by Sevenstars

"Somethin' goin' on up ahead," Buck Wilmington observed, checking his gray and lifting a hand to supplement the shade of his hatbrim.

"Seen it," Vin Tanner agreed meagerly, already reaching into his coat pocket for his spyglass.

Might'a known, Buck thought, watching his younger friend pull the slender brass tube out to its full extension and put it to his eye. As a buffalo hunter and a manhunter, and more recently a fugitive and a lawman, Vin's success, to say nothing of his survival, had often depended on the accuracy of his vision, but Buck had begun to think that, spyglass notwithstanding, a lot of that was just simply something the boy had been born with, the way he and Chris had been born with a natural quickness of hand, or JD with his ability to shoot accurately from either. The big man couldn't remember ever coming across anyone with the prodigious length of eyesight that Vin had.

The two of them had been out on a long patrol swing these last thirty-six hours and had turned homeward only a little while ago, pushing hard, since this was Saturday and the others might need their help to deal with the evening crowds. It was something the Seven took turns at, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, at irregular intervals randomly chosen by Chris Larabee, in hopes that anyone with what Ezra might call nefarious intent would be unable to discern a pattern. They were somewhat to the north of Four Corners, with the foothills rising close to their right, and it was between those hills and themselves that the flurry of motion had caught Buck's attention.

"Take a look," Vin invited after a minute, passing the glass across the space between their horses. Buck accepted it, wondering at the crooked little half-smile on the tracker's face, and twisted the tube till the focus suited him and the picture jumped into clarity.

A rider on a leggy flea-bit gray was weaving busily to and fro trying to round up a little bunch of loose mules, perhaps a dozen to fifteen of them. His back was turned to the two regulators as he apparently tried to keep the long-ears from bolting out onto the open plain, and Buck couldn't make out a face, just a flat-crowned black hat, a short duck jacket, a firm seat in the saddle and legs encased in shiny black leather chaps, and a hand waving a coiled lariat as the horse, with what seemed the natural canniness of a cutter, darted in and out, keeping the mules under control but not managing to pack them into a close group or get them moving on. Buck hadn't had much occasion to work with mules in his life, but he'd known men who had, and knew that their stubbornness could make them difficult to handle, especially in groups, when they seemed to pick up on one another's devilishness and intelligence. "Looks like somebody's stock got loose," he decided, and then took another look at the comparitive size of rider and horse. "Hell, that ain't but just some kid wrangler! He can't even be as old as JD. What's some damn fool thinkin' sendin' a boy like that out after a bunch of hammerhead mules?"

"Reckon we sh'd lend a hand?" Vin suggested, reaching out to take the glass back and shove it in his pocket.

"Reckon that boy's like to be at it till Christmas if we don't," Buck agreed. "Let's swing out, pincer-wise. You come in from the left and behind, I'll go at 'em right side and closer."

Vin nodded once, tugged his hat down in front and reined Peso to the side in a sweeping half-circle. Buck gave Plata a touch of the spur and she leaped forward.

The mules caught sight of the two riders and came to attention, ears shooting out. Buck came in fast, letting out a series of short, high-pitched cowboy yelps. The mules, with the mule habit of looking on a stranger with considerable suspicion, shuffled away from him, toward the rider on the gray--and full into Vin, who was coming even faster, whistling and waving his hat. The gray's rider took up the slack, yelling and letting his horse do what it had been trained for. Peso snapped at a couple of errants, his ears laid back, big head feinting like a boxer. In less than five minutes the mules were packed into a tight clump, milling aimlessly and watching Peso with unease, as Vin and Buck rode to and fro along the perimeter, whistling and calling to them, and the rider on the gray did the same on the other side.

Buck pulled up, turning to grin at the strange wrangler, and his jaw dropped. From the rear, the erect back and square shoulders, lean flexible waist and hard flat butt, and the clothes, had given the impression of masculinity. But now, from the front, he saw the shape of the ears, the corners of the mouth, the elegance of the throat, and from there down, even with the rather bulky jacket buttoned halfway up from the waist and a loose blue chambray shirt underneath, there was no doubt in his mind that he was looking at a girl.

No--he revised the estimate: not a girl, a grown woman. The face was rounded, almost the kind of baby face you would peg as somebody's niece or sister or neighbor's daughter, but there was a certain squareness to the jaw, and a glint to the eyes, which were blue, that suggested toughness, experience, and resolve. The skin was fair, burned clear bronze by much exposure, with a hint of redness where it was drawn tightest over the cheekbones, and the hair was blonde, apparently knotted up somehow under the hat, which was as flat-topped as Chris's but pinched in front, pulled close down over the brow. An orangey-red silk bandanna was wrapped close around her throat and tied in front to lap down in two tails like a four-in-hand tie. At the crotch of the chaps showed tight-fitting blue canvas pants, and there was nothing masculine about her legs in them, or the way she filled out her shirt. Her gelding looked to be a mix of ranch and mustang blood, with hard gray feet that wouldn't crack or bruise easily, and dark eyes with no hint of pink around them. Buck put her height at just about five feet five, three full inches under even JD, and her weight at about the same as his young partner's, a hundred and thirty pounds or so, but without JD's occasional awkwardness, all very well organized, limber, graceful. He noted the spurs, elaborate, hand-forged, California-style, with ornate silver inlays and mounting, fourteen long deeply-cut points on the rowels, long double chains and pear-shaped danglers hung off the rowel hubs for music; noted that the rope in her hand was rawhide, not vegetable-fiber like his or Vin's, and saw too that she was armed--a Peacemaker .45, the barrel cut down to four-inch length, worn high on the left for a cross-draw, and a Winchester in a boot under the stirrup leather. Behind incongruous oval silver-framed spectacles, her gaze was alert, shifting quickly from him to Vin and back again. "Hadn't looked for a helping hand," she said. "Obliged to you both."

Buck suddenly caught the glint of amusement in her eye and realized he was gaping, which was something he seldom did around women. He shut his mouth fast. "Our pleasure, ma'am. Just kinda looked like you could use it." He tentatively extended his hand, not sure it was the correct thing to do but at a loss to decide how else to greet her. "Buck Wilmington. That's Vin Tanner yonder."

"Darcy Cullin." Her hand wasn't big, but its grip was surprisingly strong, that of someone who spent a lot of time reining horses and doing hard work. "Pueblo Packers, out of Colorado. Got a pack-string outfit hauling goods up to Discovery--you know the place?"

"Heard of it," Buck allowed. "Ain't been there." The gold strike had been made soon after the Seven first formed, almost a year ago now. Technically it was in their territory, but the trails were so steep and narrow that wheeled traffic couldn't manage them, and so Judge Travis had yet to add the place to his circuit--which seemed to suit the inhabitants perfectly well; from what word reached Four Corners, chiefly by way of the camp's mail riders, they were managing their own affairs pretty adequately. In any case, the snow sealed the town off for half the year, which meant that during the travelling season the trails were constantly busy, as supplies were stockpiled for the winter and ore packed out. "Your mules?"

"Some of 'em. We camped about a dozen miles further on, and everything was fine. Then we woke up this morning and most of the stock had drifted off in the night." She shrugged. "It's something mules do."

Buck caught Vin's quick frown. She'd said these were "some" of her mules, but she'd also said "most" of her stock had drifted off. The gunslinger had seen pack strings enough, in his young days in the Colorado gold country, to know that the minimum size, borrowing from the custom of Mexican arrieros, bottomed out around fifty. So where were the rest? And why had they wandered off from the indispensable bell mare?

Vin leaned forward in his saddle as if whispering some order in Peso's ear, then swung down for a closer look at the ground. "Was a horse in here," he said after a minute. "You ain't maybe missin' your bell too?"

Buck saw something seal off behind Darcy Cullin's eyes and felt a familiar quiver in his nerves. "How ya tell, pard?" he asked, to gain time.

"Tracks is plain," the Texan responded. "Mule's got a narra little U-shaped foot, like a burro. 'S why he don't do good in heavy mud or sticky clay, on account he can't get up the traction. One set of bigger prints mixed in, rounder, shod."

"Might've been a stray," Darcy suggested evenly. "It's sure not here now. I've known mules to want to follow a passing saddle horse."

"Might been," Vin allowed mildly, and then squatted, reaching into the trampled grass. "But I reckon not." And he stood, swatting Peso's suddenly curious muzzle away. "Ain't ever knowed no stray horse to be carryin' oats around with him," he drawled gently, his clear eyes bright and sharp on Darcy's face. "Anyhow, this here horse was rode. Can tell by the depth of the track and how regular he moves. Ain't no meanderin' to his trail. Took off north, maybe three hours back."

Buck moved closer for a look. Sure enough, a scant handful of grains of oats lay in Vin's open palm. Wilmington was no tracker, at least not in the way Tanner was, but he'd had to follow a trail or two in his day, and now that he knew what he was looking for, he could make out the hoofprints of the departing horse, half obscured by the shuffling of the mules and the movements of Peso and Plata. "Looks like maybe he used the grain to toll these mules along with him," he guessed. "When he figured he was far enough from their camp, he let it drop so they'd stay feedin' and give him the chance to ride on before anybody followin' along could catch him. Only they missed a few bits." He looked up to Darcy Cullin, his indigo eyes penetrating. "Somethin' more happened than what you're sayin', Miss Darcy, ain't that so?"
She squared her shoulders. "I don't see it's any lookout of yours."

Buck bit back a sigh. "No offense, Miss Darcy, but Vin here and me, we're the law in these parts--well, some of it--hired by Circuit Judge Orin Travis himself. And if somebody's rustlin' mules in our territory, that's somethin' the Judge would expect us to look into. Plus, it ain't somethin' we favor to let go on, if you catch my drift."

"Never met the rustler yet would abandon the stock unless he was pressed awful close," the woman observed evenly.

"And all that means is somethin' maybe worse than rustlin', maybe a grudge, maybe a war," Buck retorted in the same tone. "Just lucky he didn't pull off to cover and lay for you when you caught up."

Darcy hesitated, looked down a moment, and sighed. Buck had met mule people enough to know that they were stubborn as their own stock, proud as hell of the difficult job they did and independent as a whole drove of hogs on ice. But he'd had to learn to work around the idiosyncracies of others in his twelve years partnered with Chris, and he sensed that his invocation of professional pride, on his part and Vin's, would be something she could understand and respond to.

"All right," she said after a minute. "We've got a string of fifty, apart from the saddle stock and the camp-outfit and personal-baggage mules. Those we picket, so they'll be easy to catch up in the morning or if there's a storm or a run. When we rolled out, Sugar--she's the bell--and maybe four or five of the string were still at camp. The rest had pulled out, like I said, and then scattered into three different bunches about two miles out. Mules like company, same as horses, so when they break away from their regular travel mates you know somebody's been there to encourage them. I sent two of my packers after the other bunches and followed this one myself. Had to leave the rest of the crew in camp, to look after the freight. Got around six and a half ton of what have you, and if any of it wanders off I lose big."

"So we're talkin' three different riders," Buck mused thoughtfully, "each likely with some grain in a nosebag. Wasn't no moon last night, so even if you had a nighthawker posted, if they came in afoot behind their horses or layin' down along their sides Comanche style, your man might've missed 'em in the dark. Even just one could start the drift goin'--sneak in amongst the mules grazin' and give 'em a sample and they'd follow right happily. Only why didn't your hawker try to hold 'em back?"

"Because they beaned him on the head," Darcy replied grimly. "Lucky thing he's got a hard skull. He's with his dad at the camp, being looked after."

Vin and Buck traded nods. "Figured somethin' like," the gunslinger agreed. "You got any notion why these fellers'd do this and then just abandon the stock after goin' to such trouble? These look like about eighty-dollar mules to me. Say forty-five of 'em took, that's a pretty piece of change if they could be sold off."

"Thirty-six hundred," Darcy agreed. "It's a long story."

"Might be best th'others hear it too, then," Vin suggested.

"Others?" Darcy repeated.

"Like I said, we're just some of the law hereabouts," Buck reminded her. "Rest are back home, in town, maybe three hours' ride that way."

Darcy shook her head. "I can't waste that much time. Going and back, I'd be looking at another good day. I've got a contract to deliver these goods, and people waiting for 'em in Discovery. Plus I just picked up a trial-basis contract to pack out ore, and it belongs to people who want to make as much money as quick as they can. Delays are lost revenue, for me and them. And if I can't do the job right, I won't keep the franchise past the end of season."

"Won't keep it even that long if folks go on runnin' your mules off," Vin mentioned.

"You come on with us, Miss Darcy," Buck urged gently. "We'll make it quick as we can, I give you my word. We can leave these mules off--what do you reckon, pard, Nettie's place?"

"Yeah," Vin agreed, "she's got plenty grass still in that east paddock, and nothin' eatin' on it but them two milk cows."

"Miz Nettie's a friend of ours," Buck amplified for Darcy's benefit. "Her place is just over the second rise between here and Four Corners. Turn your mules into her pasture and we can make good time."

"Four Corners?" Darcy repeated. "That where you're from? Then you'd be Chris Larabee's outfit."

Buck nodded. "Yes, ma'am, that's us. You heard of us?"

"Oh, you might say. I understand a lot of the bad element that got shoved out of Colorado when we got statehood ended up down your way, till you seven came along."

"That's God's truth, sure enough," Buck agreed with a sigh. The Colorado line was only a couple of days' easy ride from Four Corners, which happened to be almost the first considerable community anyone coming down from that way would hit, and it had proved an irresistible temptation to a good few owlhooters looking for easy pickings. "Like you say, they didn't stay."

"Well, then," Darcy decided, "maybe we owe you a little extra co-operation on that account. You know this country and where your friend's place is; one of you take point?"

"I'll do it," Vin said at once, turning to catch up Peso.

+ + + + + + +

Nettie Wells and her niece had just left off several pieces of household equipment at Yosemite's place for repair when JD and Nathan happened along and stopped to exchange greetings. They were still there, clumped off to one side of the big door next to Nettie's buckboard, when the quick clop of hooves announced the approach of Buck, Vin, and a horse and rider none of the quartet recognized. "Hey, Buck!" JD yelled happily. "Welcome home!" He'd wanted to go along with his best friend, but Chris had thought it better to send Vin, in case some sign were found that would require his expertise to interpret or follow. "Who ya got there?"

The three swung down, dropping their reins, and the stranger swept off a dusty flat-brimmed black hat and whacked it against a chaps-clad leg to get rid of the dust. For the first time the Wellses, the healer, and the youngest of the regulators noticed the silver-rimmed spectacles, the female contours of the face, and the hair, which was braided and coiled carelessly on top of the head. "Glad we come on you, Miz Nettie," Buck said. "This here's Darcy Cullin. She's packin' goods up to Discovery with a mule train, and some of her stock wandered off in the night, looks like with somebody to help it. We figured best she come in with us and report it to Chris. We turned her mules into your east pasture when we come by, hope you don't mind none. Miss Darcy, this is Mrs. Nettie Wells, and her niece Casey, and these two fellers are a couple more of the law around here--that's our healer, Nathan Jackson, and the kid's JD Dunne."

The two women, young and old, shook hands with the air of equal recognizing equal, Nettie wiry and erect in her shabby riding skirt and patched man's shirt, gray hair severely drawn back into a big knot on her neck, her old Spencer lying across the buckboard seat within easy reach. Casey stared in wide-eyed amazement at Darcy's clothes, her horse and California tack and big jingling spurs, the Colt at her waist. "Pleased to meet you," Nettie declared heartily. "Glad my place was handy when you needed it."

"There's fifteen mules, Mrs. Wells," Darcy told her. "If you want I can give you a dollar or two to cover the grass they'll eat."

"Call me Nettie, child," the old lady insisted, "and that's not needed. That pasture ain't had anything but my dairy stock in it all spring, except when some of these useless peacekeepers happen by. There's grass to spare, and your stock's welcome to take its fill."

JD tilted his head, eyes wide with recognition of the newcomer's sex. "Buck, you're full'a--I mean, you gotta be pullin' our leg," he declared. "Women don't ride with mule trains."

Darcy grinned at him. "They do when they own the mules, kid. My stock, my company--well, except the share that belongs to my brother, he's a lawyer, signs the papers and such."

"You fellers got any notion where Chris is at?" Buck asked quickly.

"I seen him goin' in the Clarion about five minutes ago," Nathan replied. "Josiah's roamin' around town someplace, and you don't need me to tell you where Ezra is."

Buck grinned and nodded. "Saloon, suckerin' the early comers," he agreed. "Hope springs eternal, so they say, and that's what keeps him in business--these cowhands never know when to quit waitin' for it to spring. Miss Darcy, if you'd care to come along to the newspaper office, you can meet our boss, and Miz Travis too--she publishes it."

"I'll see to the horses," Vin offered. "Yours too, Miss Darcy."

"Why, I'm obliged again, Mr. Tanner. Just let me have my saddlebags first, I'll need what's in them when I find a place to stay."

The tracker ducked his head shyly. "Name's Vin, ma'am. 'Mr. Tanner' is what Ezra calls me."

"Vin it is, then." Darcy quickly untied the capacious canvas bags from behind her saddle cantle. "I'd be grateful you'd tell the stableman that Pilot here is a dash touchy about his heels and tail."

Vin nodded agreement and took the gray's black-and-white braided mecate and the reins of his own horse and Buck's. As Buck and Darcy turned away, Casey elbowed the astonished JD sharply in the ribs. "Ya see?" she demanded. "Ya see what a girl can grow up to do? Wonder if she needs a wrangler. I'm good with stock..."

"Case!" JD exclaimed, scandalized. "Ain't no need you doin' no such thing as that. And I ain't standin' for it, either."

"You ain't standin'!" the girl retorted. "JD Dunne, you ain't my boss, my brother, or my daddy, and you sure as--as stingers on bees ain't married to me! If I decide I want to pack mules for a living, that's my business, it ain't none of yours!"

Chris was in the Clarion front office with Mary and Billy Travis when Buck opened the door and stood aside for Darcy to enter first. He acknowledged his old friend's introduction with a meager but polite nod and listened as Buck sketched what he knew of the situation. "Is that the way of it, Miss Cullin?"

"That's as I told it to him, Mr. Larabee," Darcy agreed quietly. "There's detail, of course, but from what I hear, it's best I wait to go into all that till the rest of your men are by to listen."

The gunfighter nodded again. "Likely we'll be occupied most of the afternoon and evening, it bein' Saturday," he observed. "First thing Sunday morning good for you to meet with us?"

"Where should I come?" Darcy asked.

"You can all meet right here," Mary declared with crisp pre-emptiveness before the Seven's chief could reply. "This isn't Maude Standish, Chris, you shouldn't expect her to sit in a saloon."

"I like saloons, Mrs. Travis," Darcy told her. "Pick up a good bit of business in the Great Plains up at home, and a little money at poker too, time to time."

"Still," Mary replied, "you might prefer a bit more privacy, and in any case you'll need a place to stay for the night. You're welcome to my extra bedroom upstairs and a place at the table with Billy and me."

"That's very kind of you to offer. I do seem to be piling up obligations today. But I'll admit I wouldn't mind getting cleaned up and sleeping in a good bed."

"We'll be here at nine, Mary," Chris said. "That'll give us an hour and a half before Josiah has to start services. Let's find him and Ezra, Buck, and tell 'em about this."

Buck nodded, touching his hat to Mary and Darcy, and the two men went out. Billy Travis, for once, didn't make any attempt to trail after his black-clad hero. He was staring at Darcy in fascination, very much as Casey had done, with particular attention to her ornate spurs and the Colt at her waist. "Can you shoot?" he demanded.

"Wouldn't carry it if I couldn't," was the reply. "Wear a gun you'd better be able and willing to use it. I'm no fast draw, but I get the job done."

"Why do you wear spurs like Chris's?" was Billy's next question.

"Billy," his mother cautioned.

"That's all right, Mrs. Travis. How's the boy to learn if he doesn't ask? I wear these spurs, Billy, because I grew up around the California-Nevada border, and everyone in those parts wears this design." She looked him over a moment. "Now, let me guess...you'd be seven?"

"How did you know?"

"I've got a nephew that age. He's just about your size. Dark hair, though, like Buck."

"Where does he live?"

"In Pueblo, with his folks. He's my brother's little boy. His name's David, and his baby sister is Joan; she's four."

Mary decided it was time to take a firm grip of the situation. "Let me show you upstairs," she proposed. "I'm sure you'd like to wash up."

There were three bedrooms on the second floor of the Clarion building, besides the sitting-dining room converted from an intended storeroom or back office downstairs, and the kitchen in the ell built on behind. The two in front were of a size, about twelve and a half feet square, divided from Billy's eight-by-ten-foot cubbyhole by a narrow hallway, a storage closet, and the stair landing. The washstand set in the spare room was painted with a pair of romantic Indians--a lovesick maid lying languidly beside a pool in the bottom of the bowl, and a buck staring resolutely toward the horizon on the pitcher, doomed never to see her till you picked it up and poured water in the bowl. Mary handed the pitcher to Billy with orders to fill it at the kitchen pump and bring up some wood and a kettle for the lowboy heating stove, then turned back the pineapple-pattern crocheted bedspread while Darcy shed her jacket and tossed her saddlebags over the back of the straight-backed wooden chair to begin unpacking them. "Do you need anything to wear?" she asked cautiously. "I have a pink plaid I think might fit you, though we might have to pin the skirt up, and your hair is only a little darker than mine, so the color should suit you--"

Darcy grinned and pulled a brown-paper parcel out of the roomy bags. "Not necessary, Mrs. Travis," she said, and shook out a green-and-lemon plaid cotton frock, very simple, but in the stylish princess cut that left the true line of the hips apparent. "I haven't completely forgotten I'm not a man," she added, her eyes twinkling at the newspaperwoman's evident surprise. "It's just that this is the most practical way to dress on the trail. I don't have the space for more than one Hill's Cotton skirt, but I can at least look halfway presentable if I want to."

"Surely you don't carry a corset in there too?"

"Don't need one, not in the working season. When I'm hustling mules and riding Pilot day in and day out, I can eat anything and everything I want, and stay skinny as a rail. No such leeway in winter, unfortunately."

At seven the two women and Billy sat down to supper at the big round mahogany table that had been one of Mary's wedding gifts. The front office was locked and dark, and at the back of the building the noise of gaiety from the main street, though still audible, was at least somewhat muffled. The meal was basically the midday dinner warmed up again--leftover cold boiled potatoes sliced into a pan, surrounded with thin, translucent strips of bacon, and fried to a crisp, crusted mass; cold beans with ham; canned tomatoes with cheese melted in--and a big dish of pan-browned hash with poached eggs, which was generally considered appropriate for this meal rather than the other, besides thick-sliced bread with butter and wild-cherry preserves, fresh beet pickles put up by Nettie Wells, spiced canteloupe, and for dessert spice cake with stewed rhubarb piled atop each slice as a sauce. Darcy, as she had suggested she might, ate with the immense healthy hunger of an outdoorswoman, taking two heaping servings of everything.

"I don't want to seem to pry," Mary observed, "but I do run a newspaper, and information is my stock in trade. How did you come by such an unusual name? And whatever possessed you to go into the pack-string business?"

"Well, as for the name," Darcy replied, "when my mother was carrying me, we were living in Placerville--Hangtown, they called it in the beginning--and my dad was working a small claim and hauling goods and mail. One day he was cutting trees to build a new sluice box, and one of them fell wrong and pinned him. He was way off the path and nobody could hear him yell, but a fellow by the name of Tom Darcy happened to be looking for a strayed mule and found him. He hoisted the tree off Dad and got him home, and Dad swore he'd name his new baby in his rescuer's honor. I don't think he was expecting a girl; he had three boys already and must have figured he'd get dealt four of a kind. When I showed up, of course he couldn't call me Tom, so he just used Darcy's surname, said it reminded him a little of 'Fancy.' My mother wanted me to spell it with an apostrophe, like they do in France, but I've never bothered."

"Did you grow up in California?"

"No, we moved to Virginia City when I was six." Her father, John Henry Cullin, had been a native of Maryland and an Irishman by descent, though lapsed in his Catholicism; his father in turn had spent most of his life driving a Conestoga freight wagon up and down the Cumberland Road, until he retired to ownership of an inn outside Richmond, Indiana, which was patronized by stagecoach passengers, wagon emigrants, stock drovers, and every variety of commercial traveller. John Henry grew up knowing horses and harness, but in his youth he pushed on to Westport, Missouri, where he became involved in the Santa Fe Trade and learned to work with mules. Spending a couple of winters in the Southwest as a prospector and wild-horse hunter, he picked up the art of the diamond hitch from the Mexicans, whose ancestors had brought it from Spain, to which it had been introduced by the Moors. He never suffered from the common anti-Irish-Catholic bias of the day, perhaps because his religious convictions were so lukewarm: "native" Americans considered no one a "true" Irishman, be his brogue never so rich, who was not a devout "Papist."

During one of his winter-overs in Missouri, John Henry married one Matilda Hartmann, generally known as Mattie, whose mother was a New Jersey Swede and whose father was a German immigrant, but an educated man, a lawyer, latitudinarian in taste and outlook, who although reared a Lutheran had no trace of bias in him. Like so many of his countrymen, he had emigrated to the new lands of Missouri, and practised chiefly among the German community, though he was known and respected by the native-born population. During the Mexican War John Henry accompanied Cooke's expedition to San Diego, and though chiefly a packer took a hand in the engagements at Pima Village and Warner's Ranch. After the fall of California he drifted north and was in San Francisco in May of '48, when Sam Brannan thundered into the sleepy town of 800 shouting of "gold, gold from the American River!" Forthwith he joined most of the rest of the population in a wild stampede to the diggings. He took in a good stake, enough to get him well started, but quickly realized that it was by servicing the miners that a man was likeliest to gain wealth. In August he made his way east to reunion with his wife and two sons, ages five and one; the younger (named Cornelius Vanderbilt after the Commodore but ordinarily called Vandy) he had never before seen. The next spring the family travelled overland to the Mother Lode country, where three more children were born: Delaney (after John Henry's mother's family) in 1850, Darcy in 1853, and Bonnie in 1856. John Henry dabbled in prospecting off and on for much of the rest of his life, but made his real income chiefly through packing supplies or running mail; the latter was surprisingly lucrative, for miners desperate for newspapers and letters from home would pay a dollar to be enrolled on the camp list and anywhere from fifty cents to an ounce of dust--sixteen dollars--for each letter brought in and half again as much for each taken out.


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