THE GREAT EGG RACE
A Bonanza Short Story for Easter
By Kate Pitts
“Reckon Hop Sing will mind if I keep one of these eggs for myself?”
Adam Cartwright looked up from the book he was reading and frowned bemusedly at his ten year old brother, who had just come in from collecting the eggs from the Ponderosa’s hen house. “Why do you want to keep an egg?”
Shaking his head, Joe gave a sigh. “For Easter of course.” He explained patiently. “For the egg rolling contest.”
“Oh, I see.” Adam said with a smile. “Miss Jones is doing that again this year is she?”
“Yep, and this time she don’t just want the eggs hard boiled, we gotta decorate them as well.”
“I’m sure Hop Sing won’t mind donating an egg for that,” Adam assured the boy. “In fact you better take two in case one cracks when you boil it.” He watched as Joe set the basket of eggs down on the table and began to search through, looking for the biggest ones. What’s the prize this year?”
“There’s two prizes.” Joe told him with a hint of excitement in his voice. “One for the best decorated egg and one for the rolling. Two huge boxes of candy, red hots and lemon drops and…”
“I get the picture.” Adam interrupted, laughing at his young brother’s enthusiasm. “Sounds like you’re eager to win.”
“It’s about time somebody other than Heinz got a prize.” Joe grumbled, selecting his eggs and placing them carefully on the tabletop. “He’s won every year since I can remember.”
“Heinz?” Adam asked, struggling to place the name. “Is that Helmut Wolff’s son, Helmut the blacksmith?”
Joe nodded. “That’s him.” He affirmed, picking up the basket of eggs and heading for the kitchen. “Seems his egg always manages to get to the bottom of the hill without the shell cracking even when nobody else’s does.”
Adam couldn’t help smiling at the disgust in Joe’s voice when he talked of Heinz’s egg rolling triumphs. “So how are you thinking of decorating the egg?” He asked as Joe returned to the great room. “Any plans?”
“I could paint it, I guess.” Joe ventured, perching himself on the hearth. “Though I don’t think we got much in the way of coloured paint on the Ponderosa.”
“Mainly whitewash.” Adam agreed. “And that’s the colour the eggs are anyway. Mind if I make a suggestion?” He added, seeing the downcast look that crossed Joe’s face at his words.
“You got an idea?” Joe asked eagerly. “Know where to find some paint?”
“Forget the paint.” Adam told him. “Why don’t you try dyeing the eggs?”
“Dyeing them?” Joe looked interested at the idea. “How?”
“Well there are lots of things you could use.” Adam thought for a moment, trying to recall methods he’d read about. “You can use beet for red, onion skins for yellow and grass for green. You boil up them up with water and a little vinegar, let it cool and then put the eggs in the coloured water overnight. And you can use cold coffee to get a brown colour”
“Hop Sing’s got beets in his garden.” Joe announced, getting to his feet. “I’ll go ask if I can use one.”
“Wait a minute.” Adam called the youngster back as he headed for the kitchen. “I’ve got another idea if you’re interested.”
“Sure I am.” Joe turned and grinned at his big brother. “Fire away.”
“Wax.” Adam said, and laughed at Joe’s puzzled frown. “Put a little candle wax on the eggshell and the colour won’t take to it, you can make all kinds of designs.”
“Sounds good.” Joe nodded appreciatively. “Real good. Thanks, Adam.”
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Sitting down to breakfast the following morning the family were surprised to hear a stream of Chinese issue forth from the kitchen, quickly followed by Hop Sing appearing in the great room brandishing a china bowl.
“L’il Joe.” He addressed the youngest member of the family, thrusting the bowl under the boy’s nose. “What you do?”
“You said I could soak the eggs in the beet juice.” Joe defended himself, staring at the reddened interior of the fine china bowl.
“I say to use old bowl on dresser.” The little cook said, his voice quivering with rage. “Not Hop Sing best china.”
“I’ll clean it out.” Joe offered, reaching for the bowl.
“Is not just china.” Hop Sing pulled the bowl out of Joe’s reach and glared at the boy. “What you know about this?” And he held up a length of chequered blue cloth, with several holes in it.
“I thought I’d glue a few bits on to the egg.” Joe explained, as all eyes turned to him. “Just to make it look nicer. That cloth’s been in the dresser drawer for years, I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“You should have asked permission.” Ben put in, shooting a stern look at his two elder sons, who were both grinning widely, before turning to Joe. “You know better than to take things without asking.”
“Finish your breakfast.” Ben told him. “Then you’d better go and clean that bowl.” He looked up at Hop Sing. “Were you keeping the cloth for something?”
The little man shook his head. “Left over material from kitchen drapes.” He admitted.
“No real harm done then.” Ben turned back to Joe. “But next time you want to use anything you ask first, Joseph, understood.”
“Yes sir.” Joe said contritely, looking up at the Chinese cook. “I’m sorry, Hop Sing.”
“So are you gonna show us this egg?” Hoss asked from across the table.
“I’d sure like to get a look at this masterpiece.” Adam added. “How about showing us after breakfast?”
Joe shook his head. “It’s a secret.” He told them. “You get to see it when everyone else does, on Good Friday up on the hill above the school house.”
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Good Friday was a cold day,
tendrils of early morning mist still hanging over
“That one’s mine.” Joe told his father and brothers, as they approached the table where the many brightly coloured eggs stood awaiting the decision of the judges.
“No mistaking that.” Ben said with a smile as he caught sight of Joe’s egg. The boy had used Adam’s suggestion of using wax to make designs on the shell and, startlingly white against the red of the beet dye, were several renditions of the Ponderosa’s pinetree brand. Around the middle of the egg small circles of the chequered blue cloth gave a kind of belt effect.
“It’s real purty.” Hoss told his brother after an admiring examination of the boy’s handiwork. “I’ll just bet it wins the contest.”
“We’ll soon know.” Adam said, pointing off to the side where the judging committee, consisting of Sheriff Coffee and Miss Jones, were just coming into the room.
A hushed silence fell as Miss Jones took her place behind the table and Sheriff Coffee stepped forward.
Clearing his throat loudly, the lawman looked down at the piece of paper he held in his hand. “Been real difficult to decide which egg is best.” He announced to the waiting audience. “All the entries were good. But in the end we decided that the prize should go to Hallie Jenkins.”
A burst of applause followed the announcement as Hallie, a pretty little nine year old came forward to accept her prize.
“Never mind, Joe.” Ben put a consoling hand on his young son’s shoulder. “You did your best.”
“I don’t mind Hallie winning the best decorated egg.” Joe said, looking up with a grin on his face. “’Cause I know I’m gonna win the egg rolling contest.”
Trooping up the hill to the starting point of the contest a little later on, Ben wondered at Joe’s confidence and hoped his son wouldn’t be too disappointed if things didn’t go his way.
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Once all the contestants were in place at the top of the hill, eggs poised, ready to begin, Sheriff Coffee held up his hand to call for silence. “On the count of three.” He cried. “One…Two…Three!”
On the signal the eggs were released, and began to tumble their way down the steep incline to where Miss Jones waited to declare a winner, children slipping and sliding after them, cheering and calling as they went. The adults followed at more sedate pace, though they all kept their eyes on the progress of the eggs.
“I think Joe’s won!” Adam called across to his father and Hoss, as the scramble of children and eggs reached the bottom of the hill. “Miss Jones is taking a look.”
Joining Joe at the finish line, the Cartwrights were in time to see Miss Jones examine the egg where it lay and declare it the winner, with Heinz taking second place.
“Hear that?” Joe picked up his egg and, to Adam’s surprise, thrust it into his pocket before turning excitedly to his family. “I won.”
As Ben and Hoss patted Joe on the back, congratulating him, Adam stood watching, wondering why Joe had been so quick to pocket the egg. He was beginning to get a sneaking suspicion that Joe’s victory might not have been quite above-board.
When the other children had collected their eggs and everybody began to head for the schoolhouse to see the prizes awarded, Adam managed to pull his young brother aside. “Can I take a look at that egg, Joe?” He asked.
“Sure.” Reaching into his pocket Joe produced his egg and handed it over.
“Not that one.” Adam said quietly. “The one in your other pocket.”
Joe blanched. “I don’t know what you mean.” He blustered. “That’s my egg.”
“I saw you pick up the egg when the race finished.” Adam told him. “And you put it in your other pocket.” He held out his hand. “Let me see it.”
With a defeated sigh, Joe produced the other egg, dropping it into Adam’s palm. As soon as he felt it, Adam knew why there had been no broken shell on this egg. It was cold, hard and heavy.
“It’s one of the stone eggs that Hop Sing uses to get the hens to lay, isn’t it?”
Joe gave a nod of agreement, looking shamefaced.
“Pa won’t be happy about this.” Adam declared, putting the stone egg in his own pocket. “You know how he feels about cheating.”
“Do you have to tell him?” Joe asked dejectedly. “After all Miss Jones didn’t actually say it had to be a real egg in the contest.”
Adam thought for a moment, long fingers stroking his chin as he considered. “I suppose I could keep it to myself…” He said eventually, and Joe instantly brightened. “After all I wouldn’t want to see you doing extra chores over Easter. But there’s one condition.”
“You want me to give up the prize.” Joe guessed, and sighed heartily. “Don’t you?”
“You’d be profiting from cheating if you had the candy.” Adam told him sombrely. “But if you shared it all out with your schoolmates then I guess this could be our secret. Agreed?”
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“I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.” Ben remarked as the family climbed aboard the buggy for the drive back to the Ponderosa. “Joe giving away all that candy.”
“Why did you share it out, Little Joe?” Hoss asked his younger brother. “Not that I’m complanin’” He added, patting his pocket where he’d put the candy that Joe had given him.
“I get candy every time I get my allowance.” Joe said, thinking quickly. “Some of the kids don’t have much money and they never get treats.”
“Well, it was very generous of you, Joseph.” Ben said approvingly. “I shall have to make sure that the Easter bunny leaves you a few extra candies on Sunday.”
Joe fidgeted in his seat at Ben’s praise, feeling more than a little guilty. “Aw, Pa, I’m too old to believe in the Easter bunny.”
“And I’m sure that Joe feels his friends’ thanks are reward enough.” Adam added, turning in his seat and winking conspiratorially at his brother.
“Yeh, I don’t need any Easter
treats.” Joe agreed reluctantly. “Honest,
Adam smiled to himself as he sat back round, he didn’t intend to make Joe suffer for too much longer. He’d give him the stone egg back to dispose of however he wanted, and make sure a few extra treats were forthcoming on Easter Sunday. For now though it wouldn’t hurt the boy to squirm for a while, at least it would make sure next years egg race was run fair and square.
© Kathleen Pitts 2003
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