Never Was a Story of More Woe – Part 1

(This is the reimagining of the Lone Ranger, which started out as a bit of a joke and turned into something which might turn out to a darned good next book, suitable for the young male teen reader … which my daughter informs me, is a woefully underserved demographic, what with the current emphasis on sparkly vampires and all…)

Rain poured heavily down in the streets of the old town, a place of narrow lanes twisting between blank-walled adobe houses, where the twilight shadows of a winter had leached any shred of warmth from the day. Water poured in regular rivulets from the tiled eaves, and even the wider streets were deep in mud. Jim Reade’s horse clumped heavily through the deepest puddles.
“Colder than a well-diggers’ ass!” he complained softly. “Where did your friend say that Capn’ Hays had rooms?”
“On the Plaza Mayor, opposite Saint Ferdinand,” answered his companion. Toby Shaw rode a horse with all the grace of a sack of flour, the rain streaming down his face and long hair. “That is where Mr. Chevallier said he would be.”
“At least we did not need go all the way to Laredo,” Jim answered. “Saved us a journey, but damn … everyone thought sure we’d be following after, border or no. It sticks in my craw, Toby – Dan’l and I thought certain we’d rescue Daddy, Mr. Maverick and all those others taken by Woll. Damn him and Santy-Anna both to hell. We thought certain sure that General Somervell was going to give those Mexes the good whupping they deserve.”
Toby shook his head. “Deserve they might … but a wise man knows when not to follow a bear into a den, not without knowing what else is in there. Your general, Captain Hays and his company … they are wise men.”
“And ol’ Bigfoot and Colonel Fisher and all the rest of them aren’t?” Jim answered. It was a sore point. He and Toby headed towards Laredo on the Rio Grande, delayed by Jim’s injuries and their search for the mysterious wagon with its cursed cargo from Woll’s baggage train. Two or three days short of reaching where the expedition had camped, General Somervell’s force had already fragmented – a couple of laggard militia volunteers from Gonzales had gold them so – and that the largest portion remaining of Somervell’s expedition had plunged across the Rio Grande in spite of orders to the contrary, with the intent of capturing Mier and perhaps going even farther.
Captain Hays was not among them, instead returning to San Antonio de Bexar. Jim and Toby had followed gamely after, retracing the expedition’s well-trodden trail up through the Nueces strip. Just after meeting the Gonzales men, they traded the gold epaulettes, braid and buttons on Toby’s looted cavalry officer’s coat to a friendly Lipan Apache for a second horse so that they could travel faster.
Mellow amber lights gleamed behind a scattering of windows, reflected murkily in the puddles before them. As Jim and Toby rode into the open square of the main plaza, the bells in stump-domed San Fernando rang the hour. The house where Captain Hays was said to stay when not in the field with his company, or out running a survey of the lands to the north of town was one of those with lights in the windows; a long and low adobe brick and plaster ramble, with a narrow alley at one side leading to a stable and corral at the back. Before the door, Jim slid down from the saddle of his horse, which stood with head drooping.
“Poor fella, you’re as tired as I am, I’ll bet,” he murmured. He had begun to feel a fondness for the jittery wall-eyed pony, over the long journey. The pony nuzzled hopefully at his shoulder. Jim hoped there were some carrots or such, in Captain Hay’s stable – the poor thing deserved a reward. He rapped on the plank door with his good hand. After a moment it swung open, and a lanky young man in his shirtsleeves looked out at them. The room beyond was pleasantly hazed with pipe smoke, warmed by a fire burning in a small fireplace; clearly a bachelor establishment, of simple furniture with saddle bags, coats, long weaponry and blankets dropped wherever and whenever their owners had no immediate need of them.
“Who is it, Creed?” Captain Hays spoke from within. The young man, Creed, squinted at them as Jim answered, “Jim Reade – Dan’l Reade was my brother…”
Captain Hays rose quickly from a crude armchair of leather over mesquite and cane staves. “Reade? My god, boy – when none of you returned, I thought sure you all had been ambushed by the Mexes or the Comanche! Set your horses in the stable and come in…” his eyes, grey and sharp as the leaf-spikes of the dagger-shaped yucca bushes, went beyond Jim and lightened in relieved recognition. “Shaw! Now, this is fortunate. Your uncle told me a fortnight ago that you had gone into the Nueces searching for a vision. At least that’s what he told me, but I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that you were making a one-man war on the Comanche.”
“We intended following you to Laredo,” Jim began, and Captain Hays waved a dismissive hand.
“Put your horses away … and come join us. One of the market-women brought us some of that red-chili stew that they make. She has the sweets for Mr. Taylor here, she thinks that he don’t eat enough good food. Creed took a bad wound in the Salado Creek fight last fall, been staying here ever since…”
“Thank you, Cap’n,” Jim said, in honest gratitude. “We’ll join you presently … we got a story to tell that will go better after hot food.”
“Good,” Jack Hays waved them away, “I’ll want to hear it … ‘specially as you said ‘was’ regarding your brother. He was a stout fellow and a good friend.” For that brief moment, Jim thought that those keen grey eyes held a haunted expression, grief and bad memory all mixed together. He nodded as the door closed against the evening cold and rain. He and Toby led their horses around to the stable, unsaddled and loosed them into the corral and the shelter adjacent to it.
“Never tell him a lie,” Toby observed abruptly, as they gathered their blankets and saddlebags, their personal weaponry, and those few things they treasured. “He can see an untruth as I see a broken trail. Take care, my brother.”
“Of course not,” Jim answered. “But I sure won’t blurt out the truth of the matter, either.”

Captain Hays did not ask any questions until after Jim and Toby had eaten, scooping up mouthfuls of the peppery red meat and bean stew that was the specialty of the Mexican market-women who had stalls on the plaza during the day. Jim took the only other chair, the tin plate in his lap, while Toby sat with perfect contentment and apparent comfort on the floor before the fire. When they were done, Creed Taylor took the empty plates into the far room. He walked with a limp, and appeared pale and haggard, as if he also were still recuperating. Jim had only lately removed Toby’s makeshift splint from his arm – and wished now that he still had not, for the barely-knitted ends of bone ached fiercely.
“Do you wish that I should stay?” Creed asked, from the doorway. Captain Hays’ eyes went to Jim, in an unvoiced question. Jim shrugged. “We haven’t got anything to say that can’t be said in front of anyone else.” At Captain Hays’ nod, Creed sank onto a wide bench, built into the thickness of the wall. It was piled with blankets and pillows – obviously it had been serving as a day bed of sorts. In a quiet voice, Jim began the story of how he and Daniel had followed the Mexican Army wagon with its deadly cargo, and then been treacherously attacked by J.J. Gallatin and his three friends. Captain Hays drew in a long breath when he heard that.
“Gallatin! You’re certain of that?”
“I was knocked silly and out of my head for days, but if I’m sure of anything else in the world it was Gallatin who lead them after us, and shot down my brother and the others like dogs in the road. You were right, Cap’n – there was devilment in that wagon … weapons and gunpowder; crates and barrels full of it. That’s what Mr. Shaw and I found, when we finally caught up to it. General Woll meant to arm the Comanche and Apache against us.”
“I guess J. J. thought there was something more,” Captain Hays ventured. Jim’s heart skipped a beat. In the shadows by the hearth, Toby’s eyes gleamed warningly. “A fortune … in guns and gunpowder. So those Mex deserters were looking to set up in business for themselves, only Gallatin saw where he could cut in and take it for himself.”
“J. J. allus did have an eye out for the main chance,” Creed observed from across the room. It was the first time he had spoken.
“Was he a friend of yours?” Jim asked, and Creed shook his head. “I knew him, knew his kinfolk and he was one of us that fought at San Jacinto, but I can’t say I ever really cottoned to him. He was always tryin’ to get an advantage, and if you had something – a good horse or a fine knife that took his eye, he wouldn’t rest until he had figured out a way to make it his.” Creed shook his head, in a melancholy fashion. “Fact is – he was never one I trusted at my back in a good fight.”
“So what came of J. J. and this wagon, then?” Captain Hays leaned forward to knock out the burned tobacco from his pipe. “You and Shaw here did catch up to him and it, I take it?”
“We did, and it was burned to glory, likely with him in it,” Jim answered. “The Comanche attacked it, and somehow set off all the gunpowder. There wasn’t a scrap of that wagon bigger than I could put in my hat … or of anyone who had been standing close.”
“Ironical,” Captain Hays carefully filled his pipe again, and lit a twig in the fire to light it with. “I’ll bet J.J. was thinking to do business with the Comanche … but they cut him off before he could even lay a card on the table. You think he got away?”
“Someone did,” Jim answered, and Toby nodded.
“There was a man on a horse, whose tracks I followed for a while, until the trail became muddled. It could have been Gallatin.” He and Jim exchanged a brief glance. They had indeed followed the trail of a single shod horse, which could have been ridden by anyone. The tracks petered out on the banks of small tributary creek of the Nueces. That was where Jim and Toby agreed – there was nothing to be gained in following such a cold trail.
Now Captain Hays lit his pipe and sat back in his chair; he was a young man still, only a little older than Jim, but his eyes had lines around them – lines of weariness and responsibility which made him look twice his age.
“You know this Somervell business is done,” he said. “It was always a fools’ errand, chasing Woll into Mexico. I tried to talk the boys out of going with Colonel Fisher and taking Meir. Once they set a toe over the border, there’s no way they can be painted as anything but pirates and brigands. But they were hot for revenge … an eye for an eye, ol’ Bigfoot said. Trouble is, after a while, you wind up blind. I told him so, but after what Santa Anna has done to us … well, you can’t help but think folk have a right to be riled up.”
“We swore to get Daddy back,” Jim answered, the taste of defeat souring his stomach and making his heart heavy within him. “Dan’l and me did. That bastard Woll swore he would release all the prisoners when he crossed the Rio Grande, but instead he put them all in chains and dragged them south. I can’t let it rest, Cap’n.”
“Nor should you,” Captain Hays answered. “Nor should any of us; but there’s more than one way to skin a cat besides choking it on cream. See, boys – you have to think about it sideways. Don’t come out all-half-cocked and angry, leading with your fists. Bonaparte, he said that you shouldn’t never let anger rise higher than your chin, which is talking sense. See … between sunrise and noon tomorrow, I can recruit a company, two-three companies of men and boys willing to take a poke with their fists at the Comanche or the Mexes, all for the cost of the State providing their ammunition and paying them in land certificates.”
“I’d be there tomorry, Cap’n!” Creed affirmed from across the room. “You know I would!” His eyes were bright in his pale face.
“I know you would, Creed,” Captain Hays answered, with a tone of brisk affection in his voice. “You’d ride like the wind to the smell of gunpowder … hell; you’d crawl towards it on your hands and knees given the chance. You and your Taylor kin are all like that. Always have been, always will. You’re a hot-tempered man – but there are times that I need a cold-tempered one – and that’s meaning no disrespect to you.”
“None taken, Cap’n,” answered Creed, without offense. Captain Hays turned his regard onto Jim again.
“See … General Houston had as little liking for this Somervell venture as I did. No need to provoke Santy Anny any more than strictly necessary. Texas can’t afford a standing army, any more than we can a navy. Mind you, come what will, the Mexes will be trying again … but it’s my conviction that we have to fight them smart – scouting about with a stiletto, not a big army waving a club around, bashing everything that moves. We can only afford a few smart fellas,” he added with blunt honesty. “Do you want to be one of them? It’s not so much rangering with a company, as it will be … keeping an eye on things. I can’t be all places at once, I need a few that I can trust, men who can think on their feet and make friends everywhere.”
“You offering me a situation?” Jim asked, and the older man nodded. “Why me in particular? It’s my brother who was one of your fellows.”
“Dan’l said good things about you; sharp as a knife, and good at making friends with people. Mebbe not so good a solder as Creed here … but like I said, I can readily find soldiers the length and breadth of Texas,” Captain Hays answered. “He was a damn good man with good judgment of other men. I was considering him as one of my stiletto-men – but just now I thought mebbe you could take his place. You’d have a good excuse for keeping an eye out for J. J. Gallatin, any roads … and of disrupting any of Santy Anna’s plots against us.”
“I’d be honored, sir,” Jim answered, without a second thought. With Dan’l dead and Daddy a captive in chains, the thought of returning to his law office in Galveston had little appeal. “And even more honored if you would consider Mr. Shaw as another one of your stiletto-men with me. He has proved himself my most trusted friend. I owe him my life at least twice over.”
“Done,” Captain Hays nodded briefly. His expression was one of amusement, “Consider my offer extended to you, Shaw.”
“My family is honored with your trust,” Toby answered with careful dignity, “I consider James as my brother, since we have taken the oath of blood-brotherhood.”
“Good,” Captain Hays smiled, which momentarily took a good few years from his expression. “I can’t say that either of you will ever grow rich serving the nation of Texas – but you will have wealth in the respect of those who know the service which you will render to our citizens.”
“As long as they don’t want me to start on it tonight,” Jim stifled a yawn. He was warmer, and drier than he had been in weeks, toasting his toes comfortably before the small fire, and under a roof as well.
“No, tomorrow will do,” Captain Hays answered in cheerful agreement. “We have a small errand in mind … something to cut your teeth on. It might not seem like much…”
“But it will mean a lot to me,” Creed said, from across the room. “And to my kin … seein’ as it would put a cap on a lot of bad feelin’, before it gets any worse.”
“How so – get worse?” Jim asked, intrigued, and Creed heaved a deep sigh.
“It wasn’t any of my doing,” he said. “I’ve been laid up since Salado, lucky if I can walk across the plaza without gasping for breath. I’d straighten it out myself if it weren’t for that. The Suttons are right riled about it. They say that my cousin Nate ran off with Amanda Sutton when she was promised to marry elsewhere … that Nate dishonored Mandy. There’ll already have been words between the Taylors and the Suttons; Mandy’s brother Silas is one of those hot-heads. Any thought in his head is coming out of his mouth two seconds later. It ain’t true, not a word of it. Mandy is a silly little girl, but there ain’t a drop of malice in her – and Nate ain’t the kind for debauching young maidens anyway. He’s too prim and righteous … not that it ain’t been said that that kind is the worst for putting on a pretense,” Creed added, somewhat plaintively. “But it just ain’t like Nate. I just can’t see it.”
“But he’s been talking about it,” Captain Hays observed, with no little asperity. “So, it’s at the top of my list of things to be settled … just to get a little peace and quiet around here.”
“Tomorrow?” Jim pulled himself out of a momentary drowse. “So … where do we go to start on this errand, Cap’n?”
“Lavernia,” Captain Hays answered. “It’s a little settlement, a bit east and south of here. Sleep as late as you like, it’ll be a short ride.”

(To be continued, as I write it, of course.)

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Celia, forget the lone ranger mythos, this is going to be great all by itself. So now the Texas Rangers get a secret service branch!

  2. Celia

    It seems from reading a biography of Jack Hays that he did kind of function as the Republic of Texas’ secret service branch, even if it was only because everyone seemed to know him, through having served as Rangers in various companies, and anything happening across Texas would get to his ears. So having a handful of men – and it was only a handful because the Republic was broke most of the time and couldn’t afford to pay in much besides ammunition and certificates for land – it isn’t much of a stretch. And I needed some kind of rationale for having Jim and Toby getting involved in … stuff. Creed Taylor is real, by the way. So was the Sutton-Taylor feud, although it didn’t really kick into high gear until after the Civil War.

  3. Avatar

    Ahhh, I liked the white horse. Well, OK, having two gray horses old enough to be mostly white, I’m sick and tired of muddy dirty looking horses. But surely Jim and Toby need something special?

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