Lone Star Sons Logo - Cover(From the current work in progress; a collection of adventures set — so far — in frontier Texas. Texas Ranger Jim Reade and his trusted Delaware Indian friend, Toby Shaw are on the road, the Opelousas Trace, with cattle rancher Clayton Huff searching for Clayton’s missing brother. A number of people, including Captain Jack Hays, Jim’s own father and many of the people they meet along the road seem to suspect a local innkeeper of having something to do with the disappearance of Clayton’s brother … and others.)

They traveled east at a casual amble, although the urgency of their errand was always at uncomfortable odds with the need to maintain the pretense of being casual travelers, always ready to pause along the way for a good meal and a comfortable stretch of gossip. Their first encounter seemed to set the pattern for the others, which did not escape their concentrated attention. None of those whom they passed the time with over the following days recalled seeing Randall Huff the cattleman, returning from New Orleans, with his bay horse and brown and white hunting dog … and a money-belt of gold coin from the profitable sale of his cattle. Mention of Squire Yoakum and his establishment – although Jim was careful not to seem to connect one inquiry with the other – sometimes drew responses akin to the farmer and his field hand; a mixture of veiled suspicion and wary dislike, but nothing put into overt words. It became plain to Jim and Clay, on discussing this, that Squire Yoakum was feared by his neighbors, although just as many were fulsome in their praise of his character and generous hospitality.

“He’s a power in the county, so none might go against him openly – and he is a very rich man,” Clay expounded on his own feelings. “I haven’t had much truck with his kind before. In Bastrop there are just as many as have large cattle herds and have built themselves fine houses … but I don’t think I have ever heard any around there say as much ill about them as I have heard in the last three days about Yoakum.”

“There is very often a crime at the base of a great fortune – but well-buried and forgotten, if it were properly done,” Jim agreed, with a touch of cynicism. “I read that in a novel by a Frenchie a while ago – didn’t think it was true at the time, but now I am beginning to wonder. I do not think we should ask him straight out about your brother, when we reach Pine Island Bayou tomorrow – I had thought at first that being a man of property and the postmaster and all, he might stand ready to assist, but considering what has been said by those who may be better-acquainted … no, I think we must be discrete. Perhaps you can mention how welcome his hospitality was for you both on the journey to New Orleans some months ago … but nothing more. Are we agreed on this, gentlemen?”

Both of his companions agreed, although with some hesitation on the part of Clay, who remarked abruptly, when they had gone a little way farther along the Trace,

“I have begun to consider what I must do if I find that Randall is dead – murdered, as it seems likely. We were next in age to each other – and always close.”

“So was I, with my brother Daniel,” Jim answered, with a sudden and unexpected rush of sympathetic emotion, to the point where he was near overcome. “We were only the two brothers in our family who lived to majority – we had three small brothers who perished as children – the usual accidents and illnesses. His death was a tragedy most unexpected, since he fell by the hand of one he considered a comrade, if not a friend.”

“I am sorry for your loss,” Clay said, after a moment. “I am given to wonder – what did you do, upon the death of your brother?”

“Mr. Shaw saw that he was decently buried,” Jim replied. The memory of that was one which cut to the heart – for Jim had been there, when his brother and the other Rangers of his company were murdered by men who came among them as friends. Jim himself had survived only by chance. “Together with his comrades, and I have taken service with Captain Hays. Someday, I will find the man who killed my brother and the other Rangers. The old Spaniards in Bexar have a saying – revenge is a dish best eaten cold. I have a better one – justice is a task which never grows cold, or stale.”

“I see now why Captain Hays has sent you with me,” Clay said, after a moment. They were riding where the Trace led, through a stand of thick woods, as dark as the heart of an evil man, where sunshine was a memory. “For your cool head, at least as much as your experience – I rode with his company myself, a time or two. And he is the calmest man I know in a fight – I was with him when we fought Yellow Robe’s Comanche on the Pedernales! We were outnumbered three or four to one, and yet we came away with none lost and only two wounded bad enough to need a doctor afterwards. Any other captain, we would have been slaughtered.”

“You didn’t give up then and you should not give up yet,” Jim said, although deep in his heart he also suspected that Randall Huff was dead.

“It has been almost three months since he was last seen,” Clay answered, in bleak tones. “I am certain that he would have sent word in all this time. No – I believe that if I can’t find Randall alive, then I will settle for justice, the same as you.”

“And I’ll be honored to have helped you get it,” Jim said. He drew rein in the road, as the turn brought them to the edge of the pine woods they had been riding through. A long shallow valley lay before them, drowsing in the late afternoon sun. Cattle drifted through the meadows by the edge of a long placid bayou. Across the valley sat a house; a very fine one in the style of the galleried houses of the districts around New Orleans, a shallow roofline spread like the wings of a gull, and four fine straight brick chimneys rising through it. There were stables and quarters at the back, just barely to be seen, and gardens – both practical and ornamental at the front.  “That must be the Yoakum’s Landing,” Jim added. There was not the least sign of menace anywhere to be seen, but Jim still felt the prickle of alarm on the back of his neck, as when he first drew his rifle and looked down the sights at a dangerous animal – of the two or four-legged variety. Beside him, Clay nodded.

“We had nothing to complain of in his hospitality. He came to meet us, hearing the noise of our cattle on the Trace at some distance – we could hardly say no to such generosity.” Clay squinted, looking towards the gleaming white walls and pillars of the Yoakum establishment. “And I think that must be Squire Yoakum himself – as that seems to be his habit.”

“Say nothing to him about your brother,” Jim reminded him, “Unless he recalls your previous visit and asks you directly. Say as little as you can, in answer.”

The man approaching them on horseback waved his hat when he was still some little distance.  Clay waved his in response. When the man was close enough to speak, he called,

“Welcome, travelers! Your arrival is timely – they say it will be cold tonight, with a storm blowing in from the north! You are invited to remain here, until that storm passes!”

“That is a most generous offer, my friend,” Jim answered, feigning hearty relief. “James Reade, Esquire – it’s a long way from Bexar to New Orleans.”

“From Bexar!” The man was close enough to speak without raising his voice; the first thing which Jim noticed was the quality of his horse – a fine blood mare, at least two hands taller than the usual Texas mustang, and whole worlds removed in the quality of her breeding. The gentleman in the saddle was also a world or two removed, it seemed – his ruddy middle-aged face expertly barbered, and the cut of his tan coat and waistcoat a match for the expanse of his well-shined riding boots. “Welcome to Yoakum’s Landing – I’m William Yoakum. A lawyer, eh? Always good to know one, I always say.  Your arrival is providential, for a friend of mine needs legal advice. You must agree to dine with us, of course.” William Yoakum’s countenance was a frank, friendly and altogether open one. Jim could readily see how ordinary travelers might be beguiled into assuming the best of him

“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Jim leaned from his own saddle to extend a shake of hands. “This is my client, Clayton Huff – he’s inherited a sixth portion of the Sutherland estate. You might know it – eleven hundred acres on the River above Baton Rouge and commercial holdings in New Orleans worth $12,000 per annum. We’re on our way to New Orleans to secure that portion of it for my client…”

“Honored, my good sir – how very fortunate!” Squire Yoakum beamed on them both with an expression of benevolent good will, which turned slightly quizzical as his gaze rested on Clay Huff for just a second longer. “Have you visited here before, Mr. Huff – I could swear that your name is familiar to me …”

“I have visited before, yes,” Clay answered, with the utmost care and Jim’s heart was in his throat. “This last summer – but since you were hosting a great many guests then – I’ll not take it amiss that you don’t remember.”

“That must be it,” Squire Yoakum agreed. “But come – make yourselves at home and your servant as well!”

Jim couldn’t help warming to the man; so effusively friendly and eager to offer hospitality, but his fathers’ warnings and the reactions of Yoakum’s neighbors lent a dark shadow to it all – although as they were made welcome to the grand house, he couldn’t help wondering if he hand imagined it all. A Negro groom came around to take their horses, and to conduct Toby to the servant’s quarters, another manservant relieved them of their meagre luggage, still another to show Jim and Clay to a ground-floor guest room. Everything about Yoakum’s Landing was so welcoming; the rooms well and comfortably furnished, the servants helpful – and the company of the family and the other guests so agreeable … surely there could not be anything amiss.

The oldest daughter of the house, Miss Kate Yoakum, presided over the supper table, saying that her mother was indisposed and resting upstairs. Jim could not help noticing that Miss Kate – a charming belle of twenty or so – was as composed as a woman twice her age under the responsibilities of being hostess. She had fair hair and large brown eyes, like the heart of a daisy, and Jim felt a quickening of interest, as they conversed over the serving dishes. But he was also keenly aware that Miss Kate’s three brothers were all handsome and well-spoken, the cut of their garments every bit as fine as those worn by their sire – and were no doubt disposed to eye their sisters’ suitors warily. That evening after supper, Jim, Clay and the other guests adjourned to the parlor, where Miss Kate played the piano and sang for their amusement, while rain dashed against the glass of the French doors to the verandah outside and a cold wind whistled around the corners.

“I’m glad to be inside on a night like this,” Jim observed to Clay in a voice kept low and discrete, as they sat a little apart from the other guests and the Yoakum’s. “It was our good fortune to arrive here at this particular moment … and you said nothing to me about our charming hostess.”

“She wasn’t here, when we passed this way in the summer,” Clay murmured in reply. “The lady of the house is a stern battle-axe of a woman, thrice Miss Kate’s age. She looked at us as if we had forgotten to wipe the cow-dung off our boots before we entered. I am grateful that she is indisposed, Jim – for a certainty, she would remember that I was last here in company with Randall. That kind of woman never forgets. How long should we remain here, do you think?”

“For courtesy to our host, at least tonight,” Jim answered, “And for our own comfort, possibly tomorrow night, if the storm holds.”

“Do you think this place may hold the answer to the fate of my brother?” Clay asked, so stark and bleak in his expression and voice that Jim was moved to answer, swift and reassuring.

“I do not know for certain, Clay – but this I can say; that there is a great deal of local unhappiness with regard to Yoakum and his establishment, and there is never smoke without a fire …oh, this is the Squire’s friend, the one who wished to consult me on a legal matter.” Jim raised his voice slightly – the friend was a dapper young gentleman a little younger than himself, who spoke in a soft drawl which Jim particularly associated with those natives of Louisiana or Alabama. He had dark eyes, and darker eyebrows and hair, which contrasted oddly with the pallor of his skin. He appeared as if his natural milieu were to be sitting on a fine upholstered chair with a cup of hot cocoa in his hand.  “Mr. Landry – Ethan is your first name, isn’t it? Our host told me that you were in need of legal advice.”

“That is so,” Mr. Landry answered. He seemed nervous, as he joined Jim and Clay in the corner of the parlor. At their backs, heavier rain struck against the outside of the French door, sounding as if someone were throwing handfuls of pebbles at the side of the house. Ethan Landry’s eyes darted here and there, as if fearful of something. “I… that is, I was told you could draft me a power of attorney regarding the sale of some property. I am in most urgent need of funds…”

“I am not a charity,” Jim remarked somewhat acidly, and Landry tittered. “Oh, I will pay your usual fee – I am not dead broke after all and the Squire has been most generous. It’s quite a nice little place, but I dare not return to Mobile to see to the sale myself. I have been charged with murder, you see – but in a duel, so there was no dishonor on my part. Alas, my opponent had powerful friends and they accused me most unfairly. It was truly an affair of honor. To return and risk arrest – they would do that to me, have no doubt. That is an offense against the honor of a Southren gentlemen, sir, and I will not submit to that humiliation. I take refuge here at Yoakum’s Landing – and the Squire assures me that with the proper legal authority from me, he will send one of his sons to negotiate the sale. If you would be so kind as to draw up the properly-worded authorization for me – than it may be signed and witnessed here … and my monetary embarrassments will be relieved.”

“I am not in the habit of doing business after supper,” Jim answered, with a concealed sigh, “But because of the bad weather, we will remain through tomorrow. If it is acceptable to your friend, the Squire – perhaps we might meet here at mid-afternoon, and I will draw up the required agreement?”

“That will do very well,” Ethan Landry beamed happy approval. Jim found his smile particularly annoying. It appeared more a smirk than an honest expression of gratitude.  Jim wondered how on earth this man – this spoiled little boy – had ever found the skill and nerve to fight a duel, much less kill another man in the course of it. “Tomorrow then, Mr. Reade.”

“Here in this parlor, or wherever our host sees fit to conduct business,” Jim echoed, more for courtesy than relish at doing another bit of easy business. Unaccountably, he missed the company of Toby, although his friend was likely drawing up a deep bucket of information from the well of knowledge in the servant’s quarters. These missions just seemed so much more readily accomplished when it was just he and Toby, on either side of a small campfire. Clay was proving a good comrade, but this matter was personal for him.

“A good excuse to prolong our stay,” Clay sighed most regretfully himself. “You’re a good comrade, Jim – but I wish it was my wife that I was spending the night with in that splendid chamber upstairs, instead of yourself.”

“I am certain that your wife would say the same,” Jim answered. “Marriage is the most perfect companionship – or so I am told.”

“It is,” Clay answered, with the most fervent expression. “She is a ruby among women; my other half, as it were. All the talents that I am short of – she has in quantity. Patience, perseverance, sharp judgement … and she can cook, too.  It was at her encouragement that I set out to find what had happened to Randall. She was worried about him also. She became worried, days before I ever thought there was something amiss. She said to me, over and over again – Clay, there is something wrong, Randall would never be away so long, without sending word – and I came to agree with her.”

“She sounds a fine woman,” Jim said. “Does she have any sisters, yet unwed?”

“No,” Clay laughed. “Three, of whom two are married also – but the very youngest is only five years of age.”

“It may be that I will be in the position to support a wife by the time she is grown,” Jim sighed, and the other man grinned.

“You could do worse than pay court to Miss Kate – now, she is comely, intelligent and doubtless an accomplished hostess.”

“I try not to mix my own personal inclinations with business,” Jim’s eyes rested on Miss Kate, sparkling with laughter as she chatted with some other ladies among the guests. Even as she talked, her hands were busy with a genteel bit of embroidery. “But in this particular situation, I could be tempted into making an exception.”

(To be continued – at least one more part. Maybe two.)

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Possibly shady business dealings and a femme fatale. 🙂

  2. Celia

    Oh, definitely – did you ever hear of the Bloody Benders?