Blizzard: Colorado, 1886
“I hate Hadyn Sinclair!”
Maggie listened to the echo that came back across the meadow. There was patchy snow beneath her feet. Overhead, the dawn-gray sky was free of storm clouds—for the moment at least. Her father always said March weather in the Rockies was as unpredictable as a temperamental mule.
Rusty nosed at Maggie’s shoulder and she shook her head, wondering if the tall red mule could read her mind. “Papa never meant you,” she told Rusty without turning. Then she shouted again.
“I hate Hadyn Sinclair,” the echo announced a second time in its hollow, reedy voice.
Maggie faced Rusty. “Mother says Hadyn will be
here four months, maybe five. His boarding school suspended him until next term. Uncle Thomas and Aunt Olivia must think it’s good for him to spend time with us.”
Rusty nuzzled her old blue coat. “What? What do you want? This?” She fished in her pocket for the last piece of carrot. “How am I going to stand Hadyn that long?” she asked as Rusty’s soft muzzle brushed the palm of her hand. He crunched the carrot appreciatively, closing his eyes. Maggie checked the cinches on the pack saddle, then led him forward again.
Maggie followed the trail around the enormous snow-covered boulder everyone called Indian Rock. It was shaped like a giant man sitting cross-legged, bent forward at the waist. The wind had dropped, but it was still cold. In the distance, Maggie saw the Simms’ ranch. They had built four new little visitors’ cabins. There was smoke coming from the main house chimney. Maybe they would be coming to Cleave’s store, too, today. She hoped so. They were good neighbors and nice people.
Maggie waded through a patch of deep snow, the new, clean fall from last night dusted over an old, sand-spattered drift. She heard a telltale scraping
sound and paused. Down by the Fall River, a bull elk was rubbing his antlers against a rough-barked pine. The wispy breeze was moving toward her. The elk had not caught her scent. Suddenly, he looked up and saw her. In two bounding strides the elk disappeared into a stand of aspen trees.
For a second, Maggie just stood still. There were so few elk left now, she almost never saw one. Her father said that it was the tourists as much as the hunters. With people roaming the mountains all summer long, the bighorn sheep, bears, and deer were thinning out too.
The sun rose warm and bright. It was a fine day and Rusty moved along at a good pace. The road was rutted, but not too badly—it would get worse after spring thaw. It was almost warm, and Maggie enjoyed the long walk. She spotted two deer and thought she saw some bighorn sheep on an outcropping high above the road. Before she could be sure, they disappeared into the craggy rock. She squinted, shading her eyes against the glare, but couldn’t spot them again.
Crossing Black Canon Creek, Maggie let Rusty drink. Ice still laced the slow water along the banks.
In the distance, Ypsilon Peak and Mummy Mountain were covered in snow.
Maggie patted Rusty’s shaggy neck as they started forward. “I sure wish I didn’t have to pick up the supplies today. Seeing Hadyn will be bad enough, but dealing with Mr. McAllister, too . . .”
Mr. McAllister loved to complain. Maggie was going to have to hear about every little thing that had gone wrong on the trip to the grocery store down in Lyons. Then on the way home, Hadyn would probably describe every muddy turn on the road. Maggie topped the last rise, and she could see Mr. Cleave’s place. He lived in the little building that served as store and post office. His wife and children lived in the house across the muddy road.
“The Cleaves aren’t arguing today, Rusty. At least, I don’t hear them yet.” She let Rusty set the pace down the snowy path. As they angled toward the buildings, she talked to Rusty over her shoulder. “Papa said last night we’ll have a real town someday because so many Easterners are summering here.”
McAllister’s team of dark bays was tethered at Cleave’s hitching rail. Up the Lyons road, Maggie
saw a rig she didn’t recognize heading west. Maybe someone from the Elkhorn Lodge was driving a rented turnout.
As she passed into the blue shadows beneath some tall pines, Maggie saw distinct mountain lion tracks in the new snow. She shivered beneath the thick wool of her coat. They had been hearing the big cats at night, and her father had found tracks by the pond.
“. . . tell your mother she can’t have more butter,” Maggie heard Mr. Cleave shouting in his thick English accent as she got closer to the store. His children giggled as they ran out the door and back across the road to their house. A second later, Mr. McAllister came out.
“About time. I’ve been here near two hours.”
“My father thought this would be plenty early. I’m sorry you had to wait, Mr. McAllister.”
Frowning, Mr. McAllister crossed to his wagon. He untied the canvas cover and rolled it back. Without speaking, he hefted a fifty-pound sack of flour onto Rusty’s pack saddle. Rusty grunted at the weight, his ears lowering, but he stood steady.
“Road was as bad as I’ve seen this year.”
Mr. McAllister turned back to the wagon. He moved several bags aside, then pulled one free. “Got you a hundred pounds of red beans. Storekeep in Lyons didn’t have black beans.”
Maggie kept her face entirely blank so when he looked over at her, there would be nothing in her expression to set him off. He shook his head and started talking anyway.
“I don’t mind being the one to go down to the valley, but folks are just going to have to realize I can’t always get what they want. I got blue calico for Mrs. Simms and I know she is going to pitch a fit when she gets here. Wanted red.”
Maggie made a noncommittal sound and patted Rusty’s neck as Mr. McAllister settled the bag of beans onto the pack saddle. Rusty grunted again. Maggie wanted to tell him that there was no use trying to compete with Mr. McAllister in the complaint department.
“Slid near sideways on that last downgrade going in. Mud’s frozen now, but if it had been a warmer day, we’d have sunk farther. Good thing the nights have been cold. Took some fancy driving, I’ll tell you that much.”
“We sure appreciate it, Mr. McAllister,” Maggie said politely.
“Thought we weren’t going to make that last curve, either. That right side wheel just missed going off the track. Would have been the death of me and the team.”
Maggie fought to keep from smiling. “Papa said to be sure to tell you that he was grateful, Mr. McAllister.”
“I was watching that rear wheel so close I dang near got my eye put out on an old stubbed-off branch hanging low over the road. Saw it a split second before . . .” Mr. McAllister trailed off, pointing at a red mark on his cheek. “You can just see how close it was, can’t you?”
“I sure can.” Maggie nodded somberly. “I guess I better go inside and ask after the mail.” Maggie sidled past him, then hurried away.
The door to the little store was ajar and Maggie pushed it open. Mr. Cleave was sitting beside his hearth. The fire was low and there was a folded copy of the Rocky Mountain News beside his chair. He was reading in the flickering firelight, his nose close to the page. He looked up. “There you are, Maggie Rose. Come warm yourself.”
“Hello, Mr. Cleave,” Maggie said as she came through the doorway. “What are you reading?”
He held it up for her to see. Bloomingdale’s Illustrated 1886 Catalog, the cover read.
“They have everything from silk parasols to eleven-dollar fine tweed suits. I’ll send this along for your mother when my wife has finished with it. It’s more a ladies’ book than anything else.”
Maggie crossed the little room, pulling off her gloves. She stood close to the fire.
“Has your father decided to give up on his cattle yet? He was sounding pretty discouraged last time I saw him.”
Maggie turned to warm her backside. “He says we will keep them through summer, but I think he intends to build guest cabins like the Simms have—and sell off the cattle next fall. We’re making more from summer boarders than ranching.”
“You and all the rest. Old Lord Dunraven had that much right when he built the English Hotel. People are going to keep coming.”
“I saw an elk on the way in. A big bull.”
“Did you now? I heard Thomas Wood saying he’d seen a few cow elk over around Bierstadt Lake. It’ll
be a miracle if they ever come back. Dunraven’s friends and the meat market down in Denver did their best to kill them out.”
“Papa says it was pure stupidity.”
“That it was, ruining the game herds in a paradise like this. And Whyte is still leading hunting parties from the English Hotel.”
Maggie shook her head. “All any of our guests ever want to do is follow my father and me up mountains, sigh over meadows full of wildflowers, ride our horses into the ground—or picnic. Some of those men eat more fried chicken at one sitting than you can fathom.”
Mr. Cleave laughed, then got up, laying the catalog on the rough plank table. He winked. “This is the day your cousin arrives, isn’t it?”
“It’ll be good for you to have another young person up there, won’t it?”
Maggie shook her head. “Not Hadyn.”
Mr. Cleave laughed again. “How old is he now? I remember him as somewhat difficult.”
“He’s almost thirteen—a year older than I am—but he acts like he’s five.”
Mr. McAllister leaned in the doorway.
“It’s a bitter day, I’m going home. Tell your father that we can settle up later. If you see the Simmses, say I’ll bring them their goods in a few days. Give my regards to your mother.”
“I will,” Maggie said, bidding him good-bye. She pulled up the chair that Mr. Cleave used for visitors. Hadyn would arrive soon, and there was nothing she could do about it.