Topsy Turvy


By Jennie A.
And
Debbie B ;0)

Joe woke, rubbing his eyes and stretching his arms over his head. Glancing toward the window, Joe could tell by the bright morning sun that today would be a beautiful April day. Joe smiled to himself, today would be perfect, he and Hoss had planned to go up to the lake and do a little fishing. All the work was caught up and Pa had given them the okay just last night.

Joe stretched his body until he felt all the kinks leave him and snuggled down into the soft comforts of his bed, feeling lazy and putting off actually getting up. A soft knock caused him to turn his head toward the door and he froze as the chubby little boy pushed opened the door and stepped inside.

"Howdy Joewe, ya weady to git up? País awantiní ya to hurry it up," said the strange boy.

"Pa? Whose Pa?" questioned Joe, not recognizing the lad. "Who are you anyway and just why are you in my bedroom?"

"Aw shucks, big brutter, itís me Hoss," smiled the boy broadly showing the gap between his front teeth.

ĎWHAT?" screamed Joe, sitting straight up in the bed and giving the boy the once over with his eyes. The boy looked like Hoss, sounded like Hoss, smiled like Hoss, but how could it actually be Hoss? Hoss was supposed to be older than him, certainly not younger!

"PA!" screamed Joe jumping from the bed and grabbing his trousers.

"Whatís wong Joewe?" asked Hoss suddenly frightened at his brotherís loud outburst.

"PA!" screamed Joe for the second time, hopping about on one foot as he struggled to pull on his boots.

"Who did you say you were?" he quietly asked the little boy whose large blue eyes had begun to tear.

Sniffing loudly and wiping his snotty nose with the back of his hand, he turned to face the older boy. His lower lip protruding he muttered, "My name is Hoss Cartwhite, and I am ya brutter. Donít ya know nuthin, Joewe?" stated Hoss as the tears began slipping down his quivering chin.

"ShhÖitís gonna be all right, kid. Donít cry, youíll only make your nose run more and I canít stand to see that, at least not before breakfast," soothed Joe scrunching up his nose in disgust.

"I thought we was agoiní afishiní ta day. Ya promwist yaíd take me, Pa said it would be alwhite, now ya ayelliní at me," sniffed Hoss, a pout spreading across his unhappy face.

"What?" asked Joe startled. Moving closer to the boy, Joe squatted down so that he would be eye level to the kid and get a better look at the face that resembled his brotherís.

"My brother Hoss and I had plans to go fishing, what do you mean ĎI promised youí?" questioned Joe studying the smaller boyís facial cast trying to figure out just where he had seen the boy before.

"I dun told ya, I is Hoss!" shouted the little boy, his impatience beginning to surface.

Joe stood and placed both of his hands over the smaller boyís ears. "PA!" screamed Joe so loud that the windows in his bedroom rattled. This caused the other boy to burst out laughing. Joe looked down and could not help but smile at the boy whose cheeks reminded him of a chipmunk.

"Ya better not hollar like that, Paíll get mad at ya and ifín he does, he might not let us go afishiní" stated little Hoss.

Before Joe could utter a word, the door burst opened and in marched Ben carrying in his arms, a small toddler with beautiful dark hair and large brown eyes.

"What is the meaning of all this shouting, Joseph?" declared Ben as he pulled the babyís fingers out of his hair.

"Pa?" Joe stood motionless, mouth wide opened and his index finger pointing at the squirming baby that his father held in his arms.

"WhoÖwhoÖwho is that?" asked Joe quietly, barely able to talk.

"What do you mean Ďwho is thatí, that, ere this is your baby brother, Little Adam," Ben clarified as he stood the tiny toddler on his feet and released him.

"Look Joe, Little Adam is walking," bragged Ben walking closely behind the baby ready to catch him if he started to fall.

Little Adam toddled over to Hoss and grabbed on to his pants leg and began babbling in his baby gibberish.

Hoss stooped down and ruffled Little Adamís dark hair. "Hey Widdle Buddy, ya wanna go afishiní wif Big Brutter and me?" asked Hoss tickling Little Adam under his chin.

"Joe? Are you feeling all right, son? You look a little pale. Perhaps you should stay at home today instead of taking Hoss fishing," stated Ben as he placed the back of his hand to his sonís brow checking to be sure there was no fever.

"Pa, I feel fine, but what happened? I mean last night when I went to bed, I was the younger brother, Adam was the oldest and Hoss, well, he was just Hoss." Joe stared into his fatherís eyes, hoping that his parent could give him a logical explanation to what was happening.

"Joseph," laughed Ben and moving to pat his son on the back, "you must have eaten too much. That can cause you to have silly dreams, which is what must have happened."

"But Pa," started Joe but was interrupted by Little Adam who had toddled over and was now pulling on Joeís trousers.

"No buts, Joseph. Now letís get moving, we have to finish the morning chores before you can take Hoss fishing with you," ordered Ben as he gathered Little Adam into his arms and taking Hoss by the hand headed out the door leaving Joe speechless.

Joe reluctantly followed his father down stairs. Sitting down at his usual place at the table, Joe rolled his eyes upward as he watched the dark headed baby squeezing his scrambled eggs between his pudgy little fingers before cramming them into his mouth.

Joeís attention was averted from the babyís activities when Hoss cut loose with a loud burp. Joe sat speechless, unable to force himself to take a bite as he waited for his father to reprimand the strange little kid whose manners were turning his stomach.

"EreÖPa?" questioned Joe, turning to face his father then nodding his head in Hossí direction.

Ben glanced up to see Joe staring at him. "Oh," said Ben. "Excuse you son," he said to Hoss.

"But I ainít dun yet, Pa," replied Hoss, a worried look spreading across his face as the thought of being asked to leave the table, breakfast unfinished, crossed his mind.

Joe closed his eyes, hoping that he would wake up and this dream, if it were a dream, would end. Slowly opening his eyes and peeking over at Hoss, Joe gasped loudly at the sight of his so-called brother dumping his applesauce into his bowl of oatmeal and then using his finger, which he had just taken out of his nose, to stir the mixture. Joe gagged when he watched the same finger being stuck into the mouth and come out clean.

"Pa, can I be excused? Iím not too hungry and I have to do my chores before we go fishing," asked Joe hopefully.

"Thatís fine, son. Your brothers will be finished shortly and then you can go," Ben smiled up at his son as Joe rose from the table.

"UmmÖPa?" stammered Joe as an idea struck him.

"Whoís gonna do Adam and Hossí chores?" The minute the words were out of his mouth, Joe realized how silly they sounded under the current circumstances.

"Never mind," he said as he shook his head trying to gather his thoughts. Today had started out so good and suddenly, he thought, everything had turned topsy -turvy.

"Adam!" Joe heard his father call out. Joe stopped and turned around wondering what had caused his father to raise his voice. Joe could not stop the giggle that surfaced when he saw his father dancing around his chair trying to avoid the glass of milk that Little Adam had just knocked over and which was now flowing across the table into Benís chair.

Out in the barn, Joe looked around sighing deeply at the thought that today all of the barn chores were his when just yesterday he had shared them with older brothers. Suddenly feeling the loss of his older siblings, Joe pinched his arm to bring himself back to reality. When that failed, Joe kicked the wall that separated the two stalls. As the pain popped into his big toe, Joe cursed himself for his foolishness and grabbed for the pitchfork to begin mucking out the stalls.

"Joewe, what does that wud mean?" asked Hoss who stood in the doorway holding the hand of Little Adam.

Joe turned suddenly, ashamed that he had been caught using foul language. "Donít you worry about what it means, little boy, just be sure you never say it."

"I wanna know what it means, or Iím atelliní Pa ya said a durty wud," said Hoss who had moved closer to Joe.

"You do and Iíll not take you fishing with me," Joe told the boy whom unknown to both of them had released the hand of the toddler who was now pulling the tail of Benís buckskin horse.

Hearing childlike laughter, Joeís attention was drawn to the toddler who had a hand full of horsehair protruding from between each tiny finger. Moving cautiously but quickly so as not to startle the horse, Joe snatched the youngster up into his arms and moved out of dangerís way.

"Hey, little buddy, you canít do that, you might get kicked," Joe smiled at the baby and was rewarded with a hug when the baby wrapped his arms around his neck. Joe smiled, realizing that he had just called the baby by the same nickname that had been his when he had been a baby.

"Tiss," muttered the baby as he tried to press his mouth against Joeís face.

"What? What did you say?" asked Joe, moving his head back to better see the babyís face.

"He said tiss, but he means, kiss. He wants ta gib ya a kiss," informed Hoss shaking his head from side to side. "Whatís wong Joewe, ya sure are dumb this morniní," Hoss said matter-of-factly.

"Oh kiss," smiled Joe at the baby then sticking his tongue out at the chubby little boy.

"Give big brother a kiss," cooed Joe to the baby. Joe watched the baby and smiled, he really was cute thought Joe as he began tickling the toddler under the arms and laughing when the baby began to giggle.

"Hoss you take baby Adam over there in the corner and sit down. Make sure you play with him and keep him out of the way while I finish the chores, then we can go fishing."

Joe decided he had better take the boys himself so he gathered Little Adam into his arms and taking Hossí hand led the two little boys to the furthermost corner of the barn and sat them down.

Joe had just completed his chores when he suddenly realized that it had gotten too quiet in the barn. Spinning around to check on the two boys Joe was shocked at seeing the small boys on their hands and knees gnawing on the salt block that was used for the livestock.

"NO! NO!" shouted Joe, running to grab Little Adam up into his arms. Taking Hoss firmly by his arm and pulling him to his feet, Joe moved the mischievous boys away from the block of salt to the safety of the opposite side.

"Whatíca go and do that fur?" fussed Hoss as he yanked his arm free from Joeís restraining hand.

"Because itíll you sick thatís why," stated Joe firmly.

"Howíd ya know, ya ever et it yaself?" inquired Hoss who faced Joe with a look of defiance on his face and his hands firmly planted on his hips.

Joe laughed at the sight, remembering another time when he had been the one caught with his tongue on the salt block. Again a sense of loss filled his heart as he remembered asking an older Hoss the same thing.

"Well, havenít ya?" asked Hoss as he stomped his foot.

"Donít worry your self about what I might or might not have done, you just worry about what I am telling you to do now," ordered Joe as he smiled to himself thinking that this isnít so bad, being the older brother and the one in charge, at last.

Taking Hoss by the hand Joe led the boy toward the house, Little Adam still held firmly in his arms and trying hard to stick his fingers into the opening of Joeís ear.

Halfway to the door, Adam giggled. "Ick."

Joe giggled also. "I agree with you little buddy, it is icky."

Adam returned the giggle and repeated the word, ick.

Joeís smile faded as he noticed the funny look that spread across the toddlerís face just as Adam spit up on him. Adam giggled once more, "ick," he uttered.

Hoss laughed at the look that now had changed Joeís smile into a frown as he watched his older brother forcing himself not to gag. "He said ick, it means sick," laughed Hoss.

"PA!" shouted Joe hurrying his steps before he himself was sick.

Ben who was just coming out the door in search of his missing children hurried to take Little Adam from Joeís arms.

"He threw up on meÖDadgumit!" whined Joe.

Ben laughed, "Joseph, he didnít throw up, he just spit up, thatís all. He does it all the time, just like you used to do. What is wrong with you today, son?" Ben took Hossí hand and led both boys into the house.

"Letís get you cleaned up Adam and then we will join your big brothers down at the fishing hole."

Joe and Hoss headed toward the lake, Joe relieved that Ben had made Adam take a nap before meeting them at the fishing hole. Little Adam had become upset when Joe and Hoss started out the door. The baby had begun to clap his hands together crying, "bye-bye, bye-bye" and Joe could do nothing to stop the guilty feelings as he watched the baby reach out for him.

Joe stopped long enough to take his baby brother into his arms and give him a kiss. "Donít cry Little Buddy, you take a nap like Pa says, and when you wake up Pa will bring you up to the lake, and Iíll let you use my fishing pole. Howís that?"

"Bye-bye," cried Little Adam clinging to Joe as Ben tried to remove the babyís arms from around his older sonís neck.

Joe was becoming agitated as Hossí constant chitter chatter began to wear on his nerves as he gently massaged his temples in an effort to relieve the throbbing headache as he explained for the umpteenth millionth time that he needed to be quiet in order for the fish to bite.

Hoss closed his mouth and sat down behind Joe. Joe sighed in relief, wondering briefly if he had been this annoying to his older brothers, Adam and Hoss. Feeling something poking him in his back, Joe glanced over his shoulder and saw Hoss pointing to something in the bushes.

"What is it?" whispered Joe, remembering that he had instructed Hoss to be quiet.

"A wabbit," smiled Hoss in a tiny little voice.

Joe smiled and rolled his eyes when he suddenly felt a tug on the other end of his fishing line. "Hoss looked," he called excitedly, "I have a bite," explained Joe pulling back on his pole to land the fish.

"ShhÖ" said Hoss putting his finger to his lips signaling to Joe that he was suppose to be quiet.

Several minutes later the sound of an approaching horse drew Joeís attention from the fish he had just caught. Ben smiled as he lifted Little Adam from the saddle. Hoss grabbed the fish and shouted at his father.

"Looky Pa, Joewe caught a fish. Ainít he a purtyíon?" shouted Hoss who was standing on the waterís edge holding the fish high above his head so that his father could get a better look.

"Hoss, be careful, youíllÖ" began Joe when suddenly the fish flopped free from the chubby little fingers that had been holding it.

Hoss squealed in fright and jumped back from the water where the fish had landed and Joe stared is disbelief as he watched the large mouth bass swim away.

Joe turned to his father, a pout clearly etched onto his face and stomped his foot. "Letís just go home Pa. Hoss has done nothing all day except get under foot and do everything just opposite of what I have told him to do. Iím tired of it, why do I have to all of a sudden be the big brother, why canít he do what heís told, how come I have to be the one to take him fishing and why did I even bother to get out of bed this morning? I want things back the way they use to be, I want my big brothers back, I donít like being the oldest, why Pa, heh, just tell me why!" shouted Joe, his last nerve broken.

Ben stood in silence until Joe had finished his ranting. When at last the boy ceased his tantrum Ben calmly placed his hand on Joeís shoulder and quietly but firmly spoke.

"Joseph, if you are finished now, you will bait Hossí hook and give him a turn with the pole. As to your questions, it is time that you except your lot in life and grow up and act your age, not your brotherís age. Do I make myself clear, young ma?"

"Understood Pa, Iíll do it but I ainít gotta like it," voiced Joe reaching for the can of worms and digging deeply into the rich soil to find a fat juicy one.

Ben and Hoss were enjoying sharing the fishing pole that Joe had reluctantly kept baited for them. Joe had moved to lie down on the blanket next to Little Adam who played happily beside of him. Joe relaxed in the warm sun and briefly closed his eyes feeling himself slipping into dreamland. From the far corners of his mind, Joe heard the strange mumbling sounds that forced him to suddenly open his eyes.

"HmmÖhmm," cooed Little Adam.

Joe watched the expressions on the babyís face until it dawned on him that the toddler had something in his mouth. Not wanting to alert his father to his negligence, Joe cupped the babyís chin with the palm of his hand.

"Whatís in your mouth, Adam?" whispered Joe, glancing up to make sure his father was not watching.

"HmmÖ" smiled Adam at Joe as he rolled his tongue around in this mouth.

"Open up," Joe said through gritted teeth trying to force the little boy to unlock his jaws.

Little Adam batted his beautiful brown eyes at his brother and tried to pull away.

"Hmm," he repeated.

"Dangit squirt, open up," said Joe using his free hand to finally pop open the babyís mouth. "Now spit it out," he ordered.

"OH YUK!" cried Joe startled when baby Adam spit the red worm into his opened hand.

"Ick," giggled the baby.

"Oh no you donít, you ainít gonna be sick on me again," cried Joe as he pulled away from his little brother.

"Ick" repeated Adam.

"No, ick Baby, do you hear me? I canít take much more of this. No ick!" instructed Joe moving to stand.

Baby Adam giggled as he held his arms up wanting Joe to pick him up. "Um, ick."

Joe reached for the outstretched arms and laughed. "Hey little buddy," he smiled at the boy, his heart softening at the bright smile, "you got it right, um ick, worm ick." Joe laughed, he was beginning to catch on to this baby talk.

Later Ben stood, wiping his hands down the front of his pants. "Well boys, itís getting late, letís call it a day."

"But Pa, I donít have any fish, thanks to Hoss,í complained Joe, giving Hoss a mean look. "Canít we stay just a little longer, please?"

"Joseph, will you please stopping acting like a child? For heavenís sake your little brothers are worn out and look at them, they need a bath. Now gather your things and letís get a move on," ordered Ben as he began putting the articles together.

Joe frowned, the day had not turned out as he had hoped and disappointment showed on his face. Ben could not help but smile when he noticed Joeís despairing look.

"There will be another day son," smiled Ben.

Joe looked up into his fatherís dark eyes and shrugged his shoulders. "Thatís what Iím afraid of," he muttered as he turned to untie Cochiseís reins from the branch where he had tied him. Swinging up into the saddle, he gently kicked the horses sides and started home hoping that the evening would be better than his day had been.

Ben finished filling the tub with warm water for Hossí bath while he instructed Joe to care for Little Adam. "When you get him ready, son, bring him in here and we can put Adam in with Hoss so they can play," called Ben to Joe who was giving the youngest a pony back ride on his shoulders.

"Sure Pa," called Joe lifting Adam off his shoulders and placing him on the settee to remove his clothing. Little Adam started giggling as Joe attempted to strip the dirty clothing from the wiggly little boy. Once the shirt and overalls were removed, Joe laughed at the small clots of dirt and pebbles that fell at his feet that had been hidden within the folds of the babyís clothing.

"Wow kid, you sure managed to get dirty. What else you got hidden in here," said Joe, tickling Little Adamís ribs and making him squeal in delight.

Being care to remove the diaper pins without sticking the little boy, Joe carefully slipped off the wet diaper from his brotherís bottom. "What in tarnation?" squawked Joe as he quickly dropped the offending diaper to the floor. "PA!" shouted Joe grabbing the baby into his arms as he stepped across the diaper.

"PA!" he yelled again as he watched the fat red worms crawling off the diaper and onto the wooden floor.

Ben hurried around the corner of the kitchen, "Joseph, what is the meaning of all this ruckus?" he demanded slightly put out at having to leave Hoss alone in the tub of water.

"Pa, look, Little Adam has worms crawling around in his diaper," Joe pointed to the mess on the floor and suddenly felt his stomach do a flip flop as he felt the warm moisture seeping down his side where he held the naked baby. Joe gagged, "PA!"

"Oh for heavenís sake Joseph, you act as if this was the first time in your life that you have ever spent with a baby. If you didnít want peed on, you should have either waited to remove your brotherís diaper or hurried to bring him into the washroom. Give him to me and please clean up this mess," stated Ben taking the baby from his older son and snickering when he heard Joe gagging while picking up the diaper.

Ben entered the great room carrying two wiggly little boys, one each under both arms. All three were laughing and Joe couldnít help but to join in when he spied the trio standing in front of the fireplace.

"How about drying these two off for me Joseph and Iíll clean up the mess in the wash room so you can have your bath?" asked Ben sitting both little ones on the hearth where they would stay warm.

Joe agreed and reached for Adam who Joe knew needed his attention first. Quickly he folded and refolded the diaper and once he was able to subdue the toddler, Joe managed to get the pins inserted well enough that he hoped the diaper would stay in place. While he struggled to slip the nightshirt over the babyís head, Hoss dropped the towel that covered his naked body and began running about the room whooping like an Indian.

"Looky me, Joewe, Iím an injun," whooped Hoss.

"Hoss, cut that out and come here," ordered Joe sitting Little Adam on the carpet and handing him a couple of wooden blocks.

"Hoss, get off that table, Pa will have your butt if he sees you," demanded Joe stepping around the chair to grab for the naked little boy.

"Iím White Eagle and ya cainít catch me!" Hoss whooped again and jumped from the table to the settee, Joe in hot pursuit.

"Hoss, you better stop now and come here," Joeís temper was beginning to surface and he was tired of chasing the boy.

Hoss jumped off the back of the settee and ran for Benís office where he crawled under his fatherís big desk. Joe slipped on the rug and fell face down on the floor. Suddenly Joe felt the wind knocked from his lungs and his head was suddenly jerked backward by his hair.

"White Eagle scalp paleface," squealed Hoss keeping a tight hold on his brotherís thick curly hair.

"PA!" yelled Joe, fighting to get up. "Dadburn you Hoss, Iím gonna pound good you if you donít get off of me," snapped Joe sitting up and catching Hoss before he tumbled backwards. Joe grabbed Hoss and lifted him up tossing the nude boy over his shoulder and gently popping the naked buttocks, which only caused the youngster to scream in playful joy.

"Well, at least youíre not wet anymore. Here put your clothes on," ordered Joe tossing Hoss his nightshirt. Hoss gave his brother a big smile and once the nightshirt was in place, Hoss stepped up to Joe who was squatting on his knees and slipped his chubby arms around the older boyís neck.

"I wuv ya, Joewe," whispered Hoss into Joeís ear.

Joe felt his heart melt and quickly slipped his own arms around the smaller boy. "I love you too, Hoss," he said as he placed a kiss to the fat little cheek.

"Will ya weed me a story, when ya dun wif ya bath?" begged Hoss, staring into his brotherís face and waiting for an answer.

"Sure Little Buddy," smiled Joe.

"HmmÖ"

Joe heard the sound and turned quickly seeking the toddler whom he had momentarily forgotten about and who was just about ready to pop the worm into his mouth.

"Oh no you donít Squirt, youíre not about to eat another worm. Besides, where did you find this one?" gagged Joe, picking both the toddler and the worm up. The worm he tossed into the fire, the baby he placed on his hip and looked up in relief when he spied his father standing next to the dining room table watching him.

Smiling Ben moved to relieve Joe of his bundle. "Your bath is ready son, I went ahead and filled the tub for you while I was at it."

"Oh, I forgot sumthiní," called Hoss as he disappeared from the room. Minutes later he returned, a large smile on his face as he crawled into his fatherís lap along with Adam and settled in to wait for Joe to finish so that he could have his bedtime story.

"You go ahead Joseph, Iíll settle these two in and when youíre finished, we can have a bite of supper before you can read them a story," smiled Ben.

Joe sat wearily down onto the wicker chair and pulled his boots from his feet. Pulling off his socks, Joe rubbed the bottoms of each foot then rose and allowed his trousers to slip to the floor. Removing his shirt and adding that to the pile of clothing, Joe stretched his body backward and then rotated from side to side in an effort to relieve the stiffness he felt in his muscles.

Slowly Joe stepped into the warm water and lowered his tired body into the deep tub, relaxing as the warmth surrounded him. Joe leaned his head back resting against the rim of the tub and closed his eyes. For several minutes Joe enjoyed the comforts of his bath, his problems of the day forgotten. Briefly his thoughts turned to the two little boys in the other room. Joe had to admit to himself that in spite of all that they had put him through during the course of the day, he had enjoyed spending time with them and smiling to himself he confessed that he rather liked being the older brother and wasnít so sure why Adam, the older Adam, seemed to always be putting up a fuss about it. It really wasnít so hard, thought Joe.

"Ut-oh," Joeís eyes suddenly popped opened freezing while his mind fought to register just what it might be that had joined him in the tub. Half afraid to look, Joe swallowed hard and chanced a glance. Swimming about his toes and feet were several small tadpoles and one medium sized frog, which was perched on his knee.

"Rib-it, rib-it," sang the frog.

"PA!" shouted Joe, "Come quick," he yelled as he jumped from the tub in an effort to escape the underwater creatures that had overtaken his bath.

Joe grabbed for the towel but jerked back quickly as a second toad leap to the floor and landed on his foot. Startled, Joe moved too suddenly and stepped into the unseen puddle that pooled about in front of the tub. Before Joe knew what was happening, he slipped, landing with a thud on his bare bottom.

"Ouch," cursed Joe. "PA!" he yelled and opened his mouth to call once more but stopped as the door to the washroom was slung opened. Standing in the doorway was his father, Adam held firmly within his arms and Hoss who stood quietly, a look of apprehension on his face as he spotted his brother lying in the floor.

"Joseph, what on earth are you doing on the floor?" asked Ben.

"Hoss, Iím gonna pound you so far into the ground that it will take you a month of Sundays to dig yourself out," ranted Joe, pulling himself up from the floor and rubbing the numbness he felt in his naked behind.

Hoss began to whimper.

"Joseph, you will do no such thing, young man," stated Ben as he slipped his arm about Hossí shoulders.

"But Pa, the little scamp put tadpoles and frogs in my bath, it ainít fair!" complained Joe who realized that he stood before his father and brothers with nothing on. Quickly Joe grabbed the towel he had dropped moments before, gave it a quick fling to be sure the toad was no where within itís folds before slipping it about his mid-section. He shivered as the towelís dampness touched his skin and frowned as he realized that when the towel had fallen, it had landed in the puddle also.

Ben kneeled down so that he was eye level with Hoss. "Young man, did you put those tadpoles and frogs in your brotherís bath?" he questioned and watched as the blue eyes refused to meet his.

"Hoss, Iím waiting," stated Ben.

"Yes sir, but me didnít know Joewe was scart ofím," cried Hoss, the large tears beginning to roll down his cheeks.

"I ainít Ďscartí of them, I just donít like to bath with them," fussed Joe. Joe watched Hossí face and saw the quivering chin and the tears and his heart softened.

"Hey Little Buddy," he said in a soft voice as he gave his father an understanding look. "Guess there was no real harm done, now come here," Joe said as he opened his arms wide in invitation. Hoss rushed into them and quickly Joe closed his arms about the little boy and lifted him up and planted a kiss on his brow.

"I sorwie Joewe, but I didnít hab any utter place to keepíem. I prowmise not ta do it again," sniffed Hoss studying Joeís face to see if his older brother had truly forgiven him.

Later when all four Cartwrights were cleaned up and seated at the supper table, Joe sighed in relief just thinking that soon his evening would be over and he would then be free of the responsibility of the two little boys who had somehow become his shadows. And then, Ben Cartwright did the unthinkable.

"Joseph, I have a meeting in town tonight, I want you to get the boys in bed after I leave and read them a story," instructed Ben between mouthfuls.

"PA!" snapped Joe not meaning for the tone of his voice to sound so rude.

"Donít use that tone of voice with me, young man," ordered Ben pointing at Joe with his fork.

"Iím sorry, Pa. Itís just that I was hoping to go over to Mitchís house and hang out with my friends," complained Joe, his mood suddenly doing a turn about, knowing that if he didnít change it quick, he would be in trouble and might possibly end up on restriction the whole week-end for his behavior.

Suddenly Little Adam sneezed, spewing milk from his mouth landing on the front of Benís shirt. The surprised look on his fatherís face caused Joe to burst into laughter. Little Adam thinking that he had done something to catch his big brotherís attention, giggled and using his lips tried to repeat the funny sound.

Ben stopped eating long enough to wipe away the wetness and smiling scolded his son.

"Adam, thatís a no-no," which only resulted in baby Adam giggling more.

"Nana," cooed Little Adam, trying to mimic his father as he slammed his little hands down into his mashed potatoes, sending them flying into the air in all directions.

Joe could not believe his eyes nor could he stop the rush of giggles that escaped from his mouth. Hoss, seeing that everyone was laughing, joined in as Little Adam continued his assault on his food by grabbing a roll and flinging it in Hossí direction.

Without thinking about what he was doing, Hoss grabbed the roll that had landed in the middle of his creamed corn and flung the now soggy bun at Joe and yelled, "Hot potatoes."

Ben stood from his seat, stunned and just as he opened his mouth to reprimand his wayward sons the sound of baby Adamís voice yelling, "ick, ick" reached his ears as he felt the side of his face splattered with a handful of brussel sprouts.

"Little Adam, no-no," demanded Ben, losing his patience with his family. Turning, Ben noticed that both Joe and Hoss continued to add fuel to the fire by their uncontrollable laughter.

"Boys!" shouted Ben as he slammed his fist onto the table bringing a halt to the noise and startling Little Adam into submission.

Little Adamís dark eyes opened wide at hearing his fatherís booming voice and the rattling of the water glasses as they clanged together from the force of the fist against the table.

Ben saw the tiny tears as they welled within the depths of the babyís eyes, he noticed the wide blue eyes of his chubby little middle son and watched as his oldest son, Joe, lowered his head in an effort to prevent him from seeing the merriment that danced in his sonís hazel eyes and the lips that turned upward into a grin. When a lone Brussels sprout dropped from Benís head onto the table in front of him the action gave his own laughter an escape route that sent all four family members into a rousing bout of laughter.

At last, Ben held his hands up for silence. "Joe, we better get this mess cleaned up and get these two little scamps ready for bed. Why donít you take them upstairs and see what you can do about getting some of this food off your baby brother, Hoss you help Joe. I will clean up this mess before I go into town," stated Ben as he began piling the plates on top of each other.

"Come on little buddy, you look as if you could use another bath," laughed Joe as he took Little Adam from his chair being careful not to get the tidbits of food on his own clothes as he carried the baby upstairs to change him into another nightshirt, Hoss following closely on his heels.

"You gonna weed us a story, Joewe? Heh Joewe, heh?" asked Hoss.

"Sure Hoss, but first Iíve got to get his wiggle worm ready for bed. Why donít you go put on a clean nightshirt while I finish with Adam?" stated Joe, laying the baby down on his bed and removing the soiled clothing.

"Tay, Joewe, I be wight back ta help ya," smiled Hoss as he skipped from the room.

By the time that Hoss returned from his room, Joe had Little Adam dressed, sitting on his lap where he was turning the pages of a picture book. Joe smiled as Hoss entered the room and jumped onto the bed beside of him.

"I weady for my story now. Whatís ya gonna weed ta us? Heh Joewe, heh?" piped Hoss wiggling closer to his brother.

Baby Adam screamed and pushed at Hoss in an effort to push Hoss away. "Hey, quit that Adam, I wanna hear the story too ya know. Make him twit Joewe, tay? Heh Joewe, heh?" complained Hoss.

"Nana, Oss," fussed Adam as he pushed Hoss again.

"Okay you two, stop that or there wonít be a story," said Joe as he rearranged Little Adam on the opposite side of him away from Hoss.

Ben appeared in the doorway then and smiled at the site of his three sons sitting on the bed. Hoss sat with his hands over his ears trying to drown out the sounds of Adamís high pitched squeals as Joe covered his eyes in a game of peek-a-boo. Adam tried to imitate his older brotherís action but instead of covering his eyes, he covered his mouth.

Ben laughed as he recalled the three monkeys of hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. The brothers looked up at the sound of their fatherís voice. "Iím leaving now boys, Iíll be back later. Hoss you mind what Joseph tells you. You, you little scamp," said Ben picking up Adam and placing a kiss on his cheek, go to sleep like a good boy for your big brother," Ben gently ordered handing the baby back to Joe who placed him on his knee.

A short time later Joe closed the bed and announced that it was now time for bed.

"Ah, Joewe, just one more story, please, Joewe, please," begged Hoss giving Joe a pleading puppy dog look.

"No! Pa said you should be in bed by 8:00 and itís already past time for all little boys to be asleep," stated Joe firmly all the while anxious for some peace and quiet and smiling to himself. He liked being the one left in charge. For the first time in his life, he was getting to order both Hoss and Adam around and they were too little to do anything about it. Joeís chest suddenly swelled with pride.

"Into bed with you now," he ordered Hoss stirring him in the direction of his room and trying to sound as much like his father as possible.

"Make sure you use the chamber pot before you get into the bed, Hoss," ordered Joe as he carried the now sleeping Adam into the nursery and carefully placed him in his crib. Quietly Joe turned the lamp down low and eased out of the room, pulling the door closed behind him, giving a sigh of relief.

Joe tucked the blankets around Hoss. "Gib me a night-night kiss, will ya Joewe, heh Joewe, heh?" pleaded Hoss holding his arms out to his brother. Joe leaned over so that Hoss could place a kiss on his cheek and felt this brotherís arms as they slipped around his neck. "Sorwie, Ďbout them tadpoles big brutter," apologized Hoss.

Joe returned the kiss and smiled. Hoss really was a sweet little kid he thought. "Donít worry about it Hoss, itís okay," said Joe rising from the bed. "You go to sleep now." Joe turned down Hossí lamp, gave his brother a little wave and closed the door.

Just as Joe stepped out into the hallway, Hoss bellowed loudly out for Joe. "JOEWE! I forgot to go pee!"

Before Joe could open the door to Hossí room Adam began to wail loudly. Joe stood motionless, indecisive as to which room to enter first. Turning to Hossí room he opened the door and called in to his brother.

"Go ahead Hoss, use the chamber pot but be quiet, you woke Adam," he said as he hurried into the babyís room walking to the crib. Adam was still lying down and had found his thumb, much to Joeís satisfaction. Adam was making a funny little sucking sound as he worked on his thumb. Joe covered the baby with the blankets and once again eased from the room.

Hurrying across the hall to check on Hoss he was surprised to find the boy standing in the middle of the floor. "Hoss, what are you doing? I thought you had to use the chamber pot?" asked Joe.

"It was dark and I couldnít see wif out the light. I had an accadent, Joewe. Ya ainít mad at old Hoss is ya? Heh Joewe, heh?" cried Hoss hopefully.

Joe was beginning to become unglued, but forced himself not to loose his temper with the younger boy. "Naw, Iím not mad. Letís get you into dry clothes okay and then you better get in the bed before Pa gets home."

Once Joe had Hoss settled in the bed for the second time that evening, Joe headed down the stairs. Eager to escape to solitude, Joe forgot to avoid the steps that creaked.

"CREEEK," Joe froze, expecting to hear the wailing sounds again. After a few seconds of silence he smiled and proceeded down the stairs.

Joe chose his fatherís favorite chair to sit down in. Leaning back comfortably he carelessly flopped his feet onto the forbidden table and smiled to himself as he closed his eyes and enjoyed the serenity. His tranquility was short lived as the blood -curdling scream penetrated his ears. Jumping to his feet, he ran up the stairs tripping and falling to his knees on the landing.

"Damnit," he cursed as he pulled himself up and rubbed the sore spot. Once again the scream drew his attention back to the purpose for his mission.

"JOEWE!" screamed Hoss, as Joe rushed into the room.

"What?" said Joe through gritted teeth.

"Ya furgits to gib me my snack. I wanna have cookies and milk," pouted Hoss sitting up in bed.

Just as Joe was about to say no to Hoss, he was interrupted by the wails coming from baby Adamís room. Turning abruptly on his heels, Joe hurried into Little Adamís room. The baby was standing in the crib and crying loudly.

"Papa, papa," wailed Adam. Joe scooped the baby into his arms in an effort to console the distraught toddler.

"JOEWE," sang out Hoss. "I want my cookies."

Joe rubbed the babyís back as he carried the baby with him into Hoss room where he gave the boy a glaring scowl. "See what you have done now? You woke up the baby and I canít get him to stop crying," scolded Joe in an angry voice.

"Itís too late for a snack, lay down and go to sleep. Itís after 9:00 now," ordered Joe pointing to the bed.

Hoss stuck his tongue out at his brother and shouted, "Ya mean Joewe, and I donít wanna ya here. I wanna my Pa."

"Well Pa, ainít here. All youíve got is me and this crying baby and both of us want you to be quiet and go to sleep." Joeís voice rose an octave higher in order to be heard above the crying baby.

Hossí eyes filled with tears and before Joe could correct his tone of voice, Hoss was wailing as loudly as Little Adam. Joe rubbed his temples as the pain in his head intensified.

Knowing he was fighting a losing battle, Joe reluctantly gave in to his brotherís wish.

"Okay, okay, one cookie, do you hear me?" he stated as he pointed his finger in Hossí direction.

The tears stopped just as quickly as they had begun and for a brief moment, Joe wondered if he had been suckered. Hoss sprang from the bed and with a smile on his face that lit up the room he hurried out the door in front of Joe. Joe glanced at Adam who had suddenly gotten quiet and was surprised to see the baby smiling at him.

"Are you in on this too Adam?" frowned Joe. "I suppose you want a cookie too, heh Adam, heh?" Joe mocked Hossí previous words.

"Icky, icky," giggled Adam as he wrapped his arms tightly around Joeís neck.

"Am I suppose to know what that means?" questioned Joe smiling at the baby.

"It means cookie," Hoss informed his brother. "Golly Joewe, donít ya know nuthiní today?"

After the half dozen or so cookies were devoured, Joe wiped the crumbs from both faces and announced that it was time to get to bed. The moment the words were out of his mouth, Joe knew he had made a mistake. The cries of protest from Hoss commenced at once, which led to Little Adam bursting into tears of his own.

"Whatís wrong now? What do you want from me?" demanded Joe glancing up at the old grandfather clock and seeing that it was well past ten oíclock.

"We donít want ya Joewe, we want Pa," cried Hoss.

"Papa," Adam chorused.

Joe stomped his foot and flung his arms in the air, "Well Pa ainít here, but I am and I say youíre going to bed."

"Am not," cried Hoss as the tears rolled down his face.

"Am too," Joe said, wanting to cry himself.

"Am not," wailed Hoss getting louder by the minute.

"Oh yes you are," ordered Joe loudly.

"Am not. Ya ainít my Pa and I donít gotta mind ya!" rebelled Hoss, stomping his own foot and swiping at his tears with backs of his hands.

"Yes you are, now come on," Joe demanded, picking Adam up from where he sat in the floor adding his cries to those of his brother Hoss. Joe reached out for Hoss but Hoss was too quick for him and ran to the other side of the room.

Joe knew not to chase after his brother with the howling baby in his arms. Feeling defeated for the hundredth time that day, and weary of all the crying Joe conceded.

"Okay Hoss, if you will just stop that infernal crying we will play a little game. Come sit on the settee with Adam while I try to decide what to do," instructed Joe.

Hoss complied but after about fifteen minutes of charades Joe had lost the attention of his audience. Once again the pathetic cries echoed throughout the house. At his wits end, Joe sat on the table and buried his face in his hands. Snapping his fingers, Joe recalled past times in which he had managed to bring a smile to Hossí face by clowning around when Hossí spirits needed a boost.

Joe dumped the fruit from the bowl onto the settee between both of his brothers. This unexpected action caught the attention of each crying boy causing them to stare at Joe in wonderment and bringing a silence to the room.

Joe jumped onto the table and placed the bowl on the top of his head. Bowing slightly to his captivated young audience, Joe began a song and dance routine. Hoss watched for about two minutes it seemed to Joe before the loud howling started up again. The louder that Hoss wailed, the louder Joe sang until the noise was so loud that neither boy was aware when the front door burst opened.

Ben stood in the doorway, revolver in hand expecting that his home had been invaded by Chief Winnemuccaís braves. Shocked by the sight that he saw Ben stood rooted to the floor totally unnoticed by the bungling clown with the bowl on his head who was doing what Ben considered a war dance on his coffee table. Nor was he noticed by the bad-tempered lamenting tot who was howling as if he were an animal caught in a trap, or of the tiny baby who was playing ball with the fresh fruit that had looked so appetizing earlier in the afternoon.

Ben shoved his pistol back into his holster and silently marched over to the dancing clown and applied a sharp wallop to his sonís backside that was sticking upward as he danced.

"OUCH!" screamed Joe, bringing total and unsuspected silence to the room.

Joe whirled around, a look of puzzlement on his surprised face. "Whatíca do that for?" he shouted at Hoss before he realized that his father stood before him, anger showing in his dark eyes.

"What is the meaning of this young man?" he bellowed as an orange clipped the side of his head.

"Ick," spit Little Adam giving his father a look of distaste as he held out his arms wanting his father to pick him up.

Hoss jumped from his spot on the settee and ran to Ben encircling his arms around Benís mid-section. "Hi ya Pa? Can I go to bed now, Iím tared," asked Hoss.

"I should think you would have already been in the bed and asleep had a certain young man followed my instructions. JOSEPH, what do you have to say about this?" questioned Ben, angrily.

Joe stood before his father rubbing his backside and gave Ben a humbled look.

"Pa, it ainít what you think," he began.

Ben pointed to the bowl that remained atop Joeís head. "Would you take that thing off your head, you look ridiculous," stated Ben.

Joe smiled shyly at his father and grabbed the fruit bowl and set it on the table.

Ben turned toward the stairs, help me get these two in bed and then you and I will continue this little lecture in your room, young man," ordered Ben pointing his finger at Joe and motioning for him to precede him up the stairs.

An hour later when Joe had finished explaining to Ben the events that had led up to his father finding him dancing on the table, Ben could no longer contain his laughter at the unexpected proceedings that had dampened his oldest sonís spirit. Together and much to Joeís relief, he and his father enjoyed the shared moment. In the back of his mind, Joe wondered if another Adam and his father had ever encountered an instant such as this at his expense.

Ben pulled the covers up to Joeís chin, leaned down and kissed his sonís brow. Tenderly he brushed at the stray curl that had dislodged itís self from the mass of hair that adorned Joeís head.

"Good night son. God bless," said Ben as he slipped out the door quietly.

Joe sighed deeply; it had taken them hours to achieve their goal of getting his young siblings to sleep. Exhaustion beckoned to him as he fought to find a comfortable position. Joe rolled over to lie on his left side. As his left arm rested on the sheets, Joeís eyes flew open.

"Scruffy!" Joe shouted and then clamped his hand over his mouth. The last thing he wanted to do was to disturb his father.

Tip toeing across the planked floor, Joe quietly opened the door to his bedroom. Scanning the hall and satisfied that his father was no where to be seen, Joe cautiously made his way down the dark hallway to his baby brotherís room. Joe hesitated when the door creaked as he slowly opened it. Glancing quickly over his shoulder he let out the breath he was holding as he noticed that the door to his fatherís room was still closed. Carefully Joe entered the babyís room and again while holding his breath, took hold of Scruffyís hind leg and began the perplexing task of withdrawing the stuffed treasure from Adamís tight grasp.

Joe sank to his knees and allowed himself to catch his breath before preceding the trek back to his room. His hand was on the latch of his own door when he jumped at the sound of thunder ringing in the solitude of the evening.

"Joseph! What do you think you are doing with Adamís toy?" questioned an exasperated Ben who stood clad only in his nightshirt glaring at his son.

"But PaÖitís mine, Adam gave it to me as a Christmas present, donít you remember?"
whined Joe feeling as if he were truly only seven once again.

"Iíve had enough of this nonsense, give me that toy and get your self into bed young man, now," ordered Ben holding out his hand for the toy.

"But PaÖ"

"No buts about it, go," demanded Ben.

Joe dropped to his knees, fighting to control the tears that pooled in his hazel eyes and not understanding everything that had happened to him since he had gotten out of bed that morning.

"Pa, pleaseÖI canít take much more of this. Whatís happening? Yesterday I was just a kid; today Iím the oldest. Adam is a baby, Hoss is a brat and I want my Scruffy, you know I canít sleep without himÖ" sobbed Joe, the tears rolling slowly down his cheeks as he looked beseechingly up at his father.

Benís heart softened as he stooped down and pulled Joe to his feet. "Son, you are just overly tired. Please, take Scruffy and go to bed. Things will be better in the morning, I promise," comforted Ben as he led his son back to his room.

Joe smiled at his father and climbed into bed, Scruffy tucked carefully under his arm. Ben replaced the blankets and giving Joe another kiss, he turned and closed the door, wondering about his sonís mental status.

The sun rose bright the following morning and as Joe opened his eyes, Scruffy was the first face he saw. Smiling, Joe scratched the stuffed dogís head. Joe frowned as guilt crept into his thoughts as to how he had behaved last night, sneaking into his brotherís room and taking the toy while the baby slept.

Joe grabbed Scruffy, determined now to return the toy to the cute little baby down the hall. When Joe reached the babyís room, he slid to his hands and knees, easing the door opened as he heard Little Adam stirring about in his bed. Wanting to surprise the baby, Joe crawled forward to the bed and in a soft voice stated, "Joeie has come to give you a horsey ride downstairs."

Adam rose up in bed and looked down at Joe, "I donít think so, little brother."

Joeís head popped up stunned and speechless, eyes wide, Joe rose slowly and backed out of the room, "PA!" screamed Joe as he fainted.

THE END

April Foolís 2002

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