"Ethan, did you see that telegram I left on your desk this morning?"
"Yes, I saw it, Mitch"
"Well, what do you plan to do? We can't very well stop the fair from happening. The whole town is abuzz about the wonderful event. Everywhere I go I hear about people's plans and events they are going to participate in. They've even started asking me which events I plan to take part in!"
"It sounds to me as if you are not overly thrilled with this upcoming event, Mitch. Do you dislike fairs for some reason? It seems you would be a natural at the target shooting event or would you prefer the pie eating contest?" Ethan teases the younger man.
"It's hard to be excited over a fair when you know what kind of people travel with it. Ethan, if the telegram is correct there are criminals involved in the fair operation. Is this what we want to bring to Paradise? I don't think it is." Mitch replies. "This type of thing brings out the pickpockets and people who deliberately cheat others out of hard earned money. I've seen it happen before."
"Explain to me what has you so worked up, Mitch. I know you have a passion for honesty as do I, but this anger of yours is something different. I'd like to know if you don't mind sharing the reason."
"Do you remember me telling you that I lost my Mother when I was eight?"
At Ethan's nod he continues, "My Mother didn't die. She ran off to be with a traveling carnival. The carnival had been in town for three days and she became convinced she belonged with them instead of her family. One morning we woke up and she was gone. Two months later my Father and the local sheriff tracked her down. My Father tried to get her to come back but she wouldn't come so he left her."
"I understand now why you have such strong feelings towards this upcoming fair." Ethan says.
"My whole life changed when she ran off. I guess that's why I understood young Billy so well. He went through something similar. My Father was deeply hurt and angry. He stayed around but didn't involve himself much with us. It was left up to my older brother and sister at fourteen and twelve to look after me and my younger brothers. That's why I dislike the fair/carnival people so much.
"As you said earlier we can't stop the fair from happening nor can we stop the carnival workers from participating. What we can and will do is be there during the event to do our best at keeping trouble away. You know, it is times like this when I wish Tom had not decided to move back to Colorado Springs. I never wanted to be a sheriff. I never even wanted to be a deputy to tell the truth! He talked me into it or shamed me into it is more like it. I appreciate the fact that you have experience with the law and are willing to be a deputy sheriff, Mitch."
"It hasn't been too bad Ethan. So far we've been lucky at not having too many criminals come through the area. Let's hope we continue to have that luck! I rather like the fact that Paradise is a calm place with only the occasional brawl at a saloon or a problem with the mine workers. We even seem to have the Anderson twins calmed down for now.
"You may be right Mitch, but let's don't get too calm. I know how quickly things can change. Now speaking of young ones, I need to go home to check on mine. When I left this morning Ben and George were already complaining and arguing about their chores for the day. Those two have become champions at trying to get out of chores. It's getting to Joseph. This morning he followed me out to the barn and requested permission to as he put it 'set their backsides on fire'. I told him to put them in their room but I did not give permission for him to spank them."
"Joseph is a good big brother, Ethan. He cares a lot for those two. It's frustrating for him when they refuse to listen to him. My older brother walloped me several times when I was growing up. I needed it and he knew it. It didn't cause me to hate him."
At Ethan's hard look, he adds "Just sharing a thought, Ethan. I'm not suggesting anything."
Riding up to the corral at the ranch Ethan notices Joseph's new saddle and saddle blanket lying in the dirt. The boy's new horse is in the corral with a harness on and reins dragging the ground. Tying his horse to the fence he walks to the house intending to have a stern talk with his oldest nephew. Walking up he sees Joseph sitting unhappily on the front porch steps.
Before Joseph can even say anything he finds himself being taken to the corral rather forcefully by his Uncle. "Explain this!" Ethan demands angrily. "You know not to leave a horse alone with reins trailing! You also know very well how I expect the tack to be treated. Throwing it in the dirt and leaving is not acceptable, Joseph! What were you thinking?"
"This is what happened Uncle Ethan. I was working with Brown Betsy and tied her up to go out back. When I came back I saw Ben and George in the corral. They had her up against the rails with her blanket on and Ben dropped the saddle on her. It frightened her and she galloped away dropping the saddle and blanket. I've been working with her for weeks and just got to the point where she'll let me put a saddle on and now she won't let me even get near her. Every time I walk towards her she runs. The boys spooked her and she's afraid of everything. I was so angry I just didn't stop to pick up the saddle or blanket."
"Joseph come with me. Let's get your horse and take her to the pasture. After that please go take care of my horse while I have a talk with your brothers. "
Joseph is busy rubbing down his uncles' horse when Claire comes into the barn.
"Joseph, what did the boys do? I saw Uncle Ethan's face as he came in and he is really upset. He took the boys into their room to talk. I left when I heard him tell Ben to drop his pants. I didn't want to hear the boys being punished."
"I'm glad they're getting a walloping because they certainly deserve it." Joseph says. "Let me tell you what they did and you'll see why Uncle Ethan is so mad."
"They know better than to go around a horse without one of us or Uncle Ethan there! To try to saddle your horse like that is dangerous. Why would they do such a thing? Especially after the thousands of times they've been warned about being around the horses!" Claire exclaims.
The barn door opens and Ethan comes inside with Ben and George. "Joseph the boys have something they want to say to you. While you boys talk, Claire and I will be inside. Claire, would that pie on the table be ready to be tasted by any chance? I make a very good judge so how about you practice for the contest with me?"
Laughing at his silly expression Claire tells him "Come on Uncle Ethan, I'll give you the very first piece of my newest recipe. I'm pretty sure this is the one I'm going to make to enter the contest at the fair."
As they leave Joseph looks at his younger brothers waiting to hear what they've come out to say. He can see they have both been crying. When neither boy says anything Joseph says "I can see you were scolded already so I'm not going to fuss about this. I would like to know why. Why did you go into the corral and try to saddle my horse? She's not ready for other people to be around her and she's definitely not ready for young boys to try to put a saddle on her. You really frightened her."
George, with tears running down his face says "I'm so sorry Joseph. We only wanted to help you train her. We thought if we could get the saddle on she would like it and you wouldn't have to spend so much time working with her."
"I'm sorry too, Joseph. I didn't mean to spook your new horse. I just wanted to see if I could get her to accept the saddle. I won't bother your horse anymore. I don't want to scare her and I certainly don't want to get in trouble again." Ben says rubbing his backside.
"I forgive you boys. But, you both have been told so many times, to stay away from horses without one of us with you. If you had obeyed you wouldn't have the sore backside you have now. Come on, let's go in and see if Uncle Ethan left us some of that pie Claire baked."
"Alright everyone, remember what we talked about at home. I want you to stay together at all times. Ben, George, you are to do exactly as Claire and Joseph tell you without arguing. You are to stay on this side of the fairgrounds and not go past the large tent. The other side of the fairgrounds is off limits. I don't want you around that area at all. That's where the carnival people are set up. These people travel with the fair and I don't believe they are safe to be around. Everyone understand?" Ethan says.
"I've given Joseph the money for today. Mitch and I will be walking around so if you need one of us come find us. Claire, good luck with the pie contest. I think you have the winning pie! I'll meet you all back here at three o'clock. Joseph, you do still have that pocket watch I lent you right?"
"Yes sir, I brought it in my pocket just like you told me too." Joseph answers trying not to sound aggravated. He doesn't need to keep on and on about all this we went over it this morning and last night! Jeeesh! Joseph thinks barely keeping himself from rolling his eyes.
After his Uncle finally left, Ben asks "Joseph, Claire, can we please go get on the big wheel ride now? Please?"
"It's called a ferris wheel Ben and yes, we'll all go get on it now. You both have to sit down and you can't stand up until it's time to get off. Remember how we watched it earlier? The wheel turns around and the place where you sit goes around too. Sometimes the wheel will stop at first so other people can get on too." Claire explains.
"Look Ben, the seats look like a outside table with and umbrella over it." George says as Joseph pays for them to get on.
"Okay let's get in guys. Ben you sit beside me and George you sit between me and Claire. The man said eight people would fit in here. We might have to sit and wait for someone else to get in." Joseph tells them.
After a few minutes the wheel moves and the children are lifted up to the top of the wheel.
"Well, I guess it didn't matter if there weren't eight people in here. Look guys, you can see all the way across the fairgrounds!" Joseph tells the boys.
"I see Mitch and Papa way over there! Claire, do you think they can see us way up here?"
"George, I just don't know. If they were really looking for us they might be able to." Claire answers. "When we get off we need to go to the big tent for the pie judging. It should be over by now. I want to see if I won a ribbon. After that we'll go get something to eat. What do you want to eat boys?"
Ben says "I want to get one of those frankfurters on the bun we saw coming in. They were boiling them and they smelled really good! Then I want one of those spun sugar things on that paper cone, an apple with candy on it, some popcorn and…"
"Ben we don't have enough money to buy all of that, remember? Besides Uncle Ethan said we could only get two treats. You'll just have to pick out the two you want the most." Claire reminds him gently.
"I want to try one of those franks foot things too and I want some of that fairy hair that we saw them spinning out of sugar." George tells her.
When the children arrive at the tent where the baked goods are displayed they see something attached to the table in front of Claire's pie.
"Look Claire! You won a ribbon!" George shouts pointing to the table. He grabs his sister's hand and pulls her over to the table.
George asks "Joseph, why didn't you want to enter a contest like Claire did? You probably could have won a ribbon too!"
"I wanted to enter the wood chopping contest but Uncle Ethan said it was too dangerous. He said I could try the pie eating contest but I didn't want to do that. Eating all that pie would make me sick! I can't bake like Claire can so I sure couldn't enter this contest."
Turning to look at his sister's ribbon he says "That's great Claire! Your pie came in second out of all of these who entered." Then smiling at his sister he says "Now let's go find something to eat. I'm ready to try something new for lunch. I might even try one of George's franks foot things! He says laughing.
At George's confused look, Ben explains "They are called frankfurters George, not frank's foot."
As the children sit at a wooden table eating their lunch, George and Ben are talking about what they want to do next.
"Let's go play that game where you throw the rings at the bottles and that place where they had balloons to pop with those metal pointy things!' George says.
"Those are called darts George." Joseph explains. "They're very sharp on the ends. We're not going to do that game. We'll find another one."
"I want to do the ones where you shoot the guns at the pictures of ducks, throw the balls to knock down bottles and then let's go to the fortune teller lady." Ben tells George.
"I thought you wanted to see the hot air balloon, Ben." Joseph says listening to their list of activities.
"Yeah I do want to do that too."
"Well we can't go see a fortune teller because that's on the side Uncle Ethan told us to stay away from. We'll try to do everything else though." Joseph tells his brother.
Later after Ben and George finish trying their luck at a ring the bottle game, Claire asks "Joseph, what time is it now? We need to remember to have enough time to get back to the largest tent to meet Uncle Ethan at three o'clock."
Joseph reaches into his pockets, finding the watch missing he says "The watch! It's gone. I must have dropped it somewhere. Help me look for it!"
Joseph walks over to ask the man at the game booth if anyone's turned in a watch. "No I'm sorry young man. I haven't seen a pocket watch. You'd better find it quick before someone else does because likely or not they'll probably keep it." Then seeing the worried look on Joseph's face he asks "Have you looked everywhere you've been since you last saw it?"
"No sir, I just looked right around this booth when I found it was missing. "
"Well, go back and check the other places too. It might be that you'll be in luck and find it." The man answers.
Going back to his sister and brothers Joseph says "It wasn't over there but the man says to look around at the places we've been and we might find it. We've just got to find it! I'll be in so much trouble if I've lost that watch!"
Ben says "George and I will go back over to the shooting ducks booth and you and Claire can look somewhere else." Joseph nods his agreement.
"Okay but stay there. Even if you can't find the watch wait for us right there. Don't wander off!" he reminds his brothers.
A few minutes later Ben says "George, I think I need to look in the back of the booth in case someone dropped it back there. Stay here and wait." As soon as Ben gets behind the booth he runs behind all of the other booths until he passes the large tent separating the two sides of the fairgrounds. Once on the other side he immediately goes inside to see the fortune teller in her tent.
"I need help Ma'am. I need you to help me find something." He tells the surprised woman sitting at a table.
"Well then, come in young man. Let's see what I can do for you."
"It's my brother. He lost a really special watch and if he doesn't find it he's going to get in really big trouble. We've been looking but we can't find it! I thought you could look in your ball and help us. Please!"
"Where were you when you saw the watch last. Do you remember?"
"He checked the time when we were in the tent looking at Claire's winning ribbon. She won for the pie baking contest."
"Well, I think you should go back and look there. That's where you will probably find the missing watch. Tell me about yourself. I don't get many young ones to come see me. You have a brother and a sister whom you care about a lot don't you?"
Ben stares at her wondering "How'd she know that?"
"I have two brothers one is older and one is younger then my sister is the oldest. She's fifteen, Joseph is thirteen and George is eight. We live with our Uncle but he adopted us last year so he's really our parent now. He's the sheriff here in Paradise. He was a deputy until sheriff Tom left to go back to Colorado Springs." Ben tells the woman who is sitting and smiling at him. "We went to Colorado Springs last year and I saw a fortune teller lady's booth but …"
That's as far as he gets when he hears a very stern voice outside the tent say "Benjamin Ethan Carroll Cord! COME. OUT. HERE. NOW!"
Going very pale in the face Ben says "Bye Ma'am. Thanks for the help. I've got to go now." as he leaves the tent.
When he reaches his uncle, Ethan walks him away from the many tents nearby. "EXPLAIN! What are you doing here? Where are your sister and brothers? Didn't I tell you to stay together?"
Choosing to answer the last question first Ben says "Yes sir, but I had to come talk to the lady to get her to help me with a problem."
"I can't say what it is right now." Ben says as he sees his Uncles eyes narrow angrily.
"So you're not going to tell me the reason you deliberately disobeyed me? You knew I don't want you on this side of the fairgrounds because it isn't safe and yet you came anyway. I also told you to stay with Joseph and Claire and since neither of them is here, I would say you disobeyed me on that too."
At Ben's nod and quiet "yes sir" Ethan says "Ben I'm strongly tempted to put you over my knee and wallop your backside right here! I've always said I would try not to do that in public so I won't this time. However, you and I are going to have a session in the barn when we get home. Do you hear what I'm telling you?"
"Yes sir. Uncle Ethan if you wallop me now would you still take me to the barn?"
"No, you would not have more punishment, why?"
"Go ahead and wallop me now. I don't want to take a trip to the barn when we get home!" Ben pleads.
"I've already made the decision Ben. I'm not changing it. Now, let's go find your brothers and sister. They must be very worried about you."
Walking back up to the largest tent they see Joseph, Claire and George waiting.
"Uncle Ethan, Ben ran off and we didn't know where he went. We looked but couldn't find him." Joseph explains quickly, thinking he might be in trouble for letting Ben wander off. Then turning to Ben he asks "Where were you? We looked all over everywhere on this side and couldn't find you anywhere. Why did you run off like that?"
"The reason you couldn't find him is because he traipsed himself over to visit with the fortune teller. I caught him just as he was telling her our family story." Ethan tells Joseph.
Joseph opens his mouth to scold Ben when they hear a loud explosion. A few minutes later, one of the town council members comes running up and breathlessly says "Sheriff! Someone just said that was at the bank! I saw Mitch running that way just now!"
Turning to the children Ethan says "Stay here on THIS SIDE of the fairgrounds! If I'm not back here by five thirty then I want you all to go home and wait for me there. Do NOT come anywhere near the bank. Do you understand me?" He looks straight at Joseph at the last order.
"Yes Sir." Joseph answers knowing his Uncle is mostly talking to him.
After he leaves Ben asks "Joseph, did you find the watch?"
"Of course not! I had to look for you so I couldn't keep looking for the watch! Uncle Ethan might whip me when he finds out I lost that watch! Especially since I argued with him about pinning it to my shirt pocket. I told him I could keep up with it and didn't need him to pin it on me like a little kid. Now I've gone and lost it! He told me to be very careful to keep up with it. It's an expensive watch. I wish I had just listened and let him pin it. I wouldn't be in trouble now."
"We don't listen to good do we Joseph? He's probably going to whip me too. He said he was going to take me to the barn when we got home because I disobeyed him." Ben says. "The fortune teller lady said we need to look everywhere we've been to find the watch and to check the last place you remember having it."
"Well, we've already looked so let's just forget it for now. There's nothing I can do about it. Let's go look at the hot air balloon. We might even get a chance to get inside the basket." Joseph answers.
When the children reach the balloon they see several people standing inside the basket of the balloon. As they watch the balloon rises into the air until it suddenly stops.
"Joseph, why didn't it keep going up?" George asks.
"Look at the ground George. Do you see the stakes with the ropes tied to them?" When George nods, Joseph says "Those ropes are tied to the basket of the balloon so it can't go any higher."
"How is that man going to get the balloon back down, Joseph?" Ben asks.
"I'm not sure. We'll have to watch and see what he does, Ben."
Watching they see the man reach up and twist something under the balloon.
"Look it's coming back down! Maybe we can ride up now!" Ben says excitedly.
Once the balloon is on the ground they hear " Break time folks. No more rides for thirty minutes."
"Claire, If you'll stay here with the boys I'm going to go back to the big tent to look for the watch. I'll be back in just a few minutes."
"Alright Joseph. We'll wait here." Claire answers.
"Claire, can we go look at the balloon Please? We won't wander off we'll stay right there." Ben asks.
"Go ahead but don't get in the balloon, just look at it."
At the balloon Ben decides to climb up into the basket to get a better look at the inside.
"Ben! Get out of there, Claire said not to!" George scolds.
"I'm not hurting anything, I'm just looking. So don't tell!" Ben says. Then seeing Joseph coming, he squats down hiding in the basket. He knows Joseph would be more likely to swat him than Claire. He reaches up to grab hold of a handle hanging under the balloon. Pulling it he's surprised to see a flame shoot up and to feel the balloon rising.
"Claire! Joseph! The balloon is going up and Ben's in it!" George shouts.
Hearing this Joseph looks up to see the basket rising. Running he grabs the side of the basket and pulls himself in just as the ropes tying it down pull loose. Looking down Joseph sees the basket is too far above the ground to jump.
Claire, watching the balloon rise tells George "Run and get Uncle Ethan and Mitch. Tell them about the balloon taking off with Joseph and Ben inside. They're at the bank, now hurry!
Several men are standing outside the bank looking at the hole blasted in the wall. As he runs up George hears "They used dynamite and blasted the safe open. It took out the wall too. Someone said it was carnival people that did it! Lucky for me I didn't have money in there. The sheriff's sent a telegram for the federal marshal to come."
George pushes his way through the crowd calling "Papa, we need help! Hurry!"
"What's happened George?" Ethan asks as he crouches down beside the sobbing child.
"Ben, Joseph, up in balloon, by themselves, ropes pulled out." George manages to get out between sobs.
"Mitch! I need your help. Ben and Joseph are up in that balloon by themselves!" Ethan calls back to Mitch inside the bank.
"Jim! I'm borrowing your horse! Let's go George! " Ethan says lifting the boy and running to the nearby horse. After putting George in the saddle he swings up behind him and races after the runaway balloon. When he gets close enough to Claire he swings George to the ground and keeps riding. Mitch catches up minutes later.
"Ethan, I think we can grab hold of the ropes soon, the basket seems to be coming down some." Mitch says after they have ridden closer. As the basket begins to drop, the men are able to catch the ropes dangling from the side. They are able to hold the balloon but not pull it down.
"Joseph if you can hear me, look to see if there are sandbags tied to the balloon. Use the sand to put out the flame." Ethan yells up to the boys.
A few minutes later the basket begins to sink. Ethan and Mitch pull the ropes to guide it to the ground. Ethan reaches in and lifts Ben out as Mitch helps Joseph climb over the side.
"Are you both alright?" Ethan asks after hugging both boys.
Hearing them both say "Yes Sir" he asks "What did the two of you think you were doing? You could have been killed! We might not have been able to stop the balloon! His relief at getting them out safely has turned to anger at their foolishness.
"Uncle Ethan, Ben is the one who deliberately climbed into the basket. It started to rise and I was able to run and climb in just before it went out of reach. Once I got in I didn't know how to get it to go back down." Joseph explains trying to keep his legs from shaking from fright now that he's back on the ground.
"Ben! Why would you climb into that basket without an adult nearby? You know better! That stunt put you and your brother in danger!" Ethan asks gripping the boy by his shoulders to look into his eyes.
"I wanted a close up look at the balloon. I didn't think it would hurt anything. Then I saw the handle and pulled it and the balloon caught on fire and went up before I could get out." Ben tries to explain.
Ethan says "We'll add this to our discussion in the barn when we get home, Ben. If I were you I would do my best not to get into any more trouble today. If you do you won't be sitting comfortably for several days! Both of you go wait by the horses and don't move from that spot!"
"Thank you Mitch for helping get them down safely. I've had all the excitement and fright I can handle for one day. I'm taking the children home. I've wired for the federal marshals to come, they'll be here tomorrow to check into the robbery. If anything else comes up I'll be at the ranch."
"You know Ethan, I'm very grateful I don't have children after going through this. I don't know how you stay so calm. My hand itched to turn Ben over my knee right here! That boy is too curious for his own good. He's going to get himself hurt one day!"
"After our discussion later, he's going to think hard before he puts himself or someone else in danger again! You won't be seeing Ben in town for several weeks either. He's going to be confined to the house and then the ranch for quite awhile. Ethan informs him.
Standing by the horses, Ben says "Joseph, I'm sorry. I don't mean to be so much trouble. Are you mad at me? I caused you to miss out on finding the watch and then you had to try to rescue me. Uncle Ethan is going to whip me when we get home so please don't be mad at me too!"
"I'm not mad at you Ben. You deserve a whipping though. You know not to do such dangerous things! You'd better hope he just uses his belt instead of the razor strap. Oh, I found the watch. It was under the table where Claire's pie was. I must have dropped it when we were in there earlier."
"Joseph, that fortune teller can tell what's going to happen. She told me to look back where the pie contest was to find your watch. Maybe we can get her to tell us who robbed the bank too!" Ben says eagerly.
"You'd better just keep that thought to yourself, Ben. If you let Uncle Ethan hear you say that you will be doing everything standing up for days! You're already in enough trouble!" Joseph warns him.
"Yeah, I know but I still think she could help! You could go talk to her for me!"
"Absolutely not, Ben! I am not going to risk getting myself into trouble. We'll let Uncle Ethan handle the robbery his way this time."