Summary: A WHN for the episode “Pride of a Man.” Joe has one more lesson to teach.
Word Count: 1000
Abby Pettigrew sat with one elbow on the table, chin resting in her upturned palm. With the other hand she absent-mindedly stirred her tea, as oblivious to the sound the spoon made in the cup as she was to her luncheon companion slipping quietly into place unnoticed.
“Beginning to think I’d never get here?” Joe Cartwright asked after Abby failed to acknowledge his arrival.
Abby looked up startled, “what? Oh . . . no. I’m sorry. My mind is a thousand miles away.”
A frown crossed Joe’s brow. “Trouble?”
“May I bring you a beverage, sir?” the waitress interrupted.
“Coffee, black. Abby, do you want more tea?” When there was no response, Joe shrugged his shoulders and crossed his eyes at the waitress.
She giggled and said, “I’ll bring more hot water, too.”
“Thank you,” Joe said, admiring the view as the waitress retreated into the kitchen. When he turned back to Abby, she was staring at him intently.
“What?” he asked, innocently.
“She’s not your type,” Abby said. Although Joe and Abby had courted for a time, the romance eventually cooled. The break up was amicable and they had remained friends, but if truth be told, Abby still cared for Joe. Though it pained her to see him—even casually—admire other women, the fear of losing him altogether was worse than enduring a pang or two of jealousy now and then.
“I have a type?” he asked.
“You’re incorrigible!” Abby threw her napkin at him and laughed.
“That’s my girl,” Joe smiled. “Now, tell me what’s wrong.”
“I’m what’s wrong,” Abby sobered instantly as tears came to her eyes. “School starts tomorrow and I don’t belong there.”
“You can’t be serious! Your students love you.”
“But I can’t reach them like you can. You’re the born teacher, Joe. You accomplished more when you substituted for me last spring than I had all year. You taught Willie and Billie McNab to read, you made Mary, Kathy, Tommy . . . all the students eager to learn.”
Joe remembered those weeks with a grimace. He had been forced into substituting when Abby had fallen off Cochise and sprained her ankle. Everything that could go wrong did: pranks, girls who made cow-eyes him, and fights—including his own fight with a parent! Why was his recollection so vastly different than Abby’s?
“Abby, you’re their teacher. They took what you had already taught them and put together the program on Gettysburg. All I did was guide their efforts.”
“And that’s a gift I don’t have. You made the subject special; not just another lesson. I just don’t have that gift.”
“I don’t believe that for a minute,” Joe said, putting his hand over Abby’s. “What’s really going on here, Abby?”
Abby withdrew her hand from Joe’s and dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief. “My contract is up for renewal. The District Superintendent is coming to observe me in the classroom next week. I know I’m going to lose my job,” she sobbed.
“Oh, Abby,” Joe got up from the table and moved his chair next to hers, putting his arm around her shoulder and giving her a squeeze. It was irrelevant what he thought. What mattered was what Abby believed. How many times have I argued with Pa that I needed to prove myself to myself and not to anyone else. He had to find a way to help her see her own worth as a teacher.
“Adam always said that teaching—or learning for that matter—was like fishing.”
“What?” Abby asked.
“Ya gotta find the right bait! What’s the subject that week?”
“The Constitution,” Abby sighed. “Constitution Day is September 17.”
Joe made a face. Political recitations and rhetoric in Miss Abigail Jones’ classroom nearly drove him to an early grave. “OK. Let’s start with a clean slate. We need a hook and we need bait. Tell me everything you know about the Constitution.”
Joe paid the check, leaving a nice tip and wink for the waitress, and then he and Abby strolled up and down B Street while she spewed facts and figures about the signing of the Constitution. Every time Abby recited a fact, Joe asked “why” and “what if” and “why not” until Abby stopped short with her hands on her hips.
“Joseph Francis Cartwright!” she yelled, stamping her foot. “You are absolutely infuriating. You haven’t paid a single bit of attention to anything I’ve said. You are absolutely worse than any student I’ve ever had!”
“I don’t care about facts and figures. I want to know why. Why does it matter that we have a constitution? What would happen if we didn’t? What would it mean to me personally? To my family? Why should I care?” Joe retorted, raising his voice to match hers.
Abby just stared at him. They were standing in front of Piper’s Opera House when a gust of wind wrapped a paper around Joe’s leg. Reaching down, he saw it was the editorial page from The Territorial Enterprise commenting on the lawlessness and chaos in Gold Flats, a nearby mining town that had sprung up overnight and grew too fast. Without the rule of law, murder and mayhem ensued destroying much of the town.
Joe’s green eyes lit up and he grinned from ear to ear. “What do you have when you don’t have laws?” he said, handing her the paper.
“Anarchy,” Abby whispered.
“Make it real; reel them in,” Joe answered. “Bait and hook.”
Ben Cartwright stood up from the table and tapped a glass with his knife to get everyone’s attention. “Friends and guests, please raise your glasses in a toast to Miss Abby Pettigrew, the new head mistress of the soon-to-be-built Fourth Ward School! Abby, all of Virginia City is proud of you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Cartwright. Thank you to everyone for your support. And thank you most of all to Joe, who believed in me long before I believed in myself.”