Danish Pancakes

The allure of the aebelskiver – this is a peculiarly Danish version of (basically) fried bread dough that I only know about because of my paternal grandparents. Who were not Danish – oh, no, Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al were British and fiercely proud of it. When my brothers and sister and I were children, we almost always spent a week with them at Christmas – the week before Christmas, usually. The week after Christmas belonged to the maternal set of grandparents – Grannie Jessie and Grandpa Jim so that Grannie Jessie could take us to the Rose Parade on New Years’ Day. And we would usually have a week or so with the grandparents during summer vacation, as well as regular dinners on Saturday evenings with Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al, or mid-week day-time excursions to visit Grannie Jessie in Pasadena – usually after doctor appointments with the elderly doctor who had delivered us all, or shopping excursions for school shoes, or something like that.

Anyway, one of the regular amusements during the stint with Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al would be a drive up the coast from Camarillo to Solvang – a small inland town north of Santa Barbara which did and still does milk the absolute most touristic value possible out of having been founded by, lived in, or just named by Danish immigrants. When I last visited the place, I noticed that a much larger portion of old downtown Solvang was tricked out in Danish window dressing than what I had remembered as a child. But never mind – little towns like Solvang go with what they have – and what Solvang had was all things Danish. One of the widely advertised delights was aebelskivers, and if not the actual dish as a restaurant entrée or dessert, than in the peculiar little pans to make them in. Grandma Dodie and Grandpa Al never – to our disappointment – wanted to sample them. No, even with the drive from Camarillo to Solvang, we never stopped for lunch anywhere. Either Grandma Dodie and Grandpa Al had used up all their original issue of adventuresome spirit when they immigrated in the first place, they didn’t trust foreign food, or – most likely – they balked at the expense. (Both Grannie Dodie and Grannie Jessie were parsimonious, pinching pennies until a booger came out of Lincoln’s nose, but at least Grannie Jessie did take us to Beadles’ Cafeteria in downtown Pasadena, on occasion – likely because Beadles was a good value.)

Anyway, I was then and afterwards intrigued by aebleskivers – and sometime during the last couple of decades, I picked up an aebleskiver pan. Can’t remember when and where – in Europe someplace? On sale, somewhere or other? My daughter unearthed it from the drawer underneath the oven, where the romertoph clay casseroles, the Spanish cazuela dishes, and the cast-iron Dutch ovens and frying pans live (she was looking for a fry-pan to bake deep-dish pizza in) and asked what it was. It was still in plastic, with a little recipe pamphlet tucked inside. The company that manufactured it – Pyrolux – seems to be no longer in existence, but it was a good sturdy pan. And when I explained what it was (still baffled over where and when I had bought it) my daughter asked if we could make aebelskivers with it for a weekend breakfast.

And we did. They were magnificent. The pan had a non-stick surface, and the little pancakes turned obediently with the application of a bamboo skewer, and made perfect spheres with a crusty golden outside, and a delicate and tender inside, either plain or enlivened with a spoonful of jam. Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al never knew what they missed.


For the pancakes, combine 1 egg, 2 tsp. sugar, 1 cup of buttermilk, ½ teasp vanilla, 2 Tbsp. canola oil. In another bowl, combine 1 cup flour, ½ teasp baking soda, 1/8 teasp each of baking powder and salt. Whisk into the liquid, and fill each hollow in the heated aebelskiver pan a little less than full. This will make at least two pans full – remember to dab a bit of butter in each hollow before starting each new batch. It is also customary sometimes to put a teaspoon of jam in the dough as you start to bake them. The jam sinks down a little, as the dough cooks, and the aebelskiver finishes already filled with jam. They are also great just plain, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.

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Another New Chapter – The Golden Road

Chapter 7 – Fauntleroy’s Woman

(Arrived in California at last, Fredi Steinmetz – young and wide-eyed and adventurous – has come to the port town of San Diego, with his partner, the mysterious and slightly slippery Polydore A.O’Malley. They have, during a course of sampling the social life available in San Diego, met another slippery character – one Fauntleroy Bean, a gambler with no other visible means of support and a locally shady reputation. Fauntleroy Bean – in later life famous as Judge Roy Bean, the only law west of the Pecos – was in his younger incarnation – slightly less an upholder of law and order. The story continues …)

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now

Not the final for-real cover, but a place-holder for now


Fredi sauntered away from the wagon-yard, hands jammed deep in the pockets of his round jacket, his bearing and general air being elaborately casual. He kept to the shadowed side of the street, making his way back to the boarding house, hoping with every step that he had attracted no interest, especially from the Sheriff. He also hoped Sheriff Haraszathy had no abiding interest in turning San Diego upside down, looking for Fauntleroy Bean. It didn’t seem as if there was. What would O’Malley say? Well, Fredi reasoned to himself, they had a promise of payment, for assisting Fauntleroy out of town, and that would be worth something.
At the boarding house, lights glowed from the parlor downstairs. Fredi stole past the doorway on tiptoe and climbed the stairs to the boarder’s room, hoping that O’Malley had returned, and they could make some pretense of speaking privately. To his relief, O’Malley had returned – he lay fully-clothed on top of the blankets, snoring loudly. There was a candle in a metal holder wobbling perilously in a pool of softened wax on the crude wooden wash-stand, the single point of light in the room. They were alone in the room, but for Nipper, curled in his usual neat brindle ball at the foot of the bedstead. Fredi shook his partner’s shoulder, to no avail. The odor of whiskey and tobacco smoke was strong on O’Malley’s clothing and on his breath.
“Wake up, O’Malley,” Fredi begged in a whisper. “Wake up … we’ll have to leave first thing tomorrow. We’ve got paid work, if we go to San Gabriel, first thing… wake up!” He shook O’Malley even more. The other boarders would be coming upstairs any minute.
O’Malley stirred, but only came partially awake. “Freddy lad – let me sleep … I must visit Orla in the morning before I go to Derry.” And then to Fredi’s utter horror, O’Malley began to weep, great shuddering sobs. “Ah, but she is dead, sweet lovely Orla … why did ye do it, Orla? Father Patrick said it was for shame…Dead, all of them, dead and buried …” His voice and the weeping diminished into incoherent mumbling, and then into sleep again, and Fredi sat back on his heels, taken back. O’Malley told many stories along the trail drive, and at the Castillo home-place, but never anything about a woman named Orla, or about leaving one or many dead and buried.
Well, perhaps he could get some sense into – or out of O’Malley in the morning, Fredi concluded. He blew out the candle, undressed as far as his shirt and crawled into bed.

In the morning, O’Malley was little the worse for the evening, only squinting as if the fog-shrouded sunrise made his head hurt. As soon as they were finished breakfast – for which O’Malley appeared to have little appetite – Fredi hustled him away towards the livery stable, Nipper trotting purposefully after.
“We have to leave this morning,” he said, as soon as they were out of any hearing.
“We do, boyo?” O’Malley squinted blearily at him. “I tell you, I was no’ drunk an’ disorderly last night. I did no’ get into a fight, either … Nipper and me, we had a good time, didn’t we, Nip?” He snapped his fingers at Nipper, who now capered alongside them, ears and tail up. If dogs could grin, Nipper was grinning.
“Remember Senor Bean – Fauntleroy Bean, who played cards with us until the sheriff came?”
“Aye – that I do recall… in a haze, but I do recall it. He was no’ supposed to be playing cards, an’ yet he was. The sheriff took him away, didn’t he?”
“Yes,” Fredi decided that short answers were best. “But he escaped from the sheriff – he’s going to have his brother pay us for getting him out of town. I found him hiding in our wagon last night.”
“Oh, did ye now? Is it certain that he will still be there, this foine morning?
“He said he would be,” Fredi answered, his heart lightening. If the elusive and faintly criminal Senor Bean was not in the wagon, then they were free to seek out other employers. “It’s not like we signed a contract or anything…” And Fredi decided that O’Malley might as well know the worst of it. “Likely it’ll be his brother that pays us, rather than him.”
“Oh, Freddy-boyo!” O’Malley looked as if his head pained him even worse. “And if his brother is no’ the least fond of him? What then?”
“Why shouldn’t he pay to get his brother out of trouble?” Fredi demanded, honestly puzzled. “My brother would give the last penny in his pocket for me, if I asked it. Wouldn’t yours?
“No, he wouldn’t.” O’Malley riposted. “Because he had neither pocket nor penny, being a poor Irish cotter lad – and second because he is dead these six years an’ more.”
“Oh,” Fredi considered this startling intelligence. “I’m sorry to hear, O’Malley – indeed I am. On the ship, coming over, was it? My mother and my sister Liesel’s little baby …”
“No,” O’Malley’s voice was curt and sharp, as it almost never was. “Not on ship. Of the Hunger, in Ireland it was. It’s something I’d rather not be reminded of, Fredi-boyo, if ye do not mind.”
“I won’t speak of it again,” Fredi promised. He translated the ‘Hunger’ that O’Malley spoke of into German. Famine, that’s what he meant. Vati had talked it it now and again, for he and his friends sent letters back and forth. The potato crop had failed in many places in the Old Country, of a particularly destructive blight, and if there were no other crop to feed the farm folk with, they would and did starve. Fredi shivered; he had been so long in a bountiful – if sometimes harsh country – that the prospect of having nothing to eat at all was like a frightening story that the older folk would tell.
The livery stable was open at this hour of the morning, a bustle of men, horses, wagons and mules. Their wagon sat by itself in the wagon park behind the stable, canvas cover drawn tight over the contents.
“If our guest is here,” O’Malley said at last. “We shall make ready to hitch the mules. The road to the north is well-marked. The King’s Highway, they call it … I don’t know why, as there has never been a king here. I suppose it was established by the authority of the King of Spain, all this time gone.”
Fredi scrambled up to the wagon-seat and peered inside; there was a great lump of O’Malley’s coachman’s overcoat, with Fauntleroy Bean’s elegant boots sticking out from one end and faint snoring sounds coming from the other.
“He’s here, all right.” Fredi breathed, just as the sleeping form underneath O’Malley’s coat twitched and sat upright, knuckling sleep from bleary eyes.
“Hey, fellows – what kept you this long? Can we get a’moving now?”
“Tell him what you wanted from us,” Fredi demanded. “About your brother and the saloon…”
“The Headquarters in San Gabriel, it’s called – Josh, he’s an officer in the militia, so he named it that.” Fauntleroy Bean yawned, a particularly jaw-cracking yawn. “I don’t have any money save what’s on me, but Josh is good for it. He an’ Sam promised Mama they would always look after me.”
“We do no’ need any excuse to linger, then,” O’Malley snapped his fingers at Nipper, who leapt up to the wagon seat, as nimble as if he had trained for a circus show. “You see to the mules, Fredi-boyo, I’ll pay the liveryman. And how to we find this Headquarters Saloon place, then?”
“Only saloon in town,” Fauntleroy Bean answered, the good cheer of the previous night restored as if by a miracle.

They departed San Diego with some regret, for it had seemed a pleasant and welcoming place to both O’Malley and Fredi. The old King’s Highway led north, near to the coast at first where the gentle salt-smelling breezes fanned them. Gradually the highway veered inland, crossing over a number of tidal salt-marshes, where the reeds grew higher than a man, and rustled in the moving air. Fresh green grasses cushioned the inland hillsides, hillsides which looked as soft as a pillow at a distance. They were dotted with oak trees – gnarled trees which sported small dark green leaves, curled at the edges.
“Another blessed land, never touched by the blighting hand of winter,” O’Malley remarked.
“It’s foggy most days,” Fauntleroy Bean pointed out, from the back of the wagon, lounging like a lord on the stacked bags of flour and beans, cushioned by O’Malley’s overcoat and Fredi’s bed-roll. O’Malley had suggested that he not show himself until they were a fair distance from where anyone from San Diego might recognize him. “And in the winter sometimes, it rains. And rains. For six months a year, you can barely see your hand in front of your face in the mornings. And the winds blow down from the mountains late in summer – it’s like God opened the oven-door of Hell.”
“It cannot be hotter than Texas in the summertime,” Fredi pointed out, and Fauntleroy laughed. “Oh, then you’ll have gotten used to it.”

It took a little more than a week to make a leisurely journey along the old highway – a well-traveled and mostly level road, which uncoiled in wide and lazy bends, only gradually climbing towards the mountains rendered blue in the distance, crowned with white on their very peaks and sometimes shrouded with clouds. They passed through many small towns, the oldest of which had been established by the Spanish, usually coalescing around a mission, like nacre in an oyster-shell. O’Malley marveled at this, and went to every one as they passed, to say his prayers and dedicate a candle.
“’Tis a wonder an’ a delight, Fredi-boyo – to be in a country where the True Church is not slighted.”
“Was it not so in Ireland?” Fredi asked, much curious.
“’Tis better than it once was,” O’Malley replied. Sometimes Fauntleroy Bean accompanied him, although not for purposes of devotion, but to rather flirt with any young women who happened to be about – which mildly annoyed O’Malley. The churches and cloisters were usually very fine – but Fredi noted that much of the orchards, fields and vineyards which once had surrounded the missions had the look of neglect, the vines reverting to their wild nature, and the untended trees dropping wizened olives and citrus fruit onto the ground underneath their branches.
The mission at San Gabriel was one of the largest churches, adorned with a campanile wall, each arched void in it filled with a bell. The building was well-kept, white-washed clean, and the cloister buildings also kept in good steading. It looked as if there were a christening being performed, with the priest in his vestments blessing the parents at the door. As the mules clomped past, Fauntleroy Bean tipped his hat and blew a kiss towards a bevy of handsome young women in bright Mexican silk dresses, the lace veils having from elaborate bone and ivory combs. The ladies giggled, and a young gallant with them scowled in a most threatening way.
O’Malley scowled also.
“Ha’ ye no decency, Faunt’ly? They’re going to confession!”
“That’s where you meet the sweetest and juiciest of them,” Fauntleroy Bean pointed out, utterly unaffected. “Lovely little gardens wherein to put the old Nebuchadnezzar out for a graze… I see it as my duty, giving them something exciting to confess to. And it gives the old padre a thrill as well.”
O’Malley – to Fredi’s mystified astonishment actually looked rather red, especially around his ears. Nebuchadnezzar, out for a graze? What did that mean?
“You’re a heathen, Faunt’ly – of the worst sort. I shouldn’t be surprised to hear that you were killed by a jealous suitor, some day!”
“As long as it happens when I am an old, old man!” Fauntleroy answered, with a jaunty air. “Ah – there is the Headquarters Saloon – Brother Josh’s home away from home – present your bill, boys, for Josh will serve up the fatted calf, for certain!”

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This and Data – August 2014

Another week at Chez Hayes – here in Texas it’s been over a hundred every day for the past two or three weeks. Yes, August in Texas has been unfavorably compared to Hell by wits and commentators since Phil H. Sheridan. Probably before him as well, but in any case, I say a prayer of thanksgiving and blessings to the Jon Wayne HVAC folks, and to the nice lady who bought the California property a year ago next month. Her payment for the property meant that I could have the HVAC in this house done as it should have been by the original builder. Funny that my chronic cough let up round about that time; the deity only knows what kind of mold or crud was in a lot of those ducts and interchange boxes.

Moving right along … because of the heat and probably other things – the flea problem this year is pretty intense. This necessitated a bath with flea shampoo for all the dogs. No, we didn’t try and bathe the cats – what, do you think we are insane? Although it was a bit of a risk with Nemo, who hates water unless it’s in a bowl for him to drink; water from a hose, standing water that he needs to wade through? His detestation of the element is obvious and long-standing; one of the reasons that we think he might have been a cat in a previous life. Anyway – he got the bath with flea-killing shampoo, and although it did take both of us to administer it in the kitchen sink, he did not try to bite or nip. So – progress.

On the sad side – the cat-herd is diminishing. This is due to age, rather than accident, but we were never very certain how old that Wubbie, the fluffy confirmed escape artist was. He was an adult cat when he turned up, dripping wet one afternoon when the next-door neighbors’ grandsons were playing with their new super-soakers. They are good boys, really they are, but they were much younger then, and poor Wubbie was sitting on the hood of the car, stunned and drenched in ice-water. We took him inside, and he never left, save for brief excursions when he whipped between our ankles and ran out to a particular place in the next-door front yard to chase away any interlopers. We did briefly consider asking the neighbor if we could bury Wubbie there, since it was a place he was so fond of … but re-considered.

My newest new toy; a Cuisinart multi-griddler, which was one of the newer models, offered at a considerable discount on Amazon last week, along with a set of waffle plates – also at a considerable discount. We nearly bought a previous iteration a couple of months ago, seeing it for a marked down price at a local high-end HEB, but a total stranger, seeing that we had it in the cart, came up and freely told us what a total disappointing dog it was to her. She really unloaded about all the unfortunate features … most of which seemed to have been remedied in this version. The good thing is that this new toy allowed me to get rid of an electric grill (a nice one, but too hard to clean and never really got hot enough, even as it smoked out the kitchen), an electric griddle (which was a cheap model, heated erratically across the surface, a hand-me-down from a friend) and a George Foreman griddler which we got for nothing, but which was missing a griddle plate which proved to be impossible to replace. So – space cleared in the kitchen, one for three!

We’ve done waffles in it already, and grilled sausage patties on one side and fried eggs on the other, and so vary, everything has come out well; it heats thoroughly and evenly … and cleanup is a breeze.

And that’s my week? Yours>

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Two White Comanches – Part 2

(Part one is here.)

As for the second of the white Comanches – he was never a captive, but came along willingly … Robert S. Neighbors was a native Virginian, born in 1815 and left as an orphan at the tender age of four months by the deaths of his parents. He was raised and educated by a guardian, and like many another restless youth of the time, sought adventure and fortune in Texas in the fateful spring of 1836, when he was just twenty-one. He found adventure, all right, serving in the Republic of Texas’ tiny professional army as quartermaster. When his hitch was done, he gravitated to San Antonio and another kind of military service as a member of Jack Hays’ volunteer Ranger company. When the Mexican Army under General Adrian Woll made a lighting-fast raid on San Antonio in September 1842, Bob Neighbors had the ill-luck not to be out on patrol. Instead, he and more than fifty other Anglo men – either local residents or in town for a session of the civil court – were taken captive and packed off into Mexico for a stint of imprisonment in the San Carlos Fortress – Perote Prison. There he spent two years, before being released and returned to Texas. Presumably a quiet life operating a hotel in Houston was a little too quiet; within a short time he was off again in another service to the Republic of Texas; as an Indian agent with primary responsibility for the peoples of two tribes noted for volunteering as guides and combatants with the Rangers – the Lipan Apache and the Tonkawa. Both these tribes were traditional enemies of the Comanche – peerless and brutal warriors who had swept down from the Rocky Mountains once they acquired mastery of the horse and made the Southern Plains their own. He developed one rather unusual practice as Indian agent – he went to the various tribal villages and dealt face to face with leaders there, rather than wait for them to come to him at the agency headquarters. Neighbors developed a fluency in the various languages, a grasp on the subtleties of tribal cultures – and more importantly, the friendship of many. It was said that no white man in Texas had more friends or a greater influence among the Tribes.

One of his field visits to a Tonkawa camp coincided with a visit by a Comanche war party on their way into Mexico to raid for horses. For once the Comanches were in a rather more friendly mood towards the Tonkawa than usual – demanding only hospitality in the form of food for themselves and their horses and some entertainment for the evening. Fearlessly, Bob Neighbors asked for an introduction to their leader, Mopechucope or Old Owl, which was granted. Old Owl admired Bob Neighbors’ fine coat, and knowing that was expected, Bob promptly took it off and gave it to Old Owl. Strangely enough, Old Owl took an immediate liking to Bob Neighbors; instead of Bob making a civilized man out of him, Old Owl suggested – he would make a good horse thief out of Bob and adopt him, if he came along with the war party. Bob Neighbors didn’t hesitate, this being an invitation that few Texans would ever be offered and even fewer would consider accepting. He went with the raiding party, returned safely and departed from Old Owl’s camp with gratitude and with his scalp intact – the only occasion where an official in the service of the Republic of Texas went on a raid with a Comanche war party.

The friendship with Old Owl and the Penateka paid off in the years immediately following. Bob Neighbors was one of the negotiators at the peace conference which led to a peace treaty between the Penateka Comanche and the German settlers who arrived on the Texas frontier through the auspices of the Mainzer Adelsverein.

When Texas was finally admitted as one of the United States, Bob Neighbors was one of those assisting in the negotiations between the US Indian commissioners and representatives of those tribes living in Texas – and received a federal appointment as an Indian agent. In the spring of 1849, he was tasked by Major General William Worth, commander of the 8th Military Department to explore, survey and establish a wagon route to El Paso from San Antonio. He led a mixed command of Rangers (including Robert Salmon “Rip” Ford) and US Army troops, as General Worth correctly figured that Bob Neighbors was about the only man in Texas who could venture into Comanche lands and return again to tell the tale. In fact, the expedition traveled with the good-will and for a time the presence of Buffalo Hump, a prominent Penateka war chief. The expedition was a success in mapping out a route eventually used by the Butterfield Stage lines in the following decade, and by the modern highway. In between these bouts of public service, Neighbors found the time and inclination to marry, and establish a home on the Salado Creek, for his wife and children.

The position as federal Indian agent was a political patronage job, and the election of a Whig administration late that year brought an end to that duty. But Neighbors served as a state commissioner and in the state legislature, and there he sponsored a resolution to establish – with the concurrence of the federal government – reservations for those Indian tribes with a presence in Texas: not just the Penateka Comanche, but the Caddo, Shawnee, Anadarko, Tonkawa and a handful of smaller divisions. With another national election in 1853, Bob Neighbors was back to work with a federal appointment as supervising agent for the Texas reservations; one on the Salt Fork of the Brazos River, the other on the Clear Fork. And one would have thought it would have been clear sailing for Neighbors, as a stout champion of his Indian friends and their welfare, as well as being respected in his own right as an explorer and Ranger. Alas, he had become hated by white settlers for his championship of the Indians. Those tribes which had settled on the Brazos reservations were often and vociferously blamed for continued raids on white settlements. Those Indians – especially Comanche who continued to range freely – held the reservation Indians in grand contempt, and often deliberately routed their own raids on white communities so as to implicate the Reservation Indians in the atrocities committed.

John Baylor, who had been one of Neighbors’ sub-agents in spite of his detestation of Indians, became one of Neighbors’ most bitter enemies on being dismissed from that position, and never missed the opportunity of inciting the anger of white settlers against the Reservation Indians. At one point, Bob Neighbors had to call on federal troops stationed at Camp Cooper and Fort Belknap, to protect the Reservation against a Baylor-led attack by white vigilantes. By late 1859, Neighbors came to realize that his Indian charges were no longer safe in Texas. He organized the evacuation of the Brazos reservations. With four troops of federal soldiers and Robert Neighbors himself as escorts, nearly 1,500 Reservation Indians were conveyed to a new federal reservation in present-day Oklahoma. He achieved this without any loss of life, but on his return to Fort Belknap to file his final report as the superintendent of Indian affairs, he was assassinated – shot down from behind, in retaliation for his friendship and championship of the Indians. He was buried in the Fort Belknap cemetery. In the space of the next year, Texas seceded, joined the Confederacy, and federal troops were withdrawn from the frontier – creating a whole new war along the frontier. But that is another story.

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The Duel…

At Blood Creek …
A friend of mine sent me the link to this, and I giggled uncontrollably. Enjoy!

The Duel at Blood Creek – Short Film from Leo Burton on Vimeo.

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The State of Art to Come

So, now that Lone Star Sons – the first collection of adventures – is out to a selection of volunteer alpha readers and critics – who actually include a selection of junior readers of the age (more or less) that the book is intended for – my brother the professional graphics artist is wrestling with the cover. No, not the place-holder that I put up myself – but a genuiiine-original piece of cover art in the traditional Western pulp adventure artistic tradition. This is a bit new for both of us, since my previous book covers have largely been photographs, artfully filtered, edited and in the case of the last two, carefully edited together from wildly different sources. Frankly, I’m not Philippa Gregory – and I have a budget when it comes to book covers, and this kind of work-around has worked very nicely for previous books. But this one demands something a little more eye-catching.

My brother confesses that it has been twenty years since he generated an original sketch by hand; in the world of modern graphics artists, one apparently performs the magic with practically everything other than. So he is playing around, with his tools, and experimenting with skills that he hasn’t much used in a while. I tell him that it’s like riding a bicycle – you really don’t forget. Herewith, one of his preliminary studies:
Head Test - For Cover 8-15

It’s just a preliminary character study, of no particular character at all – but I am quite pleased.

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Two White Comanches – Part 1

As I have often noted before, the past is a vastly more complicated and more human place than the watered down history textbooks would have us believe. Yes, complicated and curious, and not nearly as bigoted as those who foment pop culture would think. Kipling might have been more right than he’s been given credit for in the late 20th century when he wrote, “…But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”
A pair of men from 1840s Texas – the time of the Republic of Texas illustrates this point obliquely, although I don’t have any evidence that they ever met face to face. They possibly might have – Texas was a small place then – and practically everyone knew each other.

Late in October of 1837, a Comanche war party descended on a small farm near modern-day Schulenburg, Texas, owned by a recent arrival in Texas, one James Lyons, who worked the farm with the aid of his wife, four sons, a married daughter and her husband. The youngest son was Warren, then about eleven or twelve years old. James Lyons and Warren were milking cows in the early morning when the Comanches came; the other family members hastily barred the windows and doors and escaped harm. But the raiders killed and scalped James, snatched Warren and half a dozen horses and vanished with the boy and livestock into the vast hunting grounds to the north and west. His mother never gave up hope for her son, although the other members of the family sorrowfully resigned themselves that he was gone – since all efforts at locating and ransoming him were unsuccessful.

Warren was spotted several times over the next ten years, first by another captive who was later ransomed – he was at least thirteen or fourteen by then, and had already made his preference plain. He was, she said, in and out of the camp where she was held – participating in raids, although probably not as a full-fledged warrior, but rather as an auxiliary, minding the horses. An Indian agent met with a camp of Yamparika Apache on the upper Washita in 1846, and tried to convince Warren to return with him. But Warren did not want to return, apparently believing that the rest of his family had also been killed. The next year, a party of surveyors working near present-day Mason encountered a band of Comanche whom they were certain were about to kill them all. But one of the warriors was Warren, who overheard the surveyors discussing their apprehensions and told them they weren’t in danger. They would be let go the next day. The surveyors – one of whom was an acquaintance of Warren Lyons’ mother – tried to convince him to come with them. Again – he refused to leave the Comanche. But the next year, a party of Comanche came to either Fredericksburg or to San Antonio to do some peaceful trading. The story varies in several sources. Since this occurred during the period of a truce brokered by John Meusebach on behalf of the German settlers in the Hill Country, the Fredericksburg version sounds likelier – but San Antonio was a larger and more cosmopolitan place, the economic hub of the region and not on the edge of the far frontier at the time. By coincidence, two neighbors of the Lyon family were there, recognized Warren, and approached him, pleading that he should return – at least, visit his mother. The third time was the charm, apparently – even though he claimed that he had two wives among the Comanche and did not wish to leave them. But the friend of his mother presented him with a pair of fine red blankets, and Warren gave each wife a blanket, telling them that he would return.
If he did, the stay was brief, for upon returning to the Lyons farmstead, Warren was overcome with emotion on seeing his mother again, although she did not at first recognize him. His family and the little community which had grown up nearby – now called Lyonville – welcomed him back, joyful and generous.

One of his older brothers convinced him to stay in the white world, by talking him into serving as a Ranger, in the contentious borderlands between Texas and Mexico. Doubtless this served two purposes by allowing him to fight another party than the Comanche who had lately been his comrades, and to provide a substitute for the free-roving and untrammeled life he had become accustomed to. Some time later, though, Warren was in a Ranger company led by Edward Burleson and did participate in a bitter skirmish against the Comanche, so hard-fought that the Rangers were certain they were about to be overrun. No, said Warren – who had been listening to the Comanche warriors shouting to each other – the Comanche were giving it up, and withdrawing. Relieved, the Rangers packed up their dead and wounded. Doubtless, having gotten this out of his system, Warren Lyons resigned from the Rangers, and settled down in Johnson County. He married one Lucy Boatwright in 1848, raised a family of children and prospered quietly, although he did retain certain eccentricities of behavior – as in preferring moccasins to boots when it came to a fight, during his Ranger service. Warren Lyons died at a relatively young age in 1870.

As for the second of the white Comanches – he was never a captive, but came along willingly …

To be Continued

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Poppies

Supposedly the red corn poppies that grow all over fields in Europe grow particularly well in soil that has been plowed, dug up, or otherwise extensively disturbed. There were many small fields around the outskirts of Zaragoza, and the little village of Garrapinillos where poppies grew, in some seasons and fields so thickly as to show nothing but red.

Most experts are certain that the association between WWI and blood-red field poppies was established because of the poem by John McCrae, which begins, “In Flanders fields, the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row…” and which became almost immediately popular upon being first published in the second year of the war. Well before the end of the war, the visual of red poppies was inextricably bound to the notion of wartime service and sacrifice in Canada, Britain and the United States. At the end of the war, it was adopted by the American Legion as a symbol of remembrance, Frenchwomen sold silk poppies to raise money for war orphans, and the British Legion adopted the practice of wearing red poppies during the period leading up to Remembrance Day. To this day, the sale of artificial poppies benefits various programs to support veterans and active duty military in England, Canada and the United States.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of that war, and one of the most eye-catching temporary memorials is an installation at the Tower of London, where the dry moat will be filled with 800,000 ceramic red poppies, spilling down from one of the outer tower windows – one poppy for every Commonwealth casualty over four bitter years of blood and sacrifice. There are only about an eighth of the total installed so far … but the pictures are riveting. The installation – called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red will be finished by Remembrance Day – November 11.

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Finale – The Secret of San Saba

Lone Star Sons Logo - Cover(At long last, the final part of the Jim and Toby adventure – wherein Jim Reade and Toby Shaw make a long journey to an abandoned Spanish presidio, in search of a fortune in silver which may be buried within it’s walls. But their friend Albert Biddle has made an unsettling discovery – previous chapters of the story here, here, here and here.)

No matter that twilight had already fallen, the sun gone down behind purple clouds fringed with a nimbus of fading gold – that peculiar piece of news required investigation on the spot.
The Castle of Otranto has nothing on this place,” Albert Biddle observed, as unflappable as ever. “Buried treasure, dead monks … I expect to see a villainous nobleman at any moment … and if a pure and lovely maiden fond of wildflowers faints into my arms, I shall drop her at once.”
“You’d better,” Jim answered, twisting a mass of sage branches from the earth, winding them into a tight knot around a substantial stick of firewood to make a torch. He held it into the new fire until it was well alight. “You’re a happily married man, after all. Lead us to your dead monk, Albert. No wonder that the Comanche don’t want to set foot in this place.”
“They told many stories,” Toby nodded agreement. “None of which agreed with the others; powerful spirits, the ghosts of fierce warriors, lights floating across the ground … and Old Owl, he looked very solemn, as if he knew more than the others. He said it was a white man’s place, so what bad medicine that the others feared, would not harm you.”
“But aren’t you worried for yourself?” Albert Biddle ventured. Toby snorted, indignant at the very suggestion.
“My people are not wild Indians, like the Comanche,” he answered. “We are the True People; not to be frightened by tales told to bad children.”

“I thought that parts of this place looked as if someone had kept it in repair,” Jim remarked, some minutes later, when he and Toby had followed Albert Biddle to the inner room which must have been the presidio commander’s quarters and now was a tomb. They looked into it from the doorway … most remarkably, a doorway with a wooden door in it still. There was a fresh half-circular scoring on the dirt floor, where the door had been pushed open by Albert Biddle. “You didn’t move anything other than the door, did you?”
“No … I came in just far enough to see that the monk was dead,” Albert Biddle answered. “And that whoever he was, he’d been dead a long time.”
“But I doubt that he closed the door by himself,” Jim observed, holding up the torch. In the dark room, eldritch shadows and light flickered … all that was required to make a ghastly scene in one of Albert Biddle’s novels was a thunderstorm brewing overhead, Jim thought.
The room was a windowless one, as bare as a jail cell, although there was a space where a window once had been, now filled with stones roughly cemented in and the the roof over it being in good repair. A low bed, of unworked lengths of branch and rawhide held the body of the monk – or rather his bones, neatly laid with the bones of his hands crossed on the breast of the coarse brown wool robe and wound around with the beads of his rosary. The flesh of his face, hands and feet had desiccated to the same color as the rawhide, but there was no indication of a violent end that Jim could see … and he had seen many violent ends, in his time as one of Jack Hay’s stiletto men.
A plain wooden crucifix hung on one wall, a simple prie-dieux beneath it, of the same crude manufacture as the cot. There was only one other piece of furniture in the room; a small wooden chest, almost entirely covered – sides and corners by metal strap work, much blackened by tarnish – which sat against the wall close to the shallow fireplace, Jim raised his makeshift torch a little higher … yes, there was a dip in the floor, an arms-length from the fireplace. In the light of Jim’s fading torch, he could see the considering expression on Albert Biddle’s face – the expression of a man rapidly doing up long sums. Out in the pasture of the old parade ground one of the horses whinnied nervously – an unaccustomed noise in this silent place.
Jim’s eyes met those of Albert Biddle. “I wonder if the monk has not already saved us the trouble of digging up the treasure … that looks like a chest I would use to bury a fortune in silver.”
From the doorway, Toby said, “James … I think the horses are restless. There is something out there …”
“A wild-cat, likely,” Jim answered, as Albert Biddle gestured Jim to hold the torch closer to the chest. Toby’s eyes gleamed briefly; he had come no farther than the doorway, by which Jim guessed that for all of Toby’s brave words, he was shared the same superstitious of the Comanche regarding this place. With a whisper of his moccasins against the dirt, Toby was gone from the doorway, likely to see what had unsettled the horses.
“It has the arms of the king of Spain engraved on it, unless I am very much mistaken. But what would a simple Franciscan have to do with the lost silver of San Saba? And what brought him out here all alone?” Albert tested the latch of the chest – there were loops of iron where a lock would have been, and others through which chains might have once been drawn and triply-secured the contents. He lifted latch, and then lid, which opened with a metallic screech of protest, the two bent closer to see inside.
“It’s empty,” Jim exclaimed, crushing disappointment mixed with a certain degree of relief. He did not relish remaining here any longer, especially with the body of the mysterious Franciscan monk, hundreds of miles alone in the Comanche-haunted plains of the llano.
Albert Biddle reached in, feeling with wary care along the bottom of the chest. “Not quite,” he said, drawing out a small object held between thumb and finger. “There’s this – it was wedged in the corner. It might be silver – I’ll have to see it in good light to be certain.”
The object was about the size and shape of a sliver of apple cut from the core – thin at one edge, and about the thickness of Jim’s little finger on the outer. Jim took it from Albert, weighing it in his hand – it felt heavier than it looked, and he thought that he could feel something embossed into the blackened surface. “I hate to think that we came all this way and risked so much for just this,” he observed. He cast a disparaging eye on the body of the monk, whose empty eye-holes appeared to serenely contemplate the crucifix hanging on the wall. “I wonder if he found it – and if so, what he spent it all on?”
“Likely not what Bob Neighbors or any other Texian would have chosen,” Albert Biddle replied, and Jim was moved enough by that acid observation to laugh.
“Full to the brim with silver would have exhausted the capacity of …” Jim began to say, before the small metallic click of a pistol being cocked interrupted him – as loud as a shout in the silence, and suddenly the room was full of other men, and Bernard Vibart-Jones’s eyes glittering at them over the barrel.
“I most respectfully request that you hand over the silver, gentlemen,” the Englishman said, the smooth actor’s voice at odds with the expression of villainous satisfaction on his face.
“You!” Jim exclaimed; he had been so certain that they had ventured alone into the old fortress. He had not really expected the English agent to appear, risking the wrath of the Comanche, not with a band of bravos at his back, a solid phalanx of armed men, filling up the doorway
“Just like a bad counterfeit coin,” Albert Biddle remarked, conversationally as he handed the slip of tarnished silver to Vibart-Jones. “Just when you think you’ve seen the last of it, there it turns up again.”
“Keep a civil tongue in your head, Jonathan,” Vibart-Jones growled, the smoothness curdled into menace. “And give me the rest.”
“That’s all that was left,” Albert Biddle replied. “Look for yourself.”
“Insolence,” Vibart-Jones remarked, and swung the hand with the pistol in it – a blow on the side of Albert Buddle’s face which landed with a crunch snapped the Yankee’s head back. “I warned you about that, didn’t I, Jonathon?”
At that, Jim sprang forward, thrusting his sputtering torch towards the Englishman’s face; Vibart-Jones bellowed, falling back towards the doorway, and the room went pitch dark – a darkness broken by a violent scuffle in that part of it where Jim thought the doorway was, and vigorous curses in two languages. He was briefly torn – rush the doorway in all the confusion? But what of Albert Biddle, and where was Toby? Jim leapt towards the doorway – or where he thought it was, hoping to push past the human obstacles under cover of darkness, but two things happened almost at once: someone fired a shotgun, the flash of which nearly blinded him – and a heavy body plowed into his mid-section, knocking him flat, as shards of tile and wood fell from above. The ground rose up and smacked the back of his head, and a constellation of stars burst before his eyes. When he could see straight again, he lay with his arms bound tightly behind him, his legs tied as well, half-propped against a stone wall. He had no notion of how much time had passed, but it must have been more than a few minutes.
His head cleared – yes, that was Vibart-Jones, looming overhead, saying to the man at his side, “… them in here with the boy …guard on the door for tonight.”
The door shut, although he could see a dim glow – lamplight? – shining through the gaps between the planks. It was not as dark as all that, or else his eyes were becoming used to the darkness. From some distance, he could hear men’s voices, arguing vociferously; now and again the voice of the actor, but not the words being said.
That shotgun must have blasted a hole in the tiles above, for he could see a faint twinkle of starlight. He lay in the room with the skeletal monk – likely because it was the only one with a door solid enough to serve as a prison cell.
“Albert? You there?” He asked, tentatively, rewarded by a groan and a reply.
“Yes … damn him for a treacherous bloody-back bastard. I was certain that we’d thrown him off our trail in Bexar.”
“So did I,” Jim admitted. “I thought certain we were the only white men with the friendship of Mopechucope, and let down my guard. I even left my pistols with my saddle. Sorry, Albert.”
“Apologize when we get back to Bexar,” Albert Biddle answered. “I guess they’ve shut us in the commander’s parlor for now. I’m tied, hands and feet, so I guess that you are, too. Is Mr. Shaw with us? He’s awful quiet.”
“Like always,” Jim said, and raised his voice. “Toby – brother – are you here? He was going to see to the horses, he might have gotten away.”
A faint scuffling sound came from the other corner by way of reply, but it was not Toby’s voice which answered – but a boy speaking Spanish, and tremulous – as if he were scared out of his wits.
“He says that his name is Diego,” Albert Biddle said, softly – and the boy spoke again. He sounded very young, although it might have been from fear. “That he and his older brother were the servants of Fray Bernardo. That is the name of the monk, it seems. Fray Bernardo, of the missionary friars of St. Francis.”
“How did he come to be the servant of a holy friar?” Jim whispered. “I thought they were supposed to be vowed to poverty – and he does know this Fray Bernardo is dead … and where is this brother of his!”
Albert relayed Jim’s questions – but Jim understood Spanish well enough to make sense of the reply. The boy Diego had not been tied up as had Jim and Albert Biddle – only his hands were bound in front of him. He came, crawling on hands and knees, huddling against the wall next to where Albert Biddle lay, and as the moon rose outside, a little of that illumination seeped through the broken tiles.
Diego and his brother were the sons of a poor farmer in the borderlands; some years ago they had been taken captive by Comanche raiders … and Fray Bernardo had ransomed them.
“He was an old man, senor, even then … but a good man, a holy man. He ministered to los Indios … and they treated him as a holy man. He wandered everywhere, without fear … he had the power of healing, and he knew many languages.”
“How did he come here, to this place, Diego?” Jim asked, and the answer came haltingly, in fits and starts. Jim and Albert Biddle listened patiently – it was not as if they had anything else to do.
“He was often here, senor … he was a student in his youth of Padre Alonso, who died for the Faith when the mission of Santa Cruz was destroyed by the Comanche. Fray Bernardo came to say prayers for the souls of the departed, every year until his own death. And to take from the chest of silver treasure …”
“The Comanche allowed this?” Jim asked with considerable astonishment, just as Albert Biddle exclaimed, “So he did spend it … every single piece but one ingot … the cunning old …” Albert swallowed the last word, as Diego said, in deep reproof.
“Fray Bernardo was a very good man, senor – you should not say things like that about him. He may even be a saint, some day, I think. He took the silver coins, the cast ingots and he used them for good in little ways. A gift to a poor family, a little church … to an orphanage … but never so much that anyone would notice. Most often, he would send my brother or I, telling us to say that a rich man had made a gift to him. He was an old man when he died – two years ago. My brother and I did as he bid us … to say a prayer and leave him in this place, just as you see him now. There were only a handful of silver coins left in the chest. Fray Bernardo told us to take it as his gift to us for our faithful service. So we went home to our village. We said nothing to anyone about the silver – what Fray Bernardo had given us, or about that which he had given away! I swear to you, senor, not a word! But…”
“What happened, Diego – did someone threaten you? Someone who knew about Fray Bernardo, or the silver?”
“Yes, senor,” Diego replied, almost before the questions were out of Albert Biddle’s mouth. In the dark, Diego sounded very young, hardly older than little James Albert Toby. “These six men … with the foreigner, they came to our house. They broke in after dark … and they beat my brother to make us tell them about the silver. I think they knew about Fray Bernardo, but I don’t know how they could have known. And then … they killed my brother and made me go with them, so that I could show them where the silver was hidden. I said to them many times, even when they struck me and said that I lied … that it was all gone. Fray Bernardo had made good use of it, but they did not believe me. They are very angry now. I am afraid they will kill us.”
“There must have been some record left in Monclova,” Albert comforted the boy. “It was not your fault – anyone who knew of the silver left here, and also knew that your Fray Bernardo often traveled this way… it was a puzzle easily put together.”
“No, lad,” Jim said, at least as much to reassure Diego as himself. “I don’t think they will kill us. They might want to… but there is not another living man in this room with us, is there? My Indian brother – he came here with us, but I think he escaped in the confusion. So we have one ally at large. And … then, there is another Indian friend, watching from the hill above. That friend said that if we did not go out into the middle of the presidio after dawn tomorrow and every day and wave a red cloth, that he would go to his people for help. Diego – to you know of Old Owl, Mopechucope of the Penateka? He is our friend also. We came here by his leave and with his permission. I do not believe that our friends will allow us to be slaughtered out of hand. Tell him this, Albert.”
“So say us all,” Albert Biddle murmured. “Diego – your hands are tied in front of you?” He added what Jim had said in Spanish, and when Diego answered in the affirmative, Albert Biddle continued. “Well, I have a pen-knife in my front left waistcoat pocket. If you can find it and open it … well, then cut our bonds … softy, softly, lad – then at least we can sleep well, not bound up like beasts for the slaughter. When they come for us … whenever they do – hold the lengths of rope behind your back, as if still bound; we’ll catch them by surprise … I hope. Right, Diego – can you find my knife and open it? Good lad.”
There was a scuffling sound, as Diego fumbled with his bound hands to find Albert Biddle’s pen-knife. “I have it, senor!”
“Don’t drop it,” Albert Biddle admonished, as Jim asked, in tones of deliberately casual interest. “Ask him about those men who came with the foreigner and murdered his brother. Ask him about them, Albert. Does he have any sense of who they are and what they are after?”
“They are for the silver, senor!” Diego replied, instantly. “And peninsulares …of the upper class, senor – of Spain, or perhaps criollo… they are of the ruling class … else how could they behave as they did? There is no justice in the world for such as we, such as my brother! They murdered him, senors!”
“There will be justice, Diego – no fear for that.” Jim assured him, while Albert Biddle, his hands freed, leaned forward and sawed apart the ropes binding his legs.
“It sounds as if they are angry,” Albert Biddle observed. He fumbled with his knife in the darkness, and Jim felt the ropes around his wrists loosen and fall away.
“Can you make out what they are saying?” Jim asked, with a groan. His hands were numbed, and clumsy in unraveling the knots at his feet.
“It sounds as if they are arguing about searching, still.” Albert Biddle answered, after listening in silence for a long moment. The angry voices had grown louder as tempers rose. “Some of the men believe the chest we found is not the one – that the silver must still be hidden somewhere in this room, maybe elsewhere in the fortress. Others are certain the treasure is gone, and wish to leave at dawn, before the Comanche find them. It sounds as if they are divided evenly.”
“As long as they are in disagreement,” Jim pointed out. “The better for us.”
“Agreed,” Albert Biddle mused. “So – do we jump the first one of them who comes through that door?”
“If it looks like we can take them by surprise,” Jim agreed. “Still – I hope that Toby is lurking close and with a plan of his own.”
“It’s still three of us and Diego against seven of them,” Albert Biddle observed. He did not sound as if he relished those odds. “Ah, well – wait until morning, and we rush the door … unless there is a plan?”
“It will do for now.” Jim said, still hopeful that Toby was at liberty and close by.

* * *

As a plan, it might have worked – but for the short-barreled scattergun in the hands of Vibart-Jones. He might have been an actor – among other things – but he handled the weapon with the confidence of a master, as one of his co-conspirators unbarred the door and let it swing open. Daylight spilled into the room, dazzling eyes which had become accustomed to dimness.
“Come out, gentlemen,” Vibart-Jones invited them, suave and cordial as if it were a social occasion. “I see that you have freed yourself from the ropes … about what I would have expected from men of your skills and sagacity. A pointless exercise on the part of my friends, but they insisted. Their quaint native methods, you see – I thought best to indulge them.”
“So who has won the argument over the silver being still here or not?” Jim thought it best to take an aggressive tack, and Vibart-Jones smiled, mirthlessly.
“How kind of you to take an interest … Mr. Reade, is it? It will be of interest to you and your friend – you’ll be digging, of course – while my friends have a little chat with young Diego here.”
“You dare …” Albert Biddle hissed, through clenched teeth – sounding angrier than Jim had ever heard from him. Broad daylight hurt their eyes, but even blinking, Jim could see that Diego – now revealed in the light as a mestizo lad of twelve or thirteen years – was terrified. And no wonder. What had been the campfire that he had started the night before was blazing away – and there was no mistaking the purpose behind the ends of several ramrods resting their ends on the hottest coals. Albert Biddle saw it also – and he put an arm around Diego’s shoulders by way of comforting the boy.
“Of course I dare,” Vibart-Jones drawled, impatiently. “Just as you have done, gentlemen – for a fortune in silver coin and bullion? No, we are convinced that the old priest couldn’t possibly have given it all secretly. The boy knows where it is … and he shall tell us. If not now, then eventually.”
“No, he won’t,” Jim said, feeling suddenly very, very tired, or maybe it was just relief that turned his bones to jelly. “Because it’s gone. And there is one more thing.”
“And what is that, Mr. Reade?” Vibart-Jones managed to sound irritatingly confident. He made a commanding gesture towards the two of his comrades tending the fire. One of them jerked Diego roughly by the arm, pulling him away from Albert Biddle, just as Jim answered,
“The Comanche are here.”
He pointed at the hillside across the narrow river, now alive with horses, and the red blankets that the Comanche favored flashing in between the trees like a cardinal’s brilliant wings. The horsemen advanced down the slope, and the man holding Diego by a grip on the boy’s narrow shoulder let go with a shocked oath on his lips. The sudden naked terror on the faces of Vibart-Jones and his companions was almost enough to make him laugh, as they scattered like doves flushed from a thicket – snatching up saddles and weapons and flinging themselves on their horses – who of course had caught the contagion of fear and were not submitting readily to being bridled and saddled.
“Dios mio! El Comanche – a los caballos – ahora! Rapido!”
Now the Comanche were close enough that Jim could recognize individuals – Lions, old Mopechucope, and Bob Neighbors riding among them, his elbows out and his oversized coat flapping on him like a scarecrow’s. And there was Toby, as he preferred to be on foot, loping through the shallow river, swinging his old-fashioned war club and grinning from ear to ear.
“Brother!” Toby shouted, hurtling over a low-crumbled stretch of wall, even as Vibart Jones and the others gained their horses, departing in a rush of hoof-beats that pounded like a cavalry charge, out through the old gateway. Even as they did, the first Comanche warriors poured over the low outer walls, some on foot but others mounted, neck or nothing in their pursuit. It sounded as if the largest part of the Comanche warriors were in hot pursuit of the raiders from Mexico – much good it would do them, Jim thought; their horses were very fine, and they did have a bit of a head start. Toby laughed breathlessly as he came to where Albert and Jim stood by the still-blazing fire, and balanced the heavy club on his shoulder. “You survived the night, I see.”
“So did you,” Jim answered, and began to laugh, laugh so hard that he couldn’t speak. . Finally, Albert Biddle demanded,
“What in tarnation is so funny?”
Jim recovered himself with an effort. “This,” he gasped, “may be the very first time in the history books … that Texians are damned glad to see a Comanche war party, coming to the rescue!”

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Lone Star Sons – The Secret of San Saba – Part 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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