The Valentine’s Card
“Good morning, ladies.” Joe Cartwright tipped his hat respectfully as he ambled over to join the group of young women in the Virginia City general store. “Beautiful day.”
Murmurs of agreement greeted him as the women turned from the display they had been admiring to acknowledge his words.
“What’s the attraction over here?” Joe asked the nearest of the girls, pretty Sallie Wilson. “You ladies have been standing in this spot all the time I’ve been loading supplies for the ranch.”
“Why, Joe, we’re just looking at the Valentine’s cards.” Sallie told him, fluttering her long eyelashes, and favouring him with a coquettish smile. “They’ve come all the way from San Francisco and they’re so pretty.” Moving aside she indicated a wooden rack containing a number of lace-paper cards, all very intricate in design, gilded in silver and gold.
“Aren’t they nice?” Asked Jenny Ryan, sidling around Sallie and a little closer to Joe. “Any girl would just love to receive one of those on Valentine’s Day.” She paused for a moment as the women around her nodded in agreement, before asking sweetly. “Will you be sending anyone a card this year, Joe?”
“Wouldn’t do for me to say.” Joe told her, flashing a smile that had several of the watching ladies hoping that if he did, they would be the recipient. “Valentine’s cards are supposed to be anonymous.”
“So they are.” Jenny agreed, turning back to the display with a soft sigh. “I sure hope I get one of those cards. They’re so romantic.”
“Little Joe!” Hoss’ call from the doorway pulled Joe’s attention away from the ladies for a moment. “You comin’ to the Silver Dollar for a beer?”
“Be right with you, Hoss.” Joe called back, turning apologetically to the young women as his brother left the store. “Afraid I have to go, ladies.”
“So what was it the ladies was lookin’ at?” Hoss asked, as he paid Sam the bartender and handed his younger brother a beer. He had been as intrigued as Joe by the group of sighing and giggling women in the store, but had been too bashful to go and see what they were admiring.
“Valentine’s cards.” Joe told him, taking an appreciative sip of his drink. “Little bits of fancy card with romantic words on.”
“They sure seemed to like ‘em.” Hoss observed, leaning on the bar and fiddling with his beer glass. “Weren’t that Sallie Wilson I saw there?”
“You know it was.” Joe said, grinning as he saw a blush stain Hoss’ face. “Why don’t you just go and talk to her? Ask her out?”
“I couldn’t do that.” Hoss shook his head at the thought of speaking to the young woman he’d been admiring from afar for some weeks. “’Sides, everyone reckons she’s sweet on you. Even if that ain’t right, she wouldn’t wanta know me.”
“You’ll never know unless you actually talk to her.” Joe advised, finishing his beer and setting the empty glass down on the bar top. “Why not go across and see her now?”
“I just ain’t as good at talkin’ to the ladies as you ‘n Adam.” Hoss said disconsolately, gazing down into the dregs of his beer. “I just get all kinda tongue tied around females.”
“Well how about sending her a letter then?” Joe asked. “Or…” His eyes lit up as an idea occurred to him and he clicked his fingers under his brother’s nose. “Send her one of those Valentine’s cards.”
“No, I don’t think so, Joe.” Hoss straightened up as he spoke and pushed his glass aside. “I think it’s time we was getting’ on home. You comin’?”
“I’ll be along later.” Joe answered absently, his mind already turning to the task of bringing Hoss and Sallie together.
“Did you pick up the mail while you were in town?” Joe asked anxiously as his eldest brother dismounted from his horse on the morning of February the fourteenth.
“Of course I did.” Adam told him, taking a thick pile of envelopes from his saddlebag, and holding them up. “Don’t worry, there’s a few here for you, though of course most of them are for me.”
Ignoring Adam’s teasing Joe reached for the envelopes and flicked through them, paying scant attention to the ones addressed to himself or Adam.
“Looking for one in particular?” Adam asked, his curiosity aroused as Joe stopped halfway through the pile. He leant over to look at the address on the card Joe held. “That’s for Hoss.”
“So it is.” Joe said, the tone of his voice causing Adam to look at him sharply. “I’d better go and give it to him.”
“Just a moment.” Adam caught hold of his brother’s arm, while deftly removing the envelope from the pile. “What do you know about this card?”
“Me?” Joe assumed an expression of innocence that didn’t fool Adam for a second. “I don’t know what you mean.”
Looking down at the envelope Adam studied the address, which was written in a bold, slightly masculine looking hand. “Well it’s not your writing.” He conceded, lifting the envelope to his nose and wincing at the strong aroma of cheap perfume that infused the paper. “But I’m willing to bet you’ve got something to do with it.”
“Why would you think that?” Joe asked in an injured tone. “Why would you assume it’s not from a girl?”
“Because I know you far too well.” Adam said, narrowing his eyes as he studied his young brother. “I well remember a certain Valentine’s card with the immortal lines ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, with a face like yours you belong in a zoo.”
“I was ten!” Joe protested, though he couldn’t hide the grin that rose to his lips at the memory. “It was just a kid’s joke.”
“Like the one that quoted Shakespeare and said it was from a certain lady teacher that adored me?” Adam asked sarcastically. “If you’re doing something like that to Hoss…”
“I’m not.” Joe broke in quickly. “I swear I’m not.” He glanced guiltily at the envelope Adam still held. “It’s supposed to be from Sallie Wilson.”
Enlightenment dawned on Adam; Hoss had confided his attraction to dark haired Sallie some time ago. “And does Sallie have one meant to be from Hoss?” He asked softly.
Joe nodded. “Yes she does.” He said, reaching to take the envelope back from Adam. “I got a friend of mine to write them.”
“It’s not going to work.” Adam said warningly.
“It will.” Joe assured him. “Please don’t tell Hoss, Adam.”
“I won’t tell him.” Adam said with a sigh, turning away to attend to his horse. “Not unless something goes wrong, anyway.”
“You look very nice, Hoss.” Ben told his middle son as Hoss and Adam descended the stairs into the great room that evening. “Going somewhere special?”
“As a matter ‘a fact, I am.” Hoss said, a beaming smile lighting up his face. “Got me a lady to meet.”
“A lady?” Ben enquired. “Anyone I know?”
“Well, I ain’t exactly sure.” Hoss squirmed a little at the admission. When he’d opened the envelope that morning and found the card inside, suggesting a time and place to meet, he’d been certain it was from Sallie, but now he wasn’t so confident. “The invitation was in a Valentine’s card and it weren’t signed.”
“Then are you sure it’s a good idea to keep the appointment?” Ben asked, a little concerned. “Suppose it’s some kind of joke?”
“Hoss showed me the card.” Adam interrupted from behind his father. “Seems genuine enough to me.” He shot a glance at his youngest brother who was sitting in the blue chair by the hearth, trying to assume a nonchalant air. “And by the look of it, it was very expensive.”
Joe grimaced slightly at the words, thinking of the small fortune he’d laid out for the two lace-paper cards. It had taken some time to choose them as he’d had to move away from the display every time a customer entered the store, he couldn’t risk it getting back to Hoss that he’d bought them. But at last he’d found the perfect pair, though they’d cost far more than he imagined, and he’d had to lay out another five dollars to swear the storekeeper to silence.
“Well, if you’re sure.” Ben shrugged and patted Hoss’ arm. “I hope you have a good time, son.”
As his two eldest sons left the house Ben turned to Joe. “You not going into town?” He asked in surprise. “I thought with all those cards you had this morning you’d have been seeing someone tonight.”
“No, not tonight.” In truth Joe had been so caught up in his plan for his brother that he’d completely forgotten to send a card to the girl he’d meant to ask out for Valentine’s Day. “Thought I’d stay home with you.”
“Well, I’m sure I’ll enjoy your company.” Ben said with a perplexed smile, wondering just exactly what was going on this time.
Joe spent the evening on tenterhooks, wondering what was happening with Hoss and Sallie. Ben had retired to bed by the time Adam and Hoss returned home but Joe was still up, and waiting anxiously to see if his plan had worked.
His heart sank as Hoss came in from tending to his horse, Adam close behind him. The big man’s face was grim and he threw his hat onto the credenza before advancing towards Joe.
“Little Joe, I oughta pound you good.” He said menacingly, and Joe shrank back against the cushions of the settee. “Setting me up like that.”
“You didn’t get along?” Joe asked, dismayed to find that his voice came out as a squeak. He cleared his throat and tried again. “I was only trying to help.”
“You was interferin’.” Hoss said angrily. “I told you I wasn’t gonna send no card to Sallie, so you gotta go and do it fer me.”
“I’m sorry.” Joe apologised, sincerely upset that things hadn’t gone as he planned. “I just thought…”
“You just didn’t think.” Hoss corrected him. “Sallie thought that card was from you.”
“From me?” Joe asked in surprise. “Was she real mad?”
“She sure was. Called you all the names under the sun once we figured out who set us up, then left.”
“I thought if I got you together…” Joe began, then stumbled to a halt under Hoss’ angry glare and Adam’s cynical look. “I’m really sorry, Hoss. You must have had a miserable evening.”
“I wouldn’t exactly say that.” Hoss said, and grinned widely. “See, Jenny Ryan serves in that eatin’ house you sent me ‘n Sallie to.”
“She does?” Joe asked, brightening as he saw the look on Hoss’ face. “Something happen between you two?”
“Sure did.” Hoss told him happily. “After Sallie left Jenny and I got to talkin’ and, well, we just got on real well.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” Springing up from the settee Joe patted his brother soundly on the back. “So it all ended well?”
“Sure did.” A dreamy expression settled on Hoss’ face as he headed for the stairs. “I’m seein’ Jenny again on Saturday.”
“Well, your plan may not have worked out the way you wanted it, little brother.” Adam said as Hoss disappeared upstairs. “But seems all’s well that ends well.”
It was a very self-satisfied Joe Cartwright that walked out into the yard the next morning. He was heading across to the stable when he was stopped short by the arrival of a buggy.
“Hey, Sallie!” He greeted the girl driving the vehicle as she pulled the horses to a halt in front of the ranch house. “What are you doing here so early in the morning?”
“I came to see you, Joe.” Sallie told him sweetly, jumping down from the buggy and walking over to him. “I’ve got a little present for you.”
“For me?” Joe asked in surprise. “What is it?”
“This.” And with a look of total disgust Sallie drew back her arm and let fly, slapping Joe soundly across the face. “That’s for setting me up with your brother!” With a flounce of her skirts she returned to the buggy, leaving Joe staring after her in dismay.
As the buggy left the yard Joe became aware of the sound of laughter and turned to see his brothers bent double with mirth.
“Serves you right, Joe.” Adam told him, recovering enough to stand upright. “You deserved that.”
“You sure did, little brother.” Hoss added, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. “’P’raps you’ll mind your own business in the future.”
“I thought you were pleased about how things turned out!” Joe protested, pressing a hand to his stinging cheek.
“I am.” Hoss said with a smile, putting an arm around his brother’s shoulders. “But that don’t excuse what you did. “If’n me and Sallie was meant to be together it was for us to work out, not you.”
“I guess so.” Joe admitted with a rueful smile. “I won’t interfere again, I promise.”
“Love sought is good but given unsought is better.” Adam murmured, as, leaving his brothers behind, Hoss loped off towards the barn. “Shakespeare.” He explained, as Joe turned to look at him enquiringly. “Twelfth Night.”
“Meaning?” Joe asked.
“Meaning that just for once I’m glad you had one of those crazy ideas of yours.” Adam told him. “Just don’t do it again, all right?”
“Never again.” Joe agreed, and turned to follow Hoss to the barn. Adam watched him go, a rueful smile on his face.
“Or at least not till the next time.” He muttered under his breath. “You’ll never change, Joe.” He chuckled quietly at the thought. “And I wouldn’t really want you to.”
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