by Christy G
Adam Cartwright rode wearily across the meadow, nearly asleep in the saddle. He had spent the last two weeks at the lumber camp working feverishly to fulfill a particularly large timber contract and now that his job was done he was looking forward to a hot bath, a hearty meal, and a long rest, in that order.
Suddenly gunshots rang out from the stand of rocks to the west, and Sport, his bright sorrel, tossed his head and danced nervously. Adam pulled his pistol, whispering soothingly to his horse as he analyzed the situation. He kicked the nervous horse into a slow canter, keeping alert to danger, his tiredness forgotten. More shots rang out, and Adam bit his lip as he neared the origin of the noise, hoping whatever was going on could be resolved without casualties.
As he came into view of the rocks, Adam saw his brother Hoss lean out from behind a boulder, shoot quickly, and jump back into hiding. Adam's eyes followed the path of the shot and realized that his brother had aimed up the nearby hill into a small copse of trees arising from a tangle of bushes. It was clear that the bushes would provide excellent cover for someone attempting to bushwhack Hoss. Adam's mouth drew into a hard, thin line as he wondered who had dared to intrude on the Ponderosa, the Cartwrights' own private land, trying to kill his brother.
No one returned fire from the patch of brush, and as Adam glanced back at the boulder, he saw his other brother, Joe, lean out from the other side or the large rock and fire twice before ducking back into safety. Now Adam was truly alarmed. Whoever was in those bushes was attempting to kill both his brothers. Adam felt a cold wave of fury wash over him and resolved to enter the fight.
From his vantage point he could see a path where he could circle behind the intruders and come up behind them unawares. Adam slipped from his horse and ran silently around the copse, entering it from the side. His eyes searched the brush, but saw no one. He frowned as he heard more shooting coming from the boulder slightly below him, and suspected that his brothers would be running out of ammunition soon. Probably, he thought to himself, that was what the bushwhackers had in mind. Thinking quickly, he called out.
"You're surrounded! Throw out your guns!"
There was no movement or sound, however slight, from the bushes before him, and Adam frowned again. He licked his lips and made a decision. He shot into the air and called out again, more forcefully than before.
"Drop your guns! You're surrounded!"
Suddenly he heard Hoss' voice, sounding very shocked. "Hey, whoever you are, you're on private property. This here's our land, and you're the one who's trespassing, Mister. Now git!"
Adam grinned, pleased that his brother had picked up on the part he should play so quickly. There was no way the men could believe they weren't surrounded now.
"You heard me!" he added conviction to Hoss' assertions. "This is Cartwright land. Show yourself!"
Still there was no answering sound from the bushes.
"You have ten seconds!" he added sharply.
Suddenly, Hoss' voice called out tentatively from below him. "Adam? That you?"
"Yeah! We've got them surrounded," Adam answered, quite pleased with himself and his brothers.
There was a long pause.
"Uh, got who surrounded, Adam?"
Adam rolled his eyes. "Whoever you're shooting at, Hoss," he called, as if to a small child.
"We ain't shootin' at nobody, Adam! What are you doin' up there? Tryin' to kill us?"
"Of course it's Joe! What's the matter with you? Why are you shooting at us?"
"I'm not shooing at you! I'm shooting at whoever is hiding in these bushes, you idiot!"
"Hey! Don't call me an idiot, ya Yankee granite head! And what in tarnation makes you think there's anyone in those bushes?"
Adam frowned and moved closer to the bushes. He could see no footprints, nor any evidence that anyone had secreted themselves inside. He poked through the shrubs a bit, found nothing, then gaveup and walked through the brush and down the hill to stand before his brothers, arms crossed over his chest, one eyebrow raised.
"Care to explain?"
"What'cha doin' down this way, Adam?" Hoss asked. "We didn't think we'd see you 'til later tonight."
"Finished the contract a little earlier than I expected and was on my way home when I saw my two dear brothers fighting for their lives and decided to help out. Proving once again that one should always ignore one's loftier inspirations."
Hoss scrunched up his face as though he had just been caught with a plate of forbidden doughnuts. "We was just practicin', Adam."
Adam nodded calmly. "Practicing...what, exactly?"
Joe and Hoss exchanged a look, and suddenly Adam realized he had no particular interest in whatever it was they had been practicing.
"You know what, Brother? Just forget it. I'm going to continue on home and have a bath. You two just go on playing cops and robbers, or whatever it is you're up to."
He collected Sport and readied to mount. Joe's voice stopped him.
"Adam, ain't you the least bit curious what we were practicing for?"
"No," Adam replied sweetly.
"But you have to be!"
"Ah, but I'm not. Now if you Gentlemen will excuse me, I shall be on my way."
"Wait!" Joe called desperately. "Wait. We give up. We'll tell you!"
"No you won't, because I'm not staying around to listen. Good day to you." He swung up into the saddle.
"Adam!" It was Hoss this time. "You can't leave. We need your help!"
Adam nodded serenely. "I suspected as much. Good-bye."
Joe raced in front of Sport and grabbed the bridle. "If you'll just listen..."
Adam snorted as he looked down at his youngest brother who was gracing him with his most pitiful look, his green eyes pleading and immensely doe-like. "Joe, that look might work with every female west of the Mississippi, but it doesn't work on me. Now if you'll excuse me..." He jerked the reins and Sport pulled away from Joe.
"Adam!" It was Hoss this time, and something in his voice stopped Adam cold. Against his better judgment he sneaked a look at the blond-haired, blue-eyed giant of a man and closed his eyes. Joe he could steel himself against. All he had to do was remind himself of all the trouble he invariably ended up in when his little brother's fertile imagination began working overtime. But when it came to Hoss, even he had to admit that he was the world's biggest sucker.
"Hoss..." Adam almost whined, desperate to get away before he got drawn into another stupid scheme his brothers had thought up.
"Please, Adam?" Hoss asked again, his eyes hopeful.
Adam closed his eyes and groaned, but, almost against his will, he dismounted. "All right. All right, what is it? What dreadful assignment am I going to have to execute? I guess we can leave out serenading Abigail Jones, but I've no doubt you two have come up with some equally repellant task for me to undertake. You know," he added conversationally, "if Pa hadn't ever remarried I could have been an only child. I just mention that in passing, you understand."
"Now, Adam, it ain't nothin', honest," Hoss replied cheerfully.
"That's right, Adam," Joe added. "All you have to do is hide yourself outside the house and shoot at us!"
Adam blinked at his brothers for a moment. "I beg your pardon?" he asked finally, sure he had misunderstood.
"Yep. Nothin' to it. You just hide, maybe around back or in the corral or somethin', and just shoot a bit."
Adam nodded slowly as he took this in. Finally he smiled at his brothers. "Why?" he asked pleasantly.
"'Cause of Suzie, of course," Joe answered, as though this was so obvious a child of two could deduct it. "It'll frighten her."
Adam pursed his lips. "Forgive my curiosity, Brother, but who is Suzie, and why exactly do you wish to frighten her?"
Hoss and Joe looked at one another.
"Dang, I fergot he ain't been home. See Adam, we have these here visitors up to the house, and...
"Let me guess. One of them goes by the name of Suzie."
"That's right," Hoss grinned, pleased with his brother's keen intelligence. "And see, Adam, this is the first time she's been this far west. She and her ma are going to meet her pa in San Francisco, but the stage broke down, and the International House was full, so when Joe and me met them in town, we naturally asked them to stay 'til the stage got fixed."
"Naturally," Adam replied dryly. He looked at Joe. "And I'm guessing that Suzie is about twenty-two with hair the color of ripe wheat in the sunshine and eyes as blue as cornflowers. Close?"
Joe grinned at Hoss. "Just like one of them Swami-fellas, isn't he? Yep, that her all right. Adam, Suzie's just about the prettiest little thing I ever saw, and..."
"Forget it," Adam interrupted. "I've changed my mind. I am not getting mixed up in one of your ridiculous plans so that you can fight me off and win the girl. Among other things, Pa would scalp me. Now I'm going home, having a bath, eating dinner, and going to bed. And if you two know what's good for you, you'll be home before Pa gets to missing you."
"Pa's in Carson City, Adam," Joe said slyly. "He won't know a thing about any of this. So all you have to do is..."
Adam moved toward his horse again, when Hoss caught up with him and grabbed him by the arm, dragging him out of Joe's earshot.
"Adam...it ain't like you think."
"Bet it is," Adam replied shrewdly.
"Well, all right. It is like you think about the plan, but it ain't like you think about Suzie."
"No. See, she's mighty sweet, Adam. I ain't never met a sweeter gal."
Adam looked at Hoss in shock. "Are you telling me you BOTH are after this girl?"
"And does Joe know you feel this way?"
"NO! And I don't aim to tell him, neither. See, Suzie was sayin' last night that a gal needs a powerful brave man to take care of her out here in the West, and she don't aim to go out with no feller who cain't prove he's the bravest there is. That's why Joe done came up with this plan. But he don't know I got a plan of my own. See, he wants me to be in the fight with him, and pretend to get hurt, so that he can save not only Suzie and her ma, but me too, proving to her he's the bravest. Well, I got me an idea. See, when Joe ain't lookin', I'm gonna bash him one, and save the day myself! Then Suzie'll fall for me!"
With a tremendous effort, Adam managed to keep a straight face. "I see. And where I come in is..."
Hoss motioned Joe over and explained the plan. "See, Suzie's ain't more scairt of nothin' than someone breakin' in and robbin' the place. So all you gotta do is yell it's a stickup, and start shootin' some. Easy as pie!"
Adam looked affronted. "I will not! I helped Pa build that house, and I will not shoot it full of holes!"
Joe rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Fine, fine. Then shoot in the air. I don't care. Just don't shoot me or Suzie. Or Hoss," he added as an afterthought. "At least, not too bad. We don't wanna kill him."
"Dadburn you, Little Joe. He ain't s'pose ta shoot me, neither!"
"All right, all right. Whatever. Listen Adam, just make it look good, and it'll be all over in no time."
"And then what? I go off and do my stretch at the Territorial Prison, I suppose?"
"No, no. See, that's the beauty of it. You get away, and I get the girl. What could be more perfect?"
Adam could think of a whole host of things that could be more perfect, but one more glance at the lovelorn look on Hoss' face, and he found, almost to his own surprise, that he was consenting to the asinine plan.
"I might get recognized. I'll need to wear a mask or something over my face..."
"Sure thing, Adam. Hoss, give Adam your handkerchief. Now remember, Adam. You gotta make this look scary. Make sure you shoot near enough that Suzie'll be really terrified. I want to impress her right. Now you give us about twenty minutes head start. That'll give us time to make sure Suzie and her ma are in the living room when you come attack. That way they can see and hear everything real well."
"You realize, of course, that this is the stupidest scheme in the history of mankind."
"You know what your problem is, Adam? You're a pessimist, that's what. Come on, Hoss. Let's get going."
Hoss and Joe rode off, and Adam wrestled with the strong urge to high-tail it to town for the night. But he had promised Hoss. So, reluctantly, very reluctantly, he mounted Sport and rode slowly towards the ranch house.
I cannot believe I am doing this, he thought to himself. And here I always prided myself on my brains. Adam Cartwright, he told himself, you are the world's biggest imbecile.
Before long he saw the barn looming before him. He sighed deeply, thought once more of Hoss' face, and dismounted. He withdrew his rifle and pushed Sport into the barn. Pulling the handkerchief over his face, he wished again that he had been an only child before running silently toward the house. He secreted himself behind the pine tree in the front yard and yelled as loud as the handkerchief would permit.
"This is a hold-up! Come out with your hands up and no one gets hurt!" He shot the gun into the air for good measure.
He waited a moment longer, but when nothing happened, he gnashed his teeth and started over. "A hold-up, I said. Come out, and bring your valuables with you!"
This is really not my line of work, Adam thought as, once again, nothing happened. Blasted brothers.
"NOW!" he yelled in his most Pa-like voice.
That did it. There was a very feminine shriek from inside the house and suddenly the door was flung open. Adam started laughing uproariously as he saw his two brothers fighting one another for the chance to exit the house first. After a moment of comical combat, Hoss, by far the stronger, simply picked Joe up, placed him in back, and ran out, his pistol at the ready. Joe was close on his tail.
"Come on out, ya yellow-bellied sidewinder! I ain't scairt a you!" Hoss hollered.
Adam laughed again and decided to make this a little more fun. He aimed and a bullet suddenly whined off one of the porch supports. Hoss hit the ground, his hands over his head. Joe took the opportunity to bolt ahead, waving his gun in what he clearly believed was a masterly fashion.
"It's all over, Mister. Give up! I got you in my sights!"
Unfortunately, since Joe's sight had been blocked by Hoss when the shot was fired, he was unaware where Adam was hiding, and he was now facing the empty corral, bravely holding the gun in front of him.
Adam toyed with the idea of whining a shot off the ground at Joe's feet. The idea was so delicious that he found he couldn't help himself. By now Hoss had gotten to his feet and joined Joe facing the corral. The two were jockeying for the best position, and Adam chuckled as he aimed carefully. Just as he was about to squeeze the trigger, the sound of a gun clicking coldly beside his head froze him in place.
"You put gun down now, or Hop Sing shoot," a voice said.
Adam froze. He glanced out of the corner of his eye and saw the diminutive Ponderosa cook standing firmly and without a hint of fear on his face. Adam immediately dropped the gun.
Hoss and Joe turned in time to see Adam marching, hands up, towards the porch, Hop Sing close on his trail.
"Listen, Hop Sing. You don't understand. This is all a big misunderstanding," Adam attempted.
"You quiet. Mr Hoss, get rope to tie up. Little Joe fetch sheriff."
"NO!" the two cried in unison, horrified at the thought of what Adam would do to them once he got his hands on them.
Hop Sing practically stamped his foot in anger. "Hop Sing always have to do everything. Now you help, or fatha hear about it!"
Joe and Hoss immediately ran over to Adam. "We'll take care of things now, Hop Sing. You go on in and rest," Joe told him with his most winning smile.
They manhandled Adam away, beginning to move him toward the barn, just as they heard a high, feminine voice calling out in delighted awe. "Oh, Hop Sing! You're the bravest man I ever met! Just think what might have happened to Mama, me, and the Cartwright boys if you hadn't been there to save all of us! Come sit down and rest. Let me get you something to eat and drink. After all that, you must be starving!"
The three Cartwrights turned in shock and saw the golden-haired Suzie grasping Hop Sing by the arm and leading him to the most comfortable chair on the porch. They stared in a daze as Hop Sing, whom none of them had ever seen sit in the presence of company, sank down gratefully on the porch as Suzie ran inside to fetch food and drink for her hero.
Hop Sing glanced over at the three boys, grinned, and waved. "Hop Sing very happy. Hop Sing thank you very much!" he called to them before leaning back and blissfully closing his eyes.