When school resumed in mid-January at the Boston Institute for the Blind, numerous changes greeted the children. Their familiar building was gone, of course, replaced temporarily by a building several miles down the road from the school’s grounds. The boys’ dormitory had been aired out and scrubbed from top to bottom, which allowed the boys to be housed there once again. Edward Brockington had found a rambling, vacant house to serve as the girls’ dormitory. Mr. Brockington was paying the monthly rent on the house, and wouldn’t entertain the notion of it being handled any other way, even when Adam tried his best to split half the cost with him.
Elias Cross didn’t return to school after Christmas break. Rumor had it that his own father dismissed him for the way he’d left Joe and Laddie to fend for themselves and their students on the day of the fire. Adam wouldn’t confirm or deny that rumor for Joe, but the grin he sported told Joe that Cross’s father had indeed, released him of his teaching duties. For the time being, the man’s students were divided up amongst other teachers. Before the new school year started again in September, Adam would have to hire someone to replace Cross.
Charlotte was present in Laddie’s class that first day of school in January, but not before her parents had stopped in Joe’s classroom to thank him for saving her life. The little girl seemed fine to Joe. A bit shy and reserved when her parents made her say, “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright, for saving me,” but prior to the fire he hadn’t known the child, so her quiet demeanor didn’t surprise him. He was glad to see she’d returned. He thought being back in school with her friends would prove to be the best thing for Charlotte over time.
At his father’s insistence, Joe had seen Dr. Warren and Dr. Nichols before the winter school term resumed. He’d been given a clean bill of health by both of the men. Dr. Warren had no explanation for the return of Joe’s eyesight, other than to mention the same things he had the last time Joe visited him. Perhaps a blood clot had dissolved, or inflammation of the optic nerves was no longer a factor. Or perhaps there were numerous other reasons his eyesight had returned, that medical science didn’t have the knowledge to understand yet. Or, perhaps too, it was nothing other than a miracle. Dr. Warren smiled at that point and told Joe he could take his pick. Joe didn’t attempt to pick anything. He was just thankful his vision was normal, and the headaches were gone. Pa seemed to feel the same way, because he didn’t press the doctor for further explanations, either. If Joe knew his father, Ben Cartwright was putting this under the “miracle” category. Joe wasn’t sure he’d ever believe that, but then, Pa put considerably more stock in his religious faith than Joe put in his own.
When Adam and Laddie set a wedding date of New Year’s Eve, Pa set New Year’s Day as the date he and Hoss would leave Boston on the first leg of their journey to Nevada. In the meantime, they pitched in at the temporary school, helping to set up classrooms with desks, books, shelves, and supplies. Joe had fun working alongside them again. It made him even more eager for June to arrive, when he, too, would return to the Ponderosa.
Some of the children giggled over the thought of a “Mrs. Cartwright,” now teaching at their school, along with a Headmaster Cartwright, and a Mr. Cartwright. Joe supposed all those Cartwrights were a bit confusing at times, and yes, he had to admit, it was as funny as the teenagers in his classroom found it to be, whenever someone mistakenly assumed Laddie was married to him, rather than to Adam.
But on the afternoon of the actual ceremony, there hadn’t been any giggling going on. There’d been a lot of crying, from what Joe could see as he stood between the groom and Hoss, looking out at the guests who filled the pews at the First Presbyterian Church, though the tears were happy ones. Despite the short period of time for the planning of the wedding, the ceremony went off without a hitch, and the reception afterwards at the Brockington estate was a lavish one. All of Laddie’s sisters stood as her attendants, while Hoss and Joe stood with Adam, and Pa read the love sonnet Adam dedicated to his bride. Joe thought he and Hoss did a good job of keeping straight faces throughout the reading. Joe silently repeated to himself, “Just don’t look at Hoss. Just don’t look at Hoss. Don’t look at him, and you won’t laugh.” Likewise, Joe suspected Hoss was saying much the same thing – “Just don’t look at Joe. Just don’t look at him,” as the sonnet filled with twisted English no normal man could ever hope to understand, went on and on, seeming never to end.
Mrs. O’Connell wailed loudly at the close of the ceremony, then hurried over to the Brockingtons’ to help in any way she could, not trusting the cooks there to have the wedding feast prepared in the fashion she deemed it should be.
Later that evening, the couple departed on a weeklong honeymoon in New York City. Joe, Hoss, and the Brockington grandsons decorated the carriage driven by Elliot that took Laddie and Adam to the train station.
Before the couple climbed in the carriage, Pa took the first turn at kissing the bride, then at hugging Adam. Hoss was the next one in the Cartwright family to give the bride and groom final congratulations, followed by Joe. After Joe kissed the bride, he teased, “I’m glad he got around to asking you sooner, rather than later.”
“Me too, or I might be Mrs. Joseph Cartwright by now,” Laddie teased in return, “instead of Mrs. Adam Cartwright.”
“You can bet money on that.”
Joe turned to Adam, giving him a hug. “You’re a lucky man, Adam. You’ve got yourself a beautiful bride, and a wonderful woman to boot.”
As the brothers parted, Joe said, “When you get back, I’ll be gone.”
“Gone? What do you mean, gone? I thought you were staying until June.”
“I am. I mean gone from your house. I found a room to rent.”
“Adam,” Joe said softly, so as not to be overheard by the large crowd gathered on the Brockingtons’ front lawn, “if I have to explain that to you, then you’ve got a lot to learn on this honeymoon.”
“Yeah, that. You and Laddie need your privacy.”
“Joe, when we want privacy, I’ll tell you to get lost. In the meantime, cancel whatever arrangements you’ve made to rent a room.”
“I’ve already discussed this with Laddie. She’s in complete agreement with me. You’re staying at our house until June. We won’t have it any other way.”
“By June, you might feel differently.”
“Well, if I do, you’ll be going home then anyway, so it won’t matter, will it?”
Adam ended the discussion there. He climbed in the carriage and told Elliot they were ready to leave. Rice and good wishes showered the couple as the carriage pulled away. The next day, after seeing his father and Hoss off on the train, Joe did as Adam had told him to, and canceled the arrangements he’d made to rent a room in a boarding house a block from the temporary school.
Adam and Laddie returned from their honeymoon looking happy and well rested. School started the following week. There never was a time when Adam told Joe to “get lost,” but maybe that’s because Joe made sure the newly married couple had plenty of time alone. On some days he stayed later at the school, and he spent numerous Saturdays doing things with the boys in his class, and even escorted several of Boston’s eligible young women around the city. Because he wasn’t going to make Boston his home, Joe didn’t allow himself to grow serious about any of the women, but he wouldn’t deny he’d missed the enjoyment of a lady’s company – in the many ways a man might define that – during the past six months.
Despite three adults living in the same house, two of them newlyweds, things went smoothly on the home front that winter and spring. When Adam and Joe had occasion to exchange heated words, Laddie always managed to tactfully put an end to their disagreement, while allowing both men to retain their pride.
The end of May seemed to arrive all too quickly that year. Thanks to funding from the state of Massachusetts, wealthy men like Edward Brockington, wealthy alumni of the institute, and donations, the new school was under construction on the exact spot where the old school had stood. If things went as planned, it would be ready for the students upon their return in September. If progress were delayed for some reason, the children would return to the temporary school until their new one was ready for them.
The last day of school found the students having a picnic on the Brockington estate. One of the wonders that had come with the return of Joe’s eyesight was the ability to see all of the things he’d only been able to imagine, based on descriptions given to him. The Brockingtons’ Victorian mansion was just as sprawling and luxurious as he’d pictured it to be, right up to the peaks of its two, fourth story turrets, and the large verandas that spanned the front and back of the house. Joe had even played golf with Edward a few times that spring, when he’d wanted to give Adam and Laddie some privacy. He found himself to be fairly skilled at the game now that he could actually see where he was hitting the ball. It might have even grown to become the kind of “gentleman’s game” Joe would have enjoyed had he planned to be a Boston businessman, instead of a Nevada rancher.
Joe hadn’t been sure of how to tell the boys in his class that his eyesight had returned, or if he even should tell them. But both Laddie and Adam thought he should give them that news within a day or two of the winter term resuming, so he took their advice. All the boys expressed their happiness for him. None of them appeared to be jealous, except for Caleb. Although it wasn’t really jealousy Joe sensed from the boy, as much as he sensed sadness. The first few times Joe tried to discuss it with Caleb, the boy had turned away and said woodenly, “I’m happy for you, Mr. Cartwright. I really am.” But finally on one snowy February Saturday when Joe had taken the boys sledding, he got the chance to talk to Caleb alone. They were standing together by the fire Joe had built so the boys could warm theirs hands and feet when they needed to.
As Joe warmed his own hands over the flames, he said, “It must not have been easy for you to hear that I got my eyesight back.”
Caleb shrugged. “I told you I was happy for you.”
“I know. And I’m sure you are. But if I were you, I’d be a little sad too, because I’d want it to be me who could see again.”
That seemed to be what Caleb needed – permission to admit that he wanted the same miracle Joe had gotten. He buried his face in Joe’s coat and cried for the eyesight he wanted so badly, but would never have again. After that, little by little and day by day, Joe watched Caleb come to better terms with his lost vision, and watched too, as the boy who had arrived at the institute as a ten year old, turned eleven, and in so doing, seemed to leave the child behind, while making way for the young man he’d eventually grow to be.
Now, on this last day they were to have together as teacher and student, Caleb sought Joe out while his fellow schoolmates played games and ate ice cream. They walked together across the grounds of the Brockington home in a direction that took them away from the other students and teachers.
“I wish you weren’t leaving, Mr. Cartwright.”
“Sometimes I wish I wasn’t leaving either, Caleb.”
“I want you to be my teacher again next year.”
Joe smiled. “Even if I did come back next year, I wouldn’t be your teacher, son. I’d be teaching the new boys who are coming into the school for the first time.”
“Then I’d just be a new boy again.”
Joe laughed as he placed a hand on top of Caleb’s blond head. “You’re got it all figured out, is that it?”
“No. ‘Cause if I had it all figured out, you wouldn’t be goin’ back to Nevada.”
“Things changed, Caleb. That’s why I have to return to my home.”
“Because you got your eyesight back?”
“So that means you don’t wanna be with us blind kids any more?”
“No, that’s not what it means. It doesn’t mean that at all. It just means that my place is on the ranch I help my brother and father run.”
“Is your father making you go back there?”
“No, he’s not. It’s my choice.”
“Oh. I. . .well, I guess if I got my sight back, I’d wanna live on my pa’s farm too.”
kind of understand then?”
“Yeah,” the boy sighed. “I reckon I do.”
“Caleb, listen to me, you’re going to have a lot of success in your life. I know you are. All it’s gonna take is for you to stay in school – keep coming back to the institute each year – and you’ll be surprised at all you’ll learn, and all you can eventually do.”
“I. . . I’ve been thinking that maybe someday, after I graduate and all, that maybe I can teach the new boys, like you taught me. I can show ‘em stuff, and make ‘em do their lessons, and do fun things with ‘em too, just like you did with us.”
Joe put an arm around the boy’s shoulders. “That sounds like a fine goal. I know you’ll achieve it if you set your mind to it. And you know what else?”
“If that’s still what you’d like to do after you graduate, I’ll put in a good word for you with the headmaster.”
That comment made Caleb laugh. As his merriment died away, he asked, “Will you write me?”
“I sure will.”
school? And when I’m at my parents’ farm, too?”
“But you don’t have to write in Braille any more. How will I read your letters?”
“I’ll write to you in Braille, don’t you worry.”
Joe stopped walking then and reached into the left front pocket of his pants. He pulled out a box and handed it to Caleb.
“Here. I didn’t get any of the other boys a going away present, so keep this between us.”
“What is it?”
“Open it and find out.”
Caleb opened the box and took out a gold pocket watch attached to a chain. After he’d explored it with his fingers, he flicked open the lid and smiled with delight when he discovered the numbers were in Braille. His fingers next traveled over the inscription on the inside of the watch’s lid.
‘May, 1873. For Caleb. Best Wishes Always. From Your Teacher, Joe Cartwright.’
The boy’s arms encircled Joe’s waist. “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. I’ll use it forever and ever. I’ll never want another watch, no matter how old I live to be.”
Joe placed one hand on Caleb’s head, and the other on his back. “You’re welcome. Whenever life seems hard, you read what I had inscribed on that watch and remember that I’m thinking of you, and that I believe in you.”
“I will. I promise I will.”
Caleb held onto the watch with the same reverence some people hold onto a Bible, until their walk brought them back to where the other children were playing. He put the watch in his pocket then, and joined his classmates in a game of croquet.
When the day ended, it was hard for Joe to hold back his tears as he said goodbye to all of “his boys.” Like Joe, most of them would be heading home over the next few days. Though unlike Joe, they’d all be returning to the institute in the fall. Every single boy told Joe they’d never forget him, just as he assured them of the same. His teenagers got him with one final prank by dousing him from behind with a bucket of ice-cold water straight from the pump. Joe stood there dripping and laughing, while trying not to regret his decision to give up his teaching career.
As the line of carriages that were taking the students back to their dormitories pulled away, Joe stood on the sidewalk watching the departure. He glanced to his right when an arm came to rest across his shoulders, and saw that Adam had joined him.
“It’s not easy saying goodbye, is it.”
“No,” Joe shook his head. “Even after everything they put me through, it’s not easy saying goodbye at all.”
“You could change your mind,” Adam said, not able to hide the hope in his voice.
“I could, but I won’t.”
As Joe knew he would, Adam accepted that answer without further discussion. The headmaster patted his brother’s back, then walked away, leaving Joe alone to say a final, silent goodbye to his students.
Another difficult goodbye came Joe’s way three days after the school year ended. He was headed home, eager to board the train, and yet, dreading it at the same time. Boston was a long way from Virginia City. He’d miss having the luxury of Adam’s counsel any time he needed it, and he’d miss the sister-in-law who’d brought so much joy to Adam’s life.
Joe said his goodbyes to Mrs. O’Connell before he, Adam, and Laddie departed for the train station in one of the Brockington carriages. It was only fitting that Joe’s parting mirrored his arrival, which included Elliot doing the driving.
“I’ll miss yeh, Joseph,” Mrs. O’Connell had said tearfully. “I surely will.”
“And I’ll miss you, too.”
“Don’t yeh be fergetin’ to give that Hop Sing fella’ me recipe for Boston Cream Pie that yeh love so much.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t forget.”
“And tell Eric and yer da I said hello to ‘em, and to come back and visit soon.”
“I’ll be sure and do that.”
Joe bent to receive the little woman’s hug, gave her a kiss on the cheek in return, and then followed Laddie and Adam out the front door. He stopped at the gate to bend down and say goodbye to Shakespeare, who had trailed along behind the little group, as though he, too, was mourning Joe’s parting. At least the dog would still have a chance to “work,” as Laddie was now using him for guidance around the house, and for short trips throughout the neighborhood, in the same manner Joe had when he couldn’t see.
When they arrived at the station, Joe shook hands with Elliot and thanked him for the many trips he’d chauffeured.
“It was my pleasure, Joe,” the man said, before walking off to find a porter to take care of the luggage.
Joe say goodbye to his sister-in-law next. He kissed her cheek, and then said softly so only she could hear, “Thank you for making Adam so happy.”
“You’re welcome.” She patted the slight bulge just above her waistline. “Don’t forget to tell your father about our “surprise” as soon as you get home.”
“Oh, I won’t forget,” Joe promised, while silently congratulating himself on all that privacy he’d given his brother and sister-in-law these past few months. Obviously, it had born fruit, in a manner of speaking. “You’ll hear his shout all the way here.”
Joe moved from Laddie to Adam. He stood looking at his brother a long moment, not sure how to put in to words all he wanted to say. “Thank you,” seemed so inadequate, considering everything Adam had done for him.
“Have a safe trip,” Adam said.
“Tell Hoss and Pa I said hello.”
“I’ll do that.” Joe chewed on his lower lip for a second. “Adam, I--”
“You don’t have to say it, Joe.”
“Yes, I do. The only thing is, saying thank you doesn’t seem to be enough.”
“I can never repay you for all you’ve done for me since last summer.”
“And I’d never ask for repayment.”
“I know, but still. . .”
“How about if we just settle on, “Goodbye, brother,” and leave it at that.”
Joe smiled as he stepped forward to give Adam a hug. He patted the man on the back. “Goodbye, brother. I’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too, Little Joe.”
Joe’s smile widened at this form of address Adam so rarely used. It spoke of their history together as brothers, and spoke of the affection Adam couldn’t voice.
When the two men parted, they shook hands, Joe not letting the handshake break until the train whistle blew, and he had no choice but to board.
“I’d tell you to behave yourself,” Adam said as he and Laddie walked with Joe to the boarding platform, “but I know it won’t do me any good.”
“You’re right. It won’t.”
“Stay safe, Joe!” Laddie called over the crowd that was quickly surrounding Joe.
“Have a good trip!” Adam shouted.
Joe was swept up with those boarding the train. When he reached the car a porter directed him to, he chose a seat by a window that faced the platform he’d just been standing on. He soon caught sight of Adam walking along the platform with his wife, his gaze never leaving the train. When Adam spotted Joe, he stopped and said something to Laddie. They stood there holding hands and smiling. When the train finally began to chug away from the station, Adam started waving. Joe waved in return, not halting the motion until Adam was out of view.
Joe settled back in his seat, his eyes never leaving all that was passing by outside his window. After all, the last time he’d ridden on a train, he hadn’t been able to enjoy the scenery. This time, he was determined not to miss out on a single sight as he traveled from state to state.
In many ways, it seemed like years since he’d come to Boston. Maybe it was because so much had happened in such a short period of time, or maybe it was because when Joe left Virginia City last August, he never thought he’d be returning to the Ponderosa for more than just an occasional visit.
As the train traveled out of the city, a porter stopped to ask if Joe needed anything.
“Not right now, thank you.”
“If ya’ don’t mind me a’ sayin’ so, Sir, ya’ seem real happy to be travelin’ with us.”
Joe smiled at the black man. “I am real happy. I’m going home.”
“That be nice, Sir.”
Joe turned to look out of the window again, saying softly as the porter moved on, “Yeah, it is nice. Nicer than anyone can imagine.”
Joe had heard someone claim once, that the wheels of a train seemed to say exactly what you wanted them to as they traveled over the tracks. If that was true, then every mile he traveled west, the wheels said, “You’re going home, you’re going home, you’re going home,” until the day came when Joe saw his first glimpse of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, and knew the wheels were right – he was home.
Joe wasn’t certain if his father or Hoss would be waiting for him when he got off the stage in Virginia City. Estimating a date of arrival when traveling from as far away as Boston, wasn’t an exact science. Joe had wired his father from Omaha, letting him know the train was running on schedule. He hadn’t sent a wire since then, because there hadn’t been any delays to notify Pa about.
As the stage traveled down Virginia City’s main street, Joe spotted a familiar ten- gallon hat. He barely waited for the stage to come to a stop before opening the door and jumping out. Within seconds of Joe’s feet hitting the ground, Hoss was squeezing the life out of him. When the exuberant greeting between the brothers finally ended, Pa took his turn at hugging his youngest son.
“Welcome home, Joseph,” the man greeted with his son firmly encased in his arms.
“Thanks, Pa. It’s good to be back.”
Pa broke the hug and held Joe at arms’ length. “You’re sure about that?”
Joe nodded and grinned. “More sure than you’ll ever know.”
As they got Joe’s luggage from the stage and secured it to the cargo area at the rear of the buggy, they talked of all the things a person would expect after a loved one had just returned from an extended time away. How Joe’s trip was. What kind of progress was being made on the new school building in Boston. How Adam and Laddie were.
“They’re just fine, Pa,” Joe assured. “Happy. Very happy.”
“Well, now, I’m glad to hear that.”
“Yeah,” Joe said, as he finished helping Hoss with the luggage. “As a matter of fact, they’re so happy, you’re gonna be a grandpa come about the middle of November.”
“That’s good new. . .” Pa did a
double take, his right foot falling back to the ground as he was about to climb
in the buggy. “What’d you just say?”
“I said Adam and Laddie are so happy, that you’re gonna be a grandpa--”
“A. . .a grandpa? They’re going to have. . .I’m going to be. . .there’s going to be a baby?”
Joe exchanged smiles with Hoss.
“Yep, there’s going to be a baby.”
“A baby,” Pa said with wonder. “I’m going to be a grandpa. I’m finally going to be a grandfather.”
“Yeah, Pa, you finally are, and the best news of all is, there doesn’t have to be a shotgun wedding.”
“Joseph, that’s not funny.”
“If you had a little more respect for the state of matrimony, you wouldn’t make jokes about something like that.”
“If you. . .”
While Pa carried on about Joe’s views on marriage, Hoss sidled up to Joe, whispering, “Ya’ just had to go and put yer foot in yer mouth not five minutes after gettin’ off that stage, didn’t ya’, little brother?”
“Yeah, but it sure sounds good, Hoss.”
Joe smiled and winked as he climbed in the back next to his father. “ ‘Cause it sounds like home.”
Hoss couldn’t help but smile in return. He got in the front of the buggy, picked up the reins, and headed the rig toward the Ponderosa.
~ ~ ~
Supper that night was a celebration – or so it seemed to Joe. It was just Joe, his father, and Hoss at the table. Candy and most of the hands were camping out on the range since it was branding season, which was fine with Joe. He looked forward to seeing Candy, but right now, on his first night home, he wanted it to be just family.
The conversation skipped from one subject to the next, as Joe’s father and brother caught him up on news of the ranch, and things going on in Virginia City. Likewise, Joe shared news of Boston, trying to remember every message Adam had told him to pass on to Pa and Hoss in the days before he left.
Even Hop Sing seemed in a celebratory mood, as he kept popping in to the dining room, checking to see if Joe wanted anything else. After dessert was eaten, Hop Sing cleared the dishes, saying a final time, “Is good have you home, Little Joe,” before scurrying off to the kitchen.
As the three men sipped at the coffee in their cups, Joe looked at Hoss and nodded. Hoss raised an eyebrow, and Joe nodded again.
Hoss’s eyes traveled from Joe to their father. “Uh. . .Pa?”
“Um. . .Joe and me’s been writtin’ back and forth these past few months, and
he. . .I mean, we, kinda have a few thoughts we wanna share with ya’.”
“Yeah.” When Hoss looked to Joe for help, Joe simply nodded again.
“Um. . .money makin’ kinda thoughts.”
Ben sat back in his chair. “Oh. Money making kind of thoughts, is it? Well now, it’s been my experience that whenever you two have those kind of thoughts, trouble generally follows close behind.”
“Not this time, Pa,” Joe assured.
“Hmmm. Not this time, uh? And just what makes this time different, Joseph?”
“Well, see, it’s like I’ve been telling Hoss in those letters we’ve exchanged. There’s a lot of money to be made by letting people come on the Ponderosa to ride horses, fish, camp, hunt--”
“And just why would we let people come onto the Ponderosa and do those things?”
“Theirs, of course. Our visitors.”
“What if I don’t want visitors hunting and fishing on the Ponderosa?”
“Pa, come on. We own so much land, you’ll hardly know they’re around.
Well. . .except when they stop here at the house to pay me and Hoss, that is.”
“To pay you?”
“Yeah, the fee. To pay us the fee.”
“For camping, fishing, hunting, and riding horses?”
“That’s right,” Joe grinned. “You’ve got the idea.”
“Yeah, Pa,” Hoss agreed with a grin of his own. “You’ve got the idea.”
“Oh, I think I’ve got the idea, all right, and the answer is no.”
Hoss’s smile faded. “No?”
Joe’s smile died too, as he echoed, “No?”
“But, Pa, in Boston people pay a lot of money to do stuff like this. Why, you should have seen some of the crazy things they’d pay for. Hoss and I’ll do all the work, I promise. You won’t have to do a thing. . .except maybe collect money when we’re off being guides.”
“Yeah, you know. Showing people around. For an extra fee, of course.”
“Of course.” Ben took a deep breath. “Joseph, now you listen to me, and listen to me good. I will not have people traipsing all over the Ponderosa like she’s some kind
of. . .kind of. . .kind of . . .”
“In Boston, they call it a tourist attraction,” Joe said helpfully.
“All right then, tourist attraction. I will not have people traipsing all over the Ponderosa like she’s a tourist attraction. Need I remind you, this is a working ranch.”
“I know it is. But see, Pa--”
“No, I don’t see, and I don’t plan to. End of discussion.”
“Joseph, if I so much as spot one tourist on my land, I’ll get out my rifle, and it’ll be your backside that’s riddled with buckshot. Do I make myself clear?”
Joe’s eyes dropped to the table with disappointment. “Yes, Sir.”
Pa looked at Hoss next. “Hoss?”
“Yes, Sir, you’ve made yerself clear.”
“All right then. Now I don’t want to hear any more of it.”
“Okay, Pa,” Joe agreed, looking at his father again. “But what about the water closet?”
“What about it?”
“Hoss and I have been talking about remodeling it.”
“Yeah, so it’s more like the one Adam has.”
“Joe, we don’t have any type of public water system that reaches the Ponderosa, like Adam has in Boston, or a public sewer system, either.”
“I know. But I’ve been reading up on it quite a bit, and if we dig a septic field, and then dig another well, and pipe the water in, and then--”
Ben threw up his hands. “All right, all right. I’m too tired to hear about it at this moment. You two go ahead and see just what kind of remodeling is feasible, but before you tear anything out, or put anything in, I want to approve it.”
“Sounds fair to me, Pa. Doesn’t it sound fair to you, Hoss?”
“I reckon it does.”
Good, let’s get to work then.”
“Work?” Pa questioned. “Joe, it’s getting late.”
“Not too late to do some measuring. Come on, Hoss.”
The two men rushed from the table. Their father shook his head over their enthusiastic departure, and wondered if his water closet would ever be the same again – or even usable, for that matter.
Ben heard the washstand being moved, followed by a crash, and then shattering glass. The man rolled his eyes, easily guessing the washbowl and pitcher had just hit the floor.
“Hoss!” Joe yelled in strangled whisper. “Be careful! What if Pa hears?”
“Well dad burnit, Joe, I thought you was holdin’ onto it.”
“Me? I told you to hold onto it!”
“You did not!”
“Yes, I did! I stood right here and said. . .”
Ben chuckled as the argument continued. Joe had arrived just six hours ago, and it already sounded as though things were back to normal around here.
The man stood, carrying his coffee cup to his leather chair. As he sank into the comfortable old seat, he lifted his cup toward the second floor in way of a toast, and said with a contented smile, “Welcome home, Joseph. Welcome home.”
As dawn broke on New Year’s Day, snow began to fall on the Ponderosa. By the time the Cartwright men finished eating lunch, a fierce northwest wind was driving the snow sideways. Ben was thankful the snow hadn’t started the previous evening, when the house was filled with friends and neighbors on hand to help him and his sons ring in 1874. Everyone left shortly after midnight, which meant their guests had reached the safety and warmth of their own homes hours ago.
The stock had been fed and cared for after breakfast. No one would have to venture out again until late afternoon, when Joe and Hoss would trudge through the snow to do any necessary chores, break ice on water troughs, and check on the animals. Candy and the other hands were in the bunkhouse, either napping or playing cards, Ben surmised. Tomorrow would be a regular working day again. Today, well today was a holiday, and Ben didn’t blame anyone for taking advantage of it by staying inside near a roaring fire.
Ben and his sons rose from the table, all of them headed for their own roaring fire burning in the great room. Before Joe and Hoss could settle down in front of the checkerboard, Ben walked to his desk and took an envelope from a drawer. A letter arrived from Adam two days ago. Ben had put it away without reading it, knowing New Year’s afternoon would be a good time to share it with the boys.
Adam’s old habit of writing to only his father had ceased after Hoss and Joe found out about his missing arm. Now, letters arrived addressed to each member of the Cartwright family, and some, like the one Ben was holding, arrived addressed to everyone.
“Before you boys get involved in your game, I’ve got a letter here from Adam to read.”
Ben walked back to the sitting area, heading for his chair. Hoss sat on the settee, while Joe perched on a corner of the coffee table. Ben slit the envelope open that was addressed to, ‘Benjamin Cartwright and Sons’ and pulled out the tri-folded letter.
He glanced over at Joe and Hoss before he started reading. For just a moment, he was taken back twenty-five years, to a time when his youngest would sit in his lap on a blustery winter afternoon just like this one was, and his middle boy would sit on the floor at his feet, while he read to them from a book, or told them a story of his time at sea, or of his travels west.
Ben was brought back to the present by Joe’s voice.
“Pa. . .the letter. Are you gonna read it to us or not?”
“What? Oh. . .oh, yes. Yes, I am.”
Ben looked down at the ivory paper.
“Dear Family, Happy New Year. Good wishes for a safe and prosperous year to the three of you. All continues to go well here. Elizabeth Josephine seems to grow another inch every day. I look forward to June, when Laddie and I bring her to see you.”
“Poor kid,” Joe muttered. “She’s gonna hate me for that middle name her parents saddled her with.”
Ben stopped reading and addressed his youngest. “There’s nothing wrong with her middle name. You should be pleased that your brother and his wife honored you in such a way.”
“I am pleased, Pa. It’s just that if she’d been a boy, Joseph would have been a good choice for a middle name, I suppose. But Josephine?” Joe wrinkled his nose. “Don’t like that much myself.”
“Well, it doesn’t matter whether you like it or not. Little Elizabeth is Adam and Laddie’s baby. When you have a child of your own, you can name him or her whatever you want to.”
“Yeah, Joe,” Hoss said, “you can name the little shaver after me.”
“Mmmm. A daughter named Hoss. Sure, why not? I guess it’ll grow on me after a while.”
Hoss gave his brother a good-natured shove.
Knowing how his sons could get side tracked when horseplay started, Ben resumed reading before he lost their attention.
“Elizabeth looks quite a lot like Laddie, which means she’s a beautiful baby. Though everyone says she has my eyes and chin. What little hair she has is dark, so if it stays that color, she’ll take after me in that regard, too.
“The new school building is everything we hoped it would be. The children have settled in nicely. Laddie will resume teaching in January. She will bring Elizabeth to class with her, which should work out fine, as Elizabeth is a calm, sweet natured child. Far more like her Uncle Hoss in personality, than her Uncle Joe.”
Hoss beamed with pride. “See, she’s like me.”
“Good thing she didn’t start out weighing what you did,” Joe quipped. “If she had, she’d be the biggest dang baby girl Boston has ever seen.”
Ben smiled slightly as his sons’ bantering, but kept on reading.
“When Elizabeth can’t be in class with Laddie for some reason, she will be with me in my office. As Laddie said, it’s a good thing we teach at a private school. In any other teaching situation, Laddie would have been forced to quit her job. But she loves what she does, and I don’t want her to give it up unless she chooses to. And, of course, I have my own selfish reasons for wanting her to continue teaching. I’d have to find someone to replace her if she didn’t return to her classroom.
“Joe, your boys often ask me about you. Caleb keeps me abreast of the weekly letters you mail him. He is growing into an upstanding young man. He told me of his desire to be a teacher here at the institute some day. In return, I told him that when he’s a little older, we’ll talk about the education he’ll need after he graduates from here. I promised him if he follows through and gets that education, that I’ll hire him.
“Also, Joe, Laddie and I want to thank you for all the work you’ve been doing in order to get a school for the blind started in Virginia City. I wish I could talk you into being the headmaster, but I know what your answer will be, and I understand why. Therefore, Laddie and I are seriously considering moving to Virginia City and running the school ourselves. Since it will be at least another year before the school is ready to be open to students, we have time to get things in order here. I don’t want to leave Boston until I’m certain the school board has chosen the right headmaster to take my place, and of course, I want Laddie to be sure that moving so far from her family is really what she wants to do. She says it is – she says she knows we’ll both enjoy working together as headmaster and headmistress of a school with a smaller student body.”
“Did ya’ hear that, Joe?” Hoss asked. “Adam and Laddie might be movin’ out here.”
“I heard it,” Joe confirmed.
Despite the return of his eyesight, Joe hadn’t forgotten about his thoughts of a school for the blind on this side of the Rocky Mountains. Ever since he’d returned home, he’d been working on getting the necessary financial backing to start such a school. He’d found a building in Virginia City that, given some remodeling, would initially be suitable for the children. At a later date, a new school would likely have to be built, but that need probably wouldn’t come to pass for several years.
“That’s good news, huh, Pa?”
Ben smiled. “Yes, Hoss, that’s very good news. Now let’s see what else Adam has to say.”
The man slipped the top sheet of paper beneath the second sheet, and resumed reading.
“We’ll talk about our plans further with all three of you when we visit in June. I’m eager to see what you’ve found for us, Joe. For a while, Laddie and I will probably live at the school, or very near it. But eventually, I’d like to have a house built on the Ponderosa for us, if that’s all right with you, Pa.
“I must say goodbye now. Laddie tells me that Elizabeth wants her papa to rock her. Oh, and speaking of Elizabeth, she received far too many presents for Christmas from her Uncle Hoss and her Uncle Joe. Laddie says Elizabeth is the only seven-week-old baby in Boston with enough toys to last her until she’s long outgrown playing with toys, and that the two of you are going to spoil her terribly if you keep it up.
“I’ll write again soon. In the meantime, take care of yourselves. Love from, Adam, Laddie, and Elizabeth.”
Ben folded the letter and put it in his shirt pocket. While Hoss and Joe played checkers, he’d write to his oldest son.
For a period of time, the three men sat and talked over the various pieces of news Adam told them, then drifted off to their own pursuits. Ben stood and walked to his desk, as Joe and Hoss set the checkerboard up on the coffee table.
As Ben opened his top desk drawer, he encountered a piece of paper folded in the middle. Without unfolding it, he knew exactly what it was. He’d picked it up off of Adam’s desk a few days after the fire and put it in his suitcase. He’d never told Adam or Hoss where the list went, but then, they’d never asked. They probably assumed he’d thrown it out, or Mrs. O’Connell had done so when she was cleaning. But it hadn’t been thrown out, because for a long time, Ben had harbored the fear that Joe’s eyesight would leave him again just as quickly and unexpectedly as it returned. If that had happened, then Ben wanted this list to refer to.
He slowly unfolded the paper and read the words written on it – all of them painful reminders of a decision that, most likely, would have had a tragic outcome. The memory of those months when Joe was blind washed over Ben. The hopelessness he felt when Joe refused help of any kind, the way that hopelessness transformed to hope when Adam arrived to teach Joe, and then the sorrow he’d kept well hidden when Joe said he was moving to Boston.
However, all of that was now behind them. Joe’s eyesight had returned over a year ago. He’d had no incidents of blurred vision since then, or loss of vision, nor had he suffered any headaches.
As Ben crinkled up the list and
walked toward the fireplace, he knew a man was better off not to question
miracles. He paused in front of the
flames a moment, then tossed the list into them and watched it burn. He turned toward the coffee table when Joe
asked, “What’re you burning, Pa?”
Ben smiled. “Oh, just something I don’t need any more.”
When there was nothing left of the paper but ashes, Ben headed back to his desk. He sat down and spent this snowy New Year’s afternoon writing to his oldest son, while the laughter, joking, and teasing going on between his two younger sons, warmed his home in a way no fire ever could.
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*Many thanks to Jane L. and Wrenny for their time spent beta reading this story. I appreciate your friendships, and your sharp eyes!
*The Boston Institute for the Blind was fictionalized for story purposes. The well-known Perkins Institute for the Blind was the school actually present in Boston during the time period this story takes place.
*Unlike what was fictionalized in this story, it wasn’t until shortly after World War I that the first German Shepherds were trained as guide dogs for the blind, or “seeing eye dogs,” as they were commonly called for many years. And again, unlike what was fictionalized in this story, the name “German Shepherd” wasn’t bestowed on the breed until the latter part of the 19th century/early part of the 20th century. The German Shepherd wasn’t recognized as a pure bred breed until 1919, and then due to tensions with Germany, was referred to as the “Alsatian Wolf Dog” for several years. Prior to World War II, the name “German Shepherd” came into fashion again for the breed. The dogs were highly valued by American and British Armed Forces during the Second World War because of their intelligence, bravery, and loyalty.
*Virginia City didn’t actually exist until 1859. Since the “Bonanza” writers ignored this fact, and made references to the existence of Virginia City during Joe’s boyhood, I chose to go along with their fictional liberties during the writing of this story.
*During the writing of this story, research was done regarding the Transcontinental Railroad, and what was available to the wealthier Boston citizens during the 1870s in the way of indoor plumbing luxuries, as well as other amenities such as natural gas. Research was also done regarding games, “amusements,” and the typical lifestyle led by upper class Americans. Any misinterpretations are – oh drat – solely the fault of the author.