By Psyche_b

                                                                                Chapter 3
Disclaimers:  Can be found in chapter 1
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 them ranchbound.
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.  Do you?"
"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."
"Sounds good."
"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 meadow."
"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 opening.
"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 wrong."
"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 ladies man.
"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.
To be continued.......  


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