It all started the day after Ben Cartwright left on a business trip, leaving his sons Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe to run the Ponderosa. While on an errand in Virginia City, Little Joe came across a book on hypnotism that somebody had discarded. Unfortunately, it was an old book, with some pages missing. The parts that were missing had included these warnings:
Be sure to read this book in its entirety before attempting to hypnotize anybody.
Never hypnotize anybody without getting his or her full consent.
It is best to have an experienced hypnotist present the first few times you practice hypnotism.
Adam had seen Little Joe come in with the book, but he didn't think anything about it at the time.
"It's probably one of those dime novels he likes so much," Adam thought.
After reading part, only part, of the book, Little Joe thought he knew enough to be able to hypnotize somebody. Not Adam. Not Pa, even if he had been at home. No, there was only one logical victim... er... subject... Hoss.
Hoss proved to be an extremely easy subject. Little Joe "put him under" without his knowledge or consent, and without the presence of an experienced hypnotist.
"And whenever you hear the word chicken," Little Joe instructed Hoss, "you will twirl around three times, flap your arms, stand on the tips of your toes, and crow cock-a-doodle-doo!"
"Twirl around three times, flap my arms, stand on the tips of my toes, and crow cock-a-doodle-doo!" Hoss repeated.
Adam came in from the stables an hour later. He went to wash for dinner, and then came back into the parlor.
"Supper is ready," Hop Sing announced.
"What are we having?" Little Joe asked.
Hoss stood up, twirled around three times. flapped his arms, stood on the tips of his toes, and crowed cock-a-doodle-doo!"
"Now, Hoss, we all know how much you love Hop Sing's fried chicken," Adam began. He did not get to finish his sentence. For the second time in less than two minutes, Hoss stood up, twirled around three times. flapped his arms, stood on the tips of his toes, and crowed "cock-a-doodle-doo!"
In fact, all through that meal, whenever anybody used the word chicken, Hoss would stand up, twirl around three times, flap his arms, stand on the tips of his toes, and crow "cock-a-doodle-doo!"
Little Joe used the word chicken as often as he could.
"Hop Sing, this is great fried chicken."
"Adam, please pass the chicken."
"Hoss, would you like some more chicken?"
The next day, while Hoss was in town to get some supplies, he met Clarissa Lawrence, a young lady well-known for her cooking. Clarissa was wearing a rose-pink dress, matched perfectly by her bonnet.
"Would you like to come to dinner Friday night?" she asked. "I'm making my famous chicken.."
Before she could get out the words "and dumplings," Hoss twirled around three times, flapped his arms, stood on the tips of his toes, and crowed cock-a-doodle-doo!"
"Well,!" Clarissa said, "there is no need to make fun of a lady when she invites you to dinner!" She slapped Hoss across the face. "I rescind my invitation!"
A thoroughly confused Hoss stared as Clarissa walked off with her nose very much in the air.
There were a number of incidents besides that one, including the following:
Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe walked into the saloon just as someone asked, "Say, Bert, have you heard from your brother Tom lately?"
"Yes, Pete, I have."
Bert's brother, Tom, raised chickens. Pete started to ask how Tom's chicken ranch was going. As soon as Pete said the word chicken, however, Hoss twirled around three times, flapped his arms, stood on the tips of his toes, and crowed "cock-a-doodle-doo!"
Unfortunately, as Hoss flapped his arms, he knocked over a drink onto somebody's lap.
The man whose pants had been soaked stood up and growled, "Watch what you're doing, Twinkletoes!"
Everyone in the saloon, except Hoss and his older brother Adam, laughed. Little Joe giggled.
"Who are you calling Twinkletoes?" Hoss asked.
"You, Twinkletoes," the man answered, "And THIS is for knocking over that drink!"
He punched Hoss in the face. Hoss returned the punch. Little Joe and Adam got involved, and a major brawl ensued. Fists flew. Drinks were flung into men's faces. Chairs were knocked over. Some men went sailing over tables, while others were thrown into the street.
But the worst incident of all was the one that took place on Sunday.
Neither Adam, nor Hoss, nor Little Joe expected any problems during the church services. After all, the annual chicken dinner was months away. Unfortunately, that morning the minister chose to preach from Matthew 23. He came to verse 37.
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens..."
Hoss stood up, right there in the aisle of the church, twirled around three times. flapped his arms, stood on the tips of his toes, and crowed cock-a-doodle-doo!"
"Sit down and shut up, Twinkletoes!" someone called. "You're in church!"
Hoss turned, as the cliche goes, red as a beet. Then again, no beet was ever that red.
Several members of the congregation snickered, including Little Joe.
Ben Cartwright returned from his trip the next day. His friends and acquaintances accosted him with stories about Hoss' strange behavior.
"You can read about it here," someone said, handing Ben a newspaper.
"Thank you," Ben said. He scanned the paper. "And I'm sure," he added, "that there is a logical explanation for all this." (Privately, he could not imagine what that logical explanation could be.)
Not long afterwards, Ben walked into the house and confronted Hoss with the newspaper article.
"Twinkletoes Cartwright," he fumed. "Care to explain this, Hoss? Can you tell me just what got into you? I go away on a business trip, and this is what I come home to!"
"Well, Pa, I don't rightly know what's going on, but it just seems that lately, whenever I hear the word "chicken"
Hearing even himself use the word "chicken," Hoss twirled around three times, flapped his arms, stood on the tips of his toes and crowed, "Cock-a-doodle doo!"
"I did it again, huh, Pa."
"Yes," said Ben, "you did."
"Dadburn it! Even when I'm the one who says chi... that word, it happens."
"Can somebody tell me how this started?" Ben demanded.
"I sure can't," said Hoss.
Little Joe was torn between two old sayings. One of those sayings was "Confession is good for the soul." The other was, "Discretion is the better part of valor."
"Whatever is causing this seems to have come upon Hoss out of the blue," Adam said. "It's almost as if he'd been hypnotized." And then, Adam had a sudden thought. "Wait a minute," he interrupted himself. "Little Joe, what was that book you came home with the other day?"
"Uh, well... it... it was..." Little Joe stammered.
"Was it, perhaps, a book on hypnotism?"
"Ye- yes, Pa."
"Go get that book. NOW!"
Little Joe went, returning quickly with the book.
"Now," Ben ordered, "you will bring your brother out of this hypnotic spell!"
Little Joe looked through the book.
"The... the chapter on how to... bring people out... is missing."
"You mean you can't bring your brother out of it?"
"I... well... I guess not."
"Well, young man," Ben said, "you will go to the library, and get another book on hypnotism. And this time, you will make sure that it includes the instructions for bringing people out. And," he added severely, "you can be very glad that you are too old to spank!"
"I ain't so sure he is, Pa," said Hoss, lunging at his little brother.
"Perhaps," Adam suggested, "I should be the one to get the book."
"Yes," Ben agreed, "that might be the better plan."
"Unfortunately," Adam said, "the library won't be open until tomorrow."
"Well," Ben said, "until Hoss is cured, nobody on the Ponderosa is to use that word."
Hop Sing came in an hour later and announced that supper was ready.
"What are we having?" Adam asked.
"Hungarian style ch... " Hop Sing corrected himself. "Hungarian-style rooster."
The next day, Adam went to the library in Virginia City and took out a book on hypnotism.
Little Joe read the chapter on how to bring someone out of a hypnotic state very carefully, perhaps more carefully than he had ever read anything in his life. He read the chapter three times, just to make sure he didn't miss anything important.
Then, he used what he had learned.
"Supper is ready," Hop Sing announced two hours later.
"What are we having?" Ben asked.
"Stewed chicken," Hop Sing answered.
"Good," said Hoss.
"He's cured!" said Adam.
"Thank Heaven!" Ben exclaimed. He looked around the room, and saw an all-too-familiar sight.
If only Little Joe could be hypnotized into keeping his feet off the table!