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MY NAME IS DANIELS
By E.Z. Woods
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 E. Z. Woods
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAugust 1882
The pulley creaked as the boy hauled on the thick well rope, bringing a pail of water to the top. He caught it deftly with his right hand and brought the big bucket over to the stone rim. He tipped it to fill another pail, and then secured the rope to a hook. Reaching for a dipper that Ma kept handy on a nail, he scooped a drink of the fresh, cold water. The well was fed by springs born in the great rugged Carrizo Mountain south of White Oaks, one of New Mexico Territory's most prosperous mining communities.
The afternoon was hot, the sky brassy and cloudless; August in these mountains was seldom so dry. Seth knew that cattle in the area were suffering as grass that had sprung up so hopefully in the fields and meadows last spring dried now to brittle straw. Gardens and corn fields had mostly perished in this valley. Seth and his mother had kept a few rows of squash and beans alive by carrying water from the well to the small garden, and dumping dish water among the rows. At every church service the town folk and ranchers prayed for rain.
Seth lifted the bucket and started along the path to the back door of the little adobe house where he and his widowed mother lived. Pa had died in a mining accident five years ago. Now, at seventeen, Seth was as tall as his father had been, too thin for six feet of height. He was wiry and tough from working twelve hours a day at the livery stable. His boss, Jose Ramiriz, had often said to Seth's mother, Mrs. Daniels, that no one would ever accuse Seth of being shiftless.
"Hey, Seth, wait up! Seth!" The yell brought Seth around, spilling water over his pants legs. His friend Billy Burns was running toward the yard, recklessly descending the foothill of Carrizo Mountain behind the Daniels house. Billy's booted feet clattered on the rocky path where the pinon and oak brush was thick.
"Don't holler so loud, Billy! Ma's sick and she's resting."
Billy darted through the yard gate, his round face white under the sweat and freckles. He was puffing with exertion, his eyes round as marbles. "Listen, Seth!" he panted. "They found Mr. Ramiriz along the road back from Lincoln. He's dead! Somebody shot him dead!"
Seth stared at his friend, Billy. "No!" he choked out. "That can't be true! Why would anyone want to hurt Jose?"
He set the water pail down, as Billy grabbed his arm, hard. "It's true! I swear it, Seth. I saw them bringin' in his body a few minutes ago."
Seth drew a harsh breath. "Oh, damn it, Billy, Mr. Ramiriz is just a nice old man. He never did nothing bad to anybody."
Billy was fifteen, a head shorter than Seth, and heavy-set. His chest was still heaving from his run in the heat. "Well, he got robbed, I heard somebody say. You know how he always carried his money in that little leather bag on a string around his neck?"
"How'd you know that, Billy? Mr. Ramiriz was real careful not to let that show." Even Seth had only glimpsed it by accident, and he'd known better than to mention it to anyone. There were some rough men who hung out around the mines and at the saloons. It was never smart of a man to advertise that he carried more than a dollar or two. Jose Ramiriz, known to be tight as wallpaper, wouldn't have liked anyone to see where he kept the money he carried.
Billy snorted. "Aw, ever'body knew about it, Seth. Ol' Jose used to drink too much at my dad's saloon an' pull out that bag to pay for it. Anyway, somebody found Jose's wagon turned over, team all tangled in the harness. Looked like they run away after he was shot, an' he was flung out when the wagon tipped. His money bag was gone."
"Five dollars," muttered Seth, dazed.
"That's how much he'd have been paid for the sacks of oats he hauled to Lincoln. I loaded the wagon and wrote out the ticket for him. He prob'ly didn't have more than a half-dollar in his pocket, because he took a sausage sandwich with him for his lunch."
"That don't seem like much to kill a man for," Billy shook his head.
"It shouldn't have been him on that wagon at all!" Seth burst out. He glanced at the house, hoping his mother hadn't heard him. No need to upset her about this, when she felt so poorly. She'd likely get out of bed to fix a dish of food to take to Mrs. Ramiriz if she heard about the killing. He lowered his voice. "I usually do all the deliveries," he said. "But when I knew Ma got up sick this morning I ran over to the livery stable and asked Mr. Ramiriz if I could stay home to help Ma. It's all my fault he was the one got killed."
Billy looked uncertain. "I don't see how it'd be any better if you'd got killed. Anyway, Jose could have hired somebody else to drive, if he wasn't so stingy."
"Don't say anything bad about him, Billy. He's dead."
Mrs. Daniels called out weakly from her bedroom window. "Who are you talking to, son? What's happened?"
"It's nothing, Ma. Don't get up." Seth bent to grasp the bail of the water bucket, and walked quickly toward the kitchen door, his thin, boyish face sorrowful. Seth had his Ma's high cheekbones and dark eyes, and his father's thick, light-brown hair. Billy's hair was curly and carrot colored. He kept pace with Seth. "Seth, there's something else I got to tell you." He grabbed Seth's elbow to stop him. "Wait!"
"I hope they catch who did it and hang him!" Seth murmured, over the aching knot in his throat.
"Listen, hold still a minute," Billy whispered. "You might be closer to that hanging than you think. Seth, they all think you killed Jose Ramiriz!"
Seth stared at him. "God, Billy, that's an awful kind of joke. What's the matter with you, sayin' a thing like that?"
"I ain't joking. They found that old Peacemaker you carry when you're hauling for Jose. It was a little ways from Jose's body, and they think it was the murder gun!" He glanced fearfully over his shoulder. "There's a bunch of men gatherin' at the saloon, talking about catching you and stringing you up. They ain't even sending for Sheriff Roberts. He's down to Las Cruces and so is Deputy Langston, an' that gives them plenty time to deal with you before they get back. You got to run, Seth! Right now, you hear me?"
"How far would I get without a horse, or even shoes?" Seth looked down at his bare feet. "Billy, you got to know I didn't shoot anybody. I ain't even ever fired that Peacemaker. Mr. Ramiriz told me not to."
"Here, take my boots, It's my old ones, and they're big enough." Billy offered, and shucked them and his nice socks off. "Here, get them on. Maybe you can sneak over to the stable and get one of them horses."
Seth sat on the step and pulled the socks and boots on, but he hardly knew what he was doing. Mr. Ramiriz dead and Seth himself suspected of murder? It was hard to make his mind work.
"Hurry!" Billy hissed in Seth's ear. "Gus Hobard and all his lousy friends are getting liquored up and they're talking big to every bum in the place, affixing to come and get you, same as if you're a dog sick with rabies." He pulled at Seth's arm again.
"I won't steal no horse," Seth said, but Billy's words were getting through the fog of shock and fear in his head. He had liked Jose Ramiriz. He'd been fair to Seth, and he hadn't complained when Seth asked to take a day off to help Ma—oh God, his mother!
He stood. "Billy, tell my ma what's happened, will you? I'm going. Thanks for warning me."
"Here!" Billy rummaged in his pocket, drew out two dollars. "Take this. It's all I got."
Reluctantly Seth took it and shook Billy's hand. "I'll pay you back, I promise." Then he ran, leaving the yard the way Billy had entered it. He was hearing yells in the near distance. He was nearly too late, for by the time he'd scrambled and darted from tree to tree up the foothill slope and out of sight, he saw men approaching the Daniels house. There was no sign of Billy, he had fled around the house and into the next yard, and was well hidden in the neighbor's chicken house. Seth had seen him duck inside the unused building, dragging Seth's dog by the collar.
Some of the men were mounted, others walking or trotting to keep up with the horses that were being held at a walk. Hidden behind a bushy cedar, it crossed Seth's mind that the leaders, on horseback, wanted all their recruits close by when they made their capture.
Realizing his danger fully at last, he turned and slipped up along a deer trail that wound through a thicket of leafy oak brush. He'd often played here as a little kid, pretending to be an apache brave, or a mountain man, or solitary prospector. He knew where this thread of a path led.
Now his long, strong legs carried him swiftly to the east edge of town where he slipped along through fruit orchards and behind outhouses as quietly as he could in the slightly too long cowboy boots. Once he was followed for dozens of yards by a small, spotted mongrel. And once his heart almost stopped when a woman hanging wash caught sight of him walking along the lower slope. He gave her a cheerful wave, hoping she hadn't heard the news. But chances were that she would know very soon, and take pride in reporting her sighting of Seth Daniels.
Instinctively, Seth doubled back as soon as he was out of her sight. He was even more careful now not to be seen. He was headed southwest now. Would that fool his pursuers? He could only hope so.
He'd remembered another childhood dodge he'd used when playing with his friends. A nondescript little gully lay back of a trio of bushy junipers that had grown up to neatly screen its opening. The way into the gully lay a few feet from a trail used often by hunters and horseback riders and always by kids. Only the excessive heat of this afternoon kept it deserted now. Seth took a quick look to make sure no one was watching, then lowered himself to his stomach and slid like a snake under the ground-hugging boughs of a large juniper. He'd done it often as a 12 or 13 year old. But he was a little bit broader overall now and it was a tight squeeze. Once he thought he'd gotten inextricably caught within the thick, springy branches, and for a moment panic seized him. Oddly, as he fought not to yell out with fear, he thought he heard a familiar voice; the voice of his father, dead for five years. It was a quiet phrase. "Easy, son. Take it easy."
Seth stopped his frantic struggling and took a slow breath. Within a few seconds he saw a way to free himself. He wriggled back a few inches and made a slight turn and was through the branches. He reversed his body and climbed nimbly down into the cut made by years of sudden cloudbursts and flash floods. He was able to find the overhanging bank that had hidden him as a child. There, he lay still for a few moments catching his breath, remembering where the dry gulley came out across the road from the creek, west of the town. Was it far enough from White Oaks to help him escape? Maybe, if he could move fast enough.
The next hour s were a blur of slipping quickly along the winding, deep, gully. At times it narrowed, and he had to squeeze through sideways and head first, hoping the noise he made would be covered by the squawks of pinon jays and the mockingbird somewhere in the top of a nearby pine tree.
He was very near the road now, with the creek on the far side. At the road, he looked both ways and sprinted across the long-dried ruts. He dashed and slid down the steep bank to the creek which ran roughly parallel to the main road. He was none too soon, for he caught the beat of horses' hooves even as he splashed into the shallow water. The creek was very low, due to the dry summer.
Knowing that he had as much chance of hiding from the lynch mob as a cottontail rabbit would have with a pack of coyotes racing on its trail, he lay down and forced his body in among the slender trunks and drooping branches of thickly growing willows saplings that almost choked the flow of the creek. Seth froze in place as the riders thudded past on the road above.
Thankfully he was not seen; the hoof beats and shouts of the searchers receded along the road to the west. He lay still, panting and thirsty, but afraid to move even to dip his palm into the water that soaked his clothing. Fear was like an axe blade in his chest.
Considering his chances was not reassuring. He had no food, no canteen, and no mount. He was now on the western side of the town, but how would he ever get far enough away to escape the searchers? The people all knew him by sight, and knew he was on foot. Soon the area all round White Oaks would be scoured by aroused citizens. The mob would hang him this very day, without even a hearing in a court of law. His mother would never believe him guilty, but others by now believed him to be a bloody-handed killer. Hanging would be too good for him.
"Dear God," he whispered. "Please help me. If you can't, please help my mother."
After a spell of rest, his breathing quieted. He became aware of a sound on down the sluggish stream. New alarm clutched at him, until a child's shrieking laughter reassured him. It was only kids, playing along the creek. He could hear their voices now, drawing nearer. It was a little boy and a quiet-voiced girl. Seth recognized that voice. It was Ivy Merle, the schoolmaster's daughter, and her little brother, Ross.
Ivy was about thirteen, Seth thought, but seemed older. She'd been the smartest girl in the one-room school when Seth had time to attend. Ivy was always far ahead of others her age, but very modest about her good grades. She looked after the younger kids, helping them with their lessons. He remembered that Ivy always bravely defended the little ones against Gus Hobard, the oldest, stupidest, and meanest boy in school.
Seth moved a few inches through the willow clump, until he could see the two children through the screen of leaves. Ivy's long chestnut hair was neatly braided, and she was dressed in a clean calico dress, with high-topped lisle socks and sturdy boots visible under the hem. Ivy's mother was dead, and Ivy managed her father's household. She saw to it that Ross and Mr. Merle had clean, mended clothing and food on the table. Life must be very hard for the family; the teacher's pay was small. Each family with students paid him a few dollars and supplied the family with donated venison or vegetables.
Ross was barefooted, wading in the water. He stood a few feet away from Seth's hiding place, vigorously stomping his feet up and down in the mud. His eyes were blue, like Ivy's, but there the resemblance ended. Ross's face was square and merry, and he usually was missing a tooth. It was rare to see him unsmiling. But Just now he was intent on the deepening prints of his small feet. He soberly and intently stared down at the mud and water.
"Stop that, Ross," Ivy scolded. "You'll get your clothes all dirty."
"I'm looking for crawdabs. Daddy told me how to find 'em."
"It's crawdads, and that was when he lived in Oklahoma. There aren't any here. Anyway, remember he said sometimes they pinch your toes." She shuddered at the thought.
Ross ignored her and continued to move his mud coated feet up and down until she reached for his hand and pulled, so that he had to stagger out of the mud. "Oh, Ivy," he complained. "You ain't no fun!"
"Well, it won't be much fun if daddy gets back from Mr. Weldon's and sees you didn't get some wood in for cooking supper."
Ross glanced up, alarmed. "I forgot. We'd better run home."
"You go on and get the wood. Don't forget the kindling. I'll be along soon. I want to find some flowers for the table."
Ross nodded and ran toward their small house at the west edge of town. Then there was a sound of a horse trotting just beyond the opposite stream bank, where Ivy stood. She bent to pick a sunflower so near to Seth that she almost touched him, and he heard her startled gasp as she whirled to look up at the horseman who stopped a sweated bay not more than eight feet from her.
"Hey you, Girlie! Have you seen that skinny Daniels kid anywhere?" the bearded rider asked.
"No sir," she answered faintly. "Only my little brother, but he went home."
Another rider rode his heavy-headed dun mare alongside. It was Gus Hobard. "Hey, that's Ivy Merle!" He gave a cawing laugh. "I bet she's lyin', look how scared she is!"
Excerpted from MY NAME IS DANIELS by E.Z. Woods Copyright © 2012 by E. Z. Woods. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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