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THOSE BROTHERS OF MINE
Summary: Joe relates two different times that a woman came between Hoss and Adam.
Warning: Mild cursing
Characters: Ben, Adam, Hoss & Little Joe
Those Brothers of Mine
I have two older brothers whose names are “Yankee Granite-head” and “Missouri Mule.” Okay, the nick-names just happened because Adam is as hard-headed as a piece of granite and even worse, is a Yankee. Hoss, well, Adam stuck that nickname “Missouri Mule,” on him because Hoss needs convincing to believe anything that isn’t right there in front of him—and even then he has his doubts. I don’t really have a nickname anymore and in a way that’s good. I mean I was called “Little Joe” for a while and still am on occasion—but as I’m growing older, the name is dropping away. You know how it is; we outgrow many things from our youth.
I never really minded the “Little” because I was little compared to my brothers in two ways. Adam is twelve years older than me so he’s always seemed grown to me—always bigger and always smarter. And Hoss has always outweighed me -- now by more than a hundred and fifty pounds. I mean, I’d guess Adam’s close to 200 — probably a bit more - -but Hoss is close to 300 pounds and taller than any of us -- even Pa. And he’s a fearsome looking brute until he smiles and then you see it—the light in his blue eyes, the joy in his smile and you realize he loves to laugh and just makes you glad he’s around. You’d like him—I’m sure. That is until he loses his temper. It takes a lot to make Hoss lose his temper but when he does, it’s like he changes into a different person altogether.
Now Hoss—I can easily convince him to participate in some of my money-making schemes or anything else. It isn’t that Hoss is dumb, it’s that he’s so…Adam calls it gullible but Pa says that Hoss is just trusting. I know it sounds funny but unless someone spits in Hoss’ eye, he thinks they’re a friend. I think it's because he has no real evil in his heart, you know, that plotting kind of evil, so it takes Hoss a while to see it in others. But not Adam. Adam told me once that a man has to have a capacity for evil in order to recognize it in others and when he said it, I knew oldest brother was saying that he could plot evil as well as the next man—if not better. I think Adam would make a dangerous enemy; he’s the type who’d plan revenge and then, when the man least expected, just when he’d be thinking that his life was wonderful, that’s when Adam would get him. But don’t get me wrong, it takes a lot to rile up Adam as well. That’s ‘cause he always thinks about things before he acts.
So Adam, he’s another type completely from Hoss or even me. He prefers what Pa calls “intellectual pursuits” and what I call boring. He’s also hard to fool. I don’t think he’s that way because he went to college but that he went to college because he’s that way. But, let me tell you—and if you ever met him, you’d understand what I’m saying; Adam has a way of looking at you as if he knows—not guessing, but absolutely knows when you’re lying and it makes your stomach knot up and you just confess the truth. But what also burns me is that I’ve never won a chess or checker game from him. Not ever. I mean I should have won a few checker games from him because I’m good. But the chess losses, now they don’t really bother me because I get bored while Adam just sits there staring at the pieces.
“Move a piece already!” I always end up saying, and then Adam just looks at me with this superior expression and goes back to plotting his strategy. But the worst is that Adam’s always right about people and twice he’s been right about women Hoss loved and what Adam revealed nearly destroyed Hoss.
You might be asking why I’m telling you about this—I mean it’s not about me, right? Wrong. It is about me because we’re brothers—granted we’re only half-brothers but brothers all the same and our Pa’s blood runs through all three of us equally. So I bring all this up because my brother Adam was bad hurt and it was Hoss who hurt him.
The first time Hoss fell in love with the wrong woman was about four years ago. Hoss and I traveled to Sacramento to visit the widow Helen Layton. Her husband, Josh Layton, a friend of Pa’s, had died and Adam, who was the only one of the three of us brothers to have met them and have known Josh, was in San Francisco. So Pa sent us, Hoss and me. I didn’t want to go—travel all that way just to see a widow woman but Pa said I was going and that was that. You don’t talk back to Pa unless you’re Adam; he’s the only one of us brothers who can argue with Pa and sometimes even win but for Hoss and me—it’s just, “Yes, sir.”
A few months earlier, Adam had come back from Sacramento City—stopped there coming home from a trip to buy a seed bull, and said that Josh was being treated by a doctor but that he didn’t exactly know exactly why—something with his liver. Then some time later, a wire came from that Helen Layton saying Josh had died. Pa was really upset about it as he hadn’t expected it.
“I should’ve visited him instead of sending Adam,” Pa said. “Now Josh is dead and it’s too late.” He looked again at the telegram. “We’ll need to help Helen; she never had a head for money from what Josh said.” I remember Adam kinda looked guilty about something but he never said anything about Josh Layton’s death. Now I know it was because Adam knew—knew all the time that Josh had really drunk himself to death and that Helen was to blame.
Anyway, Adam had to go to San Francisco on ranch business like I said, so Hoss and I went to help the Widow Layton. Well, it ended up that the widow was young, I mean compared to Pa. But she was older than Hoss by about ten years or so. I think she was even older than Adam but she was so beautiful she’d fry your eyes.
It was on the way back home and we'd made camp; Helen was sitting by the fire and Hoss and I were cleaning up the tin cups and pans and I said with a snicker, “Think she’s why Adam would stop by the Layton’s every time he was over their way?”
“Don’t you talk like that, Joe,” Hoss said, his brow furrowed. He stood with his feet apart, bracing himself for a fight and I apologized, telling him I was just joking. I knew then that Hoss would brook no comments about Helen, no criticism at all and didn’t even want to think about competing with Adam ‘cause when it came to women, Adam won every time. Every single time.
Anyway, Hoss fell in love with Helen Layton and I swear she was in love with him; she sure acted like it. Up to then, I’d never seen Hoss so love-struck over a female except the year before when he fell in love with Emily Pennington but she died. Maybe that’s why Hoss was so ready to fall in love with Helen Layton. When there’s a hole in your soul, all you want is to fill it and as soon as possible. Well, when Adam came back home and he found out who Hoss wanted to marry, he said that she “never loved anything in her life but a deck of cards.”
I stood on the porch, listening to Adam tell Pa about Helen and felt sick in my stomach—tasted acid in my mouth. Adam told Pa that Helen dropped about $27,000 one night alone gambling in Sacramento City and Josh Layton started drinking because of it; she was gambling away everything they owned. And then Adam said that as soon as Josh had died, Helen found another man to buy her things and pay for her gambling habit. I couldn’t help but think maybe he’d gone broke too and that was why she’d latched onto Hoss.
Pa’s face went pale when Adam said that. He knew he would have to tell Hoss about Helen’s gambling. “What’s this going to do to Hoss?” Pa asked.
“I don’t know,” Adam said quietly, “but at least he won’t marry her.”
Well, Adam was right about Helen. The first full day she was with us, Helen gambled away $5,000 dollars and Pa paid up when Frank, the owner of the Sazerac, came in person to collect on the IOU she had signed. Pa paid up right away. Adam and I just looked at each other.
“Well, that proves it,” Adam said about the IOU. And you know what Pa did? He tore it up. He said that Hoss would never know about the IOU and then he left leaving Adam and me behind.
“Pa never should’ve torn that up,” I said. I was really upset. I knew Hoss loved Helen and I also knew that despite Pa having told him earlier about Helen’s gambling, Hoss had refused to believe it, even called Adam a liar. I didn’t know how we could make Hoss see the truth about Helen when even Pa couldn’t convince him.
“We have to do something about this,” Adam said. See, I told you, Adam thinks out everything and he was now thinking about how we could stop Helen—as he said, have her show her true self no matter how much it hurt Hoss, “…because at least Pa won’t be picking up the pieces the rest of his life.”
“But what can we do?” I asked.
Adam has a quick mind and can see right to the center of things. “Appeal to Helen’s first love,” Adam said.
“Gambling. That’s her first love, her only love, and I’m going to play right into her hands—or so she’ll think.”
Like I said, Adam is good at finding the soft underbelly of a person the way a wolf does a sheep, so he thought up a plan that included Frank and me. Adam would take Helen back to the poker tables at the Sazerac--he would stake her—or so it would seem. Then I would bring Hoss to town, take him in the Sazerac and he could see Helen gambling with his own eyes. I know what you might be thinking, that it was just mean, but I told you why Adam calls Hoss a "Missouri Mule"—he has to be shown everything to believe it. So we showed him.
Hoss stared at Helen as she sat at the poker table—she had just lost again and thrown her cards down in frustration. I asked Adam how much she had lost. It was $20,000 and Adam had signed all the markers. He put a hand on Hoss’s shoulder and said he was sorry but that was a big mistake on his part because Hoss turned and his fist caught Adam on the jaw and sent him spinning and then slamming against the bar.
“Hoss, we did it for you,” I said, hoping to avoid his fists but what did he do? He sent me flying over some tables. See, that’s what I mean about Hoss’ temper. It just explodes and he strikes out.
Hoss forgave us, both Adam and me and Helen Layton was never mentioned in our home again but that doesn’t mean she was forgotten. And then a few years later, along came Regan Miller. She was worse.
Regan was pretty—beautiful actually, and Hoss changed completely after he met her. Pa said that when Hoss was introduced to her by her sister Amelia at the dry goods store, he fell flat for her. And when Hoss invited them to the house for dinner, I could see why. Regan has this creamy skin and golden hair and she was quiet and shy—just Hoss’ type; flashy women make him uncomfortable. Hoss would sort of soften when he’d look at Regan or talk about her--he’d get this faraway look in his eyes. And after we saw Regan and Amelia off that night, Hoss told Pa and me that he wanted to marry her. Well, we were happy—really happy--too happy to realize that Adam wasn’t rejoicing with us. He was just standing off, looking out at the night.
So I was helping Pa get ready for the party the next day, already dressed up nice. Adam wasn't yet home. See, Hoss wanted to throw a big party so that everyone could meet Regan Miller. Although Miss Amelia, Regan’s older sister, had been a neighbor of ours for quite a few years, none of us had the least idea she had a sister and certainly not such a pretty one. Now don’t get me wrong, Miss Amelia isn’t exactly ugly but she isn’t pretty either—and she does have money. Somehow, money makes people more attractive. But Miss Amelia, she seems real hard and I don’t think she’s ever had a man come calling on her and with so few available women out this way, that’s unusual.
But you know how sometimes you look at a person and try to imagine them in bed with a lover? Try to imagine them as a sexual being? Well, I just couldn’t imagine Miss Amelia enjoying any man on top of her. Oh, I know I’m young, just in my early twenties but I’ve had quite a bit of experience and I‘m not bragging. Once I loved an older woman and she loved me. Sadly, she died. And I feel I can tell you this about her and me -- she was my first and I realize how lucky I was to have known someone experienced to teach me things. I always got the feeling there was some history between my first real love and my Pa but never pushed it. Actually, I didn’t want to know—I wouldn’t want a woman to come between Pa and me. But to get back to Regan Miller…
Well, I found out later, that when Adam met Regan that night at dinner, he recognized her name from San Francisco gossip and put two and two together, I guess. Actually, I thought that maybe he was getting sweet on her because he kept watching Regan all evening...you know, the way a man does when he’s interested in a woman. I was almost praying it wasn’t so. I didn’t want to see Adam and Hoss at odds over such a woman. Anyway, Adam had heard in San Francisco that Regan had been involved in some scandal. I never heard the whole story but some man killed another man over her and then, when Regan wanted nothing to do with him, wouldn’t even visit him in jail, he hanged himself from his barred window. I can’t imagine doing something like that over a woman but then I don't know all that he had to lose.
After that, Regan Miller became an outcast in San Francisco and so she left and came here to stay with her sister Amelia. ‘Course I didn’t find out any of this until long after and just bits and pieces I put together but I think I’m pretty much right. And you can believe me--I don’t lie—although I wish sometimes I could.
Well, like I was saying, I was helping Pa make the punch. Now the one thing my Pa can make for sure is fruit punch and he doesn’t even spike it—not that he won’t add a dollop of rum to anyone’s glass who asks for it. Hop Sing collects the juice from the canned peaches and Pa adds that to the mixture along with some seltzer water and some other crushed berries that Hop Sing collects. But add a dash of spiced rum and it’s fantastic.
Pa and I heard a few thuds and the sound of furniture crashing and we stared at each other. It seemed to come from the bunkhouse but all the hands were gone. It was off-season and the few hands we regularly kept-on were in town. After all, it was Saturday night and I wish to hell now that I had gone to town with them. I still get a little sick when I think of what happened next.
Well, we rushed to the bunkhouse and Hoss was tossing Adam around like he was some rag doll. Now Adam isn’t small—like I said, he weighs in at about 200 pounds, probably over, and he’s no slouch but he was helpless against Hoss. I just stood and stared. I wanted to do something but I couldn’t move. It was like my feet were nailed to the floor and everything seemed to be in slow motion--Adam colliding with the bunks and falling over chairs and Hoss grabbing him and hitting him again. Adam’s head flying back—and I remember thinking that his neck would snap just like a chicken’s and he’d be dead.
Pa finally managed to stop Hoss and asked what was going on? He’s always told us not to fight each other as we’re family; we’re blood and blood sticks together. Out here, out in the wilderness, sometimes family is all a person has. So Hoss said to ask Adam what was going on and he stormed out. I followed him, finally finding my feet, and we went into the house leaving Pa and Adam behind.
Hoss just paced the room. He had his hands shoved down in his pockets and walked back and forth. We had all the furniture pushed back so that people could dance and the musicians could play so it was a big, empty space. I asked Hoss what was going on but he just shook his head and continued pacing. So I poured the rest of the punch. And I waited.
Pa came in and asked me to go to the bunkhouse and see to Adam. See to Adam? What did that mean? I had no idea what I was supposed to see about but I learned to do what Pa says right away when he looks like he did that night. I opened the front door and people were driving up as well as the musicians riding in a buckboard holding their instruments. Pa wanted me to keep them all out but Hoss insisted on their coming in. He said, “No. I invited them—they’re my guests,” so I just went on to the bunk house, first greeting the Morrisons who were walking to the door. We talked for a few minutes and I’m glad it was dark—even though we had some Chinese lanterns up—or they would’ve noticed something was wrong with me. I don’t think I seemed any too festive—I sure didn’t feel it.
I went to the bunkhouse and when I saw Adam’s face, I sucked in my breath. His left eye was practically swollen shut and his jaw was turning purple and his lip was split—looked like raw meat. He was lying on a bunk with his eyes closed and Pa must’ve helped him take off his jacket ‘cause he was in so much pain he couldn’t have been able to do it by himself—I mean his breathing was ragged and he looked like hell.
“Pa said to see to you. What do you need?”
“A new set of ribs,” Adam managed to say, “because I swear that mule brother of ours broke every single one of mine.” Then he turned his head and spit out a thick clump of blood and saliva.
So I did all I could think of to do. I filled a pitcher with water, got a basin and a glass and helped Adam sit up so he could rinse out his mouth. He thanked me, holding onto my shoulder as he cleaned his mouth out and spit in the basin. I noticed his hand was shaking a little and that scared me. I mean Adam is so strong and he’s the oldest one of us. What was I ever going to do if something happened to him? I think my balance in the world shifted that night. All my security, all that I thought would never change, had—all because of a woman—and a whore at that.
Like I told you, I found out what passed between Hoss and Adam later. I asked Adam that night but he just said, “Joe, it hurts too damn much to talk. Just get me a few grains of laudanum and leave me be. I want to sleep awhile.”
“You sure, Adam?’ I asked.
That Adam--he smiled and then realized his lip was split and swollen so he stopped and ran his tongue over it. “Yeah, I’m sure. It’s been an eventful day.”
That Adam, trying to make bad things seem not so bad. I had to smile. I did as Adam wanted and then he sent me away. I didn’t want to leave him alone but he told me to go. I went in the house and stood next to Hoss who had put on his jacket but was still scowling. More people had arrived and I tried to get Hoss to drink some punch, told him that the bottle of rum was just under the table, waiting, but he just shrugged off my hand. I knew what had happened lay heavy on his mind and I felt as helpless in relieving his pain as I had Adam’s. Pa asked me about Adam and I told him what I had done and about the laudanum.
I felt sorry for Pa. He had two sons—both of them suffering and he was torn in two, trying to weigh who needed him more at the moment. Actually, he had three sons suffering; I needed him as well but I tried to behave as if I was fine but I wanted to ask Pa what was happening, to hear his deep, warm voice tell me that it was just a misunderstanding between Hoss and Adam and not to worry. Just a misunderstanding, he would say placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder and smiling at me.
I remember watching Pa that night and he behaved as if everything was fine but his eyes were worried. I could see it and it hurt my heart. The rest of the night was more or less a blur. Funny the things you remember and the things you don’t. But I do remember when Regan Miller walked in—you should have seen her, all dressed in purple and feathers in her hair and jewels and such. I swear that every man in the room stopped and stared—the women too. She was beautiful but looked like one of those spangly women, all painted and flashy. And Hoss—I’ll always remember the look on his face when she walked in, Amelia trailing behind her looking like a peahen. Hoss was like a poleaxed steer—he practically dropped to his knees like cattle do when they’re slammed between the eyes before they’re slaughtered. Let me tell you one thing, I felt sick again. I couldn’t stay and watch so I went to the bunkhouse and sat and watched Adam sleep. His breathing was rough and sometimes there was a slight gurgle to it. I was really afraid he was going to die so I decided to go get the doctor without telling Pa; he didn’t need more worry.
Well, it turned out that Adam wasn’t as bad off as he looked, thank God. His ribs were more bruised than anything else but his face was a mess. Dr. Martin stitched up Adam’s lip and even though he was still groggy from the laudanum, Adam gripped the side of the pallet and winced as Paul stuck that needle in and out of his swollen lip after cleaning it off with something that Adam later said made him want to blubber like a baby, it burned so bad. And afterwards, Adam had black thread woven in and out of his lower lip, the stiff ends of the knot sticking out.
I kinda crept around the house for the next two days or so. Hoss was in a dark mood and Pa had a tight jaw and even Hop Sing seemed a little wary—you know, as if there was a firecracker about to go off. I guess I was waiting for an explosion too but there was none. Despite what had happened—and I found out later it was that “Missouri Mule” Hoss saw Adam and Regan kissing, although to hear Adam tell it, it was far from a romantic kiss--Adam was soon back at the table and although their eyes didn’t meet until a day or two later, I felt things slowly become normal again between Hoss and Adam. Especially when they joined up in ribbing me.
It was a Friday evening and I came down the stairs dressed nicer than usual. Pa was smoking his pipe and Hoss was sprawled on the settee, his stocking feet on the table. Adam was tooling with his guitar but they all looked at me as I came down.
“Where are you going, young man?” Pa asked.
“To town. Thought I’d have a few beers, maybe a little conversation.”
“Ah,” Adam said, giving Hoss a conspiratorial wink, “a euphemism for what he’s really up to...”
“A what-ism?” Hoss asked and Pa chuckled.
“A euphemism,” Adam said. “A few beers and conversation is a nicer way of saying he plans to go drinking, gambling and whoring.”
Hoss laughed loudly. “Oh, so what he’s really sayin’ is that he’s gonna lose a few months’ pay to some card sharp and his heart to the first gal who might give him a tumble.”
Hoss and Adam both laughed at that and it was then I knew that everything was all right. No one—not any living soul could really come between those brothers of mine. No one—not even a beautiful woman because we’re blood and blood runs deep.
~ Finis ~
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