Rolling Thunder continues the story of Jesse and Jennifer Branson begun in the stories of Sweetwater, Bannack and Bozeman. It is recommended that you read those stories before reading this one.
This is an original story and the characters belong to me. Please do not reproduce or copy any of my stories without my permission.
This story portrays a loving relationship between two women. If you are offended by such a relationship, please do not read any further. If such a relationship is illegal where you live, work to change the laws.
Well, here's the final chapter of Rolling Thunder. I would like to thank everyone who wrote to tell me how much they enjoyed my story, you have soothed this bard's fragile ego. I hope to combine all of Jesse and Jennifer's story into a book. So, if you liked the stories and know a publisher, feel free to pass this on. :)
As always, please write me at email@example.com, I really do appreciate your comments.
a story by Mickey
@copyrighted October 2004
After breaking camp, Jesse and Jennifer led the horses back onto the trail. It wasn't long before their path crossed the stage road from Bozeman. Leaving the narrow trail, they followed the road as it made it's way down the western slope of the mountains and into the open valleys that would have to be crossed before they reached the last forested pass into Sweetwater.
As they rode, Jesse kept looking to the string of mountain peaks in the distance to their left.
"What's wrong?" Jennifer asked after Jesse again looked south.
"Mommy, dow'?" KC was already tired of sitting in her carry sack, it had been a long journey from Bannack for the baby.
"Okay, sunshine," Jesse pulled Dusty to a stop beside a small creek, snaking it's way alongside the road. She swung herself out of the saddle, "this is as good a place as any to take a break."
"You didn't answer my question," Jennifer said, slipping off Blaze. She was careful to protect the infant in the sling around her shoulders.
"Just thinkin'," Jesse set the carry sack on the ground. "Bet you need some fresh britches," she smiled as KC struggled to free herself of the confining sack.
"Charley does, too," Jennifer chucked the baby under the chin, receiving a smile in response. "Bet you'd like some milk, too" she smiled at her son.
"Mommy, pray?" KC asked, pointing at the creek and it's inviting water.
"No, sunshine," Jesse walked back to Boy, digging through the packs for clean diapers and a feeding bottle. "What say we wait to play until we get home?"
"Otay," KC frowned.
"Thanks, sweetheart," Jennifer accepted a clean diaper for Charley as Jesse spread a blanket on the ground. Sitting on the blanket, Jennifer spread her legs to place the infant between them before removing his clothes and soiled diaper.
Jennifer was pretty sure she knew the reason behind Jesse's distraction. They weren't far from Sweetwater, the town being less than a few hours ride by the stage road. But, that also meant they weren't too far from the ranch. She guessed that her wife was anxious to get to their ranch and see for herself the damage caused to the home they had worked so hard to create.
Jennifer had been paying close attention to the surrounding mountains as they rode and she knew the ranch lay somewhere southwest of their present location. To reach it, they would need to ride to the edge of the valley and re-enter the forest. It would be harder riding and she wasn't sure what they would find when they got there, but she was just as anxious as Jesse to find out.
"Sweetheart, why don't we head for the ranch?"
"Hmmm," Jesse murmured, working on KC's diaper.
"Jesse," Jennifer sat back after redressing Charley. She stretched her legs, enjoying the sight of the smiling infant's legs kicking and arms swinging now that he was unconstrained. "We can go into town tomorrow and let everyone know we arrived. But, I would really like to go home first."
Helping a freshly diapered KC sit up, Jesse plopped down on the blanket facing Jennifer. "You sure?" she asked, even though that was exactly what she had been thinking.
Jesse smiled at Jennifer, grateful that her wife seemed to have read her thoughts. "Might not be a pretty sight."
"We have to see it sometime, Jesse," Jennifer sighed. "I think I'd rather see it when we can be alone," she knew if they went to Sweetwater first, several of their friends would insist on accompanying them to the ranch.
"Yeah," Jesse looked down, laying a hand on Jennifer's thigh and rubbing it tenderly. "By what Billie told me, most everything's gone."
"Except our memories," Jennifer looked at Jesse. "No matter what, he hasn't destroyed those," she said of her father.
"No," Jesse smiled, thinking back to all the days of hard work she and Jennifer shared making the rough log cabin into their home. And, how much those days had meant to the love growing between them.
The schoolteacher working alongside the rancher to make their home more livable. The neglected garden had been cleared of weeds and the carefully tended rows were starting to show signs of new growth. The decaying porch roof had been removed and replaced with one that would shield the porch and, hopefully, one day support a porch swing. Inside the cabin, a new table and chairs sat under the window, the old rickety table and chairs having been used for firewood. The unsteady shelves in the cooking area had been taken down and, in their place, solid cabinets were secured with new dishes proudly displayed.
To Jesse's surprise, Jennifer had eagerly pitched in on every project. The schoolteacher seemed to revel in learning new skills and attacked each new opportunity with great enthusiasm. At the end of the day, it was hard to tell which of the women had worked harder. But, it really didn't matter.
"So, we feed our little ones and head home?"
"Me eat?" KC looked up at Jesse.
"You eat too much," Jesse tickled KC in the ribs, not missing the word the baby had used for the first time, "and too often."
"Mommy," KC squealed, laughing.
"Come on," Jesse draped the baby over her shoulder as she stood, "let's see what we have left to feed you."
"I cooked up the last of the bacon this morning," Jennifer laughed at her wife and daughter, "should be some biscuits and those apples we found."
"Not much," Jesse pulled the mentioned items out of the packs. KC, now sitting on her shoulders and wearing Jesse's stetson, peered over her head curiously. "Sure you don't want to stop in town? Might not be much at the ranch to eat."
"There was some food in Mother's cabin. And, the vegetables we put in the barn before we left. Won't be much but it should get us through a couple of meals. And, we have the milk cow for Charley."
"Moo?" KC asked hopefully, she missed her favorite beverage.
"Sorry, sunshine," Jesse carried the baby and food back to the blanket. "we need to save what we have for Charley. But, as soon as we get home, you and I will have a nice big, glass of milk." Jesse liked the drink as much as KC.
"Otay," KC agreed. With her mother now re-seated on the blanket, KC saw no need to remain on Jesse's shoulders. Grabbing a fistful of hair for support, she squirmed around until both legs hung over the front of Jesse. Then, using the rancher's breasts for stepping stones, the baby climbed down to sit between her legs.
"Damn good thing she doesn't wear boots," Jesse grumbled as the baby descended.
"Jesse," Jennifer scowled, trying to hide her amusement at the baby's actions. "You shouldn't talk like that in front of her."
"Eat, pease," unconcerned with her mother's recent discomfort, KC smiled at Jesse and held out her little hands.
"Good thing you look like yo'r momma," Jesse placed a piece of biscuit in the baby's hands.
"Yep," KC nodded as she shoved the food into her mouth. "Mor'."
Chuckling, Jennifer filled a bottle for Charley.
"Here," Jesse held out her arms, "let me feed him. You can feed this little monster."
"Alright," Jennifer handed the bottle, then the hungry infant to her wife. "Come on, sweetie," she told KC, "let's make some bacon sandwiches."
"Otay," KC crawled over Jesse's legs to sit beside Jennifer.
Trudging doggedly, the tired horses pulled the old buckboard along the stage road. Emerging from the forest, the man and woman smiled when they spotted a scattering of buildings in the distance. The town of Sweetwater.
Frank Wilson was sitting in the dining room of the Silver Slipper enjoying a late breakfast. With his work mostly complete, he had found no need to leave his warm bed at daybreak, as was his usual custom. Instead, he had wandered down the stairs several hours later than normal and had chosen an empty table near the middle of the Slipper's dining room, prepared to enjoy a long, leisurely meal. The foreman was relieved that he would soon be putting Sweetwater and Tobias Harrington behind him. He had finally paid off the last of his work crew including the man hired to guard the Songbird. The man having arrived the day before demanding his wages, thus saving Wilson a trip to the mine.
Wilson looked up when the front door of the boarding house opened.
Thaddeus Newby entered the Slipper's dining room, happily anticipating one of Bette Mae's home-cooked breakfasts. He had missed the genial woman's cooking and, looking around at the many occupied tables, he knew he wasn't the only one.
"Morning," Thaddeus cheerfully greeted the other diners in the room as he made his way to the table occupied by Wilson. "Mind if I join you?" the newspaperman never passed up a chance to garner any tidbit for his paper. And, Wilson could provide him much more if he had a mind to.
"Suit yourself," Wilson shrugged, pouring himself another cup of coffee. "I suspect you'd sit here whether I agreed or not."
"Right you are," Thaddeus laughed. "Morning, Ruthie," he greeted the young woman who had come to take his order. "One of Bette Mae's breakfast platters, if you please," his mouth watering as he ordered the meal.
"Would you like anything else, Mr. Wilson?" Ruthie asked the foreman.
"Another pot of coffee," Wilson asked.
"So, Wilson," Thaddeus helped himself to what remained in the coffee pot on the table, "guess you'll be leaving Sweetwater now that your company has shut down operations."
"Soon as the final word comes from back east."
"Care to answer a few questions?" Thaddeus was still trying to find out what, if any, plans the company that employed Wilson and Harrington might still have for Sweetwater.
Frank Wilson looked across the table at the newspaper editor, he had been trying to evade the man's questions for weeks. Yet, even without him answering, Newby had still managed to uncover the truth about the Songbird and Harrington's secret dealings. The foreman rubbed the back of his neck as he considered what harm it would cause if he now talked to the man. After all, Glade and Weese were in town to clean up Harrington's mess and Wilson wasn't feeling much need to continue to hide the truth.
"Don't know that I have the answers you want," Wilson leaned back in his chair, "but go ahead and ask."
"Thank you," Thaddeus smiled, removing a small notepad and pencil from his vest pocket. "Now, that the Songbird has been exposed as a fraud and your company no longer has reason to remain in Sweetwater, can you tell me what is to be done with the bank and hotel buildings. And, how the company plans to make right by Jesse, Jennifer and the other folks in the valley that Harrington caused problems for?"
"I think I'm better suited to answer that." After descending the stairs from their second floor rooms, Glade and Weese were crossing the dining room to sit in the two remaining chairs at the table.
"I have asked that I be allowed to sell both buildings," Glade informed the other men.
"Not sure you'll find many folks around here with that kind of money," Thaddeus told the men.
"Surely, one of the ranchers," Weese stated.
"Their money is in their cattle and land."
"Then, we will have to seek buyers elsewhere. Denver, perhaps," Glade said.
"Two more platters, Ruthie," Thaddeus asked Ruthie when she arrived with his breakfast and the requested pot of coffee.
"As for the Branson women," Glade continued, "our company owes them nothing. Harrington was acting on his own when he conspired with Kinsington."
"But, they lost their home," Thaddeus reminded the man.
"Wasn't any of our doing," Weese proclaimed. "Kinsington caused the fire. We have no responsibility in the matter."
"Jesse was arrested on the word of your employee."
"He was not operating under our instructions," Glade said. "Our company has no obligation concerning the actions he took on his own. However, misguided they may have been."
"Putting your company aside," Thaddeus looked at the businessmen, "don't you feel any need to try to make things right for them?"
"No," Weese grunted.
"I understand what you are saying," Glade spoke over his companion, "but, I don't know of anything that we could do for them. Even should our company authorize it."
"Which they won't," Weese assured Thaddeus.
Glade glared at Weese as he continued, "from what I know of these women, they are too proud to accept money or any other form of compensation. The most we could offer, would be an apology. Which they will, of course, have. But, other than that..."
"And, the others?" Thaddeus asked.
"As for the ranchers who were told they would have to relinquish their water rights, that is as much a matter for Mayor Perkins as it is for us. After all, it was he who made those commitments to Harrington. And, since, no water rights were actually assumed, I don't believe there are any damages for which compensation must be made."
"Sounds like you and your company get out of all this pretty easily," Thaddeus said as he made some notes in his notepad.
"I would hardly say that," Weese snorted. "After all, this affair has cost us a rather large amount of money. Company stock prices will surely suffer and, once word of this becomes known in the east, we'll be the laughing stock of our competitors," the rotund man complained loudly.
"It will take our company some time to recover from this fiasco," Glade added, his voice much calmer that his companion's.
"But, is that not your own fault?" Thaddeus asked.
"What do you mean?" Weese barked as Ruthie arrived at the table with two more breakfast platters.
Thaddeus waited to continued until Ruthie placed the plates piled high with eggs, bacon, ham, potatoes and toast on the table in front of the two business men.
"Harrington was your employee and working under your instructions. You and your company must assume some responsibility for his actions and, in return, any losses he has caused. However, Sweetwater and the folks here, never asked for any of this."
"Mr. Newby," Glade lifted a forkful of eggs from his plate, "I'm sorry to say but Sweetwater will just have to accept any consequences. Just as our company will."
"Not much comfort in those words," Thaddeus said as he wrote in his notepad. "And, what about Harrington?"
"I expect that he shall be left to the Montana authorities," Glade informed the newspaperman.
"You expect?" Thaddeus asked for clarification.
"Yes," Glade chewed slowly, "I believe that we will received orders to terminate his services and leave him here to deal with any charges to be brought on his own."
"Awfully cold of you, isn't it?"
"Harrington made his own bed," Weese muttered.
"But, he was your employee."
"Be that as it may," Weese smirked, "he made it, he can sleep in it." He had never liked the arrogant, little man and was more than happy to be rid of him.
"Tell me, Mr. Weese," Thaddeus frowned at the robust man, "do you make all your decisions so heartlessly."
"I'm a business man, Mr. Newby," Weese glared back. "To make money, you must use your fist not your heart."
"Is the money really worth that?"
Thaddeus looked to Glade for any objection to the other businessman's comments. Glade simply shrugged his shoulders as he ate his breakfast.
"Nice company you work for," Thaddeus said to Wilson who had remained quiet during the conversation.
"Yeah," Wilson pushed back his chair. Standing, he added, "ain't it though."
"Shouldn't be too bad," Jesse said as they rode back into the thick forest, they would be making their own trail as they traveled directly back to their ranch. "We have one ridge to cross but it won't be much of a climb and we'll drop down the other side at the north end of the ranch property.
"I'm ready," Jennifer adjusted Charley in his sling so the baby was more comfortable.
"You okay, KC?" Jesse reached back, patting the girl on the bottom. When she received no answer, she looked back over her shoulder.
"She's asleep, sweetheart," Jennifer told Jesse what she could see for herself.
"Been tough on her," Jesse sighed, "all this traveling."
"It's been tough on all of us," Jennifer nudged Blaze up alongside Dusty. "But, I wouldn't trade it for the world."
"No," Jennifer reached over and took her wife's hand, bringing it up to her face and, tenderly, rubbing it against her cheek. "The past few days have been good for us, Jesse. We've become a family."
"Thought we already was a family," Jesse slipped her hand from Jennifer's grasp, moving it behind her wife's neck to gently pull her head close.
"You know what I mean," Jennifer sighed as their lips met.
Several heartbeats later, the women separated just enough to breathe.
"Let's get home," with their lips almost touching, Jennifer caressed Jesse's face.
"I love you," Jesse closed the distance to kiss her wife, again and more deeply.
Ed, broom in hand, stepped out of the general store to sweep the wide boardwalk as he did every morning. He looked at the new bank building that now sat next to his store. It was probably the only thing good to come out of the whole affair with Harrington and his company. Sweetwater had needed a bank for some time and he hoped the bank would soon become functional. He wasn't the only business owner in town that would welcome not having to ride to Bozeman for their banking needs.
"Morning Ed," Billie stepped out of the jail, taking a deep breath of the late morning air.
"Morning," Ed turned to smile at the sheriff, and his friend. "How's your prisoner?"
"Quiet as always," Billie walked towards the storekeeper. "Wish Kinsington had been as quiet."
"Kinda makes you feel sorry for Marshal Morgan, doesn't it?"
"Better him than me, that's for sure."
"What do you think he'll do once he figures out where he's headed?" Ed asked as he finished his chore.
"He'll throw a fit, that's for sure," Billie leaned against one of the support columns to the boardwalk's roof. "After that, who knows. I just hope it works for Jesse and Jennifer's sake."
"Yeah," Ed leaned his broom against the side of the building before dropping into one of the chairs he had placed on the boardwalk earlier. "What'll you think will happen to those?" he nodded at the two new buildings in town.
"Bank probably won't be a problem," Billie stepped across the boardwalk and dropped into the other chair. "Town's been needin' one for a while. Gonna be harder for the hotel. Don't really need it seeing as we already have the Slipper. Figure they'll try to sell it."
"Ain't gonna be too many takers, I'm afraid."
"What you thinkin' 'bout, Ed?" Billie asked.
"Just considering some possibilities."
"Any you want to share?"
Billie leaned back in the chair, pushing his stetson off his forehead. He had no need to push his friend, he knew Ed would talk when he was ready.
"Saw Ruthie leaving the jail earlier," Ed changed the subject.
"Brought over breakfast."
"She seems awfully happy," Ed teased the sheriff who would soon marry the shy girl.
Billie beamed a wide smile of his own, "I hope so."
"Hear you told Miles you was turning in your badge?"
"Yep. Don't think I want to face any more bullets."
"Can't say I blame you," Ed said. "Know what you plan to do?"
"Thought I'd ask Jesse for a job. Maybe help out at the Slipper or the ranch."
"Hmmm," Ed scratched his head.
Billie chuckled at the look on his friend's face, "whatever you're thinking, Ed, it sure must be something."
"Might be," Ed smiled, "but, I need to do some more thinking before I'm sure."
"Alright," Billie pushed himself out of the chair. "You let me know when you're sure."
"Shouldn't we wait until Miss Jesse and Miss Jennifer get here?" Ruthie asked as she, Bette Mae and the other women who worked at the Silver Slipper stood in the dining room.
"Hush, child," Bette Mae told her, "we hav' lots a plans ta make and we can't wait fo' those two lollygaggers ta make it back ta Sweetwater. For all we know, they's got themselves holed up somewhere starin' in each other's eyes."
Ruthie and the other women giggled at the older woman's description.
"Nancy," Bette Mae told the red-haired barkeep, "I wan' ya ta take this list over to Ed. You tell 'im not ta waste any time gettin' the order to Bozeman."
"Yes, ma'am," Nancy took a sheet of paper from Bette Mae, heading immediately for the door.
"Ruthie, ya need to start plannin' yo'r weddin' dress."
"But, I was hoping for Miss Jennifer to help," Ruthie protested. She knew time was getting short but she really wanted Jennifer to be involved.
"Nonsense," Bette Mae grumbled. "Yo's don' hav' time ta wait any longer. Yo needs to have Ed order the material if yo plan to hav' it made in time. Now, the rests of yo," Bette Mae turned to the other women, "here's what I wants ya to do..."
Ruthie watched as Bette Mae led the women into the kitchen, leaving her alone in the dining room. She smirked, realizing Bette Mae had effortlessly taken over her wedding planning. She wasn't unhappy to relinquish that control, in fact, she was greatly relieved. But, she was most happy that by having the wedding the worry about, Bette Mae seemed to have returned to her old self. She just hoped that Jesse and Jennifer would get back before Bette Mae's plans got completely out of hand.
"Momma, wat dat?"
KC had become so restless in her carry sack that Jesse had taken pity on the baby and was letting her ride on Dusty in front of her. The child had been asking the same question for the last several miles. Rather than get angry or frustrated with her inquisitive daughter, Jesse patiently answered the question every time it was posed.
"That, sunshine, is a magpie," Jesse watched the black and white bird in question hop across the forest floor in front of the horses.
"Otay," satisfied, KC looked around for something else to question.
Jennifer was enjoying the exchange as Blaze trailed behind Dusty. She was learning more about her adopted home every mile they rode.
Jesse peered into the forest, a sudden movement had caught her attention.
Dusty whinnied, shying away from the forest in the direction KC was pointing. The horse's sudden movement adding to Jesse's concern.
"Darlin', come up here," she told Jennifer trailing behind her.
"What is it?" Jennifer rode Blaze around Dusty, putting her wife's large horse between herself and whatever danger the forest hid.
"Bear," Jesse lifted KC up. "Sit with momma," she said placing the baby on Blaze. Jennifer immediately wrapped a protective arm around the baby while Jesse pulled her rifle out of the saddle scabbard. "Let's keep moving," she nudged Dusty forward, Blaze matching his steps.
"Dere," KC excitingly pointed again. "Ook, momma."
Jennifer spotted a dark shadow moving in the trees some distance from them.
"Damn, she's got good eyes," Jesse muttered.
"Wat dat?" KC looked up at Jennifer.
"Jesse, are we in danger?" Jennifer asked, uneasily.
"No. It's okay," Jesse said even as she kept her rifle cocked and ready for use. "It's going in the opposite direction."
"Mommy, wat dat?" KC scowled, her question had yet to be answered.
"That, my little eagle-eyed daughter," Jesse turned away from the bear just long enough to ruffle the baby's hair, "was a bear. A black bear, to be precise."
"Yes, sweetie," Jennifer tightened her hold on the baby. Jesse may think the animal posed no danger, but she wasn't taking any chances. "A big, furry bear."
"No, sweetie," Jennifer kissed the top of KC's head. "Mommy won't let it hurt you."
"Can't believe she saw it back in those shadows," Jesse murmured as she watched the bear disappear deeper into the forest. "Even saw it before Dusty noticed. Must be losing your touch," Jesse teased the big, golden horse, receiving a snort and shake of the head in return.
"Mommy, up," KC wanted to resume her seat in front of the rancher.
"Okay, sunshine," Jesse replaced the rifle into the scabbard before urging Dusty close enough to Blaze to retrieve the baby. "The bear's probably more interested in finding some berries than eating you, anyway."
"They eat berries?" Jennifer asked.
"I thought they ate meat."
"They do," Jesse told her, "but they also eat lots of grasses and berries. And, fish, if they can find them. This time of year, they eat whatever they come across. They want to fatten up for the winter."
"What do they do in the winter?"
"Yep, they'll find a cozy cave or dig a hole in the side of a hill and curl up inside and go to sleep. That's why they eat as much as they can before then."
"Oh. Guess that's good to know I won't have to worry about them in the winter."
"I wouldn't go that far," Jesse told the schoolteacher.
"But, you said they go to sleep."
"Most do. Always, one or two that might not. And, if it's warmer than usual with lighter snowfall, they'll wake up thinkin' it's already spring."
"Never pays to forgot they're out there, darlin'."
"Guess not," Jennifer turned to look back in the direction the bear had been spotted.
The tired horses were standing impatiently at the crossroads, wishing a decision would be made by the man restraining their movement.
"Well, what do you think?" Stanley Branson asked his wife.
Marie Branson could see the buildings of Sweetwater in the distance. She knew they was a chance her daughter might be in town. Her eyes followed the less used path that led away from the road and towards the ranch. She was tired of riding on the hard seat as the wagon bounced over obstacles in the dusty road. Her husband was tired. The horses were tired. And, the old wagon was almost falling apart under them. Even though it would mean a slightly longer distance to travel, she easily made her decision.
"Okay," Stanley nodded as he flipped the reins over the horses' rumps, urging them to move in the desired direction. "Hope the wagon makes it that far."
"If it doesn't, we'll at least be close enough to walk the rest of the way."
"Sure enough," Stanley leaned over the side of the wagon, taking a long look at the back axle as the wagon began down the road to his daughter's ranch. "Should be okay," he said as he straightened back up, "if we don't hit a lot of bumps."
Marie laughed, "Stan, do you know of any road in Montana that isn't mainly potholes and bumps?"
"Good afternoon," Frank Wilson walked into the general store. After listening to the conversation between the newspaper editor and his employers, the foreman had decided to pay the storekeeper a visit.
"Afternoon, Wilson," Ed cordially greeted the foreman. "Something I can do for you?"
"Well," Wilson approached the counter that Ed stood behind, "I was thinking that I might be able to do something for you."
"I see," Ed was caught off guard by the answer.
"I know that you are adding on to the building," Wilson explained, "and I was wondering if you'd be needing someone to help you with the work."
"Thought you had a job?" Ed asked, curiously.
"I figure it might be best to move on," Wilson told him.
"I see," Ed took a moment to consider the man's offer. "Well, I could use the help. It's a might hard to keep an eye on the store and do the work. Won't be able to pay you much."
"That's okay," Wilson smiled, "looking more for an excuse to tell Glade and Weese I'll be stayin' in Sweetwater than pay."
"Thought you liked working for them?"
"Liked the pay. Never liked the men."
"So, why quit?"
"Let's just say that recent events have change my feelings."
"Far enough," Ed wasn't a stranger to the frontier's custom of asking few questions about the past. If the man didn't want to say more, he wasn't going to pry. "Don't know when you'll be able to start working," the storekeeper told his new employee, "had to send to Bozeman for the lumber."
"Oh, I thought you already had it," Wilson was sure he had seen a stack of building supplies behind the general store.
"Took what I had out to Jesse and Jennifer's yesterday," Ed explained. "Figured they'd be needing it as soon as they got back. More important for them to get a house built before winter than for me to get some extra room at the back of the store."
Wilson wasn't surprised at the big man's generosity, it was something he had begun to appreciate about the citizens of Sweetwater.
"But, if you're willing," Ed grinned, "I can always use help around here. Unloading freight wagons and making delivers. I can give you a dollar a day."
"Sounds fair," Wilson was used to being paid much more but, at this point in his life, money wasn't the real issue. "Where do you want me to start?" he extended his hand to the storekeeper.
The stage rolled to a stop in front of the adobe station, as usual, a cloud of dust announcing it's arrival.
"Only one passenger today," the stage driver informed the station master as he came out of the building. "And, a mail pouch," he tossed the leather bag into the man's waiting hands as the door to the stage opened and a man in a dust-covered suit stepped out. A canvas travel bag was dropped at his feet, raising a fresh cloud of dust.
"Thank you," the suited man sarcastically told the stage driver.
"Aim ta please," the driver said as he climbed down from the top of the coach. "Silver Slipper, at the end of the street, has the best food in town. And, you can get a room there or stay at the depot."
The suited man's eyes surveyed the dilapidated adobe that served as the stage station. Considering the outside condition of the small structure, he had no wish to view the interior. He would get a room at the recommended boarding house, but first he had business to attend to, "actually, I have business with the sheriff. Where might I find him?"
"'Cross the street at his office, I 'spect," the driver said while he slapped the dust from his clothes. "If he ain't there, look around. Town ain't big 'nough ta git lost in."
Bending, the suited man picked up his travel bag, "thank you."
"Any word from Jesse?" the stage driver asked as the man walked away.
"Nope," the station master answered, opening the mail pouch.
"I expected them to be back by now."
"So did most folks," the station master sorted through the envelopes. Most people had their mail delivered to the stage depot and picked it up when they were in town. He was happy to see that none of the letters required him to make a special trip to deliver them. "Want to come inside while they hitch the fresh team," he asked as four horses were being led down the street from the livery.
"Yeah," the stage driver used a dirty bandana to wipe his sweaty face and neck, "as cold as the night's are gettin', ya'd think we get some relief during the day."
"Ya'd think," the station master agreed, leading the man inside the adobe.
KC laughed wildly as Jesse pranced around beneath her. The baby sat on her mommy's shoulders, her hands grasped firmly by Jesse who was running, jumping, twisting and leaping around the small clearing where they had stopped to rest.
Jennifer sat on a large boulder with Charley in her lap. She laughed as she watched her wife and daughter play. "Look, Charley," she held the infant up to see, "look at them. Aren't they funny?"
"Mor'," KC screamed when Jesse started to slow down.
Jesse lifted the baby over her head, hanging her upside down as she walked back to Jennifer. "I'm tired."
"Mor, mommy," KC demanded between giggles.
"More, more, more," Jesse playfully let the baby slip between her hands, grabbing her by the ankles before she hit the ground. "You need to learn a different word to say."
KC hung her hands down, letting her fingertips drag along the ground, "mor, mor, mor."
Jesse laughed as her daughter mimicked her.
"Ugh," Jesse stepped onto the boulder, sitting beside Jennifer. "Here, play with your brother," she sat KC softly down on the stone's surface between her legs.
KC pushed onto her knees, propping her elbows on Jesse's thighs. She made faces at Charley laying in Jennifer's lap, laughing loudly when the baby smiled, gurgling and kicking his legs.
"Here," Jennifer handed Jesse a canteen.
"Thanks," Jesse took a long drink. "You want some, sunshine."
KC shook her head.
"Course not," Jesse tickled the baby, "I was doing all the work. All you did was laugh."
"Mommy," KC loudly protested, rolling onto her side to slap at Jesse's hand.
"Sweetheart," Jennifer smirked, "don't pick on the baby."
Jesse glared at her wife, "funny."
With her mother's hands stilled, KC took the opportunity to climb up Jesse's shirt and looked her in the eye. "Mor, mor, mor, mor, mor, mor..." The baby's words dissolved into shrieks of laughter as Jesse renewed her tickling.
Charley smiled as he bounced in Jennifer's arms, her body shaking with laughter.
"I'm looking for Sheriff Monroe," the suited man announced after walking through the jail's door.
"You found him," Billie finished filling his coffee cup from the pot on the wood stove. "What can I do for you?"
"I have a letter from the governor instructing you to arrest Mr. Tobias Harrington."
"Already done," Billie stepped back to his desk. "He's in there," he nodded at the door to the cells as he sat down. "Figured I'd be hearing from the governor. Want some coffee?"
"No, thank you," the suited man laid a sealed envelope on the desk in front of the sheriff. "Those are the governor's instructions regarding Mr. Harrington."
"You taking him back with you?" Billie asked, reaching for the envelope.
"I don't know," the man honestly answered.
"You just the messenger, uh," Billie slipped a knife under the envelope's flap, neatly slicing it open. Freeing the papers inside, he began to read. "Damn."
"I'm getting married in a few weeks, I don't have time to take Harrington to Bozeman," Billie threw the papers back onto his desk. He had thought the governor's message would mark the end to his involvement with Harrington and the whole sordid affair. He studied the suited man still standing opposite his desk, "you work for the governor, right?"
"You're a fine, upstanding, law-abiding citizen of the territory of Montana, aren't you?"
"Y--e--s," the suited man slowly answered, not sure what the sheriff was asking or why?
"Good," Billie pulled open a drawer at the side of his desk, searching around he found the item he was looking for. "Hold up your right hand," he instructed the suited man.
"Why?" the man asked, hesitantly.
"Just do it," Billie commanded as he stood. As soon as the other man complied, he continued, "do you swear to uphold the laws of the territory to the best of your ability?"
"Good," Billie flipped a deputy badge at the man, "put that on. You are now a duly sworn deputy sheriff."
"Stage returns to Bozeman in an hour. I expect you and your prisoner to be on it."
"Once you turn him over to the sheriff there, you can hand in your badge. Unless, of course, you want to return here and take over the sheriff's job."
"Because, I quit," Billie pulled off his own badge, slapping it onto his desk. "Good luck," he walked around the desk, grabbed his hat from the peg on the wall and opened the door. With one final look around, he left the jailhouse for the last time.
"Hope we don't have much farther to go," Stanley Branson knelt in the dirt beside the wagon. He carefully ran his hand along the patch work on the wagon's rear axle.
"The map Jennifer sent doesn't give any distance from the stage road to the ranch," Marie studied the piece of paper for the hundredth time.
It had surprised Marie to received the letter from her daughter's wife. During Jennifer's recovery from the mountain lion attack, she had observed the love shared by the two young women but she had never realized the depth of that love until Jennifer's letter arrived. In it, the schoolteacher expressed how much she wanted her in-laws to come and live with her family. It was Jennifer's way to give Jesse a chance to heal the wounds with her own father, a chance she, herself, would never have. Marie never showed the actual letter to her husband, choosing instead to only tell him of the map it contained. In the years to come, Marie would always hold Jennifer's gracious act near her heart.
"Well, talking about it sure ain't gonna get us there any quicker," Stanley stood, brushing dirt off his pants. "Might as well just keep goin' 'til the damn thing falls apart," he climbed back up into the wagon.
"Let's hope that doesn't happen," Marie folded the map back up and tucked it into her pocket.
"Git up," Stanley flicked the reins.
"Shouldn't be too far now, darlin'," Jesse could see that the forest trees were starting to thin and more daylight was making it way to the forest floor. A sure sign that they were approaching the basin where the ranch buildings were location.
Jennifer didn't reply. The closer they got to their home, the more she didn't want to face what her father had done. Her stomach was tied up in knots and just the thought of what lay ahead made her feel like throwing up.
"Darlin'?" Jesse slowed Dusty's progress to ride beside Jennifer. "You okay?"
"It'll be alright," Jesse, glad that KC was asleep in her carry sack, reached over and took Jennifer's hand, entwining their fingers. They continued in silence, each afraid at what they were about to discover but thankful to be facing it together.
"Whatever came of the talk for a new stage depot?" Ed asked the station master. He had walked across the street from his store to see if the stage carried any mail for him.
"Nothin' much," the stage master handed him one letter. "They say they want a new building but don't think they want to spend the money."
Ed looked at the return address on the envelope, the letter was from the bank in Bozeman where he kept an account. He smiled to himself, maybe this was a sign his idea wasn't as outlandish as he first thought. Turning his attention back to the station master, he asked, "if there was something available, think they'd be willing to make a change?"
"Don't know," the station master scratched his bearded chin. "You got somethin' in mind?"
"I might," Ed proceeded to tell the man his idea.
Jesse, holding KC, wrapped an arm around Jennifer who held Charley in her arms, the women needing the comfort of the other. Standing in front of the blackened ruin of what once had been their home, tears poured from their eyes as they realized the true depth of Martin Kinsington's hate.
"Should we try to go inside?" Jennifer asked, her voice raspy from crying.
Jesse saw no point in attempting to enter what was left of the burned structure, knowing instinctively that nothing was left to save. "No, darlin'," she turned to kiss her wife's brow, "ain't nothing worth saving in there. No sense in us gettin' hurt tryin'."
"Why, Jesse?" Jennifer cried. "Why would he do this?"
Jesse tightened her hold having no answer for the equally distraught woman. She looked around the yard, hoping that nothing else had been damaged by what must have been an intense fire. She saw that the corner of the hut used by her mother-in-law was scarred by flames but otherwise unharmed. The garden fence was gone and many of the plants showed evidence of the extreme heat, but they could be replanted in the spring. She was thankful to see the rest of the buildings seemed untouched.
As her eyes swept over the barn and corrals, Jesse spied a pile of lumber next to the barn. She knew it hadn't been there when they left the ranch weeks earlier.
"Wonder where that came from?" Jesse asked aloud.
"That," Jesse pointed at the barn.
"Doubt he'd know what we needed to rebuild," Jesse started walking towards the lumber, her hand firmly grasped in Jennifer's.
"Might be what he had on hand," Jennifer offered.
"He was using that for the store," Jesse studied the pile. "But, it'd be just like him. Wouldn't it?"
"Well, darlin'," Jesse took a deep breath, blowing it out noisily which caused KC to giggle. The baby's laughter helped relieve the tension building in her mothers "What say we start building us a new home?"
"Where will we stay in the meantime?"
"I'd rather not," Jennifer said softly.
"Well, the hut's too small for all of us." The small hut had barely been big enough for Mary when she stayed there. "Guess it's the barn."
"What about the tent? We could set it up in the yard." Jennifer asked, not relishing the thought of sharing the barn with their horses.
"Gettin' too cold at night," Jesse told her. "But, it's plenty big enough in there to set up the tent. It's not much but it'll give us someplace to sleep and keep stuff. Otherwise, it's back to town and the Slipper."
"The barn it is," Jennifer smiled at Jesse. "What do we do first?" she asked, her mind flooding with tasks that needed to be done.
"First, we find a place for you and the little ones to sit while I unpack the horses," Jesse walked to Boy to retrieve a blanket.
"We could wait in the hut," Jennifer offered.
Jesse turned to shyly smile at Jennifer, "I'd rather have ya someplace I can see ya."
Jennifer nodded, smiling lovingly at the woman she adored.
"Mommy, ook," KC pointed towards the road coming from town.
Both Jesse and Jennifer were bewildered to see a buckboard making its way slowly down the hillock to cross through the log gate marking the ranch boundary.
"Who can that be?" Jennifer asked as Jesse rejoined her.
Jesse peered at the couple sitting at the front of the wagon. "Poppa?" she murmured.
Jennifer looked at Jesse, by the shocked, but hopeful, look on her wife's face, she knew it to be true. Approaching in the wagon, must be Stanley and Marie Branson, Jesse's parents. She turned and waved.
Marie returned Jennifer's wave, "they are here."
"Wonder what happened," Stanley said as he saw the burned ruins.
"We'll know soon enough."
Jesse and Jennifer started walking towards the wagon, it's back wheel wobbling wildly as it closed the distance between them.
Mary, excited to see her daughters and granddaughter, urged, "can't you go any faster?"
"If I do, this old wagon will fall apart under us," Stanley grumbled.
"Hi," Jennifer called as the wagon neared.
"Hello, yourself," Marie laughed, quickly climbing down from the wagon as soon as her husband pulled the horses to a stop. "Give me a hug."
"It's good to see you again, Marie," Jennifer said as the older woman hugged her daughter.
"Grmm," KC recognized her grandmother.
"By goodness," Marie stopped to look at the baby Jesse held, "is this our little KC?"
"She ain't so little any more," Stanley joined the women.
"No, she's grown some," Jennifer laughed as she tried to settle Charley, hungry, wet and whimpering in her arms.
"By goodness, who's this?" Marie asked as she peered at the infant.
"This is Charley," Jennifer proudly announced. "Your grandson."
"My," Marie gushed, "seems you have a lot to tell us about."
"You don't know the half of it," Jennifer let Marie take the baby from her arms.
"You plan to say anything," Stanley questioned the silent Jesse.
"I didn't think you'd come," the rancher whispered.
"We can leave if you've changed your mind."
"No," Jesse reached out, grabbing her father's arm. "No, I'm glad you're here."
"Good," Stanley smiled at his daughter. "Now, let me say hello to my granddaughter."
KC happily wrapped her arms around her grandfather's neck, "wuv Grmp."
"That," Stanley sternly told the child as the women laughed, "will have to change."
"I'm sorry, Jennifer," Marie was saying. "If we'd known..."
"I know," Jennifer sighed. "But, there wasn't much you could have done, even if you had."
The women were sitting in the shade of the barn on a pair of chairs pulled from the back of the buckboard. The tired babies slept on a blanket spread at their feet. Jesse had taken time to milk the cow, providing a meal for the hungry infant while KC had been fed from the food her grandparents had brought.
Jennifer had retold the recent events to Marie as they watched Jesse and Stanley unload the wagon they had managed to get to the barn with losing it's wheel. The horses were relieved of their burdens and set free in the corral.
"But, to be locked up like that must have been awful for Jesse," Marie sadly shook her head.
"It was," Jennifer rubbed her cheeks to remove the tears escaping from her eyes. "But, the worst part was when she couldn't hold KC. It broke my heart to see how much they both suffered from that. I'll forever be thankful that Judge Henry ordered her released as quickly as he did. I think Jesse would have died if she had to stay in that cell any longer. One night was almost more than she could take."
"She's always been that way," Marie said. "Many a night, I'd find she'd climbed out her bedroom window to sleep under the stars. She'd always tell me her bed was too confining."
"Thank goodness she out grew that," Jennifer spoke the words without thinking. "Oops," she blushed, as her mother-in-law chuckled.
"I think you might have a bit more to do with that than any growing up she's done," Marie winked at the embarrassed schoolteacher.
Jesse glanced at Jennifer and her mother as she carried another armload into the barn. She wondered what the two women were talking about and hoped her mother wasn't filling her wife with stories of her as a little girl.
"That's the last of it," Stanley said as he entered the barn behind his daughter. "Good thing this place is so big, if you still plan on staying here 'til your house is built."
"We do, Pop," Jesse added her load to the items that had been neatly stacked in a corner of the structure. The tent had been set up in another corner, the food from both their supplies had been placed inside to protect it. While their bedrolls and blankets had been placed on a layer of fresh hay spread out in front of the tent.
"Still think you should stay with your young 'uns in that cabin."
"It's too small for all of us," Jesse had insisted her parents stay in the cabin Mary had used. "We'll be fine in here. Besides, with your help," she smiled at her father, "it won't take any time to build us a house. I'm ready glad you're here, Pop," Jesse gingerly wrapped her arms around her father.
"It'll take some gettin' used to," Stanley voice was gruff but, when he returned her hug, Jesse knew he didn't mean it. Suddenly, self-conscious of the intimate contact, Stanley stepped apart. "Let's go see what those women are up to," he said of their spouses.
"Finished?" Jennifer asked as Jesse and Stanley emerged from the barn and walked towards her and Marie.
"Yep," Jesse smiled. "Except for putting that buckboard someplace."
"Use it for firewood," Stanley said, "'bout all it's good for any more."
"Rather keep it around for spare parts for our buckboard. Be cheaper than having to buy them in town."
"Guess we can push it out of the way," Stanley turned back to the wagon.
"Tomorrow," Jesse stopped him.
"W should get a fire started," Jesse looked to the west. "I'll be dark soon and since we'll be cookin' outside for awhile."
"Guess it's too late for you to go fishing," Jennifer was disappointed. She was tired of the stale meat and biscuits they had been living on the past few days and had hoped to dine on fresh fish that evening.
"Nope," Jesse leaned down to kiss her wife. "I'll be back in a few minutes. You and Pop can get the fire going. One thing we're not short of is firewood," she said as she walked towards the river.
"How 'bout I whip up some cornbread to go along with that fish?" Marie offered.
"I'd love it," Jennifer smiled.
"Mor', Grmp," KC asked seeing her grandfather still had fish on his plate.
"Come here, sunshine," Jesse chuckled again at her daughter's pronunciation of grandpa. "Let your grandpa eat his own fish, you have some over here."
"Otay," KC crawled back to where Jesse sat beside Jennifer.
"Don't know of anyone else he'd let call him that," Marie laughed as her husband scowled. "Maybe it'll be good for him to be around KC."
"Humptf," Stanley grunted.
"Sounds just like Jesse," Jennifer giggled.
"They're so much alike, it's scary," Marie whispered loudly to Jennifer.
"Stop it, woman," Stanley growled as Jennifer and Marie burst into laughter.
"I think this may have been a mistake, Pop," Jesse glared at Jennifer.
"Too late," Marie teased her.
"I need some fresh air," Stanley said even though the group was sitting in the open around the campfire. He stood, walking towards the river.
"Think I'll go with him," Jesse quickly stood to follow her father.
"Think we hurt their feelings?" Jennifer asked as she watched Jesse leave.
"No," Marie pulled KC into her lap, letting the baby eat the fish and cornbread that remained on her plate. "They need to talk. That's all."
"But, we were kind of hard on them," Jennifer was concerned that the teasing had crossed a line with the pair.
"They know there's truth behind our words," Marie sighed. "Feels good to finally say it. And, if we're all going to live here, it's best they come to terms with it right off."
Jesse walked to a rise overlooking the river where her father stood. "Nice night," she said looking up at the clear sky.
"Was speaking the truth, Pop. We are alike."
"Is that bad?"
They stood quietly for several minutes.
"What took you so long to come, Poppa?"
"Had business to attend to. Couldn't just pack up and come."
"Damn, girl," Stanley walked a few steps from Jesse. "Ain't it good enough I came."
"Yes," Jesse moved to stand beside her father again, "but I'd like to know."
"You're stubborn. Always have been."
Jesse grinned, "Jennifer would agree with you."
"She also says I'm proud, Poppa. Sometimes, too proud. Just like you."
"Alright," Jesse turned to return to the campfire and her family, "you don't have to tell me."
"Needed to earn me some money," Stanley said softly. "Couldn't just come with my hat in my hand. I had to be able to pay my way."
Jesse understood. She would have felt the same if their roles were reversed. "Well, you're here. That's all I care about. What say we go back.... Grump?!"
"That, daughter has to change."
"You'll have to talk to KC about that, " Jesse laughed. "I suggest you do it soon, before she teaches it to Charley."
Stanley groaned as he followed Jesse.
Frank Wilson made his way up the rocky trail that led to the Songbird mine. Slung over his shoulder was a saddlebag, one of it's pockets held carefully packed sticks of dynamite while the other contained extra long fuses. He was about to perform his final official duty for the company that had recently employed him, having been ordered by Glade and Weese to seal off the Songbird mine. Cresting the top of the trail, Wilson walked to the opening of the mine. He pulled a small pick from the saddle bag before gently placing the bag on the cool ground just inside the shaft's entrance.
Moving a few feet deeper into the tunnel, Wilson dug several holes along the base of the rock walls Returning to the saddle bag, he removed the sticks of dynamite, inserting the fuses he had cut earlier making sure they were longer than usual to give him plenty of time to get off the mountain plateau before the blast shook the hillside. He carefully place one stick of the explosive in each of the holes then, walking backwards, strung the fuses back to the shaft entrance.
With a final look down the worthless tunnel, Wilson struck a match and lit the bundle of fuses. He grabbed his saddle bag, running for the trail and the safety it would provide. Moments later, the mountain rumbled beneath his boots as the dynamite blew the tunnel apart. Along the length of the shaft, the stone was split and the rock walls collapsed upon themselves.
At the end of the mine shaft, a large rift was created in the stone ceiling. A chunk of mountain, the size of a small buggy dropped from where it had moments before been securely anchored, crashing to the tunnel floor. In the gaping abscess, sparkling in the deepening darkness ran a vein of gold as big as a miner's fist.
Wearing a new, store bought suit, Billie twitched nervously as he stood in the late morning sunlight. At his side stood Ruthie, just as nervous in her white wedding dress. Neither of them would remember most of what Mayor Perkins said that morning.
"In the name of the governor of the territory of Montana, I am honored to present Mr. and Mrs. William Monroe." When neither of the newlyweds moved, Mayor Perkins whispered, "go on, boy, kiss her."
Billie turned to Ruthie, again thinking she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Bending his head, he placed a chaste kiss on Ruthie's cheek.
"Come on, Billie," Jesse teased her friends, "you can do better than that."
"Leave them be, sweetheart," Jennifer poked her wife in the ribs. She and Jesse were standing behind the couple, serving as official witnesses to the joining. KC and Charley were in the arms of their grandparents who stood off to the side with Bette Mae and Ed.
"Well, if tha's all he can do," Bette Mae laughed, "it's gonna be a mighty long time 'for they has any little ones of theirs own."
"Hush, Bette Mae," Marie grinned. "They're just shy in front of all of us."
Bette Mae groaned, "heck, there ain't nobody here to be shy in front of." She had not been happy when Jesse and Jennifer backed up Billie and Ruthie's request for a small wedding ceremony at the ranch. Wanting instead to have a big wedding in town. Her disappointment had been somewhat abated when Jesse had insisted the reception and dance be held at the ranch, stating it would be easier to fit everyone in the ranch yard than in the Slipper.
"Congratulations," Jennifer moved up to hug Ruthie, "I'm so happy for you."
"Thank you, Miss Jennifer," Ruthie smiled.
"Uh, uh," Jennifer shook her finger at the bride, "you promised." She and Jesse had made the shy woman promise to drop the Miss, now that they were in business together with the dress shop.
"Jennifer," Ruthie blushed.
"I'm happy for ya, Billie," Jesse stepped up to the groom, her arm outstretched.
"Thanks, Jesse," the ex-sheriff beamed, grabbing the rancher's hand and pulling her into a hug. "And, thanks for letting us do it here."
"Wouldn't have let you do it anywhere else."
In the lull between the late morning wedding and early afternoon reception, Jesse stood on the porch of the new ranch house. With the help of her father, Billie, Ed and Frank Wilson, the house was almost complete. It was a simple, square, two story structure with a covered porch wrapping around all four sides. The first floor consisting of kitchen, dining room, small parlor and office. Upstairs was divided into bedrooms for Jesse and Jennifer and the children. Stanley and Marie had turned down an offer for one of the bedrooms, deciding instead to enlarge the hut into more livable space.
Looking around the yard, Jesse smiled at all the changes that had taken place over the past weeks. After deciding to place the house in a different location, one that would provide a better view of the valley and surrounding mountains, work had begun. The burned hulk of the old cabin had been cleared away making room for an enlarged garden, encircled by a newly painted, picket fence. A new well had been dug, the pump conveniently located inside the kitchen of the ranch house. Jennifer had furnished the house with the barest of necessities, the rest would have to wait until they had the money to spend. But, they had protection from the coming winter and, for now, that was enough.
Changes had taken place in Sweetwater as well. Mayor Perkins, demanding the town receive something for all the problems Tobias Harrington had caused, refused to have his name removed from the bank's charter. Unable to sell the bank under those conditions, Glade and Weese had, begrudgingly, turned the bank over to the town. The two men returning back east with little more than a hole in the side of a mountain to show for their company's investment in the Songbird mine.
Ed had astounded everyone by buying the hotel building and moving his general store into the ground floor of the larger structure. Explaining it gave him more room and ended up being less expensive than expanding the existing store. To help pay for the purchase, he had signed a contract with the stage company to use a corner of the ground floor for a new stage depot. The top floor had been split into two parts, the smaller end was made into living quarters for Ed and the larger end had been converted into an apartment for Billie and Ruthie to rent.
Jesse's old office at the Silver Slipper now housed a busy dress shop run by Ruthie. The first dresses to be sewn by the new businesswoman were her own wedding dress and Jennifer's maid-of-honor dress. Ruthie had also sewn a matching dress for KC and a small suit for Charley that matched the one Jesse would wear for the ceremony.
Tobias Harrington had been taken to Bozeman to stand trial for his part in the conspiracy against Jesse. Even without the testimony of Jesse, who refused all attempts by the governor to get her to travel to Bozeman, Harrington was found guilty. He was now serving the first of many years in the territorial prison at Deer Lodge.
Word had arrived from Mary Kinsington that her husband, as arranged with Judge Henry, had been committed to a mental hospital. Unfortunately for the man, his behavior after being told of the arrangement, had only reinforced the story of his diminished mental capabilities to the hospital staff. It was unlikely he would ever convince them he had been improperly committed.
Jennifer's brothers had taken over the family business and welcomed their mother's interest in it's operation. Thomas was planning his own marriage, as was their youngest brother William. And, Mary was looking forward to lots of grandchildren to spoil.
Jesse's thoughts returned to the present when she heard the door behind her open, she turned to see Jennifer, dressed in a beautiful pale blue gown, emerge from the house.
"I love that suit on you," Jennifer smiled as Jesse came to meet her.
Jesse was dressed in the same suit of soft buckskin she had worn for her own wedding. Amazingly, it and Jennifer's own wedding dress stored in an old trunk had survived the fire.
"Looks like the guests are starting to arrive," Jennifer said as she saw a buggy crest the hillock to the north of the ranch house.
Jesse pulled Jennifer to her, not bothering to look at the approaching buggy. "Don't let Ruthie know, but I think you were the most beautiful woman at the wedding this morning. I love you, darlin'."
Jennifer laid her head against Jesse's shoulder, "I love you, too."
"Come on you two," Bette Mae pushed her way past the women, her arms full of baskets holding freshly baked breads and biscuits. "we got lots to do b'for folks start arrivin'. You can snuggle up wit' one 'nother afterwards."
"Yes, Bette Mae," Jesse chuckled as the woman carried her load to the tables set up in the yard. "Where are our little ones?"
"Sleeping upstairs. Billie and Ruthie are watching them. They wanted some time alone," Jennifer explained.
"I best get to work helping Bette Mae carry all that food outside."
"I'll help, too," Jennifer offered.
"Don't over do it," Jesse warned, "I want to enjoy some dances with you later."
"Good," Jesse pulled Jennifer to her, kissing her soundly.
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