Bookworm and Mariah spent a few weeks in Yellowstone. Bookworm was endlessly fascinated by the geysers, and would spend hours, even days, watching particular geysers, trying to discover patterns in eruptive behaviors and intervals. Mariah didn't have the patience for such work, but enjoyed riding out with groups of other visitors to explore lakes, waterfalls, and rivers, as well as the teeming wildlife of the area.
Chilling weather brought an end to their visit, as they knew they needed to get to the coast before winter started in the mountains. They struck out west, hurrying through the mountain passes. Mariah was confused, though, when she saw that their track was leading a bit south as well. "Aren't we going to Steelhead?" she asked Bookworm.
"Eventually, of course," Bookworm replied. "But there's one more place I want to visit first. I read about an incredible mountain lake in southern Oregon--the author called it 'Crater Lake'--but I've not seen it myself yet. This seems like a good opportunity."
"I see." Mariah chuckled to herself, amused at Bookworm's undaunted exploratory nature, but she amiably went along with it, even as their route took them across a seemingly endless, dry plain. After several days, they finally saw another mountain range rising before them--the last range, Bookworm told Mariah, before the Pacific Ocean.
After some casting about, and much consultation with maps, Bookworm led the way north, up into the hills. They camped overnight in the thick forest, and continued on the next morning. Late in the morning, Bookworm, leading her horses, looked ahead and thought she could see a large, open space ahead. "I think we've finally found it," she called back over her shoulder to Mariah. She took a few more steps, leaving the view-concealing trees, and stopped dead in her tracks.
"Oh, good," Mariah said. "I was beginning to wonder if the place existed." When that teasing statement didn't elicit any response, Mariah tethered her horses to a tree and stepped to Bookworm's side, wondering what was holding her so silent. Then the view struck her, too. "Oh, my," she breathed, awe infusing her voice.
How long they stood there, spellbound, they never knew. Finally, without taking her eyes from the panorama before her, Mariah said, "Book?"
"Mmmm?" Bookworm, too, kept her eyes forward.
"We're going to stay here a few days, aren't we?"
"Mmm-hmmm," she replied enthusiastically.
They took their time circling the rim of the crater, pausing, it seemed, every few feet to point out a new detail, or simply to reassure themselves that they really were seeing this. After a couple of days, they found an area where it looked as if they'd be able to make a safe descent to the crater floor, and to the lake itself. The descent and exploration lasted another few days.
It was the snow squall, which hit them shortly after they'd made their way back up to the rim of the crater, that convinced them it was time to move on. Bookworm had also run out of photographic plates, which certainly seemed to be another sign for them to end their journey. But it was with reluctance that they turned their horses westward again.
When they reached Steelhead, they went immediately to the telegraph office to check for any messages that might have been sent to them. There were, in fact, several; one that caught Mariah's eye immediately was a telegram from Mrs. Pritchard, telling them the announced date of Mrs. Breezy Carver's ball opening the fall season. She showed it to Bookworm.
"Yes, we'll have to return for that, certainly," Bookworm replied, flipping through other telegrams. She pulled one out and handed it to Mariah, grinning. It was an announcement of the marriage of Marshal McKenzie and Sandy Perkins.
"I rather thought that might happen," Bookworm said. "They've been going around and around for years, wanting to marry, but being afraid to."
"Well, his job isn't exactly a safe one--she's always been afraid it would take him away from her, temporarily or permanently. And after his wife died, he's been reluctant to let anyone else into his heart, for fear that would inevitably lead to some catastrophe or other that would cause her death."
"So it took a catastrophe to bring them together." Mariah chuckled.
"Yes. I'll have to find something here to send them as a present." Bookworm tucked that telegram in her pack, and thumbed through the others, which were also from McKenzie. Cavendish had been sent on his way from Clarkton... Cavendish had arrived safely at Fort Laramie... Cavendish had been sent off from Fort Laramie in federal custody...
And, finally, the last telegram. "Cavendish escaped from federal custody in Chicago. Whereabouts unknown."
"Heh." She passed the telegram to Mariah, who glanced it over and grunted. "I'd love to know how he managed that," she said.
"So would I," Bookworm replied. "But at least McKenzie and the 6th Regiment are safe from any reprisal from the feds."
"What about reprisal from Cavendish?"
Bookworm thought a moment. "I doubt it. He doesn't have any resources, he's got the whole US government on his tail... My guess is, he'll go to Canada and try to start over there."
"Hmm. Well, I'll keep an ear open with my contacts, just in case."
"And in the meantime, let's do a little sightseeing before we have to head back to Babbage." Bookworm smiled as they exited the office and strolled down the street, pointing out shop displays to each other.
((And that's it for this story! Unless, of course, I finally do think of some mischief they could get into in Steelhead. But if so, that's a story for another time.))