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Ten Mile Treasure
By Andre Norton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Andre Norton
All rights reserved.
Ten Mile Station
It was hot, and dusty, and bumpy—very bumpy. The station wagon seemed to jump from one rut to the next. At first the desert had been exciting. Not now, Christie thought, it was rather scary the farther they drove into it. Her head ached a little as the twins kept up that everlasting game.
"Two of those cactus things—" Parky yelled almost in his sister's ear.
"Saguaro," Christie corrected. She was the one to hold the book this time around and look up all the strange things they could not name.
"Cactus things," Parky repeated stubbornly. "And a roadrunner, a cow, two cowboys, a jeep—that's all for me!" His head went from side to side, though all their luggage and the camping things were so stacked that it was hard to see out. "And"—his voice became squeaky with triumph—"a real live Indian! That ought to count up to a hundred points for me. Nobody else saw the Indian until I did!"
"I saw the great big rabbit," his twin, Perks, said quickly.
"Jackrabbit," Christie corrected again. Really, they ought to learn the proper names of things if they were going to live in this country—
"Fifty for the Indian." Neal cut Parky's claim in half. He marked the score in his notebook.
"It—he—was worth more'n fifty! That isn't fair!"
"Children!" Mother looked as far as she could over her shoulder. "If you can't play without quarreling, then just stop that game—now."
The station wagon gave an extra-hard bump. She gasped. Parky and Perks slid together with a thump, while the desert book seemed to jump right out of Christie's hold, thudding into Neal's ribs.
"What—what did we hit then?" Mother's voice sounded queer. But the car was running more smoothly again.
"Dip," Father answered. "They leave depressions in the road to drain off flash floods—but that one was deeper than most. We've only a mile more if the last direction was right. This is just the old back trail—the new road will be much closer."
"I certainly hope so." Mother looked around again. "You all right, children?"
"Sure," Neal answered for them all. Christie straightened her glasses on her sweating nose.
At first this had been a big adventure, going out into the desert. Now she was not at all sure anymore. Just think of that last town—it had been marked on Father's map as the town of Ocotillo. But when they had found it, what had been there? Just a gas station, or rather an adobe building with a gas pump out in front, and inside a hamburger place and half of it a garage. It had smelled. Christie's nose wrinkled thinking of the smell—grease and oil—nasty.
What if Ten Mile Station was like that? How could they live in such a place? They couldn't—that's all. She longed to ask Neal what he thought, but she would not now with all the rest of the family listening.
Mother was depending on her to see that Parky and Perks did not get cross and start squabbling. Maybe they had played the See It game long enough after all—
What she was thinking was interrupted by a loud wail from the box wedged between her and the wall of the car. That was answered by a whine from Baron, stretched out on a blanket roll behind the twins.
Christie leaned over and tried to peek inside the cat carrier through the netted window in one end. The carrier itself kept wobbling against her. Shan wanted out. He had his harness on and maybe, if she held the leash tight so he could not take one of his flying leaps, she could let him. It must be awfully hot in there. She pushed the book onto Neal's knee.
"Can't we let Shan out? I know we've the air conditioning, but he must be so hot."
At Neal's nod they did so. She needed his help—sometimes it seemed as if Shan had springs inside him, he could move so fast. Then, anchored with his leash, he sat on her knees. But his ears were flattened and he showed his teeth in a warning that he was about ready to actively protest all that was going on.
Thai Shan was a very special person, as he had long ago given the Kimballs to understand. Did they think he was going to ride in a carrier for miles and miles and days and days? In spite of Christie's coaxing words and soothing scratching behind his ears, he continued to complain at the top of his voice. That was not as shrill as that of his Siamese mother, but loud enough. He had his dark brown coat from his Burmese father and made a very handsome appearance, as he well knew.
"All right, Shan," Christie assured him. "We'll be there soon and you can discover what kind of new bugs live around here—in the grass."
Grass—what kind of grass would grow in a desert? When she looked out now she saw rocky walls closing in about them.
"A canyon," Neal said, though she had not asked any question.
Here there were some growing things, plants and flowers! Christie was startled by cactus plants that were wearing round crowns of color. There were bushes too, and small trees. Father was driving even more slowly, so they could see a lot more. Birds flew up as the car passed and the twins knelt on the seat to look out more easily.
"There's water here somewhere, all right," Father said.
There was something in his tone of voice that surprised Christie. Had Father been afraid there would be no water? For a long time few people had come out along this bumpy old road—that she did know. Now there was going to be a big new highway coming through and Ten Mile Station would be close to that.
That was the reason why they were here. It was called Ten Mile because a long time ago it had been the only water in ten miles and all the stage coaches had stopped there. Now the Kimballs were going to open it up again—not for stage coaches, but for cars, making it a place where people could stop and get food and gas and perhaps stay all night. When Father had lost his job because his company had been bought by another one, he had heard about Ten Mile and the chance to make it come alive again.
The canyon widened out and there were real trees. But the road became more and more bumpy. At last Father took one hand from the steering wheel and pointed ahead.
"There it is." The twins scrambled over Christie and Neal to see. Shan yelled and Baron barked loudly.
They were answered by a strange sound as Father stopped the car before the biggest of a group of buildings. There was a pole-walled corral to one side and in that Christie caught a glimpse of something small and brown-gray. That strange sound was coming from there. Beyond, two burros flapped their long ears, and there was a horse standing watching them.
Somehow they all piled out, almost on top of one another, to look at the station. It was a long, low building. At the bottom it was built of stone, then came thick walls of adobe, with wooden pillars in front to support an outward stretch of the roof like a porch. The windows had heavy shutters of solid slabs of wood, but those were fastened back. To Christie it did not look like a house-house at all.
Beyond the corral with the burros and the horse stood another building, and a man came out of the door of that. He was small—a lot shorter than Father—and he wore a red shirtwith gray jeans and high-heeled boots. Perched toward the back of his head was a wide-brimmed hat that was as brown as the dirt of the corral. Strangest of all, he had an apron of leather tied around his waist, while he carried a big hammer in one hand.
His face was tanned nearly as brown as his dusty hat. Perhaps it looked even browner because there was a bushy white mustache across it to half hide his mouth. His thick eyebrows and some pieces of hair plastered down on his forehead were the same color.
"Howdy," he said. Then the burros brayed together and he swung swiftly round and slammed the hammer down on the top rail of the corral so that some splinters flew into the air. "Drat you, Sheba, Solomon. You keep your dang-blastered opinions to yourselves now, hear me? You folks lost?" Hardly taking a breath between words, he was speaking to Father now.
"If this is Ten Mile Station and you're Layton Odell, we're not," Father answered. "I guess you might say we're the new owners. I'm Harvey Kimball and this is my family."
"New owners? Glory be! Th' Bright Company gonna start runnin' stages again? Now if that ain't the beatenest news in a full month of Sundays! I always said as how someday they'd find out this country weren't made for those cars what are always breakin' down or runnin' outta gas or somethin'."
Christie thought he looked at the station wagon as if he did not like it at all.
"Not the stage company," Father answered. "But the station itself—we hope to put that to work again. The new highway's going through near here, you know—"
"Sure it is," Mr. Odell interrupted. "Bustin' right through the country proper, that they are. You can hear their big diggers or such clink-clankin' all day long if the wind's in the right direction. Don't need 'em here, never did, never will. What you mean—the station's going to work again? How can it be if the company ain't goin' to run stages?"
"It will be a stop for tourists—we hope. As soon as the highway's open, there will be a lot of travel through to the park and people going to stay at the new inn on the reservation, the one the Navajo Council has agreed to. We have a license to run this as a motel."
"Station without a stage line—that don't seem right somehow." Mr. Odell shook his head. "Place is in pretty good shape though. Never was let just go back to the wild like Darringer—"
"Darringer?" Mother asked as Mr. Odell paused to squirt a stream of tobacco juice, making a black spot in the dust.
"Ghost town, ma'am—leastwise that's what they call it now." Mr. Odell waved a hand in the general direction of up canyon. "Minin' town, it was. Pretty much just a heap of boards and some 'dobe walls now, I guess. Older than my time and I've been around a sight longer than most people would guess. Now I can remember when I was a size to them two"—he jerked a thumb at the twins—"how the stage was still runnin' through here. M'pa, he was the stationmaster—the last one. Kept on here when they closed 'cause he had a diggin' that was still showin' color enough to grubstake us regular. Then the company, they gave him a bit to keep things up—had somethin' to do with their holdin' claim to the land as long as some agent of theirs stayed on.
"I did some ridin' for the Bar Six, learned me the smithin' trade, did a bit of prospectin', and then thought as how I'd take up the old station. Ain't heard nothin' from the company for years now. But I've kept things goin'—nobody bothers me and I don't go huntin' around for anybody to bother." He stopped short and looked at Father as if he suddenly thought of something unpleasant. "But if you're the top man now, then—"
"Then you stay right on—if it suits you, Mr. Odell. It would be a help we need, since you know more about the place than we certainly do," Father said quickly.
"Well, now, that I probably do. No need to stand here gabbin' neither—like nothin' needs gettin' done. I don't bunk down in the main house—my quarters are back yonder." He waved the hammer toward the smaller building from which he had come. "Only I do give it a sweep out now and then. Maybe it ain't clean enough to suit a lady, ma'am. But you just say what you want done, and if it can be did, it will be. Sure good to see the old Ten Mile come to life again—so it is!"
The next hours were busy. Layton Odell showed them proudly around. Inside the big building was first a long room with a fireplace at one end and at the other a sink, with a pump attached, beside an old-fashioned iron stove. Three doors along the wall, facing the front door, opened into two smaller rooms that had bunks built in and one much larger one with six bunks.
"Drivers' quarters—" Mr. Odell said of one of the smaller rooms. "The others for passengers. This—" he opened the door of the second small room wider—"was for ladies. Didn't get many womenfolk traveling most times, I guess. Gents—they bedded down in the big room. Ten Mile was an overnight stop most times."
There were washstands, too, in the rooms—each with a big china bowl and pitcher standing on top.
Parky pulled at Christie's arm. "Where's the bathroom, Chris?"
"I don't think there is one," she whispered back uncertainly. She had put Shan down and he was tugging at his leash, sniffing at corners as if something of interest must have been there recently. Mice? Christie, just looking around, could well believe in mice.
"But you do have to have bathrooms in the house!" protested Parky. "It must be somewhere—"
"You don't have them in camps." Neal had come up behind them. "This is like a camp—in a way—" But his sentence trailed off as if he were beginning to have some doubts of his own.
"Now you've got water here—mighty fine water." Mr. Odell led the way to the sink and was working the pump handle up and down vigorously. A stream of water gushed out suddenly, spraying even beyond the edges of the sink basin to spatter onto the floor. "Holds even in dry spells. Good and cold—worth more'n a good strike in the long run—water is in this country."
Mother looked at the pump with an odd expression on her face. She put her hand out into the stream and jerked it quickly back again, her expression now one of surprise.
"It is cold, Harvey! Almost as if it had been iced!"
"Whole place is cool, too—" Father stood with his hands on his hips, looking eagerlyabout the big room. "These thick walls must provide real insulation against the heat."
"Them walls are thick," Mr. Odell agreed. "Made to keep the heat out in summer, cold in winter. This place was built good, all right. Best station, they always said, on the whole danged run. Pa told me that plenty times, and he was right. Now, I got me a mare with a shoe ready to be set on. I'll go and finish that job off and then I'll be back to help with any fetchin', ma'am, as you may want."
"That's kind of you—to want to help, Mr. Odell—" Mother began, when he paused at the outer door and shook his head at her.
"Ma'am, Mr. Odell—that don't sound right, it really don't. Most folks call me Pinto." He took off his hat for the first time and his white hair fluffed up like a bushy wig. "Don't show it anymore, but when I was a youngun, I had two-color hair—black with a big white patch clean center, 'bout here—" He poked a finger up from his forehead a little to the right. "Born with it, I was. So they took to callin' me Pinto and it stuck. Sounds more like me than Mr. Odell."
"Very well." Mother smiled. "I'll remember, Pinto. But it is kind of you to offer to help."
"Mom, can we go to see the horse getting a shoe put on? Please, Mom. We never saw a horse getting shoes before." Parky and Perksclosed in from either side to tug at Mother's slacks.
"Perhaps Mr.—Pinto doesn't want you to bother him."
"Let 'em come, if they want to, ma'am. Can't be any more bother than them danged burros, and I've had them a-breathin' down my neck many a time. Say, girl, that's a mighty strange-lookin' cat you got there. I don't remember ever seein' his like before."
Shan had come into a patch of sunlight that showed through the dusty window, and his rich brown color was like that of a chocolate bar, dark and thick. He turned his head to regard Pinto with eyes that were neither green or blue but a color Mother always called aquamarine.
"I'm Christie." She did not quite like being called "girl." "And he's Thai Shan—that means Prince Shan. He's half Siamese—half Burmese."
Pinto had clapped his hat on again. "Don't never remember hearin' of such before. But he's sure a handsome critter, ain't he? Knows it, too, I reckon, if I'm any judge. Well, come along, all you who want to see Susie get a new shoe—"
"Mother?" Christie hesitated.
Mother was nodding. "Go ahead, Christie, and you, too, Neal—-just keep an eye on the twins. We have to do some planning anyway before we begin to unload the car."
Excerpted from Ten Mile Treasure by Andre Norton. Copyright © 1981 Andre Norton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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