The Art Of Cunning
After many hours of thoughtful consideration, Joe Cartwright decided he’d take the bull by the horns once he’d returned to the ranch from his weekly visit to town to order the supplies. And finding his father sitting comfortably in his favorite leather armchair with a cup of coffee and the latest edition of the Virginia City Gazette was a good sign. Ben was usually at his best and most obliging in such a relaxing mode.
“Hi Pa,” Joe smiled as he placed his hat on the credenza. Ben looked over and gave a quick nod of greeting then returned to his newspaper.
Joe moved towards him. “I’ve brought you the mail.”
Without raising his eyes, Ben just motioned his hand to indicate Joe was to place the letters on the coffee table in front of him. Joe did as requested then sat down on the settee and waited in silence, for he knew from years of experience not to interrupt when his Pa was totally engrossed in an article he was reading.
And this was a particularly riveting piece of writing! A newly assigned hangman, recently employed by the Marshall’s Office in San Francisco, had only been working for a month before he was charged with murder himself! Subsequently found guilty, he was now awaiting execution just as soon as the City Council managed to complete the paperwork and sign up the losing candidate from the job interview to do the necessary deed.
Ben quietly chuckled at the irony of the situation as he re-read the headline. ‘Hangman to be hung by hangman!’ Then finally sensing a pair of eyes staring at him he peered over his paper towards his youngest son. “Anything I can do for you, Joseph?”
Joe swallowed hard. “Urm…yes, Pa. If you’ve got a minute, that is? I just want to ask you if…well, I just want to ask you something.”
Without hesitation, Ben meticulously folded up his paper and placed it on top of the pile of correspondence. “Very well…fire away,” he said, giving his son his full attention.
Joe hesitatingly pulled out a small catalogue from the inside pocket of his jacket and flicked through the pages. Finally he found what he was looking for and handed it over, pointing at the top item. “I know it’s still a few weeks till my eighteenth birthday but…would you buy these for me Pa?”
Ben frowned as he studied the page. “You mean these spurs? But surely you can buy a pair from the mercantile at any time?”
Joe nodded emphatically and flashed a quick, confident grin. “Sure I can Pa, but these are special. They have little bells at the end that jingle jangle and are made of solid silver.”
“Little bells? Silver?” Ben shook his head in disbelief! What would they think of next? “Hardly what I’d call practical when you’re working at breaking in wild horses, Joe. You’d be more scared of losing the bells than riding the fiercest mustang. That’s not what I’d call sensible….”
“But Pa…these are the latest design…all the way from New York,” Joe interrupted excitedly. “And I wouldn’t wear them for work…they’re for Sunday best only and a bargain! Surely you can see that?”
“A bargain? And just how much is this bargain?”
Joe lowered his gaze. “$50,” he murmured, slightly less self assured, and then added in an even lower voice. “For each spur.”
“$50! Each!” Ben nearly choked with the shock. “You want me to spend $100 on spurs?”
“But Pa…I’d be the only one with a pair in the whole of Virginia City! The only one! Just think…Joe Cartwright, the only fashionable cowboy in the State of Nevada!”
“Please, Pa. It’s important to me.”
Joe’s face fell dolefully and he felt his father studying him closely.
“But why are these spurs so important to you, son? It’s never bothered you before when you haven’t looked the most stylish in town. In fact, there have been times when you’ve been the complete opposite to such an extent it’s a wonder Sheriff Coffee didn’t charge you with vagrancy!”
Joe didn’t…couldn’t disagree with his father on that point, yet he continued undeterred. “But things have changed Pa…people change…I’ve changed.”
“You have? How? Why?”
Joe reddened but remained stubbornly tight lipped. And despite his son’s gloomy expression Ben had to smile. “Joseph? Are you trying to impress someone special?”
Ben’s query came from years of experience with sons. He’d grown to know the signs of a first love.
With a hesitant nod, Joe gave a sigh and smiled wryly. “Never could hide anything from you, could I Pa?”
Silence hung heavy for a moment, then taking a deep breath, a soft smile appeared on the young man’s face. “Her name is Angie…Angie Dorking. She moved here a month ago all the way from back East and she’s just wonderful and the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. She’s the one who told me all the most eligible men had a pair of these spurs in New York. And she thought they were the ultimate fashion accessory and she couldn’t bear to have any man call on her if they weren’t wearing them. So now do you see why I need a pair so badly?”
Ben stared at Joe long and hard then gave a sympathetic smile. “But son…I’ve always taught you and your brothers that appearance is not important. Its what a person is like inside that counts the most.”
“I know that Pa…but….” Joe’s voice trailed off and his gaze fell away. He rose quickly from the settee, pacing the floor as he ran a hand through his hair, then sat back down.
Ben leaned over and placed a hand on his knee. He could see the truth of his words were hitting home. “If this girl is only interested in what you’re wearing and what you look like, well, surely she isn’t really worth the trouble, son? You do see that, don’t you?” he asked gently.
Reluctantly Joe nodded his head in agreement. “Yes Pa. I know you’re right. Just didn’t want to admit it to myself, I guess.” He leaned back in his seat and stared broodily up at the ceiling. “Guess that means I don’t get the spurs after all, doesn’t it?” he said in a vain attempt to lighten the mood. But his downhearted expression and the sorrow that lingered in his eyes tore at Ben’s heartstrings. He had to do something.
“Tell you what,” Ben said eventually as he flicked through the pages of the catalogue then handed it back to his son. “I know I usually fix a limit of $10 on birthday presents but if you can find something for $15...” He looked at Joe’s dejected face. “$20...”
Still Joe stared disconsolately.
“$30. If you can find something for $30, I’ll buy it for your birthday. How does that suit you?”
To Ben’s relief at this announcement, Joe’s eyes widened with joy. “$30! I can really have anything in the catalogue worth $30?”
Ben nodded indulgently. “Anything, son…anything at all. I promise. Just order what you want the next time you’re in town.”
“Geeze….thanks, Pa,” Joe smiled, his broken heart seemingly repaired and long forgotten as he began to skim through the pages. “I’ll have a good look and let you know what I’ve chosen later. Better get on with my chores now though.” And with that, he stood up and left the room, whistling happily and leaving Ben with the satisfying glow of fatherhood, though slightly surprised and confused at the rapid change in his son’s mood.
In the barn Joe was looking at a particular page in the catalogue and quietly chuckling to himself when he was joined by his two brothers.
“So Joe, did you manage to get Pa to splash out on those fancy chaps you’ve been lusting for over the past months?” Hoss asked inquisitively as he looked over his shoulder at the illustrations of various kinds of protective leather leggings.
Joe gave his big brother a satisfying nod. “Sure I did, Hoss. He said I could order them whenever I wanted.”
Adam stared over with incredulity. “You mean Pa has agreed you can have them? The ones with the flower design? The most expensive pair in the catalogue costing $30? I don’t believe it! How did you do it?”
Joe nodded again. “Believe it! And I have my ways,” he said smiling. “And I seem to remember the two of you bet me $10 each I couldn’t persuade Pa to buy me a pair.”
Then enjoying the fact that his smug grin was now irritating the hell out of his elder brother, he stretched out his hand. “So come on…pay up! And maybe I’ll tell you the secret of my success….one day!”
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