by Sevenstars & Aureleigh

Colorado Springs

Though it effectively terminated in El Moro, it was the D&RG that provided the link running from Trinidad north through Walsenburg, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs to Denver, connecting at the second with a branch AT&SF line from Las Animas and La Junta. The ground was High Plains, level and firm, and the track good, and a train could do twenty-five to thirty miles an hour under normal conditions.

Hotel Trains--deluxe accomodations made up chiefly of Pullmans and dining car--covered the route a couple of times a week, but the regular daily run was dominated by day coaches. Five of them clattered along behind the mail-and-baggage car of the late afternoon train, with a horse car hooked on behind them, over whose roof the brakemen had to scramble whenever they went to or from the caboose. This was fitted up with stalls and feed bins for the animals and bunks for any working cowboy who chose to ride with his "most expensive possession;" such men carried cold food with them, picking up extra as needed at the line eating houses along the way while the passengers in the day coaches scrambled to fill their stomachs in the twenty minutes the schedule allowed, and went back to the caboose when they wanted a cup of coffee. There was also a hostler on board to look after the mounts of those who preferred to ride with their fellow humans, in which case they paid only for their own coach tickets and the animals rode free. Each day coach, being second-class, had forty seats, twenty a-side, rather than the thirty of a first-class one, besides a potbellied soft-coal stove at one end, not in use at this season, a water keg at the other, overhead racks for luggage, and a one-holer "sanitary." Swaying brass oil lamps hung beneath the arched wooden fretwork of the ceiling, with the signal cord passing through their bottom rings. The conductor might have been considering lodging an objection to Nathan's riding with his friends, but Chris's cold glare silenced him before he could speak, and the trio flipped over the back of one of the brown-plush-upholstered seats so they could sit facing each other. Once an hour or so the teenage news butcher passed up and down through the cars, tossing sandwiches, fruit, candy, nuts, chewing gum, popcorn, bottles of pop, decks of cards, cigars, ready-made cigarettes, magazines, newspapers, paperbacked books, picture postcards, and cheap perfume and toys into laps according to age and sex, returning to retrieve what was refused and collect payment for what was sold, counting chiefly on boredom to move the stock, and pausing to make change for the ever-present penny-ante poker players. Operating on a twenty per cent commission, he could make as much as eighty dollars a month, and many such boys were the sole support of their families.

The train left El Moro at 3:49, made Walsenburg at 4:56, Pueblo at 6:32, and the Springs at 8:06. The three regulators claimed their mounts and rode into the center of town through the quickly settling dusk, stopping outside the eponymous hotel where Maude was staying. Chris sent Nathan off to find accomodations for the horses, gave Josiah the duty of getting them checked into a room and their gear taken upstairs, and after a brief exchange with a deferential desk clerk made his way up, three steps at a time, to Ezra's mother's suite.

Colorado Springs lay on the sheltered warm side of Pikes Peak, bordered on the north by the pine-studded Palmer Ridge Divide, on the south by the buffalo shape of Cheyenne Moutain and the copses of cottonwoods that dwindled into the dry yucca beds near Pueblo. Eastward lay Austin's Bluffs, some 753 acres of cliff and mesa. Close around, the land abounded with natural wonders: the soda springs at the foot of Ute Pass, the gray-green mesas and grassy valleys of Fountain and Monument Creeks, the deep, cool canyons smelling of spruce and pine; the cathedral park of violent reds and deep greens that had been called the Garden of the Gods since the days of '59, noted for its Balanced Rock; and Pikes Peak, 400 square miles of mass whose tip stood 14,147 feet above sea level--8000 above the level of the town. The Peak was a kingdom in itself, huge jutting spurs, majestic ridges, forested knobs, vast secret parks and lakes.

Founded in 1871 by General William Jackson Palmer, the then thirty-five-year-old former chief of the Fifteenth Pennsylvania Volunteer Cavalry and original promoter of the Denver & Rio Grande, who had first visited the site two years earlier, the town had begun as a treeless temperance colony, a resort where sedate temperance people of the "genteel rich" from back East could enjoy life in tranquil comfort, and developed slowly in the beginning. Palmer's vision had been guided by simple principles: a health-resort community with wide tree-lined boulevards, clean air, freedom from smoky industries, and churches of many denominations. The "proper sort" made their way West seeking repose or better health or romance or a touch of adventure in the untamed wilds of Colorado, where the scenery acted as a tonic and diversion. They were drawn by the equable climate, the beauty of the setting, and the elation that came to them with so much sunlight and the invigorating effect of the high mountain air. Many were used to Flushing, Newport, Saratoga. And some of the first settlers were refugees from the Great Chicago Fire. But a surprisingly large number were from England, and the resort was soon nicknamed "Little London." These expatriates quickly introduced golf, cricket, polo, and fox hunting. So pervasive--and persuasive--was their influence that even many of the Americans in town adopted such customs as Boxing Day observance and the flying of the Union Jack on the Queen's birthday, drove English dogcarts with bobtailed ponies in tandem, hired pink-cheeked governesses from England, Scotland, and Ireland, and required the local police, whom they called "bobbies," to wear helmets and brass buttons. Captain Charles Stearns, of Perthshire, Scotland, kept a tailor shop affiliated with London's Bond Street and dictated male fashion: trousers with cuffs, knickers and plaid stockings for cricket and rugby. Full evening dress was obligatory at even informal dinners, and the fox-hunting set rode to hounds on the plains east of town in full red-coated panoply; after the hunt--sometimes drag, sometimes coyote, since not a fox was to be seen--there was always a hunt breakfast, with bowls of steaming claret and Glenlivet on the table, and "John Peel" and "God Save the Queen" were sung. North Weber Street was lined with the houses of these transplanted Britishers, but the focal point of their society was Briarhurst, the Manitou home of Dr. William A. Bell, who lived in cheerful bedlam with his wife and five children, giving frantic Christmas parties, flowery Easter parties, gay anniversary parties, and huge summer lawn parties. He was also the owner of a ranch in Manitou Park.

Whatever their origins, all came ready to take the cure in the clean dry air and the bubbling springs which the local Utes had long used to ease their indigestion and rheumatism; springs named by William Blackmore--the eminent English financier who was one of the General's backers--Navajo, Shoshone, Soda, Manitou, Ute Soda, and Iron Ute. They marvelled at the dramatic weather--the rolling thunders of August and the deep dazzling snows of April, the fantastic January winds that once blew two D&RG coaches and two baggage cars off the track five miles south of town. They made their way by buggy past Bachelors' Flats and through the mesa fields above Cheyenne Creek to Cheyenne Mountain, where Burton C. Myers owned a 720-acre wheat farm which he sold in 1875 to Frederick W. Pitkin, an immigrant from Connecticut who was to become Governor of the state in this fall's election. They also enjoyed comfortable carriage rides of four or five miles through the 640 acres of the Garden of the Gods, marvelling at the stunning reds and whites of its uptilted sandstone slabs, which were said to resemble the Great Wall of China, the shattered columns of Palmyra, the Sphynx of Egypt, the temples of Greece, and the abbeys and castles of England. This was considered the perfect place for a young man to take his best girl on a Sunday afternoon, and was also the scene of daytime picnics for the young folks, being accessible by either Palmer's Glen Eyrie road from the Springs over the mesa, or John Blair's twisty one from Manitou past Balanced Rock. Charles E. Perkins of the Burlington Railroad, a friend of General Palmer's, had bought the tract this year but graciously left it open to public use. Most popular of all pastimes was watching and gossipping about the celebrities who were constantly appearing: everyone from the President to Jefferson Davis, from Marshall Field of Chicago to a shrewd-faced young man named John D. Rockefeller who was worth several million dollars as President of some sort of odd business in Cleveland called The Standard Oil Company.

The original townsite had covered 2000 acres, although the founders acquired, by assorted means, a total of over 9300, for about as many dollars. Like all railroad towns, it was laid out on an unimaginitive gridiron pattern, with the heart of the community running half a mile or so east from Monument Creek and nearly two miles from north to south. Pikes Peak Avenue was the central east-west street; south of it were Huerfano, Cucharras, Vermijo, Cimarron, Costilla, and Moreno; north were Kiowa, Bijou, Platte, Boulder, and St. Vrain. The north-south streets were named largely for mountain ranges: Sierra Madre, Cascade, Tejon, Nevada, Wahsatch, Sahwatch, Weber (universally mispronounced WEH-ber, though it should have been WEE-ber). The great problem was water, for the annual rainfall averaged only fourteen inches a year, and most households dug shallow wells in their back yards rather than tapping the unreliable streams.

The first stake had been driven on July 31, 1871. Three months later the first train pulled in; the station restaurant was located in a long low log cabin, one of the earliest structures to be erected. By the end of the year more than 150 buildings stood on the site, 987 people had settled there, thousands of round-leafed cottonwood trees had been planted along the streets (5000 alone) and prospective parks, and an irrigation canal had been dug, with tributary ditches running beneath the trees. This water was used chiefly for washing, and "clear cold drinking water," as one visitor described it, was peddled through the streets for twenty-five cents a barrel. Early on, lot sales were stimulated by the construction of a decent road up Ute Pass, replacing the horrendous roller-coaster Indian trail which had provided a kind of access to the South Park camps since 1860. The Colorado Springs Hotel, at the southeast corner of Cascade and Pikes Peak Avenues, was opened for business on New Year's Day, 1872--a handsome square frame building of three storeys, including a dormered mansard attic, and a spacious porch at grade across the entire front. In the same year the Springs was named seat of El Paso County, a prize it captured from Colorado City, and, a decent road having been built, Palmer and Dr. Bell founded the neighboring resort of Manitou six miles west in the forested foothills that swelled upward toward Pike's Peak. Here were the celebrated springs themselves, twenty-eight of them altogether. Five hotels served the resort, including E. E. Nichols's Cliff House, the Beebee, William Iles's place, where a gentleman could have a drink if he wanted one, and Dr. Bell's Manitou Park Hotel up Ute Pass, opened in 1873 and operating under a new manager almost every summer--a square, comfortable, two-storey log building with a Mansard roof and three-sided porch, where Scotch whiskey flowed freely from a barrel in the kitchen, attended by an English dandy in a spotless white flannel suit with pearl buttons and stylish blue monogram, finished off with a blue monkey cap. There was also Hermann's Beer Garden, bowling alleys, billiard parlors, croquet grounds, band concerts, theatricals, and fine trout streams. The summit of Mount Manitou overlooked the resort from a height 3119 feet above it, and horse-drawn cars provided a connection to the main town. A couple of miles out from it in turn lay the Cave of the Winds, an impressive limestone formation with seventeen chambers much ornamented with stalagmites and stalactites. Beyond, the road ascended by easy grades through a forest of Englemann spruce, western yellow pine, Douglas fir, and lodgepole pine. This was a favorite region for horseback riders, many of them on day-trips to gaze upon the beautiful Rainbow Falls in Ute Pass, and was furthermore threaded with fine trout streams.

Two miles and a half out of Manitou lay Ute Pass, a canyon walled in by dark granite, gloomy and forbidding except at midday. It had long been one of the most important passes of the region, and even the Utes had recognized its strategic value, having built "outposts"--small forts with walls five feet high--all around its neighborhood as a defense against the Plains tribes. During the late '60's, after the Indians had given way in the face of white expansion, travel along the Ute Pass toll-road was often perilous: the route was infested with outlaws who preyed on the travellers going to and from the mining camps, among them the "Bloody Espinosas," two brothers who declared that they had been inspired during a dream, supposedly by the Virgin Mary, to kill all gringos. They made a respectable effort, disposing of no less than thirty-two known victims before a posse of miners ended their careers. The Pass had also been the scene of several mysterious deaths. In 1866 a neighbor visited the cabin of one Mrs. Kearney, to find the table set for three, the food untouched, and no trace of the occupants; the woman's decapitated body was ultimately found in a barrel and her grandson's corpse in a grain sack, but neither the murderer nor his motive had ever been discovered. Seven years later a four-horse stage carrying five passengers and $40,000 in gold was said to have entered the pass and disappeared without a trace. And in 1877 General Palmer's secretary, J. T. Schlessinger, had ridden into it and not returned. Several days later his body was found, with a bullet through the heart. The ground had been marked off as for a duel, and on the corpse lay a woman's glove and a silk handkerchief. That slayer, too, remained unknown. Fountain Creek brawled along the pass, occasionally rising in flood.

For those who made it safely through the Pass, five miles along and 1350-odd feet higher, a lesser road branched off to Green Mountain Falls, another tourist favorite, where a series of cascades about 200 feet long cut a silvery swath through the forest. Cattlemen grazed their stock in the region and found both a ready market in the nearby town and accessible shipping by the railroad. Thirty-five miles or so beyond the Falls fork, Wilkerson Pass, at 9524 feet above sea level, crossed into South Park, a flat grassy basin of about thirty by forty miles in area and the favorite hunting ground of the Utes; as early as 1861 a salt mill had been established there to supply the mining camps. Beyond that in turn reared the Mosquito Range, crossed by Trout Creek Pass, and beyond that again the Collegiate Range, whose chief peaks were Mount Harvard, Mount Yale, and Mount Princeton.

In winter the citizens of Colorado Springs enjoyed dances, "fortnightly clubs," afternoon teas, and the annual Christmas ball at Glen Eyrie. In summer they played croquet, camped in the mountains, or took overland excursions to the parks. They gathered at Courthouse Hall, where balls were held and visiting entertainers presented their shows. Ladies played whist and fan-tan, gentlemen billiards and poker; at night there were dances or progressive mixed euchre. North Cheyenne Canyon was a favorite local picnic spot. Droughts on the eastern plains and the grasshopper plague of 1873-4 had no material effect on the town, though an Arapaho uprising did present a short-lived threat. It even had two prestigious schools, Colorado College and the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, both founded early in 1874; the first actually opened its doors that same year, though it had only three rooms--not till 1880 would Cutler Hall be erected on twenty acres (donated by General Palmer) out North Cascade Avenue on the windy bluff above Monument Creek. The General lived at Glen Eyrie, a big house at the mouth of Queen's Canyon--but without his wife and seven-year-old daughter Elsie; Queen Palmer, for whom the canyon was named, had early found herself unable to accept Western life, and visited only every couple of years: 1874, 1876 (living briefly on Cascade Avenue, the Panic of '73 having thrown the General's affairs into such disarray that he couldn't keep Glen Eyrie open), 1878, and 1880. Her stepmother and seven young half-sibs kept Palmer company after her father's death in 1873, but Queen herself divided her time between New York and England. Though she and her husband were to have two more children--Dorothy in 1880 and Marjory in 1881--they spent little time together.

Even the Panic of '73, which brought business growth to a dead halt in most of the country, didn't seem to hurt the new town. As the depression deepened, the Springs gained 500 residents and half as many buildings each year. One lot was bought for $288 and sold two months later for $800. President Grant stopped overnight at the Manitou House on October 9, 1875. A rumor was by then seeping through Europe and the East that the Pikes Peak climate would repair any crock, however badly cracked--and there was truth in it: the visitors the President observed, and by whose numbers he was genuinely surprised, were mainly happy "lungers" who had come to Fountain Colony in the terminal stages of tuberculosis and were now on the mend. Two ardent boosters, Dr. Boswell P. Anderson of Virginia and Dr. Samuel Edwin Solly of Britain (himself a recovering consumptive), had noted that sufferers from the disease improved rapidly in the high altitude if fed well and given rest, exercise, and perhaps a little romance (not too strenuous). They also founded traditions of skill and personal charm in local treatment, and promoted a mass of attractive medical facilities, culminating in such establishments for long-term patients as Glockner Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, and Cragmoor Sanatorium, which nestled in the yellow bluffs northeast of town. The abundance of sunny days, the crisp clean air and high dry climate, made the place popular, and many of the houses soon had small cottages built out back, where convalescents might choose to live rather than staying at one of the formal institutions. On the north side of Kiowa Street, between Cascade and Tejon, they could rent genteel rooms in a connected series of portable houses from Chicago, known (somewhat un-genteelly) as "Dead Man's Row" in honor of its population. And Dr. Solly produced a pamphlet which set forth the exact benefits of the various springs. The Navajo, he said, eased bronchial catarrh, catarrh of the bladder or genito-urinary passages, derangements of the liver, kidney, and spleen, phthisis, cancer, gout, and gravel, to say nothing of corpulence, flatulence, and waterbrash. The nearby Shoshone reduced ague, gallstones, and hemorrhoids. Drinking of the Iron Ute up Ruxton Creek was claimed superb for chronic alcoholism, uterine affliction, and green sickness, while bathing in its waters benefited atonic gout, muscular rheumatism, and leucorrhea.

Inspired by Horace Greeley, and following General Palmer's strict temperance convictions, the founders had inserted a strict liquor ban in all deeds, thereby starting an endless, futile, and occasionally tragic controversy that was to continue into the following century. Opponents of the ban contended that lungers needed a drink now and then to make them more cheerful, and anyhow "Christ Himself changed water into wine and countenanced its use in moderation." At an early date the town had twice as many "drug stores" as were needed to meet the legitimate demand for drugs, their main business being the sale of whiskey--for medicinal purposes, of course--despite the fulminations of J. Elsom Liller, who edited General Palmer's Colorado Springs Gazette until his young death in '75. There was also "The Spiritual Wheel" at the southeast corner of Tejon and Pikes Peak--a storeroom with nothing in it except a hole in a wall, containing a partitioned tray turning on a wheel. If a man wanted a drink he placed a coin on the tray, the wheel turned, and a jigger of whiskey appeared miraculously where the coin had been. There was even a public bar in back of the billiard hall in the La Font House on Huerfano Street. The bartender went to court periodically, paid a $25 fine, and hurried back to his saloon to sell more liquor. "Temperance Slates," the members of which were not strong for temperance, routinely won the local elections in a walk. No similar effort was made to forbid card-playing, and poker was freely indulged in by the prosperous real-estate fraternity, some of it British, on Pikes Peak Avenue.

Naturally, as in the Kansas trail towns, an "anything-goes" suburb quickly arose to cater to the needs of those inclined to sin. In the case of the Springs it was Colorado City, sometimes called Old Town, out Cucharras Street, four blocks west of the city limits, and divided from its neighbor by Monument Creek, which ran north to south. Founded in 1859 as El Dorado City, intended as a mining supply center to the South Park gold camps, by 1861 it had boasted more than 300 cabins, and the following year it had served briefly as the Territorial capitol when the legislature met there for four days. Brawls and shooting affairs were common, and justice was meted out by a citizens' court. When the first church service was announced in 1863, the minister found but one worshipper in the hall. This person explained that a Mexican horse thief had just been captured and was then being tried. The defendant was quickly convicted and hung from the nearest cottonwood, after which the citizens trooped into the meeting to hear a sermon on "righteousness and the justice to come." But discouraging reports by prospectors returning from South Park, and the diversion of travel from the Arkansas Valley during the War, brought on a long period of decline. A flood swept away most of the settlement, and what was left seemed destined to become just another ghost town. By the time of the establishment of the Springs it had lost the supply business to Denver, though a few miners, prospectors, and cattlemen continued to stubbornly make it their headquarters, and in time of Indian troubles it provided refuge for the residents of the surrounding country, so it contrived to keep going until the new resort rejuvenated it, chiefly as a location for pawnshops, drug mills, cribs, saloons, and gambling dens. Faro dives and dance halls were everywhere and the place was overrun with laudanum addicts and notorious prostitutes; in 1902 it would be estimated that the community owned some twenty-seven saloons. Law enforcement didn't exist, and the situation was only destined to worsen as industry discovered it in the '80's.

In October of 1875, Helen Hunt, a famous poet, who had recovered her health after not quite two years at the Springs, married Will Jackson, the leading light of the El Paso County Bank. By 1878 she had written seven books in the cottage he built her, and many glowing articles and poems on the beauties of Colorado, which by way of her millions of readers spread the name and fame of the Springs far across the land. But even before then the Pikes Peak hotels were multiplying wondrously--rambling, friendly frame structures dripping with bay windows and gingerbread, most of them girdled by broad shady porches where children tumbled and slid and shrieked all day in perpetual games of hide-and-seek. The largest could accomodate 140 guests at a time, with rates starting at two dollars a night per room. The National, the Central, the Spaulding and Pascoe's all competed with Palmer's Colorado Springs, and incessant rivalry raged amongst them for the best amenities. From an early date, the tourism industry was so fiercely competitive that hotel runners boarded trains as far away as Kansas and Wyoming to make up the minds of the inbound visitors as to where they would stay.

British tenant farmers and younger sons of large landowners, drawn by the publicist gifts of Dr. Bell, came in quantity beginning in late '74, until by the late '80's, when the movement faded, close to 2000 of the county's residents would be speaking in assorted British accents. Many of them established sheep and cattle ranches along the Monument north of the Springs and westward up Ute Pass to South Park, and discovered what Nathan Meeker could have told them in 1869--that this wasn't prime ranch country, at least not for amateurs. More than one failed, though not a few of these stayed in Colorado regardless, simply prudently getting out of the livestock business. Still, there was a great demand for beef to adorn the tables of the many hotels, to say nothing of the private homes, and experienced cattlemen who knew their business quickly spread upward from the Arkansas valley, where Spanish people from New Mexico had initiated ranching early on, being soon followed by men who'd worked for the Bent Brothers before they destroyed their first fort in '49, and later by travellers--not a few originally bound for California--who were forced by illness or breakdown to stop short of their goal.

In October of '77 Dr. Solly and several of his friends had organized the El Paso Club, a male social club fashioned after those of England. Starting out with thirty members (it was now up to almost fifty), it met in upstairs rooms downtown--not till 1890 would it get a building of its own--and was presided over by the dignified Will Jackson. On the southwest slope of the Peak, 10,000 feet high, lay a bleak high summer cow pasture called Cripple Creek, where Springs families went for Sunday picnics. In September of 1874 a Springs cowboy, Bob Womack, had guided a hundred argonauts thither. They found no recognizable gold, but Womack continued to dig holes in his spare time, convinced that it existed. In this very year General Palmer had succeeded in pushing through a $10,000,000 bond issue which would ultimately permit him to triple his trackage in the state--over Tennessee Pass to Red Cliff, to Wet Mountain Valley, to Española in New Mexico, to Gunnison, and well along toward Durango and Silverton over Cumbres Pass.

The town's population was now somewhat over 3900, and it was quickly acquiring a distinctive personality all its own which was not unlike that of its founder: quiet, disciplined, tolerant, with an acute sense of order and dignity, believing in standards, in gentility, in culture, admiring wealth but not unreservedly, resisting (though not with complete success) cheapness and greed and dishonesty and the unhappy products of ignorance. Godly and ungodly, teetotallers and drinkers, moralists and the not-so-good, lived in peace together. The town even had its eccentrics, like the austere Englishman Francis B. Hill, who spent his substance protesting the North End fashion of docking horses' tails and the widespread custom of Springs ladies of wearing feathers, and even the skins of whole birds, on their big hats.

Chris's knock at the door the clerk had specified brought a response in a familiar honeyed drawl: "Who is it?"

"Chris Larabee, Maude."

"One moment, Mr. Larabee." There was no sound of footsteps, but the door opened to reveal Ezra's mother in a dress of navy blue silk, looped back modishly over a bustle, with white silk ruching at the neck and a train dragging behind on the floor. She wore a cap--a small frill of ribbon and starched muslin--as a married woman, or a widow, should when indoors, and her only ornament was the watch pinned at her waist and a cameo on a black ribbon at her throat.

Chris touched the flat brim of his hat. "Maude. Mind if I come in?"

He saw her bite her lip a moment before stepping back and drawing the door aside. "Please do."

As always, Maude, with her attention to appearances, had taken the largest accomodations, on the lowest floor, that were available and of a size suitable to her needs--she had no need for two bedrooms and a parlor, but one was another matter altogether--and had selected a spot at the front, overlooking the street, where she could watch for unwanted visitors approaching. A shallow bay window, dressed in lace curtains, poured light and air into each of her rooms, which were high-ceilinged and spacious, with panelled walls, walnut and maple inlaid floors, brightly polished furniture, and diamond-dust mirrors. The gunfighter paused in the middle of the parlor as his gaze fell on a couple of slightly wrinkled sheets of paper lying on the dark green plush cover of the round-topped center table, embroidered with red and white silk roses. Maude's sharp eyes followed the direction of his and she swept over to the walnut couch and settled herself regally on its tufted red rep, laying her fingers proprietarially on the paper. He studied her quietly. She was paler than he remembered, her eyes a bit reddened as if by private tears, and she looked tired, but her features were still and impassive, and not a hair was out of place. That was her armor. Yet she couldn't help betraying her agitation in occasional small, nervous gestures--the tapping of manicured nails against the sofa arm or the table, a fumbling with the fabric of her skirt. And she ain't one bit scared of me, either, he thought, seeing the composed defiance with which she met his stare. "I'm guessin' that's the letter you got from the people who have Ezra," he said, stating it as a fact.

"Yes. I received it on Monday; it was waitin' at the desk when I returned from supper." He guessed she wasn't particularly happy at having had to wait almost two days after that to hear from them.

"I'll have a look at it," he declared, not asking permission, and pulled the pages out from under her hand. He wasn't entirely sure she'd let them go until she had.

His occupation had made him observant, and the first thing he noticed was the fine parchment stationery--not something a common kidnapper would buy, he guessed. The handwriting, laid on in dark blue ink, was Spencerian, the kind taught in all schools, and told little about the writer, but as he scanned the words of the first sheet he paused often to frown over the spelling.

We ar holding your son Ezra. He is, for the moment, safe and unharmd. Wether he remains so is up to yu. Instructions will folow regarding what yu ar to do to secur his releas.

The second sheet held a different style of writing, one he recognized: Ezra's slightly florid but immaculate hand and perfect spelling.

Dear Mother,

I am writing this at gunpoint as evidence that I am indeed in unfriendly hands. I have been instructed to inform you that my captors will have no compunction about killing me should you fail to accede to their demands. To this point I am not seriously injured. Do not seek assistance from the law, as you are being watched.


"This was enclosed with the letters," Maude told him, offering a scarfpin which Chris immediately identified as the gambler's favorite exquisite blood-red ruby one. "I don't doubt you have seen it before."

"Many times," Larabee agreed quietly, turning the item in his fingers. "Whoever the hell they are, they know how to drag it out. Tryin' to keep you off balance would be my guess."

"They shall not," said she grimly.

He eyed her sharply. Like her son, Maude was never easy to read, but having known Ezra this long, Chris was perhaps beginning to acquire some insight into the way her mind worked. She was well aware, from Josiah's first telegram, that it was her name that had been used to draw Ezra away from the comparitive safety of Four Corners, and angry at having been made a pawn in someone else's scheme. Angry at Chris, too, he would bet, because he had, to her mind, coerced, induced, or threatened Ezra into staying long enough in one place to be targeted. As to whether she was at all concerned for her son's safety, he wasn't sure. He hoped she was, but after that fiasco with the saloon he honestly didn't know what her feelings toward him were.

He felt the rising burn of anger within himself and struggled to keep it in check. He knew it was at least partly his own instinctive effort to cover the worry he was experiencing--since he'd lost Sarah and Adam he was no longer comfortable with soft emotions like worry, sorrow, grief, and preferred to cover them with cold impassivity or deadly rage. But part of it, too, was at Maude. It wasn't that he wished Ezra motherless, but that, as Josiah had observed back in Four Corners, the gambler's abductors had obviously counted on his being so focused on her condition as to be off his guard, unready to meet a threat. It didn't make much sense, of course; any of them, if his mother had been living, would probably have reacted the same way. But since Larabee couldn't, at the moment, lay his hands on whoever was threatening the life of one of his men, he had no outlet for his emotions except the person presently at hand. He had never really understood her, any more than Ezra had. Observing their relationship from the perspective of a man who had known parenthood, he was unable to comprehend how any woman could deliberately behave as she did toward one who had once been a part of her body. It made Chris furious to know that he, who had loved Adam past all understanding, had been deprived of him--that he would have paid any price to still have his son with him, as Maude had hers--and that she seemed to have absolutely no conception of or appreciation for the blessing that was hers. A kind of grim satisfaction surfaced from the seething broth of emotion locked within him as he thought: Serves her right, the bitch--maybe if we can get Ez out of this she'll understand just what she's got in him.

"And what do you propose to do about this situation, Mr. Larabee?" Maude continued, breaking in on his thoughts.

"You're the one they're tryin' to sell him back to," he pointed out flatly, and for an instant wondered why. Maude might be successful at her trade, but he didn't doubt there were dry spells in it; Ezra had hit one or two since Chris had known him, and in any case, like son like mother--she probably spent a good deal of her income on travel, fine clothes, the best accomodations. As a peacekeeper, Ezra had value to Four Corners; even if his partners couldn't come up with ransom, the town could--possibly more, and certainly faster, than Maude could. Larabee had heard of such things being done: snatch a prominent citizen and hold him for the community as a whole, not merely the family, to redeem.

"But you are the law," she replied silkily, "and I am consultin' with you, if not entirely by my own choice, which is precisely what my son has warned me not to do. Since you have chosen to intrude upon this dialogue, any peril to Ezra must fall upon your conscience."

"Don't try to put the blame for this on me, Maude," he warned, his voice thin and metallic. "I didn't even know about any of it till after Ezra had left town."

"Meanin' precisely what?" the woman demanded, one perfect eyebrow rising. "That if you had been aware of what he believed my situation to be, you would have advised, or perhaps ordered, him to remain in that wretched dust-bath where he is utterly misemployin' his substance, his trainin', and his native gifts?"

"If you think I could order him to ignore a supposedly dying mother, Maude," Larabee retorted, his ire rising, "then you really don't know that son of yours the way you should."

He saw the color mount slowly into her cheeks as she processed the insult--and he had meant it as an insult, though he knew Sarah would have slapped him silly if she had heard. He wanted Maude to hurt, to worry as he was worrying, and most of all he wanted that serene geisha façade to crack, wanted her to lose her poker face and admit once and for all what--if anything--she really felt for Ezra. Whether she would have answered back he was never to know, for just then a knock came at the door, and a familiar voice from beyond it: "Maude? Brother Chris? It's Josiah."

Maude swallowed down whatever she had been about to say. "Please come in, Josiah, it isn't locked."

And that stops, as of now, Chris thought, as the knob turned and the dusty preacher entered, sweeping off his broad hat.

"Maude." He crossed the room to stand before her and take the hand she offered. "How are you bearing up?"

"I am as well as might be expected, considerin' the situation," she replied.

"We came as fast as we could," he said. "Just the two of us and Nathan; Vin and the rest are still down in Trinidad, trolling for leads." He turned to address Chris. "I got us checked in. We're in 223--that's down at the back of this floor. It was as close as I could get us to here, the place is pretty filled up at this season."

Larabee nodded. "I figured it would be. You'd better see this too," he said, handing over the notes and the scarfpin.

Sanchez studied them closely. "That's strange," he mused. "The paper's as costly as anything I've seen, and the handwriting's as good as Ezra's, but the spelling wouldn't get past any schoolteacher in this country. We had it figured that we're dealing with someone who has money, and Lord knows you don't always need schooling for that, but anyone who can write this nicely ought to be able to spell better."

Chris frowned. "Maybe that's something we can use to find 'em," he observed.

"Maybe. Maude, how did this reach you? Was it hand delivered?"

"No, it came to the desk in the evenin' mail. The clerk gave it to me as I was on my way upstairs from supper Monday."

"Do you still have the envelope?" Josiah asked.

"Why, I believe I might. Permit me to look." She crossed the room to the carved escritoire set close to the bedroom door, searched briefly through its contents and came back. "Here--this is it."

The two regulators leaned in for a look. Like the kidnapper's spelling, it seemed somehow incongruous when paired with the letters that had been inside it: a gummed envelope of strong brown paper that would have cost about half as much as the kind of cream-wove triple-X that might have been expected. Seven two-cent stamps had been pasted to the corner, and were overlaid with the mark of the Colorado Springs post office. "Locally sent," Chris observed. "That makes sense, if they're watchin' Maude like Ezra's note says they are."

"Extra postage to compensate for the weight of the pin," Josiah added. "I'm a little surprised it didn't come through the envelope, though, with that long pointed shaft."

"It was wrapped," Maude told him, "in this." She produced a big red-and-yellow plaid handkerchief, clearly a man's.

"That sure as hell don't belong to Ez," Chris snorted. "He'd never buy anythin' that showy, unless it was a vest, maybe."

"No initials," Josiah noted. "Well, that accounts for all the postage. Actually it's a bit more than necessary, I think. The last time Ezra ordered any of those Irish lawn kerchieves he likes, the package only cost seven cents for a full dozen. And something the weight of the pin, even if it was boxed, shouldn't ship for more than two."

His leader gave him a sharp look. "You think that means anything?"

"I think the stamps were bought ahead of time, with the plan of sending something of our brother's to Maude, as proof that they had him. If that's true, the sender could have waited until the post office was busy, or even closed, then simply slipped the envelope through the letter drop. The clerk would never have seen which specific person was associated with it even if he had any reason to think the amount of the postage odd."

"Coverin' up their tracks again," Chris growled, "like they did in Trinidad." He thought for a minute. "All right. Ezra says they're watchin' Maude, which could be true or a bluff. But if it's true, even though they can't be close enough to see who goes in and out of this suite, they'll have noticed us goin' into the lobby, and since they had to've checked Ezra out pretty thoroughly, they'll know who we are. They'll have to figure we'll make contact with her, since that's the only way we can get details on any messages she gets from them. But they'll know we're off our own ground and have no legal authority up here, so they should let it slide. What they want to be certain of is that she don't call in the local sheriff or the U. S. Marshals. So the first thing we do is we don't leave her unattended. We'll take turns, each eight hours on and sixteen off. That'll give the two off duty time to scout around, ask questions, maybe catch the watchers off guard. You take the first watch, Josiah, and I'll go down and meet Nathan, bring him up to date and have a quick look around. One of us will drop your gear off before we turn in. And keep that door locked. I don't think Maude's in danger personally, but at least till we know what they want to give us Ezra back, I'm not takin' chances."

The preacher nodded, and Larabee swept out of the room with an ostentatious disdain for its official occupant, letting the door shut behind him with a firmness that was just short of a slam. Maude sat down on the sofa, not quite slumping--a lady, of course, would never slump--but with the air of one vastly relieved to get off her feet. "Are you all right, Maude?" Josiah inquired solicitously. "Can I get you anything?"

"Perhaps--perhaps a drop of cognac, if you would be so kind," the woman requested in a subdued voice. "The bottle is on the table between the windows."

It was Courvoisier, which was a favorite of Ezra's too. Josiah tipped it over a tumbler and brought it back to her, watching as she forced it down in slow sips, until her color had begun to come back and she set the vessel down on the covered tabletop. "What happened in Trinidad, Josiah?" she asked.

"What do you mean, Maude?" he hedged.

"Mr. Larabee said Ezra's abductors were 'coverin' up their tracks again, as they did in Trinidad.' What did they do in Trinidad? I had inferred from your first telegram that they tricked Ezra into goin' there in order to effect his capture, but what else did they do?"

He didn't want to frighten her, but it seemed expedient to make certain she knew to just what lengths her son's captors were willing to go. If she did, she'd be less likely to balk at their demands, when those were finally made clear--or at any plan Chris might come up with to get Ezra back. "I'll tell you all about it," he replied, "but first I want you to understand--we're sure Ezra wasn't seriously harmed when they took him. We found his derringer, but it hadn't been fired, and there were signs of a struggle but no blood."

"I understand. What are you not tellin' me?"

He sighed. "A man was killed. Not Ezra, but the doctor they used as a front."

"Sit down," she suggested, "and tell me everythin'. From the beginnin', please, Josiah. I need to know it."

He sighed and let himself sink into the large walnut armchair that matched her sofa and was set at right angles to it. "You have to understand I wasn't there at the beginning," he said. "Nathan and I had ridden out to the Seminole village for a couple of days..."


Pawn Index

Comments to: Sevenstars