Conquering the Stillness Within
*I can’t thank Wrenny enough for the picture on the cover page. If you’d like to send Wrenny feedback regarding that picture, please click on the words, Cover Picture.
* Disclaimer: No profit is being made from this story. No infringement is intended on any holder of Bonanza copyrights, including David Dortort and Bonanza Ventures.
* “Conquering the Stillness Within” is an alternate universe story to the 12th season aired episode “The Stillness Within.” Or maybe better put a, “What if it would have happened like this. . .” story. Although the character of Jamie Hunter appeared in “The Stillness Within,” he doesn’t appear in “Conquering.” Candy, who did not appear in “The Stillness Within,” is included in this fan fiction story.
* Four lines of dialogue taking place between Ben and Hoss appear in italics in Chapter 1. This dialogue is from “The Stillness Within.”
* Rated PG-13 for the occasional use of strong language.
Adam read the letter for the third time since arriving home. When he finished the last line – Love, Pa – he leaned the back of his head against the soft velvet of the settee, and stared at the ceiling. With slow, gentle strokes, Adam absently ran his hand over the German Shepherd sitting regally at his feet.
The man smiled a little as the word “Pa” ran through his mind. It was a term he rarely heard here in Boston. “Papa” or “Father” were the common forms of address for one’s paternal parent; “Da” the chosen form of the Irish immigrants. But to Adam Cartwright, his father would forever be Pa. That simple one syllable word still conjured up warm feelings of comfort and safety. Feelings forty-two year old Adam hadn’t allowed himself to indulge in for several years now. For many reasons, it wouldn’t do to grow homesick. Not the least of which was that, from the day Adam left Nevada, he’d never intended to return.
But this time it was Adam who Ben Cartwright was seeking comfort from. Or if nothing else, answers. Though his father hadn’t expressed sorrow in the letter, Adam sensed it just as clearly as if he were standing next to Pa in the big great room of the Ponderosa ranch house. Worry, now that was easy to discern, because it was the one emotion Pa openly spoke of. Adam had that paragraph memorized, and could hear the tone and cadence of Pa’s voice each time he read it.
“I’m worried about him, Adam. I don’t know what else I can do to help him. He can’t face what’s happened. He won’t accept it. He continues to deny that it’s permanent. He continues to deny that it’s doubtful he’ll ever see again.”
It was the light scent of perfume that first announced her arrival. Adam was so preoccupied by his father’s letter, that he hadn’t heard her walking through the dining room, or crossing the foyer. But then, all of his senses had sharpened since he’d taken the position at the institute. He no longer relied only on his hearing or eyesight for his brain to register someone’s presence.
He lifted his head and smiled. He held out his left arm, and used his voice to guide her.
“There you are. It’s past time the most beautiful woman in Boston comes to the parlor to spend the evening with me.”
Without being told to, the dog got up and moved to lie beside the brick hearth of the fireplace so the woman wouldn’t trip over him.
She felt along the edge of the settee, her sightless eyes fixed on the portrait of Abel Stoddard that hung over the mantel. She settled next to Adam, her smile soft and gentle, just like the voice he’d fallen in love with the first time he’d heard it.
“Mrs. O’Connell needed help with the dishes.”
“Mrs. O’Connell is paid to do the dishes. You don’t need to help her.”
“Adam, that’s a terrible thing to say.”
“Why is it so terrible? She worked for my grandfather for twenty years, and now she works for me. She never seems to need help doing anything until you arrive. Then she holds you hostage in the kitchen, while leaving me alone to pine for you.”
The young woman chuckled. “Amongst the many things that can be said in praise of Bridget O’Connell – she keeps a tidy house, and is a better chaperone than any father in Boston.”
“That she is,” Adam said, while placing a kiss on Laddie’s cheek. “I wish she’d keep in mind, however, that you’re several years beyond the age where a chaperone is necessary, and I’m well beyond it.”
As though she’d been listening from the dining room, which she probably had been, Bridget O’Connell’s pudgy form suddenly appeared. She wagged a stubby finger in Adam’s direction, and with a heavy Irish brogue imparted, “No woman who’s not betrothed is ever past the age of needin’ a chaperon if she fancies her reputation, and don’t yeh be fergettin’ that, Adam Cartwright.”
Adam mumbled under his breath, “Now I know why I miss Hop Sing on some days,” though to humor his housekeeper, he smiled and acknowledged, “Yes, Ma’am.”
“Mr. Brockington’s driver is outside with the carriage, waitin’ to take the missy home, he is.”
“Thank you,” Adam said, then said it again, and then was forced to say it a third time.
“I said thank you, Mrs. O’Connell,” Adam stressed, hinting to his housekeeper that it was time for her to return to the kitchen.
She gave an indignant huff, muttered, “Can’t see me one good reason why yeh just don’t marry Miss Laddie so her da doesn’t have ta’ send fer her,” then bustled off to the kitchen to finish drying the dishes, and to start the dough rising for the next morning’s biscuits.
One of the things Adam loved about Laddie Brockington, and there were many, but the one that he loved about her the most right then, was that she didn’t use Mrs. O’Connell’s blunt manner of speaking as a tool to get him to propose to her. The woman said nothing about Bridget O’Connell’s views on matrimony, but instead, changed the subject.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine. If I didn’t spar with Mrs. O’Connell at least once a day, I’d think I’d come home to the wrong house.”
Laddie smiled briefly at the man’s joke. “That’s not what I meant.”
“No. What I meant was, you seemed upset when I first arrived this evening. Then you left the dining room rather abruptly after we finished eating.”
Adam picked up a small, delicate hand and kissed the back of it. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
“I’m sure you didn’t, but it’s apparent something’s been on your mind for several weeks now.” She teased, “Not another woman, I hope.”
“Not unless her name is Joe.”
“As in Joseph.”
“Oh. Well, my father named me Laddie, so I suppose it’s possible there’s another man somewhere who longed so greatly for a son, that he named his poor little girl Joseph.”
“I suppose, but not in this case.”
Paper crinkled as Adam picked the letter up from his lap and skimmed it again.
“Do you have a new student for me?”
A few seconds passed, before Adam realized Laddie had spoken to him.
“A student. I heard paper rustle. I assume you’ve received a letter from someone who wants to hire a teacher during our summer break.”
“Then where am I off to?”
“You’re not off to anywhere.”
“Oh. Is the student coming to us in September, then? To the institute?”
“Then why aren’t I being sent to teach him?”
“Because I’m afraid this student will be too much for even the formidable Miss Brockington to take on.”
“But it’s said that the rowdiest of boys shake in their knickers when they hear the swoosh of my skirts.”
Adam chuckled. “That may be true, but the boy I’m thinking of hasn’t worn knickers in many years now, and like his oldest brother, he’s too stubborn for his own good.”
tilted her head. “His oldest brother?”
“Me. This letter is from my father.” Adam glanced at the paper again. “My brother Joe. . .Pa sent me a telegram a few weeks ago, Laddie. There was an accident when my brothers were storing some nitroglycerin. Joe lost his sight.”
“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“I suppose because, like Pa, I was holding out hope that Joe’s eyesight would return a week or two after the explosion.”
“And was there such hope?”
“Initially, the family doctor seemed to think so. But now. . .”
“But now things have changed in that regard,” Laddie surmised.
“Apparently so. My father wants to hire a teacher.”
“Not that he stated. His exact request is that I send someone I consider to be ‘highly qualified, and the best possible candidate to teach Joseph.’ I just so happen to think that candidate is me.”
“But you teach geography and literature at the institute, not skills for the blind, like I do.”
“That’s true, but according to what Pa says in his letter, Joe’s refusing all suggestions of a teacher.”
“And you think he’s the first blind man who’s said he doesn’t want help?”
“No, but I know Joe. I know how cantankerous he can be when he puts his mind to it.”
“And you think he’ll be any less cantankerous for you?”
Adam shook his head, then remembered that Laddie couldn’t see him.
“No. Actually, he’ll probably be even more cantankerous, just because it is me.”
“Then why are you so insistent upon being his teacher?”
“Because. . .”
Adam’s eyes traveled to the framed photograph he kept on the wooden mantel that was taken shortly before he left Virginia City six years ago. His father was seated in the picture, his three sons forming what almost seemed to be a protective semi-circle around him – Hoss directly behind Pa’s chair because of his girth, and then Adam standing on Pa’s right, and Joe on Pa’s left, with a hand on Pa’s shoulder. The photographer hadn’t told Joe to touch their father. Joe had done so of his own accord, because that was the type of relationship he’d always had with Pa. Sometimes stormy, yes. Sometimes loud and volatile too, when Pa and Joe lost their tempers with one another over something Joe had done, or wanted to do, or was determined to do, despite Pa’s admonishments against it. But close, as well. They’d always been close in a way Adam envied, but could never quite attain, simply because it wasn’t in his nature to be an open book in the way Joe was to his family.
“Because why, Adam?”
The man’s eyes were drawn from the photograph he’d stared at more times than he’d ever confess to since returning from sea and settling in this house he’d inherited from his deceased grandfather.
“Because he’s my brother.” Adam reached out and gently wound one of Laddie’s pale, corkscrew curls around his index finger. “Because he’s my little brother, and at one time he thought I could walk on water. He probably hasn’t thought that in many years now, and rightfully so, but when he was a kid, he was eager to learn anything from me that I was willing to teach him. Maybe. . .just maybe,” Adam said softly, as his eyes moved to linger on Joe’s image in the picture, “I can convince him to learn from me again.”
Ben walked out of the house. He slowed his pace, then paused as he stepped from the wooden porch to the dirt. Cochise stood in the middle of the ranch yard, his front hooves dancing with a nervousness Ben rarely saw in the gelding. Especially when it was Joe who was saddling him. But today the horse was confused. He knew Joe’s voice and scent, but he didn’t understand why his master was suddenly so clumsy. Or so Ben surmised were the horse’s thoughts.
Ben felt like he was watching a child attempting to saddle a horse with a blindfold on. Joe reached out a hand, waving it in the air until it came in contact with Cochise’s side. He took a step forward, trying to hoist the saddle over the horse’s back. Except by the time Joe got the saddle in the air, the skittish Cochise had pranced three steps away from him. As the saddle hit the ground, Joe cursed, “Damn you, Cochise! You know better than that.”
Ben shook his head. He’d never heard Joe cuss his beloved mount. He stood silently watching Joe repeat this routine four more times. How many times it had been repeated prior to his arrival, Ben couldn’t guess. By the sweat staining the front of Joe’s shirt and running down his face, Ben figured it’d been going on for quite a while. Although he didn’t have any concerns that Cochise would get spooked to the point that he’d rear up and injure Joe, he didn’t like to see an animal worked beyond what it could tolerate. And Cochise, like Joe, was reaching that level.
Ben walked toward his son. “I thought you were in your room.”
Joe’s head turned toward the direction of his father’s voice. Ben still wasn’t used to the sightless eyes, or the way they didn’t land on his face when he spoke to Joe, but instead, stared off somewhere beyond his shoulders. His heart ached at how dull those eyes were now. And his heart ached over how, when Joe had lost his sight, he’d also lost his enthusiasm for life. Ben longed to see those eyes sparkle with mischief again, even if Ben himself was the intended victim of one of Joe’s pranks.
How we take for granted the little things until they’re snatched from us. The practical jokes, and the contests Hoss was always being entered in, and the get-rich-quick schemes I used to admonish Joe for as a waste of time. . .I’d gladly get enjoyment from all of those things, if only he could have his eyesight back.
Joe’s voice broke into his father’s thoughts.
“What would I be doing in my room? Staring at the four walls I can’t see?”
Bitterness so unlike Joe. . .or unlike him before the accident, was now present in almost every word he spoke. Ben hated the sound of it. On some days he was torn between telling Joe to stop it, or taking Joe in his arms and urging him to let out all of his fear, pain, and anger.
Like he’d been doing ever since the explosion that took Joe’s sight, Ben ignored the bitter words and kept his own tone calm and gentle.
“I think you’ve done enough here for today, Joseph.”
“It’s not enough, Pa. Until I get this saddle on Cochise, it’ll never be enough.”
“And if you get the saddle on him, just what are you planning to do?”
“Ride out and join Hoss rounding up strays.”
“Joe. . .”
“Don’t! Don’t say I can’t do it!”
“I’m sorry, son, but you can’t. At least not right now. But if you’ll let the teacher from the institute come, you might be surprised to discover how many skills you can learn.”
“No! I told you I don’t want her here.”
“No, Pa! No teacher. I’ll learn by myself. I don’t need anyone’s help. Besides, it’s not like I’m gonna be blind forever.”
Ben sighed as he watched Joe bend over and search the ground for the saddle with his open palms. It was so apparent that he did need someone’s help, but until Joe was willing to admit that, Ben knew his son was destined to continue failing. Just like he was failing now, as he once again tried to saddle Cochise, and then tried two additional times. Joe finally flung the saddle aside and stomped toward the house.
“Joe. . .Joe, you and I can go find Hoss if that’s what you want! I’ll hitch up the buggy and--”
“I don’t wanna ride in the buggy like some helpless woman! Just leave me alone, Pa! Leave me alone!”
Joe stumbled toward the house with his hands waving wildly in front of him. He ran into a hitching post, a porch support post, and then tripped over a chair, before he finally made it to the front door. Ben couldn’t begin to guess how many bruises had marred his son’s shins and arms in recent weeks.
Ben threw his head back. He stared up at the sky as though he could look right through the clouds to heaven, and get an answer to the questions he’d asked so many times since the explosion.
Why? Why my son? Why did Joe have to lose his sight? What did he ever do to deserve this?
When the heavens didn’t open and rain answers down upon Ben, he picked up the saddle.
“Come on, Cochise. Let’s get you back in the barn.”
The horse followed Ben without the man having to get a halter for him. Cochise walked into his stall, seemingly relieved that his master was no longer demanding things of him that he couldn’t comprehend.
Ben carried the saddle to the tack room, then made sure Cochise had fresh water.
He rubbed the horse down with a towel, patted his flank, murmured, “Good boy,” in way of thanking Cochise for putting up with Joe’s short temper, and exited the barn.
to the front porch and righted the chair Joe had knocked over. He sat down in it, staring out at the dry
ranch yard. They needed rain badly, but
rain was the least of Ben’s concerns. He thought back to the conversation he
and Hoss had the previous evening after supper.
“What do you think he’s gonna say when the teacher from the institute gets here?”
“Same thing he said when I suggested it in the first place. That he doesn’t want her here.”
“You know, Pa, maybe. . .maybe you shoulda’ told him you sent for her anyhow.”
“Yeah. . .maybe.”
Now Ben second-guessed himself once again. Maybe he shouldn’t have written Adam asking him to send a teacher.
Adam was the administrator of the Boston Institute for the Blind, and taught classes at the school, too. Therefore, he was the logical person for Ben to seek advice from regarding how to help Joe. Adam was also the logical person to choose a teacher for Joe, because Ben knew without a doubt, that Adam would send the best teacher the school had to offer. Ben had told his son in a letter he’d mailed several weeks earlier, to spare no expense. He didn’t care how much the teacher cost him, or how long she stayed.
Although Adam hadn’t identified the teacher, Ben felt certain the instructor Adam was sending was the one he often mentioned in his letters – Miss Brockington. Ben wasn’t foolish enough to think that it was only Miss Brockington’s teaching skills Adam was smitten with. His oldest son had written of the woman too often during the past year for Ben not to surmise Adam had feelings for her. And now she was due to arrive on a stage from Reno. Ben had wired Adam enough money to cover one month’s salary, a ticket on the Transcontinental Railroad, a ticket on the stage line, and other traveling expenses, such as food and lodging. Adam had telegraphed back that a teacher would be leaving Boston shortly, and gave an approximate due date for arrival at the Ponderosa. Without Joe’s knowledge, Ben had Hop Sing get the guest room ready.
“And make it. . .you know. . .pretty, because our guest is to be a young lady.”
“Hop Sing don’t know how to make pretty. Hop Sing work for Mr. Cartwright and sons too many years to make pretty. Room will look like room looks. If not good enough for young lady, then Hop Sing quit and go work for someone who not ask for pretty.”
Hop Sing had ended his tirade with his usual, “Humph!” and then stomped off to the kitchen. Despite the housekeeper’s assertion that he didn’t know how to make things pretty, the room had been aired out and dusted, the windows washed, fresh linens were on the bed, flowers bloomed from a vase sitting in the center of the bureau, and small, round soaps that smelled of violets and roses and lemons, along with dainty new towels, rested in fancy scalloped dishes on either side of the pitcher and bowl on the washstand.
When Ben thanked Hop Sing for the hard work he’d put into fixing up the room, the man grumbled, “Yes, lots work. Hop Sing even go Miss Sadie’s Bath Shop to buy towels, and soaps, and dishes. Ladies point and giggle at Hop Sing, because men no go in ladies’ bath shop, but Mr. Cartwright say make room pretty, so Hop Sing do what he told.”
“Thank you. I appreciate all you went through to spruce up that room.” Ben reached in his front pocket for the roll of dollar bills he kept there. “I must owe you some money for the things you bought at Miss Sadie’s.”
Hop Sing studied Ben’s face a moment. “Will this teacher who come help Little Joe?”
“I hope so. Adam’s spoken highly of her in his letters.”
“Then you not owe Hop Sing anything. It good enough for Hop Sing if Missy Teacher help Little Joe so he not fall over things and be sad.”
Ben smiled at the man who’d been a part of his household since before Joe was born. He wished it were going to be as easy as Hop Sing made it sound. However, Ben had a feeling it would be anything but easy.
That conversation took place several days earlier. The feeling that things wouldn’t be easy stayed with Ben. He didn’t know if he was making a mistake by not telling Joe a teacher was coming. He didn’t know if he’d made a mistake by sending for a teacher in the first place, after Joe was adamant that a teacher not be hired. But what was done was done. If there had been no delays during her travels, Miss Brockington would arrive tomorrow. Adam had stated in a telegraphed message that it would be best if Joe weren’t home when the teacher reached the Ponderosa. For that reason, Ben had already arranged for Candy to take Joe on a long ride the next day, and had asked Hop Sing to pack a lunch bucket for the two men. Ben didn’t care if they went by buggy, buckboard, or hiked the ranch on foot, just as long as Candy managed to get Joe away, and keep him away until late afternoon.
As Ben’s thoughts turned to the son who was now sitting alone somewhere in the house – mostly likely in his room with the door closed, staring at the four walls he couldn’t see, as Joe had so accurately stated – Ben decided it was worth dealing with Joseph’s fury when he discovered his father had gone against his wishes. If only Miss Brockington could show Joe how to feel useful again, if she could teach Joe the basic skills he needed to function in a world he couldn’t see, then Ben would gladly accept any blame Joe wanted to place at his feet for hiring her.
Adam knows what he’s doing, Ben assured himself. He wouldn’t send anyone to teach Joe but the best possible person. He knows Joe as well as Hoss and I do. He knows what kind of a person Joseph will respond to. He knows what kind of a person Joe will work hardest for.
Ben couldn’t help but chuckle a little at his final thoughts.
I just hope this teacher won’t be scared off by Joe’s temper, and hightail it back to Boston before tomorrow’s even over. I hope Adam remembered how stubborn and hotheaded his little brother can be, and warned Miss Brockington that Joe’s bark is worse than his bite.
What Ben didn’t realize was that yes, the teacher knew very well how stubborn and hotheaded Joe could be. That’s why it was Adam Cartwright bound for Virginia City, and not Laddie Brockington.
This had been Adam’s first trip on the Transcontinental Railroad. It certainly made traveling across the country a lot easier and quicker, than when he’d left Nevada in 1866. He’d journeyed by sea that time, leaving from San Francisco and sailing around South America, and then north along the Eastern coastline of the United States. The trip took almost four months, but Adam hadn’t minded. It allowed him to clear his head – and his heart – of Laura Dayton. And since he’d hired on as a crewmember in an effort to get his “sea legs” prior to arriving in Boston and starting work for his grandfather, the long journey also allowed Adam to gain some valuable experience.
But this time, Adam was thankful for the luxury of the train line in operation just three years. His seafaring days had ended about the same time the Transcontinental Railroad welcomed her first cross-country passengers, and for numerous reasons, Adam had no desire to travel by ship again.
The trip from Boston to Reno took just eight days. Adam stayed overnight in Reno, then caught a stage for Virginia City the next morning. Good weather and no breakdowns meant Adam arrived in Virginia City early that afternoon – exactly as he’d estimated. Had he been traveling during the winter months, the length of the trip would have been difficult to predict due to snowfall. Not even trains were yet able to travel through deep snow, though Adam had read predictions stating that within the next two decades, railway travel would become so sophisticated that even foul weather wouldn’t cause lengthy delays.
Though he hadn’t lived in the West for six years, Adam still favored a black cowboy hat over any type currently popular with men in the East. Right before the stage came to a stop in Virginia City, Adam pulled the brim of his hat down low on his forehead. If he could get to the Ponderosa without anyone recognizing him, it would be for the best. First of all, he didn’t want word of his impending arrival to reach his father or brothers, and second of all, he didn’t want to stop and answer questions that were no one’s business.
Adam subtly studied the town while the stage driver untied his luggage from the rack. Virginia City had changed some since Adam left – grown larger, and contained an entire new section sprawling off to the south. He also caught sight of a new church and wondered if the Baptists, who used to meet in the back of Harper’s General Store, had finally raised enough funds to erect a building. He noticed the schoolhouse had expanded, too. It was no longer the one-room structure Adam and his brothers had attended, but now contained a second floor, and what appeared to be three additional classrooms on the first floor.
The stage driver’s voice interrupted Adam’s observations.
“Need help gettin’ these bags somewhere, Mister?”
“Um. . .yes. Thanks.”
“There’s a hotel just ‘cross the way.”
“I see that, but I won’t be staying there.”
“Uh huh. You mind helping me get my luggage to the livery stable down the street? I’ll pay you for your trouble.”
“Nope, don’t mind ‘et all,” the man said, while hoisting a suitcase with each hand.
Adam led the way, carrying a valise that was just large enough for two changes of clothing and daily necessities, like his toothbrush, toothpowder, and a comb.
When they arrived inside the livery, Adam paid the driver for his trouble just like he’d promised. The man hurried back to his stage, leaving Adam alone to negotiate whatever business he needed to.
Adam didn’t recognize the boy who took care of him at Jensen’s Livery. An educated guess told him that the tow-headed youth he estimated to be thirteen or fourteen was one of Tom Jensen’s eight sons – or at least Tom had eight sons back when Adam left Virginia City. By now, he could have several more for all Adam knew. Regardless, Adam didn’t ask the boy his name, because he didn’t want to in turn, be asked his name. He paid to rent a horse, thankful there were no other customers in the livery, and that Tom wasn’t present, either. Though the boy didn’t appear to have any idea who his customer was, Tom would know Adam the second he spotted him.
“Son, can I pay you to come pick up the horse tomorrow, and bring these two suitcases along as well?”
“Yes, Sir. Just tell me when and where.”
“When is whatever time’s convenient for you. Where is the Ponderosa.”
The boy led a bay gelding from a stall and threw a saddle blanket across his back.
“You’re goin’ to visit the Cartwrights?”
“Hear what happened to Joe?”
“One of Mr. Cartwright’s sons. He was blinded in an explosion ’bout two months back. No one’s seen him since. Some of my friends say that probably means he’s not right in the head now too.”
“Why would Joe not be right in the head?”
“ ‘Cause of the explosion. It musta’ addled his brain or something. They say we never lay eyes on him ‘cause Mr. Cartwright’s hiding him. You know, ‘cause he’s ashamed of him, an’ all.”
“Oh, I see. May I ask you something?”
“Sure. My pa says the only thing free around this place are answers to a customer’s questions.”
Adam chuckled. That sounded like something Tom would say.
“Okay, since answers to questions are free, here’s my question. How well do you know Mr. Cartwright?”
“Pretty good, I guess. He’s president of the school board, an’ when he’s in town, he usually stops by here an’ talks to my pa for a while.”
“So, if you know Mr. Cartwright that well, do you really think he’d be ashamed of one of his sons, or hide him?”
“Well. . .no,” the boy admitted, while securing Adam’s valise to the rear of the saddle with two sturdy leather straps. “I don’t reckon so.”
“Then the next time those friends of yours are trying to start rumors by saying Ben Cartwright’s ashamed of one of his sons, or that Joe isn’t right in the head, you stand up to them and tell them you know those things aren’t true.”
“But I don’t know for certain they’re not true.”
“Then allow me to assure you that they’re not.”
“And just who are you?”
“Someone who knows Ben Cartwright better than anyone in this town.” Adam mounted the horse. He nodded toward his suitcases. “You’ll keep those safe overnight, and bring them to me tomorrow?”
Adam reached in a pocket for his money clip and plucked a dollar bill from it. He leaned forward in the saddle, handing it to the boy.
“It’s a long ride out to the Ponderosa. I’ll have another one of those for you when you arrive with my luggage, and maybe we can even sweet talk Hop Sing into giving you a glass of lemonade, along with some cookies.”
The boy’s eyes grew round.
“I’ve never gotten a tip this big before. Thanks, Mister.”
Adam gave the horse’s sides a gentle nudge with his cowboy boots – footwear that he hadn’t completely given up, any more than he’d given up his hat.
As he rode out of the stable, he heard the boy call, “Hey, Mister, I didn’t catch your name!”
Adam pretended he didn’t hear the teen as he traveled down the town’s main street. He kept his head bent, and didn’t make eye contact with anyone on the sidewalks. Because it was Saturday, the town was bustling with activity. That actually made it easier for Adam to go unnoticed. Miners and cowboys filled the streets, and drifted in and out of the saloons. Young children not more than five or six years old ran into the General Store for penny candy, while older boys played marbles in the alleys, and girls skipped rope nearby. Women did their weekly shopping; their husbands around somewhere, transacting business at the bank, or Blakes’s Feed and Seed, or Jake Tanner’s hardware store.
Adam headed out of town, thankful when he reached the open countryside without anyone recognizing him. He traveled Virginia City Road for a while, then exited at a familiar spot Hoss had always claimed cut miles off of the trip to town, while Joe claimed they saved a half of a mile at best, which wasn’t worth the extra time it took to travel through thick stands of trees and over rough rocky ground. Adam had always been inclined to agree with Joe in regards to this so-called shortcut, but he used it today because he knew he wouldn’t encounter anyone on the remainder of his trip to the ranch.
The scent of Ponderosa Pines, wild flowers, sun-bleached grass, and even cattle dung, caused Adam to bask in nostalgia as he traveled. For the first time in six years, he was the one place he never thought he’d be again – home. Not home as in the luxurious house he’d inherited three years ago when his grandfather died, but home as in the place where he’d grown up, the place where he’d worked for a good part of his adult life, and the place where his father and brothers still lived.
Adam’s thoughts skipped to the mental outline he’d made on the trip of things he wanted to teach Joe. He had Braille books in one of his suitcases, and each week, the Braille newspaper the students published was to be mailed to him. He’d worked with Laddie for several days prior to leaving Boston in order to sharpen his abilities to teach Joe the skills he’d need to be independent. Laddie was correct when she’d said Adam had never taught these skills to the blind. But he’d seen them taught many times since taking the administrator’s position at the institute, and he’d assisted enough students in his classroom to feel confident that he could help Joe.
The man thought of Laura Dayton as he rode, and then thought of the last sea voyage he’d taken. He’d failed at enough things in recent years. Adam was determined that teaching Joe wasn’t going to end up being another failure to add to his list.
Adam straightened, sitting taller in the saddle, and urged the horse to increase his pace. They were only a few miles from the house now. Although Adam was a little nervous about this surprise visit, he was also eager to be reunited with the father he hadn’t seen since Pa traveled to Boston shortly after Grandfather Stoddard’s death, and especially eager to be reunited with the brothers he hadn’t seen since leaving Virginia City for Massachusetts.
Joe’s body swayed slightly with the rhythm of the buggy. If he couldn’t spend the day with Hoss, then Candy was next on Joe’s short list of people he felt comfortable being around since losing his sight. The other person was Pa, but lately all Pa wanted to do was try and convince Joe to let a teacher for the blind come and help him. Help him do what, Joe repeatedly asked his father. Just what was some prissy woman from the East going to teach him that would be of any value on a ranch?
Joe supposed Pa wanted to hire someone from that school where Adam worked, but he’d never asked. Nor did he even know if Pa had written Adam about the accident. He assumed so, but again, he hadn’t asked, because he didn’t care. It was better not to show anything that might be mistaken as interest for fear Pa would latch onto it, and then the next thing you know, some teacher would be here.
Teacher. Just the word made Joe laugh. He was almost thirty years old, and hadn’t attended school since he was sixteen. The last thing he needed was some woman following him around, nagging him to do this or do that. If he wanted to be nagged, he’d get married. Well. . .he would have gotten married. But now that he was blind, no woman would want him, and he couldn’t blame anyone for that. What good would a blind husband be? He couldn’t make a living. He couldn’t do maintenance around the house. He couldn’t even do something as simple as hitch a horse to a buggy and take children to school. He couldn’t do anything but sit in the chair someone led him to, and stay there until someone came and got him. Not exactly the kind of man women would be standing in line to wed. Not even if they assumed Ben Cartwright would financially support his blind son, without asking for anything in return. And if a woman did assume that and the thought appealed to her, then she assumed wrong, because Joe would never allow it. He refused to be a charity case, nor was he going to be known around Virginia City as, “the blind son old Ben Cartwright gives money to.”
As the buggy made a turn, Joe’s thoughts shifted from teachers and marriage, to trying to decipher which direction they were traveling – north, south, east, or west. If there was one thing Joe didn’t have the words to describe, it was how disorienting the world was now that he couldn’t see. He’d never thought it would be possible for the house and ranch he knew so well, to seem like places he’d never been before, just because he no longer had his eyesight. But that’s exactly how it seemed. He couldn’t count how many times he’d tripped coming down the stairs, or had stumbled over a chair, or other piece of furniture. He couldn’t count how many times Pa or Hoss had rushed to him as though he were a clumsy toddler, and helped him get back on his feet. That he needed their assistance in the first place, made him feel foolish, made him feel embarrassed, and made him feel stupid. And more than anything else, it was times like that when he hated being blind.
But he wasn’t going to be blind forever. Doc Martin had said his eyesight might come back. Granted, the last time the doctor was out, he did try to tell Joe that since his sight had been gone for two months, it was becoming more and more doubtful that it would return, but Joe didn’t believe him. Pa always said if you had faith, anything was possible. Well, Joe had plenty of faith when it came to wanting to see again. He was just waiting for God to get around to him.
Joe smelled the sharp scent of the Ponderosa Pines they were traveling amongst. He closed his eyes, picturing the towering trees on either side of the road. How he wished when he opened his eyes, he’d be able see them. Lately, it was getting harder and harder to open his eyes during a moment like this, because if Joe were honest with himself, he’d admit he knew Doc Martin was right. He wasn’t going to get his sight back. But Joe wasn’t ready to admit that, so when doubts crept in, he shoved them aside and reminded himself that, no matter what anyone else said, this nightmare would end soon. Yet deep inside, Joe knew the real reason why he wouldn’t allow a teacher to come to the Ponderosa. If he told his father to send for one, then Joe might as well admit he’d never see again, because sending for a teacher was the same as saying, “I give up.”
Candy’s voice interrupted Joe’s thoughts.
Joe turned his head to the left. He wondered if he was looking at Candy, or if, like he’d seen other blind people do, he was looking somewhere over Candy’s shoulder, or above his head, or even down at his feet. Now he understood why that happened. Without your sight, you could only estimate the location of a person’s face.
“Yeah.” Joe offered his friend a small smile. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Don’t have a headache, do you?”
Joe had been plagued by the worst headaches he’d ever experienced during the first couple of weeks after the explosion. They’d let up recently, though occasionally, he was still bothered by one so intense that all he could do was lie on his bed and be grateful for the cold compresses Pa or Hoss held to his forehead.
“No. I’m okay.”
“You’ve been pretty quiet since we ate lunch.”
Joe shrugged, while turning his head to face forward again.
“No. It’s just. . .it’s different when you’re blind, ya’ know?”
“No, Joe, I don’t know.”
Again, Joe smiled. He appreciated Candy’s honesty. If he’d said the same thing to Hoss, Hoss would have changed the subject, simply because he was so kind-hearted and sensitive that he seemed to think if they didn’t talk about Joe’s inability to see, then Joe wouldn’t remember he was blind. If Joe had said it to Pa. . .well, Pa would have probably used it as an opportunity to say something in return like, “If you’d let me hire a teacher, son, it wouldn’t have to be so different.”
But Candy wasn’t his brother, or his father. Maybe that’s why it was easier to talk to him about the word Hoss could barely stand to say, and that filled Pa’s voice with sadness.
“It’s different, because you have to listen harder when you’re blind,” Joe explained. “It’s almost as if my ears have become my eyes, if that makes any sense.”
“I suppose before I went blind, I could tell you if it was Pa or Hoss walking down the hallway at night, but I never paid much attention. Never had reason to – except in my younger days, when I was sneaking into the house through my bedroom window at two in the morning. At times like that, you can bet I knew if it was Pa coming down the hall.”
Candy laughed. “I’m sure ya’ did.”
“But now I always know which one of them it is. And Pa. . .”
“What about your pa?”
“He paces a lot. He never used to do that, Candy. But now he paces almost every night. I don’t know what time it is, since I can’t see the clock, but it’s a few hours after we go to bed. He’s not sleeping because of me.”
“You don’t know that for sure.”
“What else would it be?”
“He runs a big operation here. He’s probably got a lotta things on his mind. If I owned a place this size, I’d pace every so often too.”
Joe shook his head. “He’s never done it before. Business is important to Pa, but it’s never been so important to him that he loses sleep over it.”
“Even if he is having trouble sleeping because of you, Joe – because you’ve lost your sight – you can’t feel guilty over it. After all, he is a father. Worrying about their kids is what fathers do.”
“I guess. I just. . .I hate that I’ve given him something to worry about. He’s not getting any younger, ya’ know.”
“Better not let Ben Cartwright hear you say that.”
Joe chuckled. “No, I’d better not.”
Although it was just yesterday that Joe had told his father he didn’t want to be taken for a ride in a buggy like a helpless woman, he appreciated the invitation Candy had extended to him after breakfast. Not even Pa balked at Candy missing a day of work. He’d said he thought it was a good idea for the two men to go off and do whatever it was they wanted to. Usually with Joe and Candy, that meant riding into Virginia City for a few beers, a few hands of poker, and some girl watching. Maybe even some girl “catching,” if they got lucky. But without Joe having to say so, Candy knew Virginia City was off-limits. The buggy never left the Ponderosa, and they hadn’t encountered anyone the entire day, much to Joe’s relief. They’d done some fishing, taken a walk, napped beneath the warm sun after they’d eaten their noon meal, then fished again. They hadn’t caught anything, but that didn’t matter. If you wanted to catch fish, you brought Hoss along. For whatever reason, he was the one who had the ability to fill a bucket with fish thirty minutes after casting his line. Adam had always said if Hoss decided to give up ranching, he could make a fortune crewing a fishing boat. Picturing his huge, land-loving brother who was prone to seasickness, wearing a sailor’s cap and skippering a boat, was almost more than Joe could bear. He’d double over laughing each time Adam said that, while Hoss acted all put-out and demanded, “And just what’s so dadburn funny ‘bout that, little brother?”
It had been a long time now since Joe shared a laugh with both of his brothers, or a day of fishing. Six years long. Since Adam didn’t appear to have a desire to return to the Ponderosa, Joe doubted they’d ever share anything again.
Pa had visited Adam a few years back, after Adam’s grandfather died, while Joe and Hoss remained at home to run the ranch. Pa hadn’t said much about the visit when he’d returned three months later, and ever since then, whenever Adam wrote, his letters were always addressed to Pa in unfamiliar handwriting, which made Joe wonder if his brother was now so highfalutin that he dictated even his personal correspondence to a secretary. No letters came any longer addressed to the entire family, or addressed just to Joe, or just to Hoss. Joe knew Hoss had continued to write to Adam for a while, but Joe hadn’t bothered with it. If Adam couldn’t take the time to write him, then why should Joe waste time writing letters that were never answered? And besides, he didn’t want an answer if Adam’s secretary was the one sending it to him.
Nonetheless, this didn’t mean Pa didn’t tell them news of Adam, or read his letters out loud after supper, because most often he did. But whatever happened to cause Abel Stoddard’s death – and Joe was convinced there was more to it than just an old man’s “quiet passing,” as Pa maintained upon his return from Boston – had changed Adam in some way. Or, maybe he’d just gotten busy being the administrator of that blind school, and making a life for himself amongst Boston’s elite citizens. Or so Joe assumed. He could picture Adam at the kind of stuffy parties where you had to wear a suit coat, a waistcoat, woolen trousers, tie, and shoes that pinched your toes, and where all the men adjourned to a drawing room to smoke cigars, drink brandy, and talk politics. Not the kind of party Joe wanted to attend, that was for sure, or Hoss either.
Therefore, Joe was just as happy to stay on the Ponderosa and let Adam have his life in Boston. If that’s what Adam wanted, then so be it. Sure, it would have been nice to get a letter from him every so often, like Joe did back when Adam was at sea. But Joe knew time and distance changed a relationship whether you wanted it to or not. Didn’t Pa always say he was close to his brother John when they were growing up? But now, Pa hadn’t seen John in almost forty years. And though they wrote to one another, it wasn’t with any great frequency.
Candy’s voice broke into Joe’s thoughts once again.
“Is there anywhere else you wanna go before I head this rig towards home?”
Joe wanted to tell Candy not to take him home. After all, there was nothing for him to do at the house but sit in the great room, or sit in his bedroom. But where else could they go? It’s not like they could drive around the Ponderosa for days on end without Hoss or Pa coming to look for them.
“No. No, I guess not. What time is it?”
By the movement of the buggy, Joe could tell Candy was now holding the reins with one hand, and reaching for his pocket watch with the other.
“Quarter to five. Before we left this morning I heard your pa tell Hop Sing to have supper ready at six, so I suppose we’d better mosey on in that direction.”
Joe leaned back and held onto the buggy’s frame with his right hand. The depression that had been his constant companion since losing his sight returned in full force now that they were headed home, and he had nothing to look forward to but another long, boring evening. He stared straight ahead seeing only black, and prayed that God would soon change things for the better.
Watching Joe try and unhitch the horse from the buggy made Candy realize how inaccurate the phrase, “I can do it with my eyes closed,” really was. Candy had no doubt Joe’d been unhitching horses from buggies without help since he was ten years old. Now, he fumbled his way through the chore, as clumsy as a kid doing this job for the first time.
Candy didn’t say anything as he stepped forward to help. He’d seen Joe lose his temper with his father and Hoss often enough during recent weeks to know the best way to go about giving Joe assistance, was to do so unobtrusively, and without offering instructions. Candy made small talk while they worked, just like he’d do if Joe still had his sight.
“Pretty nice day, huh?”
“Sure was. Thanks for takin’ me.”
“No need to thank me. Got me out of branding.”
Joe’s smile seemed hollow and wooden to Candy. As though he’d give anything to be able to spend a day branding cattle.
“Yeah, guess it did. I’ll be glad to help you get outta more work if you can convince my pa we need to go fishing several times a week.”
Candy clapped his friend on the shoulder. “You can count on me to give it my best shot.”
Joe snorted. “I’m sure I can.”
Candy walked beside Joe when they left the carriage house with Joe leading the horse known as Old Pete. Candy kept a hand on Joe’s elbow, guiding him toward the barn. His hand remained where it was as they entered the barn and Joe stalled Pete. Joe did a pretty good job of rubbing the horse down, while Candy got water and grain for the animal.
As he worked, Candy’s eyes kept traveling to an unfamiliar horse in the last stall. He hadn’t pictured the teacher arriving on horseback. A woman from Boston conjured up images of fancy dresses with matching hats, white gloves, maybe a parasol or two, and a buckboard filled with trunks of clothing, as opposed to a woman in riding clothes, who traveled so lightly that whatever she’d brought with her could fit behind a saddle.
Candy shrugged. Either way, it wasn’t his concern. Mr. Cartwright had asked him to keep the news of the teacher’s arrival from Joe, and Candy would continue to honor that request. He didn’t mention the strange horse as he and Joe tended to Pete. He didn’t rush Joe in currying Pete, or even assist with finding the brush when Joe dropped it and had to search Pete’s stall for it on his hands and knees.
Candy kept glancing toward the house, hoping Mr. Cartwright or Hoss would come out to get Joe. The foreman had witnessed numerous blow-ups since Joe’d lost his sight that he felt he shouldn’t have been privy to. He had no desire to witness the one he knew would lift the rafters right off the house, when Joe found out a teacher was inside waiting for him. While Candy appreciated the fact that Ben Cartwright treated him like a son, and Joe and Hoss treated him like a brother, when you came right down to it, he wasn’t related to the Cartwrights. As an old cowhand once told Candy long before he came to work on the Ponderosa, no matter how close a foreman grew to be to the ranch owner and his family, it was always wise to remember that you were still hired help. A man doesn’t fire his son. His foreman, however, is another story. Not that Candy had any concerns Ben Cartwright would fire him because he’d seen Joe barely in control of himself on a few occasions since the accident, but to Candy’s way of thinking, the Cartwrights deserved their privacy at a time like this. How the family handled Joe’s loss of sight was their business, not Candy’s, and not anyone else’s.
“Hey,” Joe said, “how about goin’ in for supper?”
Joe used one hand to hang onto the stall while walking out of it. Candy ran over and grabbed a short stool in the man’s path. He scooped it up, putting it down on the other side of the stall without Joe knowing he’d ever been in danger. Candy placed a hand at his friend’s elbow again.
“Sounds good,” Candy agreed, though at the same time he wondered how quickly he could escape from the house. If he were lucky, he’d be able to hightail it out of there before Mr. Cartwright got a chance to introduce Joe to the teacher.
Candy stared at the front door as they crossed the ranch yard. He willed Hoss to open it and step out for his brother. When that didn’t happen, Candy had no choice but to continue to walk with Joe.
Joe fumbled for the knob and opened the door. At first, Candy assumed the teacher was resting in the room Hop Sing had prepared for her. He saw Mr. Cartwright sitting in his chair by the fireplace, looking content and happy in a way Candy hadn’t seen him look since the explosion. Hoss stood by the grandfather clock, as though he was waiting to walk with someone to the sitting area. It wasn’t until another person came into view, that Candy realized the man had been standing by Mr. Cartwright’s desk, his presence blocked by Hoss’s body. For a brief second, Candy saw a wistful look lingering on the man’s face. As though he was getting reacquainted with old and cherished memories. But what memories did this room hold for the dark headed stranger dressed all in black?
As soon as Candy and Joe’s presence registered with everyone, Mr. Cartwright stood. The visitor remained silent as Mr. Cartwright approached wearing a big smile.
“There you two are. Did you have a good day?”
“Sure did, Pa.”
Mr. Cartwright took Joe’s hat as the blind man attempted to place it on the sideboard. Candy saw the stranger frown at that action, as though he thought Mr. Cartwright shouldn’t have helped Joe with such a simple task.
“We didn’t catch any fish, though,” Joe said. “Guess we shoulda’ brought Hoss along.”
“Guess you shoulda’,” Hoss agreed. “Next time you two get ta’ spend the day loafin’, make sure ya’ fill me in on it ‘fore you go ridin’ outta here.”
“We sure will, big brother.”
Candy stepped back, letting Mr. Cartwright take Joe’s elbow. He didn’t care that the table was set with a place for him, and that Hop Sing was already bringing out platters of food that made his stomach growl. He turned for the door, wanting to leave before the fireworks started, but he wasn’t quick enough.
Joe’s brow furrowed. Mr. Cartwright’s eyes darted to Candy, then to Hoss, then to the man who was now standing beside Hoss. Candy could hear the suspicion in Joe’s voice. As though Joe suddenly knew some surprise was about to be sprung on him that he wasn’t going to like.
“What is it, Pa?”
“Joseph, about that teacher--”
Joe pulled away from his father. “I told you I don’t want a teacher.”
“I know what you told me, but--”
“There’s no buts about it. I said I don’t wanna teacher!”
“Well, son, it’s. . .it’s a little too late for that, because--”
“Because you went and sent for one anyway, didn’t you? You sent for one anyway after I told you not to, didn’t you?”
“Yes, Joe, I did.”
“How could you? I. . .I. . .” Joe lurched forward as though trying to flee from the room. As though he feared a woman was present to witness what no man wanted a woman to see. Not even a woman he didn’t know. His vulnerability. His fear. His humiliation.
“I told you not to, Pa! I told you not to!”
Joe tumbled headlong into the blue chair by the stairs. When Mr. Cartwright ran to him and tried to help him up, Joe pushed his father aside.
“Get away from me! Leave me alone!” Joe lurched for the stairs again, heading for his room using a stumbling half-crawl that made Hoss drop his gaze, and brought tears to Mr. Cartwright’s eyes.
“I told you I don’t wanna teacher! Why didn’t you listen to me?” Joe’s voice broke with the anger and emotion he could no longer keep in-check. “I-I-I told
you. . .I told you I don’t wanna teacher, damn it! I don’t want a teacher!”
For the first time, the stranger spoke. His voice was gentle, his tone filled with a quiet kind of understanding.
“Not even if the teacher is your brother, Joe?”
Joe spun around, a hand grappling for the railing behind him. His eyes widened, and Candy swore he saw Joe’s lips silently form the word, “Adam?”
“Joe?” the man questioned again. “How about it? How about if I’m your teacher?”
Joe made a stifled sound that was a cross between a sob and shocked surprise. For just a moment, Candy thought he was going to witness a happy reunion. But then the moment passed, and the shouting started again.
“No! I told Pa no teacher! Just. . .just go back to Boston, Adam! Now that you’ve satisfied your curiosity, I’m sure you’ve got better things to do than baby-sit your blind brother. Like dictate letters to your secretary, or discuss politics with your rich neighbors, or smoke cigars, or drink brandy, or-or-or--”
“No, Joe, I don’t have anything better to do.”
“Well I do! And none of what I’ve got planned involves you!”
With that, Joe turned and scrambled up the stairs on his hands and knees. Candy could have predicted the sound of a slamming door before he heard it. Hoss let out a heavy sigh of disappointment, while Mr. Cartwright bowed his head in defeat.
This new Cartwright was the only one who didn’t seem particularly disturbed by Joe’s actions. He walked over to Candy and held out his hand.
“Hi. You must be Candy.”
Candy tried not to stare as they exchanged an awkward handshake.
“Uh. . .yeah,” Candy acknowledged to the man he’d heard mentioned on numerous occasions, but had never met. “I am.”
“Nice to meet you. In the event you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m Joe’s brother Adam.” Adam’s eyes flicked to the stairway, and a slight smile curved his lips. “He’s obviously missed me a great deal since I’ve been gone.”
Candy couldn’t help but smile in return. Joe might not want to be told this right now, but it was apparent he and his oldest brother shared a similar sense of humor. Because of that, Candy had a feeling he was going to like Adam Cartwright just fine. He hoped Joe would come to his senses and be willing to learn all that his brother could teach him. If not. . .well, if not, just by looking at the exhausted slump of Mr. Cartwright’s shoulders, Candy knew Joe’s refusal would break his father’s heart.
Adam couldn’t blame Candy for his hasty retreat after the introductions ended. The foreman said something about eating in the bunkhouse with the men, then took off like a “scalded cat,” as Hoss would say. Adam got the impression Candy usually ate the evening meal with his employers, so he appreciated the man forgoing that tradition tonight in favor of allowing Adam and his family their privacy. Besides, the way things were looking right now, no one had much of an appetite. Not even Hoss.
Thirty minutes had passed since the door to Joe’s room slammed shut. Without voicing any complaints, Hop Sing carried the food to the stove to keep it warm. That Hop Sing wasn’t cussing them out in Cantonese while he scurried back and forth to the kitchen, spoke volumes for the mood in the house. What had begun as a joyous reunion, turned into angry words filled with fear, embarrassment, and resentment. The first two emotions Adam understood. It was natural for Joe to be frightened of the dark world he now found himself living in, and to be embarrassed when encountering someone he wasn’t comfortable with. By virtue of the years he’d been gone, Adam was forced to acknowledge he fell into that category. But the resentment . . .Adam didn’t even have a secretary, so what Joe meant by that remark was a mystery.
Little Brother, you might have some gray in your hair now – and God knows that shocked the hell out of me – but despite having hair that’s on its way to being the color of Pa’s, you can still turn this household upside down with that temper of yours.
Ten years ago, those same thoughts would have been shrouded with irritation. Now, Adam found them funny. Joe was Joe. Just like Adam was who he was. The essence of a man’s personality never seemed to change greatly from what it had been in childhood, despite the maturity and wisdom the passage of time gives most everyone.
Adam wished his father and Hoss could find some of the same amusement – and hope – in Joe’s temper that he did. Pa sat in his chair with a far away look in his eyes, as though he’d sell the Ponderosa for a dollar if only someone would promise to give Joe his sight back in return. And Hoss – that tenderhearted, bear-of-a-brother Adam hadn’t realized how much he’d missed until they’d been reunited a few hours earlier – stood staring forlornly into the fireplace with his hands shoved deep in his front pockets.
Pa and Hoss were so mired in their worries for Joe, that they didn’t notice Adam’s inability to take his gaze from them. The intensity of Adam’s emotions surprised him. Yes, he’d been looking forward to seeing his family, but he hadn’t expected the hugs to last so long, or for it to be so difficult to step from those embraces. And the tears that came to his eyes while wrapped in his father’s arms. . .well, Adam hadn’t anticipated those at all.
Hoss was the first person to notice Adam’s homecoming. As Adam dismounted his horse, Hoss stepped from the barn, not immediately recognizing the “stranger.” It wasn’t until Adam pushed the brim of his hat up and Hoss clearly saw his face, that recognition occurred. And even then, it took Hoss a few seconds to act on that recognition. He stared at Adam as though a ghost had ridden onto the Ponderosa, then he grinned and let out a whoop of joy while throwing his hat in the air.
“Adam! Adam, you’re home!”
Before Adam could react, he was picked up in massive arms and swung around three times. When he was finally on the ground again, he exchanged a long and powerful hug with his brother. After the hug ended, they stood back and absorbed the sight of each other, taking note of six years worth of changes. In Hoss’s case, his hairline had receded more, and he was thinner on top, too, but wider around the middle.
In Adam’s case, Hoss noticed the obvious difference right away. But when he questioned, “Adam?” with confusion, Adam shook his head.
“We’ll talk about it after I get settled – and in private, where Joe can’t overhear us.”
The confusion didn’t leave Hoss’s face, but he nodded his understanding that there were things Adam didn’t want Joe to know about just yet.
Before the brothers were able to say anything else, the front door opened. Hoss shoved Adam behind him as Pa walked out.
“Hoss! What’s all the ruckus about?”
Adam could hear the grin in Hoss’s voice.
“Nothin’, Pa! The teacher just got here, that’s all.”
“Teacher?” Pa’s voice drew closer. “Where?”
Adam imagined the puzzlement on his father’s face, when the only thing Pa saw was a horse with a small valise secured to the saddle. It wasn’t the way Pa was expecting the teacher to travel the final leg of the journey. To prevent anyone from the Ponderosa being sent to meet his stage, Adam had told his father via a telegram that the teacher would hire a buggy and driver at Jensen’s Livery upon arrival.
“Right here, Pa,” Hoss had said. “Behind me.”
“Well then, bring her up to the house, for pity sake. We don’t want Miss Brockington standing under the hot sun.”
“No, I don’t reckon we do. Only the “miss” ain’t a miss, after all. She’s a mister.”
“She’s a mister, Pa.”
“Hoss, what in tarnation are you talking about? Now quit taking over your brother Joseph’s role as the family practical joker, and show Miss Brockington some proper hospitality.”
“It’s like I already told ya’, Pa, she’s not a miss, she’s a. . .” Hoss stepped to the side, as he finished his sentence with, “mister.”
Pa’s reaction to seeing Adam was almost identical to Hoss’s. Several seconds passed before it registered with him that his oldest son was standing just a few feet away. His face, however, was minus any confusion, because unlike Hoss and Joe, Pa knew how Adam had changed since he’d left home.
“Adam?” Pa whispered. “Son?”
“Yeah, Pa.” Adam smiled as he walked into his father’s arms. “It’s me.”
Adam was enveloped in a hug that seemed to go on forever, and that he had no desire to break. A hand cupped the back of his head, pulling him even closer. Adam returned the hug with just as much strength and emotion, and didn’t try to hide the tears trickling down his face.
When Pa finally broke their embrace, he took two steps back, but kept his hands on Adam’s shoulders. He studied his oldest child from head to toe.
“You look well, son.”
Adam smiled and nodded his assurance. He knew he looked a far cry better than the last time his father had seen him – both physically and emotionally healthier than he’d been three years ago.
“I’m fine, Pa.” Adam patted his father’s right arm. “I’m just fine.”
Pa let his hands drop. “Don’t take this the wrong way, Adam, but what’re you doing here? We were expecting Miss Brockington.”
Adam chuckled. “Why?”
“Why? Well. . .well. . .well, because I just assumed. . .”
“Then you assumed wrong. I never said I was sending Laddie.”
“No, I guess you didn’t,” Pa admitted. “But you never said you were coming, either.”
“I wanted to surprise you.”
Pa laughed. “You certainly did that and then some.” Pa placed an arm across Adam’s shoulders. “Come on in the house. We’ll get you a cold drink and a comfortable place to sit.”
“I’ll put this horse away and be right in ta’ join you fellas.”
“ ‘Welcome. Did ya’ rent ‘im from Tom?”
“Do I need to take him back for ya’?”
“No. One of Tom’s boys is coming out with my luggage tomorrow. He’ll get the horse then.”
“Sounds like a dandy idea.”
“For the promise of a dollar tip, the boy thought so, too.”
“I reckon he did.” Hoss led the horse toward the barn. “Don’t you two start talkin’ without me.”
“We won’t,” Pa promised.
Adam walked beside his father to the house. He’d just put his hat on the sideboard when he heard Hop Sing coming from the kitchen.
“What all noise about? Is Missy Teacher here? You say Hop Sing serve snacks when Missy Teacher come, but no one tell Hop Sing Missy Teacher get here until Mr. Hoss start yelling like sky falling. . .”
Hop Sing’s tirade stopped as he walked around the corner and caught sight of the “teacher.” Like Pa and Hoss had been, the housekeeper was momentarily stunned. When Hop Sing finally spoke again, Adam grinned at the high-spirited chatter he could have predicted was coming next.
“Mr. Adam! Mr. Adam, you go ‘way long time! Make father and brothers sad.”
“I don’t know how sad I made anyone, Hop Sing, but it sure feels good to be home.”
“Good have you home.”
Hop Sing eyes lingered on Adam a moment. He didn’t remark on any changes he observed, but unless he’d lost his sight like Joe, he’d surely noticed at least one. However, any questions Hop Sing had he kept to himself as he turned to scold Pa.
“You say Missy Teacher come and Hop Sing should get room ready for her! Now no Missy Teacher come. Mr. Adam come, but Mr. Adam’s room not ready. And I make special supper for Missy Teacher, just like you say to. If you say Mr. Adam coming, Hop Sing make Mr. Adam’s favorite foods, but too late now ‘cause supper started.”
Adam laughed at the little man’s temper. As he’d said, it sure felt good to be home.
“Don’t worry about my room, Hop Sing. I’m sure it’s fine. That is, unless one of my brothers has taken it over. If Hoss commandeered it, then the mattress will be sunk in the middle and make my back hurt. If Joe’s claimed it, then the smell of cologne and hair tonic will be so strong that I’ll have to leave the window open for a week.”
“No, Mr. Hoss not sleep in your room, and Little Joe not sleep there either. Mr. Adam’s room just like was when he left. Hop Sing think Mr. Hoss and Little Joe leave it ‘cause they hope Mr. Adam come home someday and want room back.”
“I think so too, Hop Sing,” Pa agreed with a smile. “Now can you bring some lemonade and cookies for us?”
Hop Sing shook a finger under Pa’s nose.
“Not for you, because I work hard to get room ready for Missy Teacher. But for Mr. Adam, yes, I bring snacks.”
After Hop Sing left, Adam teased, “I’ll share some with you, Pa.”
“Thank you. As you should. After all, it’s your fault I had Hop Sing get “Missy Teacher’s” room ready.”
Adam chuckled, then followed his father to the sitting area. Hoss entered the house with Adam’s valise just as Hop Sing brought a tray of lemonade and cookies from the kitchen. Adam enjoyed a lazy afternoon visit with his father and brother. Shortly before Pa expected Candy to return with Joe, Adam excused himself and carried his valise to his room.
As Hop Sing said, the room hadn’t been changed in the years since Adam’s departure. Adam opened the window to allow the summer breeze in, and to air out the stuffiness that spoke of a space long unoccupied. It took him no more than a minute to unpack. He opened his bureau drawers one by one, seeing the clothes he’d left behind. He changed out of his traveling suit then – the gray dress trousers, gray suit coat, white shirt, and black string tie he’d worn. He found a pair of familiar black pants and a black shirt to put on in their place. He was surprised the pants still fit as comfortably as they did. Adam would have sworn he’d put on a few pounds since taking the job at the institute.
When Adam returned to the main floor, he took a slow tour of the room, savoring everything from pictures, to books, to furniture, to the Indian blanket that still hung on the banister. It was while he stood in front of Pa’s desk running two fingers over the smooth wood, that Candy and Joe entered the house.
Adam had wanted his reunion with Joe to be just as exuberant and heartfelt as his reunion with Pa and Hoss. Nonetheless, he wasn’t surprised when it didn’t turn out that way. First of all, Joe had told their father numerous times not to send for a teacher. And second of all, even when Joe discovered the teacher was his brother, Adam understood that, given the circumstances, it was difficult for Joe to be welcoming of unexpected visitors.
Adam stood up from the settee now, ready to make another attempt at a reunion with his youngest brother. He broke the heavy silence that had prevailed in the room since Joe tumbled up the stairs.
“I’ll go talk to Joe. See if he’ll come down and eat supper.”
Hoss turned to look at Adam as Pa asked, “You think that’s a good idea?”
“I do,” Adam nodded. “He can’t sit in his room and brood forever.”
“Adam. . .” Pa’s voice warned that he wasn’t up to hearing the kind of heated exchange his oldest and youngest had engaged in at times during years past.
“Pa, trust me. I know how to handle Joe.”
“I do trust you. It’s just that. . .”
“That what, Pa?”
“You’ve been gone a long time. You don’t. . .”
“I don’t have the right to push my way back into Joe’s life? Is that what you were going to say?”
Pa gave a reluctant, “Yes.”
“I’m not going to push. I’m going to teach. I came here to teach Joe, Pa, not to fight with him. Believe me, I saw the gray in his hair.” Adam smiled. “While I’ll always think of Joe as my kid brother, I realize it’s been a lot of years since he was a kid, and that I’ve got to treat him with the same respect I’d want if our positions were reversed. Besides,” the man added as he paused with a foot on the first step, “I also noticed the muscles that little scamp has packed onto his chest and shoulders since I left. If I’m not careful, he’ll knock me right through a wall.”
“He will,” Hoss agreed. “Heck, Adam, even when Joe was a lot scrawnier, that never kept him from takin’ a swing at ya’ if ya’ got him riled.”
“No, it didn’t,” Adam said to Hoss, but then quickly assured his father, “but don’t worry, no fist fights. I’m too old to be on the receiving end of Joe’s temper.”
“I would hope you’re both too old for that kind of malarkey.”
Adam laughed. “Oh, come on, Pa. Joe and I tearing up this room every so often as we tossed each other over furniture was kind of fun.”
“Maybe fun for you and Joseph, but not fun for Hoss and me when we had to try and pull you two apart.”
“Well, no need to worry about pulling us apart this time around, I promise. I’m just going to talk to Joe. Just going to try and convince him that I can help him – teach him – if he’ll only let me.”
Pa’s, “I hope Joe agrees to that,” sounded flat, and without any real conviction. The look on Hoss’s face mirrored Pa’s certainty that Adam would fail.
But Adam had ridden onto the Ponderosa determined not to fail, and no amount of stubbornness on Joe’s part was going to change that.
Joe sat on the edge of the bed, ignoring the knock on his door. The “rap rap rap” sounded again with more persistence.
“Go away, Adam.”
“I said go away.”
Despite the directive, the door opened. Joe scowled.
“Somethin’ wrong with your hearing?”
“No, I hear just fine. As do you, evidently, since you could tell those were my footsteps in the hall, and not Pa’s or Hoss’s.”
“Did you come up here just to prove how smart you are, or do you get enjoyment outta barging into rooms you’ve been told not to enter?”
“I didn’t come up here to prove anything, Joe, and as for barging in. . .I’m sorry. I wanted to talk to you for a few minutes.”
“Well, first of all, how about just to say hello, and that I’m glad to see you.”
“Fine. Now that you’ve gotten that outta the way, you can leave.”
“Yeah. Go to your own room. Or go back downstairs. Or go back to Boston, for all I care.”
“What if I’m not ready to go back to Boston?”
“Then that’s your choice. Just don’t bother me while you’re here.”
Silence cloaked the room. Joe could picture Adam studying him while considering what he’d say next.
“Joe, there’re things I can show you. . .teach you, if you’ll only let me.”
“Oh, so now Adam Cartwright is the savior of the blind, is that it?”
“Adam Cartwright isn’t anyone’s savior, believe me. But he is your brother, and he’d like to help you.”
“I came a long way and--”
“I didn’t ask you to. Besides, you weren’t interested in coming home before.”
“Before? Before what?”
“Before I went on display like some kind of side-show freak.”
“That’s not true.”
“What? That you weren’t interested in coming home, or that I’m a freak?”
“It’s not that I wasn’t interested, it’s just that it wasn’t. . .it wasn’t possible. And I don’t think you’re a freak.”
“Well I do, and that’s all that matters.
Again, silence prevailed between the brothers. Men’s laughter drifted in through the open window, followed by the clang of a horseshoe striking a metal stake. It was a game meant to pass time, and in Joe’s opinion, not all that exciting. But it was strange what simple things you longed to be able to do when you could no longer see.
“I can teach you.”
Joe turned his face from the window.
“Horseshoes. I can teach you how to play horseshoes.”
Joe didn’t know which made him more furious – Adam’s insistence that he could teach him things, or that he’d so easily discerned what Joe was thinking.
“Now that’ll sure make Pa proud.”
“Joe. . .”
“Hey, Adam, then you really could get me hired by a freak show. You could bill me as the blind, horseshoe-playing man.”
“If nothing else, it’ll get me outta this room and give me a way to earn a living so I don’t have to be Pa’s charity case.”
“You’re not Pa’s charity case, you’re his son.”
“That’s not what people will say.”
“No one in particular. Just people.”
“I’ve never known you to worry about what people say.”
“You’ve been gone a long time. Maybe I do now.”
Adam chuckled. “Even thrusting your chin out at me like that in defiance, won’t make me believe Joe Cartwright has changed so much that he loses sleep over the opinions of others.”
“Look, Adam, what you believe or don’t believe, doesn’t matter to me.”
“If you really are concerned about people thinking you’re Pa’s charity case, let me teach--”
“No! How many ways do I have to say it? No, Adam! Now get outta here! Go!”
A heavy sigh was accompanied by footsteps heading toward the door. The footsteps paused. Even without the ability to see his brother, Joe knew Adam had turned to look at him.
“Hop Sing’s got supper waiting.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“For Pa’s sake, could you at least try and eat?”
“Not tonight. I just wanna be left alone.”
Adam was quiet a few seconds, then made a soft confession.
“I’m no stranger to what you’re feeling, Joe.”
“No?” Joe didn’t attempt to keep the bitterness from his tone. “Does that mean you’re blind too?”
There was a long hesitation, as though Adam wanted to say far more than what he finally settled on.
“No. . . .No, I’m not.”
“Then you are a stranger to what I’m feeling. You have no idea what I’m feeling, and don’t you dare come in this room and try and tell me otherwise.”
Joe expected to be inundated with Adam Cartwright words-of-wisdom, and was therefore glad when he received none. Adam’s footsteps moved toward the doorway again. He paused just long enough to say, “Oh, and by the way. I don’t have a secretary.”
Joe’s brow furrowed with puzzlement, but before he could reply, the door closed and Adam was gone.
Long after Adam left, Joe sat wondering why the solitude he claimed to crave brought him no comfort, and how a man could feel so alone when his family was gathered around the dining room table just one floor below.
Adam suspected Joe’s late arrival at the breakfast table on Sunday morning had nothing to do with oversleeping, and everything to do with Joe assuming his family had left for church. But since Joe couldn’t see a clock, his timing was off. If he’d waited another fifteen minutes, he might have found himself alone in the house, save for Hop Sing. Instead, Hoss was outside getting the buggy ready, while Pa and Adam sat at the table sipping coffee.
Joe groped his way down the stairs. His uncoordinated movements were painful for Adam to watch. In less than ten minutes, Adam could show his little brother a safe and confident way to traverse the stairs, if only Joe would let him.
Pa exchanged glances with Adam. There’d been a lull in their conversation, which was likely why Joe didn’t realize they were still in the house. Pa waited until Joe was on the landing, to say, “Good morning, Joseph.”
“Oh. . .uh. . .morning, Pa.”
Adam received nothing more than a curt, “Adam,” in response to his greeting.
As Pa stood to assist Joe, Adam shook his head. Pa cocked a questioning eyebrow. Adam nodded toward his father’s chair, indicating that he’d like the man to sit back down. Pa reluctantly did so. Adam then turned his attention to Joe, who was headed for the blue chair. Joe waved his arms in front of him in what Adam knew was an ineffective way for a blind man to navigate a room. He was proven correct, when Joe collided with the chair. True to Joe’s stubborn nature, he wouldn’t ask for help. He righted himself, and then kept walking.
“Joe, your shins are about to make contact with the coffee table.”
Regardless of how Joe felt about Adam’s presence, he stopped.
“Take three steps backwards, and then seven steps to your left.”
“If you take three steps back, and seven steps left, you’ll be in the open space behind the settee.”
The explanation seemed to help Joe reach the decision to do as Adam instructed.
Adam realized the added explanation had probably made his directive sound less like an order. He filed that in the back of his mind for future reference. Joe never had taken well to being bossed around – especially when the person doing the bossing was his oldest brother.
“Now put your right hand out at waist level.”
“Because if you do, you’ll feel the edge of the table behind the settee.”
Again, Joe hesitated, as though the last thing he wanted to do was take orders from Adam. But Joe also must have recognized that Adam’s verbal guidance was allowing him the independence he so badly wanted.
“Run the back of your hand across the table as you walk forward. No, not the front of your hand, the back. It’s safer that way.”
Joe couldn’t keep his curiosity in-check. “How come?”
“Because if you encounter a nail, or other sharp object, you’re not as likely to pierce your skin as you are if you use your palm.”
“Oh. . .okay.”
“When you come to the end of the table, keep your hand at waist level, palm inward just like you have it now. You’ll take approximately eight steps, and then feel the corner of the dining room table.”
Once Joe reached the table, he was able to get to his chair and sit down without further instructions. If this small feat made him happy, he worked hard at not revealing that to Adam.
Adam frowned as his father filled a plate for Joe. This was another habit he would have to break Pa of.
Pa placed the plate in front of Joe.
“Scrambled eggs at twelve o’clock, son. Bacon at nine, and fried potatoes at three.”
Adam watched his father pour coffee for Joe next; another task Joe could be doing for himself.
“Coffee’s at the top of your plate.”
“You’re welcome. Are you coming to church with us this morning?”
“Uh. . .no. No, Pa, I’m not.”
Based on things Adam was told by Pa and Hoss the previous afternoon, he knew Joe hadn’t attended church, or been in Virginia City at all, since the explosion.
“Sally Morris will ask after you.”
“Is there a message you’d like me to give her?”
“No. No message.”
“There’s no message, Pa.”
Pa’s eyes remained on Joe. Adam wished his brother could see the pain those eyes held, and the way exhaustion and worry were taking their toll on Pa.
Pa finished his coffee, set the cup on its saucer, and looked at Adam.
“Ready to go?”
“You know, Pa, I’m pretty tired from my trip. I think I’ll stay here this morning.”
Adam almost laughed out loud at the scowl on Joe’s face.
“I don’t need a babysitter.”
“I never said you did. As a matter of fact, I didn’t say anything about you.”
Joe at least had the good grace to blush a little.
Pa didn’t intercede on behalf of either of his sons. He must have decided they could fight it out on their own; or, he surmised what Adam hoped to accomplish if he were able to spend some time alone with Joe.
“I’ll see you boys later, then.” Pa stood and walked from the dining area. “I’d better get out to the buggy, or Hoss’ll wonder what’s happened to me.”
“Bye, Pa,” Adam said.
Joe’s, “Bye,” was subdued, and devoid of the cheerfulness his older brother’s had contained. As though the prospect of being alone with Adam was worse than the thought of being seen in public. For a few moments, Adam wondered if Joe would change his mind about going to church.
Pa must have wondered the same thing, because he stood behind the settee, his gaze lingering on his youngest son. When Joe said nothing more, Pa placed his hat on his head, turned, and headed out the front door.
Joe ate with the kind of speed that said he was in a rush to escape his older brother’s presence. Adam cast about for something to say. If he didn’t make conversation, Joe would find an excuse to return to his room as soon as he finished his breakfast.
“It sure is nice to be home.”
Joe didn’t answer, but by the way his eyes were drawn to the direction Adam’s voice was coming from, Adam knew he had his brother’s attention.
“All three of you look good.”
“Wish I could return the compliment, but as you’ve already figured out, I’m not seeing much of anything these days.”
Six years ago, Adam wouldn’t have had the fortitude to withstand Joe’s bitterness, but life had taught him a few hard lessons since he’d been gone, and two of the things he’d learned from those lessons was patience and empathy. He plowed forward, pretending he hadn’t heard Joe.
“I have to confess I was a little surprised by the gray in your hair, and the way you’ve filled out in the shoulders and chest. A few years on down the road, and you’ll be the one amongst us who looks the most like Pa.”
Being compared to Pa made Joe smile a little. “No.”
“Everyone’s always said I look like my mother.”
“You did when you were younger, and you still do to some extent. But I’m seeing a good deal of Pa in you, too.” Adam smiled. “Maybe it’s just because I’ve been gone awhile.”
“Maybe. Or maybe you need glasses.”
Despite the lack of humor in Joe’s tone, Adam chuckled. “Maybe I do.”
Adam moved the conversation along, talking about the changes he’d observed in Virginia City, and then on the Ponderosa during his ride to the ranch house the previous day. Joe’s answers were short when he answered at all, but at least he seemed to have forgotten he was in a hurry to leave the table.
Casually, Adam stated, “I’ll be here for a few days yet. Maybe the Cartwright brothers can get some fishing in before I go back to Boston. What do you think?”
.sure. Yeah. I suppose we could. When’re you leaving?”
“Probably at the end of the week. I arranged to be gone from the institute for at least a month, but if you don’t have a need for me. . .”
“I don’t have a need for you. Doc Martin says I’m gonna get my eyesight back.”
“Oh. . .I didn’t realize that. Pa didn’t mention it.”
“Well, he should have. Might have saved you a trip.”
“Yes, it might have. But overall, it doesn’t matter. I was long overdue for a visit home, wouldn’t you say?”
Joe shrugged, but Adam could detect the hurt in his response. “Your life is in Boston now.”
“A part of my life is there, yes. But a part of it’s still here on the Ponderosa too, Joe. The part that’ll always be connected to you, and Pa, and Hoss.”
The conversation paused, as though Joe was absorbing Adam’s words and deciding how he wanted to respond to them.
“Pa’s missed you.”
“I’ve missed him, too. And Hoss and you, as well.”
“If you’ve missed all of us, how come you never came home for a visit?”
“Boston isn’t exactly just a town or two away, you know.”
“I might be blind, but I’m not stupid. I know how far Boston is.”
“Then you know it’s not a trip a person makes on the spur of the moment. Besides, you never came to visit me.”
“I wasn’t invited.”
Touché, little brother. Touché.
“Then I’ve been negligent in telling you that you’re welcome any time. Would you like to come stay with me for awhile?”
“Oh. . .well, obviously my invitation is a little late, but that doesn’t make it any less sincere. I really would like you to come for a visit.”
“I know. What I meant was, not right now. Someday, when I have my sight back, then. . .yeah, maybe. I might like to see Boston. Hoss too.”
Adam smiled while keeping the disappointment out of his voice. He’d thought if he could get Joe away from the Ponderosa, then Joe might be more receptive to learning.
“Both you and Hoss are always welcome. Just let me know you’re coming, and I’ll have Mrs. O’Connell get the guestrooms ready.”
“My housekeeper. A female, Irish version of Hop Sing.”
That got a chuckle out of Joe.
Taking advantage of his brother’s good humor, Adam held out his coffee cup.
“Joe, the coffee pot’s to your left at ten o’clock. Would you mind pouring me a cup?”
Before Joe had the chance to say no, Adam placed his cup in Joe’s right hand.
“I. . .you’d better do it. I might spill it.”
“Oh yeah, that’s right, you might. . .unless. . .”
“I can show you a way to do it if you want me to.”
Adam leaned across the table and gently manipulated the fingers of Joe’s right hand around the delicate china cup.
“Here. Like this. Place your index finger just inside the rim of the cup. You’ll know when to stop pouring.”
“Yeah,” Joe smiled, “guess I will.”
“I hope your hands are clean.”
Joe smirked at his brother. “That’s the chance you took when you asked me to pour.”
“A request I’m regretting now that I’ve given it a second thought.”
Joe laughed. Adam sat back in his chair, enjoying the sound. That was one thing that hadn’t changed in the years since he’d left. Joe still possessed that distinctive cackle Adam could have picked out of any crowd, no matter how dense.
Adam reached out to take the cup Joe held toward him.
“Now I can show you another method with your own cup.”
“One that doesn’t involve my finger?”
“Good. I don’t mind getting your coffee dirty, but I don’t wanna drink my own that way.”
“Very funny.” Adam wished Pa were present to witness this exchange. It would do him a world of good to hear Joe laughing and joking. “Now this might be somewhat difficult for you, because you’ll have to keep your mouth shut for a few seconds and listen.”
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, little brother,” Adam teased. “Listen as you pour this time. The sound will be fairly noticeable when you first begin, but as the cup gets fuller, the sound will diminish. When the cup is about three quarters of the way full, the sound will stop altogether.”
Joe’s eyebrows knit together with concentration as he poured. The delight on his face was impossible to miss.
“Hey, it really works.”
“You thought I was lying to you?”
“Well. . .no, but I figured you’d think it was justified payback for past deeds on my part if the coffee ran over the cup.”
“It would be justified payback, but when payback comes, it won’t be at the risk of your hand getting burnt.”
“So payback is coming, huh?” Joe asked with a twinkle in his eyes as he set the coffee pot on the table.
“Hard to say. Don’t know if I’ll be here long enough to pull anything off, but I wouldn’t let my guard down if I were you.”
“Um. . .about that. . .”
“Oh no. Don’t try and tell me you don’t deserve whatever prank I dream up. Need I remind you about the Abigail Jones fiasco, and the time you--”
“No,” Joe smiled slightly, “you don’t need to remind me. But what I meant
was. . .you. . .uh. . .you said something earlier about being able to stay a month.”
“Yes. Even longer if necessary.”
“I know I’ll have my sight back by then, but Pa. . .Pa would probably like it if you stayed longer than just ‘til the end of this week. I mean, it’s not fair of me to chase you off. For Pa’s sake and all.”
“That’s true, I suppose.”
“And if you would decide to stay awhile, I guess. . .well, if you still wanna teach me some things, I’d probably find them helpful until I can see again.”
“Hmmm. . . .” Adam nodded. “You make a good point I can’t argue.”
“So. . .uh. . .would you?”
“Would I what?”
Joe worried his lower lip a moment.
Come on, Joe. Ask me. Set your pride aside and ask me.
“Would you stay and. . .and in-between visiting with Pa and Hoss, show me a few things maybe?”
“There’s no maybe about it. Of course I’ll stay. And yes, in-between visiting with Pa and Hoss, I can probably find time to show you some things – if you’re willing to let me be your teacher, that is.”
“I’m willing.” Joe gave a teasing smile. “As long as I don’t have to call you Mr. Cartwright , Sir, or Headmaster.”
Adam laughed. “And here I was thinking Headmaster Cartwright as spoken by my youngest brother had a nice ring to it, but if you insist. . .all right. I guess for you, Adam will do just fine.”
Joe’s smile faded a bit. Adam knew this hadn’t been an easy decision for him. By saying he was willing to be taught, Joe was taking the first small step toward acknowledging he’d never see again, even though he’d likely deny it if asked.
“And about yesterday. . .”
“What about yesterday?”
Apologies had never been easy for Joe to extend to his oldest brother, any more than the reverse was true. As Pa often said, brotherly love existed between Adam and Joe, but sometimes their relationship was “prickly.” Or better put by Hoss, “Them two’s got more thorns between ‘em than a porcupine’s got quills.”
But what Adam received from his brother that morning, meant far more than any apology could have.
“I. . .I should have told you that I’m glad you’re home.”
“You should only tell me that if you mean it.”
“I do. I do mean it. I’m glad you came home, Adam.”
“And I’m glad to be home.”
“Only next time. . .”
“Next time what?”
“Give a guy a little warning before you just show up outta the blue. My shins can’t take any more of those stupid stairs.”
Adam laughed again, then laughed harder when Hop Sing came out of the kitchen shouting, “Mr. Adam an’ Little Joe, yack yack yack like old ladies at hen party! Go outside an’ yack yack yack. Hop Sing need clear table before Mr. Hoss come home church an’ want know where lunch is!”
Adam walked around the table and lifted his brother by one arm.
“Come on, Joe. I think that’s our signal to make ourselves scarce.”
“Sure sounds like it to me.”
~ ~ ~
The smell of roast beef and warm apple pie was wafting out of the house when Pa and Hoss arrived home three hours later. As the buggy rounded the corner of the barn, Adam saw the astonishment on their faces at the sight of Joe playing horseshoes with Candy. It wasn’t nearly the miracle Pa and Hoss thought – just a rope Joe could use as a guide as he walked back and forth between the two stakes, along with a liberal dose of verbal confidence offered by his oldest brother. But as Adam told them after lunch had been eaten, and Joe and Candy returned outside to their game, it was a start.
“A start I’m grateful for,” Pa said in a tone thick with emotion. “Thank you, Adam. Thank you.”
Adam stood, clapping his father on the back as he rounded the table.
“Come on, Pa. I think it’s time for a family horseshoe challenge. You and me, against Hoss and Joe.”
Hoss followed his father and brother to the door. “Now there’s a challenge I ain’t refusin’.”
Candy and Joe finished their game, then Candy said he needed to go check on some livestock. Whether that was true or not, Adam didn’t know. Once again, he was grateful for the foreman’s perceptiveness, and his willingness to give the Cartwrights time alone together.
The only thing that marred the afternoon was the arrival of the Jensen boy with Adam’s luggage. Joe fled to the house with a stumbling gait, when he heard a buckboard coming around the barn. Pa called after him, but Adam shook his head while placing his hand on Pa’s shoulder.
“Let him be, Pa. Remember what I said. Today was just a start. We have a lot of days ahead of us yet. Give him time. Little by little, he’ll get there on his own.”
Pa looked skeptical. “If you say so.”
“I do. Now, while I help Hoss with my luggage, how about if you go in the house and break the news to Hop Sing that I promised my delivery boy a glass of lemonade and some cookies.”
“Leaving your father with the dirty work, is that it?”
“Yep, that’s it,” Adam agreed with a grin.
Adam followed Hoss into the house with a suitcase in hand. Last night, he’d thought this visit would be so short that there’d be no need to unpack. Now, he looked forward to putting his clothes away, getting his teaching materials out, and settling in for an extended stay. The only drawback to that stay – he already missed Laddie terribly. But for whatever period of time Joe needed him, letters back and forth between the Ponderosa and Boston would have to soothe the longings of the heart.