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Where Santa arrives, mounted on the back of a longhorn, and not in a silly sleigh pulled by wimpy reindeer…

Santa in Goliad, on the back of a suitably-embellished longhorn!

01. December 2017 · Comments Off on Holiday in Goliad – and Other Stuff! · Categories: Book Event, Luna City, Old West · Tags: ,

All righty, then – the sequel to Lone Star Sons, Lone Star Glory is now available for pre-release order as an ebook. It will be available in print by the middle of the month.

For the remainder of the month, Lone Star Sons is available as an ebook at a pittance – .99 cents, as is the ebook of The Chronicles of Luna City.  The print version of A Fifth of Luna City will be available around the end of next week, for those who prefer to go old-school with books. I probably won’t be able to have either of these books at any author events  I will do in the next week or so,

But in the mean time – tomorrow Santa arrives on a longhorn!

The arrival of Santa, with a spare mount. It’s a long way from the North Pole, you see.

 

To be available as an e-book by December 1, and in print in time for Christmas! Mark it on your calendar now!

07. August 2017 · Comments Off on A Lone Star Glory Adventure: Into the Wild Part 4 · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

(This is one of the adventures which may be included in the next Lone Star Sons volume. I am intending this to be released in time for Christmas. If the plot seems somewhat familiar, it is because I have lifted one element – the US Army going rogue and joining an Indian tribe –  from the book and movie Dances With Wolves. From a historical perspective, that seemed to be almost too late in history for that development to be entirely convincing. But an officer leading an exploring party in the Southwest some fifteen years earlier? That seemed to me to be much more workable, as a plot.)

 

Part 4 – Into the Wild

 

“Camels!” Ned Beale exclaimed in delight, when he showed Jim and Toby their means of transport at least as far as the fabled canyon of the Colorado in the vast New Mexico Territory. Beale was a little younger than Jim, a lively and gangly young Yankee with a high sloping forehead which merged into a magnificently beaky nose adorned at the lower margin with an equally magnificent and bushy mustache. His Navy rank on a strength report was a relatively lowly one – but his functioning level appeared to be much higher, due to friends in high places and to his recent daring exploits in crossing the continent several times on his own, armored with nothing but a spirit of his own recklessness. With a certain sinking of heart, Jim realized that here was another enthusiast with an insatiable appetite for adventure, for experiences and arcane knowledge. Not that there was anything amiss with such qualities, in moderation – but individuals possessing an excess of them were apt to go haring off in unexpected and usually dangerous tangents. “Ain’t they a marvel? And what better use for traversing the vast deserts than creatures ideally suited to it! They carry burdens which would buckle the knees of half a dozen mules, without complaint, go for days without food and water …”

“They look like a horse designed by a government committee, smell like Satan’s own privy, and frighten the daylights out of all the horses, mules and oxen around,” Jim replied, refusing to be moved by Ned’s enthusiasm.

“But you see, Jim – I may call you Jim, may I? And you should call me Ned, of course. They are perfectly designed by nature for the harsh climes of this new territory! What better use can we make of them… I am charged to explore the natural route to California from Texas and to see how the camels perform …Hey, Walid Ali – what do you think of their fitness for six months in crossing the southern deserts?”

“A desert – like any other, sire,” replied one of the beasts’ hired handlers, a wiry sun-burned man, who wouldn’t have appeared out of place in a Ranger company, save that his head was wrapped in a turban of fine green cloth. He spoke English fluently enough, although with a strange accent. The other handler looked off into the distance; he was an older man with a thick grey-streaked beard, who never spoke, but was usually to be found somewhere about the camel corral.

“Nonetheless, I am not riding on one of those critters,” Jim announced, flatly. “I’ll stick to the evil I know, rather than fly to that which I know nothing of.”

“You have no sense of adventure, Jim,” Ned laughed in delight. “I tell you, it’s a delightful experience – rather like rocking along in a row-boat on a mild swell … certain I cannot convince you to try it out? We’ll be away tomorrow at first light now that you are here and ready for traveling.” Ned hesitated, and then blurted, “I’m not really sure of why your fellows are detailed to join us. A Texas ranger, and a Delaware Indian, with a wet-behind-the-ears ensign and an old soldier like Owen; you must know that my fellows will be curious, having such an odd collection added on to our party at the last minute. We were supposed to test the camels, map out a good alternate road, and hurry along to California… you know, they have found gold there – and in amazing quantities, just this last autumn – and I know about secrecy and the security of missions and all that. I won’t ask your purpose in this, but the fellows will wonder. A word to the wise, Jim – have some convincing story to tell in answer to questions. For they will ask them, you know. Around the campfire of an evening.”

“Certainly,” Jim replied. “Should anyone ask of you – tell them that we are to recover certain records and items left in a cache on the banks of the Colorado, after the failure of the O’Neill expedition. The party was sent out at great expense, and following upon the disaster which cost the lives of so many – those records were left concealed for later recovery. Sergeant Owen is our guide in this, as he was one of that party, and Mr. Shaw serves as translator, should we encounter any of the local natives.”

Ned Beale nodded, comprehending. “Yes, that is a yarn which will convince. Although there will be embroideries upon it, trust me on that, Jim.”

Jim felt a sudden conviction that Ned was far cleverer and more diplomatic than he had let on. Best to change the subject, then. “Gold in California, you say? I had read of it, but thought it was only stories in the sensational press.”

“No,” Ned shook his head. “Tis all true about the gold. I brought the samples east myself, not three months ago. It is real and an amazingly rich find – so rich that every fortune-hunter in these States – and even farther afield – will be heading California-ward. No, strike that; Captain Reade, I am assured they will be heading to California even as we set out.”

“As long as they do not interfere with our mission,” Jim insisted, and Ned Beale laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Nor mine as well. I tell you, Jim – I do not hunger for riches, myself. Knowledge, experiences, the sight of new horizons… all that is worth more to me than any quantity of gold. Still, ‘tis curious. The Spanish came to this place, this new world, avid for gold. And found it, now and again in rich mines and taken from the native tribes in Mexico and Peru. But they never found it here, no matter how their conquistadores searched for the Seven Golden Cities, for Quivera, the greatest of them all. It is a curious coincidence that once their hold on these places in the northern continent was shattered … that a man building a humble saw-mill should find gold, gold in such quantities to beggar the imagination.”

“An irony, indeed.” Jim replied. Another thought occurred, as he and Ned watched the camels in their enclosure, walking to and fro with their particular swaying stride. “Ned, what do you think? What do you know of our Sergeant Owen? Is he a man to be trusted?”

“I honestly do not know,” Ned replied after a moment of considering silence. “I have heard nothing disparaging to his character. But he is an enlisted man, not an officer. Two worlds, Jim – to us of the profession of arms. I would trust him with my life and the lives of my men, based on his repute. But I do not know him, having never served with him, not as you have with Mr. Shaw.” He added, with a smile, “I do not know you, either, save that Colonel Hays, whose reputation as a commander of irregular soldiers is a byword – has vouched for you to the satisfaction of my own commander – and to my own.”

“Thank you, Ned,” Jim replied. “We’ll be ready in the morning. Mr. Shaw and I are accustomed to travel light and fast – although I cannot speak for our Army contingent.”

“They’d better be ready as well,” Ned chuckled. “Or they will be playing catch-up all the day.”

“We’ll be ready,” Jim said, and strolled away to the ramshackle and rambling quarters – a crude-built dog-trot cabin of logs, from which most of the chinking had already fallen, which the commander at Camp Verde felt to be all the hospitality necessary for visitors, important or not. Toby was already sitting outside of it, cross-legged in Indian fashion, contemplating the fading sunset, a blaze of red, purple and gold on the western horizon.

“We’re away in the morning,” Jim said, softly. There was a rough bench sitting on the bit of turf outside the cabin. He sank into it. He and Lt. Barnes were bunked for the night in one part of the cabin, Sergeant Owen and Toby in the other – although Toby, as was his usual habit, had taken his bedroll and spread it out underneath a generously sheltering oak nearby.

“We’re away at sunrise,” Jim told him, “Camels and all,” and Toby nodded.

“As I expected.”  He returned to his contemplation of the sunset. Very little surprised Toby. “James, do you think that we will find the missing Captain O’Neill? And that if we do – will he want to return?”

“Of course, we will find him,” Jim replied. “We’re Jack Hays’ finest stiletto-men. And he will wish to return – he is a white man, a soldier. Duty requires it. Why would he not?”

“I have been talking a little with young Barnes,” Toby replied. “He said that Captain O’Neill had a … fondness as a cadet for the tales of Fenimore Cooper, and a great interest in relics and weapons of my people, and those Others. Barnes says that he used to laugh at himself – saying that he was meant to be a wild Indian or an Arab corsair, but by mistake his soul was wrapped in the flesh and bones of a Christian. It struck young Barnes as curious, which is why young he remembered. If such is the case, your Captain may not wish to return, and what would we say to convince him?”

“I don’t know,” Jim replied. Yes, this was another dimension. “We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it, I guess.” And yet another random thought occurred to him; his own instinctive dislike of Sergeant Owen. “Toby, do you remember that treacherous Englishman, Vibart-Jones – the one involved in the Wilkinson letters, and the matter of the Spanish treasure at San Saba? I am given to wonder if he has turned up again, in disguise. The man was an actor, after all. And at a squint, Sergeant Owen looks enough like him, and the age is right…”

“No, James,” Toby shook his head, very definitely. “They are not the same man, even though there is a likeness.”

“How can you be so certain?” Jim was diverted, but not convinced. Toby considered gravely, before replying. “Two things, James; things which no man can disguise through art or effort for very long. First, the lobes of Sergeant Owen’s ears are not attached to his head, but droop, separately, to the width of my thumb. Vibart the English spy – the lobes of his ears were narrow and attached. And have you not noticed how a man favors one hand over the other, for holding a pistol, a knife, a pen? Vibart the English spy favored his left hand. You and I, and Sergeant Owen, all favor our right hand. Sergeant Owen is not Vibart. He is who he claims to be, a soldier of long service in many lands. I would say we can trust him with our lives. Perhaps not with the good name and virtue of our sisters, though.” Toby added, with a grin.

 

In the cool of a dew-spangled morning, Ned Beale’s exploring party set off; twenty men and a dozen camels, most laden with half-a wagon load of gear, and led on a string by Walid Ali and his assistant, the mute Hassim.  Jim could not find the proper words to express how very strange and alien they looked – the long necks and longer legs, the oddly-humped bodies piled high with gear and supplies, plodding relentlessly along the track from Camp Verde to the north-west.

“They say that every one of them can carry more than four pack mules,” Young Joe Barnes observed in admiration, and Jim replied, “And smell worse than four pack mules, too. He had already agreed with Ned Beale that he, Toby and the others in their party would ride upwind of the camels on the trail, and picket their horses apart from them at night, although Ned assured him that their horses would eventually become accustomed to the odor and behavior of the beasts. Jim doubted that, profoundly; his own horse – normally a steady-tempered brown gelding turned jittery and restless whenever within sight and smell of the camels, his eyes showing white all the way around. The one pack mule that he and Toby shared was even more reluctant to associate with the camels. He could only hope that any curious Comanche with a taste for stealing exotic stock would be just as unsettled – and their own horses even more so.

Still, the first part of the journey was a relatively pleasant one; folk came out from their houses and fields, just to watch the camels amble past, and to cheer the Federal soldiers in their neat blue uniforms. At long last, perhaps there would be a relief from the dangers of Comanche war parties, striking deep into settled territory! They were invited to settle for the night in pleasant pastures, and more came to marvel at the gangling camels, and to offer hospitality, food, and drink to the soldiers – which was much appreciated. At one camping-place, an obliging Walid Ali clipped a fine harvest of hair from the camels, presenting the women of the locality with better than a bushel of coarse stuff, which they carried away in triumph, saying that they were going to spin it into yarn and knit stockings from it.

What Jim also appreciated – especially when it rained, or an unseasonable spring norther blew – was that among the burdens carried by the camels were several commodious canvas tents. They lived in some comfort, for the soldiers were most practiced at setting up the tents of an evening, and the baggage also included numerous items of folding camp furniture. One soldier in particular proved to be a most accomplished cook, for which all were grateful.

“He was detailed for that skill, let me assure you,” Ned Beale asserted. “French creole from New Orleans, prolly got a drop of the African in him, but he looks white enough, and so I don’t enquire too close. Best not, when someone is cooking the food you eat. Tastes prime, though – doesn’t it?”

“Best Army meal I’ve ever eaten,” Jim acknowledged – for it was. Corporal Fournier was indeed a masterful cook, commander of the cook-fire, the array of skillets and iron ovens deployed over them, the Army rations seasoned with spices and additions conjured up from his own private stores. Even the corporal’s corn-dodgers were amazing.

Even better, of an evening after a supper provided by the expert corporal were the yarns told around the fire, for the party proved to have some excellent spinners of same around them. Ned Beale, as a raconteur, ordinarily would have been a champion among them, but his stories of California and the fabled gold mines paled next to those told by Sergeant Owen, and most unexpectedly – by Walid Ali. The sergeant had an inexhaustible fund of stories, of his service in India for the British crown and the India Company; accounts of intrigue and spectacle, of Indian princes and princesses, clad in silks and jewels of incredible richness, of deeds of derring-do – most of which Sergeant Owen modestly averred had been those performed by other men, and of which he had only heard second-hand. Walid Ali also had stories; fantastical stories of the middle east, in which names of towns known in the Bible featured heavily; Damascus, Jerusalem, Babylon, and Antioch. Such enthralled the party, every evening, even the mute Hassim, who did not speak but apparently could understand English.

“Poor fellow,” Ned explained early on. “He’s from Baku on the Caspian Sea, so I was told – I’d guess that he is mostly Russian, or Crim Tatar. They say that the local Bey’s men cut out his tongue as a punishment for something or other. But he’s a hard worker, and does what we tell him. God knows, he could have finished up in worse conditions.”

02. July 2017 · Comments Off on Another Jim and Toby Adventure! · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Old West

(Yes, I am writing a number of them simultaneously – for the next book of adventures, to be called “Lone Star Glory”. This is the set-up for one of them, to be entitled – Three Learned Men of Science.)

Three Learned Men of Science

“I have just gotten a letter from the president’s office, boys,” Jack Hays announced, on the afternoon that Jim and Toby returned from sorting out the murderous business of the Yoakum establishment at Pine Bayou. “So don’t get too comfortable. In a couple of days, you have to set out and meet a party of gentlemen at Copano and be their escort for the time that they are in Texas – no matter how long they choose to stay, or where they choose to go.”
“What does Dr. Jones have for us this time, Jack? And why do these gentlemen need the tender offices of your stiletto-men as wet-nurses?” Jim Reade hung his hat on one of the set of pegs by the door, and dropped into the nearest battered leather chair. Toby, hatless, settled with a barely-stifled groan of exhaustion onto the bearskin hearth-rug. The return from Pine Bayou had been broken by a short stay in Galveston, where Mrs. Reade had plied the two with the best food that her cook, Fat Nella, had to offer, and the very worst that she concocted with her own hands as a measure of affection for her son and his blood-brother.
“Because these gentlemen are foreigners, for one,” Jack chuckled. “And scientific representatives of his most royal majesty Prince Frederick William of Prussia, who according to Dr. Jones, intends to invest in Texas, through the medium of a consortium of noblemen. But before he sinks his noble cash in the venture, the Prince has sent three of his scientific advisors to survey the lay of the land, as it were. They will arrive with their retinue soon in Galveston, and come by coastal sloop to Copano to begin their survey.”
“We could have just stayed in Galveston and met them at the docks,” Jim stifled a yawn. Yes, and prolonged the stay with his parents, although he didn’t think he could endure much more of his mother’s disastrous attempts at baking turnovers, sweet biscuits and cakes.
“Indeed, but I did not know of their arrival before three days ago,” Jack unfolded the letter and spoke in his most reasonable and heartening tones. “And you can take a few days – but no more than three – before meeting these scientific gentlemen. You will know them, because they will be foreigners, of course. And my orders are that you should accompany them where they wish to go – and to keep them from serious trouble. There is money for the Republic involved – a thing that we are desperately short of – if they produce a favorable report.”
“Yes, we haven’t been paid in money in months,” Toby contributed from his comfortable position on the hearth-rug. “Over and above our expenses. Not that I keep count of your white man conventions.”
“At some point, all accounts will be squared,” Jack replied, ignoring the snort of skeptical derision from the hearthrug. “As men of intelligent creativity, I know that you can manage it. Prince Frederick William – or his secretary – was thoughtful enough to send their names and qualifications in his letter to Dr. Jones.”
“Give it to us now,” Jim sighed. “So that we can become accustomed to the notion of being bear-leaders to the servants of a foreign prince.”
“All right, then,” Jack’s grin broadened. “The senior of our scientific trio is the eminent botanist, Herr Professor Manfred von Brockdorff, who rejoices in the title of Graf von Brockdorff. The equally eminent geologist Dietmar Kraus is not a noble – a mere professor. And Herr Doctor Theodore Maier is a real medical doctor and surgeon, seconded from service with the Prussian army.”
“Well … they sound like a much better class of folk than the Yoakums,” Jim remarked, after taking all this in. “And they can’t possibly be any more difficult than thieves, murderers, and dog-stealers.”
“We would hope, brother,” Toby answered, but not as if he really had any real conviction.

A week later, the coastal sloop Eliza arrived and tied up at one of the three wharves at Copano. Jim and Toby had brought a handful of three horses and a pair of pack mules, staying in the house of Joseph Plummer while they waited the arrival of the Eliza. There was much excitement among the regular residents of the tiny hamlet, upon hearing that Jim and Toby were there to escort some important foreign visitors.
“A titled gentleman, you don’t say?” exclaimed the Widow Jackson, a handsome matron of about forty, who kept a tiny boarding establishment in her cottage of shell concrete, which had a view of Copano Bay from a garden planted thick with flowering cosmos, potatoes and herbs. “Well, I never!”
“You would if he offered, like a gentleman,” Joe Plummer added with a leer and the Widow Jackson ruffled like an angry hen, told him to keep a civil tongue in his head and flounced away to speak to Mrs. Plummer, although she cast indignant glances over her shoulder now and again. Joe Plummer chuckled coarsely, and remarked in a lower voice,
“Becky Jackson is tired of the single life, and on the prowl for another husband. I’d say beware, but you two fellows are a mite young for her taste. She wants an older man, one with a sizeable … property and a solid profession. Better tell your foreign fellows to steer clear, or she’ll have them in her man-trap before you can blink.”
Toby and Jim exchanged glances; Toby’s expression one of amusement, and Jim’s of mild horror.
“It might not be so bad,” Toby ventured, in judicial consideration. “Is she a good cook?”
“One of the best, I’d have to admit,” Joe Plummer admitted. “And pleasant-tempered, mostly. Old Ezra – her last husband – he had a good appetite for her vittles; everyone at his funeral say he was laid out with a smile on his face and a gut almost too big for the coffin.”

But there was no smile on the faces of anyone, when the Eliza tied up, that afternoon. And as far as Jim could see, the deck was piled high with bundles, crates and trunks – surely too much for the five men who strode off the sloop as soon as the gangplank was secured. There was a sixth man also – who seemed to be giving directions to the sailors and deckhands ready to unload the sloop.
“We may need more than two mules, brother,” Toby whispered. “If all that is theirs – and I do not see any other passengers.”
“We’ll work out something,” Jim murmured in an aside, as three men were in hearing distance and bearing down, with the other two lurking in the background. Those two – both young, fit, and under arms had a soldierly bearing about them. Jim rather wished that he had brought some of the other stiletto-men with him, even someone like Creed Taylor or Albert Biddle. Jack himself would have been a solid addition to the reception committee. Instead, he braced his shoulders and addressed his remarks to the tallest and most important-appearing of the gentlemen bearing down upon him.
“If I am addressing the Graf von Brockdorff – I welcome you again to Texas, sir. Jim Reade, Esquire, and Toby Shaw of the Delaware Nation. We have been sent by my commander, Captain Hays and President Anson Jones of the Republic of Texas to assist you as might be needed…”
“Reade?” the gentleman demanded; a burly and choleric sort, with a countenance scarred with several straight slashes which suggested he had fought with bladed weapons on a regular basis. “Hah – are those all the horses you have brought? Clearly, we will need more than that. Brockdorff – at your service.” He crushed Jim’s hand, nodded briskly towards Toby, who was doing his best to be at one with the immediate surroundings. “We will require a place to stay, while our belongings are unloaded. My servant Achterberg will see to that. My compatriots; Professor Kraus, Doctor Meier … Achterberg!” he bellowed over his shoulder, and Jim started. That was an authoritative and noble bellow if he had ever heard one. “Fuchs! Haun! Attend!”
The other gentlemen of science stood half a pace back at Brockdorff’s elbow, and Jim was aware of a sinking feeling as he introduced himself.
“Maier,” said the first; a thin and youngish man, but wearing thick glasses, which magnified watery blue eyes.
“Certainly,” Jim replied. A medical doctor, and a near-sighted one. Well – this would turn out well.
“Herr Professor Kraus,” announced the third man, in an over-loud voice. He was of middle-age, slender and lanky. His handshake was strong, his fingers callused like a working man’s. “I am greatly anticipating the pleasure of exploring the particular geology of your sedimentary formations.” A heavy coat hung on him like clothing on a scarecrow, the pockets of it weighted down with heavy objects. One of them, Jim noticed, was a large hearing trumpet. “Pleased,” Jim replied, wondering if this meant that Professor Kraus meant that he was going to search Jim’s coat pockets or something
“You will have to speak up,” Professor Maier said, when Jim introduced himself to the professor. “Kraus is very hard of hearing.”
“Never eat herring, gives me gas,” Professor Kraus announced. “Please to meet you, young man, although I didn’t catch your name. Where then are we to stay, Brockdorff, while our supplies and equipment are being unloaded?”
“We have made arrangements for your party at the boarding house of Mrs. Jackson – a very respectable widow,” Jim replied; as hers was the only house with sufficient room for guests to actually sleep in beds, rather than in a pallet on the floor of the verandah. “We did not expect … such a large party, sirs…”
“Avoid parties,” Professor Kraus grunted. “Waste of time, flouncing around when I have work to do.”
“We reduced our necessary entourage to the minimum,” von Brockdorff replied, vaguely perplexed. “Only Achterberg and the two soldiers as guards…”
Twice as many has had been expected, Jim thought – although Jack had said something about an entourage. He had definitely not mentioned the steadily growing pile of trunks, crates and bales. A scientific expedition; and he would have thought that such would have started with little, and concluded with much. As it was, this expedition was commencing with much – and what it would conclude with was anyone’s guess.
“We’ll make arrangements,” Jim answered, determinedly cheerful, although he murmured in an aside to Toby, “We’ll have to hire a wagon and teams, then. Who in Copano has such for hire?”

“Why, bless my soul – I do!” exclaimed a beaming Widow Jackson. “And my son, young Corb to drive it! I’m sure we can come to some proper arrangement – you leave that to me, young Mister Reade. Oh, my stars!” she looked down from the gate. “These furriner gents don’t travel light, do they? I’ll have to rustle up a place for them sojers of theirs to sleep.” She bustled away, leaving Jim and Toby to look at each other.
“That is one thing accomplished then, James.” Toby ventured. “So – have we any sense of where the gentlemen wish to travel?”
“North to the frontier,” Jim sighed. “And then east as far as the pine woods, then down the Brazos towards Galveston. It’s to be a wandering journey, allowing them to survey the land and make collections of plants and what-not. Von Brockdorff is also an accomplished artist and draftsman; he says he is to make a detailed record to guide Prince Frederick William and his friends. They plan a leisurely two or three months at this. I had better start drafting my first report to Jack and let him know the plan.”

(to be continued. Of course.)