The sun continued it relentless scorching
of the earth below as the teams of workers gathered the water samples.
It would take days to collect samples from all of the water sources on Cassie's
land. She had teams of men throughout the hills that surrounded the main
house. All other work except feeding the herd was suspended until all
the samples had been brought into town. This was the time of the year that
was usually spent fattening the herd of cattle on the abundant grass that liberally
covered the hills and fields before sending them to market. This would
be a lean year as the lack of rain had turned the once lush grasslands
into brown brittle stubs. The men hauled wagons of hay to the herd to
keep them fed. The only area that prospered was Maude's garden due only to her
constant hauling of water from the well to keep it watered. The vegetables
she grew would help see them through the long winter, when snow usually kept
Cassie and Dan worked together to gather the
samples from their assigned section. They would gather the water, mark the location
on the jar, before moving on to their next stop. She could still see the
faces of the men as she told them of the problem they faced. She was
touched by their willingness to help, even going to the other ranches to help
those who didn't have the man power to cover their land. When her mother
had met them on the porch with every available container she had, Cassie divided
them up between the teams and gave them their sections.
They were approaching the last water in their
section in the late afternoon, when Cassie spotted the horse by the water's
edge. She then saw the shape of a person on the ground. They looked
at each other before urging their horses forward until they reached the
still form. They cautiously dismounted and approached the figure.
Face down they couldn't make out the features. Dan rolled the person over.
Cassie looked down at the clothes and size and stated. "He's just a boy.
What the hell is a kid doing way out here. I don't recognize him.
"No but he's sick. I can feel the fever"
Cassie put a hand on his forehead. "You're
right. Better go for Doc. I'll bring him to the house"
"All right but let the horses drink a bit
or they won't make it back."
"Do you think the water is all right?"
"The horses wouldn't drink it if it was bad.
I'll get the sample any way and get both done at the same time. Get the
samples into Ted and get Doc. I should be back before night fall."
"Okay, they are ready. You mount up and I'll
hand him to you."
Cassie jumped into the saddle, then held out
her arms for Dan to place the boy in front of her. He tied the reigns of
the boy's horse to Cassie's saddle horn, took her saddle bags and put them on
his horse. "Get him out of this sun and cool him down" He said
as he slapped her horse's rump. They took off toward the ranch. Dan put
the latest water sample in his saddle bags, climbed up in the saddled and
spurred his horse in the opposite direction.
It was almost sunset before Cassie raced trough
the gate yelling for help.
"Mama... Anyone I need help..."
Maude was on the porch at her first shout.
"Cassidy Jones what on earth are you carrying on...." She stopped when she noticed
why Cassie was yelling for help. "Good Lord" She stated as men grabbed
the reigns and reached up to relieve Cassie of her burden.
"Get him in the house and please take care
of the horses. I've had em at a run most of the way from the high
"We'll walk em and cool em down and
get them watered. Then rub them both down. Don't worry. Want me to send
someone for Doc?"
"Dan's getting him. We'll need water
to cool him down"
"I'll bring it right up. Hey Slim take care
of these horses." He yelled to one of the men.
Maude held open the door as men carried him
into the house. "Put him in the back bedroom. I'll see if I can
find one of your Daddy's old sleep shirts for him. You get something to drink
yourself before you collapse Cassie" She ordered.
Once upstairs the men deposited the still
figure on the bed. Maude brought in a night shirt and told the men, "Get
him out of those clothes, we'll wait out in the hall." The two women left the
room and closed the door as the men started to remove the boys clothes.
They could hear the muffled sounds through the closed door. Then they
heard the loud curse. "What the hell" Which was followed by the door quickly
"I think you ladies should do this."
Cassie looked at him as her last nerve snapped.
"Just take his damn clothes off Jake.
What's so hard about that." She yelled at the man.
"Cassie calm down." Maude ordered. "Jake what's
"Well ma'am I'd have no problem if that was a
him, but it's a her. So you should be...."
"What? Are you sure?" Cassie knew
the minute she uttered the word how silly they sounded as Jake was a notorious
"Yes ma'am, unless they grow them differently
outside the mountains, that there is a woman. Full blooded and despite
all the dirt a very lovely woman."
"We'll take over then Jake. Thankyou
for bringing him... I mean... her, upstairs. Get us that water so we can get
her cleaned up."
"Sure thing Mrs Jones" He said tipping
his hat before he turned and all but ran down the stairs. Their boots
sounding loud as they went down. Maude watch Cassie walk over to the bed
and look down at the unconscious woman.
Cassie looked closer and could now see the
soft signs that she had missed before. The beardless face, that despite
the dirt was indeed a beautiful woman. The soft curves that were hid beneath
oversized men's clothing. Jake was right. She felt her heart hammering
in her chest.
"Who are you?'' She asked softly
"You don't expect her to answer you do you?"
"No but I would like to know who she is.
Where she came from? What the hell she was doing up on the East ridge ?
We'll need to contact her family."
"Hopefully we can find all that out when
she wakes up. Lets get her out of these clothes and get her cleaned up.
Then we pray Doc can help her."
"If she wakes up" Cassie stated softly.