Little Lessons:

Chapter 3

The Ranch

(Claire 13, Joseph 11, Ben 7, George 6)


"Boys, come outside with me, please. We need to talk about some things." Ethan says, waiting by the door as Ben and George put on their jackets. Noticing that Joseph hasn't moved from his place on the rug where he sits reading, Ethan calls firmly "Joseph! I am talking to you too!"

"Huh?" Joseph looks up and seeing his Uncle's frown quickly changes his response to "Sir?" He knows his Uncle expects to be addressed as "sir "or by his name. He doesn't think any other response is well mannered.

"Joseph, come outside with me, please. We have to discuss some things in the barn." Grabbing a jacket Joseph follows his Uncle and brothers out to the barn. In the barn he leans up against a post watching his uncle. "I wonder what we did. He seems upset with us about something." Joseph thinks.

"Boys, I brought you out here to teach you about caring for saddles and other tack. I've seen how you just throw the bridles and harnesses on the hay. We have to take care of those and also the saddles so they will last longer. Saddles are expensive and need to be taken care of properly. " Ethan tells them.

Leading the boys over to a room at the back of the barn he asks, "Do you see the hooks on the walls and the wooden sawhorses in this room?"

When all the boys answer "Yes sir" he says "The hooks are for us to hang up any bridles or harnesses we aren't using. The sawhorses are for keeping the saddles off the barn floor. We will also hang the saddle blankets on the hooks. Ben, George you two are too short to reach the hooks so I put this stool here for you. I will be the one who lifts the saddles on and off the horses so you boys don't need to try to lift them."

Looking at the boys Ethan can see they are puzzled about why he is telling them all of this.

"Boys, from now on I will be assigning one day every two weeks for taking care of the tack."

Ben asks "What tack? The nails up there on the wall?"

"No Ben. Tack is the word used to mean bridles, reins, saddles all the things we use with the horses." Ethan says smiling. "Today I'll show you how to do this. With things made of leather, we have to keep them soft and not let them get dried out or they'll crack. We use a special wax for this and rub it into the saddle leather or the bridles. On the metal parts we will use a special oil. That part will be my job for now." Ethan tells the boys.

"What I want you boys to do is take turns keeping the saddles waxed. George and Ben you two will work together. Joseph, you can work by yourself. This will be part of the barn chores every other week. I'll let you know what day we will be working with the tack. All of the rest of the barn chores need to be done every day twice a day."

"What are these chores boys?" Ethan asks.

"Raking out the stalls, putting down fresh hay, leading the horses in or out, feeding and watering the horses, the cows and milking the cows." Joseph recites in a dull voice. "Claire is the one who milks the cows. We do everything else."

"Very good Joseph. I'm glad you have memorized the chore list so well!" He says grinning. "Now you have lost the chance to tell me you "forgot what to do."

Joseph smiles as he complains "I only tried that one time. After you made me rake out all the stalls for two days by myself, I didn't say I forgot ever again."

"You boys need to remember the animals are relying on us to take care of them. They want their water, breakfast, supper and clean place to sleep just like you."

"Uncle Ethan, when am I going to be big enough to brush and comb the horses like Joseph does?" George asks.

"Not for a few years yet, George. We will wait until you boys are at least nine before you groom the horses. Until then you will help with the other chores, feeding, getting them water and putting clean hay down. Remember though boys, what I told you, The new stallion is Off Limits. You are not to go any closer to him than the corral fence. That goes for my horse Lightning, also. Both are off limits to children. Understand?"

Hearing the sternness in their Uncle's voice Joseph, Ben and George answer "Yes Sir."

Ben asks "What if he's in his stall? Couldn't we go around one of them then?"

He swallows nervously as his Uncle glares at him. He knows better than to question like this and he knows very well he was just told to stay away from the horses.

"Ben, YOU ARE NOT TO GO NEAR THOSE HORSES! I mean what I say boys! That new horse is too dangerous for you to be around. If I hear that you disobeyed me on this, you will be severely punished. Ben, do you remember what happened a few weeks past, when you disobeyed me and tried to ride the stallion?"

"Yes Sir, you walloped me with a little board and made me stay in our room until morning."

"Well Ben, if you disobey me again, the punishment will be worse. If you do not obey me I will put you over that hay bale and give you a spanking with my belt this time. I mean it Ben!" Ethan feels he has to be harsh because Ben is so adventurous he might just try to disobey if he isn't strongly warned.

"Yes sir." Ben answers dejectedly.


Two weeks later:

"Joseph, when you finish your chores this morning, will you go with me and the boys to town? I can't keep up with both of them by myself and Ben wants to go this time." Claire asks. "I have some butter ready for the mercantile and some eggs to sell."

Before Joseph can answer they hear a scream from the barn. "That's Ben!" Claire says as they both run to the barn. Throwing open the barn doors, they see George on the floor of the barn sobbing and Ben in the stall with the new stallion. Ben is still screaming in pain and doesn't seem to be able to move.

"He's on my foot!" Ben sobs.

Just as Joseph starts toward the stall, Ethan comes running into the barn. "What is it? I heard screaming way out in the pasture." Seeing and hearing Ben, he quickly backs the stallion out of the stall and ties him to a post across the barn.

Claire and Joseph have picked Ben up from where he crumpled to the barn floor. Joseph is about to pull Ben's boot off when he hears Ethan say "Joseph, wait! Let's get him inside the house first. I will be able to see better there."

As he lifts the sobbing boy up into his arms, he realizes Ben's pants are wet. "Joseph, bring in the bathing tub please. Then go draw four pails of water. We'll need cold water at first and then we'll warm it. The cold water will help keep the swelling down."

"Shh Ben. Son, It's ok." He tries to soothe the sobbing boy. "I know your foot hurts. We'll have it feeling better soon. I have you and your safe now. Don't cry."

Ben, shaking all over, mumbles something as he hides his face in Ethan's shirt. "What did you say, Ben?" He can just make out "PWEASE Papa. Don't whip Ben! I didn't mean to wet my pants! I'm sowwy Papa! I'm Sowwy!"

Ethan thinks, He sounds very much like a child of three. I wonder why he's so scared. "Ben?" Ethan asks. "It's Uncle Ethan. I have you and you're safe. No one is going to whip you for wetting your pants. It was an accident. You were scared and hurting. Everything will be just fine." He says as he rubs the boy's back as he walks to the house. He feels Ben begin to relax in his arms.

Once inside he gently takes off Ben's boots. Then he examines his foot.

"How does it look?" Claire asks. "Is it broken?" asks Joseph at the same time.

"No, I don't think his foot is broken. I do think some of his toes are though. I think his big toe is alright but the rest I think are broken. It looks as if the horse stepped on the side of the toe of his boot and not the foot itself. We were lucky! It's still going to be swollen and very sore." Ben sobbing quietly and shaking all over hasn't spoken since they came into the house.

"Claire, please bring a pot of water and a cloth into your bedroom. I'll wash him off and change him into a nightshirt. We'll soak his foot in some cold water while the rest of the water heats up. Do you think a warm bath might help him calm down some?" he asks Claire.

"Yes sir. Ben usually falls asleep easier after a warm bath."

"Joseph?" "Do you know why Ben is so upset at wetting his pants? He was begging me not to whip him. He called me Papa though and he kept saying he was sorry for wetting his pants. I've never seen him that upset before. He even sounded like a three year old."

Not getting an answer, Ethan looks over at his oldest nephew. Joseph is sitting on the bench. Ethan can see the boy is fighting tears. His face is red and he's sniffling. "Joseph? What is it?" Ethan asks as he sits beside him.

"Mama had started teaching Ben to use the pot by the time he was two and a half. It was tough having two babies in diapers at the same time. Most of the time by the time he was three, he was pretty good at it. But, he sometimes had trouble getting to the pot in time to use it." Joseph stops and just looks at his uncle with tears in his eyes.

"Go on Joseph, tell me what's bothering you so." Ethan encourages wrapping his arm around Joseph's shoulders.

"One day Mama and Claire went out shopping and they took George. I was eight and Ben had just turned four. I was home with Ben by myself until Papa came home for lunch. When he found out Mama was gone he got really mad. He started throwing pots and yelling. It scared Ben so much that he wet his pants."

"Papa took him into their bedroom, took off Ben's pants and thrashed him with his belt. He had red welts on his legs for two days. Ever since then, Ben has been terrified of having an accident. I don't think he has wet his pants more than once before now. It happened one time when he was five and we were backstage. He had to go really bad but we were told never to leave the backstage room. He didn't tell anyone he had to go until he couldn't wait any longer. Since we were right next to the boarding house we were staying in that trip, I got him home and changed before anyone else ever knew. We made it back just as the show was finishing so we didn't get caught out of the room. If we had been caught Papa would have thrashed us both!"

"Joseph, I want you to know something." Ethan says angrily.

"Sir?" Joseph says his voice squeaking.

"If I ever see your father again, I am going to shoot him! No, I think I'll whip him with a horsewhip and THEN I'll shoot him! What kind of man would beat a child or children! What kind of person would whip a child for something he couldn't even help! It's a good thing I don't have any idea where your sorry excuse for a father is!"

"I wish I could shoot him too! I hate that bastard!" Joseph answers.

"Joseph! No matter how angry you get, you are not to touch any guns and don't you let me hear you say that word again! I do not allow that kind of talk from children! Is that clear?"

Then seeing the look of fear on Joseph's face he says "Joseph, I may get angry and I may punish you when you do something wrong but I promise you I will NEVER beat you or treat you the way your father did! Do you understand son?"

"Yes, Uncle Ethan. I do understand. You already love us and are teaching us to be better. I'm sorry I said that word and I won't talk like that anymore."

"Good, now I need you to go to town and get some things from the mercantile. I'll write out a list of what we need for Ben. I believe Claire has a list of things she needs also. I need her to stay here and help me with Ben so you can take the wagon in by yourself today."

George has been listening to their conversation and asks " Uncle Ethan, can I go to town to help Joseph? I promise to do everything he tells me. I won't cause any problems."

"George, that's a good plan. Joseph can use a big boy like you to help carry things. Isn't that right Joseph?"

"I need a helper alright. Thanks George for coming with me." Joseph says.


In town:

"Mr. Axelrod, here are the eggs and butter for you to sell. Please credit them to our account. My uncle wants a roll of cotton strips, some chloroform and some kind of medicine for pain."

George speaks up then "A horse stepped on my brother's foot and he has four broken toes!" Mr. Axelrod just looks at him shaking his head.

"We also need these groceries, please." Joseph adds handing over the grocery list.

"Very well, I'll have all of this boxed up in a few minutes. Just stand here and DON'T touch anything while I get this ready." Mr. Axelrod tells him.

Joseph eases over to the candy jars while he waits. He thinks "I wonder if I should get some candy. Ben loves licorice and lemon drops. It wasn't on the list though."

George comes over and whispers "Can we get some, Joseph?"

"No, George, Uncle Ethan says we can't get things unless he puts them on the list or is here to ask. We'd better not. If we do we might get in trouble." He puts the lid back on the candy jar just as Mr. Axelrod is placing the box of groceries on the counter.

As Joseph picks up the box, Mr. Axelrod says "Tell your uncle, it is past the first of the month and he owes me money! I want his bill paid by the end of this week or I am cutting off your credit!"

Sighing and wanting to get away from the man, Joseph says "Yes Sir, I'll tell him. Come George we'll sort out things for you to carry once we get outside."


Placing the wooden crate down on the steps to lighten the load, Joseph is surprised to hear Mr. Axelrod say angrily "Where is the cash for that candy? I sell groceries and other things on credit but not candy! I demand that you both pay me for that candy!"

"What candy? We didn't buy any candy!" Joseph answers back just as angrily.

"I know you didn't buy any you impertinent brat! You deserve to have a belt applied to your backside! I would put you over my knee if you were mine! You stole from me! YOU ARE A THIEF!" Mr. Axelrod says loudly. "With Cord as an uncle, it's no wonder you act like this! Him being an ex-gunfighter, he's no better than a criminal himself! Now I see he's raising up some more criminals! Well you won't get by with it in my store! PAY UP, THIEF!"

Before Joseph even thinks about what he's doing he has picked up a large rock and thrown it straight at the front window of the store. The window shatters as the rock hits it. Mr. Axelrod coming down the steps of the mercantile grabs Joseph by the arm and says "WE'RE GOING TO THE SHERIFF!"

He pulls Joseph across the street to the sheriff's office. George follows sobbing.


That afternoon at the ranch:

Ethan has taken Joseph out to the barn for a long talk. "Joseph, what were you thinking when you threw that rock? It's not like you to deliberately damage someone else's property like this. It was hard for me to believe it when the sheriff told me what you had done."

Joseph, crying quietly, says "I'm so sorry Uncle Ethan! I didn't plan to do it! Mr. Axelrod just said things that made me so mad I just acted. Are you going to punish me? Mr. Axelrod said I ought to be given a belt whipping ! He said if I were his kid he would turn me over his knee and whip me. Please don't whip me Uncle Ethan! " Joseph says wiping the tears that keep falling. "Please don't!"

"Joseph, the sheriff heard all of what Mr. Axelrod said to you. First, I want to know, did either of you steal anything from that store?

"NO SIR!" Joseph answers firmly.

"So all of the things Mr. Axelrod said are lies?"

"Yes sir."

Joseph, Mr. Axelrod told the sheriff you had your hand in the candy jar. Is that a lie?"

"I did have my hand on the candy jar but I did NOT take any candy or anything else! I was going to get some candy for Ben but I didn't have any money. I picked up the lid and then I remembered how you don't want us to charge things without asking you first so I didn't get any. I just put the lid back on. We took our box and went outside. HE came out yelling that we were thieves and how we were criminals."

"So you threw the rock because he called you a thief?" Ethan asks incredulously.

"Well, he said a bunch of other hateful things too. He said you were a criminal and it was no wonder I acted the way I did. Uncle Ethan, I'm sorry I lost my temper and broke his window. I'll tell him I'm sorry too." Joseph says.

Biting his lower lip as he watches and waits for his Uncle to speak, he thinks "I really hope he doesn't decide to whip me. He never has before but I've never messed up quite this bad before either!"

Ethan aware of how nervous Joseph is says " Well Joseph, I think apologizing is a good start. You will be assigned extra chores around here for the one month you are going to be confined to the ranch. This will work off the money I will have to pay to fix that window."

"Yes sir. I'll work off the money you have to pay out." Joseph says sighing in relief.

"Joseph? There's one more thing you should know." Ethan says sternly "If you ever get into trouble with the sheriff again, I WILL give you that whipping you are so worried about getting! Son, do you understand what I'm saying?"

"Yes Sir, I understand. I won't be getting in anymore trouble with the sheriff."

"For your sake, I hope you don't." Ethan tells him.

"Now we need to go in and see how Ben is doing. I have his toes strapped down to a board and I know that is painful. Now that you are back I'll be able to have him smell just a little chloroform to put him to sleep. I need to pull his toes straight and then wrap them to the board. I hope he will be able to sleep as much as possible until his toes stop hurting. We'll give him a dose of the pain medicine you brought back as soon as we get his toes set. I want to keep a close watch on him when he takes it."

"Joseph, will you help with Ben over the next few weeks? Claire will need help to do everything she does now plus take care of Ben. I'll be here as often as I can to help also. I'm clearing the field for planting so I need to work as much as I can so we can get the corn in the ground on time."

"Of course I'll help Uncle Ethan. I always look after Ben and George." Joseph says.

"Yes Joseph, now start looking after yourself more so you can stay out of trouble!" Ethan says as he gives the boy a very hard swat on the seat of his pants.

Joseph, jumping at the unexpected swat yelps "Ouch, Uncle Ethan!" Seeing the stern look being sent his way he answers "Yes sir, I promise!" as he rubs his backside.

"Joseph? One other thing. Don't let someone who says hateful things about me cause you to act out. I do appreciate you taking up for me today even if you went about it in the wrong way. I can not allow you to cause damage to someone's property as you did today, no matter what the reason. As hard as it is to do, I expect you to be man enough to ignore someone like Mr. Axlerod who makes you angry. I want you to walk away and be the better person, son. Don't let a bully get his way by allowing yourself to overreact. It can lead to some huge problems for you, if you do."

"Like a whipping?" Joseph asks.

"That or worse. As you get older, you will come to realize there are worse things than a whipping. Remember what I've just told you son. Walk away not react in anger. Also come to me if you are having problems with someone. We'll handle it together."

"Yes sir, but I sure don't know what's worse than a whipping!" Joseph replies as they walk up to the cabin.