10. December 2015 · Comments Off on Another Toby and Jim Story! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West, Uncategorized

(All righty then — the beginning of the second set of Lone Star Sons stories! Attend, then – for here I will post another set of adventures over the next few months as the Tiny Publishing Bidness and the other WIP allow…)

Murder Being Once Done

“Something eating at you, hoss – since you got that letter from Galveston?” Jack asked, on a bitter-cold winter evening. Out in the Plaza at the heart of old Bexar, the ice-chilled north winds had swept those tables set up by the most enterprising of the red-pepper stew vendors clear of hungry diners, and all but the most desperate of them had gone home. Every citizen of that town who had a hearth to call their own – no matter how plain, tiny or humble, had retreated to the warmth of a good fire of sweet-smelling mesquite logs. Between missions, as assigned by their captain, Jim and Toby roomed in the small adobe house at the edge of the plaza, near the squat stone tower of San Fernando – the tallest building in town – and stabled their horses in the ramshackle building behind it. Jack, sometime commander of Texas Rangers was not an exception to the general rule on this winter evening. Jim Reade and his blood-brother, Toby Shaw of the Delaware people, shared his dislike of the cold on this evening; between them, they had spent all too many cold nights, shivering and shelter-less on various journeys and campaigns.

“Only puzzlement,” Jim replied, closing the volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries which lay open on his knee. The fire burning on the tiny plastered hearth and the tin candle-sconce between them barely put out sufficient light for him to make sense of the tiny print. “The letter is from my father … he has been asked by an acquaintance in Galveston for advice on a deeply personal matter, and he in turn has asked my advice – having none other to confide in, other than my dear mother. She is interested as the matter concerns the death of a woman, a woman that she knew – but not well, since the woman in question was much younger and resident in Galveston only for a year or so. It is not a matter of interest for the Rangers, or the State,” he added hastily, seeing Jack begin to frown. “A matter of law and conscience … and doubts.”

“There are always doubts, my Brother, when it concerns a matter of concern to women,” Toby added, from where he sat on the shabby hearth-rug, cross-legged in Indian fashion, leaning against the side of the box which held more wood for the hearth. “And what does this woman herself say of the matter?”

“Nothing much, since she is dead and laid in her grave this last half-year,” Jim replied. “The matter – as my father outlined it to me – is that her widower wishes to marry again, having settled upon a likely candidate for matrimony. The young lady so honored is not yet completely invested in the prospect of matrimony – at least, not with the man who has asked for her hand. Her guardians are even less eager to see their ward hand-fasted to him … hence their consultation with my father.”

“So, what is the problem, precisely?” Jack puffed on his pipe in a desultory manner, and laying it aside, looked into the fire; small orange and gold flames, dancing along the logs, bright spurts appearing as brilliant sparks.

“Certain remarks made to their ward by the man who courts her have cast considerable doubt on his fitness as a husband in their minds,” Jim replied, and frowned. He had spent some hours considering his father’s letter, teasing out from those brief words some sense of the puzzling reality hinted at, and from what he recalled of reports of a certain trial published in the Telegraph & Texas Register some months previous. It was not any surprise that Jack would have noticed his abstracted state of mind – Jack was like that. Not much got past him.

Now Jack drawled, “For the love of the almighty, Jim – don’t tell me that Johnathon Knightley is going courting again, after being acquitted from a charge of murdering his wife on the grounds of self-defense?”

“The very same,” Jim sighed. No curious event occurring the length and breadth of the Republic escaped Jack’s attention for very long. On those shreds of information made, Jack had divined the very essence of the matter. “It was a terrific to-do among the folk in Galveston,” he added for Toby’s benefit, as the latter looked extremely puzzled. “There was this man and his wife, who kept a tavern and let rooms to travelers – they were new-come to town, from … where was it?”

“St. Louis, I have heard,” Jack interjected. “The wife was somewhat older than her husband, who is a gallant young buck … and disinclined to give his full attention to their business, which supposedly made his wife angry with him. They quarreled frequently, in any case. You were off on a visit to your people at Fort Belknap at about the time of this happening, Toby.”

Jim nodded. “My mother – who is otherwise inclined to believe the best of any man or woman – took against Jon Knightley upon hearing someone saying to him that his wife had horse-sense, intending it as a compliment, and Mr. Knightley guffawed and answered to the effect that yes, she did, and the face to match it. My mother despises that manner of unchivalrous behavior. Although,” Jim added, “Mother did not wholly approve of Matilda Knightley throwing crockery, iron pot-lids, and a wood-hatchet at her husband when her temper was up. My mother is a firm believer in the policy of a soft answer turning away wrath.”

“It made Jon Knightley’s tale of self-defense believable to the jury, though,” Jack agreed. Toby shook his head in disapproval. “In that regard, the way among our people is more sensible. Our mothers and wives hold the property. If a man wishes not to continue in marriage, then he is free to leave, and our wives have no need to keep an unwilling husband tied close, to provide for them and for their children.”

“In this case,” Jim returned to the story. “The jury ruled that Jon Knightley acted in self-defense. There were no actual eyewitnesses to death of Matilda Knightley, although there were plenty who testified that they heard the sounds of a violent quarrel between the two of them in the kitchen behind the taproom one morning, and then the sound of three gunshots … a single shot, and then two more, some seconds later. Jon Knightley came bursting into the taproom, shouting, ‘She shot at me – oh, god, she meant to kill me for sure!’ So said all those present in the taproom on being called to testify. Of course, it made a tremendous ruckus. Several of their neighbors and the Knightley’s slave man-of-all-work ran into the kitchen at once, finding Matilda lying on the floor between the kitchen stove and the worktable, in a pool of blood with two bullets in her breast. She was already dead … and in her hand, one of her husband’s Paterson revolvers, with one shot fired. He had the other, of course – which had been fired twice.”

“What, had they arranged to fight a duel?” Toby asked, much puzzled, and Jim replied,

“According to Jon Knightley, he was in his shirt-sleeves, melting lead over the kitchen fire which had been new-built-up for the day, and casting more bullets when the quarrel broke out between them. She caught up the one which he had just loaded and shot at him at close range. Luckily for him, the bullet pierced his shirt … and then buried itself in the wall at his back. In a blind rage, he took up the other pistol and fired at her. On the strength of the hole in his shirt, the jury accepted his plea of self defense, and he was acquitted of murder.”

“All this is old news, hoss,” Jack refilled his pipe and lit it from a twig held for a few seconds into the fire on the hearth. “So, now the accused-yet-acquitted self-made widower wishes to try his luck at matrimony before a year of mourning is out? Not in the best of taste, but there is no law against it. Why is your father wound up so tight over this now?”

“Because he was Knightley’s lawyer,” Jim replied. “He believed honestly in his client’s innocence, did his best for him, won an acquittal … and now he is wondering. My father is a moral man, Jack … and now he wonders if he has been taken advantage of by a veritable Bluebeard. As an aside, my mother has no doubts on this score,; she is certain that Jon Knightley contrived somehow to murder his wife and escape any penalty for it. The guardian of the young lady whom Knightley is courting is an old friend – old and well-trusted, and now sincerely worried regarding the welfare of his ward, since she has relayed certain comments which Jon Knightley has made to her.”

“Which were?” Jack raised a questioning eyebrow. Jim collected his doubts and concerns all together, answering with care and precision. “Knightley showed her the shirt which was the chief evidence in his defense. He has preserved it as some kind of trophy; we are given to understand, and made boastful mention of how it was used in some unspecified manner to rid himself of his previous wife. He spoke in jest, and the girl thought nothing of it … at the first. Then he made mention of other wives … something about the conversation made her uneasy … distressed, even.”

“Oh, my Brother,” Toby spoke from where he sat beside the fire. “There is something of sense in what this woman says … the girl and your mother as well. Just as the wild hare, the wolves sense danger … so may we, although our natural senses are dulled by safety and what you call civilization. Be alert.”

“Always,” Jim replied, already somewhat reassured.

“Are we on a hunt, then, my Brother?” Toby asked, in all earnest intent. “I would not be against such a journey, as long as it does not begin tonight.”

“You are due some leave from your duties with the Rangers,” Jack commented, with a wry twist to his lips. “Spend some little time with your family, Jim. And see if you may unravel this accursed tangle. There’ll be no pay and expenses in it – only your peace of mind.”

“Thanks, Jack,” Jim replied, his heart within him suddenly feather-light, although the thought of that long journey in the winter months between Bexar and Galveston nearly made it sink again.





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