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(And I promise that I will finish this one!)

Into the Wilds

“I came as soon as I received your message,” Toby Shaw arrived at the Bullock House in Austin where Jack Hays and Jim Reade had taken rooms while they awaited the arrival of Jim’s trusted fellow ‘stiletto man’ on before the meeting with Governor Wood. The stage from Fort Belknap delivered Toby promptly on the third day after their arrival; Toby resplendent in a well-cut suit, fashionable cravat, and white shirt – his long braids the only jarring note in his otherwise conventional appearance. “What is so important regarding this task that we are both bidden to Austin?”

“I have no idea,” Jim answered. “Colonel Hays has been remarkably close-mouthed on that score … as always.”

“Part of my ingratiating personal charm,” Jack replied, with a hearty handshake. “Sit down, sit down … and I have no notion of the purpose myself. I know – difficult to credit. But I’ve been away for months, and had a war with Mexico to win, so I’ve lost touch with the day to day of things. I’ve organized a private supper, so that we can catch up – and not set gossiping tongues to wagging. Since it is the Governor himself driving this … I can only speculate that it is something to do with the United States.”

“Of which we are now one, since Annexation,” Jim pointed out. “And with the US Army to see to our security – what purpose do we have now? Toby and I, and your handful of other stiletto fellows?”

“Oh, there are purposes,” Jack replied. “One or two, still left to us as Rangers. I believe that the governor will be prompt in relieving all our curiosity tomorrow morning. We are bidden to a private conference at nine of the clock at the capitol building, and not to breath a word to anyone of this. It appears to be an extremely sensitive matter.”

“Aren’t all of them?” Jim raised an eyebrow. Jack laughed, and then his expression turned melancholy.

“Most of them, I think. I fear that the feats performed by my stiletto-men Rangers will never be made public; only recorded in certain dusty archives and locked in a sturdy iron safe for all eternity.”

“Well, we didn’t get into it for the glory, did we, Toby?” Jim shrugged philosophically. “We did it for … because it was in the cause of justice.” His blood-brother laughed, replying, “Justice, in the way of your courts, James-Reade-Esquire? We perform our tasks because it is right to do. If the Great Spirit alone knows – why then, what does it matter to us?”

“Well-said, boys,” Jack regarded the two with approval, and Jim thought that he looked … well, wearier and older. The brief sharp war with Mexico had aged their commander. A fair number of his old Ranger comrades had fallen in that field; Addison Gillespie and Sam Walker dead on campaign, and one of his oldest Ranger associates sidelined by wounds and walking away when his final enlistment was done. But it was as if Jack intuited that thought of Jim’s – for he smiled immediately, and exclaimed,

“I know the cooking at Bullock’s isn’t a patch on the market ladies in Bexar with their pots of good red stew – but I have an appetite tonight! Shall we swap stretchers about what we all have been up to since the last time we met?”

“I thought you would never ask,” Jim answered – and so the evening passed agreeably enough, especially since Jack produced a bottle of good bourbon whiskey – “From Kentucky, a gift from a good friend!” Jack insisted, although Jim had suspicions, since the bottle was absent any label. And Toby foreswore any of it, unless well-diluted with water, saying only that although he was not of the temperance persuasion, and not adverse entirely towards a jolly evening with old friends, he did not care to partake of liquor at full-strength.

 

In the morning, Jack, Toby and Jim strolled the short way up Congress Street to the frame capitol building which edifice crowned the top of the hill – a commanding height in Austin, which had been built in a fair and parklike meadow, dotted by copses of noble oak and cypress trees, and threaded through with creeks of clear water. Now the heights to north and south of the great silver sweep of the Colorado River looked down upon a city invigorated by the peace which followed on the successful prosecution of a war, and the consummation of a marriage between an independent Texas and the United States; a marriage which canny old General Sam Houston had labored to arrange for ten long and bitter years. Still, Jim slightly regretted the surrender of a state of independency. It meant that the Rangers were no longer needed; now the US Army, dressed in their fine blue coats and commanded by gold-braid-hung officers would be responsible for the frontier … and for those matters of security which had been Jack’s particular responsibility. Perhaps his term as one of Jack’s stiletto-men was also at an end, a matter about which he was in two minds. His father was old – still vigorous in the practice of law, and their joint practice in Galveston gave every sign of being lively and prosperous, could Jim only pay considerable more of his time and energies to it.

If Toby felt something of the same regrets, he gave no sign of it, as they crossed the porch of that white-washed frame building which served as the capital, and stood in the entryway. The door stood halfway open to a hallway. They were a few minutes early, by Jim’s stout hunter watch. Without hesitation, Jack thumped on the door panel with his fists, and called,

“Say, anyone at home? I’m Colonel Hays, and we have an appointment with Governor Wood.”

“At least I didn’t have my heart seat on a grand reception,” Jim remarked, and Toby – standing at several paces behind, peered over Jack’s shoulder, saying, “Maybe we should ask that soldier?”

Hearing those words, a stocky, grizzled man in US Army blue sprang from a seat at the foot of the stairs, straightening into something resembling attention, and rendering a crisp salute. His sleeves bore a satisfactory number of stripes, testifying to the utter solidity of the man and his value to the federal Army.

“Colonel Hays, sah! I was told to expect you at any moment.  The gentlemen are waiting upstairs. If you and your good gentlemen would be so kind as to follow after me. The General is a man who esteems punctuality.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Jack returned the salute with a nod, never having been much of one for military protocol and the practice thereof. “Have you any notion of what this is about, Sergeant …”

“Grayson, sah – and I do, but I have been given the strictest of orders, straight from the General, which the Senator hisself approved in the next breath.”

“I expect that it is a matter of national importance then?” Jim ventured, as they climbed the stairs, and Sergeant Grayson looked over his shoulder at them. Jim wondered why the man seemed so … familiar, and in a way that suggested a previous encounter had not been a pleasant one.

“In a manner o’ speaking. But if you ken the matter properly – there is a touch o’ the personal as well. And to more than just to the Senator. But,” Sergeant Grayson recovered his sense of discretion, a sense which warred against the propensity of non-coms to pass along interesting gossip and suppositions. “I should say no more, properly. But it is personal to me as well. Captain O’Neill was … well, he was one of the good ones.” Ah – English; Jim made a note to himself, and a reminder to conceal at all costs his instinctive dislike of the man. Grayson was an Englishman; in appearance and manner very like that English agent who had been involved in the matter of the old Casa Wilkinson … and more balefully, in the lost San Saba Treasure.

“Captain O’Neill?” Toby looked across at Jim, as they followed Jack and Sergeant Grayson up the stairs at a discreet distance. “What of this – and what to do with us, James Reade Esquire?”

“I can’t be certain,” Jim whispered back. “But if he means Captain Brendan O’Neill – and I am thinking that he must – the Captain was one of the rising bright stars in the Army, if the newspapers have it right. A favored child of fortune, as my father would put it. A graduate of West Point, although his background was hardly favorable, being the child of poor Irish immigrants. He was taken prisoner briefly in fighting in Monterray, but made a daring escape to our lines on the city outskirts. Feted all around Washington and promoted for his trouble. Then he was given command of an expedition into the western territories, even before they were turned over as part of the peace settlement.”

“Ah then,” Toby whispered, as Sergeant Grayson approached a door at the head of the stairs. “He was favored by the great chiefs to lead a war party.”

“Not a war party,” Jim corrected him. “Rather a party of exploration – to make maps of land features, find natural roads, and make friends with the Indian tribes, in the expectation of making allies among them.”

“A far-thinking notion,” Toby nodded. “Most uncharacteristic of what I have seen so far of the Yengies. What has this matter to do with us?”

“Likely because he never came back from it,” was all that Jim could say before Sergeant Grayson rapped briefly on the closed door at the top of the stairs. At a word from inside, Sergeant Grayson opened the door and announced in a stentorian voice reminiscent of a parade ground, “Colonel Hays, with…”

“Captain Reade and Mr. Shaw,” Jack stepped through the door, while Jim winced. Yes, a captaincy was a nice thing to have, but it was more for a show of authority – a courtesy title, rather than an actual rank. On the other hand, he reflected as he followed Jack and regarded the four men within, it was a small but significant thing, in their eyes.

14. May 2017 · Comments Off on Elsie the Cow and the Alamo · Categories: Domestic, Old West

Elsie the Contented Cow was created in 1936 first as a cartoon corporate logo for the Borden food products line; a little brown Jersey cow with a daisy-chain necklace and a charming anthropomorphic smile. Three years later, a live cow was purchased from a dairy farm in Connecticut to demonstrate (along with several other likely heifers) the Borden Dairy Company-invented rotary milking parlor – the dairy barn of the future! in the Borden exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair. The live Elsie, originally named You’ll Do Lobelia (no, I did not make up this bit) came about because an overwhelming number of visitors to the exhibit kept asking which of the demo-cows was Elsie. Of the cows in the show, You’ll Do Lobelia was, the keeper and administrator of the dairy barn agreed – the most charming and personable of the demonstration cows, especially for a generation of Americans who had moved on from a life of rural agriculture and likely never laid eyes on a real, live cow. So, Lobelia/Elsie was drafted into service for commercial interest (much as young American males were being drafted at about the same time for military service). Elsie, her assorted offspring, spouse (Elmer the Bull – the corporate face of Elmer’s Glue) and her successors continued as the public face, as it were – for the Borden Dairy Company, appearing in a movie, even – and the Macy’s department store window, where she gave birth to one of her calves. Her countenance adorns the labels of Eagle Brand condensed milk to this day.

But what – one might reasonably ask – has Elsie the Cow have to do with the Alamo?

There were cows in the Alamo – or at least, at the start of the 1836 siege. William Travis’ open letter from the Alamo, written as Santa Anna’s army invested the hastily-fortified old mission on the outskirts of San Antonio, included a hasty scribbled post-script. “The Lord is on our side—When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn—We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.” A facsimile of the letter – a plea for immediate assistance – was printed at once, and published by the two major Texas newspapers of the time: the Texas Republican, and the Telegraph and Texas Register.
The Telegraph and Texas Register was owned by a partnership; a long-time settler in San Felipe de Austin named Joseph Baker, and a pair of brothers, originally from New York – John Petit Borden and Gail Borden, who served as editor, although his previous profession had been as surveyor and schoolteacher. Baker and the Bordens published their first issue almost the minute that revolution broke out in Texas, with the “Come and Take It” fight at Gonzales in late autumn, and subsequent issues of the Register covered the various issues and controversies in the mad scramble that was the Texas Revolution. And scramble meant literally – for by early spring, the Telegraph was the only functioning newspaper in Texas. John Borden left to join the fledgling Texas Army, and a third brother, Thomas, took his place in the partnership. On March 30th, the Borden brothers and their partner disassembled their press and evacuated San Felipe with the Texian rear guard, a short distance ahead of the advancing Mexican Army. They set up the press in Harrisburg two weeks later, and just as they were about to go to press with new issue – the Mexican Army caught up to them. The soldiers threw the press and type into the nearest bayou and arrested the publishers. Fortunately, the Bordens did not remain long in durance vile, for in another week, Sam Houston’s rag-tag army finally prevailed.

Gail Borden was still raring to go in the newspaper business, and mortgaged his Texas lands to buy a replacement press. The Telegraph resumed publication in late 1836, first in Columbia, and then in Houston – but on a shoe-string. The Borden brothers had sold their interest in the newspaper by the following year, and Gail Borden moved into politics, serving as Collector of Customs at Galveston, and from there into real estate, before developing an interest in – of all things, food preservation. His first essay was a sort of long-lasting dehydrated beef product, called a “meat biscuit”. The product won a prize at the 1851 London World’s Fair, and proved to be popular with travelers heading to California for the Gold Rush, and with Arctic explorers – but the US Army – which Borden had been counting on for a contract to supply meat biscuits – was not enthused, which left Gail Borden casting around for another likely product. There was a great concern at the time with the contamination of milk, especially in cities, especially since diseased cows could pass on a fatal ailment in their milk.
It took Gail Borden three years of experimenting, developing a vacuum process to condense fresh milk so that it could be canned and preserved. After a couple of rocky years, Gail Borden met by chance with an angel investor, who saw the utility of Borden’s process, and had the funds to back an enterprise called The New York Condensed Milk Company. Although Borden developed processes to condense fruit juices and other food products, milk was and continued to be their best-seller, especially when the Civil War broke out, and demand for the product rocketed into the stratosphere. By the time that he died, in 1874 – back in Texas and in a town named Borden, after him – no one could deny that he had not been wildly successful as an inventor and innovator.
In 1899, the New York Condensed Milk Company formally changed its name to the Borden Condensed Milk Company, to honor their founder. (There have been a number of rejiggering of company names since – currently the Elsie logo appears on the Eagle brand of condensed milk, through corporate machinations too convoluted to explain here, if anyone even would be interested.)
And that, people, is how Elsie the Contented Cow is connected to the Alamo.

24. December 2016 · Comments Off on A Christmas Eve Story: Father Christmas and the Provost · Categories: Old West, Random Book and Media Musings

(This is a short-story version of an episode in Adelsverein: The Sowing, which I reworked as a free-standing Christmas story a good few years ago, for a collection of short stories. The scene; the Texas Hill country during the Civil War – a war in which many residents of the Hill Country were reluctant to participate, as they had abolitionist leanings, had not supported secession … and had quite enough to do with defending themselves against raiding Indians anyway.)

It was Vati’s idea to have a splendid Christmas Eve and he broached it to his family in November. Christian Friedrich Steinmetz to everyone else but always Vati to his family; once the clockmaker of Ulm in Bavaria, Vati had come to Texas with the Verein nearly twenty years before with his sons and his three daughters. “For the children, of course,” he said, polishing his glasses and looking most particularly like an earnest and kindly gnome, “This year past has been so dreadful, such tragedies all around – but it is within our capabilities to give them a single good memory of 1862! I shall arrange for Father Christmas to make a visit, and we shall have as fine a feast as we ever did, back in Germany. Can we not do this, my dears?”
“How splendid, Vati! Oh, we shall, we shall!” his youngest daughter Rosalie kissed her father’s cheek with her usual degree of happy exuberance, “With the house full of children – even the babies will have a wonderful memory, I am sure!” Her older sisters, Magda and Liesel exchanged fond but exasperated glances; dear, vague well-meaning Vati!
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22. December 2016 · Comments Off on The Golden Road – Holiday Offer! · Categories: Book Event, Old West

Because we did not get the box of print copies of The Golden Road until the very last market day, I have now have an unsold stock of them. So – I am offe9780989782289-Perfect.inddring those copies for a holiday special:
A copy of The Golden Road, at the special price that I would have had at the recent Christmas markets, with personal message and autograph, mailed to your address as soon as the holidays allow. Sample chapter at the link –

Payable through Paypal, and sent at media rate with tracking number through the US Post Office.

 


The Golden Road



$13.00 + $3.00 S/H

28. September 2016 · Comments Off on Just for Fun – A Musical Interlude · Categories: Old West

Behold – the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain in Concert!

28. September 2016 · Comments Off on A Fine Finish · Categories: Book Event, Old West, Random Book and Media Musings

Well, hallelujah and hurrah, I finally finished out the final draft of The Golden Road which was conceptualized something like five years ago when I mentally mapped out another trilogy-companion set to the Adelsverein Trilogy. Yes, there would be a book about Margaret Becker Vining Williamson, which would slot into the sequence as a prelude to the trilogy – and that took two books to bring to completion. (She was a fascinating character, who saw a lot of Texas history either happen right before her eyes, or just around the corner and out of sight.) There would be a book following on to the Trilogy – the Quivera Trail, which would pick up with Dolph Becker’s English wife and her travails in a new and alien country. And – in between the first and second Adelsverein volumes, there would be the Gold Rush adventures of Magda Vogel Becker’s young step-brother, Fredi Steinmetz. Fredi appeared as a minor character with some brief dramatic turns in the plot. He had gone to California following the rush for gold … but was never forthcoming about what he had done and seen there, between the settling of Gillespie County and the start of the Civil War. I always wanted to write a Gold Rush adventure somewhat like The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters, or so I told myself … but it kept being put on the back burner, metaphorically-speaking. I bashed out the two books about Margaret, and then Quivera Trail … for a good bit, I was actually writing them simultaneously. When I got bored or stuck, I’d work on the other. Which is a good method, as long as one is equally motivated. And then I wandered off-track.

First it was Lone Star Sons, then I got taken up with Sunset and Steel Rails – in which Fredi appeared as an older man, a hard-bitten, yet courtly romantic interest for a heroine who chose (through a series of dramatic circumstances) to be a Harvey Girl – and then by the ongoing Luna City Chronicles. Really, I wonder just how much I did want to write a Gold Rush adventure after all, since it kept getting back-burnered so frequently. I posted the first chapter in January, 2014 – but two years in the writing is about par for me, in a historical. So – actually not all that bad in the actual writing and research. So – finally roughed out, start to finish, send to the beta readers, and now to buckle down again with the various contemporary accounts collected. Lot of blanks to fill in – where, for example, was Mary Ellen Pleasant’s boarding house/restaurant in 1856-57? What were the names of express companies in operation in the northern diggings in that same year? How far degraded had the riverbank of the middle fork of the Yuba River become by that same period? Had that vicinity pretty well been overtaken by hydraulic mining – in which whole hillsides were washed away by huge gets of water. And how – exactly were daily newspapers distributed in San Francisco. I am certain that subscribers must have had theirs delivered, and equally certain that they were also sold on the streets … anyway, back to work.

The fall book event schedule carries on this Saturday with the Boerne Book Festival in Boerne, at the Patrick Heath Library, a little off Main Street at Johns Road, just past Main Plaza Park. I’ll be set up in the park and amphitheater by the side of the library – hope to see you there! When the market schedule lets up, after Christmas, I will turn to working on two more book projects – another Lone Star Sons adventure, and the 4th Luna City Chronicle for release in late 2017.

25. July 2016 · 1 comment · Categories: Old West

This is absolutely awesome – this particular find, since it falls just within the scope of the current WIP. A whole Mississippi/Missouri-era steamship, with a cargo of goods intended for frontier settlements, sunk in the mid-1850s with cargo entire, There are so many artifacts retrieved, that they have to display them in an old department store, and take advice from retail…

Behold – the Steamship Arabia! (or a reasonable facsimile thereof.)

Steamship Arabia

18. April 2016 · Comments Off on A Further Chapter: The Golden Road · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

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

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

(So, I have been able to pick up the story of Fredi Steinmetz, adventuring in Gold-Rush era California, having finished some other projects and the second Chronicle of Luna City. He and his eccentric and slightly mysterious friend O’Malley have spent an eventful two months in San Francisco, waiting for winter to end in the diggings, working at odd jobs, encountering interesting people, and making friends – among them, an apparent orphan boy of about 14, Edwin Barnett … whose history might just be the equal of O’Malley’s for mystery and intrigue. But Edwin knows of a potentially rich dig in the lower Sierras … and so he becomes a third partner …) 

Chapter 12 – To the Mines

The wagon packed high with supplies, a canvas tent and bedrolls, as well as a contraption that Edwin said was a ‘cradle’,  O’Malley and Fredi finally departed from San Francisco on a foggy morning early in May. They took deck passage on a relatively comfort-less and therefore cheap freight steamboat bound to Sacramento and beyond as far as Yuba City for the wagon, mules, and themselves. With some difficulty they urged the mules over a wide gangplank laid between wharf and the blunt prow of the boat, drawing the wagon after, and found an open space between the neat piles of fuel cordwood and bales of goods bound for the mines, which were stacked on the main deck. Edwin Barnett with Nipper in his arms, clung to a high perch on top of the cargo, as the side-wheel steamer threshed out into the bay, heading north towards Vallejo and the old territorial capital at Benicia, and from there into the tangled delta of the American River. It was estimated they would be a week or so at this – a considerable savings in time over driving the wagon all the way. The patchwork heights of San Francisco and the forests of ships’ masts in harbor vanished very soon in a billow of fog. Within a short way, every surface was wetted with condensation, collecting in beads of moisture. The slight vibration of the mighty steam turbine below deck shook rivulets of water from every slanting surface. It felt to Fredi like the beating of a mighty heart. O’Malley, the boys and the dog huddled in blankets, under the dripping wagon cover, and the mules stood miserable with their noses together.
“This is the first time I have ever been on a steam ship,” Fredi’s excitement at this new experience overcame the misery of passage across the open bay.
“I’m glad to be away from there, Fredi-boyo,” O’Malley confessed. “Between the crimps kidnapping men off the street, an’ murdering swine like that devil Cora, not to mention the fires and the constant pestilential weather … I dinna care to stay a moment longer. There’s a feeling in the city like a storm about to break – a dangerous mood, when honest, well-intentioned men are becoming fed to the back-teeth with corruption and vice. There’s murder in the air, an’ I want none of it.”
“Mr. King was always carrying a revolver, there were so many threats against him for what he printed in the Bulletin,” Fredi nodded in agreement. He had been half-appalled, yet tantalized by the chaotic, haphazard life of a large city, the like of which he had never experienced before. The seamy, vice-ridden waterfront district, the haphazard tents and shanties climbing up the sandy slopes of Russian Hill, muddy streets, magnificent gambling halls and theaters, jousting uncomfortably with the respectability of churches and luxurious mansions, all hung over with the smoldering threat of violence … and fire. Sober Yankee businessmen, elbow to elbow with edgy chivalric gentlemen from the South, Chileans and Chinamen, Kanakas from the Islands of Hawaii, sailors from every nation, swaggering thugs, straight off the latest ship from the Australian prison colonies – and madmen in plenty, most of them mad for gold. Nothing in Fredi’s previous life had ever prepared him for this, not the cattle trail from Texas, or the staid and orderly streets of Fredericksburg, back in Gillespie County.
“It’s not like there is any more law in the diggings,” Edwin now said, morosely. “There are brigands and bandits and claim-jumpers a’plenty.”
“For certain there are,” O’Malley said, agreeably. “But they are few and go against the company of righteous men – they have not suborned the law to feather well their own nests. So, tell us, now – there are rich diggings in the hills between … which river is it?”
“Between the middle and north forks of the Yuba River,” Edwin nodded, rubbing the end of his nose with the back of his sleeve. “They called it Coarse Gold Hill, sometimes Pine Tree Diggings … it’s far enough up into the mountains beyond Camptonville, to where the snow closes down the diggings in late fall.”
“And you know of rich diggings because …” O’Malley hinted broadly and Edwin replied, “I had kinfolk with a claim there. A rich one … which still ought to be mine, by right. But it has been left for months …” and Edwin’s pale, peaked face was adult in its adamantine determination. “But I know where the best and most promising part of the diggings lie – and if we are the first to reclaim and stake our own claim … this will be worth the journey. I promise you fellows …” Edwin blushed, boy-like, and embraced Nipper even closer, as if for security, and Nipper, who above all else hated cold and wet with an uncharacteristic passion for a dog, licked the lad’s cheek, and burrowed deeper into the shelter of the blanket wrapped around them both. Edwin continued, “You are both stout fellows and have been good friends to me, so a third each of the gold in this claim; that would be fair, would it not? And we are good friends, aren’t we … three in fortune and friendship, like the royal musketeers in that French novel of M. Dumas … All for one and one for all?”
“We are indade, boyo,” O’Malley answered, comfortably, “Although Fredi-lad and I have been true companions these many months … to admit another to our fellowship – especially a trusty fellow with knowledge of the mines – is a most providential occurrence. You have a skill, complimentary to mine and Fredi’s. So you see, we shall get on very well, I believe. Even more when we get out from this pestilential fog. My oath upon it, lads – there is nothing to equal this fog and misery, not even in old Eire…” More »

This was on the grounds of the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture – which as it turns out – is a little bit off the road from where we go once a month for the local Tractor Supply outlet; a lovely meadow dotted with oak trees, patches of wildflowers, and old houses, moved onto the property to be an indoor-outdoor museum.

10. December 2015 · Comments Off on Another Toby and Jim Story! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West, Uncategorized

(All righty then — the beginning of the second set of Lone Star Sons stories! Attend, then – for here I will post another set of adventures over the next few months as the Tiny Publishing Bidness and the other WIP allow…)

Murder Being Once Done

“Something eating at you, hoss – since you got that letter from Galveston?” Jack asked, on a bitter-cold winter evening. Out in the Plaza at the heart of old Bexar, the ice-chilled north winds had swept those tables set up by the most enterprising of the red-pepper stew vendors clear of hungry diners, and all but the most desperate of them had gone home. Every citizen of that town who had a hearth to call their own – no matter how plain, tiny or humble, had retreated to the warmth of a good fire of sweet-smelling mesquite logs. Between missions, as assigned by their captain, Jim and Toby roomed in the small adobe house at the edge of the plaza, near the squat stone tower of San Fernando – the tallest building in town – and stabled their horses in the ramshackle building behind it. Jack, sometime commander of Texas Rangers was not an exception to the general rule on this winter evening. Jim Reade and his blood-brother, Toby Shaw of the Delaware people, shared his dislike of the cold on this evening; between them, they had spent all too many cold nights, shivering and shelter-less on various journeys and campaigns.

“Only puzzlement,” Jim replied, closing the volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries which lay open on his knee. The fire burning on the tiny plastered hearth and the tin candle-sconce between them barely put out sufficient light for him to make sense of the tiny print. “The letter is from my father … he has been asked by an acquaintance in Galveston for advice on a deeply personal matter, and he in turn has asked my advice – having none other to confide in, other than my dear mother. She is interested as the matter concerns the death of a woman, a woman that she knew – but not well, since the woman in question was much younger and resident in Galveston only for a year or so. It is not a matter of interest for the Rangers, or the State,” he added hastily, seeing Jack begin to frown. “A matter of law and conscience … and doubts.”

“There are always doubts, my Brother, when it concerns a matter of concern to women,” Toby added, from where he sat on the shabby hearth-rug, cross-legged in Indian fashion, leaning against the side of the box which held more wood for the hearth. “And what does this woman herself say of the matter?”

“Nothing much, since she is dead and laid in her grave this last half-year,” Jim replied. “The matter – as my father outlined it to me – is that her widower wishes to marry again, having settled upon a likely candidate for matrimony. The young lady so honored is not yet completely invested in the prospect of matrimony – at least, not with the man who has asked for her hand. Her guardians are even less eager to see their ward hand-fasted to him … hence their consultation with my father.”

“So, what is the problem, precisely?” Jack puffed on his pipe in a desultory manner, and laying it aside, looked into the fire; small orange and gold flames, dancing along the logs, bright spurts appearing as brilliant sparks.

“Certain remarks made to their ward by the man who courts her have cast considerable doubt on his fitness as a husband in their minds,” Jim replied, and frowned. He had spent some hours considering his father’s letter, teasing out from those brief words some sense of the puzzling reality hinted at, and from what he recalled of reports of a certain trial published in the Telegraph & Texas Register some months previous. It was not any surprise that Jack would have noticed his abstracted state of mind – Jack was like that. Not much got past him.

Now Jack drawled, “For the love of the almighty, Jim – don’t tell me that Johnathon Knightley is going courting again, after being acquitted from a charge of murdering his wife on the grounds of self-defense?”

“The very same,” Jim sighed. No curious event occurring the length and breadth of the Republic escaped Jack’s attention for very long. On those shreds of information made, Jack had divined the very essence of the matter. “It was a terrific to-do among the folk in Galveston,” he added for Toby’s benefit, as the latter looked extremely puzzled. “There was this man and his wife, who kept a tavern and let rooms to travelers – they were new-come to town, from … where was it?”

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