A small one horsed black buggy followed the road leading to the ranch. Clouds of dust followed him on the dry road. He drove his horse as fast as the heat would allow. His face grim as he made his rounds of the outlying ranches with the weight of the news he carried resting heavily on his shoulders.
Cassie watched from the porch as the dust trail came
closer. She wondered who was out at this early hour. She lifted
her dark hair off her shoulders. Even at this early hour the air
was stifling, with not even a hint of a breeze blowing. She recognized
the doctor's buggy as he drove trough the gate. She knew no-one at
the ranch called him and hoped that nothing was wrong at the settlement.
The settlement, as it was called by all the residents, was two miles past Cassie's place. It was a small village made up entirely of women. Women who wanted to break free of the laws and dictates of men. Their land abutted Cassie's. They were good people who paid their bills, minded their own business, didn't start any trouble and were also willing to help out when help was needed. They farmed the land, educated their children, and had a system of governing themselves. They only called upon the help of the local law when trouble was started by an outsider. Unfortunately the outsider was usually a man who came across the small village and decided they needed a man to run things and protect those delicate beings. He was soon shown the error of his thinking as most of the women could out ride, out shoot and out work anyone. Cassie admired the women of the settlement and was on friendly terms with her neighbors. She hope Doc wasn't on his way out there.
She waved as he pulled up to the porch. "Hey
doc, what brings you out this way so early?"
"We've got trouble coming Cassie? Is your mother here? She should hear this also."
"Well come on the porch and have something cool to drink give your horse a rest. There's plenty of cool water in the trough for him. I'll get mama." She poured him a glass of lemonade and handed it to him before going into the house and calling, "Mama, doc's here and wants to talk to us."
"Give him something to drink, I'll be right there"
The woman who came out on the proch was a shorter version of her daughter. Her dark hair was streaked with gray, her brilliant blue eyes sparkled in the early morning sunlight.
"Doc this is a surprise, what brings you all this way so early." Cassie noticed how his eyes sparkled at the sight of her mother.
"We got trouble"
"What kind of trouble Doc?"
"Typhoid? Are you sure? Where?
"Unfortunately we are very sure. There have been three cases in Cutter, Seven in Meadowville and four in Tyler."
"Tyler's only 10 miles away"
"They have found several contaminated watering holes and we have men posting them. But more are cropping up."
"What can we do?"
"Keep an eye on all your water supplies. If it starts to smell or taste bad get it posted right away. We have some chemicals coming that will help contain it. Problem is it has to come from St Louis and probably won't get here until next week. I also have serum coming just in case."
"What do we look for is someone does get it?"
"It will start with a really bad headache, then a high fever then a rash. It usually takes anywhere from four to seven days before any symptoms show up but it can be sooner. Sometimes within hours of drinking the infected water. If that happens the case won't be as severe and the person will have a better chance of recovery. The longer it takes the sicker they are and the smaller the chance of recovery."
"So what can we do? Because there is no way I want to just sit around and wait until someone I know gets sick."
""The main thing is keep an eye on all your water. Lakes are less likely to be contaminated then small ponds as most of they are either spring or mountain fed. But they should all be checked. Get as many samples as you can into Ted in town. He's staying there to check. Thanks for the lemonade. I have to get up to the settlement and other ranches to warn them. Oh, one other thing, the way this is travelling, be careful aound anyone who comes from the South East. Chances are they have come in contact with the water there."
"Will do Doc."
"Speaking of strangers, the Sherriff asked me to pass this on to you." He handed her a piece of paper. It was a wanted poster of sorts with the likeness of a young woman on it. She read it out loud.
"$1000 reward for the safe return of Victoria Montgomery or for information leading to her whereabouts. Long blonde hair and green eyes , 5 feet 6 inches tall and weighs about 130 pounds. Last seen in Dillwyn Virginia on the 2nd of June. Believed to have been abducted.... A thousand dollars? That's a lot of money."
"Yeah seems she disappeared the night before her wedding."
"Maybe that's why she disappeared? She didn't want to get married."
"That's quite possible. Doesn't say she's dangerous so..."
"So I'll be interested in hearing her side of the story first."
Doc climbed into his buggy and waved to the two women on the porch and he slapped the reigns and they moved away from the house.Cassie felt a shiver go up he spine as she realized the first of Granny's predictions had come true.
"That's number one" She said aloud.
"What's number one?" asked her mother
"Number one is the first of Geanny's predictions mama". She replied. "Sickness, it's started. Then according to her we will have sickness, trouble and love in that order.
"Love we can handle. It's time you found someone to settle down with."
"Hey don't look at me. For all we know she could have meant you. I saw the way Doc looked at you."
"Doc and I have been friends for many many years. We had our chance when we were both a lot younger, but then your father came along."
"You are still a beautiful woman."
"It's your time now Cassie not mine."
"The only thing it's time for is to get to work. I need as many jars as you have to get those water samples. I'll get the men informed of the problem, and get my horse saddled."
"I'll have them ready for you when you get back."
Cassie kissed her mother's cheek. "This is going to be a long day. probably won't be back until late."
"I'll pack you a lunch to take."
"Thanks mama" she said as she walked off the porch to the barn.
Victoria first became aware of the headache as she
opened her eyes. She rose slowly. It wasn't a bad headache,
just a little discomfort probably from the heat or sleeping badly, as she
set about breaking up camp to push on. The hills that surrounded
her called to her. She grabbed a few bites of her meager breakfast
befor she saddled her horse. She had camped by a sluggish steam and
both her and her horse and drunk their fill. She refilled her canteen
but she knew that wouldn't last long. She mounted her horse
and they continued.
As the day progressed the headache became worse until just the simple movement of her eyes intinsified the pounding in her head. She wasn't aware of when the fever started only of the chills that came with it. Despite the heat of the day and the bright sunlight, she shivered. The fever increased as the day wore on. She had topped a large hill and looked down through the trees at a large lake. The fever had caused her to drink more than she normally did and her canteen was once again empty. Seeing the lake, she headed down. Each step they took brought almost unbearable throbbing in her head. It took what felt like hours to reach the bottom. She slowly got off the horse, her legs buckling as she touched ground, which forced her to grab onto the saddle horn to keep from falling.
"This isn't good" She whispered and immediately regretted the sound. Once she had steadied her legs, she let go of the saddle and walked slowly to the water. A few feet from the lake her legs gave out and she fell unconscious to the ground.......
To be continued
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