Charlotte Louise Dubois walked the short distance from her father’s ranch to the township of Big Sky. It was a beautiful day and the landscape was vast and staggeringly beautiful. Charlotte caught sight of a couple walking towards the store as she came into the main street. They were holding hands and it brought back that little pang of sadness. Charlotte was not a sad sort of girl. She was normally cheerful, bouncy, and hardworking but the man she had been growing attached to had suddenly disappeared. She shook herself mentally and remembered that she had responsibilities and a job to do.
The sheriff had sent out search parties and had questioned people in the surrounding area but nobody had seen Gus and when they discovered that his horse was missing, he’d assumed he had ridden away. Charlotte still thought that it was out of character for him but it looked like he had just chosen to up and leave.
She turned into the tavern where she worked as a waitress and found that Betty was already cleaning tables and two customers were inside. The smell of breakfast cooking came from the kitchen. She went through, found her apron, and went to help Betty.
“Mornin’, Charlotte,” Betty said as she crossed the room when two men came in the door.
Charlotte replied and went for her pencil and paper to take their orders. The two men were quiet and just wanted a good breakfast and time to plan their day. Charlotte took the orders and went through to the kitchen where the owner was cooking at the large range.
“Mornin’, Charlotte,” he said and started on the order. Dan Jones was doing all of the cooking himself since Gus had disappeared. He was looking for another person to help in the kitchen.
“Morning,” Charlotte said.
“You okay?” Betty asked her. “You are quiet.”
“Yes, fine thanks. I will have to cheer myself up.” She grinned. “I don’t want to drive the customers away.”
“We can’t have that,” Dan said. “Can you both work in the evening today, please? We are shorthanded again.”
“Fine by me,” Betty told him. “Bigger wages.”
“As long as I get home in time to make the dinner for dad,” Charlotte replied. She went back out as the door pushed open again. More customers meant the day was well underway.
Charlotte was a pretty girl. She had copper-colored, wavy hair that she tied back when she was working. She had green eyes, freckles, and a curvy figure that she disliked but was always surprised when people told her that it was attractive.
Betty came through and joined her as the place filled up. The waitress had rolled into town a year or so ago looking for work and Dan had taken her on. Then he noticed that with two pretty women as waitresses, the number of customers had risen quite dramatically. Being a businessman, he had taken on more pretty girls and trade was good.
Betty had dark hair, beautiful skin, a cheerful, ready smile, and a flirtatious attitude toward the customers. She and Charlotte had become good friends over the last year. That friendship came out as they worked and they normally exchanged banter with the customers and each other.
When the breakfast rush was over, the girls sank onto a couple of seats.
“Is everything okay at home?” Betty asked.
Charlotte smiled a little sadly. “Things are fine. I just still wonder where Gus went and if it was my fault.”
Betty poured got up to pour them each a coffee and came to back to sit across from her.
“We need to do something cheerful together.”
“Would you like to come back and have a meal with us? We have steak to cook.”
“That sounds great. Thanks. I get to look at the horses that your dad keeps.”
“My sister loves it when you come back with me. She copies what you do and how you do your hair.”
“Oh, Lord. I had better be careful. I might lead her down the wrong path.” She laughed and went to clear tables.
The girls worked hard as the rush built up for the middle of the day. Two more waitresses came to help and the place was so full of cheerful conversation that it did cheer up Charlotte.
“Girls, you are the best waitresses in the county,” one man said and put a hand on Charlotte’s arm as he said it. Betty knocked it away and then pretended to fall over.
“See what you’ve done,” she said. “You want Dan to come out and wave his gun about?”
Charlotte laughed and offered the man a hand to shake.
“Good customers are hard to find,” she said. “Dan would let you live.” There was a lot of laughter as Dan came out to check on his staff. The men put their hands in the air in mock surrender and paid for their meal.
“See ya, girls,” they said as they went out. Charlotte shook her head.
“You can finish now,” Dan said. “Been a busy morning. I am leaving Sadie to cook.”
They needed no second bidding and left at the same time as the boss.
He went in one direction and the two girls linked arms and walked the opposite way out of town towards the ranch.
“It is so beautiful here,” Betty said as they left the buildings behind and the wide-open landscape was laid out in front of them.
“I guess I take it for granted,” Charlotte mused. “It has always been there for me. I do like to watch the animals. There are herds of antelope out there that are just so graceful.”
“You’ve always had animals like horses and dogs around you. That would be such a joy.” There was a wistful sound to the usual happy Betty.
“You never said where you grew up. Was it in a city?” Charlotte asked.
Betty nodded and hesitated.
“You don’t need to answer,” Charlotte added.
“I never felt settled anywhere before I came to Big Sky,” Betty confided. “Yes, I grew up in a city. It was busy. It always seemed cold. It was crowded and we never had enough to eat.”
“Sounds awful,” Charlotte replied. She hugged her friend as they walked along.
“I left when I was old enough to work,” Betty told her. “Then I arrived in Big Sky and Dan took me on. I like it here.”
“Good,” Charlotte said. “Life on a ranch is hard work but you nearly always have plenty to eat and space to breathe.”
“And horses,” Betty added. “They are lovely.”
“If you want to ride, we always have one or two not working,” Charlotte offered as they turned into the gates and headed for the ranch house. Betty hesitated.
“I can’t ride,” she confessed. “Everybody seems like they were born on a horse here. I feel stupid.”
Charlotte laughed out loud.
“Oh, Betty. You are the one always telling me to cheer up. You are frightened of nothing.”
“We never had horses and the only ones in the city were pulling carts or ridden by rich people.”
Charlotte stopped and turned to face Betty. She held both her hands.
“Betty. I can teach you to ride. It won’t cost anything and you get to know the horses. My sister will help as well.”
“That is a lot to ask,” she said but Charlotte could see she was longing to just accept the offer. “Come on. You can help me with the dinner and I will check with Dad.”
Inside, Matilde, Charlotte’s sister was sitting reading by the fire. She leaped to her feet and rushed towards them when she saw Betty.
“What a lovely surprise,” she cried. Betty hugged the girl and asked what she was reading. Matilde was twelve years old but seemed older. She took in facts, reading, and anything else at school like a sponge soaking up water. She loved reading but looked guilty.
“Don’t tell dad. It’s a book about ghosts. He thinks I shouldn’t read things like that.”
“Whoo-oo,” Betty said and put her hands in the air pretending to be a ghost. Matilde laughed. She was tall for her age and looked the same height as the older girls. Her hair was a darker copper color than Charlotte’s and her eyes were more blue than green. That they were sisters was unmistakable.
Charlotte had gone to start the dinner and called across to her sister to ask if they would be able to teach Betty to ride.
“Can you not ride a horse? But you love horses!” Matilde said with surprise.
“And she is embarrassed about not being able to. Would you help?”
“Of course, I would help,” she paused. “Especially if you show me how to do a crown of plaits around my head in return.”
“That is an easy thing to do. I can do it now if Charlotte can cook by herself.”
Charlotte smiled and told them to go ahead. The steak was already sizzling on the griddle and the potatoes were cooking. There was not a lot to do except set the table.
Matilde brought a brush and a comb and sat on a dining chair. Betty brushed out and combed her hair and then divided it into sections to make plaits.
“You can already plait your hair,” she said to Matilde. “Hold up that hand mirror and you will see how I fasten them on your head.” She explained that the higher the hair was made into plaits, the easier it was to wrap it around the top of the head. It was finished in no time at all and Matilde was thrilled. She held up the mirror and danced around the room.
“You look so grown up,” Charlotte said. “Hi Dad,” she said as her father came in, hung his Stetson on the stand, and came to wash the dust off his hands.
“Hello, Betty,” he said. “How are you?”
“I am well, thank you, Mister Dubois,” she answered. “I offered to help cook but Matilde grabbed me instead.”
“I think I am losing my little girl,” he said as Matilde showed him her new hairstyle. “She is growing up so fast.”
“Take a seat folks,” Charlotte said and served the steak and potatoes.
“Got something to ask you, Dad,” Charlotte said. He held his fork halfway to his mouth and waited. Charlotte laughed. “It won’t cost you anything.” Her father went on eating and waited. “Betty would like to learn to ride. Can Matilde and I teach her, please?”
Philip Dubois looked at their guest.
“No horses where you grew up?”
She shook her head.
“Just a big, dirty city.”
“Ah,” he said. “Good you are out here now. I heard that cholera is causing terrible sickness and death in the cities.”
He went on eating and Charlotte sighed.
“Well, Dad?” The man smiled at his daughter. He could refuse her nothing and she knew it well. His eldest daughter had grown up at the age of thirteen when her mother died giving birth to Matilde. He knew that without her, they would not have survived. Charlotte had taken over the house at that tender age and taken care of the baby and himself. He loved his daughters dearly.
“Of course, you can teach her to ride.” He looked at Betty. “It is useful when you live out in the wide-open countryside. You need to learn.”
“I love horses,” she said. “And dogs.” Charlotte had a small terrier that was sitting under the table waiting for scraps. Betty gave it a corner from the steak and smiled.
“You’d best use old Jeannie,” Philip Dubois said. “She knows the ropes and is very quiet.”
“We’ll go and meet her after we let the dinner settle a bit,” Charlotte added. “I forgot to say that Dan wants us both to work in the evening.”
“I will send one of the hands to walk back with you. It will be late when you finish.”
At that point, there was a knock at the door and the blonde head and tanned face of Jeremiah looked inside.
“The corral is finished, Boss,” he said.
“Just the man I wanted to see,” Philip said. “Can you go later and walk home with Charlotte please?”
“No problem at all.” The man smiled and closed the door.
“You might have sent Jason instead,” Charlotte said and pulled a face. Her father shook his head. He knew that his daughters had never felt happy with Jeremiah Smith but the man worked quite well.
August Mason was enjoying his ride across the open country of Montana. The traveling doctor was hoping to help people wherever he could and he was also seeing places he had never visited before. As a few buildings came into view, he decided to stop and give his horse a rest. He slid from the saddle and tied the reins to a hitching post. Before he could go into the store, there were sounds of distress coming from inside. A man stumbled out and ran into the doctor in a blind panic. August caught him and held on. The doctor could feel the man trembling and he pushed at August’s hands holding him still.
“Whoa,” he said. “Is something wrong here?”
“My daughter is ill. I don’t know what to do and there is no doctor to ask.”
“Calm down. I’m a doctor. You ran into the right person. Tell me what’s wrong.
“Stomach pains, tiredness,” the man answered and August Mason’s heart plummeted to his feet. It sounded very much like cholera and he had seen a lot of that before. He had decided to travel as a doctor and try and help people when he saw the effects of cholera in other places. This wide-open country was mercifully pretty free of it but it did happen occasionally.
“Take me to her,” August told the man who was almost crying with relief. The two men mounted their horses and set off at a good pace out of the small cluster of buildings. They turned into what seemed like a small farm of sorts and a woman opened the door as she heard them arrive.
“How is she?” her husband asked as he stepped inside.
“A bit better, I think,” the woman said, and when she heard the visitor was a doctor took him to see her daughter. He was surprised to find it was a young woman in the bedroom and not a child as he had expected. He asked her questions and did an examination. The stomach cramps and the sickness did seem to indicate cholera and he was about to say sp when she added that she felt awful in the mornings but felt better as the day went along.
August Mason stopped in his tracks and gave himself a mental slap on the wrists. He had almost diagnosed her with cholera. He held out a hand and asked her to sit up. He smiled.
“What is it?” the young woman asked.
“You are going to have a baby,” he said.
“Good Lord above, why did I not see that?” the mother called out and came to hug her daughter. “Your husband is going to be over the moon when he gets back from running those cattle.”
“I almost missed it myself,” August admitted, “but the morning sickness is the clue.”
When they were happy with the result, the doctor asked if there was a boarding place anywhere close by.
“Big Sky is the nearest town with those sort of facilities,” the father told him. He pointed in the direction of the place and gave some instruction for finding it.
The family thanked him and paid him for his visit and he rode away leaving them celebrating instead of worrying. That was a good feeling but also a wake-up call.
“I am becoming obsessed with seeing cholera everywhere, “August told himself out loud. “I will have to be more careful in the future.”
It was quite a journey to Big Sky and August used the dry rations that he carried and spent the night camping away from the trail. He was a thoughtful and calm man who found being a doctor satisfying but he also knew that being out alone on the trail was not to be taken lightly. He could take care of himself, shoot well, and was careful to camp in as safe a place as he could find.
“Montana sure is beautiful,” he told his horse as he started off after a breakfast of the last of his dry rations. The ride was peaceful and he saw the buildings of Big Sky in the distance.
“Time for a rest, Ben,” he said to the big gelding. He dismounted at the tavern and tied the horse to the rail. The smell of cooking made his mouth water after several days on the trail.
“Mornin’,” Betty said to him. “You just rode into town?”
“I have indeed,” August answered and sat at a table. Charlotte brought her pencil out to take his order and for a second or two, they both simply looked at each other. Charlotte saw a serious-faced man with short dark hair and a tidy beard and mustache. He had dark eyes that looked directly into hers. She felt a little flutter in her chest that she had never felt before. Then brought herself back to reality and asked what he would like to eat.
August Mason saw a pretty woman with coppery hair and green eyes that connected with his own in a way that he could not explain. He heard her question and shook himself.
“Tell me, what’s the kitchen like?” he asked instead of giving an order.
Charlotte looked puzzled and lowered the notebook.
“What do you mean? The kitchen is the kitchen. We do great bacon and eggs with biscuits and gravy.”
“I am sorry,” the visitor told her. “I am a doctor and have seen a lot of cholera. I need to ask if the kitchen is clean.”
Light dawned on Charlotte and she smiled at him. The smile did something to his insides that was quite inexplicable but he squashed it down.
“Would you like to see the kitchen and meet the owner?” she asked and he gave her a long, slow smile that transformed his serious face into a handsome, cheerful one.
“I would,” he replied and Charlotte went to ask Dan if it was okay to bring back the doctor. The owner had a quick glance around his kitchen which was clean but busy. He nodded and Charlotte went to bring in the doctor. Betty was curious by this time and followed them through the door.
“Hello there, I’m August Mason,” the visitor said to Dan and offered a handshake. “I have seen a lot of illness caused by food and drink not being clean. Sorry to be a nuisance.”
“No problem at all,” Dan said. “I try to run a clean place. It is a bit untidy because we’re busy.”
“I can see that you are working well here. Thanks,” August said. “I’ll have the full breakfast if you don’t mind.”
“Pleasure,” Dan said and went back to his griddle.
August returned to his seat and the girls went to take other orders and clear tables. The doctor made short work of his enormous breakfast when it arrived, then sat back with a coffee.
“Tell the boss it was great, thanks,” he said to Charlotte and she smiled and took away his empty plate. When she came back to give him a coffee refill he asked if she could recommend somewhere to stay. Charlotte told him that there was a lovely, clean lodging house at the end of the main street. The owner was a Missus Garland.
“You will not find anything unpleasant with Missus Garland,” she smiled. “Her house and kitchen are always immaculate.”
“Thanks,” August said as he stood up and drained his coffee cup. He was tall and slender and she noted that he carried a gun on each hip. He gave her one last smile and walked away with an easy gait that she watched until the door swung closed behind him.
Betty gave her a gentle nudge with her shoulder.
“Put your eyes back in their sockets,” she whispered with a grin. Charlotte pulled herself together and went back to clearing tables.
In the evening, the girls had decided to start the riding lessons and Betty arrived at the ranch when the meal was cleared away. The sisters were saddling the horses and ready to start. Jeremiah, of the blonde hair and blue eyes, was helping. He always offered to help and had a smile that he turned on and off. He joked with the sisters as he had always done. Charlotte and Matilde tended to ignore him. He was just part of the ranch and had always been there.
“Here I am,” Betty said. “I’m so nervous now.”
She went to the old mare called Jeannie and stroked her nose. Jeremiah came and offered two hands linked together to lift her into the saddle. He stepped back and let Charlotte tell her friend how to sit on the horse.
“Just say ‘walk on’”, Charlotte said as she stood on a block of wood and lifted herself into her saddle. Matilde did the same. Jeremiah watched them go into the corral and went on back to his own home. His father was the foreman and close friend of Philip Dubois. They had been there since the ranch was started and had been part of building it to a success. The house was not very tidy but was the home of two men with no woman around.
“I have been on this ranch longer than Charlotte,” Jeremiah said to himself as he poured a cup of coffee. “I was already here when she was born.” For some reason that made him grumpy and he slumped into an armchair looking miserable. He had been four when Charlotte was born and his mother had still been alive.
Betty had a successful first lesson and felt relieved that she had actually ridden a horse and not fallen off. She patted Jeannie affectionately when they were finished and Matilde ran to find some carrots for all three of the horses. The two sisters had very nice mares of their own and enjoyed riding. It had come natural to them and sometimes they helped on the ranch when it was needed.
“You’re fine,” Charlotte told her friend. “We will show you how to trot the next time and after that, it is just practice.”
They went inside the house and the girls wondered where their dad was.
“His horse is in the barn,” Matilde said. There was a noise from upstairs and Charlotte went to investigate.
“Dad says he doesn’t feel well. He has gone to lie down for a bit,” she said when she came back down.
“I’ll leave you in peace,” Betty said. “Thanks for the lesson.” She went off on her way back to town.
Matilde and Charlotte sat beside the fire and wondered if their dad needed anything.
He said he would be fine by the morning and after a peaceful evening the girls went to bed. Charlotte woke in the early hours to hear her father being sick. She wrapped a robe around herself and went to see if she could help.
The bedroom was in chaos. He was being sick into a bucket but his bowels had broken as well and the man was unable to help himself. He waved his daughter away because he didn’t want her to see him like that and he didn’t want her to have to clean up the mess.
“Dad, you need help,” she protested and ran for a clean bucket and cloths to mop up as best she could. Her father lay back on the bed and made no protest. He curled himself into a position to ease the pains in his stomach and moaned a little bit.
Charlotte cleared away what she could and left him the clean bucket in case he needed it again. She cleaned herself up and put on some clothes.
“What should I do?” she asked the air in general and her sister came to see what was the matter.
“He’s really poorly. I don’t know what we can do,” Charlotte confessed.
“Didn’t you say the stranger in town was a doctor?” Matilde asked.
“Well remembered, Matilde. Keep an eye on things here and I will ride in to find him. I hope he did get a room with Missus Garland,” she added as she hurried to the barn. Her mare, Belle, came out easily and stood as Charlotte saddled up. Charlotte fumbled with the straps in her hurry to find help for her dad.
She galloped the short distance into town. It did not take long by the light from the moon. Missus Garland’s place was at the far end of the main street and Charlotte threw herself down from the saddle and hammered at the front door.
There was no response and she banged again and again and called out to Missus Garland. Eventually, the woman came to the door and Charlotte jabbered at her about her dad being ill. The landlady had no idea why Charlotte was telling her about her dad being ill in the middle of the night when August Mason appeared behind her.
“Doctor Mason, thank the Lord. My father is really sick.”
August knew this was serious. This girl did not seem to be given to panic and riding out in the middle of the night. She’d seemed quite sensible at the tavern. He told the landlady that he would go with Charlotte and went to pull on some clothes. Missis Garland realized what was happening and went to bring his horse around from the corral at the back of her house.
He hooked his bag on the saddle and mounted up.
“Thanks,” he said to his landlady and the two riders galloped off back to the ranch.
Matilde was waiting at the door.
“He is sick again and I can’t get him to talk to me,” she said as Charlotte ran up the stairs and August followed. Philip Dubois was as white as the driven snow and immobile on the bed. The bedroom was a mess and Charlotte started to apologize. August waved a hand.
“It is normal for these cases.” He went to the bed and gave the man a thorough examination.
“Dad,” Charlotte shouted to get through to him. “The doctor is here. Answer his questions.”
“Mmm,” her dad groaned. He couldn’t answer the man who had come to help him.
“I am afraid,” August said, “that it is cholera. You are going to have to boil the water until we find out what’s happened. If you don’t the rest of you will get it as well. It is caused by contaminated water which makes anything that touches the water go bad.”
“Oh, Lord,” Charlotte said.
“I know, it’s gonna be hard but you don’t want anyone else to be in this state.”
“Yes, I will have to boil water for the cookhouse as well,” Charlotte said and was about to move away when her father moaned and tried to speak. She went back to the bed. “Tell me again, Dad.”
The doctor leaned forward as well and they heard Philip Dubois whisper that he had drunk some water from a flask from George, his foreman.
“That would do it,” August said. “If we can pinpoint where the contamination came from, we can stop it from spreading.”
He paused and then told her that making her dad drink water would be a great help but it would all have to be boiled and cooled.
“We might have to squeeze it into his mouth from a cloth if he cannot manage a cup.”
“Matilde, go and put some water on to boil, please. I will go and find this flask of water and tell George that we must destroy it.”
“He won’t like it,” Matilde said with the candor of youth. “He doesn’t like being told what to do.”
“I know,” Charlotte agreed.
“I can come with you,” August Mason offered and she accepted it gratefully. They all went down the stairs and left Philip lying in the bed. He appeared to be over the vomiting for the time being. Matilde went to the kitchen and Charlotte pointed across to the house where George and his son, Jeremiah, lived. They set off towards it.
“Does this man take notice of your father?” August asked.
“Yes, but he thinks that because he has been on the ranch since it began, he sort of owns it. He doesn’t. He is the foreman and gets well paid for what he does. His son is Jeremiah. He has always lived here as well.”
August glanced across at her. He saw that both girls were not happy about going to this house. He thought they were actually scared.
“You don’t like either of them,” he said and it wasn’t really a question. August had a deep understanding of people which came in handy when he was treating patients.
“I guess it was easy to pick that up from my voice.” She smiled and they stopped at the porch steps of the foreman’s house.
“Let me do the talking. Just introduce me.” She nodded and knocked at the door. Jeremiah answered and smiled when he saw Charlotte but changed to a frown when he saw there was someone with her.
“What on earth is wrong at this time of night?” he grumbled and a voice called down the stairs to ask who the hell was at the door.
“This is Doctor Mason,” Charlotte said. “Dad is very sick and we need to talk to your father.”
Jeremiah grudgingly opened the door and they stepped inside to a large and well-furnished living room. The chairs and sofa were good quality leather and the walls had the horns of the cattle on all four walls. Despite the expensive furnishings, the room was not quite clean and smelled a bit off.
August Mason wrinkled his nose and Charlotte caught the gesture.
“Can we speak to your father please?”
“I can pass anything on. He is in bed just now.”
“Do as the doctor asks, Jeremiah,” she said tartly. “This is important.”
“Okay. Okay,” he said and went up the stairs. When he came back, George Smith was wrapped in a robe and not happy.
“What sort of a doctor?” he asked without any preamble.
“I am a doctor of medicine and just happened to be in town when Charlotte needed help. Mister Dubois has cholera and we need to see a flask that he drank from yesterday.”
“You’re saying this sickness is my fault?” George Smith asked belligerently.
“If we can pinpoint the cause of the illness then we can stop it happening to anyone else.”
“If we cannot, then every piece of food and drink on the ranch will have to be destroyed.” She had learned over many years that the best way to deal with these two was to not look as if she was bothered by them.
“Miss Bossyboots,” George said sarcastically. “Jeremiah, get that flask from the back doorstep.”
Jeremiah did as he was told but did not look happy. He came back with a leather flask.
“Has this been left outside?” August asked.
“Sometimes you need a drink when you are outside,” George answered in a bad mood.
“But that is when the water has the chance to turn green like an old pond. That is where the disease grows,” August explained. He took the bottle and went to the door. The water was emptied onto the soil and then he came back and put the leather bottle in the fire. It spluttered slightly and then burned. George Smith was furious.
“That was my property that you just burned,” he said. “I would need to have the cost of a new one.”
“I’ll give it to you in the morning,” Charlotte said. “It would be better if you even bothered to ask how he was.”
“Miss Dubois is correct. A little interest in how your boss was feeling would mean that you had a little thought for someone else.” He paused. “Did either of you two drink from that bottle?”
They both shook their heads.
“Do you think I was born yesterday?” George Smith almost shouted. “Of course, we didn’t drink from it.”
“But you gave it to my dad?” Charlotte asked quietly. Doctor Mason put a hand on her arm and said that they would get back to see how her dad was feeling. He told the two men to boil any water they used for food or drink. Then he took five dollars from his pocket and dropped it on the table.
“That should buy another bottle.”
“No other bottles like that lying around?” August persisted and they said there were no others.
The two of them left the house of the foreman and said nothing until they were out of earshot.
“Thank you,” Charlotte said. “I can give you the five dollars.”
“It’s okay,” he answered. “They really put my hackles up and that is quite unusual for me.”
“So, shall I tell the cookhouse that everything has to be boiled as well?”
Doctor Mason said that would be the best thing to do. They found Matilde squeezing some boiled water into her dad’s mouth from a piece of white cloth. The man looked a little more lifelike but was still very weak.
“I can stay in case he gets worse again and when the pharmacy opens in the morning I can ask for calomel and opium.”
“We have some opium here,” Charlotte said and went to find it. The doctor checked it out and administered a little to the patient.
“It will ease the stomach pains but might make him sick again. It’s trying to find the right balance that is hard.” When the patient was sleeping reasonably peacefully, the three of them went downstairs. August asked for water and soap to wash their hands. The three of them stood in the kitchen and cleaned the traces of cholera sickness away. He threw the water away into the soil and rinsed out the bowl. The cloths they had used were all burned.
“I know it seems like overdoing things but keeping everything very clean and boiling what you eat and drink is essential to beating this awful disease.”
“What a relief that you were in Big Sky today,” Charlotte said. “Coffee should be alright. It boils all of the time.” She smiled at him as she handed him a cup.
August put down the cup and said that he would just check on her dad before he sat and had a drink. He came back down satisfied that the man was sleeping reasonably well. The three of them sat in the living room.
“How much do I owe you?” Charlotte asked. The doctor waved away the question.
“I will stay overnight and see how he is tomorrow. Getting him over this is the most important thing.”
Charlotte said that they had a spare room but he said that he would sit in the big chair in her dad’s bedroom and then he would wake if there was any problem. She went to find blankets and a pillow so that he could rest more easily and told Matilde to go to bed.
“You have done really well,” she told her sister. “Thank you.”
“Maybe you should think about being a nurse,” August said to the twelve-year-old. “You were really good at getting the water into him.”
Matilde smiled and said goodnight.
Charlotte asked if he would like something to eat.
“I have cold meat, cheese, and bread.” She smiled. “Everything is really clean.”
“You are never going to forget about me asking that in the tavern, are you?” He laughed at himself and said that he would like something to eat.
“I am quite hungry myself,” she confessed and brought a tray with the food out for both of them. She stoked up the fire and they sat on either side of it.
“I am glad you said what you did about the kitchen in the tavern. I learned quite a lot today and I will make sure the ranch hands all use clean water and boil what they use to eat and drink. I try to keep an eye on the cookhouse but it is not always easy.”
“You run this place and work at the tavern?” he asked.
“I like to get away from here and talk to other folks about things that are not cattle related.”
August laughed and after a short pause asked if she had lost her mother. She nodded and told him that her mom had died when Matilde was born.
“I was thirteen but the baby had to be looked after. I still miss my mom even after all of these years. It is not easy being the only woman around.” She smiled and added that Matilde was a great girl and good company.
“You did a wonderful job. She is a smart girl.”
“She reads anything that she can get her hands on. I do think that she should go to college but Dad might think she is safer here. He is very protective.”
“She will know what she wants to do for herself in the end. I would stop worrying about it.”
“Thanks again for being with me when I had to go to see George Smith and Jeremiah.”
“My pleasure,” he said and thanked her for the food.
“I have put blankets out for you. Just bang on the door next to dad’s if you need me for anything.”
She banked up the stove and followed him up the stairs. Her door closed and the doctor mused that the house of the foreman had made him uneasy.
I wonder why, he thought to himself. There was a strange smell there and the girls were obviously unhappy.
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Ever since her mother’s death, Charlotte’s days have been occasionally rough, but she has always been a ray of sunshine, as well as a pillar of support for her family. Having learned to embrace life with its ups and downs, she remains optimistic, even when the man she is growing fond of, disappears. Still lost in her thoughts, she will be pleasantly surprised as a peculiar but handsome doctor arrives in her hometown, Big Sky. The very same night, her father becomes severely ill and without hesitation, Charlotte asks for the doctor’s advice. While he cures her father, she falls utterly in love with him, enchanted by his intelligence and confidence. However, reality will once again rear its ugly head, putting Charlotte at risk, when someone close to her plots against her. Will she manage to escape a predetermined fate with the help of the man who speaks to her heart?
Since August lost his parents to cholera, he has been traveling from town to town to treat as many people as he can. During his stay in the town of Big Sky, he allows himself to be seized by emotions for the first time when he meets Charlotte. He has no desire to settle down and deviate from his route, but he can’t ignore what is written in the stars. From the moment that she suddenly appears at his door, pleading for his help, a new path is set for August. Captivated by her beauty and kindness, he will have to rethink the world and his place in it. Could she be the home he’s secretly needed all these years?
Sparkles of love start appearing between Charlotte and August, even though none of them is ready to admit them. Will August find the courage to change his whole life in order to stay with Charlotte? Is she really ready to give love a second chance or will her ego destroy her happiness?
“Finding his Heart’s Destination” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.