(Some weeks ago, I joked that the only hope for reviving the Lone Ranger was to just rework the whole thing as a historical adventure set in pre-Civil War Texas. I don’t really have a title for it yet, but I do have the two main characters and their establishing adventure. Chapter One is here. )
“You should return to Bexar,” Toby Shaw urged Jim, on the day that he was well enough to stand and walk a little way beyond the shelter of the cave. Jim shook his head. They were sitting companionably on either side of the small fire which burned in the mouth of the shallow cave. The single horse which had escaped the treachery of Gallatin and his renegades was picketed a short way away, moodily nibbling on a stand of long yellow grass; a brown and white pony with a wall-eye and a jittery temper. Jim hadn’t known his owner long enough to put a name to horse or rider – but the beast likely panicked when the renegades had murdered the Rangers. While Jim had lain unconscious on the rough pallet of blankets in the cave, Toby had retrieved Jim’s saddle-bags, haversacks and revolvers, although not the Sharps.
“No,” he answered. “I’ve got to hunt down J. J. Gallatin, and find out what was in that wagon. That’s what Captain Hays sent us out to do, and I’m damned if I’ll return and face him empty-handed.” The pain of his broken arm – still bound and splinted between two straight lengths of willow-branch – had retreated to a dull and constant ache. His head was clear – and he no longer saw two objects before his eyes, instead of one. Toby, carefully roasting shreds of some desert creature for their meagre supper – Jim didn’t dare ask what it was – only shrugged. If Toby had been entirely white, Jim would have said he looked exasperated. Jim added, “Look, I’m not asking you to go with me …”
“I go with you of my own will, James. This is a duty laid on me.” Toby’s normally cheerful countenance reflected the utmost gravity. “There is an evil walking in the tracks of that wagon. I can feel it. To take no action, allow evil no hindrance – that is an evil of itself. You seek your law, one for all men – I seek for balance in things, what the white teacher said was fairness to all. This … whatever is in that wagon, is an un-balancing of things.”
“All right then.” Jim was obscurely comforted in this strange alliance between the two of them. “We take the cross and make our journey towards Jerusalem the Blessed, vowing brotherhood and service ‘gainst all perils. I am glad of your company, Toby. You have certain skills and knowledge which is closed to me. And I would have been dead very soon, if you had not found me.”
“That was a thing meant to be,” Toby shrugged and carefully turned the stick with the unidentified meat shreds roasting on it. It looked to Jim as if the ends were already burnt as tough as jerky. No, not completely inedible – not even unappetizing, for he was hungry for what felt like the first time in days. “I think that this is the journey that my uncle foresaw for me. The star-iron and you are my talismans. The horse … that was meant for me to find, also.”
“Would that you had found two of them,” Jim answered and Toby chuckled.
“The True People are not riders of the nehënaonkès, when we take to the warpath, James. And this may be the war-path. We should prepare carefully.”
“I will,” Jim promised, although he deeply regretted the loss of the Sharps, taken from the saddle holster of his horse as he lay insensible. He supposed that the renegades had been too much in a hurry to take his Patersons, although perhaps they hadn’t spotted them. “I’m getting low on lead for bullets, though.”
“Shoot wisely, then,” Toby advised, dryly. Jim laughed, with an ache of grief in his throat. “That’s what my brother always said. ‘Shoot wisely, Little Brother – and hit what you aim for.’”
“I also must hit what I aim for,” Toby nodded in perfect agreement. “But I get my arrows back, most times.”
“Mining for lead never appealed to me,” Jim answered. “Too messy.” Chuckling, Toby handed him one of the blackened wood skewers, threaded with shreds of meat which were hardly any lighter than the wood. Or any tenderer, as Jim discovered, although the sizzling meat gave off an aroma so as to make his mouth water in anticipation. They chewed away companionably, while the sun slid lower and lower in the sky, final slipping below the horizon in a brilliant smear of dark orange, threaded with gold-edged smears of purple cloud.
“In the morning,” Toby said at last. “At first light. You are certain you are able, James?”
“I am certain.” Jim was – although the broken bones in his arm had not yet begun to knit. “We can’t wait, Toby – the next winter rainstorm may destroy the trail beyond all your reading.”
“This is true,” the other man agreed. “But there will be something, even after this time.”
Jim thought of the straight-ruled ruts made by a heavy wagon, the disarrangement of the soil left by the teams which pulled it … and now the trail of the renegades and their stolen horses. Yes, there would be clear markings in the arid desert, where things grew slowly and the marks left by men and animals lasted long.
In the chill, directionless light of dawn, the two broke camp. It did not take any time at all, merely a moment to quench the tiny fire with a swift kick of dirt over it. Toby helped Jim saddle the wall-eyed brown and white pony and tighten the girths, for he could not manage that one-armed. One rolled blanket went behind the saddle and the other over Toby’s shoulder. Toby hefted his war-hatchet – a stout maple shaft of some age and very well worn, set with shell beadwork and terminated at the business end with a double-headed metal fitting. One side was a curving metal blade of antique design, viciously sharp and rather like a hatchet, balanced on the other by a shape like a blunt hammer-head. A leather quiver of freshly-fletched arrows and a bow-case with a short bow strung with buffalo sinews completed Toby’s baggage. In riding a horse, with saddle-bags well-filled with his own oddments and supplies – including Blackstone’s Commentaries – Jim felt as if he was driving a Conestoga wagon filled to the canvas cover, in comparison.
They set off, Toby in the lead, at a gentle trot which always kept a little distance ahead of Jim on the wall-eyed brown horse. They crossed a shallow valley, as the sun rose ahead of them, etching all the shadows of rocks and scrub brush in a clear outline. On the far side of the valley, Toby led him and the wall-eyed horse around the flank of a flat-topped hill, beyond which lay another shallow valley, in appearance the same as the first; clay-grey ground, dotted with sparse thickets of dull green brush. Only in this valley, the turkey-vultures circled and flapped now and again to the ground. Jim looked away from the grisly remains of his horse, now almost unrecognizable and reduced to white bone, shreds of dried brown flesh, hide, and tufts of sun-bleached horse-hair. Yes, this was the place.
“Wait a moment!” He called to Toby. These were the six graves, lightly mounded and hardly weathered at all. As Toby said, he had built six cairns of stones and driven a cross of slender willow branches into each. He must have gone to some trouble to find them – straight branches, in this desert country! Jim thought, with increasing gratitude for Toby Shaw’s civilized consideration, as he got down from the wall-eyed brown and white pony. I owe him twice over – for my life and for the care given to Daniel and the others. Daniel’s straw planter’s hat hung from the twig-cross limb – how Jim knew his grave from all the others.
He knelt by the grave, briefly overcome. It could not be that Daniel was dead and by treachery – but he was and buried in a wilderness grave, far from home and those he loved – Mama, Daddy, his sisters, Rebecca and the little ones. Jim swallowed over the lump in his throat, overcome by memories of his brother; six years older, daring and fearless, the noblest of men, and the bitter knowledge that he had been brought low by a treacherous bastard like J. J. Gallatin.
“I’ll catch him, Dan’l,” he promised in a whisper. “I’ll catch him, and bring him to justice … and I’ll do my best to rescue Daddy. That’s my promise, over your grave. Gallatin is a walking dead man, from this moment on, even if it takes me years.” There was a small stone at his knees. Jim took it up, and added it to the cairn. “Whenever I pass this way, I’ll add another stone. Maybe in time, you’ll have a mountain for a monument, Dan’l.” He got to his feet, fighting off the vague feeling of dizziness which the effort brought to him. Toby waited patiently, sitting on his heels with the war-hatchet in his hands. “Let’s ride, Toby … in a manner of speaking.”
Silently, Toby rose to his feet, and resumed that ground-eating slow trot. His head turned slightly to the right or left, those sharp brown eyes of his scanning relentlessly. Jim reined in the brown and white pony, to follow a little to one side of the tumbled ground, lest his own horses’ prints spoil the trail. They traveled without speaking or rest for all of that day, pausing only to drink a mouthful or two from Jim’s canteen and once to rest in the shade of a cottonwood sapling at the edge of a stagnant pool which when it rained would have been a small creek. The wall-eyed pony drank from it greedily, nonetheless. Now and again, Toby made a brief halt to examine a pile of horse dung, or a small dried indentation made by voiding urine; Jim guessed that he was gauging relative freshness and origin. He didn’t ask how far a lead that the renegades and the mysterious baggage-wagon had on them. A week for one, perhaps ten or twelve days for the other; it was a miracle to Jim that Toby remained ever cheerful, optimistic, even.
“It is the desert,” he explained, when Jim broached the subject. “Things grow slowly and marks on the earth are not washed away, or hidden by new growing.”
A day, and then another. Toby found several remains of campfires. He confidently announced that one set – the older and larger – were made by the Mexican deserters accompanying the mysterious wagon. The smaller and relatively more recent were by the renegades.
“How can you tell?” Jim asked, honestly intrigued. “Besides the age – which I cannot imagine how you deduce.”
“There were the ashes of tobacco, James. The Mejicanos, they roll their tobacco into cigarillos – sometimes in tobacco leaves, sometimes in paper. Your people, they smoke their tobacco in pipes, if not as snuff. And the Mejicanos, they make their corn into dumplings wrapped in dried corn leaves. I find burnt corn-shucks; Mejicano. Little heaps of burnt tobacco, or brown spittle on the ground? That is an Americano.”
“How many days lead do they have now, Toby?”
“Not as many as they did when we began,” Toby answered, oblique as always. “We gain on the wagon, James. But I fear – the men who killed your brother and friends – they also gain. What should we do when we find them?”
“I don’t know,” Jim answered. “I guess it depends on how we find them and what their condition might be.”
At dawn of the next day, James noticed a pair of dark birds, with wide-spread wings wheeling in the sky. They slid gracefully earthwards, some miles distant. James did not need say anything to Toby – he knew from the way that Toby also paused and watched the birds that their presence was significant. Now they were joined by another and another, dark specks in the distance, in the very direction of their trail.
“Something dead,” Toby remarked. “Something large and dead; take care, James.”
They approached the point where the turkey-vultures had gone to ground with great wariness and no little interest, seeing from a distance the shapes of several mules and what had been three men. Jim could see they were clad in the white trousers commonly worn by Mexican soldiers. The ground was much disturbed; Toby squatted on his heels and surveyed the scene. The vultures, momentarily disturbed by the approach of two men and one horse, flapped heavily a little distance away, but wheeled and returned, resuming their interrupted meal. Even at that distance, Jim could hear the buzzing of flies, and the smell of putrefying flesh hung in the desert air like some kind of horrible fog. Jim pulled his kerchief around his nose and mouth so that he did not breathe in any more of it than necessary. He held silence, not wishing to interrupt the course of Toby’s thoughts.
There were four mules, two of whom still bore the tangled remnants of their harness, hitched together, as if they had fallen at once. The other two lay a little apart, stripped of harness. That meant something, Jim knew. The marks of wheels scribbled an equally tangled course.
“They cut the dead or injured mules free, put two of their horses in place and lightened the wagon.” Jim ventured finally and Toby nodded once. Two leather-covered trunks lay on the churned ground among the quarreling vultures, among a number of smaller boxes and cases. One had burst open upon falling, spilling out a fountain of red and white fabric, spangled with gold braid. A brass-trimmed box also had opened, scattering an incongruous array of forks, spoons and knives across the sandy ground.
“Your renegades did wait in ambush, this time,” Toby said at last.
“How long ago did this happen?”
“Three days, perhaps four.”
“But they took the wagon,” Jim tried not to breathe in too much. “There must be something in it besides General Woll’s under-drawers. Captain Hays was right about the devilment … this looks like expensive trash an’ traps, the kind of things that most of us would want for loot and bragging rights. What’s left in the wagon must be of a higher value to Gallatin.”
“We do not have time to bury them now,” Toby finally rose to his feet. “Or what is left. We should go soon. I have a bad feeling, James.”
“At least, we can cover them, before we go,” Jim said, aware that he would not be able to do very much to assist, in his one-armed condition. The bulk of that unpleasant work would fall to Toby, who nonetheless nodded in agreement. He padded off to investigate the bodies of the Mexican deserters. Jim dismounted and tied the horse by the reins to the sturdiest branch of the biggest bit of sage scrub that he could see. He on took the relatively simpler duty of searching the jumble dumped from the wagon onto a heap on the ground for anything useful, turning up a number of gaudy silk handkerchiefs – which would not take up much room in his saddle-bags – a set of very fine linen sheets and several coarsely woven woolen blankets, obviously the bedding of the slain Mexicans. Struck by a sudden thought, he also gathered up some of the metal knives and forks, thinking that as they were of plain pewter, a lesser metal than fine silver plate, he might be able to melt them to form bullets. Obviously, this was for setting General Woll’s second-best table.
Working silently, as if an unvoiced agreement had been made, Jim and Toby shrouded the three bodies in sheets, at least as much to avoid looking directly at them, than for decency. One rather curious thing – all three Mexicans had been scalped after being killed by gunshots from a distance, as near as Jim could see. They dragged the three bodies into a shallow depression and spread the blankets over all, weighed down with stones and piled brush. When it was done, Toby stripped off his broadcloth coat – now unspeakably and horribly soiled, and threw it with a barely-repressed shudder as far away from the brush-pile tomb as possible. Behind the carefully impassive expression on his face was real revulsion. He scrubbed his hands on the dirt, and dusted them off against his leggings.
“It was not the Enemy who did this,” he observed presently. “Taking their scalps. Or the Other Enemy. It was your people, James. The same as killed your brother and the others.”
“It’s not our way,” Jim protested. “Taking hair … it just isn’t a white thing, ordinarily. Unless it was by one of those buckskin men who lived too long among the Indians.”
“The governor of Sonora put out a bounty for the scalps of the Other Enemy,” Toby answered. “White men are happy to do that work for him. A hundred pesos for the scalp of a warrior. And there is one thing, James …”
“Not much difference between the scalp of an Apache and a low-class Mexican,” Jim completed the thought. Toby nodded slowly. “A hundred pesos is more than a man could earn in a year at honest work. It wasn’t enough to murder these three men … but look to make money from it? Cap’n Hays said there was devilment in that wagon; he was more right then he knew, but I’m thinking that the greater part of devilment is in the souls of those following it.”
“If that is true, we must see that we do not become part of the evil remaining,” Toby agreed, his expression somber. “We have done the right so far, James. I think we should move on.”
“See if there is anything you think we can use in the General’s baggage,” Jim suggested. “I’ve taken some of his silver – I can melt them down, make bullets. That would be fitting, I believe.”
Toby looked over the tumbled luggage with a dubious expression. A bright red waist-length cavalryman’s jacket with ornate gold epaulettes appeared to catch his eye. He caught it up and shrugged it on – it fit him far better than the tattered broadcloth had. With an effort, Jim kept an indulgent smile from his face. His friend – and Toby was just that, a friend – was as susceptible as a flighty girl or a peacock for bright colors.
They had lost about an hour of daylight in that pause to cover the bodies of the Mexican deserters and to search the abandoned trunks and boxes. Jim was resigned to another three or four days on the chase of the wagon with it’s dangerous cargo and even more dangerous escort, at the very least. But the next morning, he and Toby again spotted vultures in the far distance, circling and gliding in that ominous fashion. Toby paused and sniffed the air.
“Smoke,” he explained briefly. “Something burned. More than a campfire.”
The two advanced warily for the last few miles, closer and closer to where the vultures wheeled down from the harsh blue sky. A smudge of smoke stained the horizon. Presently Jim could smell it also. Nothing moved, save the few scavenging black birds, at some little distance, wrangling over the remains of a single mule. Toby hunkered down on his heels, at the top of a low rise where he and Jim could look down at what remained.
It was barely recognizable as a wagon; only the iron hoops which had banded the wheels were recognizable in a random pile of wood burned to crumbling black charcoal. There was the wagon-tongue, and another iron hoop with fragments of wheel-spoke clinging to it. At the bottom of the rise lay the mutilated body of a horse, bloated as round as a barrel with four stiff legs pointing unshod hoofs at the sky, as the vultures squabbled over the tender flesh of its belly. Jim quietly unholstered one of his revolvers as Toby stood and nodded a silent acknowledgement. He moved as silently as a puff of breeze down the side of that scarred hill, while Jim scanned the horizon every which way, alert for any sound, movement – a falling pebble, breaking twig, a shout or the wicked whisk-and-snick of an arrow hitting home – every nerve drawn tight, and the hair on the back of his neck prickling.
Gallatin’s renegades had obviously caught up to and taken the wagon – but what had happened to them then? Whose was the horse, then? It looked to Jim as if it had the remnants of a simple bit and bridle on it, and what could be painted shapes and lines, so that it might have been an Indian’s horse. Had Gallatin and the others been attacked by Indians, and fought them off? Where were they? Jim waited impatiently for what intelligence that Toby could draw from the remains of the wagon, the footprints and marks in the ground, the dead mule and horse.
After some minutes, Toby looked back at him and waved – there was urgency in that gesture but no intimation of immediate danger. Jim put away the revolver and led his horse down to the remains of the wagon. Closer, he could see plainly that it had been consumed entirely by fire – and that small objects and broken pieces also marred by fire were scattered broadcast. The smell of smoke nearly banished the odor of carrion. Coals still smoldered in the heart of where the fire had burned, consuming all but the metal fittings of the wagon, and those chests, crates and barrels within. The bones of at least one man, arranged with a length of chain to a crumbled wheel were burned nearly as dark.
“The Enemy,” Toby remarked quietly, his face impassive. Jim stooped and stirred some of the cooling ashes with his finger, unearthing some not-quite cooled blackened metal; rifle barrels, flint-locks and triggers, from which the wooden stocks had all been burnt away. “You may tell your Captain Hays that the wagon is found, and what he feared in it is destroyed.”
“I am certain that he will find it ironic,” Jim replied. “Here, Woll and Santa Anna and all were hoping to rile up the Comanche – the Apache, too – against us. Looks like they did us a favor, after all; that wagon must have been packed full of rifles, Toby. And gunpowder…” The realization of what must have happened dawned as brightly as a sunrise. “See this, Toby – a Comanche war party took Gallatin and his people by surprise. Looks like at least one of them got taken alive, so those fiends …” Jim swallowed against an uprush of sudden nausea. “Chained him to a wheel and lit a fire underneath. Can’t say I’m all that sorry about that, seeing how those murdering scum killed Daniel and the others. But no one deserves dying that way … I’ll bet one of those casks of gunpowder was leaking all this time. All it took was a spark, one tiny flame.” He began to chuckle, overcome by mordant amusement. “There were some mighty surprised Comanche! I’ll bet we’ll find tracks of horses running from this place, and some of them may be running still.”
“Or not, James,” Toby answered in a peculiar quiet voice, freighted with meaning. Jim followed his gaze. Without a sound, an old Indian man had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.
He was an old man, his face deeply scarred by years and the sun, dressed in a ragged white jacket, buckskin leggings and moccasins sparsely adorned with quillwork. He stood with his his hands at his sides, weaponless and immensely dignified … and alone, although Jim couldn’t vouch for that, not entirely. When he watched from the hilltop as Toby examined the wagon, he could have sworn there wasn’t another living human for miles. Yet here the old man stood, waiting for something.
“I think we should be introduced,” Jim suggested, deliberately and eerily calm. “And I’d like to know who he is and what he knows of this.”
Toby nodded, just a brief motion, and spoke to the old man in a harsh, guttural language. The old man inclined his own head almost regally and answered. Toby sighed. “He is Mopechucope – Old Owl – of the Honey-Eaters, the Penateka Comanche. But he is inclined towards peace, in the main. He is one of their old wise ones. He says that there is an evil in this place, in the things that were brought here … he was not here, but he knows of what happened, or what he was told happened.” Toby added, as if that distinction made a difference. “It was as if a great bolt of lightening came to earth. Three of their warriors lived, although two of them not for long. The others … they vanished, as if taken into the sky by a great hand in a cloud of smoke. The one who lived and returned to the Penateka winter camp … he heard a great roar, louder than a hundred thunderclaps, and fled. He and his fellows were brave and daring warriors, who feared nothing … yet they ran from here. Old Owl, since he is very wise, he came alone to see what could be divined about this evil.”
“What of Gallatin and his men? Were they all killed here also?”
Another low-voiced and guttural conversation, to which Toby attended with a flattering air of courtesy and Jim listened to with growing impatience. Finally, Toby said, “He invites us to his fire and I have accepted. James, I will tell you that he is accounted a great man among his people, one to be treated with deference and every courtesy. Attend to what he says … and even if you do not at first accept his words, take them to heart. He knows what is, and that is a rare thing.”
“Tell him that I accept his hospitality and friendship,” Jim answered, although Toby’s eyebrows twisted momentarily in skepticism at the word ‘friendship.’ They followed the old man a little way, to the edge of the shallow defile where the ruined wagon lay. The ground under their feet was much churned in places, the bushes scorched in the flash-fire of the explosion. There was a curious mark on the ground, as if a heavy box – or something with a flat bottom had been dragged some little way.
In the hollow underneath a shrub nearly large enough to be dignified by calling it a small tree, a tiny fire burned, lazily sending up a thread of smoke. There was a ragged blanket the color of dirt spread in the patch of shade. Old Owl settled onto it with a grunt of relief, and gestured Toby and Jim to sit also, facing him. He spoke for some minutes, seeming to pick his words carefully. Jim waited, again with impatience. What was the puzzle; that great evil that Old Owl seemed to believe posed a hideous danger? Jim damped down his impatience, and schooled his expression to one of mild and courteous interest.
At last the old man finished his story, and Toby turned to him and spoke in English.
“Mopechucope, he says that their warriors thought to attack the wagon for the horses and mules. They waited until early dawn, when the four men were very tired. There was one man on guard, he says – the rest asleep. They were overcome quite easily – but the one who was awake, he caught a horse, and he tried to take something with him from the wagon. It was heavy; he dragged it on a rope a short way. One of the other white men ran after him, shouting … but the man with the horse, he did not rescue the other. Mopechucope, he says that the first man, who escaped – he was not a true warrior, but rather a coward with a black heart. He shouted and struck at the other with the butt of his knife, and then he dropped the rope and fled. It was still very dark and there were plenty of horses … so the warriors of the Penateka did not chase him very far. Those three who survived for a time, they did give chase and on return, they looked at what he had tried to take with him. It took some little time. In the meantime, the other warriors were celebrating.”
Toby’s expression was exceedingly noncommittal. Jim could make a very good guess at how the Comanche were celebrating. The bones of the renegade chained to the wagon wheel needed no further comment. “And then a sudden flash of fire and death. That one was deafened for some time; the other two were struck and burned. Their breath failed in their bodies and their bones were broken. The evil brought by those white men and their wagon was very great, so is Mopechucope’s judgement. He has a strong spirit and much wisdom, so he may come near to it without harm, but he is old and weak in body, so it must be that we were sent to remove it from the world of men. He says we should not touch it until he can do a medicine for us; make a good smoke so that we may be armored against the great evil and touch it without harm. It is his advice that we bury it, not marking the place.” Toby hesitated, then continued… “And to keep silent, to prevent others searching, which would permit the evil loose in the world to do harm once more.”
“Then what is it?” Jim asked, impatiently. “If it was guns and gunpowder meant to corrupt the Indians with … it’s all destroyed – what evil can reside in a pile of burnt wood and metal?”
“It’s over there,” Toby answered. “Where the one white man left it behind. The men of the Penateka opened it at the very minute that the wagon was destroyed. Do not touch it, until Mopechucope makes his medicine.”
Jim rose gracelessly from his seat on the ground, his legs grown stiff in that uncomfortable posture after half a day in the saddle. He had not made any particular note of the stout wooden crate among the fire-scattered debris, half-hidden as it was under the branches where the renegade Ranger had abandoned it. The small crate was scorched as badly as anything else and the topmost side had been wrenched loose. Jim hunkered down on his heels to look at it more closely, taking heed of Toby’s admonition. The inside of the crate was packed tight with coarse canvas bags, of the kind that ship sails were made of, each – as nearly as Jim could see – tied tightly at the neck with stout twine and sealed close with a lead roundel embossed with an elaborate stamp. But one bag was ripped open; the gleaming gold coins inside were scattered over the tops of the other bags. Jim caught his breath; oh, yes. Evil indeed – a fortune in gold, a fortune intended to set the frontier on fire, a fortune for the ruination of Texas … a fortune that had already killed Daniel and four Rangers of his company, corrupted and killed at least a dozen more – Mexicans and Rangers and Comanche alike. No, Old Owl was right, and so was Toby. There was only one thing to be done with that tainted gold.
When Old Owl had finished throwing dried sweet-grass on the fire, wafting it toward Jim and Toby with a desiccated bird wing, chanting all the while, he nodded towards the two young men. Silently they dragged the burnt, broken crate a little way from the campsite to an abandoned prairie dog burrow. They ripped open each of the bags, and spilled the golden coins down into the burrow, letting the empty bangs and seals fall after. The coins dropped with a faint jingling sound, sweet and yet redolent of something unclean, until the crate was empty. Old Owl looked on with grim satisfaction. They used the broken boards of the crate to scoop dirt into the burrow, nearly up to the top. Old Owl spoke once, in tones of utmost finality.
“He says that he will know us again, whenever we are in the lands of the Penateka, and treat us as friends. That is all, James.”
“Nice to know,” Jim agreed. He took up the reins of the wall-eyed pony, and Toby shouldered his blanket and war-hatchet. The voice of Old Owl followed them a little way, in a discordant chant that finally faded away behind the two friends as they went south to report to Captain Hays … to report everything but one small detail.