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.
In this part of Rolling Thunder, there is mention of Sheriff Plummer, a real lawman in Bannack, Montana during the late 1800s. I mean no disrespect or harm to the historical record by the use of this character, or any other character, real or fiction. My descriptions of Bannack is based on the existing buildings remaining in what is now a ghost town but some details may be changed to fit my purposes for this story. Please, do not hold this against me.
I would like to hear your comments, please write me at email@example.com.
a story by Mickey
@copyrighted August 2004
Jesse woke to the most wonderful feeling. KC was sprawled asleep on her chest and Jennifer was pressed against her side, one leg draped possessively over her body. The rancher lay still, content just to enjoy the loving contact with her family. She carefully turned her head just enough to place a tender kiss on her wife's brow and was rewarded with a soft sigh from the sleeping woman. After several minutes, Jesse's eyes drifted shut and she allowed sleep to reclaim her.
Walks on the Wind sat on the knoll overlooking Bannack as the sun began to paint the night sky with bright colors. Completing his morning meal, he watched lamps begin to glow in many of the buildings in the town. The people of Bannack were rising for the coming day. The cabin where Jesse and Jennifer slept was still dark and he decided to leave without disturbing them. He would make sure to return by nightfall to continue his vigil.
"What is the meaning of this?" the man with curly red hair asked, slamming his fist against the table before him.
Moments before, a secretary had brought Frank Wilson's telegram into the company's board room. Asked to read the paper, the secretary did so and then quickly retreated as the men in the room reacted to the telegram's contents.
"How the hell could this happen?" a bald man sucking deeply on a smelly cigar demanded.
"This is an outrage," another man stood to emphasize his words and was joined by several other men around the table. "Did Harrington know about this?"
"Gentlemen," an elderly man at the head of the table spoke quietly, "please sit down."
Those that heard the company president's request retook their seats and waited impatiently for the others to do the same.
"I can't believe he let this happen," one man was storming about the room. "Does he have any idea how much money this will cost us? If it's true."
"Not to mention, we'll be the laughing stock of........"
"Gentlemen, please," the president tried again.
".....why, I can just hear it now........"
"Sit DOWN," the red hair man bellowed.
"Please," the president's soft voice added and the other men quickly complied. "Thank you." He picked up the telegram that had been dropped on the table in front of him by the secretary and re-read it.
"It appears," the president calmly began, his voice low causing the others to strain to hear, "that Mr. Wilson has uncovered what could potentially be a major problem with our investment in Sweetwater."
Murmurs of agreement were heard around the board room.
"It is also suggested that Mr. Harrington may, or may not, be aware of this problem. If he is aware, then it is surely a matter of fraud on his part. And, if he is not aware, then...."
"Then, he's a bigger fool than we gave him credit for," the red haired man finished.
"Yes, that is possible," the president agreed. "However, before we make any decisions, one way or the other, I believe that it would behoove us to have the situation checked out by someone with more knowledge in the area than we possess."
"What assayer provided the original report?" the cigar chewing man asked.
The president opened a thick file he had earlier placed on the table and precisely searched through the papers it held until he came to the one he sought. "It seems Mr. Harrington contracted the services of an assayer in one of the mining camps near Sweetwater."
"Why didn't he use our man in Denver?" the red-haired man asked. "That's what we have him on retainer for, isn't it?."
"Yes," the president carefully closed the folder to insure no papers flew out of the over-stuffed binder. "That will be a question you will ask Mr. Harrington when you arrive in Sweetwater."
"What?" the red-haired man looked surprised as he realized he was being instructed to travel west.
"I would like you, Mr. Glade, and you, Mr. Weese," the president addressed the man with the cigar, "to proceed immediately to Sweetwater and find out the truth behind Mr. Wilson's suspicions."
"But, sir," Weese protested, "isn't it obvious that Harrington.....?"
"I expect you to be positive of your facts before any charges are made against any employee of this company," the president spoke harshly. "I will not have false accusations made. If it happens," he looked directly at the two men he was sending to investigate the problem, knowing neither man cared much for Tobias Harrington, "I will remove the responsible party, not only from this board but, from any connection with this company. Do I make myself clear?"
Glade and Weese nodded. The president of the board may be in his later years, but he still controlled the company he had built from nothing with a firm and unforgiving hand. The two men, who more than enjoyed the financial benefits received from being part of the company, knew better than to cross the man who occupied the president's office.
"Yes, sir," both men responded, simultaneously.
"Very well. Please make sure you are on the next train to Denver. You will telegram me immediately once you have finished your investigation."
The men nodded.
The president studied the two men, hoping he hadn't made a mistake in his selection, "don't make me wait too long."
Upon waking, Martin Kensington rolled onto his belly and gingerly pushed himself up by the arms, slowly pulling his legs under his body until he was balanced on his hands and knees. He remained in this position for several minutes before he was able to force his exhausted body upright. He had slept with his shoes on, not wanting a repeat of the previous morning when he was almost unable to cram his swollen feet back inside the leather bindings. As he placed his full weight on his blistered feet and painful legs, he wondered if he would be able to walk at all. Then, a vision of Jesse Branson floated in front of his eyes and he had his answer. No way was that woman going to best him.
Kensington looked to the south. The hills he needed to cross were close enough that he could almost reach out and touch them. He took a step and bit back the cry of pain attempting to escape his throat. He took another agonizing step. Then, another. He would cross into the next valley by the end of the day if it was the last thing he did.
The dark eyes watched, surprised that the man was continuing his trek. They followed Kensington as he began the climb up the first hillock, every step seemingly a struggle for the determined man. If Kensington could continue, he should make it through the band of hills and into the valley beyond by nightfall.
Dark eyes trailed their quarry for several more minutes before he moved away from his hiding spot.
"Good morning, sweetheart," Jennifer said as Jesse's eyes fluttered open. The schoolteacher had awakened moments before and lay snuggled against her wife's side.
"Mornin', darlin'," Jesse smiled, awake for the second time this morning. "How'd ya sleep?"
"Wonderfully," Jennifer sighed as she snuggled even closer.
Jesse slipped an arm around Jennifer and held her tight. She turned her head and leaned into Jennifer, running her tongue lightly around her wife's lips before kissing her.
"Mmmmmm," Jennifer breathed.
"I love you," Jesse whispered as she began to pull away.
Jennifer reached up and cupped a hand behind Jesse's neck, pulling her back. She pressed her lips to Jesse's and deepened the morning kiss. "I love you," Jennifer sighed, their mouths so close their were sharing the same air.
"Jesse, when this is over," the schoolteacher looked into the eyes she adored, "I want to go back to Sweetwater and never leave."
Jesse smiled, "me, too, darlin'."
KC's eyes opened when she heard her mothers' voices. Forgetting she had fallen asleep on top of Jesse, the baby rolled over. She slipped off Jesse's chest and came to rest, lodged between the women. She pumped her arms and kicked her legs, struggling to get out from her self-created predicament. When it became apparent to the baby that she was firmly wedged between her mothers, she gave up her struggles.
"Up," KC demanded.
"Good morning, sunshine," Jesse laughed as she gently pulled the baby free. "I do believe that someone," she tickled KC's tummy, "needs themselves a fresh set of britches."
KC giggled and slapped at Jesse's hands. She quickly worked herself onto her stomach and crawled up the rancher's body to wrap her arms around her mother's neck. "Wuv," KC said.
"Hey," Jesse, tears forming in her eyes, rubbed the baby's back, "I love you, too, sunshine."
"Guess, I'm not the only one that hates sleeping without you," Jennifer laid her head on Jesse's shoulder.
"Yeah," Jesse smiled. "What about momma, sunshine?" Jesse asked the baby, "do you love momma?"
KC sat up on Jesse's chest, her head bopping up and down, vigorously. "Wuv, momma," she said as she threw her arms wide and launched herself towards Jennifer.
"Whoa," Jennifer barely got her arm up to catch the baby so she wouldn't fly over her and off the bed. "I love you, too, sweetie," she safely held onto KC.
The women remained in bed, cuddling with KC until the smell emanating from her diaper finally forced them to get up and face the day.
Frank Wilson walked out of the tent being used as a dining hall for his work crew. The cook Tobias Harrington hired had finally arrived and had prepared his first meal for the hungry workers.
"Well, it ain't as good as the food at the Slipper," Wilson grumbled to no one in particular, "but, at least, I won't have to listen to that windbag Perkins complain about the men eating there, anymore." Against, Harrington's orders, Wilson had taken his men to the Silver Slipper for their meals until the cook arrived. Harrington, being the kind of over-seer he was, had, at every meal, sent Sweetwater's mayor, Miles Perkins to tell Wilson to stop the practice. To say that he was tired of the man who was wider than he was tall telling him how to feed his crew, would be a major understatement.
Wilson walked from the cook tent, which had been set up on the other side of the new hotel's building site, across the street to where the partially completed bank building stood.
"Good morning, Mr. Wilson."
The foreman groaned when he heard the voice of the man hurrying towards him. "Morning, mayor," he kept walking.
"I see you have enjoyed your breakfast," Mayor Perkins commented.
"Enjoyed isn't exactly the word I would have used," Wilson mumbled.
"Oh," the mayor looked towards the tent as more men exited after the morning meal. "Is the cook not to your liking?"
"He's alright," Wilson said. "He just ain't as good as the Slipper."
"No, I suppose he's not," the mayor had enjoyed many a meal at the Slipper and felt that the cooking there was even better than his wife's. Not that he would ever admit that to another living soul for fear of his wife's reaction.
"Was there something you needed?" Wilson wanted to be rid of the irritating man as quickly as possible. He had a lot of work to accomplish this day. Especially, since Harrington had sprung a complete redesign of one section of the hotel on him just the day before.
"Mr. Harrington asked me to have you provide the plans for the road to the Songbird. He would like to review them before you begin the work."
Wilson shook his head, was there anything the little man didn't have to stick his nose into. "You can tell Wilson that that ain't something you can write down and review. It's something that has to be done as you go, studying the terrain you have to work with. So, if he wants to know where I plan to put the road, he can join us Monday morning when we start work. I'll even save a shovel for him to help."
"But, Mr. Wilson..." the mayor was frustrated. The lack of cooperation between Harrington and Wilson was more than a nuisance and he was tired of being in the middle of their animosity. "I'll tell Mr. Harrington that you'll be in later today with the information he has requested," the mayor said before turning on his heels and hurrying back to his office before the foreman could respond.
"You do that," Wilson said to the mayor's back. "Come on, boys," he called to the men milling about in front of the cook's tent. "We got more than enough to keep us busy today," he told them as they made their way to where he waited.
Jesse carried KC as she and Jennifer made their way along the boardwalk to the doctor's office. Jennifer had insisted they stop there to have the dressings on Jesse's wrists changed before they went to the courthouse. The rancher had protested but finally gave in when she realized Jennifer wasn't going to back down.
As they walked, they passed a familiar Chinese restaurant. Jennifer smiled, remembering the meal they had shared their first trip to Bannack. It had been her first experience with the foreign fare and she had discovered she liked the exotic tastes.
"Yes, darlin'," Jesse smiled at her wife.
"Do you think we could eat here again," Jennifer tilted her head at the building beside them.
"Don't see why not," Jesse told her. "Maybe, Marianne would like to come with us. Be a way to pay her back for all the cooking she's done for us."
"That's a wonderful idea," Jennifer instantly agreed. Her attempts to help with the cooking chores had been firmly rebuffed by the other schoolteacher.
"Let's see how long court goes today,"
Jesse had noticed Jennifer was limping more than usual and didn't want her on her damaged leg any more than necessary. She decided Jennifer would receive another massage at the end of the day, even though it would mean having to control her own desires. Just thinking about having the schoolteacher lying naked beneath her as her hands worked the tired leg muscles was making Jesse hot and she began to feel a wetness between her legs. The rancher had to stop for a moment to regain command of her ardor, which was currently running wild.
"Hey," Jennifer said, concerned when she saw the flush on Jesse's cheeks, "are you okay?"
"Yes," Jesse nodded as she stood, pressing her legs together trying to relieve the pressure building at her groin. "I'm fine," she said but the words were strained.
"You don't look fine," Jennifer was really getting worried. "Maybe we need to have the doctor check you over."
"No," Jesse shook her head emphatically. "I'm okay. Just give me a minute."
Jennifer waited as Jesse look several deep breaths. Her color returning to normal and she turned, unsteadily, to continue their walk.
"Oh, no you don't," Jennifer grabbed Jesse's arm and pulled her back. "You tell me what that was all about."
"I was just thinkin'," the rancher looked at the schoolteacher and smirked.
"Thinking? About what, sweetheart? You looked like you were going to pass out," Jennifer reached up and placed the back of her hand against her lover's forehead.
Jesse grabbed the hand, gently kissing it. "I was thinking about last night, darlin'," she told Jennifer.
"Last night?" Jennifer asked, confused. Then, she noticed the leering look Jesse was giving her and recalled how the rancher had to refrain from making love to her in Marianne's cabin. "That made you almost pass out?"
"Darlin," Jesse leaned forward and kissed Jennifer on the lips, not caring if anyone saw them, "I want to make love to you so bad, I ache. And, if this trial doesn't get over pretty soon so I can get you somewhere all to myself, I may just melt into a big, old puddle of mush from just thinkin' about it."
Jennifer sighed at Jesse, "you say the nicest things."
"Good morning, Jesse, Jennifer," the court clerk greeted the women when they entered the court room.
"Good morning," Jennifer smiled at the man as she lead Jesse to the defendant's table.
"Mornin'," Jesse nodded to the clerk. She pulled out Jennifer's chair and waited for her wife to settle into it before claiming her own seat, holding KC in her lap.
"Morning, ladies," sheriff Billie Monroe was standing off to the side of the room, prepared to again serve as a preventive to any escape attempt Jesse might try, not that she had any intention of doing so.
"Morning, Billie. Still making sure I don't escape, I see," Jesse shared a laugh with her friend.
There were a few others seated in the court room and more entered and took seats during the following minutes.
Jennifer smiled when her mother and brother entered. "Good morning," she said cheerfully.
"You're in a good mood this morning," Thomas said as he helped Mary into a chair.
"I'm always in a good mood when I wake up with Jesse," Jennifer reached over and squeezed the rancher's arm. Both women had enjoyed their morning of snuggling together before they were forced from their bed.
"Oh," Thomas looked away, somewhat embarrassed by his sister's words.
Jennifer noticed her brother's reaction and was about to apologize for making him uncomfortable but stopped herself. This was her life. And, the reality was that she slept with and woke up with Jesse. If Thomas had a problem with that, then so be it. But, it was his problem and she would not apologize for loving her wife. She turned back around in her chair to face the judge's bench.
"You alright?" Jesse asked when she saw the frown on the schoolteacher's face.
"Yes," Jennifer said curtly, she was real tired of having to justify her love of Jesse.
"Darlin?" Jesse placed a hand on Jennifer's arm and ran her thumb lightly over the silky skin beneath it.
Jennifer took a deep breath before turning to face her worried wife. She smiled to relieve the look of concern on the rancher's face, "I'm fine, sweetheart. I'll explain later. Okay?"
"Yes," Jesse agreed, "as long as you're okay,"
Marianne entered the court room and moved quickly to the defendant's table. "I found these," she placed a carved wooden horse and a couple of other objects on the table in front of KC, who happily grabbed at the toys. "I hope they're the right ones," she added, hopefully.
"Yes," Jennifer assured her friend, "these are just fine. Thank you."
After arriving at the doctor's office, Jennifer and Jesse had realized they had left Marianne's cabin without any of the baby's toys. Not wanting KC to have to spend another day squirming restlessly in Jesse's lap, the women decided to chance her playing with some of her favorite toys during court. Marianne had happened by to make sure everything was alright with Jesse's wounds and volunteered to return to her cabin for the toys.
"Good," Marianne ruffled KC's hair. "I wouldn't want to have brought you the wrong ones, KC."
"Long as she's got her horse," Jesse told the woman, "she's happy with anything else."
"All rise," the clerk announced in a loud voice.
Jesse stood and assisted Jennifer to her feet as Judge Henry entered the room and took his place behind the enclosed desk at the front of the room.
"Good morning, ladies," he nodded to Jesse and Jennifer, "and Miss KC. Please be seated. Mrs. Branson," he spoke directly to Jennifer after watching Jesse help her back into her chair, "you are not required to stand if it creates a hardship."
"Thank you, Judge Henry," Jennifer smiled at the man who had done so much to lessen the ordeal of Jesse's arrest and trial for the two women. "I'll take you up on that if it gets too bad."
"Very well," the judge smiled back. He had accepted soon after meeting the young woman that she asked for, and expected, no special considerations because of her leg. He respected her for that and would let her decide what adaptations she would need during court.
"I see Miss KC has brought herself some entertainment today," the judge commented as KC bounced her toy horse, noisily, across the table.
"I'm sorry, sir," Jesse corralled the baby's hands. "We thought it would help keep her quiet. But, we can put them away."
"No," the judge smiled, "it's okay. These days get long for all of us. Just keep it down to a low roar so I can hear the witnesses."
"Will do, judge," Jesse nodded. She leaned down and whispered something into KC's ear.
KC pulled the toy horse to the very edge of the table and softly bounced it in one spot. She looked up, questioning, at Jesse who smiled and nodded. KC smiled and went back to playing.
"May I ask where Marshal Morgan and Mr. Thompson might be," Judge Henry returned to the business that had brought them to court. He had expected to see the marshal and his star witness in the room.
"The marshal sent word that Mr. Thompson is not yet sober enough to testify," the clerk handed a folded piece of paper to the judge. "He is staying at the jail with his prisoner."
"I see," Judge Henry did not appear happy at the news. "Please call the next witness on the list," he instructed his clerk.
"Marianne Temple," the clerk read the name.
"Miss Temple," Judge Henry addressed the schoolteacher as she took the witness chair, "did you have reason to speak with the defendant when she came to Bannack several months ago?"
"Would you tell the court about that?"
"Jennifer and Jesse came to my cabin," Marianne grinned as she remembered the pair walking up to her cabin with a tiny baby in Jesse's arms. "Jennifer is the schoolteacher in Sweetwater and she asked if I'd be willing to talk to her. Which I happily agreed to do."
"I see," the judge looked at the papers spread out on the desk before him. "Did they have a child with them?"
"Yes. Jesse was carrying KC."
"Did she say how she came about having the child?"
"They told me they had found her parents on their way to town. They had been shot. They heard the baby crying from under what was left of a burned wagon."
"Did they say what they planned to do with the child?"
"They asked if I might know of any family in Bannack so they could return her to them."
"What did you tell them?"
"I said that I had only seen that poor young couple just the one time. That day they came through town with that Conestoga wagon. That was really the only reason I paid any attention to them at all. We don't see many of those big wagons this far north of the Oregon trail. And, since I hadn't talked to them, I wasn't aware of any family they might have in Bannack. But, I suggested they might want to talk to Reverend Tobias because I had seen him talking to the Williams and he might know of any kin they would have."
"How did the child seem with Mrs. Branson?"
"Jesse or Jennifer?" the schoolteacher asked, unsure which of the women the judge was asking about.
"I'm sorry," he said, "with Jesse Branson."
"KC adored Jesse. She sat in her lap almost the whole time Jennifer and I were talking, which was most of the afternoon. In fact, I can remember saying that KC had already taken a liking to Jesse."
"Did the baby seem well cared for?"
"Oh, yes," Marianne nodded. "They had brought diapers and milk with them to see to her needs. And, Jesse rocked KC to sleep when it was time for her nap. Then, she held the baby while she slept."
"Thank you, Miss Temple," the judge made several notes. "Is there anything else, relevant to this case, that you would like to say?"
"Yes," Marianne looked at the judge. "The morning that the Williams left Bannack, I saw their wagon in front of Chrismans' store. Mrs. Williams was sitting in the wagon and I assumed that Mr. Williams was inside the store."
"Do you know what Mr. Williams was doing in Chrismans?"
"Well, at the time, I just thought he was buying supplies. But, after what happened, I believe that he was inside telling Sheriff Plummer what road they planned to travel out of Bannack."
"But, you don't know for sure?"
"No, sir," Marianne's shoulders slumped when she had to agree with the judge.
"Thank you," Judge Henry made a final notation. "You may step down. Mr. Chrismans, please retake the stand."
The store owner grumbled as he stood and made his way to the front of the courtroom.
"You heard what Miss Temple said," the judge addressed the witness.
"Well, what was Mr. Williams doing in your store that morning?"
"Buyin' supplies, I reckon," Chrismans responded.
"Sir, do not try my patience," Judge Henry warned the stubborn witness.
"He was talkin' to Plummer," Chrismans begrudgingly told the judge.
"Had Sheriff Plummer instructed Mr. Williams to check with him before leaving town?"
"Do you think Mr. Williams was following the sheriff's instructions?"
"Could have been."
"Was Mr. Williams telling Sheriff Plummer the route he planned to follow after leaving Bannack?"
"Might have been."
"Mr. Chrismans, do you know what transpired between Mr. Williams and Sheriff Plummer that morning in your store," the judge glared at the witness. "I want the truth."
"I was waitin' on another customer so I couldn't hear what was said," Chrismans glared back. "And, that's the truth."
"Alright," the judge knew he wasn't going to get any more out of the man. And, who could blame him. If he admitted to knowing about Plummer's activities, the vigilantes would surely come looking for him with a noose. "Call the next witness."
"Christopher Gaffney," the clerk called out.
A young boy of twelve or thirteen years of age hurried to the stand. He nervously looked at the judge as he waited to be questioned.
"Folks call you Gaff, don't they?" the judge smiled to relax the young witness.
"Would it be okay if I called you Gaff?"
"Yes, sir," the boy nodded, his lips turning up slightly in a timid smile.
"Good. Gaff can you tell me if the defendant, the lady sitting right there," the judge explained when the boy looked at him quizzically. "Have you ever talked to her?"
"Sure did," the boy remembered the friendly women who had visited his father's shop several months before.
"Can you tell me what she said to you, Gaff?"
"She and that other nice lady," the boy pointed at Jennifer. "They come in and askt ta have a stone made. She," he pointed at Jennifer again, "wrote down the name. Might pretty handwrittin' it was, " he grinned at the schoolteacher. "And, she," this time he pointed at Jesse, "askt that pa put an angel on the stone."
"Who's headstone was it?" the judge was perplexed by this information.
"Mrs. Cassidy's," the boy told him. "But, they weren' puttin' that name on it. Said she didn' need ta be takin' it with her where she was goin', they said."
"Did they say anything else?"
"Said ta let Riley know when it was ready," he named the town's gravedigger.
"Thank you, Gaff," the judge reached out his arm, offering to shake the boy's hand. "You've done yourself proud today."
The boy's chest puffed out as his hand was engulfed by the judge's much larger one. Then he jumped out of the chair and scampered back to his seat, a beaming smile spread across his face.
"Ladies?" Judge Henry looked to Jesse and Jennifer to explain the boy's testimony.
"We came to town to check on the sister of a friend. Didn't know until we talked with Plummer that her husband had shot her. Figured the least we could do was give her a nice stone," Jesse explained.
"What name did you use?"
"Grainger. It was her family name."
"Okay," the judge wrote the information down. Then, he took out his watch and opened it. "I think we can all use a break. Court will adjourn until two o'clock. Please see if the marshal and his witness will be able to join us at that time," he said to the clerk.
"All rise," the clerk said as the judge stood to leave.
"I have a table waiting in the dining room at the Goodrich," Thomas stepped up behind Jesse and Jennifer. "If you'd like to join us for lunch, that is," he added, tentatively. "Everyone is welcome," he said to include Billie and Marianne.
Jesse looked to Jennifer for the answer.
"Thank you, Thomas. We'll be there as soon as we get KC changed," Jennifer told her brother.
"You can do that in my room, if you'd like," Thomas offered. "Save you from walking all the way back to Miss Temple's."
"Thanks," Jennifer smiled at her brother. "But, we didn't bring any diapers with us."
"Come on, darlin'," Jesse took Jennifer's hand. "Let's get you downstairs, then I'll take KC for some fresh pants while you go with Thomas and your mother. I want you off that leg as much as possible today."
"Alright, sweetheart," Jennifer agreed as she accompanied Jesse from the room.
In the dining room of the Goodrich Hotel, two tables had been pushed together to accommodate the group of diners. Jesse sat on one side of the combined tables with Jennifer just to her right, KC sat in Jennifer's lap. Thomas sat at his sister's side, while Mary, Billie and Marianne occupied the chairs on the opposite side of the long table. The diners had finished their meal and were preparing to leave.
Thomas leaned over to speak quietly to his sister. "Jennifer, since we have some time before we have to get back to court, I was wondering if we might speak for a few moments."
Jesse overheard Thomas and listened for the schoolteacher's reply, Jennifer had had little to say to her brother since he re-entered her life. Jesse knew that her wife harbored painful memories and hurt feelings where her brothers were concerned but she also felt there remained a spark of love buried deep within Jennifer for her brothers.
Jennifer didn't take long to consider her brother's request, she turned to Jesse, "would you mind, sweetheart?"
"No, darlin'," Jesse lifted the baby from Jennifer's lap and stood ready to help as the schoolteacher stood. "Just go somewhere you can sit, please," she watched as Jennifer leaned heavily on her cane, a silent indication of how much her leg was bothering her.
Jennifer leaned close to Jesse and kissed her. "We'll sit in the lobby."
"Okay," Jesse smiled. "KC and I will wait for you outside on the boardwalk," she said, knowing there were a couple of chairs placed there for the use of hotel guests.
"I won't be long," Jennifer squeezed Jesse's arm as she kissed KC on top of the head. "You take care of mommy for me," she told the baby.
Thomas offered his arm to Jennifer and she accepted it. They walked out of the dining room and down the short hall to the lobby at the front of the building. Jesse followed behind but continued out of the building when Jennifer and Thomas crossed the small lobby to a couple of chairs near a window.
"Momma," KC cried when she saw her mother walking away.
"It's okay, sunshine," Jesse patted the baby's back, "your momma is just going to talk to your uncle for a bit. Then, she'll come find us."
KC stretched herself upward in Jesse's arms to be able to see over the tall rancher's shoulder. Her eyes followed Jennifer and she smiled when Jennifer waved and blew her a kiss. "Wuv, momma."
"Yep, sunshine," Jesse agreed, as she walked outside. "That we surely do."
"Well, Thomas?" Jennifer asked after they had sat in silence for several minutes.
"I'm not sure how to say what I want," Thomas nervously informed her.
"Alright," Jennifer sat back in the chair, willing to wait for her brother to gather his thoughts. She watched as their mother eased into a chair on the opposite side of the lobby and pretended to read a newspaper left on a side table. She wondered if her mother knew what was causing her brother's uneasiness.
Thomas looked at his sister as he began, "I want to apologize, Jennifer. For myself, Howard and William," he named their brothers. "I guess we never gave it much thought when you were younger how our behavior must have seemed to you. But," he words rushed out as he tried to express his feelings, "we didn't do it to hurt you. Please believe that."
Unsure exactly what her brother was referring to and, somewhat, fearful of the answer, Jennifer asked, "what did you do, Thomas?"
"The way we treated you, sis," Thomas spoke the words softly. "You were so much younger and we really didn't know what to do with you, considering you were a girl," he grinned, sheepishly.
Jennifer began to understand, "oh. So, if I'd been a boy you wouldn't have ignored me." Even though she smiled to lessen the sting of her words, she meant them the truth behind them.
"Yeah," Thomas nodded then changed his mind, "no. Well, I mean," he hesitated, "hell, Jennifer, to be honest, I don't know. By the time, you were old enough to spend time with, father had me working on the docks from morning to dark. I was just too tired at the end of the day to care much about anything except going to bed. Howard and William were working half days and going to school the other half, so they didn't have much time either. It wasn't intentional, it just happened."
"It hurt," Jennifer whispered, remembering the many times she had tried to engage her brothers in a game or other activity just to be rebuffed with a gruff word or, even worse, utterly ignored. "I was so lonely."
"I know that now, sis," Thomas started to reach for Jennifer's hand but unsure how she would respond he pulled his own hand back into his lap. "We all know that now. We really are sorry."
"How do you know, Thomas?" Jennifer was mystified as to how her brother could know of feelings she had never expressed to him..
"Mother wrote us."
Jennifer looked at Mary who instantly became very interested in the paper she held. "I should have known," she smirked, talking more to herself than her brother.
"She told us how you didn't have much good to remember about us or your growing years. I can tell you, we didn't care much to read what she had written but we did. And, afterwards, we talked about it. And, the more we talked about those years, the more we came to see that you had good reason not to like us. But, I can tell you, we missed you after you left. Missed you a lot. And, we'd very much like you to give us a second chance to show you that we do care," this time when he reached for his sister's hand, he didn't stop. "We do love you, sis. Please let us prove that to you."
Jennifer looked down and studied her brother's larger hands wrapped tenderly around hers. Physically, Thomas looked like a younger version of their father and Jennifer had to admit this was the reason she had been avoiding her brother. But, his behavior the past few days had shown him to be a much different man than Martin Kinsington. She knew that she loved her brothers, as any sibling born into a family would. But, she could honestly say she didn't like them. Of course, they had never given her much reason to. Maybe, she should give her brother the second chance he was requesting. But, it would come only under her terms.
"I'm not going back east," she pulled her hand free of her brother's grasp, "and, I'm not leaving my family," she glared at her brother, unsure if he was trying to accomplish what her father had been unable to.
"I would never ask that of you," Thomas quickly said. Before him sat a determined, confident woman willing to fight for the life she had chosen to live. "Nor, would I ever expect it. But, I do hope you'll come home for a visit. And," he smiled, "bring your family."
Jennifer considered her brother's words, she had never thought of taking Jesse back east and she wasn't surprised that the thought of showing her wife where she had grown up didn't carry much significance for her. That part of her life was buried too far in the past and, in truth, Jennifer Kinsington was no longer who she was. No, she was Jennifer Branson, now, and Montana was her home. There simply was no reason for her to ever leave it.
"I'm sorry, Thomas," Jennifer looked at her brother. "I appreciate what you've told me. Although, I'm not sure it will erase all the pain and loneliness I carry from those years but it does help to know that you care. As for giving you another chance, I wish I could but I will never go back. My life is here. My home is, and always will be, with Jesse."
Thomas let Jennifer's words sink in before answering. "Well, maybe, you'll let us come visit you then. I've kinda taken a liking to what I've seen of Montana and would like to come back when things aren't quite so," he faltered, seeking the right word.
"Out of control. Ridiculous. Bizarre. Outrageous. Disruptive. Crazy," Jennifer offered helpfully.
"Yeah," Thomas laughed. "And, when father isn't around," he nervously added. "I'm really sorry about all this, Jennifer. I wish I had stopped him from coming."
"Me, too," Jennifer looked out the window to see Jesse waiting patiently for her. KC was standing in Jesse's lap, one hand resting on her mother's shoulder and the other pointing at something across the street that Jennifer couldn't see. The baby was talking non stop and Jesse was nodding animatedly to the child's gibberish. "But," Jennifer used her cane to push herself up from the chair, "it's Jesse you should be apologizing to for that. She's the one paying the price for father's behavior. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to spend some time with her and KC before court starts."
"Of course," Thomas stood with his sister. "Jennifer," he placed a hand on her arm, "I do love you. We all do."
Jennifer studied her brother for a few moments. "I love you, too, Thomas," she told him. "But, I don't know where we go from here. Right now, my only concern is for Jesse and getting through this trial. Then, I will do everything I can to make sure father never has the opportunity to cause us any more trouble. I can't think past that."
"I understand," Thomas nodded. "Perhaps, when all this is over, we can talk some more."
Thaddeus Newby walked up to the guard stationed at the mouth of the Songbird mine, another man walked a few steps behind him.
"Afternoon," Thaddeus took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. It was a long, hot walk up to the Songbird in the heat of early afternoon.
"Afternoon," the guard eyed his visitors warily. "What can I do for you gents?"
"We'd like to take a look inside the Songbird," Thaddeus told the guard.
"Sorry, I'm not 'spose to let anybody inside 'cept Mr. Wilson or Mr. Harrington," the guard told the men. He had recognized Thaddeus Newby, the Sweetwater newspaper editor but the other man was a stranger to him.
"I understand your caution," Thaddeus replaced his hat, "but we will only be a moment. And, I assure you, we will not do anything but look. You're welcome to come with us to make sure."
"I don't know," the guard didn't like going into the dark, confining mine. "Mr. Harrington don' like folks nosin' around. Didn' even like it when Mr. Wilson come up here and he's 'spose to check on things."
"Oh," the newspaperman's interest perked at the guard's comment. "When was Mr. Wilson here?"
"Couple days ago," the guard began to relax as he talked. He didn't think the men posed much of a threat if they were just going to ask questions. "Said he wanted to check on things. Well, like I said, that bein' his job and all, I didn' think much about it. Then, Mr. Harrington come up the next day and wanted to know what he was checkin' on. Told him, I didn' know since I didn' go inside wit' him." He shivered as he spoke, "don' like goin' inside. Don' like bein' closed in like that."
"Can't say I blame you there," Thaddeus wasn't too fond of being inside mine shafts himself. "But, Mr. Cannan has come a long way at my request and I'd really hate to have to tell him we wasted out trip," he hoped the guard would disregard Harrington's instructions and let them enter the mine.
The guard looked over both men, "what ya planning ta do in there?"
"Just look, like I said," Thaddeus told him. "For a newspaper article I'm writing on all the changes the development of the Songbird is going to bring to Sweetwater and the valley."
"It sure will change things, won't it," the guard agreed.
"Yes. A new bank, hotel, even better roads. Not to mention the jobs being provided to folks like yourself." Thaddeus felt he had the guard leaning towards letting them inside and decided to nudge him a little more. "Maybe I could even put a mention in about what a fine job you're doing up here."
"Me, in the Gazette?" the guard stood a little taller.
"Yep," Thaddeus was sure he had the young guard. "I bet you've got someone you could see a copy home to."
"Sure do," the guard agreed.
"So," Thaddeus knew now was the time to strike, "do you think we could go inside for a few minutes."
"Well," the guard rubbed the stubble on his chin," don't see how it can hurt anythin'. Just don't cause any problems," he told the men, "I don't want to have to explain to Mr. Harrington that I let you inside."
"You have my word," Thaddeus shook the guard's hand. "We won't be but a few minutes, I promise."
Thaddeus started for the mine's entrance and gestured for Cannan, who had remained silent during the exchange, to follow him. The men stopped long enough to light a couple of lanterns before entering the mine. Thaddeus quickly led his companion to the end of the shaft and held his lantern over his head to help illuminate the stone wall.
"This is it, Cannan," Thaddeus said as the other man also raised the lantern he carried.
Leaning forward, Cannan carefully studied the gold vein running across the rock face. "Can you hold this for me," he handed his lantern to Thaddeus.
"What do you think?" the newspaperman anxiously asked.
"I'll know in a minute," Cannan pulled a pocketknife from his pocket and scrapped across the ore vein. Then, he removed a small hammer from where he had tucked it behind the waistband of his pants and rapped it against the stone. A sizeable chip fell from the vein of ore. He bent down to pick it up and, holding in up in the lantern light, turned it over in his hands. "I'd say your suspicions are right, Newby. This ain't nothing but a vein of quartz with some fool's gold peppered into it."
"What's it worth?"
"Damn," Thaddeus Newby wasn't surprised to hear the assayer confirm the rumors he had heard in the mining camps that the Songbird had been salted by it's previous owner. His question now was whether or not Tobias Harrington was aware of the deception. And, that could not be answered in the mine. "Let's get out of here before that guard decides to come see what we're up to."
"You boys doin' okay," as if he had read the man's thoughts, the guard's voice echoed down the mine shaft.
"Yes," Thaddeus called back. "We're coming out."
"What you planning on doing with this information?" the assayer asked.
"Well, as soon as you give me a written report, I plan to break the news in the Gazette. I don't know what Harrington is up to but, if it's all been a scam, it's best to put a stop to it before he goes any further."
"You could be making yourself some mighty big enemies, Thaddeus."
"I'm more concerned about my friends in Sweetwater that are being effected by all of this," the newspapermen blew out his lantern as they reached the shaft's mouth and stepped into the bright sunlight.
"Did you find what you needed?" the guard asked as the men emerged.
"Yes," Thaddeus stretched out his hand to the guard. "Thank you. I'll make sure you receive a copy of the Gazette. My compliments, of course."
"Thanks. You take it easy on the way down," the guard smiled.
"We will," Thaddeus said as the men headed away from the Songbird.
Walking down the rocky trail wasn't much easier than walking up it, but the men managed to quickly cover the distance back to where they had left their horses.
"I'll write you a report as soon as we get back to your office. No sense in me waiting until I get back to Garnet and having to send it to you." The assayer made his living traveling from one mining camp to the next. He would stay as long as there was a demand for his services and then move on to the next promising strike. Currently, he had a small office in the new camp northwest of Sweetwater. It was there that Thaddeus had approached him about verifying the Songbird's, supposedly, rich ore-bearing rock.
"I'd appreciate that," Thaddeus mounted his horse and the men rode back to Sweetwater.
Walks on the Wind dismounted in a small grove of trees next to a creek of fast moving water. He let the horses drink before dipping his cupped hands into the water and bringing them up to his lips. The cold liquid felt good on his dry throat. He stood when he heard the call of a meadowlark. Holding one hand to the side of his mouth, he whistled, mimicking the high pitched cry of an eagle. He tilted his head to listen. The meadowlark's call was repeated. Walk knelt to finish his drink. Moments later a man entered the copse, he moved silently to where Walk waited for him.
Walk greeted the man in his native language. The man responded in kind and the two men exchanged information for several minutes before the man took the reins to the second horse and left in the same direction he had appeared.
Walk mounted his horse and rode back to Sweetwater. His friend would find a place to leave the horse and, with any luck, Kensington should find it before nightfall. Of course, Walk knew that Kensington wouldn't be needing any luck because his friend would make sure the man found the horse just as he had been making sure that he survived his trek across the open plains. Though, Jennifer's father would never know it, the only threats he had faced since leaving the Indian encampment was of hunger and sore feet. Walk had made sure of that.
"Reverend Tobias," Judge Henry opened the afternoon session of Jesse's trial, "since it seems that Mr. Thompson is still unable to appear before this court, would you please come forward."
The reverend smiled smugly as he walked past the table where Jesse and Jennifer sat. The smile left his face when KC took notice of his passing and decided to voice her opinion.
KC's nose wrinkled as she stuck out her tongue and presented the reverend with a loud raspberry, "pfttttt."
"That wasn't nice, sunshine," Jesse admonished the baby as she tried to maintain a straight face.
"Uck," KC told her mother as she wiped her hand across her mouth to dry the droplets of saliva left by her actions.
Several snickers were heard in the courtroom until the judge tapped his gavel for quiet.
"Reverend Tobias, please take the stand," the judge told the man who had stopped to stare, disapprovingly, at the baby.
"That child has no place in this room," Reverend Tobias announced as he followed the judge's directions.
"Miss KC is here at my request," Judge Henry told the man. "So, please refrain from telling me how to run my courtroom." He could already tell he would not enjoy the reverend's testimony. "Please tell the court if you had any contact with the defendant during her earlier visit to Bannack," the judge told the witness, his voice was hard. He was not in the mood for one of the reverend's well known rantings about Jesse. Unfortunately, Reverend Tobias choice to ignore the unspoken warning.
"That woman," the reverend sneered as he said the word, "refused to give that child to me. I could have had a nice couple take her. Good folks who would have given the baby a decent home and been good parents. Would have taught her manners," the reverend referred to KC's recent outburst, "not let her run wild like them two."
"Mr. Tobias," the judge pressed his fingers against the bridge of his nose, "please answer the question. Did you have contact with the defendant? Yes or no?"
"Yes. I told them I would take the child......"
"Mr. Tobias, you are to only answer the questions I ask. Do you understand?"
"If you wish to testify before this court, you will do as you are told," Judge Henry glared at the witness. "Do you understand?"
"Yes," Reverend Tobias answered but he was already trying to figure out how to get around the judge's orders in order to let everyone in the room know what disgusting people Jesse and Jennifer were and how the baby should be taken away from them.
"Good. Let's start again," the judge said. "Did you have contact with the defendant during her earlier trip to Bannack?"
"Yes," the reverend simmered as KC contently curled up in Jesse's arms, her eyes watching him.
"What was the nature of your contact?"
"Sheriff Plummer told me they had brought an orphan to town. I went to get the child."
"Did Mrs. Branson say how she came to have the child?"
"Sheriff told me they'd found the parents dead on the trail," the reverend answered.
"Did you ask them?"
"Didn't need to," the reverend shrugged. "Already knew."
Judge Henry added to his notes before asking the next question. "Did Mrs. Branson say what she planned to do with the child?"
"Said she and her sister," the reverend mocked the women who, at the time, had thought it best to hide their true relationship, "were looking for any kin. I told them there wasn't any and they should give the baby to me. I could find it a decent home, with a mother and father. But, they refused. Said they was keeping it to raise as their own. Said they could give it everything it needed." The reverend shook his head sadly, "can you imagine? A poor innocent child being raised in such wickedness. How much shame it must endure? How awful...."
"Reverend Tobias," the judge stopped the witness. "Kindly stop referring to Miss KC as 'it', I can't tell if you're talking about a baby or a stray dog."
"Being raised by them ain't much difference," the reverend glared at Jesse, the veins in her neck standing out against tightly clamped muscles. "Look at her," he pointed at the defendant's table, "she's not much more than an animal herself."
Jennifer had heard enough and was out of her chair charging towards the witness stand. Only Billie's quick action saved the reverend from being attacked by the outraged mother and wife.
"He ain't worth it, Jennifer," Billie told the schoolteacher as he struggled to maintain his grasp on the angry woman.
Jesse remained seated not wanting to upset KC any more than she already was after seeing Jennifer storm from her chair and knowing that Jennifer would eventually listen to Billie.
"Come on," Billie fought Jennifer's attempts to break his hold, "you ain't gonna do her much good if you get tossed in jail."
Jennifer let the sheriff pull her back to the defendant's table. She was still boiling mad at the scornful reverend but Billie was right, she couldn't help Jesse from a jail cell.
"Momma," KC cried when Jennifer reclaimed her chair and crawled into the schoolteacher's lap. Jennifer wrapped her arms protectively around the baby, a clear signal to the witness that he would never separate her from her child.
KC could feel her mother trembling and snuggled into her hug, looking up at her mother's angry face. "Wuv, momma." she said in a tiny voice.
Jennifer's anger melted away. "I love you, too, sweetie," she said in a voice full of emotion.
Jennifer was not the only one upset with the reverend's comments, Mary had a firm grip on Thomas' arm to keep him in his seat. Marianne's voice joined others in the courtroom in expressing their displeasure at the witness' remarks.
Judge Henry rapped his gavel several times demanding quiet. It was several minutes before he was able to resume the proceedings.
"Reverend Tobias," Judge Henry turned to the witness when order had been re-established in the room, "you will find yourself in jail if you make one more comment like that. Do I make myself clear?" the judge furiously asked.
The reverend refused to answer.
Determined, if necessary, to follow through on his threat, the Judge Henry referred to the notes he had made during the reverend's testimony. Not seeing anything that required additional questioning of the hostile witness, the judge said, "this witness is excused. Call the next witness."
"Just a minute," Reverend Tobias objected. "What's to be done with the child? You can't possibly be thinking of leaving it with those...."
"Don't say another word," Judge Henry growled. "I will determine the welfare of the child after I have heard all the testimony in this case. Until that time, Miss KC will remain with her mothers. You will not attempt to interfere with them again."
Somehow, the judge's words broke through Reverend Tobias single-minded purpose to have KC taken from Jennifer and Jesse. He realized he had strained the judge's breaking point and, not wanting, to force the issue, he remained silent. There would be plenty of time to settle the matter of the child. Certainly after the woman was found guilty it would be impossible for the child to be left in the custody of the other woman. He stood and marched out of the courtroom.
"Well," Judge Henry reshuffled his notes. "I think we could all use a few moments to calm ourselves after that."
Jesse reached over and tenderly rubbed the back of her hand against Jennifer's cheek, "you okay, darlin'?"
"Yes," Jennifer smiled, shyly. "Guess I got a little carried away."
Jesse leaned close so she could whisper and not be overheard, "I thought it was cute, you takin' after the preacher like that. Remind me never to get on your bad side," she winked at her wife.
Jennifer pressed her forehead against Jesse's, "I love you."
"I love you, darlin'." Jesse sighed. "Don't you fret, that man will never get his hands on our KC."
The courtroom's doors opened and a man uneasily approached the judge. Words were quietly exchanged between the two men before the judge announced, "Cyrus Skinner has asked to testify about the matters before this court. Take the stand," the judge made a notation on his growing pages of notes. "Clerk, swear in the witness," he said offhandedly as he wrote.
Jesse and Jennifer had never seen the rough looking man before and wondered how he could be involved with the charges against Jesse. It wouldn't take them long to find out.
"Well, Mr. Skinner," the judge looked at the man squirming in the witness chair, "what do you wish to say?"
"Them two ain't killed nobody," he announced.
Judge Henry rapped his gavel several times to quiet the whoops and hollers that had broken out in the courtroom. When quiet resumed, he asked, "and, you know this how?"
"That fool Williams talked to Plummer 'fore they left town. I heard 'im tell the boys to go after them. Said they'd be takin' the road through the Big Hole."
"Do you know why Sheriff Plummer sent the men after the Williams?" the judge asked.
"Williams told Plummer their families had been killed by injuns and they was carryin' the only thing left of value to either one of 'em. Funny, considering..."
"'Cept for their horses, the boys didn't find nothin' of value when they went through the wagon. Just clothes and some old furniture. Don't rightly know what Williams was talkin' 'bout."
Jesse and Jennifer looked at each other then down at KC, now asleep in Jennifer's arms. They knew.
"Mr. Skinner, how is that you know this?"
"'Cause, Plummer talked to the boys in my place," the man reached up and loosened his shirt's collar. He could almost feel the noose around his neck and hoped his testimony would save him from the hangman.
"Was it customary for Sheriff Plummer to conduct his business in your saloon?"
"Yeah," the witness swiped at the beads of sweat gathering on his forehead. "The boys would be there drinkin' most times. So, if'n Plummer had somethin' he wanted them to do, he'd come in."
"Was it usual for Sheriff Plummer to order the death of a child?" the judge asked knowing that by sending his henchmen after the Williams, the sheriff had, in effect, sentenced their baby to also die.
"Nah, don't think he knew about the kid," the saloon owner and outlaw conspirator shook his head. "Plummer never would send the boys after anyone with kids. He was funny 'bout that." Skinner wiped at his brow again, "fact is, only time I heard him tell the boys to kill a kid was when he sent 'em after them two."
Pandemonium exploded in the courtroom. This was the first time that folks in Bannack had heard that Jesse and Jennifer, and KC, had been specifically targeted by their former sheriff.
"Told ya ya had the wrong person on trial," a voice shouted at the judge.
"How the hell can you be trying her for a killing Plummer ordered?" someone else loudly asked.
"Dammit, don' know why ya is wastin' our time with all this," another voice was heard, "ain't it obvious that no good Plummer is the one who killed them two?"
Banging his gavel on the desk, Judge Henry tried to quiet the room enough so he could question the witness about this new development. Both, Billie and the court clerk worked their way through the gallery trying their best to calm and settle the irate group. Only Jesse and Jennifer had failed to react to Skinner's declaration, they having already been very much aware of the events that Sheriff Plummer had set in motion many months prior.
Finally, order was restored.
"Mr. Skinner," Judge Henry asked when the room quieted, "are you telling this court that Sheriff Plummer ordered the death of the defendant?"
"Yeah, both of 'em. He said he didn't trust 'em. He was afraid they'd go back to Sweetwater and talk to the law."
"Which is exactly what they did," Billie, Sweetwater's sheriff, told the judge. "They came to me with what they had seen in Bannack. And, what had happened after they left. I wrote it up and sent it on, to Virginia City."
"I see. And," the judge turned back to the witness, "what happened to the men Sheriff Plummer sent after the defendant? Since it is apparent they failed to follow his instructions."
"Don't rightly know," Skinner replied, truthfully. "Never saw two of 'em again. Plummer went out lookin' for 'em but came back without 'em. The third, Vince Packer came in a few times after the vigilantes hanged Plummer. But, he always refused to talk about it."
"Mrs. Branson?" Judge Henry asked Jesse for an explanation.
"They ambushed us near a stand of cottonwoods," Jesse was unsure if she should say more. Even though it had been self defense, she had killed two of the men and could be held accountably for their deaths. But, she looked at Jennifer and the baby sleeping in her arms and decided it would be better to have everything out in the open. "I killed two of them. The other rode away."
Jennifer placed a comforting hand on Jesse's thigh, she knew that Jesse was still haunted by nightmares over the men's death. Yet, if the rancher hadn't defended her family that day, they would have been left dying in the hot sun instead of the bandits.
"Were you wounded?"
"Jennifer was thrown from her horse, had the wind knocked out of her. Took her some time to recover," Jesse answered. "Otherwise, we were okay."
"Except that we were all pretty scared, I didn't think KC would ever stop crying," Jennifer added, furiously. "And, Jesse still has nightmares about trying to save us from those monsters. Sorry, sweetheart," she gently told her wife, "but they should know that it did hurt us."
"Darlin', it's okay," Jesse smiled sadly at her wife. She wasn't the only one to suffer from nightmares. She scooted her chair closer to Jennifer's and wrapped a long arm around her wife, pulling their bodies together tightly. The judge could do what he wanted with the information. Right now, all she cared about was in her arms.
"I don't know about anyone else," Judge Henry looked at Jesse and Jennifer who were oblivious to what was going on around them, "but I need some time to consider what I have just heard. Court is recessed until ten o'clock tomorrow morning," he rapped his gavel on his desk and, promptly, left the room.
Martin Kensington saw movement about five hundred feet in front of him. Stopping, he stared intently. Were his eyes deceiving him or was that really a horse standing in the shadows? Cautiously, he hurried his steps forward.
The man following Kensington watched as he discovered the horse left for him. It was almost dark but he knew the man would not let that stop him now that he would soon have a quicker way to travel. Even if Kensington rode all night, it would still take him until after mid-day to reach Bannack. The man hoped that Walks on the Wind knew what he was doing when he tied the horse to the tree. With his job now complete, he turned to return to the camp near the buffalo herd.
Jesse was sitting on the porch of Marianne's cabin, KC playing at her feet.
"What are you doing, sweetheart?" Jennifer asked as she came out of the cabin, carrying two cups of hot coffee.
"Thanks," Jesse accepted one of the cups and took a sip. "Seems we'll be needin' a new house when we get back home. So, I was tryin' to come up with one," she handed Jennifer the piece of paper she had been sketching on.
Jennifer studied the paper. Jesse had drawn a two story ranch house with lots of windows and a wide, wrap-a-round porch. Tears came to her eyes as she thought of the cabin they had shared since falling in love.
"I'm so sorry," Jennifer sniffled.
"Hey," Jesse put down her cup of coffee and pulled Jennifer into her lap. "You didn't burn the house down and I won't be having you apologize for what happened. Besides," Jesse tenderly wiped away her wife's tears, "it was getting a bit cramped. What with KC growing so fast, we would have needed to add on a room soon anywhere. This way," she took the paper back from Jennifer and held it up for both of them to look at, "we get to start fresh. It'll be ours, darlin'. A home we can raise KC in and live until we're old and gray and she has to take care of us."
"Ours," Jennifer liked the sound of that. "We'll build it together?"
"Wouldn't have it any other way."
"Mommy," KC had pulled herself upright and was leaning against Jesse's leg. "Me go?"
"You, sunshine," Jesse managed to lift the baby even with Jennifer in her lap, "will go right here," she pointed to a window in the corner of the upstairs level of the house. "That will be your room."
KC looked at the paper and tilted her head as she studied the picture her mother had drawn, "otay."
Continued in Part 9