The following day the phone jangled as Jim walked by. Frustrated and weary, he grabbed it off the hook and answered brusquely, "Yes?"
"Hey, Doc. You mad at somebody?" Ben's familiar voice asked.
"Sorry, just frustrated. I'm sure you've heard of our epidemic here on the Ridge?"
"Epidemic of what?"
"Typhoid, Ben. We've lost a number of people to it."
"Any of my family affected, Doc?"
Jim hesitated, "Yes, Ben. Jake was admitted this morning. But he’s strong and came in early. I have every reason to be optimistic about his recovery."
“He must be bad if he agreed to stay at the clinic. Now level with me, Doc. I’d rather know."
"He only agreed to stay after I stressed the danger he posed to his family."
"Where's it coming from, Doc?"
"It appears to be the well in the community. Jake confirmed he had drunk from it one afternoon."
"The well's been closed, right?"
"No, Ben. I've tried. Matthews has threatened to lock me up if I go near it for a sample."
Ben swore. "I called to tell you I had a few days off and would be home tomorrow, but forgit that. I’ll be in tonight. We’ll git thet well closed, one way or ‘nother.”
“Ben, don't bring the girls. By rights, I shouldn’t be allowing anyone into the community, but I'm desperate.”
“Look, Doc. I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
Jim hung up and went to tell the others. He met Judith coming out of a room with her arms full of dirty linen to soak in disinfectant. He noticed her weary expression. “Here, give me those,” he ordered.
“No, I can do this, but check on Jake. His fever is so high he’s delirious.”
“Ben called. He’ll be here this evening. I’m hoping he can help me get that well closed.”
“It all seems so hopeless. Sometimes I fear the whole of Balsam Ridge will be wiped out by this horrid disease.”
“Since Ben is employed by the state, I’m hoping he can pressure Doug Matthews into closing the well.”
Tired, Judith spit out her words. “Doug Matthews! I never liked the man since the first time I met him.”
“Honey, that was when he married us,” Jim managed a tired smile.
“Yes, and that was the first and last good thing he ever did,” she retorted. “What will you and Ben do?”
“The first thing is to go down to the well and get a water sample. I’ll make sure Matthews has locked up and gone home. He’s threatened to arrest me if I interfere with the people getting water.”
A child was heard to whimper from her sick bed and Judith declared, “I’d like to hold Doug Matthews down and pour a quart of that well water down his throat. Oh dear, I’m not being very charitable in my thinking, am I?" Starting to leave she turned. “Dear, Ben can be pretty reckless. You will be careful won’t you?”
“Don’t worry, Darling, if I were the reckless sort I’d have settled matters with Matthews earlier today. I’m battling anger too, but I promise to act rationally.”
It was just before nightfall when Ben arrived in Balsam Ridge. “Oh, Ben, you shouldn’t have come inside. We’re trying to observe some form of quarantine.”
“Don’t worry about me, Miss Judith. How's Jake?" he asked with concern.
“His fever is quite high, but your brother is a fighter.”
“He’s thet alright."
Jim stood, washed his hands, and came across to welcome him. “Ben, when you came through the community did Matthews’ store appear closed?"
“Lock, stock, and barrel. Let's go board up that well!”
“I have another patient I need to check first. While I’m doing that, would you get boards, hammer, and nails from the building out back?”
“Sure thing, Doc.” Ben took one more look at his brother and went out. On his way to the back door he saw Dr. Kane, Martha, and Henry Stepp, all working over the sick in one room or the other. A determined anger coursed through him.
Under cover of darkness Jim drew up his samples of water, sealed them, and set them aside. He and Ben laid the new boards across the top of the well, not leaving a crack the rope could thread through, much less a bucket. If their hammering disturbed anyone, it was not made known.
“No one will come to the well ‘till daylight. I'll be back to make sure not a drop of water is taken come morning."
“I’m grateful for your help, Ben.”
“Think nothing of it. I’m looking forward to confronting Matthews. If he gives much resistance I just might get in a good punch for Jake.”
“Ben, I promised Judith we’d be rational.”
“Well, since I don’t know the meaning of that word, guess I cain’t be held to it. Get some rest, Doc. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Jim was at the train station bright and early the following day with the water samples packed securely inside a box. Not revealing the contents, he stressed to Sam Becker the importance of getting the package on the mail car that day. From the depot he went directly to the well. Several unhappy people with water buckets stood on the porch of Matthews’ store. Ben was perched atop the well with a rifle across his knees.
“Ben, what are you doing?”
“Keeping folks from tearing these boards off and gittin’ water. Ain’t that what you ask me to do, Doc?”
“I assumed you'd use your position as a state wildlife employee,” Jim sputtered.
“That’s what I’m doing… why I got my uniform on.”
“Then why in the blazes do you need that rifle?”
“Well,” Ben grinned, “let’s just say this rifle is my State seal of authority.”
“Ben, you're not thinking of shooting anyone, are you? We want to save lives. Dead is dead, whether by typhoid or bullets.