Double Dating

Lyn Robinson


Joe was very bored and waiting for his eldest brother to come home. His father and his big brother were both seemingly excited about their plans for Saturday evening, plans which involved haircuts and a lot of shoe polishing. but they wouldn’t tell Joe what they were up to. He was feeling quite left out and noone was even answering his questions.


Adam finally reached home late on Saturday afternoon, it had been a very hard week up at the lumber camp, physically demanding and every muscle in his body seemed to be making its own individual protest. He was looking forward to a soak in a hot bath and wasn’t best pleased to find his big brother had beaten him to it. Adam eased himself down into his favourite blue chair and Hop Sing brought him over some coffee.


Little Joe bounced downstairs, he had been waiting for Adam but as he took in the dirty tired figure in front of him, the question died on Joe’s lips. Not quite seventeen, Joe wasn’t allowed into Virginia City alone on a Saturday night and he had been hoping that Adam would go in with him. Both his father and Hoss had plans for the evening, very secretive plans it seemed to Joe and plans, which definitely didn’t include him. For once Joe didn’t push just asking quietly “Hard week?”


Adam nodded easing his aching muscles, made worse by a large number of bruises where once again someone had challenged his right to be Bull of the Woods, not that he had any intention of letting his family know. He had dealt with the problem and it was over. “Glad to be home for some of Hop Sing’s good food and a couple of nights in my own bed.”


Then as Hoss appeared and headed upstairs, not even noticing his eldest brother, Adam looked quizzically at Joe “What’s going on?”


Joe shrugged “I don’t know he’s being awful secretive, maybe he’s in love.”


Adam grinned at the expression of distaste on his little brother’s face and eased himself up at least it meant the washroom was clear and he went to help Hop Sing take in hot water so he could get the dirt of the week off.


Dinner was a very quiet meal, Adam was tired and both Ben and Hoss seemed lost in their own thoughts. Ben was first up from table, he had ignored the looks his sons gave him as he came to table in his best suit and now collecting his hat he just said “See you in the morning boys.” And was out the door before anyone could ask him a question. He went round the side of the house and cut a single perfect rose, from Marie’s bush, before going to saddle Buck.


Hoss wasn’t far behind his father, his hair as neat as he could manage, some of Adam’s bay rum borrowed for the occasion and his boots polished so he could see his face in them, he was as ready as he was going to be. He went into the storeroom and got a large basket with a fitted lid and went into the barn. One of the dogs had had puppies about twelve weeks ago and Hoss was trying to find homes for them. He chose a prettily marked brown and white puppy and placed it in the basket. Then he went to saddle Chub and headed for town.


Inside Adam poured coffee and took it over to the fire. Joe followed him and looked over at the chess set. Adam had been teaching him to play “Adam do you want a game of chess?”


Adam drained his coffee and put the cup down before saying decisively “No.”


Joe’s face dropped but Adam got to his feet “I fancy a beer and maybe a game of poker, want to come to town with me little brother?”


Joe jumped to his feet delightedly “I thought you were too tired.”


“So did I but some decent grub does wonders. Come on let’s go saddle up.” Adam was amused at the excitement clear all over his little brother’s face. It might limit his options but it was worth it to see that grin. It was a long time since a night in Virginia City had excited Adam like that but he could remember when he was much younger and his father had taken him to town on a Saturday night.


In town Ben had tied Buck up outside a small house on the outskirts of town with the proverbial white picket fence. Straightening his string tie and checking his jacket was sitting straight, Ben walked up to the front door holding the rose and he smiled as the door was opened by Mrs Vanderbilt. She had come to town about three months earlier, a widow with a twenty year old daughter. Both she and her daughter were slim blonde women and wore their hair in a bun. When Ben first saw them he wasn’t sure whether it was Mother and daughter or two sisters. Ben had slowly got to know them at the church on Sunday but this was the first time he had visited Mrs Vanderbilt. She smiled at him and gracefully accepted the rose, inviting him in for tea. It was a long time since Ben had had a date with a woman. Visions of Marie came into his mind, but she had been dead more than ten years and he knew his third wife, like his first two, was far too generous to want him to be alone. He followed the lovely blonde woman inside, looking forward to the evening.


Ben didn’t realise that as he tied Buck up at the front his middle son was tying Chub up at the back of the house. Diane Vanderbilt was looking out for him and came over as he dismounted “Oh Eric I thought you would never come.”


Hoss blushed slightly “Long way from the ranch Miss Diane.” And then he picked up the basket “This is for you.”


Diane quickly opened the basket and oohed at the cute puppy inside “He’s lovely Eric thank you so much.” She jumped up to plant a kiss on his cheek and Hoss went bright red but she was oblivious as she talked to the pup telling him how much he was going to enjoy it with her and naming him Rusty. Then she grabbed Hoss’ hand and led him inside for tea.


As Diane joined her mother, Hoss saw his father for the first time and both men stared in disbelief. The women seemed oblivious as Diane introduced the new puppy to her mother. Hoss awkwardly took the only available seat next to his father, keeping as far away from Ben as he could at the other end of the sofa.


Mrs Vanderbilt picked up a small bell and rang for tea and a stern looking elderly woman came in with a tray. Ben had a job to keep a straight face as he saw the look on his big son’s face at the tiny china cups and the little cakes set out on a fancy doily.

Ten cakes would barely make a mouthful for his big son. The grin quickly faded as he sipped the insipid water that passed for tea and nearly broke a tooth on the hard cake but he schooled his features to show interest as Mrs Vanderbilt began describing her home in New York before she came west. Her daughter helped out but Ben and Hoss couldn’t get a word in edgewise.


Meanwhile Adam and Joe had made good time to town, for once the eldest and youngest brothers were in complete agreement and Adam even found himself telling Joe about the fight with Big Red, who had argued against some of his orders. With his big brother next to him and obviously alright Joe revelled in the idea of Adam winning a fight and his near hero worship was good for the older man’s ego after a hard week at work wondering if he was measuring up to his father’s demands. It seemed to take no time to reach town.


As they rode in a young girl was screaming for help and pointing at a kid “Stop him he’s stolen my purse.”


The kid wasn’t more than ten or eleven and Adam let his little brother tackle the kid while he dismounted quickly and went to help the young girl who was nearly hysterical “Easy now Ma’am we’ll have your purse back in just a moment.” The girl who didn’t look any older than Joe looked up in tears and Adam patted her on the back trying to reassure her just as he would his youngest brother. To Adam’s infinite relief a young lady came rushing out of the dressmaker’s having heard the cries for help and took the younger girl in her arms. Just then Joe came up. The kid had no chance to outrun Cochise and drawing level Joe had jumped off and tackled the kid easily grabbing hold and retrieving the purse. Not knowing what to do he dragged the youngster back to his brother, Adam would know.


Adam had to grin at his little brother, who was almost preening himself and the dishevelled ten year old who looked very sorry for himself. Adam recognised the kid vaguely; he was one of the crowd of youngster who lived in several disused shacks at the edge of town. Orphaned none of them were willing to go to the state orphanage and lived a hand to mouth existence. Both Adam and his big brother helped the kids out when they could, finding odd jobs for them and paying more than necessary but the boys were proud and wouldn’t take charity. Hoss knew them better than he did, many of them finding the eldest Cartwright in his black clothes just too unapproachable. Normally they didn’t steal and Adam could only assume that times were very hard.


Adam moved over to the kid and gently cleaned the cut and bruise on his head where Joe had taken him down “You’re Tommy aren’t you?”


The boy nodded sullenly and Adam smiled reassuringly “Red won’t approve of you stealing.” Tommy blushed knowing this man was right. Red who was nearly sixteen ruled the group with a rod of iron and he didn’t approve of breaking the law. Adam straightened up and checked his own brother, glad to see no sign of harm “Joe why don’t you escort Tommy here home and let Red know what he’s been up to.” Joe nodded and Adam turned to the two women “Ladies. I apologise for the behaviour of some of our fellow citizens. May I offer you a cup of tea and a chance to recover from this scare?”


The elder of the two smiled “That would be very pleasant Mr?”


Adam apologised “I should have introduced myself. I am Adam Cartwright, my brother Joseph.” He nodded over at Joe who was delighted that Adam had used his formal name and not the familiar Little Joe.


The elder sister reciprocated “I’m Donna Bartle and this is my younger sister Nancy, we only arrived in Virginia City yesterday, waiting for our father to join us. He had some business in Salt Lake City.”


Adam turned to Joe “Take Tommy home Joe and then come join us at the International house.”


Joe felt about ten feet tall, as his brother trusted him to complete the job and the young girl looked at him as though he was a hero. He hurried Tommy down the street and handed him over to Red along with the ten dollar bill his big brother had slipped him if things were so bad that the youngster needed to steal then they needed some help. Even Red treated Joe as though he was an adult and promised that Tommy wouldn’t be doing any more thieving and Joe had a distinct bounce in his step as he headed back to the hotel.


Adam had ordered a nice tea and the scones for which the International was justly famous. The two girls had relaxed with a drink and the company of this gentleman, and to Joe’s delight Nancy moved her chair as close to his as she could get. Adam was explaining that the trouble Nancy had had wasn’t typical of Virginia City. Normally ladies could walk the streets quite safely, just a kid getting desperate. Nancy was insisted that she was fine, just momentarily scared and very angry at losing her purse. She smiled up at Joe “Until this kind gentleman retrieved it for me.”


Adam had a job to keep a straight face as his little brother visibly swelled at being called a gentleman, but he had other thoughts in his mind. “If you and your sister have no other plans for the evening, I wonder if you would do us the honour of joining us down at the dance?”


Donna looked down at her dress “I don’t think we are quite dressed for it.”


Adam was quick to put her mind at rest, “This is Virginia City, very few people are in a position to get really dressed up for the Saturday night dance. Both you and your sister would fit right in I can promise.”


Joe broke in “You’ll be Belles of the Ball, won’t they Adam?”


Adam smiled at his excitable little brother “Maybe not quite the way to say it Joe but I have to agree with the sentiments, if the ladies would do us the honour?”


Nancy was almost out of her seat in her excitement and the older pair met each other’s eye, both knowing what it was like to be responsible for an excitable younger sibling. Donna smiled “We would be delighted. It sounds very much more interesting than the evening in the hotel room with a book that I was planning.”


Adam offered his arm to Donna and she took it and Joe having watched carefully copied his eldest brother and with Nancy on his arm, the four headed down to the dance.


Meanwhile Ben and Hoss were sitting on the most uncomfortable sofa they had ever met, even worse than their own, trying to ignore the indigestible lump in their throats from the cakes that had been served and listening to Mrs Vanderbilt and her daughter drone on interminably. Twice Ben had to dig his big son in the ribs as Hoss showed every sign of going to sleep. Ben was determined that if he was going to suffer then so was his son. Ben had given up trying to get a word in and was just waiting for an opportunity to excuse himself and head home although he could see that wasn’t going to be easy. Diane was as voluble as her mother and the pair seemed to take it in turn. If he had been paying strict attention Ben was sure he could have built a miniature copy of the house they had left in Boston, to undergo the rigors of the west. To say nothing of the people who would come to their famous New year party, and the high society names that they were used to mingling with. Hoss had been paying even less attention, watching the new puppy as it investigated the room, biting his lip and keeping very quiet as it marked its territory by cocking a leg in the corner, the words washing over his head unattended.


Three times Ben tried to get to his feet and leave but he had more tasteless, and by now cold tea, pressed onto him and without being rude he could only sit down and smile politely. Hoss had long given up on the evening and was waiting for his father to extricate them, more patiently than his father. Hoss had made the mistake of calling his father Pa a little earlier, in one of the few gaps when he could open his mouth. That had left to trills of laughter as the two women discussed the use of the term. Mrs Vanderbilt declared that nobody used any term but Father in polite company, although she did believe that the English sometimes used Dad. Daddy or Papa was fine in the nursery but not in public and Pa was so ‘quaint’. Ben got the distinct impression that she was going to say common but had just caught herself in time. He was beginning to lose all patience but he still couldn’t find a way to escape without being rude.


Meantime Adam and Joe were having a great time down at the dance. As soon as the sisters saw the crowd and knew that they did fit in, they were willing to dance the night away. Joe saw a number of the other girls from town looked jealously at his partner and that made the evening even sweeter, while Adam’s current girlfriend was away in Sacramento, so he was free to enjoy himself.


Eventually the band called the last dance and both brothers held the girls close in the slow waltz. Neither had wasted any time and they had individual plans for the following day, so there were no problems when they had to escort the sisters back to their hotel. Donna told her little sister to go up to the room but made no comment as Joe escorted her. In her turn she moved into the dark alley with Adam for a few moments that proved equally satisfactory to both of them, before Adam escorted her upstairs to collect his little brother. Joe was grinning broadly and Adam was sure his brother had also stolen a kiss or two. The brothers headed home and found that their plans for the following day didn’t clash. Donna was no horsewoman and so Adam wanted to use the buggy but Nancy fancied herself on horseback and Joe almost apologetically asked, “Do you think I could use that little white mare you’re training?”


Adam grinned broadly “Why do you think I’m training her? She’ll be an ideal ladies horse. Tie her and Cochise on the back and join me on the ride to town tomorrow and then we can do our own thing.”


“That sounds great Adam.”


Adam considered his excitable little brother and remembered the warnings his father gave him at the same age, the risks of being alone with a girl. He didn’t see any problem with the younger of the sisters but he just gently reminded his brother that their Pa expected them to act like gentlemen with ladies. Joe nodded seriously and then began extolling the virtues of his new friend much to Adam’s amusement, after all they had been together most of the evening and he had seen for himself.


Shortly before the brothers left town, Ben stood up very decisively “we really must be gong ladies. It is a long ride back to the ranch.”


Mrs Vanderbilt rose majestically “It has been a very pleasant evening Benjamin I hope that we will see you and Eric at church tomorrow, maybe at the picnic afterwards, we could prepare some food?”


Hoss looked at his father, panic clear on his face, and Ben felt much the same even if he hid it rather better. Ben hurriedly shook his head “No I’m afraid we have business, we have to got to Yuma tomorrow, be away for several weeks.”


Diane looked very disappointed and stroked Hoss’ arm “Can’t one of your other sons go with you, leave Eric here?”


Ben shook his head “No I’m afraid not. I need Hoss, I mean I need Eric’s expertise, we are going to buy cattle.” He grabbed Hoss’ free arm “I am very sorry. All very pleasant ladies but we need an early start tomorrow.” Then father and son almost ran for their horses. Hoss had to go round the back to get Chub and as he pulled in next to his father Ben fixed him with a glare “Not a word. I don’t want to hear a word all the way home.”


Hoss nodded, for certain that suited him as he mused if it was fair to leave a poor little puppy with her, could you talk a dog to death he wondered.


Adam and Joe had just about finished seeing to their horses when they saw their father and Hoss approaching together, just at midnight. Surprised to see them riding home together the brothers were even more surprised by the bad temper on both their faces. Adam offered to see to Buck for his father, an offer which Ben willingly accepted before turning to his sons “You can all have a lie-in in the morning, we shan’t be going to church. We will go fishing.”


Adam and Joe looked at each other in near shock at that and Joe left it to his eldest brother as Adam said quietly “Joe and I have other plans Pa. I take it you don’t mind if we do go to church?”


Ben glared at him but he could hardly object and grunting “Do what you like.” With that he headed for bed.


Hoss had given Chub a very perfunctory rub down and he almost fled from the barn not wanting his brothers to start asking questions. Joe stood there with his mouth open as he watched Hoss disappear too. Adam grinned “I guess Pa and Hoss didn’t have as pleasant an evening as we did. I’ll see to Buck you might like to finish off Chub properly.” Joe had lots of questions but he knew Adam had no more answers than he did and the brothers finished off in comfortable silence and headed for bed.


Next morning they didn’t seem destined to get any answers either, Hoss had already had breakfast and left the house by the time they came down and there was no sign of their father. Joe asked tentatively “What do we do?”


Adam grinned “We have breakfast and then you brush that little white mare until she gleams while I give the buggy a quick polish and then we head for church. I have already arranged for two picnic lunches from Hop Sing.”


Joe looked disappointed at that but Adam was quick to add, two packs both designed for two people Joe. “Come on eat up we need to get ready and then go and hope the sermon is short today.”


The brothers chatted as they rode to town wondering just what Ben and Hoss had been up to the previous night and they were destined to get their answers as they rode up to the church. Mrs Vanderbilt and her daughter came over to them much to Adam’s surprise. She looked at him almost accusingly “I see that you are not going with your father and brother to Yuma.”


Joe looked at his brother wondering what on earth she was talking about, did Adam know something that he didn’t. Joe couldn’t tell anything from Adam’s face, when he wanted to his eldest brother could be totally inscrutable. Adam was more intrigued by the puppy that Diane had in her arms and slowly things began to slip into place. Meantime he obviously had to make some answer and he said “No just my Father and Hoss.”


Diane said accusingly “I thought Eric was going with your father?”


Adam bit his lip fighting to keep a straight face as he remembered some comments that he had heard “Of course Miss Vanderbilt I mean Eric.”


“When will they be back?”


“You can never be sure with business but I imagine it will be two or three weeks at least.” Adam parried and then seeing that she was about to start talking again he raised his hat “We need to get into church Good day.” As they moved into their usual pew Joe murmured “What’s all that about Yuma?”


“I think Pa is running scared, probably got an invitation to the picnic today and made up any excuse.”


 “That rose she had in her hat was just like the ones on Ma’s bush.” Joe commented


“Mmm and the pup her daughter had looked very like one Hoss had in the barn.”


“You think Pa and Hoss were both there last night?” Joe said in some surprise. His father and brother hadn’t known they were going to the same place when they left the house, of that much he was certain.


“Wouldn’t surprise me, particularly as I heard Hoss wondering if you could talk a pup to death?” Joe looked puzzled and Adam lent closer “Rob went out with the daughter but only once. He said she could talk for her country, that she barely shut her mouth long enough to put any food in it. let alone anything else. Word is that her mother is very like her daughter.”


Joe had grave difficulty in not bursting out laughing, but he calmed down as Donna and Nancy came to join them. The brothers barely noticed the sermon as they contemplated the evening they had enjoyed, compared to the rest of their family, and thought ahead to an enjoyable day.


Meantime Ben and Hoss lazed out by the fishing hole enjoying the peace and quiet and the good food Hop Sing had prepared. Neither wanted to talk about the disastrous evening, just wanting to forget all about it and about the mother and daughter.


Adam reverted to what he believed once, as he and Joe rode home late that evening. “I’d guess that we will have to get the stores and handle the banking and other business in town for a while.”


“Sounds good to me. Nancy is going to be in town for about a month.”


“I know, so is Donna. I think we just have to make an occasional comment about Mrs Vanderbilt and her daughter asking about them and Pa and Hoss will be happy for us to go to town. Adam grinned broadly “Should be good for at least a month. After all they are in Yuma!”