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.” More »

Lone Star Sons Logo - CoverThe continuing episodes of my re-working of a certain classic Western adventure! Part One is here. Another adventure or two and I will have enough for the first Lone Star Sons YA adventure, which will be available in print and as an e-book sometime late this year.)

The goatherd from Laredo which Toby recollected had set up a small temporary steading not far from the spring, which bubbled clear water into a small rock-lined pool, and then trickled away for some distance before it subsided into the ooze, ending as a small green pocket-handkerchief of a marsh. The shallow declivity led into a larger arroyo, a dry stream bed, to judge from the evidence of tumbled gravel and bits and branches of trees and bushes polished into the semblance of ghost trees by the actions of water and sunshine. There were the prints of many hooved feet in the mud, not all of them goats. A cluster of spindly trees with sparse grey-green leaves shaded the tiny hut of upright beams plastered with mud and topped with rough thatch and more mud. A swift sinuous movement at the water’s edge drew Jim’s eye; the snake vanishing almost before he recognized it as such.
“A veritable garden of Eden, in this harsh country,” Albert Biddle noted. “But I note that there is a snake in it. And there is no Eve.”
“And the Adam is dead,” Jim observed in harsh tones, as he dismounted. “I suppose we must do our Christian duty. Do you think, Brother – we should have a chorus of grave-diggers follow us about, just to clear away those impediments? I feel as if we have arrived in the last act of Hamlet, strewn with corpses. Are you certain this is your acquaintance of last year?”
“There is only the one,” Toby remonstrated mildly, as he dismounted. “I am certain that is he. Armando – I recollect the outer robe… his wife had woven it for him.”
The body of the goatherd lay in the trampled space before the low hut – already some days past putrefaction in the dry desert air. The scavenger birds had done such damage that his features were no longer recognizable. The flesh and such congealed blood as there was had already dried to the consistency of morocco leather. Albert Biddle briefly held his gloved hand to his lips, his countenance grey with revulsion – and likely, Jim reflected – fighting the urge to vomit.
“Who has done this?” Albert Biddle asked, as Toby hunkered on his heels by the body. “Was it … Indians or bandits from Mexico?”
“There are the marks of shod horses,” Toby answered, after a moment. “So – not Indians, no; Armando was killed with a gun. They took his scalp, though.”
“Gallatin,” Jim said, from between clenched teeth. “Speak of the devil and he appears. “I have no doubt this is his work. Who else would have reason to kill a poor harmless goat-herder? Whoever it was, looks like the looted what little he had.”
“Perhaps,” Toby showed little of his own emotions but rather a calm detachment. “Other men take scalps for pay, Brother. We should water the horses well, and move on after burying him. I do not care for spending the night in this place, where his spirit may linger as well as anger towards his murderer.”
“You will have no argument from me,” Albert Biddle agreed. “I have little liking for this place, even if I do not believe in ghosts and hauntings… but …” he fell silent, suddenly cocking his head as if listening to something. “Listen … did you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Jim began, but Toby swiftly held up a hand in warning.
“It sounds like a goat bleating,” Albert Biddle didn’t sound as if he was entirely convinced. “A little one. As if it is hungry or hurt.”
“That’s not a goat,” Toby answered. “It sounds like a baby … Armando had a woman in Laredo, I know…”
“Surely he could not have brought his wife out here!” Albert Biddle exclaimed, in disbelief, as Toby gestured for quiet again. Now Jim could hear the faint wailing sound, barely discernible over the stirring of the breeze in the sparse vegetation, the water bubbling from the ground, and the more ordinary sounds of birds calling to each other. “There – I think it’s coming from over yonder.”
He gestured towards the wider arroyo, scarcely believing there was cover enough in it to hide anything larger than a squirrel.
“Stay with the horses,” Jim ordered Albert Biddle. “Draw up a fresh canteen before you let them drink from the spring. Mr. Shaw and I will search …”
“No, I’m coming with you,” Albert Biddle was obstinate. “Three pairs of eyes are better than two.”
“As you wish,” Jim yielded with some reluctance. They tied up the three horses, reasoning that they might search more efficiently on foot … and that they would not be going very far anyway.

It was Toby, of course – with his senses finely attuned to the wilderness who found the shallow cave, carved by the force of a sudden and long-ago flood; not so much a cave, but a hollow at the base of a crumbling clay and stone arroyo bank. The wailing came from there, the huddle of cloth and human forms veiled by a pile of weathered dry sticks, tossed up by that long-ago flood. A woman lay there, half-covered in a dust-colored blanket roughly woven in natural sheep wool. An infant lay in her slack arms; a young woman but in the throes of sickness so near to mortal that she appeared as old as Dona Elvira in the house of the muleteer Gonzales in Bexar. The child wailed in renewed energy, a tiny thing with a red face and an incongruous tuft of black hair. The coppery stink of fresh blood and bodily fluids hung in the air.
“Dear god,” Albert Biddle exclaimed, as Toby sank onto his heels, close enough to touch the woman’s fever-flushed cheek. He drew back his hand with a startled exclamation.
“She burns as in a fire,” Toby said. “I think the birthing has gone ill with her, although the child seems strong enough.”
“What can we do?” Albert Biddle demanded; no, the fine Yankee clerk and gentleman would never have had to deal with this before. Jim was fairly certain of that.
At those words, the woman’s eyes opened, struggled to remain open, as if she was about to spend the last of her strength.
“Gracias a Dios que estás aquí …mi hijo tiene que vivir.”
Toby answered in the same tongue, gentle words to sooth and comfort. “She says to us,” he added over his shoulder. “Thanks to God that we have come. Her son must live.”
“She was … is Armando’s wife?” Jim ventured, and Toby nodded. The woman whispered again, with a feeble gesture of pushing the infant towards Toby.
“Prométeme que va a llevar a mi hijo a mi hermana Graciela … en Laredo. San Agustin plaza. Prométeme …”
“She says that we must take him, to Laredo. She has a sister with a house on San Agustin square. We must promise.”
“Yes, certainly we will take the child,” Albert Biddle said, adding, in a lower voice, “As if we would leave a child out here for the wild animals. Ask her what his name is.”
“Usted debe ser padrinos de mi hijo. Dale a él su nombre.”
“She says that we are to be his godfathers and name him in the manner of Christians, with holy water blessed by the priest of San Augustin. She has some … the priest gave it to her when she and Armando left Laredo a month ago.”
With these words, the woman’s voice failed, and her dark-shadowed eyes closed. There was a slender horsehair cord around her neck. With a hand which trembled with weakness, she took the cord at her breast and pulled it free of her shift. There was a tiny glass vial and a silver crucifix affixed to the cord
“Oh does she?” To his embarrassment, Jim’s voice came out as a squeak of dismay; he had little to do with children save for Daniel’s boys, and nothing at all to do with infants. Now this one seemed to be munching on his tiny fist – quiet for the moment, although his dark eyes glared with an accusatory scowl. Only Albert Biddle seemed suddenly equal to the occasion. He stooped in the narrow shelter of the cave and took the infant in capable hands – yes, it was unmistakably a boy. The birth-cord attached to its stomach was still fresh, although it seemed the woman had been able to tie and cut it short.
“Give me the bottle,” Albert Biddle worried the tiny cork loose in one hand, as he held the infant in the other. Toby and Jim looked on in horrified fascination. “By the authority of those powers spiritual and temporal invested in me as an agent of the United States of America, I baptize thee, James Alfred Toby, into that faith practiced by your parents – Papist I suppose. In nomine patris et filii et spiritus sancti, amen,” he added, sprinkling a drop or two three times on the tiny head at each phrase. “There. That’s done.” The infant thus named appeared quite unimpressed by the ceremony and gave every indication of beginning to wail again, but his mother smiled.
“Prométeme…” she whispered, one last time, the expression on her face one of gratitude, but in that moment life departed altogether. The three young men looked at each other in shocked silence.
“Her spirit is gone,” Toby observed, somewhat unnecessarily, as Albert Biddle made the gesture of crossing himself in the old-fashioned manner of the Catholics in Bexar. Catching Jim’s eye, he added, “Episcopalian, but I was raised in the old form. Well, what do we do now?”
“We round up one of Armando’s goats,” Toby answered, rising to his feet with some difficulty in the cramped space. “A suckling female; there should be some, close by the water.”

To be continued.

18. December 2013 · Comments Off on Lone Star Sons – Without a Trace · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book · Tags: ,

Lone Star Sons Logo - Cover(Behold – the beginning of another thrilling episode of Lone Star Sons; on the track of a cattle drover who vanished on his return from New Orleans, somewhere along the Opelousas Trace. Lone Star Sons is a YA adventure series set in Texas during the time of the Texas Republic, featuring young Ranger Jim Reade and his Delaware Indian friend, Toby Shaw.)

“There’s something strange going on,” Jack’s guest said, when Jim came through the front door of Jack’s lodgings in Bexar. It was a bright autumn morning; the Plaza Mayor was alive with the bustle of the marketplace – the market-women in their bright skirts and shawls, presiding over piled up mounds of green and red peppers, yellow ears of corn. “My brother was due to return from New Orleans a month ago.” The strangers’ eyes went to Jim at once, and Jack said,
“Clay, this is Jim Reade – he’s one of my Rangers – Jim, you haven’t ever met Clayton Huff before, have you?”
“Not had the pleasure,” Jim said, as Clay Huff rose to exchange a handshake. Jack added, “Pull up a chair, Jim – since this is going to fall to you, since you’re from that part of Texas. Clay and his brother Randall run cattle near Bastrop – they’re distant kin to John White; he has a big place north of Anahuac. This summer Clay and Randall took a herd of theirs along the Opelousas trace to New Orleans … Clay, you tell him what happened, then.”
“It all went as we planned,” Clay sighed – he had a pleasant and open face, some years younger than Jim, but his face was lined and weather-burnt, as if he spent many hours in the open air. “We got to New Orleans, found a buyer and paid off all the hands. Randall, he was courting a pretty widow-lady, so he decided he would stay on for a week so he could escort her to church the next Sunday. I took my half of what we got for the sale of the cattle and came home straightaway to my wife an’ little childer by way of a coastal sloop to Copano. I’d had enough of riding the trail, I’ll tell you what.”
“How was your brother intending to return to Bastrop, then?” Jim asked, and Clay’s open countenance furrowed with lines of worry.
“The way we came – by way of the Opelousas trace. But he has just never shown up. I wrote to his lady-friend, and she answered that he set out on the Monday after they went to church. A neighbor of ours in Bastrop said that he passed an hour or so with him at the Sabine Crossing, so we know that he had come that far, but … Captain Hays, sir – Randall should have been home a month ago. I know that there’s misfortune can happen to a man … but my brother isn’t no fool. He had a brace of fine pistols, a dog and his own horse – and he was traveling on the trace! There ain’t no more public or well-traveled public road as that, and the Indians are all friendly-like. It’s like he vanished walking across the plaza outside, this very day and in broad daylight.” More »

Lone Star Sons Logo - Cover(This is part two, of the next Jim Reade – Toby Shaw adventure. Part one is here. Jim and Toby have been set to assist three agents of foreign powers who have come to Bexar, looking for something hidden away in a long-closed house, by a long-dead General with a slippery reputation. The third part is almost finished, and will be posted in a few days.)

“As you and Captain Hays may already have guessed, my real and my feigned purpose both have to do with the late General Wilkinson’s house,” Albert Biddle explained, as soon as they had strolled beyond the edge of the crowd and the reach of Bernard Vibart-Jones’ mellifluous voice.
“Something is hidden within; documents or artifacts of considerable value?” Jim ventured and Biddle nodded. “Do you have any idea what we – you – are looking for? Something large, or small – papers don’t take up much space. If the house is like the other old Spanish houses of Bexar, there will not be much in the way of furniture.”
“Documents and letters,” Biddle affirmed. “The old man was a distant relative of mine by marriage. He died at a good old age, which perfectly astounded those who knew him best. Never won a battle or lost a court-martial, died rich, and in bed. It’s been suspected for years that he was blackmailing … certain people and a government or two, with whom he associated over the years, by holding on to proof of embarrassing peccadillos.”
“Certain people?” Jim’s eyebrows lifted. “Such as?” When Biddle replied with a short list of names – men of an older generation, all well-famed and of good repute – Jim whistled in astonishment. “Yes… I can see the worth of ensuring his silence.”
“It’s not just the men,” Biddle said unhappily. “It’s the good name of the nation, too.”
“Likely more than one nation,” Jim observed – Ah, that had surprised Biddle, at least momentarily, but then Biddle nodded.
“Credible,” he murmured thoughtfully. “The old general spread his nets very wide indeed; how many nations, then? Or would you be indiscrete in telling me?”
“No,” Jim answered, deciding to put all his cards on the table. “There are two other men making inquiries; an Englishman and a Spaniard. Captain Hays has given me wide discretion in this matter … for reasons of diplomacy, my government desires that all three of you find whatever it is that you are looking for in the Casa Wilkinson, do whatever you wish with it, and leave Bexar quietly and without causing an international ruction. That being understood, I will help you as best I can. Deal?”
“Deal,” Biddle answered. “I must admit that you Texians get down to brass tacks faster than practically any other Southren gentlemen I have ever dealt with. It’s quite refreshing.”
“It saves time. I still don’t quite grasp – why all the interest now?”
“Because everyone else is interested,” Biddle answered; he looked thoughtfully at Jim. “I did procure the keys to the Casa, for a brief inspection upon my arrival. The caretaker took them back almost at once, and has not permitted me access since; a most unpromising prospect for a search – almost no furniture at all, only bare walls and floors.”
“A caretaker?” Jim took a moment to accept that intelligence. “I hardly think any care of the place has been taken at all. Who is this assiduous caretaker – I was not given that information,” he added hastily.
“A great lump of a muleteer named Gomez, who lives in the house next to it. It seems that his aged grandmother was once the housekeeper there. Gomez has taken himself off to parts unknown, likely taking the only key with him.”
“I have sent a scout to look at the lay of the land,” Jim answered. “He speaks Spanish well – he rooms with a local family when we are in Bexar. From the stories, it seems that someone else has been able to get inside and search. I’d like to know how they did it, if not with a key.” Jim snapped his fingers, struck with a sudden insight. “The Spaniard, Don Esteban Saldivar; Captain Hays told me that he is also a recent visitor curiously interested in the Casa, to the point of taking rooms with the Gomez family. If there is a common wall, I would bet that he has found a way through – and that Gomez has gone away in order to keep you out while Don Esteban searches at leisure. These places are made of unbaked mud brick covered in plaster. It would be a simple matter simply to tunnel through …” Jim found himself walking faster in his excitement. He and Biddle had now gone the length of the Plaza, past the brooding dome of San Fernando, and back towards where Soledad Street led into the plaza.
“Let us walk towards the Casa – and see what my trusty scout has found.”

Without haste, they strolled into the narrow canyon of Soledad Street, the walls of mud-brick and plastered cedar-log jacal-huts rising at either hand, as the sky darkened overhead. This was the old part of town, where most houses had been built as sturdy as fortresses, nearly windowless on the side looking onto the street – and those which did have windows were as heavily barred as if they a prison. Only now and again did the amber of a candle or lamp lit within them cast a glow into the street. Music from an out-of-tune piano floated in the evening air from one direction, from another the sound of a melancholy guitar. The darting shadows of swifts flashed briefly across the sky.
“It is very different from Hartford,” Albert Biddle mused. “Almost a foreign country – is a foreign country, indeed.”
“But home to me,” Jim answered. With a start, he realized that it was true; Bexar was the place that he always returned to over the last handful of years, between the wide-ranging assignments given to him by his captain; here were the colors brighter, the food tastier, the water clearer, the sun in the sky brighter and the stars in the night sky sparkling ever more brilliantly. They walked on a little way, picking their footing carefully through the ruts and puddles, and piles of horse-dung in the uncertain and erratic light. Even being in town foxed Jim’s night-vision abominably, and he was about to suggest to Biddle that it was too dark to really see the lay of the land around the crumbling Casa Wilkerson, when he was galvanized by a scream – a woman’s shrill and panicked scream from somewhere ahead. Heedless of puddles, horse-apples and other hazards, Jim ran towards the source, with Biddle following closely.
In the light-limned oblong of an opened door, a woman stood, crying out in Spanish; a body huddled at her feet just outside the door.
“What has happened?” Biddle demanded, as the woman continued – it sounded now as if her horror and distress had merged into indignant complaint.
“The poor fellow has been beaten,” Jim answered, “and left at her door – my god!” The light from within the house fell across the prostrate figure of Toby, groaning and covered with mud and blood. “It’s Mr. Shaw – the scout that I sent… I can only guess that he found something.” Jim knelt next to his friend and helped him to sit up. “Brother – what did you find? Who did this to you?”
“I didn’t see,” Toby answered indistinctly. He spat blood from his mouth. “Two men, I think. I thought I saw something in the shadows – I looked toward it, and someone hit me from behind.” He winced, squinting as if the light from the doorway hurt his eyes. “Then they took turns hitting me. James, I do not think that any bones were broken – I think they took it amiss that I was here…”
“Then that someone had better get damned used to it,” Jim answered. “Help me with him, Biddle – carefully! I’m gonna take it personal, now. I wonder …” He thought perhaps he should keep his supposition to himself, but Biddle shook his head and affirmed, “Couldn’t have been Vibart-Jones, he’s still on stage. And Senor Don Saldivar was still on the other side of the square when we walked into this street.”
“Either one of them may have hired their own ruffians to do the dirty work,” Jim answered, and unshipped his hesitant command of Spanish, “Senora, podemos entrar y tienden heridas de este hombre?”
“Si, si!” the woman answered, standing a little aside from the doorway, as the two of them guided Toby’s uncertain steps through it and into a small and cozy room, lit with a single lantern hung from a metal bracket over the cooking fireplace – the old-fashioned kind most often seen in the oldest houses in Bexar. In the warmest corner of the room, an elderly person lay propped upon a rough cot, so tiny and shriveled, so wrapped in layers of robes and blankets that it was difficult to tell with certainty if the person was a man or woman. The person’s eyes were milky and unfocused, without color at all, and a querulous voice called from the midst of the bundle. The woman of the house answered, in a voice which sounded at once soothing, but with an underlay of irritation. The elderly person sank back into their blankets, as if reassured, a shriveled turtle retreating to the cozy shelter of its shell.
“Senora Gomez,” Toby gasped, as Jim and Biddle hoisted him within the room and let him down before the fireplace. “I am glad for the hospitality…estoy agradecido por su hospitalidad…” he added.
“Agua caliente, por favor,” Jim demanded, before adding to his assistant. “We must wash those deep wounds immediately, lest they become putrid…”
Jim bent to this task, while Biddle and the woman of the house watched with interest – even moving to brew a tea of dried herbs over the fireplace.
“Willow-bark and sage,” Toby explained, although it obviously pained him to talk. Presently the elderly person ventured a querulous remark and Toby drew in his breath with a hiss, before responding in courteous Spanish.
“It is Dona Adeliza,” he explained to Jim and Albert Biddle. “The Old One; she wants to know what is going on. I have told her. She is amused – for she remembers the old General very well. He was a … disruptor of peace and quiet when alive, so of course he would do the same when dead. A restless and unquiet spirit – she says that we should ask the priest to come from San Fernando and do a blessing in each room of his old house. But she thinks it should best be torn down, or made into a stable.”
Senora Gomez interjected a comment – which sounded like a chiding – and the old lady answered, as feisty as a very old sparrow.
Biddle chuckled, “Old as she must be and blind to boot, she doesn’t sound like she has ever missed much. Ask her – about Don Esteban Saldivar and why a rich Spaniard would take rooms here … go on. Ask her – maybe she has some knowledge of this matter.”
That question elicited a perfect fountain of indignant Spanish from Senora Gomez, as well as a witchy-sounding cackle of laughter from the old lady. “Todo lo que tenían que hacer era preguntarme!” she exclaimed. – All they had to do was ask me! – Dona Adeliza continued in much the same vein, of which Jim divined a few scraps of words, enough for a rough estimation of what the old lady was saying; “You silly fools! All they had to do was ask – silly men – the General, he had caused to build within the house a secret place for his most precious things. And I know where it is! I have known all this time!”
At their backs, the door to the outside suddenly swung open, admitting a gust of chill night air into the room and making the candle flicker wildly.