TREASURE by Sevenstars


The second morning of preparations found the pace quickening. There was no panic, only a grim, quiet concentration on the job. Buck was making a tour of the outer canyons when he found himself pounced upon by a man dropping out of a shrubby twenty-foot juniper tree and holding a knife to his throat. "Who are you?" a harsh voice demanded.

"Nobody you need to use that pig-sticker on," Buck told him, resisting the urge to struggle.

"Why are you in my village?" his assailant persisted, bringing his blade closer. Buck felt a runnel of blood start to the surface as the keen edge nicked his skin.

"Hey! I’m one of the good guys," he protested.

"You’re wearing the wrong skin," the unseen man snarled. Then he gasped and his grip loosened. His falling weight nearly knocked Buck to the ground. When he untangled himself, he found JD Dunne beaming proudly at him, holding one of his Lightnings by the barrel, and an Indian in ragged white-man clothing and crude handmade moccasins sprawled face-down in the dirt.

"I got him!" JD declared.

He hit him with his gun butt! Buck realized in stunned astonishment. How dumb can you get? "You stupid son of damn near shot me!" Then practicality asserted itself and he reached into his pocket for some piggin strings. "Make yourself useful. Sit on his back while I tie him. We’ll take him in to Chris."

When their prisoner recovered, they marched him back to the village in front of their horses, with Buck’s lariat noose around his neck. The reception they got was unexpected, to say the least. The newcomer turned out to be Tastanagi’s son, Imala, who had been thought dead. He’d gone off more than six months ago to seek work and somehow ended up in prison, but had escaped and made his way home on foot. His wife had borne him a son the day the Ghosts first came to the village.

Buck was furious. Much as he wanted the chance to even his score with Chris, he hadn’t signed on to get killed by his own side. JD’s cocky self-satisfaction didn’t help. "He’d be dead right now if it weren’t for me," the kid insisted to Chris.

"You damn near shot my ear off," Buck told him.

"But I didn’t, did I? I saved your life!"

"You think I couldn’t handle him?" Buck challenged.

"I just want to prove to you that I can..."

The gunslinger cut him off. "Don’t ever use the butt of your gun as a weapon. You keep smackin’ it around, before long it’s gonna misfire. Or else you’ll shoot your damn fool self if it goes off. And another thing. Get rid of this damn, stupid hat!" And he stomped off to find Ezra.

Behind him he heard Vin laughing. "What Buck means is thanks, kid."

Chris stared at the Easterner thoughtfully. "If you want to die young...stay," he said at last.

JD’s triumphant shout scattered birds for a quarter-mile around.


Ezra had been making a tour of his land mines when he observed Josiah Sanchez sit down hard and abruptly in the shade of one of his rock walls. He hesitated, then walked over to the tired man and silently offered the goatskin water bottle cross-belted off his shoulder. Sanchez looked up, and Ezra saw to his surprise that the deep-set blue eyes were mild and kind. He’d never been close enough to the burly man before to have noticed it. "Thank you, little brother," Sanchez said courteously. "You’re Brother Buck’s boy, aren’t you?"

"Yes, sir. My name is Ezra."

"A good name from the Good Book," Josiah told him. "In the Hebrew language it means ‘help’ or ‘helper.’ The original Old Testament Ezra was a Tanakh scribe and prophet who led a band of fifteen hundred Israelites out of slavery in Babylon and back to Jerusalem in the fifth century B.C. He has a book of his own in the Bible, and he’s mentioned in the Koran as well. The man who founded Cornell University was also named Ezra."

"My mother told me I was named after her grandfather," Ezra revealed. He watched as Josiah drank deeply, then poured a little water on his bandanna and wiped his face and neck. He still wasn’t completely sure of this man, but he knew that at least Josiah had no grudge against his guardian, as he believed Chris did, and his well-developed instincts detected no ill will toward himself. Slowly he settled into a perfectly balanced crouch beside the man and eyed him curiously. "Mr. Sanchez?"

"Yes, Brother Ezra?"

He talks to me as Buck does--as if I were an adult, as if I could understand, as if my thoughts and opinions might have value, the boy told himself. Emboldened, he asked, "Why did you join this expedition, Mr. Sanchez? What is it you expect to gain?"

Josiah’s eyebrows went up, but he didn’t seem offended at having his motives questioned by a nine-year-old child. "Must I gain something?" he returned evenly.

"No one ever does anythin’ unless they hope to gain from it," Ezra told him wisely, "even if it is only a feeling of satisfaction. Nathan--Mr. Jackson--is tryin’ to demonstrate his appreciation for what other Seminoles did for other Negroes, runaway slaves such as he once was." He’d overheard Nathan talking to Miss Rain, which was how he knew. "Mr. Dunne wants to be respected as a man, to prove that he is as good as anyone else here and has what it takes to survive on the frontier. Mr. Tanner and Mr. Larabee...I’m not quite certain of them, but I think they came because they had the prospect of gettin’ into a good fight. Buck is here because...because he owes an old debt to Mr. Larabee and hopes he will have an opportunity to discharge it."

"And yourself?" Sanchez asked gently.

Surprised and bolstered at the concept of being included in the group, Ezra answered simply, "I came because this is where Buck is, and we are partners." Then he repeated, "So--what is it you think to gain from your participation in this affair?"

Josiah sighed. "I saw the birds of darkness in a dream," he said.

Ezra’s brows knitted. "I don’t understand."

"Crows," Sanchez explained. "Harbingers of death. When I woke from the dream, a crow was sitting on my windowsill staring at me like the Devil himself."

Ezra considered this. Given his mother’s profession, he’d have been a fool not to have recognized the reality of luck, at least insofar as being in the right place at the right time, but he wasn’t sure he believed in signs and portents. He settled for asking neutrally, "Whose death?"

"Probably mine," the man said, not as if the idea surprised him.

"But why come here?" Ezra insisted, still puzzled.

"If death’s coming, I’d just as soon meet it head-on," Josiah explained. "Go out doing something worthwhile."

"And get your reward in the Hereafter?" the boy guessed.

"No," Josiah admitted, and for the first time he seemed embarrassed, unsure of himself. "No, I was...I was a priest once, but, ah...had a little trouble turning the other cheek."

"Oh," said Ezra. Then, not quite sure why: "My mother once did a turn at...revivalism. She played the melodeon for an itinerant Gospelist. She said it was the best swindle she ever knew. Stand up there under the tent, terrify the congregation with a vision of hellfire, and pass the collection plate. No requirement for elaborate preparations or convoluted cover stories. She said it made her wish to be a man so she could also wear a collar turned backwards." He snorted softly. "They did quite well, accordin’ to her--until her companion attempted to save the soul of the Mayor’s daughter." He wasn’t exactly sure what this had involved, but he knew from the way Mother had told it that it had been a foolish thing to try. Mother never told him stories of her cons unless she hoped he would learn something from them.

"Yup," Josiah agreed. "Saving souls has its hazards."

Ezra somehow felt as if he had made a friend.


Sunset found Vin Tanner perched on a crag high above the canyon, bathing his spirit in the beauty and solitude he always found in nature. A sound of scrabbling boots and slipping pebbles turned him casually--enemies wouldn’t make so much noise, and nobody in the village wore boots except the men who were with him--to find Chris Larabee awkwardly making a way up to join him. "Keeping watch?" the gunfighter inquired, slightly out of breath, as he reached the level.

"Nah," said Vin. "Ain’t no need. Like I said, Anderson won’t come at night. Anyhow, I got a feelin’ we’ll be seein’ him tomorrow. One day early. Time enough for the Seminoles to’ve fetched the gold he wanted, but early enough to catch ’em off guard, or so he’ll be hopin’."

Larabee nodded. "What I was thinkin’," he agreed, and eyed the younger man unreadably.

Quietly, Vin began to explain about the want that was on him in Tascosa. He didn’t know why he had the irresistible urge to confide this part of who he was to a man he’d known barely seventy-two hours, and it surprised him to hear his own voice using the word "friend"--it wasn’t one he’d had a lot of use for in his twenty-five crowded and difficult years. He only knew it felt right--and Vin had never yet suffered from listening to his instincts.

Chris for his part didn’t say or do anything to suggest that he already knew about the want from Buck. Yet the fact that Tanner would freely offer the information on such short acquaintance had a significance that didn’t escape him. He wished Buck could be here to hear it. He knew Buck had been sincere in his estimate of Vin as "good in a fight," and hadn’t been lying about his own inclination to base his estimates of a man on what he himself had experienced and observed of him--but, as a one-time father, he also knew that having responsibility for other lives always changed the way you reacted to things. Buck might not be consciously aware of it, but there would definitely be a part of him that would be watching Vin guardedly until something happened to make him certain that the Texan wasn’t really what his poster claimed him to be, wasn’t going to turn on them if he thought he saw a reason for it. He couldn’t afford to, not with the boy depending on him.

"...figure if a friend collects I’ll have the last laugh," the hunter finished. "Man should try and set his house in order, he figures he’s in a spot he might not come out of in one piece." Then, quietly: "You’d ought to do the same."

"What’s that supposed to mean?"

"You and Buck," Vin answered evenly. " ’Member what you said when I ast did you know each other? ‘Did, once.’ That ain’t right, Larabee. That was like a knife jabbed in his belly. I don’t know what’s atween you two and I ain’t gonna ask, but you’d ought to straighten it out."

"I don’t think we can," said Chris thinly.

The clay-colored hat tilted as Tanner stared downward--at his hands, at the rock, who could tell? "If he done you so wrong, how come you’re lettin’ him be with you?"

"He didn’t do me wrong," Chris snapped, and then, quietly, "Buck could never do me wrong. It’s not the way his mind works. Once he accepts you into his world, you’re there forever. Loyalty and everything that comes from it are the most important things in life to him. I’ve always known that."

"So?" Tanner prompted.

There was a part of Chris that wanted very much to tell this soft-spoken Texan the whole story. It seemed only just, somehow, that having been granted such an intimate look into another man’s life, he should somehow reciprocate. But the very thought of speaking the names of his dead wife and child, of reliving that horrible day three years ago, was almost more than he could bear. If the thought alone was enough to twist the heart inside him, to leave him fighting for the breath in his lungs, what would expressing it in words do? He couldn’t afford it. He knew the way it left him. He needed to be on top of things, in control of himself, if he was to bring the village and the five men who followed him out of this business.

And the boy. Don’t forget the boy, because Buck won’t, a traitorous inner voice whispered.

"It’s the boy," he heard himself saying. "It’s not right the boy should be here, should see what’s likely to happen."

"Bullshit," said Tanner mildly. "You was on his case afore we come within twenty miles of here, boy or no boy. Plus which Ezra ’pears to be doin’ real well so far. Keeps out of the way, don’t take up nobody’s time, hell, he’s even doin’ his share. Tastanagi was right--he’s a young warrior."

"That’s not--" Chris bit his tongue and stopped. "Don’t push your luck, Tanner. I need every gun I can get, but you don’t know I won’t shoot you in the back for that bounty as soon as we’ve dealt with Anderson."

"Naw," the Texan retorted serenely, "you won’t. That ain’t your style. Or are you forgettin’ I heard what you done said to JD back in town?" He pushed easily erect, his sky-blue eyes drilling into Chris’s pale hazel-green ones. "Make it right with him, Larabee. I got a notion you owe it to him." And he slipped past the gunfighter and began making his way down to the level with the casual agility of a goat.


A bird cry sounded from the last of the string of sentries keeping watch along the canyon. "Time’s up," said Chris. "Everybody, take your positions!"

Vin squinted through his spyglass, counting under his breath, as one pair of riders after another rounded the third bend in the cut. "Damn," he whispered to himself, and turned to skid and scramble down into the cup, half of the distance on the sturdy buckskin seat of his pants. "Can see ’em clear," he reported to the waiting gunfighter. "Ain’t no twenty. Forty for sure, maybe more--I stopped countin’."

Larabee rounded on the headman. "I thought you said there were twenty!"

"No, I asked you if twenty would scare you." Tastanagi’s tone was as serene as Vin’s had been up on the crag last night.

"Twenty, no...forty, yes," Chris growled. "Too late to do anything about it now. Get under cover!"


Ezra had given his solemn word to Buck that when Chris gave the signal, he would go with one of his home-guard detachments, a mixed group of women and older children who had been assigned to look after three or four closely-spaced war machines. But he hadn’t given his word that he would stay there, and Buck, in the stress of the moment, hadn’t thought to demand it from his very literal-minded ward. For an undersized nine-year-old who’d learned at an early age how to keep out of sight and not attract attention to himself, it wasn’t difficult to slip away and find himself a good position well up on the west slope, wedged into a little pocket like the one JD had chosen for a nest two days ago. From here he could see the whole village spread out beneath him like an open book, and hear too: sound travelled upward.

He settled into his chosen place just in time to see Larabee step out from behind one of Josiah’s walls and confront the two men at the head of the raiders. His eyes widened as he took in the gray uniforms--shabby with age and wear to be sure, but definitely Confederate--and the Stars and Bars boldly blazoned on the pennon that fluttered above them. No one had told him these were Southron soldiers!

"Ah!" exclaimed the leader. "Colonel Emmett Riley Anderson of the Army of the Confederate States of America. And you are...?"

"There’s no gold here, Colonel." Larabee’s voice was flat.

"No. ’Course there isn’t," Anderson retorted sarcastically. "You’re here for your health, or the, ah, company, perhaps?"

"We came to ask you to leave," drawled Vin, appearing from the other side of a boulder.

"And purely out of the goodness of your heart?" The Southron’s voice was silky.

"Yep. Somethin’ like that." It was Buck, speaking from Chris’s other side and a little higher. Anderson’s head swivelled.

" many of you humanitarians are there?"

"Enough," said Chris meagerly.

Anderson turned to the man beside him. "What do you say, Captain? You think there’s goin’ to be trouble?"

"No trouble, Colonel. Just turn around and ride out," Chris advised.

"I like that. Audacity!" the Colonel laughed.

"Move on, Colonel," Vin seconded. "These people have nothin’ you want."

"Shoot ’em down, Captain," Anderson ordered casually.

The Captain stood in his stirrups, lifting an arm. "Company..."

There was a cascade of metallic clicks as guns were cocked and lifted to shoulders. Chris stared up into Anderson’s face, no defiance, just calm awareness of his own abilities. Just loudly enough to be heard by the nearest defenders, he said, "Now."

And all hell broke loose.

Vin ducked behind his boulder and began squeezing off shots, one after another, steady and methodical, as a buffalo hunter on the range would do. Buck joined in with his Winchester ’76 carbine, then Josiah with his, raking the Ghosts with enfilading fire. Chris was backing up, his Colt out and pounding steadily. JD leaned out the window of an adobe, a Lightning in either hand, firing each by turns. Arrows whistled down from behind the breastworks. Men popped up just long enough to hurl one of Ezra’s rigged clay pots, then as quickly vanished. Women and children pulled on ropes, tripping the triggers of catapults and springals. Hissing trails of fire raced down the length of lines of tinder, vanishing beneath heaped piles of rock. Moments later, the land mines began to blow, each producing a burst of steam and throwing missiles and burning fuel into the air.

The Ghosts’ horses might be used to gunfire, but not to scalding steam, flying rocks that pricked and bruised them, or arrows. They began panicking, bogging their heads, bucking, some falling. Men, too, were going down, some hit by bullets or arrows, others clocked by stones. Some beat frantically at clothing set alight by flying embers, or fought with horses burned by the brands. In their coverts the women and children worked steadily, like well-drilled artillery teams, pulling their weapons back, reloading the slings of the catapults, fitting more slender arrows into the slits of the springals, then tripping the triggers again. Grenades burst, showering the Ghosts with wet grain, sometimes blinding them with it, and peppering everyone and everything within range with sharp stones. Young men, quick on their feet and bold, darted out from hiding to leap onto the hindquarters of horses, stabbing at the riders, or yank them out of the saddles, then seize rifles and pistols and pass them back, tossed from hand to hand, to the marksmen waiting higher up.

Ezra knew, in one part of his mind, that he should be gratified at how well his home guard were doing their jobs, how effective a contribution he had made. If Buck had been willing to admit to pride in him before, how much more pleased would he be to see all this? But all he could do was lie flat in his nest and listen to the whisper racing through his mind: It’s him, it’s him, he followed me...

Chris had ducked back under cover to reload. Buck, Josiah, and Vin seemed to have fallen into a rhythm: while one replenished his Winchester’s magazine, two kept up a steady hail of fire. JD juggled his Lightnings, whistling softly at the heat of the metal as he crammed fresh rounds into the chambers. Nathan, back under a Mexican-style brush-and-pole ramada where he had set up his field hospital, was lying on his belly with his ancient War-issue Spencer carbine resting on a pile of adobe bricks, firing almost like a clockwork machine: squeeze the trigger, push the guard all the way down with his thumb to open the breech, pull it up again to kick out the empty, and as the spent brass somersaulted over his shoulder and the fresh round settled into place, cock the hammer manually even as he chose his next target and squeeze the trigger again. When the magazine ran dry, he rolled on his side to receive the fresh loading tube Rain passed him, opened the gate in the stock, yanked out the empty tube and slammed the full one into place. The girl scooped up the empty and set to work fitting fresh rounds into it as he flopped back onto his stomach and began the cycle all over again.

Back in the canyon where Anderson had left his reserves, rocks began to fly, raining down on the startled detachment. Bottled up in that narrow space, they couldn’t maneuver, couldn’t even see their assailants due to the sunglare. In the bowl, gunfire now commenced to rain down from the defenders, as the plundered firearms reached the men Vin had trained. They had no spare ammunition, but most quickly had two or three weapons to choose from, backups if--when--their first selection was empty. Whether they actually hit anyone was open to question, but the addition of modern weapons to their intended victims’ arsenal had a demoralizing effect on men already thrown into confusion by the greeting they’d received.

The Ghosts had never expected this level of resistance. They fought back desperately, but almost blindly, seldom able to see any of the defenders for more than a second or two at a time. Occasionally a yell or a grunt from up on one of the slopes told of a Seminole hit, but by far the greater number of casualties were taking place among the invaders. Men were down, some being trampled by frightened horses that were crowded too closely together to avoid them. A few of the Ghosts did manage to break free of the churning confusion, only to be cut down by the deadly rifles of one or another of the hired guns. A single rider wearing corporal’s insignia made it as far as JD’s adobe, swinging a saber at a young Seminole brave who ducked, but not in time. Then JD himself popped out the door of the shelter like a cuckoo from a clock, holding his left-hand Lightning--he hadn’t had time to finish reloading the other one--at hip level, the inner part of his forearm pressed close to his hipbone for support, and brushing the hammer back repeatedly with the edge of his right hand as his left squeezed the trigger again and again, emptying the pistol in one long continuous roar of sound. The rider jerked and shuddered, blood blossoming on his gray tunic as the bullets slammed into him, then tumbled off his horse, falling across the body of the man he’d just killed. Buck, who had turned to try to draw a bead on the rider, groaned in disgust as he watched the Easterner’s tactic.

The press of riders from behind had been too tight, at first, for any of the Ghosts to think of quitting the field, but as the men in the rear began to realize what they’d gotten into, they started peeling off, racing back down the canyon to safety. "Stand and fight, damn you!" bellowed the enraged Anderson.

His adjutant, however, knew a massacre when it was staring him in the face. "For God’s sake, Colonel!" he pleaded over the steady thunder of guns and the screams of horses and men. "For the love of God, Colonel, let’s go!"

"Damn it all to hell!" cried Anderson. "Sound retreat!"

A bugle began to shrill. Men struggled free of the press, a few managing to pick up unhorsed friends as they fled. In a disorganized ragged stream they poured on down the canyon. Anderson was the last to go, firing his pistol back over his shoulder in a final gesture of defiance and contempt--but he went.

Tastanagi stepped out from behind his covert, flourishing his bow over his head and whooping triumphantly. Yells in other timbres went up from all around the cup as the villagers began to appear, shouting and laughing. Nathan pushed erect and laid his Spencer down, moving out to see how many casualties there were.

JD stood frozen above the man he’d killed, repeating softly over and over, "Oh, God. Oh, God." Vin stared off down the canyon and spoke quietly: "Ride on, Colonel. Ride on."

"Your people fought well," Chris told the chief.

"We fight well together," Tastanagi corrected him.

Buck came up to join them, followed an instant later by Vin. "We whupped ’em good, old pard," the older man declared.

But Vin was somber. "What do you think?" he asked of Chris, blue eyes shuttling toward him, then back the way the Ghosts had gone.

"Maybe," the gunfighter said meagerly. "Buck, get up on that ridge, keep a lookout."

"Hell, they ain’t gonna stop runnin’ till they hit the Rio Grande," Buck objected.

"I’ll go," Vin offered. "You find that boy of yours. Chris? I’ll take first watch."

"All right." Then he turned, eyeing JD, who had finally come to himself and was making his unsteady way over to join them. There was blood spattered on his suit-jacket from that last close engagement. "Are you all right?" Larabee demanded.

"Yeah." JD’s voice was subdued, then he saw where the gunfighter was looking. "Oh, it’s not my blood."

"You’re damn lucky it isn’t your blood, son," Buck put in. "Now, you don’t fan your guns. That spoils your aim. One good shot is better than six bad ones."

The criticism at least brought JD out of his state of shock. "Anything else?!" he demanded.

"No, that’s about it for now," Buck told him, grinning. And he strode off across the bowl to find Ezra.


Most of the downed Ghosts were dead; two or three wounded ones were made prisoners, disarmed and gotten up to Nathan’s field hospital. The Seminoles had lost one man killed instantly and a dozen or fifteen wounded (one of whom died a couple of hours later), plus Josiah, who’d taken a bullet in the leg; it had gone clean through, but he had lost a good deal of blood. He was in the field hospital ministering to the injured when he suddenly gasped and crumpled to the ground. When Tastanagi asked him why he hadn’t said something about being hit, he calmly replied that no one had asked. Chris came to see him after he’d been bandaged up. "Your birds lied, Josiah," he said.

"We shall see," was all Sanchez answered.

Nathan worked steadily, seeing to his patients in the order of the seriousness of their hurts, treating villagers and Ghosts impartially. Further down, men rounded up the surviving abandoned horses and began moving the bodies off into the outer hills where they could be thrown into some arroyo and buried together.

It took Buck some searching, but he tracked Ezra down eventually. The boy was still in his little nest, trembling, his eyes squeezed shut. At first Buck naturally supposed it was the aftershock of seeing his first battle. He’d been annoyed at first when he hadn’t found Ezra with the home guard, but the irritation vanished as he saw how clearly upset Ezra was. "Reckon you learned somethin’, didn’t you?" he asked quietly, as he lowered his long body onto the rocks and slid up alongside the boy, drawing him into his arms for comfort. Ezra flinched, his eyes flying open, then settled a bit as he recognized either the voice or the touch. "C’mere, son. It’s okay now. We’re all right, it’s over." He went on in that vein for a while, until the rigid little body relaxed against his own. "Now you know why I told you to stay back with the others?"

"That’s not--it isn’t--" Ezra took a deep breath. "Buck? That was him."

"Who was who?" the big man demanded, confused.

"The Colonel," Ezra said, as if it explained everything.

"Well, sure it was Colonel Anderson. Said so himself, didn’t he?"

" Colonel, Buck. The one who...the one Mother and I fled New Orleans to escape."

"What?" Buck sat up and nearly struck his head on the ledge. "Are you sure? I thought you never saw him, never heard his name."

"I didn’t," Ezra agreed. "But I heard his voice through the door. His voice, and his laugh. I remember, Buck. The way they sounded, their timbre and pitch, the way he spaced his words..."

Buck worked his way erect, lifting the child with him. "C’mon. We better tell Chris about this."


"It is logical after all, Mr. Larabee," Ezra observed, his self-possession restored by the necessity of convincing the gunfighter of the accuracy of his theory: if he was right, they--Buck--might still be in peril. "My mother discovered that the man who confronted her in New Orleans was the head of a band of former Confederates who had refused to surrender when the War ended. Clearly this group we have beaten off today can be described in the same terms. After so many years, how many such companies, particularly so large, can there be?"

"And you think they’re lookin’ for that treasure?" Chris was all business now. It didn’t matter that this boy reminded him of the one he’d lost; for the present, he could put that aside in favor of the vital intelligence Ezra had to offer.

"Yes, sir. Consider that Chief Tastanagi told you most explicitly that his people find gold in their hills only occasionally and in miniscule amounts. They make use of it by no means consistently, but only when they are short of other commodities to offer in trade. They do not flaunt it, because they lack enough to flaunt. The Colonel--Mother’s Colonel--has for years either based his operations in Mexico or used that country as a refuge to which to retreat after a raid against what he imagines to be the enemy. How would he have heard any word of these vanishin’ly small incidents? And if he did, why would he trouble himself with them? He desires wealth sufficient to finance a resurrection of the Confederacy for which he fought. The Seminoles’ gold is not enough to fill that purpose."

"It makes a lot of sense, old dog," Buck agreed. "Them fellers Maude found out about been hittin’ at mine payrolls, banks, whatever, but always things that’d fetch ’em anyway a few thousand dollars. They ain’t boys playin’ marbles, they’re plumb serious--you can see that from the way they were all rigged out, the uniforms and the flag and everything."

"Yeah," Chris agreed. "Somehow Anderson must’ve picked up some other information that pointed him this way." He wasn’t going to mention the most obvious possibility, that the man had caught up to Maude Standish. Not in front of her boy, he wasn’t. "We surprised him and hurt him, but if he thinks there’s a Spanish treasure somewhere in these hills...Ezra, do you have any idea how much it was supposed to be worth?"

"Not precisely, sir. But I know how Mother’s mind works. She is a creature of cities and civilization, not small towns and dusty wildernesses. Once she became aware of the character of the country in which the hoard was concealed, only the prospect of truly enormous wealth could induce her to quit the comforts and opportunities to be found where large numbers of people congregate."

"Of course, what’s ‘enormous wealth’ to one person might not be as much to a big bunch," Larabee mused, "but since Anderson don’t want it for himself and his men..."

"He won’t give up this easy," Buck finished, looking suddenly very focused.

"And he wouldn’t have survived this long if he didn’t learn from his mistakes," Chris added. "He knows now that we’ve got the advantage of the ground and a better spirit of resistance than he was expecting. He’ll try to find another way to strike at us. But he’ll be back."


Comments to: