The Healing Touch (by Susan)

Summary:  This is a Joe and Ben story. Adam and Hoss are back at the Ponderosa, taking care of the ranch.

Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  5153


 

Black clouds began to fill the later afternoon sky, looming ominously over the stagecoach as it bounced along the road. A dark-haired man stuck his head out of the coach’s window, peering anxiously at the darkening sky before pulling himself back into the carriage.

“It looks like we’re going to get some rain, Emily,” announced the man who was dressed in a fashionable gray suit with a wide cravat. His clothes and small brimmed derby gave him the appearance of an Eastern gentleman.

“Oh, I hope not, John,” replied the auburn-hair woman sitting next to him. Wearing a stylish light blue traveling dress, small flowered hat and dark cape, she also looked out of place on a western stagecoach. Nervously, she fingered a gold locket on a chain hung around her neck. “I don’t want to ruin this dress in the mud,” she added.

“Don’t worry, ma’am,” promised Joe Cartwright, seated opposite the woman in the coach. “A pretty lady like you should have to worry about mud. I’ll be happy to carry you from the stage to dry ground.”

John Moore, the dark-haired man, smiled. “I do believe your son is flirting with my wife again, Mr. Cartwright.”

Sitting next to Joe, Ben Cartwright looked at his 22-year-old son with mock despair. “I know,” agreed Ben. “We’re seriously thinking about putting a muzzle on him.”

“Now, Pa, you have to admit the scenery inside the stage is a lot better looking than the scenery outside,” Joe declared with a grin.

The three men laughed as Emily Moore blushed.

“I’m sure you’ll find a lot of business opportunities in Sacramento, John,” advised Ben, continuing an obviously interrupted conversation. “It’s a growing town. However, I also think you’ll find it a lot different than Baltimore. Things are much rougher out here.”

“I know,” acknowledged Moore. “But that’s what we are looking for — something new and different.” He reached over and patted his wife’s hand. “Someplace where we can get a fresh start.”

Emily Moore fingered the locket at her neck again. “Yes, John,” she agreed quietly.

Suddenly, the passengers were thrown forward in their seats as the stagecoach came to an abrupt stop.

“What the heck…” started Joe. He quickly grew quiet as the door of the coach was pulled open. A heavy-set man with a bandanna over the lower part of his face leaned into carriage, pointing a pistol at the passengers.

“Get your hands up,” the outlaw ordered. The travelers quickly complied. “Throw out your guns real easy, butt first,” continued the outlaw.

Joe glanced at his father, who gave an almost imperceptible nod. Slowly lowering his hands, Joe carefully removed his gun from his holster and then threw the weapon out the door. Ben imitated his son’s actions, moving cautiously to avoid any movement which might cause the bandit to pull the trigger.

“I don’t carry a gun,” Moore declared nervously.

The masked man looked him up and down, noting his Eastern clothes. “No, I guess a dude like you wouldn’t. All right, all of you get out. Move nice and slow. And keep your hands where I can see them.”

Emily climbed out first, followed by her husband, Joe and Ben. The passengers lined up a short distance from the stagecoach, moving to stand next the driver. All kept their hands in the air.

“You fellows are wasting your time,” advised the driver. “There’s no moneybox on this trip.”

Another masked man climbing down from the driver’s seat. “He’s right,” said the second outlaw. “Nothing. I told you they’d have someone riding shotgun if they had a moneybox.”

“Shut up,” growled the first masked man. “Keep ’em covered while I see what they’ve got.”

Ben stood stoically as the outlaw patted his body and then reached into his vest to remove a wallet. After take the money out of it, the bandit threw the empty leather folder to the ground. Moving to Moore, the outlaw again ran his hands over the man, then pulled a wallet from Moore’s inside coat pocket and emptied it. Joe was next; the outlaw took a small wad of bills from Joe’s shirt pocket.

Fingering the bills in his hand, the outlaw quickly counted the money. “Look at this — there’s not even two hundred dollars here,” the man announced with frustration. He walked to Emily, snatched her purse from her arm and stuck his hand inside the cloth handbag. “Nothing,” he said, throwing the purse to the ground in disgust. The bandit looked at the necklace around Emily’s neck. “Maybe that’s worth something,” he snarled, reaching for the locket.

“No!” Emily cried, clutching the locket and taking a step back. “It’s not worth anything. It just has a picture of my son in it. Please don’t take it.”

Making a quick move, Joe stepped between the bandit and Emily. “Leave her alone.” he said coldly.

“Joseph!” exclaimed Ben, a warning in his voice.

Joe ignored his father. “The locket’s not worth anything. You’ve got our money. Why don’t you quit while you’re ahead?”

The masked man roughly shoved Joe aside, knocking him to the ground. “I think I’ll take the necklace anyway,” he growled.

Scrambling to his feet, Joe took a step toward the outlaw. The bandit turned, and without a warning, fired his gun.

As the bullet hit him, Joe spun around and then fell to the ground; he laid still, face down in the grass. Immediately, Ben and John Moore started to move toward Joe.

“Hold it!” yelled the second bandit. “Make another move and I’ll put a bullet in you.”

Ben and Moore froze; uncertainty was evident on Ben’s face while Moore’s expression was one of fear.

The second outlaw shifted his gaze to his heavy-set partner. “You’re a fool, Jenks,” he declared. “Somebody might have heard that shot. Let’s get out of here.”

The smoking gun still in his hand, the masked bandit looked around and then holstered his pistol. “Yeah, let’s go,” he agreed. The outlaws walked rapidly to two saddle horses standing in front of the stopped staged. After mounting quickly, the pair rode off at a gallop.

The four people standing near the stage rushed to Joe, with Ben reaching his son first. Joe groaned as Ben gently turned him over. Blood was flowing from a wound on the right side of his body.

Tearing open Joe’s shirt, Ben examined the injury gently. “The bullet’s still in there and it looks pretty deep,” said Ben in a worried voice as he untied the bandanna from his neck. He balled the cloth and put it on the wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding. Joe gave out a sharp cry of pain.

A rumble of thunder warned of the approaching storm. Raising his head, Ben glanced at the darkening sky. “We’ve got to get him to some shelter, someplace where we can get him some help,” Ben stated anxiously.

“The relay station is only about a mile down the road,” advised the driver.

Ben looked around, unsure of what would be best for Joe. He glanced up at the stormy clouds and then back at his wounded son. “All right,” Ben decided, “let’s get him into the stage.” He lifted Joe under the arms as the driver and Moore each grabbed one of his legs. The three men carried Joe toward the stage while Emily hurried ahead to open the door of the carriage.

With the help of the other two men, Ben dragged Joe into the stage. Ben positioned his back into the corner of the stagecoach and pulled his son close to him. He put his left arm around Joe to hold him while his right hand pressed the bandanna on his son’s wound. John and Emily Moore climbed into the coach after Ben as the driver scrambled into his seat atop the stage. Moor lifted Joe’s legs from the floor to the seat, stretching them out as best he could; Emily untied her cape and laid it gently over Joe. Ben nodded his thanks to both of them.

The coach lurched forward as the driver whipped up the horses. The stage bounced as it sped down the road, and Joe moaned each time it bounced.

Leaning out the window, Moore called to the driver, “Slow down! You’re going too fast!”

“I’m trying to get to the station as quick as I can,” the driver shouted back.

“If you don’t slow down, you’ll kill the boy before we get there,” Moore yelled. The coach slowed noticeably.

“Hang on, Joe,” Ben crooned in a soothing voice as he clutched his son tightly. “It’s only a little way to the relay station. You’re going to be all right. We’re going to make you comfortable and get you some help. Just hang on.” Joe’s eyes were closed; Ben couldn’t tell if his son heard him or not. Then Joe made a slight, barely noticeable movement of his head, bobbing it once.

The stage raced down the road and into the yard of the relay station. A grizzled old man stood on the porch of a small frame house as the driver pulled the team of horses to a stop.

“You trying to kill them horses?” the old man yelled at the driver. “What’s the all-fired hurry?”

“We got robbed, Smitty,” shouted the driver as he climbed down from the stage. “We got a man with a bullet in him.”

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” replied Smitty as he hurried toward the coach. After yanking the door open, he peered inside. “How bad is it?”

“The bullet is in deep and he’s bleeding pretty bad,” Ben answered worriedly from the corner of the coach.

“Hand him out,” the old man ordered. “Let’s get him inside.”

Gently lifting Joe, Ben and Moore eased him out to Smitty and the driver. Ben jumped out of the coach and rushed to help the men carrying his son.

John and Emily Moore climbed out of the stagecoach slowly. As they watched the men in front of them carry Joe into the house, Emily turned to her husband. “John…” she began.

“Don’t ask, Emily,” her husband interrupted sharply. “You know there’s nothing I can do.”

Emily looked at John for a long moment, then turned and swiftly walked to the house.

Entering the relay station, Emily saw a large, sparsely furnished room. A long tabled with benches on either side was positioned near a stone fireplace. The rest of the furniture consisted of a rocking chair, a tattered overstuffed chair, and a couple of small tables with oil lamps on top. An open cupboard leaned against the wall next to the fireplace, with metal plates, cups and pots scattered haphazardly on its shelves. Two doorways were on the far wall, opposite to the entrance. Emily saw the men crowded into the room to her left, and hurried toward it.

Joe laid on one of the two singles beds in the smaller room. A wooden chair and a small table with a lantern separated the beds. Ben was stripping the shirt and jacked off his son as the driver and station agent removed Joe’s boots. Ben unbuckled Joe’s holster and gently slid the belt away.

“I’ve got some towels and bandages in the next room,” said Smitty as he turned to leave. The driver covered the lower part of Joe’s body with a blanket as Ben again pressed his now bloody bandana to the wound. Joe moaned, turning his head from side to side as his body stiffened with pain.

“Smitty’s probably got a jug around here,” observed the driver. “Whiskey’ll help the pain.”

“No,” Emily declared loudly from the doorway. “Alcohol will only make him bleed more.” The two men turned to look at her. “I’ve had some training as a nurse,” she added.

“Can you help?” Ben asked in a pleading voice.

“I’ll be happy to do whatever I can,” Emily answered. Removing her hat, she rolled up the cuffs on her dress sleeves. Ben moved aside as Emily knelt by the bed, removed the makeshift bandage and examined the wound. “The bullet is deep into the tissue. If you remove it and don’t tie off the blood vessels, he’ll bleed to death,” she noted. Emily looked into Ben’s worried face. “He needs a doctor.”

“The closest doc is in Silver Springs,” the driver declared. “I’ll saddle a riding horse and go for him.” As the sound of rain started pelting the roof, the driver hesitated. “I’ll ride as fast as I can but it’s a long way. With this storm, I doubt if I’ll be back before morning. Do you think he’ll last that long?”

“He’ll make it,” Ben said grimly. “Just get going.”

As the driver left the room, Smitty rushed in, his arms were filled with towels and bandages. Emily turned to him. “Heat some water so we can clean the wound,” she ordered the station master. “And keep a lot of water hot. We may need it.”

Working together, Ben and Emily cleaned Joe’s wound and bandaged him tightly. Ben tried not to be upset by his son’s soft moaning as they worked. “That’s all we can do for now,” admitted Emily in a soft voice as she tied the bandage around Joe.

“Thank you,” Ben replied, his eyes still on Joe. Emily nodded and walked slowly out of the room.

A hard rain was pounding on the roof and windows as Emily emerged from the bedroom. Sitting on one of the benches with his elbow leaning on the table, her husband was sipping a cup of coffee. Emily sat down wearily next to him.

“Have some coffee,” Moore suggested. He walked to the fireplace and poured the hot liquid from a coffeepot on the grate into the cup he had grabbed from the cupboard. “Drink this,” he urged, handing the cup to his wife as he sat down again next to her. “You’ll feel better.” Emily took the cup and gratefully began sipping the coffee.

 For several minutes, Moore watched Emily silently. “How is he?” he asked finally.

“I don’t know,” Emily admitted, shaking her head. “The bullet damaged some tissue. It can’t be removed without further damage.” She looked hopefully at her husband. “He needs a surgeon to remove the bullet and repair the damage.”

Abruptly, Moore got to his feet and turned his back to his wife. “No!” he exclaimed angrily. “I’ve already told you there’s nothing I can do. Don’t ask me.”

“Doesn’t it mean anything to you that Joe was hurt defending me?” Emily pleaded. “He was trying to help me. Why can’t you help him?”

Spinning around to face his wife, Moore had a look of determination on his face. “I’m sorry but I can’t help him,” he stated firmly. “That part of my life is over.” With long strides, he crossed the room to a window and stared out into the stormy sky.

Sighing, Emily put her cup on the table and stood. Rubbing her neck, she walked to the rocking chair and sat down. Soon she was asleep.

*****

Emily woke with a start; she hadn’t meant to sleep but the events of the day had just caught up with her. She looked around the room, seeing John sprawled in the other chair, snoring gently. Smitty was drinking coffee at the table. “How long have I been asleep?” she asked the old man anxiously.

“Over an hour, maybe close to two,” Smitty answered. “You were right tuckered.”

With a concerned expression, Emily stood and walked rapidly to the bedroom. Ben was sitting by his son’s bed, gently stroking Joe’s head with a cloth. Beads of sweat were forming on Joe’s ashen face.

“Any change?” Emily asked.

“The bleeding has stopped,” Ben replied softly. “But he’s got a fever. I’m trying to cool him down.” Ben dipped the cloth into a pan of water and squeezed out the excess water. Gently, he wiped Joe’s face and chest.

“Why don’t you get some rest? I’ll stay with him,” Emily urged.

Ben shook his head. “I couldn’t sleep, even if I wanted to.”

Nodding with understanding, Emily sat on the empty bed. “Is Joe your only child?”

Once more, Ben shook his head. “I’ve got two other sons,” he answered without looking at Emily. He dipped the cloth into the water and pressed against to Joe’s forehead. “Joe’s the youngest.”

“I’m so sorry he was shot because of me. I should have just let those men have the locket. It’s not worth your son’s life,” said Emily guiltily.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Ben replied as he continued to bathe Joe’s face. “He would have tried to protect you anyway, no matter what the consequences.” Ben sighed. “Joe’s mother died when he was just a baby. I think he’s missed something being raised by just his brothers and me, missed not having a woman in his life growing up. Joe would defend any woman but the fact that you’re a mother, well, I think that made it even more important to him.”

Suddenly, Joe stirred on the bed. His breathing became more rapid as he began to twist and turn on the bed. He let out a sharp cry of pain.

Ben laid a restraining hand on Joe’s shoulder. “Lay still, Joe,” he commanded, his voice filled with worry. “I know it hurts but you have to lay still.”

Despite his father’s words, Joe tried to twist away. “Pa!” he cried desperately. “Help me, please.” He turned his face to Ben, his eyes open and bright with fever. Joe gripped Ben’s arm tightly. “Help me,” he repeated. “We have to stop them. Don’t let them hurt her! Pa? Help me.”

“She’s all right, Joe. She’s fine,” Ben assured his son in a calming tone. “Now listen to me. You have to stop moving around. Do you understand me? You have to settle down and lay still.”

Groaning, Joe squeezed his eyes close and clenched his fists. Suddenly, he cried out again as his body arched with pain. Joe collapsed back onto the bed, his breathing rapid and shallow as his now motionless body seemed to melt into the mattress.

Pulling back the covers, Ben looked at Joe’s bandages. A splotch of red was visible on the white cloth and starting to grow. “He’s bleeding again!” Ben declared with alarm.

Rising quickly to her feet, Emily walked to the door of the bedroom. “John! John! Come here quickly,” she shouted into the big room.

John Moore woke and sat up in his chair. Looking a bit confused, he ran his fingers through his hair and looked around.

“John, come here!” Emily shouted again with urgency.

Brushing his eye with his knuckle, Moore walked into the bedroom. “What is it, Emily? What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Joe’s started bleeding again. We can’t wait for the doctor from town. You’ve GOT to do something,” Emily told her husband.

“What can John do?” asked Ben in a puzzled voice.

Emily turned toward Ben. “My husband is a doctor, a surgeon.”

“What!” Ben leaped to his feet and faced Moore. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“Because I’m no longer a doctor,” answered Moore quietly.

“You can’t just stop being a doctor,” Ben retorted angrily. “It’s not like taking off a suit of clothes. You have the knowledge and skill to help my son. You took an oath. You can’t just stand by and do nothing while my son may be dying.”

“You don’t understand,” Moore declared in a bitter voice. “I can’t help Joe. If I operated on him, I would kill your son, just like I killed my own son.” Turning quickly on his heel, Moore left the room.

Ben stared at Emily with astonishment.

“John Moore was one of the finest surgeons in Baltimore,” Emily explained to Ben. “He took cases everyone else said were hopeless and, many times, he saved the patient. He became famous. Important people – senators, wealthy families, leaders of every kind –flocked to his office, and he was able to help a great number of them.”

“What happened?” Ben asked with a frown.

“We had a son, Michael,” answered Emily. “One day, when he was about five, Michael became ill. At first I thought it was one of those usual stomach aches that children get. But Michael got worse. When I finally took him to John’s office, our son was very sick. John took one look and realized Michael had appendicitis. He rushed him into the operating room.”

For a moment, Emily stood silently, a look of sorrow on her face. Then she took a deep breath and continued. “John had done this operation a thousand times, so he wasn’t concerned. However, in the middle of the operation, one of Michael’s arteries started to bleed. No one knows why. Maybe he was born with a weak spot. John started to work on the artery, desperately trying to stop the bleeding. While he was doing that, Michael’s appendix suddenly burst. The bleeding and infection was too much for our son’s small body to handle. He died on the operating table.”

“I’m sorry,” Ben murmured sympathetically.

“John blamed himself for Michael’s death,” Emily told Ben. “For weeks, he sat in our son’s room and just brooded. I finally got him to go back to the office, but he wouldn’t… he couldn’t go back into the operating room. One day, a few months ago, John came home and announced he was giving up medicine. He wanted to go West, away from the constant reminders of our son. He wanted to start over as a businessman. I keep hoping John will come to his senses. He’s a fine doctor.”

“I’m sorry about your son,” Ben stated in quiet voice. “But I’m trying to save MY son.”

“I know,” Emily acknowledged. “I’ll talk to him.”

Emily found her husband standing on the front porch, staring into the sky. The rain had stopped and the sky was beginning to clear. “The air smells so fresh and clean after a rain,” Moore observed without turning.

“John, you can’t ignore your responsibilities any longer,” Emily said firmly. “You’ve got to help that boy.”

“I meant it when I said I was no longer a doctor, Emily.”

“John, that boy in there is dying. You’ve got to help him,” insisted Emily.

“No!” Moore cried. “I can’t. You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know how it feels to kill your own son.”

“You didn’t kill Michael,” countered Emily. “He died. You did everything possible but our son died.”

“You just don’t understand,” Moore told his wife

“Oh, I understand,” Emily answered angrily. “I understand very well. You’re not only mourning the loss of our son, you’re mourning the loss of the great Dr. John Moore!”

Moore starred at her in astonishment. “Oh yes”, continued Emily in a harsh voice. “The great Dr. Moore. A simple operation and his son dies. Maybe Dr. Moore isn’t perfect; maybe he can’t save everyone. Maybe Dr. Moore isn’t God!”

“Emily…” Moore began.

“Be quiet, John!” Emily cried. “I’ve put up with a lot. I’ve put up with your self-pity. I’ve given up my life and friends and everything in Baltimore so you could move to a place where people wouldn’t know you’re not perfect. But no more. I will NOT put up with you allowing Joe Cartwright to die. If you stand by and do nothing, I will leave you, John. I’ll leave you so you can wallow in your self-pity, alone for the rest of your life. I won’t spend my life with a man who is too selfish to think of anyone but himself.” Emily stalked off the porch and back into the house.

Stunned by his wife’s words, Moore stared at the empty door for a long time. Finally, he took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. With a determined walk, he entered the house.

In the large common room, Emily was seated in the rocking chair, weeping softly. “Emily,” Moore said as he laid a hand on his wife’s shoulder, “I’ll do what I can to help the boy. But without my instruments, I don’t know how much good I can do.”

Looking up at her husband, Emily smiled. “Your medical bag is in my luggage. I’ll get it.” She hurried across the room and out the front door.

With an air of authority, Moore turned to Smitty, who was still sitting at the table. “Clean off that table,” Moore ordered. “And round up every candle and lantern in this place. I’ll need plenty of light.” He turned to his wife, who was now standing in the doorway with a black doctor’s bag in her hand. Moore took the bag, almost snatching it from his wife’s hands. “Emily, wash down that table and cover it with a clean sheet.” He turned back to Smitty, who was gaping at him. “Move!” Moore barked. “We don’t have any time to lose.”

As Emily and Smitty sped to their tasks, Moore walked into the bedroom. Ben was sitting by Joe’s bed, wiping his son’s face and holding his hand.

“Excuse me, Mr. Cartwright,” Moore said briskly as he pushed Ben aside. “I have to check my patient.” Ben watched as Moore examined the wound, counted Joe’s pulse and felt son’s forehead. The doctor pulled a stethoscope from his bag and carefully listened to the sounds from Joe’s chest. Finally, Moore turned to Ben. “I won’t lie to you. It’s a bad wound and I may have waited too long. His pulse is weak and some infection has started to set in. But I think I can save him. I would like your permission to try.”

“Of course,” answered Ben gratefully. “What can I do to help?”

Joe was moved to the dining table turned into an operating table in the front room. For over two hours, Moore worked on him as Emily stood at his right, holding a tray of instruments. On the doctor’s left, Ben held a lamp close to the table. Smitty brought clean cloths and fresh water to the table at Moore’s commands. Moore worked swiftly and surely, removing the bullet and infected tissue, then sewing the delicate blood vessels. At last, he made the final stitches and wrapped Joe in clean bandages.

“That’s it,” Moore declared, turning to Ben. “I’ve done what I could. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”

“Thank you,” Ben said with sincerity. “Thank you very much.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” warned Moore. “We don’t know if Joe will pull through.”

“Regardless of what happens, thank you,” answered Ben. “You did your best. That’s all anyone can ask.”

Looking at Ben, Moore took a deep breath. “You’re right. All anyone can do is their best.” He turned back to his patient. “Let’s leave Joe where he is. I don’t want to risk moving him yet.”

Ben spent the remainder of the night sitting by his son, anxiously watching him, while Moore sat in the over-stuffed chair with Emily on his lap, her head on his shoulder. Both John and his wife dozed but woke as the morning light poured into the room. “Tell me something,” murmured Moore as he stroked his wife’s hair. “Would you have really left me? I mean, if I hadn’t operated on Joe?”

Emily kissed her husband lightly on the forehead. “I would never leave you, John. I just wanted to shake you up. It was the only thing I could think of that would get you to operate.”

“It certainly did that,” her husband acknowledged with a smile.

Suddenly, Joe stirred on the table. Instantly, Moore and Emily jumped to their feet and went to his side.

“Joseph, Joe, can you hear me?” asked Ben anxiously as Moore felt Joe’s wrist. Joe slowly opened his eyes and glanced at the people around the table.

“Hi,” Joe murmured weakly.

“How do you feel, son?” Ben asked

“Hungry,” answered Joe with a wry smile. He took a deep breath and seemed to gather his strength. “What does a fellow have to do to get fed around here?”

The trio around the table laughed with relief. Ben looked across the table at Moore, who nodded reassuringly. “Thank you,” said Ben softly.

*****

Five days later, Emily and John Moore were once again dressed for traveling. They walked out of the door of the relay station, followed by Ben. Joe sat in a chair on the porch and watched the couple. Moore turned to Joe as he and his wife stepped off the porch.

“Now remember, what I told you, Joe,” Moore stated in a stern voice. “Get plenty of rest. And I want you to wait at least another week before you travel home.”

“Don’t worry,” Ben declared with a smile. “I’ll keep him here, even if I have to hog-tie him.”

“You all worry too much,” grumbled Joe. “I’m fine.”

“You just do what the doctor ordered,” Ben told his son.

With a smile on his face, Moore walked over to Smitty, who was standing near the stagecoach. “Thanks for everything,” Moore said, extending his hand. “Tell Dr. Baker again I’m sorry he made that long trip for nothing.”

“He didn’t mind,” Smitty answered, shaking Moore’s hand. “He liked talking all that doctor stuff with you. Besides, he did have the medicine you wanted.”

“That reminds me,” Emily noted with a frown. “Joe, it’s time for your next dose. Don’t forget to take it.”

As he got to his feet, Joe rolled his eyes to the sky. “You’d think I was twelve year old,” he protested. Then an impish grin crossed his face. “But I’ll do it for the prettiest scenery this side of the Mississippi.” The men laughed as Emily blushed.

Walking forward, Ben helped Emily into the stage and then turned to Moore. “Thanks again for everything,” Ben said as he and Moore shook hands. “I know Sacramento is getting a very talented doctor. It won’t be long before I’ll be bragging that I know John Moore, the best surgeon in the West.”

“Now it’s my turn to blush,” replied Moore with a smile as he climbed into the stage.

As the stage drove off, Ben returned to the porch and put his arm affectionately around Joe’s shoulders. “Let’s go get your medicine,” Ben suggested, and laughed as Joe wrinkled his nose in disgust. “Then,” Ben continued as they entered the house, “I’ll let you beat me in a game of checkers.”

***End***

 

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