04. August 2014 · Comments Off on Lone Star Sons – The Secret of San Saba – Part 4 · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

Lone Star Sons Logo - Cover(Jim and Toby, with their old friend Albert Biddle are on a dangerous trek to the abandoned presidio of San Saba, in an attempt to recover a chest of silver, reported to have been hidden there by the last Spanish garrison, seventy years before. They fear that someone else may know of this treasure, and that they are being followed… previous installments here, here and here.)

A stealthy journey through the darkened streets – their horses’ hoofs and that of the pack mule muffled in strips of worn-out blanket – brought Jim and Albert Biddle to the edge of town. Even the moon had set, and the pale whitewashed walls of the last houses were ghostly in the distance behind them.
“Wait,” Jim breathed, at the first grove of thorn-bush they came to, on the rising land north of town towards the Salado. “Let us make certain that no one is following us.”
In the dark shadow of the thicket, they waited for some minutes, watching the star-silvered road over which they had passed. The crickets resumed their night-song as they waited, and an owl passed silently overhead, a pale shadow against the dark sky. Finally, Jim whispered,
“Looks like no one saw us go … we have a couple of hours before dawn. I don’t want to keep Toby and Bob Neighbors waiting.”
“How far to the meeting place?” Albert asked, and Jim answered, “Four days’ ride, three if we push the pace.”
“You know it, of course.” Albert nodded.
“Oh, yes,” Jim replied. “A steep hill above the trail, where the old Spanish trace to San Saba crosses the Guadalupe; Capn’ Hays and his boys had a set-to there with the Comanche, a few years ago – you can mine lead shot and arrowheads out of practically every tree around.”

Four days later, Jim and Albert Biddle forded the Guadalupe, splashing through the clear water, which chuckled over a bed of gravel, between stands of feather-leafed cypress trees. A thread of smoke rose into the sky from a low hillside on the far side.
“That must be Mr. Shaw and Mr. Neighbors,” Jim said, in sudden relief, and yes – that was Toby, standing at the edge of the steepest slope, signaling by a wave of his arm. When Jim and Albert Biddle reached the crest of the hill, it was to find a stranger waiting with Toby – a young white man, burned very dark by the sun, and with long light hair, hanging down his his shoulders. The stranger was dressed like a Comanche, in a Comanche leather kilt and red blanket toga lounging beside the campfire, smoking a pipe.
“His white name is Lions,” Toby said, by way of introduction. Jim kept his face noncommittal, but Albert Biddle raised a skeptical eyebrows. “He is of the Honey-Eater Comanche and sent by Mopechucope to guide us.”
“What has happened to Bob Neighbors?” Jim nodded briefly at Lions. No further formality seemed to be called for. “Didn’t Comanche life agree with him?”
“It did. Too much, I think. ” Toby replied, and Lions took the pipe from his mouth.
“Mopechucope liked him. He said he would make a good horse thief. So they went into Mexico to steal horses.”
“After the time he spent in Perote, I can see where Bob would relish such an expedition,” Jim answered, faintly appalled and both Toby and Lions grinned.
“I’d steal every horse in Mexico for my own vengeance. And half the mules,” Lions observed.
“This isn’t the time for private revenge,” Jim said. “We believe that we were being watched – Albert thinks someone in Mexico knows about the treasure. You explain about the Englishman,” he added in an aside to Albert Biddle.
“Were you followed here?” Toby asked, urgently, after Albert Biddle had enlarged on their departure from Bexar, and the presence of the English spy and his possible interest in the silver treasure of San Saba. Jim shook his head.
“I don’t think so … but if they know that we are going to San Saba, they don’t need to follow us. They need only go there and wait.”
“Not without the permission of Old Owl and the Penateka,” answered Lions, with a quick shake of the head. “The Place of Stone Walls is a place haunted by spirits … so say the old men. They would not go there, not without good cause … but if you wish to go to that place, I am not afraid to guide you.”

The broke camp the next morning; Jim, Toby, Lions and Albert Biddle, who had tried asking questions of the white Comanche; where he came from, what was his name, but all he would admit was that his white family were all dead, and he had been with the Comanche for twelve or thirteen winters. As Lions looked to be about Jim’s age, it meant he had been taken as a boy. Jim thought it likely that Lions could not or did not want to recall anything of the circumstances leading to his captivity. Perhaps Jack might recall – but that was not their errand for now. That trail led to the high, wind-swept levels between the Llano and San Saba rivers, beyond the oak woods and flower meadows of the limestone hills, a week’s journey and more – and into the lands that the Comanche held for themselves, held so closely that the Spanish – neither soldiers or missionaries – were never able to take and hold after more than a score of years trying.

They saw no other white men in that journey, and only a handful of wandering Indian hunters – whom Lions and Toby went to talk to, sometimes in that strange signing talk. None of the hunters seemed to have any unseemly interest in their errand – which relieved Jim profoundly. On a late afternoon, they came upon a low wooded ridge, which lay along a deep-flowing green watercourse. From the top of it, they could look down upon the crumbling grey stone square of the old presidio fortress, anchored at two corners by taller towers – one round, one square. The tall outer walls were paralleled by an inner wall, partitioned to make a range of rooms along each side – now mostly roofless. The blue shadows cast by the sun, sliding lower and lower in the west, stretched out across what had likely been the parade ground, but was now a meadow of waving grasses. It must have once looked to be an impregnable fortress, as sturdy as any castle in old Europe. No, such a place could never be taken by direct attack, not by undisciplined bands of wild Comanche, no matter how overwhelming the numbers. Constant sniping at supply trains, at foraging parties going for wood, or to tend the fields that provided food and fodder for animals … no, that would have worn down the discipline of an isolated garrison, especially with the nearest outpost being more than a week’s journey on horseback.
“I will camp here,” Lions remarked, abruptly. “I do not like … this place is one of bad spirits. But I will keep watch. Old Owl and his camp … they may come here, when they return from Mexico.”
“I hope so,” Jim answered. “Since they have Bob Neighbors with them; Cap’n Jack would like him back, his hair and all, since he is one of our trusty fellows.”
Lions sniffed, in a disparaging way, and answered, “If he has proved to be a good horse-thief, likely you will have him back. Either come to my camp every day, just after sunrise … or come out to the middle of that place and wave a red kerchief to me. Should you fail in that, I will go to Mopechucope for help.”

The three of them picked their way down the hill, and crossed the shallow green creek flowing sluggishly at the bottom. The crumbling walls rose above like a cliff – they followed the course around to that had once been a gate-house. If there had been wooden gates blocking the way into the presidio, they were long gone. The place was the abode of lizards and birds, and small scurrying mammals. Some names were crudely carved in the entrance-way – a souvenir of a visit a dozen years before by a party of bold men from Bexar led by James Bowie, but even those recent marks were worn by the passage of winds, dust and weather.
“I think we should set up camp in that corner,” Albert Biddle said, as they rode into the space defined by those crumbling walls. He gestured to the north-east angle, where it seemed that a range of building still boasted a scattering of the beams and roof-tiles which had once covered them. “It’s likely to be the most sheltered, anyway. According to Don Maximiliano’s cipher, the treasure was buried in a strongbox, beneath the floor of the room allocated to the captain of the presidio, an arms-length to the left of the fireplace. It was too heavy to bring with them, with entire security when the presidio was evacuated for the last time. Captain de Orca – he was the last commander of the place – he judged that such draft beasts as the garrison possessed should be better used to carry living Christian souls, rather than cold metal. From what was contained in Don Maximiliano’s little coffer … I think it was expected that a well-armed party would return when the danger was past and retrieve the treasure … but such was never essayed. Those who knew of the matter died, and the correspondence regarding it’s existence never forwarded to Monclava, or to Mexico City.”
“Looks like there is still a bit of a roof over it as well,” Jim agreed. “Our good fortune, should it rain. May as well set up camp there, and picket the animals out to graze.”
Sheltered within walls, the light breeze seemed to die away, leaving a breathless silence in the heart of the old fortress.
“How long do we remain here, James?” Toby asked, his expression most grave and Jim answered, “Not a moment longer than we must. You have a bad feeling about this place?”
“No,” Toby shook his head, in careful consideration. “There is an … an oddness about this place. I do not fear to remain, but I can see why Lions and the other Comanche do not like it.”
“We won’t have to put up with it for long,” Albert Biddle pointed out. “I know to within a foot or two where the strongbox of silver is buried, once I find the room that was the commander’s parlor-chamber. We dig it out, pack the mules, and head back to Bexar. A week, tops.”
In spite of Albert Biddle’s reassuring words, Jim’s feelings about the ruins matched with Toby’s – and he had never considered himself a man given to fancies and irrational fears. But something made the hair stand up on the back of his neck, and he halfway wished that they had decided to camp with Lions on the top of the ridge overlooking the old presidio.

The room which retained largest portion of roof was one of those which formed a block-house structure in the north-east corner, adjacent to the round tower. Toby and Jim set the animals loose to graze, while Albert Biddle took his notes and went to search out those rooms which had been the commander’s quarters before darkness fell entirely.
“James, I believe that someone else has been here,” Toby hunkered down on his heels beside the firewood that Jim had gathered. “Some time ago, as long ago as last year, perhaps. There are old droppings among the new grass. Mule, or horse … not wild – for what reason would mustangs have to come in here?”
“None at all that I can see,” Jim agreed. “And I was thinking just now … it almost looks as if this roof has been repaired in places and the floor swept clean … oh, some time ago, but not as long as a dozen years.”
“Then … do you think someone has found the treasure already, James?”
“I don’t know,” Jim busied himself with flint, steel and tinder. “It’ll be dark soon, and I’ll bet this place is alive with snakes and bats after sundown. If it turns out that someone has beaten us and the treasure is gone, we’ll be out of here so fast that we’ll make the fastest thoroughbred in the world look like a turtle …” he turned at the sound of a footstep outside – no only Albert Biddle. “Did you find the commander’s quarters, Albert?”
“I did,” Albert Biddle replied. “But there was a dead monk in it.”

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