Debby K's Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman Fan Fiction

Gold Rush


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
Gold Rush
by Debby K

************
Chapter 1
************

"Mama," Katie looked up from her drawing. "How'd I get my name?"

"What do you mean?" Michaela set aside her medical journal. "You know that you were named for your grandmothers."

"But why'd ya pick those names?" the little girl pursued the subject.

"Because your father and I wanted to honor our parents," Michaela explained. "Why do you ask?"

"Could ya tell me about it?" Katie put down her pencil. "I like it when ya tell me stories 'bout Poppy an' you."

She smiled at her daughter's inquisitive nature, "Let's go into the living room and make ourselves comfortable then."

"What if Joey wakes up while you're tellin' me?" the child skipped ahead of Michaela.

"Then he can listen, as well," Michaela lowered herself into a wing back chair.

Crawling into her mother's lap, Katie reclined against her bosom. Michaela stroked her hair and kissed the child's forehead before initiating the story.

"Go on," Katie encouraged. "I'm ready."

Michaela paused to reflect on the hectic events of that day. May 18, 1871.

Then she began, "Well, you know that you were born before your Daddy and I could make it back to town."

"Uh huh," Katie nodded. "By a tree."

"That's right," she replied.

Michaela's water had broken just as she climbed into the wagon to transport her injured husband back to the Clinic. Two weeks early, their child was going to be born. And not in the relative cleanliness of her examining room with Andrew Cook in attendance. No, it would be in a meadow.

"Mama," Katie tapped her shoulder. "Go on."

"Your father and I had not discussed names before you were born," she qualified.

"Why not?" the little girl was fascinated.

"I... I'm afraid I thought it would be bad luck," Michaela chuckled.

************

"What'll ya have, Doc?" Hank set a glass before Professor Howard Kelly.

"A shot of whiskey," the graying man answered, out of breath.

"Why ya pantin' like that?" Hank noticed. "Tryin' t' catch someone with an overdue library book?"

"No," the professor chuckled. "I just came across some old papers."

"Yea, that'd get me all excited, too," the bartender retorted.

Kelly's look was serious, "These papers suggest the location of an old Spanish gold mine."

"Gold?" Hank's eyebrows rose. "Tell me more."

************

Michaela commenced her recollections, sparing Katie the more terrifying details of the arduous experience.

************

As her labor began, Michaela and Sully shared a poignant moment. She tried to assure him that everything that was happening was normal. Then, as she framed his face between her hands, a contraction engulfed her.

Sully struggled to free himself from the iron grip Michaela had on his cheeks, but the more he moved, the tighter her grasp became. He knew his anguish could not equal her's, but he also concluded that his sinuses would never be the same again.

"SULLY!!!!" Michaela shouted as a contraction overwhelmed her. "I don't think I can do this!"

"Yes, ya can," his voice did not conceal his angst. "You're doin' it. Come on, push, Michaela! Push!"

Every muscle in her body constricted. She closed her eyes tightly and concentrated. She had delivered dozens of babies, but nothing prepared her for this.

Earlier to her husband, she had confided her fears of not being able to endure the pain.

"Women have been havin' babies since the beginnin' o' time," he had softly replied.

Now, it was happening to her. Her trepidation had been ever present, since she found out she was pregnant. Nervous about the physical ordeal, she had insecurities about her maternal instincts, as well. Michaela had lived and competed in a man's world and occupation. Not even around her nieces and nephews had she felt any desire to have children of her own.

Then the events of Colorado Springs had shattered her images. Thrust into motherhood by the death of Charlotte Cooper, and suddenly responsible for the woman's three children, she learned as she went along. But Matthew, Colleen and Brian were not infants. And the one person who had been there to support her, encourage her and love her was now shouting, "PUSH!"

Sully's voice kept her going.

"Come on, Michaela!" he forced her to focus again.

Just as the baby was nearly out, a complication arose. The umbilical cord was holding it up. It was then, in the midst of her own fear, that Michaela heard the panic in Sully's voice.

************

"Why'd ya call me over here in the middle o' the day?" Jake folded his arms skeptically.

"Yea," Loren agreed. "We got businesses t' run."

"Well," Hank slowed his speech. "If ya don't wanna hear about the gold mine."

"Gold mine?" Jake changed his tone.

"Where?" Loren probed.

"We gotta agree t' keep this between us," Hank prefaced.

"Ya already told Loren there's a gold mine," Jake motioned. "It ain't gonna stay a secret."

"Get on with it," Loren grew impatient.

"Dr. Kelly was just in here talkin' 'bout some ol' papers he found that mention a Spanish gold mine location in Colorado."

"There's been legends about that around here for years," Jake leaned on the bar.

"But he's got a description an' everythin'," Hank detailed.

"Why'd he tell you?" Jake wondered.

"Says he's too old t' pursue it," Hank looked around. "But he thought maybe the town could benefit from the discovery."

"Who says we gotta tell the town?" Loren reasoned.

"With your mouth, it's bound t' get around," Jake sarcastically answered.

"Well, I thought since we had a little advanced notice...." Hank paused to look around. "Maybe we could get a head start."

"Where d' we begin?" Loren moved closer.

************

Michaela's thoughts remained transported back to the day of her first born's arrival.

************

"It's chokin'," Sully's eyes were moist, his tone near panic.

Instantly, Michaela knew he had been through this before. A flashing thought of Abigail in labor, screaming in pain, passed before Michaela's eyes. And when their baby Hannah was finally delivered, both mother and child had died. What terror must be going through his mind! Michaela choked back her tears.

At that instant, she found the inner strength to coach her husband. She instructed him where to place the clamps. Then she told him to cut the umbilical cord.

The anguished expression on Sully's face conveyed his fears, but she maintained her focus, "Cut it, and the baby will come!"

With great effort, he courageously did as she directed, and into his hands, their child was born. Initially, Sully was too stunned to speak.

As Michaela calmed her breathing and began to cry, tears welled in Sully's eyes, "It's a girl. It's a girl."

She found it altogether fitting that he should be the first to cradle this new life they had created.... the daughter whom he had once told her he hoped for. As he cleaned off the newborn, Sully's first movement was to place the baby in his wife's arms. Tears of joy mixed with relief as he slid beside her and enfolded them both in his arms.

************

"Mama," Katie was growing impatient. "What about my name?"

"I'm getting there," Michaela rubbed her daughter's back.

************

Hank kept his voice low, "We gotta talk t' Doc Kelly 'bout them papers."

"Think he'll let us have 'em?" Loren was direct.

"Not yet, gentlemen," Preston Lodge had arrived.

"What're ya talkin' about?" Hank feigned ignorance.

"Professor Kelly's papers about an old Spanish gold mine," Preston stated matter-of-factly.

"How'd you find out?" Jake tilted back his hat. "Loren ain't been outa our sight yet."

"Dr. Kelly stopped by to see me," his grin was blinding.

"Why?" Hank queried.

"He wanted to lock the papers in my safe and inquire about financing an expedition to look for the gold," Preston answered. "Aren't you going to offer me a drink?"

"Yea," Hank slammed a glass down in front of him. "What'll it be?"

************

The front door of the homestead opened.

Sully held up several game birds, "Had good luck."

"Poppy," Katie rushed to him as he set dinner on the table. "Mama's tellin' me 'bout my name."

"'Bout your name?" he lifted her into his arms. "Which one?"

"Which one?" Katie was puzzled.

He smiled, "Sweet girl?" He kissed her left cheek. "Or Kates?" He kissed her right cheek.

"No," Katie giggled.

Michaela slipped her arm around her husband's waist, "Welcome home."

"Thanks," he set Katie down to give his wife a more proper greeting. "Where's Josef?"

"Still napping," Michaela looked up.

"Mama," Katie tugged at her skirt. "Finish the story, please?"

"I'll go check on him while you tell Katie about her name," he removed his jacket.

Sully headed for the stairs, as Michaela returned to the wing back chair and the attentive ears of her daughter.

************

At Grace's Cafe, the regular customers were abuzz with talk of the gold mine.

"Bet there's gonna be a rush o' folks t' stake a claim now," Horace said.

"And all because of some papers that the professor found," Reverend Johnson shook his head.

"Sure would like t' have a piece o' that mine," Robert E lamented. "Grace an' me could do plenty."

"Takes a lot a men an' money t' mine for gold these days," Horace shook his head.

"There's ways t' raise the money," Matthew sat down. "If Dr. Kelly agrees."

"How?" Dorothy was interested.

************

"Papa," Josef opened his eyes when he heard the nursery door open.

"Hey, sleepy head," Sully grinned.

"Up," the little boy raised his arms.

Sully lifted him from the crib, and tenderly kissed his cheek.

"We eat?" the child yawned.

"Pretty soon," he replied. "Wanna help me start supper?"

"'Kay," Josef nodded. "Where Mama?"

"Downstairs with your sister," Sully carried him to the door. "Let's go see 'em."

************

"Mama!" Josef squealed when he saw her.

"Well, hello, my darling," she smiled as Sully tipped him toward his mother for a kiss.

"We cook," his little eyes lit up.

"Joe an' me are gonna start dinner while you girls talk," Sully winked.

"Thank you," she settled back into her recollection.

************

Michaela began to carefully examine her newborn daughter.

Sully surmised what she was doing, "Ten fingers, ten toes. I counted."

"And each one perfect," she was in awe.

"You okay?" he read her expression.

"Sore," she smiled. "But yes, otherwise, I'm fine."

"I told ya you could do it," he kissed her temple.

Michaela felt another contraction, "The placenta."

They set their sleeping daughter gently to the side as they dealt with the afterbirth. Then the baby began to fuss.

"Think she's hungry?" Sully lifted her.

"I...." she was anxious about this next step. "I suppose it's possible."

Sully detected her hesitation, "It's okay, Michaela. Only natural."

"What if she doesn't...." again her fears were rising.

"Hold her," Sully settled the baby into his wife's arms.

"My dress," she reached.

"I'll help ya," he began to unbutton it.

Her anxiety continued to mount as Sully helped her prepare to feed the baby.

"It'll be fine," he whispered.

Katie's cries heightened the tension Michaela felt. Then she tilted the baby's head toward her breast. She rubbed the newborn's lip, and the child began to suck. Edging her closer, Michaela hoped.... it worked!

"Sully," the new mother's eyes lit up.

"Told ya," he smiled.

Michaela was overwhelmed by the most powerful sense of love she had ever experienced. It was a sensation she knew would never end.

"Oh, Sully," her eyes welled with tears. "It's incredible."

"Sure is," he ran his finger across the baby's head. "I never saw anythin' more beautiful."

************

"Yea, Matthew," Horace inquired. "How can we raise the money?"

"By formin' a corporation," he replied. "Anyone who wants t' share in the profits the mine makes buys some stock. If there's gold, the stockholders get paid a dividend. If it's a bust, all ya lose is what ya paid for the stock."

"That how men like Carnegie made their money?" Brian questioned.

"Yep, an' corporation's are a protection t' their investors, too," Matthew added. "If the business owes money, the creditors can't come after the assets o' the stockholders."

"Sounds like a lot o' big words t' me," the telegraph operator sighed.

"Sounds like a good idea t' me," Dorothy assessed. "We should talk t' Dr. Kelly about it."

"Talk away," the professor had overheard. "I like the idea of a corporation.... but with a few stipulations."

************

Michaela went on with her story in spite of the noises emanating from the kitchen where Sully and Josef worked at preparing dinner.

************

"A name," Michaela stroked her infant daughter's head as she nursed. "We haven't named her yet."

"What would ya like t' name her?" Sully was open to suggestions.

Michaela smiled, "I truly thought she would be a boy."

"Ya gave me the little girl I wanted," he figured. "So you can pick her name."

"Sully...." she paused.

"Mmm?" he could not take his eyes off of his daughter.

"What was your mother's name?" Michaela asked.

"My Ma?" his voice choked slightly.

"Yes," she cupped her hand to his face. "I would like for us to name her after your mother."

Sully returned his gaze to the child now asleep at his wife's breast, "Her name was Katherine."

"Katherine Sully," she proudly pronounced.

"Pa always called her Katie," he revealed.

"And so shall we," Michaela tenderly placed the baby in his arms.

"What about a middle name?" he wondered. "How 'bout for your Ma?"

"Katherine Elizabeth Sully," she adjusted her dress.

"We better start her learnin' her letters pretty soon," Sully teased. "That's a mouthful for our little girl."

"Our little girl," she repeated the phrase. "Oh, Sully, it hardly seems possible."

"I know," he kissed the little fingers that wrapped around his thumb.

She suddenly thought about their remote location, "Everyone must be wondering where we are."

"You ain't ready t' travel yet," he was certain.

"And you're hardly capable yourself," she pointed to the splint on his leg.

"Guess we make quite a pair," he chuckled, then abruptly stopped.

Michaela could tell from his grimace that he was in pain, "If you bring me my bag, I can give you something."

"No, thanks," he shook his head. "I wanna be alert. Don't wanna miss anythin' this sweet girl does."

She noted, "I believe little Miss Katie already has her Papa wrapped around her little finger."

"Nothin' new," he grinned. "Her Ma's had me like that for a while, too."

Michaela tried to comfortably reposition herself but found the ground too hard.

Sully discerned what was wrong, "I'll see if there's a blanket in the wagon.

He handed the baby to her and awkwardly stood up. Then he hobbled to the buckboard. Finding two blankets in the back, he returned to arrange a makeshift bed for them. Next, he curled up his buckskin jacket and placed it in the middle. Then he lifted Katie and tenderly set her on the jacket.

"My dress," Michaela suddenly became aware of the bloodstains.

"Creek's just over there," he motioned. "I'll rinse it out for ya. Ya still got your coat t' keep ya warm."

Sully assisted her in removing the soiled garments, then limped over to the stream with them.

Michaela shivered slightly, then wrapped her coat tighter. She lay down on the blanket beside Katie. Lightly, she touched the soft skin of the infant. Then she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

************

"So that's how ya named me?" Katie concluded.

"Yes," Michaela pulled her closer for a hug.

"When did we come home then?" the little girl was intrigued.

************

Jake saw the throng gathering outside the barbershop, "What the hell's this?"

Matthew stepped inside, "These folks are interested in formin' a corporation t' mine the gold Professor Kelly found out about."

"Is there anyone who DON'T know about it?" Jake put his hands on his hips.

"I bet Dr. Mike an' Sully don't," Horace speculated.

Jake spotted Dr. Kelly among the crowd, "What do ya think, Professor?"

"I would like to discuss it with the town council," he responded.

"Fine," Jake uncomfortably grinned. "We'll call a meetin' for t'morrow night at 7."

"Good," Matthew nodded. "I'll tell Dr. Mike."

As they left, Jake muttered, "Damn."

************

Back at the homestead, Josef gleefully helped his father pluck the feathers from the birds. Then the little boy started to collect them in his pocket. Upon discovering that the smaller ones would stick to his hair, he began to place them there, as well.

Sully could not contain his laughter as he watched his son.

"What's so funny?" Michaela called.

"Go show your Ma an' sister, Joe," he instructed.

Josef rushed into the living room crowing like a rooster. Michaela and Katie were caught up in his amusing escapade, and soon the entire family was laughing.

Sully smelled something burning, "Uh oh. I better get back t' my cookin'. You comin', Josef?"

"I stay," he crawled up to share his mother's lap with Katie.

"Joey's gonna need a bath t'night," the little girl predicted. "Go on with your story, Mama."

Michaela proceeded, being careful of how she phrased things for the little ears.

************

When Michaela awoke, she focused again on the tiny life beside her. The little arms were reaching out at nothing in particular with a jerky motion. A sleeping Sully had curled his body protectively next to them.

Michaela slid closer to the child and began to speak to her, "Hello, Katie. I love you."

The sound of her mother's voice prompted the infant to increase her movements. Then Michaela noticed the sucking movement of her baby's lips. Concluding that Katie was again hungry, she lifted her and more comfortably began to nurse her.

Sully yawned, "How's she doin'?"

"Wonderfully," Michaela beamed.

"Your clothes oughta be dry soon," he ascertained.

A low groan escaped his lips as he sat up.

"Sully, I do wish you would let me give you something," Michaela's brow wrinkled. "I hate to see you in pain."

"Ain't nothin' like the pain you were in," he minimized what he felt.

"It was worth every second," she pulled Katie's tiny hand to her lips.

They quietly sat watching their daughter nurse.

"Do you remember when you first showed me where you were going to build our homestead?" she suddenly thought.

"Sure," he replied. "What made ya think o' that."

"You were describing the rooms to me," she smiled. "And you mentioned the little room for whomever might come along."

"An' you said you'd thought about it a thousand times," he lifted her chin. "Sort o' blushin'."

"I never imagined it would be like this," her heart filled with love.

************

Katie's voice brought her back to the present, "Poppy helped ya when ya were scared, didn't he?"

"He gave me the most incredible courage," she smiled.

The homestead door opened with the arrival of Brian and Matthew.

"Ma!" Brian's voice was excited. "Wait 'til ya hear what's happenin' in town."

As her children slipped from her lap to greet their brothers, she stood.

"Is someone hurt?" she feared.

"No," Matthew removed his hat and placed it on the wall peg. "Nothin' like that. Professor Kelly discovered some documents that indicate where an old Spanish gold mine might be. Everyone's all excited."

"Jake's called a town council meetin'," Brian added.

Sully spoke up, "Why?"

"T' discuss what t' do about it," Matthew answered. "There's talk o' formin' a corporation."

Sully turned and glanced out the window, certain that there would be nothing but trouble from this.

"Meetin's t'morrow at 7:00, Ma," Brian informed her.

"I shall certainly attend," she stated.

"I don't think that's a good idea," Sully countered.

************
Chapter 2
************

"What harm could there be in the town council discussing the gold discovery, Sully?" Michaela tilted her head.

"I've seen the effect of a gold rush, Michaela," he shook his head. "Everyone in Colorado prob'ly knows about this by now, an' the whole country will hear by week's end."

"I bet the railroad strikes an' unrest will slow down any flood of prospectors," Matthew indicated.

"What unrest?" Brian asked.

"Back East," the older brother informed him. "It started 'cause the railroads cut pay t' their workers. First workers went on strike in Martinsburg, West Virginia, an' the upheaval spread like wildfire. An' workers in other industries have been goin' on sympathy strikes. State an' federal armies have been called in."

"Mother mentioned in her last letter that it's more like riots," Michaela contributed.

"People have been killed, it's disrupted the railroads an' cost millions o' dollars," Matthew said. "Anyway, a lot o' folks are afraid t' travel."

"There's other ways o' gettin' here," Sully stood up. "Think I'll take a walk."

"But your dinner," Michaela reminded him.

"Go ahead without me," he walked to the door and exited.

"Matthew?" she turned to her eldest son.

"Go ahead," he nodded. "We'll take care o' the kids."

Michaela quickly kissed her children and followed Sully out the door. Speeding up her gait, she was able to catch up to him just beyond the barn. She walked briskly beside Sully, but did not speak. Nor did he.

It was dusk, and the glow of a setting sun cast golden rays on the horizon. They continued to travel until they reached one of Sully's favorite fishing spots at a stream that traversed their property.

He stopped and sat on the bank. Michaela stood near, wishing for an invitation to join him. He remained quiet, so she stepped closer.

"Know what this spot reminds me of?" she broke the silence.

"What?" he did not look up.

"Where Katie had her first bath," she smiled.

He raised his hand to help her sit beside him.

"Ya didn't wanna take her back t' town 'til you an' her were cleaned up," he grinned at the memory. "Ya held her so close, I thought ya were gonna suffocate her."

"I'm a doctor," she raised an eyebrow. "I certainly know how to bathe an infant."

"It nearly took my breath away watchin' ya with her," he finally turned to look in her eyes.

"I was quite nervous, you know," she grinned.

"I know," he chuckled. "But ya never let on t' folks."

"Only to you," she slid closer. "It's nearly impossible to hide our feelings from one another after all these years."

"Ya make us sound like an old married couple," he joked.

"Even before we married, we could tell what the other thought," she looped her arm through his.

"You know what I'm thinkin' right now?" he linked his fingers in her's.

"You're thinking that a tide of prospectors is going to invade our state," she articulated. "And that their gold claims will destroy the land."

"That pretty much sums it up," he nodded.

"And do you know what I'm thinking?" she mused.

"You're thinkin' that there's somethin' you can do t' convince the town council t' not let that happen," he slipped his arm around her back.

"That pretty much sums it up," she repeated.

He ran his hand up and down her back and sighed. Michaela warmed at his touch and leaned her head against his.

"Beautiful sunset," she pointed.

He spoke softly near her ear:

"Heaven is free from clouds,
But of all colors seems to be,--
Melted to one vast iris of the West,--
Where the day joins the past eternity."

"That was lovely," she kissed him tenderly. "Byron?"

"Yep," he returned the kiss.

He helped her up, and hand in hand, they walked back to their home.

************

"Order!" Jake attempted to quiet the crowd with a slam of his gavel. "Order!"

The five members of the town council sat in the front of the church, while the standing room only gathering vied to be heard. In the very back, arms folded, muscles tensed, stood Sully.

Finally, the group was still enough for the mayor to speak, "I reckon the first thing we oughta do is let Dr. Kelly talk."

The professor stood, "I have read and studied the effects of gold and silver rushes in my time, but I have never witnessed one first hand until yesterday. I must say, I don't like what I see."

"Get on with the gold mine!" a voice called from the back.

Jake pounded his gavel for silence.

"As I was saying," the professor cleared his throat. "Because I anticipated such a reaction, I thought perhaps a novel approach was in order."

"Novel?" Hank retorted. "Ya writin' a book?"

"As a matter of fact, I am," the history teacher countered. "I am going to detail every event in the quest for gold."

"Ya gonna print our names, too?" Horace wondered.

"Only with your permission," Kelly smiled.

"Get on with it, Doc," Hank encouraged.

"This novel... new... approach of which I speak is to form a corporation to mine the gold," he went on.

"There is nothing new about corporations," Preston sneered. "It's how...."

"Let him speak," Jake pointed the gavel at the banker. "Anyone who interrupts him again will be tossed out."

A respectful silence returned.

"What is unique about the proposal I make is that 50 percent of the corporation will be owned by the town of Colorado Springs and 50 percent by individuals wishing to invest," Kelly elaborated. "Both the town and individuals will own the stock and receive the dividends."

"It sounds socialistic to me," Preston interjected.

"Out!" Jake motioned to him.

"I promise not to say another word," Preston raised his hands defensively.

"Ya get no more chances," Jake warned.

"Mr. Lodge makes a point," Dr. Kelly conceded. "However, the way I see it, this mining operation, could virtually eliminate the need for taxes in our town. It would bring more people, yes, but progress is inevitable."

Sully squirmed uncomfortably as the professor went on to describe how the corporation would be set up and the mining operation financed.

"Are there any questions?" Kelly concluded.

"Who's gonna go look t' see if there's any gold where your papers say?" Hank leaned back. "We could be gettin' all fired up over nothin'. Seems like we ougha be sure there's somethin' there in the first place before we go formin' a corporation."

"The articles of incorporation take a while t' file," Matthew mentioned. "I could be takin' care o' that in Denver while we send a party t' check for the mine."

"I move that we form a team of prospectors t' look for the mine an' while Matthew files them papers," Loren said.

"All in favor...." Jake quickly spoke.

"What about discussion?" Michaela raised her hand.

"Aw, there she goes," Loren rolled his eyes.

"We need to have some sort of guarantees in all of this," Michaela stood to speak.

"What kind o' guarantees?" Jake folded his arms.

"Well, where will the initial amount of money come from to fund the prospecting team?" she pointed out. "And what about protecting the land from erosion and pollution?"

"We can worry 'bout that later," Jake discounted her points.

"No," Kelly disagreed. "Dr. Quinn brings up legitimate concerns."

"I would be willing to finance the expedition," Preston raised his hand.

"What's in it for you?" Hank questioned.

"If gold is discovered, I shall be paid a handsome sum of interest by the newly formed corporation and be given a substantial discount in buying the initial shares sold to individuals," he smiled.

"An' what if there's nothin' there?" Robert E questioned.

"Then the town can pay me back at a lower interest rate over a longer period of time," the banker thought his terms satisfactory.

"Sounds fair," Jake nodded.

"What about the land?" Dorothy returned to Michaela's initial concerns.

"I reckon if we put someone who knows minin' in charge o' the expedition..." Jake speculated.

"Someone like Sully!" Horace exclaimed.

All eyes turned to the mountain man.

"Oh, no," he shook his head. "Ya ain't gettin' me in on this."

"You'd be perfect for the job," Loren agreed. "Ya been a miner, an' ya care about the land."

"I said no!" Sully turned and left the church abruptly.

"You goin' after him?" Jake looked at Michaela.

"I cannot force my husband to do something he doesn't believe in," she responded.

"What about you, Dr. Mike?" Horace chimed in. "Do you think it's a good idea?"

She held her counsel, "I want to hear more details."

"What more is there?" Jake queried. "We got the money t' go. All we need now is the team o' men t' do it."

"Why's it have t' be just men?" Dorothy stood up.

"Aw, now don't go thinkin' that a bunch o' women can go do this," Loren rolled his eyes. "They'll start makin' quilts."

"Women are part of the town," Michaela reasoned. "Our money will be used to help form the corporation. I see no reason why females cannot be part of the group."

"That mean ya favor it?" Jake concluded.

"No...." Michaela was flustered. "I didn't say that."

"Well, we're gonna take a vote," Hank said. "So ya better make up your mind."

Michaela stipulated, "I will vote in favor of the proposal with the understanding that no reference to gender be made, and that any women who wish to go, may do so."

"All right," Jake conceded.

The motion passed.

"Okay, now, as mayor, I'll appoint the prospectin' team," he began.

"One moment," Michaela protested. "I think you should accept volunteers."

"What if they don't know nothin' 'bout minin'?" he put his hands on his hips.

"Not many of us know about mining," Michaela concluded. "But we may be willing to go on the journey."

"I agree," Robert E nodded. "Oughta be volunteers."

"All right," Jake sighed. "Who wants t' volunteer?"

"Depends on when ya leave," Horace pointed out. "An' how long ya gonna be gone?"

Jake was becoming more agitated, "We're leavin'... t'morrow. An'... we don't know how long we'll be gone. Now, who wants t' volunteer?"

A few hands began to go up, and Jake called their names as he wrote them down, "Hank, Loren, Preston, Horace, Robert E... Reverend?"

"There may be a need for spiritual guidance," he assumed.

Then the worst that Jake feared occurred. Women began to raise their hands.

"Dorothy?" he hesitated.

"It'll make interestin' readin' in the Gazette," she noted.

Next he saw Grace's hand.

"You're gonna need food," she told them.

Then Michaela raised her hand, "And someone might need medical attention. It's dangerous work."

"Would Sully allow ya t' go?" Hank smirked.

"I come and go as I please," she was defensive. "Besides, that's none of your business."

Brian raised his hand, "I'll go, too."

"No," Michaela responded.

"I'm 18, Ma," he was embarrassed.

Michaela said no more.

Jake tallied, "Countin' me, that makes eight men an' three women."

"The Rev can be our chaperone," Hank quipped.

"I got two big tents," Loren announced. "We can put the men in one an' the women in the other."

"I would like to go," Teresa Slicker raised her hand.

"You can't go," Jake stood in disbelief. "What about the baby?"

"I will bring her with us," she said.

"Why do ya wanna go?" Jake was flustered.

"I assume that the professor's information is in Spanish," she answered. "I can go as a translator."

"Good point," Hank leaned back and grinned.

"We'll talk about this later," he hoped to dissuade his wife.

"I believe that makes four women, and a baby," Michaela smiled.

"That oughta slow us down nice an' good," Loren leaned on his elbows.

"Sacajawea led Lewis and Clark's expedition across the Louisiana Territory with her infant," Professor Kelly spoke up.

"Who's side are you on?" Jake glared.

The professor smiled, "These women all have excellent credentials for accompanying you on the journey."

"Okay," Jake acknowledged. "It's settled then. We meet in front o' the Gold Nugget at 10. Dr. Kelly, be there with all your papers, an' we'll set out t' find the gold."

************

"What d' ya mean you're goin' with 'em?" Sully was incredulous.

Michaela stepped toward him as he stood near their bedroom fireplace.

"It's dangerous work," she explained. "If one of them is hurt...."

"I know it's dangerous work!" he paced. "Michaela, I ain't gonna permit ya do this."

"Permit me?" she stood straighter. "Since when did you command me to do something, Byron Sully?"

"Maybe I should've started a long time ago," his anger took over.

"You don't mean that!" she countered.

He tried to calm himself, "What about the children?"

"You'll have to watch them," she began to pack. "Matthew will be in Denver working on a charter for the corporation, and Brian is determined to go with the prospecting team."

"What?" he was even more incredulous.

"You've watched your children before," she stated.

"Do any o' these people even know where they're goin' or what they're doin'?" he folded his arms.

"No," she said. "The man best qualified to lead them refuses to go."

"You know my reasons," he declared.

"Yes," her tone softened. "And I respect them, but apart from the fact that I'm a physician, there is another reason for my going."

"Why?" he was curious.

"You," she felt a tear.

"Me?" Sully pointed to himself.

"I want to insure that nothing happens to that land," she avowed. "I won't let them do anything to jeopardize what you've been working so hard to protect, Sully."

His anger was suddenly defused, "Michaela."

He pulled her into his arms and kissed the top of her head.

"I'm sorry I yelled," he was contrite.

"I'm sorry, too," she looked up at him.

"What am I gonna do with you?" he framed her face between his hands.

"Divorce me?" she joked.

"No, I said for better or worse," he kissed the tip of her nose.

"I suppose your only other option is to tolerate me," she teased.

"Michaela..." he paused.

"I'll be careful," she read his mind.

"I reckon there's no talkin' ya out o' this," he stared at her intently.

"No," her mind was set. "But I'll miss you terribly."

"I can't let ya go alone," he said.

"I won't be alone," she described. "There will be eight men, three other women, and a baby."

"A baby?" he was surprised.

"Teresa Slicker is taking Maria," she indicated.

"Jake's lettin' her?" he chuckled.

"I imagine there is quite a conversation going on at their home this evening, as well," she raised an eyebrow.

He stepped away to meditate at the hearth. Approaching him, Michaela placed her hand on his back.

"Eight men?" he pivoted around to face her.

"Brian, Jake, Hank, Loren, Horace, Robert E, Preston, and the Reverend," she accounted.

"The Reverend?" Sully was shocked.

"Hank says he's coming as a chaperone," she smiled.

"I don't like the idea o' you around Preston," his forehead wrinkled.

"Are you jealous, Mr. Sully?" she lightly touched his brow.

"You don't know him like I do," his jaw tightened.

"I'll have Dorothy, Grace and Teresa to protect my honor," she made light. "And the men and women will have separate tents."

"Seems like they thought o' everythin'," he commented. "Except how much I'll miss ya."

"Since it's our last night together, do you suppose we could stop arguing and make it special?" she suggested.

"Every night with you is special," he leaned down to kiss her neck.

Michaela tilted her head back and closed her eyes, savoring the immediate reaction his touch had on her body.

"Sure I can't convince ya t' stay?" he murmured in her ear.

She tingled, "Right now, you can convince me to do just about anything."

He scooped her into his arms and carried her to their bed. Gently setting her on the covers, he removed his shirt. Hovering over her, he began to unbutton her blouse between inviting kisses. Michaela maneuvered herself on the bed to make room for him.

Sully stroked the hair back from her face and recited:

"We only part, to meet again.
Change, as ye list, ye winds;
My heart shall be
The faithful compass that still points to thee."

"Sounds like Tennyson," she surmised.

"John Gay," he lowered his hands to tantalize her.

Then their instincts took over. Overpowering cravings swept them into their special world of love and desire. Rolling on the bed, satisfying their appetites, relishing the feel of one another, they soon were enraptured by their joining. As their pulses calmed, they still clung to one another.

"Sully," she was breathless.

"Mmm?" he ran his finger along her jaw line and kissed her.

"I love you," she melted.

"I love you, too," he pulled the covers higher.

Michaela could discern from his breathing, that he was falling asleep, spent from their incredible encounter. However, she knew that sleep would not come easily for her. The realization that she would be away from her husband and children began to set in. She spooned herself closer to Sully, hoping that the beat of his heart against her cheek could allay her trepidations.

The warmth of him beside her, throughout her, filled Michaela with powerful feelings. From the first time she had given herself to him until this very moment, she could not imagine life without Sully.

It was usually she who said good-bye as he set out on his journeys. Now she was the one going, and it gave her a better understanding of the emotions he experienced. What would it be like tomorrow, seeing him with Katie and Josef as she rode off? Her heart began to ache at the thought of not seeing them. But she could not ask Sully to violate his principles by going, and she was convinced that someone needed to be there to protect the ideals for which he stood.

As questions swirled through her mind, she felt the moistness of a tear as it trickled down her cheek. Sully slid his hand up her back and across her shoulders.

Was he awake? She looked up. No, just holding her. Loving her. It would be a long night, she thought.

************
Chapter 3
************

Horace was awakened by the pounding on the telegraph office door. In a groggy state, he pulled his robe over his nightshirt and made his way to light a lamp. Then he went to see who it was.

"Sully?" he opened the door. "What are you doin' here so late?"

"Could ya send a telegram t' Colleen for me?," he requested.

"Colleen?" he was surprised. "Why?"

"I wanna see if she can be here on the mornin' train from Denver," he responded.

"It's midnight," Horace looked at his pocket watch. "Don't know if she'll get it in time."

"Could ya try?" Sully implored.

"Sure," he sauntered to his telegraph. "What's the big emergency? Dr. Mike an' the kids okay?"

"They're fine," Sully unfolded the note he had hastily written.

Horace looked at it, then went to work.

************

Michaela stirred when her husband crawled back into bed, "Where were you?"

"Just takin' care o' somethin'," he pulled her closer. "Go back t' sleep."

"I haven't really been asleep," she confessed.

"Been thinkin' about the trip?" he perceived.

"Yes," she touched his cheek. "And how much I'll miss you and our little ones."

He swallowed hard, "Michaela..."

"Please don't ask me not to go, Sully," she interrupted. "It's difficult enough for me."

"I wasn't gonna ask ya t' stay," he smiled. "You were wonderin' where I was."

"Yes," she looked up in anticipation.

"I had Horace send a telegram to Colleen," he informed her.

"Colleen?" she was puzzled. Then a thought occurred to her, "You weren't going to ask her to go in my place, were you?"

"No," he replied. "I was gonna see if she could stay with the kids."

"Stay with..." then it dawned on her. "So you could come with me?"

"Yes," he nodded.

"Are you certain?" she tried to gauge his expression in the moonlit room.

"I don't like it," he said. "But the thought o' you bein' out there.... Besides, if I'm gonna have principles, I have t' be the one t' stand up for 'em."

"What if Colleen can't come?" she speculated.

"Then we'll bring the kids with us," he concluded.

"Bring them with us?" she wondered.

"If Miss Teresa's bringin' her baby, we can bring our children," he gave it consideration. "They can learn a lot."

"That's true," she lifted his fingers to her lips. "In your capable hands."

"See if ya can get some sleep now," he snuggled closer.

"Sully?" she draped his arm across her.

"Mmm?" he closed his eyes.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"Nothin' t' thank me for," he kissed the soft skin behind her ear. "All part o' my job."

"Your job?" she chuckled.

"Full time," he smiled. "Bein' Michaela Quinn's husband. An' there's never a dull moment."

************

Hank saw the buckboard pull up to the Clinic. On board were Sully, Michaela, Brian, Katie and Josef.

He strolled over, "Come t' see us off?"

"In a way," Sully assisted his children from the wagon.

"Are ya worried?" the bartender egged.

"Nothin' t' worry about yet," Sully smiled.

Horace rounded the corner by the Clinic, "There ya are, Sully. This came a few minutes ago from Colleen."

Sully opened the message and began to read, "She can't come."

"Well, we prepared for that eventuality," Michaela pointed out.

"What's goin' on?" Hank looked down to find Josef piling dirt onto his boot.

Michaela noticed, "Josef Michael Sully."

"No?" the little boy glanced up.

"Come here, Joe," Sully lifted his son.

Hank wiped his boot, "Real cute kid ya got there. So, what eventuality did ya prepare for?"

"Sully is coming with us," Michaela stated.

The saloon keeper smirked, "She lettin' ya?"

"So are our children," she added.

"How the hel... heck are we gonna get anythin' done with a bunch o' women an' children along?" Hank sighed. "It's gettin' so a man can't...."

"Hank!" Jake called. "Come here an' help me load my wagon. Teresa's got more stuff for the baby than she does for us."

"See what I mean?" he turned and left them.

Michaela placed her hand on Sully's shoulder, "You're certain?"

Kissing Josef's cheek, he nodded, "Yep."

Josef imitated his father, "Yep."

************

All assembled at the designated time and place. Last to arrive were Preston Lodge and Howard Kelly, carrying a pouch under his arm.

The professor waited for quiet, then addressed the group, "I am entrusting these papers to Mrs. Slicker. I know that she will treat them with respect and care."

Jake stood proudly observing his wife.

Then the mayor cleared his throat, "An' I name Byron Sully as head of our expedition."

"What?" Sully protested.

"You heard me," Jake affirmed. "Ain't nobody better t' take us where we need t' go."

"Where DO we need t' go?" Horace suddenly thought.

"According to the papers, the mine is in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains," Professor Kelly announced. "There is a map here, as well."

"Can I see?" Sully stepped forward.

He studied it for several minutes, then returned it to Teresa. "We're lookin' at a about a two an' a half day ride with all we're takin'."

"Let's get goin' then," Jake directed. "Teresa, why don't ya make a translation o' them papers as we travel?"

The group mounted their horses and wagons to set forth on the quest for gold.

************

By dusk, they made camp. With the first leg of the journey behind them, they had weathered the trip well. Brian occupied his brother and sister, and squabbles among Preston and the others were reduced by requiring the banker to bring up the rear of the entourage.

With tents pitched, and dinner prepared, they gathered around the campfire to discuss the day's events and what lay ahead.

To the fascination of those present, Teresa Slicker related much of what she had been reading, "The San Luis Valley, near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is the oldest settled area in Colorado. In the mid-1600's, Spanish missionaries had arrived in Taos, at the southern end of the valley."

Sully interjected, "The Pueblo believed that the area t' the north of Taos was where all thought originates. The Plains Indians considered the valley to be where dead souls go."

"What does Sangre de Cristo mean, Miss Teresa?" Brain wondered.

"Blood of Christ," she translated. "Because of the red glow of sunsets there."

Teresa resumed, "In 1692, Don Diego de Vargas led an expedition into the region, to put down the rebelling Pueblo people."

Hank chimed in, "I heard o' some legends about lights around that area."

"Yes," Teresa handed her sleeping daughter to Jake. "Around Blanca Peak, there have been stories of mysterious lights and sounds."

"I heard stories that it's haunted around the Sangre de Cristo Mountains," Horace's eyes grew wide.

Michaela cringed at the questions his comment would prompt from her daughter, "Come on, Katie, Josef. Time for bed."

"What's haunted mean, Mama?" the little girl had heard.

Michaela looked to her husband, who stood up, "You heard your Ma, Kates."

Josef was already half asleep on his father's lap. Sully lifted him and accompanied his wife into the tent.

After they departed, Teresa returned to the story, "The papers of Dr. Kelly tell of La Cavern del Oro, the Cavern of Gold. The oral tradition of the Indians speaks of gold that was brought from beyond the Spanish Peaks where three monks had been left behind by the Conquistador Coronado. Two of these monks were killed in an uprising."

"By the Indians?" Brian was riveted to her story.

"Yes," she nodded. "The surviving monk, De la Cruz, convinced the Indians that he had subdued the evil spirits who lurked in the mine."

"Told ya it's haunted," Horace swallowed hard.

"The monk forced the Indians into the cavern to mine the gold, which lay loose all around them," she explained. "Then he killed them and took as much treasure as he could back to Mexico."

"So we're lookin' for this Cavern then?" Loren surmised.

"Yes," Teresa concluded.

************

"We sleepin' here?" Katie's eyes widened as she looked around the tent.

"You an' your Ma are," Sully tenderly laid Josef on a cot. "Come on, sweet girl. Under the covers with your brother."

"Where you gonna sleep, Poppy?" she obeyed.

"I'm gonna sleep out under the sky," he informed her.

"Not in the men's tent?" Michaela grinned.

"Can't see me under the same canvas with Preston Lodge," he rolled his eyes.

Leaning down to kiss his children, he stroked their heads and whispered he loved them. Then he pulled his wife into his arms.

"'Night," his voice was husky.

"I... I didn't think about the sleeping arrangements when you said you'd come with me," she ran her hands up his arms.

He made certain the children could not hear, "Don't suppose them other husbands'll be too happy t'night either."

"I can't imagine they have as much...." she blushed.

"As much?" he grinned.

"Contact as we," she kissed him.

Sully's pulse raced at her scent and the touch of her lips against his.

Suddenly a little voice called, "Papa. Pivy."

Sully grunted in frustration, "I'll take him." Turning, he lifted the little boy from the cot, "Don't got a privy out here, Joe. Come on. I'll show ya what ya gotta do."

When they exited the tent, Hank could not resist, "Seems like you was in there a long time, Sully. Maybe we oughta have the Rev sleep by the tent t' keep the husbands out."

"Very funny," Sully escorted his son into a patch of bushes.

************

"It's kinda excitin' going after gold like this, don't ya think?" Horace spoke to no one in particular in the men's tent.

"Will you pipe down?" Hank rolled on his side. "It's time t' sleep."

"Horace has a right to express his anticipation," Reverend Johnson noted.

"Then let him express it with his mouth shut," Hank quipped.

"Teresa's got most o' the Spanish text translated," Jake mentioned.

"You read it yet?" Loren asked.

"No," Jake said. "I gotta hold the baby while she writes."

"Told ya we shouldn't've brung them kids," Hank said.

"She told me some o' the stuff in them papers though," the barber added. "She said that De Vargas fella brung 157 men up the Rio Grande into what's now Conejos and Costilla Counties, but she figures there were a lot o' secret mercenary missions further north int' the mountains searchin' for gold."

Brian spoke up, "I remember her tellin' us in school about the Spanish conquistador Coronado, lookin for Quivira, streets paved with gold, mountains o' solid ore, an' lakes shimmerin' with quicksilver. That's what the Spanish were most interested in."

"And Christianizing the natives," the Reverend stated.

"Makin' 'em slaves, while they were at it," Brian added sadly.

"Are you certain that you brought enough equipment, Robert E?" Preston looked toward the blacksmith.

"I brought what I could," he yawned.

Loren noticed, "What ya doin', Brian?"

The young man sat near a lamp, writing in a journal. "Just takin' notes on our trip."

"Be sure t' mention in there about how we brung the little tykes," Hank joked.

"Where's your Pa?" Loren directed his question to Brian.

"He an' Wolf are sleepin' out by the campfire," he told them.

"Wonder what the women are talkin' about?" Jake missed his wife and daughter.

"They're prob'ly sleepin', like we oughta be," Hank rolled over.

************

Michaela was wide awake. Dorothy, Grace and Teresa had fallen asleep quickly, but too many thoughts rushed through her head to relax. Perhaps it was more than that. Her face flushed. She missed her husband.

Glancing at the cot beside her, she observed Katie and Josef peacefully at rest. Then she pictured Sully, just outside her tent, staring up at the stars. Was he thinking about her?

************

Sully lazily petted Wolf's fur as he stared at the women's tent. Michaela was in there, he thought. Only a few feet away, yet so far. He sighed and leaned back against his saddle. Was she thinking about him?

Then he sensed some movement. The flap of the tent drew back, and Michaela emerged. He sat up.

"Everythin' all right?" he whispered.

"Yes," she quietly went to him and sat down. "Everyone's asleep."

"You should be, too," he said. "Need your rest for t'morrow."

"You're still awake," she pointed out.

He ran his hand up her arm, "I was thinkin' about you."

"And I you," she smiled.

"I don't have to sleep in there, you know," she suggested.

"Kids might wake up scared an' need ya," his heartbeat raced at the proximity of her.

She lifted her hand to cup his cheek, then initiated a tender kiss.

"I believe Josef interrupted us earlier," she spoke low.

"Mmm... Michaela," he was losing himself.

"Shhh," she ran her fingers through the hair at the base of his neck. "We're alone."

"What if someone comes out while we're doin' this?" he thought. "I don't want ya t' be embarrassed."

"I know..." she slowly pulled back. "It's just that I miss you beside me."

He smiled, "I miss you, too."

"Will it harm anything if I stay for a few moments?" she peered into his blue eyes.

"When ya look at me like that, I can't think straight," he kissed her neck, and began to caress her.

Sully was reaching the point of no return where his body was concerned, and he knew they must stop, "Better get back inside now."

She kissed him again, then rose to return to the tent. Sully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly to cool himself.

Suddenly, Wolf growled low.

"What is it, boy?" Sully grabbed his tomahawk.

************
Chapter 4
************

Wolf continued to indicate the presence of danger. Sully jumped to his feet and, with the animal by his side, ventured out to investigate. About twenty yards from camp, he came across hoof prints in the dirt. Two riders. Sully, doubting it was coincidence, concluded that they were being followed.

Returning to camp, he found Hank, his gun drawn.

"You hear somethin'?" the bartender suspected.

"Yep," Sully returned his tomahawk to his belt. "Two riders followin' us. We're gonna have t' have guards from now on."

Hank nodded, "I'll help ya t'night."

************

The next morning at breakfast, Sully assembled everyone and informed them of his suspicions that they were not traveling alone.

"I figure whoever's followin' us got wind o' what we're doin' pretty easily. It was no big secret in town," he ran his hand along his lip.

"Do you think we're in any danger?" Michaela asked.

"Could be," he ascertained. "Either they might try an' steal our map or they might just keep followin' 'til they see where we end up. Either way, I think the women an' children oughta go back."

"Go back?" Michaela protested.

"I agree," Jake nodded. "No use puttin' you in danger."

"We've come this far," Dorothy pointed out. "Who's to say they wouldn't try to follow us if we separate? They might be more likely to attack us without you around."

"That's true," Hank nodded. "Unless one or two o' the men went with 'em."

"We need all of the men to look for gold," Preston said. "Except for the Reverend, that is, and he's hardly capable of leading them back to Colorado Springs."

"Thanks, Preston," the minister injected.

Sully mulled over the arguments, then concluded, "Okay, you can come, but we gotta take added precautions now, an' we'll have the camp guarded at night."

As they began to load the wagons, Michaela approached her husband, "Sully?"

"What?" he was uncomfortable about his family's welfare.

"We'll be careful," she assured him.

"We gotta make sure one o' us or Brian is with the kids at all times," he folded his arms. "I don't have a good feelin' about this, Michaela."

"I can see that," she rubbed his arm.

************

Another day of travel, and the party made camp at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. While Grace prepared dinner, and the rest of the group chatted about their journey, Sully scouted the area to insure they were in an easily defensible position. With Wolf by his side, he continued to pace the perimeter.

"Sully?" Michaela caught up to him. "Supper is ready."

"I'll be there shortly," he stared into red sunset.

"Do you see something?" she wondered.

"No," he was still. "Just listenin'."

"To what?" she inquired.

"T' the sounds o' this place," he answered. "Wanna make sure I recognize every animal in case they stop."

"Stop?" she was uncertain.

"The sounds o' animals tell ya a lot," he relayed. "An' when those sounds change, it tells ya...."

"Something could be wrong," she understood.

"Right," he smiled. "Kids okay?"

"Yes," she grinned. "But I believe you need to speak with your youngest son."

"Why?" he asked.

"Well, do you recall last night how you instructed him in the finer points of.... relieving himself outside?" she related.

"Yea," he raised an eyebrow.

"He's decided now that it is not necessary for him to do so... in private," she told him.

"Ya mean he's... doin' it out in front of folks?" he was taken aback.

"Yes," she sighed. "Right there for the whole world to see."

"Let's go," he shook his head.

************

"Jake an' me will take first watch, Sully," Hank stated. "Robert E an' Preston will take us through t' sunup."

"Thanks," he and Michaela continued on.

Then they spotted their children.

"Josef," Sully's tone was serious. "Come here, son."

"'Kay, Papa," he hurried to his father.

"Come on," Sully picked him up. "Let's go have a talk."

Brian watched them go to a private spot, "He gonna talk t' him about...."

"Yes," Michaela replied.

"Is Joey in trouble?" Katie feared.

"No," Michaela patted her hand. "Not trouble. Your father is just going to explain things a little more specifically."

************

Sully sat on the ground and turned Josef to face him.

"I bad, Papa?" the little boy anticipated.

"No, not bad," Sully grinned. "It's just.... Well, ya know how we got a privy at home."

"Yep," the child grinned. "I big boy. I use."

"You sure are," Sully rubbed his back. "Ya don't have t' wear a diaper anymore, an' your Ma an' me are real proud o' ya. But now we're out in the wilderness an' we don't have a privy."

"I use bush," Josef said.

"Uh... That's what I wanted t' talk t' ya about, Joe," Sully spoke softly. "When ya do... that in the bushes, ya gotta do it in a private place where folks can't see ya."

"Why?" he tilted his head.

"Uh..." Sully again found himself at a loss for words. "'Cause that's the way it's supposed t' be."

"'Kay," the child shrugged. "We eat?"

"Ya sure ya understand what I'm tellin' ya?" he hesitated.

"Yep," Josef jumped up. "Wanna see Mama."

"All right," Sully thought the explanation went well.

************

Dinner conversation centered around where they would begin their search the next day.

"We're gonna go through Music Pass, northeast o' the Great Sand Dunes t' Marble Mountain. From lookin' at the map, I think the cavern is near the base o' the peak."

"It's gonna be rougher travel through there," Jake assumed.

"An' we still gotta be on guard," Robert E noted.

Robert E and Jake began to bid good night to their families while Sully and Michaela took their children into the women's tent.

"Tell us a story, Poppy," Katie implored.

He sat at the lower end of the children's cot as he tucked them in.

"I'll tell ya the story of the Grandmother Cedar Tree," he caressed the cheeks of his children.

Michaela sat on the edge of her cot to listen.

"A long time ago, there lived a grandmother cedar tree," he began. "She was very large an' very strong, but one day, she felt sad an' lonely. Her sadness was so strong, she felt like she would drown in her tears."

Dorothy came into the tent, and gazing upon the tender scene, took out her tablet and pencil to write down Sully's story.

He smiled, "The Creator could feel her sadness and called upon the south wind. The south wind carried a little baby cedar tree an' planted its seed in the ground beside the grandmother. She called the seed her grandson."

"We got a grandmother," Katie's eyes widened.

"Yep," Sully brushed back the hair from her face. "The seed began t' grow, and its branches stretched out. But deer love t' chew on fresh branches."

"Uh oh," Josef anticipated.

Sully chuckled at his reaction, "Don't worry. Grandmother would move her big, strong arms back an' forth, an' scare away the deer. An' the tree grew some more."

Teresa entered the tent, but hearing Sully speak to his children, she went quietly to her cot with Maria.

The father continued, "The north wind was real strong, an' sometimes when it blew, it would cause the little tree t' bend and break, but Grandmother would put her strong arms around her grandson t' protect him from the strong winds. An' he would grow some more."

Grace opened the tent flap, and seeing everyone enthralled by Sully's story, crept quietly to her sleeping area.

He went on, "Sometimes the heat of the sun was so powerful, it felt like it would burn your skin, but Grandmother would put her arms over her grandson an' give him shade. An' he would grow some more."

"Did he grow bigger than his gran'ma, Poppy?" Katie jumped ahead.

"Yep," Sully nodded. "He got t' be real big an' strong. But sometimes, he also felt lonely an' sad. Grandmother had such a strong mind, she would call for the birds of the forest, an' they'd come land on her arms t' sing beautiful songs for the grandson. An' he would grow some more."

"What happened t' the Grandmother?" Katie sensed something.

Sully held his children's hands, "Many seasons passed. An' the Grandmother became old an' weak. She wasn't strong like she used t' be. She had lost some of her branches. She thought t' herself, 'There's no use livin' anymore. I'm good for nothin'. I can't even help myself.' She was givin' up her life."

"Did the north wind break her?" Katie guessed.

"No, Kates," Sully responded. "The grandson looked at her an' said, 'Grandmother, when the deer came t' bother me, you moved your arms back an' forth t' scare 'em away. I will move my arms back an' forth an' scare away the deer. When the north wind came an' was so strong, an' it felt like I was gonna fall over an' break, you put your arms around me t' protect me. When the north wind comes, I will put my arms around you. When the sun was so strong, it felt like my skin would burn, you put your arms over me t' gave me shade. Grandmother, I will put my arms over you and give you shade.'"

"She made the birds sing, too," Katie reminded.

Sully grinned, "He remembered that, an' told his grandmother he would send his strong mind out t' call all the birds of the forest t' land on his strong arms an' sing for her."

Michaela looked at the faces of her friends. They each had tears streaming down their cheeks.

Finally, Sully kissed his children's foreheads and concluded, "The grandson said, 'Grandmother, you took care of me. Now I will take care of you.'"

"Good story, Poppy," Katie nodded. "But Joey's asleep."

"Say your prayers now, sweet girl," he touched her nose. "I love you."

"Love you, too," she folded her hands and began to pray.

When she concluded, Michaela silently took her husband's hand and led him out of the tent for a moment of privacy. Out of sight from their traveling companions, she lifted up on tiptoes and kissed him.

"Beautiful story," her heart filled with love.

"Thanks," he smiled. "You sleepy?"

"Not quite yet," she wondered. "Why?"

"Thought we could take a little walk," he winked. "I'll leave Wolf here t' watch the kids."

"All right," she clasped his hand. "But let's keep them in sight in case they need us."

They strolled a few yards from the tent and sat.

"Look, Michaela," he pointed up. "A fallin' star."

"Make a wish," she encouraged.

"My wish already came true," he kissed her temple.

He embraced her and initiated a tender kiss. She began to run her fingers through his hair, and their kiss deepened.

"I love you," she whispered.

"Love is more than gold or great riches," he quoted.

"Shakespeare?" she guessed.

"John Lydgate," he kissed her earlobe.

Michaela's longing for him was instantly triggered, "Mr. Sully..."

"Mmm?" he knew how he was affecting her.

"Let us practice moderation here," she cautioned.

"It's hard for me t' be moderate when I'm this close t' ya," he continued.

"Oh, Sully," she sighed and leaned back to savor his ministrations.

************

Hank took a swig of liquor from his flask, "I'd offer you some, but...."

"But I can't hold it," Jake nodded.

"How long you been sober?" the bartender was curious.

"Since I found out Teresa was gonna have Maria," he answered. "Been over a year."

"You an' her happy?" Hank found himself in a sentimental mood.

"'Course we are," Jake nodded. "Marriage ain't what I thought it would be, though."

"What'd ya expect?" Hank asked.

"I don't know," he pondered the question. "I reckon I thought I'd be in charge a lot more than I am."

Hank chuckled, "Poor Jake."

"I ain't complainin'," he became defensive. "I still tell Teresa what t' do."

"And?" Hank anticipated more.

"An' she thinks about it," the barber grinned.

************

Josef awoke next to his sister. He glanced toward his mother's cot and saw that it was empty. Sitting up, the little boy had a momentary feeling of anxiety.

"Katie," he tapped her shoulder.

"Shhh, Joey," she yawned. "Go t' sleep."

"Gotta go in bush," he told her.

"Well, go ahead," she rolled onto her side.

The little boy climbed out of the cot and walked to the tent opening. He slipped through the slit and spotted Wolf.

"Woh," he petted his fur. "Gotta go."

Wolf stood up and followed the child away from the camp.

************

"Sully," Michaela finally pulled back from his kisses. "I really should return."

"I know," he sighed in frustration. "I'll walk ya back."

"Oh, my," she observed Josef exiting from the tent.

"Looks like he's doin' what I told him," Sully laughed.

"But he's far from the tent," she speeded up her pace to go to her son.

"He's okay," Sully assured her. "We can see him, an' Wolf's with him."

************

"You hear somethin'?" Hank tilted his head.

"Yea," Jake pulled his rifle into firing position.

"Let's go see," he motioned. "Sounded like it was comin' from them bushes over there."

"I say we shoot first, an' ask questions later," Jake recommended.

"Might be them two fellas who's followin' us, tryin' t' sneak in an' take the map," Hank speculated.

"Or it could be a bear," Jake feared.

"There!" Hank pointed.

Jake aimed and fired.

Sully and Michaela saw the burst of rifle fire, then observed their son fall to the ground.

"Josef!" they called in unison.

************
Chapter 5
************

Hank glared at Jake, "Why'd ya shoot?"

"I thought it was...." he stopped when he heard Michaela and Sully's shouts.

They reached the little boy at the same instant that his parents did.

Lying face down was the toddler, his body motionless.

"Josef!" Michaela turned him over.

"Mama?" he opened his eyes.

"Oh, my darling!" she felt his limbs and searched for blood. "Are you all right?"

"I fall," he said.

"Damn good thing he did," Hank cast a disgusted glance at Jake.

The rest of those in camp swiftly awoke and made their way outside to see why a gunshot had been fired.

"What happened?" Robert E was first to arrive.

Sully lifted his son and kissed his cheek, "They thought Josef was a prowler."

"He okay?" the blacksmith touched the little boy's head.

"He's fine," Michaela was relieved.

Sully put his arm around her, "Come on. Let's go back t' camp."

"Papa," Josef tapped his shoulder. "Gotta go."

"I'd think Jake would've scared it outa him," Hank quipped.

As the group disbursed to return to their tents, Michaela and Sully lingered with their son.

"Joe," Sully said. "We need t' talk again."

"Uh oh," the child appeared contrite.

Sully set him down and leaned over, "When ya go in the bushes, make sure your Ma or me is with ya. Okay?"

"Not 'way?" he asked.

"He must've thought I meant t' do it away from everyone includin' us," Sully shook his head.

"Josef," Michaela knelt down. "When you need to... go, just tell Papa or me. All right, Sweetheart?"

"All wight," he shrugged.

************

"Mama," Katie greeted her mother and brother when they entered the tent. "Miss Grace wouldn't let me come outside. What happened?"

Michaela glanced at her friend in gratitude as she set Josef beside his sister.

"Everything's fine, Katie," she assured her. "Let's go to sleep now."

Michaela pulled her cot closer to the children and rested her hand across them as they fell asleep.

************

"Sorry about that, Sully," Jake was remorseful.

"I know we're on edge," he answered. "It was as much my fault as your's. He was out there alone."

"Go get some shuteye," Hank advised. "I'll make sure Jake ain't so trigger happy from now on."

"Look who's talkin'," Jake countered.

"'Night," Sully turned and settled in beside the campfire.

Closing his eyes, he thanked the Spirits that his son's life had been spared. He prayed, too, that their journey would end well.

************

"Ah, I can smell gold in the air," Preston poured himself a cup of coffee at breakfast.

"That's Horace's socks," Hank pointed.

"No," Preston's smile was unsettling. "We're going to find a fortune, and my father will finally...."

"You doin' this for your father?" Jake interrupted.

"Don't Daddy like ya?" Hank jabbed.

"Very funny, gentlemen," the banker maintained his cool. "I was going to say that my father will finally see the profitability in my move West."

"I figure your father's got his own problems with the economic recession," Dorothy stated.

"Now, what do you know about the economy?" Preston was condescending.

"Enough t' not lose my Chateau an' have t' move heaven an' earth t' get it back," she retorted.

"Oh hoh," Loren laughed. "She got ya there, Preston."

"Well, I did get it back," he protested.

"Thanks t' Sully an' Dr. Mike," Grace noted.

"It's all water under the bridge," Preston sat straighter.

Katie strolled over and sat beside the banker.

"Did you come to gloat?" he looked at her.

"What's gloat?" she did not understand.

"Brag," he defined.

"Don't your father love ya, Mr. Lodge?" the little girl questioned.

"We... were never very close," Preston spoke low.

"I'm close t' my Poppy," she related.

"How fortunate for you both," he sardonically responded.

Grace felt a tugging sensation at her skirt. Looking down, she saw her godson.

"Pokle?" Josef requested.

"For breakfast?" she chuckled.

"Yep," his smile melted her.

"Well don't tell your Ma," she opened a jar and sliced a portion for him.

"Think we'll find the Cavern t'day, Sully?" Horace queried.

"Maybe," the mountain man replied.

"What d' ya think we should name our corporation?" Loren leaned back.

"Colorado Springs Gold Mining Company," Preston stated.

"Don't sound very imaginative," Horace pointed out.

"Well, we could call it Colorado Springs Telegraph Company then," Hank grinned.

"Why'd ya wanna call a gold mine that?" Horace did not appreciate his humor.

"How 'bout a company with all our names in it?" Loren offered.

"It'd be the world's longest name for a company then," Grace held Josef.

"What about naming it after the mountain range?" Reverend Johnson said. "Sangre de Cristo Mining Company."

"I think we might be jumpin' the gun here," Sully brought them back to reality. "We don't even know if there's any gold."

"Preston can smell it," Hank reminded.

"Thought you said that was my socks," Horace shot him a glance.

Sully took a deep breath and shook his head, "We better get packed an' ready t' go."

Robert E tapped his friend's arm, "We didn't see any sign o' the men followin' us last night, Sully. Not even tracks."

"That worries me," he told him. "At least when they were followin' us, we knew where they were."

"What do ya think they're up to?" Robert E's brow wrinkled.

"Don't know," Sully folded his arms. "But keep your eyes open."

************

Sully motioned with his hand for the entourage to stop. He dismounted his horse, and knelt down.

"See somethin'?" Robert E pulled up beside him.

"Saw a flash of metal," he pulled out his knife and began to scrape away the dirt.

Hank rushed forward with a shovel, "This'll be faster."

The bartender began to dig, and soon unearthed an old cannon barrel."

"Think it's from the War?" Robert E guessed.

"No," Teresa ran her hand along the metal. "It is Spanish, several hundred years old."

"Over here," Brian called. "Look what I found."

Teresa identified it, "A helmet."

"I reckon we're close," Sully stated. "Let's divide the area int' sections, an' start lookin'."

"What are we lookin' for?" Horace queried.

"We come all this way, an' ya just now wondered?" Hank said.

Sully ignored the comment, "Look for any trace of a smelter, gold nuggets..."

Teresa added, "Carvings, crosses, belt buckles, too."

Sully pointed, "Hank, Jake, Loren, you take that area from the big rock t' the line o' trees there. Preston, Horace, Robert E, search from the trees over t' that lake. Brian, Michaela an' me will take the section beside it along the side o' the mountain an' work our way back t' our wagons."

"What about us?" Dorothy put her hands on her hips.

"Miss Dorothy," Sully smiled. "I was hopin' you'd draw a map an' record what they find in each section."

"Grace and I will watch the children," Teresa volunteered.

"And I'll pray for us to find what we seek," the minister leaned on his cane.

They set about their tasks. In no time, Hank discovered something.

"It's bones," Jake recognized.

"Some kind o' animal," Hank continued to dig. "An' look here! Gold!"

Everyone heard the magic word and rushed to them.

Sully assessed it, "Looks like a pack mule was carryin' a load, two piles on either side of it."

Preston opened up a money sack and began to fill it with the nuggets.

Brian called to them, "I found somethin' over here!"

They hurried to his location along the mountain side.

"Looks like there's been a rock slide here," the young man pointed out.

"So?" Preston clutched the bag of gold.

"So, look around," Sully motioned. "These trees are growin' in old slag piles. They could've had their smelter here."

"Let's start diggin' away the rocks," Hank rolled up his sleeves.

They were able to clear away a good amount of the debris and stopped abruptly when Sully motioned.

"What is it?" Jake saw him hold up his hand.

"Wood," he answered. "Go easy now. This might be the openin'."

They resumed their task and finally cleared the opening.

"Will ya look at that!" Horace was in awe.

Before them stood a wooden door decorated with a large Maltese cross.

"This has gotta be it!" Jake exclaimed.

"Well, let's open it then," Hank grew impatient.

"Wait a minute," Sully interrupted. "Let's check the rocks around it first. There was a reason for a rock slide."

Carefully, he assessed the stability of the rocks and mountain, then determined that it was safe enough to attempt an opening. Using metal bars and their collective strength, they were able to slide the thick door open.

"The lamps," Sully requested.

Jake and Hank returned with several lanterns.

"Let's go," Preston started for the entrance.

"Hold your horses," Jake grabbed his arm. "We gotta get organized."

Sully agreed, "We don't know what it's gonna be like in there. Just a couple of us should go in first t' check things out."

"I'll go with ya," Hank was the first to speak out.

"Okay," Sully nodded.

As he lit the lamp, Michaela came to him.

She rested her hand on his arm, "Sully..."

"Don't worry," he kissed her temple. "I ain't goin' in too far."

"Poppy," Katie rushed to his side. "Take this for good luck."

The little girl handed him a small stone.

"What's this, Kates?" he knelt down.

"I found it when we first started out," she replied.

"Thanks," he kissed her and placed it in his shirt pocket.

Grace set Josef down to go to his father.

"I come?" the little boy requested.

"I'll be right back, Joe," he hugged him.

"Pa," Brian approached.

Sully patted his back and without words, conveyed his love.

"Ain't anyone gonna wish me luck?" Hank held out his arms.

"Good luck," Jake said offhandedly.

"Robert E," Sully summoned his friend. "Keep an extra close watch now for them riders."

"I will," nodded.

Michaela squeezed her husband's hand one last time before he entered the cave with Hank right behind him.

"What d' ya see?" Loren stood at the entrance and called.

"Nothin' yet," Hank called back. "Give us time."

What they began to piece together from their observation was a large chamber, about 25 feet by 40 feet, and nine feet tall. They saw ancient tools, an old forge and anvil. There were some animal remains, as well.

In the southwest corner of the chamber, they found a large pile of rocks.

"I figure that leads t' a shaft," Sully surmised.

"Look," Hank stooped down. "More gold."

As they held the lamps low to the ground, they saw the glimmer of a few nuggets of the precious metal.

"That's what they already mined," Sully assumed. "I don't see any sign o' gold in the walls."

"What'd we do now?" Hank questioned.

"First thing is t' check that pile o' rocks," Sully pointed to the corner. "We'll need all the men in here for that. But it's gonna be dusk soon. I figure we should start on it first thing in the mornin'."

************

"Good meal, Grace," Robert E commended his wife.

All voiced their agreement, which brought a smile to the cafe owner's face. With full stomachs and fatigue setting in, the group began to converse.

"You gonna invest in the new corporation, Robert E?" Horace raised the topic.

"Grace an' me'll talk it over," the blacksmith answered.

"I know I am," Loren leaned back lazily.

"What'll ya do with the money ya make?" Brian questioned.

"Maybe take a trip," the storekeeper imagined.

"First thing I'd do is go t' St. Louis t' visit Myra an' Samantha," Horace said. "An' I'd buy 'em lots o' nice things. What about you, Jake?"

"I don't know," he caressed the dark hair of his daughter. "I reckon Teresa an' me would...."

"Visit Mexico," she completed his sentence.

"Sounds like you tell her what t' do," Hank smirked. "I know what I'm gonna do."

"What?" Jake wondered.

"Expand the Gold Nugget," he lit up a cigar. "How 'bout you, Padre?"

Reverend Johnson replied, "Well, the church can always use repairs. And perhaps I would order some new pews."

"What about for yourself?" Loren inquired.

"I have all I need," he simply stated.

"I think I'd buy a new printin' press," Dorothy added. "How 'bout you, Michaela?"

"I would...." she was cut off by her husband.

"We ain't investin' in any corporation," his tone was sharp.

"We can get paid dividends, Poppy," Katie recalled her lessons from Preston.

"Is that what Michaela wants?" Hank detected some dissension.

"Yes, Michaela," Preston took advantage. "What would you do with the money earned?"

Sully stood up and walked to the edge of camp, out of sight from the others.

"I suppose I would have to think about it," she was noncommittal.

"Well, I figure we oughta get t' bed," Jake stretched his arms. "Preston, you an' Loren take first watch."

"I'll take second with Pa," Brian volunteered.

Grace and Robert E stole away for a few moments alone, as did Jake and Teresa. Dorothy and Brian began to clean up the plates, while Michaela escorted her children into their tent.

"Where's Poppy?" Katie was curious.

"He's taking a little walk, I imagine," Michaela offered an excuse. Then she turned to her son, "Now, young man, do you need to visit the bushes before I tuck you in?"

"Nope," he smiled.

Michaela stayed with the children, softly humming a lullaby. Soon, they were sleeping. The others in the tent had drifted off, as well. She sighed, half angry, half hurt at Sully's behavior. Why had he stormed off? He was probably sulking somewhere. He did not even come to say good night to his children.

She lay back on her cot but found it impossible to rest. Then she heard a soft whisper at the opening of the tent.

"Michaela," it was Sully.

Rising quietly so as to not waken the others, she pulled back the flap.

"Okay if I see the kids?" he requested.

"I suppose," she was reserved.

Silently, Sully went to their cot. He lovingly leaned down and planted a soft kiss on their cheeks, then turned toward his wife. He rested his hand on her shoulder, but she gave no response. He sighed and exited.

Restlessly, Michaela lay on her bed, still upset with her husband. Finally, unable to endure the tension between them, she rose and went outside. There was Sully sitting beside the campfire.

"Couldn't sleep?" he glanced up.

"No," she folded her hands.

"You upset with me?" he suspected.

She did not respond. He extended his hand upward. She hesitated, then grasped it and sat down beside him.

"Sorry I snapped like that," he stared into the fire.

"Is there a particular reason for your doing so?" she was still cool.

"Particular reason?" he repeated. "I don't want us puttin' our money in some corporation, is all."

"It could prove very profitable, Sully," she explained. "Think what we could do with all of that money."

He was quiet. She stroked his arm.

He took a deep breath and looked straight into her eyes, "Does money mean that much t' you?"

She pulled her arm back, "Of course not. You know it doesn't. I gave up a life that provided a great deal of luxuries in order to come out here."

"An' do ya remember what happened the first time ya went back?" he posed the question.

"When Mother was ill?" she clarified.

"Yea," he replied.

"I don't know what you mean," she tilted her head. "I went home to care for her."

"An' ya got caught up in that life o' luxury again," he recalled. "Ya even thought about marryin' William Burke."

She felt a flush of anger at his comments, then tried to temper her emotions.

"I don't regret coming back to you," her tone was soft. "Not for one moment."

"My point is that bein' around all that money made ya different," he declared. "It'll make everyone different."

"We're who we are, Sully," she affirmed. "Money would only enable us to do more for the things we care about."

"I've seen what gold does t' people, Michaela," he shook his head. "Nothin'... no one will be the same."

"We shall," she linked her fingers in his.

He knew better, but did not verbalize it to his wife.

************

Brian and Sully took over guarding the camp.

"You okay, Pa?" the young man inquired.

Sully did not wish to upset him, "I'm fine."

He began to make an entry in his journal.

Sully noted it, "Sure are writin' a lot."

"It's for Professor Kelly's book, an' Miss Dorothy's gonna do a big section in the Gazette about our prospectin' trip," he smiled. "Sure is excitin', don't ya think?"

"It's excitin' t' some folks," Sully nodded.

"You think it'll bring trouble, don't ya?" Brian perceived.

"Yep," Sully sipped from his cup of coffee.

"Would it upset ya if I put some money int' the company?" the young man asked.

"You're of age, Brian," he responded. "You can do what ya want with your money."

"But would ya disapprove?" Brian tried to read his expression.

Sully put his hand on his son's shoulder, "I trust you t' use your own good judgment."

Brian grinned, filled with pride. Then they heard the horses stir. Instantly, Sully drew his tomahawk. Brian lifted his rifle.

"Not yet," Sully extended his hand to lower his son's weapon. "You stay here. I'll circle around t' check."

"Be careful, Pa," Brian said.

************
Chapter 6
************

Sully stealthily made his way toward the horses. Then he spotted the shadow of a man, making no effort to be hidden. It was obviously someone who wanted them to know of his arrival.

"Haaahe, my brother," it was Cloud Dancing.

"Haaahe," Sully greeted him. "Didn't expect t' see you here."

"I heard of your quest," the Cheyenne medicine man explained. "Then I learned that two men intended to follow you."

"You the reason they stopped?" Sully grinned.

"I led them to believe you had gone in another direction," he smiled.

"Thanks," Sully grasped his arm in friendship. "Come on back t' camp."

Brian spotted the two men approaching. Then he recognized who was with his father.

"Cloud Dancin'!" his eyes widened.

"It is good to see you," the medicine man nodded. "It appears that you have found what you were looking for."

"We found a smeltin' chamber," Sully said.

"An' some gold," Brian added.

"There might be a shaft inside the chamber," Sully pointed out. "We're gonna check it t'morrow."

"If it is all right, I will stay with you," the medicine man offered. "I may be needed."

"Want me t' wake up Miss Dorothy?" Brian offered.

"No," Cloud Dancing smiled. "Let her sleep. I will see her in the morning."

************

The camp was full of activity the next morning, as they prepared to clear away the rocks inside the chamber in search of a shaft. Given the men's inexperience in a mine, Sully knew that he would have to work with them in the mountain.

Michaela realized that Sully would find the task difficult, having felt the trauma of two mine cave-ins in his life. As she finished cleaning up the children from breakfast, she noticed her husband sitting alone at the edge of camp.

"Brian," she summoned him. "Would you watch your brother and sister for a while?"

"Sure, Ma," he sat down with them.

Michaela slipped away to speak to Sully.

With his back to her, he tilted his head at the recognition of her scent when she neared him. Then he felt her hand on his shoulder.

"Beautiful morning, isn't it?" she opened their conversation.

"Yep," he took a deep breath. "This mountain range is one o' the most beautiful in the Rockies. Five peaks over 14,000 feet tall in it. Clear lakes, meadows with lots o' wildlife... elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer."

"And it could all be lost if another gold rush came," she read his mind.

He looked down at the ground in silence.

"We won't let that happen, Sully," she tried to sound certain.

"Don't know how t' stop it," he peered out again at the vista. "I ain't had much luck stoppin' progress."

"If we were stockholders in the corporation, we would have a say in how it's run," she noted.

"The town's gonna own 50 percent o' the stock, an' Preston a good chunk o' the rest," he detailed. "You think they're gonna care how the land is treated?"

She had no answer.

"I better get back t' camp," he stood. "They're chompin' at the bit t' start diggin' for that shaft."

"Sully...." she rose to her feet.

He embraced her. No words needed to be exchanged to express their love. Steeling himself for what lay ahead, he took her hand as they walked back to join the others.

************

The prospectors formed a line to convey the rocks away from the shaft by hand. Their labor was time consuming and difficult. The floor around the shaft was unstable, so they had to proceed with caution.

By noon, they had cleared away enough rock to discern that they had indeed found a shaft that descended downward at an angle. Hank volunteered to go down in to see what lay at the bottom.

When he returned, out of breath, he related, "Goes down about 35 feet. There's another door at the bottom. I figure it opens t' another tunnel.

"This place's like some kinda maze," Jake wiped the perspiration from his brow.

"We ain't gonna let that stop us, are we?" Loren said.

"No," Preston asserted. "We must forge ahead. Let's get that door open."

"It's too small a space for all of us t' pull at it," Hank related.

"We can tie a rope t' it an' pull," Jake recommended.

"It looks t' be pretty thick," Hank observed. "I think we better use the horses t' pull it, an' we'll need several ropes."

"Might better t' use chains," Robert E suggested.

"Good idea," Jake nodded. "Let's get 'em."

Soon, the men had rigged two of their horses to the chains. When Robert E commanded the animals to commence pulling, the door below moved. Echoing through the chamber, the loud sound of the wood splitting could be heard.

Hank signaled for the horses to stop, and Robert E halted them. Upon investigation, they discovered that another tunnel did indeed lay beyond the newly opened door. The air was much thinner in the lower shaft.

They carried lamps down and started to search for any veins of gold.

"Watch overhead," Sully warned. "The slightest vibration can cause rocks t' fall on us. An' look out for winzes. They're holes that can drop down hundreds o' feet. Might be covered by wood that's rotten. Even if it ain't covered, it might only look like a puddle."

************

Dorothy and Cloud Dancing went for a walk along the alpine vista.

"How have you been?" she stopped and rested her hands on his shoulders. "You haven't been t' Colorado Springs since Katie was kidnapped."

"I am well," he smiled. "It is not always easy for me to travel."

"I know," the redhead lamented.

There was awkward silence between them.

"I guess stolen moments are all we'll ever have," she felt tears welling in her eyes.

"It is better than no moments," he kissed her.

************

"Mrs. Slicker," Katie sat at the teacher's knee. "Could I hold Maria?"

"Yes," she smiled. "You have some experience with holding a little one?"

"I held Joey when he was a baby," she announced. "He's pretty heavy now."

"He is a very active little one," she noticed Josef digging with a stick.

"An' he gets real dirty," Katie smiled as Teresa set Maria on her lap. "Ya got a pretty baby, Mrs. Slicker."

"Thank you," she replied. "She seems to like you."

"I want us t' get another baby," Katie noticed her mother in conversation with the Reverend.

"That is up to your mother and father," Teresa noted.

"I know," Katie nodded. "T' tell ya the truth, I really think they're tryin'."

Teresa stifled a laugh, "There are some matters that must be left to grown ups, little one."

"I know," Katie acknowledged. "I trust Mama an' Poppy."

"That is good," she responded.

"It's Joey I worry about," the little girl stated. "He gets int' trouble sometimes."

"But he has a big sister to show him the proper way to behave," she stated.

"I try," Katie shook her head.

************

"Sully's worried, isn't he, Dr. Mike?" the Reverend queried.

"What do you mean?" she wondered.

"I can tell," he tilted his head to listen to the sounds of nature.

"A gold discovery will bring many changes to our lives," she said.

"That's true," he agreed. "But those changes can be good."

"You've seen the effects of a gold rush on people, haven't you? Michaela thought.

"Yes," he related. "But I'm hopeful that the way we're going about this might prevent problems. I pray that the Lord will guide us."

"I do, too," she glanced toward the opening of the cavern.

************

"You fella's hungry in there?" Grace called into the opening of the chamber.

She was nearly run over by the rush of their exit.

"Dinner's ready," she said softly as they hurried past. Then she walked over to where they sat in anticipation of their meal. "No one's gettin' a bite o' my food until they clean up."

Next she was nearly knocked over as the men hastened toward the cool water of the lake nearby.

Sully was the last to exit the cave. Michaela and the children stood waiting for him.

"Poppy," Katie frowned. "You're all dirty, just like Joey."

"Here," he lifted his son. "I'll go wash us up."

"I'll bring you a change of clothing," Michaela offered.

"No," he said. "They wanna go back in t' dig some more after supper."

Sully carried his son to the water's edge, several yards from the rest of the group.

"We schwim, Papa?" the little boy requested.

"You can swim some while I wash up," he smiled. "How'd you get so dirty, Joe?"

"I dig gold," he waded into the water up to his knees.

"Did ya find any?" Sully washed his face off.

"Nope," the little boy began to splash the water at his father.

"Do ya even know what gold looks like?" Sully splashed back.

"Nope," Josef giggled.

************

"You men oughta be exhausted," Dorothy expressed her opinion as they prepared to return to the chamber. "Maybe ya oughta do this in shifts."

"With all of us workin', we're more likely t' find somethin' soon," Loren reasoned.

"But if you're too tired, you ain't gonna get much accomplished," Grace protested.

"We'll be all right," Horace was first in line to return.

One by one, the men reentered the cave to continue their quest. By 11 p.m., Reverend Johnson, the women and children had gone to sleep. All but Michaela. Cloud Dancing sat by the campfire with her.

"How have you been, my friend?" he tried to gauge her expression.

"It has been a difficult year," she sighed. "First Katie's kidnapping, then Josef's problems. I never did have the opportunity to thank you for all that you've done for our children."

"My brother's children are as mine," he felt close to them. "Does Josef seem his old self?"

She chuckled, "Yes. Always getting into something."

"And you?" his eyes expressed his concern. "How do you handle this 'always getting into something?'"

"What do you mean?" she wondered.

"I know you, Michaela," he smiled.

"To tell you the truth," she grinned. "He delights me."

Cloud Dancing chuckled, "Motherhood has changed you."

"It's only natural, I suppose," she considered his words.

"And Sully?" he raised an eyebrow.

"What about him?" she questioned.

"He has changed, too," the medicine man noted.

"I see his heart breaking sometimes," she felt a tear. "Part of me wonders if it's the fact that he has the responsibilities of a family. He once could come and go as he wished. But I know he adores the children."

"And you," he added. "He loves you."

"Of that, I'm certain," she wiped away the moisture on her cheek. "But what has happened to the Indians and to the land weigh very heavily on him. He doesn't always express it to me, but I can tell."

"As long as he has his family, my brother will be all right," Cloud Dancing avowed. "You give balance to the world he sees changing."

"How can I stop his heart from breaking?" she looked down.

"His heart will not break," the Cheyenne assured her. "It is full of the love he feels for you and your children."

"I hope you're right," Michaela stood and walked to the entrance of the cavern.

************

Timothy Johnson awoke with a start. He felt something. Sensed something. It was the tiniest vibrations. He had felt it once before, when he was on the expedition to the Mountain of the Holy Cross with Sully. At that time, he had wakened the camp to warn of a rock slide.

He bolted up, "Dr. Mike!"

She and Cloud Dancing rushed to his tent.

"What is it, Reverend?" she was alarmed.

************

"We're gonna have t' stop for the night," Sully tapped Hank on the shoulder. "It ain't good t' keep workin' in this thin air."

"Oh, yes, leave it to you to want to quit," Preston goaded. "Do you ever stick to anything?"

Sully contained his anger, "I didn't say quit. I said take a break."

"Sully's right," Jake panted from exhaustion. "A good night's sleep won't hurt. 'Sides, Loren's been asleep over there in the corner for a good hour."

"Maybe we oughta leave him down here," Hank quipped.

"Loren," Robert E tapped his shoulder. "Let's go."

"Huh?" he was startled. "I was just restin'."

"You get any more rested, an' we may have t' find a pine box for ya," Hank joked.

"All right, let's go," Jake led the way up the angled shaft.

As they ascended to the upper chamber, Sully saw it... something that signals danger to all miners... rats running toward the cavern opening. Before he could warn the others, they heard a rumbling sound. The entire mountain began to shake.

"Everybody out!" Sully shouted.

A cloud of dust quickly filled the angled shaft when they reached the upper chamber. Just as they rushed toward the opening leading outside, a wall of rocks descended across it. The rush of air blew them back against the chamber walls and plunged the room into total darkness.

************

"Sully! Brian!" Michaela shouted as she reached the cavern's opening. "No!!!"

************
Chapter 7
************

Michaela frantically began to throw away the rocks from the mine entrance. Had Reverend Johnson not called to her just moments earlier, she and Cloud Dancing might have been crushed in the falling debris and rocks.

Her cries echoed against the mountain. The others in camp hurried to help. The children, uncertain of what had happened became fearful at their mother's cries.

"Michaela," Cloud Dancing saw her fingers becoming raw from trying to remove the rocks. "You must use gloves. This will take time."

"We've got to get them out!" she exclaimed. "I know what it will be like in there. No air."

Teresa clung to her infant, tears running down her cheeks. Grace folded her arms tightly across her chest. The Reverend began to fervently pray.

************

"Everyone okay?" Sully's voice was heard among the choking coughs of his comrades.

One by one, each man stated his condition. Except for Loren.

"Loren?" Sully shouted.

"He was right behind me when we were headin' out," Hank spoke up.

"I'm gonna find a lamp," Sully said.

"Over here, Pa," it was Brian.

The mountain man lit the lantern, then embraced his son, "You sure you're okay."

"Here!" Hank called. "It's Loren."

Through the din, they saw the shopkeeper, lying still with a gash across his forehead.

Hurrying to their friend, they crowded around him.

"He alive?" Horace gulped.

"Yea," Sully could feel the rise and fall of his chest. "Gotta get the bleedin' stopped."

"Here's a clean handkerchief," Jake pulled it from his pocket. "Teresa gave it t' me just before we came back in."

Sully applied pressure to the injury. Soon the bleeding subsided.

"How we gonna get out?" Horace verbalized what was on each man's mind.

"First thing we gotta do is take stock o' what we got t' work with," Sully said. "We left the shovels in the lower mine."

"Not me," Horace found his. "I brought it up with me."

"Okay, then," Sully stated. "We got one shovel."

"We got a couple o' ropes," Robert E pointed out.

"We can assume that Cloud Dancin' an' the women will be tryin' t' dig from the outside," Sully determined. "With us diggin' from in here...."

"What if it causes another rock slide?" Preston asked.

"Then we'll be in worse shape," Sully wiped his brow. "Right now, diggin's the only thing we can do."

************

"Mama! Mama!" Josef called from his cot.

Katie embraced her little brother, attempting to calm him.

Michaela rushed into the tent, "I'm here, Sweetheart."

She lifted both children into her arms.

"Your hands, Mama," Katie saw the scratches and blood.

"Where Papa?" Josef's eyes were red.

"Shhh," Michaela fought her own tears.

"Did somethin' bad happen t' Poppy?" Katie feared.

"Your Daddy and Brian are trapped inside the cavern with the other men," Michaela kissed her. "They'll... They'll be all right. We just have to dig them out."

"I dig," Josef offered.

"I need you to be brave, my darlings," she encouraged. "We're going to get them out."

"Could they die?" the little girl's lower lip began to quiver.

"They won't die," Michaela vowed.

************

Through the night, from each side of the cave-in, there was digging. Inside the mine, the men were short on air and equipment, which further hampered their efforts.

Outside, as dawn broke across the horizon, they worked tirelessly to remove the rocks but feared their progress was too slow.

"Dr. Mike," Teresa called to her. "I have found something."

"What is it?" Michaela and the others came to her side.

"I have been studying the map and written descriptions," she held the papers. "I believe there is another entrance to the mine."

"Where?" Michaela asked expectantly.

"Here," she pointed to the map.

"That is the lake," Cloud Dancing noted.

"It is an underwater entrance," Teresa said.

"We don't know if it caved in, as well," Michaela was skeptical.

"I will check," Cloud Dancing began to remove his shirt.

Dorothy took his hand, "It's too dangerous. The map don't show any specific location."

"I will check," he repeated.

He ran to the water's edge, then as the women observed, he swam toward the designated area.

"Dorothy," Michaela directed. "Keep a watch on him. I'm going back to dig."

"I will help you," Teresa said.

"Me, too," Grace chimed in. "The Reverend's with the children."

************

Cloud Dancing waved to Dorothy that he was beginning his first dive. Beneath the surface, he quickly found a tunnel about four feet wide. He swam into the opening and suddenly began to experience difficulty. About 20 feet into the tunnel, he became disoriented and felt a heavy current of water coursing through the shaft. He was forced to return to the surface.

"You all right?" Dorothy called as Michaela joined her.

"Yes," his breathing was labored as he reached the shoreline. "I found an opening. The current was too strong. I am going to try again."

Michaela held a rope, "Tie this to your waist. If there's a problem, perhaps we can pull you out."

He complied and returned for another dive.

************

"I.... I can't breathe," Jake sat down in defeat.

"We gotta keep on," Sully continued to dig. "Air's only gonna get thinner."

"Why don't we face it?" Preston looked at each face. "We're not going to make it out of here alive. There's very little water remaining even if the air were plentiful."

"I'll never see my little Maria grow up," Jake leaned his head back.

"It don't look like our chances are good," Hank stopped digging.

"We got too much t' live for t' give up!" Sully yelled uncharacteristically.

Brian glanced at him and smiled, "I'm with ya, Pa."

"Me, too," Robert E picked up the shovel.

"I'll keep tryin'," Horace resolved.

************

In his second attempt, Cloud Dancing found it cumbersome to swim with the rope around him, but he again made it to the tunnel opening. Suddenly, he felt the rope go limp. Had Dorothy let go? Again he became disoriented. He began to have the sensation that someone was choking him. Near the point of blacking out, he returned to the surface.

Coughing and gasping for air, he found himself too exhausted to swim to shore. Wolf jumped into the lake and began to paddle toward the Cheyenne medicine man. The animal soon reached him and, clenching the rope in his teeth, began to pull him to shore. When the water was shallow enough to stand, Cloud Dancing staggered to Dorothy.

"What happened?" he continued to pant.

"Nothing," Dorothy was puzzled. "Why?"

"I felt the rope go limp," he informed her.

"No," she shook her head. "It was taut the entire time."

Michaela arrived, "Are you all right?"

He shook his head, "I felt as if I was being choked down there. I do not believe that is the way to rescue them."

Michaela pivoted and determinedly walked back to the camp. Donning gloves, she resumed clearing the opening.

************

"What about dynamite?" Hank suddenly thought.

"It's all in the wagon," Sully wiped his hand across his parched lips.

"Any o' the women know how t' use it?" the bartender inquired.

"Not Grace," Robert E answered.

"Not Teresa," Jake knew.

"I doubt if Miss Dorothy does either," Brian contributed.

"Michaela," Sully closed his eyes and let the thought of her fill his mind.

************

"Michaela," she suddenly felt a chill, as if her husband had called her name.

Startled, she stopped digging.

"What's wrong?" Dorothy noticed.

"Sully's alive," she filled with his presence. "I just felt him."

"Then we better keep diggin' so's I can feel Robert E," Grace hoisted another rock from the opening.

"Dynamite," Michaela said. "We can blast the opening."

"You know how to use this, Dr. Mike?" Teresa said.

"I... I've watched Sully use it before," she did not sound convincing.

"What if ya use too much?" Dorothy questioned. "We could kill 'em."

Cloud Dancing paused to look at Michaela, "You must do it."

Composing herself, she rushed to the wagon containing the explosives.

"I'm not certain how much to use," she said low to herself. "Oh, Sully. What should I do?"

Again she felt his presence, filling her, encouraging her. She carefully lifted two sticks of dynamite and returned to the mine opening. Slowly, she placed them on the ground and turned to her friends.

************

"Ya gotta face it now, Sully," Hank could not lift another rock. "It ain't gonna work."

"They're gonna blast us out," the mountain man said out of the blue.

"What?" Jake thought he was becoming delirious.

"Dynamite," Sully clarified. "We gotta get t' the back o' the chamber an' get ready."

"I've always suspected that you were not quite right in the head," Preston glared at him. "Now it's confirmed. Why anyone in this town puts up with your bizarre dress and behavior baffles me. Michaela must...."

Sully snapped and grabbed the banker by his vest, "I'm sick o' you, Preston. I'm sick o' how ya look at my wife! I'm sick o' how ya talk about her! Maybe I don't deserve her, but I can tell ya one thing. Even if I'd never met her, she would never have fallen for a lout like you. Not in a million years!"

Preston's mouth gaped open. All of the men stared in amazement.

"Where ya want us, Sully?" Jake broke the silence.

"Over there," he released Preston and pointed. "Behind the pile o' rocks we already cleared away. Help me carry Loren."

"I still don't know how ya could think they're gonna blow up that entrance," Jake shook his head.

"It's the only option they got left," he stated.

"I think it's more than that," Horace added. "It's like you an' Dr. Mike know what the other's thinkin', ain't it, Sully?"

"It's hard t' figure what a woman thinks," he smiled.

Finally, with all of them crouched behind the barricade of rocks, they waited. The silence was eerie. Then uncomfortably, they began to softly converse among themselves.

Sully reached into his pocket and pulled out the small stone that Katie had given him for luck. He smiled and rubbed his thumb across it.

"Pa," Brian put his hand on Sully's arm.

"Mmm?" he looked at him.

"If we don't get out..." the young man's voice choked.

"We'll get out," Sully would not let him finish.

"Pa..." he continued. "If we don't get out, I just wanted ya t' know... I wasn't gonna invest in the corporation."

Sully swallowed hard, "Why not?"

"I've seen enough o' how gold makes men act," Brian replied. "I don't want any part o' it."

"No matter what ya would've decided, I'd still be proud o' ya," Sully put his arm around his shoulder.

"Matthew an' Colleen will take care o' Ma an' the children," Brian assured him.

"We're gonna see 'em real soon, Brian," Sully fought back his tears. "I promise ya."

"I remember the first promise ya ever made t' me," he told him.

"Ya do?" Sully tilted his head.

"You promised me Dr. Mike wouldn't die," the young man recalled. "You never broke your word."

"Ya make it sound like I'm perfect, Brian," he grinned. "I'm just a man."

"You're the kinda man I wanna be some day," his son complimented. "I love ya."

"I love you, too," Sully embraced him.

"Hank," Jake leaned back against the wall.

"Huh?" the bartender folded his arms.

"I wanna tell ya somethin'," the barber quietly spoke.

"That ya love me?" Hank had overheard the exchange between Brian and Sully.

"No!" Jake rolled his eyes.

"Then what?" he wondered.

"If we don't get outa here," Jake hesitated. "I... I just want ya t' know that I'm glad you were my friend."

Hank chuckled, "What if we do get out?"

Jake retorted, "Then forget we had this conversation."

"You okay, Robert E?" Horace noticed he was subdued.

"Just thinkin' about Grace," he sighed nervously.

"I was thinkin' about Myra an' Samantha," Horace confessed. "I sure hope Sully's right about us gettin' out o' here."

"If I had t' put my life in the hands o' one man, it'd be Sully," the blacksmith glanced at his friend in admiration.

Preston was appalled, "Saint Sully. Perhaps we should have named the corporation after him."

Hank turned his head to look at Loren, "If we do get outa here, it'll be another story the ol' man will tell over an' over."

"An' he slept through it all," Jake laughed.

************

Michaela stood at the opening of the tent, "Reverend?"

Wolf followed her in and rested his head on Josef's lap. The little boy smiled and ran his hand through his fur.

"Yes, Dr. Mike," he turned toward the sound of her voice.

"I'd like to speak to my children for a moment," she placed her hand on his arm.

"Of course," he stood.

She guided him to the exit, where he paused.

"You know how much we all believe in you," the minister affirmed.

"I... I'm grateful for your confidence," she thanked him.

"I mean it," he continued. "I don't think our town tells you nearly enough what you mean to us, Dr. Mike. I know that you must be feeling very unsure about doing this, but I've learned to trust your instincts."

"Thank you, Reverend," she acknowledged. "That means a lot, and I want to thank you for another reason, as well."

"What?" he was uncertain.

"For your warning last night," she clarified. "Had you not called out when you did, I might have been crushed by the rock slide."

"Though my vision is gone, the Lord has heightened my sense of hearing," he described. "Sometimes, that can be a mixed blessing.... particularly when I pass by the Gold Nugget."

He continued out of the tent, leaving her alone to face her children.

"Mama?" Katie sensed some important news. "Did ya get Poppy an' Bran out yet?"

"No," she sat down beside them. "I wanted to discuss that."

"Are they dead?" Katie feared.

"No," Michaela quickly replied. "But I want to tell you what's going to happen, so that you won't be frightened. I'm going to use a very powerful explosive to blow away the rocks at the entrance to the mine. It will make a loud noise."

"Like a gun?" Katie recalled the gunfire when she was rescued in Mexico.

"Even louder than that, Sweetheart," she answered.

"Scared, Mama?" Josef released Wolf and wrapped his arms around her neck.

She controlled her emotions, "I.... I believe that we'll see your Daddy and brother very soon."

"Do ya remember how Poppy helped ya when ya were havin' me?" Katie recalled her story from a few days earlier.

"Yes," Michaela was surprised.

"Poppy gave ya 'credible courage," her daughter reminded her.

"So do you," Michaela's heart grew full. "I love you, my darlings."

Both children buried her with kisses.

************

"Ya sure that's enough, Michaela?" Dorothy watched her plant the sticks of dynamite in the rocks.

"I'm not certain of anything," her hands trembled. "But I'd rather err on the side of too little than too much."

"How about the placement?" the redhead queried.

"I... I recall how Sully positioned them when we were stuck in that cave," she thought back.

"You have done well," Cloud Dancing's voice was confident.

"Are the animals and supplies all moved back?" Michaela inquired.

"Everything is ready for you to light them," the medicine man assured her.

"The children?" she hesitated.

"Waiting for you," he said.

Michaela had strung the fuses out far enough to allow for them to escape a safe distance from the blast. She steadied her hands and held the lit lamp near. Closing her eyes, she prayed for a moment. Then she touched the fuses to the flame.

************
Chapter 8
************

Michaela protected her children with her body while Wolf leaned against her. Grace crouched down covering her ears. Reverend Johnson placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Teresa cradled her daughter tightly against her bosom. Cloud Dancing held Dorothy close. And they waited.

************

"What time is it?" Horace wondered aloud.

Preston pulled out his pocket watch, "It's after noon." Then the banker turned to look at his archrival. "Sully?"

"What?" his tone was curt.

"You were right," Preston sounded timid.

"Right about what?" the mountain man suspected his motives.

"About me," his jaw clenched. "Michaela never would have...."

A massive explosion jolted the chamber. Rocks flew violently toward their barricade like bullets. Then came a sudden burst of fresh air and a shaft of light through the cave's opening. Another rumbling sound of shifting walls and floor followed.

"Let's get outa here!" Hank jumped up.

The entrance was only wide enough for a single man at a time. One by one, the men staggered out of the chamber into the beautiful sunlight.

Brian and Sully each draped one of Loren's arms over their shoulders and began to drag him toward the opening.

Michaela reached the entrance first. She heard their voices as they began to emerge. First came Hank, then Jake. Teresa rushed to his arms with Maria. Next came Preston and Robert E. Grace was overcome with emotion, comforted only by her husband's embrace.

"Sully! Brian!" Michaela called into the opening.

Horace stretched his arms as he emerged, "They're comin', Dr. Mike."

"Brian," Sully stopped. "You go ahead. I'll hand Loren through."

The young man stepped into freedom, warmly welcomed by his mother.

"Are you all right?" she searched his face.

"I'm fine," he nodded. "Loren's hurt though. Pa's helpin' him."

"I'm going in," she started for the opening.

"No, Ma," Brian held her back. "The ground's shiftin' again."

"You'd better get away from here then," she urged. "Would you check on Katie and Josef?"

He hesitated.

Sully's voice could be heard, "I'm sendin' Loren through!"

Hank and Brian grabbed the older man's arm and pulled. Soon they had the shopkeeper safely on the ground. Michaela knelt down and quickly assessed his condition.

"Get him over beyond the wagons," she instructed. "I'll be right there."

Sully, still in the chamber, had a difficult time maintaining his balance as the floor was shifting. Debris began to fall against the opening.

"Sully!" Michaela called to him. "Hurry!"

"I'm comin'!" he placed his hands on the narrowing walls of the exit.

Michaela could see his fingers, then a full hand. She clasped it and pulled with all her might. Then she saw his head.

"Come on!" she encouraged. "You're nearly through!"

"I..." he was losing his grip. "I don't think I can do it!"

"Yes, you can! You're doing it!" her voice kept him going. "Look at me, Sully! Come on!"

The opening was now barely wide enough for a man.

"My belt!" he concluded. "It's holdin' me up."

"Can you reach it with your other hand?" she still clung to his right.

"I... don't know," his face contorted. "Yea, I got it."

Sully released his belt and passed it through to her.

"I'm gonna try t' push my way out against this rock," he climbed a bit higher.

"Come on, Sully!" she shouted. "You can do it! PUSH!"

Suddenly, Michaela felt a presence beside her. It was Preston. With his greater height, he was able to grab Sully's hand and pull at an easier angle. Then Hank arrived to help.

Michaela stepped back and prayed as the two men dragged her husband to safety.

"Sully!" she threw her arms around his neck.

"Come on," he was out of breath. "Let's get away from the entrance."

Grabbing his belt, they had walked no more than ten feet from it when the remainder of the entrance caved in.

Michaela escorted Sully to the rest of the group, where he collapsed on the ground in exhaustion. Katie and Josef, who had been contained by their brother, saw their father slump.

"Poppy!" Katie ran to him.

"Hey, sweet girl," he cupped her head against his chest. Then he retrieved the stone from his pocket, "You were right. It brought me luck."

Josef embraced his father then noticed his appearance, "Bath, Papa."

Sully chuckled, "Later, Joe."

Michaela began to tend to Loren's injury, cleaning the gash on his head.

"What can I do t' help?" Dorothy inquired.

"Could you take some clean bandage rolls from my bag?" Michaela requested.

As the doctor stitched his forehead, the patient opened his eyes.

"Loren?" Michaela smiled.

"What was that noise?" he was groggy.

"That was dynamite," she informed him. "You were in a cave-in."

"Who the hell set it off?" he tried to focus.

"I did," she replied.

"You could hurt someone," he squinted against the bright sun.

"Shut up, ya old coot," Hank leaned down. "She saved our lives. You was already unconscious before that."

"I was?" he winced at the last stitch.

************

"What are we gonna do?" Horace sat back after enjoying Grace's meal. "The only gold we got is in them two sacks o' Preston's."

"An' we didn't find any gold in the mine shafts," Jake added.

"The mountain's too unstable," Sully pointed out. "Most likely the lower tunnels are flooded now."

"There goes the corporation," Jake shook his head.

"We could've been rich," Loren lamented.

"I think you're already rich," Reverend Johnson reminded them. "You're alive."

"I reckon the Padre's right," Hank pondered.

"I'd rather be safe in my wife's arms than be rich," Robert E smiled at Grace.

"Spoken like a true proletarian," Preston sneered.

"Huh?" Horace did not understand.

"Working class," he defined.

Robert E cast him a glance, "Better t' be a live proletarian than a dead millionaire."

"We still gotta pay back Preston," Horace broached the subject.

"I forgot about that," Jake sighed.

"According to my calculations, gentlemen, the value of the gold we found beside the mule carcass should just cover my investment in this little venture," the banker assessed.

"With some left over for Matthew's legal expenses," Brian reminded.

"Of course," Preston half smiled.

"So we go back t' Colorado Springs with our tails between our legs," Jake spoke metaphorically.

"Lucky t' have our tails," Sully quietly commented.

"I don't know about you folks," Hank stood. "But I'm gonna turn in."

"Seems like a good idea," Loren agreed. "Brian?"

"I'm comin'," the young man kissed his mother.

"I'll join you," Timothy Johnson lifted his cane.

"And I," Preston yawned.

"Me, too," Horace rose to his feet.

Hank paused, "What about the rest o' you men?"

"I think I'm gonna stay out here with Teresa an' Maria t'night," Jake slipped his arm around his wife.

"I wanna be by Grace's side," Robert E concurred.

Hank grinned, "I already got you figured for the outdoors, Sully."

"Good night, Hank," Michaela looked up. "Thank you for your help."

"Don't mention it," he turned and entered the tent.

Michaela rose to her feet, "I'll be back."

"Where ya goin'?" Sully asked.

"To thank someone else," she went to the men's tent. Pausing at the entrance, she beckoned, "Mr. Lodge?"

Preston poked his head through the slit, "What is it?"

"I want to thank you for helping to rescue Sully today," she offered.

"I've already seen you as a widow," he was sarcastic. "Black does not become you."

With that, he disappeared into the tent.

Michaela returned to her husband's side, "He's an impossible man to understand."

"Don't think I'd waste too much time tryin'," Sully slid his arm around her.

"Sully," she whispered. "Look at the children."

Katie and Josef had fallen asleep beside their parents. The little boy's head tilted against his sister's shoulder. Wolf lay protectively at their feet.

"I'll get some blankets," he quietly rose.

There, beneath the stars, families reunited, and souls rejoiced at being alive.

************

"An' Ma blasted the openin' with dynamite!" Brian finished telling the story to his brother at the dinner table.

"Where'd ya learn that?" Matthew turned to Michaela.

"My husband," she clasped Sully's hand.

"The strange thing is Pa knew ya would do it," Brian added.

"It's not so strange for us," she smiled.

"Mama, can we sleep on a cot again?" Katie requested.

"You prefer that to the beautiful bed your father made?" she raised her eyebrows.

"Well..." the little girl considered. "Nope. I like my bed."

"Me, too," Josef agreed. "An' pivy."

Sully chuckled, "I guess it was pretty confusin' for ya out there."

"I think I'll turn in early," Brian began to remove plates from the table.

"It's your bedtime, too," Michaela glanced at her children.

"Mattew's still here," Katie pointed.

"Not for long," he rose. "I gotta get back t' Denver in the mornin'."

"All of your work on the corporation for nothing," Michaela said.

"Not for nothin'," he grinned. "Preston paid me. 'Night."

************

"What are you doing?" Michaela lay in bed watching her husband.

"Just puttin' this little stone Katie gave me in my medicine pouch," he smiled. "It brought me luck."

"Oh, Sully," she rolled onto her side to watch him. "You were right about all of this."

"Think I need my hearin' checked," he teased. "Michaela Quinn admittin' I was right about somethin'?"

She smirked, "I must be experiencing a moment of weakness."

"In that case...." he lunged onto the bed.

"Sully!" she was caught off guard. "What are you doing?"

"Takin' advantage o' your moment o' weakness," he grinned.

She tingled and ran her fingers through his long locks, "I adore you."

"Sure was hard out there with you sleepin' in the tent," he lifted up to lay beside her.

"Yes, it was," she traced his lips with her finger. "More than once, I woke up longing for your arms."

"How 'bout now?" his blue eyes captured her soul. "Feel any longin's?"

"Definitely," she leaned forward to kiss him.

Sully emitted a low growl and deepened their contact.

She pulled back, "When you were in the mine, and we were nearly giving up hope of digging you out, I felt your presence, Sully."

"I know," he nodded.

"You were communicating that I should use the dynamite," she added.

"Yep," he pulled her closer.

"It's an incredible bond," she looped her leg across his.

"Yep," he slipped his hand beneath the material of her nightgown.

"That...." she gulped. "That feels good."

"Glad ya like it," he continued to caress her.

Moaning softly, she wrapped her arm around his side, and with a tug, encouraged him to move even closer. Sully was pleased by her boldness.

He pulled himself up to gaze into her eyes. Then slowly, he lowered himself to kiss her. Her eyelids, her mouth, her neck.

"Sully," she invited.

His heart raced at her voice. A fire had been ignited within their bodies, and as if two halves seeking to become whole, they were drawn to one another. Soon, in a wondrous explosion of energy, they were united. Wave after wave of incredible passion engulfed them. Finally, warmed by their love, they fell back against the cool sheets. There were only quiet touches for several minutes as their bodies calmed.

"Think ya can sleep?" he grinned.

"I know so," she was certain. "And I shall dream of you."

She rested her palm against his chest, letting the steady beat of his heart lull her.

He kissed the top of her head sweetly and recited:

"With the first dream that comes with the first sleep
I run, I run, I am gathered to thy heart."

"Shakespeare?" she presumed.

"Alice Meynell," he pulled her palm to his lips.

"No more gold rushes for me, Mr. Sully," she spoke low.

"The only rush I wanna do is int' your arms," he smiled.

"And there, I shall always welcome you," she kissed him.

THE END

EPILOGUE

The story of the Cavern del Oro is based on actual legend. It is interesting to note that this area in the San Luis Valley, next to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is today the site of many unexplained phenomena and UFO sightings.

Mentioned by Matthew, the strikes of 1877 shook the nation as no labor conflict in our history. The country was in the depths of a severe depression. That summer, in the hot cities where the poor were crowded into terrible living conditions, children became sick in tremendous numbers. In the first week of July, in Baltimore alone, where all liquid sewage ran through the streets, 139 infants died.

The unrest began with cuts in pay to railroad workers. A brakeman who worked 12 hours in a day earned $1.75. In Martinsburg, West Virginia, B&O Railroad workers went on strike and prevented trains from running. The governor called in the militia, but it was ineffective. Much of the U.S. Army was tied up in Indian battles, and Congress had not appropriated money for the army. So several financiers such as J.P. Morgan and August Belmont offered to pay for army officers to stop the strike. The trains began to move again.

The unrest spread to Baltimore, Maryland, where crowds gathered in sympathy to the Martinsburg strike. There were battles in the street between the National Guard and protesters. Soon 15,000 disgruntled people surrounded the B&O depot. Fires were set. President Hayes responded with 500 troops, and things quieted.

But the rebellion was not over. The strike spread to Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Railroad, where pent up anger exploded. In sympathy to the railroad workers, mills and factories shut down. Assuming that the local militia would not fight their fellow Pittsburghers, troops were called in from Philadelphia.

When several workers were killed, the entire city erupted in violence. There was over $10 million in property damage. The entire National Guard of Pennsylvania (9000 troops) was called out, but as they moved toward Pittsburgh, other towns rose up to block their way... Lebanon, Altoona, Harrisburg, Reading. And there was more bloodshed. One guard unit even mutinied.

There were further riots in other cities, as well as Chicago and St. Louis where all industry was shut down. When the dust cleared and the violence ended, the toll was staggering. Over 100 people had been killed, more than 1000 were in jail, 100,000 workers had gone on strike and countless unemployed in the cities had been roused into action. At the height of the strikes, over half of the nation's 75,000 miles of railroad tracks had stopped running.

Railroads reinstated some wages, and the government began to look at regulating the industry. Unions also grew in power and influence, though not all of the unrest of 1877 had been organized.



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