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15. June 2017 · Comments Off on Another Lone Star Sons Adventure! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

Part two of Into the Wild, which when I finish this and five or six more like it will make up the next collection of Jim Reade and Toby Shaw adventures – Lone Star Glory

Part 2 of Into the Wild

The room was an office of sorts; a fairly workmanlike one, with several crude desks, lined with shelves of books and boxes of documents along the inner walls, and a small table and several chairs by the window. There were four men in the office, one of whom Jim knew instantly to be important, because he was Jack’s higher commander; Governor Wood. Of the other three, two were in uniform – again, the blue of the federal Army, but only the older of the pair was anyone to command respect. The younger lingered by the doorway with Sgt. Grayson, for the older officer and the gent in the expensive waistcoat had commanded the scattering of chairs by the window.
“Colonel Hays,” the older officer rose and extended his hand – a fit-appearing gentleman in middle years, his hair and impressive mustache and side-whiskers only lightly touched with grey. “My pleasure – Joe Harrell. We met briefly after Saltillo, although you had so much on your plate at that time, with the press of war to prosecute and your Rangers to command, that I will not hold it against you should you not recollect that previous occasion.”
“But I do recall you – and with appreciation,” Jack returned the courtesy. “You did us good service, my Rangers and I, after Saltillo. You were a god-send for my fellows… forgive me, I recall what men were able to do for my people, but not the rank or the office they held when doing it.”
“Supply Corps,” General Harrell returned, with good humor. “A necessary, yet underrated department. A matter of ledgers, lists, and registers, of figures and supplies. But hey – the great Napoleon himself observed that an Army marches on its stomach.”
“And is this a matter of concern to the Supply Corps?” Jack went to the point of this meeting without any fanfare, and Governor Wood sighed.
“Brass tacks,” he observed with a glance ceilingward. “That’s what I have always liked about you, Jack – a disinclination to waste time getting down to them.”
“The matter upon which you and your agents have been summoned is actually a matter of national pride; only peripherally a matter most personal to me,” answered the gentleman in the expensively ornate waistcoat. “Randall Burke, of Kentucky, Colonel Hays. I do have an interest regarding the whereabouts – or even the survival of Captain O’Neill.” The gentleman’s florid countenance turned briefly mournful. “Before his untimely disappearance, he was – he is engaged to my daughter, Rebecca. Gentlemen, if you have no daughters, you have no idea of the wiles which they can wind around your heart. My darling Rebecca has been waging a campaign of the kind which no mortal father can stand long against – find her beloved, she implores me; find him and restore him to her, or her heart will break. ‘Papa’ she begged me, ‘you have influential friends, important friends, you can surely exchange favors.’” Senator Burke offered a small and very wry smile. “I do not ordinarily trade on my office for personal consideration, gentlemen – but I must admit that if Captain O’Neill’s aged mother, a sister or an affianced other than my Rebecca had come and begged me to do what I could … I fear that I would be making the same request of you that I am making now. Find Captain O’Neill. General Harrell is among my oldest friends; he was in a position to facilitate this meeting and sponsor my request of you.”
“Understood,” Jack Hays nodded. “But I still wonder, gentlemen – since he wasn’t our concern when he was – er, misplaced somewhere in the new western territories, why should you come to us, ask my fellows for their assistance? I might have thought this was the business of the US Army.”
“And so it would have been,” General Harrell replied warmly. “But it seems there is a potential complication, one which might prove embarrassing to … to whomever. And that is why outsiders such as your compatriots are involved. The matter is of the utmost delicacy.” He cast a significant look at Governor Wood.
“Jack – I’ll be in my own office,” Governor Wood nodded. “If you wish to speak with me when the gentlemen are finished briefing you on this particular … engagement.” The Governor absented himself from the dusty office with efficient dispatch, although Jim wondered why – if this was such a matter of delicacy, why Sergeant Grayson and the unnamed young officer remained, hovering at the door as if they were hounds bidden to stay, yet uncertain of their welcome within the circle. Jack claimed the last chair, and eyed General Harrell and Senator Burke as they resumed their seats.
“So – how exactly did you come to lose track of your heroic young captain? You may speak freely, as Captain Reade and Mr. Shaw will be the Texas men of my department dispatched on this errand. And what is the exact nature of this delicate matter?”
“Sergeant Grayson is the one most able to answer that question,” General Harrell replied, “As he was part of Captain O’Neill’s exploration party, and the senior NCO remaining. Sergeant – would you explain the situation?”
“Gladly, sah!” Sergeant Grayson stepped forward, assuming an attitude of formal parade-rest before the half-circle of chairs, and fixing his eyes on the farther wall – a thing which Jim found vaguely irritating. It was as if the man were performing in a pantomime. “We set out early in the spring of last year from Shreveport, our mission being to follow the old trail to Santa Fe, and then to strike northwesterly from there, to map the uncharted wastelands, and search out a certain river – a river of significant size, which was reported by Spanish explorers many years ago. It was the conviction of Captain O’Neill that this river, if navigable by craft of any size, might provide a most expeditious route to California… The great Colorado, they call it. Means “Red” so I am told.”
“Did you locate this river, then?” Jack cut into the flow of words. “And at what point was Captain O’Neill lost to your part?”
“Indeed we did, sah!” Sergeant Grayson answered warmly. “And the portion of it which we explored – so sublime a sight as may hardly be imagined! Grooved deep into the earth, attended by mighty rock towers and cliffs striped in red, orange, gold – the colors of flame, in the sunlight of a dying day. I have seen many splendors on this earth, gentleman, but that grand river, cradled in its mighty red canyon …” he shook his head. “Captain O’Neill waxed even more poetic. He was like a boy in a toy-shop, sah, marveling at everything. Nothing would content him than to essay a venture down to the water-edge with a corporal and two private soldiers of our party, leaving me in charge of the remainder. They carried a patent collapsible boat with them, intending to venture a little way down the river. We were to be collecting geological and botanical specimens, y’see, while we waited on Captain O’Neill’s return in a fortnight.”
“That was perilous, to so split your party in that fashion,” Jack remarked, with veiled disapproval. “Especially when you are uncertain of the friendliness of the local Indian folk.”
“Not so,” Sergeant Grayson demurred. “The natives were of a nature inclined to be friendly; farming folk in the main. They make fine baskets and pottery, grow crops of maize and orchard fruit as fine as any Christian. Although they would make bonny warriors if rightly provoked, they do not live for it, as do the Comanche, and export war wholesale.”
“Well, that’s some comfort,” General Harrell remarked, in some relief. “Hear that, young Joe? No chances of death or glory against the wild Comanche for you this journey! Just bring back your old playfellows’ dearest, and that should be sufficient reward.”
“I heard, sir,” the young officer answered, with easy familiarity. “I suppose Becky will weep all over me in that case – and I will be forgiven for teasing her so mercilessly when we were children.”
“It depends,” General Harrell smiled. “Colonel Hays – my son, Lieutenant Harrell. He is newly-graduated, and will be a part of your expedition at his insistence. Captain O’Neill was an upper-classman, and much reverenced among the junior cadets. His orders, and those for Sergeant Grayson are all cut and approved. I hope that you will forgive my presumption,” he added, looking searchingly at Jack, Jim and Toby. “But for reasons of security, I prefer to involve only family and those connections of proven discretion, in addition to your people, Colonel Hays. There is one other, who will be a part of this expedition, although he is not privy to the entire story … continue, Sergeant.”
“Thank you, sah!” Sergeant Grayson fixed his gaze on the opposite wall. Jim was quite certain this was not for any intrinsic beauty of the wall itself, as it was an uninspiring collection of rough shelves, and a tattered map of Texas tacked to that part not covered with shelves and stacked with ledgers. Jim murmured an aside to his blood-brother, “So we are getting to the part about how they were able to lose their hero – and how that came to be a potential embarrassment to the Federal Army.”
“We waited for seventeen days,” Sergeant Grayson continued, still staring at the wall. “I was disinclined, sah, to split our party even further, in sending out a small detachment to search for Captain O’Neill. He was a man of his word; if he said he would return in a fortnight, then he would return in a fortnight. If he did not, he said that I should use my best judgement in that eventuality. The Captain reposed a great deal of trust in me,” Sergeant Grayson added with a touch of modest pride. “Since I have soldiered, man and boy for more than thirty years and under three flags, counting this one.”
“Likely you have forgotten more of the trade than many have ever learned,” General Harrell agreed. “As a Living Rule of the art of soldiering. I cannot say that such trust was misplaced.”
“Thank you, sah,” Sergeant Grayson unbent sufficiently to look directly at his small audience, and Jack cleared his throat. “And on the seventeenth day,” he asked, quietly.
Sergeant Grayson’s gaze snapped back to the wall. “On the seventeenth day, Corporal Mayhew staggered into our camp in a most piteous condition. The corporal was one of the party accompanying the Captain. He was nearly dead from exposure, hunger, and thirst, besides having half his ribs stove in. But he was able to tell us of what happened; on the eighth day of their explorations of the river, the boat was taken by a sudden swift current, and smashed on the rocks. Private MacLean and Private Josephson drowned in deep water, their bodies carried away in the current. Captain O’Neill’s leg was broken, most painfully, and he had an almighty crack to the skull. He could not walk, and was unconscious for some time. Mayhew was hurt only a little less severely, but he managed to pull Captain O’Neill to safety, in a little cove sheltered by a cliff overhang. He left the Captain comfortably settled in that shelter, with a water-bottle, and what he could retrieve of the supplies. He gathered wood, built a small fire, administered what doctoring he could render and went to fetch aid from our main camp. He was four or five days at that … venturing back along the riverbank, and climbing back up along the path they had followed going down. He was …” Sergeant Grayson’s harsh voice roughened. “In no very good condition, sah. He was crawling on hands and knees at the last, and only lived a day or so – just long enough to tell us of what had happened.”
“A brave young man,” Senator Burke remarked, much moved, although he must have heard the story at least once before. “And a credit to the uniform, and to his commander.”
“No, sah, in a spirit of honesty, I would beg to disagree,” Sergeant Grayson continued his rigid examination of the wall. “He was addicted to strong drink and consorting w’ women of the disreputable class. I did not think he was of the stuff that the best are made of – but he did well enough, for all o’ that, and died doing his duty.”
“Nothing in his life became him so much as his manner of leaving it, eh?” Senator Burke commented, and Sergeant Grayson appeared even grimmer than before.
“Aye so. Well, he was thorough enough – poor lad – when it came to marking his trail. We followed it easily, but upon finding the cove and cave where Captain O’Neill had been – there was nothing save the ashes of a dead fire – and a few scraps of the rubberized canvas from the remains of the boat. That was how we were certain of the place, sah; the bits of the boat, y’see. The Captain was gone. “We searched the nearby riverbanks as carefully as we could on foot, having lost use of the boat.” Sergeant Grayson’s eyes returned to the tattered map on the wall opposite. “And found no other trace of the Captain, although we found and buried Private Josephson alongside Corporal Mayhew. Having done so, we made all speed to return east and file reports, along with the maps and samples, and considered the expedition completed.”
“Ah, then – that is how they lost him,” Jim murmured to his blood-brother, as they watched this with interest. “In a delirium, fallen into the river, and carried away. No doubt of it.”
“But I do not understand the requirement for secrecy,” Jack cleared his throat. “Sad enough to lose a man in that manner – injured and alone in the wilderness, and of course his loved ones would grieve his loss, but I simply do not see this as a matter of …”
“There’s more to this,” General Harrell held up a hand. “Thank you, Sergeant – I’ll carry on from here. You will see the need for discretion when I am finished. The following spring, there was a small story in the weekly St. Louis Register which excited much comment; a tale by a pair of Mormon missionaries searching for converts among the heathen – a tale of a white man living among a tribe settled along the river … which from our calculations was not far from where Captain O’Neill and his party came to grief. It struck me as a curious coincidence and I made further inquiries. The original story was printed in the California Star – the proprietor is a Mormon, you see, and would know of such incidents involving his coreligionists. Two weeks ago, a messenger returned from California with urgent dispatches – and a fuller accounting of the missionaries visit to the Havasuopii village, including a physical description of the white man. He was tall, with sandy-colored hair, and walked with a bad limp.”
“There must be any number of white renegades and mountain men – even captives taken as children,” Jack pointed out. Jim nodded; he knew of at least a dozen such – captured as children raised as Indians, and adopted into their tribe. “What of your missing Private McLean? He was reported drowned as well – but perhaps…”
“McLean was a dark Scot, near as dark as an Indian himself,” Sergeant Grayson interjected. “And no’ what you would call tall. But I take your point, Colonel, sah – about renegades and such. But the description of this man also made note of a peculiar scar on his forehead. The Captain had such a scar, gotten in the fighting at Monterrey.”
“You see, Colonel,” General Harrell sighed heavily. “It very well might be O’Neill. And if it is – it means that an officer of this Army has deserted his duties, his loved ones – his very life among civilized people. The embarrassment to the Army, to our government, after having proclaimed him a hero, honored and decorated will be enormous, if word got out. Tt may be also that he was deprived of his memory through that blow to the head, in which case he must be returned to us, that he might be restored to family and career. In either case, we simply must resolve this matter and mystery, and do so without causing an embarrassing scandal. I know that you and your people can be trusted to be discrete; such discretion is not only the better part of valor, it is also the better part of diplomacy. Only those of us within this room know the full import of this mission.”
There was silence in the musty office for a long moment, while motes of dust danced in the slanted sunlight coming through the glazed window. Finally, Jack spoke.
“You fellows have taken in all that? Good.” He fixed General Harrell and the Senator with his sternest gaze. “Jim Reade and Toby Shaw are two of the best I have – you just say the word, and when you want them to leave.”
“Excellent, Colonel!” General Harrell beamed. “Then in two weeks, from Camp Verde – where the fifth of this venture will join you. Ned Beale – he’s a Navy man, but knows the west about as well as any of us landlubbers. There will be your lads, my son and Sergeant Grayson – only you four know the real purpose of this mission!”
“Pardon me for inquiring,” Jim spoke in his normal voice for almost the first time in this interview. “But – why Camp Verde? We can just as well depart from here. I have my own trash and traps, Mr. Shaw has his; we are in expectation of heading off into whichever direction Colonel Jack sends us on a moment’s notice.”
“Because that is where you will collect up the camels!” General Harrell replied, with a mighty laugh at the expression which had descended on all their faces – Sergeant Grayson’s excepted. Jim could only think that he had become well-accustomed to insane requirements while in service to his variable flags.

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