by Sevenstars

Chris and Buck, who apart from Josiah were the elders of the Seven, had both begun their gunfighting careers in the pre-War mining West, and they knew well the cycle of mineral camps: the discovery of gold or silver, the first, hasty construction of shacks and cabins, the mushroom growth of a boom town, the later, opulent development into a "city," and then the slow, wavering decline into deserted ruins as the ore was exhausted. In the spring of '78 Discovery had consisted of a few tents, without even a formal name--folks who lived there called it "the camp," and outsiders knew it as "that place up Signal Mountain"--but by that August, following a rich strike, it had mushroomed into a town of 2000. In its early days it yielded $17,000 in one week, with a single pan enriching its owner by $1500; one miner took out $200,000 in four days, a trio of partners $700,000 in a week; another strike produced $6000 in an hour, including a single nugget worth $1800, only to be eclipsed when another weighing twenty-five pounds was unearthed half a mile up the gulch. Beginning with a population of some 165 persons--ninety-five adult males, thirty-two women, twenty-five boys and thirteen girls--it had tripled in a month, increased fourfold in another, and then levelled off at 3000, where it now stood, not counting transients or the residents of the satellite communities. As in most mining regions, the ore quickly nosedived into the bowels of the earth, and the place transformed itself from placer to deep mining, with agents for large, well-financed, established companies appearing on the scene and negotiating leases with the owners of the more promising claims so large-scale development could proceed, mostly on a percentage-of-profits basis, 25% to the original owner being a common figure. In a short time it had gone from a wild camp of tents and rock huts and brush shacks to 175 producing mines of varying richness and size, eleven reduction mills, and nine samplers, with everything necessary to a progressive mining camp--tinned oysters and boiled shirts for the nabobs, fascinators and fans for their ladies, lending libraries, pickhandles and crystal chandeliers, a personnel of gamblers, stockbrokers, claim-jumpers, hardrock men, bunco steerers and evangelists, a 200-room hotel and an Episcopal church. The wryly-named Lilly Cyprian, the most prominent madam in town, drove new arrivals down the street in open carriages, sweeping them into saloons to drink, gamble, dance, and meet the boys by way of a debut. It was sourdough and Taos Lightning today, chefs from Delmonico's and magnums of Mumm's tomorrow, splendid hotels in gaudy profusion of Mansard roofs, mahogany bedroom sets, diamond-dust mirrors and tessellated marble floors from the quarries of Italy. Gowns by Worth and jewels from Tiffany adorned women who a brief season ago had been performing like Borgias, poisoning their menfolk over cast-iron cookstoves in Pickhandle Gulch. And while surface workings might have been pretty thoroughly picked over in the main length of Payday Canyon, the lesser gulches and ravines that radiated out from it had begun to sprout satellite camps that were no less crude and lively than their parent at its inception.

Few mountain valleys were wide and flat enough to accomodate a mining town reasonably, and it bunched itself as best it could into a deep canyon, ravine, or gulch. Discovery was more fortunate than most in that it perched on the south face of Signal Mountain, and therefore got the light of the sun for a very reasonable length of time each day. Roads did not go through it, but to it. Like every mining camp, it was the end of a trail. Nothing on wheels heavier than a buckboard--which never mired in mud or jammed in rocks, and was said to be able to get through any space where you could see daylight between the trees--could successfully tackle the steep undeveloped mountain paths that led to it, and this was the only reason that women other than those of the hurdy-gurdies could be a feature of the population.

Temporarily delayed when Nathan's horse threw a shoe, Larabee and his three came into the camp after nightfall. For some time before its lights and clamor reached them, they had been aware of occasional subliminal grumbles of blasting deep in the ground beneath them, which made Peso and Blackhawk snort and two-track with unease. The hoof-gashed, droppings-littered trail they'd been following all day had been gradually deepening and broadening until its eight- or ten-inch depth reminded Vin of a buffalo trail--and, like a buffalo trail, where the ground steeped sharply the rain had washed it out into a deep trench, until it was five or six feet from floor to rim. A dozen rutted side-tracks turned into the road, which now ran along a wide and rapid stream. Looking up to the forbidding mountains on either side, the regulators could make out the tiny pinpoints of nine shacks clinging to their steep sides and shrouded in mist. They rode past a stamp mill and the high rosy-glowing chimney of a smelter, climbing a little, and were on the town's street, four to six long blocks stretching for half a mile along a way alternately bedded in six inches of muck or dust. Briefly they were flanked by tarpaper-and-board shacks and the white blobs of tents graying in the darkness. Then, sudden as a smith's hammer striking an anvil, the street became crowded and lighted and noisy, bordered by wide awninged boardwalks abutting false-fronted stores and saloons and cubbyhole offices, interrupted with log cabins and board-based tents pressing so close to the path (for no walk fronted these) that passing men wiped their matches alight on the wood. The walks were jammed with a restlessly moving traffic of people whose talk and laughter and harsh oaths struck up an undertone of sound that even the rumble of passing loaded ore wagons with their six- and eight- and ten-horse teams couldn't muffle. Tie rails along the walks were packed with saddle horses and small rigs and a few heavy wagons. The middle of the street--a mire of mud chopped into craters and canyons by hooves and boots and wagon wheels and punctuated by pools of wine-colored water--was equally as crowded, foot traffic mingling with, and somehow miraculously emerging unscathed from, the jam of teams and ridden animals. The creeping ore wagons churned their way through this struggling sea, their drivers demanding way in fluent curses over the buckboards and spring wagons and carriages. The nose of each team was right up against the tail of the wagon ahead, while around them and between them, almost oblivious to them, the noisy crowd milled. Unending bitter complaint by the merchants had yet to succeed in rerouting to a side street this endless line of ore freighters on their way from the mines to the stamp mills down canyon, for this was a boom town and ore was king. The mist above was dissolving into a thin rain, but the men and few women on the greasy planks paid it no attention. Prospectors, townspeople, a few cattlemen, promoters, muleskinners, rusty-looking miners, and a motley crowd of hangers-on mingled in a pleasant din, colorful and tawdry and full of life.

Men of all nations, whose old-country ways had not yet been filed down by the hard and fabulous ways of the boom town, mingled on the streets. Eight hundred shallow-hatted Chinese laboriously reworked gone-over ground, washing gold manually and carrying waste away in baskets. Swart and gaudy Mexicans and stocky central-Europeans rubbed elbows with Cornishmen, dour Welshmen, and the ebullient, omnipresent Irish. Solid Northcountry Englishmen were here, to work out the rest of their lives in the mines they understood--no matter that the mines they had been bred in were more likely to be tin or coal than gold; the principles were the same. Germans, Poles, Swedes, Canucks, Greeks, Jews--every race and every color trampled the rotting boardwalks between the flimsy false-front shanties and occasional brick and stone buildings, all holding gaudy signs that reached out into the streets to proclaim their wares in glaring letters; for bonanza was a word understood the world over. And everywhere, dominating and jeering and cursing and liking it, the Americans, a booted, swaggering, hard-fisted, hard-drinking, hell-raising mob, most of them with Army in their pasts (gray or blue) and tough to the core of their truculent souls.

Like any ore camp barely a year old, the physical shape of Discovery hadn't yet set. It was a formless crazy quilt of new log stores and cabins, tents, brush huts, and dugouts spread in the shallow valley of Sometime Creek (so named because the earliest comers had been stoutly convinced that they were bound to find colors there "sometime"). At each end of town the business establishments consisted of big canvas tents with crudely lettered signs stuck in the ground out front. The farther up you went, the more substantial the buildings became--cabins and frame buildings and even a couple of two-storey brick ones. On a couple of streets branching off the main drag, Buck noted several buildings whose gaudy signs proclaimed them to be boardinghouses--which meant bordellos. Probably damn near as many as there were saloons, even if they did tend to be tucked off demurely on the side streets, and between them the two would make up about half the businesses in the camp.

It was ten o'clock at night, but still the town was wakeful, and Nathan, who had had little occasion to pass through communities of this stripe, wondered when it worked, or slept. The street itself was unlighted, for the lamps of a hundred business places had never acknowledged night. There was an omnipresent smell of sage and alkali, powder and ore, manure and sun on rock, and a constant babel of voices--miners gabbling away in their native tongues, talking loudly, swearing with abandon, earning curses from the teamsters as they threaded across the mud-rutted streets in front of or between the wagons whose drivers yelled and cursed and cracked their whips above their mules' heads. Up at the center of town, three shots racketed into the night; there was no commotion following, no shouts, and Chris, up at the head of their little clump, paid it little heed. Underlaying this was a tapestry of more staccato sounds: the metallic thump-thump-thump of stamp mills crushing ore, the creaking axles of strings of ore wagons jolting in from the mines, the shouting of men to horses and mules and burros and one another. The growing town was filled with the racket of construction--hammers pounding, saws grating, ungreased rope blocks squealing as framework walls went up. A dozen sawmills, the biggest ones fetched up in disassembled form and put together by-the-numbers, the lesser four-hundred-pound table rigs of entrepreneurs with twin thirty-inch blades, going for $40 to $55 before freight charges, screeched and whined and rasped, laboring to supply the mines and builders, and the construction went on far into the night, lighted by kerosene flares and flaming tar barrels.

The street was a bog of churned mud, maroon when it was wet, deep black by night, and red when it was dry, which was seldom. The quartet edged its way through the mob, past log cabins and stores, tents, brush huts, and dugouts, a livery stable, a two-storey log lodging house, a survey office, an assayer's, a shoemaker's shop, a bakery, a freight lot where cargo could be offloaded and left under guard until its consignee paid the carrier, and stock could get a feed. Just off the main drag Buck noticed a tent cothouse, a big floor on piles with four half-walls of logs, the upper walls and roofs of gray and much-patched canvas. Over the doorframe was a crudely painted sign proclaiming:

Beds $8.00 a Week

No Bugs at This Altitude

Here a working miner could come off shift to climb into any unoccupied bunk in the four tiers of them, and find the straw-filled mattress still warm from the last man, paying almost forty per cent of his weekly wage for the privilege. By the light of the lantern the gunslinger made out a night watchman sitting just inside, chair tilted back against the logs, a sawed-off shotgun leaning beside it. His job was to make sure that no one who came in to "visit" tried to shack up for some sleep, and to stop trouble if any got started between boarders, or boarders and their visitors.

Above the business district, each terraced street had its single row of houses, staggering precariously up the steep hillsides, one street on a level with the rooftops of the houses on the one below. Highest up the handsome houses of the upper crust--mine superintendents, professional men, big merchants, and a few of the original owners of the richest claims, staying on to be close to the source of their wealth and make as sure as possible that they weren't being cheated by the company men--hung to the cliffside like birdcages and flaunted their cupolas and turrets and bay windows and lace-edged narrow eaves, mingled with dollops of Greek Revival. Gables and elaborately carved bargeboards were everywhere, and a distinctly New England influence could be seen in picket fences and carved wooden porch posts; even the lesser houses boasted elaborate Victorian exteriors etched in gingerbread, handkerchief-sized green lawns surrounded by wrought-iron fences, iron-lace balustrades, cupolas, hitching posts, and mounting steps. On the level, tired, dirty-faced miners coming off shift paused at the saloons, muddy jeans tucked into their boots, carrying lunch buckets shaped to hold their half-moons of meat pasties, while their buxom wives trudged here and there with bundles of washing and called to each other in their strange Cornish dialect. Lawyers' and doctors' and mine superintendents' wives, out shopping or airing their pug dogs, minced along holding their skirts up with one hand to keep them from snagging on the sidewalks, and mingling politely enough with American miners' wives with that plain and rugged boniness that seemed a mark of survival. The saloon doors never stopped swinging, nor the house women beckoning, nor the wheels of fortune spinning. Fine brick buildings elbowed log cabins and wooden shacks, and flapping tents crowded against those; dugouts burrowed into the hillsides. Many of the building walls were clapboard only shoulder height, continued and roofed over with canvas. Miners lived in tents, in open canvas-roofed shelters, in packing-case shacks roofed with canvas and calico. These, in their hundreds, gave the town the look of an encampment, and at night, when the oil lamps shone through their canvas sides, the tents looked like giant glowworms. The better ones had board floors and a square of tin sewed around the protruding stovepipe. Piles of lumber, stacks of stovewood, and bundles of shingles were dumped at random; freight wagons stood parked every which way with bare ribs arcing; saddled horses drooped hipshot over the hitch racks. Strings of pack animals stepped daintily over the ruts and picked their way around the stumps.

There were plenty of saloons, fourteen round-the-clock faro games, a brewery (every mining town needed at least one, for demand was high and the product too bulky to ship), two hotels offering 300 rooms between them, fine stores with the latest ladies' and men's fashions from San Francisco, two solid banks, three newspapers, the obligatory miners' hospital, and numerous restaurants and boardinghouses, ranging from the luxurious Bon Ton with its imported chefs to the Cancan, named, it was said, not for its gaiete parisienne but for the source of its food. There were several "theaters," some merely saloons with entertainment, while the bill at Hollingsworth Hall included plays and lectures, besides meetings of such fraternal organizations as the Masons, Knights of Pythias, and GAR. There were at least two other community halls, used for dances and union meetings as well as entertainment; schools, and four churches (Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal), debating and literary societies, amateur theatricals, and a glee club. Yet the place retained the feverish ambience of a mining town. Lonely men flocked to the saloons and dance halls at night, and the air was rent by tinkling music and drunken shouts and laughter; miners relaxed at gambling, horse races, wrestling matches, and cockfights.

At the age of ten months the town had planted thirty-three men on Boot Hill, led by a misguided newcomer who tried to fill an inside straight from a boot top. Pennies were refused by storekeepers and nickels were gathered as a nuisance and shipped to Santa Fe. Youngsters running errands in the streets picked up twenty dollars a day in tips. Cannons boomed announcing presidential elections and holidays. The streets were a milling mass of ore wagons, horses, mules, burros, cursing teamsters, miners, and one-horse carts from which Chinese truck-gardeners peddled their vegetables. The Irish whooped it up on St. Patrick's Day and the Cornish Cousin Jacks celebrated the Battle of the Boyne on July 12.

Prices were sky-high, for not only did everything the camp needed have to be hauled in from the nearest railhead, but labor was scarce: though miners' incomes were notoriously erratic, men often scorned any work not involving ore, or refused to accept the comparitively low pay offered for many necessary services. In consequence you paid about three dollars for a good meal, six for a cheap hotel room and thirty for a good one. A single-storey building with a twenty-foot frontage sold for $50,000, a cheaply knocked-together wooden house rented for up to $800 a month, laundresses charged six dollars for a dozen shirts, and even a glass of beer went for a quarter--five times what it cost in Four Corners--and the building lumber from the local sawmills for six to fourteen cents a board foot.

Rapid growth and lack of planning had resulted in houses of ill fame establishing themselves among the "respectable" businesses, and Buck slouched back in his saddle and grinned broadly at three semi-clad prostitutes waving to him from a second-storey balcony. "Ain't you ladies just a tad chilled like that?" he called up.

"Come on up and help us get warm, handsome!" replied the middle one, a redhead in a lace-trimmed Swiss-muslin dressing robe. Beside her a little black-haired girl threw a purple-stockinged leg across the balcony rail and waved it, turned to display the gold Chinese dragon ramping up the side of her red shantung kimono.

Chris reached out and thumped Buck's thigh with his fist. "Get your mind out of the gutter, Buck. We're here on business, remember?"

Buck turned up a hand toward the girls in a shrug, making a face and gesturing toward Chris to indicate that the delay wasn't of his choosing, and chuckled at their exaggeratedly disappointed response before grinning wryly at his oldest friend. "Takes you back, don't it, pard?"

"It does that," Chris agreed. "Virginia City was like this. Carson City and Genoa too."

"Georgetown," Buck supplied. "Cañon City, Fairplay, Jefferson."

Vin hunched his shoulders at the too-near crack of a muleskinner's whip. "Don't know how you boys can breathe," he muttered, his eyes glittering like Peso's on a bad morning. "Bad enough for me back in Four Corners. This here, hell, it's worse'n Dodge City was when I's haulin' hide in there."

"You wanta drop back?" Chris asked quietly.

"Still have to be here even if I's travellin' with Miss Darcy," Vin pointed out, "and ain't likely anybody'd believe me as no mule packer. 'Sides you all need me to watch your backs. I ain't ever run out on no job yet and I ain't startin' now."

Up beyond the central business district the crowds thinned a bit, and only a livery lantern and another tent bunkhouse were lighted. The four men rode past a vacant, can-littered lot and turned in at the broad arch of the stable, where a yawning hostler stumbled out of his cubbyhole office to take their horses. "You keep our gear till we can find a place to stay?" Chris asked him.

"Yeah, sure thing. Put it just inside the office door. No guarantees it'll be there when you come back, though."

Larabee grabbed a fistful of the man's high-necked red woollen undershirt and yanked him around. "It better be," he growled, "or we'll take the worth of it out of your hide."

The hostler blanched at the chill of the pale eyes boring into his own. "Sure, sure, Mister. I'll put it under my cot. Nobody can reach in there without me feelin' 'em. Your saddles get locked up in the tack room, so they're safe enough."

The gunfighter held his gaze a moment, then nodded and let him go. "Come on, boys," he said, and led the way out and back toward the business district.

It seemed that every other structure, from the canvas tents on the outskirts to the core of big solid buildings at the main intersection, was a saloon and gambling dive, and from them all issued a din of drunken shouting and hell raising. Yet for all the patchwork of types, there was actually little mingling and less fighting between them. Each nationality had its own favorite saloon, and among Americans each occupation--teamsters, timbermen, hostlers--had theirs. The sole exception to this lay in the Varieties, which was also about the best bar in town, excepting the one at the Pacific Hotel. Here all the most prosperous types mingled with the unattached visitors and the newcomers trying to decide where to fit themselves into the bustling life of the camp. Chris and his followers found it just where Darcy's map had placed it, and turned in.

The saloon had the loud steady hum of accustomed prosperity, and the free and open camaraderie of a frontier club, which it was. It was eighty feet long and thirty wide, with a fifty-foot Brunswick-Balke-Callander bar on the right, an ornate, heavy affair of thick mahogany brought up, probably in sections, at God knew what kind of trouble and expense, and the rest of the room looked shabby alongside it and its magnificent mirror. Chris noted with mild amusement that the glasses on the backbar had been stacked so as to hide three ragged bullet holes toward the bottom of the mirror. Opposite, all the gaming tables--poker, dice, roulette, monte, faro--were doing a brisk business, and four bartenders worked the crowd of drinkers. At the back an extension provided fifteen-foot-square rooms, large enough for a dozen men at a time, for private games where the stakes and limits were set by agreement of those playing. Upstairs was a fine dining room managed by a French chef, where foods of all kinds, including a half lobster at $15.00, were available. At the second-floor front were two smaller rooms where "snap" games were run, the house taking a percentage of the winnings from the dealer, who put up his own money. The place served champagne and Catawba wines, the latter said by no less an authority than Thomas Jefferson to be indistinguishable from the best French Chambertin, besides Old Taos, and everything in between.

The main room was crowded with ragged miners from the mountains, dapper clerks in shiny hats and faultless linen, gamblers of high and low degree, long-limbed ranchers and cowboys. The air was a bedlam of waiters calling, chairs scraping, feet coming and going, glasses rattling and clinking, drunken men shouting, and everyone talking all at once and at the top of their voices, besides a noisy but inefficient orchestra in one corner adding to the general confusion. There was an overarcing smell of smoke, alcohol, wet wool, mud, and acridly burnt Giant powder. At the rear of the room, to one side of the golden cashier's cage and the strung-bead curtain that filled the portal to the ell, a line of half a dozen chorus girls capered, exposing little more than rustling froufrou, a froth of dessous, batiste bloomers, elaborate garters, and above them two fingers of real, white flesh. A yelling audience of men crowded as close to the break as they could get while a black-stockinged leg raised and pivoted over their heads, graceful as the steel arm of a crane. There was the close flash of light, color, ribbon, and lace--a garter sporting a beribboned rosette as big as a man's fist, full of rhinestones--the lusty wink of a dimpled knee, a raucous laugh. One man made an ineffectual grab for the garter, hoping to "snap" it as the custom was, and sank back; it was a man behind him who was allowed to be successful. And near the middle of it all, just where Larabee had expected, a flash of a gold tooth and rich deep-red jacket proclaimed the presence of Ezra Standish, holding forth at one of the semi-public poker tables like the showman he was. Weaving his way through the crowd, the gunfighter made a point of passing as close to the Southerner as he could and letting his left fingers brush the smaller man's impeccably tailored coat sleeve as if by accident. Ezra glanced up, held his leader's eyes for just an instant, and touched two fingers to his hatbrim before returning his attention to his cards. Chris knew he would keep himself appraised of his four friends' location until they chose to leave the bar.


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