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Life returned to as near normal as possible. Except for the relentless heat and no rain, that still plagued the area. The drought had now entered the third month. They had reached the critical point. If rain did not come soon, they would lose most of the profits from the cattle sale. The Double J would not show a profit for the first time in several years. Even without the profit, they would not go under. They had some money to fall back on. The smaller places did not. They would lose the most. Those places that did not have the money and resources to fall back on would go under.
Cassie worked late into the night as she tried to figure a way to get water to those places they relied on. She had moved the corn and hay fields, that would feed the stock through the Winter, closer to the river two years ago. A move that would help them now during the drought. Both fields were irrigated by a series of small canals the men had dug which connected to the river. Once a week the small dams would be opened and the canals filled to keep the fields watered. Digging the canals had been a long hard process. Each canal was lined with rocks to keep the dirt from eroding away when the dams were opened. With water levels so low they were down to irrigating once a week. If the drought continued, she would have to adjust that to conserve water.
The fields the stock grazed on were too far away from the river to irrigate. Now she had not only her own stock to worry about, but the stock from The Settlement and some of the smaller places that did not have a ready water supply. Cassie offered her grazing acres to anyone who needed it to help them survive the drought.
There were a few small lakes in the high country that were untapped. The area that surrounded those lakes were to rocky to let the herd up there. She had to find a way to bring the water down to the low lying areas. A way that would not destroy the beauty of the land. There was no good solution that would not break them. Her mind was overloaded as she poured over the plans her daddy had drawn up before he died. He thought of a way to get water down from the hills, but right now the price was well out of her reach, if she wanted to keep the ranch from going under. It would take almost all the resources they had to complete that task. Cassie rubbed her tired eyes and sighed.
"I wish you were here daddy. I do not think I can get through this alone. What am I going to do if I can not pull this year out of the dirt? What will I tell mama?"
The night gave up no answers. Cassie rolled up the plans and put them away for another time. She gave up for the night. She turned out the lamp and went to bed. The dog followed her.
The dog had recovered from her injury and could always be found at Cassie's side. Cassie had been training her. Taking her out when she went about her daily routine, to get the dog familiar with the lay of the land. So far there had been no answers to the notice she put out. Cassie had no problem keeping the dog and had bonded with her. She hoped that no one would claim her dog.
Another day began. Cassie went about her work. As she worked she found her thoughts going back to the visit by Victoria's father and Corrigan. The hands that helped the Sheriff returned late the next day with the news that the men had left the area. They waited for confirmation from the Marshal at the next stop that they remained on the train. While the news was welcomed, Cassie did not think for a single minute that they had seen the last of Corrigan or his men. She did not trust Corrigan and she expected them to return.
Cassie hated his attitude towards women. The women from The Settlement were victims of the same attitude. Women, who like Victoria, chose to seek out a better life, rather than be the punching bags for their husbands or fathers. Cassie thought, What about Victoria? She was so happy when they had left. Should I tell her my suspicions? Would it hurt more than help? Cassie shook her head. So damn many questions with no good answers.
Two days went by without any trouble, then three, and four. After the first week ended and the second, Cassie let herself relax a little. She allowed her men their night in town. They earned it, as they worked hard in the fields, and yard. The three men who helped the Sheriff, stayed behind as the rest of the men went into town. They were invited to have supper with the family and Ellie and Ruth who remained at the ranch. They spent a pleasant evening swapping stories and made everyone laugh.
It was close to midnight when the men left. They checked the barn and yard, before they gave an all clear whistle and headed to the bunk house. The light there went out shortly after. Then the lights in the house went out as everyone settled in for the night.
Everyone had a restful night. Except for Granny who tossed and turned most of the night as her dreams became horrors. She awoke a hours before dawn. She dressed and checked her stores of medicinal herbs and plants. She silently left the house to gather the herbs she lack but would need in the coming days. She had nothing solid to go on, as her dreams were little more than scattered glimpses of... 'of what' , she thought. She knew those glimpses are of what was to come. At times like these, she hoped the dreams were wrong. Deep down she knew, that nothing could change the course of events. She knew that everything had to happen as it was ordained. The only thing she could do was lessen the severity of the damage that would be inflicted.
Each morning, Maude would look out the door at the old woman on the porch. This morning, when she opened the door the porch was empty. Granny was always seated in her rocking chair as she greeted the morning. She went in search of the old woman and hoped she was all right. Maude found Granny seated at the table sorting the herbs she had collected. Maude was surprised to see the woman already at work. Granny knew she had to tell Maude. How to do it was hard. It was not something that could be blurted out over morning coffee. Maude took the decision out of her hands when she walked into the kitchen.
"Granny, you look worried. Has something happened?" Maude asked.
"Miss Maude, I..."
"You had a dream?"
"Not a dream. Just random pictures."
"But those pictures were enough for you to go out to the garden for your healing plants before the sun was even up." Maude finished for her. "Do you know when?" Granny shook her head no. "Who will be hurt?" Granny's eyes pleaded with her to ask the next question. Maude took a deep breath before she asked. "Will Cassie or Victoria be hurt?"
"Yes" Granny answered softly.
"Which one?" Granny looked at her with great sadness in her eyes. "Not both of them?"
That one word spoken so softly was like a knife plunged into her heart. Maude closed her eyes and folded her hands over her heart.
"Is there anything we can do to stop this?"
"No, we can only lessen the amount of damage."
"When will it happen?"
"I am not sure. Up until now, I have only seen shadows and small glimpses of the attack. I never saw any faces."
"But now you have seen enough to know it will happen to them."
"Yes. I am sorry, Miss Maude."
"Granny this is not your fault. At least we are prepared. One thing we can do is make sure neither of them leave the immediate area."
"No Miss Maude. That would only postpone what is meant to be." This will not pass. You know you can not confine Cassie. This must happen. I wish there were another way. We can not stop this from happening. We can not stop destiny. Can not stop their destiny."
Maude sighed. "Have you seen who will hurt them?"
"I have seen their faces in my dreams." Granny replied softly.
"Did you know when you led Victoria here this would happen?"
"No these dreams only started after they kissed for the first time."
"They should be told so that they can be prepared."
"They can not know. It would cause more harm than good."
"Are you certain we can not stop this? It must happen?"
"Is this the trouble you said we would have?"
"That this will help someone, meaning Cassie and Victoria to fall in love before we see any rain?"
"Yes." Granny said for the third time. "Miss Maude you also need to know that Cassie will face darkness."
"What sort of darkness?"
Granny paused before she answered. "That I have not been fully shown yet."
"It is so hard to know that my daughter and the woman I have come to love, have to go into harm's way. To know and not do anything to stop it."
"I know it is hard, but it is what we have to do. These events must be allowed to unfold."
"What can I do to help?
Granny smiled for the first time and pointed to the stacks of plants and herbs. The two worked silently as they separated and chopped the plants. When they finished, Granny put all the pieces into pouches and neatly marked jars that they put into her medicine room. They cleared away all traces of their work and started breakfast.
"Granny, what if someone went with them whenever they left the ranch?"
"It would only lead to more people being hurt or killed. I have thought about that also." Granny replied.
"It is so hard to just sit by, knowing this must happen and that we can do nothing. Do you ever get used to the dreams and visions?
"Get used to them? No, but over the years I have learned to accept them. And accepting them helps me to be better prepared.
To be continued...
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