Sometimes ‘ya gotta eat a little crow
M. J. Roper
Revised January 2003
The autumn sun warmed his face as he lay dozing comfortably in the lush
grass near the stream. A smile graced his face as he felt the warm
breath tease his neck and his arm being softly rubbed. Returning from
his slumber, he still lay there peacefully enjoying the moment.
Two beautiful brown eyes framed by long, luscious lashes were looking at
him inquisitively. The man yawned widely as he tried to awaken and
“AAAAHHHHHH. EEEEWWWWWW. “ Hoss jumped up just as a large
stream of something wet and, well, somewhat slimy, reached his face from the
shiny black nose above. The moist substance ran across his lips and
seemed to reach all the way down to his tonsils. Startled, the
calf jumped back behind its mama, who was nibbling happily at the man’s lunch,
as the large man repeatedly spit and wiped at his face. Hoss glanced
menacingly at the little hereford, whose brown eyes peered out at him.
Finishing her snack the cow ambled off, and after watching the man draw from
the canteen and spit a few more times the calf decided the show was over
and ran to catch up with his own lunch.
Hoss sighed as he leaned over and snatched his hat from the ground and walked
over to his horse, who was grazing contentedly a few feet away. “You
could’ve woke me up yourself! I think you found that funny, huh?”
Chubb kept grazing as Hoss mounted up. “Come on, boy, lunch is over”
as they rode off across the pasture, already far behind his tight schedule
because of his nap. It had been a long, hard morning and he had only
intended to rest for a few minutes. How was he going to make up the
three hours he napped? Even worse, how would he explain to Pa why he
was so far behind…
Joe twisted his mouth sideways and scratched his head. The prank he
pulled on the hand had worked, but now he had a real problem – how to get
that darn rattler back OUT of the outhouse, before the rest of the hands came
back to the bunkhouse. And before pa came back. THAT wouldn’t
The youngest Cartwright had been furious to be reminded that he was the
youngest – especially in front of the other hands. Dang it, he wasn’t
a child – he was almost seventeen. Silently, he had vowed revenge.
Luckily he didn’t have long to wait before his subject was ready for
his daily constitutional. John has casually walked to the small building,
dime novel tucked under his arm, undoing his fly as he entered. For
about ten seconds there was dead silence. Joe watched from around the corner
of the bunkhouse as the outhouse door suddenly flew open.
“AAAAHHHaaahhAAHHHHaaaaHHHH” Out came John, pants around his knees,
book soaring through the air, and dust flying as he quickly shuffled forward.
Stopping a few yards away, he was breathing heavily as he looked around to
see if anyone was watching. Satisfied there were no witnesses he reached
down to pull up his pants, muttering unintelligibly. He’d find a tree
somewhere that would be less crowded.
The snake had been pretty easy to scoop into the bucket when he was coiled
up in the open. Joe had set the bucket in the corner, knowing it couldn’t
escape, and the rattle would do all the work for him. He figured he
could go back and pick up the bucket before anyone else showed up – even if
John saw it he’d surely be too embarrassed to tell. What he didn’t figure
on was John turning the bucket upside down on his way out. Now
the reptile was coiled up in the corner of the building with no inclination
of leaving, and Joe couldn’t get the stick maneuvered around to get him back
into the bucket. Joe stood outside the outhouse thinking. Maybe
He ran back to the barn where he had left the shovel propped earlier, but
now it was gone. Running back to the outhouse, he glanced cautiously
around in case anyone had come back while he was gone. Well, he could
shoot the snake, but then he’d still have to leave him for a while until the
snake actually stopped moving, and besides if anyone was near they’d hear
the gunshot and come see what was going on.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of horses approaching.
Eyes widening, he ran around behind the buildings and tried to sneak back
to the barn. Arriving safely, he breathed a sigh of relief. Well,
if anyone else went into the outhouse maybe they’d just think the snake had
wandered in on its own – that did happen. Then he groaned as he remembered
Adam had troubles of his own. The heavily loaded wagon was stuck.
Sighing heavily, once again he pulled on the limb propped in the wheel spokes,
hoping this time it would give the back wheel enough leverage to force the
wagon forward, hopefully without breaking a spoke. He’d already tried everything
else he could think of to move the vehicle, and was covered from head to toe
in mud for his troubles.
Evidently it had rained pretty heavily through here earlier, and the sections
of road that were sheltered from the suns rays were still a muddy mess.
He had been able to maneuver his way around most of the problem areas, and
luckily he had a shovel in the bed, as he had to spend the better part of
an hour trying to fill in one area of the road that had eroded away.
But while he was watching the right side of the road to keep from getting
stuck in a gully there, he had missed the mudhole on the left, only noticing
it when the wagon jerked to a stop.
“Some shortcut, huh, Adam Cartwright. Just HAD to try to save time.
You knew Pa was just spouting, but you had to go try to prove your own point.”
Adam pushed forward again, groaning loudly. “Okay, so we shouldn’t have
been goofing off when he got there yesterday. I knew better.
Had to let Joe drag me into it. Now here I am stuck, and if I don’t
get out of here and get home to help get that paperwork caught up Pa’s mood
is not going to improve. So what am I going to do about it?” He
sighed animatedly as he took another long look at the wagon. “What am
I going to do about it?”
He looked up at the skies that were growing dark above him again, and about
the time he felt the first small drop of rain on his arm he heard the deafening
clap of thunder that shook the ground beneath him and permeated the air surrounding
him. The horses felt the electricity in the air and nervously
began to pull away from the sensation. Suddenly he heard something snap
at the front of the wagon. Now he really had problems . . .
Ben stood at the top of the hill scowling as he pondered his own dilemma.
He wasn’t sure where Buck was at the moment, but he was sure that unless the
situation changed he couldn’t get to him, or to the rifle he had stupidly
left in the scabbard on the horse. The grizzly that was munching away on the
string of fish he had caught may not be paying him any attention at the moment,
but those few fish wouldn’t hold his attention forever.
A few minutes earlier he had been smugly thinking he would get away with
taking this little break – how would the family ever know? He had been
in a bad mood yesterday when he caught the three of them goofing off in the
barn, with their chores still unfinished, and knowing he had a stack of paperwork
awaiting him. Still in a bad mood this morning, he had gone into a lengthy
discussion on responsibility and doing things efficiently and the proper
time for recreation, and, and, and…. His sons had sat silently, knowing
that it was best just to let him keep talking and agree. He had even
lectured Hop Sing on the wastefulness of preparing too much food. The
Chinaman had just glared at him and turned and gone back to the kitchen. At
that moment he had a bad feeling that Hop Sing would not so easily forget
this lecture. Now here he was, supposed to be going straight home
to work on that still overdue paperwork, but stuck on this knoll until that
blasted bear finished his lunch.
Ben had been lazing on the bank, successfully casting and recasting
his line for over an hour as his string of fish kept growing, not even considering
how he would explain the string of fish to Hop Sing. He’d cross that
bridge when he got to it. Buck was grazing off to his left, also enjoying
the respite. The sky overhead only held a few gray clouds, which was
lucky, he thought, as there was a line of storms a few miles off that looked
pretty ominous. But they were no threat to him and he was enjoying the
beautiful early summer day.
He had just pulled out the biggest fish yet, holding it up to admire it
when he saw the flash of dark fur coming toward him from behind, and heard
the thunder of the paws of the rapidly approaching beast as they beat the
ground between him and Buck. Hurriedly he dropped the fish and ran
off in the other direction. The bear didn’t really care about the man
at the moment, or about the horse, who was beating a hasty retreat in the
opposite direction. All he saw was the easy meal waiting for him on
the bank. Ben groaned, hoping his horse hadn’t ran all the way home.
These boots weren’t designed for a lot of walking. How was he going
to explain this to his sons….
Hop Sing coughed and tried to fan the smoke out the open door of the kitchen.
He knew that the morning had gone too smoothly. A nice ride out to pick some
berries to put up and fresh pies, a few short stops to collect some early
greens, a successful hour of fishing, and just enjoying the beautiful
day. The house was quiet when he arrived back. No Cartwrights
traipsing through his kitchen, or waiting to be served, or yelling and fighting.
Just peace and quiet. He could take his time this afternoon preparing
supper. He walked into the kitchen with his bags and buckets, singing
a little ditty to himself.
At first he was unaware of the two piercing eyes staring at him from atop
the cupboard. He proceeded on with his work, and soon the greens were
cooking, pies and bread baking, and he was busily washing and sorting the
rest of the berries. The raven eyes watched every move, the small head
cocking from one side of its body to the other. Hop Sing sang softly
as he bustled about the kitchen, relishing the rare moments of quiet in the
“HA, HA, HA” Hop Sing jumped back, looking around for the source of
the gravely laugh. “Haw, Haw, Haw”. Turning quickly toward the
sound he was met by a fury of sleek, black feathers, two dark eyes peering
directly into his as they passed inches over his head, the beating of wings
against air breezing past his forehead.
“AAAAAAAHHHHHHH” Hop Sing ran into the dining room, then reopened
the door just enough to peer back into the kitchen.
The crow cocked its head from its perch on the kitchen chair. “Caw,
Caw, Caw” Hop Sing narrowed his eyes menacingly, then shut the door,
turning his back against it as if to prevent the creature from opening it
on him. How would he get that bird out of there? He searched for
a weapon, anything to urge that menace out of his kitchen. He ran around
to the front door and towards the barn. Looking around wildly he spotted
a shovel and grabbing it ran back towards the kitchen. Opening the
door just slightly he peered in, missing the beak and dark eyes pointed straight
down at him from the sill above the door. Cautiously he entered
the kitchen. Where did that black bandit go?
“Caw, caw” Hop Sing ducked as wings brushed the top of his head, and
he ran straight through to the dining room, not realizing the bird was following
him through the door, and only saw him as he perched on the grandfather clock,
wings folding back against his body in defiance. Hop Sings eyes grew
wide as he and the crow eyed each other, each trying to decide what the other
would do next. The crow truly seemed to be enjoying this game.
Hop Sing went after the huge bird, swinging wildly with the shovel.
He didn’t really want to hit the bird, for he would be harder to deal with
injured. He only wanted the winged intruder to leave, forgetting that
he had cut off any route of escape.
“Caw, caw, caw” The bird flapped over to the horns that hung
above the fireplace, perching on the very center, cocking his head sideways,
beak open, to stare laughingly at the Chinaman. A long string
of harshly shouted Chinese was aimed towards the bird. Suddenly Hop
Sing stopped his tirade and sniffed the air. His eyes widened and a
now anxious salvo of words spewed forth as he turned and ran towards the black
smoke coming from the kitchen . . .
Hoss was the first to arrive home that evening. Entering the house
he was surprised that no one else was back yet. He was starving, and
surprised not to be greeted by the usual smell of Hop Sing’s good cooking.
There was a suspicious odor hanging something like when you first doused
a campfire. Squinching up his nose and sniffing the air he called, “Hey,
Hop Sing, how long ‘til supper. I’m starvin’”
Hop Sing stuck his head through the kitchen door, waved a large butcher
knife in Hoss’ direction, and spouted off several unintelligible words before
retreating back to the kitchen. Hoss shrugged and headed upstairs to
clean up. A few minutes later he was back in the great room, cleaner
and more tired, just as Joe came walking through the front door.
“About time you got in here, little brother. Surely it didn’t
take you this long to do those few little chores Pa gave you.” Hoss
stopped as he looked at his younger brother, who walked with a definite limp
and his left eye shining from a large purple bruise, clothes ripped
in several places. Hoss narrowed his eyes, taking in the sight.
“What happened to you?”
Joe started past him up the stairs “Numfin”
Hoss grabbed his arm “What did you say?”
Joe looked him in the face and Hoss could see his jaw was also swollen
on the right side. “Numfin”. Joe jerked his arm back and stormed
upstairs to get cleaned up before his father got home.
Hoss shrugged and walked downstairs, plopping down and sinking back in the
red leather chair. Determined not to fall asleep, he was slapping himself
across the face when Ben walked through the door. Ben glanced twice
at his middle son’s actions before deciding it wasn’t worth pursuing.
Hoss sat up, noticing the rip in his father’s lower pants leg and a decided
limp in his gait. “Hey, Pa. You alright? What happened to
Ben’s face flushed slightly at the question and he fumbled with his
gunbelt before nervously answering “Nothing”.
Hoss watched worriedly as his father walked stiffly across the room,
then up the stairs. Still fighting the urge to nap in the comfort of
the chair, Hoss arose and walked over to the hearth, just as Joe walked back
downstairs and fell back into the corner of the settee, feet on the table.
He looked gruffly at the hearth, but refused to look at his older brother,
who was quizzically studying his beaten face. Hoss shrugged. Pa
would get it out of him soon enough. Besides, if Pa was busy questioning
Joe at dinner, then maybe no one would ask him about his day, and he wouldn’t
have to explain why he hadn’t gotten as far along as he had intended to today.
Hoss and Joe sat silent in their own thoughts for several minutes before
Ben hobbled back down the stairs. He stopped at the bottom and looked
around, giving Hoss a look that prevented any further questions. Looking
over at Joe he espied the black eye that refused to meet his. “Well,
Joseph, whose fist did you walk into, today? And, get your feet off the table!”
Joe quickly dropped his feet to the floor and turned his head slowly up
to meet his fathers gaze. “I’sa lawng stowwy, Pahhw.”
Ben walked over and grabbed his son’s chin and pulled it up, ignoring Joe’s
grimace of pain as he latched on. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to wait
until the swelling goes down to get the full story, or is someone else going
to come knocking on the door to tell me their side?” Joe shook his
head quickly. Ben grunted, then looked around the room. “Where’s Adam?
He should have been back hours ago. And why isn’t supper on the table?
HOP SING” Ben bellowed towards the kitchen.
Hop Sing angrily stuck his head out of the kitchen door, shouting another
tirade in Chinese, but finishing up with “Sit, I bring supper.”, and abruptly
disappearing back into the kitchen.
The three men strode quietly towards their seats in the dining room, just
as a very dismal and wet Adam walked through the door. Ben stopped just
long enough to give his eldest a querying glance, before proceeding to the
dining room, deciding he didn’t really want to hear the story just yet.
Adam stomped upstairs to change into dry clothes and clean up, leaving a
trail of muddy bootprints, and moreover not caring that he did..
The other three still sat solemnly at the table when he returned a few minutes
later and sat down, looking at the empty table, then at his family.
He stopped for a moment when he saw Joe’s face, but from the looks on their
faces, and his own foul mood, he decided not to comment.
Ben looked over at Adam again when he emitted a slight cough and several
sniffles, before yelling “HOP SING, ARE YOU GOING TO FEED US TONIGHT, OR NOT”.
Hop Sing came out with two plates, already filled, and set one down in front
of Hoss and another in front of Joe, before returning to the kitchen.
Adam gave another watery sniff and took his handkerchief out of his back pocket.
Joe picked at the odd looking section of meat pie that took up half the plate,
before moving a small forkful to his mouth, but found he couldn’t open his
jaw enough to even get the fork in. He held the fork in midair momentarily
before setting it back on the plate.
Hop Sing came back and slammed the other two plates in front of Ben and
Adam. He looked at Ben and stated “Made pie ‘specially for you.”
before retreating yet again into the kitchen, which earned his back an angry
glare from the patriarch. Hoss happily took a large bite of the meat
pie, just as a large series of wet sneezes snuck up on Adam. Hoss looked
at his brother, who was busily wiping at his reddened nose, trying to catch
the next sneeze. Hoss screwed his mouth downwards and pushed his plate
Ben had continued to glare the direction of the retreating back of the Chinaman
for several minutes before looking at his own plate. On it was the same thing
as the other plates – a large helping of meat pie and a large slab of fried
fish. Ben groaned and laid his napkin over his plate.
Adam looked at his family oddly, wondering what had happened to their appetites,
as he dug his fork into the meat pie. Kind of an odd meal, but he was
too hungry to question. He took a bite of the slab of bread on his plate,
noticing it seemed to be the leftover from yesterday, and a little stale.
Lifting his fork to his mouth, he noticed something odd in the pie.
Pulling out the foreign object he quickly decided maybe he wasn’t really
that hungry, either.
Ben took another look around the table, he took in a deep breath and exhaled
slowly. “Let’s just not even mention this day, ever again.”, then
he stood and looked intently at each one of his sons in turn before walking
towards the stairs.
Hop Sing heard the men as they left the table, and he walked back in to
the dining room just in time to see the four backs disappearing silently
upstairs. The plates sat untouched on the table. Hop Sing chattered
at the air. Why did he bother? Smugly he grabbed up the plates,
pausing for just a moment to pick up a small black feather resting beside
one plate, then swung around and walked off toward the kitchen, singing a
little ditty and smiling..
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