Spring 2016 Newsletter-1

Spring 2016 Newsletter-2

(This is a complete short story, which will be part of the next Luna City Chronicle. It has very little bearing on the ongoing plot – but is intended to throw a little light on a pair of relatively minor characters – Miss Letty McAllister, and Chris Mayall.)

Early on an August Sunday morning, Miss Leticia McAllister combed out her long grey hair, rolling and neatly pinning it into an old-fashioned hair-net on the back of her neck, and surveyed her appearance in the dressing table mirror. The hat, gloves and scarf that she would wear against the chill – for the sanctuary of the First Methodist Church of Luna City was enthusiastically air-conditioned against the blistering heat of a Texas late summer – all lay in order on the dressing table, next to Miss Letty’s Sunday handbag, which held a fresh handkerchief, her house keys, and the envelope with her weekly offering. Hat, bag, scarf and all carefully matched, and coordinated beautifully with the colors of Miss Letty’s flowered and full-skirted summer dress.

  I never had beauty or elegance, Miss Letty told her reflection, with clinical satisfaction – but I could manage chic by paying attention, and I had the brains enough to be charming. Alice was the one for elegance! Oh, my – did she turn heads! Hard to believe it has been seventy-one years to the day. Every man in Schilo’s Delicatessen on Commerce on VJ-Day – they all turned to look at her, as she came in the door. You could have heard a pin drop; I think most of them thought that a movie star had come to San Antonio, but she was really only the chief secretary to an insurance company manager, for all that she was only twenty-four. And he kept trying half-heartedly to seduce her, the wretched little Lothario. She wrote complaining about that to me, all the time that I was in England, and then in France. Alice had a hatpin, though – and she could use it, too.

Miss Letty pinned her hat, with a long, straight old-fashioned pin, which went straight through the bun on the back of her neck, firmly anchoring the straw confection into place. She touched her lips with a pale pink lipstick, and gathered up gloves, scarf and bag, but her thoughts returned to that early afternoon, seventy-one years before, and Miss Alice Everett, stepping through the street door, squinting into the dimness inside; the dark paneled walls, the floor tiled in tiny, hexagonal tiles, all of it old-fashioned even then. Alice was looking for Letty, sitting in a corner booth all by herself, waiting for her brother and his friend.

“Letty, sweetie – you look wonderful!” Alice exclaimed, hurrying between the tables, flashing a brilliant smile at the nearest waiter. “Oh, it’s simply divine, seeing you again! Tell me – did you buy that hat in Paris! You must have – there isn’t anything half so chic at Joske’s!”

“No – Bonwit-Tellers’ in New York, on my way through,” Letty rose from the banquet seat, and the two of them exchanged an embrace. “There wasn’t anything in Paris worth buying. Just desperate refugees, too many Allied troops, and guilty collaborators hoping that everyone else had suddenly developed amnesia.”

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Some years ago, Blondie or I bought a Henry Watson Pottery bread crock at a local Tuesday Morning outlet; it’s a sturdy lidded terra cotta pottery container for bread, as it says on the side of it. I had bought a number of other Henry Watson Pottery items over the years, as they turned up here and there in the BX; there was a garlic jar, and one for onions with a wooden top, a container for sugar with a gasket-sealed top … just nice, attractive and sturdy storage containers. There was also a lasagna pan, much lamented when it broke, as it was glazed on the inside and was the perfect size for the stuff that I baked. Not just lasagna let it be known. With a small baking rack inside, it was perfect for baking a whole small chicken.
The pottery lid of the bread crock broke. It broke several times, the last time in so many pieces that it was not possible to piece it together, and so for some years it went lidless … not a satisfactory situation, really. Being newly annoyed by this in mid-January and having a little money ahead, I looked around on line for a replacement lid; alas, coming up empty. The crock is still manufactured, it appears, and once uponnatime, the Watson Pottery did have a replacement lid available, but no longer. There wasn’t even such to be found on E-bay. Well, never mind, thought I … I can find some wood discs of a size to fit at a hobby shop, glue them together, slap a wooden drawer pull on top, sand the whole assembly smooth, slap some stain and varnish on it and – hey, a functional lid!
Bread Crock with Turned LidNope. The inside diameter of the crock was about 7.25 inches, the outside 9.50, and nothing available in the various hobby shops, online or otherwise, came even close. Either to large or too small, and not having a woodworking lathe other than the tiny Dremel lathe that I bought ages ago to do miniature woodworking on … sigh. Wit’s end, until I remembered one of our neighbors. He does lovely custom woodwork in his garage, open to the street, as a hobby, lavishing the results on family. He lives in a rental, two houses up from us … and, yeah. I took the measurements to him; he fished out a three inch thick scrap round from his woodpile and after a couple of days, turned us a lovely lid, to exact specifications. Fits like a dream, looks better than the original lid!
For this exercise of skill and artistry, we traded a half-pint jar of home-made calamondin orange marmalade (made from the fruit of this odd ornamental that I bought years ago – it’s a native of the Philippines, and this was the first year that it actually bloomed and bore fruit) and a week’s worth of a dozen completely organic and totally free-range eggs, fresh from the chicken’s butts. Because … neighbors.
I thought on this, in hearing from another neighbor, who had a yard sale this weekend, because she and her husband are selling their house on a particularly quiet side street and moving. Their house sold in double quick time; according to their realtor, the particular zip code is a very “hot” one, and our neighborhood is particularly desirable. Not a surprise to us, really; it’s a quiet, and affordable neighborhood, close to schools, markets, gainful employment and military bases. Again, the affordable part; someone working a moderately well-paid job in this part of San Antonio would be able to purchase a house here without going broke on it or having to live on Top Ramen for thirty years. I managed the mortgage easily on an E-6 salary, and subsequently on the pension for same, although sometimes there were some dicey months. Some residents have amazing small gardens, kids play in front and back yards, people walk their dogs or run at all hours, decorate for holidays, know each other by sight well enough to wave. Nothing that will ever be on the Parade of Homes, in Architectural Digest or Country Living, or even, God help us, run the risk of becoming a historical district, unless in a hundred years, late 20th century residential developer becomes a significant aesthetic marker. (Although, seeing as the great and the good seem to prefer us all living in bare concrete stack-a-prole high-rises, perhaps a neighborhood like ours might very well become a suburban treasure. After all, Levittown has, in some appreciative circles.)
The eggs, by the way, are very popular and much appreciated by those neighbors that have received a selection of Carly and Maureen’s finest fresh-laid. After all, the girls lay them at the rate of one a day, most days, and we can’t possibly eat them at the rate of one each per day. We also hope that giving away the surplus will make those close neighbors feel more kindly towards Larry-Bird when he crows in the wee hours of the morning. As it happens, the closest neighbors rather like the sound of Larry and the girls, all having grown up in the country with chickens. It makes the neighborhood feel more home-like, I guess.
And everyone appreciated the Christmas fudge, as well. We distributed this years’ batch almost two months ago, and people are still telling us how very, very good it was. The goodwill is also repaid in kind – this weekend we have about two pounds of fresh homegrown Brussels sprouts from one of the keenest gardeners around – she has an allotment in a community garden, where she volunteers, which is fortunate for her yard isn’t any bigger than ours. And that’s how it goes, in a suburban neighborhood, where most everyone is willing to do the necessary, neighborly thing.

 

LCISD - and Elementery School

LCISD – and Elementery School

Many are the educational fads which have swept school districts across our fair land in the last half-century – New Math, Whole-word reading and other such ilk beloved of the advanced establishments purporting to teach our teachers. Fortunately, when it comes to the Luna City Independent School District, very few of those ill-considered pedagogic fads have come to roost permanently, or at least their roost was not long enough to damage without possibility of repair the intellectual development of those children trusted to the local educational establishment.

And for those parents sufficiently unhappy with the LCISD, there was always the outlet of a grimly old-fashioned Catholic grade school, St. Scholastica’s in Karnesville, where the children wore the traditional school uniforms – including white shirts and school-patterned-plaid neckties for the boys – and the handful of teaching nuns wielded stout rulers with the expertise of Babe Ruth in his prime.

But on the whole, the parents of Luna City and environs are content with the elementary and high schools in Luna City – after all, most of them attended and graduated from them in their day, often having been taught by the same teachers. Indeed, Miss Letty McAllister’s tenure as kindergarten and first-grade teacher began in 1947 and ended – under half-hearted protest from all concerned – in 1990, so it was entirely possible to have had a young student’s grandmother or grandfather face the formidable Miss Letty on the first day of school in the high-ceilinged classroom arrayed with the small-sized desks which had been bought in 1920 … desks which were still equipped with little round holes in the top right corner to accommodate bottles of ink … a classroom in which the faint odor of chalk lingered like an exotic perfume. Miss Letty missed her classroom in her years of official retirement. (The desks were eventually sold in the antique market for an eye-poppingly gratifying sum early in the 2000s, and replaced with high-quality small-sized wooden tables and chairs.)

But retirement did not end Miss Letty’s teaching career; dear me, no.

Among the educational heresies which were dropped from the high school curriculum around the time that the new high school building was constructed were mandatory home economics classes; that is, cooking and sewing. Most parents – and indeed most students – had the vague sense that educational time given over to that was wasted time. Girls – and boys too – who wanted to learn to cook and sew had already acquired those skills from their parents or by other means of instruction by the time they hit high school. And those (admittedly few) students who were passionately interested in haute cuisine and needlework had already gone far, far beyond learning to make meatloaf and construct a drawstring denim gym-bag. Pointless to waste five hours a week for a semester on those projects … but the home economics kitchen classroom with the adjoining room which could be set up as a dining area still remain in active use.

Geronimo “Jerry” Gonzales (a second cousin of Jaimie) while in his tenure as Luna City Superintendent of Schools (which lasted about half as long as Miss Letty’s as a teacher) suggested sometime around the mid-1990s that some kind of life-skills class ought to be instituted in the curriculum for junior or perhaps sophomore-year students. Jerry, as one of the bookish and intellectual Gonzaleses, was singularly unencumbered by conventional pedagogic idiocies: the class was instituted in the following academic year and has been continued ever since.

Jerry’s Gonzales’ mind-blowing stroke of genius with regard to the life-skills class was to have a wide-ranging curriculum of practical skills taught by volunteer experts in the Luna City community, who might do a single classroom hour – or as long as two weeks worth. Jess Abernathy, for instance; teaches financial management. How to set up a household budget, manage a checking account, fill out a simple tax return. Jaimie Gonzales does a down and dirty auto maintenance course; checking oil and fluids, how to safely change a flat tire. Roman Gonzalez, the construction foreman teaches simple household repairs and residential trouble-shooting. This comes in handy especially when graduates strike out on their own following graduation, and find their own apartment in Karnesville, or Beeville, or the big city, San Antonio. Even Doc Wyler contributes; a single hour-long class on how to interview for a job.

But Miss Letty’s emergency First Aid class is a stand-out, and in more ways than one. Oh, yes, Miss Letty covers the usual First Aid classics; broken limbs, snake, spider and animal bites, splints and tourniquets, bandages and all that. Then there is the emergency child-birth portion of Miss Letty’s class, for which she brings in some particularly graphic visual aids. (Film in the early years, of late on a DVD.) Graphic … as in no portion of the delivery process veiled from the delicate sensibilities of the susceptible. That at least one student will either faint or throw up is a constant to be relied upon; Miss Letty incorporates the treatment of those conditions into the lesson plan. Most students depart from Miss Letty’s classes firmly and silently swearing a vow of chastity.

It is a matter of quiet community pride that the incidents of teenage pregnancy in Luna City is refreshingly below the national average – as are also STD infection rates.

 

The Perfectly Circular Sleeping Kitten

The Perfectly Circular Sleeping Kitten

There are definitely people in the world who have smaller stove options...

There are definitely people in the world who have smaller stove options…

So, it is our plan, sometime in the next year or so,  to remodel the kitchen of my little thirty-year old tract house, and do so on a D-I-Y and scrounge-based budget, utilizing finds, inherited items,  severely marked-down elements, and the services of the detail-oriented local handyman-carpenter to gain a more efficient and attractive kitchen, with at least 35% more storage space,  because … I cook, preserve and store, and have the equivalent of two floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of cookbooks. I’ve been in libraries which didn’t have as many cookbooks! But anyway – the existing kitchen is small – one of those U-shaped numbers, about 8 x 10, and adjacent to a dining area of similar dimensions, and all originally fitted out with extremely cheap base and wall cabinets, which among their myriad failings in quality and installation do not make use of the corners. Nope, the original contractor whanged in cabinets at right angles, and sealed in the corner void spaces, which wasted considerable storage capacity right from the very beginning.

Everything installed was cheap, construction-grade and likely supplied by the boxcar-load. It has always amused me that the cheapest possible light fittings from Lowe’s or Home Depot that I bought to replace the original stuff are still a hundred times better than the original. And the neighborhood was built by a reputable builder; the stuff put into the places build by the disreputable must be made from tinfoil, cardboard and soda straws.

The new kitchen in Chez Hayes will, of course, be built around the gargantuan side-by-side refrigerator-freezer, which we bought a little more than a year ago, and the vintage and practically mind-condition 1941-Model B Chambers stove which my daughter inherited from our dearly beloved business partner and founder of the Tiny Publishing Bidness. But … and this is a epic but several times the size of Kim Kardashian’s … the stove is gas, and for safety’s sake, must be gone over carefully by a qualified technician and installed by same, since it has doubtless been jostled, rattled, bounced and had connections loosened since being moved from the little house where it had originally been installed. And also – we need to have a gas line extended to the kitchen of the house. All this will cost: exactly how much, we do not know at this stage of the game.

In the mean time, the current electric stove – which was bought from the Scratch’n’Dent outlet in 2003 when the originally-installed electric stove gave up the ghost – has likewise given up and joined the electronic appliance choir eternal, instead of staggering on for a year or two until the Chambers was ready to be installed. And no – I just didn’t want to go and get a new electric stove just to use for only a year or so. We settled on a sort of temporary and sort of long-term fix: a good two-burner hotplate, and a small toaster/convection/rotisserie oven, resting on lengths of wire shelving installed in the empty space where the stove was. We’d considered some kind of stand or kitchen cart, at first – but nothing was quite the right size, and even 1/4th of an inch larger than the space for a 30” stove would not have fit at all. We still had a bag of end-brackets left over from fitting out the pantry with wire shelves, so it was the space of twenty minutes at Lowe’s and another hour at home with a drill and hammer.  So far, it looks good; and offers a little extra shelf space for pots and pans, and the vacuum-sealer. I’m not using more than two burners at a time, and the little oven is just about the right size for the stuff that I’m usually baking, broiling or rotissering anyway.

And that was how we spent the week between Christmas and New Years…

02. January 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic

It is that time of year again, isn’t it? To review the past year and look to the next, and make those personal resolutions and decisions; I’ve done a post on this subject several times in past years. I’ve made resolutions late in December or early in January and twelve months later, tallied them up. Usually the tallying up came out with a score overall of 75% achieved. Alas; the backyard is still not a bountiful truck garden and orchard of edibleness; nor are my books on any kind of best-seller list – nor even above five figures in the overall Amazon author rankings, a position which I reach intermittently and usually on the occasion of a new book being released or a fortunate linkage.

In mid-December of 2014, I looked at the list I had made for 2013 on those things that I wanted to accomplish, taking stock on what I had managed to do and what I had left undone. Now on this New Years Day 2015, I am looking at what I did manage to complete from that original list, and examining those things to work on, and either accomplish, or to try harder on in 2015.

#1 – Books … During 2015 I had meant to complete The Golden Road for release in time for the Christmas markets in November; the adventures of a wide-eyed seventeen-year old Fredi Steinmetz in Gold-Rush era California. The good news is that I have ten chapters of it in rough draft … and the other good news is that in the last year I managed to complete two other books for Christmas-shopping-time season. I had an inspiration last January, after reading another writer’s post about the Harvey Girls; that book was done before Thanksgiving, and then the inspiration which stuck my daughter and I – to create a typical small South Texas town, and people it with characters sort of based on certain people, and a history – as well as a whole town layout – based on a handful of such towns known to us. Chronicles of Luna City was done – or at least, the first volume (yes, there will be more; the whole epic is more or less open-ended) at the eye-watering speed of about three months.

#2 – A vow to redouble the efforts for a lavishly-productive back-yard truck garden sufficient to provide all our fresh vegetable needs. Still a flat failure, although the output from the pole beans was pleasingly bountiful this year, at least. This will be a continuing goal, although on the plus side, the goal of a backyard farm has been augmented with the addition of the chickens, or as my daughter calls them, “the wup-wups” from the sound of the gentle clucking they made when they are satisfied with life but still feel chatty. Maureen and Carly regularly produce an egg a day (with occasional days of feeling off.) We haven’t had to purchase eggs in the supermarket since about mid-September.  Larry-Bird the rooster also serves as an avian alarm clock. It is apparently a coming thing to have backyard chickens, now. We are grateful that all of our nearest neighbors were raised in the country and rather like hearing the sound of the girls and Larry-Bird. There are (according to what I read in the neighborhood email group), some locals who acquired, or moved in with chickens, and the roosters of their flocks were not well-received. Especially at 5 AM.

#3 – Better track of readers and fans … Sigh. I had a marvelous bump-up in sales, due to the new releases and some enormously helpful links in strategic places, but seeing that the bump-up continues is one of those ongoing projects.

#4 – Management of existing business and recruitment of new clients at Watercress Press; this remains another ongoing work in progress. I have two clients, the completion of whose work has been dragging on, for various reasons for the last year. As regards their books, there is light at the end of the tunnel for certain of one, and just possibly for the other. Although as I keep saying pessimistically, “It may not be the light at the end of the tunnel – it might just be the headlight on the train coming towards us!” I completed a couple of projects for an old Watercress client, who is ecstatically pleased, and have a new editing client, and a number of repeat orders for new copies of books from past POD clients. Keeping the business going is a continuing goal.

#5 – Stockpiling staple foods; the pantry closet, the big standing freezer, and the long-term storage spaces are packed almost solid with staples, frozen and canned foods. Our goal for this year, is to continuously review what we have stashed, and ensure that we rotate and consume the stuff efficiently. Which reminds me – to start another batch of sauerkraut soon; we made grilled Reuben sandwiches for New Year’s Eve supper. Grocery sauerkraut just doesn’t have any flavor to it; might as well be eating watery and slightly salted celery, or iceberg lettuce.

#6 – The project for totally renovating the kitchen is somewhat closer on the horizon than it was last year at this time. The practically-pristine vintage stove which Blondie inherited will have to be made right, tight and safe for use, and we will have to ensure that a gas main is run out to the kitchen end of the house. That may prove somewhat expensive, but on the other hand, replacing the cabinets may be a bit more affordable, thanks to working with the neighborhood Handy-Guy.  Unfortunately, the kitchen reno project this year was derailed by extensive and expensive work needing to be done on Blondie’s SUV, and veterinarian bills for the late and much-beloved Calla-puppy.

And so there we are; I wish for a happy and prosperous new year — doesn’t everyone?

25. December 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic

Somehow, the local HEB has sourced enormous onions for our holiday dinner-making pleasure – behold!

Observe - a single specimen completely fills the Suffolk Onion Keeper

Observe – a single specimen completely fills the Suffolk Onion Keeper

The Littlest Santa of them All

The Tiniest Santa-dressed Dog of Them All

The long pre-Christmas market marathon is finally complete – this last weekend was our last event, and possibly the most strenuous, involving as it did two days in Boerne (three, if you count set-up on Friday afternoon), with the pink pavilion and all the gear – the tables, display racks, two strings of Christmas lights and an extension cord – not to mention my books and my daughter’s origami earrings and bead bracelets. We have had a market event every weekend since early November, save for the weekend after Thanksgiving, so our state of exhaustion is nearly total. This was compounded (1) by both of us having caught (in sequence) a filthy cold/cough/flu and (2) a mid-week overnight trip to Brownsville to tend to the project of one of the Tiny Publishing Bidness’ clients. The client covered the costs of the hotel stay and gas, and treated us to a perfectly magnificent lunch at an Argentine steakhouse, so there is that. But my daughter felt perfectly awful for one week, and then the cold hit me on the return from Brownsville and I have been barely able to function ever since. Monday was the first day that I could really succumb to how awful I felt, and crawl into bed for much of the morning. Until some robocaller (curses be on their head this Christmas season, and all their stockings be filled with lumps of coal) on the cellie woke me up and set the doggles to barking about mid-afternoon.

Anyway – now that I am feeling slightly better – here’s a wrap-up of my observations of the holiday season. I avoided all malls, and big box stores, by the way. Our Black Friday shopping was all on-line, for items of quality (books and specialty foods, mostly) to be sent by mail to dear family members. I would not be surprised to learn that such is the case with many other shoppers this year. I would also not be surprised to learn that people are being very careful with their purses and credit cards, when it comes to Christmas shopping. I’ve been tracking sales of my own books at direct marketing holiday events since 2009, and there has been a definite dip in sales this year and in 2015 over previous years. I noticed also that sales deals offered via email with regard to Black Friday, and the week after have been extended, and extended again.

People seem quite defiant in the way they say “Merry Christmas!” to each other; not so much the carefully non-denominational “Happy Holidays.” No, it’s “Merry Christmas!” out loud and proud. And I have noticed that my neighbors have been particularly assiduous in decorating their houses and gardens with lights, inflatables and outsized Christmas ornaments this year … and in exchanging small gifts between neighbors.  We gave small boxes of home made gourmet fudge to those whom we know best, and also to the mailman, local firehouse, the nearest police station, the guy who drives the garbage collection van, and the staff at the bank branch where we do business … and have received in return a wealth of thanks and good wishes, as well as a pound of home-smoked pork chops, a bottle of red wine and a pair of replica Indian arrows, fletched with buzzard feathers and tipped with points made from bits of sharpened deer antlers … yes, we have neighbors with interesting hobbies.

There is in the air, I sense, a determination to have a Merry Christmas in spite of it all … threatened riots in certain cities, the pall of terrorism and crime, of political turmoil, a worsening economic situation, and the smothering hand of political correctitude, a bright flame against the threatening darkness. Merry Christmas, indeed.

 

(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?”

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