Retro Art And All

You know, I will run a mile from the currently-popular princess stuff … but this artist is doing it with Mucha style. Alphonse Mucha, that is … turn of the last century French commercial posters … yes, that Alphonse Mucha. I did pay attention in the required college art appreciation classes, you know.

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Plaza Mayor

Main Plaza today, with San Fernando Cathedral

Main Plaza today, with San Fernando Cathedral

That is what they were called in towns and cities in Spain – the main plaza or town square, which served as the center of civic life, around which were ranged the important civic buildings, the biggest church; this the regular market place, the assembly area for every kind of public spectacle imaginable over the centuries. Every plaza mayor in every Spanish town is alike and yet different; different in size and shape, and in the confirmation of the buildings around it. Some are bare and paved in cobbles, and some have trees and gardens in them now. This custom carried over into the New World, and San Antonio is no exception. The town as originally laid out early in the 18th century was more or less in the shape of a cross, outlined by four intersecting streets, incorporating a large square with the church (later cathedral) of San Fernando in the center of it. This essentially split the plaza into equal halves – Main and Military plazas. The oldest streets in town – Soledad and Lasoya, Navarro, Dolorosa and the road which led out past the mission across the river, the Alameda – now East Commerce – are the heart of historic San Antonio. Well, that and the old mission, out at the then-edge of town and over a loop of the San Antonio River. The house belonging to the commander of the Spanish presidio’s garrison – which may have been the largest of the early dwellings – occupied part of the western boundary of Military Plaza. Late in the 19th century, San Antonio’s city hall would take up much of the center, where once soldiers had drilled, and General Lopez de Santa Anna’s soldiers had bivouacked. The Bexar county courthouse would take up another side of Main Plaza – but not until the Plaza had been the center of life for San Antonio de Bexar for more than a century.

It is a curiously restful place, these days, considering that invading and resident armies fought over San Antonio and around the Plaza several times. A momentous peace treaty between the residents of Spanish Texas and the eastern Apache was marked by a formal (and one assumes eventually rather raucous) ceremony in the Plaza involving the ritual burial of weapons of war … including a live horse, while the Apaches and the Bexarenos danced in celebratory circles. The catastrophic failure of 1842 peace negotiations with the Comanche at the Council House – a civic building on the Plaza set aside for that sort of thing – led to a running bloody fight in the streets and gardens of San Antonio and more than three decades of bitter warfare with the Comanche. The first stagecoach to arrive from the east stopped in the Plaza – the first commercial hotel was there. At the very beginning of the Civil War, according to some stories, a senior U.S. Army officer commanding the Department of Texas was unceremoniously hustled from his residence on the Plaza by Confederate sympathizers, taken to the edge of town and told in no uncertain terms to leave at once. As the story has it, the officer had voiced it as his opinion that assisting in a Texas withdrawal from the Union would betray the principles of the Founding Fathers. In a private letter, the officer had condemned the so-called Cotton States for a selfish and dictatorial bearing, and for wanting to re-establish the commerce in slaves from Africa. Kidnapped or not, Colonel Robert E. Lee went to spend some quiet quality time at the cavalry post at Fort Mason, before returning back East and withdrawing his services from the U.S. Army upon the secession of his home state of Virginia from the Union.

Everything happening in San Antonio until the arrival of the railway tended to happen in the Plaza Mayor; a lively and eccentric community split into three different ethnicities by the mid-19th century, as Frederick Law Olmsted realized during his visit to Texas in the mid-1850s.
One of the local peculiarities which Olmsted and other visitors noted were the numbers of open-air restaurants – moveable feasts in various public squares, beginning with the most august of them – the ancient Military Plaza – local cooks, most but not all Hispanic – set up tables and benches, and cook-kettles full of chili simmering over mesquite-wood fires. Local musicians played – often hired by the proprietresses to entice patrons … as if the taste of peppery meat and bean stew for hungry patrons wasn’t enough. The picturesque spectacle of the ‘Chili Queens’ tables – as they would come to be known – enchanted locals and travelers well into the 20th century. Imagine – good, simple – and tasty food – all eaten in the open air. The after-sundown breeze rustles the leaves of the trees fringing the swift-flowing San Antonio River, oil and kerosene lanterns flicker, the musicians play, while stars sparkle in the sky overhead and the evening business of certain establishments spill out into the relative cool of a South Texas evening …yes – that would be a draw, especially to people accustomed to cooler and less highly-spiced localities. The popularity of things like canned chili and specialty chili seasonings came about when an enterprising cook and owner of a saloon and beer garden in New Braunfels – Willie Gebhardt – developed a process for making and packaging a dried seasoning powder – chili powder. Up until then, the chili had been a local and seasonal specialty, but Gebhardt’s process, which preserved the flavor of the chili peppers, and which he sold himself from the back of a wagon, grew into a million-dollar business and inadvertently popularized Mexican food … including chili … when his company published a small cookbook instructing cooks who were unfamiliar with Tex-Mex cuisine in how to use his product.
From civic architecture – to chili powder; how eccentric is that?

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A New Lone Star Sons Adventure – The Secret of San Saba!

(Herewith a new adventure in my proposed YA series, Lone Star Sons Lone Star Sons Logo - Cover- where the young Texas Ranger Jim Reade, and his stalwart friend, guide and translator, Toby Shaw of the Delaware have many interesting missions on behalf of the Republic of Texas. Yes, I haven’t had time to work on a new adventure for them in some time. My apologies, seriously – but I have been busy.)

            “Your friend is back in town,” Jack Hays remarked, as Jim walked into the parlor of the little old-fashioned adobe house on Main Plaza, where he kept a bachelor household whenever he was between surveying trips into the Hills, or those other and rather secretive missions ventured upon in the cause of an independent Texas nation.

            “Which friend?” Jim dropped his saddle bags and hung his coat and gun-belt on the pegs affixed to the wall conveniently close to the door which led out to the Plaza. Even with the door closed, the evening sound of music, of voices and the hubble-bubble of town life floated distantly – but in a manner altogether pleasing – into the cozy parlor. Life of an evening in San Antonio was usually a lively matter, no matter what the season. A tiny fire of aromatic cedar burned on the clay hearth, and Jack knocked dottle of burned tobacco into it, rapping his pipe against the side of the fireplace.

            “Your friend, Albert Biddle,” Jack smiled. “Or, I should say – Don Alberto. I must agree that marriage agrees with him splendidly.”

            “Dona Graciela is a most admirable woman,” Jim agreed, a little heatedly, since he had no notion of where this conversation was leading. “Poor Albert was wounded most grievously in the course of our mission to Laredo last year. Dona Graciela took us into her home, treated us as kin – well, seeing that we had sworn an oath to be god-fathers to her sister’s infant – I felt that we had done nothing much to deserve such generous regard. But she was kindness herself…”

            “And Don Alberto is a very lucky man,” Jack added, with a smile. “A widow of good family – would that one such as she takes you into such deep affection, Jim; you would be blessed indeed. There are many among us – mostly of the older generation here in Texas who have married ladies of the old established Mexican families. Men and women are made for marriage, and he is lucky beyond most, in having a family ready-made. Don Alberto carried your little god-son on his saddle-bow, when they rode in today, with a train of mules, and Dona Graciela and her daughters following in a mule-litter in the old-fashioned way.”

            “He is a lucky man,” Jim agreed, even though Dona Graciela was a woman as far from his taste in courting as a woman could get and still be recognizably female. Dona Graciela was a tall and regal-appearing woman, with fine eyes and an ink-dark spill of hair, piled high in the old Spanish fashion, with a tall comb at the back of her head. Jim was more often drawn to pretty, fair-haired girls, who looked up at him with soft brown eyes, as if they hoped to be rescued from a dragon or an unwelcome suitor. Dona Graciela had likely never looked to be rescued in her life. He sank into the empty chair across from Jack, fixed his commanding officer with a searching expression, and demanded, “So – your purpose in making mention of this is?”

            “It was a pleasing sight,” Jack protested mildly. “Most picturesque – like a medieval procession of a nobleman and all of his household and train. They are coming to visit us at half-past the hour, after Compline at San Fernando.”

            “I’m tired, Jack,” Jim groaned, somewhat theatrically. “I’ve had a long day on horseback, and all I want is my supper and my bedroll, in that order. I don’t want to receive social calls – even from such as good a friend as Albert Biddle and his lady.”

            “Go get something from the chili-women,” Jack ordered, with a distinct lack of sympathy. “If you go now, you may bring it back here and be done before the bells ring for the nightly silence. They’ve traveled long themselves – and wouldn’t be stirring themselves over something of no moment.”

 

            Seeing that Jack was adamant, and that the bells of San Fernando were already chiming the call to services, Jim had little choice but to take himself to the nearest of the stalls, where the peppery meat and bean stew so popular with everyone – Anglo and Mexican alike – was being sold from a vast kettle, presided over by one of the black-garbed women. The tables were crowded, even though the hour was late, and he carried his bowl and a sheaf of the thin Mexican flat-breads back to Jack’s house. By the time that he had put himself on the outside of it, Jim was in a rather better frame of mind, belly-full-content and slightly sleepy. And yes, he admitted to himself, he was rather looking forward to seeing Albert Biddle again; from what Jack had said in passing, it sounded as if the gentlemanly Yankee clerk now had a different standing in the world.

 

Even with that expectation, Jim would hardly have known Albert Biddle, when Jack answered a quiet knock at the parlor door, and showed Don Alberto and his lady wife into the room. During the brief interlude, Jack had hastily scooped such evidence of careless bachelor housekeeping into the inner room, but still, Jim thought Dona Graciela looked upon the tiny parlor with the severe eye of an exacting housekeeper. Her husband had no such reserve – but even so, Jim would not have recognized him at first; so different in manner and garb was he now.

“I have a position to keep up,” Albert Biddle explained, with a look of affection towards his formidable wife. “Gracie insists, of course – but I am not adverse.”  Indeed, the black trousers and short jacket, elegantly trimmed with braid and silver buttons in the manner favored by the wealthy Mexicans of Bexar, suited him very well. “But,” he added, upon settling Dona Graciela into the most comfortable chair in the room – the only cushioned one, as it happened, “We did not come from Laredo merely to exchange remarks on the latest trends in haberdashery.”

Jim noticed that Dona Graciela sat with her hands on a small coffer in her lap, a thing of dark wood trimmed in silver. He thought it might be a jewel-case, although why the lady should bring her gems and ear-bobs to Compline was beyond him.

“And here I was thinking it was because you had a hankering to go traveling with Toby and I,” Jim observed, and Albert Biddle laughed.

“It may come to that, James.” Then his face went sober again. “This is a matter in earnest – and Gracie insisted that we maintain the utmost discretion. It may be the means by which we save your – our Republic.”

“So you are a Texian now,” Jim observed, and Albert Biddle grinned.

“Gracie insisted,” he said, fondly, and Dona Graciela spoke for nearly the first time.

“What concerns my husband is of my concern as well,” she said. “And when I told him what I had found in the rooms of my grandfather’s younger brother … Tio Maximiliano is gone to his reward these many months ago. He was married to the daughter of a soldier in his youth, an officer of the presidio of San Saba, in the time that the Spanish tried to hold the Llano.”

“San Saba…” Jim ventured; a small light began to dawn on him, cutting through the bone-weariness of his last journey. “Wasn’t there supposed to be rich silver mines around there? The old missionaries had a mission there for the Lipan Apache, but the Comanches massacred them all in a day and a night, and the presidio garrison was withdrawn … about a hundred years ago, wasn’t it?”

Dona Graciela nodded, graciously, and Jack observed, “There’s always been talk about silver mines and treasure hidden in the walls of the old fort. I never put much credence in those stories, myself. Folks hear about an abandoned castle or a fortress in ruins, and it just naturally comes to them to want to make up stories of treasures and ghosts and all. Now it seems there might be a basis for them … according to Dona Graciela.” He inclined his head towards the lady, who opened the casket in her lap.

“Tio Maximiliano preserved this coffer most carefully – he had it from the father of his wife.”

“What are these papers?” Jim asked, and this time Albert Biddle answered,

“A guide to a real treasure-trove – one which might save Texas, as far as financial matters are concerned – for I have reviewed them with care. My written understanding of Spanish exceeds that of the spoken language by the power of three to one. These papers and map were things of immense value, according to Tio Maximiliano’s father-in-law, who was an aide-de-camp to one Governor Yorba. An important man at the time, for all that he is recalled now; these were supposed to be sent to the Spanish archives for the province in Monclava, but for some reason, he did not follow the orders given to him.”

“He fell ill of the yellow fever,” Dona Graciela put in. “And died within days. On his death-bed, he gave this little coffer to his daughter and her affianced, Tio Maximiliano, saying that it would dower her, if she were ever in need. It was locked, when he gave it to them, and no one could provide a key. His daughter thought he was delirious and it was a paltry matter, so she put it away in her grief, thinking it no more than a memento of her father. It was a long-forgotten thing until I found it…”

“It is open now,” Jim remarked, dryly and Albert Biddle looked at the ceiling-beams overhead. “One of my unheralded talents is that I am adept at picking locks, without leaving any damage or trace. The archives at Monclava would have liked to have known of this matter, doubtless – but it is now a matter for Texas, and well-worth the candle, if I am any judge of these matters.”

Jim looked between the three; Biddle, his wife, and Jack Hays, whose’ sober face held the expression of a man quickly doing sums in his head.

“What did you find, among these papers?” Jack asked, with careful diplomacy. “That would provide a dowry to a soldier’s daughter – and the salvation of Texas?”

“A map to the location of a treasure – and an inventory of what we may expect to find in it,” Alfred Biddle answered firmly.

(To be continued – naturally.)

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Book Festival!

In the shade of the Big Enchilada - the Central Library building.

In the shade of the Big Enchilada – the Central Library building.

This is only the second year running for the San Antonio Book Festival, sponsored by the San Antonio Public Library Foundation, which seems to have modeled itself on the Texas Book Festival – at least, the principles and requirements for books to be considered for it are identical. This means that independently-published books, like my own, and subsidy-published books like … well, Watercress Press authors are not eligible for consideration as part of the festival, only as exhibitors. In the eyes of strict book trade professionals, indy and subsidy-press books have literary cooties or something. (Insert Bette Davis-sized eye-roll here and a heavily sarcastic sigh of “What-ever!) This is ironic in the extreme, as Watercress publishes John Igo’s poetry collections, and he has a public library branch named for him.

So, off to the festival, where the exhibitor booths were set up in three or four rows of pop-up pavilions in the parking lot of the South West School for Art and Craft. The School, by the way – used to house the convent and boarding school run by the Ursuline sisters. This was the first girl’s school in San Antonio, and was considered to be a very fine one in the 19th century. (In the Trilogy, this is the school that Hannah and Lottie attend.)
It was chilly and overcast all day Saturday, which may have discouraged some participation – as well as some of the exhibitors – but on the other hand, better that then too hot, or too cold, as it was in December at Christmas on the Square at Goliad last December. Yes, it would have been more pleasant if the sun had come out … but outdoor events in Texas are a challenging thing, most times of the year, whatever that time is.

So – I sold some books, made some connections, plan to join the Texas Association of Authors, so as to be able to have my books appear at more book events, and maybe gained a few more clients for Watercress. All in all, a good day – but at the end of the day, a couple of classes of Chablis, a frozen pizza warming in the oven, and a couple of episodes of the old Upstairs, Downstairs show on TV were a well-earned reward.

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On Ice

Just this week and thanks to gaining a new book-publishing client, I was able to complete the purchase of a new refrigerator-freezer. Oh, the old one was staggering along OK, still keeping the refrigerated foods cold and the frozen food frozen … but there were so many dissatisfactions with it, including the fact that it had such deep shelves that in cleaning it out we discovered an embarrassingly large number of jars of condiments whose best-if-sold-by-date were well into the previous decade … not to mention a couple of Rubbermaid containers with leftovers in them that we had quite forgotten about. Well, out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. Truly, I don’t like to waste leftovers, but in this case, we had a good clean-out and as of now are resolved to do better, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die. The new and larger refrigerator-freezer has relatively shallow and many adjustable shelves in its various compartments; so that we dearly hope that the buried-at-the-back-of-a-deep-shelf-and-totally-forgotten-about syndrome will be banished entirely.

Anyway – enough of my failings as a thrifty housekeeper; the thing that I was marveling on this afternoon was that the new refrigerator-freezer has an automatic ice-maker. Better than that – an automatic ice-maker and ice-water dispenser in the door, and a small light which winks on when depressing the lever which administers ice (in cubes or crushed) and ice-water and then gradually dims once released. And if all that is a small luxury compared to the previous refrigerator-freezer, it is a huge luxury compared to the electric ice-box that made my Granny Jessie’s work and food-storage capabilities somewhat lighter than those of her own mother. It’s monumental, even – and no one thinks anything of it today, unless the electricity goes off.
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Ice, Ice, Baby

So, we finally got the new refrigerator-freezer delivered today. In Late January, when the washing machine turned up it’s toes, metaphorically speaking, and went to join the appliance choir eternal, I had to go straight out and buy a new one … from my favorite purveyor of cut-rate quality appliances, the local scratch ‘n’dent store. This enterprise does a thriving business in slightly dinged new appliances, floor models, returned merchandise or rehabbed second-hand ones. I had bought the original refrigerator-freezer, the washer and dryer new for the house in 1995; just your basic economy Whirlpool models from the BX, and so everyone tells me that almost twenty years is darned good for such appliances, and that the new ones are much more energy efficient. So much more efficient that as a matter of fact, CPS offers a rebate for replacing a refrigerator-freezer manufactured before 2001 with an energy efficient model.

The new refrigerator interior!

The new refrigerator interior!

Anyway the upshot if it all is that Blondie noticed the rather nice side-by-side refrigerator-freezers on display at Scratch ‘n’ Dent when we were shopping for the washing machine. Truth to tell, the old Whirlpool was giving honest cause for concern, even though it still kept the cold stuff cold and the frozen stuff well-frozen. The supports for the two crisper drawers had fallen apart ages ago, the molded shelves in the door were beginning to develop hairline cracks at certain stress points, the pebbled finish on the outside collected tiny lines of grime that were impossible to clean thoroughly – and being just the average standard 19-cubic-foot sized model meant that stuff gravitated to the back of deep shelves, not to be seen again for months. The side-by-side model was slightly taller, and all the shelves, to include those in the doors are much shallower. Stuff in it could be easily seen, in other words. Most of the shelves slid out, and there were three drawers. It was just about the size to fit in the space designated in the kitchen. So … no, I didn’t need my arm twisted very much.

Because there was also the matter of the automatic ice-maker and the dispenser of ice and drinking water in the door; as Texas is hot enough in the summer to historically warrant being compared unfavorably to Hell, ice water and ice are highly-valued. I had meant to buy the automatic ice-maker kit for the original refrigerator, but never got around to doing so before that model became a back-number. We rather envied those of our friends who did have the jazzy, side-by-side models with the ice and water dispenser … and so, with the payments from several clients, I was able to put the gorgeous side-by-side model on layaway. When I went to Scratch ‘n’ Dent to make payments, Blondie would go along to admire it, murmuring, “Soon, soon, my pretty!” until they moved it to the back area with the ‘Sold’ merchandise.

So, they delivered and assembled it to day, two guys horsing it through the sliding door on the patio – and very kindly moved the old one out to the patio, where the recycling contractor will come for it at the end of the week. We had spent some hours this morning, taking most everything out of the old unit … quite a lot got pitched, especially some jars of condiments with best-if-used-by dates in the last decade. (Damn, that jar of black bean sauce was from 2008?) Hereby also resolved, that we use leftovers within four days, or if not, label and freeze it. Blondie spent an hour or so, reattaching all the magnets, and cartoons and stuff to the side of the new one and I don’t think she was muttering, “My Precious, my Precious!”  But she might have been …

Anyway, we have to let the icemaker cycle through and throw away the first batch, but the water is fit to drink now, and the contents are beautifully organized and visible. It does take up a bit more space, top to bottom and side to side, but on the whole we are quite pleased with what is essentially a big-money purchase not driven by absolute necessity.

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La Vie en Rose-Colored Postcards

SS Majestic - when getting there in style was all the thing.

SS Majestic – when getting there in style was all the thing.

My Grandpa Jim, who was short, energetic, and as a young man, fabulously charming, emigrated from Five-Mile-Town, County Armagh in 1910. Sometime over the next few years, he fetched up in Southern California. Having been trained as something of a specialist – a professional estate gardener, he took employment with an old-moneyed California family and spent the following five decades as their old family retainer, keeping the grounds of their estate up to par.

The view to the west from the Hotel Cecil, London

The view to the west from the Hotel Cecil, London

He was mildly renowned in the neighborhood where he lived, with Granny Jessie and his two children- my mother and her older brother, Jimmy-Junior – for not only having been employed during the Depression, but for having held on to the same employer from one end of it to the other.

The Hotel Vista del Arroyo, Pasadena, California

The Hotel Vista del Arroyo, Pasadena, California

I was rather vaguely aware of this employer’s family, as I grew up: when we drove from Sunland-Tujunga to Pasadena to visit my grandparents’ house, on South   Lotus St., Mom was often given to pointing out their old, original mansion – a grey neo-Gothic style roof-peak, rising out of the trees lining the edge of the Arroyo Seco, as she drove the old green Plymouth station-wagon over the bridge. That was where the senior B – ‘s had lived throughout the Twenties, the Thirties – and in fact, a good way into the Sixties. Grandpa Jim was rather feudally devoted to the senior lady of the house, always referred to as Old Mrs. B – , to differentiate from the wife of her oldest son, Young Mrs. B.  Old Mrs. B loved roses, and that was what Grandpa Jim was most particularly skilled at as a professional gardener.

Devil's Gate Dam, La Crescenta, California

Devil’s Gate Dam, La Crescenta, California

Besides the oldest son, there was a sister and another brother, and a much younger boy whose name was Mark, called Markie, who happened to be very close to my mother’s age. She was born in 1930 – but Markie was delicate, an invalid, with health problems so chronic that he died as a teenager. He was never well enough to go to school or to participate very much in life as his parents and sibs lived it; and my mother was frequently imported to be his companion. I’ve often thought it must have been rather like the children in The Secret Garden – except that Markie was treasured by both his parents, and Mom was not an orphan.

Courtyard, California Exposition, Balboa Park, San Diego

Courtyard, California Exposition, Balboa Park, San Diego

Still, there was something rather old-world about it all – the gardener’s daughter being brought to the enormous grey manor-house, to play with the invalid little boy of an afternoon. Old Mrs. B. loved shopping, loved to buy dresses for little girls, and Mom was the beneficiary of this impulse – except that Old. Mrs. B never thought to buy practical things, and so Mom had the prettiest and most lavish dresses – but only ragged underwear, to wear underneath.

Roman Forum, Trajan's Column and Market, Rome

Roman Forum, Trajan’s Column and Market, Rome

I was, I think, about nine or ten – which would put this happening in the mid-60s – when the old B – mansion was closed up and sold. Young Mr. B and his family – maybe to include Old Mr. B – went to live in a grand estate on the outskirts of Santa   Barbara. I remember our family going to visit them, and I think I recall me being given a bouquet of flowers to present to a very, very elderly man, but to ten-year old eyes, everyone fit to receive Social Security appears enormously old …

Excelsior Hotel, Naples

Excelsior Hotel, Naples

Anyway, there was a day when Grandpa Jim took Mom and I, with my brother J.P. and sister Pippy to the old B – mansion, because there was a bunch of discarded old stuff in one of the outbuildings, and Grandpa had permission to let us have the pick of it. My mother chose a cast-iron lawn-chair, and regretted for decades that she hadn’t also taken the love-seat that went with it. Both were layered with decades of paint, and as heavy as original sin; it was just that the love-seat was so much heavier than the chair.

Canal Street, New Orleans

Canal Street, New Orleans

I don’t remember what J.P. and Pippy came away with – if anything at all – but I came away with a shoebox almost full of old postcards.

SS Havana, viewed from Moro Castle, Cuba

SS Havana, viewed from Moro Castle, Cuba

They were unused, un-postmarked, un-written upon, and there were heaps of duplicates among them – pictures of hotels, of steamship liners, of views of half a hundred of places as far removed as a Japan, and Naples. There was a collection of views of New Orleans, and of Washington DC, with the streets full of antique-looking cars, and the skies tinted peculiar shades of pink and pale blue.

Scenery in the Rocky Mountains

Scenery in the Rocky Mountains

There were postcards that were actually paintings of spectacular scenery in the Far American West, of tree-ferns in Hawaii, and stands of azalea-bushes in Florida, colored in not-quite-natural hues. Taken all together, they offered an entrancing view into another world, another time.

Luxemburg Gardens, Paris

Luxemburg Gardens, Paris

They exuded – and still do – a faint and evocative smell of old paper. Some of them were even places that I had seen myself, and a few were of local landmarks; sequoia trees in Northern California, like the Devil’s Gate Dam, a nearly-empty reservoir in La Crescenta, and the old Arroyo Seco Hotel, within eyesight, practically, of the B’s mansion.

Tree Ferns near Volcano House, Hawaii

Tree Ferns near Volcano House, Hawaii

The elder B’s and their older children traveled widely, so Grandpa Jim and Mom explained to me, when I showed them the postcards. Mom ventured a guess that perhaps the cards were brought back for Markie, the invalid little boy who was never strong enough to venture much of anywhere. So, his parents, his older brothers and sister, wherever they traveled, by train or steamship, they picked up handfuls of postcards, and brought them home for Markie – although the oldest of them would have predated his birth by a good few years.

Palace of Justice, Monaco

Palace of Justice, Monaco

Perhaps the senior B’s had made a habit of this all throughout their marriage, and travels. Over all those decades, the postcards had gravitated from across the world to the neo-Gothic mansion on the edge of the Arroyo Seco, tucked into a purse or train-case, perhaps a suitcase with hotel-stickers on it. Going from there to a desk, to a box in a closet with a bunch of other oddments – until the day they came to me.

Shijo Street, Kyoto, Japan

Shijo Street, Kyoto, Japan

I’ve had them ever since; maybe the old box of postcards, with their vivid link to a not-quite-out-of-touch past was what set me off on a love of history and travel. Or maybe I would have come to that anyway.

Tomb of the Unknown, Arlington

Tomb of the Unknown, Arlington

Live oaks with moss, Florida

Live oaks with moss, Florida

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Spring into Summer

Embryonic Garden - Vast Collection of Pots

How it looked at the beginning of this month

And sometimes it goes spring into summer in the same day – or even from winter to spring to summer. Yes, it’s a bit of a trip, having to have the heat and the AC on within the same 24 hour period, but that is Texas for you, where a cold front can blow in and the temperature drop from the mild 70s to freezing within the space of hours – just as it did a couple of weekends ago.

Fortunately, the most of the plants in my garden which lived through that experience are recovering nicely, and the ones which didn’t are replaceable. I’ve lost about two weeks in the development of the pole and bush beans, and about four pepper plants – plus another two or three pepper plants where a rat came in and ate off the tender leaves. Four pots of lettuce and mesclun greens did very well under a thick blanket for those few cold days, so we’re ahead there, too.

I don’t know if I want to try again with squash and zucchini again. For heaven’s sake, everyone can grow zucchini – and I hear tales of two or three plants being so prolific that the people who have them are reduced to dropping bags of ripe zucchini on their neighbor’s doorsteps, ringing the doorbell and running away. But after two years of trying to do just that, I’m beginning to think my garden is squash-cursed. One year, they thrived and blossomed … and then suddenly nothing, and they all developed mushy stems and then died, and the next year they grew to a certain point and then died.  Well, at least I had harvests of fresh beans and salad greens to comfort us, and oodles of little tomatoes the year before. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

I also west as far as to buy a pair of fruit tree saplings, upon seeing them for sale at Sam’s Club a month ago; a plum and a peach. Now I regret not picking up an apple tree as well – I have room for them all, now that the big tree is cut back. So far, the peach is shyly putting out some buds, the plum is just sitting there sullenly – but it’s not dead yet. The field beyond the back fence has largely been built over in the years since I bought my house, so there are stretches of it now that could do with a good masking from a deciduous tree in summer – and looking how a couple of the trees that I did plant early on kept growing and growing and growing – well, there is hope for the plum and the peach.

How it looked in April, 2012

How it looked in April, 2012

The firecracker plant and the penstemon bushes – which had all the leaves on them killed by the frost are coming back as well. They always do, even though sometimes I have to cut them down almost to the bare ground. When they are going full-bore, they form a pair of sprawling shrubs, one covered with orange and the other with red flowers – which the humming birds love. Right now, with everything either just leafing out or a week out from being planted, the garden still looks pretty bare, but at the rate that the days are warming up, it will not be long in that condition.

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Lone Star Sons – Godfathers Three – Finale

Lone Star Sons Logo - Cover   (This is the final part of this adventure – Part One is here, Part Two here  and Part Three here. The entire adventure will be added to a separate page for it – and with one more adventure, I believe there will be sufficient for a nice-sized book. Which may be the first of several – depending on the response of readers to this venture into classic Western adventure seen through a new paradigm.)

 

Jim milked the nanny goat one last time, while Albert Biddle and Toby carried the body of the woman to the hut, and placed it side by side with that of Armando the goatherd. The poles upholding the roof of the hut, and the roof itself all came down with very little effort, making the proper appearance of a grave. Albert suffered a fit of sneezing in the cloud of dust which rose up briefly. They watered the horses one last time, ensured that every canteen was filled to the brim, and Toby laced small James Albert Toby into the makeshift cradle-board with narrow strips of blanket. Into the cradleboard with the baby went several handfuls of wool from the eviscerated pillow. When he had finished, Toby looked upon his handiwork with satisfaction. The baby blinked back at him, seemingly comfortable in his wicker and wool swaddling, with only his tiny red face visible. Albert Biddle grinned.

“I must say, Mr. Shaw – this infant a portmanteau of yours is remarkable for simplicity and ease of transport – just hang it on our saddle-horns like a holster. And the little one seems perfectly content. I think that I should make a sketch of your contrivance, and take it back East with me. It might start a new fashion for those ladies with large families.”

“We should take turns,” Jim suggested. He settled himself into the saddle with a soft groan. He ached with exhaustion, knowing that the day’s journey was not yet over. He squinted at the sun, now sliding imperceptibly towards the far horizon. Two days travel to the Rio Grande – the first water they would see after leaving this place. “And we’d best get a move on,” he added. “We’ll make a dry camp of it … it may be best to keep moving. The moon is near enough to full to make no difference if it’s day or night.”

“If you say so,” Albert Biddle agreed, and Toby consented with a brief nod. Jim could tell that his friends were as tired as he was – but fulfilling their promise to Armando’s wife, and getting their tiny son to Laredo, to the house of Graciela on the plaza by the church of San Augustin – that took every precedent.

 

Their horses plodded on, Jim in a weary daze which was only half the blink of an eye towards falling asleep. Some of Jack’s other Rangers could sleep in the saddle, which he had never thought possible until now. To his vague astonishment, James Albert Toby appeared to find the gentle sway of the cradle-board hanging from Toby’s saddle equally as soporific, for the infant was silent as they rode. The sun, after seeming to hang in the sky for hours at an angle intended to shine directly into their eyes, eventually set. They rode on, through the thickening twilight.

Albert Biddle spoke, his voice suddenly loud after the long silence. “I think we should rest now – give the child some more milk, and sleep until moonrise.”

In spite of the urgency of getting to Laredo, Jim found himself agreeing completely. There was just light enough remaining in the sky for them to find a sheltered place; a shallow dry arroyo with a small sapling overhanging a narrow and sandy sward refreshingly free from any prickly weeds, cactus thorns or evidence of ant-mounds. Indeed, the sand looked to be as inviting as a warm featherbed to Jim’s exhausted gaze.

They left their horses saddled, tying the reins to the spindly tree. Toby simply cast himself down on the sand, curling up like a cat – and like a cat, falling instantly to sleep. Little James Albert Toby fussed, in a half-hearted fashion, until Albert Biddle filled the kid-glove with luke-warm goat milk and let the baby suckle on it for a few minutes. Both Albert and the baby fell asleep after some five minutes of this exercise. Jim – as the captain of this little party, as he saw it – removed the flaccid, milk-sodden glove from Albert Biddle’s grasp. He hung the cradle-board with the slumbering infant in it from the lowest branch of the tree, where it rocked in the slight breeze and the tug of their horses’ reins, as their mounts cropped at the few blades of green grass and leaves within reach. Jim lay himself down on the sand, taking care before he did so to hollow out a small declivity for his hips and shoulders. That, so he had been told by Jack, and before that by Dan’l, was the trick for sleeping comfortably on the ground, if simple bone-exhaustion didn’t do the trick.

 

To Jim’s mixed discomfiture and relief, all of them – even the baby and the horses – slept until well-past moon-rise. It was, in fact, the hour before sunrise, when the sky in the east turned the pale of an oyster-shell, when he woke. Toby sat, cross-legged in his customary posture on the bank above their heads – obviously as a belated sentry. Albert Biddle had the cradle-board in his lap, appearing to have finished a round of feeding, for the infant seemed well-content, blinking sleepily at no one in particular.

“You should have wakened me, Brother,” Jim said, while Toby shrugged. “It was of no matter.”

Albert Biddle observed, “We have about half the goat-milk left; enough for another day, a day and a half at most.”

“Then we had best better move on,” Jim answered, and Alfred Biddle laughed, as he handed over the cradle-board to him.

“Agreed – and it is your turn to play nursemaid.”

“The responsibility of command,” Jim observed with a sigh. They set off in the chill grey morning, wisps of vapor rising from the low places along the trail where the nightly dew had settled overnight. The sun rose at their backs, sending pale gold fingers of light reaching here and there, slipping between the sparse trees and the tops of the sand hills, and sending their elongated shadows ahead. The cradle-board hung from the short length of rope looped over Jim’s saddle-horn, and now and again bumped against his knee. Such did not seem to disturb the tiny passenger, Jim noted with relief. As for himself, the brief halt did not seem to have rested him very much – Jim felt only a little less weary than he had the night before. No, Laredo would be a welcome sight, all the crumbling adobe walls and rust-red roof-tiles of it, punctuated with the tower of the church of San Augustin and the sere and sage-green line of brush and trees which marked the line of the river.

A half-length ahead of him on the trail, Toby suddenly drew rein – so suddenly that Jim’s paint-pony nearly rammed into Toby’s own horse.

“Someone is coming,” Toby whispered. “Down the trail, towards us, from the other side of that rise.”

“How many?” Jim woke from the half-stupor of exhaustion, alert in every fiber. This path they followed was an unfrequented one, because of the rough land and the lack of water.

“I do not know, James – more than one, but not many.” Toby answered. The back of Jim’s neck prickled; no, thinking of the murdered goatherd Armando and the looting of his tiny hut did not give cause for comfortable reassurance. Jim loosened the revolving pistol in its holster at his waist. Since leaving the spring he had kept it loaded and ready at hand.

“Trouble?” Albert Biddle ventured, soft-voiced and low, as he drew his horse level with Jim.

“Don’t know – but be wary,” Jim replied. “Let’s pick up the pace, gentlemen – and surprise them.” In obedience, Toby heeled his own horse to a slow trot; Jim and Albert Biddle followed – Jim only realizing at the last second that the increased pace might jostle the cradle-board. Within a few lengths, they topped the gentle rise and had a momentary advantage.

Which was a good thing, as Jim saw in that first tense moment, for they had surprised the two men on the other side; men who had no good reason for having their own weapons in hand – two men of light complexion but dressed in rough Mexican style and with the dust of the trail on their clothes and hair. The man in the lead seemed familiar, and shock and rage lit a fire in Jim’s blood as he recognized him. He knew that profile, the uncut reddish hair, the ragged beard – the last face that he recalled before waking in a shallow cave after an explosion of darkness.

“Gallatin!” he shouted. “You cur!” Cold and unthinking rage swept through Jim. All thought of his intent to arrest the renegade Ranger, bring him to Bexar to face chargers of murder – went from his mind in an instant. From that moment, things seemed to happen at once, and yet slowly, every motion etched in his mind as if it were a pantomime. Just as Gallatin lowered his own pistol – a heavy old-fashioned flintlock dragoon – Albert Biddle’s horse plunged in between Jim, as Albert Biddle shouted his name.

Gallatin’s pistol barked once, sounding like a cannon, in a cloud of black-powder smoke. The other man with Gallatin stood spurred his horse forward with a yell like a banshee, only to collide heavily with Toby’s lighter mount. With a shout of his own, Toby swung the heavy war-club back-handing the other rider in the chest, even as his own horse fell, thrashing in a whirlwind of dust and sand. The club connected with a sickening crunch of stone on bone as the other man slumped from the saddle, falling to the ground. Jim fired off three shots at Gallatin, even as Albert Biddle’s horse collapsed. Albert Biddle fell with it and Gallatin pulled savagely on his own mount’s reins. Gallatin’s horse sprang away – he was going to run, escape again! Jim snapped off one more shot and would have followed, heedless of any peril to himself but for Toby, rising from the ground with the speed of a rattlesnake striking.

“No, James!” Toby shouted. “The cradle!”

Jim’s mind cleared in an instant, as of those words had doused him in ice-water. How could he have forgotten the baby – now startled awake and howling? Alfred Biddle was down, wounded how badly? Every fiber of Jim’s being urged him to follow after J.J. Gallatin – murderer, thief, scalp-hunter and how many other crimes might be laid at his door? Likely the murder of Armando the goat-herder, too – but Gallatin was gone, the hoofbeats of his horse fading on the morning air. His companion lay on the ground, a marionette with broken strings. Jim needed only a glance to tell him that Gallatin’s companion was dead, the horse that he fell from already rearing, pawing the air with it’s hoofs, panicked by the smell of blood and black powder. That horse tossed its head and ran, stirrups flapping and reins trailing to the ground, gone before either Jim or Toby could restrain it. Meanwhile, Toby’s horse staggered up from the ground, the whites of its eyes showing all the way around, and favoring one fore-leg, keeping it from the ground.  Albert Biddle’s own horse lay sprawled ungainly, a tide-pool of red widening around its muzzle and another larger puddle under its shoulder. Even as Jim swung down from his own saddle, the sides of the wounded horse rose once, and then the beast shuddered and lay still. Toby already had Albert Biddle’s shoulders, for his right leg was trapped underneath the downed animal.

“Are you harmed?” Jim gasped, for Albert Biddle’s countenance was contorted in pain as they both dragged him free of the dead horse. Now Jim saw that the leg of Albert Biddle’s trousers oozed water and blood – both canteens had been smashed, likely by the single bullet that had killed his horse and gored Albert Biddle’s leg. The precious water in them soaked into the earth by the dead horse and was gone.

“A small thing,” Albert Biddle gasped. “I pray it is not so deep as a grave nor so wide as a church door …” a groan of agony was wrenched from his lips, before he clenched his teeth together. Jim did not like the look of this; Albert Biddle’s lips were already grey, like a man already half in the grave. Jim feared that he soon would be, as they had only two canteens of water left for themselves and the surviving horses, and the one half-full of goat milk for the baby. In the sudden silence the baby wailed thinly. “I was afraid the child would be injured when he fired at you,” Albert Biddle whispered. “I do not like to see hurt to children. Mr. Reade. They are so small, so incapable of protecting themselves…”

Jim answered, in bracing tones, “No, assure yourself, Albert – our godson is well. And we will not leave you behind. Recall, we all promised to bring him safely to the house of Graciela, in the square by San Agustin’s church. If he can cry that strongly – then he is well. But of yourself – I fear that we must put a hot iron into your wound, to stop the bleeding and prevent a poison in the flesh…You are bleeding from a large blood vessel in your leg, although the bullet went through and through.”

“Do what you must,” Albert Biddle gasped, and in his expression Jim read pain and resolve.

“Give me your trouser braces, then,” Jim said, “To make a tourniquet – and Brother … kindle a fire. Some of those healing herbs of yours would also be most welcome.”

 

It took some little time the fire of dead sagebrush to burn properly – although dried at the heart, was yet damp on the surface. Toby hastily fed the baby, with another glove of goat-milk and laid the cradle board in the meagre shade of a bush. Young James Albert Toby immediately went to sleep, for which Jim was grateful. When the fire had burned to coals, Jim thrust the end of the ramrod from his rifle into the heart of it, and heated the ramrod until nearly red-hot. Meanwhile Toby cut the gash in Albert Biddle’s trouser leg a little wider and bared the wound, from which blood came in regular spurts.

“Ready?” He asked of Albert Biddle, who nodded. He had a clean handkerchief, folded into a thick pad to bite down upon against the expected agony of the hot iron. It was, Jim reflected – about the cleanest garment between the three of them and the baby – and of course, being a well-bred Yankee gentleman, Albert Biddle had two more in his saddle-bag. “Hold him now,” Jim commanded of Toby, who knelt opposite him, leaning his weight on Albert Biddle’s knees. Jim had little liking for this process and even less stomach for it – but this crude surgery needed to be done, and done swiftly. Jim took up the cool end of his ramrod and plunged the smoking hot end into the gash. It went with a sizzle and a sick-making smell of burning meat. Albert Biddle gave a half-strangled cry, muffled by the handkerchief, struggled against Jim and Toby for a moment and then went mercifully limp. Toby gently loosed the tourniquet and they both watched, anxiously for a renewal of bleeding. No more blood came from the wound and Jim felt a surge of relief.

“We’ll have to put him on your horse,” Toby said, with a decided air of practicality – and somewhat indistinct as his mouth was full. “Mine is lame. Perhaps carry the baby – nothing heavier.” He was chewing on a small quantity of dried leaves. When sufficiently moistened, he spat them into his hand and packed them into Albert Biddle’s wound. Jim handed him Biddle’s two clean handkerchiefs for a wound-dressing. Buy the time Toby finished binding the handkerchiefs in place with one of Albert Biddle’s trouser-braces, Albert had regained his senses. Toby handed him a tin-cup full of sage tea.

“For fever,” Toby said only, and Albert Biddle obediently drank it down, grimacing only slightly at the taste. “Can you ride?”

“Not like there’s any choice in the matter,” the Yankee answered. Jim and Tony boosted him into the saddle of Jim’s pony; to his credit and grit, he remained in the saddle, only swaying a little from weakness. Toby hung the cradle-board with the sleeping infant from the horn of his own saddle, and they each took a few mouthfuls of water from the remaining canteens.

“You do not wish to observe the decencies, then?” Jim nodded towards the corpse of Gallatin’s companion, who lay next to the awkward bulk of Albert Biddle’s dead horse. Toby’s mouth made a straight grim line.

“No,” he answered. “No, James – they were preparing to murder us, save that we moved against them first. Let the birds have him. I care nothing, in this instance.”

“Good,” Jim answered. “For certain, I do not have the inclination or the spirit to dig a grave. And we do not have the time – or the water. Inclination agrees with the circumstances, so I am content. In any case, it will be a long walk to Laredo.”

 

Jim took the reins of his own horse, and Toby the reins of his limping beast. No;  he could not have abandoned his comrades or that promise to a dying woman to pursue the murderer Gallatin. He did regret that he had missed the fleeing Gallatin – three times. How Dan’l would have mocked his bad marksmanship – and for a certainty, Jack Hays would order him to go and practice more with his revolving pistols. He also regretting not capturing the dead renegade’s runaway horse, and said so to Toby.

“It is of no matter, James,” Toby answered with confident tranquility. “It would do us good to walk – to be in touch with the earth. And it will not be more than another day, if that.”

“I hope so,” Jim answered, wondering privately what else could go wrong. This journey to Laredo had turned out to be much more eventful than called for. Short on water, on foot and burdened with an infant and an injured man! “Just for once, I wish Captain Jack would send us to do something dull and routine.”

“The Great Spirit disposes as he thinks fit, not as we would ask,” Toby answered with a philosophical air, which Jim found to be curiously comforting. On the day that Toby Shaw despaired – then he would know for certain they were really in a hopeless situation.

 

The faint track at their feet led them on, and on; at mid-day the last of the thin clouds burned away by the sun. In high summer it would have been an unbearable torment, but the cool northerly fanned them gently; Jim went so far as to unbutton his coat. They rationed themselves to no more than two swallows of water at a time. Toby suggested the old trick of putting a pebble in the mouth to combat the torment of thirst. Albert Biddle rode slumped in the saddle, but uncomplaining. On and on they plodded, one foot in front of the other, leading the two horses by their bridles. Just as Jim began to fear that the journey was endless – that perhaps they were all dead and in some cruel Purgatory – Toby said,

“James, there is the river.”

“What?” Jim came out of his own stupor, miserably and newly aware of the sand in his boots which abraded his feet with every step. “The river? The Rio Grande?” He shaded his eyes with one hand – yes; across the dun-colored landscape ran a scribbled like of darker green foliage, now and again sparked with a mirror-flash of sunlight on water, just where the angle was right. “Not a mirage?”

“No – a true seeing,” Toby answered, and by the relief in his voice, Jim knew that Toby had been worried; if not for himself than for Albert Biddle, and the infant. Two hours since they had fed him the last of the goat milk, and now Albert Biddle’s eyes were closed. If they had gone on much longer, Jim was afraid they would have to tie him to the saddle, or lay him across it like so much killed game. Toby spat out the pebble in his mouth, and Jim did the same. “Look, James – there is smoke in the sky … smoke from the chimneys and cookfires of Laredo and the new Mexican town across the river. We are almost there.”

“Thank god,” Jim replied with feeling. “We’ll be there at sundown, Brother. I believe that this is the longest day we have ever endured.”

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Lone Star Sons – Godfathers Three – Part 3.

Lone Star Sons Logo - Cover(Part three of the latest Jim and Toby adventure. Part One is here, Part Two here. Our heroes have found a dying woman, who extracts a promise that Jim and Toby, with American Albert Biddle, will care for her infant son.)

At Jim’s puzzled expression, Toby added, “He must be fed on milk. The Comanche would kill a buffalo calf and feed the milk in it’s stomach to a sick child… it is said to be very nourishing.”
“Urgh,” Albert Biddle shuddered in revulsion. “Not for the calf, I warrant. Poor woman – she must have gone to hide here when her husband was murdered … else she would have been killed as well.”
“You find a goat, Brother,” Jim suggested. “We shouldn’t stay longer than necessary. I’ll search the hut again for anything useful … and then I thing we ought to head for Laredo. The sooner we can give little James Albert Toby to this Graciela, the better for him.”
Toby nodded briefly, and set off down the arroyo in that gentle trotting pace which Jim knew could eat up the miles as fast than the four hooves of a horse at the same pace. Albert Biddle deftly tucked the baby in the crook of his arm. Jim regarded this competence with envy and alarm mixed.
“You do that very well,” he observed. “I’d almost be afraid to pick the little wiggler up, for fear that I’d break him, or drop him, or something.”
Albert Biddle smiled, wryly. “Oldest of eleven children – and we always saw the newest one as a kind of pet or doll. My mother was sickly … so we eldest usually looked after the littles.” He looked very straight at Jim. “But I’ll not delude you, Mr. Reade. This little godchild of ours is strong enough, but he’ll have a better chance of thriving in a woman’s care … and not out here in this near-to-godforsaken wilderness. We should hasten on to Laredo as swiftly as we can.”
“No argument there,” Jim agreed. “We’ll linger here for no more than it takes to fill all of our canteens. This is the last clean water before Laredo … and it’s at least another two days, on the trail that we’re following. I reckon we better do what needs to be done for Toby’s friends … he’s a one for doing right, you’ll notice … more than most Christians I could name.”
“See if you can find some swaddling cloths or some such for the little one,” Albert Biddle suggested, adding in some distaste. “Or a diaper.” The infant had suddenly pissed, in a thin little arching stream which dampened the arm of Albert Biddle’s coat. For the first time, Jim thought the Yankee appeared rattled, and chuckled.
“You’ll have to teach your godson to do something about that!” Jim observed.
“He’s yours, too,” Albert Biddle answered in some heat. “And when he’s bigger I can teach him to write his name in the snow, but for now some swaddling clothes would be of much more use.”
At the hut, Jim found a length of blanket – none too clean and smelling goats and wood-smoke – which they wrapped the infant in, and laid him down in a natural cradle formed by a drift of dried leaves and grass between the gnarled roots of a small cottonwood tree. Young James Albert Toby whimpered a bit – but there was no help for it. Albert Biddle set about filling all of their canteens from the spring, one by one, while Jim ducked his head under the low lintel of the goat-herder’s hut. No, it did not take him any longer to search it than it had for the murderer or murderers to ransack it, seeking whatever pitiful small comforts it contained. Two woven baskets, one smashed to slivers, the other in rather better shape, but both empty, a coarse sack which had once held flour, a straw-stuffed pallet which had likewise been ripped open as with a knife and the contents shaken about, a coarse pillow stuffed with sheep’s wool – also eviscerated. The puffs of wool and the straw had been tossed around the hut – as if the murderer had been enraged at such a poor profit. He brought out the pillow and some of the wool, thinking that they might pad a bed for the tiny infant, to discover that Toby had returned, leading a frantically bleating nanny-goat, trailed by a pair of small goats – also protesting noisily. The racket set young James Albert Toby to wailing energetically once again.
“I have no idea of what to do next,” Alfred Biddle confessed. “I expect that one milks the wretched thing, but I have never done such a task in my life.”
“What – you’ve never had a tit in your hand?” Toby jeered and Albert Biddle flushed bright red.
“I yield to your experience in that regard, Mr. Shaw,” he answered, suddenly gone all starchy and Yankee. The small goats bawled, the baby wailed – even the horses stamped in restless irritation – and Jim shot Toby an exasperated glance.
“Well, I’ve never milked a goat – but I have a cow. But we don’t have a bucket for the milk, or a bottle, even – to feed the baby with. They need to suckle on something soft, something that dribbles a little milk …” Inspiration struck him, and he grinned at Albert Biddle. “I think you’re gonna have to give up your fine gloves, Mr. Biddle. Or at least, one of them.”
“There is no end to the hardships I endure on the frontier,” Albert Biddle observed dryly.
“And a canteen,” Jim added. “We milk the damned goat here, should be enough for the baby until we get to Laredo. I don’t want to be dragging three goats all the way there. Traveling with a crying baby will be bad enough… speaking of that – how are we going to carry him on horseback. Have either of you got any idea?”
“I have, James,” Toby added confidently. “A cradle-board, such as our people use. I can make one – not one such as my mother would approve – but from what little we have here. Children of the age of this one here – they travel in security, on their mother’s backs, or on a pack horse and offer little trouble to anyone.”
“A kind of infant portmanteaux?” Alfred Biddle ventured and Toby nodded. Both Alfred Biddle and Jim watched with much interest – aside from their own tasks – as Toby took out his own knife, unraveled the dried rawhide strips which bound together the simple wattle door of the hut and set the rawhide to soak in water.

As Toby worked at his task, Jim cornered the nanny-goat and milked her, aiming the thin white stream of milk into one of Albert Biddle’s canteens. The goat protested loudly, as did her kids, but Jim carried on, undeterred. When the canteen sloshed agreeably, Albert Biddle sighed, and with a knife cut a tiny slit into the thumb of one of his gloves. Jim poured a bare spoonful into the glove, and Albert introduced the soggy glove thumb into the mouth of young James Albert Toby, who looked until that moment to have been working himself up to fury the equal of that of the young goats. Almost instantly, the cross expression gave way to one of gluttonous satisfaction, as he sucked avidly on the glove thumb. Albert Biddle added more milk as James Albert Toby’s exertions emptied it. The silence was most welcome, although the trio of goats still emitted the occasional dissatisfied bleat. Jim owned to feeling a small amount of satisfaction himself. Yes, between them they had met the first major hurdle in caring for their godson.

And it appeared that Toby, in his quiet and competent way, was meeting the second challenge – that of carrying the child with them. Jim had a sense of what his friend meant to accomplish – knowing how rawhide thongs might soften and stretch when wet, yet once dried, to shrink and become as hard as wrought steel. Toby set aside two of the sturdiest lengths of wood which had been part of the door, and took up the undamaged basket, which had once been a sturdy yet flexible one woven of palm-leaves in the fashion of Mexico. It had an oval shape; with the dampened rawhide, Toby bound the two lengths of wood in parallel to the length of the basket, and bored both lengths through to accommodate a short length of grass rope. From the damaged basket, he took the sturdy willow hoop which had formed the handle, and bound it at right angles to his construction with more of the wet rawhide. Jim had seen infants among Toby’s people, the Lipan Apache and the Tonkaway carried in cradle-boards as Toby was constructing, so he grasped the sense of what Toby was making – with more haste than care in the usual fashion of cradle-boards, which were often ornamented with beads and small talismans to amuse the tiny passenger. Jim and Toby both acknowledged the need for haste.

“We will need for the rawhide to dry in the sun for a little time,” Toby said at last. He sat back on his heels, setting his creation aside and looking straightly at the other two. “What of Armando and his woman, James? We have not the time to dig a proper grave for them, not if we wish set out before sundown.”
“The hut,” Jim answered. “It is set into the ground and not very sturdy at all. I cannot think that anyone would care to live in it now, knowing what has happened here. Put them together in their home – let it be their tomb – and push down the walls and the roof to cover them decently, in lieu of the customary rites. ‘T’will serve as a grave marker also, for such of their kin – aside from this young lad – who care to make pilgrimage.”
Albert Biddle was already nodding his agreement. “I do not care for the thought of lingering in this place. If ever a place may be haunted by the spirits of the unhappy dead, this would be it.”

To be continued.

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