Beyond Shadows (by Krystyna)

Summary:
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:   18,300


The shadows were strung low and dark across the Ponderosa when Joe Cartwright pulled on his chaps and buckled them firmly across his hips. He glanced up at the sky and grimaced, pulled on his gloves and glanced over his shoulder at where Adam and Hoss were straddling the fence.

“Only another dozen to do, Joe,” Hoss yelled encouragingly, and Adam grinned, that mirthless grin that made Joe feel tight inside because it reminded him that, joking apart, there were another dozen more horses to break, and they weren’t going to be broken this day, nor tomorrow, because they should have been broken two days ago and ready to take down to the Fort in Yuma.

This horse was going to be the last one for the day and tomorrow – well, tomorrow would just have to take care of itself. They were behind schedule with the contract for the army and the pressure was on them to get the horses broken before the week was over, but in Joe’s opinion, it was going to be nigh on impossible to achieve that goal.

He looked at the horse that was now awaiting his attention and once again his eyes flicked over to his brothers. He could see Hoss swiveling round to sit more comfortably on the rail, his face serious and a frown furrowing his brow while Adam had also shifted round to observe the duel between his brother and the horse, and, it struck Joe noticeably, Adam didn’t look too happy either.

Well, the brute had to be faced and that was all there was to it. The end of another day. Joe checked his gear and got into position to carefully lower himself into the saddle and for the gate to the holding stall to be thrown open. He had been breaking horses for a long time now, and this little fella didn’t look as if he had much pepper in him.

Of course, one could always be wrong. He dropped into the saddle, slipped his feet carefully through the stirrups, laced the reins around his hand and gave Chuck a nod of the head for the gate to be lifted. Chuck pulled the gate away and nothing happened. The horse stood there with its head down as though depressed, and having to think over what to do next. Joe jabbed him in the belly and Chuck rattled the gate, and over on the fence Hoss and Adam yelled, well, yelled and laughed.

“C’mon, you stupid lump of horse meat,” Joe yelled and flapped his hat in front of the horse’s left eye, which was just enough for the horse to wake up to the idea that he should be doing something about this situation, so he corkscrewed himself up in the air and then shot out from the stall.

Its initial thought was to try and crash through the bars of the corral, too bad for the rider and too bad for whoever was sitting on the bars as he headed directly for them. Then, just as Hoss and Adam leapt for their lives, it swerved, nearly went over, its left legs seemed to buckle beneath it and the right legs scrabbled for a hold. Once he’d disentangled himself, he ran ragged around the corral for a while, rearing every so often, slamming down hard on all four feet, then shooting off again.

“Go on, Joe, you can do it,” Adam yelled, clambering once again up onto the bars of the fence and grinning at Hoss, who flapped his hat as Joe passed.

The horse came to a grinding halt. It stood still, quivering. Joe glanced over at Adam and Hoss, and raised his eyes, wondering whether or not this was the end of the fight, in which case, the horse hadn’t really put up much of one. He thumbed back his hat, and wiped sweat from his face on the back of his gloved hand. The horse, sensing a change of tension through the reins proceeded to take off once again.

It bounced, reared, threw itself about, it tried everything it possibly could to throw off his rider, but Joe stuck firm, even though his arms felt like they were being ripped from their sockets, and his legs and back ached and burned from muscle tension. After one bone jarring attempt to dislodge Joe from the saddle, the horse paused, shook its head, and pawed the ground.

“I think you got him, Joe,” Hoss shouted.

Joe waited. This little horse, he sensed, wasn’t going to give in that easily. He kept a tight grip on the reins, his thighs hugged the saddle and he tentatively lifted himself up, as though about to dismount, but slowly.

The horse snorted, Joe tensed and prepared to lower himself again. Once more the horse leapt into action, it bucked high and landed on all four legs with its head practically between his two front ones and sending, very neatly, his rider crashing onto the ground. Then with a snort of triumph it reared up and galloped as far from the fallen human as it could.

“You alright?”

Adam’s deep voice penetrated the fog in Joe’s brain, but he stayed where he was for a moment. Strong hands gripped beneath his arms, around his shoulders and helped him to sit up. He blinked, rubbed his face and shook his head,

“Thought you had him then, Joe,” Hoss said, looking into his brother’s face anxiously. “You alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure I’m alright.” Joe wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and shook his head again “He’s full of tricks, isn’t he?”

“Feisty,” Adam admitted, glancing over at the horse which was being ushered back into the stalling box by Chuck and Pete. “Do you want to finish him, see if you can get him beat?”

“Yeah,” Joe nodded and got to his feet. He flexed his arms, and stretched his legs. He felt dizzy, but that was nothing strange after being tossed about by a horse and landing heavy. He rubbed the back of his neck and then caught Adam’s eyes watching him, looking anxious. “It’s alright, nothing to worry about, I got that little fella beat; he just doesn’t know it yet.”

Adam nodded, picked up Joe’s hat and pushed it into his brother’s hands and then walked over to join Hoss. Joe walked gingerly over to the holding stall, climbed the rails and got into position.

This time the horse didn’t hang around; he shot out of that stall like an arrow from a bow. He bucked, bounced, corkscrewed himself about and then finally came to a bone shaking stop. He shook his mane, chomped on the bit, and Joe, expert horse breaker that he was, knew the fight had gone out of him. He leaned over and stroked the arched neck, and whispered in the twitching ears before dismounting.

Joe turned halfway to the fence to watch as Hank led the horse away. The last one of the day. Only another dozen to go. He grinned over at Adam and Hoss, and winked. “I told you I had him beat.”

“You sure made a meal outa it though,” Hoss muttered.

“Well, let’s call it a day for now.” Adam slapped Joe on the arm. “Well done, Joe.”

Joseph Cartwright nodded, grinned, and set his hat on at a jauntier angle. Hopefully, the pain in his back would have gone by tomorrow and his head would have stopped ringing.

*****

“Your brothers have left you some breakfast, Joseph.”

Ben’s stern voice greeted the young man with all the force of a wet blanket. Joe nodded wearily and trailed to the table. He sat down and surveyed the ham and eggs swimming in grease, and then looked at his father, his brow furrowed and his mouth turned down in a grimace of pain. “Somehow I’m not so hungry.”

“Well, you are late.” Ben’s voice was slightly testy. Then he sighed. “You’re 21 years old now, Joe; you should know better than to be late getting up in the morning. You’re not a child now, and your brothers need your help to get those horses ready.”

“I know that, Pa.” Joseph forced himself to keep his voice under control; sometimes it was hard not to be equally as testy when Ben was lecturing at him without even asking why it was that he was late getting down to breakfast. He poured out coffee and drank it quickly, then poured out some more before spearing some ham onto his plate with an egg.

“I’m hoping we’ll get those horses broken by tomorrow,” Ben was saying as he rose to his feet to walk over to his study area, which was tucked away at the other end of the big room.

“Sure, Pa.” Joe frowned, and forced the ham and eggs down his throat by swallowing more coffee.

“I don’t like disappointing Major Logan; he’s been a good businessman in these dealings about the horses. I don’t want him to start thinking he can’t rely on the Ponderosa when he’s so reliable himself.”

“No, Pa.”

“I can guarantee you that when you get there, he’ll have the money ready on the nail.”

“Uh-huh.” Joe scratched his head and stood up; he pushed the plate away and stood by his chair, and waited. It was odd the way his legs were feeling right now, all pins and needles, and as though they wouldn’t support him. It was the same when he got up out of bed earlier; he couldn’t even pull his pants on for some time, until the sensation passed.

“What are you waiting for, Joseph? Your brothers have been out there an hour already,” Ben muttered, his eyes devouring some contract that he was holding in his hands, and not even looking in Joe’s direction.

“Sorry, Pa.”

Joe sighed with relief; his legs were alright again now. He must have trapped a nerve somewhere in his back with all that bouncing around during the week breaking in those horses. That was it, of course; nothing to worry about, all part of the job.

He left the house without too much concern; the fact that his legs were now facing the right direction and holding him up meant that Joe didn’t worry about the why’s and wherefores of what had happened that morning.

“Hey, slugga-bed, you’re late.” Hoss looked over at him, his face already dusty and in the act of brushing off dirt from his pants. “I got one sorted out already, practically a wrasslin’ match; she didn’t stand a chance.”

“He wore her down just by keeping on falling off and remounting. She gave in out of pity,” Adam chuckled, and gave Hoss a playful jab in the ribs, before turning to Joe, “You alright, Joe? It’s unlike you to be late when we’re horse breaking.”

“Sure, I’m just fine.” His eyes roamed the pack of horse and he smiled. “Cut that chestnut with the white blaze, Jake – sure, that’s the one – thanks.” He grinned at Adam, “You just been sightseeing or what?”

“Nah, I done my share. See that filly over there?” Adam nodded over to a neat looking mare. “Took less than ten minutes. And that black…” He pointed to a large muscular black horse. “I managed him in…”

“Half an hour…” Hoss quipped and the three of them laughed warmly together.

Jake yelled over that the horse was ready, and Joe smiled, made some jestful comment about showing the old ladies how to do it, and walked over to the stalling box.

Adam and Hoss mounted the rails and watched, the sun on their backs and a slight breeze blowing from the mountains. It was a perfect day for horse breaking.

Joe landed neatly in the saddle and the gate was lifted, the horse left the box bucking, arcing his back and bucking like a crazy thing. Joe winced as a pain niggled across his lumbar region; when he bounced high out of the saddle and landed with a thud, the pain felt sharper. He grabbed reins and mane in order to retain his seat in the saddle, and he grit his teeth so tight that his jaw began to ache. The horse raced round the corral several times, bucked a little, made an attempt to turn his head and take a chunk out of Joe’s leg, and then stopped.

“Hey, well done, buddy, you did really well there,” Adam shouted over to him.

“Right, short shanks, you can dismount now…” Hoss laughed. “Ain’t no point in gitting too attached to them horses; we ain’t keeping ‘em.”

Joe nodded, laughed, and swung his leg over the saddle to dismount. The horse was calm; there was no fight left in him. Joe’s foot touched the ground, his other foot slid from the stirrup, and the next thing he knew he was flat on his back. The horse, a little annoyed at the whole proceedings, snorted in contempt and walked away, allowing Jake to lead him out of the corral.

“Hey, Joe, I know you’re tired, but now ain’t the time for a snooze …” Hoss chuckled as he clambered down from the rails, but it was Adam who was running towards his little brother, and kneeling at his side.

“Joe? Are you alright? Joe?”

Joe screwed up his eyes; he opened his mouth in an attempt to speak but no words came out. He raised a hand to reach Adam’s shoulder and then passed out. A warm blackness had swept over him and sucked him down into a whirlpool of quite blissful unawareness.

“Hoss, go and get Pa, tell Hop Sing to get the doctor…-”

“Here, Adam, let me…” Hoss gently elbowed his brother to one side and then very gently scooped Joe into his arms. Together the two of them hurried to the house.

Adam, just ahead, pushed open the door, yelling for his Pa. “Pa – it’s Joe – something’s happened.”

*****

Something cool and wet touched his skin, and he shivered. Little icicles trickled through his veins, and brought out goosebumps on his flesh. He struggled to open his eyes but the effort was too great, so he just succumbed to the feeling that if he kept them shut, he wouldn’t see anything that would make him feel more miserable that he already did.

He could hear sounds in the room, footsteps pacing up and down, heavy footsteps, and he reassured himself that they belonged to his Pa. It settled the heartbeat down a little, knowing Pa was close by, and again he tried to open his eyes.

“He’s coming round, Pa.”

Adam’s voice, hovering somewhere above his head, and he could feel a hand on his arm, gentle and reassuring. That would be Adam again, he told himself; Adam always did that, always, ever since he was little. He sighed and opened his eyes. “Adam? Pa? Is Hoss here?”

“Sure, right here, Sprout.”

Joe’s eyes flicked to the direction of the voice and he could see the outline of his brother, leaning forwards, blue eyes showing anxiety beneath furrowed brows.

“How’re you feeling, Joe?” Adam’s voice, calm and deep, and still the hand on his brother’s arm. Joe could feel the warmth of it creeping through to his flesh and chasing the icicles away.

“Odd. Can’t explain it…”

“Any pain anywhere?”

“I don’t know.” Joe shivered, and he glanced over at his father who was now sitting on the low table, his hands clasped between his legs as he sat as close to his son as he could. “Pa? I’ll be alright. Pa, don’t worry; I’ve got my eye on several more of them broncs to bust today. We’ll meet that contract no problem.”

“Stop worrying about those horses; a contract means nothing in comparison to your safety. Joe, no one just dismounts and crumples to the ground for no good reason. Can you remember what happened?”

Joe closed his eyes, and rubbed his brow; there was a slight niggle of a headache there now, but nothing too bad. He struggled to sit up, and rubbed the back of his head, making his hair stand more on end than ever. He cleared his throat. “Well, I had kind of pins and needles in my legs this morning, but it went away. Then when I dismounted my legs just gave way beneath me. I didn’t feel any pain – I don’t think so anyway.”

“It’s best that you stay put here for the rest of the day, Joe,” Adam said after a quick glance over at Ben. “You probably did some damage yesterday, with a bit of rest now it should be better.”

“Hey, no…” Joe protested and made an attempt to get off the settee. Then he saw Ben’s resolute face, Adam’s concern and Hoss’ anxiety; he gave up the fight and sat back. “If you insist.”

“We do insist,” Ben said gravely. “I’ve sent for Paul Martin to come and check you over anyway. I don’t want you taking any more risks today at least. Joe – understand me now, son – you stay put right there.”

“I suppose you two are going to break those broncs without me then, huh?” Joe tried to put some humor into his voice, but he was fighting impatience, annoyance and frustration.

“Yeah, If it gets too difficult, we’ll get Hop Sing to come tie a few of them down for us,” Hoss quipped, and gave his little brother a friendly thump in the shoulder.

Adam said nothing but rose to his feet. He smiled down at Joe and gave him a wink, then turned to his father. “We’ll get on then, Pa; if you need any help tying this critter down to the settee just let me know – I’ll send Hoss to sit on him.”

“Hey, you…” Joe laughed and then sat back, his head against the arm of the settee. He had the sudden realization that he felt tired, really tired.

He was asleep again before Hoss and Adam had closed the door behind them.

*****

The clock was ticking away the minutes with the resolute determination to mark away the time of a person’s life that only a good solid clock could do, a rattle of cups and the tinkle of spoons, the smell of coffee – all assailed his senses as he slowly woke up. He stretched, opened his eyes and looked up at Ben who was pouring out coffee into the cups on the table,

“How’re you feeling, son?”

“Sorry, Pa, I fell asleep – didn’t realize I was so tired.”

“That’s alright.” Ben smiled as he watched Joe rubbing his face to waken himself, then he handed him some coffee. “Paul’s been delayed; he’ll be here as soon as he’s delivered Mrs. Jacobson’s baby.”

“Hey, Pa, there’s no need to bother Paul; I’m fine.” Joe inhaled the aroma of the coffee and smiled. “Mind you, it’s good to have the chance of taking morning coffee with you – doesn’t happen often nowadays.”

“No, I guess it doesn’t.” Ben perched once again on the low table, and sipped his coffee. “How’s your back? Any pain?”

“No, I don’t feel anything.” Joe said, and drank his coffee. He leaned over to put the cup on the table and frowned. “Pins and needles again, that’s all.”

“Well, you’ve slept heavy and the settee isn’t the most comfortable to sleep upon.”

Joe said nothing to that; he eased himself back and then looked at his father, who was watching him with alert near black eyes. “I think I’ll go and help the boys out…”

“They’re doing fine. Just stay put -”

“No, Pa, I’d rather go and be doing something than sitting here on my butt the rest of the day.”

Ben sighed and shook his head; he poured some more coffee out and passed it to Joe with a frown creasing his brow. “When I tell you to sit there, boy, you stay put.”

Joe smiled, nearly laughed, but there was a seriousness behind the words that made him nervous. He looked down at the coffee swirling around in the cup and sighed. “Pa, I’m alright, you know. There’s nothing at all wrong with me.”

“Well, let’s wait and see what Paul has to say about it, shall we?”

Resigned to the situation, Joe drank his coffee; the clock chimed the hour and from the kitchen came the sounds of Hop Sing clanking pots and pans about in preparation for the meal. He raised his hazel eyes towards his father and sighed. All this fuss, he told himself, for nothing.

*****

Paul Martin straightened his back and then looked thoughtfully at the young man stretched out on the settee. He had lost count of how many times he had come to the Ponderosa to check over Little Joe Cartwright since the day he had entered the world — far too soon, of course. Typical of the boy! Always in a hurry, even then.

He had checked Joe’s skull to make sure there had been no concussion or head trauma, he had looked into the large hazel eyes, felt the glands and pulse at his neck and throat. Now to get down to the real business. He pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. “Very well now, young man, just get on your feet if you would and let me check out your back.”

Joe grinned, nodded and moved his body forward. It was then the grin slipped, a slight frown furrowed his brow. “The thing is, I…I can’t…”

“What do you mean, you can’t, Joe?” Ben’s voice was deep, gentle, and held a slight quaver of nervous anxiety in it. He glanced at Paul, who nodded thoughtfully.

“Just see if you can…” Paul encouraged.

The door opened at that point, Adam and Hoss stepped inside, Adam glanced quickly over to his father. “We saw Paul’s buggy, just wanted to see how things were…”

“Yeah.” Hoss nodded and pulled off his hat, the band had left a white sweat mark on his brow, indicative of the heat and dust generated from their horse breaking endeavors. “How is he?”

Ben said nothing, raised his head to look over at them and shook his head slightly. Joe was sitting up but there was sweat beading his forehead, and his face was beginning to show both panic and fear. “I…I can’t move them…” he whispered.

“Whaddya mean, Joe?” Hoss strode forward, then paused when Paul indicated that he came no nearer.

Both brothers edged closer together as though each was preparing to support the other, just as they had done over the years since Hoss had been knee-high to a cricket.

Joe was struggling, a bead of perspiration trickled down the side of his face and this he brushed away, he looked at Paul and then at his father. “I can’t move my legs…” His voice rose higher, became shrill. “My brain is telling them to move, but I can’t; they just won‘t move.”

Paul sighed, he looked over at Hoss. “Could you take him to his room, please, Hoss? I would like to examine him upstairs.” He put a kindly hand on Joe’s shoulder. “I’m sure this is just a temporary setback, Joe. It happens – there’s no need to panic.”

“I ain’t,” Joe said fiercely, then swallowed back the lie, and lowered his head. “What if it isn’t temporary?”

Adam turned away, memories of a similar time returned now to haunt him, visions of a wheelchair, of frustration and misery. He rubbed his chin, and chewed on his bottom lip, then caught Ben’s eye and looked away.

*****

Joe let Paul’s hand prod and poke at him; he was turned over onto his stomach, then on his side, while Paul carried out a thorough examination. Then Paul took a needle from his bag, and stood at the foot of the bed. He looked at Joe and then at Ben. “Now, this is just to check out if you can feel any pain at all, Joe, or if there is any response to pain from your feet and legs. Tell me when you feel anything …” He was talking while all the time the needle was carefully pressed into Joe’s feet, up his legs.

“Sure, just say when you’re ready, Doc” Joe said, his eyes staring up at the ceiling and tensing himself to get ready for the needle. He was terribly ticklish around his feet, and waited to either give out a yell or to start giggling. He waited, and then lowered his eyes to look down his body to where Paul was standing, “When you’re ready…”

“I’ve already done the tests, Joe.” Paul sighed. “You didn’t feel anything, did you?”

“No, sir, I didn’t,” Joe replied, and then the significance of what Paul had said hit home and his voice wobbled. “I didn’t feel anything at all.”

“Well, let’s try another test…”

“No, I don’t want to…”

“Don’t be a defeatist, Joe,” Ben said encouragingly.

Joe darted his father a bitter look of anger, then lowered his head. What point was there in being angry with anyone at all? He sighed and looked at Paul, waiting for what was to come.

“Just sit up, that’s right, swivel round so that your legs hang down over the side of the bed.”

He did so, horrified at the way his legs just dropped down, like two lumps of useless meat. He looked up at Paul and waited.

Paul took a small hammer from his bag and tapped at the reflex point below the knee joint. Usually upon a tap the leg would kick out automatically, but with Joe there was nothing.

“Try again…” Joe urged

“Why? Did you feel anything?”

Joe opened his mouth; he wanted to say yes, but now, he wasn’t certain. He swallowed a lump in his throat, but Paul tried again while Joe looked over his head and stared into his father’s face. Then Paul straightened up, looked at him hopefully, but Joe just shook his head. There had been nothing at all, no feeling, no reflex.

“I’m sorry, Joe.” Paul put his bag away and sat down on the chair opposite the bed, “I know this is very distressing, but people do recover from this. I mean, look at Adam. He recovered, didn’t he? So, don’t give up. Just rest awhile here, and I’ll call back tomorrow.”

He helped Joe back into bed, lifting the useless legs and setting them down, prone, upon the sheets.

The door closed and Joe was left alone, listening to the voices of the two men as they proceeded downstairs to discuss him. Despair and anger, frustration and panic filled his mind and he turned his face into the pillow to smother his weeping.

*****

By the time Ben returned to his son’s room Joe had got his emotions more under control. He lay very still, however, and his face held that look of anguished panic so many must have felt at the thought of never being able to walk again. Possibilities, probabilities and the perhaps and maybes were always dismissed when a doctor told one such news as this; one only heard what one feared the most, and that was what stuck in the mind to be chewed over and gnawed at like a rat at some cheese.

Ben sat down in the chair next to the bed, and placed a gentle hand on his sons’ shoulder. “You’ll get through this, Joe.” His voice was low, very gentle and kindly, but he felt the shudder beneath his hands, as though Joe were struggling to keep his emotions in check. He sighed deeply, stood up and walked over to the window. “Joe, Paul did say that this could be just a temporary setback.”

“Did he? I kinda missed out on that bit of information.”

“It’s the kind of information you have to keep reminding yourself about, son. The light at the end of the tunnel, the spur to keep you going…”

“Is that what he told Adam as well, when Adam practically broke his back building that house?”

“No, he didn’t say anything like that to Adam. It was a different situation anyway.”

Joe firmed his lips, narrowed his eyes and continued to stare up at the ceiling. Before he closed his eyes, he looked at the crack that crept from its corner. Inside his head, it felt as though two men were taking turns to hammer at a small anvil behind his eyes, and he screwed his eyes tighter. “Pa – I don’t want to go into that wheelchair.”

“I don’t want to see you in it, son, but…”

“I’m not a cripple.”

“No, you’re not.” Ben approached the bed and once again took the chair next to Joe. He looked at the young handsome face with the scattering of freckles that were standing out now against the tan of the skin. “Joe, sometimes things happen that are our worse nightmares in life, but they have to be faced.” He licked his lips and searched Joe’s face for some response; there was none. “Joe, you have to face up to this like a man, because that’s what you are now — you’re a man — and you can’t ignore it.”

“No, I sure can’t ignore it,” Joe snapped, and then bit his lip and opened his eyes to look at his father. “I’m sorry, Pa. I know this is a worry for you too. I’m just feeling pretty sick at the moment, and my head aches so much…” He sighed and put out a hand which Ben grasped immediately. “I just wish I could turn back the clock…”

“So do I, son.”

Joe opened his mouth as though about to say something, but thought better of it. He sighed deeply. A pulse beat slowly at his throat, and the skin of his face was clammy to the touch.

Ben put his hand upon Joe’s forehead and frowned. “Feels like you have a fever coming on, Joe. Paul left some medication for you.” He turned to the table and Joe could hear the sound of water being poured into a glass, the rattle of some pills. Joe sighed; this, he thought, was just the beginning.

*****

“How is he, Pa?”

Adam looked earnestly at his father as he and Hoss stepped into the main room, dust covered, sweat streaking runnels down their faces. He flipped his hat onto the bureau and wiped his brow on the back of his hand, then began to unbuckle the chaps he was wearing,

“He’s asleep. I gave him some medication as he was getting a fever.”

“It’s going to be hard on him, Pa,” Hoss muttered, imitating his elder brother’s actions and tossing the chaps across the back of the settee. “He’s young and impatient; he’ll want to be up and doing before the end of the week.”

“Yeah,” Adam sighed and leaned against the back of the settee, his arms folded across his chest. “It’s going to be double hard on him, though, I’m thinking, because he knows how I felt last year, when I was in a similar position. He’s not going to like going through all that I had to go through, but he’ll be waiting for the moment when he can get up and walk out of that wheelchair, because I did. And if it doesn’t happen like that, I don’t know how he’s going to react.”

“Not too well, I should imagine,” Ben said quietly, and he pushed his fingers through his hair. “He’s already taken it hard, harder than you did…” He looked thoughtfully at Adam, then his brow knitted. “If you can help him in any way, Adam…” He heaved a sigh and then shook his head, rubbing the back of his neck anxiously. “Perhaps you can get through to him, because I don’t seem able to manage it. He just seems to envisage a life time of being an invalid and its already eating him up inside.”

“You know I’ll do whatever I can, Pa, but at the end of the day it’ll be all up to him.”

“And his doctor…” Hoss said quietly. He shrugged when they looked at him. “Wal, don’t it?”

*****

It was quiet in the room when Joe woke up. The curtains had been closed against the invading night, and a lamp glowed like a sulky glow work on the bedside table beside the bed. By the light of the somber flame, Adam’s head could be seen, and for a moment, Joe just looked at his brother as though in surprise to find him there.

But Adam must have been there for some time, or so Joe reckoned, for the book he had been reading was just about to slide from his knee onto the floor. His head was resting upon his hand, his elbow propped up by the table. His eyes were closed as though he had fallen asleep, and by the light of the lamp, Joe was able to discern the barely discernable freckles that scattered over his brothers tanned skin. Joe moved his hand slightly, just where the edge of the book stuck out over Adam’s knee, and just enough to send the book slithering towards the floor.

“Oh…” Adam woke with an exclamation of surprise from his lips. He frowned, scowled, and then looked at Joe, before leaning down to pick up his book. He ran his hand lovingly along its spine and edges to ensure that there was little damage and then looked at his brother and raised his eyebrows. “Joe Cartwright, if this book were damaged I’d tan your hide.”

“Oh yeah? You and whose army?”

“I wouldn’t need an army; I’ve got Hoss,” Adam declared, and they shared a smile, for this was an old game of repartee between them. He set the book down and stretched out his legs and then stretched out his arms, lightly doffing Joe on the head with one hand as he did so. Joe laughed and pushed the offending hand away,

“You should have more respect for your invalid brother…” he said mockingly.

“Mm, well, I’m not so sure about that. Looking at you, all I can see is my cranky little brother.”

“I’ve a right to be cranky.” Joe’s smile vanished. He had obviously made an attempt to move his legs since waking up and realized nothing had changed since he had fallen asleep. He chewed on his bottom lip and cast a glance at Adam, who appeared not to have notice as he was flicking through his book and yawning. “Been here long?”

“Ages.”

“Sorry, I just feel so tired …” Joe lowered his eyes, “Was that how you felt? When it happened to you?”

“Paul said it was the shock; it causes a reaction to the nerves. The body shuts down and tries to heal itself by sleeping. It makes sense, somehow,” his brother replied, closing the book and grateful that the subject had been raised by Joe and not by himself. “I guess you’re feeling pretty strange right now, huh?”

“Strange?” Joe’s voice rose a decibel. “I can’t even explain how I feel; strange is the least of how I feel.”

“Mmm, I know, I remember… To be honest, I wake up some mornings and just lie in bed waiting for it all to happen all over again.” Adam scratched behind his ear and then pulled at his ear lobe. “I get scared, to be honest, Joe, that my legs won‘t move …”

“Does it happen often?”

“Not really, I’ve realized now that it happens if I’ve dreamt about it. You know, how some people dream that they’re falling or running down the street naked …”

“They do?” Joe looked shocked, then laughed

“Well, I dream of being in bed and unable to move.”

“Like I am now.”

“Yeah, that’s right, except that I mean I can’t move anything, my legs, my arms, my head. I’m just – there!” Adam sighed and grimaced, he looked at Joe. “So? How’re you feeling, brother? Apart from strange?”

“Afraid, angry, lots of feelings … probably exactly how you felt when you first realized you weren’t going to be able to walk again.”

“Yeah…” The word trickled into a sigh, and ebbed away. Adam wrinkled his nose and shook his head. “I remember it well. But I never thought I would never walk again. I remember thinking, ‘this is interesting’ before I – er – kinda went a little crazy in the head for a while. Then after Paul had poked and prodded and made his diagnosis, I thought that I most certainly was not going to be a cripple. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to be …”

“And that was it, huh?”

“Not really,” Adam admitted honestly enough. He shrugged. “I just refused to let my mind dwell on the matter.”

“You could’ve fooled me; you were the biggest grouch going.”

“I apologize…” Adam bowed his head mockingly and smiled. “I guess I was. Fact is, I had Laura and Peggy fussing around as well, and…” He paused, pursed his lips and frowned. “I had an inkling of something happening between her and Will, then told myself I was making more of something than I should because I was beginning to think her attention to me was from pity and not love. Then I got to resent that thought altogether. Love or pity…it made no difference. I was in a wheelchair and Will wasn’t. Anyway, it made me concentrate harder on the exercises Paul suggested I do, and I did extra when alone at night. I had to prove to myself first that I wasn’t a…a cripple.”

“Yeah, even the word leaves a sour taste in the mouth, doesn’t it?” Joe muttered.

“You’re not a cripple, Joe,” Adam replied reassuringly. “You can’t even afford to let yourself think like that, not for an instance. Once you do, you’re in for trouble”

“Can’t deny the obvious,” Joe growled, throwing a look at his brother of irritation and bafflement.

“The obvious is that you have damaged your back; it’s preventing you from using your legs just now.”

“And that’s it? Are you going to be saying the same thing to me in ten years time when I’m still in that wheelchair?”

“Joe, if you think along those lines, you aren’t going to beat this thing.”

“Oh yeah, and so you’re saying that it was by telling yourself that you weren’t a cripple every day that your back healed itself?”

“No, not really. Just that by telling myself that I’m not going to be beaten by what’s happening, I stopped feeling sorry for myself, and worked hard to make sure I got better. To be honest, Joe, if my back had been damaged as badly as Paul thought, then no amount of thinking positively about the matter would have helped. That’s how it is; that’s the rub, to be honest.”

“So what you’re saying is that no matter how long it takes, I’ve got to stay cheerful, which, let me add, you were not.”

“No, so you tell me, I thought I was …”

“You weren’t.”

Adam shrugged and grimaced, he laid a hand on his brother’s shoulder. “It’s good to know you still have your sense of humor, Joe.”

“Much good will it do me here.”

Adam laughed softly. He rose to his feet and looked down at Joe with a smile. “I know I’ve not helped much, Joe. I had hoped that I could help you, but that’s how it is, and I’m sorry. Do you want some supper now?”

Joe sighed, frowned slightly and put out his hand, which Adam took hold of in one of his own. “Adam, thanks. I’ll think over what you said …”

Adam squeezed his brother’s fingers gently between his own, and then released Joe’s hand; he picked up his book and after looking thoughtfully at Joe, bade him good night and left the room. The lamp light flickered momentarily, and then steadied; Joe folded his arms behind his head and looked up at the ceiling. He looked for the crack in the plaster, but the shadows had crouched in too low now; even the light from the lamp couldn’t reach that high.

*****

It fell upon Hoss and Adam to deliver the horses to the fort in Yuma, and although they were considerably irritated at the fact that this meant leaving home with Joe in such a precarious situation, the fact was that life and work had to continue as normal. Otherwise, it could all snowball into a worse situation in the future.

Hoss quietly reminded Adam that they had to resume work despite his own accident the previous year, which reassured Adam to some extent, although he left the ranch, as did Hoss, feeling that he was running out on Joe when he was most needed.

Joe fretted about that for a while, but decided that by the time they returned from the trip, he would be back to normal, and ready to ride trail boss at the autumn round up. It was something he aimed for, and kept as his goal in the forefront of his mind. Of course, the next day his determination wavered somewhat especially when Paul came to examine him and left the room looking, no two ways about it, a trifle pessimistic.

“What did he say, Pa? When you were both downstairs, what did he say?”

“Well, he was concerned.” Ben sat down beside the bed and leaned in towards his son. “The bruising is showing through now; it all looks rather tender. He can’t really do much just now, not until the swellings and bruises die down a bit more.”

Joe said nothing to that; he looked thoughtfully at his father before turning his eyes to look towards the window. There was light rain falling; it pattered gently against the windows, and it crossed his mind that Adam and Hoss wouldn’t be too pleased about it. They’d be getting wet, and the earth would be getting churned up into mud. He folded his arms behind his head and closed his eyes for a second or two. “Well, that doesn’t mean nothing,” he muttered. “It’s only natural, after all; a bruise don’t last forever.”

“Of course not,” Ben assured him, feeling rather glad that Joe couldn’t inspect the bruises for himself, for a quite alarming area of his body was marbled black and blue. “Does it – do you feel any pain at all?”

“No, just a dull ache.” Joe glanced at his father and gave him a rather crooked smile, which resembled more of a grimace that anything else. “Don’t worry, Pa, I’ll be up and taking that herd out for you come the fall, you’ll see.”

*****

Several days trickled by, and if Joe were disconsolate or depressed about his situation, he gave no indication to his father, nor to Hop Sing who cared for him in a most gentle and loving manner, just as he had done for Adam.

“What do you reckon, Hop Sing?” he would say with a smile, and Hop Sing would nod and smile in return.

“You need plenty good food, make you strong again.”

Joe would nod and smile, Hop Sing would nod and smile back and then leave the room. Throughout the day, he would return with herbal teas, most of which went back to the kitchen untouched.

*****

“Excuse me, Mr. Cartwright – Mr. Ben Cartwright?”

Ben turned round to observe who had addressed him. He was in Virginia City and it was almost midday, and he was paying the bill for groceries from Will Cass. He paused in the act of counting out his last dime when he heard his name being called, and when he did turn, he found himself facing a very smartly dressed woman. He smiled, removed his hat and nodded. “I’m Ben Cartwright,” he replied and extended his hand towards her.

“I’m Judith Hastings. Doctor Judith Hastings.”

“Oh, well – good day to you, Doctor Hastings.” Ben smiled again, his dark eyes looking at her thoughtfully. “You’re new to town?”

“I’ve been here about a month,” she replied and raised her eyebrows as though the fact that he thought she were new to town spoke volumes.

“Well, I’m sorry; I had no idea. I’ve not been in town very often lately…” He paused, and frowned. “Dr Martin hasn’t mentioned you either.”

“No, I don’t suppose he would,” she replied rather coyly. She made a slight grimace. “He views me as competition.”

“Competition?” Ben raised his eyebrows, then shook his head. “I’m surprised you should think like that, Dr Hastings.”

“I don’t have to think like that, Mr. Cartwright; it’s a fact of life. Neither of us makes any bones about it, so don’t worry.”

Ben decided not to worry further. the woman was obviously quite sure of herself, and confident in her skills. He cleared his throat. “So, what can I do for you?”

She smiled then, her eyes were clear and serious, but her smile was wide and generous. She raised her eyebrows. “It’s more a question of what I can do for you … or rather, for your son. I hear he’s hurt himself in a riding accident?”

“Joe? Yes, he was breaking in a horse and injured his back.”

“And I understand that Dr Martin hasn’t been able to make a proper diagnosis, nor provide adequate medication?”

Ben frowned; he glanced around him and noticed that several customers were showing rather more interest in the conversation than he felt comfortable with, so he took her by the elbow and led her further towards the back of the store where they were more or less alone. “I’m quite happy with the treatment Paul is giving my son, Dr Hastings. Paul’s been a good…”

“I appreciate that, Mr. Cartwright; loyalty to a friend is a sterling quality. But your son’s health is more important, I think.” She smiled again, and put her hand on his arm. “Would you allow me to come to your ranch this afternoon and examine your son?”

“No, I’m sorry, I wouldn’t.” Ben frowned now. “For a start, I don’t know who you are, what your qualifications are, and I certainly don’t appreciate being approached by you in this manner…”

“I’m sorry, but…”

“And you’re also maligning a good friend, a good doctor. If you want me to take you seriously…” he paused, “I’m sorry, but I really can’t trust my son’s health to a complete stranger who accosts me in a store like this …”

“Where else can I accost you, Mr. Cartwright?” she replied, a slight touch of humor in her voice while at the same time perfectly serious. “I’m a qualified doctor; I can show you my testimonials, if you wish, at any time. If you believe a good doctor is to be relied upon only if he has an office, surgery and…”

“…and a reputation built up over the years, Madam.”

“Please, Mr. Cartwright.” She pressed down on his arm now, her fingers tightening like a vice. “I have to start somewhere. It’s hard enough for a woman to be recognized in any profession, but in the medical profession, it’s nearly impossible. Please give me a chance?”

Ben looked at her thoughtfully; he shook his head, and shook his arm free of her hand. “No, I’m sorry.”

“I may be able to cure him,” she cried, following him down the aisle between the counters assigned to bales of material and household goods.

“So may Paul. In cases like this, a lot of it has to do with the body healing itself.” He swooped up his box of groceries, and slapped his hat on his head. “Good day, Madam.”

She stood in the center of the aisle listening to the store bell tinkling for what seemed an age before she regained her poise. With her chin raised defiantly against the world and however many Ben Cartwrights it contained, she made her exit.

Judith Hastings watched the tall rancher stride down the sidewalk to the consulting rooms over which Dr Paul Martin’s board was hanging. With a slight pucker of the brow, she stood undecided as to what to do, and then, squaring her shoulders, she followed him.

Paul was engaged in writing out some notes, a quiet moment in the day for him — no one being shot, stabbed, bruised or beaten in the many rough incidents that took place in that town. He smiled at Ben, although his eyes were wary. “What can I do for you, Ben? Is Joe alright?” He pushed his chair away slightly from the desk and turned more towards his friend.

“He was – well – much the same when I left home,” Ben replied as he pulled out a chair and sat down. “Paul, can I ask you something? It’s personal, and it may offend, but – but I need to ask for Joe’s sake.”

“Then go ahead and ask, Ben. I want Joe to get better just as much as you.”

“I want Joe to have the best care, the best chance of getting well again. Can you, in all honesty, guarantee me that you can provide the right treatment for him?”

Ben’s face looked anxious, his brow wrinkled and the near black eyes couldn’t look Paul directly in the face. Paul rubbed his jaw and frowned. “You mean, because I’m just an aging local doctor, I may not be up to much, huh?”

“No – that’s not what I meant…” Ben’s voice wavered; of course it was what he meant. He wanted the best for Joe, and at this point in time, wasn’t sure just how well Paul was handling the matter. He shrugged. “Look, is there any expert in this kind of situation that you know about? That you can personally recommend?”

“He’d have to travel to San Francisco, Ben; the only expert in this field that I know of is practicing in a hospital there.”

“Would he come here? For a consultation?”

“I don’t know, I could telegraph and find out for you.” Paul frowned, “If he doesn’t come, are you prepared to let Joe travel to San Francisco for treatment?”

“I’d get him to the moon if it was necessary,” Ben said quietly.

They both paused when there came a knock on the door. When it opened, Judith Hastings stepped into the room. She looked at them both thoughtfully, before she closed the door behind her. “I presume you are talking about your son’s condition, Mr. Cartwright?” She asked this in a level kind of voice, although beneath her jacket her heart was pounding.

“We are, madam, and as it’s a private consultation, it is no business of yours.” Paul’s voice was louder than usual, and he had risen in his chair to confront her.

“I was talking to Mr. Cartwright…”

“And I’m replying on his behalf,”

Seeing the two doctors at stalemate. Ben rose to his feet; he picked up his hat and looked at Paul, then at Judith. “I’ll go now, if you two don’t mind. Paul, I’ll wait to hear from you.” He tipped his hat at Judith and left the building, deep in thought and concern.

*****

“Dr Martin, I don’t mean to intrude on your consultations, but believe me, I am an expert in this field of doctoring. Would you let me come with you when you go to see Mr. Cartwright again?”

“Certainly not.” Paul straightened his back, and looked astonished at the very idea. “Madam…”

“DOCTOR! I am DOCTOR Judith Hastings, please remember that.” She drew herself up as straight back as he, and raised her chin.

“I’m sending for the expert in this field, Doctor Baumgarten from San Francisco,” Paul now said coldly, as though the comment would send her in retreat. He half turned his back on her, to look out of the window instead.

“I was tutored by Doctor Baumgarten. As you say, he was the prime expert in this field at one time.”

“Really? And who is THE expert now?” Paul frowned, unaware that there had been any changes; none of his contacts had mentioned it before.

“I am,” she replied coolly. “If you want your patient to recover the use of his legs, Dr Martin, then I am the person you should take with you to see him.”

“A woman’s place…”

“I don’t think you have any idea where a woman’s place should be nowadays, Dr Martin, so please don‘t waste time lecturing me about it. A woman can do anything a man can do, and what more natural field for a woman to use her caring instincts than in the medical one. If you don’t let me come with you today, then I shall go by myself, with or without Mr. Cartwright’s permission.”

“Then you would have to be prepared to be thrown out of the place…”

“Well, that wouldn’t be the first time,” she said rather derisively, and stared at him, but he remained unmovable in his determination not to bend to her will. As a result, she bade him farewell very politely and left the office.

*****

Paul sat down and rubbed his brow. He picked up some papers and tried to concentrate on what he had been reading. After a few moments, he needed to get up and treat himself for a headache. That woman – !! He paced up and down for a while, seething inside, and then paused to stare at the door as though anticipating her entrance through it again. How could a middle-aged spinster have such an effect on him? He muttered under his breath,

“Women. Shouldn’t be allowed … humph … next thing they’ll be surgeons and taking over the hospitals. Nursing is good enough for them. Bah! Ridiculous nonsense, all of it.” He picked up his pen, threw it down again, “Why can’t they just stay at home and get on with having babies like they are meant to … going around … telling ME what to do!”

He rubbed his chin again. Well, he thought, perhaps that was the trouble; he didn’t like being told, especially by a woman.

*****

Joe was sleeping when Ben arrived home. He was in that depth of sleep where no dream could touch him, and when Ben looked down at him, he recalled the number of times this particular son had lain like this, hurt, damaged, and so impatient to get well. Always impatient. He could remember the day he was born; he was impatient then too. Joseph Francis Cartwright, born in a hurry, born to break hearts and create mayhem. Ben smiled and sat down, and waited for his son to wake up.

**********

Another day had trickled by, another day arrived with rain falling in light showers to sweeten the air and green up the grass. Joe listened to it pattering against the window while Hop Sing set out a tray with his breakfast. “Sounds like just a light shower,” he observed with his eyes on the glass window pane where the raindrops trickled slowly down to the sill

“Make grass grow, air smell sweeter.”

“D’you reckon Adam and Hoss will be in Yuma now?”

“I think perhaps they will be there now.”

Hop Sing looked at Joe thoughtfully, a slight frown puckered his brow. He put a hand gently on the young man’s shoulder. “Patience heals quicker than much medicine.”

“That ain’t much help to me, Hop Sing; Dr Martin’s left plenty of medicine. It’s just the patience I’m short of…” He smiled at his old friend and then resumed his observation of the window and the rain drops.

“I best go open door before it fall down,” Hop Sing observed as the sound of loud knocking resounded repeatedly over the house. Joe frowned as he wondered who could have decided to visit so early in the morning.

He was half way through eating his breakfast when the person who was knocking so persistently appeared at his bedside. Behind her Hop Sing hovered, an anxious frown on his face and shaking his head at Joe as though trying to convey the message that she entered without prior permission.

“Hello, who are you?” seemed to be the most appropriate question.

“I’m Dr Judith Hastings. Did your father mention meeting me?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“Oh, I met him in the general stores yesterday.”

“He never said…”

“It doesn’t matter, I’m here now.” She smiled and drew closer, “Tell me all about your accident, when it happened, how, and how long before you realized there was something wrong?”

“Er…but I’ve already told Dr Martin all about that.”

“I know, but he hasn’t told me.” She smiled, a very pleasant smile, and Joe glanced over at Hop Sing who was shaking his head and jabbing his forefinger across his throat, obviously conveying the message that tell her anything and it would be ‘The End’ for them both.

“I can’t hardly forget Dr Martin, ma’am; he’s been our doctor for years now. He’s treating me for this and…”

“What’s he giving you?” She turned to survey the phials and the pillboxes on the table and sniffed loudly.

“My brother injured his back last year, and he recovered.” Joe frowned, wondering whether or not he had sounded convincing enough, and had upheld Paul’s prestige as a doctor sufficiently, even though he himself believed that a lot of the cure in Adam’s case was sheer pig headedness and determination.

“I know, I appreciate all that, but…” She pulled out a chair and sat down, then looked very directly into his face, so much so that Joe got to feel rather hot and bothered. “You see, I’ve not long moved to Virginia City, and despite all my references and testimonials and degrees, your doctor just won’t accept me as – as anything other than a woman.”

“Well,” Joe glanced at her, his eyes went up and down and he shrugged, “you are, aren’t you? A woman, I mean?”

“Yes, but I’m a doctor, a fully qualified practicing doctor. I need to get established here not for my cooking and sewing abilities, but for my doctoring.”

There came the sound of a rumble behind her, and both Joe and Judith froze as Bens voice was heard to say, “So you thought you would come and practice on my son in order to get your reputation established here, is that it?”

Judith promptly rose to her feet and turned to face him. She looked him squarely in the face and then slowly ran her eyes up and down his body, before replying.

“Mr. Cartwright, you are becoming very choleric; it’s not good for your blood pressure and I’d advise you to calm down, otherwise I’ll have two men to treat instead of just the one.”

Ben stepped back with a frown, but his mouth was still clamped firmly in grim determination to resist any assistance from her. He raised his chin. “Dr Martin is contacting Dr Baumgarten in San Francisco to come and attend to Joseph. So, if you don’t mind…”

“I do mind. You’re wasting time, Mr. Cartwright. I really need to examine your son. If you must know, Dr Baumgarten is far too busy to travel here to see to your son. I can assure you that if you were to ask him for the name of a doctor HE would recommend, he would recommend ME.”

“Oh, he would, would he? And why’d he do that?”

“Because he taught me everything he knew, because I’m a darn good doctor, and…”

“And?”

“Because I’m his daughter.”

*****

Paul Martin clambered down from his buggy and observed the vehicle hitched in the yard with a slight frown. It was a rental buggy from Manson’s Livery. With a vague niggle of unease stirring in the pit of his stomach, he entered the house and found his worse fears confirmed as he saw Dr Judith Hastings sitting in the blue chair opposite Mr. Ben Cartwright sitting in the red leather chair, drinking tea. They both turned towards him.

“Ah, Paul…” Ben smiled and waved the older man inside. “Come and sit down; Judith was just telling me about some of her medical experiences.”

“Oh?” Paul gave a snort of protest; the look of dismay on his face didn’t go unnoticed by his old friend who rose to his feet with a kindly smile, but Paul raised a hand. “It’s alright, Ben; I’ll just go and check on Joseph.”

“Now then, Paul, come and sit down and have some tea first. Relax a moment, for heaven’s sake, man; you’re always working. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up choleric like me.” If there was a slight smile on the ends of Ben’s mouth, it was not obvious.

“Choleric?” Paul’s eyes widened, “You?”

“Definitely. Judith diagnosed it, and I looked it up in the dictionary and had to agree with her.”

“It comes and goes…” Judith said mildly, her blue eyes twinkling.

“Choleric?” Paul shook his head, “For goodness sake, Ben…”

“Come and have some of Hop Sings tea, or coffee, whichever you prefer.” Ben smiled again, almost laughing at Paul’s discomfiture.

“Have YOU examined my patient, Madam?” Paul asked frostily.

“I have Mr. Cartwright’s permission to do so after discussing the matter with you,” she answered in a soft voice.

“Ben?”

“Any lady who can confront me when I’m choleric deserves to have the privilege of examining my son,” Ben replied with a frown. He had never thought of Paul as being prejudiced in any way, but obviously, where professional pride and women were concerned, the doctor had a problem.

“Confound it, man, she was just telling you that you were bad tempered!” Paul exploded.

“Exactly.” Ben stared at Paul as though begging him to be more lenient and understanding. He turned to Judith. “Judith happens to have been taught everything she knows from her father…”

“Bah!”

“Dr Baumgarten.”

“What!”

“You don’t object, do you, Dr Martin?” Judith asked in her soft voice. “I mean, about my father having a daughter?”

She raised her cup daintily to her lips and sipped the tea with her face now turned away from Paul and Ben, looking instead at the fire which burned low in the hearth for the day was chilled by the rain showers.

Paul swallowed; pride and anger being large enough to choke a man, he had to do it in two gulps. “I didn’t know you were Baumgarten’s daughter,” he said as he approached the settee and sat down, carefully pulling his creases straight in his pants.

“He had three sons; I was his only daughter. It’s only natural that such a fact would be overlooked.” She poured out a cup of tea and passed it over to him as though he were a guest in her house somewhere in England, seated on a green lawn as smooth as a billiard table, and facing onto the River Thames.

“And he taught you…”

“…everything he knew. I was a very good scholar, and learnt quickly. My brothers – well, one’s a lawyer, another died when young, and the other brother is a doctor also, but he…” she sighed, “went into another field of medicine to that of my father and I. Sugar?”

“What? Oh yes, thank you, too.”

She ladled in sugar and then looked at him thoughtfully. “Shall we discuss the patient now?”

Ben raised an eyebrow; Paul nearly choked, but she merely smiled and took a notebook from her pocket.

“Miss… Hastings…” Paul spluttered, “may I remind you that Joseph is my patient, and I am not prepared to sit here and discuss case notes about my patients with you. For goodness sake, Ben,” he turned in appeal to the rancher who was sitting looking rather bemused, “you have to tell this lady that she has no rights to interfere with my diagnosis.”

“I…” Ben began but was interrupted by Judith, who looked at Paul very sternly, much as a teacher would look at a recalcitrant student. “For your information, Doctor, you can refer to me as Mrs. Hastings, if you do not wish to respect my profession sufficiently to refer to me as Doctor.”

They both looked at her in some surprise, not having noticed a ring upon her finger nor been given any indication that she was a married woman during any previous discussion. Ben smiled, and apologized, rightly recognizing the fact that it was none of his business anyway, but Paul was still bristling,

“Mrs. Hastings? I didn’t know Dr Baumgarten’s daughter was married.”

“Excuse me, Doctor, but until a few moments ago you didn’t seem to have remembered that he even had a daughter.” She smiled archly, and stood up, picking up her notebook and gloves as she did so. “I divorced my husband a year ago.” She paused at the look on their faces; Paul’s cup actually rattled in the saucer. “I know, scandalous!” She tossed her head in a regal contempt and looked at Ben. “Thank you for your hospitality, Mr., Cartwright; it was very kind of you.” She then swept out of the room.

Ben followed her out of the house and walked beside her to the buggy, well aware of the fact that she was trembling and on the verge of tears. As he assisted her up onto the leather cushioned seat, he placed a gentle hand on her arm,

“I’m sorry if we were overly tactless – I’m not sure what’s got into Paul.” He glanced back to the house and frowned. “He’s one of the kindest men I’ve ever known, and…”

“I know, Mr. Cartwright, I do understand.” She brushed away a tear and forced a smile. “I’m treading on his toes, aren’t I? He’s bound to feel defensive over his territory, his patients, and being a woman …” She shrugged.

“Yes, I know,” Ben sighed.

“As for the rather Puritan shock when I said I was divorced …” her lips thinned perceptibly, “I hate admitting it to anyone, and I wouldn’t have done then, but he riled me so, I just wanted to wipe that pompous look off his face, but…” She gave a rather tremulous laugh. “I failed rather, didn’t I?”

“We’re not here to judge, Dr Hastings, and again, I do apologize.” Ben paused a moment and then his face broke into one of his warm generous smiles. “I’d like you to treat Joseph. Paul needn’t know…”

“He’s bound to find out. I wouldn’t want to be dishonest and do things behind his back.”

“That’s fair of you; I’ll tell him when I get indoors. Shall we see you tomorrow?” He raised an eyebrow and she laughed,

“Yes, tomorrow, about 2 o’clock.”

*****

Joe was rather embarrassed when Judith approached the bed and declared that she was going to examine him. He literally blushed to the roots of his hair and down to his toes, and grabbed the sheet that was covering him.

“Joseph, try and think of me as a doctor, not as a woman.” She smiled, turning her attention to the array of bottles and pill boxes Paul had prescribed that were on the table.

“How can I do that when you are – a woman, I mean.” Joe’s eyes rolled over to his father, who shook his head, and folded his arms across his chest. He’d never known his son to be so reluctant to be close to a woman before and the thought made him smile.

“Do you sleep well?”

“Sure, I’m always falling asleep, why?”

“Well, you won’t need that then; it’s for insomnia.” She tossed one bottle into the bin, bringing rather a wide smile to Hop Sing’s face as she did so.

“Do you have fever, nausea?”

“No, ma’am, not now – although I’m feeling right hot at the moment.”

“Well, you won’t need that either.” Another bottle was binned, Hop Sing nodded his head and smiled wider; he was thrilled to see the disposal of what he thought to be rubbish.

Various other medicines were added to the bin, then she turned to Joe. “Now, Joseph, don’t be fooled into thinking that because I am a woman that I’m weak. I’m physically very strong. Mr. Hop Sing … if you would take his left side I’ll take the right and – now – heave -” and over Joe rolled onto his stomach.

The sheet was pulled away and Joe rolled his eyes and uttered a rather pathetic ‘Oh Pa…!’ only to stop when her fingers began to knead into his back.

She was strong, firm and yet gentle; her fingers probed and dug down his back from the base of his skull to the coccyx and as her fingers explored the spine she talked in a very calm voice,

“Did you know that your spinal column is made up primarily of vertebrae, discs and the spinal cord? Your brain actually uses it to communicate with the rest of your body, so when you get an injury such as you have, Joseph, the flow of information from that point down is stopped. What I need to do is find out exactly at what point communication has broken down and how severely.”

Her patient remained silent, his eyes closed and not sure whether or not he should actually be enjoying this very comprehensive examination,

“The spinal column has five specific functional areas and I’ve just checked the cervical area, which are vertebrae 1 to 7 and they are fully functional. You could feel everything, couldn’t you?”

“Uh-huh,” came the smothered reply.

“I’m going to examine the thoracic vertebrae now, there are 12 …” She paused in talking but continued with her examination and again confirmed with him that he could feel everything. “Now onto the lumbar region; this is probably where the problem starts …” She probed more deeply now, leaning closer to the young man’s body as though somehow, if she was careful enough, she would actually be able to visibly see the injury. “Can you feel anything?”

“Numb…”

“Ah, I see.” She probed on through the sacral vertebra and down to where the last five vertebrae are fused to form the coccyx.

She then followed the procedures carried out by Paul shortly after the accident, to test out the sensory areas of Joe’s legs by pricking with a pin and pinching the flesh, afterwards she helped sit him up and tested his reflexes.

“Well, Joseph.” She smiled at him kindly and helped lift the limbs back onto the bed, “You’ve a lot on your side, you know. You’re young, healthy, and a fighter. I can promise you, you don’t have to worry about that wheelchair.”

“I don’t?” The words came in a gasp of relief and he looked over at Ben who was smiling, although rather doubtful as to how she could make such a statement based on the examination when Paul had not been so willing to commit himself.

“No, you don’t.” She smiled kindly down at him, “It’s important for you to have massage and exercise every day … I daresay your brother had this when he injured himself so you’ll know the procedure. Mr. Hop Sing, can I rely on you to oversee that, it has to be done every day, Joe, no slacking.”

“Will it cure it? Will it help me walk again?”

“No, it’s just to make sure your muscle tone won’t become flaccid. It would be a shame once your back is healed for your legs to give way as soon as you stand on them because there’s no strength in them.” She laughed a little was she said this, bringing a smile to Joe’s face. Hope was a wonderful anchor and healer, and her words provided that so important thing… Hope.

*****

In the big room Ben poured Dr. Hastings coffee in the dainty pink and white cups that had been Marie’s pride and joy. She sipped it slowly, and smiled, then looked at him over the rim of the cup, her blue eyes conveying a thanks not due to the coffee, but for something more. He smiled. “This work is important to you, isn’t it? I mean – not just Joe being better but doctoring as a whole.”

“Yes, it is. My father was rather a pioneer in his field, Mr. Cartwright, and when he saw that I was more interested that my brothers, he encouraged me to go to college and get my doctorate. Joe’s condition…”

“Don’t let’s speak about Joe’s condition just yet, Dr Hastings. I just want to say how much I admire you, and all those women out there who are seeking to break down the male dominance in our professions. I know it has come, for you, at a cost.”

“My marriage, do you mean?” She shrugged slightly, “I loved my husband; in fact, I still do. But…” she lowered her cup into the saucer and her eyes misted over a little, “he was a philanderer; there were always other women, and so many debts because of his gambling. I know many women will stay with a husband, even one like Howard, but – but I couldn’t, he…I…couldn’t stay with him. My father suggested the divorce and gave me his backing; for that, I’m very grateful. Others have not been so, well, shall we just say, kind.”

“I didn’t mean to intrude on your private life, Doctor. Perhaps you could tell me more about Joe’s condition now?”

She promptly did so, explaining about the spinal cord and how it worked, and putting so much medical jargon into the explanation that Ben couldn’t make sense of it at all, although he nodded and smiled all the way through her discourse. At the end, they both released their breaths out in a long sigh and smiled at one another as though everything made perfect sense. Poor Ben, he hadn’t a clue!

*****

“Hey, Cartwright?”

Adam and Hoss both turned, looked at one another and then turned to observe the man who was walking towards them. It was Cole Arnold, a mean-tempered dry stick of a man who liked nothing more than to poke a stick down in an ant hill and see what happens, or, to make it clearer, to create as much mayhem as he possibly could when knowing very precious little about the subject he was delving into.

“Do you mean me?” Adam replied coolly, and then jerked his thumb at his brother, “Or him?”

“Whichever -” Cole shrugged. “What’s this rumor going around town about your ol’ man taking on that female doctor to treat your baby brother, huh? Ain’t we got good enough doctors here in town as it is?”

“We only got one doctor,” Hoss said, pushing his hat aside to scratch his head and think about the matter.

“Yeah, Paul Martin, and he’s a good doctor,” Cole attested, jutting out his bottom lip so far that it was a wonder he didn’t trip over on it.

“We don’t know about any female doctor around here, Cole. We’ve just detoured into town to pick up some mail before going home; we’ve been away some time,” Adam explained patiently.

“You should check her out. Y’know, she killed her last patient … and furthermore, she’s DIVORCED!”

With that blockbuster delivered, Cole swung away and left the two brothers staring at him as though wondering whether or not they had arrived at the right place.

Hoss shook his head. “Do you know anything about a female doctor in town?”

“Nope, first I heard of it,” Adam replied with a frown. He rubbed his chin. “Let’s get the mail and head for home, I don’t like the sound of this.”

*****

Joe was stretched out on the bed looking out of the window. It was the perfect picture frame for him to look out and observe everything that was happening in the yard. He could see who was arriving and leaving; the men setting out from the bunk house and returning at the end of the day. It was an idea of Judith’s to have the bed moved round so that he could have some small share in life outside, beyond his shadowy existence in his room.

When he saw his brothers galloping into the yard, he promptly grabbed the stick to thump on the floor and yell, “Pa, Adam, and Hoss are back”, not that Ben would hear because he was in the stable. But the excitement of seeing his brothers sent adrenalin pumping through the young man’s body and he watched them dismount with a gloriously warm feeling that everything was going to be fine. He leaned back against the pillows and waited for them; he was almost counting the steps they would have to take to cross the yard, speak to Pa, and get into the house and up the stairs, and then the door would swing open… Only it didn’t.

“How’s Joe, Pa?” Adam asked, his first words before he had even had time to say a greeting.

Ben looked at his sons and wiped his hands slowly on a cloth “He’s doing well, very well. Doc’s pleased…”

“You mean, Dr Martin?” Hoss asked, jutting his jaw out as though challenging Ben to tell a lie.

“No, not just Paul, another doctor. A woman from San Francisco.”

“What do you know about her, Pa?” Adam asked, his eyes searching his father’s face anxiously. “What have you heard?”

“More to the point, what is it you’ve heard?” Ben asked, lowering his voice in a tone that warned his sons to back off a little; he was gearing up for an argument.

“She killed her last patient,” Adam said quickly.

“Yeah, and she’s divorced,” Hoss added, lowering his voice on the last word.

“I know she’s divorced, so what? That’s her business, none of ours, and it doesn’t affect her treatment of Joe, who, let me tell you, is making fine progress.”

Adam put his head to one side and narrowed his eyes. “Is Paul happy with this Doctor? Does he agree with this treatment?”

They were inside the house now, their voices raised to a level that could be heard in the rooms above, and Joe, hearing them, leaned over the edge of the bed to hear more clearly what was being said.

“Paul wasn’t happy with the fact that Dr Hastings is a woman; for some reason, he took the whole thing far too personally.” Ben scratched the back of his head as though Paul’s prejudice concerned him more than worries about Joe’s well being. “But he comes once a week to check on Joe, and so far has not had anything to say against the treatment.”

“What do you know about this rumor in town that she killed her last patient?” Hoss asked. He raised his hand when he saw the light of battle spark in his father’s eyes, “Alright, now, Pa, I ain’t accusing, just asking…”

“I’ve not heard of any such rumor. I thought I’ve taught you boys better than this, not to believe in gossip.”

“We don’t believe in gossip, Pa; we just wanted to know for sure that there’s no basis for the rumor, that’s all.” Adam placed a hand on Hoss’ arm, a warning for him to say no more.

Joe leaned further over the bed, so far over that before he could stop himself he was falling out of it. He grabbed the covers and sheets, but too late; the next moment he had landed with a thud onto the floor.

The noise of his fall sent all three men rushing for the stairs. After an initial congestion at the bottom step, Ben headed the race to reach Joe’s room and find his son in the embarrassing predicament of being wrapped up tightly in his bedding and sprawled on the carpet. Joe grimaced and looked up with large hazel eyes, not knowing whether to laugh or groan. “Hi Pa…” he raised a hand… “Adam… Hoss…”

“Dadgumit, short shanks, what d’ya think you’re doing?” Hoss scolded as he entered the room and lifted the younger man up in his arms, only to pause when Joe grimaced. “Are you alright?”

“A pain – got a pain there – in my legs,” Joe cried, closing his eyes and tightening his mouth in protest of the stabbing pains that shot through him.

“Whereabouts, Joe?” Ben knelt by his side, his hand hovering over his sons’ body, his dark eyes fixed upon the pale face,

“I don’t know – all over…” He paused and blinked. “Hey, Pa, I jest wiggled my big toe.”

*****

Hop Sing was the one who now stepped in to assist the young man once his brothers and father had got him back onto the bed. They had created so much noise with asking questions, providing answers, declaring it was a miracle and various things besides, that no one else could be heard. Joe was near tears of pain and laughter; pain, he decided had to be a good thing if he could feel it, even though it was agonizing to bear.

It was this that Hop Sing attended to immediately once he had ushered Ben, Adam and Hoss out of the room. He provided Joe with an elixir of his own making, sweetened to taste and which Joe lapped up like a babe.

“You feel anything now?”

“Hop Sing, I want to feel something. Don’t you understand, it means – it means things are coming back to life.”

“Things come back to life not always good thing. You not need to feel pain; you just relax and feel good soon. Get sleep.”

“Hey, as if I’ve not slept enough already…” Joe grinned and settled back on the pillows. “Did you see their faces? Boy, Pa was nearly purple! Wait ’til Dr Hastings gets to hear about this, and Dr Martin. They’ll sure be pleased, won’t they?”

“We all very pleased. Now you sleep…”

Hop Sing stood by the bedside until he could see Joe’s eyelids drooping and once he was sure the youngster was asleep he left the room.

*****

“You see?” Ben paused in mid-stride, gesturing almost wildly. “Her methods have helped Joe – it works, what she did, works.”

“Pa, we’re not saying it isn’t.” Adam frowned and shook his head in bewilderment.

“Shucks, no, Pa, we were just caught a mite flatfooted by what we were told and…”

They all paused and turned towards the door as though by instinct. Hoss promptly swallowed his words and gulped, Adam straightened his shoulders and looked as though ready to do battle, and Ben strode forward, a smile on his face and his hand extended towards her, while she stood there looking from one to the other of them as though not sure whether to step further into the room or not.

“Judith – I mean – Doctor Hastings, it’s working, your treatment is working!” Ben grabbed her elbow and propelled her forwards while she looked flushed and immediately excited. “Joe’s feeling some pain, and he moved his foot…”

“Big toe,” Adam muttered pedantically.

“He did?” Her blue eyes widened and her face took on an expression of pure pleasure. “Oh, I knew it would work. He’s so strong and healthy; all his body needed was the right handling. Can I go and see him now?”

They turned to be confronted by the imperturbable Hop Sing. He stood at the foot of the stairs with his arms folded across his chest and his face blank. “Boy sleep.”

She paused, stepped back and smiled. “Yes, you’re right, Hop Sing; the last thing we want is for him to get feverish from excitement and undo all the good that has already been done. A good sleep will help him much better.”

Hop Sing bowed to her acceptance of his will, and abandoned the stairs to go to the kitchen to prepare coffee for the family and their guest. Ben clucked around Judith as though she were a lost chick needing to be guided to the best chair and settled down. He smiled over at Adam and Hoss. “Dr Hastings, these are my sons, Adam and Hoss.”

Judith shook hands and smiled. They smiled back, and then smiled at one another, Adam with a quirk to his eyebrows and a wink, and Hoss with a twinkle in his blue eyes.

“How long will you be staying in Virginia City, Dr Hastings?” Adam asked, never one to hesitate in getting to the bottom of things.

“I don’t know to be honest, Adam.” She smiled at him again, her blue eyes looking directly and rather forcibly into his, but he didn’t falter. He was used to women who held his eyes locked in their own.

“Dr Hastings is the daughter of Dr Baumgarten,” Ben announced grandly, and then turned to Hop Sing. “Thank you, Hop Sing, just put it there, would you.”

The tray was set down and carefully and calmly. Hop Sing poured out the drinks and handed them around; he then retired, leaving the three men alone with Judith.

“Do you think Joe will be walking soon, Doc?” Hoss enquired and she smiled now at him,

“Yes, I do.” She turned back to Adam. “Joe tells me you had an accident last year, and damaged your back, didn’t you?” Her face assumed that of an interested practioner. “Do tell me about it.”

With the cup half way to his lips, Adam was forced to pause. He frowned, and lowered the cup into the saucer. “There’s not much to say, I fell, hurt my back, and after some weeks in a wheel chair got up and walked.” He smiled then, and resumed drinking his coffee.

“There’s far more to it than that…” Judith began but was interrupted when there was a brisk knock on the door. Paul Martin stepped inside, took off his hat and advanced into the room.

After acknowledging the doctor, Adam and Hoss decided to make a quick exit and get cleaned up. They’d had a long and exhausting time during the past few weeks and listening to two doctors threshing out the hows and whys of why Joe could wiggle his big toe was more than either of them wanted to hear.

“I had some disconcerting news this morning,” Paul said rather ponderously before Ben could even open his mouth to declare any news about Joe, “concerning yourself, Madam.”

On the half landing, Hoss and Adam did an immediate about turn to listen in, and waited to hear what was about to be revealed.

“About me? Goodness, what else can I have scandalized your morals over now, Dr Martin?”

Adam and Hoss looked at one another and raised their eyebrows, and leaned against the balustrade to hear more.

“A report was sent to me about a man, one of your patients, who died while under your care. He died only a few weeks before you left San Francisco to come here.” Paul frowned, and drew in his breath, “Obviously, it requires an explanation…”

“Why?” Ben asked, “If there was anything wrong…”

“There was nothing wrong,” Judith replied hotly, and her cheeks flushed red with anger. “I don’t need anyone to speak for me either, Mr. Cartwright; after all, you don’t know the facts of the matter anymore than Dr Martin, although he does deem himself fit to judge.”

“Madam, that was not my intention…”

“Yes, it was. You’ve been judging me from the minute I stepped foot in town, not because I’m a qualified doctor with a good reputation, but a woman.” She stood up and almost stamped her foot, as it was she had to clasp her hands tightly together to stop herself from giving Paul a good whack over the head. “So, I’m a woman. What difference does that make to my ability as a doctor? I’m intelligent, strong, and have all the essential degrees and testimonials you would require to make me a first rate partner, working alongside you in a territory that is crying out for more doctors. But – no – not you, you can’t take me into consideration because I’m a woman and should be at home having babies and tolerating whatever licentious behavior my husband felt himself entitled to. Well, I’m not standing for it…” She now headed for the door, stopped and returned to pick up her gloves.

“Wait.” Paul stood up now, and grabbed at her elbow. “You’re right; I have been prejudiced about your being a woman, and a doctor. I’m old fashioned and brought up in the old school, but – please give me credit where credit is due – I can see what good you have done for Joe; your care, your patience and dedication have really made an impression on me. I don’t want that impression to be marred by this report I’ve been told about – your last patient – who died.”

She looked at him thoughtfully. Perhaps this was the closest to some kind of apology she would ever get from Paul Martin. She calmed down enough to resume her seat and fold her hands neatly within her lap.

“His name was Howard McCarthy. He was an old man who had injured his back when falling down some stairs. His family insisted that he be taken care of, and when my father and I realized how bad the injury was, they insisted that we operated. It turned out that my father had been scheduled to do another operation that day; he didn’t require me and Mr. McCarthy’s operation was straightforward and didn’t really need him to be with me. So I operated.”

There was a pause. She stared out at the far wall as though seeing herself there again, caring for the old man, then, with a slight start, she returned to her story.

“No one had mentioned he had a weak heart. We had no records forwarded to us that indicated that either. He was just an old man with a bad back, and, after surgery, he would have been quite well after some essential convalescence. But his heart betrayed him, and gave out shortly after he had been taken back to the ward.”

“Then, it wasn’t your fault,” Paul said kindly.

“No, it wasn’t, and I object to your assumption that it was…” she snapped back.

There was a silence, and Ben cleared his throat and glanced up to the stairs where Adam and Hoss were standing, “Er – is that why you came here? To get away from people’s wrong assumptions?”

“Yes. I suppose it was.” She softened her voice now, and then stood up. “I’ll go now, Ben; I’m so pleased Joe is doing so well. I appreciate your kindness in giving me the chance to prove that I am a good doctor.”

“No, wait…” Ben put out a hand. “Don’t go, not like this – I’m sure Paul…no one intended to assume more than they had, based on the facts they had but…”

She looked at him and shook her head, then extended her hand which he took in his own. “Thank you, Mr. Cartwright; I’ll leave Joe in Dr Martin’s care now.”

She walked across the room quickly, not looking at Paul or Ben. The door closed behind her with a gentle but most definite thud.

*****

From the bedroom window Joe was able to see her as she walked to her buggy. He had woken up from his sleep, slightly bemused and a still rather bleary eyed, at the sound of the door closing. He now rubbed his eyes in order to confirm what he was seeing, and for a moment wondered whether or not he had slept during her visit to him.

He was still observing her when he saw his father approach her, and stand close to her side; he watched as his father put his hand on her arm, then upon her shoulder, and he watched still as she shook her head and turned away, got into the buggy and drove it slowly from the ranch house with Ben standing still, his hands on his hips, watching as it rolled away.

“Hey, Joe…”

He turned his head as Hoss and Adam entered the room, almost stealthily, and approached his bed.

“What’s going on? I just saw…”

“Yeah, she’s gone.” Hoss grimaced, shrugged. “Paul and Pa are having a real battle of words down there now.”

“What?” Joe sat up straighter, stared once again out of the window and shook his head, “But, I don’t understand…”

“No, neither do we exactly,” Adam replied. He gave a slight shrug of his shoulders and rubbed his chin. “I’d put it down as a simple case of Pride and Prejudice…” he raised his eyebrows, “If I were writing a book about it, I mean.”

“Pride and Prejudice?” Joe wrinkled his nose in disgust, “That’s a female’s book…”

“Ah, but is it?” Adam raised his eyebrows and then laughed, before shaking his head and becoming serious again. “Anyway, let’s be serious here for the moment.” He scratched his nose and frowned. “Paul and the lady doctor have come to a disagreement and she’s told him you’re his patient now.”

“But she never even came up to see me, to see how well her treatment was working…”

“No, she – er – got a mite upset about some of the things Dr Martin and Pa were saying,” Hoss mumbled.

“Such as?”

Hoss and Adam shared a brief glance. Hoss shrugged and then briefly went into the whole sorry story which left Joe scowling and declaring he didn’t want fusty old Dr Martin treating him if he was going to say things like that about Judith who had wrought miracles during the past few weeks. He was in the middle of his tirade when he became aware that both his father and the doctor he was so angrily berating were standing in the room by the door.

Paul sighed, looked at Ben and shook his head. “I think I had best leave, Ben. There’s no point in my treating a patient who has no confidence in me.” With another sigh, he turned and left the room.

“Now then, see what you’ve done?” Ben growled and followed after the doctor, his footsteps echoing loudly in the bedroom where his three sons looked guiltily at one another.

“What did I do?” Joe asked

“Wal,” Hoss scratched his chin, “guess you voiced your opinion a mite loudly.”

“Paul Martin’s been a good friend and doctor to us for a long time, Joe.” Adam frowned and rose to his feet, walked to the door and surveyed the yard.

“But it wasn’t fair the way he treated Judith.” Joe looked at them both, his eyes switching from one to the other.

“No, I guess not,” Adam agreed. “But at the same time it’s important to remember just how much we do owe him.”

*****

Judith Hastings reached the boarding house where she was lodging and walked slowly into the foyer with a myriad thoughts tumbling through her mind. She was roused from them when she heard her name called and turned towards a tall older man who approached her with a smile and outstretched arms,

“Father?” She stepped back in surprise and then laughed, a gleeful laugh of joy and pleasure. “Oh Father!” She ran to him, folded him into her arms and held him close, as he, also, embraced her.

“My dear girl.” He released her hold on him and stepped back, observed her and smiled again, “My dear girl,” he repeated and touched her cheek gently with his hand.

“Oh Father, I’m so happy to see you. Come on up to my room and tell me what brings you here.”

“What brings me here?” He chuckled and followed her up the stairs, “Judy, don’t you realize, I came to bring you home.”

At the door to her room, she turned and looked at him quizzically, then paid attention to unlocking the door and admitting him to her room.

He glanced around and frowned. “Couldn’t you have done better than this?”

“Not on my wages…”

“Oh, you’re working?”

“No, not really. I’m living on my savings. I did have a job for a while, but it was ended today.”

“Ah, so my timing was perfect.” He smiled again and sat down in the chair, the only chair, in the room.

Judith pulled off her hat and tossed it onto the bed. She looked at her father then and went to his side, knelt at his feet and put her hand trustingly into his, just as she had done all her life long.

“I was treating one of Ben Cartwright’s sons, but I seem to have a reputation that doesn’t go down well with the local doctor, and I’ve antagonized him and…” She sighed. “Well, we came to verbal blows today and I resigned.”

“You quit?”

“Yes, I quit.”

“Child, why did you do that? You know quitters never win, and winners never quit? Now, ain’t that so?” He pinched her cheek and looked down at her fondly. “Honey, we both knew this was going to be a difficult path for you to walk along, didn’t we?”

“It shouldn’t be though, should it? Women are natural healers and nurses – why can’t doctors accept that and allow us our place beside them?”

“Ah, the times we’ve discussed that…” He pursed his lips and stroked his beard. “I did have a cable from a Dr Martin about you, and I sent a very good reference.”

“I’m sure you did, darling, but I’m afraid the good Doctor is frozen in the ice age, or whatever. Anyway, he brought up about Mr. McCarthy today and it touched on a raw nerve.”

“Poor child.” He sighed and stroked her hair. “I’m afraid all doctors and surgeons are haunted by at least one patient who had an unforeseen death which is laid at their door. He should have known that.”

“Not when it comes to women doctors; it just confirmed that we have no place treating patients, unless in the nursing capacity.”

Dr Baumgarten rose slowly to his feet, took hold of her hands and drew her upright. He smiled. “Look, I think this is the time for us to go and eat somewhere, have a good meal and discuss what to do next.”

“Oh, what to do next?” She smiled and shook her head. “I think you’ve already made up your mind as to what I’m going to do next, haven’t you?”

“Of course, I’m your father – and that’s what we’ll discuss over the best meal we can get in this town. Now then, come along.” He smiled more broadly. “Don’t keep the good doctor waiting.”

*****

Paul Martin paused as Judith, accompanied by a tall older man with a neatly clipped beard and smartly cut suit, appeared at the bottom of the stairs in the foyer of the boarding house. He glanced from one to the other of them, and took off his hat, then approached, rather cautiously.

“Sir.” He nodded his head to Baumgarten, then turned to Judith, “Doctor Hastings, I wondered if I could have a private word with you?”

Judith straightened her back and looked at him as though he were some disagreeable smell, then turned to her father. “Father, this is Dr Paul Martin.” She turned to Paul, “Dr Martin, this is my father, Dr Emil Baumgarten.”

Emil Baumgarten smiled expansively and extended his hand which Paul accepted and shook; both men then stepped back as though getting the measure of the other. Judith raised her chin, but it was Emil who broke the silence,

“Dr Martin, a pleasure to meet you. My daughter and I were about to go to the restaurant and eat. Perhaps you would like to join us?”

Paul and Judith looked at one another. They both looked hesitant and both shook their heads and mumbled something that Emil chose to ignore. He smiled at them and proceeded to haul his daughter along with him, holding tightly to the hand that was slipped through his arm so that she had no choice but to follow along, and Paul, anxious not to offend the prestigious doctor, trailed along in their wake.

*****

The atmosphere was formal, the air chilly, and for some while, Emil Baumgarten had an uphill struggle to get any conversation moving between the three of them, as Paul answered to him, but not to her and she replied to her father but not to Paul.

They discussed, in a strangely haphazard manner, medical procedure, the methods employed to treat Joseph, and how well it was working, or not, for neither Paul nor Judith had been to check out whether his big toe was, in fact, wiggling or it was the result of an over-active and feverish imagination.

Wine was served and Emil floundered; the weight of carrying the conversation was too great for a man who enjoyed his life as an eminent doctor and not as a raconteur. He looked to Judith for help but received none.

Paul Martin looked at his meal, and then looked up at Judith and Emil. He forced a smile. “This is an excellent meal, Dr Baumgarten, but before I begin to eat it, I would like to say a few words.” He glanced at Judith. “Not a toast, nothing of that kind, just – I want to say this to you, Dr Hastings – I want to apologize.”

Emil glanced from his daughter to Paul, and then back to his daughter. He recognized immediately the frosty exterior, the stubborn pride, and kicked her on the ankle. “Judith, Dr Martin is speaking to you.”

“I heard,” she replied, and raised her chin.

“Then answer, please.”

She glanced at her father, and with compressed lips and a scowl on her brow, turned to Paul. “What for?”

Paul now compressed his lips and scowled. He thought about leaving the table, then realized that would be an insult to Baumgarten. He mustered some self-control and looked at her.

Emil shook his head. “You know, this is like times gone by, when Judith and her brothers would be squabbling at the table …” He sighed, and shook his head. “Dr Martin, please don’t feel you have to explain anything to my daughter; she is stubborn and mule-headed, and…”

“Father!” She turned to him, her face flushed and tears pricking her eyelids.

“Dr Baumgarten, I’m sure that your daughter has had to be stubborn and mule-headed in order to achieve what she has done over the past years. It can’t have been easy to have attended medical college and endured studying under the tutelage of men as steeped in tradition as myself, nor could it have been easy for her to embark on a career where few women have yet to make their mark. I just wanted her to know that I am so sorry that I never recognized in her something that is to be valued until today.” He rose to his feet, and gave a slight shrug of his shoulders. “So, having said that, I’d like to thank you for asking me to take this meal with you, but, under the circumstances, feel it better that I do not. Excuse me …”

Neither Emil nor his daughter prevented him from leaving. A proud man who has the humility to admit he is wrong doesn’t always have to stand around to mop up the tears from those from whom he walks away.

*****

Joe slept soundly that night. Hop Sing, Adam and Hoss had taken turns to carry out the exercises recommended by Judith, and Ben had administered the medication. He had lain back on his pillow listening to the sound of his brother Hoss’ snoring from the room next door, and the murmur of his father and Adam’s voices from downstairs. Familiar sounds, those he had lived with all his life, and that made him feel secure and protected.

When morning dawned, the rising sun beamed down upon his bed and across his face and he stretched and smiled, and realized that as he stretched his legs had moved as though they too were reaching out for the end of the bed. He told his toes to move and they did. Not just his big toe either. He felt sweat bead his brow, and he fell back against the pillows. Was he imagining it? Was it real? What if it was just imagination? He wiggled his toes again and closed his eyes. Do it again, he told himself, so he did .. And then put a hand to his eyes to force back the tears.

*****

In his surgery, Paul Martin checked over his medicines, pill boxes, phials of this and that, bandages and various other paraphernalia essential to the needs of the local doctor. He knew he had to visit Joe, and various other patients before mid-day. He had already taken a fish hook out of Tommy Phelps anatomy, checked over Widow Hawkins arthritis and written out her prescription, assured Mrs. Wendover that her infant’s rash was perfectly natural if its diaper wasn’t checked and changed regularly. He had removed a bullet from some thug’s shoulder, corrected a dislocation of the shoulder in a miner, and confirmed that Georgia Lucas’ stomach pains were indigestion and not the prelude to labor pains and the delivery of a third member of the Lucas family.

He turned as the door opened and then straightened his back when Judith stepped into the surgery and closed the door behind her. “What can I do for you, Dr Hastings?”

“I…” She swallowed. “I’ve been suffering from a large dose of choleric,” She murmured and lowered her head.

“Oh, indeed.” Paul frowned, and snapped the bag shut. “According to my friend, Mr. Cartwright, that means a bad temper.”

“Something to which I am inclined to indulge in at times,” she admitted.

“I’m afraid there’s no cure.” Paul cleared his throat. “It’s simply a case of, ‘Physician, heal thyself’.”

She said nothing to that, although a vague smile shifted around her mouth — a mouth, Paul realized, that was very attractive and set into a very pleasant face. He cleared his throat again, and then reached for his hat. “I have calls to make…”

“Oh, on Joseph Cartwright?”

“Not just Joseph Cartwright.”

“May I come too?”

He went a little red around the collar and ran a finger around the inside to make sure there was some space still there.

She put out a hand and placed it gently on his. “Dr Martin, I’m so sorry for being so…”

“Choleric?” he smiled

“That and everything else. I was trying to uphold my dignity as best I could, and was floundering badly. I desperately needed your approval and when it wasn’t forthcoming, I – I sunk beneath it. I’m sorry.”

He looked at her thoughtfully before putting his hand over hers. “Dr Hastings, what do you intend to do now?”

“Go on your rounds with you, and then, this afternoon, I shall be catching the stage back to San Francisco.”

“You’re leaving?”

“My father came to…” She paused, lowered her head and took a deep breath, “My father is ill; he needs me back there to help him. A daughter’s duty has to come before anything else.”

Paul said nothing to that. He squeezed her hand gently and nodded. “Judith, when the time comes, and if you feel you would want to do so, would you think of returning here and being…” He paused, his collar felt even tighter now and as he didn’t have a free hand to check how tight it actually was, he blundered onwards, “being my partner here.”

“It will be my pleasure, Dr Martin.”

In the warmth of the sun that shone upon the main street of Virginia City, the two doctors walked side by side towards the buggy. He took her elbow and assisted her up to her seat, and she smiled and looked down at him. “I really don’t require such assistance you know, I’m perfectly capable of getting into this buggy by myself.”

“Of course you are, Dr Hastings, but it pleases my vanity to perform the niceties society still requires of me.”

She smiled and nodded at him. Well, he was learning, and it was a steep learning curve after all.

*****

It took some while before Joseph Cartwright could finally leave his room and take the stairs back down to the grand room. He had to lean upon his brothers’ arm for that first journey, and he had to admit that it hadn’t been easy, but with Hop Sing, Dr Martin and his father and Adam watching him, he put on the performance of his life and laughed when they applauded his achievement.

It was a proud moment. He stood at the bottom of the stairs and felt emotion tug at his heart and he had to lower his head to quell it down a little.

“It’s been a long journey, hey, little brother?” Hoss grinned and assisted him to the table where Hop Sing had set out everything for a celebratory meal,

“One I don‘t want to make ever again.” Joe groaned as he lowered himself onto his chair. He grinned over at Adam who, perhaps, was the only one who could truly appreciate just how heartfelt those words could possibly have been.

Paul smiled; he took his place at the table and looked over at Ben. It had indeed been a long journey — for all of them — and along the way, they had all learned a lesson of some kind. He knew himself that the lessons he had learned had opened his life to a woman who was going to become very important to him in the coming years.

Paul Martin was the eternal optimist.

***The End***

This story was written from ideas provided by Linda (Australian)

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