Isolation (by JoanS)

image_pdfimage_print

Summary:  Joe is hurt in an accident in the lumber camp

Rated: K (13,520 words)

 

Isolation

Adam wiped his forehead and stood up to stretch for a moment.  This was back breaking work and even though he had wanted desperately to prove to his father that he could do it, he was beginning to wonder if he’d taken on more than he could handle. He had a fair knowledge of the timber business thanks to his father allowing him to be involved with it since he had returned from College some years before and had even made some improvements that had proved to be very worthwhile.  But this was the first time that he had taken on full control of the whole operation and he was finding it a challenge.

He was determined however to prove that he could do a successful job, to both his father and himself.  With this in mind, Adam had thrown himself wholeheartedly into the operation and had involved himself at every level of the operation.  His father was counting on him to have things finalised up here in time to meet the contract from the railroad and he was determined that everything would go as planned.  He glanced down the hillside with a hint of satisfaction to see all the men on task as a wagonload of logs were taken along the trail towards the lumber mill.

 

Adam frowned as he spied something else on the trail coming towards them.  It was his youngest brother on horseback and he was waving widely to the men as he passed them.  He wondered what had brought the kid up here.  One thing was for sure….he didn’t need the added complication of his kid brother while he was trying to keep control of things.  Adam put down his axe and strode towards him, determined to send the boy packing.

‘What are you doing here?’ he asked without so much as a hello.

Joe grinned at him as he slid out of the saddle. ‘Hi Adam. I came to see how you’re getting on.’

Adam didn’t return the grin. ‘Does Pa know you’re up here?’ he demanded.

Joe didn’t seem concerned at his remark. ‘Nope.  Should he?’

‘Absolutely!  You know you’re not supposed to be around here without his permission.’

Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘He never actually said that.  He just said that I wasn’t to annoy you or Hoss while you’re up here.  And I ain’t.’

Adam continued to frown. ‘Well you are annoying me. I’ve got enough to do without looking after you, so get on home.’

Joe’s grin disappeared. ‘No.’ he said shortly. ‘I don’t have to and you can’t make me.’

‘I can and I will,’ replied his older brother. ‘Now get!’

Joe looked over his shoulder and waved. ‘Hi Hoss,’ he yelled while ignoring Adam’s instructions. He began to walk over to his other brother. ‘What are you up to with that?’

Hoss looked up from the box he was carrying. ‘Stand back,’ he said. ‘It’s fuses for the dynamite.’

‘Dynamite! Wow! What are you going to blast?’

Adam caught up with his youngest brother and pulled him by backwards by the arm. ‘I told you to get home and I meant it,’ he said angrily. ‘You know that Pa wouldn’t approve of you being here when we’re blasting.’

‘Aw come on Adam!  I ain’t a little kid any more,’ said Joe, trying to free himself from his brother’s grasp. ‘I’m fifteen after all.’

‘You’re still not old enough to be around here,’ said Adam. ‘You should have gone straight home after school anyway.  Pa’ll be wondering where you are.’

‘Pa’s up in the North pasture,’ said Joe in a frustrated tone. ‘And I’m not going to get in the way.  I just want to stay for a bit.  I’ll go with Hoss.  Is that OK Hoss?’

Hoss shook his head. ‘No it ain’t,’ he said. ‘I’ve got work to do setting these fuses and it’s like Adam says little buddy.  You shouldn’t be here.’

Joe glared at him.  He had expected support from his middle brother at least. ‘I’ve got every right to be here!’ he said angrily.

‘No you don’t,’ countered Adam. ‘I’m in charge and I’m telling you to go home.  Now get!’ He propelled the boy towards his horse and gave him a push up so that Joe was forced to mount. ‘Goodbye,’ he said in a determined voice and stood back with his arms crossed in front of him.

Joe had no choice but to obey.  He turned his horse and without a backward glance headed off back down the trail.

‘I guess we coulda let him stay fer a little bit,’ said Hoss at Adam’s elbow.

‘I don’t have time to babysit him and neither do you,’ replied Adam. ‘Now aren’t the men waiting for those fuses?’

Hoss shrugged his shoulders. ‘Sure thing boss,’ he said cheekily. ‘I’m right on it.’

Adam grinned at him before picking up his axe again. ‘Damn fool kid,’ he muttered under his breath as he attacked the tree again. ‘Pa’d have his hide if he knew he’d come up here. He never learns.’

——————

After riding for a couple of hundred metres down the trail, Joe stoped his horse and turned.  He had no intention of letting his brothers boss him around like that and was determined to have his own way.  If he wanted to see the blasting then he had every right to do so!  Besides, Adam wouldn’t even know if he was careful about it.  He rode up the hill away from the trail back towards the camp.

As he neared the clearing Joe could hear the sound of the men working.  He quickly dismounted and tied Cochise to a tree, then crouched over as he steadily crept forward.  He aimed to reach the edge of the clearing and look for where they blasting, then position himself to get a clear look.  It would only take a few minutes and then he would go as quietly as he had come, with neither of his brothers being any the wiser.  He’d be home in plenty of time to get his chores done before Pa made it home and he’d be able to avoid trouble on all fronts.

Joe grinned to himself as he crept forward.  As usual he had everything planned to perfection.  He felt that it was amazing how much he was able to get away with sometimes without his family knowing.  If Pa only….. he stopped as he heard Hoss’ voice.

“That’s fine.  Now the other one,’ he said.  Joe stopped.  His brother sounded like he was only a few feet way.  Joe crouched down even further.  He had to be careful, for he knew that if Hoss saw him he’d send him packing just as Adam had done. ‘Right,’ came Hoss’ voice again. ‘That’s it then.’

Joe kept still, not daring to move for fear of being detected. He would give it a few moments and then poke his head out to see which direction they were headed in.  Then he’d be able to……

Joe never even heard the blast when it came.  He had a sensation of being pushed backwards as if flying through the air, but he never even heard a thing.  It took him totally unaware.  All he had time for was a quick thought that maybe he should have moved quicker and then the blackness over came him and he knew nothing.

——————–

‘That’s got it,’ said Hoss in a satisfied voice. ‘It’s cleared more than I’d hoped for.  Come on.  Let’s get to work getting rid of this mess now.’  He strode forward with several of the men, determined to get as much of the debris cleared before the rest of the crew came in with their axes.  ‘You men start over there,’ he said pointing his arm.  You lot come with me.’

He got to work immediately and expected everyone else to do the same, so it was with surprise that he heard a voice moments later calling him.  He stood up to see a group of men gesturing to him. ‘Hoss!  Over here! Quickly!’

Hoss ran over towards them and met them with a questioning look. ‘What is it?’ he asked anxiously. ‘What’s the………. Oh Lord!’ he felt his heart skip a beat at the sight of his younger brother lying on the ground in front of them. ‘Get Adam!’ he shouted as he knelt by the boy’s body. Hurry!’

Hoss leant down and gathered his little brother in his arms. ‘Joe!’ he cried. ‘What have ya gone and done now boy? Joe little buddy….open ya eyes and answer me!  It’s me little buddy.  It’s Hoss!  Answer me!’

But the boy lay limp in is brother’s arms and didn’t stir.  Hoss felt panic overtake him and he began to shake his brother. ‘Joe!  Don’t ya hear me?  Wake up!’ He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to meet Adam’s fearful eyes. ‘He got caught in the blast,’ Hoss explained. ‘I didn’t know he was there Adam.  He musta snuck back again.’

Adam felt for a pulse. ‘He’s alive,’ he said simply and turned to shout over his shoulder. ‘Get a wagon up here now!  And some one ride for the doctor.  Get him out to the ranch as soon as possible.  We’ll get him straight there.  It’s closer than town.’

There was a flurry of activity behind them and within a minute the two brothers were left alone with Joe while the men hurried to do their bidding.  Adam sat down next tot Hoss and felt for Joe’s pulse again.  The two brothers looked at each other helplessly over the curly hair of their younger brother.  Nothing was said as they waited for the wagon.

———————-

‘It’s Pa!’ said Hoss, looking out of the window. ‘He musta got the message.’

‘Is the doctor with him?’ asked Adam without taking his eyes off the boy in the bed.

Hoss shook his head. ‘No, but he shouldn’t be too much longer.’

Within moments the door was flung open and Ben Cartwright appeared with a worried look on his face. ‘I heard,’ he said with his eyes firmly fixed on his son in the bed. ‘All Charlie said was that he was hurt.  He didn’t give me any details.’

Adam shifted over to make room for his father to sit down. ‘He got caught in an explosion,’ he said. ‘Up at the timber operation.’

‘What?!’ Ben thundered. ‘What the he…. What on earth was he doing up there?’

Adam shrugged his shoulders. ‘He just appeared,’ he said. ‘You know what he’s like Pa.  I tried to get him to leave and I thought he had……but apparently not.’

Ben frowned. ‘We’ll deal with that later,’ he said. ‘The important thing is to make sure that he’s alright.’ He felt his son’s forehead and checked under his eyelids for a flicker of life.  ‘Has he been unconscious all this time?’

Adam nodded. ‘Yes. There’s been no response to anything.  His pulse is strong, just a bit fluttery now and then.’

Ben felt the boy’s head. ‘There doesn’t seem to be any sign of a lump,’ he said. ‘Have you checked his arms and legs?’

Hoss stepped forward. ‘There doesn’t seem ta be anything wrong Pa,’ he said. ‘Nothing we can tell anyways.’

Ben nodded. ‘You’ve sent for the doctor,’ he said.  It was more of a statement than a question.

At that moment a sound in the yard below caused them all to turn.  Hoss walked to the window again. ‘It’s Doc Martin,’ he said. ‘I’ll bring him up.’

Ben sat and stared at the boy in front of him while he waited for the doctor to appear. Joseph?’ he said gently. ‘Joe son, can you hear me?  It’s Pa son.  Wake up now.’  Joe didn’t stir, but lay as still as before.  Ben noted with relief his son’s regular breathing pattern, even though he appeared to be extremely pale.  He had some superficial bruises and scratches on his face and arms, but apart from that he looked as if he was merely asleep. He closed his eyes for a moment and said a silent prayer that all would be well for his boy.

‘Ben?’ He leapt to his feet as Paul Martin’s voice sounded behind him. ‘I came as soon as I heard,’ the doctor said. ‘An explosion, the boys told me.’

Ben nodded his head. ‘Yes. He seems to be breathing fine though and his pulse is regular. Just some scratches and bruising that I can see.’

Paul put his bag on the bed and bent over Joe.  He pulled his eyelids back and shone a light into the boy’s eyes before taking his pulse. ‘Seems to be alright,’ he said before pulling his stethoscope out of his bag.  After a few minutes of listening to the boy’s chest he straightened up. ‘Heart seems alright too.  Was he thrown very far?’

Ben looked around at his two other boys. ‘We’re not sure,’ said Hoss. ‘We don’t know where he was to begin with Doc.  We just found him on the ground like this.’

Paul nodded. ‘Well I’ll check him over completely,’ he said. The three Cartwrights watched for several minutes as the doctor checked the youngster thoroughly for any signs of distress on his body.  After while he spoke again. ‘I can’t find anything,’ he said. ‘Of course that’s not to say that he’s escaped unscathed. We’ll have to wait until he wakes up to ascertain just how he is.’

How long should that be?’ asked Ben.  ‘He’s been out now for a couple of hours.  Surely that can’t be a good sign.’

Paul shook his head. ‘No its not,’ he said. ‘I’ll be honest Ben.  The longer he’s unconscious the worse off he’s likely to be.  We’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll stay for a few hours.’  He patted his friend on the arm. ‘Everything seems to be fine.  I’m sure he’ll be alright.’

Ben nodded and tried to smile. ‘I’ll just feel better when he wakes up and we can be sure,’ he said. He looked at his son anxiously before turning towards Adam.  ‘Son could you make sure that Paul gets something to eat please?  I’m going to sit with Joseph for a while.’

‘Sure Pa,’ said Adam. ‘Come on Hoss, we’ll go and fill Hop Sing in on what’s happening.’

As they left the room, Ben sat down again on the edge of the bed. ‘Wake up Joseph,’ he said softly to the boy in the bed as he stroked the curls off his forehead. ‘Come on son, it’s time to wake up now.’  Little Joe didn’t respond to his father’s touch, but slept on undisturbed.

——————-

It was another two hours before Joe stirred.  Immediately Ben was at his son’s side and calling for Paul. ‘He’s awake!’ he shouted. ‘Paul!’ He leant forward for the tenth time that hour and whispered in the boy’s ear. ‘Joseph.  It’s alright now son.  Wake up.  Your Pa’s here.’

Joe’s eyes fluttered open as Paul, Adam and Hoss entered the room. He looked around momentarily before shutting them again. ‘Joseph?’ Ben said, louder this time.

Paul appeared at the other side of the bed and immediately began to check his vital signs. ‘Give him a few minutes Ben,’ he said as he did so.  Just allow him to take his time.’  Ben sat silently waiting and watched as his son’s eyes fluttered open again and he tried to focus. He smiled at his son as his eyes flitted past him and then came to rest on his father’s face.

Joe returned the smile briefly.  His hand came up to touch his father’s face. ‘Pa?’ he said.

Ben clasped his boy’s hand. ‘Well hello there,’ he said. ‘I wondered when you’d wake up.’

‘Pa?’ Joe repeated.

Ben continued to smile at him. ‘Yes, it’s Pa son.  Everything’s going to be alright now.’

Joe grimaced and closed his eyes again.  He lay still and looked as though he was concentrating on something.

Paul bent over him. ‘Joseph it’s Doctor Martin. I want you to open your eyes and look at me for a moment.’  Joe didn’t respond, but continued to frown as if in thought. ‘Joseph?’ the doctor repeated.  ‘Look at me.’  Still Joe didn’t respond.  Paul shook him gently on the shoulder and immediately the boy’s eyes opened and he stared up at the doctor’s face. Paul shone a light into his eyes and noted with pleasure that his pupils instantly dilated. He stood up. ‘His vital signs are fine,’ he said. ‘I’d say he’s a lucky boy.’

Ben grinned at him and clasped hold of his son’s hand even tighter. ‘That’s wonderful,’ he said. ‘You’re going to be fine now Joseph.  You gave us quite a start there for a while though.’  Joe continued to look at his father intently, but didn’t say a word. After a few moments, Ben spoke to him again. ‘Joseph? Did you understand what I said son?  You’re going to be fine.’

Joe still said nothing, but frowned at his father. After a moment he reached up to touch his face again. ‘Pa?’ he said. ‘I’ve got a headache.’

‘I’m sure you have,’ said Ben gently. ‘Close you eyes now and…..’

‘I’ve got a headache Pa, something bad,’ said Joe.

‘I’ll give him something for the pain,’ said Paul, taking a powder out of his bag. ‘He’ll need…’

‘Pa?’ said Joe in an anxious voice. ‘Pa?’

‘Yes?’ said his father.

Joe’s grip on his father’s hand tightened. ‘Pa?’ he repeated.

Ben looked up at Paul. ‘He seems quite agitated,’ he said. ‘Perhaps if we….’

Pa?’ said Joe frowning. ‘Did you say something?’

Ben looked down at his son. ‘Joseph just relax,’ he said as he stroked his son’s forehead. ‘It’s alright now son.  Doctor Martin’s going to give you a headache powder and you’ll be able to get some more sleep.  You’ll be alright when……’

Joe clutched at his father with his other hand. ‘Pa I can’t hear what you’re saying,’ he said in a worried tone. ‘What did you say?’

Ben looked at the doctor. ‘Paul?’ he said anxiously.

Paul put down the powder and bent over the boy in the bed. ‘Joseph look at me,’ he said. Joe didn’t respond, so he turned the boy’s head towards him. ‘Look at me,’ he repeated.

Joe looked anxiously into the doctor’s eyes. ‘I can’t hear what you’re saying,’ he said. ‘What did you say?’

Paul looked up at Ben, the anxiety in his eyes speaking volumes. ‘Probably the noise of the blast,’ he said. ‘He’s taken quite a battering to the head after all.’  Joe pulled the doctor’s face towards him and said in a hysterical tone. ‘What are you saying?  I can’t hear you!’

Paul patted him on the head and smiled. He reached for the powder which he had dissolved in a glass of water and held it to the boy’s lips. Without a word he forced Joe’s head up and made him take a couple of swallows.  When he could finally get his mouth free, Joe shouted. ‘Pa! Let go of me.  I want my Pa!’

Paul let go of him and stepped back to allow Ben to move closer to his son. ‘I’m here Joseph,’ he said gently. It’s alright now son.’

Joe clutched at his father’s arms. ‘Don’t leave me alone Pa!’ he said anxiously.

‘I won’t son.’

‘What? I can’t hear you Pa!’

Ben stroked his son’s forehead gently and took the glass from Paul. He put it to his son’s lips firmly and forced him to swallow again several times, all the while smiling at him calmly. Finally the glass was empty and he put it down before holding his son in his arms and stroking his forehead again.  Joe leant against his father’s chest listening frantically for the sound of his heartbeat, but could hear nothing.  Even as a feeling of panic began to overcome him he felt himself beginning to lose control of reality and he slipped down again into the darkness.

——————–

‘So it will be temporary then?’ said Adam, looking at the doctor intently to gauge his reaction.

Paul avoided meeting his stare. ‘I think it’s highly likely,’ he said.

‘But you don’t know for sure,’ said Ben.

The doctor shook his head. ‘I can’t be certain, no,’ he said. ‘But it seems likely that the force of the blast has simply resulted in temporary deafness. Time will tell.’

‘And in the meantime?’ asked Ben, trying to still his panic. ‘In the meantime what do we do?’

‘Just allow him time,’ said Paul. ‘Try to keep him calm and treat him gently. He’ll gradually adjust.’

‘That’s it?’ said Adam. ‘My brother has gone deaf and you simply tell us to be gentle with him?’

Paul sighed. ‘There’s not much else we can do at this stage,’ he said. ‘If it continues longer than a few days then I’ll do some tests on him, but we may not have to face that situation at all.  As I said before, it’s likely to be temporary.’

‘And if it’s not?’ said Adam angrily. ‘What do we do then?’

Paul said nothing, but stared into the fire in front of him. ‘There are some very good doctors in San Francisco, ‘ he said. ‘I can recommend a specialist if we need to go down that track.’

Adam slammed his fist on the table and left the room.  Hoss looked at his father helplessly and followed him.  As the front door slammed behind him, Ben turned to Paul.

“Tell me the whole truth,’ he said.

Paul looked at his friend. ‘I am telling you the whole truth Ben,’ he said. ‘It’s just too early to tell.’  He put his hands into the air in a helpless expression. ‘I’m sorry.  I wish there was more I could say to you, but there just isn’t.’

Ben nodded and sat down on the settee. ‘So we just wait,’ he said quietly.

Paul nodded. ‘Yes.  We just wait,’ he said.

——————–

Joe opened his eyes and blinked in the strong sunlight that was streaming through the window of his bedroom. He stretched his legs and looked around trying to orientate himself and noticed his father sitting in a chair asleep by the side of his bed. He turned and looked at the bedside table next to him and wondered if he could manage to get a drink of water without waking his father.

Carefully Joe tried to sit up in bed, but he ached all over and realised it was going to be a huge effort to reach the glass on the table.  He looked at his arms and noticed the bruises on them and frowned as he tried to remember what had happened to him.  Suddenly it all came flooding back as he remember being thrown backwards by the explosion.  Tentatively he tried to stretch again and was pleased when he realised that he had no trouble moving his arms and legs.  Apart from the aching feeling everything seemed to be working.

Slowly Joe tried to sit up again, this time doing so inch by inch.  He felt pleased with himself when he had managed to maintain a half-seated position and reached out for the glass next to him.  He picked it up but then watched in horror as it slipped from his grasp and fell to the floor shattering into many pieces.

The noise of the glass breaking startled Ben and he woke with a start. He looked at his son who was seated in the bed staring at the glass on the floor with a horrified expression on his face.  Ben reached out to touch the boy on the arm and Joe looked up into his father’s face with tears rolling down his eyes. Ben smiled at him and tried to appear calm.

Joe stared back at the glass again. ‘Pa?’ he said not taking his eyes off it. ‘Pa?  I broke the glass.’  He continued to stare at it as if in a daze. ‘I…. I broke it Pa, but I didn’t hear it break.’  He looked up into this father’s face. ‘Pa?’ he said, the tears falling down his cheeks. ‘Pa?  I can’t hear!’

Ben reached out and stroked his son’s head and looked into his eyes. He opened his mouth to reassure him and then realised that it was useless to say anything, so instead he drew the boy’s head towards him and held it against his chest.  Joe sobbed uncontrollably for a few minutes, not sure what to think.  After a while he drew back from his father and said. ‘Pa?  What’s happened to me?’

Ben clenched his fists in frustration.  He’d never faced a situation like this before and he just didn’t know where to begin.  All he could do was reach for his son again, but this time Joe drew away from him. ‘No!’ he said, his voice beginning to sound anxious. ‘Tell me what’s happened!’

Ben looked at him helplessly. He stroked the boy’s hair and smiled at him.  Joe stared back at him, his face beginning to mirror his feelings as the panic showed in his eyes. ‘What’s happened?’ he said again and began to cry aloud. ‘Pa! Help me Pa!’ the sobs began in earnest this time and his body began to shake with fear as he realised that he couldn’t hear his father even if he did speak to him.  A feeling of helplessness washed over him and he began to clutch at the man and cry. ‘Pa!  I can’t hear Pa!  Help me!’

Ben reached for the boy again and held him close in spite of Joe’s struggling.  For several minutes they sat like that, Joe calling out over and over again ‘Pa!  Help me Pa!’  until Ben felt that he couldn’t stand the sound of the words any more.

At that moment Adam entered the room. ‘Here,’ he said thrusting a piece of paper and a pencil in front of his father. ‘I thought you could do with these.’

Ben looked at his son gratefully. ‘Good boy,’ he said. Holding onto Joe with one arm he balanced the paper on the bed and began to write.  After a moment he tapped Joe on the back.  ‘Joseph,’ he said, even though he knew the words wouldn’t reach his son. ‘Joseph look here.’  He pulled the boy away from him and turned his head to face the paper on the bed.

Joe looked down.  His father had written:

Joseph calm down.

Joe looked up at his father’s face and Ben pointed to the paper again while he smiled at his son. Joe clutched onto his father’s arm and tried to stop crying, but only succeeded in hiccupping in between sobs.  Ben spoke to Adam, all the while gazing at Joe in front of him. ‘Adam would you clean up the broken glass please?’

As Adam bent to do his father’s bidding Ben continued to stare at Joe and smile at him.  Eventually the boy’s sobs lessened and he relaxed a little in his father’s grasp. When Ben felt he had calmed down sufficiently he began to write again, watched all the while by Joe.

The doctor says this is probably only temporary Joseph.  You had a knock to your head when you fell. Just be patient son.

Joe read the words and then looked up at his father again. ‘Why can’t I hear?’ he said.

The doctor isn’t sure yet.  You need to rest for a few days and he’ll do some tests then, Ben wrote.

‘What kind of tests?’ Joe tried not to sound too anxious, but his voice trembled as he spoke.

Ben smiled at him calmly. Don’t worry about that now.  The important thing is that you get lots of rest first.  I want you to lay down now.  Alright?

Joe nodded and lay down on the bed again.

‘Adam would you ask Hop Sing to bring up something for Joseph to eat?’ asked Ben. He noticed Joe looking at him intently trying to work out what he had said, so he wrote it down for him and then he added, How’s the headache?

‘A bit better,’ said Joe. ‘When it goes will I be able to hear again?’

We’ll have to wait and see, wrote Ben. Rest now.

As he sat and watched his son trying to rest, Ben felt an aching within his heart. He was trying desperately not to lie to the boy, but it was very difficult not to.  He wanted to write that it would be alright.  That everything would be fine in time. But he couldn’t.  Ben closed his eyes for a moment and prayed.  It might never be alright again, but how could he tell his son that?  How could he tell him that he might never hear again and how would Joseph cope if that were true? Ben prayed that the boy would never have to face it.

——————-

Adam walked into the dining room and stood still as he watched his youngest brother sitting by the fireplace reading.  At any other time it would have thrilled him to think that Joe was finding pleasure in a book, as reading had never been one of his strong points.  He was a boy who would rather be out doing things than sitting still reading, and try as Adam had to interest him in various pieces of literature he had always resisted it.

At the moment though, it worried him.  Joe had done nothing but sit by himself for the past few days since Doctor Martin had allowed him out of bed and didn’t seem to be interested in doing much at all or even making an effort to communicate with any of them. It was as if he had retreated into his own private world and the symptoms of depression in him were evident to all of them.  Adam knew that his father was very anxious about the boy and was trying to interest him in things to help him cope with what was happening to him.

Adam walked over and sat next to his brother on the settee. Joe looked up startled as his brother sat down.  Adam smiled at him and was dismayed to see that his brother didn’t return the look but merely commenced to read again.  He glanced at the title and noticed it was one of his.  He smiled and tapped the book as he gave his brother a questioning look.

‘I didn’t think you’d mind if I borrowed it,’ said Joe.  Adam shook his head and continued to smile to show his agreement.  After a moment Joe looked down again and continued to read.  Adam sighed.  It was like this all the time.  There was very little that he could think of to say to his brother and he noticed that Hoss felt the same.

Each of the Cartwrights and Hop Sing had taken to carrying a notebook and pencil in their pockets so that they could scribble down their remarks for Joe, but he usually became impatient when they started to do this and quickly showed his impatience with them doing so.  So they usually resorted to gestures and facial expressions to put their point across to him.  This in itself was extremely difficult as Adam acknowledged there was only so much information you could convey in this way.  To their worry Joe was spending more and more time alone in isolation as he sought to brush away any contact with his family.

It was as if he didn’t know or didn’t want to know quite what to do and the more he tried to communicate with them the harder he realised it was.  So in the end he shunned all their efforts to relate with him and began to retreat into himself.  This more than anything else worried his father, Adam knew.

He sat for a few moments in silence next to his brother and then when it became obvious that Joe wasn’t going to make an effort to talk to him he stood up and walked back towards the kitchen only to see his father standing watching them. Adam shrugged his shoulders. ‘I tried,’ he said.

Ben nodded and patted him on the arm. ‘I know you did son,’ he said with a worried expression on his face. They both stood and watched the boy in silence for a few moments.  Finally Ben added. ‘I’m taking him into town tomorrow to see Paul. He wants to examine him again.’

‘Do you think that’s a good idea Pa?’ said Adam. ‘Can’t Paul come out here to see him?’

‘No. I want to take him into town,’ replied his father. ‘It’s time.’

‘He’s not going to want to go.’

Ben nodded. ‘I know,’ he said simply.

Hop Sing entered the room carrying a platter. ‘Supper ready,’ he announced as he placed it on the table. Hoss appeared in the passageway. ‘Thanks Hop Sing,’ he said with a grin.  The three Cartwrights sat down and then Ben stood again as he realised that Joe wasn’t aware of what was happening.  He sighed as he walked over to his son.  It was so easy to forget that the boy was unaware of what was happening around him.  Things that they all took for granted were beginning to become important details for them to constantly remember.

Ben put his hand on Joe’s shoulder and his son looked up with a startled expression on his face. Ben motioned to the table and Joe closed the book and stood up.  When they were all seated Ben began a prayer of thanks.  He noticed that Joe sat with his head bowed, but once again needed his father to signal to him when they were finished.  Every time Ben needed to do this or a similar action his heart constricted and he cried out inwardly about the unfairness of it all.

There was little conversation around the table during the meal as was becoming usual lately.  The others were reluctant to engage in conversation that Joe couldn’t join in with as every time they did they could sense his frustration and anger at being left out.  Ben had noticed that the boy was spending less and less time with them all and would retreat to be alone whenever he could, so their conversations usually began after Joe left the table.  As was becoming common, Joe stood up the moment he had finished eating and moved away from the table.

‘Where are you going Joseph?’ asked Ben, before he could help himself.  When Joe kept walking Ben sighed and stood up to follow him.  As Joe bent to pick up Adam’s book that was lying on the coffee table Ben bent also and touched his son on the arm.  He motioned for him to sit down and sat beside him, taking out his notebook to write.  Joe watched his father silently as Ben wrote and then handed to his son the following:

Joe, you are coming into town with me tomorrow.  I have some business at the bank and you need to see Doctor Martin.  He wants to examine you again.

Joe read it, then shook his head and made to get up.  Ben pulled him down again and wrote:

I said you are coming with me Joseph and I meant it.  No arguments.

Joe shook his head again and shook off his father’s hand angrily. ‘No!’ he said. ‘I ain’t going into town.’

Ben nodded at him and pointed his finger at him sternly. Yes you are, he wrote.

Joe stood up, snatched the book from the table and stomped up the stairs angrily.

‘Well that went well didn’t it?’ said Adam.

Ben looked across at his two other sons and shrugged his shoulders. ‘He has to begin somewhere,’ he said. ‘It’s time he learned to face people again.’

‘Maybe it would help if we all went in,’ suggested Hoss. ‘You know Pa.  Kinda to make it a bit easier for him with all of us there.’

Ben nodded. ‘Good idea,’ he said. ‘That way between us he won’t need to feel alone at any stage.’

‘That’s if he co-operates and actually goes,’ said Adam.

‘He’s going,’ replied his father in a voice they both knew well. Adam and Hoss looked at each other, both hoping that Joe didn’t cause too much trouble in the morning, or else there would be one almighty argument about it.

———————-

Fortunately, Joe seemed to have accepted the fact that he had no option but to obey his father the next morning. By the time they had mounted up and were on their way he was compliant even if obviously still angry about it.  The ride into town was a silent one as each Cartwright lost himself in his own thoughts and by the time they had reached the outskirts of town the silence that had descended upon them had become an oppressive one. Ben was very anxious to get to the doctor’s and have Joe’s examination over with.

‘I’m sure you boys can find something to keep you busy while Joseph and I are at the doctor’s,’ he said. ‘We’ll meet you back here in about half an hour and you can be with Joe while I get to the bank,’ he instructed. He motioned for Joe to follow him and was relieved when the boy didn’t make a fuss about it.

Once inside the doctor’s office they seated themselves in the outer office and waited.  Ben took out his notebook and began to write. I want you to behave yourself in there today Joseph.  You are to do as the doctor tells you to.  Understood?

Joe nodded briefly and turned to stare out of the window.  Ben shook his head slightly.  He honestly didn’t know how to reach his son as he felt him slipping further and further away from him.

At that moment Paul Martin entered the office. ‘Ben,’ he said holding out his hand as he glanced at the boy staring out of the window. ‘How’s he doing?’ Ben just shook his head and lifted his hands in a futile gesture. ‘Well bring him in and I’ll take a look at him,’ said Paul.

Ben motioned for Joe to stand up and the two men followed him as he walked reluctantly into the office.  Ben handed Paul his notebook. ‘We’ve been using these,’ he explained, noting the angry look that Joe gave him as he handed it over. He knew that the use of it annoyed the boy because it another reminder that he couldn’t hear, but he didn’t know how else to communicate with his son.

Paul motioned for Joe to sit on the examining table and began to arrange his instruments. Joe looked at the wall opposite him the whole time as if he didn’t want to know or didn’t care what the man was doing.  Ben knew, however, that it was all an act and that Joe desperately cared.  He also knew that the boy would do anything he could to pretend that he didn’t.

Paul smiled at Joe and began his examination.  Joe sat silently throughout and obeyed the doctor’s gestures to the letter, but the expression on his face said that he was far from happy.  Finally it was over and he got down from the table and strode from the room without a backward glance.  Ben gave Paul a worried look and followed him.  As Joe tried to leave the outer office his father pulled him back by the arm and motioned to a chair.

‘No!’ said Joe angrily. ‘I’m going outside.’  Ben motioned to the chair again and pulled his son back by the arm. ‘No!’ said Joe, trying to shake himself loose from his father’s grasp. ‘I’m going outside.’ Ben pulled his son across the room and sat him on the chair with a determined expression.

‘Is he always like this?’ asked Paul behind him.

‘Pretty much,’ said Ben, turning to face him. ‘He’s just so angry with everyone and everything. I don’t know how to reach him Paul.’

‘We’d better talk in the next room,’ said Paul glancing at Joe. ‘I don’t think he likes being left out of our conversation.’

Ben looked down at his son. ‘I know he doesn’t,’ he said. Stay there young man! He wrote on his notebook. You are not to move a muscle.  Understood?

Joe nodded briefly, the anger on his face still apparent. Ben gave him another determined look and followed Paul into the examining room again. ‘I just don’t know what to do with him Paul.  His brothers and I are trying, but we just can’t seem to reach him.’

‘He seems a very angry young man that’s for sure,’ the doctor acknowledged. ‘But it’s to be expected Ben.  After all it can’t be easy living like he is.  He must feel so cut off from the world around him at the moment.’

‘I know that,’ acknowledged Ben. ‘And I’ve tried to help him.  But the problem is I just don’t know how.  He fights me every step of the way.  You know how stubborn he is Paul, and the problem is that he just doesn’t seem to want to help himself.’

‘Ben, he doesn’t know how to help himself,’ the doctor explained. ‘He’s a very frightened youngster at the moment.  He doesn’t really understand what’s happening to him or how long it’s going to last.  And he can’t really communicate his feelings to you.’

Ben rubbed his hand over his face. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘Do you have any suggestions?’

‘Just to be patient with him.  Give him as much encouragement as you can and try to think of things he can do. He needs to feel that some things in his life can stay the same.  He’ll find security in the little things.’

Ben thought for a moment. ‘Well he’s taken to reading quite a bit,’ he said. ‘He’s actually borrowing Adam’s books which is a first.’

‘Good,’ said Paul. ‘Maybe Adam can find a way to use the books to communicate with him.’

‘How?’

‘I don’t know.  But I’m thinking that even though he is taking pains to show you that he wants to be alone its obvious that he desperately wants to be close to all of you.  Even if Adam merely sat with him while they both read so that he could feel his companionship without the expectation that he communicates.  It’d be a start.’

‘I see,’ said Ben. ‘And maybe Hoss could take him fishing.  He’d just have to sit there as they always do.  There’d be no need for him to be pressured into listening at all in that situation.’

‘That’s the idea,’ said Paul grinning at him. ‘There must be more situations you’ll be able to think of just like that.’

‘I’ll talk to the boys and see what we can come up with,’ agreed Ben. ‘I thought it would be a good thing to bring him into town today to force him to start facing people again as well.’

Paul nodded. ‘I agree,’ he said. ‘He can’t hide away forever. Just don’t force him to talk to anyone Ben. Simply being around people for now will be enough.’

‘Was there any change when you examined him?’ Ben asked hopefully.

Paul shook his head. ‘No,’ he said shortly. ‘But I’d like to write to a colleague of mine in San Francisco though.  I went to medical school with him back East. He might have some ideas how to help Joe. He works in the hospital there and one of the specialists there may have experienced a similar case.’

‘I’d be grateful Paul,’ replied Ben. ‘Anything at all that would help the boy.’

As Ben opened the door he heard voices coming from the outer room and both men walked in to hear Mrs Daley who had seated herself next to Joe and was speaking in an indignant tone. ‘Well I never! The rudeness of some young people nowadays!’

Ben glanced over at Joe and noted the helpless look on his face that he was trying to disguise with a look of casualness, as he tried to make out what the woman was saying to him. Ben strode over to Mrs Daley and stood in front of her. ‘My son is having a problem with his hearing at the moment and can’t hear you ma’am,’ he said. ‘He doesn’t mean to be rude.’

She looked at Joe with pity in her eyes. ‘Oh I’m so sorry!’ she said. ‘I didn’t realise!  I just thought he wasn’t bothering to answer me when I spoke to him.’  She touched Joe on the arm. ‘The poor young thing!’ she said, obviously distressed.

Joe shook off her hand angrily and stood to face his father. ‘I told you I wanted to go outside,’ he said. ‘Now look at what’s happened!’  He turned to face the woman. ‘And you don’t need to feel sorry for me anyways! Mind your own business!’

‘Joseph!’ said Ben as his son ran through the door to the street outside. ‘Joseph!’  he yelled after his son, forgetting that the boy couldn’t hear him. He tipped his hat to Mrs Daley. ‘I’m sorry ma’am. Please excuse me.’  He ran out of the door and nearly collided with Hoss on the porch outside.

‘Pa!’ he said looking at Ben’s face. ‘What’s wrong?’

Ben clutched him on the shoulder. ‘Did you see Joe come out here a moment ago?’ he said anxiously.

Hoss shook his head. ‘No Pa,’ he said scanning the area around him as he spoke. ‘He…look, there he is!’ He pointed to the street where Joe was standing.

Ben took two steps across the sidewalk. ‘Joseph!’ he called gesturing to his son. ‘Joseph!’

‘He cain’t see you Pa,’ said Hoss. Ben took another step forward and as he did so, saw a buggy coming down the street at a fast pace straight in the direction of Joe.

‘Hey get out of the way kid!’ yelled the driver, but Joe had his back to the man and didn’t see what was happening behind him. He merely stood there glaring at his father as Ben started gesturing to him as well.

‘Joseph move!’ Ben yelled desperately, but Joe continued to look merely at him as the buggy came closer.  Just as it was almost on top of him Ben saw a movement out of the corner of his eye as Adam appeared as if from nowhere and flung himself at his brother, knocking him to the ground and out of the way.  The buggy missed them both by inches as it continued down the street, the driver finally pulling it to a halt a few feet from where Ben stood.

Ban and Hoss ran towards the spot where Joe and Adam had landed, followed closely by the buggy driver.  ‘Joe! Adam! Are you alright boys?’ Ben asked anxiously bending down over the tangle of arms and legs that belonged to his two sons.

‘I’m fine Pa,’ said Adam, disengaging himself from his brother’s body and sitting up. Joe lay dazed in the street for a moment and then sat up as well.  Ben reached out to touch him. ‘Joe, are you alright son?’ he asked.

Joe shook off his father’s arm. ‘Leave me alone,’ he said.

‘Damn fool kid!’ said the driver behind them.

Ben looked up. ‘I’m sorry this happened,’ he said.  Adam and Joe stood up behind him and Hoss began to brush the dirt off both his brothers’ backs.

‘Damn fool kid!’ the driver repeated, pointing his finger with rage on his face. ‘You nearly got yourself killed, not to mention me and this guy here.  What on earth were you thinking?’

Joe flinched.  He couldn’t understand what the man was saying, but the meaning was clear enough. Ben stepped forward and stood in between them. ‘I’m sorry, ‘he repeated. ‘My son didn’t hear you coming towards him. He’s,’ he found the words hard to say to a stranger. ‘He’s deaf.’

The man stopped abruptly and put down his finger. ‘Oh,’ he said with an embarrassed expression on his face. ‘I’m sorry……… I didn’t know.’

Joe pushed his father aside and glared at him. ‘Maybe next time you won’t make me come into town!’ he yelled. ‘I told you I didn’t want to come!’

Ben clutched him by the arm. ‘Joseph calm down,’ he said. Joe stepped back and pushed his father away from him.  Ben reached into his pocket and pulled out the notebook, but Joe grabbed it from his father’s hand and threw it on the ground.

‘Don’t write in that thing!’ he yelled. ‘Why don’t you all just leave me alone?’  He turned and fled up the street.

Ben, Adam and Hoss looked after him in silence.

———————-

Hoss handed his brother the tin that held the worms and watched silently as he baited his hook again and dropped his line into the water.  Joe leant back against the tree behind him and closed his eyes.  Hoss noted the contented look on his face and smiled to think that it was the first time he’d seen it in quite a few days.

Since the incident in town they had all been trying desperately to placate Joe and their father had tried a number of times to get him to talk about it.  But all he had received in reply from the boy was that he didn’t want to talk about it.  Finally, in desperation Ben had asked Hoss to take Joe fishing and for now at least it seemed to be doing the trick.

Hoss stared at the water in front of him and thought about the last few days.  He wanted so much to talk to his little brother, but Joe wasn’t being responsive at all.  Every time Hoss or any of the others took out their notebook to write something down Joe became angry and so they had just about given up doing so.  Without the notebook, Hoss didn’t know how to talk to his brother and Joe sure as anything wasn’t about to talk to him!

Instinctively, Hoss did the only thing he knew.  He reached out and put his arm around his younger brother’s shoulder as they sat there side by side. He watched Joe open his eyes in surprise for a moment and then the tension left his body and he leant in towards the body of his brother.  Without a word being spoken the two of them sat together looking at the water in companionable silence.

——————–

‘I tell you Pa it was the happiest I’ve seen him all week,’ said Hoss.  ‘We didn’t need ta talk at all, but I know he felt what I was feeling.’

Ben looked at Hoss intently. ‘And what was that son?’ he asked.

‘That we didn’t need ta talk,’ said Hoss. ‘Sometimes ya don’t need ta talk ta know what the other guy’s thinking ya know?  At least it was like that with Joe and me.’ He looked up at his father. ‘Does that make sense to ya Pa?’

Ben nodded and smiled as he patted Hoss on the shoulder. ‘Yes son.  It makes an awful lot of sense to me.  Perhaps what we need to do is just let Joseph find his own way through this.  We shouldn’t be pressuring him to communicate with us if he doesn’t want to.  We just need to allow him to reach out to us when he’s ready to.  He was doing that with you this afternoon by the sound of it son.’

Hoss nodded. ‘I think so too Pa.  We never talk much when we go fishing anyways. It was just like it always is.’

‘That’s what Paul has been trying to tell me,’ replied Ben. ‘He said that Joseph will find comfort in the little things. Take him fishing whenever you want to Hoss.’

‘And I’ll try and reach him through book like Paul suggested too,’ said Adam. ‘There’s no time like the present.’  He glanced across at his brother sitting reading in front of the fireplace.  He walked over and took a book from the shelf and sat next to him without a glance and began to read himself.  Ben and Hoss watched as Joe glanced up at his brother and stared at him for a moment.  When Adam didn’t react, but merely sat back and continued to read, Joe bent his head again and commenced as well.  The two brothers sat in silence together.

———————–

The next few weeks followed the same pattern.  During the day Joe either went fishing with one of his brothers or did his chores and at night he read or played checkers.  Ben still worried for the boy and knew that he couldn’t go on like this forever, but he was happy at least that Joe seemed to be happier in himself. There was no outward sign of the anger that had been building up inside of him before, but then again there was no sign that he was particularly happy either.

Joe ate little and communicated even less.  He showed no great desire to do anything around the ranch apart from the chores that Ben insisted that he take up again. So it was with great delight that Ben heard him say one night. ‘Pa?’ Ben looked at him inquiringly. ‘Pa I want to go for a ride tomorrow.’

Ben noticed that his son hadn’t exactly framed the statement as a question, but he was sure that Joe was gauging his father’s reaction to it.  He nodded and smiled at him and pointed to himself as if to indicate that he would accompany him. Joe shook his head. ‘No Pa.  I want to go by myself.  There’s no real reason why I can’t is there?’

Ben glanced at Adam who shrugged his shoulders. ‘I think it’s important that he does Pa.  He needs to prove to himself that he can do some things remember?’  Ben nodded while he continued to look at Joe. He patted his son on the shoulder and nodded again, as he was rewarded with Joe’s first real smile in weeks. ‘Good,’ he said simply and bent his head again to read.

‘You know,’ mused Adam. ‘I think we’re going to have to buy some more books soon.  I thought my collection was fairly large, but at the rate Joe is going through these books he’s going to run out of things to read soon. Did you ever think I’d have to say something like that?’

The three of them laughed. ‘Sure didn’t,’ said Hoss. ‘Reading has never been Joe’s strong point up until now has it?’  He clapped his hands. ‘Check, Adam.’

‘What?’ said Adam peering at the chessboard. ‘I’d better start paying more attention.  Can’t let you beat me for the first time!’

Ben smiled as his two sons argued over the game.  He only wished that Joseph could join in as well.  Maybe it would be good for the boy to take that ride tomorrow, after all Adam was right and the boy did need to prove to himself that he could do it.  He thought about following him at a discreet distance, but dismissed the idea.  He was just being silly after all.  There was no harm that could come to Joseph on The Ponderosa by simply taking a ride.  At least he hoped not.

——————–

‘Paul you should have seen his face!’ said Ben again. ‘He was so proud of himself for having done it. Two hours he was away and of course I was a nervous wreck by the time he got back, but he was fine after all.  He’s proved to himself and us that some things will remain the same.’

Paul patted his friend on the back. ‘That’s wonderful Ben.  Going off for a ride like that is a big step for Joe.’

Ben nodded. ‘I know,’ he said. He was actually animated last night for the first time in ages.  He talked as if …….. well, like he did before the accident. We didn’t even need to try and answer him at all.  We couldn’t have got a word in anyway.’

Paul laughed. ‘You look a lot more animated than I’ve seen you lately as well Ben,’ he said. ‘Frankly I’ve been worried about you as well as Joseph.’

‘Well it has been a strain,’ replied Ben. ‘Hopefully the worst is behind us now.  Joseph seems to be adjusting, even if it is just in small steps.’

‘He still has a long way to go Ben,’ warned Paul. ‘Have you told him about Adam’s idea for him to learn sign language?’

Ben shook his head. ‘No,’ he said. ‘I thought it might upset him and I thought I should wait until we’ve received word from San Francisco.’

Paul reached over and took a piece of paper from his desk. ‘That’s what I wanted to talk to you about,’ he said. ‘I received this yesterday.’ Ben sat forward anxiously as the doctor continued. ‘My friend has consulted with his colleagues at the hospital and they’d like to examine Joe.  I don’t know if they can help him, but I think it’s at least worth the trip.’

Ben stroked his chin. ‘It’s likely to upset Joseph,’ he said. ‘But I agree with you.  I talk to him about it tonight.’

‘Well whatever you decide it looks as though Joe is happier now at least,’ said Paul with a smile. ‘Just continue to do what you’re doing Ben and you should continue to see an improvement in him.’

‘I hope so,’ said Ben wistfully. ‘I’ve felt like I’ve lost my son during these past few weeks Paul.  It’s made me realise just how important he is to me.’

‘You always knew that Ben.  This has just heightened the fact for you.’

Ben nodded. ‘I know.  I guess it takes a tragedy like this to make us all realise just what is important in life.  I know what’s important in mine at least. Three things that are.’

Paul smiled.  He didn’t have to ask what the three things were.

———————-

Ben handed his son a piece of paper.  He had taken quite a bit of trouble over the writing of it that afternoon, trying to get the words just right for Joe to understand.  He watched his son by the firelight as he read it.

Joe, Doctor Martin has found some doctors in San Francisco who may be able to help you.  We don’t know for sure, but they’d like to examine you to see if there’s anything they can do.  I know you won’t want to do this son, but I’d like you to try it for me.  I will go with you and be there for you all the time.  I know that you will be scared and that is only natural. It will be your decision son.  Whatever you decide will be alright by me.

Joe glanced up at his father and then stared into the fireplace.  Ben watched him obviously trying to think through the situation.  After a few moments he stood up and began to pace up and down while Ben continued to watch his son.  Suddenly he stopped and faced his father.  ‘I want to hear again Pa.  If those doctors can maybe help me, then I want to go.’

Ben looked up at him and smiled.  He wrote on the bottom of the paper: Then go we will Joseph.  We’ll leave on Friday.

————————

Ben noticed how hard it was for Joe to keep still as he sat next to him in the waiting room.  He could tell by the constant fiddling of his fingers and the jerky leg movements that the boy seemed not even to be aware of.  They spoke volumes to Ben of his nervousness and apprehension of what was about to happen.  Joe had never been a good patient whenever he was sick and being here in a strange doctor’s surgery would not be somewhere that his son would choose to be at the best of times.  In his present state, Ben could only imagine that it would be taking a great deal of self-control on Joseph’s part to remain here at all.  He would undoubtedly be fighting the urge to run at any moment.

Ben put his hand on his son’s thigh to still it and smiled at him.  Joe returned the smile tentatively and then looked away.  At that moment the door opened and a man Ben could only imagine would be Doctor Lewis entered the room. ‘Mr Cartwright,’ said the man with a broad grin as he held out his hand. ‘Nice to meet you sir.’  He turned to Joe. ‘This must be Joseph,’ he said looking directly at the boy and held out his hand to him as well. Joe glanced at his father and tentatively held out his hand. Doctor Lewis motioned them both into his office.

‘Now,’ he said in s business like fashion as he sat down. ‘Before I examine your son Mr Cartwright, I need to know exactly what happened.’  He wrote exactly what he had said on a piece of paper and positioned it so that Joe could see it.  Joe read it and Ben noticed the look in his eye that said to his father that he appreciated being included in the conversation. He nodded at his father as Ben began to speak.

After hearing the story, Doctor Lewis sat forward in his chair once again and began to speak slowly as he wrote word for word what he said for Joe.  Ben could see that the man was experienced in dealing with people who couldn’t hear, from the care that he took to include Joe in what was being said.  Joe leant forward to see and follow the conversation.

‘From what you’ve said Mr Cartwright it sounds as though your son’s deafness could well be temporary.  Blows to the head can cause all sorts of problems that can’t sometimes be explained.’  Joe looked up at him and smiled. ‘However,’ he continued with his hand up. ‘I don’t want to get your hopes up.  Sometimes there may be no explanation for what has happened and the hearing simply doesn’t return.  It’s difficult to tell.’  He stood up. ‘Let’s take a look at you, eh Joseph?’ He motioned to the examining table.

Joe glanced at his father who smiled at him encouragingly. Ben nodded and pushed his son gently towards the table.  Joe sat on it and watched the doctor intently throughout the examination as he tested for various reflexes and poked in Joe’s ears with several instruments. After a while, the doctor motioned for Joe to lie down and he gave his skull a thorough going-over with his hands. ‘I’m just looking for any unusual bumps or depressions,’ he explained to Ben. ‘Sometimes a knock to the skull can put pressure on …….. no, there doesn’t seem to be anything unusual here.’

Joe sat up again and the doctor washed his hands.  Ben reached out and helped his son down from the table. They both looked at the doctor inquiringly as he motioned for them to sit down again and began to speak.

‘Well there is nothing evident,’ he began. ‘From what you have told me it seems that the situation could be temporary as Paul Martin thought, but there are no guarantees of that.  The fact that I can’t find any abnormalities to the skull doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been some internal swelling and that is most likely the cause of the condition. There is most likely pressure on the auditory nerve.’

Ben sat forward in his chair. ‘And if that is the case Doctor, what can be done about it?’

‘Nothing I’m afraid.  Given time the swelling may diminish and Joseph may hear again, but only time will tell.’  He held up his hands.  ‘I’m sorry.  I wish there was more I could say to you, but there are just so many things about this area that are beyond our understanding.’

Joe began to move in his seat.  He had followed the doctor’s speech as the man had written it for him and the look on his face showed Ben that he had understood it clearly.  He turned to his father. ‘He can’t help me can he?’

Ben reluctantly shook his head.

Doctor Lewis bent forward. ‘No that’s not quite true.  I can be of some help I believe.’

Both Cartwrights looked at him and Ben said eagerly ‘What?’

The man sat back and began to write again. ‘There is a school that has just been opened in Arkansas by a man named Augustus Ward to deal with this very thing.  He runs a program to help the hearing impaired adjust to the world and I believe it would be very good for Joseph to attend if you can afford it.’

Ben glanced at his son and noticed the shocked look on his face.  He placed a hand on his thigh to quiet him. ‘It’s not a matter of affording it Doctor,’ he said. ‘I’ll do what ever is best for Joseph.  The fact is we’d have to talk about it first.  Joseph would have to be comfortable with going there.’

Doctor looked at Joe who had become decidedly agitated. ‘Yes of course,’ he said hastily.  ‘I only meant that it was available if you wanted to look into it.  I’ll give you the contact details if you like.’

At this point Joe stood up. ‘We don’t need them!’ he said angrily. ‘I ain’t going to any school!’

‘Joseph!’ said Ben as he clutched at his son’s sleeve. ‘Sit down!’

Joe brushed his father’s hand away. ‘Leave me alone!’ he said. ‘I ain’t going to any school!’  He turned and left the room abruptly.

Ben stood and shook the doctor’s hand. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I’d appreciate those details, but I’ll come back and get them later.  As you can see Joseph doesn’t take kindly to this kind of thing.  I’ll have to talk to him about it first.’

‘Of course,’ replied the doctor. ‘And its only natural Mr Cartwright that he should feel like this.  He’s still coming to terms with the fact that this could be permanent. I wish you luck with helping him do that.  If there’s anything else I can do, please don’t hesitate to ask.’

‘Thank you,’ said Ben and hurried out of the room after his son.

———————

Ben didn’t want Joe to get too far away from him in his present state.  As he left the building he scanned the area quickly and was pleased to see his son walking down the street so he followed him immediately. ‘Joe!’ he called as he tried to catch him up, then cursed himself as he realised the boy couldn’t hear him of course.  He hurried faster, trying to catch him before he got away completely from him.

Luckily Joe wasn’t walking too quickly and Ben soon overtook him.  He walked beside him for a few steps and then reached out to put his arm around him.  Joe jerked at his father’s touch, but this time didn’t push him away.  Ben pulled him to a stop.  ‘Son,’ he said as he drew him close and put his arms around him.  He wanted so much to tell his son that he understood how he was feeling, but in the middle of the busy street when the boy couldn’t hear his words it was impossible.  Instead he simply stood there holding him, giving Joe the opportunity to gain comfort from his father’s touch.

After a few moments Ben began to walk down the street, leading an unresisting Joe beside.  He followed the direct route to the Harbour and chose a spot near the water away from the crowds. As they sat on a bench side by side Ben squeezed his son’s shoulder.  Joe sat silently looking at the water beneath him and soon Ben noticed the tears begin to fall.  His heart bled for his son.  He knew that the boy must be feeling totally depressed right about now and all he could hope was that by just being there for him Joe would perhaps sense the comfort that his father was trying to give him.

Joe put his head on his father’s shoulder and sobbed quietly for a while and Ben patted him on the shoulder as he stared across the harbour.  For the first time in weeks he felt like he was giving some comfort to his son.  After a while Joe’s sniffs stopped and he sat still.  Ben reached into his pocket and, with one arm still around his son, he began to write while Joe looked on and read the words.

Joe I know you’re upset about this son. But remember there were no guarantees with this doctor.

Joe looked up at his father. ‘I know,’ he said quietly. ‘Are you going to make me go to that school Pa?’

Do you want to go?  Ben wrote.

‘No!’ Joe said immediately. ‘I want to go home. Please don’t send me away Pa.’  He looked at his father with pleading eyes.

You don’t have to go anywhere you don’t want to go Joseph, wrote Ben. He immediately felt the tension leaving his son’s body and was pleased to see that Joe tried to smile at him even though he wasn’t quite successful.  Instead the boy leant his head on the railing and watched the water.  After a while he said mournfully, ‘Pa?  What do the waves sound like?’

Ben looked at him startled, as the question had taken him by surprise. Joe returned the look and continued. ‘I’ve never heard them before.  What do they sound like?’

Like water sloshing in a bucket, only louder, wrote Ben.

Joe read his father’s words and nodded. ‘I see,’ he said quietly and was silent again. ‘It’s just that…… well it’s hard when I haven’t heard something before you know?’ He searched his fathers face with a questioning look and Ben nodded. ‘It’s hard enough when I do know what something sounds like and I have to remember, but when I haven’t heard it before………..’ he brushed the tears from his cheeks. ‘Well it’s just hard to know.’

Ben sat still and looked at him, willing him to continue to talk.  He felt that if Joe could at last verbalise what he was feeling then he would begin to feel better about things.  He squeezed his son’s shoulder encouragingly hoping to keep him talking.

‘Sometimes I can’t remember what things sound like Pa,’ Joe said, his voice beginning to reflect a tinge of panic. ‘Sometimes……. Sometimes I think I’m forgetting what things sound like at all.’ He looked at his father again. ‘I don’t want to forget Pa.’

You won’t forget son.  There are many sounds you know and you’ll remember them, Ben wrote.

Joe shook his head. ‘No I don’t think so Pa,’ he said. ‘Sometimes you forget.  Its….its like when my mama died.’ He stopped and glanced at his father. ‘I….I know I was little when she died and there aren’t many things I can remember about her, but I used to remember her voice singing to me and then I started to forget it as I grew older.  I tried real hard to remember it Pa, but sometimes I just couldn’t.’ Ben squeezed his son’s shoulder again. Joe by now was sobbing again as he tried to get the words out. ‘I really want to remember how she sounded Pa, but I just can’t.  And now I’m scared……’ he swallowed. ‘I’m scared that I’ll forget what you and Adam and Hoss sound like too.’  He looked at his father beseechingly. ‘I just don’t want to forget your voice Pa and I don’t know what to do about it!’

Joe bent his head onto his father’s chest and wept openly, his sobs piercing Ben’s heart with each breath that he took. Ben had no words that could reach his son, so he just sat and stroked his head and clutched him to his chest tightly as he listened to the boy’s sobbing.  For a long time they sat there, Joe just happy to feel his father’s touch and Ben staring over the water again.

After what seemed like a long time, Joe put his head up. ‘I feel so alone Pa,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to feel alone like this.’

Son you will never be alone as long as I or your brothers are alive, Ben wrote. We will help you to get through this. Whatever it takes Joe, we will help you to remember and be there for you.  I promise you  son.

Joe smiled up at his father as Ben held his boy even closer.  Together they looked over the harbour together.

———————

For the next week Ben tried to ensure that their trip to San Francisco at least provided Joe with a measure of distraction from his problems.  He took the boy to see all the sights that he knew so well, hoping that they would bring out of his depressed state and was rewarded by several genuine smiles from his son. Joe seemed to enjoy the week in a quiet way and Ben hoped that given time he would soon revert back to the cheeky Joseph that he knew and loved so well.

Ben resolved to bring up Adam’s idea of sign language when he felt the time was right, as he knew that it would really help Joe if he could communicate with his father and brothers in that way.  But he also knew that doing so would remind Joe of the fact that it was looking more and more possible that his deafness would be permanent.  So he kept putting off the conversation.

One afternoon, the day before they were due to return to The Ponderosa, Ben decided the time was right to broach the subject.  They were seated once again at the Harbour, as Joe enjoyed watching the ships come in and out and it was one place where he didn’t feel overwhelmed by the crowds.  Ben had tried to bring him here each afternoon and they usually spent a good hour each day just sitting and watching the activity around them.

As Joe leant forward and watched the waves beneath him, Ben took out his notebook and began to write a message to his son explaining about Adam’s idea.  So intent was he in composing it just the right way that at first he didn’t hear his son speak to him.

‘Pa? Did you hear what I said?’ Joe said, tapping his father on the arm. Ben looked over at him and shook his head. ‘Water sloshing in a bucket,’ Joe repeated.  He had a look of wonderment on his face and it took Ben a few moments to register what it might mean. He held his son’s face between his hands and stared at him. ‘Water sloshing in a bucket,’ Joe repeated. ‘I ……I think I heard it Pa.’  He looked at his father with tears in his eyes.

Ben continued to look at his son. He pointed to his mouth as he said. ‘Can you hear me speak?’

Joe shrugged his shoulders. ‘I can’t hear you Pa,’ he said as he turned his head. ‘But I heard the water sloshing like in a bucket.  Only you’re right…. it is louder ain’t it?’

Ben clutched his son to his chest, tears of relief welling up in his eyes. ‘Yes son it is,’ he said quietly.

———————-

‘Well it’s definitely better again today,’ said Doctor Lewis with a smile at Ben. ‘I can’t believe the improvement in only a week.’

Joe looked up at the doctor. ‘What?’ he said.

Doctor Lewis turned back towards him and repeated the remark. Joe looked at him intently for a moment and then said. ‘You can’t believe what?’

Doctor Lewis smiled at him. ‘The improvement in only a week,’ he said. Joe nodded and grinned at him, satisfied that he had heard it now.

‘So do you still think it’s alright for us to leave on Wednesday?’ asked Ben.

‘Yes, that shouldn’t be a problem,’ replied the doctor.  ‘I’ll give you a letter for Paul Martin.  He should be able to monitor Joseph’s progress from here.’  He patted Joe on the shoulder. ‘If he continues at this rate he should have his full hearing back in no time.’

Ben grinned at his son who returned the look. ‘So you’re still confident that he’ll be back to normal then?’ he asked.

‘I don’t see why not,’ replied Doctor Lewis. ‘Once this process had begun there’s really nothing to stop it.  Joseph should regain his full hearing if nothing untoward happens.’

Ben held out his hand. ‘How can I ever thank you doctor!’ he said with relief.

‘I didn’t do anything but confirm what was happening,’ said Doctor Lewis. ‘There’s no need to thank me at all.’  He turned to Joe. ‘Now you look after yourself Joseph.   You be careful of taking knocks to that head of yours again won’t you?’ he said with a twinkle in his eye.

Joe looked at him, wondering why the doctor was talking about blocks on his head.  He supposed it was meant to be a joke, but it didn’t seem very funny to him.  Nevertheless he thought he’d be polite and he grinned at the feeble joke.

‘Well young man,’ said Ben as they left the building. ‘It seems like we’re going home on Wednesday after all. That makes tomorrow our last day here, so what would you like to do?’

Joe looked at him. ‘What would I what?’ he asked.

‘What would you like to do?’ repeated Ben.

‘Oh…..um…….. well I’d like to get Hoss and Adam some presents.  Can we do that Pa?’

‘Of course,’ said Ben pleased at the boy’s thoughtfulness. ‘What do you have in mind?’

‘I bet Hoss would like some of that candy they was selling at the market place.  Could we go there tomorrow?’  Ben nodded. ‘And I want to visit one of them bookshops,’ Joe added.

‘I’m glad to see that you’re interested in reading now Joseph,’ his father said. ‘It’s good to see you’ve obviously enjoyed Adam’s books if you want to buy some more for yourself.’

Joe gave him a withering look. ‘Heck no!’ he said. ‘I don’t want to visit the bookshops for me!  I want to buy Adam some decent books that’s all.  Some of them stories he’s got are OK, but he’s got a whole bunch of that Shakespeare stuff that’s as boring as anything.  I reckon he could do with some good reading material for a change don’t ya reckon Pa?’

Ben hid a smile, wondering what Adam would think of his brother’s criticism of Shakespeare and tried to imagine the look on his oldest son’s face when Joe presented him with what Ben suspected would be his choice of ‘good’ reading material.  Dime novels and detective stories were not exactly to Adam’s taste, but would undoubtedly be Joe’s choice for him.  ‘I suppose everyone needs a variety of reading material,’ he said.  ‘That’s nice of you to think of your brother, son.  We’ll go shopping tomorrow. Now I think its time we returned to the hotel for this afternoon.’

Joe continued to walk ahead of his father. ‘Joseph!  Did you hear what I said?’ called Ben.

Joe turned around with a cheeky grin on his face. ‘Did you say something Pa?  Seems like I didn’t catch it.  I’ll just go on down to the harbour for a bit.’

Ben stared at his son. ‘Oh no you don’t!’ he said. ‘You’re not getting away with that one young man!  You heard me perfectly.’  The two Cartwrights laughed and Ben reached out to put his arm around his son’s shoulder. ‘Come on you,’ he said affectionately. ‘There’ll be no more excuses for not doing as your father tells you now.  I expect you to follow my instructions to the letter.’

Joe laughed. ‘Well I may hear what you tell me to do Pa, but you really can’t expect me to suddenly take any notice of them instructions can you?’

Ben hit him playfully on the side of the head. ‘No I suppose not,’ he replied with a twinkle in his eye. ‘After fifteen years of taking little notice of me Joseph, I can’t expect you to change overnight.’

‘So I have your permission to ignore you then?’ asked Joe in a cheeky voice.

Ben put his finger up in front of his son’s nose. ‘Just you try it young man,’ he said in a mocking tone. ‘Just you try it!’

The End

 

Other Stories by this Author

Author: Joan S

From her Australian base, Joan is one of the most prolific writers of Bonanza Fanfic over the past few years. Although you can read 67 of her stories on Bonanza Brand, she also has a website where you can access her whole collection of stories. http://sites.google.com/site/joansstories/home

4 thoughts on “Isolation (by JoanS)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.