out from the kitchen,
‘Lita Jo, Hop Sing no tow, too mush wok, spesha dina for spesha lady, leddy soon,’
A giggle bubbled from Little Joe’s lips at Hop Sing’s answer, the sound of the guest room door opening caused him to turn and face the woman as she walked into the room.
Joe grasped the back of the chair for support, his breath left his body in a gasp, the giggle stayed trapped and silent in his throat, the muscles in his chest and stomach constricted in a painful spasm, he was transfixed, stunned.
‘Ah, Eleanor… Joseph my youngest,’
Proudly Ben introduced his intended bride,
‘Joseph, this is Eleanor….Joseph, Joseph,’
His father’s voice and the nudge on his arm jerked him back into reality,
‘Pa..yea… l mean Eleanor, ah mam,’
Little Joe’s voice croaked, and cracked, he coughed to clear his throat, his hand shook slightly, as he brought the woman’s hand to his lips.
Hop Sing called them to the table.
Joe’s discomfort appeared to go unnoticed by everyone except Adam, the continual fingering of his collar, the rapid swallowing, the bead of sweat that had formed on his brow and upper lip, also the usual tanned skin of his face had paled, so much so, that he perfectly matched the table cloth and napkins, to all intent and purposes Adam thought that his little brother looked to be on the verge of passing out.
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