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

The Naturalist


by Debby K

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
The Naturalist
by Debby K

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Chapter 1
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Breakfast at the homestead was even more hectic than usual on this sunny late spring morning. Katie was particularly fussy. Brian was busy combining his morning meal with completing a homework assignment. Matthew was attempting to help his brother, but they seemed unable to agree on how to word the younger boy's paper. Sully was upstairs preparing to leave on an excursion to Yosemite Valley the next day. He would be gone for weeks.

Michaela, frustrated on all fronts, threw her hands into the air and went to the living room. She sat in one of the white wing back chairs and began to choke back tears. Brian and Matthew's arguing was becoming louder, and Katie began to cry.

Sully descended the stairs and could not believe the tumultuous scene before him. He went to his daughter and lifted her from her high chair. As he stroked the back of her head and kissed her forehead, the little girl calmed.

"What's the matter, Kates?" he gently wiped away her tears.

"I think she's done eatin', Pa," Brian offered. Yelling toward Michaela, the boy asked, "Ma, which is correct, 'could of' or 'could have?'"

Matthew tried once more in frustration to answer, "It's 'could have!'"

Michaela composed her emotions long enough to shout back, "Matthew is correct, Brian."

Matthew smiled, "Told ya so."

Brian frowned and began to pack up his books for school.

Still holding Katie, Sully strolled in to speak to Michaela. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong?" she was incredulous. "What's wrong? Just look around. The house is a mess, the children are arguing, I can't seem to do anything right, and you want to know what's wrong?"

"Brian, would ya please take Katie upstairs t' find her rabbit?" Sully handed the little girl to her older brother. Then he spoke to his older son, "Matthew, could ya get the buckboard ready for us t' ride into town?" Both boys complied and left their parents alone for the moment.

Sully bent down to his wife, "Now, ya wanna tell me what's really wrong?"

Michaela began to tear up again, "It's so many things, Sully. I know you have to go, but I'm going to miss you so much."

He reached up and stroked the side of her face, "I'll miss you, too."

She tried to compose herself, "Before we were married, I always prided myself in being so independent and self-sufficient. But, now..."

"Now," he smiled, "ya can't live without me."

She tried not to laugh, "It's true."

"Can I confess somethin' to ya?" he stood her up and sat down in the chair. Then he pulled her onto his lap.

"What?" she began to calm.

"When I'm out there in the wilderness, as much as I love it, I think about you nearly every second," Sully kissed her cheek.

She ran her fingers through the hair above his ear, "Sometimes I'm so distracted with thoughts of you, I can hardly do my work."

Sully lifted Michaela's chin and tilted her head slightly for a kiss. Then he spoke the first thought that entered his mind, "Come with me this time."

"What?" her eyes widened. "Sully, you know I can't."

"Why not?" he rubbed her back gently.

"Well, to begin with, what about Katie? And my patients?" she shook her head.

"We can bring Katie with us, and Andrew can look after your patients. The boys will be okay for a few weeks," he countered.

"Take Katie into the wilderness? It's too dangerous," she argued.

"Michaela, I know Katie's young," he took her hand. "But I'd love t' show her the land out there, and I'd love t' have you beside me."

"Just the three of us?" she grinned.

"Until we get to Yosemite," he kissed her fingers. "Government wants me t' meet up with a man named Muir. He's been livin' there for years. They want me to scout out the land for possible designation as a national park."

"I don't know what to say," she peered into his blue eyes and felt her reserve melt.

"Say yes," he smiled.

"May I think about it overnight?" she stood up and tugged at his hand to join her.

"Sure," he drew her close in an embrace. "Long as ya say 'yes.'"

They kissed and felt the stirrings of their strong physical attraction. Then Brian descended the stairs with Katie.

"Bunny!" the little girl held the stuffed animal out for her parents to see.

Sully smiled, "Let's head int' town. I got a lot of supplies t' get for our trip."

Brian was curious, "Our trip?"

"Yep," Sully put his coat on. "Thought I'd take Katie and your ma with me."

Brian smiled, "And you agreed, Ma?"

"I'm thinking about it," Michaela began to straighten up the kitchen.

"I think a little more convincin', an' she'll see things my way," Sully grinned and exited the homestead.

Mike, Brian and Katie donned their coats and followed. As he helped his family onto the wagon, Sully made up his mind that he would win over his wife that night.

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Chapter 2
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That evening after dinner, the family was more subdued than they had been at breakfast. It was always like that the night before Sully was to leave on a trip. Everyone sensed that quiet and amicability were needed in order to give him a sense of peace before he left. Katie clung to her father even more than usual. Sully sat with her in front of the living room fireplace. He pointed to pictures in the family photo album, and she responded by pointing to each and naming who was in it.

Michaela sat pensively watching her family from a wing back chair. Sully knew that she was agonizing over whether to go with him on his trip to Yosemite. Matthew and Brian laughed at Katie's identification game, while Michaela remained deep in thought.

Katie began to yawn. Sensing their parents' need to talk, the boys offered to take the child up to bed. Sully gave his daughter a gentle kiss as Matthew lifted her into his arms.

"Say good night to Mama, Katie," Matthew leaned his little sister toward Michaela.

"Night, Mama," Katie yawned.

Michaela smiled and kissed her daughter, "Good night, Sweetheart. Papa and I will be up soon to tuck you in."

As the children went upstairs, Sully stood and walked over to his wife.

"You about ready to turn in?" he offered his hand.

"I guess so," she smiled.

"I got somethin' I want t' read t' ya tonight," he helped her up.

"Some poetry?" she leaned her head against his shoulder.

"Nope. Somethin' different," he grinned.

They extinguished the lamps, locked up the house, then climbed the steps together. By the time Sully and Michaela reached the top floor, Katie was in bed, and Matthew and Brian had already retired to their room. Sully knocked softly on their door.

"Come in," Brian whispered.

"Just wanted t' tell you boys good night," Sully told them. "I'll say my proper goodbyes in the mornin'."

"Ya think that Ma 'n' Katie might really go with you, Pa?" Brian sat up in bed.

"She's still thinking about it, Brian. Are you okay with that, son?" Sully sat down beside him.

"Sure. I mean I think it would be great for them t' go," the youth said. "And think of all the things you could teach Katie, just like ya taught me."

Sully tussled Brian's hair, "You two think you can keep from arguin'?"

"We don't really argue that much," Brian smiled. "Besides, I know lots of folks who'll be around if we need help... Miss Grace and Robert E ... and Mr. Bray."

"I'll sure miss you," Sully swallowed hard.

"We'll be fine Sully," Matthew assured him. "You an' Ma taught us how to take care of ourselves."

"I know ya can," Sully stood. "See ya in the mornin'."

He left the brothers' room and went to his daughter's nursery. Michaela was there softly singing a lullaby to Katie. The child was asleep.

Sully approached his wife and wrapped his arms around her waist. "I love t' hear ya sing to her."

"You've never commented on my singing before," she placed her hands on top of his.

"There's lots o' things I love about ya that I don't always put int' words," he whispered into her ear.

Sully bent down and placed a soft kiss on Katie's cheek. Then taking Michaela by the hand, he led her to their room. As Michaela got into her nightgown, Sully placed some logs on the fire and stoked it.

When he turned to look at his wife, he saw that she was wearing a slightly more provocative nightgown than her usual high-neck fare. He grinned and walked to her.

"What's the occasion?" he ran his fingers along the straps of her gown.

She blushed slightly, "Um, I thought you might like me in this."

"You thought right," he lifted the hair covering her neck and kissed her.

"I wanted tonight to be special," she fought back a tear.

"Every night is special with you," he touched her tear and softly wiped it from her cheek.

"I mean... " she hesitated, not quite knowing what to say.

"You ain't goin' with me?" he read her thoughts.

"Sully, I want to go more than anything. If I were the only one to think about, I wouldn't hesitate for a moment." she walked to the fireplace. "But it would be dangerous for Katie, and I can't leave her here for so long a time."

Sully took in the sight of her as the flickers of the burning logs reflected throughout the room. His heart was heavy with the thought of leaving her.

"I know ya been givin' this a lot of thought," he approached her. "I would never take you or Katie somewhere that I couldn't protect ya from danger." He held out his hand, "Let's sit down. I wanna read somethin' to ya."

They sat down by the fireplace, and Sully opened a pamphlet.

"What's this?" Michaela asked.

"It's a description of Yosemite that John Muir, the fella I'm gonna meet, wrote," he said while snuggling closer to her.

Sully began to read aloud:

"Watchin' the daybreak and sunrise. The pale rose and purple sky changin' softly to daffodil yellow and white, sunbeams pourin' through the passes between the peaks and over the Yosemite domes, makin' their edges burn; the silver firs in the middle ground catchin' the glow on their spiry tops, an' our camp grove fills an' thrills with the glorious light. Everythin' awakenin' alert and joyful; the birds begin to stir an' innumerable insect people. Deer quietly withdraw into leafy hidin'-places in the chaparral; the dew vanishes, flowers spread their petals, every pulse beats high, every cell rejoices, the very rocks seem t' thrill with life. The whole landscape glows like a human face in a glory of enthusiasm, and the blue sky, pale around the horizon, bends peacefully down over all like one vast flower.'

She was mesmerized by the description, "It sounds quite lovely."

"I ain't gonna whitewash it for ya, Michaela. There are some things that can be dangerous," he ran his finger across the outline of her chin. "But remember after you were shot, how ya said that we can't live our lives in fear? An' remember when you were willin' t' move t' Yellowstone with me? This ain't any more dangerous than that. We wouldn't be packin' up t' move for good. It would only be for a few weeks."

He kissed her hand while his eyes never let go of their lock on her soul.

She smiled, "You make a compelling case."

"You'll go?" he grinned.

"May I give you my answer in the morning?" she hesitated.

"I reckon I got no choice," he shrugged.

"Sully," she caressed his face. "I love you more than life itself. I want with all of my heart to be with you every waking moment. But... there is a part of me, call it the practical side, that is not convinced it would be the right thing to do. To take Katie into the wilderness, to leave the boys here alone, to be away from my patients..."

Sully looked again at the words on the page of Muir's description, "The whole landscape glows like a human face in a glory of enthusiasm."

He smiled invitingly at her. Then he slid one of the straps of her nightgown off of her shoulder. Michaela felt herself begin to tingle at his touch. His lips continued their movement across her chest as he slowly slid down her other strap.

"Sully," she murmured.

"Humm?" he continued his kisses.

"Do you think this was the kind of enthusiasm Mr. Muir meant?" she took his face between her hands and began to kiss his lips.

He gently pulled away to reply, "I think we can make enthusiasm mean whatever we want it to." He returned to their kiss.

Michaela felt herself quiver at his tender advances. Then he lifted her and carried her to their bed.

"I really like what your wearin'," he smiled.

"You do?" she pulled him closer.

"I don't think ya oughta bring it t' Yosemite, though," he unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off.

"I just want us to be together tonight and not think about anything else in the world," she whispered.

"I'm all for that," he deepened their kiss.

Soon their passion lifted them to glorious heights. Sully fell asleep, his arms engulfing Michaela in a cocoon of love.

When she was sure that he was soundly asleep, she quietly rose from the bed and walked to the fireplace. She sat down in the rocking chair and gazed at the embers. Her mind and heart struggled for an answer. She knew that Sully would protect his family. She knew that they would be gone only a few weeks. Yet, something nagged at her and caused her to fear their leaving. Where could she turn for an answer? Then it came to her. She would look in a place to which she had often turned in times of trouble.

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Chapter 3
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Sully rolled over, still sleeping. Michaela glanced at his tanned, muscular frame. She shivered at her constant attraction to this man. Then she walked to her night stand and picked up the book which had brought her such consolation and inner strength during the past year of loss and languish.

She opened up and read the first passage her eyes saw. It was the Song of Solomon, Chapter 2 in her family Bible:

"My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land."

Michaela closed the book and reflected on those words. She suddenly felt a sense of peace fill her. She was part of Sully, and he was part of the land. He wanted to share it with her and with their child. He had agonized so much over his time away from Katie and over the child she miscarried in his absence. How could she NOT go with him, when he needed her and she needed him so much? With not one more instant of hesitation in her mind, she rejoined her husband in their bed. Tucked next to the warmth of his body, she closed her eyes and fell into a serene state of sleep.

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

Michaela arose the next morning before Sully. She packed for herself and for Katie. She prepared medical supplies, as well. Having completed her task, she started breakfast. Matthew and Brian joined her, enticed by the smell of cooked bacon.

Seeing the bundles in the living room, Brian spoke up, "So ya decided t' go with Sully, Ma?"

Michaela took his hand and sat down at the kitchen table, "Brian, can you understand?"

"Sure," he smiled. "I think it's excitin'!"

"You don't need to worry one bit about us, Dr. Mike," Matthew kissed her cheek.

"I know how much this will mean to Pa," Brian grinned.

"You know that if you need anything..." she began.

"We can ask Miss Grace, or Robert E, or Mr. Bray, or Miss Dorothy..." Brian finished her thought.

"I guess I'm outnumbered here," she smiled.

She heard the sound of Sully's footsteps upstairs. Then she heard Katie call to her father.

Matthew nudged Brian, "Come on, little brother, we got some chores t' do."

"Be back in a little while, Ma," Brian rose and joined his brother.

As they closed the front door behind them, Sully descended the stairs with Katie on his shoulders. The little girl attempted to reach the ceiling of the room as her father lifted her even higher.

"Sully!" Michaela fretted. "She'll get finger prints on the ceiling!"

He laughed, "That would be hard t' explain t' folks."

Then he saw the bundles his wife had packed. "Michaela?" he placed Katie in her high chair.

"Yes," she put her arms around his neck. "we're going."

He threw his arms around her waist and lifted her off the floor. As he spun her around, she began to grow dizzy.

"Sully!" she laughed. "You'd better stop, or my stomach won't be able to make this trip."

He put her down and kissed her with a passion she enjoyed immensely. Then he wondered aloud, "What finally convinced ya?"

She sat down beside Katie and began to feed their daughter. "I was inspired," Michaela smiled.

"Well, whatever it was, I'm real happy that my two girls will be comin' along," Sully leaned in to kiss his wife.

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

On the train, Michaela and Sully snuggled close together while Katie slept.

"I think my arm is asleep from her leaning on it," Michaela said.

"Here, let me take her," Sully offered.

"Thank you," she smiled.

Sully effortlessly lifted the sleeping child into his arms. She did not awaken. With her head resting against his chest, Sully gently kissed the top of her head.

Michaela looked out the window at the passing landscape. "Sully, look!" she pointed.

A rare herd of buffalo could be seen in the distance.

"Too bad this sweet girl's asleep," he rubbed Katie's back. "She ain't ever seen a buffalo."

"Sully, it's so beautiful. I can't wait until we get to Yosemite Valley," she leaned her head against his shoulder.

"From what I understand," Sully kissed her forehead, "they got a few cabins there. That way, you 'n' Katie won't have t' be totally out in the wilderness."

"Tell me some more about Yosemite and what Mr. Muir has written," she urged him.

"Well," he began, "he talks a lot about glacier-carved valleys, an' waterfalls, lakes, rapids, granite rock formations called domes, an' lots of animals that live there."

"I'm anxious to meet the man who has described that valley so beautifully," Michaela yawned.

"Get some rest while ya can, Michaela," Sully advised. "Soon, we'll have to travel by horse and mule rather than train. That's when the adventure starts."

She closed her eyes and dreamed of being in the wilderness with her mountain man.

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Chapter 4
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Having gone as far by train as they could, Sully, Michaela and Katie continued their journey to Yosemite via horses. Their route took them into the high reaches of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Even though it was late spring, they anticipated areas of snow to contend with. Muir's description even stated that at times there were avalanches. Sully did not tell his wife about that part.

He had rigged up a device by which he could carry Katie on his back, while he rode his horse ahead of Michaela's. They carried their belongings on a mule. The family made good progress, and within several days arrived at Yosemite Valley.

John Muir's description of this heaven on earth seemed inadequate as they beheld the breathtaking beauty of the land. They entered a valley with mountainsides and cliffs hanging over.

Sully spoke to his wife, "Now I know why President Lincoln ceded this land t' California for protection back in '64."

"Sully, this place is overwhelming," she agreed.

"This is where Muir said he'd meet me," Sully dismounted his horse.

He lifted Katie down to the ground. The child delighted in the sights and sounds around her. She spotted some deer nearby and toddled closer to look at the animals. Sully kept a watchful eye on her as he helped Michaela from her horse and secured the animals. The sun was descending and the air becoming decidedly more chilly.

"Careful, Katie," Michaela gently approached her daughter. "Those are called 'deer,' sweetheart."

"Deer," Katie repeated and pointed.

"There's a lot of 'em here, too," Sully pointed out.

They were awakened from their reverie by a strange voice, "Mr. Sully! I'm John Muir."

Sully extended his hand to the long haired, bearded man. He was about Sully's age, but his unkept appearance made him look somewhat older.

"Mr. Muir, glad t' meet ya," Sully said. "This here's my wife, Dr. Michaela Quinn and our daughter Katie."

"It's a pleasure, ma'am," Muir tipped his hat to Michaela. "A female doctor! How delightful."

Michaela detected a slight accent, perhaps Scottish, in his speech. "Mr. Muir, we've been reading your wonderful descriptions of this magnificent place," Michaela contributed.

"I view this land as a fountain of life," Muir smiled.

"I think I agree with ya," Sully looked around.

"There's a cabin nearby where you and your family can spend the night, Mr. Sully," the naturalist added.

"Please call me Sully," the mountain man requested.

"And call me John," Muir reciprocated.

Katie walked over to the stranger and looked up at him.

"I'm happy that you brought this wee one along to study at my university of the wilderness," Muir grinned.

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

Soon they were settled into a small cabin. They had it fairly clean and usable by suppertime. Michaela began to cook some venison. Muir watched, as Sully treated parts of the skin to make a coat for his daughter. Katie attempted to help, but managed to make more of a mess. Sully laughed at her efforts.

"I'm impressed, Sully," Muir's eyes glistened. "You recognize the importance of not wasting the precious resources of this land and its living creatures. It torments me no end to see their devastation. It's nothing more than an assault on nature, a senseless killing and destruction, through which man destroys the very sources of life."

"I learned the importance of livin' with, not against nature, durin' my time with the Cheyenne Indians," Sully explained.

"This valley is named after a tribe of Indians," Muir informed him. "In 1851, members of the Mariposa Battalion, a volunteer fighting force, came to capture a group of Indians. Tenaya, their chief, had been leading the Indians on raids on white settlers in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The battalion caught Tenaya, but eventually let him go. One of the lakes here is named after the chief. A subgroup of his tribe was the U-zu-ma-ti. Hence, the name Yosemite. Roughly translated, it means 'grizzly bear.'"

Michaela had been listening intently while she prepared their meal, "Grizzly bear?"

Muir nodded, "Oh, yes, the grizzly and brown bears love Yosemite Creek. I've come eye to eye with many of the fine creatures. Sometimes, they are a menace to shepherds nearby. We'll see many of their trails leading from the upper feeding grounds to the berry gardens and acorn orchards of the valley."

"I see," Michaela forced an uncomfortable smile. "Dinner's ready."

Dinner discussion centered around their plans to explore the valley over the next several days. Having concluded the meal, Muir prepared to depart.

"Aren't you going to stay the night?" Michaela asked the naturalist.

"I'll be nearby, but I would rather sleep under the blanket of Nature," Muir smiled. "A couple of years ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson visited me out here. He told me he preferred to sleep indoors rather than outdoors, saying that for him the wilderness made a good mistress, but an intolerable wife."

They laughed.

"We'll see you in the morning then?" Michaela asked.

"Mornings! I delight in standing in the middle of Yosemite on still clear mornings after snow storms and watch the throng of avalanches as they come down, rejoicing, to their places, whispering, thrilling like birds, or booming and roaring like thunder," he seemed transported. "The noble yellow pines stand hushed and motionless as if under a spell until the morning sunshine begins to sift through their laden spires."

"Avalanches?" Michaela hinted at some nervousness.

"Not to worry, my dear," Muir went to the cabin door. "Until tomorrow." He closed the door behind him.

"What a delightful fellow," Michaela cleared the table. Katie sat on a rug by the fireplace, pretending to treat the deer skin in imitation of her father.

"Let's get you cleaned up for bed, Kates," Sully lifted her.

"That bed looks rather dilapidated," Michaela nodded toward the primitive furniture in the corner. "And there's hardly room for two."

Sully washed Katie's hands and changed her into her nightgown as he spoke, "It'll do for tonight. I'll fix up a sleepin' area for Katie over here. Gotta keep her penned in for the night so she don't up an' wander around in a strange place."

Michaela completed the cleanup and joined her husband as he finished preparing Katie's sleeping area.

"Think this'll be comfortable enough for her?" he finished readying a makeshift bed.

"More comfortable than our's," she smiled.

"Let's see if we can get her t' sleep," Sully lifted his daughter and sat down to warm her near the fireplace.

Michaela joined him and leaned her head against his shoulder.

Sully whispered to the little girl, "Are you sleepy, Kates?"

She turned and looked up at him with her mother's eyes, "I sing."

Sully and Michaela laughed in amazement.

"All right, Sweetheart. What shall you sing?" she asked her daughter.

Katie began to sing the lullaby that Michaela had vocalized to her the night before their journey began. The little girl's words were far from perfect, and some of them were not even recognizable, but she sang sweetly. Sully rocked her back and forth as she continued.

"I don't remember this song bein' so long," Sully stroked his daughter's head.

"It's not," Michaela smiled. "I think she's prolonging it to stay up."

"She's got a real pretty voice, though," Sully kissed the child's head.

"Like an angel," Michaela placed her hand on Katie's.

"Like her ma," Sully leaned toward Michaela for a kiss.

Finally, the little girl drifted off to sleep, and her father carried her to the makeshift bed.

"Think she'll be warm enough?" Sully was concerned.

"She'll be fine," Michaela assured him.

He extinguished the lamp in the small cabin. Only the flickers from the fire lit the room. Michaela crawled into the small bed in the corner. Sully made sure that the cabin door was secure and joined her. They both lay on their sides in order to fit.

Facing one another, they quietly reflected on their arrival in this place.

"I'm so happy that we came with you, Sully," she whispered.

He lifted her chin and kissed her, "Me, too."

Sully pulled their quilts higher for warmth, but being so near to his wife, his thoughts soon turned to other means of heat.

"You warm enough?" he slid his hand around her waist and pulled her even closer.

"I'm getting warmer," she stroked the hair above his ear.

He began to kiss her in greater earnest, and she responded in the way that he loved so well. The intensity of their mounting passion caused the bed to creak loudly.

Michaela pulled back from him, "Sully, the bed is noisy! We'll wake Katie!"

His desire for her made verbal response difficult, "Then let's be quieter."

He returned to his romantic advances, but the noisy bed did not cooperate.

"Sully!" Michaela did not want to stop, but did not wish to awaken their child either.

"I know," he exhaled heavily in frustration. Then he smiled, "I got an idea."

He rose from the bed and crept over to check on Katie. She was still soundly asleep. He returned to the bed and pulled off the quilts. Then he spread them out on the cabin floor by the hearth.

"What are you doing?" Michaela sat up.

"I'm makin' us a quieter bed," he held out his hand to her.

Michaela joined him on the quilts.

"Katie's still asleep. Care to pick up where we left off?" Sully grinned.

Michaela's smile provided him with his answer.

Sully whispered into her ear, "Now, do ya remember where we were?"

She reached over to caress his face and snuggle closer, "As a matter of fact, I do."

"I was hopin' you did," he kissed her neck.

Soon they were united in a wonderful enrapturement. Their physical desires subsided, and tender caresses followed.

Sully kissed her hands, "'Night, Michaela. I love you."

"And I you," she kissed him and pulled his arms around her.

That night they dreamed of the beautiful valley and sights they would see tomorrow.

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

At dawn, Katie's whimpers wakened her parents, who were still snuggled together on the cabin floor.

"I'll get her," Sully offered. He picked up his daughter, "Mornin', my sweet girl. How are ya this mornin'?"

"Papa," she hugged him and planted a kiss on his cheek. She pointed to Michaela, "Mama."

Sully carried the child over to his wife and sat down beside her. Katie reached out to Michaela, who took her into her arms.

"Good morning, Sweetheart," Michaela kissed the little girl.

Katie's yawns indicated that the child was not quite ready to arise. She had merely awakened in a strange place and needed the assurances of her parents that she was safe. Soon Katie was asleep again, and Michaela gently placed her back in the comfort of her sleeping area.

Sully heated some water with which they could wash. The luxury of a full bath was far away. Sully removed his shirt and began to lather up his face for a shave. Soon he felt his wife's warm hands on his back. He turned to face her.

"Would you like for me to shave you?" Michaela's voice was suggestive.

"You've had some experience?" he smiled.

"It was part of our training in medical school," she picked up his razor.

She slowly drew the blade down from his sideburn toward his chin. As she did, Sully wrapped one of his arms around her waist and began to caress her back. Then she ran the sharp tool down the other side of his face. Sully slid his other arm around her and gently pulled her toward him.

"You're doin' a mighty fine job," he spoke softly.

"Just be careful how you move those hands of yours," she smiled. "Now, tilt your head back." She dipped the razor in the water to clean it.

"You gonna do my neck?" he warily asked.

"Um-hum," she grinned. "Don't you trust me?"

He slowly tilted back his head, and Michaela gently ran the razor up his neck. When she dipped the blade into the water again, Sully straightened up his head. Then he leaned down to kiss his wife.

At first she participated fully in the enjoyment of their kiss. Then she pulled back, "Sully, I'm not finished yet."

He laughed.

"What's so funny?" she pretended to be indignant.

"You," he attempted to stop his chuckling. "Ya got the lather on your face now."

She reached up to wipe it off.

"Here, let me," Sully took a cloth and began to gently wipe the soap from her face.

Then he took the razor from her hand and quickly finished shaving around his mouth.

She frowned, "I could have done that for you."

"I know ya could," he winked. "But I wanted t' help you get cleaned up, too."

Without another word, Sully lowered her nightgown. She shivered partly from the chill in the air and partly from his touch. Sully lathered his hands and began to massage her face, shoulders and arms. Then he dampened a cloth with which to wipe off the soap. He saw the goose bumps growing on her and quickly began to dry his wife with a cloth. Next, he gently kissed her shoulders, neck and face. Michaela's response was interrupted by a loud knock at the door. She quickly grabbed her blouse and did up the buttons. Sully swiftly lifted the quilts from the floor and put them on the bed. Then he opened the door.

"John," Sully smiled, a little out of breath. "Good to see ya."

The naturalist did not notice the slight blush on Michaela's face. Katie chose that moment to stir. Michaela went to her.

Muir's eyes widened, "I brought your breakfast, and would be happy to prepare it."

"That's very considerate of you," Michaela lifted Katie.

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

As they consumed their morning meal, Michaela's curiosity led her to ask, "Tell us about yourself, John. How did you come to this place?"

Muir grinned, "I was born in Scotland and raised by a stern Presbyterian father. He required me as a child to memorize the Bible word for word, the entire New Testament and parts of the Old. When I was 11, we immigrated to America. My father made me work the land all day, a painful, backbreaking labor for a child."

"I cannot imagine such a demanding father," Michaela shook her head.

"Once, I was almost killed by mine gas from chipping away rock by myself for our family well," Muir continued. "I loved to read, but my father's demands left me little time for that. He had a strict rule that I go to bed right after supper so that I could be better rested for physical labor, but I would get up before sunrise in order to read. I devised a mechanism of clockwork, weights, and pulleys that thrust me upward in bed at three every morning."

Michaela laughed, "You certainly were enterprising."

Muir smiled, "Well, I was able to read enough to prepare myself for entrance to the University of Wisconsin."

"Very impressive," Michaela stood to clear away the breakfast table.

"Actually, I didn't stay long. I found their required course of study to be far from my personal thirst for scientific knowledge," Muir reflected. "Ever since, I've wandered through Nature's school, observing and describing all of God's creatures."

"We're mighty glad that ya followed that path, John," Sully observed. "So where are we headed today?"

"Today, we'll begin at Bridalveil Falls," the bearded naturalist informed them.

Soon, they were packed and ready to depart.

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

Upon their arrival, they sighted the falls shooting free from the upper edge of a cliff.

"It's breathtaking!" Michaela observed.

"Through this valley runs the powerful Merced River. That's the Cathedral Rocks, over which the water falls more than 600 feet," Muir told his interested tourists.

Sully held up his daughter to behold a better view of the surging water.

Katie clapped her hands, "Bath!"

"Not likely, Kates," Sully chuckled.

Muir noted, "Look how the fall sways back and forth. Gusts of wind cause that."

"And I can see a rainbow from it," Michaela took Sully's arm.

Muir showed them the other side of the valley, where another fall could be seen even wider than Bridalveil. The naturalist could tell his enthusiastic students were appreciative of his explanations.

"This is Ribbon Fall or Virgin Tears." Muir narrated. "When the snow is melting fast in the spring, it is a magnificent object. Unfortunately, the suffocating blasts of spray prevent a closer view this time of year."

"There is just so much to absorb here," Michaela held Katie on her lap.

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

Next, Muir escorted them to the El Capitan Rock, a granite monolith 3300 feet high.

"Many believe that this is the most sublime feature of the Valley," Muir smiled.

Sully nodded, "Wonder what gives it that look, almost like it's carved?"

"It was carved, Sully," Muir answered. "By a glacier. And El Capitan is related to the Cathedral Rocks we saw back at Bridalveil. They were part of the same mountain ridge that was eroded when the Yosemite Glacier was forming this valley."

Muir showed them the Three Brothers, an immense mountain mass with three "gables," the tallest of which was nearly 4000 feet in height.

"These were named after the three sons of Tenaya," Muir explained.

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

Soon they arrived at another cabin.

Muir paused, "We'll stop here for tonight. I want to show you the magnificence of Yosemite Falls in the morning."

"Each new sight is more splendid than the previous," Michaela marveled.

Sully and Muir left Michaela and Katie at the cabin in order to go trap their dinner. She busied herself cleaning up Katie and herself from a day on horseback, but as sunset approached, she began to worry that they had not returned.

Then, she heard something outside. At first, Michaela wondered if it were Sully and John, but when they didn't enter the cabin, her curiosity could no longer be controlled. She opened the door of the cabin slightly, and screamed in terror.

************
Chapter 6
************

"Wh-what do you want?" Michaela tried to control the fear in her voice.

Flashes of another traumatic experience of opening a door to a stranger passed through her mind. Before her, stood a tall, bearded, scruffy looking man with a rifle aimed directly at her. Michaela's panic was only controlled by the realization that her daughter was only a few feet away, blissfully unaware of this intruder.

"I want somethin' only you can give me," the deep voice of the stranger answered.

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

Muir and Sully were not quite in view of the cabin. They had been admiring the sunset from the valley as they walked.

Muir pointed, "See how the west is flaming with gold and purple, ready for the ceremony of the sunset."

Sully stopped suddenly. "Somethin's wrong," he choked.

"What is it?" Muir was concerned.

"It's my wife and baby," Sully began to run. "I gotta get t' them."

Muir tried to keep up with the deerlike speed of Sully, but soon the mountain man was out of his sight.

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

"I'm sure I don't have anything here that you could possibly want," Michaela tried to block the man's view of her daughter.

The stranger sensed that she was trying to hide something, "I been watchin' you, and I know you got a little girl in here. I come t' get her."

"Wh-what do you mean?" Michaela felt her heart almost leap from her chest.

"I mean, I'm takin' her," he motioned with his rifle for her to move.

"You cannot have ..." Before she could complete her sentence, the man struck her hard across the side of her face. Michaela was instantly unconscious.

Katie saw her mother slump to the floor and began to cry. The stranger grabbed the child and ran out of the cabin, slamming the door behind him.

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

Within minutes, Sully burst into the cabin. He saw his wife on the floor and fell to his knees.

"Michaela! Are ya all right?" he cried.

He placed his hand on her cheek and she began to waken. Sully saw the growing bruise on her face and swallowed hard. Then he realized that his daughter was nowhere in sight.

He shouted, "Katie!"

Michaela quickly sat up. "Sully? Katie... "

"Where is she, Michaela?" Sully's heart rushed.

Michaela was more alert now, "She's... she's been kidnapped!"

"What?" he helped her to her feet.

"A man burst in here," she explained. "He held a rifle to me, told me he had come for Katie, then hit me and took her."

At that moment, Muir arrived.

"What's happened?" he was somewhat out of breath.

"Our daughter's been kidnapped!" Sully turned to him. "I'm goin' after him."

He was out the door in an instant.

"Sully," Michaela called to him. "Be careful!"

John Muir walked to her and asked in a calm voice, "Can you describe the man, Michaela?"

Within seconds of hearing her description, Muir knew who it was. "That's Zeke Patterson."

"You know him?" she reached for her medical bag.

"He's got a cabin near here," Muir told her. "He's a shepherd. His wife Clara and he had a daughter around Katie's age, but the little girl died about six months ago."

"He must have wanted our daughter to replace his own lost child," Michaela treated her own abrasion.

"If you feel like traveling, I can take you to his place," the naturalist helped her up.

"He's armed, John," Michaela grabbed her coat and medical bag. "And my husband doesn't carry a gun."

"Don't worry," Muir tried to assure her.

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

Sully's tracking skills were hardly needed as Zeke Patterson's footprints were easy to see even in the fading light of dusk. Then Sully heard the cries of his child. A chill filled his body, and his jaw tightened in anger. He would kill this man with his bare hands.

************
Chapter 7
************

Sully could discern the silhouette of the tall kidnapper of his child up ahead. He could see Katie's attempts to loosen his hold on her. Her wailing tore into his heart. As he stealthily moved closer, he spotted the man's rifle. Sully knew that he could do nothing yet. He prayed that Katie's squirming would not anger the man into striking her, as he had Michaela.

"Michaela," he whispered to himself. "I'll bring Katie back."

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

Muir led Michaela along the pathway toward Zeke Patterson's cabin. In the dark, she wondered how her husband would ever be able to find their child. She anguished over the thought that one or both of them could be hurt.

"What if he doesn't take Katie to his cabin?" she asked her guide.

"Then, we'll return to your cabin and wait for Sully," he reasoned.

The evening air did not chill Michaela's intentions to find her family. As they approached Patterson's darkened cabin, her fears mounted that he did not reside there anymore or that he might have taken Katie elsewhere.

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

Sully followed, watched and waited for his opportunity. Any chance that he could use to disarm Katie's abductor. Finally, it came. Katie managed to wiggle her way out of his arms and fell to the ground. Patterson set down his gun and reached to pick up the crying toddler. Instantly, Sully jumped him from behind and wrestled him to the ground. The impact of their contact threw them several yards from the sobbing little girl.

With the full force of his rage, Sully punched Patterson in the face. Blood spurted through the air like spray from the waterfalls of this valley. Sully struck him again and again. In his anger, he could not see that the man was unconscious. From his knees, Sully continued to pound Patterson with uncontrollable fists. Finally, he was shaken from his rage by the cries of Katie.

Sully heard his baby sobbing in fear. With hands covered in blood, he jumped up and went to his daughter. He lifted her up and cradled her in his arms. The tormented father lavished kisses on her and held her so tightly, he wanted to never let go.

The child's crying subsided, and hiccups ensued. Sully checked her for any broken bones or injuries. Finding none, he again held her close and soothed her with his gentle caresses.

"Bad man," Katie choked the words between hiccups.

"You're safe from the bad man now, Katie. Papa's here," he kissed her again.

"Mama hurt," the child's eyes spoke of her concern.

"Mama's okay, my sweet girl," he smiled. "She's strong, just like you."

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

Muir knocked on the door. No one answered.

"It appears that he's not here," he observed.

Michaela tried the door knob, and it turned. They entered the cabin, and Muir lit a lamp. They looked on in horror. There on the floor was a woman, her eyes open in a stare of death.

"It's Clara Patterson!" Muir shouted.

Michaela ran to her and felt for a pulse. "She's dead," the doctor pronounced. Looking more carefully, she added, "For several hours." Then, Michaela saw the cause of death. "She's been shot through the heart at very close range."

"My God," Muir was horrified. There was a pistol in Clara's hand. "She must have shot herself!"

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

Sully heard the groans of the man he had nearly killed. He had to secure the kidnapper's hands and legs, but did not want to let loose of his child. As Patterson began to regain consciousness, Sully took the risk of Katie's crying again and set her down on the ground.

"Stay here, sweet girl," he kissed her.

Sully then took a piece of rope from his belt, tied the limbs of the kidnapper and secured him to a tree. Realizing that Michaela would be worried sick, Sully decided to leave the abductor tied, and return with his daughter to the cabin. He picked up his child in one hand and the rifle in the other. Soon, they were on their way back to Michaela.

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

Michaela and Muir left to return to her cabin.

"I'll inform the authorities in the morning," he tried to sound calm.

Silently, Michaela was praying. Muir knew she was worried sick and speeded up the pace of their walk.

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

The cabin was just as they had left it in haste. That seemed like a lifetime ago. Michaela sat at the table, put her head down, resting it on her arm. She felt the tears begin to well up in her eyes. Soon, they were dampening her sleeve.

Suddenly the door swung open. There stood Sully holding Katie. Michaela jumped up and ran to them. She flung her arms around them both. Her tears continued to flow, but now they were of relief.

Pulling back to look at them, she saw blood. "Sully!"

"Katie's okay," he handed the child to her mother.

He quickly went to wash his hands.

"Where's Patterson?" Muir spoke up.

"That his name?" Sully could still taste the anger over his daughter's ordeal.

"Zeke Patterson, a shepherd," Muir told him.

"He's alive," Sully said. "I nearly killed him though."

Michaela thoroughly examined Katie and determined that she was unharmed. She rocked the little girl as her husband spoke.

"I jumped him an' started beatin' him," his voice trembled slightly.

He walked over to Michaela. Both parents could not let go of their child, feeling the need to touch her.

Sully glanced at his hands, "Most o' the blood is from him."

Michaela saw her husband's hands and gently examined them.

"Let me put something on those," she looked into his eyes.

She saw the same relief that she felt at that moment. He sat holding their daughter, as she bandaged his hands.

She said, "Sully, we found his wife. She's been shot."

"He killed her?" Sully felt the rage mounting again. "I best go get the murderer. I left him out there tied up, while I brought Katie back."

"Wait," Muir suggested. "Her death appears to be suicide. That might have driven Zeke to act in such a desperate manner. Let me take care of things. You stay here with Michaela and Katie."

"I should go with ya," Sully stood and handed the little girl to his wife.

"I manage to do quite a lot by myself," the bearded man winked. "You two stay here. I'll be back at sunrise."

Sully gave Muir directions on where to find Patterson and offered no more debate. The naturalist departed. Sully turned to look at Michaela and Katie again. He felt a lump in his throat as he watched them sitting by the fire.

Michaela cradled Katie on her lap and gently fed her. Katie was much calmer now in the comfort of her mother's arms.

Sully approached them, "Michaela, I... "

"Not now, Sully," the sudden coldness in her voice stung him.

"I'm sorry," he tried to touch her shoulder.

Michaela pulled away from him.

Sully went to the tiny window of the cabin and looked out at the starry night. He sighed heavily, knowing full well that his wife was angry at him. Angry for wanting them to come to Yosemite. Angry for not being with them when Patterson arrived. Angry that he had not protected them from the danger. Angry for... It didn't matter, he thought. She could not be any angrier at him than he was at himself. He bit his lip and swung his hand against the cabin wall.

Michaela quickly turned to look at him. He could see tears streaming down her face.

************
Chapter 8
************

Seeing his wife in tears ripped into Sully's soul. He started toward her, but stopped when he saw her turn back away from him. Then he felt a growing wetness on his hand. He held up his bandaged fist and saw blood flowing through it.

Sully ripped off the wrapping and threw it onto the floor. He poured some cold water into a bowl and placed his hand in. Michaela rose and took Katie to the bed. With his hand throbbing, Sully looked over his shoulder and saw that his wife and daughter were lying down. Katie was asleep. With her back to him, he could not see Michaela's face. Still, he knew she would sleep little tonight.

He sat down at the table and lowered the lamp. The cabin was lit only by the dancing flickers from the fireplace. The silence of the room was deafening to him.

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

Before dawn, Michaela awoke. She had not slept most of the night. Katie awakened only once, and quickly fell back to sleep. The child was curled up in the bed, her eyes closed in blissful peace.

When Michaela rose, she turned and saw Sully sitting at the table, still awake. Then she noticed his hand, the bowl filled with bloody water, and the soiled bandage on the floor.

She went to him. Without words, she turned up the lamp and lifted his hand to examine it. Quickly, she fetched her medical bag. She disinfected the cut and threaded a needle to stitch it. When finished, she silently rebandaged his hand.

Her movements and treatment of him were so gentle, Sully's eyes began to water. He could neither look at her nor speak.

Michaela, full of love and regret, whispered, "Sully, I'm sorry."

He raised his head with an aching heart, "Michaela." The lump in his throat prevented further words.

She quickly put her arms around him, and began to quietly weep. "Sully, don't blame yourself. I'm sorry, so sorry, for how I acted last night."

He buried his head in her chest and choked back his tears. Michaela softly stroked his head.

Finally composing himself, Sully pulled his wife down to sit on his lap. "Michaela, when I saw Patterson with Katie, holdin' our Katie, takin' her from us, I thought I would die. I tried t' kill him."

"I know, Sully," she kissed his forehead.

"Knowin' what he had done to you, knowin' what he could do to Katie, filled me with more anger than I've ever known," he looked down in shame.

"Sully, we're okay," she lifted his chin. "I was angry, too. And I took it out on you. I never should have done that. I hurt you." Her eyes began to well up with tears. "How could I have done that to you?"

Sully wiped away a tear that trickled down her cheek, "I know you only done it 'cause you were hurtin'. I know how much ya love me."

"You forgive me?" she gazed into his stunningly blue eyes.

"Ain't nothing t' forgive ya for," he smiled. "You forgive me?"

"Sully, you didn't do anything to forgive," she assured him. Then she turned up the corner of her mouth in a smile, "And even if you did do something, I couldn't stay angry with you for long."

They kissed. They embraced. They kissed again.

"Michaela," Sully ran his finger along the outline of her chin. "Katie saw me beatin' Patterson," he paused. "Do ya think she's okay?"

"She slept well enough," Michaela looked over at the child. "We'll know more about her reaction as time passes. If she seems quieter than usual, it could mean that she's been affected."

"I guess 'bout all we can do is keep on lovin' her an' bein' there for her," he said.

Michaela walked over to Katie, who was clutching her stuffed bunny. Sully joined her. They sat down on the edge of the bed and held each other until dawn.

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

At sunrise, the sounds of the wildlife filled the valley. Then came a knock at the cabin door. Michaela jumped in Sully's arms.

He calmed her, "It's all right. It'll be Muir," he said.

He rose to open the door. As he turned the knob and pulled open the door, Sully stood in disbelief. It was Patterson! Quickly, Sully reached for his knife.

************
Chapter 9
************

Sully raised his knife, reached for a piece of rope, and silently motioned for Michaela to move out of sight with Katie. Patterson, his swollen face bloody and bruised, raised his hands to indicate that he was unarmed and meant no harm.

"I want t' talk to ya," Patterson spoke.

"Lie down on your stomach," Sully pointed the knife at him.

"I jest wanna talk," Patterson's voice shook.

"You got nothin' t' say that I wanna hear," Sully said through clenched teeth.

He grabbed Patterson and pushed him outside, stomach down, to the ground. Patterson offered no resistance. Sully could almost taste the rage that he felt. With his child's kidnapper on the ground, Sully knelt down, tied his hands, and placed his knee on the man's back. Then he held his knife close to the helpless man's throat.

"You got ev'ry right t' be angry at me," Patterson looked up with anguish in his eyes.

Sully moved his knife even closer, "How'd you get loose?"

Patterson explained, "I had a knife in my back pocket. I cut the rope ya tied me with."

Sully fumed at himself for not searching the man before leaving him in the woods the night before.

"I come t' apologize to ya," Patterson pleaded.

"Ya hit my wife, kidnap my baby and think an apology is enough?" Sully couldn't believe the man's gall.

Michaela watched from the doorway.

"Sully," she called to him softly.

"Stay out of this, Michaela," he tightened his jaw and stared with hatred at the man below him.

"Sully," she was more adamant. "May I speak with you?"

Sully searched Patterson for weapons and turned to look at his wife. She was beckoning him to step aside to talk with her.

"What is it?" Sully did not move.

"Mr. Patterson had a daughter Katie's age who died about six months ago, and his wife committed suicide yesterday," she spoke to him.

"That gives him no right t' do what he did," Sully shook his head, stood up and went to his wife.

"I know that, but he's a grieving father and husband," she touched his arm.

"Michaela, he hit you! He took Katie. God only knows what else he might have done," Sully shook his head.

"Sully, you were once a grieving father and husband," she reminded him.

"What are you tryin' t' say?" Sully spoke up. "That I should forget about what he did? That he shouldn't pay?"

"No, I'm not saying that," she squeezed his hand. "I'm just saying that he was not in his right mind. I'm telling you that anger and grief can lead a man to take desperate measures. Let the authorities handle him."

Sully was silent as he absorbed her words. She was right. He had known the anguish of such loss. This man could have run off, but he came back to apologize. Looking at him lying on the ground now, Sully felt some of his rage lessen.

Suddenly a voice was heard from the path below them.

"Sully!" Muir shouted.

Approaching was the familiar figure of John Muir, but another man was with him. Muir quickened his step when he saw a someone lying on the ground.

"Sully we couldn't find Patterson! What the ... " Muir stopped when he saw who Sully's captive was.

"Patterson came back," Sully informed him. "To apologize."

"I'm not surprised," Muir's companion spoke up.

Muir introduced the man with him, "Sully, Michaela, this is Galen Clark. He's a guardian of Yosemite."

Clark spoke in a slow, even tone, "Zeke, you're going to have to come with me."

"I know, Galen," Patterson sighed.

Muir helped him to his feet and turned him over to Clark.

"I'm sorry," was all the captive said.

"I'll handle things from here, Mr. Sully," Clark assured him. "I'm sorry that you and your family had the experience that you did last night. This really is a wonderful place."

With that, Clark took Patterson, and the two were soon out of sight.

Muir patted Sully on the back, "Are you okay, my friend?"

"I am now," Sully nodded and put his arm around Michaela.

"John," Sully asked. "Do ya think it would be all right for me an' my family t' just take it easy today? I'd rather not have them travel just yet."

"I understand completely," Muir nodded in agreement. "I'll busy myself today and let you folks rest. There is great healing in this valley and in the wondrous melodies of nature's songs.

The naturalist turned to leave them, "I'll return for you tomorrow at dawn."

"Thanks," Sully watched him depart, then closed the door.

Michaela was looking at the sleeping little girl in the bed.

"Is she all right?" he whispered.

"She's fine," Michaela went to him.

She wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned her head against his chest. The feel of his heartbeat, constant and steady, assured her that they were safe now. Michaela closed her eyes and sighed.

"How 'bout you?" he ran his hands up and down her back. Then he gently touched the bruise on her face, "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Sully," she said. "In your arms, I'm fine." She lifted his bandaged hands and kissed them. "And you?"

"I'm better than fine," he smiled. He led her to the bed. Gently, he lifted Katie and moved her so that they could join her in the somewhat cramped bed.

Michaela tucked Katie against herself, and Sully tucked Michaela against himself. He draped his arm across both of them and held Katie's little hand in his. There the three of them slept, exhausted from the previous night's ordeal. Although a beautiful day had dawned outside, they felt no desire to leave the cocoon of their cabin.

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

After several hours, Katie awoke. She smiled at her sleeping parents. The little girl climbed down from the bed and walked to the table.

"I cook," she saw a skillet on the table.

Katie reached up for the pan but underestimated its weight. It crashed down onto the floor, scaring herself and instantly waking her mother and father.

She turned to them, ashamed that she had caused such a noise. Both were on her in an instant to see that she was unhurt.

"I cook," she repeated to them.

"Cook?" Michaela smiled. "My daughter wants to cook?"

"Think I should be the one t' teach her?" Sully laughed.

"I believe that I can handle some aspects of the culinary arts," Michaela lifted Katie into her arms.

Sully picked up the skillet, "How 'bout we both teach her?"

"Agreed," Michaela grinned.

Soon the trio was preparing a meal of bacon and eggs. Katie had managed to break the eggs with a considerable amount of shells thrown in. Michaela attempted to teach her daughter about the dangers of the fire. The little girl absorbed every word of her parents' gentle explanations.

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

Later in the day, the family ventured out. They did not stray far from the cabin, but from their vantage point, could see many of the breathtaking vistas of this gorgeous land. By dusk, they prepared an evening meal, and sat by the fireplace, enjoying the sweet company of one another.

Soon Katie was asleep in her father's arms.

"I think she's all right, Michaela," he whispered.

"I believe so," she nodded and kissed Katie's head.

Sully lifted her and took her to the bed. Michaela covered her for warmth.

Sully put his arms around his wife and pulled her closer. He gently stroked the tender spot on Michaela's face where Patterson had struck her. Then, he leaned down and kissed it.

Michaela responded to the touch of his lips on her face. She raised her arms to embrace him and ran her fingers around the hair at the base of his neck.

Sully seductively smiled. Desiring some privacy with his wife, he closed the curtain hanging by the bed to conceal Katie from the room. Lifting Michaela, he carried her to the fireside. He knelt down and gently placed her on the floor.

Gazing at her, Sully drank in the beauty of his wife.

She spoke softly, "Close your eyes."

"What?" he wondered.

"Close your eyes," she repeated. "I have a surprise for you."

He complied and felt her get up from the floor.

"What are you doin'?" he whispered.

"You'll see in a moment," she replied.

Sully kept his eyes close for what seemed like an eternity, but his amorous mood was not dampened.

Finally, Michaela whispered to him, "Okay, you can open them now."

He opened his eyes, and turned toward the direction of her voice. There stood Michaela wearing the beautiful nightgown in which she had been clothed the night before their trip. Sully stood up and marveled at her lovely features.

He took her hands, "Ya packed it after all?"

"Umm-hum," she smiled. "I thought I might need to thank you in a special way."

Sully ran his hands up her arms, "I sure love it when ya thank me."

He lifted some quilts from their belongings and unfolded them beside the hearth, "Wouldn't want t' get that nightgown dirty."

She knelt down on the quilts and holding his hand, urged him to join her. Sully knelt down, too. On their knees, face to face, they began to kiss. They were soft and gentle at first, but as their pulses began to race, so did the intensity and depth of their kisses.

Sully guided her onto her back. Leaning over his wife, he began to kiss her neck. He lowered the straps of her nightgown and continued his caresses. Michaela was now fully aware of his slightest touch. Each caress, each kiss, each breath from him washed her with a heightening passion.

She held his face between her hands, "Sully, I love you."

His breath nearly stopped as he looked into her eyes, "I love you, Michaela."

Soon they came together in an ardent and powerful adjoining of bodies and souls. Their movements were as one; their hearts were as one. They closed their eyes and reveled at the rhythmical and explosive sensations of their union. Afterwards, filled with satisfying bliss, they softly kissed and caressed one another. Then they fell asleep.

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

During the night, Sully carried Michaela to the bed and laid her beside Katie. When Michaela awoke before dawn, she was alone in the bed, the curtain drawn.

"Sully?" she sat up. "Katie?"

"Just a minute," he shouted from the other side of the curtain. She could hear Katie's giggles.

"What are you two up to?" she pulled a robe around herself.

"Sturpise, Mama," Katie called.

"What, Sweetheart?" Michaela smiled.

"That's 'surprise,' Mama," Sully replied.

Within moments, Katie pulled back the drape, and Sully brought breakfast to his wife in bed. He handed Michaela the plate and lifted Katie up sit beside her. Then Sully sat down with Katie between them and held out a cup of coffee for his wife to sip. She did so, and looked seductively into his eyes.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"You're welcome," he grinned.

"I cook, Mama!" Katie pointed to the plate.

"Did you?" Michaela glanced at her daughter in amazement.

"Papa helped," the little girl beamed.

"Well," Michaela replied, looking at the heaping plate of food, "you must have thought Mama would be very hungry this morning."

"Papa thought she might be after last night," Sully winked.

"Sully!" Michaela blushed.

"Katie learned somethin' this mornin', Mama," Sully announced.

Michaela opened her eyes wide, "What did you learn?"

Sully touched Katie's nose and asked, "How old are ya, Kates?"

Katie held up two fingers, "Thoo."

Michaela laughed, "Very good!"

"She's countin' up to ten," Sully proudly boasted.

"You're getting to be such a big girl," Michaela smiled and began to eat, sharing the contents of her plate with her husband and daughter.

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

By sunrise, they were fed, dressed, packed and ready to depart. A knock at the door signaled the arrival of their naturalist friend. Sully opened the door and invited Muir in.

"Sully, Michaela," he looked troubled. "It's about Zeke."

************
Chapter 10
************

"What about Patterson?" Sully feared the man had escaped.

"He's dead," Muir told them.

"What happened?" Michaela asked.

Muir shook his head, "As Galen Clark was taking him past some rapids, Zeke jumped in. He hit his head on a rock and drowned. Clark pulled him out of the water a bit downstream, but there was nothing he could do."

"What a sad ending for a family," Michaela felt tears welling up.

Sully could not totally let go of the anger he had felt toward the man, so he remained silent. Michaela offered Muir a cup of coffee.

"No thank you," the naturalist smiled. "I see you're packed and ready for our journey today."

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

As the sunlight brightened the sky, they trekked to Yosemite Falls. They could hear the thunder of the falling water before they saw it. When they finally gazed upon the sight, their eyes widened in wonder.

"It's two waterfalls!" Michaela was amazed.

Muir nodded, "The upper fall drops about 1400 feet. The lower about a fourth of that. The width of the falls varies from month to month."

"I never saw anythin' like it," Sully stated.

Muir smiled, "I think this is the best vantage point from which to view it. There is a rainbow on its brow that seems to break up and mingle with the rushing comets of water until all the fall is stained with iris colors. It's one of the most glorious pictures conceivable."

Sully agreed, "Ya sure have a way of describin' it, John."

Muir grinned, "From some angles in the valley, it looks as if it is one fall."

"How many falls does this valley have?" Michaela asked.

"Five main ones," Muir replied. "I'll show you another."

They continued their journey.

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

Upon their arrival at the Nevada Falls, Muir continued his eloquent narration, "This one is about 600 feet in height. The water washes over so many rocks and holes, that by the time it reaches the bottom, it is pulverized, making it the whitest of all the falls of the valley, and altogether one of the most wonderful in the world."

"I am simply in awe of the splendor of this place," Michaela sighed.

"There's more," Muir smiled.

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

Their next stop was the Vernal Fall. Muir observed, "The Vernal Fall drops about 400 feet. It's more accessible than any of the others."

"It changes colors on the way down," Sully noticed.

"Indeed," Muir exclaimed. "From green to purplish gray and white. There's one more fall I'd like to show you today, then I'll take you to the hotel for the night."

"Hotel?" Michaela was surprised.

"Yes," Muir nodded. "It's not grand, but as more and more tourists begin to fill this valley, I think that one will be needed someday."

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

Finally, they arrived at the Ililouette Falls.

"It resembles the Nevada," Muir told his captive audience. "But the volume of water is less. I think that the division of the water creates a kind of fluting and grooving of the column, which has a beautiful effect. It's not nearly so grand a fall as the upper Yosemite, or so symmetrical as the Vernal, or so airily graceful and simple as the Bridal Veil, nor does it ever display so tremendous an outgush of snowy magnificence as the Nevada, but in the exquisite fineness and richness of texture of its flowing folds, it surpasses them all."

"It's hard to imagine all of this beauty in one place," Michaela sighed.

"There is so much more," Muir grinned. "About 20 miles north of here is the Hetch Hetchy Valley, through which the Toulumne River flows. It is like another Yosemite Valley. It extends about 18 miles, though it seems longer. It is from 1200 to 5000 feet deep, and through its whole extent, the same kind of Yosemite features are displayed on a grand scale--Domes, El Capitan, gables, Sentinels, Royal Arches, glacier points, Cathedral spires, etc. There is even a Half Dome among its wealth of rock forms, though less sublime and beautiful than the Yosemite Half Dome. It also contains falls and cascades innumerable."

"That's incredible," Michaela said.

Muir smiled, "Nothing in Nature stands alone. She is not so poor as to have only one of anything." Realizing that he had been talking and walking all day, the naturalist looked at his tourists, "You must be exhausted. I'll take you to the hotel now."

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

At the hotel, Sully, Michaela and Katie were able to experience the luxury of a bath for the first time on their trip. Their host joined them for dinner and introduced them to the man who ran the hotel, Mr. Cunningham. With its vantage point directly opposite the Yosemite Fall, the location of the hotel was quite attractive.

Muir provided them with a brief history of the public accommodations there, "Very few visits were made to the Valley before the summer of 1855, when Mr. James M. Hutchings, having heard of the wonderful scenery, collected a party and made the first regular tourist's visit to Yosemite. In his California Magazine, he described it in articles illustrated by artist Thomas Ayres, who was taken into the Valley with him for that purpose."

Michaela observed, "They certainly must have been impressed at what they saw. I'd love to read what he wrote."

Cunningham left and returned with a copy of the magazine for her, as Muir continued, "The next year, the regular pleasure travel began, and a trail on the Mariposa side of the Valley was opened by the Mann Brothers. The first house was erected in the autumn of 1856 and was kept as a hotel the next year by G.A. Hite, later by J.H. Neal and now Mr. Cunningham.

"I see more and more tourists each year," Cunningham added.

"It's all so fascinating," Michaela's thirst for knowledge was ever apparent.

"And why it's so important t' keep it as a treasure for future generations t' enjoy," Sully looked at his daughter.

Katie had begun to fuss and squirm at all of the conversation.

Michaela stood up with her, "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I think my daughter is about ready for bed. Thank you so much for your hospitality."

Sully stood and kissed her cheek, "I'll be up soon."

She left the three men to their conversation.

Muir returned to his favorite subject, "So, Sully, do you think that the government will act upon my wish for national park status?"

Sully shook his head, "I ain't sure right now. The reason that Yellowstone was granted that status was 'cause the politicians saw somethin' in it for themselves. Wouldn't surprise me if the railroads were in on it, too."

Cunningham leaned back, "I detect a certain bitterness, Sully."

"I've been tryin' for a couple of years now t' get the politicians t' protect the Red Rock formations in Colorado. I ain't sayin' it will never happen. It's just that I've learned it takes time. A long time, and a lot o' waitin', but I'll do all that I can."

"I'm prepared to fight for the preservation of this place until my dying day," Muir smiled.

Sully nodded, "I can understand why. I almost hate to leave."

Muir looked at him, "You're leaving soon?"

Sully replied, "Yep. My family and I are headed home for Colorado Springs tomorrow, but in our hearts, we'll take with us what we've seen here." With that, he rose and shook hands with his hosts, "Thanks for everythin'. We'll see ya in the mornin'."

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

In their room, Michaela was holding Katie on the bed, attempting to put on the child's nightgown. Katie was still squirming and fussing.

"Katherine Elizabeth Sully, you're not being very cooperative tonight," Michaela sighed.

"Not sleepy," Katie answered. "Read, Mama."

"I'll read to you, Sweetheart, after I get into my nightgown, too," Michaela offered.

She finally settled Katie in beside her in bed and picked up the California Magazine that Mr. Cunningham had given her. Michaela pointed to sketches of the features of Yosemite, and to her amazement Katie not only identified them, but she told a brief story about each. The child had remembered everything about the beautiful valley. Soon the little girl was curled up asleep beside her mother. Michaela, filled with love for the blessing of this little life beside her, gave her a soft kiss. Then, keeping her arm around Katie, Michaela began to read the article in the magazine.

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

When Sully entered the room, he smiled at the sight of his two girls in the bed. He quietly lifted Katie into his strong arms. Cradling her gently, he kissed her and carried her to a small bed, tucked in an alcove of the room. He made sure that she was adequately covered. Around the corner, Michaela had her nose buried in the magazine.

"Sully," she did not look up as he undressed, "I've been reading a copy of the California Magazine that John told us about. We simply have to help save this land."

He joined her in the bed and snuggled closer, "I know we do."

She continued to read. Sully began to nibble at her ear, knowing that when his wife was deep in thought or an interesting article, she was oblivious to anything around her, even him. He actually enjoyed her unawareness at times. He liked the challenge of making her notice him. Once she did turn her attention to him, he knew it would certainly be worth the pursuit.

"Michaela," he whispered.

The game began.

"Humm?" she continued to read, but leaned in a bit closer to his movements around her ear.

"Did ya wanna read all night?" he spoke softly and ran his finger across her neck and shoulder.

She knew what he was doing, and smiled to herself, "I'm just finishing, Sully. Only a few more paragraphs."

"A few?" he kissed her ear.

"Umm," she had actually stopped reading, but still pretended to be engrossed in the magazine.

"Do ya find the story... stimulatin'?" he whispered in her ear.

"Ah," she began to falter as her skin quivered at the nearness of him. "Stimulating? Yes, yes, this is very... stimulating."

"This?" he removed the magazine from her hands and placed it on the night stand.

Michaela turned to face him, "Yes, highly stimulating."

Sully unbuttoned the top of her nightgown and slid it from her shoulders. He covered her with kisses.

"Incredibly stimulating," she sighed and closed her eyes.

Beneath the blankets, he slipped his hand up her thigh and under her gown.

"Unimaginably stimulating," she maneuvered her hand lower on his muscular body.

"If it's that... stimulatin', that article don't seem like somethin' a proper lady should be readin'," he moved his hands in just the right places to make her melt.

"A proper lady?" she was almost on fire from his touches.

"Umm, like you," he knew he had her.

"Well," she kissed his neck. "I try to be."

He pulled her closer and closer until they were flesh against flesh.

"But sometimes," she whispered, "my husband makes it awfully difficult to be prim and proper."

"I'm sorry," his look probed into her soul.

"Don't be," she turned up the corner of her mouth. "It will be our little secret."

With that, the pursuit ended. He had won her over again. She had given into him again. Again, each delighted in the game and its result.

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

The next morning, they met John Muir for their goodbyes.

"We're honored to have met ya, John," Sully shook his hand. "An' I'll do everythin' I can t' try an' persuade those Washington politicians t' save this land."

"The honor has been mine," their bearded guide smiled.

"Don't ever give up on this land," Sully reminded him.

"I won't," Muir nodded. "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike."

"You're a great man, John Muir," Michaela hugged him. "I think you will be long remembered and rewarded for your efforts. God bless you."

They glanced back for one last look at the naturalist, set against the side of a mountain he loved so well. They knew that in his hands, Yosemite might have a chance for survival, untouched by the developers hands, an oasis of heaven in the industrial world that was closing in around it.

THE END

EPILOGUE:

The descriptions of Yosemite used in this story were taken from the very words that John Muir wrote himself. Because of his efforts, in 1890, Congress created Yosemite National Park, but it did not include Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove. California ceded those areas back to the federal government in 1906, and the park expanded.

Muir, the great naturalist, fought for the Valley his whole life. He helped to found the Sierra Club in 1892, to enlist the support and cooperation of the people and the government in preserving the forests and other natural features of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He served as its president for 22 years.

In 1903, he escorted President Theodore Roosevelt on a camping trip into Yosemite. Muir scolded the president about game hunting, asking him when he was going to grow up. Roosevelt transferred the administration of national forests from the Interior Department to the Department of Agriculture, under former forestry professor Gifford Pinchot. The years 1907-1908 saw a high water mark for conservation, with a national White House conference and a Congress that thought of itself as peculiarly dedicated to the protection of the environment. The Taft Administration, World War I, and the 1920's saw the disappearance of all of the momentum. It would take generations to reach the point where Pinchot had left it in 1910.

The story of the Hetch Hetchy Valley is a sad one for admirers of Muir. This was his country, a "little Yosemite" valley of sharp glacial walls and meadowed floor. Muir wrote of it as a "grand landscape garden, one of Nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples. As in Yosemite, the sublime rocks of its walls seem to glow with life, whether leaning back in response or standing erect in thoughtful attitudes, giving welcome to storms and calms alike."

200 miles to the east lay the growing metropolis of San Francisco, for which engineers sought a reliable water source. The Hetch Hetchy Valley seemed like the cheapest option. Their intention was to build a dam in the valley to create a reservoir and supply San Francisco with its needed water. Muir and the Sierra Club protested loudly. Muir labeled the dam supporters "temple destroyers" and "devotees of ravaging commercialism." The dam grew as a symbol of American materialism and overriding business values. Dollars seemed more important than waterfalls.

Pinchot supported the dam and the benefits the reservoir would create. After several years of debate and argument, the decision was made in 1913 (under President Wilson), and construction began. By 1923, the Hetch Hetchy Valley was covered for nine miles with water.

John Muir died a year after the decision to build the dam, deeply saddened by his defeat, but Yosemite National Park exists today as a legacy to his vision.



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