10. June 2014 · Comments Off on Lone Star Sons – The Secret of San Saba; Part 2 · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book · Tags:

(Yes, I am finally getting back to the latest Jim Reade and Toby Shaw adventure, and the secret treasure of San Saba! Part One is here. Sorry I am so late with continuing the story, but … you know. Real life and all that.)

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“Buried treasure is always a nice thing to find,” Jim ventured, judicially. “But I would like to know why it would be particularly advantageous for us to find such treasure now.”

Albert Biddle cleared his throat – a small gesture which to Jim had come to know that hat Albert Biddle was about to embark on a fairly involved explanation or discussion.

“Your Republic – I should say – our Republic is in debt. Well, so is everyone else, but the bond issue that went out a couple of years ago … well, hardly anyone bought – and if they had, at favorable rates, the Republic would have been in fine fettle. By the way, lovely design for your banknotes, and the bonds, too – but alas, essentially worthless, save for the artistic content. I hope (Albert Biddle added in an undertone) that the engraver and the printers got paid in gold and silver for their service – otherwise they were contributing to a country-sized patriotic charity. The only savior on the horizon for Texas now is annexation, by the United States, or to become a protectorate of the British Crown … as cheerful as President Houston may be regarding our chances, we are in a hard place. Finding a great treasure in gold and silver may ameliorate his position when it comes down to brass tacks. And it will pay off a great deal of accumulated debt, as well as salaries. You …” Albert Biddle looked keenly at Jim. “You are one of those owed such, I expect.”

“I’m paid in certificates for land,” Jim answered stoutly. “And General Sam has been in tight places before.”

“Land,” Jack spoke with a sigh, as he set aside his pipe. “Land we have in plenty – that’s all we have. And I should know, as I’ve surveyed or gone rangering over most every scrap of it. But a treasure like this – if you find it – now, that will allow General Sam a good deal more latitude in securing our future.”

“I take it you have already settled on our next assignment,” Jim bent a keen look on his captain. “For Toby and I to go to San Saba and search for this treasure … it’s well into Comanche hunting grounds, Captain. I’ve no objection, but I fear that they might…”

“Yes … and no,” Jack smiled. “For don’t the two of you have the friendship of Old Owl, the wise elder of the Penateka Comanche? Under his protection, couldn’t you travel safely there and return.”

“And would his protection extend to me, as well?” Albert Biddle put in. He met Jim’s eyes fairly, even as he patted Dona Graciela’s hand. Dona Graciela did not seem as distressed as Jim thought that a wife would be, upon hearing that her husband was about to venture into the dangerous, Comanche-haunted uplands of the Llano country.

“I believe that it would,” Jack agreed. “You’re certain of this, Mr. Biddle? I hesitate to ask such a thing of a man of family.”

Albert Biddle and Dona Graciela exchanged a calm and sober look, before Dona Graciela nodded; a tiny and almost imperceptible gesture.

“I am agreeable,” Albert Biddle answered, “and my wife naturally has fears for my welfare – but she is the daughter of a long line of brave soldiers of Spain. Duty to kin and country comes as a natural thing.”

“Good,” Jack still did not appear altogether happy about this. “Naturally, you will not go unrewarded – this service will commend you both to General Sam and the nation. You will not go alone, though – I have another one of my stiletto-men wishing to accompany you. He was a prisoner in Perote, taken when Woll’s troops came to San Antonio. He knows your father, too, Jim – they were comrades in misfortune. Bob Neighbors … he has an interest in peace-making with the Indians and is desirous of learning the Comanche speech, as well as blowing off the dust of Perote.”

“It’s a long journey for a man of my fathers’ years,” Jim protested. “Even one with diplomatic skills…”

“Bob is a young feller,” Jack answered with a grin, “Truth to tell … he’s a one so tired of stone walls and bars that he just can’t settle under a roof for any time at all. He said to me – this very day – that he needs to be away under an open sky, like a wild mustang with no hobbles on him, and did I have anything for him that would suit? I thought of him directly as soon as Mr. Biddle here mentioned San Saba. This would suit him right down to the ground; a wild freedom under the open sky, as many Comanche as he can gab to … and a chance to take back something from Mexico as fair exchange from the years they took from him in Perote.”

“All right then,” Jim acquiesced. “As long as we don’t have to leave for San Saba tomorrow.”

“Two weeks is fine,” Jack was still grinning. “Or as long as it will take to send word to Old Owl, to expect you arriving with all ceremony – and for Dona Graciela to finish her shopping.” He inclined his head to the lady, and Albert Biddle added,

“And for me to finish translating the rest of these papers … there is a map, but many of the notations are in a cypher, as well as being in Spanish. But no fear, gentlemen – another of my talents is an affinity for mathematics – an invaluable aid when it comes to breaking cyphers, whether they be in a foreign language or not … and my dearest Gracie will assist me.” Albert Biddle shot a very severe look at Jim and Jack. “Have no fear for the security of this information, gentlemen. I trust my wife with my life, my fortune – such as it is – and my honor as a man.”


“I wish that he wasn’t quite so trusting,” Jack sighed, when the door was closed after the departure of Biddle and Dona Graciela. “ It’s common knowledge that anything which happens in Bexar, the Mexican quarter will all know of it in a day, and Mexico City within a fortnight.  This is why I had a special camp for the Bexar Rangers, out on Salado Creek. Anything of our doings was public knowledge within an hour or so. It is no secret that General Lopez de Santa Anna,” and here Jack looked as if he was about to vomit, so hearty was his distaste for the martinet who ruled all Mexico with an iron fist, “has sworn everlasting enmity against Texas, and all who live within and will not bow down to him in fealty. He has gone back on every peace treaty he has ever sworn to, and waged a petty and undeclared war on our frontier. His agents have inflamed the Indians, urging them to wage war against us, he has sent his pet generals to invade our nation, and subjected our citizens to unjust imprisonment. We have just cause, Jim…”

“But our honest Tejano citizens were treated most unjustly,” Jim argued. “Captain Seguin – he was a sincere Federalist, and most trusted by General Sam – even to the point of fighting in the line with his company at San Jacinto. And yet he was impugned as a traitor and run out of town …”

“It’s a sad thing,” Jack answered, after a moment. “He and his Bexarenos were as brave as lions … but by waging an undeclared war against us, General Santa Anna has poisoned all trust between old comrades and fellow citizens. Another black mark to hold therefore against him. He has established himself as the most slippery and treacherous of fellows. I believe that Alfred is a most splendid fellow, and he is lucky in his essay of matters matrimonial … but I will own to some concern regarding the true loyalties of Dona Graciela. No,” Jack looked at Jim with all seriousness. “I will not say anything impugning the lady anywhere else but here, or to anyone but you – but I would have reason for entertaining doubts. Frank honesty demands it.”

“She has brought us a gift unlooked for, if Albert Biddle speaks true,” Jim answered. “And I do think she does speak true – her kindness and hospitality towards us was generous, without bounds…”

“You are the last of the true chevaliers,” Jack said, with a quick and rueful smile. “You will not hear any ill said of a lady of your acquaintance. Well, then to your blankets, man. You are dropping from weariness. And on the morrow, you must confer with Bob Neighbors, regarding your expedition. He may join us for a late breakfast– if he is fit enough, after a night of reveling in freedom … in those drinking establishments around the Plaza. Three years of captivity is a hard thing to put aside, Jim.”

“I know,” Jim answered, thinking of his own father, wraith-thin and pale as a ghost after his own time in Perote, gone from being a hale and hearty man of middle years into the fragility of old age through the hardships of imprisonment. “I will not hold that against him … but he will have to put those revelries aside, if he is to venture with us into the wilds of the Llano.”

“He will,” Jack answered, with a grin. “For the offer of knowledge and friendship with the wild Comanche offer him more inducement than the temptations of the fleshpots of Bexar, such as they are. Don’t you worry about Bob – he is a stout fellow and good company, as well as a passing good shot. You might take lessons from him, Jim.”

“If the mission allows,” Jim said, with some embarrassment, and escaped to the refuge of the little room which was his when he had the opportunity to claim it. The hired woman who kept such housekeeping as Jack required had at least seen there were clean sheets on the narrow bed. Jim fell into them and recalled no more until morning.


Bob Neighbors was a lanky fellow, thinner than the clothes on his person allowed – they flapped on him like clothes on a scarecrow, but his countenance expressed the most lively enthusiasm.

“Into the Llano – to the old San Saba presidio in search of limitless Spanish treasure – and in the company of the bold Comanche? Why, Jack, you have come up trumps!” He exclaimed, leaning back in the one cushioned chair and sweeping the unkempt locks of hair which fell over his forehead with one hand. Jim could not help but see that there were the scars of iron shackles on his wrist. “And in the company of a son of Old Nate Reade … why, sir, if you have half the cold nerve of your sire, this will be a ladies’ stroll in the Plaza, with you in the company.” He fixed his hectic gaze on Jim, and continued, in a somewhat disjointed fashion. “Your Pa, you know … he was the boldest of us prisoners, so very often. He interceded with our guards on so many occasions … nay, he even stepped before their muzzles, as they were about to administer the final penalty … and he had such a facility in the Spanish language, and the courage of a lion, no matter how many times he was clapped into irons for his temerity. I would say that the numbers of prisoners in that vile Perote place would have been halved – yea, quartered, without the courage of your father. I am honored, Mr. Reade – more than I can express – to venture on this mission in your company.”

“Well,” answered Jim, rather abashed. “That’s my Pa. I am not surprised in the least, Mr. Neighbors… I hope that I can live up to your expectations, Mr. Neighbors. Pa was always at his best as the attorney for the defense.”

“I am certain that you shall,” Bob Neighbors shook the hand which Jim offered to him Nonetheless, Jim was rather taken aback at this new intelligence of his father’s experience in Perote prison. His father had never breathed so much as a word of serving his fellows in such a fashion. “Call me Bob, eh? Since we are to be comrades in adventure … and your good guide – Toby, is it? Lenni Lenape, o’ course!” and Bob Neighbors ventured a remark in a harsh and guttural tongue, at which Toby at first appeared rather baffled, but then smiled and returned in the same tongue.

“You do not have to venture remarks to me in my native tongue, “Toby said at last. “I learned English in the Moravian schools.”

“But I want to practice,” Bob Neighbors replied, and for some moments, he and Toby were lost in deep converse. Toby seemed to be instructing Bob Neighbors, who appeared to soak it up with the same alacrity as that of the dusty grounds of the Plaza did in absorbing rain.

“What is that all about?” Jack asked at last, in a rather testy tone and Bob replied –quite apologetically, just as Toby did.

“The long scout is delayed, Jack – for two weeks at least …”

“I must find Mopechucope’s people, and tell them to expect you,” Toby chimed in. “And that will take some time. Their summer hunting grounds are vast. I think we should plan on meeting at the crossing of the old trail at the waters that your people call the Guadalupe, three or four days’ journey by horseback from here. Wait there, until I appear with a trusty guide.”

“Might I not accompany you, Mr. Shaw?” Bob asked, with an expression of interest and longing. Jim and Jack exchanged a look, as Toby shrugged.

“If you can keep up – and wish venturing into the summer camps of the Comanche alone,” Toby answered – and so it was settled. He and Toby rode north the next morning; Bob chattering like a jackdaw in the Delaware language, while Toby’s expression was rather more impassive than usual.

Jim, still tired from his last stiletto-mission for Jack, decided that he would reacquaint himself with the pleasures of life as it was lived in Bexar by ordinary settled folk – afternoons with friends and acquaintances, interspersed with the occasional horse-race or fandango, and mornings enjoying a leisurely breakfast and discussing what was in the latest newspapers from the East, or from Galveston or New Orleans. It would be most pleasant, to live like a gentleman of leisure for a week or so; to set aside worries, fears and cares for that brief space. Perhaps he would visit Albert Biddle and Dona Graciela; he understood from Jack that they were staying in the household of friends, in a house very much the like of the old Casa Wilkenson – a rambling mud-brick mansion in the old Spanish style, with a courtyard garden and long arcaded wings, running down to the river’s edge. Yes – this very day, this very moment, he would walk down Calle Soledad and visit the Biddles – and see if Alfred had made any headway with the papers that Dona Graciela’s old uncle had secreted away, so many years before.  Jim turned his steps towards the blunt grey-stone tower of San Fernando – the tallest thing in town – and his eye fell upon an idler, lounging in the shadows of the old church, a broad-shouldered man flipping a small pen-knife in his hand, and tossing it blade-first at a circle drawn in the dust at his feet. There was something familiar about him; ruddy in the face like an American or an Englishman, but dressed in the short black jacket and sash of a Mexican of good income. The man abruptly turned his face away when he saw that Jim was looking at him. No – maybe Jim was mistaken, but a sense of familiarity nagged at him, as he walked down Soledad.

(To be continued)


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