Two sounds burrowed through his dreams and roused Sam. The first was a hollow clunk and splash, an odd noise that sounded completely out of place in his cabin. The second was a louder, heavier thud that sounded like something falling over. Like somebody falling over. He opened his eyes and saw Kate, lying there on the floor of the cabin, her face mashed against the rug. A froth was forming at her mouth as she lay there twitching, and a glass lay next to her on the floor. He could still see water glistening as it soaked into the rug.
For an instant—only an instant—Sam froze. It was as if he were looking at a nightmare, not real life. This can’t be. This can’t be my love here on the floor.
“Kate!” he shouted, rolling out of bed as fast as his injuries allowed. He was to her side in a flash, pulling her close, but her head rolled back senselessly. Sam cradled her to him and ran his hand over her forehead. Her skin was clammy and slick with sweat, and although he stared into her eyes, the pupils huge and dark, it was as if a stranger were looking back at him. Please, please help me, Sam thought as he took her into his arms and struggled to his feet, ignoring the pain that leaped through his side as his busted ribs jostled each other.
He wrestled the door open and began to hurry down the hill to the house. Bruises and aches were nothing; the only thing that mattered was getting Kate some help. We’ve got to get her to the doctor, Sam thought, and as if to underline the thought, a fresh convulsion overtook Kate. She shook and shivered as if she wanted to wriggle out of his arms and fall to earth, but Sam’s grip was firm. He hugged her more tightly, trying to ignore the terror that had begun to creep into his bones. I can’t lose her. I will not lose her.
Sam’s bare feet slipped and slid on the dew as he descended the grassy slope, but he managed to finally reach the porch and climb the steps without dropping his treasure or falling himself. And so, for the second time in a week, Sam carried Kate’s limp body into the family home. His shouts drew the family out of the dining room, away from their breakfast, and into the parlor, where they were greeted by the horror of Kate’s appearance as another round of tremors wracked her slender form.
The others swarmed around as Sam laid Kate gently on the sofa, unable to do any more than hold her hand as her body convulsed. Shouts and cries swirled around as Sam was tugged in all directions, everybody speaking at once and nobody doing anything.
There’s no time for this. She’s fading away. “Quiet!” Sam shouted. He stood and grabbed Mark by the shoulder. “You go get a wagon ready. We need to take her to the doctor. And you,” he said, turning to Jake, “go get blankets. She needs to lie down, so get everything you can to make her comfortable. Go now!”
The boys shot out of the room. Thomas grabbed Sam’s sleeve and shook him by the arm.
“What happened?” he cried. “What’s wrong with her?”
Sam laid his hand on Tom’s shoulder but turned to Becky. “Go get some cloth, something to make cold compresses. And get a bucket of water,” he told her. “But taste it to make sure it’s fresh!” he added, shouting after her as she ran to the kitchen.
He turned back to Thomas. “I’m not sure exactly what happened. She might have had some bad water, that’s all I know,” he said. “Right now we just have to get her some help as fast as we can. Go get your horse saddled up. I need you to ride ahead and let the doctor know we’re coming.”
Tom looked down at Kate and ran his hand over her pale forehead. “What are you saying? I can’t leave my daughter like this,” he said, his voice quavering. “You’re a faster rider anyway. You should ride ahead.”
Sam grabbed him by both shoulders. “Tom, that doesn’t matter,” he said. “Either one of us would be there before the wagon. But she needs to get there as soon as we can, and I know the roads better. I can drive faster than you can.”
He hesitated only a moment before nodding and running out of the room. Sam again knelt at Kate’s side and felt her forehead. She’s burning up. Please, God, let her hold on until we get to town.
“Becky, I need those compresses!” he shouted, and a moment later she rushed in, water sloshing over the rim of the bucket as she went. The girl knelt by Sam’s side and they laid the cool, wet cloth on Kate’s brow. Sam almost expected to see steam rise from her feverish skin. “You stay with her until I get back.”
Becky nodded, too scared to say anything and her eyes brimming with tears. Sam reached over and squeezed her hand. “She’ll be fine, if we all do what needs to be done,” he said. “She needs us all to be strong now.”
The girl nodded again and Sam jumped to his feet. He raced back up the hill, pebbles and twigs biting into his bare feet as he went, and burst into the cabin. He dressed in a flash and was about to head back down to the house when he accidentally kicked the glass that Kate had dropped, sending it spinning on the rug.
He picked it up and thought for a moment. The pitcher still sat on the table, sweaty with condensation. She must have gone to the well this morning, he thought. Sam poured a splash of water into the glass and smelled it. Nothing. He lifted the glass to his lips, and as soon as the water poured over his tongue, he knew. The bitterness sat in his mouth even after he’d spit the water out. It could mean only one thing. They poisoned my well.
Sam felt a rage come alive within his soul. The cowards aimed at me and got Kate instead. Or maybe it was only one coward, and I’ve got a pretty good idea who it was. He leaped out of the cabin, ready to run back down the hill, when he realized that he’d forgotten something, and came to a sliding stop as he skidded across the wet grass. Sam hurried back to his cabin, and when he next appeared, his club was at his side.