The Deadliest Disease
by
Susan Grote



Ben Cartwright sighed as he poured himself a cup of coffee from the pot on the campfire. He looked out on the empty land stretching in front of him. Dawn was just beginning to break, and he could see the faint rays of the sun as it rose on the horizon.
Sipping his coffee, Ben contemplated the long miles still to travel before he was home.

 "What do you want for breakfast, Pa? Beans or beans?" asked Adam in a dry voice.

 Rousing himself, Ben looked at his oldest son. Adam was crouched next to him by the fire. "Beans," said Ben said with another sigh. "Seems like thatís all weíve been eating lately."

"Ainít that the truth," agreed Hoss with disgust as he bent down to pour himself a cup of coffee. "Itís been so long since Iíve had some of Hop Singís cooking that Iíve forgotten what it tastes like."

 Ben nodded in agreement. "I think Iím getting too old for cattle drives."

"You? Too old?" Adam said with a smile. "Thatíll be the day."

Ben looked around for his youngest son. He saw Joe was still asleep, laying on the ground with his head on his saddle a few feet from the fire. Joe was laying on his side, his back to the fire, and a blanket pulled over his shoulder. Ben could barely see the thick, dark hair of his son sticking out over the edge of the blanket. He sighed once more. "Better wake Joe," Ben told Hoss.

Giving a nod of agreement, Hoss walked over to where his brother was sleeping. He nudged Joe with the toe of his boot, yelling, "Wake up, little brother!" as he pushed.

 Joe sat up quickly, his eyes still puffy with sleep. "Hey!" he shouted in an angry voice. "What do you think youíre doing?"

 "Just getting you up, sleepy head," Hoss replied. "You looked like you were planning to sleep until noon."

Joeís shoulders slumped and he put his head in his hands. "I feel like I could sleep at least that long," he mumbled. "Iím still tired."

Adam looked over at Joe. "How could you still be tired?" he asked. "You went to sleep last night as soon as we finished eating?"

"Maybe itís because I had to ride an extra fifty miles," Joe answered in a grumpy voice. "While you three were delivering the rest of the herd to the rail yard, I had to take those thirty head all the way over to Mason."

"I know it was an extra trip," Ben said as he continued to sip his coffee by the fire. "But I promised those steers to Jim Benson. Somebody had to deliver them."

"And thatís what little brothers are for," added Hoss with a grin. "To do all those jobs that we donít want to do." Hoss laughed and walked back to the fire.

Joe made a face at Hossí back and reached over to grab his boots which were sitting on the ground next to him. As he reached for the boots, Joe suddenly stopped. He closed his eyes as a wave of dizziness over took him. Joe took a deep breath and shook his head. The dizzy spell passed. Joe looked over his shoulder toward the fire. Ben, Adam and Hoss were crouched around the fire, not paying any attention to him. Joe shook his head again, and grabbed the boots. He pulled them on and slowly stood up. He still felt tired and his body seemed to ache all over. Joe took another deep breath and strolled over to the fire.

 "How about some breakfast?" asked Adam as he stirred a pot on the fire. "We have some fine beans almost ready to go."

Crouching by the fire, Joe grabbed a cup off the rocks surrounding the blaze. "Iím not hungry," he said in a grumpy voice. "Just pour me some coffee." Joe felt tired and cranky, and the thought of food turned his stomach.

"Joe, you ought to eat something," advised Ben in a fatherly tone.

Hoss had just eaten a forkful of beans from the plate in his hand and, as he chewed the beans, he made a face. "I donít blame you, Joe," Hoss said as he put down his fork.

"If you donít like the food, you do the cooking," suggested Adam in a contentious voice. "Iíll be happy to turn this chore over to you."

 "Well, I couldnít do any worse than you," replied Hoss with a snort.

 "All right, all right," Ben said patiently, trying to forestall any more arguments. "Itís been a long cattle drive, and weíve been on the trail for over two weeks.  Weíre all tired of sleeping on the ground and eating around a campfire. Letís not start sniping at each other."

Looking at each other a bit guiltily, Adam and Hoss nodded an unspoken apology to each other. Joe sat silently, still sipping his coffee.

Ben looked thoughtful for a minute. "You know, we really need a break from the long ride home," he mused. "Thereís a town called Green Meadows not to far from here. Itís a little out of our way, but I think we ought to head over there. A day or so extra wonít make that much difference, and I think we all could use a break from the trail."

"Green Meadows?" said Hoss, his face brightening. "Think they have a restaurant in a town like that?"

"I know they have a hotel," Ben replied with a wistful look on his face. "A hotel with nice soft beds."

 "Iíll bet you could get a cold beer there," added Adam with a big grin.

 "Joseph, what do you think?" asked Ben.

 Joe shrugged his shoulders and continued to sip his coffee. "It sounds all right to me," he agreed in a voice that still sounded grumpy.

Frowning, Ben looked at Joe. Usually, Joe was the enthusiastic one of the bunch, ready to try anything. The weeks on the trail must really be wearing him down, thought Ben.

 "Then, Green Meadows it is," stated Ben firmly. "Letís break camp and get moving."
 

**********

The Cartwrights rode slowly down the main street of the town of Green Meadows. The place looked empty, with only a few people on the streets. Ben was surprised. It was early afternoon and he thought the town would be bustling with activity at that time of day. He looked around as he rode. Green Meadows was a town of about twenty buildings, all neat but with slightly deserted look to them

 "Not exactly a hub of activity," observed Adam dryly was he rode next to his father.

 "I donít understand," Ben said, clearly puzzled. "Itís been several years since Iíve been here. But last time I was here, this was a thriving town. Thereís good land around here, lots of farms and ranches. Youíd think the town would be booming."

"All I care about is them having a good place to eat," declared Hoss, who was riding behind Adam and Ben. "Keep your eyes open for a restaurant,"

Ben looked at Hoss over his shoulder. "Letís get settled at the hotel first," he said with a smile. "Then you can eat everything in town."

The smile still on his face, Ben looked at Joe who was riding silently next to Hoss. "Joe, think you can find something to do?" he asked.

 "I guess," answered Joe shortly.

Ben frowned at Joeís answer. On the trail, Joe had been unusually quiet, and when one of them said something to him, Joe had replied in an irritable or surly manner. Ben wondered if something was bothering Joe. He promised himself to have a talk with his youngest son.

The Cartwrights rode a little further down the street, until Adam pointed at a sign proclaiming "Palace Hotel". The hotel was anything but a palace. The two-story building had been built of wood, and its paint had faded to a dull gray.  A few worn chairs sat empty on the wooden porch in front of the building.  The railing on the balcony above porch was chipped and splintered.

Ben stopped his horse at the hitching post in front of the hotel. He shook his head as he looked at the building. "Well, maybe it looks better on the inside," he said hopefully. Adam, Hoss, and Joe stopped their horses at the hitching post also. "Letís get a couple of rooms," Ben told his sons. "Then weíll see to the horses."

The Cartwright boys dismounted and began untying their saddle bags. Adam pulled his rifle from its scabbard on the saddle as he threw the saddle bags over his shoulder.  "I donít want anything to happen to my new rifle," he remarked as he walked toward the steps of the hotel. Hoss and Joe followed Ben and Adam up the steps to the door of the hotel.

Another wave of dizziness came over Joe as he reached the top of the steps. He stopped abruptly and grabbed the balcony support on his right. Closing his eyes, Joe held on to the pole tightly, trying not to lose his balance. He took several deep breaths and the dizziness passed. Joe frowned, wondering what was wrong with him. His head ached and his body felt sore and tired. Must have spent too many days in the saddle, he told himself. The riding and the dust was really getting to him.

Looking up, Joe saw that his father and brothers had already entered the hotel. He walked rapidly to catch up with them.

The lobby of the hotel was neat, but showed wear. The curtains in the window were yellow with age, and several worn spots were visible on the carpet. A thin layer of dust covered the pictures on the wall. As Ben walked to the desk in the lobby, a middle-aged man standing behind the counter watched him with a look of anticipation. The man was in shirt sleeves, a string tie around his neck. His dark hair was slicked back, and a pencil-thin mustache was visible on his upper lip.

"Two rooms, four beds," Ben said as he reached the desk.

"Of course," replied the man as he slid a registration book in front of Ben. "And how long will you be staying?"

"Just tonight," Ben answered as he signed the book.

The clerk nodded and reached behind him to pull two keys from the slots in the pigeon-holed box behind him. "Number Four and Number Five," said the clerk. "Just at the top of the stairs."

"Is there someplace a man can get a decent meal in this town?" asked Hoss, who was standing behind Ben.

"Yes, indeed," replied the clerk enthusiastically. "The Copper Kettle is just down the street. Mrs. Brown sets a fine table."

"How about a cold beer?" asked Adam.

"Try the Long Horn Saloon," suggested the clerk. "The beer there is real cold."

Nodding his thanks, Ben picked up the keys. "Come on, boys," he said and walked to the stairs. His sons followed him.

Ben and Adam took one room, while Joe and Hoss went into the second. Each room had two narrow beds, with a small table between them. A water pitcher and basin sat on the table between the beds. A small dresser and a chair were the only other furniture in the room.

"Not exactly the lap of luxury," Hoss remarked as he looked around.

"Beggars canít be choosers," said Joe with a shrug. "At least weíre not going to have to sleep on the ground."

A knock on the door interrupted the conversation. Hoss and Joe turned to see Ben and Adam standing in the doorway.

"Adam and I will see about the horses," said Ben. "Then weíre going to walk around town a bit."

Hoss rubbed his hands together. "Hot diggity, Iím going straight to that restaurant that clerk mentioned."

"What about you, Joe?" Ben asked in a cheerful voice, hoping Joeís mood had improved.

"Think Iíll just take a nap," replied Joe in a sullen voice. "Doesnít look like thereís much in this town to see or do."

Ben nodded. "All right," he said. "Why donít we plan to meet at the saloon in about two hours?  Iíll buy you boys a beer."

"Sounds good," Adam agreed. He looked at Joe and Hoss. "Donít be late, or Iíll drink your beer."

"Donít worry, Iíll be there," said Hoss. "Pa donít buy beers too often, and I donít want to miss this."

Everyone laughed as Ben, Adam and Hoss left the room. Joe followed them to the door and shut it behind them. As soon as they were gone, Joeís shoulders sagged. He couldnít believe how tired he felt, and how much his head ached. He flopped on the bed, not even bothering to remove his boots. The pillows were soft and the mattress was comfortable. Joe closed his eyes and went to sleep immediately.

**********

Ben and Adam strolled down the wooden sidewalk, heading toward the saloon. "Joe was sure right," observed Adam as they walked. "There really isnít much to see or do in this town."

"I hope heís in a better mood after his nap," said Ben. "Heís been touchy all day. What do you think is bothering him?"

Adam shrugged. "With Joe, it could be almost anything; it doesnít take much to set him off."

"Do you think something happened in Mason?" asked Ben.

"No," said Adam with a shake of his head. "I talked with him when he got back. He was fine. Said he delivered the cattle and visited with the Bensons awhile. He said Mrs. Benson wasnít feeling well, so he left and came back to the rail yard.  If there had been any problems, he would have said so then."

Ben sighed. "Sometimes, I donít understand him.Ē

"Iím not sure any of us do," said Adam with a smile. "But he does keep things exciting, you have to admit that."

Ben smiled back. "I could do with a little less excitement sometimes," he replied.

Laughing, Adam pushed open the swinging doors of the saloon and followed Ben into the building. The saloon was almost deserted. Two men sat at separate tables in the back of the room.  Ben looked at Adam and shrugged, then walked to an empty table in the middle of the room.

"What can I get you fellows?" called the bartender from across the room.

"Four beers," replied Adam, "And make sure theyíre cold."

The bartender had just set the beers on the table when Hoss pushed the doors of the saloon open and walked in. He strolled over to the table, a toothpick hanging from his lips. Hoss sat down at the table, removed the toothpick, and picked up a mug of beer. "Thank you, Pa," he said taking a long drink.

"Youíre welcome," replied Ben with a grin.  He looked around. "Any sign of Joe?"

"Havenít seen him," Hoss answered as he continued to drink his beer with obvious enjoyment. "I spent the last two hours eating the best meal Iíve had in weeks."

"I guess you wonít be hungry again for awhile," observed Adam.

"I guess youíre wrong," replied Hoss. "I figured that was just a snack. We can all go back to the restaurant in a little while and have a proper meal."

Pushing back his chair, Ben stood.  "Joe must have lost track of the time," he said. "Iím going back over the hotel and get him."

Ben walked slowly back toward the hotel. He was anxious to have a chance to talk to Joe alone and find out what was bothering him. As he entered the hotel, the clerk looked up at him from behind the desk. "Have you seen my son come down?" Ben asked the man.

"No sir," the clerk replied. "I havenít seen anyone since you and your other sons left."

Unconcerned, Ben walked up the stairs of the hotel and stopped in front Joeís room. He knocked on the door, but there was no answer. Ben turned the doorknob and opened the door.

Joe was still asleep on the bed, fully clothed. Ben smiled to himself as he looked at his son. Joe looked so young and vulnerable as he slept. It was hard to believe heís grown, almost 22, Ben thought. Joe still looked like a little boy to his father. Ben walked over the to the bed and gentle shook Joeís shoulder. "Joe," he said in a soft voice. "Time to wake up."

Joe stirred but didnít wake. Ben shook him a little harder. "Címon, Joe," he said a little louder. "Wake up, son."

Joe stirred again and finally opened his eyes. "Pa?" he mumbled in a sleepy voice.

"Címon, Joe," Ben repeated. "Youíve been asleep for a couple of hours. Time to get up."

Joe sat up and immediately slumped forward, putting his hand to his eyes.

"Joe, whatís wrong," asked Ben in alarm.

"I donít know," Joe replied in a shaky voice. "I guess I sat up too fast or something. I got real dizzy." Suddenly he shivered.

Sitting on the bed next to his son, Ben put his hand on Joeís forehead. "Joe, you have a fever," he said, his alarm growing.  "Why didnít you tell me you were sick?"

"I didnít think I was," Joe answered in a weak voice as he shivered again. "I just thought I was tired."

"You lay back down," Ben ordered in an anxious voice, gently pushing Joe back to the bed. He pulled the sheet and blankets from under Joeís body and pulled them over his son. "Keep under the covers and stay warm.  Iím going to find a doctor."

Hurrying out of the room, Ben raced down the stairs of the hotel and stopped at the desk. "Is there a doctor in this town?" he asked the clerk.

"No, sorry," replied the clerk. "The doctor died last year during the cholera epidemic. Why? Are you sick?"

"My son isnít feeling well," said Ben in a distracted voice.

"Well, Mrs. Williams, the docís widow, she kind of acts as the town nurse," advised the clerk. "She might be able to help."

"Where can I find her?" Ben asked.

"Big house at the edge of town," answered the clerk. "Has two big trees in the front yard. You canít miss it."

After thanking the clerk, Ben walked rapidly out of the hotel. He didnít notice the clerkís eyes narrow and the look of concern that appeared on the manís face.

Ben hurried back to the saloon. Adam and Hoss were just finishing a beer as he rushed to the table.

"Whereís Joe?" Adam asked as he drained his glass.

"Joeís sick," replied Ben, his voice betraying his worry.

"Whatís wrong?" asked Hoss, instantly sitting forward in his chair.

"I donít know," admitted Ben. "He has a fever. Thereís no doctor in Green Meadows, but they do have a nurse. I want you two to go back over to the hotel and stay with Joe while I get the nurse."

Immediately, Adam and Hoss jumped to their feet. Adam pulled some coins out of his pocket and threw them down on the table. "Letís go," commanded Adam. The three Cartwrights rushed to the door.

Adam and Hoss hurried back to the hotel as Ben walked rapidly down the street in the other direction. They rushed past the clerk in the lobby and hurried up the stairs to Joeís room. Without bothering to knock, Hoss pushed opened the door and walked in the room, with Adam close behind.

Joe lay on the bed with his eyes closed. His face was flushed and he was shivering slightly. Hoss walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. "Joe," he said softly.

Opening his eyes, Joe turned his head to look at Hoss. His eyes seemed glazed.

"Hoss?" Joe said in a weak voice.

"Yeah, itís me, little brother," Hoss replied gently. "Pa said you werenít feeling too good."

"I feel a little rocky," Joe admitted. "Must have gotten too much dust or sun or something."

Hoss put his hand on Joeís forehead and frowned. "Heís burning up," Hoss murmured quietly over his shoulder to Adam. Nodding, Adam walked over to the table between the beds. He poured some water from the pitcher into the basin, and grabbed a towel from the rail on the side of the table. He soaked the towel in the water, then twisted it to drain the excess water. He handed the towel to Hoss, who put it over Joeís forehead.

"You just take it easy, Joe," Hoss said in a reassuring voice. "Everythingís going to be all right." Hoss only wished he believed what he said.

**********

Ben spotted the house as he hurried down the street. It was just as the clerk had described it Ė a big house with large trees in the yard. Ben walked faster toward the structure.

When he reached the house, Ben noticed a post with a sign hanging from it in the yard.  The sign proclaimed "Frederick Williams, MD" in faded letters. He hurried past the sign and into the front yard, walking even faster as he approached the house. Ben bounded up the steps of the house and across the front porch. He knocked rapidly on the front door.

After a moment, the door opened. A woman in her early 40ís stood in the doorway. Her brown hair was tied back in a tight bun. She wore a plain white blouse and a dark skirt. The woman was drying her hands with a towel as she stood in the doorway.

"Yes, may I help you?" the woman asked.

"Are you Mrs. Williams?" replied Ben anxiously.

"Yes, Iím Emma Williams," confirmed the woman.

"My name is Ben Cartwright," explained Ben. "My son is over at the hotel, and heís not feeling well. I was hoping you would come and take a look at him."

"Mr. Cartwright, Iím not a doctor," said Emma. "My husband was a doctor, but unfortunately, heísÖ" Emma hesitated. "Heís no longer with us," she finished.

"The clerk at the hotel said you were a nurse," insisted Ben.

"Yes, I studied nursing for two years at a hospital in San Francisco," Emma acknowledged. "Thatís where I met my husband. I helped him with his patients for many years."

"My son is sick," Ben repeated. "Please, could you come take a look at him?"

With an air of reluctance, Emma nodded. "All right," she agreed. "Iíll do what I can. Let me get my husbandís bag." Emma disappeared back into the house, and reappeared a minute later with a black bag. "Letís go," she said briskly.

As Emma and Ben walked rapidly back to the hotel, Ben felt a growing sense of urgency with each step. He couldnít wait to get back to Joe.

The clerk looked at them curiously as they entered the hotel, but Ben ignored the man and led Emma directly to Joeís room. Ben opened the door and led the doctorís widow into the room.

Hoss was still sitting on the edge of the bed, the wet cloth in his hand. Adam stood near the bed, his arms crossed and a look of anxiety on his face. Joe lay unmoving on the bed. His face was pale and covered in a fine sheen of sweat and his breathing seemed more rapid than before.

"How is he?" Ben asked anxiously.

"Not so good, Pa," answered Adam. "His fever is pretty high."

"This is Mrs. Williams," Ben said, introducing the woman next to him. "Sheís a nurse." Ben turned to Emma. "These are my other sons -- Adam, and the one sitting on the bed is Hoss."

As Ben walked toward the bed followed by Emma, Hoss got up and move away. Ben sat on the edge of the bed in his middle sonís place. He gently stroked Joeís head and said his sonís name.

Joeís eyes flickered open. "Pa?" he said, his voice sounding weak and confused.

"How are you feeling?" Ben asked with concern.

"Not so good," admitted Joe.

"I brought a nurse to take a look at you," Ben said, cocking his head a bit in Emmaís direction. Ben stood and motioned Emma toward the bed.

Nodding an acknowledgment, Emma walked to the bed. She sat on the edge and smiled encouragingly. "Hello, young man," she said in a pleasant voice. "I just want to check you over."  She put her had on Joeís forehead. "His fever is very high," she murmured. She felt Joeís pulse and frowned. Emma ran her hands over Joeís arm and chest. She pulled back the covers and ran her hands lightly over Joeís legs. "He doesnít seem to have any unusual swelling," she observed. "Has he had a bad fall? Anything that might cause a broken bone or a bad bruise?" she asked.

"No, nothing like that," answered Ben.

With a practiced air, Emma unbuttoned Joeís shirt and pulled it open. "No rash," she muttered. She pressed lightly on Joeís stomach and abdomen. "Doesnít seem to be any rigidity or pain," she added, noting Joeís lack of reaction to her probing. "Has he had any nausea or vomiting?" she asked. Ben shook his head. "What did he have to eat today? Anything unusual?"

"He really didnít eat anything," Hoss said as stood by the end of the bed. "He said he wasnít hungry at breakfast, and he just nibbled on some hardtack while we were on the trail."

"Do you know whatís wrong with him?" Adam asked anxiously.

Before Emma could answer, there was a knock on the door. Surprised, Ben turned and opened the door. The desk clerk was standing in the hall. "I understand that thereís a sick man in here," the clerk said.

"Yes," answered Ben. "My son. He has a fever. Mrs. Williams is checking on him."

The clerk looked past Ben to Emma. "Emma, do you know whatís wrong with him?" asked the clerk.

Emma shook her heard. "Vince, Iím not sure. Heís a pretty sick boy, though."

"Heíll have to leave," said Vince in a nervous voice.

"Leave!" Ben exclaimed, his voice filled with astonishment. "You just heard Mrs. Williams say my son is sick. Why would we leave?"

"I donít want any sick people in my hotel," the clerk replied firmly. "He could have something that will spread through the whole town. Youíll have to leave the hotel and the town immediately."

"We are not going to leave," Ben declared in a voice cold with fury. He slammed the door shut in the clerkís face.

Emma pulled the covers back over Joe, then turned to Ben. "Youíll have to forgive Vince," she said. "We had an epidemic of cholera here last year. Almost everyone in town lost someone to the disease. Vinceís wife died. Itís only natural that he would be afraid. The whole town is petrified of another epidemic."

Ben nodded distractedly. "What about Joe?" he asked. "Is there anything you can do?"

"I donít know whatís wrong," she admitted. "But my husband always said if you canít treat the disease, treat the symptoms. Letís try and bring his fever down. Iím going to give him some quinine. We can try some cold compresses, too." Emma opened the bag that she had placed on the end of the bed and took out a small bottle. She looked around the room. "Could you get a glass?" she asked.

"Iíll get one," offered Hoss and, after leaving the room, he hurried down the stairs. The lobby was deserted; the clerk was not behind his counter. Hoss looked around the lobby and saw a bottle of water with some glasses sitting on the edge of the desk. He grabbed a glass and then rapidly climbed the stairs. Hoss came back into the room and handed the glass to Emma.

Emma nodded her thanks and began to pour a dose of the liquid from the small bottle. She looked at Ben. "Could you help me?" she asked. "I want him to sit up and drink this." Ben walked to the other side of the bed and shook Joe gently, trying to rouse his son.

Joe opened his eyes slightly. "Pa?" Joe said in a very weak voice.

"Joe, you need to sit up," Ben told his son. "Iíll help you."  Ben put his arm around Joeís shoulders and gently raised him to a sitting position. Emma handed Ben the glass. Ben put the glass to Joeís lips and forced the liquid into his sonís mouth. Joe swallowed the liquid, then coughed and shuddered at the bitter taste. After making sure Joe had swallowed all of the liquid, Ben eased Joeís head back on to the pillows.

"Iím all right, Pa," Joe murmured in a weak voice. "I just  needÖneed a little rest."

"Sure you are," agreed Ben in a soothing voice. "You just take it easy."

A firm rap on the door startled the people in the room. Adam walked over to the door and opened it. The desk clerk stood in the hall again, but this time, there was another man with him. The man had a tin star pinned to his chest.

"Sheriff, I want you to get these people out of my hotel," the clerk said, pointing at the Cartwrights. "This is my hotel, and I can refuse a room to anyone."

The sheriff looked at the men in the room. "Iím afraid heís right," said the lawman with a tinge of regret in his voice. "Iím going to have to ask you to leave."

"My brother is sick," Adam replied angrily. "We canít leave."

"If you donít leave voluntarily, Iím going to have to force you out," stated the sheriff in a grim voice.

Walking to the door, Hoss pulled himself up to his full height. "You and what army?" he asked in an irate voice.

"I can have ten men here in a few minutes," the sheriff threatened. "Donít make me do that. Someone could get hurt."

"You just bring them on," Hoss declared.

"Wait," called Emma as she stood and walked to the door. "I donít want anyone to get hurt. Weíll take the boy to my place."

"Do you think we should move him?" Ben asked anxiously from the bed where he still sat.

Emma turned back to Ben. "If we wrap him in blankets and keep him warm, I think we can move him. Besides, itíll be easier to take care of him at my place," she replied. "And I donít want anyone to get hurt."

"All right," Ben agreed reluctantly. "Adam, Hoss, go next door and get our things."

"PaÖ" Adam started.

"Just do it!" ordered Ben. "I donít want any arguments."

"All right," Adam said. He turned to Hoss. "You stay here in case Pa needs any help." As Hoss nodded, Adam pushed past the men in the hall and went next door.

Once more, Ben shook Joe gently. "Joe," he said, "Wake up. We have to move you to someplace where youíll be more comfortable."

Joe opened his eyes. "Iím tired," he answered in a weak voice and started to close his eyes.

Again, Ben shook his son. "Joe, you have to get up," he said firmly. Ben turned to Hoss. "Hoss, help me with him.Ē

Hoss gave the men at the door a menacing look, then walked back to the bed. Emma grabbed her bag from the bed and walked past Hoss. "Weíll get him out of your hotel, Vince, donít worry," she said to the clerk with a touch of disgust in her voice.

With rapid movements, Ben pulled the covers off Joe, and pulled his son into a sitting position. Hoss helped his father swing Joeís legs off the bed. As Ben steadied Joe, Hoss pulled the blanket from the bed and wrapped it around his brotherís shoulders. Then Ben and Hoss each took one of Joeís arms and pulled him to his feet.

As Ben and Hoss were helping Joe stand, Adam walked back into the room. Two saddle bags were flung over his shoulder and he was holding his rifle. Without a word, he walked to the other bed and picked up the two saddle bags laying on it. He put both of those saddle bags over his other shoulder. "Iíve got our things," he announced.

Not bothering to reply, Ben and Hoss guided Joe to the door. Joe shuffled his feet and walked slowly, but he was able to walk. Adam walked behind the trio, ready to help if needed. As Ben and Hoss led Joe slowly out of the room, the desk clerk and sheriff stood to the side. The clerk had a handkerchief to his pressed against his mouth and nose.

"I presume we can take the blanket," Ben said in a cold voice as he passed the clerk.

"Take it," replied the clerk, his voice muffled by the cloth. "Iím going to boil or burn everything he touched anyway."

Shaking their heads in disgust, Ben and Hoss led Joe past the two men. Adam and Emma followed them.

Ben and Hoss slowly guided Joe down the stairs and through the lobby. As they left the hotel, Ben was surprised to see a small group of people standing in the street, watching.

"Theyíre leaving," called a voice from the crowd.

"Donít get too close," said another voice. "We wonít be safe until theyíre out of town."

Stopping, Ben looked at the crowd. "Weíre taking my son to Mrs. Williamsí house," he announced. "We donít want any trouble."

"Get out of town!" an angry voice shouted from the group. "We donít want you here!"

Ben heard Adam cock his rifle. "You heard my Pa," Ben heard Adam say from behind him. "We donít want any trouble. But donít try to stop us."

Nodding in grim satisfaction, Ben started to push Joe forward. He could feel Joeís body slumping against him. Ben grabbed Joeís arm tightly as he helped his son stand.

It seemed to Ben that the walk to Emmaís house was miles instead of yards as he and Hoss pushed and half-carried Joe down the street. Adam and Emma followed them closely. The crowd trailed along, staying a safe distance behind.

The procession finally reached the house on the edge of town. Emma walked to the front of the group and opened the front door, ushering the Cartwrights in.

They entered a large room sparsely furnished with a couch and some chairs. A tall bookcase, crammed with books, stood against the far wall. "We used this as a waiting room," Emma explained as she showed the Cartwrights in. She pointed to a hallway. "Take him through there. The first door on the right, thatís a bedroom. We can put the boy in there." Ben nodded and started to push Joe forward again. He knew Joe was almost out on his feet, exhausted by the walk. Ben felt his anger at the crowd outside growing.

Ben and Hoss led Joe to the bedroom and gently eased him down on the bed. Joeís eyes were closed and his breathing was labored. Beads of sweat  had formed on Joeís face and chest.

"You make him comfortable," said Emma from the doorway. "Iíll get some cold water for the compresses." She turned and walked down the hall.

 As she entered the waiting room, she noticed Adam standing by the bookcase, looking at the titles printed on the spines of the books. He had put the saddlebags and rifle on one of the chairs. "These are medical books, arenít they," Adam stated.

"Yes," replied Emma. "My husbandís. Iíve looked through them a time or two since he died, trying to figure out how to help someone."

"What do you do when someone is hurt really bad?" asked Adam.

"We send for the doctor over in Mason," Emma answered. "But thatís about three days ride. Most of the time, he wouldnít get here in time so I do what I can. Sometimes Iíll telegraph him, asking for advice."

"Mason," said Adam thoughtfully. He frowned as if he were trying to remember something, then shook his head. "Mind if I look through these books?" he asked. "Maybe I can figure out something to help Joe."

"Be my guest," Emma replied as she hurried out of the room.

***********

Evening was turning into night as the older Cartwrights anxiously tended Joe. Ben sat by his sonís bed, replacing the cold compresses on Joeís forehead, as Adam and Hoss brought fresh pitchers of cool water. Emma kept checking Joe for new symptoms and dosing him with quinine.  Everyone was becoming increasing frustrated as their efforts seemed to have little effect.

Drifting back to the waiting room, Adam pulled a book from the shelf, then lit a lamp and sat on the sofa. He scanned the book, stopping occasionally to read some pages more slowly. He had been reading for about an hour when Hoss entered the room. "Any change?" asked Adam as Hoss walked to an overstuffed chair and sat down.

Hoss shook his head. "No, his fever is still high. Did you find anything in there that might help?"

Slamming the book shut, Adam looked grim. "No," he said with frustration in his voice. "About half the diseases in here list a high fever as an early symptom. So far, I havenít been able to find anything specific. Has Joe developed any other symptoms?"

Again, Hoss shook his head. "No," he replied. "He just keeps saying heís tired and he aches all over." Hoss hesitated. "Maybe we should try and find a doctor."

"The nearest doctor is in Mason," Adam told his brother. "Thatís over three days ride from here. Besides, I donít think we should leave." Adam cocked his head toward the window behind him. "Iíve been listening to the noise outside. Itís getting louder. I have a feeling we might get another visit from the good citizens of Green Meadows."

"You donít think theyíd try something, do you?" Hoss asked with both concern and alarm. "I mean, they wouldnít send a sick man out of town, would they?"

"I donít know," Adam admitted. "Fear of disease is as old as man. In ancient times, they used to put sick people out in deserted areas, left them to die. Even some Indians will still abandon their sick. People are afraid of things they canít see and donít know how to fight. Thereís no telling what these people might do."

A rock suddenly came flying through a window near the couch, shattering the glass and spraying shards on the furniture. Adam instinctively ducked while Hoss rushed over and grabbed Adamís rifle from a chair. Both men crouched down on the floor.

Emma and Ben came rushing into the room. "We heard something," said Ben. "What happened?"

"Rock through the window," answered Adam. "Nobody hurt. But youíd better get down. Thereís quite a crowd gathered outside."

"Emma! Emma Williams! You in there?" a voice from outside shouted. "Emma, we donít want any trouble. All we want is to get that sick man out of town."

Emma walked toward the door, but stopped as Ben grabbed her arm. "Donít go out there," Ben warned.

With a jerk, Emma shook her arm free. "I know these people," she said. "Theyíre good people. Right now, theyíre just frightened. An epidemic wiped out half this town a year ago. Youíve seen the town; youíve seen how itís been dying little by little. Theyíre afraid itís going to happen again."

"Emma, you hear us?" a voice shouted from outside. "You get rid of that sick fellow or weíre going to do it for you!"

"Please, Mr. Cartwright, let me talk to them," Emma pleaded. "I know I can calm them down."

"All right," Ben agreed. "But Iím going out with you."

Getting to his feet, Adam grabbed his rifle from Hoss. "Weíre all going out with you," he said firmly.

Moving slowly and deliberately, Emma opened the front door and walked out onto the porch. Ben, Adam and Hoss followed her. She stopped at the edge of the porch, and the Cartwrights formed a protective wall behind her.

About twenty people were standing in the yard, most of them men, but there were a few women in the crowd also. Several of the men carried rifles, and some had large sticks in their hands.

The sheriff pushed his way to the front of the crowd. "Emma," he said. "We had a meeting. We donít want you taking care of that boy. We just want to get him out of town before infects the rest of us."

"Sheriff, you canít mean that," Emma replied. "The boy is sick, maybe dying. If we move him now, youíll kill him for sure."

"Do you know whatís wrong with him?" asked the sheriff.

"No," admitted Emma. "But heís here in the house. He canít do you any harm."

"Can you guarantee what heís got ainít catching?" shouted a woman from the crowd. "I already buried my husband and my daughter. I donít want to bury anyone else."

"I donít know whatís wrong with him," said Emma in a desperate voice. "All I know is that heís sick and we have to help him."

"Help him?" called another voice from the crowd. "Why should we help him? Heís liable to kill us all. Just get him out of here."

Suddenly, Ben stepped forward. "My son is sick. What would you have us do? Take him out on the road and leave him there to die?"

"Take him over to Mason," suggested the sheriff. "Thereís a doctor there. Heíll know what to do. They know how to take care of sick people in Mason."

As he listened to the sheriffís the words, Adam frowned. The thought that had been nagging at the back of his head earlier in the day was back. Something about MasonÖif he could only remember what it was.

"You can make us leave," declared Ben. "But what happens next time? What happens if your wife or son gets sick? Are you going to make them leave? What if itís you? Do you want to be driven out of town?"

A murmur rippled through the crowd. Several people looked down at the ground and shuffled their feet.

"I know youíre frightened," Ben continued. "Iím frightened, frightened for my son. But throwing us out of town wonít make disease go away. Itíll come back; it always does. The thing to do is to figure out how to fight it. Figure out what the right thing to do to keep everyone as safe as possible."

"Weíve got the boy in quarantine," Emma added. "Heís not going to spread the disease. Weíll keep him here, away from the rest of you. He canít hurt you."

Adam stepped forward. "What if we send a telegram to the doctor in Mason?" he asked. "We can describe my brotherís symptoms and ask him for help. The doctor might tell us that itís nothing catching. Would that satisfy you?"

Turning his head a bit, Ben gave Adam a puzzled look. He wasnít sure why Adam was proposing sending a telegram to the doctor in Mason. He didnít think the doctor would be able to tell them anything. Joeís symptoms seemed too vague and general for the doctor to be able to help them. Maybe Adam is just trying to buy us some time, Ben thought.

The crowd murmured again. The sheriff walked back to the throng and talked quietly to several people. With a nod, he turned back toward the house. "All right, send your telegram," the sheriff stated. "Write it out and slip in under the door. Letís see what the doctor over in Mason says. But Iím telling you this. If the doctor thinks what that boy has is catching, or if one other person comes down with something, weíre coming back. Weíre going to throw you out of town, and burn this house to the ground!"

Emma put her hand to her throat in fear. "You canít mean that!" she exclaimed. "You canít burn my home!"

"Emma, we would hate to do it," replied the sheriff. "But if thatís what it takes to stop another epidemic, then thatís what weíll do."  The sheriff turned and stalked off. A few people followed him, but most of the people stayed in the yard.

"Weíre going to stay here and watch that nobody leaves the house," a voice called from the yard.  Emma and the Cartwrights exchanged worried looks as they went back into the house.

"Iím sorry," Ben said, his voice filled with regret. "I never meant to bring you this trouble."

"Donít be sorry, Mr. Cartwright," Emma replied. "You were right. It was only a question of time until something like this happened. They are going to have to face their fear of sickness. I guess now is as good a time as any."

Ben turned to Adam. "What was all that business about the telegram?" he asked. "You donít seriously think the doctor over in Mason is going to be able to tell us anything, do you?"

"I donít know, Pa," admitted Adam. "Something had been rattling around in the back of my head all day, but I couldnít seem to grab on to it. Out there, on the porch, I suddenly remembered. Joe said he left the Bensons because Mrs. Benson wasnít feeling well. If thatís where he got infected, there may be several people in Mason with the same sickness as Joe. If there are, the doctor might be able to tell us whatís wrong with Joe and how to treat it."

"But, Adam, what if he canít?" asked Hoss. "Or worse still, what if he tells us whatís wrong with JoeÖ.and thereís nothing we can do for him?"

"Iím not going to think about that," Adam answered grimly. "Iíve got to believe we can help Joe. I wonít even consider the alternative."

Ben nodded in agreement. "Send that telegram, Adam," he said, his voice equally grim. "Send it and pray."

***********

Ben spent a long, frustrating night taking care of Joe. His sonís fever continued to be high, despite the medicine and cold compresses Emma used on him.  Adam and Hoss came into the room periodically to try to relieve Ben, but he just waved them away.  He couldnít bring himself to leave Joe. It was after midnight when Emma entered the room again. She seemed surprised to see Ben still by Joeís bed. "I thought Hoss was going to take over," she said with a frown. "You need to get some rest."

"He tried, but I told him I couldnít sleep," Ben replied in a weary voice.

A look of concern came over Emmaís face. She walked over to Ben and put her hand on his forehead, then checked his pulse. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Iím fine, just tired," Ben told the woman

"No headaches? No achy feeling?" Emma pressed.

"No," Ben stated. "Thatís a good sign, isnít it? I mean, if Joe had something catching, one of us would have come down with it by now, wouldnít we."

"Not necessarily," answered Emma. "Some diseases take as long as a week before symptoms appear."

Suddenly, Joe shifted on the bed. He began mumbling incoherently, and occasionally groaning. He was bathed in sweat. Two bright red spots stood out on his cheeks, contrasting the paleness of the rest of his skin. His breathing was labored.

"Easy, Joe, easy," Ben said in a soothing voice as he wiped Joeís face with a damp cloth. Joe didnít seem to hear him.

"If only we could break his fever," Emma said in a worried voice. "Iíve tried everything I can think of, but his fever seems to continue to climb."

"Maybe the doctor in Mason will have some answer," replied Ben, his voice betraying the helplessness he felt. "When do you think weíll hear from him?"

"I donít know," admitted Emma. "It could be awhile. He has a lot of territory to cover. Thereís a chance he might not even be in town."

Joe began to move restlessly on the bed. "Pa? Pa? Where are you? Pa, help me. Iím so hot. Pa? Help me."

"Iím here, Joe," Ben said in a quiet voice, laying a restraining hand on Joeís shoulder.

"Just rest. Youíre going to be all right. Just rest."

Joe seemed to collapse back on the bed, his body limp.

"Heís so young," commented Emma.

"Heíll be 22 next month," Ben said in a distracted voice as he continued to bathe Joeís face and chest with a damp cloth.

"Itís always so sad when someone so youngÖ" Emma didnít finish her thought.

Joe stirred restlessly on the bed. "Iím so hot," he mumbled. "I canít breathe. Why is it so hot?" Joe twisted on the bed, the sheets wrapping tightly around him. "Itís too hot," Joe muttered.

Ben turned to Emma. "Weíve got to cool him off," he said, his voice tinged with desperation. "What else can we do?"

"If we had some ice, we could wrap him in it," Emma replied thoughtfully. "But I donít have any ice."

"Is there any ice in this town?" Ben asked.

"Jeff Donner has an icehouse behind the saloon," Emma answered. "But I donít think the people outside will let you go get any ice."

"Iíll get some," Ben declared grimly. "Stay with Joe."

Ben stood and walked purposely out of the room. As he entered the waiting room, he saw Adam was sprawled in a chair and Hoss was laying on the sofa. Both were asleep. Ben quietly walked over to Hoss and gently put his hand on his sonís forehead. He was relieved to find it cool. He turned and was surprised to see Adam was awake, staring at him.

"Weíre fine," Adam said to his father. "Donít worry about us.  Howís Joe?"

"His fever is even higher," Ben told his oldest son. "Weíve got to cool him down. Thereís an icehouse behind the saloon. Iím going to get some ice."

"Pa, I donít think thatís a good idea," Adam advised. "Thereís still a bunch of people outside. I donít think theyíll going to let you through."

Adamís rifle was propped up against the wall next to the sofa. Ben walked to the wall and picked up the gun. "Joe needs that ice," Ben stated grimly.

Hoss suddenly sat up on the sofa. "Pa," he said in a gentle voice. "Howís it going to help Joe if you get yourself killed?"

Benís shoulderís sagged. "We need some ice," he insisted in a low voice.

"Then letís ask for it," suggested Adam. "These people are scared, but they canít be inhuman."

Standing, Adam walked to the front of the room. He pulled the door open and looked out. A knot of eight or ten people stood in the yard. They turned to the door as it opened.

"We need some ice," Adam yelled as he stood in the doorway.

There was a murmur from the crowd.

"Either one of us will go get it, or you can bring it here," Adam continued. "But we need that ice."

"No one leaves that house!" a voice called from the yard.

"Fine," Adam replied. "Bring the ice here."

"Why should we help you?" another voice called. "You should have left when you had the chance."

"All we want is some ice," Adam shouted. "Have you sunk so low that youíre going to let my brother die because you wouldnít give us some ice?"

Another murmur went through the crowd. Finally a voice called out. "Stay inside the house," the voice ordered. "Weíll bring a block of ice and put in on the porch."

Adam nodded. "Thank you," he shouted, then closed the door firmly.

"Do you think theyíll really bring the ice?" Hoss asked as Adam turned from the door.

"I hope so," Adam replied in a grim voice. "Because if they donít, Iím going with Pa to get it."

Ben, Adam and Hoss waited anxiously by the door for several minutes. For what seemed an endless time, they heard nothing. Then suddenly, there a loud thunk on the porch. Ben pulled the door open. He could see a square shaped object wrapped in a burlap sack sitting on the porch. Ben grabbed the sack and rushed back into the house.

"They brought it," Ben said in a relieved voice as he rushed through the room with the dripping sack. "They brought the ice." Hoss and Adam grinned at each other.

As Ben left the room, Hoss turned to Adam. "What do we do now?"

Adam shrugged. "I wish I knew," he said.

**********

Dawn crept over the town of Green Meadows. As the sky lightened, more people gathered outside Emmaís yard. The mood of the crowd was turning ugly again. As new people joined the crowd, rumors and speculation began to spring up. There was talk of a deadly disease with no known cure. Several people heard that someone else was sick; no one knew who for sure, but it seemed to be common knowledge. One man speculated that everyone in the house might be dead by now. The crowd was again working itself up, although no one seemed to know what exactly they should do.

Inside Emmaís house, four exhausted people kept watch. Ben had finally been persuaded to rest for a few hours, but he did so only after making sure that Joe was wrapped in cold, icy sheets. Adam and Hoss sat with their brother, both so worried that neither could speak. Emma continued to dose Joe with quinine and every other fever remedy she could think of. Joe lay shivering on the bed, his fever raging unabated. He was unaware of the concern and trouble his illness was causing. In fact, he was unaware of everything except how miserable he felt as he drifted in and out of consciousness. He wished someone would do something to help him but he was too weak to even ask.

When Ben walked into the bedroom, his rumpled clothes and disheveled hair showed he had at least tried to sleep for awhile. He stood at the end of the bed. "Any change?" he asked, his voice indicating he expected no good news.

Adam shook his head. "No, his fever is still very high,"

Staring at his critically ill son, Benís body sagged with hopelessness and despair.

Emma walked into the room, a pile of wet, dripping sheets in her arms. She marched past Ben, and laid the soggy sheets on the edge of the bed. "Iíve had these soaking in ice water for awhile. Letís wrap him in these sheets."

Quickly, Adam and Hoss stood and moved to the bed.  As Ben watched, Hoss raised Joeís shoulders off the bed and Adam began unwrapping the sheets from around his brother. In a minute, he had the sheets off, and Joe laid shivering on the bed, clad only in some thin long johns cut off above the knee. Modesty had along ago given way to practicality as the Emma and the Cartwrights worked to save Joeís life. Nevertheless, Emma turned her head away, looking toward the bottom of the bed as she began to hand the soggy sheets to Adam.

Emmaís hand stopped in mid-air. She stared at Joeís ankles. A bright red rash circled his ankles. She dropped the sheets, and grabbed Joeís wrist. The rash also had appeared on Joeís wrist.

"A rash!" Emma cried, her voice almost happy. She held Joeís wrist up. "Look, Mr. Cartwright, a rash!"

Ben looked at Emma as if she had gone mad. He couldnít imagine why she was excited about a rash appearing on Joeís ankles and wrist.

Emma turned back to Adam and Hoss. "Do you see it?" she said to them. "Itís a rash!"

"Yes, maíam", Hoss answered politely, his face frowning in puzzlement.

"Donít you understand?" Emma said. "A rash! Itís another symptom. Maybe now we can figure out whatís causing the fever!"

Adamís face cleared as he suddenly understood Emmaís excitement. He quickly finished wrapping Joe in the icy sheets, then laid his brother down on the bed. Adam rushed to the waiting room and picked up the medical book he had left on the table. He began turning the pages rapidly, looking for a particular section. Finally, he found the chapter he wanted. He read the pages before him.

Ben walked into the room. "Adam?" he asked. Adam waved his father into silence as he continued to read. Finally he lifted his head.

"Tick fever!" Adam declared. "Joeís got tick fever."

Frowning, Ben walked over to his oldest son. "Are you sure?" he asked.

Nodding, Adam handed his father the book. "Look, right here," he said, pointing at the page. "Tick fever. ĎThe symptoms can come on suddenly. High fever, tender muscles, nausea and severe headache. Two to six days after the onset of symptoms, small pink spots appears on the wrists and ankles.í

With a look of concentration on his face, Ben read the passage that Adam had pointed out. He nodded in agreement, then looked up. "But it doesnít say anything about treatment," Ben told his son.

Grabbing the book back quickly, Adam read the pages carefully, then frowned. "Youíre right," Adam agreed. "Letís check with Emma."

Ben and Adam rushed back to the bedroom. "Joeís got tick fever," Adam declared as he walked into the room. "The book describes his symptoms. But it doesnít say anything about treatment."

"Tick fever!" Hoss exclaimed. "Where would he get that? And why donít we have it?"

"He must have picked it up over in Mason," Adam said. He turned to Emma. "Do you have any idea how to treat tick fever?"

Emma had a thoughtful expression on her face but didnít answer.

"How do we treat it?" Ben asked again, insistently.

"Iím trying to think," Emma replied. "We donít see much tick fever around here."

Suddenly, a loud noise came from the front of the house. It sounded like a rock being thrown against the front door. The sound was followed in rapid succession by three other loud noises, and the breaking of glass. "Hoss, stay with Joe!" Ben shouted as he turned and ran out of the bedroom.  Emma and Adam followed him.

As he entered the waiting room, Ben could see a rock laying on the floor, surrounded by broken glass. The front window was shattered. He also could hear the loud shouts from the crowd outside. Ben walked rapidly to the door, and pulled it open. He ducked as a rock flew near his head and hit the side of the doorway.

"Get out of town!" a voice shouted, and a loud sound of agreement swelled from a multitude of voices. Ben stepped out onto the porch and looked out at the yard. Close to thirty people were standing in Emmaís yard. They were shouting angry threats, and many were carrying rifles and clubs.

"Pa, be careful," Adam warned his father as he stood in the doorway behind Ben. Ben nodded and walked forward. He held up his hands.

"My son has tick fever," Ben shouted to the crowd. "He canít infect you. The only way you can get it is from ticks."

"Youíre lying," yelled someone from the crowd. The people around him shouted in agreement.

"No, itís true," Ben insisted in a loud voice. "I swear to you. My son has nothing that can harm any of you."

"We donít believe you!" another voice from the crowd shouted.

Suddenly, Ben was aware of Emma standing next to him. "Itís true," she called in a shrill voice. "That boy in there has tick fever." She held up the medical book in her hand. "He has all the symptoms described in the book. Look, see for yourself if you donít believe me!"

The crowd murmured uncertainly.

"Itís not contagious," Emma continued. "No one is going to catch it. No one is going to get sick. I promise you. You all know me. I wouldnít lie to you."

The people in the crowd began to look at each other uneasily. "Are you sure, Emma?" someone shouted.

"Iím sure," Emma replied. "The only one in danger is that boy in my house."

People began to shuffle their feet, uncertain about what to do. Their attention was drawn to a loud yell from behind them. Everyone turned to look at a man running down the street, waving a piece of paper as he shouted. The man was too far away to be clearly understood.  As the man neared, his shouts suddenly became clearer. "Emma," the man yelled. "Itís from the doc. He thinks that boy has tick fever."

The crowd parted as the man rushed into the yard. He ran to the steps and thrust a piece of paper in Emmaís hands. Emma scanned it rapidly. She looked up at the crowd in the yard below. "This is a telegram from Doctor Dawson in Mason," she declared. Emma looked down at the paper and read it out loud. " ĎLikely your patient has tick fever. Several cases in Mason. Not contagious.í He goes on to describe the treatment."

"Itís true," the man who brought the telegram said to the crowd. "I took the message down myself, and confirmed it back."

The people in the yard began to walk away slowly. No one seemed to be able to look at Emma or Ben. Many looked down at the ground, shamefaced, as they left the yard.

"Is there anything I can do to help Emma?" asked the telegrapher.

Emma shook her head.  "Thanks, Harry, but I can take it from here," she replied. "Thank you for bringing the telegram so quickly." Harry nodded and walked away.

Turning to Ben, Emma let out a sigh. "Letís see what we can do for Joe," she said.

**********

 Emma carefully searched through the bottles in her husbandís cabinet, looking for the medicine Doctor Dawson has prescribed in the telegram. She was pleased that the telegram had suggested quinine and cold wraps to lower the fever. She knew she had done the right things to help her patient until they heard from the doctor. She only prayed that the medicine the doctor had prescribed would work. Emma found the bottle she was seeking, and rushed to Joeís room. Adam and Hoss propped Joe up on the bed as Emma gave him the first of what was to be many doses of medicine.

For the rest of the day, Ben sat by Joeís bed, watching and waiting as Emma continued to give the medicine to his son every few hours. He could see no improvement. In his opinion, Joe seemed to be getting worse. The early afternoon sun was streaming through the window when Emma came into the bedroom to give Joe another dose of medicine.

"The medicine isnít helping," Ben said as he watched Emma carefully spoon the mixture into Joeís mouth.

"It takes time, Mr. Cartwright," replied Emma in a reassuring tone.

"He hasnít even moved for hours," Ben continued. His voice sounded tired, and had

a hint of resignation in it. "He just lays there. Iím afraid it may be too late for the medicine to help him."

"Heís still fighting," Emma replied quickly. "My husband used to tell me that when a body is marshaling all its defenses, it shuts down everything thatís not needed. Joeís fighting hard, and the medicine will help him."

"I hope youíre right," said Ben. He looked at Emma, his eyes filled with worry.

Picking up Joeís wrist, Emma measured his pulse. She could see the rash on his wrist was starting to spread. She carefully counted, then placed Joeís wrist back on the bed. "His pulse is fast, but itís still strong," she declared. Ben nodded, but his face betrayed his doubt.

"Why donít you get some rest," Emma suggested to Ben. "Iíll stay here with him.Ē

Ben shook his head. "No, I want to be here," he stated. "Whatever happens, I have to be with my son."

"It could be several more hours before we know something for sure," Emma said gently. "Adam and Hoss are eating in the kitchen. Why donít you join them?"

"No," Ben replied firmly. "Iíve lost a lot of people in my life. My only consolation has been that at least I was with them when they left me." Ben looked down at Joe lying still on the bed. "I have to be here."

Emma nodded her understanding. "Iíll get you some coffee," she said.

Adam and Hoss came into the bedroom as the sun was beginning to set. They had spent the day going back and forth from the bedroom to the front room, alternately checking on Joe and keeping watch on the now empty yard in front of the house. Both knew there was little they could do to help their brother. But they were determined to see that the people of Green Meadows wouldnít do anything that would harm him.

As his two older sons entered the room, Ben looked up. His face was lined with fatigue and worry. "Any sign of trouble?" he asked.

Adam shook his head. "No. We havenít seen as much as a stray dog out there since this morning."

Standing at the bottom of the bed, Hoss stared at the unmoving figure of his brother. "I just wish there was something else we could do for Joe," he said in a sad voice.

"Youíve done everything you could," Ben answered, trying to comfort Hoss. "Thereís nothing else you could have done."

"If I had ridden for the doctor right awayÖ." Hoss started.

"You still wouldnít be in Mason yet," Adam finished for his brother. Hoss looked up, startled. Then he nodded his head slowly.

A soft moan from the bed pulled everyoneís attention in that direction. Joe turned over from his back to his side.

"Joe?" Ben said anxiously. He put his hand on his sonís forehead.

"His fever is down!" Ben cried with excitement. "Heís still warm, but his fever is down!"

Adam and Hoss grinned at each other.

As he shifted his weight slightly on the bed, Joeís eyes opened -- only a bit, but still they opened. He whispered something, then he shifted his weight again. His eyes closed once more.

"What did he say?" Hoss asked anxiously.

Ben looked up at his son, a huge grin on his face. "He said ĎGo away. Iím trying to sleep,í " Ben answered.

**********

 Joeís fever hung on stubbornly, rising and falling as his body fought the disease. But even when his fever went up, Joeís temperature was not as dangerously high as it had been. The rash spread over his body, turning into large red spots. The disease had sapped Joeís strength so much that he didnít even have the energy to scratch the itchy rash. Finally, after four days of his fever going up and down, and the rash making him miserably uncomfortable, Joeís symptoms started to fade. He spent the next three days sleeping around the clock, waking only when Emma or his father or his brothers propped him up to feed him some broth. Now, at last, Joe felt well enough to sit up on his own, the first time in nearly a week he was able to do so. He was surprised at how much effort it took just to pull himself up. Joe felt as weak as a newborn calf. He wasnít sure he could have made it if Adam and Hoss hadnít been there to help him.

"Your spots are starting to go away," Hoss said with a smile as he arranged the pillows behind Joeís back.

Joe nodded. "Yeah," he answered in a weak voice. "Thank goodness for that. I bet I look pretty strange."

"Oh, no stranger than usual," Adam replied with an airy wave of his hand. "But I wouldnít go sparking any girls right now."

 A frown creased Joeís face. "Does Emma think the spots are going to leave any scars?" he asked in a worried voice.

"Naw," Hoss told his younger brother. "She said theyíll fade away, and youíll be just as pretty as ever."

Joe smiled in relief.

The door opened behind Hoss and Ben walked in with a tray holding some toast on a plate, a small bowl of custard and a glass of milk. "Time to get some solid food into you," Ben declared. "Think you can handle it?"

Joe nodded. "Yeah," he said as he eyed the tray. "As a matter of fact, Iím pretty hungry."

"Letís start out easy with this," Ben suggested as he set the tray on Joeís lap. "Get your stomach used to the idea of having something solid in it again. You can try something more substantial for dinner."

"This wonít keep a bird alive," Joe grumbled as he began to eat eagerly. "Iíd even take some of those beans Adam makes right now."

Hoss laughed. "Youíll do a lot better than Adamís beans for dinner," he promised. "You should see Emmaís kitchen. Itís filled with cakes, and pies, and all kinds of food. People all over town have been bringing things by. Itís a real feast."

"And Iíll bet youíve been sampling every one of them," Joe said with a small smile as he continued to eat.

"Well, you werenít eating much Ďtil now," Hoss admitted. "And it was a shame to let all that good food go to waste. I was just kinda of helping out, making sure that all that good cooking werenít for nothing."

"Very noble of you," Joe said, his voice dripping with irony.

"I thought it was," replied Hoss with a grin.

Joe turned to Ben. "Pa, I donít understand it," he said with a frown. "Adam told me what happened, how the people in this town were ready to burn down the house to get rid of us. And now they act like we some long-lost relatives or something. Theyíre bringing food and stuff," Joe shook his head. "I donít understand it," he repeated.

"Joe, they werenít really afraid of us. They were afraid of your sickness," Ben explained. "Fear is the worst disease there is. It spreads faster and does more damage than any sickness that exists."

"But, Pa, now they canít do enough for us," Hoss said in a quizzical voice. "Whyís that?"

"Sometimes, when you look into the face of fear and see how ugly it is, you feel pretty bad," Ben answered. "The people of Green Meadows have taken a good hard look at themselves, and they didnít like what they saw. This is just their way of trying to make up for what happened."

"Well, I for one canít wait to get out of this town," declared Adam with disgust. "I donít like much about what Iíve seen about the people of Green Meadows either."

"You might change your mind," Ben said as he picked up the now empty tray from Joeís lap. He could see his youngest son was already drifting off to sleep. "Itíll be at least a week before Joeís well enough to ride. That will give you some time to know the people here. You might find they arenít as bad as you think."

"Itíll take some convincing," Hoss told his father doubtfully. "I donít much care for people who were willing to let my little brother die just because they were afraid they might get sick too."

"Gee, Hoss, I didnít know you cared," Joe murmured as he slid down under the covers. Joe pulled the pillows down under his head.

"Letís get out of here and let Joe rest," Ben said quietly to Adam and Hoss. Both men nodded.

"I donít see how you can be so forgiving," Adam stated as he left the bedroom with his father and brother.

"I donít pretend Iím happy about what happened," Ben answered. "But anger is a wasted emotion. It doesnít accomplish anything. Itís better just to forget about it."

"You can say that now," Adam argued. "I just wonder how you would have felt if they have forced us out of town. What would you have done if Joe had died?"

"I donít know," admitted Ben. "I hope I wouldnít have let the anger consume me. But itís hard to say."

"I donít have to guess," Hoss said as he glanced over his shoulder to the bedroom behind him. "If Joe hadnít been all right, I would have torn this town apart."

Ben smiled. "Well, then, if nothing else than for the sake of Green Meadows,

Iím glad Joeís going to be all right.Ē

**********

 Bení prediction was right. After a week, Joe was more than ready to head home. His rash had faded, and he had regained most of his strength. His face still looked drawn, and he tired easy, but Joe insisted he was well enough to ride home. Ben finally agreed, although reluctantly.

The sun was shining brightly over the town of Green Meadows as the Cartwrights prepared to leave. Adam and Hoss sat waiting patiently on their horses in the street outside Emmaís yard. Ben and Joeís saddled horses stood on either side of them.

"Now you remember what I said," Emma said in a stern voice as she walked out

of the house with Joe and Ben. "Take it slow and rest if you get tired."

"Yes maíam," Joe agreed with a grin on his face. "Iíll make sure Pa and my brothers take real good care of me."

Ben rolled his eyes and shook his head. "I can see whatís going to happen," he declared. "Joe will have us waiting on him hand and foot until we get home."

"Iíll just be doing what Emma told me," Joe protested innocently. "She said to take it easy and donít exert myself too much."

"Yes, but I donít think she means for you to act like weíre your personal slaves," Ben told his youngest son.

Joe smiled, and his eyes twinkled. "Why, Pa," he replied in mock seriousness. "I would never do that."

"Oh, no," Ben said in a disbelieving voice. "Youíd never do that."

Emma smiled as she listened to the banter between father and son. It was the surest sign yet that Joe was recovering. Joe turned to Emma. "Thanks again for everything," he stated in a heartfelt voice. "I owe you my life."

Emma waved away Joeís thanks. "I didnít do much," she said. "All I did was a little nursing."

"Youíre the best nurse I ever had," Joe declared with a grin. He leaned over and kissed Emma lightly on the cheek. "And the prettiest," he added. Emma blushed.

Joe put his hat firmly on his head and walked off the porch. He walked in a slow but steady gait to his horse. Adam handed him the reins to his horse.

"Think you can get on by yourself?" Adam asked with a smile as Joe prepared to mount.

"Oh, I think I can struggle into the saddle," Joe answered as he pulled himself onto his horse. He settled into the saddle and looked back to the house.

Ben was still standing on the porch with Emma. He had been watching Joe carefully. Now he quickly turned away. "I canít thank you enough," Ben said to Emma, his gratitude as heartfelt as Joe.

"Youíre a lucky man, Mr. Cartwright," Emma told Ben. "You have three wonderful sons."

"I know," Ben said. "I almost lost one, and that reminded me how lucky I am.

Thank you for my sonís life." Emma nodded.

Giving his sonís nurse a smile, Ben walked off the porch toward his sons. Hoss handed him the reins to his horse and Ben mounted. With a last tip of his hat toward Emma,

Ben turned his horse and rode slowly down the street. Hoss rode next to his father as Adam and Joe trailed behind.

As they rode down the street, several people waved toward the Cartwrights. Adam and Ben nodded in acknowledgment.

"What do you think of the people of Green Meadows now?" Ben asked Hoss as they rode.

"Well, maybe they ainít as bad as we thought," Hoss admitted. "I met some mighty nice folks here."

"I noticed you became very friendly with Mrs. Brown over at the restaurant," Adam said with a grin. "You seemed to spend all your time over there."

"I just appreciate fine cooking," Hoss answered.

"You appreciate ANY cooking," Joe remarked with a laugh.

Ben smiled to himself as they rode out of town. Their visit to Green Meadows had been marred by two diseases: Joeís illness and the fear it had caused. But now it looked like both diseases had been cured. Ben wondered which had been the deadliest. He suspected he knew the answer. Fear has probably caused more death and destruction than any disease, Ben thought to himself. He was grateful that it hadnít claimed one more victim.

*****End*****

 

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