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Montana Journey Part 2 Mountains to the Sun
The three visitors sat impatiently in the District Foresters office, wondering why they had been summoned from the field in the middle of the summer for a meeting in Missoula. Jesse, Annie and Ed Kearney watched Rod Tyson, the District Forester, shuffle through a stack of papers on his desk. Rod was not a man keen on small talk and wanted to get right to the subject of the meeting. He cleared his throat, sipped from a glass of water and began.
"I have an assignment for the three of you in Mountains to the Sun National Park in northwest Montana. As you probably know, Congress designated it three years ago in 1908. Its the states first National Park. The park is one of the last refuges in the continental United States for grizzly bears, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. The act that established the park prohibits hunting but a gang of poachers is causing mighty big problems. Theres lots of money to be made selling the heads and hides of big game animals to the commercial trophy market. Theyll pay hundreds of dollars back east for a bighorn sheep head to hang on a wall."
The District Forester noted he had their full attention.
"The park covers 1300 square miles and is patrolled by only 13 rangers. Theres too much ground for them to cover. The Secretary of the Interior has asked the Forest Service for help catching the poachers. Theres a main suspect; his name is Guy Bannon. Some of his helpers have been bragging in saloons about their exploits in the park. Thats how we have his name. Mr. Bannon is a well-known outdoorsman with many friends in very high places. He came west in the 1880s, purchased a ranch in Wyoming and started making the acquaintance of powerful men. His hunting partners include former President Roosevelt.
Every year Mr. Bannon takes rich clients on pack trips through Mountains to the Sun Park. The Department of Interior thinks Mr. Bannon recruits his guests for illegal hunting trips in the park for big game trophies. Because of Bannons many friends, hell have to be caught in the act of poaching for any charges to stick. The fine for poaching is small but the publicity from a conviction would ensure Bannon is out of that business for good."
The three visitors leaned forward in their chairs, anxious to hear what their roles would be in this very promising sounding adventure.
"Mr. Bannon has a pack trip scheduled for next week in the park. Youll join the trip, get to know the guests and Bannons employees, and then see what you can set up. Ed, Annie, youre going as the Sinclairs, a wealthy brother and sister from New York."
The two young people looked at each other, blushed and laughed.
"Jesse, youve been hired to be a wrangler. Bannon likes to bring a woman employee along to hold the ladies hands. You need to leave on the afternoon train to Sweetwater, and then catch the train to the Park Station. Look for a man named Red at the Great Divide Hotels stable.
Ed and Annie, youll leave on the Sunday train. Bannon will meet you at the station. Youll spend the first two nights in the Great Divide Hotel before leaving on the pack trip. The trip will last seven days and youll end up back at the Great Divide.
Make sure the three of you get your stories straight and dont forget your pistols. Theres no reason to think Bannon is dangerous but you can never tell what a rat will do when its cornered. Only the park superintendent and a few men in the Department of the Interior in Washington know about your assignment. Ed, Jesse, I have a telegram from the Secretary of the Interior making you two temporary park rangers with full law enforcement authority. My secretary has train tickets for you. Remember to "
Jesse finished the sentence for him. "To get receipts for any money we spend."
Rod Tyson smiled as they left, envying them the adventure he knew would be waiting for them. And he thought about Jesse and Annie. The tall woman had been a third daughter to him and his wife, Mary. He remembered the loss they felt when Jesse returned to live with his brother and foolish sister-in-law. His niece dropped completely out of their lives - no visits, no letters, nothing. They got a note from Clifford saying she was living in Paris and that was all they heard for years.
Then one June morning Jesse showed up unexpectedly on their doorstep in Missoula. They would have been less surprised if they had found President Roosevelt standing there. Later that night Mary told him that something was wrong, something terrible had happened to Jesse. The dark woman had a haunted look in her eyes. They heard her crying in her bedroom at night. He was glad to be able to help by hiring her for a job with the Forest Service. They hoped she would confide in them but she never did. Jesse kept to herself, didnt seem to have any friends much less a beau though she had grown up to be a beautiful woman. His niece seemed to go out of her way to avoid any type of personal relationship.
Then he sent her on the journey with Annie Thomas and everything changed. A different woman returned from that trip. He really didnt know what the nature of the relationship was between the two women. Mary said it wasnt any of his business anyway. Jesse was obviously happy and thats all that should matter to them. Well, they had been married for over 25 years and he hadnt found Mary to be wrong about much of anything.
Annie and Jesse said their goodbyes to Ed on the sidewalk in front of the Federal Building. The young blonde hugged the forest assistant. "Ill see you at the train station Sunday morning. We can work on our story during the trip."
The two women hurried back to their hotel room where Jesse threw gear and clothes into saddlebags and a small duffel bag. Annie watched as the tall woman packed for the train trip and thought about their year together since they first met on the journey to Lost Soldier Butte.
Annie knew she had changed. There was now a look in her eye, a way of walking that spoke of her life with Jesse in the wild lands. Home was no longer a house with four walls and a roof. They lived under the open sky and slept beneath the stars beside a campfire. She thought of what had been left behind porcelain bathtubs, soft mattresses, meals on a table. Skirts and stays were traded for leather riding boots, stained and patched work clothes, and a mans hat. All that didnt seem much of a loss for a life with Jesse.
Following the fire, they had worked on horseback mapping the boundaries of the Big Burn. The two women finished their assignment on snowshoes working out of a small cabin in the Forked Antler drainage on the Assiniboin National Forest.
Life that winter fell into the easy rhythm of mornings spent shoveling new fallen snow from the cabins door, breaking through ice on a nearby stream for water, chopping firewood for the stove. They snow shoed through silent forests where the only sound was the crunch of snow underfoot. The winter landscape was one of beautiful contrasts - the white snow covering the ground and in the branches of green trees, the bright, blue sky above. Nights passed in the snug warmth of the little cabin fixing supper, repairing gear, reading and writing in the dim light of lanterns. Then to bed and lovemaking that always seemed like a dream. Annie hardly ever remembered slipping from shuddering release to sleep.
"Annie, Im ready. We need to hurry if Im going to make it in time."
The tall womans voice yanked Annie back to the hotel room with a blush. They said their goodbyes at the train station where there was only time for a quick hug.
"Jesse, you better remember the only hand youll be holding on that trip is mine."
"Ill remember that." The tall woman answered with a smile. "Ill see you when you get to the hotel." She stepped onto the train, took a seat by a window and waved to the young blonde as the train pulled out of the station.
Annie returned her wave. I already miss her.
Time flew by for Annie and before she knew it she was with Ed on the platform at the Park Station meeting Guy Bannon. He appeared to be in his late 50s and had the weather beaten look of an outdoorsman. A short, solid looking man, he was dressed casually in western clothes. Their guide approached them with a smile beneath his mustache but his eyes were cool and appraising.
"Howdy, Im Guy Bannon. You two must be the Sinclairs."
He shook hands with a firm grip, perhaps too firmly.
"Im sure youre tired from your trip and want to rest. Your rooms are waiting for you at the hotel. The porter will load your luggage in the touring car. Its just a few minutes drive there. Dinner is served in the dining room at seven and the orchestra starts playing at eight if you have any energy left for dancing. Youll meet the rest of guests tomorrow morning at breakfast." He tipped his hat and left.
"What do you think of him, Ed."?
"He seems like a pretty straight forward fellow."
"Well have plenty of time to find out what type of man he is. I wonder where Jesse is?"
"Shes probably waiting for us at the hotel. Looks like our luggage is loaded."
They stepped into the motorcar and as their guide promised in a few minutes were at the Grand Divide Hotel. The hotel sat beside a large lake surrounded by a chain of towering, pyramid shaped peaks. The Great Divide was one of the many grand hotels built in the national parks by the railroads to entice the vacationing public to see America first. It offered 65 rooms, electricity, steam heat, running hot and cold water, tennis courts and a swimming pool. Large well-tended lawns with scattered flowerbeds surrounded the hotel.
When the motorcar reached the hotels entrance, bellboys raced out to collect the couples luggage. It was difficult for Annie and Ed not to stare when they entered the hotels lobby. The vast lobby was 200 feet long by 100 feet wide with a massive stone fireplace filling one end. Trophy heads and hides of bighorn sheep, mountain goats and bears covered the walls. The guest rooms were built in three tiers that surrounded the lobby.
They quickly checked in, went to their rooms to change and rest before dinner. The couple met in the hotels dining room where they ordered from a menu that offered meals the equal of what could be found in the great hotels of the East. Ed and Annie leisurely ate dinner from china plates on a table covered in white linen. They watched their fellow diners wondering who would be joining them on the pack trip. Waiters in white jackets hovered nearby.
Ed and Annie finished their meal, listened to the small orchestra play the latest tunes and then got up to dance. The young couple danced well together and drew the admiring glances of their fellow diners. Annie noticed that a very pretty young redhead who sat by herself at a table near the dance floor was staring at them.
"Ed, Im going out on the lawn for some fresh air before turning in."
"Would you like me to go with you?"
"No. I wont be long. Ill see you at breakfast."
With a smile Ed replied, "See you at breakfast," and headed to the young womans table.
Annie walked through the dining rooms open doors onto the porch and down stairs to the hotels back lawn. She strolled in the darkness across the grass listening to the music drifting from the dining room and wondered where Jesse was.
The young womans thoughts were interrupted when a familiar voice behind her asked, "May I have this dance?"
Annie grinned, turned around and stepped into Jesses arms.
"Where have you been? Ive been expecting to see you all evening."
"Ive been working at the stable getting the horses ready. Theres going to be enough horses on this trip to outfit a cavalry regiment. Well be packing a ton of gear."
They found a bench near the lake, and sat holding hands enjoying the familiar comfort of their bodies touching. The two women looked up into the canopy of cold, glittering stars in the dark night sky above them.
"The parks so beautiful Jesse."
"I know. Im glad I have you to share it with."
The tall woman heard Annie sigh and felt the young womans arms circle her waist as she rested her head on Jesses shoulder. "Jesse, I guess we should talk business before we forget why were here. What are Guys employees like?"
"The head wrangler is a man named Red. He runs the stable for the hotel. Jake is the trips cook. I like them both. They work hard, know what theyre doing and mind their own business. Bannons hired two college boys, Robert and Henry, to help with the horses and around camp."
They talked and shared lingering kisses until their eyes began to flutter shut with sleep.
"Oh Jesse, I could fall asleep right here on the bench with you."
"That sounds appealing but you need to get back to your room and get some rest."
"Will you come up to the room with me?"
"No, I cant. Theres no way I can get in and out of your room without being seen by the desk clerk. Bannon made it real clear to the help that were not to socialize with the guests. I dont want to risk being fired if I get caught in your room."
"Where are you sleeping? Can I join you there?"
"Im sleeping in the stable with the other employees."
With a sigh, Annie stood up, leaned down and kissed the tall woman.
"I miss you."
"I miss you too. Ill see you tomorrow." They hugged and walked to their lonely beds.
The next morning Annie joined her fellow guests on the pack trip at a long table in the dining room. There were fourteen of them including Ed who sat next to the young woman from last night. She was small and slender with fine features. Her auburn hair contrasted nicely with a pale face and wide green eyes. Annie took a seat across from the forest assistant who greeted her with a sheepish grin.
"Id like you to meet my sister Annie. This is Ellen Parkerman from Chicago and her brother William." Ed looked at a young man in his late 20s who sat on the other side of Ellen and bore a striking resemblance to the forest assistants new friend. He was good looking in a rather feminine way. Both brother and sister gave the impression of being soft and pampered
William responded with a brilliant smile. "Delighted to meet you Miss Sinclair. Hopefully well get to know each other better on the trail." He projected an air of entitlement when he spoke as if Annie should be delighted to meet him.
"Please call me Annie." Hmm, I wonder if thats Parkerman as in the Parkerman Sewing Machine Company?
"Looks like were all here." Guy Bannon announced from the head of the table. "I hope you all had a good nights sleep. Now lets get the introductions out of the way."
The other guests included two doctors and their wives from Omaha, a pair of women whose husbands were oilmen in Oklahoma, a stockbroker and his wife from New York and a young lawyer from Philadelphia. One of the guests caught Annies attention immediately. Miss Irma Sharp was tall, stout woman in her late 30s with a purposeful look and strong jaw. During the introductions she stared at Annie in a manner that left no doubt what her interest in women was. She reminded the young blonde of the type of Englishwoman who dressed in tailored tweeds and was followed by a pack of dogs.
Ellen leaned toward Ed and whispered, "Miss Sharps family made a fortune in meat packing in Chicago. She has quite a notorious reputation." Ellen then blushed daintily.
After the introductions, the groups guide outlined his plans for them.
"Well be leaving from the stables tomorrow at eight in the morning. Theres plenty to do here at the hotel today. You can hike, fish, play tennis, go for a horseback ride or just relax on the hotels porch and admire the scenery. Whatever you want to do, they can arrange it at the front desk. After tea therell be a pigeon shoot for those of you who fancy themselves sharpshooters. I want it to be a challenge so youll be shooting with .22 caliber rifles instead of shotguns. Enjoy yourselves; see you this afternoon."
Annie and Ed spent the day getting to know their fellow guests on the pack trip. Most of them went on a short hike together, ate a picnic lunch packed by the hotel and then rested on comfortable chairs on the hotels porch. Near the end of a lavish afternoon tea in the lobby, Guy Bannon joined the group.
"A table with rifles has been set up on the back lawn for those of you who want to participate in the pigeon shoot."
William who had not left Annies side for most of the day turned to her. "Im going to see how many pigeons I can blast out of the sky. Why dont you give it a try? Dont be afraid, Ill show you how to shoot a rifle."
Annie smiled charmingly and replied, "Im not much interested in shooting today. Ill just watch."
They walked to the table, and Annie stood by Ed and Ellen as others including Irma joined William and picked up rifles. The young blonde smiled when she saw Jesse standing by large crate on the grass about a hundred feet from the table. Annie noticed that Irma had also spotted the dark woman.
Hmmm, Irma looks like shes about to lick her lips. Wheres Jesse been keeping herself? Whats in that crate? Theres cooing coming from that crate! Therere pigeons in that crate! Its not a clay pigeon shoot; its a live pigeon shoot!
"Those are live pigeons!" Annie announced to the group. "You cant shoot live pigeons."
"Annie theyre just pigeons." William replied rather smugly.
Irma managed to pull her eyes from Jesse. "Who cares about pigeons? Good riddance I say. Im ready; lets get shooting."
"Ive changed my mind. Im going to shoot." There was grim look on the young blondes face as she stalked to the table.
"This should be amusing." Irma whispered to one of the doctors standing next to her.
Jesses listened to the exchange between the guests. She had heard that tone of voice and seen that expression on Annies face before. Whatever was going to happen next, the tall woman knew it was time to move away from the crate of pigeons.
The young blonde smiled, looked toward the pigeon crate as she brought a rifle up and across her chest. She pumped a bullet into the .22s chamber.
"Annie, be careful! Youre pointing the rifle right at me!" William called out, the alarm evident in his voice.
Bang! Williams brand new Stetson flew off his head. Bang! Irmas Stetson joined Williams on the ground. Annie dropped the rifle to her hip. Bang! Bang! Bang! The latch and door flew off the crate releasing the pigeons into the sky. Jesse watched from a safe distance. Thats my gal.
"Oh my, I dont seem to be very good at this." Annie said with an apologetic smile. William and Irma stood frozen in fear, their eyes as wide as saucers.
Ellen clutched Eds arm. "My that was a close call for William. Your sister seems so familiar. Has she ever performed on the stage?"
"Uh, a lot of people say that."
Guy Bannon along with most of his clients gaped at Annie unable to conceal his surprise. "No more shooting today. Id hate to lose a guest before we even get on the trail. Annie, do us all a favor and stay away from guns."
With a grin toward Annie, Jesse carried the now empty crate away. William and Irma picked up their Stetsons, looked at the bullet holes through the crowns, and then stared at Annie who smiled at them.
William smiled back weakly. "I guess were lucky you didnt shoot any lower."
The guests, still chattering about the events of the pigeon shoot, strolled back to the hotel to change and have cocktails before dinner. After the meal, Annie excused herself and once again slipped down the hotel stairs. She quickly found Jesse sitting on bench sheltered from view by trees.
"Good evening Miss Protector of All Animals. That was some shooting this afternoon. Did you even aim?"
"Oh Jesse, its absolutely barbaric to use live animals as targets. I just lost my temper when no one seemed to care they would be killing pigeons."
"I hope you never lose your temper with me."
"That will never happen Jesse Tyson."
"Young Mr. Parkerman seems to have eyes only for you. He hardly left your side."
"I know. Hes so full of himself. Williams family is as rich as Croesus but I dont think he has the brains to make the money to buy a cup of coffee. His sister seems equally sweet on Ed. Oh by the way did you see how Miss Sharp looked at you? I thought she was going to rush over, throw you on the ground and have her way with you in front of all of us."
"Now that would have been a sight the rest of the guests would never have forgotten. I met Irma years ago when she was visiting Paris. She had the reputation of being a woman who never took no for an answer. Hopefully she wont remember me."
Annie looked at Jesse with an obvious question in mind. "Did you two..?"
"No we did not. Annie, I didnt bed every woman I met in Paris."
"According to what youve told me, it was only most of the women you met."
"Oh Annie you know thats not true." Jesse smiled at the young blonde. "Well not completely true."
They laughed and continued to talk until the moon high overhead signaled it was time for Annie to return to the hotel.
"I need to get back to the stable. When we get on the trail well figure out a way to be together."
"I cant wait." And once again with a sigh, Annie said good night and good-bye to Jesse.
After a large breakfast, the group gathered as instructed at the stable. The stable was a large log building with stalls, grain bins and tack rooms inside. Bales of hay filled its loft. A line of saddled horses stood tied to a long hitching rail inside a corral. The animals switched flies away with their tails and stamped their hooves as if impatient for the trip to begin. An excited buzz ran through the corral as the guests inspected their horses and talked about the trip. The men wore expensive western style clothes, new Stetsons and silk bandanas. The women wore equally expensive riding breeches, leather boots that laced to their knees and smart felt hats.
Guy Bannon stood on a crate and shouted to be heard. "This is Jesse and Red, the trips wranglers. Theyll tell you which horse is yours and help you get saddled up. Now Id like to introduce another guest, Charlie Winslow."
A large man in his 50s dressed like a cowboy just off the range waved to the group. His round, fleshy face was already red and beaded with sweat.
"Charlies name should be familiar to many of you. Hes the well-known author of many exciting novels about the Old West. Charlies worked cattle, chased outlaws and is a close friend of Buffalo Bill Cody. Hes coming along to keep you entertained around the campfire with his many stories of the frontier."
A murmur rippled through the clients. They were familiar with the penny novels that Mr. Winslow wrote but would never admit to reading them. Would his stories be fit for the ladies?
Jesse walked to Annie. "Miss Sinclair, that pinto is your horse. Ill give you a hand if youd like."
"Sure Jesse, Id like that."
The tall woman untied the horses reins and handed them to the young blonde. Annie led the pinto away from the rail, put her left foot in the stirrup and stepped up into the saddle. Suddenly William appeared by the horse.
"Annie, let me help you."
The young man grabbed her right boot that hung suspended in the air and then heaved Annie upward far too enthusiastically. Williams boost launched her up out of the stirrup and head first over the saddle.
Jesse stared open mouthed, watched the soles of Annies boots disappear over the other side of the horse, and heard her thud to the ground. The pinto turned its head and looked down at Annie who still held the reins. Both Jesse and William rushed to the young woman.
William spoke first. "Annie are you alright?"
The young woman sat on the ground glaring at them. Fortunately the loose soil of the corral made for a soft landing. "Im fine thank-you both."
William extended his hand to her.
"No thanks, I dont need any help." She said firmly as she stood up and brushed the dirt from the back of her breeches. "I can get on the horse myself."
"Jesse, Jesse." Irma called in her commanding voice. "I need your help."
Trying with great difficulty not to laugh, the tall woman walked to Irma.
Irma looked toward the young blonde and then back to Jesse. "That Annie is a danger to herself and the rest of us. Jesse have we met before? You seem so familiar."
"Uh, lots of people say that."
"Which horse is mine? I asked Mr. Bannon for a spirited animal."
"Miss Sharp, that white horse over there is yours. His name is Buttermilk."
"Buttermilk! Thats not a name for a spirited horse. He looks like he should be pulling a wagon. Ill have a talk later with Mr. Brannon about my horse. Jesse, help me into the saddle."
"Yes Miss Sharp." Why is it that Irmas requests always seem like orders?
Irma was a large and not particularly agile woman. That combined with groping hands that explored as much of Jesses body as opportunity allowed made it a struggle to get her on Buttermilk. Finally she was in the saddle and staring down at the wrangler.
"I expect well be getting to know each other very well on the trip."
Jesse forced a smile on her face. "Yes Miss Sharp."
Finally the group was off on their grand adventure. Guy Bannon led the way followed by his guests with the packhorses taking up the rear. They crossed a fast flowing stream choked with willow and then slowly made their way up a narrow trail that climbed up the open slope high above the hotel. The riders passed over a forested ridgeline and dropped into an open valley filled with marshy beaver ponds surrounded by whitebarked aspen. The long line of horses passed through the valley and snaked upward again to the first camp of the trip.
Jesse and Red took turns riding with the packhorses and the dudes. They checked their saddles, tightened cinches, and retrieved dropped cameras. Tall and rangy, Reds eyes had a permanent squint from a lifetime of working under the sun. He was quiet man who only spoke when he had something he needed to say. The head wrangler came to Montana in the 1860s to be a cowboy. Red worked hard, saved his money and bought his own spread in northwest Montana that his children were now running. At 62, riding herd on dudes was easier on his body than chasing cows.
Later that morning Annie called out to Jesse, "Can you look at my saddle? It feels loose."
The two women got off their horses and talked in low voices as Jesse tugged at the cinch.
"Ive never seen anyone get on a horse the way you did this morning."
Annie grinned. "No one is ever going to mistake me for a trick rider. It looked like a chore getting Irma on her horse."
"It was like pushing an octopus into the saddle. She was all hands, they were all on me."
They both laughed. "Ive got to check on the other guests Annie. Well be able to talk more when we get to camp." Jesse swung onto her horse, tipped her hat at Anne and rode up the trail.
The first day was a short one; only 10 miles were traveled before the group stopped for the night at Star Catcher Lake. The cold, deep turquoise lake sat in a basin flanked on three sides by towering ridges that rose a thousand feet into the sky. Scattered groups of fir stood near the lake. Sore and stiff, the guests clumsily got off their horses, and hobbled on aching knees into the camp where canvas tents with cots waited for them. A large dining tent occupied by a long table with chairs sat next to the sleeping area. Nearby was the kitchen tent with a stove and crates of pots and pans, dishes and food.
It had been a long, tiring day for Jesse. She was up before daybreak packing and saddling the horses. Unpacking the horses, feeding and watering them and then helping set up tents before the guests arrived had taken much longer than she expected. As the riders explored the camp, the tall woman joined Jake in the cook tent hoping for a strong cup of coffee.
Jake had been cooking for thirty years first for cowboys working ranches and cattle drives and now for dudes on pack trips. He didnt know much about fancy cooking. He did know what a hungry man wanted to eat after a long day in the saddle.
"How about a cup of coffee Jake?"
"Help yourself Jesse." He nodded toward the pot on the stove.
Robert, one of the college boys hired to help on the trip, looked up from the potatoes he was peeling and then continued his conversation with the cook Jesse had interrupted.
"Theres some good looking gals on this trip. That Annie Sinclair is my kind of girl. Why Im twice the man that milksop is shes always with. One night with me would show her that. Why Id give her a poke "
Suddenly Robert found himself yanked by his shirt from the campstool he was sitting on and staring into angry blue eyes.
"Watch your mouth when youre talking about the guests." Jesses voice was almost a whisper, a slight quiver the only sign of emotion. The tall woman released his shirt and glared at the young man.
Robert stared back, the surprise in his face quickly changing to anger.
"Keep your hands off me. I dont care if youre a woman, if you put your hands on me again Jesse, you better be ready to fight."
"If I see you even looking cross-eyed at Miss Sinclair, Ill do more than put my hands on you."
Red faced and shaking, Robert clenched his fists. He wasnt going to back down with Jake watching. The young man leaned forward and took a swing at Jesse. The wrangler easily avoided his fist and caught him on the jaw with a solid punch. Robert dropped to the ground, flat on his back.
Jake looked at the young man lying on the ground watching the stars spin above his face.
"That boys got a big mouth. I get tired of listening to him. Can you take the plates to the dining tent?"
"Sure." Jesse picked them up and left the kitchen.
The cook watched Robert slowly come to senses, rub his jaw, and sit up.
"What happened? What hit me?"
"What! A woman hit me like that? Where is she?"
"If you know whats good for you, youll keep clear of Jesse. Youre better off going into the woods and finding a grizzly bear then tangling with her again. If she hadnt shut you up, I would have. Now quit yapping and help me finish fixing supper."
The young man stood up on wobbly legs feeling like he had been kicked by a mule. Another round with Jesse didnt seem very appealing, and he returned to his stool and basin of potatoes.
At the first clang of the dinner bell, the guests rushed to the dining table. They were famished after a day on the trail and filled their plates with fried steaks, roast potatoes and biscuits. Mary Burton, one of the doctors wives, looked up from her plate when Jake brought another pot of boiling hot coffee.
"Jake, that coffees awfully strong."
The cook set the pot on the table. "If it cant float a horseshoe, it aint coffee."
The diners laughed and continued sharing their days adventures. They talked about everything from their horses to the scenery as they devoured platter after platter of food.
"Youd think they hadnt eaten in a week." Robert muttered as he raced to the dining table with more baskets of biscuits.
After supper the guests gathered around a large crackling campfire for a night of storytelling by Charlie Winslow. Unfortunately for Annie, Charlies first yarn was how he convinced Buffalo Bill to start the Wild West Show.
"And Im proud to say not only did I discover Annie Oakley, but I also found the Colorado Cowgirl shooting rabbits on her familys ranch. Now Annie Thomas was never as well known as Little Miss Sure Shot, but that didnt stop her from winning the hearts of London. Why..."
Annie pulled the collar of her coat up and looked at her feet. She glanced around and noticed Ellen and William whispering and looking at her.
That Charlie is a big blowhard. He no more knows Col. Cody than he knows the Czar of Russia. Why Ive never met him before in my life!
Finally the storyteller went on to another tall tale and Annie slipped away to look for Jesse. She found the tall woman checking the horses and greeted her with a long hug and kiss.
Jesse pulled away for the young woman. "Careful Annie, youll frighten the horses."
"Oh Jesse, its been hard seeing you all day and not being able to be with you. Next time were detectives well go as sisters."
"I dont think many people would buy that."
"You can be my cousin then. Charlies first story was about the Wild West Show and the Colorado Cowgirl."
"What! Does he know you?"
"No. He made up everything he said tonight. You look tired."
"I am. Ive been working since before daybreak. Annie, you need to get back to the campfire before someone comes looking for you. Ill be going to my tent as soon as I finish up with the horses. Its over there about 100 feet down the west side of the lake, in the trees. The others are sleeping in the dining tent. I told them I didnt want to listen to their snoring so Id be sleeping away from them."
"Ill be there."
Charlie was in the middle of a story when Annie returned to the campfire. It didnt appear any of the guests, even William, noticed her absence. The young woman sat down on a campstool and listened to Charlies tale of a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. She had to admit the big man could tell a story. Annie didnt noticed the time fly by until Mary Burton stood up and announced she was turning in. The young blonde also got up along with several other guests. She walked with them to the sleeping area where they said their goodnights
Annie entered her tent, waited a few minutes and then made her way in the dim light from the night sky to the lake and Jesse. The moon was out and the snowfields that topped the surrounding ridges glowed white in its pale light. The still water of the lake glimmered like a silver mirror. Annie found the wranglers tent tucked into dark trees. She crawled inside and discovered Jesse stretched out under her blankets sleeping soundly.
Shes exhausted; no point in waking her up. Annie pulled off her clothes, covered herself with blankets and curled up next to the tall woman. Just feeling Jesse next to her, listening to the soft sounds of her lovers breathing was enough for Annie that night. As she drifted into sleep and the firm hand of reason faded, thoughts whirled through the young womans mind. Of standing with Jesse looking at the horizon and wondering what they would find beyond it. Of knowing the tall woman would always be there to share the discoveries of each day with. Just before dawn, the clanging of pots and pans in the kitchen woke the two women up.
Jesse sat up and looked at Annie. "What time is it?"
"Its just before sunrise. You were sleeping when I got here last night. I didnt want to wake you up."
"I was so tired I thought Id take a quick nap before you came."
"At least I got to sleep with you. I need to get back to my tent before someone sees me." Annie dressed, kissed the tall woman and slipped outside.
Jesse watched her leave missing the warmth of Annies body. Suddenly, unexpectedly a wave of loneliness swept over Jesse as her mind filled with dark memories of her life before Annie. The wrangler wanted to call out, stop the young blonde from going. Annie had been there all night, practically in her arms. And what had she done? Slept! Tonight would be different. If she had to, shed drink a gallon of Jakes coffee to make sure she didnt fall asleep again.
After waiting a few minutes, Jesse walked to the kitchen tent for breakfast before rounding up the horses. Red and Guy were already there with the Jake. The tent was warm and smelled of frying bacon. Guy stood near the stove sipping a cup of coffee.
"Eat your breakfast. Then I have a job for you before you start rounding up the horses. After I wake the guests up, I want you to bring a tin of hot water to Miss Sharps tent. She asked for it to wash up with."
"Uh, do I have to do that? Cant one of the boys bring her the water?"
"No, I dont want the men hanging around the women guests tents. Anyway Miss Sharp seems to have taken a fancy to you. Im going out and wake the dudes up. Finish eating and then bring her the water." With the coffee cup still in his hand, he left the kitchen.
"Time to getup!" Guys voice boomed through the camp. "Its going to be a great day!"
Rustling could be heard from the tents as the guest threw off heavy wool blankets and climbed from their cots in the frosty cold before daybreak. Shivering, they hurried to get dressed, stuff their gear into duffel bags, and wash before breakfast. Several of the men had made a manly pact to plunge every morning into the nearest water and set off with their towels around their necks. For the rest, buckets of cold water had been left near the tents for them to fill their washbasins with.
Jesse drained her cup of coffee, grabbed the tin of water from the stove and headed to Irmas tent. She stopped in front of its entrance. "Miss Sharp, I have your hot water."
"Bring it in the tent Jesse."
"Uh, Ill just leave it in front of your tent."
"NO! Bring the water to me."
Just bite your tongue and bring her the water. Jesse pushed the flap open and stepped into the tent. Dressed in long underwear, Irma sat on the cot with a regal look on her face and the basin on a stand by her.
"Pour the water into the basin."
Thats it! Ive had enough! Jesse walked to Irma, put the water down and leaned toward her.
Irma, Im not youre damn maid. Im a wrangler. Ive been hired to look after the horses not wait on you hand and foot. Tomorrow morning you can wash in cold water like the rest of them". With that Jesse turned and stalked out of the tent.
Wide-eyed Irma watched her leave. What a woman! Strong, proud, high-spirited . My kind of woman!
At the call of "Come and get it", the guests dressed in bulky coats hurried to the breakfast table. Steaming plates of eggs, bacon, flapjacks and biscuits greeted them. As they ate breakfast, Robert and Henry broke down their tents. The guests could hear Red and Jesses shouts and whistles as they rounded up the horses and herded them into a rope corral near the dining tent. The horses neighing and the drum of hoof beats filled the camp.
In the grey light of early morning, the two college students carried the groups luggage to the corral to be loaded on the packhorses.
"Robert, you got what you deserved. Annie Sinclairs a real lady. Id have punched you myself if Id heard you talking about her like she was some kind of dime a dance girl."
"I know. I guess I was just trying to impress Jake."
"Well you sure didnt impress Jesse." Henry replied.
"I need to make it right with her."
"Yes you do. Shes not the kind of person you want to get on the wrong side of."
The two young men waited by the piled gear as the wranglers led the first horses to them. Robert stepped forward and held out his hand to Jesse.
"Im sorry about last night."
Jesse looked him in the eyes and nodded. They shook hands silently agreeing in the way of the West thered be no more fighting. Without conversation, they returned to their work.
It wasnt long after breakfast when the order came from their guide to mount up. The ridges glowed red in the early morning light as the group headed off for a long days ride. A cold wind tugged at their hats as they hunched over in the saddles trying to keep warm. As the morning disappeared and the chill left the air, they rode through broad U-shaped valleys framed by massive peaks that made the riders feel small and alone. The horses struggled up long, treeless slopes so steep the guest had to hold on to their manes to stay in the saddle. Every pass rewarded them with another stunning view of snow-capped mountains that marched to the horizon. On the other side of the crests of high ridges, the riders led their horses across and down mountainsides covered in loose rock as marmots watched.
All day the riders peered at the mountain slopes searching for wildlife. Regularly one of them would call out "mountain goat". Careful examination with field glasses though would always reveal a rock or patch of snow and not a goat.
After several false sightings Red whispered to Jesse, "We call those rocks tourist goats".
Again and again the guests asked if they would see a grizzly bear. Red and Guy pointed out where large bears had turned rocks over and clawed rotten stumps looking for insects to eat. They would then always add thats as close as anyone would want to be to a grizzly.
When the group reached Sheep Pass about noon, Guy Bannon halted the riders. "Well stop here and have lunch. All of us including the horses need a breather. The pack train will catch up with us shortly."
He waited for them to dismount and sit down. "Enjoy the scenery while we wait for the food." The guide looked at the mountains and then to his clients.
"The Blackfeet Indians roamed these mountains for a hundred years. They called the snowfield over there "where the goat children play". The mountain above was The Elks Tooth. We call it Mt. Adams. The trail were riding on is named the Scott Lake Trail on the maps. The Blackfeet knew it as Running Eagles Trail. Running Eagle was a woman warrior, the only Blackfoot woman to ever be given a mans name. She led many successful horse-stealing raids before being killed during a fight with another tribe.
These mountains and valleys are part of Blackfoot legend and have a spiritual meaning to them thats hard for us to understand. The names the Indians gave this country reflected that."
"Why arent the Indian names used anymore?" Ellen asked.
"I guess we want to forget this country once belonged to the Indians." The guide replied. "White people like to think the wild lands were empty until we discovered and explored them."
"Well I prefer the Great Divide Hotel to a tipi," added Irma. The guest laughed and then the shout was heard, "I see the pack horses!"
Hungry, they impatiently watched as the pack train slowly made its way up the trail to them. Finally the horses reached the group, and Jake helped by Robert unpacked dishes and lunch. The group ate bread and butter, cheese and ham, and drank coffee brewed over a small fire. After the meal, the guests mounted up and headed off again to their next camp.
After along descent they reached Scott Lake, their camp for the night. Small emerald green meadows filled with the bright reds and purples of high mountain flowers surrounded the lake. Jesse finished her work early and strolled through the camp looking for Annie. She found the young woman sitting on rock by the lakeshore.
"Jesse, I was hoping youd show up."
"My tent is in the trees just south of the meadow where the riding horses are. I promise I wont fall asleep tonight."
"I dont plan to let you sleep tonight."
The tall woman looked toward the camp. "Ellens coming. I need to get going. See you tonight."
"Be sure and take a nap this afternoon." Annie called after her.
Jesse turned and smiled over her shoulder, and nodded to Ellen as she passed her.
"Hello Annie. What did Jesse want with you?"
"Oh, I asked her to check my pintos leg. I thought Patches might be going lame. She wanted me to know he was alright."
"That was considerate of her. When I first saw Jesse, I expected her to be a rough and common woman. Shes so different from what I thought. She really is a beautiful woman once you look past the mens clothes."
Annie looked at Ellen as she continued on about the wrangler. Hmmm. Why youd think shes sweet on Jesse.
"I like Jesse too. Its almost supper time Ellen; lets head back to camp."
Following the evening meal, the group gathered again around the campfire for storytelling under a star-filled sky. The guests looked forward to Charlies wild tales of the Old West. Whether the stories were true or not, it didnt seem to matter much after the first sips of brandy the cook generously poured for them. Red and Jesse joined the campfire that night after being urged by the guests not to miss Charlies stories. The tall woman dropped to the ground in front of Annie who sat on a canvas chair.
Irma was strangely quiet as Charlie began his first yarn of the night. Things werent going as planned with the woman wrangler. Jesse seemed to only have eyes for that snippet of a woman, Annie Sinclair. Why the smoldering looks she gave the young blonde when Jesse didnt think anyone was watching! And tonight the tall woman was practically sitting in Annies lap.
Yes, it was time to take bold action. With clever spying Irma had discovered Jesses tent tucked away in a stand of trees, hidden from view of the camp. All the better for the plans she had for that magnificent cowgirl. Immersed in her thoughts, the determined woman didnt notice Charlie Winslow staring at her.
After another long night of storytelling, Guy Bannon had to remind his clients it was time for bed.
"Folks, I know you could stay here all night listening to Charlie but you need your sleep. See you at breakfast."
Jesse stood up, smiled at Annie and then turned to Red.
"Well Red, what did you think of Charlies stories?"
"He talks about frontier days the way people wished it had been like. I dont think most folks would want to hear what it was really like back then. Good-night Jesse; see you tomorrow morning."
"Jesse, I have a job for you." Guy called out.
"Yes Mr. Bannon?"
"One of the riding horses has slipped out of its hobble. I want you to look for it."
"Cant it wait until tomorrow morning?" Jesse was anxious to return to her tent and Annie.
"No, I want the horse found before it wanders too far off."
"Ill find him." Damn, I need to find that horse fast.
Charlie discretely watched Irma stand up and walk into the night. What a woman! His type of woman! Big, confident, commanding and rich. Why she reminded him of him. The author noticed she wasnt heading toward her tent but instead walked toward the small meadow where the riding horses were grazing. Here was the opportunity he had been waiting for!
Unknown to poor Charlie, Irmas destination was Jessies tent. Her plan was to wait for the dark woman wrapped in her blankets and ready for whatever might happen. How could the tall wrangler resist her?
Annie chatted with Ed and Ellen, then said goodnight to William. Instead of going to her tent, she quietly slipped through the shadows in the camp towards Jesses tent.
Ed lingered by the campfire with Ellen. "I know its late but would you like to go for a stroll with me? Theres enough moonlight to see our way to the lake."
"Yes Ed, Id like that."
"Good. I have to talk with Guy for a few minutes. Ill meet you at the meadow where the horses are grazing."
Annie looked around to make sure no one was watching and darted into Jesses tent. It was pitch black inside and she could barely make out the tall woman covered in blankets.
"I hope youre rested up. Youre not getting much sleep tonight." She whispered as she crawled on top of her.
A head popped up with eyes wide with surprise.
"Well I never What are you doing here!"
After a moment of stunned silence, Annie regained her wits. "I could ask the same question Irma. Obviously weve accidentally crawled into the wrong tent."
"Well, I guess youre right. Could you get off me."
After untangling themselves, the two women left the tent without a further word and headed off in opposite directions. Annie peered into the darkness.
Wheres Jesse? She must be around the horses. Ill find her and tell her about Irma.
Annie walked into the night toward the small meadow where she knew the horses were grazing.
Charlie Winslow searched the meadow for Irma. It was difficult seeing in the dim light of the moon but knew she had to be near. Then he saw the big woman, standing in the trees. She hadnt seen him. Good, now hed act like one of the tall, dark men of action that strode through the pages of his novels. Hed sneak up on Irma and surprise her with a kiss.
The author stealthily moved through night like the Indians he loved to write about. He grabbed Irma from behind, spun her around and planted a big kiss on the womans lips. The next thing he remembered was lying on the ground on his back seeing stars spinning around his head, and a very angry woman wrangler leaning over him.
"What the hell is going on?" she growled.
"I thought you were Irma." Charlie mumbled.
"Well Im not." Jesse reached down, grabbed Charlie by his coat and pulled him to his feet. "Get back to your tent before you get in any more trouble."
The author nodded his head and stumbled away rubbing his chin.
What an idiot. I need to find that damn horse before Annie falls asleep in my tent. Then Jesse saw the woman standing in the trees across the meadow from her. Thats Annie. She must have got tired of waiting and come looking for me. The tall woman quickly reached her, stepped from the darkness, leaned down and kissed the young woman on her lips.
Whys Annie so stiff? Jesse opened her eyes; eyes wide with fear stared back at her. It was Ellen Parkerman! She was kissing Ellen Parkerman! The wrangler quickly stepped back but not before catching a stinging slap on her cheek.
"Jesse, what are you doing sneaking up on people in the dark! You about scared me to death."
"Im sorry. I thought you were someone else."
"Im going right back to my tent. We dont need to say anything more about this do we?" How would I ever explain being out here at night kissing Jesse? Who was she waiting for?
That was some kiss!
The tall woman nodded her head. With that both women headed off in opposite directions. As they hurriedly left the meadow, Annie and Ed arrived unknown to each other at opposite ends of the meadow.
Wheres Ellen? When I find her Im going to give a big kiss. I dont think shell mind. There she is! He crept over, grabbed the young woman and kissed her quickly on the lips.
Owwww! Whered Ellen learn to punch like that! Ed clamped a hand over his right eye.
"I thought you were Ellen."
"Im so sorry. I was looking for Jesse. Are you all right?"
"Ill tell you tomorrow morning when I get a look at my eye. Did Jesse teach you to punch?"
"I taught myself."
"We could have used you on the Yale boxing team. Annie, I need to find Ellen."
"Ill look with you. Jesses got to be some where around here."
They quickly and unsuccessfully searched the meadow for their friends.
"I dont think Ellens here. She must have returned to her tent. Im going to call it night and go back to camp. Are you going to keep looking for Jesse?"
"No, Ill go back with you. If I stay out here any longer God knows who else Ill end up kissing."
Annie smiled at the puzzled look on Eds face. "Ill explain it to you later."
At breakfast Jesse was in a foul mood. What a night it had been. She had mistakenly kissed Ellen, it was early morning before she found the horse, and then to top it all off when she finally got back to her tent it was empty!
Jake handed her a cup of coffee in the cook tent. "You look like you have a burr under you saddle."
"I was up all night looking for a horse."
"Take the coffee out to the table. The dudes are ready for their breakfast."
Guy Bannon surveyed his clients as they sat at the table. Puzzled, he noted Ed had a black eye, Charlies jaw was swollen and Jesse had a bruised face. Had a grizzly got into camp last night?
Jesse set the coffee pot on the table and glanced at Annie. The young blonde looked up from her plate, smiled weakly and shrugged her shoulders.
Irma glared at them as she buttered a biscuit and stuffed it in her mouth. I thought there was something between those two. What on earth does a woman like Jesse see in Annie? Shes always so cheerful. Well, theres no accounting for taste!
The guests finished breakfast and gathered at the horses eager for another day of riding. Grey clouds threatening foul weather hung low over the mountains that morning. They tied yellow slickers on their saddles in case rain came.
Jesse and Red stood with the clients helping them get ready. An easy camaraderie had grown between the two wranglers and the city folk. The guests knew their money; their education and their social standing meant nothing in the mountains. Secretly they envied the way Red and Jesse seemed so sure of themselves in this wild country. It was if the two wranglers had been born to a life in the saddle under the open sky.
There had been a change in the guests as the demands of work and life at home were forgotten on the trail. They felt a growing confidence as the miles passed by. Several of them now saddled their own horses in the morning. The women took pride in their tanned faces and chapped lips. They forgot about fashion, face powder and hair rollers, and happily wore sweat-stained shirts, dusty trousers and battered hats.
Leaving Red with the clients, Jesse walked to Annie who was saddling her pinto and asked in a low voice. "Where were you last night?"
"I was in your tent with Irma."
"Shhhh, not so loud. I crawled in your tent and found Irma. She was waiting for you. We left your tent and I looked for you. Do you think Irma will say anything?
"No. Shed have a hard time explaining why she was in my tent."
"Where were you?"
"I was in the meadow getting kissed by Charlie."
"So thats what happened to his jaw. Whyd he kiss you?"
"He thought I was Irma."
"Charlies sweet on Irma?"
"Looks like it. Most likely he has an eye for her money. Annie, what happened after you left my tent?"
"I got kissed by Ed."
"Did you have to punch him?"
"It was dark; I didnt know it was Ed. He was looking for Ellen. Who hit you?"
"Ellen after I kissed her."
"Shhh. Theyre looking at us. I thought she was you."
"Jesse, Jesse." Ellens voice called. "Can you show me how to saddle my horse?"
With a resigned look, the wrangler went to Ellen.
The group rode all morning through a cold rain that pelted against their slickers. It was after lunch before the sky finally cleared and the sun broke out. Ed, Annie and William stopped and got off the horses to remove their raingear. They took their time basking in the warmth of the sun. Guy Bannon joined them, pulled out a cigarette from a pack in his pocket and lit it.
"You folks enjoying yourselves today?"
"We sure are Guy." Annie answered for them.
"Say Guy." William asked. "Where are all those big game animals Ive heard the park is full of? I havent seen anything bigger than a chipmunk."
The guide took a drag off his cigarette before replying. "You like to hunt William?"
"I sure do. Im planning to go trophy hunting in Africa next year."
"You dont need to go to Africa to get yourself trophy heads. Theres plenty here if you know where to look. Would you be interested in some hunting after we get back to the hotel?"
William answered immediately. "I sure would. How about you Ed?"
The forest assistant hesitated. "Id like to hear more."
Guy stubbed out his cigarette and got back on his horse. "I need to check on the others. Ill talk with you about it later." He kicked his horse into a trot and disappeared up the trail.
William watched as the guide rode away. "That sounds like a real opportunity."
Annie looked at Ed and then to William. "Is Guy is planning to hunt in the park? Thats illegal. If the rangers catch you, youll go to jail."
"Oh Annie, we havent seen a ranger since we left the hotel. Lets catch up with the rest of them."
Their next camp sat by a small lake in a high, rocky basin. Scattered stands of conifers dotted the open ground the tents sat on. The bare, ice-carved face of Red Calf Peak loomed above the camp. Jesse was waiting for the young blonde when she rode into camp and took the reins from her as she stepped out of the saddle.
"Ellen stuck by my side all day. I couldnt get a chance to talk with you."
"Jesse, shes sweet on you."
"Ahhhh, I dont think so."
"Youll see. Guy asked William this afternoon if he wanted to go trophy hunting."
"So he is a poacher. Whens the hunt?"
"After we get back to the hotel. Eds been invited too. Maybe I can go along."
"Finally things seem to be happening. I have to tend to the horses. See you tonight?"
"I promise as soon as it gets dark Ill come right to your tent."
"Good. Im in those trees down by the lake. See you later."
As promised, after supper Annie told the other guests she had a headache and would go to bed early that night rather than join them at the campfire. She went to her tent, waited until her companions would be caught up in Charlies stories and then slipped around the camp and down to the lake. In the pale grey moonlight she had to be careful not to be seen. Quietly she moved through the trees to Jesses tent.
She rattled the flap and whispered. "Jesse, are you in there?"
"Yes and Irmas not with me."
Annie laughed, quickly crawled in and threw herself on the tall woman lying stretched out under blankets.
"Jesse, Ive wanted to kiss you so bad I thought I was going to burst." The young woman lifted up the blankets. "Ummm, youre naked. Help me get my clothes off."
"Annie, your hands are cold!"
"I know where to warm them up."
Suddenly the wrangler sat up, her eyes wide and alert. "Shhhh Annie. Theres someone outside the tent."
"Jesse, its Ellen. I decided to go for a walk and here I am at your tent. Will you come out and visit with me?"
Annie looked at Jesse and mouthed, "I told you so."
"Uh, Ellen Im not dressed. Can we visit tomorrow morning?"
"Oh, alright. Im not sure I can find my way back to the camp. I guess if I get lost I can scream for help."
"Ill be right out. Just give me a minute to get dressed."
The young blonde glared at Jesse as the she pulled her clothes on.
"What can I do?" The tall woman whispered. "If she starts screaming the whole camp will come running over here. Ill be right back."
Ellen smiled at Jesse as she crawled out of the tent.
"I thought I heard you talking to someone in your tent."
"Oh, ah. Sometimes I talk to myself."
"Jesse, I dont mean to bother you." Ellen wrapped her arm around Jesses. "Its such a beautiful night. Look at the stars and moon! Can we go for a little walk by the lake before returning to camp? I feel so safe with you."
"I guess so. Its getting late. You need to get back to camp before they start worrying about you."
"Its alright. I told the rest of them I was going to bed. They think Im in my tent. Look at the stars. I wish I knew their names. Whats that one over there. It looks like a big dipper."
"Its called the Big Dipper."
It was much longer than she planned before Jesse was finally able to get Ellen back to camp. They stood in the darkness by the dining tent. Snores drifted from the tent.
"Ellen, here we are. I need to get back to my tent. I have to get up early to round up the horses."
"Thanks Jesse." The young woman stretched up, lightly kissed the wrangler on the cheek, and strolled away. The tall woman watched until Ellen reached her tent and then jogged to back to the lake stumbling twice in the dark. Once again the wrangler found her tent empty.
The next morning Jesse led the pinto to Annie as the guests saddled up. The wrangler whispered to the young blonde as she helped with the bridle. "We need to talk."
"No, now! Whyd you leave last night?"
"I got tired of waiting for you."
"It took forever to get Ellen back to camp. She wanted to know the name of every star in the sky."
As they were whispering, Red walked up. "Good morning Miss Sinclair. Jesse, Miss Parkerman wants you to give her a hand. Ill help Miss Sinclair."
With a sigh Jesse left the young blonde.
That morning the group rode out of their campground at Scott Lake and up a series of switchbacks to reach the crest of a steep ridge. They rode down into a long, broad valley where the trail followed a winding creek. Flanked to west by the sheer peaks of the Great Divide that towered into the sky, the pack train passed through scattered stands of aspen and pine. Ground squirrels scampered away in the grass as the horses moved down the trail.
Toward the end of the afternoon, they passed through a dense cedar forest and then back into the open where their camp on the grassy banks of the Piegan River waited for them. The river was shallow but broad as it rolled over gravel bars covered with willow. Its water was crystal clear and icy cold.
"Here we are folks." Guy called out to the guests as they dismounted. "Theres some of the best fishing in the park in this river. The trout are just waiting to jump into the frying pan for supper tonight."
Ed stood with William and Ellen. "Lets grab our fishing rods when our bags get unloaded and go down to the river."
William nodded. "Sounds good to me. Im looking forward to a big plate of fried trout for supper tonight. Ellen, are you going to join us?"
"Well I thought Id ask Jesse if she would take me for a walk."
"Shes going to be busy with the horses until supper. Come on and join us." Ed answered.
"I guess youre right. Ill meet you by the dining tent. Will Annie be coming too?"
"No. She wants to rest in her tent until supper." William replied.
Jesse managed to avoid Ellen until the three young people headed to the river with their fishing rods. She noticed Annie speaking with Guy Bannon by the kitchen.
The guide called to her. "Jesse, come over here. Miss Sinclair wants to see some waterfalls. Theres a beauty about a mile from here. Take Miss Sinclair there. Just head down the river; youll find the falls."
Jesse nodded and smiled at Annie.
"Are you ready Miss Sinclair?"
"Do you mind walking? By the time we catch and saddle our horses we could be there."
"No, I dont mind walking. Lets get going before someone decides to join us."
Unnoticed by the two women, Irma watched them leave camp. I can jut imagine how they plan to spend the afternoon. She turned back to Martha Collins, the stockbrokers wife, who was discussing her next vacation.
"Frederick and I are planning a trip to Europe next spring. Were going to spend a month in Paris before going to Italy."
"Youll love Paris. Ive been there several times "
Suddenly Irma stopped in mid-sentence, her mouth hanging open as she stared past Martha. Paris! Jesse Tyson! She had met Jesse Tyson in Paris! Thats why the tall woman seemed so familiar. Why Jesse had been one of the most notorious women in Paris!
Irma shuddered at the thought what might have happened if she had become involved on the trip with the wrangler. She had enough trouble with that fool Charlie Winslow. It had been no small task convincing the storyteller she wasnt interested in him.
"Irma, Irma, is something wrong?" .
"No Martha." Irma replied with a strange smile. "I just remembered something."
Annie and Jesse didnt say anything until they were out of sight of camp.
Looking straight ahead, Annie asked. "Talk to yourself much Jesse?"
"Annie, are you mad at me? I hope you dont think Id look twice at Ellen Parkerman. Theres always going to be silly women like Irma and Ellen with romantic notions. You know that dont you?"
The young woman stopped and looked up into Jesses eyes. "How does Ellen kiss?"
"All I remember is the slap. She slaps real hard."
They both laughed, the tension forgotten as they continued the hike to the falls. In another fifteen minutes they were there. The river narrowed where it cut a channel through the rock, and tumbled down a wall dropping into a large pool flanked by ledges. They stood by the edge of the pool watching the water cascade down the cliff.
"Annie, since when have you been so interested in waterfalls?"
"Since I wanted to be alone with you."
"Howd we get here without Ellen and William?"
Annie grinned at the tall woman. "Back on the trail I asked Ed to take them fishing as soon as we got to camp. I knew the two of them brought fishing rods on the trip. Hows Irma been?"
"She and Charlie have both been avoiding me."
"Good. Now if you can just get Ellen to stay away. The water looks inviting; lets get in." Annie unbuttoned her shirt and took it off, and then pulled her undershirt off over her head. She let the clothes drop on the rock.
"Uh Annie. Were kinda close to camp. Someone might wander down here."
"I dont care anymore. Letem gawk." Annie replied as she pulled off her boots.
"I hope they dont have cameras with them. Whoa Annie, slow down. Let me help."
Jesse reached down and unbuttoned Annies trousers as her lips brushed the young blondes neck. Annie stepped back and gave the wrangler a gentle shove.
"Ill never get in the water if you dont stop."
She shimmied out of her trousers and underwear, and jumped off the ledge into pool.
Treading water she called out, "The waters wonderful. Come on in."
Jesse pulled off her boots and clothes, and stepped into the water.
Her response was immediate. "The water is freezing!"
"I know!" Annie laughed. "Im getting out."
In two strokes she was at the ledge and pulled herself out of the water. Jesse followed right behind her.
"You could have warned me how cold the water was!"
"Then you wouldnt have jumped in. Ill warm you up."
In an instant Annie was in Jesses arms pushing her back down onto the ledge. She lay on top of the tall woman, Jesses face cupped in her hands.
"I hate sleeping without you."
She softly kissed Jesses mouth, face and eyes. The tall woman lifted her head seeking her partners mouth.
"No Jesse. Let me make love to you."
She kissed Jesses mouth again, and then her throat and shoulders. The tall woman sighed and closed her eyes, swept away by the feel of Annies tongue and lips on her skin. Annie moved leisurely down her lovers body, stroking and touching with her hands and mouth. She followed the swell of Jesses breasts, the flat plane of her stomach and the curve of her hips. The young woman wanted to draw out Jesses pleasure, to suspend her as long as possible between arousal and release. Annie needed to touch Jesse, feel the tall womans body tremble with desire as the line between giving and taking disappeared.
The wrangler felt if she was floating in a warm sea of pleasure. Her body turned and arched with Annies caresses. Soft gasps escaped from her lips revealing to her lover where to linger. The tension built until the young womans every touch sent an electric jolt through Jesses body.
"Please Annie, now."
"Just a little longer Jesse."
"Annie, Im going to die."
The young woman rested her chin on Jesses stomach as her hand continued to tease. "Hmmm, what would I tell Guy?"
"That it was your fault."
Laughing, Annie slid lower and moved into a familiar, intimate rhythm with Jesse until shuddering spasms ripped through the tall womans body.
They lay stretched out on their backs in the fading warmth of the late afternoon sun. The two women had drifted off to sleep and were now awake watching clouds sail by overhead. Ferns growing in soil filled niches near the pool gave an earthy smell to the air. Only the buzz of insects could be heard over the rushing, splashing water.
"Oh Jesse, I wish we could spend the night here together."
"Only if we find comfortable rocks. We need to get dressed and back to camp. Its almost suppertime."
Annie jumped up and extended her hand to the tall woman. "Here. Let me give you some help getting up."
Irma watched as the two women returned to camp. She knew what they had been up to. She could tell by the smiles on their faces. Well she had some things to discuss with Miss Annie Sinclair about Jesse Tyson.
It was after supper before Irma was able to approach Annie. She found the young blonde sitting in front of her tent sewing a button on a shirt.
"Good evening Annie." Never one to hesitate, Irma got right to her message. "Ive noticed youve become friendly with Jesse. Shes not who you think she is. I know this is hard to believe, but I met her years ago in Paris. I dont know how she ended up here in Montana as a cowgirl. In Paris Jesse was a notorious womanizer. No pretty woman was safe from her. Shes just using you for, well "
"I know all about Jesse. Thats all changed. Shes a different woman from the one you met in Paris."
"I can hardly believe that. If ever there was a leopard that wasnt going to change its spots, shes it. Why I heard a Frenchwoman killed herself because of our lady wrangler."
"Shes changed Irma."
"How do you know that? Youve only known her for a few days."
"Goodnight Irma." Annie got up and walked into her tent.
Shes in love with Jesse. Thats for sure. Well the poor girl will learn the hard way what happens when you fall in love with woman like that. At least I tried to warn her. Irma walked to the campfire to join the other guests confident that it would end badly indeed for Miss Annie Sinclair.
Later that night Annie lay snug in Jesses arms in the wranglers tent, their bare skin warm against each other.
"So Irmas finally remembered me."
"That woman is an insufferable know-it-all."
"Yes, that describes Irma."
"Jesse, do you think shell say anything to someone else?"
"No. Shell just hope I break your heart before the trip ends so she can gloat."
"That will never happen."
"I know Annie."
"I hardly ever think anymore about my life before I met you Jesse."
"I want to give you more of a life than a tent in the mountains."
"I dont care where I live as long as its with you."
With a sudden move, Jesse rolled Annie on her back and stared into green eyes hazy with desire. She thought of how just a smile, a look from the young blonde could make her body ache with longing for Annies touch.
"Annie, are you tired?"
"Good." Jesse purred as she slipped her hand between Annies legs.
It was the final morning of the trip and the guests ate breakfast in a gloomy silence. The group had only been on the trail for a week but they knew they would miss their fleeting taste of the freedom of the mountains. Soon all of them would be returning to their work and homes. From their desks and parlors they would remember throwing a saddle on a horse on a cold, frosty morning and riding to see what was on the other side of a ridge, of standing at a high mountain pass and looking down on a wilderness that spread to the horizon.
The guests mounted their horses that morning determined to return to these towering mountains, to sleep under the stars again and listen to the wind blow through treetops, to once more know the fellowship of the campfire.
It was an easy ride back to the Great Divide Hotel. By the early afternoon civilization was only a short ride away. Ed, Annie and Jesse rode together a short distance behind the rest of the guests. Ellen was nowhere to be seen. The tall woman didnt seem so appealing to Ellen as the return to high society at the Great Divide Hotel approached.
Jesse leaned toward Ed. "Has Guy said anything more to you or William about hunting?"
"No. Im beginning to wonder if hes decided not to go through with his offer. Do you think he suspects something?"
"I hope not. Maybe hes just being careful. Well just have to wait and see what happens."
Annie looked at Jesse. "All the guests like Guy. Hes not a warm person but hes taken good care of us."
"I cant say anything bad about him. Hes a real outdoorsman." Ed added.
"And hes probably a poacher. I need to check on Robert and Henry. Ill catch up with you." Jesse pulled her horse back toward the pack train.
Guy Bannon was riding with the two college students and the packhorses.
"How are the clients doing?" He asked when the tall woman rode up.
"Good. Jesse, Im taking a couple guests on another ride tomorrow morning. Well be out all day and Ill need help. Are you interested? Ill pay you five dollars."
"Sure. Just tell me when and where."
"I plan to leave from the stable corral at six in the morning. Ill let you know how many horses need to be saddled up. Ill also need a pack horse."
The tall woman nodded and headed her horse back toward the guests. She reined to a walk when she reached Red. He was riding behind the clients who were bunched up ahead on the trail that wound through a meadow.
Red snapped out of his daydream when he saw the tall woman. "Its been a good trip. The dudes enjoyed themselves. You need a job? I could use a good hand at the stables."
"Thanks Red but Im returning Missoula. Mr. Bannon asked me to work a trip tomorrow for a couple of the guests. Do you know what thats all about?"
"He usually take some of his guests on another ride after they get back to the hotel. They leave early and come back late. I dont know where he goes with them or what they do. Its none of my business anyway."
"Could they be hunting in the park?"
"Maybe. Ive heard stories about that."
"You know Mr. Bannon. Would he poach?"
"Hes the type of man who needs challenges in his life. Guy might look at poaching as a way of fighting the government. A lot of men like him werent happy when the park was created and they couldnt hunt here anymore."
Suddenly horses screams and frantic shouts exploded from the dark stand of hemlock the line of guests ahead of the two wranglers just entered. A horse bolted in panic from the trees, its rider desperately hanging on. It raced across the meadow in a dead run.
"What the hell! Is there a grizzly in there?" Red shouted. "Get that horse."
The two wranglers kicked their horses into a gallop and chased after the runaway. Their hats flew off their heads as they leaned over their horses necks and kicked them to go faster. They preyed their horses didnt stumble as they flew across the ground and throw their riders to certain injury. Red and Jesse quickly overtook the panicked horse and squeezed it between their horses as they reached for the bridle.
"Whoa! Whoa!" They yelled.
Clyde Smithson, the young lawyer from Philadelphia, sat in the saddle, his hands clutched to the saddle horn. It took only seconds for them to bring the horses to a walk.
"Mr. Smithson, are you alright? What happened?" Red asked.
"Im fine. Im not sure what happened. My horse stepped off the trail and then there were bees everywhere. I couldnt stop my horse."
"We need to get back to the others. Can you still ride?" Red asked.
"Yes, I can ride. Thanks for the help. I thought I was a goner."
Charlie Winslow was waiting for them when they followed the trail into the trees.
"Clydes horse stepped on a hornets nest. The hornets spooked most of the horses. Ed got thrown; hes a couple hundred feet down the trail. Jim Burton is looking him over."
Charlie led them down the trail and around the hornets nest to where Ed was sitting on the ground. The guests were off their horses watching the doctor examine the young man who was holding his ribs. Annie knelt beside him.
The doctor looked up. "Ed will be alright in a couple days. Hes cracked a couple ribs. Im going to tape them. Eds not going to be able to ride. Can you get a wagon here?"
Red turned to Jesse. "Ride to the stable and bring a wagon back. Its not far from here."
Jesse nodded and was gone.
Before dinner the group was back at the Great Divide Hotel. Proud of their adventure, the guests were still in their riding clothes when they gathered for their final meal together in the hotels dining room. Even Ed was there though he grimaced in pain whenever he moved too quickly. They sat in the dining room at tables covered in linen tablecloths and china, made short speeches and shared stories of the trip. Contributing to the good cheer were the bottles of wine and beer the waiters brought to the tables. Finally the food came including platters of golden fried trout to remind them of their meals on the trail.
As they sat eating, William whispered to Annie in a low, confidential voice. "The hunts tomorrow. Im paying Guy $500 to take me to shoot a trophy bighorn sheep. Were leaving tomorrow morning from the stables at six. Do you want to come along? Im sure Guy wont mind. Irmas coming too."
"Sure Ed. Id enjoy the ride. What about Ellen?"
William looked toward another table where the young woman was sitting with a man Annie didnt recognize. "Ellens not coming. She met that fellow this evening and wants to spend tomorrow with him. Hes a Vanderbilt."
"Oh." Poor Ed. I guess hes no match for a Vanderbilt in Ellens eyes.
Following dinner, and a round of goodbyes and gift exchanges between the guests, Annie excused herself and walked with Ed to their rooms. She told him the plans for the hunt.
"Annie Im sorry I wont be able to go tomorrow. Are you sure its safe to go without me?"
"Dont worry. Ill be all right. Im sure Jesse will figure out a way to join us. Good-night Ed, Ill see you tomorrow night."
She entered the hotel room, looked at the soft bed and thought of a hot bath in the bathrooms large porcelain bathtub. With a smile the young blonde rolled up the colorful wool blankets on the bed, grabbed the pillows, walked to the lobby and out the front door. The puzzled desk clerks watched her as she left the hotel.
Annie found Jesse waiting for her in the darkness just beyond the hotels lights.
"Whats all this?"
"Ive told you I dont like sleeping without you."
"Youre giving up a soft bed in a hotel room?"
"If youll give up the straw in the stables."
"Its a deal."
They walked toward the lake and found a small stand of trees where they laid out the blankets on a bed of pine needles. They stripped to their underclothes and slipped under the blankets. Hidden from view, they looked up through the treetops to the night sky above crowded with stars. The eerie call of a loon could be heard from the lake.
"The hunt is tomorrow. Ed, Irma and I will be leaving at six from the stables."
"I know. Im going with you."
"Do you feel bad about arresting Guy?"
"No. He knows what the laws are. You cant let a person break the law and get away with it because you admire him. If poaching isnt stopped soon there wont be any big game animals left in the park. I told the Park Superintendent about the hunt. Two of his best rangers will be following us."
"Do you think well have to let a bighorn sheep be killed before you can arrest him?"
"I dont know. Well just have to see what happens. Enough about the hunt. We dont have much time before we have to get up. I dont want to spend all of it sleeping."
Just after dawn Jesse was in the stables corral saddling horses for the trip. A man she didnt know rode up and got off his horse. He was shorter than she was and had a sharp, pointed face that reminded her of a rodent. His dark eyes seemed to glitter in the early morning light.
"You Jesse? Youre a woman. Humph. Thats a surprise."
"What do you want?"
"My names Joe Dixon. Im working for Guy Bannon. I own a taxidermy shop in Clinton. I take care of the heads and hides from his hunts."
Jesse nodded and returned to saddling the horses.
At six the three guests were at the corral. Irma glared at Jesse and then at Annie. Early that morning she had seen out her window the young blonde returning to the hotel carrying blankets and pillows. Why those two were insatiable!
Guy Bannon called from the door of the stables office. "Theres coffee and food for you in the office. Eat up. Itll be a long ride before we stop for lunch."
They rode north toward a wild and desolate area of the park rarely traveled by rangers or visitors. It was hard riding over a rough trail that regularly seemed to disappear. The day was cold and windy with a grey, overcast sky. They all wore coats making it easier for Annie and Jesse to conceal the pistols they wore in holsters on their hips. After several hours of riding, the group left the faint trail and headed across bare, open flats of glacier scored rocks towards a distant peak. About noon the riders reached a dense stand of firs pressed against the bottom of a ridge.
"Were going to stop here." Guy told the group. He swung off his horse and walked into the trees. With puzzled looks, the others dismounted and followed him. He led them to a small, cleverly concealed cabin. A skinny, dirty looking man wearing a pistol on his hip stood in front of the cabins door. Along with a bath he needed a shave and haircut. He spat on the ground and grinned at Guy.
Jesse gave him a hard look. She recognized the type of man he was. Thirty years ago he would have been a gunman in a gang of rustlers or bank robbers. Men like him were always on the lookout for what they could take from someone else.
"Howdy Tex. Have you found us some bighorn sheep?" Guy called out.
"I sure have. Ive found you some damn fine sheep. Ive got everything ready for you inside." Tex spit again and stepped into the cabin.
Guy looked at the group. "Come on in. Theres sandwiches and coffee for you inside."
"Im not going to eat anything Tex has touched." Irma whispered to William.
They crowded into the one room cabin, and stared at the heads and hides of bighorn sheep and mountain goats stacked against the walls.
Barely able to conceal her anger, Annie asked. "Whats all this?"
"Successful hunters trophies." Guy replied.
The young woman looked at tags with names and addresses that were tied to the animals heads.
"Tex and Joe take care of the carcasses and store the heads and hides here. Theyll pack them down to the railroad and get them shipped to who they belong to." The guide opened a crate on the floor. "Here are your rifles. This ones yours Irma. Its small for a woman."
Irma looked from the heads on the floor. She looked queasy and unsettled. "Guy, Ive decided I dont want to hunt."
Jesse nodded at Annie signaling now was the time to act. The wrangler angled across the room so she stood facing Guy and Tex. Annie stepped beside Joe.
"Guy!" Jesse called out, her voice filling the room.
The rest of the group looked at her, wondering what she was going to say.
"Guy, Im arresting you for hunting illegally in the park." She pulled her coat open revealing a pistol and a rangers badge pinned to her shirt.
"Youre a ranger! How can that be! Thats impossible!" Guy sputtered.
Quick as a cat, Tex pulled his pistol from his holster, grabbed William and pressed the revolvers barrel to the young mans head.
"Dont anyone move. Im getting out of here and Im taking this dandy with me. I aint going to prison."
Jesse pulled her pistol out. She watched Tex while trying to keep an eye on Guy. "Dont be stupid. Put the pistol down. If you kill him youll hang."
Please Jesse." William pleaded. "Let him go."
Only Irma saw Joe slip a large hunting knife from a scabbard on his belt. Annie stood near him but was too intent on watching Tex and William to notice him pull the knife out. Irma picked up a cast iron skillet from the table next to her. Hes going to try to grab Annie!
THUNK! She slammed Joe on the head with the skillet crumpling him to the floor.
BANG! The report of a pistol filled the cabin. The revolver flew from Texs grip. Screaming he grabbed his hand as William darted away. Startled and their ears ringing from the shot, the group looked around the cabin. They saw Annie holding a pistol with gun smoke coming from its barrel. She had shot the pistol out of Texs hand!
Jesse turned back to Guy. "Are you planning any trouble?"
"No, Ill go peacefully. Annie, was that a lucky shot?"
"No Guy, it wasnt."
Wide eyed, William stared at the young blonde. "Youre, youre the Colorado Cowgirl! Ellen and I saw you in the Wild West Show when it toured Chicago."
Annie smiled at the young man and looked down at Joe. "Irma, dump some water on him and get him up."
"I dont understand. Ive never heard of a woman park ranger." Guy said shaking his head.
Jesse holstered her pistol. "I work for the Forest Service. Annie, Ed and I were asked to investigate you. Youve been under suspicion for poaching for awhile."
"Well you got me. Theres no denying what Ive been up to. Theres something I want you tell you though. A lot of men like me didnt have a say about the park. It didnt sit well with us having someone in Washington telling us we couldnt hunt where we had been riding for years. And one more thing. A lot of upstanding citizens were willing to pay big money for trophies from the park."
They both looked at William who avoided their gaze.
"Whats going to happen next?" Guy asked.
"Ill be taking the three of you to the park superintendents office." Jesse answered. "What happens next is up to the U.S. Commissioner. Lets get going."
Joe slowly got to his feet, rubbing his head and brushing the water from his eyes that Irma dumped on him. Tex wrapped a dirty dishrag around his hand swollen from Annies bullet hitting the pistol and scowled at the two women
Jesse and Annie herded the three poachers to the horses with William and Irma following behind. As the group reached the horses, two park rangers rode up. They were tough looking men with pistols on their belts and badges on their chests.
"We heard a shot. What happened?" One of them asked.
"There was some trouble but we took care of it. Theres a cabin through the trees with heads and hides in it." Jesse pointed to the cabin.
The rangers got off their horses. "Are you Jesse Tyson? Im Martin Golden and this is Dave Walker. Well take a quick look at the cabin." They walked into the trees and in a few minutes were back.
Martin shook his head. "We never would have found that cabin in a hundred years. Good work Jesse. Well ride back with you and bring pack horses back for the evidence."
During the trip back, William trailed behind the group unwilling to talk with anyone. Annie wasnt sure if he was sulking or embarrassed by what he had been part of. Irma and Annie rode together enjoying a companionship that had been missing on the pack trip.
"You and Jesse knew each other before this trip?" Irma asked.
"Yes. Weve been together about a year. We met when she guided me on a trip to write a magazine article."
"I feel pretty foolish. Im sorry about those things I said about Jesse."
"Dont worry about it Irma. No one regrets her past more than she does. Like I told you, Jesses changed."
"Youre a lucky woman."
"I know. And thanks for help with the skillet."
Rod Tyson looked up from the report he received that morning from the park superintendent. He smiled at Jesse, Annie and Ed who sat in front of his desk.
"Good work. According to the report, Guy Bannon, Joe Dixon and Tex Reid will be charged with illegal hunting and carrying firearms in the park, and transportation of illegally killed game across state lines. Thats a violation of the Lacy Act."
"Whats going to happen to them?" Jesse asked.
"I imagine Reid and Dixon will get jail time. Bannon will probably get off with a fine and have his gear confiscated. At least he wont be hunting again in a National Park. I also have letters of commendation for you from the superintendent. Congratulations, you deserve them."
The three visitors stood up, took the letters and shook Rods hand.
"Thanks. Im glad we were able to help." Jesse responded. "Annie and Ill be getting back to the Cree. We still have plenty of work to do before the snow comes."
"Wait a minute Jesse. I have a letter for you. It came to the house while you were in the park. Its from the American Museum of Natural History in New York."
Rod handed the letter to the tall woman who tore it open.
"What is it?" Annie asked.
Jesse looked up, a smile on her face. "Its an invitation to join an expedition from the museum that is traveling to Mongolia next year to look for dinosaur bones."