Firelands-The Beginning in SASS Wire Saloon Posted 10 hours ago Linn Keller 1-6-13 Parson Belden waited until the last notes of the hymn faded before he raised his hands and announced in his orator's voice, "Be seated." The congregation settled into pews; there was the usual shuffling of feet, an occasional cough, and the Parson waited a few moments more. "I had a fine sermon prepared," the Parson said. "As a matter of fact I had such a sermon ready as would bring a stone statue to its knees at the altar rail, begging forgiveness for its sins." The Parson's upraised and wagging finger, his overly serious expression, his exaggerated tone of voice, brought several smiles and a few chuckles: they knew the man was up to something, and they were right. "My Mother, rest her soul," the Parson continued, "taught me that waste was a sin. "I try not to be a wasteful man, which is why there is no pie left." Laughter again, and the Parson looked at his flock with innocent eyes. "Now, now, I didn't want it to go bad, y'see, if it went stale we'd have to throw it out and that would be wasteful and waste is a sin, and ..." He blinked his eyes like a little schoolboy trying to get away with telling a whopper. The Parson sighed, shaking his head. "And if I stood up here and gave my full sermon and then the announcements to follow, it would be wasteful of your time and mine. "If waste is a sin and I try not to be a sinful man, let me therefore dispense with the sermon. "I intended to present about the Samaritan and the injured man, but the announcements present that sermon more clearly than I ever could. "Doctor Greenlees?" The mood changed immediately. The town's physician had never addressed the community in such a forum; this, they knew, was a serious matter. "There is a measles outbreak in Rabbitville," he said without preamble. "It's winter, it will spread slowly from one town to another but when it arrives it'll run through the town like wildfire." This was more talk than the good Doctor usually gave in a week's time; the man was not known to be so long winded. He had their attention. "I do not expect any great problems. It is not a deadly plague, it shouldn't sweep through like the Black Death. Hopefully the worst it will do is fever, maybe convulsions in the young, occasional deafness, that's about it. In the meantime, mothers, look at your young when they get their Saturday night bath. You know what to look for: a rash, fever, earache. Babies can get fussy and noisy. Look at the roof of their mouth, you're looking for white spots. If you see these, dunk them in a nice hot bath. If it's measles, they will pop right out." "What about school?" Daisy called, her hand upraised. Sarah stepped up beside the Doctor. "School will go on as usual," Sarah said. "If a child is infected, keep him home until he's over it. It will hit Rabbitville harder than it hits us." She looked up at Dr. Greenlees, as if afraid she'd just trodden upon his territory. "Miss McKenna is right," the Doctor nodded. "I don't foresee any great difficulty. These things happen. When it does, we'll handle it." Digger, sitting in the back row with his fine silk hat balanced on his lap, smiled a little. He used to have a shop in a poorer part of the country, but poor or not, when the pox came through, he had a double row of small coffins, and every one of them occupied. Business had been good. As much as Digger was a resident and a member of the community, he was also a businessman, and he made a mental note to have more of the smaller coffins on hand. Jacob was brushing the mare, soothing her with voice and with touch: he'd combed out her mane and her tail, dodged one kick and twisted from one bite, rapping her across the nose with the wooden back of the comb when she tried again. The mare ducked her head and looked surprised, especially when little Joseph shook his finger and declared, "You big meanie, stop that!" Jacob handed the curry to his boy, who proceeded to curry the mare's forelegs. She bent and snuffed loudly at Joseph, but never even offered to bite: she stood still for the lad's attentions, and Joseph did a fine job: Jacob watched closely as Joseph went back and started working on her hind legs as well. Jacob rubbed the mare's nose and murmured to her, called her a good girl and told her he was proud of her for behaving. Chances are good the mare didn't understand a word he said, but chances are equally good she understood his tone of voice. Annette looked up from wiping down the table, looked out the window to see Jacob leading the mare, with Little Joseph grinning in the saddle, his little boots thrust into the drawn-up, man-size doghouses. Joseph held the reins like his Pa showed him, one-handed, left hand just above the saddle horn and right hand on his thigh. Annette went back to wiping down the table. She looked back to see little Joseph riding the opposite direction, back toward the barn, with Jacob nowhere in sight. She looked back to her work, humming a little: she looked up in time to see Joseph, standing up in the stirrups, leaned over the mare's neck, yelling and grinning, and the mare was at a gallop, her nose thrust forward, and in that snapshot, that moment's visual impression, Annette was hard pressed to decide which was the happier, the grinning, yelling little boy, or the mare he rode. Jacob curled his lips and whistled and little Joseph laid the reins against her neck just like his Pa taught him, and the mare turned under him and gathered herself and thrust hard against the frozen ground, hooves thundering against the snow as she stretched out into an honest-to-God, run-like-hell gallop. Jacob threw his arms wide and little Joseph leaned back in his saddle and drew gently, gently back on the reins and the mare haunched back and skidded a little and came to a blowing stop just arm's length from the calm, unruffled Jacob, who reached up to caress her nose. The mare snapped at him and Jacob slapped her nose, gently, and scolded, "You big meanie, stop that," and she did. Jacob fed her a thick sliver of molasses cured tobacker from the flat of his palm and rubbed her ears and called her a good girl. He looked up at Joseph The lad's eyes were big and his cheeks and ears were red, and the lad had a grin on his face as broad as two counties in Texas. "Joseph, how'd you like it?" "Fine!" Joseph crowed, his exclamation puffing out in a happy breath-cloud. "That's my boy!" Jacob declared proudly: rubbing the mare's neck, he stepped back and raised his arms to pick Joseph out of the saddle. The mare swung her head around and neatly plucked the protruding bandana from Jacob's coat pocket, pulling it free and nodding briskly, waving the paisley flag in derisive triumph.