By The Sacra­mento River

This at­mo­spheric com­plete story by Wendy Clarke is set in Cal­i­for­nia in the 1800s.

The People's Friend Special - - PERIOD STORY -

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.

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