Chapter 24


            Joe rubbed his damp palms across the legs of his trousers, hoping they hadn’t been covered with sweat when he’d shaken hands with each of the ten school board members. He sat in Adam’s office at the institute, waiting to hear the outcome of his job interview. Adam was still in the conference room with the board members, saying what, Joe didn’t know, but he supposed putting in a few good words for him before the vote was taken.


            The man’s left hand rose to his black string tie, but just as he was about to undo it and loosen the top button on his shirt, he thought better of it.  What if the board members wanted to see him again before they voted?  He’d better stay all “gussied up,” as Hoss would say, until this ordeal ended. 


            Joe’s first exposure to the school a week earlier had been a positive one.  Like Adam said would happen, the kids took to him the second they realized he was carrying bags of candy. Aside from meeting many of the children who boarded at the school for the summer, Joe had met the small contingent of staff on hand, who oversaw and provided for the students unable to travel home, wherever “home” might be.


            “Many of them simply live too far away,” Adam had explained about the year-round students after that initial visit was over, and he and Joe were walking back to Beacon Hill with Shakespeare.  “It’s too much of a hardship for their parents to pay for passage to places like California or Texas. We even have two students from Nevada.”


            “You do?”


            “Yes, one teenage boy who went home to Carson City for the summer, and one ten-year-old girl who lives in Silver Peak. You met her. Hannah Robinson.”


            Joe nodded, but in truth he had no idea which one of the children who’d clamored around getting acquainted with him by feeling his facial features with their hands, was Hannah Robinson.  All the names ran together. He was just beginning to learn how difficult it was to distinguish one person from another, when you had no visual clues to draw from, like hair color, eye color, height, or body size.


            “And then there are those students whose families refuse to have them come back home.”


            “Refuse to have them? Whatta ya’ mean?”


            “Because they’re blind, Joe.”




            “It’s. . .well, to some families it’s an embarrassment.  Having a blind child, that is.”




             Adam’s arm slid around Joe’s shoulder. “But not to the Cartwright family.  Not ever.”


            Joe had smiled at his brother.  “I know that.”


            “Are you sure?”


            “Of course I’m sure. Don’t worry about it.”


            “You sound upset.”


            “Only because of what you told me. About how some of the kids don’t get to go home because their parents refuse to have them. What happens to those kids when they’re too old to continue attending the institute?”


            “Those who come from wealth, generally go on to college, and then upon graduation, advance to careers that allow them to live independently of their parents.  Other students – those whose parents won’t entertain the notion of college, or can’t afford it – return home despite the lack of a warm welcome, though to what type of futures, I’m not certain.  I sometimes wonder if all we taught them is lost, simply because they have no support from their parents or siblings.”


            “I suppose that’s possible,” Joe had agreed. He wondered what it would be like for a child raised in a school for the blind, to return home after years of absence to people who wanted nothing more than to pretend that his or her handicap didn’t exist. Or that he or she didn’t exist for that matter.


            “Others go on to find work here in Boston, or in New York, or Chicago.  And when worst comes to worst, I’ve allowed those in need to stay at the institute beyond the age of eighteen, until I can find something for them – a job, a place to live, a decent start in life. I’m not supposed to do it, but what the school board doesn’t know, doesn’t hurt them.”


            “I like your devil-may-care attitude, big brother.”


            “You should. I learned it from you.”


            Joe laughed that afternoon, but what Adam said about the students who weren’t welcome back in their parents’ homes stayed with him.  He couldn’t imagine turning his back on one of his own children, regardless of what illness or tragedy might befall him or her. The same went for children of Adam’s or Hoss’s.  If Joe were needed to take care of any offspring either of his brothers had, his door would always be open to them.  And if one of those children was blind, or deaf, or crippled in any way by an illness or problem at birth, it wouldn’t matter to Joe. And he didn’t just feel this way because he’d lost his own sight. It wouldn’t have mattered to him before that, either. 


            Joe went back to the school with Adam and Shakespeare four more times between that first day and today. Originally, he tagged along for no other reason than for a way to pass the time. But by his second visit, he was looking forward to doing whatever he could to help.  There were no formal classes during the summer months, but the kids who remained behind while their schoolmates went home, were kept occupied with all types of projects and activities, as well as the weekly publication of the school’s newspaper. Laddie had put Joe to work right away assisting with the boys, and going along as a chaperone on “day trips,” as she called them. As near as Joe could tell, “day trips” gave the kids an opportunity to do what he’d done on the Ponderosa since he was old enough to walk – fish, swim, hike, and go on picnics. It was amazing what people in Boston would pay a fee to do. 


            I’ve gotta remember to tell Hoss about this, Joe thought one day when the school had paid for the younger children to ride ponies at a stable.  He and I should have come up with this idea years ago. We could have gotten rich charging city people to spend a few days on the Ponderosa fishing, swimming, and riding horses.  


            Joe didn’t get paid for his help at the school, of course, but he didn’t care.  It gave him something to do – a way to feel useful, and it gave him a chance to get to know some of the other teachers. However, those days spent at the institute also meant it would be that much harder on Joe if the school board didn’t hire him, but he didn’t allow himself to dwell on that.  Boston held a lot of possibilities, and Adam knew a lot of people.  If Joe wasn’t hired to teach, maybe he could get a job doing. . .well, what, he wasn’t sure, but something where it didn’t matter if he was blind or not. And if all else failed, he’d return home with Hoss and Pa in the fall, and make the best of things on the Ponderosa. It wasn’t what he wanted to do, unless Pa could come up with some jobs for him, but it was comforting to know there was always that option.


            As he now waited for the school board’s decision, Joe’s legs jiggled up and down with uneasiness.  He heard some of the kids passing by in the hallway, but he didn’t open Adam’s office door and greet them.  He didn’t want them to know he was here.  The children hadn’t been told he was applying for a job at the institute. They only knew he was Headmaster Cartwright’s brother, who was visiting from Nevada.  They didn’t even know he was blind.  Some of their teachers were blind, like Laddie, while others were sighted, like Adam.


            If the way the morning had started off was any indication of what the day held, then this long wait could only mean one thing – that the school board didn’t find him qualified to teach.  Joe had felt fine at breakfast, and after a walk around Adam’s yard with Shakespeare, he’d gone upstairs to bathe and get dressed in his black suit.  He was scheduled to meet with the board members at eleven. He’d just gotten his clothes out of the closet, when pain lanced through his head so sudden and strong that it dropped him to his knees. He grabbed for the washstand, caught just a corner of it, and sent it crashing to the floor.  The pitcher and bowl shattered, splattering Joe with water. He barely took notice, though, because he began throwing up more violently than he could ever remember doing in his entire life.


            Adam had still been sitting on the back porch reading the newspaper when Joe went inside, but Mrs. O’Connell was in the kitchen washing dishes.  Joe barely registered her running footsteps on the backstairs, and then her startled cry of, “Joseph! Joseph, what’s wrong with yeh?”


            Even if Joe had been able to answer the woman, he wouldn’t have known what to tell her.  He’d experienced numerous headaches since the explosion, but none as severe as this one.


            He was dimly aware of the woman’s short, choppy steps as she sped from the room calling, “Mr. Cartwright! Mr. Cartwright, come quick, Joseph’s ill!  Mr. Cartwright! Mr. Cartwright!”


            The next thing Joe was aware of was heavier footsteps racing up the backstairs.  By this time he had nothing left in his stomach to bring up, and was curled on his left side moaning in pain, his hands clutching his forehead.


            Adam didn’t shout.  Thank God he didn’t shout, Joe would think later, because surely his head would have split open had his brother yelled his name like Mrs. O’Connell had done.  Instead, Adam kept his voice soft and calm.


            “Joe. . .Joe, can you hear me?”


            Joe’s eyes were squeezed shut against the pain, but he managed to give a slight nod.


            “Okay, Joe, listen.  I’m going to move you just a little bit here. Get you out of this mess you’re lying in, all right?”


            At that moment, Joe didn’t care what he was lying in, but he was too sick to tell Adam to leave him alone. 


            “On three, Joe.” Adam’s arm slithered beneath Joe’s shoulder and the floor.   “Help me if you can by moving backwards, but if you can’t, that’s okay, too. One. . .

two. . .three.”


            Joe felt himself being scooted back toward the bed.  He tried to help as Adam had asked him to, but he didn’t accomplish much more than sliding his boots along on the Oriental rug he’d just decorated with his breakfast. A blanket was spread over him, and then his head and shoulders were gently lifted into Adam’s lap.  He heard Mrs. O’Connell say, “Here, Mr. Cartwright. Here’s a cool cloth.”


            “Thank you.”


            Joe wasn’t sure how long he remained on the floor in Adam’s lap, Adam holding a cold cloth across his forehead.  He knew the cloth was replaced every so often with a fresh one that had been doused in water, but that was about all he was aware of, other than Adam’s voice drifting in and out as the waves of pain came and went. 


            “You’ll be okay, Joe,” Adam assured in that steady way he had, as though the world wouldn’t dare defy what Adam Stoddard Cartwright dictated. “You’re going to be fine. Obviously, Mrs. O’Connell’s cooking isn’t quite as good as everyone thinks.”


            That joke got a small smile out of Joe, which was probably what Adam was hoping for.  At least it told Adam that Joe understood what was said to him, which likely lifted a portion of Adam’s worries.


            “Don’t yeh speak ill of me cooking, Adam Cartwright,” Mrs. O’Connell scolded, while she swept the broken glass into a dustpan and then rolled up the soiled rug.  “T’wasn’t anything I cooked that made poor Joseph so sick.”


            “No. . .” Joe’s voice was barely stronger than a whisper. “Was-wasn’t your cooking.”


            “I was just kidding her, Joe,” Adam said, as the woman left the room with her broom and dustpan.  “I know it wasn’t her cooking. Now don’t worry about it.  Just lie here quietly and rest for a little while. If you’re not feeling better soon, I’m sending Mrs. O’Connell for my physician.”


            “Don’t. . .don’t need a doctor.”


            “You promised me on the train that if this happened again, you’d let a doctor look at you.”


            “I was. . .I was fibbing.”


            “Joseph Cart. . .oh, what’s the use.  Just be quiet and rest.  As long as you’re living under my roof, I’ll decide whether or not a doctor should be sent for.”


            “Sound. . .sound like Pa.”


            “Good. Then maybe you’ll listen to me.”


            “I wouldn’t. . .I wouldn’t bet money on it.”


            “Allow me to assure you that I’m not that foolish.”


            Just as had happened on the train, Joe’s headache passed within the hour.  When he felt like he could sit up without vomiting again, he slowly pushed himself from Adam’s lap.  His brother kept his arm on Joe’s back, offering support if Joe should sink to the floor again.


            “Are you all right now?”


            “Yeah,” Joe nodded. “A little shaky, but I’m fine.”


            “I think I’d better get word to the board members that we won’t be there today.  I can reschedule with them for--”






            “No, Adam. I don’t want them to think I can’t do this job.”




            “What time is it?”




            “The time?  What time is it?”




            “Then I can still clean up, get dressed, and be there before eleven.”


            “You can, but I don’t think you should.  I think you’d better stay here and rest today.”


            “Rest for what reason?”


            “Oh, gee, I don’t know.  Maybe because you’ve just spent the past hour lying in my lap moaning with pain.”


            “Well I’m not in pain any more, and I don’t wanna miss this interview.”




            “It was just nerves, Adam.”


            “I’ve never known Joe Cartwright to be struck with a case of nerves.  Especially not to the point that it makes him sick.”


            “Well, maybe I’m not as hardy as I once was.”


            “Or maybe you need to let a doctor examine you.  Have you experienced any other headaches since arriving here?”


            Joe hesitated just long enough for Adam to know the answer to that question.




            Joe could tell he was trying Adam’s patience, when Adam asked again, “When, Joe?”


            “The. . .the first night I was here.  It started during supper.”


            “Why didn’t you say anything?”


            “Because it wasn’t that bad, and I didn’t wanna spoil things for you and Laddie.”


            “That was considerate of you, but you still should have told me.”


            “Told you what? That after a long trip, and then getting robbed and lost in a strange city, I had a headache? Anyone who’s gone through all that in one day is entitled to a headache.”


            “Maybe so, but you still should have said something about it.  How bad did it get?”


            “Not as bad as some of them have.  Not as bad as the one this morning.  I slept it off.”


            “And you haven’t had any again until today?”



            “You’re not lying to me, are you?”


            “No, Adam, I’m not lying to you.”


            “All right.  But if it happens again. . .”


            “I know, I know. I have to see a doctor.”


            “You do, Joe.  The institute consults with an eye specialist when needed. Maybe we should have you see him.”


            “Why?  So he can tell me I’m blind?”




            “Come on, help me up.  If I didn’t puke on my suit, I need to get dressed.”


            “You didn’t puke on your suit.”


            “Good. That’s the one thing that’s gone right so far today.  Maybe my luck will hold when I meet the school board.”  The suit was placed in Joe’s hands. “Oh, and about the rug--”


            “Don’t worry about the rug.”


            As though Adam hadn’t spoken, Joe said, “I’ll pay to have it cleaned.”  


            “You don’t need to do that.”


            “Yes, I do. I’ll wire Pa and have him send some money from my bank account.  I should have done that the day after my wallet was stolen, so I could give you something for expenses.”


            “And I told you that’s not necessary. Besides, after today you’ll be earning a salary.”


            “I might be earning a salary.”


            “You will be.”


            Joe didn’t have time to debate that fact with his brother.  Besides, he appreciated Adam’s confidence in him. 


Adam remained by Joe’s side as he walked from his room to the lavatory.  Adam probably would have come in there with him, too, had Joe let him. But Joe closed the door in his older brother’s face; assuring Adam he’d be fine. 


            “Call me if you start to feel sick again.  I won’t go far.”


            “I’m sure you won’t,” Joe had said dryly.


            But Joe didn’t feel sick again, and by ten-thirty, he and Adam were riding to the institute in a carriage the school provided for Adam, complete with its own driver.


            Joe wasn’t certain what time it was now. One of the first things he planned to invest in, when and if he was hired, was a Braille watch.  He thought his interview with the school board had taken about thirty minutes. The men asked him a lot of questions, but he was pretty sure he’d held his own, displaying a firm confidence he wasn’t necessarily feeling inside, along with the business-like manners he’d learned at his father’s knee, and just the right amount of Joe Cartwright charm thrown in for good measure. He’d been honest with the men when he’d said that no, he didn’t have a teaching certificate of any sort, and no, he’d never attended a college of any kind, and no, he’d never taught school, other than that time three years ago, when he’d briefly substituted for Abby Pettigraw in Virginia City, but he was a hard worker, a quick thinker, determined, and resourceful.  He’d also learned a lot from Adam in recent months about how to teach skills to the blind, and he was willing to put in extra time without getting paid for it, in order to learn from any of the teachers on staff if that’s what the school board wanted him to do.


            After that, there wasn’t much else Joe could say, other than to thank the board members for considering him for the job.  That’s when Adam had told him to wait across the hall in his office. 


            Joe’s attention was drawn to the door when it opened. It closed, as one person entered the room.


            “They’re taking the vote now.”


            Joe nodded in the direction of his brother’s voice.  As administrator of the institute, Adam was considered a board member with full voting rights.  But where this particular vote was concerned, Adam was forced to exclude himself, as Joe expected would be the case.


            By the proximity of Adam’s voice, Joe could tell he’d sat down on one corner of his desk. Joe was seated in one of the chairs across from the desk.


            “You did good in there, Joe.  I’m proud of you.”


            “Thanks.  And thanks for talking me up to them.”


            “How do you know I talked you up?  Maybe I told them what a thorn in my side you’ve been since the day you were born.”


            “Unless you want me living with you for the next forty years, I know you didn’t tell them that.”


            Adam chuckled. “Well, not quite.  But either way, you presented yourself well. I think they were impressed.”


            “I hope so.”


            “We’ll find out in a few min--”


            Before Adam could finish his sentence, there was a knock on the door, and then a man entered.


            “Adam. . .Joe. . .”


            Joe turned toward the sound of the board president’s voice.

            “I’m happy to tell you the vote was unanimous. You can start work tomorrow if you’d like, Joe.”


            A smile split Joe’s face. He stood and walked toward the man with his right hand outstretched.  “Thank you, Mr. Sheridan. I’ll be here bright and early.  And please tell the other board members I said thank you, as well.”


            “I’ll do that.”  The man’s voice was now directed at Adam. “The board is ready to conclude the meeting, Adam, unless you have something else we need to discuss.”


            “No, I don’t have anything else to bring up.”


            “All right then, I’ll see you at September’s meeting.”


            “Yes, Bob, I’ll see you then.”


            “Goodbye, Joe.”


            “Bye, Mr. Sheridan, and thanks again.”


            “You’re welcome. Your brother has done an outstanding job for us. I’m sure you will, too.”


            “I’ll try my best.”


            “If you’re anything like Adam, your best will exceed our expectations.  Gentlemen, I’ll make my leave now. Good day to you of both.”


            After the door closed, Joe felt his way back to the chair, sank down, yanked his tie loose, undid the top button on his shirt, and sighed with relief.


            “Glad that’s over with, huh?”

            “You can say that again.”


            “How about if we celebrate by eating lunch out?  Then we’ll come back here, and I’ll get you familiar with your classroom. Actual teaching sessions won’t start for two more weeks, when the remainder of the students return from summer break, but I’m sure you’ll find things to keep you busy until then.”


            “I’m sure I will, too.”  Joe stood and walked to the door with his brother. “Hey, Adam, do you mind if we stop at a telegraph office and wire Pa and Hoss with the news?”


            “I don’t mind at all.”


            “And uh. . .listen, thanks again.”


            “For what?”


            “For all you did to help me get this job. I’m not kidding myself. The school board didn’t come to that meeting today thinking some blind cowboy from Nevada is gonna make an outstanding teacher.  It was because of you. . .because of your reputation here, that I got hired.”


            “Oh no. If you think they hired you as a favor to me, then you’re dead wrong.  I told them straight off that they had to hire you on your own merits, and not based on my work for the institute.”


            “Still, I’m sure it made a difference that you’re my brother. I won’t let you down, Adam.  I promise, I won’t let you down.”


            “I’ve never thought for even one second that you would.”  Adam held his arm out to Joe, placing Joe’s hand at the crook of his elbow. “Now, how about if we send that wire, and then eat?”


            “I won’t argue with either one of those suggestions.”


            “For once you’re not arguing with me. Joseph, you just might give me a heart attack if you make this a habit.”


            “For the sake of your health then, I’ll do my best not to.”


            And that’s where the conversation ended, as the brothers made their way out of the school that now employed two men with the last name of Cartwright.


Chapter 25


            Ben leaned back in his chair, kneading the strain from his eyes with his right thumb and forefinger. It seemed like the print on these timber contracts grew smaller and smaller each year. Or maybe Ben just wasn’t used to looking at them. Joe had reviewed the contracts the previous year, and the year before that, as well.  It wasn’t that Ben was ready to put himself out to pasture just yet, but little by little since Adam’s departure six years earlier, he’d been turning the running of the Ponderosa over to Hoss and Joe.


Ben had never quite known for certain whether or not he was somewhat to blame for Adam leaving. Adam had assured Ben that wasn’t the case, but still, a father wondered.  Ben understood that there comes a time when a man needs to feel like he has something to call his own. Something his efforts allow him to take pride in, and reap the benefits from. Maybe a little bit of glory he doesn’t always have to share with his brothers.


Which was why, after Adam left, Ben was mindful of trying to give Hoss and Joe some glory now and again that they could each call their own.  Not that the two of them seemed to care one way or another, but then, given how close they’d always been, that didn’t come as a big surprise to Ben. Adam was the trusted older brother Hoss and Joe had looked to for everything from help with homework, to questions about the birds and the bees, to advice and guidance as they’d passed from their teen years, to young adulthood. But Hoss and Joe – they’d been to one another what Ben thought all brothers should get the opportunity to be, but only a lucky few were able to attain. Playmates, best friends, confidants, and co-conspirators in more pranks and schemes than Ben could keep track of.  Which were just a few of the reasons why Joe’s absence now was so difficult for Hoss.  Not that Hoss had said much about it, or seemed anything other than his friendly, amiable self. Still, Ben could tell it was hard for Hoss to be the only Cartwright brother left on the Ponderosa, now that Adam and Joe were both gone.  It didn’t seem to matter to Hoss that the running of the entire ranch was his for the taking, but then, Ben had known all along that it wouldn’t.  Hoss wasn’t a man motivated by power or greed.  As long as he had miles of open space before him, and the day-to-day ranch chores to attend to, Hoss was happy. Or at least he had been before Joe left for Boston.


Ben looked at the timber contracts he’d laid on his desk, idly fiddling with a corner of the papers.  They’d heard from Adam just once since the boys had left three weeks earlier. The day after they’d reached Boston, Adam sent a telegram that was short, and to the point.


Arrived Boston Safely.  Joe Fine. Will Write Soon. Adam.


Ben had smiled a little at his oldest son’s abrupt ending of “Adam.”  It spoke volumes about the man he was, and even the boy he’d been.  The feelings were there, but kept inside for the most part, under wary guard.  Had Joe sent the telegram, he would have signed off, “Love, Joe,” without hesitation.  If it had come from Hoss, it would have read, “Take Care, Pa,” at the end.   But overt sentiment wasn’t Adam’s way.  Or maybe it was, but only if a person took the time to study his actions.  Like how he’d dropped everything at the institute – possibly even risked his job by being gone so long – to come here and help Joe. Then extending an invitation to Joe to return home with him, and attempting to procure Joe a teaching job. 


Ben opened his top desk drawer and reached for that telegram he’d saved, but before he could retrieve it the front door opened.  He didn’t have to wonder long about the identity of his visitor. The heavy footsteps against the floorboards told him Hoss had returned from a morning of running errands in Virginia City.


“Hey, Pa,” Hoss greeted as he rounded the corner with a bundle in his right hand.  “Here’s the mail.”


Ben stood, taking the bundle from his son.


“Thank you.  Have you eaten?”


“Yeah. Stopped at Mizz Lucy’s ‘fore I headed home.”


“I thought you might.” 


Miss Lucy’s was a café in Virginia City where a hard working man was served large portions of the daily hot lunch special, and could get a second helping of pie for just ten cents, which was why the café held such an appeal to Hoss. Or maybe it was, as Joe claimed, “Miss Lucy” who appealed to Hoss. 


“I told Hop Sing not to keep lunch warming for you. I assumed you’d make yourself a sandwich if you hadn’t eaten.”


“Might just make me a sandwich any way, now that ya’ mention it.”


Ben smiled, then started to thumb through the mail. He didn’t get beyond the third piece before Hoss fished an envelope from his shirt pocket.


“Oh, here. Almost forgot. I gotta a telegram for ya’ too. ”


Ben set the mail on his desk and took the sealed envelope his son handed him. 


“Probably from Harry Deevers, wanting to know when I’ll be putting these timber contracts in the mail.”


Hoss’s eyes twinkled as he glanced at the pile of papers on his father’s desk. 


“That’s kinda what I figured when Dave tracked me down at Mizz Lucy’s and delivered it.”


Ben slit the envelope open with his forefinger and pulled out the tri-folded paper inside. As he unfolded it and read the address of the sending telegraph office on top, he frowned.


“What’s the matter, Pa?”


“It’s from Boston.”  Ben’s brows knit together with concern.  “I was expecting a letter from Adam one of these days soon, not another telegram.  I hope everything’s all right.”

“I hope so too.” 


As Ben read the telegram, his frown changed to an ever-growing smile.


“What’s it say?”


Ben glanced up at his son, and then back down at the paper again. 


“It says, ‘Pa And Hoss, Good News. Got The Teaching Job. Start Tomorrow.  Adam’s Buying Lunch To Celebrate.  Love, Joe.’ ”


Ben handed the telegram to Hoss.  “Well, now, that is good news, isn’t it?”

Hoss read through the message for himself while slowly nodding. “Yeah. . .sure.  It’s good news. I’m real happy for him.”


“You don’t sound real happy.”


Hoss shrugged. He let the telegram flutter to his father’s desk.  “I. . .I guess I was kinda hopin’ Joe wouldn’t get that job, and that he’d come back home with us in the fall.  I know it wasn’t right of me, Pa, wishin’ for somethin’ like that.  I just. . .”


“You just miss him,” Ben finished softly for his son.


Hoss dropped his gaze to the floor, giving the boards a slight scuff with the toe of one boot.  “Yeah, Pa, I miss him


“I know, son,” Ben nodded.  “I miss him, too.”


            Because there wasn’t anything either of them could say that the other didn’t already know where this subject was concerned, Ben put an arm around Hoss’s slumped shoulders and walked him toward the kitchen.


            “Come on.  Let’s go make that sandwich you’ve got a hankering for.  Maybe I’ll even make myself one.”


            “Sounds good to me. Ya’ know how I hate ta’ eat alone.”


            “Yes,” Ben agreed, eyeing his ample-sized son. “I surely do.”


            “And say, Pa, how ‘bout if we wire a telegram to Joe tomorrow and congratulate him on gettin’ that there job?  And maybe wire a separate one to Adam, thankin’ him for all he’s done for Joe. I know Joe didn’t say a lot in that message, but I could tell he’s happy.”


            Ben smiled.  Whether Hoss knew it or not, his heart was always in the right place.


            “I think that’s a fine idea, son.  We’ll ride into town together first thing in the morning and send telegrams to both of your brothers.”


            Ben’s promise seemed to lift Hoss’s spirits some, though the man wasn’t fooling himself. Both he and his middle son would have their ups and downs in the months to come where Joe’s absence was concerned, just like he, Hoss and Joe had experienced ups and downs after Adam first left for sea.  But eventually, you get used to the way your household has been altered by the departure of a loved one. You might never grow to like it, but you do get used to it.


            Or at least that’s what Ben Cartwright told himself fifteen minutes later, as he sat at the kitchen table with Hoss eating a sandwich, while trying not to notice how quiet the house was.


Chapter 26


            The two weeks that passed between when the school board hired Joe, and the children returned from summer break, were amongst the busiest of Joe’s life.  He gained a newfound respect for how Adam earned his living, and no longer thought that “real work” was only defined by a full day of physical labor outdoors.        


            Joe crammed as much learning into those two weeks as he could. Adam helped him create a lesson plan that covered each school day until the start of Christmas break in mid-December, and provided him with a Braille copy of the institute’s teachers’ handbook.  The students who ran the school’s printing press published the little leather bound book, that contained the rules and guidelines the institute expected its teachers to follow.  There was a separate handbook for the students that Adam also gave Joe a copy of to review.


            As Joe walked home with his brother carrying the books, he hefted them with his left hand and teased, “Seems like a lotta rules for a man to follow, Headmaster Cartwright.”


            “I’m sure it won’t take you more than five minutes to break at least two of them.”


            “Oh, Adam, come on. You don’t give me enough credit. If it takes me more than five minutes to break at least four of them, then you’ll know something’s wrong with me.”


            Ten years ago, Adam would have taken Joe seriously, and lectured him on putting his best foot forward, setting a good example, honoring the Cartwright name, and two dozen other things that would have caused Joe to yawn with boredom, and Adam to threaten to let Pa deal with him. But Adam had learned not to take some things quite so seriously since leaving the Ponderosa, and one of those things was a younger brother who thrived on getting a reaction out of him.


             “No,” Adam had countered, “if it takes you more than five minutes to break at least six rules, that’s when I’ll know something’s wrong with you.”


            Like Adam, Laddie helped Joe in any way she could.  She gave him a stack of her old college textbooks on various teaching methods, that he studied each evening in his room at Adam’s house. She also passed along many tips and pointers. 


            “The beginning of the school year isn’t easy for any teacher, Joe,” Laddie assured on a day when Joe was having doubts that he could actually live up to what the school board expected of him. “Not even a seasoned one. It takes the children a few days to settle into the routine of having to sit still, listen, and do their lessons. And without a doubt, they’ll test you.”


            “Test me?” Joe asked, from where he sat at a student’s desk in Laddie’s classroom. Shouts and laughter drifted in from outside, where the children boarding at the school for the summer were playing on the grounds behind the building.            


            “To see how strict or lenient you’ll be. To see what they can get away with in your classroom, and what you won’t tolerate.  To see if you’ll send anyone to Adam’s office for a paddling.”


The discipline section of the teachers’ handbook stated that only the headmaster was allowed to deliver corporal punishment to the students, but Joe hadn’t thought too much about it until now.

            “A paddling?”




            “And Adam’s the one who does that?”


            “As the headmaster, yes, that’s part of his job.”




            “You sound like you don’t approve.”

            “It’s not that. Believe me, I was raised by a father who declared if his son earned a licking in school, he got another licking when he arrived home.”


Joe could hear the humor in Laddie’s voice. “I bet it didn’t take a boy long to learn to avoid getting lickings in school then.”


“Probably took Adam just once, Hoss probably never had to be taught that lesson at all, but as for me. . .well, as my pa would tell you, I preferred to learn things the hard way. But even at that, three times, maybe four at most.  After that, I got smart.”


“I see.  So you were on your best behavior.”


Joe laughed. “I wouldn’t say that.  I’d just say that I learned how far to push things, and when to bring my fun to a halt. Once Miss Jones came when I was eleven, things got easier.”


“How so?”


“She was sweet on Adam, so she tended to look the other way when it came to my ‘tomfoolery,’ as Pa would call it.”


“Sweet on Adam, was she?”

“Oh yes, Ma’am.”


“I’ll have to remember that.”


“I wouldn’t have told you if I didn’t want you to remember it.”


Laddie laughed. “Joseph Cartwright, I suspect you didn’t learn anything from those lickings you earned.”


“Not much of anything, no,” Joe agreed with a laugh of his own.


“So, if you don’t disapprove of a paddling when it’s needed, why do I get the impression you don’t like the idea?”


“I guess I just can’t imagine spanking someone else’s child, so it’s hard for me to picture Adam doing it.  I mean, sure, I’ve encountered kids that I thought needed a trip to the woodshed – like those two hooligans who stole my wallet – but thinking it, or even saying it, doesn’t mean I could really do it.”


            “Discipline must be maintained, Joe.”


             “I know.”


            “If we let one student’s bad behavior go unchecked, then other students will think we’re giving them permission to behave in any manner they please.”


 “I know that, too.”


            “However, I’ll let you in on a little secret if it will make you feel better.”


            “What’s that?”


            “Adam doesn’t appear to be fond of spanking someone else’s child, either.  He uses it only as a last resort when all other forms of punishment have failed to get through to an errant youngster. I haven’t known him to paddle more than two or three boys in the three years he’s been here, and I can’t fathom that he’d ever paddle one of the girls. He’s really quite good with the children. They all respect him.”


            “I’m sure they do.”  Joe grinned and quipped, “Besides, how hard can a one-armed man possibly paddle?”


            Joe jumped when a strong hand clamped down on his left shoulder from behind. 


            “Maybe you’d like to find out, little brother.”


            Joe glanced up, removing his brother’s hand. “No need.  My students and I will be models of good behavior.”


            Adam gave an exaggerated, choking cough.  “Excuse me, I think I need a glass of water.  Students of Joe Cartwright’s as models of good behavior?  Now that I’ll have to see to believe.”


            When Laddie said, “Oh, Adam, by the way, I’d like to talk to you about someone named Miss Jones,” and Adam growled, “Joe. . .” Joe made a hasty retreat to his classroom, laughing all the way there.


            Aside from lesson plans, studying the books Laddie gave him, memorizing the teacher’s handbook, and getting his classroom in order, Joe also used the time he had before school started to grow accustomed to the building, and the 30 acres of land it sat on.  


            Based on Adam’s descriptions, and the tour he’d taken Joe on, Joe knew the institute was a four-story, brick structure that housed three dozen classrooms, Adam’s office, a conference room, a supply room, an infirmary, a massive kitchen, and a dining room large enough for all two hundred students and their teachers to eat in at the same time. A long, one-story dormitory for the boys sat behind the institute, while the girl’s dormitory was attached to the school building itself.  Aside from teachers, the institute employed two stable boys who took care of the horses and carriages, a contingent of cooks, building caretakers, groundskeepers, two nurses, and a dorm “father” and “mother” – an older married Irish couple, who had been with the institute since Laddie attended school here as a child. Adam had told Joe that each dorm room held four children, two teenagers and two younger children. The help gleaned from the older children lessened the responsibility of the dorm parents somewhat, though Adam said he’d recently told the school board they’d have to consider hiring additional adults for dorm supervision within the next year.


            “Our student body just keeps growing.”


            “Aren’t there any other schools for the blind anywhere?” Joe had asked Adam during his first tour of the grounds.            


            “There are, though few with as good of a reputation as ours. We turn students away every year because we just don’t have the room for them, or the staff to teach them.  We could really use more schools around the country that are directly affiliated with ours, but until the necessary funds are raised, and someone volunteers to run such a school, I’m afraid we’ll have to continue to turn children in need away.”


            Joe didn’t think that seemed right.  Any blind child should have the opportunity to attend a school that could help him learn the necessary skills for survival in a dark world, but Joe didn’t bother saying so to Adam, because he had no doubt Adam was well aware of it.


            Much of the school’s acreage had been donated by Laddie’s father. Trees that were on this land when the pilgrims first arrived provided shade for little girls having tea parties with their dolls on a hot summer day, and made great places for a boy to climb into when he wanted a little time to himself. 


            Slides, merry-go-rounds, seesaws, sandboxes, and wooden swing sets dotted various areas of the grounds, as did a baseball diamond specially modified for blind players. Joe himself knew the game by the name of stickball, a schoolyard activity he’d enjoyed playing as a boy that didn’t involve anything as fancy as a “diamond,” or wooden bats, or leather mitts, or bases, other than what he and his friends designated as such, like the pump, the schoolhouse steps, the hitching post, and the flag pole.


            A few days before school was due to start, Adam took Joe to an exclusive men’s shop, where Joe supplemented the clothing he’d brought from home by purchasing two additional black suits, two gray suits, half a dozen white shirts, and three black string ties, so he’d be in compliance with the school’s dress code for its male teachers. He wouldn’t entertain the notion of black shoes to replace his well-worn tan cowboy boots, but did agree to a pair of black cowboy-style boots when Adam suggested them. Joe hadn’t earned his first paycheck yet, but rather than having to continue borrowing money from Adam, he’d opened an account at Adam’s bank, and had money wired into it from his account at Virginia City’s Cattlemen’s Bank. After he’d finished making his clothing purchases, Joe bought a wallet to replace the one that had been stolen. 


            The night before the new school year began, after Laddie had dined with the brothers at Adam’s house and then left in her father’s carriage, Adam took Joe into his study. 


“I have something for you that I purchased at a shop that carries Braille supplies.”


            “Braille supplies?” Joe questioned, hearing a desk drawer open. “I think I have everything I need for my classroom.”


“What I have here isn’t for your classroom.”






Adam stepped out from behind the desk.  “Here. See what you think of this.”


Joe took the round, smooth object Adam slipped into his left hand.  He felt the chain, and then the stem that opened the lid. As Joe’s fingers explored the raised Braille numbers on the face, he smiled.  “It’s a watch.”


“That it is.”


“This is one thing I’ve really missed since I lost my sight – knowing what time it is.”


“I know. That’s why I thought it was the perfect gift.  I was going to wait and give it to you as a birthday present, but I was afraid you’d go out and buy yourself one before then.”


“You can call it my birthday present.”


“I’m not opposed to that,” Adam teased.


“Didn’t think you would be.”


It was as Joe explored the watch a second time that he discovered the Braille lettering engraved on the inside of the lid that read:


Sept. 1872




To Success!


Your brother, Adam


Joe let his fingers read the words again, then shut the lid and slipped the watch into his pocket.  He knew that short phrase, “To Success!” was Adam’s way of telling him how far he’d come in the months since he’d lost his sight, and that Adam had faith he’d have nothing but success as he began his teaching career.


Joe’s voice was husky with emotion when he stepped forward and hooked an arm around Adam’s neck, pulling his brother into a hug.


“Thanks, Adam.  It’s a beautiful watch.  It’ll always be special to me.”

“You’re welcome. I’m glad you like it.”  Adam clapped Joe on the back.  “Come on.  We’d both better turn in.  As I’ve come to learn, the first day of school is always a long one.  By the time we get back here tomorrow evening, we’ll be ready to collapse.”


“It’s even worse than the first day of a cattle drive?”


“Allow me to assure you, little brother, it’s worse than the first day of any cattle drive you’ve ever been on.”


            Joe’s skepticism was plain to hear. 


“I think you’ve been away from the ranch too long. A bunch of kids having to settle in for the first day of school can’t come close to comparing to a bunch of stubborn cattle that don’t wanna leave their grazing land.”


            Adam chuckled with what Joe perceived as delight, while they walked up the stairs together.


            “If you’re still willing to say that at this time tomorrow night – if you’re even still awake to say it – then I’ll owe you dinner at my favorite restaurant.”


            “Okay, you’ve got yourself a deal.  And if I’m not willing to say it, which I won’t be, but if I’m not, I’ll buy you dinner at that favorite restaurant of yours.”


            “Good thing you had some money wired here then, because you’re going to need it.”


            The brothers bantered back and forth on this subject until they reached their rooms.  Once they’d said good night, Joe shut his door and got ready for bed.  He removed the watch from his pocket and placed it on his dresser. He chuckled a bit when, thirty minutes later, he found himself tossing and turning while having trouble falling asleep.


For the first time in his life, Joe Cartwright was excited over the thought of attending school.


Chapter 27


            “Hey!” Joe ducked when another paper wad clipped him on the side of the face. “Cut that out!”


            He made a blind grab as running footsteps flew past him. “Get back in your seats!”


            The noise level in the room only increased, as boys talked, laughed, whistled, and shouted. One little guy clung to Joe’s legs, crying for his mother, while Joe held a fistful of a teenager’s shirt and propelled the boy toward a seat.  For all Joe knew, he was throwing the kid on top of another boy, but he was long past caring.


            “Now sit down and stay there!”


            Another paper wad bounced off Joe’s shoulder, and then some maverick with a peashooter hit Joe in the middle of the forehead with a pebble. 


            “Ouch!  Why you little. . .”


            These kids are blind, for cryin’ out loud!  How can they have such good aim?


            Before Joe could sort out which kid had the weapon, a bell clanged in the hallway, signaling the end of the school day. The older boys rushed for the door, eager to go outside and play. 


            “Wait!  Hey, wait!  You’re supposed to leave as a class in an orderly fashion!” Joe shouted, quoting a rule from the students’ handbook. “And don’t run!  Boys!  Boys, get back here!  Boys, the stairs!  Be careful on the stair--”


            The child clinging to Joe’s legs tugged on his trousers. 


            “Mr. Cart-Cart-Cartwright?” the six-year-old hiccupped between his tears.


            “What, Billy?”


            “I want-I want-I want-I want my papa to come get me and take me home.”


            Joe patted the boy’s back, mumbling, “I know just how you feel, Billy.  Believe me, I know just how you feel.”


            Billy’s sobs caused the other little boys left in the room to start crying and saying they wanted to go home, too.


            “No, no.” Joe stumbled toward the sounds of distress coming from all directions. “Don’t cry. Come on now, don’t cry.”


            “I want my mama!”


            “I want my pa!”


            “I wanna go home!”


             Thankfully, the boys’ dorm father, Killian Murphy, entered the room before the sobs and cries for parents and home could escalate further.


            “I thought yeh might need me help, Mr. Cartwright. I know how hard the first day is on these young ones who’ve traveled so far to attend our fine school.”


            Joe wanted to say that he was sure by now everyone in the institute probably knew he needed help, but he managed to swallow his sharp retort because he wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth. 


            “Thank you, Mr. Murphy.  I appreciate it.”


            Joe passed the weeping Billy over to the dorm father, at the same time resisting the urge to get down on his knees and kiss the Irishman’s boots in gratitude. 


“Come along, young lads. Come with me. We’ll go outside to play until supper is served.”


The sounds of sobs, hiccups, sniffles, cries for “Mama!” and shuffling feet, lingered for a moment, then slowly began to fade as Mr. Murphy led the littlest members of Joe’s class – boys just six and seven years old – outside to a playground.


            When Joe sensed he was finally alone, he trudged toward the front of the room, swearing when he banged his shins into a student’s toppled desk.  Still wincing from the smarting pain, Joe navigated gingerly toward his own desk.  He felt his way around the wooden structure and dropped to his chair.  He propped his elbows on the desktop, buried his head in his hands, gave a defeated sigh, and wondered if he’d be the first teacher Adam had ever fired after just one day of employment.   


Chapter 28


            Adam leaned against the doorframe, trying to suppress a grin. If he didn’t know better, he’d have sworn the Battle of Vicksburg was fought in this room.  Paper wads littered the floor like cannonballs, desks were overturned like dead horses, textbooks were strewn from one end of the room to the other like fallen soldiers, and the general – his curls limp with perspiration, the first two buttons on his collar open, his tie askew, and his suit coat hanging by just one shoulder from the back of his chair  – looked like he was ready to wave a white flag. 


            No less than a dozen smart remarks immediately came to Adam’s mind.  The kind of quips one Cartwright brother would toss to another during a situation such as this, like:  “You mean to tell me that you can break twenty horses in a day, but you can’t control twenty boys?”  Or, “Since when did reenacting the Civil War become part of our curriculum?”  Or, “Now you know how every teacher who ever taught you felt at the end of the first day of school.”


            But Adam squelched the urge to say any of those things, because Joe looked so forlorn and beaten. The smart remarks could wait for another time.  Right now, Joe needed a little brotherly support, rather than brotherly humor.


            Adam pushed himself away from the doorway, making his presence known as he walked into the room. His tone was soft and sympathetic.


            “Rough day, huh?”


              Joe’s head came out of his hands.  “You’re the master of understatement.”


            “Come on. Let’s get this place cleaned up, and then head home.”


            Joe pushed himself to his feet.  “Just get it over with, Adam.”


            “Get what over with?”


            “Go ahead and fire me.”


            “Fire you?”




            “I’m not going to fire you.”


            “Oh come on. Don’t do me any favors just because I’m your brother.”


            “I’m not doing you any favors.”


            Joe extended an arm. “Look at this room.  I don’t have to be able to see to know it’s a mess.”


            “It’s a mess all right.  I won’t deny that.”


            “And the kids did nothing but yell and run around like wild animals all day long. That is, when they weren’t throwing paper wads, or using their peashooters. And the ones who weren’t doing any of that stuff spent the whole day crying.”


            “And what makes that different from any other first day of school?”


            “What makes it different is that none of it was happening in anyone else’s room.  Only mine.”


            Adam approached his brother. He lifted his hand and squeezed Joe’s shoulder. 


            “Joe, sit back down for a minute.”




            “Just sit down.  I think we need to talk.”


            Joe did as Adam asked of him, while Adam perched on a corner of Joe’s desk. 


            “Look, it’s okay. Just fire me.  I’ll explain it all to Pa.  I’ll let him know you gave me a fair shot.”


            “Oh for heaven’s sake.  I’m a little too old to be worried about what Pa would have to say if I did fire you – which I’m not going to do, by the way – so it’s a moot point.”


            “Adam, just be honest with me. If I was anyone but your brother, would you fire me for my performance today?”


            “No, I wouldn’t. What I’d do for that fictional teacher you’re speaking of who isn’t my brother, is give him a second chance.”


            “I don’t think a second chance is gonna make much difference.”


            “I’ve never known you to hang up your spurs without a fight.”


            “I feel like I’ve fought about all I can.  I don’t know what else to do.”


            “Want some advice?”


            Joe shook his head.  “I’m not up for advice at the moment.”


            “All right,” Adam agreed, knowing full well that Joe only accepted advice from someone when he was darn good and ready to. He’d try to work the problem out on his own for days, maybe even weeks. If by then he didn’t meet with success, he might be willing to listen to what Adam had to say, but prior to that, Adam would just be wasting his breath.


            Joe was quiet for a few seconds; then said, “I just can’t believe a roomful of blind kids could be so much trouble.”


            Adam chuckled. 


            “What’s so funny?”


“Kids are kids, Joe.  It’s doesn’t matter that they’re blind.  And you have to remember that some of them have been blind since birth, so they’re used to navigating in strange places, even though their methods of doing so might be sloppy at best, ill mannered at worst.  And keep in mind, too, that many of them have never been to school. So in some cases, you’re being forced to teach a sixteen-year-old what most kids learn at six.”


            “What’s that?”


            “How to sit in a classroom and be respectful of the teacher and other students.  Also, it’s not unusual for many of the children to come to us spoiled and pampered.  Some of them have never been made to do anything for themselves, and because they’re blind, and no one at home could bear to discipline them, they’ve gotten away with behavior our father would have had us over his knee for.”


            Joe gave a slow, thoughtful nod. Adam knew his brother had read the summary reports on each of his students that had been converted to Braille type for him. Therefore, Joe possessed the same knowledge of the boys Adam did prior to this first day of school. 


            Henry Thompson was sixteen, and blind since birth. He’d never attended school, and was only here now because a wealthy aunt had stepped forward and paid for two years’ worth of tuition.


            John Dugan was fifteen, and also blind since birth.  Like Henry, what little education John had received was given to him at home by his mother.  His parents had scrimped and saved to get him here.


             Anthony Marcelli was fourteen and blind since the age of three, again with no formal education of any kind. 


            Caleb Greers was ten years old, and blind for just nine months.  Prior to that, he’d lived a normal life with his parents and three brothers on a farm in Pennsylvania.


            Six-year-old Billy Fitzgerald lost his sight at age two, and was now many miles away from his home in Minnesota.


            The remaining fifteen boys in Joe’s classroom were no different from Henry, John, Anthony, Caleb, and Billy. They ranged in age from six to sixteen, some born blind, while others had lost their sight due to illness or accidents.  Those who had lost the ability to see after the ages of six or seven, had at least some experience attending school, while for those who had been blind since birth, or who had lost their eyesight when very young, like Billy, this was their first time in a classroom.


            “Joe, the first day of school is always like this. Between the confusion and chaos as the children arrive, attending the morning assembly, saying goodbye to their parents, getting them into their classrooms – well, it never goes smoothly.  Not for anyone.”


            “Maybe so, but I didn’t hear anyone else experiencing the Battle of Bull Run in their classroom.”


            Adam smiled at Joe’s Civil War reference, but didn’t comment on it other than to say, “Great minds think alike.”




            “Nothing. Listen, Joe, whether you realize it or not, you’ve got the hardest job here.”


            “I do?”


            “You do.”


            “What makes you say that?”


            “Because aside from Laddie, you’re the only teacher who doesn’t have students who’ve attended the institute in prior years.  This is a brand new experience for the boys in your classroom.  And, like you just a few months ago, they’re completely without any skills other than what they’ve taught themselves.”


            “But I didn’t hear any problems coming from Laddie’s room.”


            “That’s because she’s a seasoned teacher. As well, she’s teaching only girls this year. It’s been my experience that girls don’t cause nearly as much trouble as boys, and certainly aren’t as loud and physical about it when they do.”


            “Now you tell me.”


            Adam smiled, while clapping Joe’s shoulder.


            “Enough of this talk about being fired.  Let’s clean up this room and go home.  I promise, tomorrow will be a new day.”


            “If you say so.”


            “I do. Now come on. Mrs. O’Connell will have supper waiting for us.”


            The brothers worked together righting the desks, and picking up papers and books.  When Adam declared the room was back in order, they headed for his office to collect Shakespeare before walking home. 


            “Hey, Adam?”




            “If I’ve got the hardest job here like you said, I’d like to put in for a raise.”


            “Oh you would, would you?”’


            “Yeah. I need that extra money, because I owe my brother dinner at his favorite restaurant.”                 


            Adam laughed.  “Worse than the first day of a cattle drive, was it?”


            “As much as I hate to admit this, a lot worse.  Just don’t tell Hoss I said that, ‘cause he’ll never believe me.”


            “Then perhaps we should put Hoss in charge of a roomful of boys on the first day of school.”


            Joe grinned. “Yeah, perhaps we should.”


            As they walked out of the building, the men joked back and forth over the thought of their big-hearted middle brother trying to ride herd on a classroom of rambunctious, ill-behaved boys. 


            At least Joe’s in better spirits, Adam thought when they arrived home and Joe greeted Mrs. O’Connell with a grin and a compliment about the meal he could smell cooking. 


            Adam hoped Joe’s good spirits would last beyond the next morning when he returned to his classroom, and as well, he hoped Joe wouldn’t allow his pride to keep him from asking for advice if he needed it.  


Chapter 29


            The only thing Joe could find to be thankful for during the early days of his teaching career was the arrival of the weekend. The school term had begun on the first Monday in September.  By Friday, Joe felt like he’d been riding the range under a high-noon sky for three weeks straight.  Adam’s promise that “tomorrow would be a new day,” came to pass, Joe supposed, but not in quite the way Adam expected it to, and certainly not in the way Joe wanted it to. The only thing new about each day was the way the older boys in his classroom increased the level of pranks and noise.  Frogs and snakes were smuggled in from the playground and let loose down the little boys’ backs, which sent Billy Fitzgerald into a whole new round of crying for his mother.  Mashed potatoes somehow found their way from the dining room to Joe’s chair, as did a piece of chocolate cake with a thick layer of chocolate icing that soiled the seat of Joe’s gray trousers.  Not that Joe could see it, but he could easily imagine what it looked like, and spent the rest of the day tugging on the hem of his suit coat, as though doing so would make it longer, and cover the embarrassing stain.


            At the end of each day, instinct told Joe his classroom once again looked like a battlefield, and he had no doubt he was fighting on the losing side.  By Friday afternoon, when he’d no more than get one boy seated, before having to give chase after another one in some kind of an absurd game of blind man’s bluff, any reservations Joe had about spanking someone else’s child left him.  If he could have gotten his hands on that paddle in Adam’s office, he’d have warmed more than a few pairs of britches.          


            Adam stopped by the room each afternoon and helped Joe put it back in order; something Joe wished he wouldn’t do.  For one thing, the thought of Adam seeing him fail so miserably was humiliating for Joe, and for another, he wanted to handle this situation his own way, despite the fact that currently, he had no idea what exactly his “own way” entailed. 


            Saturday passed quietly, with Adam doing paperwork in his study, and then taking Laddie to a concert in the evening.  He invited Joe to attend as well, but Joe declined. He was determined not to intrude on Adam’s private life, or be the “tag-a-long little brother” – a role he’d outgrown many years earlier. As for Joe, he spent most of Saturday walking the flower-lined paths of Adam’s yard with Shakespeare at his side, wondering what the future held if he wasn’t cut out to be a teacher.


            Adam attended church on Sunday with Laddie and her family, as he did every Sunday, followed by lunch at the Brockington estate. Church attendance followed by lunch was one invitation Joe didn’t turn down, but only because Laddie wouldn’t hear of it. It was tradition that Laddie, her parents, her sisters, their spouses and children, were present in the pews at Boston’s First Presbyterian Church each Sunday, and then gathered at her parents’ home afterward. This tradition had included Adam for the past year, and by virtue of Joe being Adam’s brother and houseguest, had included him ever since his arrival from Nevada.


            Although Joe was still in the early stages of getting acquainted with Laddie’s family, he didn’t have a bad word to say about any of them, other than he found one of her brothers-in-law, Gilbert Hall, to be a pompous know-it-all who ran on at the mouth, and didn’t understand that silence could indeed, be golden. But then, Adam said Laddie’s entire family thought Gil was a pompous know-it-all, as did Adam, too. Adam even suspected Gil’s wife, Florence, wasn’t exactly enamored with the man.


            “I don’t suppose it can be a complete bed of roses in a family as large as Laddie’s,” Adam had commented.


            “No, I don’t suppose it can,” Joe agreed.  Considering Laddie had five sisters, and equal the number of brothers-in-law, Joe guessed one “bothersome bloke,” as Mrs. O’Connell would say, wasn’t anything to complain about.


            Because the Brockington clan was accustomed to Laddie’s lack of eyesight, they knew how to make Joe feel comfortable, while at the same time not making him feel singled-out or “different.”  Laddie still resided with her parents, and their Victorian mansion was set up to accommodate her needs. The same held true outside, where everything from lawn tennis to croquet could be played by a blind person.  These were new games for Joe, and though not something he could ever picture himself and Hoss playing on the ranch, Joe appreciated the Brockingtons including him in all they did each Sunday once lunch was eaten and they headed outside for “amusements,” as Laddie’s father referred to it. With sixteen grandchildren scampering over the grounds, along with fifteen adults, it made for a lively time. This particular Sunday, Joe wasn’t much in the mood for croquet, or tennis, or a new game some of the grandchildren wanted to try called badminton.  He hung back on the large veranda, as everyone else clamored down the steps. 


            “Joe, you coming?” Adam called from somewhere down on the lawn.


            “No. Think I’ll stay up here for a while.”


            Adam’s voice was closer this time, as though he’d walked toward the section of porch railing Joe was leaning his palms on.


            Quietly, Adam asked, “You okay?”


            “I’m fine.”


            “You don’t have a headache, do you?”

            “No.  No headache. You go ahead and get everyone started on an exciting game of croquet. I’ll join you later.”


            “What?” Adam asked, pretending to be offended. “Croquet isn’t your style?”


            “Let’s put it this way, it’s not three-card stud, a horse race around Virginia City, or tracking a mountain lion, but I guess for Boston on a Sunday afternoon, croquet is about as good as it gets.”


            “Just about.”


            Joe smiled and assured again, “I’ll join you in a little while. Go and have fun.”


            “If you’re sure you’re all right.”


            “I’m all right, Adam. Go on. The kids are waiting for you.”


            “Okay.  See you in a little while then.”


            “Yeah,” Joe agreed, as his brother headed off toward the group of Laddie’s nieces and nephews calling his name and begging him to get the game started. “See you in a while.”


            Joe heard the swish of a woman’s dress as someone approached.


            “Not going to play this afternoon, Joe?”

            He turned toward the voice. 


“Not right now, Mrs. Brockington.  A little later maybe.”


She patted his arm. 


“You join us when you’re ready.  In the meantime, I’d better go make some children mind their p’s and q’s.” The heels of her shoes clicked against the wooden steps as she descended. “Bernard!  Grandmother saw that!  Don’t you push your sister, young man, or you’ll go straight to the back of the line!  Amelia, honey, tie your bootlaces so you don’t trip!  Jerome!  Douglas! Get down from there before you fall! How many times must I tell you boys not to climb on the carriage house roof?”


Joe shook his head over the way a woman thirty years his senior could make children behave, while he, a man in the prime of his life, couldn’t keep order over a handful of blind kids confined to a contained space.


“So, Joseph, how’s the teaching going?”


Joe turned at the sound of Edward Brockington’s voice.  Had he been paying attention, he’d have known the man was near him just by the pungent smell of his pipe tobacco. And aside from Mrs. O’Connell, Mr. Brockington was the only other person in Boston who regularly called him Joseph, though Joe had no idea why.


Joe felt the man stop beside him, sharing the porch railing with him as a resting spot.  The picture Joe had in his head of what Mr. Brockington looked like was based on a description provided by Adam. The man was a little over six feet tall and slender, with a salt and pepper handlebar moustache, a full head of dark, wavy hair that was graying at the temples, and bright blue eyes that were the first thing you noticed about him. His voice was a deep baritone, which had initially given Joe the impression that Mr. Brockington was closer to Hoss’s size than to his own. But according to Adam, while Edward Brockington wasn’t large in stature, he was nonetheless a formidable presence – a man others respected and admired, who’d made his money through real estate sales, and numerous other business dealings he’d been involved in over the years.


In response to the man’s question, Joe almost said, “It’s going all right, thank you for asking,” just to put a quick end to the conversation.  But for some reason, he found himself being more forthright with Mr. Brockington than he’d been with any other member of Laddie’s family who’d made this same inquiry of him today.  Maybe it was because the pipe smoke and deep voice reminded Joe a little bit of his father, and made him homesick for Pa’s advice at a time when he could really use it.  Or maybe it was just the fact that everyone else was occupied, and therefore he and Mr. Brockington could talk privately.  Or maybe the heavy meal he’d just eaten, combined with the warm September sunshine that caused autumn to seem months away yet, lulled Joe into forgetting his pride.


“It’s. . .well, to tell you the truth, Sir, it’s not going very good.”




Joe sighed.  “No.”


“Mmmm. . .I’m sorry to hear that.”


“Yeah, me too.  I. . .I was hoping this would work out. I really hate to disappoint Adam, but--”


“I don’t think you need to worry about disappointing Adam.”




“He speaks highly of you, Joseph, as he does of your brother Eric.”


Joe smiled at the use of Hoss’s given name.  Evidently, Mr. Brockington didn’t cotton to nicknames.


“That’s what makes the thought of disappointing Adam all that much harder.”


“What seems to be the problem, son?”


“What isn’t the problem? The kids are unruly, they won’t stay in their seats, they won’t listen to me, they pick fights with one another – when they’re not pelting me with paper wads, that is – and the little ones cry all day for their mothers. So far, I haven’t been able to figure out if I even can teach, because I’m spending all my time trying to ride herd on these boys.”


“Ride herd?”


“Keep them in line. Get them to head where I want them to.”


“Ah. I see.” 


The man took a few puffs on his pipe before speaking again.  “Laddie had much the same problem the first year she taught.”


“She did?”


“She certainly did. Got herself quite down in the mouth over it, you see. Told me she was going to tender her resignation, that she wasn’t made to be a teacher – all kinds of foolish nonsense such as that.  And do you know what I told her?”


“No. What?”


Mr. Brockington tapped Joe’s chest twice with his knuckles. “I told her to talk to her mother.”


“Her mother?”


“Yes. To see what her mother would do in that same situation.”


“I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.”


“No, no. Of course you don’t.  It’s like this, son. I have six daughters, as you know, so I left the disciplining of the girls to Mother.  I rarely got involved, other than to back Mother up when she needed me to, or to offer a stern look or word.  I still don’t exactly know what Grace’s secrets were when it came to bringing up six fine girls, but I’m pleased with the results, and I told Laddie so. I said, ‘Speak to your mother.  However she tells you to handle the discipline, is the way to proceed.’  And that’s what she did.  So I suggest you speak to your father about such matters, Joseph.”


“My father?”


“It appears to me that he did an upstanding job of raising you and Adam.  And I’m sure of raising Eric, as well.”


“He did, but unfortunately, my pa’s not here to ask.”


“Oh. . .oh no. No he’s not, is he. Silly of me, now wasn’t it? Well. . .

um. . .that does present a bit of a challenge, doesn’t it.  I wish I could offer you a few words of wisdom, but having raised only girls, I’m afraid I’m not much good where boys and discipline are concerned.”


   “That’s all right.” Joe tried not to sound downhearted, though he didn’t think he’d succeeded. “Thanks anyway.”


Mr. Brockington fell silent for a few seconds; the only sound on the porch was of the man’s teeth clacking against the mouthpiece of his pipe.


“Upon giving it further consideration, Joseph, I suggest you spend some time contemplating what your father would do in a situation like this.”


The thought that immediately came to Joe’s mind made him chuckle. “Tan some hides.”


Mr. Brockington laughed. “That’s what my father would have done, too.”


 Before the conversation could progress, a little boy called, “Come on, Grandpapa!  It’s your turn!”


“Ah. It appears as though a croquet mallet is waiting for me.”  The man patted Joe’s back, signaling an end to their discussion. “About this school issue. You’re a smart young man. You’ll figure things out. And as the expression goes, it’s always darkest before the dawn.”


“Yes, Sir,” Joe agreed. “Thanks for the. . .” by the time Joe finished with, “advice,” Mr. Brockington was striding across the lawn out of hearing range.


Joe felt his way to the porch swing behind him. He sat down, gently rocking the swing back and forth while doing what Mr. Brockington had suggested – contemplating what Ben Cartwright would do if he were in charge of teaching twenty boys in bad need of guidance, direction, leadership, and some basic manners.


Joe was still lost in thought thirty minutes later, when a small hand tugged on his arm. 


“Come on, Joe. Adam says it’s time for you to play croquet.”


Joe smiled at the child. He recognized the voice as belonging to Laddie’s niece, Frances.  It was a standing joke between them, that her first name was the same as Joe’s middle name.  Franny found it funny that a man had what she declared was a girl’s name, and in return Joe always teased her, telling her he didn’t think it was funny at all, and how he wished his father had given him any other middle name but Francis.


“Whatta’ ya’ want your middle name to be today, Joe?”


“Mmmm…let me think. How about. . .Beauregard?” 


This was a part of their game, too –  Joe coming up with the oddest name he could think of to replace his middle name.


The five-year-old giggled. “If you ask me, that’s a lot worse than Francis.”


“Well, not if you ask me. I kind of like it, Miss Frances. Joseph Beauregard Cartwright.  I might even write to my pa and tell him that’s what he should call me from now on.”


The girl laughed again, while at the same time tugging at Joe until he stood.  As she led him down the steps and across the lawn she yelled, “Adam!  Adam, you’ll never guess what.”


“What, Franny?” Adam called back.


“Joe’s middle name is Beauregard now!”


Adam’s tone was filled with exaggerated shock.  “Beauregard?”


“Uh huh.  Joseph Beauregard Cartwright.  That’s what he just said.”


“Oh, he did, did he?  Then I hope he’s the one who plans to break that news to our father.”


“He is! He said he’s gonna write your papa and tell him all about it.”


            “I’m happy to hear that, since generally this oldest brother is the bearer of bad news on behalf of that younger one there. Now why don’t you get Joseph Beauregard over here, and tell him to take his turn.”


            Joe heard the amusement in Adam’s voice, and was glad he’d put it there. He didn’t want to ruin his brother’s day with Laddie’s family, or spoil the fun. Because of those reasons, the younger Cartwright went through the motions that afternoon, laughing when it was expected of him, playing whatever game was suggested, eating cookies and drinking lemonade when snacks were served, but all the while gnawing on the thought nagging at the back of his mind. 


Would he be able to get his students under control, or would Adam be forced to fire him and put him on a train headed back to Nevada?


Chapter 30


              It wasn’t until after lunch on Monday, that Joe Cartwright finally figured out he couldn’t beat these kids at their own game.  None of them knew he was blind, which was probably a good thing, since that knowledge would have likely made their behavior even worse.  Regardless, chasing after them, yelling at them, demanding that they sit in their seats and be quiet, was getting him nowhere. It was when Joe accepted this, that he changed his tactics.  It was when he thought of the things Adam had taught him, that Joe knew he still had ways to triumph.  And it was when he thought of how, as a kid, he was far more unnerved by his father’s silences when he’d misbehaved, than he was by any yelling Pa did, that Joe realized he might actually have a chance to succeed.


            Therefore, Joe didn’t attempt to stop any misbehavior on Monday afternoon, nor did he attempt to stop it on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, or even Friday.  He sat silently throughout the week observing his class, using his sense of hearing to get to know every voice, every footstep, every bit of trouble instigated, and every habit all twenty children possessed.  To some degree, his silence intimidated the kids, in the same way Joe’s father’s silences had intimidated him, but at best it only caused a pause in their misbehavior now and again, as opposed to putting a stop to it. That was all right though, because Joe hadn’t expected silence alone to correct the misdeeds, and bring these children together as a class eager to learn.  He had to be the leader here.  The shepherd who guided his flock in the right direction, rather than off the end of a cliff, which was pretty much where they’d been headed up until now.


            Amongst Joe’s other observations as that week progressed – Adam’s sympathy for him was waning.  Adam still came by the room each afternoon and assisted Joe with righting the desks, picking up books, and throwing away paper wads, but he no longer asked Joe if he wanted advice.  Instead, Adam offered it willingly while they cleaned.


            “You can’t let this continue, Joe,” Adam declared on Thursday afternoon.


            “I know.”


            “Other teachers are complaining about the noise.”


            “I know.”


            “Mr. Cross came right out and accused me of nepotism today.”  


            “I’m sorry to hear that. I hope there’s a cure.”


            “Joe,” Adam said with exasperation, “nepotism means--”


            “I know what nepotism means. You don’t need to explain it.  And as for Crabapple Cross--”


            “Joe! You can’t refer to a colleague that way.”


            “I can and I will if it applies, and where Cross is concerned, it does.  Besides, I already know what his opinion is. He passed me in the hall yesterday and mumbled something about my incompetence, and that if I wasn’t the headmaster’s brother I’d have been fired by now.”


            “Then all the more reason to listen to my advice.”




            “Because Cross’s father is a school board member.”


            “Oh really? Well, well, well, how do ya’ like that? And that horse’s behind had the nerve to accuse you of nepotism.” 




            “Adam, just have a little faith in me, okay?  I know what I’m doing.”


            “It doesn’t look like it from where I’m standing.”


            “I realize that, but as Pa would say, you’ve gotta crawl before you can walk, and you’ve gotta walk before you can run, so I figure I’m in the crawling stage right now.”


            “Well if you don’t move to the walking stage fairly quickly, you’ll leave me no choice but to. . .”


            “But to what?”


            “I. . .Joe. . .I don’t want to have to let you go.”


            “Fire me, you mean?”


            “Yes.  I don’t want to do that, but we’re more than halfway through the second week of school, and these boys are only getting worse, instead of better.  Now, if you’d let me sit in class with you for several days, give you some hands-on guidance and



            “I don’t need your help.”


            “As headmaster of this institution, I think you do. This isn’t the time to be stubborn.”


            “I’m not being stubborn.”


            “Then what are you being?”


            “I’m being like pa.”


            “You’re what?”


            “Like Pa. I’m doing what Pa would do in a situation like this.”


            “And just what pray tell is that?”


            “Letting the bear cubs think they’ve outsmarted me.  In due time, they’ll find out there’s a fox in the den.”


            Joe could feel Adam studying him. Adam finally sighed, and Joe pictured his brother throwing up his arm in defeat. 


            “All right, all right. You win. I’ll give you a little more time. But if these kids haven’t straightened up by the end of next week, and if there’s not some teaching going on in this room by then, I’ll have no choice but to ask you to resign.”


            “I understand.”


            “Don’t let it come to that, please.  Let me help you.  Let me sit in here with you and--”


            “No. I can do this by myself. That’s the only way I’ll earn the boys’ respect. If they think I’m gonna run to the headmaster and tattle every time they misbehave, they’ll never be willing to learn from me.”


            “That’s what Elias Cross does.”


            “Runs to you and tattles when his students misbehave?”




            Joe snorted. “Figures. I had that whiney jackass pegged as a snitch from the first day I met him.”


            “Joe. . .”


            “Oh, come off it, Adam.  Quit acting so prim and proper.  You think he’s a whiney jackass, too.”


            “Well. . .okay, I do, but--”


            “I know, I know.  He’s a colleague, and his father’s on the school board. I get it.  I’ll be on my best behavior around him, don’t worry.”


            “Part of being on your best behavior is getting your students under control.”


            “And I will. Just give me a few more days, like you said you would. Please. Just through the weekend.  That’s all I need.”


            “The weekend?”

            Joe nodded.  “I’ve got some things I need to get done on Saturday.  I’ll be here most of the day.  Don’t worry if you don’t see me until after you come home from your date with Laddie.  Better yet, enjoy an evening alone in your house with her.  I promise I won’t be home until well after you two are done doing whatever it is you do when I’m not around, and Mrs. O’Connell is at her sister’s house.”


            “Joe!  Laddie’s not that kind of woman.”


            Joe winked.  “All the more reason to marry her then, and make her that kind of woman.”




            Joe laughed.  “Listen, I personally don’t care what you two do.  Stay home, go out, hunker down in a closet together. . .I’m just lettin’ you know I’ll be busy on Saturday, and that by next week things should be improving in this room.”


            “How are you going to get back and forth from my house to here?”

            “I’m twenty-nine years old.  I can make my own arrangements.”




            “Adam, everything you taught me was to help me gain my independence.  I know plenty of the staff here now. I can get a ride with someone, or pay one of groundskeepers to walk me home, or ask Mr. Murphy to. Don’t fret about it.”


            “Why can’t I come with you?”


            “Because what I have to do. . .what I wanna accomplish, I need to accomplish on my own.  Without your opinion coming into play.”


            “Since when is my opinion poison to you?”

            “It’s not.  I respect your opinion more than I’ve probably ever told you.  But I have to do this on my own.  If I succeed, I’ll prove to myself that I know what I’m doing. That I can teach these boys.  If I fail. . .well, if I fail, I’ll at least be able to tell

myself. . .and Pa, that I tried.”


            “You don’t have to tell Pa anything. He’ll know you tried.” 


            “He probably will.  But still, it’s important to me that I do this on my own, no matter what the results are.”


            “Joe. . .”


            “Adam, please.  Trust me with this. I’m the one who’s allowed these boys to get this far out of control.  Now I’m the one who has to rectify that.”


            “I think you’re being too hard on yourself.  You’re new to teaching. You--”


            “It doesn’t matter. I have to fix this myself.  Without your help.”


            Joe envisioned Adam shaking his head with disgust.


            “Why is that little brothers are so all-fired determined to do things by themselves, when a big brother is willing to help?”

            “I don’t know.  Why is that big brothers are so all-fired determined to offer their assistance, when a little brother says he wants to do something on his own?”


            “Perhaps those are questions we’ll never have answers to, huh?”

            “That seems to be the case, yeah.  Now, if you really wanna help, you could straighten the desks after I pick them up.”


            “Mmmm. . .somehow I knew any help I was allowed to give would be on your terms.”


            “You know, Adam, you’re gettin’ plumb smart in your old age, as our brother Hoss would say.”


            “And what he’d say about you, is that you’re getting more bull-headed and ornery.”


            “He just might at that,” Joe agreed.


            Once the room was back in order, the brothers went to Adam’s office to get Shakespeare. Adam and Joe walked to and from the institute on most days, Adam almost always bringing his German Shepherd with him. Only on rainy days, or during the middle of winter, or on a day when Adam knew he’d be short for time, did he make use of a carriage and driver to cover the two mile distance that separated his home from the school.


            On the way home, Shakespeare walked ahead of Joe, as had become his habit in recent weeks, as though he’d appointed himself Joe’s guardian.  When they reached Adam’s house, Shakespeare led Joe through the open iron gate.  Joe gently tugged on the dog’s leash, stopping their progress on the walkway leading to the front door.






            “I just wanna let you know that if things don’t improve by the end of next week like I hope they will, I’ll give you my resignation before you have to ask for it.”


            “You’ll give me. . .what’s that supposed to mean?”


            “I won’t put you in a position where you have to fire me, and I won’t hang onto the job so that other teachers besides Cross start accusing you of favoritism. I’ll resign if my plan doesn’t work.”




            “I’ll resign, Adam.  That’s all I have to say about it.”  Joe walked forward again, Shakespeare taking that as his cue to walk as well. “Now come on, let’s go in and see what Mrs. O’Connell has made for supper.”


            “Stubborn and ornery, Joseph!” Adam called after his brother. “Stubborn and ornery both.”


            “That’s my middle name.”


            “I thought it was Beauregard.”


            Joe laughed as Shakespeare led the way into the house.  He kept the mood light the remainder of the evening, not wanting Adam to detect that he figured he had a 50-50 chance at best, that come one week from now, he wouldn’t be tendering his resignation.


Chapter 31


            It was late by the time Joe returned to Adam’s house on Saturday evening.  He’d left before Adam was up that morning, and spent the majority of the day at the school, except for one trip to the Braille supply shop where Adam had bought his watch.  Despite Joe’s assertion that Adam should enjoy his time alone with Laddie on a rare evening when both Joe and Mrs. O’Connell were away from the house, Adam must have been watching for him. Joe didn’t even get his hand on the front door knob, before Adam yanked the door open.


            “Who walked you home?”

            “And a how-do-you-do to you too, big brother.”


            Joe brushed past Adam with Shakespeare leading the way.  There was a long enough pause that Joe knew Adam was looking up and down the sidewalk, trying to determine if anyone had accompanied him.


            “Hi, Joe.”


            Joe smiled in the direction of Laddie’s voice as he unhooked Shakespeare’s leash and hung it on a hook in the foyer’s closet. The dog went over to his favorite spot in front of the fireplace hearth and plopped down, as though he’d done a full day’s work and deserved a nice, long rest.


“Hi, Laddie.  I hope my brother hasn’t bored you this evening by doing nothing but staring out the window watching for me.”


            “Oh, he’s come up with a few other ways to pass the time, but yes, mostly he’s been staring out the window.”


            “I got that impression when I practically fell in the front door.”


            “Joe, who walked you home?”


            Joe turned at the sound of Adam’s voice.




            “Shakes. . .Joe. . .”


            “You asked.”


            “You told me you’d make arrangements to get yourself to and from the institute.”


            “I did. With Shakespeare.  Didn’t Mrs. O’Connell tell you he was with me?”

            “She did, but she never mentioned that you’d left here by yourself.”


            “I didn’t leave here by myself.  I told you, I had Shakespeare with me.”


            “Joe. . .”


            “Adam, this dog knows what he’s doing.  Don’t worry, I was perfectly safe.”


            “Where you and worry are concerned, I’m second only to Pa in how much of it I do. You can’t use a dog as a companion to get you to and from places.”


            “Maybe not to and from some places, but to and from the places he’s familiar with. He took me right to the school, and brought me right home. When I had another errand to run today, where I knew Shakespeare had never gone, I got Mr. Murphy to go with me. But I took Shakespeare, too, so he’d know the way from now on. I’ll tell ya’, Adam, I think this dog could be trained to take me a lot of places.  Ever since I’ve been walking back and forth to the institute with you and Shakespeare, I’ve noticed that he always stops when we have to step off a curb, when we come to stairs, if there’s a carriage headed our way. . .smart animal.”


            “Smarter than you, evidently.”


            “What’s that supposed to mean?”

            “It means that you can’t trust a dog to keep you safe.  I think Shakespeare’s smart too, but not quite as intelligent as you’re giving him credit for.  And just what errand did you have to run today that I couldn’t have taken you on?”


            “Never mind.  It’s not important.”


            “Oh.  Another errand where my opinion wasn’t welcome, is that it?”

            “Adam, come on.  Don’t take it personally.  I told you that I have to do this on my own. It has nothing to do with whether or not I want your opinion.”


            “Well, maybe you need my opinion. Walking home alone after dark was stupid, Joe.  You shouldn’t have even considered doing it.  You told me you’d have someone bring you home. You said--”


            “I told you I’d make my own arrangements, which I did.”


            “But you didn’t tell me those arrangements were going to be with a dog!”


            “And you didn’t ask!”


            “And why would I have thought to ask?  I wouldn’t have guessed you’d be that absurd, though I suppose I should know better by now.”


            “Who are you callin’ absurd?”


            “You! That’s who!”


            “If you think that just because I can’t see I won’t pop you one right in the jaw, just keep it up!”


            “And if you think that just because I have one arm, I won’t pop you one right back, just try me!”


            Laddie’s laughter was like a bucket of cold water being thrown on the altercation that was just starting to heat up.


            “What’s so funny?” Adam asked the woman. 

            “You two.  You sound like a couple of little boys who need a ‘trip to the woodshed,’ as I believe people from Nevada refer to it.”


            “I don’t need a trip to the woodshed,” Adam growled, “but I sure know someone who does.”


            “And you think you’re a big enough man to do it, is that it?”


            “I just might be.”


            “Oh yeah? Well. . .”


            Laddie came to stand between the two warriors.  “Boys, boys, boys.  Enough.  I thought we were past silly arguments like this.”


            “We would be, if he hadn’t done something so foolish.”


            “It wasn’t foolish!”


            “No, Joe, I don’t think it was, either.”


            It was when Laddie made that declaration, that Joe wished he could have seen the expression on Adam’s face.


            “What did you just say?” Adam asked Laddie.


            “I said I don’t think it was foolish, either.  Well. . .possibly a little foolish, but if Joe says Shakespeare is capable of keeping  him safe, then I believe it.”


            “A month ago, you were the one scolding me for leaving him alone by a bench, and now you’re endorsing this. . .this. . .this guide dog idea of his?”


            “Guide dog,” Joe mumbled. “I like that. Good name for it, Adam.”


            “I’m not trying to find a name for it, because it’s not something you’ll be doing again.”


            “Adam. . .”  Joe balled his fists, but almost as quickly, relaxed them. When all was said and done, Shakespeare was Adam’s dog, and to argue for the right to use him wasn’t Joe’s place.  He took a deep breath and counted to ten, then whistled for the dog. 


“Come on, Shakespeare, let’s go to the kitchen and get you some food and water.”


            What transpired in the parlor during the extended period of time Joe remained in the kitchen with Shakespeare in an effort to calm his temper, Joe wasn’t sure.  All he knew was that when he returned, Laddie had left to go home, and Adam offered an apology.


            “Look, Joe, I’m sorry. I still think what you did was foolish, but if you say Shakespeare is capable of doing the things you outlined, then I believe you.”


            “He is, Adam.”


            “All right.”


            “I. . .I’d like to use him sometimes to take me places, if that’s all right with you.”


            “It’s all right with me under two conditions.”


            “What conditions?” Joe asked warily, sure his newfound independence would be snatched from him before he even got the chance to experience it.

            “Number One. That I have the opportunity to watch him work for you, and he proves to me he can do the things you say he can.”




            “And that if you’re going out after dark, or returning after dark, you let me accompany you, or you get someone from the school to do so.  Someone who’s sighted, that is.”


            “Adam, come on. It’s always dark for me now.  What difference does it make?”


            “You know what difference it makes. Boston’s like any other city. There’s a higher incident of crime after dark.”


            “Tell that to the kids who stole my wallet in broad daylight.”


            “I’ll be happy to, if I ever run across them.”




            “Those are the conditions, Joe. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.”

            Joe hesitated a few seconds, but only to save face. 


            “All right.  I’ll take ‘em.”


            “Then it’s settled.”


            “Thanks, Adam.”


            “You’re welcome.”


            Right before Joe headed up the stairs, he turned toward his brother and grinned.  


“With the way that woman has you apologizing to me left and right, you really do need to marry her.”


            A sofa pillow smacked Joe in the back of the head.  He laughed, but let the subject of a marriage between Adam and Laddie drop as he walked up the stairs to his room.


To Part 5