Centennial – #4 (by Puchi Ann)

Summary:  Part four of a seven-part series.
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  58,500


CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Adam stared at his brother’s closed door, pondering what to do.  Ordinarily, Joe would have, at least, made an appearance by this time, and if he hadn’t, Adam would have simply barged in and rousted him out.  Today, however, he preferred to let Joe take his time, hoping the extra sleep would improve his mood.  Still, it was getting late.

Opting to show a little more patience, Adam opened the door to the hall and picked up the newspaper delivered there every morning.  He rarely had time to do more than scan the headlines each morning before leaving for a day of activity.  Then, later in the day, he’d read the articles that had sparked his interest.  Today, it looked as though he might have time to read the entire newspaper.  Unrolling the July fifth issue of the Public Ledger, Adam was shocked by the headline blazoned across the page.  He quickly read the article below it, horrified by the tragic loss of life.

The door to Joe’s room finally opened, and Joe came out, fully dressed.  At first, Adam was surprised, for Joe almost always made his first appearance while still in his nightshirt.  Didn’t want to see me before he had to, Adam correctly surmised, saddened by the revelation.  All thought of the lead story in the newspaper fled from his mind as he rose to bid his brother good morning and try to smooth over the quarrel between them.  “Joe, about last night . . .”

“Never mind,” Joe said sharply.  “Let’s just forget it happened, Adam.”

Adam’s dark brows drew together in a straight line.  “I’m not sure that’s the best way to handle it.”

“Well, I am.  Look, I’m sorry I pushed you to talk about things you just don’t want to talk about.  I’ll try not to do it again, so let’s just leave it at that.”  He reached for the straw hat he had laid on the desk the previous night.  “Can we go downstairs now, please?  I didn’t have much to eat last night, and I’m hungry.”

“No guarantees they’ve gotten fresh supplies, you know.”

“Can we just try?” Joe snapped.

Adam threw up his hands, grabbed his black bowler and led the way to the elevator.

When they exited into the lobby, they walked into a caldron of turmoil.  The floor was covered with women dabbing at their eyes with lace handkerchiefs and men excitedly flapping open papers while they discussed some calamity.  Joe managed to catch a word here and there.

“Massacre!”

“Hundreds dead!”

“Custer’s a fool, didn’t have a chance.”

“Old Sitting Bull caught ‘em napping, sure enough.”

Joe looked up at his brother.  “What’s going on?  You know?”

Adam nodded soberly.  “Yes, I read about it this morning.  Apparently, General George Armstrong Custer attacked the Sioux near the Little Big Horn in Wyoming about ten days ago, and his entire force was wiped out.  Four hundred men against four thousand—they didn’t have a chance.”

Joe paled and his body swayed.  “You don’t think it’ll start a general uprising, do you, Adam?”

Adam noted the sudden pallor, the visibly shaken stance, but not understanding the reason for his younger brother’s evident distress, he simply answered the question factually.  “Hard to say, I guess.  The Sioux’s success might motivate other attacks.”

Joe swallowed hard, and his eyes were anguished as he asked, “The Paiutes?  Would they . . ?”

“Good lands, no!” Adam cried in sudden comprehension.  He drew Joe into a quiet corner.  “I didn’t mean it could reach that far, boy.  Besides, the Paiutes learned long ago what the Sioux soon will, that one victory only leads to later defeat when your foe outnumbers you a thousand to one.  Pa and Hoss are just fine, Joe.  Don’t worry about them for a minute.”

Joe nervously twirled the hat he was holding.  “Could we check?  I mean, ten days, Adam—anything could have happened in ten days.”

Adam ran a soothing hand over the boy’s chestnut curls.  “Joe, there’s no need.  They’re fine.”  Then, seeing his brother’s face tighten, he relented.  “All right, buddy, if it’ll ease your mind, we’ll send a wire.  You should have an answer by tonight.”

Joe exhaled with obvious relief.  “Thanks, Adam.  I know you think it’s a waste of money, but—”

“No, not at all, Joe,” Adam assured him kindly.  “I’m glad to do it for you.”  He placed his hands on the boy’s slim shoulders.  “Now I want you to do something for me: put the worry aside and come along with me to the Exhibition and enjoy yourself.”

“Don’t seem right, somehow, with all those men dead,” Joe murmured, looking away.

Adam pulled his brother’s face back toward him.  “Depriving yourself of pleasure won’t do anything to help them.”  He gave the smooth cheek a soft pat.  “Come on.  Let’s head straight there, and if they aren’t still completely out of food, we’ll sample the pastries at the Vienna Bakery for breakfast.”

It was an enticing offer and, despite his agitation, Joe smiled a little.  “You still tryin’ to pretend I’m Hoss, that a good meal will make me forget everything that bothers me?”

“No, although you’ve been doing a pretty good imitation at the table, buddy,” Adam returned drolly in a deliberate attempt to lighten the kid’s spirits.  Joe’s broadening grin told him he’d been successful.

“Not as many people out today,” Joe remarked as they rode a horse car toward Fairmount Park.  “I guess the ones from out of town probably went home.”

“And the Philadelphians with sense are probably lying in their beds,” Adam chuckled, “as we might well do if we didn’t have such a tight schedule.”

Joe grinned back.  “You in bed this late?  That I’d like to see.”

“Almost as rare a sight as you awake this early,” Adam retorted with a smirk.

When they reached the Centennial grounds, Adam directed Joe to turn east on Elm Avenue.  Joe was a little surprised at that choice of entrance until he recalled that the Vienna Bakery lay on the eastern edge of the enclosed grounds.  When Adam moved past the last gate, however, Joe was totally perplexed.  Then he saw the circular building of corrugated iron, a hundred yards outside the fence, and flashed a wide grin.

“I didn’t give you a chance to look at this the other day,” Adam said, “so I’d like to make up for that now.”  He bought two tickets and walked inside with Joe.  They climbed the stairs to the central platform and began to look at the vast panorama painted around the circular interior.  The besieged city of Paris was depicted with life-like accuracy, and Joe carefully scrutinized the images of the Seine River and the Arc de Triomphe, as well as every street and lane of the city with which he felt such kinship, even though neither he nor his mother had ever been there.

Adam touched his brother’s arm to get his attention.  “I’m through here,” he said, “but you take as much time as you like.  I’ll go over to the Main Building and send that telegram to Pa and meet you on the porch of the bakery.”  He set no time limit, trusting hunger to insure that Joe didn’t dawdle overlong.

“Thanks!” Joe said and immediately turned back to gaze intently upon the city once more.

Predictably, Adam was already sitting on the porch, which surrounded the building on all sides, when Joe finally walked up the curving path toward the Vienna Bakery.

“What did you think of The Siege of Paris?” Adam asked when Joe joined him.

Joe smiled.  “I liked it, except for those Prussian soldiers, trying to get in.  That picture at the Colosseum did a better job of making me feel like I was there, though.”

“I agree,” Adam said.  “Ready for breakfast?”

“Oh, yeah, starving!”

“Let’s go inside then.”  As they entered, Adam said, “It’s not actually representing Austria, you understand.  The bakery is really an exhibit of Gaff, Fleischmann and Company, to demonstrate their compressed yeast.”

“So why call it the Vienna Bakery?” Joe asked.

“Because the attached café is supposed to be like those in Vienna, and they bake Vienna bread here.  I intend to try the Vienna coffee.”

“Guess I might as well, too,” Joe tittered.  “Can’t be worse than that Turkish brew.”

Adam chuckled.  “No, I think I can safely predict that we’ll both enjoy this more.”

On inquiry, the Cartwrights learned that a shipment of flour, yeast and other ingredients had been delivered by train in the night, so there were plenty of fresh pastries for the hungry men.  Joe declared them perfection and the coffee quite satisfactory, though different from the kind to which he was accustomed.  Adam heartily agreed.

“So, where do we start this morning, big brother?” Joe inquired, cutting off another bite of iced coffeecake.

“You won’t like it,” Adam warned with a smile.

Joe groaned.  “Oh, don’t tell me— not more educational exhibits.”

“More and still more,” Adam responded dryly, hiding his mirth in his coffee cup.

Joe signaled the waiter.  “I’m gonna have to fortify myself with more coffee,” he informed his brother, “and maybe another pastry.”

“Oh, by all means, we wouldn’t want you to leave one empty corner in that greedy belly of yours,” Adam scoffed.

Fortified with pastry and coffee, Joe followed Adam toward the first torture chamber of the day, the Swedish schoolhouse.  It turned out not to be torture after all, but an attractive model of a typical public school building, constructed from native woods of Sweden and brought to the United States in sections.  Though unpainted, the wood had been polished ‘til it gleamed.

“Beautiful,” Adam whispered.

“Yeah,” Joe agreed.  “This is the way a building ought to look, built of warm wood, not the cold stone they use so much back here in the East.”

“Stone can be warm and beautiful, too,” Adam argued.  “You can’t tell me some of the buildings in Philadelphia haven’t taken your eye.”

“Yeah, they’re all right,” Joe conceded, “but I still like this better—and the Ponderosa better yet.”  A cloud crossed his countenance as the name of the ranch reminded him of his concern for those at home.

Caught up in his admiration of the simple architecture, Adam didn’t notice.  “Shall we go in?” he asked after taking in every detail of the structure’s exterior.

“Huh?  Oh, yeah, sure, can’t wait,” Joe muttered.

The interior looked much like any schoolroom in any land, rows of desks filing the length of the single room, students’ papers covering all four walls.  Joe pointedly ignored them and stood staring out an arched window, his mind three thousand miles away, until Adam was ready to leave.

Their next stop was a single-story Gothic pinewood cottage.  Architecturally, it suffered by comparison with the Swedish schoolhouse, but inside was something of far greater charm than the paperwork displayed in the other building.  An alcove for spectators was set at the side of the large hall, and Adam and Joe filed in behind other visitors, and each took a seat to watch a demonstration of the teaching techniques of Frederick Froebel, who called his school a kindergarten, a garden for children.  Tiny rocking chairs circled a low table in the center of the room, and sixteen little scholars between the ages of three and six were already at work, if it could be called work.  Their teacher, Miss Burritt of Boston, was helping them play educational games with cubes, blocks and cylinders, and when that task was completed, she led them in songs.

When the demonstration concluded, Adam and Joe and the other observers went outside to see the children’s gardens.  Each had his or her own plot, where vegetables, flowers and even a tree were planted and their growth regularly observed.  As the Cartwright brothers turned toward the next building, Adam asked if such a system might have given Joe a better introduction to school.

“Maybe,” Joe said with a shrug.  “Have to admit the little tykes looked like they were having fun.”

Fun was definitely not on the agenda at the Pennsylvania Educational Department, although its architecture was interesting, even to Little Joe.  The building was circular, with a dome rising from the center of the roof.  Entering the south door, he and Adam came into a large central hall, which opened into an outer corridor encircling the building.  The corridor was divided into sections, one devoted to each level of schooling available in the state.  Starting to their right, the Cartwrights saw another exhibit of Froebel’s kindergarten materials.  Though attractively displayed and more complete than what they’d seen in the last building, no rosy-cheeked cherubs graced this exhibit.

Section by section, the Cartwright brothers worked their way through the Sunday school, primary, secondary, grammar, high school, normal school and college displays, ending with the University of Pennsylvania.  “Doggone it, Adam,” Joe protested, “I saw the real thing.  Why do I have to look at all these blamed papers?”

“You watch your language,” Adam growled ominously.

“Yes, Pa.”  Joe’s sarcastic sneer faded as soon as he mentioned his father, and he turned away quickly so Adam wouldn’t see the tears threatening to destroy all pretense of manhood.

Released from educational torment at last, Joe pointed out a soda water stand across the road.

“Running up the food tab again, eh, little brother?” Adam chuckled.

“It’s hot, Adam!” Joe snapped, reaching into his own pocket.

Adam grabbed Joe’s wrist and pulled his hand from his pocket.  “I’m just teasing, Joe.  I don’t begrudge you fifteen cents worth of refreshment on a hot day, for goodness sakes.  Now, which flavor do you want?”

“Root beer,” Joe said curtly.

With a shake of his head, Adam ordered a Hires root beer for Joe and a ginger ale for himself.  “Better?” he asked when Joe had quaffed his drink.

“Much,” Joe muttered.  “Thanks.”

Adam lifted an eyebrow.  He wasn’t used to such laconic responses from his loquacious little brother, but he chalked it up to disgruntlement with educational exhibits and discomfort from another scorching day beneath a sun that gave no respite.

Continuing east along the same path, another building came into view, and when Joe saw its name, he stopped abruptly, folded his arms and refused to budge.  “No, absolutely not.  I am not looking at a bunch of boxes for dead people!”

Adam laughed and agreed that they could pass up the Burial Casket Building.  “I’m not going to pass that one up, though,” he said, nodding toward the Public Comfort station at the end of the path.

“Me, either,” Joe agreed with a grin, and they went inside briefly to relieve themselves.  “End of the road,” Joe said when Adam rejoined him outside.  “Where now, big brother?”

“Let’s take a look at the hunter’s camp, down in the ravine,” Adam suggested.

Joe perked up immediately.  “That sounds fun.”

“Yeah, I thought you might approve,” Adam snickered, grasping Joe by the nape of the neck and heading him toward the path that led down into Lansdowne Valley.  Each step seemed to take them away from the bustle above them into a world more familiar, a realm of woods and streams like that in which the Cartwright brothers had grown up.

Finally, they came to the camp erected by Forest and Stream Publishing Company of New York, where professional hunters stood before log and bark huts, explaining techniques of hunting and fishing to people who had lived in cities all their lives.  It was all the Cartwright brothers could do to keep from laughing out loud at the foolish questions some of the visitors asked, which each of them could have answered by the time he entered grammar school.  They went inside the hut for a few minutes to see the hides, horns and stuffed poultry, but there wasn’t anything they hadn’t seen before, except the snow-white coat of an albino skunk, the only one known in America.  After a brief look at the collection of firearms, rods and lines, specimens of game birds and kennels of sporting dogs, the Cartwrights, both feeling a bit nostalgic, were ready to climb out of the ravine.

They paused a few minutes at the edge of the camp, where a stream had been developed into a little lake and stocked with fish for the angling demonstrations being performed for an ignorant public.  “Either one of us could teach those professionals a thing or two,” Adam chuckled.  “Still, it was a nice touch of home.”

“Yeah, home,” Joe murmured wistfully, with a trace of tension underlying the words.

As they arrived back in “civilization,” the Cartwright brothers came to a music stand, where musicians were just tuning up to begin a concert.  “Why don’t we sit down and listen for a while,” Adam suggested.  “As much as we’ve been on our feet the last couple of days, I can use the rest.”

“Sure, that’s fine,” Joe agreed.

The music was pleasant, and the trees in the valley provided enough shade to make the benches surrounding the stand a cool place to relax for half an hour, the duration of the concert.  The interlude was so soothing, in fact, that Adam almost drifted off to dreamland, and Joe had to nudge him when everyone else stood up to leave.

Making their way further up to the main Exposition grounds, the boys moved toward Agricultural Avenue, stopping before a state building on the side path.  “Delaware?” Joe inquired.  “What does that have to do with you?  Have you been everywhere?”

Throwing back his head, Adam laughed.  “Scarcely everywhere.  No, little brother, this time my interest is purely architectural.  I just want to look at the building a minute or two; then we’ll move on.”

“Okay.  It is kind of nice.  Umm, Gothic?”

“Norman Gothic,” Adam replied, pleased that Joe had recognized the style.

“I like the way the front porch pushes out and has the same shape as the tower over it,” Joe observed.  “Makes it look like a castle.”

“Yes, it definitely adds interest to the plain walls,” Adam agreed.  He walked toward the building down a central path divided by a diamond-shaped flowerbed and pointed out other diamond-shaped beds on either side.  “Can you guess why they’re shaped that way?”

Joe shrugged.  “‘Cause Normans like diamonds?”

“No,” Adam snickered as he turned the boy around to walk back to the main road.  “Delaware is the ‘Diamond State.’  It’s in honor of that.”

Joe shook his head in dismay.  “You know everything,” he sighed.

“Guidebook,” Adam admitted, eyes twinkling.  “I told you to read it each night before we came.”

“Oh, sure,” Joe scoffed.  “We had lots of time yesterday to lay around and read.”

Adam clapped his shoulder.  “No, I admit it was a full day.  You’re excused this time, my boy.”

Joe scowled.  “Thanks all to pieces.”

Adam squeezed the boy’s shoulder a couple of times and then released it.  “Okay, maybe you’ll feel more genuinely thankful if I offer to feed you.  Now, if you want a full meal, we’ll have to walk a ways to find it.  If a little light refreshment would suffice for the time being, the Dairy’s just next door.”

“I’m not all that hungry,” Joe admitted.  “I know it’s past noon, but breakfast was sort of late this morning.”

Adam nodded.  “Just what I was thinking.  So, how about a glass of milk or a dish of ice cream?”

“Or both,” Joe suggested with a grin.

Adam rolled his eyes.  “Or both.”

The Dairy was housed in a lightly framed pavilion, open on all sides, with only a striped awning to shield its guests from the bright noonday sun.  Bounding up the short flight of wooden steps, Joe took a seat and promptly ordered a dish of vanilla ice cream and a tall glass of fresh milk.  Adam, sliding into the seat opposite him, chose just a glass of buttermilk, and both brothers soon felt cooler, inside and out, for a soft breeze blew through the open framework and across their sweat-beaded brows.

The conversation trickling from surrounding tables was less refreshing.  Most of it concerned the massacre of Custer’s Seventh Cavalry at the hands of the “savage Sioux,” as most of the anxious voices termed the Lakota.  A few people alleged that the reports were false, that the United States Cavalry couldn’t possibly have been caught off guard so badly, General Sheridan’s name being mentioned as one who discounted the early reports.  Most, however, considered the “red menace” all too real and advocated that stern measures be taken to punish the savage beasts who had killed—and most likely scalped and mutilated—the Civil War hero’s cavalry unit.

Little Joe jerked his chair back.  “I’m finished if you are,” he said sharply.

Adam’s eyebrows knit together with concern.  “Yes, I’m finished.  Joe . . .”

Joe stood up and moved briskly toward the exit, and Adam followed at once.  “Are you all right?” he asked solicitously.  “Maybe we should have gone for a real meal, instead of more sweets.  Pastry, coffee and ice cream—I haven’t done too well by you today.”

“No, the food’s fine,” Joe said.  “I’m just ready to see something else.”

The words didn’t match the strained tone with which they were uttered, but Adam decided to take them at face value.  After all, Little Joe had always been a kid who couldn’t sit still and even now, as a young man, he seemed to crave constant activity.

Leaving the Dairy, Adam led Joe across Agricultural Avenue to a knoll on which stood the government building of Brazil, pleasingly painted in shades of brown, yellow and red.  “Oh, magnificent!” Adam cried when he saw the octagonal building, whose spacious porch and bay windows on all sides except the front kept the structure from a strict mathematical precision that would have diminished its charm.  A smaller turret of roughly the same shape rose from the center, the broad roof of the porch below serving as an attractive, railed promenade.  “I’d like to go inside this one,” he announced.

“Sure,” Joe agreed with a shrug.

They walked through a garden landscaped with Brazilian plants, up the short stairway and across the wide front porch to enter a long central hallway, running the length of the building.  The hallway opened onto two rooms, one on either side.  Adam and Joe went into the one set aside for visitors and found a pleasant reception hall, its walls covered with gold paper, embellished with vines and flowers, and its floor covered with plain, but tasteful furniture.  At the rear of the room, a stairway led to the turret, which contained four rooms.

While Adam examined the finer details of the turret’s interior, Little Joe walked out onto the promenade.  It offered a fine view of the Exposition grounds, but with his thoughts far away, Joe couldn’t enjoy it today.

Adam came to his side as he stood leaning on the low rail surrounding the promenade.  “I’m ready to see the GermanBuilding now,” Adam said.

Joe straightened up, though his shoulders still slumped forward.  “Okay,” he sighed.

Catching sight of Joe’s drawn face, Adam reached out to touch his arm.  “You look tired.”

Joe merely nodded, but as he scrutinized the boy’s face more closely, Adam realized that more than simple weariness was etched across that taut countenance.  “What’s wrong, Joe?  And don’t put me off, as you did back at the Dairy.”

Joe shrugged, not comfortable admitting what was tugging at him so strongly he could think of little else, a concern he was certain Adam would only belittle for its childishness.  “Just tired, I guess.  I don’t suppose you’d hear of me going back to the hotel by myself.”

“Not on your life!” Adam hooted; then he sobered as he saw Joe blinking back the moisture in his eyes.  “Now, if you’ll tell me what the real problem is,” he said gently, “maybe I can help.”

Licking his lips nervously, Joe took a deep breath and murmured, “I guess I’d just like to see if Pa answered that telegram.”

Suddenly, Adam understood; suddenly, he realized that his little brother had been carrying this worry all day, letting it eat away at him through each passing hour.  “I thought we agreed that you would put that out of your mind and enjoy yourself,” he said, laying a supportive hand on the boy’s slim shoulder.

Joe’s face contorted as he fought for self-control.  “Well, I tried, Adam, I really did, but, doggone it, there’s not much to enjoy in more architecture and more educational exhibits, and my mind just keeps drifting back to . . .”

Adam tightened his grip on the boy’s shoulder.  “Okay, I understand.  Let’s go back to the hotel.”

Facial muscles tight, Joe shook his head.  “Look, Adam, I don’t want to spoil your good time.  You can stay here; I promise I’ll go straight back to the hotel and that’s all.”

“No,” Adam said firmly.  “We stay together.”  Seeing Joe’s eyes flare with anger, he made an attempt at reconciliation.  “Look, we’ve had a full schedule the last few days, and I’m feeling tired, as well.  We’ll check on the telegram, rest up awhile and maybe take in a play or concert tonight.  How does that sound?”

Joe looked up, his eyes warm with appreciation.  “Great, real great, Adam.  I know you think I’m actin’ like a fool kid, but—”

“No, just a worried one,” Adam said kindly.  “Let’s get out of here.”

Joe nodded gratefully and set a lively pace toward the main entrance.  As far as he was concerned, they couldn’t get back downtown fast enough, and the horse car seemed inordinately slow today, although it took its accustomed half hour to make the drive.  When they finally got off, Joe jogged down Chestnut Street and ran to the hotel desk.  “Any telegrams for Cartwright?” he asked, gripping the edge of the counter.

The desk clerk checked the cubbyholes behind him.  “No, sir, but there are two letters, one each to you and your brother.”

Joe stared at them, but made no move to take them.  “Just letters, no telegram?”

“No, sir.”  The spectacled young man gazed with concern at the hotel guest’s agitated face.  “No trouble, I trust, sir?”

“No, no trouble,” Adam assured him, taking the letters.  “Come on upstairs now, Joe.”  He steered his brother into the elevator, where he rubbed the back of the boy’s neck.  “You know how long it takes to ride out to the Ponderosa,” he consoled.  “There just hasn’t been time for the message to get there and for an answer to return here.”

“Maybe the wires are down,” Joe fretted.  “Maybe the Indians chopped down the poles.”

“Don’t borrow trouble, boy,” Adam said firmly.  The elevator opened, and they walked down the hall to their suite.  Unlocking the door, Adam guided his brother inside.  “Now try to relax,” he urged.  “I’m sure that telegram will be here by suppertime.  Look, here’s a letter from Hoss, addressed to you.  Sit down and read it.”

Joe smiled, weakly, but opened the letter and read his other older brother’s description of activities taking place on the ranch.  Much as he enjoyed what Hoss had to say, however, he couldn’t escape a morbid fear that he was reading his best friend’s final words.  When he’d finished the letter, he folded it carefully and tucked in into his shirt, close to his heart.  Then he reached for that morning’s issue of the Public Ledger.

Adam grabbed it first, holding it out of Joe’s reach.  “Unh-uh, not ‘til you’ve heard from Pa.”

“Aw, come on, Adam.  Ain’t like everybody at the Centennial today wasn’t talkin’ about it.”

“No,” Adam dictated firmly.  “You are not going to spend the afternoon working yourself into a deeper and deeper depression.  Go read the guidebook to the Centennial.  We’ll be going to Memorial Hall tomorrow, so prepare yourself for that.”

“Aw, Adam!”

“Do it!”  Adam snapped his fingers for emphasis.

Joe snatched the guidebook from the desk in the corner and, taking it into his bedroom, flopped down on the bed and tried to concentrate on the facts and figures about Memorial Hall.

About an hour later Adam heard a tap on the door and went to answer it.  “Telegram, sir,” said the uniformed messenger boy.

“Thank you,” Adam said, handing a coin to the youngster.  Shutting the door, he glanced up to see Joe standing in the doorway to his room.  “You want to open it?” he asked, holding out the telegram.

Joe shook his head.  “You read it.”

Nodding, Adam tore open the envelope and scanned the brief message.  He smiled across the room at his brother and began to read:

 

ASSURE JOSEPH ALL WELL STOP

RELAX STOP

HAVE FUN STOP

MISS YOU BOTH STOP

PA FULL STOP

 

“Satisfied?” Adam asked.

Joe was beaming, and his relieved smile spread from ear to ear.  “Yeah—and starved.  Can we eat early?”

May we eat early?” Adam corrected with a teasing wink.  “Yes, we may.  Since we didn’t actually eat dinner, I can just imagine the dent you’re going to put in my pocketbook tonight!”

“How’d you guess?” Joe snickered, heading for the door.

Adam took hold of his brother’s neck as he passed and gave him a light shake.  “Oh, I have great faith in you, little brother, great faith.  Just don’t overdo it, because we’ll probably want to catch a bite after the theater, too.”

“Oh, no doubt about it.”  Joe tossed his brother an impish grin.  “Which theater we going to?”

“Fox’s American, just up the street,” Adam replied as they walked toward the elevator.  “It’s the closest, and I’m too tired to walk further than I have to.”

They rode the elevator down and entered the dining room, where Joe made good his promise to drain his brother’s pocketbook.  Then, with satisfied stomachs, they walked three blocks north to the theater to enjoy a light-hearted comedy.  Over dessert and coffee, they laughed at the funnier lines of the play and afterwards walked back to the hotel in happy-hearted companionship.

It was the last such walk they would share for weeks to come, for the storm clouds that had been building in the distance were rushing closer.  They would begin to break the next day, and by the day after that, the Cartwright brothers would find themselves caught in a tempest whose fury threatened to sunder their companionship forever.

*****

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Little Joe awoke with a groan and a general feeling of uneasiness.  The room was almost black, though had he been outside, in an area whose view was not obscured by tall buildings, he might have seen the first tentative touch of a rosy dawn on the eastern horizon.  Inching up on the mattress, he hunched over his knees and bit his lower lip to stifle another groan, his face relaxing into a relieved smile as soon as the spasm passed.

He’d been dreaming, a dark nightmare in which he rode at the side of the famous yellow-haired general of the Seventh Cavalry toward a suspiciously familiar trio of men hopelessly surrounded by Sitting Bull’s painted warriors.  As he charged through a hail of sharp-tipped shafts, one had struck him in the gut, and it came as a comfort to wake and discover that he was not the victim of a Sioux arrow, but merely of a garden-variety bellyache.

Joe sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and leaned his head into his hands.  Well, looks like older brother was right, though I’ll never hear the end of it if I tell him.  Better watch what I eat a little closer from now on.  He sighed, thinking it a shame that he’d have to curtail the sheer pleasure of sampling all the new and unfamiliar foods of Philadelphia, but he had to admit he’d probably been overdoing it, especially yesterday.  After having little but sweets during the day, he’d eaten a supper far heavier than usual and after the theater had capped that with a dessert so rich it was almost sickening.  While Joe had always had a healthy appetite at home, here it had been—what was that word Adam kept using?—prodigious?—yeah, that’s what it had become, and now he was paying the price of his intemperate exploration of culinary diversity.

Joe stumbled over to the open window, hoping a breath of air would make him feel better.  It did, slightly, so he crawled back into bed and curled up on his side, finally falling into a restless sleep.  It seemed like only minutes later, though the sun was well up, when Adam shook him roughly and roused him with the usual barb about Sleeping Beauty.  The groan that passed Joe’s lips was so typical of his normal reaction to being awakened from a sound sleep that Adam never gave it a second thought, and that’s just the way Joe wanted it.  The last thing he needed was another lecture from his older brother, so he just staggered out of bed, washed and dressed and followed Adam down to the dining hall, trying to look ready to face the day.

Ordering only a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, Joe reacted grumpily to the skeptically arched eyebrow with which his brother greeted the selection.  “What’s your problem?” he demanded.  “It’s one of the cheaper things on the menu.”

Shaking his head, Adam chuckled.  “Which is precisely what makes me wonder why you’re choosing it.”

Joe grunted and gave up all hope of avoiding a lecture.  “Ate too much last night, I guess.  Just not hungry this morning.”

Adam sported an I-told-you-so grin.  “Well, it’s about time your appetite returned to normal.  Any chance this salutary behavior will last the full day?”

Joe’s upper lip curled, almost into a snarl.  “Yeah, I’ll try to go easy on your pocketbook today, okay?”

Adam continued to smile.  “My pocketbook thanks you.”

Eager to change the subject, Joe said, “We’re visiting Memorial Hall today, you said.”

“And I don’t want to hear a single complaint from you,” Adam admonished.

“What makes you think . . . oh, never mind.”

Breakfast arrived, and Adam heartily dug into his ham and eggs, while Joe found that he didn’t have much appetite, even for oatmeal, leaving nearly half of the cereal in his bowl.

Noticing, Adam merely said,  “I don’t want you asking me for popcorn balls halfway through the morning.”

“I won’t ask you for anything,” Joe growled, lurching to his feet.  “Let’s go, all right?”

As they walked toward the streetcar stop, Adam observed that Joe wasn’t his usual perky self, but he attributed it to the weariness of packing so much into each day or, more likely, disinterest in the artistic offerings scheduled for this particular day.  He assured himself, however, that the uncultured boy had to be exposed to fine art, even against his will.  It’s for his own good, and in the long run, he’ll thank me for it, especially, he added with a grin, when we reach the French gallery.

When the streetcar careened around a corner, Joe touched his hand to his stomach, wondering whether he’d be able to keep the oatmeal down.  He was feeling just a touch queasy, but his stomach seemed to settle down again as soon as he left the moving car at the main entrance to the Centennial grounds.  After Adam handed the gatekeeper their tickets, Joe made a beeline for the Bartholdi fountain and washed the sensation of bile from his mouth, while his brother waited, bemused.  Though the day promised to be another hot one, the temperature wasn’t high enough yet to account for Joe’s apparently urgent thirst, but Adam just shrugged off the inconsequential mystery.

Turning to the right, the brothers walked down the broad Avenue of the Republic, past the Carriage Annex to the building directly north of the Main Exhibition Hall.  Adam took Joe’s arm to halt him before they entered.  “I know you’re probably tired of hearing my lectures on architecture, but I do want you to take special note of this building, Joe.  Unlike the temporary structures here only for the Exhibition, it’s intended to be a permanent memorial to the Centennial.”

Joe nodded.  “It’s about the prettiest one on the grounds, so I can see why they’d want to keep it.”

“It’s one of Schwarzmann’s personal designs,” Adam said, his admiration obvious.  “The style is Modern Renaissance.”  He sang at length the praises of the building overlooking the Schuylkill River a hundred feet below, pointing out the square pavilions at each corner, the arches and columns of the entrances and the four-sided dome, with a zinc statue of Columbia rising from its center.  In fact, some figure, either soaring eagle or classical symbol, graced every corner of each of the building’s projections.  At the base of the dome, four seated forms represented the four corners of the globe, while standing statues honored Industry and Commerce on the south front, which the Cartwright brothers were viewing.  “There are similar figures on the north side, representing Agriculture and Mining,” Adam informed his brother.  “We’ll see them later.”

“Uh-huh,” Joe muttered perfunctorily.

Adam’s brow wrinkled.  “Don’t you think Memorial Hall is a superb work of art in itself and a suitable backdrop for the masterpieces it exhibits?”

“Uh-huh.”

Adam shook his head at the plain hopelessness of instilling an appreciation of architectural beauty in his brother, not realizing that the real distraction was the nagging ache in Joe’s belly.

As they mounted the wide steps, with shrubbery-lined banks on either side, Joe pointed to one of the two bronze sculptures flanking the top step.  “I do like those, Adam,” he said, trying hard to demonstrate interest.

Adam took one look at the statues of Pegasus, being held in check by the Muses Erato and Calliope and laughed.  “Oh, you would!  Females and fillies always catch your eye.  What’s the matter, little fellow, missing Cochise?”

“Oh, shut up,” Joe growled, in no mood for teasing, especially when the joke was one he’d heard before.

“They are impressive pieces,” Adam stated, choosing to ignore Joe’s ill temper.  “They were originally intended for the Imperial Opera House in Vienna, but were considered out of scale for that building.  A Philadelphia man, who happened to be traveling in Austria at the time, saved them from the melting pot and bought them for Fairmount Park.”

“Uh-huh.”

Adam threw up his hands and with a shake of his head moved toward the iron doors, which were decorated with bronze panels showing the coats of arms of all the states and territories.  Hand gingerly touching his side, Joe followed him into the vestibule, where a crystal chandelier shone down on a setting of classic beauty, as open and airy as the piazza of a Roman villa.  Above a wainscoting of colored marble stretched walls of pure white, with bronze and marble statues set against them.  The Cartwrights dutifully stopped to examine each one, although Little Joe seemed to barely glance at most of the pieces.  Guess I was wrong about his having artistic flair, Adam mused.  Not displaying a drop of it today.

At the east and west sides, doors led into the gardens, but Adam moved through one of the three arches on the north, which led into the central gallery.  Sales stands surrounded the sides of the large room, and he stopped at one to purchase a catalog of the exhibits.  He saw no need to buy opera glasses and didn’t want to take time to look at the photographs for sale until he’d seen the original works.  “We’ll probably buy some later,” he told Joe.  “That would be the best way to share the art gallery with Pa and Hoss, don’t you think?”

“I guess so,” Joe murmured; then seeing Adam’s frown, he lifted his head and responded more brightly, “I mean, yes, that’s a good idea.”

Adam nodded and moved toward the center of the room.  “I wish they had painted the walls something other than plain white,” he commented.  “It doesn’t make the best background for marble statuary.”

“No, it kind of blends right in,” Joe agreed.

“This one stands out, at least,” Adam said, leading the way toward the centerpiece of the main gallery.  Flooded by light from the overhead dome, a terra cotta group represented America as a woman crowned with eagle feathers, on the back of a buffalo.  She was attended by four figures, depicting the major sections of the New World.  A virgin wearing a belt of stars personified the United States, while Canada’s representative was dressed in furs and pressed the rose of England to her heart.  An Aztec chief symbolized Mexico, and South America was embodied in a man wearing poncho and sombrero.

“Not bad,” Joe said, since Adam appeared to be waiting for some kind of comment.

Adam chuckled.  “Good enough for the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park, London!  This is a copy of the sculpture there.”

Feeling criticized, Joe flushed.  “I like real folks best, like that one.”  He pointed to a group of statues on the south side of the hall.

Remembering all the classical figures on the porcelain and pottery Joe had admired in the Main Building, Adam raised an eyebrow.  Of course, those had been nudes, which might explain Joe’s adolescent interest.  Though amused, Adam decided he would have to start where the kid was, artistically, and see if he couldn’t, somehow, pull him a step closer to fine art later on.  With a sweep of his hand, he directed Joe toward the statues he had indicated.

The first was a life-size figure of Samuel Morse in the act of sending the first telegram, and beside it stood a bronze of statesman Robert R. Livingston of New York.  For all his professed preference for “real folks,” however, Little Joe gave the statues scant attention, soon wandering over to a gigantic one of Prince Bismarck, which stood at the portal to the German gallery.  “You wanna start here?” he asked, though seemingly without any particular interest.

“Let’s see the American exhibits first, shall we?” Adam suggested.

The knowing smile on his brother’s face irritated Joe.  “Oh, ‘cause you think other places are better and you’re savin’ them ‘til last?”

Adam folded his arms and stared at the petulant face before him.  “Was I wrong about the Main Building?”

Joe shrugged.  “Guess not.”

“Then let’s do this my way, shall we?”

Though formed as a question, it was obviously meant to be a rhetorical one, yet Joe responded anyway, with another rhetorical question.  “Is there ever a choice?”

Adam rolled his eyes and led the way, trying to figure out what was bothering his younger brother.  The kid was obviously in a sour mood today, but Adam could see no reason for it.  Although he’d known Pa and Hoss were in no danger, he had understood the concern Joe felt yesterday.  Surely, that wasn’t still worrying him.  No, Joe had been fine at the theater the night before—laughing, light-hearted, truly himself again.  Well, sometimes there was just no understanding Joe; he could swing from light-hearted laughter to volatile anger to soft sentiment, all in the space of half an hour.

Deciding patience was the best way to handle Joe’s unaccountably touchy attitude, Adam explained his reason for viewing the American section first.  “I’m starting here because this exhibit is the largest and probably treats subjects of greater familiarity to you.”

Joe shrugged one shoulder.  “Okay.”  Suddenly, his eyes fell on the mammoth painting covering the entire end of the American gallery.  “Hey!  Look at that.”

Adam groaned when he saw what had grabbed his younger brother’s attention, Rothermel’s painting of the Battle of Gettysburg.  Naturally, Little Joe would be drawn like a magnet to the one piece of art Adam had no interest whatsoever in viewing.  Art?  No, the painting was not worthy of the name, not in the eyes of any critic with reasonably good taste.  The public, however, apparently loved the canvas, which was little more than a mass of bloody bodies of dead and wounded soldiers.  People were crowded around it, and pushing through them, Joe studied it intently, as if searching for his brother in the battlefield scene.  “Where were you, Adam?”

Adam slumped.  More questions.  Would the kid never let it drop?  “I didn’t pose for this atrocity,” he muttered dryly.

There was pain in Joe’s eyes, the same pain Adam had seen before when he’d tried to evade his brother’s unending questions.  “No, I meant when you were there,” Joe said.

“I know what you meant,” Adam said, his voice hushed.  He brushed his hand toward the canvas.  “Somewhere to the left; I can’t pinpoint the exact spot, especially not from a painting this bad.  Now, may we move on to less gruesome subjects?”

Joe nodded, tight-lipped, upset with himself for having violated his vow to avoid this subject so painful to his older brother.  Besides, although the pain in his belly had subsided to a dull ache, he didn’t really have the energy to do battle with Adam this morning.  He moved toward another historic canvas, this one called Miles Standish and the Indians, and forcing a cheerful grin, he asked, “You got anything against this one?”

Adam chuckled.  “Only that it’s another large, bad painting.  See how coarse the colors are, how wooden the figures.”  Seeing Joe’s blank expression, he started to think that he should have started with the best art in the world, instead of the literal, almost photographic representations the American artists seemed to favor, so his brother would have something with which to compare these remarkably poor pieces.

He revised that opinion when he saw Joe gaze, enrapt, at two excellent marine views by Edward Moran.  “The colors are better in these, don’t you think?” Joe asked, almost timidly.

So he had been listening!  “Yes, these are well done,” Adam agreed.

“Makes me think of Pa,” Joe whispered wistfully.

Ah, so that’s it, Adam decided.  The kid’s suffering a severe attack of homesickness, probably because he spent so much time thinking about Pa yesterday.

“I guess you remember scenes like this from when you lived back on the coast, huh?”

Certain he’d diagnosed the cause of his little brother’s dispirited mood, Adam draped a supportive arm across the boy’s shoulders as they viewed The Coming Storm over New York Bay.  Waxing a bit nostalgic, he said, “Yes, I’ve seen a storm rush in over the same bay, and this painting captures the essence of that moment well.  You’re developing a better eye already, little brother!”

Joe shrugged out from under Adam’s arm.  “I know I don’t have your education in such things, but I’m trying, Adam, and I wish you wouldn’t twit me so much.”

The words hit Adam with the force of a blow to the breastbone.  “You’re right,” he admitted with genuine contrition.  “This is a new experience for you, and I should let you take it in at whatever level you can.  I apologize.”

Joe smiled warmly at the words he almost never heard from his older brother.  He realized Adam only made an apology when he meant it, and Joe treasured such words all the more for their rarity.

Adam again placed his arm across his brother’s shoulders, and this time Joe let it stay.  “You’ll probably enjoy the work of this artist’s younger brother, too,” Adam said, turning Joe toward a nearby set of paintings.

“Oh, wow,” Joe gasped as he caught sight of Thomas Moran’s Mountain of the Holy Cross.  “That has got to be about the most beautiful picture I’ve ever seen!  It’s so—so grand.”

“Yes, a splendid capture of mountain grandeur,” Adam agreed.  “An exquisite work.”

Joe’s gaze kept swinging from the paintings of one Moran brother to the other, as though he were making a futile attempt to decide which he preferred.  “Wish we could take them home,” he said finally.  “I could stare at them for hours.”

“Good art has that effect on a person.”  Adam patted his brother’s shoulder.  “Like to indulge you—and myself—little buddy, but the price would be rather steep, I fear.  Besides, marvelous works like these should be in a museum, where hundreds can appreciate them.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Joe said, hand resting against his right side.  “It would be selfish to hog something like that all to yourself.”

Adam chuckled, giving the boy’s neck an affectionate stroke.  “Come on, kid.  There’s plenty more to see.”

“Nothing I’ll like better; I can tell you that now!”

Adam started to rebuke the narrow interest, but caught himself just in time.  No sense apologizing and then turning right around and committing the same offense.  Besides, the kid was probably right; nothing else was likely to touch Joe as forcefully as these scenes reminiscent of home.

The next painting evoked the first laughter of the day from Little Joe.  Eastman Johnson’s The Old Stagecoach portrayed a group of children hard at play with a red stage that had lost its wheels.  Every role, from driver to passenger to the team of four horses, was filled by energetic children, and Joe had obviously identified with their spirit of frolic.  “Hoss and I used to play stagecoach when we were kids, while you were back east.  Wish we’d had a real stage like this, though.  Just a worn out old buckboard for us.”

“Ah, but I would guess the power of imagination transformed it into the finest Concord ever built,” Adam suggested with a smile.

Joe grinned, trying to picture Adam letting his imagination run wild like that, but he just couldn’t.  To say what he did, Adam must have had that capacity somewhere inside, at least as a child, but Joe just couldn’t hold such an incongruous image in his mind.  Adam and play just didn’t go together—had never gone together.  No, Adam, in his younger brother’s view, was always linked with work.  Maybe it wasn’t a fair picture.  Maybe it wasn’t just war secrets Adam hadn’t shared, but better times, as well.  Before Joe could pursue that thought, however, another wave of discomfort hit his stomach, and his attention riveted on keeping a secret of his own.  He didn’t even object when Adam pulled him away from Johnson’s other painting, Old Kentucky Home, whose scene of Negro life in the South clearly evoked for Adam more memories he preferred not to relive.

Both brothers were more comfortable again, Joe physically and Adam emotionally, when they viewed a painting by Martin Heade.  On the California Coast suggested a scene with which both were familiar, but the artist’s extraordinary use of light created a landscape of eerie allure, giving the familiar a feel totally new.  “I suppose you’d like to hang this one on your wall, too,” Adam teased, wanting to bring the smile back to his brother’s face.

Joe shook his head.  “No, I like it, but not as much as those sea scenes by Moran.”

Adam nodded.  “More grandeur, more power.”

Just when Adam had begun to believe that only nostalgic landscapes could hold his brother’s attention, Joe surprised him by looking with delight at the portrait of a mother and son called Tantalizing.  It caught the image of a charming child, arms and head impatiently stretched forward, as he strained to grasp a bunch of grapes held just out of reach.  For a moment the scene reminded Adam vividly of Marie’s struggles with a very young—and very inquisitive—Joe, and Adam wondered if a similar childhood memory lay behind his younger brother’s appreciation.  He seems to need an emotional tie to truly enjoy art.

Adam’s conclusion seemed demonstrated by the next painting that caught his little brother’s eye, for Elaine surely stirred the memory of a favorite childhood tale.  Adam could remember reading to Joe about the Knights of the Round Table and the Lady of Shallot, depicted here on her death barge, holding against her heart a letter to her love, Sir Lancelot.  Evidently, the passion of that story still resided within the youngest Cartwright and increased his enjoyment of the canvas.

“Nice?” Joe asked hesitantly.

“Nice,” Adam affirmed.  “I saw this painting when it was exhibited in San Francisco in April of last year, and I thought then that it would create a lot of interest.”

Joe’s interest, however, appeared to be waning.  What is it with this kid? Adam pondered.  One minute he’s completely enthralled with some majestic scene and the next it’s like he’s not even in the building.  But, then, Joe had always been quixotic in temperament, so Adam shrugged off the impression, especially when the six landscapes by Albert Bierstadt again lit a spark in his brother’s eye.  Adam had to laugh when Joe’s dreamy gaze lingered long on Spring in California, a bucolic landscape, complete with cows grazing on a grassy knoll bestrewn with red, purple and yellow wildflowers.

Hearing the laughter, Joe glanced up at his brother.  “You don’t think it’s good?”

“No, it’s wonderful,” Adam said quickly.  “It’s you that amuses me, kid.  I’m afraid if I don’t get you out of the American department soon you’ll develop an overwhelming case of homesickness.”

Joe smiled softly.  Home—Adam had no idea how good that sounded right now.  Home—where Pa would set all things right, including a persistently irritable stomach.  He followed Adam without really seeing the next several paintings until he felt his brother touch his arm.

“This might be you and your friends in the schoolyard,” Adam commented lightly.

Joe looked up and smiled at the painting by Winslow Homer.  Snap the Whip, with its chain of barefoot boys running, hand in hand, across a grassy lawn, did, indeed, remind him of schoolyard games.

“You’ve seen this artist’s work before, of course,” Adam commented.  Smiling at Joe’s puzzled expression, he continued, “In the pages of Harper’s Weekly.  He’s one of their chief illustrators.”

Joe smiled then, for like all the Cartwrights, he had always looked forward to the arrival of the weekly paper with its well-drawn woodcuts of topical events, although the news was usually a couple of weeks old by the time Harper’s Weekly reached Nevada.  He’d be sure to check the illustrators’ names in future copies to see if he could spot a familiar one.

Since Joe had enjoyed seeing historic sights around the city, Adam thought that his younger brother would savor the patriotic portraits displayed nearby, but Joe only nodded absently when shown several of Washington, along with others of John Adams and Andrew Jackson.  And when the painting of General George Meade did not inspire a single query about the Civil War, Adam shook his head in wonder, though he was secretly relieved.  The Spirit of ’76 by Archibald Willard, with its stirring scene of drum and fife against the Stars and Stripes in a cloudy background, inspired a little more interest.  When Adam expressed the opinion that he didn’t think the painting well enough done to generate much enduring attraction, though, the comment brought only a token nod from Little Joe.

When they reached the end of the American department, Joe surprised his brother with a request to go out into the garden for a while.  “You’re not tired already, are you?” Adam inquired.  “We have a long way to go, just in this building.”

Joe glanced away and muttered defensively, “Like you said, we’ve been keeping a full schedule.”

“All right, all right,” Adam responded with a conciliatory tone.  “I don’t have any objection—just surprised, that’s all.  Guess your youthful exuberance doesn’t include fine art, eh?”

“No, I like the pictures just fine,” Joe said, as they walked into the courtyard.  “Just wanna sit a few minutes.  No need to make something of it, Adam.”  He wasn’t being entirely truthful.  Though he was tired, Joe mainly hoped that some fresh air would make him feel a little less queasy.  He was feeling better than he had earlier that morning, but every now and then a flutter of nausea would ripple through his stomach.

“Be my guest, little brother,” Adam chuckled, gesturing toward a bench.  He sat down next to Joe, and for a few minutes both brothers enjoyed the floral fragrance of the garden and the small collection of statuary and vases scattered amongst the greenery.

“Now to see some of the best paintings in the exhibition,” Adam observed when they walked back inside.

“Hmm?”

“The British gallery,” Adam explained.  “Not to dampen your patriotic zeal, little brother, but I’m afraid what you’ve seen thus far will simply not rise to the standard of what lies ahead.”  When Joe made no response, Adam cocked his head and said with a taunting grin, “What?  Can’t I even get a rise out of you today in defense of your country?”

“That why you said it, to get a rise out of me?” Joe grunted.  “Don’t you ever get tired of pickin’ at me?”

“Sorry, guess I was doing that again,” Adam admitted, “but you’re just not yourself today, buddy.  Not still worried about Indians attacking the Ponderosa, are you?”

Joe gave his lower lip a nervous nibble.  Letting Adam think that was definitely preferable to admitting the truth, but he didn’t want to lie.  “No, I reckon they’re fine.”

The slight hesitation that preceded the statement, however, was enough to convince Adam that his little brother was still feeling concern, but trying to hide it.  Better go easy on him the rest of the day, he concluded, and he was careful to avoid any hint of teasing as he said, “We’ll start first with the more modern English painters.”

“Okay,” Joe murmured in reply, but neither the works of Sir John Gilbert, Frederick Layton, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema or a wall full of portraits by various other British artists induced a single comment from him.

Arriving at a painting by William Powell Frith, Adam made a deliberate attempt to stimulate some interest in the boy at his side.  “The Railway Station is supposed to depict the arrest of a notorious forger at the moment the continental train is departing,” he said, but as he’d done with all the previous paintings in the English department, Joe merely nodded.  Just a hopelessly provincial little American boy, Adam concluded.

Not until the brothers stood before a full-length portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart did Joe make any comment.  “Funny, but I do like this one better than the ones by the American painters.  You’d think we’d know more what our first president looked like than the redcoats.”

“Hush,” Adam hissed, looking around to see if any British visitors had overheard the ill-conceived word.  “Don’t use labels like that.”

“Okay, okay, no offense meant,” Joe said with a quick touch to his side.  “I was just saying this one makes old George look more—well, statesman-like, I guess—than the American ones.”

To Joe’s surprise, the serious observation was met by laughter from his older brother.  “Well, I didn’t think I said anything that stupid,” Joe mumbled.

“No, not at all,” Adam assured him, resting his hand lightly on the boy’s shoulder.  “I was just remembering something Inger said once when Pa called Washington ‘old George.’  She didn’t think it was respectful to refer to the father of our country that way!”

A wistful smile touched Joe’s lips, for he always felt privileged when Adam shared anything about his childhood.  “You’re lucky, you know, knowing her.  All me and Hoss know is what you and Pa tell us—and that’s not an awful lot, especially for Hoss.”

Adam’s face grew still in reflection.  “I used to do that some when he was small.  Maybe you’re right; maybe I should talk to Hoss more about his mother, share those simple memories of childhood.”

“Yeah,” Joe said, the pain fading as he put his thoughts on someone else.  “I mean, I’ve got some memory of my mother, but Hoss doesn’t have any.”  He stopped in sudden realization.  “Well, I guess you don’t, either—of yours, I mean.”

“No, none at all,” Adam admitted with a touch of bitterness.  Although he said no more, he couldn’t help thinking that his memories of his other mothers were, at best, bittersweet.  Marvelous memories, but so many feelings of loss tied up with them.  Joe, who had known only the one great loss in his life, couldn’t possibly understand, Adam told himself, so, as always, he kept the memories and their associated feelings to himself.  Probably the real reason I haven’t shared more with Hoss—or Joe, either—about their mothers.  Like all those other memories of ‘back then’ that Joe keeps pressing for, the good ones come laced with pain.

Between the two English rooms the Cartwright brothers passed through a corridor, which was largely devoted to watercolors.  Adam gazed a long time at a painting called Interior of the Sistine Chapel.  “Now, that’s something I’d like to see in person.”  Turning, he saw a frown on his younger brother’s face.  Assuming it arose from the fear, expressed before, that his older brother might leave home again, Adam hurriedly added, “Just another dream, I suppose.  I don’t have any real plans for traveling aboard.”

Joe, who had quickly dropped the hand touching his stomach when Adam turned toward him, made no response but a forced smile.

With a shake of his head, Adam turned into the northwest gallery, which housed the works of Britain’s deceased artists.  “Now, here’s a literary scene you should be familiar with,” he said, pausing before a painting by Daniel Maclise.

Joe blinked.  “Hmm?”

Adam took a deep breath and made another attempt.  “It’s the banquet scene from Macbeth.  I know you’ve seen that staged.  Lady Macbeth is encouraging her husband to murder Duncan, and you can see how Macbeth cowers back from the ghost of Banquo in the forefront.”

“Uh-huh.”

Adam rolled his eyes.  Was the kid being deliberately obtuse today, for some reason known only to himself, or was instilling an appreciation of culture in Joe simply as hopeless an effort as persuading him to attend college?  Spotting a painting crowded by Centennial visitors, Adam moved toward it.  Perhaps a work with such popular appeal would interest his unpredictable little brother, too.  The painting turned out to be another by Frith, this one The Marriage of the Prince of Wales.  “Here’s another by the artist who did The Railway Station, Joe.”

Joe looked up, for he had admired the energy of Frith’s other painting.  This one was just as populated with well-drawn figures, but the setting in the great cathedral was one of pomp and splendor, in contrast to that of the bustling railway station.

“Queen Victoria herself loaned this painting to the Exhibition,” Adam said, “a good example of the generosity of many who have entrusted these great works to our keeping.”

“Yeah, it really was nice of her,” Joe replied.  “I can see how she’d hate to lose that, it bein’ her boy and all.”

“A family treasure—and a national one,” Adam agreed.

Leaving the British department, the Cartwright brothers moved into a long gallery on the west side of the building.  Spain, one of the two countries exhibiting in that hall had sent only a few paintings, several of them with Christopher Columbus as their subject.  Joe gave them the briefest of glances, but he did try, for Hoss’s sake, to pay more attention to the paintings from Sweden, which shared the gallery.  The most prominent painting displayed there was Hockert’s Burning of the Royal Palace at Stockholm.

Adam felt some concern as they viewed a couple of paintings whose subjects were drawn from Viking legend.  The Viking Fleet, for instance, could not help but recall memories of Hoss’s Uncle Gunnar once again, though perhaps more for Adam than for Joe.  Come to think of it, Adam reflected, Pa probably never told Joe about Gunnar’s dream of a Viking ship sailing off into the sunset.  All of us kind of skirt around mentioning anything about Gunnar to the boy.  Probably for the best.

That same protective impulse made Adam direct his younger brother toward safer ground with the paintings of Baron Otto Hermelin, the Swedish Commissioner in charge of the Art Department.  “What do you think of this, Joe?” he asked, indicating a scene called Winter Day in the Neighborhood of Stockholm.

“I like it,” Joe said with a smile, “and this one, too.”  He pointed to a work entitled The First Snow.

“You always did look forward to the first snow of the season,” Adam recalled fondly.  “The rest of us would have been content to bundle up by the fire, but not you.  You just had to throw snowballs and build snowmen and drag your sled out of the barn the first time the ground was covered.”

“Someone had to save you from taking root in the front room,” Joe muttered.

“I suppose so,” Adam chuckled.  “One more small room, here in the southwest corner, and we will have finished this half of the building.”

With a nod, Joe walked into the small gallery, bathed in rosy light from the windows of American stained glass.

“Norway’s collection in the Annex is larger,” Adam observed.  “I think her better paintings are there, as well.”

“Nothing wrong with these,” Joe said.  He was standing in front of two marine scenes by Hans Gude, A Fresh Breeze on the Norwegian Coast and Calm in Christianfiord.

Adam smiled.  “Thinking of sailing off again?” he teased.

“No,” Joe said bluntly.

Adam drew in a long, slow breath.  Grumpy again, as he had been off and on all morning.  Well, it was drawing toward noon, and the kid had eaten a much lighter breakfast than usual.  Maybe it was plain ordinary hunger making Joe such a bear.  “You about ready for dinner?” Adam asked.

“I guess so,” Joe said with an uncaring shrug.  He was hungry, although a little scared of putting anything into his touchy stomach.  Maybe it would help, though, if he did give it something to chew on besides itself.  He perked up a bit.  “Yeah, Adam, I’d like to eat.  What’s close?”

“Unless you want a big meal, I thought we’d have sandwiches and coffee, maybe a confection at the Vienna Bakery.”

“I don’t want a big meal,” Joe said quietly.

“Let’s head out the north door then,” Adam suggested, “maybe look at the galleries near the entrance as we leave.”

“Sure, whatever you say.”

Deciding not to delay dinner long enough to see everything between them and the exit, Adam, instead, paused at the entrance to a small gallery just to the east of the north door.  “We won’t stay long, but I do want you to see the work of Auguste Rodin.  He’s living in Brussels now, so he’s exhibiting with the Belgians.”

“Uh, what is he really?” Joe asked as they entered.

Adam smiled.  “He’s French, like you, Joe, and shows great promise, from what I’ve read.”  As he had expected, Joe brightened immediately at the mention of his French heritage.

It was not Rodin’s sculptures, however, that excited the greatest attention from the Cartwright brothers in that room.  Both were drawn forcefully toward the life-size marble by Charles Fraiken.  A Mother and Her First Child revived particularly poignant memories for Adam, for the chubby child in the mother’s arms reminded him of Hoss as a baby.  The mother looked more like a Roman matron than like Inger, but the look of love in her eyes was the same his Swedish stepmother had bestowed on her son—and on me.  There was always room in Inger’s heart for anyone who needed love—Pa, Hoss, me, even my motherless friend Jamie.  On second thought, though, Fraiken’s sculpture reminded Adam more of his second stepmother than his first.  “That’s the way your mother used to look at you,” he murmured, “like no one else was in the room.”

Catching the hint of envy in his brother’s voice, Joe said, “I’ll bet your ma looked at you that way, too.”

Adam pinched the bridge of his nose.  “Maybe.  I’d like to think so, but I lost her too young to have any memory at all.”

Joe frowned, recognizing in Adam an attitude that had bothered him whenever it reared its infrequent, but irritating head.  “It wasn’t different for me.  I was young, too, Adam—not as young as you, but—”

“I know,” Adam interrupted, again with that trace of self-pity in his tone, “but you have witnesses to tell you about your mother.”

“So do you,” Joe insisted.  “Don’t you and Pa ever talk about stuff like that, Adam?”

Adam appeared to find the ceiling enormously interesting.  “Not much.  My fault, I suppose, more than Pa’s,” he murmured.

Touched now by genuine sympathy, Joe’s expression softened.  “Oh, Adam, you should.  It would do you good.”

Uncomfortable with the pity in Joe’s voice, Adam rebuffed him gruffly.  “Oh, what would you know?  You’ve had it easy, kid, in just about every way there is.”

Joe’s eyes filled with hurt, but he just bit his lip as another ripple of nausea left him without energy to argue.  If he’d felt up to it, he probably would have tried to make his older brother understand that just because Adam had grieved for three mothers, while he’d only lost one, didn’t make that one loss any less hard to bear.

Sliding into the bentwood chairs at the Vienna Bakery, the Cartwright brothers both placed an order for a ham sandwich and coffee.  “It’s good coffee,” Adam commented when their meal had been served, “but it should be at twenty-five cents a cup!”

Joe abruptly set the creamer down after realizing that he had already poured more thick cream than usual into his cup.  “I wasn’t going to have more than one, anyway.”

“And I wasn’t chiding you,” Adam said.  “You sure got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, boy.”

“Guess so.  Sorry.”

Adam rolled his eyes.  The kid had turned laconic on him again, and he couldn’t fathom why.

Joe nibbled at his sandwich, concentrating so intently on just getting it down that he made almost no contribution to the conversation at the table.  He managed to eat it all, though, and discovered, happily, that the food did seem to settle his stomach.

“I’m going to try one of their ice cream confections,” Adam said.  “You?”

“No, thanks,” Joe said, not wanting to push his luck.

Adam laughed.  “You really meant it when you said you’d go easy on my pockets today!”

“Well, if you’re so eager to spend money on me, I might take another cup of that two-bit coffee.”

With a nod Adam gestured for a waiter, ordering another coffee with extra cream for Joe and a log cabin constructed of ladyfingers and ice cream for himself.

Fortified with coffee and confection, the Cartwright brothers cut across the lawn toward Memorial Hall.  “I thought we might visit the Art Annex this afternoon,” Adam suggested.

“What’s the difference?” Joe asked.  “It’s just an overflow from the main building, isn’t it?”

“Well, yes,” Adam conceded, “but most of the sculpture is in the Annex, and I thought it might be well to see a good mixture today.”

Joe frowned, for he had been enjoying the paintings and saw no reason for a sudden break from Adam’s established routine of seeing everything in a systematic order.  However, though he did feel better than he had before eating, he still wasn’t up to an argument, especially over something as foolish as which piece of art they saw next.

Adam grew animated as they approached the entrance to the building directly behind Memorial Hall.  “The work of the most famous sculptors of Florence, Rome, Bologna and Milan is represented here, Joe.”

They began with the works of Emanuele Caroni.  “He’s Professor of Fine Arts at the academy in Florence,” Adam declared didactically.  “This piece seems quite different from the rest of his work shown here.”

“Don’t know; ain’t seen ‘em,” Joe said.

Adam shook his head.  “We just passed . . . never mind; I’ll point them out soon,” Adam said.  “Now, will you please pay attention?”  He indicated again the sculpture of a seated woman, clad only in feathered headdress and skirt, hugging one bent leg.  “L’Africaine supposedly reveals the workings of the mind of a betrayed woman.  See how her eyes burn with passion?”

“If you say so,” Joe muttered.

“If you’d get your eyes off her bare breasts for five seconds, little brother . . .”

“Fine,” Joe snapped.  “I’ll just put them on this little piece, instead.  Shouldn’t be anything about it for you to worry about!”

Adam looked at the sculpture of a young child entitled First Sensation of Cold Water and smiled.  “Well, that off-the-shoulder look is a tad risqué, and she is pulling up her skirts,” he said, lips twitching.

Joe groaned.  “I give up; you could find fault with anything.”

Adam scratched the nape of his brother’s neck.  “Just teasing.  Caroni really captures children’s expressions well, doesn’t he?”

Joe nodded.  “Yeah, I see what you mean.  Like this one.  Almost makes me shiver just looking at her.”  He indicated another marble by the same artist, this one called simply Cold.  The way the little barefoot girl huddled up in her thin apron conveyed the concept in a heart-rending picture of frigid misery.

“Now, I know you’re bound to like this one,” Adam observed, pointing out a statue of a lovely woman, sending a carrier pigeon into flight.

“Teasing again?” Joe asked flatly as he turned to look at Love’s Messenger.

“Just a bit,” Adam said, pleased to see that Joe was taking the light ribbing more easily than he had earlier.  “I was mostly serious, though.  I thought this piece might please you because it is supposed to portray a young woman separated from her lover during the Siege of Paris.  The carrier pigeon is her only way to send him her message of amor.  I was sure the romance of that would appeal to you.”

Joe smiled.  “The Siege of Paris, huh?  Yeah, it appeals to me—and so does she.  Quite a looker.”

Adam gave him a smug nod.  “Yes, I was sure you would notice.”  He was equally sure that Joe had noted the way the sleeves of the nightgown dropped off both shoulders down to the level of her breasts, implying, without explicitly revealing, the young lady’s feminine allure.  “Well, before you get too lost in the lady’s assets,” he suggested, again in a light, teasing tone, “perhaps it would be better to cool your ardor with a nice patriotic statue or two.”  Taking Joe’s arm, he directed him toward two companion pieces by Romanetti, each showing an early American hero in his youth.

Joe laughed when he saw little George Washington with his legendary hatchet.  “There they go, rewriting history again!  Why the wooden whistle for Ben Franklin?” he asked.

“Oh, I suppose, to presage his inventive spirit and interest in how things work,” Adam mused.  “We’re probably supposed to assume he carved it himself.”  He noticed a large group of people gathered around a nearby statue and walked over to see what objet d’art was garnering such interest.  A single glance at Forced Prayer by Pietro Guarnerio told Adam why Centennial visitors found this sculpture so engaging.  Like him, they had no doubt viewed in their own homes a figure like that of this sulking boy in the nightshirt, being compelled to say his bedtime prayers.  Adam laughed in delighted recognition.  “He reminds me of you, little buddy!”

Joe grimaced, the expression making him look even more like the little sculpture’s twin.  “Aw, come on.  I always said my prayers, good as gold.”

“Only because you had so much to repent of at the end of each day,” Adam teased, “and, believe me, there were nights you had to be forced.”  Joe scowled as if the jest had left a vile taste in his mouth and walked toward the next sculpture, hand on his side.  Shaking his head, Adam followed, at a loss to explain his brother’s wide mood swings.  Joe had seemed pleasanter since lunch, but now he was prickly as a cactus again. Dealing with him was like moving through a maze of Saguaros; sooner or later you were bound to brush up against one of their two-inch spines.

The brothers toured through the Italian department without a single comment from Little Joe, and all Adam’s attempts to inspire the boy’s interest met only with a cursory nod.  Just when Adam had decided nothing could arouse Joe again, they came across a sculpture that hit his younger brother with more force than any yet.  “Whoa!  Get a look at that!” Joe cried, staring in amazement at the voluptuous figure portrayed in Philadelphia artist Howard Roberts’ La Première Pose.

Adam moaned, pressing his fingertips to his forehead.  Of course, it would be a nude woman that caught Joe’s wanton eye!  This one, unlike other figures that had been gracefully draped, displayed every enticing curve and showed the nipples pertly peaked.  Adam quickly shushed his brother’s exuberance.  “It’s intended to make you appreciate the beauty of the female form, not to arouse your lust,” he hissed.

“Oh, I appreciate it, Adam.  You’d better believe I appreciate that!”

Rolling his eyes, Adam let him gaze for a while at the tempting form, but when Joe showed no inclination to move on—ever—Adam hooked his arm to drag him away.  “Somehow I think your desire to linger here has nothing to do with artistic appreciation, boy,” he said sternly.

The minute he approached the next section, though, Adam knew he was only leaping from the frying pan of adolescent arousal directly into the raging fires of blazing ardor.  “Just my luck,” he muttered, shaking his head when Joe glanced quizzically up at him.  The French, with their love of the female form, would provide literally unending opportunities for Joe to gawk at naked women.

With total predictability Joe’s eyes widened as they approached the first marble, a delicate, airy figure of Aurora.  Only the long train of a drape that wound around her hips and covered almost nothing else touched the pedestal of the statue, as Aurora floated with her arms above her head, the left hand dangling a bunch of grapes toward her wavy tresses.  It was obvious to Adam that he was going to have to drag his brother reluctantly away from this vision of womanhood, as well.

Just as Adam was about to remind Joe that Aurora was not the only sculpture in the hall, a gray-haired woman, dressed in a high-necked dress of navy silk and accompanied by a tall, much younger, man, approached the same statue and gasped in horror.  “Appalling!” she cried.  “How like the French to flaunt both decency and good taste by exhibiting this—this scandalous vulgarity.”  With a sideways glance, she noticed Joe staring at the statue with avid attention.  “Avert your eyes, young man!” she demanded with regal authority.  “Have you no shame, no proper upbringing?”

Joe’s anger at the disparagement of his father reddened his cheeks.  Had his critic been a man, he would most likely have answered with a fast-flying fist to the jaw, but since it was a woman, and an elderly one at that, he answered politely, with the respect he had always been taught to show his elders.  “But, ma’am, it’s a beautiful work of art.  I don’t see anything—”

The woman’s dapper companion interrupted brusquely, “To the contrary, boy, you have already seen entirely too much of this brazen example of French debauchery.”

Fire flashed in Joe’s eyes and his nostrils flared at this further insult to his French heritage, and since this was no elderly lady who must be respected, his knuckles tightened instinctively.  Recognizing the danger signals, Adam grabbed his brother’s left wrist.  “Let’s go, Joe,” he ordered firmly.

“I intend to file a protest with the Centennial Commission for exhibiting such a detriment to the morals of our American youth,” the woman declared with a prim nod.

“Indeed, mother!” the owlish-looking young man at her side agreed forcefully.  “Perhaps we should demonstrate what people of good character feel about such so-called ‘works of art.’”  With a pointed glance at Little Joe, he lifted his mahogany walking stick and deliberately thrust it under Aurora’s ample belly, knocking the lovely lady off balance.

Adam let go of Joe’s wrist and made a frantic grab for the statue as it toppled toward the floor, while Joe, freed from restraint, lunged at the vandal.  Setting Aurora safely upright, Adam breathed a sigh of relief until he turned to see his younger brother take a glancing blow to the stomach.  To Adam’s surprise, Joe immediately doubled up and fell to the floor.  As he started toward his brother, out of the corner of his eye Adam saw the self-proclaimed defender of the morals of American youth draw back his foot, obviously intending to kick his fallen foe.  Outrage powered Adam’s solid fist, and soon the cane-wielding assailant of marble women and stricken boys found himself careening backward, knocking over yet another priceless work of art as he fell.

Ignoring the man sprawled on the floor, Adam seized the statue rocking on its pedestal and hugged it protectively to his chest, as he landed, bottom first, in the aisle.  A silly grin split his face as he realized that he had once more rescued a Frenchman’s work from ending its artistic life in shattered fragments in Philadelphia.  “Joe,” he called.  “Take this and—”

“I’ll be the one taking that,” a harsh voice above Adam’s head growled.

Adam rolled his head back and stared up into the livid face of a man in the dark blue uniform of a Centennial Guard.

“Hand it over nice and gentle, if you will, sir,” the guard dictated, reaching for the sculpture with white-cotton-gloved hands.

Adam willingly released it and scrambled to his feet as the guard gingerly set the small statue back on its pedestal.  “Thank you, officer,” Adam began when suddenly he felt his arms pinioned behind him.  “No, wait, you don’t understand,” he protested as a second uniformed guard hustled him toward the exit.

The first guard hauled the victim of Adam’s punch to his feet, with one hand gripping that man’s elbow, while the other took firm hold of Little Joe’s slender arm.  “Come along peaceably, please, gentlemen.”  The voice, though courteous, brooked no argument, although that didn’t stop either of the men he’d taken into custody from loudly proclaiming his own innocence and the guilt of the other party.  The mother of the Cartwrights’ opponent trailed behind, shrieking that her son had done nothing wrong.

Neither of the guards paid the slightest attention.  They saw their duty clearly and performed it with diligence and vigor.  “Oh, we’ll let you go,” the one wrestling Adam outside assured him.  “A little time in one of our holding cells, and we’ll be more than glad to escort you to the front gate, sir, with instructions to keep you out from this day forward.  Rambunctious guests are not welcome on the Centennial grounds.”

Rambunctious guest!  Adam was indignant at the false accusation and aghast at the threat of expulsion from the Exposition he’d come three thousand miles to view.  “If you’d just listen,” he protested as the guard roughly propelled him out the door, “I can explain.”

“Officer, officer, please wait,” cried a young woman, hurrying down the steps after the guards and their prisoners.

The guards turned and, pleased with what they saw, willingly waited until the young lady reached them.  “One of these belong to you, miss?” the head guard asked, struggling to maintain his professional bearing in the face of such loveliness.

The woman shook her head with a demure smile.  “No, officers, I’m a stranger to all these gentlemen.  I must, however, speak in the interest of justice, as I saw the outbreak of this deplorable fracas and cannot bear to see the innocent condemned with the guilty.”

“Sure and we wouldn’t want that,” the second guard said, his smile almost sappy with admiration of the forthright young woman, who had just been joined by another man.

“Are you a witness, too, sir?” the first guard asked of the newcomer.

“No, sir, I didn’t see the beginning of the brawl,” the man stated, “although I did see this man strike the other to the ground.”

Adam’s heart plummeted as he saw the accusing finger pointed at him.  It soared again, though, as the young woman gently rested a hand on the man’s arm.  “No, darling,” she said quickly.  “This young man is not the instigator.  That one is.”  She pointed to the irate easterner in the grip of the second guard.  “Officers, these two young men actually saved the statue of Aurora after that brute deliberately pushed it off its pedestal,” she explained, indicating Adam and Joe.  “They deserve commendation, not confinement with that horrid man who attempted to destroy a work of art.”

“Oh, that’s the way of it, is it?”  The subordinate guard glared at the man collared in his left hand, giving him a little shake to convey his disapproval of anyone who would assault a woman, marble or otherwise.

“Gentlemen, you may trust implicitly the word of my wife,” the gentleman at her side said.  “She is a woman of honor and integrity.”

“I’ve every confidence of that, sir,” the chief guard declared.  “For the love of mercy, Patrick, unhand that innocent boy,” he growled at the other guard, releasing his hold on Adam as he spoke.

“Oh, yes, sir, of course,” Patrick babbled, turning loose of Little Joe.

The chief guard doffed his hat.  “My apologies, gentlemen, for the mix-up.  Feel free to continue your tour of the grounds.  I would ask, however, that you do so in another building.  However well-intentioned, your actions placed some valuable artwork in jeopardy.”

“Understood,” Adam said curtly, straightening his frock coat.  As the guards marched the culprit off to a holding cell, Adam turned to the woman who had spared him and his brother a similar fate.  “Thank you for speaking up for us,” he said warmly.

The young woman smiled back.  “As I said, I merely spoke in the interest of justice, as any American citizen should.”

“Quite so,” her husband added.  “I’m proud of you, my dear.  Now, shall we return to the Annex?  We’d barely begun to explore its wonders when this miserable business started.”

Adam extended his hand to the gentleman.  “We won’t delay you further.  Thank you again for your prompt and most helpful intervention.”  Irritated by his brother’s failure to speak, he gruffly ordered him to thank the young lady.

“Oh, yeah, thanks, ma’am,” a distracted Joe hastened to add.  “It was mighty good of you.”

She patted his arm in passing.  “Not at all.  Enjoy the Centennial, young man.”  On the arm of her husband, she walked back into the Art Annex.

“‘Enjoy the Centennial.’  If she only knew what a challenge that is with you in tow!” Adam snarled, folding his arms and tucking his hands beneath his armpits to control the urge to throttle his exasperating younger brother.  “You ill-mannered lout!  You just couldn’t hold your temper, could you?”

Joe’s face was the picture of offended innocence.  “Look, all I was doing was trying to keep him from doing more harm to your precious artwork.”

A cynical sneer curled Adam’s lip.  “All you were doing was looking for an excuse to fight after he insulted your French ancestry.”

“That ain’t fair, Adam!”

“Isn’t fair!” Adam bellowed.  “The least you could do is use proper grammar.”  He would have said more had he not at that moment seen Little Joe wipe the blood dripping from his nose with the back of has hand.  His fury with his younger brother immediately drained out, to be replaced with guilt as he realized that he hadn’t even noticed that the boy was injured.  Catching hold of Joe’s face, he tipped it back, trying to assess the damage.  “Hold still!” he demanded when Joe tried to flinch away.  “Come on; let’s get you to the Centennial Medical Department and get that looked after.”

“I don’t need lookin’ after,” Joe snapped, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and holding it to his nose.

“You need constant ‘lookin’ after,’” Adam snorted.  “Now, you promised Pa you’d respect my authority, and I’m fully persuaded he would expect me to exercise it in this situation, so come on!”

One hand to his nose, the other holding his right side, Joe followed his brother down the Avenue of the Republic.  “Adam, please,” he pleaded.  “It’ll stop in a minute.”

“Not another word,” Adam ordered, solid fingers closing around Joe’s right biceps.  “I want a doctor to look at it and make sure it isn’t broken.”

Joe groaned at the mention of a doctor, but the look on Adam’s face told him there was absolutely nothing to be gained by disputing the edict.  He allowed himself to be steered, like a calf headed for the branding pen, onto Agricultural Avenue toward the unassuming building at the western end of Lansdowne Valley.

The Cartwright brothers, one forcefully, the other with flagging footsteps, walked up two steps and under an American flag stretched across the entrance to the Centennial Medical Department, a six-bed infirmary for guests injured or taken ill during their visit to the grounds.  A man in a white coat met them inside, introducing himself as Dr. William Pepper, resident physician in charge of the facility.  “I think I see what the problem is,” he said with a smile.  “Are you frequently subject to nosebleeds, young man?”

“No,” Joe responded tersely.

“Only when he’s been in an altercation,” Adam supplied.  “I thought it wise to have him checked.”

“Certainly—a wise precaution,” Dr. Pepper said.  “If you’ll step into the men’s ward, young man, I’ll have one of my associates examine you.”

“I’m fine,” Joe muttered, not moving.

“His standard answer,” Adam informed the doctor.  Then he turned a narrowed gaze on his younger brother.  “Get in there,” he ordered, pointing to the door on their left, “and don’t give the doctor any more trouble.”

“I’m sure Dr. Barnes will be able to handle one rather reluctant patient,” Dr. Pepper chuckled.  He followed the Cartwrights into the men’s ward and, catching the eye of Dr. Barnes, motioned him over and explained the nature of the case.

Dr. Barnes had Joe sit in a chair and gave his nose a thorough examination.  “Nothing broken,” he assured the patient and his brother, “and I’m sure we can get that nosebleed stopped quickly.”  He had Little Joe lie down on one of the three iron beds in the room, holding a cloth rolled around chips of ice to his nose.  “He appears fine,” Dr. Barnes said to Adam, “but it might be best if he rested quietly for an hour or two, just as a precaution.”

Joe propped himself up on his elbows.  “I’m all right.  I don’t need doctoring, and I don’t need rest.”

“You need to do as you’re told,” Adam said sharply.  “Besides, I think you’ve caused quite enough commotion for one day, little brother, so if the doctor thinks you need to rest, then rest you shall and that is final.”

“The doctor does think it best,” Dr. Barnes reiterated, removing Joe’s shoes and then disappearing discreetly.

Little Joe fell back onto the pillow, his face etched with disgruntlement.

“Oh, don’t make such a production out of it,” Adam scolded.  “I’ll be back to pick you up in an hour or two.”

“Where are you going?” Joe demanded.

“Wherever I choose, little boy!” Adam snapped.  “I have no intention of seeing my afternoon spoiled simply because you can’t keep your fists to yourself.  Now, behave yourself and I’ll see you in a couple of hours.”  He strode briskly from the room.

Lips taut, Joe watched him walk away and for a moment gave serious consideration to simply getting up and leaving himself.   Better sense prevailed, though, for Joe realized that he had too much to lose by any display of disobedience.  “Step over the line once, and you’ll be packing your bags,” Adam had threatened after that Shantyville fiasco, and Joe knew the threat was no idle one.  Adam always meant what he said and was, in fact, far more likely to carry out promised discipline than Pa.

Joe curled up on his right side, realizing with a degree of surprise that he really did feel better lying down.  He hadn’t expected to crumple as easily as he had back in the Art Annex, but the nagging pain that had subsided after eating had exploded when that dude punched him in the stomach, and he couldn’t have stayed on his feet to save his life.  Fortunately, Adam hadn’t noticed.  Now that Joe was resting, the pain was starting to fade again, so although he felt insulted by Adam’s accusatory attitude, he decided the orders were providential and, closing his eyes, he drifted into a light sleep.

Adam, meantime, had paused briefly outside the Medical Department, not sure which way to go.  Despite his careful planning of each day’s activities, his little brother’s irresponsible behavior had completely disrupted that well-thought-out scheme.  “I will not let him spoil my day,” Adam muttered as he turned south and retraced his steps back to the Avenue of the Republic.  He’ll miss seeing some of the finest art in the world, but his interest obviously inclines more to the earthy than the aesthetic, anyway!

He went first to the Photographic Gallery, a tiny building just outside Memorial Hall and indulged himself in a thorough examination of its French Renaissance architecture, a pleasure he had curtailed with other buildings out of pity for a boy who, frankly, deserved none.  To avoid monotony, bay windows and porticos broke up the long line of the building’s 128-foot length.  The single-story structure simply wasn’t as captivating as the more major ones, however, so Adam soon went inside to admire its lofty interior.

The roof was the finest feature, for it was constructed completely of glass, providing a clear, soft light for the photographs hung on twenty-eight screens up and down the length of the room.  “Brings out the most delicate details,” he murmured, abashed when he realized that he had spoken aloud, when he had no one with whom to share his delighted observation.  Up and down the aisles he walked, pausing here and there before a particularly affecting scene, but again the landscapes reminded him of Little Joe’s favorite part of all the educational exhibits they had trudged through in the Main Exhibition Hall.  Really shouldn’t have taken this out of order.  Now he’ll miss it, and he would really have enjoyed this.

Knowing he might not get another chance, however, Adam completed the building, and then walked next door to Memorial Hall.  He paused inside the central gallery to purchase some photographs of paintings and sculptures he and Joe had already seen, but again guilt stabbed at his soul.  Joe should be helping to make these choices for Pa and Hoss.  Well, it was done, and still only an hour had passed.  Should he return to the Medical Department and fetch his brother or let him have a full two-hours’ rest?  Better safe than sorry, Adam decided with a sigh whose intensity surprised him.  Might as well admit it; I miss the little scamp.  Now, what do I look at for an hour that would be of least interest to him?

Almost instinctively, he passed through Memorial Hall and crossed the lawn to the annex behind it.  He walked inside, hoping no one would recognize him as one of the men ousted from there earlier, and his hope was realized.  He gazed with admiration at the sculptures, telling himself that it was probably for the best to keep Little Joe away from any more provocative statuary.  Conscience, however, was eating away at him.  After all, the scuffle that had taken place wasn’t really Joe’s fault.  The boy had merely been trying, although through admittedly ill-advised means, to defend a work of art.  I was too harsh with him, Adam realized with regret, and suddenly none of the beautiful pieces of marble and bronze held any attraction for him.  The only thing he wanted to see was his brother’s face.

Dr. Barnes stood up as Adam approached his desk at the front of the men’s ward a short time later.  “Mr. Cartwright,” he said, extending his hand.

Adam glanced with concern at Little Joe, lying motionless in the middle bed.  “How is my brother?”

“He’s fine,” Dr. Barnes assured him.  “I was a bit concerned when he fell asleep so soon after you left.”

Adam laughed lightly.  “That’s my little brother; get him still for five minutes and he’s out like a snuffed candle.  Been that way since he was a kid.”

The doctor smiled.  “I surmised that might be the case.  I woke him after about an hour, just to ascertain that there was no concussion involved, although you hadn’t mentioned a head injury.”  He looked across at the slumbering boy and chuckled.  “He’s free to go, if you can rouse him.  Didn’t seem to appreciate it much when I did.”

Adam grinned.  “That’s typical, too.”  He walked over, sat down on Joe’s bed and began patting his cheeks.  “Up and at ‘em, Sleeping Beauty.”

Joe yawned and stirred groggily.  “Hmm?”

“Bail’s been paid; you’re free to go,” Adam teased.

“Oh, you,” Joe muttered.

The flatness in his brother’s voice sent another stab through Adam’s conscience.  “Yeah, me,” he responded quietly.  “Come on, little brother, and let’s see what we can of the Centennial.”

Joe nodded, sat up and slipped on his shoes.  “Where we headed?  Not back to the Annex, I guess.”

“No, not today,” Adam replied.  “I thought we’d just see whatever falls in our path on the way to supper.  How does the Southern Restaurant strike you?”

“Okay,” Joe said.

Adam had expected a more animated response, but Joe was probably still put out with him for depriving him, as the boy surely saw it, of an afternoon of fun.  “The German Government Building is near here,” Adam said.  “We missed that yesterday, so if you don’t mind . . . ”

“Whatever you want.”  Again, nothing but flat, disinterested acquiescence.

“Come on then, buddy,” Adam said, draping an affectionate arm over his brother’s hunched shoulders.  Joe didn’t try to move away, which Adam took as a good sign, although the lack of response continued to bother him.

The German Government Building was just across a winding path from the Medical Department, so the two brothers were standing in front of it only a couple of minutes after leaving the latter.  “Notice anything different?” Adam asked.

“Not particularly,” Joe said in a monotone, eyes no higher than the foundation.

Adam sighed.  “You’re still upset with me, aren’t you?”

Joe finally looked up.  “No.  I think you were wrong to blame me, but it doesn’t matter, Adam.”  Nothing does—except this miserable stitch in my side.

“I was wrong to blame you,” Adam admitted.

“Doesn’t mean much after the punishment’s over, big brother,” Joe grunted with a shade of bitterness.

“Punishment?”  Adam looked puzzled; then suddenly he knew what his brother meant.  “That wasn’t punishment, Joe; that was concern for your well being.”

“Sure.”  Flat monotone again, not even the faint bitterness to give the words character.

Adam dropped his arm from Joe’s shoulder and rubbed his hand across his mouth.  Despite Joe’s assertion, it was obvious that he was still holding a grudge.  Nothing was likely to change that but time, so Adam resolved to just wait it out.  After all, he was somewhat responsible for the kid’s sour mood, so it behooved him to show a little extra patience.  Joe was notorious for his lack of that virtue, but he sure knew how to strain the supply of anyone trying to give him an example of endurance in action.

“The building material,” Adam said.

“Huh?”

“That’s the difference I wanted to you to see,” Adam explained.  “Most of the other government buildings are wooden, while this is constructed of brick, plastered to represent stone.  Care to guess the architectural style?”

“Georgian,” Joe responded woodenly.

Adam took a deep breath and reached for another measure of fast-fading patience.  “No, Joe, it’s nothing like Georgian.  It’s Italian Renaissance.  The prominent feature is the spacious portico.”

“Okay.”

Adam gave up.  “Let’s go inside,” he suggested.

As he moved up the broad steps, Joe held to the wide balustrade at their side.  He and Adam passed through the portico into a square central hall with government offices on one side and gentlemen’s and ladies’ parlors on the other.

“Joe, look up,” Adam urged, hoping the elaborately frescoed ceiling, at least, would capture the boy’s attention.

Joe followed the instruction and rewarded his brother with a ghost of a smile.  A giant black eagle with red talons, wings spread wide, soared across the ceiling, while garlands and Cupids and other figures ran around the edges.  “That’s something,” Joe agreed.  It was the only thing about the German building that sparked the slightest interest, however, and that included the neighboring building, where native wines were exhibited.

If this doesn’t work, I give up, Adam told himself as he guided Joe out the back of the German Building and headed toward a small one just to the northwest.  “This is the French Ceramic Pavilion,” he informed his brother.  “The French had so many ceramics to display that they needed more room than could be afforded them in the Main Building.  Would you care to see them?”

Joe’s eyes lighted and a soft smile touched his lips.  “Yes, I would.”

Pleased with the effectiveness of his cure, Adam playfully swept his arm toward the entrance, and Joe returned an even broader smile.  The smile remained as they toured through the building, but it was a very small one and Joe’s interest seemed to wane the minute they left.

Adam decided to forego all but the New Jersey State building, only electing to visit it because it lay directly across the path from the restaurant.  “This building has a unique structure,” he said, trying to keep alive the spark ignited by French ceramics.  “Almost Norwegian in style.  Makes for quite a fanciful appearance, don’t you think, Joe?”

“Fanciful?  Uh, yeah, sure, Adam, whatever you say,” Joe mumbled.  “You’re the architecture expert.”

Adam pursed his lips.  “I take it I’m boring you.”

“I’m sorry,” Joe said quickly.  “I’m just kind of tired, I guess.  Didn’t sleep too good last night.”

Adam nodded, relieved to have finally discovered what must surely be the key to Joe’s lackluster manner all day.  “I’ll bet you’re hungry, too.”

“I can wait,” Joe said.  “Look as long as you want.”

“Very generous of you,” Adam said with a paternal smile, “but I believe it’s time for supper—for both of us.”

“Okay.”

The two brothers walked across the street and were escorted into one of the four large dining rooms of the Southern Restaurant.  Seated at the linen-draped table, Adam peered around a huge vase of fresh flowers at his brother.  “Know what you want yet?”

“No.  What are you having?” Joe asked.

“I’m not sure.  Possibly the fried chicken.”  Adam laughed.  “It’s practically the only thing on the menu that reflects southern cuisine—that and the hominy.”

Knowing he was supposed to, Joe smiled.  “Guess I won’t eat southern style then.”

“Oh?  I thought you were fond of fried chicken.  You certainly polish it off whenever it hits the table at home!”

Little Joe didn’t want to say so, but the very thought of anything as greasy as fried chicken turned his stomach.  “Just want to try something else,” he muttered.

Adam easily accepted the explanation.  Trying new foods was an activity his little brother had been engaging in throughout their stay in Philadelphia.  What his brother eventually chose, however, wasn’t anything unfamiliar, just a platter of Smithfield ham, with the hominy and green beans.

“You ain’t gonna be sorry, young sir,” the Negro waiter said, face glowing, though whether from pleasure or plain ordinary sweat, Joe couldn’t decide.

After the waiter took Adam’s order of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, carrots and green peas, Joe propped his elbows on the white tablecloth and listened to the music of the old-time plantation singers, their plaintive melodies accompanied by banjo.  He seemed to relax for the first time that day.  “Guess it used to be like this at the end of a hard day’s work down New Orleans way,” he observed dreamily.

Adam’s visage darkened.  “Exactly like this,” he practically growled.  “Men who’d sweated in the fields all day making music for those who’d done nothing but rest on their forefathers’ laurels.”

Joe straightened up, aware that he’d given offense, but not sure just how.  “Something wrong?”

“Nothing you’d understand,” Adam sighed.  “I fought a war to change that way of life, that gracious living based on the exploitation of others, and all you can see is how pleasant it was—for the white owners, that is.”

“I thought you fought to free the slaves, not to destroy a way of life,” Joe said.

“Well, look at them.”  Adam waved his hand toward the dark-skinned men serving food, pouring drinks and providing entertainment.  “Still doing the same work they did before the war, waiting on white people.  Nothing’s changed.”

“It’s not a bad job, is it, so long as you get paid for it?”

Adam shook his head.  There was no way the kid could ever understand.  Having grown up in the West, where slavery had never gained a foothold, Little Joe had no concept of how ugly it could be, how it could deprive a man of his dignity, his hope, his dreams.  While he was glad that his little brother remained that innocent, he had to make one attempt to open those naïve emerald orbs.  “The black man won’t truly be free, Joe, until he’s free to be whatever he wants—doctor, lawyer . . .”

“Beggar man, thief?” Joe parried, sounding more like his old self than he had all day.

Caught off guard, Adam laughed.  “Well, yes, even that, if a man’s truly free—although, hopefully, a man who cherishes his freedom will make a better choice!”

Joe lifted a hand in mock solemnity, as if taking an oath in court.  “I will, brother; I promise I will.  I’ve seen all of the police I care to!”

Shaking his head in amusement, Adam gave up all attempts at serious conversation.  Their food arrived, and Adam, who was hungrier than usual after the light lunch, attacked his meal with relish.  Looking up, he noticed that Joe had hardly eaten half of what was on his plate.  “Food not to your liking?” he inquired.

Joe licked his lips hesitantly.  “The ham’s got a pretty strong flavor, but it’s fine.  Just figured I’d turn in early, since I didn’t sleep so good last night, and I think it might be better if I don’t eat too close to bedtime.  Probably what kept me awake last night.”

“Could be,” Adam conceded, easily buying the lie.  “So, you’re going to spare my pocketbook the price of dessert?”

“Just this once,” Joe said with a forced smile.   He lowered his guilty gaze to the plateful of unappetizing food, wondering when that come-again, go-again ache in his belly would just go.

*****

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Moaning softly, Little Joe rolled to his right side and drew his knees up to his chest, seeking in vain a comfortable position.  The pain that had troubled him off and on throughout the previous day had subsided shortly after he’d gone to bed, only to return with renewed intensity a few hours later.  As darkness crept toward dawn, the stabbing pain settled low in his right abdomen and refused to leave.

Chilled despite the sweltering heat of the summer night, Joe pulled the lightweight blanket up to his chin, but it offered no warmth to his shivering flesh.  While he had not yet vomited, each passing minute sent stronger surges of nausea through his stomach, and Joe felt that it was only a matter of time before he would have to empty its contents, either in the water closet down the hall or in his washbasin if the attack hit too suddenly for him to make it that far.

Joe knew that the time for keeping secrets had passed; yet he still couldn’t bring himself to call out to Adam.  It simply wasn’t in his nature to admit to physical weakness until there was no alternative, so he shifted restlessly from side to side as the hours dragged by, both anticipating and dreading the coming of day.  Finally, soft light began to filter through the window curtains, and hearing footsteps pattering around in the next room and the splash of water being poured into a basin, Joe sighed in submission to the inevitable and reluctantly tossed back the covers.  Struggling to his feet, he pressed his hand against his right side and staggered toward the door.  He passed through the parlor to his brother’s room, where, through the open doorway, he could see Adam, still clad in his striped nightshirt, performing his morning ablutions.  Supporting himself with a hand against the left doorjamb, Joe swallowed hard and softly called his brother’s name.

Bent over the washbasin, Adam tossed a glance over his shoulder.  “Up early, Sleeping Beauty?  We’ll have to tuck you into bed early every night if it promotes such salutary behavior.”  He splashed cold water on his face to rinse off the soap lather.  “Seriously, it’s good to see you up and around.  Thanks to yesterday’s debacle at the Art Annex, we have some ground to make up, so I want us to be at the Centennial the minute the gates open.”  He reached for the towel hanging on a rod at the side of the washstand.

Joe winced.  Adam had blamed that “debacle” on him, and now he was going to have to spoil another day’s enjoyment of the Exposition for his brother.  “Adam, I don’t think I’m gonna be able to make it,” he whispered weakly.  “I-I’m feelin’ kinda under the weather.”  It was, of course, a mild description of how he actually felt, but he remained reluctant to acknowledge the full truth.  While confession might be good for the soul, in Joe’s experience confessions of illness tended to lead to the undesirable consequences of being bundled into bed and subjected to the attentions of a doctor.

Adam turned, slowly dragging the towel down over his face to reveal eyes hard and dark as ebony.  “Do you seriously expect me to fall for that again?” he asked coldly.

“What?”  Joe raised perplexed eyes to his brother’s face.

Tossing the towel aside, Adam folded his arms across his chest and rolled his tongue around in his mouth before speaking.  “You know, it would be a lot more believable if you were trying to cover being sick.  The only times I ever remember you admitting to illness were those convenient ones that manifested themselves when there was something you wanted to avoid—like the opera the other night.  What is it this time, a clandestine visit to the fair Penelope, perhaps?”

Feeling like the boy who cried wolf in the old fable, Joe flushed with shame and frustration.  “Adam, no,” he protested softly, but insistently.  “It’s not like that.  I-I’m really sick this time.”

“Sure you are,” Adam snorted.  “Sick of following instructions, sick of doing things my way, sick of—”

Joe brought his chin up, his right hand pressed to his side.  “No.  I swear, Adam!”

“Don’t compound your transgressions by swearing, boy!” Adam snapped.

Joe could feel his lips start to tremble.  “Adam, please believe me,” he pleaded.  “I’ve been sick since yesterday, just tryin’ to hide it, like always.”

The rigid set of Adam’s jaw reflected rejection.  “Oh, excellent,” he praised scornfully.  “Yes, indeed, little brother, you are becoming quite the accomplished actor.  Setting this up by your behavior yesterday shows a definite refinement of your dramatic skills.  Now, if you could just manage to shed a tear or two, you might affect some slight credibility.”

The emerald eyes did, indeed, swim with tears at the harsh words, but Joe managed to blink them back.  “I guess I can’t blame you for thinking that,” he said, “but I’m telling the truth this time, Adam.  I really don’t feel good.”

Adam waved a hand to silence his brother.  “You know, Joe, I just don’t care anymore.  I have tried to show you a good time.”

“I know, and—”

“Shut up, Joe!” Adam shot back sharply.  “I won’t listen to another word, but you hear me well, boy.  You have done everything possible to make me sorry that I invited you on this trip, and I am the one who is sick, sick of the complaints, the outright disobedience and, most of all, the deception.  So, you just do whatever you want today—saunter down to Shantyville, traipse over to the zoo, visit the Centennial without your big brother’s watchful eye to keep you in line—whatever you want.  But cover your tracks well, little boy, because if I find out you’ve set one foot outside this hotel, I will put you on the next train home and let Pa deal with you!”

“Adam, please!”

“Not another word!” Adam hissed hotly.  “I don’t have any more time to waste with you.  Now, if you really want to make this ruse look realistic, you should put yourself back to bed and be certain not to leave it until I’m well away.  You remember how to stage that scene, don’t you, little brother?”

Fearful his moisture-laden eyes would betray him, Joe turned away, walked back into his bedroom and, falling onto the bed, buried his face in his pillow.

With a contemptuous snort, Adam threw off his nightshirt and began to dress for his day at the Centennial.  He didn’t even glance into Joe’s room before he left, slamming the door.  Too angry to stay beneath the same roof as his prevaricating younger brother, he disdained breakfast in the dining room, deciding he would treat himself to more of the fine pastries of the Vienna Bakery and, perhaps, a rich cup of coffee at the Brazilian Café.

As he walked toward the streetcar stop, Adam rehearsed his brother’s faults and failures, and his temper blazed hotter with each step.  By the time he leaped onto the car, his mind was a raging inferno, whose flames he fueled by repeatedly running the catalog of Joe’s offenses, from selfishly grabbing the window seat the moment they got on the train at Mill Station to this morning’s stellar performance of counterfeit illness.  Can’t believe he tried the same stunt a second time, Adam fumed.  Does he take me for a complete fool?  Well, maybe that’s justified, ‘cause I certainly was a fool to pick him for this trip.  Why on earth didn’t I follow my heart and bring Hoss, instead?  But, no, I had to make the grand gesture, had to sacrifice my personal pleasure for that little wretch’s educational benefit, and this is my just reward for extending generosity to the hopelessly ungrateful.  Well, never again, little brother.

As his exhausted anger began to drain, however, Adam found himself bombarded with images.  He saw first the grief in his brother’s eyes when he’d accused him of lying that morning.  Just part of the act, Adam assured himself, but other images pressed in on him, the most insistent that first view over his shoulder of Joe, leaning against the doorjamb with his left hand, while the right clutched his side.  Something about that picture bothered Adam; somehow it seemed familiar, and because he couldn’t figure out why, the image wouldn’t leave.

Then he remembered.  He’d seen that same gesture several times the day before, particularly after that scuffle in the Art Annex.  Was it possible that Joe had been injured?  Adam dismissed the idea as ridiculous.  That eastern dandy had gone down like the weakling he was under Adam’s own punch, so he couldn’t possibly have done Joe any real damage.  Still, Joe had doubled up, holding his side, under that flea flick of a blow.  Part of the act?  It had to be.  Nothing else made sense.

Adam settled back in his seat, determined to ignore the disquieting thoughts, but something kept niggling away at his brain, something just beyond recall.  He couldn’t get away from the vague feeling of unrest that crawled through him every time he pictured that hand touching the right side.  He’d seen that gesture before, somewhere, and not just yesterday.  Sometime before that—sometime long before that—and not with Joe.

Adam jolted upright as the long buried memory surfaced.  Dear God, no!  It couldn’t be.  He suddenly remembered seeing another boy holding his side the way Joe had yesterday and this morning.  Luke Cameron had been a bosom companion during Adam’s college days, a boy much like his younger brother in personality—lighthearted, fun-loving, carefree and altogether too apt to impulsively rush in where angels feared to tread.  How he’d ever passed the entrance exams at Yale remained a mystery to Adam, for Luke had always chosen frolic over study and had succeeded on far too many occasions in drawing his more sober friend into some hare-brained adventure.  So much like Joe in that, too.

The resemblance that troubled Adam most, however, was that now-terrifying hand to the side.  Luke had gone around campus, holding his side like that for two days before finally yielding to the pleas of his friends to see a doctor, and the doctor’s diagnosis of perityphlitis had proven to be a death sentence.  During the final hours Adam had sat at Luke’s bedside, holding his hand as he writhed in agony that no pain medication could touch.  Only the battlefields of the war had produced memories of greater horror.

The streetcar stopped before the main entrance to the Centennial grounds, and Adam automatically stepped off.  Throngs of people pushed past him toward the gate, but Adam couldn’t go inside, instead pacing agitatedly up and down the sidewalk.  He’s faking, he told himself.  He has to be faking.  But how would Joe have known to copy that gesture?  A good actor he might be, but how could he play a scene he’d never seen in life?

He couldn’t, and the moment Adam accepted that, the fear that had been scratching at the back of his mind sank its talons deep into his brain.  He closed his eyes and grasped his lowered head with one hand as he tried to slow his racing heartbeat and deepen his shallow breaths.  As his fingers touched his own forehead, he realized that he had not so much as checked to see whether his brother had a fever.  Even if I thought he was shamming, I owed him that much, he chided himself.

He glanced at the gate before him, trying to convince himself to just go inside and ignore that haunting memory from the past.  In all likelihood his concern was being wasted on a boy whose only ailment was a defective conscience, but Adam couldn’t fully convince himself that that was true, and he knew he wouldn’t enjoy a minute of the day’s activities with that concern constantly nagging at him.  Cursing himself for a fool, he caught a horse car and headed back to check on Joe.

The car was not crowded, but Adam’s anxious heart would not permit him to relax.  Though there were open seats, he stood, hanging onto an upright pole, willing the horses to move faster and wishing he had strong-limbed Sport here in Philadelphia, so he could reach Joe sooner.  Never had a half hour passed so slowly, and when the streetcar finally reached the corner of Eighth and Chestnut, Adam sprang from it and raced down the street.  Dashing through the lobby of the Washington Hotel, he took the stairs two at a time.  An elevator might be a modern convenience, but like the horse car, it simply moved too slowly for a man in urgent need of speed.

The doorknob to the suite turned easily in his hand, for the door was unlocked, just as he’d left it.  That might indicate that Joe was still in the room, though on second thought, Adam realized that since he had confiscated Joe’s key after the Shantyville incident, the boy would have had no way to lock the room.  Forcing his fear under control, Adam quietly approached his brother’s bedroom and looked through the doorway.  His jaw hardened as he saw the empty bed.  So he’d been right the first time.  Joe had obviously taken off as soon as he thought the coast was clear.  That settled it.  The brat was going home on the first train west, along with a scathing letter to their father that should earn him restriction to the ranch until he turned twenty-one!

Behind him, Adam heard the door creak open, and he spun around, shouting, “Where have you”—the accusatory question died on his lips as he saw his brother slumped against the doorway, barefoot and still dressed in his nightshirt, though now its front placket was stained with bile.  One glance at Joe’s ashen face confirmed Adam’s worst fears, and he rushed to his brother’s side.  “You really are sick.”

Joe still had enough energy to glare at his older brother and to push him away with the hand that moments before had been grasping his aching side.  “I told you that!”

Adam swung his arm supportively behind Joe’s back and pulled him close to his side.  “I know, I know,” he soothed.  “Let’s get you into bed, little buddy.”

Responding to the gentle tone, Joe collapsed in his brother’s arms, and a single tear trickled down his cheek.  “I-I really feel bad, Adam—honest.”

Adam stroked the sweat-damp curls against his shoulder.  “I know, Joe.  Brother was wrong not to believe you.  Into bed now, come on.”  He helped Joe across the parlor and into the next room, easing him down to the side of the bed.  Having noticed that his brother’s nightshirt was clammy, as well as tainted with the putrid remains of last night’s supper, Adam went at once to the bureau across the room and took a fresh one from the top drawer.  “Let’s get you more comfortable,” he said as he unbuttoned the garment Joe was wearing.  Gathering up the tail, he pulled the nightshirt over Joe’s head and tossed it aside so he could get the fresh one on more quickly.  “There you go,” he said as he lifted Joe’s legs and slid his head onto the pillow.

Little Joe immediately curled into a ball, drawing up his knees with a moan as Adam drew the covers over him.

Adam squatted down at Joe’s head and laid his hand on the boy’s forehead.  There was a fever, although Adam was relieved to find that it wasn’t too high.  A good sign, perhaps.  Luke’s body had raged with fever, toward the end at least.  “Have you vomited more than once?” he queried.

Joe nodded briefly.  “Twice—once just after you left and—and just now.  Shouldn’t have tried to make it down the hall.  M-missed the commode this time, made an awful mess in the floor.  Tried to clean it up, but just retched up more.”

“Don’t worry about it.  I’ll see that it’s tended to.”  Adam laid his hand on Joe’s chest and felt his racing heartbeat.  “Try to relax.”  He licked his lips.  “Joe, has your stomach been hurting ever since that man slugged you yesterday?”  Though he knew he was being ridiculous, he couldn’t help hoping for a simpler explanation for Joe’s condition than the one that kept pounding inside his head.  Not that internal injury was a trivial matter, either, but to Adam, anything was preferable to the haunting horror of perityphlitis.

Weakly, Joe shook his head.  “Before.”

It was the answer Adam had both expected and dreaded.  “Before?”

“It wasn’t the fight, Adam; I was hurting before.”

“Oh, Joe,” Adam sighed.  “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I dunno.  Thought it would go away, I guess,” Joe murmured, “or, maybe, that it was from eatin’ too much of the wrong things, like you were always sayin’.”

Adam groaned, anguished by the thought that his petty complaints had kept Joe from confiding in him.

“It hurts bad, Adam.”  Joe drew his knees tight to his chest, as if to make a smaller target for the pain.

Noticing, Adam stood up and reached under the covers to gently straighten his brother’s limbs.  “That won’t help, buddy.”  He sat beside Joe, taking his hand.  “Brother’s here now, and I’m going to get this taken care of, so you just relax.”

The trusting smile with which Joe responded communicated absolute confidence that big brother Adam could take care of anything.  While Adam was warmed by his brother’s faith, that smile wrenched his heart, for if this illness were what he feared, it might well lie beyond his power—or that of anyone else—to arrest.  Luke’s doctor, a medical professor at Yale, had been able to do little for him; in fact, the hot fomentations and turpentine enemas had seemed to accentuate, rather than alleviate, the young man’s suffering, and draining the abscess late in the illness had been followed within excruciating hours by death.  Adam could only hope that medical science had made some advance in the last twelve years, but the hope was a feeble one.  “I’m going downstairs for a few minutes, Joe, to send for a doctor.”

“Aw, no, Adam,” Joe whined.  “It’s just a bellyache.  Some bicarbonate, maybe, like you said before?”

Not wanting to alarm his younger brother with his own fear, Adam simply squeezed Joe’s hand.  “Let’s just make sure, shall we?”

Joe pouted petulantly.  “I don’t want a doctor.”

Adam smiled wryly.  “Now you sound like my little brother.”

Joe made a feeble attempt to smile persuasively.  “Please?  You’re as good as any doctor.”

Adam shook his head firmly.  “I’m flattered, but it’s not going to get you what you’re after.”  With a final squeeze of his brother’s hand, he stood.  “I’ll be right back.”  He pointed his index finger authoritatively at Joe’s chest.  “You stay put.”

As Adam turned to leave, Joe rose up on his elbows, calling after him, but when Adam merely ignored him and kept going, Joe flopped back onto the pillow, resigned to his fate.

When Adam returned only minutes later, he heard his brother groaning, although the sound ceased as soon as Joe realized his brother was back.  “Don’t do that,” Adam chided gently as he reentered the bedroom.

“What?”  Joe looked back blankly.

“Don’t be brave for my sake.  I know you’re in pain, Joe.”  And it hurts me to see you trying to hide it.

Joe bit his trembling lip and turned away, still unwilling to demonstrate weakness before his older brother, who never did.  Through years of observation, Joe had come to believe that a real man met adversity with his brother’s calm stoicism, but it was a standard he found virtually impossible to live up to, given his emotional nature.

Knowing how Joe normally responded to touch, Adam rubbed circles on the boy’s shoulder with his thumb, as he’d often seen his father do.  “The doctor will be here soon,” he assured his brother.

“Great,” Joe muttered with obvious displeasure.

Adam brushed his hand across Joe’s forehead.  Good.  Though climbing, the fever still didn’t seem dangerously high.  Nonetheless, Adam dampened a clean cloth in water from Joe’s pitcher and began to wipe his brother’s face and neck.  He knew the rhythmic motion was more busy work for him than a benefit to Joe, but he had to do something to keep the pictures of another suffering boy from surfacing in his brain.  Repeating the same ministrations he’d performed for Luke, though, only kept the memories fresh in his mind.

“Adam, I-I think I’m gonna be sick again.”  All attempt to act strong abandoned, Joe whimpered out the words.

With a nod Adam reached for the washbasin and helped Joe sit up and lean over it.  After retching several times Joe raised his head and laid it back against his brother’s supporting arm.  Adam set the basin aside and reached for a cloth to wipe Joe’s chin.

Joe curled his fingers around Adam’s wrist.  “Sorry,” he said.

“Hush,” Adam ordered softly.  “Don’t talk nonsense.”  He gave Joe a sip of water to rinse his mouth of the vile taste and eased him down onto the pillow again.

Only twenty minutes after sending for help, Adam heard a rap at the door.  As he walked to answer it, he reflected on how much more quickly medical help could be obtained here in the East.  Pennsylvania Hospital, to which he’d sent the summons, was just three blocks away, but even so, Adam was surprised by so rapid a response.  Sometimes prompt attention made all the difference in the world, and Adam could only pray that would be true in his brother’s case.

Opening the door revealed a man around Adam’s age with the distinguished air of a confident professional.  “Mr. Cartwright?” the dark-haired, mustachioed young man asked.  “I am Dr. Marcus Whittaker, a resident at Pennsylvania Hospital.  I received a message that you were in need of a physician.”

Adam nodded and motioned the doctor in.  “For my brother Joseph,” he explained.  “He’s been experiencing pain and nausea since yesterday and has vomited three times this morning.  The pain seems to be centered in his lower right abdomen and has been increasing markedly.”

Dr. Whittaker cocked his head and gazed with respect at the man who had given such a clear and concise description of the patient’s symptoms.  Obviously, this was a man of breeding and intellect, not like the riffraff the doctor frequently encountered in the charity wards.  “May I see the patient now?” he requested courteously.

“Yes, of course.  This way.”  Adam led him into the bedroom.  Seeing Joe scowl at the stranger, Adam stepped quickly to his brother’s side.  “Joe, this is Dr. Marcus Whittaker.  I want you to give him your complete cooperation.”  He looked up to smile apologetically at the young doctor.  “He might most generously be described as a reluctant patient.”

“I’m sure he’ll give me no difficulty,” Dr. Whittaker said briskly as he removed a thermometer from his bag and popped it into Joe’s mouth.

Adam arched an eyebrow, wondering if this doctor’s no-nonsense, professional approach might actually be more effective on his recalcitrant brother than Paul Martin’s soothing strategies.  He took a position at Joe’s head on the opposite side of the bed, though, in case his brother displayed his usual fractious attitude toward the medical profession.

Mouth closed around the thermometer, Joe cast piteous eyes on his brother as the doctor raised his nightshirt and pulled the covers down, stopping just short of exposing his manhood.  Adam averted his eyes, knowing how modest the normally cocky kid could get at times like this.

After noting the flatness of the abdomen, Dr. Whittaker listened to the bowel sounds through his stethoscope.  “Hyperactive,” he murmured to himself.

Removing the thermometer from Joe’s mouth, he gazed at the measurement and nodded, as though the instrument had registered what he expected.

“How high is his fever?” Adam asked, moistening his lips.

The doctor again reminded himself that he was dealing with a knowledgeable man and answered the question he might have skirted with a less worthy inquirer.  “One hundred and one.  Not particularly significant.”

Adam took a breath, letting that piece of information and the casual way in which it was delivered restore a measure of hope.

Dr. Whittaker, in the meantime, had turned his attention back to Joe’s abdomen, which he began to tap with his fingertips.

Biting his lower lip, Little Joe reached down to push the doctor’s hands away.

The doctor merely placed the intruding appendages flat on the mattress.  “Keep your hands at your side, please,” he said and immediately returned to his percussion.

Adam sat down on the bed, resting his right hand over Joe’s left one and urging him to let the doctor complete his examination.

“It hurts,” Joe whispered, his eyes on Adam.

“I know it does, young man,” the doctor responded, “and I’ll finish as quickly as I can, but I will need to palpitate your abdomen to determine its internal state.”

Joe groaned, whether in actual or anticipated pain Adam could not tell, but there was no mistaking the entreaty in those expressive emerald eyes.  Joe was begging his brother to stop this torture, but though the pleading eyes pierced him straight through, Adam knew he couldn’t intervene.  He just tightened his grip on Joe’s hand and told him it wouldn’t be much longer.

In inadvertent fulfillment of that promise, Dr. Whittaker soon stopped the probing pushes on Joe’s belly and without comment put his instruments back in his bag.  “Could I see you in the next room, Mr. Cartwright?” he asked rhetorically as he headed for the door.

Adam stood to follow him, but Joe refused to release his hand.  “Joe, I’ll be right back,” Adam assured his brother as he pried loose the clinging fingers.  He went into the parlor of the suite, quietly closing the bedroom door behind him.  If the news were as bad as he feared, he didn’t want Joe to overhear what the doctor had to say.

Dr. Whittaker turned to face Adam.  “How old is your brother, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Nineteen, barely,” Adam replied.

The doctor’s thick brows drew together in consideration.  “And his parents?  Not traveling with you, I take it.”

“His mother is deceased; our father is back home—in Nevada.”

The doctor’s brow furrowed still more.  “Nevada—too far.”

“I assure you, doctor, that I have my father’s full authority regarding this boy,” Adam explained quickly, “and I will be responsible for any necessary decisions in my father’s absence.  Now, please, tell me how he is.”

Dr. Whittaker nodded gravely.  “You brother is a very sick young man, Mr. Cartwright.”

Adam’s mouth was set in a grim line.  “I know.  It’s perityphlitis, isn’t it?”

The doctor looked up in surprise at the technical term.  “You’ve had medical training?”

“No,” Adam denied with a shake of his head.  He briefly described the illness, treatment and eventual death of his college friend.  “There was nothing the doctor could do then.  Has that changed?”  A lump rose in his throat and he swallowed it down.

The hospital resident scrutinized Adam’s face, as though trying to assess the man’s likely reaction to what he wished to say.  “The standard medical treatment for what you knew as perityphlitis has changed little in the last twenty years,” Dr. Whittaker began cautiously.  “A professor of mine at Harvard, Dr. Reginald Fitz, has suggested that a more accurate term for the illness might be appendicitis, as the appendix is the infected organ.”

“I don’t care what you call it!” Adam growled through gritted teeth.  “Can you help him?”

The doctor took a long, slow breath, again appearing to analyze the character of the man with whom he was dealing.  “Dr. Fitz has also suggested a treatment, which I believe has merit, but I know of no documented case in which it has been tested.”

Adam leaped at the strand of hope.  “What treatment?”

“Early surgical intervention,” Dr. Whittaker said with crisp professional certainty.

Shock registered on Adam’s normally guarded countenance.  “Surgery?  In the abdomen?”  He had clearly not expected so radical a suggestion.  To open up an abdomen, for any purpose, was virtually unheard of.

“For removal of the appendix,” the resident replied, acting as though unaware of the response his recommendation had elicited.  “Dr. Fitz’s theory is that if the inflamed appendix is removed prior to perforation, the patient has a far greater chance of survival.”

“But it’s never been done?” Adam asked, his concern revealed in the slow deliberation of his words.  “You want to experiment on my brother?”

Dr. Whittaker drew himself rigidly upright.  “I want to offer your brother what I believe is his best chance for recovery, sir!  I understand that abdominal surgery is generally considered a last resort, but I honestly believe that early intervention will one day be accepted as the treatment of choice, and Dr. Thomas Morton, the attending physician under whose supervision I work, is inclined to agree.”  He took another long breath and continued.  “I will also be candid enough to admit to you that I have been hoping for a test case, Mr. Cartwright, but I do not countenance haphazard experimentation on patients, as you suggest, nor would I take unwarranted risks with a young man’s life.  As I said, the operation has not, to my knowledge, been performed successfully and is, in that sense, experimental.  However, in theory, it should be quite a simple procedure.”

“In theory,” Adam muttered gruffly.

The resident clasped his hands behind his back.  “I will, of course, understand if you prefer that I follow the established treatment in your brother’s case.  There have been instances, admittedly rare, in which the inflammation simply subsided upon rest with the application of ice packs.  Beyond that, standard medical treatment calls for waiting for an abscess to form and then draining it surgically.”

Adam paled visibly.  He’d seen that treatment before, back in New Haven, and he shook his head briskly to jar loose the recurring memories of his friend’s anguished screams.  “That’s a death warrant,” he said bluntly.

Dr. Whittaker nodded gravely.  “In my view, it is.  I believe, without this operation, your young brother will die.  I’m offering him a chance for life, Mr. Cartwright.”

Adam pinched the bridge of his nose.  “But you’ve never performed this operation—not even once?”

“Not even once,” the doctor admitted soberly, “and while it is likely that Dr. Morton would perform the actual surgery on your brother, I do know my anatomy, Mr. Cartwright, and should I personally be granted that privilege, I do know how to perform this operation.”

“In theory,” Adam added grimly.

“In theory,” the resident replied honestly.

Adam stared at the closed bedroom door for long, painful minutes, overwhelmed by the gravity of the decision he must make.  Little Joe’s life was in his hands.  Make the wrong decision, and the boy would die; make the right decision too late, and the result would be the same.  Whichever course he took, there was no guarantee of the outcome and no time for lengthy internal debate.  The decision had to be made and made now.  Though Adam prided himself on logical thinking, in the end he made it the way his younger brother would have, by sheer gut instinct, the deciding factor that lingering memory of Luke’s agonizing death.  Squaring his shoulders, Adam faced the young doctor.  “You have my permission.  Operate.”

Though the doctor had waited patiently, making no further attempt to influence the decision, he looked pleased, almost eager, when he heard permission granted for the historic operation, an expression that caused Adam some misgiving.  He had no opportunity to give that misgiving consideration, however, for the doctor’s next words required his full attention.

“I know that was a difficult decision,” Dr. Whittaker said, “but I believe you’ve made the correct one.  Now, the first step will be to have your brother admitted to the hospital.  The board will have to rule on his acceptance, of course.  I realize that should be strictly a medical decision, but, unfortunately, that authority still rests with the civilian board of managers.”  He paused briefly.  “Forgive me, but I must ask whether your brother will be entering as a free or paying patient.”

Adam regarded him with a ruthless glare.  “I’ll pay your fee, of course,” he said sharply.

The hospital resident flushed and hastened to explain.  “It isn’t my fee that is in question here, sir, I assure you.  While free beds are offered to those who cannot pay, the board of managers tends to look at such cases with a stricter eye.  It would facilitate matters if your brother could enter as a paying patient.  The charge for board is three dollars a day.  As that’s no more than the charges at this hotel, I trust it’s not a problem.  If it is, we could accept partial payment of one dollar per day, instead, which would accord him some status above the charity cases.”

“No, that sum is not a problem,” Adam assured the doctor quickly.  “Whatever he needs, he can have.”

“Excellent!” Dr. Whittaker declared.  “I’m sure there’ll be no difficulty with his admission, in that case.”  He hesitated, looking toward the bedroom.  “Would you like me to explain the procedure to the young man?”

Easily visualizing Joe’s response, especially if the verdict came from a stranger, Adam brusquely waved the offer aside.  “No, that’s my job.”

The doctor looked relieved, but he maintained his professional bearing as he said, “Then I’ll begin mine by arranging for transport to Pennsylvania Hospital by ambulance.”

Adam shook the doctor’s hand and saw him out, and then turned to stare at the closed door to Joe’s room as he gathered courage for the struggle ahead.  “Once more unto the breach,” he muttered and moved toward the door.

As he entered, he saw his younger brother straining to see into the parlor behind him.  “Is he gone?” Joe asked hoarsely.

“Yes, he’s gone,” Adam answered softly.

“Good.”  Relieved, Joe relaxed into the pillow.  “I didn’t like him, Adam.”

“Like or dislike doesn’t enter into it,” Adam said, striving to maintain a cool, collected countenance so that Joe would remain calm.  “He’s a competent doctor, and I believe he’s given sound advice regarding your illness.”

“Bet it’ll taste awful,” Joe grunted.

Adam exhaled gustily.  This was going to go down harder than the bitterest potion, and there was no sense in putting it off.  “There won’t be any medicine, Joe,” he began, taking the boy’s hand and massaging the palm with his thumb.  “The doctor feels you need an operation, and I’ve given my permission.  He’s arranging for you to be transported to the hospital, and it shouldn’t be long before the ambulance arrives.”

Joe’s eyes grew large as the ceramic saucers they’d seen at the Centennial Exposition.  “Adam, no,” he gasped.  “You can’t let that man cut me open.  You can’t!”

Adam tightened his grip on his brother’s hand.  “I know it’s a frightening prospect, Joe, but this is what we have to do.  There isn’t any other way, boy.”

“There has to be!”

“No.”

Joe began to thrash from side to side, babbling out protests that he wasn’t that sick and pleas to be left alone.

Adam grabbed his brother’s head between his strong hands and forcibly held it still.  “Joe, stop it,” he ordered, his voice severe in its urgency, for he was afraid the boy would injure himself.  “You have to have the operation.  That’s all there is to it, and you’re only hurting yourself trying to fight it.  Now be still!”

Tears of defeat brimmed in the emerald eyes.  “Then take me home,” Joe implored.  “If someone’s gonna cut into me, I want Doc Martin to do it.”

Adam’s calm, controlled mask almost cracked.  Even if Dr. Martin had been competent to perform the untried operation, a week’s delay would inevitably mean death.  However, Adam could scarcely share that bit of logic with his panicky little brother!  “Dr. Martin is a good country doctor,” he argued alternatively, “but good as he is, he doesn’t have access to the latest medical developments and treatments.  Pennsylvania Hospital is probably the leading institution in the country, Joe; there you’ll receive the best medical care available in America.”

The tears spilled over, running down Joe’s cheeks.  “I’ve heard about hospitals,” he sobbed.  “They’re places to die.  Don’t send me there, Adam—please!”

It was a commonly held belief, based on what had been true in the past, a heritage the hospitals of America would in time live down, but that would take years.  Adam had only minutes, and he’d dealt with his little brother often enough to know that Joe wouldn’t respond to reason when he was in the grip of terror.  That left but one path to follow, though Adam took it reluctantly.  He stood straight, folded his arms and uttered the pronouncement in a firm voice.  “Pa placed you in my charge, and you agreed to accept my authority.  Whether you like it or not, little brother, I am holding you to that bargain.”

Joe bolted upright.  “You think paying my train fare gives you the right to decide whether I live or die?” he shrieked.  “Then send me home!  I’ll pay you back.  I want my pa!”

The words were a knife to Adam’s heart, but he had no time to spare for his own injury.  As he saw Joe throw back the covers, he grabbed the boy by both shoulders and forced him down to the mattress.  “Lie still!” he commanded.  “I am your pa as long as we’re back here, and you will do as you’re told.”

A loud knock on the door to the suite caught Adam’s attention.  Giving Joe’s shoulders one more emphatic push, Adam released him.  “Don’t you move,” he ordered and headed into the next room.

Joe, of course, saw his brother’s departure as the perfect opportunity to take matters into his own hands.  Jerking back the covers, he threw his legs over the side of the bed and lurched to his feet.  With a cry of pain, he clutched his side and staggered toward the door, only to discover his brother and two burly strangers blocking his way.

“Joe!” Adam cried, grabbing his brother as he stumbled forward.  “No, boy!”

Joe tried to break his brother’s hold, but he was too weak, especially when the stretcher-bearers from the hospital joined forces with Adam.  Though every movement was agony, Joe kicked and fought as the three men lifted him bodily and laid him on the stretcher.

“Sure this one ain’t bound for the lunatic asylum?” one of the stretcher-bearers asked the other.

“I’m sure,” Adam snapped.  “He’s just frightened.”

“All the same, I think we’d best put the straps on him, mister,” the other man said.  “He’s likely to do himself harm.”

“Joe, settle down,” Adam ordered, “or these men will have to put you in restraints.”

Eyes glinting with animosity, Joe continued to struggle, so Adam reluctantly gestured for the hospital attendants to apply the restraints.  “I’m sorry, buddy,” Adam said.  “I don’t like doing this, but you leave me no choice.”

Joe fought to free himself from the confining straps until he collapsed, exhausted, but as he was carried from the room to the waiting ambulance, he continued to plead for release.  “Send me home,” he begged.  “Doc Martin can take better care of me than any of these eastern quacks.”

One hand resting on Joe’s chest, Adam walked beside the stretcher as the party moved through the hotel lobby.  The clerk behind the counter, as well as the guests registering, turned to stare, but other than a proud lift of his chin, Adam paid them no heed.  Joe was behaving badly, of course, inexcusably so had he been well, but knowing the pain and fear that motivated the egregious conduct, Adam excused it.  When he tried to hush Joe’s frantic protests, it was for the boy’s sake, not because of any personal embarrassment.

Climbing into the back of the ambulance, Adam sat beside his brother, still trying to calm him.  “Everything will be all right, Joe,” he soothed, all the time praying that the words would prove true.

As the ambulance began to move down the street, Joe turned his face away from his brother.  “I hate you,” he hissed.

Blinking back the moisture in his eyes, Adam brushed a stray curl from his brother’s forehead.  “Okay,” he said after insuring that he could speak without hurt tinting his tone, “you be as mad as you want, little brother.  I can handle it.”  What I can’t handle is losing you.  He continued to stroke Joe’s tangled locks, but Joe made no response; in fact, he would not so much as look at his brother.

The drive was a brief one, and the ambulance soon pulled to a stop outside the high brick wall that enclosed Pennsylvania Hospital on three sides.  Dr. Whittaker met them at the arched gateway.  “I apologize for the delay, Mr. Cartwright,” he said as soon as Adam had jumped from the wagon’s back.  “The board will be meeting momentarily to decide on your brother’s admittance.  In the meantime, you may wait in our reception ward.”

The reception ward turned out to be merely an empty room in the old gatekeeper’s lodge, to the side of the entrance, where Joe’s stretcher was carried and set down on a bare cot.  “The surgeons on staff will also be consulting, as is required in any emergency case,” the doctor continued to explain as he and Adam followed the stretcher-bearers into the small stone room.

Adam gazed at the resident with exasperation.  “How long will that take?” he demanded.

“I’ll do all I can to expedite matters, Mr. Cartwright.  As I indicated, we’re all aware that this is an emergency situation.”  At Adam’s nod, he left and made his way toward the main building.

Adam knelt beside Joe’s stretcher and tried to reassure him that he would soon receive the help he needed and relief from the sharpening pain.

“Can’t we go back to the hotel?” Joe beseeched, though with little hope of success.  “I don’t like it here, Adam.”

Adam looked at the unadorned gray walls and had no problem seeing their unbroken drabness through the eyes of a sick person.  “I don’t blame you, buddy, but it’ll be better once you’re settled in your own bed.”

Joe bit his lip and turned away, refusing to respond to anything else Adam said.

After a lengthy wait, Dr. Whittaker returned to request that Adam come with him to answer some questions from the board.

“What now?” Adam demanded with irritation.  “How long does this boy have to wait before something is done?”

“I’m sure it won’t be much longer,” the resident soothed.  “As this is a new procedure, the board wants reassurance that you understand and accept the risks.”

“Adam?” Joe interrupted plaintively.

Adam touched his brother’s shoulder.  “It’s all right, Joe.  Let me handle this.”  He turned back to the doctor.  “I’ve already told you that I understand that.”

The doctor nodded.  “Yes, but I need you to reaffirm that to the board, and there are a couple of routine matters they wish to clarify.”

Adam blew out his vexation in a blast of air.  “Oh, all right, but I don’t like leaving him alone.”

“It will be brief, I promise,” Dr. Whittaker assured him, “and he’s in restraints.  He can’t go anywhere or do himself any harm.”  Seeing that his words had done nothing to relieve Adam’s concern, he added, “The gatekeeper is nearby; he can look in on the boy.”

Adam continued to stare in disbelief of the doctor’s insensitivity.  Then, seeing no alternative if he wanted Joe admitted to the hospital, he turned back to his brother.  “I’ll be back soon, Joe.  Try to rest easy—and sing out for the gatekeeper if you need anything.”

Joe sent a frantic look around the gray walls.  “Don’t leave me here, Adam.  Please!”

Adam gave the chestnut curls a comforting pat.  “I’ll be right back.  Just lie quiet for me, boy, all right?”

Unable to move the rest of his body, Little Joe threw his head violently from side to side.

With a parting stroke, Adam left, heart torn apart by his brother’s suffering and the realization that he had compounded it by forcing Joe to submit to medical treatment against his will.  His conscience prickled at the thought of leaving his brother alone, helpless in restraints, but he felt he had no choice.  Without those confining straps, Joe would be out of that cot and staggering down Eighth Street the minute he was left alone.

At the side of Dr. Whittaker, Adam walked toward the impressive, three-story central building, flanked by wings on the east and west.  Climbing the white steps, he entered under an arched transom and walked along a narrow tiled corridor to an austere room.  Dark drapes hung at the windows and shelves of books lined two walls of the room.  In the center was a polished walnut table, surrounded by eight men.  “Gentlemen, I understand you have some questions for me,” Adam stated, permitting no time for introductions.  “Please state them at once.  My brother is very ill, and I would like to expedite his admission to the hospital.”

A distinguished-looking man rose and introduced himself as Dr. Thomas Morton.  “The board’s main concern, Mr. Cartwright, is the legal liability of this institution.  You understand that the operation I would be performing is untried?”

Adam nodded brusquely, irritated by the delay.  “Yes, Dr. Whittaker has fully acquainted me with the risks, and I accept them.  I will hold neither you nor this hospital responsible should the result be less favorable than he predicts.  Now, can we proceed?”

Another man spoke up.  “You will sign a statement to that effect?”

“Yes,” Adam hissed through gritted teeth.

Dr. Morton turned toward the others seated at the table.  “I see no medical reason for refusing this patient admittance to Pennsylvania Hospital, gentlemen.”

“There are a couple of other matters,” another board member inserted.  “Obviously, you and your brother are gentlemen of means, Mr. Cartwright.  While you would most likely prefer a private room, we have none available at present, due to the large crowds in our city for the Centennial.  Your brother would have to be admitted to the general surgical ward, where he will be subjected to contact with patients of a lower class.”

For a moment Adam could only stare in amazement.  “I don’t care who sleeps in the bed next to him,” he sputtered when he found his voice.  “Just give him the help he needs—as soon as possible, if that’s not asking too much!”

Several of the men behind the table appeared offended, but Dr. Whittaker stepped in quickly to apologize for the worried brother’s seemingly belligerent attitude, reminding the board that this man and his brother came from the far West and were not accustomed to civilized separation of the classes.

Adam felt like exploding at that insulting insinuation, but for Joe’s sake he restrained himself.

“Only one further point, then,” the board member hurried to state.  “You realize that this case will have great interest for the medical staff and their students.  While we try to respect the privacy of our paying patients, it is standard practice for examinations of our charity patients to be open to such observers, and in view of the unique nature of this surgery—”

Adam interrupted, striving to curtail the seemingly endless discussion.  “Fine, examine him all you like—just do something now!”

With another shake of his head at the uncouth conduct of westerners, the board member who had made the request turned to the others at the table.  “With that understanding I believe we can accept this young man for admission into the hospital.  Obviously, he poses no threat of pauperism.”

Another man in a black frock coat said, “I think we can excuse Mr. Cartwright now, while we deliberate our decision.”

Dr. Whittaker immediately escorted a livid Adam Cartwright from the room.  “Deliberate!” Adam fumed as soon as the resident had closed the door behind them.  “How long is this going to take?”

“I’m sure they’ll decide quickly in your brother’s favor,” the young doctor stated.

“And what was that about pauperism?” Adam ranted.

Dr. Whittaker shrugged.  “Unfortunately, it is a concern when we accept charity patients.  The board must determine whether a patient is being admitted for a medical need of fixed duration or whether he will become a financial drain on the hospital’s limited resources.  In the case of a paying patient, that concern is negated, which is why I said your brother’s admission would be facilitated if you could pay.”

“Money talks,” Adam muttered bitterly.

“It does,” the resident admitted.  “The day may come when appropriate medical treatment is available equally to all, but that day is not yet here, Mr. Cartwright.  You and your brother are quite fortunate.”

Adam nodded, grateful, as never before, for his father’s foresight and hard work, which had afforded the opportunity for Joe to get the help he needed.  Concerned that his brother had been alone too long, Adam excused himself and hurried back to the reception ward.

Joe at first looked relieved to see his brother; then the mask of offense dropped back over his face.  “You said you’d be right back,” he chided pettishly.

The waiting had seemed interminable to Adam, too, and he could only imagine how time must have crawled for his brother, left alone within the uninviting gray walls. “I’m sorry,” he said, as he unfastened the straps that restrained his brother, feeling them unnecessary now that he was here to protect Joe from his own foolishness.  “It shouldn’t be much longer, buddy.”

Joe refused to even make eye contact with his older brother, turning his back and curling up into a protective ball as soon as his body was free to move.

Adam rubbed his brother’s back with a solicitous hand.  “Is the pain worse?”

“What do you care?” Joe muttered.  “Go away.”

Closing his eyes, Adam shook his head, fearful that Joe would never forgive him for the actions he’d felt compelled to take.  He said nothing, however, concerned that any explanation he offered would only upset Joe more, and since Joe refused to say anything else, the two brothers filled the gloomy room with heavy silence.

Hearing footsteps, Adam looked up and was surprised, after the history of delays, to see Dr. Whittaker return so quickly.  “The board has agreed to admit your brother, Mr. Cartwright,” the beaming resident announced.  “We’ll be taking him into the main hospital as soon as the bed carriage arrives.”

“Bed carriage?” Adam queried.  “Can’t we just carry him in?”  The thought of even a minute’s more delay was unbearable to the anxious older brother.

“Much better this way,” the doctor advised.  “Invented by Dr. Morton himself,” he added, obviously intending to impress the grim-faced Mr. Cartwright with the stature of the man who would be performing surgery on his brother.  The man from Nevada shrugged aside the information as unimportant, and the hospital resident correctly read the gesture as concern over another delay.  “Ah, here it is,” he announced with relief a few minutes later, “so we’ll soon have your brother settled in.”

With his engineering expertise, Adam at once appreciated the efficiency of the four-wheeled conveyance being rolled into the reception ward.  Built low, it slid under Joe’s cot; then an orderly turned the crank at one end, raising the center of the carriage until it lifted the cot from the floor for easy transport from place to place.  It would, indeed, make the trip across the courtyard more comfortable for Joe, so waiting for the bed carriage was one delay Adam didn’t begrudge the hospital staff.

“This certainly is a convenient way of getting from place to place,” Adam observed as he walked alongside the bed carriage toward the main building.  “This doctor of yours must be quite an intelligent man to invent such a useful device, don’t you think, Joe?”

The attempt to bolster Joe’s spirits fell flat, for Joe looked as unimpressed as Adam had been when Dr. Whittaker sang his superior’s praises, and rigid with anger, he remained unresponsive to any attempt to communicate.

As they came to a double staircase in the central hall, the resident paused.  “This is where we separate,” he said.  “You need to sign the admission papers in the office to your right.  Then you can take these stairs up to the third floor, where you’ll find seating outside the surgical amphitheater.  Doctor Morton and I will join you there after the completion of the operation.”  Catching the older brother’s concerned look at the younger, he added, “We’ll take the patient in another entrance after he’s prepared for surgery.  He’s in good hands, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Yes, of course,” Adam said.  Bending over Joe’s cot, he tried to get the boy to look at him, but again Joe refused.  Though Adam hated parting with bad feelings between them, he saw no alternative.  “I’ll see you later, buddy.”  With a final brush of Joe’s chestnut curls, he let the orderlies roll his brother away and went into the office Dr. Whittaker had indicated.

Papers signed, he immediately jogged up the stairs.  On the third floor, Adam noticed a throng of people moving down the tiled corridor.  Overhearing snatches of conversation, he realized they were all heading toward the observation level of the surgical amphitheater.  Word spreads fast when the operation is an interesting one, he concluded.  Wanting to be close to Joe, even though he was certain the boy would be unaware—and possibly resentful—of his presence, Adam trailed in with the rest of the crowd and took a chair near the aisle about halfway down the tier of seats.

The waiting began again, and again it seemed interminable.  Adam passed the time by studying the structure of the amphitheater.  The room was octagonal in shape, surrounded on all sides by rows of seats rising one above the other for thirty feet or more. Below, Adam saw the bare table on which his younger brother would soon lie.  The amphitheater could hold three hundred spectators, Adam calculated, feeling grateful that not every seat was filled.  As it was, there would be more than enough people watching the operation to give Joe fits, if he saw them.  Hope they put him under the anesthetic before they bring him in here, Adam thought as he glanced around at the people continuing to enter.

Still the waiting continued, and with time on his hands, Adam couldn’t stop his thoughts from drifting to other surgeries he had seen, none of them under such pristine conditions as this metropolitan hospital afforded.  Not that he’d ever gone out of his way to observe such procedures, like some of the curious onlookers here, but sometimes it couldn’t be avoided, at least not without shirking one’s duty.  As a Union officer, Adam had felt it his duty to stand by injured men in his company whenever possible.  He’d seen the doctors in their blood-spattered aprons cutting off limbs right and left, throwing them into piles outside the operating tent, and he’d held men’s hands as they screamed in torment when morphine was in short supply.  There’d been times when he’d left that grisly scene to spill his last meal behind the nearest tree, but never once had one of the men under his command seen anything but calm and steady support in their lieutenant’s face.  A man did his duty, however unsavory, and duty had always been strong in Adam Cartwright, from childhood up.

But the strength that had stood steadfast while he watched shattered limbs sawed off faltered when Little Joe was wheeled into the amphitheater and doctors Morton and Whittaker each put on one of the white coats hanging on pegs along the back wall.  Not a stranger, not a man he barely knew or even one whose comradeship he’d come to cherish.  This was his baby brother, precious beyond words, and Adam suddenly realized he could not bear to watch a scalpel slice into that cherished flesh.  He grasped the back of the seat in front of him, trying to tame the turmoil churning in his stomach, but he knew instinctively that he would fail if he stayed in that room.  Bolting from his seat, he ran up the stairs to the third floor entrance, disdainful of the titters that rippled around the room. Let the ignorant fools laugh; they’d sing a different tune if it were their loved one lying on that table.  There were sound reasons why doctors preferred to operate outside the view of family members, and although Adam felt as though he were abandoning Little Joe, he knew he would do the boy little good by passing out cold.  He stumbled to a bench beneath a window and slumped into it.

The jeering laughter died as quickly as it had begun, but the self-recrimination that followed in its wake was unrelenting, as Adam castigated himself for the display of weakness.  Adam Cartwright, always calm in crisis, he mocked his pride.  What if it had been a bullet that struck Joe down, instead of illness, with me the only one available to extract it?  Would I just let him die because I was too squeamish to cut into him?  Adam shook his head, knowing that in that case, duty would take over.  A man did what he had to do in an emergency, but to sit idly by, just watching without being able to help, was more than any man could stand.

So, maybe he hadn’t really failed Joe, at least not by fleeing the amphitheater.  Other failures, however, rose high as the Sierras in Adam’s newly sensitive eyes.  Just that morning he had composed a lengthy list of Joe’s faults, but it was his own that riddled him, like rapid fire from a Gatling gun, as he sat on the hard bench, waiting to learn whether his little brother would live or die.  He had accused Joe of petty selfishness in snaring that window seat at Mill Station, but he was the selfish one, demanding it throughout the rest of their journey across the country, denying Joe a good view of places he’d never seen.  How did that enhance the boy’s education?  A total stranger had been kinder to his brother in that regard than he.  In fact, Adam flagellated himself, his selfishness had begun even earlier, in the planning stages of the trip east, when he’d ridiculed everything his brother suggested.  Pa had tried to warn him that he was being unfair, but he’d told himself repeatedly that the trip was his, his brother being a mere guest, not a partner with equal rights.

As if that weren’t enough, he’d practically turned Little Joe into his personal body servant on the journey, making him fetch and carry, whether it was the daily newspaper or all their assorted baggage, justifying the dictatorial treatment as partial repayment for the trip.  He’d teased the boy mercilessly, mocking his choice of reading material, for instance, when all Joe was doing was finding some way to occupy his time.  I should have spent those hours enjoying him, not with my nose buried in some engineering journal.  What I wouldn’t give to have even one of those hours back!

Adam stood and began to pace the hall as he continued the unremitting tally of his own offenses, the worst being the way he’d forced his will on his younger brother here in Philadelphia.  How many times had he reminded Joe that he was paying the bills and, therefore, deserved to have everything his own way, even down to deciding where they’d eat every meal?  What kind of mercenary wretch would wield such autocratic power over his own brother?  And it hadn’t stopped there.  Oh, no, I had to throw his promise to accept my authority in the kid’s face, too.  And don’t forget the threats to send him home in disgrace if he didn’t toe the line.  Small wonder he felt the need to break free.  Even so, it only happened once, and I’ve held it against him ever since.

Adam paused at a window overlooking the courtyard and rested his forehead against the sun-warmed glass, overwhelmed by the recollections rushing toward him now like the crashing waves of an angry sea.  Oh, Pa, Pa, these are the breakers you warned me about.  There was no pride this time as he reflected on his father’s words, only crushing shame for the bitter accusations he’d thrown in his brother’s face that morning.   Anger and unforgiveness for Joe’s Shantyville escapade and the deception preceding it had blinded him to his brother’s all-too-real illness.  He’d stormed away from that encounter and caught the streetcar in a huff.  That’s when the gale had started to blow, driven by the wind of long-submerged memories, and his ship had hit those breakers of his father’s metaphor, though even Pa, Adam was sure, had never dreamed the waters could grow this choppy.

He’d caught a car back to the hotel almost immediately, but still the round trip had consumed an hour, an hour he could never buy back at any price.  What if that one hour made the difference?  If these doctors and that Harvard professor—what was his name?  Oh, yes, Fitz—if they were right in believing that it was important to intervene early in cases like Joe’s, could that one hour have been the crucial one that decided his brother’s life or death?  Adam pressed his palms heavily against the windowpane, knowing that if Joe died, he’d be asking that question the rest of his life.  Dear God, spare me that.  No, forget me; spare him.  He’s just a childtoo young to

Too young to die?  But Adam had seen boys younger fall on the field of battle.  In fact, he realized with a jolt, he himself had been barely older than Joe was now when he had led those “boys” into battle, some of them to their deaths.  They’d all considered themselves men back then, just as Joe did now.

Adam smiled softly as gentler memories flowed in to replace the tumultuous ones.  That scene in the gentlemen’s washroom of the railcar, when Joe had confronted the burly farmer ribbing his request for a razor, had been priceless.  Memories like that made it hard to think of Little Joe as anything but a child.  He remembered that child rushing from one exhibit to the next at the Centennial, eager to touch and taste all that was new and exciting in life.  Though anxious concern hovered just past the pleasant recollections, Adam almost chuckled as he remembered Joe’s spontaneous suggestion that the four Cartwrights march down the main street of Virginia City, wearing those gaudy suspenders with their names woven in.  Get through this, little buddy, and I promise that you and I, at least, will parade down C Street in suspender splendor, even if the entire population of our fair city lines the way to gawk at us.

Turning to lean back against the wall, Adam thought of the two days that he and Joe had spent relaxing at the zoo and rowing down the Wissahickon.  Those were the days he cherished, not the ones spent dragging his brother from one educational exhibit to the next: that bright-eyed child gazing with wonder and delight at a tall giraffe or a yellow balloon bobbing against a sky of cloudless blue, the energetic lad who had wanted to scale every overlook, the young man whose child-like laughter had rivaled the twittering of the birds in the trees.

The thought of that laughter silenced forever brought the breakers crashing back over his soul, and Adam pressed steepled fingers to his lips.  Dear God, don’t let me lose that, he prayed.  How will I ever learn to laugh . . . to live . . . if I don’t have him to teach me?  Grant me this one request, and I promise that from this moment on, this trip will belong to him, not me.

He made his way back to the wooden bench and sat down again, burying his face in his hands.  It seemed like a trite bargain to make in exchange for a boy’s life—spare his life and I’ll show him a good time—but, then, one didn’t bargain with the Almighty, anyway.  All a man could do was present his petition and plead for mercy, and as he waited for the operation to end, Adam Cartwright did exactly that.

Minute followed harrowing minute, as a restless Adam moved from bench to window to pacing the hall, time after time.  He hadn’t thought to look at his watch when the surgery started, so he had no idea how long Little Joe had been on the operating table, but it seemed like forever.  He was sitting on the bench when the doors to the amphitheater opened and people began streaming out, chattering about how fascinating the procedure had been.  Adam leaped to his feet, fighting his way against the flow, dodging spectators still inside as he careened down the steps to the operating floor.  The doctors were just hanging up their bloodstained coats when Adam vaulted over the rail that separated the observation tiers from the surgical area.  “Where is he?  Where’s my brother?” he demanded, for he had noticed that the operating table was now empty.

“Mr. Cartwright, I told you we would see you upstairs after the operation,” Dr. Whittaker chided.

Dr. Morton lifted a hand to silence further comment.  “Your brother’s been moved to a quieter area, where he can be watched until the effects of the anesthetic dissipate.”

“Then he’s all right,” Adam gasped in relief.

Dr. Morton smiled.  “He’s in stable condition at present.  Though the appendix was severely inflamed, I was able to remove it before perforation.”

“He’ll be all right,” Adam babbled.  It seemed to be the only phrase he could say, the only words that mattered in all the world.

“All indications are good,” Dr. Morton said, “but I must remind you that we are on untried ground.  There are risks involved with any surgery, and while I believe I was able to remove all the infected tissue, we will need to watch him for signs of infection.  Only time will tell us if the operation was a complete success.”

Adam nodded in understanding.  “May I see him?” he asked.

“He’s still anesthetized,” the doctor explained again, “but if you wish to wait, you may see him briefly before we settle him in his bed in the surgical ward.”

“Briefly?”

“Yes, I’ll see to it that he’s given enough morphine to help him rest soundly through the night, and you may see him tomorrow morning, although that is an exception to our regular visiting hours.”

Adam’s brow furrowed.  “I don’t understand.  I assumed I’d be staying with him.

Dr. Morton laid a kindly hand on his shoulder.  “I need to prepare for my next surgery, Mr. Cartwright, but Dr. Whittaker can acquaint you with hospital policy.”  Nodding at the resident who had assisted him during the operation, he added, “Take whatever time you need, doctor, though I might suggest you find a better place to talk with Mr. Cartwright.  This room will be needed again soon.”

“Yes, sir.”  Dr. Whittaker put one hand behind Adam’s right elbow and gestured toward a door behind him.  “If you’ll come this way, Mr. Cartwright, I’ll answer all your questions.”

From what Adam had seen of the two doctors, he much preferred to discuss his brother’s case with the senior physician, but he realized the chief surgeon of a large hospital would have other duties and so went along willingly with the resident.  They had gone no further that the hall outside the amphitheater, however, before he demanded an explanation.  “Why can’t I stay with my brother?”

Dr. Whittaker took a step back and then regained his composure.  “Because your brother is in the public ward, sir.  Had we been able to secure a private room, you could have had as much access to him as you wished, but on the ward visiting hours are restricted—two hours on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons.”  At Adam’s horrified look, he added, “It’s really for his benefit, as well as avoiding interference with necessary work on the ward.”

“Are you seriously suggesting that I leave this boy here alone until next Monday?”  Adam protested.  “That is completely unacceptable, sir!”

The resident squared his shoulders.  “Those are the rules, Mr. Cartwright.”

Sensing that further display of outrage would gain him nothing, Adam resolved to reason with the man.  “No, you don’t understand.  He’s never been in a hospital before.  He’s used to having one of his family sit with him through any illness or injury, and he will not respond well to being alone among strangers.”

The doctor stroked his mustache thoughtfully.  “Well, as he is a paying patient, we might make some concession, I suppose.  Dr. Morton did indicate that you might see your brother tomorrow morning, and I’m certain he would authorize more access than the rules permit.  It will require a special order from the managers, but I will propose to them that you be allowed to visit your brother for one hour each morning and two each afternoon.

Disappointment washed across Adam’s face.  “Only three hours a day?  Can’t you see your way clear to—”

“Mr. Cartwright,” Dr. Whittaker interrupted sharply, “as I said, it’s in his best interest—and yours, as well—that these rules be kept.  When he is dismissed from the hospital, you will, no doubt, be solely responsible for his care, as you are far from home and anyone who might assist you.  How can you possibly do that effectively if you are exhausted from sitting by his bedside night and day?”

I’d manage, Adam thought, though he sensed that statement would carry little weight with the rule-conscious resident.  “I understand what you’re saying,” he replied, choosing his words carefully, “but I still think that this particular patient would do better if I were with him.”

The doctor’s gaze narrowed.  “I did not observe much in the way of harmony between the two of you at the hotel nor since arriving at the hospital.  Can you really be certain your presence will not serve only to agitate the lad?”

Caught off guard, Adam had no answer.  Joe’s last words to him had been an injunction to “go away,” and that bitter anger might still stand as a barrier between them.  Perhaps the doctor was right in believing that his staying with Joe might only retard his recovery.  Adam nodded in defeated acquiescence.

“Fine,” the resident concluded crisply.  “You may see your brother between eleven and noon tomorrow and again from two to four, unless the board interposes objections, which I do not anticipate.  Now, if you’ll come with me, I’ll show you where you can wait until your brother awakens from the anesthetic.”

Another bench in another hall, this one an inner corridor without windows, but the hour Adam spent there seemed short as he devoted the first portion of it to prayers of thanksgiving and the remaining time to planning his next steps.  Obviously, Pa would need to be informed.  There really hadn’t been time before now, and that was just as well, since he could now send word of the success of the surgery.  Then, once that was taken care of, he would have dinner.  Though he hadn’t eaten breakfast, Adam had only become aware of his hunger here in this hall.  Then what?  A trip to the bookstore, perhaps, for since he wouldn’t be allowed to keep Joe company, he would have many empty hours to fill in that lonely room at the Washington Hotel.

Adam looked up as he heard the sound of wheels rolling down the corridor and a broad smile hit his face as he recognized the figure in the bed.  Standing, he hurried forward, though the raised hand of Dr. Whittaker stopped him short.  “He’s still groggy,” the resident said, “so don’t be surprised if he doesn’t recognize you.”

Adam nodded and bent over his brother’s cot, which was again mounted on the bed carriage invented by his surgeon.  “Hey, little buddy, how you doin’?”

Little Joe looked at the world through drug-blurred eyes, but he seemed to recognize his brother’s face.  “Don’ wanna go school,” he muttered.

Adam released a light chuckle, remembering the many times a young Joe would mumble similar words when awakened on a school-day morning.  He wasn’t sure whether his brother was lost in a dream of those uncomplicated days of his youth or reemphasizing his distaste for going to college.  Either way, the same answer would suffice.  “Okay, buddy,” Adam soothed, “you don’t have to go to school.”  And however Joe may have interpreted the remark, in Adam’s heart it was a vow to never again push the issue of college with his brother.

“We should get him into his bed now,” the doctor reminded Adam.

“All right,” Adam agreed reluctantly and bent over Joe once more.  “I have to go now, buddy.  You get yourself a good rest, and I’ll see you in the morning.”

“‘Kay,” Joe muttered, eyelids drooping.

Adam stood in the hallway, watching until his brother’s bed was out of sight; then, having no more reason to remain in Pennsylvania Hospital, he left via the Eighth Street entrance.  He should, of course, have headed directly to the offices of Western Union and sent that telegram to his father, but he told himself that it could wait until after he’d eaten.  A glance at his watch confirmed that the Washington’s dining hall would close within an hour, although if he were honest, he had time to post a telegram and get back to the hotel before two.  Honesty made even deeper inroads after Adam placed his dinner order, and he was able to admit that he had delayed sending the telegram, not because he was hungry, but because he didn’t really want to send it at all.

As he waited for his meal to arrive, Adam debated the issue.  He could not, of course, hide a crisis of this magnitude from his father, but it took little imagination to visualize what his father would do when that telegram arrived at the Ponderosa.  Within minutes Ben Cartwright would be packing his bags and making preparations to catch the next train east, frantic with worry for the seven days it took to reach his baby son.  More than likely, Hoss would be hopping that train, as well, and it wouldn’t be good to leave the ranch that short-handed, Adam rationalized.  Then he checked himself.  That wasn’t honest, either.  Truthfully, he didn’t want his father showing up to take over.  There were reasons he wanted to be left in charge, but what he wanted didn’t really matter.  The only thing that mattered was what Joe needed—but did he really need Pa?

By the time Pa could get here, Little Joe would either be dead or, if he continued as he had begun, on his way to recovery.  Either way, the trip east would be a futile one for their father.  Knowing Ben Cartwright, though, he would want to be with his ailing son during his recovery, but that was want again, not need.  Adam felt perfectly confident in his ability to provide the care his brother needed during his convalescence.  More importantly, if he were to rebuild the broken relationship with Joe, he needed—yes, needed, not just wanted—unbroken time with his brother.  And he could not have that if Ben Cartwright were to ride in on his iron horse, like a unit of cavalry charging to the rescue.

He could gain the time he needed by the simple stratagem of informing his father of Joe’s illness by regular mail, rather than telegraph, and a letter would afford him the opportunity to explain his actions more fully.  By the time it arrived in Nevada, he should know for certain how Joe was progressing, and he could send a wire updating the boy’s condition for their father.  Pa would undoubtedly skin him alive when he found out, but it was a price Adam was willing to pay.

The food arrived, but Adam dallied over it, not really looking forward to writing that letter.  Then it occurred to him that he would be wiser to wait until evening, after he’d had time to compose his thoughts, and write during the hours when he could do nothing else.  Another conclusion quickly followed.  Since he wanted to be with Little Joe every moment he was permitted in that surgical ward and would need to be in full-time attendance on him after his dismissal from the hospital, this afternoon represented the most free time he was likely to see for several weeks.  He needed to use it wisely, and Adam immediately realized that the wisest use of the remaining hours of the afternoon was to return to the Centennial, not as a tourist, but as buying agent for the Ponderosa.  With that responsibility out of the way, he could devote his full attention to Joe.  He hurriedly finished his dinner, foregoing dessert, and ran for a streetcar out to Fairmount Park.

He made a beeline first to Machinery Hall to buy four sets of name-bearing suspenders, just the way Joe had wanted.  Then he practically ran the remaining aisles of that building, as well as the Main Exhibition Hall across the way, buying tableware and glasses and whatever else he thought the Ponderosa required and arranging for its shipment home.  Every time there was a choice to be made, he selected the item that had appealed to his little brother, unless he had good reason to make a different choice.  If worse came to worst, Pa and Hoss would appreciate those items all the more for knowing that their beloved son and brother had picked them.

Adam tossed his head abruptly to dislodge that thought.  Joe wasn’t going to die; he was going to be just fine.  Deep inside, Adam knew those doctors had been right: getting that infected appendix out had been the key.  With it gone, Little Joe had every chance of recovery, and all that strong-willed, life-loving boy had ever needed, in any crisis of his life, was a fighting chance.

Only one item did Adam Cartwright purchase for himself that afternoon.  As he passed the Italian pavilion, he remembered how much the wooden cherubs from Venice had reminded him of his little brother, and suddenly he had to have one of those curly-headed carvings.  Returning to the hotel when the Exhibition closed for the day, he set the little figurine on the writing desk where he could see it as he began to put on paper the words he had worked out during the long rides to and from the Centennial grounds.  He paused only a moment, and then began to write, the words flowing smoothly from pen to paper:

 

Dear Pa,

I regret to inform you that your son Joseph fell seriously ill this morning.  To my shame, I must admit that I did not, at first, believe his illness was genuine and, therefore, delayed getting him the prompt medical attention his condition demanded.  There were reasons I thought he was shamming, but I make no excuses.  I should have examined him more closely.  When I finally did, I realized the gravity of his condition and immediately summoned a doctor, who diagnosed his illness as appendicitis.  Dr. Martin may be more familiar with it as perityphlitis and can certainly answer your medical questions more completely than I.

Joe’s doctor, the eminent Dr. Thomas Morton, advised surgery for removal of the appendix before perforation, a departure from the standard treatment, but one that he and his colleague felt gave Joe a better chance of survival.  I agreed to the operation over Joe’s strong personal objections because I did not consider him competent to make decisions at that point.  The surgery went well, the appendix being removed prior to perforation, and Joe is stable at this time.

You may expect a telegram from me on the day this letter arrives, so that you will know his current condition within hours of reading this.  If you have not received a telegram prior to the arrival of this letter, Pa, be assured that all is well with your youngest son, as I will certainly wire at once should Joe’s condition worsen in any degree.

I realize you are probably feeling intense anger with me as you read this.  You are wondering why it is a letter you are receiving today and not a telegram a week ago, when these events occurred.  In part, I have charted this course so that I can give you a more complete picture of Joe’s health, but I have personal reasons, as well.  I hope you can forgive me, but it was something I felt I had to do.

I know your first instinct is to come here immediately, but I don’t believe there is any necessity of your making that long journey.  I honestly believe I can give Joe the care he needs, so there is no need for you to neglect other responsibilities, which only you can fulfill.  That isn’t my real reason for asking you not to come, however.  Despite your warnings, I have treated Joe shabbily with my insistence on doing things my way and my failure to look at various situations through his eyes.  I fear that my relationship with him will be at an end if I do not somehow make amends for my misguided attempts to force what I believed best on him, including the surgery that I firmly feel has saved his life.  I need a chance to make it up to Joe, Pa, and there is no way I can if you are here.  He’ll immediately turn to you, as he always does, and shut me out of his life, perhaps forever.

We hit the breakers, Pa, and we’re tossing about in choppy waters, just as you warned me, but I believe we can weather this storm if you’ll let me continue steering the ship.  Please give me that chance.  Please trust me.

Your loving and penitent son,

Adam

 

Adam read the letter over, and satisfied that he’d made the best case he possibly could, he placed it in an envelope, sealed it and wrote the address on the outside.  Then, picking up the wooden image of Little Joe, he carried it to his room and set it on the bedside table, so it would be the first thing he saw upon awakening.  Though he found it hard to fall sleep, he finally drifted off, yearning for the morning to come when he could return to the hospital and begin his campaign to win back the heart of the carved cherub’s original.

*****

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Hands, touching him . . . a voice, calling him, but not one he knew.  Little Joe moaned, turning his face into the pillow, seeking again the silent, pain-free realm of slumber.  Covers pulled back, a faint breeze blowing across bare flesh, hands again.  Still half-asleep, Joe reached down to push them away.

“Here now, lad, none of that,” said the voice.  Joe opened his eyes to gaze groggily into the face of a big-framed man with pale complexion and rust-colored hair.  “It’s sorry I am to wake you so early,” the man was saying, “but ‘tis the way of things here.”

“Here?  Where?” Joe babbled, disoriented.  Nothing—and no one—in this dimly lighted room looked familiar.

The man bent over him with a kindly look.  “Oh, me poor lad, still lost in your dreams, are ye?  Or maybe ‘tis the morphine.  Do ye not remember bein’ in the Pennsylvania Hospital, then?  You’ve had an operation, so they tell me, so it’s the men’s surgical ward you’re on.”

The memories surged back.  “I-I remember,” Joe murmured.  He frowned at the pervading darkness.  “What—what time is it?”

“Just past four in the morning,” the Irishman replied, “a sorry time to wake a sick lad, I know, but it can’t be helped.  With so many to tend, we’ve got to start early.  Now lie still and let me do for you what has to be done.”

The last traces of drowsiness jolted loose as Joe felt cold porcelain being slid beneath his buttocks.  He was grateful, though, as soon as he understood what the object was and made immediate use of the bedpan.  As his attendant moved to the next man to perform the same service for him, Joe glanced down the long aisle of beds, full of men like himself, either sleeping or looking as if they wished they could.  He didn’t feel like counting them, but he could tell it was a large room, and that practically every bed was full, both in his aisle and in the one lining the opposite wall.  The room was almost eerily quiet, virtually silent but for an occasional murmur or moan.

Finished with the bedpan, Joe called softly, “Mister?”

“Be back to you soon as I can, me boy,” the man, now two beds down, called.  “I’ve six, in all, to tend to.”

Joe closed his eyes, resolving to endure the uncomfortable position until the man had time to help him, for the slightest movement brought pain to his side.  Not the stabbing pain he’d felt the day before, though—more of a dull ache this time, but strong enough to keep him from moving about much.

Though the wait seemed eternal, only a few minutes actually passed before the Irishman returned to remove the bedpan. Joe sighed with relief as he again felt flat linen beneath him.  He closed his eyes, still longing for sleep, but another physical sensation kept him awake, this time the touch of warm water on his bared chest.  “What you doin’?” he asked blearily.

“Time for your mornin’ bath, me boy,” the Irishman chuckled cheerily, “and you’ll be wishin’ you could have another in a few hours’ time, for it gets fair hot in these wards, and you’re a good way from the window.”

“Are you a doctor?” Joe asked.

This time the attendant laughed so loudly that others working in the ward turned to look at him in rebuke.  “No, more’s the pity, for it’s a richer man I’d be if I were,” he said as he lathered Joe’s chest with soap.  “I’m just Patrick, a poor bloke seekin’ his way through this world as best he can.”

“Oh,” Joe said and had no strength to carry on further conversation.  He lay still and unresisting as Patrick washed his body, covered him carefully and moved on to the next bed to carry out the same routine for another patient.  As Joe drifted back to sleep, questions ran through his head, only one seeming important enough to give more than momentary consideration in his weakened state: where was Adam?

*****

Having spent a restless night, Adam awoke early.  He smiled at the cherub sitting on his night table and swung his legs over the side of the bed.  Realizing he had time to spare, he dawdled over his grooming.  You’d almost think I was Joe, getting dandified for a dance, he told his reflection as he smoothed each dark hair immaculately into place.  He took his time getting dressed and still had time to read that morning’s issue of the Public Ledger in its entirety before going down to breakfast.

Adam toyed with his bacon and eggs, almost as if he were the one ill, instead of Joe, too anxious to see his little brother to enjoy the meal.  One paid a price, evidently, for the greater efficiency and availability of medical care here in the East.  Back home, one might not receive a doctor’s attention as quickly, but neither would that doctor interfere with a family’s attendance on a sick member.  To be fair, of course, that was only happening here because his brother was in a hospital.  Even in the East, most families cared for their infirm at home, but in a hospital one had to submit to rules made for the good of all, even if sometimes they trespassed on the rights of an individual.  Adam found it hard to respond to that philosophical wisdom in this particular case, though, when the individual was one who meant the world to him.

Finishing the meal, he walked to the post office and mailed the letter to his father, his hand hesitating only a moment before releasing the envelope.  Coming back to Chestnut Street, he paused, reminded by its nearness of Western Union, but assuring himself that he’d made the right decision for all involved by not wiring home news calculated to bring more worry than relief, he walked to Washington Square, where he rested beneath a shady oak until time to visit Joe.

He arrived at the hospital and went up to the second floor, where he’d been told he could find the men’s surgical ward.  A woman in a crisp blue and white uniform, seated at a desk just outside the entrance to the large ward, stopped him and informed him that patients could not receive visitors on Saturday.  “Dr. Morton and Dr. Whittaker both assured me that I could see my brother this morning,” Adam protested tersely.

The woman’s steely gaze softened at once.  “Oh, of course.  You must be Mr. Cartwright.  There was a note on my desk concerning you this morning.”

“Then I presume I may see my brother,” Adam said, trying to speak in a more relaxed manner, though he still felt tension crawling up his spine.

“Certainly, for one hour this morning and two this afternoon,” the woman said.  “Does that agree with your understanding, Mr. Cartwright?”

“Perfectly, Miss . . .”

“Miss Frances Irwin, Chief Nurse, Mr. Cartwright.”

“You’re in charge of this ward?  Then, perhaps, you could tell me what kind of night my brother had,” Adam suggested.

“I supervise all the wards, Mr. Cartwright, as well as the nurses’ training program instituted here just last year,” Miss Irwin stated with obvious pride, “although, of course, none of our female nurses directly attends any male patient.  As to your brother, I couldn’t say, as I only came on duty this morning.  He was sleeping restfully at that time, though.  His chart did note that he had received an injection of morphine during the night.”

“He’s in pain, then?” Adam asked with concern.

“Some wound pain is quite normal after surgery, sir,” Miss Irwin assured him, “and the use of morphine standard for that purpose.  It doesn’t indicate anything amiss.”

“Good.”  Adam’s relief was evident in his ebony eyes.

“In fact,” the Chief Nurse continued, “I saw to it that your brother received another injection this morning, as the doctor’s orders permitted, for he seemed to be in some discomfort.  I also noted that he did not touch his breakfast, but that’s not uncommon following surgery.  You shouldn’t be overly concerned.”

Familiar with Joe’s typically poor appetite during illness, Adam smiled and again asked permission to enter the ward.  Reminding him that his brother was probably sleeping, as were other patients, Miss Irwin asked that he enter quietly, but readily granted permission.

Adam walked in, searching for his brother’s face among the thirty or so beds in the ward.  When he spotted Joe in the fourth bed from the door, he smiled and moved closer with light steps.  Joe was, as the nurse had predicted, asleep, and Adam, of course, did not attempt to wake him.  The boy had been through an ordeal the previous day and needed all the rest he could get.  He softly touched Joe’s forehead and was relieved to feel it only slightly warm.  Motivated by a mixture of concern and curiosity, Adam lifted the covers to examine his brother’s side.  Since the area was swathed in bandages, all he could see was a tube, the color of dark earth, hanging from his brother’s side—a drain, of course, necessary to combat infection, but an ugly and, most likely, uncomfortable thing.

There was a chair at the side of the bed, so after he’d eased the sheet back over the wound, Adam sat down to wait, willing his brother to wake, willing him to continue sleeping.  Joe did the latter.  Not once during the hour that Adam spent at his side did the boy’s eyes open.  Disappointed, Adam brushed aside the lock of chestnut hair that had characteristically fallen across Joe’s forehead and before leaving the ward whispered a promise to see him later.

Having two hours to kill until he could again see Joe, Adam decided to have dinner at Fairmount Park.  Since half of his time would be spent merely riding the horse cars there and back, he felt foolish, but he was too restless to simply sit in his hotel room.  Besides, he’d been a bit hurried yesterday afternoon and thought it might be wise to take another walk through the Main Exhibition Hall, to be certain he hadn’t overlooked some important purchase.  Beyond that, he had no desire to see any more of the Centennial until he could do so with Joe again at his side.  He had no heart for the wonders of the world without that youthful perspective to freshen his vision of the familiar and intensify his awe of all that was new.

Still having time to spare after he’d eaten a light meal at the Café Leland and finished his shopping for the ranch, Adam wandered across the street to Shantyville, just because it reminded him of Joe.  He meandered through the booths, remembering how he and Joe had scrounged for food on the Fourth of July.  He thought about buying a bag of roasted peanuts for Joe, in remembrance of that pleasant day together, but then he realized that peanuts weren’t the best food for a boy who, thus far, hadn’t taken a bite of nourishment.  Still wishing he could take some small present to his brother, Adam spotted a balloon vender and impulsively bought one—yellow, of course, like the one Joe had chosen that day at the zoo.

Catching the horse car, Adam struggled to keep the balloon under control as he rode back toward town.  He couldn’t help noticing the stares of his fellow passengers, though most merely smiled, evidently having concluded that he was taking the balloon to a child.  Not so far wrong, Adam told himself with bittersweet recollection of his first reaction to Joe’s buying a balloon, but I wouldn’t have him any other way.

The car stopped close to the hospital, and Adam wasted no time in bounding up the steps of the building, balloon in hand.  Heads turned, but no one said anything.  As he approached the door to the men’s surgical ward, he slowed his steps.  Down the hall he saw Miss Irwin exit from another ward and waved to her as he went in to see Joe.  He did not notice her hurrying down the hall after him.

Adam sighed as he once again saw his brother, sound asleep in the fourth bed, but he couldn’t begrudge the boy his needed rest.  Although Adam suspected the sleep was again the result of morphine, it was obviously a peaceful one.  Not wanting to hold the balloon until—or perhaps ‘if’ was more accurate—Joe awaked, Adam began to tie its string to the iron rail at the foot of his brother’s bed.

“Mr. Cartwright, what are you doing?” a brisk voice demanded.

Adam turned to see the stern face of the Chief Nurse.  “Why, I’m visiting my brother, Miss Irwin,” he replied smoothly, “although I see that he’s again asleep.”

“As he should be,” the nurse said firmly.  “I was referring to that.”  She pointed at the yellow balloon attached to the bed rail.

Adam grinned.  “I suppose it seems foolish, but I believe it will have special meaning for him.”

“You cannot leave that here, Mr. Cartwright.”

“Why?”

“Because—well, because—well, it simply isn’t in our regulations,” the nurse babbled.

“Do the regulations specifically state ‘no balloons’?” Adam asked with cocked head and quizzically arched eyebrow.

“No, not specifically,” Miss Irwin admitted, “but, really, it—it detracts from a professional appearance.”

An amused smiled skewed across Adam’s face.  “If you can tell me a single way in which having something pleasant to look at will retard this boy’s recovery, or disturb any other patient, I’ll remove it, but otherwise I expect you to leave it alone.”  Though his tone was pleasant, the firm set of his jaw left no question that he meant what he said, and he was quite willing to stand on his brother’s status as a paying patient to get his own way.

“Aw, leave it, ma’am,” called the patient in the next bed.  “This drab place can use a spot of color.”

Miss Irwin’s lips twitched, despite her attempt to maintain professional aloofness.  “Very well, Mr. Cartwright—unless the doctor specifically objects.”

“Thank you,” Adam said simply.  He glanced toward his sleeping brother.  “Has he been sleeping the entire time I was away or has he had another injection?”

“He was awake briefly and was given another dose of morphine after dinner,” the nursing supervisor said.  “It’s standard the first day or two after surgery, Mr. Cartwright, which is why you really are wasting your time in coming to see him before Monday.”

“I don’t consider it a waste,” Adam said softly.  “I’m pleased to see him resting.”

Miss Irwin smiled, then, touched by the young man’s devotion to his brother.

“You said ‘after dinner,’” Adam recalled.  “Did he eat?”

“A bit of broth,” she replied.

“Good.  Thank you for speaking with me, Miss Irwin.”

The nurse nodded and returned to her desk, leaving Adam to his silent vigil at his sleeping brother’s side.  Four o’clock came and Adam reluctantly took leave of Little Joe.  Leaning over the bed, he whispered, “I’ll see you tomorrow, buddy,” and walked away, thinking, I just hope you’ll see me!

When Little Joe awoke several hours later, the first thing he saw was the bright yellow balloon, bobbing at the foot of his bed.  He smiled, realizing at once who must have put it there, but he wondered why Adam himself was not with him.  He finally decided that his brother must be busy visiting the Centennial.  After all, it was the reason Adam had come to Philadelphia, and he had said after that fracas at the Art Annex that he wouldn’t allow Joe to spoil it for him.  Joe didn’t want to spoil anything for his brother, either, but he couldn’t help feeling a bit saddened at the prospect of being left alone for who knew how long in Pennsylvania Hospital.

Little Joe was awakened for the second time Sunday morning, hazily opening his eyes to find his bed surrounded by six men, one of whom pulled down the linen sheet and lightweight blanket covering him, lifted his nightshirt, fumbled over his side and mumbled something about how an incision looked.  Uncomfortable with the exposure, but having no strength to resist and with even his feeble protest silenced by the prompt insertion of a thermometer, Joe could only watch edgily as one by one the doctors, as he assumed them to be, leaned over him to examine his side with probing fingertips.  He recognized only one of the men, the one who had come to the hotel room, although the older man looked vaguely familiar, as well.  Somewhat reassured by that doctor’s comment that he was “coming along nicely,” delivered with a pat on the knee after the covers had been replaced, Joe again fell into an exhausted sleep, only to be reawakened once more and presented with an unappetizing bowl of gruel for breakfast.  After choking down a few bites he again dozed off.

Promptly at eleven, Adam stepped quietly to the side of his brother’s bed, shaking his head at the still figure lying in it.  “Buddy, I am about to despair of ever finding you awake,” he sighed.

Hovering at the brink dividing daylight from dreams, Joe recognized a familiar voice and opened his eyes to smile with soft relief at the sight of his brother’s face.

Adam bent solicitously over him.  “I’m sorry.  Did I wake you?”

“I knew you’d come,” Joe whispered, his gaze falling on the balloon, now beginning to droop at the end of his bed.

Turning quickly to follow his brother’s line of sight, Adam was suddenly enormously glad that he’d given in to the childish urge to buy that bit of brightness.  “You didn’t doubt that, did you?” he asked with concern.  While he himself felt that he was abandoning Joe every time he left the hospital, he didn’t want Joe to feel that way.  He certainly didn’t need that kind of misunderstanding to build a higher wall between him and his brother!

“I knew you’d come,” Joe repeated in a whisper, but it was obvious from the way his eyes stayed on the balloon that it was a token to which the boy had been clinging.

Adam rested his hand against his brother’s forehead, pleased by its coolness.  “How are you feeling?”

“Tired,” Joe said, the words coming out with a pitiful whimper.  “They won’t let me sleep, Adam.”

A surprised laugh burst from Adam’s lips.  “Little buddy, you haven’t done anything but sleep!”

The luminous green eyes grew puzzled, then pained.  Just like back at the hotel, Adam didn’t believe him.  “No,” Joe insisted.  “No, Adam.”

Adam tousled Joe’s hair.  “You just think you haven’t slept because you’re tired, and that’s not surprising, after all you’ve been through, but I can assure you that you’ve been asleep every time I visited you.”  Seeing Joe’s furrowed brow, Adam dropped his hand to his brother’s shoulder.  “Look, I don’t want to keep you from your rest.  Would you like me to leave, so you can sleep some more?”

Joe’s left hand crept from beneath the covers and he groped for his brother’s hand.  “No, please . . . please stay.”

“As long as they’ll let me,” Adam said quickly, responding to his brother’s pleading tone.  With Joe still clasping his hand, he pulled up a chair and sat down beside the bed.  “Joe, has anyone explained the hospital’s visiting hours to you?”  A shake of Joe’s head confirmed Adam’s suspicion, and he quickly explained that he was only allowed to visit three hours each day.  “But I’ve been here every minute they would let me, and I’ll keep doing that.”

Joe had frowned at the recitation of the rules, but he smiled at his brother’s promise.  His eyelids grew heavy, and several times Adam thought the boy had fallen asleep.  Whenever he tried to slip his hand out of Joe’s, however, the green eyes would immediately open and the slender fingers tighten.  Though uncomfortable, Adam continued to sit, quietly holding his brother’s hand for the duration of his hour-long visit.

There were things he wanted to say to Joe, questions he ached to ask.  He longed to beg the boy’s forgiveness for failing to believe him when he’d said he was ill.  He yearned to ask whether Joe still hated him for forcing him into this hospital and compelling him to undergo an unwanted surgery, but Adam said nothing.  Refusing to soothe his own conscience at the expense of causing Joe the slightest distress, he said almost nothing.  The silence didn’t seem to bother Joe, though, so long as Adam continued to hold his hand.

Joe’s reaction when Adam stood to leave was even more pronounced than when he had merely shifted position.  Adam reminded his brother that the hospital rules required that he leave by noon.  “I’ll see you this afternoon, around two o’clock, Joe,” he said firmly and with determination pulled his hand free from Joe’s entreating grasp.  Settling the covers smoothly over his brother, Adam added, “You eat a good dinner, so you can get your strength back quickly, all right?”  Looking decidedly unhappy, Little Joe gave a noncommittal nod, and Adam left, shaking his head, somehow doubting that the feeble acquiescence was a promise to be relied on.

As he sat in the dining room of the Washington Hotel, Adam had to admonish himself to follow the same advice he’d given his younger brother, for his own appetite was not much better than he imagined Joe’s to be.  He had too much on his mind, and nothing seemed important except being with his brother.  He’d seen the way the boy had been fighting sleep all through his visit and for the first time entertained the notion that the hospital might be right in formulating those restrictive rules.  His presence in the ward was obviously keeping Joe from rest, as he strained to stay awake every minute Adam was with him.  Odd, he never was such a clinging vine at home, Adam mused, but then he didn’t have to be.  He knew one of us was always near, so he could relax, instead of grabbing for every minute of contact.  On second thought, his original opinion of those bothersome hospital rules had been the correct one, Adam concluded.  Joe did need his family with him, but that wasn’t possible in the present circumstance, and the thought of his little brother, lying there, needing him, was enough to make Adam push away his plate, still half full.

He walked outside and strolled to the nearest bookstore, where he selected a couple of books for himself, one a volume on the care of invalids.  Notes on Nursing had been in print for many years, but Adam felt there could be no better authority on the subject than Florence Nightingale.  He didn’t know exactly how soon Joe would be released to his care, but he wanted to be ready to do whatever would enhance his brother’s comfort and speed his recovery, and that subject appeared to be well covered in the pioneer nurse’s treatise.

Then he began to look around for a book for Joe, who would need some form of quiet occupation during his recuperation.  With a sigh he shuffled through a pile of dime novels, since Joe seemed to enjoy such fodder, but each lurid cover illustration only confirmed his belief that tales of murder, mayhem and violence would not be appropriate reading material for a young man who was supposed to be resting quietly.  He wandered around the store, pondering what Joe would like and came to the conclusion that he didn’t know his little brother nearly as well as he should, for he had no idea which book to select.  Oh, he’d bought Joe books all his life, ever since the youngster had spelled out his first words in a primer, but he’d always chosen what he thought the child, then boy and, finally, young man, should read.  To make a selection based solely on what his little brother would enjoy, rather than on its educational benefit, was a new undertaking, and Adam felt lost until a picture flashed in his mind of Joe sitting in the booksellers’ pavilion of the Main Exhibition Hall, thumbing through an edition of Sir Walter Scott’s romantic tales.  “I’ve always liked Scott,” Joe had fumed when Adam teased him.

Adam winced as he recalled Joe’s accusation that he’d been so busy looking for something to criticize that he hadn’t noticed what kind of material actually appealed to his little brother.  You were right, little buddy, but I’ve learned my lesson.  Scott, it is.  He selected a beautifully illustrated volume of Ivanhoe, bound in red morocco leather with gilt edges, and purchased it.  Even if Joe had already read the tale of medieval chivalry, as Adam suspected, he would appreciate having a copy as fine as this.

Since he had about half an hour before time to return to the hospital, Adam went to the hotel, laying the books on the desk.  He wouldn’t take the gift to Joe today.  The boy was obviously too tired to read, and Adam intended to encourage him to sleep this afternoon, visitor or no visitor.  Perhaps by tomorrow Joe would be more alert and would welcome a new book to while away the lonely hours.  Adam stretched out on the settee a few minutes, keeping an eye on his watch, so he wouldn’t miss a minute of the permitted time with his brother.

The afternoon visit went much the same as the morning one.  Little Joe obviously didn’t feel like talking, but he fought every suggestion of sleep.  Adam finally gave up and, except for an occasional soft-spoken sentence, just sat beside his brother, quietly stroking his arm, since Joe seemed to crave physical contact.  Joe didn’t argue this time when Adam said he had to leave, probably because he was too drowsy to say much at all.  At least, that was how he appeared to his older brother.

Adam returned to the hotel to stretch out on his bed until suppertime.  After eating, he returned upstairs and began to read Notes on Nursing until it was time for him to turn in.

*****

Little Joe was again awakened before dawn on Monday morning, but while he still hated to be roused at what was, to him, an ungodly hour, he felt alert enough to start a conversation with Patrick as the Irishman began to bathe him.  “You like this kind of work?”

Patrick chuckled good-naturedly.  “Sure an’ it matters not what I like, lad.  ‘Tis me job.”

Joe’s nose crinkled in distaste at the thought of emptying bedpans and washing sweaty bodies for a living.  “Can’t you get other work?  This is an awful big city, must have lots of jobs.”

Patrick laughed, careful to keep his voice low, however.  “Aye, and if I can ever pay me bail from this place, maybe I’ll be takin’ one of them.”

“Bail?”  Joe looked perplexed.  While he felt like he was in jail, he was surprised to hear a hospital worker speak of the place in those terms.

“Me bill, lad,” Patrick stated in a matter-of-fact manner that indicated his expectation that Joe would know what he meant.  When the boy’s puzzled face communicated that he did not, Patrick went on to explain, “I hadn’t the money to pay me way, so as long as I’m here, I’ve got to help out all I can on the wards.  ‘Twill be the same with you when you’re better.”

Uneasiness replaced puzzlement on Joe’s countenance.  “You’re a patient, like me?” he queried nervously.  “And they make you work off your bill?”

Patrick wrung out a damp cloth and began to rinse Joe’s chest.  “Aye, sure, hurt in an accident at the docks, I was, and not strong enough yet for the heavy liftin’ I did there, but I will be soon, I’m thinkin’, and able to put this place behind me.  Now, don’t let it fret you, lad.  They won’t work you beyond your strength.  ‘As you’re able’ is the rule of it.”  Patrick patted Joe dry with a towel, told him he could go back to sleep if he liked and moved on to the next patient, unaware of the distress he’d caused.

Confused by what he had heard, Joe couldn’t sleep for the troubling questions rushing through his mind.  Was Adam refusing to pay his medical expenses?  It wasn’t part of their original bargain, of course, but Joe hadn’t thought his brother capable of that kind of harshness.  Adam had been awful angry, though, so maybe he didn’t care—or maybe he just plain didn’t have enough money.  That was more like it, although it was hard to think of Adam ever running short of cash.  Joe had no idea how much these fancy eastern doctors charged or how much it cost to keep him in this place, but there was a simple solution to that expense, if only he could persuade his older brother.

What happened shortly after breakfast, which Joe was too upset to eat, made him more determined than ever to talk Adam into letting him leave the hospital.  The bevy of doctors again surrounded his bed, ignoring his demand to be left alone.  A dozen curious eyes raked over his side, and the oldest man in the group announced that the patient showed no signs of infection, and therefore, it was time for his drainage tube to be removed.  He asked who had not performed that procedure, and three hands were raised.  “You do it then, Chambers,” the man who appeared to be in charge suggested.

Chambers lumbered to Joe’s side, took hold of the earth-tone tube and gave it a firm yank.  Joe screamed, bolting upright, and several sets of hands pressed him to the bed.

“Sorry, son,” the older doctor said.  He turned to castigate Chambers for his reckless and needless haste.  “Johnson, you take over and stitch up that opening, hopefully with a more sensitive hand than this oaf.”

“No, go away,” Joe pleaded, eyes wide with terror.

“Easy, lad.”  Dr. Morton patted the patient’s shoulder.

Johnson, as tall and lanky as Chambers had been short and stout, approached the patient with a nervous gait.  “Uh, sh-should I anesthetize the patient, Dr. Morton?”

“For a couple of stitches?” Dr. Morton snorted.  “Just put them in quickly and smoothly.”

“After all, westerners are reported to be a hardy lot,” the doctor who had come to the hotel announced with a chuckle, “more accustomed to biting on a bullet than to civilized anesthesia.”

“Nonsense, Whittaker,” Dr. Morton scolded.  He patted Joe’s shoulder again.  “Over soon, son.  Try to relax and it will hurt less.”

If this was an example of something that ‘hurt less,’ Joe decided he didn’t want to experience these doctors’ idea of what would hurt more.  Johnson made a genuine effort to stitch quickly and smoothly, as instructed, but his edgy hand shook as he inserted the needle into Joe’s flesh.  The patient’s sharp grunt of pain halted him in mid-stitch, and he had to be encouraged to continue.  Fortunately, only two stitches were required to close the small opening.

As the doctors and students moved on to their next victim, as Joe viewed his fellow patient, he lay still, eyes closed, lower lip quivering, waiting for the pulling pain to subside.  It did, eventually, though not before the doctors finished their rounds and left the ward.  Joe hitched himself up in the bed and began practicing a healthy smile.

When Adam arrived that morning, he was surprised to see Joe sitting up in bed.  Though at first pleased, he noticed the strain on his brother’s face and quickly discerned that the boy was trying too hard to look well.  Joe’s first words were a confirmation of that observation.  “I’m feelin’ a lot better today, Adam.”

Adam pulled the straight-backed chair up next to Joe’s bed.  “I’m glad to hear that, Joe,” he said, mouth quirking to one side, and sat down to await the wheedling that was sure to follow.

“I’m ready to go home, if you’ll have me,” Joe said, trying without success to keep his voice from quavering.

Reminding himself to be patient, Adam rubbed the back of Joe’s hand.  “It’s not a question of whether I’d have you,” he said calmly, “but of what is best for you.  It’s much too soon for you to leave your bed, Joe.  Your own body should tell you that—and don’t think for one minute that you’re fooling me with this sudden display of hearty health.”

Joe’s emerald eyes began to swim.  “If you can’t pay the bill here, Pa will,” he pleaded.  “I’m too sick to be nursin’ folks, Adam.  I-I don’t even think I could stand it if I was feelin’ good.”

“What?”  Adam drawled out the word as he stared at Joe in total confusion; then he laid his palm against the boy’s forehead to check for fever, delirium being the only explanation he could think of for the irrational speech.

Joe brushed his brother’s hand aside.  “I shoulda known you wouldn’t care.  You never think I pull my weight—not at home, not here.”  He turned his face aside, refusing to look at his brother.

Adam stood, placing his hands on his brother’s slim shoulders.  “Joe, what’s bothering you, boy?”

Joe flinched violently away, groaning as the movement sent a jab of pain through his side.  “Go away!”

The Chief Nurse, checking on patients across the room, heard the outcry and moved quickly to Joe’s side.  “Is he in pain?” she asked Adam solicitously.  “I know he suffered some discomfort when they removed his drainage tube this morning.”

“Some?”  Joe gave a half-hysterical cackle.  “Some, she says!”

“I think he’s just a bit overwrought,” Adam replied, touching a soothing hand to Joe’s shoulder.

“Now, we can’t have that,” Miss Irwin stated adamantly.  “Perhaps a sedative would be in order.  Dr. Morton did authorize it, if needed.”

“No,” Joe snapped, eyes jerking back to glare at the nurse.

Adam bent over his brother, urging him to relax and then rose up to speak to Miss Irwin.  “I don’t think that will be necessary,” he said, knowing Joe’s aversion to medication, a sentiment he shared.  “You’re going to settle down now, aren’t you, Joe?”

Little Joe recognized the warning in his older brother’s words and with a furtive glance at the nurse, whispered meekly, “Yes.”

Nurse Irwin gave her patient careful scrutiny, and while not taken in by the swift transformation, she decided not to push the issue of sedation unless continued agitation warranted it.  “I would still prefer to see him lying down,” she said firmly.

“And so he shall,” Adam promised, sliding his arm behind Joe’s back to ease him into a reclining position, his face and manner declaring that the edict was not to be disputed.

It was an expression with which Little Joe was well familiar, having frequently seen it on his father’s face, so he acquiesced without argument, although his eyes continued to shimmer with unshed tears.

When Miss Irwin walked back across the room, Adam adjusted his brother’s pillow.  “Do you still want me to leave?”

Joe shook his head.

“Shall we start over, then?  Good morning, Joe.”

“It would be if you’d take me home,” Joe suggested.

Adam took a deep, controlling breath and exhaled with a gust.  “When I said ‘start over,’ I did not mean on the same subject,” he said tersely.  “I’ve already told you that you’re not well enough to leave the hospital, and if you persist in this direction, you’re only going to upset yourself and have Miss Irwin running for a hypodermic needle.  Is that what you want?”

Joe bit his lower lip, but said nothing.  Seeing the nervousness, Adam chided himself for being overly firm with a sick boy and attempted to open a safer topic.  “Did you have a restful night?” he asked gently.

“Okay, I guess.”  Joe looked away.  What was the use of saying anything about how things really were here?  Adam wouldn’t believe him anyway.  Adam would never believe him about anything, ever again.

Adam sat down, resting one ankle over his opposite knee.  “Looks like it’s going to be hot as a firecracker again today,” he observed, “twenty-second day in a row, according to the newspaper.”  The Public Ledger had also mentioned several heat-related deaths, but Adam chose to omit that particular detail from his discussion of the weather.  Joe had problems of his own, and “death” was a word that Adam found uncomfortable in any conversation with his younger brother just now.  Instead, he chatted on, mentioning several more news items he thought might interest Joe, but the boy just lay there, quietly listening, but making no comment whatsoever.

As the minutes crawled toward noon, Adam discovered just how hard it was to carry on a one-sided conversation, and he was rather grateful when he saw Miss Irwin appear in the doorway and stare pointedly at him.  “Time for me to go now, Joe,” he said, standing and pushing the chair back against the wall.

Joe’s face suddenly became animated.  “No,” he pleaded.  “Don’t go yet; it can’t be time so soon.”

Soon?  Adam felt as though he’d been in that room for hours, but obviously Joe’s perspective was quite different.  Sympathetic as he was, however, Adam knew he could not yield to those pleading eyes.  “Don’t you think I ever get hungry, little brother?” he quipped, in an effort to lighten the mood.  “I’d like to have some dinner—and you need to eat yours.”

Joe closed his fingers on the tail of Adam’s frock coat.  “I’m not hungry; you can have mine if you stay.”

Adam eased the fabric from his brother’s fingers and resolutely laid Joe’s hand flat on the mattress.  “That will not do, young man,” he stated authoritatively, cringing as he heard his poor imitation of Pa.  Joe’s lower lip began to tremble, and Adam knew tears were not far behind.  “Joe,” he said in a softer, less paternal voice, “I know your appetite disappears when you’re sick, but you know you need nourishment to heal properly.”

“The food’s terrible, Adam,” Joe pouted.

Adam patted his brother’s shoulder.  “I’m sure it’s not up to Hop Sing’s standard—or even that of the Washington Hotel—but you eat, anyway.  That’s an order.”  Pleased to see Joe responding to the gentler approach, Adam smiled.  “I have to leave now, but I’ll be back in about two hours.  You behave yourself and maybe I’ll bring you something, all right?”

For the first time that morning Joe smiled back, in fond memory of the times Adam had appeased him with a similar promise when headed into town alone, and he responded with the same words he’d used as a child.  “I’ll be good.”

Sharing the same recollection, Adam chuckled, ruffled his brother’s hair, just as he’d done back then, and took his leave.

For the first time in days he enjoyed his dinner of roast pork and stewed apples and even ordered a slice of lemon cheesecake for dessert.  Little Joe was obviously feeling better today.  Even the complaint about the quality of food at the hospital indicated improvement, for the day before Joe hadn’t been interested enough in food to complain.  Maybe I’ll have to sneak in a bonbon or two, Adam mused over a final cup of coffee, but not yet.  Got to get him eating proper food first; then I’ll risk a treat.  This afternoon he would take the book to Joe, since he was more alert and might enjoy reading.  And maybe he’ll make less fuss about my leaving if he has good old Scott to keep him company.

Little Joe was obviously delighted with the book when Adam presented it to him at two o’clock.  “It’s beautiful,” he murmured, running his hand over the rich red binding.

“I hope it’s not one you already have,” Adam offered tentatively.  “I know you said you liked Scott, but I couldn’t remember seeing this title on your shelf.”

“I have it,” Joe said, “but just a paper-covered copy, nothing like this.”

Of course, Adam realized.  A number of publishers had put out cheap editions of popular works, some for as little as two bits a copy, and Joe would, of necessity, have purchased those, instead of the finely bound volumes his older brother prized.  Do you suppose that’s why he buys dime novels, because that’s what he can afford?  I really haven’t paid much attention, have I, little brother?

“Will you read some to me now?” Joe asked, shaking Adam from his reverie.

“Sure, buddy,” Adam said at once, taking the volume from Joe and sitting down.  Florence Nightingale had advised against reading aloud to patients, alleging that few could do it well enough for the sick to tolerate, but Adam had read to his younger brothers from childhood up and knew that both Hoss and Joe enjoyed his flair for expression, especially when they were confined to bed.  He opened the book and began to read.  He continued for about an hour, when, coming to the end of a chapter, he noticed Joe’s eyelids drooping.  Closing the book, he set it aside on the bedside table.

Joe stirred, legs moving restlessly beneath the covers.  “Don’t stop,” he begged.

“No, you need to sleep,” Adam said.  “No argument, Joe, and no more fighting the urge to drift off.  The book will be here when you wake up.”

“But I want you to read it,” Joe wheedled.

“Fine, I will—tomorrow.”

Joe looked intently at his brother’s face and saw no sign of weakness, so with a sigh of resignation, he snuggled down in the bed and slipped into the welcoming arms of slumber.  Adam remained until four o’clock, and then returned to the hotel.

*****

As Adam entered the men’s surgical ward the next morning, he hoped to find his younger brother in a better frame of mind than the day before, but one glance at Joe’s tense face and the fingers wringing the covers disabused him of that delusion.  “Rough night, kid?” he asked as he sat down beside Joe.

Joe had actually slept well, but another early morning arousal and another futile struggle to keep those doctors from prying beneath his nightshirt had left him exhausted and edgy.  “Can’t I go home today?” he implored.

Mentally counting to ten, Adam reached out to free the sheet from Joe’s frenetic fingers.  “We discussed this yesterday, remember?  It’s still too soon, Joe.”

Joe clutched his brother’s hand in entreaty.  “Adam, please.  I don’t feel up to working here, but as soon as I’m on my feet, I’ll see you get your money back.”

Adam’s forehead furrowed.  Twice now Joe had voiced the same concern, and he seemed rational, so something must lie behind it.  “Joe, what are you talking about?”

“The bill,” Joe whispered.

Adam laughed.  “Don’t worry about that; it’s all taken care of.”

Joe shook his head.  “No, he said . . .”

“Who?” Adam demanded, coming to his feet.  “Who said what?”

Joe squirmed a little, wincing as a twinge twittered along his stitches.  “The man who takes care of me every morning.  He said patients, like him and me, that can’t pay have to work off their bill.  Don’t make me do that, Adam, please.”

Adam gave his brother’s temple a comforting stroke.  “Joe, I don’t know what you’re talking about, but no one’s going to put you to work—here or elsewhere.  Whatever you’ve heard doesn’t apply to you because I’ve already made arrangements to pay your board here.”

Joe’s worried eyes were riveted on his brother’s face.  “You did?  Honest?”

“Yes, of course,” Adam answered quickly, appalled that his brother would for one moment believe that he wouldn’t cover his medical expenses.  Have I been so stringent with the boy that he honestly thinks I’d begrudge him anything he needed, whatever the cost?    “Look, the only reason you’re not in a private room is that they didn’t have one available, because of the large crowds in town for the Centennial.  I’m sorry someone has upset you with this nonsense, but it simply isn’t true.”

Joe bit his lip.  “You got enough?”

Adam smiled, again taking his seat.  “If I don’t, I know where to get it.  No more worrying, understood?”

Looking relieved, Joe sank back into his pillow.  “Thanks.”

Noting the paleness of his brother’s face, Adam suggested that he try to sleep awhile.

“I’ll sleep when you leave,” Joe bargained.  “Read to me?”

Adam shook his head.  “You’ll sleep now—and if you look well rested when I return this afternoon, I’ll read to you then.”

Joe pouted, but when that didn’t have any effect on his older brother, either, he sighed and closed his eyes, a soft smile curving his lips as Adam started to croon a slow melody.   Despite his intent to stay awake, Joe drifted to sleep on the song.

As soon as he was sure Joe was asleep, Adam slipped out to find Miss Irwin and pose some pertinent questions about the use of patients as attendants at the hospital.  She willingly confirmed that recovering patients were used, not only as nursing assistants, but for janitorial duties, cooking and laundry, as well, though she assured him that no patient was ever asked to do anything beyond his or her physical capability.  “That is one way we keep this institution on a stable financial footing, Mr. Cartwright,” the Chief Nurse informed him, “but, obviously, no paying patient is required to perform such duties.  I assure you that I will determine who disturbed your brother and see that he is suitably reprimanded.”

“No, there’s no need for that,” Adam said, his sympathy for the unknown patient aroused.  “I’m sure it was done in innocence, and the mistake is quite understandable since my brother is in the public ward.  I would appreciate your correcting the man’s misinformation, however, so that Joseph is not disturbed by any further revelations that do not relate to him.”

“Certainly, Mr. Cartwright.  Thank you for being so understanding.”

Adam nodded and went back to take his place at Joe’s side.  Little Joe didn’t wake before the visiting hour ended, however, so Adam left quietly.  After dinner, he walked to the Philadelphia Library and read all he could about Pennsylvania Hospital.  Although hospital care had improved greatly since the days when the insane were housed in the basement of the building where Joe now lay and exhibited to a paying public for support of the charity wards, more changes were needed, in Adam’s opinion.  The more he read, the more he understood Joe’s eagerness to leave the place and be back with his brother.  Adam resolved to be more patient with those urgent pleas to “go home.”

Taking out his pocket watch, Adam checked the time and was dismayed to see that it was already past two o’clock.  Thinking it fortunate that Little Joe didn’t have a timepiece with him, Adam shut the book he was reading, leaving it on the table for the librarian to re-shelve and hurried back to the hospital.

While Joe didn’t have a watch, he did, however, possess a fairly accurate internal clock, and he was visibly upset when Adam walked in.  “I thought you weren’t coming,” he fussed.

Adam stroked his shoulder.  “Joe, Joe, I’ll always come.”

“I’d rather you took me with you,” Joe urged, biting his lip as he waited to be rebuked.

Adam just gave the boy’s shoulder a soothing stroke.  “You’re not strong enough yet, but soon, little brother, soon.  Now, how about some more Ivanhoe?”  At Joe’s nod, Adam picked up the book and began to read.  Noticing that his audience included the men on either side of his brother, he raised his voice slightly as he continued the adventures of Sir Wilfred and the fair Rowena.

*****

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Little Joe had been determinedly bright-eyed and cheery ever since his older brother walked into the ward Wednesday morning, so Adam was not the least bit surprised when, about halfway into the visit, the boy hinted to leave the hospital.  “I’m feeling really, really good, Adam,” he asserted with what he hoped was a convincing lilt in his voice.

Adam covered his mouth with his hand, so Joe wouldn’t see his twitching lips.  Sometimes the kid was just so predictable it was hard not to laugh, but Adam knew he didn’t dare.  Dropping his hand, he said softly, “Liar.”

The façade fell abruptly away, and hurt filled the emerald eyes.  “No, Adam, I do feel better,” Joe insisted.

“Oh, I believe you,” Adam chuckled.  “I just think ‘really, really good’ is stretching the truth—by a country mile.”

Joe’s chin started to quiver as he faced the prospect of remaining in the hated hospital.  “Please, Adam.  I don’t like it here.  They won’t let me sleep, the food’s awful, and they gawk at me all the time like I’m in a sideshow in Shantyville.  I hate it!”

Adam laid a calming hand on his brother’s shoulder.  “What do you mean they ‘gawk’ at you?” he asked, having learned the previous day that Joe’s complaints merited investigation.

Joe scowled.  “I guess they’re doctors, but there’s so many of them, and they poke and prod—and—and just plain gawk.”

With a degree of chagrin, Adam nodded his understanding.  “Some of them are medical students,” he explained, “and I’m afraid you have me to blame for the ‘gawking,’ Joe.  I gave a rather blanket permission for any doctor or medical student to examine you.”

“Why?” Joe demanded.

Adam took a deep breath as he tried to decide how much to tell his younger brother.  “You may not realize this, Joe,” he began, “but the operation Dr. Morton performed on you is a new procedure, so naturally, all the doctors and their students are interested in your case because of that.”  He put on his most persuasive smile.  “Just think, Joe, you may be helping to advance the cause of medical science and—”

“I don’t care about medical science!” Joe yelped.

“—and, thereby, helping doctors treat other people stricken with the same condition,” Adam continued as if he hadn’t heard the interruption.  “You care about that, don’t you?”

Joe shook his head violently.  “All I care about is getting out of here, Adam.”

Adam kneaded his forehead.  Okay, so diplomacy wasn’t going to work, much less an appeal to altruism.  “Just try to show a little more patience, all right, Joe?” he suggested.  “You’re recovering nicely, and you shouldn’t have to be here much longer.”

“I don’t need to be here any longer, Adam,” Joe insisted.

Adam held up a hand.  “That’s enough.”  Although it was still ten minutes ‘til noon, he stood up.  “I’m going to dinner now, and I hope to find you in a better mood when I return this afternoon.”

“But, Adam . . .”

“No.”  Lips set in a straight line, Adam turned and walked out of the ward, and Little Joe slumped down in his bed.

Adam’s hope of finding his little brother in a better mood was, predictably, destined for defeat.  While Joe listened quietly to the reading of Ivanhoe, it was obvious that his attitude remained exactly what it had been that morning, and as the visiting hours drew to a close, Adam again had to fend off a plea to go with him.  “You sure don’t give up easy, do you?” he said with exasperated respect.  With a hand resting on Joe’s head, he adopted a soothing tone.  “I know it’s hard, buddy, but you need time to recover from an operation as serious as the one you had.”

“I know,” Joe conceded, “but you can take better care of me than these people, Adam, and I won’t give you any trouble, I promise!”

Adam laughed.  “That’ll be the day!”  He took a breath and continued, his expression now serious.  “Joe, I want you to quit begging me to take you out of this hospital.  It hurts me to hear it, and it hurts me to say no repeatedly, but I have to do what I believe is best for you, whether you like it or not.”

Joe flopped back on the pillow and refused to acknowledge Adam, even when his older brother said good-bye for the day.  Joe was upset, especially since he knew there was no point in arguing with Adam, who had always been the hardest-headed, hardest-to-sway Cartwright on the Ponderosa.  Little Joe had been able to wrap Hoss around his little finger from the time he began to toddle, and even Pa had a soft spot in his heart for the wheedling of his youngest son.  Adam, on the other hand, could always be counted on to stand like granite once he made a decision.  That solidity comforted Joe when Adam was on his side, but when they were at odds, it infuriated him and frequently drove Joe to take matters into his own hands.

That was what happened that night.  After hours of lying awake, trying to think of new ways to convince Adam that he really was well enough to leave the hospital, Joe gave it up as a futile effort.  If he wanted out, he would have to get out on his own.  Years of experience in sneaking out of his room at home convinced Joe that he could do the same here, even if the surroundings were unfamiliar.  He knew the hotel was only a few blocks away, for he’d seen the hospital when he’d strolled around town that first day in Philadelphia.  Walking those few blocks might be rough, given the way he felt, but once he showed up, Adam would have to take him in.  Away from this place, Joe was sure he’d have a better chance of convincing his brother that he didn’t need to come back.  Why, the walk itself would prove that!

When the Chief Nurse made her customary check before retiring for the night at ten o’clock, Little Joe feigned sleep.  His plan would fall apart at the first step if he were to be sedated, but he’d had plenty of practice in fooling Pa into thinking he was fast asleep, and tricking Miss Irwin was far less a challenge.  With all lights extinguished, by regulation, the long room grew dark, but Joe waited another half hour, as best he could judge the time, before he rolled to one side and pushed himself up with both hands.  His breath hitched in sharply as pain assaulted his side, but after he’d stood still for a couple of minutes the soreness subsided.  Reaching for the rail at the foot of his bed, Joe took a step, and then slowly moved along the row of beds, using the foot rail of each one for support.

He came to the last bed and took a deep breath to inspire his courage, for the door suddenly seemed miles away, with nothing to give him support on the journey.  Releasing the bed rail, he walked toward the exit with determined, though wobbly, steps.  Weak as a kitten, Hoss would say; that’s what layin’ in bed all day will do for you, Joe told himself.  He opened the door, narrowly, and slipped into the dimly lighted hallway, immediately leaning against the wall to rest from the effort.  He scowled as he looked down and noticed his nightshirt.  Not exactly the proper attire for a public street, but he consoled himself with the thought that it was dark out and more than likely no one would see him—at least, until he reached the lobby of the Washington Hotel.

Refusing to cross that bridge until he came to it, Joe pressed one hand against the wall as he began walking down the hallway toward the stairs, another bridge he’d have to cross if he were to get to Adam.  He had almost reached that bridge when he came face to face with the night watchman, whose job it was to walk the halls and check each ward during the hours when the regular hospital staff was sleeping.  “Where do you think you’re going, boy?” the short, but hefty man demanded, for Joe’s attire was a dead giveaway to his status in this hospital.

“Just . . . out,” Joe said, trying to move past the man.

“I don’t think so, son,” the watchman said, placing a solid hand on each of the boy’s shoulders.

“Let me go,” Joe cried, trying to shift out of the man’s grasp.  He gasped at the stitch of pain the movement provoked.

“Come on, now, back to your bed,” the man urged.  “Which ward did you come from?”

When Joe refused to answer and still continued to struggle for release, the man took tight hold of Joe’s biceps and steered him toward the Chief Nurse’s desk, reaching behind it to pull a cord that would ring a bell downstairs to summon help.  Soon footsteps clattered up the stairs and Joe found himself surrounded by people determined to block his efforts to escape.  In addition to the watchman, a man Pa’s age grabbed hold of Joe, who continued to twist and turn, trying to break free.

“Stop that!” Miss Frances Irwin ordered as she looped the sash of her robe.  “Stop struggling at once, young man!  Do you wish to break open your surgical stitches?”

“Let me go!” Joe shouted.

“Is it the surgical ward he belongs on, then?” the night watchman asked.

“Yes,” Miss Irwin replied, “the fourth bed.  Please return him there, Mr. Jamison.”

“Right away, ma’am.”  The burly man, with the assistance of the second orderly, began wrestling Joe back toward the ward.

Dr. Whittaker bounded up the stairs, face red with fury at the scene.  “Get him into bed—but carefully.”  With Miss Irwin close behind him, he followed the men into the ward and watched as Joe was forcibly laid on his bed.

Joe immediately tried to get up again, but again hands held him down.  “Let me go!” Joe yelled.

“Lie still and be quiet,” Dr. Whittaker hissed, and when Joe did neither, the resident turned to Miss Irwin.  “I want this patient put in restraints—and you’d better administer a sedative.  We can’t allow this commotion to disturb our other patients.”  Heads were already being raised in nearby beds.

“I’ll see to it immediately, doctor,” the nurse said, leaving the ward.

As the restraints were fastened to his wrists, Joe collapsed in exhaustion.  “No, don’t do that,” he begged.  “Please, no.”

“You brought this on yourself, young man,” Dr. Whittaker stated sternly.

The older orderly grunted in disapproval.  “Count your blessings, boy.  Back when I was a patient here, long years ago, they had harder ways of dealing with rule-breakers like you than just tying them down and putting them to sleep.”  He shot a fierce look at the resident.  “Maybe a nice cold shower would take the fire out of him, doctor.  I’ve seen it work wonders.”

Dr. Whittaker waved the suggestion aside.  “That day is past.”

Miss Irwin returned, hypodermic syringe in hand.  The restraints made it impossible for Joe to resist, and the sedative soon sent him into the oblivion of sleep.

*****

Adam arrived on the second floor slightly before eleven o’clock, hoping Miss Irwin would not hold him to the exact minute.  Since she was not at her desk to object, he simply walked in.  As he approached the fourth bed, however, he was shocked to find his brother in restraints, as he had been when first brought to the hospital.  “What’s this about?” he asked.

Joe raised pleading eyes to his brother’s face.  “Adam, help me, please,” he whispered weakly.

With a nod Adam at once unfastened the straps and began to rub the wrists chafed by pulling against the leather.  “Tell me what happened, Joe.”

Little Joe nibbled at his lower lip.  “I—I just wanted to be with you; I was coming to you.”

Adam’s head jerked up abruptly.  “Are you telling me you tried to leave this hospital?”  When Joe turned away, unable to meet his eyes, he took hold of Joe’s chin and pulled his face around.  “Answer me at once!”

Joe nodded, eyes flicking nervously from side to side.  “Yes.”

“Yes, you tried to leave?”  Unable to believe that even Joe would do something that unbelievably stupid, Adam demanded confirmation.

“I just wanted to be with you,” Joe said again, the words a plea for understanding.  “Please don’t be mad.”

Though horrified, Adam forced his voice to sound calm.  “I’m not angry, Joe, but that was very foolish.  I’m not surprised they put you in restraints after a stunt like that.  You could have seriously injured yourself and, therefore, obviously needed protection.”

As tears started to form in his younger brother’s eyes, Adam felt a vise tighten around his heart.  If Joe was this miserable here, it was time to take his complaints seriously.  It was obvious from looking at the boy’s drawn face that he was no longer improving, and more behavior of this sort would have him spiraling downhill fast.  “Joe, I’ll speak with the doctor as soon as I can about when you can leave the hospital.”

For the first time since he had entered the institution, Joe’s eyes lighted with hope.

Adam pointed an authoritative finger at his brother’s nose.  “But you have to promise me you won’t cause any further problems—no more attempts to escape, whatever the result of that meeting.”

Joe grimaced.  “Wouldn’t do any good to try,” he muttered glumly.

Having seen Joe squirm around straight answers before, Adam cleared his throat.  “That is not a promise, and I am not leaving here until I get one.”

“I promise,” Joe agreed with obvious reluctance, “but get me out of here, Adam—please.”

“It may be this afternoon before I catch Dr. Morton, so don’t worry if I’m later than usual,” Adam admonished.

“Okay, but you will come?”

“Of course, I will,” Adam assured him.  “That’s a promise, little brother.”

Joe willingly let his brother leave, and when Adam walked out, he saw Miss Irwin at her desk.

“Mr. Cartwright,” the Chief Nurse said, rising.  “I didn’t realize you were here.”

“I arrived somewhat early,” Adam explained.  “Had you been here, I would have requested permission before entering the ward.”

“I was hoping to speak with you before you visited your brother,” the nurse said.  “I presume you’ve seen the restraints.  There was an incident last night.”

“Joe told me,” Adam said, not wanting to waste time on needless repetition, “and I appreciate his being prevented from leaving the hospital last night.  I would like to discuss his case with Dr. Morton, however, if you can tell me where to find him.”

“Dr. Morton is not in the hospital today,” Miss Irwin stated.  “Dr. Whittaker is in charge of your brother’s case for now, but I’m afraid he was called away, as well, though he is expected by one o’clock.”

“I’ll return at one, then,” Adam said and walked back into the ward.

“I thought you were gonna see the doc,” Joe said.

“He’s not here right now, so I thought I’d spend a little more time with you,” Adam said, taking a chair.  Looking carefully at his brother, he noticed the boy’s evident exhaustion.  “Did you get any sleep last night?”

“Some,” Joe said.  “They stuck a needle in me.”

Adam nodded.  “You still look tired to me, so I want you to close your eyes and try to rest.”

Joe didn’t argue, whether because he was too tired or because he wanted to present a picture of how obedient he would be under his older brother’s care, Adam couldn’t tell.  It didn’t really matter, he decided, as he began to sing softly, so long as Joe slept.

Leaving his brother asleep, Adam went to the hotel at noon and mulled over the situation while he waited for his dinner order to arrive.  He shook his head with an ironic smile as he realized that this was the day his letter would arrive at the Ponderosa, carrying the promise of a telegram to follow the same day.  Yesterday he would have simply informed his father that all was going well, but now he scarcely knew what to put in that message.  He really needed to speak with the doctor first, but he might not have time to do that, get a wire sent and return to Joe by two o’clock.  Today, of all days, he didn’t dare be late.  Even though he had warned Joe that he might be delayed, Adam felt he couldn’t trust the kid not to panic if he didn’t show up on time.

He finally decided to send a wire, reporting that Joe was continuing to improve and that he would be speaking to the doctor that afternoon about his release from the hospital.  Not the full truth, of course, but not a bald-faced lie, either.  Joe had been improving and probably would continue to do so, once this problem was resolved.  Maybe all the kid needed was a definite time limit to his hospital stay.  Adam grimaced.  More likely, that was an overly optimistic view of the prospects ahead of him, one of which might well be the necessity of sending a second telegram, contradicting everything he’d said in the first.  What hide he had left after Pa got through flailing him for the contents of the original letter would probably be ripped off once Pa learned that his eldest son had misled him about Joe’s situation.

The more Adam considered the matter, however, the more convinced he became that while the operation had, without doubt, saved Joe’s life, staying in the hospital had become a positive hindrance to his further progress.  Adam planned to argue strongly for the boy’s early release, and he felt confident in his ability to make the case.  After all, on other occasions he’d acted as advocate for Joe before a much tougher tribunal, that of Judge Benjamin Cartwright.   His dinner arrived, but Adam scarcely noticed what he was eating, while he wondered who would act as his advocate before that seat of justice when Pa finally got a full report of all that had gone on here in Philadelphia.  As he ate, Adam formulated his own defense, ending with his closing argument.  And, Pa, if I am ever again so foolish as to boast that I can handle that boy, you have my personal permission to plant your boot in my backside!

*****

Hoss was whistling as he came through the front door of the Ponderosa ranch house.  Sitting at his desk, Ben smiled at the sound and called out, “You sound cheerful.”

Hoss turned the corner of the alcove to grin broadly at his father.  “You will be, too, when you see what I brung back from town.”  He took an envelope from his vest pocket and held it out.

Ben came around the desk to take the unopened letter and read its return address.  “That Joseph,” he complained.  “I specifically told him to write, but I get almost two letters from Adam to every one from that rascal.”

Hoss shrugged.  “Aw, Pa, you know that youngun ain’t much for letter writin’, any more than I ever been.”

Ben arched a dark eyebrow, flecked with silver strands, at his middle son.  “You could both take a lesson from your older brother, but I frankly expected Adam to see to it that I heard from my youngest son, as well.”

“Maybe Joe put a note in with Adam’s letter,” Hoss suggested.

“Yeah,” an unconvinced Ben grunted.  He reached behind him to take a letter opener from the desk and slit the envelope.  Drawing out the single sheet of stationery, he read it, front and back, color washing from his face.

Hoss’s broad brow creased with concern.  “What is it, Pa?  Bad news?”

Ben wordlessly handed the letter to Hoss and headed for the stairs.

Hoss looked down at the sheet in his hand and began to read, furrows in his forehead deepening.  When he came to the end, he folded the letter, laid it down on his father’s desk and climbed to the second floor.  Instinctively, he aimed for his father’s room at the end of the hall, not in the least surprised to see the open carpetbag sitting on the bed.

“‘Trust me, Pa’ he says—when he’s kept back things he knew I would want to know immediately,” Ben was ranting as he stuffed a shirt into the valise.

Hoss’s face scrunched up, almost as if he were the one getting the tongue-lashing, instead of his absent older brother, for whom it was obviously intended.  “Pa?”

“Wants to spare me the trip, does he?” Ben continued to fume.  “As if I’d stay here when my boy needs me!”

“Pa,” Hoss said more insistently.

Ben’s head jerked in his son’s direction.  “What?” he snapped.

Hoss tried to act innocently curious.  “Where you goin’, Pa?”

Ben glared at his middle son, defying him to continue the act.  “Where do you think?”

Hoss leaned against the doorjamb.  “Offhand, I’d say Philadelphia, and to be honest, I feel like packin’ up myself and headin’ there to bring that youngun home, where I can look after him proper, but I ain’t so sure it’s the right thing to do, Pa, for me nor you, either.”

“Did I ask your opinion?” Ben demanded as he turned to take underwear and socks from his bureau drawer.

Hoss gulped, for while he had probably drawn his father’s ire less frequently than either of his brothers, he was always more immediately affected by it than they were.  “No, sir,” he said, voice apologetic and firm at the same time, “but I’d sure appreciate it if you’d hear me out.”

Ben took a deep breath, reminding himself that it wasn’t—and almost never was—this son with whom he had a grievance.  “You want to defend your brother, I presume.”  He couldn’t keep the cynicism from his voice.

Hoss came closer, circling the massive mahogany bedpost with his beefy hands.  “Pa, it ain’t a matter of defendin’ Adam.  For all I know, he might’ve made the wrong decision.  Fact is, he says he’s made some wrong decisions, not done right by Joe and all.  Likely, he’s bein’ too hard on hisself, like only Adam can be, but you can tell just from the letter that Adam’s feelin’ some powerful guilt, and I think you’d best let him work it out his own way.”

Ben sat down on the edge of the bed and looked up at his eldest son’s advocate.  “Hoss, that would be fine if Adam were the only son involved here, but he isn’t.  Joseph is ill; he needs me and has no doubt needed me for almost a week now, and I will not overlook his need, just to assuage Adam’s guilty conscience.”

Hoss nodded his agreement.  “No, sir, I wouldn’t want you to, but if Joe really is doin’ good, he mightn’t need you, after all, not by now.”

Ben shook his head.  “We don’t know that.”

Hoss reached over to lay a hand on his father’s slumped shoulder.  “We don’t know anything different, either.  Adam says he’s gonna be telegraphin’ this afternoon.  Maybe you oughta see how Joe’s doin’ before you traipse all that way back east and go interferin’ in the best chance them two’ll ever have to come together.  Adam’s right, Pa.  The minute you show up, Joe’ll cozy right up to you, and Adam won’t have no more chance to make things right.”

Ben ran his hand raggedly through his thick silver mane.  “I suppose we could ride in and see what that telegram says.”  Seeing Hoss’s wide-mouthed grin, he added firmly, “However, I fully intend to be packed and ready to take the next train east if Joseph is not on the road to recovery.”

Hoss nodded, realizing he would get no further concession from his father.  Though tempted to pack a bag himself, he decided to trust his older brother.  After all, Adam had said he’d send word if Little Joe was the least bit worse and there hadn’t been any message like that, so Hoss refused to believe that his baby brother was doing anything except getting better by the day.  Probably naggin’ ole Adam to let him bust a bronc by now, Hoss grinned to himself, but then he remembered that there weren’t any broncs in Philadelphia.  No matter.  Joe would be naggin’ to do something he wasn’t up to yet, and Adam would be makin’ him toe the line, Hoss was certain.  He knew both those brothers of his pretty well.

He knew his pa, too, so he knew that he didn’t have time to squander in this kind of speculation.  He had to saddle two fresh mounts, quick as he could, ‘cause Pa wouldn’t let the fuse of daylight burn short before riding into town to check on that telegram.

*****

After sending a carefully worded wire, designed to relieve concern without revealing anything specific, Adam returned to the hospital about 1 p.m. and rapped on the door he had been told led to Dr. Whittaker’s office.  The resident answered the door and ushered Adam inside.  “Come in, Mr. Cartwright.  I was hoping for a chance to speak with you today.  I understand you removed your brother’s restraints this morning.”

Adam took the seat the doctor indicated.  “I certainly did.  They’re no longer needed.”

Dr. Whittaker walked behind his desk and sat down.  “That is a matter of opinion, sir.  They were definitely needed last night.”

“I agree, and I thank you for preventing him from leaving the hospital then.”  Adam pursed his lips, wishing that he were presenting his case to the older, more understanding Dr. Morton, rather than this slightly pompous young resident.  “However, he’s settled down now, and I don’t believe you’ll have any further problem with him.”

“No, we won’t,” Dr. Whittaker said with a cool cock of his head, “because I ordered the restraints reapplied.”

Adam’s face flushed with anger, but he pushed his outrage aside, not wanting personal feelings to cloud the real issue he had come to discuss.  “That isn’t what I wanted to speak with you about.  I’d appreciate an evaluation of my brother’s current condition.”

Dr. Whittaker settled back in his chair, relieved to see that the older Cartwright brother, at least, was a reasonable man.  “Certainly.  Prior to last night’s incident, he was recovering well—no signs of infection, incision healing nicely.  It’s most fortunate that he did not pull loose any stitches in last night’s escapade, but his behavior as of this morning was most uncooperative.  He refused his breakfast entirely and tried as best he could, given the restraints, to frustrate my examination.”

Knowing his younger brother, Adam had no doubt that Joe’s behavior had been exactly as the doctor reported.  “He was angry then,” he offered as explanation.  “As I said, he’s settled down now.  What I specifically want to know is when you think he might be released from the hospital.”

The resident spread his hands in an equivocal gesture.  “Oh, that would be for Dr. Morton to say definitively—a week, ten days, perhaps.”

Adam leaned forward, his folded hands resting on the desk.  “Why not now?  It’s common for most patients to be treated at home, is it not?”

Resting one elbow on the arm of his chair, Dr. Whittaker cupped his chin in his hand.  “Certainly, but as I recall, ‘home,’ in this instance, is Nevada.  I couldn’t countenance—and I’m certain Dr. Morton would not, either—a journey of that distance for a recovering surgical patient.  As for the medical resources available in such a remote area—”

Adam held up a remonstrative hand.  “I didn’t mean ‘home’ in the literal sense.  I meant the hotel here in Philadelphia.”

The doctor gripped both arms of his chair and bent forward to stare at the man he had, only moments before, considered reasonable.  “You can’t be serious.  That would require you to assume complete, twenty-four-hour supervision.”

“As I am perfectly prepared to do.”

With a supercilious smile, Dr. Whittaker asked, “And perfectly qualified to do?”

Adam responded with a brusque nod.  “Yes, I believe so.”  He added with a significant arch of his black eyebrow, “I certainly am capable of controlling the boy without tying him to a bed!”

“An action you thanked me for moments ago,” the resident pointed out bluntly.

Adam took a deep breath.  “Yes, and still thank you for.  Look, Dr. Whittaker, I have no complaint about the care my brother has received here.  He, on the other hand, has been upset about it from the beginning, as you know.”  He went on to detail Joe’s complaints: not being allowed to sleep, poor food, seeing other patients used as attendants and being “gawked at” by medical students.

Dr. Whittaker interrupted to declare testily, “You agreed to that in the beginning, in the interests of scientific—”

“Yes, I know,” Adam replied, trying to hold onto his temper, “and if I were the patient here, I would have no objection, but I’ve begun to question whether I had the right to agree to an invasion of his privacy.  He’s a very sensitive young man.”

“I might choose the word ‘spoiled,’ rather than ‘sensitive.’  Of course, if you insist on mollycoddling the lad, giving in to his every whim—”

“Call it what you will,” Adam interrupted tersely, suddenly understanding how his father must have felt all the times his oldest son had made similar accusations about spoiling his youngest.  He took another deep breath, seeking self-control.  “I have no doubt that the operation you advised saved my brother’s life, Dr. Whittaker.  For that I will be eternally grateful, but I have concluded that his disturbance with these conditions has become an actual hindrance to his recovery.  I lay no blame on this institution or anyone connected with it.  I’m certain the patients here receive the best medical care available in America.  I am equally certain, however, that this particular patient will progress more rapidly under the care of his family—in this case, me—and I want to arrange his discharge from the hospital as soon as possible.”

The resident stood, bracing his hands on the desktop.  “Mr. Cartwright, it really is important that we see this case through from beginning to end, in order to provide complete documentation of the surgical procedure and its resolution.”

“Important to whom, to my brother or to others who might derive some future benefit?” Adam asked pertinently.

Dr. Whittaker straightened up to look with severity at the other man.  “The latter is of paramount importance to me.  Without full documentation, this operation might just as well never have been performed, in regards to its value in furthering medical knowledge.”

“That, sir, is where we differ,” Adam asserted, coming to his feet.  “It is my brother’s well being that is of paramount importance to me.  Now, will you discharge him?”

The doctor shook his head firmly.  “I can’t agree to that.  You’ll have to speak with Dr. Morton.  Unfortunately, he is out of town for the next several days.”

“Joe can’t wait that long,” Adam stated.  “He’s not sleeping; he’s not eating; he’s in a state of emotional exhaustion, and none of that will change until he is away from here.”

The resident folded his arms and stared into his opponent’s eyes.  “I will not discharge him.  If you choose to remove your brother from this institution, sir, it will be against medical advice.  I would think carefully about that, Mr. Cartwright, for I could not guarantee that the board of managers would agree to his re-admittance here, should you leave under those circumstances.”

With his head cocked thoughtfully, Adam gave the doctor a curt nod.  “I will take that into consideration, and I will think the entire situation over before I take any action, but if I decide that it is in my brother’s best interest, I will not hesitate to remove him, with or without medical consent.”

Dr. Whittaker moved around the desk and opened the door.  “In that case, I believe we have nothing more to discuss, Mr. Cartwright!”

The door slammed shut on Adam’s heels.  My, that went well! he concluded, taking out his watch to check the time.  Still not two o’clock, but Adam decided to bank on Miss Irwin’s kindness and try to see Joe early.  Hurrying upstairs, he received the Chief Nurse’s permission to enter the ward and walked in quietly, in case Joe or others might be sleeping, but it took only a glance to determine that his brother was awake and agitatedly pulling on the straps tying his wrists to the bed.  Adam immediately unbuckled the restraints.  “I’m sorry, buddy.  I told the doctor this was unnecessary, and I hope they won’t do this to you again.”

Joe’s chin began to quiver.  “Ain’t you gonna take me with you, Adam?  You promised.”

“That is not what I promised,” Adam stated firmly.  “I said I would speak with your doctor and I did.  Dr. Whittaker is not willing to release you yet.  Dr. Morton is out of town, so I couldn’t talk to him, but I’m not sure his opinion would be any different.”

Joe reached toward his brother with a shaky hand.  “Adam, I can’t—I—I—”

Adam began a circular massage on the back of Joe’s hand.  “Shh, easy now.  Don’t get yourself worked up again.  Look, Joe, I want you with me.  I think that will be the best thing for you—and for me, too, but going against your doctors is a big step for me to take and I need to think it through.  Give me tonight, and I’ll give you an answer in the morning.”  Seeing tears well up in his brother’s expressive eyes, he gave the hand he was holding a firm squeeze.  “Joe, it’s going to be all right, one way or another.  Now, I want you to relax and try to make up some more of that sleep you lost last night.”

“You’re not leaving now, are you?”

Adam straightened the covers and put Joe’s hands beneath them.  “Yes, I am.  If I do take you with me, there are some preparations I need to make, some items I need to buy, etc.  I need some time this afternoon to do that, and you need to behave yourself and not make this situation worse than it has to be.  I was told you refused your breakfast.  Did you eat any of your dinner?”

Joe shook his head, lips stubbornly set.  “They wouldn’t let me feed myself.”

“Well, that won’t do, Joseph,” Adam dictated, summoning up that paternal authority again.  “I want you to make a serious attempt at eating everything on your supper plate, understood?”

“I don’t like bein’ spoon-fed,” Joe said with puckered lips.

“I’ll ask the nursing supervisor to leave the restraints off, at least for mealtime,” Adam offered, adding in a firmer voice, “but even if someone puts them back, so you can’t feed yourself, I expect you to eat.  Is that clear?”

Joe nodded.  “I’ll try, but the food’s—”

“Terrible.  I know.  Try, Joe.”

Seeing the concern reflected in his brother’s soulful eyes, Joe murmured a submissive, “Yes, sir.”

Adam smiled, bending close to his brother’s face.  “See you tomorrow, buddy.  Keep cheerful thoughts.”  He picked up the volume of Ivanhoe.  “I’ll just take this with me, okay?”

Joe smiled weakly, grabbing on to the gesture almost as a promise that he wouldn’t be here for another reading.

Adam returned to the hotel and stretched out on the bed, arms folded behind his head as he deliberated his decision, awed by the responsibility he would be assuming.  Awed, but not daunted.  After all, he’d cared for Little Joe, as well as the rest of his family, many times throughout his life, and he felt quite confident that he knew what to do.  In fact, thanks to his perusal of Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing, he felt better prepared than he had ever been before.  In addition, Joe appeared to be out of danger and simply in need of rest and recuperation.

Still, what if that evaluation were wrong?  What if Joe did require further medical attention?  Where could he turn if he alienated the doctors of Pennsylvania Hospital?  Yet to leave the boy in the hospital would mean a steady decline.  Of that, Adam was absolutely positive, and if he accepted that, then none of the other factors he had been weighing mattered one whittle.  He had to do what he believed in his heart was right, and what he believed in his heart was right was to bring his baby brother back under his personal care, not leave him in the hands of strangers, to whom Joe was little more than an interesting case.

*****

“Coming in now, Mr. Cartwright.”

Ben moved quickly to the counter inside the Western Union office.

The telegrapher scribbled on a pad and then tapped the key to acknowledge reception of the message before tearing off the top sheet and handing it to Ben.

Ben grabbed the paper and with Hoss peering over his shoulder read the handful of words.  He exhaled with relief.  He felt like he’d been holding his breath for the last hour, since arriving at the telegraph office after a disturbing consultation with Dr. Martin, who had apprised him of just how dangerous an illness perityphlitis was.

“See, he’s doin’ good, Pa, gettin’ out of the hospital tomorrow,” Hoss said, face bright as sunrise over Lake Tahoe.

“It only says he might get out tomorrow, son,” Ben corrected.

“Yeah, but they wouldn’t even be thinkin’ about it if’n Joe wasn’t better.”

“I suppose,” Ben conceded.

“Any answer, Mr. Cartwright?” the telegrapher inquired.

Ben cocked his head in consideration.  “No, no response,” he said.  Turning, he walked out onto the porch of the telegraph office.

Hoss followed, mouth puckered as if he’d eaten a sour lemon.  “Ain’t you gonna wire Adam back, Pa, let him know if’n you’re comin’ or stayin’?”

With an arched eyebrow, Ben surveyed Hoss with cool gaze.  “No, I’m not,” he said plainly.  “I think your older brother deserves a taste of his own medicine.”  Let that cunning scalawag see what it’s like to wait a week for a message he’s concerned about!

Hoss grimaced, trying to gauge how far he could go in defense of his brother without earning a tongue-lashing himself.  “Kind of looks like you packed them bags for nothin’, huh, Pa?” he suggested tentatively.  “I mean, there ain’t no need for you to go back East now, with Joe doin’ so good, and it’s gonna do them two a world of good, bein’ thrown together and havin’ to depend on each other.”

Ben cast a sidewise glance at his middle son.  “Rather a one-sided dependence, Hoss.”

“No, it ain’t, Pa,” Hoss argued, unwinding Chub’s reins from the hitching post and twisting them through his fingers.  “Adam had himself a good scare, and I figure he’s already learnin’ just how much he needs his little brother, too.”

Ben gripped the horn of his saddle and looked across Buck’s back at his son.  “Hoss, it goes against every grain of my being not to be at my boy’s side right now.”

“Yes, sir, I know,” Hoss said with sympathy, feeling much the same way himself, “but if you do, you’re gonna cause your other son a heap of hurt, maybe the two of ‘em, even.  Let ‘em work it out, Pa.  They need each other, and if you give ‘em time, they’re both gonna see it.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Ben muttered and swung into the saddle.  He kept the conversation to ranch business as he and Hoss rode back to the Ponderosa, but the first thing he did on arriving was to sit down at his desk to write two letters, a scathing epistle to his eldest son and one full of tender love to his youngest.

*****

Arms loaded, Adam opened the door to his suite at the Washington Hotel and juggled packages all the way to Joe’s room, where he dumped them on the bed.  As soon as he’d made his decision to bring the boy here, Adam had made a mental list of things he would need and gone shopping.  Since Joe would be spending more time in bed than he had anticipated when packing his bags back home, he would need some extra nightshirts, so that had been Adam’s first purchase.  For the same reason he’d stopped in at the bookstore and bought a copy of one of the dreaded dime novels, which had come out only two days before.  He had a feeling that if Joe did do any reading on his own, something that required little concentration would be the right choice, and Prentiss Ingraham’s The Masked Spy; or, The Wild Rider of the Hills looked like the kind of story that might appeal to his younger brother’s adventurous nature, now that he was well enough to handle a little excitement.  He had also picked up an inexpensive checkerboard and pieces, since Joe enjoyed playing the game and checkers also constituted quiet entertainment.  Adam’s final stop had been Fred Brown’s Drugstore, just two blocks from the hotel, where he had purchased a bedpan, in the likely case that Joe wasn’t yet up to walking down the hall to the water closet, and some sedative powders, should the boy have difficulty sleeping.

Adam sat down on the bed and wiped sweat from his forehead.  Though the window was open, the air was stifling, the heat unrelenting.  He didn’t see how a person confined to bed could be anything but miserable in an oven like this, but it was no worse here than at the hospital.  There wasn’t, in fact, any place in this forest of tall buildings to find respite from the wave of heat that had descended on Philadelphia that summer.  The only area where a cool breeze might occasionally be found was out at Fairmount Park.

Adam raised his head and stroked his jaw in consideration.  With the mining convention concluded and most of their sightseeing done, there wasn’t anything tying them to a downtown residence.  Across the street from the Exhibition, a number of hotels had been constructed, specifically for Centennial guests, but Adam had early dismissed the idea of staying in one of them because, being new, they charged a higher rent than older hotels like the Washington.  Now, however, the extra money seemed unimportant.  If Joe would be more comfortable, why not make the change?

Taking only enough time to splash himself with cold water and change his damp shirt for a fresh one, Adam caught a horse car out to the area along Belmont Avenue that was lined with hotels.  He dismissed the Grand Exposition Hotel out of hand, for it was a fifteen-minute walk from the Centennial grounds, and Adam thought that as his brother began to regain strength, he might enjoy short excursions to the Exhibition.  The United States Hotel was convenient for that purpose, but set back far enough to avoid some of the noise of Elm and Belmont avenues.  Though Adam considered it briefly, it was smaller than the other hotels and featured fewer amenities.  Wanting to provide Little Joe with the best room available, Adam continued to look.

The Globe Hotel was the largest and offered some fine features, including the ability to summon servants with the ring of an electric bell.  However, it sat right next to the Centennial depot of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Adam was concerned that trains arriving in the night might disturb his brother’s sleep.  Across the street was the Transcontinental Hotel, and when Adam toured it, he thought it would suit the needs of the Cartwright brothers perfectly.  Only half the size of the Globe, it still offered five hundred rooms.  Miss Nightingale’s book had stated that the sick suffered from movement in a room above them and advised always placing invalids on the top floor, so since the elevator made all the floors equally convenient, Adam inquired whether there was a suite available on the fifth.  Learning that there was, he asked to see it.

He was thoroughly pleased with the suite.  Triangular in shape, the Transcontinental Hotel surrounded a spacious courtyard on three sides, making each room light and airy.  Miss Nightingale would definitely approve, Adam thought, grinning at the placement of the bed in the lightest part of the room with a good view out the window and close enough to it to provide some relief from the heat.  The parlor opened onto a small balcony overlooking a garden in full bloom, a pleasant place for Joe to take his first steps, once he was ambulatory.  And, in Adam’s mind, one of the finest features was the location of a bath in the suite itself, the very essence of convenience.

Only one question remained to be answered before Adam was ready to make a final decision, and he investigated that by taking his supper in the hotel’s dining room.  The food was excellent and with a second restaurant also available on the premises, Adam was convinced that the quality and variety of the meals would tempt his little brother’s flagging appetite.  Immediately after finishing his supper, he registered at the hotel desk, sent a second short wire to Pa, apprising him of their new address and confirming, without further explanation, Joe’s release from the hospital the next day.  Then he caught the first streetcar back into the city to pack everything up and transport it to the new hotel.

While he was packing, he found one item in Joe’s bottom bureau drawer that surprised him.  By its shape, it had to be a book, but it was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, so Adam couldn’t see what it was.  Something Joe didn’t want him to see, evidently, considering where he’d found it, but though Adam was curious, he decided to respect his brother’s privacy and just slipped the package into Joe’s carpetbag.

Arriving at the Transcontinental Hotel, he unpacked and did all he could to insure Joe’s comfort in the new lodging.  Then, exhausted, he fell into his bed, in the room on the other side of the bathroom from the one where Joe would sleep.  Despite the comfort of the new mattress, however, Adam found sleep slow to take him.  He was bound to face opposition when he removed Joe from the hospital tomorrow morning, and while that didn’t bother him for his own sake, he wanted nothing to disturb his brother.  Well, whatever happens, I’ll handle it, he assured himself, wincing as he realized that his father must have received his letter and subsequent telegram by now.  Wondering what Ben Cartwright thought of how his eldest son was handling things effectively kept sleep at a distance for another hour.

*****

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Having spent a restless night, Adam awoke early Friday morning, so he took time for a long soak in the tub before shaving and dressing.  As he left his room, he gave the carved cherub a pat on the head.  “See you soon, little brother,” he promised.  The night before he’d considered putting the little statue in Joe’s new room, sort of a welcome-home gift, but he had decided the art object wouldn’t mean as much to Joe as it did to him, and he wasn’t willing to part with it unless it did.

Though tired, Adam was in good spirits as he ate breakfast in the second restaurant available at the Transcontinental.  The food here was of equal quality with what he’d eaten the night before, so he felt confident that Little Joe would have no cause for complaint about his meals, even if it wasn’t quite the same as having Hop Sing around to tempt a capricious appetite with all his favorite foods.

Glancing at his watch, Adam planned his strategy for the morning.  He would arrive at the hospital about nine o’clock to insure that Joe had had time to eat his own breakfast.  Despite his complaints about hospital food, it was still better for the boy to have something on his stomach before making the long trip out to Fairmount Park.  Adam planned to hire a carriage and have the driver take his time, and if Joe had already eaten, they could take all morning, if needed, and still arrive in time to have dinner here.

With a little time to kill, he walked outside.  Though the Exposition wouldn’t open for another hour, people were beginning to line up at the entrance across Elm Avenue from the hotel.  Adam spotted a balloon vender, and a broad grin split his face.  Dodging around an oncoming streetcar, he hurried across the street and purchased a veritable bouquet of balloons, as bright as the flowers blooming in the courtyard of the Transcontinental.  He took them up to Joe’s room, tying four across the foot of his brother’s bed and one on each side at the head.  There was one left, so he looped its string through the towel bar of the washstand and stood back to survey his work.

Everything appeared to be in order: bed covers turned down, fresh nightshirt laid out on the chair, Ivanhoe and the dime novel placed on the bedside table, bedpan tucked out of sight beneath the bed, curtains opened and window raised to let in fresh air and give the room a cheery appeal.  Passing into the parlor, he looked with satisfaction at the comfortable chaise, where Joe might spend daylight hours, rather than in bed; the overstuffed chairs and sofa, when he felt like sitting up; and the small round table, where they could take meals together in the suite.  All the comforts of home, except the loving hands of his family.  Well, mine with have to suffice.

Adam picked up the small bundle he’d prepared the night before, containing a robe for Joe to wear on the brief journey to his new home and his balmorals.  Adam had, at first, put his brother’s slippers with the robe, but had reconsidered when he realized that Joe would have to walk from the hospital to the gatehouse to get to the waiting carriage.  Shoes built for the street would be better, he had concluded; they would give the boy firmer footing on paved streets and stone steps.  Tucking the bundle under his arm, Adam locked the door to the suite and moved toward the elevator.

Half an hour later he walked into the men’s surgical ward, having encountered neither doctor nor nurse on the way in, and shook his head in dismay when he saw the restraints again fastened to his brother’s wrists.  Joe’s eyes were closed, so Adam stepped lightly to his side, hoping that his brother was sleeping.  The dark circles under his eyes declared that he needed to be, but when Adam gently unfastened the straps, Joe opened his eyes, looking pleased to see his older brother.  “You’re early,” Joe whispered.

Adam rubbed his brother’s chafed wrists.  “I figured you’d want to get out of this place as soon as possible, little brother.”

Joe’s face was radiant, his eyes suddenly alive again.  “You mean it?  You’re really taking me with you this time?”

Adam nodded as he released his brother’s hand after giving it a final pat.  “Yes, I think it’s what’s best for you, but you are going to have to promise to do just as I say, Joe, or this arrangement won’t work.”

“I promise, Adam,” Joe said eagerly.

Adam chuckled.  “I’m gonna hold you to it, little brother,” he said, wondering how long it would be before he had to remind Joe of the promise he’d made much too easily.  He raised Joe up and held out the sleeve of the soft robe.  “Okay, let’s get you into this.  Then I’ll run down and hire a carriage and come back for you.”

Little Joe folded his arms against his chest.  “I ain’t wearin’ that out on the street—not in broad daylight!”

“No one’s going to see you,” Adam chided.  “You’re going straight from one bed to another, and getting dressed for the drive to the hotel is an affectation I don’t intend to indulge.”

“Then I won’t go,” Joe declared with a stubborn set of his jaw.

You obstinate little wretch, Adam fumed inwardly, though he schooled his face to reveal nothing.  Just because I gave in to you once, you think you’ve got the winning hand, but this is one bluff it will be easy to call.  “Of course, if you prefer to remain in the hospital . . .”

Joe’s eyes began to shimmer and his chin to quiver.  “Why does everything always have to be your way?”

As Joe turned away, a sledgehammer crushed Adam’s heart.  Joe’s question brought back the conversation he’d had with himself while his brother was in surgery, and Adam recalled the guilt he’d felt then for repeatedly forcing his will on Joe.  Here he was, doing it again, without giving the slightest consideration to Joe’s feelings.  Of course, he couldn’t always give in, not when it might affect his brother’s health, but this clothing issue really didn’t.  In fact, upsetting the boy needlessly was probably detrimental, more of the same kind of indifferent treatment he’d received at this hospital.  Adam leaned over and gently pulled his brother’s face back toward him.  “Okay, buddy,” he said softly.  “This time we’ll do it your way, but I’ll have to go back to the hotel to get your street clothes.  It’ll take awhile, but if it means enough to you to wait, I’ll do it.”

Joe, of course, did not realize that Adam had changed hotels, so his calculation was based on how long it would take his brother to get to the Washington Hotel.  “Not long,” he said, eyes sparkling again, “and it’ll be worth it.  It’s embarrassing, Adam, folks seein’ me in my nightclothes.”

“Longer than you think,” Adam said, though he didn’t explain, “but I’ll be back as soon as I can.  You behave yourself, and don’t tell anyone what we’re up to.”  His voice had dropped to a whisper for that final sentence.

Joe grinned, feeling as though he and Adam were conspiring to stage a jailbreak.  There was no way the prisoner would tell his jailers about it ahead of time!

As Adam trotted down the hospital steps and sprinted toward the streetcar stop, he began to question his sanity.  Surely a man with a solid grip on his senses wouldn’t have allowed even as artful a conniver as Little Joe to talk him into a pointless pair of pants to preserve his sudden and misplaced modesty!  Should’ve told him about the move, but I was hoping to surprise him.  Now he’ll worry, though, ‘cause it’s going to take over an hour to get there and back.  He stopped short and laughed at his own stupidity.  Why go all that distance?  Just buy the kid a shirt and trousers at a store downtown.  Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Adam began to whistle as he turned around and headed toward the corner of Eighth and Market, where the nearest dry goods store was located.  By the time he reached Strawbridge and Clothier, Adam was getting into the spirit of celebrating Joe’s “homecoming,” so he purchased a fancy gray silk dress shirt, complete with frills down the front and on the cuffs, and a pair of gray broadcloth trousers, along with a royal blue cravat for festive flair.

Returning to the hospital, Adam was stopped this time by the Chief Nurse.  “Mr. Cartwright, you’re not permitted to visit until eleven,” Miss Irwin reminded him.  “The doctors are making their rounds now and must not be disturbed.”

“I have no intention of disturbing them,” Adam said smoothly and sailed past her toward the ward.

She frantically called his name, but Adam ignored her.  Entering the long room, he saw a covey of a dozen or so doctors and students surrounding his brother’s bed.  Though he looked extremely uncomfortable, Joe was not resisting the examination.  He was obviously relieved, however, when his older brother stormed in and pulled Dr. Whittaker aside with a firm grip on his elbow.

“I told you how this boy felt about being put on public display,” Adam hissed.  “I assumed you understood that I wanted it to stop.”

“You didn’t state that, Mr. Cartwright,” the resident replied so glibly that Adam felt like punching him in the jaw, but starting a brawl in the ward wouldn’t really help Joe.  In fact, knowing his younger brother, the kid would be out of that bed, trying to join the fracas.

“Well, it will stop, as of this minute,” Adam declared.  “I’m taking my brother out of the hospital at once.”

Dr. Whittaker surveyed him with narrowed gaze.  “Mr. Cartwright, I beg you to reconsider—for his sake.”

“Has his condition changed since we spoke yesterday?”

“No material change,” the doctor conceded.  “In my opinion, however, his case still merits medical supervision.”

Adam folded his arms and stood as unmovable as one of the marble sculptures at the Centennial.  “I weighed carefully our prior conversation, and I’ve made my decision.  He’s coming with me.”

The doctor raised his voice.  “Then I repeat, in front of these witnesses, you do so against medical advice.  Should your brother’s condition deteriorate, the responsibility will be yours.”

Adam favored him with a sardonic smile.  “‘Twas ever thus.”  When had he ever not been responsible for Little Joe, from the time that green-eyed infant had taken his first peek at the world?

The doctor appeared puzzled, but he motioned to the others around the bed and continued on his rounds, shaking his head at the foolishness of the indulgent older brother’s giving in to the spoiled younger one.

Joe gazed at his older brother with almost idolizing admiration.  “You were wonderful, Adam.”

Adam chuckled.  “Hold that thought, little brother,” he advised.  “It just might make things go smoother over the next few weeks.”  He began to unwrap the package from Strawbridge and Clothier.  “Let’s get you dressed, and I don’t want to hear any complaint about the outfit I picked, understood?”

“Sure, anything’s fine,” Joe said quickly.  He looked curiously at the elegant clothes Adam took from the brown wrapper.  “Hey, I didn’t mean for you to go out and buy me something new.  My old clothes would’ve been just fine.”

Adam ran a hand through his brother’s tangled hair.  “It’s okay; it was more convenient to do this than to go all the way to the hotel.”

Joe shook his head in bewilderment.  “It’s not that far to our hotel; in fact, it’s closer than here.”  He touched the tag tied with twine to the package, on which was printed the store’s name and address.

Adam chuckled, wishing he could keep the secret, but realizing the time had come to reveal it.  “Well, I have another surprise for you, youngster.  I’ve moved us to a different hotel, one that I believe will be more comfortable for your recuperation.  It would have taken considerably longer to get there and back than to do a little shopping.”  He put his arm behind Joe and helped him sit up.

Joe’s eyes shone with warm affection.  “Aw, Adam, you’re sure goin’ to a lot of trouble for me.”

Adam rubbed the back of the boy’s neck.  “Not at all.  Now, can we get you dressed and out of this hospital?”

Joe grinned.  “The sooner, the better, brother.”

“Fine.  You just sit still and let me take care of everything,” Adam admonished as he began to unbutton Joe’s nightshirt.

Little Joe offered no resistance as Adam dressed him, though he laughed when his brother knotted the cravat around his neck.  Sometimes he just couldn’t understand his older brother.  Thirty minutes ago he tried to put me on the street in my nightclothes, and now he wants me dressed fancy enough to turn any girl’s head!

Adam took a comb from his pocket and ran it through Joe’s unruly curls.  “Well, that’ll have to do for now.”  He lightly clapped his younger brother on both shoulders.  “Ready to go, kid?”

“I’m ready, Adam,” Joe said, pressing his hands against the mattress in an attempt to stand.

“No!” Adam said sharply.  “Let me help you.”

Joe nodded meekly, for the frisson of pain in his side had been sharp enough to make him realize how much he needed help.  Adam put his arm around his brother’s waist, lifted the boy to his feet and began moving toward the door, concerned at the strain he saw on Joe’s face, strain that contorted into dread as they approached the stairway.

As Adam stood at the head of the stairs, wondering if he had made a mistake, Miss Irwin came to his side.  “Please don’t do this, Mr. Cartwright,” she implored, gazing at Joe with compassionate eyes.  “You can see how weak the young man is.  This is too much for him.  He needs proper nursing.”

“He’ll get it,” Adam assured her.  For a moment, though, Adam hesitated as he took in the pallor of his brother’s face.  He cupped Joe’s chin in his hand.  “Are you going to be able to make it, boy?  We still have some distance to go, even after getting down these stairs.”

“I can do it, Adam,” Joe insisted.  “Just take it slow and easy.”

“All right,” Adam said.  He turned to Miss Irwin.  “Thank you for your concern and for the care you’ve given my brother while he’s been here, but we’ll be fine.”

With a shake of her head, Miss Irwin went back to her desk.

This is going to be hard, Adam admitted to himself as he looked down the lengthy staircase.  Again he put his arm around Joe.   “Lean heavy on me, buddy; let me do all the work.”

Pale from the minor exertion he’d already made, Joe nodded without comment.  Resting his weight against his brother’s strong shoulder, he made his way, step by cautious step, to the first floor.

Adam walked his brother down the hall, stopping at a bench near the front door, where he set the boy down.  “You stay here and I’ll flag down a carriage.”

Joe reached a pleading hand toward his older brother.  “No, don’t leave me here, Adam.”

Adam squatted in front of the boy, resting one hand on Joe’s right knee.  “Joe, it’ll be all right.  No one will bother you or try to force you back into that ward.”

“I can make it, Adam,” Joe insisted.

“No.  I will not have you standing out on that street, waiting,” Adam stated firmly.  “When I have transportation arranged, I’ll be back for you.”  He stood and pointed at the bench.  “Don’t you dare move from there,” he said, emphasizing each word.

Joe nodded reluctantly, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the wall as Adam headed out the door.  After what seemed like only minutes, he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard a voice calling his name.  He opened his eyes and saw Adam looking at him with concern.

“You okay?” Adam asked.

“Yeah,” Joe murmured.  “You find a carriage that quick?”

Adam smiled wryly.  Though he hadn’t been gone an inordinately long time, he could easily see that a brief nap had distorted Joe’s awareness of the interval.  “Yeah, I have the carriage.”  He helped Joe to his feet and again urged the boy to lean on him as they descended the outside steps and made their way toward the gatehouse.  “Too bad they wouldn’t loan us that bed carriage,” Adam jibed.  “Would have made the trip easier.”

“I like it better this way,” Joe said.

“Oh, you would,” Adam snickered, “with me doing most of the work!”

“Sorry,” Joe muttered.

“It’s okay, buddy; we’re making it just fine.”

They reached the covered carriage, and with the driver’s help Adam got his brother inside.  He’d already instructed the driver to take the journey slowly, but he reminded the man again just before climbing in and sitting beside Joe.  The driver followed instructions, keeping the horse to little more than a walk, but no amount of care could take all the bumps out of the road, and it was obvious to Adam that his brother was uncomfortable.  As he wiped beads of sweat from Joe’s forehead, Adam scolded himself for a choosing a hotel so far away.  True, it would be better for Joe once they got there, but he should have realized that the journey itself would be arduous for the boy.  As the wheels bounced in another low spot, Adam slipped his arm around Joe and pulled him tight to his side to steady him.

Joe looked up, smiling weakly.  “I’m okay, Adam.”

“Sure you are,” Adam said, sounding unconvinced.

“How—how far is it?”

“Clear out by the Exhibition grounds, I’m afraid,” Adam replied apologetically.

“Oh.”  Joe nodded.  “That’ll be real convenient for you.”

“Huh?”

The carriage hit a deep dip, and Joe lurched forward with a cry.  Adam grabbed him and pulled him upright, the offhand remark forgotten in his concern for the boy’s safety.  He wrapped his arms around Joe, determined to absorb the inevitable jolts.  After hitting a few more rough spots, they arrived at their destination.  Adam got out of the carriage first and helped Joe down.  “Stand right here, Joe,” he dictated, “while I pay the driver.  Don’t move, boy.”

Joe nodded and looked up the short flight of stairs to the hotel’s entrance, daunted.  While there were fewer steps than there had been at the hospital, climbing would be harder than going down had been, and Joe was completely content to wait until he had his brother’s strong arm to lean on.

Adam returned quickly, putting that strong arm firmly around his brother’s slim waist.  “Lean heavy on me, Joe,” he said, as he had at the hospital.  “It’s just this one short flight of stairs to the entrance, and then we’ll take the elevator to the room.”

“Oh, great, another rising room,” Joe groused.

Adam squeezed the boy to his side.  “Would you really prefer more stairs at this point, little buddy?” he asked as they began their ascent.  “We’re on the fifth floor.”

Pausing on the second step, Joe wrinkled his nose.  “No, I gotta admit a rising room sounds a lot better than that much climbing right now.”

Chuckling, Adam helped him mount another step.  “Now, that’s a sensible attitude, my boy.”  He continued to help Joe climb, step by step, noticing how the slight effort seemed to enervate his brother.  They moved slowly across the lobby to the elevator and rode to the fifth floor.  Joe’s breath was noticeably shallow, though Adam couldn’t be sure whether that arose from his habitual unease with rising rooms or from sheer exhaustion or, most likely, from a combination of both.  Worry growing, Adam supported his brother down the hallway to their suite, unlocked the door and guided the boy in, seating him in the closest chair.

Concerned, Adam knelt in front of Joe, looking up into the bowed face in an attempt to assess his condition.  “Buddy, you okay?”

Joe dipped his chin, almost imperceptibly.  “Just tired, Adam.  I know I didn’t do anything, but . . .”

“Yes, you did,” Adam murmured.  “More than you were up to, I’m afraid.”  He finally gave voice to the doubt that had been whittling at the edge of his mind.  “Maybe this was a mistake.”

Joe lifted his head abruptly, revealing eyes brimming with anxiety.  “No!  No, I don’t wanna go back.”

Adam placed a calming hand against his brother’s cheek.  “Of course not.  It’s the trip that tired you.  Going back would only compound the error.  I do think we should get you right into bed, though.”  His concern deepened when Joe nodded without argument, that departure from the norm signaling just how exhausted the boy was.

Adam helped Joe to his feet and supported him for the short walk to the bedroom.  As they passed through the parlor, he spared a single sigh for his dashed hopes.  He had envisioned Joe’s favorable first impression of the luxurious new accommodations, but it was obvious the limp boy on his arm had not even noticed them.  Entering Joe’s bedroom, he eased his brother onto the side of the bed and knelt to remove his shoes.

At first, Joe just sat quietly, letting Adam do whatever he deemed necessary.  Then, glancing up, he saw the balloons tied all around his bed and grinned.  “Aw, Adam.”

As Adam stood, he saw the smile on his brother’s face and felt rewarded for his efforts in making the room festive.  “Welcome home, Joe—at least, your home away from home.”

Joe turned to smile at his brother and whispered, “Thanks.”

Nodding his acceptance, Adam unbuttoned his brother’s shirt and slipped it off.  Then he picked up the nightshirt he’d left lying on the chair near the bed.

Joe noticed that the garment was new and asked about it.

“Just thought you could use some extras,” Adam said with a shrug.

Joe looked disturbed.  “I’m costing you a lot more than you planned on, aren’t I?”

Adam gathered the hem of the garment toward the neck and placed it over Joe’s head, pulling it down over his shoulders and guiding his arms into the sleeves.  “Don’t worry about it.  Don’t worry about anything, all right?”  He swung his brother’s legs onto the mattress, easing his head onto the pillow, then removed his pants and pulled the covers up to his shoulders.  “I’m going to mix you a sedative,” he said, moving toward the bedside table.

“No,” Joe said.

Adam was momentarily relieved.  It was a good sign, he thought, that Joe felt like making even that feeble an objection to something he ordinarily hated.  Irritation followed, however, and he had to take a deep breath to control his temper.  “Joe, you promised me you would do as I said,” he reminded his brother.

“I know, but I’m so tired, Adam,” Joe said, his lifeless tone adding impact to the words.

Too tired to sleep?  That made no sense.  Adam paused a moment, trying to understand what his brother meant and was suddenly glad he hadn’t made the biting retort that had been his first instinct.  “You mean you think you can sleep without the medicine?” he asked.  “It would be better if you can, of course.”

Joe yawned, closing his eyes.  “Yeah, I don’t think I need anything but this . . . nice . . . soft . . . pillow.”

Adam caressed his brother’s curls with a tender hand.  “Okay.  I’ll check on you in about half an hour.  If you’re not asleep then, you will take the sedative without argument, understood?”

“Uh-huh,” Joe muttered, voice trailing off.

Adam left and when he returned thirty minutes later, he found his younger brother sound asleep.  Leaving the door open a crack, so that he could hear if Joe called, he went back into the parlor and threw himself down on the blue and gold brocade sofa, surprised at how tired he felt, especially since the day wasn’t half over.

Later that morning Adam bolted upright, some sound having penetrated his light doze.  Glancing toward Joe’s room, he saw the door wide open and flew off the sofa.  “Hey, I’m over here,” he heard a soft voice say and turned to see his brother near the front door to their suite.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Adam demanded tersely.  “Get back in bed this instant!”

Joe’s suddenly crestfallen face was pitiful to behold.  “But I need the water closet, Adam,” he protested.  He took another determined step toward the front door, glancing over his shoulder.  “Is it to the right or the left?”

Adam took his arm, intending to escort him back to bed and present him with the bedpan, but he realized that was putting the horse after the cart since Joe was already up.  “It’s not down the hall, Joe,” he explained, his angry countenance relaxing.  “It’s here in the suite.”

Joe crinkled his nose quizzically.  “Funny place for it.”

Adam chuckled.  “Unique, but highly convenient placement, I’d say.”  He aimed Joe toward their private bath.  “Go on, but be careful.  I’m here if you need me.”

Joe looked appalled at the suggestion.  “I won’t.”

As his brother disappeared into the bath, Adam perched nervously on the arm of the sofa.  He wanted to respect his brother’s privacy as much as possible, of course, but he was concerned about the boy’s evident weakness.  He smiled in relief when Joe came out, and he helped him back into bed.  “I’m going to check your stitches,” he stated in his best imitation of Pa’s no-argument voice.  “I have to be sure you didn’t harm yourself with this latest little stunt.”

Joe nodded his acquiescence and lay still as Adam examined his incision site.  “Looks fine,” Adam said, straightening up.  “Now, don’t get up again without calling for assistance,” he instructed firmly.  “I do not want you straining those stitches, so you let me help you.”

“Okay, I’m sorry,” Joe said, looking contrite.  “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“That’s all right,” Adam said, adjusting his brother’s covers.  “I should have explained things like that to you when we first got here, but you were so tired I thought it was more important to get you into bed.  Now you know, though, and I’ll expect you to do as I’ve said.”

Joe displayed his most disarming smile.  “I’ll be good.”

Adam laughed at the phrase again resurrected from childhood.  “Oh, you think I’ll buy you another present for that promise, do you?”

Joe sobered swiftly.  “No, Adam, you’ve done way too much already.  I-I guess Pa’ll help with the doctor and the hospital, though, huh?”

“I’m sure he will,” Adam said at once, “but you are not to worry about money matters, Joe.  I don’t want you to concern yourself with anything except getting well.”

Feeling protected, Joe smiled warmly.

“It’s past noon,” Adam said, consulting his watch.  “I’m going to order you some dinner.  Anything particular you’d care for?”

“I’m not hungry, Adam,” Joe said.

Adam shook his head at the familiar words.  “Don’t be ridiculous.  Of course you are.”

Joe’s mouth gaped in a drawn-out yawn.  “Can’t I eat later?  I’m awful tired, Adam.  I ain’t had a decent night’s sleep in a week, and this bed feels so good.”

The reminder of one of Joe’s complaints about the hospital awakened Adam’s compassion.  “Okay, sleep awhile, but you will eat when you wake again, is that understood?”  He tapped Joe on the tip of his nose.

“Yes, sir,” Joe replied with a faint grin.

As the afternoon passed, Adam began to grow concerned about how long his younger brother was sleeping.   About five o’clock he decided to order room service and once he had placed their supper order, he roused Little Joe.  “I’m sorry to wake you, buddy, but you need to eat something.”

Joe seemed groggy, but compliant.  “Okay, Adam.  I—uh—need the water closet again.”

“Sure, kid,” Adam responded readily.  “I have a bedpan, if you’d prefer to use that or I can help you into the bathroom if you feel up to it.”

“Rather go in there,” Joe said at once.

Adam grinned.  Predictable, as always.  He helped Joe into the bath and when he exited, led him to the small table in the parlor.  “Dinner should be here soon,” he explained, “and you might as well sit here to eat it.”

Joe brightened perceptibly.  “See?  I knew you’d take better care of me than any old doctor.”

“Don’t squander your charm on me, you rascal,” Adam chuckled.  “I’m immune to it.”  Oh, if only I were!

A few minutes later their supper was delivered in metal-covered dishes on a rolling cart.  Adam lifted the lid of one and placed it in front of his brother.  “I hope this will be to your liking.”

Joe smiled at the plate of crumb-crusted, baked fish with parsley-flecked potatoes and peas in cream sauce on the side.  “It looks real good, Adam.”

“Good.”  Adam sat down and uncovered his own plate, revealing roast beef with potatoes and carrots, accompanied by bacon-seasoned green beans.

For a few minutes the brothers ate in silence.  Then Joe began to look around the room between bites.  “This is some place you picked for us, big brother,” he observed.  “Must cost a pretty penny.”

Adam’s knife stopped in mid-slice of his roast beef.  “What did I say about worrying over expenses, hmm?” he asked, a slight rebuke in his tone.

Though there was no food in his mouth, Joe swallowed before answering.  “Not to—and—and I won’t.”

“Good.  That’s settled, then.”  Adam resumed cutting his meat.

“It’s real close to the Exhibition, you said?” Joe recalled.

“You didn’t see it when we arrived?”  Adam speared a carrot and then a bite of potato with his fork.  “It’s just across the street.  If this room were on the opposite side of the hall, you could see it out your window.”

“That’ll make it easy for you,” Joe commented, taking a bite of the buttery fish.

Adam raised his head.  “I don’t know what you mean, buddy.”

Joe looked up.  “To see the Exhibition—without leaving me alone too long at a time, I mean.”

Adam’s fork fell onto his plate with a clatter.  “Do you think for one minute that I would leave you here and traipse off to the Centennial?”

Joe seemed surprised by his brother’s reaction.  “Well . . . sure.  I mean, I know the way they had those visiting hours set up made it hard for you to go while I was in the hospital, but it’ll be easier now that you’re so close.  That’s why you picked this hotel, isn’t it, ‘cause it’s close to the Centennial?”

Adam gasped and then collected himself.  “Yes, in part, but not for the ridiculous reason you’ve come up with.”  He reached across the table to take his brother’s hand.  “Joe, I wanted to be close so it would be easier for you to visit the Exhibition once you started to feel better, not so I could go alone.  I have no intention of doing that.”

Joe’s expressive eyes reflected distress.  “But, Adam, I don’t want you giving up anything else for me.  You’ve lost days already.”

“Hush.”

“But, Adam . . .”

“Hush.  Eat your dinner before it gets cold.”

Joe pushed the plate away.  “I’m not hungry.”

“You haven’t eaten half of it,” Adam scolded.

“I’m tired,” Joe said.  “I want to go to bed.”

Adam sighed, realizing it never did any good to urge food on Joe when he was upset.  “Okay.”  He pushed his plate aside and helped his brother back to bed.  “Joe, you are not to worry about anything so foolish as when—or even whether—I see the Exhibition,” he said firmly, concerned by the tenseness he saw in his brother’s slight frame.  When Joe turned away without saying anything, Adam gently rolled him to one side and began giving him a relaxing rubdown.  He slowly felt the taut muscles ease under his kneading fingers and heard his brother’s breathing slow down until it was obvious he was again asleep.

Walking back into the parlor, Adam finished his now-cold supper and wheeled the cart into the hall.  Then he threw himself into the plush blue armchair and raked his fingers through his hair.  Probably be snow-white as Pa’s by the time I get through ‘handling that boy,’ he mused ruefully.  That kid can sure come up with some crazy ideas.  How could he possibly have thought I’d abandon him and go out sightseeing?  Does he really think I’m that selfish and callous?  Well, maybe that’s understandable, since I did just that the day I left him at the Centennial Medical Department.  Yeah, maybe so, but I’m glad we got that straightened out the first day.  Now he can settle down and concentrate on getting well, knowing he has something to look forward to.

He walked out onto the balcony, breathing in the pleasant fragrances wafting up from the garden and watched as the sky slowly darkened.  Though the hour was early, Adam felt exhausted and decided he would read a few minutes and turn in.  He didn’t even make it through one journal article, however, before his black eyelashes drooped on his olive cheek, so he undressed and, after making a last check on Little Joe, slid under the covers.

He woke up, uncomfortable, in the middle of the night and got up to use the water closet.  When he finished, he decided to look in on his brother, to make sure he was sleeping soundly.  As he neared the door, however, he heard soft sobs coming from the room.  Immediately alarmed, he hastened in and saw Joe, turned on his left side, face buried in the pillow to muffle the sound.  “Joe, what’s wrong?”

“Nothin’,” Joe mumbled, the word barely audible in the recesses of the pillow.

Adam took a deep breath, to calm his racing heart, and laid a hand on Joe’s right shoulder.  “Joe, if this is going to work, you have to be completely honest with me.  If there’s a problem . . .”

Joe raised his head.  “There’s not.”

Adam pulled Joe’s shoulder to roll the boy toward him.  “Are you in pain?”

Joe turned his head in hopes that Adam wouldn’t see his tear-streaked face.  “No, it’s nothin’ like that.”  He risked one quick look at his brother.  “Honest, Adam.”

Adam licked his lips.  “Are you upset?”

“Leave me alone, Adam!”

Joe tried to turn away again, but Adam wouldn’t let him.  “No, I can’t do that.  Tell me what’s upsetting you, buddy.”

Forced to face his brother, Joe lost the last vestige of emotional control.  “I-I’m sorry,” he sobbed.

“You’ve done nothing to be sorry for,” Adam soothed, stroking the damp curls from the boy’s forehead.

Joe shook his head fiercely.  “I been nothin’ but trouble to you this whole trip, and now I’m keepin’ you from what you came here to do and—and you won’t let me make it right.”

“You’re no trouble, Joe,” Adam murmured, keeping his voice calm and comforting.  “Don’t think that for a minute.”

Joe’s eyes narrowed, bitterness toward what he perceived as a lie replacing his self-regret.  “You didn’t even want me!”  He hurled the accusation in Adam’s face.

Adam was taken aback, both by the charge itself and the vehemence with which it had been made.  “Of course, I did.  I invited you, didn’t I?”

“I heard you.”  Realizing he’d said more than he intended, Joe turned away.

Adam turned the tear-stained face back toward him, keeping firm grip on Joe’s chin when he tried to pull away again.  “You heard what?”

Joe squeezed his eyes tight, wanting to avoid the confrontation, but knowing Adam wouldn’t back off until he had an answer.

“Joe, answer me.  You heard what?”  The question was sharper, more demanding this time.

Joe opened his eyes and fresh tears poured down his cheeks.  “You told Hoss you really wanted him.  The only reason you brought me, instead, was that business about college.  You didn’t want me; you’ve never wanted me.  Just thought it would be good for me to come, just some big sacrifice for you—and now you’re doin’ it again.”  He pulled away again, hiding his face in the pillow.  “You’re gonna hate me for it—more than you do already—and I can’t stand it.”

Adam stared, aghast in sudden realization that his youngest brother must have eavesdropped on his all-too-revealing conversation with Hoss—and had been hurting over it ever since.  He couldn’t possibly deny what Joe had heard with his own ears, but he yearned to comfort that aching heart.  “Oh, Joe, Joe,” he murmured, reaching for him.

Joe didn’t respond.  He just continued to cry, back heaving, breath short, racking sobs assaulting Adam’s ears with the reverberating drumbeat of accusation.  When words finally came, they spilled out still deeper pain.  “I—I remember—you and him, always together—never you and me—never—not since you came back from here.”

Adam froze with shock.  This couldn’t be Joe, that confident, cocky kid who always seemed so certain of where he stood with everyone.  “Seemed” was obviously the significant word in that description, for this crushed child bore no resemblance to the little brother Adam thought he knew inside out.  He’d always known that Joe had a sensitive vulnerability, but he’d never suspected this kind of deep insecurity.  How long had the kid been carrying these hidden hurts?  The answer to that was also obvious—since my return from college.  Possibly, even before?

Memories surfaced of another time Adam had seen his littlest brother’s face streaked with tears, the day he’d left home for Yale.  Such a tiny boy.  How could he have understood?  How could he have felt anything but abandonment?  But Pa had insisted that Adam go, had assured him that he would help Joe understand, that the boy would get over it.  You weren’t quite the miracle worker we thought you’d be, were you, Pa?  But, then, maybe that was my job, my miracle to work—and I wasn’t up to it, either.

Guilt a decade and a half old rushed to engulf Adam, but he thrust it aside.  His immediate concern was to calm his little brother, to give the comfort now he couldn’t give back then.  His own heartache could wait; his little brother’s could not.  Joe was emotionally overwrought, in large part because he was exhausted from the illness and had been in a state of high-pitched agitation throughout most of the past week, but to allow these intense feelings to continue unabated would lead to further emotional exhaustion, and that would, in return, affect the boy’s physical well-being.  It had to stop—now.

Adam turned to the bedside table, tore open a packet of sleeping powder and emptied it into a glass, which he then filled with water.  He put his arm behind Joe’s back and pulled him into a sitting position.  “Joe, I’m sorry you heard what I said to Hoss, and I understand how upset you are,” he said, reaching for the glass with the sedative.  “We need to talk things out, but not tonight.  You’re ill; you’re in need of rest.  Now I want you to drink this down and get some sleep, and we’ll talk in the morning.”

Swiping at his cheeks, Joe shook his head.  “There’s nothin’ to say.”

“All right, then, just drink this,” Adam urged, wanting to avoid argument.  He cupped his left hand behind Joe’s neck and offered the medicine with his other hand.  Too weary to argue, Joe drank it down.  “That’s my boy,” Adam praised, easing Joe’s head to the pillow and returning the glass to the bedside table.

Florence Nightingale had insisted that no nurse should ever sit on a patient’s bed, but Adam tossed that advice aside as he settled himself beside Joe with his back to the headboard.  Probably, Miss Nightingale had never nursed a patient who craved the human touch as much as did his little brother.  Pa was adept at meeting that need, but he wasn’t here—thanks to me, Adam reminded himself.  Determined to fill Pa’s shoes as best he could, he began quietly stroking Joe’s temple, humming a lullaby he’d sung when his brother was still of an age to appreciate such nighttime crooning, waiting for the sedative to take effect.

While Joe would have considered himself too mature for the simple words that had soothed him to sleep as a child, he slowly responded to the soft sound and tender touch, and as he grew groggy, he curled back toward Adam, snuggling into his thigh as he had when he’d first heard that gentle melody.

Adam continued humming and stroking until he sensed that his brother was asleep.  Only then, when he was certain Joe could not see, did he finally allow his own emotions to surface.  Tears began to fall down his own cheeks as he reviewed the events that had precipitated his brother’s pain, trying to see them through Joe’s eyes.  He’d already done that with his departure for the East, but now he remembered his return.  As Joe had said, he and Hoss had fallen right in with each other again, their boyhood closeness easily regained, but it had been harder to bond with the boy so much younger than he.

For a while, in their excitement over their renewed relationship, he and Hoss had unintentionally shut that little boy out.  At Pa’s admonishment, however, they had both made an effort to include Little Joe, and Adam had thought the problem solved, despite the frequent clashes between them.  Now he realized that the hurt feelings, the sense of being unwanted, had only been buried, the pain festering away deep inside, ready to erupt in a moment of vulnerability.  The only surprise was that the explosion hadn’t come sooner.  Adam had always thought that his youngest brother had no emotional control to speak of and, though he blushed to admit it, he had prided himself on his superior ability to maintain a composed exterior, no matter what came at him.  He was beginning to realize that he and Joe weren’t so different, after all, and he could only pray that Joe hadn’t developed this ability to hide his feelings by watching his oldest brother.  Oh, God, don’t let me guilty of that, too!

As he sat beside his brother, continuing to stroke him long after Joe could feel his touch, Adam was overwhelmed with one tormenting realization.  He doesn’t know I love him—and I don’t know how to tell him.  I’ve never known how to tell him.  He spent the remainder of the night, sitting there, trying to think of something he could say that would help Joe.  Obviously, the boy was too ill to be confronted with the deepest issues lying between them, but the immediate stress had to be relieved or Joe just wouldn’t get better.  Searching for the right words kept Adam awake while his brother continued his drug-induced sleep.

*****

Adam would have sworn that he hadn’t slept all night, but the sky had been dark when he decided to rest his eyes for a few minutes, and now it was clear blue, with a fluffy cloud floating past the open window.  Glancing down, he noticed that his younger brother was still asleep, though he was stirring and soft moans, no doubt the sound that had awakened Adam, were slipping past his mobile lips.

Adam instinctively began to circle his thumb on Joe’s shoulder, hoping the rhythmic movement that had soothed the boy to sleep the night before would keep him dozing a little longer.  At first he told himself that he was doing it for Joe’s sake, but then he smiled.  He was facing a lot of facts about himself lately, but this discovery that he, too, could be comforted by the sense of touch was one of the more pleasant ones.

Too soon, however, the green eyes opened and Joe awoke to find his older brother, still sitting where he’d last seen him.  “You been there all night?” Joe asked, eyes questioning.

Adam smoothed a curl from his brother’s forehead.  “Um hmm.”

Joe’s eyebrows met in a straight line.  “Why?”

“Just wanted to be with you, I guess,” Adam said, giving the curls one last tender tousle.

Joe’s face scrunched in pained remembrance of words he’d said the night before.  “Adam, I . . . I . . .”

Adam moved around to face his brother.  “Joe, I want you to listen to me.”

Joe shook his head.  “No, I need—”

“You need to listen,” Adam interrupted gently, taking the boy’s face in his hands.  “Please, Joe.  You can say anything you want later, but hear me out.”

Not feeling strong enough to do battle with Adam, Joe looked away in resignation.

Reading the weariness in his brother’s expression, Adam began stroking Joe’s cheeks with his thumbs.  “To begin with, Joe, I want to apologize.  I’m sorry you heard what I said to Hoss.”

“My fault,” Joe muttered, still unwilling to face his older brother.

Adam gave him a wry smile, though Joe didn’t see it.  “If you mean that you shouldn’t have been listening at doors, I agree, but I’m here to talk about my misdeeds, not yours.”  Joe still didn’t turn his way, but Adam could tell the boy was listening.  “As I said, I’m sorry you heard what I said to Hoss—and even more sorry that I said it in the first place.  It was true at the time.  I would have preferred Hoss’s company, and I was bringing you primarily for your ‘educational benefit.’”  He leaned closer, and his voice softened as he continued, “But, Joe, I’m really glad I chose you.  I’ve enjoyed being here with you.”

Joe began to shake his head in denial, but Adam, still holding the boy’s face between his hands, easily stopped the movement.  “No, I mean it.  We’ve had our difficult moments, but seeing all this through your eyes has made the old, new for me and the new, exciting, and I wouldn’t change a thing, buddy —except your illness.”

A tear trickled from the corner of Joe’s eye.  “My punishment,” he whispered.

“What?”  Adam bent closer, for he wasn’t certain he’d heard Joe correctly.

Joe finally looked into his brother’s eyes, his own burning with a plea for forgiveness, as if Adam stood in place of the Almighty.  “P-punishment.  I wouldn’t give my place to Hoss, when I knew you wanted him, so God—”

“Oh, good gracious, no!”  Adam rushed to gather his brother into his arms.  “Joe, no.  This illness is not some kind of divine retribution for selfishness.  If it were, I’d be the one lying there sick.”  His arms tightened as he began to rock slowly back and forth.  “Joe . . . buddy . . . it’s just an illness.  It would have struck you down back home if you hadn’t come here.  I’m all the more glad you were here when it hit, where the best medical help in America was only a summons away, ‘cause, buddy, as good as Dr. Martin is, I don’t think”—he broke off, realizing he was about to reveal more than he intended.

Hearing his brother stop so abruptly, Joe guessed the rest of the sentence, and when he pulled back to gaze intently into Adam’s face, what he saw confirmed his sudden suspicion.  “You don’t think he could have helped me?”  His shoulders began to shake.  “You think I’d’ve died back home?”

Adam bit his lip, wishing he could call back the words, but he realized that honesty was, as per the old proverb, the best policy to win his brother’s trust, so he nodded.  “The treatment you were given isn’t even accepted here, and medical knowledge, like all other varieties, seeps west slowly.  Yes, Joe, I think you might have died back home; in fact, I think it’s likely.”  He laid his brother back on the pillow and gazed out the window, as if seeing another time and place.  “I once knew a boy like you, who showed those same symptoms.”  Briefly, he outlined for Joe what had happened years ago to his college friend.

When he finished, Joe was twisting the covers between restless fingers.  “And that’s why you made me have that operation, even when I begged you not to?”

Adam blinked back the tears forming in his eyes.  “That’s why.  I was afraid I’d lose you the way I lost him.  I’m sorry I had to force you, buddy, but I just didn’t think you were competent to be making life or death decisions right then.”  As he looked earnestly at Little Joe, this time it was ebony eyes pleading pardon from emerald.

It was granted immediately.  Joe reached up to lay his hand against his brother’s cheek.  “No, I wasn’t,” he admitted.  “Thanks.”

Adam pressed the hand against his cheek.  “No thanks needed.  I have my reward; I have you.”  Unable to contain himself any longer, Adam let the tears flow down to bathe their now-interlaced fingers.

Shocked into silence, Joe could do nothing but watch the tears roll down.  Adam, crying?  Adam, who never lost that iron grip on his emotions—crying, for him?  Did he really care that much?  The moment passed, and the controlled mask was soon back in place.  But Joe had seen behind it, and he knew he’d never again doubt the depth of his brother’s love—not just for Pa and Hoss, but for him, as well.

Adam laid Joe’s hand down at his side.  “Joe, I have one more thing I want to say to you; then it’s your turn, if you want it.  I brought you on this trip for all the wrong reasons”—he laid his finger on Joe’s lips when he saw his brother preparing to speak—“and because of that I’ve done you a real disservice.  I’ve made it clear to you that this was my trip, not yours—that you were, at best, an indulgently tolerated guest with no rights, no privileges but to tag along wherever I wanted to go and do whatever I wanted to do.”

Joe brushed the restraining finger aside.  “Adam, it hasn’t been that bad.”

“Sure it has,” Adam contradicted softly.  “Sure it has.  Pa warned me about that attitude before we left home, but I wouldn’t listen.  I just had to show you who was boss, and though only once did you really buck my authority, I’ve held it against you ever since—to the extent that I almost overlooked your critical illness because I let anger blind me to what was right in front of my face.”

“You came back.”

The love and gratitude in Joe’s eyes warmed Adam’s heart, but only intensified his guilt.  “Yes, thank God, I came back, because I could not have lived with myself if anything had happened to you because I wouldn’t listen.  I owe you an apology, and I want to couple it with a promise, Joe—a promise I made to God for sparing your life.  From now on, buddy, this is your trip, not mine.  We’re going to get you well again, and then whatever you want is what we’ll do—even if it’s nightly excursions to Shantyville.”

Amused by the selection of that particular example, Joe had to grin.  “Adam, you don’t have to do that.”

“Yes, I do,” Adam said with a firm nod, “and what’s more, I want to.  Now, I’m going downstairs to order a tray sent up for breakfast; then we’ll get you freshened up and tucked in for a nice nap.”

Joe affected a sour smile.  “That’s what you call doin’ things my way?  A nap?”

Adam laughed and ruffled his brother’s curls as he stood.  “I said after we got you on your feet again, we’d do things your way.  Until then, you will obey orders, young man.”

Joe faked a groan, but caved in with a grin.  When Adam sounded that much like Pa, there was no defying his authority, though at this particular moment Joe had no desire to do so, anyway.  He was content to lie back and let his big brother continue to take care of him.

After a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast on a tray, to which Joe did some semblance of justice, Adam brought a basin of warm water from the bathroom.  Setting it on the bedside table, he removed his brother’s nightshirt.

“What are you doing?” Joe asked.

“I’m giving you a bath,” Adam explained cheerily.  “They did that in the hospital, didn’t they?”  He had noticed that Joe always appeared fresh and clean when he visited.

“Yeah,” Joe conceded.  “Would’ve felt good, too, if they hadn’t woke me up so early to do it.”

Adam laughed as he soaped a washcloth.  “Well, it’s late enough now, isn’t it?”

Joe grinned.  “Yeah, after breakfast is perfect timing, big brother.”

Smiling, Adam began to wash his brother’s chest and arms.

“You’re ‘most as good as that fellow at the hospital,” Joe observed.

“Oh?  So it wasn’t all bad there, huh?”

“No, not all, I guess,” Joe admitted, willing to be honest now that he was safely outside those hated walls.  “I liked that man, Adam.  He had real gentle hands, kind of like Hoss’s, and he talked friendly to me.”

Adam rinsed out the washcloth and wiped the soap from the area he’d already washed.  “He’s the one who told you that you’d have to work for your keep at the hospital, though, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, but he was just mixed up.”

Adam smiled at that fresh reminder of his little brother’s forgiving nature, a quality he hoped would be applied to him for all the shortcomings he’d demonstrated over the last several weeks.  After the bath he examined Joe’s incision, redressed the wound and dressed him in a clean nightshirt.  Then he tucked the sheets up to his brother’s chest and slipped out, as he could see that Joe was growing drowsy again.

Back in the parlor, he glanced at the bathroom door and pondered the idea of a long, relaxing soak, but lack of sleep made the sofa look even more inviting.  He stretched out, intending to rest a short while before tending to his own grooming, but exhausted by the emotional confrontations of both last night and that morning, he fell soundly asleep.

He woke, yawning and stretching, and reached into his pocket for his watch.  Nearly noon!  He cocked an ear and heard nothing, but decided he should check on Joe.  Looking in, he saw that his brother was still asleep, so he went to his bedroom for a quick wash and to change into fresh clothes.  The bath would have to wait ‘til later, as he wanted to get his brother’s meals on a regular schedule, and it was already late.

When he’d finished freshening up, Adam again entered Joe’s bedroom and was pleased to see that his brother was beginning to stir.  He woke Joe gently and presented him with a menu from the restaurant downstairs, which he had picked up that morning.  “What looks good, little buddy?”

Pleased with being allowed to order his own meal again, Joe brightened at once, for this one simple privilege made him feel he’d left the hospital behind for good.  He selected chicken salad, which seemed to Adam like a good, although not filling choice.  “Are you sure that’s all you want?” he queried.  He started to suggest a piece of pie, but stopped himself.  If Joe’s appetite was still this small, he shouldn’t squander it on sweets.

“I’m sure,” Joe said.  “Can I get out of bed for dinner?  I mean, I did yesterday, and I kind of need to get up anyway.”

Adam chuckled.  It certainly appeared that he’d wasted his money on that bedpan!  “Sure, I don’t see why not,” he said and pulled the covers back.

While Joe’s dinner was a light one, Adam was gratified to see that his brother ate all that was on his plate.  His appetite was obviously not up to the level he’d maintained before the illness, but he was eating adequately, and while he seemed more tired than expected, returning to bed without complaint after the meal, his color was good and he was resting well—all evidence that Adam had made the right decision in removing his brother from the hospital to care for the boy himself.

After indulging in a mid-afternoon bath and shave, Adam wrote to his father, but he couldn’t bring himself to explain the exact circumstances under which Joe had left the hospital.  Instead, he wrote a glowing description of his brother’s improvement since doing so.  However, he couldn’t help feeling, as he wrote, that he was only digging himself in deeper, since he’d have to confess eventually and Pa was bound to be furious with him for again taking matters into his own hands.

As he sealed the envelope and addressed it, Adam wondered for a moment why he hadn’t already received a wrath-filled wire from Pa.  Of course, to fully express Pa’s wrath would probably require the longest telegram on record, even surpassing the Nevada State Constitution, wired to Washington to secure statehood, which had previously held that distinction.  The absence of a wire meant one of two things: either Pa didn’t want to send a telegram that long or he was already on his way to deliver the fiery castigation in person.  Adam fervently hoped it was the former.

Not having had time earlier, he sat down to read the morning newspaper and shook his head, saddened by the death tally from the heat.  Eighty deaths so far this summer, and that was only in Philadelphia.  Other cities were suffering, too, but the paper had no statistics on casualties elsewhere.  Adam was doubly glad he’d moved his brother to the coolest part of town for his recuperation.

About halfway through the newspaper, he heard Joe calling his name and immediately set the paper aside.  “Right here, buddy,” he said, leaning through the doorway.  “You need something?”

“Water closet,” Joe muttered tersely.

Walking in, Adam smiled.  “And you remembered to ask for help.  Good boy.”  He helped Joe to his feet, pleased to see that his steps seemed steadier as he walked to the bathroom.  When Joe came out again, Adam asked if he wanted to go back to bed or if he’d prefer to sit up awhile.

Joe offered an eager smile.  “Could I?”

“Sure,” Adam said easily.  “I’ll get your robe.”  He brought the garment from the bedroom and helped Joe put it on.  Then with his arm draped over his brother’s shoulder, he asked, “Would you like to sit out on the balcony?  It overlooks the garden and is a very pleasant place to relax.”

Joe brightened still more at the thought of being outdoors and murmured quick assent.  “Oh, this is nice!” he said when Adam steered him through the French doors to the balcony.

His arm still behind Joe’s back, Adam pointed out Fairmount Park to the east.  “That’s the part where the zoo is located,” he reminded Joe.

Joe nodded.  “I really liked it there.  You think, maybe, we could go there again before we head home?”

Adam rubbed his brother’s back.  “Anything you want, buddy.  This is your trip now, remember?”

Joe smiled, the repetition of the promise assuring him that Adam had meant what he’d said that morning.  “Sit with me?” he asked as Adam settled him in one of the white wicker chairs with blue-sprigged, cream-colored cushions.

“Sure.”  Adam pulled the other chair close.  To make light conversation, he began to point out the various kinds of flowering plants in the garden below.  “When you’re able, I’ll take you down there for a walk.  That should help you get a little strength back in your legs.”

“Sounds good,” Joe said, stifling a yawn.

Adam tilted his head to get a good look at his brother’s face.  “Ready to go back to bed?” he asked.

Joe took a deep breath of the fragrant air.  “No, I’d rather sit here awhile, if that’s okay with you.”

“For a while,” Adam agreed, “but I don’t want you to overtire yourself.”

In response, Joe gave him the trusting smile that Adam had come to treasure, but he was soon ready to return to bed.  When he was settled back in his room, Joe asked Adam if he would read to him.  Adam complied, and the rest of the afternoon passed quickly.  Soon it was time to order supper, but Joe at first said he didn’t want anything.  “I’m not hungry, Adam.  I haven’t done anything to work up an appetite,” he offered as an excuse.

“Appetite or not, you need the nourishment,” Adam insisted firmly.  “I’ll just order you a bowl of soup, all right?”

Joe shrugged.  “I guess so, if you want to throw your money away, but don’t expect me to eat much of it.”

“I’ll risk it,” Adam said wryly.  As he had suspected, once Joe began to eat, the tasty food stimulated his appetite, and the boy finished more than half of the light meal.  Well satisfied, Adam praised his brother and again earned the smile in which he delighted, the one he would have missed so much had Joe been taken from him.

After supper he prepared his brother for bed, giving him a rubdown as he had the night before.

“A fellow could get real spoiled for this kind of thing, you know?” Joe murmured, his sigh of contentment fading into a sleepy yawn.

Adam chuckled, remembering how Dr. Whittaker had accused him of spoiling his brother.  Guilty, as charged, he admitted, but he didn’t care.  The rubdown was having the effect he intended, and Joe was soon asleep.

***End of Part 4***

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