TREASURE by Sevenstars


When he was a very young man, Buck, like most young men, hadn’t given a lot of thought to the future. Sometimes he hadn’t even been sure he’d live long enough to have one, what between the Kansas troubles and the gold camps in Colorado and the War. Then he’d met Chris, and Chris had met Sarah, and suddenly he’d found himself with a home and a family again--and eventually a nephew. He’d blossomed in the role of adopted uncle, taken more joy and fulfillment in it than he had out of any lady he’d ever been with, and actually begun to wonder what it would be like to settle down with one woman and start a family. It wasn’t something he’d contemplated much up to then, but then neither had Chris really, and Buck could see how Sarah and the ranch and responsibility did him good.

It had never occurred to him that all little boys weren’t like Adam, or like himself at that age. Stupid, of course: every person, even a child, was an individual, shaped by nature and experience. But having Ezra Standish as his ward sometimes seemed rather like being in charge of a thirty-year-old midget.

The boy was always calm, neat, and polite. He talked, as George Mayborn had said, like a schoolteacher--better than some schoolteachers Buck had met; whatever else had befallen him in his short life, he’d somehow acquired an excellent education. The deputy seemed, more often than not, to find Ezra curled up in some secluded corner with a book he’d borrowed out of one of the drawing-room cases--not one of the books that belonged to Kate’s children, but books written for grown-up readers, the kind most kids wouldn’t be able to enjoy unless an adult read them aloud. He seemed especially fond of fiction, history, and poetry; he claimed the first two had many lessons to teach about human behavior and how people thought, and that these were things he was sure to find useful sooner or later. He had a somberness and maturity of outlook that sometimes came close to breaking Buck’s heart; it just didn’t seem natural for a child not to want to run and shout and play in the dirt, as Buck himself remembered doing when he was Ezra’s age, or to fail to be entranced by the whimsey of Alice in Wonderland and Edward Lear, which Ezra scornfully dismissed as "ridiculous" and "childish," or the magic of Andersen and Grimm, which he described as "anthropologically fascinating, but quite impossible." His movements always seemed graceful, collected, almost studied, as if he thought them out and measured them in his mind before committing himself. He never made a misstep, never gestured sweepingly or awkwardly as so many young boys do. Yet he could climb like a monkey. Several times in their first two or three weeks together Buck would come home to the boarding house to find Kate dithering over the fact that the boy was up on the roof of the carriage house, or comfortably wedged into the high fork, twenty feet off the ground, of the alligator juniper in the back yard--he never climbed any of the fruit trees, as George did; he said they were too short and didn’t "afford" him any "solitude." When he wanted some fruit, he would knock it down with a thrown stone: he had an eye that equalled that of most marksmen, at shorter ranges anyway.

He seemed to have a need bordering on compulsion to control as many aspects of his life as possible, and since he recognized that, as a small boy, a lot of what happened to him wasn’t his to influence, he compensated by concentrating on the things he could, like the state of his possessions and what he did with his free time. He couldn’t bear not to be clean and neat: he always washed thoroughly, including the much-disputed region behind his ears, morning and evening and before every meal; he slicked his hair with pomade and brushed his teeth religiously; their first Saturday together, when Buck broached the subject of a bath, Ezra took to it eagerly. He alternated shoes each day, polishing the pair he wasn’t wearing with a conscientiousness that was near fanaticism, rubbing with his rag until he was certain every spot and scuff was gone, and was careful to fold his clothes neatly at the end of the day and deposit his dirty ones--often before they seemed dirty to Buck--in the laundry. He was obsessed with keeping his "garments," as he called them, in perfect repair--and co-ordinated: he liked color but couldn’t stand anything he viewed as garish. When other people were around he was quiet and unobtrusive almost to the point of self-effacement, as if he was deliberately trying not to call attention to himself; he would always respond graciously if someone spoke to him, but he never put himself forward, was indeed the very embodiment of the maxim about children being seen and not heard--and at that, during the day, he often wasn’t seen either. He knew more kinds of solitaire than Buck did (a hundred and four, he proudly admitted when queried) and could whip the Reverend Boswell at chess--and match him at knowledge of Scripture too: Boswell said he must have at least two thousand verses memorized, which was enough, in most Sunday schools, to earn him a brand-new Bible. He was equally expert at backgammon and proved capable of playing the piano as well as Kate could: one day, apparently believing she’d gone out to do the marketing, he gave in to his yearnings and sat down at it and was discovered, almost an hour later, rapt in the music, oblivious to the audience of landlady and both Mexican maids hovering in the doorway, hypnotized by his skill and technique as he rendered piece after piece by Liszt, Chopin, Schubert, Stephen Heller, and even the new Incidental Music to Peer Gynt, composed only the year before, interspersed with lively polkas and Strauss waltzes. Nor was that his only musical talent: one night late, coming home from street-patrol duty, Buck found him sitting out on the tiny carved-stone balcony of their bedroom in his nightshirt, with a small violin tucked under his chin, drawing heartbreaking strains from its strings; another time, searching frantically for the boy after he’d pulled one of his vanishing acts, the deputy eventually followed the melody of a flute drifting ghostlike through the house to find that he’d discovered the trapdoor to the cupola and contentedly ensconced himself in that secluded place, which soon became the first Buck looked in when he wasn’t sure where Ezra had gotten off to. He loved routine--and hated to get up early: he never seemed to be fully conscious before nine or ten o’clock, by which time the Mayborn children were long since finished with their chores and out to be with their friends. Every day without fail he went into the drawing room, pulled a footstool up to the stand that held the dictionary, opened the massive volume at random, and selected a word to memorize the spelling and definition of. Yet for all his grown-up airs, he didn’t seem to have a clue how to deal with people his own age. He never made any trouble with Kate’s children, but he didn’t play with them either. The one time he was actually discovered condescending to pass time with any of the local kids--a trio of boys from just up the street--it developed that he had found them playing marbles "for keeps" and somehow persuaded them to stake their pocket-money instead of their counters. He protested bitterly when Buck insisted he return his winnings: it wasn’t fair, he insisted; the other boys had known perfectly well that they might lose, just as they knew they might lose their treasured marbles when they played with their friends; he didn’t understand why it was considered fair for the boys to win each other’s marbles (which cost money, after all, as much as $3.50 per dozen for the best grade large glass-threaded kind), but not to play for the money itself. In the privacy of his thoughts Buck had to admit the distinction escaped him too, but he didn’t want to get bad blood going between the neighbors and Kate’s household. Ezra sulked for two days after that, icily polite but as clearly offended as a cat with wet feet.

He never made any other overtures to the neighborhood children. Instead he pulled back into his shell and passed his time with books, music, working any puzzle he could find, playing complicated games of solitaire, bouncing a solid india-rubber ball against the side of the carriage house, doing fancy tricks with a set of diavolo wands and spool that he kept in his trunk, sketching (not too badly), hunting for birds’ eggs or pretty colored pebbles, clipping things that interested him from the church and El Paso newspapers that came into the house, studying the outdated reward posters Buck sometimes brought from the marshal’s office after they’d been supplanted by a fresh printing, or playing jackstraws, dominoes, or tiddlywinks against himself. He was apparently quite happy to be left to his own devices, capable of creating his own fun without exploiting anyone else in the process (if he wanted to), and actually seemed offended by the noise and activity that filled the big front yard or spilled across the piazzas whenever Julia or George had friends over to play; at such times he would take whatever he was doing and vanish into the cupola, which he seemed to find a quiet retreat. On the other hand, one evening when the children had their puppet stage out and were manipulating the little doll-like figures through some story they’d made up, he stared with hungry eyes until the performance ended, and then looked downcast that no more was forthcoming. Buck, who’d begun to get an idea of how to deal with him by then, managed to elicit the admission that "Mother is very fond of the theater" and had frequently taken him with her to see staged performances. Wanting to give the child some chance at doing something that gave him actual pleasure, Buck began taking him to whatever happened to be playing at the local opera house (or arranging for some other adult to do so if his own duty schedule disallowed his presence)--which, with that fine sense of the democratic typical of the theaters of the day, was likely to be anything from trained-animal acts to minstrel shows to magic-lantern performances to Shakespeare and Italian bel canto opera. Some of it wasn’t particularly to Buck’s taste--he had his doubts about the Bard’s language at first, though he quickly discovered that Ezra was happy to go over the play with him ahead of time and help translate--but a lot of it was: itinerant performers especially had to choose their offerings with an eye to what would go over well in whatever venue they happened to be visiting. And even if the show was a bust for him, watching his ward’s reaction made up for it. This kind of outing seemed to bring Ezra out of himself as nothing else (except gambling) did: he’d sit on the edge of his seat, his eyes wide, his whole face alive and lit with delight, following every detail of the action as if trying to memorize the entire show, and not seeming to care that he was actually letting his cool, disinterested mask slip out of line and displaying an open interest in something. Sometimes, too, they’d ride out to the horseraces at one of the informal tracks on the outskirts of El Paso, and once when a travelling circus passed through they attended the matinee, where Ezra gaped at the lion tamer, the five elephants, the acrobats and tumblers, the equestrian acts and trapeze artists, the leopard, hyena, zebra, camels, giraffe, llamas, African ostriches, and water buffalo, the comedy mules, liberty horses, and hippodrome race, and the clown with the trick dogs and trio of educated pigs. Later he shyly admitted that it was the first circus he had ever seen (Maude, apparently, considered such diversions plebeian and unsuited to a young gentleman’s routine), and bombarded Buck with questions about them until the deputy, trading on his badge, took him back to the circus grounds and got the ringmaster to give him a full tour behind the scenes and fill him full of the information he craved.

Rather less successful was Buck’s attempt to democratize his ward’s style of dress. Once it had become plain to him that he was going to have the full responsibility for Ezra’s care for an unknown length of time to come, he arranged with the marshal to give him a full day off and took the boy with him to El Paso’s largest ladies’-and-childrens’-ready-to-wear store. Ezra didn’t seem to mind the copper-toed, red-topped shoes Buck picked out for him--any doubts he felt were assuaged by the explanation that the copper toecaps would keep the shoes from getting scuffed and worn, which would make them last longer and look better--and the soft felt hat, but the gingham and checked cotton shirts he viewed with horror ("They’re gaudy," he insisted), homespun and blue jeans that would stand up to hard wear were contested so vehemently that Buck began to fear he’d get hysterical, knickers loose at the knees for easy play were scorned with the forthright avowal that he "didn’t play," and he even shrank from the two everyday suits, one brown denim and one blue, that Buck offered. It wasn’t that he didn’t like the color or the style (full-length trousers with a slight flare, and short tailless Eton jackets--apparently a gentleman never permitted himself to be seen abroad in his shirtsleeves) or approve of the workmanship; it was that they were "common" and "thrifty" (a dollar and a half each). "I can’t be seen in such things," he protested, seeming on the verge of tears. "I implore you, Mr. Wilmington, don’t force me to add them to my wardrobe. Truly, I don’t need them. I have a sufficiency of clothing already."

"That you do," Buck agreed, "for livin’ in some city back East. But you ain’t livin’ back East now. Think of all the dust and such you get on your suits, and how upset it gets you. Don’t you want to have things that’ll be easier to keep clean?" He was beginning, by now, to get some handle on what pushed the boy’s buttons: any appeal to his sense of style or propriety or his image of good manners seemed to elicit his co-operation far better than loud rebukes or the threat of physical punishment--not that Buck would ever have hit him, but he didn’t seem to know that. "Besides," the deputy continued, "you’re growin’, just like all little boys do. Time’ll come you won’t be able to get into what you got any more. Can’t be walkin’ around without clothes, can you?"

"Certainly not!" cried Ezra. "What do you take me for, an exhibitionist?"

Eventually a compromise was reached. Buck yielded on the shirts and allowed Ezra to choose his own; bypassing the crisp lightweight cottons and the rich dark- or medium-colored flannels, the boy settled on a plain black sateen with front and back pleats (one dollar), four penang cambric shirtwaists also pleated (a dollar and a half apiece), and for Sunday wear a blouse waist of fine white lawn with a double row of red and navy embroidery, in small, discreet figures, down the front and around the edges of the cuffs and sailor collar (a dollar forty). He also gave Ezra the final say on his summer underwear, and the boy picked out drawers and undershirts of "natural" gauze at fifty cents each. In return Buck was permitted to purchase the denim suits--plus a green velvet jacket for Sunday and a pair of brown-and-black plaid trousers to go with it. Afterward they stopped off for some candy; Ezra contemplated his choices at length and finally settled on an assortment of tangy-sweet sourballs in red and yellow and green.

One thing it didn’t particularly surprise Buck to learn, considering that Ezra was so obviously Southern, was that he knew how to ride. It wasn’t easy to find a pony for rent whose size would suit him--it took the deputy almost two weeks of making inquiries--but once he did, Ezra took to the smooth-gaited little chestnut as he did to theatrical entertainment. Uncertain of when Maude might come blowing back to reclaim her son, Buck hesitated to buy the animal, although the owner was eager to sell it--mounts that small weren’t in heavy demand. When, three weeks later, he finally broke down and made the purchase, it moved him almost to tears to see the dazzling look of joy that Ezra turned upon him when he understood that this was to be his own horse for keeps. The unguarded moment was brief, but as with all his possessions, the boy proved his respect for the pony and its giver by the care he took of it; though he ordinarily resisted any household chore, and still more what he called "menial labor," he paid close attention as Buck showed him how to see to his tack, groom the animal and provide it with food and water, and after every ride he would shake out the saddle blanket and lay it upside-down to air, wash the bit, wipe down the saddle, and brush the chestnut hide with long, slow, circular strokes that seemed almost to hypnotize him. He seemed to know instinctively how to behave around a horse, he sat his saddle with a light, easy seat, and the way he held the reins was romance and chivalry. He named the pony Gambit and spoiled it terribly, stealing sugar from the table for it like Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain’s new book, feeding it apples and pears from the orchard and fresh bread he coaxed out of Kate or the maids, and whenever Buck bought him candy insisting on an equal share of sweets for his mount.

For all that, the boy resisted closeness and was apparently reluctant to form real bonds of affection, perhaps because he was so used to having to change "families" and simply found it easier not to establish ties he knew were sure to be broken eventually. Unlike Adam, he never cuddled, never climbed up on Buck’s knee in the evening, and tended to slope out from under an affectionate hand as diplomatically as he could. He never expressed any particular distress about his mother’s absence, or even the utter absence of communications from her, but seemed to accept it as the natural way of things; if he ever cried over that, or anything else, it wasn’t where anyone could see him. He was also better at reading people than any child Buck had ever met. The deputy knew that children had a keen instinctive perception toward adults and had always figured it was something Nature gave them because they were too small and weak to defend themselves physically, so they had to be able to sense which people they shouldn’t let within arm’s reach of them. Ezra, however, used it in ways Buck had never before seen: as long as he felt he wasn’t in any immediate physical peril, and for whatever reason didn’t want to do something, he would debate the reasons for it and the merits of it with an unending spate of high-flown language that was apparently intended to either wear his opponent down or leave him so baffled that he couldn’t keep track of what he’d wanted in the first place. These debates were always very civilized--the boy never once committed any discourtesy--but somehow or other he usually seemed to end up getting his way. He never did what he was told just because he was told to do it; he had to know why it was expected of him and every detail of what it entailed, and if he wasn’t supplied with the latter he would simply carry out the literal order of the moment and stop right there, and then stare at you with wide innocent eyes when rebuked and say, "But you didn’t tell me..." He was a skilled manipulator and a natural-born actor. He was also reluctant to trust or to confide in others. He gave no more information than he absolutely had to, and Buck was actually a little amazed that he’d even supplied his right name and his mother’s--if they were. The deputy remembered what Ezra had said about being left in the care of others, apparently so often that for him it had become a norm, and reasoned that this standoffishness was probably an inevitable outgrowth of the experience. If you were constantly moving from one place to another, constantly having to get used to new people, new routines, new houses, new expectations, it stood to reason that you’d be reluctant to reveal yourself, at least until you’d been there long enough to feel secure and not in danger. Depending on just how often Maude Standish had moved her son from place to place, he might never have really arrived at that point.

It took almost a month for Buck to convince the child that he didn’t want to be called "Mr. Wilmington," and even then Ezra wouldn’t unbend far enough to address him by his unadorned Christian name: the farthest he’d go was "Mister Buck." Gradually he seemed to settle in and become easier with his guardian, but he still didn’t offer confidences--if you asked him a direct question about his past life, he would respond with blunt facts delivered in his usual flowery style, but he never volunteered--or seem comfortable with physical demonstrations of affection. Buck, meanwhile, tried his best not to grow too fond of the boy--his mother would be reclaiming him eventually, or so Ezra seemed to believe--but even with all Ezra’s aggravating little quirks, which Buck gradually came to recognize as having at least partly developed for the sake of sheer survival, he found that Ezra was slowly working his way into his heart. The deputy came to take deep pleasure in Ezra’s rare, dimpled grin, so openly, honestly happy and playful, in his bright mind and deft hands, in the way he would hold his pony close to Plata’s tall side whenever they went riding and then, at Buck’s nod, lift the animal from walk to trot to canter to wild flying gallop until his hat flew off and his cheeks blazed red, in the very slow yet increasingly evident trust he showed in his guardian, in the joy reflected on his face whenever they went to "the show," even in the challenge of deciphering his high-flown vocabulary and figuring out how to work around him--the process kept Buck alert and sharp, which was something a lawman had to be. The idea of giving the boy up to his mother became more and more disturbing to him. He sent out telegrams, blanketing first Texas and the New Mexico Territory, then Arizona and Colorado, Louisiana and Arkansas, with inquiries after any woman who fit Maude’s description, and got nothing but negative responses. Slowly he came to wonder whether she really intended to come back, ever. A part of him hoped she wouldn’t, much as that might pain Ezra. He had forgotten just how good it felt to have a child in his life, and to sometimes have that child look at him, in an unguarded moment, as if he was the greatest person who’d ever trod the earth.

The hot Border summer waned, melting into September. Kate took her children--even Carl, who was old enough to start school this fall--downtown to be outfitted with new wardrobes, shoes, and school supplies. "Aren’t you going to send Ezra?" she asked Buck. "He’d be more than welcome to walk along with Julia and the boys."

"I don’t rightly reckon there’s much left for a plain eight-grade school to teach him, Kate," Buck replied. "He reads and spells better’n I do, not that that’s sayin’ much, and he can write as nice a hand as you and say where any stereoscope picture in the parlor was taken. He can reel off every President from George Washington on up, give the capitol of any state or country anyone names to him, hell, he can even speak French--he’d just be bored out of his skin, and you know what Ez is like when he gets bored. I could send him to an academy, I reckon, but he’s so much younger than most of the kids that’d go there, he’d never fit in even if he wanted to. Besides," he added, "I’m thinkin’ we’ll be movin’ on before too long."

Kate’s eyes grew huge. "Buck, you’re not going to try to hide him from his mother!"

Deeply though his reverence for women--all women, of whatever age, occupation, color, or class--was ingrained in him, it took a conscious effort of will for Buck not to give any visual evidence of his scorn. "I ain’t sure she ever had any intention of comin’ back for him, Kate, and if she did--just how fit is she to be a mother when she dumped him on a bachelor she’d never met in her life, even if Isabelle did give me a good character? She said herself Ez was comin’ to an age where he needed to be around a man. But it ain’t just that. Fall roundup’s comin’, and once that blowout’s over, there won’t be a need for near as many deputies to keep things in order around here as there’s been since spring. I was the last one hired, and likely I’ll be the first Jack Downing lets go. It ain’t like there was a lot of other jobs in town that I could do, not that’d pay what I’m gettin’ now, at least. Best I’d be able to do is hire on with the stage line as an express messenger, and that’d keep me away from home a good half the season. I don’t want to do that to Ez, he needs somebody solid and permanent. He’s only just startin’ to loosen up now, and we’ve been better’n two months together. I start not bein’ here and it’ll set him right back to where he was. We can ride the grub line out to New Mexico and maybe I can find ranch work or take a job with some minin’ company." He smiled at her and stroked her hair lightly. "You knew I wouldn’t be stayin’. It’s been sweet, Kate, but even with Ez in my life, I ain’t ready to settle down yet."

She threw her arms around his waist and laid her head against his chest, her breath hitching in a little sob. "I’ll try to be brave, Buck. But I’ll never forget you."

He kissed the top of her head gently. "You take care of yourself, and maybe find a good man. It’s been three years since you lost Gil. You still got a lot to offer, and like I tried to tell Chris, if folks really loved you they wouldn’t want you to stop livin’ just because they ain’t around no more. They’d want you to live and be happy and make everything out of your life that you’ve got it in you to do."

"I’ll remember," she promised.

Winter clothing was beginning to appear in El Paso’s stores, and Buck bought a boy-sized saddle coat of light brown canvas, with knee-length skirts and a warm fleece lining, a muffler and a pair of mittens. He waterproofed the coat cowboy-style by slathering a coat of paint on it--remembering Ezra’s persnickety tastes he was careful to choose a conservative deep blue--and, knowing that the boy would stubbornly resist leaving behind any of his few possessions, purchased a packhorse to carry his trunk and the tarpaulin-covered bedroll he’d assembled for Ezra to sleep in. Only after these preparations were complete did he explain to Ezra why he felt they should plan to move on soon--though without disparaging Maude to her son’s face.

"Am I to go with you?" Ezra inquired.

"Just said you was, didn’t I?" Buck retorted. "Why do you reckon I bought you a warm coat, and that sorrel to carry your gear?"

"None of my other guardians were inclined to move about very much," Ezra admitted, "but I find it difficult to envision any of them invitin’ me to accompany them if they had."

"Well, I ain’t them," Buck told him, "and I already told you once: I said I’d look after you and I keep my word. A gentleman’s word has to be his bond, don’t it?"

"It has to be better, because it cannot be insured," Ezra replied, as if he were parroting a lesson.

"There you are, then. We’re a team and we’re gonna stay that way. Now I want you to go through your clothes and see if there’s anythin’ you’ve outgrown; if there is we can leave it for Carl."

Three days later, Buck checked the last of the lashings on the packhorse’s load, gave Ezra a boost into the saddle of his pony and saw that his coppered shoetips were securely housed into the bullnose tapaderos that would keep his feet, in their low heels, from sliding through the stirrups, and gathered up Plata’s reins and the sorrel’s halter rope before swinging into his saddle. He leaned down to shake hands with each of the male boarders and plant a chaste kiss on the cheek of each female, tousled George’s and Carl’s hair and tweaked Julia’s nose, and looked briefly and deeply into Kate’s eyes. "I left word with Downing which way we were headed, just in case Ezra’s ma shows up," he said, "so you tell her to go talk to him if she comes askin’."

"I will." Kate took a generously sized homemade duck bag from one of the maids and passed it up. "Here’s some food for the trail. Goodbye, Ezra."

"Goodbye, Mrs. Mayborn, and thank you for your innumerable kindnesses," the boy responded politely.

Kate quickly brought her ruffled blue apron up to cover the lower half of her face as Buck finished settling the loop handles of the bag over his saddlehorn. "Come on, Ez, we’re burnin’ daylight," he said. "I want to make Mesilla by sundown."


From Mesilla Buck and Ezra made their way by easy stages to Silver City, where Buck hoped to find work. Unlike cowtowns, which tended to become somnolent over the winter as ranches let most of their cowhands go for the slack season, mining camps bustled the year round, and there were always good-paying jobs for a man who knew his way around a gun: mine security, express messenger, deputy, saloon lookout. It took Buck less than half a day to sign up with one of the mines, and a clerk in the office directed him to a decent boarding house where he could get a room for himself and his ward. The landlady wasn’t as young or as pretty as Kate had been, but he was sure he’d find plenty of ladies who were more to his taste in a town like this one.

Here in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico the winter temperatures were slightly cooler than in El Paso--January’s average came to somewhat over forty, where in El Paso it would often reach fifty, and could seem warmer because of the close presence of the Rio Grande, which made the air more humid. The town was located in a beautiful setting in the foothills of the Piños Altos Range, and while it had been founded barely seven years ago, as a Mexican settlement, it had quickly begun to boom as gold placers and rich pockets of almost pure silver were discovered in the Chinos and Mogollons nearby. It had been the seat of Grant County since the latter’s establishment in ’74, and the presence of the Army at Fort Bayard added another source of income. Lead, zinc, copper, and even a certain percentage of gold came out of the local mines along with the silver that had given the place its name, the base metals being so intermixed with the precious stuff that only the costly and exacting process of smelting could separate them. This cut down on small-time theft like highgrading, and the smelters customarily cast the gold and silver into heavy, unwieldy bars, to the frustration of highwaymen on horseback. Still, there was a need for security officers at the mines: a three-hundred-pound bar of silver, which could be hefted by two men and packed out on muleback if it was once extracted from the company vault, would sell for over $14,000, a hefty sum indeed, while a gold brick of the same size would be worth nearly $77,000, and there was always the possibility of payroll robberies and labor troubles as well.

Like most mining towns, this one had its share of notorious resorts. Soft-handed gamblers in frock coats and black slouch hats presided over the poker tables. Cowboys from the many nearby livestock ranches bellied up to the bar to demand liquor for themselves and companions from Shady Lane, which was the crib district, and if not supplied immediately were prone to shoot out the lights, the bar mirror, and any other attractive target, then overturn the roulette tables; occasionally, in an expression of the constant hostility between the two, a brawl would erupt between a cattle crew and a group of soldiers roistering on payday. Twelve- and fourteen-horse teams hauled ore and bullion from the lesser mining camps in the mountains, and bricks of silver and gold were stacked on the boardwalks outside the shipping offices. The Gila and Mimbres Apaches, who had been the original inhabitants of the region, remained a local menace and made the roads unsafe in every direction.

As in El Paso, Buck felt it unproductive to enroll Ezra in any of the local schools, most of which were of a semi-private subscription type and attended chiefly by the children of the owners, mine bureaucrats, professional people and business folk. Instead he simply left the boy to his own devices, after extracting his word as a gentleman that he wouldn’t go into any of the saloons or gambling halls, wouldn’t work his monte or shell games on the street, and wouldn’t go off riding outside the camp unless Buck went with him. "Too many places your pony could fall and break a leg," he explained. "We’ll ride when I ain’t workin’, Plata needs her exercise too." In fact, there was plenty to keep even a lively-minded and curious child like Ezra occupied. Running errands on the street--which was nothing like the "menial labor" he despised--he could pick up twenty dollars a day in tips. The inhabitants represented the broad spectrum of humanity, everything from Germans, Cornish, and Irish to Chinese coolies; he loved to observe them and listen to their talk. There were rocks to climb (cautiously, so as not to tear his new denim suits), and prospect holes and abandoned adits to peer into (though Buck insisted that he never venture so far into the latter that he couldn’t still see daylight behind him). There were footraces and horse races, cockfights and dogfights--many impromptu--on which he could bet (and did, until Buck found out what he’d been up to), besides more respectable entertainments, like lectures, readings, debates, minstrel shows, and plays, which both of them could attend, as well as a lending library and a chess club to provide him with stimulation. There were even games of croquet in the back yard of the boarding house; Ezra’s keen eye and steady nerves made him a star at the game. A neighbor woman, a widow, supported herself by baking pies, which were in great demand in a camp whose population leaned heavily toward the male; Ezra soon made friends with her and became her assistant, helping to roll out the crusts (a task he found equally as soothing as the routine of grooming Gambit) and deliver the completed desserts. She in turn sang his praises to Buck, describing him as "such a sweet child, so clever with his hands, so neat and clean, and such lovely manners!"

In the churning crowds Ezra found much on which to exercise his powers of observation. Even the local law couldn’t keep track of everyone who passed through, and confined itself to picking up the pieces after brawls and shootings and getting up pursuits when robberies and other crimes occurred. The wild bunch knew this, and desperadoes, often strenuously wanted, found that in such bustling camps they were almost as safe as if they were hidden away in some backcountry shack. Generally if they were spotted at all it was only by sheer chance, and frequently the spotting wasn’t by the law, but by some private person who might, at most, attempt a citizen’s arrest in the hope of earning himself some bounty money--a circumstance under which the outlaw had an equal or better chance.

Thus it happened that one crisp afternoon in January found Ezra sitting on the edge of the boardwalk, taking a break at the close of his latest pie-delivery run before making his way back to Mrs. Norwood’s cozy cabin, where the woman had promised they would read a chapter or two of Henry Esmond together until Buck got off work. His body might be at rest, but his eyes were never still, constantly shuttling around him, cataloguing the people who surged in every direction, on horseback, on wagons, in buckboards and buggies, and most of all on foot. He came alert at sight of one man who pushed his way free of a saloon directly across the street. Ezra had been trained to observe and retain, and had automatically committed to memory the descriptions on the old wanted posters Buck sometimes gave him. The pictures on them often weren’t very good, but some of the text was wondrously exact. As the man paused on the curb to remove a truncated black "negro cheroot" from his pocket, wipe a match alight on the nearest awning support, and bend his head to light his smoke, the boy recalled in a flash the wording of one of the dodgers:


JOEL CORTLAND GUTHRIE, alias CORT GUTHRIE, charged with highway robbery, having, with his son, MATTHEW VALENTINE GUTHRIE, and others, wearing masks on the night of WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14, 1876, boarded the eastbound train on the Denver & Rio Grande RR between Pueblo and La Junta, Colorado, and compelled the messenger of the ADAMS EXPRESS COMPANY to surrender the keys of his safe, which they rifled of $3500. Matthew Valentine Guthrie has since been shot and killed, and three others of the robbers have been apprehended.

In an attempt to arrest Joel Guthrie and Matthew Guthrie in Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, on July 29, 1876, Joel Guthrie shot Mr. Jeremiah Britton, a compositor on the New Mexican, who had been called on and was aiding the officer in his arrest.


JOEL CORTLAND GUTHRIE is about 45 to 47 years of age, 6 feet in height, weighs about 185 pounds, blue eyes which do not look a person full in the face, round head, wears 7½ hat, full forehead, face broad and rounded, short nose inclined to pug-shape, swarthy or sandy complexion, light sandy hair sometimes darkened by means of Hair Vigor, thin light mustache; left arm is a little shorter than the right, caused by having been broken near the elbow. Teeth sound, upper frontals projecting slightly outward. Has small mole on the right cheek and noticeable scar on left side of neck, which he keeps concealed by wearing his bandanna tied closely over it. Usually wears dark clothing and woollen shirts, a No. 8 boot, but no jewelry except a Masonic ring on his left hand. When last seen he wore a brown corduroy coat, broad-striped dark pants, black boots with butterfly tooling, and a center-creased hat rolled to a point in front, with a band made of a tanned rattlesnake’s skin...

The Adams Express Company, and the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Co., have jointly offered a reward of Five Hundred Dollars ($500), and in addition the Governor of the State of Colorado has offered a reward of Two Hundred Dollars ($200) for the arrest and delivery to the authorities of the State of Colorado Joel Cortland Guthrie.


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