By The Sacramento River
This atmospheric complete story by Wendy Clarke is set in California in the 1800s.
It had been a long time since the river had yielded any gold, but perhaps there were other treasures to be found in Hope Creek . . .
DR EARL GRANGER reined in his horse and the covered wagon slowed. From the plateau of the hill, he could just see the Sacramento River slipping silently through the fertile plains below the canyon, hemmed in by the rocky hills with their peaks of granite and dark ravines.
“This will do nicely.” His deep voice carried on the morning breeze, but from this distance there was no-one to hear him, with the small shanty town of Hope Creek being a mile or so away still.
The only sign of life he could see now was the ants’ nest of tents straggling by the creek as if they were an afterthought.
He urged his horse on once more, and the wagon jostled its way down the scrubby mountainside path, the mare’s hooves slipping on the loose stones until, after what seemed an age, he reached the grasslands of the valley.
He had travelled light, the few things he had in the wagon his only possessions. It was how he wished it to be. He had no need of anything from his past.
As he approached the town, with its smattering of framed buildings, Earl lowered his felt hat against the whirls of red earth that were being whipped up by the wind.
Small barefooted children stopped their games and stared at him as his wagon rolled on through, a dog snapping at its wheels.
Pulling up outside the general store, he jumped down and entered the dark shop, pushing his way through the bolts of material and sacks of flour that littered the floor.
He took off his hat.
“Good day, ma’am. Do you know of a cabin for sale in these parts?”
The woman behind the counter looked up from the weighing scales, a small metal scoop piled with sugar in her hand. She regarded him suspiciously. “Who wants to know?” “I do.” With a small shrug, the woman carried on measuring the sugar.
“Folks say that Amos Lamb is looking to sell his place. Old Ned Brown rents it at the moment, but he’s behind with his payments and Amos wants to get shot of the place – take his money and run. Seems like these here hills have given up all the colour they’re gonna.” “Where can I find him?” “Panning in the creek, I expect.” She looked suspiciously at him. “Anyway, what’s yer name?” “They call me Doc.” Furious with himself, Earl bit his tongue. It had just slipped out. What was the point of moving away if the past came with him?
“Doc, eh? We haven’t had no doc here since forty-eight. Last one died of the scurvy.” Her stony features softened. “We sure could do with a new one. For every five miners or so who come out here, one will be dead within the six months.”
Placing his hat back on his head, Earl turned away.