“I’ll hire a carriage and see to our luggage. You wait here.” Joe’s hand was removed from Adam’s arm and placed on the back of a bench. “I won’t be gone long.”
“Just wait here, Joe. Use this bench as an anchor, like I taught you. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
“Sure. . .uh, sure. . .okay. But, uh, why don’t I just come with you.”
When no one answered him, Joe questioned, “Adam?” He fought to keep the panic from his voice when he called again, “Adam? Adam!”
When his brother still didn’t answer, Joe knew Adam hadn’t heard him as he rushed off through the crowd.
Joe already disliked the hustle and bustle of Boston, and he’d only been here fifteen minutes. As he gripped the back of the bench to keep his hand from being jostled free by the people brushing past him, Joe decided the city’s entire population of 400 thousand must be present at the train station this afternoon. He’d thought Virginia City had gotten large in recent years, when her population grew to 30 thousand. But by the noise swelling around him and the heavy footsteps vibrating the wooden platform, Joe could tell Virginia City’s residents were no match for the nearly half a million people who inhabited Boston.
Though he was curious as to why everyone seemed to be in such a hurry, Joe stayed put. Despite his uneasiness at being on his own in a strange city, Joe had no concerns that Adam wouldn’t return for him shortly, just as Adam said he would.
Just remember what Adam taught you. If you have to wait in a large crowd, hang onto a landmark you and your guide have agreed upon ahead of time, then don’t move from that spot until your guide comes for you.
So, Joe did as his brother instructed. Not because he’d suddenly turned into such an obedient student, but because he had no desire to be lost in Boston.
~ ~ ~
“Hey, Paddy, see that guy there?”
Patrick MacMurray stood on the toes of his worn shoes, straining to see over the crowd. He and his buddy, Rooney Sullivan, hung around the train station several times a week, hustling departing passengers for a few bits to carry luggage, hire a carriage, or give them directions to various places in and around the city. If the day was slow as far as business went, Rooney would pick pockets or grab a lady’s handbag. Patrick had never directly participated in this particular trade, though he always acted as Rooney’s lookout. For his sharp eyes, Patrick earned half of whatever was in the wallet or handbag Rooney snatched. Patrick knew Father O’Brien wouldn’t be approving of a fourteen-year-old boy making money in this fashion, and saints knew Patrick’s mam wouldn’t approve of it at all. Man of the family or not, he’d feel the razor strap more times than he cared to think about if she ever discovered how he came by some of the money he turned over to her at the end of each week. But his father had been dead for two years now, and there were six children younger than Patrick who needed to be fed and clothed. Mam’s salary as a cook for that rich old Mr. Hirsh didn’t make ends meet. Not even when she worked extra hours cooking up all kinds of fancy things for a party, or a holiday dinner.
“The one dressed like a cowboy, standin’ by that bench.”
“Yeah, I see him.”
“We’re gonna play a game with him.”
Rooney laughed, his face crinkling in a way that made his freckles seem to dance.
“Yeah, blind man’s bluff, as ya’ might call it, while I pick his pocket.”
Patrick stared at the cowboy a moment. By the uncertainty on the man’s face, and the way he stood frozen in place with his eyes skimming the area but not actually landing on anything, Patrick realized what Rooney had already figured out: That the man couldn’t see.
Patrick shook his head.
“Rooney, I don’t think we should. Let’s see what we can hustle up at the other end a’ the platform.”
“No need ta’ walk all the way down there, mate, when we already got us money to be made right here.” Rooney shagged Patrick by his shirt. “Come on. This’ll be easy as takin’ candy from a baby.”
Patrick hesitated, chewing on his lower lip with indecision. He wondered how many years he’d have to spend in purgatory for stealing from a blind man.
“Paddy, come on,” Rooney hissed, tugging on Patrick’s shirt again. “This is a rich one.”
“How can ya’ tell?”
“ ‘Cause I got me a nose for the ones with money. Bet his wallet’s full. Think of how much easier things’ll be on both of us next week if we can split ten. . .maybe even twenty dollars ‘tween us.”
Patrick couldn’t even imagine what it would feel like to touch twenty dollars, let alone bring that kind of money home to his mam. Money like that would get them through another month, and well into the next one.
The boy followed his friend on nothing but a promise of the cash they’d acquire by picking the blind man’s pocket. As they silently approached their target, a stab of guilt, along with the thought of the razor strap being whipped across his bum, caused Patrick to hope he’d soon get steady work at the docks, and could then give up hustling with Rooney for good.
~ ~ ~
It happened so quickly, that Joe didn’t know what was going on until he was traveling away from the bench. Someone had come up to him and put a hand on his back. He’d assumed the person was Adam, and had walked along beside him without question. It wasn’t until “Adam” didn’t respond when Joe had asked twice, “Did you get a carriage?” that Joe realized something was amiss.
“Adam? Adam, I asked if you got a carriage. Adam?”
Suddenly, another hand grasped Joe, and he was forced to run between two people. He still had no idea what was going on, and for a few brief seconds, wondered if there was a fire, or some other danger that Adam and someone else was hurrying him away from. But then he heard laughter as a hand slipped into the left pocket of his green jacket. Joe whirled, making a grab for the owner of that hand. He wasn’t quick enough to catch the kid, and by the laughter he knew it was a kid who’d just picked his pocket. Another voice joined the laughter, this one tinged with urgency and fear –“Come on! Let’s go!” – then footsteps running away from him.
If he’d been able to see, Joe would have chased the little rascals down, and then taught them a lesson about stealing they’d never forget. But Joe couldn’t see, and right now the least of his worries was his stolen wallet. He didn’t know how far he’d traveled with the boys, or where the bench was he’d been told to remain by, or if Adam would be able to find him.
People jostled Joe as they hurried past him. Four different times he tried to get assistance from some of those people, but never got beyond, “Excuse me, can you. . .” before the person moved on without paying him any mind.
Joe squelched his fear, knowing it would only make his situation worse. But no matter how hard he tried to remember the things his brother had taught him about navigating in an unfamiliar area, panic caused Joe to revert to ineffective methods. He stumbled, tripped, and helplessly waved his arms in front of him, as he traveled farther and farther away from the bench where he was supposed to be waiting for Adam.
Laddie’s body swayed back and forth slightly as the carriage came to a halt. She smiled, thinking of how surprised and pleased Adam would be when he saw her father’s coach waiting for him and his brother.
Hopefully, he’ll be even more surprised and pleased to see me.
Laddie silently chuckled at what her father would say to that thought – that any man who knew what was good for him had better be surprised and pleased to see Edward Brockington’s youngest daughter.
The woman leaned forward, placing a hand on her driver’s shoulder.
“Do you see him anywhere, Elliot?”
The driver turned his head to the side so his voice traveled back to his passenger.
“No, Miss Laddie. But there’s a large crowd moving about. When it thins a bit, I’ll surely spot him.”
“Unless he’s trying to hire a carriage. Perhaps you should go look for him.”
“Now, Missy, you know your father wouldn’t approve of me leaving you alone.”
“Elliot. . .”
“Don’t use that tone of voice with me, young woman. I’ve been driving for your father since before you were born. If you think--”
“…for one minute that I’m taking orders from you, that override Mr. Brockington’s orders,” Laddie said with a laughing lilt to her voice, “then you’d better think again.” Now, Laddie did laugh. “Really, Elliot, I’ve heard that so many times I can recite it in my sleep.”
“Then I’d advise you to quit asking me to do things that you know will get us both into trouble with your father.”
Laddie gave the man’s shoulder an affectionate squeeze. “I keep hoping you’ll surprise me someday.”
“Ah, fair lass, that will be the day I plan on giving your papa my notice of retirement. But until then, I’ll continue doing as he instructs me to.”
“You’re that frightened of my father?”
“No, Miss Laddie, it’s not your father I’m frightened of. It’s my dear wife I’m frightened of, whenever I think of arriving home without any money to place in her outstretched hand. And believe me, it’s always outstretched.”
Laddie laughed again. For as long as she could remember, Elliot had made jokes about his wife. Laddie didn’t know Mrs. York well. She only encountered the woman each year at the Christmas party her father hosted for his employees and their families. But Mrs. York had always seemed to be a soft-spoken woman, and not nearly as bossy and demanding as Elliot enjoyed leading a person to assume.
“Perhaps if you’ll do me just this one favor by going to look for Adam, I’ll forget to mention our conversation to Mrs. York at this year’s Christmas party.”
“Blackmail doesn’t become you, Miss Laddie, nor will it work. We’ll just wait here a while longer yet and. . .”
By the way Elliot’s sentence trailed off unfinished, Laddie could tell something had caught his attention.
“Elliot? What is it? Do you see Adam?”
“No. No, I don’t. But there’s a man. . .looks to be a blind man. . .who’s having a difficult time getting around.”
“Difficult time? Why? What’s wrong?”
“He appears to be lost.”
Laddie sat forward and craned her neck out the side of the carriage as though she could see the man, too.
“What’s he look like?”
“A dapper fellow, he is. Though dressed a bit. . .odd.”
“Rather like a cowboy.”
“He’s wearing a cowboy hat and boots, a green jacket, a tan shirt that appears to be made for hard work, and gray dungarees. Poor fellow. He’s really beginning to panic.”
Laddie climbed from the carriage, urging her driver to come with her. “Take me to him, please.”
“Miss Laddie, I don’t think your father would approve of me allowing you to approach a stranger and--”
“Elliot, from what you’ve said, the man needs help. Besides, I don’t think he’s a stranger.”
“I suspect he’s Adam’s brother.”
“Then where is Mr. Cartwright?” Elliot placed Laddie’s hand in the crook of his left elbow and headed toward the blind man stumbling through the crowd.
“That’s what I intend to find out,” Laddie said, her tone indicating she wasn’t pleased with Adam.
Though Laddie was the one using him as a guide, Elliot almost had to run to keep up with her.
“He may not be Mr. Cartwright’s brother at all, Miss.”
“It doesn’t matter whether he is or not. Either way, from what you’ve described to me, he needs assistance. Now come on, let’s go offer it to him.”
Elliot York had no choice but to hurry along beside the young woman. If he got in trouble for this from Mr. Brockington, he wouldn’t hesitate to tell his employer that Laddie inherited her stubbornness and determination from her father.
Maybe it is time for me to retire, Elliot thought with a hint of amusement, as once again, one of Edward Brockington’s daughters talked him into going against instructions.
“Sir. Sir, excuse me. May we be of assistance? Sir!”
Joe was so disoriented, that he wasn’t aware of the man trying to gain his attention.
“Sir! Excuse me, Sir! Do you need help?”
It wasn’t until he felt a touch on his shoulder that Joe swung around, startled and frightened. While a part of him was relieved that someone was finally offering him assistance, Joe also hated himself for feeling so helpless and vulnerable. Yet, didn’t he have a right to feel that way? He was lost in a strange city, and the last time he thought someone was “helping” him, he’d ended up with a stolen wallet, and a fast trip away from the bench where he was supposed to wait for Adam.
“Sir? May we help you?”
“Uh. . .” Joe took three wary steps backwards to force the man’s hand to drop from his shoulder. “Um. . .I. . .I need to find my brother. I’m looking for my brother.”
“Perhaps we can be of assistance, then.”
Joe didn’t know who “we” was. So far, all he’d heard was one man’s voice. Without his eyesight, he wasn’t able to make the assessment vision gives a person when it comes to deciding if you’re comfortable with a stranger, or if that stranger might represent a threat of some sort. Because of that, Joe decided it was best to be upfront and make this person, or persons, aware that he had no money to offer. If nothing else, he might save himself from a beating, if mugging was the only form of “help” they planned to give.
“I can’t pay you. Some boys just stole my wallet.”
“Who said anything about payment?”
Joe turned toward the sound of a woman’s voice. It was gentle, and held just the correct amount of forthrightness to ease at least some of his fears. Some, but not all. He’d met enough female con artists in his day to know the presence of the fairer sex wasn’t always a guarantee of safety.
“My brother though, he’ll have money,” Joe added hastily, in order to let these people know they’d be paid to assist him if money was what they were after. “He went to hire a carriage and get our luggage.”
“Again, who said anything about payment? My driver and I only want to help you get back where you belong. We’re not seeking a reward.”
Joe remained cautious, not willing to be led any farther away from the bench than he already had been until he felt he could trust these people. By the loud, screeching toot of the train whistle, he knew he was still at the station. If he blindly followed this pair, as the expression so appropriately went, he could be led into even more trouble than he already had.
The woman must have sensed his fear, or maybe it plainly showed on his face, because when he didn’t immediately accept the offer of help, she asked, “You wouldn’t have happened to traveled here from Nevada, would you? From a place called Virginia City?”
Joe’s sense of mistrust was heightened once again. How did she know where he was from?
While Joe was still casting about for an answer that sounded more elusive and clever than, “I might be,” the woman laughed softly and teased, “Forgive me, but you’re dressed like you’ve just stepped off the range, if I’m wording that correctly. I have a. . . friend, who’s from Virginia City. My driver and I came here to pick him up. He was traveling with his brother. Adam Cartwright. Do you know him?”
Relief washed over Joe. “Yeah. Yeah, I do. Adam’s my brother.”
The woman’s hand came to rest on Joe’s right forearm, then slid down. She seemed to flounder for a moment as she tried to get her hand in the correct position to shake with him.
“You must be Joe. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Laddie Brockington. I work for Adam at the institute.”
Joe gently shook the woman’s hand while tipping his hat with his free hand.
“Ma’am. Nice to meet you, too. More than you’ll ever know right about now.”
The woman laughed again. “Oh, I think I know exactly how you’re feeling.” She placed Joe’s hand in a much larger one. “And this is my driver, Elliot York. Or better put, my father’s driver, and my babysitter.”
Joe was puzzled by her comment, but didn’t question it. He shook hands with the man.
“Mr. York. I’m Joe Cartwright.”
“Hello, Mr. Cartwright.”
“Call me Joe.”
“Mr. Brockington wouldn’t approve of that, Sir.”
“It wouldn’t be deemed proper.”
“Well, as my brother’ll be the first to tell you, I don’t worry too much about what’s proper and what’s not. Like I said, call me Joe. Besides, what do you call my brother?”
“Figures. He always has been the proper one in the family. So see, if you call him Mr. Cartwright, and me Mr. Cartwright, it’ll only confuse everyone. Joe’s fine.”
“If you say so, but Mr. Brockington--”
“Since I’m not gonna be living with Mr. Brockington, I don’t see why I have to abide by his rules.”
“I like your style, Joe Cartwright,” Laddie said with a smile in her voice. “I look forward to you and my father meeting. You’ll be a formidable opponent for him, to be certain. My sisters and I, and I dare say my mother as well, will appreciate the entertainment.”
Joe wasn’t sure why this woman, who was Adam’s employee, thought he’d have reason to become acquainted with her father. But on the other hand, since she was here to meet Adam, that likely meant the two of them shared feelings that went a lot deeper than that of employer and employee. Although Adam hadn’t mentioned the woman to Joe, she’d been mentioned in Adam’s letters to Pa on several occasions, so between that, and her presence now, it didn’t take Joe long to figure out there was probably something serious between them. Like what he’d had with Sally Morris until. . .well, it was best not to think about that now. This was a fresh start, and last he’d heard, Carl Jeffers was courting Sally. No doubt they’d probably be married by the time Joe returned to the Ponderosa for a visit.
“Come along.” Laddie hooked her arm through Joe’s in a gesture that he knew would have been considered outrageously bold for a single female of her social position, but was acceptable given she was assisting a blind man. “We’ll return to the carriage and Elliot will look for Adam. Then we’ll find a police officer and report your wallet stolen.”
Joe wasn’t aware that Elliot didn’t immediately leave in search of Adam. Nor did he realize that the man was walking a few steps ahead of them, leading them to the carriage with Laddie’s free hand lightly clasping the driver’s arm.
“It’s probably long gone by now,” Joe said with regard to his wallet. “I think it was a couple of boys. Teenagers, by the sound of their voices.”
“Nonetheless, it should be reported.”
“Whatever you say, Ma’am. Boston’s your home. I’m just visit. . .I’m new here.”
Laddie seemed to understand all of Joe’s uncertainties, because she gave his arm a squeeze.
“Boston will seem like home in no time, Joe. I realize She hasn’t been very hospitable to you thus far, but you’ll soon be settled at Adam’s, and sitting down to a banquet-sized meal made by Mrs. O’Connell – the best cook on the East coast, as she’ll tell you every chance she gets. Except it’s true. She is the best cook, and also the best housekeeper. Adam’s always grumbling that he has to continually raise her salary so someone doesn’t snatch her away from him.”
Joe gave an impish grin. “Serves him right.”
“It certainly does.” Laddie chuckled. “ I think you and I are kindred spirits where Adam’s concerned.”
“We think alike.”
“Sounds that way.”
“Can’t let him be too serious and proper, now can we?”
“And speaking of proper, please don’t call me that.” Laddie stopped walking as her hand was placed on the frame of the carriage – her “anchor.” Without interrupting the conversation, Elliot patted her arm, silently indicating he was going to look for Adam. She nodded her agreement to the driver, while speaking to Joe. “Ma’am is reserved for my mother. I’m Laddie.”
“Yes, Ma’. . .all right. . .Laddie. Unusual name, if you’ll excuse me for saying so.”
“That’s what I get for being Edward Brockington’s youngest daughter.”
“I’ve been told Papa accepted it well when my eldest sister Helen was born, and then was followed by my sisters Margaret, and Florence. But by the time baby number four arrived, Papa so wanted a boy. It was not to be, however. Therefore, his plan of naming the child, Edward Louis Brockington Jr., changed to naming her Edwina. When baby number five was due a year later, Papa was certain he’d finally have that son he’d been longing for, only to once again become the father of a baby girl. My sister Louisa.”
“Edwina and Louisa,” Joe stated. “I suppose that’s about as close to Edward Louis as a person can get, while still giving his daughters girls’ names.”
“Exactly. And then seven years after Louisa arrived, I was my parents’ “blessed surprise,” as Papa says.”
“Not a bad thing to have your father say about you.”
“No, not at all. A very pleasant thing, actually. Though, of course, Papa--”
“. . .wanted a boy,” Joe finished for the woman.
Laddie smiled. “He most assuredly did, Joe. During the months my mother was with child, Papa referred to me as his “little lad.” He was positive that this time, there would be an Edward Louis Brockington Jr. So positive, that he wouldn’t so much as discuss a girl’s name with my mother, let alone choose one. When I was born, and Papa saw that baby number six was also a girl, I’m told he gave up all hope of ever having a son, cradled me in his arms, kissed my forehead, and said, ‘Girl or not, you’ll always be Papa’s little lad. Laddie. Laddie Rose. A beautiful name for a beautiful girl.’ ”
“And it is,” Joe agreed.
Laddie shrugged. “I’ve grown accustomed to it, let’s put it that way. It was a source of school yard teasing when I was a child, but whenever I’d ask Papa why he couldn’t have given me a real girl’s name, like Catherine or Penelope, he’d remind me that I was his little lad, and that my name was all the more special because of it.”
“So, did your father ever get an Edward Jr.?”
“No. I’m the end of the line. Though he does have a grandson named Edward – Helen’s oldest boy. And Papa has twelve other grandsons too, along with three granddaughters. So what he lacked in sons, he’s more than made up for with grandsons.”
“I’d say so.”
“And you, Joe? You’re the youngest of three sons from what Adam tells me.”
“Yeah. There’s Adam, then our brother Hoss, then me.”
“Adam has mentioned you and Hoss to me on several occasions since I’ve known him. He missed you both a great deal.”
“We’ve missed him, too.”
“And your father. Adam speaks highly of your father also.”
“Our father deserves to be spoken highly of. He’s a good man. A good Pa to his sons.”
“I hope I can meet him someday.”
“I hope you can, too. He and Hoss are planning to come for a visit in the fall.”
“That’ll be wonderful. I’ll look forward to making their acquaintance.”
“I’m sure they’ll like making yours, as well.”
The talk shifted to the school next.
“Adam wrote and told me you’ll be taking a teaching position with us at the institute.”
“Well. . .it’s not for certain just yet. I have to interview with the school board in a few days, and to be honest, I’ve never taught anyone much of anything, if it didn’t have to do with horses, or cattle, or ranching, so I’m not sure--”
A voice filled with anxiety and fear rang out over the crowd, interrupting Joe’s sentence.
“Joe! Joe! Joe, where are you? Joe!”
Before Joe could answer, the shouts stopped. Elliot York, drawn by Adam’s frantic calls, hurried up behind the man. He tapped Adam on the shoulder and pointed toward the Brockington carriage, where Laddie and Joe stood together waiting.
Adam hadn’t been gone from the bench where he’d left Joe for more than ten minutes. He’d hurried to acquire a carriage before they were all spoken for, then helped their porter get the luggage to the carriage. He tipped Isaiah, thanked him for all of his assistance, told the carriage driver, “I’ll be back in a minute,” and went to retrieve Joe.
As he approached the bench, Adam couldn’t see Joe. He wasn’t concerned at first, assuming Joe had sat down, and the people milling about were blocking his view of his brother. But as he got closer and saw the bench was empty, Adam was momentarily confused. He looked around, wondering if he’d come to the wrong place. But when he glanced up and saw the wooden sign that read, Beacon Hill Exit, Adam knew this was where he’d left his brother. He stopped and stood on the tips of his boots, sure he’d spot Joe somewhere nearby. But when he didn’t see a beige cowboy hat – and there surely couldn’t be more than one of those in Boston at the moment – a fist of fear socked Adam in the stomach.
“Joe!” Adam stayed on his toes, scanning the area. “Joe! Hey, Joe! Joe!”
The man didn’t care if he was making a spectacle of himself as he started shagging people down and asking if they’d seen a blind man wearing a cowboy hat and a green jacket. Adam got a variety of responses, ranging from a few polite, “No, Sir. I’m sorry, I haven’t,” to a growled, “Leave me alone!” to numerous people giving him a wide berth, no doubt wary of his frantic demeanor.
As Adam swam through the crowd, his eyes searching for a cowboy hat or flash of green material, his mind traveled back to the time when Joe was five, and he’d lost track of the kid at a traveling carnival show passing through Virginia City. Marie had been dead just a few months, and this was the first real outing their father had felt up to taking them on since her passing. While Pa did some errands around town, the boys explored the carnival’s grounds. Adam and Hoss were soon drawn to a target shooting game. Adam laid down ten cents so he and Hoss could play. The last thing he’d said to Joe before turning to take his first shot was, “You stand right here behind Hoss and me. We’ll be done in a few minutes.”
When their game was over and they’d turned to collect Joe and leave, the kid was gone. Adam’s heart was stuck in his throat the entire time they spent looking for the boy. He dreaded the thought of having to find Pa and confess that he’d lost Little Joe. But he’d just about run out of other options, when Hoss spotted Joe seated on the back of a sideshow wagon between the Fat Lady and the Bearded Lady. The kid was having a grand time, eating a bag of candy while regaling his audience with some kind of tall tale that had them laughing.
For the first time in his life, Adam understood why a parent was sometimes torn between giving his child a licking, and giving him a hug. In the end, Joe got a hug. In part, because Adam knew he shouldered most of the blame for the child disappearing in the first place. After all, he was seventeen, to Joe’s five, and Pa had put Adam in charge of his brothers, making Adam promise to keep an especially close eye on Little Joe. And in part, because if a licking was needed in the Cartwright household, it was Pa who administered it. Not Adam, not a hired hand, not Hop Sing, and not even their foreman, Byron, who was like a brother to Pa. Pa had always been firm about this rule, saying he would handle the discipline as he saw fit where his sons were concerned. He tended to “spare the rod,” more than most fathers, not that Adam was complaining. Although while he hugged Joe, Adam thought his brother shouldn’t be spared the rod this time. He even said as much, then tried not to laugh as Joe put up a loud protest. Hoss soon joined in, reminding Adam that he’d been the one in charge, and if, “You’re gonna tell Pa on Little Joe, you might as well tell ‘im on yourself, Adam. If Joe’s gonna git a lickin’ outta this, then you deserve one too.”
“I’m seventeen – almost eighteen – and leaving for college in the fall,” Adam had reminded Hoss, with a grownup air of superiority.
Hoss, who despite just celebrating his twelfth birthday the previous week, proved himself wise beyond his years, as he often did when you least expected it.
“I bet it won’t much matter ta’ Pa if you are almost eighteen. Losin’ track a’ Little Joe, just ‘cause you wanted ta’ do some target shootin,’ seems like a pretty serious offense ta’ me.”
“Yeah,” Joe piped up, from where he now stood in-between his brothers. “Seems like a pretty serious offense to me, too.”
Adam scowled down at the child. “You don’t even know what the word offense means.”
“Do too. Pa told us, didn’t he, Hoss?”
“Sure did. A few weeks back, when it was one a’ them there vocabulary words I had ta’ define for school.”
Adam glared at Hoss. “Well, I didn’t hear you turning me down when I offered to pay for that round of target shooting.”
Hoss gave his brother a smug smile in return. “Yeah, but I wasn’t the one in charge a’ Little Joe.”
“Yeah,” Joe grinned, “he wasn’t the one in charge a’ me.”
“Be quiet,” Adam ordered, for lack of anything else to say. As they walked away from Joe’s new friends, Adam bartered, “I’ll tell you what. You share your candy with us, and I won’t mention any of this to Pa. Deal?”
Joe held up his bag so Adam and Hoss could each take a handful. “Deal.”
“Where’d you get it from, anyway?”
“The Fat Lady. She said I could have it, ‘cause she needs to go on a diet.”
All three boys found that funny, and soon who was or wasn’t at fault over Joe’s disappearance, was forgotten as the brothers spent the rest of the day touring the carnival grounds.
This time I probably won’t get lucky enough to find him sitting safely between a fat lady and a lady with a beard. Come on, Joe. Where are you? Why the hell didn’t you stay put like I told you to?
Just as Adam called for Joe one last time, and then decided he’d better find a policeman to assist him in his search, someone tapped him on the shoulder. He turned, surprised to see Elliot York standing behind him. His eyes followed the direction Elliot pointed toward, first widening with relief when he saw Joe, then narrowing with anger as he marched for the Brockington carriage.
A hand grabbed Joe’s arm and swung him around.
“Where have you been?”
Joe never had taken well to Adam using that accusatory, big brother tone with him, and no amount of age or maturity would likely ever change that fact. Therefore, Joe’s temper blew before he had time to remember that there was a woman standing next to him.
“Where I’ve been is all over this train station, thanks to you!”
As had been the case all of their lives, Adam’s response to Joe’s temper was to display his own.
“Thanks to me? All I asked was that you stay put! All I asked was that you wait for me like I taught you to. But no! You have to go running off, just like that time when you were five and--”
“If by running off you mean having my wallet stolen by a couple of kids and--”
“Well you shouldn’t have tried to chase them down! You shouldn’t have left that bench, Joe! How many times do I have to tell you--”
“I didn’t chase them down! They--”
“I don’t care what they did! You’re blind now, Joe! You’re blind, and you
“Wow, Adam, thanks for that information. I wouldn’t have known I can’t even see my own hand in front of my face if you hadn’t just announced it to everyone in Boston!”
“Look, all I asked was that you stay put. Maybe bringing you here was a mistake.”
“Maybe it was! So far your precious Boston hasn’t been very welcoming. Maybe I should just go home.”
“Maybe you should!”
“Then I will!”
“Good! I’ll buy you a ticket and put you on the next train if that’s what you want!”
“That’s what I want!”
“All right then--”
“Gentlemen.” Laddie interrupted the heated tirade before the brothers made decisions they’d both regret. “Gentlemen, please. The two of you are behaving worse than even the most unruly boys who have passed through my classroom. I’d make you both serve detention during recess if I thought it would do any good, but you’d likely just start brawling again the minute you were left unattended.”
Laddie’s voice reminded the Cartwright brothers that first and foremost, a lady was present, and second, that she was right. They were acting like a couple of unruly kids, as opposed to acting like grown men, and brothers to boot.
Joe was the first to apologize.
“Yes, I apologize, too,” Adam said. “You shouldn’t have been subjected to
our. . .brotherly disagreement.”
“Remind me to put Papa in a room with the two of you sometime. It will make him thankful that he had all girls.”
Joe chuckled. “Yeah, it sure will.”
Adam smiled. Like Joe, the worse of his anger had passed, thanks to Laddie. “Our pa would wholeheartedly agree with that. As a matter of fact, on some days, he’d probably be eager to trade your father boys for girls, and not care that he ended up with three extra children in the bargain.”
“After being privy to your rather. . .loud discussion, I can understand why,” Laddie said. “And now, how about if we set aside the harsh words and accusations, and take our leave. There’s no use in staying here longer and drawing a crowd with your shouts. Joe, in the morning, if you still want to go home, Adam can buy you a ticket. But you’ll need a traveling companion, so until that can be arranged, I’m afraid you’re stuck here in Boston.”
Properly chastised, Joe blushed. “I. . .I’ll probably stay a while, if Adam’ll still have me.”
“I’ll still have you.”
“Good,” the woman acknowledged. “Then that foolishness is settled. I don’t know about the two of you, but I’m looking forward to the supper Mrs. O’Connell will have waiting for us. Why don’t you and Elliot get the luggage, Adam, then we’ll be on our way.”
“That sounds like a good idea. Elliot, it’s back over there. Our luggage is already loaded on a carriage, but I can hire a porter to help us transfer it.”
“Very good, Mr. Cartwright.”
Adam turned around and ordered pointedly, “And you two stay right there. I mean it, Joe.”
Joe took a step forward, only to have Laddie grab his arm and say softly as Adam left with Elliot, “Let him have the last word, Joe.”
“Because he’s the oldest, and it’s important to him.”
“All the more reason why I shouldn’t let him have the last word.”
Laddie chuckled at Joe’s stubbornness. “Do you two butt heads like this often?”
“On a fairly regular basis, yeah. Why? Don’t sisters argue?”
“Oh, we do, though not with quite as much. . .gusto.”
“Gusto.” Joe smiled at the word. “That’s a good way to put it. Adam and I have always had a lot of gusto behind our disagreements.”
“Ah, I see.” Laddie’s tone spoke of her understanding. “The typical clashes that occur between the eldest and the youngest, is that it?”
“I guess so, because Hoss and I rarely get into it, and the same goes for Hoss and Adam.”
“Helen and I often have the same difficulties. She’s fourteen years my senior, and sometimes forgets that it’s been a good many years since I’ve been in need of a second mother. Much like I’m sure Adam sometimes forgets that you no longer need a second father.”
Laddie patted Joe’s arm. “See. I told you we’re kindred spirits. This just proves it all the more.”
“Because we both have bossy older siblings?”
Laddie laughed. “Yes, because we both have bossy older siblings, though I think we’d better keep that between us.”
“Since I’m relying on Adam’s generosity in order to have a roof over my head, I think you’re right.”
When Adam and Elliot returned with a porter pushing their luggage on a wooden cart, Adam asked, “What are you two finding so funny?”
“Oh, nothing,” Laddie replied. “We were just talking about how grateful we are for our older siblings.”
“Yeah, Adam,” Joe smiled. “That’s what we were talking about.”
“Uh huh,” Adam said knowingly. “I’m sure you were. For some reason, I get the impression that the two of you together spells nothing but trouble for me.”
“Oh now, come on, older brother, what would give you that idea?”
“Just a feeling I have, younger brother, let’s put it that way.”
The teasing ended once the luggage was secured. Adam tipped the porter, thanked him, and helped Laddie into the carriage. He then placed a hand on Joe’s elbow.
“One step up, Joe, then turn to your right, and you’ll feel the seat against the backs of your knees.”
Once the trio was settled, Elliot climbed onto the driver’s perch.
home, Mr. Cartwright?”
“Yes, Elliot, to my home.”
“Very good then.”
Elliot gave the horse a light slap with the reins and ordered, “Giddy up.” The carriage moved forward, its driver steering it toward Beacon Hill, and the sumptuous house where Adam Cartwright resided.
Joe gave his mouth a final wipe with the linen napkin, then placed it on his empty dessert plate. He’d barely sat back in his chair before a pair of chubby arms swooped in and whisked the plate away.
“Would yeh like another spot of coffee, Joseph?”
Despite the headache beginning to throb behind his eyes, Joe smiled. He’d only known Mrs. O’Connell a couple of hours, but Adam claimed she was already spoiling him. And admittedly, she was. She’d taken to Joe the moment he walked in the door and Adam introduced him.
“Mrs. O’Connell, this is my brother Joe.”
“Nice ta’ make yer acquaintance, Mr. Cartwright.”
“Mr. Cartwright has spoken of yeh to me on many occasions, Mr. Cartwright.”
“I’m sure he has.” Joe gave a sly smile. “And probably hasn’t told you anything good, either.”
“Come now, Mr. Cartwright, don’t yeh jest like that. Mr. Cartwright never has anything but kind words and praise fer his family, he does.”
“You’re obviously confused, Mrs. O’Connell. I’ve always had kind words and praise for my brother Hoss, and my father. As for this scamp, now that’s another story.”
Joe pictured Bridget O’Connell shaking a scolding finger at Adam.
“That’s a falsehood if I ever heard one, Adam Cartwright. Yeh should be ashamed of yerself fer teasin’ yer dear brother like that.”
“Yeah, Adam,” Joe quipped. “You should be ashamed of yourself for teasing me like that.”
Joe was jostled forwarded by a brotherly elbow thrust into his ribs.
Mrs. O’Connell went on as though she hadn’t seen the horseplay.
“Why, he reminds me of me own dear brother Joseph. Gone from this earth fer just a year now, may his sweet soul rest in peace.”
“He was as big a scoundrel as the day is long,” Adam mumbled into Joe’s ear, while Mrs. O’Connell continued to lament over her departed sibling. “Always in debt to someone over scams that went sour, and then always coming around here to beg money from Mrs. O’Connell. That is, when he was sober enough to find his way.”
Joe would have laughed at his brother’s words, if it hadn’t sounded like poor Mrs. O’Connell was on the verge of tears. He could picture her dabbing at her eyes with a dishcloth, or perhaps with the corner of her apron. For that reason, Joe was just beginning to realize how perceptive a blind person could be if he only listened carefully to what was happening around him.
“Well now, enough of me goin’ on about me own heartaches as though I’ve never had a sunny day. As me precious mam was fond of sayin,’ ‘There’s always another poor bloke who’s got worse troubles, Bridget, so bear that in mind the next time yeh go to feelin’ sorry fer yerself.’ ”
“Yes, Ma’am. That’s good advice.”
The woman patted Joe’s arm. “Ah, but yeh are a sweet lad, aren’t yeh.”
Joe turned to Adam and smiled. “Yes, Ma’am. My brother Adam here is always saying that very thing.”
“While trying not to choke at the same time,” Adam muttered.
“Oh you boys.”
“Yes,” Laddie echoed the housekeeper, “oh you boys. I get the impression this will go on all evening if we allow it to, Mrs. O’Connell. However, I’m sure their father would say it’s past time their quarreling ends. Would you like some help in the kitchen while Adam familiarizes Joe with the house?”
“That I would, Miss Laddie. I thank yeh, I do.” The housekeeper addressed the men next. “Mr. Cartwright, why don’t yeh show Mr. Cartwright to his room. I have it prepared fer him just like yeh asked me to.”
Before Adam could answer the woman, Joe made the same request of her that he’d made of Elliot.
“Mrs. O’Connell, please call me Joe.”
“Aw no, Mr. Cartwright. No. I canna’ do that.”
“Don’t tell me, let me guess. It’s not proper.”
“No, Sir, it’s not. It’s not at all proper for a housekeeper to call her employer’s guests by their first names. Me dear mam taught me that long before God saw fit to put yeh on this earth, lad.”
“Would it be proper if I give you permission? Like I told Elliot, it’s gonna get pretty confusing around here now that there’s two Mr. Cartwrights in the house.”
“I ‘cpect so, but still--”
“Then please. Joe will be fine.”
“It just doesn’t seem right, me callin’ yeh Joe. Guess I could call yeh’ Mr. Joe, like I call this fine lass here Miss Laddie – with her permission, a’ course – but fer some reason I just don’t like the sound of it.” The woman thought a moment, then brightened. “But Joseph. I could call yeh Joseph.” Mrs. O’Connell turned to Adam. “Does that sound proper enough, Mr. Cartwright?”
Adam’s smile held a hint of mischief. He knew how much Joe would hate being addressed as Joseph on a continual basis.
“Yes, I do. I think it holds just the right amount of propriety. Mrs. O’Connell, you have my permission to address my brother as Joseph from now on.”
Joe shot Adam a dirty look. Or at least he hoped it went in Adam’s direction, as opposed to being seen by one of the women.
“Joseph. Just like me own dear brother Joseph. Is that all right with yeh, Joseph?”
Joe gave the woman a weak smile. “Uh. . .sure. Sure, that’s fine.”
look on yer face, I can see no one calls yeh that very often. A shame too, bein’ it’s such a nice, manly
“No, Ma’am. My pa’s about the only one who calls me Joseph, and then only when he’s mad at me, or trying to make me see his side of an argument. . .or telling me to take my feet off the furniture.”
“Or worried about him,” Adam murmured to Laddie, though not softly enough that Joe didn’t overhear.
Joe didn’t have a chance to dispute his brother’s comment, because Elliot came in with some of the luggage. The next few minutes were spent getting things unloaded from the carriage. Elliot followed Mrs. O’Connell, carrying the luggage to the appropriate rooms. He then made his leave, telling Laddie he was going home for supper.
“Shall I return for you at nine, Miss Laddie?”
“That will be fine, Elliot. Thank you.”
After Elliot left, Laddie went to the kitchen with Mrs. O’Connell, while Adam familiarized his brother with the house. Although the method of learning each room didn’t differ from what Adam had taught Joe on the Ponderosa, this was the first time Joe had the opportunity to use his skills in a house foreign to him.
“Let me draw you a map first, Joe. Give me your hand.”
Joe presented his left palm to Adam. As Adam’s index finger traced the layout of the parlor, while at the same time he verbally described the room, Joe tried to visualize what it looked like. When Adam’s “drawing” was completed, he asked, “Ready to take a tour?”
“I think so.”
Joe did as Adam had taught him, protecting his face with his right arm while his left hand slid slowly along the wall. Adam walked behind, only stopping their progress if Joe came to a piece of furniture he was in danger of toppling over.
“You’re coming to the fireplace now, Joe.”
“All right.” Joe’s hand brushed against the mantel. “I feel it.”
“Take five steps to your right so you don’t trip over the hearth.”
Joe’s hand slid along the mantel, bumping against the corner of a large picture frame that seemed to be hanging on the chimney.
“A portrait of my grandfather,” Adam supplied.
Joe nodded. He’d never met Abel Stoddard, and had no idea what he looked like. Someday he’d ask Adam to describe the man in both physical appearance and personality, but for the time being, he set his curiosity aside and continued his travels. When Joe’s hand encountered a smaller frame residing on the mantel, Adam said, “The picture of the four of us that was taken shortly before I went to sea.”
Joe nodded again. This time he was able to easily visualize what the people in the photograph looked like.
“Okay, now stop and bend down while holding out your left hand.”
“Just do it.”
Joe heard the smile in his brother’s voice. When he felt soft fur, and then a wet tongue licked his hand, Joe smiled, too.
“A dog? You have a dog?”
“Well, it’s not a bearskin rug, that’s for certain. Joe, meet Shakespeare.”
Joe crouched beside the dog for a moment, stroking his large head and feeling the heat from his panting breath.
Shakespeare, huh? Leave it to Adam to be courting a woman with a dog’s name, and to own a dog named for a dead guy who wrote boring books.
Joe wisely kept those thoughts to himself as he stood and navigated around the animal.
“What kind of a dog is he?”
Joe wasn’t familiar with the breed, though he had seen a picture of one a year or so ago in the Territorial Enterprise.
“Yes,” Adam acknowledged. “He probably weighs ninety pounds. Maybe a little more. But don’t worry, he’s gentle.”
“Didn’t think you’d tell me to bend down and pet him if he was gonna take my hand off.”
Adam chuckled. “Tempting thought though it is, no, I wouldn’t have.”
The dog remained where he was, lounging next to the fireplace hearth, as Adam and Joe moved on.
“We’re going to walk across the foyer now, then we’ll be in the dining room. The foyer is all that separates the dining room from the parlor.”
When the men reached the dining room, the process of Adam drawing a map on Joe’s hand was repeated, then Joe navigated around the long table that sat eight, and had been carved from cherry wood by a craftsman in Scotland. Adam said the tablecloth, wispy and delicate to Joe’s touch, was purchased in Japan by his grandfather, and that the heavy window tapestries came from India. Just like in the parlor, a large rug Abel Stoddard had brought back from the Orient covered a good portion of the dining room floor.
Joe’s hands explored the buffet, and the china cabinet mounted on top of it, before the brothers continued their journey. Joe got acquainted with the kitchen, then the summer kitchen where the women were cooking supper, and after that, the back porch that ran the length of the house. The gardener Adam employed maintained the yard, flowerbeds, birdbaths, birdfeeders, and flower-lined paths of the three acres that sprawled behind the home, and were surrounded by a black wrought-iron fence. Adam promised he’d take Joe for a walk around the grounds the next day. The chirping of the birds, and the mixture of pleasant scents created by the flowers, made Joe decide this porch, with its comfortable furniture and overhead roof that shaded it from the hot sun, would be a favorite spot of his.
The men traveled back through the two kitchens to Adam’s study. This big room was in front of the dining room, and included a bay window.
“The window overlooks the front lawn and street. We’re about twenty feet off the ground, as you probably noticed when we climbed up the front walkway. The house is built on a hill.”
“Thus the name Beacon Hill,” Joe said.
“You’re smarter than you look sometimes.”
“My oldest brother has been known to admit that every so often.”
“I’m sure too,” Joe laughed.
At Adam’s encouragement, Joe picked up and shook a set of maracas, hearing the “cha cha cha,” rhythm the seeds inside made. As with other rooms in the home, Adam said that many of the items on the study’s bookshelves, and hanging on its walls, were collected by his grandfather during his years of travel to foreign ports. The massive desk sitting several feet in front of the window was made from mahogany wood Abel Stoddard had purchased in South America.
Joe’s hand ran over rows and rows of leather bound books as he finished his tour.
“Are these all yours, or were some of them your grandfather’s?”
“The majority of them are mine, along with a few that Grandfather said belonged to my mother.”
The rich, mingling smells of mahogany and leather made Joe think of Adam. The room seemed to define his brother, and Joe could picture the hours Adam spent in here, seated behind the desk doing paperwork that he’d brought home from the institute, or sitting in the chair by the corner fireplace reading a book.
The only room on the main floor Joe didn’t tour belonged to Mrs. O’Connell. It was located off the kitchen, and from what Joe gathered based on Adam’s description, was similar in size and comforts to the room Hop Sing had on the Ponderosa.
“We’re going to walk back through the dining room, Joe, and then the length of the foyer until we reach the stairway that’ll take us to the second story.”
Just as the toe of Joe’s right boot had knocked against the bottom stair, Laddie called from the dining room, “Supper will be on the table in twenty minutes, Adam!”
“We’ll be there. Thank you.”
Joe heard the woman’s light footsteps move off toward the back of the house.
“Okay, Joe, fourteen steps straight up. There’s no landing like at home until you reach the top. The railing is on your right.”
Joe nodded, proceeding up the stairs with Adam following him. He toured the four bedrooms the upper story contained. When they reached the room that would be Joe’s for as long as he lived here, Adam encouraged him to take his time exploring it.
“I hope it’s to your liking,” Adam said, as Joe walked the perimeter of the room with his left hand brushing against the wall.
“It’s fine. Real nice. Thanks.”
And it was nice from what Joe could tell. A Hoss-sized four-poster bed sat in the center of the room. There were two large windows that allowed fresh air to flow freely throughout. A chest containing six drawers for clothing, along with a closet, resided on one wall, a small desk with a chair resided on another. The washstand with pitcher and bowl were next to the bed.
Adam reached Joe’s hand upward until he encountered a brass fixture mounted on the wall.
“Gas lights throughout the house. There’s no need to carry a kerosene lamp from room to room.”
“Doesn’t make any difference,” Joe did his best to joke, “since I don’t have much need for lights these days.”
“No, I guess you don’t,” Adam agreed in the same light tone Joe had used.
The last room the brothers’ toured was two doors down from Joe’s, and across the hall.
“This is the lavatory.”
“What you’d know as the water closet.”
This was the only room Adam didn’t map out on his brother’s hand.
and explore it.”
“Aren’t you gonna explain the layout to me?”
“No. I’ll be right behind you. Go ahead and see what you think of it.”
“Adam, it’s just a water closet. I--”
Instead of scolding Joe for not exploring the room as he’d been taught, Adam laughed when Joe’s knees rammed into an object Joe couldn’t identify.
“What the heck is this?”
“To put it delicately, it’s a one seater.”
“A one. .
.” Joe turned in the direction of his
brother’s voice, certain the confusion on his face was plain for Adam to
read. “You mean it’s like. . .it’s an
outhouse, in the house?”
“That’s what I mean. It’s called a commode.”
“But how does it work?”
“The. . .uh. . .execution of using it isn’t any different from what you’re used to at home. But by pulling this chain when you’re finished,” Adam guided Joe’s hand upward until it was wrapped around a wooden handle hanging from a chain, “you flush away the waste.”
“And it goes where?” Joe asked, with a good deal of trepidation.
“Through underground pipes until it reaches Boston’s sewer plant.”
“And I can use it any time I want. . .” Joe blushed, “I mean, any time I need to?”
Adam laughed. “Yes, any time day or night. Just remember to put the seat down when you’re done, or you’ll hear about it from Mrs. O’Connell.”
It would take Joe a day or two to understand what Adam meant, but for now, he just said, “All right.”
Joe found the washstand next, jumping back when Adam turned on a faucet that made water shoot into the marble sink.
“You don’t have to pour it in from a wash pitcher?”
Joe felt around.
“Where’s the pump?”
“There isn’t one. The house has a water tank.”
Joe next allowed Adam to lead him to what felt like a massive square wooden box surrounding smooth porcelain. As his hands explored it, his face lit up.
“It’s a bathtub.”
“That it is.” Joe’s hands were moved to the front of the tub. “Here’re the faucets.”
“You can just turn one of these on, and water’ll run in the tub?”
“Yep. The right one is hot water; the left one is cold. Just make sure you have this plug in the drain before you turn the faucets on. When you’re finished bathing and want to let the water out, you pull the plug.”
“And you don’t have to heat the water on the kitchen stove?”
get hot then?”
“It’s heated by the natural gas that’s piped into the house.”
Joe grinned as he straightened. “Hoss would love this.”
“We’d probably never get him to come out of here, would we?”
“Not for the better part of a day, that’s for sure.”
Adam showed Joe how to regulate the water so he wouldn’t burn himself, then led him to the bureau that contained towels, wash clothes, and bed linens. From there, they walked the few steps to the dirty clothes bin.
“You can put anything you need laundered in here. Mrs. O’Connell empties it every Tuesday, bundles it all together, and leaves it on the back porch for the laundry boy. Everything we send out is returned to us on Friday.”
“All right. Let me know what I owe you for it. And anything else, like food
“I’m not going to charge you for food. And as for the cost of the laundry, we’ll worry about that after you start working at the institute.”
“Adam, I can pay my own way.”
“I know you can, and you will after you start working. For now it’s not important.”
“Joe, allow me to assure you that money isn’t an issue here. You’re my brother. I’m not doing anything for you that you wouldn’t do for me.”
“I know but--”
“Unless you want Laddie upset with us, I’d advise you to drop it before we start arguing again.”
In deference to the woman who’d helped him at the train station, Joe conceded.
“Okay, okay, I’ll drop it. But just as soon as I’m earning a weekly salary, you’re taking some money from me.”
Adam put his arm around Joe’s shoulders and led him from the room.
“Joseph, I’ve been waiting twenty-nine years to hear you volunteer to give me money without me having to hang you upside down by your ankles and shake it out of your pockets. Believe me, it’ll be a pleasure.”
“I’m sure it will be,” Joe said in the same dry tone Adam was fond of using.
The men had returned downstairs to find a table laden with so much food that even Hoss couldn’t have finished it all. Or at least not in one sitting, Joe said to Adam and Laddie as yet another dish was passed to him.
When dessert was finished and Mrs. O’Connell offered Joe that additional “spot” of coffee, he politely refused.
“No no. I’ve had all I can hold. Everything was very good. Thank you.”
“Yer welcome, Joseph. It’s a pleasure ta’ cook for someone who appreciates me efforts.”
“I appreciate your efforts,” Adam told the woman.
“One wouldn’t know it by the lack of kind words yeh bestow.”
“I’m kind to you!”
“Not as kind as Joseph. Yeh could learn a thing or two from yer brother, Adam Cartwright. A “please” and “thank you” ever’ so often does a woman’s heart good.”
Mrs. O’Connell marched from the room with a “huff,” Adam calling after her, “Mrs. O’Connell! Mrs. O’Connell, if you think I don’t shower you with enough kind words, then you can just go down the street and work for Jackson Prewitt. Then you’ll find out just how kind I am.”
“I just might do that!” came from the kitchen.
“And farewell to yeh too!”
Laddie leaned close to Joe. “Don’t worry, they do this all the time. It doesn’t mean a thing. They’re like an old married couple who wouldn’t be happy unless they had at least one good argument a day.”
“I’m beginning to get that impression.”
“What are you two whispering about?”
“Oh nothing,” Laddie said with a smile in her voice. “Nothing at all.”
Adam,” Joe assured. “So much of
nothing, that I’m going to excuse myself and call it a night.”
“It’s only seven-thirty, Joe.”
“Feels more like midnight to me for some reason.”
“Traveling will do that to a person. Do you need my help finding your room?”
“No, I’ll be fine. I know where it is.”
Joe heard chairs being pushed away from the table as he stood, then his brother bid him, “Goodnight.”
“ ‘Night, Adam.”
Joe turned toward the sound of Laddie’s voice.
“Goodnight, Laddie. It was nice meeting you. Thanks again for the help you gave me today at the station.”
“You’re welcome. Sleep well.”
“Thank you. I will.”
Joe left the room then, making his way to the stairs. He looked forward to “sleeping well” as Laddie put it, and getting rid of his headache before it grew any worse.
Joe heard Adam tell Laddie they’d have their coffee in the parlor, then didn’t hear anything else that transpired between the couple, as he reached the top of the stairs and headed for his room.
“Oh, Joseph, I apologize. I wasn’t excectin’ yeh to be comin’ to yer room so soon after supper.”
“I was just puttin’ yer clothes away fer yeh.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Joe told the housekeeper, realizing she must have come up the back staircase from the kitchen.
“I don’t mind. Yeh look tired, yeh do. Sit down on the bed there and take a bit of a rest.”
“I will, but only if you sit down and rest, too.”
“Oh now, I don’t be needin’ to do that. Go on with yeh though. Sit. Sit, sit, sit.”
Joe chuckled, but did as the woman commanded. He pulled his boots off and set them on the floor beside his bed, then sank to the mattress, leaning his upper body against one of the tall posts.
As the woman bustled around the room, Joe commented, “Adam said you live here full time?”
“For a good many years I have. Ever since me husband passed away.”
husband passed away?”
“Don’t be. He was a nutter.”
“Not right in the head. Don’ know why I married him to begin with. Guess ‘cause he was the only one who asked me. I wasn’t the kinda’ girl who caught a young man’s eye.”
“Oh come on. I don’t believe that.”
“Believe it or not, it’s the truth. But never yeh mind about it. We can’t all be fair of face like yerself and Miss Laddie. God gives each of us our share of blessings, as me dear mam often said. What one gits another doesn’t, and so on. It all works out even in the end.”
“I imagine it does.”
“So after Seamus – me husband – passed on, Captain Stoddard invited me to live here. He was bein’ kind, he was. He knew I’d have a hard time makin’ ends meet if I didn’t have me room and board as part of me pay. I have no sons to help provide for me, yeh see. The good Lord didn’t bless Seamus and me with children, which was probably just as well, since nutters run in Seamus’s family.”
“What was he like?”
“I already told yeh,” the woman said as she moved between Joe’s trunk, the dresser, and the closet, putting his clothes away. “He was a nutter.”
“No Seamus. But if it’s Captain Stoddard yer askin’ me about now, he was a lot like yer brother Adam.”
“A smart man, he was. A good man; well thought a’ by those who worked fer him and did business with him. A little too serious much a’ the time, and stingy with his pleases and thank yous, just like yer brother is, yet he cared. He cared deeply in his heart, I believe. Just had a hard time showin’ it.”
“Guess he does sound a little like Adam.”
“Not a little, Joseph. A lot. Adam has much of his grandfather in ‘im. So much that sometimes I catch meself callin’ him Captain Stoddard by mistake.”
The woman shut a drawer. From the sound of her voice, Joe could tell she’d turned to look at him. “Whew, that job’s done. Think I’ll shut this trunk and take me a bit of a rest right here on top of it ‘fore I go downstairs and wash the dishes, if yeh don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind. Please do. And thanks for putting my things away.”
“Yer welcome. Just don’t tell yer brother I unpacked yer luggage, or he’ll be thinkin’ I should unpack his, too.”
Joe laughed. “Your secret’s safe with me.”
“I knew it would be. Yeh know, he was beside himself with worry over yeh.”
“Yer brother. He was worried somethin’ fierce over yeh when he got yer da’s telegram ‘bout yer accident.”
“Oh. Oh. . .I suppose he was.”
“And then after yer da’s letter came ‘bout wantin’ to hire a teacher, yer brother told Miss Laddie straight off that he’d be leavin’ for Nevada to offer yeh whatever help he could. Never hesitated a bit, he didn’t. Just said his responsibilities at the school would have to wait until he got back.”
Joe absorbed this news without comment. He’d assumed his father had asked Adam to come home. Until now, he hadn’t known that Adam had made that decision of his own accord.
“He worked hard too, learnin’ things to teach yeh from Miss Laddie.”
“I’m sure he did.”
“ ‘Course she was the best teacher he could have, her bein’ blind and all.”
Despite his headache and weariness, Joe pushed himself away from the bedpost.
“What’d you say?”
“That she’s the best teacher--”
“No, I mean the part about Laddie being blind.”
“I said just that. She’s blind. Yeh didn’t know?”
“Uh. . .no. No, I didn’t.”
“Oh dear. There I go runnin’ on at me mouth again. I’m sorry, Joseph. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to tell yeh. Mr. Cartwright didn’t say not to, but if he didn’t want me to, he’ll be awfully cross with me.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t let him be.”
“Well there, I like yeh even more now than I already did.” Joe heard the rustle of the woman’s skirts as she stood. “I’ll push this empty trunk into the closet, then I’d better get at those dishes. I laid out a clean towel and a washcloth for yeh in the lavatory on the edge of the sink, and I put yer toothbrush and tooth powder there, too. Yer other things – comb, and hair tonic, and razor, and such, are here on top a’ the dresser.”
“Yer welcome. Sleep peacefully, Joseph.”
“I will. You too.”
“Goodnight to yeh.”
“Goodnight,” Joe replied, hearing the door close as the woman departed.
Joe sat a moment absorbing all he’d been told by Mrs. O’Connell, then stood, making his way out of his room and down the hall to the water closet. He’d been in a few expensive San Francisco hotels over the years and enjoyed their bathing luxuries, but not even the most lavish San Francisco accommodations compared to the conveniences right here in Adam’s home.
Guess there is a thing or two to be said for big city living here in the East.
Joe used the facilities, jumping a little at the “whooshing” sound the commode made when he pulled the chain to flush it. He hoped he hadn’t broken it, but when Adam didn’t come charging up the stairs, Joe assumed he’d done nothing wrong. He moved to the sink, where he washed his hands and face, then brushed his teeth, all the while relishing in the convenience of how easy it was to cleanup when you didn’t have to pump water into a pitcher, and then pour it into a washbowl.
Joe returned to his room, faintly hearing Laddie and Adam’s voices coming from the parlor below as he navigated the hall. After he closed his door, Joe removed his pants, shirt, and socks, and laid them across the end of the bed. He was too tired, and his head hurt too much, for him to care about finding which drawer Mrs. O’Connell had put his nightshirts in. He climbed between the sheets wearing just his under drawers, the scent of Adam’s flowerbeds drifting in with the summer breeze.
Joe gave a
grateful sigh as his aching head sank into the pillows. Mrs. O’Connell had given him a lot of
information to think about, but Joe was too exhausted, and in too much pain, to
concentrate on anything but trying to capture the relief sleep would bring him.
The Cartwright brothers breakfasted at the round wicker table on the back porch the next morning. Or on the “veranda” as Adam referred to it, only to have Joe counter with, “Yeah, like I said, the back porch.”
In a haughty tone, Adam teased, “We call it a veranda here in Boston.”
“Well now, that might be so, but as your hero Mr. Shakespeare was fond of saying, a rose by any other name. . .”
Adam toasted his brother with his thin china coffee cup. “Touché, Joseph. I didn’t realize you were familiar with Shakespeare.”
“Only familiar with him because Miss Jones made us put on some of his plays in school. She always gave me the biggest speaking part, since Mitch had such a bad case of stage fright he spent most of each performance in the outhouse, and as far as any of the other boys went – no one could do memory work as slick as me.”
“Thanks to the way Pa made us recite our school work to him while we did chores.”
“Maybe that’s what helped you. As for me, it’s thanks to the way I memorized the rotation of what girls were scheduled to dance on what days at the Silver Dollar.”
“You couldn’t even get in the Silver Dollar when you were still in school,” Adam scoffed. “Sam would have kicked you out. He knew Pa would have his hide if he let you frequent that place.”
“I could get in if I slipped in the back door, and kinda laid-low behind a corner table. Boy, that Nellie could sure give a man – as well as a boy – a mighty fine view when her leg went in the air, couldn’t she?”
“I wouldn’t know.”
Joe cocked an eyebrow over his plate of three eggs fried sunny-side up. “Oh you wouldn’t, would you?”
“Um. . .no. No, I wouldn’t,” Adam answered, all the while wondering if his brother knew Miss Nellie had been as much a favorite of his, as she’d evidently been of fourteen-year-old Joe’s.
Adam got his answer when Joe laughed in that cackling way he had whenever he was delighted about something.
“No, I’m sure you wouldn’t,” Joe said smugly. “Just like I’m sure Hoss would deny that Doris was the one he fancied.”
“Doris? Why she was as big as a barn.”
Joe shrugged. “There’s no accounting for taste when it comes to what a man desires in a woman.”
“Speaking of women, Laddie seems very nice.”
Adam’s reply was sharper than he’d intended it to be, as though he was challenging Joe to make a comment – any comment at all – about the age difference between himself and the woman he was courting.
Joe didn’t make a comment, though. Or at least not one that Adam could take offense at. Joe only nodded his head. “I thought she sounded young.”
“You two seemed to have hit it off.”
“Like I said, she’s nice. I’m happy for you, Adam. For both of you.”
“Happy for us for what reason?”
“That you’re seeing one another.”
“How do you know we’re “seeing” one another?”
“Same reason I know Nellie was your favorite saloon girl. I’m the youngest. I’ve had years of practice at paying close attention to the things you or Pa won’t come right out and tell me.”
“Or you saw me in the Silver Dollar when you were hiding behind that corner table.”
Joe grinned. “That too.”
Adam studied his brother over their plates of eggs, toast, bacon, and blueberries. This last was a fruit Joe had never eaten before, because it wasn’t native to Nevada or the surrounding area.
Given another time, Adam would have been jealous of how well Joe and Laddie got on from the moment they met, and Joe would have given him cause to be. The competitiveness between them ran long and deep, dating back to all of the years Adam was envious of the attention Joe received from their father, and Joe was envious of Adam’s position as the oldest brother, and all the privileges it brought him. Or at least privileges in Joe’s eyes. But Adam’s years away from the Ponderosa had done them both good. Adam could see that now. Joe hadn’t needed a big brother in order to grow into the man he was to become – a man of strength and character, whose actions reflected the moral teachings he’d been raised with. The kind of man Pa was proud of, just like Pa was proud of Hoss, and proud of Adam, too.
Now, for reasons Adam couldn’t fully pinpoint, he knew Joe wouldn’t make a play for his girl. There was a time when the insecurities Adam never admitted to out loud, would have had him as on guard as an old “mama bear with one cub,” as Hoss would say, where Laddie and Joe were concerned. But no more. Although a degree of competitiveness would likely always exist between himself and Joe, Adam had no worries that his brother would initiate anything with Laddie that was meant to take her away from him.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt any that they can’t see each other, Adam chuckled to himself, in reference to the beautiful woman he was courting and his handsome brother. Even with that sprinkling of gray hair, you still turn the ladies’ heads, Joseph, and probably will until the day you die.
Joe interrupted Adam’s thoughts as he took another spoonful of blueberries from the small bowl to the left of his breakfast plate. “These are good.”
“I thought you’d like them.” Adam took note of how well rested Joe looked this morning, and how chipper he sounded. The early trip to bed had probably been the best thing for him after their long day. “They make an excellent pie, too.”
“Now that Hoss would like.”
This wasn’t the first time since leaving Virginia City that Adam realized how often Joe mentioned Hoss. He assumed this was a reflection of a touch of homesickness. Or maybe it was just a reflection of all the years’ worth of adventures Joe had shared with Hoss, and that Joe would like to be sharing this adventure in Boston with his middle brother, as well.
“Mrs. O’Connell canned some of them. I’ll ask her to make a blueberry pie when Hoss and Pa come to visit.”
“Hoss’ll enjoy that almost as much as he’s gonna enjoy that bathtub of yours.”
“I imagine you’re right.”
Joe finished his blueberries, pushing the dish aside. He “looked” at his brother.
“Adam, why didn’t you tell me Laddie was blind?”
“You heard me. Why didn’t you tell me Laddie was blind?”
Adam’s eyes shot to the screen door, where the little woman who’d just started to step out of it while carrying the coffee pot, disappeared back into the house.
“Mrs. O’Connell told you.”
“It doesn’t matter who told me. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because Laddie and I wanted to wait a while before revealing it.”
“Because we wanted you to have a good understanding of how much she’s capable of doing. We wanted you to be. . .surprised, I suppose you’d say, when you found out that she can’t see. We thought it would help you gain confidence regarding your future.”
“Any thoughts I had about my future pretty much got blown up in that shack of Charlie’s.”
“I realize that. But as time goes on, you’ll start thinking about your future again with renewed hope. I wanted you to see that Laddie’s made a rewarding and full life for herself.”
“Is she happy?”
Adam smiled. “You’d have to ask her that question, but I think so.” The man sobered. “She has the same things you do, Joe.”
“A family who cares about her, and gives her whatever support she needs. A job where she’s valued and depended upon. A good sense of humor, and the ability to laugh at herself.”
“Well, I guess two outta three isn’t so bad.”
“Two out of three?”
“I don’t have a job yet.”
“I appreciate your confidence in me, big brother, but until the school board actually hires me, I don’t have a job.”
“Like I said, you will.”
“Time will tell I expect,” Joe shrugged, before taking the subject back to Laddie. “Was Laddie born blind?”
“No, but she doesn’t have many memories of when she could see. She was just three when she lost her sight.”
“How’d it happen?”
“She was ill with the measles, and ran a high fever.”
High fevers were a common way children lost their sight, or their
hearing, or often times both.
“Sometimes I wonder if it would have been easier that way.”
“If what would have been easier?”
“Losing my sight. If it would have been easier to lose it before I knew what it was like to see. Or at least before I had memories of what it was like.”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Depends on what mood I’m in.”
“That sounds like Joe Cartwright. Ruled by his moods.”
“Even six years can’t change some things, Adam.” Joe brightened. “Now on the other hand, if I’d never been able to see, I wouldn’t know what Pa looks like, or what Hoss looks like, or how serious you used to look when you were frowning over something I’d done that had you riled.”
“Which was so often it’s amazing my mouth isn’t permanently set in a frown.”
Joe laughed, while pushing his empty plate aside and standing. He must have sensed that Mrs. O’Connell was eavesdropping somewhere just inside the door, because he called, “Thank you for breakfast, Mrs. O’Connell! It was wonderful!”
“Yer surely welcome, Joseph,” came the pleased response.
As Adam held out his arm to Joe and led him down the six steps from the back porch to the yard, he admonished, “Quit flirting with her.”
“Who? Mrs. O’Connell?”
“Yes. Mrs. O’Connell.”
“Aw, come on, Adam, I can’t flirt with Hop Sing. Or at least not without the neighbors talking, so let a guy have a little fun, will ya’?”
Adam just shook his head while whistling for Shakespeare. The dog got up from where he’d been laying beside Adam’s chair, trotted down the stairs, and joined Adam and Joe as they started to walk around the grounds.
As soft fur brushed against his fingertips, Joe said, “He seems to be a real calm dog.”
“He is,” Adam agreed. “He’s got a pleasant temperament. He carries himself with an almost regal bearing, as odd as that sounds. He’s intelligent, too. We’ll take him for a walk in a little while if you’d like.”
“Sure. But don’t you need to go to the institute?”
“Not today. Today I’ve set aside to get you familiar with the yard and the neighborhood.”
“You don’t have to, if you’ve got more important things to do. I know you’ve been away from work longer than you probably should have.”
“Joe, when I left, I told the school board I’d be gone as long as my brother needed me. I made no promises as to when I’d return, so I think I can be gone one more day without the risk of losing my job.”
“If you say so.”
“I do. Besides, the institute isn’t far from here. I thought we’d walk there with Shakespeare. A lot of the kids go home during summer break, but a number of them remain at the school year round, too. They love Shakespeare. A visit from him will brighten their day, while giving you a chance to meet some of them, as well as some of the teachers.”
“Well…okay. If you think it’ll be all right.”
“Of course it’ll be all right. Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I don’t know,” Joe shrugged, as he walked a flower-lined stone path with Adam. “It’s not like I work there yet, and I don’t have a child who attends there, and--”
“And you’re my brother, so yes, it’s all right.”
Adam would have wondered why Joe had suddenly gotten so insecure, if it hadn’t been for the scolding he’d received from Laddie after Joe had gone to bed the previous evening. As was befitting for a woman of her class and upbringing, the scolding was gentle, but it got Laddie’s point across.
“Adam, I’d like to discuss something with you, please.”
Adam had smiled as he set his coffee cup on the little table to the side of the settee.
“Whatever it is, you sound far too serious after the pleasant meal we’ve just finished, and you’re frowning, too.”
“As well I should be.”
“And why, pray tell, my dear lady, should you be frowning?”
“Adam, you were wrong to leave Joe alone by that bench today.”
All the lightness in Adam’s tone left then.
“Oh, Laddie, come on. He knew that bench was his anchor, and that’s where I’d be expecting to find him. If you’re going to frown at someone, it should be at Joe, not at me.”
“You’re his teacher, Adam, and his brother. His teacher and his brother both. You, more than anyone, should know better than to leave him alone during the first ten minutes he’s in a strange city, bench or no bench.”
“But you don’t know Joe. He’s got an independent streak a mile long. Five miles long, my father claims. Joe won’t stand for being babied.”
“I’m not saying you should baby him. I’m saying you have to be mindful that he’s in a city foreign to him, and that it’s going to be a while before this feels like home.”
“I realize that, but you’re blaming me for something that wasn’t my fault. He was the one who left the bench! He was the one who shouldn’t have chased those kids who took his wallet.”
“Are you certain that’s how it happened?”
“Are you absolutely certain that’s how it happened?”
“Well. . .”
“Well, of course you’re not, because you didn’t let Joe explain.”
“What was he going to explain? That his temper got the best of him, and he ran after the boys like he would have if he still had his sight? I already know what happened, Laddie. I didn’t need an explanation.”
“I think you do. Actually, I know you do. And when you get that explanation, you’ll realize you owe your brother an apology.”
Laddie gave a firm nod. “An apology.”
“Woman. . .”
Laddie had leaned into Adam’s shoulder then, “looked” up at him, and smiled.
Adam sighed, then gave in and kissed that luscious mouth. “You’ll be the death of me yet.”
“But it will be a sweet death, won’t it?”
As Adam began kissing her more arduously, he’d murmured, “Oh yes. Oh yes, it will be.”
Now, as Adam walked with Joe beside him, Joe’s right hand resting lightly on his arm, Adam cleared his throat like he did whenever he had to “eat crow” – which fortunately, Adam didn’t deem necessary very often.
“Uh. . .Joe. . .”
“When we stopped at the police station on the way home yesterday, I didn’t hear what you told the officer who took the report about your wallet.”
Joe shot Adam a funny look. “I know. You didn’t come in the room with me.”
“Um, no. No, I didn’t, because I realize you’re perfectly capable of handling your own affairs. I didn’t want you to think I felt otherwise.”
“Good. That’s good. Uh. . .listen, if you don’t mind, why don’t you tell me what happened.”
Joe wasn’t any easier to fool now, than he had been when he was a kid. He scowled, though Adam thought he could detect a hint of amusement behind those furrowed brows and that cold stare – the facial expression reminding Adam so much of their father, he almost thought it was Ben Cartwright beside him. Joe’s response made Adam think of their father, too.
“Why didn’t you ask me yesterday, instead of accusing me of chasing those kids and leaving that bench on purpose?”
“I didn’t accuse you of leaving the bench on purpose.”
“Sounded that way to me. As though you thought I’d inconvenienced you on purpose.”
“You’ve been inconveniencing me on purpose since the day you were born.”
When Joe didn’t laugh, Adam nudged him. “I was only kidding.”
Joe smiled then. “I know. Just thought I’d make you sweat a little.”
“Already am sweating. This August heat gets to me after a while.”
“Then I thought I’d make you sweat a little more.”
“Which you’ve accomplished. So come on, how about it? Tell me what happened.”
“Not much to tell really. I felt a hand on my back, leading me away from the bench. I thought it was you, so I went along. I asked if you’d gotten us a carriage, and when you didn’t answer, I asked again. I still didn’t get an answer, and all of a sudden another hand joined the first one, and they started running. I was in-between them, so didn’t have much choice but to run, too. At the time, I still thought one of the hands I could feel belonged to you. I figured something was going on that you needed to get me away from, like a fire, or a runaway train. But then one of the kids took my wallet and I heard him laugh, and knew I’d been had. By the time they took off, I had no idea where I was. I tried to get help, but no one would stop until Laddie and Elliot came along.”
A silence ensued that was interrupted only by the birds chirping in the trees overhead, and squawking as they played in a birdbath a few yards up the path.
Adam finally broke the silence. “Joe. . .Joe, I’m sorry. I should have let you explain yesterday, instead of standing there yelling at you. It’s just that I. . .well, I was pretty worried, you know?”
Adam gave a small, self-deprecating laugh. “I kept wondering how I was going to explain to Pa that I’d lost you within ten minutes of arriving in Boston.”
In his best imitation of Hop Sing, Joe scolded, “Mista Cartlight be berry berry unhappy if you lose number 3 son.”
With a laugh, Adam agreed, “Yes, Mr. Cartwright would be.”
“So did Laddie make you apologize to me?”
Now it was Adam’s turn to scowl. “Did you hear us talking?”
“Nope. Was sleeping like a baby not long after I went upstairs. It just seems like the kind of thing she’d do.”
“Let’s put it this way. She suggested that I give it serious consideration.”
“Then in my opinion, she’s the right woman for you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“That any woman who makes you apologize to me will be the perfect sister-in-law.”
“You’ve already got my housekeeper spoiling you. You don’t need a sister-in-law doing the same.”
“Adam, that’s your problem.”
“What’s my problem?”
“You have yet come to the realization that a man can never be spoiled by too many women.”
“At least not in Joe Cartwright’s book.”
“Especially not in Joe Cartwright’s book.”
“Well, it’s jumping the gun for us to be discussing sisters-in-law, so how about if I finish showing you the grounds, then I’ll go in and get Shakespeare’s leash and we’ll head over to the institute.”
“Sounds fine to me, as long as you don’t leave me hanging onto a bench somewhere.”
“Oh, believe me, Joseph, it’ll be a good long while before I leave you hanging onto a bench again.”
“Maybe it’s you who owes me candy this time, so I don’t tell Pa.”
“Wha. . .oh,” Adam nodded, realizing Joe remembered the incident at the traveling show, too. “Yes, I suppose I do owe you some candy. We’ll stop at the sweet shop on the way to the institute. Nothing will have you beloved by the students quicker than arriving with enough candy for everyone.”
“As long as you’re paying for it, big brother, I won’t argue.”
“I didn’t think you would, little brother,” Adam said, as he put his arm around Joe’s shoulders. “I didn’t think you would.”
Thirty minutes later, with Joe holding Shakespeare’s leash, the Cartwrights were headed out of Adam’s front gate, with Casey’s Sweet Shop slated as the first stop on their agenda, followed by the Boston Institute for the Blind.